Falling leaves and mums aren't the only colors cropping up in front
yards and median strips this autumn. As October dwindles toward
Election Day, many-hued campaign signs blossom on the nation's roadsides,
especially in the Midwestern "swing states" whose voters may hold
the keys to the White House and command posts in the next Congress.
Democrats' need just seven more House seats and five Senate seats
to claim majorities. Turnout from union households, inching up since
1994, will be decisive for Democrats in most of the 25 key House
races and 12 pivotal Senate contests on which control of the next
Another key factor across the country may be whether progressives--especially
environmental activists--remain unified. It's not just a question
of Al Gore versus Ralph Nader in the presidential race. Former Democrats
now running on Green, Progressive or Independent ballot lines in
several congressional and gubernatorial races could be the mice
that roar--leaving some gleeful elephants to roam their state capitols
and rule both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Here are a some of the candidates to watch on Election Day:
In the 4th District, spanning north-central Alabama, realtor and
local school board member Marsha Folsom is giving two-term
incumbent Robert Aderholt a scare.
Aderholt has voted against campaign finance reform and, in the
wake of the Columbine High School shooting, sponsored legislation
to allow posting of the Ten Commandments on government property
as a deterrent to juvenile crime.
The wife of former governor Jim Folsom, the challenger is pro-choice
and hasn't flinched in the face of accusations from the Aderholt
campaign that she endorses witchcraft. Folsom's opponents made the
charge after receiving an invitation to debate her from the Alabama
Interfaith Alliance, a mainstream religious group whose members
range from Muslims to Methodists and include a few Wiccans. Aderholt
would prefer debates sponsored by the state Christian Coalition.
Veteran state legislator Elaine Bloom is trying to nudge
aside Rep. Clay Shaw, a conservative first elected in the 1980 Reagan
landslide in the moderate-to-liberal 22nd District, which runs north
from Ft. Lauderdale.
Though labor faces many roadblocks in Florida, a "right-to-work"
state, Shaw burned bridges to the unions with his 1997 vote in favor
of so-called "paycheck protection." Bloom supports abortion rights
and handgun limits and, as a result, has enjoyed the financial backing
of pro-choice powerhouse Emily's List and Rosie O'Donnell, the talk-show-host-cum-gun-control-advocate.
Bloom herself was a TV and radio personality in the late '70s,
when gay-rights nemesis Anita Bryant stalked the state. If Bloom
wins, look for her to emerge as a gay-rights ally in this district
that more and more same-sex couples of all ages call home.
In the Senate race, Florida insurance commissioner and treasurer
Bill Nelson faces Rep. Bill McCollum in a race to replace
retiring GOP Sen. Connie Mack. Former Democrat Willie Logan's independent
bid could undercut Nelson.
In the central Florida 8th District seat vacated by McCollum, Linda
Chapin, a former elected leader of Orange County, vies against
attorney Ric Keller.
In west suburban Atlanta's 7th District, Rep. Bob Barr--best known
as a leader in the House drive to oust President Clinton and the
serial divorcer who sponsored the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act--faces
Roger Kahn, a sports radio CEO who has served at the helm
of corporations and Jewish charitable groups and is a past chair
of the state elections board.
Victories by progressives in two congressional races in Kentucky
could signal a switch in control of the House. On Election Night,
polls in the Bluegrass State close early, so look to these results
as an early barometer of the evening's trends.
In Lexington, many liberals are backing Scotty Baesler's
bid to wrest back the 6th District House seat he gave up two years
ago, when he narrowly lost a Senate race. Baesler, a pro-choice
gun-control supporter, faces one-term incumbent Ernie Fletcher,
a foe of abortion rights and a doctor whose opposition to health
care reform has alienated fellow medical professionals. Yet Baesler
may see his comeback hopes go up in smoke if Democrats defect to
Gatewood Galbraith, a one-time party insider whose current Reform
Party appeal rests mainly on calls for hemp cultivation.
In Louisville's 3rd District, state Rep. Eleanor Jordan
wants to replace two-term incumbent Rep. Ann Northup, a perennial
target of labor unions who voted against campaign finance reform.
Though he backed another candidate in the primary, centrist Democratic
Gov. Paul Patton is eager to build the state's depleted ranks of
federal office holders and now supports the insurgent bid by Jordan,
Sen. Chuck Robb is a Vietnam veteran who supports lifting
the military ban on gays as well as the Hate Crimes Prevention Act
quashed in October by the GOP. He fended off an ouster at the hands
of Ollie North in 1994 and finds himself in another nail-biter race,
this time against former Gov. George Allen.
A Democratic Leadership Council member who alienated progressives
with his 1991 vote to approve Clarence Thomas, Robb has made a priority
of ending one of the most embarrassing color bars in U.S. government.
He backs the nomination of Roger Gregory, an African-American attorney,
to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel covers Virginia
and other Southeastern states, a region with the highest percentage
of black residents of any of the 13 circuits, yet it has no black
members and four vacancies.
With a GOP logjam by the Senate Judiciary Committee keeping this
all-white club intact, the panel has issued some of the most contemptible
opinions in recent jurisprudence, even attempting to overturn the
landmark Miranda ruling. In pressing Gregory's case, Robb
invoked George Wallace to chide Republicans on the committee for
"standing in the door of the courthouse blocking his nomination."
Bob Wise, a nine-term representative in Congress, contends
for the governor's mansion against Cecil Underwood, 78, a twice-over
governor first elected in 1956 who made a comeback four years ago
as centrist Democrats nitpicked over liberal nominee Charlotte Pritt.
Wise, a strong labor supporter whom conservatives fulminate for
his 70 percent approval rating from the ACLU, is currently running
even against Underwood.
Two fixtures of state politics go head-to-head as Gov. Tom Carper,
a moderate Democrat finishing his second term, challenges conservative
six-term Sen. William Roth, father of the eponymous IRA. A minimum-wage
hike and campaign finance reform loom as major issues, since Roth
opposes them. And Roth's 1996 vote against the Employment Non-Discrimination
Act, which would bar anti-gay bias on the job and failed in the
Senate by just one vote, could cost the incumbent some support.
Jon Corzine's multimillion-dollar infusions to his own campaign
for the seat of retiring Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg have made
headlines far beyond New Jersey. But beside his deep pockets, the
former Goldman Sachs CEO also has one of the most staunchly progressive
platforms among candidates this fall. Corzine, who faces Rep. Bob
Franks, would bar permanent replacement of strikers and raise the
minimum wage beyond the proposed $1 hike.
Rush Holt, a physicist and first-term congressman from the
Princeton-area 12th District, has inspired bumper stickers saying
"My Congressman Is A Rocket Scientist." Now a comeback bid by moderate
Republican and former Rep. Dick Zimmer and a Green challenge by
erstwhile Democratic primary loser Carl Mayer threaten to downgrade
Holt's trajectory. The third-party bid comes despite Holt's anti-sprawl
activism and 100 percent rating by the League of Conservation Voters.
In Congress, Holt also has distinguished himself with an effective
drive to prevent corporations from undermining academic freedom
by using sunshine laws to pry into the research of professors who
receive federal funding.
Hillary Clinton has quieted her naysayers with an adroit
Senate campaign focused on issues such as patients' rights, children's
health and school funding. Given her stature on domestic and international
issues, the First Lady more than fills the shoes of retiring Sen.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And her support for living-wage jobs, affordable
health care, workers rights and campaign finance reform have won
her the backing of the state's Working Families Party.
In the race for the seat vacated by Clinton's opponent, Rep. Rick
Lazio, Democrat Steve Israel, a town council member from
Huntington, goes against Islip town clerk Joan Johnson. Though the
race remains un uphill battle, it offers Democrats a chance to repeat
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy's triumph in 1996 and snatch a Long Island
seat from the GOP.
State auditor Ed Flanagan is the nation's first openly gay
statewide elected official. Increased federal education funding
and improved access to health care are his premier issues in a long-shot
Senate race against two-term incumbent Jim Jeffords. But with Vermont
awhirl over a newly adopted law allowing same-sex civil unions,
Flanagan reluctantly has watched his candidacy converted to a referendum
on gay rights. "In an ideal world, my sexual orientation would be
an incidental fact in my present campaign," he told the Gay &
Lesbian Review. "Again I find myself struggling to be accepted
as a whole candidate and judged, like anyone else, on my entire
Gov. Howard Dean, a four-term liberal who took office in
1991, faces a tough fight to retain power in Montpelier. After Dean
signed the state's landmark law granting same-sex couples the right
to form civil unions, his GOP opponent, Ruth Dwyer, made repealing
the law the focus of her campaign. The third party gubernatorial
bid of the Progressive Party's Anthony Pollina could complicate
Dean's re-election, since contests in which no candidate garners
50 percent go to the legislature, which anti-civil-union Republicans
are fighting hard to retake.
In the suburban 10th District just north of Chicago, state Rep.
Lauren Beth Gash faces Mark Kirk, a Republican who served
as chief of staff to retiring GOP Rep. John Porter. Gash faced no
primary opponent this spring, while Kirk did battle with fellow
Republicans over abortion rights. He is pro-choice, mitigating some
of the crossover vote from GOP women that Gash needs for a ticket
Debbie Stabenow, a Lansing-area congresswoman, is slogging
through the campaign mud trying to make up ground against first-term
incumbent senator Spencer Abraham, an abortion-rights foe. Fans
of Stabenow, heralded as a gifted stateswoman in her rise through
state politics, hope she hasn't hit the glass ceiling in her latest
Democratic Farmer Labor Senate nominee Mark Dayton is a
former state auditor and Mondale aide who plays down his privilege
as heir to the Target department store fortune. Dayton's appeals
to voters center on universal health care and broader access to
higher education. "We are penny-wise and pound-idiotic if we don't
make it possible for all of our young adults to receive the best
possible education with our support rather than at their expense,"
he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The campaign of incumbent Sen. Rod Grams, a family-values conservative,
has sagged amidst legal scrapes by his son involving controlled
substances and accusations that a campaign staffer distributed anonymous
slurs against a Democratic candidate using a Kinko's computer. In
the 4th District in and around St. Paul, Betty McCollum,
a progressive state representative, is locked in a close contest
with a state senator, Linda Runbeck, and a former Democrat turned
Independent, Tom Foley, in the race to succeed Democratic Rep. Bruce
Vento, who had announced his retirement before his death on October
Although they control the state's congressional delegation, Democrats
have no cakewalk in North Dakota. That's why the strong bid for
governor by attorney general Heidi Heitkamp, who supports
collective bargaining rights for state employees, is encouraging
progressives. To his credit, GOP candidate John Hoeven did not exploit
Heitkamp's September absence from the campaign trail while she was
being treated for cancer.
Maryllen O'Shaughnessy, a Columbus City Council member,
hopes to take the seat of Republican Rep. John Kasich, who is retiring
from the downtown and north-suburban 12th District. In her face-off
with state Rep. Pat Tiberi, O'Shaughnessy is wrapping herself in
the same issues popularized by Al Gore and other party standard-bearers:
prescription drug coverage for seniors under Medicare, protecting
Social Security, improved access to health care and better schools.
Still, the slight GOP tilt of the district makes hers an uphill
In the East Los Angeles 31st District long held by Rep. Marty
Martinez, state Sen. Hilda Solis is a strong favorite to
beat the incumbent after trouncing him in the March Democratic primary.
Martinez, who switched parties in the quest to keep his seat, lost
crucial backing from labor after compiling a ho-hum record during
nine terms. In contrast, Solis has fought abuse of immigrant workers
in the farm and garment industries while writing legislation to
expand coverage of contraceptives under health insurance plans.
An ally of Los Angeles janitors who struck successfully this spring
for better wages and health care, look for Solis to join fellow
Angelino Xavier Becerra in the Congressional Progressive Caucus,
whose members face little threat this election.
In Burbank's 27th District, two-term Rep. James Rogan, another
House impeachment manager, faces Adam Schiff, a liberal state
senator who has kept pace with Rogan in the dollar chase. Schiff
has tapped the largess of visitors to www.moveon.org, a Web site
that emerged during the impeachment fiasco as a conduit for public
protest against the proceedings and has morphed into a potent fundraising
vehicle for viable candidates against right-wing members of Congress.
Mike Honda, a state assemblyman and former Peace Corps volunteer
and teacher, is running hard in Silicon Valley's 15th District to
replace Rep. Tom Campbell, the moderate Republican who gave up his
seat to challenge Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Honda is a friend of local
techies who bested GOP challenger Jim Cunneen in the state's open
primary in March. He goes into the general election buoyed by endorsements
from the League of Conservation Voters, gun-control and pro-choice
groups. A Japanese-American born in California, Honda spent part
of his childhood during World War II in an internment camp in Colorado.
If he wins, look for Honda to emerge in Congress as a persuasive
fighter for civil rights.
Mark Udall, who boasts a 100 percent rating from the League
of Conservation Voters, won by a pine needle's width in 1998. But
this time around, besides a GOP opponent, he faces a challenge from
the Green Party's Ron Forthofer. "There are people backing Green
Party candidates here who are old enough to know better," says Naomi
Rachel, director of Boulder's Residents Against Inappropriate Development,
which led a 1998 get-out-the-vote drive for Udall. "Without the
Green Party challenger this time, Mark would not be endangered."
Brian Schweitzer made national news by leading busloads
of cash-strapped seniors on prescription drug runs over the Canadian
border, where pricing schemes by pharmaceutical-makers allow for
sales of some medications at less than half U.S. prices. In his
Senate race, he faces two-term incumbent Conrad Burns, named one
of the "Dirty Dozen" by the League of Conservation Voters for his
lifetime 5 percent voting record.
Nancy Keenan, the state superintendent of public instruction,
aims to reverse a slide for Big Sky progressives that began with
the 1996 departure of Pat Williams, a champion of federal arts funding
who had won the state's lone House seat in 1992. Keenan supplements
her calls for economic development with support for a minimum wage
hike. Boosted by feminists' donations from in and outside the state,
she has battled lesbian-baiting in the race and leads her opponent,
former Lt. Gov. Dennis Rehberg.
Ed Bernstein is up against Promise Keeper and voucher advocate
John Ensign, a former congressman who nearly beat Sen. Harry Reid
two years ago for the state's other Senate seat. Bernstein, a personal
injury attorney, has tried to corner Ensign on abortion, and a large
corps of well-marshaled labor activists may add fuel to Democrats'
Plain-spoken Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas faces a race nearly
as tough as the 1998 election that she narrowly won. National appeals
by Emily's List have aided her fundraising, and the Progressive
Leadership Alliance of Nevada has added some of the city's numerous
newcomers, including many Latinos, to the voter rolls. Her 1st District
continues to grow so fast that it is likely to split and yield two
seats after reapportionment next year. Berkley is counting on strong
turnout to help her overcome current challenger Jon Porter, a state
representative, and survive to navigate those redrawn lines as the
Maria Cantwell continues Washington Democrats' recovery
from their 1994 meltdown, when the House delegation went from 8-to-1
Democratic to 7-to-2 Republican. Cantwell lost her own seat in that
blitz but went on to make a mint at Microsoft and deployed her fortune
to take on three-term incumbent Sen. Slade Gorton.
Besides her backing by pro-choice and environmental groups, Cantwell
has gained traction with support for online privacy and a Clintonian
pitch for more accommodation of diversity that she frames as "One
Washington." Gorton himself gives resonance to the theme, warring
openly with many Native American tribes in the state, whose fishing
and gambling rights he has challenged since his stint as attorney
general in the '70s. If Cantwell wins, look for her to be a champion
for Indian American issues in the Senate.
One of the youngest and most promising progressive candidates this
fall is Rick Larsen, a 35-year-old Snohomish County Council
member and health care administrator facing John Koster in the race
to succeed GOP Rep. Jack Metcalf. The 2nd District stretches from
Seattle's northern suburbs to the Canadian border and includes some
of the San Juan Islands. Larsen's commitment to protecting open
space earned him the Sierra Club's backing, which along with thumbs-up
from several unions and the Human Rights Campaign may pave his way