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October 23, 2006 10:21 AM CDT

Decision 2006 - Control of Congress


With the Republicans on the brink, we look at key races around the country.
With the Republicans on the brink, we look at key races around the country.

With mid-term Congressional elections less than 15 days away the outlook for which party will be in the majority for the 110th Congress still remains unclear. However, members of both parties will tell you that at issue, is no longer whether the GOP will lose seats in November – it will. What still remains to be seen is whether voters are dis-satisfied enough to turn the power over to Democrats. According to recent polls, fifty-five percent of Americans say they would rather vote for a challenger than an incumbent – a level of backlash that is seven points higher than it was during the Republican Revolution of 1994, when the Republicans picked up 52 seats, which was a historical precedent in Congressional politics. In primaries around the country both Republican and Democratic incumbents were defeated, sending a signal to politicians in both parties. Forecasting the outcome of Nov. 7 is made enormously difficult by the fact that so much is happening, on so many fronts that could move the national mood or at least sway undecided voters in bellwether races. Unfortunately for the GOP, two very important factors have taken place just this month, first being the fact that October has been the bloodiest month in Iraq in over two years with over 75 American Military men and women killed in action and the second the Congressional Page scandal involving Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, a member of the Republican Leadership.

Last week I had the rare opportunity to hear the Chairman of the Republican Party, Ken Mehlman speak, on the upcoming elections with less than three weeks to go. Mr. Mehlman provided insight as to where the GOP stands in these last days leading up to the election. Mehlman acknowledged the importance of this election and what a tough fight the GOP has on its hands. He mentioned 3 negative factors which will have an impact on November 7th. First, historically the party of the President has always lost seats in the 6th year of the Presidency, secondly, a very unpopular war in Iraq, and last the scandals that have rocked Capitol Hill over the past few months, in which many Republican Members of Congress have been involved. Despite these factors the Chairman remains optimistic that the GOP will retain its majority in both Houses. One very positive factor which the Chairman highlighted is the, Get Out The Vote (GOTV) Effort by the Republican National Committee. Both Democrats and Republicans will acknowledge that this election could come down to which party is able to turnout the most voters. This only highlights the need for everyone to go vote on November 7th, no matter which party you are voting for.

More often than not, monumental political shifts can arise and culminate over a very short period of time. Very few people saw the "GOP Revolution" of 1994 coming before October of that year. Even then most political pundits discounted the notion that 40 years of Democratic hegemony in the House was about to come to an end. Historically we have seen major changes occur without little warning. During the last two elections of the 1960’s in which the political and international climate was very similar to the current situation facing our country. During the 60’s the Vietnam War, the Cold War with the Soviet Union and racial tensions in the cities contributed to an atmosphere of political turmoil and ultimately cost the Democrats the presidency and a combined 51 seats in the House and eight seats in the U.S. Senate.

In stark contrast to 1994 when the GOP and the Republicans swept the Democrats out of power taking control of the House of Representatives and later the Senate, the Democrats will only need to pick up a mere 15 seats in order to re-gain control of the House of Representatives and only 6 seats to regain a majority in the Senate. Retaking the Senate still remains a bit of a stretch for Democrats, but odds are increasingly in favor for the Democrats to regain control in the House.

A change in the Party that controls Congress will have huge implications for not only Small Business Owners but for all Americans. In addition to the critical issues mentioned above, issues such as Immigration, Education, and the minimum wage, will all be impacted depending on which party is in power. Under Republican control Congress has faced unending gridlock concerning issues important to voters. Issues which will play a significant role in voter’s minds come November

There is no question, this election will be one of the most anticipated and most important in the past 15 years. The National and Local News as well as Radio stations across the country are filled with speculation about whether the country is preparing to sweep the Republicans out of power in eh House and Senate handing over control to the Democrats. As I said, the outcome of this election will have huge implications for the country as a whole. One thing is certain, no matter what party you affiliate with or whether you are a Business owner or employee, you should be paying attention to this election. There are several critical issues with which this next Congress will be faced with that affect everyone, Democrat or Republican.

When voters go to the polls on November 7th, it is imperative to recognize they are voting for individuals who will influence issues which affect their livelihood, values and more importantly their businesses. Congress does business everyday that affects Mason Contractors and Construction companies all over the country. We have highlighted some key races around the country. However, in the end the decision for many voters on whom to elect to the 110th Congress may come down to their views on the stewardship provided by the Republican majority in the 109th. It is imperative that everyone get out and vote on November 7th, no matter what party you are voting for. On election day each persons one vote is as powerful as any of the special interests or politicians in Washington.

Here is a look at key races around the country that will determine who holds the majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Each is a showdown in a swing district that would normally favor Republicans – the kind of seat in other words, that Democrats must win if they hope to retake the House. More information on each race and the candidates involved can be found below:

House Races

Ohio - 15th District (Columbus)
Republican Incumbent (7 terms) - Rep. Deborah Pryce
Democratic Challenger – County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy
Top Issues – Republican Leadership

Deborah Pryce is the GOP’s deputy whip and fourth ranking member – which is proving to be a bit of a problem in her race for re-election. With a public perception that the Republican party is rampant with corruption on top of Pryce’s unquestioning support of the President’s agenda. In addition, Pryce spearheaded Bush’s effort to privatize Social Security and she also benefited from at least ten fund-raisers hosted by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramhoff. In a normal year, a candidate of Pryce’s stature would be expected to tout her high rank and close ties to the president. Instead Pryce is omitting her party affiliation from her campaign ads – billing herself as an Independent.

As a local elected official Mary Jo Kilroy already has a track record of winning in this district. She has a very conservative appearance and comes across more like a Midwestern CEO than a socialist firebrand. Kilroy favors withdrawing troops from Iraq – where the war has killed or wounded nearly a third of the soldiers in the Marine reserve unit stationed in Columbus.

Pennsylvania – 7th District (suburban Philadelphia)
Republican Incumbent (10 terms) – Curt Weldon
Democratic Challenger – Retired Vice Adm. Joe Sestak
Top Issues – The Iraq War

Some political pundits have said this race could prove to be the marquee matchup in the nation. Just this week Incumbent Curt Weldon was implicated in yet another scandal involving awarding government contracts to friends and family. On Monday the FBI raided Weldon’s daughter’s house in search of documents as part of the investigation. Weldon holds the powerful position of vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee. However, in an unprecedented move, Weldon proposed a novel – and unconstitutional - approach to Iraq: removing Bush and Rumsfeld from the chain of military command and giving the generals in the field authority to bring the troops home when they see fit.

Joe Sestak is a retired three-star admiral and the highest ranking military officer ever to run for the House. Sestak served as director of defense policy under President Clinton, commanded a 15,000 man-battle-carrier group in Afghanistan and Iraq, holds a doctorate in government from Harvard and retired from the service in January to care for his daughter, who was stricken by a brain tumor. Sestak is running in a district that is ripe for a Democratic takeover. The 7th is one fo the three suburban Philadelphia districts currently represented by the GOP – that threw their support to John Kerry in 2004. In the neighboring 6th District, Democratic challenger Lois Murphy is expected to oust GOP incumbent Jim Gerlach and in the 8th District, Iraq vet Patrick Murphy is giving incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick fits.

Connecticut – 5th District (New Britain)
Republican Incumbent (12 terms) – Nancy Johnson
Democratic Challenger – State Sen. Chris Murphy
Top Issues – The Medicare Fiasco

The anti-incumbent fervor stirred up by the defeat of Sen. Joe Liberman in the Democratic primaries threatens to oust no fewer than three GOP representatives in Connecticut. But the race in the 5th District is the most key. The 5th District is one of the most conservative districts in New England outside of New Hampshire.

Nancy Johnson who is herself an elderly person herself, at 71 years old, drew national ire over the Medicare benefit she co-sponsored in 2003 that actually prohibits the federal government from negotiating discounts on prescription drugs for the elderly. In Johnson’s favor are her campaign coffers. Johnson is bankrolled by corporate backers, many of whom are from outside the district. She is a pit bull and has been on TV for weeks attacking her opponent for raising taxes twenty-seven times. Stu Rothenberg, a well respected handicapper has said that "At the end of the day Nancy Johnson’s money and her campaign skills may allow her to squeeze out a victory."

Chris Murphy, 33 years old, has passed major health-care legislation of his own, spearheading a landmark state effort to spend $100 million on the embryonic stem-cell research that Bush used his first and only veto to block. Murphy has also already established a track record of toppling incumbents: As a recent graduate of Williams College, he upset a fourteen year veteran in the state legislature by literally knocking on every door in the district – some of them twice.

New Mexico – 1st District (Albuquerque)
Republican Incumbent (4 terms) – Heather Wilson
Democratic Challenger – State Attorney General Patricia Madrid
Top Issues – Iraq, Gas prices

Since the district was first drawn up in 1968, voters have only elected Republicans. Heather Wilson is definitely a force to be reckoned with and will not be easily defeated. Wilson is a Rhodes Scholar, she has served in the Air Force and chairs the House subcommittee on national security – a distinct edge in a district that is home to an Air Force base. However, her support for the Administration makes her vulnerable. She has voted with the President on every aspect of the war in Iraq, which according to the majority of polls is becoming increasingly unpopular. Wilson has spend over $300,000 on T.V. ads touting her independence from President Bush.

Patricia Madrid is a pull-no-punches fighter who has racked up a record that rivals Eliot Spitzer in New York. She has successfully sued WorldCom, GE and Chevron, among others, bringing in $450 million to the states coffers, and has repeatedly taken the Bush Administration to court over its environmental record. In addition, she is the states firs Hispanic attorney general. The population in the state is 43 percent Hispanic and registered Democrats handily outnumber Republicans.

Stu Rothenberg has said "This is a great race. Wilson is tough. She’s admired. But Madrid is a great campaigner. There’s going to be a ton of national money in this race. It’s going to be a squeaker."

California – 4th District (South Lake Tahoe)
Republican Incumbent (8 terms) – John Doolittle
Democratic Challenger – Retired Airforce pilot – Charlie Brown
Top Issues – Corruption, Veterans

California has long been a red bastion in a deep-blue state, but it is suddenly up for grabs. If the Republican culture of corruption is truly on the ballot in November, it’s likely to make the difference in this northeastern district of California.

John Doolittle has been linked to not one, but two major scandals. He accepted more than $64,000 from Abramhoff and his patronage network and helped the corrupt lobbyist secure a contract with the Northern Mariana Islands, an American protectorate. Doolittle has worked to keep the Islands, which are known havens for sex slavery and sweatshops, exempt from immigration and minimum wage laws. Doolittle also intervened on behalf of defense contractor Brent Wilkes – the man who bribed former Rep. Duke Cunningham – earmarking $37 million in the Navy budget to buy superfluous sonar equipment from Wilkes.

Charlie Brown served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and finished his career in Air Force intelligence, coordinating reconnaissance flights over the Iraqi "no-fly zone." His son Jeff is now on his fourth tour of duty as a pilot in Iraq. A pro-gun, pro-choice conservative who serves on the police force in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, Brown was a lifelong Republican, he said, "until the Bush administration abandoned any pretense of fiscal conservatism."

Indiana – 8th District (Terre Haute)
Republican Incumbent (6 terms) – John Hostettler
Democratic Challenger – Sherriff Brad Ellsworth
Top Issues – Immigration

The 8th District of Indiana is known as the "bloody 8th" because of its epic congressional contests. In addition, this heavily conservative district went heavily for Bush in 2004.

John Hostettler is known for his extreme conservatism and a staunch supporter of the religious right. He often refers to his office as a "ministry" and once took the House floor to demonize the Democrats for what he called their "long war on Christianity." He has a lonely history of extremism, as he is one of only eleven Republicans who voted against the aid package for Katrina victims and one of only three to oppose the Violence Against Women Act. At town hall meetings he holds, he shows a power point presentation that depicts the invasion of America by illegal Mexican immigrants.

Brad Ellsworth is what some would say is an old fashioned conservative. He is pro-life and pro-gun, a genial sheriff who talks tough on crime, opposes gay marriage, and supports making illegal immigration a felony. Ellsworth joined the Democratic party only because it was Democrats on the county commission who fought to provide his department with bulletproof vests when he was a young deputy.

Fellow incumbents in Indiana, Chris Chocola and Mike Sodrel are also in hotly contested races, stretching the resources of the RNC very thin in the state. Rothenberg has said "I don’t’ think the NRCC is going to rescue John Hostettler this time."

North Carolina – 11th District (Asheville)
Republican Incumbent (8 terms) – Charles Taylor
Democratic Challenger – Former NFL QB Heath Shuler
Top Issues – Jobs, Ethics

Charles Taylor is a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and one of the wealthiest men in the state. However, Taylor has been dogged by ethics questions concerning his Blue Ridge Savings and Loan, where two of his associates have pleaded guilty to bank fraud and money laundering. The criminals both implicated Taylor in their schemes, under oath, but the Congressman has yet to be called before a grand jury or questioned by the FBI. Taylor built much of his fortune while serving in Congress, partnering with a former KGB general to form the first American bank in post-Soviet Russia. Taylors opponents have claimed he has used his political clout to benefit his cronies. In a recent appropriations bill, Taylor inserted an earmark to pay for a program, managed by one of his foreign partners, that sends Russian students to study at North Carolina universities. This was at the same time he was voting in favor of record cuts to college aid for students in his own district.

Heath Shuler, a former first round draft pick of the Washington Redskins, is a plain spoken, plainly conservative, Southern Democrat. The son of a mail carrier, Shuler is campaigning on jobs in a region whose manufacturing economy has been devastated by free trade. But it is his character and local roots that make him a formidable candidate.

Arizona – 5th District (Tempe)
Republican Incumbent (6 Terms) – J.D. Hayworth
Democratic Challenger – Former Tempe Mayor Harry Mitchell
Top Issues – Immigration, Ethics

J.D. Hayworth is a Republican revolutionary from the class of 1994. Hayworth is a regular commentator for Fox News, he advocates arresting and deporting all 12 million of the nation’s undocumented immigrants. Such demagoguery, while impractical, does offer a noisy distraction from Hayworth’s questionable ethics. The congressman’s wife has pocketed more than $100,000 as the sole employee of his fund-raising committee, and Hayworth is reportedly under investigation for his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramhoff, having been the beneficiary of five fund-raisers in the disgraced lobbyists luxury skyboxes. However, despite his vulnerabilities, the district has been gerrymandered in a way that makes it an uphill fight for the Democrats. Republicans outnumber Democrats eight to five.

Harry Mitchell has served as Mayor of Tempe for sixteen years and oversaw a renaissance of Tempe’s decaying downtown. Not only has the town erected a thirty five foot statue of the Mayor, but has also named city hall in honor of Mr. Mitchell, a testament to his popularity in the area.

New York – 24th District (Cooperstown)
OPEN SEAT – Being vacated by Congressman Sherwood Boehlert
Republican – State Sen. Ray Meier
Democrat – District Attorney Mike Arcuri
Top Issues – Minimum Wage

Stu Rothenberg has labeled this race as a blue-chip race between two capable candidates. Ray Meier is a technocrat of long standing in New York’s state senate – more conservative that the departing Congressman. In addition, the State Senator has strong name indentification throughout the district, having served in public office for several years.

Mike Arcuri, a former all-American football star at Albany State, who holds a black belt in tae kwon do, has the reputation of being a tough no-nonsense, Italian prosecutor, who will get the job done. During Acuri’s tenure as prosecutor, the murder rate has fallen by nearly two-thirds. In addition, the distinction between the two candidates is the issue of support for working class families. Meier has voted twice to block a raise in the minimum wage – while the GOP Congress has raised pay for its own members by $30,000 a year.

Minnesota – 6th District (Twin Cities exurbs)
Republican – State Sen. Michele Bachmann
Democrat – Patty Wetterling
Top Issues – The middle class squeeze

Michele Bachmann is a charismatic state senator who won the GOP primary by staking out the far, far right. Bachmann is a creationist who insists that evolution "has never been proven," and unbridled hawk who believes "we should not remove the nuclear response." In addition, Bachmann has criticized the gay community on more than one occasion accusing them of "targeting our children."

Patty Wetterling, whose eleven-year old son was kidnapped at gunpoint in 1989, was the driving force behind the passage of the Jacob Wetterling Act requiring every state to implement a child-sex-offender registry. She also led the fight, in Minnesota and nationally, to issue Amber Alerts for missing children. The 6th District was a stronghold for Bush in 2004, but Wetterling has run for this seat once before and nearly scored an upset victory, giving her superior name recognition.

Senate Races

Republican Incumbent (2 terms) – Rick Santorum
Democratic Challenger – Robert Casey

Rick Santorum is a two term Conservative Republican who has strongly supported the White House and the President for the past 6 years.

Bob Casey, an attorney and the son of the late Governor of Pennsylvania Robert Casey.

Republican Incumbent (1 term) – George Allen
Democratic Challenger – James Webb

George Allen, is a former governor of Virginia.

Jim Webb, is a former Navy Secretary under President Reagan.

Republican Incumbent (2 terms) – Mike DeWine
Democratic Challenger – Sherwood Brown

Mike DeWine current Senator.

Sherwood Brown is a 7 term Member of the U.S. House of Representatives for the 13th District of Ohio.

Republican Incumbent (1 partial term) – Jim Talent
Democratic Challenger – Claire McCaskill

Jim Talent first served Missouri several terms in the House of Representatives. He defeated Sen. Jean Carnahan four years ago during a special election, by only 2400 votes.

Claire McCaskill currently serves as the Missouri State Auditor. In 2004 she ran as the Democratic Candidate for Governor against current governor Matt Blunt.

Republican Incumbent (3 terms) - Conrad Burns
Democratic Challenger – John Tester

Conrad Burns is facing a tough race due to his connections with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramhoff. Burns accepted nearly $150,000 from Abramhoff and his associates. Abramhoff boasted that he got every appropriation he wanted in return.

John Tester is currently serving a state legislator.

Rhode Island
Republican Incumbent (1 term) – Lincoln Chaffee
Democratic Challenger – Sheldon Whitehouse

Chaffee narrowly squeaked out a win in his primary during the summer.

Sheldon Whitehouse is a former U.S. Attorney.

New Jersey
Democratic Incumbent (1 term) – Bob Menendez
Republican Challenger – Thomas Kean Jr.

Menedez was appointed to the office after Senator John Corzine stepped down to run for Governor. Menedez is being plagued by questionable ethical practices regarding property he owns that is leased to a non-profit group who receives government funding.

Tom Kean Jr. is the son of the well-known 9/11 commissioner Thomas Kean Sr.

Republican – Lt. Governor Michael Steele
Democrat – Congressman Ben Cardin

This seat has not been held by a Republican in over 30 years. However, Michael Steele is the first African American elected to a state wide office and wields a great deal of popularity.

Ben Cardin is a 10 term Congressman from Maryland’s 3rd District.

Republican – Bob Corker
Democrat – Congressman Harold Ford Jr.

This is the seat being vacated by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. This will be a heavy lift for Democrats but polls show Ford leading by a 10 point margin.

Bob Corker is the former Mayor of Chatanooga and a current State Senator.

Congressman Ford is a 5 term Congressman from Tennessee’s 9th District. He has a great deal of name recognition, his father held the seat his son currently holds for a number of years.

About the Author

Jessica Johnson Bennett was the Director of Government Affairs for MCAA. She has an extensive background in public affairs and government relations. Her expertise in strategic planning, PAC management and operations help on key policy issues.


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