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Rhetoric heats up in homestretch

Partisans fire up troops for trench warfare

- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 31, 2010

President Obama desperately sought to reignite the coalition that pushed him to power in 2008, while Sarah Palin blamed "corrupt bastards" for trying to hinder Senate candidate Joe Miller of Alaska, and in North Carolina, a federal judge ordered steps to prevent voting-machine problems.

As the 2010 election circus careened toward its inevitable Tuesday conclusion, the rhetoric sharpened this weekend, the accusations grew more incendiary and the pundits and pollsters said some of the results — such as Republicans capturing the House, but not the Senate — are now all but inevitable.

"It's going to be a political earthquake, and the message will have been sent to the left that they blew it," Mrs. Palin, the former Republican governor of Alaska who has been part of this year's anti-Washington insurgency, told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace.

But she also blamed the mainstream media for taking sides in the elections, accusing reporters from a CBS affiliate in Alaska of trying to find a child molester or capture a "Rand Paul moment" at a rally Mrs. Palin held with Mr. Miller last week. Mr. Paul's campaign was rocked last week by video of a supporter stomping on a heckler's head.

"Those are corrupt bastards, Chris," Mrs. Palin said.

Mr. Miller has stumbled badly in polls, and incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is running a write-in campaign that could either let her keep the seat or tip it to Democrat Scott McAdams.

"We believe that Scott McAdams actually has a real chance of winning this race," Sen. Robert C. Menendez of New Jersey, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman, said Sunday.

Prognosticators say the Republicans are poised to take at least the 39 seats needed to win the House, with some pundits saying the Republican swing could top 60 seats.

But the Senate, where Republicans earlier seemed to have a good chance of winning the 10 seats to take control, has slipped away from the GOP, held back by troubled nominees such as Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and by Democrats rallying in the core blue states of California and Washington.

The Cook Political Report said the odds of Republicans winning control of the Senate "are now non-existent."

Mr. Obama spent the weekend visiting the blue states of Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Illinois, with a final stop in the critical swing state of Ohio. At each stop, he pleaded for his coalition of liberal Democrats, independents and disaffected Republicans to reject the GOP and give him the troops in Congress he needs to pursue his agenda further.

"When we won two years ago, that was just the start. That wasn't about electing a president. That was about building a movement to change the country for the better," Mr. Obama said at a rally in Bridgeport, Conn., on Saturday.

But as has happened several other times recently, Mr. Obama found himself being heckled by erstwhile supporters — this time over global AIDS funding.

On Sunday, Mr. Obama held his last rally, at Cleveland State University, in a bid to help Ohio Democrats keep control of the governorship and a Senate seat. He said the Tuesday elections pitted against one another "the policies that got us into this mess and the policies that are leading us out of this mess."

That unrest among what should be his most loyal supporters has Democrats worried about low turnout, which could doom some of his party's lawmakers in tight races.

The Democratic National Committee announced this weekend it is pouring money into get-out-the-vote operations in key states, including nearly $1 million in Mr. Obama's home state of Illinois and $470,000 in Florida.

In a troubling sign for Democrats, they are putting $100,000 into Massachusetts, where a Republican challenger is giving Gov. Deval Patrick a competitive race, and where some of the state's 10 House seats — currently all held by Democrats — could be won by Republicans.

Candidates across the country canvassed their states and districts, seeking last-minute undecided voters' support and touting local newspapers' endorsements.

But in many cases, voters have already made their choices, thanks to early and absentee voting.

In North Carolina, where a few early voters reported trying to vote for a straight Republican ticket but instead the electronic machines spit out a straight-ticket Democratic vote, a federal judge intervened.

Judge Malcolm Howard on Saturday ordered that state election officials post signs warning that the machines are sensitive and cautioning voters to review their ballots carefully before finalizing their votes.

Democrats say they're banking on independent and undecided voters taking a harder look at Republicans and rejecting the GOP's policy offerings late in the game.

That explains in part Democrats' focus on Republicans such as Ms. O'Donnell in Delaware, whose selection by primary voters over Rep. Michael N. Castle has turned what was expected to be a Republican pickup into a near-certain Democratic hold.

Mrs. Palin, who helped boost Ms. O'Donnell in the primary, defended that decision Sunday, arguing that she had to "give it the old college try and allow the conservative in the race" to be heard.

Adding to the circus atmosphere of the final weekend, two television comics, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, held a "Rally to Restore Sanity," attracting tens of thousands of people to the Mall in Washington.

The irreverent crowd seemed less about politics than about lashing out at the establishment politicians and press who feed on political controversy.

"We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate and how it's a shame that we can't work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don't is here," Mr. Stewart said, pointing at the Capitol behind him, "or on cable TV. But Americans don't live here or on cable TV."

Still, the rally's anti-politics theme didn't stop Democrats from reportedly trying to recruit volunteers for a late-campaign get-out-the-vote push.

The election is now down to a turnout game.

"Most voters have picked sides. Convincing the few remaining undecided voters is taking a back seat to mobilizing supporters," said Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which released a final batch of Senate polls this weekend showing tight races in Colorado and Washington, while Republicans held 7-percentage-point leads in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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