Progressives shouldn’t ignore close congressional races

At first glance, it seems easy to call Connecticut a safely “blue” state. Connecticut has not voted for a Republican president since 1988 or a Republican senator since 1982, and there is largely a consensus around such divisive issues as abortion rights and gun control.

But in reality, the Republican Party finds strong support in Connecticut, and three of our five congressional representatives are Republican. Our blue state is a swing state: This year, the GOP will spend more money per congressional race in Connecticut than in any other state except Pennsylvania.

Three of the 10 most competitive House races and perhaps the most discussed Senate race in the country are occurring right here in Connecticut. While New Haven’s Democratic representative, Rosa DeLauro, will likely be re-elected, Republicans Rob Simmons (District 2), Chris Shays (District 4) and Nancy Johnson (District 5) face strong competitors in Democrats Joe Courtney, Diane Farrell and Chris Murphy, respectively. More famously, Democrat Ned Lamont faces continued opposition from now-independent Sen. Joe Lieberman. Polls for each of these races has shown a single-digit divide between the candidates, often within the margin of error. It’s no surprise, then, that any discussion of a progressive victory in 2006 mentions these four races.

Yale students this year have a real opportunity to affect these important races; who controls Congress will be decided just on the other side of our residential college gates. But for campus liberals to make that impact, the focus of Yale politics will have to change. Last year, the biggest arguments on this opinion page — a way of measuring campus energy — fell into two categories. The first consisted of arguments of national scope but with little direct relevance to students. Discussions of John McCain’s bipartisanship, for example, are important but divorced from the daily lives of even the most politically active Eli. The second category described issues of local concern. The Ward 1 aldermanic race, the Yale-New Haven Cancer Center, financial aid reform: These were the most heated issues of the year, and the YDN’s pages reflected the activism across campus. This year, however, the fight must occur at a higher level.

Until November, campus progressives’ top priority must be winning control of Congress. As students continue to push for financial aid reform at Yale, they should also help oust Nancy Johnson, who voted against $1.9 billion in Pell Grants in the most recent budget. Yale students should continue to reduce their energy consumption and push for a green New Haven. At the same time, they should push for national changes in environmental policy by working to replace Rob Simmons, who voted five times for President Bush’s energy bill, which was laden with giveaways to large oil and coal companies. Yale students who change lives by volunteering in the New Haven public schools should augment their work with efforts to replace Chris Shays with Diane Farrell. She would fight to fund No Child Left Behind sufficiently and to provide the New Haven school system with the Title I money it needs. The fight for emergency contraception at Yale is an important one. That’s why it’s so crucial that students concerned about this issue work with Ned Lamont, whose strong support for EC provides a sharp contrast to Joe Lieberman’s opposition and insensitive remarks. All these examples show one thing: Progressive students of all stripes must recognize that to achieve their goals locally, they must first make a change nationally and create a base to build upon.

Moreover, it is no longer enough to read The New York Times and hope for the best in Ohio or to discuss Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy. Until the polls close on Nov. 7, we must take action. Recognizing the importance of this moment, the Yale College Democrats and Students for a New American Politics-PAC have decided to work together on their common goal of electing a more progressive Congress. Students from groups across Yale are joining these two organizations and over 100 Yalies have traveled to each of the three contested congressional districts to help make that goal a reality.

Issues like the Iraq war, affordable health care and economic policy may seem out of reach for college students. Our work today, though, could be the difference between the failed policies of the current Congress and a new progressive agenda.

Noah Kazis is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Marissa Levendis is a senior in Calhoun College and the executive director of Students for a New American Politics-PAC. Brendan Gants is a junior in Morse College and the president of the Yale College Democrats.

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