Elections to Watch

There are a number of important contests that will be decided on November 7th. Like many Americans, I’ll be up late into the night awaiting final results.

Not the least of my concerns, of course, will be the macro-outcome, as in which party will control the House of Representatives and/or the Senate. Let me be clear from the outset–”I am a Democrat, proud of the political philosophy of my party, though not always pleased with the positions taken by and performance of some of its leaders and standard bearers.

Despite the fact that some Democrats folded in the face of the Administration’s pressure on critical issues like the Iraq war and the protection of civil liberties, I am confident that after four years of single-party rule the US will be better served by Democratic control of Congress. I, like many others, am deeply troubled by the 12 Democrats who supported the shameful Administration-endorsed legislation on detainees, but it is inconceivable that such a bill ever would have seen the light of day had the Senate or House Judiciary Committees been under the leadership of the likes of Patrick Leahy, Ted Kennedy, or John Conyers.

No doubt there will be Democrats who will advise caution, warning that, should they gain control in November, it would not be wise to pursue impeachment or investigations into Administration behavior with regard to the Iraq war. But there will be pressure from other leading Democrats to use their positions to hold the Administration accountable for the lies that led us into war and the many failures and deadly miscalculations that have defined the conduct of that war.

But in addition to this big picture, there are some exciting individual races I’ll be watching as well.

First and foremost, there is the Minnesota congressional race that may produce the US’s first Muslim federal elected official. State Representative Keith Ellison is the Democratic nominee. He is facing both a Republican and a well-funded Independent. I’ve met Ellison and find him to be a great candidate. He’s an African American and a Muslim running in a district that is 80% white. Should he win, a powerful message will be sent across the US and around the world.

Ellison has been attacked by his opponents for his support of Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March and for contributions he’s received from some American Muslims who have been termed "radical" (ironic that Republicans would even dare to raise the issue of contributions, given their recent history). Through it all, Ellison has remained calm and steady–”above the fray. A good place to be.

Downstream, there are also some interesting races, worthy of note. Ferial Masri, for example, is a long-shot candidate for a California Assembly seat. Masri is a Saudi Arabian woman running as the Democratic nominee. Her election would also be a first, and an exciting one at that. She faces a tough fight against an incumbent with a substantial war chest, but Masri is used to uphill battles. She won the nomination and ran in 2004 as a "write-in" garnering a significant 41% of the vote in a heavily Republican district. In the past two years she has grown as a candidate. It is a race worth watching. I’ll also be watching the reelection bid of Lexington, Kentucky Mayor Teresa Isaac. She’s facing a tough contest, but she’s a fighter, a human relations champion, and a friend for over 20 years.

Back on the federal level, one of my favorite candidates is Jon Tester, whom I hope will retire Montana’s Senator Conrad Burns. Burns who once called Arabs "rag heads" and this year has also insulted most other ethnic groups. Tester is right on Iraq and is a strong defender of civil liberties.

I’ll also be watching the Pennsylvania Senate race where Democrat Bob Casey is challenging incumbent Senator Rick Santorum. I’m a big fan (I loved and respected his father, a former governor of Pennsylvania, and have high regard for the son). The election of Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, will send a strong message that the Democratic Party is an open party. It will also put an end to the Senate career of Santorum, the first elected official to use the horrific term "Islamo-fascist" and a frequent Arab and Muslim basher.

I know that Connecticut Democrat Ned Lamont is a long shot to defeat incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman (now running as an Independent), but Lamont’s early and strong stand in opposition to the Iraq war was so important. I’m one of those who disagree with Joe Lieberman on many issues, but still respect him. I will never forget how in 1992, when Arab Americans were being blocked from participating in the Clinton campaign, Lieberman responded to my appeal and got on the phone and called the campaign and demanded that Arab Americans be included–”and we were. I also remember that after receiving the nomination for Vice President in 2000, Lieberman’s first meeting was with Arab Americans in Michigan.

Nevertheless, his position on Iraq has been wrong from the start and he continues to be wrong until now.

While we are on the subject of the war in Iraq, there are a number of House races I’ll be watching, many involving Democratic candidates who are war veterans, who are challenging, from a position of strength, the Administration’s war policy. One of the more interesting races is in the 8th district of Pennsylvania where former Army Captain Patrick Murphy is challenging an incumbent Republican. What makes Murphy so compelling is that his position on Iraq is so thoughtful and developed. It deserves to be read and followed.

While there are many others I’ll be following, one that really has my attention is Lincoln Chafee’s reelection bid in Rhode Island. He is one of the most balanced, thoughtful, and courageous voices in the Senate on a range of tough issues, both foreign and domestic. It was Chafee who blocked the Bolton appointment to the United Nations and it was Chafee who challenged the Administration’s handling of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (especially Israel’s continued settlement expansion) and their approach to the war in Lebanon–”and he did so in an election year, when acts of courage are rare.

All in all, a full plate of important and exciting contests–”with much at stake. That’s why I’ll be up election night.