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Shields and Ponnuru Analyze Election Day Events

November 7, 2006 at 7:51 PM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And speaking of wisdom, here now with their election analysis and wisdom are Shields and Ponnuru, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru.

All right, we are here now, Ramesh. This is finally Election Day. Now that we are here, does it have the feeling to you as being one of the most important midterm elections we’ve had in this country in many, many years?

RAMESH PONNURU, National Review Senior Editor: It sure does have that feeling. You know, when you look at the kind of numbers people are talking about that the Republicans could lose in the House and Senate, and you look at the history of it, this could be very easily the worst House election for the Republicans in 32 years, the worst Senate election in 20 years.

JIM LEHRER: How do you see it, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I see it exactly the same as Ramesh does, Jim. I think it’s — I mean, the big turnout, I think generally speaking, has to help the Democrats.


MARK SHIELDS: Because I think it’s one that’s fueled by anger, and I think it’s one that — what Democrats were worried about was, would that be translated, especially independent voters? If you’re getting that size turnout, it means that independents are participating in considerable numbers.

And independents are the swing group in this election. They went 7 points for George Bush and the Republicans by 7 points in 2004 against John Kerry. And right now, all the polls — even the ones that have showed the race tightening overall — have still showed the independents trending Democratic, sometimes by a margin of 2-to-1, but almost always in high double digits. And if that’s the case, then it’s not good.

I mean, if you just get Republicans and Democrats turning out, the Democrats are going to vote Democrat and the Republicans are going to vote Republican, but the independents are a real problem for the Republicans this year.

Importance of independents

JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way, Ramesh? Particularly, you know, going in, there were a lot of people who were saying, "Oh, well, the Republicans have the best turnout, Election Day turnout machine there is, much better than the Democrats have always done in the past." Do you agree that that's less of an issue this time and the independents are more important?

RAMESH PONNURU: Well, in the 2004 election, a lot of what we thought we knew about turnout turned out not to be true. We all thought that higher turnout would benefit John Kerry, and it didn't because -- although, in fact, Kerry had more votes than any previous presidential candidate, George W. Bush had even more.

The question, I think, for the Republican, the vaunted Republican turnout machine is -- now, this is not simply a mechanical process -- can you get Republicans actually excited enough about this crop of people in this year to turn out and vote?

JIM LEHRER: And it was mostly a defensive strategy, wasn't that this time? "Hey, you've got to be careful here, because the Democrats could take over, and look how terrible that would be for the country." Wasn't that really the message for the Republicans to get their folks out?

RAMESH PONNURU: Well, there was a fair amount of that in 2004, as well.


RAMESH PONNURU: But, yes, I mean, all through the year, what the Republican message was, was "This isn't a referendum on how well you think things are going in Iraq or on what you think of President Bush; this is a choice between two different sets of people." And so we have to accentuate the negative on the Democratic side.

Changing the course in Iraq

JIM LEHRER: Of course, the Democrats were saying, hey, just the opposite. They were saying today -- and leading up -- that, if you want the country -- the course changed in Iraq and elsewhere, you've got to go out there and vote.

MARK SHIELDS: You've got to go out. And the states that Gwen was talking about -- Pennsylvania and Connecticut, in particular -- those are states that George W. Bush did not set foot in. I don't think he was in that time zone.

The president ended the campaign, I found, in Kansas, Nebraska, I mean, two of the reddest of red states, trying to save embattled and endangered Republican candidates for Congress in districts that he had carried, in most cases, by 20 points himself in 2004.

And he ended up Pensacola, Florida, at a rally, where miraculously Charlie Crist, the Republican candidate favored to win and succeed Jeb Bush as the Republican governor of Florida, miraculously remembered between the time he accepted the invitation to be with the president that he had a pressing appointment in Palm Beach. So the president was left to stand there endorsing Katherine Harris, the one person whom he had tried to get off the ticket in 2006.

JIM LEHRER: She wasn't allowed on the stage. She had to sit in the stands.

MARK SHIELDS: She had to sit in the stand...

MARK SHIELDS: ... after giving up her political career in 2000 to save George Bush's candidacy.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, don't go away, gentlemen.