Senate GOP leaders press ahead on a health care reform bill: What's in it, what's not, and will voters like it any better? Then, lessons learned from the Republican victory in a Georgia special election on Tuesday.
The midterm elections are less than a month away. The big question is whether Republicans will retake control of the Senate. All eyes are on a handful of closely contested races, including those in Alaska, Colorado, Iowa and Louisiana. The exact number of seats up for grabs is debatable. But Republicans have reason to be optimistic about the Senate. And they’ll almost surely retain the House. In the Democrats’ favor is the widely held view that the GOP is still the party of wealthy white men who are out of touch with middle class and poor Americans. Diane and her guests preview the midterm elections.
- Norman Ornstein Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; co-author with Thomas Mann of, "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism."
- Susan Davis Congressional correspondent, USA Today.
- Chris Cillizza Politics blogger at The Fix, The Washington Post, and managing editor, PostPolitics.com; author of "The Gospel According to The Fix."
- Jennifer Duffy Senior editor of the Cook Political Report.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Next month voters go to the polls for the midterm elections. The Republican Party needs a net gain of six seats to regain the Senate majority. The House is likely to remain in Republican control. But even if that scenario unfolds, many believe a Republican-controlled Congress could offer a silver lining for President Obama and the Democrats. Joining me to talk about what's at stake in the midterms, Susan Davis of USA Today, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post and Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from Big Sur, Calif., Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. You are always a welcome guest on this program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MS. SUSAN DAVISHi, Diane.
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZAGreat to see you. Thank you. Happy to be here.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINGreat to be with you.
REHMGood to have you. Norm Ornstein, many voters don't even bother to go to the polls during the midterms elections. Give us a brief overview of what's at stake so that those who are thinking about not bothering might think again.
ORNSTEINWell, you're absolutely right on the first point, Diane. And we know when pollsters ask people what issues they're following closely or what stories they're following closely, the elections are nowhere near the top of the list. And I think that's a reflection of the unhappiness that people have with politics generally and politics in Washington. But the stakes are quite high.
ORNSTEINThe Senate really is up for grabs. And most of the models would suggest there's around a 60/40 chance of a Republican pickup. We really don't know for sure. But if Republicans win the Senate, it's going to change the agenda. It's going to make it much harder for President Obama to get any of his nominees for executive positions or judgeships in place. It's going to create, I think, a lot more partisan tension over the course of the next couple of years.
ORNSTEINAnd for -- whether you are a Republican who would like to see that happen and have Obama's nominees blocked and maybe legislation passed, House and Senate, that the president would veto to highlight the policy differences between the two parties, or even see that used as a kind of a lever to force President Obama to change the health care plan and to alter the Dodd-Frank financial regulation or a Democrat who doesn't really like those sorts of outcomes, the stakes are high but an awful lot of voters are just not connected.
REHMSusan Davis, do you believe that because there are such important issues more voters might turn out?
DAVISI think it's possible more voters might turn out, but I think it's because both parties, particularly Democrats, knew from the very beginning that turnout was going to be a big issue this year. Historically, conservative, older, whiter voters tend to show up more in midterms. Democrats have a huge disadvantage in midterms. Women, minorities, young people don't tend to show up.
DAVISSo at the beginning of this cycle, Democrats put -- invested -- said they were going to invest $60 million just into voter motivation this year, voter registration, get out the vote. They've called it the Bannock Street Project. What we don't know is how successful those efforts are going to be. But I do think that if Democrats are able to hold the Senate, it's not necessarily going to be because they won on the issues or the debate or the mood. It's because they just worked better at the technical work of identifying voters, registering voters and finding the way to motivate them to show up.
REHMJennifer Duffy, which races are most up for grabs?
MS. JENNIFER DUFFYIt's -- there are more than a handful this time that are teetering right on the edge. I think Democrats have five or six seats that are teetering on the edge right now. And those would be Senator Mark Begich in Alaska, Senator Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Udall in Colorado -- obviously not a good year to be named Mark. Also…
ORNSTEINA marked man.
DUFFY…Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and their open seat in Iowa. I think that those are really going to decide who controls the Senate. Now, we have already given Republicans three Democratic-held seats. They're the open seats in Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia. So of that group I just named, Republicans would have to win three to get the six they need. However, they also have to hold their most vulnerable seat, which is Pat Roberts in Kansas.
REHMAnd, Chris Cillizza, she has just told us some of the reasons that Republicans are so optimistic. What are some others?
CILLIZZAWell, look, Diane, from the start of this cycle Republicans have every reason to believe that they should win. The map at the start of the cycle was good. It is close to great now. And one of the reasons is because at the start of the cycle we didn't know that Max Baucus, the senator -- Democratic senator from Montana would now be the ambassador to China. We didn't know -- we suspected, but we didn't know Jay Rockefeller, longtime Democratic senator from West Virginia, would decide to retire.
CILLIZZAWe, again, suspected, but didn't know Tim Johnson, senator from South Dakota, would decide to retire. Those are three seats -- when we are 27 days away from the election, there are three pickups. As Jennifer outlined, people forget that's three Democratic seats that are going Republican. That is all the result of tough retirements. Now, this map was always -- as I mentioned -- was always going to be tough for the Democratic Party.
CILLIZZAYou have to remember these are six-year cycles. So the people up in 2014 are the people who got elected in 2008, a very good and, frankly, very different year for the Democratic Party than 2014. So there's just a lot of vulnerability there. Democratic seats in places like Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Alaska, and then Colorado less so, but still a swing state.
CILLIZZASo just on -- you look at the state, you look at the map and you look at the retirements -- and I'm not even getting into the historical nature, which is second term midterms, the second midterm of a president's term are always very difficult. There's just so many things arguing for why this should be a Republican outcome.
REHMAnd, Jennifer, we may not even know on election night who has won.
DUFFYThat is very true. Well, first of all, I think that we're going to need to know the results of Alaska. Those polls don't even close until 1:00 a.m. Eastern time. And it's a very -- what we call a slow count. It's -- they take a long time to count their ballots. It takes them a long time to get them because some of them are actually only accessible by airplane. And then in Louisiana -- under the Louisiana system every candidate runs on a single ballot on Election Day. They call it a jungle primary. And the top -- if no candidate get 50 percent of the vote, plus one, the top two candidates move on to a runoff, which…
REHMAnd how likely is it that one…
DUFFYAbout 98 percent likely that we are going to a runoff.
REHMTo a runoff.
DUFFYWhich will happen December 6th.
DUFFYIt's very possible that we don't know the -- who controls the Senate until December 6th. There are a couple of other factors at play. There's a candidate in Kansas, Greg Orman. He's an Independent. And he is not going to decide which party he will caucus with until he determines what the state of play is. So we may be looking, you know, we may be looking at this for another month. It's entirely possible.
REHMAnd what about likely shifts in the House, Susan?
DAVISThe House is the least dramatic part of what's happening this year in the -- particularly in the Congressional elections. It's a very narrow playing field. There's probably only about two dozen races of the 435-seat House, that are even in any kind of orbit of real contention. We know Republicans are going to hold their majority. They have, I believe, 234 seats, if I'm correct, right now. And that the question is how many are they going to grow it by?
DAVISAlmost every estimate has Republicans growing their majority by anywhere between 1 and 10 seats. I think we have to think about, in terms of Democrats, what is a good election night is how minimizing how bad it can be. I think -- if you talk to Democrats, if they say -- if Republicans gain less than five seats they might consider that a good night. And then there's also a couple of races in the House that are notable, that are interesting, that I think might not necessarily change the balance of power, but might provide some kind of moral victories for Democrats.
DAVISOne good example is a House race in Arizona, which was the Gabby Gifford's race, which I think would mean a lot to Democrats to keep that in Democratic hands. And it's probably one of the top most competitive races of the cycle this year. But the House is low on drama. I don't think that there's much question that Republicans are going to hold the majority, not only now, but perhaps through 2022, which would be the next time they redraw the lines to that, you know, that determine the competitiveness of the seats.
REHMAnd, Norm, what about new voter ID laws? Could they also hurt Democrats?
ORNSTEINThey absolutely could. And one of the things that's happening, Diane, is that many of these laws are being challenged in the courts in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina. And the laws have been basically shut down by lower courts, but now are being reinstated either by the Supreme Court or by Courts of Appeals. Just yesterday the 7th Circuit, for example, did something that was shocking to a lot of people. And it was to put back in a voter ID law this close to an election.
ORNSTEINThe Supreme Court has made it very clear that you're not supposed to change the rules right before an election. That's created a lot of turmoil because it's too late for many voters to get a voter ID. And there are suggestions that that could disenfranchise a whole lot of voters, in the range of 100,000. Now that may be blocked again by the Supreme Court, but right now a number of states -- almost all of them controlled by Republicans and with hotly contested races -- in Wisconsin it's the governor's race with Scott Walker, in North Carolina, of course, it's the Senate race with Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis that could be affected by these laws.
CILLIZZANorm is 100 percent right. Look, Diane, the thing that is difficult is -- and Sue (sic) touched on this -- who votes and how do each party come out -- sort of turn those people out to vote? What we know from history is that the number of people who vote will be significantly less than the number of people who vote in a presidential race. They will older. It will be whiter. Can Democrats come close to improving their young vote and improving minority votes?
REHMChris Cillizza of the Washington Post. Short break here. Your calls, your emails when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the upcoming midterms now less than a month away. Here in the studio, Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report, Susan Davis of USA Today, Chris Cillizza, he's politics blogger at The Fix of the Washington Post. Just before the break we were talking about these new voter ID laws and how much they could hurt Democrats by -- on November 4. But what about the Supreme Court possibly stepping in since this has happened so close to the elections, Jennifer.
CILLIZZAI mean, I think in all likelihood they'd have -- you have to remember that early voting has started in a lot of places in states that do their elections by mail. You know, early voting's been in place in Minnesota now for about three weeks. Votes have been cast in states so I can't imagine them not stepping in and returning the rules to what they were.
REHMWhat do you think, Norm?
ORNSTEINWell, in the case of Wisconsin actually we may well see in the next day or two Justice Elena Kagan, who has jurisdiction over that area right now, blocking what the 7th circuit did. But, you know, there's going to be some uncertainty here and real questions about whether if you have those rules changes there might even be a challenge afterwards.
ORNSTEINBut, you know, the court's been very clear that you're not supposed to implement new rules right before an election that could affect people, including in this case in Wisconsin, a number of people who have already had absentee ballots sent to them that didn't include the voter ID.
REHMExactly. All right. And yesterday a panel of federal judges declared Virginia's congressional map unconstitutional. Why and what are the implications there, Susan?
DAVISThe main driver of that decision was because they decided that the way that the districts had been redrawn in the 2012 redistricting packed black voters too densely in two districts, that it was not fair, did not subscribe to laws governing how you can draw those lines so they have to go back to the map. What I don't think will fundamentally change is the balance of power in the state. I don't know, off the top of my head, what the break down is of the congressional delegation but it doesn't seem to -- it's unlikely to make districts that weren't competitive more competitive. It's more likely to just diverse of high districts that were seen as being race packed.
CILLIZZAYou know, it is interesting, this is not an isolated strategy when it comes to redrawing lines. So this is way in the weeds, Diane, but it is important. Which is, typically if Republicans control the redistricting process, this -- every ten years they redraw the lines in every district in the country -- it's great if you're a political junky like us, it's a fascinating time.
CILLIZZABut what has increasingly become the case is, if Republicans are in charge of the process that -- in most states that means controlling the legislature and the governorship -- they take African American voters, who are very reliably Democratic and they try to put as many African American voters as they can -- now you have to draw contiguous districts so you can't have African American voters in Virginia Beach in the same district as African American voters in northern Virginia -- but they try to pack as many as possible in to make a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic.
CILLIZZAThen you think, why would Republicans do that? Well, the reason is because then all the other districts around that district are -- have less of an incredibly reliable Democratic constituency in making them either more Republican or more competitive. So both sides do this in terms of trying to pack the people who they don't think they can ever get their sport into districts. But because African Americans are so reliably Democratic, you wind up seeing that more and more.
CILLIZZASo Sue is exactly right. I don't think this has a massive impact on Virginia but it is a strategy that has been used across the country. So if that strategy is sort of declared wrong by the courts, it does have a broader impact.
ORNSTEINDiane, there's actually another case that the court has agreed to take up that is far more potentially earthshaking. And that's a challenge to Arizona's independent redistricting commission. The legislature in Arizona challenged it because it was done by a public referendum. And if the court decides that a state cannot, through an initiative process, create an independent commission then the California redistricting, the Iowa redistricting, the states that have already basically moved away from this kind of gerrymandering, partisan gerrymandering and others that would like to do so, are going to be blocked from doing it. And it would have earthshaking implications, I think, more generally. And we're going to see that decided this year.
DUFFYI mean, Norm has a point. It would because we're seeing that in these states where they've done redistricting reform where it's actually working, it's actually creating more competitive districts. But to sort of hammer Chris' points home a little bit. Look at 2012, this notion of packing districts. In 2012, Democrats actually won the popular vote for the House by appoint 49-48. But Republicans won 54 percent of all congressional districts. Now this is only the second time this has happened in 70 years but that is where you see the real, you know, fruits of redistricting and sort of packing districts.
REHMHere is an email from Joe in Ann Arbor who says, "Why is it that when poll after poll indicates the position of the majority of Americans on the major issues of the day, abortion, tax policy, immigration, gay marriage, etcetera, parallels policies of the Democratic Party, we face a Republican takeover of the Senate? If the polls are correct why aren't Democratic candidates running against the Republican brand on a national policy level just as Republicans have run against the Democratic brand since Ronald Reagan turned the word liberal into a pejorative term," Norm?
ORNSTEINWell, you know, there's actually an easy answer to that. Look at the states the Democrats hold Senate seats that are competitive, Alaska, South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana. These are not states where that broad national public opinion, which at least on abortion is a little more shaky I think than the individual suggested, but across another range of issues that would fit the national pattern.
ORNSTEINYou know, the Senate is two seats for every state. That means that small, less-populated states have some leverage here. Those states which are more homogeneous, more white and older have advantages for Republicans right now but they also don't fit that national pattern. And when it comes to House districts, they are far more homogeneous. It's not just redistricting. It's the sort of natural character of where voters have decided to live. And what members back home here -- there is very different in many cases than what broad national opinion would suggest.
REHMWill the Affordable Care Act be an issue in this midterm election, Susan?
DAVISAbsolutely. I think that it is certainly an issue that is, if not already existing in voters' minds, has been made an issue in so many of these races. I think in the homestretch we've seen Republicans sort of back away from their attacks. They've tried to broaden the debate but for the first six months of the year the Affordable Care Act was certainly what was seen as sort of a pivotal issue in this race.
DAVISI will say that what has been notable to me too is how few Democrats have really ran embracing the law. Even Democrats have sort of run with an aversion to the Affordable Care Act with the...
REHMAnd to the president himself almost.
DAVISOh, absolutely. And with one exception is I think Mark Begich in Alaska is one Democrat who's really ran embracing the Affordable Care Act saying, like, this law has made people's lives better and we can fix it. I think when we talk about the Affordable Care Act too we just have to talk about it in the context of Barack Obama and the president and his influence in these races and how unpopular he is. And I think that it's hard to disassociate those two issues in a lot of voters' minds.
DAVISBut I do think it's twofold. I think that there are -- the conservative vote is absolutely motivated to show up as a vote of opposition to the president's policies. The counterpoint to that is, I think millions of people have started to see the benefit of this law has changed some lives. And I think it's also been a motivating factor for a lot of Democratic voters at the end of the day as well.
REHMSo how much of a liability to Democratic voters regard President Obama?
DUFFYYou know, it's interesting. He will only campaign for one Senate candidate this cycle. He'll get -- for Gary Peters in Michigan. Most has said thanks, no thanks. In some of these most competitive states that we've been talking about, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska, his approval ratings are in the 20's. So, no, you're not seeing the party embrace their own president at all. I mean, they've -- a lot of them are -- Begich is a great example, has run ads about how he stands up to the president and the president's policies when it's not good for Alaska.
DAVISWhat's remarkable about how toxic the president is in this environment too is he's not even able to campaign in states that he won handily in 2008, 2012, places like Iowa, Colorado, even North Carolina, that he can't even go into the states where he won shows just how unpopular and how much of a negative even his own party sees him this year.
CILLIZZAYou know, Sue made, I think, a really good point about it's almost impossible to untangle Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act from feelings about Barack Obama. That in voters' minds it's sort of the same thing. I think it plays to a point Anna Greenberg, who's a Democratic pollster, made actually on your show, which is that it's part of sort of this broader competence question about Barack Obama. Can he make both his policies and the government effectively work?
CILLIZZAI think some of the heat has gone out of the Affordable Care Act. A year ago you were seeing a lot of ads essentially saying, Barack Obama said if you like your insurance you can keep it, and that's wrong. You're not seeing those ads anymore. What you're seeing is Obamacare is sort of a spoke on the broader wheel of the competence argument that Republicans are making, questions about the IRS and the targeted conservative groups going there, veterans affairs and the long lines that we've seen going there. Even the prosecution of the attacks on ISIS in Syria and Iraq go into that.
CILLIZZAIt's all of a -- you see the fascinating -- a majority of people now believe, Diane, that President Obama cannot effectively manage the country. That's from a Wall Street Journal poll. That competence question seems to me to be at the heart of all this. Obamacare gets at it and I think that's why his numbers have eroded to the extent that they have.
DUFFYNo, I mean, I agree with Chris that Wall Street Journal polls refer to 54 percent said that they did not believe that the president could lead or get the job done. I find that a stunning number. I don't think George W. Bush ever saw a number like that.
DUFFYAnd so I do -- Chris is right, this is the heart of the problem. It's not a specific issue. It's a bigger question of competence and whether government's actually working for most Americans.
REHMWell, but if government's not working, it's not because of one person or one party.
DUFFYThat is entirely true but when you control the White House, when you control the Senate and voters are looking to place some blame, unfortunately Democrats are sitting in the seat of blame at this point.
REHMJennifer Duffy. She's senior editor of the Cook Political Report and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got a number of callers. I do want to get to the phones. One caller who could not stay on the air wanted to know how the decision on or the decision by the Supreme Court not to take on the issue of gay marriage, how that might influence the outcome of these elections, Susan.
DAVISWhat I thought was so notable from a political standpoint this week when that ruling came out, is the silence of reaction, both from Republicans and Democrats. And I think part of that comes to -- and from the campaigns, even from congressional leaders. And, I mean, my inbox was -- I was expecting this flood of reaction and I didn't really get it. And I think that for twofold reasons.
DAVISOne, it's the map. I think the Democrats that are running in competitive states or in places like Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina were necessarily trying to -- for a Democrat to try and spark a social debate is maybe not the best thing you want to do right now. And in the reverse I think for a lot of Republicans they -- depending on their feelings of gay marriage, this just isn't a debate that either side really wants to have.
DAVISNow the difference of -- I think there's -- that's one side, do the candidates want to have this debate, which I think decisively is no. I've not seen it pop in any campaign as far as I'm aware of. The other question is, is it motivating? Does it somehow motivate the gay voter base, the liberal voter base or independent and swing voters who I think have proven more supportive of gay marriage and those law changes. I don't know how motivating it is of a factor but it is certainly not a topic that I think that any side really wants to fight out 27 days before an election.
REHMAll right. To Ann in Ozarks, Mo. You're on the air.
ANNThank you. I'm questioning the use of the terms Democratic amongst your panelists as well as broadly across the news media. A person either belongs to the Democrat Party, the Republican Party or some other party, but they do not belong to the Democratic Party. Our country is a democracy and we should keep the word democratic isolated from politics.
REHMAll right, Chris.
CILLIZZAThis is -- look, as someone who writes a blog I feel like I'm very much in touch with the basis of the two parties who often criticize what we write. This is something that has taken root in the Republican Party, this idea that you -- it is the Democrat not the Democratic Party. Here's what I would say. It is not the Democratic small D democracy party. You're exactly right. Both parties believe in democracy, as far as I can tell. But it is called the Democratic Party.
CILLIZZATo me, getting fixated on things like this, this to me is a perfect example of why our politics -- and I would say this if it was the Republic Party. This is not about bias. This is a perfect example of why our politics are so incredibly small. People say, I don't understand why they don't tackle the big ideas. I don't understand why our politicians don't do things about our debt and spending. Well, it's because we have a lot of people focused on whether the I-C at the end of Democratic Party somehow changes the debate in this country. Like, let's grow up. Like, let's be adults here. This is...
CILLIZZA...it's such a pointless debate.
REHMNorm, I want to hear what you have to say quickly.
ORNSTEINWell no, Chris is exactly right. And this is something that has rankled Democrats for a very long time because it's as if you have a large number of people -- and many Republican politicians do this too -- who are just dissing their party. And it has little to do with the larger issues that we're dealing with in the country or that are really dominating the election.
DUFFYI have to agree with both Chris and Norm. This isn't even a debate worth having. Let's talk about the big stuff and not -- and stop getting bogged down in small ball.
REHMYou know, it is interesting. I do listen to Rush Limbaugh quite frequently. It seems to me it kind of began there. Susan, am I wrong?
DAVISI think it is an offshoot of sort of Republican talk radio and that I think actually my understanding of the idea that you should call it the Democrat Party was more not a matter of respect. It was more a matter of insult that the root of it was sort of not giving them that credit. But we argue about these words a lot. I mean, I think you even see a lot within Democrats the use of liberal versus progressive and how we use Tea Party versus conservatives. So...
REHMAll right. Short break, more of your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here's an email from Sarah in Decatur, Georgia, who recently moved there from New Jersey. She says, "I'm shocked at how hard it was for me to register to vote. It took me three attempts. The last one I did through an NGO voter registration drive, which, I believe, is the only reason it went through. I missed voting in the primary. I could not get registered. I have yet to receive a voter registration card, even though I registered in July.
REHMI'm young, female, cannot afford a car. I'm a liberal-leaning independent. I can easily how others in a similar demographic would be discouraged from voting because it was so difficult." Jennifer.
DUFFYYes. That would be very discouraging and I wish I knew a little bit more about the specifics of her problem, whether she encountered, you know, problems with websites or producing the right documentation that she was now a Georgia resident, that would help me a little bit more.
REHMBut generally speaking are some states more difficult than others?
DUFFYI think some states are more difficult than others and I think that New Jersey is probably particularly easy, which partly explains her problem. Wait till she sees her ballot, though. That will be a lot easier to understand than in New Jersey.
DUFFYBut she's right. It is a disincentive.
REHMAnd from Steve in St. Augustine who says, "the Florida governor's race is seriously becoming a three-way race with the libertarian candidate. Are there other examples across the country where third-party candidates are actually contenders?" How about that, Norm?
ORNSTEINOh, there are a number of them. And actually, one of the wild cards here is the South Dakota Senate race where former Senator Larry Pressler is running as an independent. What we all assume would be a slam-dunk for the Republican Governor Mike Rounds to win has now turned into something that is much more interesting where it's at least possible that the Democrat Rick Weiland or Larry Pressler could prove to be a stunning upset.
ORNSTEINIn Maine, where the governor, Paul LePage, really only won the last time because an independent and a Democratic candidate split the votes, that independent Eliot Cutler is running again. This time, running way behind, but giving Paul LePage, who is very unpopular, another chance of winning. So we have instances where independent candidates are making a difference.
ORNSTEINThere are two kinds, Diane. One is a state like Maine where there's a long tradition of independents running and, of course, we have Senator Angus King who won as an independent and very possibly, if the independent in Kansas, Greg Orman wins, Orman and King could be the balance of power in the Senate. But then, we have some of these states, like South Dakota or Kansas, which are one-party states where you're not gonna see a lot of people voting for the other party, voting for a Democrat.
ORNSTEINBut they're more inclined to vote for an independent and so they've got leverage.
DAVISI think Norm's right. I think there's two ways to think about this and they're both factors in this election. One is independents like Greg Orman who actually have a chance at victory and I've written about this recently, is also these third-party candidates that could have some effect on who wins races because they're drawing from one party candidate or the other. One example of that comes to mind is in Alaska where they have both a libertarian and an unaffiliated candidates on the ballot.
DAVISAnd Alaska is a state that is traditionally -- third-party candidates can draw up to eight percent on a general election ballot. In 2008, when Mark Begich won last time, 13,000 votes went to a third-party candidate and he only won by four, which what I think is very interesting, and this is notable, is that Republicans have drawn out Rand Paul to do some endorsements for Republicans.
DAVISHe's recently an ad for Dan Sullivan, who's the Republican in Alaska, saying I like Dan Sullivan, vote for Dan Sullivan, and it's seen as a very obvious effort to get libertarian voters who might want to cast a ballot for the libertarian candidate to get behind Sullivan. So if they're drawing between one and four percent in some of these tight races, they could affect the balance of who wins.
REHMLet's go Saugatuck, Michigan. Mike, you're on the air.
MIKEThank you, Diane. If the Republicans win the senatorial elections this year and they continue to have extreme right wing or obstructive agenda, this could be a blessing in disguise for the Democrats because in 2016, two years from now, I understand there's a large number of Republican Senate seats that will be up. And, again, if they, you know, pursue these agendas, it could work against them.
DUFFYWell, I think the caller's right. And even if they don't pursue that kind of agenda, I think that a Republican majority is in great danger in 2016. The map is very hostile to them. They are gonna find themselves in exactly the position Democrats find themselves today and this is regardless of what kind of agenda they pursue. And to just make things a little more complicated, in 2018, the situation flips back. So I think that we are looking, you know, at possibly six to 10 years of real instability in the Senate.
REHMAll right. And Norm, I'd like you to comment on Jerry Seib's column in The Wall Street Journal on Monday suggesting that there might be silver linings for President Obama if the Democrats lose the Senate. He says, for Mr. Obama, full GOP control of Congress might well shift Republicans focus from stopping him to making things happen. What do you think?
ORNSTEINYou know, Jerry Seib is actually a terrific analyst. I'm a little skeptical about that. I don't think that you're gonna see an attitude, if Republicans win the Senate, that, oh, now it's time for us to come together with President Obama. I think the attitude is going to be, boy, this obstruction worked great, let's double down on it. Now, having said that, there may be a silver lining in another respect.
ORNSTEINIt will enable President Obama, if Republicans control all of Congress, to draw a greater contrast. It does put more of an onus on Republicans to pass legislation and it's not at all clear to me that the Republican Senate and the Republican House are going to agree on much of anything. They don't really have an alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
ORNSTEINThe leverage that they would have is in the budget process and that's Mitch McConnell has said before that they'll try and use that to force the president to make some changes. If he vetoes those bills and then they're forced with the question of whether they're going to shut down all or part of the government as a consequence, that's not great territory to be on. So he may be able to put them a little bit more on the defensive, but I can tell you, he's not looking at this saying, gee, I hope they win because of that silver lining.
REHMWhat do you think, Chris?
CILLIZZAI think the other thing to consider is that the 2016 presidential race has effectively already begun. No one has announced, but Hillary Clinton is certainly acting like a candidate. Rand Paul, I guess I'd be stunned, is the word, if Rand Paul didn't run for president. I'd be stunned if Ted Cruz didn't run for president. And the latter two people I just named sit in the United States Senate at the moment, as does Marco Rubio, who I think is thinking seriously about running.
CILLIZZAAs does Rob Portman from Ohio, who I think is thinking seriously about running. So what's hard is that many of the decisions that those people will make as it relates to legislative strategy will be impacted by how and what it means for the Iowa caucus goer or the New Hampshire primary voter or the South Carolina primary voter. And to be honest, Sue made a great point earlier about how there was almost total silence in the wake of the court not taking up gay marriage.
CILLIZZAOne person who was not silent at all was Ted Cruz, who said that this was -- it's sort of a fascinating statement -- said that this was an act of judicial activism even though there was no act. But his point being that by not acting, the court sort of...
CILLIZZATed Cruz is going to stake out the most socially conservative, probably the most fiscally conservatives as well, position, though Rand Paul might be in that space as well and he is going to do that because Ted Cruz is not focused on rising up to become the majority or minority leader in the United States Senate. Ted Cruz is focused on winning 28 to 35 percent of the vote in Iowa and so that's the thing that I think really complicates any sort of working together kumbaya moments.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Phil in Hebron, Illinois. Hi, you're on the air.
PHILGood morning, Diane. I have a couple comments, more than any question for you.
PHILI'm in northern Illinois. We aren't in one of these states with the Senate battle occurring, but I'm getting three to five phone calls every evening. I've gotten these calls for the last 10 days and I expect it to continue. My neighbor, who is 86 years old, says the problem, my young friend, is you have been voting for 40 years and have never not voted in an election.
PHILThe last time Gallup called, the young lady from Gallup said to me, she had some questions, she said, I'm having a very hard time qualifying where to put you in what party. And I said, I will take that as a huge compliment. Mrs. Obama was in Chicago the other day shaking hands with our governor. I noticed that the president isn't even coming to his home state because of the situation we have here. I don’t know that she can save him from federal indictment, but she can probably help him get reelected.
REHMOkay. But Phil, let me ask how old you are.
PHILI am 58 and I've never missed an election. Even the dog catcher in this county knows who I am.
REHMOh, good. I'm glad to hear that. I ask that because Kevin has sent us a tweet saying that there's an opportunity with young voters to gain the majority. They need to ease gridlock in Congress. They just need to motivate them, but how?
DUFFYWell, I think how is very tough thing because younger voters, it seems to me, feel more and more disenfranchised from government, period, that government doesn't serve them really, that they don't have a stake in it. So it's not that you just have to convince them to vote. You actually have to tell them why it matters and how they are, in fact, connected to government. I think this is a long education process. It's not gonna happen in the next 27 days.
CILLIZZADiane, can I just -- one very sobering stat tied to Jennifer's point. Pew does a poll every week about news interests, how close are you following news. Fifteen percent of people last week said they are following the midterm elections closely, which is depressing in and of itself. Among 18 to 29-year-olds, five percent were following it closely. Five percent. More are following the protests in Hong Kong, which is sort interesting about sort of the global view that may be some younger people take.
CILLIZZABut six percent, five percent, it was the lowest among the four things they tested.
DAVISI also don't think we can underestimate in this voting bloc how bad the economy and the economic downturn has been to that group, to 18 to 29-year-olds, to recent college graduates. I mean, the unemployment rates, you hear so much...
REHMWell, wouldn't you think that would bring out more young voters?
DAVISNo. 'Cause I think, like Jennifer said, there's this feeling of disenfranchisement and disconnectedness that, like, my vote doesn't matter and there's a pervasively negative view of the outlook, right track, wrong track that we talked about.
REHMOkay. Norm, I'm gonna give you -- after I remind people that you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show" -- I'm gonna give you 30 seconds to motivate young people.
ORNSTEINThis matters. It matters a lot. It matters a lot for the future of the country, if you think about both who's going to be in charge and who's going to be rewarded or punished for behavior in politics that has taken us away from finding solutions to problems. So people ought to be more engaged than they are and certainly ought to vote and it's even more true for younger voters because we're seeing decisions that are going to redound on them 10 and 15 years from now that will shape their lives.
REHMSusan, I don't know whether you are the youngest person on this panel.
DAVISI'd like to think so.
REHMBut what would you say to young voters?
DAVISI would refer to your earlier caller who talked about how he's voted in every election for 40 years, even dog catcher, and that there's a sort of a feeling of pride about that. I would say voting feels good and I don't buy the argument where I feel like election you hear candidates say, like, this is the most important election of your lifetime. I don't think that's always the case, but I think that, like, building the pattern of civic engagement ties you more to your community, it ties you more to your neighbors.
DAVISIt makes you feel more connected to what's going on around you and I think that there's an overall psychological positive benefit to voting.
REHMAnd finally, here is a posting on Facebook, "As a registered independent voter, I make sure I vote at every opportunity. I find the current voter apathy very frustrating. How can we, the people, change what bothers us in government if no one will take the time to vote? Big business is filling the vacuum that voter apathy has created and it's a shame."
DUFFYIt's funny. My answer to your question is always when you don't vote, you lose your right to complain. And I think that's true. If you don't let your opinion be heard, then you don't have much to complain about because you're part of the -- you become part of the problem. So if you want to be part of the solution, you need to go out and vote. And the voters who vote in every election, they are, in fact, my heroes.
REHMSo our caller, who said he was getting three to four calls a day, he's 54. He's voted in every election. Are young people getting those calls?
CILLIZZANo. My guess is he's getting a lot of polling calls because they're looking for people who are likely voters and he would be a, you know, on a scale of one to five, he'd be a five in terms of likely voting because he has voted a long time.
REHMDo you get any phone calls?
CILLIZZANo. But this is going to be so depressing after Sue's call for civic engagement. I don't vote. I never have as a reporter.
REHMBecause? Like Jim Lehr, you do not vote.
CILLIZZAAs a reporter, yeah, and I don't -- it's hard because I feel like it's such a sanctimonious position to stake out. Well, as a reporter, I don't vote. I don't have any issue. I know many -- most reporters I know do vote. I've just always chosen not to. In some way, because while I would never think that it would be a sign of some inherent bias, I spend my entire life on Twitter, Facebook, the Blog, television, radio trying to beat back people who are trying to guess my ideology, which, you know, I've tried to say, for a very long time, I don't really have one.
CILLIZZAAnd, to me, it's a way to say, look, I really don't -- there's nothing on me. That said, I think everything Sue said about voting and how important it is -- I know I sound like a giant hypocrite, but if I was an accountant, I would vote. I'm with her.
REHMSusan, I gather you're gonna vote.
DAVISI do vote. I vote and I live in the District so, in some ways, what's funny to me is what motivates me a lot in politics is not necessarily these national bigger debates, but I'm very interested in local issues. I have a lot to say about trash collection and metro lines. That's a different hour.
REHMGood, good. Susan Davis of USA Today, Chris Cillizza, our non-voting panelist of The Washington Post, Jennifer Duffy, Cook Political Report and our favorite voter Norman Ornstein who's been voting all his life. Thank you all so much for being here. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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