2010 Elections A Factor As Lawmakers Deliberate
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Democrats are struggling with the prospect of the 2010 congressional elections. They may be more than a year away, but the Democrats know the party in power usually loses at least some seats in the midterm elections, and some lawmakers even think back to 1994. That's when Democrats, shortly after the election of Bill Clinton to the White House, lost control of Congress.
NPR News analyst Juan Williams joins us now. He's in our studios. Good morning, Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: How much are lawmakers talking about these elections?
WILLIAMS: It's in the background of every conversation about every piece of legislation now going through Capitol Hill. It's in conversations at the White House about how to persuade, especially conservative Democrats, to hold the line. And it's in conversations on the hill among Republicans in terms of taking a hard stand against President Obama on health care legislation, focusing on deficit spending and potential tax increases.
INSKEEP: You said there are conservative Democrats - you're saying that there are some conservative Democrats who naturally have to think - we can call them cynical, but they have to think, it's part of their job - is this vote going to cost me my job in 2010? That's what they have to do be thinking, right?
WILLIAMS: Well, let's just be very plain about it. There are about 50 congressional districts in this country where John McCain won the presidential race in 2008, but those congressional districts also sent Democrats to the House of Representatives. So, those are fairly conservative districts. And oftentimes they're located in rural or suburban districts that historically had been Republican districts, but decided in the wave of 2008 to send a Democrat to the House.
Those people know that they are on an edge, and Republicans have identified their districts as vulnerable.
INSKEEP: And is part of their vulnerability also that these, in many cases, are more conservative Democrats than have been nominated by the party in the past -that was deliberate, it was conscious - but you don't want them to be then tagged, or if you're a Democrat, you don't want them to be tagged as part of a liberal or left-leaning party?
WILLIAMS: Correct. And this is interesting. I mean, Rahm Emanuel, now the White House chief of staff, at one point, was running many - in fact, encouraging many conservative Democrats - people who were formerly Republicans, people who were military veterans, in some case, sheriffs, business people; who would, you would think, would be more aligned with conservative values - to look at the Democratic Party, putting them out there as conservative Democrats because they could win in those districts.
And so now you have a situation where they have to be responsive to those districts, and politically, Republicans see opportunity.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the actual effect on legislation. We've heard elsewhere in the program today, Juan Williams, reference to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who himself faces reelection from a relatively conservative state - Nevada - in 2010. And we heard a quote about Harry Reid - he's made of steel. He's not going to think about the election; he's going to think about getting health care through. Is it really going to affect, though, a bill like health care?
WILLIAMS: It's got to affect a bill like health care. And in fact, when this week, when you heard that Olympia Snowe had decided to become the one Republican to back the Senate finance bill, the large hope among the political class on the Democrat side was to say, well, gee, maybe that could be cover for some of the conservative Democrats. They could say, well, there's a Republican who voted for this bill and therefore you, as a conservative Democrat, could go back to your constituents and say here's why I'm taking these steps and, look, there are moderate Republicans.
Remember, Steve, a lot of this is about independent voters, and the question is whether independents can be persuaded to stick with Democrats going into 2010.
INSKEEP: Aren't there Democrats who have explicitly said I can't vote for health care unless there is some Republican support going...
WILLIAMS: Absolutely. That's part of the deal. And, again, you mentioned Harry Reid, you know, the Senate majority leader. He's thinking back to '94, as you referenced, a year in which you saw 54 seats switch hands over to the Republicans - the so-called Republican revolution.
And, you know, he's thinking back to people like Tom Foley, who was then speaker of the House, who lost his seat in that '94 midterm.
INSKEEP: Well, what about the House of Representatives? We talked mostly about the Senate here. The House is a place where Democrats have a big advantage at the moment. Couldn't they afford to lose a few seats?
WILLIAMS: Well, they could afford to lose a few seats if you're thinking in terms of controlling the majority. But what they want to do, obviously, Democrats, is to hold on. Now, Democrats have pushed their margins, I think, to extremes because of the support of President Obama - I should say the enthusiasm and the base for President Obama.
Of course, President Obama will not be on the ticket in 2010. So, a lot of those people are going to lose that cover that came with what happened in '08, and a lot of them are looking at issues like immigration; don't ask, don't tell for gays and others; in thinking, you know, these are potentially strong negatives that, again, are going to allow Republicans some foothold going into that race.
INSKEEP: And at the same time that Democrats look vulnerable, some of their fiercest supporters and biggest fundraisers are kind of disenchanted at the moment, aren't they?
WILLIAMS: Well, that's the whole key - the base - we're thinking about the base. Who's giving the money and who's going to come out to vote in midterms? What we most often see is the opposition party, is - that's the history here, especially for the Republicans.
INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR News analyst Juan Williams.
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