DEMS CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC two weeks before the mid-term election that they can win control of the House of Representatives. They need a net gain of 15 seats but voter disgust with the scandal-plagued House GOP leadership have loosened up some districts that were previously rated "solid Republican." At this writing approximately 70 seats were considered "in play," as Republicans were forced to defend what should have been safe seats, such as the 1st District in Idaho (where Larry Grant [D] has benefitted from the antipathy of Republican legislators toward state Rep. Bill Sali [R], including the House speaker, who called Sali "an idiot") and at-large Wyoming (where Rep. Barbara Cubin [R] threatened to slap wheelchair-bound Libertarian Thomas Rankin after he noted, in a debate, that Cubin had received $22,000 from disgraced former GOP leader Tom DeLay).

CQPolitics saw improved prospects for Dems in 13 races, including shifts of two races -- in Pennsylvania's 8th District and Wisconsin's 8th District -- to "No Clear Favorite" from "Leans Republican." That left 207 seats rated "Safe Republican," "Republican Favored" or "Leans Republican," while 209 seats were rated "Leans Democratic" or better. That marked the first time this year that the Dems were rated as having the edge in more House districts than the R's. Of the remaining 19 seats rated as tossups, all are now held by the GOP.

In the Senate, Dems need to oust six of seven vulnerable Republicans to take over that chamber, which is key if Dems hope to block right-wing court nominees in the last two years of Bush's reign, but Dem chances appeared to be improving as the election neared. CQPolitics.com on 10/23 upgraded the Ohio race to "Leans Democratic" from "No Clear Favorite," as Sen. Mike DeWine joined Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee as GOP incumbents clearly trailing Dem challengers Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey and Sheldon Whitehouse, respectively. States rated "no clear favorite" included Missouri, where Sen. Jim Talent (R) and state Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) were still running neck-and-neck in polls; Montana, where populist state Sen. Jon Tester (D) held a narrow lead over Sen. Conrad Burns, who has suffered from major gaffes and ties to disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff; Tennessee, where US Rep. Harold Ford (D) is battling former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker (R) for the seat Sen. Bill Frist (R) is giving up; and Virginia, where Sen. George Allen (R) held onto a slim lead over former Navy Secretary Jim Webb (D).

Dems must hold onto embattled seats, including New Jersey, where Sen. Bob Menendez (D) is struggling to beat Tom Kean Jr., son of a popular former governor; Maryland, where Rep. Ben Cardin (D) is favored to retain the seat Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) is giving up; and Minnesota, where county prosecutor Amy Klobuchar (D) is pulling away from Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) for the seat Sen. Mark Dayton (D) is giving up. Dems also would like to see Ned Lamont (D) beat Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut. Lieberman, who filed to run as an independent after Lamont beat him in the Democratic primary, has said he would caucus with the Dems but might consider switching to the GOP.

While Republicans were already engaging in "precriminations" over who was to blame for the wave that seemed headed to wash them out of power, Barron's, in its 10/23 issue, did a race-by-race analysis of all 468 Congressional contests, taking into account cash on hand, as well as organization assets on the ground, but ignoring the polls, and predicted the GOP will end up with majorities in both chambers. MediaMatters.org noted that when Barron's correctly predicted Republican gains in 2002 and 2004, it used poll results, which did not figure into the 2006 forecast.

Members of the Progressive Caucus in line for House committee chairs if the Democrats regain the majority include George Miller (Calif.) at Education and Workforce, Barney Frank (Mass.) at Financial Services, Henry Waxman (Calif.) at Government Reform, Bennie Thompson (Miss.) at Homeland Security, Tom Lantos (Calif.) at International Relations, John Conyers (Mich.) at Judiciary, Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) at Rules, Nydia Velazquez (N.Y.) at Small Business and Charlie Rangel (N.Y.) at Ways & Means.

If Dems recapture the Senate, the leaders will include progressives and populists such as Tom Harkin (Iowa) at Agriculture, Robert Byrd (W.V) at Appropriations, Carl Levin (Mich.) at Armed Services, Kent Conrad (N.D.) at Budget, Daniel Inouye (Hi.) at Commerce, Science and Transportation, Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) at Energy and Natural Resources, Ted Kennedy (Mass.) at Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Jay Rockfeller (W.V.) at Intel, Patrick Leahy (Vt.) at Judiciary, John Kerry (Mass.) at Small Business and Daniel Akaka (Hi.) at Veterans' Affairs.


GOP SLIMES DEMS: The Republican National Committee is drawing fire for ads it is running on behalf of Republican candidates. One ad on behalf of Bob Corker, the Senate candidate in Tennessee, has several people, apparently actors, making disparaging references to US Rep. Harold Ford, the Dem candidate. One of them is "a smiling, bare-shouldered, white blond woman" making reference to Ford's alleged attendance at a Playboy Super Bowl party and inviting him to call her. (Ford is black.) Corker's campaign considers the ad "tacky, over the top and ... not reflective of the kind of campaign we are running," but RNC spokesperson Camille Anderson said the RNC stands by the ad and she has "no reason to believe that it will not continue to air," National Journal's Hotline reported. A former Republican senator, Bill Cohen of Maine called the GOP ad "a very serious appeal to a racist sentiment" and John Greer, a Vanderbilt University political scientist who published a book this year on attack ads, In Defense of Negativity, told the Los Angeles Times the anti-Ford spot "is in some sense breaking new lows." But it's early yet ...

In Ohio, on 10/19 a dozen TV stations refused a GOP ad attacking Democratic Senate candidate Sherrod Brown, mainly because the ad was demonstrably false. The RNC sank over $700,000 into the ad, which said Brown "didn't pay his unemployment taxes for 13 years." Even though the Brown campaign produced proof that the claim was false, Greg Sargent noted at TalkingPoints-Memo.com, the NRC hung in there and claimed they weren't fudging the facts. Still, the TV stations refused the ad. But Sargent noted the story doesn't end there. "At the 10/19 debate between Brown and DeWine, the ad came up again. And DeWine -- never one to give up when the going gets tough -- hung on to the claim that the ad was true. And he compounded the absurdity of the whole story by saying: 'The ad, Sherrod, is true. Read my lips. The ad is true.'"

In upstate New York District 24, where Michael Arcuri (D) is vying with Ray Meier (R) to replace retiring GOP Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, the national GOP campaign started airing an ad showing Arcuri and the silhouette of a dancing woman who says, ''Hi, sexy. You've reached the live, one-on-one fantasy line.'' Arcuri, the district attorney in Oneida County, supposedly dialed the service two years ago from a New York City hotel room and billed taxpayers $1.25 for a one-minute call. The Utica Observer-Dispatch noted that Arcuri's campaign has released records to the paper showing the call to the 800 sex line was followed the very next minute by a call to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services -&endash; and the last seven digits of the two numbers are the same. Arcuri says the ad was ''clearly libelous'' and threatened to file a lawsuit. At least seven television stations in Syracuse, Utica and Binghamton refused to run the ad, but the National Republican Congressional Committee stands by the 30-second message.


FOX HUNTING: After Michael J. Fox, a victim of Parkinson's Disease, appeared in an ad for Clair McCaskill (D-Mo.) Senate campaign ad, promoting her support for stem cell research, Republicans went ballistic. Among the critics, Rush Limbaugh suggested that Fox was faking the symptoms or had gone off his meds to appear on camera with exaggerated symptoms of his disease, saying Fox "was either off the medication or he was acting. He is an actor, after all."


FAIR TRADE PAC WORKS FIELD: The Citizens Trade PAC, affiliated with the Citizens Trade Campaign coalition of labor and environmental groups, dispatched more organizers to get out the vote for Patrick Murphy (R), challenging Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania's 8th District; Jerry McNerney (D), challenging Rep. Richard Pombo (R) in California's 11th District; and Eric Massa (D), challenging Rep. Randy Kuhl (R) in New York's 29th District. Pombo and Fitzpatrick were among the very last House members to cast deciding votes for CAFTA last year, knuckling under to GOP leadership that enabling the job-export bill to pass the House 217-215 on 7/27/05.

Citizens Trade PAC also endorsed challengers Jim Marcinkowski (D-MI-8) and Steve Kagen (D-WI-8), and incumbent Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.). They join Fair Trade candidates Chris Carney (D-PA-10); Patrick Murphy (D-PA-8); Heath Shuler (D-NC-11); Larry Kissell (D-NC-8); Zack Space (D-OH-18); Betty Sutton (D-OH-13); Chris Murphy (D-CT-5); Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2); and Bruce Braley (D-IA-1).

"These are candidates in tune with the majority of Americans who want a new trade policy and are done with the status quo NAFTA/CAFTA model," said Chris Slevin, director of Citizens Trade PAC. "In several of these close races, trade is proving to be an issue that motivates people to get out to vote, especially independent voters." See www.citizenstrade.org.


STILL CONFIDENT: In an interview with ABC's This Week, George W. Bush suggested that he wasn't particularly concerned about the November elections. "I remember 2004," the president said. "I was history as far as the punditry was concerned." Tim Grieve of Salon.com noted, "We're sure it's just a coincidence, but Bush's comments aired on ABC on Sunday, 10/22, the same day the network moved a story titled 'Electronic Voting Machines Could Skew Elections.'" The story reported how a former Maryland Democratic legislator was shocked when she received in the mail three computer discs, with an anonymous letter saying the discs contained the secret source code for vote-counting that could be used to alter the votes cast through Maryland's new electronic voting machines.

In other computer glitches, Dem US Senate candidate James Webb's last name has been cut off part of the electronic ballot used by voters in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville, Va., because the computer apparently limits candidates' names to 14 characters on the summary page, where voters are asked to review their selections before hitting the button to cast their votes. The full name of incumbent Sen. George F. Allen will appear, though his party affiliation will not. Election officials said the glitch could not be corrected before Nov. 7.


ARAR TORTURE CONTINUES: A Canadian citizen who has never been charged with a crime -- who a Canadian judge has said does not even have a credible allegation against him -- is still barred from entering the US. Maher Arar was detained at JFK Airport in New York during a change of flights in in 2002. Federal authorities, suspecting him of unsubstantiated terrorist ties, bundled him off to Syria, where Arar says he was tortured for 10 months before Syrian authorities realized he had no terrorism ties. He was released and allowed to return to Canada, but Isaiah Poole of TomPaine.com noted the US government kept Arar from appearing 10/18 at the 30th annual Letelier-Moffitt Awards ceremony, sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington,where Arar and the organization that fought for his freedom, the Center for Constitutional Rights, were given the IPS International Award. The Associated Press reports that Arar remains on a terrorist watch list, despite a Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar, formed by the Canadian government, which concluded that despite "extensive efforts to find any information that could implicate Mr. Arar in terrorist activities ... they found none."

So Arar addressed his supporters in Washington via a video. Speaking with firmness but occasionally fighting back tears, Poole reported, Arar recounted the horrors of his experience in a small, dank Syrian cell. He was subjected to beatings over all parts of his body. The torture was such that he feared that he would be killed every time prison officials came to question him. Years later, he said, "I have been suffering anxiety, constant fear and depression." But he added that he has been sustained by the global support that he has received and "the hope that one day our planet Earth will be free of torture, tyranny and injustice."


BUSH FAMILY PROFITS FROM 'NO CHILD' ACT: A company headed by President Bush's brother, Neil, and partly owned by his parents is benefiting from Republican connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students under the No Child Left Behind Act, the Los Angeles Times reported 10/22.

With investments from his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and other backers, Neil Bush's company, Ignite! Learning, has placed its products in 40 US school districts and plans to market internationally. At least 13 US school districts have used federal funds available through the president's signature education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, to buy Ignite's portable learning centers at $3,800 apiece. Most of Ignite's business has been obtained through sole-source contracts without competitive bidding. Neil Bush has been directly involved in marketing the product.

The law provides federal funds to help school districts better serve disadvantaged students and improve their performance, especially in reading and math. But Ignite does not offer reading instruction, and its math program will not be available until next year. Known as COW, for Curriculum on Wheels (the portable learning centers resemble cows on wheels), Ignite's product line is geared toward middle school social studies, history and science. The large purple COW could be wheeled from classroom to classroom and plugged in, offering lessons that could be played to a roomful of students.


MEXICAN HEALTH PLAN BEATS US: Over the last few years, Mexico has been rolling out a universal health care system focused on access to preventative care and free enrollment for the bottom income quintile. Ezra Klein noted at Prospect.org 10/17 that the number of cases of malaria have dropped by 60%, TB mortality has fallen by 30% and Mexico is only one of seven countries on track to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. New data shows that childhood cancer mortality is plummeting as well. In addition, the Mexican government has vastly updated their health infrastructure, building 1,700 new facilities, enrolled 22 million residents in the plan and is on track for universal coverage by 2010. In September, Klein noted, representatives from 45 countries flew out to hear how they've carried all this out. "Sadly, I don't think Mike Leavitt was one of them. It's going to be quite a day when Mexico has extended coverage to their entire population, and its richer neighbor to the north is tipping past 50 million uninsured."


LABOR INTIMIDATION: Labor unions have been promoting legislation that would require employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers sign cards for union representation. Union opponents protest that replacing secret ballots in union elections with "card-check" legislation would subject workers to union intimidation. But Ezra Klein of Prospect.org noted 10/20 that a survey of workers from worksites where employees had sought unions either through the National Labor Relations Board election process or card-check found management was much more likely to coerce workers than union reps. The poll commissioned by American Rights at Work (a pro-union group), Rutgers University and Jesuit Wheeling University in 2005 found 22% of workers surveyed said management "coerced them a great deal;" 6% said the same for unions. During NLRB elections, 46% of workers complained of management pressure. During card check elections, 14% complained of union pressure. Workers in NLRB elections were twice as likely as workers in card check elections to report that management coerced them to oppose. Workers in NLRB elections were more than 53% as likely to report that management threatened to eliminate their jobs. Also, fewer workers in card-check campaigns said coworkers pressured them to join the union (17% to 22%). Workers in card-check elections were more than twice as likely to report the employer took a neutral stance and let the workers decide. See www.americanrightsatwork.org.


DEBT KEEPS TROOPS HOME: Thousands of US troops are being barred from overseas duty because they are so deep in debt they are considered security risks, the Associated Press reported. The number of troops held back has climbed drastically in the past few years. And while they appear to represent a very small percentage of all US military personnel, the increase is occurring at a time when the armed forces are stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon contends that financial problems can distract personnel from their duties or make them vulnerable to bribery and treason. As a result, those who fall heavily into debt can be stripped of the security clearances they need to go overseas.


HOUSE SPENDING CHIEF FIRES PROBERS: House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) abruptly suspended the contracts of 60 investigators who had worked for his committee rooting out fraud, waste and abuse. The investigators were brought on to handle the extraordinary level of fraud investigations facing the panel," ThinkProgress.org reported 10/19. Lewis is under federal investigation over corruption charges reportedly uncovered during the Duke Cunningham investigation. He has spent nearly $800,000 in legal fees since May. Lewis' spokesman tried to portray the suspensions as part of a bipartisan review that occured

with the support of the committee's ranking member Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.). But a spokesman for Obey said committee Democrats had not been consulted prior to the suspension of the investigators.


EARLY VOTE GROWS: More than 20% of ballots are expected to be cast before election day by mail or at early-voting locations, the New York Times reported 10/22, as many states have make it easier to vote early. In the past, those who took advantage of absentee ballots tended to be relatively well off and highly educated, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats by almost 2-to-1, the Times reported. But as the ease of early voting has spread, the ratio is slipping, and some analysts say that nearly as many Democrats as Republicans now vote early.

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2006

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