Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Faith Lapidus. Our subject this week is American politics. National elections are one week away.
The United States holds national elections every two years. This year, Election Day is Tuesday, November seventh. Americans will vote in local, state and congressional elections.
Voters will choose all four hundred thirty-five members of the House of Representatives. Voters will also choose thirty-three of the one hundred senators.
Each state has two senators and at least one representative -- the number depends on the population of each state. House members serve two-year terms. A Senate term is six years.
But these are called midterm elections because they come halfway through the president's term. Midterm elections are often seen as a measure of how Americans feel about the policies of the president and Congress.
The Constitution limits presidents to two terms. President Bush, a Republican, won a second four-year term in two thousand four.
The Republican Party has controlled the House since the elections of nineteen ninety-four. Republicans have also led the Senate since that time, except for a period between two thousand one and two thousand two.
The party of the president generally loses some seats in Congress in midterm elections. But this year the opposition Democrats hope to gain enough seats to win back the House and possibly also the Senate. Yet, as hopeful as the Democrats might be, something else is also true. Once elected to Congress, lawmakers usually get re-elected again and again.
The Democrats need to gain fifteen seats to retake control of the House. In the Senate, they would need to capture six of the fifteen seats on the ballot that are now held by Republicans. At the same time, the Democrats would have to keep all eighteen seats that their own party will be defending on Election Day.
Opinion studies show that two issues are helping the Democrats build support: unhappiness with the Iraq war and the economy. In some cases, the same is also true of another issue: the handling of the war on terrorism.
The war on terror is a top campaign issue for Republican candidates. And political commentators say the economy is in better condition than many people are giving the Republicans credit for.
In recent weeks there has been much discussion of the Mark Foley issue. Mister Foley was a Republican representative from the southeastern state of Florida. He resigned from Congress on September twenty-ninth. His resignation followed news that he sent sexual messages by e-mail and instant messaging to teenage boys.
The young men had been chosen as pages. Pages are high school students who act as messengers and helpers for members of Congress. The Justice Department, the House ethics committee and Florida officials have all opened investigations.
The Republican Party is known for its defense of traditional family values. But there are disputed accusations that Republican leaders knew about Mark Foley's actions for some time and did not do enough to stop them.
Some opinion studies have suggested that this issue might not have much effect on many voters. But there is talk that it could decrease the number of social conservatives who plan to vote. Social conservatives are traditionally among the most loyal voting groups for Republicans.
The Democrats have proposed a legislative program they call "A New Direction for America." One goal is to raise the federal minimum wage for the lowest paid workers for the first time in ten years. Another goal is to end what the Democrats call tax giveaways to large oil companies.
The Democrats also say their plan will provide what they call real security at home and overseas. They say they will reshape what they describe as failed Bush administration policies in Iraq, the Middle East and around the world.
President Bush says Republican leadership has improved the economy and kept America safe. Mister Bush says he believes these are the most important issues to voters. The president says the Democrats would raise taxes, while the Republicans would keep taxes low.
Mister Bush says the nation is safer now than it was before the September eleventh attacks five years ago, but still under threat.
The president has called Iraq the central front in the war on terror. But a majority of those questioned in recent opinion studies said they disapprove of the president's handling of the war. Even so, measures of public opinion suggest that most Americans do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
With Americans closely divided politically, the balance of power in Congress could rest with independent voters. Will they choose Democrats or Republicans?
A Republican congressman from Illinois, Ray LaHood, was on a television news program a month before the coming elections. He said this was going to be the most difficult thirty days in the last twelve years that Republicans have been in the majority.
Many political scientists say the Democrats are in a good position to win the fifteen additional seats they need to retake the House. But the experts believe it will be more difficult to gain the six seats needed to win back the Senate.
There are intense battles over some of those seats. In Tennessee, Democrat Harold Ford faces Republican Bob Corker for the seat of retiring Senator Bill Frist. Mister Ford, if he wins, would be the first African-American senator elected by a southern state since the late eighteen hundreds. He currently serves in the House of Representatives.
This year’s elections could be especially important for the two largest minority groups in the United States – Latinos and blacks. Latinos historically do not vote in large numbers. But this year may be different. Earlier this year Latinos held big demonstrations to demand immigration reform. They also denounced proposals to increase punishments for illegal immigrants.
The recent debate over immigration could lead greater numbers of Latinos to vote in the elections next week. If that happens, it could affect the results in some states.
More African-American candidates are competing this year than ever before. A record six black candidates are running for either governor or senator.
Ken Blackwell, a Republican, is one of the six: he hopes to become governor of Ohio. Another Republican, Michael Steele, is running for senator from Maryland.
The House of Representatives currently has forty black members. The Senate has one. Barack Obama is a popular young Democrat who was elected in Illinois in two thousand four. He is the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas.
This Election Day, voters in thirty-six of the fifty states will choose governors. The first black governor elected in more than a century was Douglas Wilder in Virginia in nineteen eighty-nine. On November seventh, in Massachusetts, Democrat Deval Patrick could become the second.
Candidates and interest groups spend lots of money to campaign by television, radio, telephone and, increasingly, the Internet. But the Internet can help or hurt a candidate.
In August, Senator George Allen of Virginia was speaking at a campaign event. He saw he was being videotaped by a worker from his opponent's campaign. The senator made fun of him and used a term that many people considered a racial insult. The young man with the camera was of South Asian ancestry.
Soon the world could see the video on the video-sharing Web site YouTube. The senator, seen as a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in two years, apologized. But that incident helped smash the big lead he had in his race against Democrat Jim Webb.
Technology is an issue not just for candidates but also for voters. Many people are not sure they trust the electronic voting machines that are replacing older equipment. They worry about security and, in many cases, the lack of a paper record of ballots in case any recounts are needed this Election Day.
Our program was written by Brianna Blake and produced by Caty Weaver. You can find MP3 files and transcripts of our programs, and learn more about American issues, at voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA. And be sure to listen to VOA Special English on the radio or the Web for results of the November seventh elections. You can also hear special coverage on VOA News Now.