Bleeding Heartland is a community blog about Iowa politics: campaigns and elections, state government, social and environmental issues. Bleeding Heartland also weighs in on presidential policies and campaigns, federal legislation and what the Iowans in Congress are up to. Join our community, post your thoughts as comments or diaries, help keep our leaders honest and hold them accountable.
Republicans didn't recruit a high-profile challenger against two-term Representative Bruce Braley, who outperformed Barack Obama in Iowa's first Congressional district in 2008. For months, Ben Lange's campaign in this D+5 district attracted little attention as Iowa Republicans talked up their chances against Leonard Boswell in the third district.
Lange went up on the air in the Quad Cities and Cedar Rapids markets on September 30 with a 30-second spot called Stand With Me:
Lange [standing in a green field]: I'm Ben Lange, and I approved this message. They said I couldn't do this. They said I couldn't take on Bruce Braley and the political machine. We, like all Iowans, don't listen to what can't be done. This isn't about Republican-Democrat. This is about doing what's right for Iowans, standing on principle that made us the most free and prosperous country in the history of the world. Stand with me. Vote for me. Ben Lange.
Adorable little girl: Vote for my daddy.
Not much to say about this ad: attractive footage of the candidate with family, positions the candidate as an underdog who doesn't give up, seems to reject partisanship in favor of "principle," doesn't mention any issue stand a viewer might disagree with.
One could argue that the commercial gives viewers no reason to vote for Lange, but he doesn't need to do anything other than be a generic alternative to the incumbent. The American Future Fund will make a case against Braley for him.
Voice-over: "False." That's what fact-checkers call ads by the corporate CEOs backing Ben Lange. [screen shows "...demostrably false." PoliticalCorrection.org]
They're hitting Bruce Braley for his fight to stop tax breaks for those shipping jobs overseas. [screen shows: The Braley Record: STOP tax breaks for those shipping jobs overseas. Source is CBS news 8/9/10 and H.R. 1586 roll call vote, 8/10/10]
Braley supported tax cuts for Iowa working families. [screen shows: The Braley Record: Tax Cuts for 95% of Iowa Working Families. Source is H.R. 1 Sec 36A, roll call 70, 2/13/09]
Ben Lange opposed that plan. [screen shows Ben Lange OPPOSED tax cuts for Iowa families. Source is Des Moines Register, 9/19/10]
Instead, Lange proposes tax breaks for billionaires, a windfall for the privileged few. [screen shows shot from Lange speaking in own tv ad, with words "The Lange Plan: Massive Tax Cuts for Billionaires"; source given is Lange speech, Davenport, IA, 9/28/10]
Ben Lange for billionaires. Bruce Braley for Iowa.
Braley: I'm Bruce Braley, and I approved this message.
This ad doesn't explicitly refer to the 2009 stimulus bill, but that was the February 2009 measure Braley voted for, which contained tax cuts for 95 percent of Iowa families. Democratic incumbents have been afraid to campaign on the stimulus, because while it created and saved many jobs, it didn't stop unemployment from rising. Nevertheless, the stimulus was the biggest middle-class tax cut in history. Lange has campaigned against the stimulus, so it's fair to say he wouldn't have voted for those tax cuts.
Ask strategists from both parties about the strategy behind the Braley buy, and the answer you get is close to unanimous: Republicans are trying to take him out before he has a chance to grow into the Democrats' next Senator-in-waiting. And, even if they can't beat him this year, they want to bloody him for future -- and bigger -- campaigns.
It's little secret that Braley has his eyes on a statewide campaign -- preferably a run at Sen. Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) seat if Harkin, 70, retires in four years.
"That's why you're seeing outside groups target him," said one GOP operative in the state. "This guy's for real, and there's a real chance he could be the next senator from Iowa."
The source expressed concern that a candidate like Braley, with an attractive profile and solid credentials, could lock down the Senate seat for decades to come.
I doubt the American Future Fund's secret donors will be lucky enough to take Braley out this year, but stranger things have happened in wave elections. I haven't seen any internal polling on the IA-01 race. Generally incumbents don't go negative in advertisements unless they feel threatened. That said, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hasn't spent any money on mail or reserved any advertising time in the district. Braley is a DCCC vice-chair, and the committee would likely spend on his behalf if their polling set off alarm bells.
As voters, we need to know who's buying the ads that influence our local campaigns. Those ads aren't just informing campaigns. They are defining campaigns by their content and tone. [...]
Why is this an issue here? Because organizations funded by secret donors are paying for ads right now in our Iowa 1st District and Illinois 17th District congressional races.
Secret donors are influencing Iowa's judicial retention vote and constitutional convention vote. Secret donors filled Iowa airwaves with presidential caucus ads in 2007. And they'll certainly be back next year.
Secret donors are behind many of the attack ads that change the tone and topics of campaigns, denigrating our political process and discouraging public service.
These secret donors provide the cash that influences the campaign agenda for our community. Along with their cash and agenda, we believe voters here and everywhere should know their names as well.
Well, there's a lot of clear differences between my opponent and myself in this election, Mike. But the biggest issue that is facing voters in the first district is secret donors from outside the state of Iowa who are trying to buy this election for Ben Lange. I think the voters in the first district should be asking themselves why are these secret donors, Ben's secret donors doing so much to get rid of me? Is it because I stand up to powerful special interests every day like the CEO of BP after the top republican on my committee apologized to him after the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history? Is it because I fight hard for working families and work very hard every day to make sure they have a voice in policymaking? But it is the biggest single threat to democracy that we're facing in this election and I think the big issue on people's minds is who are these secret donors supporting Ben and why are they doing it?
Lange declined to ask the secret donors to stop advertising on his behalf and tried to change the subject to the amount of money Braley has raised from outside the district. Braley challenged Lange's claim that 91 percent of Braley's donors were from outside the district and said his upcoming FEC report would disprove it.
Lange: I think the issue here is what is the best use of the dollar to allow people to create jobs and opportunities for folks. We just passed what was thought to be a $700 billion stimulus plan, it is now upwards of $800 billion and unemployment in Iowa has increased ...
Glover: Back up, back up ... what would you have done?
Lange: What we can do is allow private industry to do what they do best. We can allow them -- we can create a tax environment, a regulatory environment, an energy policy so that they have confidence. They are the locomotive, the economic engine in our country and the policies that my opponent continues to support is restricting that.
Glover: So, you cut taxes, you cut regulations which is, last I checked, how we got into the recession.
Lange: No, I'm not against government, I want smart government and Ronald Reagan said, cut me some slack I think I was seven when he said it, but, he said, I want a government that stands by my side, not rides on my back and that is what we have here with a stimulus plan that is equipped now $2500 per person. And what is the job growth? Unemployment is at nine and a half percent.
Glover: Mr. Braley, democrats are often pounded for voting for that stimulus bill. What is your defense for it?
Braley: Look at the enormous success the Recovery Act has had here in Iowa, Mike. Created 10,000 jobs, it is the most single transparent spending bill in U.S. history because every single dollar spent under that program was posted online. I set up a link on my Web site so voters I represent could go and find every single dollar spent in the first district. I set up a waste watchdog link on my Web site so if they became aware of wasteful spending under that program they could contact me immediately. And this is what government is supposed to be, transparent and open to the people. It provided a lot of incentives for people to go hire people and put them back to work. The Hire Act that president Obama signed into law this year included my Back to Work Act which does exactly what you should do, provides incentives to employers, tax breaks, they don't have to pay Social Security withholding if they hire someone who has been unemployed for 60 days. Then if they keep them on their payroll for up to a year they get another $1000 tax break. And guess what, Mike, 53,000 Iowa employees have been hired since February that would be eligible for that tax credit. And in Dubuque 10% of employers have employees who would be eligible for that tax break. 5.6 million workers nationwide eligible for an incentive to put unemployed workers back to work.
Henderson: Mr. Braley, you supported intervention in the automobile industry in the form of government loans to automakers as well as the infamous cash for clunkers program. There have been mixed reviews about that program. Did it work as envisioned?
Braley: Well, I disagree with your characterization of that program as infamous. I think economists will tell you that was one of the most wildly successful stimulus programs in U.S. history. It rescued a dormant automobile industry including automobile dealers all over the state of Iowa who were at risk of going under.
Borg: But some say just moved up the purchase and then dropped off.
Braley: Dean, Time Magazine did an analysis of this and concluded the ripple effects of this $3 billion investment were over $25 billion of net economic impact. That is hardly a failure and that is what people who have went back to work in factories building these automobiles will tell you, over 30,000 nationwide. But in addition to that, I participated in a hearing with the CEOs of GM and Chrysler and the president of the National Auto Dealers who is from Clinton, Iowa, a constituent of mine and held those CEOs accountable because they wanted to shut down dealers in states like Iowa and put people out of work and I fought against that.
Henderson: Mr. Lange, the flip side of this is that there are those who argue that if the government hadn't intervened with the automakers that the U.S. might have lost the automaking industry. Do you think it was appropriate for the government to help automakers as Ronald Reagan did back in his day?
Lange: Well, it's interesting, there my opponent goes again talking about the issue that he likes to look at, his view of it. But look at what the economists say, there was a study by the University of California economists that say, if this was the best economic stimulus then the rest had to be awful because, as you mentioned, Dean, it stole from the future. Yes, there were purchases for six months but it cost us almost $3 billion. And who is going to pay for that? It is our children that will pay for that, it is our kids that will pay for that, it is eastern Iowans that will pay for that. That is the real world effect that my opponent continues to miss on every policy down the line.
Also on October 8, the American Future Fund launched a new tv ad attacking Braley:
Male voice-over: Bruce Braley says he supports tax cuts for Iowa families. But with the biggest tax hike in American history looming, Braley was the deciding vote to adjourn the House. Instead of fighting for lower taxes, Braley went home. Tax hikes will cost middle-class Iowa families $1600 each, and new taxes will cripple Iowa's small businesses. Tell Braley, don't vote to raise taxes on Iowa families. American Future Fund is responsible for the content of this advertising.
It was idiotic for Congress to adjourn without voting on extending the Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year. Like most of the House Democrats, Braley supports extending the cuts for individuals making less than $200,000 per year, and families making less than $250,000 per year. The problem was the group of Blue Dogs who (like Republicans) want to extend the tax cuts for the top earners as well. House leaders couldn't be sure they had the votes to stop this kind of scenario from playing out, so they went home. After the election Congress will certainly vote on the tax cuts, and Republicans will probably get their way as usual.
Braley's campaign released a web video showing him visit 4225 Fleur Drive in Des Moines, the registered address for the American Future Fund. "Suite 142" turns out to be the fund's mailbox at a UPS Store. Braley says to the camera, "Well, we came to the home of the American Future Fund, and we didn't find anybody here. We don't know where these secret donors are that are supporting Ben Lange, but they're obviously not here at the UPS Store on Fleur Drive."