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Shields and Brooks on the midterm mood

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to preview next week’s midterm elections and discuss the current mood and priorities of American voters.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And to politics now and the final stretch of campaigning, with Election Day just four days away.

    Plenty of heavy hitters were on the trail this week, from former President Bill Clinton in Kentucky, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Iowa, Mitt Romney in Kansas, Jeb Bush in Colorado, and lots of others.

    So what should we be watching heading into this final weekend?

    Joining us now are Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    We can't wait. We're almost there.

    Mark, we're heading into the last few days.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    What?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What does your gut…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Don't tell me it's over.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I — can we have another week, please?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is that what you're thinking?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Can we stay up late tonight, Judy? Can we stay up late?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What are your sources and what does your gut does tell?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    My gut — and when my gut speaks, I listen to it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    It's a — I would say Republicans have to feel better than Democrats do heading into Tuesday.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Senate races.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Senate races. The governor's races, I think, are races that stand far less on partisan grounds and more mano a mano, if I can use the sexist term, on individual records, and incumbents' judgment.

    But the Senate, it's not only the terrain. The Republicans are playing on a home field with a big advantage politically. But it's the mood and it's for the Republicans and against the Democrats.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What's your instinct?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. My gut is with Mark's gut.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I have the same feeling.

    All the models say the Republicans are likely to take over the Senate. A couple of things, one, ticket-splitting. There used to be a lot of people ticket-splitting. They would vote for a Democrat up here, Republican down there, vice versa. That just happens less.

    One of the reasons is, the electorate is more educated. The more educated a person, the less likely their ticket splits.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Interesting.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    College apparently teaches people to think less.

    No, they're more ideological. They give themselves ideological labels. Obama's a drag. If you look at his numbers in a lot of these states, where he was with groups like women and Latinos, he's come down a lot, and so it's just a big drag. There are a lot of undecided voters out there.

    And my newspaper had a story today suggesting the early voting, there are some good signs for Democrats, so it's not a lock. But when the country's unhappy, the president is in a sixth year, it doesn't take — it's not brain surgery that the out party is going to do OK.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What are you watching for here at the end, Mark?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, the first two in — I'm looking at New Hampshire and North Carolina, Jeanne Shaheen, Democratic incumbent in New Hampshire, and Kay Hagan, Democratic, embattled in North Carolina.

    Obama carried New Hampshire twice. Jeanne Shaheen has been favored. Scott Brown, the transplant from Massachusetts, has narrowed that race. It's a tossup. I would say if Jeanne Shaheen and Kay Hagan win, the two Democrats in those two states, then the Republican sweep is nonexistent in 2014.

    But, beyond that, Judy, I have to look at the states that the president did carry where Democrats are running, Iowa, Colorado. If the Democrats lose those, I think that's significant and it will indicate that the Republicans are having a very good evening.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is that what you're seeing?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes, I actually was hoping to give the same answer.

    You know, the Republicans will do well in the red states. They're probably going to do well in Arkansas, places like that, West Virginia, obviously, probably Louisiana, but if the victory — winning over your own people is good. It's not a huge victory.

    So they could do that and still even win the Senate, but if they can get in these purple states, then they're really showing — they're breaking out of their pattern, and their pattern has been, especially over the last four years, is they're toxic. People, even some traditional Republicans, are unhappy with the Republican Party.

    But has the party detoxified themselves? Have they returned from sort of a Tea Party, which generates intensity, but scares a lot of people? Are they now seen again as sort of a business party that maybe will get the economy going? And if they start winning some of those purple states, the North Carolinas of the world, or even if Scott Walker wins in Wisconsin in the governor's race there, then you begin to think, OK, they have improved their image with some of the swing voters.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, David kind of began to answer this question a minute ago, but, Mark, I want to turn on its head.

    A lot of talk about how much trouble the Democrats are in. But as both of you point out, they are fighting on territory that is pretty red. These are states, many of these states, that Mitt Romney won by double digits, some 23, 27 points in West Virginia a couple of years ago.

    So you — if you turn the question on its head, you could say why aren't Republicans running away with some of these races in the states where Democrats…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    It's a good question.

    And my only answer would be that the first time I was on Capitol Hill, an old-timer took me aside and was looking at some kind of down-at-the-heels congressman. And he said, see that guy? And he said, he knows more about pork belly futures than anybody in his state.

    And he went on and said, everybody that's in this body, House or the Senate, has something going for them, and it's up to you to figure out what it is, because there are at least 1,000 or maybe 5,000 people in the state of ability and ambition who would like to have that seat.

    So the Democrats who are holding those seats are gifted political operatives. They have survived in hostile territory, Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor. They have managed to do it. And the fact that their — that time and tradition and trends are running against them makes it even tougher for them.

    But, I mean, you have got to acknowledge that these are skilled, able people who have performed satisfactorily to the voters of those states.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Landrieu in particular has pulled rabbits out of the hat on numerous, a couple of occasions. Coming up, it might be too uphill.

    I would say the other thing — and here's a substantive point — the Republicans don't have a growth agenda. The Democrats don't have it either. But if you look at where the polling is on issue by issue, people still think the Democrats are more like them.

    They do like the Republican positions on spending. They do like the Republican positions on Obamacare, but the number one issue is who can create jobs and who can create growth.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    And you would not say that the Republicans have come forward with some agenda to do that. I'm not sure Democrats have either. But without that positive agenda, it's hard to get a big wave going.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, speaking of growth, we're looking at an economy now that is — what, they put out GDP numbers the other day. It's growing at 3.5 percent, more than it has in years. The unemployment, the rate is the lowest, Mark, it's been in years. Wages are finally showing some life. They're started to come up, consumer confidence up.

    And yet none of this is translating into good news for the party in power.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    No.

    There's an irony. The stock market, just take the Dow Jones average, is up 10,000 points since Barack Obama has been in the White House. And you're right. The last six months have been the best six months of growth in the past 11 years. So it really is good news.

    The problem is, Judy, that's big picture. And people don't feel it. The median income, family income, has been down every year since 2006. It is lower now than it was in 2000, in the year 2000. The share of wealth that goes to the top, 1 percent in the country has doubled.

    And so there's a sense that the rising tide has lifted all yachts. But it hasn't lifted all boats. And that's really what it is. It's not a knock on the overall big economy. It's what my life is, where my own chances of success and providing for my children or my family are, if anything, more threatened than they were.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Because you have all these statistics on the one hand. But, David, on the other hand, two-thirds of voters are saying they don't like the direction the country is headed in.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right.

    Well, first of all, there's an economic lag here. The growth rate really has to be going in August, September, July for people to notice in an election. Historically, there's been a period. It has to — you have to get a bunch of months where the confidence is going up.

    Second, do people feel, well, I can leave my — the job which I'm kind of unhappy with and there will be other opportunities around? They don't feel that, not at the same wages. So, until that happens, they are going to feel bad, because they know their own personal experience.

    Third, I think there's a feeling that we're weak abroad. I think there's more foreign policy in this election than recent elections. And there's a sense we're not strong on the world. There's a lot going on in the world that we are not controlling.

    And then finally, the president — and this feeds into that — doesn't seem to be shaping agendas. And maybe it's impossible. Maybe it's an unrealistic expectation to expect him to, but the Obama drag really is the core thing here. People are seeing the president, 38 approval on the economy and foreign policy. That's the core thing, disappointment.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I disagree. I think it's more of an economic election than a national security election.

    And I'm not arguing that that question of certainly lack of confidence or doubt has increased in the White House, but the basic concern is that of the economy. And I think that that's the irony, is that these big, good numbers you have cited don't translate into support for the president.

    I mean, 10 million more people have health care than had it a year-and-a-half ago. It's a — really, the great legacy you can make, a great statement about transformational presidency, but it's not much of a help if you're a Democrat running in a — any kind of hostile area.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Because it makes you want to ask, do statistics lie? Do they just not mean anything for people?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    The ones I disagree with lie.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    No, a lot of it is everything is pros and cons, but there is an overall feel.

    And maybe the country is wrong. Maybe they should be more cheered up. I could easily make that case. If you compare the way we were in the '70s, the '30s, the '40s, worse problems than now, but there's a general sense our institutions are not working. And that may be a mood, it may be a perception. I think there's some substance to it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    There's a — we have talked a lot in this campaign over the last few months about how negative the campaign is. Ads are just over the top, negative, mudslinging just about everywhere in the contested states.

    So, my last question to both of you is, what do you see out there that's uplifting and makes you feel better about the country, Mark, as we go into this midterm election?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    That lieutenant governor's race in Montana.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That's a long silence.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Judy, it's a good question, and I wish I had a good answer for it.

    I'm not charged up or encouraged by what I have seen. The negative commercials which, we're careful now, and uncoordinated between the independent groups and the candidates, where I savage you through the independents group, and then I can talk about fields and what a wonderful person I am in my own campaign contributions, that to me is a creation of the devil.

    And the final cost of negative commercials is, it depresses turnout. It depresses — it says there really is nothing that you are going to do to change. It erodes confidence in our public institutions and ourselves. And I just really think that the consequences are enormous.

    So I should be cheered. There was one bumper sticker I saw in Harrisburg — no, that. But go ahead.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Nothing uplifting?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I can't — I can't see — Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado, the fact that he's not running any negative commercials, if he wins, then maybe that will be encouraged.

    Politics is a very imitative and derivative business, I can tell you. And if somebody wins not running negative commercials, then that's a positive. It really is.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. Hickenlooper has gone from very positive to like neck and neck.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I know. That's right.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    We will see.

    I would think in general — I can't pick you a great race, because they're all doing the same thing. TV stations' owners are getting really rich, but the governor's races are better than the Senate races.

    I'm struck that we are polarized in the country, but there are still so many states where you really have close governor's races.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Very close.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Florida, even Wisconsin. Illinois even is kind of close.

    And so that shows there is still some political competition, as Mark said.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Georgia.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Georgia.

    These are races being fought more on policy than the national races.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, it's always uplifting having the two of you here on Friday night.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I'm sorry. I feel like I let you down.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You did let me down, Mark.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I did. Thank you, Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

    And a reminder, finally: Tune in Tuesday night for our election coverage. It will include a special report at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

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