Well, it's been quite a day in the IL-10th District congressional race; first, there was the story that former congressman (and convicted felon) Dan Rostenkowski presented Dem candidate (and night school instructor at Northwestern University) Dan Seals with an envelope during his night class that contained (so says the IL GOP) an assumed monetary donation that would help Seals in his campaign (or did it just contain some good advice, say, on how to avoid prison?). After all the negative press Seals got for prematurely claiming he was a professor at NU, and then taking flak from NU students who were concerned his teaching gig amounted to university-sanctioned electioneering, you would think Seals wouldn’t be so stupid as to take a campaign contribution in front of his class, in an NU classroom.
Usually, a story like that would keep us talking for at least a few days.
But, Seals managed to top himself today with "Gasoline Gate".
As you may have heard by now (if you are the kind of person that reads this or similar blogs regularly), Dan Seals pulled a rather boneheaded (and possibly illegal) stunt today in toney Lincolnshire, an inner north shore suburb (is there such a thing?), where Seals showed up at a local gas station to sell discounted gas to all and sundry. The shtick? Seals offered to pay the difference between 2001 gas prices (which he pegged at $1.85) and today's price, up to ten gallons, to any customer that showed up between 12:00 and 1:00.
But, there were few (!) glitches. First, despite being advertised as an hour-long promotion, Seals arbitrarily cut off discounted gas sales by 12:20 or so, and only about 50 motorists actually got any cheap gas, the Chicago Tribune reported. Next, the Seals camp didn't bother to inform Lincolnshire police of the promotion, and lunchtime traffic was snarled all around the area. D'oh! Not only were people who waited in the 1.5 mile-long line pretty pissed when they were turned away, people in the area who had nothing to do with, or no interest in, Seals' political stunt, were also inconvenienced... and, no doubt, probably collectively wasted more gas by idling in their cars than Mr. Seals gave away. I daresay that Seals lost a lot more votes today with this stunt than he gained. Even the usually reserved Tribune stated that the stunt "backfired."
Getting down to basics, the whole idea of Seals' stunt was flawed from the get-go. First, this was hardly an original idea from Seals. In fact, Seals stole this from the Dem playbook in the 2006 election cycle. But, there's a big trap with this strategy, Seals fell right into it.
Recall that back in 2006, the Republicans controlled Congress, so they were an easy target to blame for high gas prices, which back then were around $2.20 to $2.40 a gallon (seems like the good 'ole days). Even then, however, the Dem playbook warned its candidates that tried this gambit that it could backfire, if the Dems took over Congress and gas prices didn't drop. As noted at the time, the obvious problem "is a long-term one, the fact that there really is no "magic bullet" to make prices come down at the pump, so voters might be disappointed if Congress goes Democratic and gas prices stay high."
Well, guess what happened? The Dems won the majority, gas prices skyrocketed, but Seals decided to use an outdated campaign strategy from 2006 that warned against the very circumstances that came to pass... yet Seals bit anyway. Seals apparently did not stop to think that the most relevant comparison for political purposes is not between early 2001 (when Kirk first took office) and 2008, but rather 2006 (when the Dems took over) and today. If my figures are right, gas prices have risen more than twice as much in the two years since the Nancy Pelosi-controlled Congress took over, compared to the entire six previous years under Kirk and a Republican-controlled Congress. D'oh! again.
Of course, trying to blame high gas prices on a single member of Congress is pretty ludicrous to begin with. Either Seals is being purposely disingenuous for political gain, or he has no understanding of market economics. It seems to me that, by far, the two greatest factors to the recent huge run-up in oil prices is increased demand from developing countries like China and India, as well as rampant speculation in the market (which a segment on WBBM this morning stated that speculation may be adding as much as $40 a barrel to the current price of oil). Dan Seals will be able to do nothing more about this, should he (heaven forbid) be elected to Congress, than Mark Kirk is individually to blame for it. You can also add, while we're at it, the burdensome federal and state taxes on gasoline (up to 20% of the price) and Barack Obama's and the Illinois Democrats' collective resistance to any kind of gas tax relief on the state or federal levels.
In a rather rare move, Congressman Kirk's team actually took note of the Seals debacle, and issued a statement seriously questioning the legality of the stunt.
And, the Seals apologists were in full defense mode today, in the comments over at Capitol Fax Blog, and at Illinois Reason and Archpundit. Some even got a little personal with TA, but hey, as a lawyer, I have a pretty thick skin, so have at it guys.
But to anyone like Archpundit and Rob N., who equate the Seals stunt with handing out the usual freebies like pizza and beer or campaign tchotckes, I have news for ya: buying your volunteers pizza and beer after a day of knocking on doors, or handing out free T-shirts and hats with “Kirk for Congress” or whatever you like, is a lot different than calling the media and announcing to all comers that you’re running for Congress and hosting a give-away, so c’mon over.
Seals' stunt today was the equivalent of him standing on the street corner and saying, I’m Dan Seals, here’s $50, and by the way, I’d appreciate your vote. Even if the FEC determines, in the end, that it's not illegal, it sends the wrong message on a lot of levels, and isn't what I want in MY Congressman.
h/t to "Wumpus" over at Cap Fax Blog for the "Gas for Votes" monicker. Love that!
UPDATED: The Waukegan News-Sun quotes Kirk spokesman Eric Elk as stating that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Illinois Dept. of Agriculture have been asked to look into the questionable legality of the Seals stunt from a number of different angles. See the Daily Herald's take on the story here.
UPDATED x2: Check out the CBS-2 video of Seals handing out his campaign literature during the event. Also note the really pissed off look of the Lincolnshire Police Chief. IL GOP Chairman Andy McKenna has called on Seals to reimburse the two suburban police departments that had to scramble to provide police coverage and traffic control on extremely short notice.
UPDATED x3: Rich Miller at Capitol Fax Blog spins himself dizzy with his criticism of the Tribune's story (characterizing it as a "hit piece") stating that the Seals gas stunt "backfired," and promotes Archpundit and Illinois Reason, both of which made the focus of their posts Team America, almost more so than the story itself. Miller, however, neglects to give the opposing viewpoint a voice and ignores TA's post on this same issue, in favor of highlighting the pro-Seals blogs.