If Republicans do better than expected on November 2, there will be a lot of talk about voter anger and anxiety, Democratic missteps, the economy, the fiscal situation, health care reform, and so on and so forth. Some of this talk will be interesting and relevant.
But any analysis of surprising Republican wins (if they happen) that doesn’t dwell at some length on this year’s massive deployment of “independent” money won’t be getting the story right.
A New York Times editorial yesterday nicely captured how two shadowy conservative groups suddenly painted a bullseye on sophomore Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa:
Bruce Braley, a Democrat from northeastern Iowa, has been a popular two-term congressman and seemed likely to have an easy re-election until the huge cash mudslide of 2010. The Republican Party had largely left him alone, but then a secretive group called the American Future Fund began spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on distortion-heavy attack ads….
The fund, based in Iowa, has spent at least $574,000 to run a series of anti-Braley ads. One that is particularly pernicious shows images of the ruined World Trade Center and then intones, “Incredibly, Bruce Braley supports building a mosque at ground zero.” Actually, Mr. Braley has never said that, stating only that the matter should be left to New Yorkers.
Another implies that Mr. Braley supports a middle-class tax increase because he voted to adjourn the House at a time when some Republicans had proposed cutting income taxes on everyone. In fact, Mr. Braley supports extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class, while letting them expire for families making $250,000 or more to avoid adding $700 billion to the deficit.
Mr. Braley has also been the subject of $250,000 worth of attack ads by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also has not disclosed its contributors.
The kind of money being tossed into this race by the American Future Fund and the Chamber is some serious jack for a place like northeastern Iowa. If Braley ultimately loses, you can attribute that to an incumbent’s complacency, or the Mood of the Midwest, or any number of other factors, but you can’t escape the reality that Braley would be coasting to re-election if two anonymous schmoes with big checkbooks hadn’t gotten up one fine morning and decided to take Braley out. They dialed up an upset in IA-1, and whether or not it happens on November 2, it’s sign of the new political world we must all get used to now that the U.S. Supreme Court has gone the extra mile in ensuring that unlimited use of anonymous corporate cash in campaigns is treated as central to the preservation of liberty. And that’s why in this supposed land of equality, some Americans, and even some political candidates, are more equal than others.