President Obama Confident in a Close Race in the House

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama didn’t quite say that he’s confident the Democrats will remain in control of the House after Election Day. But he did say he still believes it is a very close race.

“I still feel confident that it is a very close race in terms of the House. You've got close races all across the country,” President Obama said, “So we're going to have to wait and see what happens.  And a lot of it is going to depend on turnout.”

In a radio interview with talk show host Michael Smerconish the president said that that voters across the board want the country to move forward and not play political games after the election.

“My expectation is that Republicans, should they win additional seats, should they be in a position to hopefully take more responsibility working with us, are going to say to themselves that it's important for us to show some accomplishments over the next couple years.”

The president said the key question for voters is what agenda will bring about growth for the middle class over the next two years, and said that it’s “very hard to figure out from the Republicans” what their agenda would be.

“Nobody believes that tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent is somehow going to significantly cut our unemployment rate. Nobody thinks that us cutting education is going to prepare us for long-term competitiveness.  Nobody thinks, by the way, that Republicans actually have a very good track record when it comes to dealing with debt and deficits.  “

Obama predicted that regardless the outcome of the election that Democrats and Republicans “should be able to get some agreement” to get control of the nation’s deficits.

“We've got to make sure that moving forward we're doing so on a responsible way, and that the best way for us to do it is to do it with a scalpel, not a machete, and to make sure that the cuts we're making are not eliminating those things that are going to help us grow,” Obama said “If we can make sure that we are eliminating wasteful programs while at the same time growing the economy, that should be the sweet spot that we're aiming for.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Former U.S. Marine Running Race Against Backdrop of Iraq Controversy

Photo Courtesy - Bill Clark/Roll Call via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Ilario Pantano sounds like the average Republican candidate vying for Congress.

In a polite, yet passionate tone, the self-described born-again Christian argues for repealing the health care bill and instilling more free market reforms in the United States.

But the 38-year-old Marine veteran's history sets him apart from his fellow candidates.

Just five years ago, Pantano was facing charges of premeditated murder, punishable by death. While serving in Iraq in 2004, then-2nd Lt. Pantano killed two Iraqis after stopping them for a search. He then placed a sign on their car's dashboard that read, "No better friend, no worse enemy."

Pantano claimed he acted in self-defense. His counterpart who reported the case to superiors said Pantano was agitated and wanted to teach the insurgents a lesson.

Pantano's battalion was officially on a peacekeeping mission.

Eventually, the charges were dropped but not before an admonishing by the investigating officer, who called Pantano's actions "morally and ethically wrong" and a "disgrace of the armed forces."

Five years later, the New York trader-turned-military man-turned deputy sheriff is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and could soon be a new addition to the Republican lineup in Congress. Nationally, Democrats are attempting to use Pantano's record to question his legitimacy for Congress.

The outspoken critic of the Obama administration calls the controversy a non-issue.

"I don't need to defend my record. I was completely exonerated. I was given another command. I made the decision to resign [from the military] out of my own will, purely because I was concerned about the safety of my men and ultimately the safety of my family back at home," Pantano, who just Tuesday received a glowing endorsement from Sarah Palin, told ABC News.

"Anybody is entitled to their opinion," Pantano said of the officer's scathing report. "The case really is closed. I'm running for Congress. I'm not running to a run a platoon in Iraq in 2004."

Pantano, author of Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy, is one of 27 veterans running for Congress this election season. He represents a new breed of Iraq war alumni who will soon replace World War II combat veterans, only a handful of which now walk the halls of Congress.

But unlike their predecessors, many of these candidates have been mired in national scandals.

Allen West, a Republican candidate for Congress in Florida and a retired Army lieutenant colonel, faced allegations of improper detainee abuse in Iraq and was fined after a military hearing in 2003.

The 49-year-old Tea Party-backed candidate is currently leading in the polls.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


For Dems, 50th State Becomes Hawaii Uh-Oh

Photo Courtesy - Charles Djou for Congress(HONOLULU) -- It was either a freak political event or a message to Washington -- or both -- that catapulted Republican Charles Djou to Congress in May, representing the liberal 1st Congressional District of Hawaii. Since then, he's had plenty of time to ponder his political mortality.

When the House is in session, Djou spends a full day each week making the 9,000 mile round-trip flight between Washington, D.C. and Hawaii.

"I try to spend 72 hours a week in D.C., 72 hours a week in Honolulu and I literally live 24 hours a week, once a week, each and every week, in an airplane," Djou said.

Democrats in Hawaii have been pondering their political mortality too and wondering how a district that voted 70 percent for Barack Obama in 2008 has become a toss-up where a Republican might win.
After longtime Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, resigned to focus on his bid for governor, two Democrats insisted on running in a special election in May, to replace him. It became a high-stakes game of chicken between former U.S. Rep. Ed Case and Hawaii Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. Neither blinked, and they split the Democratic vote. That made it possible for Djou (pronounced duh-JOO) a former Honolulu city councilman, to win.

Democrats immediately vowed to take back the seat come November. "The majority of voters in the district supported Democratic candidates in this special election," Abercrombie said in a statement released after Djou's win. "I am confident that a Democrat will win the Congressional race in the general election."

But that confidence has slowly eroded. Hanabusa is now the only Democrat vying for the seat. Polls show she and Djou locked in a statistical dead heat.

"This is one [seat] that Democrats thought they were going to win back easily," said Isaac Wood, House race editor at Sabato's Crystal Ball, part of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "But now that victory in Hawaii doesn't seem so secure."

No incumbent candidate for federal office in Hawaii, Democrat or Republican, has ever lost in the history of the state -- so Djou has history on his side. But Democrats are quick to point to the fact that President Obama won the district -- which includes the President's hometown of Honolulu -- with more than two-thirds of the vote in 2008. "It is a Democratic district, in a Democratic state," said Richard Rapoza, Hanabusa's director of communications.

Political prognosticators say despite the Democratic makeup of the district, the race is truly a toss-up.

"I think that with a week to go [Djou] definitely has a fighting chance of winning a full term," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "Neither of them have it in the bag."

So what's the case a Republican is making to a district that's anything but? Independence.

"For me, it's not so much about party, it's about what I believe is in the best interest of the people of Hawaii and I will always vote with Hawaii," Djou said in an interview, rattling off a list of issues on which he has broken with his party in the short time he's been in Congress. One that stood out: he voted in favor of ending the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibits gays from serving openly in the military.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Shadowy Groups Have Poured Nearly $227 Million Into 2010 Elections

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Oil and gas industry services and investors have contributed $415,000 from their company coffers to fund a group blasting Democratic Senate candidates in four states with attack ads.

A North Carolina pharmaceutical executive has spent $3.3 million of his personal wealth to spearhead another group that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on mailings to influence Senate races in nine states.

Labor unions and Las Vegas resorts are largely funding a group that has focused on attacking Republican challengers to Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid's seat.

The three groups -- First Amendment Alliance, and Patriot Majority -- are among more than 230 independent groups that have poured $227 million into the 2010 elections so far, according to federal election data available through Sunlight Foundation's Reporting Group, an organization that tracks campaign spending.  Of the total that can be tracked, some $103 million has been spent to support Republican or oppose Democrats, while $67 million has gone toward supporting Democrats or opposing Republicans.

Campaign finance watchdog groups say the flood of money reflects an altered election spending landscape following a series of Supreme Court decisions that have cleared the way for independent groups to raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions, and individuals to directly fund ads, mailings and other messaging expressly supporting or opposing federal candidates in the final days running up to an election. The interests backing the groups are not always apparent to voters, and often the donors remain secret.

"We're talking about a new kind of spending," said Taylor Lincoln of Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that follows campaign spending. "There are probably a lot of corporate spenders out there that, for fear for their reputation and a sense of what was right and the law of the land, didn't want to play that game. Now they don't have to fear any kind of legal retribution. That's a big deal."

The First Amendment Alliance, funded largely by oil and gas interests, is one of the groups ramping up fundraising and spending this election cycle.  In 2008, the group spent $120,000 on radio ads, and raised most of its money from three donors, according to filings.

This year, the Alliance has raised $1.4 million, with at least $1.1 million of those receipts coming from the oil and gas interests, according to an ABC News analysis of the group's filings to the IRS.  More than a third of the industry cash has come directly from businesses, while the remaining contributions have come from individual contributions from industry executives and investors.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Obama Takes Campaign to the Air Waves

Photo Courtesy - The White House/Pete Souza(DALLAS) -- With a hip hop beat playing in the background, President Obama called a Dallas urban radio station Wednesday morning, asking Democrats in Texas to vote early.

At the prodding of host Rickey Smiley, the president speculated on how he might govern if Republicans score big gains in Congress next week.

“My hope is at some point, once the election’s over,  Republicans are less focused on  trying to score political points and more focused on getting stuff done for the people,” he answered.  “All I can do  is keep on reaching out to them  offering them opportunities to work with me.  I’m willing to compromise on certain issues but there are certain core issues  I’m not willing to compromise on.  I’m not going to cut education spending 20% to pay for  tax cuts for the wealthy.”

The president also insisted on continuing unemployment benefits and infrastructure spending, both issues on which many Republicans in Congress disagree.

Campaigning from the White House most of this week,  President Obama has been phoning targeted radio programs, including  that of black activist Al Sharpton and  Philadelphia conservative Michael Smerconish, who broke ranks and endorsed  the Obama candidacy two years ago.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Rand Paul Apologizes After Attack on MoveOn Activist at Debate 

Photo Courtesy - Rand Paul for US Senate(BOWLING GREEN, Ky.) -- The campaign of Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul issued a statement Tuesday that condemned the physical attack on a MoveOn activist outside his debate Monday night in Lexington, Kentucky.

In a statement, Paul said, “Whatever the perceived provocation, any level of aggression or violence is deplorable, and will not be tolerated by our campaign.  The Paul campaign has disassociated itself from the volunteer who took part in this incident, and once again urges all activists -- on both sides -- to remember that their political passions should never manifest themselves in physical altercations of any kind.”

A video shows 23-year-old Lauren Valle being dragged to the ground by Paul supporters and then having her head stepped on by Tim Profitt, who was Paul's Bourbon County coordinator.  The Paul campaign has since cut ties with Proffit, who, while apologizing for the incident, said that the camera angle made what happened to Valle look worse than it was.  Police are said to be investigating whether to bring charges against Profitt.

For her part, Valle told reporters Tuesday that some Paul supporters recognized her from a previous event and allegedly made a concerted effort to keep her from approaching the candidate when he arrived by car for the debate with Democratic challenger Jack Conway.  At that point, Valle claims one or two people twisted her arms from behind, pulling her to the ground whereupon a man, later identified as Proffit, stepped on her head.  Valle said she was eventually pulled from the ground by her partner, Alex.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


The Obamas Cast Illinois Absentee Ballots

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- They live full-time at the White House, earn federal paychecks in the District of Columbia, and even list 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as “home” on their tax returns and 2010 Census form.

However, President and Mrs. Obama Tuesday cast their absentee ballots for the midterm elections in Illinois, voting for Democratic gubernatorial and Senate candidates Pat Quinn and Alexi Giannoulias, respectively.

While a sitting president voting in his home state is nothing new, the common practice might seem peculiar given that citizens who don’t have a permanent residence in a given state on Election Day typically can’t vote there.

In Illinois, for example, voters must be residents of their precinct at least 30 days prior to Election Day, according to a registration guide published by the State Board of Elections.

“[The Obamas] may be spending more time in another place, but they are maintaining their tie in Illinois,” said Ken Menzel, a member of the legal counsel of the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Menzel explained that Illinois election code provides a special exception for the Obamas and other persons living elsewhere in service of the United States, as long as they maintain a “permanent abode” in Illinois.  Most states have similar exemptions for officials serving in federal office.

The Obamas have kept their home on the south side of Chicago and can continue to claim it as their official residency even though the First Family lives and works elsewhere, Menzel said.

Former President George W. Bush also maintained his official residency in Texas and cast ballots there during eight years in living in the White House in Washington, D.C.

Under the Texas Election Code, Bush was considered “temporarily absent,” with the assumption he would return to Texas someday.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Gender Gap Could Give Dems Advantage in Elections

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.) -- Despite a number of prominent Republican women candidates this year, a new study shows Democrats still benefit from the gender gap.  The study, conducted by the Center for American Women and Politics, finds no evidence that women are more likely to vote for female candidates if they're Republican.

In fact, the study reports women are four to 15 percentage points more likely to vote for Democrats.

Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, says, "Even though it is a woman who is running on the Republican ticket, women voters are more likely than male voters to support the Democratic candidate."

But higher enthusiasm among Republican women could send more of them to the polls, overcoming the Democrats' gender gap advantage.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


ABC Exclusive: President Clinton Says of Democrats, 'Reports of Our Demise Have Been Exaggerated'

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- How bad will this election be for Democrats? Bill Clinton tells ABC News the answer depends on how badly Democrats want to win.

ABC News caught up with the former president as he worked the crowd at a rally in Chicago, where he stumped for Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias and several other Democratic candidates.

"If we want it bad enough to go out there and work for it, I think we'll get it," Clinton said. "This is the largest number of close races I've ever seen across America. I've never seen it like this."

The former president said Democrats are having a hard time getting their message out, in part because the news media focuses more on politics than on the substantive differences between candidates. He said he can relate to President Obama's troubles.

"Anybody who has ever been there will tell you how hard it is to get a fact-based message out," Clinton said.

"It's what happened to me in '94. When you get in, you are wanting to do things," he said. "There's almost an inverse relationship in how much you accomplish and what people know about it."

Despite those difficulties, things are starting to look up for his party, Clinton said. "We're getting there. The president's getting out and around and I see a lot more intensity at these rallies now in the last three weeks," he said. "So I think it will be a great mistake to count us out. Reports of our demise have been exaggerated."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


GOP Strategist: Credit Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin with Surge Among GOP Women

Photo Courtesy - U.S. State Department | Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With the Tea Party movement headlined by a group of female candidates who have risen to national prominence this election cycle, an odd coupling of 2008 candidates may be the reason why, Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace told ABC News Tuesday.

“I think you've got to give Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin some of the credit,” said Wallace, who worked for Palin in her vice presidential run and served as communications director in the George W. Bush White House.

“I think despite their unsuccessful outcomes of their candidacies in 2008, they got a whole lot of attention,” said Wallace. “I think that it's encouraging that, despite the fact that a double standard was applied to both women in different ways and at different times, women are still undeterred and they're stepping into the arena in greater numbers.”

Wallace is the author of a new novel, Eighteen Acres, that focuses on the re-election campaign of the first female president.

In the wake of 2008, Wallace has clashed publicly with both Palin and adherents of the Tea Party movement. She explores similar themes in her novel.

“The Tea Party movement is as much about holding such low regard that they no longer feel it's important to have experience in politics to do a good job in Washington. They kind of look at Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle and say, 'What are they going to do? Screw it up?' ”

The Tea Party, Wallace said, “is the most simple explanation for the enthusiasm gap,” and Republicans should be thankful for that energy. It's real impact, however, may not be felt until the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination kicks off in earnest.

Asked what the future first female president is doing now, Wallace quipped, “I mean, I think she's out there. I don't think she knows she's the first female president but I think these things -- look, who would've thought...I think our cycles are so accelerated that it's not a matter of generations that have to pass....”

“I absolutely think she's out there,” Wallace added. “In all our lifetimes, I think we'll see a couple. The greater fantasy of Eighteen Acres is probably that she's a moderate. You know I think we're probably much further away from electing a moderate to national office.”

“And you know, she ends up running on a unity ticket. That's something that certainly captured a lot of our imaginations on the McCain campaign. I think we're probably further away, I think because of Obama, because of the hardening of our politics over the past few years. I think those are some of the things that are more farcical and fictional than a woman president.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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