McCain Says One-Party Rule Bad For Washington

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The presidential election is next week. Polls show Democrat Barack Obama has a double-digit lead over Republican John McCain. McCain's latest message: Don't turn the government over to one party. Americans seem to prefer having a divided government. The question now is: Will that argument hold true this election cycle?


Let's get some analysis now from NPR's Cokie Roberts who joins us most Monday mornings. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So how are the campaigns doing in getting the votes up?

ROBERTS: Well, they seem to be doing very well. In an ABC tracking poll last week, fully 30 percent of the people said that they plan to vote early, before Election Day. So that message is getting out. Get your absentee ballot or go vote early. And those voters that are overwhelmingly for Barack Obama versus those who say they're going to vote on Election Day are where he's leading by single digits. So the big question, of course, is whether the people who say they plan to vote early actually do. There were over the weekend long lines in several states. But that's where the ground game that David is describing comes into play.

INSKEEP: And then, of course, there's the message McCain and his supporters, as well as the Republicans in Congress trying to keep their seats in Congress, are saying, wait a minute. Do you want to turn over the whole government to one party?

ROBERTS: Well, that is a question. Americans do tend to prefer divided government and do tend to rein in overreaching unified government in a midterm election. The question is whether that argument will work this year when people are just so eager for change and people see the economy as such a dire situation. The people, again in the ABC tracking poll last week, 44 percent said that they were very concerned about the economy. And again Obama is leading overwhelmingly with that group of people.

McCain is actually winning in that ABC tracking poll among all other voters, but not by enough to offset the Obama lead on the people who were so concerned about the economy. Now, as you say, it's also being argued at the congressional level that divided government might be more attractive to voters. And I think it's likely to have more of an impact there, particularly for incumbent Republican senators who many of whom are finding themselves in very scrappy campaigns. But these are people the voters know they might be able to convince them.

Elizabeth Dole, for instance, in North Carolina is using that line of attack in her ads. And it did work for Republicans in 1996 when her husband was running against Bill Clinton for his second term. They said, you know, hold back the government, hold back the Democrats. And that was effective. What you are hearing from some of those Democratic candidates is that they wish that Barack Obama would share some of his vast campaign treasure with them to help knock off those Republican incumbents.

INSKEEP: So that's the concern about divided government. Is there any concern on the Republican side about a divided campaign?

ROBERTS: Well, Sarah Palin, the vice presidential candidate, is clearly looking to her own future in the party and thinking that she has been disserved by the McCain campaign. She's making her unhappiness clear in grumblings to the press. Over the weekend she tried to diffuse the flap over the $150,000 spent by the Republican National Committee on her family's wardrobe and made a point that, I'm back to my own clothes from my favorite consignment store in Alaska. Look, Steve, I think if John McCain loses, that we will hear more from Sarah Palin. I think that she was an up-and-coming star in the Republican Party before he picked her, and she plans to still be a star in the Republican Party despite the nicks of this campaign.

INSKEEP: Cokie, it's always good to hear from you. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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