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Yesterday’s off-year election results offer a mixed picture of the national mood. In a close race for governor of Virginia, voters elected Democrat Terry McAuliffe. In the final days of the race, his Republican opponent had aligned his campaign with broad concerns about the Affordable Care Act. In New Jersey, Republican incumbent Chris Christie handily defeated his Democratic challenger despite a strong voter preference for President Barack Obama in the 2012. New York City voters chose a liberal, Bill de Blasio, for their next mayor, a candidate who campaigned on promises to raise taxes on the rich. Diane and her guests discuss election results from around the country and their possible national implications.
- Ed O'Keefe Congressional reporter, The Washington Post.
- John Harwood Chief Washington correspondent, CNBC; reporter, The New York Times.
- Liz Sidoti National political editor, AP.
- James Thurber Professor and director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University; author of "Obama in Office: The First Two Years."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In a surprisingly close governor's race in Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated his Republican opponent Ken Cuccinelli. New Jersey voters reelected Republican Gov. Chris Christie by a wide margin.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd in New York, Bill de Blasio will become the city's first Democratic mayor in two decades. Joining me to talk about these races and other results from yesterday's votes: Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post, John Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times, James Thurber of the American University, and Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Well, welcome to the day after the election, everybody.
MR. ED O'KEEFEThanks for having us.
MS. LIZ SIDOTIThanks, Diane.
MR. JAMES THURBERWelcome, Diane. And congrats on the new studio.
REHMThank you. Glad you like it. Ed O'Keefe, let's start with the gubernatorial race close to Washington, D.C. that had gotten some high attention. It was closer than people expected.
O'KEEFEYeah, Terry McAuliffe probably doesn't have any fingernails left this morning, you know, remarkably close, about three points, which is a much slimmer margin than all of the public opinion polling had suggested in recent weeks. It appears that part of that was because Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican, kept the margins much wider and dominated really in the South where Terry McAuliffe had made an attempt to at least close the margin and win some more votes there.
O'KEEFEThere also was lingering concern about Obamacare that seemed to really show up in the exit polling, that a lot of Virginians very concerned about that. And most of those voters concerned about it cut more towards Ken Cuccinelli. But, remember, a big factor in Virginia, as it's just across the river from Washington, is the government shutdown, and the fact that that was playing out over the course of most of October certainly was a factor. But notably the blame between the president and Congress, very close, and that also contributed to a much closer margin.
MR. JOHN HARWOODI think if you step back, Diane, the more important thing is not the size of McAuliffe's victory, but the fact that he won at all. There is a 36-year pattern in Virginia of the party that's out of power at the White House winning the election. It's sort of an early read on what happens in midterm elections when the party out of the White House is able to harness the discontent of people with the current administration. President Obama's at low tide. Obamacare is at its lowest point ever in terms of discontent and mistrust and fear among voters.
MR. JOHN HARWOODAnd yet Terry McAuliffe was still able to win this election in a state that we think of -- or have thought of -- as a conservative-leaning state. President Obama carried it twice. This is now clearly, because of the demographic change, the increasing urbanization, suburbanization of the state, definitely a purple state. And that Democrats were able to win it is a hopeful sign for them in 2016.
SIDOTII think one of the factors that has to be discussed here is also the quality of the candidates. Both of these candidates, Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli, were incredibly flawed candidates. And I think Democrats benefitted from the fact that, you know, Terry McAuliffe and the Democratic allies outspent Ken Cuccinelli and the Republicans by sometimes more than 10-to-1 -- but in the final weeks 10-to-1.
SIDOTIAt one point it was 25-to-1 outspending. And the Democrats were very, very successful at casting Ken Cuccinelli as outside of the mainstream for a purple state. He was nominated through a party convention, and he had a record of far-right ideological positions. And Democrats really took advantage of that in the final days.
REHMWhat about the Clintons, Jim Thurber? How much of a role did they play?
THURBERWell, they played a role in bringing in the money, bringing in the focus from the national media and the local media. I think the Clintons influenced him in terms of a focus on economic development and business. He had a clear strategy theme and message of Cuccinelli was too far to the right on social issues. Terry is a social liberal, but he's very conservative with respect to developing new business.
THURBERAnd also, you know, the shutdown of government really affected this significantly. In the areas where he won, there's probably 170,000 federal employees that were pretty angry about this going on. And I think that trumped the ACA, so-called Obamacare, a bit. But that's what brought it closer in the end, is anger about and dislike about Obamacare.
HARWOODAnd, Diane, I think those two factors may have offset one another in the sense that, before the government shut down and before the problems with the ACA website, Terry McAuliffe had a slight lead in the race. And the race ultimately, at the end, returned to that place.
REHMBut it was really suburban Washingtonians who took him over.
O'KEEFEAbsolutely. You know, it is very clear after this election -- if it wasn't already evident to Virginians -- that Northern Virginia is where it's at when it comes to these types of races. He ran incredible margins in Fairfax, the most populist county. He won Loudoun County. He won Prince William County and, by doing that, essentially secured his victory.
O'KEEFEThe only other parts of the state where he did well or won basically were around Richmond and then down in the Hampton Roads areas. Again, he tried in Southwest Virginia to do what Mark Warner and Tim Kaine had done before him and really either win some counties or close the gap. It didn't work for him. But he did so well enough in Northern Virginia that it helped.
THURBERAnd he also got -- 20 percent of the vote were African Americans. And he got 90 percent-plus of African Americans. That certainly helped in the Tidewater area, and that's where he basically won, Tidewater and the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
HARWOODDiane, just one…
REHMBut, you know, John, going back to what you said about the party in power not winning in Virginia and other states, how do you account for this? And what kind of a trend could it possibly mean?
HARWOODWell, the way midterm elections tend to work is that the people who are most motivated are the ones who are most discontented. And they tend to focus their discontent on the president. That's why parties outside of the White House tend to gain in midterms. This is an early indicator of what happens in 2014.
HARWOODThe fact that Republicans were not able to win, despite President Obama being at the lowest point in public opinion polling in his presidency, the problems with Obamacare, et cetera, tells you that the electorate of the state of Virginia, the underlying structure, politically, of Virginia has changed so much because of what Ed talked about, the urbanization, the suburbanization, the growth of a better educated, more socially liberal element of the electorate is simply changing the way that we think about what the Virginia default is.
HARWOODOne point on Jim's mention, 20 percent of the vote was African Americans, I talked this morning to the pollster for Terry McAuliffe, Geoff Garin. He said that they don't believe that it was that high. They think the exit polls were off there and that they had no -- that was closer to a presidential level turnout among African Americans. They think that when we go back and parse the returns, we'll find that that was lower…
HARWOOD…which meant Terry did slightly better among white voters than was indicated.
REHMWhat about the attorney general's race, Ed O'Keefe?
O'KEEFEWell, you've got an incredibly close race. Mark Herring, the Democrat, Mark Obenshain, you know, pick your Mark, basically. As of this morning, less than 100 votes separating them. If the Democrats can win this position, they will sweep the three top statewide races. It would be, again, just adding to the history of the 36-year break in the opposite party of the presidency.
O'KEEFETo sweep these seats the year after a presidential election would be unprecedented. But this was seen as the Republicans' last hope. A lot of attention in the last few weeks going to Mark Obenshain, the Republican, in hopes that he could at least win something for the Republicans. That may or may not happen.
REHMBut 99 percent of the vote is in there. What do you expect, Liz?
SIDOTII think it could go any which way. I'm not sure we can -- with, you know, just a couple dozen votes separating the two right now, it's hard to say which way it is going to go. But if you're Hillary…
HARWOODIf the AP doesn't know, no one knows.
SIDOTIIf you're Hillary Clinton right now, though, you're looking at this, and you're saying, OK, if I decide to run for president in 2016, I've got an ally who is governor there. Not only that, but Democrats are controlling a key state. I mean, I'm from Ohio, and I live in Virginia now. And those are the two states -- I mean, forget Florida. Those are the two states that I think in 2016 we're really going to see matter. And if you're Hillary Clinton, you're looking at this and saying, I feel pretty good about my chances in Virginia come 2016.
THURBERI think beyond this there's a reflection on the fate of the Tea Party. They're on a downward slide not only in Virginia, in my opinion, but also in Alabama. This primary down there where a very pro-Tea Party person, Dean Young, was beaten by a business-backed Bradley Byrne, business intervened there. There are some indications that money came from business for Terry McAuliffe also. They're pushing back in other states, preparing for 2014 and '16.
THURBERAnd so this civil war that's going on within the Republican Party is a little worried, especially since Chris Christie won and he seems to think that bipartisanship works when you're trying to solve problems. And he seems to be the leader now for the nominee for 2016. Now, whether he can get through the primaries is another question, but everybody's looking to Chris Christie and his position of, well, let's work together. Washington's dysfunctional. I'm the guy to help out.
HARWOODI think we have to mention, Diane, one other factor in that race in Alabama, which is that Bradley Byrne, the business-backed candidate, had been a…
REHMYou know him?
HARWOOD…member of Phi Delta Theta at Duke University in the mid-1970s, along with me.
THURBERWas he president, though?
HARWOODHe was not president. He was very politically active. He worked, at that time, in the summers for John Sparkman who was a Democrat from Alabama at that time. But of course what once were conservative Democrats in the state of Alabama are now Republicans.
HARWOODAnd Bradley has mirrored that evolution. He ran for governor a couple of years ago. He lost to a Tea Party candidate in 2010. He had been the establishment business candidate. He was defeated unexpectedly. This is somebody who Richard Shelby, the Republican senator from Alabama, tried to appoint federal judge. But the fact that he was able to win this one was a significant one for business.
REHMJohn Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd here's our first tweet on the Virginia race from Andrea. She says, "As a Virginian who typically votes Democratic, my vote was against Ken Cuccinelli but not for Terry McAuliffe. Glad he won, but worried how he'll be as governor."
O'KEEFEWell, that speaks to what John Stuart described as the choice the Virginians faced was between a heart attack and cancer. Neither of these guys polled very well. They're kind of seen as the lesser of two evils depending on which one you selected.
REHMHow come? How come?
O'KEEFEWell, because, remember, McAuliffe ran four years ago. He didn't succeed. He has been this sort of partisan, (word?), you know, mega fundraiser at the side of the Clintons all these years but has never himself sought or held political office. And then there's Cuccinelli who, you know, is a more partisan, more conservative Republican, does not have much appeal, you know, in Northern Virginia. And the way he handled the primary campaign, or at least getting the nomination, certainly irked a lot of Republicans.
REHMSo is he going to have a very steep learning curve?
O'KEEFELet's put it this way. It will sell newspapers and keep my colleagues in the Richmond bureau very busy, yes.
REHMWhat do you think, Jim Thurber?
THURBERWell, Terry McAuliffe, in my class a few years ago, said...
REHMAt the American University.
THURBERAmerican University -- said on the record that he was -- you know, he was a campaign guy. He liked politics. He didn't like policy, which means he doesn't like governing. So he's going to learn real fast about governing and bringing a Republican legislature together to get something done. He needs to hire some people -- I think he knows it -- hire some people that are very good that know Virginia and can manage things. I think he'll be a good salesperson. Like a university president that's external and doesn't run things, he's going to be that way in Virginia.
SIDOTIBut this raises a question we were talking about earlier which is, yeah, you know, what he does in the next three days, who he brings into actually govern is going to be very significant to the success of Democrats going forward because he now wears the mantel of the party in Virginia in a key presidential swing-voting state. And so the stakes are going to be arguably much, much higher now that he's in office.
REHM'Course the other question, John Harwood, how much is Ken Cuccinelli's loss pegged to the prior governor?
HARWOODWell, I think that certainly did not help, the fact that Bob McDonnell was in deep, deep trouble legally still as a result of gifts that he'd received and that sort of thing. But Ken Cuccinelli made problems for himself, and he brought a lot of that baggage into the race. And, as we've been saying, Terry was a weak Democratic opponent. He was not somebody who had a strong inherent appeal to the state. He comes across as kind of a huckster more than anything else. We've all known Terry for years.
HARWOODI met Terry in the mid-1980s when he was the chief fundraiser for Dick Gephardt who was then running for president. And he latched on to the Clintons and helped them rise and rose with them. But he's not somebody who has evinced any deep interest in governance or that sort of thing. He wants to win office, and he's now won office. I do think we have to temper the notion of the influence of any Virginia governor because they've got this weird state situation in Virginia where you can only run one time. And so with the prospect of he's an immediate lame duck at this moment.
REHMBut you had a third candidate in that race. How much did that 7 percent take away from Cuccinelli?
HARWOODWell, it looks like Robert Sarvis took away from both, in fact. There was a sizeable chunk of independent voters at least who went with Sarvis in addition to some Republicans. Yes, Republicans will say, look, not enough outside money was spent. Sarvis was in the race and that spoiled it, the shutdown, Obamacare.
HARWOODBut really Sarvis, it appears, drew from everyone. At one point he was polling as high as about 10, I think even 12 percent in some polls, came down to about 7, which suggests in the end that some Republicans came home to Cuccinelli perhaps prompted by what happened with Obamacare in weeks and weeks, perhaps something else.
THURBERYou know, the exit polls show that if it was a two-way governor race, if you trust these exit polls, McAuliffe got 48 percent and Cuccinelli 46 percent. And 5 percent would not have voted. So in that poll, McAuliffe still would've won, but only by 2 percent.
REHMAll right. So finally on Virginia and this attorney general's race, will there be a runoff of some kind with the vote?
O'KEEFEWe're expecting a recount. We're expecting a recount at last.
O'KEEFEYes, because of the close margin. And they'll have to wait for absentee ballots and whatnot. But I suspect every single vote will probably be counted in that race.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Gov. Chris Christie and for all the focus on his superior ads, everything else. He just, as Jim Thurber said, focused on this issue of talking across party lines.
SIDOTIYeah, Gov. Christie is looking at the same kind of information that we all have looked at, which is the state of the electorate, not just the state of the electorate in New Jersey. He had his eye on kind of voter viewpoints across the country. And looking at this notion that people are fed up, they're angry, they -- the same voters who voted divided government into Washington are now tired of divided government and tired of the fact that it -- the partisanship is just raging, and nothing's getting done.
SIDOTISo Christie's looking at that. He's a Republican in a Democrat-leaning state. He made a strategic decision to run hard during the reelection race, not necessarily for the reelection purposes but to make a statement to the Republican Party and to the nation at large, speaking to independents in places like Florida, Ohio, Virginia, by saying, look, I'm a Republican who can work with Democrats.
REHMAnd hug the president.
HARWOODYes. And I do think we have to keep in mind that the people who will vote in Republican primaries in 2016 are not sick of the partisanship, are not sick of the divisiveness and confrontation in Washington. He's going to have to clear that hurdle. But I think one of the things that he's counting on is the weakness of the field that he will run against. And therefore he can make a little bit of a calculation about playing toward the general election. This was the same kind of calculation that Mitt Romney faced in 2012.
HARWOODHe concluded that he wasn't strong enough to stiff the right in the Republican primaries. He took some positions that hurt him in the general. And when he pivoted at the end back toward a different kind of message in the general election, it wasn't quite enough. Chris Christie made a very strong statement, but I think most of all it's a personal statement about him. It's not philosophical. It's not partisan. And we're going to have to see what the durability of that is when he really starts bumping up against conservative Republicans in primaries.
O'KEEFEI mean, if you watched his victory speech last night, if you weren't familiar with Chris Christie and you tuned into your 11:00 or your morning news this morning and saw part of that, that was designed to introduce himself to everyone else. I think a lot of people have heard of him, know about him. They, you know, watched David Letterman or someone like that.
O'KEEFEThey've probably seen him and know him as this sort of almost a caricature, larger-than-life figure. Last night he was trying to say, no, look at me in a different way -- talked about his mom, talked about the hugs he gave during Hurricane Sandy, talked about New Jersey...
REHMIt's the first time I've seen his wife.
O'KEEFEHis wife was standing by his side, and he mentioned Mary Pat several different times. Did you notice something else? He's starting to lose weight in the face.
REHMI saw that.
O'KEEFEClearly, he's preparing himself.
SIDOTIThe one thing -- John is exactly right. I mean, the governor has a real challenge when he looks at the Republican primary. But this is the same calculation that we saw, you know, John McCain make as well as Mitt Romney. What they're looking at is a party where there's no doubt there's going to be several folks on the right running, several folks trying to out-conservative each other, right. And...
SIDOTIYeah, thank you. And they're -- it's a big gamble that they're going to split the conservative vote and that they can sweep in and win across the board.
REHMBut, of course, that's two years away.
THURBERThat's right. I think his words and numbers are very important in New Jersey. Remember that New Jersey has 700,000 more registered Democrats. About 75 percent of the state are Democrats and independents. He pulled from Democrats and independents. He's not making an argument for large or small government. When you come in and solve the problems of Sandy, he's talking about government coming in and helping.
THURBERNow, the far right of the Republican Party don't like him. We'll see in 2014 whether they survive in terms of a few of their people, but they have to decide in the Republican Party whether they're going to move to the middle, go with somebody with Christie or not. But you've got Iowa. You've got New Hampshire. You've got a few other places where they're very well organized on the ground. I think that when business gets involved here, they've got to push back on those far right ideologues, and he'll have a chance.
HARWOODAnd by the way, Diane, if you're looking for positive omens for Hillary Clinton, check out the fact that while Chris Christie was winning 60 percent of the vote yesterday, when they asked voters in the exit polls, would you prefer Hillary Clinton or Chris Christie for president, Hillary Clinton won that.
SIDOTIJim's point about the fact that you have all these differences at play, I think, is really instructive with Christie because, you know, he's looking at this makeup and saying, the establishment is about to strike back. We're starting to see this. The business interests are starting to put their money where their mouth is. They're starting to get so angry at the far right and the Tea Party that we're starting to see them exert themselves by throwing money into races. The Alabama primaries is exactly what that does.
SIDOTIAnd so Christie, I think, is looking and saying, you know, the establishment's going to be on my side. There's a tide that's turning, and I'm going to be part of it and get a head of it.
O'KEEFEBut he's got a long way to go. Two weeks ago, I'm in Iowa. I talked to more than two dozen Republicans, regular rank and file. You hear the names Rand Paul. You hear Ted Cruz. You hear Rick Santorum. You hear Ben Carson, the Johns Hopkins surgeon. You know, I never heard Chris Christie's name mentioned by Republicans.
THURBERBut they're likely to split all their votes over there, and Christie can go forward.
O'KEEFEThere is that, but if you don't win Iowa...
HARWOODRight. But on that point, when we were talking about business and their attempt -- money people, their attempt to exert some influence, they are not going to support Rand Paul. They're not going to support Ted Cruz. They're not going to support Rick Santorum. They're going to support Chris Christie, maybe Jeb Bush if he gets in, possibly Scott Walker in Wisconsin. But they're not going to go Tea Party in the Republican Party.
SIDOTIAnd until now they had been sitting on the sidelines. They have been watching this very, very vocal conservative Tea Party wing that has a megaphone, and they've been sitting on the sidelines. And you're starting to see them exert themselves. I mean, it is no small feat that, you know, Hailey Barber has been out front saying, we've got to take these folks on. Now you're starting to see that happen. And I think this is all shaping up to be a really nasty Republican presidential primary in a few years.
REHMLet's talk about Alabama and what happened there, Ed.
O'KEEFEWell, you know, I actually think of all the races last night, that might have been the most forward leaning because as Jim has mentioned, you know, this race between the Tea Party upstart and the establishment Republican, and the fact that Bradley Burn who won received so much money from folks like Home Depot, from AT&T, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These are guys who have not, in recent elections, spent a lot of money. The Chamber didn't spend any money in Virginia because they knew that Ken Cuccinelli was not of their liking.
O'KEEFEAnd I can tell you also, here in Washington, republican leadership thrilled to see a guy like Bradley Burn win and that a guy like Dean Young did not. So, you know, going into next year you've got two races in Michigan, Justin Amash and Ken (sic) Bentivolio, I think is his name. You may see business interests help shore up Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho who is a good ally of John Boehner but is likely to face a Tea Party challenge.
O'KEEFEAnd I guarantee you, they will go around and try to pick some winners and losers in other races. Money says a lot. Upstart Tea Party folks who show up to rallies may not be able to draw enough support.
HARWOODDean Young in Alabama pledged to oppose John Boehner for House Speaker. Bradley Burn, who I have zero doubt will support Boehner, wouldn't commit but he would not take the step of saying he would oppose Boehner. Now, personally, I don't expect John Boehner to be in the Congress after this next two years.
HARWOODI expect this will be his last term. But the fact that you had a victory from somebody who is not aligned with those who ran over John Boehner in this last government shutdown is a sign that business is going to say, if we get involved, maybe we can make a difference. Maybe we can get some results that we want for a change.
THURBERAnd that will motivate them to get involved in all kinds of other states for these senate raises in 2014 that are so competitive for the Democrats.
REHMJames Thurber of American University, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to open the phones. Lots of folks want to talk about various races. First to James in Falls Church, Va. Hi there.
JAMESHi. Hello. Pardon me, excuse me. Thanks for taking my call.
JAMESI just wanted to get back to the point that was made earlier about Mr. McAuliffe's win because I'm hearing, oh it's amazing that the Republicans didn't win. But Mr. McAuliffe only got a plurality of the vote. With all the things he had going for him in terms of the government shutdown and all the rest of it -- and granted, he wasn't a popular figure, but neither was Mr. Cuccinelli.
JAMESAnd Mr. Cuccinelli I think seems the more divisive figure. I don't see here -- in fact, if I look -- and my math may be wrong here, but if I tally it up you actually have -- across the two states, you had a Republican majority in effect. And if you take the Libertarian vote and add that to Mr. Cuccinelli's vote, then I just want to see what you folks think of this -- I don't see here -- I see the Democrats sort of topped out at 48 percent when they should've done better.
JAMESAnd if I could just -- one quick side note, I would -- it drives me nuts. The Tea Party is populist. They are not conservative. They're something different, and I really wish we could get (unintelligible)...
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling.
REHMOK. Go ahead, Ed.
O'KEEFEHe makes a point, and, like we said, you know, these were two unpopular candidates. Virginians weren't jazzed by them. And I think, you know, this reflects a problem that McAuliffe will have in the next four years as he tries to govern. I think Republicans in the House of Delegates will say, you don't have much of a mandate, sir. And we may or may not be willing to work with you.
O'KEEFEI think the other place that has to give some pause is over at the White House, again, just across the river. Because they're going to look at these exit polls and see that Obamacare was such a big factor in possibly closing this gap that the president and congressional Democrats more generally are going to have to be worried about how that issue plays out in the next year.
REHMAll right. To Colin in Houston, Texas, you're on the air.
COLINHi. My comment is about Chris Christie's speech last night. I'm an independent voter. But, you know, I've never voted for a Democrat in a president. But as I watched his speech, I -- he was very emotional and very genuine about his love for New Jersey and about voters and solving their problems, and he talked about Hurricane Sandy and all that kind of stuff.
COLINAnd I have to say -- you know, I'm not a very emotional person -- I almost cried a couple times, and it made me think, wow, if he could be this type of person to New Jersey, like, I want him to do that for me. Like, he seems like -- I want him to care that much about me, too. And I -- it was a really good pitch for presidency.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Jim Thurber.
THURBERWell, if you could hug every voter in Iowa, he would win. I mean, he's very moving. I watched that speech. It was a moving speech. And it was a speech about how government can help people.
THURBERAnd that's a very different thing then the populace. You know, I want to go back to that comment. Yes, they're populist, but they're conservative populous that think that government is not there to help people. We should shrink government. That's a very conservative ideological position. Chris Christie is not there. And he showed that with Sandy. And he shows that in terms of how he cares about the people in New Jersey. Great message for 2016.
HARWOODI think the caller and his sentiment is an evidence that the speech was effective and broke through. And I think everyone was especially touched that Chris Christie said, as he was winning election to his second full term as governor of New Jersey, he promised that he would never stop leading the state of New Jersey even, for example, if he happens to be running for president instead and not finishing his term.
REHMHow can he do that, though? He makes that promise, but...
HARWOODBecause his heart will be in New Jersey, even if he's not in the governor's chair.
O'KEEFEAll his speech was missing was a knee slide by Bruce Springsteen from stage left. I mean, that speech was pitch perfect.
THURBERHe's a Jersey boy. He can do it.
REHMAll right. And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, your email. We'll also talk about Detroit, New York and Boston. Stay with us.
REHMAnd, James Thurber, you have a particular interest in one issue in the state of Washington that is really becoming a national issue.
THURBERIt is. It was on the ballot to require the labeling of genetically-modified food. And it lost. It lost in California a couple of years ago, and it lost this time because, in my opinion, there was massive amounts of money spent by food producers, Monsanto and other large agricultural businesses that were very worried about this. And this is simply labeling. It's not outlawing because almost everything in our food chain is genetically modified, some would say.
REHMSo I think this is neither the beginning or the end of this discussion because other states around the country have been pushing. Massachusetts has been pushing.
THURBEROther states and the European Union.
THURBERI got to Brussels every summer to talk about lobbying and this is a big issue there with American companies pushing back on it. And they are totally against it. It will be around for a long time.
HARWOODAnd, by the way, Diane, if you want to look for one place in American politics where money plays the greatest influence, it is in ballot initiatives like this that are not very familiar to people. And heavy advertising can defeat almost anything if you put enough money behind it.
REHMWhat about marijuana and state and local issues around that?
SIDOTIYeah, I think the legalization of pot is probably the most under-covered political story out there in the last year. And what's fascinating is, you know, Colorado voted to legalize marijuana last year. And over the last year, they've been trying to figure out how to regulate it. And so voters went to the polls and decided on a 25 percent tax on marijuana. And -- which is legal out there -- and next year on the ballot, you're going to see upwards anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen other states put some marijuana legislation on the ballot.
SIDOTISo a lot of states and a lot of operatives are looking -- looked at the vote last night to see just how far they could go in terms of regulation. The other one I want to throw out there that we were paying attention to in my household, it was the local Kent, Ohio city council where my father Roger Sidoti just won a city council seat. So…
HARWOODIs he a Tea Party?
SIDOTINo, he's an independent, probably a left-leaning independent.
REHMOK. I want to take a call in Middletown, Ohio. Steve, you're on the air.
STEVEOh, hi. Thank you for taking my call today.
STEVEI just wanted to touch on something you actually just touched on, marijuana legislation. Do you think that will have a big impact in the upcoming 2014, 2016 elections on...
REHMA big effect, Jim Thurber?
STEVEYeah, like, I ask because you think it'll be something that you think, you know, they'd pick up and run with?
REHMYeah, OK. Jim Thurber.
THURBERI don't think it'll have an impact on races for Congress and races -- and certainly the presidential race. It may be locally. Remember, the state of Washington and Colorado have legalized it, but it is federally illegal. And this administration has taken a pass on that, and it's causing some serious problems for law enforcement in the state of Washington and Colorado. That may become an issue, but I don't think it's going to be a national issue.
HARWOODI would expect Democrats to tread very carefully with that issue, and I wouldn't see that as one becoming a standard tool in the arsenal of the Democratic (word?).
REHMJohn Harwood, talk about the New York City mayor's race.
HARWOODWell, that's the one sort of outlier from what we've been discussing, which is the victory of mainstream candidates, Bradley Burn in Alabama, Terry McAuliffe more so than Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, Chris Christie in New Jersey. You have a -- and Bill de Blasio -- a very liberal Democrat winning election as mayor of New York City. And some people have looked at that as a rebirth of Democratic liberalism. I'm not sure about that. I think New York...
REHMFirst time in 25 years to elect a Democratic mayor...
REHM...who campaigned on stopping Stop and Frisk.
HARWOODAnd raising taxes on the rich.
REHMAnd raising taxes on the rich.
HARWOODBut New York City is an idiosyncratic political world. We've just come out of three terms of a former Democrat now Republican moderate business-oriented mayor. And I'm just not sure what broader lessons we can draw from that.
REHMWhat do you think, Ed O'Keefe?
O'KEEFEI think it says more about the city itself. I mean, you know, you talk to friends and colleagues who live and work there, they'll tell you it's gotten expensive. And de Blasio's message was aimed at that. And then, you know, yes, the city is safe. The city is well managed for the most part, but there are concerns...
O'KEEFEAnd wealthy -- and it's very difficult for people to find, you know, affordable housing and to stay in the city. He also embodied something about New York that I think a lot of people who live there appreciate. He's not a native. He moved there. He is married to an African American woman. His son starred in one of the most effective political ads in years and really helped, you know, layout for people that my dad is capable of doing this job. And he tapped into something in the city that, I think, after 25 years of Republican rule, prompted the shift.
REHMIf Anthony Wiener had not flamed out...
O'KEEFEI still don't think he would've won.
REHMThat's my question.
REHMWhat about you?
SIDOTII actually think that, of any of the races yesterday, the one that the international community was watching most closely was the New York City mayor's race. I think that folks overseas had looked at Bloomberg as kind of this, you know, elitist businessman. And everyone -- New York is kind of the pinnacle -- or seen internationally as the pinnacle of the United States. And so there's a lot of interest internationally in how this new mayor will change the city.
THURBERThe basics are important there. He won by 50 percent, which is incredible. He had a weak opponent. He had a clear strategy that he stuck to, and he is Italian. He speaks Spanish. He's married to an African American woman.
O'KEEFEHe's New York.
THURBERHe's New York. People are comfortable with him. And I think they'd had it with Bloomberg a little bit also.
REHMBut what do you think he really can accomplish in terms of liberalizing what is seen as a very tightly controlled police force, tightly managed crime scene? What do you think?
THURBEROn the crime scene, it's going to be more difficult than maybe changing the tax code slightly and helping sort of the middle level workers stay in the city. It's going to be very hard to change many of the rules related to crime.
O'KEEFEAnd the tax fight will actually probably be his ugliest because he's going to face opposition from Andrew Cuomo the governor. The tax increase he's proposing would help pay for some pre-kindergarten programs that would require raising taxes on the wealthy. The governor has said he's not interested in that. The plan would have to be approved by the state legislature. You've got a divided state legislature between Democrats and Republicans who run the Senate. And Democrats are eager to retake the senate with Cuomo's re-election -- presumed re-election next year.
THURBERBut the strategy's great. You know, the very wealthy, they're making millions of dollars. Let's have them give a little bit more for people in kindergarten.
O'KEEFEYeah, a great election strategy. Whether it works in the governing strategy, we'll see.
HARWOODI would say, Diane, it's worth remembering that just a few months ago we were looking at the New York City elections and saying, oh my gosh, Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Wiener. What does that say about us that these sort of sex scandal tarred figures were back in the thick of it. Neither of them is around anymore.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Pensacola, Fla. Hi, David.
DAVIDHow are you today?
REHMI'm fine, thank you. How about you?
DAVIDWell, I'm doing quite well.
DAVIDI'm in Pensacola which some of you who know how to read maps will realize is the antithesis of the stereotype of Florida. We're 15 miles from Alabama one way and 30 miles the other way. And Alabama politics is a spectator sport. The Burn-Young contest over in Baldwin County, 20 miles away, was never a contest. Young never did anything. Burn just had him beat a thousand to one and advertisement and coverage and everything else. I don't think he even had any name recognition for Young.
O'KEEFEWell, David, next time we have to cover a race in Alabama I'm calling you.
O'KEEFEThat's some pretty good perspective.
THURBERWell, it was close. It was 52 percent to 48 percent. That's fairly close for a race like that.
HARWOODBut one of the things that we've seen with Tea Party candidates is they come from a place where none of us expect. They have a grassroots army that's sort of unseen. That's what has happened in some races. Bob Bennett got knocked off in Utah, Dick Lugar in the state of Indiana. Matt Bevin is hoping to do the same thing for Mitch McConnell in the state of Kentucky. And I think one person who is probably very gratified by the results last night in Alabama was Mitch McConnell.
REHMAll right. One election in Small Town, Iowa drew lots of national attention. And the Koch Brothers got involved, Liz.
SIDOTIYeah, Coralville, Iowa, this is one where the town council is facing a $280 million debt. And so the Americans for Prosperity got involved and poured a ton of money into the race in hopes of getting conservatives to win. What this is indicative of is the larger playing field of outside money that is pouring into races up and down the ballot. And, I mean, this is a signal from the Koch Brothers that they're going to try to get conservatives in office at every level including in a very, very tiny small tony.
HARWOODBeautiful little small town.
THURBERBut they're working -- the Koch Brothers are working at the very low level in terms of the state legislatures, but even judges -- judges in Oregon that had a decision against Georgia Pacific that they own. They're really doing the ground and working their way up. They had very little impact on the presidential election and many of the (word?) campaigns. But they are locally and that's important to watch in 2014 and '16.
REHMSo did their candidates win?
SIDOTIThat's a very good question. I'll be quite frank, I have not paid attention to know if they won there. But the point being is that what they're doing is building -- if they were successful they're trying to build farm teams for down the road.
REHMAnd perhaps we can find out about these Iowa elections. I'd be interested to know how much of a role -- so overall, what kind of insights do you think these off-year elections offer?
HARWOODAlways a danger of over-interpreting off-year elections, but I think my takeaways are, one, Virginia's changing and has changed very rapidly. The fact that a Democrat was able to win is the most significant element of that race. Two, Chris Christie has a very robust appeal that he's going to try to ride this into the 2016 race. It was a very good day for him, not such a good day for other people -- potential rivals for the nomination.
HARWOODAnd third, that American business is going to get a strong bit of encouragement to get involved in primaries, especially in 2014 House raises, to try to produce the kind of Republican candidates who will both follow the policies that they desire, but also can win general elections.
SIDOTII think what was fascinating here is that in at least two states, Virginia and New Jersey voters voted in divided government again. You have a Democrat running -- or a Democrat winning in Virginia with a Republican legislature. And the flip is true in New Jersey. And the message of no partisanship, please do something I think is a reaction post-shutdown to the gridlock here in Washington.
REHMLiz Sidoti, she is with the Associated Press, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jim.
THURBERI agree with all of that, but I would add three simple things. One, I think we see the continued downward slide of the Tea Party, and I think it will continue in the future. Secondly, this is a good day for Hillary Clinton. Her campaign headquarters for the south will probably be in Virginia as a result of this. And, three, it was a good day for Chris Christie. And let's add, four, it was good for government. I think government is good. I teach in a government department. I think it does good things. And the people who won are people who feel that government can do good things for people.
O'KEEFEDiane, I would take a contrarian view on the Hillary Clinton argument. There's a lot of...
THURBERYou wouldn't have the campaign headquarters in Virginia?
O'KEEFENo, it's not so much that. It's just that I think there's a lot of risk for Hillary Clinton in the next few years. If Terry McAuliffe is an effective governor and if Bill de Blasio has issues in New York -- remember Bill de Blasio ran for Senate campaign back in 2000 -- those failures could get hung around her neck.
O'KEEFEAnd there could be suggestions about the type of company she keeps. The only other conclusion I would take from yesterday is that I think next year's elections will be a lot closer than we might think. I think we may see some real closer margins in certain competitive races. And I think the balance of power may be a lot closer after this one.
HARWOODI disagree with that on warning sign for Hillary Clinton. I don't think Terry McAuliffe's governorship is going to have any influence on her bid. But I agree with him that the 2014 elections are highly unpredictable. We don't know whether there's a wave of any kind for either side, and we're just going to have to see especially how the primary process develops on the Republican side.
O'KEEFEI have one shout out for my home town of Albany, N.Y. They elected a woman mayor for the first time in their 327-year history. And now in upstate New York you have women mayors in Rochester, Syracuse and Albany. So...
O'KEEFE...a bit of a victory for women in politics.
REHMHow much are you all looking at the presidential race for 2016 and thinking Hillary is going to go for it and that Chris Christie is going to be the Republican nominee, Jim?
THURBERYeah, I think Hillary is being very careful. She's making decisions about where she gives speeches, how much money she gets, what awards she gets. She's got a group around her that are giving her advice about this. Bill wants her to run. The group around her wants to run. Many people want her to run and I think she's going to take her time. And I think she probably will run.
THURBERNow, Chris Christie, I definitely think he wants to run, and I think last night was an introduction, as we stated before, to the American people. And we'll see how he does. He can make mistakes also along the way, and there could be controversy with Hillary. But I think she's running.
SIDOTII think both of them are taking the steps that they need to take today to do everything they can to prepare to run but leaving themselves enough options to not run. And I will say that I think in both cases you have this inevitability concern. You know, Hillary Clinton saw it in 2008 where she was cast as the inevitable candidate in no small part to her own making, and wasn't able to live up to the hype. So both go forward with positioning. I don't believe, you know, full-on decisions necessarily have been made yet.
REHMNot inevitability. John.
HARWOODI think Hillary Clinton will run. I think she wants to break that glass ceiling. I think she is a strong favorite for the Democratic nomination. I think Chris Christie is the strongest of all the candidates who have evinced a strong interest in the race. I still want to see what Jeb Bush before I'm ready to say that Chris Christie's the likely (word?).
O'KEEFEAnd adding on to that, I suspect you will see several Republican governors, current and former, guys like Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie run. And I would think ultimately Republicans will look a lot more closely at governors than a lawmaker who's been spending his time in Washington.
THURBERAnd Perry will find out what the third department is that he wants to (unintelligible)...
O'KEEFEHe may come up with a few more between now and then, yeah.
REHMEd O'Keefe of the Washington Post, John Harwood of CNBC and the New York Times, Liz Sidoti, national political editor for AP and James Thurber, professor and director of the Center for Congressional and President Studies at American University, author of "Obama in Office: The First Two Years," thank you all. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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