The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, after scouring the country for Democrats worthy of its blessing on Nov. 2, has come up empty, and the Democrats are furious.
The Chamber's just-published list of "opportunity races" for the congressional elections -- races where it believes the investment of business political action committee money would be most cost-effective -- endorses 100 Republicans, no Democrats.
"We've spent a lot of time trying to locate good strong Democratic conservatives who meet our criteria," said Neil Newhouse, deputy political director of the Chamber, "We haven't been able to find any."
"I don't know whether to laugh or cry," said Martin Franks, director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has been made a strong push this year for business PAC money. "When they claim they're bipartisan, it's a charade. They might as well just be an annex of the Republican Party."
A place on the Chamber's "opportunity race" list is one of the most coveted endorsements in any candidate's portfolio -- worth tens of thousands of dollars to the candidate from business PACs nationwide that look to the Chamber for political guidance.
The Chamber's criteria for selecting opportunity races are that there be a clear philosophical difference between candidates, with one supporting the business viewpoint; that the race is close; and that money can make a difference.
The Chamber supported 11 Democrats in the primaries -- against other, presumably more liberal, Democrats. Franks cited two races where he found the Chamber's failure to endorse a Democrat especially irksome: an open seat race in Kansas City, Mo., where the Democratic candidate, State Rep. Alan Wheat, has a 70 percent vote rating from the local Chamber; and an open seat race in Roanoke, Va., where the Democrat, James Olin, is a retired corporate executive.
In one of its opportunity races, the Chamber opposes the candidacy of Rep. Ike Andrews (D-N.C.), despite the fact that his Chamber voting record over five terms in Congress has been 60 percent, while his labor voting record has been 45 percent. The Chamber is supporting Republican challenger William W. Cobey, a candidate who is backed by the political organization of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).
John Kochevar, the Chamber's political director, has frequently criticized labor unions for their heavy tilt toward the Democratic Party in political contributions.
"They're trying to buy a party, and I think it's a mistake," Kochevar said earlier this year of the unions. "You lose your ability to work on both sides of the aisle. Franks believes the Chamber has fallen into that trap. "They'll rue they day the did this," he predicted. "It isn't going to be any fun being a lobbyist for the Chamber in the next Congress."