Marco Rubio aides attacked other challengers for missing votes, hearings

Willie Grace | 10/29/2015, 1:33 p.m.
Aides spearheading Sen. Marco Rubio's rising presidential campaign spent the 2014 election cycle eviscerating a Democrat on the same charges ...
Marco Rubio

(CNN) -- Aides spearheading Sen. Marco Rubio's rising presidential campaign spent the 2014 election cycle eviscerating a Democrat on the same charges being lodged against Rubio: He didn't show up at his day job.

Rubio's communications director, Alex Conant, and Todd Harris, a senior adviser to Rubio, used former Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley's long record of missing hearings as a key component of their messaging strategy to elect now Sen. Joni Ernst.

"Iowans were inundated with messages highlighting Braley's missed votes," a Republican political consultant in Iowa told CNN, who spoke on condition of anonymity to openly discuss the strategy executed by the pair of Rubio operatives who engineered Ernst's campaign. "It was a devastating blow to his campaign here."

Social media from the time paints Ernst's operation -- featuring Harris and Conant -- frequently slamming their opponent for skipping out on his congressional duties.

On July 17, 2014, Harris tweeted, "While VA was in crisis, Braley skipped 74% of VA hearings," linking to a Iowa Republican Party press release tallying the Democrat's attendance record.

Two days later, Harris took to Twitter again, and spotlighted a Iowa Gazette "Fact Checker" story that found the previous claim true. In fact, the paper ruled the Iowa GOP underestimated how often Braley missed committee hearings. He did so 78% of the time, according to the paper.

Harris tweeted on the subject again, three days later, after the Des Moines Register reported Braley missed a VA hearing to attend three fundraisers.

In the home stretch of the campaign, on October 24, 2014, Conant tweeted a Sioux City Journal article calling Braley's attendance record "troubling."

Braley's team felt so pressured by the claims they commissioned a rebuttal ad in which the campaign attempted to turn the attack back on the Ernst campaign by claiming she "missed 36% of votes in the Iowa senate."

Of the attendance issue, the Iowa political hand said Harris and Conant "pushed the issue mercilessly."

"They wouldn't take the foot off the gas," the consultant added.

Rubio and his aides have been dismissive of the charges, insisting his attendance record matters little since he's not running again for Senate.

When asked about the issue, Conant told CNN in an email, "I'm not going to add to what my boss said last night and on television this morning."

CNN reached out to Harris for comment, but he did not immediately respond.

The charges got new fuel Wednesday.

First, the Sun Sentinel, a paper that endorsed Rubio in 2010 when he first ran for Senate, demanded that Rubio resign. Then, on the Republican debate stage, Jeb Bush told his former protege he should "just resign and let someone else take the job."

While Rubio parried the attack, and thwacked Bush with a devastating one-liner telling his "friend" that he got bad advice from his consultants, the Iowa consultant insists this new narrative should worry Rubio's team in Iowa.

"That editorial is devastating," the consultant said. "Braley never had an Iowa paper say he should resign over missed votes. That's a whole new level of scrutiny that would have buried him here, yet the Rubio team still beat him without that added cover."

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