The tough 2012 re-election fight that Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is facing just got a whole lot tougher after revelations that she and her husband failed to pay $287,273 in property taxes on a private jet. The disclosure followed reports that she billed taxpayers for political trips on the jet, prompting her to send the Treasury $88,000 in compensation. McCaskill, who said she'll repay the $287,000, too, wants her husband to "sell the damn plane," but Republicans are already running ads about McCaskill's tax gaffe. It's easy to see why: If the GOP picks off just four Democratic seats next year, they win control of the Senate. Did McCaskill just doom her party?
Democrats can't afford this kind of "unforced error": McCaskill just handed the GOP a "golden opportunity," says Michael Shear in The New York Times. "Just having a private plane" undermines her "regular gal from Missouri" image, but evading a $287,000 tax bill? That "damage may be hard to repair." With no room for error, Democrats have to hope McCaskill's blunt response saves her seat.
"Democrats can't afford mistakes like McCaskill's plane"
Voters have short memories: "Most Democratic strategists" think McCaskill will survive, thanks to "her political brand, plus time," say Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake in The Washington Post. The election's still 20 months away. You needn't look very far back for proof that voters "have relatively short attention spans" — Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was easily reelected in 2010 despite a highly-publicized prostitution scandal in 2007.
"Can Claire McCaskill weather her plane problem?"
Still, this makes McCaskill look like a real hypocrite: "This story hits McCaskill with unusual force," and not just because it clashes with her role as one of America's "folksiest politicians," says David Weigel at Slate. She's also criticized other politicians over unpaid taxes, on video. Sure, minor "scandals like these are often blown out of proportion," but that's because voters easily grasp hypocrisy.
"Claire McCaskill gets her wings clipped"