Guest Host: Frank Sesno
With midterm elections just eight months away, Republican strategists have begun to express optimism about the GOP’s chances of retaking control of the Senate. They point to President Obama’s below-average approval ratings, a still-sluggish economy and the unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act. But Democrats argue that their party is more unified — no Tea Party-type factions to contend with — and that many Americans still view the GOP as out of touch with the middle class and unconcerned about the poor. Guest host Frank Sesno talks with political strategists and journalists about the outlook for the midterm elections.
- David Winston Republican strategist, president of the Winston Group and CBS News consultant. He has served as an adviser to the House and Senate Republican leadership for more than a decade.
- Stuart Rothenberg editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report and a twice-a-week columnist for Roll Call.
- Chris Cillizza politics blogger at The Fix, The Washington Post, and managing editor, PostPolitics.com; author of "The Gospel According to The Fix."
- Anna Greenberg Democratic pollster and senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.
MR. FRANK SESNOAnd thanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University and creator of "Planet Forward," sitting in for Diane Rehm today. She is on vacation. The Republican Party did some soul searching after their election failures in 2012. Now armed with a new battle plan, many in the party believe they can retake the Senate in November.
MR. FRANK SESNOJoining me in the studio to talk about the outlook for the Democrats and the GOP and the overall political landscape as we head toward the midterm elections -- yes, more elections -- Republican strategist David Winston of the Winston Group, Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report, Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg of Greenburg Quinlan Rosner Research, and Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post. And good day to all of you.
MS. ANNA GREENBERGMorning.
MR. DAVID WINSTONMorning, Frank.
MR. STUART ROTHENBERGGood morning.
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZAGood morning.
SESNOThank you so much for coming in. Stu Rothenberg, start us off with an overview of this immense landscape as we barrel toward the fall.
ROTHENBERGWell, there are 21 Democratic Senate seats up, 15 Republican Senate seats up, and it's in the context of a midterm election where the president's popularity is somewhere probably in the low-40s. You can find anywhere from 39 to about 43 percent in the polls. People continue to be angry, frustrated, disappointed with the direction of the country, depending on your partisanship and your ideological bent, general dissatisfaction.
ROTHENBERGIt creates a dynamic for a more traditional midterm environment where the voters are going to see the elections as somewhat of a referendum on the president. That's bad news from the Democrats, and it takes place in a particular context, which is lots of red states, Republican states that have Democratic incumbents who are either retiring or seeking re-election. When you add it all together, it's a difficult environment for the president's party.
SESNOChris Cillizza, traveling these days sometimes I think is hazardous to my health. People say, well, where are you from? And I say, well, I live in Washington, D.C. And I get this look, and I quickly say, don't blame me. They're angry. People are truly annoyed. Is that what is the really the backdrop for what we're seeing?
CILLIZZAI -- you know, Frank, I think so. I saw this great number, an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll came out last week, a national poll, and they asked a number of questions, one of which was: If a candidate had no previous elected office, would it make you more or less likely to vote for them? If they had -- you know, they had never held it before. It was -- people said 19 points more likely that they would vote for a candidate who had never held elected office before than one that did.
CILLIZZANow, that number in the past has been a 2 percent margin, a 3 percent margin, sort of, you know, take it or leave it, statistically insignificant. I do think it's telling that people don't like either party. You know, we cite President Obama's unpopularity -- Stu is exactly right. But every poll has Democrat -- the Democratic Party, more people dislike it than like it, the Republican Party, deeply unpopular, much less popular even than Democrats or President Obama.
CILLIZZASo I think it's a sort of -- they're sick of everything. I think, unfortunately for Democrats, people -- the most visible and known politician is Barack Obama, and so I think the idea of, OK, we need to vote someone out or send a message (unintelligible) against Democrats as a result, though it's not as though this -- at the moment, even if Republicans made gains, this is sort of a huge endorsement of a Republican agenda.
SESNODavid Winston will talk about how deeply unpopular Republicans are and how much of an albatross Barack Obama is on the respective parties in a minute. But, you know, people have been angry and held Congress in low esteem since Mark Twain made a living off of it, right? What's different now?
WINSTONWell -- and just to drive home how large this is, in surveys I've done, I've got one-third of the electorate that disapproves of both parties and half of independents who have an unfavorable view of both parties. I mean, so it's pretty deep. What's different about it this time? To a large degree because the political discourse is off-topic from what people want to hear about.
SESNOWhat do people want to hear about?
WINSTONThey want to hear about jobs and the economy. They want to know how you're going to resolve the economic situation facing this country. And what they hear on a daily basis is the other -- is one side saying to the other side how miserable they are. And after a while, they're believing both sides. And the challenge to political parties is to change that discourse and create something more positive. We'll see if that evolves.
SESNOAnna Greenberg, they threw the bums out in '94. They threw the bums out in 2010. More bums this time going to lose their jobs?
GREENBERGI think -- I don't see this as a wave election for both kind of structural reasons. If you look at, for example, the number of competitive seats there are in the House, for example -- I know we're talking about the Senate today -- you know, there just aren't enough competitive seats to have a wave, you know, either way. And if you look at the competitive Senate races, most of them are tied. So I still think it's a pretty competitive environment. I can imagine things going either way. But I don't necessarily see a wave.
GREENBERGAnd I think it's for a lot of the same reasons that people have talked about on this panel that both parties are held in low esteem. Though certainly the Republican Party is at historic lows, the brand of the Republican Party particularly as defined by the Tea Party. Particularly the Tea Party in the House has not been helpful. And certainly we've got a bunch of primaries going on in these Senate races where you potentially have some more problematic Tea Party candidates as the nominees, depending on, you know, what goes on in any of these states.
GREENBERGSo I think that you have just parties unpopular. And I hate to use the word malaise 'cause it makes me think about Jimmy Carter, but there is a sense, when you go out there -- and I'm sure David has seen this in focus groups -- that people just feel sort of hopeless about the economy. They're not sure anybody has the answer, and they think it's the -- the new normal is to feel like you're going to struggle. And, you know, whether it's, you know, being challenged to get into the middle class or even a concern about falling out of the middle class, it just feels like nobody has any answers.
SESNOSo, Chris, you've written in recent days that the Senate playing field has shifted in the Republican's favor over the last several weeks alone. What's going on?
CILLIZZASure. Well, I think you have a couple things going on. You've had a couple candidate decisions that have put races -- that people like Stu and Charlie Cook who do these things well for a living -- would have ranked as not all that competitive and turn them competitive. The two obvious examples are Colorado -- Republicans, this is a state that Barack Obama has won twice but is a place where Republicans can and often do win.
CILLIZZAThey looked as though they were going to throw away what would have been a pretty valuable Republican nomination by a nominated guy named Ken Buck who is the -- he's a county attorney out there. He was the 2010 nominee against Michael Bennet in the Senate race there and wound up losing that race.
CILLIZZAHe looked like he was going to be the nominee again and I think probably would have wound up losing to Mark Udall. Well, lo and behold, Cory Gardner, who's a pretty well-regarded two-term member of Congress, who had ruled outrunning sort of out of the blue -- I'll say for myself, and maybe other people on the panel weren't as surprised, but I certainly was surprised -- says he's going to run.
CILLIZZAMore high profile in New Hampshire, Scott Brown, who, you know, famously won that special election 2010 in Massachusetts, he loses in 2012 to Elizabeth Warren by 8 points in Massachusetts as he runs for a full term, and has moved to New Hampshire. And certainly he's doing everything -- he's formed an exploratory committee to run against Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire. I certainly...
SESNOHe's discovered no income tax in New Hampshire, so it's...
CILLIZZAYeah. Right. So he's now in New Hampshire, and I think running. So now you have two races. And regardless of whether Colorado and New Hampshire go to Republicans or not -- and I think Colorado has probably a little bit better chance, but maybe not -- it's expands the playing field. Then what does that mean, Frank? It means the same amount of money being spent in a lot of different places. Particularly, I would say, if the Democratic Senatorial Committee has to spend money in New Hampshire, the southern half of that state is covered by the Boston media market, extremely expensive.
SESNOSo, Anne, you've got to acknowledge that the Democrats are in more competitive races in more places. That just, as a numbers game, makes it much tougher.
GREENBERGRight. It's, I mean, the basic math that Stu laid out at the beginning. But I do think, again, if you look at these at the individual level and you look at the individual candidates and the kind of campaigns they have run in the past, I really like the chances of people like Mary Landrieu to keep her seat, Kay Hagan to keep her seat, Begich to keep his seat. And when I look at people like Mark Udall and Jeanne Shaheen who have really good personal relationships with their electorates, especially...
SESNOColorado and New Hampshire.
GREENBERG...Jeanne Shaheen, who was, you know, popular governor and now popular senator, I think it -- you know, obviously there are issues around resources an having to play more places. But, again, race by race, these all look very competitive. And I think, you know, I think New Hampshire and Colorado will stay in the Democratic column.
SESNODavid, what's the role of the Tea Party in all of this?
WINSTONWell, a complicating one obviously in terms of the primary process but in terms of the general election potentially a key source in terms of being able to get these campaigns over the top. (unintelligible)...
SESNOI mean, you're a Republican pollster. What is the attitude you find from and among Republicans toward that part of the party?
WINSTONWell, it's key part of the party. I mean, part of the challenge -- look, part of the challenge is you've seen Speaker Boehner deal with is how do you manage a majority coalition? Tea Party's part of that. And you've got to figure it out and make it work. And you've seen Boehner certainly do that. I mean, one of the things that does seem pretty certain is Republicans are going to have a relatively decent opportunity to hold the House for another term.
WINSTONBut having said that, I want to go back to -- look, I mean, I think what we need to realize is one of the things that's sort of setting up this election is the questioning of the president's ability to sort of deal with the country's problems.
WINSTONI think what's happened as a result of the healthcare rollout hasn't been so much the questioning of the healthcare plan as it's been suddenly maybe the president is not the answer to the right track, wrong track question in terms of the country heading the wrong direction. Maybe his policy's the reason for that. I'm not saying that people have come to a conclusion, but that backdrop in how they get to that conclusion will be critical in terms of what the fall looks like.
SESNOLet me throw this question then to all of you, and then we'll come back to some of the state by states. Obviously, we're going to hear from the audience in a few minutes. How much is this political environment and this developing campaign that we're heading toward in the fall revolving around Barack Obama and the perception of his leadership, the Affordable Care Act, now the crisis in Russia? His poll number's 42 percent approval. Is this going to be about him? And is that dynamic changing or changeable going forward? Stu.
ROTHENBERGI think to a significant extent, it will be about him. Look, when one party controls the House and the Senate and the White House, it's really easy to know who voters are going to blame -- '94, 2006, 2010. Right now, you have a divided government, so Republicans are blaming Democrats and Democrats are blaming Republicans.
ROTHENBERGBut at the end of the day, the voters have to figure out kind of how they're going to make their decision. And more often than not -- you know, we don't have anti-incumbent elections. We don't have anti-Washington elections in this country. One party or the other takes the blame, if there is a lot of blame to go around. And when people...
SESNOYou see that's what's shaping up now?
ROTHENBERGYeah. When people think about who's running the country, they tend to think of the president. They tend to. Now it's possible that Democrats in some of these races will run such strong campaigns -- or the Republicans will nominate such screwy candidates -- maybe North Carolina, for example, that that will trump the president's standing. But the default position historically has been when you have an unpopular president and desire for change, the president's party gets most of the blame.
SESNOAnna, we've got to take a quick break. But before we do, the president's party gets most of the blame? This is your party.
GREENBERGI mean, sure. And it's a midterm election. This is the dynamic. But I would say that if you ask people who controls Congress, the majority believe Republicans can control Congress, whether that's the House. Or some believe they control both the House and Senate. So I think that that dynamic is particularly important in this election.
SESNOOK. We're going to take a quick break, come back talking politics in a few minutes, welcome your calls. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
SESNOWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane today. We're talking about American politics and the developing storm cloud, should we say, over the electoral situations as we head to the fall. Our guest, David Winston, Republican strategist and president of the Winston Group, he's a CBS News consultant as well. Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, twice-a-week columnist for Roll Call and a longtime friend. Stu, great to see you.
SESNOAnna Greenberg, Democratic pollster and senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. And Chris Cillizza, the politics blogger at The Fix, The Washington Post. Chris, your take on the role that President Obama plays in the midst of this developing midterm election.
CILLIZZAYou know, I think Stu accurately pointed out in the last segment that history would suggest that President Obama's current numbers are problematic for his party. There have only been two times since post World War II where you've had numbers this low for a president heading into an election like this, both times were not great for the party, 1974 and 2006. So, you know, we don't know what is going to happen.
CILLIZZAI would say Republicans have made quite clear that they plan to make this election a referendum on President Obama and on Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. I think Anna makes a good point which is that at least in Senate races -- I think it's much more difficult in the House race. The candidates are less defined, less money gets spent. People tend to know who their member of Congress is less often.
CILLIZZAIn Senate races, I think there is a possibility these are races where you're going to see 25, 30, $35 million spent. They could -- could -- Jeanne Shaheen being a good example -- governor of the state, now the senator, they could say, look, you know me. I'm not just an Obama clone. I disagree with this president when I think he's wrong. That message could work, but I would say you have to really hope you have a strong relationship with an electorate to say, what they're saying about me over and over and over and over again on television isn't true.
GREENBERGBut I think there's a real danger for the Republicans around particularly Obamacare or the ACA, which is we've had now three elections in a row where there's been heavy, heavy advertising, you know, from both inside and outside the parties with a heavy focus on cuts to -- alleged cuts to Medicare. And I think people have sort of tuned it out.
GREENBERGLike, the healthcare debate is over. I think that the healthcare debate is much more around, as David pointed out, governance. Can Democrats govern? Can Democrats solve problems? And there's a danger that it's, you know -- I mean, (unintelligible)...
SESNOI'm not sure the special election in Florida we just saw showed that the healthcare is over. Obamacare is a prevailing...
GREENBERGThere's a strong argument that, well, no, I mean, there's an argument to be made that it was a turnout issue, which may or may not be related to Obamacare. But the issue itself was kind of thought to withdraw.
SESNOAll right. Let me -- Anna, let me ask you and David, our two pollsters here, a question about the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. We just saw numbers that suggest 5 million people will have signed up for this thing. There are more who have signed up for Medicaid. Are you seeing, either of you, in your polling shifts in public opinion, more acceptance, more people considering this any differently, or does the unpopularity of this act seem to be just locked in cement?
WINSTONI wouldn't say it's locked in cement, but it has been remarkably stable since particularly the rollout, basically a margin of 10 points in terms of the disapprove over approve. That's a pretty significant margin. But the problem again...
SESNODo people even know what they're disapproving or approving of? Do your polling numbers show they actually understand what the Affordable Care Act is?
WINSTONWell, what they're understanding is in fact that there's clearly massive disruption, all right, at a scale that they didn't expect, at a time when they were expecting everybody to be focusing on jobs in the economy -- let me go back to 2010 for just a second. Everybody thinks 2010 -- many people think 2010 was an election dealing with the healthcare act.
WINSTONWhat it was was the president decided he was going to focus on healthcare when it should be jobs and the economy. The Speaker John Boehner at that point was posing the question, where were the jobs. And people said, John Boehner understands the problems facing the country. He's got the right one. In the exit poll, 63 percent said the economy was the number one issue as opposed to 18 percent for healthcare.
WINSTONHaving said that -- I want one other thing -- in terms of this concept of a referendum, actually there are some Republicans who don't think a referendum is the right strategy. Because we look at 2012, we won the argument. Seventy-seven percent of the electorate thought the economy was not so good or poor and the president wins by 5 million votes. It opens the door for us in terms of the president's problems but ultimately the Republicans have to offer an alternative.
SESNOAnna Greenberg, it's 10:30 in the morning, you get a call from one of your clients. She says, I'm running for Congress. I'm a Democrat. I like the Affordable Care Act just fine but I see these poll numbers that this guy Winston just talked about. What do I do? What should I be saying to people?
GREENBERGWell, David's right that attitudes about the healthcare act of itself has been stable actually since around 2009. But if you look at the question of whether or not people want to repeal it or keep it and fix it, you have actually a majority say, let's fix -- let's keep it and fix it or let's keep it. And so I think that's actually the more relevant number.
GREENBERGI think that the argument that has to be made about the Affordable Care Act is not so much around how effective it is in the short run, though obviously it's getting better and better. It's what are you going to go back to? What I think one of the failures really of my party going back to '09 is we've never made a case for why we actually did it when we did it, which is to say...
SESNOToo late now?
GREENBERGNo, I don't think it's too late. And some of the strongest arguments for the Affordable Care Act are (unintelligible) go back to a time when insurance companies were in charge of your healthcare and could decide when you could and couldn't have it and how much money could be spent. And, you know, this is a very serious economic consequence for people as well.
GREENBERGSo I actually think that -- the reason why I think that the hyper focus on Obamacare is potentially a problem for the Republicans is precisely what David just said, is first of all, we've litigated this now for three elections, opinion stable, it's happening. But moreover, what are Republicans for? And I think this is part of the problems Republicans face when they go -- I mean, you know, granted midterm elections are hard for incumbent presidents. But it's -- the negativity around Obamacare is a potential distraction for what it is they're actually going to offer voters.
ROTHENBERGTwo or three quick points. Yes, it would be better if the Republicans had an agenda. But, in my view, it is not the decisive if they can make the election more of a referendum. Two, and the pollsters will disagree with me, but that's OK. That's fine. Issues are important, but after a while issues translate into mood. People get impressions of Republicans, Democrats, the president and what the environment is like.
SESNOThey call it a narrative.
ROTHENBERGThe narrative, right. So we have good -- there's been some decent economic numbers over the past few months on and off, housing starts, gross domestic product that we've had up and down on new jobs. It doesn't seem to matter what. The public is in a funk -- I won't say malaise and echo Anna -- but it's in a funk. That's what the public believes. And so it is a problem once the narrative takes hold. And it almost -- the issues become -- the issue in this case, you see, becomes kind of secondary to the general belief.
ROTHENBERGAnd the third thing is, look, I'm not a huge believer in the so-called generic buyout. This is, do you want the Republicans or the Democrats to control Congress? The NBC-Wall Street Journal, other pollsters ask, are you going to vote for the Republican, Democrat or Congress? But the generic ballot is an indicator and right now...
ROTHENBERGWell, the NBC News-Wall Street Journal has it even, Republicans plus one. CBS New York Times even, Republicans actually plus three. I mean, the Republicans tend to be behind by five or six at this point almost every cycle except in 2006, 2008 when they were behind by 10 or 12 points. So that, as an indicator along with the other polling indicators, suggests difficulty for the president's party.
SESNOOne other question, Chris, before we go around the country and around the horn looking at some of these races in terms of how it plays, back to Russia and Crimea for a moment. So today, Putin says, yep, Crimea's voted. It's ours. And the world looks pretty ineffectual in what it's doing. And there will be many who are already -- in fact, they're already doing it, trying to hang this on President Obama, at least at some level for projecting weakness. Does that become an issue with any traction in this campaign going forward/
CILLIZZANo. I will expound slightly.
SESNOWe will come back on this.
CILLIZZAHere's why. I would say if you already do not like this president and think he's ineffectual, you will look at Russia and Crimea and say, see I do not like this president. He is ineffectual.
SESNOWe told you so.
CILLIZZAYeah, right. If you like him you will say, he's being sort of measured. He's sort of -- he's not taking the go-it-alone approach. He's being, in some ways in foreign policy, the anti-George Bush, and you will say, see he's measured and I like him. If you are the group of folks who are in the middle-ish or simply just don't feel strongly about the president one way or another, you will say, I wonder where Malaysia flight 370 is.
CILLIZZAYou simply will not focus on...
SESNOCan we blame that on anybody here in Washington?
CILLIZZAI don't -- well, that's to come.
CILLIZZAPoint being, foreign policy, I think, can affirm what you think of the sitting President of the United States. I do not think for your average low-information, undecided, independent voter that swings their perceptions one way or another.
SESNOWe would like to welcome your questions and comments to the broadcast, so if you'd like to join the conversation about politics, our number here is 1-800-433-8850. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll get to your calls and questions in just a few minutes. Let's go around the country a bit and take a little bit of a tour and look at some of the races that are up for grabs. I'm fascinated by Louisiana, Mary Landrieu. She comes from what once upon a time was a very solid Democratic state. Not so solid, not so Democratic anymore, Anna.
GREENBERGTrue, the dynamics -- well, the dynamics in Louisiana have changed overtime but I still think that she herself, as a senator and a candidate remains very strong. I also think the Landrieu name is very strong, and I think the fact that her brother won so decisively statewide as well helps her. So I think that she also has the resources to run a great race.
GREENBERGAnd it's one of these seats that obviously the national party has targeted. There's going to be no shortage of resources there. And I think you have a significant enough African American population that can be mobilized. So I think this is -- it's obviously very competitive if you look at the public polls, but I think it's one that Landrieu can win.
WINSTONWell, this is clearly one of the big opportunities for Republican pick up and has probably -- I mean, if we're not winning this on Election Day there's a reasonable chance we aren't getting the majority at that point. It's a state that has been very red over the past couple of cycles. She has managed to sustain herself in terms of previous elections.
WINSTONBut I think her big problem right now is she's got a conflict in defining is she a centrist Democrat or is she a leftist Democrat in a state that is not going to accept that, and so that's one dynamic. The other dynamic here too -- and again I go back to the Republican candidate has got to define the choice in such a way that frames her in such a way that she looks more left than what she wants to appear.
SESNOStu Rothenberg, let's go to Michigan. Carl Levin has been there since 1979, the Senator from the great state of Michigan. And Michigan, once upon a time, was pretty solid Democratic territory, strong union territory. It could actually flip to Republicans?
ROTHENBERGWell, I think that's possible. I mean, right now we don't have it in the top group of states that are likely to flip but frankly, we're paying more and more attention to it, Frank, over the past few weeks. The Democrat is Congressman Gary Peters, who is a fine Democrat. He's a mainstream Democrat member of Congress to the extent that that's a help or a hindrance, not a particularly dynamic name, big name, not well known in the large state.
ROTHENBERGThe Republicans are going to nominate Terri Lynn Land, former Secretary of State, has some personal money. What's not a great candidate but I hear is getting better -- I say I hear because one of the things I try to do is meet 150 to 200 candidates every cycle. And Terri Lynn Land has not come in yet.
SESNOYou meet 150 candidates (unintelligible)...
ROTHENBERGYeah, they come in for -- we do interviews with them, House and Senate candidates for about an hour...
SESNOYou offer any of them jobs as they're coming through just in case?
ROTHENBERGI have not done that yet. They think that they have a job. They think they're going to be in Congress. It's funny, everyone seems to think he or she's going to win. So...
SESNOWell, I would not recommend they come to Stu Rothenberg and say, I don't think I'm going to win.
ROTHENBERGBut for me, meeting the candidate is important. Not only can I then talk about -- intelligently about who the person is but -- so I'm waiting to meet Terri Lynn Land. But this is one of those races where the polls are close. I think it's worth watching.
SESNOYou are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno. And we are here with our great panel of political observers, taking a look at the political environment we're in right now and what it means for the fall, specifically some of the states that we're looking at. Chris, let's talk again about Colorado, and here's my big question. Does legalized marijuana -- is that likely to have any impact on the outcome of this race?
CILLIZZAI don't -- to be totally frank, Frank, I don't know. You know, it's obviously a huge issue in the state and nationally it's drawn a lot of attention. I don't -- I'm not entirely sure how it would -- this is -- we're sort of in uncharted territory to be -- you know, I don't know how it plays out. I would say Colorado is a place that when George W. Bush was running in 2000 and 2004, we had it in the competitive races but always tilting slightly to Republicans.
CILLIZZAWell, David mentioned how Louisiana has moved strongly toward Republicans in the last few elections. Colorado has moved in the opposite direction toward Democrats. There's a Democratic governor of the state and there are two Democratic senators. So this is a race that without Cory Gardner, sitting member of Congress, conservative without coming across as a Tea Party type or too far to the right, the Democrats would dispute that and say his record, in fact, is -- does put him to the far right. Without Cory Gardner in this race, we're not talking about the race.
CILLIZZAI wrote a column for The Post probably two-and-a-half months ago, and I said, Colorado -- Republicans may look back at Colorado if they come up a seat short of majority and say this is our big missed opportunity. Well, they now have a credible serious candidate there, like they have in New Hampshire, like they now have, I'll say, nearby in Virginia where I don't think Mark Warner's going to lose.
CILLIZZABut Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee is going to raise a significant amount of money, and he's probably going to be at 44 or 45 percent in mid-October in hopes that the national environment erodes out from Democrats. And someone who looks safe right now like Mark Warner is (unintelligible).
ROTHENBERGFrank, one quick thought on this. I am with Chris, and I'm not sure how the issue plays. But I believe this, that if a race is not about the president, the Democrat is probably better off. So if the race does, in Colorado, become to some extent about legalized marijuana and it's not about the president's performance, it's not about the economy, it's not about the -- that would be better probably for Udall.
GREENBERGWe keep talking about these Democratic seats. What about, you know, Kentucky and Georgia? I mean, I think there's some interesting things going on. I mean, Kentucky is not just interesting because McConnell's the leader in the -- of Senate Republicans.
SESNOYou just want to change the subject.
GREENBERGA little bit, but, no -- it isn't -- I think so.
GREENBERGBut, I mean, one of the things I think is interesting about Kentucky is, I think McConnell looked vulnerable six years ago, and then he turned out not to be. I think it's actually pretty different now because I think the Republican brand is a problem for him. But moreover, I think it's interesting because the ACA is being implemented successfully in Kentucky. And Gov. Beshear has been out there -- you know, way, way out there on it. And I think that the dynamics of saying make that race about something like Obamacare is much more difficult in a state like Kentucky.
SESNODavid, listen, this is a really interesting case and it should be something of a little Petri dish for us. So here's a place where -- maybe -- here's a place where, as Anna says, the Affordable Care Act and more access to healthcare actually has been widely supported -- is supported by the governor. And Mitch McConnell seems to be being challenged by a strong opponent. What do you make of it?
WINSTONThis is clearly the strongest challenge that Mitch McConnell has gotten since he's been in the Senate. She's a good candidate in the sense that she's well financed, she's one -- you know, she's been at the state level. She comes from a family name. And this is probably the toughest challenge he's had since he's been in. Having said that, I still think the odds still favor him. And he's a remarkable campaigner. And he's going back to his initial election.
WINSTONBut I want to go back to a statement that Stu made here. If this is also about jobs and the economy, I would argue that's the winning issue for Republicans, right. Because we can tie the president's performance to that, but ultimately there's some things we can lay out in terms of how to get the economic growth.
WINSTONUltimately I would suggest that there's a difference in terms of the two parties' approach, the reason I think it's a center-right country. And if we just simply make it about the president, then it's also not the way to set up 2016 effectively. Ultimately Republicans need to win the economic argument in 2014 if we're going to progress to 2016.
SESNOAnd we will talk about more jobs, economy and politics when we come back and take your calls and questions for our political panel. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
SESNOWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Diane today. Our guests, David Winston, Republican strategist and president of the Winston Group, Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, Anna Greenberg, Democratic pollster, senior vice president with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and Chris Cillizza, from the Washington Post, The Fix, and managing editor of PostPolitics.com. So to all of you, let's now go to the phones and start hearing what our callers want to say and the questions they have. Hello, Tina. You're on the air.
TINAYes. Good morning.
TINAYes. I believe President Obama inherited the worst eight years in our country's presidential history. Yet from day one the Republicans blocked everything he tried to do. Regarding the midterm elections, I remember Carl Roves warning to Democrats some years back -- and I quote -- "Once you think you have us figured out, we changed like chameleons." So the GOP, they can talk about soul-searching, twist themselves into a pretzel trying to look empathetic, but to me it's just an act. It's the old Carl Rove chameleon trick.
SESNOOK, Tina. Thanks very much. Chris Cillizza, remember that quote?
CILLIZZASure. I'm sure Carl is grimacing as it's remembered to him.
SESNOWell, he can call. The number is 1-800-433-8850.
CILLIZZAYeah. He's always very responsive to me, so I'm sure he'll call. Look, we've talked about this in this show, and I've talked with everyone on this panel privately about it. The Republican brand is not in great shape. We focus -- I think it is important -- David mentioned this before the break, that 2014 as sort of a setup to 2016.
CILLIZZAAnd I do think it's important because I think people -- you talk to folks, and I say, look, you know, the dynamics suggest 2014 is going to be a very good year for Republicans. And they say, oh, and we'll win back the White House. Not necessarily. Two very different electorate…
ROTHENBERGVery different things, different dynamics.
CILLIZZAAnd he Republican brand in 2016…
ROTHENBERGTurnout is totally a different factor, yeah.
CILLIZZA…is much more problematic. So I would say I think there are plenty of people who feel like Tina out there. I'm not convinced that that sway's the 2014 election, but I will say when you turn to 2016 it won't -- the argument of, well, President Obama isn't -- his policies made things worse, not better -- sure, that will have some heft, but it's not going to decide the election.
SESNODavid, you want to comment on this, since the question was squarely to your party?
WINSTONWell, again, as Chris was saying, I mean, the Republican brand at this point was in difficult shape. I would also suggest that when political parties loose majorities, like Republicans did in 2006, like Democrats did in '94, you, as a party, sit down and try to figure out what happened to my majority coalition and how do I build a new one. And so, of course, you're going to adapt and change. Having said that, I think you've seen a response, to some degree, again, we were talking the autopsy report that the Republican National Committee did after the 2012 election…
SESNOThe presidential collection.
WINSTONPresidential election, right -- taking a look at things. And you're seeing Reince Priebus try to address new things. So, for example, yesterday he began this ad campaign in terms of people describing why they're a Republican. Part of the challenge…
SESNOTrying to bring diversity, is what he's trying to do here, to the party.
WINSTONAnd -- right. Into the Party, so of having individuals sort of talk about this. But here's the key problem that both parties have, when you spend all your time defining why the other side is bad, you don't really do much for your own brand. And that's one of the reasons -- and by the way, both parties have been relatively successful…
SESNODo you tell your clients that on the Republican side? Quit just spending your time defining the other brand is bad?
SESNOWhat do they say?
WINSTONWhat -- it's the ultimate challenge to them. They ultimately -- because they want to run, they want to try to accomplish something, they're trying to come to Washington to do things, actually for them that's sort of a pleasant sound to them. That's why they're running. However, for most of the consultants it's a horrible sound because they want to go after the opponent.
GREENBERGLook, I just want to comment on one thing about the Republican brand. Part of the challenge of the brand is they are seen as obstructionists and not working with the president, and you have the shutdown. But the other part -- which I think is more profound -- is on economic issues and who they're for. And I think what you're going to see in this election is a huge conversation about the Koch brothers, about Wall Street, about sort of what their economic vision is.
GREENBERGAnd frankly, it's not widely shared by the American people. And I think that this is going to be a really important -- you're going to see a whole lot of money making the case that kind of the Republican brand is around for Wall Street, for the wealthy. And they have not done a whole lot, I think, to disabuse people of that. I think that's a really, really critical piece that we haven't talked about today.
ROTHENBERGI would simply add what Tina was talking about and what Anna is mentioning now, is to make the election more of a choice between the two parties, rather than a referendum on the president. That's possible, but it's difficult to do. And as to David's point about you have to be for something, the Republicans needed to be something for the first year and a half of this cycle. But for the final few months it's not about presenting their agenda. It's about making -- it's about driving the voters to where the voters seem to want to go, which is right now about the president and the economy.
SESNOLet me got to the phones and bring Kim in here from Boss, Mo. Hello, Kim, you there?
SESNOGo for it.
KIMThank you for letting me speak. I think both parties have gone off base, pun intended. And the opposite of the Tea Party was the Occupy. And the issues were prison privatization, the justice system, the drone bombings, the assassination of world leaders, a lot of Libertarian issues and the Tea Party's issues were very Libertarian. Both projects were totally co-opted quickly and swiftly. The Republicans with Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin. The Democrats with mostly distractions, like…
SESNOSo do you have a question for our panel, given that as your premise?
KIMI'm saying that the left and the right, there's overlap. And that the Bill of Rights, things like NDAA, some of these things need to be addressed.
SESNOOK. Chris Cillizza, I'll let you take over and tackle that.
CILLIZZASo this is not directly related to the Senate, but I do think is an interesting point, which is I do think there is evidence of a growing sort of Libertarian strain in the country both among Democrats and Republicans, though I think much more sort of obvious among Republicans. And I do think -- and many people I talk to and write about roll their eyes at this, but I do think that Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky -- son of former Texas Congressman Ron Paul -- has tapped into that drones -- talking about you sort of can't have -- the Fourth Amendment is just as important as the Second Amendment.
CILLIZZAYou can't -- he talks a lot about, let's not, as a party, Republican Party, let's not talk about same-sex marriage, let's not worry about cracking down on marijuana. Let's focus on fiscal policy, and, more controversially, I would say, on sort of a -- they wouldn't call it isolationism, but of a sort of retracting within the U.S.'s borders. We're not going to be the world's policeman. There is, I think, a real power that exists there, particularly among young people.
CILLIZZAAnd when you're talking about a Republican Party that badly needs to expand its coalition, badly, Rand Paul offers -- it's at least a possibility. Now, he may also offer a possibility to Barry Goldwaterville, you know. It's uniquely possible. He offers a possibility of a different coalition voting for the Republican Party that is strongly tinged with the kind of libertarianism the caller is talking about.
SESNOOK. To the next call. Mark, from Miami, Fla. Hi, Mark.
MARKGood morning, everyone. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. I had to speak for myself -- and I've been unemployed since 2008 and working two part-time jobs, looking for another job to try to fill -- meet my financial goal. And, you know the Healthcare Act, I'm a firm supporter of it, even though I can't afford to make the payments, and I'm looking to getting the penalty at the end of the year. But I got to say, as a voter, as a citizen of this country, I'm highly disappointed in both parties.
MARKI feel like both parties are just a collection of people with a large sum of money who have lost contact or lost touch with the American people, who are out, you know, the majority of us, you know, the middle class and the lower class. And I understand that, you know, you're taking polls, and you're asking questions. Well, no one has ever asked me anything, so I really don't pay attention to the polls because I don't have (unintelligible)…
SESNOAll right. Well, let me be the first then to ask you, what do you most want to hear from your Senate candidate, congressional candidate, from your political leaders? What do you want to hear them talk about?
MARKThat's -- thank you for asking that question. The question I -- what I would like to hear is not finger-pointing, but what are we going to do?
SESNOWhat are we going to do about what?
MARKWhat are we going to do the economy, about our nation as a -- you know, basically about the economy and the education in this country. You know, what are we going to do to make our country stronger? How we can work together? Can we be one country, not divided, and work together toward a common goal? Both parties have great ideas. Both parties have stupid ideas. But both parties need to come together and work together so the American people can benefit.
SESNOAll right, Mark. Thank you very much. Let me turn that to both our Democrat and Republican pollsters here to start for a minute. That, it seems to me, is what we should be hearing more of in our political discourse, is that what American's broadly speaking -- is that how they feel?
GREENBERGThat's absolutely how most people feel. I mean, there's obviously people on the fringes who are driven more by ideology, but that's, you know, it's 65, 70 percent of people in the country, that's exactly how they feel. And…
SESNOIs that -- David, is that right? Is that…
SESNO…your findings as well?
WINSTONWhen you're -- it's jobs and the economy.
SESNOSo why aren't we hearing it?
GREENBERGThe parties are captured by, you know, people who spend money in politics. He's absolutely right. I mean, it's very difficult to have a real debate about what's going on in this country when you have the way campaigns are financed. It's just…
WINSTONNo, no. But, no, it's the political discourse that occurs in terms of these campaigns. Because everybody thinks, oh, if I can just attack that person for that, that's my silver bullet that will put this over the top. The problem -- and I want to go back to the reason a referendum is not good enough, because, again, we did a referendum in 2012, and everybody agreed the economy was in horrible shape, yet Obama won.
WINSTONAnd the reason was because what Anna was doing there, is Democrats define the economy. Right? Republicans didn't. Republicans defined the economy in 2010. Where are the jobs? And let me point out, going to your coalition dynamic, Republicans won women in 2010. We got 38 percent of the Hispanic vote. That's more than McCain got in 2008. We got 38 percent of the Hispanic vote. Why? We defined the number one issue, and we -- it's a center right country, we're the center right party.
SESNOWhat our caller was saying, don't just talk about it, work together and do something about it.
GREENBERGRight. But, I mean, you're talking about tactics, in terms of campaigns, David. I truly believe that the way money plays out in politics makes it very difficult to have a discourse about the issues that face regular people. I think the discourse is defined by the people who have money in politics.
CILLIZZAJust very quickly to your question, Frank.
WINSTONThe ideas don't? Ideas play second role to money?
WINSTONI mean I -- well, no. No, I'm sorry. Again, I -- you take a look at key moments…
GREENBERGWho pays for all the ads?
WINSTONWho watches the ads? Does anybody watch these ads?
CILLIZZAI would say, to your point about if people want things done and people want people to work together, why are politicians not doing so? Because the truth of the matter is that the members that we elect are largely doing what the people who elect them want.
CILLIZZAWe live in a remarkably self-sorted country, which, as you live around people who think like you, vote like you, watch the television shows you watch, listen to the radio you watch, (sic) and redistricting, the decennial line drawing in the country, has basically created a -- Stu, you'll know this. I mean, roughly how many districts in the House are you guys rating as competitive? Is it 10 percent of the 435?
ROTHENBERGWe have about, yeah, we're watching about 50 this race, out of 435.
CILLIZZASo a little bit more than 10 percent. You know, the truth of the matter is that when you have that, 90 percent of the members of Congress are not, in fact, elected to "work together." They are elected to represent, typically, a constituency that is either considerably more Democratic than sort of what we define as the middle of the country or considerably more Republican. And therefore, self-preservation dictates that they sort of vote the way they vote.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Our conversation, the political landscape now and into the future. Stu, I know you wanted to say something.
ROTHENBERGI, yeah, I don't think it's money, but, you know, I think it's the technology. And it's talking points. It's how we communicate that.
SESNOI can't tell you, Stu, the number of times I hear people say the Koch brothers, or special interest money.
ROTHENBERGThat's because we're in a culture of 10-second soundbites. So you run 30-second ads. And that's how -- that's the talking points that the parties do. But, Frank, look, you and I spent many years together on election night. You used to -- we did CNN. I was your analyst.
SESNOAnd you did a great job.
ROTHENBERGWhat are people watching now? They're watching Fox and MSNBC. CNN is getting killed on the ratings, just killed on the ratings. People are choosing to view partisan rhetoric. And, you know, yeah, we like to talk about why can't we get -- all work together and come up with solutions? And I do believe that people really want that, but that's the dynamic of the technology or the culture.1
SESNOBack to the -- I'm going to back to the technology and the phones and call on Rhonda, from Murphy, Texas. Hi, Rhonda.
RHONDAHi. Well, I'm even more depressed now.
ROTHENBERGSo are we, Rhonda.
RHONDAOh, my God. I don't drink, but I would looking for one if I did or something to make me feel better. But anyway, I'm sitting here now, and I'm holding a half a dozen of oversized postcards from my congressman. And they're all about the president. There are no solutions offered. But I feel that the actions of many Republicans -- and there's not one elected Democrat in my county. I live in Collin County, Texas. There's not one elected Democrat.
RHONDAMy congressman has been in office almost as long as I am old. And so he has more than benefitted from being a part of the government that he now, you know, feels so negatively about. But I think that from the beginning the Republicans had the idea that if they would just make the president fail, as a person, that then they would be in better shape to say, let's say, take back the presidency, take back the House -- or keep the House and take the Senate.
RHONDABut what I think has happened is that from the beginning what they have worked on doing is damaging the office of the presidency itself. So when they talk about the president is -- he's weak, there's no one that respects him, it all started when McConnell said, "We want to make him a one-term president."
SESNORight, right, right.
RHONDAThey have been very, very united in doing that, but it has harmed us as a country both nationally and internationally. And I think that when we try to be an example to ourselves and our young people, it is this level of disrespect for the office of the presidency that almost spells doom for our country. How do we ever move forward and really get to the idea of really making the economy work?
SESNOOK, Rhonda. Thanks so much. Let me let Chris take that. How do we move forward in this environment?
CILLIZZAWell, Rhonda, you know, I don't want to make you any more depressed, but I would say I think there is a real question -- and this gets into technology, as Stu talked about, it gets into self-sorting and redistricting and sort of how we are siloed-off, largely media-wise, in terms of what we listen to. I think there's a real question of can a president -- Barack Obama, whoever comes after Barack Obama -- can a president succeed in sort of a traditional way that we would define success. Can that happen in a partisan environment like this?
CILLIZZAI was talking to a Democratic pollster recently -- it wasn't Anna -- just, you know, but who, you know, I said, Obama's, you know, in the low 40s, you know, how does he get back? And the person said to me, I think it's important that we define what getting back or success or popularity looks like. He said popularity, in this environment, for President Obama might be 51 percent approval. He said, It's not going to be 65 percent any time soon.
SESNOStu, pull us out of our depression here. You've been around in Washington…
GREENBERGHe's such a cynic. I don't really see how that's going to happen.
ROTHENBERGFrankly, I wish I had some advice for us. Maybe David does. No. You know, we say, well, maybe we'll elect someone who'll bring us together. Well, that didn't happen with Barack Obama. So I just -- I'm very pessimistic.
SESNOMaybe the next presidential cycle.
WINSTONBut let -- ending on a positive note here. I mean, look, one of the positive things that came out of the shutdown is you saw that John Boehner, in terms of leading that Republican group, in terms of dealing with Democrats, you've now seen a sequence of deals that have occurred in terms of governing and moving things forward. And so going to the point, I think there has been this ideological bumping up at all costs.
WINSTONAnd now there's a sense from both sides that ultimately the electorate wants to see them govern. And that's part of the challenge. How do you represent a political view and govern at the same time?
SESNOAnna, a ray of sunshine here?
GREENBERGYeah, I don't think I have one. I just think -- I think for all the reasons that Chris and Stu mentioned, but I also just think when you have so much inequality and economic stress, it's hard to have a positive political conversation.
SESNOBig issues and a big reason why a conversation like this needs to be part of the dynamic as well, because something has to cut through. And I think you all have done that. So thanks all, very much to our panel…
SESNO…today, talking about…
SESNO…American politics. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
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