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The Ad Wars - Election '06

Below are five of the nastiest ads of the midterms. They offer a glimpse into what a party and its candidates do when the issues are stacked against them (Bush, Iraq, health care, energy, the economy, global warming, incompetence, corruption, etc.). The GOP playbook: distract, divide, smear, slime…win by any means necessary and hope you fool the voters.

Nasty Ad #1: Target: Michael Arcuri (paid for by the NRCC): This ad accuses Arcuri of using taxpayer dollars to dial a sex fantasy hotline – even though everyone admits that it was a wrong number dialed by one of the candidate's aides, who tried to call the state division of criminal justice, which had a number almost identical to that of the porn line. The misdial cost taxpayers $1.25. The ad cost about $10,000.

Nasty Ad #2: Target: John Cranley (paid for by NRCC): "Cranley voted to allow children as young as seven to be tased." The ad is illustrated with a pigtailed girl being struck by lightning bolts. It refers to the candidate's refusal to ban police from using a taser on kids – because, Cranley has argued, it's better to use a taser to stop a weapons-wielding child than a real gun.

Nasty Ad #3: Target: Harold Ford (paid for by the RNC): This race-baiting ad accuses Ford of meeting a white woman at a Playboy party. The ad ends with an actress – playing the role of the aforementioned woman – winking into the camera and whispering, "Harold, call me." Note that the RNC at first said that it had no control over the ad, and then a spokesman stated that "the party was replacing the ad as part of a normal 'rotation.' "

Nasty Ad #4: Target: Ron Kind (paid for by the Paul Nelson campaign): "Ron Kind pays for sex, but not for soldiers." The ad takes Kind's support for funding of National Institutes of Health studies completely out of context, and makes a false leap that those funds could have been used to instead supply body armor.

Nasty Ad #5: Target: Brad Miller (paid for by the Vernon Robinson campaign): This congressional challenger in North Carolina manages in 60 seconds to tie Miller to Osama bin Laden, gay marriage, "lesbians and feminists," activist judges, infanticide, flag-burning, racial quotas, illegal immigrants, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and last but not least – space aliens!

Over $2 billion will be spent on tv ads this political season – $2 billion. Imagine how meaningful reform – such as publicly funded campaigns – might change things. Instead of endless streams of emails and letters begging for money to fund the ad wars, candidates might be able to raise resources for things that really matter – and lead by example.

Flavor of the Cycle - Election '06

Tom Kean is down in the polls. So he's unleashing a desperate last-ditch effort to smear Sen. Bob Menendez (who I mention in a recent post on peace candidates). It involves the favorite-flavor-of-the-cycle – immigrant bashing – and distorting Menendez's record on social security.

Here are some excerpts from two of the ads: "You can stop the Menendez plan to give your money to illegal migrants by voting for Tom Kean"…. "My opponent supports amnesty and has voted to give our Social Security benefits to illegal migrants…."

It's hard to decipher what Kean is talking about since the assertions are outside the realm of even Colbert's "truthiness." But Kean seems to be referring to Menendez's support for the recent Senate immigration bill – which, as Media Matters notes, "would do nothing to change the current prohibition on illegal immigrants receiving Social Security benefits."

To borrow from that great American political tradition of employing football analogies: the ads are akin to throwing a "Hail Mary" in the 4th quarter when your opponent has nearly put the game out of reach…. Let's hope voters recognize GOP desperation when they see it.

Refusing to Swallow the Spin

No one is going to suggest that the mainstream media that spent much of the last week of a critical national election campaign focusing on a non-candidate's failed attempt to tell a joke distinguished itself by offering citizens the information they need to cast informed votes. The absurd amount of attention that was devoted to a flap surrounding U.S. Senator John Kerry's attempt to poke fun at George Bush's ignorance of international affairs served as a reminder of how easily most broadcast journalists and talk-show hosts can be spun. It is much easier to note the exceptions to the rule -- such as CNN's "Broken Government" series and Jack Cafferty's commendable "throw-them-all-out" commentaries, and syndicated radio host Stephanie Miller's daily dissection of Republican talking points and the right-wing media's repetition of them -- than it is to count all the examples of tangled truths and mangled realities.

But the campaign season did close with one remarkable example of a prominent television personality using his program to challenge a particular politician's penchant for peddling sleaze. The politician in question is U.S. Senator Mike DeWine, the Ohio Republican who, like several other members of the GOP caucus, has fallen behind in his bid for a new term.

Ohio political observers know that DeWine has a long history of engaging in dirty and deceptive tactics in the final stages of his campaigns -- especially when the Republican is trailing. DeWine once accused former Senator John Glenn of being soft on communism, as part of a campaign that led the Dayton Daily News newspaper to accuse "mud-loving Mike DeWine" of running "a thoroughly negative campaign." That was a rare example of the media calling the Republican to account.

For the most part, however, DeWine has gotten away with smearing his opponents because fewin the media have challenged him on his tactics. In fact, as the media has become increasing lax in recent years, the senator has come to count on journalists to swallow his spin without challenge or complaint.

So when DeWine went on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" a few days before this year's election, the senator expected to be able to use the national "free-media" exposure to attack his Democratic challenger, U.S. Representative Sherrod Brown, without any facing any consequences.

DeWine appeared on "Hardball" to amplify charges made in a campaign commercial that was airing on television stations around Ohio. The ad dredged up a discredited claim that, when Brown served in the 198Os as Ohio Secretary of State, the Democrat failed to address charges that a low-level employee of the office sold marijuana. The DeWine ad failed to note that, when Republicans first raised this "issue" in 199O, the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper reported that that there was "no evidence of impropriety" by Brown, while the Dayton Daily News described the Republican attacks on the Democrat as "trumped-up charges" that had been "officially discredited."

DeWine wasn't betting on Matthews to question the validity of the attack ad?

He bet wrong.

After the senator repeated allegations from the ad, Matthews asked, "What was the person's name? What's the person's name who was selling drugs, you say, illegally? Who was that person?"

DeWine mumbled, "I don't know the person's name..."

"Well, did this person ever get arrested?" asked Matthews. "Was this person ever arrested or convicted?"

"There was no charges filed," admitted DeWine.

Matthews pressed the senator: "O.K., what year was this?"

DeWine: "We're talking now, uh, er, the buy itself was made in 1986..."

Matthews: "You're talking about what your opponent's office did twenty years ago. You can't give me the name of the person involved. You've admitted that the person was never charged or convicted..."

DeWine tried to interrupt Matthews with another recitation of Brown's supposed sins. But Matthews was not going to let the senator get away with it.

"Isn't it kind of embarrassing having been a good Senator from Ohio without a mark on you to have to go back and dig up this scum?" Matthews asked. "Don't you feel embarrassed you're doing this, Senator? You wouldn't be talking about this if you weren't well behind in this race."

Truth may be a precious commodity in contemporary politics. But, sometimes, a ray of light shines through the spin. And Chris Matthews deserves credit for using that light to expose the scum on Mike DeWine's reelection campaign.

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COMMENTS ON THIS ARTICLE: MOVED FROM ONLINE BEAT SECTION

What would really be refreshing to me is a MSM that that stops catering to the whims of their corporate sponsers and instead truly imforms people as to what is really going on in this country. Legitimate news networks like CNN and mSNBC know full well that the Faux News Channel is full of crap and lies but they get away with it because the other networks don't hammer them.

Here's a good tag line for CNN. CNN, the real news, not Faux News.

What would happen to Alan Colmbs if he said on air, this news channel is phony. Think he would get headlines and a good job at CNN or MSNBC? I think so. He just needs to grow a set of balls.

Posted by FRANKGRITS 11/07/2006 @ 01:25am | ignore this person

I wish I knew how confident and confrontational Chris Matthews would have been if DeWine weren't so far down in the polls. Is he being a courageous investigative journalist, or is he kicking a guy that he's pretty sure is going to be voted out of office tomorrow?

Posted by CYRANO 11/07/2006 @ 01:29am | ignore this person

Posted by FRANKGRITS 11/07/2006 @ 01:25am

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. You think Alan Colmes is going to speak against the people who pay him? You think Fox News (or CNN or any news channel) is going to speak against their sponsors?

You think KVH or Peter Rothberg or John Nichols will speak against the Nation?

Posted by URMYGYRO 11/07/2006 @ 01:40am | ignore this person

I wonder if Matthews would ask Sherrod Brown about his vote FOR the "torture bill"?

Posted by MASK 11/07/2006 @ 07:00am | ignore this person

FRANKGITS

As always, your outrage is selective as is Mathews' tough questioning of certain political opponents, he is loathe to answer for his own hypocrisey ie the Plame debacle. On his own deceptions, he is eerily silent.

Posted by CPT 11/07/2006 @ 07:07am | ignore this person

The real spin is in! Based on past tax tables the Demoncrat party defines the RICH as any family or person making OVER $50,000.!!!!! So, is it any wonder that;

Appearing on Fox News Monday morning with Bill Hemmer, DNC Chairman Howard Dean refused to give the Democrats' definition of the middle class, with respect to the Democrat plan to raise taxes. Dean said that should the Democrats regain the House, Senate or both, taxes will be raised but, not on the middle class.

When Hemmer asked Dean to define the middle class, with respect to salary range, Dean refused to answer. Instead, he said: "If you ‘think you're middle class', we won't raise your taxes." Dean went on to say that Democrats will substantially raise taxes on oil companies, insurance companies and "the wealthy".

Get ready to get SOAKED for more entitlement programs and socialistic government programs giving away YOUR income and taking back tax cuts!!!

Posted by RIO BRAVO 11/07/2006 @ 07:22am | ignore this person

I make about 50K. I'd be happy to give up my $100/year tax break from Herr Bush if it would help return some sanity to our fiscal policy.

The last time a Republican balanced the budget was - er - 1969? 1929?

You write good fiction, Rio Bravo . . .

Posted by SDELEVE 11/07/2006 @ 07:43am | ignore this person

Posted by SDELEVE 11/07/2006 @ 07:43am

He is the James Frey of the blog.

How many jobs did you create with your hundred bucks? We spent our $300 bribe (everybody remember that?) on gasoline.

So, one journalist grew some cojones? Small victory. Although, Chris was pretty hard on "Thanks for apologizing, Harry" Cheney on Sunday. He actually asked him some questions. Birdshot, of course, was detached from reality and there was no follow up.

Lib media my lilly white ass!!

Posted by CRABWALK 11/07/2006 @ 08:15am | ignore this person

Worthless prediction:

Dems pick up 18 in The House, 4 in Senate. Chimp blames The House, and the "lib media", for all ills in his last two lame duck years.

Posted by CRABWALK 11/07/2006 @ 08:17am | ignore this person

Voting Reform Begins with Secretaries of State

Worried about the integrity of today's election? You should be. The United States has a dysfunctional election system that produces unequal results depending on the state in which one lives, that is vulnerable to intimidation and manipulation, and that does not consistently guarantee that all eligible Americans can vote and have those votes counted.

The Florida debacle of 2000, the Ohio crisis of 2004 and the dozens of disasters in the primary voting this year have confirmed that the basis processes of our democracy are in need of radical repair.

But where does the process begin?

How about with races around the country for Secretary of State, the position that in most states is responsible to organizing and running elections?

Reform candidates are running in states across the country. One of the best, Debra Bowen, is running in California, the nation's most populous state. Others include Jennifer Brunner in Ohio, Ken Gordon in Colorado, Michael Mauro in Ohio, Carmella Sabaugh in Michigan, Mary Herrera in New Mexico and Ross Miller in Nevada. All of these campaigns have been highlighted by SOS: The Secretary of State Project (www.secstateproject.org) as "clean candidates" who "will protect voter rights in 2008." But they are more than that: If elected, these candidates will form the frontline in a national push for clean and fair elections.

And it will be a multipartisan push.

How do we know? The most outspoken champion of reform among candidates for Secretary of State around the country is Minnesota's Mark Ritchie, a veteran activist who in 2004 headed the National Voice coalition, the nonpartisan Get Out the Vote campaign that coordinated the work of over 1000 groups nationwide and registered 5 million new voters.

Frustrated by electoral irregularities that year -- particularly in Ohio -- Ritchie entered the race for Secretary of State against Minnesota's hyper-partisan Republican incumbent Mary Kiffmeyer.

Ritchie has throughout this campaign emphasized his commitment to protecting the rights of all voters and of all parties. He's done so with such passion that, on the eve of the election, a prominent independent candidate in the race -- Bruce Kennedy, who is an outspoken advocate for Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV) -- issued a statement urging undecided voters to cast their ballots for Ritchie.

"I've known for several years that Mary Kiffmeyer is not a good Secretary of State for MN. She lacks ‘people skills' with her own employees and with election officials around the state that she is coordinating. Mark clearly has a more positive and collaborative style than Mary Kiffmeyer," announced Kennedy. "Mark is a hard worker. As this campaign progressed, I became persuaded that he will be a strong voice for IRV in Minnesota. Bottom line, he has a good chance to win. I don't. I am recommending to any voters who are undecided to vote for Mark Ritchie."

Ritchie, who is running on the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party ticket, welcomed the news by hailing Kennedy for enhancing the debate by adding "fresh ideas on ranked voting, voter education, and on how to make the entire system more fair and non-partisan for candidates and voters." Ritchie promised that: "Independent-minded voters can count on me to restore fairness, integrity and non-partisanship to the Office of the Secretary of State."

Minnesota voters have Ritchie's word on that, in the form of his four-party pledge to them:

<>1. You will be able to register and vote with ease, privacy and dignity regardless of where you live, political affiliation, or physical ability.

2. Your votes will be recorded as you intend on a paper ballot. All ballots will be counted accurately and in a timely manner and your personal election information will be protected.

3. All candidates will receive equal treatment and the same information from the Office regardless of political affiliation.

4. The Secretary of State's Office will be accountable to all Minnesotans for carrying out and protecting our laws."

There are a lot of important races to be decided today. But few candidates hold the promise that Mark Ritchie and his fellow contenders for Secretary of State positions do for the restoration and renewal of our battered American democracy.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Refusing to Swallow the Spin

No one is going to suggest that the mainstream media that spent much of the last week of a critical national election campaign focusing on a non-candidate's failed attempt to tell a joke distinguished itself by offering citizens the information they need to cast informed votes. The absurd amount of attention that was devoted to a flap surrounding U.S. Senator John Kerry's attempt to poke fun at George Bush's ignorance of international affairs served as a reminder of how easily most broadcast journalists and talk-show hosts can be spun. It is much easier to note the exceptions to the rule -- such as CNN's "Broken Government" series and Jack Cafferty's commendable "throw-them-all-out" commentaries, and syndicated radio host Stephanie Miller's daily dissection of Republican talking points and the right-wing media's repetition of them -- than it is to count all the examples of tangled truths and mangled realities.

But the campaign season did close with one remarkable example of a prominent television personality using his program to challenge a particular politician's penchant for peddling sleaze. The politician in question is U.S. Senator Mike DeWine, the Ohio Republican who, like several other members of the GOP caucus, has fallen behind in his bid for a new term.

Ohio political observers know that DeWine has a long history of engaging in dirty and deceptive tactics in the final stages of his campaigns -- especially when the Republican is trailing. DeWine once accused former Senator John Glenn of being soft on communism, as part of a campaign that led the Dayton Daily News newspaper to accuse "mud-loving Mike DeWine" of running "a thoroughly negative campaign." That was a rare example of the media calling the Republican to account.

For the most part, however, DeWine has gotten away with smearing his opponents because fewin the media have challenged him on his tactics. In fact, as the media has become increasing lax in recent years, the senator has come to count on journalists to swallow his spin without challenge or complaint.

So when DeWine went on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" a few days before this year's election, the senator expected to be able to use the national "free-media" exposure to attack his Democratic challenger, U.S. Representative Sherrod Brown, without any facing any consequences.

DeWine appeared on "Hardball" to amplify charges made in a campaign commercial that was airing on television stations around Ohio. The ad dredged up a discredited claim that, when Brown served in the 198Os as Ohio Secretary of State, the Democrat failed to address charges that a low-level employee of the office sold marijuana. The DeWine ad failed to note that, when Republicans first raised this "issue" in 199O, the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper reported that that there was "no evidence of impropriety" by Brown, while the Dayton Daily News described the Republican attacks on the Democrat as "trumped-up charges" that had been "officially discredited."

DeWine wasn't betting on Matthews to question the validity of the attack ad?

He bet wrong.

After the senator repeated allegations from the ad, Matthews asked, "What was the person's name? What's the person's name who was selling drugs, you say, illegally? Who was that person?"

DeWine mumbled, "I don't know the person's name..."

"Well, did this person ever get arrested?" asked Matthews. "Was this person ever arrested or convicted?"

"There was no charges filed," admitted DeWine.

Matthews pressed the senator: "O.K., what year was this?"

DeWine: "We're talking now, uh, er, the buy itself was made in 1986..."

Matthews: "You're talking about what your opponent's office did twenty years ago. You can't give me the name of the person involved. You've admitted that the person was never charged or convicted..."

DeWine tried to interrupt Matthews with another recitation of Brown's supposed sins. But Matthews was not going to let the senator get away with it.

"Isn't it kind of embarrassing having been a good Senator from Ohio without a mark on you to have to go back and dig up this scum?" Matthews asked. "Don't you feel embarrassed you're doing this, Senator? You wouldn't be talking about this if you weren't well behind in this race."

Truth may be a precious commodity in contemporary politics. But, sometimes, a ray of light shines through the spin. And Chris Matthews deserves credit for using that light to expose the scum on Mike DeWine's reelection campaign.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Voter Protection Resources

With the need for democracy promotion at home all to clear – particularly voter protection in the face of new Jim Crow-like suppression tactics – many groups are responding to the call to make the elections clean and fair. Here is a short list of Election Day resources available to voters – print it, copy it, forward it, use it. Let's make sure every vote is counted and the results reflect the will of the people.

National Voter Assistance Hotline: 1-866-Our-Vote

The nonpartisan Election Protection (EP) coalition – led by People For the American Way Foundation, the NAACP, and the Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights Under Law – offers this national voter assistance hotline staffed by live call center operators trained to provide state specific assistance to all voters. The services will include bilingual assistance for areas with a heavy concentration of Spanish-speaking voters. Call center operators will inform voters and solve problems on issues such as voter identification requirements, voting machine malfunctions, problems at the polling place, and voter intimidation. EP's database records such problems, allowing the lawyers to track them in real time and take appropriate action to protect the vote on Election Day – not after the fact when it's too late. EP also offers a poll location website, www.MyPollingPlace.com

DNC Voter Hotline: 1-888-Dem-Vote

Voters can call this hotline with any Election Day problems that might arise and either leave a message, or be transferred to a local voter protection team in the state where the caller is registered. The hotline can also be used to find polling locations. Finally, all of the calls will be logged so that there will be a central record of voting problems as a resource for any post-election disputes. The DNC is also making Incident Report forms available beginning today at www.democrats.org/voterprotection.

ProtectOurVotes.org

The mission of ProtectOurVotes.org is to highlight the most serious violations as soon as they are discovered so that they are immediately available to journalists (along with reliable documentation). This is a vital resource to help shed light on Election Day injustices and take action before the election's verdict has been decided. The website also provides useful links to other partners in the Election Protection effort such as Video the Vote.

Other Hotlines

If you are having difficulties reaching any of the above resources, here are some other places you can turn to for help as well as to record a record of your voting experience:

SEIU Voter Hotline: 1-877-SEIU-VOTE
Common Cause Voter Hotline: 1-866-MY-VOTE
Velvet Revolution Voter Hotline: 1-888-VOTE-TIP

GOP’s Desperation Tactics

A volunteer was handing out campaign literature for John Hall at a local grocery store in New York's 19th District yesterday. He received a conspicuous response from several voters along the lines of: "I was going to vote for John Hall, until I got all those phone calls. I got seven or eight robo calls, right at dinner time."

In Eastern Washington, Peter Goldmark's campaign hadn't used robocalls in two weeks when suddenly people began complaining that they received as many as five or six calls in a row. Again, instant call backs every time the voter hung-up on the recorded caller.

Nancy Boyda, the Democratic challenger in the 2nd District of Kansas, received so many complaints along the same lines that she posted a response on her website.

And the Philadelphia Daily News reports of calls to voters on the Do Not Call list – seemingly from Democratic challenger, Lois Murphy. "The calls, which begin by offering ‘important information about Lois Murphy,' are designed to mislead voters into thinking the message is from her. Most recipients slam down the phone before finding out otherwise - and then call to complain."

In each case, the calls appear to be from the local Democratic candidate. If the recipient hangs up, the number is redialed. If the caller listens to the entire message the source is eventually identified. But most voters are so annoyed that they don't stick around for the duration – and they are turned-off by harassment they mistakenly attribute to a Democratic source.

At the center of many of these calls seems to be the work of Conquest Communications Group. Its list of lovable clients includes: Tom DeLay; the Louisiana Gambling Alert, run by Jack Abramoff; the right wing Family Research Council; Gun Owners of America; and Sen. George Allen.

All of this underscores a lesson we've learned too well: the necessity of being vigilant in sharing information regarding any underhanded tactics. We need to protect our votes from those who would undermine our rights in this election. On that score, later tonight I'm going to post a voter protection resource guide.

South Dakota Surprise

The most surprising story in this year's round of marriage amendments undoubtedly belongs to South Dakota (click here for other dispatches). Home to just 750,000 folks (89% white, 9% Native American; 91% Christian) -- the Mount Rushmore State isn't exactly known for being queer or blue. Bush carried the state in 2004 with 60% of the vote -- the same year that voters ignominiously dumped Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in favor of John Thune (who neither believes in gay marriage or evolution). According to the LA Times, South Dakota has the smallest percentage of LGBT folks in the country -- 10,000 queers or less than 1.5% of the population. (One activist joked to me, "we got 10,001 if you count Lincoln up there on the mountain").

So how is it that the straightest state in the nation is poised to defeat "Amendment C," a constitutional ban on gay marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships and other "quasi-marital relationships"? (The latest poll shows the measure in a dead heat with 47% against and 46% in favor). The answer lies partly in another right-wing ballot initiative, "Referred Law 6," or simply THE Abortion Ban, which the right-wing hopes to use to overturn Roe v. Wade. When all is said and done, over $4 million will have been spent campaigning for or against the ban. In a sparsely populated state with notoriously cheap radio and TV markets -- that's a whole lot of ads and door-knocking.

One side-effect of this enormous attention is that the marriage amendment has, if not exactly sailed under the radar, been spared a full frontal assault from the Christian right. According to Jon Hoadley, a native South Dakotan, former NGLTF staffer and campaign manager of South Dakotans Against Discrimination, the right has spent most of its time and resources on the abortion ban. When Hoadley scans the state for propaganda in favor of Amendment C, he mostly sees a bunch of lawn signs.

Hoadley also credits the "thoughtful voters of South Dakota" who have a "libertarian streak inside us." "A lot of voters think that something like this is just unfair, that it's not nice. Combine that with a hesitation to change our constitution." Indeed, South Dakotans Against Discrimination have run a savvy campaign, appealing to local, good neighbor values ("Good neighbors don't discriminate" reads one ad) and reaching out to religious leaders, business professionals and labor. The Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church and the South Dakota Diocese of the Episcopal Church have both spoken out against Amendment C. According to Hoadley, their stance has given South Dakotans Against Discrimination "a lot of leverage." "It's allowed us to approach religious voters and say that you have permission to vote against this," he said.

South Dakota has 11 ballot initiatives this year. In addition to the marriage and abortion bans, South Dakotans will vote on Amendment E, which would hold jurors and judges personally liable for their verdicts. Hoadley says that these measures are "some of the most extreme, most untested ballot initiatives in the country." "When you link all these things together, voters feel that this is all too far, too extreme."

Looking Like Losers

Is it possible the White House doesn't want Republicans to win the congressional elections? I know this sounds crazy. But consider the evidence.

1. Last week, George W. Bush vowed to retain Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense until the end of his presidency. (He said the same about Dick Cheney.) The debacle in Iraq is responsible for Bush's political decline and the GOP's poor electoral prospects. And Rumsfeld is the poster boy for that debacle. (Days ago, the Army Times called for his resignation.) Bush had no obligation to say whether Rumsfeld would remain at the Pentagon for another two years. He went out of his way in the homestretch of an election to tether himself to the fellow who symbolizes the mess in Iraq. Why do that--unless he has a political death wish?

2. On Friday, Dick Cheney said that the administration would indeed stay with its current course in Iraq and move "full speed ahead." He said, "We've got the basic strategy right." He added, "It may not be popular with the public--it doesn't matter in the sense that we have to continue the mission and do what we think is right. And that's exactly what we're doing. We're not running for office. We're doing what we think is right." Perhaps. But the previous week, his boss held a press conference and tried to convey the impression (though false) that the administration was going to rejigger its Iraq policy by introducing and aiming for "benchmarks." Bush's benchmark comments were not sufficient to win the confidence of the electorate. Days later, a New York Times/CBS News poll noted that only 29 percent of Americans approve of how Bush is handling the war in Iraq. So if 71 percent do not have faith in the White House's Iraq policy, why would Cheney make a point of declaring--defiantly--that he and Bush are committed to racing down that unpopular road? It was as if he were shooting the bird at the American public.

3. Speaking of which, on the weekend before the election, Cheney's office had an announcement: Cheney would spend Election Day on his first hunting trip since he shot a friend while trying to kill quail on a private ranch last February. Was this the right time for the White House to remind voters of Cheney's hapless moment? Couldn't Cheney wait until after the election before picking up a gun again? Why won't he be in a toss-up state stumping for a Republican candidate on Election Day? Or knocking on doors? And why does he get the day off? Election Day is not a federal holiday.

All of the above is quite puzzling behavior for a president and vice president facing the possibility their agenda, their war, and their party are about to be soundly refuted by American voters. Do they already know all is lost? On Sunday, I spoke with a former senior Bush administration official who has publicly predicted the Republicans will retain a one- or two-seat majority in the House and keep control of the Senate. But his manner indicated he didn't believe it. "This is what I have to say," he told me. "This is my public position." I asked what his private view was. He rolled his eyes.

Of course, the Republican Party is doing all its can to beat back what appears to be an anti-GOP wave--and that includes airing far-below-the-belt negative ads. Bush and Cheney have been campaigning in conservative areas--in spots where they won't do harm to Republicans. (On Monday, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Florida elected not to campaign with Bush in the Sunshine State.) And GOPers are talking up the vaunted get-out-the-vote machine created by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman that is now in motion. So it is bizarre that in the closing days of this critical election Bush and Cheney would so dramatically remind voters of what they don't like about the Bush-Cheney administration. If these episodes are not indicators of a secret desire to lose, they are additional signs that Bush and Cheney are woefully out of sync with the public. This prompts a question: if the electorate does rise up against Bush, his party and their war, will Bush and Cheney be able to process that? If not, the republic may be in for a rather bumpy ride.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.