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Campaigning the Bayh Way

By Chris Cillizza and Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is doubling his chit-building chances in the 2008 presidential race by holding a joint fundraiser with New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch and Iowa gubernatorial candidate Chet Culver next month.

Bayh, who has made little secret of his ambition to run for president in 2008, will host a luncheon fundraiser for fellow Democrats Lynch and Culver in New York on Sept. 18. Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will deliver a foreign policy briefing at the event. Guests are asked to give $1,000 to the reelection campaigns of Lynch and Culver.

Lynch, who was elected in 2004, is a strong bet for reelection. Culver is running against Rep. Jim Nussle (R) for the job being vacated by term-limited Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) -- another lawmaker with an eye on the 2008 race. The Iowa race is perhaps the GOP's best chance of picking up a Democratic seat, and both national parties have made substantial donations to the contest.

Bayh's fundraising gambit is the latest evidence of his innovative approach to courting the activists essential to the 2008 nominating process.

Earlier this year, the Indiana senator formed "Camp Bayh" -- a training program for young people looking to join a campaign or older folks looking for a career change.

The camps trained 50 activists who have since been dispatched to help on local, state and federal campaigns. The distribution of these staffers -- 25 to Iowa, 15 to New Hampshire, six to Indiana, three to Nevada and one to South Carolina -- give Bayh eyes and ears in the four early presidential primary and caucus proving grounds, as well as in his home state.

From a mechanics perspective, no candidate on the Democratic side has done a better job than Bayh. But as past campaigns have shown (Remember former Texas senator Phil Gramm's collapse in the early stages of the 1996 GOP nomination fight?), process without personality is meaningless.

Bayh is a blank canvas for most voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and neutral observers wonder whether his personality -- more Bob Newhart than Bob Barker -- can sway undecided voters to his cause amid a crowded field of Democrats all vying to be the alternative to presumed front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

Record-Breaking Campaign

Notice an usually large number of political ads on television lately? That is because campaigns are spending much more on political advertising than in other recent cycles.

Campaigns, political committees and advocacy groups had spent $311 million on House, Senate and gubernatorial races by mid-August, according to tracking service TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group. That is almost a 50 percent increase since this point in 2002.

The company expects $400 million more to be spent on House and Senate races before Election Day.

"It's a large increase. The drivers are the competitive landscape for House and Senate races and the number of key governors' races that are up this year," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer for the tracking company.

"The time that campaigns actually go up on the air is getting much farther out," he said. "We had over two dozen campaigns that actually had ads up in 2005."

The top issues discussed in ads have been the high cost of energy, Social Security, prescription drug benefits and the war in Iraq, Tracey said.

Some of the most expensive House and Senate races -- as measured by TV advertising -- have been in California and Tennessee. The company said $20 million was spent on television advertising in the special election to replace former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham in California's 50th District. The three Republicans vying to take on Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. in Tennessee's Senate race spent more than $5 million in their primary.

Blogging for Forgiveness

The favored Republican candidate to challenge Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) this fall has made a series of startling confessions.

Mike McGavick, the former top executive at insurance company Safeco, divulged last week a 1993 drunken driving incident and discussed a divorce, details about layoffs at his company and a dubious campaign move in 1988.

The comments came in his Web log in an "Open Letter From Mike" and in an interview with the Associated Press.

Citing political attacks on him, McGavick wrote in his blog, "how about I just tell you directly the very worst and most embarrassing things in my life for you to know, and then I will get back to talking about how much the U.S. Senate needs a new direction."

He discussed "two great failures": his first marriage ending in divorce and leaving his son with a "part-time" father, and a 1993 citation for driving under the influence.

He said he had been driving home from several parties and should not have gotten behind the wheel. While there was no accident, "it still haunts me that I put other people at risk by driving while impaired."

Then, he moved to his professional life, citing an unfair ad he ran while he was serving on the campaign staff of former senator Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) and an unfair message he sent to employees before a round of layoffs at Safeco.

"I do apologize for my mistakes and shortcomings," McGavick wrote.

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