STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
Let's visit two places where key elections are being decided next week. One is home to a Republican in a tough race. This fall, Congressman Tom Reynolds had to apologize for his role in a scandal.
(Soundbite of campaign commercial)
Representative TOM REYNOLDS (Republican, New York): Looking back, more should have been done. And for that, I am sorry.
INSKEEP: That's a Reynolds campaign commercial. It aired amid charges that Republicans responded slowly to a colleague's inappropriate e-mails to underage pages. Tom Reynolds is the Republican who was placed in charge of keeping House Republicans in the majority. Reynolds is telling his fellow lawmakers to survive a hard year the same way that he is trying to survive. He is focusing intently on local issues in his district in western New York.
Rep. REYNOLDS: I go from the suburbs of Buffalo to the suburbs of Rochester, and I have four counties that are rural in between.
INSKEEP: It has an economy in transition. Companies like Kodak have laid-off workers. We played Congressman Reynolds' tape from a previous interview on NPR. Last spring, Reynolds said that he did not think voters were angry at incumbents.
Rep. REYNOLDS: The polls I've seen - 62, 58, 57 - shows that there's not this anti-incumbent mood that some are trying to spin that are out there. It just isn't.
INSKEEP: That was earlier this year. Do you still believe there's no anti-incumbent mood?
Rep. REYNOLDS: Sure. I want to give you two. First, the latest CBS/New York Times poll says, do you approve or disapprove of the way your representative is handling his or her job? On October 31st - 58 approved. An ABC/Washington Post poll, last week, had it about 62 percent. So when you look at performance of a representative, it does not show me that that type of thing is out there.
INSKEEP: Some of the same surveys that you alluded to, Congressman, have suggested, for example, very low approval ratings for Congress as a whole, and something like a 29 percent approval rating for the administration's handling of one of the biggest issues - Iraq.
Rep. REYNOLDS: Well, that's all great, except, I go back to, you asked me is there anti-incumbent mood. And when you read the CBS/New York poll, the question says, how about the representative in Congress from your district? Fifty-eight approved, 26 didn't. Do I wish the approval rating in Congress was higher? Sure, for my own self-esteem - I'm a member of Congress. But all politics is local. The local race is about the local issues. The issues in my district are jobs, taxes, and Social Security. Some, it may be transportation and infrastructure, some may be border security, some may be other issues. But...
Rep. REYNOLDS: There's only one race that I'm aware of that has Iraq as the center theme, and that is Chris Shay's seat in Connecticut. And that's because he wants it to be the centerpiece of his campaign.
INSKEEP: Do you anticipate, that after this election, there needs to be some significant change in the way that the United States approaches Iraq?
Rep. REYNOLDS: Steve, the commander in chief is the president, and I believe that the generals who run the war will look to see what type of course directions the president, his ambassador, and the generals that he summoned a few weeks ago will continue to look at where the president puts that. But as I said, the number one issue in my district is jobs. The number two issue is taxes. The number three issue, Social Security.
INSKEEP: Does Congress have a responsibility to push the commander in chief, at this time, to change direction somewhat?
Rep. REYNOLDS: Congress always has a responsibility for oversight.
INSKEEP: I'm asking a much more specific question, though. Do you have a response...
Rep. REYNOLDS: I think I've given you a specific answer. The commander in chief is the person that runs the military and is the point on a war on Iraq or any other war. Congress has oversight responsibilities. And to my knowledge, is doing that.
INSKEEP: Let me try to put that in my own words so that I understand it. Are you saying you trust the president to do what he will in Iraq? You'll look afterward, but you're not pushing him to change direction?
Rep. REYNOLDS: No, Steve, you can draw whatever conclusion. I stand by what I said. I've said it twice, and I want the listeners to hear clearly what I just said twice. You're drawing whatever conclusion you want out of it. I've set the discussion on Iraq. You've asked it in politics. I said there's one race in the country. Many national media people like you would like to see one issue that they can cover out of Washington, and it just isn't happening that way this year. Each race has its own issues, and it's a choice between two candidates.
INSKEEP: Congressman, with all due respect, I was asking about your substantive position on an issue that the president of the United States considers one of the most important issues of our...
Rep. REYNOLDS: You asked me a question, Steve. I gave you an answer. Is there any more you have, because I'm about to walk into another meeting?
INSKEEP: That'll do. Congressman Reynolds, thanks for taking the time.
Rep. REYNOLDS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Excerpts from a 20-minute conversation with Congressman Tom Reynolds, who's in charge of electing Republicans to the House. We met his Democratic counterpart Rahm Emanuel last month. There's more at npr.org.
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