Judy’s Notebook: What Do Voters Want?

BY Judy Woodruff  August 8, 2012 at 2:49 PM EDT


Judy Woodruff talked to women voters at “Mommy Boot Camp” in Northern Virginia Monday.

America’s well-known political divisions were thrown into even sharper relief this week with some election results in the heartland. At least seven moderate Republican state senators in Kansas, who had temporarily allied themselves with Democrats in opposing cuts in income taxes and laws to lessen the political influence of labor unions, were defeated by more conservative Republicans in Tuesday’s primary contest. The outcome gives conservatives the overwhelming majority in the Kansas state Senate on top of their existing control of the Statehouse, clearing the way for Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to enact an agenda that includes tax cuts for individuals and businesses, as well as efforts to prevent the Obama health care reform law from taking effect in Kansas.

Voters like Alex Yoho, a 56-year-old optician from Topeka, were quoted by the Associated Press, saying of state government, “You can’t get too conservative for me.” And 68-year-old consultant Rich Whalen of Overland Park said, “We are getting so liberal that we are just handing everybody anything.” Another voter, retired elementary school teacher Andrea McGee, told the AP, “There are certain things you can compromise, but health care, abortion, pro-life, things like that, I want to make sure that those things are covered.”

The sentiments expressed in Kansas call to mind the victory last May in another heartland state — Indiana — of Richard Mourdock for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate. Mourdock defeated six-term GOP incumbent Richard Lugar in large part by arguing he had “gone along” with Democrats too often. He proclaimed that if he wins the general election in November – and he is now favored – he doesn’t view compromise as part of the job. Mourdock told CNN in May: “I hope to build a conservative majority in the U.S. Senate so bipartisanship becomes Democrats joining Republicans to roll back the size of government.”

Meanwhile, as I’ve interviewed voters in the battleground states of Florida and Virginia recently, I’ve been hearing something different. Many say they want both parties to give a little in order to find common ground.

Mary McLean of Chantilly, Virginia was unsparing in her criticism of members of Congress who won’t work with the other party: “I think my three-year-old has better negotiation and interpersonal skills and acts more mature when he doesn’t get his way, which is not a ringing endorsement.”

Republican Debbie Meighan of Leesburg, Virginia said she thinks sometimes gridlock is healthy, but “the partisanship, name calling and just almost just ugliness of it is really, really unbecoming. And it turns a lot of people off.”

In Fort Myers, Florida, voter Tom Garner put it this way: “I wish somebody like Speaker Boehner would get together with Obama and just those two would work out deals like when Tip O’Neill was speaker. Get together and work out some deals and then go back and say, ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’”

So, which will it be? Will lawmakers elected this November believe their marching orders are to stick to their guns, or to work with the other party to hammer out compromise somewhere in the middle? I’ll be asking many more voters that question between now and election day. I’d love to know what you think: Which do you want from Washington in the months and years ahead? Send your thoughts to me on Twitter: @JudyWoodruff