Analysis: "Bringing home bacon" may not work this election

By Lisa Lambert and John Crawley

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – The Obama administration is sending more than $3 billion in infrastructure grants to U.S. states this month and announced most of the awards on Thursday, just days before the pivotal mid-term elections.

But the campaign tradition followed by both parties of “bringing home the bacon” of grants to boost incumbents’ popularity may not have the same impact as in previous elections with many voters professing antipathy toward government spending.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell said it would be hard for President Barack Obama to have timed one part of the funding surge to influence the election — $600 million in “TIGER II” grants announced last week. Nonetheless, candidates running for re-election must “create perception” they deliver, he said.

A grant from the competitive TIGER program for transportation projects went to a Pennsylvania district where a Democrat is running for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives.

“He absolutely talked about it in the campaign and he should,” said Rendell, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who advocates for infrastructure.

For candidates trailing in polls by one or two percentage points, announcing they secured millions in funding could push them to victory, he added. But those who are behind by larger margins will not likely get enough of a boost to win.

“Every administration does it for every election,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, pointing to Bush administration grant announcements ahead of the 2008 election made in hopes of benefiting Republican incumbents.

“This year, that seems to be less impressive to people. They’re concerned about government spending,” she said.

In the past month, Senator Harry Reid has announced a variety of federally-funded public works, including a $1 billion project called “Project Neon2.” Reid, who holds the powerful post of Senate Majority Leader, has been facing a tough fight from Republican Sharron Angle.

In California, Senator Barbara Boxer is battling to save her decades-long legislative career. The Democrat last week trumpeted $59 million going to Los Angeles for transit. This week, she touted the $902 million in new federal money California will receive for high-speed rail.

That is the largest chunk of $2.4 billion in high-speed grants the Transportation Department announced on Thursday.

Next Tuesday’s election could upset the power structure in Washington, as well as in states’ governor mansions and legislatures. Democrats hope infrastructure work can quickly create jobs, a top electoral priority.

Embattled Gov. Pat Quinn promoted the TIGER grant Illinois received as “important to our state’s continued economic recovery, creating jobs and stimulating economic development,” hitting issues important to a state walloped by the recession.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the high-speed grants on Thursday in Iowa, where there is a tight congressional race and close gubernatorial competition. His staff said the appearance was not politically motivated and that LaHood, as the only Republican in Obama’s Cabinet, steers clear of those events.

The announcement came days after members of the House and Senate and some governors told constituents they would receive the money. Federal law gives incumbent congressional candidates first crack at announcing grants to their states or districts, enabling them to claim credit before constituents.

DOES INFRASTRUCTURE STILL HAVE INFLUENCE?

Highlighting infrastructure could help candidates closely identified with the issue. Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, who chairs the House Transportation Committee is in a tough race, the first time in memory for the 18-term veteran.

In the era of the Tea Party, which opposes taxes and safety net spending, unrest is growing over the $814 billion economic stimulus plan, which dedicated a relatively small $38 billion to transportation. Some worry the money was a waste.

“Like other Americans, Californians think that the government is spending too much money, and this sentiment persists even when the money lands close to home,” said John Pitney, a political expert at California’s Claremont McKenna College, noting a water bond expected for the state’s November ballot was killed after polling showed voter opposition.

Opposition to infrastructure spending is playing prominently in New Jersey where Gov. Chris Christie ended a $9 billion tunnel project over cost concerns. Christie took one side of a clear divide in current U.S. politics that sees big government and higher taxes as a threat to prosperity.

Rendell said a Tea Party member has already decided against voting for Democrat incumbents, regardless of how much bacon candidates brought home.

“You don’t lose anything by saying, ‘I got this grant,'” he said.

(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago and Jon Hurdle in New Jersey; Editing by Diane Craft)

Analysis: "Bringing home bacon" may not work this election