MS. IFILL: One hundred House races are toss-ups. Control of the Senate could hinge on Pennsylvania and California. The tea party’s surging. And Bill Clinton’s back. All that, tonight on “Washington Week.”
It is getting hot out there.
RAND PAUL [Republican Senate Candidate]: How ridiculous are you? You embarrass this race.
CHRISTINE O’DONNELL [Republican Senate Candidate]: Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?
ADVERTISEMENT: And who says if elected he’s all ask voters for even more new taxes? Jerry Brown. Governor Jerry Brown again? Hide your wallet.
SHARRON ANGLE [Republican Senate Candidate]: I don’t – I don’t know that all of you are Latinos. Some of you look a little more Asian to me.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): I really don’t know what my opponent was talking about because you all look like Nevadans to me.
MS. IFILL: Meanwhile, labor unions and corporations are pouring money into key races from coast to coast. And both sides say they’ll win.
SARAH PALIN: We don’t work for you anymore, Nancy Pelosi. You’re fired.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Their whole campaign strategy is amnesia.
MS. IFILL: Countdown to election day with the reporters covering the story: Charles Babington of the Associated Press; Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times; Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post; and Kate Zernike of the New York Times.
ANNOUNCER: Award winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation’s capital, this is “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill.”
ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. We couldn’t decide where to start tonight so we’re going to roll everything together. Polls are expanding and shrinking. Money is being raised and spent. And the electoral map is changing, literally -- as Joe Biden likes to say -- every day. If you don’t live in a state where campaigning is already underway or in some cases where voting has already begun, here’s a sample of what’s crowding the airwaves and the debate stages.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA): Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
MEG WHITMAN [Gubernatorial Candidate]: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results.
GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER: I’ve built businesses.
MS. WHITMAN: I built a business.
GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER: I (made ?) the payroll.
MS. WHITMAN: I (made ?) the payroll.
GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER: I entered this office beholden to no one except you.
MS. WHITMAN: I will owe my office to no one but you.
ADVERTISEMENT: Who supported higher statewide income taxes? Jerry Brown. And who says if election he’ll ask voters for even more new taxes? Jerry Brown. Governor Jerry Brown again? Hide your wallet.
REP. JOE SESTAK (D-PA): What I’m most concerned about are those extreme candidates that are actually taking advantage of the extreme fringe of the tea party.
PAT TOOMEY [Republican Senate Candidate]: I welcome all allies in this effort to get a government that’s out of control under control so that we can have the prosperity that we need and we deserve.
MS. IFILL: That’s what it looks like in two states, California and Pennsylvania where Karen Tumulty and Doyle McManus have been most recently. So let’s start with your take on what the landscape looks like in California.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, you ran one of those ads. Meg Whitman at this point has spent so much money on this race – more money than any candidate for any office for president ever has before – $140 million of it from her own pocket.
MS. IFILL: For governor, not for president.
MS. TUMULTY: For governor. Right. And she’s running 1,300 ads a day. So people in California – and these days Jerry Brown is at parity on the ad front. So these days this is really what the airwaves in California do look like. Meg Whitman is an interesting case, though, because as that first ad that you showed indicated, you would normally think that an outsider, a sort of independent-minded Republican would be the perfect fit for this election year and it would be in every state except California, which went for exactly somebody like that last time. And Arnold Schwarzenegger right now is at 23 percent approval in the polls.
MS. IFILL: Which is what that ad was all about linking her to him. But they’re neck in neck those two right now.
MS. TUMULTY: Absolutely. And at this point there should be probably more polling out at the end of next week. But one big question is – one of the things that Meg Whitman has done with all this money is she has built a ground operation, both sides believe unlike anything any Republican has ever tried before. She’s got people phone banking in Farsi. She’s running ads in Chinese. So one thing that is a real mystery is how well is all of this going to work on Election Day.
MS. IFILL: So let’s go across the country to Pennsylvania where you were, Doyle. It’s another Senate race, but in completely different circumstances.
MR. MCMANUS: Very different. Pennsylvania’s interesting because it’s a traditional bellwether state. It’s always a tight race and important to a presidential race. It sometimes anticipates what’s going to happen in the country later, not the way California does 10 years in advance, but a couple of years in advance. And in Pennsylvania there were signs that this race may be narrowing. And Democrats who were looking for signs of life in their party spent a lot of time looking at Pennsylvania this week because Joe Sestak, who is running for the old Arlen Specter Senate seat, had been given up for dead basically in the summer, but over the last month or so, as he’s put out some television advertising, he has picked up some ground against Pat Toomey, the conservative tea party Republican who was – Pat Toomey was tea party before there was a tea party.
MS. IFILL: Before tea party was cool.
MR. MCMANUS: He was a (tea party ?) conservative before it was invented, never mind cool. And the polls show that that race is now neck in neck. It’s a dead heat, too close to call. What’s going on there is the big mystery.
And part of it is that Democrats, who actually have a registration edge in Pennsylvania. There are more Democrats than Republican, although some of them vote Republican on Election Day. Democrats are coming back to the fold a little bit. Some of this you would have expected all along and everybody expected this race to narrow up a little bit. But part of it is one of the things you saw in those ads, but also in that debate clip, negative advertising. Every voter hates negative advertising but every politician knows that negative advertising is what works. And Sestak has hammered away and has charged that Pat Toomey, the conservative tea party Republican, would cut Social Security, he’d privatize Social Security is one charge. It’s, of course, a long story we can get into. And that he is against Roe v. Wade. He’s against abortion rights, which is true, and that is driving traditional Democrats back into the Democratic fold.
MS. IFILL: So Chuck, you’ve been in Pennsylvania and a million other places watching this and watching particularly how the president has been trying – not only the president, but the other side, too, trying to hold on to the ground that they have laid here, the groundwork in two very different states and how many – another 100 House races.
MR. BABINGTON: Right, Gwen. Well, the president – is very telling where he’s going and where he’s not going. He’s most recent trip is out on the West Coast but repeatedly he’s going to mostly Democratic states, California, Washington. He’s been in Wisconsin. And what he’s really trying to do is hold on to seats. Democrats have almost no hope of picking up Senate seats, for example. They’re trying not to lose very many. And so the president is really trying to fire up the base, which has been pretty lethargic so far. We know that the energy has been on the side of the Republicans all along.
So while he’s doing that, the other thing that I think is really interesting – and I have been in Pennsylvania as well – is you always see guilt-by-association ads in campaigns. There’s an awful lot of them this year and particularly what the Democrats are doing – and Joe Sestak is a classic example – is that they are saying, my Republican opponent is extreme. He or she is too far to the right. And he’s also associated with this tea party including Christine O’Donnell. They keep talking about Christine O’Donnell where she’s the candidate in Delaware, of course. She’s given very little chance of actually winning that race, but they love to talk about her because they think that she has enough notoriety with the “I’m not a witch” and all that.
MS. IFILL: They’re doing that in Pennsylvania where there’s a little bleed over in the market. Are they doing that in other states too?
MR. BABINGTON: They are doing it in – they are mentioning her name in some other places as well, not as much as in – you’re right. In the Philadelphia area you do get the bleed over of the Delaware media. But Sestak in that film clip, the debate that you showed, dropped her name several times and sort of lumped – repeatedly lumped Pat Toomey with Christine O’Donnell and Sarah Palin.
MS. IFILL: Well, let’s get a sense, Kate. You’ve been covering the tea party movement and you’ve written a book about it. So give us a sense about the degree to which efforts like this are energizing the tea party or maybe are overestimating it.
MS. ZERNIKE: Well, I think there’s two things in this election: one is the tea party enthusiasm, which has been huge. I mean, remember, no one thought Christine O’Donnell could even win that primary.
MS. IFILL: That’s true.
MS. ZERNIKE: And that was the result of real, like grassroots fervor and these tea party people believing beyond hope that she could win and she did. But on the other side there’s a tea party extremism which is what Democrats were sort of hoping for. They were hoping that they would be able to tag these tea party candidates with these extreme positions – getting rid of Social Security, wanting to abolish the Department of Education which we’ve heard before but with the tea party candidates, they actually tend to mean it. So I think a lot of – I think Christine O’Donnell was in some ways a jump-the-shark moment for the tea party.
MS. IFILL: In how many states, in how many races are tea party candidates, whatever that means because that can mean a lot of things – but in how many states are they a factor?
MS. ZERNIKE: We looked at – when I did a race by race analysis, I found 139 candidates. Those are candidates who either come up through the movement. They got into politics because of the tea party movement. Maybe their first political event was a tea party rally. That includes people like Ron Johnson, who’s the Senate candidate in Wisconsin who may well win.
And then there are other politicians who’ve run before or they’ve been in office, local office, state office and they’ve gotten just an unusual surge from the tea party activity this year. So that’s 139 in the House and the Senate.
Of those, most of them are running in districts where the demographics are very much stacked against them. Even if they get every Republican vote, every independent vote, the Democrat is still likely to win. And also, a lot of – where the tea party candidates are doing well are in districts where Republicans tend to do well. So there aren’t a lot of Democratic districts – there aren’t a lot of Democratic-leaning districts where the tea party has shifted into the Republicans’ favor.
MS. IFILL: Let’s talk about the message because one of the things we’re hearing from all sides, there seem to be a million different sides because I think a lot of the tea party candidates in this are not necessarily friends of the Republican Party. We’re hearing them, their messages pretty much funneled through President Obama and through other surrogates. In this case, we’re going to listen to President Obama and then listen to Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House.
PRES. OBAMA: In just 11 days, in just 11 days you have the chance to set the direction of this state and of this country not just for the next two years, but for the next five years, the next 10 years, the next 20 years. And just like you did in 2008, you can defy the conventional wisdom.
NEWT GINGRICH [Former House Speaker]: I believe Obama is just the culmination of a long process in which the Left has gotten steadily more and more distant from American principles, more and more distant from the American Constitution, more and more distant from our history and now represent a fundamentally different world – a secular, socialist machine that has nothing to do with all the traditions that have made this country historic.
MS. IFILL: One thing you can say about this election, there’s incredible clarity on either side. (Laughter.) You know exactly what you’re voting for. Let’s start talking about President Obama. He was in California today campaigning for Senator Barbara Boxer who is running against Carly Fiorina, the former HP executive, who today for the first time since the primary wrote herself $1 million check to try to get over this final hump. That’s a sign of how close things are. Is the president showing up and reminding people of the glory days of 2008? Does that work?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, I was with him last Sunday night in Columbus, Ohio, as well and it really was this effort to kind of catch lightning in a bottle again. At one point, though, he even acknowledged that “yes, we can” was such a great campaign slogan and now people are looking at everything around them saying, well, maybe. I don’t know.
But what’s different about this is that two years ago, Barack Obama was running as a transcendent figure, as somebody who was about more than politics. He was really about bringing people together and reaching across the aisle. Now what you’re seeing is he’s going out and he is going after the Democratic base. He’s up in Washington State trying to appeal to women. He is in Nevada trying to get Latinos. The message is the same, but the frame is so different this year.
MS. IFILL: But the frame is the same for Newt Gingrich. It seems like I’ve heard him do this before, what he’s saying. The president is at a distance from our traditions. There is something alien about this presidency and this leadership. Is that resonating?
MR. MCMANUS: Well, that’s resonating on the Right. And as Karen said, both sides are now talking to the base. This is about getting people to vote and wishy-washy independents who are in the middle, who are weighing this, who’d like bipartisanship –
MS. IFILL: Charlie Crist, that would be you.
MR. MCMANUS: – are not hearing anything at all that resonates with them this year and they’re probably not going to come out and vote in great numbers. So what you are hearing – and Chuck referred to it in that debate in Pennsylvania. The word that came up in that debate most often from both of those candidates in Pennsylvania was extreme. He’s extreme Right. He’s extreme Left. And they’re both trying to pigeonhole each other and it’s a way of whipping up the base on each side and a lot of this is going to come down to the ground game, who comes out.
MS. IFILL: But is there some risk, Kate, in dismissing these candidates – whether they are considered extreme or not – dismissing these new voters or these energized people. I’ve noticed some Democrats have recently started saying things like the tea party is not anything. You don’t really want to be – they’re taking it on. There’s a risk in that, isn’t it?
MS. ZERNIKE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, one of the things we’ve seen what the tea party is, you knock them down, they bounce back harder. I mean, you remember the race in upstate New York last year, the special election in New York’s 23rd district, which became a huge cause for the tea party. They supported – the Republican Party leaders locally nominated a very moderate Republican. The tea party supported a conservative Republican. And they campaigned so hard for him and were so passionate about it that the moderate Republican dropped out three days before Election Day, endorsed the Democrat, which sent this district that had been in Republican hands since the Civil War into the Democratic fold.
But what the tea party did was they said, okay. Next time we’re really going to get them. And they doubled back and the next time was the Scott Brown race where, as we all remember, they flooded Massachusetts and campaigned for him and he won to everyone’s surprise.
MS. IFILL: Unbeknownst to Scott Brown actually. So, Chuck, to the rescue for the Democrats this week, in the last couple of weeks, Bill Clinton. You remember him? How could we have kept him away?
MR. BABINGTON: The funny thing is that people do remember him and maybe it’s like childbirth. They remember the good things about him and they’ve forgotten a lot of the painful things about him. Bill Clinton, of course, has always been a tremendous intuitive campaigner and he still has not lost a step whatsoever. And people do really seem to hearken back to the good economic times, which were pretty good. You know, when he left office, there was a government surplus, believe it or not. And they very rarely talk about the negative aspects of his presidency.
So he is going around campaigning for all – he’s got more invitations from Democrats than he can possibly fill. And he is drawing really remarkable crowds for someone who’s not the president. He got 6,000 people at UCLA. He got 5,000 in San Jose. He gets 2,000 all over the place. Those are big crowds. Today I was in Pennsylvania for Rudy Giuliani with Pat Toomey. He got maybe 200 people. So when you get 2,000 people, that’s a big crowd. And Bill Clinton still has a great ability – he’s the culmination of a backslapper and a policy wonk and he can dissect policy quickly and succinctly. And when he does it –
MS. IFILL: Quickly you say? (Laughter.)
MR. BABINGTON: Some of his speeches are 40-minutes long, but he covers a lot of ground.
MS. TUMULTY: But, you know, what a difference 10 years makes because, as you might recall, Al Gore was criticized after the 2000 election for –
MS. IFILL: Not using him.
MS. TUMULTY: – not wanting Bill Clinton. He thought that he was poison on the campaign trail.
MS. IFILL: Isn’t the goal now, however, to send Bill Clinton to the places where Barack Obama is not necessarily welcome or could not help?
MR. MCMANUS: Well, that’s part of it, but they’re also sometimes going to the same place. They’ve both been in California. They’ve both in Nevada. Bill Clinton may go back to Nevada. The thing that to me is so delicious about this is Bill Clinton is loving every minute of this. It’s a kind of a validation of who he always wanted to be. But Bill Clinton’s friends say that he’s been seething all year long at what he sees as the inability of the Obama White House to sell the things it’s done and he’s out there saying, this old dog still knows how to hunt.
MS. IFILL: Okay. So we keep reading the polls obsessively and it says that things are tightening or they’re not. What do we know tonight about whether they are or not?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, it appears that there are – the number of Senate races in play, truly competitive at this point is actually shrinking. They’re probably five or six of them. but the number of House races that are very, very close, that number is actually growing and that it looks like it could be – well, who knows. People are throwing out numbers of 60, 70, 80, 90. One number I saw – well, one set of numbers I saw just today though I found fascinating – we already have early voting underway in 29 states. And believe it or not, for all we’re hearing about this enthusiasm gap, in most of these states the Democrats are actually turning in more ballots than the Republicans are.
MS. IFILL: Now, why do we think that is?
MS. TUMULTY: I think there are a couple of things going on. One is that the Democrats have perfected this kind of early turnout operation and also – however – for instance, in a number of these places, the percentage of African-Americans in the electorate is actually bigger than it was four years ago. So that does suggest that there is some remnant of this great turnout machine that Barack Obama built. It is not entirely gone.
MS. IFILL: I also wonder why there are – some of his messages are resonating – one of the things we’ve heard the president talk about in all the speeches recently have been the phony front groups, he calls them, the people who are raising money and not disclosing who they are on the other side. You’ve done some writing about who the money people are, at least behind some of the tea party movement. Is he right? Are there front groups?
MS. ZERNIKE: Well, I think the tea party movement legitimately starts out as a grassroots movement. And frankly, Christine O’Donnell’s victory is proof of that because all the Astroturf groups absolutely, positively did not want her to win and she won because of the grassroots support. But that said, when they saw this grassroots building, there were groups that moved in to very heavily fertilize that grassroots. And they include groups like Americans for Prosperity, which is the Koch brothers, Koch Industry’s funded group; FreedomWorks, which is run by Former House Speaker – sorry – House Majority Leader Dick Armey. So absolutely they’ve had an effect.
And I think they’ve had more of an effect as we moved toward the general election because they’re able to spend more money on ads. I mean, Tea Party Express, for instance, which is not really a tea party group. It’s run by two Republican consultants out in California – they’ve spent a tremendous amount of money for tea party candidates across the country.
MS. IFILL: And how much money are we talking about? Is there a counterpart on the Democratic side? Are the unions spending just as much money? I saw two different headlines today. One said the unions are spending the most. The other said the shadow Republican groups are spending the most, however you want to put it.
MR. MCMANUS: Well, it depends, Gwen – two answers. Yes, the unions are spending as much money as they can scrape together and they are taking advantage of the same Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United to spend more money more directly than they had before.
Who’s going to end up spending the – if we’re talking about the groups that don’t say who their donors are, that’s mostly Republican money. You know who the unions are. That’s a separate argument. If you want to know how much money is going to be spent on this election by which side, the answer is we don’t know now because the money is being raised and spent so fast and it may be a long time before we ever know.
So far, the best compilation I found from Center for Responsive Politics is that about $1.3 billion has been raised and spent across the board – official money, unofficial money, anonymous money. It’s almost half and half – $600 million Democratic, $700 million Republic. But that number may reach $3 billion by the end of this cycle, twice as much. So it’s way premature to say who’s spending more.
MR. BABINGTON: You have to wonder how effective this is in some states that saturation – again, I was just in Philadelphia and you keep your TV on during the morning or evening on news shows and it’s numbing. Just in one day it’s numbing. And there are so many because there are several House races that are competitive there. The governor’s race is not competitive but a ton of ads, a Senate race. And then you do – in that area you get the bleed over from the Delaware races. It becomes a blur and you have to be really sophisticated to even know which candidate is this? What’s he running for? And after a while I think people just tune it out and they’re rooting for the Phillies and that’s it.
MS. IFILL: I have to say there was a moment where I was here in Washington, in the Washington area, I turned on and saw an ad for Barbara Mikulski and thought, is anyone even running against Barbara Mikulski? I don’t know. People just spending the money.
MR. MCMANUS: In Nevada though where there’s that big Harry Reid Senate race going on, this may be the closest thing Nevada has this year to an economic stimulus. (Laughter.)
MR. BABINGTON: The TV stations love it.
MS. IFILL: So final though everybody. This has also been kind of a nutty race. My favorite candidate is, of course, running in New York. And who says the rent is too damn high? Anybody else have a favorite candidate?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, it’s sort of hard to beat that guy, especially since we found out he’s not paying any rent. (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: Anybody else.
MS. ZERNIKE: My favorite is still Allan West in Florida. He’s grab your bayonets, fix your musket. But he’s got more money. He was early on raising more money than any House challenger in the country from tea party groups.
MR. MCMANUS: It’s just too rich a – (inaudible) – to choose from.
MS. IFILL: It’s a rich mosaic, as I believe David Dickens used to say in New York. Well, we’re going to be watching all of them and we’re going to be talking about some more of it because we still have a webcast in which I have a lot more questions to get to. And didn’t even get to the poop ad from –
MR. BABINGTON: Sestak.
MS. IFILL: Sestak in Pennsylvania which, you know, if you watch the webcast we’ll tell you all about it. Thank you everybody – how’s that for a plug. We’re less than a dozen days to Election Day. Remember, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. Hey, who am I kidding? Of course you can complain. Our conversation ends here but it continues online. Find the “Washington Week” webcast extra at pbs.org. Keep up with daily developments on politics and other things every night on the PBS “NewsHour.” And we will see you again right here next week on “Washington Week.” Good night.