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Analysts Set the Stage for the Home Stretch

October 26, 2006 at 10:50 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Some closing thoughts now from Mark Shields and David Brooks. Our other guests are still with us, as well.

David, first of all, do you see this as a brutal, mudslinging campaign compared to other ones?

DAVID BROOKS: Actually not as much as some other ones. It’s a campaign where there’s a hunger for more civility. It doesn’t matter where you are in the country: If you hear a candidate use the phrase “partisan bickering,” that’s applause right there. People really are hungry for that.

But I do want to add, I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. It’s going to be a good Democratic year. There’s no question about that. But at the end of this election, there are going to be somewhere between 51 and 49 Republicans in the Senate. The Democrats will probably have a majority in the House, but it will be a narrow majority.

The Republican Party will still be strong and in business. And, furthermore, it seems to me the one thing we’re seeing is a lot of anger at the Republicans, but no upsurge for the Democrats in general. People may vote for them; that doesn’t mean they think they have a plan; that doesn’t mean they like them.

It seems what we’re seeing is a rise of independents of people who refuse to be identified with either party. So we’re not seeing so much as a swing to the left as disgust with the Republicans, but not toward the Democrats.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

MARK SHIELDS: I do agree. First of all, on the Gwen roundtable, I thought, you know, we’ve heard so much about the “me generation,” and everybody concerned — those people talked about “we.” I mean, they talked about “we, the people,” that we’re all part of a nation. I mean, it was really uplifting, I have to say that. It gave me a real lift.

But on David’s point, this election, I call it a Mae West election. Mae West was that blonde bombshell in Hollywood, rather profane. When asked once if forced to choose between two evils, “I always like to choose the one I haven’t tried before.” And I think that’s what the Democrats have going for them.

The Democrats are marginally acceptable. This is not a ringing endorsement for them. The Republicans are monumentally unacceptable, so the Democrats are benefiting. I mean, I thought when Baron Hill, the congressman in the 9th District of Indiana, former congressman running for his seat again, said in Judy’s piece, he says, “You know, I don’t know if the Democrats can do it any better than the Republicans or not, but let’s give them a chance.” And I think that’s the feeling.

JIM LEHRER: Let me ask Andy Kohut. Andy, does your polling reflect this, that this is David’s and Mark’s point, that this has more to do with anti-Republicanism than it is pro-Democrats?

ANDREW KOHUT: Oh, absolutely. The Democrats are getting a little bit better image lately, but it’s mostly anti-Republican. And as I was listening to the panel, I realized how much difficulty we’re going to have to have trying to figure out what the specific message of this election was, pretty much no matter how it turns out.

The panelists all had a focus on the same issues, but, you know, there’s no specific solution. What the vote seems to be about is frustration, not about a mandate to do this, that or the other thing with respect to Iraq, with respect to immigration. It’s going to be hard to figure out what the voters were really saying, other than they were unhappy with the Republicans and the leadership in the country.

JIM LEHRER: Amy Walter, is that probably going to be borne out with the House races as well, the results?

AMY WALTER: Well, absolutely. This is what we’ve been seeing this entire year, is that both sides seem to be putting out as much information as possible, and yet voters don’t seem to be listening.

Republicans made a real attempt this year to say, “You know what? We can protect ourselves from this bad political climate by localizing these elections. We’re going these elections about the things we want to talk about.” And what we’re seeing across the board is that voters just aren’t willing to listen.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Do you agree with that, Stu?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes, I think the message here is change. And to the extent that there’s a Democratic mandate, Jim, it’s, “Don’t be like the Republicans. I want to feel good. Make me feel better.” But who knows what that means? After the election, I think the winners will try to define what that means. But right now, the voters just want change.

JIM LEHRER: Mark and David, before we go, what should people look for? We’ve got 10 days to go. Is it 10 days of action and change and movement or just 10 days of more of the same?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it will be more of the same. But there’s one thing that I think is rising. And one name we haven’t mentioned tonight is Joe Lieberman. He’s run a strong campaign and seems to be doing quite well in Connecticut, a guy who is carving out that independent role.

Michael Steele in Maryland, a Republican candidate, also carving out an anti-party independent role, will probably lose, but running a very strong campaign with that. That theme, I think, is a strong theme to look for in years ahead.

JIM LEHRER: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, one of the things that has impressed me — David touched on it earlier — is that — this is Michael Kinsley’s formulation — you can always tell–

JIM LEHRER: He’s a columnist for the Washington Post now, right.

MARK SHIELDS: Columnist, that’s right. And that is, you can tell if a party is ascending or descending by whether it seeks converts or it seeks heretics. Democrats spent a generation looking for heretics, someone who didn’t agree on nine of the nine points, therefore had to be banished to the outer darkness.

Now, as David pointed out, in many southern states and in the Blue Dog Democrats, the conservative coalition, have endorsed, as Janet Hook pointed out today in the Los Angeles Times, 16 Democratic candidates who don’t fit the liberal Northeastern or coastal model at all.

The Democrats are reaching out. They’ve got a lot of veterans. Heath Schuler, who was a former quarterback of the University of Tennessee, drafted by the Redskins, courted by the Republicans to run, running as a Democrat in North Carolina for the Congress. So I think that’s a difference.

And the only thing I’d add is David’s point about the Republicans are going to be there numerically. They are, but they’re going to be chemically, and psychologically, and emotionally an entirely different group.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, chemically, at least.

JIM LEHRER: Chemically…

DAVID BROOKS: Ideologically, emotionally, psychologically, maybe even parentally.

JIM LEHRER: But they can’t be ignored?

DAVID BROOKS: No, but they’ll be there.

JIM LEHRER: They’ll be there. But we’re not going to be there anymore tonight.

Thanks to the two of you and to all of our other guests tonight.