Misleading Senate Ad Uses Out-of-Context Quotes to Attack Opponent

by Jacob Rubashkin September 10, 2020 · 11:01 AM EDT

Party operatives playing fast and loose with the facts is commonplace in campaign ads, but a recent TV spot in the Kansas Senate race is stretching the norms.

A recent ad from Rep. Roger Marshall, the GOP nominee, is intended to paint Marshall’s opponent, state Sen. Barbara Bollier, as a typical left-wing politician. The spot asks viewers to imagine “how would it sound if Barbara Bollier’s ads actually matched her liberal record?”

But the advertisement itself is highly misleading, taking Bollier’s own words out of context and making it seem as if she’s commenting on hot-button issues when in reality she is discussing unrelated topics.

First, the narrator says that Bollier voted for “dismemberment abortions,” followed by a clip of Bollier, in an operating room no less, saying “that’s what I believe in my heart.”

The clip of Bollier actually comes from her October 2019 campaign launch video. Bollier is speaking about how her experience as a doctor prepared her for politics, and says: 

“Doctors don't see patients as Democrats or Republicans. It’s our responsibility to look you in the eye and show you respect, honesty. To care for you, and to care about you. Public service shouldn’t be any different. That’s what I believe in my heart, and it’s the type of senator I’ll be.”

By using a clip of her standing in an operating room, Marshall is seemingly trying to connect her directly with the procedure, even though abortion is never mentioned in the original video. Bollier is an anesthesiologist, while Marshall is a pro-life OBGYN. Bollier is pro-choice, and the vote cited in the ad was a 2015 state House vote on a bill to ban the dilation and evacuation procedure (the most common second-trimester abortion method) in Kansas -- Bollier, then serving as a Republican, voted no, as did five other members of the GOP. The law, which never went into effect due to legal challenges, was struck down entirely by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2019.

Then the narrator says she “pushed a gun ban in Kansas,” followed by a clip of Bollier saying “I’ll work to ban them nationwide.”

But when Bollier said “I’ll work to ban them nationwide,” she was actually referring to surprise medical billing, an issue she has put at the center of her campaign, not firearms. Marshall cites as evidence an answer Bollier gave in 2014 in which she said she supported “limitations on the type of guns available to the general public specifically related to the number of rounds that can be fired sequentially.” The first part of the sentence is included in the ad — the subsequent qualification is not.

Finally, the narrator intones that Bollier supports “taxpayer-funded tuition for illegal immigrants,” to which a clip of Bollier responds, “it’s our responsibility.”

That line also comes from the 2019 launch video, in which Bollier discusses a doctor’s responsibility to show patients “respect, honesty” regardless of whether they are a Democrat or Republican. The Marshall ad cites a 2011 vote on a state House bill that would have repealed a law that allowed undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition. Bollier voted instead to keep the program in place. The effort passed the state House but was ultimately unsuccessful. 

Marshall’s ad comes as Kansas has stayed stubbornly a part of the Senate battlefield. It wasn’t supposed to be this way with the deeply unpopular Kris Kobach vanquished in the GOP primary. But a closer-than-expected presidential race and strong campaigning by Bollier have kept Democratic hopes alive in this state that has only elected Republican senators for the last 100 years.

The national GOP is pouring millions of dollars into Kansas to shore up Marshall, and public and private polling continues to show the race neck-and-neck.

All three issues mentioned in the ad — abortion, guns, and illegal immigration — are likely favorable territory for Marshall, and it makes sense that he would use them to try to convince voters Bollier is no moderate. (Bollier, who switched parties in was a Republican until 2018, and has positioned herself as a moderate, pragmatic centrist.)

If the GOP can’t hold onto the Kansas seat, its path to maintaining the majority practically collapses. That the national party is committing substantial resources at a time when so many other incumbent Republican senators are facing tough re-elections, indicates this race is one to watch.