Dissatisfaction Builds Ahead Of Midterm Elections
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
There are just 11 days to go on what may be one of the fascinating, hard-fought and unpredictable midterm elections in memory. Democrats took control of both houses of Congress just four years ago, following widespread dissatisfaction with the economy, Republicans and President Bush.
MONTAGNE: Now the Democrats are in serious jeopardy of losing at least the House, and possibly even the Senate because of widespread dissatisfaction with the economy, Democrats and President Obama.
NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson and political editor Ken Rudin have been watching the electoral landscape, and are here to help us make sense of it all.
KEN RUDIN: Good morning.
MARA LIASSON: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: So I am going to ask both of you what your sense is of what's going on in these final days. But, Mara, let's start with you.
LIASSON: Well, what's going in these final days is that the big landscape hasn't changed. This tilt of this political landscape towards the Republicans has continued and maybe even gotten a little bit better for them, even though Democrats have managed to tighten some of these individual races.
Our NPR poll that we did last week, and a lot of the other public polls, show that likely voters - by a pretty healthy margin - are going to vote for Republicans. And there is a wave election here, which means there's big, powerful forces out there that make it hard for individual campaigns to change.
And the most powerful force is simply 10 percent unemployment. It's easy. Republicans have the easier case to make this year. They can just say: If you don't like the way things are going, you don't like the economy, you can vote against the Democrats.
RUDIN: Yeah, there is a sense of tightening. Mara's right. I mean in the Wisconsin Senate race, Russ Feingold's numbers, the embattled Democratic incumbent, look better. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Joe Sestak, who was trailing for the most of the part, has improved, Michael Bennet in Colorado, things like that.
But Mara is right. There is a sense of a wave election. And West Virginia, which hasn't elected a Republican to the Senate since 1956, the Republicans look like they're moving ahead in that race. And there are some House races where Democratic incumbents were never thought to be in trouble, they are in trouble, and it could be really devastating for them on November 2nd.
MONTAGNE: And, Mara, President Obama's big push is backyard conversations and rallies at this late juncture. Is that helping his party?
LIASSON: Yes, I think it's helping the party. I think the White House feels it's helping the party. I think what he's trying to do is make this midterm a choice instead of a referendum. Instead of a report card on how he and his party are doing and how the economy is doing, he wants to say: Compare our Democratic candidates to the Republican candidates; compare our agenda to their agenda, which he says would take us back to the mess that - the policies that got us into this recession.
The problem is that midterms are always referendums. And especially when a party has control of both Congress and the White House, they are referendums, and it's almost impossible to change that dynamic.
But what the president is doing, he's out there having these huge rallies; he's certainly energizing the Democratic base. That is what we've seen in the last couple of weeks. The Democrats seem to be coming home and that seems to be why some of these races are tightening.
MONTAGNE: Well, Ken, though, something else that midterm elections are known for and that's that the party in power - in this case, the Democrats - lose seats, nearly always.
So what is so different about this particular midterm?
RUDIN: Well, I think one thing for, just a year and a half ago, we were writing the obituary for the Republican Party. The Democrats were having this great Obama celebration. They were going to run the government for the longest time. The Republican Party was defined as the party of Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh, and little more.
Now we see at least 90, if not more, Democratic House seats in play, which is a remarkable number in any kind of midterm cycle - especially this one.
MONTAGNE: And, but, Mara, always the possibility of a surprise. What are you watching for?
LIASSON: Well, you know, just picking up on what Ken said, one of the very confounding things about this election cycle - and there've been a lot them -is that, yes, a couple of years ago we thought the Republican Party was dead. They were a rump party located in the South.
But the Republican Party, as a brand, is still doing pretty badly. And I don't think we've ever been in an election where a party this unpopular has been poised to make such great gains in Congress.
But in terms of what I'm watching for in the remaining days, I mean, early voting is an indicator of something. And it's telling a very mixed story. In some places, Democrats are showing a lot more life than they were expected to. There's no way of knowing how these Democratic-registered voters are voting. But they are turning out. In other places, they're not turning out in the numbers they need to; for instance, Nevada, that might be necessary to save Harry Reid.
RUDIN: And quickly, I just want to say that whatever the results are on November 2nd, you remember in 1982 the Republicans lost 26 seats in the House. Ronald Reagan won overwhelming re-election two years later. Then Clinton and the Democrats lost in '94, came back to win re-election in '96. This doesn't say that much, necessarily, for Obama in 2012.
MONTAGNE: Ken and Mara, thanks both of you very much.
RUDIN: Thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent. And you can see political editor Ken Rudin's predictions in all the top races by going to his Political Junkie blog and scorecard at npr.org/junkie.
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