Guest Host: Tom Gjelten

Morning after analysis of the Wisconsin, Maryland, and DC GOP presidential primaries. Guest host Tom Gjelten and his panel look at the remaining field and frontrunner Mitt Romney’s ongoing efforts to shift into general election campaign mode.

Guests

  • Amy Walter national editor for Cook Political Report.
  • Julie Hirschfeld Davis national political correspondent at Bloomberg News.
  • Neil King, Jr. national reporter, The Wall Street Journal.

Transcript

  • 10:06:55

    MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is recovering from a voice treatment. Gov. Mitt Romney won all three GOP primary contests held yesterday in Wisconsin, Maryland, and here in D.C. So is the Republican race over? Not quite, but we are getting there. Joining me to talk about the GOP race and what's ahead: Neil King of The Wall Street Journal, Amy Walter of ABC News and Julie Hirschfeld Davis of Bloomberg News.

  • 10:07:24

    MR. TOM GJELTENAnd you can join our conversation. Call 1-800-433-8850 with your questions or comments. You can also send us an email, drshow@wamu.org, or join us on Facebook or Twitter. So, Amy, what about it? Is the race over? Is the race all but over? Or is it just halftime, as Rick Santorum said last night?

  • 10:07:49

    MS. AMY WALTERThe fat lady has sung. That's it. I talked to her last night. We had a long conversation, and she said that this is it. I mean, the reality is the race, physically, is not over. Mitt Romney still does not have the required number of delegates to wrap up the nomination. He's a little over halfway there. But in Wisconsin last night, what Mitt Romney finally did, that he wasn't able to do in some of these other states, even in some Midwestern states like Ohio, is to win over those groups of voters that have been cool to him throughout this process.

  • 10:08:23

    MS. AMY WALTERSo he carried very conservative voters, not by a lot but, he did much better with them than he did in Ohio. He carried people who feel very strongly about the Tea Party. He won over people who make less than $100,000 a year, again, not by very large margins, but he didn't lose them by the large margins that he did in Ohio. So it's very hard for Santorum to make the case that he now has a pathway to winning.

  • 10:08:50

    MS. AMY WALTERAnd, more important, 83 percent of people in the state of Wisconsin said they believe that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee. So when people who voted for Rick Santorum say, I don't even think he is going to win, it seems like this race is over.

  • 10:09:04

    GJELTENWell, there are a number of more races -- May is -- Pennsylvania is coming up, and, of course, Rick Santorum is from Pennsylvania. People are still voting for Rick Santorum. What are they saying, Julie Hirschfeld Davis?

  • 10:09:18

    MS. JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVISThe people who are voting for Rick Santorum want the person who is the most conservative person. They're looking for a candidate who they think will present that contrast with Barack Obama, not just on the economy, which is what Mitt Romney has been spotlighting throughout this whole campaign, but on a variety of issues, including the social issues, including abortion and contraception and all the rest.

  • 10:09:38

    MS. JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVISThey are the people who do not put the economy number one when you ask them what are their highest priorities when they vote, and they're people who believe -- the one group that Santorum did, not surprisingly, the best with in Wisconsin last night was he won 95 percent of the people who believe that Rick Santorum will be the nominee. There are...

  • 10:09:59

    MR. NEIL KING JR.They are a minority.

  • 10:09:59

    DAVISThere are still those people, and they're a small and shrinking minority who think he is going to be the nominee and who think he could do best against Obama because of health care, for one, because Mitt Romney obviously has a history on health care that is not very appealing to most of the Republican base. And they think that he would be the best person, and Mitt Romney has to be careful right now.

  • 10:10:21

    DAVISHe is mopping up. He has wrapped this up in all the sort of important -- with all the cohorts that he would need, that he needs to seal the deal with. And he has what is basically a prohibitive lead in delegates. But he has to be careful not to totally discount Santorum until Santorum is ready to go to the sidelines because he can't alienate the people who want a candidate like that when it comes time to face up against Barack Obama.

  • 10:10:47

    GJELTENNeil King, are Republicans, even those Republicans who support Rick Santorum, are they being nicer about Mitt Romney now? Do you see sort of any change in the tone of the Republican primary race, and any indication in that tone that there really is some coalescing taking place?

  • 10:11:05

    JR.Well, there's definitely coalescence as Amy pointed out. There -- you see in the exit polls in Wisconsin and elsewhere a sense, a kind of realism setting in among even that people that are still a bit starstruck by Santorum that they're moving over to Romney, and certainly the base of the party is moving over to Romney. And, in some ways, the RNC is moving over to Romney. That's all happening.

  • 10:11:25

    JR.The thing about Rick Santorum is that he basically has become like Mike Huckabee, but without the graciousness that Mike Huckabee had at this phase of the race. I mean, you know, Rick Santorum got into this race as grandfather of a coal miner, you know, man -- the working man of Pennsylvania, the guy that could appeal to the industrial states of the Midwest. He's now lost all the industrial states of the Midwest that he's raced in.

  • 10:11:47

    JR.And now he has his fallback, the one that he grew up in, and is trying to portray Pennsylvania as a comeback moment if he were to win his own home state when the others have won their own home states without any real, you know, anything to come from it. So -- and his own tone -- others' tone has certainly wanted to start to modulate, and people -- the party very much wants that to happen. But, you know, Santorum was running an ad in Wisconsin that was a very grim ad comparing Romney to Obama and saying he was basically the same person as Obama.

  • 10:12:16

    GJELTENRight.

  • 10:12:17

    JR.And when ads like that run in places like Wisconsin, which could conceivably -- it probably won't -- but could conceivably be an actual toss-up state in the general election, that does potentially lasting damage to Mitt Romney.

  • 10:12:27

    GJELTENAnd, of course, Congressman Paul Ryan, who's from Wisconsin and campaigned throughout the state with Romney, said, "I think we're entering a phase where it could become counterproductive if this drags on much longer." Do you really think, Amy, that it will be counterproductive, or is this sort of -- is this kind of an -- this kind of criticism that Rick Santorum personally is making of Romney, is it sort of innocuous at this point?

  • 10:12:51

    WALTERWell, the damage certainly has been done in many ways. I mean, you look at where Mitt Romney's numbers are today. Compare them to where Barack Obama was or where other nominees, even John Carey was, at this point in their nominating process, John McCain, et cetera. And he's in really, really bad shape, especially among those voters that he needs in November -- independents, women voters, et cetera. So definitely it has taken a toll on Mitt Romney.

  • 10:13:23

    WALTERAnd it's taken a toll, not just because it's gotten -- it's personal, and it's negative. But voters still don't have a sense of who Mitt Romney is. Sort of going to Neil's point here about, you know, sort of what is the bigger picture going forward, voters haven't come away from this process saying, I sure know who Mitt Romney is.

  • 10:13:38

    GJELTENMm hmm.

  • 10:13:39

    WALTERHe's this, this and this. They -- basically, what they know is, I know who Rick Santorum is because Mitt Romney and his allies have spent, like, $6 jillion beating living daylights out of him in every media market that's mattered in this process. But they don't come out of this with a real sense of optimism about this candidate. And so he's matching up against a president who is doing quite well in the polls right now.

  • 10:14:03

    WALTERHe's personally liked. People know his story. Mitt Romney has got a lot of work to do to get that back. I don't know that it's -- it's not impossible, but he would like to get there now rather than having to worry about these other guys.

  • 10:14:16

    GJELTENJulie, one of Rick Perry's advisers said that Mitt Romney came into this race not as well-known but more -- better liked, and now he is, of course, much better known. But his likeability factor has gone down quite sharply.

  • 10:14:28

    DAVISThat's right. I mean, you have two important factors when you are a candidate for president. There's your ID. Do people know you? And, as Amy said, what's their sense of what your core is, what your identity is? Mitt Romney came into this process, and that was fairly low. He ran for president last time, but people didn't know him as well. He faded fairly quickly from that race. So, nationally, he wasn't as well-known, but his net approvals were fairly on the positive side.

  • 10:14:53

    DAVISNow, people know him a lot better. They still don't know him as well as they know Barack Obama, which is a problem. But what they do know of him they don't necessarily like, particularly those groups, women voters, independents, Hispanic voters as well. Some of the groups that were somewhat alienated by the level of discourse and the substance of the discourse of the Republican primary -- what they know about Mitt Romney, they don't really like.

  • 10:15:13

    DAVISAnd Barack Obama and the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, are already well into the process of defining him negatively for voters. And we saw the president do that by name in an ad this week, a campaign ad and in a speech sort of mocking him for using the word marvelous...

  • 10:15:31

    GJELTENMm hmm.

  • 10:15:31

    DAVIS...and also, you know, taking on sort of the symbol of what Republicans are about, their budget, that Paul Ryan was the father of. So they're already very, very prepared and well-funded in their effort to try to define him even worse than he's come out of this primary process being defined.

  • 10:15:49

    GJELTENAnd -- Neil, go ahead.

  • 10:15:50

    JR.Yeah, I did -- there's an interesting distinction, I think, is worth making between approval and basically likeability. I mean, you started out with talking about likeability. John McCain was on one of the shows this morning. He was talking about why Mitt Romney really needs to deal with his approval rating. And that's not the issue, though. The thing is, is that for Barack -- I look at it a little bit like I could be disapproved by my mother for an extended period for not sending her a card over Mother's Day or something.

  • 10:16:14

    JR.But she still likes me, and it's easy for her to -- it's easy to get her to approve of me again. And the thing that Obama has in his favor is that he is still liked by a large majority of Americans, even among those who don't approve of him. So moving approvability is fairly easy thing. The problem that Romney faces is that he's just not very well-liked. And it's very difficult to get people to like you also at the same time as you're attacking a guy, as in the president, that a lot of people like.

  • 10:16:40

    JR.And it's going to be a very difficult passage that he has to try to go through, which is to do those things at the same time, at the same time as Obama --being on a firmer stage -- is able to use his likeability and go after Romney and define him in a vacuum, sort of. And that's, I think, what we're going to see happening, like, as of today, and it really is -- started happening yesterday.

  • 10:17:00

    GJELTENBut, Amy Walter, Barack Obama has had his problems with approval and favorability. You know, 50 percent or below 50 percent is not historically seen as a very safe place to be, right?

  • 10:17:09

    WALTERRight. Well, and his handling of the economy, right. And that's -- this is really the whole issue about this primary and why it's been so problematic for Mitt Romney, is he came into this race as the fixer of the economy, the guy who's going to go in and tackle the one issue that we know every American is concerned about. And, instead, he's talked about everything but. And even when he was talking about the economy, it was in these bromides.

  • 10:17:30

    WALTERAnd it -- he had to be very careful not to alienate conservatives but also not scare off independents. And so he's in this weird sort of purgatory, talking about an issue that was supposed to be, as he said, in his wheelhouse. And so, now, he is coming out sort of defining this race much more clearly. We've seen it over the weekend. We saw it last night. I'm the guy who wants the free market to continue to grow and exist.

  • 10:17:54

    WALTERI think last night he said, I don't want to transform America. I just want to bring America back, taking a real shot at Barack Obama as the guy who wants to turn America into something different. And we've set up -- I mean, for all those folks who say, well, the elections, they're really all the same. It doesn't really matter. All these parties, they're typical politicians. We have really two very different views of the future for this country in Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

  • 10:18:20

    WALTERAnd voters have a very clear, distinctive choice that, right now, Mitt Romney wants to make much more clearer. And he want to spend a lot less time talking about all the things that Rick Santorum wants to talk about, namely Romneycare or all his other positions that Mitt Romney took when he was governor.

  • 10:18:35

    GJELTENAnd this could be the start of that next phase where it's really Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney from here on.

  • 10:18:40

    WALTERThat's right.

  • 10:18:41

    GJELTENAmy Walter is political director of ABC News. We're also here with Julie Hirschfeld Davis, congressional correspondent from Bloomberg News, and Neil King, Jr., national reporter for The Wall Street Journal. You can join us, 1-800-433-8850. We'll be back after a short break. Thanks for listening.

  • 10:20:03

    GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And we're talking about the GOP primary results from yesterday, but more importantly, looking ahead, perhaps all the way to November and the general election. Please join us with email or a phone call to 1-800-433-8850. We already have an email here from Steven, who says, "Assuming Romney takes the nomination, what do you see is the likelihood of a Romney-Santorum ticket?

  • 10:20:30

    GJELTEN"Given the strong conservative position of Santorum, is Romney likely to go outside of the current crop of contenders and bring in a fresh face for his VP?" Well, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, it seems like they're -- that Romney's facing a real dilemma here. On the one hand, his own adviser has acknowledged that he needs to do a pivot here and start appealing to the middle.

  • 10:20:52

    GJELTENRick Santorum says, we don't have to move to the middle. We need to move the middle to us. So what -- how does Romney approach his vice presidential -- or, really, the campaign for the rest of the year, does he seek to unify the base behind him in that very conservative base? Or does he start reaching out to the middle?

  • 10:21:12

    DAVISWell, I mean, that's a lively debate as far as who he's going to pick for the vice presidency and whether it's going to be someone who might bring the conservative base that is -- has been resistant to Romney. And, frankly, even though he appears to have the nomination wrapped up, is still somewhat resistant to him or cool to him, as Amy said earlier.

  • 10:21:30

    DAVISI think what we're going to see in the next couple of weeks and months is that Romney is going to pivot quite strongly to a more independent, targeted message, that is, a message about the economy, less about social issues, something that's more broadly appealing about, you know, what he can do to get jobs back, to get incomes up, to make the economy better and to get people more secure. He'll talk a lot about gas prices.

  • 10:21:52

    DAVISAnd all of those messages will be targeted toward appealing to independents and more moderate voters, maybe even some cross-over Democrats who are disillusioned with President Obama. But his advisers are still debating whether he will need, ultimately, to put someone on his ticket who would bring some of that conservative credibility that he doesn't have. Having covered this race the last few months, and how nasty it's been with him and Rick Santorum, it's very hard for me to imagine a Romney-Santorum ticket.

  • 10:22:20

    WALTERYeah.

  • 10:22:21

    DAVISAnd also, increasingly, what you hear from his advisers and also from Republicans outside of the campaign, that former Sen. John Sununu had a column this week where he basically argued that Romney has such a commanding lead in terms of delegates, has won so many of the groups among Republicans that he needs in order to be a successful nominee, that he actually doesn't need to pick someone who's a game changer. He doesn't need a Sarah Palin-like figure.

  • 10:22:46

    DAVISJohn McCain was actually joking about it this morning on TV, that who would, yes, bring a group that he doesn't have with him now, but also could pose liabilities because they're not as well-known, and they may be a more volatile figure. And so, I think, that's a sort of accelerating point of view among the -- among people who are allied with Romney, is that he may want to go safer and pick someone who's well-known and is seen as a solid person.

  • 10:23:12

    WALTERAnd he's not a risk-taker in general. I mean, that's the story of Mitt Romney's life.

  • 10:23:14

    DAVISRight. Right.

  • 10:23:15

    WALTERHe is very measured. You obviously see it on the campaign trail, and you've seen it in his entire career. This is not a guy who went to Silicon Valley to become a venture capitalist. He stayed in sort of very -- he took some risks in business, but he was very, very committed to sort of staying a safer course. So I completely agree. I don't think you're going to see someone of a game changer. I think he's going to look for somebody who can appeal beyond the Republican base. They're all going to come home for it.

  • 10:23:41

    GJELTENI have to read this great quote from Frank Bruni in a New York Times column. And it speaks to why we're all of a sudden talking about the vice presidential possibilities. "The veepstakes are the journalistic equivalent of a public works project by which temporarily underutilized pundits and campaign reporters, biding their time until the end-of-summer conventions, keep their muscles toned and their hours filled. Bobby Jindal becomes the bridge to nowhere, Chris Christie their big hydroelectric dam." OK, Neil King, I got some work for you.

  • 10:24:11

    JR.Yeah.

  • 10:24:12

    GJELTENYeah.

  • 10:24:12

    JR.I hope I don't have to engage in all that. I absolutely agree.

  • 10:24:15

    GJELTENDo you want to weigh on this? How important is it?

  • 10:24:17

    JR.You know, (unintelligible), I -- pardon me?

  • 10:24:19

    GJELTENHow important is it?

  • 10:24:20

    JR.I mean, it can certainly do you a lot of damage. That's for sure. We saw that in the last race. You know, it's always overblown. It's, you know, is -- does it gain you more leverage in a state? I think if you went to Marco Rubio of Florida, that could, you know, make Florida a lot more difficult for Obama to win, I suppose. And the difficulty, I think, is when you're trying to firm up a side of your party, like the outer flank of your party, at the expense of what you actually really need to do to win presidential elections, which is to win the middle of the electorate.

  • 10:24:50

    JR.That becomes kind of perplexing, but the thing is, yeah, it's a public works project. We all engage in it. And about half the time, the person that's picked comes out of nowhere, and nobody saw it coming. And who saw even Dick Cheney picking himself when he was the head of that committee to select the vice president?

  • 10:25:05

    GJELTENYeah.

  • 10:25:05

    JR.I mean, just briefly, the -- what's interesting about this election so far, when you look at the maps like we saw it in Wisconsin -- we saw it very vividly in Ohio -- is that Romney's map looks like a Democratic map basically. Democrats generally has strength in the inner cities and then going out into the suburbs, and then it dwindles substantially into the exurbs and into the rural areas. And that's exactly what Romney's map is.

  • 10:25:26

    JR.So he is now going to -- it's kind of a faith-based initiative in a way going forward, where he has to have faith that all those rural conservatives are going to come to his side and the kind of exurban people as well and that -- and how he's going to do that exactly, even to solidify his own party, much less to then start reaching out to the people that are really, in some ways, already kind of with him, which are the much more moderate suburban kind of conservative.

  • 10:25:52

    WALTERWell, and this was exactly issue that Barack Obama had, right? In 2008, it was that exact same coalition that was waiting for Hillary Clinton, the white working-class voters that weren't necessarily the same -- they were not the independent, younger, minority voters that Barack Obama was winning over. And even when you look at -- I went back and looked at the exit polls from Pennsylvania back in 2008, when that was -- those clear lines were evident in the Democratic primary.

  • 10:26:22

    WALTERAnd then, you know, we were saying the same things about Obama. Is he going to be able to win those over? Only 65 percent of Democrats in Pennsylvania said they'd be satisfied with Barack Obama as the nominee. Can he possibly win over those white, working-class women who voted for Hillary Clinton? The end of the day, of course, he was able to do that. I don't think those voters are going to sit at home, but I think that what's motivating them more than anything is beating Barack Obama more than supporting Mitt Romney.

  • 10:26:49

    GJELTENJulie, you've written about the gender gap. What's going on here with the vote of women? There has been some speculation that it was the contraception controversy that sort of accounted for that apparent but significant shift from women -- among women voters from Romney to Obama. But there's also some pretty compelling evidence that it actually may have had nothing to do with the contraception controversy.

  • 10:27:13

    DAVISI think it's certainly part of it, but it's also -- I mean, we have heard in the debates, primarily starting out last year and then coming into this year, there was a lot of talk about abortion rights and Romney saying that he was strongly pro-life -- and, of course, Rick Santorum, that's sort of his signature issue. So there's been a lot of talk about that. There was the contraception debate.

  • 10:27:32

    DAVISAnd then also, Mitt Romney, when he makes his case about controlling government spending, every single time -- and it's not been an accident that he's done it this way -- he talks about defunding Planned Parenthood. And, you know, that's -- those are issues that Democrats and some of the women's groups and women's rights groups have seized upon and really -- and sort of drummed home.

  • 10:27:52

    DAVISOn the other hand, I also don't think its only women's issue thing. It has to do with, you know, some of what we see in terms of people's feeling that they can't connect with Romney. They can't identify with Romney. Women voters are, you know, are voters who make the kitchen table issues decisions. They, you know, they are very -- the economy is not an abstract issue for them, and it's not about the deficit. It's about jobs. It's about gas prices. It's about will they have jobs? Will their husbands and children be able to find jobs?

  • 10:28:22

    DAVISThese are some of the issues that the exit polls and public polls that we've been able to see show that -- where Romney is weakest. And so all of the talk of abortion and contraception just kind of adds to that, and we do see a gender gap now. If you look at the polls, that is far and away worse than the one that John McCain had when he was defeated in '08 by Obama -- that was a 13-point deficit with women. Romney's somewhere around 18 or 20 with women, overall, and he is 2-to-1 outdone by Obama in women 18 to 49. So that's -- and that's a really important group.

  • 10:28:57

    GJELTENBut, Neil King, the biggest theme of the Republican primary race so far has been its volatility, you know, the rise and fall of candidates. Now, we have seen a shift, a pretty marked shift among female voters. But how certain can we be that the trends that we're talking about there are going to endure? I mean, have we seen the end of volatility? Or are we likely to see more ups and downs now in the general election phase of this campaign?

  • 10:29:21

    JR.I don't -- you know, the volatility that we've seen is this whole desire attempt within this one family, the Republican Party, to find the person that best embodied it at this particular moment coming out of the whole Tea Party fervor of 2010 -- 2009 and -- or 2010 and then, you know, and this reluctance to say, after all that, Mitt Romney is going to be our person?

  • 10:29:41

    JR.So, you know, that -- I don't think we're going to see -- when it comes to the actual gnarly, kind of very hard-to-move demographics of the general electorate, we're going to see huge swings necessarily within that. I think it's going to be hard. You know, the -- we have seen a fairly big swing in Romney's unlikeability, and some of that has been translated into his gender gap with Obama. I think seeing some big, radical swing back in his direction on that front isn't going to happen.

  • 10:30:11

    JR.And this is a really big, you know, eating away at the margins on working-class voters, on Hispanics. Can he win some of those back? And then it all comes down to two or three states where those -- where that math really matters. And I don't think we're going to see that kind of volatility.

  • 10:30:25

    GJELTENAmy, you've mentioned something earlier, and that is the hostility to Barack Obama. And that is a sentiment that can be, potentially, a mobilizing sentiment. And as the Republican race sort of fades into the background, that's going to become all the more important, isn't it? How important is it?

  • 10:30:40

    WALTERAbsolutely. There's something called, you know, the -- we look about -- we look at this issue called, you know, intensity. How much are voters paying attention? And how much do they believe that their vote matters in this upcoming election? Now, it ebbs and flows, and I think, again, this primary process has dragged on so long that it is taking a toll on the Republican enthusiasm level.

  • 10:31:02

    WALTERAnd it's increasing Democrats' enthusiasm level 'cause they look at it and say, look at those clowns. We can beat any of them. And that happens every four years, right? When you're the party that doesn't have the primary, you can point to the other side and say, they look like, you know, a complete disaster area. But as we shift out of this and into the general election, if Romney's able to keep his focus on Barack Obama, as he's been doing for the last few days -- I don't think he's even mentioned any of his Republican opponents in the last three or four days -- we get to move on.

  • 10:31:32

    WALTERBut, you know, from folks who've been -- you know, all of us have been on the campaign trail, we've been hearing it now for some time. No matter what state you're in, the voters that you talk to just basically say the same thing, which is, we just need to get this thing over with. We're kind of tired of it. We're tired of the ads. We're tired of the negativity. We're tired of just hearing what people are against instead of what they're for.

  • 10:31:50

    WALTERSo I think that it, at the end of the day, opens something. I also want to build on what Julie said earlier about the gender gap, and I think she's exactly right. I don't think that women voters are sitting around normal people. And I say this with all love in my heart, but none of us sitting around this table are normal, all right? We're following this at a degree that people do not.

  • 10:32:10

    WALTERI don't think they're watching what every candidate is saying about a lot of these "women's issues." But they are looking for the issue of authenticity. And I think that's where women voters really do have a problem here in finding that with Mitt Romney. And, finally, some of these issues, we say, well, voters don't care about abortion. It's about the economy. Voters don't care about contraception. It's the economy.

  • 10:32:29

    WALTERWhat I think for many voters, especially for women voters, what those issues are, they're kind of like a gateway drug in that you got to be able to -- if you're going to open the door to talk to those women about the issues they may agree with you on, you have to be able to at least get through the front door. And if you're going to disagree with them on a fundamental issue, they're never going to let you through the front.

  • 10:32:50

    GJELTENAmy Walters, political director for ABC News. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Diane Rehm. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." Julie, the big question, it seems to me, here is, what's going to happen with the economy? That is the one that you can't predict on the basis of polls or anything else. We have seen, just in the past week or so, some signs of a real downturn in Europe. The European governments thought that they were through this crisis.

  • 10:33:17

    GJELTENIt appears they are not. And we can't really predict what's going to happen with the price of oil. Gasoline prices are a big issue. So that is -- that remains kind of an uncertain issue here, doesn't it?

  • 10:33:28

    DAVISAbsolutely. And this is the bad news for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, that they don't know what it's going to be in October when people are making their final decisions, and, right now, we've seen somewhat of a positive trend in terms of employment and all of the fundamentals that would be important to Obama, making the case that he's done the best he can with a bad situation.

  • 10:33:48

    DAVISAnd that poses a challenge at this moment for Mitt Romney because he's trying to make the case that the economy is the issue. The -- Barack Obama's record has been a total bust, and he is the one that can turn it around. To the degree that people are feeling like, well, things might have a glimmer of hope, that they're getting better, that's bad for him. On the other hand, the gas prices issue is a very important issue people -- they feel every day.

  • 10:34:10

    DAVISMitt Romney said in his victory speech last night in Wisconsin, you know, when you're driving home tonight and you look at the price of gas, you know, remember it and think about, you know, four years ago. And that's not -- you're not better off with that, are you? I mean, that's going to be a theme that we're going to hear a lot more. On the other hand, that may not be the case anymore in the fall. I mean, this is -- it's always an issue in the spring.

  • 10:34:29

    DAVISAnd as we get into the summer months, it may just dissipate in time for it not to really be an issue for Obama and not to really help Mitt Romney. All of these issues -- and, particularly, what we're seeing in the polls now -- are going to change one way or the other. And, you know, you -- Mitt Romney can make the most compelling case you want to make on the economy. And if people feel fundamentally like things are getting better, it's going to be hard for him to break through and really take on Obama on some of those issues.

  • 10:34:56

    GJELTENNeil King, you wrote a piece in the Journal yesterday, saying -- or was telling that Gov. Romney planned earlier this week to start raising money jointly with the Republican National Committee. Now, of course, this year is different from previous elections because of the role and the way that money is playing in this campaign. Where does it stand right now in terms of who has the advantage and the disadvantage on the money side of the game?

  • 10:35:20

    JR.Well, I mean, clearly, at the moment, Barack Obama has a pretty good advantage, in part, because he's been able to raise fairly good money, not the same kind of money we saw four years ago, but hasn't really been having to spend it. So he and the DNC and Alliance have been raising -- I think they're now into $130-, $140 million or something like that. They have way more cash on hand.

  • 10:35:38

    JR.Where they're afraid, the Democrats, is that they're not going to be able to match the big super fund -- super PAC money that the Republicans are going to have at American Crossroads and a variety of other groups like that. So they are wanting to put much more -- or needing to put much more emphasis on kind of more straightforward fundraising.

  • 10:35:55

    JR.On the other hand, the Republicans -- I mean, the reason that they really reached out to the RNC, to Mitt Romney's gang, was, all right, we really need to move forward on the traditional sort of fundraising stuff and really start to gird for what's going to be an expensive battle. And at the same time -- and the reason that this whole giant fundraising stuff matters, is important -- 'cause you can also raise pretty significant money for the key state parties: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina kind of thing. It's going to be important to also help Romney in those particular places.

  • 10:36:23

    GJELTENAnd is there any sign yet that any of the big backers -- Sheldon Adelson, for example, for Gingrich -- are beginning to put aside some money for the general campaign?

  • 10:36:32

    JR.Well, I mean, those -- I think Adelson, in particular, has already said that he's abandoning the Newt Gingrich -- I think it's the first time those two words have been said this morning -- campaign. And, you know, they will -- I don't know about him, but a whole variety of those big-monied interests will definitely come in very significant ways in the general election setting and really bulk up various of these sort of super PAC funds that will help Mitt Romney quite, I think, considerably in a lot of states.

  • 10:36:57

    GJELTENNeil King is the national reporter for The Wall Street Journal. We're talking here today, the day after the primary races in Wisconsin and Maryland and here in Washington, D.C., all of which were won by Mitt Romney. We're talking about whether we are at the first day of the rest of the campaign, and we're looking forward to the fall. You can join the conversation, calling 1-800-433-8850, sending us an email at drshow@wamu.org. We'll be going to the calls -- we'll be going to the phones here as soon as we get back. Right now, we're going to take a short break. Stay listening.

  • 10:40:03

    GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And we're talking about the political season and what lies ahead. And I'm going to go to the calls now -- to the phones now. First of all, Jeff is calling us from Hickory, N.C. And Jeff, you haven't had a chance to vote in this election yet in any of the primaries.

  • 10:40:21

    JEFFThat's right. Our primaries aren't until May the 8th. And I know that the primary is a long process, and I am as tired of it as anybody else. But it would really be nice, on one of these election cycles, to actually get my vote in. The reality is, as a conservative Christian, I don't know that I'm comfortable voting for Romney, even if he gets the nomination.

  • 10:40:44

    JEFFI'm probably, certainly in the minority. But I'm not willing to do whatever it takes and to vote for whoever is against Obama. So, you know, at this point, I'm at a loss, but it would certainly help if I could cast my vote in the primary before this thing was wrapped up.

  • 10:41:00

    GJELTENAnd I can certainly understand how you feel. And, Amy Walter, I guess this is why so many states are anxious to move their primaries up because, otherwise, their votes -- the votes of their residents just don't count, like Jeff says.

  • 10:41:12

    WALTERRight. And it, you know, Democrats, in other years, have felt the same way, right, that they, for years, get ignored or people only come to their state to raise money, never to campaign for their vote. But what's interesting, though, too -- and again, on being on the road and talking to voters there -- you know, on the one hand, they're very excited about the fact that their vote counts maybe, in some cases, for the first time in a very, very long time.

  • 10:41:34

    WALTERAnd on the other hand, they felt very frustrated with what the campaign looked like. So, here, they got their opportunity, you know -- in Illinois, for example, here's the first time since 1980 Illinois Republicans matter in the primary process. And yet you talk to a lot of them, and there was an overall sense of -- right, the ads were negative. The mood was negative.

  • 10:41:54

    WALTERAnd if anything, it was people going out and supporting somebody with a sense of, oh, I'm so excited to do this and more than it's my duty. I went to a polling place and was asking people, so can you tell me what brought you to the polls today? And they said, well, it's Election Day. I understand that. I'm just trying to get -- is there any real reason? No.

  • 10:42:17

    GJELTENWell, Julie, the -- a lot of the big -- basically, all the big victories for Mitt Romney have come in Midwestern states, and he has not done that well in the South. And we are seeing a bunch of primaries coming up in May in the South. And I don't know how many people there are out there like Jeff who feels like their vote has not been considered yet, and they are not ready to vote for Mitt Romney.

  • 10:42:35

    DAVISThat's true. And, I mean, that was -- that's been his -- was his big problem early in the primary season was that as much as he was winning the bigger states and some of the bigger delegate halls, he could not get any traction in the South, and that is where the base of the Republican Party is. And as I said earlier, he has to be really careful right now not to discount voters like Jeff, who have not had a chance to vote and are thinking seriously about whether they want to even participate in the general election if the nominee is Mitt Romney.

  • 10:43:04

    DAVISI mean, these are now people who -- it didn't sound like Jeff was thinking about voting for Barack Obama, but they don't necessarily have to go to the polls. So that has to be on his mind. And Republicans are worried that, particularly in comparison to 2010, when they had such an enthusiasm gap working for them and against Democrats, that that is not going to be on their side this time. It may not be that Obama has a better one.

  • 10:43:25

    DAVISBut if they don't have some of the real grassroots base of their party excited about their nominee, it's going to be more difficult on the margins for him to get the victories that he needs. Now, some of the states where Romney has had the most trouble are states that would never go for Obama anyway, so that's less of a worry.

  • 10:43:41

    DAVISBut a place like North Carolina where Democrats are clearly trying to put that into play -- that's why they're holding their convention in the beginning of September -- I mean, that is going to be an issue. And voters like Jeff and other conservative Republicans people who have liked Santorum and maybe even Newt Gingrich and maybe Rick Perry before he got out of the race, may not be willing to turn out for Romney.

  • 10:44:02

    GJELTENAnd North Carolina went for Barack Obama in 2008, didn't it?

  • 10:44:04

    DAVISThat's right.

  • 10:44:05

    GJELTENLet's go now to Norman, who's calling us from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Good morning, Norman. Thanks for your call.

  • 10:44:11

    NORMANHi. Good morning, everybody. I -- well, let's see. When Gore was running and Nader was running, we were passing out literature, and the -- we were wearing button signs. I wish I could find it now that says, is the Supreme Court stupid? And just like when Clinton was saying, you know, is the economy stupid?

  • 10:44:37

    GJELTENRight.

  • 10:44:38

    NORMANAnd I'm wondering if the Supreme Court goes against Affordable Care, how -- would this be a galvanizing issue for Democrats?

  • 10:44:51

    GJELTENBoy, that's a tough question, isn't it, Neil King, because...

  • 10:44:54

    NORMANI'm Norman, and I asked a tough question.

  • 10:44:57

    GJELTENGood for you, Norman. We're supposed to all do that. So, Neil King, all the polls have shown that there is a sizable majority of Americans who are against this law, and yet it seems -- based on what the president said this week in attacking the Supreme Court, criticized the Supreme Court -- it seems that the White House does think this is an issue that works in its favor.

  • 10:45:17

    JR.It is. You know, it's funny, Ipsos -- I guess it was Ipsos or Reuters. They came up with a poll last week when this was all hot. The one misconstruction about what you just said about a sizeable majority oppose it is that if you -- I think something like 25 percent of the people in this poll who opposed Obamacare wanted something more than Obamacare. So if you add those people together with the ones who like Obamacare, it's about 67 percent of people who either want it or more than it.

  • 10:45:41

    JR.And I think that's one of the things that the administration is banking on, is that if this goes down -- and obviously, we saw yesterday and this week altogether, Obama trying to portray this as a -- in advance, as a very kind of activist judiciary that the conservatives themselves have lamented for years. And then if, in the end, it goes down, of course, it would go down right along partisan lines. And they're trying to portray this as sort of a repudiation of the, you know, true, you know, independence of the Supreme Court in terms of just weighing justice in some blind way.

  • 10:46:15

    JR.I don't know whether I necessarily buy that. I mean, this is a, you know, a big signature effort of the Obama administration, and I think a lot of people who don't necessarily pay attention to all these things and the ways that we do, unfortunately, are going to see it as just that and look differently at him. And it's going to be, I think, their job to make -- turn it into an asset. I'm not saying that they can't do it, but I don't think it's going to be that easy.

  • 10:46:36

    GJELTENAmy.

  • 10:46:37

    WALTERYeah. And I think we go to two points. The first is for the majority of Americans in this country. They have no tangible evidence that this law is helping or hurting them in any way, shape or form. Even when -- I can't remember who asked this question. I think it's The New York Times/CBS poll that asked, have any of these benefits, the things that are so popular in polls, keeping your kids up until age 26 on your health care, no pre-existing conditions?

  • 10:47:01

    WALTERThirteen -- 20 percent of respondents said they had actually benefited from this, so a very narrow group of people who've actually benefited. So taking something away is not going to be as difficult. The other thing that we've noticed in terms of generating enthusiasm on the left is that whenever you've looked at the polls from the very beginning of this health care fight till now, the energy has always been on the anti-health care side, not on the support.

  • 10:47:25

    WALTERSo strong disapprovers always have outweighed strong approvers, and I think that's still going to -- that matters a lot when you say, well, let's get these people who aren't really that supportive of it anyway, even though they like it, to get really riled up about a Supreme Court decision.

  • 10:47:39

    GJELTENBut, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, the one issue, I mean, there is a lot of confusion among the electorate about what this health care reform really stands for, and there are some parts of it that people are a lot more excited about than others. The one part of it that does seem to really have gotten people's attention is the mandate on individuals to buy insurance. And with all due respect, Neil, I think that there is a -- there does seem to be a majority of people that don't like the individual mandate for whatever reason, right?

  • 10:48:07

    DAVISThey don't like what it symbolizes. They don't like the idea that government is going to tell you that you have to do X, Y and Z. I think, for sure, if the Supreme Court is to -- were to strike this down, it would be seen -- it would have to be seen as a setback for Barack Obama. I mean, this is the signature issue of his first term, and if the Supreme Court says that it was wrongheaded or somehow unconstitutional, that is -- that starts out as a negative for him. However, as Neil said, it -- a lot depends on how they frame it.

  • 10:48:37

    DAVISPeople do not like the idea of a mandate, but people do like the idea that if you have pre-existing conditions, you can still get health care. And if they make the case and there is a case there to be made that you can't have -- you can have one without the other, you can't guarantee that people will be taken on by an insurance company unless you mandate that everyone has, in some way, shape or form, health care of some kind. If they can make that case effectively -- and it's a hard one -- then they may be able to win people over to this point of view.

  • 10:49:02

    DAVISThe other thing that they have going for them on this, if Mitt Romney is the nominee, is as hard as any Republican would ever hit Barack Obama -- and Romney certainly has been and will continue to -- on mandating something through the government, particularly something as basic as health care, he supported the mandate when he was the governor of Massachusetts, and it was a state issue. He will argue that it's totally different to mandate it on a national level than at the state level. But what people don't like about this is the government is telling you what to do. So it's a little...

  • 10:49:29

    GJELTENWhether it's the state government or the national government.

  • 10:49:30

    DAVISSo it's a little bit splitting hairs, and it's hard to know how that -- how -- whether there's going to be real traction for that among voters to say, well, it's OK when it's the state telling you, but it's not OK when it's the federal government.

  • 10:49:41

    GJELTENLet's go now to John who's on the line from Austin, Texas. Good morning, John. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks for your call.

  • 10:49:48

    JOHNYou bet. Thank you for having me on the show. I'm interested in the coattail effects that President Obama and Gov. Romney might have in November. It seems to me that for an independent voter -- it's hard to generalize -- but somebody -- independent voting for President Obama might think that he might win. And therefore, they might hedge their bet a little bit and try to temper whatever where they might see as his deal by voting Republican on the down ticket for the House or Senate.

  • 10:50:20

    JOHNWhereas somebody independent who votes for Romney might think he might lose and, therefore, would vote Republican on the downside in order to temper Obama. What are your -- what are your panelists' thoughts on whatever coattails these gentlemen might have?

  • 10:50:36

    GJELTENAnd split tickets, Amy?

  • 10:50:37

    WALTERYeah. No, I think it's a very good question. And, in fact, lots of people in Washington are already thinking about it. And we talked about super PACs. I think the real issue about super PACs this cycle isn't necessarily going to be at the presidential level. It's going to be on those races that John is talking about -- Senate, House and even state legislative races. Again, I don't think normal voters, independent voters, go into the voting booth and think strategically necessarily about their vote.

  • 10:51:01

    WALTERBut I do think that if the message that's being sent by the time we hit November is, look, the presidential race is all but gone, this one candidate is going to win the race, a lot of voters then are going to say, do I want one party to have complete control of Washington? And we know that traditionally, voters are not like that at all. They've seen now Republicans have complete control in 2006. They didn't like that. Democrats have complete control in 2009. They didn't like that.

  • 10:51:27

    WALTERAnd so, regardless of who the nominee or who the ultimate winner of the White House is, you can see voters then going out and saying, all right. Well, the White House is one thing, but I don't want this party controlling the whole kit and caboodle.

  • 10:51:40

    GJELTENAnd, presumably, independent voters feel all the more strongly along that line.

  • 10:51:43

    WALTERRight.

  • 10:51:44

    DAVISRight. And it's interesting 'cause we normally think about if Republicans felt like the election -- or they weren't enthusiastic about the presidential election or they weren't enthusiastic about Mitt Romney for whatever reason that they would be less likely to turn out and vote for Republicans to go to Congress. But I think Amy is right, that in this case, they saw what happened in 2010 when Barack Obama was in the White House, and they, you know, voted in large numbers for a Republican Congress. And they got the House, and they almost got the Senate.

  • 10:52:10

    DAVISAnd for a lot of Republicans and -- Republican-leaning independents, they would rather see that continue than have a total sweep where Obama wins the White House again, and Democrats are able to make up ground in Congress. Either they keep the Senate, or they're able somehow to win back the House. So I do think that we're going to see a lot of voters, while they don't make the strategic decisions, definitely have that on their minds when they go to the ballot box.

  • 10:52:33

    GJELTENJulie Hirschfeld Davis is a congressional correspondent for Bloomberg News. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." And we're going to go now to Sarah who's on the line from Toledo, Ohio. Good morning, Sarah. Thanks for calling. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:52:50

    SARAHHello. Good morning. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 10:52:52

    GJELTENYou bet.

  • 10:52:53

    SARAHI just had two questions. The first is Amy, one of your guests, is making quite a few exceedingly broad assumptions in saying that almost nobody or almost everybody or never, always, that sort of thing. And I'm just a tad confused because I am a graduate of Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, and I have a master's degree. And I'm a female middle-aged voter. I am an independent. And I am strongly aligned with Mitt Romney and understand his message very well. And all of my friends here in Toledo -- and I'm using one of those extreme words, all.

  • 10:53:35

    SARAHThey are very well educated and are listening to all of the issues that come up and are making no presumptions or assumptions, and they're aligned with Mitt Romney as well.

  • 10:53:48

    SARAHAnd this relates to, I guess, to the question that I wanted to ask The Wall Street Journal guest, is that, just this past week, The Wall Street Journal had an article saying that the poll numbers that discuss Mitt Romney not getting with voters like myself, that those poll numbers are being misinterpreted and that actually the same problem is happening with Obama in that he's not actually doing well with middle-age, well-educated female voters. And -- but the poll numbers are very confusing, and it was The Wall Street Journal article.

  • 10:54:21

    GJELTENOK. I'm going to cut you off, Sarah, before you come up with a question for Julie because we've got all we can handle right now. Amy, I'm going to give you a chance to think about what you're going to say. First, Neil, what's your response?

  • 10:54:30

    JR.Well, I did not author that story, so I'm not really familiar with the specifics of it. I can say to Sarah in Toledo that if she were to provide details, we would all be streaming her way to talk her and her friends because they're kind of the ultimate target, you know, audience in the ultimate state and maybe even the ultimate area of the state. So if there are a lot of like-minded people like Sarah in that area, that's an interesting thing.

  • 10:54:51

    JR.You know, at least that -- as I've looked through our own polls in the cross-tabs, as we call them, and that break down how people are viewing things, it has been marked, just very noticeable. And there were other polls this week that really drove that home that, you know, Obama is doing really well for whatever reasons among women and particularly among higher educated women. He's just done better among higher educated people in general and that Romney has a problem in that area.

  • 10:55:16

    GJELTENBut, Amy, we do have differentiate, don't we? We can't talk generally about women. We have to talk about single women, women under 50, white women, conservative women. They're all different, aren't they?

  • 10:55:21

    WALTEROf course. Right. And to Sarah's point, it is true. I like -- you're making sweeping generalizations here. But mostly because when we talk about who swings elections, in many cases, they are the passive voters. You know, we keep talking about TV advertising. Why do people do these TV advertising? They don't work. Negative ads are terrible. Everybody hates them. They're not going after the Sarahs of Toledo, Ohio.

  • 10:55:47

    WALTERThey're going after the person who isn't thinking about the election or isn't thinking about the issues. Not to say that they're not well educated, not to say that they're not well intentioned. It's just not something that they're doing on a daily basis. And so, as these things are sort of washing over them from moment to moment, they make, you know, they're not having that same impact on that group of people as they would for Sarah.

  • 10:56:08

    WALTERI think about it like this. I watch baseball. I don't -- I think of myself as a fan. I don't really know who's up or who's down in the individual leagues. When I start to really key in is during the World Series, and then I pretend like I know exactly what's happened the entire time.

  • 10:56:20

    GJELTENJulie, what's your next story?

  • 10:56:23

    DAVISMy next story is about Romney on the trail in Pennsylvania trying to close it -- you know, shut Santorum out once and for all in his home state.

  • 10:56:31

    GJELTENAnd, Neil, yours?

  • 10:56:32

    JR.Well, I'm going on vacation tomorrow. I've been working solid for three months, and my mind is going blank.

  • 10:56:37

    GJELTENAll right. Neil King is a national reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Also joining us this morning, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, she's a congressional correspondent for Bloomberg News, and Amy Walter, the political director at ABC News. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Tom Gjelten. I've been sitting in for Diane. I'll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.

  • 10:56:58

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Lisa Dunn and Nikki Jecks. The engineer is Erin Stamper. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is drshow@wamu.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.

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