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Red November?

"Red November?" Continued...

Issue: "On the rails," Oct. 9, 2010

Federal policies have not helped Kane's clients avoid foreclosures or get needed bank loans. "There is a PR campaign about how things are going so well," Kane said after an area Chamber of Commerce breakfast. "But they are not. None of the problems are actually getting solved."

His frustration with Washington sounded very similar to the conservative anger I'd encountered in other states. Both groups seem fed up with the cast of characters making up the political status quo. But Kane's disgust has its roots in his belief that Democrats have underreached, not overreached. "I really thought he would be able to deliver," Kane said, referring to Obama. "Or did he just say those things to get elected? At the end of the day, nothing has really changed."

This fall Kane is remaining on the political sidelines. And he said he is not alone among liberals in his community: "More and more people are beginning to think that if you put the best man in office the system will corrupt him."

Such dispirited sentiments from Democrats in a state where Democrats hold every statewide office have Republicans eyeing a treasured bounty this November: the Senate seat once held by Obama.

Nationally, the Democratic Party's favorable rating dropped to a low of 33 percent in August. Obama won the White House partly due to large turnout among Democrats combined with a frustrated Republican Party. Now the roles may have reversed: Deep Democratic discontent may keep liberals home on Election Day in 2010.

It doesn't help the Democrats that their nominee for Obama's old seat, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, has a track record that raises eyebrows in the current economic climate. Federal regulators last spring seized his family-owned bank where Giannoulias once worked as a loan officer.

His opponent, Rep. Mark Kirk, who is leaving the 10th Congressional District seat he has held for 10 years, is better funded. But Kirk's early lead has dwindled to a dead heat after he had to apologize for misstating his military record.

"This is normally a Democratic state," admitted Kirk at a Labor Day rally, according to the Chicago Sun Times. "But we've won the grass-roots war. We've won the fund-raising war and now it's time to win the final battle. This is clearly our year."

In the northern Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Democrat Diane Rudy argues that liberals have had a successful two-year run. Rudy, an artist in her 60s, said she is disenchanted because Democrats "have not been able to get our message to connect with the people."

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have failed to strike a chord with middle America. Meanwhile Republicans have succeeded in making their arguments against bigger government the main national narrative heading into this year's elections.

She is worried that disheartened voters like Kane will stay home this November. She said her homosexual friends are angry because Democrats have not ended the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. Other friends in the Hispanic community are upset because the immigration debate took a back seat to healthcare the last two years.

"Democrats are a rowdy group," said Rudy. She worries that too many Democrats "are solely focused on their individual passion. It could end up hurting the party by dividing ourselves."

She thinks Democrats can only be reenergized and reunified when Obama uses the bully pulpit of the presidency the next few weeks to highlight what is at stake this November. That is the same conclusion many top Democrats have reached: Obama plans four big rallies this fall to try to recapture the 2008 magic.

One of his first stops will be Sept. 28 in Wisconsin, which also happens to be where I am headed next.

Wisconsinite John Jury remembers being asked by friends on the streets of Stevens Point earlier this year to sign a petition in favor of the healthcare overhaul. The political independent's refusal to do so left puzzled looks on his friends' faces.

Stevens Point-a city located in almost the exact center of the state-began as a supply camp for loggers sending white pines down the Wisconsin River.

Today it is the seat of Portage County, a place where, according to Jury, "if you don't run as a Democrat you aren't going to win." That is, he adds, until now.

Everyone knows that Wisconsinites like their beer and brats. People here are also quick to use one word to describe themselves: frugal. "The only thing better than cheap here is free," explained the 63-year-old Jury.

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