- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2008

The $700 billion Wall Street rescue package isn’t playing favorites on the campaign trail: Both Republican and Democratic incumbents are under fire for backing the bailout.

While presidential rivals Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama both supported the Bush administration’s rescue plan, the congressional vote on the bailout is figuring prominently in a large number of close House and Senate races this fall, with supporters of the bill in the hot seat in race after race.

In Kentucky, for example, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faces a strong challenge from Democrat Bruce Lunsford, a millionaire businessman from Louisville, whose television ads have hammered the four-term incumbent for his leading role in helping pass the $700 billion rescue package.

“How did we get into this mess? Career politicians like Mitch McConnell,” says the narrator of one of Mr. Lunsford’s campaign ads.

But in the state’s 3rd Congressional District, it is freshman Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth on the defensive for his bailout vote in a tight rematch with Republican Anne M. Northup, whom he narrowly defeated in 2006.

In a letter to constituents, he called his vote for the package “one of my most difficult decisions since being elected.”

“I was faced with two awful choices: voting for a bill I hate or doing nothing to stop an economic meltdown that would lead to massive job losses in Louisville and throughout the country,” he said.

But Mrs. Northup has hammered away at her opponent’s bailout vote in three debates.

“I am completely against the bailout,” she said. “I think it is the worst thing we could have done.”

Although the vote was bipartisan, the fallout is particularly felt in more conservative districts.

“It’s not a top-of-the-list issue, but it very well could be an under-the-radar issue in this election,” said John C. Fortier, a political research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “It has crosscutting effects on both parties, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some incumbents — especially in more conservative districts — who don’t come back because of their vote.”

In Georgia, it is Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss facing an unexpectedly tough challenge from former state Rep. Jim Martin, with Mr. Chambliss’ vote in favor of the rescue plan a factor in Mr. Martin’s late surge. But three-term Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall in the state’s 8th Congressional District, who barely won re-election in a conservative district in 2006, is in another tight race against Republican challenger Rick Goddard after Mr. Marshall voted to support the bailout.

Mr. Yarmuth faces an added burden: He is among the 33 Democrats and 25 Republicans in the House who voted to defeat the bailout on the first vote Sept. 29, only to switch to “yes” four days later for a slightly modified package with the same $700 billion price tag.

The Treasury Department plan to buy up the “toxic assets” poisoning the balance sheets of the nation’s financial firms was introduced at the very end of the congressional session, forcing lawmakers to vote on an expensive, complicated bill that was vastly unpopular with constituents back home. The debate also kept Congress in session an extra week, cutting into precious campaigning time back home.

Mr. Fortier said the bill was seen as a “must-pass by elites and congressional leaders” but was “viewed with great skepticism by large parts of the public.”

Story Continues →