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A tense campaign finale awash in cash

Republicans, Democrats, and outside groups poured millions into tightly contested congressional races, spending nearly a billion more than the previous record, set in 2006.

What happened With control of Congress hanging in the balance, Republicans, Democrats, and outside groups poured millions into tightly contested House and Senate races this week, shattering spending records for a midterm election. Combined spending by the parties and allied groups could top $3.7 billion this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, nearly a billion more than the previous record, set in 2006. Democrats have outspent Republicans $119 million to $79 million in 109 tossup races. But Republican-allied advocacy groups have spent some $300 million while advocacy groups backing Democrats have spent about $100 million.

Underscoring Democrats’ urgency in seeking to hold back a GOP wave, both President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hit the campaign trail last week in an effort to energize Democratic partisans. Most political analysts, however, predict that the GOP will pick up more than the 39 seats the party needs to take control of the House of Representatives. “The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating,” stated the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “If anything it has intensified.” Control of the Senate will hinge on results in half a dozen hard-fought races, including tight contests in West Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Nevada, where Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid is in a dead heat with Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle. In Ohio, Republicans appear poised to win a Senate race and several House seats, while Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland struggles to hold off a challenge from former GOP Rep. John Kasich.

What the editorials saidSo this is what Citizens United has wrought, said the San Francisco Chronicle. We refer, of course, to this year’s Supreme Court ruling “that opened the floodgates to big-money spending” by corporations and independent groups. Here in California, independent expenditures by out-of-state groups funded by tobacco, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies are swamping vulnerable Democrats. In the process, they’re returning our political system “to the pre-Watergate era.”

Never mind the bluster about shadowy “corporate money,” said the Boston Herald. The biggest spender in this year’s campaign is a labor union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. “Desperate to save the Democratic Congress, which has been so very, very generous” to it, AFSCME is lavishing $87.5 million on Democratic candidates. Campaign spending won’t be the cause of what promises to be Tuesday’s Democratic debacle anyway, said The Washington Times. Congressional spending will be. Alarmed at skyrocketing deficits brought on by Democratic policies, voters are eager to “place Congress in the hands of more fiscally responsible leaders.”

What the columnists saidRepublican leaders are mapping out a governing agenda, said Naftali Bendavid in The Wall Street Journal. They plan to introduce a raft of legislation to show “they can translate general principles into specific action.” Their first proposal could be a $100 billion, across-the-board spending cut that would hit everything from energy to education. Republicans will also be busy issuing subpoenas, said Kenneth Walsh in U.S. News & World Report. California Rep. Darrell Issa will likely use “the legislative branch’s majority powers to investigate, call hearings, and subpoena witnesses.” Inquiries into bank bailouts, the new health-care law, and other matters “could tie the administration in knots.”

It’s not all gloom for Democrats, said Steve Kornacki in Salon.com. “Two big races that they once seemed poised to lose” have swung around. In the California governor’s contest, former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has opened up a lead over Republican Meg Whitman, despite her more than $140 million in campaign spending. In Connecticut, Democratic Attorney Gen. Richard Blumenthal has pulled ahead of multimillionaire Linda McMahon. Despite a few bright spots, though, “there’s really no reason to think a Democratic comeback is afoot.”

That could work to Democrats’ advantage, said Peter Baker in The New York Times. Although Democratic strategists won’t say so out loud, the party might win by losing, because, in politics, “it helps to have an enemy.” A Republican-controlled House would give Obama a chance to make Congress “an adversary.” After all, it worked for Bill Clinton after the GOP clobbered Democrats in Clinton’s first midterm election.

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