Guest Host: Susan Page

New Hampshire senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) (L) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) testify before the Judiciary Committee on January 27 in Washington, DC. Ayotte's Senate seat is considered to be one of the GOP's most at-risk in the upcoming election.

New Hampshire senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) (L) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) testify before the Judiciary Committee on January 27 in Washington, DC. Ayotte's Senate seat is considered to be one of the GOP's most at-risk in the upcoming election.

When it comes to political coverage, the contest for president is sucking up the most air time. But this year could be a big one for down ballot races, particularly the Senate, where Republicans have the majority but are at risk of losing it. Susan Page and her guests discuss close Senate races, and the impact Donald Trump could have.


  • Stuart Rothenberg Founding editor of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report; and contributor to Roll Call
  • Josh Kraushaar Political editor, National Journal


  • 10:24:24

    MS. SUSAN PAGENow we're joined by the very patient Stuart Rothenberg, founding editor of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report. And here for the first time on "The Diane Rehm Show," Josh Kraushaar, political editor at National Journal. Thank you both for being with us.

  • 10:24:37

    MR. JOSH KRAUSHAARGood to be here, Susan.

  • 10:24:38

    MR. STUART ROTHENBERGOur pleasure.

  • 10:24:38

    PAGELet's talk about these Senate races. You know, you look at the headlines, it's all about the presidential race, Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. But this could also be a year that's important for down ballot races, especially for the Senate. Stu Rothenberg, you start us off. What's the -- what do you expect to happen? Tell us about the landscape for the Senate races that we're going to see.

  • 10:25:00

    ROTHENBERGWell, Susan, there are 24 Republican Senate seats up this year and only 10 Democratic Senate seats. This is Senate class of 2010. That means these senators were elected or in some cases reelected almost six years ago in a very difficult Democratic environment -- Barack Obama's first mid-term election. Voters were unhappy with how far and how fast then a basically newly-elected president had changed the country. And we had cash for clunkers, a $787 billion stimulus package and the like. And they sent a message to the president, that he had gone too far too fast, by electing Republicans.

  • 10:25:37

    ROTHENBERGAnd so now this class comes up, not in a mid-term election but in a presidential year and a very different presidential environment than we've seen in a long time, maybe ever. And it's created -- it creates difficulty. When the cycle began -- and Josh may have a different view, of course, I'll be interested to hear what he says -- but when the cycle began, I think we all looked at the numbers and we realized Democrats need four or five Senate seats to win a majority and we said, it's going to be a tough year for the Republicans. There are many competitive states and Democratic-leaning states where they have senators up.

  • 10:26:10

    ROTHENBERGNow, fast-forward another -- a year, Donald Trump, a divided party, that enhances the Republicans problems, I think.

  • 10:26:17

    PAGEWe're going to invite our listeners to join our conversation. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850 is our toll-free number. You can send us an email to, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Josh, I know that you wrote in National Journal that Senate Republicans face very few good choices when it comes to talking about Donald Trump. What did you mean?

  • 10:26:39

    KRAUSHAARWell, it's fascinating because Trump has a unique constituency that doesn't fall under the traditional liberal conservative axis. You have a lot of self-described moderate Republicans, according to exit polls in the presidential primaries, that supported Donald Trump in very large numbers. He actually carried moderates in the state of Wisconsin, where Senator Ron Johnson is up for reelection. So usually, if you are a blue state Republican, if you're a Republican senator in a state that President Obama carried, your traditional instinct, if you're facing a conservative or a less-electable candidate at the top of the ticket, is to distance yourself from that person.

  • 10:27:12

    KRAUSHAARBut they're also dependent on many of these same so-called populist, moderate Republicans that supported Donald Trump in large numbers. So they can't afford to totally throw Donald Trump under the bus, as they prepare for their own reelections. But they also can't alienate the suburban women, the moderate elite Republicans who look at him very, very negatively. So it's really a Catch 22. Republicans can't -- and you're seeing this, too, from a lot of the Republican senators on the ballot. They're saying that they can support the Republican nominee, they can support Donald Trump, but they're not endorsing him.

  • 10:27:45

    PAGEWell, and yeah, I've got to say, this is a distinction I don't understand. I'm going to support the nominee -- let me not say his name, they do, they say -- but I'm not endorsing Donald Trump. I'm going to vote for him but I'm not endorsing him. Is this a distinction that means anything to a voter?

  • 10:27:59

    KRAUSHAARI don't think so. I think, especially with someone as polarizing as Donald Trump is, this sort of half step that many Republicans are taking is a distinction without a difference. And this is the challenge that Republican senators face. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is advising Senate campaigns on how to run these races, are telling them to localize their races. Focus on the issues in New Hampshire or the issues in Ohio or the issues in their home states or districts.

  • 10:28:26

    KRAUSHAARBut the problem is, we're in a very nationalized political environment. Every question reporters, both local and national, are going to be asking these candidates, would you agree with Donald Trump on this controversial comment or some other issue that came up on the presidential campaign? It's going to be hard for these candidates to distance themselves.

  • 10:28:41

    ROTHENBERGYeah, I think that's -- the second point Josh made there -- is exactly right. It's not just the one question, do you support your party's nominee? It's each and every day. Kelly Ayotte -- Senator Ayotte in New Hampshire, Donald Trump said XYZ, do you agree or disagree? And every Republican Senate candidate, every Republican House candidate is going to face -- be faced with this on a daily basis on different issues, because, you know, Susan, Donald Trump will have many opinions and he will be happy to express them. And that will put Republican candidates for the House and the Senate and any office -- any office, councilman, I don't know, city council, in that -- in an awkward position of having to agree or disagree.

  • 10:29:20

    PAGEYou mentioned Senator Kelly Ayotte. We have a lot of listeners in New Hampshire, our big New Hampshire public radio station. We're so glad they carry "The Diane Rehm Show." So when Kelly Ayotte gets a question like, do you agree with this latest provocative statement by Donald Trump? What's the smart thing for her to say?

  • 10:29:36

    ROTHENBERGWell, it depends on the question and it depends whether she has an answer that allows her to answer without answering. Because Josh is exactly right, she's between a rock and a hard place. She's damned if she does and damned if she doesn't agree with him, because she'll alienate a part of what I gather we could call the Republican coalition. So the best answer is to probably say -- I don't know if this is the best answer, but this is what she'll say -- she's say, look, I'm running my own race. Donald Trump can run his race on national issues. I'm running on what I've accomplished over the last six years, what I believe, where the country and the state of New Hampshire need to go. Let's focus on that.

  • 10:30:10

    ROTHENBERGShe will say that. And then the reporter -- someone like you, Susan -- will ask a follow-up question saying, yes, but what -- do you agree with Donald Trump? So that's the situation that Kelly Ayotte will be in.

  • 10:30:20

    PAGEGo ahead, Josh.

  • 10:30:21

    KRAUSHAARSo the big difference between this election and past elections where you had a Republican or Democratic presidential candidate running far behind, is that Donald Trump has become a litmus test of character. It's not just an ideological issue, it's a character issue. And there's some Republicans that, when they look at their senator as supporting Donald Trump -- even though it's a minority of Republicans -- they'll really view them with a certain negative -- view them in a different fashion than they did beforehand.

  • 10:30:44

    KRAUSHAARAnd the Republican -- it's interesting, the Republican voters are much more united than the Republican elites in Washington in how they view Donald Trump. But if -- even if Republicans lose 15 to 20 percent of their base, of the supporters that usually vote for Republican Senate candidates, if they don't show up at the polls in November, it can make a decisive difference in these close Senate races.

  • 10:31:02

    PAGEYou know, there -- you've listed, Josh, six of the most Senate seats. They're in Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio and the open seat in Florida. Does Donald Trump do the Republican Senate candidate any good in any of those states?

  • 10:31:18

    KRAUSHAARAt best, it's a wash. And, you know, as Stu was saying, the Senate was in play regardless. Republicans could have lost four seats and lost control of the majority. And that was very doable given the math that they face going into this election year. But what -- there are about six Senate seats that we looked at as toss-up, very competitive races that Republicans currently hold. What Donald Trump does is put about another six seats in red states, in more conservative states.

  • 10:31:44

    PAGESo tell us what those states that become competitive because Donald Trump is likely to be head of the ticket?

  • 10:31:50

    KRAUSHAARSo I would look very closely at John McCain's reelection in Arizona. It's a state with a large Hispanic population. We're seeing evidence of non-registered Latino voters that are showing up and trying to get registered and participate in the November election. It's a state that's always been at the sort of edges of competitiveness in presidential campaigns.

  • 10:32:09

    KRAUSHAARIowa is another state that's gotten on the map, Chuck Grassley's reelection. He's a senator who never really has had to worry about his own reelection because he's so well liked back home. But when you have this nationalized environment and when you have, you know, a race where national issues are going to predominate over local ones, Chuck Grassley may have to worry about a challenge from a respected Democratic opponent for the first time.

  • 10:32:30

    PAGEYou know, that -- go ahead, Stu.

  • 10:32:31

    ROTHENBERGLet me just add North Carolina, which I guess wasn't on the original list and I agree shouldn't -- is not in the top six. This is a case where Richard Burr, under normal circumstances, would be reelected, I think, relatively comfortably against Deborah Ross. But in a race like this, this is a -- this is -- North Carolina was Barack Obama's -- I'm sorry -- Mitt Romney's closest win, narrowest win in 2012, a couple of percentage points. So I think that state could come into play as well.

  • 10:32:59

    PAGEYou know, another, Missouri is one that we didn't think was going to be so competitive. It's possible Roy Blunt could face a more serious challenge than we thought.

  • 10:33:05

    ROTHENBERGSure. Jason Kander is a state-wide elected official. Yeah, you'd have to watch the race.

  • 10:33:10

    PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email at Here's a comment from a listener, Stacy, on Twitter. She writes, as a Republican voter without a home in the GOP, I know there is a difference between support and endorsement. So she has a different view than the one I expressed there. You know, Josh, it's amazing to me that we could talk about such senior figures as John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Foreign -- Armed Services Committee or Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and say, these are people who could lose in November.

  • 10:33:52

    KRAUSHAARAll politics is no longer local, Tip O'Neill would be disappointed to hear. And, you know, we've seen a trend in the last 10 years that there have been much fewer voters that split their tickets from the presidential race, down to the Senate and House races. The big question to me in 2016 is, is Donald Trump unique enough of a political figure that people will distinguish between his Republican Party and the Republican Party of the Senate candidates and the House candidates that want to keep some distance from him.

  • 10:34:20

    KRAUSHAARIn the last 8, 10 years, we -- more and more people -- in the polarized country that we live in, more and more people identify with one party or another and are less likely to split their tickets as they did, for example, in the 1996 presidential election where Bob Dole lost badly but Republicans kept healthy majorities in both the House and the Senate.

  • 10:34:37


  • 10:34:37

    ROTHENBERGI just wanted to add, I think this -- I think, for fairness, we need to make the case -- whether we believe it or not -- we need to make the case that the Republicans have the ability to overcome a Trump at the top of the ticket. And the one thing I would say is, yes, Republican candidates will talk about localizing, and I'm not Donald Trump, I'm Kelly Ayotte or Rob Portman or whatever. But most wave elections, where one party suffers huge losses -- particularly in the House but also in the Senate -- occur in mid-term election, not in presidential years. Yes, the Goldwater and McGovern elections were wave elections where the one party got slaughtered.

  • 10:35:16

    ROTHENBERGBut in presidential years, voters -- let's take a state like New Hampshire, they have two votes. They have a vote for president and then they have a vote for the U.S. Senate. And they also have votes for Congress. In a mid-term election you don't have that, right? You just have one vote, your Senate vote or your Congressional vote. So that, Heidi Heitkamp, a few years ago, in the last presidential election, was able to win -- the Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, even though Mitt Romney was getting killed in her -- was killing Barack Obama in North Dakota. Heidi Heitkamp won because voters in North Dakota knew her. They had one vote for the Senate race and one vote for president.

  • 10:35:51

    ROTHENBERGSo, but, of course, that's easier in small states, where an individual member can know everybody in the state. It's hard to do that, if you're Pat Toomey, to meet everybody in Pennsylvania, or Ron Johnson. So I think it's going to be difficult for Republicans but maybe not impossible.

  • 10:36:05

    PAGEYou know, you're saying it's possible that Republicans might be able to overcome the disadvantage of term. Is it possible Donald Trump does -- is -- does not lose? I mean, the assumption here is that not only will Donald Trump lose to Hillary Clinton, but he'll lose in a big enough way to affect these down ballot Senate races. Are you sure that's going to happen, Josh?

  • 10:36:22

    KRAUSHAARWell, look, I'm not as convinced as some that this is going to be a landslide election. I do think that Trump has a ceiling, a pretty hard ceiling and it makes it very difficult for him to get to 50 percent of the vote. But I could see the map resembling the 2012 map, or more likely the 2008 map, where you have a very polarized country. Republicans get behind Trump, Democrats get behind Hillary Clinton, and Independents just stay home and Clinton is able to rely on the Democratic Party's demographic advantages to pull out a fairly narrow victory. But if it's a, you know, if it's a six or seven point race, like we saw in 2008, it's more likely that we won't see a wave election but we'll see more of the traditional down ballot patterns.

  • 10:36:59

    PAGEDo you think, Stu, it's a given that there's going to be a big defeat for Donald Trump?

  • 10:37:03

    ROTHENBERGWell, I have a column up this morning on roll call that argues that Hillary begins with a -- Secretary Clinton begins with a decisive advantage. No, I don't expect a blowout but she has the edge to start.

  • 10:37:13

    PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to go to the phones and take some of your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email, Do you have a Senate race in your state? We'd like to hear about it. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:01

    PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, Josh Kraushaar from -- political editor at National Journal, and Stuart Rothenberg, founding editor of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report. He's also a contributor to Roll Call. You know, we talked about some of these vulnerable Republican Senate seats. What about vulnerable Democratic Senate seats? Are some of those in play, do you think, Josh?

  • 10:40:26

    KRAUSHAARThere are really only two potential targets. That's Harry Reid's open Senate seat in Nevada and also the Colorado Senate seat held by Michael Bennett, but the challenge for Republicans, not only are they facing a tough environment nationally, but these two states have large Hispanic populations. So if you're looking at the states where Republican might over-perform or do better than we currently expect, it would probably be in the Midwest or in states with more homogenous populations.

  • 10:40:54

    KRAUSHAARYou would expect, with Trump as the nominee, higher than usual Hispanic turnout, and that bodes well for Democrats in both Nevada and Colorado.

  • 10:41:02

    PAGEAny other Democratic states you might put on that list, Stu?

  • 10:41:06

    ROTHENBERGNo, and even Colorado is more of a scenario that may develop. The Republican -- that race is -- against Michael Bennett isn't there. No, you know, the real race that the Republicans hope to win is in Nevada. They've got a good candidate. They've got a congressman against a former statewide Democratic officeholder. It's a tough race.

  • 10:41:27

    PAGEYou know, we had a tweet from Stacey, who said she can see the difference between supporting someone and endorsing someone. Here's an email from Jake, who writes, please do not perpetuate or confirm the petty parsing of the insignificant difference between supporting and endorsing. That is a political cop-out that you allow politicians as the media. It means nothing to a normal voting American. So there's another view.

  • 10:41:51

    ROTHENBERGLet's go to Maine, we're so glad that Maine, as of this week, is taking the Diane Rehm Show live at 10:00, and talk to Steve. Steven, hi, you're on the air.

  • 10:41:59

    STEVEHi, yeah, thanks for taking the call. Yeah, I think Maine is maybe a bellwether, I believe. The governor of the state of Maine won two terms, and everything that we're talking about today on the show and hearing about Trump is -- and I'm not a supporter of Trump, is the same talk that the experts and pundits said, that there's no way that even the established main GOP in the beginning, in his first term, said there's no way this person could be a candidate, LePage. He won.

  • 10:42:32

    STEVEThe second time he ran, he ran against a very popular independent, well-known candidate who ran the first time but gained momentum, almost beating -- doing well the first time. But he was also running against a very popular, long-time congressman in the state of Maine, Mike Michaud, yet both the independent and Mike Michaud, the Democrat candidate, didn't get enough votes, but even if you added both their votes, Governor LePage still would've won.

  • 10:43:05

    STEVESo my point is we may all be waking up after the election, and all the pundits, which have not got any of this right and haven't, you know, Trump was going to, you know, be out a long time ago because people are -- the people that are supporting and are hearing him, it's resonating because they see no other choice. They've heard it from both sides of the aisle that we're going to make life better for you, and it hasn't, and...

  • 10:43:32

    PAGESteve, that's such an interesting point. I certainly take your point that the pundits have been wrong about Donald Trump time and time again. You know, some of his Republican rivals, I think, were -- also underestimated his appeal. What about the point let me ask our panel about Governor LePage, is that a kind of model that we could see happening, Josh?

  • 10:43:51

    KRAUSHAARWell, Governor LePage is a pretty good parallel for Donald Trump, but the big difference between the Maine gubernatorial elections and this presidential race is that in Maine, the divide was on the Democratic Party. Right now we're seeing the divide on the Republican Party. So what happened in the two elections that Paul LePage competed in was you had an independent candidate who was nominally a Democrat that essentially split the Democratic vote, allowing LePage to win with a plurality of the vote.

  • 10:44:13

    KRAUSHAARSo -- and I'm not sure, I think -- but I believe you added the Democratic and independent vote up in the last election, they would've won pretty comfortably over LePage, but LePage benefitted from a divide in the Democratic Party in Maine. Right now in this country we're seeing a divide in the Republican Party. It's the prospect of the Republicans looking to find perhaps a third-party candidate to run against Donald Trump. So the problem is the divisions are all within the Republican side of the aisle, and that's going to only benefit to Hillary Clinton's advantage.

  • 10:44:38


  • 10:44:40

    ROTHENBERGA second point. First of all, Josh is completely right. I should say hi to Steve in Maine. I went to college in Maine. I love Maine. Josh is completely right. There's another point, though. Paul LePage was elected -- Maine holds its gubernatorial elections during midterm elections. That's a different electorate, different kinds of people turn out, and midterm elections tend to be referenda on a sitting president. And the people who come out are the people who are unhappy and grumpy and dissatisfied, and they vote in a midterm election. So I wouldn't compare a presidential cycle with a midterm cycle, and I agree that Paul LePage was a shocker. Steve, you're absolutely right. We didn't expect it, but it was a different dynamic than this race. It's not a three-way race (unintelligible)

  • 10:45:17

    PAGENow I've heard some speculation that Governor LePage would like to run for the Senate against Angus King. That wouldn't be in this cycle, it would be in a future cycle. Have you heard that, Josh?

  • 10:45:23

    KRAUSHAARI have heard that rumor. It would be a fascinating race to cover. LePage is sort of Donald Trump at the gubernatorial level, and he is known for making all kinds of controversial statements and driving his legislature crazy, so...

  • 10:45:35

    ROTHENBERGI think he's endorsed him, hasn't he, Josh?

  • 10:45:36

    KRAUSHAARYeah, we he was a Christie supporter who said he was going to -- it was quoted in a New York Times story, saying he was going to work against Donald Trump, and then a week later he decided to endorse Donald Trump. So he's a very...

  • 10:45:46

    ROTHENBERGThat's Paul LePage for you.

  • 10:45:47

    KRAUSHAARImpulsive, just like Donald Trump, he has a lot of similar personality traits.

  • 10:45:51

    PAGESteve, thanks so much for your call. Let's go to St. Louis and talk to Rachel. Rachel, thanks for holding on.

  • 10:45:57

    RACHELHi, thank you for taking my call. I just had a question, especially after one of your guests commenting on, you know, the third-party kind of pulling votes from the Republican side. I mean, what about -- what about the Libertarian Party, who can pull from, you know, both the Democratic side because of their socially liberal policies and then the conservative side because they are fiscally conservative? Do you think that there is a potential for a Libertarian candidate to have a real presence in this election?

  • 10:46:27

    PAGEAll right, Rachel, thanks so much for your call. Stu, what do you think?

  • 10:46:30

    ROTHENBERGNope. Look, Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico Republican governor, ran last time as a Libertarian, is running again. He may get more votes than any Libertarian has because he's a name on the ballot, he's acceptable to some Republicans that now view him as a vehicle for expressing frustration, dissatisfaction with Donald Trump. So yeah, I think he might boost his percentage from one percent to -- what do you think, Josh, one and a half, two percent, maybe? That would be a big, big move.

  • 10:46:58

    KRAUSHAARMaybe three percent. I mean, the one story that's sort of been underplayed is that Trump is solidifying support among Republican voters, not Republican leaders but Republican voters. So the avenue for a Libertarian Republican to pick off a significant share of Republicans is not very high.

  • 10:47:16

    PAGEYou know, you say that, and yet there was a -- Gary Johnson and the Libertarians aren't usually included in national polls. Monmouth University poll did include him on one, just to see what would happen. I think on a national poll, he got something like 11 percent.

  • 10:47:26

    ROTHENBERGYeah, yeah. Well that's -- I think I have an explanation for that, at least I'll offer it. If you ask people, a presidential ballot with three names, Trump, Clinton and Gary Johnson, a whole bunch of people are going to pick Gary Johnson because they see those two other names, and they find both -- either or both unacceptable. So I think that's an artificial situation. And look, if you look at the history of third-party candidates early on, whether it's a New Jersey governor's race or presidential politics, the numbers start out high, and as we approach November, say gee, I don't want to throw away my vote, and they pick one of the two major-party nominees.

  • 10:48:03

    PAGERachel, thanks very much for your call. Let's talk about the House. You know, there was early on no discussion about Republican control of the House being threatened. Should we be thinking about that now, Josh?

  • 10:48:15

    KRAUSHAARI think you've got to pay attention to it, and I think Paul Ryan's decision not to endorse Donald Trump right away is a signal that he's trying to provide at least some political cover for his more vulnerable members. When you look at the House map, it's still more likely than not, with Trump at the top of the ticket, that the Republicans can maintain their very sizable majority. I believe it's the largest House majority they've had since 1928. So it's a pretty comfortable margin that they're working with.

  • 10:48:40

    KRAUSHAARBut when you look at the vulnerable races, many of them are in suburban, affluent districts, the type of districts that Donald Trump is not viewed as favorably in as compared to the more rural or working-class districts. So there is a lot of exposure that Republicans face, and if this is a true wave election, if this is a, you know, a 10-point type victory for the Democrats, I absolutely think it could be -- the potential is there for a flip, though I think the odds right now may be 20, 25 percent.

  • 10:49:07

    PAGEYou know, you look at these districts, and most of them are designed to favor one party or the other by such large margin that it's hard to imagine them flipping. Do you think it could flip, to Stu?

  • 10:49:17

    ROTHENBERGWell, I like the way Josh put it. I start thinking about it. I -- look, it's not there. I wouldn't say the Democrats are likely to flip the House. I don't think they're close to likely, but I wouldn't dismiss it anymore. Look, the Democrats right off the top have a good chance, Susan, of netting, I would say, 10, 12, 15 seats. After that it gets harder and harder, and you start having to tick -- pick up in more difficult territory.

  • 10:49:40

    ROTHENBERGSo if you -- if somebody told me that the Democrats gained 20 House seats in November, I wouldn't be shocked by that. Thirty it gets -- that's a pretty tough task. But I'd keep an eye on it. I think Josh is exactly right.

  • 10:49:51

    KRAUSHAARThere are two seats, and both of the in Minneapolis-St. Paul area, two House districts that are nominally Republican seats, they've been held by Republicans for a long time, that could be in play, and if they are in play, that could be a really big signal for Democrats having a chance to retake the House. Those are the seats of Erik Paulsen in the St. Paul and also the retiring -- the seat of the retiring Congressman John Kline. These are Republican-leaning seats. The Democrats have managed to get decent candidates in these races. If these flip, it's a very good signal for Democrats.

  • 10:50:19

    PAGEHey, let's talk about another House seat in Wisconsin, and that would be the House seat held by Paul Ryan. You know, he has now gotten headlines for refusing to endorse or support Donald Trump, at least so far, the highest-ranking Republican in American politics today. He faces a primary on August 9. Is this a test for him?

  • 10:50:37

    KRAUSHAARIt's a test. I don't think it's a very tough test. Paul Ryan's favorability ratings in his home district are still very high. In the Wisconsin presidential primary, Ted Cruz defeated Donald Trump by about 20 points. So there's not a whole significant Trump groundswell even among Republicans in Paul Ryan's district.

  • 10:50:55

    KRAUSHAARBut, you know, look, Sarah Palin -- I don't think her endorsement means a whole lot politically, but it could mean that money will be going into the campaign of his challenger. And, you know, if there is a real division within the Republican Party, I don't think Paul Ryan can totally take his primary race for granted.

  • 10:51:12

    PAGEDo you agree with that, Stu?

  • 10:51:13

    ROTHENBERGYeah, I agree. I mean, I think -- it's funny. It's funny to say the speaker of the House is not a Washington figure, and of course he is, but he also oozes, what is it, Janestown, Wisconsin. He's a local boy made good, and he's just a personable, likeable guy, and I think he's worked hard among his constituents.

  • 10:51:32

    PAGEYou know, we've been discussing whether there's a difference between supporting and endorsing. Here's one more email. This one is from Michael in Miami, who writes, I take endorsement to mean I'm voting for this candidate, and I believe everyone else should follow my lead. Support, on the other hand, says I'm voting for this candidate, but I believe others should make their own decisions. And Michael, I would say you should consider a career in politics because that's a distinction that makes more sense than most of these Senate candidates have managed to muster so far. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show.

  • 10:52:04

    PAGEWe're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. You know, one of the reach Senate elections that you talked about, one that we didn't think was going to be competitive but might be now, is in Iowa. Senator Grassley faces another issue beyond Donald Trump, and that is the decision by Republicans not to hold hearings on Merrick Garland as President Obama's Supreme Court nominee. Is that having any effect on his race?

  • 10:52:30

    KRAUSHAARDemocrats hope so. They've been airing Web ads and in some cases paid ads trying to remind voters that the Republicans are being obstructionists in this instance. But it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot of energy behind the nomination, in fact. You know, it's similar to the issue of gun control, where you look at polls that show wide support for some types of background checks, but when it comes down to really feeling passionate about it, all the energy is on the right, it's on the opposition of that issue.

  • 10:52:57

    KRAUSHAARAnd it seems like there's widespread support for Merrick Garland to be confirmed in the public polling, but there's just not a whole lot of energy on the Democratic side, and I think that's hard to manufacture, even with paid advertising in these key Senate races.

  • 10:53:09

    PAGEHere's a question that's been the subject of speculation, not necessarily informed speculation but speculation, that if it looks like Donald Trump is going to lose, definitely lose in November or he does lose, will Senate Republicans then want to actually confirm Merrick Garland on the theory that Hillary Clinton will nominate someone much more liberal for the court if and when she wins?

  • 10:53:31

    ROTHENBERGFirst of all, it's Janesville, Wisconsin, not Janestown, Janesville. Second of all, I just saw Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona talk about this, indicating that yes, he thinks the party would reassess in a lame duck, and I think it would change the entire dynamic, and Republicans would look at the nomination very differently. So yeah, I think it would have an impact, Susan.

  • 10:53:48

    PAGEDo you think -- what do you think, Josh?

  • 10:53:49

    KRAUSHAARWell, it does show how little confidence they have that Donald Trump is going to win the presidential election because they're already beginning to hedge their bets as Jeff -- you know, Stu's comment about Jeff Flake and other Republican senators have followed suit, that they've telegraphed how they're going to handle it if they don't win this presidential election.

  • 10:54:03

    PAGEThis is one of the things we saw happen in 1996, when Bob Dole had been nominated. The party was, you know, reasonably united behind him, but when it was clear he was going to lose to Bill Clinton, the Republican-controlled Congress fled Dole's side and started passing -- making compromises with Bill Clinton that helped him make the argument that he should be re-elected.

  • 10:54:21

    ROTHENBERGYeah, I remember distinctly the National Republican Congressional Committee telling candidates, distance yourself from the presidential race, focus on your own races. And yeah, you can see Republican members looking for ways to get some things done that they had resisted when they hoped to take over the presidency.

  • 10:54:40

    PAGEHere's an email from Jeff, who writes us from Cleveland Heights. He says, during the Kentucky Derby, I saw my first ad attacking Senator Rob Portman. Curious what your guests think of his chances against Ted Strickland. Now Rob Portman is a Republican not really in the mold of Donald Trump. How much could his re-election race be affected by Trump?

  • 10:54:59

    KRAUSHAARVery much so because Rob Portman is your classic, Chamber of Commerce, elite Republican, served as, what was it, trade official -- U.S. trade rep in the Bush administration. He is about, you know, antithetical to Trump as you could possibly get. But he's going to have to run on the same ticket with Donald Trump, and he said he's going to vote for Donald Trump in the last week.

  • 10:55:21

    KRAUSHAAROhio has a lot of populist Republican, working-class voters. He also -- they also have a lot of suburban voters. And Rob Portman is going to have to kind of thread that needle very carefully as he's running against a very well-liked former governor, Ted Strickland, who lost in 2010, but that was a tough year for Democrats. This is going to be a much, much more productive year for Democrats.

  • 10:55:39

    PAGEAnn has called us from Bar Harbor, Maine, and she says that she's concerned that if people are convinced that Trump cannot win, it may suppress Democrats and independent voter turnouts and hand Trump the victory. What do you think? Should Ann be worried about this, Stu?

  • 10:55:53

    ROTHENBERGWell, everybody should be worried about everything. So, you know, sure Ann, you might as well worry about that, too. But the reality is Donald Trump is such a controversial figure, and the Democrats will spend so much money in paid advertising and getting earned media in warning about Donald Trump that I think the Democratic turnout's going to be quite good. Look, former Secretary Clinton still needs to work on younger voters, 18- to 29-year-olds who have not warmed with her. But in terms of African-Americans, liberal voters, I think they'll be there.

  • 10:56:20

    ROTHENBERGSo is it -- is turnout important, and do the parties have to pay attention? Sure, of course.

  • 10:56:28

    PAGEJoshua, we're almost out of time. Will this be a high-turnout election, do you think, or a low-turnout election?

  • 10:56:32

    KRAUSHAARI suspect it will be more of a high-turnout election, even though both candidates start this race with high negatives. The one thing Trump gives to Democrats is he's a one-man turnout machine for the opposition. I mean, I don't know if they would, you know, have a lot of elements of the Obama coalition, the base Democratic voters that were not enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, Trump gives them reason to show up in November.

  • 10:56:51

    PAGEJosh Kraushaar, political editor at National Journal, Stuart Rothenberg from the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, thanks so much for joining us this hour on the Diane Rehm Show.

  • 10:56:59

    KRAUSHAARThank you, Susan.

  • 10:57:01

    ROTHENBERGThanks, Susan.

  • 10:57:01

    PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.

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