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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

What Happened in the 2008 Election and What Is Ahead

FPC Briefing
Charlie Cook
Publisher of The Cook Political Report
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
February 2, 2009

Date: 02/02/2009 Location: Washington, D.C. Description: Charlie Cook, Publisher of The Cook Political Report, at the Washington Foreign Press Center Briefing on "What Happened in the 2008 Election and What Is Ahead." State Dept Photo
2:00 P.M. EST


Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Today, we have with us Charlie Cook, who is the publisher of The Cook Political Report. And he will brief on what happened in the 2008 election and what is ahead. Thank you.

MR. COOK: Thank you very much for inviting me back. I guess I’ve done this, I don’t know, four, five, six times, something like that, and it’s always a lot of fun.

Well, part of this job is easy and parts hard. And the easy part is talking about last – what happened, because it’s pretty clear. And the hard part is what’s going to happen next. And this is certainly a challenging time to figure out where things are going because we’ve never been in this kind of situation before.

I was talking with my daughter about seven or eight years ago – she turns 23 the day after tomorrow – and we were talking about seven or eight years ago, and she asked my wife and I, “What do you think will happen first: a woman will be elected president or an African American will be elected president?” And my response and my wife’s response were – we were – both said the same thing, that probably a woman would be elected president of the United States before an African American.

And then she asked us, “Do you think an African American will be elected president during our lifetime – or during your lifetime?” And we both said, “Probably not, but probably during your lifetime.”

And the fact that that happened, you know, within the last, you know, seven, eight, nine, ten years, that’s pretty amazing. Or even just go back three or four years ago, and to think about just sort of the remarkable nature of this. And we were talking before I came on about, you know, when I was here, I guess two years ago – two years ago? Yeah, I mean, you know, it looked like – you know, it looked like Hillary Clinton had a really good shot. Now, what I didn’t realize was it was a good shot at being Secretary of State and not President of the United States.

But what a remarkable time. But it was sort of the whole campaign that was remarkable. I mean, we had never seen, for example, a presidential candidate like John McCain who starts off as the frontrunner, and then in the summer of 2007 looked like he was completely dead, and then seven months later end up with the Republican nomination. Or you think of who would have guessed that you’d have five United States senators running for president, and the most junior, the least experienced of the five, would win; that, you know, Hillary Clinton had a huge lead among African Americans, and yet – over Barack Obama, and yet Obama ends up winning the nomination. Just a remarkable, remarkable election, and one that – I don’t know – you know, it’s just – you just sit there and just shake your head and say, wow, what was this all about.

And I think it was – you know, to kind of go back and look at it, you wonder, you know, why – why did this happen? We know how hard it is for parties to hold on to the White House three times in a row. It’s only happened once since the end of World War II that a party – out of five potential opportunities, that a party was able to win the White House three times in a row, and that was after eight years of President Reagan.

But we also knew specifically the situation that Republicans were in last year was really, really difficult. If you go back to 2003, you look in the Gallup poll – in fact, they just released their annual compilation a couple days ago – and back as recently – I’ve turned my notes upside down – as recently as 2003, one percentage point more people, more Americans, identified themselves as Republicans than Democrats. In 2004, the two numbers were even. But by 2008, Democrats had an eight-point advantage in terms of party identification.

Now, you might say, well, gosh, why is that important? I mean, party identification isn’t that important. But it is. When you consider that basically 90 percent of people who call themselves Democrats usually vote for the Democratic candidate, and 90 percent of the people that call themselves Republicans usually vote for the Republican candidate, when you go from even to eight points behind, wow, that’s huge.

And I think part of it is that each party has sort of a core value. And for Democrats, historically, you expect Democrats to be compassionate. The Democrats are sort of known as the party of compassion. And Republicans have been known as the party of competence. And no, you don’t expect Democrats to be competent or Republicans to be compassionate. Whenever you get the two of them together, wow, you really got something.

But that competence value for Republicans has gotten badly damaged over the last few years, and between Hurricane Katrina, at least the first half of the war in Iraq, budget deficits, spending, all kinds of issues, really eroded, really devalued that Republican brand, to the point that it just simply didn’t have the value that it normally had. And it made it very, very difficult.

At the same time, if any Republican could have won in 2008, it probably was John McCain, that McCain had a well-earned reputation in the Senate for being a maverick, being independent. If you asked Trent Lott or some of the other Republican – former Republican leaders in the Senate, they would say he’s a pain in the rear end. The thing is, he had been an – an independent reputation, and that helped him separate himself from the party a little bit, but probably in the end, not enough.

But the other thing is that Senator McCain, in 2000 when he ran for president when he lost the Republican nomination to George W. Bush, he was 64 years old, and he was probably at the top of his game. He was sort of at optimal effectiveness as a candidate back in 2000, but by the time 2008 came along and he was 72 years old, you know, he just wasn’t as quick on the stump. His campaign skills were not honed to the same edge in 2008 at 72 as he had been at the age 64 back in 2000, and that was a problem.

You know, you go back to last summer, and President – Senator Obama was averaging about a three-point lead in the polls over the course of last summer. And what we – you know, it was a steady lead, but it wasn’t a very big lead. And we didn’t know whether that was a big enough lead, given the uncertainty of sort of racial voting patterns, and was there some hidden anti African American vote out there that would keep him from winning.

And so it was still a very, very competitive race over the summer. Now, usually, these national conventions that you have, they’re kind of like giant pep rallies. They’re designed to energize, and energize your party, get them all pumped up and united and motivated.

Well, the thing is, the Democratic Convention didn’t really do that because Democrats were already motivated before their convention. They were already united. They were already energized, and you couldn’t really get them much energized beyond where they were before.

But for Republicans, they weren’t. They weren’t united. They weren’t energized. And between the choice of Sarah Palin, whether you think it was the right choice or the wrong choice, it did energize the party base and it did pull together conservatives in a way that John McCain had not been able to before.

Now, the thing is, it was like a B12 shot or a shot of adrenaline. And whenever you take a shot of adrenaline or B12, you know, you get – you’re pumped up, you’re energized, you’re motivated. But what happens next? It kind of wears off. And I think the Palin excitement within the Republican Party, it did start wearing off after about a week or two. And you know, the press started kind of beating up on her a good bit, and suddenly McCain had been three points – Obama had been three points ahead, McCain pulls up even or maybe two, three points ahead, and then it starts kind of wearing off and Obama starts pulling back ahead. And at that point, had nothing else happened, it would have been a close race, but Obama probably would have won.

But that’s when September 15th occurred, and the default of Lehman Brothers. And when you saw the credit market seize up, the stock market plummet, and it started becoming even more clear that the economy was in a lot worse shape than we thought, at that point, the election was fundamentally over. And you know, I think that there was no chance whatsoever from September 15th on that any Republican could have won. You know, he probably would have won – Obama probably would have won anyway, but you know, we’ll never know for sure, and it wouldn’t have been by a whole lot. But at that point, boy, this thing was done. And it was really, from my standpoint, just personally and professionally, we were used to being on this roller coaster. You know, Clinton up, Obama up, back and forth, McCain up, down, back and forth. And we were kind of getting used to this cycle of a roller coaster, and then suddenly, boom, it was over. And it was like watching concrete or watching – watching concrete set. It was just – you know, I mean, it was sort of over about, you know – two, three – about almost two months early. And it was stunning to kind of watch it.

So where are we now? I think we’re at a point where we are – just some impressions of what we’ve seen so far. What we have is a – probably the least traditionally experienced new president we’ve had in modern history surround himself with one of the most experienced teams we’ve ever seen. And it was – it’s sort of, I guess – I guess having watched him for a few years, you have a sense of here’s a man that is very comfortable in his own skin, he’s very comfortable with who he is and very comfortable with having people with a lot more experience and are older around him, and not feel threatened by them.

And when you look at the economic team, whether it’s former Fed Chairman Paul Volker, Larry Summers, who is probably one of the most brilliant people on the planet, as a key – well, to use an example, Henry Kissinger, who doesn’t say anything nice about anybody, said that there ought to be in an office in the White House for – just for Larry Summers to sit there and shoot down bad ideas and correct flawed ideas. Now, when Henry Kissinger is handing out compliments, you ought to listen, because it doesn’t happen very often. And you know, you look at Tim Geithner, who’s just really one of the brightest people around -- you look at that team, and you say, wow, this is a very, very formidable group of people.

You look over on the national security side, and, you know, I don’t think there’s ever been a time in American history where you had three former four-star generals or admirals as cabinet-level civilian office holders. Whether you can talk about James Jones, the former Commandant of the Marine Corps, as National Security Advisor, or Dennis Blair, former – the top admiral for the Pacific Fleet for the U.S. Navy as Director of National Intelligence, whether you can talk about General Shinseki at Veterans Affairs, you know, the guy that was sort of right about Iraq at the beginning, or Hillary Clinton. And the thing is, whether you’re a fan of Senator Clinton – or Secretary Clinton’s or not, she can’t go to any capitol of the world without – I mean, people know she’s there. And I mean, she is someone who -- nobody knows better than Barack Obama how tough she is, how smart she is, how resilient she is. And she’s going to be a very zealous advocate for this Administration.

So I kind of look at this and say, wow, here’s somebody who is confident enough about himself to pull some of the highest-powered people around, surround himself with these people, and, you know, seems to listen to them. So I’m very, very encouraged.

I think we’re at a point of – where the American people, they’re both scared and optimistic. You know, they’re terrified about the economy, and, frankly, I think the economy is even worse. The U.S. economy I think, and world economy, is even worse than most people imagine it to be. But at the same time, there’s a sense of kind of – I wouldn’t say optimism; of hope. That Obama – President Obama received 53 percent of the vote. You look at the last Fox News poll, and he has a 65 percent approval rating. The last Gallup poll, 67 percent. When you get 53 percent of the vote, yet you’re polling 65, 66, 67 percent approval ratings, you’ve got sort of a surplus situation. And I think what you’ve got is some people who did not vote for Barack Obama, but at the very least they’re hopeful that he does well, or maybe more than hopeful and, well, maybe he’s the right guy for the job, after all.

Now, the thing is, nobody, no President’s entered this office, I think, since Franklin Roosevelt, in 1932, with a bigger challenge that President Obama’s got. And – but I think the opportunity he has is that because people so thoroughly recognize – maybe they don’t understand the economy is as bad as it is, but they understand that it’s awfully, awfully bad, and that he didn’t create it. And I think he does have something of a blank check for a while, a blank checkbook, where, basically, the attitude that most Americans have right now is, get the car out of the ditch. And we don’t care how much it costs and we don’t care if the bumper gets pulled off and we don’t care if it gets some dents on the side, get it out of the ditch as fast as you can, and then we’ll worry about the cost of it later.

And while that’s – I mean, I think that’s sort of where they are right now, and it gives him an opportunity to do some things in terms of not just stimulating the economy, but in terms of restructuring the – our tax code, restructuring health care. It gives him an opportunity that a President might not otherwise have under these circumstances. And I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but it’s there.

The thing that I am most worried about is that I think that the U.S. system is most healthy when it has two strong parties, two strong political parties that are healthy. And what worries me, just as an American and somebody that cares about the system, what worries me is the Republican Party is not in a healthy situation right now. And in fact, it’s in a distinctly unhealthy situation. And because of that, I worry about the Republican Party’s ability to sort of deal with the – to hold Democrats accountable.

Gallup did a poll back in November, after the election, where they asked people, “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of the Democratic Party?” And the Democratic Party had a 55 percent favorable/39 percent unfavorable. The Republic Party, though, had a 34 percent favorable/61 percent unfavorable. Pew Research had the favorable/unfavorable for Democrats 62/32, and the Republicans, 40 favorable/55 unfavorable.

When you asked the approval rating for Democrats in Congress, Democrats had a lousy 37 percent approval – this was Gallup – 55 percent disapprove. But Republicans in Congress had a 25 approve/69 disapprove, where the Republicans in Congress had an even lower approval rating at the time than President Bush had, and we didn’t think you could get that low. And you look at – there was a CNN poll that came out last week that asked people, “Would you rather see Democrats in control of Congress, or Republicans?” Democrats were ahead by 25 points. When – and then there was a Hotline poll that came out Thursday or Friday that had it at 24 points.

When you have a party that has contracted to the point where the Republican Party is, eight points behind if you ask, “Do you consider yourself a Democrat or Republican,” – I think it’s 15 points behind. If you ask which party do you lean to, and you kind of factor those in, when you have a party that’s contracted down to that base level, it cannot effectively hold the other party accountable. And I think, you know, that’s good news for Democrats and bad news for Republicans, but it’s probably bad news for the country because it doesn’t keep the ruling party, you know, as accountable as it probably ought to be.

Bottom line is, you know, we’ve got a midterm election coming up in November of 2010. And in my judgment, I think the economy has to start – has to have bottomed out and start clearly improving, coming back at least some by, I think, the summer of 2010. If that happens, then I think President Obama and Democrats can do reasonably well, hold on to their majorities, and maybe, you know, add a few seats on the Senate side. But if the economy is not showing some clear progress by the summer of 2010, then at some point, the ownership of the economy, the– right now, President Bush owns the economy in the sense that he is seen as responsible for what happened. But at some point, that ownership conveys over to President Obama, and I think that ownership – he’s got to show progress by the summer of 2010, if that’s going to happen.

Now, if the recession started in December of 2006, as the economists tell us that it did, that would be three-and-a-half years. And that certainly is usually plenty of time for a recession to be over and to be turning a corner, although this is obviously not a normal recession. But I think it really has to start turning around by the summer of 2010. I think he’s got a blank check to do it. Historically, it ought to be happening by then. But you know, we’ll see whether that – whether that happens or not.

I think the thing that I would watch for over the next couple of weeks is, how does President Obama position himself vis-à-vis Democrats in Congress and Republicans? And what I – my hunch is going – you’re going to see happening is he’s going to try to do what President Clinton did back in ’95 and ’96, after Democrats had suffered the disastrous midterm election losses in 1994, of triangulation. Basically, you’ve got your party, the liberals, and you’re – you know, the left hand of the Democratic Party over here, the Republican Party over here, and you kind of position yourself roughly equal distance between the left of your party and the right of the other party, and try to – so that the public sees you as even-handed, as in the middle, as trying to strike the compromise, trying to work across party lines. If he does that, you know, I think that he can be – he can be successful.

And that’s why looking at, say, the economic stimulus package, where on the – where, you know, he goes down, he meets with House Republicans, he asks for their support, but not one single one of them voted for the economic stimulus package; or when he went to the Senate to meet with Senate Republicans, and not one single Republican voted in favor of the Children’s health plan. The thing about it is, a lot of my liberal Democrat friends say, see, it shows the futility, why President Obama shouldn’t even bother reaching out to Republicans. And I would argue no, what it means is the optics of it were there, that the average voter looks at that and says he reached out to the other party and the other party would not compromise with him. And the thing is, that is good politics and that is the kind of thing that can help make him successful, but – to play the two parties against each other and he’s in the middle.

And I think that’s going to be what you’re going to generally see over the next – over the next few months. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong. We’ll see. But he certainly has an enormous task ahead of him and, you know, we’ll see – see where he goes.

Why don’t we just open it up at this point for questions, comments, accusations.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about – yeah, my name is Irakli Shetsiruli from Georgian TV Imedi. And I’m interested about foreign policy in new Administration, and challenges. What can you say about Medvedev and Obama’s next meeting, which comes on April month? Are you expecting that they’re going to talk about Georgia issue after Georgian war?

MR. COOK: Wow. I’m – I have to confess to you I am not a foreign policy expert. And you will have people that will know a lot more than me. And if I tried to pretend like I was answering that question, you would see that I don’t know what I’m talking about, very quickly. And so let me – let me pass on that, because I don’t – I mean, the thing is it’s an important – well, I’m not even – yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Andrei Sitov from Tass. Let me try to rephrase that, though, that may be answerable for you. We all know that the economy is number-one priority. All the polls show that. So do you, looking at that poll, those polls, believe he even has a window there of eventually doing anything in foreign policy, doing anything of anything other than the economy?

MR. COOK: Well, I mean, the thing is, I think, as someone who predicted that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee for president, I have an enormous amount of respect for Barack Obama. I mean, after all, he proved me wrong. I think this guy is a very, very bright guy who’s capable of doing more than one thing at once. And you know, I think he’s capable of multitasking, and I think – I don’t know that he would have put the team behind him that he did unless it was going to be a priority for him.

And the thing is you can’t – President – President Bush Sr. – I think George H.W. Bush was a terrific – I think it gives us a perfect example. In his case, he was a very, very, very successful president in foreign policy, but was seen as having ignored or been inattentive to the economy, and his presidency was considered a failure and – you know, and he lost reelection because of it. I think that you have to – you know, the joke is you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. You have to be able to do more than one thing at a time. And I think it is – I think – I think you’re looking at someone who is bright enough, attentive enough, and aware of the sort of – the problems, the challenges that the U.S. faces around the world, and the damage to our position in the world that’s occurred, that I think it’s going to be – I mean, I don’t know that there’s a value in saying this – economy is of this importance and international relations is of that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted – it’s not even – it’s not about that. When I was asking about the window of opportunity, I was more concerned with whether the Congress and the public opinion will allow him to diverge from the economy in any way, like you just told us about George Bush, Sr.

MR. COOK: I think – I think one of the challenges that we face in American diplomacy is that for the average – you are from Russia. How many countries does Russia – other countries do you touch? A bunch. You are a integrated part of two different – three different continent – well, two continents. For all intensive – I mean, with – okay, I don’t want to get into trouble here.

With all the respect imaginable for our neighbors in Mexico and Canada, the mentality of the average American – if you put the continental United States where Hawaii is, with thousands of miles of ocean in every direction, we think we live – we have traditionally thought that we live in our own little world, and that nothing that happens anywhere else really affects us, you know, at least until 9/11. And now, I think – and particularly, I think that – Americans, I think, are more aware right now of how the rest of the world views us than we probably have at any time in my lifetime, anyway. And it may not matter as much to us as it should, but it matters a lot more to us than it ever has before.

And I think the idea that, you know, it kind of matters what other – what people in other countries think of us, I think we really are kind of sensitive more to it. And so I think there is a greater appreciation right now, even with the recession, even with – that we – you know, we have to do more than pretend to be listening to other countries.

And one of the things about Barack Obama is that he seems to be a very, very good listener, and when you – I know the couple times that I’ve been around him, you – I remember one time it was almost more infuriating because he kept listen – you wanted him to say something and he kept listening. And you kind of – you know, but the thing about it is, obviously, if you’re listening to me, you’re the smartest person on the planet, you know. And it’s kind of ingratiating when someone is listening so hard, but at the same time, you want to kind of pull some information out of him.

But I think here is a guy that is a very accomplished – I mean, he’s – he’s got a very, very sensitive ear and listens very carefully to what people say, and kind of synthesizes it and comes out with something. I think he does have a window here to do – and I think there is an expectation and an understanding that this is a big job with a long job description. I think he does have a window. And the thing is, I think people – Americans, we want to be loved and we want to be respected, and we know that – not so much lately. And I – so I think he’s got a long leash in that area where people are going to give him the benefit of the doubt, cause they know that we – I mean, we are, I think, more aware of the limitations of our own power right now than we probably ever have. And so – and that’s not – that’s actually pretty healthy, probably.

How do you want to do this? Well, I’ll tell you what. Let’s just work our way this way, the back of the room, and then come back forward. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Arita Tsukasa with Kyodo News, Japanese. I have a question on future election. What are the – this 2008 presidential election changed the way of future election? I mean, collecting money or organizing people or strategy for few key states, and those kind of campaign skill?

MR. COOK: Well, I don’t think this was – I mean, although the result of the election was somewhat revolutionary, I think a lot of the things that led to it were more evolutionary than revolutionary. I mean, in the sense that – public financing of presidential elections, it was kind of dead already. The use of technology in campaigns, it was already ramping up. I mean, the thing is, you know, Howard Dean started the use of the internet, John Kerry refined it, and then Barack Obama and his campaign took it to an even higher level.

I mean, it’s not that they did that many things that no one had ever done before. They just took each one to a whole new level. And whether it was technology, whether it was fundraising, whether it was organization, I mean, you know, on so many levels, they just did it smarter, better, in a more sophisticated way than their predecessors. And I went to a conference with the campaign managers and strategists for each of the major campaigns. And that was one of the things that you sort of took away from it, that you notice the McCain people, where it’s just sort of like every step along the way, they just looked over at what the Obama people were doing and said, wow, these guys are really good at it. And it wasn’t anything that they -- they didn’t invent anything new, they just took it all to new levels.

But I think that – I think one thing that we know from history is that – well, I mentioned earlier, when you’ve had a party or presidency for eight years, winning it a third time is really, really hard. Well, when you have just taken the presidency from the other party, four years – since 1900, that’s happened ten times. The party that just took the White House over from the other party has won nine out of the last ten. And the one exception was 1980, where Jimmy Carter took the presidency back from Republicans in ’76, lost it four years later when he was up for reelection. So when you’ve taken it over from the other side, nine times out of ten, you’ve held on to it. So history – theoretically, history argues that Obama ought to have a pretty good chance at reelection.

But having said that, you know, no president’s taken over an economy that was in as bad a shape as this – as this economy is in. How much does that change things? But on the other hand, the Republican Party is probably – it’s in its weakest position it’s been in, you know, 20 years, at least. So, you know, we’ll see. You know the slogan for Alcoholics Anonymous is ‘one day at a time’, and that’s sort of my advice. You know, from here on out, it’s – we’re in unchartered territory here. I mean, we could cite history, we can site patterns. But hey, we’ve never been in this situation before. So you know, we’ll see.

Let’s see. Right there. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. Again, with Kyodo News, I am Hiroki Sugita. Could you talk a little bit about the Republican Party? To what extent Michael Steel, the new RNC Chairman, can appeal to the voters and the minorities? And also what kind of scenario do you think that – do you think a Republican Party should take to gain the power?

MR. COOK: Well, I think – let me sort of segment it out. Republicans lost the African American vote by 91 percentage points. Wow. Well, okay, with President Obama in office, I don’t think there’s a lot of chance of that changing a whole lot. But they lost the Hispanic vote by 36 percentage points. Now, the Hispanic vote typically is more Democratic than Republican. But the thing is, it shouldn’t be nearly that lopsided. But some of the efforts among some in the Republican Party and not President – not former President Bush and not John McCain, but some Republicans in Congress, or some Republicans, seem to be determined to drive away from their party Hispanic voters. And I think it was enormously destructive to do that to the fastest growing minority group in the country. And it was like they’re trying to lose. Well, I – my hunch is that this last election was something of a wake-up call for Republicans that they need to be more inclusive.

Now I don’t think – I’ve met Michael Steele a few times. I think he’s a very capable guy. I’m not sure how important it is to be chairman of either party’s national committee at this point, but I think the symbolism of picking him, not so much attracting African American votes, although – you know, maybe – let me – but as much as showing an inclusiveness, an openness and a recognition that the Republican Party has to change its directions. I think that’s much more important.

I mean, the benefit is among moderate, middle-of-the-road, white voters that, well, I mean, take the Republican that came in -- I guess he was in second place or the top three was the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. I’m sure this guy is a very capable guy, but you know, he had been member of an all-white country club.

Now, the thing is, the last thing on this planet that Republicans needed to do was elect a national party chairman that, until a few months ago, was a member of an all-white country club. I mean, that would have been – you might as well just put a gun at their head and blown their brains out. You know, the fact that they didn’t do that, the fact that they made a conscious decision not to do that and to go a different direction, I think was constructive, it was helpful.

I think he’ll be a good chairman. I’m not sure how much difference it makes, but it’s a – you know, I think it’s a positive step. And the thing is we haven’t seen a lot of positive steps for Republicans lately. So I think it’s notable in that it was probably one of the few smart things they’ve done lately. So – but, you know, he’s a very capable guy, a very bright guy. He ran for the U.S. Senate, did a lot better than a lot of us ever thought he would. So I think it was a good move for the Republican Party. I really do.


QUESTION: Hi, Charlie. Felicia Sonmez from the Asahi Shimbun. Thanks so for coming today. I have two questions. One is about the reports that Judd Gregg from New Hampshire is on the short list for a Secretary of Commerce spot, and the other reports about that saying that that might help Democrats to reach sixty in the Senate, which has since been shot down. I’m wondering, what do you make of this choice, and was it just an effort by Democrats to reach sixty, which was nipped in the bud by Republicans? And a second question, sort of related, is about Russ Feingold’s push for special elections to fill congressional vacancies. What do you make of the chances of that legislation coming back?

MR. COOK: Well, first of all, let me answer the last – answer the last part: zero. You know, I don’t think that Senator Feingold is going to be successful, and I don’t think he’ll go anywhere and I would be surprised if it got out of committee. But the thing is, I don’t think this was a move for sixty so much as it was -- there’s something demoralizing when prominent members of your party go to the other side. I mean, just psychologically, it’s just so damaging. And during the 1980s, during the Reagan Administration, you had a steady flow of Democrats changing parties, moving over to the Republican Party. And each one was like a body blow against Democrats. It’s like rats jumping a sinking ship. And I think that when you reach over and pull people from the other party, prominent people from the other party, you know, you’re landing psychological blows, and you’re creating potential bridge-builders, too, and not in the House, because House Republicans, frankly, don’t matter. I mean, they’re the most irrelevant people in Washington right now.

But the thing is, in the Senate, by my count, there are about 41, 42 fairly liberal Democrats, and there are about 34 pretty conservative Republicans. And then in the center, you’ve got about 24, 25 relative centrists. Now more – a lot more of them are Democrats than Republicans, but these are people that are the swing voters in the U.S. Senate. And by picking a – even if you haven’t changed the ratio in the Senate at all, which it sounds like they are going to – they’ve worked out an arrangement where it will be a Republican that would replace Senator Gregg, if he is picked to be Commerce Secretary. You’ve just signed on one more bridge builder. And the Senate is where Obama – President Obama doesn’t need help in the House; he needs help in the Senate. And by having another – a Republican senator, former Republican senator on his team, sort of reaching across and being an advocate for this is how -- you know, you’ve got Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Arlen Specter, George Voinovich, (inaudible), Dick Lugar, Lisa Murkowski, John McCain; that Judd Gregg can be almost like the Obama Administration’s liaison, an ambassador to the centrist Republicans, in terms of helping, you know modify, craft proposals, where it can reach over and pick off two or three or four of these Republican centrists and pull them over, to me, that’s the value, the symbolic values of having – and plus, a symbolic value. So I think there’s a huge value to having Judd Gregg, even if it wasn’t going to change the Senate.

The other thing is, most votes in the Senate, they’re not party line votes. And what you’re – I mean, 60, I think, is a very arbitrary number, because the fact is, it depends on the issue. You know, where is – you know, where is Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Clair McCaskill, Byron Dorgan, Tom Carper, Jim Webb, Jon Tester or Evan Bayh, Blanche Lincoln, Robert Byrd? You know, and we don’t know where – Baggage (ph) Bennett, Kay Hagan, Mark Warner are certainly going to be moderate. I mean, the thing about it is it depends on the issue of – and so the 60/40, it’s an – it’s arbitrary, I mean, because most things aren’t filibustered, and if you craft the legislation right, you ought to be able to avoid a filibuster anyway.

So I don’t – you know, I think the value isn’t – I mean, the intent wasn’t to get to 60. The intent – I mean, they wouldn't have – if it was, then they wouldn't have cut the deal. You know, they probably could have gotten him without that deal. But, so I don’t – you know, and but I don’t – the thing about it is this – take – well, I mean, there was the move to have a special election in Illinois. What was it going to cost -- $35-$40 million to have a special Senate election in Illinois? Do you think Illinois has an extra $35-$40 million to spare to have an election with nothing else on the ballot? You know, I think they have better things to do with their money. I mean, for 200 years we’ve been having – or not 200, but ever since we started the direct election of senators in the early 1900s -- yeah, we’ve had special election – I mean, we’ve had appointees until the next election. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Okay, how about the back row --

MODERATOR: Last question.

MR. COOK: I’m probably – I’m going to cheat and do two. But okay, you and you.

MODERATOR: Oh, okay. (Laughter.)

MR. COOK: Okay, back row. Yes, sir. Because this guy has had his hand up as well. Yeah, you’re on.

QUESTION: Nickolay Zimin, Russian Itogi again. You stated that the Republicans have very low approval ratings, and basically, we saw that country voted for Democrats, but after this (inaudible) Republicans consistently, I mean, in Congress – Republicans in Congress consistently vote against Democrats’ proposal. So is it a wise strategy? What is your take on this?

MR. COOK: You mean for – a wise strategy for Republicans? Well, I think you’re going to have the Republican Party kind of wandering around the wilderness for a while, and not really sure what they ought to do.

And I – but I also think, though, that there is a huge difference between House Republicans and Senate Republicans, and my guess is that House Republicans are going to continue to overwhelmingly oppose President Obama and, you know, most everything he does, and that that’s not going to change, but it’s not going to matter, because in the House, you know, as long as you’ve got a majority of the votes, you can do what you – I mean, you know, the President – or you can do whatever you want in the House, and that President Obama, as long as he keeps the moderate and conservative Democrats happy in the party, he’ll be able to get what he wants through the House.

The Senate side, where you – you know, you do theoretically, if there is a filibuster, you do need 60. But the thing about it is there are a lot – the nature of the Senate, one of the things – the differences between the Senate and the House is that in the House, most Democratic congressmen represent districts that are overwhelmingly Democratic, and most Republicans in the House represent districts that are overwhelmingly Republican, that the lines are carved up in such a way that there aren’t that many district – congressional districts that are even remotely evenly divided between the two sides. In fact, there are only about – you know, basically, 80, 81, I think it is, congressional districts that are relative swing districts in terms of how they vote.

But in the Senate, you know, there are lot more states that are in play, and that if you’re – whether you’re a Republican senator or a Democratic senator, there are more of them that represent places where there are significant members of the other party or people that are independent, that you – it forces you to be somewhat more moderate, somewhat less partisan in the Senate than in the House. And that’s why I think you proportionally have more centrist Republican senators, Republicans in the Senate, than in the House is because of that, and why Obama has a chance to kind of reach to them a little bit more is that there is more responsiveness, you have more moderate – moderate to conservative Democrats in the Senate than in the House, you have more moderate to liberal Republicans in the Senate than in the House, and it’s the nature of the Senate rather than the House. And so I think you may see a division with House Republicans continuing to be pretty much obstructionist while you’ll have, you know, a half dozen or so Republicans in the Senate that will, on the issue by issue basis, occasionally work with Obama and give him support.

So, last question right here on the front row.

QUESTION: Thanks, Charlie. Sean Sullivan with NHK. I just want to ask about the future political landscape in elections. I guess what we saw in this last election was the Obama campaign sort of 50-state, compete in every state, every county, strategy, and even turn some states that were not normally swing states – Virginia and North Carolina, Missouri –

MR. COOK: Indiana.

QUESTION: -- and Indiana into swing states. And my question is, is that a sustainable model for the Democrats to employ in future presidential elections, or are we going to find that that was very specific to a time and place, to 2008?

MR. COOK: That’s a great question. I mean, I think there are different explanations for each state, but – in that in some states, just the nature of the states are changing. You know, Colorado used to be a very Republican state, but you had so many people moving in from other states that it’s changed the complexion. Virginia, same thing, North Carolina –

In fact, it – what’s very interesting, if you’re ever – you know, you’re bored and have nothing to do, go on The New York Times website, go in the politics section, look under the election results and exit poll stuff, and they’ve got some fascinating charts. But my favorite chart on there is one that – it compares for each of the – what are there, 3,000, 4,000 counties in the country – how Obama did in each county, compared with how John Kerry did in that county. And what’s interesting is, for the vast majority of the country, Obama did better than John Kerry. But where did Kerry do better than Obama? Well, it’s sort of eastern Ohio and West Virginia, down across Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma. There’s this sort of L-shaped area where John Kerry did badly, but Obama actually did worse.

And then – and yet you look at Virginia, North Carolina and, almost, to a certain extent, Georgia, where Obama won Virginia and North Carolina and almost won Georgia. How do you explain why he did so much better in some southern states and worse in other southern states? And I think the answer is that in these southern states where you had a higher college – a higher percentage of people who are college educated, higher percentage of people who move there from other parts of the country, and a higher percentage of suburban, as opposed to small town, rural voters – that you saw Obama do really, really, really well. And in the places where the more small town, rural, less college educated, very few people who’ve moved in from other parts of the country, Obama did very, very badly and where race became a bigger, bigger – a bigger deal.

But I think that the – you are seeing some – some changes in voting patterns. I think one of the things that I would like to hear is the 50-state strategy. Who coined that phrase? Howard Dean. And yet, Dean’s just gotten kind of the back of the Administration’s hand. I mean, well, they didn’t even have the decency to invite – to have him at the – when they named Tim Kaine to be the new chairman, much less give him a job. And there’s obviously some really bad blood between the Obama people and Howard Dean. And I’m sure there’s a story there, and I am anxious to find out, what in the hell is that all about? Because you can at least to pretend to be grateful, even if you didn’t like the son of a gun, you know? But they didn’t.

But the thing about it is, to me, the 50 – I mean, Howard Dean ought to – is the one that ought to get credit for the 50-state strategy. But where Dean – I mean, but where the Obama campaign embraced it as their own. And they went after – the expanded the playing field far beyond, you know, what Hillary Clinton’s campaign did, and just ran a smarter, broader campaign. And the Clinton campaign was sort of predicated – I probably shouldn’t be up here trashing her – well, I’m not trashing her. But her campaign was sort of predicated on winning in Iowa, New Hampshire, and it’s sort of like, if we haven’t won in Iowa or New Hampshire, we’re probably screwed – which, actually, it may have been, you know. But the thing about it is, the Obama campaign was predicated on this being a long, drawn-out fight. And you know, they were right.

But I think that’s – I think we are seeing pronounced changes in voting patterns. But look, if President Obama overreaches, if some of the missteps that have taken place already become a pattern and a perception of incompetence, ineptitude, if that starts becoming a sustained pattern and their honeymoon is abbreviated, then this thing’s over and the voting patterns will probably go right back to where they were before. So you know, stuff happens.

I’m reminded of a fellow that wrote a book back in ’90 or ’91, and it was – the subtitle of the book was, “Why Democrats will Lose the 1992 Election, and Beyond.” And this book catalogued very well, I thought, all the problems with the Democratic Party. And every word in the book was true. But one thing was missing, and that is, stuff happens. And that – in this case, in 1991, there was a recession, and so that all the problems facing the Democratic Party that were very real became less important, because we had a horrible recession, and we had a president that was perceived as not having been – as having been too attentive on foreign policy, not enough on the domestic and economy, and it sort of papered over, glossed over all the problems the Democrats faced, and Bill Clinton won.

And so you know, there are lots of major dynamics that are pushing American politics in favor of the Democratic Party. But if President Obama doesn’t perform well, if Democrats in Congress don’t perform well, if the economy turns -- doesn’t turn around soon enough, then all those things will be nothing, and they get washed right back out.

So anyway, as I said earlier, one day at a time. But you know, you guys play a huge role in trying to explain to your readers and listeners all over the world this bizarre world of American politics. And you know, if you seem – if you feel confused, you know, half the time about what you see, welcome to the club, because we feel that way all the time, too. It’s an unpredictable, zany world. But thanks very much for having me over.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you very much.

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