TOPICS > Politics

Jobs, Economy Loom Large in Elections, But Candidates Shirk Specifics

October 21, 2010 at 6:06 PM EDT
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How is the economy playing out as an election issue across the U.S. and what are candidates saying about it? Jeffrey Brown gets perspectives from Gene Grant of KNME in Albuquerque, N.M.; Cathy Lewis of WHRV in Hampton Roads, Va.; Julie Philipp of WXXI in Rochester, N.Y. and John Myers of KQED Public Radio in Sacramento, Calif.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we take a look now at the economy and how it’s playing as an election issue across the country with four reporters for public media.

Julie Philipp is news director of WXXI Public Television in Rochester, N.Y., and host of “Need to Know Rochester.” Gene Grant is host of “New Mexico in Focus,” a weekly political roundtable on KNME Public Television in Albuquerque, N.M. Cathy Lewis is host of “HearSay With Cathy Lewis” on WHRV Public Radio in Hampton Roads, Va. And John Myers is the Sacramento bureau chief for KQED Public Radio.

Let’s start with the economic picture and then we will bring in the politics. Gene Grant, you start. How about a snapshot of the economy there? Things any better than when we last talked?

GENE GRANT, reporter, KNME: A little bit. A little bit. The snapshot is a bit of a mixed bag, but we’re holding steady on the unemployment rate. We’re at 8.3 percent for the last reporting period of August, and up just a little bit from 8.2 percent, not a big deal. We’re adding jobs in some sectors. Some sectors are actually starting to get — climbing a little bit.

We’re hemorrhaging some other jobs still, but it’s just not as bad. Bankruptcies are a little bit up. Foreclosures are holding steady. So, we’re holding tight here. It’s actually not so bad as it could have been.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK. Julie Philipp in Rochester, what do you see?

JULIE PHILIPP, reporter, WXXI: Well, in a word, static. The region is not really falling behind, but it’s not moving forward really at all either.

All of the job sectors, there’s nothing to get excited about — excited about. Really, it’s sort of a similar picture to what you just heard. What we are seeing, though, however, is, governments are broke, nearly all of them looking at some pretty significant deficits.

You’re seeing high poverty rates still. And also we’re starting to see the homeless shelters starting to turn people away at the door. So, we are seeing some signs of strain, even though the statistics show us holding fairly flat.

JEFFREY BROWN: And Cathy Lewis, Hampton Roads, you have of course got the big military installations, which always play a big role there.

CATHY LEWIS, reporter, WHRV: Well, indeed. One in every two of our dollars is generated by the defense community.

And we had what has just been a shocking bombshell in August with the announcement of the closure of the Joint Forces Command. The economists at Old Dominion University anticipate that that will be a ripple effect of 6,000 to 10,000 jobs, good jobs that average $60,000 to $80,000 a year, and possibly up to a billion-dollar hit in the local economy. So, we anticipate some real challenges around that.

JEFFREY BROWN: And John Myers in Sacramento, big state, a lot of campaign stuff we will get to there, but what about the economy?

JOHN MYERS, reporter, KQED: Well, slow recovery is what we’re being told by the economists. We’re going to get new unemployment data tomorrow, but the August numbers weren’t good, 12.4 percent, one of the highest in the country.

But even beyond that, we got a new statewide poll last night that I think shows how concerned people are about the economy — 62 percent of the people surveyed said they are worried about paying their rent or their mortgage in the near future. And I think that really does speak to the concern, the fear among Californians about this economy.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so let’s to connect all these dots to the campaign that we are in the midst of here.

Gene Grant, I will start with you again. How does all this play out? Pick a race or two specifically to tell us how what you just told us about the economy plays into the race.

GENE GRANT: Well, the obvious one for us out here is the gubernatorial race. We have an open seat. Our governor, Richardson, is term-limited out. And so his lieutenant governor is running against Susana Martinez. She’s the Republican candidate.

She’s the DA from Dona Ana County, which is the southern part of our state and borders Mexico. And it’s interesting. Immigration was the word at the beginning of the general election. No one’s even talking about it. It’s all about jobs and all about economy and all about putting food on the table.

We have just had some very high-profile cases where children’s services were cut. Governor Richardson is out of his discretionary monies that he got from the federal government. He used the last little bit to shore up.

But we have got some real problems headed our way. We have got a tough next spring. A lot of things are pointing towards a huge difficulty when the stimulus money runs out. Our Medicaid nut is growing hugely, 21,000 new members probably by the exact same time that money is going to run out.

So, this has become the issue in this race. And it’s really very interesting. You’re not hearing much on details, except the typical waste, fraud and abuse, about how to chop down a $230 million deficit that we’re having in our Legislature in our budget here.

And so the issue is going to be how do you put public-sector folks — we have hemorrhaged 4,100 public-sector jobs, government jobs, out in the last 12 months. Who do you absorb — how do you absorb those folks? In the free market? We’re not getting there yet. Government jobs are not going to be coming back for any time soon. So this is the issue in this gubernatorial race is jobs, jobs, jobs.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK. And, Julie Philipp, you have got a number of key House races up there, right?

JULIE PHILIPP: We have a lot of races. And, really, for voters, the economy is the only issue.

In the polls we have done, the interviews we have gone out and talked to people on the streets, all they want to talk about is the economy, jobs, taxes. And right now, in New York state, in addition to some congressional races, there’s about three that are either likely or could go from Democrat to Republican that are being watched very closely in those congressional races.

But we also have — every statewide office, from the governor on down, is up for grabs this year, as well as every seat in the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly. So, there are a lot of campaigns, and all of them are talking about the economy. There’s very little else in the discussions.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Cathy Lewis, two years ago, I was down there visiting with you in the midst of a race that was seen as a real bellwether for turning a red state blue. And President Obama was elected on states like yours. What’s happening now?

CATHY LEWIS: Well, exactly so. And one of the candidates that many would argue rode in on those coattails was Democratic incumbent Glenn Nye, who was elected in 2008. He’s fighting to retain his seat in a largely Republican 2nd District. That’s the race that everybody’s watching even across the country.

There were six Republicans lined up almost immediately after he was elected to run for that spot. In the end, one spun off as an independent. He was the former chair — in fact, you interviewed him back in the day — of the Virginia Beach Republican Party. He’s now spun off as an independent candidate. His name is Kenny Golden.

And then the Republican candidate wound up being Scott Rigell, a car dealer from here in Hampton Roads. The interesting piece where the economy has come into play a bit in this campaign has to do with this idea of deficit spending and the stimulus program, Glenn Nye saying to Scott Rigell:Wait a minute. You’re a car dealer. You benefited from ‘cash for clunkers.'”

Scott Rigell saying: “Wait a minute. You continue to vote with Nancy Pelosi so many — so many percentage points of the time.”

And that seems to be one of those — one of those ads that you have seen replicated in races across the country, the Nancy Pelosi connection.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, John Myers, what — you got a lot of big races out there. How does the economy play into them specifically?

JOHN MYERS: It’s been playing in pretty well. And it’s interesting to hear people talking about Nancy Pelosi back in Virginia, because she represents this area not far from here. She’s not in trouble. But the two races of course we’re watching are the race for governor and the race for U.S. Senate, governor’s race, Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, who’s on record here on the part of — to spend somewhere around $140 million so far on her gubernatorial effort, Jerry Brown, the former and hopefully — he hopes to be — aspiring future governor of the state.

They’re talking a lot about jobs. As I said, the economy is bad here. But, interestingly enough, the polling that we got last night showing that Brown is up by eight points shows that, while the voters think the economy is the No. 1 issue, they think Whitman would be better on it, the Republican, and yet they’re still picking Brown by eight point, which goes to show that there’s something there that the voters aren’t comfortable with her.

And, of course, the other race, the U.S. Senate, Barbara Boxer, the incumbent, against Carly Fiorina, the Republican challenger, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, jobs, the stimulus, President Obama all of that very big here.

One warning sign — Boxer is up by five points in that race, Jeffrey, but one warning sign I think out of the poll last night, President Obama’s approval rating among likely voters is now at 49 percent in California. And he’s been very high here compared to the rest of the country.

If those numbers start to be trouble for him, you have got to think they’re trouble for Boxer, too.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, of course, John, you have had all the kind of budget woes there in California, so that must all play into these races as well, right, in terms of what’s to — what cuts are still to come.

JOHN MYERS: Especially in the governor’s race. You’re right. We faced a $20 billion problem last year. We’re on the magnitude of somewhere to $10 billion to $12 billion already for next year. And you have got Meg Whitman, Jerry Brown, two very different views of how to do it.

Whitman is talking about jobs. She’s talking about cutting government spending. Brown is a little — a little harder to pin down, talking about changing the rhetoric and the dynamic of partisanship and angry partisanship here at the state capitol in Sacramento.

But, remember, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California seven years ago promising the very same kind of things that Meg Whitman is promising, to bring common sense and to cut spending. And here we are later. He’s at a very low approval rating, and we are still struggling with the state budget.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, Gene Grant, just briefly here, as we close out, are you getting sort of specific responses from the candidates when they talk about the job factors, or is it more sort of playing to this general anger that we keep hearing about?

GENE GRANT: You know, it’s — no, to answer your question directly, we’re not getting specifics.

The one thing they’re on the record, both candidates, Lt. Gov. Denish and Susana Martinez, is that they will not raise taxes. And that’s a big issue here. You know, we have — in the past, we have talked about things like sin taxes. We had a cigarette tax increase last session.

However, the lieutenant governor, the Democrat, has said she’s not going to consider raising taxes for the foreseeable future. And the Republican candidate is saying just no new taxing at all.

So, the big difficulty it’s going to be in a Democrat-controlled legislature coming up in January for our session, how is this going to play? Are we going to all be seeing some form of tax increase to chop away at this, and maybe perhaps get to some place where we can be on better footing for jobs, or are taxes just cleanly off the table?

The specifics are yet to come. We have got another televised debate tonight. Maybe we will hear something tonight. It’s the last one scheduled for these two, but, so far, nothing specific from either one of them.

JEFFREY BROWN: How about in Rochester, Julie Philipp? Do you get specifics or just the sort of general anger?


JULIE PHILIPP: Depends on how specific you want to get here.


JULIE PHILIPP: They’re all talking about property tax caps, restricting unfunded mandates, labor reductions, zero-based budgeting, all those sorts of things.

But, when you start asking them, what mandates would you cut, you don’t hear. How many positions would you cut? There are no answers. So, no, I wouldn’t say we’re getting terribly specific about the answers.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Cathy Lewis, brief last word from you. How about — how specific there?

CATHY LEWIS: Not. How brief was that?


JEFFREY BROWN: That was spoken not like a radio broadcaster that you are, very — very down to detail. And, John Myers, how about you?

JOHN MYERS: Not a lot of specifics. I hate to repeat the same thing. You hear some things that sound specific, but when you start trying to push through that, how are you going to create those jobs, how are you going to solve that problem, you get a lot of: We will work on it. And I think that’s probably true in politics in general.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, thank you, all four, John Myers, Cathy Lewis, Julie Philipp, and Gene Grant. Thanks a lot.

CATHY LEWIS: You’re welcome.

JULIE PHILIPP: My pleasure. Thank you.