Brandom's campaign issued a news release Wednesday morning in response to Wayne Wallingford's call to the three-term Missouri House member to pull her campaign ads and instead participate in a series of debates to settle the matter before voters. While Brandom said she stands "ready and willing" to debate Wallingford before the Aug. 7 GOP primary, it would not come at the price of pulling the plug on her radio and television spots.
The events Wednesday were just the latest that indicate the race is becoming increasingly hostile with just two weeks until the winner-takes-all primary election.
Brandom agreed such debates would be eye-opening for voters of the 27th District because Wallingford should explain why he supports organized labor and its "liberal agenda." Brandom again noted that her Cape Girardeau opponent received $1,100 from three union groups this year in his campaign to replace outgoing Sen. Jason Crowell. She said one of the donors, the Communications Workers of America, called Obama's health care reform "a good start" and praised the president's decision to grant amnesty to 800,000 illegal immigrants.
"If my opponent doesn't want to be associated with the groups supporting him, he should return the money," Brandom said.
Wallingford's camp returned fire later in the day with a news release of its own, with the Cape Girardeau Republican saying he was disappointed that Brandom had "refused" his invitation to stop what he feels are Brandom's negative campaign ads. In the release, Wallingford then criticized Brandom for her vote that he says went against the pro-life agenda by creating the possibility of stem-cell and cloning research.
Wallingford, who is finishing out his first Missouri House term, also brought up a highly publicized 2011 incident in which Brandom filed a bill just because a friend asked her to. Brandom later admitted she had not read and did not understand the bill and the friend turned out to be a lobbyist, although she maintained that was unbeknown to her. She later withdrew the bill, which would have restricted the sale of cigar leaf rolling papers, typically used for large marijuana cigarettes called "blunts." Wallingford suggested that Brandom "wants the people of the district to forget that."
Wallingford also launched television ads Wednesday that defended his position and votes as they relate to organized labor. Brandom has called some of his votes into question, suggesting that they are pro-union -- again citing a Wallingford "no" vote on a bill that was intended to prevent unions from withholding money from a member's check to be used in political causes. Wallingford, with the backing of bill sponsor Sen. Jason Crowell, has said he voted "no" for the bill because it had become loaded with amendments that made it impossible to pass.
Brandom shrugged off his explanation Wednesday.
"It doesn't matter why my opponent voted against [it]," she said. "The bottom line is that he made a conscious choice to continue allowing unions to raid the paychecks of workers."
But Brandom went even further, calling up Wallingford votes against eliminating prevailing wage requirements and for reducing the number of labor inspectors in the Missouri Department of Labor. His vote against House Bill 138, she said -- the prevailing wage vote -- was especially egregious, saying Wallingford "sided with organized labor and against taxpayers." Removing the prevailing wage requirement when a school was built, she said, would have saved taxpayers millions.
But Wallingford said that Brandom, whom he maintains is trailing in private campaign polls, is desperate. In his defense, Wallingford cited examples from his time when he cast votes that would not have been popular with union executives, including to keep membership ballots secret and to fund a budget that cut funding for labor inspectors. Wallingford said he is also in favor of right to work, which is staunchly opposed by organized labor. Earlier this year, he said, he did vote with business on prevailing wage with a House amendment, though the bill he cited was different from the one Brandom talked about.
Wallingford said his invitation to debate stands.
Meanwhile, political observers said that negative campaigning is nothing new but that voters in Southeast Missouri have not seen much of it in recent years. Jeremy Walling is an associate professor of political science at Southeast Missouri State University. It's not surprising, he said, that two candidates with similar records try to draw distinctions to help voters see their differences.
"So they're going with the 'You're not conservative enough,'" Walling said. "That's the tragedy of all this. Ellen Brandom and Wayne Wallingford are both strong candidates. We have two candidates that are not that different. It feels like they're splitting hairs. ... But I think voters are sophisticated enough to know that Wayne has nothing in common with Barack Obama and that Ellen is obviously pro-life."
Cape Girardeau, MO