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Results from primary contests in six states yesterday suggest that Democrats will have a hard time keeping control of the Senate come November. In two key states, Kentucky and Georgia, Republican voters turned down bids from the more right-leaning Tea Party candidates. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky prevailed over a well-funded candidate who claimed McConnell had been too willing to compromise. In Georgia, two of the less conservative Republican Senate candidates will face a run-off in July. On the Democratic side voters in Pennsylvania chose businessman Tom Wolf as their nominee for governor. Please join us to discuss yesterday’s primary results and what they could mean for the midterm elections in November.
- Susan Davis congressional correspondent, USA Today.
- Reid Wilson staff writer, The Washington Post; he writes The Post's new political tipsheet email called "Read In."
- Janet Hook political reporter, The Wall Street Journal.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts, of the George Washington University, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She has a cold, but she is on the mend. The future looks brighter for more establishment Republican leaders. Voters in six states largely turned down the bids from more conservative Tea Party candidates. Most notably, in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell beat back a threat from a well-financed, hardline challenger.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining me to talk about yesterday's votes and what the results suggest for Republican prospects in taking control of the Senate in November, Janet Hook, of the Wall Street Journal, Reid Wilson, of The Washington Post, and shortly, we hope, stuck in traffic, but will be here shortly, Susan Davis, of USA Today. You can join our conversation, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at email@example.com. Message us on Facebook and Twitter. Welcome, this morning.
MR. REID WILSONGood morning.
ROBERTSNice to have you here.
MS. JANET HOOKMorning, Steve.
ROBERTSJanet, let's start, both of you give me a headline, give me an overall theme, from -- six different states voted. Biggest primary of the year so far. What's the take away?
HOOKYeah, the establishment really won, coast to coast, from the top of the Senate to the bottom of the House. There were a whole bunch of Republican primaries that pitted either a party incumbent or a party-endorsed candidate against a anti-establishment Tea Party conservative challenger. And the challengers all lost. We started at the top with Mitch McConnell. He was beat (sic) by Matt Bevin. Down in the freshman class of the House, there was Bill Schuster, Bud Schuster's son running in…
ROBERTSBud Schuster, long time power in the House.
HOOKLong time power in the House. And his son is there. And he, after his first term, was already facing a challenge from the right. And he survived, as well.
ROBERTSAnd, Reid, you agree with this? And why do you think this happened?
WILSONI think it happened because the Republican Party has moved to the right. The Tea Party groups didn't really have a lot of ideological differences with leaders in the U.S. Senate, with members who are running for reelection. So the number of targets they are able to go after in these primary elections are shrinking. We saw a number of candidates, even the more established candidates, the candidates favored by the sort of professional, political class here in Washington, adopting some of the Tea Party talking points.
WILSONThat didn't necessarily assuage those Tea Party groups, but at least they were able to win enough primary voters. I think that the power of the Tea Party movement is fading, but that's largely because the mainstream Republicans have adopted a lot of their agenda.
ROBERTSWell, one of the Tea Party officials reflecting on these results said, "We've lost some battles, but we're actually winning the war because the Party is moving our direction." You seem to be agreeing with that.
WILSONI think that's the case. So take a look at Georgia, a key Senate race in which there were a number of very hard right candidates who the establishment in Washington did not believe could win a general election. Congressman Phil Gingrey, Congressman Paul Broun, both running in that U.S. Senate primary. It was a pretty crowded primary. It's going go to a runoff election. But the two guys who made it through to the runoff are a long-time businessman named David Perdue, who spent a lot of his own money on the race.
WILSONAnd a Congressman named Jack Kingston, who's a long-time appropriator here in Washington, D.C. Now, appropriators are not the favorites of the Tea Party. And yet, David Perdue, this businessman, is also going to provide a decent candidate in November.
WILSONThe point, though, is that David Perdue, a guy who should be a pretty mainstream conservative, came out last week and said he would not vote for Mitch McConnell for minority leader or majority leader, Republican leader in the U.S. Senate. That tells me that the Tea Party has really sort of co-opted that part of the Republican establishment.
ROBERTSI want to talk about these races in some depth, Janet. But one other point in a general sense, one of the leaders of the Tea -- of the Club for Growth, one of the conservative organizations that has put money into attacking Mitch McConnell and other establishment conservatives said, "In the past we could sneak up on people, that you had incumbent senators like Bob Bennett in Utah, or Dick Lugar in Indiana, defeated in primaries in recent years. Perhaps because they didn't take the challenge that seriously. This year everybody was warned.
HOOKAnd that is the other big factor. It's not just that establishment Republicans have become more conservative. That is true. But they also have become much more wary. Mitch McConnell was not caught flat-footed by this. And, in fact, it wasn't an easy win for him. He did spend, you know, $11 million to defeat this guy. And out in Idaho, there was another -- a House member, Mike Simpson, who was targeted by Club for Growth. Who he really poured into it in a way that he has never had to run a race like that before. He saw it coming. He responded and he won.
ROBERTSNow, in talking about Kentucky, Mitch McConnell was, perhaps the leading target of these groups, considered an establishment figure, as you pointed out, Reid. But he raised a lot of money. He campaigned very hard. Spent a lot of money. His challenger turned out to have a lot of flaws, as well. But McConnell won 60 percent of the vote. And will face, in November, a promising Democrat named Alison Grimes. Already has had Bill Clinton campaign for her. What's your read, Janet, on the fight that McConnell will now face in the fall?
HOOKWell, it's the toughest challenge he's had since he first was elected. And one thing I'll say about the interesting thing about the way he beat Matt Bevin, I think, puts him in a somewhat better position than he might have been for the general election, is that he didn't go totally Tea Party to defeat Matt Bevin. He continued to use kind of what is his traditional campaign message, which is "Kentucky needs me. I've got a lot of seniority and that's a good thing."
ROBERTSAnd I could be majority leader.
HOOKI could be majority leader if Republicans take the Senate. Now, they have to be careful about how they run against Alison Grimes. She's a young, appealing, articulate woman, but it's clear that what their message is, is that she's just a pawn of Barack Obama.
ROBERTSAnd Harry Reid, the Democrat.
HOOKAnd Harry Reid. He said -- last night he said, "Alison Grimes is running for the Senate because Harry Reid and Barack Obama want her there."
ROBERTSAnd it's interesting that she's had Bill Clinton come in to campaign for her, but not Barack Obama. And we can expect the same thing, I think, in the fall. Right?
HOOKThat's right. I mean, she has family connections with Bill Clinton. So there's a personal thing going on there. And Bill Clinton, I mean, he is a really great campaign asset for Democrats running in red states.
ROBERTSAnd, Reid, in talking about McConnell, he has never won easily in that state. He's always been close. And she's very close in the polls. Democrats see this as their single best chance to knock off an incumbent Republican. And McConnell also, while very powerful in Washington, is not the warmest or the most dynamic campaigner. So Democrats really think they have a shot.
WILSONThey do. Virtually every public poll we've seen has put these two candidates, Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes, within a point or two of each other. It is going to be that kind of race. It's going to be 52-48 race, basically from now through November. McConnell's approval ratings, though, are his biggest challenge. There was a recent poll that showed that his approval ratings were lower than President Obama's in the state of Kentucky.
WILSONAnd President Obama has never been popular in Kentucky. Democrats hope that they can make the case that the incumbent is so unpopular that voters will go for a Democrat. Somebody who will vote for, you know, she doesn't want anybody to think that she'll vote for President Obama's agenda, but somebody who would vote for Harry Reid for majority leader, even though he has this potential to become majority leader himself.
ROBERTSNow, one of the interesting questions is what happens to the Bevin voters, because a number of them, in pre-election polls, have said, "Well, if my candidate loses, I'm not going to vote in the fall. Or I might even vote for the Democrat. But that's what they're saying in May. That isn't necessarily how they're going to act in November when the election's on the line.
WILSONAnd Kentucky is a state, one of the few remaining states where we see a significant amount of crossover votes on both side. Republicans pointed out last night that even without a strong challenger, even without challengers who really ran a campaign, 25 percent of Democratic voters still voted against Alison Lundergan Grimes. That hints that they might be these sort of, you know, former, culturally conservative Democrats, who are now leaving the Party -- who have left the Party in a lot of southern states and maybe haven't quite yet made that transition in Kentucky.
ROBERTSKentucky has a Democratic governor and so there are -- have been -- and Bill Clinton won the state twice. So it's not quite as deep red as some of the other states in that region.
WILSONLet me bring up the other point, though. Mitch McConnell is the single, number one target of the Tea Party. There are -- these outside groups, even though they didn't beat him in this primary, a lot of these outside groups have asked candidates they're supporting in other states, specifically, whether or not they would vote for McConnell. There is a loathing for McConnell in that conservative set. Which doesn't completely make sense because McConnell is one the most conservative leaders that the Republican Party has had in the Senate in the last century.
ROBERTSAnd, Janet, let's go back to Georgia, to recap there. There is a runoff for the Republican nomination. The two survivors, with a somewhat more mainstream figures, Perdue, the businessman, Kingston, the incumbent congressman. The two Tea Party favorites, two congressmen, Gingrey and Broun, ran way behind. In fact, in the single digits or barely into double digits. The Democratic candidate carries a very well-known name, Michelle Nun. Her father, four-time Democratic senator from Georgia. Of course that was in an age when Southern states elected Democrats to the Senate.
ROBERTSIt's far less likely today. But tell us about Michelle Nunn and the challenge she poses.
HOOKWell, Democrats see real promise in Georgia in part because Michelle Nunn is such an attractive candidate. She'd been hers of the chartable group, "Points of Light." But the greatest asset …
ROBERTSWhich was founded by…
HOOKFounded by George Bush.
ROBERTS…Bush, 41, yeah.
HOOKRight. So the greatest gift to her is the fact that the Republicans have been embroiled in this long contentious primary. So there are seven Republicans out there attacking each other, and she's kind of floating above the fray. And now, because none of them got over 50 percent, there does have to be a runoff between the top two Republicans, Perdue and Kingston, in July. So they're going to continue to attack each other. So…
ROBERTSAnd spend money.
HOOK…she's kind of -- yeah, and spend money. So she's kind of getting a free ride. I have to say though, her prospects are much stiffer than they would have been. If the Democrats really were hoping that the more Tea Party-ish, the more extreme conservative candidates had prevailed. That didn't happen.
ROBERTSBecause let's -- let's remember that there were at least five states in the last two elections where hard-right Tea Party candidates have emerged from the Republican primaries, in Colorado, Nevada, Delaware, Missouri, Indiana, And they have been defeated. And that's what the Democrats were hoping for, is one of those replays.
HOOKRight. Phil Gingrey or Paul Broun, you know, two House members with very, very conservative voting records. Very appealing to the very conservative wing of the Party. And if the field had been smaller, they might have done better.
ROBERTSWe're going to come back with your phone calls. We have some lines open, so give us a call, 1-800-433-8850. I'll be right back with my guests. Stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. Our subject this hour, the primaries in six different states yesterday. And joining me to talk about them, Janet Hook who covers politics for the Wall Street Journal, Reid Wilson of the Washington Post. Hopefully Susan Davis of USA Today will make her way through the traffic and join us as well.
ROBERTSOur email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and of course give us a call, 1-800-433-8850. We still have some lines open, happy to hear from you. In addition to the major -- Susan Davis has joined us. Welcome. Thank you. And in addition to the two major fights that we saw in Georgia and in Kentucky, Susan, another state where there was an important primary was Oregon.
MS. SUSAN DAVISYeah.
ROBERTSAnd there was a fight for the Republican nomination. The more -- somewhat more moderate candidate Monica Wehby emerged. The Republicans have some hopes for her in the fall to really challenge the incumbent Democrat Jeff Merkley.
DAVISThat's true. And Oregon has the potential to be one of the great sleeper races of 2014. It's not really on the map right now. I think it's been seen as a generally friendly democratic territory but Republicans see a couple opportunities. One, the state exchange that Oregon attempted to launch to confer the Affordable Care Act was a disaster. It cost over $250 million. They had to scrap it. I think that there's a lot of pessimistic views about the health care law, which is still very much going to be...
ROBERTSAnd Monica Wehby is a physician (unintelligible) some credibility...
DAVISAnd -- exactly. So she's a child surgeon. I think that -- she's a woman. I think in a lot of the female politics we see playing out, that's a good thing to have. She's socially moderate which is in line with the state. Mitt Romney came out and endorsed her. And also, Jeff Merkley who was elected in the 2008 wave that elected Barrack Obama, so he also benefited from some atmospherics that weren't necessarily specific to him. And Republicans look at his numbers and say he hasn't defined himself in the state as well as many other southerners have. And they see some weaknesses there.
ROBERTSNow, let's step back. The larger picture here, Republicans have to take over six Senate seats. Now if they lose an incumbent as in a seat that they've held in Kentucky or in Georgia, that makes it even harder for them. There are many other states in play. Other democrats in addition to Jeff Merkley considered vulnerable, Senator Landrieu in Louisiana, Pryor in Arkansas, Begich in Alaska and of course maybe the number one target, Kay Hagan in North Carolina.
ROBERTSAs you, Janet Hook, look at the landscape today in May, now that we've been through many of these primaries, what's your best estimate as for the Republican chances to retake the Senate in November?
HOOKWell, their chances are much, much better now than they were six months ago, but not as good as they seemed a couple months ago. I think things have been -- for Democrats they've kind of stopped getting worse. (laugh) Now, I do think in yesterday's results, the only result that really seems, in my mind, bears on Republican prospects is the Georgia primary. As we were saying before, if one of the really conservative candidates had won the Democratic prospects there would be really high. And now I just think it's a tough fight for the Democrats there.
HOOKSo, I don't know. I mean, I hate to say jump ball but it is kind of a jump ball. And I think that -- and we're -- kind of now we're getting to the place where we kind of pretty much see who the candidates and players are in each state. So now, you know, you get the players on the field. Let the battle begin.
ROBERTSYou know, Reid, we were talking earlier that the Republican candidates like McConnell had warning now. Well, the Democratic incumbents have warning as well. And you see people like Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Mark Pryor in Arkansas running very hard, raising a lot of money. They're not going to be quite as vulnerable perhaps as some people thought they'd be, given the fact that they're in Southern states where Obama's very unpopular.
WILSONNo, they're not. And they have been bolstered by Democratic efforts to match Republicans in the outside spending, these independent groups whether they're Super PACs or the 501C4 organizations. The Democratic groups like the Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority which has close ties to Senator Harry Reid have spent a boatload of money on some of these races very early.
WILSONThey've spent several million dollars on behalf of Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina, on behalf of Mark Pryor in Arkansas, on behalf of Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. They're spending so much money that the two sides have now purchased just about every available moment of air time between Labor Day and Election Day in Alaska. Now, Alaska's a pretty cheap bunch of media markets but still that tells you just how much money they're spending, that they have purchased basically all of the inventory that they can so far out.
WILSONThe path though to a Republican Senate majority really focuses I think on five states where Democratic incumbents are seeking -- four Democrats are seeking reelection, one Democrat is seeking retention. Senator John Walsh in Montana was just appointed back in January -- or in February, excuse me. Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska and North Carolina though, those are the four states where the majority will be decided.
WILSONIf we're talking about, you know, Oregon or Minnesota or Michigan or New Hampshire as competitive races closer to October and November, then we're not talking about whether or not Republicans win the majority. We're talking about how big that majority will be.
ROBERTSAnd, Susan, you made an important point in discussing the Republican nominee in Oregon, Monica Wehby as a woman.
ROBERTSThink how many of these states women are playing a major role. The two states we've been talking about the most, the Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn, Alison Grimes, both women, two of the four endangered incumbents, Mary Landrieu, Kay Hagan, women. Republicans nominate a woman challenger in Oregon. What does that tell you about the changing face here of politics and the focus on women, both as candidates and as voters in the fall?
DAVISI would also throw into that mix in Michigan you have Terri Land who's the Republican woman there...
DAVIS...who's also making a race more competitive than I think a lot of people expected today.
ROBERTSAnd the New Hampshire incumbent Democrat, he might also face a -- Scott Brown as a reasonable challenger as well.
DAVISI think there's a couple factors in sort of the parody we're seeing in these races. I think one, republicans acknowledged that they had a deficit in female candidates. And I think the party made a grander effort to try and find and recruit good female candidates. I think sometimes that's just luck of the draw that -- I don't know how much you can give them credit and how much is just serendipity that this is a cycle that a lot of women are running. I think...
ROBERTSOf the 20 women in the Senate, only four are Republicans.
DAVISYes. And I would say that women candidates do well. I think that on the whole that they -- in this current political environment, particularly in the past two to three years where so much of the political fight has been on the quote unquote "war on women," I think women -- they vote more than men. So it's obvious why you would have an interest in having a female candidate because they could appeal more to that constituency.
DAVISAnd I think women in the Senate, on the whole, even on both sides, have a reputation for getting things done. I think they're seen as efficient legislators. They don't tend to be as beholden to sort of the partisanship on either side that you see. They tend to be more moderate, more centrist. They get things done. They're seen as problem solvers. And I think that's a good space to plan when people...
ROBERTSAnd they have regular meetings across party lines...
ROBERTS...then there's meetings which men don't do at all. I mean, and some people call the women of the Senate kind of the last (word?) bipartisan (unintelligible) .
DAVISRight. And whether your Monica Wehby in Oregon or you're Michelle Nunn in Georgia, you're both sort of appealing a lot to this suburban mom, centrist voter. And I think that women candidates often have a better job of appealing to that type of voter.
ROBERTSNow in addition to the fight for the Senate, Janet Hook, there are also some very important governorships up this year. Republicans have been very successful in the last few cycles in putting a lot of attention, a lot of money into governorships. One of the benefits is then controlling the redistricting process which has helped solidify the majority in the House of Representatives. Democrats now, in this cycle, think they have a chance to knock off several of those incumbent Republican governors starting with Pennsylvania, a very important state.
ROBERTSAnd this week the Democrats did nominate a newcomer to politics, Tom Wolf, a businessman. They're very hopeful that he'll take a shot at Governor Corbett, the incumbent. Update us on this new face in Democratic politics in Pennsylvania.
HOOKWell, first I will say on governors in general, I mean, in a year that seems otherwise kind of grim for Democrats, you know, they might lose control of the Senate. They have no hope of gaining control of the House. They are hopeful of making gains in governors' races. And Governor Corbett is considered just about the most vulnerable of the governors. You know, he doesn't get any credit for whatever improvements there've been in the Pennsylvania economy. There were education budget cuts that he's blamed for.
HOOKAnd the Democrat who came out on top of the Democratic primary yesterday was a businessman named Tom Wolf, who had a lot of money and used it to just flood the airwaves. And just a few months ago, most people in Pennsylvania had no idea who this guy was. And he ran against some better-known candidates, notably a congresswoman named Allyson Schwartz who just trailed by a huge margin. So he just -- he kind of -- he burst onto the scene and he's going to make a good run of it.
ROBERTSWell, he's got an interesting bio. He inherited a family business. He has business credential. He also has a PhD from MIT, so...
ROBERTS...it's an unusual combination of talents. And Reid, there are at least two other states where -- major states where Democrats think they have a shot at the governorship. One is Florida where the incumbent governor Rick Scott is in trouble. And the nominee there likely to be a former Republican governor.
WILSONWhereas Tom Wolf is a newcomer to politics, Charlie Crist is anything but a newcomer to politics. (laugh) Former Republican governor now running for election as a Democrat. He made a big deal of it when he switched parties. He said the Republican Party had left him. All of the issues that he advocated in his previous races have apparently also left him. Republicans are going to make a big deal about virtually every issue on which Crist has changed positions, whether it's immigration or Cuba or crime and punishment. And this is a guy who was once known as chain gang Charlie and now he's in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.
ROBERTSHe had been the attorney general before he (unintelligible) ...
WILSONYeah, he'd been a state senator and attorney general. And Rick Scott, however, has been so deeply unpopular during his tenure that Democrats have a good chance to pick up this seat. Both sides are going to spend just an amazing amount of money. Rick Scott is likely to spend north of $100 million to try to keep his job.
ROBERTSThere are six or eight media markets in Florida (unintelligible) ...
WILSONYeah, I think the number is something like 17. It's just unbelievable. From the Panhandle down to Miami you've got to spend a lot of money advertising there.
ROBERTSAnd one other state where we talked a lot about sort of political legacies here since Michelle Nunn, daughter of a former senator and in Georgia, Democratic nominee for governor grandson of former President Jimmy Carter running against the incumbent Nathan Deal, who was originally elected to congress as a Democrat. (laugh) And he switched the other way. Charlie Crist went from Republican to Democrat. Deal went from...
DAVISSouthern politics. They are amazing.
ROBERTSAnd tell us about young Carter and whether he has a shot.
DAVISIt's -- I mean, obviously he benefits from name I.D. And I'm sure in Georgia there's an element that is, you know, kind to the former president, his legacy. But it's just that the political reality of Georgia today and the dynamics of what's happening in the state just lends itself, like Janet said, that governor races are one place where Republicans are really poised to make gains. And I think Deal obviously would have the advantage going into the general election (unintelligible) .
ROBERTSBut this is a state that's changing, among other things, a rising number of Hispanic voters. Democrats look at a state like this and say, maybe we won't be able to take advantage of it this time but it's changing.
DAVISThat is very true. That is very true. And I would put -- Georgia is in that mix along with North Carolina, that you hear of Democrats often see -- even Texas in the long, long, long term of where the rising...
ROBERTSIt's already happened in Virginia to some extent.
DAVISYes. But the Georgia -- the population -- I read -- I was reading about this, this morning in terms of white voters and minority voters and how difficult it'll still be for a Democrat to win in Georgia, that any statewide Democrat would have to win about 30 percent of the white vote in 2014 in order to win the state. And that is a tall order in a state that has turned against the president pretty strongly.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to some of our listeners and I'll read some emails here. Here's one from Michael in Grand Rapids, Mich. We mentioned Michigan where there's an important Senate race. "Do these primary election results maybe show a public that wants a more moderate Senate and House and is tired of the more extreme candidates? Does that bode well for Democrats in the fall," Janet Hook?
HOOKWell, it's hard to know. I mean, unless you read exit polls and really get a sense of what people were thinking when they cast their ballots. Whether -- the Republicans voting in primaries, whether they're asking for a more moderate candidate or just one more likely to win is what -- I'm not sure.
HOOKI mean, to a great extent the Tea Party candidates have been rejected because we had all these experiences in the last two elections where the Tea Party most conservative candidate that maybe the primary electorate liked the best just wasn't well suited to the general election. So I think there may be a dose of both a move to the center and a move to a more pragmatic view of who to nominate.
ROBERTSAnd Reid, we were talking earlier about the Tea Party activists who say, well we've lost some of these electoral battles but we've won the war. And if you look at Tea Party influence in the House of Representatives, it hasn't really waned at all. And the single biggest example of that is immigration reform where the Speaker John Boehner would like to move a bill. A bill passed the Senate almost a year ago with bipartisan majorities and yet it's been stalled in the House largely because of Tea Party opposition. So if the Tea Party is fading, it's not fading in the House of Representatives.
WILSONNo, it's certainly not. And I think that was one of the miscalculations from the White House and from immigration reform advocates who thought to themselves, well certainly it's in the Republican Party's best interest to deal with immigration reform and get this issue off the table, whether it's for the 2014 midterms or for the 2016 presidential election when Hispanic voters turn out at much higher rates.
WILSONAnd the problem was though, these members of the House of Representatives don't represent the Republican Party at large. They have their own political interests to consider. And when they go home to their districts, whether it's in, you know, suburban Virginia or rural Georgia or anywhere in the mountain west, their constituents, the ones who vote in these primary elections and re-nominate them to safe Republican seats, don't want to see immigration reform that they think will become amnesty.
WILSONSo in reality the number of House Republicans for whom immigration reform is a big issue in a general election is limited to those numbers of House Republicans who are running in competitive races, which is a very small number.
ROBERTSCompetitive races with significant Hispanic populations. Outside of California there aren't (unintelligible) ...
WILSONAnd the two examples...
WILSON...I was going to cite was -- yeah, three now. There we go. Congressman Jeff Denham and David Valadao, two freshmen from -- or two younger members from California, Congressman Mike Coffman from Colorado. Those are pretty much the three of maybe four or five districts that are going to really have an impact on immigration reform.
ROBERTSNow Susan, one of the important dimensions that's colored American politics, including this very issue we're talking about in the last few years, is the fear of Republicans of being primaried from the right. And that has -- even when the Tea Party loses it has the effect of kind of freezing and intimidating some members, and immigration being a very good example of that.
ROBERTSNow in the aftermath of the votes today -- yesterday, several commentators have said, well, this shows that the establishment of the Republican Party is willing to put money into primaries to shore up the somewhat more mainstream, pragmatic, whatever words you want to use, in the hope that they will be a bit insulated from primary challenges. And therefore a bit more free to operate somewhat more pragmatic legislators in the House. What's your read of that argument? Does it make any sense to you?
DAVISIt does. And you raise a really good point that is worth mentioning, particularly in what happened last night. In 2010 and 2012 where we saw this sort of Tea Party inter-primary fighting within the Republican Party, a lot of the establishment groups -- and I think the Chamber of Commerce is probably the best example -- the Chamber of Commerce overwhelmingly supports Republican candidates. It's seen as an establishment group and they tend to spend millions of dollars in every election cycle.
DAVISAnd they sat out the last two. And they realize that they were -- candidates that were against the interest of the Chamber including immigration reform were winning. And the Chamber went in heavy last night and every candidate they endorsed won last night.
ROBERTSInteresting comment. That's Susan Davis from USA Today, Janet Hook from the Wall Street Journal, Reid Wilson from the Washington Post. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. We're going to be back with your phone calls, more analysis of the primaries. So stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts today sitting in for Diane. Our subject this hour are the primaries in six states, as well as the outlook for control of the Congress in November. Janet Hook is with me. She covers politics for The Wall Street Journal. Reid Wilson does the same for The Washington Post. Susan Davis of USA Today. We have a number of callers who want to join our conversation. So let's start with Bob in Dayton, Ohio. I'm sorry. Bob, you're in Oregon, Ohio. Welcome.
BOBYes, I am. That's right next to Toledo.
ROBERTSExcellent. Thanks for being with us.
BOBYeah. Thank you. The -- over the last several years, the Tea Party has been frequently and repeatedly described as conservatives. And they've been described as the base of Republican Party. Is it possible that in November, for lower-information voters, like people who don't listen to "The Diane Rehm Show," they'll be conflating the Tea Party with regular Republicans and tend to move away from that brand, just as we saw in the primaries?
ROBERTSOkay. Janet, what do you think?
HOOKWell, I think actually Democrats are campaigning in a way that I think they hope that swing voters do conflate Republicans with the Tea Party. They're trying to say, well, it looks like they're electing establishment candidates, but really they hold the same views as -- the same extreme conservative views.
ROBERTSThat's my favorite Democratic word of the year, is extreme, yeah.
HOOKThat is a favorite -- right. That is -- and that is their favorite strategy. So, for example, in Colorado, when Congressman Cory Gardner jumped into the race to run against Mark Udall -- and better identified as Tea Party candidate -- Ken Buck dropped out. The Democrats line was fine. Well, Cory Gardner is just as conservative as Ken Buck.
ROBERTSAnd let's turn now to Sammy in Columbia, S.C. -- or I'm sorry. This is Jill in Columbia, S.C. Welcome, Jill.
JILL BOSSIHey. Hey, Steve, thanks for taking my call. Yeah. My name is Jill Bossi. And I'm actually running for the U.S. Senate in South Carolina under the American Party of South Carolina, which is a third party, and I'm running against the Tea Party candidate, which is Tim Scott. I'm curious, what's the panel's thoughts on the chances for third party Centrist candidates to make a potential impact in the U.S. Senate, this general election, along the lines of Charles Wheelan and the Centrist Project and what they are proposing in terms of the pragmatic center approach to getting our government working again?
ROBERTSThanks so much, Jill, for your call. Susan Davis, we get a lot of calls about this. As the -- with the polarization of American politics, we get a lot of callers saying, well, what about a third party in the middle? What -- your answer to Jill.
DAVISYeah. I mean -- and to her immediate question of South Carolina, Tim Scott does not seem like he's going to be particularly vulnerable to a challenge this November. But I think she hits on something that's very real. And you hear it a lot, no matter where you travel in the country and talk to people, is that a disaffection with both political parties. And I think a lot of the interest in an independent party is coming more out of the splits that are occurring in the Republican Party right now. There just is more unity within Democratic ranks at the moment. I think it is a very popular idea.
DAVISI think a lot of the times when you poll the idea of -- in third parties, they poll very well. But in the way our political system is designed, and in the history of this country, there's been very little opportunity for a real third party to make its way into the system and to be successful. Now, obviously, we have anecdotal victories in both, you know, in state elections and federal elections.
DAVISWe have two independents in the United States Senate right now, but they both caucus with Democrats. So whether they're true independents or just Democrats by another name is up for debate. But I think that there is an opportunity at some point in the future for a third party. But we just have not seen a real credible third party rise yet in the electorate.
ROBERTSAnd there's a cautionary tale in Maine where there was an independent candidate, a third -- he wasn't a third party. He was an independent candidate in the main governor's race the last time around. Eliot Cutler attracted enough votes that a very conservative Republican won with, I don't know, about 30 percent of the vote, Paul LePage. And this scenario is playing out again. LePage is up for re-election, and the same independent is running and making it much harder for the Democrat to challenge LePage.
WILSONThat's right. In Maine specifically, incumbent Gov. Paul LePage won four years ago with 38 percent of the vote. Eliot Cutler took most of the Democratic votes. There was a pretty weak Democratic nominee. He finished second with 36 percent of the vote. This time, however, there is a pretty strong Democratic nominee running, a guy named Mike Michaud. He's the congressman from the northern district in the state.
WILSONAnd he is trying to make the case that he can actually beat LePage. Since he has been making that case, Eliot Cutler's approval -- not approval ratings, but his vote share has been plummeting in the polls. He's now down to somewhere between about 10 or 15 percent of the vote. You know, Maine is such a liberal state that it can survive some cleaving of the Democratic base and still elect a Democratic governor. However, if Cutler gets up to, you know, 15, 20, maybe 25 percent of the vote, that job becomes very difficult because, you know, the incumbent governor's still going to get 36 to 38 percent of the vote.
ROBERTSAnd we should also remind people that the history of third parties in this country, our electoral system, Janet, is stacked against them. You've -- to get one member of the U.S. Congress, you have to win a congressional district. Ross Perot got 19 percent of the vote as a presidential candidate against Bill Clinton. If he had been in Germany or in England, he might have been vice premier of the government. But in a parliamentary system rewards third parties. Our system is very much stacked against them.
DAVISYeah. It really is. And, you know, the -- probably individual independent candidates have more impact than anybody who tries to build a third party.
HOOKAnd very wealthy ones.
DAVISVery wealthy ones, yes.
ROBERTSLet's turn to Carl in Cleveland, Ohio. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Carl.
CARLHey, good morning. Can you hear me?
ROBERTSLoud and clear. Go ahead.
CARLOkay. I've been very interested in some type of national health program for, oh, gosh, 25, 30 years at least. And now that we have one, I'm really interested in why it is that the electorate and these primary elections are even coming into the general, are not -- the issue is not popular with so many people.
CARLAnd I was wondering, every time I see a survey or I read an article, it says -- or I listen to you guys. You know, you say, well -- which is something that the majority is not in favor of. But they never -- and I say almost never -- give specifics as to why the electorate is not in favor of it. I can give you a dozen reasons why we need it, you know, but...
ROBERTSDo you have a question, Carl, for the panel?
CARLThe question is, why do you think they're not in favor of it? Is it just ideology? Or is there two or three specific reasons why the electorate is not in favor of it?
ROBERTSThanks very much, Carl. We appreciate it. Reid.
WILSONI think that the larger issue here is one of how much we all pay attention to politics. Now, everybody sitting around this table and everybody who's listening is probably more clued in to politics and has the time and energy to pay attention -- and interest, by the way -- to pay attention to politics when the average American really doesn't.
WILSONThe average American is busy living their actual lives and not caught up with what's going on here in the Beltway. There's a reason that Congress' approval rating is at, you know, 9 or 10 percent. John McCain likes to joke that the only people who approve are down to blood relatives and paid staff. So when you talk about something like a national healthcare issue, it -- buzzwords become a big part of this.
WILSONAnd how this is framed basically all has to do with what we can digest -- what the average American can digest in 20 or 30 seconds. And when one side says, well, we need to give healthcare to a bunch of people who don't have healthcare, and the other side says, yeah, you're taking away my freedoms, that second side -- that's sort of a more resonant issue, at least it has been over the last five or six years.
ROBERTSAnd, Susan, this also gets to the sort of the basic difference between Democrats and Republicans, which is their view of the role of government.
ROBERTSAnd Americans, and certainly at the moment, more suspicious and critical of government that they sometimes have been in the past. And any fair assessment of the rollout of ObamaCare, you've got to say that this added to the sense of frustration, the sense of skepticism about the efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
DAVISAnd that's true. And it's important to remember, to your caller's point, that the Affordable Care Act and the healthcare that's now available to people does not affect most people in this country.
DAVISIt affects a subset of people in this country and that, if you were already covered by health insurance and you weren't immediately affected by the impact of the healthcare law, what you've taken away from it is it had a terrible rollout. There's been a lot of inefficiencies in the system. In places like Oregon, it's been wildly cost-ineffective and has wasted a lot of money.
DAVISAnd there's been a lot of negative early impressions of the healthcare law. Now, Democrats believe in the long term -- in the arc of this, this healthcare law will be a boon for the Democratic Party, and people will be thankful for it. And it is the foundation of better healthcare in this country. But in the short-term political calculation of what it means, it's a loser for them in 2014.
ROBERTSAnd follow up on that, Susan, 'cause I know you follow healthcare closely. The Democrats hope that the good news stories of people who are benefiting from the law will change the narrative from the botched rollout and over-regulation from the government to real personal stories of benefit. Do you have any sense that the narrative is changing yet?
DAVISI would counter that. I don't necessarily believe that Democrats think that people's attitudes are going to change on the healthcare law between now and November. I think Democrats are hoping that the selection is going to be about more than the just the healthcare law. I think you see a lot of efforts -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, if you've paid any attention to him at all whatsoever, he's very clearly trying to make this election about dark money, outside groups, the Koch brothers, the influence in politics.
DAVISI mean, Democrats are trying very hard not to run on the Affordable Care Act and to change the subject and to make people think about things beyond it. And I don't know if that tactic's going to work, but they're going to try. But -- and it's hard to see -- the polling has been very consistent on the healthcare law. And minds are largely made up, at least in the short term. And it's very hard to see, and there's no real example to draw to that those attitudes are going to change.
ROBERTSJanet Hook, let me read you a message we have from Reid Mahoney in Tallahassee, Fla. which expands this focus on healthcare as an issue in the fall. He says, "Many Republican candidates are running for Congress in the Senate with the stated intent of repealing ObamaCare. Since no repeal effort can be successful under threat of veto, how will this affect the 2016 elections?" Talk about -- expand on Susan's point about ObamaCare in this election, both this election and the next one.
HOOKWell, I actually think that the Republicans' focus on repeal has always been a little bit rhetorical. But they seem to be stepping back from it a little bit. I think they feel a lot of pressure to be able to say to voters, we want to repeal it, but we understand there are problems with the healthcare system, and maybe develop some kind of alternative proposals that are not going to be enacted at any time. But I think there's a way in which Republicans themselves are making the campaign less exclusively about healthcare.
HOOKI mean, Republicans on the Hill have started talking more about other, you know, purported scandals of the Obama Administration, like the IRS scandal and bringing back Benghazi, you know, the controversy we thought had come and gone. They've set up a special panel. So Democrats think that that actually is encouraging sign that maybe that they've realized that ObamaCare is not their silver bullet.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk to a couple of more callers who want to join us here on "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's turn to Paul in St. Louis, Mo. Paul, welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAULThanks. And good morning, all. I just want to get the panel's perspective. I've been looking at just a number of multitude of different news outlets. And I watched last night on "Frontline" the second of the NSA issues. And that was really eye opening for me. And then recently, in the past couple of weeks, there's been the VA scandal. And I think scandal is the proper descriptor for that. And I -- my net impression of this -- and I just wonder if independent voters are going to begin to view the Obama Administration as increasingly toxic.
PAULAnd my concern is that if -- I believe the insurance companies are required to announce their projected healthcare cost increases in September, October, or about 30 days before the elections in November. And I -- if we see double-digit increases, I wonder if this confluence of events for independent voters could just result in a wave election, similar to what we saw in 2010. And I...
ROBERTSThank you. Thank you...
PAULI realize a lot can happen in the next five months, but I just want to get the panel's perspective on that.
ROBERTSRight. Thanks very much. Reid.
WILSONYeah. That's a very good point. I think the most important thing that we haven't really touched on yet is what the caller mentioned, the scandal over the Veterans Administration. This has the potential to undermine one of President Obama's sort of governing theses as to why he wanted to be president.
WILSONHe came in after an inept second term by George W. Bush when government really didn't work, and Hurricane Katrina devastated an American city. And wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were going wrong. And then the scandals erupted on Capitol Hill. And basically every part of government wasn't working. So here comes this new fresh face who says, I can get government working again.
WILSONAnd now, all of a sudden, there are secret lists of veterans waiting for healthcare, and a number of them are dying because they're not getting the care. You know, out of all the scandals that Janet just mentioned, the IRS and Benghazi and everything that Republicans have tried to pin on this administration, I think this issue with the Veterans Administration has the potential to make President Obama the equivalent in 2014 of what George W. Bush was for Republicans in 2006, which is an albatross that sinks a number of incumbents.
ROBERTSAnd, Janet, as a result of that, while the president remains very useful as a fundraiser for Democrats, a lot of these states we've been talking about, a state like Louisiana or Arkansas, you're unlikely to see the president visit during the fall campaign. He might raise money for these candidates, but he well could be a drawback rather than a help.
HOOKRight. It was interesting because, you know, in Arkansas, where Mark Pryor's running for re-election, President Obama hadn't visited Arkansas once in the entirety of his presidency. And he just visited there recently to view storm damage. And so there was a big question of, will Pryor appear with him? And I thought it was a very smart move. He did appear with him because how can you make campaign footage or kind of fault him for appearing with the president in a scene of such devastation?
ROBERTSHe wasn't there to promote ObamaCare.
HOOKHe was not there to -- they did not talk about ObamaCare. And they did not talk about Mark Pryor's re-election.
ROBERTSAnd there's, of course, an important governor's race in Arkansas as well where there's an incumbent, a very conservative Democrat term-limited out, and it's a real race for the Arkansas governor's race.
HOOKIt is. And that -- actually, that governor's race is interesting 'cause it reminds us, as red a state as Arkansas is on the congressional delegation level and as much of a challenge as Pryor seems to face, there's a lot of kind of blue dog Democrats there who elected a very popular governor.
ROBERTSI mean, that whole belt of states, Tennessee, Kentucky, particularly when you talk about governor's races, Democrats still do reasonably well in those states.
HOOKYeah. Yeah. No, the politics of -- national Democratic politics are still very different from state politics.
ROBERTSSusan, I want to give you quickly the last word because I asked the other two before you got here through traffic. What's your best estimates right now about the Republicans' chances to take the Senate in November?
DAVISI think it's very possible that we have a 50/50 Senate, and it goes to Democrats because of Barack Obama and Joe Biden and Joe Biden being the tying vote. And that's the best story, so...
DAVIS...as reporters, a 50/50 Senate would probably be really fun to cover. And the dynamics would be very interesting. But I think you could make a very easy case for 50/50.
ROBERTSAnd which state are you following the most closely as a possible surprise?
DAVISOh, that's a great question. I think -- I'm just really interested in the McConnell race because whenever a leader, whether it was Tom Daschle or Harry Reid, those races are always just fascinating. And the politics and the money that's going to go in there is just going to be spectacular to watch.
ROBERTSThat's Susan Davis of USA Today. Also thanks to Janet Hook of The Wall Street Journal, Reid Wilson of The Washington Post. I'm Steve Roberts of George Washington University sitting in today for Diane. She has a cold, but she's on the mend. And we want to thank you for spending an hour of your morning with us.
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