And now, the empire strikes back.
So far, the story of the 2010 election has been dominated by the Tea Party and its imitation of the grassroots organizing techniques of Obama for America. But in the late stages of the battle, raw corporate power is revealing itself, aiming to win the old-fashioned way: with a well-directed torrent of money.
And that money is being aimed not just at races for Congress and state houses but, to a surprising extent, at down-ballot campaigns -- most remarkably, at the campaign for Attorney General of California.
An article in Monday's Sacramento Bee notes that the Virginia-based Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) has dropped more than $1 million in last minute attack TV ads against Democrat Kamala Harris.
What is the Republican State Leadership Committee? A corporate front group, one of several being coordinated by old school Republican kingpins Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie.
It may be the first time that a national organization like the RSLC has entered into the state's attorney general race, especially with such a large outlay. That race, between Harris and Republican Steve Cooley, is just outside the margin of error.
Why would Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie care so much who ends up as the California AG? It looks like they're looking well beyond next Tuesday, and trying to resurrect the long game Rove boasted about when he steered George W. Bush to power: the promised decades of Republican dominance.
Kamala Harris is a logical target. She has had an impressive rise on the way to her current post as District Attorney of San Francisco. She is California's first African-American DA, and has scored big successes in that office, showing a combination of toughness and brains. If she wins next week, she would be the state's first female Attorney General. She is also a friend and early supporter of Barack Obama. It seems obvious that Rove and Gillespie should fear Harris' potential to win higher office. Many former Attorneys General have been governors, members of congress, and presidential candidates.
When asked whether the RSLC wants to block Harris' further ascent, their spokesman told the Bee "if that is a byproduct of defeating her, we're perfectly happy with that."
Recent campaign expenditure reports show the RSLC has raised well over $60 million. Factcheck.org notes that they are funded by the largest of large corporations and their friends, including Wal-Mart, Pfizer, Devon Energy and the US Chamber of Commerce.
Although its activity in California is apparently a new development, the RSLC has roots in the Bush Administration, having been founded in 2002, with the objective of defeating Democrats in state campaigns, including for lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state. According to a recent Politico article, it is one of five related groups Gillespie and Rove are now steering. They are all benefiting from the huge amounts of corporate cash freed up in part by the egregious Citizens United decision earlier this year, which enabled anonymous donations by corporations and organizations. Compare the RSLC's $60 million in fundraising this cycle to expenditures of about $20 million in each of 2006 and 2008, according to Factcheck.org.
It all may add up to a restoration of the good old days, before the GOP had to pretend it cared about the grassroots: the days of massive corporate-funded attacks in the media, safely away from all that messy face-to-face campaigning. Picking up where they left off, Rove and Gillespie are now able to direct their fire broader and deeper than they ever have before.