Shifting voter mood sharpens battle for Congress

Karl Rove’s fear factor is falling flat. Yes, the threat of terrorism is a scare, but a lot of folks are getting even more scared by the combination of Bush in the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress. “Too dangerous!” is a familiar refrain from voters on the campaign trail.

The millions of dollars Republicans have been spending since summer on “Swift Boat” television ads to smear their opponents as “cut and run” cowards in Iraq are overpowered by the stunning report from U.S. intelligence agencies confirming that the war in Iraq has made our country less safe.

The cumulative effect of constant corruption scandals, topped off with the explosive revelations that Republican House leaders covered up Rep. Mark Foley’s advances on teenage pages for years, has catapulted many more races into play, and shaken the Republican’s religious right base.

Voters in swing districts are starting to reconsider their choices. One couple in Connecticut’s hotly contested 5th Congressional District finds that they will be voting the same way for the first time in 50 years of marriage. The Republican husband is changing his vote. He says Republican control in all branches of government has been “a recipe for disaster.”

His thoughts are echoed in swing districts across the country. These concerns about a constitutional crisis come on top of the economic realities of decreasing good jobs, increasing poverty and skyrocketing numbers who cannot afford health care.

A new USA Today/Gallup poll found a 23 percent lead for Democrats in the upcoming elections, the largest since 1978. Republicans even lost their edge on handling terrorism, with Democrats having a 5 point lead on that issue.

In a poll released Oct. 10 by the American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut, 60 percent said the country is on the wrong track, and majorities as high as 82 percent opposed torture, military tribunals and secret search of homes, library records and mail.

“People across the political spectrum believe that the Bush administration has gone much too far in terms of infringing on civil liberties in the interests of fighting the war on terror,” said executive director Roger Vann.

Predictions that the Democrats will win more than the 15 seats needed in the House and even the six seats needed in the Senate for majority control of Congress reflect a deepening shift in voter confidence.

The coming days will be an intense battle for the future of our country. Republican strategists and the Bush administration will use personal attacks, wedge issues and war threats in a desperate attempt to get off of the defensive and maintain control of Congress. The ability of union, civil rights, peace, women and youth organizations to translate the shift in public opinion into a winning vote to change Congress will be tested.

In the Senate battleground states of Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri, the huge Republican war chest will be spent on TV ads. The religious right has enlisted 5,000 “patriot pastors” to distribute voter guides through their congregations.

However, a recent survey among churchgoers revealed that 85 percent thought poverty and affordable health care were more important than abortion and same-sex marriage, including a remarkable 67 percent of the most traditional evangelicals. Many denominations are rallying behind ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage, and are leaning Democrat this year.

Republicans will also continue to use anti-immigrant hysteria as a wedge issue, and attempt to tie immigrants to the war on terror through local anti-immigrant ordinances and deportation roundups in key election districts. However, the majority of the public does not favor this vicious and racist enforcement-only approach, and it will cut into the Latino vote Republicans have been so carefully courting.

The Bush administration will attempt to influence public opinion with escalating threats against Iran and North Korea. A full mobilization to bring the peace majority to the polls can change Congress and lay the foundation for winning a change in U.S. foreign policy.

The Bush administration is also attempting to lower union voter turnout. The Kentucky River ruling that eliminates 8 million workers from union representation is meant to discourage workers. Across the country, union members are coming out in force to participate with the historic Labor 2006 program, to discuss the issues with co-workers and deliver an overwhelming vote to defeat the Republican majority in Congress.

Republicans will also continue their infamous vote suppression tactics of harassment, misinformation, voting machines with no paper trail, and other measures to limit the number of votes in heavily Democratic districts, targeting African American voters in the first place. Initiatives like the NAACP’s “arrive with five” campaign aim to bring out the largest vote ever in response. Thousands of volunteers are needed to participate in election protection activities on Election Day, to monitor voting machines and polling places and secure the vote.

We face the greatest challenge of our times in this election. Together, with determination and participation, the will of the majority can be turned into a resounding election victory on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Joelle Fishman ( chairs the Communist Party USA Political Action Commission and is also chair of the Connecticut Communist Party.