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NEA Mostly Backing Democrats in Congressional Races

The headline above probably sounds very Dog Bites Man. It's no secret that the National Education Association is endorsing Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for president, the Democratic nominee, and typically backs Democrats in federal, state, and local races.

The NEA had about 30 to 50 U.S. House races and 7 to 9 Senate races on its radar screen as of last week, Karen White, the union's director of campaigns and elections told me. (She warned that those number could change as the election approaches).

While the NEA is giving a boost to both Dems and Republicans in the House, the list of Senate candidates in tough races that the NEA is assisting includes absolutely no Republicans.

The NEA is helping out Democratic Senate candidates in Alaska, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon. And the union is monitoring the Senate race in Virginia. But so far, former Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat and champion of high school reform, has a 2-to-1 lead over Republican former Gov. Jim Gilmore, according to a recent Washington Post poll. Although the union supports him, he doesn't seem to need much assistance.

And in the race for a U.S. Senate seat from Colorado, the NEA is lending a hand to Rep. Mark Udall, a Democrat, who is running against former Rep. Bob Schaffer, a Republican. Interestingly, Udall voted for the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 and Schaffer voted against it ...and Schaffer makes a big deal out of that distinction on his Web site. He also slams Udall for not supporting full funding for students in special education, citing a vote in 2000.

Udall has since introduced a bill, which he touts on his own campaign site, that would change the way states measure progress under the law, allowing schools to use multiple measures to demonstrate student learning. The NEA supports that bill.

The NEA's backing of Udall over Schaffer is more proof (if you needed any) that, when it comes to overhauling NCLB, the union likes the multiple-meaures-increased-funding-for-schools approach (more often championed by Democrats) more than they like some conservative Republicans' back-to-local-control stance. (White also mentioned that Udall agrees with the union on other issues, such as money for college access).

And in the House, the union is looking out for at least two Democratic freshmen on the education committee--Reps. Carol Shea Porter of New Hampshire and Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania. Others once considered likely to face tough re-election bids, such as Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., seem to be in pretty good shape for now, White said. (The union will keep monitoring such races, though).

And the NEA is supporting some other House Dems in their re-election bids (including Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania) and hoping to get some new folks elected, such as Larry Kissell, a former teacher who narrowly missed edging out Rep. Robin Hayes in North Carolina in 2006.

But the union is supporting at least three House Republicans on the Democrats' target list: Reps. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Dave Reichert of Washington, and Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania. White called them champions for public education.

Generally, NCLB doesn't seem to be much of an issue, so far, in most races, in part because education has taken a back seat to other issues this year, and in part because the law has become such a tarnished brand, according to White, whose organization is one of the most vocal critics of the law.

"Even Republicans aren't talking about NCLB," she told me. "No one wants to be associated with it."

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