Every time an election rolls around some pundit calls it “the most important election in years.” Another says it’s “the most important election in our lifetime,” while yet another says “it’s the most important election in recent memory.” So take your pick, but when it comes to the 2002 election, we say “all of the above.”
Consider just one criteria: control of the legislative branch of the federal government. There 435 members of the House of Representatives, now controlled by the Republicans with an 11-vote majority, and 34 members of the Senate, now split 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent, are up for re-election.
The challenge is simple: to elect a pro-worker majority in Congress by knocking off six Republicans in the House and to at least maintain the slim majority coalition that gives the Democrats control of the Senate.
It won’t be easy. True, only 14 Senate Democrats are up for re-election. And true, the Republicans have to defend 20 seats, including four where the incumbent is retiring. So it would appear that the Democrats have an easier time.
But there’s more to the story than numbers. According to the AFL-CIO there are four “extremely vulnerable” incumbent Democrats while only one Republican is extremely vulnerable.
When you look at the list – Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.) – it’s easy to see why they are the special targets of the White House and Karl Rove.
It is for that reason – and our philosophy “if they’re against ‘em, we’re for ‘em” – that the People’s Weekly World has decided to begin our 2002 election coverage with races in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.
We’ve done a little homework and want to share some of our findings. We begin with Iowa, with its population of fewer than three million and 180,000 union members.
The state has lost 7 percent of its population since 1900. In 1900. Iowa had 11 congressional districts and California, seven. By 2000, Iowa had five and California 52.
Like many farm belt states, Iowa voters supported the populist movement of the late 1800s. However, Iowa later became a Republican Party stronghold, a situation that continued even during the the New Deal era.
That changed in 1988 when Iowa voters overwhelmingly supported Michael Dukakis. They voted for Clinton twice while, at the same time, sending Republicans to Congress.
Harkin, whose Senate voting record can justly be characterized as “liberal,” is the first Iowa Democrat to win three full Senate terms. He was the chief sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act and chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. He has only token opposition in the June 4 primary election.
Minnesota has a long history of setting one example after another: The nation’s first anti-smoking law; one of the first campaign financing schemes; the MinnesotaCare plan, intended to hold down medical costs and provide health coverage for the poor, and the most generous welfare program in Midwest industrial states. To the chagrin of many liberals, it also allows school choice.
Wellstone, dubbed “the first 1960s radical elected to the U.S. Senate,” is the Senate’s leading progressive. He says the Democratic Party “has lost some of its soul” and has promised to restore the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”
Wellstone opposed drilling in ANWR, pushed to include mental illness in health insurance and is credited with forcing a vote on minimum wage legislation in 1996. He voted against missile defense and was the only one of eight incumbent Democrats then running for re-election to vote against welfare “reform.”
By any definition of the term, South Dakota, with more than 30,000 farms and a well-organized Farmers Union, is a farm state. Its largest employer is Citibank’s credit card operation in Sioux Falls. Other large employers include the John Morrell packing plant in Sioux City, where immigrant workers from 40 countries butcher thousands of cattle and hogs each day.
Tim Johnson was the only Democrat in 1996 who defeated a sitting Republican Senator – and that in a state where Bush beat Al Gore by 22 percentage points in the 2000 presidential race. Bush later took advantage of that vote to pressure Johnson into being one of 12 Senate Democrats to vote for his $2 trillion tax cut. The South Dakota primary is June 4.
As the saying goes, “Stay tuned.”

Fred Gaboury is a member of the People’s Weekly World Editorial Board. He can be reached at fgab708@aol.com


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries