Mike Jacobs: In politics, money can buy you love
Money is everybody's favorite subject, or at least one of them, so it's no surprise that a number of sayings describe our attitude toward money. One of them is "Money's no object," which implies we are rich, and another is "More time than money," which implies we are poor.
These pithy remarks can be applied to this year's political campaign. Money's no object.
The campaign for a U.S. Senate seat could be the most expensive per vote cast in the nation's
history. This turns the other statement on its head.
Time could run out before the money is spent, literally. There is more money than advertising time; already news broadcasts are clogged with political ads, as many as three in a string all for the same candidate.
This presents a danger that voters will be turned off — but it's only a slight one, since it would affect each candidate. So far, the advertising has been a kind of tit for tat, with an accusation followed by a response. There is some risk that one candidate or the other will get the last word, but it's probably not too likely to have much impact. Many votes will have been cast by then, and many who wait to vote will have made up their minds before Election Day.
This suggests that advertising time may be money wasted.
Voters may have made up their minds and the result may be decided, unless something happens to change some minds. That's a special risk for Republican Kevin Cramer, who could be hurt by uncertainty in commodity markets.
At his town hall meeting in Grafton last week, Cramer heard an urgent plea from farmers and commodity traders. Farmers are in danger of losing the year's crop in a trade war, or worse, losing a market, such as China. One farmer remembered the grain embargo of the Carter years
and argued that the Russians have never since been such good customers as they were before the embargo. He worried that could happen with China, a major buyer of U.S. soybeans, one of
North Dakota high-value export crops.
There is a difference, of course. Carter intended the embargo as punishment for the Russians, and ended up punishing American farmers, especially wheat growers.
Trump argues that tough action on trade will bring better deals. He's said repeatedly that farmers will be better off when deals are made, and Cramer has supported him — to a point. In a
brief conversation after the Grafton meeting he said that Trump has reassured him that he has farmers' interest in mind, and that he should be patient. Cramer's reply, he said, was, "Yes, Mr.
President, but I have a timeline of my own."
Election Day is 14 weeks away, and the days are passing.
Another adage about money applies in this election, too. There's not enough to go around.
While a fortune may be spent on the Senate race, candidates for the U.S. House are strapped for funds. This is unfortunate, since both parties have strong candidates, though voters have heard little from either in this election cycle. Nor are we likely to. Money sucks up advertising time.
Money also chooses its own campaign issues. North Dakotans are hearing arguments about the Affordable Care Act, for example, an unexpected issue in the campaign until Wayne Stenehjem joined other Republican attorneys general in challenging the constitutionality of the act, and its survival came to depend, potentially, on the Supreme Court.
Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who is defending the Senate seat she won narrowly in 2012, opposed repeal of the act, and the ads give her cover for that vote — but more importantly for an upcoming vote on whether or not to confirm Trump's latest Supreme Court nominee. The ad tells us that 300,000 North Dakotans depend on ACA. Heitkamp isn't the only one benefiting from campaign money from outside the state. She leads in direct contributions; Cramer has support from conservative political action committees. Even though the Koch brothers cut him off last week, his campaign won't suffer for funds.
The major impact of money has been to make this a national campaign, perhaps the first ever in the state. No earlier race in North Dakota has attracted the money or attention this one has. Nor has any previous Senate campaign focused so precisely on national issues. Both the 1974 and 1986 campaigns were hard fought and involved high-profile challengers to well entrenched incumbents. The issues were of little interest outside the state's boundaries. The incumbent won one of them, by fewer than 200 votes, and the challenger won the other.
Two developments help explain the change; one is the absence of earmarks, a parliamentary tactic to attach local funding projects to other legislation. This was an effective strategy to "bring home the bacon." The death of earmarks may have contributed to the other development, increasing polarization in the nation's politics. Without earmarks politicians have little to trade and no incentive to bargain.
That tends to undermine another old adage. In politics, at least, money can buy you love.