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Ready for a New Party-in-Trouble

Mark Halperin, ABC's political director, says all the data suggest a good year for Democrats. "I don't think there's anything wrong with reporting the reality of what's going on," he says. Most revealing, he says, are "Republican sources who say, 'We're going to lose a lot of seats and, if nothing changes, we will lose the House and maybe the Senate.' "

Conservative commentators and radio hosts usually provide a cheering section for Republicans, but a striking number say the GOP should be punished this year for straying from conservative principles. Some, like Christopher Buckley and Jonah Goldberg, have said the Republicans deserve to lose the House. Glenn Reynolds of says the GOP seems to have a "bizarre death wish." George Will calls it "disgusting" that the White House refuses to acknowledge the depth of the fiasco in Iraq. Andrew Sullivan says he feels "betrayed" by the administration's botching of the war and the use of torture against terrorism suspects. Others have complained about overspending and the mishandling of the Foley debacle.

The press has treated all this as a leading indicator that the Republican base is downcast and disillusioned.

If the Democrats prevail tomorrow, journalists will be feasting on new story lines and subplots for the next two years. And if the Democrats fall short after this huge media buildup, some folks are going to have a whole lot of explaining to do.

Life After Birth

For a brief time last spring, Elizabeth Vargas, pregnant and under pressure from her bosses, became a rallying point for feminists when she stepped down as co-anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight."

Two and a half months after giving birth to her second child, Samuel, Vargas returns to full-time duty at "20/20" this week with a segment on the plight of working mothers, beginning with herself.

"A lot of us -- me, most of all -- were surprised by the amount of press in the aftermath" of her job change, Vargas says in an interview that had to be moved up because of her breast-feeding schedule. And she is training the spotlight on a difficult period in her life. "It's inherently uncomfortable for me to be the subject of the story," Vargas says.

Women's organizations sent protest letters to ABC after Vargas was eased out in favor of Charlie Gibson. Now, says Vargas, who also has a 3-year-old with her husband, singer Marc Cohn, "having had the baby, I can't imagine going back to that demanding job right now."

For the "20/20" piece airing Friday, Vargas examines the lives of three working women with children, interviews politicians and serves up a slew of statistics on the problems faced by working mothers. As an example of public attitudes, she cites a Cornell University survey of undergraduates who said that if they were employers, they would offer women with children $11,000 a year less in salary than childless women, and be 44 percent less likely to hire those with kids.

"There is still in this country real discrimination against working mothers," Vargas says.

She also reports that the United States is one of five countries, out of 168, that do not mandate paid maternity leave. "North Korea and Iran offer more benefits," Vargas says.

If it sounds like she's become an advocate on the issue, she doesn't dispute that. "I have a strong point of view on it, yes, because of what I've been through," says Vargas.

She says she was drawn to the subject because "women talk about this everywhere I go. My friends at work talk about it." Men, too: Her producer on the segment, a divorced father, sometimes has to rush home from the office.

"I know I'm very, very lucky," Vargas says. "I have a job with a lot of flexibility. I am well compensated for it. And I can afford good child care." She still hopes to return to news anchoring -- but not for a while.

Nom de Plume

Did President Bush fritter away a $5.6 trillion surplus? "Is Bush truly the culprit?" asks economist J. Edward Carter on National Review Online. No, he concludes, the projections were always fictional.

But the writer was quickly unmasked, by Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum, as James E. Carter, a Labor Department undersecretary and presidential appointee.

NRO Editor Kathryn Jean Lopez says the Web site mistakenly assumed that Carter had left the administration: "As a practice, we don't publish pieces from people who work in government without disclosing it. We were remiss here and apologize to our readers."

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