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Perriello, Hurt race very close

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By Rick Howell

    A few weeks ago, what I heard from Democratic activists and campaign operatives was four very dreaded words: The House is gone.

    Now, things seem to have brightened a bit. Polling shows that Democrats may not lose control of the House, after all. And, because of the nomination victory of “tea party” weirdo Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, the U.S. Senate seems safe for the party of working people.
    CNN reported that even the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - the most pro-corporate and pro-rich people organization in America - has concluded that Democrats will probably hang onto the House by a narrow margin.
    Naturally, all this renewed optimism could still be wrong. But what it reflects is a reality check for those who have long assumed a GOP takeover: the Republicans are the only institutional entity even more unpopular than the Democrats.
    This may not mean much to some people, but it again reflects a trend that many conservatives just can’t see: the feeling this year is at least as much “anti-incumbent” as it is anti-Democrat.
    That’s why Tom Donahue, the head of the capitalist chamber of commerce, believes that even some GOP incumbents - who are assuming they’ll win - will actually lose.
    In the Fifth District, this gives hope to Democratic incumbent Tom Perriello, an excellent member of Congress who has done everything in his power to stay in touch with constituents. He has reason to hope for victory even in an atmosphere presumably hostile to anyone who supports President Obama.
    The latest poll shows that Republican Robert Hurt leads only by two percentage points, an advantage that disappears when you consider the “margin of error” for these polls, generally recognized as 3 percent.
    If this is such a “Republican year” in what is known to be a Republican-leaning district, why isn’t Hurt ahead by more? Could it be that he is pursuing a strategy far too cocky for his own good?
    I’d say yes. Hurt has repeatedly missed opportunities to debate Perriello because he’s afraid of the third party candidate, Jeffrey Clark.
    Clark is the self-described “tea party” candidate. I used to think that he’d present a serious challenge to Hurt, but I don’t believe that anymore. I think he’s a lightweight, and I believe Hurt could demonstrate that if he’d just have the courage to go up against the guy even once.
    Clark is deeply in debt because of previous health care bills….Hello, Jeffrey? Shouldn’t this make you in favor of some kind of health care reform? Most Americans with debt can trace that debt right back to health care bills. This is one reason health care reform is so desperately needed.
    Yet Jeffrey Clark can’t seem to figure this out. If Robert Hurt is opposed to the current health care law, he needs to spell out, specifically, what he would do to help people who need health insurance.
    There would be no better opportunity for this than to face his other opponent, Jeffrey Clark, in a three-way debate with Tom Perriello.
As for his part, Perriello is well-positioned to defend his vote for the health care reform law.
    Robert Hurt’s victory in this election is not guaranteed; yet he’s acting like it is. He elevates Clark’s status every time he pulls out of a chance to debate him with Perriello.
    Mr. Donahue at the chamber of commerce may know something, after all. Robert Hurt is acting like he’s already measuring the drapes in his House office. That could be a very serious mistake, because it’s obviously a close race.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.