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Washington (AFP) — Mississippi incumbent Thad Cochran was fighting for his political life in a Republican runoff for his U.S. Senate seat Tuesday, seeking to repulse a surging conservative challenger bucking the party establishment.

A series of primary races are similarly pitting political veterans against relative outsiders, including key contests in Oklahoma, New York, and Colorado, as the fields are sown for the congressional mid-term elections in November.

Republicans are widely expected to retain control of the House of Representatives, and with President Barack Obama’s Democrats struggling to hold the Senate, the GOP is pouring efforts into this year’s campaigns in hopes of winning both chambers of Congress.

Such an outcome would all but doom any legislative agenda Obama would want to achieve in his final two years in the White House.

Tuesday’s main event is in the southern Gulf Coast Republican stronghold of Mississippi, where 76-year-old Cochran, one of the old-guard gentlemen of the Senate, was forced into a runoff this month by state senator Chris McDaniel, a radio talk-show host backed by the anti-tax, small-government Tea Party movement.

All eyes are on the state to see if veteran Cochran goes down, much like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his seat earlier this month to a little-known conservative professor in their Virginia primary.

That outcome sent shock waves through Washington, and empowered Tea Party-backed candidates angling for their own upsets against Republican incumbents.

With anti-Washington animosity sky-high, members of the GOP establishment have rushed to Cochran’s rescue, including 2008 presidential nominee Senator John McCain who hailed Cochran’s record on military issues.

McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, by contrast, campaigned in Mississippi last month for McDaniel.

The race has emerged as one of the most expensive primaries ever, with outside groups pouring money into both campaigns.

Cochran, nicknamed the Senate’s “King of Pork,” has been accused of squandering taxpayer money by funneling millions of dollars per year in earmarks to his state, something McDaniel has seized on while campaigning.

“This is pretty simple,” McDaniel reportedly wrote in a fundraising email.

“If you think we should keep the same guys in office that supported these outrageous spending sprees, then listen to John McCain and support Thad Cochran.”

In New York, veteran Democrat Charlie Rangel faces the toughest re-election fight of his 22-term career, in a rematch of the 2012 primary against state senator Adriano Espaillat.

Rangel, 84, leads in polls, but should he lose it would mark the end of an era in New York politics.

In Oklahoma, two-term Republican congressman James Lankford is favored to win retiring Senator Tom Coburn’s seat, but he faces strong opposition from T.W. Shannon, an African-American member of the Chickasaw Nation and former speaker of the statehouse.

AFP Photo / Justin Sullivan

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Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.