WASHINGTON – Despite setbacks in the Nov. 5 elections, the AFL-CIO, the National Organization for Women and other grassroots organizations vowed a determined fight to block the Bush administration from railroading its ultra-right agenda through Congress.

At this writing, the Republicans held 51 seats in the new Senate, and the Democrats 47 with one independent and one still undeclared. Republicans are expected to hold a 227-206 majority in the new House with one independent and one race undecided at press time.

It was the first national election since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and President Bush succeeded in capitalizing on the tragedy by wrapping himself in the mantle of Commander-in-Chief in the “war against terrorism” and hiding his role in corporate fraud and the worsening economy under a blanket of warmongering. Because they are split on the issue of war with Iraq and last year’s tax giveaway to the rich and super rich, the Democrats were unable to present a strong alternative to Bush’s pro-corporate economic policies.

In his opening remarks to a “morning after” press conference, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney pointed out that right-wing control of both houses of Congress and the White House presents the nation with a “very dangerous time.”

Sweeney said the 2002 elections were a “clear lesson” for Democrats: “They have to be crystal clear about what they stand for and present an alternative vision that creates excitement among the disenfranchised and inspires hope. They have to have a strong economic message for 2004.”

The AFL-CIO spent $62 million in the 2002 election cycle and assigned 1,750 full time organizers to election activity in 25 gubernatorial races, 16 Senate races and 47 House races.

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said, “With Trent Lott running the Senate and George W. Bush in charge of the White House and Supreme Court, the health and welfare of women and their families have never been in greater jeopardy. … Women are bracing for an onslaught of judges and legislation designed to undo our many hard-won gains. And we intend to fight!”

Gandy warned that Roe v. Wade “hangs by a single vote.” She said Bush’s “fetal protection” legislation is “stealth legislation” aimed at stripping women of reproductive freedom.

The struggle for Capitol Hill came down to a handful of House and Senate races that were decided by a few thousand votes. Only one third of eligible voters cast ballots. Thus there was no “landslide” in the sense of a major shift to the Republicans by masses of voters. Rather, the winners were candidates who succeeded in turning out their main constituencies, leaving the electorate sharply divided.

There were some victories for the Democrats – former three-term Sen. Frank Lautenberg was decisively elected in New Jersey, after taking over when incumbent Democrat Bob Torricelli resigned. Democrat Mark Pryor defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson in Arkansas, the only Republican incumbent defeated by a Democrat.

“When Congress addresses an issue like Social Security, I’ll be there to make sure it’s not privatized,” Pryor said in his victory speech. “When we debate the minimum wage, I will cast my vote to help 100,000 Arkansans. When it comes to senior citizens, I’ll make sure they are not forgotten.”

At press time, Timothy Bishop, a Working Families Party (WFP) candidate in the First Congressional District in New York, was running ahead of GOP incumbent, Felix Grucci. The WFP reaped well over 50,000 votes, insuring it continued ballot status.

Chellie Pingree, a former State Senator and member of the United Auto Workers, was defeated by Republican incumbent Sen. Susan Collins in Maine. But Michael Michaud, a union paperworker from Maine won election to the U.S. House. Christopher Van Hollen and Dutch Ruppersberger defeated Republicans in Maryland House races.

In Southern California, Linda Sanchez will join her elder sister, Loretta, as the first sister team in the House, both with strong AFL-CIO backing. Linda served as president of the Orange County AFL-CIO.

In a joint interview with Katie Couric of MSNBC, Linda Sanchez said Congress “has just barely begun to reflect the diversity that makes this country great.” Asked about Republican gains she replied, “We need to go back to the drawing boards and figure out what we did right and what we did wrong. I do not believe the Republican agenda is good for working families.”

Also reelected, with 81 percent of the vote was Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who cast the lone vote against the Afghanistan war resolution. A year later, 133 housemembers voted no on the Iraq war resolution.

Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said her landslide reelection “is a mandate” in support of her vote against Bush’s Iraq war resolution. “They did not give me any information to cause me to change and vote for war,” she said. She also hailed Florida voters for defying Gov. Jeb Bush in their approval of Question 9, a ballot measure to reduce class size in Florida’s public schools. “Prescription drug benefits is a major issue in my district,” she added. “We don’t go for this make-pretend Republican plan.”

Tony Hill, a community organizer for the Service Employees International Union, won election to the Florida Senate. He expressed regret at Jeb Bush’s reelection but added, “Progressives need to fight the good fight so that in 2004 we’ll be back. … We always have our backs to the wall but we will prevail.”

The viciousness of Republican tactics is illustrated by the case of Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm during the Vietnam War. He was defeated by Republican Saxby Chambliss who ran attack ads with side-by-side pictures of Cleland and Osama bin Laden denouncing the decorated war veteran as “soft on defense” in voting 11 times against Bush’s so-called anti-terrorism program.

The Democrats scored victories in several gubernatorial elections, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, where voters elected Jennifer Granholm Michigan’s first woman governor. But the GOP picked up state houses in New Hampshire, Maryland, and Georgia. California Gov. Gray Davis eked out victory over the GOP’s William Simon, Jr.

The Republicans swamped the Democrats in the amount of money raised from corporations and wealthy individuals. Bush crisscrossed the country in Air force One campaigning at taxpayer expense. GOP candidates posed as moderates hiding their plans to destroy Social Security and Medicare under promises to “save” it.

Tim Wheeler,
Noel Rabinowitz and Sue Webb contributed to this article.

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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