Hopes for Democratic takeover of the House and/or the Senate climbed in early October as Iraq continued to see high levels of violence; a National Intelligence Estimate contradicted upbeat administration statements on Iraq; a new Bob Woodward book exposed internal White House disagreements over Iraq policy; and GOP Rep. Mark Foley resigned hours after reports that he exchanged sexually explicit instant messages with teenage House pages. Four weeks before the election, a USA Today/Gallup poll showed Dems with a 23-point lead over GOP candidates, double the lead Republicans had a month before they seized control of Congress in 1994. And an Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that support is now evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans among married women with children at home. Republicans won this voting group by 18 points in 2002 and Bush won it by 14 points in 2004.
CQPolitics.com (10/8) said since April it has seen ratings clearly improve for Democrats in nine Senate races, where Dems need a gain of six seat to regain the majority, and 35 races in the House, where Dems need to gain 16 seats. Among House races that appeared "safe" for the Republican Party as recently as 9/29 -- the day Foley suddenly quit Congress -- but where Democrats are now favored are Foley's 16th District in Florida, where Foley's name remains on the ballot, even though votes cast for him will accrue to a replacement candidate, state Rep. Joe Negron, and New York's 26th, where Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, has come under intense fire from his challenger, businessman Jack Davis, and other Dems who charge that Reynolds should have responded more aggressively to determine what Foley was up to. In Arizona's 8th, a deep schism within the GOP helps the strong Dem nominee, former state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords. Centrist R's, including popular retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe, have refused to endorse the GOP primary winner, former state Rep. Randy Graf, a staunch conservative best known for his hard line on illegal immigration.
As a result of these ratings changes, CQPolitics.com's Balance of Power Scorecard showed Republicans short of a majority of seats in both chambers. In the House, where 218 is a majority, CQ projects the GOP with 217 seats, the Dems with 205 and 13 are up for grabs. And those GOP seats include 22 that are rated "Leans Republican," in which the Democratic nominees are highly competitive.
In the Senate, CQ projects 49 R's, 45 D's and 6 up for grabs. Key Senate races include:
Missouri: Sen. Jim Talent (R) and state Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) have been running neck-and-neck in polls for the past year.
Montana: 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.
Ohio: Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) held a narrow lead over Sen. Mike DeWine (R) but the national GOP dumped money in the state to avoid collapse after a corruption scandal.
Pennsylvania: Sen. Rick Santorum (R) has been battling back, but Bob Casey (D), son of a popular former governor, has led in polls all year.
Tennessee: Rep. Harold Ford (D) is battling former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker (R) for the seat Sen. Bill Frist (R) is giving up. Polls show a tossup.
Rhode Island: Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) managed to eke out a GOP primary win, but polls show former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse narrowly ahead in a Democratic state.
Virginia: Sen. George Allen (R), who had presidental ambitions, has watched his double-digit lead over former Navy Secretary Jim Webb (D) wither away amid allegations of Allen's racist past, other bullying behavior and ethical questions.
Other seats Dems must hold include New Jersey, where Sen. Bob Menendez (D) is struggling to beat Tom Kean Jr., son of a popular former governor. In Maryland, Rep. Ben Cardin (D) is favored to retain the seat Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) is giving up and in Minnesota county prosecutor Amy Klobuchar (D) is pulling away from Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) for the seat Sen. Mark Dayton (D) is giving up. Other Dems who have been targeted but were holding leads in polls include Sen. Maria Cantwell D-Wash. Dems hope to contest Arizona, where Sen. Jon Kyl leads in polls but remained under 50% support against Jim Pederson (D).
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 has sent signals that he would consider switching to the GOP.
Meanwhile, Fox News's John Gibson suggested 10/9 that the North Korean nuclear test was good news for Republicans. ThinkProgress.org noted that Gibson asked Washington Times editor Tony Blankley, "Does the fact that the North Koreans actually tested a nuclear weapon balance out the bad news from this Foley scandal?" Blankley replied, "It doesn't balance it out. It's not a big enough story."
STATEHOUSE RACES HEAT UP: Alaska Republicans are starting to sweat a corruption probe involving Senate President Ben Stevens (R), son of US Sen. Ted Stevens, as the Rothenberg Political Report on 10/4 downgraded it from "Safe Republican" to "Likely Republican." Democrats feel better about their prospects in Colorado, where governor candidate Bill Ritter is surging. In Indiana poor approval ratings for Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) are dragging down GOP state House legislators. Democrats also are fighting for control of houses in Michigan, Montana and Ohio. Twenty chambers are in play heading into the final month, according to RPR's Louis Jacobson, include Democratic-held toss-ups: Colorado House, Colorado Senate, Maine House, Maine Senate, North Carolina House and Oklahoma Senate; Republican-held toss-ups: Indiana House, Iowa House, Minnesota House; tied toss-ups: Iowa Senate, Montana House; Democratic-held lean Democratic: Montana Senate, Tennessee House, Washington House, Washington Senate; and Republican-held lean Republican: Nevada Senate, Oregon House, Pennsylvania House, Tennessee Senate, Wisconsin Senate.
NAVY PURGES GITMO LAWYER: The Navy lawyer who took the Guantánamo case of Osama bin Laden's driver to the US Supreme Court -- and won -- has been passed over for promotion by the Pentagon and must soon leave the military, Carol Rosenberg of McClatchy Newspapers reported (10/8). Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, 44, said he received word he had been denied a promotion to full-blown commander about two weeks after the Supreme Court sided against the White House and with his client, a Yemeni captive at the US Navy base in southeast Cuba. Under the military's "up-or-out" promotion system, Swift will retire in March or April, closing a 20-year career of military service. A Pentagon appointee, Swift embraced the alleged al-Qaeda's sympathizer's defense with a classic defense lawyer's zeal. The Supremes ruled in June that Bush overstepped his constitutional authority by creating ad hoc military tribunals for prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, sending the Pentagon back to the drawing board for the trials. In June, the prestigious National Law Journal listed Swift among the nation's top 100 lawyers. Just not good enough for the Navy.
ASHCROFT TOOK AL-Q WARNING SERIOUSLY -- FOR HIMSELF: Just over three years ago, on 9/11/03, Will Bunch wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News about 20 unanwered questions of 9/11. "It's sad, but three years later, many of them are still unanswered" Bunch wrote at attytood.com (10/4). But one that finally has been answered was "Why did Attorney General John Ashcroft and some Pentagon officials cancel commercial-airline trips before Sept. 11?
On July 26, 2001 -- 47 days before the Sept. 11 attacks -- CBS News reported that Ashcroft was flying expensive charters rather than commercial flights because of a "threat assessment" by the FBI. CBS said. Newsweek later reported that on Sept. 10, 2001, "a group of top Pentagon officials suddenly canceled travel plans for the next morning, apparently because of security concerns."
"Did either Ashcroft or the Pentagon have advance information about a 9/11-style attack and, if so, why wasn't this shared with the American public?" Bunch asked in 2003.
Finally, we can answer the first half: Yes. McClatchy Newspapers reported 10/2 that Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld were in on the July 2001 warnings of a pending attack by top CIA officials, a week after the same briefing was given to then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who later denied the meeting happened. Ashcroft immediately switched to private jets. "So his first instinct, then, was to save himself. The US attorney general did nothing of substance, it seems, to move on the safety of the innocent Americans who did board commercial jets that were hijacked about seven weeks later, or the many more who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It is all so much like the Mark Foley scandal in this sense: The people in power wanting to save only themselves, with no concern for the innocent.
Bunch concluded: "We've said this before, and we'll say it again: There must be a new, impartial and thorough investigation of 9/11. To those who say that the terror attack has already been investigated ... it hasn't."
R'S RENEGE ON BORDER FENCE: No sooner did Congress authorize construction of a 700-mile fence on the US-Mexico border in September than lawmakers rushed to approve separate legislation that ensures it will never be built, the Washington Post reported (10/6). GOP leaders have singled out the $1.2 bln fence as one of the primary accomplishments of the past session. But shortly before recessing, the House and Senate gave the Bush administration leeway to distribute the money to a combination of projects -- not just the physical barrier along the southern border. The funds may also be spent on roads, technology and "tactical infrastructure" to support the Department of Homeland Security's preferred option of a "virtual fence." The loopholes leave the Bush administration with authority to decide where, when and how long a fence will be built, except for small stretches east of San Diego and in western Arizona. Homeland Security officials have proposed a fence half as long. Also, GOP leaders pledged that Native American tribes, members of Congress, governors and local leaders would get a say in "the exact placement" of any structure, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will have the flexibility to use alternatives "when fencing is ineffective or impractical."
FED EARMARK NETS HASTERT $1.5M: Speaker Dennis Hastert used a federal earmark to turn a profit of more than $1.5 mln on a land deal. ThinkProgress.org noted that in August 2002 Hastert and his wife bought a 195-acre farm in Plano, Ill., in 2002, of which 69.5 acres had no access to roads. The parcel is located in Hastert's congressional district. In February 2004, Hastert and two partners purchased another 69 acres adjacent to the original property. In August 2005, Hastert secured $207 mln in federal money to build the "Prairie Parkway," which transforms the Hastert property from an isolated parcel to one with convenient access to major cities. President Bush came to Hastert's district to sign the bill. In December 2005, Hastert sold property to the Robert Arthur Land Company, which plans to builds 1,500 homes on the property. Hastert netted at least $1.5 mln in profit, while his two partners booked another $1.5 mln.
CHI'S DALEY WANTS LOWER WAGES: Having vetoed a Chicago ordinance to raise minimum wages for large retailers in that city, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has now joined the rightwing business camp and endorsed legislation to shut down higher local minimum wage laws across the country. According to progressivestates.org, Daley defended his proposal for a national minimum wage that could not be increased locally, saying attempts to go above the minimum hamstring those localities that do so. The mayor disagrees with Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who has implemented a statewide minimum wage of $6.50 an hour for workers over 18 and $6 for those under 18. The federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour.
IRAQ WAR COSTS $2B A WEEK: A new congressional analysis shows the Iraq war is costing taxpayers $2 billion a week -- nearly twice as much as in the first year of the conflict three years ago and 20% more than last year -- as the Pentagon spends more on establishing regional bases to support the extended deployment and scrambles to fix or replace equipment damaged in combat. The total cost of military operations at home and abroad since 2001, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will top half a trillion dollars, according to an internal assessment by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service completed in September, according to the Boston Globe 9/28.
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