Elections unlikely to alter military debates
WASHINGTON ¡ª Unlike two years ago, this year¡¯s congressional elections shouldn¡¯t produce major changes in military debates on Capitol Hill.
In 2006, when Democrats took control of both chambers for the first time in 12 years, it meant major changes in what bills came up for votes, who led key committees and how lawmakers dealt with military operations overseas.
With Democrats expected to retain or even enhance their margins in both the House and Senate, a similar momentum shift is unlikely when the new legislative session opens in January.
Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee will see major changes, although likely not on the Democratic side. House Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and Senate Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., both face re-election challenges, but are expected to easily win.
But key Republican counterparts will be gone. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., ranking member of the house committee, announced his retirement after a failed presidential bid earlier this year, and former Senate committee chairman Sen. John Warner, R-Va., will leave as well.
The Senate committee would also lose its ranking member if Sen. John McCain succeeds in his bid for the White House.
Here are other key races to watch on Election Day:
¡ö Rep. Chris Shays, Connecticut¡¯s 4th District
Shays, a Republican and a vocal supporter of the Iraq war, two years ago called for a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq as a way to force the Iraqi government into action.
His opponent, Democrat Jim Himes, has advocated an immediate pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq. Shays has held the congressional seat since 1986, but local polls have put this year¡¯s contest in a dead heat.
¡ö Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey
Lautenberg served in World War II and has logged 24 years in the U.S. Senate. Over the past six years, the Democrat has focused much of his criticism on the Bush administration¡¯s handling of Iraq. In July, he pushed for extra pay for stop-lossed troops as "some recognition of their sacrifice."
Early state polls showed a close race between him and Republican Rep. Dick Zimmer, who has backed the White House¡¯s handling of Iraq and criticized Lautenberg for refusing to agree to public debates. More recent polls show Lautenberg regaining a comfortable lead in the final days of the campaign.
¡ö Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts
The former presidential candidate is expected to easily win re-election to the Senate seat he has held since 1985.
Four years ago, Kerry¡¯s Democratic presidential campaign ran largely on an "out of Iraq" platform.
His Republican opponent, Jeff Beatty, has focused this race on Kerry¡¯s support in 2002 for military action in Iraq and arguing that the senator hasn¡¯t done enough work since 2004 to bring the troops home responsibly.
Beatty, a Purple Heart recipient for wounds received in Grenada in 1983 as an Army helicopter pilot, has advocated a plan to pull most U.S. troops out of Iraq within two years, saying that time frame would allow the military to successfully finish its mission there.