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Michael B. Keegan

Michael B. Keegan

Posted: November 2, 2010 12:08 PM

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:

  • Sharron Angle -- U.S. Senate candidate, Nevada, ran divisive anti-immigrant ads, then claimed she didn't know if the scary people sneaking through the border fence in the ad were Latinos.
  • David Vitter -- U.S. Senator, Louisiana, also ran offensive ads.
  • Meg Whitman -- Gubernatorial candidate, California, who had called her former housekeeper an "extended member of the family," later urged that she be deported.
  • Joe Miller -- U.S. Senate candidate, Alaska, looked to Iron curtain for border control inspiration, saying, "If East Germany could do it, we could do it."
  • Kris Kobach -- Secretary of State candidate, Kansas, claimed the illegal voter registration by aliens has become "pervasive," then later admitted he didn't know the extent of the alleged problem.
  • Allen West -- U.S. House candidate, Florida, mixed anti-government and anti-immigrant rhetoric: "You must be well-informed and well-armed, because this government we have right now is a tyrannical government. And it starts with illegal 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:

  • U.S. Senate, Kentucky: Campaign supporters of Senate candidate Rand Paul's knocked a woman to the cement, and another stomped on her shoulder and pressed her head to the ground with his foot, landing her in the hospital with a concussion and multiple sprains. Paul called the attack a "crowd control problem."
  • U.S. Senate, Alaska: Candidate Joe Miller's paramilitary security team manhandled, handcuffed, and illegally detained a journalist who was trying to ask the candidate a question.
  • U.S. House, Florida 22nd Congressional District: Republican Congressional candidate Allen West has used violent rhetoric in his campaign, used members of a biker gang for protection, and defended the harassment and bullying of a Democratic staffer attempting to video a public event.
  • U.S. Senate, Nevada: GOP candidate Sharron Angle famously suggested that if the elections don't go the way Tea Party activists want, there may be need to resort to "Second Amendment remedies."

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:

  • U.S. Senate, Colorado -- Ken Buck v. Sen. Michael Bennet. American Crossroads alone has spent more than $5 million attacking Bennet; reportedly this race featured a record 3.9 million in outside funding on just one day in October.
  • U.S. Senate, Illinois -- Mark Kirk v. Alexi Giannoulias. Crossroads GPS poured more than 4.4 million into this race to attack Giannoulias.
  • U.S. Senate, Washington -- Dino Rossi v. Sen. Patty Murray. On Oct. 21, Rossi reportedly passed Illinois' Mark Kirk to take the top spot in secret money being spent on his behalf -- more than 4.5 million at that point.
  • U.S. Senate, California -- Carly Fiorina v. Sen. Barbara Boxer. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent more than 5 million to attack Sen. Boxer.

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:

  • Mike Lee, U.S. Senate Candidate from Utah: Lee, virtually guaranteed a win in this heavily Republican state, will bring to the Senate a remarkably reactionary view of the Constitution and the U.S. government's role in society. He has denounced as "domestic enemies" those who disagree with his radically limited view of the (divinely inspired) Constitution. He would abolish the federal departments of Energy and Education, dismantle the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and phase out Social Security. He says earmarks are unconstitutional. Lee could be one of a number of new senators who take the GOP's already unprecedented campaign of partisan obstruction to a damaging new level.
  • Joe Miller, U.S. Senate candidate from Alaska: Miller says the Department of Education should be eliminated because it's not in the Constitution. Also violating the Constitution, in Miller's mind, was health-care reform and legislation to extend jobless benefits to out-of-work Americans. He says he would phase out Social Security and Medicare.
  • Ken Buck, U.S. Senate candidate from Colorado: Buck calls for the elimination of the federal Department of Energy and Department of Education, the privatization of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the elimination of student loans. He says he "doesn't know" whether Social Security is constitutional, but calls it a "horrible policy" and says the federal government should not be running health care or retirement programs.
  • Marco Rubio, U.S. Senate candidate from Florida: Rubio calls "statism" the "fastest-growing religion in America."
  • Rand Paul, U.S. Senate candidate from Kentucky: Paul has suggested that Congress should not be making mine safety rules. He says Medicare is socialized medicine. He wants to eliminate the Departments of Education and Agriculture, do away with the Federal Reserve, and abolish the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • David Hamer, U.S. House candidate from California's 11th Congressional District: Hamer, who calls public schools "socialism in education," wants to abolish public schools entirely and return education to "the way things worked through the first century of American nationhood," when an awful lot of people had no access to educational opportunities.

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:

  • U.S. Senate race in Illinois, where GOP candidate Kirk has said he will deploy the largest "voter integrity" program in almost two decades
  • Gubernatorial race in Texas, where Democratic officials have asked the DOJ to investigate reports of voter intimidation
  • Numerous races in Wisconsin, including the U.S. Senate race, where GOP officials have engaged in "voter caging" to purge voting lists
 

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