The Real Super PAC Menace (Hint: It Has Nothing to Do With Jeremiah Wright Ads)
Plenty of liberals and other Americans of good conscience no doubt breathed a sigh of relief when AmeriTrade founder and Chicago Cubs co-owner Joe Ricketts distanced himself yesterday from the $10 million racially-tinged Jeremiah Wright ad blitz that the New York Times had reported he was considering buying. But it would be a mistake to consider that any sort of significant victory against the disproportionate power wielded by super PACs. Indeed, even if big donors decide not to corrode the atmosphere of the presidential campaign, they have already demonstrated—Ricketts did so earlier this week, in fact—their commitment to influencing state and local elections. And it’s precisely in those elections—elections that many of us won’t be paying attention to—that their power over national politics will prove most decisive.
Take Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary in Nebraska, for example. From a national point of view, this was a relatively obscure affair: For many pundits, the only thing they knew about surprise winner Deb Fischer is that she was endorsed by Sarah Palin. Indeed, there was an initial tendency to push the Nebraska contest into the familiar template set a week earlier by the Mourdock/Lugar primary in Indiana: Conservative insurgent beats moderate. This had the advantage of pleasing the otherwise embarrassed conservative activists who had poured much time and treasure into the campaign of third-place finisher Don Stenberg. Democrats also had an interest in reinforcing that interpretation; the more Fischer looked like 2010 wacko Senate candidates Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell, the better the fundraising environment for Democratic candidate Bob Kerrey.
But this early conventional wisdom was wrong: A closer look shows that Fischer is a fairly conventional Republican politician, and ideology played little role in the primary’s outcome. (In part because all three major candidates constantly claimed to be true conservatives battling the ever-traitorous RINOs of the national party). A Public Policy Polling survey on the eve of the primary (which pretty much nailed the results) showed that so-called establishment candidate Joe Bruning’s shaky favorable ratings were actually highest among self-identified “very conservative” voters, while moderates felt most fondly towards Fischer.