Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, who is facing a tough re-election fight this year, aired his first television ad of the campaign Monday. In it, Begich doesn't attack his likely Republican opponents.
Instead he targets the Koch brothers and their group Americans for Prosperity, which has already run two attack ads against the incumbent Democrat even though the Republican primary isn't even until mid-August.
Begich had previously run a radio ad about Americans for Prosperity too. He's not the first Democrat railing against the Koch brothers instead of an opponent. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has spoken out against Charles and David Koch twice in the past few weeks. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is set to launch a whole “Addicted To Koch!” campaign.
This is the latest step in behind-the-scenes campaign characters becoming scene stealers. It's been happening for awhile -- there's a reason an old Clinton campaign hands can be found prognosticating on nearly every news channel -- but seemed to pick up steam in 2008, when Obama's team of techies earned almost as many newspaper inches as the man they were working for (or at least it felt like it).
The political publishing industry has likely been able to keep wheezing along because of the weird power of the campaign postmortem, which reveal just how much of a campaign relies on pizza and cursing. But as campaigns have continued to grow into into an entire industry, peopled with donors and super PACs and election lawyers and pollsters and many other actors along the assembly line to the ballot box, they've grown less invisible too. The entire infrastructure of a campaign, intricate and dirty and massive as it is, has graduated from silence to speaking role to, finally, something that voters are supposed to interact with -- for good or bad.
What does that mean for elections? It definitely confuses a process already replete with more information, personalities and storylines than most voters care for or about. And it also makes races far away from the Beltway exclusively about D.C. in a way that always seems to make voters cranky.
There's no sign that this attempt to make the Kochs the issue will backfire against Democrats or that they have much of a choice if they want to be proactive about never-ending Americans for Prosperity ads. But it's also an admission of where political leaders think power has shifted in electoral politics. It's not obvious if they'll be able to convince voters, who seem perfectly content to blame most electoral problems on the people they elected, of that same idea.