My apologies, dear readers, for not being here to impart my vast knowledge – stop laughing – this past week. My writer’s block was like the Rock of Gibraltar. Evidently my metaphors were up and running, I just couldn’t come up with anything profound to put them to good use on.

This week, however, I want to talk about next year’s election. For those of you who really don’t like George W. Bush – never fear, you only have one year left before you can pull that lever or punch that chad out to show your dislike. Judging from the trends that are emerging though, especially from this November’s election, I wouldn’t be too eager to see 2004.

If you need to be caught up to date, this past Tuesday there were elections all over the country. There hasn’t been a lot in the press about it because it is an “off year” election – they’re too focused on covering the 80 bazillionth Democratic debate to, oh I don’t know, talk about what the voters are thinking.

Now you might ask why this election matters, since it’s not a referendum on Bush or anything spectacular. However, this election was critical in seeing the mood of the country, as well as the fact this was the crucible in which each party threw out some themes and saw which ones worked, and which failed, with the electorate. If you look closely, you’ll see why Terry McAuliffe isn’t smiling much anymore.

The two main races were the governorships of Mississippi and Kentucky, both of which were won by the Grand Ole Party. In Kentucky, the pick-up was especially heartening, as the Republican Party had not held the governorship in 32 years.

Ernie Fletcher, the Governor-Elect, was attacked for the “Bush Economy” – this of course being the same economy that all reports have now indicated has had the largest growth in two decades, and for simply being a Republican. Those charges didn’t fly and he trounced his opponent with 55 percent of the vote to 45 percent.

I think in 2004 Karl Rove should send a letter out to the Democratic National Committee thanking them for coining the label “Bush Economy” – as this shows, it’s going to help a lot.

Add to that the fact that this state has two Republican senators, all but one House Republican, Bush won the state handily in 2000, and you can almost put the state in the bank come 2004.

Mississippi was also a good pickup. Halley Barbour, former Republican National Committee chairman and Washington lobbyist, won 53 percent to 46 percent. What made this race all the more stunning was the fact that he defeated an incumbent and was able to win proudly wearing the label of “Washington Insider.”

Far from pulling away from Bush and his Washington past, Barbour embraced the President and loudly proclaimed his connection to not only the President but also the party.

Let us recap. Heading into 2004 the Republicans have now won a governorship on the left coast – excuse me west coast, I always get those two confused – in a deep southern state, and in a border state. But more than simply states, there are larger issues that don’t bode well for the DNC.

In each instance the fact the candidates were members of the GOP did not seem to hurt them as much as it helped. It seems voters are no longer simply turned off by seeing an “R” next to their name on campaign information. More so, this shows the extreme popularity of the sitting President.

Far from being seen as evil-incarnate, as some fools believe Bush to be, he is extremely popular with the voting public. Barbour made a key part of his campaign his association with Bush, and in both states Bush polls well – it seems many voters genuinely like the President and think he’s doing a good job.

The economy is also, it seems, a dead issue. The “Bush Economy” is purring along like a well-oiled machine. This past quarter the economy grew by 7.2 percent, which is the strongest quarter growth since 1984. Meanwhile the jobless rate fell to its lowest level since January of 2001.

None of this helps the Democrats much. The call of “It’s the economy, stupid” could, it seems, become the centerpiece of the Bush campaign – the economy is doing just fine.

All of this bodes well, I feel, in 2004. The president is very popular, he has a strong economy behind him, and he, as well as his party, is seen as stronger on national security. Nothing is assured, but I know that for right now the GOP is sitting pretty.

Clemm can be reached at

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