Save the recounts, the great election of '06 is past and the ever-growing sound you hear in the background is The Big Shout—the presidential election of 2008.
In the past two months, there have been occasions when I was trapped in a room with a television set, a crude device that decides what you want to watch for you. The format and the state of political commercials are not a good brew—mostly angry, vitriolic and tabloid-style shock and a lot of background music with sinister chords. In case you're ever asked, here's how to form a sinister chord on guitar:
Pretty easy, huh? That's the point. As the Republican Party has learned, it is much easier to make scary commercials than it is to govern. Fortunately for Democrats, the GOP has been so bad at governing that no contract was necessary. All it took was a look at the last few years and, of course, a few sinister chords thrown in for effect. We're a jittery bunch here in America.
Now, after a stopover for municipal elections in '07, on to The Big Shout, so named because the volume is going to be so loud on this one that most Americans will get to experience another elemental rock guitar trick: third harmonic distortion—best described, to paraphrase the Firesign Theatre, as a little like having bees live in your head.
As bad as the onslaught of commercials was in this cycle, here in North Carolina only people living in the battleground television markets took the worst of it. Folks out west in the 11th Congressional District even got to experience the repeater robocall trick used nationwide in the final days by the Republican National Congressional Committee. The calls, which started with "Hello, I have some information about Heath Shuler," repeatedly called the same number in an attempt, Dems charge, to ratchet up anger at the candidate. It wasn't until much later in the recorded message—like after the angry victims had hung up—that the recording tells you who is responsible for the calls.
But races with national focus weren't the only ones that left observers shell-shocked. Democrat Pete Bland and Republican Jean Preston are now household names in southeastern North Carolina. All combined, their supporters spent more than $1 million dollars competing for the right to represent Senate District 2, a job that pays less than $13,000 a year plus $600 a month in expenses. After all that media spending, you might now think that Preston is going to personally tutor every one of the state's schoolchildren and that Bland, as a state Senator, is responsible for U.S. immigration policy and runs a human smuggling ring.
And if you think this year was bad, remember: It was a blue moon election. On the ballot in the next federal cycle are president, senator, governor and on down the line. With both parties playing for pretty much all the marbles, voters are sure to lose a few of theirs before it's over.The money race
Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina reminds us that every year elections in North Carolina get bigger, more sophisticated and more expensive. This year, Hall says, the total amount spent on securing the 100 seats in the N.C. House and the 50 in the Senate was roughly $30 million. This in an election where half of the seats were uncontested.
According to the Democracy N.C. report, spending by political action committees shot up, with UNC-Chapel Hill's PAC, Citizens for Higher Education, breaking donation records and outpacing the usual strong rate of contributions from the realtor, medical society and trial lawyers' PACs.
Hall also notes that with so many uncontested races, senior senators in safe seats have stepped up to send plenty of dough to help less fortunate colleagues. As of the last tally, Fayetteville's Tony Rand, No. 2 in the Senate leadership, doubled his 2004 contributions, sending candidates more than $415,000.
In the House, the only source of contributions that's dropped is the Jim Black PAC, whose money has become radioactive as the result of scandal. Democratic reps and aspiring ones didn't have to worry too much about it, though. The rest of the House leadership filled the gap nicely.TIVO to the rescue
Made a brief mention of TIVO in my last column and it confused some people. I was inspired by something Craig Newmark, he being Craig of Craigslist, said about the future of politics at this year's South by Southwest Interactive technology conference. Newmark, asked about his growing interest in shaking up the news and politics industry, said he considered TIVO and its ability to skip commercials to be one of the few innovations that might be able to save us from the grip of 30-second attack ads. Newmark better be careful talking that way. Elections are a $1 billion-a-year industry now, and all those consultants have friends in high places. (Cue the sinister music.)