2:00 p.m. EDT
Mr. Burns: Thank you for having me here today. I understand you had a sort of overview briefing on where the landscape is and the likely big picture outcomes from the elections, so I’m going to start by just running down some of the specific races that we’re going to be watching most closely at POLITICO over the next three weeks. Then I’d like to get relatively quickly to your questions. I think that’s probably where I can be the most useful.
We just published a story on our site this afternoon outlining how each of the four federal campaign committees are going to be allocating their resources over the next three weeks. So the Republicans on the House side and the Senate side, Democrats on the House side and the Senate side. The big picture of how they’re approaching the home stretch of the election is very very different for the two different parties.
Republicans, the trend is that they are making a lot of bets on a lot of different races in the hopes of taking advantage of the national environment even with smaller amounts of money. That is to say that rather than putting, these are just figures for example. They’re not actual spending numbers. Rather than putting, they may be spreading $10 million across 30 races where they think that even a smaller sum of money, the wind that they have at their back will be able to bring them over the finish line. Where the Democrats might take that same sum of money, put it in 10 races that they think they are especially capable of holding. That’s because Democrats have a lower but possibly more difficult bar to clear. They need to control both chambers by even one seat; Republicans need to pick up a net of 39 seats in the House and 10 seats in the Senate if they want to take control.
So Democrats are trying to build a firewall of seats that would enable them to hold back a Republican wave, whereas Republicans are trying to make that wave as big as possible. They’re going up in the House in districts where the GOP hasn’t been competitive for years. Just this week they were putting an ad down in a Tennessee district represented by Democrat Lincoln Davis who was viewed as completely secure at the beginning of this cycle and is now potentially in the fight of his life.
It’s more difficult to identify the individual House races that are sort of the hot ones to watch than it is for Senate and Governors elections, but the sort of broad contours of what to watch in the House campaign. Republicans are targeting currently 56 seats with television ads from the National Republican Congressional Committee. If you include money that they’re spending, that the NRCC is spending in coordination with campaigns, that number rises to a little bit over 60. So you get a sense of the scale of the effort that we’re talking about here. If they need to win 39 seats on election day, they’ll probably lose a couple, so let’s say they need to win in the low 40s in actually to take control of the House. They are betting maybe on a third more seats right now than they actually need to win.
They’re going up in districts like Colorado Representative John Salazar’s district. They are increasingly optimistic about their chances of knocking off Bobby Bright, a Democrat in Alabama. I mentioned Lincoln Davis. They are targeting New York members of Congress who were not viewed as competitive at the beginning of the cycle.
If there’s a region to watch on the House it’s probably the Midwest. Democrats have a decent shot at holding a bunch of House seats in the Northeast. Even in a place like New Hampshire where they have an open seat to defend, they have a fairly strong candidate, it still is a state where Democrats can be competitive. They’re fighting off challenges in Massachusetts, in New York, to a lesser extent in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Because the northeast is still so Democratic they have a decent shot at holding on the Republican gains there.
In the south, it’s much much harder for the Democrats. There are two or more seats in the state of Georgia that were not competitive in 2008 that are competitive right now simply because the region favors Republicans. Florida is going to be a very very difficult state for Democrats.
And if there’s kind of a toss-up belt, you’re looking at seats in the Midwest like in the Illinois suburbs, Representative Bill Foster, who was elected in a special election in 2008, is a very strong candidate but is in a very very tough environment, in exactly the kind of suburban affluent area that the president did well in in 2008 where voters are very frustrated with the economy.
The Democrats would point you towards a set of Republican held seats that they are hoping to pick up. If Republicans manage to pick off folks like John Salazar and Bobby Bright or Jerry McNerney in California, Democrats are going to need to take over even more Republican seats in order to offset those losses. They’ve been talking from the beginning of the cycle about seats like the open House seat in Delaware which is currently occupied by Mike Castle, or the open House seat in Illinois which is occupied by Mark Kirk who’s running for Senate. They’re now trying to push the map a little bit farther looking at seats like Florida’s 25th Congressional District where the Republican candidate David Rivera has had some real problems out on the campaign trail.
The bottom line, I understand this is a lot of information, a lot of names and districts to be just throwing out there. So to try to sum that up, the big picture is that both parties are increasingly convinced that this is going to be a very very very close race for the House. That whoever wins control might win control by as few as two or three seats, maybe even one. So for Republicans, the ability to play in a seat like the Massachusetts 10th or for the Democrats, the ability to pick up a seat like the Florida 25th could end up deciding the election. The bettor’s odds are still probably in favor of Republicans taking control of the House. But it’s certainly not in the bag.
On the Senate side, the question is really not will Republicans take control. It will be it’s possible they’ll take control but it would be an astonishing night if they did. There are probably about 12 races that are genuinely competitive at this point. They would have to win 10 of them. And at least three of those are real sort of reach elections.
So the question is, in the Senate, do the Republicans have a night where they can get five seats, which would be a real success in relative terms for the Democrats; or do they have a night where they get eight, nine, on a spectacular night, ten seats.
The way the playing field looks like is I would say roughly as follows, and I would say this is basically the consensus view at this point.
There are about three seats that are currently held by Democrats that are essentially guaranteed Republican takeovers. We’re talking about the seats in Arkansas, in Indiana, and in North Dakota. National Democrats are not spending money in those states in any substantial quantities. Republicans are not spending substantial money in those states either because they are very very confident of their chances.
There are six states that are either toss-ups or very close one way or the other. Those are the races in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, Illinois, and West Virginia. Of those states the most competitive are probably Colorado and Nevada and Illinois. Those are all states where both parties feel very good about their odds which means somebody is going to be very very wrong just a couple of weeks from now.
In each of those states you have one party with a nominee they are basically happy with and one party with a nominee that they’re a little bit less comfortable with. In Colorado, Republicans did not get their chosen candidate. They didn’t get their chosen candidate in Nevada. Because of the environment, and because those candidates had actually performed better than expected. We’re talking about Sharon Angle in Nevada who’s challenging Harry Reid; and Ken Buck in Colorado who’s challenging Michael Bennett. Those two candidates have done a bit better than Republicans anticipated and those races are neck and neck.
In Illinois, Democrats were not thrilled at the fact that Alexus Junelius, he’s the State Treasurer, won the Democratic primary just because he carries a lot of baggage from his business career, but he has actually been a stronger candidate than they believed he would be against Mark Kirk, the Republican, who has under-performed in some ways.
So if you’re looking for the races that are really on the bubble, those are the three. If they all tip one way or the other, that probably gives you a pretty good idea of who’s going to be celebrating the next morning.
For Republicans to take control of the Senate they would have to win those races, they would have to pick up West Virginia and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which are not quite in the toss-up category in the same way that the other three races are, because they are actually slightly more appealing targets for Republicans in some ways. And then they would need to play in three other states. Those would be Washington, California and Connecticut.
In Connecticut Republicans are fortunate to have a nominee who is very very very wealthy and can afford to put as much of her own money into the campaign as she wants. Linda McMann, she’s a wrestling executive worth hundreds of millions of dollars, also carries a lot of baggage from her business career that is going to make that race a tough one for them.
In California, Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO is certainly one of the most watched candidates of the year, but she is also struggling to catch up to the Democrat, Barbara Boxer.
So more and more we’re looking at Washington State where you have Dina Rossi, a former state legislator and real estate executive; and Patty Murray, the incumbent Democrat as maybe the Republicans’ best chance at getting that tenth seat.
Governors races are sort of a different category but I’ll just touch briefly on them because they are very important, particularly to the president’s reelection campaign in 2012.
There are 37 governor's seats up for grabs this year. By one seat, that’s the largest number of governor’s races that have ever been up for election at one time in American history. Among those seats are Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan, Texas. The big ones.
Some of those states are more important than others in presidential elections. California is not going to go Republican in 2012, I think we can probably bet pretty confidently. Texas is probably not going to go for a Democrat. But in many of these states, the party that controls the governorship in Ohio, the party that controls the governorship in Florida, that gives them a leg up in the next presidential election. So both the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association have a lot on the line in those elections. So does the White House. If you look at where the President is campaigning, he’s going to campaign for Ted Strickland in Ohio, for Tom Barrett in Wisconsin. He has been down to Florida but not recently, and that’s because it’s still a fairly conservative state where he’s not necessarily a great asset to Democrats. All those races that I just mentioned are either tied or within a couple of percentage points. Republicans still do have the tide with them in the governor’s races.
I hope that’s a helpful rundown of just a couple of bullet points to watch on each of those levels of the campaign. I’d be grateful to hear what you are watching. I understand there are some trips going out to California, Florida, in Delaware now.
TVA Canada: Richard Lantendresse. I’m a TV reporter at the Canadian TV Network.
I’d like you, Alex, to talk a little more about Nevada. How come Sharon Angle hasn’t been hurt more by many mistakes that were made? And how come Harry Reid can’t overcome the incumbent factor in this case?
Mr. Burns: I think folks in both parties will tell you that Sharon Angle has been hurt pretty badly by some of the mistakes that she’s made. If Republicans had gotten maybe any other candidate out of that primary, Harry Reid would be down by a substantial margin.
The fundamentals of that race are very very difficult for Reid. He’s the Senate Majority Leader in a very very anti-establishment year and doesn’t get more establishment than the Senate Majority Leader. He’s not a great campaigner. There’s a story that over the summer he held a rally where he was trying to rev up a crowd, talking about the banking reform bill which is a pretty popular piece of legislation and he revved them up with the line, “We’re going to get this conference report done,” which people don’t know what that means. A lot of people in Washington don’t know what that means, let alone voters in Nevada.
Unemployment in Nevada is I think 13 percent -- Over 14. So even worse. And his personal approval is not great. He’s a partisan, he’s a very very partisan figure in a state that is essentially a swing state at this point. It went for Bush in ’04, Obama in ’08.
So Reid’s plan since ’06 has been to figure out who the Republicans are who would run against him and sort of bump them off before they can get to the general election. He targeted several state senators for defeat; he targeted a congressman for defeat; got rid of all of them. In the primary there was a Democratic independent group that ran ads against one of the Republican candidates in the hopes of getting Sharon Angle into the general election. He got Sharon Angle in the general election. And it’s a mark of how unpopular he is, how bad the economy is there, how unpopular the White House is there that at this point that race is absolutely a toss-up.
Sharon Angle, you may have heard yesterday, announced that she raised $14 million in the last three months of the year. We don’t know how much money she actually has in the bank. She spent a lot of money on television; she uses a method of fundraising that’s fairly expensive so her burn rate is going to be high. But that’s how I would answer your question of why it’s not, why Reid is not in a better position right now.
Canal Plus (France): Laura Haim, I’m a writer with [inaudible] for French TV Canal Plus.
What’s your analysis about Florida, what’s going on there? Because a lot of people are thinking, especially all over the world, that Florida is a very sensitive state in this country.
The other thing is, is there someone in the Republican camp to watch in those races for 2012?
Mr. Burns: Florida, the races in Florida are -- If I could cover only one state in the country it would absolutely be Florida. Every race in the state is totally fascinating and also like ridiculous in its own way.
The Senate race was supposed to be Charlie Crist, formerly then the Republican governor, was supposed to win the Republican nomination in a walk and crush the Democrat in the general election. As you know, Charlie Crist is now running as an independent, sort of competing for the center left with Meek against Mark Rubio. Rubio is heavily favored at this point. He is up in the sort of low teens in the polls. Crist has a very hard time raising money as an independent, although he has plenty left in the bank. And Meek is a liberal down the line Democratic Congressman in a state that’s a toss-up state.
There was a poll released yesterday that showed that if Meek were to drop out of the race it would be a tie between Crist and Arubio, but Meek’s not dropping out of the race. And part of the reason for that is that the Democrats view the Florida governor’s mansion as one of their strongest pickup opportunities. Their candidate is a woman named Alex Sink. She’s the State’s Chief Financial Officer. She’s running against Rick Scott who is a very wealthy former health care executive who is not doing as well as you would expect a Republican to do because he is tied to a number of fraud cases from his time in the health care industry. Part of the reason why it’s important for Democrats that Meek stay in the race is that he will appeal to liberal voters, he will appeal to African American voters, and he will help get them out to the polls so that even if he doesn’t win that could help Sink in the governor’s race.
To address the second part of your question, Republicans to watch for 2012, there are a number of folks, particularly in governor’s races, who are viewed as very promising prospects for the GOP. Meg Whitman in California. If she were to beat Jerry Brown, and that’s a very close race at this point, is someone who Republicans view as a potential national candidate. Susanna Martinez, she is a District Attorney in New Mexico who is now leading in the governor’s race. Nicky Haley in South Carolina, the same sort of appeal. For Republicans, these are candidates who don’t look like what you think of when you think of a Republican presidential candidate. You are unlikely -- Who knows in 2012, but you are unlikely in 2016 to have a field of middle-aged white men competing for the Republican nomination for president.
The sort of cold water to pour on all of this is that I think some of these very promising Republican stars look at 2008 and see that Sarah Palin, when she was chosen to be vice president, had been governor for less than two years, was viewed as a very promising national prospect and is probably -- I don’t know that I would say this definitively, but it’s probably more difficult in some ways to see her becoming president or vice president now than four years ago just because she’s so much more controversial. The experience argument was used very effectively against her.
Die Zeit (Germany): Could you tell us a little -- Martin Klingst from the German weekly Die Zeit.
I have a question about the electorate. If you look at the American landscape, how come -- people are dissatisfied and disappointed about the economy. But how come they tend then to vote for the GOP if the GOP, when you look at their program, doesn’t offer much else than they offered in the past? That really did not solve the problems. So is there something like amnesia or --
Mr. Burns: When you look at how the two parties are rated in opinion polls, particularly the two parties in Congress, the Republicans are rated as badly as Democrats or worse, when you ask people what’s your impression of Republicans in Congress, what’s your impression of Democrats in Congress? So I think folks on both sides of this election would probably concede, many of them do, that voting for Republicans is not necessarily a full-throated endorsement of their program. It’s a way of saying we’re not happy with what’s going on right now.
The president’s party typically loses seats in a mid-term election. That didn’t happen for Bush in 2002 which was as testament in part to his political operation and partly to the effect of 9/11. And in an economy this bad, the party that is in charge is generally held accountable for what is going on.
The Democrats have, I think it’s fair to say, lost the public relations war of the stimulus. They have not won the public relations war over the health care law. So while Republicans may not be everybody’s ideal alternative to the party in power, they are the only alternative to the party in power and folks are unhappy with the way things are.
Malaya (Philippines): My name is Jenny Ilustre of Malaya, Philippine news daily in English.
There are surveys that note six out of ten Americans are not happy with the direction that the country is going. How much of a factor is that in terms of the turnout and the outcome of the elections?
Mr. Burns: I think when you talk to most pollsters, that’s for many of them the most important question on a survey. Do you think the country is basically on the right track or is it going off in the wrong direction. I don’t know if you’re referring to the Wall Street Journal poll a couple of weeks ago, but it was 59 percent said the country was in the wrong direction; 32 percent said it was on the right track. I think that goes to the point raised in the previous question, that folks are simply dissatisfied with the state of the country right now. It’s easy for folks in Washington to compare the two parties’ economic programs and say this one doesn’t really address the issues at hand; this one is controversial; maybe these provisions are popular and these provisions are not. But for many of the people who are actually going to vote in this election, the decision is going to be I think a much more sort of gut check decision. Am I comfortable voting for two more years of what I have now? Or am I not? That’s the frame that the Republicans have put on the election pretty effectively.
So when you see that three in five voters think the country is in the wrong direction, that’s a big part of the reason why Republicans have the opportunity they have right now.
NHK (Japan): Shin Soji from NHK Japan TV.
In 2010, unlike 1994, the ’94 race the Republicans were so unpopular, but in 2010 both the Republicans and Democrats are unpopular. So what makes the Republicans think they could exceed or equal the 1994 achievement when they’re not popular in the first place?
Mr. Burns: I think everything you just said is totally right, and when you look race by race it’s actually even more striking in some cases that some of the Republican candidates who have been nominated are less appealing than their party brand. If Republicans had run a standard issue Republican candidate, generic Republican candidate in Nevada, they would probably be winning that election. If they had run a standard issue candidate in the Kentucky Senate race where they nominated Rand Paul, sort of a tea party aligned candidate, that race would probably not be close to competitive right now.
The fact that the Republican brand is still damaged, many of their candidates are sort of sub-optimal, and they’re still so competitive is a sign that the electorate is restive, the economy is bad, and Republicans think they can take advantage of that.
The parallels to 1994 are strong in a lot of ways, and I think in some ways the biggest difference is that in 2010 Republicans only need to look back 16 years to the last time they took control of Congress. In 1994 it had been four decades since Republicans had control of the House. So despite a favorable environment, despite missed steps by the White House and Democrats in Congress, the idea that you could have a Republican House of Representatives was still pretty far-fetched. It isn’t now.
World Business Press Online (Slovakia): Zoltan Mikes, World Business Press Online.
My question is regarding if the tea part is just a prospect for Republicans, or do you see also somewhere a minus, like in Alaska that they are competing with each other. The conservatives with more conservative, and then maybe the liberal campaign.
The second part of the question is what do you see in the future for the tea party after 2012? Is there a possibility that they will get another third party? Is there at least a slight chance that Sara Palin will be something like Ross Perot in 2012?
Mr. Burns: I think Republicans tend to look at the tea party and see it as a symptom of the conservative enthusiasm that’s out there in the election. One of the biggest problems for Democrats is that folks on the right are just more fired up about voting than folks on the left. Some percentage of those conservatives who are really excited about the election identify with the tea party movement. So in that respect it’s going to be a big asset to Republicans that their base is so energized, particularly in comparison to the Democrats’ base. But as you mentioned, there are races that you can point to where because of the tea party or tea party backed candidates, Republicans are having a tougher time than they would have otherwise, or are likely to lose.
You mentioned Alaska where you have a competitive race, where you would not have had a competitive race previously. I think the odds are still that one of the two Republican candidates wins more likely than that the Democrat wins, but it is very unpredictable. But certainly in Delaware you had a seat that Republicans were all but assured of winning in the Senate and are now all but assured of losing. I think that it will be interesting to see, depending on how close they get to taking the Senate on November 2nd, if they were to fall one seat short and that seat were Delaware, I think there would be a lot of people very very frustrated with that outcome.
Der Tagesspiegel (Germany): Christoph Marschall, the German daily Der Tagesspiegel.
I would like to follow up on the enthusiasm gap. Isn’t that the most important factor for the outcome? Is it not even more important than the question where the sympathies are and that we have backlash against the White House or the party in power? However you put it. Could you a little bit comment on that? And is everything already decided? Or is there still a chance the President is traveling a lot, he’s trying to mobilize his base? But is that realistic that he can change that? The enthusiasm gap is so important because so many races are close, and just by the enthusiasm gap they say well that’s a decisive factor in my view. But please.
Mr. Burns: Yes, I think there is a lot to that. At the very beginning of September you had this wave of analysis come out that said the campaign for the House is over, Republicans are going to take this in a walk. They might win 60 seats, 70 seats. A lot of that was based on looking at polls where there was a very very wide enthusiasm gap. Where you had seats that should be Democratic, that are in Democratic areas, but Democrats weren’t necessarily going to vote in those elections.
Then over the course of the month you started to see those polls narrow. You saw the generic ballot where they just asked people, are you inclined to vote for a Republican or are you inclined to vote for a Democrat? You saw those numbers get tighter. And when you talk to folks on both sides, they say that’s because Democrats sort of clued into the election. That they either realized there was a campaign going on -- it’s hard to imagine that there are people who were not aware that there is an election, but they’re out there. Democrats who were not paying attention started paying attention; or Democrats who were paying attention and kind of disaffected decided this is maybe a campaign that I should care about.
The trouble is there’s still a gap and even though those numbers are getting closer, they’re not necessarily getting close enough to protect the Democrats in the House.
You mentioned the President’s campaigning and I think if you look at where he’s going, it tends to be in races where he can help remedy the enthusiasm gap in a decisive way. He was just in Maryland last week. He recorded a radio ad for the Democratic governor there, O’Malley. He rallied on a college campus. Young voters are a big part of his base. And the radio ad was certainly targeted, at least in part, to black voters who represent a big part of the electorate in Maryland.
The Democratic Governors Association put up an ad in Hawaii today attacking the Republican candidate for governor as sort of an enemy of Barack Obama. Hawaii, as you know, is his home state. So that’s a way of getting Democrats more engaged than they might be.
I think it’s difficult to rank the most important factors in the election between the unemployment rate and the general right track/wrong track and enthusiasm gap. But right now the enthusiasm gap is probably the most important factor that Democrats have a chance of changing. They’re not going to change the unemployment rate in the next 20 days, but in some of these races on the margins they can probably do their candidates some good by -- The President’s up in Philadelphia campaigning on a college campus.
Der Tagesspiegel: I was asking because if there is a general poll which party has the better ideas, then normally the Democrats are ahead in almost every field except for national security or terrorism. So this contrasts to the prospect that the Republican will win huge. My explanation was always the enthusiasm gap and that is why I said it might be the most important factor, but it’s a question.
Mr. Burns: Sure. I think that I referred to the Wall Street Journal poll before. Part of the reason why Democrats are having trouble is that yes, they may be the more trusted party on energy or -- Well, probably until they passed the health care bill they had a huge lead on that issue. That number has changed. But on the economy, it is still very fluid and Republicans have a better chance of making their argument there. The President’s approval rating in that poll was 46 percent positive, 49 percent negative. But his approval rating on the economy was 42 percent positive, 54 percent negative.
So on the central issue of the campaign their standing is not as strong as it was two years ago.
CTI TV (Taiwan): Guohua Zang, with CTO TV of Taiwan. Two questions.
How real is this anti-incumbent sentiment in the country? I’ve spoken to a very small number of voters in a number of states. Most of them, it’s like 8 out of 10 would say I’m not anti-incumbent. I go with the best candidate. It seems to me the voters place more importance on the personal character or qualifications of the individual candidates than on the party affiliation. So my question is how real is this anti-incumbent sentiment? As the election day draws near will there be any change? How big is the change? That’s the first question.
Second question, is the economy almost the only issue for most voters? Are there any international issues? When people talk about the economy they probably think of China, how China factors in there. Thank you.
Mr. Burns: On the first part of your question, if Democrats hold the House it’s going to be because voters consider the individual candidates more than they consider incumbent or non-incumbent. Part of the reason why the polls in these district by district House raises narrowed over the month of September is that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and individual candidates went into these races and just carpet bombed very specific Republican candidates on very very specific personal problems. Some of them -- I shouldn’t say personal problems. Some of them are personal problems -- divorces and court cases and things like that. Some of them are business problems, or their voting record in the state legislature. The Democratic mantra in this election has been it’s a choice, not a referendum. So they hope by saying well, yes, the incumbent voted for the bailout and the health care bill, but his challenger has been sued 40 times and has an assault case pending. That actually is one of the choices that has been lined up in a district that’s now looking better for Democrats.
On the whole there are a striking number of candidates who would have been, a striking number of Republican candidates who would have been probably unelectable in 2008 who are likely to win this year. People who have those personal problems, and voters don’t seem to care.
I mentioned the Florida governor’s race before. Rick Scott was tied, Democrats say closely, Republicans say not so closely, to a $1.7 billion Medicare fraud case in the 1990s. He is either tied or slightly ahead or slightly behind in that election. That’s unthinkable that that would be the case if people weren’t, if the electorate wasn’t trending very strongly toward rejecting the party in power.
As for international issues, I think that you see those playing out most prominently through the lens of the economy. That you see some ads from Democratic incumbents on Iraq or Afghanistan saying that Ike Skelton, he’s a high ranking member of the Armed Services Committee in the House running for reelection in Missouri. You have a guy like him running ads like “Ike Skelton has stood up for the troops; my opponent is not standing up for the troops.”
On the whole, and I’m glad that you mentioned China. The ads that are being run on international issues tend to be Democratic ads accusing Republicans of trying to ship jobs to China, or to India or to a number of other locations. That is an argument that worked very very well for the party in a special House election in Pennsylvania last may where they were in a tight race. Again, sort of nuked this Republican candidate with claims that he wanted to raise the sales tax and protect tax breaks for companies that out-source, and the Democrat ended up winning by eight points.
In addition to the sort of person by person attacks that the Democrats are rolling out, the more standard issues or paint by numbers attacks, a lot of them do involve trade, a lot of them do involve outsourcing. And China is a specter in all that.
Times of London (UK): Christina Lamb from the Sunday Times of London. I have a linked question which is that the war in Iraq was a big factor in the presidential elections, and yet the war in Afghanistan doesn’t seem t be mentioned at all in this mid-term elections despite the fact that it’s going to badly. I wondered if you could comment on that.
Also, specifically, I wondered if you could comment on the Senate race in South Carolina between Jim DeMint and Alvin Greene.
Mr. Burns: In Afghanistan I think the reason behind that is really straightforward. Republicans are supportive of the President’s war policy, or to the extent that they have criticism, it is that it is sort of not pro-war enough. That’s not a great point of contrast. The perception of the country is the President has endorsed the war in Afghanistan. Republican candidates also endorsed the war in Afghanistan. So it’s not necessarily a great wedge issue to use. Democratic candidates, if they were going to break with their own party on the issue, they would be breaking to the left which is not what you want to be doing if you were fending off a Republican opponent. There have been a couple of isolated instances where people have criticized the President on the war. Joe Sestak, the Democrat running for Senate in Pennsylvania, I think it was last week, maybe the week before, wrote a letter to the administration asking them to reassess their policy in Afghanistan. That’s a way for Sestak to create some distance between himself and the White House. Pennsylvania, a lot of the swing voters there are sort of affluent suburban voters who are not necessarily enthusiastic about the war. He’s also the highest ranking foreign military official ever to serve in the U.S. Congress, so you can’t really attack him for being soft on the war. But generally speaking I just think there’s not a lot for candidates to gain one way or another from attacking the President on Afghanistan.
On the South Carolina Senate race, that’s one of a couple of races that is genuinely not at all competitive that gets an astonishing amount of media attention. And we’re all guilty of it. I think some are more guilty than others, but people will never stop covering Alvin Greene. People will never stop covering Christine O’Donnell in Delaware or Carl Paladino, the Republican running for governor of New York, just because they are these sort of outlandish characters.
I think that initially, Democrats said that Alvin Greene was a Republican plant. An investigation was conducted and it turned out that no, he wasn’t. He saved up checks from various government benefit programs and filed for Senate. The guy he was running against didn’t take the primary seriously.
Democrats are quick to point out that they never thought that they were going to beat Jim DeMint, the incumbent Republican, so they don’t view that as a huge loss. But you do, the Republican rejoinder is that when you have such a weak candidate or virtually a non-candidate at the top of the ticket, that doesn’t help people who are running for the House or state legislature.
China Times (Taiwan): Ping Liu, China Times, Taiwan.
I think maybe more than one month ago there was a poll saying that more than 20 percent of Americans think that President Obama is a Muslim. I think that’s why President Obama and the White House Press Officer tried to clarify that. My question is, will that sentiment have impact on the voting behavior? Thank you.
Mr. Burns: I think there are a couple of schools of thought on why that number is as high as it is. One says that you can get a decent number of people to agree to anything in a poll. That if you poll-do you believe in UFOs- you’re going to get a number in the teens of people who say yes, I do believe in aliens that visit earth. Some people say that’s not a reflection of people genuinely believing that the President is secretly hiding his faith and pretending to be a Christian, but that it’s a way of saying I don’t like the President. For some voters saying this guy is a secret Muslim is a way of saying he is not one of us, I don’t approve of him.
Certainly the fact that that number is so high, whatever reason is behind it, does reflect that there’s a decent slice of the country that is deeply, deeply opposed to the President and uncomfortable with him being in charge. Whether the specific sense that he’s a Muslim is going to make a difference on election day, I think that’s probably a tougher case to make, although there have been a couple of elections where you’ve had candidates run commercials about opposing the construction of mosques, either the one in New York City or in their local area, and that has had, the effect of it has varied from race to race.
China Radio International (China): Shanshan Wang with China Radio International.
If Republicans take the House, what would be the immediate policy changes that they are likely to make? And will they represent an obvious diversion of the direction where the House is going?
Mr. Burns: I think that depends to a great degree on if they take the House how many seats they have in their majority. If they have a two or three seat majority there’s not very much they can do in terms of implementing actual policy. They can certainly stop any policy from being implemented that they don’t like, and that’s probably true, by the way, if Democrats hold onto Congress by two or three seats, that at this point when you're talking about such a small swing one way or the other, the House is probably going to be paralyzed after January.
If Republicans were to win a bigger victory, or if they were to win a small victory and convince some Democrats to switch parties; or win a small victory and build a more stable coalition with some of the very conservative Democrats in the House, and there are a handful of them who are pretty far to the right and who are likely to win reelection. I think then Republicans have a real choice to make and I think that part of the reason why they’ve done so well in this election is they’ve been a little bit vague about what the next thing they would do would be.
They’ve talked a lot about reigning in spending, so I think that probably means that some appropriations bills would be tougher to pass. I think they’ve talked about stopping earmarks. I think that would be tougher, if you were a member of Congress to get earmarks passed. But when you think about the big ticket conservative prorities. Things like tax reform or entitlement reform. They’re not going to have anything close to the kind of majority they would need to get that stuff through the House of Representatives. They’re not likely to have control of the Senate, so even if they did get something like that out of the House, good luck. And even if they did take control of the Senate they would have to beat a filibuster and then somehow convince the President to sign it, which is not going to happen, ever.
So I think the safe bet is that if Republicans take control of either chamber, the person to watch then is probably the President and see does he take a combative stance towards the Congress? Does he keep trying to bring up things like energy reform or like education reform, things like that. Or immigration reform is an even better example. Issues that Republicans would very likely block. Then would he run against that Congress in 2012? Or would he say let’s try to find some very narrow areas where we can agree that we do need to rein in spending in some measured way, that we do need -- Education is actually an area where the President might be able to work with some Republican Members of Congress.
VOA (Turkey): Baris Ornarli, VOA.
Can you elaborate a little bit more on what impact these elections might have on 2012? You mentioned the governorships. That was very interesting. In either scenario, how might it all impact 2012, if any?
Mr. Burns: The governorships really are the most important races to watch in terms of the electoral math in 2012. If Democrats can somehow hold the Ohio governor’s seat and take the governor’s seat in Florida, that makes the President’s job much much easier almost no matter what happens in Congress. And if you look at where the Democratic Governors Association is spending its money, that reflects that.
A lot of the areas where the President won in 2008 are very likely to have Republican governors next time around. A state like Michigan, a state like Pennsylvania -- Republicans are heavily favored. At the end of the day those states still do lean fairly strongly to the Democratic side on the presidential level, but it doesn’t help the President that they’re likely to have Republican governors.
There was a story published in the New York Times Magazine on line today that said that the White House anticipates that the tea party movement, the Republican primary process is going to produce an opponent so conservative in 2012 that it will be very difficult for the GOP to beat him. I think that one thing the Democrats are going to be watching is how do the race by race results of this election sort of push the Republican party to the right or maybe more to the center. If you see a lot of these candidates like Sharon Angle not winning on election day that you might have some more voices inside the GOP saying we’ve got to moderate ourselves a little bit more. On the other hand, if you have an election that produces Senator Sharon Angle, Senator Joe Miller, very unlikely but Senator Christine O’Donnell, that gives the Republican primary voters next time around a lot more incentive to sort of vote with their heart rather than their head in terms of electability.
So I would say watch the governor’s races, watch what lessons the Republican party learns in terms of where it should tack for the next campaign.
Die Zeit: Can we go back to the ’94 election? A lot of parallels are being drawn, but I have a question concerning the political landscape. That was quite different in ’94. You had a government and a president that didn’t really accomplish anything. Everything got stuck. Now you have a government that has really done a lot. You might not agree with it, but that might also have an impact on the upcoming years. This parallel is only if they take over the House or not, but the political landscape seems to be quite different if you compare 2010 to 1994.
Mr. Burns: If you recall earlier this year, after the Massachusetts special election where Scott Brown deprived the Democrats of their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, there was this internal debate among Democrats that was this election a repudiation of the health care bill that had not yet been passed? Was this a sign that we should scale back everything that we’re trying to work through right now? They’d already passed the stimulus, but a lot of the biggest things they’ve accomplished -- health care, Wall Street reform, those have happened since Brown’s election. And ultimately the party decided they were, if they had to choose between a party that did too many controversial things and a party that was perceived as not doing anything, they would rather be the party that did the controversial things.
So I think you're quite right that the record that they’re campaigning on and defending or trying to defend is very different than the one that they had in ’94. In some ways that’s very difficult because Republicans have specific things to attack them on, but they can actually go out and say -- you may not always use essentially the George Bush line from ’04, “You may not always agree with me, but you will always know where I stand.”
You hinted at the landscape -- I don’t know if you intended to raise this, but the landscape just being generally different. I think that point holds geographically and this is something I would just sort of throw out there as something to watch in November and something to watch in the next election cycle. In ’94, a lot of the reason why Democrats got killed in the Senate, particularly, and in the House, is because you had a lot of these long-time conservative Democrats serving in southern states where they had no business being in Congress. Where they had been elected before the parties sort of realigned after Civil Rights and Watergate and just sort of held those seats because people reelected them as a matter of habit. When people realized, actually we could vote for somebody else, they did.
That’s not the landscape that you see this time around. You do have quite a few Democrats who were elected in ’06 and ’08 who were carried by the President or by an anti-Bush wave into seats that are very very difficult to defend. But you also have a number of members this time around, again in states like New York, states like Connecticut, even California, Washington state, Illinois, places where Democrats actually have a pretty good record of winning who are likely to lose. That means that the republican Congress that comes in, the majority they win might be harder to defend than the majority that Newt Gingrich won in 1994, which is I know that folks in my line of work are very excited about the idea that the 2012 cycle could be as competitive on the House level as it is likely to be.
Canal Plus: What’s your view on Sarah Palin? [Laughter].
Mr. Burns: You mean her affect on the election?
Canal Plus: Yeah. Her prospects for 2012.
Mr. Burns: We wouldn’t be talking about 2010 if we didn’t get a good question about Sarah Palin.
The answer I would give to that is very much like the answer to the tea party question. That she does represent this insurgent conservative energy out there. She announced her fundraising numbers for the last quarter, she brought in $1.2 million for her political action committee which is a very very strong performance. It shows that there is a lot of energy behind her and behind the candidates that she endorsed. I mentioned Nicki Hayley in South Carolina earlier. If Sarah Palin had not endorsed her in the primary for governor she probably wouldn’t have won. Palin also endorsed Christine O’Donnell who is very likely to lose the general election in Delaware. So I think much the same way, she cuts both ways.
Der Tagesspiegel: I would like to ask you to comment a little bit on Ohio. If I am correctly informed, Ohio is the single state where the highest figure of seats might switch from Democrat to Republican. To which degree Ohio is still the bellwether state as far as Ohio as opposed to the nation?
Mr. Burns: I think the Democrats, if Ohio is still a bellwether state on November 2nd, it’s going to be a very long night for Democrats. They’re likely to lose multiple House seats there. One of the first House seats that they cut off from DCCC funding was in Ohio. The Senate race Democrats don’t think is competitive anymore. You’ve really got the governor’s race and a small number of House seats there in basically Democratic seats that they’re trying to defend.
I think part of that is because Ohio has been hit very hard by the recession, as has the whole Rust Belt, which is why Democrats are having such a hard time across the Midwest. But I think certainly if you’re looking for lessons going into 2012 and if you’re looking for places where Democrats were really on the upswing last cycle and on the down swing this cycle, you can’t do much better than Ohio.
Thank you so much.