Inflation is high. The GDP has shrunk. But the job market has never been better. The Washington Post's Damian Paletta helps make sense of the U.S. economy today.
Voters went to the polls in five states yesterday: New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Delaware. They were the final primaries before the November elections. Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown became the Republican nominee for Senate, this time from New Hampshire. He’ll face Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in a race that could have implications for control of the Senate. In Massachusetts, an upset in the 6th Congressional District is the first to oust a sitting Democrat in the state in more than two decades. And in Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo won the Democratic nomination for governor despite controversy over her public pension overhaul. At the end of a primary season that began six months ago in Texas, we look at what the results could mean for Democratic and Republican prospects in November, control of the Senate and Barack Obama’s presidency.
- Reid Wilson Staff writer, The Washington Post; he writes The Post's political tipsheet email called "Read In."
- Shira Center Politics editor, CQ Roll Call
- Alexander Burns Senior political reporter, Politico.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's recovering from a voice treatment. She'll be back later this month. Primaries were held yesterday in five states, from Delaware to New Hampshire. Scott Brown won the Republican nomination to challenge Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire. And in Massachusetts, a nine-term House incumbent was ousted.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me in the studio to discuss the results and the implications for November and beyond, Reid Wilson of the Washington Post, Shira Center of CQ Roll Call, and Alex Burns of Politico. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. REID WILSONGood morning.
MR. ALEX BURNSThanks, Susan.
MS. SHIRA CENTERThank you.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation. Later in this hour you can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Well, Reid Wilson, let's begin in New York. Andrew Cuomo won the Democratic nomination. Not a surprise. His margin, maybe a little bit of a surprise.
WILSONIt was. Andrew Cuomo won renomination to a second term with about 62 percent of the vote against a law school professor named Zephyr Teachout, who challenged him from the right. She made a big deal of trying to attract a bunch of votes in very liberal New York City. And she came remarkably close. I mean he only won the -- Manhattan by, you know, 9,000 votes out of about 100,000 cast. He actually lost -- Teachout actually won 30 counties upstate New York.
WILSONSo this demonstrates, I think, an anger among Democrats -- liberals in particular -- at Andrew Cuomo, who has tried to guide his administration sort of in a centrist way that hasn't always resonated with the Democratic base. In fact, has actively infuriated part of the Democratic base.
PAGEYou know, it's interesting. This challenge was the strongest finish for a challenger to an incumbent governor since primaries for the office were established in New York in 1970. So the state doesn't have a big tradition of taking on incumbent governors. So, Shira, Andrew Cuomo's made it clear he's -- would like to have some national ambitions. Now this is a big win. He won by a wide margin, but is it the kind of win that helps him or hurts him with those aspirations?
CENTERI don't think anyone would say it would help him with those aspirations, in the long run. Right? I mean, if you're an incumbent and you have your eyes on a bigger prize, you want to rack up the margin as much as possible. This is what Hillary did before she ran, when she was a senator from New York, in her reelection to the Senate.
CENTERSo it doesn't help them. I think it also says a lot, though, about the Democratic Party and a state that is traditionally dominated by Democrats, that there is some unrest with the Party's more liberal base. And we might see that manifest itself again, pending what happens with Hillary in 2016. I think it says there's something there and something's beginning to percolate in the Party.
PAGESo when we're talking about margins, also in New Hampshire we saw Scott Brown win the Republican nomination. Not really a surprise there, but tell us about his margin. Was it big enough that it kind of propels him into what might be a very competitive Senate race in November?
BURNSWell, Susan, I think it was comfortable enough that, you know, there's not going to be a sort of Scott Brown limps out of the primary narrative, that from the beginning the expectation was that he would win. And there was never really a moment where those of us in Washington who follow that race suddenly believed, you know, maybe he's going to be another one of these sort of mainline Republican recruits who gets offed by somebody on the right.
BURNSThat said, this was also not a primary where Brown sort of covered himself with glory. And I don't think that people see him sort of coming out of the gate against Shaheen with a head of steam. When you talk to Republicans in D.C., you know, they're pretty pleased with a lot of their recruiting for this cycle. And they were really pleased with Brown when they landed him. I think it's fair to say that he has not really grown as a candidate in ways that they were hoping he'd be able to.
PAGENow, since voters started to directly elect U.S. senators, I don't think anyone has managed to be elected to the Senate from two different states.
BURNSNot since direct elections began.
PAGENot since direct elections. So that would be impressive if Scott Brown managed to do that. How close do you think that race is going to be, Reid, if we look at it right now?
WILSONI don't think it's in the top tier of races that Republicans believe they can win. As you take a look at the Senate landscape, of course, Republicans need to pick up six seats to regain control of the Senate. They've already pretty much guaranteed that they're going to win three open Democratic seats in West Virginia and South Dakota and Montana. And then there are four seats that I think both parties believe are the, sort of the fulcrum, the tipping point for the Senate. And those are seats in Alaska and Arkansas and North Carolina and Louisiana.
WILSONScott Brown will not be -- he would not be the 51st Republican Senator. If there is a national wave that develops, he would be the 54th or 55th. But, you know, he's way down on the priority list. In part, because Jeanne Shaheen has been elected a lot in the state of New Hampshire. Not only is she a U.S. senator, she was also governor for three terms, a very popular governor. And she built a political machine that the Democratic Party in New Hampshire still uses to turn out votes.
WILSONNew Hampshire's one of only two states that elects governors every two years. So it's a very well-oiled machine. You know, since she came into office, there's only been one Republican governor who only served two years. The rest of it has been all Democrats. And I think you'll -- I think the state is slightly more to the left in -- even in mid-term elections than is comfortable for somebody like Scott Brown to win.
PAGESo Shira, in Massachusetts, in the 6th Congressional District, a nine-term incumbent, John Tierney, was defeated…
PAGE…for renomination. Surprised?
CENTERNot totally surprised. I think maybe if you would have asked him or a lot of Democrats a month ago whether they thought he was going to lose they would have said no. But in the last couple of weeks -- the last week or so it was very clear to us. There was polling that came out, three separate, mostly automated polls that showed his challenger, Iraq War veteran Seth Moulton, within striking distance of Tierney.
CENTERIt's clear the numbers were moving right after Labor Day. But remember, this is also a guy that from the start came to the race with a whole lot of baggage. Right? He had some ethical issues involving his wife and his brother-in-law. Most of these were litigated in his last election. Right? Everyone in the District is pretty familiar with these troubles.
CENTERSo he was reelected by a slim margin in 2012 against a Republican challenger. So I think maybe he and a lot of his campaign team thought those issues were behind him. But I think they still played a minor role in what happened last night and he lost.
PAGEIt's been 22 years since a Democratic incumbent…
PAGE…in Massachusetts has lost his bid to be renominated. Does this improve or hurt Democrats' chances of holding that seat?
CENTERI think it helps Democratic chances of holding the seat. That baggage I mentioned earlier -- right? If it's an issue in this primary, it'd probably be an issue in the general election. I know Republicans were planning on using it against John Tierney. And they had recruited Richard Tisei, the guy who ran against him in 2012. He's an openly gay, pretty moderate, Massachusetts Republican to face him.
CENTERAnd they thought it was going to be a real race. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw Republicans starting to move money out of the Massachusetts media market in the next several weeks about it. Because it's just not going to be as competitive.
BURNSIt's sort of an interesting sub-plot to last night's Republican House primaries in New England, that -- or both House primaries in New England, that Republicans could have come out of last night pretty positioned -- pretty well positioned to elect not one, but two gay members of Congress from New England, Richard Tisei, Shira mentioned, and then Dan Innis, who was running in one of the two New Hampshire congressional districts.
BURNSInnis lost his primary and, as Shira said, I think the odds of, to say, making it to Congress are rather lower, now that he's going to be facing a generic -- basically generic Democratic opponent in left-leaning Massachusetts, as opposed to an ethically hobbled incumbent who the district has thought about tossing out a couple times now.
PAGEFor Republicans, have their sexual orientation been an issue?
BURNSI mean, they -- these are candidates in -- and it's important to emphasize, these are centrist or center left, or in Massachusetts' case, rather dramatically to the left, New England states. These are candidates who have been pretty open about their sexual orientation. I don't think they're campaigning on it in the way that you do see some Democrats do in their primaries, but, you know, Dan Innis didn't lose his primary because he was gay. He lost his primary because he was running against a well-funded opponent who is much better known than he was.
CENTERSo I was up in Massachusetts this spring, and I asked Richard Tisei about this. I was like, "Is this something that comes up?" He says, "No. Not in Massachusetts. Gay marriage has been legal here for 10 years. It's just not an issue here. The only questions I ever get about it are from national reporters."
PAGEWell, is it -- whatever the case in Massachusetts, this is an issue in which we've seen such dramatic changes in the nation's politics. It's something not to forget how big that transition and how quickly that transition has come. While we're in Massachusetts let's talk about the governor's race. Martha Coakley won her nomination for governor, but she has not proved to be a very impressive candidate.
WILSONNo. Here's the other interesting subplot that came out of last night. We now have two New England states that are positioned likely to elect their first female governors, both in Rhode Island, where a woman state treasurer won the Democratic primary there. And in Massachusetts where Martha Coakley won. There has been a female governor of Massachusetts before, Jane Swift, but she wasn't elected. She ascended to the post after Paul Cellucci quit to become a U.S. ambassador.
WILSONSo Coakley won her primary by a surprisingly slim margin. She almost got -- was upset by the state treasurer there, a former Democratic National Committee chairman named Steve Grossman. In that race, though, most people expected her to win by a pretty wide margin. I think she won by three points last night. She comes into a general election with some pretty -- well, with baggage of her own, electoral baggage of her own. Of course the last time that she was a national figure was back in 2010, when she lost a special election to Scott Brown.
WILSONWe all sort of assumed that because she lost a statewide election she has problems on a statewide level. But, in fact, she's one of the more popular elected officials. She's the attorney general of Massachusetts. She's got a good profile, high favorable numbers. The question is just can she run a campaign that won't get swamped by a better campaign on the Republican side. She did not in 2010. This time around the atmosphere is completely different. There's not that sort of, you know, anti-Obamacare wave that is sweeping over the country, especially not in a state like Massachusetts.
WILSONSo, you know, I expect Coakley to win in November. Most polls show her leading her opponent, a businessman named Charlie Baker, by a relatively healthy margin, high single digits, low double digits. But, you know, this -- there is this cloud hanging over her head, that the last time she had -- she faced this kind of pressure she lost.
PAGEWe'll also see -- besides the possibility of electing women for the first time as governors in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, we'll also see a woman governor running for reelection in New Hampshire. How does that race look, Alex?
BURNSYou know, I think that if you were to place all -- if you were -- if you were to place a bet entirely on these three Democratic women winning or losing, you would certainly place it on the winning side. Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire currently the only Democratic woman governor in the country, which is a source of some embarrassment to the Party. She has had a fairly, you know, some hiccups, but a fairly smooth first term. And New Hampshire, with one exception, is just a state that does not toss out governors after only two years.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll talk about some of the national repercussions for these primaries last night. And we'll also look at how the landscape looks, generally. Is there going to be a Republican wave? We'll take your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, three political experts, Alex Burns. He's the senior political reporter at Politico, Shira Center. She's the politics editor for CQ Roll Call. And Reid Wilson. He's a staff writer at the Washington Post. He writes the Post's political tip sheet email which is called "Read In."
PAGESo let's talk about one more governor's race that features a woman candidate. Gina Raimondo won the Democratic nomination yesterday. This was remarkable in part because she has really ticked off some of the unions in Rhode Island that played a big part in that state's politics.
WILSONRhode Island's pension situation is one of the worst in the country. They have unfunded pension liabilities that are higher than, -- as a percentage of how much they pay of almost any state save, I think, Illinois is the only one that's worse. And Raimondo as the state treasurer has to deal with that. And the incumbent government, Lincoln Chafee and Raimondo pushed forward a measure that would have fixed part of the pension problems. It would've cost a lot of union employees some of their -- some retirement money. And that made the unions really upset.
WILSONThey went hard for at least one of the other candidates, the mayor of Providence. They weren't able to defeat her in the primary. And I think that sort of speaks to the larger theme of unions becoming a smaller portion of the democratic electorate, you know, as environmental groups and minority groups and people like that. As groups like that become larger parts of the coalition, the traditional union powers that were the center of the democratic coalition for, you know, 60, 80 years are flagging off. They don't have the power they once did.
PAGEBut it's sort of the opposite lesson of New York, right, because in New York the message was progressives in the Democratic Party are feeling a little restive about Cuomo.
CENTERIt is but, you know, Rhode Island is a completely different state, right. And I think it also plays to the larger point that there are fractures within the Democratic party that perhaps we didn't see for the last couple cycles, you know. We saw it in New York with Cuomo and that kind of divide and then also with this. I mean, there were huge political differences between the top three candidates in this primary.
BURNSAnd I would add that a key difference, I think, between the two states and the two races, in New York Cuomo's not just seen among Democrats as somebody who is too far to the center or, in some folks' eyes, too far to the right. He's also seen as somebody who's really become an insider, like a real Albany operator. He's not somebody who went upstate and decided to really take a hatchet to the legislature. He's been cutting deals with the legislature.
BURNSSo there's ideological discontent. There's also just sort of procedural discontent. People in New York, where I'm from, I think reasonably have the impression that the legislature is dysfunctional and corrupt. They don't like the idea of electing a governor who goes native up there. In Rhode Island, on the other hand, yeah, Raimondo is more on the center of the party but she is somebody who has presented herself and with, you know, considerable factual basis as sort of a political outsider, that she was a sort of investor and a businesswoman and, you know, is not somebody who came up through 15 terms in the Rhode Island State Senate or something before deciding to be a statewide candidate.
BURNSSo while there are a lot of things that I think traditional Democratic constituencies find objectionable about her, her general biography is not necessarily totally anathema to a state that, yeah, there's a significant union component but there's also this sort of university crowd and sort of a growing Massachusetts ex-pat crowd, that there are a lot of sort of cultural reasons why she's a credible and, as it turns out, a formidable candidate there.
PAGESo we'll have three women in the northeast running for governor, all of them either favored or in very competitive races. Here's what the Providence Journal wrote this morning about their race. They referred to the pint-sized Raimondo who has already had an out-sized impact. Pint-sized Raimondo, does that strike you as a sexist description of the Democratic nominee for governor?
WILSONI find it hard to imagine that there are any Democratic -- any male candidates anywhere in the country who would be referred to as pint-sized.
CENTERHow short would they have to be?
WILSONThat's a good question. There are plenty of short members of congress, I'll tell you that.
CENTERThere are, there are.
WILSONI can't immediately think of any time when any of them have been described as pint-sized.
PAGEWe also had primaries in Delaware. Anything to watch there?
CENTERNo. Sorry, Delaware.
BURNSYou know, just give them credit though. Every two years they do have those elections and peaceful transfer of power.
PAGESo Shira, your colleague Stu Rothenberg got some attention this week. He wrote a column that predicted a wave -- a Republican wave. He said that Republicans would gain at least seven seats in the Senate. Do you agree?
CENTERWell, I think for the most part, yes. I think, you know, Stu's point -- and it is a great column. You can read it at rollcall.com, have to plug it there. But it's a great column and it really laid out how the national political trends are playing in so many of these Senate races, right. Republicans must net six Senate seats to win control of the Senate. He predicted a wave of seven. But I think he also made the point in the column that you don't necessarily need a massive wave. You just need kind of a pretty solid breeze at this point to knock the Senate in the Republicans' favor.
PAGEWhat's a wave? Alex, if you were going to define -- election night, we're trying to figure out if there was a wave, what would tell us there was a wave?
BURNSI think if you saw candidates from one party or the other winning in states that under normal conditions would be really, really atypical for them to win. So in 2010 you saw, you know, Scott Brown win hat special election in Massachusetts. That was a sign that you were dealing with not just a wave but sort of category four or five political storm. You saw Mark Kirk winning a Senate race in Illinois. You saw Republican governors get elected in a number of states that are not sort of conventional Republican strongholds.
BURNSThis year Republicans can have a very good night winning almost exclusively on -- in states that voted for Romney in 2012. So if Republicans take control of the Senate and win in places like Louisiana and Arkansas and Alaska, you know, look, more power to them, credit to them for running good campaigns against tough incumbents. But these are states where you actually don't need some kind of tidal wave in order to propel, or you shouldn't need a tidal wave in order to propel Republicans to success statewide.
PAGESo what would be an example of a wave state, a state to watch? If that one goes Republican, it's a wave?
BURNSI think that if you were to take a couple of the Senate states like New Hampshire, like Minnesota or Oregon, these states where Republicans have recruited credible candidates who are clearly at this point serious underdogs, if suddenly those races closed to, you know, three, four, five points then, yeah, maybe you're dealing with a wave scenario.
BURNSIf you're looking at a map where, yeah, Republicans have cleaned up in the south and the mountain west and maybe picked up a state like Colorado where there's a competitive race in a very purple state, you know, that's a really good night for Republicans. I'm not sure that you say, my goodness, it's yet another midterm wave election.
PAGEDo you think there's going to be a wave at this point, Reid?
WILSONI think Alex's point is that there doesn't have to be one. There doesn't have to be a wave. The seven states that are most competitive, West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina, Louisiana. President Obama lost all seven of those states. He was only really close in one state, in North Carolina. And then we go to the swing states like Colorado and Iowa, which are sort of the number eight and nine on my list. So there is a potential -- Republicans can take back the Senate without there being a wave.
WILSONOne of the things I think we're going to see most of, I think, the day-after story on Election Day is the message of discontent that voters are going to send to incumbents across the country. And that's going to be most evident, not necessarily in the Senate races where we'll all assume that it's a big story about President Obama, but it's going to be most evident in governor's races around the country.
WILSONAt the moment there are, by my count at least, 12 governors who have lost, are losing or are in serious jeopardy of losing. Governor Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii has already lost his primary. Governor -- incumbent Democratic governors in Connecticut and Illinois and Colorado are in some degree of trouble. Republican governors in states like Maine and Pennsylvania are almost certainly not going to serve a second term because they'll lose in this November.
WILSONAnd then in states like Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, even Kansas, even ruby red Kansas, you've got incumbent governors who are trailing in recent polls. It is very rare that so many governors lose. It's been since 1994 that more than five governors lost their real -- more than four governors, only five lost in '92 -- or '94 rather. So I think this is the moment at which voters show discontent. It's not going to register on the congressional scale. It's going to register in states though.
PAGEBut why does it register for governors races and less so in the congressional and Senate races?
WILSONBecause a lot of the congressional races have been drawn out of competition. There are fewer competitive House races at the moment because of the way these districts are drawn than there have almost ever been before. There are, I think, liberally speaking 35 to 40 House races where one party could take the other party's seat. You're not going to see a lot of that happen in November because of the way the districts are drawn. One party is overwhelmingly safe.
WILSONIn states though, you know, people see their governors as the chief executive. If they were -- if they are taking something out on the government at large, the governor's the best place to do that.
PAGEShira, what have these elections -- just generally, governors races, Senate races, House races, what have the primaries this year been about? What is the driving issue for American voters this year?
CENTERWell, I think that's something that we as political writers grapple with on a daily basis. And it's been difficult this year because it isn't just one thing, right. Gallup asks about this frequently in their polling, well, what is this election really about? And if you look at previous cycles, there is -- more often than not there is a dominant issue, whether it was the Iraq war, whether it's the economy, something like that.
CENTERIf you look at polling this year on that very same question, it's all over the map, right. People said immigration during the child migrant crisis at the end of the summer. They might say foreign policy now. They say economy. They say jobs, right. It is really all over the place.
PAGEWe're about to go to the phones. We’ll take your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Alex, what do you think these elections have been about so far this year?
BURNSI think it's hard to identify one overarching issue that has defined these races. I think that if you want to talk about the mood, I think clearly, you know, you talk to people on both sides of the partisan divide, they say that they pick up incredible economic anxiety on the part of voters, although not the same kind of anger about the economy that you saw in 2010. I think there is a sense in both parties and you see it in the messaging that voters have a lot of concern about sort of whose side is government really on? Are they operating in an economy that's kind of a rigged game? You hear that from candidates on the right and candidates on the left.
BURNSAnd I do think that to sort of tie together the federal elections and the important governors' races that Reid mentioned, in a lot of these sort of debates and TV ads, there is sort of this overarching question of just is this country in a state of order and led by sort of competent people or are things sort of out of control right now? That when you see the issues that Republican Senate candidates are using against Democratic Senators, a lot of them are not necessarily conventional sort of clubs that the right uses to go after the left. It's just this president doesn't have his act together.
BURNSSame deal in the governors' races. It's not necessarily Sam Brownback has done these ideologically objectionable things in Kansas. It's just this guy doesn't have his act together.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to the phones and let our listeners join our conversation. We're going to go first to Carl. He's calling us from Phoenix, Ariz. Carl, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
CARLWell, thank you very much. I was speaking to the fellow before, why there's such a difference in what we used to remember. I'm 72 years old and life was quite a difference back as I grew up. And to prove a point, we are Carl and Mary Shelden S-H-E-L-D-E-N.
PAGEAll right, Carl. Thank you so much for your call. We're going to go to another call. We're going to go to Adam. He's calling us from McHenry, Illinois. Adam, are you there?
ADAMYeah, I there. Hi.
PAGEHi. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show." You're on the air.
ADAMThanks. So I just wanted to ask about the governor's race in Illinois. You were talking earlier about wave elections and elections where a candidate you wouldn't expect to win in a state that used to go the other way. And the last poll I saw had Bruce Rauner up above Pat Quinn by eight points. Pat Quinn, obviously a Democratic incumbent governor in a generally Democratic state. I just kind of wanted to see what you -- how you thought the race was going and things like that.
PAGEAnd Adam, who are you planning to vote for yourself?
ADAMBruce Rauner personally.
PAGEOkay. Thanks so much for your call. What do you guys think?
WILSONWell, I think he's probably going to be on the winning side in that election. Pat Quinn has -- he ascended to the governorship after Rod Blagojevich was convicted, resigned, went to jail. And Quinn has never been popular. He has always been not only sort of an outsider among his own party, but also just -- the guy has just never been popular in his state. He's had to make some really tough choices on tax increases and pension cuts and pension reforms that really make nobody happy in the short term, which is what you need when you're running for re-election.
WILSONQuinn -- the one thing Democrats will say about Pat Quinn is that he's a street fighter and that he will throw every possible punch at his opponent who's a wealthy venture capitalist named Bruce Rauner. The Democrats in Illinois are really trying to make Rauner into Mitt Romney, into Mr. 47 percent, Mr. corporations are people, you know, every possible thing. Rauner said something a few months ago about not believing in the minimum wage. That was a big deal and that's going to be a centerpiece of this platform.
WILSONBut the anger in Illinois does extend to Springfield. And, you know, just as Alex was saying earlier, the, you know, New York voters really can't stand the legislature in Albany. Well, Illinois voters really can't stand the legislature in Springfield. So Quinn is not favored and I think Rauner is likely to be the first Republican governor in Illinois since, oh gosh what, '98? Whenever -- anyway, whenever the last Republican won.
CENTERWe sent a reporter Emily Cahn to Illinois last month to go to the Illinois State Fair, which has these traditional Democrat Days and Republican Days. And basically Pat Quinn shows up now a Democrat but he doesn't really show up, you know. It just was a -- she described this incredible dance that all of the Democratic candidates in Illinois did around Pat Quinn just trying not to get pictured with him or not to stand too close to him, right. That is how toxic this guy is. Instead he does a banquet kind of at a nearby hotel and said it was like just the party faithful inside, right. That is how bad and, you know, we've seen polling from Dick Durbin's team that shows Quinn just absolutely tanking, especially outside of Cook County.
PAGEYou know, it's easy to hate politicians, right. Everybody -- I mean, the disapproval ratings for congress are at record levels. Alex, where's a race where a politician is really popular where voters really think, hey, here's somebody who's done a great job and I want to re-elect. Where is the exception to this rule? And maybe the others of you can also think about a place where here's somebody who's like the old days when people sometimes really admired their elected officials.
BURNSGod, it's a tough question but the one who springs to mind sort of strangely is Jerry Brown, the Governor of California.
BURNSYou know, a guy who has seen, you know, a lot of ups and downs in politics and who sort of came into office in 2011 with his state in a situation I think a lot of people viewed as almost ungovernable. And he has largely succeeded in the job, sort of taking a case for tax increases to the voters, sort of badgering the Democratic legislature into a state of somewhat greater order than it was prior to when he took office.
BURNSAnd it's sort of an interesting case study in somebody who he -- Jerry Brown, it's hard to call him a political outsider but for whatever reason, Californian's perceive him -- he's obviously a familiar person. In some ways he's a reassuring person. Yeah, his quirky, yeah, he's kind of a weirdo but he's quirky and a weirdo in a way that I think a lot of people in California are sort of quirky weirdoes and it works for him.
PAGENo offense to our listeners in California. Reid.
WILSONWell, so there -- Brown is one of three governors who are serving terms after taking some time off. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad are the other two. And in all three cases, these guys just understand the leverage of government. And I've talked to all three of them about this. They just get sort of how the system works now. And that's made them very popular. They're all going to win re-election this year.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the implications for President Obama from November's midterms. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're talking about last night's primaries in five states, the final primaries of the year, about the November midterm elections and about the implications for President Obama. With me in the studio, Shira Center from CQ Roll Call, Reid Wilson from The Washington Post and Alex Burns from Politico.
PAGEWell, you know, earlier in this hour, we discussed whether The Providence Journal describing the Democratic nominee for governor as pint-sized was sexist. Here's an email about that from Mark. Mark writes, "The comment that male candidates would not be referred to as pint-sized, I'd like to point out that Dennis Kucinich was called every size-based name out there, including, but not limited, to pint-sized."
WILSONThat's a fair point.
CENTERThat's a good point, yep.
PAGEThank you, Mark, for that. Well, let's talk about President Obama's impact on the elections first. You know, you've mentioned, Shira, that candidates were trying to stay away from the gubernatorial -- governor of Illinois because he was so toxic. You don't see a lot of Democrats in competitive races embracing President Obama. What kind of impact is President Obama having on these midterm elections, Alex?
BURNSYou know, I think Democrats would acknowledge -- I think the White House would acknowledge that, overall, the president is not playing a hugely helpful role for his party and setting the atmospherics for the election. It's a little different, I think, than Pat Quinn or some of the other governors who are dragging down their parties in that, you know, the president has a lot of control over sort of the national political environment.
BURNSIn individual states, that doesn't necessarily make him sort of inoperative as a political force, that I don't think you're gonna see him campaigning really hard in a place like Arkansas or a place like Alaska where they're not just Republican leaning states, they're states that essentially have a very small or virtually no sort of core Democratic constituency.
BURNSBut in a state like Louisiana, for example, or a state like Florida or North Carolina, yeah, these are states that may slightly favor Republicans this year. In Louisiana's case, favor Republicans strongly overall. But they are states with significant proportions of black voters, young voters, women who voted for the president in huge numbers in 2012 and who the party does have to mobilize.
BURNSSo whether it's President Obama or the First Lady or other members of his administration who will go into these states and try to rile up the Democratic base, I think the party is really mindful of what an important challenge that is and why it's significant that even in a lot of these conservative states, you don't see people like Mary Landrieu or Mark Pryor just disavowing the president from top to bottom. They're picking their points to break with him.
PAGEBut you do see Republicans acting as though President Obama was actually their opponent on the ballot. They talked -- you go to a state like Kentucky, what does Mitch McConnell talk about? Not Alison Grimes. He talks about Alison Grimes as being aligned with President Obama.
BURNSAnd that's the broader strategy that the two parties are pursuing right now. The Republicans want to make this a national election. They want to talk about healthcare. They want to talk about the economy. They want to talk about things like immigration and foreign policy in the context that this president is stumbling in a sense on how he's approaching some of the challenges that face him now.
BURNSDemocrats want to make this one on one -- want to make these elections all one on one. They want to make the election about Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes rather than about the sort of national atmosphere and who controls the Senate. They believe that if they're able to make this sort of one on one case that you, the voter, have a connection with the Democratic candidate that they're gonna be able to overcome what otherwise looks like really treacherous national terrain.
PAGEHistorically, Shira, how closely can you tie a president's approval rating to how his party does in a midterm election?
CENTERWell, let's look at the last two presidents as examples. I don't think we're necessarily at the George W. Bush 2006 reelection levels. We're close to it, but we're not quite there yet. I mean, he was just so toxic by the end of that second term, you did see kind of Pat Quinn-like dances going around the country trying to avoid him. I don't think we're there yet.
CENTERAnd I think that's in large part because of Obamacare and the president's signature healthcare legislation has become sort of, in some ways, a mixed bag in some of these states. But that aside for a second, I mean, you look at Clinton and what happened in his second term, right, it's one of the few examples Democrats like to cite of when they did okay in the president's second term, midterm election.
PAGEThey gained seats, although it was this weird year where the president had been impeached.
CENTERRight, very -- I know.
WILSONGo back to the beginning of modern polling and essentially a president's approval rating has to be north of about 60 percent to pick up any kind of seats in the midterm election.
PAGEOkay, he's not there. Obama's in the low 40s.
WILSONHe is at two-thirds of that level. When you get down to that level, you're talking about Bill Clinton in 1994. You're talking about George W. Bush in 2006. And at that point, we generally measure this by House seats and the House seats, you start talking about a party losing 20, 30, 40 seats, big, big numbers of seats. That's not gonna happen for Democrats this year simply because there aren't that many competitive House races, but certainly President Obama is no benefit to the Democratic Party.
WILSONTwo polls came out over the weekend showing in two critical Senate races, in Arkansas where Senator Mark Pryor's running for reelection and then, in Kentucky where Democrats hope they can knock off Senator Mitch McConnell, President Obama's approval rating is at 31 percent.
PAGEWhat about in the House, Alex? Do we expect any significant shifts in control of the House? Republicans now have control. Are they like to -- is there any chance they'll lose it? Is it possible they'll increase their hold?
BURNSI think it's almost impossible to imagine them losing control of the House. You really have to start getting into outlander sort of aliens land on the West coast kind of scenarios for that. But the big question is, will they pick up a couple seats or will they pick up more than just a token number of seats. And I do think it's clear -- my colleague Alex Eisenstadt reported last week that just Republicans across the spectrum of strategists and candidates are really sort of lowering their sights for what they think they can pick up this time around.
BURNSYeah, they're going to gain ground, but their candidate, their party committees and outside committees are actually at a considerable financial disadvantage in this election, which is a big change from 2010 and that much as we've seen in the Senate, while the atmospherics, the broad context for the election is favorable to Republicans, you don't have voters out with sort of pitchforks and tri-corner hats just determined to turn Democrats out of officer wherever they can find them.
BURNSWe're just -- we're in a good year for Republicans, but we're not in that good a year for Republican.
PAGEYou mentioned campaign spending. We have an email from Steve in Dallas who writes, "Is anyone tracking the spending in the various races for both parties? You mentioned that media spending in one area might lessen a particular candidates chance of winning. The point is, I'd love to see how much each party is spending in races across the country." So that being tracked anywhere?
WILSONIt is being tracked in many places. It is an astonishing amount of money. The person who is going to do the best in this election cycle no matter whether Democrats or Republicans win are the owners of local television stations who are just getting mammoth amounts of money, thanks to the flood -- not only the flood of outside groups, but the amazing amount of money that the candidates themselves are raising in state-level races, state legislature, gubernatorial races.
WILSONThe National Institute For Money In State Politics projected that we're gonna beat the record set in 2012 with $2.1 billion spent on those races alone. Don't count Congress or the battle for the Senate, which is gonna cost a few billion more, but, you know, in those two races or in those sort of state races, we're gonna get north of $2 billion. Add in ballot initiatives, which will be another billion dollars in spending. Add in races in North Carolina. We've already seen about $75 million in spending on television alone.
WILSONThat doesn't count the field operatives and the offices and the polling and all the consultants and all that stuff. You know, Kentucky's gonna cost $100 million in that Senate race. And the Florida governor's race is already north of $150 million. It's just an astonishing amount of money. It is not difficult to believe that the next president, whoever that may be, will have to raise between 1.5 and $2 billion to run for office.
PAGEAmazing. For Steve in Dallas, is there a website that is highly respected tracking political money?
WILSONThe Center For Responsive Politics, which is at opensecrets.org, National Institute For Money In State Politics and then, hey, you know, the FEC has recently redid their website and they've got a good website, too.
PAGESteve, thanks so much for your email. Let's talk to Paul. He's calling us from Orange Park, Florida. Paul, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAULOkay. I don't know whether to focus on the governor's race or on President Obama or both. As far as the governor in Florida, Rick Scott spent $73 million of his money to get elected and barely got elected in 2010. Charlie Crist was in office from 2002, 2006 and then he decided to run for U.S. Senate. Rick Scott is a -- he thinks he's the CEO of Florida, thinks he does not have to enact the will of the people, but rather his own will.
PAULHe's been ravaging funds for education and then denying it, starting projects like toll roads that the people don't want, et cetera, et cetera. Charlie Crist cares about the people of Florida. He is a Floridian.
PAGESo Paul, I'm guessing that you're a Crist voter, is that right?
PAULAbsolutely. I mean...
PAGEWell, that's interesting. Let me just pause you there and turn so we can talk a little about this important race in Florida. How does it look to you, Alex?
BURNSThis is a tough one to read because if you -- it sort of depends on how you hold the race up to the light, that if you look at the polls right now, Scott has clearly recovered some ground since the beginning of the year, that, you know, there was a scenario, if we were talking about this back in January where you could've imagined just the floor falling out from under Rick Scott and suddenly he ends up like Tom Corbett, the governor of Pennsylvania, whose down near 20, 30 points in polls.
BURNSThat has not happened for Scott. This is still a really close race. The reality is, though, Scott is somebody who, for all the money he has spent, his personal image has never really improved, that for folks like our caller, you know, Scott came into office with, you know, nothing resembling a mandate, viewed as really sort of a sketchy character, not a likeable person. He's actually fairly engaging one on one, but does not have a gift for mass politics.
BURNSAnd in Florida, that is a stock and trade of elections and that's what Charlie Crist is very good at.
WILSONThis race highlights, I think, the global nature of the U.S. economy. And I say that because when Charlie Crist was governor, he was a Republican and he pursued a relatively conservative sort of center right -- call it center right agenda. He then switched to independent. Now, he's a democrat. But the, you know, the state lost something like 800,000 jobs when he was governor. Rick Scott has made that a cornerstone of his campaign against Charlie Crist.
WILSONWell, hey, when this guy was governor, he lost a bunch of jobs. When I was governor, we gained a bunch of jobs. You know, honest to God, Charlie Crist and Rick Scott really didn't have a lot, individually, to do with the fact that the state gained or lost those jobs. It was all sort of on the back of the national, global recession that we went through that hit the entire country. So this is a race in which the two side -- neither candidate is gonna be terribly well liked and it just sort of proves that these governors aren't always to blame and don't always deserve the credit for the economy that happens in their state.
CENTEROh, I mean, I agree with my colleagues on this. But I do think the trajectory of Rick Scott is absolutely fascinating. And the caller kind of alluded to this. I think Alex and I worked together during his first bid and he came, essentially, out of nowhere to challenge a former congressman and a current attorney general who was just so mad that this guy could come in and spend $72 million and win the governor's seat. And that is a recipe for disaster after a first term. Given the position he is now, I mean, it's remarkable.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones. We'll talk to Paul. He's been really patient, holding on from Washington, D.C. Paul, thanks for hanging on.
PAULOh, good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to join the conversation. There's a House race out in California that I think encapsulates a lot of the issues that have been discussed here, you know. Traditionally, blue state in California with an incumbent Republican, David Valadao running in the central valley, a white male Republican running against a Latino female challenger from the Democrats in Amanda Renteria.
PAULI wondered what your panelists' thoughts are on that race and, you know, whether the executive action or lack of executive action by Obama would have an impact on that race.
PAGEInteresting. His action on immigration. Our panelists, so smart that they all know all about the House race you're mentioning. Shira, go ahead.
CENTERYeah, this is a listener after my heart, bringing up a random House race in California. So yes, this is, actually, a really interesting race that everyone thought would be really competitive by this time of year, really competitive. David Valadao, a Republican, recently came to Congress and he represents a district with a relatively large Latino population. And after he won last cycle, Republicans really held him up as the model of a Republican who could win in a state with a large Latino population.
CENTERAnd Democrats who recruited Amanda Renteria, she was a former Capitol Hill aide, I believe Senate aide, to run against him and the race just hasn't panned out. This is an example of the national mood taking over and it just hasn't panned out. But beyond that, Valadao has run a pretty good campaign. He's run a good race. But I think there are still lessons or Republicans would probably argue there are still lessons to take from Valadao's operation in terms of working with Hispanic voters in states where they make up a large percentage of the vote.
WILSONIt's also an example of how an issue that could've benefitted Democrats sort of fell through and didn't become national and that is the issue of immigration reform. You know, after 2012, we all thought -- the sort of conveying convention wisdom in D.C. was Republicans have to do something about immigration reform if they're gonna move forward as a party. And I was -- this is one of the districts where that could've played.
WILSONI was in Colorado a couple of weeks ago in a similar district where it could've played. And in both cases, the candidates, the strategists, the party types will tell you that the only people who are talking about immigration reform comprehensively rather than securing the border in the wake of the crisis that we've seen over the last few months are reporters. The actual average voter is not thinking about comprehensive immigration reform. That hurts Democrats in some of these states.
PAGEWe usually have elections that turn on domestic and economic issues in particular. Now, we have the president giving a speech tonight to the nation, talking about the threat from ISIS and what his administration will do about it. This morning, Scott Brown, the New Hampshire Senate candidate we already talked about this morning, warned in an interview on Fox News that ISIS may already be crossing over our unsecure border in the South. Is this an issue, Alex, that is likely to affect these elections?
BURNSYou know, I don't know how many people are going to go to the polls and say, I'm going to vote for Congressman Cassidy instead of Senator Landrieu because I don't like the way she has addressed this whole situation in Syria. I think that most voters are much more focused on close to home. But you do see in polls, this was a fascinating result in the USA Today poll recently that voters who have, for years now, had this tendency, this really stubborn tendency to sort of plug their ears and say, la-la-la when they see conflicts abroad are starting to move in a direction where they are genuinely concerned about what's going on overseas.
BURNSIt's not necessarily I'm so concerned, let's deploy the U.S. military, but it is this sense that, you know, the U.S. has retreated a bit from the world and it doesn't seem like good stuff has rushed in to fill the vacuum.
WILSONIt's a matter of uncertainty. I think that has been the prevailing attitude of voters for the -- anger and uncertainty have been the prevailing attitude of voters for the last six or seven years, whether it is the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world, whether it is the immigration crisis that has suddenly come to our borders, whether it's -- I mean, something like the ebola outbreak in West Africa, there is just this growing uncertainty layered onto economic uncertainty that has perpetuated through the Great Recession. So it throws a variable into an election that could go wrong for either party.
PAGEI hope our listeners will tune for tomorrow's "Diane Rehm Show." We'll be doing an hour about the president's speech, about what he says, about the reaction that he gets. Well, I want to thank our panel for joining us. Reid Wilson, Shira Center, Alex Burns, thanks so much for being with us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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