Inside Politics: Democrats hope to cut into tea party gains in Illinois

CHICAGO — Some Illinois Republicans who rode a partisan tea party wave to take five U.S. House seats away from Democrats two years ago are wooing voters with a different approach this election. They are preaching unity and compromise.

To take back most of those seats, Democrats are counting on a big turnout in President Obama’s home state, new congressional boundaries favoring their candidates and big advertising dollars. They even voice hopes of retaking the House if they make similar gains in New York and California.

Republicans are pushing back hard, but with a softer message.

Pizzeria owner Bobby Schilling was a tea party-supported GOP winner in 2010. He now describes himself as center-right and says in a TV ad that being a congressman is not a “Democrat or Republican issue.”

CAMPAIGN

Pundits clash over video of 2007 Obama speech

Conservative news and opinion website The Daily Caller on Tuesday posted a 2007 videotape of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama speaking to a group of black ministers and blaming the federal government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina on racism.

According to the Daily Caller’s report, the unedited recording of an Obama speech on the campus of Hampton University in June 2007 includes sharply worded rhetoric about racism that went unreported at the time and diverged significantly from the prepared text of the candidate’s speech.

“The people down in New Orleans they don’t care about as much,” Mr. Obama says on the tape.

He also speaks affectionately about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his pastor, who was in attendance at the speech.

After Mr. Wright’s inflammatory comments on 9/11 and black liberation theology surfaced, Mr. Obama distanced himself from the pastor a few weeks later.

The videotape fueled clashes on Tuesday night’s cable news networks, with Obama supporters dismissing the tape as “lame” and a rehash of old news, and critics of the president arguing that the clip shows hypocrisy and pandering on the part of Mr. Obama.

EDUCATION

Duncan wants print textbooks to be converted to digital

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is calling for printed textbooks to become obsolete within the next few years.

Mr. Duncan says the U.S. is falling behind other nations that are aggressively moving from print to digital for educational materials. He says a small number of American school districts are moving in that direction, but that the country must move faster.

Mr. Duncan’s remarks came during an address to the National Press Club, where he also criticized the Republican-controlled House for failing to adequately invest in education.

Mr. Duncan says nominee Mitt Romney and the Republicans see education as an expense, whereas President Obama sees it as an investment. He says early education and programs for low-income and disabled students could suffer under Republican leadership.

PENTAGON

Budget resolution omits Iraq training authority

The Pentagon says the temporary budget resolution that took effect Monday fails to authorize the U.S. military to continue training Iraqi security forces.

Congress did not include the Iraqi Security Forces Fund in the short-term spending measure it passed last month to fund the government.

Defense officials say none of the military trainers will be called back to the U.S. immediately while the Pentagon works through the issue.

Officials say there are fewer than 200 U.S. troops in Iraq, and fewer than 100 other Defense Department civilians and contractors. They say the Pentagon is exploring ways to possibly continue the training.

The U.S. Embassy’s police training program has been touted as a key effort to continue supporting Iraqi security forces after the American military withdrew from Iraq last year.

CAMPAIGN

Biden says middle class ‘buried’ over past 4 years

Republicans are pouncing on a comment Vice President Joseph R. Biden made Tuesday that the middle class has been “buried” for the past four years, casting it as an admission that average Americans have suffered under Obama administration policies.

Mr. Biden made the remark at a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., in the middle of an argument that Republicans would have to raise taxes on the middle class by reducing certain tax breaks they already receive, noting that the tax hike would be particularly hurtful considering what the middle class has experienced over the past four years.

“This is deadly earnest, man. This is deadly earnest,” he said. “How they can justify, how they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that has been buried the last four years — how in Lord’s name can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts?”

VETERANS AFFAIRS

Investigators cite wasteful spending at two conferences

Federal investigators are estimating that the Veterans Affairs Department wastefully spent about $762,000 at two conferences in Florida last year and that senior leadership failed to provide proper oversight in planning and hosting the events.

The VA’s inspector general said 11 of the department’s employees also accepted improper gifts from contractors seeking to do business with the government.

Members of Congress from both parties said the findings demonstrated that the department lacks an adequate system of checks and balances to ensure it’s a good steward of taxpayer dollars.

In all, the conferences in Orlando cost about $6.1 million and were held to fulfill valid training needs for nearly 1,800 VA employees.

The department said the expenses and gifts cited in the report represented serious lapses in oversight and judgment.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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