WASHINGTON – Less than a week before Election Day, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., finds himself in an unexpected place for an unlikely reason: He’s in a competitive race with a novice opponent who’s been assisted by a torrent of attack ads financed largely by a wealthy New Yorker.
The ads, from a group called Concerned Taxpayers for America, have been blistering DeFazio for weeks. They are a direct result of a January decision by the Supreme Court that allowed third parties to make unlimited – and at times anonymous –political contributions. It’s turned the race for the 4th District from the usual low key, predictable affair in which DeFazio cruises to victory to a loud, angry and vastly more expensive enterprise in which little known Republican Art Robinson has shown surprising strength.
Polling for the contest is thin, with a Republican-backed survey from early October showing that Robinson had closed to within 6 points. A second poll released Oct. 11 from a Democratic polling firm showed DeFazio with a 14-point advantage. Independent election analysts are predicting a DeFazio victory though nowhere near the 82 percent of the vote he earned in 2008 against a pair of minor party challengers.
Campaigning hard for a 13th term, DeFazio has been forced to scramble for money and engage what he says are “two opponents.”
“It is a very different world,” DeFazio said in an interview, asserting that $300,000 worth of ads aired by Concerned Taxpayers of America “lie” about his record and have shifted the campaign from a discussion of issues and candidates to the influence of outside money. “They’re trying to buy this race.”
Defazio is one of the most progressive members of congress and had rarely had a serious challenger and this time is no different. Art Robinson is a rather typical tea party candidate in a district where the tea party shouldn’t have much traction. But Defazio is really running against Daniel G. Schuster of Maryland and New York hedge fund executive Robert Mercer who have given over $650,000 to Concerned Tax Payers of America most of which has gone to defeat DeFazio.
DeFazio is far from the only senior Democrat facing a serious challenge this year. The list includes: Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the longest serving member in the House, and Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the 15-term Democrat who heads the Financial Services Committee. Rep. John Spratt, a 14-term veteran and chairman of the Budget Committee is also in danger of losing, as is Rep. Ike Skelton, a 17-term lawmaker from Missouri who heads the Armed Services Committee.
But unlike those contests, which feature more orthodox challengers supported by the GOP establishment, DeFazio’s path to re-election has been made difficult almost entirely by the flood of money from Concerned Taxpayers. That has transformed the campaign from a discussion of local issues to the impact of the court’s ruling on modern campaigns.
We have had the best government money could buy for some time – Citizen’s United just made it a lot easier.
Mark Thompson argues that this has nothing to do with Citizen’s United.
Cross posted at Newshoggers