Early Voting May Help Democrats In Midterms

Lots of people already have begun early voting across the country. It appears those voters may favor Democratic candidates. But what if Republicans regain control of Congress; how will that affect President Obama?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go now to NPR's Cokie Roberts who joins us most Mondays.

Cokie, good morning once again.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: You know, I was walking pass a polling place, polling station over the weekend and got accosted by people with signs and so forth.

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INSKEEP: I was very surprised. But early voting. Early voting is underway.

ROBERTS: Early voting is taking place all over the country, and Democrats are looking at those rolls of voters and seeing who's been checked off and seeing that a lot of Democrats are actually showing up at the polls. So that's given them some heart. And that, combined with candidate polls showing Democrats pulling ahead in some states, like California, and pulling even in others, like Colorado, thats giving the Democrats some hope that this won't be the Republican wave that they have feared.

But, of course, a lot depends on that ground game - whether they can get their voters energized and out to the polls on Election Day itself, not just in this early voting.

INSKEEP: And let's remember that even if there's a higher turnout than expected, it's still not going to be the massive turnout you see in presidential years. But seniors do tend to vote rather consistently. Who benefits from that?

ROBERTS: Well this year - and seniors are telling pollsters that they're going to really vote, fully 84 percent of voters over 65 have told the Pew Research Center that they are certain to vote. That is nine points higher than any time we've ever measured that question, and the last time was 1994, not a good year for Democrats as you might recall.

And these senior voters are in a very sour mood. Four in five have a negative view of the economy. Only four in ten like the president, and they are ready to go for people who have never held office, which surprises me. You would think that they would go for experience, but no, they want they're saying that they want people who have never been in office before. And almost 30 percent are saying they want to vote for people who say they will never compromise, that they just they're in a nay-saying mood this year and obviously that is a problem for Democrats.

INSKEEP: Well, Cokie Roberts, you've seen a lot of presidents come and go, Congresses come and go.

ROBERTS: True.

INSKEEP: And based on that experience, I'm wondering what it would mean for President Obama if he in fact wakes up next month and sees that he has at least one Republican House of Congress, maybe two, who knows?

ROBERTS: Well, there's a lot of speculation in the press and among political operatives that this would be good for the president, as it was for President Clinton after the '94 election that he was able to work with the Republicans in Congress and point to things after that Congress and say, look, we were able to get a lot done, reelect me.

And President Obama could be in the same position. He certainly doesn't act like he's looking forward to that. He's out campaigning vigorously for Democrats around the country, and again this week out there. And you know, look Steve, you and I talked last week about the fact that a lot of these people who are running are not likely to cross the aisle if they are elected and that the effect of their election will be somewhat chilling on aisle crossers who are currently in Congress. So I don't see a lot getting done under these circumstances.

But the Republicans might feel that they need to show that they've done more than simply stop legislation. That is the big question mark for the new Congress, if in fact one or two Houses is Republican.

INSKEEP: I'm also remembering that when President Clinton worked with a Republican Congress, they did get a fair amount done, but he also made a lot of Democrats mad.

ROBERTS: Yes, but not enough Democrats mad to mount a challenge to him in the election of 1996. And that is really a problem for President Obama. If, in fact, he does is able to work with Republicans, he's going to make the left, which is already unhappy, even madder - and that could mean that somebody would challenge him in the primaries. And we know, that if a president is challenged in the primaries, he loses in the general election. That has been our history, whether it's Ford, or Carter, or Bush I. And so that is something that he's going to have to constantly keep an eye out for, trying to balance getting something done - compromising to get something done - with not angering the left so much that he has a challenger in the primaries. And that's going to be a tough road.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks as always. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts on this Monday morning.

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