Leach & All the President’s Men

I got home and crawled into bed at about 5 am this morning, but either middle-age disease kicked in (the inability to sleep-in like you did when you were young) or I had too much caffeine in my system and I was back up two hours later at 7, so it’s time to blog.  Let’s focus first on the defeat of 30-year incumbent Jim Leach.

On Monday, I wrote a story about the second district race. The key part was this bit of what might now be seen as foreshadowing from Leach:  "I have no doubt whatsoever that this is a Democratic-leaning year," Leach told reporters who visited with him after his joint appearance with challenger Dave Loebsack on Iowa Press October 27. "The only question is whether it’s an avalanche and that I don’t know. I think you’re going to see some surprises in a number of directions."

On Monday several sources told me GOP GOTV efforts in the first and third congressional districts in Iowa were being diverted to the second to "save" Leach.  No one would confirm this on the record, but it should have been the case. Republicans should have known Leach was in trouble.    He was the House equivalent of Lincoln Chaffee, but wearing a sweater vest — a moderate Republican who was endangered by the tide, er, avalance that Leach himself perhaps saw coming. 

Now, on to Governor-Elect Chet Culver.  I don’t know if any of you downloaded the MP3 of the speech Culver gave in Johnson County in early October that was posted on the "Campaign Countdown" section of RadioIowa.com, but it was a definite contrast with the speech posted there from GOP candidate Jim Nussle.  Democrats cheered nearly every other sentence Culver uttered.  The fever-pitch of the Culver speech and the crowd response is in stark contrast to the reception Nussle got in Marshall County. The crowd applauded GOP Lieutenant Governor Bob Vander Plaats’ introduction of Nussle, then Nussle spoke and was never once interrupted with applause. (The crowd did applaud at the end.)  Two different venues, to be sure, but illustrative. 

Nussle himself, and his campaign operatives, seemed to know it in that much vaunted 72-hours before the election.  The venues they chose for the closing Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the campaign were small and the crowds were small, too.  Nussle was stopping in campaign calling centers and while about 100 people crammed into a southside Des Moines restaurant Monday night to see Nussle with former New York Mayor Rudy Guilliani, it was only 100 people.

There was a huge –by mid-term standards– rally in Le Mars on Friday featuring Nussle alongside President Bush, but as one Republican grumbled to me off the record last night — it didnt’ help.  It may have hurt.  Turn-out in western Iowa was not buoyed by the Bush visit.  Turn-out in reliable Sioux County was estimated at about 40 percent by the county auditor there.  Not what the GOP needed.  Le Mars is in Plymouth County and turn-out wasn’t spurred there, either.   

A few more observations about the Nussle race:  I called a farmer (you know who you are) who is a long-time Republican — not one of those in-the-inside type fellows, but the kind of rural Republican the GOP counts on come Election Day. He was driving a tractor when I called, and I asked him what he thought of the governor’s race.  His first response:  "Chet seems like a good guy."  Huh, I was thinking to myself.  "Nussle’s just too sleazy."  Wow. Sleazy?  From one fo the Republicans that I thought was a no-brainer to be in the Nussle column? 

And then this, from another traditional GOP voter in northern Iowa — the area Nussle represented in congress.  "He seems so mean."  Trailing in the polls, Nussle had to go on the offensive in the last three debates, but to many voters — including that one — he came off as, well, offensive. It was there in the closing statement Nussle gave in the debate in Davenport. Culver closed first, and began by a litany of "thank yous" to everyone — the debate sponsors, the venue and then (as he did in three of the four debates) a thank you to Congressman Nussle for his 16 years of service in Washington, D.C.  When the time came for Nussle to close, he began with an ever-so-brief and oh-so-rude-sounding (listen to the audio) thanks "to the hosts for hosting" and that was it.  Ouch.

Finally, back to that "All the President’s Men" reference. Tom Vilsack revealed that he watched that movie on Election Night in 1998 when he waited for the returns. And one of President Bush’s men, Ken Mehlman, seemed to be talking from the post-Eleciont Day script Tuesday morning when he was doing media interviews and talking about how much Democrats and Republicans have in common.  A much different message from the one President Bush delivered in Le Mars last Friday.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.