A new memoir from the National Book Award-winning author of "Middle Passage." He writes about the art and craft of writing and what he calls "the truth-telling power of fiction."
Currently Republicans dominate Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives 240-190. In the Senate, Democrats have a 53-47 majority. Most political analysts believe the GOP will continue to hold the House after the November elections. But the Senate is in play. If President Obama wins reelection, Democrats can lose no more than three Senate seats to maintain control. Republicans would need to gain four Senate seats to take control. Diane and her guests examine key congressional contests across the country – and the effects of super PAC money, redistricting and campaign gaffes.
- Heidi Przybyla congressional reporter, Bloomberg News.
- Susan Davis chief congressional reporter, USA Today.
- Charlie Cook columnist for National Journal, and editor and publisher of the "Cook Political Report."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Recently, the main focus of this year's election has been on President Obama's bid for a second term and the campaign of his GOP rival, Gov. Romney. But there are 33 Senate seats in play and dozens of House seats up for reelection. The outcomes of those contests will determine what kind of Congress the next president will have to work with.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the 2012 House and Senate races: Sue Davis of USA Today, Charlie Cook of National Journal, and Heidi Przybyla of Bloomberg News. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody. Good to have you here.
MS. SUSAN DAVISGood morning, Diane.
MS. HEIDI PRZYBYLAGood morning.
MR. CHARLIE COOKGood morning.
REHMSue Davis, give us something of an overview of the landscape in the Senate and House races.
DAVISI think the big-picture takeaway from 2012, as what we're seeing, is this is looking more like a status quo election than a national wave year. And what does that mean? It means in the House, which is controlled by Republicans, we're not seeing the sort of forces that we saw in 2008 or 2010 to sweep control of the chamber. There's not a national wave of issues that is dominating across the playing field. A lot of these House races are being fought individually, race by race, state by state.
DAVISIn the Senate, I think there was a lot of expectation that Democrats were going to lose this majority in the onset of the cycle of the 33 House race seats up this time around. Twenty-three are held by Democrats. The numbers were just not in their favor. But I think we've seen a combination of factors, one being President Obama running very strong in a lot of races where we have Senate overlap.
DAVISI think Democrats have done a very good job of recruiting strong candidates in places where they shouldn't be in play, in states like North Dakota. And I think we've seen Republicans make a couple critical mistakes. And the one that could be the best example of that is Todd Akin in Missouri, who's taken a seat that should be, by all accounts, in Republican hands and put Claire McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent, in a very good place to win reelection.
REHMCharlie Cook, how do you see it?
COOKWell, I think I agree with what Susan said that congressional elections naturally, come in two varieties: the Tip O'Neill all-politics-is-local type and then the wave elections. And we've had three wave elections in a row, 06', '08 and 2010. And this one isn't going to be one. It's going to be, you know, a somewhat more localized election. We see in the House, at the Cook Political Report, we see Democrats picking up, you know, somewhere between a wash in 10 seats, very small, but not nearly the 25 seats they need.
COOKAnd in the Senate, you know, the way I look at it is you start off 53 Democrats, 47 Republicans. But Nebraska, Ben Nelson's seat is a Democratic seat that's sort of gone. And so just go ahead and move it. So it's 52-48. And then you have 10 toss-up races, five Democratic seats, five Republican seats, all within one, two, three points of each other.
COOKI think there's a very decent chance that at noon, the day after the election, we will not know who's going to be in the majority, that the Democrats have a little bit of an edge just because Republicans would need to pick up two more seats, or two or three, depending upon whether they have the White House or not. But I think it's going to be a very close call. And we saw this last time -- this group of seats were up in 2006 at Missouri, Montana, Virginia -- 60,600 votes made all the difference in the Senate.
REHMSo there we are. Heidi, how do you see it?
PRZYBYLAWell, I think Charlie and Sue are right. And the challenge in the Senate is really for the Republicans. They have -- I think things have changed, really, in the past month or so because of two reasons: one, Olympia Snowe's retirement, which they were not expecting to have to deal with that, and two, the wonder of Todd Akin. And so, if you want to look in a very simplistic way, they're going to have to hold all five of their competitive seats. And two of them, right now, are looking very iffy in Maine and Massachusetts.
PRZYBYLASo I think that is a pretty tall order. And most likely, what we're going to see is that the Republicans maybe will pick up a few seats in the Senate but certainly not enough to gain control.
COOKYeah. If I (unintelligible) one thing about Senate races, though, is you look over history -- and even taking out the wave years -- the toss-up races don't break down the middle. They tend to be break down two-thirds, one direction, one-third, the other, kind of like dominos. They tend to fall. They just simply don't split down the middle. And you know, when you think of races that are like one, two-point races, just the slightest gust of wind at the end can tip a bunch of races in the opposite direction.
COOKAnd the only other thing I would throw in is that the Missouri Senate race is not over. I mean, it's still a very, very close race. And it says something about, A, how Republican the state of Missouri has gotten, and, B, how vulnerable Claire McCaskill is that a Republican candidate can effectively commit suicide and still be within small single digits behind an incumbent.
REHMWhy is Claire McCaskill so vulnerable? Susan.
DAVISI think it has less to do with Claire McCaskill and more to just do with the Republican, conservative lean of the state. She won in 2006 as sort of an independent reformer outside of government. And she's had a couple of scandals, I would say, or things that have tarnished that image in terms of using her own private plane and taking sort of tax breaks that have given Republicans ability to dent that image of this good government reformer that she ran on.
DAVISAnd I just think she is a good example of a Democrat that has really taken a hit because Barack Obama is so fundamentally unpopular in their state and is going to lose significantly in the state. And the drag that that has, the opposite of the coattail effect, the drag-down effect was more than she could overcome. I think that that race, pretty much everyone had written that off even though -- the thing about Claire McCaskill is she's a tough campaigner. She's probably one of the best campaigners Democrats have. I think she's handled the Akin thing very well.
PRZYBYLAShe was very savvy...
COOKI think she's a weak candidate but anyway...
REHMYou think she's a weak candidate.
COOKWell, first of all, she's the first freshman senator in -- I've been here 40 years -- that I've ever known of that skipped freshman orientation to go on vacation to the South Pacific. Never seen that happen before. And just kind of an uneven performer, I would say.
PRZYBYLAI think she was savvy, though, to Sue's point, in letting the Republicans kind of hang themselves and not coming out and attacking Akin until it became clear that he was not going to drop out of the race. She very much wanted him to stay in the race. And now she's running pretty cutthroat ads.
DAVISYeah, I was going to bring it up.
PRZYBYLAShe's polled some rape survivors, survivors of sexual assault and running advertisements using that. And I think that at the end of the day -- Charlie is right, however -- it's not over and what it's going to depend upon, I believe, is whether the Republican establishment or some of the Republican heavyweight spending outside groups decide to throw their weight behind Akin. So far, we haven't really seen that. We've seen some support from folks like Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum.
PRZYBYLANewt Gingrich has gotten onboard, but certainly Mitt Romney and other, you know, the heavyweight luminaries of the party dissent themselves pretty quickly after the comments.
REHMNow, just to remind, those comments were in regard to what he called legitimate rape and then saying that the female body shuts down -- she cannot get pregnant after the so-called legitimate rapes. Susan.
DAVISRight. He made comments based on junk science that has been promoted in certain anti-abortion circles for decades, in that raped women have a biological capability to shut down their bodies because of stress hormones under a rape scenario.
REHMBut despite those comments, Claire McCaskill has not been able to regain footing.
DAVISNo. And that -- well, that's what -- to Charlie's point, is that after all of that -- and they said this on a local television station. There's video of it. There's the visual -- they're still polling. And there hasn't been a lot of great polling in Missouri that show him within single digits. What I do think we saw for the first time this week was Claire McCaskill unleashed her first barrage of negative ads that hit on this topic. She stayed silent on it.
DAVISYesterday, she released three ads by women who have been raped, two of them Republicans, one talking to the camera who said, I'm a Republican. I've never voted for Claire McCaskill, and this is why I vote for her now. And I thought they were great ads.
COOKRemember when James Carville once described Pennsylvania as Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west and Alabama in between? That's a really good characterization of Missouri. I mean, you've got Democratic bases in St. Louis and Kansas City and then just scarlet-red Republican in between. And, you know, to get reelected, Claire McCaskill is going to need some people that are going to vote for Mitt Romney to switch over and vote for her.
COOKI mean, it's sort of the flipside of the Massachusetts Senate race and several other Senate races where people got to outperform the top of their ticket 'cause President Obama isn't going to even remotely close in Missouri.
REHMCharlie Cook, columnist for the National Journal, editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report, Heidi Przybyla, congressional reporter for Bloomberg News, Susan Davis, chief congressional reported for USA Today. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Charlie Cook, how are super PACS affecting congressional races?
COOKWe can't tell quantitatively yet, but I have to think it's going to have a huge impact on the presidential race, you know, when you've got President Obama and Gov. Romney spending roughly $1 billion each. The law of diminishing returns kicked in like three months ago in terms of spending. But in the congressional races where there is a huge imbalance of super PAC money, I think you're going to see it weigh in.
COOKAnd that's why, you know, Republicans, to the extent that they might have been in danger in the House -- and I don't think they really were, but they got shored up a lot in the spending. But particularly in the Senate races, close Senate races there's going to be, you know, a huge disparity in super PAC spending on behalf of Republicans and close races that can make a difference.
PRZYBYLAThis is very interesting because we took a look at exactly where this money is being invested and where most of it is going. Some states, it's having a huge impact, like Maine. That was not a state we expected to be hugely competitive after we found out that Angus King, the independent who is most likely to caucus with Democrats, was going to be running. However, recently it's become more of a race, and I believe the big reason why is because the super PACs have dumped a lot of money into there.
PRZYBYLAHowever, if you look at the states where they've spent the most, like Ohio, the Democrats has broken ahead there. That's one of the states I think where he's probably pretty -- they're probably pretty safe despite all the money.
REHMHeidi Przybyla, congressional reporter, Bloomberg News.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about Senate and House races. I realized that many of you believed that these are horse races, if you will, and that, perhaps, the media focuses too much on them. But, in fact, there are some very close races out there, some affected by redistricting. And the question becomes, Susan, how has redistricting affected the House elections?
DAVIS2012 is a really interesting year because Republicans, not only who control the House, also swept a lot of the state legislatures across the country, and while vary state by state, some have, like California, their districts are drawn by a nonpartisan board. Other states like Ohio, they're drawn by the Republican-controlled legislatures. I think the big takeaway from redistricting was that Republicans -- what their strategy was, was to not necessarily take advantage of more districts, but to shore up the incumbents they had in them.
DAVISTake the districts that are -- have been competitive, that they've had to defend year on year over the last decade and make them safe, take them off the books. And they did a very good job at that. And the overall takeaway is that you have a lot less districts that are simply competitive. The playing field, there's 435 seats in the House. The number of races that are in play this time around when we get down to election day three weeks from now will probably be in the neighborhood of 50. Give or take how the election breaks down, I would say a high watermark of maybe 75.
REHMAnd you're saying because of redistricting?
DAVISIt's a contributing factor. I mean, there's -- you often -- most of the House is usually safe. The battlefield has just continually shrunk, and I think the 2012 redistricting process and Cook Political Report has done extensive work on this, has just shown the sheer number of competitive House races continues to shrink. And that trend continued with the 2012 redistricting process.
COOKWe've got just a little under 60 races right now that we're calling lean Democrat, lean Republican are toss-up. There were years in the old, old, old days, 120, 140 of them like that, so it is -- it has shrunk down a lot over the years. The most -- and Susan was absolutely right that what's happened is that Republicans probably saved themselves about a dozen seats that they probably should have lost, have been taken off the table by the redistricting process.
COOKSo that the kind of gains that Democrats might normally expect to have having just loss 63 seats -- usually you have a bit of a rebound -- would be a lot less. We're actually unveiling later today our new partisan voting index. And after each redistricting, we have a firm polydata that crunches the presidential numbers for the last two elections. And they compute up for every single district what's the tilt by -- based on presidential voting in that congressional district. Is it two points more Republican in the country or five points more Democratic?
COOKAnd you'd be happy to know that the 7th District of Michigan, Tim Walberg, has the median district in the country that's just sort of the 218th District, if you will. And actually -- Paul Ryan, actually used to have -- for the last decade, had the median district in the country. But it's, you know, presidential voting. It's not a perfect way. But it's the only uniform standard across 50 states that you could use to measure partisan voting patterns in congressional districts.
REHMBut here's the question, which is somewhat off-topic this morning, how much sort of a revision of this process of redistricting do you expect to happen in the next decade?
COOKWell, if I could wave a magic wand and do two things to fix the political process, and if amending the Constitution, therefore changing campaign finance isn't realistic -- and I don't think it is -- then it would be redistricting reform and reform of the party primary system. But redistricting reform, you know, Iowa's the state that's traditionally done it in an absolutely objective way. It's worked perfectly.
COOKNow, when you have a virtually all-white state with every county square, it's a little easier than it is in a lot of other places. But, you know, California this year, you will see more competitive congressional elections after these changes that Susan was talking about than you've seen in the last three decades combined.
REHMInteresting. All right. I also want to ask about polling. We got an email showing President Obama up in this state or that state or this state, this area or that area. What are we to make of these kinds of polls? Heidi, I know you've just written about these kind of funny business polls.
PRZYBYLARight. Well, there's a big distinction between some of the polls out there because there's just been a proliferation in the number of organizations that do polling. You've got your standard, you know, Gold Standard polls that are basically partnerships between news organizations and nonpartisan pollsters like NBC, Wall Street Journal. Pew Research is very well road-tested. And then you've got a new generation, if you will, of polls that use a different kind of method.
PRZYBYLAThank you. Methodology, thank you, which is more based on this concept of robo polling, which uses automated phone calls to reach respondents, and there's a lot of potential pitfalls with that. One, how do you know who you really talking to? How can you confirm that you're talking to the respondent, that you're trying to reach which is an over 18 age voter or versus some kid who's on the phone?
PRZYBYLAYou know, there's issues with being able to verify whether or not they're really who they say they are. And also, are you going to get -- depending on who the sponsor of the poll is -- someone who wants to participate in that because the sponsor of the poll happens to agree with their particular ideology?
REHMAnd who's putting out these polls?
COOKWell, yeah, well, you could find them, you know, go on the Internet, go on cable and watch. Well, the biggest problem with these polls -- and all the ones that Heidi talked about are absolutely right, but here's the biggest problem: you know, these polls where they -- the computer dials you up and say, press one for Obama, two for Romney. By federal law, they're not allowed to call cellphones. They can't. A computer cannot call your cellphone.
COOKAnd as a result, you're not reaching 30 to 40 percent of the voters. It's up to 40 percent in some states. And they are not -- they don't look like the other 60, 70 percent of Americans. They're younger and they're more minority. And so when you were basically having to figure out or work around not being able to reach 30 to 40 percent of the voters, that's a real problem. But these are all dime-store polls.
COOKI mean, you know, Lord knows how much NBC and the Wall Street Journal have to pay Peter Hart and Bill McInturff to do their poll. But it's probably 50, 75 bucks per interview for, say, 1,000 interviews. These other things are going for 30 to 50 cents a piece. You've got one firm, that shall go nameless -- it's three people, and they do 800 polls a year. Now, when you're doing two polls a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, I'm sorry, that's not high-quality survey research. But with the blogosphere, they're given equal footing.
COOKSo I say stay away from robo polls, stay away from Internet polls. You know, look for real people calling real people, and those are the ones that are worth placing more value.
REHMAnd, of course, some people may not hear the difference when they hear about these polls that show one candidate way up or down. Here's an email from Reed in Havana, Fla.: "Assuming the House does not change substantially, how does the status quo change in Washington? Since it's clear neither party will achieve 60 votes in the Senate, is there any hope of breaking the gridlock and seeing Congress get back to governing?" Susan.
DAVISThat is a great question. I think this is what reminds me of what Bill Clinton said at the Democratic National Convention when he called it the politics of constant conflict. And I think that that trend that we've seen in this Congress is most likely to carry into the next because the two most -- the most reasonable outcome is that Republicans will control the House by a more narrow margin. And Republicans still have a chance to take the Senate. I want to make that clear. But if Democrats do maintain control, it will be by a narrow -- narrower margin.
DAVISSo you have tougher margins, more partisan members 'cause the people that lose tend to be the more centrist moderates. The reason that, I think, there will be a chance to break through in some respect to the next Congress is we are facing deadlines. And Congress now and more increasingly can only act when it faces a deadline. And we have what we have been calling the fiscal cliff, which is the expiration of the Bush tax cut and the implication of -- I think the first year is roughly $50 billion in spending cuts. And they need to figure out what to do it regardless of who the next president is.
COOKNo -- yeah, I think Susan's exactly right, that we're going to, you know, they're going to be forced to deal with some of these things and...
REHMThey have to.
COOKNo. I think they probably are more likely to kind of kick the can during the lame duck session into early next year. But the financial markets and just the reality of a crushing debt, there are going to have to be some moves. And Republicans are going to have to give some on revenue, and Democrats are going to have to give a lot on some entitlement, spending cuts. And, you know, I think we are going to see some real movement next year. We have to 'cause the alternative is some pretty horrific stuff.
REHMLet's talk about some of the key races. How is Elizabeth Warren doing against Scott Brown in Massachusetts, where apparently they debated each other last night? Susan.
DAVISRight. I was up in Boston about a week ago and spent some time on the ground with both the Warren campaign and the Brown campaign. I think this is a great race. I think it's a testament to Scott Brown's strength as a senator and as a candidate that it's still as tight as it is as a Republican in Massachusetts in a state that Barack Obama, if he meets his 2008 margin, is going to win by 26 points.
DAVISI think people I talk to, strategists, put a thumb on the scale -- they're not saying it's a win for Warren, but put a thumb on the scale for her just by the very nature of the Democratic lean of the state and Barack Obama's ability to probably carry her over the finish line on Election Day.
COOKScott Brown. I don't disagree. Scott Brown is a -- I think he's a -- he has all the candidate skills that Mitt Romney does not have and is a natural candidate, and I think he's run a very -- an excellent campaign. Here's his challenge. He's got to win 100 percent of the Republican vote, 100 percent of the independent vote, and then he has to pick up one out of five Democratic voters. Or, to put it differently, he's got to convince about 200,000 Obama voters to turn around and vote for a Republican for the U.S. Senate.
COOKAnd that's a real tall order, and that's why -- one reason why no Republican Senate has elect -- won a Senate race in Massachusetts in a presidential year since Ed Brooke in 1972, that it's a very hard lift. Now, Democrats have some of the same kinds of challenges in Indiana Senate race, in North Dakota Senate race. I mean, we're -- you know, this happens to both sides in various places where you just have to outperform your ticket enormously in order to win.
REHMHeidi, you recently spent time in Virginia, looking at that Senate race, one of the closest in the country. Tell us about it.
PRZYBYLAWell, it remains, I think, along with Massachusetts, probably the most watched race both because of the candidates -- they're both heavyweights: Tim Kaine, former governor, George Allen, former governor -- and also the money that's being spent there. This is one of the top races where the super PACs are investing a lot of their money. And I think this is also one of the races where we see one of the clearest lines of impact in terms of coattails.
PRZYBYLASo when the polls start to move at the national level between Obama, Romney, we see Virginia as one of those races where I think there's a direct impact on the candidates. George Allen, I see that being very difficult for him to pull out Virginia if President Barack Obama wins reelection there in Virginia. I don't see who the voters are that are going to vote for Obama and then change their ballot and vote for George Allen.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Charlie, how do you see Virginia?
COOKOh, we had two polls come out last night in the Senate race: a NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist University poll that had Kaine over Allen by one point, and a CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac that had Kaine up by seven points. I think it's probably closer to the NBC, the one-point margin. I think it...
COOKYeah, very close. And the thing is, let me sort of disagree ever so slightly with Heidi. Early on, I thought that Romney had to win by two or three -- in Virginia by two or three points in order for George Allen to win. And the theory was there might be some Romney-Kaine voters, but there would be absolutely no Obama-Allen voters. And I think that was very much the case for a long time.
COOKBut particularly after the 47 percent remark, there are some downscale white voters who like George Allen a lot and aren't real excited about this Wall Street type, this private equity guy, this rich guy. And there is some separation. We've actually seen some polling where Allen was actually doing a little bit better than Romney was in the state. So there's -- they're not necessarily linked as closely as they were earlier on in the year. But as a general rule, I'd say whichever side wins the presidential is more likely than not to win the Senate race as well but.
PRZYBYLAAnd George Allen is betting on that. I talked with him last week, and he said -- I said, so who are these voters that are going to vote for Obama and then vote for you? And he said, well, look, I have a reputation in the state. People are very familiar with me. I have -- there are several communities, including the ones that Charlie mentioned, where I brought jobs to those communities, and those people remember me fondly. So there's -- it's not a coattail effect.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Ohio. Here's an email from Leo in Akron. He says, "Here in Ohio, outside groups opposed to Sen. Sherrod Brown are pumping about $20 million in attack ads into this contest. Josh Mandel, the GOP candidate, gives virtually no answers to any questions other than typical rehearsed GOP talking points, avoids anything specific. He has little substance," according to Leo, yet the race is very close all because of outside money?
DAVISI think -- and this goes to an earlier point that Heidi had about super PACs -- I think that Sherrod Brown is the best example of a candidate. He's probably received the most outside money as a target outside the presidential race as a Senate candidate. They have put in about $20 million. And I think it's a testament to Sherrod Brown's candidacy that he -- at least most polling I've seen has had Brown in the lead, mostly by single digits.
DAVISBut he's in a good position. I think you have to give Sherrod Brown the advantage in this race, who has proven resilient to $20 million in attack ads, but also...
REHMCharlie is shaking his head.
COOKYeah, this is not in the 10 closest races in the country. The NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll last night had Brown up by 11 points. This is not a -- I mean, this is a case where all the money in the world hasn't moved many points, really. And I'm not sure I'd put Leo down as a swing voter. But this -- money doesn't buy everything.
PRZYBYLAAnd money doesn't trump good candidates.
COOKYeah. And, you know, you've got a really young, ambitious candidate who's probably running for the Senate for six, seven, eight years before he probably should.
PRZYBYLAThat's the paradox of this race, is if you look at some of the races where the super PACs have invested the most -- and I think it's fair statement to say that most of those super PACs are Republican-run super PACs targeting Democrats -- the Democrat is either holding his own, like in Virginia, or has broken away, like in Ohio and Florida. And so you have to ask yourself whether, you know, they're really getting a good investment on their money.
REHMAll right. Short break here. And when we come back, we'll open the phones and hear about the contest you're interested in. Do join us by phone, by email. Follow us on Twitter or -- what's the other thing? -- Facebook.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones, 800-433-8850, first to Deborah in Boston, Mass. Good morning to you.
DEBORAHAnd good morning to you. I just wanted to address what the -- what your guest said about the race in Massachusetts. So Scott Brown is really not a natural candidate. He hasn't held a single town hall meting since he has been in office and generally avoids any interaction even with the reporters and has spent most of his campaign attacking Elizabeth Warren on her heritage, misrepresented legal works she's done. And so I wouldn't say that he's a natural campaigner.
DEBORAHAnd on the other side of the ledger, I'd say Elizabeth Warren, if she does win, will not win because of anybody's coattails. She's a very good campaigner and has been traveling the state and talking to a million people. And I think we saw last night, really, what a strong campaigner and debater she is.
REHMI'm glad you called, Deborah. Susan?
DAVISI think she makes very good points. I would say that I do think that Scott Brown has a strength among working-class, blue-collar male voters that make up a considerable portion of the Massachusetts electorate. And I think that both campaigns would acknowledge that. I think there's a reason why he's run. At least his ad campaigns have involved -- I mean, we've heard so much about his pickup truck, and he does things like, you know, he does his campaign events at a local bar, talking to local workers.
DAVISThere's a reason when I was up there Elizabeth Warren had a campaign event at a local firehouse in south Boston. I mean, they're both sort of competing for this authenticity vote among the blue-collar workers, who, I think, are a very critical part of that electorate.
COOKHe's very -- Scott Brown is very comfortable campaigning. I mean, you could see that he's sort of a people-type person and…
REHMBut why would he not hold it...
COOK'Cause nobody's doing town meetings anymore.
COOKSince December of 2009...
COOK...in health care, there are no town meetings anymore for all intents and purposes.
REHMI see. OK. Deborah, I hope that answers your point there. Go ahead, Heidi.
PRZYBYLAI was just going to make the point the one thing we didn't address about the Massachusetts race that I think is really ominous for Scott Brown is the minority vote. The minority voters did not come out in the last election, and that's the big reason why he won. This time, that's going to be different. This is a presidential election year.
PRZYBYLAAnd if you look at the demographics in Massachusetts, population -- general population has only gone up about 4 percent the, you know, and in terms of the minority voters, that's gone up about 47 percent in the past decade. Those voters are overwhelmingly Democratic, and Elizabeth Warren is no doubt going to benefit from that.
REHMAll right, to Orlando, Fla. Good morning, Jane.
JANEGood morning. This is a great story in your great show.
JANEI live in Florida, but I'm most concerned about this Missouri Senate race. I'm kind of stunned when I hear people talk about these comments with regard to what the -- Mr. Akin said. And I don't understand what's the root cause why people would consider him a rational or a logical candidate. And when you commented that the center of the state was red and, of course, urban areas were blue, is there tinge of racism or sexism or something going on there? And I'd just like you to address that.
COOKWell, small town, rural America just, you know, most places around the country have not -- even when President Obama was doing his best, he was not so strong in small town, rural, downscale white voters. And it's obviously gotten a lot worse.
COOKSo that -- and, in fact, to the extent that before the debate, President Obama's numbers went up, it was downscale, white women, non-college educated, white women -- my colleague at National Journal, Ron Brownstein, found going through the data that sort of moved -- particularly after the 47 percent remark -- that moved away from Romney towards Obama. But with non-college educated whites, the president has some real problems. The Democrat Party has real problems, and when you get to -- outside of metropolitan areas, that's a lot of what you're getting in a state like Missouri.
DAVISThe fact that the caller's from Florida and said that Missouri's what concerns her most goes to the point of when Todd Akin made those remarks. And the National Republican Committee, the presidential candidate, Scott Brown, many of the Senate candidates in competitive races came out within 24 hours and said he had to go.
DAVISAnd part of it is because they sort of saw Todd Akin as -- I've likened it to sort of a super flu, that you had to get -- you had to contain it before it contaminated other races because it received so much national attention. And if the party had continued to back him, I think a lot of Republicans in competitive races would've had to be answering for Todd Akin, which is certainly a strategy that Democrats have tried to use.
PRZYBYLAAnd to the caller's point about why do people still support him, well, we've been out in Missouri, talking to some of these voters, and a lot of them are long-time, you know, supporters. He's a congressman. They're familiar with him. And they say he just basically made a mistake, and everyone's beating up on him. And so...
REHMPretty big mistake?
PRZYBYLARight. But that's the mindset of some of these people.
COOKWhen you have every current -- every living current or former Republican senator from the state of Missouri, people from -- as diverse as John Danforth to John Ashcroft, calling for you to drop out of a race, you know, that's pretty decisive.
REHMBut at the same time, it speaks to the weakness of Claire McCaskill...
COOKAnd Democrats in Missouri.
REHM...and Democrats in Missouri. Here is an email, not signed, which says, "President Obama's dismal performance at the debate has given new light to Republicans across the board. If Vice President Biden performs equally as bad, is there a possibility Republicans could pull out a filibuster-approved majority in the Senate with the Romney presidency to go along with a House majority? Your opening statements by your panel suggest not happening, but I'm not convinced," says our emailer.
COOKThat would require...
REHMWhat's it going to take to get that?
COOK...a 13-seat gain, which they're -- there are -- I mean, I'm almost speechless at the idea of how far it would have to go. You'd have to be having people winning, that I would have to look their names because they're so obscure winning. But that's a very, very big number.
COOKBut -- and also Joe Biden. Biden has a tendency to go off-the-cuff and say things that are unfortunate, but his track record in debates, highly -- is not to mess up in debates. And he's done -- when he was running for president back in 2008 and the vice presidential debates in 2008, when he got into hot water, it was never in a debate.
REHMAll right, to Syracuse, N.Y. Hi there, Jerry. It's your turn.
JERRYHi. Good morning.
JERRYI just wanted to ask your panel what they think of the Ann Marie Buerkle - Dan Maffei race in Upstate New York. It's gotten particularly nasty, I think. There'll be a commercial during the news, maybe a two-minute spot. And on that two minutes, there'll be four or five commercials, both all attack commercials. You kind of saw they're...
JERRYAnd it's just seems to be getting nastier and nastier all the time. And it seems like, I think, it's 49 percent each is how they're both polling right now.
DAVISYeah, that's a great race. Dan Maffei, who is the Democrat in that race, was a former member of Congress who lost in the 2010 wave, the tea party wave. Ann Marie Buerkle is a first-term incumbent. I think this is just -- this is a race -- is one of these races that if Democrats have a shot and need to pick up seats, Dan Maffei has to win.
DAVISSo this is a -- and Republicans know this. The make up of the district is very competitive. So it's a classic seat where you have both candidates -- very good candidates engaged. And you have both the political parties and outside interests putting money into this race. I mean, this one is going to go down to the wire. This is a -- one of probably the most competitive races of the House cycle.
COOKUnder these current -- these new -- the new lines, President Obama won that district, 57 to 43. And so there's, you know, that's a thumb on the scale. It is not determinative, it doesn't mean the Republican can't possibly win, but that's a pretty decisive tilt under these lines and that, you know, New York is a case where you have a handful of cases where legislatures did some very significant gerrymandering and to come up with lines like this. This was -- that district went from D plus three, as I remember, to D plus 14.
DAVISNew York is also just broadly a state where Democrats think that they have some of their best opportunities to pick up seats, not only because of redistricting where Democrats redo some districts of their advantage but because Obama is going to win New York most likely. And that he might be able to be beneficial to a lot of candidates like Dan Maffei.
COOKI misspoke. Four points more democratic than the rest of the country.
REHMOK. And, Sue, you pointed out one of the bright spots for Republicans is in the state of Connecticut. How come?
DAVISConnecticut has -- is one of these late-breaking races that I think is just such a great story. The Republican there is Linda McMahon, who's probably best known as the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. She ran in 2010 against Richard Blumenthal, who beat her pretty handily. I think she has put upwards between the last cycle and this cycle maybe $50 million of her own money into this race.
DAVISBut I think what Linda McMahon did this time around that did she didn't do last time is she's run a better campaign. She's done a better job of telling a more softer personal story. She once filed for bankruptcy and went on to become a millionaire, a successful CEO. I think she has also learned the lesson of defining your opponent early, negatively and often.
DAVISHer -- the Democratic component Chris Murphy is a member of the House, who's not particularly well-know in the state and has made -- who's heavily out-funded by McMahon, who's just been pummeling him and who has not been able to respond to a lot of the negative narratives that she's helped to find him in. He was sued a couple times for nonpayment of rent. He didn't know how many rent payments he had missed. He's been absent in the House a lot, and she's attacking him for absenteeism. She's been able to make a race that Democrats should not be worried about one they're worried about.
COOKBut one other...
DAVISThe only thing I would say is that it goes back to the spec that a lot of these battlegrounds are happening in a presidential year. Connecticut is going to be a tough state for Republican to win with Obama on the ballot.
COOKWith women voters, they really held the wrestling stuff against McMahon last time. She lost women voters by 19 points last time. Women voters in Connecticut seem to have moved on. I mean, it's sort of old news, old history, and, you know, now, she is trailing among women but maybe a half dozen points as opposed to 19. And she is ahead by men about that margin, so she -- that's probably the one -- two biggest surprises so far this year for me.
REHMHere's an interesting email from someone who identifies himself as middle-age white male from Virginia Beach. He says, "I'm a Republican who's going to vote for a Democrat for president for the first time. I don't like Romney. I don't think he is the person for the job. But I do like Allen, and I think he is a better candidate than Kaine." So there you have it.
PRZYBYLAThere you have your local voter.
REHMThey're kind of split. OK. Let's go to Carlisle, Pa. Good morning, Rob.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
ROBI had a question for your panel member who said that robo-polling on cell phones is illegal. If that is so, why do they get a robo-poll call last night on my cell phone?
COOKThen someone broke a federal law.
ROBHow fun. I hope it happens again. I'll have to look up...
COOKYeah. And good luck with that.
REHMBut they don't list their numbers.
COOKA lot of times not.
COOKIt's-- the live caller polls, like my wife and I are were driving to Cleveland -- and my wife was driving for the record. And I got a call from the Gallup organization, and they knew that I had a cellphone. I mean, they do from the exchange in telephone number. And they said, are you in a safe -- you are on a cellphone, correct? I said, yes. He said, are you in a safe place where you can talk? And I said, yes, I'm not driving, and then launched into the interview. But that was a live caller interview. They're allowed but robos can't.
REHMBut it's the robocallers who are not permitted...
PRZYBYLAAllowed to do that, right.
REHM...by federal law to call. OK. So, Rob, was that a robocall you got, or was it a human being?
ROBIt was a list of questions with press one, press two.
COOKThere we go.
DAVISDid they identify who they were?
ROBI don't believe they did...
ROB...but their number is still in the call history so...
REHMWell, be something interesting to look into. OK. To Lovettsville, Va. Good morning, Sharon.
SHARONGood morning. And thanks for another of your amazing civics contributions to our country.
SHARONMy question is -- or at least I'd like the panel to comment. I got an odd call this morning, a polling call. And the odd moment was when I asked, who do you represent? And the caller said, excuse me. Let me check.
DAVISWell, that could just be, you know, a lot of polling firms outsource the calls to call centers and companies and folks who may not necessarily -- granted, it's an error, and it's not at all professional or responsible.
REHMThat's pretty bad if you got...
DAVISBut it doesn't mean it's nefarious.
COOKYou know, it's called outsourcing, and a lot of the interviewing is outsourced to call centers.
REHMBut are they reputable firms who do that?
COOKYes, yes, yes, reputable.
REHMOr it is this...
COOKWhen you are at a peak point, you can't have enough call stations to be ready to do a presidential election and keep those people employed in that facility going during the odd-numbered year, so a lot of that is outsourced. But also, lot of what's going on right now isn't really polling. I mean, it's basically trying to figure out, OK, if you support our guy, we're going to make sure you get out.
COOKYou know, they're voter identification calls but guised as polls, but they're not real polls. If they ask you demographic questions, that's a poll. And if they're not asking you your age, your race, I mean, that kind of business, then the odds are...
PRZYBYLAIt's not real.
COOK...it's not a real poll.
REHMAll right. Last quick question from John in Indianapolis. Good morning to you.
JOHNGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
REHMSure. Very quickly.
JOHNI'm trying to figure out what's going on here with Mourdock and Donnelly and Dick Lugar. He is the only Republican I've ever voted for for Senate. And I just don't think that I can do it with Mourdock. I mean, everything that he said -- I believe him when he said he thought bipartisan shift was coming around to his way of thinking. And I think there are a lot of people who have sent it to Republican in Indiana who agree.
DAVISAnd that's the reason why Mourdock is in trouble is there was a very nasty primary campaign. There are a lot of Lugar supporters -- are not coming around to support Richard Mourdock. And that, in addition to some of his early comment about him being anti-compromise, I think we're in a different climate today than we were in 2010. People want Tea Party-like principles in terms of limited spending and what not, but they also want people who are going to compromise.
DAVISAnd, you know, the Donnelly people are taking full advantage of that. Actually, they have a recent ad with a Mourdock impersonator in a car, souped-up car, saying, you know, hey, Donnelly, it's my way or the highway. And he runs off with the tires screeching. So that's a lasting impression that people are not...
COOKThis is a one-two point race. You know, Donnelly is up a little more than not, but Donnelly needs to win over a bunch of Romney voters to win. I mean, the Democrat needs some Romney voters to come his way to win.
REHMLast word, Susan.
DAVISI still think it's tough for Donnelly because I think -- also beyond the presidential, Mike Pence is running for governor. He's a Republican. He's really popular in the state, and I think he could also have a beneficial down bout effect for Mourdock.
REHMSusan Davis of USA Today, Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report, National Journal, Heidi Przybyla, congressional reporter for Bloomberg News, thank you all so much.
REHMAnd full speed ahead to Election Day. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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