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Watching for Signs of a GOP Wave on Election Night

November 2, 2010 at 5:14 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Now here with some tips on what to watch for tonight as the results begin to roll in, our NewsHour political editor, David Chalian, and analyst Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report. Get ready for a long evening, gentlemen.


David, let’s talk about some of those marquee races that Kwame was talking about, starting with West Virginia, where we see Joe Manchin, who is the governor of West Virginia, the Democrat, in a pretty tight race, at least until recently, against John Raese, a businessman.

DAVID CHALIAN: Yes. I think this is one of the first really key races to watch, because it’s an early poll closing time tonight, 7:30 p.m. Eastern, and it is sort of the firewall for Democrats in their battle for overall control of the Senate.

If Manchin can hang on to this seat — that is already in Democratic hands, as you said, the late Senator Byrd — that would go a long way toward sort of putting up a blockade to Senate control for the Republicans for the rest of the night.

You mentioned he’s a popular governor — he’s a governor there, and he’s quite popular. He has sky-high approval ratings. The problem is that he’s running with a D. after his name, and in a state with Barack Obama with a very low approval rating, in West Virginia.

GWEN IFILL: So, early in this week, we saw Bill Clinton, of all people, going into West Virginia to campaign for him. Was that significant, Stu?

STUART ROTHENBERG, editor and publisher, The Rothenberg Political Report: Oh, I think so. Look, this is a state that the president lost and a state that has been moving Republican the last couple of presidential contests. It was a state that Hillary Clinton did very well in, older, white, working-class population, the kind of place where President Obama has not done well.

There’s a sharp contrast with these candidates. Manchin is a longtime officeholder, state legislator, statewide elected official, now governor. Raese has run at least three times statewide, losing each time. He ran all the way back for the Senate in 1984 against Jay Rockefeller, ran against Robert Byrd, one been successful, one not been successful. But now the race is close.

GWEN IFILL: And in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor in half-a-century.

Let’s move on to Pennsylvania, where we always seem to spend our election nights, in this case, Pat Toomey, who has run before, who is a Republican, and has been favored, at least until recently, and Joe Sestak, the Democrat who ran against and defeated Arlen Specter, who famously switched parties earlier in the year.

DAVID CHALIAN: One thing that I find fascinating about this race, Gwen, is that Pat Toomey was a Tea Partier before there was anything such as a Tea Party.

Remember, he ran that conservative organization called Club for Growth, which part of its sort of mission was to upend the establishment in these Republican primaries to sort of get Republican candidates inside a primary to swear to orthodoxy, especially on fiscal issues, not social issues.

Pat Toomey, as you mentioned, a former congressman, in this environment, that issue matrix for him worked really well. He was known as this fiscal conservative guy. He’s running in the right time in a state that, although we have seen tend to the Democrats in presidential elections, it’s always, as you said, a place that both parties are focused on, because it’s a lot more purple really than it is blue.

GWEN IFILL: What kind of things are you watching for, Stu, to see what is going to happen in Pennsylvania?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, a couple of areas, again, white working-class voters, both in the northeastern part of the state and out west, but also particularly the Philadelphia suburbs.

This is an area that used to be rock-ribbed Republican, liberal Republican, albeit, many years ago, and now has been moving to — toward the Democrats. Looking particularly at Bucks County, Montgomery County, Delaware County out there just outside Philadelphia. This will be a swing area.

You know, Toomey is a — has been a conservative insurgent, except that when you look at his background, he was — he initially — I remember when I met him for the first time when he was running for Congress, he was kind of a Wall Street guy who moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania, and opened up a bar.

So he’s not one of these pure outsider. He was a member of Congress. He’s very poised and polished and smooth. So, if you’re thinking Tea Party and you’re thinking Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, Rand Paul, you better think again. Pat Toomey in fact has run much more as a moderate this election, trying to make people in southeastern Pennsylvania more comfortable with him.

DAVID CHALIAN: And in fact it was that Wall Street record that the Democrats hit so hard, right? They said he was involved in sort of creating derivatives as an instrument. They tried to tag him with that early on as they were hitting that populist theme, because so many people were angered by Wall Street.

GWEN IFILL: As we move through the night, we’re now waiting for the first wave of poll closings. And we’re going to get some numbers on these.

But let’s go down south for a moment, because I am curious about what we can see in the South that might give us some indication about whether the Democrats are weak or strong in this first wave of closed polls. Let’s go to Georgia, the governor’s race there, where Nathan Deal is running against Roy Barnes — Roy Barnes the Democrat, Nathan Deal the Republican.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Exactly. And this is an interesting race that, if you look at the bios, you wonder if either party really wanted to win this election.


STUART ROTHENBERG: Nathan Deal is a longtime member of Congress. That is not a good thing to be if you’re running for any office, if you’re trying to get promoted.

Nathan Deal has had a number of ethics issues in this campaign, personal finances and family finances swirling. And he had a difficult primary and runoff. On the other hand, Roy Barnes is a longtime pol, was governor, was defeated when he ran for election in 2002, reputation as more of a liberal.

Really, the question here is I think the region and the year. And being a Republican in Georgia in the South in a wave election may carry Nathan Deal over the finish line. The polls suggest that he’s generally been ahead by six to nine points. It could be a quite close race, but both of these candidates have some baggage.

GWEN IFILL: David, give us a long view. Let’s talk about this wave election idea that Stuart just talked about. What are we watching for to see what the beginning of a wave is, if indeed it materializes?

DAVID CHALIAN: One of the first things that I’m going to look for is sort of, what is the shape of the electorate that is going — the people going to the polls tonight, Gwen, to vote, do they look like the electorate looked in terms of party makeup in 2008 and 2006? Or do they look different?

In other words, I believe, in 2008, the national House vote, right, Democrats to Republicans, Democrats had a seven-point advantage as a share of the overall electorate. If they’re much more tied, if more Republicans are voting today than Democrats, that’s going to tell us what we have been seeing all along about that enthusiasm gap, that this electorate, that the Republicans were more hungry and eager to get to the polls and vote.

If we see that in these exit polls as true, we will know that that is part of this wave, is that the Republican electorate showed up in a way that the Democrats did not.

GWEN IFILL: And what we know for sure is that the economy is something that — is in a place right now, in 2006, where it wasn’t in…

STUART ROTHENBERG: Exactly. And the second part of the equation — David is exactly right about the first part — the second is independent voters, swing voters, who are, as you point out, very sensitive to the economy. The Republicans are concerned about health care and cap-and-trade and the size of government.

But, for independents, for swing voters, it is really about jobs and how do they — do they swing back to the Republicans, as many people suggest they will?

GWEN IFILL: Stu Rothenberg, David Chalian, we will be talking all night. See you later.