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 Congress hinges.

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, an African-American.


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 record."

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 to Washington.


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 bid.


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 10.


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 fight.



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, 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' get-out-the-vote drive.

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 incumbent.


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 to victory.


Bottom Navigation Home Archives Contact Us About In These Times Subscribe to In These Times