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2006 mid-term elections offer challenges and opportunities for business.

Midterm elections, by their very nature, are vastly dissimilar than those taking place in conjunction with presidential races. In the absence of a national race for the White House, decisive issues trend toward the parochial. Without a protracted debate on national issues between two party figureheads, midterm candidates are usually left to focus on the concerns of their particular state or district.

But, not always.

Pocketbook issues overshadowed

The 2006 midterms are shaping up to be a year where the national debate on overarching issues like immigration reform, the war on terror, foreign-energy dependency and a growing anti-incumbent sentiment may overtake such typical pocketbook as taxes and transportation funding.

Even as midterms go, 2006 is likely to illustrate an even greater anomaly. For the first time since 1952, when President Harry S. Truman chose not to seek re-election and Vice President Alben W. Barkley lost to Adlai Stevenson in the Democratic primary, the party in control of the White House is left without a clearly-defined successor. Indeed, Vice President Dick Cheney has made clear his intention to retire from public service at the conclusion of President George W. Bush's second and final term. And with the president's approval ratings near the lowest of his presidency, Republicans seeking re-election in 2006 are left without a popular leader to carry them to victory. Depending on the mood of the district and the competitiveness of the race, many Republicans have been left to fend for themselves.

Another contributing factor to what is likely to be an outlier in partisan politics is the early jockeying for position in the 2008 presidential race. At least a dozen U.S. senators and as many as eight sitting governors are testing the waters of a presidential bid.

Do these potential vulnerabilities signal good things to come for Democrats or will it be an opportunity lost due to their own intra-party fractures? Will divisive national issues such as immigration and the war on terror cause typically business-friendly candidates to become vulnerable to single-issue candidates with no proven record on other issues also important to the franchising community? These questions are likely to be answered in the various House and Senate races around the country.

As the primary election season continues across the country, the effect of national issues is already being seen in various early races. Incumbent Utah Rep. Chris Cannon faced a challenge from the far right by John Jacob in the state's Republican primary. While Cannon won a decisive 56-to-44 victory, the battle showed that an otherwise unknown candidate can create a competitive race on such a single issue as immigration this cycle.

Immigration was also the turning point in the special election in California's 50th Congressional District. Newly-elected Rep. Brian Bilbray was able to hold off Democrat Francine Busby in a reliably safe Republican seat in the San Diego area by taking a hard-line approach to immigration reform. The race also pitted the immigration debate against ethical lapses by elected officials, perceived to be a Republican affliction, in the battle to replace jailed former Rep. Duke Cunningham.

Republicans currently hold a 232-to-203 advantage in the U.S. House. A 15-seat pick-up would be needed for a shift in control to the Democrats. On the Senate side, Republicans enjoy a 55-to-45 majority. (House and Senate Independents are counted here as Democrats.)

Some other races around the country provide examples of the volatile and unpredictable nature of this cycle. Take Connecticut's incumbent senior senator, Joseph I. Lieberman. Just six years ago, Lieberman was the Democrat's vice presidential nominee in the closely-contested 2000 race for the White House. As Franchising World went to press, the 18-year Senate veteran was facing an unexpectedly close primary battle against left-wing, anti-war activist Ned Lamont. The Democratic primary was to be held Aug. 8. Lieberman has been an ally on several issues of importance to the business community, such as legal reform and immigration, so the International Franchise Association will be closely monitoring the primary election.

An Anti-incumbent Mood?

Freshman incumbent Sen. Jim Talent also faces stiff reelection prospects. IFA's political action committee FranPAC supported Talent, who will face Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill in November in what is shaping up to be a very tight race. Outside factors are also expected to play a part in this race as well. The anti-incumbent mood of the national electorate as well as a ballot initiative that may motivate Democratic voters are both expected to benefit McCaskill. As with Nevada and Montana, voters in the Show-Me state will consider a hike in the minimum wage on the November ballot, which is expected to turn out increased numbers of Democratic voters. Immigration is also sure to factor into the race, with the state's strong agriculture economy relying to a great extent on immigrant labor.

Several contentious races for the U.S. House are set for this November. In Iowa's 1st Congressional District, Republican businessman Mike Whalen is set to face off against Democrat Bruce Braley in the race to succeed Jim Nussle, who is seeking the governor's office. Whalen is an active member of the franchise community, owning and operating restaurants and hotels, and received early support from FranPAC.

In a race already considered more competitive than expected, Rep. Bob Ney chose not to seek re-election in the reliably Republican 18th District of Ohio. Ney has been implicated as "Representative A" in numerous court documents involving convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Democratic challenger Zack Space will now face last minute stand-in state Sen. Joy Padgett in November. The Abramoff saga has also brought uncertainty to the reelection prospects of California Republican John T. Doolittle and Montana Sen. Conrad Burns. One notable casualty of the Abramoff scandal is former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, who lost his primary bid for the lieutenant governor's seat in Georgia in July after being linked to the disgraced former lobbyist.

Gubernatorial Elections

Also this midterm cycle, voters in 36 states will elect a governor. Republicans will defend 22 seats, compared to 14 for the Democrats. States where current party control of the governor's office is potentially at risk include (current party): Alaska (R), California (R), Colorado (R), Florida (R), Iowa (D), Maryland (R), Massachusetts (R), Michigan (D), Minnesota (R), Nevada (R) and Ohio (R). New York, currently led by Republican George Pataki, is viewed as a likely pickup for Democratic Attorney General Elliott Spitzer.

Other interesting gubernatorial races likely to capture the public's attention this fall include California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first reelection attempt. Amid lagging poll numbers and several political defeats in his first years in office, "The Governator" is expected to need more than star-power to secure his first full term in Sacramento. Meanwhile, first-term Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm faces a tough reelection battle against wealthy Republican businessman Dick DeVos, as she tries to overcome the state's ongoing economic malaise. In Ohio, recent scandals and accusations of corruption cloud the Republicans' chances of holding the governor's mansion. Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell will face off against Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland for the right to replace outgoing Gov. Bob Taft.

The heightened competitiveness this cycle serves as a wake-up call to voters. Critical issues of importance to the business community will be hotly debated in the coming weeks and every vote is of the utmost importance. IFA encourages its members to make their voices, the Voice of Franchising, heard this fall. If members of the franchising community have not already done so, they should register to vote with their local elections supervisor and make arrangements to cast their ballot on Nov. 7. If voters are unable to make it to the polls on Election Day, they can contact their elections office to request an absentee ballot.

For information on candidates vying for election in your area and details on how to register to vote, including requesting an absentee ballot, visit IFA's Get Out the Vote Web site, and click on Campaigns and Elections.

Troy Flanagan is director of government relations for the International Franchise Association. He can be reached at 202-662-0792 or
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Author:Flanagan, Troy
Publication:Franchising World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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