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Politicking reigns as midterm elections near

John Dimsdale Jun 5, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The President’s supporting a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. The Senate’s debating the measure this week. It’s not expected to pass. But this being an election year, politicians are looking at a bigger picture. A gay marriage ban is likely to motivate conservative Republicans come November. Democrats have their own issues they hope will galvanize their loyal voters. And they’ve put one of them on the ballot in half a dozen states. From Washington, Marketplace’s John Dimsdale has more.

JOHN DIMSDALE: In Arizona a coalition pushing for an increase in the state’s minimum wage is well on its way to gathering the 122,000 signatures needed for a ballot resolution this November. If approved, the referendum would instantly raise the state’s minimum wage by $1.10an hour and tie future minimum wage increases to inflation. Rebekah Friend is the chair of Arizona’s minimum wage coalition.

REBEKAH FRIEND: From what we are hearing from the paid signature gatherers and the volunteers, it’s the most popular initiative on the street. The response has been overwhelming.

Advocates of a nationwide higher minimum wage have been stymied in Congress for several years, where the $5.15 floor was last set in 1997. This year, unions and other worker-rights organizations have moved to the state level. Naomi Walker at the AFL-CIO says the crusade is resonating with voters of all persuasions.

NAOMI WALKER: With gas prices right now at $3 or more per gallon, people are struggling to make ends meet. There’s a sense of moral outrage, I think, that has risen to a level we haven’t seen in a while.

Democrats think they may have an issue that will bring progressive voters to the polls this fall, enough to make a difference in close congressional and state legislative races. But Dan Schnur, a Republican political strategist in California, warns Democrats not to get too cocky.

DANIEL SCHNUR: The challenge for Democrats is to motivate their own, most-loyal supporters on the question of a minimum wage increase, without scaring off swing voters who might be leery of possible price increases or other adverse economic results of a decision like that one.

Schnur says voters are more willing to endorse a minimum-wage increase if the economy is doing well.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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