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Shields and Brooks

November 1, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, Shields and Brooks on the president’s impact and other matters political in this final pre-election week. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the “Weekly Standard.”

So, Mark, how much of a difference can a President really make in these kinds of races?

MARK SHIELDS: The president makes enormous difference, Margaret, in several respects. First of all, president–local television news in the last decade has stopped covering state politics. President comes into town and they put him on live. I mean he’s the president. It’s a big thing in South Bend or any place else. There’s the candidate with him and you put the president on in the middle of the news. It generates excitement, it generates interest, it generates big money as you can see. I mean, George W. Bush went from being global leader, commander in chief, into Clark Kent’s telephone booth and came out on the other side as fund raiser in chief and campaigner in chief. He makes Bill Clinton look like he took a vow of poverty when it comes to raising money. And so it makes a big, big difference.

One little negative, and that is in the last two weeks of the campaign, a presidential visit – believe me — is the most disruptive thing that can happen to a campaign because all the attention you get and all the– what you are trying to do for Election Day is get people to the polls, make sure that everybody is covered, that they’re home; instead, this disruption, the secret service, the national press corps and the president’s own staff and it is really one major pain in the neck but it does get great coverage.

MARGARET WARNER: Can it turn a close race?

DAVID BROOKS: It can turn a close race. I agree with everything Mark said, though I’m not sure it can really transform a race. You know, the President can’t move the immovable. And over the past six or seven years, we’ve learned that people’s political views are pretty close to immovable. They change jobs, they change religions, sex change operations. They don’t change politics. It’s still 49-49.

I looked at the latest generic poll, the latest Republican versus Democratic poll, 45-44 was the poll. It’s still a tied country. And no President can change that. So there are sort of flutters on the eyelash of the body politic but nothing-that’s kind of poetic–

MARK SHIELDS: You make words live.

DAVID BROOKS: But can’t fundamentally really change anything.

MARGARET WARNER: Is the President putting his sort of reputation on the line if he can’t deliver? I remember in ’86 Ronald Reagan going all around to all these Senate races and in the end, the Republicans lost the Senate.

DAVID BROOKS: I think a little but I think people understand that it’s, you know, people are essentially, they get an adrenaline rush when the President comes. He will be heard. He will be slightly humiliated maybe if Jeb Bush loses, if his brother loses, more than these Senate races, but people understand they’re voting for the two individuals. Reagan lost a lot of seats in his first mid-term. Other Presidents have and they go on.

MARK SHIELDS: One thing, Margaret, to just add to David’s point. I have not seen a single race where the President has been in where there has been a four point drop off in the polls for the Democratic candidate. There isn’t a real change in voter sentiment. And I would say one of the reasons that we found in Gwen’s piece that the President’s going to House races now — the. Republicans are going to take massive losses next Tuesday in the governorships.

I think they’ll lose Senate seats as well. I think the President wants to be able to say on Wednesday morning, for the first time since Franklin Roosevelt in 1934, we picked up seats in the House. I’m not sure he will, but I think that’s the reason for the effort.

MARGARET WARNER: One of the Senate races, one of the states he is going to is Minnesota, as Gwen reported, to help Norm Coleman against Walter Mondale, who just got into the race this week. How do you see that race now with Walter Mondale in place of Paul Wellstone who died last Friday?

DAVID BROOKS: Two contradictory things are happening there. The first one is the Democrats are energized. That’s obvious. And Mondale has a solid lead. The second thing that’s happening though, and this is because of the rally the other night is that independents–.

MARGARET WARNER: The Wellstone memorial service which turned into this state-wide televised rally.

DAVID BROOKS: Which Jesse Ventura walked out on feeling it was too partisan. That mobilized, it seems a lot of independents. It mobilized a lot of Republicans who are angry but independents who don’t like excessive partisanship, party loyalty, self-righteousness, and apparently there has been up-tick in the tracking polls helping the Republicans a little.

I don’t think too many people think the Republicans can pull this out but it’s introduced politics back into what could have been a procession for Mondale. And so now there’s this debate, one debate, and that will be a crucial event.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t argue with that. The event for Paul Wellstone was not only tasteless in the sense that it turned into a political rally — it was totally counterproductive politically because one of the things Walter Mondale had going for him beyond a distinguished public career, unblemished personal record and almost a possibility of restoring some sense of Minnesota’s importance as a national supplier of national leadership, was the fact that — this great outpouring of emotion. That ended, they ended it with the rally. In other words, what would have been, if they had gone out in the evening after two hours and said gee, let’s win this one for Paul. It became my God Almighty, this is nothing but a Democrat get out the vote effort.

MARGARET WARNER: Especially because Mondale was saying, his whole theme he wanted in the campaign is we are not going to have any more dog fighting. I don’t want this to be partisan – and it ran counter to that.

MARK SHIELDS: It did, Margaret, and to the point where Chris Dodd, the Democratic Senator from Connecticut actually apologized to Senator Pete Domenici, the Republican Senator from New Mexico, who had worked intimately with Paul Wellstone on, including mental health coverage under insurance. And he said I’m sorry it turned into a partisan rally.

DAVID BROOKS: You know Minnesota is a weird state because we think of it as Prairie Home Companion, nice Scandinavians, ice fishing, very nice people.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: My wife is a Minnesotan and that’s all true but it’s also a weird state in that you get sometimes very conservative candidates, Rod Grahams was a Senator from there, a very conservative guy; Paul Wellstone, a very liberal guy. Very politically charged state and always has been. I remember a story, Hubert Humphrey, when he was purging the DFL, the Democratic Federal Labor Party, of sort of left-wing elements going into the convention in the 40′s, people spiting on him as he walked up to the podium, gave a speech sopping wet.

And that’s a lot of passion, which really hasn’t faded. It’s a polarized and passionate state. And this — because of what has happened in the past two weeks, I don’t know if they have touchtone screens there, but people are just going to put their fists through the things because they’re so — people are energized.

MARGARET WARNER: Charged up. All right. Mark, of course, we can say with any of these close races the Senate could turn on this, because of the 51-49 breakdown, but if you had you to pick one, that you’re really watching, you think is really going to be key.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, New Hampshire. I mean, New Hampshire is a state that is a Republican state. Has not elected a Democratic Senator in 30 years, and that was a fluke. And Jean Shaheen, a battle scarred Democratic governor is running against the first name of New Hampshire politics, young John Sununu, a bright able congressman who represents one-half of the state, who beat the sitting Senator Bob Smith in a bruising primary. Every number I’ve seen the last week has shown Jean Shaheen with a small but nevertheless a continuing lead.

If the Democrats pick up New Hampshire early on Tuesday night and Jean Shaheen wins the Senate seat, then I think hopes and prospects of Republican returning to the majority in the Senate will go with those results.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see New Hampshire?

DAVID BROOKS: I basically in the last two polls, I saw she was up. I would say there is one bit of comfort for Republicans, which is she has moved a bit to the right on some inheritance tax issues and some other issues and you see this around several of the seats that Democrats will probably win, that the Democratic candidate is bragging that I support the Bush tax cut, I support the Bush military.

So while Democrats may keep control of the Senate and if I had to guess, I would think they would, there would be a lot of the big issues where Bush will have a majority on tax cuts, on defense spending, things like that.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Give us a race you’re really watching.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m looking at one that actually is not that close. It’s slightly close and it’s in Georgia where Max Cleland is defending the seat. This is interesting to me because if he wins and if Democrats like him win throughout the South, that means there are a lot of Democratic voters or a lot of voters who say I’m pro-life, anti-taxes, I’m pro-gun, but I’m not a Republican, I’m a Democrat, because maybe they’re too corporate for me.

And if there are a lot of conservative Democrats out there, that’s tremendously good news for the Democratic Party. If that voter block really does exist, won’t move over to the Republican Party even though they have all the conservative views, that means the Democrats really have a chance of becoming equal or taking over the South again and that really would be the one sort of transformative group that is emerging in this race.

MARGARET WARNER: Isn’t Chambliss supposedly really threatening Cleland now?

MARK SHIELDS: The race has closed, it’s tightened. There’s no doubt about it.

MARGARET WARNER: Why?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s interesting. If 1992 was the year of the woman and 1994 was the year of the angry male, 1998 was the year of impeachment when Bill Clinton and the Democrats won seats. This is an election with– it’s a themeless pudding. It really is. Jean Shaheen if she does win in New Hampshire will win not simply, David’s right. She is not for repeal of George Bush’s tax cut but she has banged young John Sununu over the head with privatization of Social Security and on offshore companies moving to Bermuda to avoid taxes. I mean, those are two traditional Democratic populist themes.

We have a different set of issues in Georgia. Max Cleland, an authentic, established, genuine American hero, is being challenged essentially on cultural issues. David’s right. And that’s what it would be. It’s not a sense that he is has gone national on the Democratic policies of taxes nearly as much as that he may not share Georgia values. You hear more things about values: South Carolina values, Georgia values, Colorado values, District of Columbia values.

MARGARET WARNER: We all have values.

DAVID BROOKS: The unpopular values.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. One more race.

DAVID BROOKS: I guess I would have to pick, well, let’s see Missouri where Jean Carnahan is running against Jim Talent. This is a case I link it with Colorado where have you two sitting Senators who, in Colorado Wayne Allard and Carnahan who are not exactly Henry Clay in the first few years and they’re facing very talented candidates running against them, Jim Talent is a very intelligent young man, very committed, has been basically running for four years. I don’t think there are big issues there, no transforming issues but it’s a case of sort of medium quality Senators facing talented opponents.

MARK SHIELDS: Other race that I think or comment on Missouri.

MARGARET WARNER: Comment on Missouri.

MARK SHIELDS: I think Jean Carnahan, it’s a difficult situation. Politics is a tough business. She came into her first race at the age of 68 years old. She was very close, she had been an alter ego to her husband Mel. But it’s tough to go for the first time at the age of 68; it is no accident that people first run for the state Senate or state legislature, House and move up. And it is a tough business. Tom Strickland, the Democrat David mentioned in Colorado — ran the last time and ran through a tough campaign.

MARGARET WARNER: And so do you have one more race to nominate?

MARK SHIELDS: Arkansas the most intriguing state. The only state in the union to have voted 1968 for George Wallace for President, for Bill Fulbright, Democrat, for the Senate and for Winthrop Rockefeller, Republican, for governor.

I mean, it’s just a bizarre state politically. You have Tim Hutchinson, a Baptist minister, a family values fellow, who was elected in 1996 on family values heavily, and then dropped his wife of 28 years and married a former staffer. And it sort of robbed him of what had been his credential. He is running against Mark Pryor – of a great political family. His dad David was governor, congressman, and senator from that state, enormously popular. I think the Democrats are going to pick it up.

DAVID BROOKS: Could be. Pryor is a case of somebody who moved to the right to try to get elected. Used to be pro-choice now says abortion is too complicated to have a label. So that’s a case where you are getting really, really conservative Democrats, Pryor posing with guns, posing as a hunter.

MARGARET WARNER: I think I read somewhere he is wearing enough camouflage to be in the LL Bean Catalog.

DAVID BROOKS: He may invade Iraq all by himself.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, it is possible, is it not, Mark, that we could end up Wednesday morning not knowing who controls the Senate?

MARK SHIELDS: We could. I doubt it. But is it a possibility? Certainly in Louisiana, under bayou state’s bizarre laws, everybody is in the first race, which is not a primary. It’s everybody is in on November 5. And so Mary Landry, the Democratic incumbent, the only way you avoid a runoff with the leading Republican in the race of where there are four, is to get 50 percent plus in a five-person race. It is entirely possible you might wake up not knowing if she got what 45 percent, expected to lead the field, will have to run off in December.

Second in Missouri, Jim Talent, if he were to win and beat Jean Carnahan, that was a temporary appointment for that seat, and in fact the Republican secretary of state was the son of the Republican House whip Roy Blunt, has said that he cannot certify for the special session on November 12, the winner of that Senate race in Missouri so maybe we won’t get a new Senator.

MARGARET WARNER: Isn’t there a danger, David, that with so many close races and so many states have new voting machines and all these lawyers primed for recounts and challenges, that could you see a couple of those, if you have very close races?

DAVID BROOKS: Are you suggesting the American electoral system may not be perfect.

MARGARET WARNER: The ghost of Florida – may still linger –

DAVID BROOKS: I was down in New Orleans last week and we could all be decamping there because that would be the race that determines who controls the Senate and it would be a great race because we would get to be in New Orleans and also–.

MARGARET WARNER: For three whole weeks.

DAVID BROOKS: Trent Lott versus Tom Daschle. The local candidates would not matter. It would be generic Republican versus generic Democrat.

MARGARET WARNER: Absolutely. Well, more next week. Thank you both.