Tuesday, November 2, 2010

American Voters decide pivotal congressional, gubernatorial races Tuesday

Voters are deciding which party controls Congress and picking governors in 37 states. All 435 seats in the House and 37 in the Senate are being decided.
The most expensive midterm elections in history finally began Tuesday, as voters started casting ballots to decide who goes to Congress and governors' offices.

With all predictions, the election is considered a referendum on both the Democratic-controlled Congress and President Barack Obama's first two years in office.

Polls indicate a dissatisfied electorate could clean house -- literally -- by tossing out the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and possibly doing the same in the Senate.

Losses by the governing party are common in the first mid-term election it faces, but the shift Tuesday could rival or match historic levels dating back decades.Unemployment -- at a rate of 9.6 percent amid a slow recovery from economic recession -- has been the dominant issue, with Republicans accusing Obama and the Democrats of pushing through expensive policies that have expanded government without solving the problem.

Obama has led Democrats in defending his record, saying steps such as the economic stimulus bill and auto industry bailout were necessary to prevent a depression, while health care reform and Wall Street reform will lay the foundation for sustainable future growth.

Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine told CNN Tuesday that party candidates will still pose a challenge to Republicans.

"While I think we've got the headwind we're running against, we're not throwing in the towel," Kaine told CNN's "American Morning."

"However the numbers are, the margins will be closer," Kaine said.

Former President Bill Clinton worked the phones Tuesday on behalf of Democrats in Ohio, where first-term Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland is fighting to hold on to his seat.

Clinton called in to four Ohio radio stations during a day of campaigning that will take him from New York through West Virginia and Kentucky before he ends up in Florida.

But Rand Paul, the Tea Party-backed Republican Senate candidate in Kentucky, voiced the sentiments of many in the grassroots anti-establishment movement.

"What I'm going to work to try to change is the whole government," he told CNN. "I think government's broken from top to bottom." He insisted that the government needed to balance its budget, loosen regulations on business and cut waste in the defense budget. "We have a significant recession, probably the worst recession since the Great Depression," he said on "American Morning." He blamed Obama's health care reform and banking regulation. "And my fear is it's not just President Obama's policies, ObamaCare and the new banking regulations. I don't care who proposed them but I think they're a disaster for our economy," he said.

As voting day approached, voter anger appeared to tune out the Democratic arguments.

Conservative groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce funded attack ads that skewered increased spending under Obama and the health care reform bill he championed, while labor unions and traditional Democratic donors warned a GOP victory would bring back Republican deregulation and policies that caused the recession.On the day before Election Day, phone service went out at Democratic and Republican field offices in New Hampshire, officials from both parties said.

A spike in campaign robocalls may be the culprit, according to Comcast, one of the telephone services in the area.

"Comcast -- and we believe, other local phone carriers in New Hampshire and Massachusetts -- are experiencing severe call volumes on the evening before the election due to auto dialing activity that is generating a massive number of inbound political phone calls to our network," company spokesman Marc Goodman said Monday.

The long and bitter campaign season will cost more than $3.5 billion -- the most expensive non-presidential vote ever, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group.

With around 100 of the 435 House seats at stake considered "in play," or competitive, the anti-Democratic mood is predicted to result in big Republican gains.

On the Senate side, where 37 of the 100 seats are being contested, the majority will be decided by key races in Nevada, Washington, and a few other states where Democratic incumbents face strong challenges.

Republicans need to win an additional 39 seats to claim the House majority, and 10 more Senate seats to overtake Democrats there.

A national poll released Monday showed the number of Americans who say things are going badly in the country -- 75 percent -- is higher than it has been on the eve of any midterm election since the question was first asked in the mid-1970s.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey also indicates that the economy remains, by far, the top issue on the minds of Americans. The economy ranked higher in the poll than all other major issues combined, including terrorism, health care, illegal immigrants and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In addition, the rise of the conservative Tea Party movement has added a new element to the election cycle, roiling Republican races by boosting little-known and inexperienced candidates to victory over mainstream figures in primaries across the country.

Tuesday's vote will show how many of the so-called Tea Party candidates can win in a general election, but no matter the final tally, the result is expected to shift the Republican agenda to the right.

That means little chance of compromise or bipartisan approaches on major issues, observers warn.

Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist who worked for the last Republican House speaker, Dennis Hastert, put it bluntly: "It's been a hostile atmosphere, but it will be hostile on nitroglycerin."

Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner is expected to be the new House speaker if the GOP wins control of the chamber. He already has signaled little appetite to negotiate with the White House or congressional Democrats, saying last week that "this is not a time for compromise."

Boehner and other conservatives say the top priorities must be spending cuts to try to balance the budget and job creation to spur the economy. However, they also advocate extending Bush-era tax cuts for everyone at a cost of $4 trillion over the next decade.

In the Senate, legislative gridlock is likely if Republicans strengthen their current minority of 41 seats. Obama and Democrats accuse Senate Republicans of using obstruction tactics as a political tool, showing the distrust and animosity that already exists.

Democrats are also wary of a recent comment by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who told the National Journal, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

The first test of a new relationship will come in mid-November when Congress convenes a post-election lame-duck session to try to clear unfinished legislation before the newly elected Congress convenes in January. Among other issues, lawmakers must decide whether and how to extend Bush-era tax cuts.

Voters on Tuesday also will decide governors' races in 37 of the 50 states, with the outcome potentially having an influence on redistricting based on the results of the 2010 census.

Every 10 years, the states redraw House district lines to reflect population shifts. Some states gain more House seats due to population growth, while others lose seats due to declines.

In most cases, state legislatures draw the lines, and governors have the power to approve or veto the maps. Governors also can influence whether any loss or gain of seats in their state involves districts represented by Republicans or Democrats.

The list of states that will gain or lose seats is released in December. However, Election Data Services issued estimates based on preliminary census figures that indicated Texas will gain four seats, Florida will gain two, and Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington will each gain one. The estimates also indicate Ohio and New York will lose two seats, and Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will each lose one.