Most Minnesotans have never heard of Republican Stacey Stout, but her campaign for an open Minnesota House seat against DFLer Peter Fischer is getting a lot of attention from both sides of the aisle.
The Minnesota DFL Party and Minnesota’s Future, a business-backed group that generally supports Republicans, are sending mailers in the White Bear Lake area that alternatively criticize and praise her record.
Both fliers include inaccuracies, and they underscore how, in a political environment saturated with advertisements and money from outside political groups, it can be difficult for a candidate to control his or her message.
Take the Minnesota’s Future flier, which is paired with an absentee ballot application.
It states that Stout “helped turn a $6 billion deficit into a $1 billion surplus.”
It’s a common talking point among Republican candidates this year. It refers to a $1.3 billion surplus that’s been used to pad the state’s cash-flow and budget reserve accounts, and, in part, was created as a result of lower Medicaid enrollment and extra federal dollars. Minnesota still faces a projected $1.1 billion deficit in the next biennium.
While some incumbent Republicans contend they were involved in creating that surplus, it’s an impossible argument when it comes to Stout.
That’s because Stout wasn’t in office this session. In fact, she’s never served in the state Legislature.
On the campaign trail, Stout says that she talks about staying on the fiscal course legislative Republicans set out in the last session, but that she can’t take credit for the surplus.
Chris Tiedeman, who works for Weber Johnson Public Affairs and operates Minnesota’s Future, said that the flier was in error and was meant to say that Stout’s spending priorities are the type of priorities that helped create a surplus.
The DFL is talking about Stout’s record, too.
In a mailer that says Stout’s “tea party ideas are steeped in extremism,” the DFL contends that while in Washington, D.C., “Stout worked against the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and stands with those who support the Paul Ryan budget plan – which would end Medicare as we know it.”
Before working for the Department of Justice under the Bush and Obama administrations, the DFL points out Stout worked for Sen. Don Nickles, a Republican from Oklahoma. In 2003, Nickles voted against the creation of Medicare Part D, better known today as the prescription drug benefit for seniors.
Stout calls the DFL’s accusations “guilt by association.”
“I find that frustrating because here I have this really, what I would say, honorable public service record, and to try to tie me to something that one person voted on is pretty far-fetched,” she said.
Stout said she never advised Nickles on health care issues. Her areas of expertise were transportation, agriculture and telecommunications.
DFL spokesperson Kate Monson said that, as a Republican candidate, Stout works with and supports Republicans who generally support the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket. But Stout says that she has no stance on the Ryan budget because it’s a federal issue not a state issue.
She also rejects the rest of the DFL’s flier, saying and that she’s never been to a tea party meeting in the state. The website the DFL lists as evidence that Stout is a tea party candidate no longer includes her name.
Outside political groups are barred by law from coordinating their mailers with Stout, so that means she has no control over what they say.
Stout, who is running for office for the first time in her life, says the attention from outside groups is bewildering.
“I appreciate the groups that want to say, ‘We’ve gotten to know her, we support her, we want people to know about this,’” she said. “I think it’s a little confusing for the public because most people are not aware that maybe a piece didn’t come directly from me even though it says on there. The general public is not following this like you or I would.”