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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

NRCC, Again, Cherry-picks Data

The National Republican Congressional Committee once again uses selective evidence to attack a congressman for supporting President Obama. This time, the target is Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia.

Joe McCormick, a coal miner from Seth, West Virginia, says in an NRCC TV ad: “Anyone, including Nick Rahall, who supports Barack Obama, is not a friend of coal.” That’s followed up later with a graphic saying that Rahall “voted with Obama 94% of the time.” But as we found last month, when the NRCC attacked Georgia Rep. John Barrow, the group is cherry-picking data to support its case.

It’s true that Rahall voted with Obama that often in 2009, as the ad notes, according to a Congressional Quarterly analysis of votes. But Rahall has won two elections since then and his support for Obama has dropped each year. He sided with the president on just 58 percent of votes in 2013. Rahall doesn’t always side with the Obama administration on coal-related issues, either, as the ad suggests.

The 60-second ad, called “Rahall’s Record,” is the first from the NRCC in the race for West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District between Rahall and Republican Evan Jenkins. It began airing in the Bluefield-Beckley and Charleston-Huntington TV markets on Sept. 2.

In the ad, McCormick says, “When Nick Rahall votes with Barack Obama, that tells me that Nick Rahall don’t really care about Southern West Virginia. He don’t care about us coal miners.” He says that as a graphic appears on screen, saying Rahall “voted with Obama 94% of the time.”

Yes, Rahall voted with Obama that often in 2009, according to CQ’s study of congressional votes where Obama took a clear position. But ad watchers should know that Rahall has voted less often with the president every year since. Rahall’s support of Obama’s position dropped to 88 percent in 2010, 65 percent in 2011, 64 percent in 2012 and 58 percent in 2013, when he ranked 11th among House Democrats who opposed Obama most often.

And Obama can’t always depend on Rahall’s vote on energy policies affecting the coal industry, as the NRCC ad would have viewers believe.

The ad also uses the headline of a May 11 op-ed in the Charleston Gazette that says, “W.Va. should be wary of EPA’s push to regulate.” In fact, Rahall has expressed his wariness of a proposal by Obama and the EPA to cut carbon emissions from existing coal plants 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

After the EPA announced its plan, Rahall vowed to introduce a bill to stop it. And on June 9, he and Republican West Virginia Rep. David McKinley introduced H.R. 4813, The Protection and Accountability Regulatory Act. A press release said the bill “would terminate the new rule for existing power plants, along with the proposed rule for future power plants. In addition, to prevent some sleight of hand maneuver by the EPA, the bill will aim to block the issuance of similar rules for at least the next 5 years without Congressional approval.”

At the end of the ad, McCormick says, “I’d say that a vote for Nick Rahall is a vote for Obama.” That’s clearly not always the case in general, or even just on votes on coal-related issues.

— D’Angelo Gore