As Republicans plan to regain control of Congress in two years, the top target will be Tom DeLay's old district in the Houston suburbs, Washington Post's Zachary Goldfarb noted (11/26). Former Rep. Nick Lampson (D), who was redistricted out of his former seat by DeLay's infamous gerrymandering, beat a write-in candidate after DeLay, who is fighting felony charges in Texas, quit the race too late for the GOP to replace him on the ballot. Another top target will be former Rep. Mark Foley's district, which opened up after Foley resigned in the page scandal. Tim Mahoney (D) won against Joe Negron (R) in a close race in which votes cast for Foley went to Negron. Other scandal-plagued seats the GOP will try to win back in 2008 include former Rep. Robert W. Ney's Ohio district and Rep. Don Sherwood's Pennsylvania district. Other heavily GOP seats captured by Dems include two in Indiana, one in Kansas and one in North Carolina. But even if Republicans take back these seats, they would have to win about six others to take the House in 2008 -- and those six are not so clear. The Democrats will have roughly a 14-seat advantage in the House.

Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos.com (11/14) noted that 32 Republicans won Nov. 7 with 55% or less, making them potentially vulnerable. Another 24 GOP incumbents are vulnerable because of strong Democratic votes in other races, scandal or possible retirement. "That's at least 56 Republicans that should get hit hard," he wrote.

On the Senate side, the GOP faces more trouble. The GOP needs at least one seat -- and maybe two, depending on who wins the presidential race -- to regain the majority. But while 12 Dems are up for reelection in 2008, 22 Republicans are.

The two most vulnerable Democratic senators, according to Goldfarb, appear to be Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Mary Landrieu (La.), while the most vulnerable Republicans are said to be Wayne Allard (Colo.), Norm Coleman (Minn.) and John E. Sununu (N.H.). But SurveyUSA, in its latest approval ratings for all 100 US senators, released 11/22, found five GOP senators with approval ratings below 50%: Allard, 44%; John Cornyn (Texas), 45%; James Inhofe (Okla.), 46%; Sununu, 47%; and Coleman, 48%. Six more R's are under 55%: Elizabeth Dole (N.C), 52%; Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), 52%; Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), 53%; Mitch McConnell (Ky.), 54%; Gordon Smith (Ore.), 54%. Of Dems up in 2008, just two have below 50% ratings: Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), 39%; and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), 48%. Four more are under 55%: Dick Durbin (Ill.) 52%; Tom Harkin (Iowa) 53%; Carl Levin (Mich.), 54%; and Landrieu, 54%. Johnson enjoys 70% approval.

The buzz in the Senate is that Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) "might honor his pledge to serve just two terms" and not seek reelection in 2008, the Denver Post reported. Republicans seeking to replace Allard might include Rep. Tom Tancredo, former Reps. Scott McInnis and Bob Schaffer or Gov. Bill Owens. Rep. Mark Udall appears to have the initial edge on the Democratic side, and with $1.2 mln in the bank, "will make a formal announcement sometime next year."


DEM DOWNBALLOT GAINS: While some progressive strategists have argued that Democrats should leave the South to the GOP and concentrate instead on other swing regions, North Carolina Democrats not only took a congressional seat, as Heath Shuler (D) unseated Rep. Charles Taylor (R) in western North Carolina, but Dems also did well in county and state legislative races in a part of the state where Republicans have historical links dating to the Civil War. In Ashe County, for example, Democrats now have a majority on the county commission and the sheriff's post for the first time in about 15 years, the Associated Press reported 11/26. The party started work last year, spending time and money to hire staff and organize volunteer efforts to persuade unaffiliated and Republican voters in the region that Democrats better reflected their values. "The Democratic Party is well-organized and fired up," said Ashe County Sheriff-elect James Williams, who beat his Republican opponent with 51% of the vote. "I think everybody worked hard. ... Folks were just ready for a change." Along with Shuler's win, which gave the party a majority in North Carolina's congressional delegation, Democrats added four western district seats in the state Legislature, part of their overall pick up of as many as seven seats. State Democratic officials also said they picked up 16 seats on county commissions in the western third of the state, earning majorities in five new counties. The party also won sheriff's races in Ashe, Polk and Watauga counties, where incumbents were all Republicans.


DEMS GAIN IN SUBURBS: Democrats made large gains in suburbia in the midterm elections, pushing GOP turf to the outer edges of major population centers in a trend that could signal trouble for the GOP, USA Today reported 11/26. Dems carried nearly 60% of the US House vote in inner suburbs in the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas, up from about 53% in 2002, according to the analysis by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. They received nearly 55% of the vote in the next ring of "mature" 20- and 30-year-old suburbs, with 45% going to Republicans and third-party candidates. In 2002, the last midterm election, Democrats received 50% of the vote there. Republicans continued to win in small cities up to 50,000, as well as fast-growing exurban and rural areas. but sociologist Robert Lang called the exurbs and "emerging suburbs" volatile, noting Dems had been losing ground there but cut GOP victory margins in half this year.


GOP KEEPS FIGHTING LOWER COLLEGE LOAN COSTS: Congressional Republicans appear intent on maintaining their close ties with financial backers, including the lending industry, which is facing political exposure because for years it has invested much more heavily in Republicans than Democrats. Jan Hooks reported in the Los Angeles Times (11/27) that almost 80% of the money given to House education committee members by the student loan industry and for-profit colleges went to R's in the 2003-04 campaign cycle, according to an analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education. "It's time to throw the money-changers out of the temple of higher education," thundered Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the new chairman of the Senate committee that oversees education programs. Dems have promised that one of their first acts will be to cut interest rates on federally backed student loans from 6.8% to 3.4%.


THIRD PARTIES STRUGGLED to get into double figures in the mid-term election, as their candidates averaged only 5% of the total, but their adherents nonetheless found cause for optimism, the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Bob von Sternberg reported 11/23. Only 11 independents won races, but that includes Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Ballot Access News editor Richard Winger noted, "It's the second best showing since 1934." Equally upbeat was Dean Barkley, a founder of Minnesota's Independence Party and architect of the most stunning third-party victory in recent years, Jesse Ventura's gubernatorial surprise in 1998. "It's not an easy sell, but we're not going away," said Barkley, who this year advised Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, the musician/novelist/satirist who got 13% in a five-way race that Gov. Rick Perry (R) won with 39%. "We've had a two-party system since forever, and bad habits are hard to break," Barkley said.

Third-party candidates have more success as "spoilers." Roll Call magazine found that Libertarians, Greens, independents and other minor candidates pulled enough votes to exceed the margin between the top two finishers in at least 10 congressional races, some of which were key to Democrats winning control of the US House and Senate.

Winger computed that Democrats got 49.28% of votes for the top office on ballots; Republicans got 45.75%, Greens 1.16%, Libertarians 0.95%, Constitution 0.24%, Reform 0.12%, other parties 0.30% and independents 2.2%).

Winger also found that in the 2006 election, the median percentage for Libertarian candidates for US. House races was 2.04%, when all the races with only a single major party nominee have been set aside. That's up from 1.66% in 2004. The median percentage for Green House candidates was 1.41%, down from 2.41% in 2004. The median for Constitution House candidates was 1.43%, up from 0.9% in '04. In 2006, the median for Reform Party nominees was 2.25%.

The only minor party that elected a state representative was the Constitution Party, in Montana (where Rick Jore was elected), Winger reported at ballot-access.org. Greens had one state rep in Maine, John Eder of Portland, but he was defeated for re-election in a 2-person race with 48.4% of the vote. Two other Greens got more than 40% in Maine House races but lost to Dems. Two Greens won seats on the non-partisan Portland City Council as Kevin Donaghue won his 3-person race with 47.4% of the vote and David Marshall won his 3-way race with 45.4% of the vote.


BALLOT PROBLEMS PERSIST: After six years of technological research, more than $4 billion spent on electronic machinery and a widespread overhaul of the nation's voting system, the midterm election revealed that the country is still far from able to ensure that every vote counts, Ian Urbina and Christopher Drew reported in the 11/26 New York Times. It is impossible to say how many votes were not counted that should have been. But in Florida alone, discrepancies in at least four counties amount to more than 60,000 votes. In Sarasota County, nearly 18,000 votes may never have been recorded by electronic machines in the 13th Congressional District race that was decided by 369 votes. GOP state officials certified Vern Buchanan (R) the winner over Christine Jennings (D) despite the apparent discrepancy of 15% of Sarasota ballots registering no choice in the bitterly fought congressional race -- six times greater than the "undervote" in the rest of the district. A study by the Orlando Sentinel (11/22) found that the disputed ballots solidly backed Democrats in all five of Florida's statewide races.

In Colorado, as many as 20,000 people gave up trying to vote, election officials say, as new online systems for verifying voter registrations crashed repeatedly. And in Arkansas, election officials tallied votes three times in one county, and each time the number of ballots cast changed by more than 30,000. In Ohio, thousands of voters were turned away or forced to file provisional ballots by poll workers puzzled by voter-identification rules. Even Rep. Steve Chabot (R) was turned away from his polling place because the address listed on his driver's license was different than his home address. Chabot was able to vote only after he returned with a utility bill. In Pennsylvania, machines crashed or refused to start, producing many reports of vote-flipping, which means that voters press the button for one candidate but a different candidate's name appeared on the screen.


CIA OPS WATCHED RFK HIT? New video and photographic evidence puts three senior CIA operatives at the scene of Robert Kennedy's assassination on 6/5/68, Shane O'Sullivan reported in the London Guardian and BBC-TV's Newsnight (11/20). O'Sullivan, a filmmaker, wrote that while researching a possible screenplay on the assassination, he came upon video and photographic evidence implicating David Sanchez Morales, "a legendary figure in CIA covert operations" who reportedly bore a grudge against the Kennedys for not supporting the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. When the subject of the Kennedys came up in a late-night session with friends in 1973, Morales reportedly launched into a tirade that finished: "I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard." Another CIA operative identified in photos at the scene was Gordon Campbell, who worked alongside Morales at JM-Wave, the CIA's Miami base that trained Cuban exiles to run sabotage raids on Castro. A third was George Joannides, chief of psychological warfare operations at JM-Wave, who was called out of retirement in 1978 to act as the CIA liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigating the death of John F Kennedy.

Sirhan Sirhan, 24, a Palestinian, was arrested and convicted as the lone assassin. But O'Sullivan said the autopsy report suggests Sirhan could not have fired the shots that killed Kennedy. Witnesses place Sirhan's gun several feet in front of Kennedy, but the fatal bullet was fired from one inch behind. And more bullet holes were found in the pantry than Sirhan's gun could hold, suggesting at least a second gunman. Under hypnosis, he was never able to remember shooting Kennedy, leading defense psychiatrists to conclude he was in a trance at the time of the shooting, possibly as a hypnotically programmed assassin.


R'S DISCOVER PROFLIGATE SPENDING: Since the election, some Republicans have been shocked to find that profligate spending is going on in the federal goverment. Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Jim DeMint, R-S.C., have decided to take a stand against overspending by objecting to the nearly 10,000 earmarks, or member-sponsored pork projects, larded throughout the spending bills Congress is currently considering, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal noted (11/17). As a result, the departing Republican Congress probably won't pass spending bills in this month's lame-duck session. Instead, it likely will pass a stopgap "continuing resolution," which will continue funding all programs at last year's level until the new Democratic Congress passes its own versions of the funding bills. Coburn said the decision not to pass earmark-stuffed spending bills could save taxpayers $17 billion. All 10,000 earmarks will expire if they aren't passed by the end of the year. That leaves a lot of stuck pigs. Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., outgoing chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, calls it a "catastrophe." A spokeswoman for Lewis' Senate counterpart, Thad Cochran, R-Miss., says it is "irresponsible."


HOUSTON JANITORS WIN CONTRACT: More than 5,300 Houston janitors won a major victory in November with a "living wage" agreement that will double their pay within two years and provide affordable health insurance and other benefits for members of the Service Employees International Union, which organized the four-week strike that led to the pact. Janitors, who are now paid $5.15 an hour, usually for four hours of work per night, will see their wages rise to $6.25 on 1/1/07 and up to $7.75 for six-hour shifts by 1/1/09. The union brought pressure to bear on national cleaning firms ABM, OneSource, GCA Services, Sanitors and Pritchard, which serve national firms such as Chevron, Crescent Real Estate and Hines Interests, to negotiate the contract. In one non-violent protest in downtown Houston, 44 janitors were arrested and held overnight on bonds of $888,888 each for Class B misdemeanor charges, which usally call for $500 to $1,000 bail. A magistrate later reduced bond to $1,000.


CHRISTIAN COALITION OUSTS NEW PREZ: Rev. Joel C. Hunter, pastor of a Florida megachurch who was president-elect of the Christian Coalition of America, has stepped down, saying the group resisted his efforts to broaden its agenda to include reducing poverty and fighting global warming, the New York Times reported 11/28. The author of Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won't Fly With Most Conservative Christians, Hunter has argued that many conservative Christians feel that right-wing religious groups do not represent them, because they focus their energies too narrowly on moral issues, often to the exclusion of economic and environmental concerns and "living what Jesus would do." Roberta Combs, chairwoman of the Christian Coalition's board, will continue in both positions now.


DEAN DEFENDS '50-STATE' PLAN: Democratic National Chair Howard Dean took a swipe at D.C. critics who questioned his strategy of spending money in all 50 states, dismissing the critics as the "old Democratic Party." In a speech to the Association of State Democratic Chairs, reported by the Associated Press (11/17), Dean said his strategy "works in states Democrats have given up on for 30 years."

The election "was a great win for what I call the new Democratic Party," Dean said. "This is the new Democratic Party. The old Democratic Party is back there in Washington, sometimes they still complain a little bit." Political strategist James Carville, best known for Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992, has said Dean left too much money in the bank that could have been used to seize an even larger Dem majority in Congress. He suggested the DNC should replace Dean. But the Association of State Democratic Chairs adopted a resolution voicing strong support for Dean.


IMMIGRANT-BASHING BACKFIRES: Republicans hoped to make immigration reform a wedge issue in the midterm issue, but the GOP's immigrant-bashing apparently backfired, according to GOP pollster Frank Luntz. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Luntz noted that his election night poll asked voters which issue most annoyed them about the Republican-controlled Congress. "Among the Americans who swung from the GOP to the Democrats (Republican Rejecters), 'unethical and illegal behavior going unpunished' was number two on the list (behind illegal immigration)." Conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher noted at townhall.com (11/15) that while more than 70% of Arizona voters approved state ballot initiatives establishing English as the official language, stripping illegal aliens of the right to bail, denying illegal aliens state-subsidized benefits and denying them punitive damages in lawsuits, exit polls showed Arizona voters favored "a path to legal status" over "deport them" by 57% to 38%. Latino voters also became more Democratic, as 70% voted Democratic, compared with 56% who voted Democratic in 2004.


EDSALL STILL SEES RED: Tom Edsall is not one to let facts get in the way of his book tour. Just weeks after the release of his new book, *Building Red America*, detailing how the Democrats were helpless in the face of the Republican juggernaut, unruly voters returned the Dems to the majority in the US House and Senate while the GOP's maximum leader is stuck in the White House with a 31% approval rating. But Edsall was not fooled: "For the Democratic Party to revive, major tenets of American liberalism, economic and sociocultural, will have to be discarded," he wrote in a 11/25 *New York Times* column. "The party can join Studebaker and the Glass Bottle Blowers union, it can trudge along as No. 2, or it can undergo a painful transformation." Greg Mitchell of *E&P*, the newspaper trade journal, noted that Edsall has been wrong before. In 1991, a year before the Clinton victory, Edsall wrote in his book, *Chain Reaction*, that the Democratic Party was "in danger of losing its stature as a major competitor in national politics."


BIG OIL CRIMPING OIL SUPPLIES: Some 55% of Americans believe gas prices are high because oil companies manipulate supplies, a Pew Research Center poll found in October. Coincidentally, the Associated Press found that oil companies have been crimping supplies for years. And tighter supplies tend to drive up prices. The analysis, based on data from the US Energy Information Administration, indicates that the industry slacked off supplying oil and gasoline during the prolonged price boom between early 1999 and last summer, when prices began to fall. The AP found evidence of at least an underwhelming industry performance in supplying the domestic market, when profits should have made investment capital plentiful:

• During the 1999-2006 price boom, the industry drilled an average of 7% fewer new wells monthly than in the seven preceding years of low, stable prices.

• The national supply of unrefined oil, including imports, grew an average of only 6% during the high-priced years, down from 14% during the previous span.

• The gasoline supply expanded by only 10% from 1999 to 2006, down from 15% in the earlier period.

A 2001 study by the Federal Trade Commission reported that some firms were deciding to "maximize their profits" by crimping supply during a Midwestern gasoline price spike. One executive told regulators "he would rather sell less gasoline and earn a higher margin on each gallon sold." This year, the FTC reported that some oil companies were storing oil, instead of selling it right away, to await higher prices anticipated in the future. "If you think prices 10 years from now are going to be $100 a barrel, you might not be that enthused about producing as much as you can now," suggests energy economist Allan Pulsipher at Louisiana State University.

However upsetting to drivers, such tactics are usually viewed as legal. "A decision to limit supply does not violate the antitrust laws, absent some agreement among firms," regulators wrote in one FTC report.

The biggest six refiners rang up $400 bln in profits since 2001, according to the consumer group Public Citizen and corporate reports.


SENATE HONORS WELLSTONE: The Senate on 11/16 passed a resolution praising the late progressive Sen. Paul Wellstone (DFL-Minn.), who died in a tragic plane crash on 10/25/02. The measure, introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) stated that "Senator Paul Wellstone should be remembered for his compassion and leadership on social issues throughout his career," particularly his tireless work to advance mental health parity for all Americans. On the Senate floor, Durbin recalled one particular moment that stood out in his mind that exemplified Wellstone's vision and courage:

"I can recall the last time I saw him. He was a few feet away from me here. It was the night we cast our vote on the Iraqi war. It was a vote that was a hard one. …

"Twenty-three of us voted against the war that night. I was one, Paul Wellstone was another. It was even later than now that night, and I came to the well on the floor to say goodbye to Paul because we were both off for the reelection campaigns of 4 years ago. I came over to wish him well, and I said, 'Paul, I hope that vote doesn't cost you the election.' He said, 'You know, it is OK if it does because that is what I believe and that is who I am. The people of Minnesota would expect nothing less from me.' It was the last time I ever saw him. He went home, and within 2 weeks he was killed in a plane crash with his wife and staff members." (ThinkProgress.org.)


MORE ADS THAN ELECTION COVERAGE: TV viewers in crucial Midwest states got more political information in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections from paid campaign advertisements than from news coverage, according to a new study. In the seven markets studied, newscasts aired almost 4-1/2 minutes of paid political ads during a 30-minute broadcast, while only offering 1 minute 43 seconds of election news coverage. The study was done by the Midwest News Index, a project of the University of Wisconsin's NewsLab, with support by the Joyce Foundation, in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.


CLINTON'S MONEY ADVANTAGE GONE: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) spent more on her re-election -- upward of $30 mln -- than any other candidate for Senate this year, the New York Times noted (11/21). "What had been one of the most formidable war chests in politics was depleted to a level that leaves Mrs. Clinton with little financial advantage over her potential rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination -- and perhaps even trailing some of them." Clinton is "now in the same ballpark as two fellow Democrats," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), "who had $13.8 million in his account as of Sept. 30, according to election commission records," and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), "who had $10.6 million."


RUBIN DICTATES DEM ECON POLICY: House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi scheduled some education sessions for the Democratic caucus in early December. The first class, on Iraq 12/5, presents a fair array of thinkers, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Holbrooke, and Major General John Batiste, among others. The second, on the economy 12/6, appears to have only one speaker: former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, "on the need for restoring fiscal discipline and building a competitive economy to create jobs in America." Ezra Klein noted at Prospect.org, "Now, Rubin's a smart guy, and as his positions on certain issues have changed, he's inching slowly towards the mainstream of progressivism. But this is a guy whose prescriptions, above all, failed to alleviate the precise problems the Democratic Party is now charged with mitigating. NAFTA is widely considered a mediocrity -- if not a failure -- that neither created the (deceptively) promised jobs in America nor stemmed the flow of illegal immigration. And Rubinomics, for all it virtues, enhanced productivity without enduringly ending wage stagnation. Moreover, Rubin is a Wall Street guy, with the centrist, deficit-reducing policies you expect from that crowd."

Klein added, "Undoubtedly, Rubin should be part of any economic education session for incoming Democrats. But that he's slated to play professor all by himself is worrying. What about Jacob Hacker, whose ideas on economic insecurity are legitimately new and important? Jared Bernstein? Elizabeth Warren? Warmed over Clintonomics is not a sufficient response to the problems of the Bush economy. Rubin's points deserve consideration, but his is not the only, or even the most compelling, response to the current moment, and it'll be to the Democratic Party's discredit if they lack the imagination to turn to cutting edge scholars rather than just former officials."


BEST COMMENT on presidential plans, noted by PoliticalWire.com: "I don't have any plans to run. Nor do I have any creative denials. I'm using the same ones. They'll soon be out on DVD" said Al Gore, quoted by Time magazine.

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