November 7, 2000
JIM LEHRER: Now, the control of Congress and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: 34 Senate seats and all 435 House seats are up for election today. For perspective on these contests, and what's at stake, we turn to two veteran Congress watchers: Tom Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; and Ron Faucheux, editor-in-chief of "Campaigns and Elections" Magazine. Welcome to you both. Tom, going into this election season, both Republicans and Democrats thought the Democrats had a chance of taking the Senate and House back. How unusual is that to have that much in play?
THOMAS MANN: It is amazingly unusual. We haven't had a situation like this for 48 years. You go all the way back to the 1952 election to find a situation where both chambers had their majority up for grabs in the election at the same time we had a genuine contest in the presidential race. So it's unprecedented. We went through decades in which we thought it was a birthright for Democrats to be in the majority, and now we have very evenly balanced competition for control.
MARGARET WARNER: So Ron, explain what it was about the lineup going into this that made both parties think that maybe more Republicans were vulnerable or that the Democrats had a real shot?
RON FAUCHEUX: Well, there were two things. First of all, the Democrats chipped away at the Republican majority that they won in 1994. They chipped away at it in '96 and again in '98, even when they weren't expected to by a lot of people. Then the Republicans had more open seats this time, so there was more exposure. They had less incumbents from stronger districts. So it gave the Democrats an opportunity to go for it. And they went for it. It looks very, very close now.
MARGARET WARNER: So big campaign themes: Did Either party run kind of with a unified agenda?
THOMAS MANN: They really didn't. They all talked about the same things, that is Republicans moderated their ideological fervor, say, from 1994 and the Contract With America, and suddenly they had plans to save Social Security and prescription drug benefits and Patients' Bill of Rights. They just happened to be different from the Democrats. I think they were looking to blur the differences to recruit the strongest candidates they could, and remember, this is really coming down to two or three dozen seats out of 435 in the House. So it's money, it's candidates, and it's blurring differences, no overriding themes.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, let's look ahead to tonight. We just were hearing both from Bill McInturff and Sam Popkin about this tremendous turn out the vote, both mail efforts and other mobilization. Does that kind of effort on the part of the presidential candidates have a spillover on Senate and House races?
RON FAUCHEUX: It certainly does, because usually the coat tails are from the ground up. If the party can build a good turnout effort, get out their base, at the same time, the other candidates at the higher levels are doing it, it certainly can have a big impact. It's not so much that the presidential candidates carrying down ballot races... it's the grassroots support that sort of is carrying and holding up the whole ticket.
MARGARET WARNER: So in other words if, as Sam Popkin called it, in the venison belt -- you had a huge NRA operation, that could help House and Senate candidates of the Republican Party, and likewise labor with Democrats?
THOMAS MANN: There are some central Pennsylvania districts that are going to be helped by that NRA turnout, but there are going to be~ me districts, say, in Michigan that will be helped by tremendous labor get-out-the-vote efforts. It was a holiday for the UAW in Michigan today, and that will certainly make a difference. There's also the matter of how strongly the presidential candidates are running. Montana, Bush will run strongly. That's going to give an edge to Conrad Burns in hoping to hold on. And in Nebraska, Ben Nelson's going to face a difficult....
MARGARET WARNER: The Democrat?
THOMAS MANN: The Democrat, because that's another strong Republican state. But Hillary Rodham Clinton is helped in New York because we presume Al Gore will run very well in that state.
MARGARET WARNER: How evenly were the two parties matched when it comes to the Senate and House races? Because usually Republicans have a huge advantage.
RON FAUCHEUX: In terms of money?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes.
RON FAUCHEUX: I think for the most part the Democrats did pretty well this year as far as narrowing that money gap that the Republicans had. Although, you have to look at it race by race, because in some states, and some districts, you have the party spending more must be than the candidates, which is a trend that we've seen in recent elections, and that sort of throws off all these money calculations.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. So are there races tonight, Senate races, first of all, are there such things as bellwether Senate races? When will we have a good idea what's going to happen in terms of control of the Senate?
THOMAS MANN: Actually, I think we're going to have to wait the whole night. First of all, we need to see how many Democratic seats fall to the Republicans, because if more than one or two fall, then it's pretty hopeless for the Democrats to gain a majority. So the Virginia race is very important, Chuck Robb, because we already know Nevada is likely to go Republican. So that's important to watch. And then to see if those initial races on the East Coast in Florida, in Delaware go Democratic, and if the Democrats hold their seats in the two big states of New York and New Jersey.
MARGARET WARNER: And then how soon might we have an idea about the House races? That's going to be... because there are no real exit polling projections on this.
RON FAUCHEUX: I'll have to give you the same answer Tom just gave for the Senate. I think you'll have to wait until you hear from California and the state of Washington. There are probably five or six key districts in those two states that very well could determine who will have the majority. And I suspect we won't know that for quite some time -- unless there's a big trend that we see early.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, we'll be back later to watch all this. Thank you both.