GQ: Kiss the Ring

But there's a limit to the money Lapp can dole out, and he and his deputy, Alixandria Wade, are forced to make some ruthless decisions today about how to spend what they have left. "There are twenty-five to thirty races right now we're engaged in," Lapp says. "I've got about $2 million in my pocket." With the stroke of Lapp's pen, some underfunded Democrats will see attack ads fall from the sky, ripping their opponents to shreds, while others will wait in desperation for cover fire that will never arrive.

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Late in the morning, Lapp and Wade join a conference call with a trio of political consultants—adman, pollster, mail guy—to get advice about resources and tactics for several races. A new poll from Ohio's Second District is promising. The Democrat, Victoria Wulsin, is ahead of Jean Schmidt, an incumbent Republican despised by Democrats ever since she implied Congressman Jack Murtha, a decorated Marine combat veteran, was a coward. The Schmidt race is a perfect example of the problem Democrats face in many districts this year. Ohio Two is an overwhelmingly Republican district, and it seems crazy that it might be in play. But Ohio Republicans are mired in scandal, voters in the district have turned against the war, and as one of the consultants argues, Schmidt is "personally obnoxious."

The Schmidt race also proves Rahm's point that "there is no base." Wulsin has locked up 91 percent of the Democrats in the district and is winning independents by a remarkable 3-to-2 margin, yet she still hasn't cracked 50 percent. The only voters left to go after are Republicans. "It would make sense to hit her back on taxes with an eye toward conservative rural voters," the pollster argues. Another consultant thinks it's not winnable: "This is a district that voted for Bush by twenty-eight points."

Lapp, whose tendency is to strike hard in red districts, is pessimistic. As the consultants argue over tactics, he hits the mute button. "We're dealing with 2 million bucks," he says. "Throwing away $150,000 on this—I don't know."

After a series of similar discussions about other races, Lapp and Wade finally sit down and spend their money. Some decisions are easy. "Ohio?" asks Wade. "We're not doing that," says Lapp. (Schmidt will go on to win 51–49.) Others are heartbreaking. "North Carolina Eight is for suckers," Wade says about one race that doesn't get funded. (The Democrat will lose by just 449 votes.) Still, others are prescient. "We're doing all of these," Lapp says, pointing to three tight races, including Connecticut's Second District. (The Democrat there will win by ninety-one votes, the closest race in the country.)

Lapp has the luxury of making these decisions without ever talking to neurotic candidates or dealing with the daily grind of the individual races. He is the equivalent of an air-force general calling in strikes at 30,000 feet while sitting at a desk thousands of miles away. The guys in the trenches aren't even allowed to call him. But James Carville can weigh in, and does, constantly (so often that IE staffers joke about changing their phone numbers). Carville is part of Rahm's strategic brain trust, and like many of Rahm's friends from the Clinton era, he has a personal stake in Rahm's success. They were in the White House together in 1994 when Republicans took over Congress, and it's clear that for them this campaign is about revenge.

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