Coverage Of The Midterm Elections

NPR's Robert Siegel and Melissa Block have election coverage.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Voting in the 2010 midterm elections has wrapped up in a half a dozen states. Polls have closed in Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky. And we can report that in Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul, the Tea Party favorite, has been elected to the Senate from that state. In Indiana, Dan Coats has beat Brad Ellsworth. And in South Carolina, Republican Jim DeMint has expected - has won reelection to the Senate.

It's expected to be a big night for Republicans at the polls and the pundits are correct, the GOP is looking and big gains in the Senate and a new majority in the House.

My co-hosts Robert Siegel and Melissa Block will be bringing you election coverage this hour and throughout the evening. Hello to both of you.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Hey, Michele.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Hello, Michele.

BLOCK: And you just mentioned some of the early results, early returns. And one of those of seats you mentioned, of course the victory by Dan Coats in Indiana, a Republican. That's a flip. That seat was a Democratic seat. Evan Bayh retired.

SIEGEL: That's a flip. Evan Bayh, Democrat, is retiring. The Republicans hold 41 of the 100 seats in the Senate. And with that switch in Indiana, they would now be - need nine more to win the majority. The other one that we - the other Senate race that we foresee a winner in is in Vermont, where, no surprise, Democrat Patrick Leahy appears to have been reelected.

BLOCK: Has won reelection. And then the Kentucky Senate which you mentioned, a retiring Republican senator, Jim Bunning...

SIEGEL: Jim Bunning, right. A Republican hold.

BLOCK: That seat going to Rand Paul. And if we can get Ken Rudin on the line here for just a second, Ken? I'm curious whether in electing Rand Paul we now have a father and son team in Congress simultaneously. Has that happened before?

KEN RUDIN: It has not happened before. But what's fascinating about this is that we're watching Kentucky Senate race, Indiana Senate race, neither race was a surprise, neither result was a surprise. But they called it immediately at 7 o'clock. It wasn't even close apparently, and so that's big news for the Republican Party. They now need nine to take control.

BLOCK: Let's bring our national political correspondent Mara Liasson into the conversation. Mara, these early returns, and what you're going to be looking for in some of the House races that we've not yet talked about, where the results are not yet in.

MARA LIASSON: Well, the suspense in Indiana was not really about Dan Coats of course. He was expected to pick up Evan Bayh's old seat. What we are watching is three Democratic-held Indiana House seats - I think it's the 2nd the 8th and the 9th districts - to see if Republicans can pick up there. If they take all three of them, and we should know pretty soon, that will mean a very big night is probably ahead for Republicans.

If Democrats can hold on to two of them, that suggests that they can limit their losses. If they hold on to only one, the Republicans will win big as they're expected to do but maybe not have a huge blowout.

BLOCK: And Mara, at least a couple of those House seats that you're talking about held by Blue Dog Democrats, fiscal conservatives who, if anybody was going to do well in a conservative district, theoretically, on the Democratic side, it would be them.

LIASSON: Theoretically. But this is a year where conservative Democrats are the ones that are most vulnerable. Indiana is a state that Barack Obama managed to turn blue...

BLOCK: Barely.

LIASSON: ...barely, in 2008. And what's interesting is the Democrats created their majority in 2006, by moving to the center, by electing conservative Democrats in districts that had - that were swing districts or districts that had been held by Republicans. This year, the Republicans look poised to create their majority by moving to the right. Usually you would think that you make a majority by moving to the center, in this case that's not happening for the Republicans.

BLOCK: Virginia, another state that closed at 7 o'clock and there are a number of close House that we're going to be tracking through the night from that state as well.

LIASSON: We're watching, particularly, Gerry Connelly, he's in the 11th district there. It's the most affluent district in America. And he has been a top target of the Republicans all along. And if he hangs on, that's a good sign for the Democrats.

BLOCK: Okay, Mara, we'll be talking back with you throughout the night. Thanks so much.

SIEGEL: Mara was talking about Indiana, what's happening there. And we are going now to Indianapolis and NPR's Wade Goodwyn at Republican Party election night headquarters. Wade, the Indiana Republicans can claim a gain in the U.S. Senate with Dan Coats's victory - his return to the U.S. Senate. What are you hearing there from Republicans?

WADE GOODWYN: Well, I'm here at the Republican celebration party and the celebration is already underway. People are feeling pretty spry here. Dan Combs(ph) has just been declared the winner. He's kind of an unlikely front-runner now elected. He's a veteran of the House and Senate. He retired in 1999 to become a high-profile lobbyist and he's lobbied for the oil companies, the health insure and the Wall Street banks - none of the mattered.

I mean, he announced he was coming home, coming back to Indiana to run in February after Evan Bayh announced he was not going to run. And he had a lead then and it's just kept getting bigger and bigger. And he's expected to run away but as much as 15, 20 points tonight.

SIEGEL: Dan Coats' Democratic opponent Brad Ellsworth is a member of Congress, and by running for the Senate he vacated the 8th district. It's that district, also the 9th where Baron Hill is the incumbent Democrat, and the 2nd where Joe Donnelly is the Democrat. These are the ones we're looking at. Do you have any news of those districts?

GOODWYN: Well, I mean, you know, the Republicans think the 8th district is theirs to lose. They think they're going to win that district. Larry Buschon is the Republican, the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Saint Mary's. And the only question is whether Joe Donnelly can hold his seat against Jackie Walorski. She's a big Tea Party candidate and we're still kind of watching those three races.

SIEGEL: Okay. Again, the polls have closed in Indiana. Wade Goodwyn, thanks, and we'll get back to you. Wade is at Indiana Republican Party election night headquarters where we already have the Senate race settled and we're waiting on returns in those contested House races.

BLOCK: And moving on now to Pennsylvania, which polls there will not close until 8 o'clock Easter. We're joined by NPR's Debbie Elliott who is at the headquarters of Pat Toomey, the Republican candidate for Senate.

Debbie, you there?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: I'm here, Melissa.

BLOCK: And a little while to go before polls close. This is a hotly contested race of course, for the Pennsylvania Senate seat. This is Arlen Specter's former seat. He switched parties from Republican to Democrat, defeated in the primary. Joe Sestak going up against Pat Toomey here. What do you see?

ELLIOTT: Well, Toomey has been leading most of the campaign season, although in recent weeks things have tightened up a little bit. So the question is whether he can come from behind and make this a real contest. That's what he did against Specter, you know, he defied the National Democratic Party by running against Specter and then he came from behind at the last minute to win it.

Now, here at Toomey headquarters, folks are just now sort of setting up. They're testing the microphone. They think he's got it. He's worked really hard, you know, Toomey was in Congress for six years, is popular here. He was president of the Club for Growth, which is a free-market advocacy group. And his campaign has sort of hit on some of the Tea Party themes that we've seen across the country this year, you know: lower taxes, less government and getting control of the federal deficit.

BLOCK: And briefly, let's mention a couple of other things we're watching in Pennsylvania when polls close at 8. The governor's race, the Democratic Governor Ed Rendell, very outspoken, term-limited, that'll be an open seat there. And again, a number of Democratic-held House seats, some by Blue Dog Democrats, that endangered crop this year around.

ELLIOTT: Right. The moderate Democrats definitely are in trouble, as Mara mentioned earlier. And the question is going to be turnout. You know, will Democrats, particularly in Philadelphia, vote-rich Philadelphia come out? Will organized labor come out? That's really what the Democrats need in order to hold on. But the latest polls show that they're in trouble and that Republicans are actually more energized this time around.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Debbie Elliott, joining us from the Pat Toomey headquarters in Fogelsville. Thanks, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And now, joining us here in the studio are our two political analysts for the evening: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and Matthew Continetti, associate editor of The Weekly Standard. Good to see both of you here.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (The Washington Post): Good to see you.

Mr. MATTHEW CONTINETTI (The Weekly Standard): Good to see you.

SIEGEL: E.J. we'll start with you. What do you make of what we're seeing tonight?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think one of the things you're seeing is what many Democrats feared, which is a much older electorate out there. One of the striking things in the early exit polls is that voters under 30, who made up 18 percent of the electorate in 2008, make up about half that tonight. And that's going to explain a lot. This is an extremely conservative electorate that came out, as well as an older electorate.

Democrats actually held their ground fairly well among moderate voters, but this time, unlike the past, there were more conservatives in this electorate than moderates. So I think the nature of the turnout, may have a lot to do with what we see tonight.

SIEGEL: Matt, what do you think?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, the trends that we're seeing in this election have been there for months: the Republican lead in the generic ballot translating into Republican gains. Obama has bet net disapproved in the average of polls since this summer. This electorate doesn't view Obama favorably at all. And it's an electorate that is anti-Washington, also anti-policies, the Obama policies. It's doesn't think the stimulus worked. It wants health care repealed.

SIEGEL: But it's also anti-Democrat and anti-Republican at the same time. People disapprove of both parties.

Mr. CONTINETTI: And that's what's interesting and this is why the Tea Party has been so important, is that the Tea Party, I think, has acted as a way for independents in particular, who are breaking toward Republicans, acted for a means for independents to be comfortable voting Republican, because of the Tea Party influence.

Mr. DIONNE: I don't think it's the Tea Party that did that. I think there's generalized discontent among independents and, again, that group is older that the crop of independents we had before.

I am really struck, and they may be the key to the election, a quarter of the people who have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party voted Republican anyway. That strikes me as not an ideological vote, it looks to me like a protest vote. And I think there were a lot of those out there today.

BLOCK: You mentioned also, Matt, the independent vote, and I think the exit polls that we've seen so far are showing that the independents who turned out this around are breaking solidly towards the Republicans. I mean, it's a huge disparity right there.

Mr. CONTINETTI: That's right. Independents in the exit polls we're seeing are breaking for Republicans for the same amount that they broke Democrats in 2006, a huge swing. So what we're having in 2010 is really the third wave election in a row. It's a national election. It's a repudiation of the governing party and the policies of that governing party, and these independents are kind of rocking back and forth. The question is, you know, will we have another wave election two years from now? Or what will change in the intervening time?

BLOCK: And what explains that, do you think, that the whipsawing is happening this quickly?

Mr. DIONNE: If I may invoke a song: They still haven't found what they're looking for. I think that what you have is a lot of discontent in the country, particularly among middle-class, moderate, independent folks, who are not particularly ideologically Republican. They wanted things to get better under President Obama. The actual conditions out there aren't very good. And so, they're ready to switch again.

It is the third election in a row Nathan Daschle of the Democratic Governors Association made this point third election in a row that the White House will be unhappy with, a different White House before.

BLOCK: If we had a U2 soundtrack right now our director would be sneaking it in behind you while we talk.

SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne and Matt Continetti, thanks so much...

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

Mr. CONTINETTI: (Unintelligible).

SIEGEL: ...for talking with us. And again, to tell you what news we have of this Election Day 2010, some forgone conclusions: Jim DeMint in South Carolina has been reelected, the Republican, as has Democratic Patrick Leahy from Vermont. In Kentucky, Rand Paul appears to be the winner in his race for the Senate. And in Indiana, what had been a Democratic seat, the seat of Evan Bayh, now goes to former Republican Senator Dan Coats. The Republicans, if they can do that nine more times they'll have a majority in the U.S. Senate not so easy though.

BLOCK: And Michele, back to you.

NORRIS: That's Melissa Block and Robert Siegel. They're hosting NPR's election coverage throughout the evening. You'll also find us at npr.org and there you can get instant news and analysis, and you can track the balance of power in Congress.

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