CAMPAIGNS What messages will the candidates try to convey? Embattled Republican incumbents will struggle to distance themselves from their President. They will plead for challengers. They also will campaign against “liberalism”-- construed as heavy taxes, abortion, same-sex marriage, stem-cell research, spinelessness on defense, tolerance for illegal immigration, atheism, flag-burning. Those issues are salient mostly for the already-converted, and they serve to alienate Republican moderates. The Republican candidates also will urge the voters to rank national security against terror(ism) as their foremost concern. But since the dangers they cite appear to have increased during the Bush years, and since public opinion evidently has moved against “stay the course” in Iraq, that appeal will not provide much traction. Meanwhile, Democratic candidates will strive to make headway with their minimum-wage increase pledge and with tying their opponents to the Botch Administration.
Although the November by-elections will be shaped by popular feelings about the general course of events (feelings of anxiety, tapped by pollsters in the form of questions about whether the country is going in the right or the wrong direction), they also will be shaped by local factors. Those factors favor the Democrats more than the Republicans. In New York State, overwhelming electoral support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer will provide a coat-tail effect that, combined with other forces, could deliver four House seats to the Democrats instead of one or two (along with a host of normally Republican State and local offices).
Elections are decided not only by past records and by campaigns, but also by events (such as 9/11). A “conservative” commentator named Michael Barone has opined that the Republicans need a salvational event and that it already has come. He names the terrorist plot to smuggle bombs onto civilian aircraft headed from