10:00 A.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Today, we have with us Jerry Hagstrom, senior editor with the National Journal, who is going to preview for you the upcoming midterm elections. If you want to ask a question when he opens the session for question-and-answer, please raise your hand and wait for the mike and introduce yourself, okay?
MR. HAGSTROM: Thank you. Well, first of all, I want to tell you how happy I am to be here to speak to you. As some of you may know, I’ve actually done a lot of speaking for the State Department overseas explaining American elections, and sometimes talking about agriculture, which is the other subject that I cover. And I have enjoyed that very much over the – I must say now it’s about 25 years I’ve been doing these kinds of speeches. And so it’s been very enjoyable and maybe I will see you in your countries this year or another year. In any case, welcome to Washington, and I hope you’re staying for another day or two because now, you can have some nice weather as opposed to the humidity that we had earlier in the week.
The only way that I feel that I can talk about the elections coming up this year is to put this into some kind of context going back to the Obama campaign in 2008, because we’re really talking about an election year that is gearing off Obama’s election, Obama’s presidency, what has gone on in the Congress for the last couple of years. So I’m going to make some opening comments about that before I talk about this year’s election.
First of all, I’d like to say that covering the 2000 election – 2008 election was one of the most fabulous reporting experiences of my life. It was a really, really interesting time. I was one of those people who thought that Senator Clinton – then-Senator Clinton would be the logical Democratic nominee. I had spent a week following her around upstate New York. I had watched her intricately take positions when she was a senator so that if she were to run for national office, she would not be violating any of the positions that she had taken. She very much avoided taking the sorts of positions that would have been only good for New York. She was very, very strong on that.
So when I went out to cover the Iowa caucuses in January of 2008, I really – I must say at that point we knew she wasn’t going to win there, but I thought she would do well. And on the night of the caucuses, it was the first time that I had a chance to see Barack Obama speak. And it was really interesting to see, first, Senator Clinton. I went to her headquarters, to her event, and then I went to the Obama event. And the way I would describe the difference was that Senator Clinton gave the impression she was applying for a job. She talked about a lot of specifics, about what she could do as president.
But Barack Obama was inspiring and I could immediately see why so many people, why so many young people especially had gone to work for him and were so interested in having him become president. He represented so much more of a change, he spoke in such inspirational terms about changing the country, and so that I could see why this was starting. Although at that point, it still seemed incredibly illogical to think that this African American, less-than-one-full-term senator from Illinois was going to become the candidate, much less the president of the United States.
But as some people have said, that the way that that campaign year unfolded, it was almost like it was meant to happen. I mean, everything went well for Obama and nothing went well for the other Democratic candidates or for John McCain, the Republican candidate who was a weak candidate from the beginning. His own president from the Republican Party, President Bush, was very unpopular.
Then McCain had some of his own problems within the party because, oddly enough, then they thought he was too liberal. Now, he has moved in his reelection campaign for the Senate – he has become more conservative, but then he was considered liberal by some Republicans. Then he picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, and even though she’s become a huge international media figure now, she was still a questionable choice. But most of all, the economy just kept getting worse, and when the economy gets bad and gets worse, the American people generally want a change in their elected office-holders.
Well, so then we have election night and Inauguration Day. And both of those were also fabulously interesting days. I think the most important fact from the election is that President Obama did win 52 percent of the vote, a clear majority of the voters. No Democrat had done that in quite some time. Before President Clinton was elected, there were three-way races with Ross Perot involved. And so that was something very, very important.
And of Inauguration Day, I would say that there was enormous pride in the country, that we had overcome the legacy of slavery and discrimination against African Americans and elected an African American man as president of the United States. So that day of the inauguration, I was up at the Capitol for the inauguration and there were so many people in town that rather than stand in line for the subway to go back to my house, which is up near the zoo in Northwest, I walked. And just walking and seeing the people in the streets was – it was just a very – it was a fabulous, fabulous time.
But of course, once the president is elected, you have to get down to the hard work of governing. Now, the Administration started off with a very ambitious agenda which seemed – it certainly had the support of the people who were – who had worked for him and it also had the – it seemed to have the support of the majority of the American people.
And I would say they really started off with five things on their agenda: First of all, to stimulate the economy with this economic stimulus package that they had; to pass universal healthcare legislation; to pass a climate change bill; to reform education; and finally, to deal with the financial services industry to provide more regulation because the things that had happened in financial services were blamed for a lot of the financial payoffs that was going on at that time, and also this led partly to the – what we are now calling the “great recession.”
So what happened? Well, in my view, the reason why we have such contentious politics today is that the day after the election, or maybe the day after the inauguration, the right in the United States woke up and they said “Oh, we really elected an African American liberal president. What on earth happened here?” And because President Bush was off the scene and they hadn’t liked him, and McCain was sort of out of the action at this point, although he remained in the Senate, now the right was able to focus on opposition. They had cleared out the people that they didn’t like very much, and of course, the Republican turnout in the 2008 election was low. So, I mean, Obama got elected partly because the Republicans didn’t like their candidate.
And so then, you start having these people thinking, “What are we going to do now? I mean, where – we have to have opposition.” Whether you want to consider it loyal opposition or disloyal opposition, there, of course, should be opposition in American politics. And plus that, the Democrats have increased their numbers in the House and the Senate. So the Democratic control of Washington was complete.
Now, in addition to this – to what I would consider this phenomenon, we – you started having reactions against what President Obama was doing. And some of this is understandable. The economic stimulus package that the Congress passed in early 2009 was the biggest spending bill that has ever gone through the U.S. Congress. And so this, of course, would upset people who are concerned about the government becoming too involved in our lives and also about it spending too much money and concerned about the deficit.
And then the second issue, of course, that became very controversial is healthcare. And you will probably ask a question of “Why on earth would Americans not support universal healthcare?” Well, it may seem strange to outsiders, I think particularly Europeans and a few other countries where you have had strong universal care systems for many years.
But the fact is that no matter how much people complain in the United States about healthcare, 80 percent of Americans are satisfied with what they have. And why is that? And that’s because we have – if you – these are the people who have either Medicare, Medicaid, which is the program for poor people, veteran’s healthcare, or healthcare provided through their employers. And so what – in the change in the healthcare system, the real beneficiaries of this are the 20 percent of Americans who did not have it. Now, that is not a majority of the people.
And what happened in the debate is that the opponents of healthcare reform made the argument that the people who already have healthcare are going to lose it in some way. I mean, they’re not going to lose coverage, but their coverage might not be as good, it might not be as – I don’t want to say cheap, but the fact is for most Americans who get their healthcare through their employers, they pay only a fraction of it, maybe 20 percent of the premium, and the employer pays most of it. So they don’t personally feel this.
And so they’re – they became very concerned about what was going to happen to their healthcare. And some of this is justified because there will be changes in the system. And personally, as someone whose mother died at 99, I – and I was responsible for her care – I watched how Medicare worked and I must say that the system worked superbly. And so the senior citizens in this country do not want to lose the healthcare system that they have or to have it minimized. And so there’s an understanding of why this became so controversial.
But in the end, as you know, the Congress did pass it. President Obama did sign it. And now, in terms of the elections coming up this year, the question is: Will the opposition to that still be important by the time we get to the elections in November, or will people have adjusted to that? Will they have moved on to other things? Will some things that people want be in place, such as insurance companies not being able to cancel policies because people have developed certain illnesses, not being able to deny coverage? These are two of the most popular provisions. So in any case, what President Obama was doing did become controversial.
Now, in terms of elections in 2009, in the early stages of this, the Democrats were still on the rise. There were some special congressional elections for people who had left Congress for one reason or another and the Democrats won those seats. Then we had two gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and in Virginia, and the Republicans won those. Then, also Senator Kennedy died and then this became – the big issue was the Massachusetts senate election. And Massachusetts is such a Democratic state, Senator Kennedy had been so popular, it was just thought that the Democratic candidate would win.
But in Massachusetts, you had a Democratic candidate, the Democratic attorney general, Martha Coakley, who didn’t think she needed to campaign. And this is always dangerous in any election when you think that somebody is a shoo – when somebody thinks that they’re going to be elected without working hard to win the election. And meanwhile, you had the rise of the movement and you had a very handsome man named Scott Brown who was running for the seat, and he went out and – in his pickup truck and campaigned all over the state and he won. This is what we love in American politics is when somebody goes out and does what’s unexpected.
Well, in terms of the Congress, what’s really important about this is that the Democrats had 60 seats in the Senate. And this is important in the Senate because in the Senate, you need 60 votes to cut off debate and move to pass legislation. And now, the Democrats only have 59. They actually have 57 Democratic seats plus two Independents that vote with them. But this has – they had – in order to pass the final healthcare bill, they had to kind of go around this system and use votes that they had already conducted and – but they got the healthcare through.
But for all other legislation, particularly something like climate change, this is now a problem because they have to get at least one Republican vote to go along with them. And the Republicans have been very, very unified. And so despite their big majority, this has become a big problem.
Now, so what’s going on in the elections this year? First of all, I think that it’s important for you to know that the makeup of the Congress is really heavily Democratic. There are 255 Democrats in the House and 178 Republicans. In the – but it’s important also to know that there are 49 House districts that voted for McCain but still elected the Democrat to the House. So what the Republicans want to do is win the seats in those districts. But that’s – it’s not so easy because if the congressman has been in for a very long time, he’s probably very popular. And the Republicans have to take 40 seats to regain control of the House. On the Senate side – and of course, in our midterm elections, every seat in the House of Representatives is up. We elect them every two years.
On the Senate – in the Senate, where the terms are for six years, there are 36 up this year and there are 18 – it’s 18 Democratic seats and 18 Republican-held seats at the moment, but 13 of these are open. That means that there is new candidates in them. So we will have to see how that goes. It seems very unlikely that the Republicans would regain control of the Senate, but they probably will reduce the Democratic majority.
Now, how do things look at the moment? Well, here’s the situation. You probably hear a lot about Obama’s popularity rating going down. It was – it’s been as high as 68 percent. I think there have been some polls that even showed him into the low 70s. But that was right after the election and the – and after the inauguration. Now, his approval rating hovers between 52 and 48 percent. And I still consider that to be quite good considering the problems that we have and the campaign against him. There has been a – it’s the economic problems, now it’s the BP oil spill in Louisiana that cause him continual problems. But then there is also the opposition.
And so here, I want to say a few words about this “tea party” movement that you have probably heard about, and you may have a question – where does this come from? Well, of course, the original expression comes from the colonists in Boston dumping tea into the Boston Harbor rather than drinking it when they objected to the tax that the British authorities were placing on it. And so the organizers of the tea party movement, if you can call it a real movement, is very unfocused. They took up this name. And they first became really public in August of 2009. And what happened in the early part of the Obama – first year of the presidency was that Obama was pretty much in charge of the news and then the Congress was kind of in the background.
Then in August, the Congress took a break, they went home or they went on vacation, and the White House also kind of toned down its media operations, and the members of Congress were out in their districts. And these “tea partiers” began protesting at their public events. During our congressional breaks, the members always go home to meet with the public, to meet with the voters. And so they began these protests.
Well, the protests are absolutely fantastic for television. I mean, most meetings between members of Congress and their constituents are no more exciting than if TV cameras are following you and me right here. I mean, it’s a public event, but it’s not something that’s going to make a good story on the evening news that’s going to compete, for example, with a big car accident or a car chase or something like that. Well, these things were fabulous, and so they got all kinds of coverage all over the country. And this kind of built up the opposition to Obama and his agenda.
And so – but what does the tea party movement consist of? It’s people in every community, but it is not highly organized, although there would be some people who will tell you it’s closely tied to the Republican Party and that they’re behind it and all of that. I don’t think we have any – I don’t think we have clear evidence that it’s well-organized enough to say that.
And the reason I make that point is that we’re still not sure what the impact of the tea party movement will be in these little – in the upcoming elections this year, because the tea party people themselves are opposed to the idea that they are going to be a well-organized political movement. They like the idea that they have sprung from the grassroots and that they are showing what – showing their feelings and all of this. So it’s still hard to see what impact they’re going to have.
Now, having said all of that, I have to tell you that all the polls that have been done show the congressional Democrats to be in trouble, that they – that the public is reacting against the healthcare bill, they’re reacting against the increased regulation in society, even though, of course, they want the banks controlled because they consider them to be somewhat responsible for the recession, and that there is a lot of concern about the level of spending by the government. Even though a lot of the spending, of course, has reduced the – I won’t say has reduced the unemployment rate, but has kept it from rising.
People and – but underneath all of this, it’s the economy. The economy is bad. We have an unemployment rate – I think it’s still about 9.7 percent. But I think the bigger issue than the unemployment rate is that people who still have jobs don’t feel as rich as they were, and also that they are worried they could lose their jobs, and what would happen. And as you may know, Americans’ homes have gone up in value so incredibly for the last 20 years, and some of those values have dropped. And there are people who know that the mortgages they’re paying every month are higher than they should be, that if they sold their house, they wouldn’t be able to get as much as they paid for it. And all of this makes people very, very nervous. And so I think the impact of the economy is way beyond the near-10 percent who are unemployed.
Now, as we talk more about the election year, I want to make the point that the analyses that have been done so far about what will happen in the elections are based on two things. They’re based on historical patterns and they’re based on polls. They are not based on analysis of the individual races. And historically, we do know that the opposition party usually increases its number of seats in Congress the year – in the election following a presidential election. The polls are also showing that the Democrats are not popular, particularly in the 70 districts that are considered to be the most likely to be competitive in the elections this fall.
But something very important about American elections is that we do, for the most part, vote for the individual. We don’t vote a party line. We examine the candidates. We are taught this from grade school, is that – think about who you’re voting for, get to know the individual candidates. And what we don’t know in this election yet is how good the Republican candidates are going to be, and that is something that takes a lot of reporting, a lot of going out and examining individual races. In some cases, we haven’t even had the primaries yet, so you’re not sure who the candidate is going to be. So in terms of who wins this fall, I think we still don’t know.
I want to tell you a little bit about one election that I have been focusing on, and that is the reelection campaign of Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. She is the chairman of the Senate Ag Committee – Agriculture Committee – and so I went to Arkansas for her primary. And the other factor here in these elections is also that the left is not satisfied with President Obama and the Democrats. They wanted a stronger healthcare bill and there were other things that they wanted – more regulation on the environment, et cetera.
And so the left, particularly the labor unions, put up the lieutenant governor of Arkansas against Senator Lincoln in a primary. They said she had become too much the candidate of the establishment and that they were putting up this lieutenant governor, Bill Halter, as the candidate of the – of working people. Well, there was a three-way primary. She did not get 50 percent of the vote, so there had to be a runoff. And people kept saying the momentum was with Halter.
But one of the problems you have as a journalist in this situation is polling in these primaries is never very good because it’s too expensive. Candidates are – news organizations don’t do it, all that. In the end, Senator Lincoln got 52 percent of the vote and she won the runoff and she’ll be the candidate this fall. Well, now people are saying, well, the trend is that she won’t – she’ll only be in office a few more months because the Republican House member who is running against her will win this fall. Well, I would say we still don’t know that. We haven’t examined these people on the campaign trail. We don’t know how it will be. But this, to me, is an example of the unpredictability of this year’s elections. And so we’re just going to have to see this. But of course, as a political reporter, this is absolutely fascinating. We love surprises. That’s really the name of the game here.
So, as I said, I don’t know yet what’s going to happen in these elections. I suppose if I had to bet, I’d say that the Republicans will maintain the control – or, excuse me, the Democrats will maintain control of the Senate, and probably today, I would bet that the Democrats would maintain the slim majority in the House of Representatives. The Democrats have announced yesterday their – what they contend is their biggest get-out-the-vote effort that they have ever had. But who knows?
Finally, I want to address what would happen if the Republicans do take over? And if that happens, we will have more of an attempt at deficit reduction, at reducing government spending. But it will be a very, very difficult time because the big categories of spending in the United States are defense spending, Social Security, and Medicare. And the fact is who wants to take away pension – I mean, not take away, but who wants to reduce pensions for elderly people or raise the retirement age? All these things are very hard things to do. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do them and that we won’t do them, but they are extremely hard.
One of my colleagues went out to interview – to do a story on the tea party and he interviewed them about cuts in government spending because they’re the ones who are complaining about the deficit. And he came back and he said, “Well, the problem with the tea party is they’re for cutting everything in theory and nothing in specifics.”
If you go out there and you ask them, “Do you want to cut Social Security?”
“Do you want to cut Medicare?”
“Do you want to cut defense spending?”
“No.” Because the “tea partiers” are basically conservatives and they believe in a strong defense and are probably supportive of the wars in both Iran and – I mean, Iraq and in Afghanistan. And even on a much smaller issue, farm subsidies, which are actually low now because the commodity prices have been high, they don’t want to cut those either, because a lot of these people live in rural areas and would benefit from them. So it’s a really hard thing still to cut the deficit.
Finally, I’ll just raise the question of – what does all this mean for President Obama in 2012 when he will be up for reelection? At the present time, I still find President Obama an incredibly compelling personality, and I don’t think there’s anybody in the country who can compete with him, and I don’t find – and there is no logical Republican presidential candidate at the moment, so there’s likely to be a big contest again in the Republican Party. Also, Michelle Obama, her campaign against obesity is a tremendous asset.
If President Obama had any kind of a weakness within the Democratic Party, I would say it is that he is an African American, but he does not come out of the African American experience of slavery. He’s half Kenyan. And so within the black community, there was initially – I won’t call it a distrust, but let’s say a lack of knowledge of him. But of course, Michelle Obama is a traditional black American and so she did come from that experience. And between the two of them, they have – they are very popular among minorities in the United States.
So as I said, I consider Obama incredibly compelling. But it’s really going to depend a lot on who runs as a Republican candidate and what goes – what happens in the economy and in Iraq and in Afghanistan in the next couple of years.
Finally, I would make this analogy as to what Obama’s election means in the moment – the time that we are in. For those of you – and there are not very many in the audience – who are old enough to remember Woodstock, the famous rock concert – okay. Oh --
MR. HAGSTROM: All right. Okay. When the – if – the whole story of Woodstock was that it was all these thousands of young people who came together peacefully at this rock concert, and it was such a wonderful moment listening to all this music and eating and making love and all of this thing. It was just a fabulous, fabulous time. But the thing – but – and there was talk at the time that Woodstock was a movement and that times would change.
But then you have to remember the Vietnam War still went on. Later, there were rock concerts where people took drugs and were killed. So the thing – the end of this is Woodstock was a moment, and Obama’s election and his inauguration were also moments. And when the moment is over, the world is still there. And so in terms of what – how the world is constructed, everything actually changes – change moves very slowly; it doesn’t move so quickly. And I think that that’s the period that we’re in.
So, thank you, and I’ll be happy to take your questions. (Applause.) Oh, I’m going to call – am I going to call them?
MR. HAGSTROM: And please identify yourself and tell me what country you’re from.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Rehab Abdelhamid. I’m from Alexandria, Egypt. I just want to ask about something. From your point of view, you said that the Obama family, either the President or his spouse, are really good ones. But I also believe that you said that his popularity has come down some 68 percent to 48 percent. Even if this thing was cause of stuff that he has nothing to do with, like the oil spill, for example, but – what would your role and your colleagues as journalists to do to raise the awareness of people that this is really a good man?
MR. HAGSTROM: (Laughter.) Well, I don’t consider it my job to convince people that President Obama is a good man. And I actually would – I wouldn’t – I would not want you to come away from this event thinking that I said he was a good man. Remember, I said he’s a compelling political personality.
I think that in terms of how the press treats President Obama, I think that we owe him fairness, I think that we owe him accurate reporting on what the Administration is doing. And if the Administration’s performance is good, I think that that should come out in the reporting. But beyond that, American politicians have a tremendous ability to connect directly with the public, both through their television appearances, their personal appearances, but also now through the internet and all these different ways that people communicate. So I think a lot of the take on Obama is his own.
I will share with you my personal analysis of Obama as a political personality, and that is I think that Obama is cool, like a jazz musician is cool. He – but – I mean, and people like that. People like that. He is unflappable. But anybody who has watched a jazz performer more than once knows that jazz is not spontaneous, that there’s a great deal of effort that goes into jazz. And I think Obama puts a great deal of effort into his performance as well.
At the moment, we are dealing with this question of “Is cool good,” because in the question of the oil spill, you remember people thought he did not react emotionally enough and react – didn’t react quickly enough. So the judgment is still out there, although today, I have to say if you compare Obama’s performance with the Congressman Joe Barton yesterday, who said that he would apologize to BP, I think President Obama comes out on top of this. I mean, so you sort of have to take this day by day and incident by incident and see how it comes out.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Julia Marsh and I work for Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper. In The New York Times Magazine last Sunday, Matt Bai had a piece questioning how maybe energized Obama was to be the Democrat-in-chief. In light of that, I’m wondering what you expect to see his role in the midterm election, where you see him going, what role do you see him playing?
MR. HAGSTROM: I think that President Obama will go where he’s asked to go, and that will not be everywhere. And I will go back to the – to Senator Lincoln’s race in Arkansas. Senator Lincoln brought in President Clinton as – to campaign for her because Clinton is from Arkansas and is more popular there. And actually, for this congressional race up in Pennsylvania, Clinton also campaigned.
So I think that Obama and the campaign effort that surrounds him will make those judgments, but in most cases – since in most of these races, there will be a Democratic incumbent up for election, it will be up to the candidate to ask the President to come if he wants him to be there.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Florabel Aureus from Manila, Philippines. And my question is – really is on his popularity because most of this group come from all over the country, and I’d like to know – you discussed about his popularity in the United States. How does he fare among the international community? I mean, how about his foreign policy? How does he fare?
MR. HAGSTROM: I really don’t – I can’t answer that. I think the people here at the Foreign Press Center would be better equipped to tell you that. I just haven’t looked at the polls. I know the general trend has been this – that President Obama has been very popular overseas. And then people figured out, oh, there are still the same issues between the United States and my country. The issues are sort of perpetual; they don’t go away. He is a more popular personality than President Bush was and is viewed as – I guess you would say being more internationalist. But beyond that understanding, I would defer to other people to answer that question.
QUESTION: I think in today’s paper, there was an article. There was a press conference with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. They did an analysis. He is still very popular overseas as a personality. But his – the policies --
MR. HAGSTROM: Right.
QUESTION: -- and his (inaudible).
MR. HAGSTROM: And that – to a degree, that’s the same position that he’s in in the United States, that – is that he is still popular as an individual, but there’s been – but his policies are not so popular. Well, that’s because the issues he’s dealing with are difficult, and if you’re going to address some of these problems, you’re going to take stands that are not popular with everybody. And I’m not saying all his positions are right. I’m just saying that that’s sort of, part of what comes with the job. But if – I will tell you this: If the unemployment rate went down, people would be a lot happier.
QUESTION: Thank you. Christina Bergmann, Deutsche Welle international radio. Thank you for doing this. Could you talk a little bit more about the tea party? So what kind of impact has the tea party had so far on the two – on the Democrat and the Republican Party? And what do you expect for the near and midterm future?
MR. HAGSTROM: Well, certainly, as you know, the – since you’re living in this country, the tea party has had an impact in Republican primary races. It has – its members, if you can call it that, or supporters, have generally backed very fiscally conservative candidates – that is, people who want to cut government spending. And the biggest impact we have seen perhaps has been in the Kentucky senate primary in which a man named Rand Paul won, even though Mitch McConnell, the leader – the senator from Kentucky who is the leader of the Republicans in the Senate was backing another candidate.
In terms of the Democrats, the big impact of the tea party really is that it’s very popular in rural areas. And if you look at the seats where the Democrats are vulnerable, it’s more the rural areas of the country. They managed in the last elections – the last two elections to elect a lot of people – or people from areas where the Democrats had not been in power for a long time. And so of course, the Republicans would like to regain those seats.
And those areas tend to be very – they tend to be conservative, although the odd thing is rural areas are also more dependent on government spending because they have more elderly people, and so therefore they have more Social Security recipients. These are farming areas, so they’re dependent on farm subsidies. They also are lower in income than urban and suburban areas, and so therefore, they get other forms of government aid.
But the thinking of the people is conservative. And so they don’t like the idea of big government spending. And so what happens in those areas is that you have a lot of rural Democrats who are also fiscal conservatives. They’re – this group in the Congress is known as the Blue Dogs, which is an expression that they use to describe themselves.
And so – okay, so the tea party movement’s impact on those rural Democrats is that it has made them reluctant to vote for increased spending. And they also put pressure on the Administration not to spend so much, not to increase regulation so much.
The lady in pink has had her hand up for a long time. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you. Sonia Schott, Globovision, Venezuela. You mentioned in your remarks that people here in the U.S. are voting more for the individual instead for the party line. How to understand that when we are in uncertain times? And I think people are looking more for reliable or long-term policies. Thank you.
MR. HAGSTROM: Well, I understand the thinking that if you were – if you wanted reliability, you would go with one party’s vision of the world rather than another’s. Americans don’t really think that way about politics. I would say that most Americans would really prefer to have what we call split government. Political scientists hate the idea that the President is a Democrat and the Republicans control the Congress or vice versa, because there is no clarity then. Then every time you’re developing a policy, you have this mixture. You don’t have one party’s vision in clear control.
But the American people will say that’s the best; that’s when you get the best policies, because they have to work together. They have to combine conservative ideas and liberal ideas. And so Americans really do like this mixture. They’re worried about a party going too far to the – to one way or another.
I remember a pollster telling me his enormous frustration. He was a Republican pollster when President Reagan was in office and he told me about doing this poll and talking to this woman on the phone. And he asked her opinion of President Reagan; oh, she loved President Reagan. And then she said, “Well, then would you help him achieve a Republican majority in Congress?” And she said, “Oh, I don’t want to give him that much power.” (Laughter.)
I mean, this is the way that Americans think. And in this election, I would say the Republicans’ real job is to prove that they can govern again. Remember, they were thrown out of the control of Congress in 2006 because people thought they were not doing a good job. And we still have the question, will they have something to tell the American people in this election that gives them a reason to vote Republican? Or will it just be a vote against the Democrats?
And voting against is never a really strong way to run a campaign. It’s – the people in the end, they like something to vote for. They will vote as a protest sometimes, but they prefer voting for something, which I feel that they were doing in 2008 with President Obama. I mean, he had presented himself as someone to vote for.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Karin Kitching from South Africa. I just wanted to know – I’ve read in the newspaper this past week about the controversy regarding the Democratic candidate that’s been nominated – I think Greene is his surname – and there is also the African American connection there.
QUESTION: South Carolina.
MR. HAGSTROM: South Carolina, yeah.
QUESTION: Do you think that is because of all the bigger interest in this year’s midterm election than usual, that they will scrutinize candidates much more or will – it is just other factors influencing that?
MR. HAGSTROM: Well, this is an extremely odd situation. The greatest oddity about – is that we have an unemployed man who somehow came up with $10,000 to file his candidacy. Now, where did he get the money? And we don’t have an answer to that question yet. We always have scrutiny, particularly, of Senate candidates. Candidates are often surprised, especially if they’re rising to the Senate level.
The House, it’s a little hard because there are so many districts that national newspapers don’t take an interest in most House races. But this is a – this is really an odd, odd situation.
QUESTION: My name is Josephine Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso. My question is that in 2008 there were two candidates inside the Democrat Party. Now that President Obama is in power, in 2012, do you think that there will be – there can be a new candidate in the Democratic Party and then they will go through a competition before Obama will be the (inaudible) candidate?
MR. HAGSTROM: I would doubt very much that there will be an opponent to Obama within the Democratic Party in 2012. That would really surprise me. Generally, we don’t have primary opposition for – in a reelection campaign unless the members of the party think that the candidate – there’s enough – or the President or officeholder is not doing well. And President Obama remains very popular among Democrats.
QUESTION: Nikolay Zimin, Itogi, Russia. Sir, it’s nice to see you here again.
MR. HAGSTROM: Thank you.
QUESTION: I have a question. I know the answer. But – (laughter) – I’m afraid my editors would prefer to hear it from you.
MR. HAGSTROM: Okay.
QUESTION: How much significance for the country and significance will be the role of foreign policy in this year’s reelection? Thank you.
MR. HAGSTROM: Okay. Well, it has been very interesting to me how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have kind of fallen off the front pages of our newspapers. I mean, we have had so many domestic issues to deal with: healthcare and the BP oil spill. So unless something incredible happens in the coming months, I don’t think foreign policy is going to be a very important issue in these midterm elections. It’s really about the economy, the unemployment rate, the – how the stock market is doing I would say and then there are – and in these midterms there can also be local issues in each one. So I don’t foresee foreign policy being a big issue.
QUESTION: My name is Alexander Gasyuk and I am also from Russia with Russian Daily Newspaper Rossiyskaya. You said that Obama was inquiring into the (inaudible) and there are no doubts about it. Who do you imagine – who is going to inspire the Republican electorate into 2012 and who’s going to win the nomination from Republican Party? Because we heard it was about Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney and other guys. But could you imagine who it’s going to be? Thank you.
MR. HAGSTROM: I have a – I really do have a hard time figuring out who the Republican candidate will be. I don’t think it is clear yet. Certainly, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor has a lot of supporters in the business community. But at the same time, the evangelical voters in the Republican Party are very distrustful of him because he’s a Mormon. This is an interesting religious split within the party. Sarah Palin is very popular with the tea party movement and some Republicans, but I don’t think that the business community would consider her to be a serious candidate. Newt Gingrich appears, likely, to be running. He’s the former House speaker. And – but he’s been out of office for quite a while, so would say that’s a question there. But what happens in politics is that you can – people can rise that you never focused on before the election year. Who would have ever dreamed it would be Barack Obama in 2008? So – (laughter) – I’m kind of leaving that one open right now.
MODERATOR: Time for one more question. Thank you very much.
MR. HAGSTROM: Oh, there she is. Let’s let her ask.
MODERATOR: Which –
MR. HAGSTROM: Oh, the lady in white right here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Jing Du, Xinhua News Agency, China. And we have witnessed some of the Republicans have been behaving in a partisan way in almost every Democratic (inaudible) efforts. And (inaudible) labeled as the No Party, and using these kind of obstructionism will hurt his party in midterm elections. And another question is a follow-up question to Obama’s role in midterm elections. Do you think his appearance before a Democratic candidate’s campaign could really have this candidate? We know that he went to Massachusetts (inaudible). Thank you.
MR. HAGSTROM: Okay, first of all, on what the questioner is identifying as Republican obstructionism. The Republicans have been very unified and they are under a lot of pressure from the base of their party to remain unified and not to go along with what the Democrats want to do. And, of course, one of the phenomena of midterm in elections is that the voter turnout is lower and so it’s the base of each party that is going to – is most interested in voting. And you have fewer Independents and people who aren’t so politically involved voting. They turn out for presidential elections, but they don’t turn out for the midterms. So you can understand why the Republicans have been sticking together so strongly.
I think what will really matter is whether the Democrats can turn out their people and they did a phenomenal job in 2008 and they got a lot of young voters to turn out, Hispanic voters to turn out, African-American voters to turn out, all of them in larger numbers than usual. And so I think that – if those Democrats turn out, they will view what the Republicans have done as obstructionism and they will most likely vote Democratic. So as I’ve said, I think it’s really – this is really going to be up to the Democrats. Can President Obama make a difference? I think that the – presidential campaigning is marginal to these elections. Certainly, he is an attraction when the candidates need to raise money and in the United States the candidates do need to raise money because the way you reach the voters is through television advertising and you have to buy the ads. I mean, that’s just the way it is. I mean, there are other ways that they do it, too: through the internet and mailing campaigns and that. But television is what costs them a lot of money. It’s interesting.
You are raising the question, can President Obama help somebody get elected. I certainly think that President Clinton helped Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. So it’s just going to depend on the district. I think more than helping a specific candidate, what President Obama’s appearance in an area could do is excite Democratic voters. He could help with voter turnout more than actually he would be able to help by endorsing a candidate.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
MR. HAGSTROM: So thank you. It was nice to see all of you. (Applause.)
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