Nervous Democrats Look To 2010 Elections

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Democrats rang in the New Year looking over their shoulders at a Republican Party gaining momentum for the 2010 elections. Their dispositions probably didn't improve much this past week with the announcements that Democratic senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota would not seek re-election. Host Liane Hansen speaks with David Weigel, senior reporter for the Washington Independent, about the prospects for the Democrats and Republicans in this year's mid-term elections.


Many Democrats rang in the New Year looking over their shoulders, perhaps at a Republican Party gaining momentum for the 2010 elections. And their dispositions probably didn't improve much this past week, with the announcements that Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota would not seek re-election.

David Weigel is a senior reporter for the Web site the Washington Independent, and he covers conservative politics and he's in the studio.

David, welcome to the program.

Mr. DAVID WEIGEL (Senior Reporter, Washington Independent): Oh, thank you for having me.

HANSEN: So with the past week's events, do you see a shift in the balance of power in Washington?

Mr. WEIGEL: This actually has been interpreted as a one-to-one tradeoff in Senate seats. Chris Dodd had a lot of self-inflicted wounds from his presidential campaign, from his related lack of stewardship during the run to the financial crisis, so they feel like they have a better chance of holding their seat. But North Dakota went from a seat they might retain to a seat they are privately and publicly very bearish on.

HANSEN: Hmm. In the House, more than a dozen Republicans already have announced they won't be running for re-election. Are these safe seats or are the Republicans may be a little bit nervous?

Mr. WEIGEL: They were nervous a year ago. People forget already that senators in Kentucky, Ohio, New Hampshire, a few other places were bailing out when President Obama and the Democrats took over. There's been a shift since then, but there are actually seats that will probably flip Democratic in the House. Mike Castle is leaving his seat in Delaware, which people dont really think Republicans can hold. Mark Kirk in Illinois is running for the Senate and his seat might flip. The New Orleans seat, which went Republican in a fluke might flip.

But otherwise, everyone looks at the map and sees seats that went for Obama, where voters were just disappointed in the amount of, I guess you can boil it down to hope and change that theyve received so far.

HANSEN: Well, what do you think the chances are for the Republicans to pick up the dozens of seats in the House to take the majority?

Mr. WEIGEL: Well, even their chairman has said it's not very high. The map is still based on redistricting from 2002 when Republicans controlled everything. And you saw in places like Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania, seats that were meant to be rock solid suburban GOP territory, just became more liberal as the decade went on for a number of reasons - that hasnt stopped being true. So they need a bunch of bank shots in places like those suburbs to make this happen.

Will they win seats in the South? Oh, no one really doubts that. Tennessee has been a killing field for Democratic retirements. But winning a few Blue Dog seats doesnt actually change the Congress to the right.

HANSEN: You mentioned the chairman - Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. He's having a tough time lately about things he said publically about his own chances of winning back the House. And youve actually written about that.

Mr. WEIGEL: Yeah, he's irritated Republicans, frankly, because they started this year with a lot of good news, with everyone talking about the momentum. And he's released a book which he had in production for a while, but claims curiously in a radio interview that he wrote a year ago - he didnt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEIGEL: The book refers to things that happened last November. And he, instead of taking advantage of all these Democratic problems, tripping over his own tongue again and again. And there was a meeting between - or a conference call between House Republicans and the RNC liaisons earlier in the week where they were just raging about this.

HANSEN: The Democrats also have to deal with now Senator Harry Reid's comments about President Obama in a new book. An apology has been given and accepted, but what do you make of it? Will it affect Reid?

Mr. WEIGEL: It would be a good opportunity for Reid to reassess - I dont think whether he wants to run for reelection. He wants to run for reelection, but how to do so? Because he comes from a state that voted very heavily for Obama. It's also a state thats had just massive collapse in housing prices because, you know, Vegas - Clark County (unintelligible) places. And he's not getting a lot of traction as the leader of the Democratic Party.

So, but he's very proud. He's raised a lot of money and his strategy is just to bully Republicans out of challenging him, and I dont think it'll affect that race. we'll talk about it for days, though.

HANSEN: Yeah. Briefly, conservatives are fired up right now. The Tea Party movement is going on. But do you think Republicans might want to reach out to moderates and independents?

Mr. WEIGEL: They dont really think that they have to. There is anger - in November 2008, there was anger at the way the country is going. There is the same anger now, it's just directed at a different party. People dont think that changing parties led to a turnaround in the economic situation. And it doesnt take a lot to convince them that they're right and they need to give the GOP a chance again.

HANSEN: But you dont think the Republican Party might move a little to the center.

Mr. WEIGEL: They kind of can't. There's just too many primaries where centrist candidates are losing to conservatives.

HANSEN: David Weigel is a senior reporter for the Washington Independent. He covers conservative politics. Thanks so much for coming in.

Mr. WEIGEL: Thank you so much.

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