- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

The sluggish economy and military action against Iraq are the dominant issues on the minds of most voters before the midterm elections, in which 36 governorships and the control of Congress are at stake.As voters around the country prepare to go to the polls Tuesday, the looming war to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the weak economy have driven other issues off the political radar screen. The election will decide if either party controls both houses of Congress. The Republican Party holds a slight majority of six seats in the House. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, holds a one-seat advantage in the Senate.
Traditionally, midterm elections have benefited the party not occupying the White House. The campaigns also usually have focused primarily on domestic concerns. But this year's election has been different, as most voters seem preoccupied not only with the anemic economy and the slumping stock market, but with the potential of war against Iraq.
Despite the September 11 attacks, many voters interviewed on the streets in New York are expressing little support for President Bush's call to oust Saddam and dismantle his weapons of mass destruction. Patriotism burned bright in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster, but in many minds Republicans and Democrats alike the case for attacking Iraq has not been made by the Bush administration. A shaky economy has only fed their fear of the future.
"The economy is on my mind, and it's frightening," said James Russo, 63, a retired business manager who lives on Park Avenue. "Bush and [former New York Mayor Rudolph W.] Giuliani were so popular after September 11 that we didn't notice what was happening to the economic picture. The market has hit me hard."
Laughing, he added: "No more 25K diamond bracelets."
Meanwhile, a public relations executive of Cuban descent remains unconvinced regarding the administration's Iraq policy. She said everyone she knows in the traditionally Republican Cuban communities both in New York and in Florida have changed their minds about Mr. Bush because of Iraq.
"I actually have Cuban-born friends who went to the Washington anti-war march to protest the arrogance of the United States," she said, referring to the large peace protest last week. "What are we going to do, take on the world?"
A Republican, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was not sure she would vote at all this year.
Another woman, Karla McGuigan, 54, a computer consultant, said the issues in this election revolve around terrorism, the economy and civil liberties. She's particularly concerned that the government might abuse the civil liberties of Americans in its pursuit of the war on terrorism.
"There will be more surveillance of e-mails since computers can be looked at for clues to terrorism. They're even looking for certain words on the phones and computers that could trigger suspicion. I'm for national security, so it's a Catch 22, but I don't want my civil liberties taken away," she said.
Mrs. McGuigan's husband, Daniel, 49, an accountant, worries about further terrorist attacks on New York. He has taken a keen interest in U.S. policy toward Iraq, especially the administration's plan to strike first against Baghdad.
"This is the first time we've used pre-emption as a policy, and it's scary to go in because we think they're going to attack," he said.
"Frankly, I think Iraq is being used as a screen for getting votes. We are the only superpower left in the world, and we have to use it wisely."
Jackie Fine, 28, a graduate student in clinical psychology who doubles as a pizza waitress, said the issues she cares most about are taxes, education and whether a candidate is pro-choice. The Bronx-born Miss Fine said that although she doesn't really like Mr. Bush, she respects him for his policies regarding Israel and Iraq.
One of Miss Fine's customers , a 39-year-old cell biologist who gave his name as Mike, was sitting with his colleagues from Rockefeller University. He said he was relying on a friend to advise him how to vote because "I'm all CNN-ed out."
Of one thing he is certain: the United States should not invade Iraq. This feeling is echoed by three Chilean students with him. "There's no significant provocation," he added to the approval of all.

Hunkered down in Florida
In Florida, where voters are again preparing for an election that will be closely watched throughout the nation, poll watchers from both governmental and private agencies are in place for Tuesday's vote. They hope to prevent the election debacles that have recently plagued the state.
The election has been dominated by the closely contested gubernatorial race, pitting Republican Gov. Jeb Bush against Democrat Bill McBride. Another race of national interest is the one involving Republican former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who is running for a seat in Congress. She is widely expected to win the race to represent Florida's 13th District.
Drew Bagley, a 19-year-old student at the University of Florida in Orlando, said he intends to vote Democratic because of his opposition to military action in Iraq.
"The war in Iraq is something that anybody can consider when they vote, and I will," Mr. Bagley said. "I am opposed, and I will vote for candidates who will be of that persuasion."
While polls show that education is the biggest issue in Florida, older residents expressed concerns over the slumping economy and recent meltdown in the stock market.
"The economy is the biggest issue for me," said Mary Fulford Green, a retired native Floridian who lives in Sarasota.
"The retired community has lost a lot in investments recently, and it is what will drive people at the polls," Mrs. Green said. "And we all know that whoever we elect at whatever level can have an effect on our economy."
Mrs. Green says she will vote Democratic as she has always done in the past.
"We have a lot of ultraconservatives here," she said of the Republican-dominated southwest Florida region. "My husband was a liberal until he got old and rich."
But Joan Shirey, chairman of the Sarasota Bay Republican Women's Club, says she will support candidates who back the president.
"Most of the voters here are very educated, and turnout is always high," Mrs. Shirey said. "I look at each race individually on its own merits, and I look at the issues it will affect. This year, as far as national concerns, I want to make sure we have representation that will back the president."

Apathetic in California
As the most populous state in the country, California is pivotal in this year's election. But voters in that state seem to be living up to their reputation as indifferent to politics. Polls show that they are little interested in the seven statewide ballot questions, most of which deal with bond issues to raise money for education, transportation and water-quality programs.
Nor are the official races on the ballot doing much to generate voter interest. There are only a handful of competitive races for Congress including the Modesto-based race to replace defeated Rep. Gary A. Condit, a once-powerful Democrat brought down in the primary by his handling of news of an affair with missing intern Chandra Ann Levy. She was later found dead in a D.C. park.
The gubernatorial race, which in the past could usually be counted upon to interest California voters, is turning out to be a major bust this year. Polls show that California voters dislike Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat in his first term.
Republicans once had high hopes of unseating him, which would have been a major boost for the disorganized and demoralized state Republican Party. But candidate Bill Simon has run a lackluster campaign and has been plagued with missteps, most recently when the Republican challenger wrongly accused Mr. Davis of illegally accepting campaign donations in his state office when he served as lieutenant governor. Mr. Simon was forced to concede that he was wrong.
Polls, therefore, show Mr. Davis cruising to an easy re-election victory despite his poor approval ratings. The fact that many voters seem to dislike both men has many state election watchers predicting that California may be headed for a record low turnout.
Interviews with voters on the streets of Pasadena seem to bear out that prediction. Most of those interviewed refused to discuss the election, saying either they were uninterested or totally uninformed. The few who would discuss the issues said military action against Iraq was one of their top concerns.
Tim Jones, 24, a resident of Burbank, a waiter and aspiring filmmaker, said he normally votes Democratic. But this year he is being drawn to Republicans for a single reason: Mr. Bush's presidency.
"I would definitely support anyone who supports W," Mr. Jones said, referring to the president. "I support what he is doing [against terrorism and Iraq]. He is a godly man, I definitely support that.
"I'm really swinging Republican on this one," Mr. Jones said, shaking his head. "I normally don't do that."
Mr. Jones said he is not eager to see a war to oust Saddam, but "I don't think we can get caught with our pants down again. We need to go after him."
War, he said, should be a last resort. Although slightly troubled by Mr. Bush's harsh rhetoric on Iraq, Mr. Jones said that in the end he trusts the president to handle the crisis correctly.
Stephanie Stephenson, 34, a resident of Pasadena and an actor and teacher, says she is troubled by a sense that the country is drifting in the wrong direction.
Miss Stephenson said the country should be angry about the September 11 attacks and looming terrorist threats, but she dislikes the president's unilateralist tone on Iraq. She said the United States needs to take into account the interests and opinions of its allies and neighbors.
"I think it's a big mistake not to be more worried about our allies," she said.
"We need to be more mindful that we are in a neighborhood of countries," she said, waving her hand in a broad circle to indicate the wider world.
Even if it were not for the threat of war, Miss Stephenson said, she would be voting Democratic this year just to offer a check on the Republicans in the White House.
"I think it's a good thing for [the branches of government] to be split," she said, so neither side has a monopoly on power.

Charged up in Texas
While voters seem apathetic in California, folks in Texas seem ready to turn out in record numbers on Nov. 5.
The main reason is because the Democrats this year have two unusual candidates running for governor and the U.S. Senate.
Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas, is the first black official to run for the Senate from Texas. He is in an uphill struggle against his Republican opponent, John Cornyn. Also, Democrat Tony Sanchez is the first Hispanic to seek the governorship.
Despite trailing in their races, both Mr. Kirk and Mr. Sanchez have energized thousands of voters who have not cast a ballot in decades.
"I will vote this time for the first time in more than 20 years," said Juanita Gonzales, a Fort Worth secretary of Hispanic descent. "Call it pride or whatever you want, it would be wonderful to see one of my people become governor."
Jerry Polinard, chairman of the political science department at the University of Texas at Edinburgh, said "getting the vote out is the name of the game" in both election campaigns. Mr. Sanchez, who is in a tough contest against Republican Gov. Rick Perry, has spent upwards of $70 million so far in the race. Mr. Sanchez's campaign also has hundreds of workers "walking the streets" in Houston and throughout south Texas.
Mr. Polinard, who has closely charted Texas politics for about 30 years, said for the Democrats to win they must get out a heavy majority of Hispanic and black voters, plus one-third of white voters a difficult but not impossible task.
The threat of war in Iraq has had little effect on the campaigns in Texas for one simple reason: All the major candidates to varying degrees have expressed support for Mr. Bush's policy toward Baghdad.
Dr. Oscar Ramos, 65, who just retired as the director of the medical laboratory at Laredo's leading hospital, said he felt Hispanics, especially in the Rio Grande Valley, would turn out in record numbers for the Democrats. However, this might not lead to a victory for either Mr. Kirk or Mr. Sanchez.
"They would vote for a Democrat regardless," he said. "They don't even think about it: The Democrats are for the poor, so we vote for them. But I know some thinking people who do not agree."
Dr. Ramos believes the nastiness of the campaigns this year might keep some from voting. "I think most people are just tired of politics," he explained.
John Ben Sutter, 49, a lawyer from Sugarland who teaches at a Houston community college with a minority enrollment of nearly 90 percent, said that while he noted a sense of pride among his students, that would probably not result in most of them voting.
"It just seems to slide over their heads," he said. "They don't think it makes much of a difference."
"I wouldn't take the time," said Rodney Reynolds, a Tyler salesman. "I have never in all my life seen such evil half-truths, outright lies. If I believed all those ads, I'd have the FBI come in and cart them all away."
Tom Marr, 58, a Dallas hair stylist, said his clients are concerned about the potential war against Iraq and the slumping economy, but many are inclined to simply demand more from their political leaders.
"They say they're going to have to change their attitudes," Mr. Marr said. "People tell me they are tired of Democrats or Republicans, but want to see somebody elected who is for America and the American people."

Divided in Colorado
Nowhere is the electorate more divided than in the Colorado Senate race, where Republican Sen. Wayne Allard and Democrat Tom Strickland have run neck-and-neck since Labor Day.
A poll released Oct. 25 by Denver's Talmey-Drake Research and Strategy found Mr. Strickland leading by one point with 39 percent of the vote to Mr. Allard's 38 percent. But 15 percent of voters continue to define themselves as undecided, the poll said.
On the last day of soccer season in Douglas County, Colo., soccer parent Chris Wayne counted himself among the undecided. "I don't particularly care for either party," said Mr. Wayne as he munched on pepperoni pizza at his son's end-of-season party at Beau Jo's pizzeria in Littleton.
The race's barrage of negative and positive advertising hasn't swayed him. "I try to turn off the TV whenever I see either one of them," Mr. Wayne said.
Lee Peters, a Democrat, said she and her husband, Corey, would support Mr. Strickland. "My husband met him a couple of times, and we'll vote for him because we like his record on the environment," said Mrs. Peters as she held her 6-year-old daughter, Hannah, in her lap.
But she's not thrilled about her choice. "He's just as sleazy as all the rest of them, but we'll vote for him anyway," she said.
The potential of war with Iraq weighed on voters' minds, but opponents tended to be more energized by the issue than proponents. "I'm a lifelong Democrat and I've never liked George Bush, but I'm very unhappy about the direction we're going with Iraq," said Martha Mesch before her son, Casey's, soccer game.
"George Bush just seems like he has tunnel vision," Mrs. Mesch said. "He's not focusing on what's going on here at home he's ignoring everything else he just wants Saddam Hussein."
Soccer coach Greg Jones said he was "less than excited" about the election, despite a plate of big issues such as the economy and corporate responsibility. "There's a lot going on, but I'm getting more cynical," Mr. Jones said. "If I vote, it's not going to feel like anything's going to change."
He's also concerned about moving too quickly into a war against Saddam's forces.
"I'm not for war with Iraq," Mr. Jones said. "He's dangerous, but there are other ways to go. I spent 10 years in the military, and I know what happens to dangerous animals when they're in a corner."
But Alex Stavrovsky disagrees, saying that he strongly supports military action against Iraq. As far as he's concerned, "the sooner, the better."
"President Bush has pointed out pretty accurately the weapons of mass destruction, the biological weapons and the dictatorship," said Mr. Stavrovsky, an electrician from Arvada, Colo. "He's made the case effectively. I think he's waiting for approvals, but he's got all the approvals he needs."
A Czech immigrant who pronounces the president's last name "Boosh," Mr. Stavrovsky says he plans to vote straight-ticket Republican, just as he's done since he became a U.S. citizen 30 years ago.
"The Democrats remind me too much of the communist system I lived under for 25 years," said Mr. Stavrovsky, whose van bears a "Bush-Cheney" sticker.
If there's any problem with the current administration, he says, it's that they aren't enforcing the laws strictly enough, especially laws against illegal immigration.
"We came here legally. They made sure we didn't have any diseases, that we had sponsors here, and that we don't become the responsibility of the government," Mr. Stavrovsky said. "Why do we have to create special laws for some immigrants when the law should apply to everyone?"
For Bret Chadwick, a Denver carpenter, the economy is a big concern.
"The economy is a major factor," he said during a break from a job laying wood flooring. "If I can't afford to live, to pay the rent and buy food, then what you're doing is creating a Third World nation."
But he doubts his vote will affect the situation. "So far, all I've heard is hot air," Mr. Chadwick said. "I don't think the election's going to change anything."
His friend Scott Lang said he's sick of the negative campaigning in this year's tight Colorado Senate race. "I'd rather know what they're going to do to improve the economy and our way of life than what their opponent did in the past," said Mr. Lang, a carpenter from Castle Rock, Colo.
That said, he's probably going to vote for Mr. Allard.
"I'm a Republican, but before I make a decision, I want to see something I agree with," Mr. Lang said. "It seems like they're just trying to keep their jobs or get into the Senate, and that bugs me. I want to see change."

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