Chamber keeping score, looks ahead to races for 110th Congress

With key votes on energy policy, transportation funding and the Central America  Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) behind it, a powerful business group has begun to analyze which candidates it will support during the 2006 election cycle based on their records on these as well as other industry-friendly issues.

With key votes on energy policy, transportation funding and the Central America  Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) behind it, a powerful business group has begun to analyze which candidates it will support during the 2006 election cycle based on their records on these as well as other industry-friendly issues.

“The 109th Congress has been an extraordinarily successful Congress for business,” Bill Miller, vice president and political director for the United States Chamber of Commerce said yesterday.

Miller indicated that the Chamber would be closely watching the upcoming budget reconciliation vote and that it would be featured as a key provision on the Chamber’s annual scorecard that rates members based on their voting records on pro-business matters. Votes on bankruptcy and immigration reform as well as class-action lawsuit legislation would also have an impact on the overall rating.

He stressed that one issue alone would not determine whether a candidate would  receive an endorsement from the Chamber but that their records as a whole would determine whether they receive its support.

While Miller shied away from commenting on House candidates the Chamber would endorse, he said the Chamber would be focusing on Senate races in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Montana, Missouri, Arizona, Nebraska, Tennessee, Minnesota and Rhode Island.

He specifically mentioned Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who will likely face a tough contest in November against Democratic challenger Bob Casey. Miller said Santorum has been a huge supporter of business in the past and the Chamber would be involved in garnering support for Sen. Lincoln Chafee in his Republican primary in Rhode Island against challenger Steve Laffey.

While Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has been on the opposite side of the Chamber’s immigration stance, Miller indicated he would receive support from the business group.

Miller said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) would also receive assistance from the Chamber.

House races that were mentioned included Reps. Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) and Melissa Bean’s (D-Ill.).  Bean bucked her party leaders by backing CAFTA this summer. Miller indicated the Chamber was encouraged by Bean’s voting record but stopped short of saying the Chamber would endorse her.

“DeLay has been a huge supporter of business,” Miller said. “We are going to do everything we can to support him.”

The Chamber rallied against DeLay challenger former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) in his 2004 race against Rep. Ted Poe (R ). Poe defeated Lampson, 55 to 43 percent.

Miller stressed that even though the Chamber relies heavily on its scorecard when endorsing candidates it still has symbolically supported some politicians based on their votes on the Chamber’s most important issues.

He cited examples such as Reps. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) and Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.) where the Chamber had written letters to the editors of local papers or stood by them during speeches to business audiences to praise their votes that were in line with the Chamber’s agenda.

In 2004, the Chamber participated heavily in nine Senate races and 28 House races and spent $25 million on a total of 269 Chamber-endorsed candidates. More than $1 million alone was spent in South Dakota to defeat then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D).

“Senator Daschle refused to help us on a number of issues and consistently blocked our agenda,” Miller said. “So we had to take a stand.”

Miller said the election in South Dakota sent a message to candidates that “if you are going to continue to stand in the way of business … we are going to go after you.”

Daschle lost his reelection bid 51 to 49 percent to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

Seven of the nine endorsed Senate candidates were successful, and 21 endorsed House candidates won their elections. Overall, 93 percent of Chamber-endorsed candidates triumphed last November.

Miller said the Chamber would continue to expand its VoteforBusiness program, which includes customized websites for corporations, trade organizations and Chambers of Commerce in order to educate voters on the business agenda. In 2004, the Chamber created partnerships with 409 businesses through the program and reached an estimated 40 million Americans. 

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