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[Eric Massa joins us this morning for a chat.  Please stop by and welcome him in the comments. -- CHS]

People get attracted to candidates for different reasons. Eric Massa is running for Congress in one of the country’s most forgotten and remote districts, NY-29 — New York has 29 districts — what we learned in school to call the "Southern Tier." People asking me to write about Eric have mentioned many things about him, that range from his integrity to his True Blue progressive values, but what got me interested in Eric’s campaign originally was something else entirely.

Like me, Eric was diagnosed with cancer. And, like me, Eric stood up and fought back– hard. And won. I know from personal experience what that battle means and how that tests the soul as well as the body.

So it was no surprise to me when this Fighting Dem, who spent such a large part of his adult life in the military, speaks out most forcefully and most passionately about…affordable healthcare. Eric doesn’t believe in taking any money from Big Business PACs pushing their bottom-line-oriented agendas at legislators. He’d rather lose the election than sell his soul and become a prostitute for the Big Business interests that harm the people he proposes to represent in Congress.

The incumbent, Randy Kuhl is a one-stop shopping market for special interest groups looking for a whore to take their money and vote for their interests. Kuhl voted for the disastrous Bush Medicare bill and was rewarded by Big Pharma.

"I don’t know where my opponent learned about healthcare," Eric told me a few days ago. "I learned about healthcare at the sharp end of a chemotherapy needle. To deny access to healthcare to Americans is…unAmerican."

Eric’s run in with cancer changed his life and his worldview.

Today I was talking to my hiking partner about how powerfully his sense of personal integrity comes through when you speak to him. "How can someone go so far with such strict rules for himself?" she asked me. That’s where Eric’s military career comes in to play. You really can go far in the U.S. military without selling your soul to the highest bidder. It’s harder in the private sector, especially the corporate end of the private sector.

"I’ve found two sets of values out there," Eric explained. "There are the values of the breakroom and the values of the Boardroom. I’m much more concerned about what’s happening on the factory floor than what’s happening on the stock trading floor. We really do need to return to true American values where a family can raise children and have a future… in American, not in Beijing."

"The biggest employer in America is WalMart and they don’t provide adequate health insurance for their employees. WalMart is unAmerican. They’re stealing taxpayer money by forcing their employees to go on Medicaid."

When the conversation turned to Iraq, Eric was equally clear and concise.

"Out is better than in. And sooner is better than later. George W. Bush disagrees. He says staying is better than leaving and he says staying forever is best of all. How telling is it that he says that the decision about when to leave will be up left for future presidents… Kuhl tells voters we have to bring the troops home and then he says he stands with George Bush who says we’re not bringing the troops home… It comes down to staying the course versus changing the course."

Eric served as Wes Clark’s Special Assistant when Clark was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. He extolls the Bosnian model for how to deal with the Iraqi occupation.

"Separate the warring factions; create 3 semiautonomous viable states; let them choose a government of their own making. We will never, ever, be successful in creating a democracy at the end of a bayonet."

The day I spoke with Eric on the phone the big news around his campaign was that Kuhl has finally, albeit reluctantly, agreed to Eric’s challenge to debate– sort of. Eric asked Kuhl to meet him for 8 one-hour debates, one in each county of the district so that voters could get a chance to see each man up close and in action. Kuhl said he’s prefer one debate…. for thirty-minutes.

Thirty minutes?? What’s he hiding?

Well, Randy Kuhl has a nearly perfect voting record– if your goal is to be an utter rubber stamp for Bush and for Big Business interests. Of the 14 major ProgressivePunch categories on which to rate incumbents’ voting records, Kuhl has 10 zeroes. I’ve never seen that before. Whether it’s Fair Taxation, Corporate Subsidies, Family Planning, Government Checks on Corporate Power, Health Care, Housing, Iraq, Labor, Justice… Randy Kuhl is a perfect zero. DMI also rates his entire voting record a zero (grade: F) when analyzing how his votes have impacted the middle class. With a record like that to debate, you can kind of see why he wants to keep as far away from a quick-witted fighter like Eric Massa.

But can Eric win in this district? It was, after all, the biggest percentage district in NY for George Bush in 2000 and in 2004. And although Kuhl has just been serving for 2 years and isn’t well-known or entrenched, he’s loaded with corporate bribes cash and Kuhl was the very first incumbent in the whole country Bush and Rove rushed to campaign for. The only publicly available polling of the district was done by Coopers and Seacrest.

Things seem to have turned around a bit since NY-29 gave Bush 56% of its vote in 2004. His approval ratings are in the low 30s and 71% of voters in the district say the country has been headed in the wrong direction since Bush took over. I asked Eric if people in the sprawling 29th are connecting that disapproval of Bush with their congressman.

"People might not be associating Bush with Kuhl. Kuhl is associating himself with Bush! He’s voted with Bush 93% of the time; he’s the ultimate rubber stamp. This week he took the gavel and gaveled in the President’s only veto in five and a half years. And later he voted to sustain that veto [which will deprive Americans of the benefits of stem cell research]… Kuhl went to Washington and married Tom DeLay. In fact he has still refused to give back the $20,000 DeLay gave him."

In 2004 the AFL-CIO endorsed Kuhl, calling him a "strong advocate for working men and women and their families." They have been kicking themselves ever since as Kuhl voted against every single labor issue that has come before Congress. This year labor unions are stepping all over themselves to endorse Eric– and endorse him early and strongly. The day I was on the phone with Eric, the Sheet Metal Workers of New York voted unanimously to endorse him. Last week the United Auto Workers endorsed him and the week before the United Plumbers did the same.

"This Administration," says Eric, "believes in something called ‘Yo-Yo’– you’re on your own. Whether we’re talking about privatizing Social Security, the donuthole in Medicare part D, sending troops to Baghdad without adequate body armor… you’re on your own… Americans know the Mission has not been accomplished– not in Iraq, not in our schools, not in our hospitals, not in New Orleans, not in our military, not in our economy… If we don’t stop the neo-Con minority in 2006, they will have 24 months of unfettered unaccountability to complete their destructive agenda."

Earlier Eric referred to WalMart behaving in an unAmerican fashion. I remembered that one of the Firedoglake community members is film maker Robert Greenwald and one of the movies he made that I like most is WALMART– THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE. Robert just rushed over 30 DVDs of the film, each one autographed by himself. Be one of the first 30 people to donate to Eric’s campaign through the Blue America ACT BLUE Page and we’ll rush you one of the DVDs. (If you don’t want a DVD, add a .01 to your donation.)