Will Primaries Foreshadow Midterm Elections? Democratic strategist Mark Mellman and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon talk to Linda Wertheimer about the primaries so far -- and whether the results can tell us anything about the midterm elections coming up in November.
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Will Primaries Foreshadow Midterm Elections?

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Will Primaries Foreshadow Midterm Elections?

Will Primaries Foreshadow Midterm Elections?

Will Primaries Foreshadow Midterm Elections?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129466775/129448114" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Democratic strategist Mark Mellman and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon talk to Linda Wertheimer about the primaries so far — and whether the results can tell us anything about the midterm elections coming up in November.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

We turn now to Mark McKinnon, a strategist who advised George W. Bush; and Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster and political advisor.

Gentlemen, welcome.

Mr. MARK MCKINNON (Republican Strategist): Good morning.

Mr. MARK MELLMAN (Democratic Pollster): Hi.

WERTHEIMER: Got Mark and Mark in the morning here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Mark McKinnon, as we just heard, Sarah Palin is scheduled to make an appearance at the Lincoln Memorial rally. What about other Republican politicians, how do they feel about this event, do you think?

Mr. MCKINNON: Well, you know, I think that my approach on these sorts of events and politics these days in Washington is to - let's think the best about people and not question their motives, but let's wait and see what they say and see what happens. You know, I think it's a good thing probably that, at the very least, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are studying the speeches of Martin Luther King. So there's probably going to be some good that comes with that.

WERTHEIMER: You have any concerns - it sounds like you do - have some concerns about this event steering the party.

Mr. MCKINNON: Well, I have some general concerns overall about the direction of the Republican Party and drifting rightward at a time when we need to be a big tent and welcome moderates in. I think that the Palin-Beck wing of the party has got a huge microphone, is dominating the party, and I think events like this tend to send a - not necessarily the right message to the folks that I want to make sure are hearing a moderate message from the Republican Party.

But as I said, I want to withhold judgment on this event until I hear what they have to say. And I think the fact that they've may be honoring Martin Luther King may be a good thing. And if it's in the spirit of Martin Luther King, then I think some good can come from it.

WERTHEIMER: Sarah Palin's also getting credit for boosting a Republican insurgent, Joe Miller, in Tuesday's Alaska Senate primary. Of course the votes are still being counted, but Lisa Murkowski, the sitting senator, is trailing. Let me ask both of you: What's the takeaway from this? Let's start with you, Mark Mellman.

Mr. MELLMAN: Well, from this race and frankly from others around the country, what we've seen is that the far right has really taken over the Republican nominating process. Of course, not in every case. But in many, many cases around the country, and Alaska's certainly one example of this, the farthest right element, the farthest right-wing elements of the Republican Party, have really dominated.

That's what we're going to see at this Glenn Beck rally; that's what we see in Alaska, and it's frankly what we've seen in Nevada and Colorado and Florida. All around the country we've seen these far-right candidates emerge. And it is - I think does send a negative message about the Republican Party and frankly, an otherwise rather dreary year, gives Democrats some hope.

WERTHEIMER: Mark Mellman, hasn't it been ever thus that the Republican nominating party is more conservative than the Republican Party and then in the general election everything goes back toward the middle?

Mr. MELLMAN: Well, that has been the pattern in the past. But the reality is these candidates arent - have trouble moving to the center because they are anchored in the statements and the positions that they've taken over a considerable period of time. And we see this in Nevada. Sharron Engle, somebody who said she wanted to abolish Social Security and Medicare, abolish the Department of Education, is now trying to bob and weave on that long-time, long-held platform.

But she's being called to account by the media, who's saying, wait a second, this has been her consistent position.

Mr. MCKINNON: If I can jump in on that. I think that's true for both Republican and Democratic parties, they tend to nominate the fringes. And what the real message in this election is that - it's anti-incumbency that we're seeing. This year we've seen what we rarely see, which is incumbents losing, and incumbent senators. Three incumbent senators now with the Alaska election have lost their seats, so...

WERTHEIMER: If in fact she does lose.

Mr. MCKINNON: (Unintelligible) wind blowing for incumbents; that's the real message here.

WERTHEIMER: But what about but the Democrats have the problem of issues that are unpopular with the American people - the health care bill, taxes, the economy.

Mr. MCKINNON: Well, the news couldn't be much worse for Democrats. You know, if things aren't better for the economy right now, you at least want the news to be suggesting that things are going to be better. And the news this last week could not have been worse. We've got talk about housing sliding again, about projections about potential double-dip recession.

So there's not much for Democrats to be excited about right now. And all the energy right now and we've seen that in all the elections in the last few weeks and over the summer - are showing that there's a lot of energy on the Republican side and the numbers are up. And the one other thing...

WERTHEIMER: We don't have time for one other thing.

Mr. MCKINNON: OK. Well, I'll kick it to Mark then.

WERTHEIMER: But thank you both very much.

Mr. MELLMAN: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Mark Mellman of the Mellman Group, Mark McKinnon of Maverick Media, thank you.

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