Some States Reveal Voting Trends, Analysts Say
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MARGARET WARNER: It’s too early for results — polls have closed completely in only one state, Kentucky — but even the earliest partial returns will be pored over for what they tell us about the larger picture.
For a guide on what to look for in the hours ahead, we’re joined by Chris Cillizza from WashingtonPost.com. He’s monitoring election developments in the Post’s newsroom.
So, Chris, set the stage for us for the night ahead. When and from which states are we going to start getting early returns in races that have the potential to flip control of one or both houses?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, The Washington Post: Right. Well, the good news for early-to-bedders like myself is that I actually think we’re going to get information relatively early. A lot of these races are clumped on the East Coast.
You’ve got Kentucky; you’ve got Indiana. Polls have already closed in places in both of those states, in the eastern part of those states. You’ve got New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania. All those places have very competitive House races.
And I think we’re going to have a sense — we may not have Democrats over 15 seats. They may not pick up the majority. But I think we might see them close. And if we see them close, I think it’s going to be a real leading indicator that what happens sort of west of the Mississippi is going to follow along, then Democrats indeed are going to take back the House.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, well, help our viewers follow along. Which of these early reporting races will you be particularly looking at to get a sense of how the night may unfold?
CHRIS CILLIZZA: Right, well, let me give you two. The first one is in southern Indiana. It's Indiana's 9th District. It's a district held by a guy named Mike Sodrel, a Republican. He's being challenged by Baron Hill, a Democrat, who held this seat from 1998 until 2004.
This is a race that neither national party is willing to say they're going to win or lose. Usually by the end, this last 24 hours, they'll sort of say to you privately, "That one doesn't look great," or, "Oh, that one looks great for us." Both sides say it's going to be very close.
So why are we watching Indiana 9? Because in the 2nd District of Indiana and the 8th District of Indiana, both of those seats are Republican-held and look likely to flip over to Democrats. If Indiana 9 goes that way, too, you're talking about Democrats being 20 percent of the way to that 15-seat majority in one state alone. So that's our first one.
Our second one is in Kentucky's 4th District. Northern Kentucky extremely conservative. President Bush carried this district with almost 60 percent of the vote in 2004. We've another rematch. We've got the Republican Congressman Geoff Davis running against the former Democratic Congressman Ken Lucas.
This is a seat that Republicans by right should have in any kind of neutral election year. This is not a neutral election year, at least it looks that way in the early going. So we're going to watch there. If Ken Lucas winds up on top, I think it's going to tell us a lot that Democrats are headed for a very good night.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Kentucky is another state in which there are three hot House races. Where does the one you chose stack up next to the other two, in terms of potential for flipping?
CHRIS CILLIZZA: Right. The 4th has been the one that's been the most sort of focused on throughout. There's one just to the south, in the Louisville area, the 3rd Congressional District, which is going to be another good bellwether. It's Anne Northup. She's held the seat since 1996. But it is a good Democratic seat, carried by both John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000.
So, if there is a wave sweeping, it might well wash Anne Northup out. Again, in a neutral election year, she doesn't lose.
Now, if we're talking about Democratic gains of 35, 40, even larger, look to Kentucky's 2nd District. Ron Lewis holds that seat, a Republican. It's a very conservative seat. The Democrats have fielded a quality candidate, a conservative former state representative named Mike Weaver. If that seat goes, we're not going to be debating whether Democrats hold the House -- whether Republicans hold the House or not. It will be how many seats the Democrats are going to add to their majority.
MARGARET WARNER: All right now, what about the Senate?
CHRIS CILLIZZA: The Senate similarly is largely congregated sort of in the Midwest and on the East Coast. I think one of the really important ones, an 8:00 closing time, is close to where I am, Virginia, where Senator George Allen the Republican is running against the former Navy Secretary Jim Webb.
Republicans are pessimistic about this race in the last 24 hours; Democrats are optimistic. Now, sometimes that's just a gut feeling and it doesn't wind up being reflected in polls, but I think sometimes that sends us a signal.
If Democrats want to take back the Senate, this is a seat they absolutely must have. They must beat George Allen. Remember, they need to essentially run the table, win almost every competitive race that is currently held by a Republican, if they want to pick up the six seats they need to win back control.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, we hear a lot about exit polling. And they have been exit polling -- there has been exit polling done in the states where there are hot Senate races. What can you tell us about what we're learning about just the voter attitudes, people who voted today?
CHRIS CILLIZZA: Well, let me make one caveat about exit polling beforehand. Around this time in 2004, we were talking about President John Kerry. Now, it obviously didn't work out that way. The exit polling seemed to show that John Kerry was going to win this race. It flipped around; it was not the case.
What are we seeing right now? It looks pretty good for Democrats. The early indications are that this is an electorate that is deeply unhappy about the direction of the country, deeply unhappy about the way Congress has handled their job. So it looks good for Democrats.
But again, remember, these exit polls -- these are simply interviews with voters after they leave the polling place. This is somewhat scientific, but do not substitute this for actual voting results. That's the only way we're going to be able to draw real conclusions is when we see these votes being counted.
MARGARET WARNER: And, finally, we are going to have some of the networks or the Associated Press "calling races," quote, unquote. What will those calls be based on? Is it real returns? Is it exit polling or a combo?
CHRIS CILLIZZA: What they do is they have people much smarter than myself who sit and watch these results, the actual data. And they know that, in certain counties, a Republican or a Democrat must win a certain percentage of the vote in order to have a chance.
So if there's a very Republican county in one of these House districts where the Republican candidate drastically underperforms, they know that, and they add that into a calculation. And it's a formula by which they add up sort of the county performance, what was expected and what the candidate actually got. And then they tabulate and they call those races.
So, again, that's based on actual data. It's based somewhat on projections. They do not wait until every single vote is counted, but it reaches a point of critical mass where the Republican candidate or the Democratic candidate simply can't win unless they get a certain number of votes in a certain area. So that's what they're looking at right now.
MARGARET WARNER: Chris Cillizza of the WashingtonPost.com, we'll be watching. Thanks.
CHRIS CILLIZZA: Thanks, Margaret.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, and then once again to Mark Shields and Ramesh Ponnuru.
Mark, first of all, do you agree with Chris that the Virginia Senate race -- the polls close at 8:00; that's still, well, an hour-and-a-half away -- but do you agree that that's key to this, if the Democrats are going to take control of the Senate?
MARK SHIELDS: I do, Jim. I think that -- and I think it's fascinating that, right in the Washington metropolitan area, just within the sound of our voice, we have two states that are totally at odds with all the conventional wisdom that you talked to Gwen about earlier.
Maryland, which is one of the bluest of blue states, that was one of the six states that Jimmy Carter carried against Ronald Reagan in Reagan's sweep in 1980, Ben Cardin, the Democratic congressman, is fighting for his life against Michael Steele, the Republican lieutenant governor who's an African-American.
And in Virginia, George Allen, this was supposed to be a warm-up. This was the Grapefruit League for him. He was just going to go through the motions and onto Iowa and New Hampshire to be the Reagan-esque challenger for 2008 for the Republican nomination. Those plans have been put seriously on hold, if not in the deep freeze.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about the importance of the Virginia race, Ramesh?
RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I think that Chris was right, that the Democrats -- you know, because they're five seats down, and they really have to gain six seats, because Cheney is the tie-breaker in the Senate, in order to take the Senate. So they face extremely long odds. They need a real national wave that takes them over the top in places like Virginia and Tennessee.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. What about what he said about the House races? He began with this southern Indiana district, and then he mentioned a couple in Kentucky. And what would you add or subtract from that?
RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I think that those -- the Kentucky and Indiana races -- are going to be important. It's funny how many of these races are concentrated in just a few states: Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. You sort of have the ingredients for a Democratic takeover of the House from just those states right there.
And one of the things that's going on here isn't just you've got a national wave against the Republican Party, but you also have a fairly smart tactic by the Democratic Party to run socially conservative candidates in a lot of these places.
In Indiana, they're running people like Brad Ellsworth. They've running...
MARK SHIELDS: The sheriff, yes.
RAMESH PONNURU: Right. They've run social conservative like Heath Shuler. Weaver was mentioned. This is something that the Democrats have been a little bit too rigid to do in the past. And we're seeing tonight that their ability to run those social conservative candidates may have a big pay-off.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?
MARK SHIELDS: I do. I think that the Democrats, you know, get tired of losing and going through the check-off list where you pass the 13 key questions...
JIM LEHRER: The liberal check-off list?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, the liberal wish list, and then you get 41 percent on Election Day, and they'd like to get 51 percent. And I don't think there's any question.
I mean, Jim Webb in Virginia, the Democratic nominee for the Senate, is a perfect example of that. I mean, Jim Webb, who not only was Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Navy, but did not support Bill Clinton for president.
JIM LEHRER: In fact, said some bad things about Bill Clinton.
MARK SHIELDS: Said some rather unpleasant, uncharitable things about the president who, by the way, has buried the hatchet and come back in and campaigned strenuously for him.
But at the same time, I mean, he's pro-gun. He's pro-hunter. He's proud of his rural roots and somewhat skeptical, if not disdainful, of many of the sort of the urban, liberal, Democratic activists or activism, I should say, because the activists, quite frankly, are supporting him.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, yes. OK. Thank you. And we'll be back.