Which issue will swing the US mid-terms?

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PinkNews.co.uk’s Ben Leung analyses the key issues affecting tomorrow’s mid term elections in America.

Compare and contrast the mid-term elections with the 2004 Presidential campaign. Back then, issues such as gay-marriage and stem-cell research were all-the-rage as the Republican Party sought to give the President a second term in office.

This time round, however, both of these issues – along with almost everything else – have been overshadowed by the on-going conflict in Iraq. No surprises there, one would argue, and the Democrats have almost exclusively used Iraq as the single backdrop to their campaign, with the Republicans having little to go on.

Then again, they focussed their effort on that same issue two years ago, and John Kerry still didn’t get into the White House. Amazingly though, it’s taken an almighty gaffe by that same man to reinvigorate the Grand Old Party’s (Republican) mid-terms campaign.

Mr Kerry’s ill-timed slip-up about US troops in Iraq at a rally last week has, in short, allowed his Republican rivals to distract the American public from the war in Iraq for once, potentially jeopardising the Democrats’ chances of seizing control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives next week.

The Senator’s ‘botched joke’ has also served up ample ammunition for the GOP to discredit the Democrats, whilst providing the perfect launch-pad for some last-minute scaremongering to shore up support among its conservative supporters with renewed concerns about national security, stem-cell research, pro-life arguments and gay marriages.

Apart from Iraq, voter apathy had been the Republicans’ biggest threat as polls have long predicted a heavy defeat for the President’s party. Certainly, scandals of all sorts within the GOP in recent months have not helped either: from Senator Mark Foley’s explicit web-chats with underage male interns, to the Jack Abramoff corruption case, and just last weekend, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s wife Lynn having a slanging match on primetime CNN, fending off accusations concerning explicit lesbian sex scenes in her novel twenty years ago.

But all of these were momentarily swept aside as the GOP and the right-wing media sought to whip up the Kerry controversy. By leaving out two crucial words from an otherwise uneventful speech, the Senator for Massachusetts has gifted the GOP spin-doctors with the perfect opportunity to portray the 63-year-old Senator of ‘unpatriotic’.

A right-wing contributor on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News has gone as far to suggest that ‘one doesn’t need to be a mind-reader to see Senator Kerry is uncaring and unfit for office’.

Meanwhile, President Bush has taking the unusual step of granting the influential right-wing shock-jock Rush Limbaugh an interview on his radio show, providing the president with a perfect platform to further discredit John Kerry and the Democrats over their record on the war on terror. (Limbaugh himself was in the news just last week, attacking Michael J Fox for ‘exaggerating’ his Parkinson’s disease in order to gain support for stem-cell research.)

The White House could well have struck gold there as there can be no better platform for Bush to galvanise the die-hard conservative voters than on Limbaugh’s show, for some of the radio host’s weekly audience of nearly 20 million listeners could well decide which way the key marginal seats like Missouri, Montana, Tennessee and Virginia will go in the Senate.

The other side to this last-minute Republican publicity drive is that issues which have largely been forgotten about are likely make a belated entrance to the campaign, notably gay marriage.

This and anti-abortion/pro-life rights proved so effective at the last election in mobilising the core conservative vote that for a party which traditionally finishes strongly – as they did in 2004 – perhaps President Bush won’t get as bloody a nose after all.

It’s still odds against the Republicans taking charge of the Senate – they’ve already given up on the House of Representatives – but the GOP will be heartened to learn by the latest NBC News poll that 42% of Republicans intend to vote on Tuesday – up 7% from a fortnight ago.

One thing’s for sure though – this could spell the end of John Kerry’s political career. For a seasoned politician to be so callous in public that, whatever your views are on Bush, maybe it was for the best that Kerry never got the keys to the White House.