Special: PODCAST: Race to the midterms - The final countdown

Nov. 02, 2018 AT 9:25 p.m. EDT

What issues matter to you and your community this midterm election? Robert Costa and the Washington Week panel discuss what our viewers and listeners across the country are thinking about before Tuesday’s elections.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Podcast. With the midterm elections just days away, we are going to discuss what our viewers and listeners across the country are thinking about.

Joining us tonight, Amy Walter, national editor for The Cook Political Report ; Jake Sherman, senior writer for POLITICO ; Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour ; and Carl Hulse, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times .

We’ve talked a lot about the race to the midterms on Washington Week for the past year, and this week we wanted to hear from you to find out what issues are affecting your community and what’s on your mind as you prepare to vote on Tuesday. So we put out a request on social media, and now we’re going to ask our panel – first-rate panel to weigh in on a few of your comments and questions.

We’ll start with health care, a big topic on the campaign trail. Yamiche, Erin (sp) wrote to us that preexisting conditions in health care, including mental health assistance, are at the top of her list more than anything else. Why do you think voters, after the ACA – the Affordable Care Act – has been passed for years, continue to come back to health care and are looking to see those protections installed and kept there?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Because preexisting conditions is something that almost seems, in a lot of people’s minds, crazy now because it’s been given – it’s been taken away. There’s this idea that people are, like, what do you mean if you have diabetes or if you – if my baby is born with a heart condition that they for the rest of their lives will be paying more insurance? What do you – what does it mean that we – that we’re requesting women to pay more for health insurance when they’re the ones that birthed the entire nation? So I think that over and over again I heard from voters when I was out in West Virginia, California, Pittsburgh, all these places, people – it’s a such a personal issue that people face. And if you’re an older voter, which is the people that are most reliable to vote, you realize that by the time you’re 50 you’re going to have some sort of preexisting condition.

MR. COSTA: Inequality, from Patrick (sp), is a major issue. Are we hearing a lot about the economy when you – when you’re out there analyzing these different races? Is the economy, income inequality, are those just kind of overshadowed by President Trump in the national debate?

AMY WALTER: That, you know, personality has overtaken policy writ large in this election. But on the economy, there are two different ways that you’re hearing it being discussed. For Republicans, it’s less about discussing it in the positive way; it’s more about focusing on what Democrats would do if they were in charge and suggesting that if Democrats come into power they’re going to be beholden to Nancy Pelosi, she will be the speaker, and you know what’s going to happen? Speaking of health care, they’re going to institute socialized medicine, it’s going to cost you trillions of dollars. They’re going to get rid of these tax cuts. They’re going to raise your taxes. And anything that you think is going well right now is going to fall into this deep, terrible abyss, right? That is – that’s not a message of it’s morning in America; it’s like much more it will be a nightmare on Elm Street if Nancy Pelosi is the speaker.

MR. COSTA: Thanks for that, Amy.

Carl, when you think about the election as a base election – you hear that term a lot – we got a note here from Gary, who says the lack of civility in politics, way too much fear/hate out there is a real issue for him. Is that kind of the lost voter in this environment, that moderate, civil-minded voter?

CARL HULSE: I think that that’s who the Democrats are hoping that they can persuade to come over. They need that. The base in this election is – on both sides is energized. We know that. It’s the middle-of-the-road voter. So who’s – which party is going to win that person and show they’re civil? And I think that’s why you’ve seen this emphasis and that the Republicans started with the Kavanaugh hearings, you know, the mob mentality; they’re trying to convince voters that it’s the Democrats who are not civil. I think voters have been watching pretty closely and they know what’s going on here. But I think the trick is to get that voter and say, hey, I’m going to restore some level of civility. And you’re kind of hearing that from Nancy Pelosi in some of the pre-interviewing that she’s doing, you know, before this election, is like, you know, we’re going to – we’re going to kind of bring this back to normal, so we’ll see.

MR. COSTA: Carl mentioned the Kavanaugh confirmation, Justice Kavanaugh. Jake, when we’re looking at a lot of our reader emails here, they mentioned the Supreme Court is an issue that popped up this fall and has really been at the fore of their minds. What are you hearing on the trail about the so-called Kavanaugh bump for Republican voters?

JAKE SHERMAN: Yeah, so two things. Democrats – Republicans, rather, have always been energized by judicial nominations, as Carl could tell you very well. Democrats have not. And for the first time I think we’re seeing the Supreme Court be a big issue, an animating issue. I will say I was on the road most of this month and I did not expect Kavanaugh to be as salient of an issue in red Republican districts as it – as it was. I mean, it was the biggest applause line at every single Republican event I was at. Again, these are Republican events, some in suburban districts, middle-of-the-road suburban districts, but Kavanaugh really was an animating issue in a way that – even more than was sold to us in D.C.

MR. COSTA: Yamiche, we’ve gotten some notes about gun control. And you were in Florida, site of the Parkland shooting, a horrible – another tragedy this year, yet that issue, is it motivating young voters out there? Is this a real issue perhaps that’s, again, not maybe the headline, the A1 story, but is a midterm issue?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: It’s part of it because after the Parkland shooting there was this wave of people that were – that were registered because of all of these different drives after Parkland for these high school students to stay, look, you – even if you can’t vote, you need to try to get anyone in your school who can vote. Go in your neighborhood and figure out those people that can vote. So there was this – there was this push for that.

But I think it comes back to what Amy said. It’s personality. Yes, gun control is definitely a big issue that these young people are thinking about, but they’re also thinking: I don’t want President Trump to be a representation of us. And I want to send a message to him that – and he needs to check. So here’s – so we need to vote for Democrats that do that. And on the flipside, of course, there are the young Republicans that the Republican Party wants in some ways to energize. But even those young Republicans, they don’t want to be aligned with President Trump. They think that the party is, in some ways, kind of out of control right now and they want to bring it back because even if you’re a young Republican, you’re not someone who wants to be aligned with white nationalists, per se.

MR. COSTA: Amy, we got a note here from Sheena (sp). She says: I’m sick to death about being seen as a flyover state. And she said, I wish people would pay more attention to us. Hillary Clinton should have paid more attention to us a few years ago.

MS. WALTER: She didn’t say which state that was, did she?

MR. COSTA: She did not.


MR. COSTA: But we’ll –

MS. WALTER: Because one of us probably have gone – yeah.

MR. COSTA: Have we seen the Midwest and parts of the upper Midwest and the West and the South become real political battlegrounds this year, getting more attention than they may have had two years ago?

MS. WALTER: This is why I love midterm elections, because every state gets to have a little bit of the attention. Now, the national media may not be coming there, but if you are in any of these districts you’re feeling that attention. I think one of those states in particular is Arizona. I was out there recently talking to people there. They’re not used to it being a battleground state, and they were lamenting how many ads they were watching on television and how negative the coverage was. They couldn’t believe how many negative ads they had to watch. So there are states on – obviously, Georgia another one that’s not a traditional battleground state that’s coming into the focus. But to the voters who want to be in the mix, a warning, it’s not always very pretty to be a cool kids state. (Laughter.)

MR. COSTA: Final thing, Jake. You cover Congress. A lot of our readers are wondering – viewers – what happens in 2019? If it’s divided government, what’s the big issue? Can they do infrastructure with President Trump, the Democrats, if they take over the House, or something else?

MR. SHERMAN: I’m on the view – and I’m open to other views here – but I’m of the view that the Democratic base has next to no appetite for deals with Donald Trump. I don’t hear anybody on the campaign trail that’s running – or, not anybody – but most people are not running on a I’m a Democrat and I’m going to be working with Donald Trump a lot. I don’t hear that much.

MR. COSTA: Red-state Senate Democrats.

MR. SHERMAN: Yes, but the House is going to – if the House does flip, I think that most of the energy, the center of gravity will be these investigative committees because no matter what Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer say, Democrats want to hold this president accountable. Many of them got elected on that premise.

MR. HULSE: It’s subpoena time.


MR. COSTA: If the Democrats win the House.

MS. WALTER: But does Trump want to work with Democrats?

MR. SHERMAN: Probably.

MS. WALTER: You do think so? Or do you, like – does he like it more as a –

MR. COSTA: What do you think? Will he cut deals?

MS. WALTER: I don’t know. I just think he likes the House also as a foil and – more than a partner in in cutting deals.

MR. SHERMAN: But he could get them as both. It could be – he could try to do a deal with them, and if succeeds, great. If it falls apart, he’s – they’re the foil. I think there’s two ways to slice it. I do think infrastructure’s an obvious area. Drug pricing is an obvious area where he’s talked to members –

MR. HULSE: He has definitely had the same view as the Democrats on that. Yeah. Yeah. That is – I agree.

MR. SHERMAN: Yeah. And we also have to keep in mind that Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have run in the same East Coast liberal elite circles for many years when Donald Trump was a Democrat.

MR. HULSE: Nancy and Chuck.


MS. ALCINDOR: But if you’re – if you’re Nancy – if you’re Nancy. (Laughs.) If you’re Representative Pelosi –

MR. SHERMAN: Nancy and Chuck. (Laughter.)

MS. ALCINDOR: – and Senator Schumer, you are not trying to give President Trump any sort of thing that he can put in a 2020 ad. The Democrats have no interest, I don’t think – and there’s really no benefit for them to give President Trump a new, shiny infrastructure bill, or a new shiny trade bill, or anything that makes him look like his government is still functioning is not something that the Democrats want. And I don’t think the base, who see him as a misogynist in a lot of ways – I’m talking about Democrats, of course – who see him as someone who said racist things, that they don’t want him to at all be someone who’s feeling good or even – I’ve had a voter tell me: I want him to be uncomfortable, is what a voter told me. And I think that that’s what the Democratic base wants.

MR. HULSE: Although trade is definitely –

MS. ALCINDOR: That’s going to be interesting, yeah.

MR. HULSE: It’s not – it’s not something that would be off the table. Democrats tend to be more in sync with Trump on trade. Sherrod Brown is probably going to win his election next week. I mean, they are a little more together on that. But the – there has to be a modicum of agreement, because you got to fund the government. You have to do some things.

MR. SHERMAN: Keep the lights on.

MR. HULSE: They have to find a way to do at least little things. But I think it’s going to be interesting. I think – I generally agree that Democrats don’t want to hand Trump anything that could help him in any way.

MR. COSTA: I just keep thinking back to President Bill Clinton, who gets kicked by the Republicans in 1994, cuts some deals with them in ’95, and then runs against them and wins in 1996.

We’re going to leave it there. That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Podcast. You can listen on your favorite podcast app or watch us online on the Washington Week website. While you’re online, check out the Washington Week -ly News Quiz.

I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.


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