Everyone is talking about whether there will be a Democratic wave tonight. That's an important question, to be sure. But there are other, perhaps more telling, waves to watch for.
The central issue of the 2OO6 election season has been the war in Iraq. But that does not mean that every House and Senate contest will provide a clear read on sentiments regarding the conflict. In many contests, Democratic and Republican candidates have spun their stances on the questions of how and when to bring the troops home. A few Republicans are actually emphasizing their support for some sort of exit strategy -- including contenders in tight races, such as Rhode Island'Senator Lincoln Chafee, and Iowa Congressman Jim Leach, both of whom voted against authorizing President Bush to use force, and Connecticut Congressman Chris Shays, whose conversion from a strong pro-war stance would seem to have a lot to do with the tough challenge he faces from war-critic Diane Farrell. On the other hand, several high-profile Democratic challengers, including Nebraska House candidate Scott Kleeb, have explicitly opposed setting a timeline for withdrawal of the troops,
But there are certainly enough clear contests to make it possible to detect whether we'll see an anti-war wave tonight.
The first polling places to close tonight will be in Indiana and Kentucky, at 6 p.m. EST. In a Louisville-based House district, Democrat JOHN YARMUTH, an alternative newspaper publisher, has a chance of upsetting Republican incumbent Anne Northrup. Yarmuth has made his opposition to the war a central focus of his campaign from the start, and he's gotten so much traction that Northrup has started to break with the administration -- using the now-common dodge of calling for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign. If Yarmuth wins, it will send a clear signal about the viability of the anti-war message.
.At 7 p.m. EST, polls close in Virginia, where embattled Republican Senator George Allen faces a strong challenge from Democrat JIM WEBB. Webb, a veteran who was a Reagan administration appointee, switched parties and got into the race because of his fury over the war. Allen has stumbled frequently during this campaign, but at the end of the day a Webb win will say a lot about whether southern voters are as upset as voters in the rest of the country about the mess in Iraq.
At 7:3O p.m. EST, polls close in Ohio, where Democratic challenger SHERROD BROWN has highlighted his vote in the House against authorizing Bush to invade Iraq, complained about the cost of the war and called for an exit strategy from the start of his race against Republican incumbent Mike DeWine. A Brown win cannot be seen an anything but a big victory for anti-war forces., The same goes for a win by Democrat ZACK SPACE, who is running for the seat opened up by the decision of disgraced Republican Congressman Bob Ney to quit Congress. Space has made his anti-war stance a prime feature of his campaign in a traditionally Republican district.
At 8 p.m. EST, polls close in New Jersey, where incumbent Democratic Senator BOB MENENDEZ has come from behind in his race with Republican Tom Kean Jr. by putting opposition to the war at the top of his platform. Menendez is one of a number of Democrats who have employed blunt anti-war messages in their television ads. Polls will also close at this time in Connecticut, where the Senate contest between Democrat NED LAMONT and the man he ousted in the party primary, incumbent Joe Lieberman, who is running as an independent, will tell us a good deal about the depth of anti-war sentiment. Lamont's fall campaign has frequently stumbled and he trails in the polls. If Lamont were to win, or at this point finish close to Lieberman, it would indicate that even when a challenger has vulnerabilities an anti-war stance counts for a lot. In another key state where polls close at 8, Pennsylvania, a big win for Democratic Congressman JACK MURTHA, perhaps the House's most identifiable war critic and a favorite Republican punching bag, would make it clear that Democrats who have spoken out against Bush administration policies are not suffering for it. And a win in another Pennsylvania race by Democratic challenger JOE SESTAK, a military man who has been outspoken in his advocacy for an exit strategy in his challenge to Republican Congressman Curt Weldon in the state's 7th district, would say something more about the potency of the anti-war message. If Democrat PAUL HODES upsets Republican Congressman Charlie Bass in New Hampshire's 2nd district, it will be opposition to the war by Hodes that made the difference. The can be said if Democratic challenger LINDA STENDER defeats Republican Mike Ferguson in New Jersey's 7th district.
At 9 p.m. EST, polls close in much of the country, including the upper Midwest and some of the interior west, North Dakota Senator KENT CONRAD, a Democrat who cast a courageous vote against authorizing Bush to go to war in 2OO2, is running well ahead in his reelection race. A big Conrad win -- with over 6O percent of the vote -- would show that even in rural, conservative states it does not hurt to oppose the war. If fast-closing Democratic challenger JIM PEDERSON upsets Republican Senator Jon Kyl in Arizona, it will be because of Pederson's unrelenting focus on the need to end the war. A win in Minnesota's 1st district by Democratic challenger TIM WALZ, a retired dergeant major in the Army National Guard, would come at the expense of pro-war Republican Congressman Gil Gutknecht. In the open Minnesota-6 seat, a win by Democrat PATTY WETTERLING, who has advocated for the rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq, would send a very loud anti-war message. The same would go for a win in the 19th district of New York state, where polls close at this hour, by Democratic challenger JOHN HALL, who has used his opposition to the war to close the gap in his race against popular Republican Congresswoman Sue Kelly. Hall's still got an uphill climb in this contest, but if he succeeds, then clearly it is the war that is taking Republican incumbents down. Finally, watch in Wisconsin for how well a Green challenger, RAE VOGELER, finishes in her race against Democrat Herb Kohl. Like many Greens around the country, Vogeler has focused attention on the failure of Democrats such as Kohl to take clear anti-war positions; If Vogeler or other Greens delivering similar messages finish with significant percentages of the vote, it will serve as another indication of the intensity of anti-war sentiment.
At 1O p.m. EST, polls close in most western states. If Democrat JON TESTER upsets Republican Senator Conrad Burns in Montana, Tester's criticism of the war will have been a big factor -- indeed, it was the Democrat's anti-war stance that helped him win his party's primary in June over a more centrist Democrat. Similarly, a win by Democrat BRUCE BRALEY in Iowa's open 1st district, will send an anti-war message. Braley has highlighted his support for an exit strategy from the start of the race.
At 11 p.m. EST, polls in the far west close. If Democrat DARCY BURNER defeats Republican Congressman Dave Reichert in Washington state's 8th district, the war will have been a big factor. In California's hotly-contested 11th district, Democrat JERRY McNERNEY won his primary in large part because he was the more clearly anti-war candidate. If he defeats Republican Congressman Richard Pombo in what is likely to be one of the last contests to be decided tonight, Congress will be tipped a little further in the direction of a "Bring the Troops Home: position.
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