ADEL, Iowa — The conservative super PAC run by Todd Ricketts, the Chicago Cubs board member, is poised to spend nearly $800,000 on ads against Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton said Wednesday the spots are really intended “to stop me before I get too far.”
The Sanders ad launched Tuesday in Iowa by the ESAFund, formerly known as the Ending Spending Action Fund, with a few edits could run as a spot for Sanders — not against him.
Ricketts, of Wilmette, is the CEO of Ending Spending, founded by his father, Joe Ricketts, the former CEO of TD Ameritrade, who is the fund’s chairman and its major donor. Joe Ricketts is the patriarch of the family that owns the Cubs.
As Iowa heads to the first-in-the-nation presidential vote on Monday, Sanders’ surging popularity may make him a winner here.
Nick Merrill, a Clinton press spokesman, told me the ESAFund move was “sleight of hand” designed to “fire up his base” and bolster Sanders’ turnout.
Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the pro-Clinton Priorities USA super PAC, said in a statement the ad “isn’t quite what it seems to be,” is intended to “help Sanders, not hurt him” and is a “fake Bernie Sanders attack ad.”
The theory among these Democrats is that Republicans consider Sanders an easier target to take down in November than Clinton.
The spot says Sanders wants to provide “free tuition” to college and “Medicare for all” paid for by raising taxes on Wall Street and the “super-rich.” The harshest words come in a tagline: “Bernie Sanders, too liberal for Iowa.”
For the leftish Democratic base, these are not horrible messages. And for a Republican who is horrified at Sanders plans — well, they won’t be at a Democratic caucus on Monday night.
ESAFund President Brian Baker denied any political sleight-of-hand.
“Front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders had a rally last night [Tuesday] with a 14,000 supporters while Secretary Clinton can barely fill a ballroom. It is imperative to start educating voters about Sanders proposals to expand government spending,” Baker said.
At the Adel Family Fun Center, a bowling alley in this small town about 30 miles from Des Moines, Clinton took note of the Ricketts’ move, saying it was really an attempt to help, not hurt, Sanders. About 300 people were at the event — with many folks who were with her when she ran against then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.
“And then just the other day, another billionaire, called Joe Ricketts, puts up an ad to try to really muddy the waters to confuse Democrats about who has the toughest, most comprehensive plan,” Clinton said, referring to Wall Street reform plans she had just been discussing.
“I got to tell you. I do find this perversely flattering. But I also find it very instructive. Because if they weren’t afraid of me, they would be just sitting back just hoping I would get nominated. . . . They know me. They know I say what I mean. I mean to do what I say.”
“And I will never let them do what they did to us before. So they are trying to stop me before I get too far. Well, a lot of folks have tried to take me out before. And I am still standing,” she said.
Sanders, meanwhile, was in Washington for part of Wednesday, meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office for about 45 minutes, in a session Sanders had requested weeks ago.
After the meeting, Sanders told reporters outside the West Wing, “I think he and the vice president have tried to be fair and even-handed in the process and I expect they will continue to be that way.”
Obama delivered what could be taken as a de facto endorsement for Clinton in an interview with Politico. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at the Wednesday briefing, “ultimately his preference in this contest is one that will be expressed in his absentee ballot in the Illinois primary. If we choose to make that public, we’ll let you know.”
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