|DOWN TO THE WIRE|
November 2, 1998
|With no overarching national theme, this election year has featured a series of hard-fought local races. Jim Lehrer discusses some of the key races with three veteran political reporters.|
JIM LEHRER: Tomorrow's elections here in the U.S. At stake, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 34 in the Senate, plus 36 races for governor. Some preview perspective now from three veteran political reporters who are with us often: David Broder of the Washington Post; Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times; and Elizabeth Arnold of National Public Radio.
|Content and risk-averse voters.|
Elizabeth, has a national story line or theme emerged for these election?
ELIZABETH ARNOLD, National Public Radio: If anything, I would say, Jim, that the voters are largely content and risk averse. Status quo election -- I think we were talking about earlier and I think that's still what we're going to see. I was thinking that - I was in California in '92 and '94, and people here were really angry and looking for someone to blame. I was talking to defense workers as they streamed out of buildings, and they all wanted to talk to me and talk about how frustrated they were. It's completely different now here in California. People don't have time to talk. They're out buying furniture and off to sign off for a college class. So, if anything, they're not that interested in politics.
JIM LEHRER: Ron, what would you add or subtract from that?
RONALD BROWNSTEIN, Los Angeles Times: Well, I think Elizabeth is largely right. I mean in the end, after all the turmoil that this year has seen in Washington over President Clinton's future, we've seen a mid-term election that is pretty much what you'd expect in a time when the country is largely contented with the general direction of America, a right track election that is very good for incumbents, and is really more like trench warfare, where you see pitched battles in individual states and a lot of very close races. You don't have a lot of independent and swing voters to often turn out in presidential elections likely to vote tomorrow. So what you are left with in all of these states is really the base vote in each party. And that can produce some very close contests, and that's exactly what you're seeing, especially in the Senate.
|A pro-incumbent year.|
JIM LEHRER: David Broder, do you see any national story line here?
DAVID BRODER, Washington Post: I'm afraid not, nothing except that it's a very pro-incumbent year. In fact, what I've been doing this last week, making phone calls and after every round of calls, I have whittled down the number of lists - the number of people on the list of endangered incumbents. It's going to be a rare incumbent who gets knocked off --
JIM LEHRER: Why is that?
DAVID BRODER: And probably they're going to have very little to blame but themselves.
JIM LEHRER: Why are the incumbents in such good shape, David?
DAVID BRODER; Well, two good basic reasons. One, the economy is good, as everyone here has been saying, and second, they have amassed just incredible amounts of money, and so most of them, effectively, are running unopposed.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Elizabeth? You picked up the same thing, that the incumbents -- this the year to be an incumbent?
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: I think it is a year to be an incumbent, especially an incumbent who is not perceived as being extreme. Voters don't want the extremes on either side. When they think about education, they don't want somebody who's talking about doing away with the Department of Education. They're more interested in candidates or their incumbents, who's saying, what's the right balance, where should the federal government have a role in terms of classroom size?
|The impeachment issue.|
JIM LEHRER: Now, Ron, you said the problems of the President are not affecting this election? Why not? What do people tell you, based on your reporting, as to why it's not affecting the election, because early on there were polls and pundits saying, oh, my goodness, this is going to be a referendum on impeachment; this is going to be a referendum on the Republican Congress. It's not going to be a referendum on anything, is that what you're saying?
RONALD BROWNSTEIN: I don't think it's going to be a referendum on nothing in that sense, but I do think we're seeing is a reflection of the fact that the country has largely settled its judgment on this issue. The polls have been very consistent all year, with about two-thirds of Americans or slightly more opposing impeachment even as more evidence has come out, and by and large most candidates have concluded that most voters simply do not want to hear any more about this. Now, it's true that the Republican hopes that this would produce a sweep for them haven't borne out, and it's also true that Democratic hopes that there might be a severe backlash don't seem to be bearing out. But the fact that most candidates aren't talking about it does say something about the prospect of Congress spending another six, eight, I don't know how many more months, debating whether Clinton should be forced from office. In the end, I think this election suggests it's going to be hard to get the country to sit still for something like that.
JIM LEHRER: David, what does your reporting tell you as to why the impeachment issue has not - is not affecting this election tomorrow?
DAVID BRODER: President Clinton is not on the ballot anywhere. People know that his name will never be on a national ballot again. That's not their concern at this point. And I think the other thing, Jim, that's happened is that around Labor Day, and from then perhaps until the time that the tape of his deposition to the grand jury ran, this was something that was in people's face all the time. Now we've had three weeks since Congress adjourned and since they voted that impeachment inquiry resolution, where people haven't heard about it. And there is a palpable sense of relief to have this out of their minds. People were having a hard time dealing with this. Now they don't have to deal with it. They're not going to have -bring it with them to the polls tomorrow morning.
JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth, can you figure -- do you know of any races where either candidate has gone at this issue directly, in other words, if you're running for the House say, vote for me and I'll vote against impeachment or vote for me, I'll vote against impeachment - have any candidates really taken this thing head on like that?
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: Well, not exactly head on but in a couple of races - and I'm thinking of Jay Inslee in Washington State who's challenging incumbent Rick White - that's a case where the Democrat has said, look at Rick White's vote on impeachment -- he wants to drag us through the mud -- for months and months and months. In races like that, that's where it's an issue. Basically, it's proven to be a risky thing for the Republican because the Democrat is able to say he's not really doing your business. He's not interested in education and taxes and what's going on in your life. He's interested in a partisan investigation and dragging us through the mud.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
|The GOP's last-minute ads.|
DAVID BRODER: Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
DAVID BRODER: My colleague, Ceci Connolly, who you know - have had on the show -
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
DAVID BRODER: -- spent the weekend in North Carolina, and she tells me that down there, there are very tough radio ads trying to link President Clinton to Mr. Edwards, the Democratic Senate candidate against Senator Lauch Faircloth. But North Carolina is perhaps the most anti-Clinton state in the country today. So it's perfectly safe for the Republicans to be using the issue there.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. And, David, have these ads that -- they've caused such an uproar last week - are they having any effect at all? In other words, the Republican ads are supposed to be television ads and the Democrats reacted to them - is that having any effect at all?
DAVID BRODER: It's had some effect. Elizabeth, check me on this. I've been talking to people on the West Coast where they haven't seen the ads, but they've heard about the ads, and both Republicans and Democrats tell me that there's been something of a backlash to the Republicans trying to drag this issue, which people don't want in the election, into the election.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Check him on that, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: Okay. Exactly. They haven't seen the ads, themselves, but they've seen news coverage of the ads, so the media has actually done the work for the Republican Party. But I had one Democratic candidate say to me, "run 'em as much as you want in my district, because they're helping me."
JIM LEHRER: Ron, anything you want to - what's been your reporting on that?
RONALD BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think in the end these ads are like much else having to do with the scandal this year. They're really aimed at the base of both parties. I mean, what you see, the Republican ad was really, I think, meant to energize their core supporters in a low turnout year and convince them that they are not sort of gone South on this issue. And conversely, I think Democrats are trying to do the same thing. David mentioned North Carolina, where the Republicans are tying the Democratic Senate candidate to Clinton. On the other hand, Jesse Jackson radio ads are running on some black - black radio stations. And they are talking about the need for African-Americans to get out the vote to prevent impeachment. So it's a message that works at the base, to motivate the base of each side, but for most of the more moderate voters, certainly swing voters, independent voters, by and large, they don't want to hear about it. And you see very few candidates - half a dozen or so Democrats - trying to do the backlash ads like Jay Inslee, some Republicans late last summer try to do resignation ads. But, by and large, most candidates have stayed away from it. And I think that speaks louder than anything else we're talking about.
|Races to watch.|
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Beginning with you, Ron, give us your one or two most interesting or most important races that - of tomorrow.
RONALD BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think the most fascinating - I think E. J. Dionne has compared it to a car wreck -- has to be the New York Senate race between Al D'Amato and Chuck Schumer. Almost any incumbent, who was polling where Al D'Amato is now, you would be burying them. But, you know, this is a man who rises from the grave regularly. So I don't think anybody will write his obituary until the last vote is in - maybe not even then. The other one that I think - and maybe this is a bit of parochial interest - but I do think the California governorship is very important. And if Gray Davis does win that - a Democrat - as easily as now seems possible, it will send an important signal, I think, about 2000 and the ability of Republicans to compete in that state -- if they had a candidate who like Dan Lungren opposes abortion and opposes gun control, has a questionable record on some aspects of the environment -- Gray Davis has done exactly what Bill Clinton did to Bob Dole in 1996. And he's dominated California as a result.
JIM LEHRER: David, what's on your most interesting list?
DAVID BRODER: Well, we've got a wonderful governor's race right in the backyard here in Maryland. I'm not sure what it'll tell us about national trends. But the interesting thing is that after two candidates have spent millions just trashing each other, the negatives - the disapproval scores for both those candidates are so high that you would say neither one of these people could win. If you had a third candidate in the race --
JIM LEHRER: Tell us who the two are.
DAVID BRODER: Yes, the governor-incumbent Democratic governor is Parris Glendening and his challenger, who came within a few hundred votes of beating him last time, is Ellen Sauerbrey, a former state senator from Maryland. But the thing that struck me about Maryland, Jim, is that if there were a third candidate under any label, that candidate would almost certainly be able to win that race, and sort of the interesting proof of that is that out in Minnesota, where there is a third candidate, a wonderful character, a former wrestler, named Jesse "the Body" Ventura, he may very well sneak away with that race.
JIM LEHRER: Against the other two, the Democrat and the Republican?
DAVID BRODER: Exactly right.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Elizabeth, what are your favorites?
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: I'm interested in the Senate race in Wisconsin, Jim. Russell Feingold, the incumbent senator, is running against Mark Neumann, a member of the House. And Russell Feingold has made his race an issue about outside advertising, not taking the kind of money that the Feingold-McCain campaign finance legislation would try to do away with. He's basically asking the question, and using himself, and sacrificing himself, and saying, can a well-liked, hardworking incumbent senator be reelected without the use of this outside money? So I think that's an interesting race to watch. I also think - I agree with Ron. I think here in California, the governor's race is definitely worth watching. Gray Davis has run a very -- he dares to be dull, as he says. He's run a very disciplined campaign focusing on education. He's pieced together a broad coalition of voters from first-time Latino voters, who were angry at former Governor Pete Wilson's anti-immigration policies, and brought in also suburban Republican women who are pro-choice. Dan Lungren, his opponent, the state attorney general, he's stuck to crime all the way through, a traditional Republican issue. He's refused to give up on that issue, and even though he's basically won it, and Gray Davis has been ahead of him all the way along.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, Elizabeth, gentlemen, thank you all three again, once again.