"These appropriations aren't wasteful spending; they aren't 'pork,'" Murkowski says in a news release detailing a bevy of recent earmarks, such as $333,500 for the redevelopment of an abandoned cannery property in Craig, Alaska.
The anti-earmark candidates promise to shake up a Capitol culture in which earmarking is seen by most lawmakers as a birthright. In the House, Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has never sought an earmark, earlier this year orchestrated a GOP rules change in which the party swore off earmarks.
But the boycott only applies to this year's round of spending bills, and the no-earmarks promise was conspicuously missing from the House Republicans' "Pledge to America" manifesto. But Boehner is likely to push the issue again and a key pro-earmark lawmaker, Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., now supports extending the moratorium. Lewis aspires to chair the Appropriations Committee if Republicans take over the House.
In the Senate, only a handful of members foreswear earmarks. GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is an avid earmarker — he ran ads in the last election cycle touting his ability to deliver — as are the other members of the GOP leadership.
But renegades like Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., are pushing the party to give up earmarks. DeMint is counting on anti-earmark reinforcements from the election to help him force a vote on changing GOP conference rules to require Republicans to abandon the practice. An overwhelming majority of new GOP candidates have taken the no-pork pledge, a prerequisite for DeMint's endorsement and support from his fundraising network.
"Most people think that the biggest issue Republicans lost their way on was spending," said Matt Hoskins, a spokesman for DeMint's political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund. "There's no bigger example of that than earmarks."
Democrats like Reid and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who still tout their ability to deliver taxpayer money back to their states, find themselves running neck and neck against Republicans who have sworn them off.
"The old-school measurement of a great senator was how much pork you could drag home," said Republican Dino Rossi, Murray's opponent. "I just don't think this is the year to be talking about pork."
Added Rossi, "Which part of 'we're broke' don't you understand?"
Some Democrats are getting into the anti-earmark act as well. In the Missouri Senate race, Democrat Robin Carnahan eschews earmarks in contrast to Republican Rep. Roy Blunt, a long-standing advocate of earmarking who's obtained more than his share during his years in the GOP leadership.
More typical is Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., who faces a tough re-election fight in New York's Hudson Valley but boasts of earmarks such as $2 million for a water microfiltration plant in Warwick so that children there could have clean drinking water.
"My opponent has taken a written pledge not to ask for that money," Hall said in a recent interview. "I'll stand up and defend them (earmarks). There's no Bridge to Nowhere here."
Associated Press writer Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed to this report.
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