ELECTION '98/Jim Cullen

Progressives Bolster the Democrats; What Will They Get in Return?

You wouldn't know that Republicans still have majorities in the House and Senate, viewing the upheaval in House leadership after the Democrats gained five seats there, but in politics momentum is everything. The election not only perhaps saved Bill Clinton's presidency and sent House Speaker Newt Gingrich packing after a party coup; it may have pointed the way toward a resurgent progressive coalition in the Democratic Party while civil war threatens the GOP.

Although only 36.1% of voting-age Americans went to the polls in the midterm elections, the lowest percentage turnout since 1942, a strong turnout of progressive voters, including union members, black and Hispanic voters and women, responded to Democratic appeals that focused on education, patients' rights and Social Security and closed the gap in the House by five seats. Pre-election fears proved groundless that Republican hammering of Clinton's sex scandal would depress the Democratic base vote. In fact, the GOP obsession with impeachment--and disappointment over the capitulation to Clinton on many points of the overdue appropriations bills in October--may have depressed the Republican vote.

In Senate races, Democrats knocked off two incumbent senators, as conservative Alphonse D'Amato was beaten by moderate U.S. Rep. Charles Schumer in New York and archconservative Lauch Faircloth was beaten by lawyer John Edwards' populist campaign in North Carolina, while outgoing Gov. Evan Bayh, a moderate, picked up the Indiana seat given up by right winger Dan Coats. Republicans unseated liberal Carole Moseley-Braun in Illinois and picked up the seats given up by moderate Democrats Sen. John Glenn in Ohio and Wendell Ford in Kentucky. But Democrats, bolstered by a strong union presence, carried the day in Wisconsin for Sen. Russell Feingold, a progressive populist who made a principled decision to forego "soft money" assistance in his re-election effort. Democrats also re-elected Barbara Boxer in California, Harry Reid by just 401 votes in Nevada, Fritz Hollings in South Carolina and Patty Murray in Washington. In California, organized labor found its muscle when it defeated union-bashing Proposition 226 in June, then helped elect Gray Davis as governor, re-elect Sen. Barbara Boxer and keep Democratic majorities in the state Assembly.

The new House of Representatives will have at least 95 progressives. All 55 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who ran for re-election won their races. They included Lane Evans, who won with 53% of the vote in the hotly contested 17th District of western Illinois despite the enormous amount of corporate money poured into his opponent's race. Other members re-elected by much higher margins included ranking House Judiciary Democrat John Conyers of Michigan, with 75% of the vote; Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), 83% of the vote; Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chairman of the Progressive Caucus, with 64%; and Charles Rangel (D-NY), with 94%.

At least 14 new members were elected on progressive platforms, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, which compared their campaign literature and past activities with an eight-point "Fairness Agenda for America" drafted by the Progressive Challenge network over the past year (see the agenda online at www.netprogress.org).

Eight progressive candidates won open Democratic seats, according to IPS:

* Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois' 9th District, has long been an advocate for consumers, senior citizens and women's rights. She has spoken out about human rights and demilitarization as well as supported campaign finance reform.

* Grace Napolitano, a Democrat from California's 34th District, served as chair of the Women's Legislative Caucus during her 6 years in the California State House, with a strong record on women's rights, worker and immigrant rights and has the strong support of the Sierra Club and other environmentalists. Napolitano is also a strong supporter of public education.

* Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York's 9th District, has advocated protecting social security, supporting public schools and increasing recycling programs. He has also worked within his community for a more progressive tax code and for crime prevention programs.

* Charlie Gonzalez, a Democrat from Texas' 20th District (and son of retiring Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, a legendary progressive populist), has stood for workers rights and equality throughout his campaign. He is a supporter of public schools, immigrant rights and equality for women.

* Michael Capuano, a Democrat from Massachusetts' 8th District, has spoken out for campaign finance reform and supported social programs such as education and social security. Capuano has also advocated workers' rights and labor issues as well as environmental protection.

* Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, a Democrat from Ohio's 11th District, has emphasized in her campaign the need for quality education for all, the importance of affirmative action, and health care benefits for all. As a county prosecutor and judge, Tubbs-Jones has worked to make her community safer through crime prevention programs and innovative law enforcement.

* David Wu, a Democrat from Oregon's 1st District, ran a campaign focusing largely on the need to improve education in addition to reinforcing social security and environmental protection. He has voiced strong opposition to Fast Track trade authority and staunchly supported worker rights.

* Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado's 2nd District, has headed the Colorado Outward Bound program and been a member of the General Assembly. He is a staunch supporter of the environmental legislation for clean air, water, and the protection of public lands. He also advocates for women's rights and better worker safety regulations.

Three progressive candidates won open Republican seats:

* Tammy Baldwin won in Wisconsin's 2nd District after a tough grassroots campaign. She has led the fight on progressive issues throughout her career in the Wisconsin state legislature, proposing bills on a range of issues from living wage and workers rights, to support for public education and strong environmental protection. She has advocated a progressive tax system, universal health care and women's rights. She is also the first openly gay person, nonincumbent elected to Congress.

* Brian Baird, a Democrat from Washington's 3rd District has throughout his campaign spoken out about the need for living wage jobs and job training programs. A clinical psychologist and professor, he has stressed the need for patient's rights in obtaining medical treatment.

Shelley Berkley, who did not make the IPS progressive list but was endorsed as a progressive populist by Democrats 2000, took back the 1st District seat in Nevada. She was a regent for Nevada's University and Community College System, former president of a local PBS and school district television station, and a member of her local school district's advisory committee, and she campaigned on improving education.

Four progressives beat incumbent Republicans:

* Joe Hoeffel, a Democrat from Pennsylvania's 13th District, worked as county commissioner to protect the environment from suburban sprawl and pollution. As representative in the state legislature, Joe Hoeffel fought for women's rights, public education, and campaign finance reform.

* Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico's 3rd District, served as State Attorney General. Udall has been a leader on environmental issues. He also highlighted health care and education in his campaign against conservative incumbent Rep. Redmond.

* Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington's 1st District, focused his campaign on healthcare and the environment.

* Rush Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey's 12th District spoke out about the need to preserve and strengthen the Clean Air Act and improve environmental protection. He has advocated health care reform, gun control and improvements in education.

"Today's vote represents a vital shift in the U.S. Congress towards progressive Democrats," said Karen Dolan of the Institute for Policy Studies. "The more conservative 'New Democrats,' who back President Clinton would have you believe otherwise. They have spun the election as a major victory for 'moderates.' The truth of the matter is that House Democrats are comprised of 55 self-declared 'progressives' (current members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus) and at least 25 more with equally progressive voting records. Now, with the gain of 14 new progressive Democrats, the number of progressives comes to about [94] out of 211 House Democrats. Of the remaining [117], many fall somewhere between progressive and the Democratic Leadership Council's celebrated 'New Democrat' centrist. It would be wrong to conclude that the centrist New Democrats have any mandate or claim on the party."

Statehouse Races

Democrats gained a few governors, including Alabama, South Carolina and Iowa as well as California. But even the biggest surprise of the night--Jesse "The Body" Ventura's upset victory as Reform Party candidate for governor of Minnesota, which was a stunning defeat for Democrat Hubert "Skip" Humphrey--presented an exciting opportunity to expand the populist debate in the United States. Although Ventura was ridiculed for his colorful past as a professional wrestler, he energized the electorate and moved to set up a transitional staff to take on the serious task of governing. [See story on page 10.]

Tom Vilsack's upset victory in the Iowa governor's race over heavily favored Republican Jim Ross Lightfoot was overshadowed by the wild card win of Ventura to the north, but Vilsack, a progressive lawyer and state senator, whittled a 20-point deficit in the polls down to 5 points the Sunday before the election, then went on to beat the Republican former congressman with 52 percent of the vote. Vilsack campaigned on smaller school class sizes, property tax reform and stricter regulation of large-scale hog feeding operations and insurance companies that deny benefits to those in need. He also capitalized on strong support from Sen. Tom Harkin and organized labor as well as voter disgust with Lightfoot's negative campaign to become the first Democrat in the Governor's Mansion since Harold Hughes in 1968. (Republicans still control the House and Senate.)

Democrats won the big prize in California with the election of Gray Davis as governor and Democratic majorities in both the state Senate and the Assembly, threatening to shut Republicans out of reapportionment in the nation's most populous state in 2001.

Texas, ranking second in population, was perhaps the biggest disappointment for Democrats, as Republican George W. Bush, whose popularity belies a record of lackluster accomplishments, led a sweep of the last remaining Democrats from statewide offices. However, Democrats kept a slim majority in the state House of Representatives, trimmed the Republican majority in the Senate to one, and kept a 17-13 advantage in the congressional delegation.

Democrats gained majorities in the state senates in New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Washington. They won control of the houses in Indiana, North Carolina and Washington as well. Overall, they gained 45 seats and now control 53 legislative chambers, up from 50 before the election.

Republicans, on the other hand, took control of the Minnesota House and the Michigan House from the Democrats. They also beat back Democratic efforts to win a majority in the Oregon House.

In addition to the election of Jeb Bush as governor of Florida, the GOP retained both houses of the Florida legislature, marking the first time since Reconstruction that Republicans have controlled both the executive and legislative branches of a Southern state.

"Democrats have a lot to be proud of this year," said Kelly Young, executive director of Democrats 2000, a D.C.-based group that advocates progressive, populist elected officials at the local, state and national levels. "We held the line in state capitols," Young said. Democrats ended up controlling 22, Republicans controlling 17 and 11 were split. Republicans showed a net loss of one governor's office, but Young noted that 75% of American people live in states with Republican governors, including eight of the nine most populous states.

Young concluded, "We've got less than two years to take advantage of the momentum from 1998. As FDR said, 'Never have we had so little time in which to accomplish so much.' But we can do it, as we saw this year."

Social Security:
So Long, Privatization

Social Security was a top issue for voters of every age in all competitive House and Senate races, Thomas Matzzie of the Campaign for America's Future reported. In general, politicians of both parties scrambled to show their strong support for "saving Social Security," demonstrating that they can read the polls and they can learn from their encounters with voters.

The Democratic pledge to "Save Social Security First"--that is, to prevent the spending of the Federal surplus until there is a plan for securing Social Security's long term financing--stymied Republican plans to play their most attractive card: tax cuts. In virtually all House and Senate races, candidates had to pledge a commitment to preserving Social Security. In many Senate races Social Security was a deciding factor.

In the Arkansas Senate race, Social Security was an important issue in the race for the open seat. Democrat Blanche Lincoln blasted Republican Fay Boozman for his support of the Kerrey-Moynihan plan that would raise the retirement age and cut benefits in order to fund private accounts. The conservative Democrat found a responsive audience for her populist pro-Social Security message. She won.

In almost every race, candidates who won were best able to cast themselves as the defender and protector of Social Security. In eight of the nine close Senate races, the winners opposed privatization--successfully casting themselves as defenders of the system. This includes Republican Peter Fitzgerald in Illinois. Exit polls show that this was the second most frequently cited chief concern of voters in Illinois. Braun won 56% of voters who chose Social Security as their top concern. Unfortunately, she was carrying too much baggage from other areas of concern.

Only in Kentucky did a privatizer win a close race. Rep. Jim Bunning (R-KY) bragged of his accomplishments as chairman of the House Social Security subcommittee. In fact, Matzzie noted, Jim Bunning's tenure as subcommittee chair was marked by a parade of hearing witnesses focused on privatization and the deep cuts in benefits that would accompany it. Bunning's opponent, U.S. Rep. Scotty Baesler (D-KY), did not attack Bunning's support for privatization.

Social Security helped Dennis Moore (D-KS) unseat Republican incumbent Vince Snowbarger (R-KS), breaking the GOP hold on the Kansas City-area 3rd District. Much of Moore's attacks focused on Snowbarger's statement that Social Security should "be phased out"--a reference to privatization. Even an ad featuring Kansan Bob Dole could not help Snowbarger.

Democratic challenger Jay Inslee also made Social Security one of the top issues in his defeat of Republican incumbent Rick White in Washington state. In Pennsylvania, Joseph Hoeffel (D) defeated incumbent John D. Fox (R), with Hoeffel's opposition to privatization forming a significant component of his message.

[Note: the Campaign for America's Future is organizing a "New Century Alliance to Protect and Strengthen Social Security," reflecting the same impulse to strengthen, rather than dismantle Social Security which drove the election debate. The new coalition will be announced before the December 8 White House Conference on Social Security. For more information, contact Roger Hickey at 202-955-5665.]

Campaign Reform Lives

Voters in Arizona and Massachusetts resoundingly said they want to stop special interests from buying politicians. Massachusetts voters approved "The Clean Elections Law" by a 2-1 margin while in Arizona "The Citizens Clean Elections Act" passed with 51 percent approval.

Arizona and Massachusetts are now poised to join Maine and Vermont in offering candidates for state-level office a chance to break the hold special interests have on public officials through their campaign contributions. Both referenda provide an alternative system of campaign financing that gives all qualifying candidates who agree to take little or no private money and who agree to limit their campaign spending, a fixed amount of money from a publicly financed pool. Minnesota offers matching funds for candidates who poll more than 5% support and agree to spending limits.

The victories in Arizona and Massachusetts were complemented by the reelection of reform leader Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and the defeat of Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina, a well-known friend of big-monied interests and opponent of campaign finance reform.

"The victories in Arizona and Massachusetts for Clean Money Campaign Reform prove that voters have the political will to enact far-reaching campaign finance reform, whether they are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, business or labor," said Ellen Miller, executive director of Public Campaign, which promotes public financing of political campaigns. "It is now up to the reform community to demonstrate further that Members of Congress can be held accountable for not supporting the kind of sweeping reform measures the voters want." [See more of her remarks elsewhere.]

The victories also provide strong momentum to local, grassroots efforts in other states working to bring Clean Money reforms to their own electoral systems. Missouri is slated to put Clean Money to the ballot test in 2000, while New Mexico will introduce Clean Money Campaign Reform legislation in January. At least 40 other states are working toward Clean Money reform, including Washington, Oregon and Wisconsin, as they continue to build and broaden their state coalitions and educate voters about the problems of money in politics.

Direct Democracy

Among the other 233 statewide initiatives, voters said they didn't want the government to intrude in their lives, whether it is to limit abortions, deny medicinal marijuana to the seriously ill, or tell people where they could gamble.

Washington state voters approved a measure to ban racial or gender preferences in government hiring and contracts and college admissions, in a rejection of affirmative action.

Medicinal use of marijuana won voter approval in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state. Vote results on a similar measure in D.C. were kept secret after Congress, which controls the district's budget, arbitrarily cut funding for the initiative after it appeared on the ballot and forbade the release of the results. Exit polls suggested that the medicinal marijuana measure won with 70% support.

California Indian tribes won broad voter approval to continue running their casinos unhampered by state control and Missouri voters approved lucrative slot machines on the so-called "boats in moats.'' At issue was a 1997 state Supreme Court decision that the Missouri constitution didn't allow slots on the boats, tethered in man-made lagoons, and that such games of chance could be played only on the main channels of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Washington and Colorado rejected proposals to restrict the late-term procedure known by opponents as "partial-birth abortions,'' but Colorado approved parental notification for minors seeking abortions.

On tax measures, South Dakotans rejected a plan to prevent property tax revenues from financing schools, Nebraskans turned down a proposal to limit the amount of money state and local governments could raise through taxes, and Coloradans declined income-tax credit for parents of school-age children, whether in public or private school or taught at home.

California voters approved cigarette tax of 50 cents a pack to go to early childhood development funds.

On environmental measures, South Dakota voters tightened restrictions on corporate farming, with an aim to rein in sprawling hog farms; Oregon rejected limits on forest clearcutting; and Montana approved a ban on the use of cyanide leaching in new open-pit gold mining projects.

Massachusetts voters affirmed the state's new electricity deregulation deal. Californians also endorsed their new deregulation system by rejecting a measure to cut off customers' obligation to pay billions in utility debt.

Voters approved at least three corporate welfare deals: The Denver Broncos and the San Diego Padres will get new stadia, and Cincinnati voters removed an obstacle to a new stadium.

HMO Reform

Virtually all candidates in House, Senate and gubernatorial races, regardless of party, voiced support for the passage of some form of patient protection legislation, according to a national health care consumer group, Families USA. In addition, supporters of patient protections won in a number of close races.

"If this election shows anything, it demonstrates that virtually no one is willing to defend the insurance industry's position on the issue of patient protections. The industry has said they want no legislation, but regardless of office and regardless of party, almost every candidate in this election cycle called for legislation to protect consumers from managed care abuses," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.

Despite over $2 million in managed care company contributions to congressional campaigns across the country, patient protections played a major role in many races, often with both major candidates touting their support of HMO reforms.

"Patient protections are a priority for the American public. It was a priority in most of the campaigns this election year. It now needs to be a priority for the 106th Congress and state legislatures throughout the country," added Pollack.

Examples of how the issue of patient protections played out in this year's campaigns:

* Despite a rash of negative ads funded by the insurance industry targeting Democrat John Edwards, Edwards defeated Lauch Faircloth (R) in a race that focused on the issue of patient protections in managed care.

* Governor-Elect Robert Taft's (R-OH) health care platform focused on reforming managed care, including allowing consumers to sue health insurers for damages for improperly refusing care.

* In the Connecticut race for Governor, because of pressure from challenger Barbara Kennelly (D), incumbent John Rowland (R) modified his own position on HMO reforms, and came out in support of a patient's right to sue HMOs.

* Republican Ernest Fletcher narrowly beat Ernesto Scorsone (D) in the 6th District in Kentucky. Both Fletcher and Scorsone used the issue of patient protections in their campaigns. Fletcher, a medical doctor, ran television spots on the need for plans to allow patients to go out of network to see specialists.

* Strickland (D-OH), Moore (D-KS), Lucas (D-KY), Berkley (D-NV), Udall (D-NM), and Baldwin (D-WI) all won close congressional races by making patient protections a major part of their campaigns.

"The insurance industry was unable to buy victories in these elections because public support for patient protection legislation is just too strong," said Pollack. "Congress now has a mandate from the American public to pass patient protections."

Unions Finish Stronger

Working families made their voices heard at the polls, narrowing the anti-working family majority in Congress, defeating the last remaining state "paycheck deception" measure, increasing the number of elected officials who are union members and electing worker-friendly candidates across America.

"I believe that the 1998 elections usher in a new era of people-powered politics," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, "with union members turning out at record levels and making the difference in race after race, and with African American and Latino participation way up."

In 1996 the AFL-CIO spent $25 million on broadcast advertisements. This year it spent about $5 million on broadcast ads and $15 million on leaflets, phone banks and nearly 400 coordinators working full-time for more than a month in congressional districts nationwide.

The unions registered half a million voters and members of their families, sent more than 9.5 million pieces of mail to union households, made 5.5 million personal phone calls, and distributed fliers to hundreds of thousands of worksites to educate union members about working family issues and candidate positions on those issues.

The effort paid off, according to national exit polling by Voter News Service, which showed that 23 percent of voters in the mid-term election were members of union households, up from 14 percent in 1994, when the Democrats lost their majority.

In at least one race, union members probably made the difference in re-electing Sen. Russell Feingold, who was greatly outspent by Republicans who targeted him because of his campaign finance reform efforts. According to exit polls, 31 percent of Wisconsin voters came from union households and 63 percent of these voters backed Feingold. Only 44 percent of non-union voters supported Feingold.

According to a post-election survey by Peter D. Hart Research, 67 percent of union voters said issues are what mattered most to them in this election--more than party politics and far more than the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Topping their list of concerns, according to the Hart survey, were retirement and Social Security, education, the economy and jobs and health care.

In Oregon, 53 percent of voters said "no" to the last remaining state-level attempt to silence the voice of working families in politics through Measure 59, a ballot initiative much like California's ill-fated Proposition 226, which was soundly defeated in June. Thousands of California union members who had mobilized to defeat Prop. 226 carried their momentum through the election campaign, participating in phone banks, precinct walks and get-out-the-vote rallies.

Six hundred union members ran for public office, including Maggie Carlton, the new Nevada state senator in District 2. A member of Culinary Workers Local 226 and a waitress at Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Carlton is the first union member to hold a Senate seat in the state's history.

"Union members are really ready to elect people who are just like them," she said after her "front porch campaign" earned her 58 percent of the vote.

Push for Diversity

The elections confirmed the importance of grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts and underscored the power of women's vote as well as that of minority voters. Clinton and the Democrats clearly owe a debt to unions, minorities and women.

Despite the loss of Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, nearly 70 percent of the National Organization for Women PAC's endorsed candidates sailed to victory. Six new women, all of whom campaigned as women's rights and abortion rights supporters, were elected to the House for a net gain of two women. With the election of Democrat Blanche Lambert Lincoln in Arkansas, the number of women stayed even in the Senate at six Democrats and three Republicans.

However, NOW President Patricia Ireland said, "While we celebrate our victories, we are dismayed that progress is so slow. At this rate, women will not achieve equal representation for more than 200 years. Congress remains nearly 90 percent white and 90 percent male in a country that is 51 percent women and approximately 30 percent people of color. ...

"Our only hope for progress is to change the faces of the people in power," Ireland said. "We must elect real feminists to public offices at every level ­p; from dog catcher to president. To pick-up the pace, NOW PACs' Victory 2000 campaign will continue to fill up the pipeline by electing 2000 feminists to office by the end of the century to be ready for the next post-reapportionment, redistricting election in 2002."

The new House includes 39 blacks--all Democrats except Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma; 20 Latinos--17 Democrats and three Republicans; and 58 women--41 Democrats and 17 Republicans. Watts was selected Republican conference chair while Robert Menendez of New Jersey was selected vice chairman of the Democratic caucus.

Black voters should expect some payback, but they already are seeing a reward for their loyalty, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, told the online magazine Salon. The Congressional Black Caucus, which she chairs, won almost a half-billion dollars in funding for new programs in the recent budget deal, including a $250 million program for out-of-school youth, $156 million in AIDS funding targeted to African-Americans, $41 million in funding for black farmers and several million more for drug treatment.

"They will only do what you make them do, and we twisted some arms to get them to ante up," Waters said. "But I'm not about to lose the leverage of this election turnout. They got to pay." Waters said she'll seek additional funding for drug treatment, health services, alternatives to incarceration and an end to disparate sentencing for those convicted of selling or using crack and powder cocaine, "an issue on which we've had to fight our president," she notes.

Environment Wins

Candidates who campaigned on protecting the environment won races from California's redwoods to the New York islands. Sierra Club efforts contributed to the victories of pro-environment candidates in 38 out of 43 priority races, for an 88% success rate.

"Yesterday, voters spoke loud and clear. And today, Congress is greener. Clearly, the public wants the next Congress to protect America's environment," said Chuck McGrady, president of the Sierra Club. "Voters [on November 3] said 'no' to divisive partisan politics and 'yes' to solving the problems that affect their daily lives--including cleaning up our air and water and fighting sprawl."

Sierra Club priority candidates included: Barbara Boxer and Gray Davis in California, Charles Schumer in New York, John Edwards in North Carolina, Patty Murray in Washington state, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, and in House races Mark Udall in Colorado, Tom Udall in New Mexico, Neil Abercrombie in Hawaii, and Jay Inslee in Washington.

In addition, Sierra Club won all three independent expenditure campaigns: House candidates Brian Baird in Washington and Dennis Moore in Kansas (the first time a Democrat has held the seat in 50 years), and Parris Glendening in the Maryland governor's race.

The Sierra Club Political Committee contributed $500,000 in direct and in-kind contributions to these candidates. It also conducted a massive get out the vote program that contacted 250,000 members, close to half of the Club's membership.

To inform the public and encourage them to contact their elected officials about the environment, the Sierra Club broadcast television and radio ads in 40 markets describing the records of 25 incumbents. The Club also distributed one million postcards to the public that they could mail to lawmakers, urging these legislators to vote to protect the environment. These activities were part of the Club's ongoing program of grassroots lobbying and public education.

Finally, the Club mailed and distributed one million voter guides to inform the public about the candidates' positions on critical environmental problems.


Jesse "The Body" Ventura gave the Reform Party a stunning upset victory in the Minnesota governor's race, but other alternative parties had considerably less luck.

The Green Party fielded 111 candidates in the November general election, including candidates for governor in Alaska, California, Maine, Minnesota, New York, and Oregon. Eight Greens were elected to local offices in November elections. (Six Greens were also elected on the municipal level earlier in the year.) The party failed to regain ballot status in Alaska but regained ballot status in Maine, where the Green candidate's 7% showing was just 5 points below that of the Democratic candidate. It also gained ballot status in D.C. and retained ballot status in New Mexico, where the Green candidate for state auditor received 29% of the vote. Al Lewis, the actor who played "Grandpa" on the Munsters, only got 1% of the vote for governor in New York, but that was enough to qualify the Greens for a ballot line in the next election.

In California, the Greens fielded 33 candidates and scored 7 wins in local races. Dan Hamburg, a former Democratic congressman, got only 1.3% of the vote as the Green candidate for governor but Sara Amir got 3.1% as the Green candidate for lieutenant governor. Greens also elected a county council member in Hawaii.

The Working Families Party, a coalition of groups including the New Party, Citizen Action, ACORN and unions, petitioned for a place on the ballot and cross-nominated Democratic candidate Peter Vallone as its candidate for governor, but two weeks after the election party officials were still waiting to find out if they got the 50,000 votes needed to qualify for permanent ballot status. The party crowed that 32 of 39 NP-backed candidates won their races for city council, county board, state legislature, and congressional seats in a half-dozen states.

Rebuilding the Coalition

Ruy Teixeira of the Economic Policy Institute, in an analysis of the voting trends, "Waitress Moms and Technician Dads," (available online at www.epinet.org), wrote that the election showed that Democrats could rebuild a coalition of low-to-middle income voters to produce congressional majorities by making economic issues the wedge issues of the 21st century

"Until recently, the potent wedge issues of American politics were social. Republicans painted the Democrats as excessively tolerant on issues like crime and welfare and out of touch with the preferences of the average voter. Moreover, there was a perception that Democrats were tied in an unhealthy way to interest groups within their party that pushed this excessive liberalism.

"Today, for a variety of reasons, those issues do not cut against the Democrats the way they used to, and in their place are a new a set of wedge issues that are basically economic. As a result, it is now fairly easy to tie the Republicans to business special interests that are on the wrong side of these economic wedge issues and fairly hard to tie the Democrats to constituency special interests promoting a liberal social agenda."

Teixeira noted that, by margins of 21-33 percentage points, voters prefer the Democrats on issues ranging from health care to Social Security to education. Democrats who emphasized these issues in their campaign commercials did well.

"These results suggest that, despite the economic progress of the last several years, large numbers of voters are concerned about their health security, their retirement security, and their ability to get the right kind of education and training to adapt successfully to the new economy. Because Republicans seem callous and unresponsive to these concerns, the Democrats have a perfect wedge into the swing voters in the GOP camp.

"But for these new wedge issues to be truly effective, the Democrats may have to draw sharper and clearer distinctions between themselves and the GOP. Right now, although the Democrats are on the voters' side of these issues, the differences with the GOP are often small or confusing to voters. For example, both parties want to regulate health maintenance organizations, but the Democrats want individuals to be able to sue HMOs. Both parties want to 'save' Social Security, but the Democrats want to reserve all the surplus for Social Security rather than just 90%. Both parties want to improve the educational system through structural reforms and tax breaks, but Democrats are also committed to some modest new spending initiatives.

"As we shall see below, these modest differences, while breaking in the Democrats favor and helping them to mobilize their base, may not be enough to rebuild their congressional coalition among the 'waitress moms' and 'technician dads' who continue to find the Democrats an uncompelling option."

In 1992, the Democrats received 54% of the House vote. In 1998, they received just under 50%. Teixeira noted that the decline in the Democratic vote has been concentrated among whites and Hispanics--particularly among those with less education and income--while black support has remained unchanged; in fact it increased from 1996 to 1998.

"Technician dads and waitress moms are the real 'suburban swing voters,' the ones the Democrats must reach to rebuild their congressional coalition," Teixeira wrote. "Yet it is the affluent suburban voters--those with $75,000 or more in household income and usually holding college degrees, who are more typically mentioned as the target of choice by self-styled New Democrats, even though such voters are outnumbered 3-to-1 by their midscale to downscale counterparts who, despite recent improvements, are still only tepid Democratic supporters."

Teixeira concluded: "The Democrats face a choice. They can either concentrate on building a new base among college-educated affluent voters who want to be protected from the Republican extreme right but who are lukewarm on the economic issues that constitute the Democrats' real comparative advantage, or they can concentrate on rebuilding their support among the waitress moms and technician dads who find current Democratic initiatives insufficient to win their loyalty.

"If the Democrats choose the first course, it seems likely that they will have to rely on continuous mobilization of their union and minority base simply to break even in congressional elections: the numbers aren't there to develop a majority coalition.

"However, if the Democrats can rebuild their strength among waitress moms and technician dads, and join that strength to their current union and minority base, a natural Democratic majority can easily emerge. While there are risks in developing the large-scale economic wedge issues that would pry these voters away from the Republicans, the Democrats have a big issue advantage on which to build."

For more information on the organizations cited above, see our web site, (www.populist.com/links).

A Progressive Opening

"This was an incumbents' election, but not a status-quo election," said Robert L. Borosage of the Campaign for America's Future, after the election. "It marks the end of the conservative resurgence. People just aren't buying what Gingrich is peddling, and money and mud wasn't enough." Not only is the conservative agenda unattractive, but their political strategy has reached its limit. "The politics of division doesn't add up," said Borosage. "Republicans are paying an ever higher cost for being the party of white, male sanctuary. " [See Borosage's column elsewhere in this issue.]

For Democrats, progressive activists said, the politics of inclusion works--and Democrats can coalesce around bread and butter economic issues of concern to working Americans. The Democratic mantra was education, economy Social Security and health care reform and it fueled a strong turnout in key states by union voters and African-American voters. Union voters this year made up 22 percent of voters, compared to 14 percent in 1994. Similarly, African-American voters increased from 9 percent to 11 percent and Hispanic voters jumped from 3 to 5 percent in this year's election.

While enjoying the conservative collapse, Democrats cannot stand pat on the status quo. To regain majority status, said Ruy Teixeira, director of politics and public opinion at the Economic Policy Institute, Democrats have to reach out to low and moderate income voters. To do so, they will have to put forth a bolder agenda that addresses the real problems faced by working families. [See more of Teixeira's remarks below.]

Second, Democrats must "dance with those who brought them to the party," said Borosage. Across the country, voters supported candidates who promised to save Social Security. House Speaker Newt Gingrich revealed just how tone deaf he is, by concluding "the number one lesson to learn is we ought to come back to Washington in January with a proposal to save Social Security by using the surplus to create private savings accounts."

"Voters do not think that turning Social Security over to Wall Street, cutting guaranteed benefits and raising the retirement age to pay for private accounts is "saving Social Security," warned Borosage, "Democrats should stand firm against attempts to privatize Social Security. To compromise on this would be a staggering breach of faith to the very voters that have revived the party's fortunes and hold the key to its future."

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