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Senator Sanders Brings Socialist Bent To White House Race

Washington (AFP) — Bernie Sanders arrived in Congress in 1991 pledging to fight growing economic disparity, improve health care, and education and reel the United States in from its involvement in “unnecessary” foreign wars.

A quarter century later, the self-described socialist senator from Vermont will bring a similar message to the American people as he hits the campaign trail — this time as a candidate for president to succeed Barack Obama.

Running to the progressive left of declared Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Sanders wants to end tax breaks for the very wealthy, and is fiercely opposed to the huge trade pact under negotiation with Asia-Pacific nations, saying the deal would cost “millions of decent-paying” American jobs.

Disheveled, with a no-nonsense and occasionally gruff demeanor, and seemingly always in a hurry, the 73-year-old Vermonter is hardly shy about taking on the political establishment.

In 1987, running for re-election as mayor of Burlington, he defeated a candidate backed by the Democratic and Republican parties.

In 2016 he will have bigger challengers for the White House — namely Democratic frontrunner Clinton, the former first lady and secretary of state — and experts put his chances of victory at slim to none.

But in a rushed eight-minute appearance on the US Capitol lawn Thursday, Congress’s longest-serving independent insisted he was “in this race to win.”

Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats and is expected to run as a Democrat, is little known outside political circles and his home state of Vermont, where he will roll out a formal campaign launch next month.

He said he relishes the chance to go toe-to-toe with her in “serious debates over serious issues — not political gossip.”

He quickly earned a campaign welcome from his chief rival.

“I agree with Bernie. Focus must be on helping America’s middle class. GOP would hold them back,” Clinton wrote in a tweet. “I welcome him to the race.”

For years Sanders has warned of the growing economic gap in America, stressing that “millionaires and billionaires” run a rigged system that benefits the wealthy at the expense of millions of working-class and poor citizens.

“Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated in this country is going to the top one percent,” he said Thursday.

“That type of economics is not only immoral, it’s not only wrong, it is unsustainable.”

In 2010, during an eight-hour Senate speech, he launched a withering attack on the rich and Republicans in particular.

“I am talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people against working families, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country,” he fumed.

“The billionaires of America are on the warpath. They want more and more and more.”

Sanders said recently implemented laws that relaxed campaign finance rules have proved “disastrous,” allowing wealthy donors like the Koch brothers, billionaire industrialists who have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars into election campaigns, to “buy elections and candidates.”

Sanders, born September 8, 1941 to a family of Polish Jewish immigrants, campaigned for civil rights reforms in the 1960s before entering politics.

He eventually won a congressional seat in 1990. He voted against authorizing military force in Iraq in 1991 and again in 2002, when Clinton voted in support of the Iraq war resolution.

In one of his first speeches as a member of the House of Representatives, in 1991, he foreshadowed many of the US challenges of the 21st century.

“At a time when this nation has a $3 trillion debt and is looking at the largest deficit in its history, has a banking system on the verge of collapse, (and) a health care system no longer working for ordinary Americans… it is my belief that a war in the Persian Gulf now, an absolutely unnecessary war, would be a terrible mistake that this country would regret for decades to come,” he said at the time.

As Clinton Eyes Presidency, So Does Republican Rubio

Washington (AFP) — US Democrats have their 2016 presidential frontrunner in Hillary Clinton, but the Republican field remains wide open — and it got even wider Monday with first-term Senator Marco Rubio jumping into the race.

Rubio — a Florida lawmaker and son of immigrants from Cuba who is equally at ease discussing foreign policy, deficit reduction, his family’s compelling narrative or hip-hop music — is scheduled to make a major announcement at 6:00 pm (2200 GMT) in Miami.

Hours before he officially launches his campaign and casts himself as the next-generation candidate, in contrast with Clinton and mentor-turned-rival Jeb Bush, the 43-year-old Rubio told major donors on a conference call that he is in, the Miami Herald reported.

He also told ABC News he feels he “absolutely” is the most qualified candidate, despite Clinton and Bush having more political experience.

“I think the 21st century can be the American century, and I believe that I can lead this country in that direction,” Rubio said.

“I can help lead it there from the Senate. I can lead it there as president.”

He joins two other Republican first-term senators who are already running: Ted Cruz of Texas, who is also Cuban-American, and Libertarian-leaning Rand Paul from Kentucky.

Cruz in a statement welcomed his friend to the presidential rodeo, saying Rubio will help “elevate the debate for all of us.”

While Clinton has few serious Democratic challengers — Vice President Joe Biden and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley have expressed interest but little else — several more Republicans may jump into the fray, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Texas governor Rick Perry.

Should Bush, a former governor and the son and brother of two presidents, enter the race as expected, his duel against fellow Floridian Rubio could be a compelling narrative of the 2016 campaign.

Shrinking the generation gap

Rubio, who often casts his personal arc as the embodiment of the “American Dream,” wants to take voters beyond the dynastic Bush-Clinton dynamic that has ruled national politics for much of the last three decades.

He has telegraphed a primary theme for his Monday rollout, notably that he is the candidate for a “new American century.”

Youthful, charismatic and articulate on several issues, Rubio hopes to transcend the Republican Party’s reputation for difficulty in connecting with young, Hispanic or African-American voters.

Rubio is hawkish on foreign policy, a Tea Party favorite with potential to draw conservative votes.

But he angered core conservatives two years ago when he helped craft a bipartisan immigration reform bill that would have provided pathways to citizenship for millions of undocumented workers, a plan he backed away from after it died in the House of Representatives.

Hillary hits the road

Hillary Clinton immediately hit the campaign trail, striking a note of soft humility with her pledge to champion “everyday Americans” — a departure from her hard-as-nails approach in 2008

Former secretary of state Clinton meanwhile ended years of speculation Sunday when she finally announced what everyone already knew: her intention to join the race to succeed Barack Obama and give Democrats a third straight presidential term for the first time in more than half a century.

Clinton immediately hit the campaign trail, striking a note of soft humility with her pledge to champion “everyday Americans” — a departure from her hard-as-nails approach in 2008, when she lost her party’s nomination to Obama.

Crowding into a minivan, she drove from New York toward the key midwestern state of Iowa, where she will hold small roundtables with middle-class voters beginning Tuesday.

Hours into the surprise 1,000-mile journey, the 67-year-old former senator and onetime first lady tweeted a picture of herself meeting a family at a Pennsylvania gas station.

“This was her idea and she has been really excited about it,” close Clinton aide Huma Abedin said on a conference call from the road late Sunday.

In her first fundraising email as a candidate, Clinton told supporters Monday she would “work my heart out” to earn votes.

“I’ve spent my entire life standing up for women, children, families, and anyone who needed a little help along the way,” she wrote.

“That’s what this campaign will be about, and that’s what I’ll do every single day as your president.”

Clinton’s first major rally and the speech that kicks off her campaign is not expected until May.

While Clinton aims to break the “glass ceiling” and become the nation’s first female commander-in-chief, her Republican rivals want to reverse course from what will be eight years of Obama policies they say have made America weaker and economically stagnant.

AFP Photo/ Andrew Burton

Hillary, Hungry For White House, Set To Launch Clinton 2.0

Washington (AFP) — Hillary Clinton is expected to finally announce her White House candidacy Sunday, empowering her to parry Republican attacks as she seeks to become the United States’ first female president.

Seven years after her bitter nomination defeat to Barack Obama, the former Secretary of State and one-time First Lady would enter the race as the Democratic Party’s overwhelming favorite, as Clinton and her rivals gird for a bruising 18-month campaign.

Her announcement is likely to be delivered via social media and accompanied by a video highlighting her political and economic philosophy, according to U.S. news outlets citing sources close to Clinton operations.

It will no doubt trigger a donor deluge from supporters who have long waited for her to officially enter the race, a move that would allow them to contribute directly to her 2016 election effort.

Clinton’s campaign-in-waiting has quietly organized for months, bringing on key staffers and advisors, plotting outreach operations and strategizing.

On Saturday, the team hunkered down in Clinton headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, where upcoming campaign manager Robby Mook reportedly delivered a memo to staff urging teamwork in the months ahead.

Hillary Clinton speaks at the Annual Women’s Empowerment Principles, entitled “Unlimited Potential: Business Partners for Gender Equality” March 10, 2015 at the United Nations in New York

“We are a diverse and talented family… and have each other’s backs,” the memo states, according to Politico, perhaps in an effort to avoid the infighting among top aides that marred Clinton’s 2008 run.

The 2016 campaign goal, the memo adds, is “to give every family, every small business, and every American a path to lasting prosperity by electing Hillary Clinton the next president of the United States.”

“An excellent president”

On Saturday, she earned praise from Obama, although experts warn she will have to tread a fine line in how closely she aligns herself with the incumbent.

“She was a formidable candidate in 2008…. She was an outstanding Secretary of State,” Obama said at a regional summit in Panama. “I think she would be an excellent president.”

Her announcement is expected to be followed by low-key campaign swings through Iowa and New Hampshire, states that hold the first votes early next year to determine the parties’ nominees.

The soft approach would mark a deviation from the Clinton Inc. juggernaut that ultimately failed in 2008.

After the campaign launch, Clinton, 67, should “jump on a bus and barnstorm through Iowa touching all 99 counties and meet with people in cafes and other small venues” as she reintroduces herself to Americans, Iowa State University professor Steffen Schmidt told AFP.

The one-time U.S. senator and wife of former president Bill Clinton leads opinion polls among Democrats, some 60 percent of whom say they would vote for her in the primaries, according to website RealClearPolitics.

A humble approach may help dispel doubts about Clinton raised in recent weeks, after it was revealed she used a private email account while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

But she could face uncomfortable questions about the issue from voters, including why she deleted thousands of emails that she described as personal, then wiped her server clean.

Clinton, who has been in America’s political spotlight for a quarter-century, has endured heavy criticism from Republican rivals, and launching her campaign would give her a platform to aggressively counter their punches.

“There is sort of a history of the Clintons… feeling like they’re above the law,” Senator Rand Paul, who announced last week he is running for president, told CNN Sunday.

On his website, Paul called Clinton “unfit to serve as president.”

Conservative senator Ted Cruz made his own splashy presidential campaign launch last month, while fellow Senate Republican Marco Rubio is scheduled to make his own all-but-certain campaign declaration on Monday.

On Sunday, former Florida governor Jeb Bush teased his own expected campaign rollout.

Just hours before Clinton’s announcement, the son and brother of two former presidents released a video saying he would lay out substantive policy proposals “in the coming weeks and months.”

“We must do better than the Obama-Clinton foreign policy that has damaged relationships with our allies and emboldened our enemies,” he said.

Clinton leads against her GOP rivals in nearly all polls, but famed political prognosticator Nate Silver on Sunday called the 2016 election a “toss-up.”

Marcia Rogers, who hosted Clinton’s first house party in Iowa in January 2007, recalled Clinton made a “terrific” impression on the 140 people who attended at her Cedar Rapids home.

“Hillary Clinton shines in small situations like that,” she told AFP. “She was so attentioned [sic] to people and so focused and so engaging.”

Photo: Conference for Women on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, in Santa Clara, CA. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Voting Starts In U.S. Polls Expected To Deal Rebuke To Obama

Washington (AFP) — Americans trooped to the polls Tuesday in key midterm elections, with Republicans expecting to claim the Senate majority on a day of reckoning for Democrats weighed down by an unpopular president.

Although many battlegrounds may go down to the wire, Democrats could lose Senate seats in as many as 10 states, a result that would hamstring Barack Obama in his final two years as president.

Polls suggest Republicans are on course to win the six extra seats they would need to gain control of both chambers of Congress for the first time since 2006.

And the party of an incumbent president historically fares badly in elections in the middle of his second term.

Every president since Ronald Reagan in the 1980s has left office with the opposition party controlling Congress, and Obama — following the costliest-ever midterm, estimated at $4 billion — is likely to be no different.

Many Republicans have essentially based their campaigns on attacks against the president and his policies like health care reform.

Although the economy has improved gradually since the 2008 recession, the national mood is far from buoyant.

Economic gains have not translated into support on the campaign trail in red-leaning states with Democratic Senate incumbents, like Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

Much media attention has focused on recent crises like Ebola and advances by the Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq, but polls suggest voters’ minds were made up months ago.

Republicans have successfully capitalized on Obama’s unpopularity to convince voters of a need for change on Capitol Hill.

“I think we need a change in American politics,” construction worker Charles Kaster told AFP outside a polling station in Berryville, Virginia.

“We’ve given the other side six years to have their way with things and it doesn’t seem to be working out too good, so I think it’s time to switch back to somebody else.”

Democrats hold a 55 to 45 seat advantage in the Senate, while Republicans control the House of Representatives.

Republicans, whom several top forecasters give about a three in four chance of winning the Senate, expressed confidence in the home stretch.

“Victory is in the air, we’re going to bring it home tomorrow night!” ebullient Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican and potential new Senate majority leader, told a crowd in Kentucky Monday.

Republicans have hammered home their message that a vote for Democrats is a vote for a tarnished Obama and his policies.

In the House, where all 435 seats are in play, experts predict the Republicans will gain more seats. Thirty-six of 100 Senate seats are up for grabs.

Voters will also elect dozens of state governors and hundreds of local legislators, and decide on ballot initiatives including marijuana legalization.

– A muddled picture? –

However successful the Republicans are, a complete picture may not emerge Tuesday.

There are strong prospects for runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia, where rules require a second round if winners do not earn more than 50 percent of the vote.

Add to that a probable days-long ballot count in remote Alaska, where there is an unpredictable and tight race.

Louisiana’s runoff is December 6, but a Georgia runoff would be on January 6, which means senators may not know who controls the chamber when Congress opens on January 3.

Voters could get a sense of how the chips will fall nationally by keeping a close watch on two eastern states: North Carolina and New Hampshire.

Virtually all scenarios for Democrats maintaining Senate control rely on winning these two states, but experts say that if they flip Republican then Democrats will be in for a painful night.

Complicating matters, Kansas independent Greg Orman is neck and neck against veteran Republican Senator Pat Roberts.

Should Orman win he would have to choose which party he caucuses with, and he was giving no hints Tuesday.

“I’m not going there to represent the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. I’m going there to represent Kansas,” Orman told CNN.

While both parties have rolled out their surrogates to rally voters, Obama — well aware of his status as lightning rod for Republican criticism — has largely steered clear of the campaign trail.

And he was laying low on Tuesday.

Vice President Joe Biden said he does not “agree with oddsmakers” and feels Democrats could hold the Senate, a sentiment the White House said Obama shared.

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

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U.S. Midterms: Republicans Poised To Seize Congress

Washington (AFP) — The months-long, $4 billion U.S. midterm election battle comes to a head with Tuesday’s vote, and President Barack Obama’s bloodied Democrats face an uphill struggle to hold their ground in Congress.

Republicans have the momentum and are ideally positioned to snatch a Senate majority that would put Obama’s rivals in charge of both chambers of Congress during his last two years in the White House.

Polls show most Americans feel the country is on the wrong track, emboldening Republican candidates, who must either deliver a win or see their own agenda stymied by Senate leaders still loyal to an unpopular president.

“We are at a crossroads right now,” Republican Joni Ernst, fighting one of the nation’s tightest Senate races in Iowa, said Friday at a campaign stop near the climax of a bruising campaign.

“Either we stay on the path that Washington has for us, or we take that right turn and start moving in the right direction.”

Ernst and others have been joined on the campaign trail by Republican figureheads like Senator John McCain and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has crisscrossed the nation lending candidates his star power.

Democrats have tapped their political superstars as well, notably former president Bill Clinton, probable future White House candidate Hillary Clinton and popular First Lady Michelle Obama.

But the political landscape is tilting away from Democrats, with forecast models showing Republicans with good odds of winning the Senate.

“Within the last week to 10 days, we started to pick up some of the thunderstorms developing,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said this week. “We’re starting to see the hints now of a building Republican wave.”

– Last-minute Obama campaigning –

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs, but with Republicans widely expected to maintain control there, eyes are on the Senate races, especially 10 key battleground states.

With his approval rating at just 43 percent — and lower in states with at-risk Democrat incumbents — Obama has largely avoided the campaign trail, opting instead to raise millions for Democratic candidates in closed-door fundraisers.

But he scheduled three stump stops for this weekend, including a visit late Saturday to Detroit, Michigan.

“When you step into that voting booth, you are making a choice not just about candidates or parties. Your’e making a choice about two different visions of what America is about,” Obama told the crowd.

And he warned of low Democratic turnout during the midterms, as in 2010, when Republicans romped to victory.

“This election is too important to stay home. Don’t let somebody else choose your future for you,” the president said.

“When we vote, we win.”

The Republicans have repeated their mantra — “A vote for the Democrats is a vote for Barack Obama” — as they have sought to make the midterm election a referendum on the president.

His policies — including “Obamacare,” cuts in carbon emissions and the legalization of thousands of undocumented youths — are unpopular with the voters who will decide the key races.

Obama provided his opponents with an unintentional opening earlier this month when he assured that while he was not himself up for a vote, “make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot, every single one of them.”

The statement hindered efforts by Democrats to distance themselves from Obama, but they still tried.

“The president’s not relevant. He’s gone in two years,” Senate Democrat Mark Begich of Alaska, where the race is a toss-up, told the Washington Examiner.

In his weekly radio address, Obama reminded Americans of a host of recent successes, including his stewardship of the U.S. economy, now growing at the fastest rate since 2003.

But even as the New York stock exchange closed Friday at a record high, Republicans hammered home their message that Obama has let the economic recovery slip away.

“Six years on, their policies haven’t gotten the country moving again,” top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, potentially the next majority leader, countered in his radio address.

“Events seem to keep spinning out of control, whether at home or abroad, with no one in the administration possessing a real handle on what to do next.”

Should Republicans seize congressional control, Obama and Democrats will see several of their priorities shelved.

These include raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay for women and safeguarding the environment.

Republicans, meanwhile, will seek to repeal Obama’s health care reforms and roll back energy industry regulations.

But, with the 2016 presidential race on the horizon, the GOP will have an incentive to cooperate with Obama to get some key legislation — such as so kind of immigration reform — signed into law.

“Republicans will have to show they have the capability to govern,” Republican Senator Bob Corker told a Tennessee newspaper.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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