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Data analyst: Midterms will go "down to the wire"
03:42 - Source: CNN

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It was the rematch the Powell family had been awaiting for six years.

In 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden raced his 1967 Corvette Stingray – a wedding gift from his father – against former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who drove the 2015 model given to him by his children, on the CNBC show “Jay Leno’s Garage.”

In this year’s season finale, which aired last week, the late general’s son Michael Powell arrived for a rematch in his father’s Corvette. “I’m frankly here to kind of settle a score,” said Powell, likely in jest. “You know, for years, he was very, very bitter. He said that he had won that race clearly but somehow that got lost in editing.”

The encounter left no doubt about which car is faster: Biden reached a top speed of 118 mph but fell behind Powell’s 445-horsepower Stingray.

Biden may be falling behind as he heads into another rematch – this time with American voters. While Biden himself won’t be on the November 8 ballot, 435 House seats and 35 Senate seats are up for grabs – and the results will, as always, be viewed as a verdict on the President’s first two years in office. Democrats fear they are facing an uphill battle to retain control of both chambers of Congress.

“All of our progress is at risk,” Biden wrote for CNN Opinion. “The American people face a choice between two vastly different visions for our country.” Biden cited disagreements between the parties on taxes, social spending and abortion and alluded to the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept his own 2020 election loss.

“Democracy is being put to the test in America. We are learning what every generation has to learn: nothing about democracy is guaranteed. You have to defend it. Protect it. Choose it.

History is not on Biden’s side. In the 22 midterms since 1934, the president’s party has lost an average of 28 House seats and four Senate seats, according to John T. Woolley of the American Presidency Project at UC Santa Barbara. “The president’s party gained seats in the House only three times, but gained seats in the Senate on six occasions. The president’s party has gained seats in both houses only twice,” Woolley wrote.

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Republican momentum is building nationally as likely voters express concerns about inflation and the economy,” observed former Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican. The GOP surge comes in spite of “candidate quality problems, the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision on abortion, and former President Donald Trump’s unhelpful midterm interventions,” Dent added.

Compounding the Democrats’ problems is the likelihood that young voters may not turn out in force this year, wrote Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican pollster and CNN political commentator. “It is clear that in this midterm election, Democrats have not energized the youth vote and may not be able to count on young people as a key part of their coalition. Voters under 30 are not exactly enamored with how things are going in America these days. Two-thirds of them say that the economy is bad, according to CBS News/YouGov polling. … While young voters aren’t likely to turn out in huge numbers to power a ‘red wave,’ it isn’t hard to imagine them costing Democrats their majorities by staying home.”

What will happen on November 8 is profound, according to poet and Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. When we vote, “we will do more than select a preferred candidate, proposition or ballot measure. What we will do is undertake an act of stewardship, one sacred in its significance, of the right to vote itself … Our votes are our lanterns. Burnish them, treasure them, reinforce them. Raise them high, and then bear them forward. Let them be light for the future Americans who will come to bear them in turn, vote by vote.”

For more:

Jay Bookman: What Georgia’s record-breaking early voting means

Julian Zelizer: Why My Pillow Guy is a central figure in the rise of right-wing extremism

Paul Sracic: The results of Ryan vs. Vance may spell the end of Ohio’s legacy

Gaby Goldstein and Mallory Roman: Democrats must vote in down-ballot races to take back state legislatures

Dean Obeidallah: GOP victory in midterms would make Putin very happy

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‘Shocking episode’

The attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, by a hammer-wielding intruder who shouted, “Where is Nancy?” should prompt immediate action, wrote Kara Alaimo.

Pelosi was in Washington, DC, at the time of the attack, while Paul Pelosi, who underwent surgery “to repair a skull fracture and serious injuries to his right arm and hands,” according to a statement released by the speaker’s office, is expected to make a full recovery.

“This shocking episode is just the latest in a series of escalating attacks and confrontations against politicians, and women politicians in particular – many of whom face unacceptable hatred on the Internet that spills over into physical threats or violence. Social media platforms and law enforcement must act now to stop this abuse before a politician is gravely injured or killed,” Alaimo observed.

“From 2017 to 2021, threats against members of Congress investigated by US Capitol Police increased by 144%, Axios reported. Many of the lawmakers on the receiving end of these threats are women and people of color.”

“After an assailant smashed a window in the home of Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, she told The New York Times, ‘What started with abusive phone calls is now translating into active threats of violence and real violence.’”

Alaimo wrote, “It’s time for social media companies to stop hosting content that normalizes this kind of violence and for the FBI to get serious about investigating and prosecuting these attacks. They should use this horrific episode as the wake-up call that it is, and not wait for Sen. Collins’ prediction that a member of Congress may end up dead to come true.”

Putin’s darkness

Reeling from military defeats in Eastern Ukraine, the invading army of Russian President Vladimir Putin has adopted a new tactic – using missiles and drones to target the nation’s electric power infrastructure.

“With evenings drawing in fast as winter approaches, the lights are going out across Ukraine,” wrote John Lough, an associate fellow at Chatham House, a London-based think tank.

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    “Electricity rationing has become the new grim reality of war, as Russia tries to destroy Ukraine’s economic capacity and force its leaders to the negotiating table. … Putin is in a desperate race against time. The longer the war goes on, the greater the risk that Russia’s economic and human losses will weaken his grip on power. Support for the war is waning and unprecedented Western sanctions are increasingly taking their toll.” Lough urged NATO countries to “supply more weaponry to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses as well as provide the resources to help Ukrainian engineers to repair the damage to power plants.”

    For more:

    Natalia Antelava: How Russia uses ‘sameness’ as an instrument of domination

    David A. Andelman: Putin is trying to distract us from the blindingly obvious

    Fetterman vs. Oz

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    It was a week of debates in a number of high-profile contests. In Pennsylvania, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is recovering from a stroke he suffered in May, faced off against Republican TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz in the only scheduled debate between the two US Senate candidates. The result was “agonizing,” wrote Jill Filipovic.

    “Each candidate faced a particular challenge. Oz, who owns several properties around the US and seems to have primarily lived in his New Jersey mansion until 2020, has made a series of embarrassing gaffes that critics say reflect his elitism and out-of-towner status; he needed to prove he wasn’t an out-of-touch carpetbagger. And Fetterman, who had a stroke in May, needed to show that he is physically and cognitively healthy, and up to the task of being a US senator.”

    Neither succeeded. For Fetterman supporters – and full disclosure, although I do not live in Pennsylvania, I would like to see Democrats maintain a majority in the Senate – the debate was some combination of heartbreak and bloodbath. And for any voter considering casting their ballot for Oz, the performance was one marked by petty cruelties and terrifying politics.”

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    The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board cited Fetterman’s struggle with answering a question about his changing his position on fracking, a key issue in Pennsylvania.

    “The point isn’t about catching a politician in a flip-flop,” the Journal wrote. “The Fetterman contradiction shows how Democrats are in trouble because they nominated too many candidates whose views on crime, immigration, climate and the economy are all but impossible to defend in competitive races this year. … Mr. Fetterman tries to come across as the working man’s candidate, but his history against fracking pits him against the blue-collar workers who man the drilling rigs and sand trucks in Pennsylvania. It puts him on the side of climate elites in the big cities. It is also a killer issue when inflation and energy prices are soaring.”

    Post-Roe America

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    Ever since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Dr. Mae-Lan Winchester, an obstetrician-gynecologist who works in Cleveland, Ohio, has feared for her high-risk patients. Our series “America’s Future Starts Now” continued last week with a spotlight on abortion, including an essay from Winchester.

    “I have spent my entire career treating pregnant patients who are struggling in the morally fraught, emotionally exhausting gray areas so many anti-abortion politicians seek to ignore or pretend do not exist,” she wrote. “And so it felt like a slap in the face to be told by lawyers, after over 11 years of postgraduate medical training and expertise, that my medical opinion is not enough for the law to permit me to provide the care I am trained to give.

    The court’s Dobbs decision raised as many questions as it answered, as Mary Ziegler noted. “Conservative lawmakers are confronting a reality where abortion pills are easy to buy online and where travel out of state, including to mobile clinics, is an option – at least for those with resources. Will states try to ban travel for abortion, using a model patterned on Texas’s SB8, which allows people to sue anyone who performs or aids or abets an abortion? Will conservative lawmakers try to apply their criminal laws to abortions performed in progressive states? If they do, progressive states have prepared, passing shield laws that seek to protect providers and others from extradition, subpoena requests and more. How will courts resolve these clashes between states?

    Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer observed, “The Dobbs decision stripped millions of women of their right to make the biggest decision anyone can make. Every American who believes in a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions – whether Republican, Democrat or Independent – must stand up and make their voices heard.”

    Erika Bachiochi took issue with some of the reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision. “Since Dobbs came down, abortion advocates have had good success in persuading the American public that the Supreme Court’s decision has put women’s lives at risk – and that only unfettered access to abortion will save them. But this is just not true.

    “In the 13 US states with abortion prohibitions in effect, every single one bans only elective abortions. Life-saving medical treatment for mothers who are facing grave medical complications during pregnancy are not elective. They are part of life-affirming care. As pro-life physicians and ethicists have explained, to protect these life-saving treatments, the most well-crafted state laws leave the question of whether the mother is at grave risk to doctors’ reasonable medical judgment – a flexible and well-known legal standard to which doctors, who often need to make swift judgments in emergencies, are already required to adhere in other areas of law,” wrote Bachiochi.

    Rishi Sunak

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    Rishi Sunak, the UK’s first prime minister of Asian descent, is “a powerful symbol of shifting attitudes to Britain’s diversity,” wrote Sunder Katwala, who directs the think tank British Future.

    “Sunak’s presence as Prime Minister will tell an important story of how Britain has changed over three generations. Yet each of those different generations may have a different perspective on the significance of his premiership. That is what I have found reflected in my own family,” Katwala observed.

    His father, who moved from India to England in 1968 to work as a doctor, “thinks it is an enormous marker of social progress in Britain in his lifetime.” His arrival in England came one week after the notorious “Rivers of Blood” speech by the British politician Enoch Powell, whose “central fear was that the birth in Britain of their children – people like me, or Sunak – would make a multi-ethnic Britain inevitable. For Powell, that was the death of his idea of the nation.”

    But, as Katwala noted, his “teenage children see this entirely differently. They were surprised to hear last week that there had never yet been a British Asian Prime Minister. They wondered what had taken us so long, when Barack Obama had been the first American President of their lifetime.”

    “Young adults from Asian and Black British backgrounds, born in this century, are also less likely to see Sunak’s premiership as cause for celebration. Their question is why the promise of equal opportunities has yet to be met in full.”

    To Kehinde Andrews, there’s no reason to celebrate. “The current iteration of the Tories lacks even the pretense of compassion. This is the party that was voted in on the back of the xenophobic, ‘Little England’ Brexit campaign, which promised to keep out foreigners and restore Britain to its former (colonial) glories.”

    “This is the party that has brought in the most racist immigration legislation in British history…”

    For more:

    Laura Beers: Why Britain just got (another) Prime Minister it didn’t vote for

    Jens Larsen: Can Rishi Sunak restore the UK’s credibility?

    Press freedom milestone

    On Wednesday, the Justice Department struck a blow for press freedom, helping safeguard journalists’ ability to protect the identity of confidential sources who often alert the public to urgent issues and possible wrongdoing.

    “After a decade of intrusive leak probes, including three at the end of the Trump administration that swept in Barbara Starr’s records at CNN as well as those of journalists at The New York Times and The Washington Post, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a new rule prohibiting subpoenas and other types of legal processes against the press in all but narrow circumstances,” wrote Bruce D. Brown and Gabe Rottman of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

    “For the first time, the new policy defines a lane of total protection for journalism – where the department has almost entirely relinquished its discretion to use investigative tools against the press despite the power to do so handed to it by the courts. That’s historic.” In the future, Brown and Rottman observed, “forcing reporters to divulge sensitive information simply to identify or confirm sources in routine leak cases would cut against the promise of Garland’s fresh start.”

    Harvard’s choice

    On Monday, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases challenging the use of affirmative action in higher education admissions.

    “In the lead case,” Evan Mandery wrote, “a group called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) allege that Harvard University’s admissions policies – which sometimes count race as a ‘plus’ factor – have systematically disadvantaged Asian-American applicants. Harvard says that an adverse decision would limit their ‘freedom and flexibility’ to create diverse campus communities.”

    “I have a question I’d like one of the justices to ask Harvard: How can the university defend ‘affirmative action’ for poor students of color while aggressively engaging in affirmative action for affluent Whites?” By maintaining preferential treatment of athletes, faculty children and those related to alumni and donors, elite universities are stacking the deck in favor of the privileged, Mandery argued.

    Don’t miss

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    Van Jones and Janos Marton: Florida told them they could vote. DeSantis had them arrested for it

    Frida Ghitis: The relentless bravery of Iranian protesters is a moral test for the Western world

    Kylie Moore-Gilbert: Part of me wished Iran’s godforsaken prison would burn to the ground

    Kara Alaimo: There’s a simple way the IRS can help working parents

    David Wilcox: The Fed is doing exactly what it should to fight inflation


    Halloween movies

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    When it comes to Halloween entertainment, it’s ok to be scary. That’s the message of Holly Thomas’ take on two kids’ movies: Disney’s “Hocus Pocus 2” and “The School for Good And Evil” on Netflix.

    “The first – a sequel to the seasonal fan favorite starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson sisters-cum-coven – attempts to explain away the witches’ misdeeds with an origin story about the inhabitants of Salem being mean to them. The second goes to enormous trouble attempting to define good and evil, only to conclude that none of us can truly be either, really.”

    “In both cases, the effect is an ineffective, watered-down message that robs kids of the chance they get every fall to thrill at a glimpse of true darkness — and the satisfaction of defeating it.

    “Of course it’s important to teach children about the complex layers that make up our personalities, and how our early experiences might inform bad behavior later in life. But not at Halloween.

    “Halloween is a time of wonder, of curses, ghouls and dark magic, a time to let rip and fantasize.”