With less than a week to go to the US Congressional elections, campaigning is getting nasty – notably in Virginia, where minders for Republican Senator George Allen were caught on video roughing up an interjecter.

Democrats need to win 15 seats, or a uniform swing of 5.3%, to win control of the House of Representatives – something most observers now see as pretty much inevitable.

Attention is focused on the Senate, where the Democrats need to win an additional six states (a swing of 8.1% against the 2000 result, since the Senate has six-year terms).

According to the latest polls, as summarised by Slate’s election scorecard, they have the edge in four states, and so need to win two of the three Republican-held doubtfuls: Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia.

But the big news in the last 24 hours has been the return to prominence of 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry.

Appearing at a campaign rally in California, Kerry made a joke about education: “if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Now it’s not news that in its efforts to fill the recruitment gaps caused by the Iraq war, the US military has been scraping the bottom of the barrel. And Kerry is a decorated war veteran, so it’s hard to portray him as being anti-military.

But since they were successful in doing that in 2004, the Republicans are keen to try it again, and Kerry’s general air of ineptness helps. The media are all over the story, presenting it as a major gaffe – faithful to Michael Kinsley’s dictum that a “gaffe” is not when a politician lies, but when he tells the truth.

It’s possible that Republicans will get a boost from the controversy, but it could also backfire on them: they’ve spent several weeks shying away from any Iraq-related publicity at all.

And the idea that it’s more respectful of soldiers to send them to die in their thousands in a botched and illegal war is curious, to say the least.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey