WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2010 -- The fact that the Troubled Asset Relief Program is ending with a net loss to taxpayers of only $50 billion or less is good news for taxpayers.
But it's not likely to be good news for the politicians who supported the program in the first place -- and who have been defending their votes for the better part of two years.
TARP may have prevented a financial collapse. It remains, however, one of the least popular government programs to have been enacted in recent years.
Nothing that comes out about it in the final month of the campaign appears likely to change perceptions in a way that would help politicians of either party who supported it.
In a testament to successful political branding, Republicans have succeeded in linking the TARP to bailouts of the auto industry and even the much-maligned stimulus bill.
In public perception, they stand together as examples of government excess that haven't helped the average taxpayer. And politically -- though it's not entirely fair -- they belong to President Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress.
One recent poll found that 45 percent of voters believe TARP made the economy worse, with only 18 percent giving it credit for making things better.
Another poll found that more voters believe -- wrongly -- that it was the brainchild of the Obama White House than who think -- correctly -- that it was a policy of George W. Bush.
TARP continues to haunt politicians with as diverse ideologies as Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, who lost a Senate primary in part because of his vote, and Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., who's running for Senate against a conservative Republican, Pat Toomey.
Politicians of both parties, of course, supported TARP, and the blowback has been -- and will continue to be -- bipartisan. But as with so much else, since Democrats are the party in power in Washington, they will suffer disproportionately from perceptions of government excess.
California Governor's Race Showdown
Meanwhile, the story that broke last week involving the immigration status of Meg Whitman's housekeeper continues to roil the governor's race in California.
Whitman faced sharp jabs at Saturday's debate against Democrat Jerry Brown, in a forum that stood in contrast to the more congenial tone of their first exchange just a few days earlier.
Whitman has handled the story with poise, calmly answering questions and maintaining that she acted appropriately, based on the information she had at the time.
But Brown, sensing opportunity on a hot-button issue, is pouncing.
"Don't run for governor if you can't stand up on your own two feet and say, 'Hey, I made a mistake, I'm sorry, let's go on from here,' " Brown said at the debate in Fresno, Calif.
Framed that way, the issue is key to Whitman's attempt to run on her CEO background, as she attempts to become CEO of the nation's most populous state.
Plus, as Whitman herself conceded at the debate, she can't win the race without the strong support of Latinos.
This storyline means immigration, with all its perilous politics, will remain front and center in the campaign over the closing weeks -- a difficult position for Whitman to be in down the stretch.