The abysmally low turnout in last week’s midterm elections — the
lowest in more than seven decades — was bad for Democrats, but it was even worse
for democracy. In 43 states, less than half the eligible population bothered to
vote, and no state broke 60 percent.
In the three largest states — California, Texas and New York — less than a third
of the eligible population voted. New York’s turnout was a shameful 28.8
percent, the fourth-lowest in the country, despite three statewide races
(including the governor) and 27 House races.
Over all, the national turnout was 36.3 percent; only the 1942 federal election
had a lower participation rate at 33.9 percent. The reasons are apathy, anger
and frustration at the relentlessly negative tone of the campaigns.
Republicans ran a single-theme campaign of pure opposition to President Obama,
and Democrats were too afraid of the backlash to put forward plans to revive the
economy or to point out significant achievements of the last six years. Neither
party gave voters an affirmative reason to show up at the polls.
The states with the biggest turnouts tended to have well-publicized and
competitive races, but even competition was no guarantee that voters would show
up. Georgia and North Carolina, which had two highly contested Senate races, did
only slightly better than the national average for turnout. Some of that is
because of regional differences; northern states generally have higher turnout
than southern states, as they did this year, because voting tends to correlate
with education and income levels.
In northern states, there was a lack of interest, too. The overall vote total
dropped by 42 percent compared with 2012, and the decline was particularly acute
among younger voters, who made up 13 percent of this year’s electorate compared
with 19 percent two years ago. The turnout among young and minority voters was
slightly higher than it was in the 2010 midterms, perhaps reflecting new
organizing efforts, but the number remained far too low. (Republicans have
continued their effort to suppress the turnout of young, poor and minority
voters, although it was hard to make a definitive link between those laws and
Democratic losses this year.)
There was one useful lesson: When voting is made easier, more people vote.
Colorado switched to a mail ballot system this year, and it had the
fourth-highest turnout in the nation, substantially larger than in 2010. (It had
a highly competitive Senate race, but did much better than many states with
equally hot races.) Oregon, which also votes by mail, had the fifth-highest
turnout, and Washington State, with a similar system, did better than the
national average, though it had no major statewide races.
Early voting — which tends to be more popular among Democratic voters than mail
balloting — also did well this year, despite Republican efforts to curb it. In
North Carolina, early voting increased by 35 percent from 2010, even though
Republican legislators cut the number of early-voting days to 10 from 17.
Showing up at the polls is the best way to counter the oversized influence of
wealthy special interests, who dominate politics as never before. But to
encourage participation, politicians need to stop suppressing the vote, make the
process of voting as easy as possible, and run campaigns that stand for
A version of this editorial appears in print on November 12, 2014, on page A26
of the New York edition with the headline: The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 Years.
DURHAM, N.C. — By Tuesday night about 90 million Americans will
have cast ballots in an election that’s almost certain to create greater
partisan divisions, increase gridlock and render governance of our complex
nation even more difficult. Ninety million sounds like a lot, but that means
that less than 40 percent of the electorate will bother to vote, even though
candidates, advocacy groups and shadowy “super PACs” will have spent more than
$1 billion to air more than two million ads to influence the election.
There was a time when midterm elections made sense — at our nation’s founding,
the Constitution represented a new form of republican government, and it was
important for at least one body of Congress to be closely accountable to the
people. But especially at a time when Americans’ confidence in the ability of
their government to address pressing concerns is at a record low, two-year House
terms no longer make any sense. We should get rid of federal midterm elections
There are few offices, at any level of government, with two-year terms. Here in
Durham, we elect members of the school board and the county sheriff to terms
that are double that length. Moreover, Twitter, ubiquitous video cameras,
24-hour cable news and a host of other technologies provide a level of
hyper-accountability the framers could not possibly have imagined. In the modern
age, we do not need an election every two years to communicate voters’ desires
to their elected officials.
But the two-year cycle isn’t just unnecessary; it’s harmful to American
The main impact of the midterm election in the modern era has been to weaken the
president, the only government official (other than the powerless vice
president) elected by the entire nation. Since the end of World War II, the
president’s party has on average lost 25 seats in the House and about 4 in the
Senate as a result of the midterms. This is a bipartisan phenomenon — Democratic
presidents have lost an average of 31 House seats and between 4 to 5 Senate
seats in midterms; Republican presidents have lost 20 and 3 seats, respectively.
The realities of the modern election cycle are that we spend almost two years
selecting a president with a well-developed agenda, but then, less than two
years after the inauguration, the midterm election cripples that same
president’s ability to advance that agenda.
These effects are compounded by our grotesque campaign finance system. House
members in competitive races have raised, on average, $2.6 million for the 2014
midterm. That amounts to $3,600 raised a day — seven days a week, 52 weeks a
year. Surveys show that members spend up to 70 percent of their time
fund-raising during an election year. Two years later, they’ll have to do it all
Much of this money is sought from either highly partisan wealthy individuals or
entities with vested interests before Congress. Eliminating midterms would
double the amount of time House members could focus on governing and make them
less dependent on their donor base.
Another quirk is that, during midterm elections, the electorate has been whiter,
wealthier, older and more educated than during presidential elections. Biennial
elections require our representatives to take this into account, appealing to
one set of voters for two years, then a very different electorate two years
There’s an obvious, simple fix, though. The government should, through a
constitutional amendment, extend the term of House members to four years and
adjust the term of senators to either four or eight years, so that all elected
federal officials would be chosen during presidential election years. Doing so
would relieve some (though, of course, not all) of the systemic gridlock
afflicting the federal government and provide members of Congress with the
ability to focus more time and energy on governance instead of electioneering.
This adjustment would also give Congress the breathing space to consider
longer-term challenges facing the nation — such as entitlement spending,
immigration and climate change — that are either too complex or politically
toxic to tackle within a two-year election cycle.
To offset the impact of longer congressional terms, this reform might be coupled
with term limits that would cap an individual’s total congressional service at,
say, 24 years, about the average for a member of Congress today. This would
provide members enough time to build experience in the job, but also limit the
effects of incumbency and ensure the circulation of new blood in the system.
The framers included an amendment process in the Constitution so our nation
could adjust the system to meet the demands of a changing world. Surely they
would not be pleased with the dysfunction, partisan acrimony and public
dissatisfaction that plague modern politics. Eliminating the midterm elections
would be one small step to fixing our broken system.
David Schanzer is a professor of public policy and Jay Sullivan is a junior at
A version of this op-ed appears in print on November 3, 2014, on page A31 of the
New York edition with the headline: Cancel the Midterms.
Staying home on Election Day carries a heavy cost.
In Ferguson, Mo., where only 12 percent of voters showed up in the last city
election, the cost of nonparticipation was a City Council wholly
unrepresentative of the town’s population. On the national level, Democrats and
independents — most of whom did not vote in the 2010 midterm Congressional
elections — were swamped by Republicans who voted in much larger proportions.
The result was a Republican House dominated by the hard right, which over four
years became the largest impediment to economic growth and equality. The same
thing has happened in many statewide elections.
It’s now seven weeks from the midterms. Will voters realize that decisions made
on Nov. 4 will reverberate in laws not passed, roads not built and jobs not
The biggest prize at stake in November is the Senate, where Democrats are in
serious danger of losing control to a Republican Party determined to roll back
much of the social progress of the last six years, and to block as many of
President Obama’s judicial appointments as possible. There is little chance that
Democrats will win back the House this year, in part because of Republican
redistricting, but many statehouses and governorships that control districting
and voting regulations are also in the balance.
All of that makes it imperative that the demographic groups that turned out in
relatively large numbers during the last two presidential elections show up at
the polls this year. According to Catalist, a data analysis company, the groups
with the biggest declines in turnout between 2008 and 2010 were voters younger
than 30, down nearly 35 percentage points; black and Hispanic voters, down 27
points each; and single women, down 26 points. Those groups have historically
been the most resistant to the right’s message of lower taxes, sharply reduced
spending on social programs and job creation, and tighter restrictions on
women’s reproductive rights.
No one expects a midterm turnout to approach that of a presidential year, which
generates more excitement and interest. For decades, turnout rates in midterms
have been 10 or more percentage points below those of presidential elections.
Democrats say their focus group interviews show that two-thirds of those not
planning to vote this year don’t even know that an election is being held. And
voters historically turn against the party of the president elected two years
But there are ways to increase voter participation this year, and some are being
tested on a broad scale:
BETTER USE OF DATA Both parties are using sophisticated techniques to identify
new voters or those who participated in 2008 and 2012 but are unlikely to vote
this year. They are focusing not only on ethnic and socioeconomic groups but
also on smaller subgroups like new students at politically active colleges or
people from blue-collar neighborhoods who have lost their homes.
MORE PAID WORKERS AND VOLUNTEERS Research has found that broadcast ads and
robocalls are far less effective at motivating people to vote than the personal
touch: face-to-face, door-to-door reminders that there is an election coming up,
in a direct conversation that discusses the high stakes. The Democrats’ turnout
effort, known as the Bannock Street Project, is spending $60 million on both
technology and carefully trained workers to mobilize individual voters. One
technique — based on findings that social pressure is one of the best motivators
— asks voters to fill out a reminder card about the election, which the party or
a campaign mails back to them shortly before the vote.
Single women (who have a poor midterm track record) are a particular target, and
Democratic groups are making a special effort to remind them about Republican
opposition to pay equity, abortion rights, education spending and a higher
BIG REGISTRATION DRIVES Georgia, where a highly competitive Senate race is
taking place, has about 900,000 black, Hispanic and Asian residents who are
eligible to vote but are unregistered. Getting even a fifth of them to the polls
could make a major difference. (Mr. Obama lost the state by 205,000 votes in
2008.) The New Georgia Project, an effort to register hundreds of thousands of
minorities, young people and single women, has already put 85,000 new names on
the registration lists. This has infuriated Republicans, including the highly
partisan secretary of state, Brian Kemp, who has accused the group of fraud and
begun a trumped-up investigation.
REDUCING VOTING BARRIERS In state after state with competitive races,
Republicans have scrambled to reduce turnout with voter ID requirements,
cutbacks on early voting, insufficient polling places in dense urban areas and
restrictions on registration. Many legal advocates, often joined by the Justice
Department, have fought these measures in court and should continue to do so on
every front. Voters who don’t participate in state legislative elections need
constant reminders that cynical politicians want them to stay home.
Over time, the best way to build a stronger democracy is to make voting a habit
instead of a difficult chore. This year could be the one when that habit begins.
A version of this editorial appears in print on September 15, 2014, on page A22
of the New York edition with the headline: A Bigger Midterm Election Turnout.
November 3, 2010
The New York Times
By MONICA DAVEY
On an Election Day with one of the largest number of governors
races in memory, Republicans gained governorships across the country, including
those in the political battlegrounds of the industrial Midwest where Democrats
have dominated in recent years.
In Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Republicans seized seats
that had been held by Democrats. They also took seats now held by Democrats in
other parts of the country, including Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee
In Wisconsin, a beaming Scott Walker, a Republican, took to a stage and praised
all the voters who, he said, had emerged from the woodwork to “take our state
As in so many states, much of the campaign there had focused around job losses,
financial woes and state budget troubles, and Mr. Walker, like several of his
Republican colleagues, had pledged to cut government waste, reshape government
and upend a system that he said had failed. Minutes after his victory became
clear, Mr. Walker issued a release that declared: “Wisconsin is open for
But around the nation, the outcomes are expected to have effects that reach
beyond local economic policies or legislation drawn up in statehouses.
States are preparing to carry out their once-a-decade redrawing of political
districts — for the House and state legislatures — based on United States census
counts collected this year, and many of these new governors will have important
roles in deciding what those maps look like.
Going into Election Day, Democrats held 26 governorships, while Republicans had
24. Following most midterm elections after the arrival of a new president, the
party in power in the White House typically loses some governorships, but the
changes on Tuesday appeared to go deeper.
With votes in many states still being counted on Tuesday night, Republicans were
already holding on to many of the seats they currently hold — in Alabama,
Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas
and Utah — as well anticipating significant gains.
“People are not happy with the direction of this country,” said Terry Branstad,
a Republican and former governor who defeated Gov. Chet Culver of Iowa, another
state where the economy seemed to overwhelm most other issues. “The status quo
is not acceptable.”
Democrats were hoping that voters might turnout in high numbers and that efforts
in the final weeks by President Obama and other Democratic leaders might lessen
There were certainly some indications of relief for Democrats, in states that
included Arkansas, Colorado and California, where Jerry Brown, who has already
been Governor, will return to the job having beaten Meg Whitman, the former
chief executive of eBay who invested millions in the race.
In New York, too, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo easily defeated the
Republican, Carl P. Paladino, even though Republicans were expected to pick up
seats in the state legislature and the Congressional delegation. In
Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, beat Charles Baker Jr., a
Republican and a former chief executive of one of the state’s largest health
insurers. And in Maryland, Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor, fought off
a challenge from Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who had once been governor.
But the Republicans’ gains in the Midwest were daunting for Democrats, in part
because of the size and scope of the shift.
In Wisconsin, Mr. Walker, the county executive of Milwaukee who has promised to
shrink government, beat Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee. Mr.
Walker equated electing Mr. Barrett with giving one more term to James E. Doyle,
the current governor whose popularity ratings had become anemic.
In Michigan, where Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, was barred from seeking
re-election by term limits, Rick Snyder, a Republican who stunned the party
establishment by beating better-known, more established candidates in a primary,
defeated Virg Bernero, the Democratic mayor of Lansing. The issue in the state,
which had suffered devastating economic losses even before the recession, was
the same as everywhere: jobs and money.
Among the group of new Republican political leaders emerging on Tuesday: Nikki
Haley, the nation’s first Indian-American female governor, a victor in South
Carolina; Susana Martinez, a Republican district attorney who promised to end a
pattern of corruption and to block illegal immigrants from getting driver’s
licenses in New Mexico; and Mr. Snyder, the former head of Gateway Inc., who was
elected governor of Michigan with a catch phrase, “one tough nerd.”
Of the 37 states voting for governor, 24 races were open seats from both
parties, thanks to terms limits and to a climate that seemed to discourage some
incumbents from seeking re-election.
From Maine to Hawaii, the governors’ races had been hard fought, with clear
indications, leaders from both parties said, of the same broad national climate
that was testing the survival of Democrats — and incumbents — for the House and
In another indication of how voters seemed in search of something, anything,
entirely different from the status quo, third-party candidates had a
particularly pronounced effect on governors races in at least five states. And
in Rhode Island, Lincoln D. Chafee, a former Republican senator who ran for
governor as an independent, won on Tuesday.
While much of the attention this season has focused on who will control
Washington, the outcomes in these governors’ races were drawing particular
notice because of redistricting.
The shapes of the political maps can carry lasting effects for partisan
victories and losses in all sorts of offices. Governors in at least 36 states
get a say in shaping Congressional maps, and governors in 39 states have a place
in redrawing state legislative districts.
“This is the most important governors’ election in 20 years,” said Nathan
Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, which
devoted $50 million to races this year, three times the amount the group spent
four years ago, in the last comparable election. The Republican Governors
Association spent $102 million on this year’s races.
Katharine Q. Seelye contributed reporting
from Middleton, Wis., A. G. Sulzberger from Des Moines
The New York Times
By A.G. SULZBERGER
— In a rebuke of the state supreme court with implications for judicial
elections across the country, voters here removed three justices who
participated in a ruling last year that made the state the first in the Midwest
to permit same-sex marriage.
The close vote concluded an unusually aggressive ouster campaign in the
typically sleepy state judicial retention elections that pitted concerns about
judicial overreaching against concerns about judicial independence. Years of
grumbling about “robed masters,” conservatives demonstrated their ability to
target and remove judges who issue opinions they disagree with.
Each of the three judges received about 45-46 percent support with 91 percent of
precincts reporting, according to The Associated Press, marking the first time
members of Iowa’s high court had been rejected by voters. Under the system used
here, judges face no opponents and simply need to win more yes votes than no
votes to win another eight-year term.
Financed largely by out-of-state organizations opposed to gay marriage, those
pushing against the judges were successful in turning the vote into a referendum
on the divisive issue.
“I think it will send a message across the country that the power resides with
the people,” Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican who led the campaign after losing
the republican nomination for governor, told a crowd of cheering supporters at
an election night party peppered with red signs declaring “No Activist Judges.”
“It’s we the people, not we the courts.”
Though the Iowa election was the most prominent, similar ouster campaigns were
launched in other states against state supreme court justices running unopposed
in retention elections whose rulings on matters involving abortion, taxes, tort
reform and health care had upset conservatives.
Together they marked the rapid politicization of judicial races that had been
specifically designed to be free of intrigue. Over the last decade, just $2
million was spent on advertising in retention elections, less than 1 percent of
total campaign spending on judicial elections in that period, according to data
compiled in a recent report released in part by the Brennan Center for Justice
at New York University Law School. More than $3 million was spent on retention
election races this year, easily eclipsing the figure for the previous decade,
according to the Brennan Center.
The defeat was a bitter disappointment to much of the legal community here,
which rallied behind the three justices arguing that judicial standards require
judges to follow their interpretation of the law and not their reading of public
opinion. They had urged voters to consider issues like competence and
temperament rather than a single issue when casting ballots.
The three justices — Marsha K. Ternus, the chief justice; Michael J. Streit; and
David L. Baker — did not raise money to campaign and only toward the end of the
election did they make public appearances to defend themselves.
“We wish to thank all of the Iowans who voted to retain us for another term,”
the judges said in a statement. “Your support shows that many Iowans value fair
and impartial courts. We also want to acknowledge and thank all the Iowans, from
across the political spectrum and from different walks of life, who worked
tirelessly over the past few months to defend Iowa’s high-caliber court system
against an unprecedented attack by out-of-state special interest groups.
“Finally, we hope Iowans will continue to support Iowa’s merit selection system
for appointing judges. This system helps ensure that judges base their decisions
on the law and the Constitution and nothing else. Ultimately, however, the
preservation of our state’s fair and impartial courts will require more than the
integrity and fortitude of individual judges, it will require the steadfast
support of the people.”
Though several groups formed to support their retention, they were significantly
outspent by the organizations that bankrolled the ouster effort, including the
National Organization for Marriage and the American Family Association.
“We’re concerned about the precedent this has set tonight and what it means for
the influence of money and politics on the judicial system,” said Dan Moore,
co-chair of Fair Courts for Us, which supported the judges.
The judicial races were perhaps the most hotly anticipated item on the ballot
this year, a dramatic contrast from years past in which the election were so low
profile that more than a third of those who cast ballots left the section blank.
“That’s the main reason I came out,” said Michelle Kramer, 36, a college student
from Des Moines. “People can do what they want to do, they can love who they
want to love.”
Her friend and neighbor Cathy Hackett, 38, took the opposite view. “I voted no
for every single one of them,” said Ms. Hackett, a customer sales representative
who described herself as a conservative Christian. “I’m not anti-gay. I love
everybody. But I believe that if two people are going to marry they should be a
man and a woman.”
The outcome will have no affect on the ruling that triggered the campaign, a
7-to-0 decision that found that a law defining marriage as between a man and a
woman represented unlawful discrimination under the state constitution.
But those who led the ouster campaign said they were more focused on
highlighting to judges elsewhere, including those on the U.S. Supreme Court, the
risks associated with leapfrogging public opinion on the issue of same-sex
marriage. They noted same-sex marriage has been initially approved by supreme
courts in four states and by legislators in only three.
Jeff Mullen, lead pastor at the Point of Grace Church, who helped organize
religious leaders in opposition to the judges, said the vote should send a
message to judges nationwide. “They weren’t supposed to legislate from the
bench,” he said. “They did. They’re out of a job.”
Depending on the speed with which new candidates are nominated the replacement
justices could be appointed either by Gov. Chet Culver, a democrat who lost
reelection on Tuesday, or Terry Branstad, a republican who previously served as
governor. Each appointed one of the departing justices to the Supreme Court and
Mr. Branstad appointed Ms. Ternus to a lower court. Mr. Branstad has called for
changing the selection system.
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY
captured control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday and expanded their
voice in the Senate, riding a wave of voter discontent as they dealt a setback
to President Obama just two years after his triumphal victory.
A Republican resurgence, propelled by deep economic worries and a forceful
opposition to the Democratic agenda of health care and government spending,
delivered defeats to House Democrats from the Northeast to the South and across
the Midwest. The tide swept aside dozens of lawmakers, regardless of their
seniority or their voting records, upending the balance of power for the second
half of Mr. Obama’s term.
But Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, narrowly prevailed and
his party hung onto control by winning hard-fought contests in California,
Delaware, Connecticut and West Virginia. Republicans picked up at least six
Democratic seats, including the one formerly held by Mr. Obama, and the party
will welcome Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky to their ranks,
two candidates who were initially shunned by the establishment but beloved by
the Tea Party movement.
“The American people’s voice was heard at the ballot box,” said Representative
John A. Boehner of Ohio, who is positioned to become the next speaker of the
House. “We have real work to do, and this is not the time for celebration.”
The president, who watched the election returns with a small set of advisers at
the White House, called Mr. Boehner shortly after midnight to offer his
congratulations and to talk about the way forward as Washington prepares for
divided government. Republicans won at least 56 seats, not including those from
some Western states where ballots were still being counted, surpassing the 52
seats the party won in the sweep of 1994.
The most expensive midterm election campaign in the nation’s history, fueled by
a raft of contributions from outside interest groups and millions in donations
to candidates in both parties, played out across a wide battleground that
stretched from Alaska to Maine. The Republican tide swept into statehouse races,
too, with Democrats poised to lose the majority of governorships, particularly
those in key presidential swing states, like Ohio, where Gov. Ted Strickland was
One after another, once-unassailable Democrats like Senator Russ Feingold of
Wisconsin, Representatives Ike Skelton of Missouri, John Spratt of South
Carolina, Rick Boucher of Virginia and Chet Edwards of Texas fell to
little-known Republican challengers.
“Voters sent a message that change has not happened fast enough,” said Tim
Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Republicans did not achieve a perfect evening, losing races in several states
they had once hoped to win, including the Senate contests in Delaware and
Connecticut, because some candidates supported by the Tea Party movement knocked
out establishment candidates to win their nominations. But they did score
notable victories in some tight races, like Pat Toomey’s Senate run in
Senator Reid said in a speech that he was “more determined than ever” after his
victory. “I know what it’s like to get back on your feet.”
The outcome on Tuesday was nothing short of a remarkable comeback for
Republicans two years after they suffered a crushing defeat in the White House
and four years after Democrats swept control of the House and Senate. It places
the party back in the driver’s seat in terms of policy, posing new challenges to
Mr. Obama as he faces a tough two years in his term, but also for Republicans —
led by Mr. Boehner — as he suddenly finds himself in a position of
responsibility, rather than being simply the outsider.
In the House, Republicans found victories in most corners of the country,
including five seats in Pennsylvania, five in Ohio, at least three in Florida,
Illinois and Virginia and two in Georgia. Democrats braced for the prospect of
historic defeats, more than the 39 seats the Republicans needed to win control.
Republicans reached their majority by taking seats east of the Mississippi even
before late results flowed in from farther West.
Throughout the evening, in race after race, Republican challengers defeated
Democratic incumbents, despite being at significant fund-raising disadvantages.
Republican-oriented independent groups invariably came to the rescue, helping
level of the playing field, including in Florida’s 24th Congressional District,
in which Sandy Adams defeated Representative Suzanne Kosmas; Virginia’s 9th
Congressional District, where Mr. Boucher, a 14-term incumbent, lost to Morgan
Griffith; and Texas’s 17th Congressional District, in which Mr. Edwards, who was
seeking his 11th term, succumbed to Bill Flores.
Democrats argued that the Republican triumph was far from complete, particularly
in the Senate, pointing to the preservation of Mr. Reid and other races. In
Delaware, Chris Coons defeated Christine O’Donnell, whose candidacy became a
symbol of the unorthodox political candidates swept onto the ballot in
Republican primary contests. In West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat,
triumphed over an insurgent Republican rival to fill the seat held for a
half-century by Senator Robert C. Byrd. And in California, Senator Barbara Boxer
overcame a vigorous challenge from Carly Fiorina, a Republican.
But Democrats conceded that their plans to increase voter turnout did not meet
expectations, party strategists said, and extraordinary efforts that Mr. Obama
made in the final days of the campaign appeared to have borne little fruit.
The president flew to Charlottesville, Va., on Friday evening, for instance, in
hopes of rallying Democrats to support Representative Tom Perriello, a freshman
who supported every piece of the administration’s agenda, but he was defeated
despite the president’s appeals to Democrats in a state that he carried two
In governors’ races, Republicans won several contests in the nation’s middle.
They held onto governorships in Texas, Nebraska and South Dakota, and had seized
seats now occupied by Democrats in Tennessee, Michigan and Kansas. Sam
Brownback, a United States Senator and Republican, easily took the Kansas post
that Mark Parkinson, a former Republican turned Democrat, is leaving behind.
Though Democrats, who before the election held 26 governors’ seats compared to
24 for the Republicans, were expected to face losses, there were also bright
spots. In New York, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo easily defeated the
Republican, Carl P. Paladino, even as Republicans were expected to pick up seats
in the state legislature and the congressional delegation. In Massachusetts,
Gov. Deval Patrick won a second term.
As the election results rolled in, with Republicans picking up victories shortly
after polls closed in states across the South, East and the Midwest, the House
speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and other party leaders made urgent appeals through
television interviews that there was still time for voters in other states to
cast their ballots.
But the mood in Democratic quarters was glum, with few early signs of optimism
in House or Senate races that were called early in the evening. Surveys that
were conducted with voters across the country also provided little sense of hope
for Democrats, with Republicans gaining a majority of independents,
college-educated people and suburbanites — all groups that were part of the
coalition of voters who supported Mr. Obama two years ago.
“We’ve come to take our government back,” Mr. Paul told cheering supporters who
gathered in Bowling Green, Ky. “They say that the U.S. Senate is the world’s
most deliberative body. I’m going to ask them to deliberate on this: The
American people are unhappy with what’s going on in Washington.”
The election was a referendum on President Obama and the Democratic agenda,
according to interviews with voters that were conducted for the National
Election Pool, a consortium of television networks and The Associated Press,
with a wide majority of the electorate saying that the country was seriously off
track. Nearly nine in 10 voters said they were worried about the economy and
about 4 in 10 said their family’s situation had worsened in the last two years.
The surveys found that voters were even more dissatisfied with Congress now than
they were in 2006, when Democrats reclaimed control from the Republicans.
Preliminary results also indicated an electorate far more conservative than four
years ago, a sign of stronger turnout by people leaning toward Republicans.
Most voters said they believed Mr. Obama’s policies would hurt the country in
the long run, rather than help it, and a large share of voters said they
supported the Tea Party movement, which has backed insurgent candidates all
across the country.
The Republican winds began blowing back in January when Democrats lost the seat
long held by Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, with the victory of
Scott P. Brown serving as a motivating force for the budding Tea Party movement
and a burst of inspiration for Republican candidates across the country to step
forward and challenge Democrats everywhere.
On Tuesday, the president did not leave the grounds of the White House, taking a
respite from days of campaigning across the country, so he could meet with a
circle of top advisers to plot a way forward for his administration and his own
looming re-election campaign. The White House said Mr. Obama would hold a news
conference on Wednesday to address the governing challenges that await the new
“My hope is that I can cooperate with Republicans,” Mr. Obama said in a radio
interview on Tuesday. “But obviously, the kinds of compromises that will be made
depends on what Capitol Hill looks like — who’s in charge.”
But even as the president was poised to offer a fresh commitment to
bipartisanship, he spent the final hours of the midterm campaign trying to
persuade Democrats in key states to take time to vote. From the Oval Office, Mr.
Obama conducted one radio interview after another, urging black voters in
particular to help preserve the party’s majority and his agenda.
“How well I’m able to move my agenda forward over the next couple of years is
going to depend on folks back home having my back,” Mr. Obama said in an
interview with the Chicago radio station WGCI, in which he made an unsuccessful
appeal for voters to keep his former Senate seat in Democratic hands.
There was little Democratic terrain across the country that seemed immune to
Republican encroachment, with many of the most competitive races being waged in
states that Mr. Obama carried strongly only two years ago. From the president’s
home state of Illinois to neighboring Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio — all
places that were kind to the Democratic ticket in 2008 — Republicans worked
aggressively to find new opportunities.
For all the drama surrounding the final day of the midterm campaign, more than
19 million Americans had voted before Tuesday, a trend that has grown with each
election cycle over the last decade, as 32 states now offer a way for voters to
practice democracy in far more convenient ways than simply waiting in line on
Thee-Brenan, David M. Herszenhorn and Michael Luo contributed reporting.
Times are tough, and Americans are understandably worried and angry. This
year’s campaign has only made things worse. Billions of dollars have been spent
to destroy character rather than debate serious ideas. Still, there is no excuse
for staying home on Election Day.
There are critically important decisions to be made about whether the country
moves ahead with confidence or moves backward and becomes even more polarized.
Voting in Republican primaries and special elections showed what happens when
moderate Americans stay home or react to the barrages of fear and intolerance.
We end up with fringe candidates like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and
Sharron Angle in Nevada. Establishment candidates then spout the same disturbing
ideas. (Witness Representative John Boehner, the House minority leader, trying
to act like an outsider after 18 years in the Washington power elite.)
Democrats have been far too timid to argue the case, but they, and President
Obama, have done many important things in the last two years.
Most important, the stimulus — which Republicans made sure was smaller than it
should have been — saved the country from a deeper, more destructive recession.
That is not a lot of comfort for the millions of unemployed Americans, but it
would have been far worse if the Republicans had had their way. They have even
opposed extending federal unemployment benefits.
American troops are coming home from Iraq. For the first time, troops in
Afghanistan have the full backing of the White House and Pentagon. The United
States is regaining the respect of allies around the world.
The Republicans have been rewriting history. They claim Mr. Obama’s economic
policies are a failure and hope Americans will forget that it was President
George W. Bush who turned big budget surpluses into huge deficits and whose
contempt for regulation ultimately brought us to the brink of financial
collapse. The Republicans want to go back to more tax cuts for the rich and more
free passes for Wall Street and big corporations.
Tea Party candidates are particularly worrisome. Some want to privatize Social
Security. Others want to eliminate Medicare. Betting on the Republican
establishment to temper these excesses is a bad bet.
Here are some things to bear in mind on Tuesday:
• Since Mr. Obama was elected, millions of poor children who did not have health
insurance got it. A reform law was passed that already allows young people to be
on their parents’ plan until they are 26, bars insurers from dropping coverage
after a beneficiary becomes sick, and removes lifetime caps on coverage. In
2014, many more benefits will kick in.
Republicans are determined to undo that progress. It would be a disaster. The
law is the best chance in years to provide health insurance to the rapidly
rising numbers of uninsured and to begin trying to slow cost growth in medical
care and insurance.
• The country needs tax reform that is fair and doesn’t get us even deeper in
the red. Republicans are interested only in one thing: permanently extending tax
cuts for the rich, adding $700 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years.
• The country needs jobs and to be globally competitive. Republicans are
determined to block Mr. Obama’s sensible proposals to create good jobs by
rebuilding fraying infrastructure or creating new energy industries.
• The country needs sound regulation. If there is any doubt about that look at
the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Or the bank bailout that — despite what the
Republicans are saying — happened on Mr. Bush’s watch. The Republicans want more
• With very few exceptions, Republican candidates are hostile to the
administration’s efforts to address climate change and reduce the nation’s
dependence on fossil fuels. There has already been talk on Capitol Hill of
stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate
We urge all Americans to think carefully and then vote, especially young voters
who voted for the first time in 2008. Sitting on their hands is voting for
Republicans, none of whom will protect these voters’ interests. There are clear
choices to be made.
Shrill political attacks have saturated the airwaves for months, but behind
them is the real problem of this demoralizing election: the dark flow of
dollars, often secretly provided by donors with very special interests.
The amount is staggering: Nearly $4 billion is likely to be spent once the final
figures are in, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, far more than
in the 2006 midterms, which cost $2.85 billion. It could even eclipse the $4.14
billion spent in the 2004 presidential campaign.
Much of this is a direct creation of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John
G. Roberts Jr., which has cut away nearly all campaign finance restrictions.
The court’s 2007 decision in Wisconsin Right-to-Life gave corporations and
unions the right to run advocacy ads in the last 60 days of a campaign — as long
as they did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a specific
candidate. This year’s Citizens United decision effectively ended even that last
restriction, and pulled away all limits on corporate spending in campaigns.
Building on those decisions, political operatives — mainly Republicans — decided
they could collect unlimited amounts of money through independent, tax- exempt
organizations known as 501(c) groups, without revealing the source of the
By offering anonymity and no limits, these groups (with gauzily apolitical
names, like American Future Fund and American Action Network) have been able to
raise and spend extraordinary sums. In the 2006 midterms, outside groups not
affiliated with political parties spent $51.6 million; so far this year, such
groups have spent $280 million. About 60 percent of that spending is from
undisclosed donors, most of which has benefited Republicans. Democratic
candidates raised huge amounts, but the sources for most of it were disclosed.
Combining both traditional and outside money, Republicans have slightly
outraised Democrats, $1.64 billion to $1.59 billion, but there is more to be
While large secret donations have been legalized, it is not clear that the
501(c) groups spending the money on barrages of attack ads are playing by the
last, threadbare rules. The tax code requires that these groups not be
“primarily engaged” in political advocacy, but neither the Internal Revenue
Service nor the Federal Election Commission has made any apparent effort to
investigate what other purpose they might have. Some groups have suggested they
would begin nonpolitical activities — after the election.
What is clear is that the new world of unlimited spending, both open and secret,
confers huge benefits on wealthy individuals, corporations and unions. In a
striking example, reported by ABC News last week, Terry Forcht, a prominent
Kentucky banker and nursing home executive, helped pay for a series of attack
ads against Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democratic Senate candidate. Mr.
Conway is prosecuting one of Mr. Forcht’s nursing homes for allegedly covering
up sexual abuse.
Mr. Forcht has directly raised at least $21,000 for Mr. Conway’s Republican
opponent, Rand Paul. He serves as the banker for American Crossroads, the
shadowy group of nonprofits organized by Karl Rove that has spent nearly $30
million to defeat Democrats and more than $1 million to defeat Mr. Conway.
This year, of course, is just batting practice for 2012. Congress still has time
to act. The first step is to pass the Disclose Act, which would require the
identification of large campaign donors. The second is to create a public
financing system for Congressional candidates that provides extra money to those
who rely on small donations.
Voters say — again and again — that they want to break the hold of special
interests and end pay-to-play politics. And politicians promise — again and
again — that they will. Four billion dollars and one particularly ugly campaign
later, there can be no more excuses.
This fall’s round of state judicial elections is setting records of the wrong
kind. Extravagant spending by interest groups out to influence judicial
decisions and snarling television and radio attack ads have long become routine.
This year, the virus has spread to retention elections, in which states ask for
a yes-or-no vote on whether to grant sitting justices another term.
This is especially troubling because retention ballots were supposed to limit
politicization by sparing sitting judges from having to compete in regular
The retention campaign of Justice Thomas Kilbride of the Illinois Supreme Court
(the chief justice as of this week) is a depressing standout. More than $3.1
million has been raised — $2.5 million by the judge’s supporters, and $650,000
by his opponents.
The bulk of the pro-Kilbride war chest comes from plaintiffs’ lawyers, unions
and other interests channeling money through the Illinois Democratic Party,
which has an obvious stake in how the state’s top court comes down in future
legal battles over redistricting.
Chief Justice Kilbride drew the ire of big business and insurance interests this
year after he voted, with the majority, to overturn a state law that capped
damage awards in medical malpractice cases. A political action committee trying
to oust him has gotten $150,000 from the United States Chamber of Commerce,
$180,000 from a group closely aligned with the National Association of
Manufacturers and nearly $90,000 from the American Tort Reform Association.
His opponents’ ads are particularly noxious. Rather than focusing on the
comparatively dry issue of whether the Legislature or juries and judges should
decide negligence awards, they use his procedural rulings in other cases to
portray him — unfairly — as soft on crime. In the ads, actors playing violent
felons describe their atrocious crimes in detail and then say the justice “sided
with us over law enforcement or victims.”
Chief Justice Kilbride is an able jurist, and Illinois voters should retain him.
But the huge amounts of money in this campaign and others around the country are
doing huge damage to the courts’ reputation for impartiality — and underscores
the urgent need for basic reforms. States that hold judicial elections must
adopt public financing as well as strict rules that bar judges from sitting on
cases involving major financial supporters.
October 26, 2010
The New York Times
By ERIC LIPTON and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
WASHINGTON — Ernst & Young, the global accounting firm, hosted
a fund-raising breakfast late last month for Representative Dave Camp that drew
so many donors the firm’s lobbyists had to pull extra chairs into their largest
The day before, Mr. Camp was at a Capitol Hill town house owned by a founder of
the Online Lenders Alliance, raising thousands of dollars more. And then there
was the dinner reception and fund-raiser at Carmine’s, a downtown Italian
restaurant, for Mr. Camp that same week.
To an outsider, it might be confounding why Mr. Camp, a relatively unknown
Michigan Republican who has no viable challenger in his re-election bid this
year, would be seeing such a flood of cash, including contributions from names
like Bob Dole, the former United States senator turned lobbyist, and Joseph E.
Gallo, the chief executive of E. & J. Gallo Winery in California.
But there is nothing mysterious for the lobbyists and corporate executives
writing most of these checks. Mr. Camp is slated to take over the powerful,
tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans win the majority next
week, transforming this low-key conservative Republican almost overnight into
one of the most powerful men in town.
Across Washington, lobbyists have been working behind the scenes now for months
to prepare for this possible power shift. Former aides to Mr. Camp, who now work
as lobbyists, are checking in with their onetime boss, chatting with him and his
aides about staff appointments he might make when he takes over the Ways and
Means Committee, and what tax or health care issues will be at the top of his
agenda. Other lobbyists have gone to his staff to try to get to the head of the
line in presenting proposed tax changes that will benefit their clients.
“You don’t wait until Nov. 3 and say, ‘What is the plan,’ ” said Jennifer Bell,
a former aide to Mr. Camp who is now a health care lobbyist. She flew to
Michigan last month in part to catch up with Mr. Camp while he was in his
district. “Obviously, it is the majority that sets the agenda.”
The chairman’s spot on the Ways and Means Committee has long been a magnet for
big dollars; Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, saw his
campaign war accounts surge after he took over the committee in 2007.
The full list of likely Republican chairmen is not yet known. The choices are
based on a mix of seniority and popularity, and some positions are still up for
grabs. And, of course, voters still have to decide, regardless of what the polls
are predicting, which party will control Congress. Still, the jockeying to
influence the class of likely new leaders started months ago.
Representative Howard P. McKeon, Republican of California, who is slated to take
over the Armed Services Committee, has been a particular focus of attention, as
military contractors fret over spending cuts proposed by the Obama
For his 2008 campaign, Mr. McKeon collected $86,000 from the military industry
for his political action committee and re-election bid. This time, even before
the two-year election cycle is over, he has pulled in nearly $400,000, and has
emerged as the top recipient of money in both the House and the Senate from
military contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
Two of his former aides — who now work as military industry lobbyists — cornered
him last month at a Capitol Hill reception held to unveil a portrait of Mr.
McKeon, painted to honor his former service as chairman of the House Education
and Workforce Committee. (He held that spot for only several months, just before
Republicans last lost control of Congress, but he still had a portrait
Recognizing the enormous power Mr. McKeon could soon have in helping shape
Defense Department policy and spending, military contractors are teaming up with
his office to form a new association of military suppliers they are calling the
Aerospace Defense Coalition of Santa Clarita Valley, to make sure he can deliver
as much money as possible to his district in California, where several of the
big contractors already have large operations.
Mr. McKeon, who is known as Buck, has already hinted to industry lobbyists that
he wants to push for more spending on unmanned aerial vehicles, which could
benefit contractors in his district.
“Buck is a great advocate for our war fighters and for the industrial
capabilities that support their mission,” said Hanz C. Heinrichs, a former aide
to Mr. McKeon who now represents military contractors like L3 Communications..
One lobbyist who knows Mr. McKeon well and has contributed the maximum allowed
by law to his re-election campaign has met with several military contractors in
recent weeks as he seeks a way to profit from the rise of Mr. McKeon to
“I don’t want to count the chickens before they hatch,” said the lobbyist,
referring not to the possible Republican takeover but to his possible surge in
new clients. “But I would be surprised if it didn’t help me in one way or
another. Business should be very good.”
Mr. McKeon, in a statement, said that if named chairman, he would continue a
tradition of bipartisan leadership at the Armed Services Committee, “providing
our warfighters and their families with the resources and support they need —
and that commitment will continue regardless of the outcome in November.”
Mr. Camp declined a request for comment, but an aide to Mr. Camp, Sage Eastman,
said his agenda would be dictated by voters not lobbyists.
“You are hired or fired based on your ability to reflect the will of the
American people,” Mr. Eastman said.
The possible shift in power has also generated excitement among energy-sector
lobbyists, who welcome the likely rise of Representative Doc Hastings,
Republican of Washington, as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. Even
while oil was still spilling into the Gulf of Mexico this summer, Mr. Hastings
was condemning the moratorium on new drilling, and tried to block a
Democrat-backed bill that would impose new safety standards on off-shore
drilling operations, while also increasing taxes that oil drilling companies
Mr. Hastings has long been popular with the oil and gas interests. He got
$10,000 from the industries in the last election cycle. But this time around, he
has collected $70,000, making him one of the top recipients of money from those
industries. That contrasts with Representative Nick J. Rahall II, Democrat of
West Virginia, the current committee chairman, who has been an outspoken critic
of the oil industry, but is a major recipient of donations from railroad and
coal mining executives.
Industry lobbyists said they were hopeful that the Natural Resources Committee
under Mr. Hastings would take a more aggressive stand in challenging the many
costly environmental and safety regulations the Obama administration has tried
to impose on the industry.
“Clearly, he is pro-energy development,” said Michael D. Olsen, a former Natural
Resources Committee staff member and Bush administration Interior Department
official, who now is a lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani, a firm that specializes
In some cases, the lobbyists must wait for outcomes, like the chairmanship of
the Appropriations Committee, which controls all federal spending.
Representative Jerry Lewis of California is the senior Republican on the panel,
but he may be blocked from the post because of party-imposed term limits.
Besides the jobs that affect certain industries, other names are emerging for
leadership positions in the new Congress.
Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who would lead the Budget Committee,
has been a point person for Republican leaders on fiscal issues in recent years.
Mr. Ryan is one of the “Young Guns,” a moniker that Republicans have used to
brand a new generation of leadership, along with a recently released book of the
Representative Darrell Issa of California is poised to become the chairman of
the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which puts him in position to
investigate the Obama administration and issue subpoenas.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida is expected to become chairwoman
of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Born in Havana, she is a strong opponent of
the Communist government in Cuba and at one point called publicly for the
assassination of Fidel Castro.
Fund-raising for all of these members is likely to become easier. Ed Kutler, a
Republican lobbyist close to Mr. Camp, found that out when he organized a
fund-raising event for him this year.
“I was calling around inviting clients to the event, asking if they would be
willing to help out,” said Mr. Kutler, a onetime Republican aide in the House.
“With one client, at first he said, ‘Probably not.’ Then there was a pause and
he said, ‘If Republicans take over, could he be chairman?’ And then he said,
‘O.K., put me down.’ ”
Kitty Bennett and Barclay Walsh contributed research.
October 26, 2010
The New York Times
By MICHAEL LUO and GRIFF PALMER
Lost in all of the attention paid to the heavy spending by
Republican-oriented independent groups in this year’s midterm elections is that
Democratic candidates have generally wielded a significant head-to-head
financial advantage over their Republican opponents in individual competitive
Even with a recent surge in fund-raising for Republican candidates, Democratic
candidates have outraised their opponents over all by more than 30 percent in
the 109 House races The New York Times has identified as in play. And Democratic
candidates have significantly outspent their Republican counterparts over the
last few months in those contests, $119 million to $79 million.
Republican-leaning third-party groups, however, many of them financed by large,
unrestricted donations that are not publicly disclosed, have swarmed into the
breach, pouring more than $60 million into competitive races since July, about
80 percent more than the Democratic-leaning groups have reported spending.
As a result, the battle for control of the House has been increasingly shaping
up as a test of whether a Democratic fund-raising edge, powered by the
advantages of incumbency but accumulated in the smaller increments allowed by
campaign finance law, can withstand the continuing deluge of spending by groups
able to operate outside those limits, according to an analysis of political
spending by The Times.
It is difficult to provide an accurate, up-to-the-moment comparison that
includes all three streams of campaign money — money spent by candidates, money
spent by party committees and money spent by outside groups — because candidates
have had to file financial reports that cover only up until mid-October.
Moreover, certain types of so-called issue advertisements, which do not
explicitly urge voters to cast their ballots one way or another but still attack
or praise candidates ahead of the general election, had to be filed with the
Federal Election Commission only beginning in September, or 60 days before
voters go to the polls.
While activities like television and radio advertisements and mass mailings are
reported to the commission soon after they are purchased, other kinds of
spending, like get-out-the-vote efforts, are not.
In mid-October, however, based upon the campaign finance data available,
Democrats actually had the spending advantage in about 60 percent of the 109
competitive House races and had invested, collectively, about 10 percent more
money into the contests than Republican candidates and their aligned groups had
over the previous few months.
Those outside groups have proven crucial, though. Expenditures by
Republican-oriented independent groups in carefully selected races have been
financial difference-makers in dozens of cases, more than enough to help put the
Republicans within striking distance of recapturing the majority, especially
considering the political headwinds faced by Democrats.
With the Democratic and Republican Congressional campaign committees essentially
battling each other to a draw, Republican-leaning groups have used their
financial heft to broaden the political map. Since July, they have put $100,000
or more into more than 80 percent of the races in play, many more than
Democratic-leaning groups, who have invested $100,000 or more in about half of
the competitive races.
Only in the last two weeks or so have Democratic-oriented groups finally begun
to come close to matching the spending of their counterparts on the right. But
in many cases they appear to be playing defense, rushing to bolster Democratic
candidates in races in which Republican outside groups had been swamping them.
America’s Families First Action Fund, for instance, a new Democratic-aligned
group that is able to accept contributions of unlimited size from individuals
and corporations but regularly reports its donors to the election commission,
has emerged in the last few weeks as a major player. But in almost all of the
races it has been involved in, it is mostly laboring to keep up with Republican
outside group spending.
Last week, for example, the group spent $362,000 on a television ad attacking
Steve Southerland, the Republican challenger to Representative Allen Boyd,
Democrat of Florida. But the 60 Plus Association, a nonprofit advocacy group
that bills itself as a conservative alternative to AARP, began attacking the
Democratic incumbent on television as early as late August.
In the closing stretch of the campaign, Democratic candidates in competitive
races generally have had more money in the bank to spend than their Republican
counterparts. As of Oct. 13, Democrats in House races in play collectively had
about $45 million in cash on hand, compared with about $32. million for
In contest after contest, however, Democratic candidates with huge financial
advantages over underfinanced Republican opponents have found themselves under
Outside group spending has already far exceeded the total for the last midterm
election cycle, in 2006, and is on track to surpass even what was spent by
independent groups in 2008, a presidential election year, according to data from
the Center for Responsive Politics.
The hand-to-hand political combat between candidates, who must inch along in
their own fund-raising in relatively modest bites, and these groups, which are
able to leapfrog ahead with the help of a single giant donation, casts in bold
relief the kind of outsized influence corporate and individual megadonors to
such organizations can exert on specific races.
Take, for example, the tight race in New York’s 20th Congressional District.
Representative Scott Murphy, a Democrat who was elected in 2009 to replace
Kirsten Gillibrand, after she ascended to the Senate, has spent $1.5 million
since late August, compared with less than $400,000 by his Republican
challenger, Chris Gibson, a retired Army colonel.
But Mr. Gibson has been helped by more than $700,000 in spending by
Republican-leaning outside groups, while Democratic-leaning groups have spent
less than $200,000 supporting Mr. Murphy.
American Crossroads, one of a pair of independent groups tied to Karl Rove,
spent about $200,000 in mid-October on a television commercial attacking Mr.
Murphy for his support of the health care overhaul.
The group’s most recent filings with the election commission revealed $14.7
million in donations since September, two-thirds of which essentially came from
two people, Bob Perry, a Houston home builder, and Robert B. Rowling, a
billionaire from Dallas.
Leading the way in independent group spending on House races has been the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, which has reported spending more than $12 million on “issue
ads” in House races dating back to September, mostly attacking Democratic
Other top-spending Republican-oriented groups in House races include: American
Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy group created this year by Republican
operatives, which has reported spending about $10 million; the 60 Plus
Association has disclosed expenditures of roughly $8 million; and American
Future Fund, an Iowa-based nonprofit, has reported investing about $7 million in
At over $5 million, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal
Employees, a labor union, has been the biggest outside group spender on the
Democratic side, followed closely by America’s Families First Action Fund, with
about $4.8 million.
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.
Mr. Braley is now struggling to maintain his lead against a Republican
challenger, Benjamin Lange, who is running on a familiar program of smaller
government and opposition to the health care law, the stimulus and growing
federal spending. Mr. Braley has disclosed all of the donors behind his ads and
his campaign; Mr. Lange generally will not discuss his independent support.
Mr. Braley has shown admirable political courage throughout the race, staunchly
defending his support for health care reform, the stimulus and the Bush-era bank
bailout. Each will benefit the country over time, he said. “I’m going to stand
my ground and won’t be intimidated,” he told a local radio station a few weeks
That position stood him well in the relatively liberal 1st District of Iowa
until he became a target of the American Future Fund, one of several
conservative groups spending millions of dollars to defeat Democrats while
promising their donors anonymity.
As The Times reported recently, the American Future Fund was started with money
from Bruce Rastetter, an ethanol company executive. Mr. Braley supports ethanol
tax credits — a favorite in Iowa. Mr. Rastetter, who is pushing to defeat
several Democrats on the House energy and agriculture committees, has not
explained his political goals.
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.
He is only one of many candidates being pummeled this year by secret money and
shamefully false advertising. The American Action Network, another conservative
group that does not disclose its donors, is targeting Representative Chris
Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, in his race against Sam Caligiuri, a Republican.
The group is running an ad claiming that the health reform law, which Mr. Murphy
supported and Mr. Caligiuri wants to repeal, requires jail time for people who
do not buy health insurance. The law does no such thing. At least one
Connecticut television station has stopped running the ad.
The voters, who are the real victims of these distortions, haven’t the slightest
idea who is paying for the ads. But rest assured that the big corporations and
donors will make their identities known to the winners they push into office.
The price for their support will be high.
OVIEDO, Fla. — The anonymously financed conservative groups that have played
such a crucial role this campaign year are starting a carefully coordinated
final push to deliver control of Congress to Republicans, shifting money among
some 80 House races they are monitoring day by day.
Officials involved in the effort over the midterm elections’ final week say it
is being spearheaded by a core subset of the largest outside conservative
groups, which have millions of dollars left to spend on television
advertisements, mailings and phone calls for five potentially decisive Senate
races, as well as the scores of House races.
Bolstered by a surge in last-minute donations and other financial support,
outside liberal groups and unions say they are stepping up their response in
advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts, but remain largely outgunned by the
scale and sophistication of the operation supporting Republican candidates.
A vivid picture of how outside groups are helping Republicans across the country
can be found here in central Florida. The incumbent Democrat, Representative
Suzanne M. Kosmas, had a nearly four-to-one fund-raising advantage over her
Republican challenger, State Representative Sandy Adams, at the end of
Ms. Adams, low on cash, has not run a single campaign commercial. But a host of
outside groups have swept in to swamp Ms. Kosmas with attack ads, helping
establish Ms. Adams as the favorite without her having to spend on television.
Many of the conservative groups say they have been trading information through
weekly strategy sessions and regular conference calls. They have divided up
races to avoid duplication, the groups say, and to ensure that their money is
spread around to put Democrats on the defensive in as many districts and states
as possible — and, more important, lock in whatever gains they have delivered
for the Republicans so far.
“We carpet-bombed for two months in 82 races, now it’s sniper time,” said Rob
Collins, president of American Action Network, which is one of the leading
Republican groups this campaign season and whose chief executive is Norm
Coleman, the former senator from Minnesota. “You’re looking at the battle field
and saying, ‘Where can we marginally push — where can we close a few places
Democrats said the conservative groups were upending some of their best-laid
plans in several important races, like here in Florida, especially those in
which they had been counting on the financial advantages their candidates had
over lesser-financed Republicans at the beginning of the general election.
Filings with the Federal Election Commission over the weekend show that one
Republican group, American Future Fund, has purchased more television
advertisements attacking Representative Bruce Braley, Democrat of Iowa, who was
expecting an easier path to re-election. Another group, the 60 Plus Association,
reported spending more than $150,000 against Representative Solomon P. Ortiz,
Democrat of Texas, who has been considered a likely victor in November against
his cash-short challenger, Blake Farenthold.
“As you know, they have been dumping tens of millions of dollars of secret money
into these campaigns,” Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the chairman
of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an interview. “I
would say the outside groups have shuffled the deck in a number of these races.”
The coordinating effort is led out of a nondescript office suite just blocks
from the White House, where two groups formed with help from Karl Rove —
American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS — share space with American Action
Network, a nonprofit advocacy group. Together those strategists had already
committed nearly $45 million for advertisements among them, according to
Democratic advertising monitors’ best estimates. That does not include millions
more being spent to get voters to polls through mailings, phone calls and text
Their office suite — which has been deluged with incoming messages from nervous
donors asking for progress reports or offering advice — is also the site of the
weekly strategy sessions, which have up to roughly 25 representatives from other
Republican groups active this campaign season, participants say.
A secondary hub is in Alexandria, Va., at the office of the Crossroads groups’
political director, Carl Forti, a protégé of Mr. Rove’s whose company does
communications consulting for Americans for Jobs Security and the 60 Plus
Association, which have spent more than $12 million between them this election
Working from color-coded master spreadsheets — one of which was obtained by The
New York Times — the conservative groups are now closely monitoring polling in
80 House races that they judge crucial to ensuring a Republican majority. Based
on those results, the groups have started to place their final advertising bets
in ways carefully coordinated to fill openings left by the more financially
limited official party and candidate committees.
In several cases, officials with the outside groups said, they intend to force
Democrats to spend money in districts they presumed safe; in others, they said
they would wipe out financial advantages Democratic incumbents were counting on
to stave off strong challenges from underfinanced opponents.
“We’re going to continue to have a very strong presence on the Senate and in
each of the key House races where we’ve played a big role,” said Steven Law, the
president of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.
The groups, he said, are planning “an expansion of that effort, where we see
holes and gaps.”
Over all, they said, their moves are most acutely focused on those races
determined to be the most critical in securing Republican Congressional control,
rather than on tantalizing but long-shot attempts to defeat Democratic nemeses
like Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts.
Both sides reported seeing an influx of new spending by liberal outside groups
that had generally been subdued until now — a late-stage cavalry effect that Mr.
Law called “alarming from my vantage point,” though he wondered if it was coming
a bit late.
A group called Women’s Voices Women Vote recently began a significant
advertising campaign against Ken Buck in Colorado, the Republican challenger to
Senator Michael Bennet; Commonsense Ten, a liberal group that had been mostly
focused on Senate races, has started a new advertising campaign to help Mr.
Braley of Iowa.
“It’s clear that both institutional donors and individual donors dug deep over
the last two or three weeks, and it will make a difference for sure,” said Jim
Jordan, a strategist with Commonsense Ten. “But when we look back at the
totality of it all we will still be outspent on electronic media six- or
In Florida, a review of records at the local NBC affiliate, WESH, shows that a
succession of outside groups bought time for waves of anti-Kosmas
advertisements, an anonymous, attack-ad relay race.
“They are not required to disclose who they are,” Ms. Kosmas said. “Therefore
it’s impossible to connect them to their real agenda.”
Mr. Van Hollen sought to attach any Republican success on Election Day to the
corporate benefactors backing the groups. “They are going to be very much
indebted to these special interest groups that have come into these races,” he
In an e-mail, Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, the chairman of the
National Republican Congressional Committee, accused Mr. Van Hollen of focusing
on the anonymous donors as a way to “distract voters with scare tactics and side
topics” rather than issues like jobs.
He added, “We appreciate the lawful work of any organization that is committed
to working towards our goal of retiring Nancy Pelosi,” the House speaker.