Democrats' chances to gain the 15 seats needed to retake the House are rated better than their hopes of gaining the six seats needed for a Senate majority. Dems are good bets to replace Republican senators in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Missouri and Montana in November, but the sixth seat is considered more elusive, with Republicans seen as vulnerable in Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona and Nevada. The Virginia Senate race has tightened since Sen. George Allen (R) on 8/11 used an ethnic slur to publicly ridicule an Indian-American aide of opponent Jim Webb (D) as a "macaca." A SurveyUSA poll (8/21) showed Allen's double-digit lead had shrunk to 3 points. Dems also must retain Minnesota, the only Dem seat rated a "tossup" by Congressional Quarterly, as well as Maryland and New Jersey.

According to Hotline, the Democatic Congressional Campaign Committee reported having more cash on hand for the second month in a row (a first, ever). The committee is watching 15 House races in the West, 18 in the Northeast, 19 in the Midwest and 14 in the South &emdash; a relatively equal regional distribution that officials noted was in line with Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean's "50 State strategy."

DCCC's Karin Johanson told the Democratic National Committee 67 Dems in targeted House races have more than $200,000 on hand. Dean noted that the DNC is spending $12 mln on House, Senate, governor and state legislative races this cycle, targeting 38 House and 7 Senate races, Hotline reported.

Dem hopes were lifted when former US Rep. Tom DeLay, the ex-majority leader who quit Congress after he was indicted on felony charges, quit his re-election campaign, leaving no GOP candidate on the ballot in November. That makes former Rep. Nick Lampson (D), who was redistricted out of his old Southeast Texas District in 2003, the favorite to win in suburban Houston District 22. Local R's plan to support a write-in candidate.

While much attention has been paid to Sen. Joe Lieberman's independent bid for re-election after he lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, the Connecticut race should not affect the balance of power since Lieberman has said he would still caucus with the Dems. GOP nominee Alan Schlesinger is so far behind in polls that national party officials and the White House are informally supporting Lieberman. Eric Alterman noted that if Lieberman is re-elected, Bush might name him to succeed Don Rumsfeld as secretary of defense next year, allowing Connecticut's Republican governor to name Lieberman's replacement.

Meanwhile, Prospect.org notes an increase in party switchers as moderate Republicans feel forced out of the GOP by conservatives. Jim Webb, former secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan now running as a Democrat against Sen. George Allen in Virginia, is the most prominent, but nine former Kansas Republicans are running as Democrats this year, including Mark Parkinson, former state GOP chair, for lieutenant governor and another for attorney general. In South Carolina, 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese, a longtime Republican, is running for reelection as a Democrat. NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley has switched teams, according to the New York Post. "I was a Republican," he said. "Until they lost their minds." Barkley is mulling a run for governor of Alabama as a Democrat.

In Oklahoma, moderate state Sen. Nancy Riley switched to the Dems after she finished last in a three-way race for lieutenant governor, AP reported. In Idaho, Tony Edmondson said that after 40 years the GOP has left him behind, so the former Washington County commissioner is running for the state Senate as a Democrat. And in Nebraska, the GOP lost its lock on top state offices when State Auditor Kate Witek jumped to the Democratic Party just a few months after campaigning as Republican Tom Osborne's running mate in a failed gubernatorial bid. "I got to the point where it seemed the Republican Party was only looking at controlling all the offices instead of looking at resolving all the problems challenging this state," Witek told the Lincoln Journal Star.

What's stake do progressives have in the election? According to Roll Call, the ranking members on 29 House committees and subcommittees are Congressional Progressive Caucus members, and progressives are in line to chair at least seven committees if the Democrats take over the House. Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), ranking member on the Government Reform Committee, is a progressive, as are Reps. Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), would-be Ways and Means chairman, John Conyers (Mich.), in line on Judiciary and Barney Frank (Mass.), ranking member on Financial Services. "That's a major platform - being in a position to legislate," said Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.), who co-chairs the CPC. And Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), the presumptive Speaker if the Democrats manage to win the 15 seats needed to take over the House was a CPC member before she took her leadership position. Some of her closest allies &emdash; such as Reps. George Miller (Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) &emdash; remain in its ranks. "We've had more of a voice under her," Lee said.

The CPC's 64 members &emdash; nine have signed on since the start of the 109th Congress &emdash; make it the largest such group on the Democratic side, representing nearly one-third of the entire Democratic Caucus. And Lee and CPC Co-chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (Calif.) say they've identified seven to 10 promising House candidates whom they and their members will campaign for this fall &emdash; and who figure to further swell the CPC ranks if they win in November. See cpc.lee.house.gov.

Looking to 2008, the DNC decided that Iowa will retain its first-in-the-nation caucuses in January 2008 but New Hampshire is not happy that Nevada also will hold caucuses before the Granite State's first primary. The DNC approved the Iowa caucus on 1/14/08, Nevada caucus on 1/19, New Hampshire primary on 1/22 and South Carolina primary on 1/29. The changes are an effort to get more Latino and black input into the front-loaded primaries, but as a DNC member active in the rules fight told Salon.com's Walter Shapiro, "Great. Now the candidates can go from pandering to hog farmers in Iowa to appealing to whores and lap dancers in Nevada."


DEMS SEIZE ON GOP SOCIAL SECURITY PRIVATIZERS: GOP plans to privatize Social Security are becoming a bigger issue on the campaign trial. "If George Bush gets enough votes in the House and Senate, his No. 1 priority again will be privatizing Social Security," warned Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is challenging Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). "And Mike DeWine, as he always is on every major issue, will be right there with [Bush] if he's re-elected." In Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio)'s Columbus-area district and four other states, a labor-backed group began broadcasting TV commercials in August warning of big cuts to Social Security if Bush's plan succeeds, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported 8/17. Jeremy Funk, a spokesman for Americans United, said that more commercials are planned. Dems' have seized on a series of recent comments by top GOP officials. Bush vowed in late June that he won't give up his efforts to get Congress to focus on Social Security's finances, and House Majority Leader John Boehner told the Washington Times in July that he plans to "get serious" about reforming Social Security next January. Other administration officials have said recently that they hope to confront financial problems facing Social Security and Medicare before Bush leaves office.


BUSH TRIES, FAILS TO TELL TRUTH: President Bush in a moment of candor at a press conference on 8/21 admitted that Iraq had "nothing" to do with 9/11. But he added that "nobody has suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack." In fact, ThinkProgress.org noted that to justify the war, Bush informed Congress on 3/19/03, that acting against Iraq was consistent with "continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." ThinkProgress.org noted, "Bush never stated then, as he does now, that Iraq had 'nothing' to do with 9/11. Only after the Iraq war began did Bush candidly acknowledge that Iraq was not operationally linked to 9/11."

Tim Grieve of Salon.com noted that in an interview with National Public Radio in January 2004, Cheney said there was "overwhelming evidence" that Saddam Hussein had a relationship with al Qaeda. In a Meet the Press interview in December 2001, Cheney said it had been "pretty well confirmed" that Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence officials before the attack. And in another Meet the Press appearance in September 2003, Cheney said it was at least an open question whether Saddam had played a role in plotting the 9/11 attacks, but he said, "there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s," including bomb-making expertise and advice.


GOP DEFENDS PA. GREEN CANDIDATE: Republicans are continuing their effort to keep Green Senate candidate Carl Romanelli on the Pennsylvania ballot, Paul Kiel reported at TPMMuckraker.com (8/18). After Pennsylvania Democrats claimed more than 69,000 of the approximately 100,000 gathered by aides to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and JSM, Inc., a company hired by the Greens with Republican money, were fraudulent, volunteers from the Santorum campaign helped the Greens examine the contested petitions.


TAKE BACK 9/11: Local and national environmental, peace, and justice advocacy groups as well as many faith communities will observe the 100th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's first non-violent direct action against injustice in South Africa, which occurred on Sept. 11, 1906. The Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and Georgetown University will have a conference 9/10 in Washington, D.C., and will have a gathering at the Lincoln Memorial on 9/11 at 11:30 a.m. See gandhiinstitute.org. Local observances planned around the country include "Peace on Earth, Peace with Earth," at 5:30 pm on 9/11 at Pritchard Park in Asheville, N.C., with a program of musicians, poets and inspirational speakers.


CHOOSE LOCAL DEMOCRACY: A Local Democracy Conference in Madison, Wis., with the theme, "The Community Power Road to Democracy," will explore ways to choose democracy over global oligarchy from 9/28 through 10/1. See www.localdemocracy.org or call 608-257-1606 for information.


TRUTH TRUMPED IN GOP MIGRANT HEARINGS: Republicans clearly hope that concern over illegal immigration will overcome voter unrest over the Iraq debacle, high fuel prices and the decline of the middle class. The Washington Post (8/21) noted that House Republicans held hearings in San Diego that explored the costs health-care and welfare for immigrants. Another in Houston looked at "the criminal consequences of illegal immigration." One in Sierra Vista, Ariz., examined the nation's strained technical capacity to monitor "the efforts of terrorists and drug cartels" trying to "infiltrate American soil." At a field hearing Tuesday in Gainesville, Ga., Rep. Charles Whitlow Norwood Jr. (R-Ga.) brushed off complaints by those who wanted a more balanced witness list. "What I wanted was witnesses who agree with me, not disagree with me," he told reporters.


FUNNY MONEY: The Congressional Budget Office on 8/4 projected the federal deficit will be $260 bln for the year ending 9/30. James Horney of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (cbpp.org) noted (8/8) that were it not for the tax cuts of recent years, the budget would be almost in balance. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the tax cuts since January 2001 cost the federal government $258 bln in 2006, including the cost of borrowing to cover the increased debt.


BRITS RAP FBI TERROR PROBE LEAKS: British anti-terror police have angrily asked their counterparts in the FBI to stop leaking details of the August suspected bomb plot over fears that it could jeopardize a successful prosecution, the London Observer reported 8/20. The Observer also reported that some law enforcement officials fear they acted too hastily in arresting the 24 suspects, and may not have enough evidence to properly charge all suspects. NBC reported 8/12 that British authorities were planning to continue surveillance of suspects for at least another week but US authorities pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The suspects had not bought airline tickets, a British official noted. In fact, some didn't even have passports. The British official told NBC the Americans warned that if suspected ringleader Rashid Rauf in Pakistan was not taken into custody immediately, the US would "render" him or pressure the Pakistani government to arrest him. After Rauf was arrested over the objections of the British, the Observer reported, a call from an unknown person in Pakistan to a suspect in Britain alerting him to Rauf's arrest triggered the arrests of the British suspects..


HEALTH CARE INSECURITY SPREADS: Two-fifths of Americans said they have experienced unsafe or poor health care, and three-quarters want to see fundamental changes in the US health-care system, according to a new survey by the Commonwealth Fund (cmwf.org). The poll found that 48% of adults making between $35,000 and $50,000 report major problems paying for health coverage, as do a fifth of those making between $50,000 and $75,000. About half of Americans making up to $75,000 worry that they'll be unable to afford high-quality care in the future.


IRS PRIVATIZES DEBT COLLECTION: The Bush administration is going ahead with a plan to privatize IRS debt collection, despite congressional attempts to stop it. Under the "American Jobs Creation Act of 2004," the IRS can hire private debt collectors and pay them a bounty of up to 25% of the money they collect. DailyKos.com noted (8/14) that three firms were picked to participate in the first phase. They include the CBE Group Inc., Waterloo, Iowa; Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, Austin, Texas; and Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc., Arcade, N.Y. DailyKos noted that a former Linebarger partner was convicted in a 2002 bribery scheme involving payments to two San Antonio city councilmen who voted to approve a collection contract with the law firm. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) says the privatization scheme puts taxpayers' private financial information at greater risk of being lost, stolen or intentionally misused by identity thieves, and it is also expensive. "On top of the $54 million start-up price-tag, the private collection agencies will earn commissions of up to 25% on any back taxes they actually collect. In contrast, IRS employees could do the job for less than 3%. In fact, the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation reports that it will cost $350 million on top of the $54 million start-up cost for debt collection companies to collect $1.5 billion over ten years. Yet, by hiring additional IRS employees to collect the unpaid taxes, the IRS would spend $290 million to collect $9.5 billion in one year."

Rothman attached an amendment to a federal spending bill that would stop Bush from outsourcing tax collection. "With personal identity theft on the rise, it makes no sense to hand over 2.65 million taxpayer files to private debt collection companies," Rothman said. In addition to being expensive, he noted that debt collection companies are the most complained-about industry in America, according to Federal Trade Commission consumer complaint data. The transportation-treasury spending bill is pending.


NURSES CAN'T GET DEAL: Nurses at Finley Hospital in Dubuque, Iowa, conducted their second three-day strike in as many months, 8/15-17. This after an earlier strike (7/6-8) by nurses who voted to organize with Service Employees Local 199 in December 2003 but have never gotten a contract. Finley Hospital, part of the Iowa Health System with annual operating revenues of $1.68 bln, has shipped in strike-breaking replacement nurses from US Nursing Corporation. As the strike concluded, there was no scheduled return to the negotiating table and the mood on the picket line was somber as members weighed the possibility of a third strike.

VOTE COUNTERS BECOME TOP PRIZE: After controversies over voting procedures in Florida and Ohio in the last two presidential elections, at least three Democratic political action committees are spotlighting secretary of state candidates in states where they expect the presidential vote to be close, USA Today reported 8/17. Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio top the lists of secretaries of state, which control most voting regulations and influence state purchases of voting machines. Looking ahead to 2008, Dems say they want people they trust in those offices. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a 2008 presidential prospect, runs a Heartland PAC that is helping several secretary of State candidates. The new San Francisco-based Secretary of State (SOS) Project also is focused on swing states, where close races pose "the greatest likelihood of abuse and the greatest consequences," SOS strategist James Rucker said. The 21st Century Democrats PAC has endorsed four secretary of State candidates, including John Bonifaz in Massachusetts, Debra Bowen in California, Mark Ritchie in Minnesota and Jennifer Brunner in Ohio. Early last year, the liberal group set a goal of 98% voter participation by 2024 and targeted secretary of state races for the first time since its founding in 1985.

PLEDGE AGAINST STEM-CELL HYPOCRISY: After 37 senators and 193 members of the House voted in July against allowing surplus embryos headed for the trash bin to be used in federally funded research, upholding President Bush's veto, *Newsweek*'s Jonathan Alter proposed that voters ask those incumbents who voted with Bush against stem-cell research to promise that they will never use any treatments derived from that research. "In other words, to put their own health where their votes are," Alter wrote. His proposed pledge: "Because of my strong opposition to embryonic-stem-cell research, I hereby pledge that should I, at any point in the future, develop diabetes, cancer, spinal-cord injuries or Parkinson's, among other diseases, I will refuse any and all treatments derived from such research, at home or abroad, even if it costs me my life. Signed, ______"

VOTER EDUCATION WEBSITE: The National Association of Secretaries of State has launched a national voter education campaign to provide eligible voters from all 50 states with the information they need to cast their ballots in 2006. See www.canivote.org for a one-stop shop that provides voters with step-by-step instructions for voting no matter where in the United States they live.

DEMS HAVEN'T ENERGIZED LATINOS: A Democracy Corps poll shows Democratic candidates win by a two-to-one margin &emdash; 62% to 29% &emdash; "over their Republican opponents among Hispanics, who are deeply disappointed with President Bush and his policies. Yet despite Hispanics' increasing dissatisfaction with the current direction of the country, their support for Democratic congressional candidates has remained unchanged from last year, while interest in this election is substantially lower than in 2004," PoliticalWire.com noted (8/14).


From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2006

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