MS. IFILL: As the campaign enters its final weekend, it’s all over but the shouting and the voting. So what’s going to happen Tuesday? We’ll give you our best reporting tonight on “Washington Week.”
MEG WHITMAN, (R-CA) Gubernatorial candidate: I’ve been called a liar. I’ve been called a whore. I’ve been called a Nazi by the Brown campaign.
REP. MARK KIRK (R-IL) U.S. Senate candidate: I was careless and I misstated part of my military record. I learned a painful lesson.
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS, (D-IL) U.S. Senate candidate: People don’t know where Mark Kirk stands.
Sharron Angle, Republican Senate Candidate (NV) campaign ad: Reid – it’s clear whose side he’s on and it’s not yours.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): I’m blamed for the economy. Immigration is all my fault. And then she attacks my credibility, my honesty.
MS. IFILL: A last minute avalanche of accusations, ads, and anger, as Republicans build up a head up steam.
JOE MILLER, (R-AK) U.S. Senate candidate: My opponent is not a witch, but she sure has conjured up some pretty crazy votes in D.C.
MS. IFILL: And Democrats fight to energize their supporters.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let me say this about members of Congress.
JON STEWART, Host "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart": Are you going to curse? (Laughter.)
PRES. OBAMA: No, I’m not going to curse.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: If you want to bail the middle class, America, you got to vote for the Democrats
MS. IFILL: A world of uncertainty for Democrats, for Republicans, and for the balance of power in Washington.
Covering the campaign, Dan Balz of the “Washington Post,” Jeanne Cummings of “Politico, Major Garrett of “National Journal,” and Jeff Zeleny 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 produced in association with “National Journal.”
ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. Well, no matter what happens, Tuesday is going to be a long night for the folks around this table and perhaps for you too. Stewart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report says House Democrats face a political bloodbath as big as anything since FTR, 55 to 65 seats lost.
Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report predicts a Democratic net loss of 50 to 60 seats. And both say the numbers could well be higher. Things are slightly less rosy for Republicans in the Senate, where the field of competitive races is considerably more narrow. So this has been a week where candidates from coast to coast have been throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. It helps that it’s Halloween because there’s a lot of scary stuff out there.
KEN BUCK, (R-CO) U.S. Senate candidate: I have looked at global warming, now climate change, from both sides and I don’t believe -- while I think the Earth is warming, I don’t think that manmade causes are the primary factor for global warming.
JOE MILLER, (R-AK) U.S. Senate candidate: My opponent is not a witch, but she sure has conjured up some pretty crazy votes in D.C.
Campaign ad narrator: Like a frightening $800 billion to bail out bankrupt Wall Street firms and a scary $75 billion for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Washington is boiling over with special interests and nightmarish deficits for as far as the eye can see.
NARRATOR: Mark Kirk lied about going to war, opposed middle class tax cuts, and said unemployment’s not that big an issue.
MS. IFILL: Oh, my goodness. No one’s sure what’s going to happen. You want me to scream? I won’t do that. What’s going to happen in those three races in Colorado, Alaska, and Illinois, but House and Senate candidates do know that with a third of the ballots already cast early, they’re bracing for a Tuesday earthquake. So a question for the table tonight is what is the biggest question, Dan, that you would like to see answered come Tuesday?
MR. BALZ: A couple of questions, Gwen. One is will there be a middle left in American politics after this election? And this election has been an enormously polarizing election in a very polarized country. And everything that has happened over the last several months in the final stages of this I think has driven the country farther apart. The other thing that I am interested in and I think everybody around the table is what is the net effect of the Tea Party this year? How strong are they? Have they been a net plus for the Republicans, which the Republicans certainly hope and believe, or will they cost the Republicans some important Senate seats?
MS. IFILL: Jeanne, what about you?
MS. CUMMINGS: One thing I’d like to see after this election is an answer to does Obama have any juice left because he stayed out for really long time, engaged after Labor Day, and in the last couple of weeks, he’s put whatever credibility and whatever political capital he’s got left on the line. I think going into Virginia for Tom Perriello was a major risk because Tom –
MS. IFILL: He’s there tonight in Charlottesville.
MS. CUMMINGS: – yes and he’s a liberal Democrat in a conservative district who’s not running away from his record. And so he’s facing any very, very tough reelection. And for Obama to put some skin in that game, that was a big call by the White House. And I’d like to see if there’s anybody who actually gets saved because the president came in and ginned up the grassroots.
MS. IFILL: Major?
MR. GARRETT: It’s related to what Dan was saying and it sounds a bit esoteric. Can disappointment, cycles of disappointment – we had a big change election in 2006, a change election in 2008, this will clearly be a change election in 2010, all reflecting some embedded level of disappointment in the country. Can that disappointment yield to what Socrates might have called the dialectic, where people pursue the truth, even though they come from different points of view, and argue amongst each other, and find a common goal.
This country has structural economic problems. And I’ve talked to a lot of Republicans who know they’re going to have a big night on election night, but they know if they don’t do something with President Obama to address the job situation, they too will share part of the blame. Can America find a way from disappointment to discussions and solutions?
MS. IFILL: Can you top Socrates, Jeff? (Laughter.)
MR. ZELENY: Socrates for Halloween, no I’m just going to – (laughter) – I think one question in the head up for this is this going to happen every four years? Is the House of Representatives now going to be a chamber that switches power every four years? Obviously, for 40 years, it was locked in by Democrats till 1994. And it changed in 2006. It’s a phenomenon, I think, in American politics that the House will never be sort of held. So the question is if it switches often, is there any room for bipartisanship inside the House? Will there be any type of responsibility sharing with this president? We’ll find out.
MS. IFILL: You all make an important point, which is even though the Republicans look like they’re poised to have a good night on Tuesday, there is no guarantee that that means that things completely shift, things completely flip. And in fact the backlash against Democrats could quickly turn the other way. You’ve been out around the country talking to people. What is at the root of this grim mood, which is anti-Republican as well as Democrat in some ways?
MR. BALZ: Well, one is the obvious, which is the economy. We can state it over and over again, but you can’t overstate how important it is to people and how it has affected people’s lives. When I was out talking to people in three different states over the last week, what just came through was this sense that we had gone through something very, very traumatic and we’re not really out of it at all. I think people are more pessimistic than some of the economic numbers, frankly. So there is that.
And the second is that there has been a big debate set off because of what President Obama and the Democrats have done about the size and scope of government. And for a considerable part of the electorate this fall that is alarming. And that is part of what is going to have to be reckoned with after Tuesday.
MS. CUMMINGS: Just to add to Dan’s thought regarding the economy. Clearly independents and the swing of independents is a major reason the Democrats are facing such a hard cycle. The independent profile now is very pro-Republican. In ’06 and ’08, they were very pro-Democratic. And if you go back into 2009, when the unemployment rate hit 9.5 percent and it started that summer, that is when it happens. There’s just this flight of the independents. Obama had them at 63 percent when he did the stimulus. And then in the summer, they dropped to 40 and they haven’t moved an inch since. And so I think that also goes to Dan’s point about how intractable this problem is for the Democrats because the economy just hasn’t gotten better fast enough for the people.
MS. IFILL: No, absolutely. And so let’s break it down in the cases of specific races because the thing about the midterms, of course, it’s not a national race like a presidential race. In Nevada we see that the Senate majority leader is poised to have his job taken away from someone who just not long ago no one gave a chance to. How do these things all boil down in a place like Nevada?
MR. GARRETT: It’s not just the economy. It’s anxiety. Unemployment has been persistently long. And there is not an economist in this country who is optimistically projecting a reduction in unemployment of any substantial means for the next two to three years. The Obama White House is not projecting a rapid reduction in unemployment for the next two or three years. So you have Americans who are increasingly unemployed for a very long time. That means they’re falling behind on the worker retraining cycle. They can’t move. And increasingly, if they haven’t already become endangered because of their mortgage payments, they’re now fearing losing their house after having lost their job. That anxiety is at a personal level.
In Nevada, it plays up because mortgage crisis has been enormous there. The shuttering of construction opportunities has been enormous there. These issues come to the fore and Harry Reid is stuck because he says, “I’m blamed for all this.” Yes, you’re held accountable. It’s also true in Wisconsin, where you had historically a very popular, sort of renegade Democrat, Russ Feingold, losing to another semi-known, semi-well-known business-type Republican who doesn’t have a great political profile because working class whites in Wisconsin, more than any other state in this country, feeling this economic anxiety, have fled the Democratic Party.
MS. IFILL: But take me to a place like Washington State, where – which is not taking the hit in the economy quite the same way, and yet Patty Murray, who is the incumbent senator, three terms, is in trouble there. How does that – how does that filter down?
MR. ZELENY: It is interesting because that is one of the blue states.
MS. IFILL: Right. In fact the president is spending the whole weekend campaigning in blue states.
MR. ZELENY: He is, in one respect because people in red states don’t want him to come, even some blue states don’t. But what’s happening in Washington is interesting. If Senator Murray was running against any other Republican, perhaps an unknown – it might not be as close of a race as it is, but she’s running against a Dino Rossi, who has been on the ballot statewide twice before, unsuccessfully, but this may be his year – very close and there’ve always been a third party candidate in the race. This year, there is not. It’s just the two of them. So she is sort of facing the same problem that all incumbents are facing. She represents Washington. Even though Mr. Rossi is – he’s a politician. He’s not a newcomer to this.
MS. IFILL: Right. But it doesn’t matter.
MR. ZELENY: Right. But I think back to Wisconsin, I traveled to Wisconsin in August and I sat down with Senator Feingold. At that point, a lot of people didn’t necessarily think he had a tough race. And he said that he has detected this since the month after President Obama was inaugurated. He holds all these town meetings. And he said the anger was so ripe even some Democrats that he had seen in some of these counties were coming up to him and were so angry by this. So he’s seen this coming, but if he does not pull it out on election night, I think he will be one of the sort of people that we remember who’s defeated in this year because Senator Feingold seems unbeatable to many people in Washington, but not in a year like this.
MS. IFILL: Now, another incumbent who seems eminently beatable, but has only been there two years, is in Colorado. And the interesting thing about that is that is once again another state which had recently turned blue and which no one seems to have anything particularly against the incumbent, but he still is in a tough fight.
MR. BALZ: Well, he’s an incumbent, Michael Bennett, but he’s an appointed incumbent. He’s never won an election in Colorado.
MS. IFILL: It should help in a year like this, shouldn’t it?
MR. BALZ: Well, it should, but he’s part of the party in power.
MS. IFILL: And he’s running against the Tea Party candidate.
MR. BALZ: And he’s running against the Tea Party candidate, who was in many ways a surprise winner of the primary and who has made a number of mistakes along the way. He has – Ken Buck has got a kind of a boot in mouth problem that has caused him trouble. And I think the question – this race is one of the closest in the country. Michael Bennett has run a reasonably good race, but the state has never fully warmed to him because he’s not been around that long. And the question I think will be, when people go to the voting booth, are they going to sort of forgive some of the things that Ken Buck has said because they’re just tired of what they’re getting out of Washington?
MS. CUMMINGS: But we can’t really leave Colorado without talking about the ad war because Colorado is ground zero. I’ve been going through and looking at where these outside groups with millions of dollars are playing. And if you go across the country, they sort of team up here and team up here and team up there. In Colorado, they’re all in. And there was at one point – and this was early on – and so my number is going to be way off because they’ve spent a lot more, but – and this was only maybe a week ago – I looked at it. They had spent $27 million, almost all of it directed at Senator Bennett, attacking him. And there are 2.4 million active voters in Colorado. And outside groups alone had spent $27 million there. And that’s the low number. It went up.
And these ads, you see them, they’re hard. They’re mean. And they’re not just meant to undermine the candidate. These are intended, in the words of an American Crossroads spokesman, to throw gasoline on the fire. They are meant to make people mad.
MS. IFILL: But bottom line, when you add all the money together, not just the independent expenditures, aren’t Democrats outspending Republicans.
MS. CUMMINGS: Democrats – in the end, we’ll see where they end up because we still have spending going on. But the Democrats, despite some of their poor me language, they had a gigantic war chest coming into this –
MR. GARRETT: Or incumbents.
MS. CUMMINGS: – and they had raised almost $300 million in their party machinery, more than the Republicans, which is why the Republican activists started these outside groups.
MR. GARRETT: This is Colorado’s lucky night because we’re really going to focus on this. There’s a couple of other things going on in Colorado that I think are interesting. If you look demographically at the hardiest and most stubborn, if you will, supporters of the Democrats and the Obama agenda, it’s college educated women, white women particularly. In Colorado, one of the reasons that Michael Bennett is bounced back is because women’s issues have become much more a part of the conversation last two or three weeks. Ken Buck has been rhetorically insensitive about women during the primary. And then there was an allegation from a rape victim that as a prosecutor he did not carry forth as aggressively as this victim wanted a rape case there. That conversation teamed up with the sturdy support of college educated white women in Colorado has put Michael Bennett back in that race.
The other phenomena in Colorado is you have to look at the governor’s race, where Tom Tancredo, running on a very aggressive anti-immigration platform, as a third party candidate, is now running nearly even with the Democratic nominee and the Republican candidate is below 10 percent. And that anti-immigrant sort of conservative third party mentality will probably feed into some degree into Ken Buck’s future in that race. That’s another dynamic in Colorado.
MS. IFILL: Let’s go to Illinois, your former home state, where we have a Senate race between Alexi Giannoulias, who’s a great friend of the president, state treasurer, and Mark Kirk, congressman, former congressman – current congressman.
MR. ZELENY: Current congressman. Seat’s open.
MS. IFILL: And they’re bumping noses right up against each other.
MR. ZELENY: And there’s no race in America that has a higher share of undecided voters than Illinois. It’s still at some 15 percent. And it’s not that they haven’t been sufficiently –
MS. IFILL: At this stage, are people really still undecided?
MR. ZELENY: – well, or they won’t vote.
MS. IFILL: Yes.
MR. ZELENY: And the race there is so personal and so nasty, but there really has become a sense of voters may not want either one of them. But what’s happening underneath that electorate is that there’s years of scandal in Illinois. There was just a big trial, Rod Blagojevich, of course, his first trial. And now he’s having a second trial next year. There’s just a lot of distrust of government, probably more than other places.
And this race has not turned on any big issues. It’s just been about one candidate is accusing the other one of overstating his record, his military service record. The other candidate, Mark Kirk, is accusing the Democrat of being part of a mob bank. So it’s not about any bigger thing, but how does it turn out? Who knows? This is another race that I believe is way too close to call. The president is going to Chicago, the south side of Chicago on Saturday night for a rally. They’re hoping to get out the votes, to turn out the vote. We’ll see how –
MS. IFILL: In Ohio –
MR. ZELENY: – but this president did not want the Democratic nominee because they thought he was weak. He’s 34 years old. I think he’s a little bit young. But –
MS. IFILL: – well, you spent a lot of time in Ohio this week, and that’s another one that’s just like that.
MR. ZELENY: The Ohio governor’s race is, I believe, one of the more interesting races in the country right now. Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, first term, is in the fight of his life with the former congressman John Kasich, who tells everyone, everywhere he goes that he was a key player in balancing the budget. And right now, this should be a race where the Democrat is way behind. He’s lost 400,000 jobs. For some reason, it’s not quite working there. So the Democratic Party is hoping that there’ll be spots across the country on Wednesday morning that they can turn to him and say, “look, the Democratic Party is not entirely dead. There are some places.” But President Obama is going there on Sunday, too. It’s all about 2012.
MS. IFILL: But when you look at these maps, there’s just not a lot of blue left on any map for any of these races, whether it’s the House, the Senate, governor’s races. And it makes me wonder about what it is – what it is the source of the nervousness that politicians are exploiting that politicians are tapping into this year and is there a common thread that you’ve been able to detect as you’ve looked around the country at this?
MS. CUMMINGS: One of the things that polling experts I talk to say they have found in focus groups is first of all that the White House overreached, that they wanted change, but not this much change. They haven’t been able to absorb all of the change. And so by putting Republicans in Congress, it creates a major break and a time out. And so – no more big Obama initiatives can go through until they figure out what has already passed.
MS. IFILL: There’re people who say the White House overreached and there are those who say they under-reached. If you saw the president go and talk to Jon Stewart this week, here in Washington, let’s listen to a little bit of their exchange.
MR. JON STEWART: So much of what you said was great leaders lead in a time of opportunity. We’re the ones we’re looking for. Yet, legislatively, it has felt timid at times. That I’m not even sure at times what you want out of a health care bill.
PRES. OBAMA: And this is – Jon, I love your show, but –
STEWART: That’s very kind of you. (Laughter.)
PRES. OBAMA: – but, this is something where I have a profound disagreement with you and I don’t want to lump you in with a lot of other pundits. But this notion –
MR. STEWART: You may.
PRES. OBAMA: No, no, look, this notion that health care was timid – you got 30 million people who are going to get health insurance as a consequence of this.
MS. IFILL: Okay, if you have lost Jon Stewart, maybe you’ve left lost. (Laughter.) You get apathy in the left. You get energy on the right. That is our enthusiasm gap that we’ve been talking so much about, right?
MR. BALZ: It is that. And the health care bill is symbolic of that. If you talk to liberal Democrats along the campaign trail, almost to a person they will bring up the public option, which they thought was essential to a good health care bill. They didn’t get it. They are unhappy. To them embodies exactly what they were most disappointed about in Clinton -- that they thought he was going to bring in real dramatic change, progressive change. They don’t feel it’s been there.
MR. GARRETT: Of course, the White House perspective on this is the liberal left, in this regard, has set itself up for its own disappointment because the president, as a candidate, never campaigned on the public option, never established it as a preliminary goal, never established it as a goal throughout the process.
MS. IFILL: It doesn’t matter actually what the actual facts were.
MR. GARRETT: The other point about what can be detected out there; I talked to Kevin McCarthy, who’s one of these very aggressive young Republicans. He could get a number three leadership position if Republicans take the House majority. He said, look, there’s a behavioral disconnect that voters see. Their personal behavior is about saving and paying down credit card debt and holding on. What they see Washington doing is running up the credit card through debts and spending or enlarging the federal debt and they feel uncomfortable and at times angry about that behavioral difference. How they’re living their lives and how they perceive Washington living its life on the country’s credit card.
Now, there’re a lot of economists who say that’s a good idea because you have to use that spending to make the economy grow. But there’s a certain swath of American voters who simply don’t believe it.
MS. IFILL: I guess bottom line here at the end of this very good program is whether we are going to see 2010 be a year of evolution or revolution. Which do – quickly do you think?
MR. ZELENY: I think I might say revolution because of a lot of people potentially elected next week. I’m not sure if they will be reelected to the second term, so I vote revolution.
MS. IFILL: Dan?
MR. BALZ: Well, I agree with Jeff on this point. I think that we – this election is likely to bring in a class, a very big class of very conservative Republicans. They are going to be bumping up against the Republican leadership, let alone the president. And that is going to cause real problems over the next two years.
MS. IFILL: And we’re going to have to hear what you guys think about that in the webcast. We’ll talk about it. We’ll pick up where we left off. Thank you, everyone. If you’re thinking we just scratched the surface, you’re right. So you’ve got a good excuse to go to pbs.org for our “Washington Week” Webcast Extra. We’ll pick up where we left off. And be sure to tune in Tuesday for special PBS “NewsHour” Election night coverage.
Before we go, a special shout out to a special fan. Thanks to NASA, I got to talk by phone this week with Astronaut Shannon Walker, who’s been on assignment on the international space station since June. Shannon told me she follows “Washington Week” when she’s at home in Houston with her husband, Andy, who’s also an astronaut, and in space, where she gets the podcast. From what she hears about our crazy politics here on Earth, she says she doesn’t mind being off the planet right now. Well, for those of you who are Earth-bound, we’ll have all the results and analyses next week on “Washington Week.” Happy Halloween and good night.