Microcosm

by Dan Pollock | 10/16/00 5:00am

If the main event of fall 2000 is the fight for control of the White House, the contest for the House of Representatives may seem to some like more of a mundane side-show. Since winning the House by a large majority is out of the question for both parties, the amount of power up for grabs hardly compares to the high stakes presidential race. The fact is, however, whichever party wins the majority in Congress will decide the success or failure of the next president's agenda. Since the Republicans currently only have a seven-seat majority, there is a strong possibility that the Democrats could take control. Winning seven out of 435 races doesn't sound like too daunting a task, but both Republicans and Democrats agree that there are essentially only a select few "competitive" House races in the country. These 34 district races are so close and the chance that some candidates might even change parties in exchange for a committee assignment , means that it may be impossible to know who is actually controlling the House until the Members are sworn in Jan. 3.

Luckily for New Hampshire voters, one of these "competitive" races is taking place in their back yard between three-term Republican Congressman Charlie Bass and Lyme School Board Chairman Barny Brannen, a Democrat. Because the fight for New Hampshire's 2nd District is so close, this race could potentially be one of the deciding factors in who controls the entire House. One indicator of the race's importance to the Republican leadership is Senator John McCain's visit to the district tomorrow morning. McCain will be stopping at Dartmouth in the hopes of spreading some of his New Hampshire Primary popularity to Bass (who is an alumnus of the College) as part of his efforts to help vulnerable Republicans.

The most interesting aspect of the race is the fact that the candidates' positions on the issues represent a microcosm of the ideological battles occurring on the national level. On areas such as education, campaign finance reform, fiscal policy, prescription drugs and abortion, Brannen and Bass have taken definitively conflicting positions that not only provide New Hampshire voters with two clear choices but also resemble some of the major differences that exist between the Presidential candidates.

With regard to campaign finance reform, Charlie Bass was a co-sponsor of the ban on "soft money" in the House (hence the reason John McCain is campaigning for him). He has also proposed allowing union members and corporate shareholders a greater say in where their money goes. Barney Brannen supports the "soft money" legislation and also wants to see all federal campaigns publicly funded as well as free air time for candidates.

Although both candidates are "pro-choice," there are some differences when it comes to abortion politics. Bass voted to ban "partial-birth," or second-trimester abortions. Brannen has said he "would vote against any curtailment or infringement on abortions."

Like the presidential race, the two candidates' greatest differences are in the area of fiscal policy. Brannen has said he would vote against any tax cuts until we pay down the national debt and "shore up Social Security and Medicare." Bass voted to eliminate the unpopular inheritance tax and the marriage penalty , but he also voted for the Republicans' failed $792 billion tax cut of 1999.

With the exception of fiscal policy, the candidates agree on all but the semantics of nearly all the important issues. This closeness of positions lies at the heart of the competitiveness in the 2000 elections. Since many voters don't know or don't care about the mundane details of these issues, it is almost impossible for them to make clear distinctions between these two candidates (and the two presidential candidates). However, this closeness is by no means a bad thing. It's certainly better to have two candidates that try to represent the vast majority than two who are so partisan that the represent nobody. Furthermore, with agreement across party lines of what issues are most important, the American people are guaranteed of getting some kind of action on those issues, so that the next Congress can distinguish itself from this Congress, whose accomplishments have been somewhat meager. The best part of the competitive 2000 election is that Dartmouth students with New Hampshire residency and the rest of the 2nd district will get to play a crucial role in determining who gets control of the next Congress. We always say it, but in this case, it is more true than ever. Your vote counts!

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