Columns » John Brummett

Boozman coasts on a few dollars

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Politicians who can't raise much money might be more admirable than those who can.

Some consider it crass to lean on others for cash. Some find distasteful the implied political agreement, which falls smartly short of an actual bribe.

It goes something like this: "You give me a big check and, while it won't guarantee my vote or any specific action, because that would be wrong, of course, you'll always have my ear when you need something. I appreciate that your checkbook is open, and you can rest assured that my office door will be open."

As it happens, my developing personal regard for U.S. Rep. John Boozman, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, is actually heightened by the odd anemia of his fund-raising for the second quarter.

But when it comes to political analysis, I'm beginning to wonder: Is Boozman's commanding poll lead merely a mushy generic indicator of the state's conservative mood and its enmity toward Democrats and Blanche Lincoln? Is his candidacy, while still powerful in concept and the odds-on favorite, at risk of failed execution owing to a lack of vigor or ability as evidenced by what is often called the first real scorecard — early fund-raising reports?

Republicans lose races they might otherwise win if their candidates are old, or fatigued, or lethargic, or coasting, or inept, or all the above. For examples: George H. W. Bush against Bill Clinton in 1992, Bob Dole against Clinton in 1996 and John McCain against Barack Obama two years ago.

Conversely, Republicans signal victory when their candidates send powerful preemptive messages by reporting massive sums in early fund-raising, like the second George Bush for 2000.

The message last week from the second-quarter reports was that Blanche Lincoln is fully engaged and vibrant, still able to leverage high-placed incumbency to lean on special interests for big money, and that Boozman is a semi-engaged candidate intending to win by passivity.

Lincoln raised more than $2 million in those three months and ended the quarter with nearly $1.9 million on hand.

Boozman raised about $620,000 and had about $480,000 on hand.

If you have a 20-point lead or larger over an incumbent U.S. senator, and if you are a prime Republican prospect for turning over a key Senate seat to destroy the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority, and if you have a thoroughly pro-business voting record, and if Republican sympathizers are known to be possessed of a lot of money, then what in the world are you doing raising a relative pittance?

That second-quarter report would have been the perfect time to solidify the appearance of inevitability for his victory. Instead Boozman signaled that maybe there is no inevitability.

I'm reminded of political commentary I read on a local blog, Roby Brock's at talkbusiness.net. It was that the only thing Boozman needs to say between now and November is "my name is John Boozman, and I approved this message." I'd add that the message needs to be this: "I didn't vote for health care and with Obama 95 percent of the time, and she did."

It's good political advice, but the math of a paid-media campaign doesn't quite work when the opponent you intend to ward off is sitting around with four times the money you have.

Boozman's press aide tells me the campaign is "restructuring" its fund-raising. That's a political euphemism for "we're in trouble over here."

Actually, you'll recall that, early this month, after the close of this anemic quarter, Boozman brought in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for a fund-raiser.

The problem, other than that no one much cares about McConnell, was that the minority leader made boomeranging news. He vowed to put Boozman on the Agriculture Committee so that Arkansas farmers could have a minority freshman as their champion instead of the committee chairman.

Forgive the cliche, or the inverse of one, but it applies. I refer to the one about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

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