Three Days 'Til We Vote; Let's Make Some Predictions

With three days to go until Election Day, host Scott Simon talks to NPR political editor Ken Rudin about the tight races for U.S. Senate in West Virginia, Illinois and Nevada and predictions for the outcome of races in the House.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

President Obama's influence on the elections - for better or worse - could play out in several close races in the waning days of the campaign season. The Tea Party movement is pushing hard against the Obama administration's agenda and predicts a new political climate in Washington, D.C., but will it last? NPR political editor Ken Rudin is in the studio. Good morning, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Let's remind ourselves in advance: Do we have to be careful about this phrase, generational change?

RUDIN: We do because even though we keep saying it every two years, it seems -when President Bush was re-elected in 2004, Karl Rove said its going to be a permanent Republican majority that'll last forever. And of course, that lasted until 2006, when the Democrats won control of both the House and the Senate.

So, we keep thinking these things will last forever. When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, this would be a coalition of young and minorities and women that's going to last for a long time, pro-choice advocates. And then, of course, two years later came Newt Gingrich and Republican control of Congress.

SIMON: Yeah. And two years ago, we should remind ourselves, there was a - talk, lots of people were saying President Obama had put together a new coalition.

RUDIN: There was a coalition - again - of African-Americans, of Latinos, and seniors and people who had not voted before, or not voted regularly in the past, and were disaffected and - was going to turn away from all the Bush excesses, as people said - Katrina and ethics problems - and they would drain the swamp of Washington - that's what Nancy Pelosi said when she took power as the speaker of the House in 2006. And that was going to last forever, too.

And 19 months after President Obama came to the White House, there's another sea change going on.

SIMON: Let me ask you about some of the Senate elections that still seem to be very close and hanging fire - one-by-one; I'm going to choose three. Illinois.

RUDIN: Well, Illinois is big because obviously, this is President Obama's former Senate seat. He gave it up, of course, when he was elected president. And then the Honorable Rod Blagojevich chose Roland Burris to hold the seat briefly. But, again, the White House really wants this; they don't want to lose it to a Republican. And that could very well happen. The Democratic nominee is the state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, who has some ethics problems. His family used to own the Broadway Bank, and a lot of Republicans are saying that...

SIMON: It's a bankrupt bank that did business with organized- crime figures.

RUDIN: Exactly. A bad bank giving loans to bad people. But of course, the Republican candidate also has his problems. Moderate conservative Mark Kirk, who is - who basically has exaggerated his military service, and Democrats are calling him a liar. It's a very ugly race, very personal race. It can go either way. But again, perhaps with Rod Blagojevich in the background, the specter of Rod Blagojevich in the background, Republicans could pick up the seat.

SIMON: Nevada - Harry Reid, Sharron Angle.

RUDIN: Harry Reid, Senate majority leader - this is what's so fascinating about this - in this race, you know, if Harry Reid goes down to Sharron Angle, a Tea Party favorite who has been described in many ways as an extremist, somebody out of touch, and yet Sharron Angle is running even, if not slightly ahead, of Harry Reid. If Harry Reid loses, one, it's a perfect metaphor for what 2010 is all about - the anger, the suspicion, the disappointment in the Democratic-controlled Congress. And no Senate majority leader has been defeated since 1952.

SIMON: And West Virginia.

RUDIN: Well, West Virginia, again, it's a state that the Republicans have not won a Senate race there since 1956. I suspect they still may not, but Joe Manchin is the governor there. Very popular - pro-gun, anti-abortion candidate. But President Obama is the kiss of death in West Virginia. Republicans are trying to paint Joe Manchin as somebody would will come and vote the Obama way when he comes to Washington - which is kind of, you know, farfetched. But again, that just shows how toxic President Obama's name is in many states.

SIMON: Give me a prediction for the House so I can ridicule you if it doesn't turn out exactly...

RUDIN: You could always ridicule me.

SIMON: Ill figure out a way to do that anyway.

RUDIN: As you always do. Um - most people are talking about perhaps a Republican gain of 50 to 55 seats, which if that happens, that will wipe out the Democratic gains of 2006, when they got 30; 2008, when they got another 20. That's 50 seats right there. I mean, that could be dissolved in 2010.

But my numbers are much more conservative than most people. I think the Republicans will pick up 45 seats but lose four. They'll lose a congressman in Hawaii, Louisiana, and open seats in Illinois and Delaware. So a net of 41, which is not the kind of tsunami that many people are talking about. But either way, John Boehner will be the next speaker of the House.

SIMON: NPR political editor Ken Rudin, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: You can listen to live election coverage Tuesday night on many NPR stations.

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