Katie McGinty (L) is running against incumbent Senator Pat Toomey (R) in Pennsylvania.

Katie McGinty (L) is running against incumbent Senator Pat Toomey (R) in Pennsylvania.

With the nation’s eyes glued to the presidential election, congressional races have stayed largely out of the spotlight. But their outcomes are significant. The Republican-controlled congress may be headed for a shake-up; in states like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Ohio, Republican incumbents elected in 2010 are looking for second terms. But latest polls for states with key contests signal a possible Democratic majority in the Senate next year. As we close in on the final weeks of campaigning, a look at Senate and House elections: the GOP fight to keep control of Congress, how the presidential election affects down-ballot races and what the results could mean for America in 2017.


  • Nathan Gonzales Editor and publisher, The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report
  • Seung Min Kim Assistant editor covering Congress, Politico
  • Charlie Cook Columnist, National Journal; editor and publisher, "The Cook Political Report"


  • 10:06:54

    MR. JOHN DONVANThanks for joining us. I'm John Donvan, moderator of the Intelligence Squared US Debate, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Pennsylvania, Arizona, Indiana, Florida, just a few of the key states to watch as we head into the other 2016 races, the ones for the Senate and the House with control of Congress at stake. And whoever wins at the top of the ballot, whether it's Trump or Clinton, is going to have to have that Congress either as an ally or as a thorn in the side for the next four years so down ballot matters a lot.

  • 10:07:27

    MR. JOHN DONVANAnd here with me to talk about these congressional elections and what is at stake, Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report. Welcome, Nathan.

  • 10:07:34

    MR. NATHAN GONZALESGood to be here.

  • 10:07:35

    DONVANAnd Seung Min Kim of Politico joining us also here in the studio.

  • 10:07:39

    MS. SEUNG MIN KIMThanks for having me.

  • 10:07:40

    DONVANAnd joining us by phone from Harpswell, Maine, Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report. Hi, Charlie.

  • 10:07:45

    MR. CHARLIE COOKGood morning.

  • 10:07:46

    DONVANGood morning. Thanks for joining us. Seung Min, these down ballot races, in the sense they are -- they're not quite the invisible election, but they're the one that people aren't talking about quite a bit. And I know you believe they're critical. I believe they're critical and we're going to make the case that they matter and that they merit attention, interest, enthusiasm and fervor. So first tell us, what's at stake?

  • 10:08:09

    KIMSo the -- what's at stake right now, definitely is control of the Senate. We knew going in this year, regardless of who may be at the top of the ticket for either party, the battle for the Senate was going to be a big fight. You had Republicans currently hold the Senate majority. They had 54 seats. Democrats have 46. However, they're going into this year with what we call a very challenging map. They are defending 24 seats right now and many of them are in blue states, purple swing states that were going to be difficult in a presidential year, regardless of Donald Trump and that effect on Republicans.

  • 10:08:47

    KIMIn contrast, Democrats are only defending ten seats and I think at this point, there's probably only one Democratic-held seat that is remotely competitive right now.

  • 10:08:58

    DONVANWhat is the ultimate factor that puts these Republicans who are in blue states in a defensive position? And starting with if they're in blue states in the first place, how did they get elected in a blue state?

  • 10:09:09

    KIMSo I mean, we have to remember what happened six years ago. So it was in 2010. It was that big Tea Party wave that swept in a lot of these conservative, first of all, swept the Republicans into the House majority and really put a lot of these, you know, traditionally blue, but, you know, sometimes maybe a little bit even -- or traditionally purple, but sometimes maybe a little bit more Democratic states in a presidential year, like Pennsylvania, represented by a Republican. That's what happened to Senator Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.

  • 10:09:39

    KIMHe has always been the stalwart conservative guy. In 2010, he ran as a fiscal conservative and now, he's running in a presidential year, a little bit more of a swing state situation so he's trying to fashion himself as more of a bipartisan leader in Congress.

  • 10:09:57

    DONVANAnd Charlie Cook, as you look at this arithmetic, what do you think are the odds for a Democratic takeover of the Senate?

  • 10:10:05

    COOKWell, I think the conventional wisdom is that Democrats have a 60 percent chance. I personally think it's closer to 50/50. As was pointed out, I mean, it's -- you've got seven Republican seats that are up in states that Obama carried in 2012 and there are no Democratic seats up in states that Romney carried. So, you know, the overall math, but also the math in terms of which specific states it is is very difficult. My view, though, is there's one countervailing force that all the arithmetic is working against Democrats.

  • 10:10:38

    COOKBut there is one other thing, that I think Hillary Clinton notwithstanding the CNN poll out this morning that had Donald Trump slightly ahead, but I think Clinton does have an advantage. It's not a huge advantage, but it's a narrow advantage. But the swing voters -- and I'll get to the Senate in a second. But these swing voters, they look at Hillary Clinton and they tend to think that she's bright and knowledgeable and competent and experienced, but they don't like her and they don't trust her.

  • 10:11:07

    COOKI think you're going to have a lot of swing voters that are going to be casting their ballots for Hillary Clinton, but they're not happy enough. And I think that the refrain that we are going to hear over and over in the last 30 days of the election is going to be don't give Hillary Clinton a blank check, the refrain from Republicans. And I think for some of these really pivotal Senate states that are in the middle that are, you know, just teetering on the edge, like Pennsylvania, like New Hampshire, like North Carolina, I think that may be a very compelling argument that, well, we're going to go with Clinton, but we don't want to give Democrats everything.

  • 10:11:50

    COOKAnd I -- so and also I would just -- one other thing and that is that while Democrats have the math all worked in their favor, a lot of their candidates this year aren't as strong as they would like them to be. It's a relatively weak crop of candidates Democrats, even though the math is all in their favor.

  • 10:12:11

    DONVANWhat do we mean, Nathan Gonzales, by a weak candidate?

  • 10:12:15

    GONZALESWell, I think it depends. We evaluate candidates on lots of different levels. I mean, what is their fundraising ability, what kind of campaign are they putting together? Right now, where are they in the polls? How effectively are they able to make the case to voters about why the incumbent should be fired and what is their own record? Some of them, like Congressman Patrick Murphy in Florida, is in Congress and has a voting record. Others are state-wide elected officials. So it's not -- there's not a -- the evaluation is on multiple levels.

  • 10:12:48

    GONZALESI think some of them have struggled as the spotlight of the United States Senate race has shown brighter on them. They have experience on those down ballot races, but the United State Senate -- Senate races are becoming mini presidential races in terms of the intensity, the money that's spent. I mean, it's a big deal.

  • 10:13:07

    DONVANSeung Min, there are four possible outcomes combining who wins at the top of the ballot and who wins the Senate. Hillary Clinton could become president and she could have a Democratic Senate or a Republican Senate. Trump could win and he could have a Democratic Senate or a Republican Senate. Four possible outcomes. Let's just play through the implications of some of those. So Hillary Clinton with a Republican-controlled Senate would mean what?

  • 10:13:32

    KIMI think you would see a lot of -- Hillary Clinton has outlined a very ambitious agenda if she is elected president. Some of the items at the top of her list are gun control measures and immigration measures. And I think, looking at this Republican-led Senate, which hasn't touched -- which has barely touched immigration in the last two years and gun control measures came up more as show votes more than anything else, particularly after the Orlando shootings earlier this year.

  • 10:14:01

    KIMYou're going to see a Republican Senate that really disagrees with her agenda and will basically, you know, continue this gridlocked Washington that we've seen for some time. Now, if it's a Democratic Senate and Hillary Clinton's in the White House, you're going to see them try to push her priorities a little bit more. They're on, you know, they're in sync in terms of the priorities that they want to push, both Senate Democrats and Hillary Clinton. But, you know, no matter how many seats -- even if Democrats do win the Senate, I don’t think anyone expects a very big majority for Senate Democrats.

  • 10:14:39

    KIMAnd we're looking at going into the 2018 elections -- you know, here in Washington, we're always kind of looking at the next election around the corner. And that's going to be a difficult election for Senate Democrats because we have a lot of conservative House -- or conservative Senate Democrats in what we call red states. So I think it's going to be difficult no matter what.

  • 10:14:59

    DONVANNathan, take on -- I'm going to give you your choice, Trump with a -- but you can't have both. Trump with a Democratic Senate or Trump with a Republican Senate, which would you like to imagine?

  • 10:15:09

    GONZALESWell, in my mind, I can't even wrap my mind around Trump with a Democratic Senate because I just don't know how the math -- how the races would fall either way. So I'll take Trump with a Republican Senate. It will be fascinating, even though -- and I would expect then Republicans to hold the House in that scenario. So on one level, Republicans would have everything and you would think they would be able to push whatever they wanted. I think they would actually have a lot of difficulty.

  • 10:15:31

    GONZALESRepublicans, right now, can't even agree with other Republicans on what legislation to push going forward. I think there would be a lot of angst among the Republicans that are going to be up for reelection again on how much to support Donald Trump. But, you know, Donald Trump as president is a huge wild card. Anyone who says they know what Donald Trump would be like as president of the United States, I think, is absolutely crazy because he could go any number of directions on what type of legislation he would push.

  • 10:16:00

    DONVANCharlie, why don't you take the last piece of that, which I think everybody here is thinking somewhat preposterous, but that would be Trump with a Democratic Senate.

  • 10:16:08

    COOKI think I may steal Nathan's line. I can't wrap my head around that, I mean, because the thing is, for Trump to win, it would require certain assumptions of what voters are doing and to say they would do that and then turn around an vote for Democrats for the Senate, I'm -- you know, I may take a pass. The one thing I would take an issue with is I don't think that -- I think Hillary Clinton, if she wins, and whether Democrats have -- even if Democrats have a majority in the Senate, I do not think that she's going to lead with guns.

  • 10:16:45

    COOKI do not think she's going to lead with immigration. I don't think she's going to lead with anything that would be that divisive. I think she's going to be coming in with -- she would come in with a very, very large infrastructure package, which can be, has the potential to be bipartisan, and to do some tax reform along the lines of what Paul Ryan and a lot of Republicans are doing. I think she would stay very, very far away from those issues that would just rip everything apart.

  • 10:17:14

    COOKSo I don't think that guns or immigration initial agenda would be there at all, even if Democrats picked up the Senate with, you know, a seat or two to spare.

  • 10:17:26

    DONVANOkay. We're going to be taking your calls and comments and questions throughout the hour. So give us a call at 800-433-8850 or send us your email at drshow@wamu.org. Joins us on Facebook or on Twitter. We're going to be continuing our conversation on down ballot voting and its impact on 2016 and the four years to come. I'm John Donvan.

  • 10:20:01

    DONVANWelcome back. I'm John Donvan, moderator of the Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We are talking about the down-ballot elections with Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, Seung Min Kim of Politico, and Charlie Cook of "The Cook Political Report."

  • 10:20:16

    DONVANWe have been talking a little bit about what would be the impact of various configurations of Senate -- of who controls the Senate after 2016. But let's dig down now a little bit and look at some of these actual races. And, Charlie Cook, what is the race that you consider most up for grabs as of today?

  • 10:20:34

    COOKI guess if I were to pick the sort of 11 key races, I would put the New Hampshire Senate race between the Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte and the Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan. To me, that's the closest thing to a 50-50 race that we have right now. And then maybe the two on either side, Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey against Katie McGinty, the Democrat, where McGinty's got a little bit of a lead. And then Richard Burr, Deborah Ross in North Carolina. Richard Burr's the incumbent, where he has a tiny lead over Ross in North Carolina. To me, those are the three...

  • 10:21:13

    DONVANOkay. Let me...

  • 10:21:15

    COOK...right closest to the edge.

  • 10:21:16

    DONVANLet me...

  • 10:21:16

    COOKBut if I had to pick one, it'd be Kelly Ayotte.

  • 10:21:17

    DONVANYeah. I want to go to that one. So what's going on in New Hampshire?

  • 10:21:21

    COOKWell, New Hampshire you've got two very well known, very well defined figures. You've got a purple -- a classic purple swing state that is very, very sensitive and has a tendency to swing back and forth a great deal. Ayotte is not a particularly staunch Republican, but she has stuck with the party a good bit. (word?) and those have to deal with...

  • 10:21:46

    DONVANFor -- but for -- Charlie, for those of us who have never heard of her, outside of New Hampshire, put some flesh on the bones. Who is Kelly Ayotte?

  • 10:21:56

    COOKYeah, it was -- she's -- well, this is her, what, second term I think.

  • 10:21:59


  • 10:21:59

    COOKAnd she's, you know, a fairly, I'd say, moderate Republican -- moderately conservative Republican -- I guess moderately conservative. And has not, you know, she hasn't taken on particularly controversial things...

  • 10:22:18


  • 10:22:18

    COOK...that she sort of, she probably breaks from the party, you know, some, but not that much. We haven't seen that much breaking with the party. Off the top of my head, Nathan probably remembers how old she is, I don't know off the top of my head.

  • 10:22:30

    DONVANDo you, Nathan?

  • 10:22:32

    GONZALESI don't. But I don't memorize all of their birthdays.

  • 10:22:34

    COOKWell, okay, good. You make me feel better, Nathan.

  • 10:22:37

    DONVANAnd her opponent?

  • 10:22:40

    COOKGo ahead.

  • 10:22:41

    DONVANAnd tell us a little bit about her opponent.

  • 10:22:44

    COOKWell, Maggie Hassan has been -- New Hampshire has two-year terms for governor. And so that means you're up -- you've been on the ballot. So she's maybe third term I guess, something like that and has been a figure in the state for, you know, about as long, roughly, as Kelly Ayotte has. You know, when you're governor, you -- lots of things happen and some are good, some are bad. But they're -- you're in the public's face constantly, as opposed to a Senator that sort of focuses on you two out of six years. So both of these are very well defined candidates. So that's why it is, I think, a good -- as good a barometer as there is in the country for whether people are just sort of leaning a little left or leaning a little right.

  • 10:23:30

    COOKIt doesn't have a lot of odd angles on it that make it a one-off race, in one way or the other, like a lot of the other Senate contests do.

  • 10:23:40

    DONVANSo what's another Senate contest that does have more of a stark choice?

  • 10:23:45

    COOKNorth Carolina. Richard Burr is more of a pretty conservative member. I would not -- he's not sort of in Jeff Sessions from Alabama category, but he's a pretty conservative guy.

  • 10:23:59


  • 10:24:00

    COOKDeborah Ross is a former legislator but had been the state director for the American Civil Liberties Union, and which is sometimes somewhat problematic. North Carolina has some very strange things. That's a -- it is a good example of where odd things are going on in North Carolina. Because North Carolina has always -- has perceived itself as a fairly progressive state as the South goes. And in the last year or two, with the HB 1 controversy over transgender bathrooms and having the NBA All-Star Game taken away from them and the NCAA threatening to pull basketball games out. And companies, PayPal was going to put in a big installation there and pulled back.

  • 10:24:45

    COOKWhere they're feeling an economic pinch and some embarrassment that their state is sort of not looking good. And there's -- you're seeing some things on presidential level, where Trump is underperforming there. You're seeing a governor's race with a Republican incumbent governor who's trailing by mid- to high-single digits. We're -- if you were going to say, what's one state where Republicans from, you know, up and down the ballot are encountering real resistance, I'd say it would be North Carolina.

  • 10:25:22

    DONVANSeung Min?

  • 10:25:23

    KIMOne race that we're watching that I feel does have a very big contrast between the two candidates is Wisconsin, where the current senator, Senator Ron Johnson, who is a Republican, is running against Russ Feingold, a Democrat, who is a former senator. And the reason is, I think, a lot of these swing states, where you have Republican senators up for re-election, you've seen these Republicans moderate themselves, move to the center in some ways. You have it, again, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. He is considered a moderate on gun control. He authored background checks legislation in 2013. Rob Portman in Ohio supports gay marriage.

  • 10:26:01

    KIMBut in Wisconsin, you have Ron Johnson, who is, you know, a conservative at heart, and Russ Feingold, who is a major -- a stalwart liberal. I mean he was the first candidate who was -- or first Senate candidate who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders. So I think it's a -- and Wisconsin will be fascinating, because they're really depending on the bases of their party, whether for Democrats, it's the die-hard liberals of the party, for Republicans whether it's the die-hard conservative, they're really dependent on -- hoping that those bases come out to vote.

  • 10:26:33

    GONZALESWhich I think is an important thing to remember. Because I think, for someone who doesn't follow this -- they have real lives, who don't follow this every day like we do -- they might be looking and wondering, well, Donald Trump says all of these offensive things. Why aren't these Republican senators going after him or being more vocal against him? And I think it's because they have to form this coalition of voters that includes Trump supporters...

  • 10:26:56


  • 10:26:56

    GONZALES...and people who are offended by Donald Trump. They need both of those groups in order to win their own reelection. So that's why you see Senator Ayotte of New Hampshire saying, well, she supports but not endorses...

  • 10:27:08

    DONVANYeah, what is -- have you parsed out what she means by that?

  • 10:27:11

    GONZALESNo, I haven't. I know that other -- she's done multiple interviews. And we'll see if voters, you know, I think that she's -- I'll let her explain it. But that's what voters -- that's just a good example of these -- well, of a senator who's trying to balance this, how do I keep Trump supporters in the fold, but how do I get the moderates and even some Democrats to win?

  • 10:27:33

    KIMShe's explained it a couple times as, you know, if I support Donald Trump, I will vote for him on election day. But I don't endorse him, meaning she's not going to go out and campaign with him, do fundraisers with him, like she did for Mitt Romney in 2012 in New Hampshire. That's how she's explained it. I'm not sure if voters are buying that explanation. We'll see on election day. But that's the, kind of the, definitely, that's kind of some of the dance that these Republican senators have had to do.

  • 10:27:57


  • 10:27:58

    GONZALESBut I think one of the misconceptions though of this election is that -- and what Democrats -- the Democratic message is that every Republican senator is exactly like Donald Trump. Now, Democrats have two months to push that message. But voters don't automatically assume that Trump is a Republican. Trump is his own brand, kind of outside of the normal realm of what we think about. So it's not that -- I'm not sure that the burden is on the Republicans to distance themselves as much as it is on Democrats to say that Pat Toomey is indeed a Trump Republican.

  • 10:28:31

    DONVANAnd is that -- has that been the rhetoric of the campaign? Are the Democrats throwing Trump in every race? Are the Democrats throwing Trump at the Republican candidates?

  • 10:28:38

    GONZALESThat's been the rhetoric -- Democrats throwing Trump at Republicans has been the rhetoric. Now we're getting more into the paid advertising. And actually Trump has been less a part of the paid Democratic ads as what we would -- but...

  • 10:28:50


  • 10:28:51

    GONZALESWell, I think they realize there's only a certain point that that -- it's only so far that that can get them in the election. They have to go further into issues, I think, on each senator's record.

  • 10:29:02

    DONVANLet's bring in some callers. And welcome Morgan Patchogue -- Morgan, sorry, from Patchogue, N.Y. to the show. Hi, Morgan. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:29:09

    MORGANYeah. I actually agree with Charlie. The real problem with this -- the Democrats -- Hillary Clinton and the DNC put up Hillary Clinton, a weak candidate. By the way, I'm a progressive. And a very -- there's going to be very weak down ballots. And if they lose the Senate, it's Hillary's fault and it's the DNC putting him up. The person who would have done heavy, very well down ballot is Bernie Sanders. Everybody knows that. Everybody looks at it. Hillary is an -- a corporate Democrat, a status quo, corporate Democrat. She's very weak with...

  • 10:29:39

    DONVANOkay. Thanks, Morgan. Let me take that to Charlie Cook. I mean, that train has left the station. But is Hillary Clinton seen as a liability for Democrats trying to win the Senate?

  • 10:29:52

    COOKWell, I think this is a very tricky year. And Hillary Clinton has enormous negatives and she ought to be grateful every single day that her opponent is Donald Trump, that she would have, you know, sometimes I teasingly say that a potted plant would have beaten Hillary Clinton -- a potted plant as a Republican -- and that's an exaggeration. But let's face it, an unblemished Republican, one that doesn't have Donald Trump's -- that is not -- I mean, this election right now is more about Donald Trump than it is about Hillary Clinton. If the election is about Hillary Clinton, she loses. If the election is about Donald Trump, he's going to lose.

  • 10:30:33

    COOKBut a not-so-problematic-Republican nominee would have a huge advantage over Hillary Clinton. Now, I do think that Bernie Sanders would bring a whole lot of issues, that he never got attacked. I mean other than his vote with the gun manufacturers, the Clinton campaign never laid a glove on Hillary Clinton. And in a general election, were Bernie to be the Democratic nominee, you would have all the Socialist stuff brought up. You would be -- I think, in the end of the day, Bernie Sanders would be a even more challenging Democratic nominee, even more...

  • 10:31:17


  • 10:31:17

    COOK...have more problems as a Democratic nominee than Hillary Clinton would.

  • 10:31:21

    DONVANSo let me break in with Seung Min and ask you, what are you seeing in terms of contortions on the Republican side to deal with Trump, other than Kelly Ayotte?

  • 10:31:29

    KIMSo she is the big one. But I think every time that Donald Trump says or does something controversial, you're seeing Republicans having to condemn those remarks or those actions and yet not condemning the -- or not disavowing the nominee altogether. And I think though one of the best recent examples of that was the big fight between Donald Trump and the Gold Star family, who spent at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. And he -- so you saw this difficulty in people.

  • 10:32:01

    KIMI thought one of the most interesting responses came from Senator John McCain, who we know, the 2008 presidential nominee for the Republican Party, you know, prisoner of war in Vietnam, and how he, you know, very -- in a very lengthy statement, he denounced Donald Trump's comments but yet made clear he would not -- he would still be supporting him as the nominee. And I think that's been the most difficult position that Republicans have found themselves in, especially the ones who are running for reelection. How do you condemn this -- your nominee's actions and rhetoric, but yet still support him? And I think that's been the most difficult question that they've had to answer.

  • 10:32:39

    DONVANI'm John Donvan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Nathan Gonzales, let's talk about the House races -- many, many more of them by an order of magnitude. Any, any discussion that's serious about the Democrats taking back the House?

  • 10:32:55

    GONZALESWell, the short answer is no. But I think there's still time for a wave to develop that could allow Democrats to win the House. Now, technically there are...

  • 10:33:05

    DONVANThe term wave is a term of art. So it's a political term, so.

  • 10:33:09

    GONZALESI would say, you know, two dozen or more. I mean, let's talk about the numbers. Technically, there are 435 races for the House. Not all of them are competitive, which means not every seat is close enough in partisanship that either change has a -- either party has a chance of winning. So right now, I think there's only a universe of about 35 to 40 competitive House races. Democrats need to gain 30, which means they need to win almost every competitive race on the board.

  • 10:33:38


  • 10:33:38

    GONZALESI don't think that's likely. But the reason why I caution everyone is that, looking back at some past waves -- specifically, I looked at 2006, when Democrats had...

  • 10:33:48

    DONVANAgain, I just want to stop you and define wave, that term.

  • 10:33:50

    GONZALESI would, a large -- well, say, a large number of House seats, 30 -- 25 to 30 or more seats, I think is a wave, which sounds like a small number compared to 435. But because so few are competitive, that is a large number of seats to be gained.

  • 10:34:06

    DONVANBut historically the term wave has been used to describe a sort of sea change in the House.

  • 10:34:12

    GONZALESOr in both. I mean, if there's a wave -- if there is a large gain by one party in one by -- in one chamber, it's usually accompanied by the other chamber and sometimes the presidency -- and 2008 being an example of that. But Democrats need 30 seats. They probably need to win every competitive seat on our chart right now. But in 2006, when Democrats has a big year, there were Republican incumbents who were polling fine in late August, early September, mid-September, but then the cycle, the bottom kind of fell out from underneath them. Former Florida Congressman Tom Foley had a scandal that embroiled House leadership. There was -- there were other things going on.

  • 10:34:54

    GONZALESBut just because the House isn't imminently in danger right now of falling into Democratic hands for Republicans, doesn't mean it can't happen.

  • 10:35:01


  • 10:35:02

    COOKJohn, this is Charlie. Let me throw out another -- a different definition of a wave. It's when candidates for the House win, who their own parties didn't give them much if any money. Candidates that just were given no chance at all...

  • 10:35:18


  • 10:35:18

    COOK...suddenly wake up on a Wednesday morning and they're members of Congress elect, that just totally unexpected things happen. And that has happened on occasion. 1994, the Newt Gingrich-led Republican wave election was a classic example of that, where people that nobody thought would win, could win. But those tend to happen under two circumstances. Usually in mid-term elections and, in mid-term elections, it's usually a referendum on the incumbent president. Or, two, in landslide elections. And it doesn't even always happen in those, because Nixon and Reagan won 49 state landslides without a wave election.

  • 10:36:02

    COOKSo it -- the odds of that happening this time are really pretty slim, because it's not a mid-term, it's not likely to be a landslide, and there are so many doubts about Clinton that you -- there probably will be some hedging by voters, some insurance of not wanting to go too far one way.

  • 10:36:22


  • 10:36:23

    GONZALESWell, I think, Democrats right now -- Democratic strategists that are focused on the House are talking about -- some of them are talking about political gravity. Let's do a specific example. Minnesota's 3rd District, where Republican Congressman Erik Paulsen is running for reelection, regarded as a moderate Republican of those that are left of them in the House. Donald Trump is losing that suburban Minneapolis-Twin Cities District by at least 10 points. Right now Erik Paulsen is winning his campaign -- winning his own race by at least 10 points.

  • 10:36:55

    GONZALESDemocrats believe that that is a unsustainable feat of political act, in that, as we get closer to election day, those two things will come together, that Erik Paulsen will be dragged down by Donald Trump. I don't think that's guaranteed to happen, but I think we have to wait and see at least another two or three weeks to -- if it's having an impact or not.

  • 10:37:15

    DONVANAll right. We're going to explore splitting the ballot when we come back from the break. And we're going to be taking your calls and questions. So stay with us. This is "The Diane Rehm Show," and I'm John Donvan.

  • 10:40:01

    DONVANWelcome back. I'm John Donvan, moderator of the Intelligence Squared US debate, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We are talking about the down-ballot elections with Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, Seung Min Kim of Politico and Charlie Cook of the "The Cook Political Report." We've been getting emails and some tweets throughout the show. This email from Clifford reads as follows, I think the panelists are neglecting the change that most of us want. The Republican establishment is more unpopular than either Clinton or Trump.

  • 10:40:29

    DONVANAnd Burt writes in, you said that as president, Clinton would not focus on immigration or gun control because they're too divisive, well one of us said that, Charlie Cook said that.

  • 10:40:39

    COOKI said that.

  • 10:40:40

    DONVANAnd Seung Min disagrees. But Burt continues, these are issues that many Democratic voters would like to see action on, given all of the energy within the Democratic Party for action on progressive issues. Would it be possible for a Hillary Clinton presidency to take the center-right trajectory that her husband's presidency did? I think one of the things we're discussing is whether it depends to some degree on the outcome of the Senate race. But let's bring in AB from Blunt's Creek, North Carolina. AB, welcome to the Diane Rehm Show.

  • 10:41:09

    ABThank you. Yeah, I have two questions. One, given the unpopularity of both candidates, both major candidates, what is the possibility that the electoral college could change the outcome of the popular vote and go rogue and pick somebody else for president? And secondly, if, well, whichever candidate wins, what's the possibility that Congress could implement a vote of no confidence?

  • 10:41:40

    DONVANAll right, let me take both of those to Charlie. You have the longest range, not to say that you're older than anybody on the panel, but you are.

  • 10:41:46

    COOKBut I am.

  • 10:41:48

    GONZALESI had (unintelligible) your age.

  • 10:41:49

    DONVANSo that's a credential, a false credential for historical knowledge. Go for it.

  • 10:41:55

    COOKWell, it's -- obviously 2000 the popular vote went one direction, the electoral college went another. It's only happened three times in American history. It's just extremely rare. And so in a very close election, could it happen? Sure, it could happen, but it's pretty unlikely to happen. And for things to get really interesting with -- some electoral votes go into a third-party candidate. That would require Gary Johnson winning a state someplace, which is extremely, you know, unlikely -- unlikely to occur.

  • 10:42:34

    COOKSo I don't see that happening. One the vote of no confidence, we don't really have those. It's not like a parliamentary system, where you could basically force an up or down on an incumbent. But to the earlier question, to me if Hillary Clinton is elected, she's going to try to get some points on the scoreboard early on. She's going to have to get some things accomplished.

  • 10:43:01

    DONVANCharlie, I'm going to cut you off because I think we've tread that territory.

  • 10:43:05


  • 10:43:05

    DONVANAnd I want to move on to some other calls.

  • 10:43:08


  • 10:43:09

    DONVANLet's bring in Aaron from Terre Haute, Indiana. Aaron, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:43:12

    AARONHi, thanks, it's an honor and a privilege to be on this program. I've listened to it for many years. Nobody has really talked about Indiana and some of the sea changes that could occur in Indiana. In 2008, you had Obama that took Indiana, the first time since LBJ, but you had a Republican, Mike Daniels, who beat a Democratic incumbent, who was taking over for a deceased governor.

  • 10:43:42

    AARONWell in 2016 we're looking at very similar. Donald Trump's going to win Indiana in a landslide, but you're going to have a returning senator, Evan Bayh...

  • 10:43:51

    DONVANSo what's your question, Aaron?

  • 10:43:54

    AARONWell my comment is really just nobody has really talked about Indiana and how (unintelligible)

  • 10:43:58

    DONVANIn that case I'm going to -- I'm going to interrupt you because Seung Min Kim has spent a lot of time in Indiana, and you were even on an airplane with Evan Bayh.

  • 10:44:07

    KIMI was. Actually I went out to Indianapolis a few weeks ago to do a story on the Senate race. It's obviously, as the caller says, a very fascinating one to watch. And it's a very interesting dynamic. We discussed earlier about how Senate Democrats are attacking Donald Trump at every which way, trying to tie their opponents. Evan Bayh is not doing that precisely because of the dynamics that the caller talked about. Donald Trump will probably win Indiana. I think estimates show anywhere -- polling has shown anywhere from a tie in the state to 11 points. We're thinking maybe he wins the state by five or six points.

  • 10:44:40

    KIMAnd Evan Bayh, who is a former senator, he retired in 2010. He actually went out very much criticizing Congress, saying this is not a place I want to be, it is broken, it is dysfunctional. He went to go work for a powerful Washington lobbying firm, and now he wants to come back to the Senate. And he's really relying on kind of this deep history that both he and his family in Indiana politics to bring him back to the Senate. And I -- you know, I really did observe it firsthand walking around with him in Indianapolis a few weeks ago for several days, and everywhere he turns you have a voter coming up to Senator Bayh, who is also a former governor, and saying I remember when, you know, you spoke to, you know, our -- when your mother spoke to me at our high school graduation, or I remember your kids growing up in the governor's mansion.

  • 10:45:33

    KIMAnd he really -- he has a lot of political, you know, vulnerabilities that we discuss and that Republicans are going after, but it's a -- he does have a significant advantage in the race, and he is a Democrat.

  • 10:45:47

    DONVANHow does he get over the fact that he walked out of the Senate saying this place is dysfunctional, and I can't work here, and now he wants to get back in, and it's probably not more functional than it was when he said it was dysfunctional.

  • 10:45:57

    KIMExactly, and I think he -- we all recognize it's probably gotten even more dysfunctional, and he said it himself, and that's a question that I posed to him when I was walking around with him in Indianapolis and said -- he says, look, I agree with you, and I stand by the critiques that I made six years ago, but it's gotten worse, and I feel like I maybe in a position to bring people together and help us get -- help the Congress get out of it. He is known as a...

  • 10:46:21

    DONVANI'm not finding that a compelling answer.

  • 10:46:24

    KIMWe'll see if Indiana voters find it a compelling answer, but he is known as a moderate Democrat, more of a dealmaker type than some of the other senators. So maybe -- and that's a selling pitch. But his major selling pitch to Indiana voters is just the Bayh name and the Bayh family.

  • 10:46:42

    DONVANBut he's being slammed on his residential -- on his residency issues?

  • 10:46:45

    KIMExactly. So he owns multiple multi-million-dollar homes not in Indiana. He owns two here in D.C. and one in Florida, and he owns a kind of a measly $53,000 condo in Indianapolis. So I think it's a clear sign that he may not spend as much time there as perhaps a senator representing Indiana should, and that's been a major attack line from Republicans, saying, you know, Senator Bayh, you don't even live in Indiana, how can you represent the state.

  • 10:47:15

    KIMAnd a funny point is that when I was flying out to Indianapolis from Reagan National Airport here in D.C., Senator Bayh actually happened to be on my flight, commuting back and forth from D.C. to Indianapolis. But so far it doesn't seem to have hurt him a bit. There's -- we're looking at polling in the race. It's been as tight as seven points, meaning Evan Bayh leads seven points over his challenger, Republican Todd Young.

  • 10:47:41

    KIMAll the other points have shown a more significant lead over -- for Senator Bayh. So I think at this point, again anything can change in the next several weeks, but it looks like that's going to be a major win for Democrats.

  • 10:47:55

    DONVANLet's bring in Joshua from Havelock, North Carolina. Joshua, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:48:01

    JOSHUAGood morning.

  • 10:48:02


  • 10:48:02

    JOSHUAOkay, most analysts have said the Democrats need at least four to five seats to capture the Senate. However, as you probably know, Angus King of Maine is an independent. Two years ago, he said he could switch his allegiance to the Republicans if they want. If we end up with a tied Senate, do you think the Democrats need to gain extra seats to make up the difference if he decides to caucus with the Republicans?

  • 10:48:30

    DONVANLet me put that to Nathan Gonzales.

  • 10:48:31

    GONZALESI think Angus King is a great politician. I think there is no chance, though, he switches to caucus with the Republicans. I think Angus King plays the game well. My understanding of his political history is that he became an independent because in his gubernatorial race, he actually couldn't win or was not the favored candidate to win the Democratic primary. He said, well, I can do this, I can run as an independent. He has some personal money, so he made the switch.

  • 10:48:56

    GONZALESAnd the instance you're talking about, I remember it vividly. I thought it was just a way to cultivate an image rather than a real chance that he was going to switch. Now there are other Democratic senators who would get a lot of phone calls, like Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Joe Donnelly, Indiana's other senator, in that close scenario. But I just don't see that Angus King would be one of those.

  • 10:49:18

    DONVANInteresting email from Dustin in Virginia, asks this question. Doesn't it bother people that fewer than 10 percent of races in the House are competitive? This is supposed to be the people's house, and for most of us, votes don't really matter. This will only change when we adopt a proportional representation system. I'll let that stand as a comment. I want to bring Seung Min back into the conversation. It was very interesting to hear your on-the-ground reporting from Indiana. You've also been out in Nevada and saw something interesting going on out there.

  • 10:49:47

    KIMSo I was in Las Vegas in August, where I talked with the Democratic candidate Catherine Cortez Masto. And Nevada is a very interesting state to me for many reasons, but one of them is the influence of both the Asian-American vote and the Latino vote. And I wrote a story a couple of -- that published a couple of weeks ago saying of all the major Senate battlegrounds, Nevada's Senate race is the one race where the Asian-American vote may matter. We talk a lot about the Latino vote, the black vote, but the Asian-American vote does get overlooked at times in political coverage.

  • 10:50:23

    KIMAnd it's interesting to me because you've seen both candidates in that race, Catherine Cortez Masto, the Democrat who is the former state attorney general, now running for the Senate seat, she would be the first Latina senator if she's elected. She is kind of the hand-picked successor by the retiring Senator minority leader, Harry Reid, who has been in the Senate for 30 years.

  • 10:50:45

    KIMAnd she's running against Republican Joe Heck, who is a current House member. He has been there for three terms. He's fought pretty competitive races. So he's been a very battle-tested member of Congress. So you've seen both of them reach out to Latinos but especially to Asians. So Catherine Cortez Masto, she has, you know, an AAPI, the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Coalition. She is appearing at their conferences, talking about Donald Trump's proposal to ban immigrants from the Philippines. There's a major -- there's a big Filipino population in Nevada.

  • 10:51:21

    KIMYou've also seen Joe Heck really court the community, as well. He meets regularly with business leaders. Last week he earned the endorsement of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce. He stood at a Korean barbecue and earned that endorsement. So it's interesting to see how that breaks out. And they -- you know, you've seen how the Asian-American vote in Nevada could vote as a bloc and be influential.

  • 10:51:43

    KIMThey voted almost 80 -- almost 80 percent of Asian-Americans in Nevada voted for Harry Reid in 2010, and you had 54 percent of Asian-Americans vote for Dean Heller in 2012, and both won their respective races. So that would be -- that's kind of this under -- you know, the sleepy story to watch in the Nevada Senate race.

  • 10:52:01

    DONVANThanks for bringing us that. I'm John Donvan, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Nathan Gonzales, you wrote something interesting looking back to the 1996 election where Bob Dole was running against Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton won handily. It became pretty clear probably three weeks out that Bob Dole was not going to win, that he was going to lose. And Dole did something tactically in relation to the House and Senate races we're talking about. What was that?

  • 10:52:29

    GONZALESWell, Dole and the Republican National Committee made the assessment, the correct assessment, that Dole was not going to defeat Clinton. So they said they need to go with this don't give President Clinton a blank check argument, and Charlie talked about this early in the segment. And I think that's where Republicans are going -- they're already starting to go there. There's a couple things that don't match up quite as neatly.

  • 10:52:50

    GONZALESOne is that Dole was -- he agreed with the strategy. He sort of admitted that he knew where he was, and so -- and he participated in, you know, changing his schedule and participated in helping Republicans in Senate races. If we fast-forward to today, I'm not sure that Donald Trump is going to admit defeat. It would be, I believe, the first time in his life that he would do that. And why would he start then helping -- I'm not even sure where he would go to help, but why would he, you know, start focusing on other people's races other than his own? I think that's difficult to see happening.

  • 10:53:22

    GONZALESAnd also to point out another difference is that it's true that Republicans were facing an incumbent president, and Hillary Clinton has higher negatives, but it's going to be -- I just think Trump makes it more -- Trump makes it more complicated. Trump is this unique figure who can both suppress Republicans voters and galvanize Democrats. I mean, this is a really a phenomenal scenario that we're looking at.

  • 10:53:45

    DONVANCharlie Cook, talk to us a little bit about people splitting ballots. What is the psychology behind that or at least the science about it? What do we know about how common it is and what it takes for people to say I'm not going to vote Republican for president, but I will vote Republican for my senator or even for somebody to say I don't like either of these candidates, but I'm going to go out today and vote for my Senator and Congressperson?

  • 10:54:07

    COOKWell back in the old days, it was quite common for people to vote for a U.S. Senate candidate of one party and a presidential of the other or a House candidate of one party and a Senate candidate, and it's getting a lot less so now. But that -- you know, you look at 1972 with Nixon winning a 49-state landslide, and yet his party had a net loss of two Senate seats, and the same thing with Reagan in '84. He won 49 states, and Republicans had a net loss of two Senate seats, and in both cases they only won, like, 12 or 14 House seats.

  • 10:54:35

    COOKWe're seeing a lot less of that in recent years. Now the question is will 2016 hold up that pattern of less ticket splitting of voters swinging back and forth from one election to the next. I think you're going to have -- you've got a lot of Republicans that are not terribly happy with Donald Trump. You have a lot of Democrats that are not happy with Hillary Clinton. I think you're going to have more voters voting against than for. In other words, the only reason someone turns out is they just don't think they'd sleep at night if they didn't vote against fill in the blank, Trump or Clinton.

  • 10:55:12

    COOKBut this trend of increased ticket splitting or swinging back and forth from one election to another, that trend will be sorely tested in this election. We don't know if it will hold up or not, but there certainly has been more straight ticket voting for Democrats up and down the line or Republicans up and down the line. There's been a lot more of that in recent years. So we'll see.

  • 10:55:36

    DONVANSeung Min, your insight on that. If somebody's going out there saying I don't like either of these candidates, do you think that they would -- they would get themselves to the voting place anyway, to lock down a Senate vote?

  • 10:55:44

    KIMIt seems to me more unlikely than not. I think it's really the person at the top of the ticket that galvanizes the turnout in a presidential year for obvious reasons. The Senate Republicans are really banking on the fact that voters are able to distinguish, you know, themselves from the top of the ticket. And there is, you know, some success if you look at the polling because you do see in these competitive states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, the Republican senator who is on the ballot does poll better than Donald Trump but only -- you know, there's only so much of that they can do.

  • 10:56:22

    KIMYou know, Pat Toomey always polls better than Donald Trump, but Donald Trump is so far down in Pennsylvania that that creates the problem, and there's really nothing that Pat Toomey can do about it.

  • 10:56:32

    DONVANNathan, last word on this. What do you think?

  • 10:56:32

    GONZALESYeah, I was talking last week with a Republican strategist, I'll say a real one, not one that's on cable, and I'm not really sure what they do for a living. But he was trying to walk me through election day and say let's take a Republican who doesn't -- they despise Donald Trump, they don't understand how Donald Trump got the nomination, they will never vote for Hillary Clinton. Are they going to go to work early or leave work early, give up their kid's soccer practice or do any of those things to still go out and vote, not for the presidential race but because they're deeply in love with Pat Toomey or Marco Rubio or Ron Johnson or whoever it is? It is -- it's tough to see.

  • 10:57:15

    DONVANWe'll find out in November. I want to thank Nathan Gonzales, Seung Min Kim and Charlie Cook for joining us in this conversation about the down-ballot elections. I'm John Donvan, moderator of the Intelligence Squared US debates, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thank you so much for listening.

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