Tipsheet: Campaign 2006 and the battle for control of Congress
EDITORS: The following Indiana University Bloomington professors are available to discuss key issues expected to shape the 2006 midterm elections and the battle for control of Congress. Contact information is listed for each faculty member below.
The professors discuss the following topics:
Religious rhetoric and "tone deaf" Democrats
How Indiana's races will affect the battle to control Congress
The impact of the anti-war movement on the 2006 elections
The sixth-year itch -- has it already been scratched?
Is it now or never for the Democrats?
The debate over net neutrality
Democrats are foolish to abstain from religious rhetoric, said Edward Linenthal, a professor of History at Indiana University who studies American religion. "Too many Democratic politicians are uncomfortable using the language of religion. Religious rhetoric has always been a mobilizing force in American politics, but it has never been so fully owned by one party." Linenthal said that the present unwillingness to call on what he terms the language of "civic righteousness" has left Democratic candidates "tone deaf" to the cultural resonance of religion. "Historically, there are many examples of progressive social reformers utilizing religious language, particularly the biblical prophetic tradition -- Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King Jr, come immediately to mind -- but right now there is no compelling and evocative civic vision of America to match the often mean-spirited and tribal religious nationalism of the Republican right. In the past few national campaigns, the inability of Democratic speech writers and campaign managers to draw upon these resources has been a fatal flaw. It has impoverished their already bland message." Linenthal stressed that political-religious imagery can be used to connect to a secular audience. "If I was asked to write speeches for a mostly secular American audience I could use a whole series of powerful and compelling civil religious symbols that draw their power both from recognizable religious traditions and also from national experience -- concepts like justice, freedom, liberty, tradition, sacrifice and the rights and responsibilities of a virtuous citizen." With any American audience, he said, the nature of political issues such as war, economic justice, protection of the environment, abortion and end-of-life questions necessitate an appeal grounded in religious values. Ignoring this dimension of human experience distances Democratic candidates from voters who may otherwise share their views and diminishes civic dialogue, he said. To speak with Linenthal, contact Elisabeth Andrews, IU Media Relations, 812-855-2153 or email@example.com. Top
With three of the nation's most competitive congressional races, Indiana will help decide whether the Democrats wrest control of the House of Representatives. What's more, a strong Democratic showing could enhance the political prospects of Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh as he eyes a possible run for the presidency in 2008, said Russell Hanson, a professor of political science at IU Bloomington who studies state and local politics and has been keeping close tabs on the competition in Indiana's 2nd, 8th and 9th Districts. Republican incumbents Chris Chocola (2nd District), John Hostettler (8th District) and Mike Sodrel (9th District) are facing stiff challenges from Democrats Joseph Donnelly, Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill, respectively. The results of these three races could affect the presidential stock of Evan Bayh, who many people expect to run for president in 2008. "Bayh has to demonstrate his ability to help Democrats get elected in fairly conservative states," Hanson said. "If he's successful, he can go back to Democratic officeholders in 2008 and say, 'I helped you, now you need to help me.' If he doesn't boost Democrats in his own state, though, he won't have much of a chance of capturing the national party's nomination." In Indiana, Hanson thinks the state Senate will stay Republican, though the outcome of the election may determine who assumes leadership in that body. The struggle to control the House, which is already closely divided, is intensifying as Republicans try to solidify their control of state government. Competition is keen in other states, too, where gubernatorial elections may elevate state executives to the ranks of contenders in the 2008 presidential sweepstakes. Hanson can be reached at 812-855-6001, though the best way to contact him is through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Top
With control of Congress resting on a slim margin, the anti-war movement may have a huge impact on the upcoming elections through its support of a handful of candidates, said Fabio Rojas, assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University Bloomington. His research on the anti-Iraq War movement is appearing in such academic journals as Qualitative Sociology. He makes the following points about the upcoming elections:
- Adopting a strong anti-war stance exposes candidates to defeat once they emerge from the primaries because conservative and swing voters do not support candidates seen as un-patriotic and radical. The challenge for anti-war candidates running in centrist or conservative districts is persuading swing voters that the United States can end its presence in Iraq while maintaining its strength and integrity. The success experienced by anti-war businessmen (Ned Lamont in the 2006 Connecticut Democratic primary), or the near success of veterans (Paul Hackett in the Ohio 2nd District 2005 special election), suggests that anti-war Democrats might win by supporting candidates who were successful in traditional careers because the candidate's biography deflects the charge of radicalism.
- Ignoring or antagonizing anti-war activists raises the possibility of a brutal primary fight. Anti-war Democrats, such as Connecticut's Lamont, can topple incumbents, such as Joe Lieberman, who consistently distance themselves from the anti-war movement.
- Desperate to avoid the perception of being weak on national security, and to set the stage for a successful 2008 presidential campaign, national Democrats are eager to support winning candidates that are not overtly associated with the anti-war movement. The reaction of the national Democratic Party to Lamont, and other anti-war candidates, will set the stage for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination fight.
Rojas' research examines political movements and their impact on American institutions. He can be reached at 812-856-1491, though the best way to contact him is through e-mail at email@example.com. More information about his research can be found at http://www.fabiorojas.com. Top
Don't assume that the sixth-year itch is alive and well in 2006. The number of competitive congressional races (those where either party has a chance) has dropped, especially since 2000, said Marjorie Hershey, a professor of political science at Indiana University Bloomington and a recognized authority on American political behavior and election results. "Yes, the president's approval rating is really low. Because of that, Democrats were able to recruit more attractive House and Senate candidates earlier this year than they'd ordinarily been able to recruit, and their fundraising has been unusually strong," she said. "But the sixth-year itch phenomenon is less likely now than it was earlier in the 1900s." House races, in particular, have been rendered less competitive because of congressional redistricting, incumbency advantages and an increasing "voluntary political segregation" where people are more likely now than in years past to live in areas where their neighbors agree with them politically, she said. "Twenty years ago, national parties defined 100 to 120 House seats as competitive. Heading into this year's midterm elections, there are maybe two dozen competitive House seats. So even though the conditions are right for big Republican losses, the lack of competitive districts may keep that from happening." Hershey can be reached through the Department of Political Science at 812-855-6308 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Top
If Democrats don't win this time around, they'll never win. That's the blunt assessment given by Indiana University Bloomington Professor of Political Science Gerald Wright. "With all of the bad news for the GOP and the president -- from the scandals we've seen happen to the war in Iraq, low public opinion and dissatisfaction with the president's handling of the war -- if the Democrats can't win in these conditions, they'll never win," he said. Wright, who is teaching a course this fall on the 2006 elections, is an accomplished scholar of American politics who studies elections, public opinion and state politics. He has long been interested in voter behavior and the relationships of elections to policy change in Congress and the states. In addition to general campaign topics, he is available to speak about Indiana's competitive congressional races, including the highly watched race in the 9th Congressional District between Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Sodrel and Democratic challenger Baron Hill. He can be reached at 812-855-6306 or email@example.com. Top
Those candidates who get caught on the wrong side of the net -- the debate over "Net neutrality," that is -- could pay the price this November, said Jeffrey Hart, professor of political science at Indiana University Bloomington, one of the nation's foremost authorities on the politics of high technology industries. As part of the debate over legislation to update the Telecommunications Act of 1996, lawmakers in Congress are currently fighting over whether to preserve or eliminate Net neutrality, a rule that prevents Internet providers from favoring one Web site (i.e. Google) over another (i.e. Yahoo). Proponents of Net neutrality argue that without it, Internet operators could legally slow down access to the Web sites of activist groups like MoveOn.org or the Christian Coalition, just because they oppose these groups' political viewpoints. The debate has led to a commitment on the part of MoveOn.org to campaign against those candidates who want to uninstall Net neutrality. It's also resulted in some unusual "bedfellows," Hart said. Proponents of preserving Net neutrality come from all political persuasions and include Moveon.org, the American Civil Liberties Union, Google, the Christian Coalition and Internet pioneers like Vincent Cerf. "People who care about this care about it intensely, so there may be electoral consequences in marginal districts for those who oppose Net neutrality," Hart said, adding that it remains to be seen whether Democrats attempt to make this an issue in the weeks leading up to the election. "They might," Hart said, "and the Republicans might crow about how they prevented more unnecessary regulation, but I doubt they will do that because there is some disagreement within the party on this issue. It looks like the telecom bill might not pass until after the election because of the controversy. [Republicans] are looking for ways to get a bill that can pass, and they need 60 votes in the Senate to do it." Hart can be reached at 812-855-9002 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Top