Iowa Senate primary has new front-runner, more level playing field

Former U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer made it official on July 22: she’s running for the U.S. Senate. And even though signs point to long-serving Senator Chuck Grassley seeking another term in 2022, at least two other people are poised to compete against Finkenauer and Dave Muhlbauer for the Democratic nomination.

Finkenauer will carry several advantages into the primary campaign. But compared to Iowa’s last Democratic race for U.S. Senate, the contenders will be playing on a much more level field.

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Joni Ernst picks a strange fight with Theresa Greenfield

“You know, I haven’t heard Theresa Greenfield say one thing that Chuck Schumer hasn’t told her to say,” Senator Joni Ernst declared today on her Twitter feed. “And that’s not what Iowans expect in a leader.”

Several political reporters quickly noted the role reversal in Ernst’s call for six debates with her Democratic opponent. Usually challengers want more debates in order to raise their profiles before the general election. An incumbent making that demand is likely trailing, as the three most recent published polls on Iowa’s Senate race suggest.

Other endangered Republican senators have similarly called for frequent debates this fall, a sign of justified fear that President Donald Trump’s sinking approval will drag them down in November.

Another thing about Ernst’s taunt struck me as more strange, though. If she wants to make the election about who slavishly follows her party’s leader, Iowa’s junior senator is on exceptionally weak ground.

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Dark money stains the Senate primary

Susan Nelson spoke to Mike Franken about claims made in an attack ad funded by a group supporting Theresa Greenfield. -promoted by Laura Belin

The polling must be tightening up in the U.S. Senate primary.  A tsunami of dark money is washing up on our TV screens. Women Vote!, the political arm of EMILY’s List, is spending $1 million to attack Admiral Michael Franken on behalf of the Democratic establishment favorite, Theresa Greenfield.

Their ad claims that Mike Franken is a former Republican, an accusation that was flung at Elizabeth Warren every day in the 2020 primary campaign. If true, I am not so sure that would be a bad thing in a general election in Iowa, and it did not seem to hurt Warren. Republican support and donations have not hurt J.D. Scholten either. They also attack Franken for being a defense contractor, and accuse him of being a carpetbagger, an attack Warren received during her first Senate campaign.

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Letter from disappointed Iowa Democrats to Senator Chuck Schumer

Editor’s note from Laura Belin: The Senate Majority PAC, a super-PAC aligned with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has already spent nearly $7 million to promote Theresa Greenfield, one of four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Women Vote!, a super-PAC aligned with EMILY’s List, has spent nearly $1 million, mostly on advertising attacking Mike Franken, with a small buy of negative ads against Eddie Mauro. Both EMILY’s List and the DSCC endorsed Greenfield days after she launched her campaign in June 2019.

Sent Via Fax: 202-228-3027

May 29, 2020
Senator Chuck Schumer
322 Hart Senate Office
Washington, D.C. 20510
Re: Cease and Desist Interferences in Iowa U.S. Senate Primary Campaign

Dear Senator Schumer:

We write to you as long-time Iowa political activists, asking that you, and allied groups and individuals working in concert with you, cease and desist unwelcomed interferences in the Iowa Democratic Party’s primary campaign to nominate our candidate for the United States Senate seat now held by Republican Joni Ernst.

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Stacey Walker reluctantly rules out IA-Sen race

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker has ruled out running for U.S. Senate in 2020, he announced in a post published on his website on August 8. He made the “quite difficult decision” mainly because the Democratic primary “was already heavily skewed in favor of one candidate.”

I’ve read a lot of statements by politicians bowing out of a campaign. Few have spoken as frankly about their reasons as Walker.

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IA-Sen: Democratic establishment lining up behind Theresa Greenfield

Key individuals and Democratic-aligned organizations moved quickly this week to boost Theresa Greenfield, the third candidate to announce a challenge to U.S. Senator Joni Ernst. Both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List, a major source of support for pro-choice Democratic women candidates, announced their support on June 6.

Greenfield’s campaign released its first list of prominent supporters on June 5, including former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, five current and two former state legislators, two former leaders of the Iowa Democratic Party, three local elected officials, and several longtime Democratic campaign hands.

Some candidates space out high-profile endorsements over a long period in order to general media coverage. An early show of organizational strength like this is typically aimed at discouraging other candidates from joining the field. Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker and former Congressional candidate J.D. Scholten have both said they may run for Senate.

Greenfield’s current competitors for the Democratic nomination are Kimberly Graham and Eddie Mauro. In a written statement following Greenfield’s June 3 launch, Mauro commented, “Iowans want a spirited primary not influenced by Washington insiders or the establishment, and deserve new progressive leadership in the United States Senate with a record of taking action and leading on progressive issues.” That statement and this week’s other relevant news releases are enclosed below.

UPDATE: U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand endorsed Greenfield on June 6 as well.

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IA-Sen: Grassley leads by 17 points in new Selzer poll

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley is outperforming the top of the Republican ticket and leads former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge by 53 percent to 36 percent in the latest Iowa poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. The Register’s William Petroski wrote up the key findings:

The Iowa Poll shows Grassley has broad support, leading Judge among all groups tested except for four: Democrats, Hillary Clinton supporters, former Bernie Sanders supporters and people who identify with no religion. Among political independents, Grassley leads Judge 54 percent to 30 percent. He leads among men and women and among all age, income and education groups.

Grassley’s job approval rating — with 56 approving and 30 percent disapproving among all adults, not just likely voters — is identical to where it stood in September 2010, before he cruised to victory that November, defeating Democrat Roxanne Conlin by 31 percentage points.

Among the same 642 “likely voter” respondents, Donald Trump leads Hillary Clinton by just 43 percent to 39 percent.

Selzer’s poll was in the field before the release of a 2005 videotape in which Trump bragged about assaulting women he finds attractive. Democrats have blasted Grassley for condemning Trump’s comments but urging Republicans to stick with the GOP ticket, because of the election’s likely impact on the U.S. Supreme Court. I doubt the Trump tape will affect Grassley’s re-election numbers, though.

Iowa Republicans have been spiking the football on this race for some time. Yesterday the Twitter accounts of Grassley’s campaign and campaign manager Bob Haus directed followers to the liberal Daily Kos website, where IA-Sen is now listed as safe Republican. Various other election forecasters see the race the same way.

Many Iowans who preferred State Senator Rob Hogg for U.S. Senate, as I did, have privately expressed frustration that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has spent almost no money here, after intervening in the Democratic primary to recruit and promote Judge. The DSCC’s tactical choice is understandable, because more than half a dozen other Senate seats are better pickup opportunities than Iowa’s. But I do wish they’d stayed out of the primary. Although Judge had higher name recognition, I never did see evidence that she was in a position to make this race more competitive than Hogg. She has held relatively few public events around the state since winning the nomination. Hogg would have been much a more active campaigner, which might have helped our down-ballot candidates.

Was Grassley ever truly vulnerable? Beating a six-term senator was always going to be hard in a state that generally re-elects its incumbents. Grassley has been able to spend millions more dollars on tv ads than any challenger could have managed. (I enclose below his latest positive spot.) His support took a hit from his handling of the Supreme Court vacancy, which inspired the DSCC to recruit Judge. I would guess that refusing to hold confirmation hearings for Judge Merrick Garland is the main reason Grassley’s leading by “only” 17 points now. Selzer’s polls for the Des Moines Register in September and October 2010 showed him 31 points ahead of Roxanne Conlin.

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Quinnipiac adds to remarkable polling consensus on IA-Sen race

Today Quinnipiac supplemented its latest poll on the presidential race in Iowa with findings about Senator Chuck Grassley’s campaign against Democratic challenger Patty Judge. Key graphs from the polling memo:

Quinnipiac IA-Sen photo Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 3.39.14 PM_zpsdvw0h0a4.png

The 51 percent to 42 percent lead for Grassley is remarkably close to the 52-42 gap in last week’s polls by Suffolk University and Marist for NBC and the Wall Street Journal.

I infer that polls from earlier this summer, showing Grassley below 50 percent and leading Judge by just 7 points, slightly understated his lead. One of those polls looked like a outlier in general. Two of the surveys were conducted by Public Policy Polling, which did some work for the Judge campaign before the Democratic primary.

That’s not to say that Judge can’t make this election more competitive–only that she can’t wait around for the race to fall into her lap. She’s losing men by a lot and isn’t making up for it among women voters. She hasn’t held many public events this summer and needs to campaign more aggressively over the next two and a half months. In addition to improving her name ID, Judge has to give Iowa voters a reason to fire Grassley after so many years of public service. The obvious issue, the one she has vowed to hammer home since the day she announced her campaign, is the Senate Judiciary Committee chair’s refusal to hold confirmation hearings for Judge Merrick Garland. Iowans don’t support Grassley’s stance on the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, but it will take more work to convince enough of them to send the senator into retirement for that reason.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee put their thumb on the scale for Judge before the Democratic primary, but national strategists have quite a few more promising pickup opportunities than Iowa at present. The DSCC won’t come in with big money here unless the polling starts to show Grassley more vulnerable than he now appears.

IA-Sen: Patty Judge played not to lose, and it looks like she's not losing

Since launching her U.S. Senate campaign in March, former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge has held relatively few public events. She hasn’t put out attention-getting policy proposals. Her campaign has announced high-profile endorsements through news releases, not at press conferences where tv cameras would be rolling. She didn’t come to the two televised debates ready to drop headline-grabbing talking points.

Both Iowa and national Republicans have mocked Judge’s sparse public schedule, asking, “Where’s Patty?” Even some Democrats have been puzzled by the experienced candidate’s low-profile approach to a race she entered very late.

Judge’s strategy had a certain logic, though. If her internal polling showed her well ahead of the other three Democrats seeking the nomination–expected given her higher visibility as a former statewide office-holder–packing her schedule with rallies and town-halls would have little upside. Republican video trackers, like the ones who have been following State Senator Rob Hogg around since last summer, would catch any slip and blow it out of all proportion.

Two public polls released in recent days lend support to persistent rumors in Democratic circles that surveys conducted for the Judge campaign put her 10 or 15 points ahead of her nearest rival.

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IA-Sen: DSCC makes the obvious official, Judge doesn't talk about it

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee recruited former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge to run against Senator Chuck Grassley, praised her as a “formidable challenger” the day she launched her campaign, and invited her to lunch with Democratic senators in Washington a few days later. So it was no surprise when the DSCC made its support for Judge official on April 20.

Judge’s campaign has touted endorsements from influential Iowa Democrats but didn’t spread the word about the DSCC’s announcement this week–probably because backing from Washington insiders feeds into talking points Republicans and Democratic rivals have already been using.

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Democratic-aligned groups should run some positive ads

Unwritten rules about the division of labor in campaign advertising dictate that candidates run mostly positive commercials about themselves, while outside groups beat up the opponent. I understand that negative commercials have been effective in many races, but few things are more irritating than cookie-cutter political attack ads. Listening to the radio every day in recent months, the only ads I’ve heard from Democratic-aligned groups such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, or NextGen Climate Action have been attacks on U.S. Senate nominee Joni Ernst or IA-03 Republican candidate David Young. When the DCCC starts spending money in IA-01, I’ll bet the only ads produced will be attacks on Republican Rod Blum.

Meanwhile, front groups for Republicans have been running a mix of positive and negative ads. In the IA-Sen race, some of the best pro-Ernst ads have come from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the National Federation for Independent Business. Similarly, Ernst’s campaign has run a mix of positive radio ads about her and attacks on Bruce Braley, including a vicious one that’s in heavy rotation now statewide.

I believe that the National Republican Congressional Committee’s positive ad featuring Tom Latham’s endorsement of David Young in IA-03 was more effective than the cliched attacks on Democratic candidate Staci Appel.

It’s been months since I saw any positive television ad about Braley, aside for a few spots produced by his own campaign. Earlier this year, Senate Majority PAC ran some ads that painted Braley in a favorable light, but otherwise it’s been non-stop anti-Ernst messaging from that group, the DSCC, NextGen Climate Action, and Sierra Club Political Action. Most of these commercials have been mediocre at best. Even if they were high quality, I don’t think the strategy helps the candidate they are trying to help.

For some reason, Democratic ad consultants don’t seem to understand that Iowans need to hear reasons to vote for Braley as well as reasons not to vote for Ernst. There is radio silence on the pro-Braley front and not much positive about him on television. Meanwhile, Iowa viewers and listeners are hearing reasons to support Ernst as well as reasons not to support Braley. I believe the lack of positive messaging about Braley is a strategic error and a key reason recent polling in the IA-Sen race has shown slightly better favorability numbers for Ernst.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

Hey, DSCC: Quit whining about Republican obstruction

I have had it with e-mail blasts like the one I got over the weekend from J.B. Poersch of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee:

Republicans tried every trick in the book to block us, but Senate Democrats scored important health care reform wins in the past two weeks. We passed the Mikulski Amendment, to make sure every woman gets crucial cancer screenings. And we defeated the Senate’s version of the Stupak Amendment – one of the biggest attacks on choice in a generation.

But these wins didn’t faze the Republicans. A lot of what they are doing to kill the Senate’s bill isn’t making the headlines – but that doesn’t make it any less insidious. We’ve pulled together facts on their latest heinous tactics in our new Obstruction Report.

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Democrats losing generic ballot advantage

Not to be a wet blanket after yesterday’s great special election victory, but the latest Pew Research Center poll should set off some alarm bells at the DCCC and DSCC:

Americans are extremely displeased with Congress, and there are already some signs that this could take a toll on the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections. Currently, 37% express a favorable opinion of Congress, while 52% hold an unfavorable view. Positive opinions of Congress have declined by 13 points since April and are now at one of their lowest points in more than two decades of Pew Research Center surveys.

At the same time, intentions to vote Democratic in the next midterm election are markedly lower than they have been over the past four years. Voters are about evenly divided when asked how they would vote if the election for Congress were being held today: 45% say they would vote for a Democratic candidate in their district, or lean Democratic, while 44% say they would vote for a Republican or lean Republican. At about this point four years ago, Democrats led in the generic congressional ballot by 52% to 40% and went on to win a majority of the popular vote and regain control of Congress the following November.

Meanwhile, the Research 2000 polling for Daily Kos finds the Democratic lead on the generic Congressional ballot down to 6 points, with Democratic intensity “lagging badly”:

With Independents potentially sitting this next election out (as the numbers hint at), we’re in bad shape in a base election. Core Republicans are engaged and solidly home. Democratic constituencies are wavering (look at those African American numbers). The only key Democratic constituency to have moved more Democratic are young voters — from +30 Democratic to +37, but only because they are abandoning Republicans at a bigger rate than Democrats. And even those gains are threatened by the (non) geniuses in DC seriously contemplating a health care mandate without cost controls (like the public option).

At current rates, any 2010 losses would not stem from any resurgence in conservative ideology — Republicans are simply not making any significant gains anywhere — but in a loss of confidence in Democrats. There’s a way to change that dynamic — deliver on the promises made the last two election cycles. Failure to do that would make cynics out of too many idealistic political newcomers, while turning off base activists who do the hard on-the-ground work of winning elections.

But why deliver on campaign promises when President Obama can score points with the Beltway wizards by backing away from a strong public health insurance option?

I’m not saying next year’s elections will be determined solely by whether the Democrats deliver on health care reform. The condition of the economy will obviously play an important role too. But Obama has less control over the economic recovery than he has over whether he sells out the Democratic base. The correct choice is clear, especially when you consider that a stronger public health insurance option would make it easier to pass the bill through the budget reconciliation process in the Senate.

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Elections have consequences, except for Joe Lieberman

Only 13 Democratic senators think Joe Lieberman should pay a significant price for actively campaigning against, and repeating Republican lies about, Barack Obama.

In contrast, 42 Democratic senators think Lieberman should be rewarded for his poor judgment and disloyalty. So, Lieberman keeps control of the powerful Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He loses only a meaningless title: subcommittee chairman on climate change on the Environment and Public Works Committee. I say “meaningless” because that subcommittee won’t be where the action is on any forthcoming bill to deal with global warming.

This kind of thing is why I don’t give to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee anymore.

I’d like to remind the Ed Fallon haters in the audience that urging people to vote for the Republican candidate does twice as much damage to the Democratic nominee as urging people to vote for a third-party candidate.

Don’t expect Lieberman to keep whatever promises he made in exchange for this deal. I won’t be surprised if he joins with Republican filibusters, for instance.

While he never used his gavel and subpoena power to investigate the Bush administration’s homeland security failures (such as the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina), I bet Joe will aggressively pursue investigations of the incoming administration.

I’m afraid to ask how Tom Harkin voted, since he recently said it might be better to “forgive and forget” what Lieberman did during this year’s campaign. If anyone else calls Harkin’s office to inquire, please post a comment or send me an e-mail to tell me what they say.

I don’t care if Lieberman remains a personal friend of Harkin’s. He made his choice and has no business running a major committee in a Democratic-controlled Senate. It’s not as if he was even representing his constituents’ preferences in the presidential race. Connecticut voted for Obama over John McCain by a 61 percent to 38 percent margin.

Share your opinions on Senate Democrats’ stupidity, gullibility or cowardice in the comments.

Harkin launches new "Building Blue" competition for county GOTV efforts

This summer Senator Tom Harkin held a “Building Blue” contest for Democrats running for the Iowa legislature. Representative Eric Palmer and Senator Tom Rielly received the most votes on Harkin’s website, and their campaigns each received $5,000 from Harkin’s campaign fund. Another four House and four Senate candidates each received $2,000.

Today I received an e-mail from Harkin announcing a new Building Blue contest for county Democratic parties:

Dear [desmoinesdem],

There are just a few short weeks before Iowans go to the polls and there’s still plenty of work to be done.

You may remember that several months ago, we conducted a Building Blue contest that raised thousands of dollars for Democratic candidates across the state of Iowa.  Now, we need to continue to build upon our grassroots infrastructure for this November’s election.

To help do so, we have launched a second Building Blue contest on tomharkin.com.  This time, my campaign will provide $9,000 to support the get out the vote efforts of County Democratic Parties throughout the state.

We’re calling it Building Blue II: Counting the Counties.

Please visit www.tomharkin.com and nominate your county to receive up to $3,000 for November’s campaign.

The nomination round is open to all of Iowa’s 99 counties.  It begins today and runs until October 15th, so please forward this email and tell your friends and family to vote for your county today.

The ten counties receiving the most votes will each receive $500 and move on to the second round.

In the second round, which will run from October 15th until October 22th, the counties with the second and third most votes will get another $500 and the winning county will be awarded a grand prize of $2,500 for their fall campaign.

Please support your county today by taking part in the Building Blue contest and helping us continue to build a solid foundation for November 4th.

Thank you for your support and good luck!

This is an open thread to discuss which counties most deserve a little extra funding to support Democratic turnout efforts.

Let’s think strategically.

Should we try to steer Harkin’s donations toward the most populous counties? Those counties have the largest potential number of voters to reach. Then again, maybe those counties already have substantial GOTV operations in the works. Certainly they all have field offices from Barack Obama’s campaign.

Should we nominate counties where neither Obama nor any Congressional candidate has a field office? Maybe those counties need more help.

Should we nominate counties in the fourth or fifth Congressional districts, where we’ve got a chance to unseat Republicans?

Should we nominate counties where the most competitive statehouse races will take place (such as Scott County and Mahaska County)?

In other Harkin-related news, I have heard but not yet independently confirmed that Harkin donated $250,000 from his campaign fund to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at the end of September. (The next round of Federal Election Commission reports will come out on October 15.)

Good for him. More and more Senate races are becoming competitive, and the DSCC needs the resources to help our strong candidates in states like Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi.

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Group of senators matching gifts to the DSCC

If you receive fundraising e-mails from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, you’ve probably noticed this lately:

Click here to make a contribution of $50, $75 or more to the DSCC to help Democrats win a filibuster-proof Democratic majority on November 4.  Give by midnight August 31 and a group of Democratic senators will match every single dollar you give, effectively doubling your contribution.

Anyone know which senators are in this group or whether Tom Harkin is participating?

After Labor Day we should be ready to get another Use It Or Lose It campaign going.

Sven from My Silver State did a lot of research for this diary on how much each Democratic senator has given to the DSCC so far this cycle.

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All incumbent money advantages are not created equal

Mike Glover of the Associated Press wrote a piece this week on the huge money advantage that Senator Tom Harkin and Iowa’s five U.S. House incumbents have over their opponents.

I’ll have more to say on this topic in future posts, but for now I want to note one thing: although nearly all incumbents are able to outspend their opponents, that advantage is not always enough to overcome a national tidal wave toward the other party.

Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell all represent districts with a Democratic tilt (of varying degrees) in what is likely to be a very big Democratic year.

The odds-makers might favor Tom Latham and Steve King now, but in a big year for the challenger’s party, money and the other advantages of incumbency are not always enough to win.

Just ask Neal Smith, who was an 18-term incumbent and had more clout than any Iowan currently serving in the U.S. House. I can’t find campaign finance statistics going back that far, but I would bet that he spent more trying to keep his seat in 1994 than Republican Greg Ganske spent in taking him down.

Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley spent “what aides say may total $1.5 million to $2 million, a staggering amount for a House race” in 1994, but he still lost to George Nethercutt in Washington’s fifth district.

Chris Bowers had the most accurate final House forecast in 2006. But what did he write in his first forecast following several states’ primaries in September of that year?

NH-01 drops off the board since upset winner Shea-Porter has only 3% of her opponent’s cash

And in his final House update, published on November 6, 2006, Bowers still had Shea-Porter’s race in the “likely Republican” category, commenting, “If she wins, Carol Shea-Porter will become a legend.”

Her shocking victory in New Hampshire’s first district over an entrenched Republican incumbent was indeed legendary.

Obviously, it’s better for a challenger to have as much money to spend as possible, which is why you should donate to Rob Hubler and Becky Greenwald, and why I would like to see our ultra-safe Democratic incumbents giving more to the DCCC and DSCC.

But I strongly disagree with the contention that a money advantage makes Tom Latham and Steve King as safe as Iowa’s Democratic incumbents this year.

UPDATE: In the comments, riverdog9 asked why I would encourage people to give to the DCCC instead of directly to the candidates. That was not my intention, and I apologize for any misunderstanding.

To clarify, individual Democratic voters should give directly to the Congressional candidates, unless you’re one of those people who can afford to give more than the maximum donation of $2,300 to a candidate for federal office. In that case, you should give $2,300 directly to the candidate and any extra money to interests groups that are supporting that candidate.

Safe Democratic incumbents should give more to the DCCC and DSCC, because campaign finance law allows unlimited transfers of funds from members of Congress to those committees, and unlimited expenditures by those committees on behalf of candidates in individual districts.

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We need another "Use It Or Lose It" campaign

cross-posted around the blogosphere

On Saturday a fundraising solicitation arrived in the mail from Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. It asked me to confirm delivery of the enclosed “supporter card” within ten days, and also to “help keep my 2008 re-election campaign on the road to victory” with a special contribution.

Funny, I wasn’t aware that Harkin needed any extra help. Everyone in the election forecasting business has labeled this seat safe for him. The available polling shows Harkin with a comfortable lead.

According to Open Secrets, Harkin had $4.1 million cash on hand at the end of the second quarter. His little-known Republican opponent, Christopher Reed, has raised a total of $11,765 for his Senate campaign and had $292 (two hundred and ninety-two dollars) on hand as of June 30.

Harkin’s letter got me thinking that we need a “Use It Or Lose It” campaign for 2008.

Join me after the jump for more.

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