It's Democratic Convention time in Denver, and this week we'll be seeing some of the most promising '08 House and Senate candidates on display. Many have been struggling for a turn in the spotlight all year, as the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain continues to monopolize attention, volunteer energy and fundraising dollars.
Earlier this year, community activist Donna Edwards beat longtime Congressman and friend to corporate interests Al Wynn in the Democratic primary for Maryland's 4th Congressional District. Small donations raised online from progressives nationwide were critical to Edwards' anti-war, populist campaign, and allowed her to counter Wynn's desperate, lobbyist-funded, slash and burn attack ad scramble to hang onto his seat.
Here are profiles (and links to their websites and fundraising pages) of two other progressive Democrats running for House seats. These contests will help determine whether the party can hold off Republicans' attempts to seize back control of Congress, or add seats to the Democratic majority they gained in 2006.
Barack Obama and Debbie Cook in Newport Beach, CA
Orange County, California's 46th Congressional District has been represented since 1988 by delusionally far-right Republican Dana Rohrabacher. But this year he faces a stiff challenge from Huntington Beach mayor and former city council member Debbie Cook.
Rohrabacher was first elected to Congress with the fundraising help of his pal Ollie North. He's a right wing nut who doesn't believe in global warming, joking during a 2007 congressional hearing on climate change that previous warming cycles may have been caused by "dinosaur flatulence." He was a close associate and campaign contribution recipient of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who Rohrabacher described as "a very honest man" when the Abramoff scandal first broke in 2005.
Although from a coastal California district, he supports lifting the offshore oil drilling ban, and recently questioned whether abuses at Guantanamo Bay qualified as torture, or merely "hazing pranks from some fraternity."
By contrast, Debbie Cook entered politics in 1989 fighting for things that matter. She led Save Our Parks and Beaches, a grassroots group that saved part of Huntington Beach Central Park from being turned into an 18-hole golf course. She is a former PTA President, small business owner, and attorney who earned her law degree at age 40. Cook became counsel for the Bolsa Chica Land Trust and helped preserve the Bolsa Chica wetlands when they were threatened with development in the mid-90s. The court victory she won protects coastal wetlands throughout California.
Elected to the city council in 2000, and re-elected in 2004, Cook now serves as mayor of Huntington Beach. She is on the board of directors of the national Post Carbon Institute, and will be a leader on environmental and sustainable energy issues in Congress.
In July, the Cook Political Report (no relation to Debbie) downgraded Rohrabacher's re-election effort from "solid Republican" to "likely Republican." During the second quarter, Cook actually outraised Rohrabacher, collecting $78,712 to his $92,990. But as of June 30, he still had a substantial financial advantage, with $387,950 on hand to Cook's $97,392.
Larry Kissell is a high school social studies teacher and former textile worker who is fighting a rematch with incumbent Republican Robin Hayes to represent North Carolina's 8th District. In 2006, Hayes clung to his seat against Kissell by only 329 votes in what was almost the closest congressional race in the country.
Hayes is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, an heir to the Cannon Mills textile fortune. His working class district has suffered severe manufacturing job losses since Hayes was first elected in 1998. Hayes went back on his word to oppose the CAFTA free trade agreement, providing George W. Bush with the 1-vote margin of victory it needed to pass on July 27, 2005. Earlier, Hayes had promised, "I am flat-out, completely, horizontally opposed to CAFTA," and admitted "it's not in the best interests of the core constituency I represent."
In 2006, Hayes also provoked controversy and headaches for the GOP when he suggested that "stability in Iraq ultimately depends on spreading the message of Jesus Christ...everything depends on everyone learning about the birth of the Savior." He received zero ratings in 2005 from the League of Conservation Voters, in 2005-06 from the National Education Association, and in 2007 from the Children's Health Fund.
A study released earlier this month by the Sunlight Foundation ranked Hayes as the #1 member of Congress with personal financial investments in oil industry stocks. Not surprisingly, Hayes recently called the need for increased off-shore oil drilling the number one issue this election year.
Larry Kissell knows first hand about the economic hardships that pro-corporate trade policies have brought to his district. He worked in the textile industry for 27 years until plant closings forced him to switch careers, becoming a high school social studies teacher in 2001. He is a deacon at First Baptist Church and two-time past President of the Biscoe, NC Lions Club.
Kissell is a regular guy who understands the difficulties his neighbors face with the economy in the tank. As he said in an on-line chat with FireDogLake in 2006:
"What folks in my district talk about are the kitchen table issues that impact their daily lives. They want a Congressman willing to stop all the bad trade deals ruining our economy, a strong advocate of education and something finally done about high energy costs with a significant investment in alternative energy."
In July, Kissell told the Fayetteville Observer that he first ran for Congress two years ago because gas prices were high and the economy was shaky, but "things have gotten worse...our days of George Bush are thankfully numbered."
After not getting full financial support from the national Democratic party in 2006, this year the DCCC is firmly behind Kissell's campaign. Kissell recently released his first TV ad, telling voters Robin Hayes has "had his chance" during 10 years in Congress and done nothing about the loss of 60,000 N.C. jobs or gas prices jumping by $3 a gallon.
Last March, Congressional Quarterly ranked the race "No Clear Favorite," its most competitive ranking. The Cook Political Report upgraded the Hayes-Kissell rematch from "leans Republican" to "toss-up" in early June. But Kissell had only $231,583 in cash on hand at the end of June, versus $1.2 million for Robin Hayes.
Visit these two candidates' websites to learn more about them and their House races. Consider donating to their campaigns. And check out Blue America PAC for snapshots of three dozen progressive House and Senate Democratic candidates running to change America this fall.
Erik Ose is a veteran of Democratic campaigns in North Carolina and blogs at The Latest Outrage.
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