Iraqi Cloud Hovers Over America's Rural Heartland

Shmuel Rosner
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Shmuel Rosner

PENNSYLVANIA - Public opinion polls are now the main litmus test of the electoral mood on the winding path between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains from east to west Pennsylvania, where residents are busy preparing for Halloween.

Orange pumpkins of various sizes are lined along the roads, vying with the candidates' billboards for attention. Sweets in huge sacks are being sold in the supermarkets to be distributed to children who come knocking on doors for "trick or treat."

This is the rural heartland of Pennsylvania. It was James Carville who said, Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh in the west, Philly in the east, and Alabama in the center. This conservative, rural state, far from the culture of the big East Coast cities, is the heart the Republicans have always relied on for victory, and which could betray them now.

At least according to a poll published last weekend by the non-partisan Center for Rural Strategies, which surveyed likely rural voters in 41 contested congressional districts including the 10th District, where incumbent Republican Congressman Don Sherwood is running against Democratic challenger Chris Carney.

Voters unhappy

The voters here are not happy with the direction America has taken or with the president. Altogether, the Democrats have a considerable 13 percent advantage in this poll.

Some 38 percent said the war in Iraq is the first or second most important issue in this election campaign; second (25 percent) came the economy, which plays a central role particularly in rural areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Sherwood, who won 93 percent of the votes in 2004 when he ran uncontested, is more than 10 percent behind, and fears losing his seat. But Bush is not the only one to blame. Sherwood is embroiled in a juicy sex scandal - his former lover is accusing him of trying to strangle her.

The war in Iraq is hovering like a dark cloud over the entire election campaign. Sherwood, a member of the party that is accused of the Iraqi fiasco, tried to use the war against his opponent. His supporters distributed a leaflet accusing Carney of responsibility for the war in Iraq, since he worked as a Middle East intelligence analyst in the Defense Department. The spin does not appear to have succeeded.

Fifteen fatalities

Fifteen residents of the 10th District were killed in Iraq. Sunday's Pittsburgh Gazette devoted about half of its front page to the high price incumbent congressmen, who are seen as being responsible for the way, are paying for it.

In a photograph across the top of the page was a line of horses pulling a hearse bearing a coffin to the military cemetery in Arlington, Virginia - the coffin of Captain Shane Adcock, who was killed on October 11 in Iraq.

In the diagonal corner to Sherwood's, the southwestern 12th district, hawkish Democrat John Murtha is trying to get reelected for the 17th time.

Having served in the Marines and in Vietnam, Murtha was the first to call on the administration to withdraw the army from Iraq a few months ago.



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