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The Reporters: US mid-terms

All entries by this reporter: Richard Greene

Good Night, and Good Luck

Well, the mid-terms have come and gone, a wave crashing over the country, Congress, the White House and a bunch of very over-worked BBC journalists.

With the voting over, this blog is wrapping up too - but first, thanks are due to many.

I personally wouldn't have made it through the election season without, which works overtime to keep the politicians honest (more power to you!), and Larry J Sabato's Crystal Ball, whose predictions were uncannily accurate.

Thanks also to everyone who made this blog such a success - the 15 BBC journalists who cheerfully added it to their already huge list of responsibilities, and to you readers who contributed over 3,000 comments on everything from the economics of the oil business to where to get grits in London.

This blog may be closing up shop now, but keep your eyes peeled - Matt Frei resumes his Washington diary next week. Look for him on Wednesday.

Till then, good night, and good luck.

Sex, drugs and Ted Haggard

You probably hadn't heard of Ted Haggard - "Pastor Ted" - 48 hours ago.

He's the head of the National Association of Evangelicals - or he was, 48 hours ago.

9pastorted203.jpgLeading the NAE didn't make him a household name in America, but since about one in 10 Americans belongs to a church associated with his umbrella movement, his name was very well known in the country's most famous evangelical household: the White House.

And the White House will be high on the list of those wondering what it means that Ted Haggard's career is now in tatters over gay-sex-and-drugs allegations.

Most immediately, it bodes ill for his shopping-mall-sized, 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, says James White, a retired - and much more liberal - pastor in the same town.

"When the shepherd is struck, the sheep scatter," Pastor White says in his Biblical baritone.

It is hard to gauge the broader effect on the elections on Tuesday, says John C Green, an expert on religion and politics at the Pew Forum in Washington.

It may doom a ban on gay marriage for which Mr Haggard had been campaigning in Colorado. Mr Haggard's accuser, Mike Jones, says he hopes so - and supporters of gay marriage will certainly be cackling loudly over the scandal.

But nationwide the impact may be smaller. Some evangelicals will be left wondering who they can trust, and stay home in despair. Others will be furious at the attack on their leader and be even more motivated to vote, Mr Green says.

Incidentally, it is not only evangelicals who should be disheartened by the fall of "Pastor Ted".

Within the evangelical movement, he has been a leading voice for broadening the Christian agenda to include subjects like the environment and Darfur - positions many liberals would embrace. With his fall, Mr Green says, "one of the major moderate leaders will be removed".

Surprise gift

George Bush and Dick Cheney have been working overtime (and racking up air miles) to rally conservative stalwarts in the final days before the elections, and on Monday they got a gift from an unexpected source: John Kerry.

kerry_ap203b.jpgAs the president was telling the good people of Texas that the Democrats did not want to win in Iraq, his former rival was in California insulting the troops.

Or so Mr Bush and his spokesman would have us believe. And when you review Mr Kerry’s comment, it’s hard to argue:

"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq," he said, eliciting chuckles from the students. (You can hear his words here.)

The president demanded an apology, and some furious military bloggers also pounced, calling Mr Kerry a disgrace.

Senator Kerry came out swinging in response, saying he had botched a joke aimed at the president - and that he would apologise to no-one for his criticism. But his tough talk reminded me of an old political maxim: If you're explaining, you're losing.

John Kerry clearly thinks he is going to run for president again in 2008. If he doesn’t have jokes funnier than this, he's going to lose again. And in the meantime, he's not doing his party any favours this year.

It's not the economy...

President Bush is trying to get Americans to on focus the economy, only days after the University of Virginia's popular political science newsletter the Crystal Ball pointed out how surprising it was that voters are angry at Congress given the record-setting stock market, low inflation and high productivity. (Apparently the president reads the same newsletters I do!)

dollars.jpgConventional wisdom has it that incumbents do well when the economy is strong, and - while there is debate about how many Americans are reaping the benefits of big-picture economic success - gas prices are falling, which should help the Republicans.

Or should it?

Remember, there was shock across the world when President Bush's supporters told pollsters in 2004 that moral values were more important to them than terrorism, the war in Iraq - or the economy.

Only two years later, perhaps the president should not be surprised that his supporters stuck with him when the economy was weak but the Republicans appeared morally strong - and that they have their doubts about the party amidst the current sexual and financial scandals, even if the economy is roaring ahead.

Whistling in the dark?

Many Republicans have begun to admit - more or less in public - that they expect to lose a lot of House seats on Election Day, but congressman Tom Reynolds is not one of them. He is the man leading the party’s fight to win as many House races as possible, and he was in a bullish mood when he appeared at the National Press Club this week.

reynolds_203bbc.jpgMr Reynolds didn’t just whistle in the dark - he struck up an entire brass band there. He cited races where Republicans were raising more money than Democrats and insisted that the number of races “in play” was far lower than the Democrats suggest.

He also got off the best zinger of the event, lavishing mock praise on his Democratic opposite number for a four-minute run-through of what the party would do if they won power. “Congratulations for the longest presentation I have yet heard on the Democratic plan!” he crowed.

But Mr Reynolds - who is linked via a staff member to the Mark Foley scandal and may lose his own seat next month - did show a few cracks in the cheery facade.

Perhaps most tellingly, after tossing around dollar figures and the numbers of critical districts, he got the date of the election wrong. It’s 7 November - but he said 8 November. Despite his upbeat rhetoric, he may actually be thinking a great deal about what happens the day after the vote.

About Richard Greene

I began my career as a journalist in Prague, where I lived from 1991 to 1999, working both on the staff of the weekly Prague Post and as a freelance. I covered President Vaclav Havel, including his trips to the Middle East and Balkans, as well as city politics, theatre, music and film.

I came to the UK to study international relations at the London School of Economics in 1999, and joined the BBC News website in 2000 after I graduated.

In my time at the BBC I have written about everything from combat stress among Iraq veterans to film and baseball (the hopeless, hapless Chicago Cubs remain my first love).

After a one-year career break spent studying Russian and drinking tea in Azerbaijan, I spent 2004 focused on the US elections, mostly from London but also on a two-week road trip around the country.

I moved to the US in April of this year (coming “home” for the first time in nearly 15 years) for a one-year posting as the News website’s reporter/producer in the Washington bureau. I am married with two children – the younger of whom launched only days before this blog.

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