How The Republicans Won The House

Guests

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Alex Vogel, Republican strategist
Anna Greenberg, Democratic pollster
Rep. Bob Inglis, Republican from South Carolina
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat from Missouri

The predictions came true — Republicans won the House of Representatives with a wave of support from the Tea Party. Democrats held onto the Senate, with a slimmer majority. The shift in the balance of power can be traced back to frustrations with President Obama, a dismal economy and a populist movement against new government spending.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

The red tide sweeps away at least 60 House Democrats. Three Senate seats are still undecided, but Democrats will hang on to control there. And marijuana is still medicine in California. It's Wednesday and time for a hangover edition of the political junkie.

Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Where's the beef?

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Today, a huge victory for conservatives as voters punish the president and the Democrats. Democrats lose Obama's old seat but hang on to Biden's. The Tea Party thrives as the blue dogs dwindle. Gubernatorial candidates surrendered earlier today in Florida and California, and the next speaker vows to repeal the monstrosity of health care.

As usual, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A on this busy, busy, busy day. We will skip the usual trivia question. Instead, call and tell us what's the biggest change where you live.

We have split phone lines today. If you voted Republican, call 800-344-3893. Again, Republicans, 800-344-3893. If you voted Democratic, call 800-344-3864. Again, Democrats 800-344-3864. Everybody can email us, talk@npr.org.

And Ken, nice to have you with us this morning.

KEN RUDIN: Thank you. Of course, if you voted for Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island, there should be another phone number because there's an independent governor there in Rhode Island. But I do not have a trivia question, but I do have an answer, and that is: This the biggest Republican victory in the House since 1938. They look like they've won at least 60. They picked up 63. They lost three. So a net gain of 60 seats, way more than I ever thought possible and the biggest since 1938, also the biggest by any party since the Democrats won 75 seats in 1948. In other words, a huge thumping for the Republican Party in the House.

CONAN: A huge thumping for the Democratic Party in the House.

RUDIN: That's right, exactly. And less won, of course, in the Senate. I mean, the fact that Harry Reid held on, we knew at that moment, when he held on, when he declared victory over Sharron Angle, and it wasn't that close. It was 50 to 45. We knew that Democrats would hold on to the Senate, but again a loss of six seats so far.

It may not be much more, because right now Michael Bennet is leading in Colorado and has actually declared victory. Ken Buck, the Republican, has not conceded yet.

CONAN: NPR has not called that race.

RUDIN: That's correct and same with Washington state. There are a lot of mail ballots. It'll take you know, obviously, they had to be postmarked by Tuesday. So the counting will continue. But right now, Patty Murray does have a slight lead over Dino Rossi, who is used to slight leads and slight contests. He lost the 2004 gubernatorial race by 133 votes.

CONAN: And the other place where there's an undecided Senate seat is in Alaska.

RUDIN: Now, right now, it's not so much that Lisa Murkowski is winning, the write-ins are leading with 41 percent of the vote. We assume most of them are Lisa Murkowski's. But right now, they haven't been counted yet. We just know that the write-ins have 41 percent. Joe Miller, the Republican candidate who beat Murkowski in the August primary, has 34 percent, with the Democrat Scott McAdams trailing far behind.

So right now, the guess is that Murkowski could win, but again, this is something that could take weeks and perhaps legal battles, as well.

CONAN: And undecided House races, there are, what, 11 of those?

RUDIN: Well, yes, but one of them, one of the Democrats, as I said, we have 49 Democratic incumbents have already been defeated. There's a possibility of a 50th, and that's Melissa Beane in Illinois. She won the old I think Dan Crane I'm sure everybody remembers Dan Crane, exactly House seat. She's trailing.

But again, so we're talking about at least 60, if not more, Democratic seats lost in the House.

CONAN: And state Houses.

RUDIN: Good night for the Republican Party, but of course good night for the Democrats, too. The Democrats won the governorship of Connecticut for the first time since 1986. They did very well in California with Boxer and Jerry Brown winning, Jerry Brown or course being the youngest, and now the oldest, governor ever elected in California.

But again, good night for the, you know, for the Republicans. In Florida, Rick Scott eked out a narrow win. Of course, if it's a narrow win, you eke it out, right?

CONAN: Alex Sink conceded today.

RUDIN: Alex Sink conceded, but right now too close to call in Illinois, where Pat Quinn, the success to Rod Blagojevich, is neck and neck with Bill Brady, a downstate legislator.

CONAN: And we're going to be talking about change and Tea Party and mandate and all of that for much of the rest of the program. Important to note there were a couple of places where the dog did not bark, in California, as you mentioned, New York, Connecticut, Maryland.

RUDIN: Well, right, and I don't know what there's no surprise there at all. I mean, at some point, the Republicans were talking about, you know, comebacks in California. They recruited two pro-business women, non-political types, you think, but I think ultimately, in the end, we could talk about Nannygate and all the things that went on in California, but perhaps spending $140 million of your own money may have been a bigger turnoff than anything else that Meg Whitman could have said or done.

CONAN: And some Tea Party candidates, well, one, of course, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Mr. Lee in Utah. That was choosing the candidate was interesting process, the election pretty much a foregone conclusion.

RUDIN: And that's why you knew it was going to be a long night because, you know, right now, it was 7 o'clock when Indiana and Kentucky were called, and when Rand Paul was declared the winner, right away you knew something was up.

Marco Rubio won big in Florida. Now, you can talk about the role of the Tea Party. Yes, they probably cost the Republican Party victories in Nevada, with Harry Reid beating Sharron Angle, and certainly in Delaware, with Christine O'Donnell. This may be the last time we say Christine O'Donnell's name on the show.

CONAN: What a tragedy.

RUDIN: But no, I mean, but obviously, she, you know, she could wind up with a Fox show or something like that. But she got about 40 percent of the vote, not close, probably costing the Republican Party a vote there.

But again, other you know, as I said, Ken Buck very close in Colorado, Rubio and the many House races where Tea Party excitement, enthusiasm, led the Republicans to victory.

CONAN: We want to hear from listeners today. What changed most yesterday where you live? And we have split lines for you today. We need Democrats to call, and I've put aside the phone number. So I'll get that for you in just a minute.

In any case, it is an 800 number. It's not the regular number. And we do have a caller. This is Finlay(ph), Finlay with us from Jacksonville in North Carolina.

FINLAY (Caller): Hey, how are you doing? Biggest deal here in North Carolina is for the first time since 1898, we have a complete Republican legislature. And Bev Perdue, our governor, is a Democrat that is - that's a serious big deal around here.

CONAN: It is a serious big deal, especially in a census year, Ken Rudin.

RUDIN: Absolutely, although I don't know if North Carolina gains or loses seats. But the important thing is that the Democrats were on the ascendency in North Carolina. They beat Elizabeth Dole in 2008. Bev Purdue was elected governor. The Democrats held that governorship.

But again, you know, they were Democrats for the longest time. We're seeing that Richard Burr, the Republican senator seeking a second term this year, was vulnerable, and Burr won pretty convincingly over Elaine Marshall.

CONAN: Thanks for...

FINLAY: You know what else I noticed this morning in the results, that I forget the percentages, but the people who voted a straight Republican ticket were I think four or five percent more than people who voted a straight Democratic ticket. And here in the South, again that's pretty significant, I think.

CONAN: I think you're talking again about a solidly Republican South. Finlay, thanks very much for the call.

FINLAY: All right, brother, take care.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Republican line, he called, 800-344-3893. The Democratic line is 800-344-3864. And that is the line that Craig(ph) called on from Davenport, Iowa.

CRAIG (Caller): Yeah, hi, Neal, thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Sure.

CRAIG: Probably the biggest thing that we noticed here in the state of Iowa, regardless of whether or not, you know, Chet Culver got voted out, which he did, to Governor Branstad, was the overturning or the dismissal of three justices in our state, mainly to do with the fact that they had passed the law permitting same-sex marriages last year.

CONAN: They had decided the case. This was the three-judge panel that had decided the case that discrimination against gays and lesbians was unconstitutional.

RUDIN: Gay marriage.

CONAN: Gay marriage.

CRAIG: Correct, correct, correct, yeah.

CONAN: So, and they were all voted out.

CRAIG: They were all voted out. You know, there's a lot of church groups and representation from that side, you know, trying to push their agenda in. And it's just a huge disappointment, the fact that people think that, you know, they were being advocate judges or trying to acknowledge something from their benches.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: You know, Craig, we saw a very strong evangelical vote in Iowa. We saw it with Pat Robertson, a strong showing in 1988. We saw it with Mike Huckabee winning the caucuses in 2008. You know the vote was out there.

It's my understanding that one of the three judges was the chief justice. Is that possible?

CRAIG: That is correct. She was chief justice, and, you know, I think that was one of the lesser ones that they thought that she might stay. I'm not sure, but yeah, it was quite a shock.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Craig, appreciate it.

CRAIG: Quite a shock. Thanks a lot.

CONAN: We're going to be speaking this hour with a couple of our regular analysts, joined now in Studio 3A by Republican strategist Alex Vogel, partner and co-founder at Mehlman, Vogel & Castagnetti. Did I get it right this time?

Mr. ALEX VOGEL (Partner, Co-founder, Mehlman, Vogel & Castagnetti): You got it.

CONAN: Absolutely. Anna Greenberg is also with us. She's a Democratic pollster, senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, distinguished for having much more pronounceable names. Thanks, welcome back, Anna.

Ms. ANNA GREENBERG (Senior Vice President, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research): Thank you.

CONAN: And Alex, a great night for Republicans last night.

Mr. VOGEL: It was. I mean, you know, even those of us who thought there was going to be a wave benefitting Republicans, I'll be honest, did not see the depth and breadth on the House side. I mean, that's really been the biggest surprise.

CONAN: What's the difference between the House side and, for example, the Senate side, where Democrats and for that matter, governorships where Democrats did a little better?

Mr. VOGEL: To me, the difference is effectively these House races became nationalized, and for the most part, it was not about the individual candidates, it was about the president. And that was impossible for these House folks to deal with.

On the Senate side, you still had candidates who were able to make it about them and their opponent. So Reid and Angle and if you do that, you, it's no longer a national election, and you had a fighting chance. It was still a tough climate, but you had a fighting change, whereas on the House side, it just took over.

CONAN: Anna Greenberg?

Ms. GREENBERG: I largely agree. It was a tough night for Democrats, though I think a little more mixed. I actually thought we might lose as many as 60 seats and was pleasantly surprised on how we did at the Senate and gubernatorial level.

I think that one of the things, if there is sort of a silver lining for Democrats, that really stood out last night was the effectiveness of the Democratic field operation. And in races that were close, whether it was Colorado or Nevada or some House races or some governor's races, there just was a much more effective field operation for Democrats. And that was the difference between winning and losing in some of these close races, and that's something that Democrats have been building, really, since 2004.

It really reached new heights in 2008 with Obama. A lot of that infrastructure stayed in place, and I think there will be a lot of building on that infrastructure in 2012.

CONAN: And so you're talking about 2012. Obviously, that's a political lifetime, several political lifetimes away. Remember, we were talking about the rump of the Republican Party two years ago.

Ms. GREENBERG: Look, I'm just making the point that campaigns matter. And Democrats won a bunch of close races because their campaigns matter, not just the candidates but the kinds of campaigns that they ran.

CONAN: We've talked about what happened yesterday, for the most part, anyway. Now we're going to talk about why and how. In a few minutes, one of the veteran Republicans who was steamrolled in the primary by the Tea Party Express will join us. More of your calls, as well. What's the biggest change where you live? If you voted Republican, 800-344-3893. Again, Republicans, 800-344-3893. Democrats, 800-344-3864. Again, 800-344-3864. Everybody can email us, talk@npr.org. Political junkie Ken Rudin, Anna Greenberg and Alex Vogel will stay with us. You, too.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Voters may have sent a message to Washington in yesterday's election, but it's being translated in very different ways by different people.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator-elect PAT TOOMEY (Republican, Pennsylvania): Specifically, I want to extend a hand, my hand, to President Obama. And I think it's important that we remember President Obama is not our opponent, he's our president.

Senator-elect MARCO RUBIO (Republican, Florida): And we make a great mistake if we believe that tonight, these results are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party. What they are is a second chance.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): The bell that just rang isn't the end of the fight, it's the start of the next round.

President BARACK OBAMA: You know, I think that there's no doubt that as I reflect on the results of the election, it underscores for me that I've got to do a better job, just like everybody else in Washington does.

CONAN: Republican Senators-elect Pat Toomey and Marco Rubio, followed by the Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama, speaking earlier today.

The message was clear for NPR Political Junkie Ken Rudin - more Political Junkie. He was upstairs in Studio 4A for most of the night and after a caffeine boost is back with us today for a marathon edition of the Political Junkie.

Call and tell us, the day after the midterms, what's the biggest change where you live? We have split phone lines today. If you voted Republican, 800-344-3893. Again, 800-344-3893 for Republican voters. Democrats, dial 800-344-3864, again 800-344-3864 for Democrats. Everybody can email talk@npr.org.

Alex Vogel is with us, partner and co-founder at Mehlman, Vogel & Castagnetti; and Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

And Ken Rudin, we listened to a couple of those tapes. Obviously the next day, some people are going to sound pugnacious, and some people are going to sound conciliatory. But is this is going to be an extraordinarily difficult few months in Washington.

RUDIN: Well, it will be, just like the last couple of months have been extraordinarily difficult. And, you know, we're talking about whether it's too soon to talk about 2012.

But I was struck by the fact that both leading Republicans, presumptive Speaker John Boehner and still the Republican minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, had different approaches.

Boehner said, look, this is not a great triumph for the Republican Party because he knows, as everybody knows, that the numbers for the Republicans were not that great. It was more of a rejection of the Democrats than it was an affirmation of the Republicans. And he knows he has work to do.

But McConnell kept talking about basically the fight continues. Just like we heard Harry Reid saying the fight is going to continue, McConnell's talking about saying that, well, you know, we still have to recapture, we have to take the majority, and we'll do that in 2012 and take out the president, as well.

So I saw a different approach from Boehner and McConnell that I thought was interesting.

CONAN: Well, it's also interesting that both of them, however, agreed on one thing, one policy they vow to enact, sooner or later, but sooner would be better, and that is health care.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): The American people are concerned about the government takeover of health care. I think it's important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity and replace it with common-sense reforms that will bring down the cost of health insurance in America.

CONAN: John Boehner of Ohio, the likely next speaker of the House of Representatives. Anna Greenberg, did health care cut as an issue in this election?

Ms. GREENBERG: The most important issue was the economy. Health care was, you know, way down at the bottom. And I think that Republicans need to worry about overreach, especially with these Tea Party folks and their caucus who are completely uninterested in compromise, have said as much.

If you look at the exit polls, the picture is sort of mixed. So, for example, 48 percent say they want to repeal health care, but the rest say they want to expand it or leave it alone. That's not an overwhelming mandate for appeal.

You look at the Bush tax cuts, 18 percent say we should cut all taxes, 39 say just for people who earn under $250,000 a year, and so, you know, you just there isn't a mandate in here.

And I think as Ken said, if you look at the favorabilities(ph) towards both the Democrat and Republican Parties, they were about the same, which actually was not true in 1994. So I think that Republicans have to be very, very careful and tread a very fine line between being sort of the opposition party to Obama but also, you know, going so far around not compromising, being the party of no, that they become or as seen as ineffective, as Democrats have been seen.

CONAN: Alex?

Mr. VOGEL: Look, I will you know, if that 48 percent number on health care is true, while not a majority, it's a big number, and we have a relatively closely divided electorate, and more people came out saying they didn't like health care than did.

So it was significant. Whether it was the deciding piece I think depends on the race. There is no doubt that Republicans need to avoid overreaching here. You know, to use a baseball analogy, if you're the third closer who comes in to get the last out, don't convince yourself you suddenly pitched a perfect game. You threw one out. This was not about Republicans for the most part, it was about the president.

And I think that Boehner understands that. I mean, there's a reason that Boehner and McConnell are talking about this election in it's very different for the guys in the Senate now than in the House. And Boehner has to manage this huge freshman class to suddenly try and again, you can't, because of the rules of the House versus the Senate, you can't just be no in the House. You know, there is all this pent-up demand to do something, whether it's repeal health care, whether it's through this other stuff, Boehner actually has to be able to get things done.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. Let's go to Robert(ph), Robert with us from Archie in Missouri.

ROBERT (Caller): Hello, how are you today?

CONAN: Archie called on the Republican line. Go ahead please. Excuse me, the Democrat line.

ROBERT: Yes, Democrat. Can you hear me?

CONAN: Yes, go ahead.

ROBERT: Okay, I just wanted to show my appreciation to Ike for all his years of service. I'm sorry to see him go.

CONAN: Ike Skelton you're talking about.

ROBERT: Ike Skelton, yeah. He's my representative, or is my congressman. He's done a lot for this state, especially keeping Whiteman.

CONAN: Whiteman Air Force Base there in Missouri.

ROBERT: I want to show my appreciation for them folks, too, and I'm sorry I ought to see them leave now. He's the only thing that kept that base here in Missouri, and I know it'll be leaving now with the budget cuts. They can cut several million out of their budget without throwing away jobs. They can just shut down bases and do that. And I know that'll be the first to go now.

CONAN: All right, Robert, well, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. Ken, Ike Skelton, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

RUDIN: Exactly. We could talk about all the Democrats that went down who were elected in 2006 or who were elected in 2008 in McCain districts. But there was also the old bulls, we like to call them, John Spratt of South Carolina, chairman of the Budget Committee. Ike Skelton's been in Congress since 1976. Skelton survived the Reagan landslide in 1980, survived the Gingrich landslide in 1994. He couldn't survive this anti-Obama wave in 2010.

CONAN: Oberstar go ahead, I'm sorry.

Mr. VOGEL: I was going to add Oberstar and Boucher to that list. And what's fascinating is the sentiment that that caller expressed, the thanks for your service, thanks for bringing home the bacon. This was the first election in a long time where that didn't cut the way it always has, and in many of these races, it cut the other way. And it was those old bulls who were not really prepared to run the campaigns you have to run when you can't rely on, hey, I'm the chairman and I'm bringing home X dollars. That didn't play this time.

Ms. GREENBERG: Right. I was going to make that exact point is that I wasn't surprised to see certain incumbents sort of be overtaken by the wave and having not had to run a competitive campaign in a very long time, build the field infrastructure, build the infrastructure with the local media. It's not a surprise to see them go down. I would say that I think it is sad because there's a lot of incredibly smart and committed public servants who have been doing, you know, sort of yeoman's work, and it's sad to see them go.

CONAN: And Whiteman Air Force Base, home of the B-2 Bomber, but it will be interesting to see what happens in not only the lame duck session but in the next Congress with issues like the defense budget, is it going to be cut? And with don't ask, don't tell, which is, well, that's a whole new ballgame.

Ike Skelton was one of the people who was principally (unintelligible), if you're looking for reform, that is the answer now in the courts, another question entirely.

Let's go to the Democratic line, and there's Jeff(ph), Jeff with us from Colorado Springs.

JEFF (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Excuse me. Jeff's on the Republican line. I'll get these straight sooner or later.

JEFF: Right, right. Yeah, for I'm sorry about that. Okay. Yeah, basically what it is is Colorado, unfortunately for myself, conservative, pro-lifer, we lost big in Colorado to basically on all ends on the 62. But Colorado and California are not swing states for the presidency. What was very exciting was the middle, the mid-Florida, Indiana, Ohio. Those are the swing states for 2012 for Republicans. And that's what I'm looking forward to.

Unfortunately in Colorado, you know, we just we just lost, we lost, you know, Ken Buck got close, but, you know, it looks like he's not going to make it.

CONAN: It looks that way. And you were talking about the personhood amendment, which was defeated?

JEFF: Right.

CONAN: That would declare a fetus a person at conception. Ken, is Jeff right, that Colorado's not a swing state in the presidential election?

RUDIN: Well, I disagree, actually, and of course, even making it worse for the Republican Party in Colorado, their gubernatorial candidate, Dan Maes got 11 percent of the vote. Now, of course a third party, Tom Tancredo, got 30-something, and Democrat Hickenlooper won big. But the Republican candidate for governor got 11 percent, which I think is an all-time low in Colorado.

But look, you know, President Obama won it, and Bill Clinton won it, and then Lyndon Johnson won it. So I think basically it is certainly up for grabs. It's very close presidential races. I think Colorado, at least in a presidential year, is very much a swing state.

Mr. VOGEL: And we did pick up a couple of those House seats.

RUDIN: Betsy Markey and John Salazar.

Ms. GREENBERG: True, but there's a weak Republican Party there. And I think, you know, with a weak Republican Party there, and I think, you know, with a weak Republican Party and the strength of the early vote program there, I think it is probably a state that's better for Obama than some of the other purple states in the country at this point with those victories.

CONAN: Jeff(ph), thanks very much for the call. A couple of emails. I live in Michigan. This writes Eric(ph) in Southfield. I went to bed in a blue state and woke up in a red one. Every state office, governor, attorney general, secretary of state and two Supreme Court justices plus both Houses of the state legislature. As the song goes, the times for now are a-changing.

Chris(ph) in Ravenna, Ohio. Here in Ohio, the Republicans captured all the statewide positions, led by John Kasich for governor. So it looks like Obama will have to work very hard to win Ohio again in 2012. Also, the importance of redistricting following the 2010 census.

And this from David(ph). Wisconsin went from Dem to Repub in the U.S. Senate, Feingold and U.S. House and governor and both Houses of the state legislature. Only state in the nation, Ken?

RUDIN: Well, I was just going to say - let me just say one thing there, Anna just said that about Republicans overreaching because what we saw in 1994, big Republican gains but Bill Clinton was very able to use that against the Republican Party in '96.

CONAN: Momentum from the Tea Party helped trounce dozens of Democrats from office in this election. Republicans, though, were not immune either. Representative Bob Inglis represents the Fourth District of South Carolina, a Republican serving his second term in the House. Earlier this year, he lost his primary election to a more conservative candidate backed by the Tea Party. And Congressman Inglis is on the line with us from South Carolina. Thanks very much for joining us.

Representative BOB INGLIS (Republican, South Carolina): Good to be with you, Neal. Thanks.

CONAN: And you had an interesting perspective on the elections last night as you watched the returns coming in. What did you think?

Rep. INGLIS: Well, we hope now that we've worked through this solution that isn't really a solution, just changing people out, and that we're now - we get down to the systemic challenge that faces all Americans, which is how do you -how do you change Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid so that they're sustainable? That's the systemic challenge that we face.

CONAN: Well, every day, the day after the election, both sides call for bipartisan cooperation. Yet, you can look at both parties and say, the Republicans appear to be more conservative and Democrats appear to be more liberal.

Rep. INGLIS: Yeah. And, of course, what we've got to do is figure out a way that says, you know, we're going to take care of seniors through Social Security and Medicare, and we're going to have a program of some sort of health insurance for poor folks. That's what Medicaid is. But we're going to put them on solid footing. And that's going to require some real hard work on the part of these new folks that are going to Congress. And let's hope they can do it because, really, the future of the country rides on it.

CONAN: A lot of those new folks, though, and, indeed, a lot of the old folks, particularly in the Republican Party, going to be looking over their shoulder to see if what happened to you could happen to them.

Rep. INGLIS: Yeah. And, of course, I think this is a unique situation of really sort of a perfect storm kind of arrangement where a bunch of things came to -came to a head all at once. Of course, it is the great recession, and I voted for TARP. And that's a hard vote when you start explaining to people that are very much interested in free enterprise and wanting to see capitalism lift us out of this, that we're trying to avoid a depression.

And, of course, the thing that's sort of curious about that is, of course, it was proposed by George Bush, sort of became Barack Obama's, but it really was George Bush in November of 2008, and Republicans helping him out with that.

CONAN: We're talking with Congressman Bob Inglis. This will be his - well, maybe not his last term, but he got defeated in the last Republican primary from South Carolina. You're listening to the Political Junkie and TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?

RUDIN: Yeah. I was just thinking, you know, it must be kind of ironic the fact that you were one of the true believers elected in 1992, reelected in '94 with Newt Gingrich. And here, the Republicans perhaps learned a lesson from their excesses of 2006, 2008, were voted out, and now they're coming back into power, and you're not going to be part of it. You must have some regrets there.

Rep. INGLIS: Well, it is sad, obviously, but, you know, I'm hopeful that now we can - one of two things is going to happen. Either the cause for hope is that now that we've gotten through this cycle and we've had some heads roll and people feel like, well, we've changed some people out. It's going to be different now. Even those - in a lot of cases, those are going to be false solutions because there really wasn't a problem with the person that was there. The problem is a systemic challenge of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

So one of two things will happen. One is that people will now decide, okay, we've gotten through that. We let some heads roll. Now, let's get down to the serious challenge of fixing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The other possibility that we hope not to happen is that it becomes an opportunity for two more years of finger pointing and saying, no, it's their fault. It's their fault. Democrats saying it's the Republicans fault, and therefore, trying to hold on to the White House. Republicans saying it's the Democrats fault, and therefore, trying to win the White House.

We really don't have two years to waste on that kind of scapegoat hunt. We need some solutions, and we need to act now. So here's hoping that the first scenario happens and the new Congress decides to really dive in to this huge challenge of - the systemic challenge of fixing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Ms. GREENBERG: Part of the problem is, by the way, that many of the Tea Party candidates ran on privatization of Social Security and Medicare, if not some of them on the complete elimination of it. And so I think it's actually going to be quite difficult to reform those programs because we're going to have people at polar opposites as opposed to sort of in the middle on it.

CONAN: And you could have people on ideological grounds blocking votes on things like raising the debt ceiling. And are you worried about those kinds of - Congressman Inglis?

Rep. INGLIS: Yeah. That falls into that second scenario where - the first scenario is what I'm hoping for, which is that there's some cooperation and realization that, okay, we got our seats now. We're here, and we're in charge, and we see there's blood in the street and heads have rolled. But, now, really we've got to do something about this. And let's come together and figure it out. I hope for that.

The second scenario is one you're just describing where if there are folks that say, listen, I'm going to either posture for political gain or have myself locked into a position that I can't move anywhere, then that means two years of gridlock. And we just don't have two years to waste as this clock keeps running on the systemic budget challenge.

CONAN: Congressman Inglis, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Rep. INGLIS: Good to be with you.

CONAN: Bob Inglis of South Carolina, Republican representative from that state's Fourth District. Again, he was defeated for re-nomination in the Republican primary.

The political ground shifted to the right last night, but there were exceptions. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri, held on to his seat. He will join us when we return. Anna Greenberg and Alex Vogel will stay with us and, of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin.

And we'd like you to call in and tell us what happened? What's the biggest change where you live? Republicans 800-344-3893. Democrats 800-344-3864. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Right now, our Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us and running on his own wave of pure adrenaline by now. The most telling numbers from 2010 midterms may be 60-40. When you look at independent voters in exit polls, 60 percent named the economy as the country's most pressing problem, 60 percent also said the country was on the wrong track. In a complete reversal of what we saw play out in 20 - 2008, 60 percent of independents said they voted for Republicans in this election.

We're deconstructing the whys and hows of yesterday's midterm election. What drove the Republican wave, and what tripped up many Democrats? What's the biggest change where you live? Split phone lines today. If you voted Republican, 800-344-3893. If you voted Democratic, 800-344-3864.

Also still with us are Alex Vogel and Anna Greenberg. But joining us now is Representative Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Kansas City, and he's with us on the phone from his home. And congratulations on your reelection yesterday.

Representative EMANUEL CLEAVER (Democrat, Missouri): Thank you very much.

CONAN: You play a large role in the Congressional Black Caucus on the economy and jobs. The climate has changed.

Rep. CLEAVER: The climate has changed dramatically. I think we pushed in the Congressional Black Caucus for jobs. In fact, we went to the White House and met with the president with a single agenda item, and it was on the issue of creating jobs. I think what happened was we had a disconnect between Washington and the rest of the world.

In Washington, all we talked about was health care. But when I came home on the weekends, everywhere I went the issue was jobs, and I think we, you know, mixed in with the euphoria around the president's election and the joy over the possibility of getting health care, I think, created for us a problem. And that is that the people who don't leave Washington much didn't understand what we were saying to them when we came home and got us into a lot of trouble.

CONAN: Do you have to interpret this election as a rebuke of the president?

Rep. CLEAVER: I don't - here's what happened, and I think - and I don't like to use violent analogies. I can't think of a better one right now. I'll try something else later. But I think what happened yesterday was equivalent to a political drive-by, and that is - in many of the drive-by shootings, the target is not necessarily the person who gets hit. Anybody sitting on the porch or standing in the yard, anybody who's standing nearby could become a victim. And I don't think that this election was about, in most instances, the members of Congress who lost. It was about the president.

People were angry with the president, and I think we failed to convey to the White House and maybe even our own leadership in the House what we were hearing at home and telling them that it wasn't connecting. And the thing I think that we also need to understand is that is that everyone in this country, I think, is in favor of progress. It's the acceleration of the change that they don't like and we didn't take - we didn't factor that in. And I don't think we served the president well by failing to convey to him, you know, just how serious the opposition was to a lot of the policies that were being presented.

CONAN: I think, as we talk about the Congressional Black Caucus, I think the overall numbers are about the same, yet there will be two Republican members this time around.

Rep. CLEAVER: Yes. We were fortunate in that we did not lose any of the Congressional Black Caucus seats. However, we're going to face something that the caucus has never faced before, and that is two African-American Republicans. And there's no problem, you know, it is a black caucus, which means that if you're of African descent, you are welcome to this caucus. So there won't be a need to vote on whether or not they are admitted. They are automatically admitted. I'm going to try to reach out to them within the next few hours and see if they are interested in joining. It does create some issues because, at times, we must do strategy. And we'll to have to figure out how to handle that. But for the most part, we hope that they will come in and join us in dealing with issues that, in many instances, impact African-Americans in ways it doesn't - that the rest of the population.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Congressman, you talked about the faults or the problems about President Obama and his leadership. How did Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House how did she become such a lightning rod? How did her negatives become so overwhelming? And does she stay on as the Democratic leader in the House?

Rep. CLEAVER: Well, first of all, I happen to love Nancy Pelosi. I think she is a fabulous leader. And I think she was unfairly demonized - unfairly but successfully, I might add - because people who can't tell you anything at all about Nancy Pelosi will declare their hatred of her. I've even had Democrats say we need new leadership.

Now, I think that Speaker Pelosi clearly wanted to carry out the agenda of the White House. There's no question about it. And I don't think there's anyone who can challenge me on what I just said, and because she was myopic. This is the agenda the White House has presented, and I'm going to get it through the House. And she if you look at it, she got about - just about everything that the president wanted through the House. Much of that still sits languishes over in the Senate, where all good bills go to die.

But the speaker may have taken some hits - and people don't like to admit this - because she's a woman. I mean, you know, it's one thing to be tough and a man, but it's another thing to be tough and a woman. And I think people some people may have unconsciously made decisions about the personhood of Speaker Pelosi because she was a tough female, and she was able to get things through that maybe someone else couldn't have done.

RUDIN: Does she stay on as leader?

Rep. CLEAVER: I think the if the speaker wants to let me tell you what I know 100 percent. I know because I'm a part of his group of advisers, and it is that Steny Hoyer, the most likely replacement for Nancy Pelosi, will not challenge her. I don't think you can offer him money or food or drink or anything that would cause him to challenge Nancy Pelosi should she decide to remain.

Now, whether there will be insurgents in the Democratic Caucus who would say we'll put somebody else up if Hoyer won't go is something we don't know about. But I do know, 100 percent - I'm not even hesitant at all - that he will not challenge her. That's not his makeup. That's not what he'd like to see in our Caucus.

You know, I'm sure that Speaker Pelosi has been in conversation with her advisers, other members of the Democratic Caucus, and weighing whether or not she should run again as the minority leader. That decision is going to be left up to her. I think if she chooses to step down for some reasons, then I think the Caucus is going to rally around Steny Hoyer, who is not a liberal, but commands the respect from the progressive caucus inside the Democratic Caucus.

CONAN: Congressman Cleaver, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Rep. CLEAVER: Good to talk with you.

CONAN: And, again, congratulations on re-election.

Rep. CLEAVER: Thank you.

CONAN: Emanuel Cleaver, a Democratic representative from Kansas City in Missouri and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, as we heard.

Let's get some emails. This is Pat in Arizona. What's amazing to me is that Raul Grijalva got re-elected, albeit a close race, after supporting an economic boycott against his own constituents. I'm also surprised the U.S. representative race in District 8, Giffords versus Kelly, was so close. Campaigns do indeed matter. That's what Anna Greenberg has been saying.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, full disclosure, I do get the Gabby Giffords' polling. But she actually will if she wins, because it's not been called yet - will be the only person left standing in a tough race in Arizona. Grijalva's district is extremely Democratic. So the fact that he won after calling for a boycott's a reflection of the partisan nature of his district. She ran an amazing campaign. She is moderate, and I absolutely hope that she holds on.

I actually want to go back to something that Congressman Cleaver talked about, which was the whole question of the White House and the focus on the economy. I think that's exactly right. If you go back to the presidential campaign, even, right after the Republican convention, as you recall, McCain and Obama were tied. And part of the problem from the Obama campaign was that they weren't talking about the economy. And it really took the crash at the end of September to get Obama to focus like a laser beam in sort of populist way in his discussion of the economy.

And once elected, if you look at the advisers - Summers, Geithner, et cetera -and you look at, you know, first stimulus, but then a focus on lots of other things, there has always been a for some reasons that are mysterious to me very hard to get the White House to focus on the economy. And, you know, despite what the congressman said, there were Democrats in Congress, including the speaker, who were pushing the White House to talk about the economy. There were progresses from the outside. And as I say, it's mysterious to me why that there was not a kind of laser beam focus on jobs out of this White House. And I think that if you want to point to a mistake and one of the reasons why, you know, we lost, that would be part of the story.

CONAN: And would you agree, Alex?

Mr. VOGEL: The congressman actually said a number of interesting things, not the least of which is the fact that the Congressional Black Caucus is actually happy that there's Republicans and that, hey, maybe we'll let them in. I thought that was interesting. The - I thought his discussion about the speaker - it's easy for me to say. I'm not in Democratic leadership. I think anyone who is - and this does not just apply to Nancy Pelosi, but anyone who has had that much power and then loses it can never stay within the institution. It's very hard. And I just can't conceive a scenario - although frankly, from a raw political scenario, I'd be thrilled to have Nancy Pelosi stay.

Fair or not, she had become a caricature of the San Francisco liberal which was used nationwide by folks who knew nothing else about Nancy Pelosi as an effective device both politically and to raise money. So...

CONAN: Republican strategist Alex Vogel. Also with us is Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg. Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get another caller on, and this is on the Democratic line: Don, calling from Winston-Salem in North Carolina.

DON (Caller): Yeah. I was - you know, it was a hard night last night. But, you know, I was glad to see some of the people hold on that there was some question about, you know, like Harry Reid and all that. But one of the things that, especially with all of this, you know, the Republicans saying that they're not going to compromise. They have no interest in compromise. It's really hard to see that there's any kind of honest, ideological debate going on or any sort of goal to get anything accomplished.

I mean, these are the guys who ran on the idea of, you know, jobs are not being created and, you know, the common man is hurting and we need to do something about that. But they basically said they've no interest in compromising with the president, so there's really no room to work with anyone that way.

And, I mean, that's one of the things that I think has been frustrating for a lot of people is that Obama has seemed kind of tone deaf to the fact that all of these guys are basically saying we have no interest in compromise. We're not going to work with anybody, that sort of thing. They don't bring ideas to the table. And he kind of pretends that it's all going to work out somehow. And I think that's frustrating for people who voted for him, who saw all that passion and spirit and all that, to see him ignoring that problem, that big elephant in the room, that these people have no interest in working with you and you've just go to accept that and find another way.

CONAN: Well, he no longer has the ability, the numbers to do things...

DON: Oh, yeah.

CONAN: ...on his own, which he did for at least a while there, and pretty much, I guess, until the end of the year. And, of course, that's when the new Congress will come in. But...

DON: Something else I wanted to mention is this occurred to me last night when I was watching - what was it? Carl Paladino's concession speech was...

CONAN: The Republican candidate for governor in New York, the Tea Party favorite.

DON: Yeah. It really occurred to me that he and Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle and Joe - I mean, Miller in Alaska, that strategically speaking, you know, since there have been people who talk about that the Tea Party is really just a construct made up of Washington insiders...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

DON: ...that sort of manipulated this movement or whatever, that these guys worked really well to focus a lot of energy on the Democratic side, on their hijinks and whatever, that these guys were basically targets for all that liberal energy to say, oh, my God. Can you believe what this people are saying? What they're doing? All this kind of thing...

CONAN: Don, I don't mean to cut you off, but we're running out of time. I wanted to get some response.

DON: Oh, basically it just seemed like they were - they took a lot of the spotlight and kept energy from the liberal.

CONAN: Well, they also brought a lot of energy to the Republican side. And Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: But also, you talk about the Tea Party folks, but there were also people like Rob Portman, elected to the Senate from Ohio, and Roy Blunt in Missouri who have experience working across party lines, crossing those aisles with Democrats. And so not everybody who is elected last night represents the party of no.

CONAN: But getting back to Don's point, Alex Vogel.

Mr. VOGEL: Yeah. The caller's point about, you know, the president's problem is he just didn't recognize early enough that Republicans aren't willing to compromise and he should have just - look, my - I guess my reaction is the president just had the Senate and the House and his first two years of his presidency. He can run the table, and arguably, he can do what he wants.

So I have a hard time saying the message of this is, you know what? You really should've just done what you wanted and you should've cut deals with us because we, you know, Republicans aren't interested in cutting deals. To me, that's how we got to where we are. And I'm not saying I expect election night speeches from an incoming House majority to be about all the deals we're going to cut with the president we just ran against. But I'm not sure that the president's political problem is he just wouldn't understand we're not willing to compromise.

CONAN: Anna Greenberg, to some degree, to some degree, the White House is saying our problems have been communications problems. If we can solve that, we can really cut some ice.

Ms. GREENBERG: I think that's part of the problem. I certainly also think it's prioritization and timing. I think that focusing on the economy rather than health care, for example, from the get-go would've led to a sort of different sort of a climate, even though the overlay of the economy itself is something that he couldn't control.

But my real question about Obama with this Congress is: What is Obama's welfare reform? I mean, what is the piece of legislation or what is the policy initiative, the thing that becomes defining that sort of happens in a bipartisan way? And I'm not sure what it is. I think someone will - that people will want it to be deficit reduction. And I think that the problem with that is that it's going to cost huge problems with the Democratic base.

CONAN: Thank you very much.

Tomorrow, NPR's Dina Temple-Raston on last week's package bomb plot, plus comedian Louis Black prepares humbug for Christmas. We'd like to thank Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, senior vice president of Greenberg, Quinlan & Rosner. And, of course, Alex Vogel, Republican strategist, partner and co-founder of Mehlman, Vogel and Castagnetti. And, of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin.

We'll be back with more. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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