Week In Politics Reviewed
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
For politics, what a week it was. Republicans took governorships in Virginia and New Jersey, two states that went solidly for President Obama just a year ago. One of the few glimmers of good news for the Democrats came in New York where they managed to win a long-held Republican House seat. And the week's not over. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing for a possible health care vote this weekend. To help us make sense of all this, we're joined by our regular political commentators, E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome to both of you.
DIONNE: Good to be with you.
DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.
NORRIS: Now, there are lots of different ways that you could read the outcome here. The electorate is marching toward the right, the voters who marched to the polls to support Obama simply stayed home this time. His army of voters perhaps has been demobilized. I'd like to hear from both of you on your take on this. First, E.J.,.
DIONNE: Well, I think the election was a rebuke to the right wing and a warning for the Democrats. There were - because it didn't get any attention, I want to mention there were two tax-limitation referenda in Maine and Washington state that went down by big margins. And if we were in as anti-government a mood as our tea party friends say, those would not have done so badly. And there was the 23rd district in New York, where the conservatives forced out the Republican candidate, who is a moderate, or a moderate liberal, and they got beaten very badly.
Democrats also took, by the way, another special election in California, which makes you ask if the Republicans are doing so well, why did they keep losing these House special election races. But New Jersey and Virginia were a problem for Democrats. I think New Jersey was a very personal rebuke to Governor Corzine. I was up at his party in - it wasn't so much of a party in New Jersey. And a Democratic-elected official came up to me and we were talking. He said, can I go off the record? People just didn't like the governor, he said. But in Virginia...
NORRIS: Was it also a rebuke to Obama, though?
DIONNE: But not to Obama in New Jersey. Obama's approval rating was about 57 percent in New Jersey. Corzine was hugging Obama for dear life and it just didn't quite work out. Virginia, on the other hand, you had an electorate on election day where 51 percent of the people said they voted for John McCain, only 43 percent said they voted for Obama. That's a state Obama carried with close to 53 percent of the vote. The Democrats were asleep in Virginia and I think that is a warning. And they did very badly in the outer suburbs, in the ex-urbs, and that's a place where they've been making a lot of gains. They've got to keep their eye on that.
NORRIS: I want to talk about specific voter groups in just a minute, but first David, your take on what happened.
BROOKS: You know, I think that Democrats have two problems. One, liberal stayed home because they think President Obama is moving too slowly. But suburban independents turned Republican because they think the president is moving too fast. So, squaring that circle is going to be the challenge.
To me, the most important thing was the suburban independents. As E.J. mentioned, Democrats for the past decades have been doing phenomenally well in these middle and outer ring suburbs. And suddenly, not only in New York - and not only in New Jersey and Virginia, but also in New York, Pennsylvania, across the country, you saw suburbanites moving toward the Republican Party. They haven't become firm Republicans, but this follows on the wake of six or seven months of very interesting polling data - shifts to the right among independents, number of independents who thinks government is too big, government is getting too involved in regulating business, labor is too powerful, global warming is over-exaggerated - a whole series of polling data suggesting there's been a, sort of, reaction against what's been happening, a reaction to the right.
NORRIS: Interesting polling data though because there's a move to the right, but the independents don't necessarily have great affinity for the Republican Party.
BROOKS: Exactly right. The conservatism would be doing great except for the Republican Party. They still do not like the Republican Party because they do not like Rush Limbaugh, they do not like Glenn Beck, they do not like the tea baggers. And so they haven't become Republicans. But they have flaked off from the Democrats. And so, what it means is both parties - suddenly these people are much more in play than we thought.
NORRIS: So, he's talking about the independents. E.J., where were the young voters?
DIONNE: That's - that is the huge question of the day, I think, because Democrats need to realize that they are more dependent upon voters under 30 than I think any party has ever been. The - when Barack Obama carried Virginia last year, 20 percent of the voters were under 30 years old. That number - that proportion, like, was cut in half. Now, granted young voters are probably going to vote in lower numbers in off and off-off year elections. Young voters move around a lot, so our registration laws make it hard on them. Nonetheless, the Democrats have to do a lot more than they are accustomed to doing to get these young voters to the polls because they're really the replacement for the old New Deal generation. The New Dealers have gone off to their eternal reward. The young voters are the most progressive group in the electorate and the Democrats need them.
NORRIS: If we're talking about young voters are independents, I'm wondering if what we might be seeing is bit of buyers' remorse that certainly could spell out in the health care debate. Were these voters expecting more in the way of bipartisanship than they've seen in the last year?
DIONNE: I don't think it's bipartisanship as such. I think they - David, I thought, put it well. I think the Obama base wants more action. And this whole - all the people are holding back on health care and making passing it so complicated, are really not making the Democratic Party look good. I mean, this doesn't even look like good sausage making at the moment. So, I think there is some frustration with that and unemployment hit 10.2 percent today. It's not an easy time to be an incumbent. I think the people who really got a warning on Tuesday were incumbent governors of both parties, but there - a lot of them are Democrats.
NORRIS: David, I want to ask you about the 23rd House seat in Upstate New York. Might this lead the right wing of the Republican Party to cool their fire and embrace the more moderate wing of the party?
BROOKS: I don't know if they'll embrace the more moderate wing. The question - will they try to kill them? And what we had seen - I talked to a senior House Republican last week who said when it looked like this conservative guy would win, that there were about 30 or 40 similar sort of conservative guys around the country who are going to primary-challenge perfectly conservative Republican House members on the grounds that they were not conservative enough.
NORRIS: To try to push the party further to the right.
BROOKS: To push the party further to the right. And the question is: Will some of those people scale back? And I would like to think so, but I would suspect not. The fervor on that sort of the Rush Limbaugh-Glenn Beck-Sarah Palin wing is so strong right now, they - as far as I can see, they do not interpret this defeat as a sign that the idea of splitting the party and driving it further to the right is a big mistake, despite the fact this is an incredibly conservative district that suddenly voted for a Democrat who's about to vote for the health care plan.
DIONNE: Indeed. The conservatives want - are trying to knock out Governor Charlie Crist as - in Florida, he wants to run for the Senate. Mark Rubio is a Republican running from the right and he's doing very well. I think Crist would be the stronger general-election candidate. Mike Castle, congressman from Delaware, a moderate, he is the only Republican who could win that seat. And Mark Kirk, a moderate conservative from Illinois, if they knock all those people out they've got a huge problem.
NORRIS: Yeah. The moderation may help win elections, but the passion seems to be all the way on their own.
BROOKS: And the passion really is there and a lot of Republicans are saying, hey, we've got to go with passion.
NORRIS: Thanks to both of you.
DIONNE: Thank you.
BROOKS: Thank you.
NORRIS: Have a good weekend.
DIONNE: You, too.
NORRIS: That's E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.