The battle for Congress heats up

“I have never considered myself a partisan person, but the Republican Party left me behind, so I had no choice but to leave the Republican Party behind,” Steven Brozak told delegates to the Democratic Convention this summer. “But I am far from alone ... and I will be in the majority come Nov. 2.”

Brozak is a former Marine and Iraq war veteran running for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th congressional district against incumbent Rep. Mike Ferguson. His experience in Iraq convinced him the policies of President George W. Bush needed to be defeated and that he needed to run.

Brozak’s race for a House seat is one of the fierce battles being waged to break the ultra-right grip on the House of Representatives and Senate. As the presidential race tightens the number of competitive congressional races has grown, including on some traditionally Republican turf.



Changing the face of Congress

If Democrats win a majority, the political leadership of Congress would change radically. The new majority leader in the U.S. Senate would be Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who has a pro-labor voting record of 85 percent. Daschle would replace Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who has voted pro-labor only 5 percent of the time.

In the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has a 96 percent pro-labor record, would replace Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who has a 7 percent lifetime pro-labor record. Similar changes would take place in every committee of Congress and determine what legislation gets to the floor.

Ultra-right Republicans are determined by any means necessary to expand and permanently institutionalize their majority. Led by Tom “The Hammer” DeLay (R-Texas), they carried out an unprecedented congressional redistricting in Texas with the aim of eliminating five Democratic representatives. DeLay is under investigation for illegally laundering campaign money from the Republican National Committee to Texas state legislative campaigns to win Republican control and carry out the redistricting. Already three of DeLay’s aides have been indicted. (See story, page 5.)

Many races revolve around peculiar local political dynamics and issues, in addition to national issues of the Iraq war, terrorism, civil rights and liberties, jobs, health care and education. Democrats and their allies have to overcome some big obstacles to win in swing and traditionally Republican districts. For example, campaign committees associated with DeLay are flush with cash and have channeled it to many House races.

On paper, Democrats will need to win three seats in the Senate and 12 in the House but because of Republican redistricting, Democrats will have to actually win more seats in the House. To gain control, Democrats have to win nine out of 15 Senate races (assuming a Kerry win) considered to be competitive, including in South Dakota, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, Okla-homa, Colorado, and Washington.

But Democratic candidates have an advantage, too — the unprecedented grassroots mobilization taking place in cities, towns and neighborhoods. In most cases, they are being backed by broad coalitions of labor and people’s forces who have been engaged in massive efforts to register millions of new voters and tireless door-to-door canvassing. A massive get-out-the-vote effort will peak on Election Day.

Increasingly, it appears that voter turnout, especially by African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and women, will decide many races. If the primary elections in state after state are any indication, the turnout will be enormous.



America’s future

In the 1994 elections, congressional Republicans introduced their “Contract on America,” which was credited with sparking a huge changeover of seats. That year Republicans won control of the House, which they have maintained every since. It is referred to as the “Decade of Deceit.”

In 2002 Republicans exploited the fears of terrorism and ran a hysterical campaign in the buildup to the Iraq war. Democrat leadership wilted in that atmosphere, which resulted in even more losses.

But in 2004 things are different. Democrats, pushed by a groundswell of mass electoral action, are determined to regain control. They have fielded a strong group of congressional candidates. House Democrats have also unveiled their own Partnership for America’s Future, a covenant that embodies their program to roll back the Republican ultra-right policies.

Many of the most competitive races are in swing districts where Republicans are fielding candidates in lockstep with Bush policies. They include blatant racists and lunatics that are so far to the right they are even turning off Republican moderates and independents.

Many of the Democratic candidates have been steeled in battle against the ultra right and backed by broad coalitions of labor, civil rights, women’s, consumer, environmental and grassroots groups like MoveOn.org, True Majority, Emily’s List and others.

There are a number of outstanding African Amer-ican, Latino and women candidates among them. They will help bring greater diversity and stronger voices against the ultra-right agenda. For example, former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney won the Democratic primary in Georgia, virtually ensuring her return to Congress. Republicans ganged up on McKinney in 2002 for being so outspoken against the Iraq war and about the investigation into the Sept. 11 tragedy. McKinney refused to buckle under and fought her way back.

Democrats are also buoyed by victories earlier this year in special congressional elections. In South Dakota — where the vote of Native Americans was considered decisive — Stephanie Herseth won a House seat, as did Ben Chandler in Kentucky’s 6th CD. Chandler’s victory was the first time a Democrat has taken a House seat from a Republican in a special election since 1991.



The Senate

Typical of Democratic candidates are four running for the U.S. Senate. In Illinois, Barak Obama is running to fill an open seat against right-wing talk show host Alan Keyes. Both candidates are African American.

Republicans are deeply divided between moderates and ultra-right-wingers, whom Keyes represents. With practically no support in the African American community, Republicans have been blasted for their blatant racism in picking Keyes, a resident of Maryland.

Keyes is running his campaign on right-wing religious issues, including banning abortion, condemning gays and lesbians, while advocating concealed weapons. He is being used to batter Obama, who distinguished himself in the Democratic primary with his integrity and opposition to the Iraq war. Obama leads the race by some 51 percentage points, including among a majority of Republicans, and would become only the fifth African American to serve in the Senate.

In Oklahoma, considered to be very conservative, the race pits right-of-center Democratic Rep. Brad Carson against an ultra-reactionary former congressman, Republican Tom Coburn. Carson is a former lawyer, who represented poor clients and is a member of the Cherokee Nation.

Coburn is also running on religious fundamentalist issues. He has been so bad, including racist insults against Native Americans, advocating the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions and admitting to having sterilized a number of women, that many Republican conservatives are shying away.

In Colorado, Ken Salazar, Mexican American and popular two-term attorney general, is running against billionaire Peter Coors of the extreme right-wing Coors family. Salazar is running as a champion of working people, economically hard-hit rural communities, and environmental protection.

Republican registration in Colorado outnumbers Democrats by 188,000, but Latinos make up 18 percent of the state’s electorate and turnout has been increasing each election. In addition, Salazar is gaining among independent voters, who overwhelmingly believe that Coors is out of touch with average families and is not concerned about the environment.

In Florida, state Senator Betty Castor is opposing former Bush HUD Secretary Mel Martinez. Castor is president of the state Senate, past education commissioner, and president of the University of South Florida. Martinez’ extreme views are isolating him and many Republicans will break ranks and vote for Castor, according to the latest polls.



The House

Democrats have fielded four women candidates in the swing districts in eastern Pennsylvania. They are among a number of women candidates being supported by Emily’s List, NOW, Planned Parenthood and other women’s organizations. All are running against ultra rightists and among the chief issues is the right to reproductive freedom.

Candidates include Democrat Lois Murphy in the 6th CD against incumbent freshman Rep. Jim Gerlach, and Democratic state Senator Allyson Schwartz, who is running for an open seat against Republican Melissa Brown in the 13th CD.

In Minnesota, Patty Wetterling, a longtime advocate against child abuse, is challenging Rep. Mark Kennedy, an extreme right-winger with a “zero” percent rating from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Gwen Moore, Democratic candidate for Congress in Milwaukee, says, “I believe that this is a year when people are going to vote for someone who they believe will stand up for them, and I’m one of those people,” says

Moore, whose parents were both union members, was swept to victory in the Democratic primary by a huge turnout with strong support from grassroots organizations, a section of labor and women’s organizations. She would be Wisconsin’s first African American member of Congress.

Several candidates are outspoken opponents of the Iraq war. In addition to Brozak, MoveOn.org has highlighted four other competitive races where antiwar candidates are running:

Ginny Schrader, an attorney, is running for an open seat in Pennsylvania’s 8th CD that was held by a Republican. Dianne Farrell of Westport, Conn., is running against incumbent Rep. Chris Shays, who has increasingly voted with the Bush administration.

Former Norwich City Council member Jim Sullivan in Connecticut’s 2nd CD is running against right-wing incumbent Rep. Rob Simmons, a former CIA officer who is trying to portray himself as a moderate although he voted with the Bush administration 90 percent of the time.

“Simmons votes like he is George Bush’s congressman from Texas and not our congressman from Con-necticut,” says Sullivan.

In Colorado, state Representative John Salazar, older brother of U.S. Senate candidate Ken Salazar, is challenging in the 3rd CD. Salazar would be the first Mexican American elected to the Congress from Colorado.

In New York, Frank Barbaro is running against incumbent Rep. Vito Fosselli in a district that covers parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island. Barbaro is a former state judge, assembly member and dockworker and has been a staunch advocate of workers’ rights and against the Iraq war. He is running on both the Democratic and Working Families Party lines and is backed by a powerful grassroots campaign led by New York’s labor movement.

The congressional districts covering the collar counties around Chicago have been Republican strongholds for years, but all that may be changing. Rep. Phil Crane of the 8th CD is an extreme right-winger and the longest-serving Repub-

lican in Congress. Increasingly, Crane’s ultra-right views are out of step with moderate Republican and independent swing voters, especially with the influx of more working people and minorities. For the first time ever, a 1,000-strong peace march was held in Barrington, in the heart of the district. Moderate Democrat and small business consultant Melissa Bean is closely challenging Crane. Republicans are very nervous.

The same can be said for Rep. Henry Hyde, whose 6th CD covers Dupage County. Hyde is being challenged by Christine Cegelis, a former member of the Communications Workers of America, who has broad support of labor and community organizations.

Republicans are even a little nervous in Texas now. Not all is going according to plan. DeLay and the Republicans hoped to pick up five seats with the new redistricting, but all five races remain close. The five Democratic incumbents are running in districts that are 60 percent Republican or greater.

Moderate incumbent Democratic Rep. Martin Frost is putting up a ferocious fight against another incumbent ultra rightist, Rep. Pete Sessions. This has become the most expensive House race in the country.

Democrat Rep. Chet Edwards is running in the 17th CD, which covers Bush’s hometown of Crawford, against 10-year State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth. Edwards opposed the federal partial-birth abortion ban and is an advocate of the separation of church and state.

“The values of labor and the progressive movement are at stake in this election,” Sharon Palmer, president of the Connecticut American Federation of Teachers, told the World.

“If we don’t defeat George Bush and take back Congress, much of the social agenda of the 1930s will be destroyed,” said Palmer, a leader of Labor for Jim Sullivan. And that’s why she and hundreds of thousands of volunteers will work tirelessly until Election Day.



John Bachtell is district organizer of the Illinois District of the Communist Party USA, and can be reached at jbachtell@rednet.org.