Thursday, September 14, 2006

Culver & Nussle: lingering indigestion but is the crazy permanent?

Nussle has a little indigestion hanging around from last week. KCCI commissioned a poll on the political winds in Central Iowa and picked up evidence of that indigestion. Reported by KCCI News:

…Data show that 48 percent of those polled would vote for Culver and 43 percent would vote for GOP candidate Jim Nussle. Only 9 percent were undecided. …

…The telephone survey was conducted Sept. 11 and 12, and included 600 likely statewide voters who regularly vote in elections. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. …

Between the Zogby numbers from last week and this week’s KCCI poll, it’s shaping up to be a brawling, bitter end – and when you’re in that kind of environment, there are only fatal mistakes.

The campaigns are going to have to tighten up their messages and think a little smarter. The Culver camp probably learned to “pre-test” their big ideas with a few Democratic big shots and the Nussle campaign, no doubt, will circular file all candidate surveys and rework their spin control.

I’m saying “probably learned” because some how Chet Culver seems like the kind of guy who might run an office that needs to touch the proverbial stove more than once. Yesterday camp Culver jumped all over a cigarette tax increase, pledging to raise the tobacco taxes by a buck a pack. Reported by Radio Iowa:

Democratic candidate Chet Culver promises to raise the state tax on cigarettes by $1 a pack if he's elected governor.

Culver says if a pack of cigarettes is more expensive, fewer teenagers will take up the habit and some adult smokers will stop. "I want to help save lives in Iowa by increasing the tobacco tax," Culver says. ...

But Chet, what about your base? Sure, you need those country club soccer moms who don't buy smokes to be all about softer side issues and their kids, but you just sold out every working man & woman that can’t quit. It’s difficult to believe that the Culver campaign can’t appreciate how much damage they’re doing to families often perceived to be voting Democrat as a given fact of life.

It's well documented that tobacco taxes are extraordinarily regressive; the habit can financially crush a low-income smoker. A few will find the costs prohibitive and quit, but the rest will keep using and fattening up the state’s coffers to pay for state employee salary increases and Chet’s special projects.

Passing the burden of raising revenue to the families least able to afford it is bad public policy. The anti-tobacco lobby has successfully argued the economics of price elasticity in youth tobacco use, but it has cleverly neglected to address the fact that with every 10% increase in price, only 10% of smokers will try to quit and of those, two percent or less will succeed (link). These are not particularly good odds for curbing the existing smoking problem but they are great odds if it’s all about a tax increase for more state spending.

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