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July 13, 2006

Gathering in the dollars...

Vice-President Dick Cheney will arrive in Davenport Monday with approval ratings in about the same place as the president's -- in the toilet.

But his target audience on this visit is the minority who approve, and within that minority it's those with enough money to cough up $500 to $1,000 to listen to the vice president explain what a great congressman Mike Whalen would make.

The invitation-only reception at the home of Chuck and Jodi Ruhl will be but a small part of the high-powered money-raising effort Quad-Citians will see between now and November as congressional contests for open seats on both sides of the river turn into dollar-driven slugfests.

The numbers are going to be astounding -- obscene, actually -- to those of us who struggle with ordinary household budgets and watch in dismay as the monied crowd bids on our representatives. Whalen's already spent $544,000, just to get through the Republican primary. Bruce Braley spent $403,000 to get the Democratic nomination.

Besides Cheney, presidential adviser Karl Rove's already been in the district to raise funds for Whalen; John McCain is in the district this week, on a raise-money-for-Mike mission. Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's been here for Braley, who also was tabbed last week to give the national Dems' response to President Bush's weekly radio address.

The high-profile events reflect the intense interest the national parties are taking in Iowa's First, where incumbent Jim Nussle is giving up the seat for a gubernatorial race. Democrats see the district, carried by John Kerry by 19,000 votes in 2004, as one in which they can gain one of the 15 or so seats they need to take control of Congress.

The spending in Illinois's 17th District hasn't been so outlandish so far, but with the withdrawal of incumbent Lane Evans, the district is suddenly in the national spotlight, too. A safe Democratic seat with Evans in the race, it's now in play. Both Republican Andrea Zinga and Democrat Phil Hare say they'll be reporting more than $200,000 cash on hand when they file finance reports this month. That's just the beginning: Hare's campaign says its goal is $1.4 million; national Republican PACs and officials will counter with massive infusions into Zinga's campaign.

A great deal of the money will be used for television ads that will quickly drive the dialogue to the lowest common denominator, a collection of code phrases, smears and distortion that will make thinking people ill and serve to misinform the unthinking.

Some lines of attack are easy to anticipate. Braley is a lawyer, and lawyers are pouring big bucks into his campaign -- $384,000 in the primary alone. The attack ads will sneeringly talk about "trial lawyers" as the greatest evil besetting the nation today. Lawyers ARE easy targets, but when the crowd that'll be paying for Whalen's campaign starts talking about "trial lawyers" what I hear is "fix the system so I can't get sued."

As an aside here, a story from Montana, where on a recent vacation I saw some ads from senatorial incumbent Republican Conrad Burns and Jon Tester, a crew-cut Democratic state legislator. The race is close, in part because Burns had $220,000 of Jack Abramoff's money in his pocket when the music stopped. The Burns ad features a barber talking about how Tester may have crew-cut but there's nothing all-American about him -- he's just a flag-burning, gay-loving, tax-hiking liberal who, besides that, is a lousy tipper. Tester countered with an ad featuring his real barber, who of course had a different view than the fake Republican barber. Among other things, the real barber says Tester is a decent tipper.

With the dialogue already at that level, my Montana friends are already cringing at what's still to come.

My recommendation is: Ignore the ads -- follow the money. Between the Federal Election Commission's website and sites like www.opensecrets.org and www.vote-smart.org the money is easier than ever to track. You can find out who's giving, by name, by industry sector and by interest group. Just figure out which interest groups you figure represent your interest, and vote for the candidate most of them are supporting.

By their donors you shall know them...

Posted by jcb at July 13, 2006 02:26 PM


John, wow, are you sounding awfully partisan now..."approval ratings in the toilet" (when actually they are rebounding), and "fix the system so that I can't get sued" (when the reality is our lawsuit-happy society is adding huge dollars to the average family and hurting the expansion of business - as well as forcing business overseas).

Follow the money, you are right here...when business prospers, America prospers; when lawyers prosper, well...

Posted by: Anonymous at July 13, 2006 06:38 PM

Anonymous: He sounds less partisan (brainwashed) than you.

Posted by: Anonymous at July 14, 2006 09:12 AM

Anon 06:38 PM -- Don't see much of a "rebound" in any of the recent polls on the veep. Don't think it's partisan to say the guy's numbers are in the toilet when they're in the toilet.

I promise you that the next time I have occasion to mention a Dem whose numbers are in the range of Cheney's that I'll describe them as being "in the toilet."

We certainly are a lawsuit-happy society; lots of lawsuits make me want scream.

But way too often "tort reform" attempts to limit access to the courts. My access. Your access. That's a baby that ought not go out with the bathwater. If you see that viewpoint as partisan, fine.

Posted by: jcb at July 15, 2006 01:10 AM