Delaware Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons holds a 15 point lead over Republican challenger Christine O'Donnell, according to recent a Fox News poll. That's the same margin that Rep. Mike Castle held over Coons before he lost to O'Donnell in the September primary. The American Enterprise Institute's Henry Olsen argues that while an O'Donnell victory is unlikely, the demographics of Delaware have changed since the last election. Two conservative counties, Kent and Sussex, have grown dramatically while the most influential liberal county, New Castle, has been losing its share of the vote. He imagines that with low Democratic turnout, O'Donnell has a chance to pull off a narrow victory. "These estimates assume a lot. They especially assume O'Donnell's campaign is competently run, well financed, and the personal baggage she carries does not resonate with swing voters," he wrote. O'Donnell's past has dominated news coverage, including her statement a decade ago that she had dabbled in witchcraft as a teenager.
President Barack Obama marked the six-month anniversary of healthcare passage at a backyard barbecue in Virginia on Sept. 23. With less than six weeks to go before midterm elections, the president and a carefully pulled together guest list sought to reassure voters the law will reduce healthcare costs and the federal deficit over the next 20 years. The event coincided with the date new provisions of the law took effect-including allowing college students to stay on their parents' insurance policies until they are 26 and ending policy limits for those with chronic diseases. Major health insurance companies in California and other states announced at the same time they will stop selling policies for children rather than comply with a new federal healthcare law that bars them from rejecting children with preexisting medical conditions. And Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor became the first Democrat to sign onto a petition to repeal healthcare reform. Taylor was one of 34 Democrats to vote against the measure when it came before the House.
Planned Parenthood of Southern New Jersey has closed one of its centers' doors after Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed $7.5 million in women's health and family planning services. New Jersey State Senate Democrats failed to get four Republican votes needed to override his veto. One day later, PP-SNJ announced it was closing a center in Cherry Hill, N.J., because it was losing $160,000 in state funds. In his veto message, Christie said it would be "patently irresponsible" to fund more programs when the state is confronting an $11 billion budget gap.
Cash on hand
Despite a bleak outlook for Democrats, the party is outpacing Republicans in fundraising. The Democratic National Committee raised $11 million last month compared to the Republican National Committee's $8 million, say reports released Sept. 20. Weaker RNC numbers may be due to the unsteady leadership of Chairman Michael Steele. Money is flowing to Republican candidates, but through different channels. American Crossroads, an independent 527 group that supports Republicans, and its affiliated group, Crossroads GPS, topped both parties by raising $14.5 million over the last month. In TV ads, conservative groups have spent $23.6 million while liberal groups have spent just $4.8 million, according to Politico. But Democrats do have another well from which to draw: the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union have pledged to spend at least $88 million toward the midterms.
The U.S. Census Bureau annual report of American living standards found more U.S. families living in poverty than ever before-with 43.6 million Americans falling below the official poverty threshold (not counting income from qualifying federal and state assistance programs). The fraction living in poverty rose dramatically in 2008-to 14.3 percent from 13.2 percent-the highest since 1994. Meanwhile, inflation-adjusted income of median U.S. households fell 4.8 percent between 2000 and 2009, which is worse than rates during the 1970s recession, when median income rose 1.9 percent despite high unemployment and inflation. "It's going to be a long, hard slog back to what most Americans think of as normalcy or prosperous times," Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Wall Street Journal.
Back to court
Organizations including Americans United for Separation of Church and State are asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reopen Spencer v. World Vision Inc., a case that upheld religious humanitarian organizations' right to hire or fire based on faith, because World Vision receives government funds. The plaintiffs earlier argued that receiving public grants made World Vision a secular organization-an argument the court rejected-but the new brief says the plaintiffs did not note whether government funds directly paid their salaries. Because of this "very truncated factual record," the brief argued, the court should clarify whether religious organizations can have faith-based hiring policies if the government funds those jobs.
Rally for no reason
The unserious Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report have a serious response to Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally, announcing their "Rally to Restore Sanity" built off their own TV popularity. Set to take place at the Washington Monument on Oct. 30, the weekend before Election Day, it's billed for "people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn't be the only ones that get heard." More than 100,000 have signed up to attend via Facebook, though the organizers only have a permit for 25,000, well under the attendance at Beck's August rally. The organizers claim that, like Beck's rally, it is apolitical, though Democratic strategists have suggested setting up phone banks there to get out the vote the following Tuesday.
Trouble with rubble
Leslie Voltaire, a Haitian architect and presidential candidate in the country's Nov. 28 elections, says Haiti needs to create a new government post: "rubble czar." Since the Jan. 12 earthquake left an estimated 33 million cubic yards of debris in Port-au-Prince, workers have removed only 2 percent. Mountains of rubble are plaguing the capital city and paralyzing nearly every other aspect of recovery: Impassable roads and crumbled structures make rebuilding impossible in most quarters of town. Reasons for the delay include confusion over who owns destroyed properties and disputes over where to dump debris. But Eric Overvest, the UN country director for Haiti, identifies the underlying problem: "There's no master plan." Haitian voters are looking for a master plan from about 19 candidates vying for the country's presidency. Elections are scheduled for next month and the field remains cluttered: On Sept. 21 the election board rejected the candidacy of popular Haitian-born entertainer Wyclef Jean because it said he had failed to meet a five-year residency requirement.
Voting rights probe
The Justice Department's Inspector General has opened an investigation into the agency's voting section after allegations surfaced over the last year that it isn't enforcing U.S. laws equally ("Justice undone," July 31, 2010). Section attorney J. Christian Adams quit in May after he said the section refused to enforce parts of the Voting Rights Act and dropped a clear case of voter intimidation involving the New Black Panther Party (NBPP). The DOJ transferred another Voting Section attorney who reportedly criticized the handling of the NBPP case, Christopher Coates, to the U.S. attorney's office in South Carolina. The DOJ's IG Glenn Fine wrote in a Sept. 13 letter that while the investigation would include the NBPP case, it will look "more broadly on the overall enforcement of civil rights laws by the voting section."
The number of former workers seeking Social Security disability benefits has spiked, raising concern that the jobless are expanding the program beyond its intended purpose of aiding the disabled. Applications to the program soared by 21 percent, to 2.8 million, from 2008 to 2009, as the economy faltered-the sharpest increase in the 54-year history of the program-adding to the program's fiscal woes and to an administrative backlog. About 8 million workers received disability benefits in June, an increase of 12.6 percent since the recession began in 2007, according to Social Security Administration statistics.