Remember Freedom’s Watch?
Early in the year, there were reports that the new, Sheldon Adelson-backed group — originally meant to generate support for the Bush administration policies in Iraq and then to support Republican congressional candidates in this year’s elections — would be a major player in this year’s political wars. Indeed, early on the well-financed group ran highly aggressive ads targeting Democratic congressional candidates on issues such as illegal immigration.
The group seemed to have everything going for it: big political names like former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, experienced political hands from the Republican Jewish Coalition like Ambassador Mel Sembler and the infinitely deep pockets of international casino magnate Adelson.
The group reportedly spent $30 million on radio and TV advertising this year alone, with a focus on some two-dozen House races.
But this week there were reports the group is re-evaluating its role in the wake of the Republicans’ disappointing performance with Jewish voters in November, internal dissent over its mission and tactics, and a worldwide financial meltdown that means that many of those pockets are no longer as deep.
Adelson’s casino interests have reportedly suffered huge losses, and the billionaire has apparently scaled back his high-octane giving to Jewish and politically conservative causes. Other big givers are doing the same, sources say.
And there’s not much evidence all that spending did much good.
Gilbert Kahn, a Kean University political scientist, said “they were appealing to a base that gave only 23 percent to the Republicans on Nov. 4. At least some of that population was turned off or even insulted by their kind of very aggressive approach.”
Last week the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that because of those problems, the group is “pretty much kaput,” and that while employees have been paid through the end of the year, “Freedom’s Watch is likely to shut its doors permanently.”
A Freedom’s Watch insider said it’s too early to say Kaddish for the independent GOP group. Much of the staff is departing at the end of the year “under the original terms of their employment; the vast majority of the departing staff was brought on specifically to help with the expected increase in workload that comes with an election year focus on issues.”
But the source also said that “over the coming weeks, we expect to make some determinations internally as to the future size and scope of the organization. We should have a clear picture toward the end of the month about where things with Freedom’s Watch will end up.”