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On the 26th, the House approved a bill, 244-173, that would deny compensation of legal fees to successful challengers to government Establishment Clause violations.

What does that mean? Any money the ACLU and other individuals and organizations spend on attorneys in combating unconstitutional relations between church and state must now come out of their own pockets -- when it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per case to ensure that our democracy doesn't gradually become a theocracy under the influence of the religious right. Recompensation for fees in successful suits ensures that those whose constitutional rights are violated always have the opportunity to go to court to contest those violations, regardless of whether they are rich enough to afford the attorneys themselves (as they often are not).

As lack of success in court entails no compensation, there is an incentive to bring serious cases and a disincentive to bring frivolous cases. This bill, the Public Expression of Religion Act (PERA, H.R. 2679, brought by Rep. John Hostettler, R-IN) undermines this safeguard in our system. It simply protects our government's unconstitutional use of religion, even in egregious cases of brazen discrimination.

Although I understand the fears of the American Legion and other groups who mobilized in favor of the bill, concerned with the allowance of religious symbols on veterans' graves and other issues, I believe there is a line between religion as public (the Ten Commandments do not belong in courthouses) and as personal (at gravesites) that the courts would not overlook were the issue to arise.

I can only hope that it will be incredibly difficult to gain Senate approval on this measure due to the upcoming recess and to intelligent, forward-thinking Senators, as the success of this measure, and the 26 Democrats and 218 Republicans who voted in favor of it, makes me fear immensely for the future of our country.

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I had the opportunity tonight to attend a panel discussion tonight at Ford's Theatre, entitled "Presidential Politics: Pundits, Personalities, and the People". The discussion was moderated by former CBS Evening News Anchor, Bob Schieffer. The panel consisted of veteran White House Reporter Helen Thomas, former DNC Chairman Charles Manatt, and former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie.

Not one to disappoint, Helen Thomas did not hold back. When Schieffer asked why the panel thought Congress had been so ineffective, Thomas stated that she felt that Congress is a bunch of "gutless wonders". "I never would have thought that we would ever have to define torture", she added. When Gillespie responded by saying that the torture debate was real and necessary, stating "I'm not sure that sleep deprivation is torture", Thomas responded by saying "You try it".

The discussion bounced between whether the election would be a referendum on Iraq. Manatt, who chaired the DNC from 1981-1985, believed that Iraq would prove to be the decisive element in a number of close contests this election season. Gillespie on the other hand thought that while it was the biggest issue it was not the only issue. Everyone on the panel agreed that the frontloading of the primaries was an issue that concerned them. Schieffer believed that the way the primary process is structured now, people have been taken out of the process and only those with the money have a voice. He added that if we selected the candidates at the convention like the days of old, every television station would show gavel to gavel coverage. The discussion ended with all three agreeing that the front runners for the party nominations were Hillary Clinton and John McCain, but conceded that it's simply impossible to know now who it would ultimately be.

The one thing that struck me more than anything else was the statement made by Ed Gillespie during the question about the torture bill currently being debated. He stated "The United States does not condone torture" which prompted laughter from many in the room. Perhaps Mr. Gillespie should have watched an interview Matt Lauer held with President Bush two weeks ago. The back and forth went like this:

Matt Lauer: But it's been reported that with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, he was what they call waterboarded.

George W. Bush: Um, I'm not going to talk about techniques that we use on people. One reason why is that we don't want the enemy to adjust. The American people need to know we are using techniques within the law to protect 'em.

Matt Lauer: I don't want to let this within the law issue slip, though. I mean, if in fact there was waterboarding used with Khalid Sheik Mohammed for the viewers, that's basically you strap someone to a board and you make them feel as if they're going to drown, you put them under water. If that was legal and within the law, why couldn't you do it at Guantanamo? Why do you have to go to a secret location around the world?

George W. Bush: I, I, I'm not going to talk about techniques, and I'm not going to explain to the enemy what we're doing. All I'm telling you is, you asked me whether we're doing things to protect the American people, and I want the American people to know we are doing so.

Matt Lauer: At some point, Mr. President, if these techniques, these alternative procedures...

George W. Bush: I, I'm not going to talk about it.

Matt Lauer: I'm not going to ask you to specifically say anything about it. But if they are used, are you at all concerned at some point, even if you get results, there's a blurring of the lines between ourselves and the people we're trying to protect ourselves against?

George W. Bush: Uh, Matt, I'm just telling you, what this government has done is to take steps to protect you and your family.

Lauer caught Bush at his worst in this interview and showed the American people Bush's narrow minded view on torture, the duty of the president, and international law. I find it interesting that he didn't want to talk about waterboarding because he didn't want the enemy to adjust. How exactly do you adjust to waterboarding, where you are tied to a board and basically suffocated with water? As Jon Stewart asked, "Are they gonna grow gills?" The President didn't want to talk about torture methods because he knows he is way out of the mainstream when it comes to this issue. So Mr. Gillespie, don't tell me that the US does not condone torture, because when the Senate voted 90-8 against the President's policy, in October of 2005, it became quite clear that even Bush's closest colleagues, those on the far right of the political spectrum disagree with his views on the use of torture.

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I have been unconvinced of Democrats' chances of taking over the Senate for some time. With the need to pick up six seats in order to gain control, especially when there are 18 Democratic seats up this year, and only 15 Republican seats up, it seemed impossible to gain the six needed to gain control. But recent events have changed that outlook. While I though GOP control of the Senate looked 70-30 before, Senate control is a clear 50-50 now.

Right now, not a single Democratic seat other than New Jersey (my home state) looks possible for a Republican pickup. Amy Klobuchar is running away with double digit leads in Minnesota and Michigan, Washington State, Vermont, Florida, West Virginia, and Nebraska look very safe for the Dem0crats running there. The landscape has changed dramatically. All of these states were once viewed as competitive, but now, each looks secure for Democrats.

In Maryland, Cardin looks strong after his primary win to beat Steele this year. But he will need to raise cash fast and enormouslt outreach to the African-American community to win.

In New Jersey, Menendez is facing a very tough race. The ethics investigation that the GOP US Attorney is launching on Menendez is politically motivated. But Menendez should keep the focus on Bush and the war, which he is doing. If the discussion is Iraq and Bush, Menendez should win handily; if the discussion is about ethics, Menendez has a tough race on his hands.

But basically, it looks very possible, if not extremely likely, that Democrats will hold onto all of their seats. The same cannot be said for Republicans.

Pennsylvania is going to elect Bob Casey, who has had a statistically significant lead over Santorum for over a year and a half now, and there's no indication that that will change.

Montana, according to a new Rasmussen poll, shows Tester up nine points, 52-43.

Rhode Island, according to a new Rasmussen poll, shows Whitehouse up eight, 51-43.

Ohio, according to a new Rasmussen poll, shows Brown up six, 47-41.

Missouri, according to a new Rasmussen poll, shows McCaskill up three, 45-42.

And in Tennessee, Rasmussen shows a tie 45-45, and SurveyUSA shows Ford up three, 48-45.

In Virginia, Zogby has Webb up eight, 51-43, and Rasmussen has Allen up seven, 50-43. But a good pollster, Mason-Dixon, shows Allen up four, 46-42, and SurveyUSA has Allen up just three, 48-45. This is a race trending our way.

Arizona has been trending towards Pederson too, but he's still down five to ten points.

In New Jersey, Menendez is tied or slightly down to Kean. And this is where it matters, if Menendez wins, we will have a 50-50 shot of taking back the Senate. If he loses, there is no chance.

Just some updates.

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What a day, yesterday! I was myself surprised by the results, which are still forthcoming. Let's take a look state by state.

In Vermont, no surprises, everyone won their respective nominations by large margins, with Independent Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic nomination, even though he plans to renounce it.

In New Hampshire, the only competitive race was for the right to face off against Congressman Jeb Bradley on the Democratic side. Stunningly, Carol Shea-Porter, a anti-war activist, won by an 18-point margin in a surprising upset over Democratic House Minority Leader Jim Craig. With little cash and little political experience, Shea-Porter stands little chance of defeating Bradley, but with her focus on the war, she may be able to focus the state's voters on Iraq, helping GOP Rep. Charlie Bass' opponent, Paul Hodes.

In Rhode Island, Senator Lincoln Chafee held on to his seat after a very strong challenge from ultraconservative Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey. Laffey ran an anti-Washington, anti-establishment campaign that was populist in nature. He ran against taxes, government spending and corruption and for a renewable energy economy (surprisingly). In another year, Laffey may have made the race against Democratic nominee and former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, but in this Democratic year, the race would have been too easy for Whitehouse. Because of that, I was rooting for Laffey to win the primary on the GOP side, enabling Whitehouse to pick up a Democratic seat in the Senate. Unfortunately, Chafee, being strongly backed by the NRSC, which along with the NRCC has gotten surprisingly involved in a numbe rof primaries this year, was able to pummel Laffey with negative advertising and pull out a strong Independent turnout that supported Chafee. But Chafee is hardly a shoo-in, as polls show Whitehouse ahead by a very small margin. If Whitehouse convinces Rhode Island voters that Chafee's positions on issues don't matter as long as he votes for Republican leadership and Republican committee chairmen and allows radical right-wing Republicans to control the Senate agenda, he will win. If this is a race between the two on issues, Whitehouse may lose because the two don't disagree on all that much. In the race for renomination of pro-life Democratic Congressman Jim Langevin, liberal professor Jennifer Lawless lost by 25 points.

In New York, soon-to-be Governor and Presidential Candidate Eliot Spitzer cruised to a landslide 70-point win over Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton crushed anti-war Jonathan Tasini 83-17. Unfortunately, former HUD Secretary and Governor Mario Cuomo's son, Andrew Cuomo, won the Democratic nomination in New York (I really dislike Cuomo, who I find very pompous, and I really love Mark Green, who lost by a big margin but who is a very upstanding politician). In NY-19, in the race to face off against vulnerable Republican incumbent Sue Kelly, John Hall beat New York Times endorsed Judy Aydelott to face Kelly. The race leans GOP, but Hall has a good shot if there is a strong wave in New York, as there should be with both Clinton and Spitzer winning more than 65% of the vote. In the race to succeed Major Owens in NY-11, Councilwoman Yvette Clarke beat Carl Andrews, David Yassky, and Owens' own son, Chris Owens to succeed Owens.

In Minnesota, things went as expected and Keith Ellison, in MN-05, won the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. Martin Sabo, who is retiring, beating a Sabo aide in the process. Ellison will be the first black congressman ever from Minnesota and the first Muslim-American ever elected to Congress. Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) and Attorney General Mike Hatch (D) each won their respective primaries, as did Amy Klobuchar (D) and Mark Kennedy (R) for the Senate. Pawlenty and Klobuchar are favored in the fall.

In Wisconsin, the only race was the Democratic nomination for retiring GOP Congressman and Gubernatorial candidate Mark Green in WI-08. In the race, wealthy physician Steve Kagen won the nomination over four others. With the ability to self-finance his campaign, this race is a toss-up in the fall when Kagen faces State Assembly Speaker and Republican John Gard.

In Delaware, there are no competitive races for the fall, and the primary winners merely competed for the right to be sacrificial lambs in the fall to Senator Tom Carper (D) and Rep. Mike Castle (R).

In Arizona, the only competitive primaries were in AZ-08, a moderate district currently represented by the only openly gay Republican in Congress, Jim Kolbe, who retired this year. For the Republicans, Randy Graf, a hardline conservative whose anti-immigration views will make it nearly impossible for him to win in this increasingly Hispanic district. Gabrielle Giffords, a former state Senator, is the perfect candidate for Democrats this year, and most analysts now believe AZ-08 to be a lean Dem district with Graf's and Giffords' wins over their opponents.

In Maryland, Congressman Ben Cardin won by a small margin over former Congressman Kweisi Mfume, 44-40, with sixteen others getting the rest. The suprising race of the night was Donna Edwards' suprisingly close second place finish to incumbent Congressman Al Wynn (CD-4). Edwards got 47% of the vote to Al Wynn's 51%, and while there are still more votes to count (Montgomery County had enormous electronic voting machines and provisional ballot problems, thanks Diebold and HAVA), Wynn is favored to hold his nomination. But expect Edwards to run again two years from now and probably win. Wynn's corporate ties and support of the bankruptcy bill and the Iraq War made the black congressman unpopular in this heavily African-American and liberal district. Edwards, also black, is staunchly liberal, and was able to galvanize people over Iraq war anger. In CD-3, Senator Paul Sarbanes' son, Jon, won a multiple candidate race for the nomination to succeed Congressman Ben Cardin. The CD-3 and CD-4 seats are staunchly Democratic, so both Wynn and Sarbanes will be Congressman next year.

Finally, in our home the District of Columbia, Adrian Fenty won the mayoral nomination (tantamount to the general election in DC) by an unsurprisingly large margin. And Vincent Gray was nominated for Council Chair.

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Remember Team America: World Police, one of the 21st century's greatest cinematic achievements? You should. Unfortunately, some Republicans seem not to. I wish this was a joke, but Tom Tancredo-- a Colorado Republican, and one of the most virulent opponents of immigration in Congress-- has started Team America PAC.

Someone really should sit Tom Tancredo down and watch Team America with him. Tancredo may be a little nuts, but I'm pretty sure he's firmly anti-puppet sex. I wouldn't want any sort of embarrassment to come to the poor Congressman.

On the bright side, this entire Team America business gives me an idea. I just might know how to resurrect Santorum's dying political career...

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The GOP has learned their lesson. Run on facts, and lose. Run on reason, and lose. Run on logic, and lose. Run on the truth, and lose. But run on fear, and win big. Run on scare-tactics, and win bigger. Run on making Democrats look like a greater threat to America than Al-Qaeda, and win huge.

It worked for them in 2002, it worked for them in 2004, and it will work again for them in 2006 if we don't fight back and fight back hard.

For months, I've been telling everyone I know that the GOP would use national security issues to instill fear and terror in the American psyche in order to win the midterm elections. This is exactly what happened. Just look at this ad from Progress for America Fund, a right-wing front group.

This ad is designed to do one thing, scare the crap out of people. Terrorists are trying to kill us. Flash images of Muslims in hejabs and other coverings. Flash images of crying Arab women (probably because a US bomb just killed their family members, not because they don't have rights, as the ad says). Flash images of the World Trade Center engulfed in flames. And then say that Democrats want to cut and run and imply that liberals and Democrats will give the terrorists the very bomb used to kill a housewife in Omaha, NE. This is sick right-wing trash and it disgusts me.

It's not just Progress for America. Look at this ad that corrupt Senator Conrad Burns is running against netroots favorite and Real Montanan Jon Tester in Montana. Burns basically says that Tester is happy that al-Qaeda is killing American troops and that if Tester is elected, he will single-handedly give Osama bin Laden the blueprints to the Pentagon and give Ahmadinejad an H-bomb. It's absurd, the ad is full of lies, but they'll get away with it if we don't stop them.

Take a look at this ad from Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), running against progressive Congressman Sherrod Brown for the US Senate. Another ad from another Republican attacking a Democrat on security. The themes are the same; the GOP will run ads attacking Democrats on the War in Iraq, the War in Afghanistan, the PATRIOT ACT, the illegal NSA surveillance program, and votes that members of Congress have taken on a range of defense, intelligence, and national security issues. And they are doing it all over the country. The same message and the same talking points are being handed down by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman to every candidate in the country.

And what is the Democratic response? A letter from Nancy Pelosi to Dennis Hastert on Thursday asking Hastert "not to inject any semblance of partisan politics into the 9/11 resolution." What a weak and sappy letter? If Democrats were competing with Republicans for an election to the Supreme Council of Care Bears, they'd win. But in the real world, they just look weak. No wonder the country thinks we're weak on defense, we're weak in standing up for ourselves.

Yesterday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released their second part of an intelligence assessment of the lead-up to the Iraq war. The report made one stunning conclusion, Saddam had no connections, passive, active, or otherwise, to al-Qaeda anywhere in the world. Well, this is actually not all that surprising, but considering that 43% of the American people still believe that Saddam Hussein had a personal role in the attacks of September 11th, according to the latest CNN poll taken August 30th to September 2nd, the propaganda campaign of Bush & Co. has been effective.

We should have hit back the moment the report came out, demonstrating how the President has lied since October 2005, when the CIA concluded the lack of any links between Saddam and al-Qaeda, juxtaposed next to the quotes of the President claiming links. The President said last week at his press conference that "nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack [on 9/11]." Watch this video proving that Bush & Co. made a little fib.

The point is that this administration lies about national security all the time, while bogging us down in an endless and senseless war in Iraq and compromising our laws, our Constitution, and our liberties with stupid, illegal, ineffective, and unconstitutional programs that are downright unAmerican. The Pakistanis just signed a deal allowing Islamic extremists in the region of Pakistan where bin Laden is reportedly hiding to be safe from prosecution and pursuit. We are losing the war on terror in Somalia, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iraq, and throughout the Middle East, while we have destroyed our image, reputation, and credibility around the world. Our forces are overextended, our homeland security is underdeveloped, and our people are divided. This administration is endangering American security, plain and simple, and destroying the rest of our country and our values in order to make us less safe and implement an extremist ideology. But instead of fighting back, we cower in the corner on security. Yes, some like Harold Ford, Jr. and Diane Farrell are running security and Iraq focused campaigns, but we do not have a national message. The DNC, DSCC, and the DCCC and all our candidates and incumbents around the country should be talking about one thing and one thing only, security.

We need Democrats on radio, on television, on the blogs, in print, in TV ads, in web ads, communicating the same message, Republicans are endangering our country and Democrats are the only party looking out for our security. Republicans misrepresent, weaken, diminish, and damage our security, our alliances, our image, our credibility, our laws, and our liberties. We should be attacking them every day, offering up not talking points and repetitious statements, but smart, focused language about the same topic. We don't have to say the same words, but we need to communicate the same ideas.

I don't understand why anyone listens to the consultants and political "experts" in the Democratic Party anymore, they just keep losing elections, and if the party doesn't get our act together this year either and offer a tough message attacking Republicans on national security day after day, we'll lose this election too. We don't have to copy Republican policies to win elections, but we do need to copy Republican energy and tenacity and consistency if we are going to take back our country.

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When Rick Santorum wrote It Takes a Family, most of us thought he was writing a book about his favorite subjects-- conservatism and/or homosexuality. Unfortunately, we were wrong: "It Takes a Family" is Santorum's new campaign strategy (watch the ad before you read further).

Whether it's desperation, shamelessness, or some combination of the two, Santorum's resorted to buying his kids air time to ressurect his troubled campaign. I guess the new definition of "family values" is throwing your family on TV so they can protect your values?

The not-so-subtle subtext of the ad: Bob Casey hates Rick Santorum's children because he criticizes Rick Santorum for abandoning his Pennsylvania residence. Some might see the ad as a disgusting political ploy, but I take a much more optimismic view. We've entered a brave new world of political advertising, and when Chelsea Clinton debates Jack McCain for the presidency in place of their parents, we'll have Rick Santorum to thank for it. After all, it takes a family.

In other news, Bush gave the most insightful quote of his presidency yesterday night on CBS News:

"One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."

That is hard. I feel your pain.

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Okay, in the back-to-school spirit of things, I’m going to give y’all a little quiz. (Don’t worry, it won’t be graded. This one’s just for fun.)

Who said the following?

“[The] President . . . is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation’s armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy.”

Rep. Murtha, perhaps? Maybe Carl Levin?

How about this one?

“I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today.”

Any thoughts on that one, kiddies? It seems to me to be a rather eloquent attack on a trigger-happy president with a misguided and ill-conceived war on his hands. Pretty much sums up every problem with President Bush’s war in Iraq.

Okay, almost done, I swear. Last question, worth a hundred and ten percent of your grade on this quiz. Who said:

“I think it's also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long [U.S. troops] will be involved and when they will be withdrawn.”

The answers are a) Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), ex-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), and… then-Gov. George W. Bush (R-TX), to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on June 5, 1999.

The war they were talking about?

Bosnia, a peacekeeping operation President Clinton entered into with NATO and UN support.

Another little gem for you—Bush, to the Houston Chronicle on April 9, 1999, describing his foreign policy views: “Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is.”

It seems we’ve got a little case of amnesia on our hands…

Let's contast that with the Bush of last week, who said "Still, there are some in our country who insist that the best option in Iraq is to pull out, regardless of the situation on the ground. Many of these folks are sincere and they're patriotic, but they could be -- they could not be more wrong... If America were to pull out before Iraq can defend itself, the consequences would be absolutely predictable -- and absolutely disastrous. We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies... Victory still depends on the courage and the patience and the resolve of the American people."

Now y’all already know how I feel about the war in Iraq, so I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I’ll let Tom DeLay do it for me:

“Bombing a sovereign nation for ill-defined reasons with vague objectives undermines the American stature in the world. The international respect and trust for America has diminished every time we casually let the bombs fly. We must stop giving the appearance that our foreign policy is formulated by the Unabomber.”

Setting a deadline for a conflict with no clear end in sight isn’t surrender. It’s just sanity.

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President Bush, in a “well, duh” moment yesterday, traveled to St. Mary’s county in southern Maryland to deliver a speech calling on Americans to decrease their dependence on foreign oil. In his 11-minute remarks, Bush said that our reliance on foreign oil “jeopardizes our capacity to grow. I mean, the problem is, we get oil from some parts of the world, and they simply don’t like us. And so the more dependent we are on that type of energy, the less likely it will be that we are able to compete.” (In the spirit of policy debate, I’m going to exercise some strong restraint and refrain from criticizing President Bush’s rather loose grip on the English language, though seriously, what the hell kind of statement is “we get oil from some parts of the world”? Ya think, Mr. President?)

It’s nice of President Bush to finally catch up to what Democrats have been saying for years. Our dependence on an overwhelmingly unstable and undemocratic area of the world to keep our energy-based economy going is nothing short of insanity.

Bush called on American innovation in decreasing our reliance on foreign oil, and called for exploration of alternative energy sources, including ethanol. Perhaps President Bush has finally recognized that despite our better interests, America is now more dependent on foreign oil than we were before 9/11.

Bush and Republican leaders in the Senate should start by putting their full force behind the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate by four Democrats and five Republicans. Among other things, the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act aims to reduce our dependence on oil by 7 million barrels a day in 20 years. The legislation provides funding for the development and mass marketing of hybrid technologies, including ethanol, and provides tax credits and incentives for businesses like gas stations and car manufacturers to offer hybrid fuel technologies to their customers. Ethanol is a fuel source that can be grown right here at home—from things as common as corn, paper pulp, and agricultural waste. All of this has the side benefit of creating American jobs and stimulating our economy.

America’s dependence on foreign oil is shameful. Thanks to President Bush for—belatedly, but better than never—coming to the party. Democrats have been standing around the punchbowl for years.

(Another interesting sidenote about what didn’t happen at the event: Notably absent from the president’s appearance in the strongly red county of St. Mary’s were Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich and Lt. Gov./GOP Senate candidate Michael Steele. Questioned on the notable absence of the state’s two most senior Republicans, White House adviser Karl Rove said that Ehrlich and Steele could not be at the side of the Commander-in-Chief because “they had existing events of their own.” What kind important event could entice them to ignore a man who has raised them millions, you might ask? They were busy marching in a Labor Day parade in Gaithersburg. Now, I’m from Maryland, and I do love me a good parade, but I’m from one town over, and trust me, the Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade isn’t exactly the must-see political event of the season. The statement released by Steele spokeswoman Melissa Sellers was more telling: “The lieutenant governor is honored to have the support of the president, those in his own party and Democrats and independents alike.” Steele, you might remember, turned out to be the anonymous Senate candidate who, in a Washington Post interview this summer, declared the letter “R” to be a “Scarlet Letter” this election season.)

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After my lengthy Senate and White House previews, I'm going to take a look at our chances of taking back the House by starting in the Northeast and then making three subsequent posts about our chances in the Midwest, South, and West.

But first to the Northeast, where Democrats are enormously strong. Except for New Hampshire, every Northeastern state has been won by a Democrat in the last four Presidential elections. The region is much more liberal than the nation as a whole and 15 of the region's 20 Senators are Democrats, with two Republicans on major defense this year. The region hates Bush and Bush has a 30% approval rating in the Northeast, with approval ratings as low as 22% in Rhode Island and as high as 40% in Pennsylvania. With numbers like these, it's no wonder Republican candidates are running away from Bush like he's radioactive.

But enough of the general picture, let's look at specific races. Without further ado, a state-by-state rundown:

Maine - Both Democratic incumbents here are super safe with Tom Allen and Mike Michaud facing extremely weak challengers and piling up huge cash totals. We're safe here.

Vermont - Rep. Bernie Sanders' ascension to the US Senate this year is a given, but his open House seat could be close. Adjutant General Martha Rainville is a strong Republican candidate and is giving State Senate President Pro Tempore and Democrat Peter Welch a surprisingly close race. In a state as liberal and Democratic as Vermont, it's hard to see Rainville winning, especially in a Democratic year, but Welch is not a shoo-in by any amount. This is one of the hardest seats we have to defend this year, but painting Rainville as too close to Bush and national Republicans should finish her off.

New Hampshire - Both GOP incumbents Jeb Bradley and Charlie Bass are facing strong Democratic challenges this year. Charlie Bass is facing Attorney Paul Hodes and Jeb Bradley will likely face State House Minority Leader Jim Craig in what should be two very competitive races. Craig and Hodes are raising money fast and while they will be outspent by the incumbents significantly, the Democratic wave could pull one or both of them in.

Massachusetts- The only state with a congressional delegation in the double digits that is controlled entirely by one party is Massachusetts and it will stay that way. One of the most Democratic states in the country, Massachusetts' ten Democratic incumbents are as safe as a bank vault. We'll keep every one with no sweat.

Rhode Island - Both Patrick Kennedy and Jim Langevin are extremely safe Democratic incumbents who will be easily renominated and reelected, even though Kennedy's run in with drug abuse and Langevin's pro-life position in a pro-choice state make them imperfect candidates.

Connecticut - While John Larson and Rosa DeLauro are extremely safe Democratic incumbents who will get over 70% of the vote, their three Republican colleagues in the House will face enormously strong challenges. Chris Shays is facing off for the second time against Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell. Shays's steadfast support of the War in Iraq and recent flip-flop to support a withdrawal timeline have given Farrell a great opportunity to slam Shays on the war. Farrell lost narrowly in 2004, 52% to 48%, and this district voted for John Kerry 52% to 48% as well that year. With Connecticut very unhappy with President Bush, this rich, suburban, NYC metro district should elect Diane Farrell very narrowly. Expect Shays to lose 53%-47%. North of Shays' district is hardline conservative and Republican incumbent Rob Simmons, whose district went for Kerry by eight points in 2004. Simmons is facing off against Joe Courtney for the second time after Courtney lost by eight points in 2002. Courtney is running a great campaign in the most Democratic district for a Republican incumbent in the country. Simmons is running away from his record fast and it looks like Courtney has an excellent shot at a landslide win, but put this one in our column. Finally, in Eastern Connecticut, incumbent Nancy Johnson is facing a really tough challenge from State Senator Chris Murphy in a 50-50 district that voted in nearly equal numbers for Bush and Kerry. Johnson is a good campaigner, not a hardline conservative, and has raised tons of cash, but the environment for the GOP this year is bad enough that she may be narrowly swept up in the tide. I wouldn't bet on this district, but it's close.

New York - With a 20-9 Democrat-Republican composition in the congressional delegation already, New Yorkers are trying to purge the last Republicans in the state. All the Democratic incumbents and open seats are extremely safe here, but at least six of the nine Republicans are very much in danger. The most vulnerable seat is the open seat of retiring incumbent Sherwood Boehlert in a 50-50 district. Oneida County DA Mike Arcuri (D) looks like the frontrunner for this seat against State Senator Ray Meier (R). With Bush unpopular and Democrats looking great this year and Senator Clinton and Eliot Spitzer winning their respective races for Senate and governor by huge margins, expect this seat to be swept up in the tide for Democrats. In the 29th district, freshman Republican incumbent Randy Kuhl is about to lose to Iraq war vet Eric Massa in a very narrowly Republican district. Massa is a great candidate, has raised money, and is targeting Kuhl's hardline record in a moderate district. Expect a win here. In other districts, incumbent Republicans Tom Reynolds, Vito Fossella, Peter King, John Sweeney, Jim Walsh, and Sue Kelly all look vulnerable to their Democratic challengers Jack Davis, Steve Harrison, Kirsten Gillibrand, Dan Maffei, and probably John Hall as they fight back the Democratic wave in a Democratic state in a Democratic year. While none of these incumbents other than Kuhl look headed for defeat, expect at least two of these six to go down. The only GOP incumbent who is safe in New York is John McHugh.

New Jersey - My great home state is a shame, as so many opportunities for Democratic pickups lay waste. While incumbent Republicans Chris Smith, Jim Saxton, and Frank LoBiondo all represent mildly Democratic districts, their challengers, Carol Gay, Rich Sexton, and Viola Thomas-Hughes are not receiving the cash necessary to beat them, even though they are all great candidates. While Tom Wyka is running an admirable race against Rodney Frelinghuysen in the 11th district, Frelinghuysen will easily win in this most Republican district in the state. But two challengers, Paul Aronsohn and Linda Stender, have excellent chances at unseating two hardline conservatives in moderate districts. In my home district, crazy extremist conservative Scott Garrett, who is anti-choice, anti-gun control, anti-gay, anti-environment, anti-education, anti-veteran, and anti-stem cell research in a moderate, socially liberal district, is facing Aronsohn, who is a former State Department official. While Aronsohn still needs more cash to make a race of this, he has a good chance. You can cover this race at my blog here. State Assemblywoman Linda Stender is running a very competitive race against incumbent Mike Ferguson in a district that is narrowly Republican. She is running on Ferguson's opposition to abortion and stem cell research and his steadfast support for the Iraq war, which is very unpopular in this NYC satellite district. Stender is a great candidate, is raising tons of cash, and is one of the top races in the country. Expect her to pull it out and beat Ferguson. All Democrats in New Jersey are 100% safe.

Pennsylvania - Every Democrat in this state is enormously safe and will be buoyed by Gov. Rendell's reelection and Santorum's landlside defeat to State Treasurer Bob Casey in the Senate race. And while most of the Republicans in this state are safe too, four Republicans face very tough races. Incumbents Mike Fitzpatrick, Jim Gerlach, and Curt Weldon, represent narrowly divided swing districts in suburban Philadelphia. All three are facing excellent challengers with huge amounts of cash. Iraq war vet Patrick Murphy, Attorney Lois Murphy, and Retired Vice Admiral Joe Sestak are very close to knocking off these Bush rubber stamps. Lois Murphy already ran against Gerlach last time and came within two points of knocking him off. Patrick Murphy is a stellar young candidate who is taking Fitzpatrick to task on the Iraq war, with credibility. Joe Sestak is taking on the unhinged Weldon on national security from a personal perspective. In Northeastern Pennsylvania, Don Sherwood is facing a strong challenge from Naval Reserve Officer Chris Carney after Sherwood only received 55% of the vote in his Republican primary after his challenger spent little money. Sherwood is clearly vulnerable, though not as much as the Philly Three. Expect two to four pickups here.

Delaware - Republican Mike Castle shouldn't be safe, but he is because Delaware Democrats can't find a competent challenger with access to cash.

Maryland - All incumbents, six Democrats and two Republicans are very safe here due to redistricting and gerrymandering, which gives each incumbent districts with at least 60% of their party's registrants.

All in all, we look very good for the House this year. The Northeast gives us our best prospects for taking back the House and in the Northeast, I predict 0-1 losses for Democrats, and I predict anywhere from 8-18 GOP losses here. With the Northeast as our anchor, Democrats look poised to pick the House as long as the rest of the country gives us at least 7 other pickups. The Northeast is going to be a bloodbath for Republicans this fall.

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Apparently Defense Secretary Rumsfeld made a Iraq war/Nazi comparison last week -- and Harper's called him on Godwin's Law.

And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, citing passivity toward Nazi Germany before World War II, said that "many have still not learned history's lessons" and "believe that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased." (The Washington Post)

Although Godwin's law simply assesses the probability of eventual Nazi references, what amuses me in this context is the social tradition of Godwin's law: The invoker automatically loses the debate by virtue of his blind smearing of the other side, and the discussion is simply over -- you cannot continue to debate someone rationally who has no rational arguments.

Although Rumsfeld and his handlers were undoubtedly unaware of this law (he'd have never made the reference otherwise; it's a well-known internet trope that people deliberately avoid), the reference makes it incredibly clear to onlookers that the administration has finally reached a point of hysterical desperation; they know they are losing the argument, and they have no ammunition and no logical support.

They've lost the debate; the discussion is over.

Now if only the administration would recognize it.

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This country has turned against this war. Just look at the polls. Read the newspaper. Talk to people on the street. The deaths of 2700 American soldiers, sailors, coastguardsmen, marines, and airmen has sickened a frustrated American psyche. The lack of military progress in Iraq and the constant propaganda machine that runs out of the Bush administration has finally clicked with the American people.

In the latest Newsweek poll, 63% of the American people disapprove of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. CBS and The New York Times put the number at 65%.

The same poll showed that only 43% of the American people thought that we did the right thing by invading Iraq.

Only 5% think that the U.S.'s efforts in bringing stability to Iraq is going "very well." 62% of the American people think that it is going "somewhat or very badly."

51% of the American people see the War in Iraq as completely separate from the War on Terror. 46% of the American people think the U.S. has spent too much time on Iraq, and not enough on the war on terror; 42% think the division of energies has been proportionate.

In a CNN poll, 61% of the American people say they "oppose the War in Iraq." 55% say the war in Iraq has made the U.S. less safe from terrorists. 52% think the war in Iraq is a "distraction from the War on Terror.

In the ABC News/Washington Post poll, 38% of the American people said that a candidate who supports the Bush administration's policies in Iraq would make them "more likely to oppose" that candidate. Only 23% said it would make them "more likely to support" that candidate.

59% think the war was "not worth fighting." 85% think that Iraq is either embroiled in civil war or close to a civil war. 64% do not think the Bush administration has a clear plan for succeeding in Iraq.

But here's where it gets interesting. 52% think we should completely leave Iraq within the next year. 41% of the American people think a continued presence in Iraq will bring less stability to the Middle East versus 25% who think it will bring more stability. 69% of the U.S. thinks that the war in Iraq is making the U.S.'s diplomatic efforts in the region more difficult. 72% think the war in Iraq has made America's image in the world worse.

56% of the American people support a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq.

You'd think with these numbers that Democrats running for Congress would focus like a laser on the war and criticize their Republican opponents constantly about this failed policy and a stubborn refusal to change course. With 28% of the American putting Iraq at the top of their list of issues in this election, this war is the key to Democrats' chances of taking back the House.

So why then are Democrats so stubborn in calling for and supporting the Kerry-Feingold-Boxer-Murtha-Edwards plan for beginning a withdrawal of combat forces that will lead to the eventual elimination of all combat troops by summer 2007, while leaving troops for training, counterterrorism, logistics, and intelligence and helping Iraq rebuild and reconcile politically, diplomatically, and economically? The only answer I can surmise is that Democratic consultants, and I know the type all too well, think that the American people will view Democrats as weak on terror and defense and the military if they call for strategic redeployment. Well, say hello to the same people who lost elections in 2000, 2002, and 2004 because of their "advice." The reason people think Democrats are weak on defense is because Democrats don't stand up for anything, think smartly about strategic situations, and have a genuine interest in national security issues.

Not only is withdrawing from Iraq militarily the right thing to do, it is the politically smart thing to do. Demcorats should heed this advice and run with it. They should run ad after ad about it. And especially in liberal, Democratic areas like the Northeast where as many as 20 of the closest congressional races this year are located, Democrats should run strongly against the President and against the war. Just look at this ad from Democrat Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, who is running against wingnut Rick Santorum and crushing him in the polls.

Nowhere in this ad does Casey even mention the war in Iraq and Casey does not run ads against Santorum on the war even though it is the top issue on voters' minds and they clearly oppose it. This is not the way to win elections.

Elections and campaigns are opportunities. Opportunities to define the debate, frame the issues, and persuade voters on key points between candidates that should fundamentally disagree on the majority of the issues. On the war, there is a fundamental difference between most Democrats and most Republicans and Democrats should highlight it.

Diane Farrell, who is running against Huge War Supporter and Flip-Flopper Chris Shays in CT in the NYC suburbs, is running a new, great ad on the war that will most certainly convince the 70% of the voters in her district who heavily oppose the war to vote for her against rubber stamp Shays. Watch the ad here.

In this ad, you see that a strong Democrat can win on this war by connecting all of the other issues of the day to it. She talks about the costs and explains that her opponent's philosophy is damaging the country. She points out that we need fresh blood to tackle this issue and it's effective. She doesn't propose the Strategic Redeployment plan, which I think is a winner politically, but it is the best ad on Iraq out there.

Democrats should replicate this strategy everywhere.

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