Freshman Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois is facing the Republican Party machine in her re-election bid. Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert have headlined money-raising events for her opponent. The National Republican Congressional Committee has budgeted $1.5 million to attack her.
But Ms. Bean has won an unexpected ally with clout to counter the Republican heavyweights: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Usually a stalwart of Republicans, the chamber has run about $700,000 in advertisements defending the Democrat and plans to help get out the pro-business vote for her in the fall.
Ms. Bean is among more than a dozen Democrats in key races across the country that the chamber is backing this year. Half of them also have benefited from the chamber's first-ever television ads for Democrats. Partly, the organization is rewarding these Democrats for votes in favor of free trade and other issues it holds dear. It also is sensing possible Republican defeats in congressional elections on Nov. 7, and is hedging its bets by spreading some of the organization's wealth to the other side of the aisle.
The chamber's move mirrors a subtle but significant shift across the business community, which has begun anticipating that the Republican majorities in Congress could shrink, if not collapse. [...]
The changes also point to an emerging rift between the Republican Party's business and social-conservative constituencies, as their interests clash over some hot-button issues. In Missouri, for example, some Republican businessmen are donating to Democrat Claire McCaskill in her challenge to incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Talent, largely because Mr. Talent opposes embryonic stem-cell research.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the strongest single business voice in Washington, representing thousands of trade associations and three million large and small businesses. It is the top spender on lobbying in Washington and is expected to spend $40 million on state and federal races this year. Employing an army of 36 full-time lobbyists, the chamber often takes the lead on major political issues close to the business community's heart.
The Bush brand of conservatism is anti-tax but also anti-growth, anti-public investment, anti-stock market, anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-science, and, perhaps most profoundly, anti-responsible and anti-accountable fiscally.
Any commercial enterprise not named Halliburton or Bechtel or ExxonMobil, and therefore shut out of the Bush Iraq/DHS crony economy, is suffering and now seeking alternatives. And that can only be good for Democrats and the country as a whole.