The debate over Iraq, here in Albuquerque and in other competitive congressional races across the country, shows how much the political dynamic around the war has shifted — and how heavily the issue weighs in the minds of voters. In more than two dozen random interviews across New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, an overwhelming majority said they believed the country was headed in the wrong direction, a finding consistent with repeated national surveys. And virtually all of those who expressed discontent volunteered the same reason: the war in Iraq." It's a disaster," said Democrat Richard Williams, 75, a retired electrical engineering professor at the University of New Mexico, who wore a T-shirt covered with mathematical formulas. "We were lied to to go into it, and I don't know how we're going to extract ourselves." David Houliston, a 45-year-old Republican attorney, agreed. " There's just too much emphasis on the war," he said during a stop at a Borders bookstore in the city's vibrant Uptown area. " We're not able to respond to national disasters such as Katrina on time. We're overextended." Brad Sims, a 49-year-old engineer and Republican who twice voted for Bush, said he initially supported the war as "a liberation of the folks from a ruthless dictator." But "they aren't stepping up to the plate for the things that they need to do," Sims said, pausing on his way into a showing of the new "Mission: Impossible" movie. " And we can't be there forever…. How do you win something like that if it's without end?" Back in 2002, with Bush soaring in the polls, Democrats were eager to take Iraq off the table. So the party's congressional leaders backed an October resolution giving Bush authority to wage war, hoping to change the subject to the economy or other issues they hoped might play better in the midterm election. It didn't work. Republicans made national security the centerpiece of the campaign despite the bipartisan congressional vote, and gained seats in the House and Senate, a midterm rarity for the party in the White House. Now, with Bush's approval ratings at an all-time low and with a majority of Americans opposing the war, Democrats hope to make this November a referendum on Bush, and the war in Iraq an albatross for every Republican on the ballot. The war "is like a fog that just envelops the entire political atmosphere," said Amy Walter, who tracks congressional races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, a handicapper's guide to elections nationwide. " It's one of those issues that leaves a lingering bad taste." That said, Walter continued, Democrats have to be careful they don't play into old stereotypes and remind voters why they usually prefer Republicans when it comes to defense and national security matters. The promise and political perils of the war issue are amply illustrated in this high-desert congressional district, a perennial host to hard-fought campaigns and a top target on both parties' November list. Although 45% of its voters are registered Democrat compared with 35% Republican, the GOP has held the seat throughout its 40-year history. No incumbent has ever lost, but Madrid looks to be Wilson's toughest opponent since she first won election in 1998.The Barabak piece is one in a continuing series on New Mexico's 1st District, and it'll be interesting to see how the race turns out. National Journal has Wilson's seat ranked as the 8th hottest race nationally. A Democratic House takeover still looks like a long-shot, in any case. Political Scientist Larry Sabato projects a 5-to-10 seat pickup for the Dems, a serious erosion for the Republicans, but enough for the party to remain in power. Charlie Cook, at the Cook Political Report, focuses on the structural impediments to a Democratic takeover, particularly the small number of open-seat elections and the lack of high-quality Democratic challengers facing the few vulnerable House GOP incumbents.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Can the Democrats Take Back the House in November?
The year's congressional elections are shaping up to be the most volatile since 1994, when the GOP took control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in forty years. Now the GOP, and especially President Bush, are reeling from war weariness in Iraq, corruption scandals, administrative incompetence, and economic instabilities. As reported by Mark Barabak in the Los Angeles Times, in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, a bellwether race has surfaced between Representative Heather Wilson, an 8-year GOP House veteran and backer of Bush, and Patricia Madrid, the state's Democratic Attorney General, an Iraq opponent who's got the backing of General Wesley Clark, the prominent Iraq critic who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Here's some background:
Posted by Donald Douglas at 5:19 AM