A debate about the debate raged all day Thursday and is probably going to consume the long holiday weekend. Did the President lose the debate on purpose? Were women turned off by the bullying and rudeness? Should we just inaugurate Mitt and get it over with? Whatever your take, know that the debates had at least one positive outcome for some good progressives, candidates for the House and Senate in a few key states. And on that score we all won.
It was the conventional wisdom that the big money players behind Romney were getting itchy. Many of them – including King Karl and his Crossroads PAC – hadn’t been that crazy about the former governor to begin with. He wasn’t conservative enough, he was a flat campaigner, of the wrong faith, and critically, he didn’t need their money as much as they would like.
Desperation is very important to the money people – their cash goes further and buys them a lot more when a candidate can’t survive without it. During the two-year-long slog Romney has seemed as desperate as any of his previous rivals and much more so than his current one; but his desperation is one of ego, not finances.
In any case, the money men were beginning to realize the wisdom of the old saw about throwing good money after bad and many pundits were speculating that the debate was Romney’s last gasp. A meltdown or even a mediocre showing and the bag men and their millions would be out of there, heading for greener – or perhaps redder – pastures. Speculation was rife that the money would go directly to tight senate races in an attempt to gain control with perhaps a bit spilling over to shore up failing campaigns for the house and prevent it from slipping back into Democratic hands.
Big money in a local election can buy a lot more than in a presidential race. Donate $50,000 to President Obama or Governor Romney and it will get you a fancy dinner and a handshake from the candidate. Donate that much to Steve King or Jack Kingston and they will know for sure where it came from, the donor’s wife’s name and his golf handicap. Air time in major markets is horrifically expensive, but a candidate in a rural state can buy a month’s worth of radio time or thousands of yard signs for the price of a one minute television ad in Charlotte.
The Republicans are not doing nearly as well as they had assumed they would either in grabbing back the Senate where they had only to defend ten seats while the Democrats had 23 at stake including two belonging to independents who have caucused with them. Many of these were in states like Missouri, Nebraska, and West Virginia where Democrats are becoming an endangered species. To compound the Democrats’ problems, a number of the seats that they hold would actually be open on Election Day; lacking the advantages of incumbency. Likewise, the 25 seat majority held by Republicans in the house seemed an insurmountable number for the Democrats to reclaim, particularly after the other party controlled redistricting in so many states.
Fast forward to Election Day plus 30 and a lot of those seats the Republicans thought were theirs are looking increasingly problematic. Tammy Baldwin is up 4 points over former Wisconsin governor and HHS secretary Tommy Thompson. Virginia and Florida are leaning Democratic. Todd Akin not only seriously endangered his gimme election in Missouri but upped the ante for Republicans in other states. Nevada, New Mexico, Massachusetts, all look increasingly like Democratic wins. Even in crazy right-wing Arizona Rep Jeff Flake, running for an open senate seat is down two points to Democrat Richard Carmona.
But the hole card was money. Candidates like Sherrod Brown in Ohio and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts have been fighting millions in superPAC money all summer. But they are known names and have received a lot of support from out-of-state grassroots donors as well as the party itself. Others like Carmona and dozens of house candidates have scrambled to make the most of small contributions, free media, and ingenuity; living in fear that the big money would suddenly abandon the top of the ticket and rain down on their heads. With the naming of Ryan as vice presidential candidate, the release of the 47 percent tape, and the subsequent tanking of Romney in the polls that fear was looming large by early this week.
Then came the debate. The few polls that have come out in its wake indicate it had little effect on voters, but it seems to have given the PAC people and the millionaires a renewed hope that Romney might actually pull it off. They seem willing to stick with the Romney campaign and leave the congressional candidates to struggle along on their own resources.
Romney may have won the debate, but down-ballot Democrats got a reprieve.