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JIM LEHRER: Wins or losses in just a few races nationwide tomorrow could affect which party controls Congress. Here’s a reminder of how close things are right now.
In the House, there are 222 Republicans, 208 Democrats, and two Independents.
In the Senate, 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats, and two Independents, including Dean Barkley appointed today by the Minnesota governor to serve out the remaining weeks of Paul Wellstone’s term.
Here to help us sort through some of the most competitive races are two pollsters, Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Linda Divall; and two analysts from the nonpartisan Cook Report, Amy Walter watches House races, Jennifer Duffy does the same for the Senate. Peter Hart first an overall prediction; tell us what’s going to happen tomorrow.
And who’s going to control the House and Senate when it’s all over?
PETER HART: From my point of view, I would tell you you’re going to see more close races than we’ve ever seen before. There are 17 Senate and Governor races that are indeed that close. In terms of predictions, I would tell new the end of the day, I think the Republicans are going to control the House. But I think the Democrats will continue to control the Senate, and I expect that the Democrats will enhance their position in the Senate. And for the gubernatorial races, I think the Democrats will pick up the major states and end up with the majority of governors, so they’ll pick up states like Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, so better than average night for the Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: What kind of night is it going to be for Republicans when you look at your crystal ball, Linda?
LINDA DIVALL: Well, there’s one thing that Peter and I are on agreement on, and that is that the Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives. And if they do so, that will be an historic election for President Bush, and that’ll be the first time that the Republican Party, in the first mid term election since 1902, has added seats in the House of Representatives.
JIM LEHRER: Why is it so hard historically?
LINDA DIVALL: Because typically it’s a time where voters can sit back and reassess and say I’m going to send that president’s party a message. There’s a couple things we want to straighten out before the next presidential election and often times there will be extra candidates elected on the presidential coattails. There weren’t a lot of coattails in 2000, as we know; the race was dead even and the balance of power has been evenly divided. In the Senate, what will be unusual in this election is if all these tight races break to one party’s advantage.
And the evenness that we saw in 2000 is still very much apparent in 2002, and in the Senate there are five races right now that are just too close to call, Georgia, New Hampshire, Minnesota, South Dakota — Missouri and Colorado are probably leaning Republican. But these races are so close that for them to go all in the direction of one party I think would be very unusual, and that will be the interesting thing to look at. My prediction is this: that we won’t know who control who controls the Senate on Wednesday morning, because in Louisiana, unless Mary Landrew gets over 50 percent, and she has not been over..
JIM LEHRER: She’s the Democratic incumbent, right?
LINDA DIVALL: — the Democrat incumbent — and Louisiana’s top vote getter has to get over 50 percent or there’s a runoff off of the top two candidates. She’s been mired at 44 percent for about the least three weeks. If she doesn’t succeed in getting over 50 percent there will be a runoff on Saturday, December 7. So it might not be until a month from now that we truly know the outcome of the control of the Senate.
JIM LEHRER: Let’s look at the – Jennifer, first, what is your reading of what’s going to happen in the Senate?
JENNIFER DUFFY: Well, I think the Senate is much too close to call now, I think you have six or even seven races that are absolutely even today…
JIM LEHRER: Same ones that Linda just went through?
JENNIFER DUFFY: Yeah. I think I’d add a couple to her list. I think Missouri, South Dakota, Minnesota, Georgia for Democrats, I think Republicans need to look at North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, New Hampshire. This being even — I think Arkansas is pretty — I think it’s going to be very hard for Republicans to Arkansas at this point. It would take something short of a miracle.
What you see is a very even playing field at this point; Linda makes a good point when she says that it would be unusual for these races to fall to one way or the other. But historically that’s exactly what happens; one party tends to have a little bit of a better night on election night. The other thing I think is important, these races are so close that I think the Senate nationally could be decided by 50,000 votes. It’s that close.
JIM LEHRER: That’s really welcome news…
JENNIFER DUFFY: You really have to watch the Senate, don’t count on going to bed early. I also have to agree that control of the Senate may well come to a December 7 runoff…
JIM LEHRER: All right. Amy, back to the House, everybody seems to agree at least that the Republicans probably will maintain control of the House. Do you agree?
AMY WALTER: Yes, I agree with that. And the question really now becomes, how many seats either do Republicans pick up a couple seats, can Democrats actually pick up a seat or two? Peter brought this up, everybody else has expounded op this. We’re talking about a very, very narrow playing field here. And we’re playing on the margins so the thought that either party is going to be able to make big gains is really not probable. And the question then becomes, you know, do we have a Congress that has a little bit of a bigger margin for Republicans or a little bit of a smaller margin for Republicans. We’re changing some faces, but we’re not changing a lot of seats.
JIM LEHRER: Are there any particular races that stand out? I know there are so many, there are 435 in the House, it’s a little bit different than the Senate. But are there three or four we should watch for tomorrow night that would tell us something that might lead us to a conclusion when it’s all said and done?
AMY WALTER: The hard part about using any of these as bellwethers is the fact that we really don’t see any trends out there. So I’m calling it a sort of a paint by numbers rather than a broad brush stroke election. We’re seeing a race here and a race there that really don’t have much to do with anything else that’s happening anywhere else in the country. So I wouldn’t read too much into Democrats winning in one place and not winning somewhere else. It’s a case by case. But I think there are some really interesting races to watch that have been very fun. And one is in suburban Maryland, Connie Morella.
JIM LEHRER: You’re doing the polling for Connie Morella, okay, go ahead.
AMY WALTER: This has been a fun race for everybody to watch and I think voters in the district would say these are two really good candidates who have run very good campaigns and they are very pleased with that.
JIM LEHRER: And their campaign is in the middle and to the left, rather than the middle and to the right, correct?
AMY WALTER: Right. Congresswoman Morella really stands out as one of the most liberal Republicans in the House. She also stands out sitting in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic and got even more Democratic with redistricting. So Democrats see this as the number one incumbent target in the state. The problem is — I’m sorry. Voters love Connie Morella. How many members of Congress are known in their district by their first name? Not very many.
JIM LEHRER: Going back to your earlier point, though, that no matter how that race turns out, nobody should read anything other than that race into the result, right?
AMY WALTER: Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let’s go to some of the points that have been made earlier, Peter. Do you agree with Amy that there is no, there aren’t a big list of issues that join all these races and campaigns together?
PETER HART: It’s fascinating, because some elections turn out to be national elections that have a national picture to them. You look at this year’s election and what it is, is a lot of local issues count, the party, the character of the candidates. But more importantly, there are also sort of two major issues. One is the economy, the dominant. And the other is war, a war against terrorism and Iraq. And you look and you go race by race, and Linda can tell you in some case it’s Iraq, and foreign policy, in other cases it’s the economy and in other cases it’s local issues. So the voters are going to come from about ten different points on the compass to reach different decisions.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Linda?
LINDA DIVALL: I look at it a little bit differently. I think there have been four or five issues that have been important in this campaign and one of the reasons the Republicans are successful in winning control of the Senate — I think one the reasons for that success is they will have been able to engage in issues that typically accrue to the benefit of Democrats; they will have talked about health care, they will have talked about Social Security, they will have talked about prescription drugs. So as opposed to Democrats being conceded those issues and doing well and also jobs I might add, in Missouri and North Carolina you’ve seen the Republican candidates talk about jobs, in the past they would probably stray away from that.
So my point is that Republicans have engaged in issues that typically have accrued to the benefit of Democrats, and those are issues that are relevant to voters. So there have been five or six issues that have been competing for voters’ attention. No doubt, the economy and terrorism are at the tope of that list; but the last three weeks it’s really been five or six issues that have been evenly divided in the minds of voters.
JIM LEHRER: Were you surprised that Iraq and the war on terrorism was not an overriding, overwhelming issue all over the country?
LINDA DIVALL: No, for the simple reason that voters look to the commander-in-chief being the decision maker on that issue. But having said that, when people are concerned about terrorism, when they are concerned about the war on Iraq, there’s no question that Republicans benefit from that increased focus. But for Republicans to be successful I think they understood we need to engage in more than just that range of issues.
JIM LEHRER: And the Democrats as you’re reading, Peter, a lot people said the Democrats intentional cloudy chose not to make that an issue from their point of view. Have they suffered or gained from that?
PETER HART: I think they gained.
JIM LEHRER: Why did they gain?
PETER HART: Because I just think in part what Linda said that of those people who are voting on the foreign policy and war on Iraq, the question, they vote two to one Republican. Among those people who care most about the economy, they’re voting to one Democratic — much prefer that.
JIM LEHRER: How do you, what’s your reading of the issues that have joined or unjoined the Senate races?
JENNIFER DUFFY: Again, I think that they’ve been very local races. I think in some ways Linda is right. The parties have been very successful at muddying the water on all the domestic issues like prescription drugs and Social Security. And that leaves the tug of war between the economy and Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: So nobody is against prescription drugs -
JENNIFER DUFFY: Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: Everybody is for -
JENNIFER DUFFY: It’s who has the better plan — Democrats or Republicans. In the end I think voters just end up confused. They know everybody has a plan and that makes them comfortable, but they probably couldn’t tell you the details of any plan at all. But they’re given a comfort level on these issues. So it leaves the tug of war between Iraq and the economy, and at this point, nobody is winning the tug of war.
JIM LEHRER: Amy back to you on another thing. Peter put it more politely, he said that character had been used as a local issue in many of these races. Some people call it nastiness and negativism and they said it’s higher this time than it’s been in a long time. Do you read it the same way?
AMY WALTER: Going back to everybody’s point that they’ve made here about the fact that’s very localized issues that the waters have been muddied, that there aren’t these very strong contrasts between the big issues and candidates are looking for that little edge here in some of these contests, especially these tossup races. So we’ve seen a lot of talk in these contests about ethics, and about one side pointing the finger at the other side, trying to put the other person to be ridiculously mean as you could possibly get them to be, that they don’t even kiss their own grandmother, or almost to that point. And so for voters I think that’s very frustrating to watch.
JIM LEHRER: Has it turned voters off, or if it works, you use it? Is that what’s going on?
AMY WALTER: If what you’re doing is running a campaign based on a case by case basis, these are the seats you need to win, this is how you get to your majority, then you do what the polls says is going to get you there.
JIM LEHRER: What’s your reading that Jennifer of the nastiness – attack ads; I should say attack ads is what they’re called in the trade…
JENNIFER DUFFY: I must be developing some sort of immunity, because I don’t think that are any worse this particular cycle than any other. I’ve seen a couple that have been completely over the top. But they’ve also had their share of backlash, too, that I think has been a problem. But I don’t think that this campaign is any nastier than any other. I think they’ve all been getting increasingly personal.
JIM LEHRER: Linda.
LINDA DIVALL: I think one thing to look at is you can really tell who the campaign seems to focus on at the end of the campaign by whether they are doing negative or comparison advertising or ending up on a positive finish.
JIM LEHRER: Comparison advertising is: beat up on the other candidate..
LINDA DIVALL: You show your record versus your opponent’s record; you lay it out very clearly and succinctly for voters to make their judgment. But my point is, if you look at these late decision makers, a lot of them are women, a lot of them are moderate suburbanites. They’re looking for a positive reason to vote for a candidate. So the candidate that wants to end in a positive way and is focusing on those voters that are really split between both parties is probably going to try to finish on a positive close at the end of the campaign so they have a good motivator. If they continue with the negative advertising they run the risk of alienating that voter group.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read the history here, is this any worse than before or are you with Jennifer?
PETER HART: With Jennifer from one point of view. It’s pretty lousy. Yeah, you do get immune, Jim. But more importantly than that, it doesn’t help turnout, it doesn’t help the body politic. And quite frankly, there was so much at stake, and you look at the things that can be discussed, and if you take all the ads and you put them end to end, I don’t think the voters were treated to an election that was equal to the stakes that are there. And they had a lot of money, and they put a lot of money into this, and in the end it’s going to be a question of how good the turnout will be because both parties are relying on turnout.
JIM LEHRER: Well, on that up note, we will leave it there. Thank you all four very much.