Chat: Are New York Voters A National Bellwether?

Host

David Gura of Talk of the Nation

David Gura, assistant editor of NPR's Talk of the Nation

Chat Participants

Liz Halloran, NPR Washington correspondent

Liz Halloran, Washington correspondent for NPR Digital News

Ken Rudin, NPR political editor

Ken Rudin, NPR political editor

Casey Seiler of the Albany Times-Union

Casey Seiler, state editor and blogger for the Albany Times-Union

The special election Tuesday in New York's 20th District has gone into overtime, with the result hinging on absentee ballots that are yet to be counted. The race is seen by some as an early referendum on President Obama's economic policies.

We chatted about the race on Wednesday. But the discussion is not over. You can comment on the election, and other political news from this week, in the comment section below.

The New York contest pits Republican Jim Tedisco against Democrat Scott Murphy. The winner will replace Kirsten Gillibrand (D), who was plucked out of the House by Gov. David Paterson to succeed now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Senate,

Republicans have been on a losing streak since 2006 not only nationally but especially in New York, where they hold just three of the state's 29 congressional seats — their fewest in history. They want this one, badly.

Also up for discussion this week will be the president's handling of troubles in the auto industry, his agenda for the G-20 summit, Rep. John Murtha's (D-PA) ethics problems and Sen. Arlen Specter's (R-PA) prospects for winning a sixth term.

Are New York Voters A National Bellwether?(04/01/2009) 
2:59
Wright Bryan:  We'll get started in a few minutes; we're waiting for Ken and David to get here from the Talk of the Nation studios!
3:00
Andy Carvin:  (try to picture them running down the halls of NPR and up the stairs, barely catching their breath, just to add some drama.)
3:03
Wright Bryan:  OK. David, Ken, LIz and Casey are here. We're about to start. Please submit any questions you have for our panel.
3:04
David Gura:  All right. Let's get started.
3:05
David Gura:  We're waiting on Ken, who is having computer problems...
3:05
David Gura:  So we'll start without him, hoping that he'll join us soon.
3:05
David Gura:  

The Chat Faithful know that he has been at the beach.

3:05
David Gura:  

Last week, I guessed he'd come back tanner and blonder.

3:05
David Gura:  He is.
3:05
David Gura:  

For the uninitiated, every Wednesday, around 3:00 p.m. ET, we gather here, to talk politics.

3:05
David Gura:  This week, we're going to focus on the special election in New York's 20th congressional district.
3:06
David Gura:  "Why should I care?" you may ask.
3:06
David Gura:  We'll answer that question. And others. I promise.
3:06
David Gura:  Liz Halloran reports on Washington for NPR, mostly online.
3:06
David Gura:  Hello, Liz.
3:06
Liz:  hi - glad to be here
3:06
David Gura:  

It's good to have you with us.

3:06
David Gura:  And Casey Seiler is the state editor of the Albany Times Union.
3:06
David Gura:  Hey, Casey.
3:06
Casey Seiler:  Great to be here.
3:07
David Gura:  He also runs the Capitol Confidential blog.
3:07
David Gura:  As always, we'll take your questions and comments. Please keep 'em coming. And keep 'em short.
3:07
David Gura:  Ken Rudin is here, I hear.
3:07
Ken Rudin:  You can call me Tedisco, for short
3:07
David Gura:  

Will do.

3:07
David Gura:  Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor and "Political Junkie" blogger
3:08
David Gura:  

Ken, I'm going to ask you the first question.

3:08
David Gura:  And I want the others to chime in.
3:08
David Gura:  Why should we care about this race in upstate New York?
3:09
Casey Seiler:  Because the Dem candidate, Scott Murphy, has made his support for the stimulus package pretty much the keynote issue in his campaign.
3:09
Ken Rudin:  

Well, a special election always commands the attention of the political community. And this one is the first under the Obama presidency. So many were waiting to see if it would send a signal about how voters see his administration.

3:09
David Gura:  

We have a comment from someone in Michigan...

3:09
Ken Rudin:  And it's the first special in the "Michael Steele administration" as well.
3:09
[Comment From Guest]
I live in Michigan, so New York's Senate election is really not that important to me, BUT, I believe it SHOULD BE based on President Obama's actions.
3:10
David Gura:  

Did we see a lot of heavy hitters from both parties in the district?

3:10
David Gura:  Aside from Steele?
3:10
David Gura:  And how did he do?
3:10
Ken Rudin:  House election, not Senate. But every member of Congress has the same vote. Michigan once had a special election in 1974, when Democrats won Jerry Ford's old House seat. And people around the country felt the shockwaves on that one.
3:11
Casey Seiler:  We saw our new senator Kirstern Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, plus Rudy Giuliani.
3:11
Ken Rudin:  And Republicans desperately needed to get back on track.
3:11
David Gura:  

Casey, Beverly has a question about the race.

3:11
[Comment From Beverly]
Any update on the # of absentee ballots?
3:11
David Gura:  Where do things stand now?
3:12
Casey Seiler:  To Beverly: The margin is down to 25 votes thanks to a recanvass in Columbia County.
3:12
David Gura:  Only 25 now?
3:12
David Gura:  Why the change?
3:12
David Gura:  And what's next?
3:12
Ken Rudin:  

with anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 absentees. When will they be counted?

3:12
Casey Seiler:  Yep, with 10,000 absentee ballots sent out.
3:12
Liz:  

This is all sounding so familiar, right Minnesota?

3:13
Ken Rudin:  You betcha
3:13
David Gura:  

How long do people think this will take to play out?

3:13
David Gura:  Any idea?
3:13
Casey Seiler:  The state Election Board has to wait til at least April 13 because of a federal suit about overseas ballots.
3:13
Liz:  Just to note - they're 20-plus weeks into it in Minnesota, and counting more absentees next week
3:13
Ken Rudin:  

and then to the courts?

3:14
David Gura:  

This race has attracted a lot of national attention...

3:14
David Gura:  Matt has a question about the race...
3:14
[Comment From Matt]
How can you judge New York's 20th Congressional as a bellweather? Does it match the national demographics?
3:14
David Gura:  I'll open that to all of you.
3:14
Casey Seiler:  Both national parties jumped in, although the GOP was in quicker than the Dems.
3:14
Ken Rudin:  It's not a bellwether. But it could have been sold as a barometer of the Obama stimulus program.
3:15
Casey Seiler:  And the stimulus, AIG were just about the only subjects of a pretty negative campaign.
3:15
Ken Rudin:  Democrat Murphy was for it from the beginning; Tedisco hesitated until the AIG outrage got out of hand. And of course there was the Obama endorsement of Murphy.
3:15
David Gura:  I guess to understand that, it would help to know more about the district itself... Casey, could you tell us a bit more about it?
3:15
David Gura:  

How does it lean politically?

3:15
David Gura:  Or how has it?
3:15
Ken Rudin:  Republican until Gillibrand won it in '06.
3:16
Casey Seiler:  The 20th is a weirdly shaped backwards L that runs from west and north of Poughkeepsie all the way up to Lake Placid ...
3:16
Ken Rudin:  ... and that was because the GOP incumbent had ethics problems.
3:16
David Gura:  And a reminder to everyone, we're going to focus on this race for a few more minutes, then expand the conversation... So, if you have questions or comments, about the NY 20, or anything else, please send them in.
3:16
David Gura:  One last question about this race...
3:16
Ken Rudin:  I wish Liz Halloran was here.
3:16
Casey Seiler:  ... and includes everything from NYC second-home owners to extremely rural upstate towns. It's a gerrymander special, no doubt.
3:16
David Gura:  

Casey, how did all of the national attention change the campaign?

3:17
David Gura:  Were the issues obfuscated entirely?
3:17
David Gura:  What were they? All economics?
3:17
Casey Seiler:  It brought in a ton of TV money; you would dread commercial breaks.
3:17
Ken Rudin:  lots of negative stuff from outside GOP groups.
3:17
Ken Rudin:  This just in: Liz Halloran just went out to see a movie, will be back soon.
3:17
David Gura:  

Was this an expensive race?

3:17
Liz:  double feature.
3:18
David Gura:  OK, OK.
3:18
David Gura:  Let's get Liz in here.
3:18
David Gura:  What's the latest out of Minnesota?
3:18
David Gura:  Someone mentioned it earlier...
3:18
David Gura:  Are we closer to a resolution there?
3:18
Liz:  A judges' panel ruled yesterday to review up to 400 absentee ballots in Coleman Franken race - far fewer than coleman wanted
3:18
Casey Seiler:  We estimate something along the lines of $4 million or so -- not nearly as expensive as last fall's Gillibrand-Sandy Treadwell race in the 20th.
3:18
Liz:  It's seen as a very good sign for Franken - to the State Supreme court now
3:19
Ken Rudin:  d'ya think Coleman will go further if he loses there?
3:19
Casey Seiler:  That race was apparently the most expensive Congressional matchup in the nation.
3:19
Liz:  

But national Republicans - and Coleman's lawyers - are building a case for a federal appeal. Minnesotans not happy. They want this thing decided

3:19
David Gura:  I was just going to say, How much longer will Coleman continue?
3:19
Liz:  Unclear. disputes among colleagues here about that.
3:20
Liz:  

He may hang it up after the State supreme Court rules - if it goes against him, and he wants a continued political career in Minnesota

3:20
Casey Seiler:  Does this mean I'll still be covering this in summertime? Oy ...
3:20
Ken Rudin:  and they'll be counting those 400 votes on Tuesday the 7th. But Coleman will need 57% of them going his way if he is to erase Franken's 225 vote lead.
3:20
Liz:  Others think - hey, what's to lose? the republicans want the seat - Franken would put Dems one vote short of filibuster-proof majority in the senate.
3:21
David Gura:  

And tha'ts something, obviously, that Republicans would rather avoid...

3:21
Ken Rudin:  Republicans are still trying to seat Everett Dirksen.
3:21
Liz:  

Neither Franken nor Coleman is particularly popular in the state right now.

3:21
David Gura:  They're still trying to find him? I thought they'd given up.
3:21
Ken Rudin:  Liz, how will this affect Gov. Pawlenty?
3:22
Ken Rudin:  I always thought that if Pawlenty ran for vice president on a ticket led by former Congressman Virgil Goode, why, the bumper stickers would read ...
3:22
David Gura:  

Yuck, yuck.

3:22
Liz:  Pawlenty is likely to certify the election of Franken if the State supreme court finds in his favor. He has national ambitions - who wants a protracted federal battle when you want to launch a white house bid?
3:22
David Gura:  We're still getting a few questions about the NY 20 race...
3:22
David Gura:  and I don't want Casey to catch the next show...
3:22
David Gura:  So, here's a question from Dan.
3:22
[Comment From Dan]
Is there any idea whether absentees are more likely to favor Tedisco since many may have been mailed in earlier in the contest when he still had an edge in the polls?
3:23
Casey Seiler:  Dan: It's very hard to say at this point. The GOP is spinning the notion that Tedisco will claim more, but others argue that absentees break along lines similar to general turnout.
3:23
Ken Rudin:  Both the GOP and the WH say the absentees favor their guy.
3:23
David Gura:  

And where are these absentees coming from?

3:23
David Gura:  On Talk of The Nation, someone mentioned that there are a lot of reservists in the district?
3:23
David Gura:  Or that there is a large contingent of military personnel overseas?
3:23
Ken Rudin:  Kirsten Gillibrand voted by absentee ballot!
3:23
Ken Rudin:  as did Everett Dirksen
3:23
David Gura:  Ah, of course.
3:23
Casey Seiler:  Snowbirds, overseas military -- the usual for a northern state. Also: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who I'll go out on a limb and give to Murphy.
3:24
David Gura:  

That's how they found him.

3:24
David Gura:  

Another question for you, quickly, Casey...

3:24
David Gura:  Are people drawing this MN comparison?
3:24
David Gura:  In the 20th?
3:24
Casey Seiler:  They're starting to. We're trying to get Franken on the phone to give advice to both candidates.
3:25
David Gura:  OK, I want to switch directions...
3:25
David Gura:  Matt has a question about former Senator Ted Stevens.
3:25
[Comment From Matt]
Is it constitutional for the Justice Department to invalidate the senate election in Alaska?
3:25
David Gura:  And throw in Mitchell Hirsch, too.
3:25
[Comment From Mitchell Hirsch]
Ken: Is Begich still "livid"?
3:26
David Gura:  Ken, I'll go to you on those, first.
3:26
David Gura:  And while Ken's tackling those, Liz, can you give us some background?
3:26
David Gura:  NPR broke a big story last night about Ted Stevens...
3:26
Liz:  

Nina Totenberg broke story this am that AG Eric Holder has dropped indictments against now-former Sen stevens of Alaska

3:27
David Gura:  Prosecutorial misconduct?
3:27
Ken Rudin:  Guys, I apologize. I wrote in a blog post this morning that the DoJ also invalidated the results of the 2008 Alaska Senate race -- this following their botched Stevens prosecution. But I also wrote in my post that it just so happened that today was April 1st. I apologize if anyone thought it was real. But to add one thing ... when Nina Totenberg broke the Stevens story for NPR earlier today, lots of folks thought it was an April Fool's joke.
3:27
Liz:  Holder says prosecutorial misconducted tainted the jury trial that convicted Stevens of taking $250,000 in gifts
3:27
Liz:  Alaskans, for the most part, thrilled. other politicos say technicality got Stevens off.
3:27
Ken Rudin:  Moral to the story: there's no place like Nome.
3:28
Liz:  

He's "rehabilitated" with an asterisk, one person told me this am...

3:28
Liz:  Here's my story just posted on reax to Holder decision on Stevens:
tp://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102610818
3:28
David Gura:  

So, the upshot of this is: Stevens is upset, but his political career is over.

3:29
Ken Rudin:  He's 85 years old.
3:29
Ken Rudin:  Older than Rudin.
3:29
David Gura:  

So are you, Ken!

3:29
David Gura:  Ah, you beat me to that.
3:30
David Gura:  

President Obama made a big announcement this week about the American automobile industry...

3:30
Liz:  

Stevens says its unfortunate that last fall's senate election affected by his conviction - he lost to now-Sen. Begich by about 1 percentage point

3:30
David Gura:  

I wonder how that has played politically...

3:30
David Gura:  Ken? Liz?
3:30
Ken Rudin:  Ironically it was the Bush Justice Dept that brought down Stevens.
3:31
Ken Rudin:  he apparently had too much begich
3:31
David Gura:  Ken, what did you think of President Obama's announcement RE: the auto industry?
3:31
David Gura:  

And Liz and Casey, I'll have you weigh in too.

3:31
David Gura:  How have Americans reacted to it?
3:31
David Gura:  Positively?
3:31
Ken Rudin:  interesting how he treated GM and Chrysler, as compared to AIG and the banks.
3:31
Liz:  Some say too far - Ford is probably thinking: THAT'S why we opted out of bailout.
3:31
Casey Seiler:  Does this mean that pickup pitchman Howie Long now works for the government?
3:32
David Gura:  Good one!
3:32
David Gura:  

Is that a reasonable comparison for people to make?

3:32
David Gura:  How the government has treated AIG v. the auto industrY?
3:32
Liz:  What does reasonable have to do with it?
3:32
Ken Rudin:  no, and that's a good point. GM could go down, and the worldwide reax would not approach what would happen if AIG failed. That's Obama's argument.
3:33
David Gura:  

Less and less, I suppose, Liz...

3:33
David Gura:  

Becky, from Syracuse, has a question...

3:33
Casey Seiler:  The auto industry would have been better off pitching their bailout as the workingman's nationalization.
3:33
[Comment From Becky from Syracuse]
On Obama's automotive industry actions, If Waggoner was working for $1. a year and received a 23 million severance package, doesn't it make better economic sense to keep him employed?
3:33
David Gura:  Ken, do you want to take that?
3:33
Ken Rudin:  I have to run and tell an awful joke on Talk of the Nation. Goodbye.
3:34
Casey Seiler:  Not if his performance was so poor that he was running the joint into the ground.
3:34
Ken Rudin:  It was my understanding there would be no math on this test.
3:34
Liz:  

Mine, too.

3:34
David Gura:  

Bye, Ken.

3:34
David Gura:  

One more subject I want to tackle is the G-20 summit.

3:34
David Gura:  Liz, what does President Obama have to accomplish in London?
3:35
David Gura:  Or, rather, what has he set out to accomplish?
3:35
David Gura:  And how is he doing so far?
3:35
David Gura:  (There are already plans for a summer meeting in Moscow, I understand...)
3:35
Liz:  He wants to "build consensus" as he said, and bring countries together to address economic crisis
3:35
David Gura:  There was a lot of skepticism that he'd be able to do that...
3:35
David Gura:  Which he has tried to mute, right?
3:36
Liz:  Different crisis than the Great Depression, he says. Also repair frayed alliances/friendships.
3:36
Casey Seiler:  One thing I'll be watching very closely in London: the exchange of gifts.
3:36
David Gura:  

Yes, after last time...

3:36
Liz:  He is the official muter of skepticism - here and abroad.
3:36
David Gura:  

Hopefully President Obama won't blow it again...

3:36
David Gura:  

Jonathan chimes in:

3:36
[Comment From Jonathan]
Apparently, Obama gave the queen an iPod - that true?
3:36
Liz:  Wonder what's on it?
3:36
Casey Seiler:  You don't give Brits a copy of "Lawrence of Arabia." They're seen it.
3:37
David Gura:  

We're going to wrap up in just a few minutes...

3:37
David Gura:  If you have a last-minute question or comment, please send it in.
3:37
David Gura:  After London, President Obama's trip continues... Liz, where is he going next? And what does he want to accomplish there?
3:38
Liz:  

Strasbourg, Istanbul...and other exotic locales!

3:38
David Gura:  And the agenda, I assume, will be the same...
3:39
Liz:  

And back here at home, his budget is on the floor in Congress. Maybe he's happy to be abroad.

3:39
David Gura:  

I would be too.

3:39
David Gura:  

Liz Halloran covers Washington for NPR.org.

3:39
David Gura:  Thanks, Liz.
3:39
David Gura:  And Casey Seiler, the state editor of the Albany Times Union, runs the Capitol Confidential blog
3:40
David Gura:  

Thank you!

3:40
Liz:  

Happy to join you.

3:40
Casey Seiler:  De nada.
3:40
David Gura:  The erstwhile Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor...
3:40
David Gura:  And NPR's "Political Junkie" blogger.
3:40
David Gura:  We'll be back here next week, at the same time, right after Ken's regular segment on Talk of The Nation.
3:40
David Gura:  'til next week!
3:40
David Gura:  Thanks, everyone.
3:41
 

 


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