Democrats need to gain at least six seats to take control of the Senate, which Republicans now control 55-43-2. Dems appear to have the advantage in Pennsylvania, where Bob Casey (D) has been leading Sen. Rick Santorum (R); in Rhode Island, where Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) survived a strong GOP primary challenge and now trails Rep. Sheldon Whitehouse (D); and Ohio, where Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) led Sen. Mike DeWine.

Tighter races, where recent polls basically show the races within the margin of error, are:

• Montana, where state Sen. John Tester (D) is still largely unknown but has run a populist campaign to catch up with Sen. Conrad Burns (R), who has needed his fundraising advantage to overcome ties to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff as well as campaign blunders, such as berating out-of-state firefighters in a Montana airport;

• Missouri, where state Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) challenges first-term Sen. Jim Talent (R).

• Tennessee, where GOP nominee Bob Corker is reeling from scandals from his time as Chattanooga mayor and US Rep. Harold Ford (D) appears to have momentum in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Bill Frist (R).

• Virginia, where Jim Webb (D) has capitalized on a number of gaffes by Sen. George Allen Jr. (R), who first called a Webb campaign volunteer who was Indian American "macaca," which turned out to be an ethnic slur, then denied claims of football teammates and other college acquaintances that he regularly used the "N-word." At least his presidential aspirations are deflated.

A longer shot is Arizona, where Sen. Jon Kyl (R) led Jim Pederson (D) 48-41. Hopes are fading for Nevada, where Sen. Jon Ensign (R) led Jack Carter (D), son of former President Jimmy Carter, by double digits.

Chris Bowers noted (9/25) at MyDD.com that New Jersey is the only state where Republicans are mounting a serious threat to unseat a Dem. There Tom Kean Jr., son of a popular former governor, led appointed Sen. Robert Menendez 43-41 in the average of five recent polls tracked by Pollster.com. Maryland is an outside threat, though Pollster.com's average there showed Ben Cardin (D), a House veteran, led Alan Steele (R) 48-42 for the seat Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) is giving up.

Republicans hoped for a takeaway in Minnesota, where Sen. Mark Dayton (DFL) is stepping down, but Pollster.com showed Amy Klobuchar (DFL) led Mark Kennedy by 52-37. In Michigan, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) led Mike Bouchard 52-41. In Washington, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) led Mike McGavick (R) 52-39.


RURAL VOTE UP FOR GRABS: Democrats probably have a better chance of winning control of the House, where they need to gain 16 seats. A poll released 9/22 shows rural voters in battleground states and congressional districts are up for grabs this year. The poll of rural voters in 41 contested congressional districts with significant rural populations found Dems and GOP candidates in a dead heat, with each party receiving 45% of the possible votes. In six contested Senate races in states with significant rural populations, rural voters favored GOP candidates 47% to 43%, but the gap falls within the margin of error of the poll conducted by Dem pollster Anna Greenberg and GOP pollster Bill Greener for The Center for Rural Strategies (ruralstrategies.org). When asked which party cares more about rural issues, Dems won 42% to 36%. The most important issue on rural voters' minds is the war in Iraq (17%), followed closely by jobs and the economy (14%); terrorism and national security (13%); moral values (10%). Medicare and Social Security, and health care were each mentioned by 9%. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they knew someone who has served in the armed forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Rural voters are vital to the GOP to overcome Democratic majorities in urban areas. In 2000, Al Gore got just 37% of the rural vote. In 2004, John Kerry got 40%. Jonathan Singer of MyDD.com sees this dynamic playing out in congressional races around the country, as Dems are competitive in mostly-rural districts currently held by R's, including: Arizona 1 (Renzi); Kentucky 2 (Lewis); Minnesota 1 (Gutknecht); New Hampshire 2 (Bass); New York 23 (McHugh); North Carolina 11 (Taylor); Ohio 18 (Ney); Pennsylvania 10 (Sherwood); and Wyoming At-Large (Cubin). "Democrats' chances in mixed districts -- those in which a majority of the population neither lives in urban, suburban or rural areas -- are potentially even better. For instance, independent polling released [9/24] from one such district, Indiana's 8th District, shows Democratic nominee Brad Ellsworth trouncing Republican incumbent John Hostettler by 15 points," Singer wrote. "If the Democrats' position among rural voters holds and they can manage to garner 45% of the rural vote -- or more -- in key congressional races this year, it's difficult for me to imagine the Republicans maintaining control of the House in January 2007."


GOOD DAY FOR PROGS: Eight of nine candidates endorsed by the progressive 21st Century Democrats (21stdems.org) won primaries on 9/12. In Arizona, Gabby Giffords, a former state senator, won the Democratic primary for the open 8th District seat in Congress this November. She is favored over Randy Graf, a right-wing state rep. In Minnesota, Keith Ellison won the primary in the 5th District and is favored to be the first Muslim in Congress and the first African American rep from Minnesota. In Vermont, Matt Dunne held off a challenge from a state rep to become the nominee for lieutenant governor. Mark Ritchie easily won his primary for Minnesota secretary of state and is poised to join three other secretary of state candidates working to remove barriers to voting -- reversing a recent trend of limiting the right to vote. In Maryland, 4 of 5 candidates prevailed in their primaries. John Sarbanes won in the 3rd Congressional District; Jamie Raskin unseated a 32-year incumbent with an amazing 67-33 percent win in a state Senate race; and two county executive candidates -- Ike Leggett in Montgomery County and Ken Ulman in Howard County -- also won. Overall, 21st Century Democrats candidates won 17 of 18 primary races this season, a 94% success rate.


BOOMERS BASH GOP SENIOR PLANS: A poll conducted for AARP and released 9/25 found that two-thirds of baby boomers and older Americans, ages 42 and older, consider paying for prescription drugs to be either a major (43%) or a minor (21%) financial problem. The cost of prescription drugs is likely to be a voting issue for nearly three-quarters of this age group -- and the poll was conducted in August, before millions of seniors hit the "donut hole" in Bush's Medicare drug plan, which requires seniors to pay the full cost of drugs over $2,250 for the year, until their tab reaches $3,600. The Washington Post reported that Frances Acanfora, 65, had been paying $58 for a three-month supply of her five medications. But in September the retired school lunchroom aide learned that her next bill would be $1,294. After talking to her doctor, Acanfora stopped taking a drug for breast cancer. She hopes to obtain some free samples of eye drops for her glaucoma. Three other medicines -- for high cholesterol, diabetes and osteoporosis -- cost $506.62, which Acanfora put on her credit card. "I pay a little bit at a time," she said. "What am I going to do? I need it. ... Sometimes, just to think about it, I cry."

Ezra Klein of Prospect.org noted (9/25) that the New England Journal of Medicine found Medicare drug benefit caps actually will cost the system more money, as seniors bow to financial pressures and cease taking their medicines, leading to emergencies that cost the system much more than covering the preventive medications would. As the NEJM concluded, "The savings in drug costs from the cap were offset by increases in the costs of hospitalization and emergency department care." Klein added, "So not only is the donut hole cruel policy, it's a verifiably stupid policy, and will cost far more money over the long haul than simply offering stable and expansive drug coverage. And none of this even gets into the absurd giveaways to Big Pharma and the insurance companies that make the program far more expensive than it need be."

Just as the gap is hitting seniors, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has launched a $10 mln ad campaign via the Chamber of Congress to help vulnerable members of Congress who voted for the Medicare drug program. The pharmaceutical industry is recording record profits thanks to the new program, and has already funneled more than $12.7 mln to largely GOP candidates in the 2006 election cycle, Campaign for American Progress (ourfuture.org) reported 9/21.

The AARP poll also found 71% of people 42 and older oppose GOP plans to use Social Security tax dollars to find private accounts.


GOP REP DENIES SEX SLAVE SLANDER: US Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, denied charges he slandered a foreign sex slave at the behest of corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But Paul Kiel of TPMmuckraker.com on 9/25 noted that in November 1997, Hall publicly questioned the credibility of a 15-year-old girl's claims that she'd been taken from her parents in the Philippines, and forced to perform sex acts on stage and before video cameras at a sex club in the Northern Marianas, a US territory. A 1998 Department of Labor report confirmed those reports. Hall entered a statement into the Congressional Record that was prepared by Abramoff, lobbyist for the islands, Kiel reported. "[S]he wanted to do nude dancing," Hall's statement said of the girl who had earlier told federal investigators that she'd been forced to work for a local nightclub in a nightly live sex show. Hall's challenger in Texas' 4th District, history professor Glenn Melancon, has made the episode a campaign issue. "When investigators discovered child prostitution and forced abortions on the Mariana Islands, Congressman Ralph Hall was paid for covering it up and publicly attacking one of the raped children," read postcards his campaign distributed to voters. The girl eventually was given asylum in Hawaii, where she lives today.


EPA SHUTS LIBRARIES: The US EPA is closing its headquarters library to the public, as well as its own staff, effective 10/1, the Environmental News Service noted, citing a notice in the Federal Register. The shutdown is the latest in a series of agency library closures during the past few weeks, government watchdogs said. Books, reports and research monographs in the EPA Headquarters Library have been boxed up and are currently inaccessible to anyone. "EPA is busily crating up and locking away its institutional memory," Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Executive Director Jeff Ruch told ENS, noting that more than 10,000 EPA scientists and other specialists are protesting the library closures as hindering their ability to do their jobs. "Despite its 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' public statements, EPA has no coherent plan let alone a timetable for making these collections available." House Democrats have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the effects that the EPA library closures will have on access to environmental information and the impacts on scientific research, regulatory quality and enforcement capability.


INCONVENIENT TAX TRUTH: Al Gore recently suggested that to fight global warming, the payroll tax could be replaced by a carbon tax. Max Sawicky noted at maxspeak.org (9/21) that a carbon tax is basically a tax on people who use goods and services whose production or consumption entails carbon dioxide emissions. For 2004, payroll tax receipts were $733 bln, which would translate into a tax share of GDP of 6.25%. But the actual rate would have to be much higher, since many components of GDP and even consumption itself would be excluded from the tax base. And if the carbon tax achieved its purpose of causing production and consumption to shift away from carbon use, the tax receipts would shrink, requiring an ever-increasing rate. "Conceptually, a replacement undercuts the social insurance nature of Social Security and Medicare, historically a source of its political strength," Sawicky wrote.


WARNER'S ANTI-POPULISM: Mark Warner made his bid for the blue-blood vote in Iowa on 9/18 when he criticized Democrats such as John Kerry in 2004 for arguing against tax cuts. In order to appeal to more voters, the party ought to avoid alienating wealthier Americans, the former Virginia governor told business leaders in Des Moines. Even though the Bush tax cuts only applied to the top 2 percent of Americans, what I think the Kerry campaign missed was that the other 98 percent of Americans still aspired to get to the point in their life where they could qualify for the tax cuts." But Ezra Klein of Prospect.org noted that support for Bush's tax cuts has always been low. In 2004, those who named "taxes" as their top issue favored Bush by a mere 57% to 43% for Kerry. "So where exactly is the evidence of all this aspirational abhorrence of populism?" Klein asked. "Polls show, and have shown, massive preferences among voters for the vast majority of Democratic economic positions. Few dispute that Bush won the election on national security and social conservatism, and most of those who do dispute it simply don't think Bush won the election. So while Warner's genial rejection of class warfare may play well on the Washington Post op-ed page, there's no reason to believe it's a good strategy, and lord knows it's terrible policy, particularly in an era when the federal treasury is starved for revenue and Democrats actually want to enact some social programs."


DEVIL'S DETAILS: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been roundly criticized for calling President bush "the devil" in a speech at the United Nations but some conservatives are more forgiving of name-calling on the right. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called Chavez "despicable" on CBS's Face the Nation. But ThinkProgress.org noted that when host Bob Schieffer asked about Jerry Falwell's statement that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., would energize conservative voters more than Lucifer, McCain demurred, "I think he was joking."


RACISM HAPPENS: Sen. George Allen Jr. on 9/25 vigorously denied claims of former University of Virginia football teammates that he used a racial epithet and demonstrated racist behavior during college. The *Washington* Post quoted Allen calling the claims in the Salon.com article of one former teammate, Ken Shelton, "absolutely false," "pure fabrication" and "nonsense." According to the *Post*, Allen said the "N-word" was not a part of his vocabulary. "It wasn't then. It hasn't been since. And it is not now," the senator said. But within hours, two more former acquaintances of Allen's had come forward to claim that they knew Allen had uttered the word "nigger." The *New York Times*, *The New Republic* and the *Post* reported that Christopher Taylor, an anthropology professor in Alabama, said Allen used the word in the early 1980s when Taylor visited a pond near Allen's then home in Virginia. Taylor told the news outlets that Allen had spoken of turtles in the pond, saying, "Around here" the only people who "eat 'em" are black, whom Allen described using the racial epithet. And Larry Sabato, one of the most quoted political scientists in the country, appeared on MSNBC's *Hardball With Chris Matthews*, where he said he knew that Allen had used the racial epithet.

Salon reported that Shelton, now a North Carolina radiologist, said he remembered several incidents of Allen's racist behavior during their college days, in addition to Allen's use of the epithet. Shelton said Allen told him that he preferred Virginia to California because "blacks knew their place" in Virginia. He said Allen gave him the nickname "Wizard" because Shelton shared a last name with Robert Shelton, who served in the 1960s as the imperial wizard of the United Klans of America, a group affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan. Shelton also said he watched Allen put a severed deer head into a mailbox that Allen believed to be owned by a black resident of a rural area of Virginia. Two other former teammates of Allen, who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution, also told Salon that Allen had used the racial epithet and displayed racist behavior in college.

Allen, a California native, is a Civil War buff who displayed the Confederate flag in his home, opposed the Martin Luther King holiday when he was Virginia state representative and displayed a noose in his former law office.


US LOSES COMPETITIVE EDGE: Large trade and fiscal deficits have cost the US its status as the world's most competitive econmy, the World Economic Forum reported 9/26, according to the BBC. The US now ranks sixth in the forum's table of global competitiveness, behind Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Singapore. Although the US remained the global engine of technology, WEF said its business environment was being endangered by the fragile state of its public finances. US budget and trade deficits have spiralled in the past few years as a result of heavy government spending, tax cuts and rising trade imbalances with countries such as China and Japan. The US trade deficit is expected to top last year's record level of $717 bln in 2006, while the budget shortfall, although expected to be significantly lower than last year, is still forecast to be close to $300 bln.


HUD BLOCKED DEM FIRMS: In April, US Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson told a group of real estate officials that he once canceled a government contract because the contractor was critical of President Bush. Awarding contracts based on political leanings violates federal law, but Jackson later said he was only kidding. But the Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development investigated and produced a 340-page report detailing his findings. The agency refused to release the report to the public, but ThinkProgress.org obtained the executive summary, which documents how Jackson "urged staff members to favor friends of President Bush when awarding Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contracts." Jackson is a "longtime Bush friend" and former neighbor in Dallas, Texas, who "has led the $32 billion agency since March 2004." Three top HUD officials testified that Jackson told them that "it was important to consider presidential supporters when candidates for HUD discretionary contracts were being considered," the report states. Jackson's chief of staff told investigators that Jackson "personally intervened with contractors whom he did not like ... these contractors had Democratic political affiliations." Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member on the Government Reform Committee, called for Jackson to resign immediately. The White House gave him "a tepid vote of confidence," Todd J. Gillman reported in the *Dallas Morning News*. See a link to the report's executive summary at thinkprogress.org for 9/22.


PRESS SHUTS OUT DEMS: Matthew Yglesias notes at matthewyglesias.com (9/26): "Since the people who run the Congress refuse to engage in oversight, the Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing [9/25] on the Iraq War [inviting retired generals such as John Batiste to criticize the conduct of the war]. Naturally, the press more-or-less entirely ignored this event, since people only report on the Democrats to mock them for being in 'disarray.'" Ezra Klein of Prospect.org agrees, noting that the Capitol Hill newspaper *Roll Call* a few days earlier claimed that Democrats were going to cease mentioning national security and the Iraq War and focus entirely on economic issues. "That becomes a bit self-fulfilling if the press refuses to report Democratic events on national security and the Iraq War," Klein wrote. "For all the complaints about Democratic messaging, it often seems less like they lack a message and more like they lack a press corps receptive to repeating that message. The apparent clarity of the Republican Party certainly isn't harmed by George W. Bush's ability to demand that all the networks cover his latest speech or press conference. This is a structural advantage for the GOP that's often mistaken for an expertise advantage. Without power or charismatic leaders, Democrats often speak and find that, with no press around to listen, they're not making a sound." We add: Support your progressive press to hear the rest of the story.

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2006

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