The national elections being held this week bring together a number of historic story lines, and analysts will no doubt be sorting through the results for weeks. It will take some time to assess the full impact of the virtual merger between Fox News and the GOP, and weigh the success of efforts by religious right leaders, GOP strategists, and big business to co-opt the Tea Party movement. But before election night is over, we'll get answers to some of the most important questions about where our country is headed.
Here's PFAW's guide to races to watch and to what the outcomes mean for America.
Will Scapegoating Latinos Backfire?
The Republicans could win this battle but lose the war. Sharron Angle, arguably the most high-profile of the Tea Party's Senate candidates, built her pre-election strategy on flooding Nevada airwaves with toxic, divisive, racially-tinged television ads that feature menacing, dark-skinned people threatening vulnerable white children and families. The national GOP's embrace of Angle will make it hard for them to distance themselves from her destructive, scapegoating ads targeting the fastest-growing demographic group in American society. The outcome of her campaign may depend on whether she was right in guessing that her ads would win her more votes in this election than they would cost her. Louisiana Senator David Vitter has also run what some consider the most offensive anti-immigrant ads of the campaign season.
America's Voice has identified another dozen or so candidates who have used distortions and stereotypes regarding immigrants and Latinos. Among races to watch where candidates have made outrageous statements on immigration:
While some GOP strategists and religious right leaders are worried about the long-term impact of the party alienating Latino voters, those concerns seem to have been pushed aside in the hopes that demagoguery on the immigration issue will win enough votes this year to help put the GOP in control of Congress. But playing to the Tea Party base of the party, and its hostility to any comprehensive approach to immigration reform, will put the GOP in a long-term bind. Most Americans support reform that includes a path to citizenship for people living, working, and raising their families here; GOP candidates answering to right-wing ideologues denounce any such provisions as "amnesty." Immigration is likely to be one of the issues on which the newly expanded far-right congressional caucus will find governing more complicated than campaigning.
Will Voters Overlook Right-Wing Violence and Calls for Violence?
Tea Party candidates and right-wing pundits have introduced a frightening amount of violent rhetoric into this year's campaigns, suggesting that if right-wing voters don't get their way they should consider resorting to violence or even revolution against a "tyrannical" federal government. They have portrayed the president and Democratic congressional leaders not only as political opponents but as enemies of America bent on crushing individual liberty and undermining the nation's interest. With that kind of example and inflammatory rhetoric from right-wing leaders, it's hardly surprising that members of Congress have faced death threats, or that violence and thuggish behavior have broken out on the campaign trail:
Among the races to watch:
All indications point to widespread Republican gains on Election Day, which should mitigate against inflammatory charges that President Obama and his Democratic allies had somehow stolen the election. But if a number of close and heated races are won by Democrats, don't be surprised by violent reactions among those who have been amped up by Glenn Beck and other purveyors of paranoia.
Will Right-Wing 'Grassroots' Campaigns Mean Big Win for Government by Big Business?
With a big push from a Supreme Court granting corporations the same right as citizens to influence American elections, big business interests are pouring huge amounts of their record-breaking profits and cash-on-hand into buying a government that is even more willing to sacrifice the interests of individual Americans to the demands from corporate America. A coalition of right-wing groups coordinating with each other to lead the GOP-supporting effort dumped an additional $50 million into ads in competitive House races in the final weeks of the campaign. Unless and until a constitutional amendment addresses the extraordinary damage created by Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions that have undermined campaign finance laws, we can count on corporate America to invest whatever it takes to elect politicians pledged to implement policies that sacrifice the health of American consumers and workers, and the well-being of American communities, on the altar of ever-greater profits and wealth for those who already have the most.
Among the biggest investments by corporate interests dropped in competitive races are:
How Many Anti-Government Extremists Will Take Seats in Congress?
Cheered on by right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck, Tea Party and GOP candidates are portraying this election as a choice between "socialism" and "constitutional conservativism." They are embracing a radically right-wing view of the U.S. Constitution, one that ignores the Constitution's -- and the nation's -- history, to promote a misguided nostalgia for a time when huge numbers of elderly Americans lived in poverty and when the federal government could not protect workers with safety regulations or minimum-wage requirements. Meanwhile, Beck and religious right figures are promoting the idea that this radically restricted view of government is grounded in Christianity and the Bible. In essence, they are trying to make the size and scope of government the new culture war, and to convince Americans that relying on government assistance in hard times is not only un-American but un-Christian.
Many Americans who end up voting for Tea Party-backed Republicans because they are worried about the state of the economy or size of the deficit will be shocked to find the kind of gridlock that will be caused if and when candidates get elected to office who have pledged not to support anything they don't find in their 19th-century view of the Constitution.
A few of the many races to watch:
Will Voter Suppression and False Charges of Voter Fraud Help GOP Candidates Win?
Right-wing strategists have a multifaceted strategy on voting issues. One tactic is to depress possible turnout among groups more likely to support Democratic and progressive candidates, particularly people of color, with disinformation and intimidation. News outlets have reported on a variety of voter suppression efforts aimed at lowering turnout among African Americans, including Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett telling the Delaware County GOP to keep the Philadelphia Democratic vote below 50 percent; billboards in Milwaukee showing people behind bars warning against "voter fraud," and the planned deployment by Illinois Senate candidate Mark Kirk of "voter integrity squads" in black neighborhoods in. In Wisconsin, the Republican Attorney General reportedly colluded with the state GOP, local Tea Party, and Americans for Prosperity in a voter "caging" operation designed to purge people from voting rolls. In Harris County, Texas, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has asked the DOJ to investigate voter intimidation efforts during early voting
Watch for stories on and after Election Day involving registered voters who are turned away because they had been purged from voter lists, stories of intimidation by "voter integrity" operations. Meanwhile, while there is no credible evidence that voter fraud -- the way right-wing strategists use the term, meaning individuals casting ballots they aren't eligible to cast -- has played any significant role in any recent election, GOP strategists and right-wing pundits have made it an article of faith among many Tea Party and right-wing activists that ACORN somehow stole the 2008 election for President Obama and that Democrats and people of color are conspiring once again to try to steal elections. Sharron Angle and right-wing groups have already suggested that Democrats are making plans to steal the close election. The extent of voter suppression activities, and the extent to which right-wing pundits and politicians make irresponsible charges of voter fraud, could tell us a lot about the extent to which inflammatory and racially divisive politics will continue to drive right-wing political strategy.
Among the races to watch:
Follow Michael B. Keegan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peoplefor