Democratic Wave Faces Republican Machine

Democrats are thinking that upcoming midterm congressional elections will sweep them back to power on Capitol Hill. While worried, Republicans are counting on their advantages in money and infrastructure to hold on to Congress.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Joining us now, as she does every Monday, is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hello, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Picking up on that last exchange in Juan's report, do you have a sense that local issues will trump national issues like the war in Iraq, or the other way around?

ROBERTS: Well, Linda, you have been out there, and we've both had been out there over the years together in these congressional elections. And you know that in the end we always have one party saying it's local issues, local issues, local issues, and another one saying it's national issues when the national issues are working for them. And obviously that's what's happening with the Democrats right now. And you do get these tides. And all year that's of course been the question mark: Is it a tidal year? The Republicans have been saying no and that they have built firewalls, or I suppose seawalls, against the tide in their redistricting and in their get out the vote and in their fundraising.

But the Democrats are now saying that they really, really now believe that it's a tidal year, and it does have that air. The real question now is can anything keep it from happening? And I think that absent some major event which we can't predict - and more frightening for the candidates, they can't control - it doesn't look like there's anything. Low gas prices, high stock market - those don't look like they're doing it. And if the public is focusing on Iraq, that becomes obviously a huge problem for the Republicans.

WERTHEIMER: Well, some Republicans are urging a change in strategy on Iraq. Could that possibly make a difference?

ROBERTS: We do have two key Republican senators - John Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and now Chuck Hagel, a very thoughtful foreign policy expert in the Senate and a veteran himself of Vietnam - both saying that we have to, quote, “rethink the options,” is what Senator Warner says. And that all the options - except one that says we precipitously pull out of Iraq -should be on the table. But what of course neither of these senators has said is what we should be doing in Iraq.

And that of course is the question that nobody really does have an answer to in any of these candidate debates or out of the White House. And so just saying that we need to change the strategy I think certainly doesn't have any effect except to just ratchet up the sense that this is a mess. And that probably helps Democrats.

WERTHEIMER: President Bush is campaigning this week for Republicans in Pennsylvania and Virginia. It seems as though despite his low approval ratings there are some candidates that are still welcoming him into the districts.

ROBERTS: Him and the vice president, and - as you discovered last week in Indiana - the first lady is very popular in a lot of districts. Of course, her approval ratings are still high. As you well know, Linda, they can raise a lot of money and they can energize the base. The problem is they also energize the Democratic base when they go into these areas, particularly the president and the vice president.

And right now in all of the polls, the Democrats are saying they're much more excited about this election than Republicans are. So to the degree that you get either basic sighted, it is likely to work better for the Democrats than for the Republicans. However, the turnout in the primaries was lower than expected, so it's possible that nobody's all that excited after all. Or maybe they're just excited for the general election. So we'll just have to see.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Cokie Roberts. Thanks, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Linda.

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