Political Corner: Setbacks for Lieberman, McKinney

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Juan Williams discusses the top political news of the week with Democratic political consultant Donna Brazile and GOP strategist Robert Traynham. They talk about the primary losses of Cynthia McKinney in Georgia and Joe Lieberman in Connecticut.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

This week, the defeat of Cynthia McKinney and Joe Lieberman in primary elections sparked some good conversation on yesterday's Roundtable. For a closer look at those results, we now turn to NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams and his Beltway Insiders for our weekly segment, Political Corner.

Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Thanks, Ed. We're joined now by Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. We're also joined by Robert Traynham. He's a political strategist with the GOP in Washington. Welcome, Robert and Donna. Thanks for joining us on Political Corner.

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Former Campaign Manager, Al Gore): Thank you, Juan.

Mr. ROBERT TRAYNHAM (Political Strategist for GOP): Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Let's begin with Cynthia McKinney's defeat at the hands of Hank Johnson in Atlanta - or just outside Atlanta I should say. This is a race that I think surprised Cynthia McKinney. She really didn't think she was going to even have to get involved with a runoff, but was unable to avoid it - and then loses 59 to 41. Donna Brazile, what do you make of this?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, this was Representative McKinney's second loss in six years. Look, the fact is is that became a national race because Cynthia McKinney has become a national figure - a controversial national figure. And as a result of it, Hank Johnson was able to tap into the national base of people who do not support Cynthia McKinney.

Likewise, Representative McKinney was able to raise money across the country as well. This was a national Congressional race.

WILLIAMS: Robert, when you look at this race, do you think, in fact, that there's any legitimacy to the idea that Republicans wanted Hank Johnson to win?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: I don't know if Republicans deliberately tried to influence the race. But what I do know is that Representative McKinney's constituents have consistently said over and over and over again that they were tire of the controversy surrounding this very person.

Cynthia McKinney has always found controversy, and she has managed, successfully - I might add - to go up to the beehive and hit it, and then kind of throw her hands up in the air and say why me?

WILLIAMS: Well, Donna, let me just finish up with this thought: she was the first black woman elected to Congress from Georgia. This would've been her seventh term in Congress. The kind of charges that she's making suggests that the race factor was a major issue here, and that a black politician who was standing tall - you know, this is her position - standing tall, taking on the Republican majority, taking on American support for Israel doesn't have a chance when it comes to the ballot box.

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, I disagree. If you look around the country, and especially up on Capitol Hill - members of the Congressional Black Caucus - they have a solid progressive voting record. I mean, they are the most - some of the most liberal members of Congress.

Voters are not interested in having a Congressperson who is a nationally known leader. They're interested in having a Congressperson who represent their interests, and who's able to provide constituent services, and able to provide help to their district. And she could not prove that.

WILLIAMS: By the way, any chance that a Republican could win the general election against Hank Johnson?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: I think it's very doubtful. I mean, that district has always traditionally voted Democrat - at least at the local level - in terms of their Congress people. Keep in mind too, Juan, that every time Cynthia McKinney has been defeated at the ballot box, she has been defeated by an African-American. You mentioned Denise Majette a few years ago, and now, obviously, Hank Johnson.

So this is not really about race. This is really a question about whether or not this person is being effective in terms of representing my interests - as Donna mentioned - but also too, as keeping their nose clean.

WILLIAMS: Let's move onto another amazing result that came out of Tuesday's primaries. Senator Joe Lieberman, three-term senator, lost. I stutter to say it, but I mean it's such a shock. Joe Lieberman, who was the vice presidential candidate on the ticket - being managed by Donna Brazile, as I recall - lost.

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, Juan, I think, first of all - this was not about the left wing of the party versus the rest of the Democratic Party. That election was really about a politician who lost touch with voters who have stood by him and - in many ways - agreed with him on a lot of the issues. And they also wanted to send a loud message, in my view, about the war in Iraq and about Joe Lieberman's support for the president and the war in Iraq.

So I think this was a wake-up call, and not only for Joe Lieberman, but clearly for those politicians on both sides of the political divide who are basically standing up and supporting the president's policies without representing the values and the views of their own constituents.

WILLIAMS: Now Robert, I wanted ask you what you made of the role play by the black vote in the Lieberman/Lamont race. Turned out it was key, and you had folks ranging from Al Sharpton to Jesse Jackson to Maxine Water - even the actor, Danny Glover - campaigning to Ned Lamont, not for Joe Lieberman. Why? What was going on there? And do you think it was significant?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Absolutely. I find it fascinating. I mean, what we're experiencing now - particularly in Democratic circles, in my opinion -is a transformation of the Democratic Party, where literally, there's a civil war going on within the party. The fact of the matter is, is that the black community - at least from my understanding - galvanized behind Mr. Lamont because of the war. Why?

Well, probably it is because they probably see a lot of these relatives, a lot of their friends disproportionately affected by the war given the fact that, you know, there's a very large African-American percentage of folks that are actually serving over in Afghanistan and Iraq. So this is a very real thing, I think, in the black community where a lot of African-Americans already view this administration, unfortunately with suspicion. And on top of that, when they see a lot of their folks over there that look like you and I over in Iraq, it just even adds more fuel to the fire.

You know, Juan, the unfortunate thing in this whole entire situation is that the Democrats have literally eaten their own. What probably will happen is that the Senate will lose a very moderate, reasonable, common sense Democrat, and that's very unfortunate.

WILLIAMS: GOP Political Strategist Robert Traynham. He's obviously working on Capitol Hill, and feeling the heat as the midterms approach. And Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman's presidential bid in 2000. Thank you for joining us here on Political Corner.

Ms. BRAZILE: Thank you, Juan.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Back to you, Ed.

GORDON: Thanks, Juan. Don't forget to join Juan and his Beltway insiders for the week's top issues from Capitol Hill every Thursday right here on Political Corner.

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