Perhaps nothing underscores the significance of these midterm elections more than the reality of 2,500 U.S. soldiers killed and 18,000 maimed, needlessly, in Iraq, along with 100,000 Iraqi lives lost.

The crisis in the Middle East heightens the urgency to bring our troops home from Iraq. The foreign policy of the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress makes us less safe and endangers the world.

Polls show only 20 percent approve of the performance of Congress, only 37 percent approve of the performance of the president and only 35 percent believe the country is on the right track.

This election is a struggle to save our democracy and to change the direction of our country. It is a referendum on the war on Iraq and on the anti-people policies of the Bush administration and its authoritarian abuse of civil liberties and civil rights, implemented with the collaboration of the Republican-controlled Congress. It is a referendum on 47 million with no health care and on a quarter of all Americans earning less than it takes to make ends meet.

It will take a change of 15 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate to end the Republican majority. This is a fight that can be won with big enough and broad enough people’s unity.

Shifting the balance of forces

The policies of the Bush administration are designed by and implemented on behalf of the biggest, greediest, most corrupt corporate interests in the country, like Halliburton, Wal-Mart, Delphi and Boeing.

The U.S. economy is being looted to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars for the war and military buildup, the broad tax breaks that benefit all corporations and wealthy people, and specific special-interest tax breaks and contracts that benefit specific companies and individuals with close ties to the administration and Republican congressional leaders.

The Bush administration and Republican leadership of Congress are attempting to institutionalize these policies so they can’t easily be undone by future administrations.

The effect is to tilt the whole playing field in favor of corporations in the class war that corporate America has been waging against the rest of us. They are trying to enshrine in granite that corporate “rights” are absolute, and that the working class has no rights that corporations are bound to respect.

If the Republican majority is defeated in November, it will mark an important beginning to shift the balance of forces and create the conditions for a decisive blow to the ultra-right. It will give more leverage to the most progressive members of Congress and will push moderates to respond. If the Republicans continue to control Congress, it will be a very dangerous situation domestically and internationally.

Why it matters who is in the majority

The political party that is in the majority in the House and in the Senate controls the debate, determines which bills will come to the floor and what the rules of debate will be.

Under the Republican leadership, the democratic process has been scrapped. Important bills have come up in the dead of night, have been voted on before there was time for anyone to read them, have had their voting times extended until Republicans could get enough votes to pass repressive measures, and have been brought up in committee meetings that have been held without informing Democratic members.

With a Democratic majority, 11 of the 20 House committees would be chaired by members of the Progressive or Black Caucus, and 45 of the 92 House subcommittee chairs would be members of the Progressive, Black, Hispanic or Asian Pacific Caucus.

Most notably, the Judiciary Committee would be chaired by progressive Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) instead of reactionary Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

The Ways and Means Committee, where HR 676, Health Care for All, and HR 4197, the Hurricane Katrina Recovery Act, are waiting to be heard, would be chaired by progressive Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) instead of reactionary Bill Thomas (R-Calif.).

Scores of bills crucial to improve the lives of working people that have been prevented from moving forward could be considered and enacted.

These include ending the war in Iraq; censure and possible impeachment of the president; the Employee Free Choice Act for the right to unionize; pro-worker immigration reform; the Freedom of Choice Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade; Reverse the Raid on Student Aid to cut interest rates on student loans in half; the Student Privacy Protection Act, HR 551, regarding turning over names of students to the military; and the New Apollo Energy Act, HR 2828, to eliminate oil dependence, address global warming and create jobs.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, who would be the first woman speaker of the House if the Democrats win a majority, and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who would preside over the Senate, are planning town hall meetings across the country this summer around their program for the first week of a House-Senate Democratic majority: enact the 9/11 Commission recommendations, which Bush has shelved; raise the minimum wage; make prescription drugs affordable; cut interest rates for student loans in half; repeal billions of dollars in tax cuts for the rich and the oil/energy corporations.

This Democratic reform program is a qualitative step forward from the right-wing drive to privatize and eliminate Social Security, public education and all social gains.

A defeat of the right wing will change the balance of forces and the political climate. It will become more possible for working people to move beyond the limits of Democratic reforms toward their own political formations not beholden to corporate funding. The possibilities will be much greater to organize and win more basic demands that place people before profits.

Iraq war

Right-wing Republican strategist Karl Rove’s strategy is to keep the Iraq war and fear of terrorism as the number one issue in the campaign. He hopes to whittle away the strength of the peace vote and build support for the Bush administration.

When House Republicans offered a resolution in support of Bush’s stay-the-course approach to the war last month, 75 percent of Democrats voted no.

Within hours, the Republican National Committee attacked Democratic incumbents for failure to support the troops. In fact, the “no” votes showed concrete support for the troops. In Iraq, 70 percent of U.S. troops favor withdrawal by the end of the year, and 30 percent favor immediate withdrawal.

Growing pressure is forcing members of Congress to speak out for ending the failed war policy. Opposition to the war is tied to shifting the $250-million-a-day cost to job creation, health care, full funding for public schools, infrastructure, renewable energy and rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

Voters are looking for bold opposition to Bush and the Republican congressional leadership. There is dissatisfaction with Democrats who go along with Bush. Those Democrats who take heed of the overwhelming peace majority and the lack of confidence in Bush administration policies will win support.

When Congresswoman Lynne Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was attacked during her primary for being a “liberal” and a “socialist” because of her strong stand against the war she said, “If being for peace and representing the needs of the people in my district means I’m a liberal or a socialist, then so be it.” She won overwhelmingly.

Most peace candidates in Democratic primaries across the country received at least a third of the vote. There were victories in several states including Jon Tester for U.S. Senate in Montana, challenging Sen. Conrad Burns; Bruce Braley in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District; and John Yarmuth in Kentucky’s 3rd CD centered in Louisville.

Where peace candidates did not prevail, the strongest vote for peace in the general election is a vote for a Democratic majority in the House and Senate. The overall defeat of the Republican majority is key to change the Bush administration’s foreign and domestic policies.

In California’s 11th CD, former Rep. Pete McCloskey came out of retirement to run as a peace candidate in the Republican primary against incumbent Richard Pombo. McCloskey received a third of the vote. Instead of endorsing Pombo, he has crossed party lines to endorse Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney. McCloskey said, “The Republican House leadership has been so unalterably corrupted by power and money that reasonable Republicans should support Democrats against DeLay-type Republican incumbents in 2006.”

In Connecticut there is a serious challenge to Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Aug. 8 primary, which has been called a “fight for the soul of the Democratic Party.”

Nationally, Lieberman has angered progressive Democrats by ignoring the peace majority, not supporting the filibuster against Alito, voting for NAFTA and CAFTA, and collaborating with the Bush administration.

When Ned Lamont, a businessman from Greenwich who is opposed to the war in Iraq, and who supports universal health care and public education, announced his candidacy he received an overwhelming response and is now running slightly ahead in the polls.

Lieberman has announced that if defeated in the primary, he will run on his own “Connecticut for Lieberman” line in the general election, appealing to independents and Republicans.

It is hoped that the energy created by the Lamont campaign will carry over to help defeat three vulnerable Republican House members in Connecticut’s 2nd, 4th and 5th CDs. In the 5th CD, state Sen. Chris Murphy will appear on both the Democratic and Working Families Party lines, enhancing his chances to defeat Republican incumbent Nancy Johnson.

Immigrant rights

Manipulation of the immigration reform debate is also a top program of the right wing in this election. Republican strategists are portraying undocumented immigrants as criminals and terrorists and baiting Democrats who support comprehensive reform.

The immigrant rights upsurge against HR 4437, which brought millions into the streets of cities and towns all across the country, developed the powerful slogan, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.” The movement was powerful enough to make an impact on the debate in Congress, and continues today with Democracy Summer and the goal of 1 million new registered voters and naturalized citizens by Election Day. Mega-marches are being organized for the beginning of September.

The House Republican leadership has delayed a conference committee to reconcile the punitive House bill (HR 4437) and flawed Senate bill (S 2611). They are holding field hearings across the country this summer to try to whip up racist anti-immigrant hysteria during the election campaign period, and poison the entire atmosphere.

While Bush is portrayed as “compassionate” for supporting comprehensive reform, the reform he wants is only profit-oriented. He and the Republican leadership in Congress want a combination of punitive enforcement and super-exploitative guest worker programs, escalating the militarization of the border by sending the National Guard, and building detention facilities at the benefit of Halliburton and other corporations.

It is part of a long-term project of the right wing to tie immigration to people’s fears and anxieties about declining living standards and declining quality of life. Education is needed on the basic issues in the immigrant rights struggle, including U.S. trade policy and the role of multinational corporations in depressing wages and working conditions.

A weakness in tackling the fight against racism leaves the field open to the far right. No ground can be ceded to immigrant-baiting or racism against African Americans, Latinos, Asian Pacific people or Native Americans. White workers are hurt by racism — when one worker gets less everyone gets less. Joining together for common gains, Black-Brown-white unity can win.

Wedge issues and ballot initiatives

In addition to the war and immigration, the issues of taxes, affirmative action, gay marriage and abortion figure into Rove’s strategy. State ballot initiatives on these issues have become a tactic to frame the elections locally.

In several states, labor and community activists have initiated ballot questions that unify working people. Raising the minimum wage is on the ballot in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio. This issue is pulling conservative voters away from the ultra-right.

In Ohio, the labor movement and a broad coalition are winning support for the minimum wage ballot referendum from farmers and churches in the southern and rural areas of the state that previously voted for Bush.

Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), in a tight race to defeat Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, is championing the referendum because it would increase the incomes of 500,000 people with 200,000 children in Ohio. In an attempt to discredit him in rural areas, Republicans issued an e-mail blasting Brown for supporting gay rights. The divisive tactic did not work. “The people in the 10 poorest counties have the same hopes and dreams for college for their kids, for health care for their parents, for peace,” Brown said. “There is a passion for change in Ohio.”

The issue of health care is also a key issue that can defeat the right-wing agenda. It is winning voters in California, Vermont, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Philadelphia, San Francisco and other states and cities.

Voter protection

The people’s coalitions need a coordinated rapid response approach to the aggressive ideological sneak-attacks and vote theft that are a standard part of the Rove toolbox.

In Florida and Ohio, the secretaries of state served as blocks to voter protection in 2000 and 2004. Advance thought and preparedness, including engagement with election officials to guard against vote theft, will be an important aspect of mobilization by people’s coalitions in each election district.

The voter protection movement and the movements for publicly financed campaigns, instant runoff voting and voting machine paper trails are a vital part of the campaign for democratic rights and changing control of Congress.

Strategy and tactics in the all-people’s coalition

This election will be won or lost by the labor movement, the African American, Latino, women and youth voter organizations and the broad people’s coalition that has so much to gain and everything to lose if the direction of the country is not changed, and for whom the Democratic Party is the only tool to win control of Congress at this time.

This election is about building a broad labor and people’s movement that not only challenges candidates, but also builds the strength to challenge and change policy.

The stakes could not be higher. The challenge of this election is to reach out, door to door, and inspire new voters to become involved. A victory for the forces of the broad people’s coalition will reverberate far beyond Election Day. A defeat of right-wing control of Congress will unleash new energy and inspire fresh organizing at the grassroots to demand Congress change course in favor of the needs of working people. Every race is critical. Every vote can make the difference.

Joelle Fishman is chair of the Political Action Commission of the Communist Party USA. This article is based on Fishman’s report to the CPUSA’s National Committee meeting in June.