The conventional wisdom inside the D.C. Beltway is that George W. Bush's war talk has pushed economic issues out of the election debate. Kelly Young of 21st Century Democrats, which promotes progressive populist Democrats, said she is encouraged by recent polling that indicates voters are focused on domestic issues, Young thinks domestic issues will continue to come to the forefront as the election approaches.
That will have a particularly important effect on races for governor, which are not as influenced by foreign policy as congressional races.
"Governors' races are driven by economic issues and incumbents are at a disadvantage because of fiscal crises where they face the choice of cutting programs or raising taxes." In most cases, she notes, that works to the disadvantages of the GOP.
In races for governor, 11 Democratic seats, 23 GOP seats, and the 2 independent seats are up for election. As of Oct. 7, Democrats appeared heading for a net gain of nine seats, which would leave the D's with 30 governors, the R's with 19 and one independent.
Democrats appear to be in good shape in taking the governor's office away from Republicans in Maine, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Democrats also appear to be leading in Arizona, Kansas, Massachusetts and Tennessee. In Florida, Bill McBride was within a few points of Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and in Texas, Tony Sanchez is causing headaches for Gov. Rick Perry (R), particularly after Farmers Insurance, a heavy Perry contributor, pulled out of the home insurance market. Dems also have hopes in Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming. Republicans hope to take Democratic seats in Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire and South Dakota, while longer shots are Iowa, Maryland, Oregon and Vermont. Republicans still hope to pull off an upset of California's lackluster Gov. Gray Davis, but it probably would require dumping Bill Simon for former LA Mayor Richard Riordan.
In Senate races, 20 seats now held by Republicans are up for election, while 14 Democrats are up. Democrats threaten to take Republican seats in Arkansas, Colorado, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, and are longer shots in Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee. Republicans threaten to take Democratic seats in Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey and South Dakota and are longer shots in Georgia and Iowa.
In Iowa, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin appeared to be holding on to a lead of approximately 10 points despite a media controversy over the apparently covert taping by a Harkin supporter of remarks by his Republican opponent, US Rep. Greg Ganske, at a fundraiser when Ganske was boasting of his upcoming negative campaign. Ganske made the most of the gaffe and alternatively called upon state and local authorities to investigate the taping and threatened to file a civil lawsuit against the Harkin campaign, although it was not clear what if any law was violated.
In Minnesota, Tim Penny, a former Democratic congressman running as Independent Party nominee to succeed incumbent Gov. Jesse Ventura, is leading Democrat Roger Moe and Republican Tim Pawlenty in at least some polls. Sen. Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., is holding his own against a Republican campaign coordinated by the White House, which recruited Norm Coleman, a former Democratic mayor of St. Paul turned Republican, to run against Wellstone, one of the Senate's most progressive members and a thorn in Bush's side. Wellstone is the only incumbent seeking re-election who has come out against Bush's war on Iraq, but Wellstone got the endorsement of the 1.9-million-member Veterans of Foreign War for his work in getting vets benefits opposed by the Bush administration.
In Missouri, Sen. Jean Carnahan (D) is holding a slim lead against Jim Talent (R), a former congressman. Adding to the volatility, 100 seats are open in the state House because of term limits, and most of those open seats are in Democratic-majority districts. Both parties are struggling to fill those seats.
In New Hampshire, businessman Craig Benson (R) leads state Sen. Mark Fernald (D) in the governor's race, but Democrats are in better shape than D.C. Beltway wisdom suggests, Young said, because while Fernald is being outspent by his Republican opponent and is thought to be a drag on the ticket because of his unpopular support for an income tax, Young thinks the presence of Jean Shaheen, the moderate Democrat running for the Senate, will broaden the party's base.
In Oregon, Bill Bradbury, secretary of state, is down by a few points to Sen. Gordon Smith (R) but Bradbury is looking solid, Young said. "He'd be extremely progressive in most states, but he's a moderate from the Oregon point of view."
In New Jersey, R's found out about being careful what you wish for when scandal-plagued Sen. Bob Torricelli (D) stepped down in the face of plummeting poll numbers. The D's replaced him with former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who immediately reversed the race and jumped into the lead against Douglas Forrester (R). The GOP cried foul, but D's pointed out that not only had the R's replaced candidates late, so had Forrester in the primary. After a bipartisan New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously blessed the substitution, the US Supreme Court decided not to intervene.
In South Dakota, Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson was holding steady with a lead in the polls of approximately 4 points. With relatively few undecided votes in the state, Democrats hope that lead will hold up if they can get out the voters on election day.
For the open Texas seat, Ron Kirk, African-American former Dallas mayor (D), is a few points behind but gaining on Attorney Gen. John Cornyn (R). He should benefit from multimillionaire Tony Sanchez's investment in getting out the Dems' vote for the governor's race. While both D's are explicitly pro-business, the opportunity to replace Sen. Phil Gramm and Gov. Rick Perry, who are not only reflexively pro-business but also anti-labor, is too great to pass up.
In Vermont, Doug Racine (D) is likely to lead the vote in a four-way race for governor, but if he doesn't get 50% the race will be thrown into the House, where R's now have an 83-62 advantage with 4 Progressives and 1 indy. D's are trying to regain the majority, lost in 2000 in a voter backlash against the state's civil union law allowing gay marriages.
FIGURES LIE. Polling is in trouble, according to Dick Morris, former pollster to R's and D's, including former President Bill Clinton. Writing in The Hill, a D.C. political newspaper, Morris said the telephone poll is no longer reliable, in part because so many people take advantage of laws allowing them to opt out of telemarketing phone calls, including public opinion surveys. In Connecticut, for example, he said, 29% of households cannot be contacted by pollsters and 5% more join the call-block list each year. Morris noted that of all the national polls, only Zogby predicted that Al Gore would get more votes than George W. Bush in 2000. Pollsters also were way off when they predicted a close race between Hillary Clinton (D) and then-US Rep Rick Lazio (R) in the New York Senate race. "Especially in off-year elections, the voters who refuse to answer telephone polls are just the ones who will most likely come out and vote on Election Day," Morris wrote. "Upscale, aware of their rights, and determined to act to protect their privacy, these are the same people who vote when the percentage of voting age population that casts its ballots drops to 35% during off-year contests."
HEALTH COVERAGE FALLS AGAIN. The number of Americans who lack health coverage is dropping again after a two-year decline, according to federal figures reported by the Washington Post, which suggest that the faltering economy propelled another 1.4 million people last year into the uninsured. The biggest drop in insurance took place among people who had been getting health benefits through their jobs, particularly in small companies, Census Bureau figures show. The pool of people with no outside help in paying their medical bills -- 41.2 million last year -- would have been even larger, except that government insurance programs absorbed more residents who are poor. However, tight fiscal times may force curtailment of those programs. The Bush administration is promoting health insurance tax credits and subsidies for community health centers, while, a coalition that includes the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter announced plans for a "Cover the Uninsured Week" next March, which will include hundreds of events across the country to draw attention to the issue. The coalition includes business, the insurance industry, labor unions and providers and consumers. See www.rwjf.org or phone 202-745-5100.
BUSH UNDERCUTS DOCKWORKERS. Union leaders criticized George W. Bush's Oct. 7 order for a board of inquiry under the federal Taft-Hartley Act in the case of 10,500 West Coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union dockworkers who were locked out of their jobs -- the first time a president has moved toward a back-to-work injunction while union members were not on strike. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka said, "The federal government has tipped the balance of power heavily in the employer's favor." The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) refused to let the dockworkers do their jobs at 29 major West Coast ports since Sept. 29. On Oct. 6, federally mediated talks between the ILWU and the PMA broke down after the union agreed to -- but the PMA refused -- the mediators' request to extend the expired contract for seven days and end the lockout. After the three-member Taft-Hartley board reports to the president, he could seek a federal court injunction to order the ports reopened and kept running by ILWU workers during a "cooling-off" period of up to 80 days. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., announced her support for using the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act against West Coast longshore workers, which correspondent Nathan Newman called "a massive betrayal of the union voters who helped elect her." See www.aflcio.org for updates.
To help the dockworkers, call on retailers like Crate&Barrel, Gap, Best Buy, Talbots, Wal-Mart and Target Stores to tell PMA to end the lockout and bargain for a contract. Those retailers were on the frontline in supporting government intervention through the National Retail Federation and the West Coast Waterfront Coalition. See www.unionvoice.org/campaign/ilwu2.
CORPORATE REFORM UNDERCUT. Reformers were incredulous when US Rep. Michael Oxley lent his name to Sen. Paul Sarbanes' accounting reform bill in July, for the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee was known as the big accounting firms' best friend in D.C., the New York Times' Paul Krugman wrote Oct. 8. "It was ... as if Prohibition-era Chicago had passed a Ness-Capone clean government ordinance." It was almost as jarring as watching George W. Bush, "whose business career consisted of a series of murky insider dealings," declare himself outraged at evildoers. But as soon as the public's attention was distracted by the prospect of war with Iraq, Krugman wrote, Oxley apparently torpedoed plans to appoint someone effective to head a new accounting oversight board. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, "[The big accounting firms] don't want pension fund chief John Biggs [a strong advocate of reform] to lead the new accounting board because they fear he might actually force the industry to shape up." Krugman added, "The accounting industry may have a lot of clout, but this wouldn't matter if the White House made it clear that the SEC must choose an independent board. There's only one possible conclusion: The administration doesn't really want corporate reform."
GRAMM GETS BANK JOB. Sen. Phil Gramm, author of the 1999 bill that relaxed Depression-era barriers between banks and securities firms, which allowed the creation of financial conglomerates, will become a vice chairman of UBS Warburg investment bank when he retires from the Senate in January. Gramm told the New York Times he will advise on political matters and work with corporate clients. He added that he thought he was hired for his expertise, not as a reward for his work in Congress. Lucky breaks are something of a family trait: His wife, Wendy Gramm, as former head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commis-sion, helped Enron gain exemptions from regulations before she was named a paid member of Enron's board of directors. She served on Enron's audit committee, which supervised bookkeeping. Coincidentally, after Enron's bankruptcy Warburg acquired Enron's energy-trading business.
"Senator Gramm is the darling of the banks, the oil industry and Enron," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. "In the Senate, he did the bidding of the banking industry and took its money. He did the bidding of the oil industry and took its money. He did the bidding of energy traders and took their money. Now, he's going to get paid directly from the company that took over Enron's fraudulent energy trading operation, a business Gramm helped create through a law that deregulated such trading."
NO-FLY LIST SNARES ACTIVISTS. A federal "No Fly" list, intended to keep terrorists from boarding planes, is snaring peace activists at US airports, triggering complaints that civil liberties are being trampled, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Sept. 27. And while several federal agencies acknowledge that they contribute names to the congressionally mandated list, none of them could or would tell the Chronicle which agency is responsible for managing the list. A group of 20 Wisconsin anti-war activists was forced to miss their flight, delaying their trip to meet with congressional representatives by a day, during a detention. "What's scariest to me is that there could be this gross interruption of civil rights and nobody is really in charge," said Sarah Backus, an organizer of the Wisconsin group. "That's really 1984-ish." The detaining of activists has stirred concern among members of Congress and civil liberties advocates. They want to know what safeguards exist to prevent innocent people from being branded "a threat to civil aviation or national security." Rebecca Gordon, a veteran San Francisco human rights activist and co-founder of War Times, and fellow War Times co-founder Jan Adams, were briefly detained and questioned by police at San Francisco International Airport Aug. 7 after checking in at the American Trans Air counter at San Francisco International Airport for a flight to Boston. While they were allowed to fly, their boarding passes were marked with a red "S" -- for "search" -- which subjected them to more scrutiny at SFO and during a layover in Chicago. Before Adams' return flight from Boston's Logan International, she was trailed to the gate by a police officer and an airline official and searched yet again. Critics question whether Sister Virgine Lawinger, a 74-year-old Catholic nun, is the kind of "air pirate" lawmakers had in mind when they passed the law. Lawinger, one of the Wisconsin activists stopped at the Milwaukee airport on April 19, said she didn't get upset when two sheriff's deputies escorted her for questioning, but she never learned why she was detained.
LOCAL DEMOCRACY CONFERENCE. An International Conference on Local Democracy will be held Nov. 15-17 in Madison, Wis., hosted by Progressive Dane and the Haven Center at the University of Wisconsin, and sponsored by The Progressive Magazine and the local Green Party, among others. Subjects include "The Workers Party in Porto Alegre, Brazil," "The Broad Front in Montevideo, Uruguay," "British Municipal Socialism of the 1980s," "On the Road to Success? Innovation & Democratic Potential in the United States," "Public Power & Election Reform in San Francisco," "Community Control of Corporations in Northern California," "How an African-American Green Became Hartford Majority Leader," "Progressive Politics at the Cusp in Madison, Wis.," and "Banning Corporate Agribusiness in Rural Pennsylvania." For information call Progressive Dane, (608) 257-4985 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
HISPANICS ID WITH DEMS. Hispanic voters tend to identify themselves as Democrats rather than Republicans by more than a 2-to-1 margin, says a new nonpartisan poll by the Pew Hispanic Center that indicates the Hispanic support for the Democrats is broad but shallow. The survey of 1,329 Hispanic voters between April 4 and June 11 found 49% consider themselves Democrats; 20% consider themselves Republicans; and 19% consider themselves independents. Hispanic voters generally are more conservative on social issues than many Democrats but favor government programs more than most Republican voters. When Hispanic voters were asked which party they have confidence in when it comes to dealing with the economy, they picked Democrats by a 2-1 margin. However, when they were given a choice between Bush and Democrats in Congress on handling the economy, they split evenly. See www.pewhispanic.org.
FOX HUNTING TRUMPS PEACE ACTIVISM. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of London Sept. 28 to protest military action against Iraq, rallying in what the London Independent called "one of the biggest peace demonstrations seen in a generation" (9/29/02). Yet neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times saw fit to run a full article about the protests, instead burying passing mentions of the story in articles about other subjects, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting noted. However, both US papers "of record" showed real interest in another recent London march of comparable size -- the protest against a proposed ban on fox-hunting. The Washington Post ran a 1,331-word story about the fox-hunting protest on the front page of its Style section (9/23/02), while the New York Times ran a short Reuters piece on page A4 (9/23/02), which it followed up with an op-ed exploring the class politics of the hunt (9/24/02). A Times story on Prince Charles' involvement in politics (9/26/02) also made reference to the pro-fox-hunting protest. See www.fair.org.ß
POVERTY AND BANKRUPTCY RISING. The safety nets for workers are deteriorating, leading to sharp hikes in poverty and personal bankruptcy, according to a new AFL-CIO report, Silence and Inaction in the Face of Ongoing Crisis Threaten Economic Recovery and Family Economic Security. The report calls on Congress to extend emergency unemployment benefits; enact health care cost reforms including a Medicare prescription drug benefit; create meaningful 401(k) reform; abandon proposals to privatize Social Security; provide financial relief to state governments; and raise the minimum wage. "The economic stimulus plan of last year has failed to create new jobs or provide adequate relief to workers who cannot find jobs," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. For more information, visit www.aflcio.org/publ/press2002/pr0930.htm .