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Activist groups, distrustful of candidates, push for pre-election pledges

Many grass-roots activists want candidates to sign pledges to, say, undo health-care reform. Will such pledges tie lawmakers' hands later, or improve accountability?

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Exhibit A is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, first launched in 1986 by Americans for Tax Reform, an antitax group. Signed by the most Republican candidates since the Reagan era, the pledge commits them to oppose any increase in the marginal income-tax rate for individuals and businesses and any elimination of tax deductions or credits "unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates."

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Citing this pledge, Democrat Mark Critz came from behind to win a May special election in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District by claiming that his GOP rival supported firms that outsource US jobs. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is now sponsoring ads in 21 close House races that make the same claim.

The claim is deemed false by public-interest group FactCheck.org. "Democrats and their allies can't get enough of the Americans for Tax Reform tax pledge – which, as we've reported, they've falsely equated in a number of ads with 'protecting tax loopholes for companies that ship jobs overseas,' " according to an Oct. 20 post on FactCheck.org.

"It's absolutely fair," DCCC chairman and Rep. Chris Van Hollen countered at an Oct. 21 Monitor breakfast with reporters. "Republicans have voted nine times in the House to keep those subsidies for offshoring American jobs."

The Democrats' tactic has prompted Americans for Tax Reform to run new ad campaigns to undo the damage. "It's a lie to say that if you're for the pledge you're for every tax cut that ever existed," says Grover Norquist, president of the antitax group. "We're pushing back. We're spending in a fair number of districts to draw blood if they make that case."

As for pledges to undo health-care reform, the aim is to prepare for any eventuality, says Heather Higgins, president and chief executive officer of Independent Women's Voices. Her group, along with American Majority Action, launched a pledge drive in September to get candidates to promise to do "everything they can to make repeal a reality."

Even if Congress does repeal the law, Obama is sure to veto that effort, she says. Thus, sponsors want candidates to commit to systematically defund the reform, step by step. To date, 65 Republican incumbents and challengers have signed the pledge.

VIDEO: Voices of the tea party

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