Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Cause For Optimism?

I've been eagerly following the mid-term Congressional elections, scouring polls daily as we pull ever closer to November 7. In some ways, paying attention to the muck and mire that passes for our political process these days is akin to the rubbernecking I so dislike when I'm driving, but in this case I can't seem to help myself. It looks like the Democrats will retake the House, and have an outside shot of claiming the Senate. I see this happening not just because of the political tide shifting, but also because Democrats have successfully sought out moderates to run for election in areas which are more conservative, and perhaps most significantly, Republicans have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot.

The Senate race going on next door to me in Virginia is a great example of the latter, where Senator George Allen, a man thought to be considering a presidential run in 2008, may not even get re-elected in a generally Republican state. First there was the 'macaca' incident, and Allen's response to it. Then there was his berating a reporter after she asked a question about whether his mother was Jewish, followed by an explanation that included the remark that he "still had a ham sandwich for lunch." On the heels of this were reports of his racism, and people who refuted his assertion that he never used the "N-word." A minor ethics violation that involved a failure to report stock options he owned followed. Over the course of the past few days, polls show his Democratic opponent, former Republican Jim Webb, the Secretary of Navy under Reagan, having taken a small lead, despite trailing by over 20 points in the Spring. Allen's efforts to retake the lead can only be hurt by events like this one (follow-up letter by the man who was wrestled to the floor here).

The foot-shooting seems to be happening all over the place, and goes beyond the Abramoff scandal and the Foley cover-up that actually happened within the walls of Congress. It's taking place not just in areas where there's a slight Republican edge, but even in some of the reddest states in the country. Wyoming is strongly Republican, yet the incumbent Congresswoman, Barbara Cubin, is in a dogfight with a Democratic challenger, in part because because after a three-way debate that included a Libertarian candidate in a wheelchair, Cubin went over to the Libertarian and told him, "If you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you across the face." In Idaho, about as Republican as they come, the Democrat running for an open seat is running neck-and-neck with his opponent, because the Republican who garnered the most votes in a 5-way race in the primary is reviled even by many Republicans who work with him in the state legislature. I expect that both of these races will be won by the Republican, but the fact that these races are close gives me hope that finally a Congress will provide some oversight of what the administration is doing, and prevent future versions of the outrageous pieces of legislation that have been enacted the last few years.