Many say the current presidential race is the most uncivilized in modern American history. Civility in public discourse, why it seems to have hit a new low and long-term implications for the democratic process.
Morning-after analysis of primary results in five states including Alaska, Arizona and Florida: With less than seventy days till the mid-term elections, how the races are shaping up and why it matters.
- Reid Wilson editor-in-chief,of National Journal’s Hotline
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
- Norman Ornstein is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; coauthor with Thomas Mann of "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. It may be hard to draw too many conclusions from yesterday's primary votes. In Arizona, Republican Sen. John McCain won easily, but in Alaska, with votes still being counted, Tea Party favorite, Joe Miller, has a slight lead over Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski. Joining me to talk about results, what they tell us about voter sentiment with mid-term elections just about 10 weeks away, Norman Ornstein. He's resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Ron Elving is Washington editor for NPR. And Reid Wilson is editor-in-chief of National Journal's Hotline. Throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing from you. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINGood morning.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning, Diane.
REHMAnd, Ron Elving, polls really didn't predict such a close race in Alaska. Lisa Murkowski, according to the headlines, is on the verge of losing.
ELVINGShe's behind. She's behind something like 2,000 votes with just a few -- just a handful of precincts yet to report. So we're looking at absentee ballots. And that's quite a large factor in Alaska. In fact, a couple of years ago, when Mark Begich knocked off Ted Stevens -- the late Ted Stevens -- that race was decided by the ballots that came in after they had finished. The Election Day counting was decided by the absentee ballots. And we have many of those yet to come in. We don't know exactly how many. We know quite a few went out in the teens of thousands. So we don't know how many of those will actually be returned.
ELVINGBut they're going to count them in September. The two waves are not going to be counted fully until September. So we could be looking at as late as two days after Labor Day, Sept. 8, before we have a final winner. On the other hand, it is also possible we could have a clear winner before then. But just to set it out there, at the extent of the uncertainty, it could be very close and there could be a recount.
REHMBut how come late September or after Labor Day, Norm Ornstein?
ORNSTEINWell, this is Alaska, and they had 16,000 requests for absentee ballots. They -- it takes a long time for those ballots actually to get into the central counting place. And then, they count them by hand. You know, there -- this has happened before. And you might think that Alaska, having had this experience, would try to move to expedite these things.
ORNSTEINBut it doesn't work that way.
REHMReid Wilson, what does being an anti-Washington establishment candidate mean, in a state that gets so much from Washington?
MR. REID WILSONI think one of the things we learned from this primary is that it doesn't really work to talk about your accomplishments, even in a state, as you say, which gets more back per capita than any other around the country. If you take a look at candidates around the country, those who have talked about what they have been able to do for their districts, people like Alan Mollohan in West Virginia, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick in Detroit, even -- you know, even folks like Arlen Specter or Bob Bennett, you know, all the folks who were great at bringing pork back to their area, they've all lost.
MR. REID WILSONLisa Murkowski spent all of her time talking positively about what she had done for the state, rather than really going after Joe Miller and sort of dressing him down, and in another one of these primaries, the primary with Sen. John McCain in Arizona, he spent all of his time going after his opponent as opposed to talking up his own accomplishments. So I think that what we have really seen here is that the anger to -- against Washington really exists, but -- and that's really going to impact anybody who's coming home and talking about what they have done positively for the district.
REHMSo what does that make you infer, Norm Ornstein, from just the Alaska picture?
ORNSTEINWell, I do think with Alaska, you've got a couple of factors here. One that did play in some other states, which is Lisa Murkowski voted for the TARP program, the Troubled Assets Relief Program, back in the final months of the Bush administration. If we're going to look at one thing that triggered that kind of populist anger out there in the country, it was the TARP vote. And, of course, it's hurting Democrats and hurting Obama, even though it happened under Hank Paulson and George W. Bush, as much as it is others, but -- and particularly, I think, in Republican primaries.
ORNSTEINBut keep in mind -- in this case as well -- we've got a blood feud that's been going on for a long time between Sarah Palin and the Murkowski family. She bumped off Lisa's father, Frank Murkowski...
ORNSTEIN...in a primary for governor after saying that he had basically betrayed the state, and she moved in aggressively against Lisa Murkowski in this case, and that probably made a difference. But remember, we're talking probably less than 100,000 votes cast in a Republican primary in Alaska. I don't want to generalize about the larger anti-incumbent mood in the country, particularly because we know that we're still likely to have 90 percent of incumbents reelected in the fall. If...
ORNSTEIN...we don't want to take it too far.
ELVINGThere's also another issue that is salient in Alaska in this particular vote, and that is abortion, and specifically parental notification before an abortion being -- can be given. You would think that Alaska already had parental notification law. But here was this measure on the ballot yesterday, and this clearly brought out a very strong vote. It was passed about 55-45. But I think we have to say that 55 percent in favor of the measure were heavily concentrated on the Republican side. And this is one of the issues where Sarah Palin differed with Lisa Murkowski and also, of course, where Joe Miller, the beneficiary of all this, differed with Lisa Murkowski. And so it appears that the enthusiasm of the anti-abortion forces in Alaska has been a major boost to Joe Miller.
REHMYou're saying that Lisa Murkowski has been pro-choice all the way?
ELVINGShe has been much more of a moderate on abortion. Although she favored this measure, she did not come out against this measure.
ELVINGShe favored the parental notification measure, but she has a reputation as being an abortion moderate.
WILSONOne interesting thing about all this is really the role that Sarah Palin has played in this. She has endorsed in a number of contests around the country. In some cases, she has been a big factor. She boosted Nikki Haley's campaign in South Carolina, Susana Martinez, the Republican governor nominee in New Mexico, for example. But she's also lost a number of races -- her -- more than her fair share. A woman named Karen Handel, the former secretary of state in Georgia -- she lost a run off, even though she had Palin's support.
WILSONEndorsing Joe Miller was a big risk for Sarah Palin against the establishment, even though she is for all intents and purposes, the most popular Republican in the State of Alaska. Endorsing against the incumbent -- really putting a lot of her reputation on the line in her home state is not something you're going to see Mitt Romney do. That's not something you're going to see Tim Pawlenty or anybody -- any of the other potential White House candidates do. So it was a risk, and she deserves the credit. She didn't do a lot of campaigning for Joe Miller, but in the last few days, she sent out some fundraising appeals...
WILSON...cut a robo call that went to Republican homes around the country -- around the state. That, I think, is going to prove determinative if Joe Miller pulls this out.
ORNSTEINThere's one other factor here that's kind of interesting and, I think, has had an impact on the policy process. These Conservative activist candidacies against incumbents have pulled some candidates to the right and changed their behavior. We'll talk about that a lot, I'm sure, with John McCain. But Lisa Murkowski was one of the leaders in the global warming -- the attempt to find a climate change compromise through -- up until this last year. Then she changed. And among other things, she was the sponsor of a bill to try and take away the authority from the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions. And she backed away...
REHMMm hmm. Mm hmm.
ORNSTEIN...from any meaningful negotiations. The only explanation that I would have for this is, even though she dismissed Joe Miller's challenge in many ways, that she was very cognizant of the changing politics in Alaska, so she -- that had a significant role in the failure to move forward at all on climate change.
REHMNorm Ornstein. He is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email, your messages on Facebook or on Twitter. What about John McCain, Ron Elving? He -- more than almost anyone out there -- seems to have been shifting with the political wins on many of his positions.
ELVINGJohn McCain got his wake-up call late last year when he saw what was going on in New Jersey and Virginia, and when he saw some of the energy that had been unleashed by what we call the Tea Party -- many different groups of people not necessarily all connected to each other but Conservatives with a more Libertarian view, certainly on economic issues at least -- and he saw all of this being quite strong in Arizona. And he knew that there had always been a well of resentment against him in his home state because of his many bridges that he had built to the Democrats and the sorts of things he campaigned on, to a large degree, when he was running for president. His ability to cross the aisle, his ability to talk to all Americans, are all good things, really, and all the high-end of political aspiration perhaps.
ELVINGBut when you get back to a tough primary in a push-back year, a swing back, a pendulum year like 2010, and you have even one guy like J.D. Hayworth --not a perfect vessel, not the best guy to test John McCain in Arizona -- but when he was willing to do it, some of the early polls told John McCain he was in the kind of trouble we've seen Bob Bennett or Lisa Murkowski in. So he went -- paddled to the middle. He spent over $20 million, more than he had spent in all his Arizona races to date, primary and general. He spent money lavishly from his own fortune. And he beat down J.D. Hayworth by spending him down six or seven to one and exposing Hayworth's flaws.
WILSONThe key to John McCain -- first of all, John McCain, he ran the textbook campaign. He did absolutely everything right. He owned the entire race. He owned everything about the discussion.
WILSONEarly on. He was spending it -- J.D. Hayworth was a radio host on a Conservative station out in Phoenix called KFYI. Before J.D. Hayworth even got in the race, when he was still hosting his show, John McCain was running radio ads blasting J.D. Hayworth on...
REHMOh, mm hmm.
WILSON...during Hayworth's show.
REHMOh, I see.
WILSONSo he's -- the amount of money, the amount of effort he put into defining who J.D. Hayworth was, was really tremendous. I think there's a larger lesson here almost for Democrats around the country who are finding themselves in trouble, who are figuring out they have to figure out a way to beat these Republicans. They are going to have to do the same thing. They're going to have to run these negative campaigns.
REHMReid Wilson. He is editor-in-chief of National Journal's Hotline. We'll take a short break. I'm looking forward to hearing your comments.
REHMAnd just before the break, we were talking about John McCain's win. John McCain, the man who seemed for so long to be proud of the term 'maverick,' he changed.
ORNSTEINWell, he -- Diane, he basically said he'd never been a maverick even though he had authored a book with that in the title. You know, this reminds me, back in the 1980s, Fritz Hollings -- who was of course a longtime veteran of politics -- ran for president, had a very tough campaign against a Conservative. And he said at the time, ain't nobody going to get to the right of Fritz Hollings. And John McCain basically said this time, ain't nobody going to get to the right of John McCain. And he changed his focus and his positions on almost every issue in which he had been a leader and had been proud to be a leader.
ORNSTEINHe was a figure in trying to forge bipartisan compromises on immigration reform, on climate change. He was the champion on campaign finance reform. When the Supreme Court eviscerated his proudest accomplishment, he barely issued a peep, refused to move forward in any way to try and do something about it. Even now, when there's an attempt to reform the presidential funding system, which is clearly broken, it's not the McCain-Feingold Bill. It's the Feingold Bill now. So McCain changed dramatically. He became probably the most harsh critic of Barack Obama and his adversary. He dropped most of the things in which he'd been working with Lindsey Graham, who has now taken over that mantle.
ORNSTEINAnd one of our most interesting questions ahead is what John McCain returns to the Senate. Will he continue down the path that he took to get to the right of J.D. Hayworth which is no easy accomplishment? Will he return some to what he'd been before? And as he said this morning, that he's not going to take his constituents for granted anymore. That's an interesting question. One last point, even though he trounced J.D. Hayworth in one sense, the fact that three out of 10 Republicans in Arizona voted against their party standard bearer on this longtime veteran, would suggest that he's still got some work to do. And he may be lucky that he's running against a 32-year-old former local office holder in Tucson who doesn't have much money or much traction.
WILSONOne of the point -- to go back to one of Norm's points, the -- which John McCain is coming back to the Senate has become an issue in the Senate. There were a few measures that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid actually put off the table so that they could consider it in September and October because people thought that after John McCain won his primary, a different John McCain would come back. So that's been a serious issue.
ELVINGThat's -- that is a serious issue. And the question is, is that a little too soon, September or October? I would think it is. And with all respect to Rodney Glassman, former city councilman from Tucson that Norm mentioned, we do expect John McCain to be coming back in January. And he's going to be part of a much different Senate where you're going to have very close to 50/50, I suspect, one way or the other, whichever party is in control. And there's going to be a body of people, five, six people, two or three of them calling themselves independents outright, and two or three more then acting as though they were. Ben Nelson, say, from Nebraska, and possibly Lindsey Graham still from South Carolina, and perhaps John McCain will find yet another persona for John McCain's final chapter.
WILSONAnd yet when you're talking about the new Senate, I think one of the other fascinating things is take a look at some of the new Republicans who are -- who could show up. Sharron Angle in Nevada, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Joe Miller in Alaska, Mike Lee in Utah, both of whom, if they -- well, if Miller emerges from his primary -- both of whom are likely to join the Senate. These are not the typical -- these aren't even Mitch McConnell Republicans. These are...
WILSONAnd Tom Coburn has at least worked with Democrats. He worked with Barack Obama. But, you know, these -- Rand Paul and Sharron Angle are not going to the Senate to make a lot of Democratic friends.
REHMNorm Ornstein, explain what happened in Florida.
ORNSTEINWell, we had some very interesting dynamics in both parties. In both parties, we had candidates who tried to win nominations, spending enormous amounts of their own money. We had a Democrat who was trying to win the Senate nomination from the establishment candidate, the candidate of the establishment, Kendrick Meek, a Congressman whose mother had served in the House before him. We had, on the Republican side, a nursing home magnate who poured $50 million to try to win the gubernatorial nomination. On the Republican side, that worked. Rick Scott eked out a narrow victory over Bill McCollum who is perennial office holder and candidate for office, who's the attorney general now, had served in the House, had run statewide many times before, very conservative.
ORNSTEINBut Rick Scott basically overwhelmed him as an outsider and a businessman, which tends to work a little bit better in some Republican contests. And on the Democratic side though, Kendrick Meek pulled it out. Now, this was partly because his opponent had made his money by betting on credit default swaps on a housing collapse, so in effect made his money off of foreclosed mortgages and lived, shall we say, a bohemian lifestyle which didn't play too well with some elements of the Democratic electorate. We also saw the labor movement step in in Florida and work very hard with boots on the ground to get a turnout that worked. But, you know, we're going to have Kendrick Meek showing that it's not always the case that pouring your own money into a campaign works.
ELVINGWhat a strange place we've reached in history where Kendrick Meek is the establishment...
ELVING...candidate in February -- in Florida, rather. If he were to win this race in November -- and I think he's probably third in a three-team league right now -- but if he were to win, he would be the first African-American since reconstruction to win statewide anything in Florida and the first African-American to be elected to a Senate seat since reconstruction. So he does have some outsider credentials as well as being the choice of the Democratic establishment and supported by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
WILSONThis is actually not a good thing for the Democratic Party writ large that Kendrick Meek has won this primary. Had Jeff Greene won, Democrats would have been able to overtly or subvertly -- or covertly, rather -- get behind Charlie Crist, the independent candidate running for governor, who is leading or in second place in the polls right now, and really give him the support he needed to overcome the Conservative Republican Marco Rubio. But because Kendrick Meek has won this primary with President Obama's support, with President Clinton's support, now the Democratic Party has to spend money there on Kendrick Meek's behalf, rather than on Charlie Crist's behalf, even though Charlie Crist probably has a better chance at beating Rubio.
ELVINGThat all may be true, but the Democratic Party had no choice. Jeff Greene, once he had been exposed, not only for the way he made his money, but -- as Norm said, for the way he spent his money on his 145-foot yacht that went on a cruise to Cuba and cut through the coral in Belize -- all these things -- he had quite a story. He was not going to get elected to the Senate. And the Democrats probably should stand with the man who is one of their own, and, you know, look like a legitimate party and try to get the best they can out of it. And if Crist wins, it's probably the second best thing that could happen.
REHMLet me ask you all, was anybody out there in the primaries trying to win without money? Did money make all the difference? Norm.
WILSONWell, Joe Miller...
WILSONJoe Miller had no money.
ELVINGJoe Miller had, at some point...
REHMThat's my point.
WILSONI think total spending through the entire campaign, less than 300.
REHMMoney is making the difference wherever we go.
ORNSTEINWell, no. But in Alaska it didn't, Diane. Lisa Murkowski outspent Joe Miller by 12 to 1. So there, admittedly...
ORNSTEIN...with 100,000 votes, it was the outside intensity that mattered. And Sarah Palin -- Sarah Palin's endorsement was probably worth half a million dollars, which is a -- which goes a long way in Alaska. But it's also interesting that the self-financed candidates in some cases can prevail but often do not. Voters -- after a while when they see somebody pouring huge sums of money and wonder what the deal is, what kind of game is somebody playing if they're willing to spend $50 or $100 million to get one of these offices that everybody condemns?
ORNSTEINAnd that may have impact in California where you've got two candidates trying to do that for governor and Senate.
REHMHere's an email from Keith in Cleveland, Ohio. "How can the media and pundits still be pushing the idea that the electorate is in an anti-incumbent mood when only eight sitting members of Congress have lost in the primaries?" Ron.
ELVINGWell, because usually none do. That's usually the case. Usually, you don't see anybody go down the way Bob Bennett went down. You don't see anybody even stressed the way -- even to the degree that John McCain was stressed, or Lisa Murkowksi case, or for that matter Arlen Specter being chased out of his own party and then beaten in the other one, or down in Florida, Charlie Crist being chased out of his own party -- so we've seen a lot of that activity this year. And usually there is extraordinarily little at this level of politics, partly because of the money imperative.
REHMHere is an email from Elizabeth in Montgomery County. She says, "I've been following Florida politics. I was surprised at how little outreach there was to the significant Latino vote there. Neither Alex Sink nor Kendrick Meek had a Spanish language ad campaign. Why do you think that is? Don't they need that voting bloc to win in November?"
WILSONWell, they really do. And Alex Sink, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, didn't have much of a primary at all. I think she took well-north of 80 percent of the vote in the primary.
WILSONThat will be a -- the Hispanic vote will be a significant factor. It always is in Florida, but it will be especially this year because Rick Scott does not have the best relationship with Hispanic voters. He's come out in favor of the Arizona immigration bill for a matter -- as an example. And that's going to be a problem in a state in which Hispanic voters have voted for Republicans in greater margins, largely because of the Cuban community there, the very large Cuban community in Miami.
REHMTalking about immigration, that was one subject we didn't touch on in regard to John McCain. He shifted tremendously on that issue, Norm.
ORNSTEINWell, he certainly did. And, you know, John McCain -- back when he was trying to forge a comprehensive immigration agreement with Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham -- basically poopooed the notion of offense and, you know, looked for a way to provide a road to legalization for the 12 or 13 million illegals who were in the country. This campaign, it was all about defense and all about a positive view of the Arizona immigration law. I mean, he did ads. He took the toughest possible stance. Ain't nobody going to get to the right of John McCain on this one. And that's going to, of course once again, make it harder to get anywhere on this issue.
WILSONI always find Arizona to be a microcosm of the Republican Party at large. The party in Arizona is very starkly divided between Conservatives, who are more business activists -- businessmen -- and those who are -- who feel more strongly about the immigration issue. That is playing itself out in a number of races across the country. I mean, that's why were talking about immigration in the New Hampshire Republican primary -- Republican Senate primary and, you know, Kansas. It always comes up in a number of states that aren't on the border and don't have this sort of immediacy of the issue that Arizona Republicans feel.
WILSONBut the split between the business conservatives and the anti-immigration activists is probably costing the Republican seats throughout the country. And as the party struggles to reinvent itself, even if they win big, win back the majority in the fall, they will still have to reinvent themselves. That's a battle that's going to play out and it's going to make a big difference, not only with Hispanics but with moderate independents as well.
REHMReid Wilson, he's editor-in-chief of National Journal's Hotline. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We heard during the primaries a name we've heard before. The son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, Ben Quayle, is making his appearance.
ELVINGYes. Thirty-three-year-old Ben Quayle, who is the son of Dan Quayle, and I should also point out, the son of Marilyn Quayle. People sometimes say he's the spitting image of his father. I think you could make the case he looks more like his mom and also takes more of the political attitude and shall we say personality...
REHMWhat does that mean?
ELVING...of his mother, which is more aggressive. His father, when he first came up in politics, was an amiable, affable sort of fellow, a smiling face, later was cast, of course, as an attack to (word?) vice president to some degree. But it never really fit him. When he was first coming up in the Senate -- he was elected in 1980 -- you know, he was a blue-eyed, blond, great-looking guy who just got along with everybody or tried to. Well, Ben doesn't really seem to be going that route. Now, if you're in a 10-person primary for an absolutely safe Republican seat, you're going to have some sharp pebbles. You're going to have some really tough issue talk you have to do. And all the candidates in this seat were doing it. One of them featured herself firing a firearm in her ads. I mean...
WILSONAn automatic -- semiautomatic, actually.
ELVING...and looked serious, like serious damage was being done by this gun to at least this human target shape, not a literal human target. And so this was a tough race. And of course, it came out that Ben had, in his earlier years, in his 20s, been putting up postings on a little site called Dirtyscottsdale.com. This obviously did not help in a Conservative Republican…
ELVINGIt's a racy website where people put up postings with anonymous names. He chose the name of a porn star from the movie "Boogie Nights," and he posted under that name. Well, he tried to deny it. Then it was exposed that he had. Then he said, "Well, you know, it was all just sort of a youthful indiscretion." His father and mother wrote letters to the Republican voters of the 3rd District of Arizona telling them this is something in our son's past. He shouldn't have done it, but he is a good boy. And you can trust him, and he wants to do the right thing. And in a 10-way primary, that kind of name recognition and being the story in that fashion is good enough for about a quarter of the vote or a little less. And that's good enough to make him the nominee, and he would have to be the odds-on favorite to win that seat in November.
REHMHe recorded a pretty strong ad against President Obama.
ELVINGHe did an ad where he said -- he started by saying Barack Obama is the worst president in the history of the United States. That got a lot of attention. And obviously in a Republican primary in a Republican district in Arizona, it didn't hurt him.
WILSONEven though 75 percent of the people in the primary wound up voting against him.
WILSONTheir vote was split among nine other candidates.
ELVINGAnd I will say this is going to be a very anti-Democratic year, but Arizona's 3rd Congressional District is not entirely safe. It has been contested the last two election cycles that Congressman John Shadegg is retiring. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent money in the district the last two cycles. They have a candidate there who's got some money. He doesn't -- obviously, he doesn't have the fundraising ability that Ben Quayle does. But if Ben Quayle survives this year and there's another democratic wave in 2012, that could be a seat that the D triple C puts its focus on down the road.
REHMWhat kind of a clear political understanding does Ben Quayle have other than being the son of the former vice president? What's his background? What's his experience? What are people voting for other than a name?
ELVINGWell, Ben Quayle is a lawyer. And I think people, when they go to vote, are largely looking for symbols. They're looking for people who resonate in some sense with a value they're trying to express. And if there's a name -- whether it's Murkowski or whether it is Quayle or whether in some other state it might be another name -- they often times respond to that. That's how dynasties are built. It's not necessarily that people think the talent transfers. It's the value that's the brand. And so he has a brand, which among a certain kind of Conservative Republican, is an embattled -- but one they're willing to defend -- brand.
REHMRon Elving, he is Washington editor for NPR. When we come back, we'll talk about what all this could mean for November. We'll take your calls, your emails, your messages.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time for your calls, your comments on yesterday's primaries. First to Catherine, who's in Cleveland, Ohio, good morning, you're on the air. Catherine?
REHMYes. Go right ahead, please.
CATHERINEThank you. This is what I'm looking for in a candidate, and it's very unusual. Anyone who is pro-labor, I am voting against. I think it's insidious at the federal, state and local level that the Labor Party, which is 23 percent of the vote in America, is the worst lobby we have. And it's a big one. They impact NAFTA. They impact school systems. They impact tariffs. They impact retirement pensions, that at 55 you'll get 80 percent of the salary until you die, while the taxpayer is struggling.
CATHERINESo I've actually taken a look at candidates where pro-labor will get the vote out, and then the candidate will be extremely generous with all levels of decisions as a payback to labor to get them into office. In Ohio, we've seen this to an extreme, in Cleveland and at the state level, and I wonder what comment your guests have.
REHMAll right. Reid.
WILSONYeah, Ohio has been a hotbed and will be this year for the pro and anti-union move. I should say the pro-labor and the pro-business movement rather than anti-anything. The Senate -- Republican Senate candidate out there, Rob Portman, the former Congressman, is also the former budget director for President Bush. His opponent is the lieutenant governor of the state, Lee Fisher. And Rob Portman's experience in the Bush administration is going to play a huge factor as we move forward. Democrats are going to try to make it an issue. And Rob Portman has not been the biggest pro-union -- he did not have the best pro-union voting record when he was in Congress. As a matter of fact, he had one of the best pro-business voting records.
WILSONSo the labor issues are -- they're going to play a big role for Democrats as unions come out and spend -- you know, AFL-CIO has pledged -- I think it's $53 million on behalf of Democrats. So at the end of the day, that's going to play a big role for the Democrats. And it's going to play in an especially big role in that Ohio Senate race.
ELVINGYou know, back before we had all the social issues that are a front burner in our politics nowadays often times -- and back when the two parties largely agreed on all national security questions -- labor management issues in the '50s and early '60s were American politics. There were very few issues that didn't fall out long at labor management divide. And the number of people voting on the labor side of that, I would argue, was quite a lot higher in those days. Certainly the labor unions in the private sector were much larger. In the government sector, labor unions are probably as successful as ever today. So I don't know if it's 23 percent of the vote in the country.
ELVINGI think that might be a generous estimate.
REHMHere's an email from Ron in Grand Rapids, Mich. who says, "I'm sad to see the moderates, both Democrat and Republican, disappearing as there is no one to negotiate with." And the antic said, "The chameleon John McCain almost makes me afraid to vote for any party as it's become very clear, what you vote for is not necessarily what you get." Norm.
ORNSTEINThere are a lot of good points there. One thing that is happening is for a long time, the center in the House of Representatives has been declining. And it's going to decline further and more rapidly this time. Moderate Republicans in the House who have basically been able to caucus in White Castle's Bathroom, the moderate Republican from Delaware who is now running for and favorite to win in the Senate, will go. And there aren't very many others left. Those who are left basically -- and there are a number who'd like to work out compromises, but they would be devastated in primaries if they did.
ORNSTEINThe vulnerable Democrats in the house are concentrated heavily among the Blue Dogs. The center is there, including some who voted against their own party, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in South Dakota, but is in trouble simply because she's a Democrat. And while we're going to get a couple of moderates in the Senate, a couple of moderate Republicans, as Reid said earlier, they're going to be outnumbered by the bomb-throwing, uncompromising types...
ORNSTEIN...and it's going to be very hard to find those compromises in the middle.
REHMAll right. So what does all this mean and for the government to get anything done?
ELVINGWell, what this also speaks to is a diffusion of power outside of Washington, D.C. The Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee have much less control over the rest of their party than these diffused groups. One group that's gotten a number of candidates elected -- Sharron Angle in Nevada, Joe Miller if he wins in Alaska, et cetera -- is the group called the Tea Party Express. This political action committee in California that's raised and spent millions of dollars on behalf of very conservative candidates, that's taking away from the National Republican party. So when they are able to go into different primaries in different states, you've got Lisa Murkowski in serious danger and Bob Bennett not even making the ballot in the primary because he got kicked out at the convention. So it's going to be a really different 112th Congress.
ELVINGWhen they come back in January, the freshmen members of the House are going to have been swept in on a populist, anti-government wave. The, you know, the freshmen in the Senate are going to be these Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, Mike Lee types. Even though they're not all likely to come to Washington, D.C., a significant number of them will. This place is going to look very different...
ELVING...even then, the partisan ranker of the last few years.
REHMAll right. To Hershey, Pa. Good morning, Tom.
TOMHi, good morning. Thanks for taking my call.
TOMLong-time listener, first-time caller.
REHMGlad to have you.
TOMI think ordinary voters should be appalled that John McCain can spend $20 million in a primary. I think that's what's wrong with politics. And, you know, people are struggling all over the country. And to watch that kind of money, that's not winning an election, that's buying an election.
WILSONJohn McCain used to think that was what was wrong with the politics, too. But things change, and politicians become devoted to maintaining their own career if not necessarily maintaining all the positions that they're associated with. And he certainly has become a poster boy for that. I think though that there needs to be, over the next several years, an uprising of this caller and all the other people in America who feel that the money issue is becoming a separate issue.
WILSONEver since the Supreme Court decided that money and speech were in some sense legally synonymous and that you couldn't restrict money too much because it was like violating the first amendment to the Constitution, we have been on a increasingly slippery slope. The current Supreme Court has opened the floodgates and indicated that even disclosure, even disclosure of who's giving the money to whom is not necessarily a settled matter.
WILSONAnd that said, the candidate spending money is one thing, but we're going to get an enormous flood of money thanks to the Citizens United decision, thanks to Justice Anthony Kennedy and his cohort, from outside groups. Karl Rove has set up two groups with Ed Gillespie, both called American Crossroads. One is American Crossroads itself, the other is American Crossroads GPS. The second is in the IRS parlance, at 501 (c)(4), a nonprofit that can engage and issue advocacy, and you don’t have to disclose the donors.
ORNSTEINThey've raised $17 million already and headed towards $50 million. It's all going to be poured into harshly negative ads against Democrats. There are going to be some on the other side. But it's the outside money, in many cases, with no sense of where it's coming from, unlimited corporate donations that are being allowed. And because in many cases they don't have to disclose those donations, they're going to be more willing to give them.
REHM...that Jane Mayer has a piece in this week's New Yorkers on the billionaires giving money to Conservatives. Let's go to Oklahoma City. Good morning, Len.
LENGood morning, Diane. The last little discussion here just really kind of turns my stomach. I wasn't planning on talking about that. But, gee, whiz, the Supreme Court has sold us out with some of these decisions here. They, you know, they've sold this country lock, stock and barrel to, you know, the people who can afford to pay the most. Well, I would like to make a comment about -- I've seen some ads from Marc Rubio. He was kind of wearing the Hispanic cloak, showing that he represents, you know, a lot of Hispanics there. I would like to have you comment about the preferential treatment, the, you know, the Cuban Americans get versus other nationalities -- other Hispanics that come into the country illegally.
WILSONWell, Cuban Americans play a big role in Florida politics, and that's the community from which Marco Rubio comes. He was the Speaker of the House. He built a reputation not -- when he was in the state legislature -- as not quite the conservative that he's displaying himself as now. But he's certainly far to the right of Charlie Crist as, I think, are the majority of activists -- well, Republican activists around the state of Florida.
WILSONOne interesting role the Cubans -- Cuban community in the Miami area is going to play this year, as I said earlier, is how they react to this gubernatorial candidate, Rick Scott. There are three Cuban American members of Congress, all Republicans, from the Southern Florida area. They were not in favor of this anti-immigration bill in Arizona. And it's that interplay is going to be very fascinating. It is a traditionally Republican voting bloc. If they start to swing away, I think that signals an impending disaster for Republicans around the country who have had a decreasing -- a degenerating relationship with Hispanic voters ever since Jim Sensenbrenner's bill back in, what, '05, '06.
REHMWhat about state legislatures? We haven't talked about them, but they're going to -- are Republicans going to make big games there, Ron?
ELVINGJust as Democrats made big games there in 2006 and 2008, this year, the pendulum swings back. There are a lot of state legislatures where the normal relationships, the normal ratios between the two parties have been rather lopsidedly upset in the last two elections. And that's going to be addressed. That's pretty much natural. If you combine that with the energy and with the flow of media message that we're hearing in 2010, it could be rather extreme. I've heard they've estimated that perhaps 500 seats could change hands between the two parties in the 50 state legislatures. Southern Nebraska only has a unicameral legislature, but there are lots of folks in it.
ELVINGSo that could also be paralleled by a big shift in the governorships. Right now, the Democrats have a bare majority of their governorships. They're going to lose that. And they could drop down as low as into the teens just as we're on the brink of the post-2010 since this redistricting, the reapportionment of Congress and then the redrawing of the lines in every state. And in some states -- Pennsylvania, Georgia, a number of others -- this will determine who has the upper hand in those delegations, and that'll determine who runs the House.
WILSONThere's no doubt about that. And there's a lot of money -- a lot more money than we normally see going in the state legislative races as a consequence. And of course, we have many chambers that are within one or two or three seats of a shift in majority. And we would have to expect that those states especially are going to get the heavy treatment.
REHMYou know, as we talk about money -- and you mentioned this earlier, Norm -- the governor's race in California, you've got Meg Whitman putting in millions of her own money. You've got Democrat Jerry Brown who spent, what, $1,000?
WILSONYeah. It's -- I mean, this is as -- an even greater contrast than in Alaska. Meg Whitman has spent now close to $100 million so far, and there'll be much heavier spending to go. The big winner in California is the local television station community, which, you know -- and they've had this experience before, when Al Checchi, another multimillionaire ran for governor and lost. He spent about $60 million and bought television ads at, you know, the full price, so it was a godsend for the stations. For Meg Whitman, running against a quirky Jerry Brown, she ought to be in a very commanding position. But I don't think you could say at this point that she's in a commanding position.
WILSONI think she -- you still have to rate her as a favorite, but that may be a case where there'll be a little bit of a backlash. Interestingly, by the way, she's spending a lot of money in Hispanic advertising in Spanish language. She is -- she understands that the California community is a little bit different.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Wainscott, N.Y. Good morning, Jody. You're on the air.
JODYGood morning. I love your show, Diane.
JODYI wanted to say that it seems to me what's going on -- I hope I can verbalize this briefly. You have a lot of very wealthy people running for office, often with conservative point of view, and they're hostile to government. But yet they're running to be in government, and what happens is that they create a government that's non-functioning because they become roadblocks at every step. Plus, they take all the advantage of government for themselves. So while one woman called up and spoke against unions which provide benefits for working people, the people that are running for government now -- the wealthy people, which really don't need the unions -- they'll take all the benefits from the government which they'll have all their lives.
JODYAnd I think that I see government as useful. Government helps poor people. Government helps middle-income people. It provides rights and protections for them that wouldn't exist without the government. And I think that a lot of the wealthy people running for office now really don't -- the government interferes with their business.
REHMYou know, it really does go back to Ronald Reagan when he said government is the problem.
ELVINGThis reminds me of an old P.J. O'Rourke quote in which he said, Democrats are the party that say government can make you stronger and smarter and healthier and get the crabgrass out of your lawn, and Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it. This is a fundamental debate in politics today is what is the role of government. It was a debate in which John McCain and Barack Obama clearly disagreed in 2008. But I think reading the 2008 election is a referendum on the role of government was inappropriate. I don't think you can make that leap. It was a changed election. As opposed to now, we're having a serious conversation about the role of government and at the moment, the populists in America are reacting more to -- as, I think, it was Ron said earlier -- the TARP vote back in October of 2008 than anything else.
WILSONYeah, it was the TARP -- the TARP vote, I think, really was a key here. It suggested to people that those in government were rewarding the miscreants who had gotten us into this mess, who took away our savings and our homes and kept us from even being able to sell them when we need to. And they not only bailed them out, instead of following that by riding them out of town on a rail after tar-and-feathering them, let them take those bonuses. Then you've got the GM bailout. And even though that's proven to be an enormous success -- it saved an industry, hundreds of thousands of jobs and other things -- you've got a backlash against that as well.
REHMSo what do these primaries tell us?
ORNSTEINThese primaries tell us that this anger that we've all been talking about is still highly generalized. It's very strong. It's in almost every corner of the country. But it does not always produce the same results in terms of specific candidates and how they try to tap into it.
REHMRon Elving, Washington editor for NPR. Norm Ornstein, he's resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Reid Wilson, editor-in-chief of National Journal's Hotline. More to come, gentlemen.
REHMThanks for being here. Thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
REHM"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Jonathan Smith, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives and CD sales. Transcripts from Softscribe and Podcast. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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