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GOP hits McCaskill over use of private plane

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Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said yesterday that she will pay more than $280,000 in personal property taxes tied to a private plane owned in part by the senator and her husband, and that the plane will be sold. For Republicans operatives, the controversy has provided an ongoing opportunity to hit the vulnerable senator hard ahead of the 2012 elections.

McCaskill's unpaid taxes were discovered in the wake of an earlier controversy over the fact that she had billed the government for the use of the plane for both state business and political business. The senator paid that money back earlier this month.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee yesterday released a video blasting McCaskill for the whole incident, featuring ominous music, clips of President Obama and a snippet of McCaskill herself saying, "If my walk doesn't match my talk, then shame on me and don't ever vote for me again... We're going to change the way we do business around here when it comes to transparency."

As the clip of McCaskill in the video suggests, the senator has cultivated an image as a champion of transparency and government accountability dating back to her previous service as state Auditor in Missouri. But now Republicans now aim to make that onetime strength a vulnerability.

"Can Missouri voters even believe anything Senator McCaskill says anymore?" NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer said in a statement. "It's high time for McCaskill to finally live up to the same standards of transparency and accountability that she demands of others by immediately releasing her shell company tax records."

(The eight-seat plane is owned by McCaskill, her husband and two others; it was bought through a company that her husband incorporated in 2002.)

Yael T. Abouhalkah, a member of the Editorial Board for the Kansas City Star, writes that the incident over the plane is "the kind of huge lapse - and oversight - that will make McCaskill's vaunted abilities as an auditor suddenly look a lot less formidable."

He adds that paying taxes is simply "one of those issues that regular Missouri folk can understand."

McCaskill is facing a competitive reelection fight next year in Missouri, a state where Republican Sen. Roy Blunt easily won re-election in 2010 and GOP candidate John McCain scraped past Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential elections.

Still, the election is 20 months away, and McCaskill's challenger has yet to be determined.

The Hill reported earlier this month that while McCaskill is the admitted "underdog" in her own re-election campaign, she could benefit from a rough primary battle on the Republican side. Attorney Ed Martin and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman are so far in the running, and Republicans have been watching the developing primary field with "some trepidation," according to the Hill.