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First Glance

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby
Five days left… It might have gotten lost in the recent flap over John Kerry's comments (which he finally apologized for yesterday afternoon), or in the constant back-and-forth over Iraq, or in the mountain of poll numbers we see everyday. But let's be clear about what's truly at stake on election day: control of the House. While Democrats' ability to regain the Senate seems up in the air, analysts and party strategists believe they're poised to win the lower chamber. And as NBC's Mike Viqueira reminds us, when you're talking about holding the majority in US House, you're talking about being in control of everything from how, when, and what is actually debated on the floor of the chamber, to what is served for lunch in the cafeteria.

"The job of the minority is to make a quorum and to draw its pay," said Speaker Thomas Reed in 1890, words that perfectly describe the sweeping hegemony of the majority party -- and emasculation of the minority -- that is as evident today as it was 116 years ago. The majority here controls every step of the process, and when you control the process, you control the substance.

Viq adds that it's not too much of an overstatement to say that the most oppressed minority in America is the minority in the "lower body." If you're a member of the party out of power -- like Democrats have been for the past 12 years -- you typically are not permitted to have your bills considered in committee or on the floor; you can't get your amendments debated and voted on (especially the ones that have a chance of passing); and you even have to go hat in hand to the majority staff in order to get a room to meet in. In short, this isn't "Schoolhouse Rock" and it never has been.

The Senate, where any one random member can raise his hand to object and gum up everything, is a completely different animal. But the House, Viq says, was designed to be more responsive to public sentiment, and over time the majority has established rules and procedures that make it easy to exercise its will and run roughshod over those out of power. It's what the legislative geeks call a "majoritarian institution." Yes, Nancy Pelosi has pledged to afford more rights to Republicans should Democrats take control come January 3. Just how much leeway she is willing to grant, however, might depend upon just how big a majority she holds. Tighter margins likely mean tighter controls. But whatever the case on the floor, Republicans would have minuscule staff on committees. Democrats holding the gavels would be the ones deciding what hearings to call, what oversight to conduct, and what investigations to undertake.

To get there, of course, Democrats will need to pick up 15 House seats. And one person trying to stop them -- President Bush -- today begins his final swing of campaign stops. He starts off his day in Montana stumping for vulnerable GOP Sen. Conrad Burns (whom some polls show to be within striking distance of holding onto his seat), and then travels to Nevada to attend a rally with GOP gubernatorial nominee Jim Gibbons (whose campaign has been rocked by allegations, which he denies, that he sexually assaulted a cocktail waitress in a parking garage). Meanwhile, Gibbons' opponent, Dina Titus, gets her own help today with appearances by Bill Clinton, Bill Richardson, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

For the other races out there, MSNBC continues its wall-to-wall political coverage today with a plethora of guests including Rick Santorum (R), Katherine Harris (R), Ned Lamont (D), Sherrod Brown (D), Tom Reynolds (R), and presidential candidate Duncan Hunter (R). And there's plenty of continued speculation about whether Kerry's botched joke hurt his party's midterm prospects and his own presidential chances in 2008.

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