1/25: The Agenda for President Obama’s Second Term

January 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Carl Leubsdorf, Featured

Since presidents elected to a second term don’t have to worry about re-election, they are freed from political considerations and can press however hard they wish to accomplish their goals.  What are President Obama’s priorities for his second term?  The Marist Poll’s John Sparks talks with political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News about President Obama’s agenda items for his second term and the likelihood of them being enacted into law by Congress.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

Listen to Part 1:

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John Sparks
Carl, President Obama is beginning his second term, and we want to talk about his agenda for his final four years in office.  Do you think that the president feels he has a mandate from the people to achieve his goals?

Carl Leubsdorf

Well, I think the president felt he had a mandate on at least one issue because he mentioned it over and over in the campaign, and that was higher taxes on wealthier Americans.  And, in a sense of course, he’s already gotten some of that in the bill that was passed to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, and he made clear during that debate that he felt he had gotten a mandate for that, and in fact, he had gotten a mandate for that.  After that, it gets a little fuzzier because it’s not like he went and promised a whole bunch of things in the campaign.  There were certain issues he talked about, and certainly, he feels there’s a national mandate to do something about immigration, and it was sort of interesting because in his inaugural speech the other day, he basically stressed a number of issues that each of which sort of tied to a different part of his electoral coalition.  What he was promising was very close to where he got his votes.  For example, he talked about immigration and that’s for Hispanics.  He talked about expanding gay rights for the lesbian and gay community.  He talked about people shouldn’t be on line to, have to stay in line forever to vote.  That’s a major concern in the African-American community.  So it was sort of like each part of the coalition was getting its due in his speech.  The things that he’s going to push basically fit his electoral coalition.  Now, whether they can get passed is something else again.

John Sparks
Let’s go into some of them, and I want to start off with something we’ve been hearing a lot about in recent days, and that concerns gun control.

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, there are a whole lot of issues in gun control, and Vice-President Biden’s task force recommended, I think, two dozen different actions — some legislative and some administrative.  I think it’s very problematic that he can get much done through legislation, and I think they’re aware of that.  For example, the idea of banning assault weapons which was done during the Clinton Administration, and the law was allowed to expire.  That’s going to be very difficult.  For one thing, you’ve got a number of Democratic senators from more conservative states who are going to be up for re-election in 2014.  They’re going to be reluctant to go forward, and secondly, you’ve got a Republican House that is unalterably opposed to such legislation.  Now, when it comes to legislation for some kind of universal registration and background checks for example, into people who are buying guns, there are now laws that affect background checks, but they’re not complete.  The so-called gun show loophole where people who buy guns at gun shows, not from registered dealers don’t have background checks the way they do when they buy from a registered dealer so I think there’ll be a proposal to tighten that law, and that probably has a better chance of passing.

Listen to Part 2:

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John Sparks

Let’s go on to some other areas.  In his inaugural address, the president spoke of protecting people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Carl Leubsdorf

Well, he also said that it’s time to make hard choices on the deficit and the future of health programs, and when he talks about the future of health programs, he’s really talking about Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid.  And, the fact is that before Congress gets to any of the subjects that President Obama is most interested in, whether it be immigration or gun control or something in the environmental area, it’s going to have to deal with the budget.  I think it’s possible that the entire issue of cutting Medicare and Social Security will come up again, and President Obama is sort of caught between his promise to, you know, face up to the fiscal realities which requires cuts in those programs or protect the programs totally.

John Sparks

You know, Carl, the president will not be running for another term, but members of the Congress will be.  Now, I’m just curious what you think the affect of politics will be on shaping revisions on Medicare and Social Security?

Carl Leubsdorf

It’s going to be very difficult.  It’s going to require a bi-partisan majority.  It’s going to require some Democrats and some Republicans.  Because there are Republicans unalterably opposed to any increases, any further increases in revenue, and there are Democrats who are unalterably opposed to cutting back benefits to these programs.  So, you have to work sort of in the middle of the street to do anything.  In the Senate, as I mentioned, there, you know, among the Democratic senators who are up for re-election are a number from conservative states that were carried by Republican candidate Mitt Romney in last year’s election.  So, they’re going to be very cautious about voting for anything like Medicare cuts or increase, increases in revenues.  So, it’s going to be tough.

Listen to Part 3:

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John Sparks

It’s clear that the budget, debt ceiling, Medicare, Social Security, this must be really resolved before a whole lot of other things can happen.  But, I do want to go on to some other topics.  In the speech the other day, the President spoke about responding to climate change.  Do you think that there will be a chance for any significant legislation dealing with things like clean energy?

Carl Leubsdorf

I was surprised to see that frankly in the president’s speech and to see him make such a big, uh, major part of the speech about it.  Because they were not able to pass that kind of legislation in a Democratic Congress in 2009 and 2010.  I find it hard to believe this is going to pass.

John Sparks

You mentioned earlier in our conversation about gay rights.  It’s clear from the president’s speech it seems like to me he would support a gay marriage act.   Any chance of seeing something like this happen?

Carl Leubsdorf

I think not.  Again, I think there’s no way it would get through Congress.  I think everyone is sort of waiting at this point to see what happens when the Supreme Court rules on the California law that banned gay marriage which is being appealed.  And, there’s more likely to be action in the courts and state by state.  I think it’s unlikely a national law will be passed, and I think it’s also unlikely that they’ll repeal the federal law that says a marriage is between a woman and a man.

John Sparks

What are we likely to see in the way of immigration law?

Carl Leubsdorf

Well, I think there’s a good chance that there will be some kind of legislation there.  The president is pushing for comprehensive reform, and there are Democrats on the Hill working with Republicans, something fairly unusual these days, in trying to come up with a bill that both deals, that deals with long-term immigration problem.  The key is providing some kind of pathway, ultimate pathway, to citizenship and also some kind of a guest worker program in the meantime.  It’s frankly in the interest of both parties.  The Hispanic population is rapidly growing.  It’s the largest minority group in the country.  And, the Republicans have taken quite a beating in recent years among Hispanics in part due to their antagonism to immigration reform legislation.  And, so there’s an impetus in both parties to do something in this area.  As far as border security, we still hear this a lot, the fact is border security has been increased considerably, the amount of money being spent is up considerably, and the number of people coming through and being arrested is here illegally has gone down sharply.  Also, several papers including USA Today have done articles about the question of crime near the border and found that a lot of the stories that have been told are very much exaggerated and that the crime problem is not nearly as great as some officials have been saying.

Listen to Part 4:

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John Sparks

How about upgrading our infrastructure?  Any chance for something happening in that arena?

Carl Leubsdorf

The problem is that that takes money.  And, it’s going to be difficult at the time when the entire emphasis is on cutting to get the money now.  Congress has been struggling with transportation legislation for several years.

John Sparks

Carl, is there anything else that we should be looking for in a second Obama term.  For instance, we have not really talked about defense or foreign policy.

Carl Leubsdorf

You know, defense spending is going to go down ‘cause the Democrats feel that, you know, there’s been a lot of emphasis on cutting domestic spending, and in order to protect the safety net that we talked about at the beginning of this interview, one way to do that is to trim back some of the defense projects that, perhaps, weapons systems that are not necessary for the kind of warfare the United States is likely to have.  We also haven’t talked much about foreign policy.  One thing that happens with presidents, they often come into office with domestic agendas and find themselves spending most of their time dealing with foreign problems.  There’s no doubt that the United States faces a very volatile situation in the Middle East.  The civil war in Syrian which has taken over 60,000 lives is continuing.  Fortunately, it has not spread into neighboring countries, but there is a danger of that if it is not settled soon.  The Obama Administration has steadfastly refused to get involved in that.  That’s not going to change.  Hopes for reviving talks between Israel and the Palestinians are not great.  The fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been re-elected does not bode well for those talks although he’ll have some additional pressure from the fact that the more centrist parties seem to have done pretty well and may pull him back from going so far to the right.  And, then there’s the question of Iran and the development of nuclear weapons there.  So, I think there, you know the administration has a whole series of potential land mines in the Middle East, and it’s a little hard to tell which one is going, you know, to explode first.

John Sparks

Thank you, Carl.  It’s always a pleasure talking with you.

Carl Leubsdorf

I’m always happy to do it, John.

5/22: From the Primary to the General Election Campaign

Which states will prove to be key battleground states this presidential election season?  What impact could President Barack Obama’s stand on gay marriage have on the contest, and what can we expect during the campaign’s summer months?  The Marist Poll’s John Sparks visits with Marist Poll Analyst and syndicated political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News about  this and more.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

Listen to the interview below.

Listen to part 1:


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John Sparks
Many states, as you know, are solidly Republican or Democrat, but there are others that are considered toss-ups that will probably decide the election. Let’s talk about these so-called battleground states. Which states are we talking about when we refer to battleground states?

Carl Leubsdorf
Okay, let me go from West to East on that and talk a little bit about the battleground states because they sort of come in groups to some extent. For example, there are three states in the Rocky Mountain area — New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. President Obama carried all three of them last time. They all have heavy Hispanic votes and the Obama campaign is counting on them again. If in fact they do carry those states, and Governor Romney has got problems with his position on immigration and strong anti-immigration law change stand, it would put Obama very close to the 270 he needs, assuming he holds all of the states that he won last time that have been — not only that he won last time, but that John Kerry won and that Al Gore won and that Bill Clinton won. So, those are the first three.

Some would say that Arizona should be added to that group. Of course it was a heavily Republican state last time as the home state of John McCain. The Obama campaign has made some noise as they think it’s competitive. At least one poll showed it’s competitive, and I heard yesterday of a well known Republican said privately to someone I know that named that as a battleground state and threw in Montana in addition. Bill Clinton did carry Montana in one of his elections, but I don’t think anyone thinks that’s… If Montana’s a battleground state, Mitt Romney is in deep doo-doo as they say.

Listen to part 2:


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Carl Leubsdorf

The next state as we move from West to East is Iowa. Iowa’s a state that’s bounced back and forth lately. It was carried by Obama last time. There was… the Republicans have quite a bit of hope for Iowa. The campaign they had there for many months beat up on President Obama. A curious thing about Iowa though is that Iowa’s economy is unusually good. Its unemployment rate is much lower than the national average, and of course the question is does that rebound to Obama’s advantage, or can the Republican successfully claim that’s because of their Republican governor? The most recent poll showed Obama up by about nine or ten points in Iowa.

One of the key battleground areas is the, and always is, is the industrial belt that runs from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin. There are three states there that have been solidly Democratic in recent years – Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The Democrats are considered ahead in all three. There’s some question whether the Republicans really can make a dent, but they are talking optimistically about Michigan and possibly Wisconsin.

On the other side, there’s Indiana which has been a pretty safely Republican state. It went from a last time and the first time the Democrats have carried it,  I think, since Lyndon Johnson, but I don’t think anyone thinks that the Democrats are going to carry Indiana this time unless there’s an Obama landside.

And then we have Ohio. Ohio has been an essential part of almost every victorious coalition in recent years. No Republican has ever been elected president without carrying Ohio, and most successful Democrats have carried it also. President Obama did carry it last time. And like Wisconsin and like Michigan elected a Republican governor in 2010; however, that governor, John Kasich, former congressman, isn’t very popular.  Like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, he initiated legislation to curb government employee unions, and there was a referendum on it, and he got beaten. But, Ohio is going to be a battleground. The latest polls show Obama a point or two ahead, but clearly that’s definitely up for grabs.

Listen to part 3:


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Carl Leubsdorf

The next area where we have battleground states is in the — sort of the upper South. We’ve got Virginia and North Carolina. Again, President Obama carried both of those, and what was unusual there was that Virginia has been so Republican in recent years that he was the first Democrat to carry it since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Virginia was the only deep South state that Jimmy Carter did not carry in its first election in 1976. Many people think Virginia and maybe Ohio are the battleground states of all battleground states, that if Obama carries either one of them, he’ll probably be re-elected. A couple of recent polls showed Obama up 8 or 9 points in Virginia, which surprised some people because another poll at the same time showed their hotly-contested Senate race between former Senator George Allen the Republican and former Governor Tim Kaine the Democrat to be about even, and most people sort of think that the Senate race and the Presidential race will be within a point or two of each other.

North Carolina is a state that President Obama carried narrowly last time by about 13,000 votes.  It’s where the Democratic convention is being held in Charlotte, but the Democrats have got a lot of problems in that state. Their governor is not popular and is not running for re-election. The Republicans are favorite to win the governorship. There have been some problems in the state Democratic party. The fundraising for the convention hasn’t been going well, and I’m sure we’ll talk about this a little bit later, but the recent referendum to pass a constitutional amendment declaring marriage to be between only one man and one woman indicated that conservative sentiment still runs strong in the state.

The other Southern state that is definitely up for play is Florida. Again, that’s a state that has been a crucial state in every one of the last several elections. It was, of course, the decisive state in 2000 with the famous court battle. The Supreme Court ruled in honor of George W. Bush. President Clinton carried it, I think, one of the two times, and of course Obama carried it last time.  The polling there shows it as a very close race and up for grabs.

And, if I might add one other, it’s another state that Obama carried that has been — gone back and forth some in recent years, and that’s New Hampshire. It’s only four electoral votes, but if Al Gore had carried those four electoral votes in 2000, he would’ve been the president.  The recent poll… It’s another state where the Republicans did extremely well in 2010 electing top-heavy majorities in the legislature and kicking out two Democratic house members, although the Democratic governor was re-elected.

But again, the recent polls, they show Obama with a nine or ten point lead.  So, it looks like, at the moment, if you look at those states, that Obama’s got leads in the three Western states and in Iowa and New Hampshire, and actually if you add those to the states that have been gone Democratic in the last five elections, that would be, I think, narrowly enough for him to be re-elected without any of the big tossup states that he carried last time. So, the electoral map looks like it has its tilt to Obama at this point, but we’re going to see a lot of things happen between now and fall, and then generally some of these big states and the outcome, the national trend is going to affect them. If you look at… If you chart this, and I, in fact have done this, you’ll see that if the national Democratic tickets get 53%, which Obama got last time, a whole bunch of these states will be between 51% and 54%. If Obama gets nationally 49%, a lot of these states are going to be between 47% and 50%. They’ll go with the national trend.

Listen to part 4:


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John Sparks
A lot of these early May polls that you refer to were completed before the president came out about gay marriage. I must ask you what effect you think his position will have, and then, also, was this all calculated on his part to get the issue out of the way months earlier?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, let me answer the second question first. It’s quite clear that the White House planted — have — to get this issue out of the way well before the Democratic Convention, that it is a controversial issue. They know it. I think they felt that Obama had no choice but to take the position he took, and that was always his inclination. I think there was some danger that the people who favor legalizing gay marriage nationally were going to make a big fuss about it at the Democratic Convention, and that was about the last thing that Obama needed to happen there. So, having said that, I don’t think that it came out on the White House’s schedule at all. Usually a White House or a campaign tries to orchestrate these things. Sometimes if it’s controversial, they like to put it out on a Friday night. More likely they like to put out with some background and with some events around it to show how sensible and how middle of the road their positions are. Obama’s announcement was precipitated by Joe Biden’s statement on Meet The Press. He was asked about it, and in typical Biden fashion, said what was on his mind and that, yes, he decided that gay marriage was appropriate, and that created a fire storm of questions the next day at the White House. Was he reflecting Obama? Was he trying to precipitate Obama? As I say, I think it was just Joe Biden probably knowing what Obama’s position was and was going to be, and he was asked a question, and he forgot for a moment that he’s the vice president and he’s not supposed to take the lead on these things, and he just said what was on his mind. The White House was quite angry at him. He apologized to President Obama. I think all of that showed that this wasn’t planned. Now polling shows that the country thinks by like a two-to-one majority this was calculated. I’m not sure about the wording of that question. But it certainly was a political component in the timing. I think as far as the position is concerned, Obama was heading that in direction all along.

Now what’s the effect? The national polling shows that support for gay marriage is probably a little over 50% or in the 50% range. It’s almost about the same as the answer you get when you ask about whether you approve of Obama’s performance in office or not. The problem for the Democrats is that there are areas in the Obama coalition where there will not be support for gay marriage. A lot of African Americans have conservative social values. It’s clear from the reaction of several ministers that not all of them are in support of this. Many of them in fact spoke in the pulpit against it. That said, I think the African American pride and having their first president in Barack Obama is going to override everything when that part of the electorate is concerned.

Another area that may be of greater concern are blue collar workers, white blue collar workers, especially in some of these industrial states we were talking about like Ohio and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Michigan. Again, these are people who have shown to be quite conservative on social issues. Many of them oppose abortion rights, and this may be another handicap in Obama’s effort to get strong support in this important part of the electorate since there were already — it was already back to the primaries in 2008 made quite clear that this was not a part of the electorate that was as enthusiastic about Obama as some of the other parts of his coalition. Again here, the Democratic inclinations, the fact that these governors have sort of gone against — taken anti-union actions and the fact that Obama will make a big thing about having his actions that saved the auto industry and saved many union jobs in these areas might offset the fact that they don’t — they’re not that enthusiastic about Obama, and this didn’t help that.

So, what you see already is you see some Democratic senators in close races. I saw that Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Jon Tester in Montana in conservative generally Republican states are sort of separating themselves from the decision saying that they don’t agree with that. So, how much of a decisive issue it’s really hard to tell. The strongest feelings on the issue are from members of both sides, pro-Republican pro Democratic, who are going to vote for their candidate no matter what. The people who are most in favor of gay marriage are very enthusiastic Democrats. The lesbian/gay community is very enthusiastic for Obama and has raised a lot of money for him, and the religious conservatives who are very opposed to gay marriage, they dominate the Republican party are already going to be Romney voters. While there’s been some lack of enthusiasm early on among religious conservatives about Romney, the fact that they want Obama out of office was always going to override some of these concerns when it came to the general election.

Listen to part 5:


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John Sparks
Well, we’ve heard that it’s the economy, stupid, and more specifically jobs. Doesn’t it get down to that again? And if that’s the case, there’s some that would tell you that Obama has not exactly improved the economy over the Bush administration’s watch. What do you think about that? What do you think about the economy right now, the job situation, and how Obama is going to fare?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, that’s of course the big question, and I do think that as many others who the economy in the end is going to be the decisive issue. Do people think it’s getting better, and do they have a positive outlook for the future, or do they think Obama has failed to deal with it?  And of course, the answer is mixed. Unemployment which got up as high as 10%, is now back down 8.1%, and it certainly would be great for Obama’s chances if one month before the election it got down to 7.9 and 7.8. It’s interesting because the trajectory has followed pretty much what happened under President Reagan where he had a very severe recession in the first two years of his administration. Unemployment went up, and then he had a recovery, and it was down to I think 7.4% by the time of the election. It won’t be down that low. If it were down that low, Obama would be in great shape, but it has been trending there. There was a USA Today Gallup Poll this week in which it showed increased optimism among the public about the economic future. All of that is good for Obama.

Now, what are the facts of the job situation? The facts are that in the first year of the Obama administration, the economy lost, I think, about 4 million jobs. Now, but that was certainly the recession had hit under Bush. The public attitude for the most part has continued to be that the Bush administration’s policies were more responsible for the economy than Obama who came in in the middle of it, and it took awhile for Obama’s policies, the stimulus bill and others, to have an impact on the economy. The Republicans have said for three years that it was a failure, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said it saved about 3 million jobs and that without it unemployment might’ve been up to the 11.5% level. But you know, the key thing on the economy is the trend. If it’s getting better, that’s good for Obama. If it’s getting worse, it’s bad for Obama. The likelihood is for a very continuation of this very slow recovery, and jobs are always the last thing to come back, so it could make all the difference in the world if unemployment is 8.3 or if it’s 7.9. And one thing that’s especially tricky here is that the October unemployment figures will come out on the Friday three days before the election. In a close race, that could really be decisive because a lot of voters wait until the final weekend to make up their decision. I mean, the Republicans are going to be 90-95% for Romney, and the Democrats are going to be 90-95% for Obama. We got the independents in the middle. We got among them a lot of moderates and suburbs, especially women, and some of these people will be undecided and may be tipped by the way the unemployment figures are.

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John Sparks
Let’s go back to something you referred to a moment ago, and that was about the president being put out with Biden on the Meet The Press statement about gay marriage.  Any chance that Obama would dump Biden?

Carl Leubsdorf
No.  No.  You know, we hear this every four years the president’s going to dump whoever it is, going replace him and do it. It hardly ever happens. It would be a total mess if it happens, and it is not going happen. The bumper stickers and the posters and all the campaign material has Biden’s name on it, as he likes to point out. So no, Obama will be and Biden will be together in this election.

John Sparks
What about Romney’s pick for a Veep, any thoughts on that – Chris Christie, and could that pick be enough to turn his fortunes around?

Carl Leubsdorf
That’s a little bit tricky. It’s always a little bit tricky for the out-of-party candidate to pick a vice president. Interesting, in recent years, the winning tickets have had in most recent elections, the presidential candidate has picked someone who could help him govern the country. So Clinton, the outsider, picked Al Gore, and George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney, and Obama picked veteran Senator Biden. Other choices have been reflected that have not worked as well, and most notably the McCain choice four years ago of Sarah Palin. I think the Sarah Palin choice has a real influence on what Romney’s going to do. The last thing he wants is a relatively unknown, relatively untested, relatively unvetted publicly candidate. So, while there’s talk of people like Susana Martinez, the Governor of New Mexico, a Hispanic woman, and there’s talk about, and Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American senator from Florida, the general feeling is that in the end Romney’s going to make a very safe choice who might, at best, help him in one of the key states. Vice president’s don’t have much effect on the outcome. I mean polling and studies have shown that for a long time, but they sometimes help a point or two in their home state. For example, if Al Gore in 2000 had picked Bob Graham, the senator from Florida, instead of Joe Lieberman, he probably would’ve carried Florida since he only lost it by 527 votes and would’ve won, and there’s several candidates who sort of fit that pattern. One is Rob Portman of Ohio. Rob Portman was in Congress. He was the budget director and the trade rep under President Bush and is now senator from Ohio, very well regarded, considered a moderate conservative, knowledgeable about budget issues, someone who could really help a president Romney deal with some of the issues he’s going to deal with.

Someone with a similar background who fits that is Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana. He was the budget direct also under Bush. He was the first budget director under Bush, then went back home and got elected governor of Indiana. A lot of Republicans wanted him to run for president. He’s highly regarded as an able — been an able governor. He has strong positions on social issues, which Republicans like, but he didn’t run for president because his family was against it, and there’s been no indication that his family thinks that running for vice president is okay. The good thing about it, of course, is that it’s a much shorter campaign period, but the bad thing is they’ll get all the scrutiny and all the press intrusion that political people hate.

A third one is Congressman Ryan from Wisconsin, an up and coming member of the House, the architect of the House Republican budgets, another person who could help possibly in Washington as well as in Wisconsin.

And although I mentioned that Marco Rubio is something more of a gamble, he certainly would help if they wanted to get a candidate from Florida.

Now, there are other people mentioned. You mentioned Chris Christie. There is some polling that shows that he wouldn’t help Romney carry New Jersey which has been a safe Republican, safe Democratic state in recent years. I have doubts that that is going to happen. Christie is a very boisterous, outspoken, energetic guy who likes to be in charge of things, and he does not strike me as the vice presidential type, and he strikes me as someone that would drive a president crazy. That’s something… personal capability is really important in this. When the elder George Bush was picking his vice president in 1988, there was a lot of talk about Jack Kemp who had run for president and would’ve balanced to Bush very well with the conservative wing of the Republican Party, and Bush basically said that he couldn’t stand being around Kemp, and he didn’t want him around for four years and picked Dan Quayle with whom he had a much more simpatico relationship. So, that does come into play. Most people in Washington, I think, think Portman is the front-runner at this point, but people who have tried to pick vice presidential candidates, that’s sort of tough to do.

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John Sparks
Now a few weeks ago in The New York Times, I believe it was David Brooks was floating Michael Bloomberg as a third party candidate. There’s really no possibility at this late hour for a third party candidate is there?

Carl Leubsdorf
No.  Michael Bloomberg has had ample opportunity to talk about this. There have been reports that he in fact has studied the matter and decided against it. There’s been an interesting sort of side thing to the whole presidential race. A group called Americans Elect, which was financed by a wealthy financier and attracted some interesting people from both parties, for example, Christie Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey; the former press secretary to Deval Patrick, who’s an African American Democrat in Massachusetts; Mark McKinnon who has worked for Texans on both parties and worked for George W. Bush and for John McCain and a bunch of other people, and they came up with this elaborate plan to get a place on all 50 ballots and then have an online primary to pick a presidential candidate. The theory was that there were all sorts of well-known people out there who might be willing to run on the third party. Well guess what, there aren’t that many. To do a third party campaign, you need someone of the stature of a Michael Bloomberg or a Ross Perot or someone like that, and this group who are just called Americans Elect has now had to sort of cancel its primary because they didn’t — none of the candidates got enough support by their ground rules, so they’re going to have to change the ground rules.

The leading candidate among those who said they were willing to do it was Buddy Roemer, the former governor of Louisiana who was an early casualty of the Republican race. There are also a bunch of people who got support who said they were not willing to run. The one who got the most support was Ron Paul who, of course, ran in the Republican race and is widely believed to be laying the groundwork for his son Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, to run in a future race, so he’s not interested in a third party. And the thing about third parties is they always get a lot of attention because they have potential for upsetting the apple cart, but in the end they hardly ever have an effect. The most famous third party effort in American history was probably when Theodore Roosevelt split with the man he had selected to succeed him, President William Howard Taft, and ran as the Progressive candidate in 1912. He took away so much support from the Republicans, in fact finished second in that race, that the Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected. That is one of the few times there has been an effect. Now I mentioned before that New Hampshire was a state that if Al Gore had carried it in 2000, he would’ve been elected. Well, Ralph Nader running on the Green ticket got far more votes than the gap between Gore and Bush in New Hampshire, and also the same thing happened in Florida, so in a way you could say that Ralph Nader prevented Gore’s election and elected George W. Bush, but the others haven’t had an effect.

And one — just one more thing that if a third party ever caught on to the extent that it had an effect on the campaign, it had enough support to get into the national televised debates, and the requirement there is an average of 15% in a series of in the major polling organizations, I don’t think they’d ever win an election, but they might win several states. And, of course, if in a close election, which this one could be, if a third party candidate won two or three states, they could prevent either candidate from getting the 270 electoral votes you need and throw the election into the House. In the House, each state has one vote. and if the current House were to pick a president, the Republican would win. I think the Republicans control 30 state delegations and the Democrats 17. But there’s — at the moment, there’s no sign of any significant third party candidate. If the Americans Elect actually has a candidate, it’s going to be either someone like Buddy Roemer or David Walker. David Walker was the comptroller general. He’s been a big deficit hawk. He’s sort of… There are people interested in putting him on that ticket. But almost certainly it’s not going to have any effect.

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John Sparks

Carl, anything we should look for as we begin the summer phase of the campaign?

Carl Leubsdorf

I mentioned a bunch of — a group of the state polls and what’s happening there, and, of course, the election really takes place in the states. There will be a lot of attention on the national polls, and those seem to be running that Obama has a slight advantage over Romney, but that’s good for Obama, but his total in these polls is mostly in the 46-48% range which matches his job approval, and that’s no accident. That usually happens. Now the fact is with 46-48% now for Obama, the chances are that most of the undecided voters are not going to be for Obama. I mean, they know him well, and most people have made up their minds about him. So that’s a dangerous sign for any incumbent running in the 40’s and not up to 50 because of the fact that we will have only minor third party candidates; and I should mention the Libertarians nominated a ticket headed by Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico who also ran briefly for the Republican nomination. Now that he could get appointed to in New Mexico and that might affect the outcome there. But anyway, in the third party candidates, there’ll be a bunch of them. They’ll get 1-1.5% of the vote in the end, and so the winning candidates, you can probably, if you get to 49%, you probably can win the election assuming it’s in the right places. But at the moment, Obama does not have that support, but, of course, neither does Romney, and… But in the end, the national polls are a less significant indicator than all these state polls.

2/23: The Latest on the GOP Race

Where does the race for the Republican nomination stand?  What are the chances of a brokered convention?  And, who has the best odds against President Barack Obama?   The Marist Poll’s John Sparks visits with Marist Poll Analyst and syndicated political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News about  this and more.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

Listen to the interview below.

Part 1:


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John Sparks
Carl, where do you think things stand on a Republican nominee at this point?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think the Republican race is much more uncertain than we thought it would be at this stage. The general assumption was that Mitt Romney was a reasonably strong frontrunner and would show that, but he’s proved to be a weaker front-runner than many people anticipated. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with his campaign, and his campaign is well run. He’s got lots of money. In fact, his money has saved him so far. He has two big problems.

One is that the dominant conservative wing of the party has never quite accepted him as one of theirs. Romney keeps insisting he’s a conservative, but the problem is that he wasn’t always a conservative. He was pretty moderate when he ran against Ted Kennedy for the Massachusetts’ Senate race in ’94. He was pro choice. He was in favor of doing positive things for the gay and lesbian community. He at one point was a registered independent. He voted for Democrat Paul Tsongas in the ’92 Democratic Presidential Primary and was critical of President Reagan. So, his conservatism is rather recent and to some critics in the party is something that he’s acquired for purposes of running for president.

His other problem is he’s just not an effective candidate. He has trouble when he gets off his script. He doesn’t mesh with real people too well, and he has a tendency to say some odd things.  He was last week, for example, in Michigan and talking about his affinity for Michigan, the state in which he grew upin.  He said he loved Michigan. He said he loved its trees. They’re the right height. Now, what in the devil does that mean? He talks not like a real person sometimes, so he’s had a lot of trouble there.

The real fight in the party has been: Who is the conservative opponent for Romney? That’s sort of been going on from the beginning and, as we know dating back to last summer, we’ve had a whole string of pretenders [sic], various Republican contenders — Michele Bachmann; Governor Perry of Texas, Herman Cain soar to the top of the Republican race then in December, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House. About the only one who didn’t was Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Senator and who was plotting along working in Iowa, visiting every country there. But in the end, the conservatives in Iowa sort of solidified around Santorum. On the night of the caucuses, it appeared he had lost narrowly there, but when they finally counted all the votes, he in fact beat Mitt Romney there. It’s been a peculiar race though. Then Mitt Romney won in New Hampshire where he has a summer home, and it’s adjacent to Massachusetts where he was a governor. He looked like he was on the right track, but then in South Carolina, a state that every Republican nominee has won since they started their primary in 1980, Newt Gingrich beat Romney rather decisively. The following week in Florida, Romney turned the tables on Gingrich. Meanwhile, Santorum was sort of finishing well back in the pack in some of those states. Well he was working in some of the caucus states rather than the primary states, which it’s a lot cheaper to run there, and they’re the kinds of situations dominated by the more conservative wing of the party. And on Tuesday two weeks ago, he scored three victories which have catapulted him into the lead in the national — in most national Republican polls. It was an odd set of races. One was Missouri, a non-binding primary where he won quite easily. The other were two caucus states which Romney had won four years ago, and that I think explains why these had such a big impact. One was Minnesota where Governor Romney had the support of the state’s former governor and one of its leading Republicans, Tim Pawlenty, and Santorum won there. And the other is Colorado, not considered as conservative a state, a state with quite a few Mormons in it as Romney is, and Santorum won that too. So, it really turned the race upside down.  It established Santorum as the main rival to Romney. And in Michigan, that is next week we have two primaries, in Michigan and in Arizona, and the major test is Michigan, the state in which Governor Romney grew up in and where his father was a popular Republican governor in the ’60s, and every poll so far shows, Santorum leading there.  So, if Santorum would actually beat Romney in Michigan that would really turn this race upside down. Romney could no longer be considered the front-runner, and it would really set Santorum with a real chance of becoming the nominee, but that hasn’t happened yet.

So, that’s a long version of where things stand.

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John Sparks
If something like that does happen, looking down the road, where do you think the tides might turn for a candidate? In Texas, the primary has been delayed until probably late May. Could Texas be a decider?

Carl Leubsdorf
Texas, I mean… And actually, I think Santorum would probably like to have Texas sooner rather than later because there’s a new poll put out by the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas that shows Santorum with a rather substantial lead. Remember this: The Texas Republican Party is very conservative. In the primary for governor last year where Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison challenged Governor Perry, Hutchison got 30% of the vote, Perry got 50% of the vote, and a Tea Party candidate got 20% of the vote. That means that 70% of the votes cast were cast for very conservative candidates.  So, this is not a good — Texas is not a good state for Romney. He’s probably just as well for the primary has been delayed indefinitely.

What happens after next Tuesday, and I mentioned that Arizona is also voting next Tuesday, its rivals have pretty much conceded that to Governor Romney. So whatever happens, he’ll have a victory, but if he only wins Michigan – - wins Arizona and doesn’t win Michigan, it will be something of a hollow victory because the real fight is in Michigan.  The week after that we have so called “Super Tuesday” with a whole bunch of primaries. Some are in states like Massachusetts where Governor Romney almost certainly is going to be the winner, but in states like Tennessee and Oklahoma and Georgia, Newt Gingrich’s home state, so it’s going to be a very interesting day and not a great day probably for Romney. His next big stand would probably come on the 20th of March in Illinois, the kind of state that Romney as a more moderate Northern candidate ought to be — have a good chance in. But, as I say, if Romney loses in Michigan next week, all bets are off.

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John Sparks
Carl, could it be that we could head into the National Convention and see a brokered convention if things keep flip-flopping?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well let me approach that in a couple of ways because every time we have one of these fights and it looks a little bit inconclusive, the first words that come out are “brokered convention.” First of all, it’s not clear who would broker a convention because the idea that candidates who have run for months and months and years in some cases would suddenly say, “Okay, we’re deadlocked, let’s like let a bunch of party leaders who’ve been on the sidelines decide it.” It ain’t[sic] going to happen that way.  That’s not how it works.  To have a brokered convention, you probably need three, at least three candidates with substantial number of delegates. Now the problem in the Republican Party now is that there are four candidates still staying in the race, and one of the issues will be whether in addition to Santorum and Romney, the other two candidates, Gingrich and Ron Paul, continue to acquire delegates. That’s not at all certain. Someone did a study, and they said that if Romney won the rest of the primaries with 49%, he wouldn’t win enough delegates to be nominated till June. If one of these candidates starts winning more decisively, they will not be getting 49% of the votes, they’ll be getting 59% and 69%, and they will be getting well over half of the delegates in most of these races. Gingrich, for example, has got to make a showing on Super Tuesday with races in Georgia and Tennessee. I haven’t seen any Georgia polls, but, in Tennessee, the last poll I saw had Santorum up by a pretty substantial margin. Gingrich’s only hope is that his principal financial supporter, Mr. Adelson out in Las Vegas, is planning to spend a lot of money in his behalf. That might help keep him in, but he is — he looks like the guy on the outside now as Santorum and Romney are fighting, and Ron Paul is sort of working along the fringes in smaller states. He will continue to get delegates, but it’s not clear how many delegates. So, that’s the first thing. There has to be three candidates getting delegates because otherwise the leading candidate, assuming there becomes a leading candidate, will begin to pile up delegates at a big pace.

If one of the candidates has a substantial lead, but it doesn’t quite get to the figure over 1,100 that they need to be nominated, the first thing that would probably happen is that that candidate would try to make an accommodation with one of the other candidates to get some of his delegates.  As I say, the idea that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum and Ron Paul and maybe Newt Gingrich after running all year would suddenly step in the sidelines and let former Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi or Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana try to decide the nominee, it just doesn’t happen.

Now the other possibility is that another candidate comes into the race. There are a number of primaries where the deadlines have not yet been reached and where a candidate could come in. Now that’s very hard to do. There’ve been a number of examples. It’s very interesting. The pattern of this race is beginning to resemble two past races of recent years in which there was an insurgency against a rather weak establishment candidate. One was 1964 when Barry Goldwater was running against Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination. One was 1972 where George McGovern was challenging Senator Ed Muskie for the Democratic nomination on the Vietnam War issue. In both cases another candidate did come in. As Muskie began to collapse in ’72, the party leadership encouraged Hubert Humphrey, the former vice president, to get into the race, and he carried the race all the way to the convention but did not win. In 1964 when the Rockefeller candidacy faltered and it appeared that Goldwater was going to get nominated, a number of the party leaders got behind Governor Scranton of Pennsylvania and got him into the race in the last month, and that went nowhere. Goldwater had enough delegates and was nominated. So, you could get another candidate in. You could get party leaders to trying to do something, but there’s no guarantee that they would derail some arrangement among the top candidates. The danger here is that if the more ideological candidate gets nominated, and that would be Santorum in this case, the danger is that that candidate often has a more difficult time winning the general election. Goldwater carried six states against Lyndon Johnson, and McGovern carried one state in the District of Columbia against Richard Nixon. Now, this election won’t be that one-sided in any case. The Republicans will certainly win a certain number of states in the South and in the mountain area, and the Democrats will certainly will win a bunch of states in the Northeast, but what looks on paper to be a close race might not be so close if the Republicans nominate a candidate who drives away independent voters.

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John Sparks
As Republicans continue to battle in public, isn’t the real winner sitting in the White House sitting on his $76 million in campaign funds waiting for the general election?

Carl Leubsdorf
Sure.  As I said, the battle — the real key to this election are the independents. The Democrats are 90% for Obama, and the Republicans are 90% for whichever one of these candidates gets nominated, but the different tallies show different numbers among the independents.  Most of the discussion of that until very recently had to do with Romney versus Gingrich and that Romney was a better candidate against the independents, for the independents, being more moderate than Gingrich. It’s more complicated with Santorum because on one hand, he seems to have definite appeal to blue collar voters, what we call the “Reagan Democrats,” the people who were union people and of ethnic origin who had been traditional Democrats but were fairly conservative on social issues and began to vote Republican often starting with President Reagan, but there’s another group of independents, and those are the suburban independents. I always like to call them the  “Clinton Republicans.” They probably voted for Reagan in the ’80s, but they then voted for Bill Clinton in the ’90s, and they voted for Al Gore, and they certainly voted for Obama, and they’re not as conservative on the social issues. And if the Republicans have a candidate who stresses social issues, like Santorum, he’s going to have a lot trouble with the suburban voters in major states.

The White House likes this. The White House has been planning all along for a race against Romney.  You know, Romney is still the more likely candidate, but he has shown his weakness steadily through this race, but they’re also beginning to consider what would happen if Santorum were the candidate. They haven’t done much about that yet. There’s a lot of material on Santorum, especially from his unsuccessful re-election race in Pennsylvania in 2006 against Bob Casey, a conservative Democrat. Lots of material from there that has not been used so far, which the Democrats have. So, a lot of that will depend on what happens here. The White House is quite happy for the Republicans to be fighting among themselves, using up their financial resources, and the fact that the campaign has taken on such a negative tone among these candidates, especially in the television commercials.  So, the White House is quite pleased through this. In the meantime, the economy has gotten somewhat better, and so, it looks like President Obama’s situation politically is somewhat better than it was last year. That doesn’t mean he’s yet a strong favorite to win, it still looks like a close race, but more and more people who follow this are thinking that Obama’s chances are beginning to edge above the 50% mark.

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John Sparks
Interesting that you mention independents. Twenty years ago, Ross Perot launched his presidential bid as a third party candidate. Last week, Tom Friedman was talking about that and suggesting maybe the time was now ripe for an independent candidate, a third party candidate.  Any chance of something like that happening?

Carl Leubsdorf
There has been a group called “Americans Elect” that is talking about getting a ballot space in every state with the idea of having an Internet primary and putting a candidate on the ballot. The problem with this is they don’t at this point have a candidate, and most American third party movements have been driven not by parties but by candidates. For example, when Ross Perot decided to run for president 20 years ago, he created the mechanism to get on the ballot. It wasn’t like there was a party out there that nominated Ross Perot, and the same thing happened in 1968 when former Governor George Wallace of Alabama ran as an independent candidate for president. So this Americans Elect group so far does not have a candidate. I’ve noticed over the weekend there is one person who has emerged who might try to win that nomination. His name is David Walker. He’s not known at all. He’s a deficit hawk who was the comptroller general of the United States, which is a bookkeeping job pretty much in the government, and he’s been a big advocate of cutting the deficit and taking stern measures and not — to deal with the deficit issue.  So he might be a candidate for that, but I think it’s going to be very difficult for a third party candidate to be in this race.

John Sparks
Carl, in 1992 when Perot ran, the clear loser was an incumbent president, George H. W. Bush. If a third party candidate were to emerge, who would be most likely to be vulnerable?

Carl Leubsdorf
I think probably if someone ran on a deficit cutting ticket that it would probably hurt President Obama more than the Republican candidate. It’s interesting, Alan Lichtman, the Professor of history at American University who developed a system for judging president races, has what he calls “13 Keys to the Presidency.”  And if a certain number turn against the president, the incumbent president he’ll lose.  And he became very famous about 20 years ago because one he was one of the early people who fingered George H.W. Bush as a loser in 1992 as he turned out to be, and one of his keys is a third party candidacy, a third party candidacy in his system hurts the incumbent. Again, it really depends how many votes the… you could say that the Ralph Nader candidacy, which is, of course, Nader has run several times, in 2000 defeated Al Gore because Nader got enough votes in New Hampshire, presumably mostly from liberals, that it was more than the difference by which Gore lost the state to George W. Bush.  And without Nader in the race, Gore probably would’ve carried New Hampshire, and that would’ve been enough to win that very close election. So in that, he was running as the candidate of the incumbent party. So I think a centrist independent is bad for Obama. On the other hand, if say — and there’s no sign of this at point, suppose Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination, and a group of conservatives get together and say, “He’s too moderate for us, we want a conservative candidate,” and they run a conservative candidate as a third party candidate and get on ballot, that would obviously hurt the Republicans.

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John Sparks
If you just have a Republican versus the President in November, who’s the best candidate?  Who prevails if it’s Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, or even Ron Paul? Who do you think has the best chance?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think the assumption all along has been that Romney would have the best chance basically because he’s more moderate than the others.  He would have a better chance of getting independent votes, and most of the polling until now has shown that. Now interestingly, some of the more recent polling has shown Santorum’s chances are almost as good, and the places where Santorum would challenge Obama more may be somewhat different from the states where Romney would. Romney, a lot of people, more moderate voters, probably don’t believe Romney’s conversion to conservatism like the more conservative Republicans who don’t believe it either and might vote for him on that basis. Now he says he’ll have a very conservative presidency and has listed some of the positions he’ll take, and then that’s always a danger that the zeal of the newly converted is greater than that of the traditional holder of the views. George W. Bush ran as something of a moderate personality in 2000, but he said he would name Supreme Court justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and he named two very conservative Supreme Court justices. So, you got to be careful of what you wish for, it may not be what the candidate will advocate.

But at the moment, Romney looks stronger, but he’s got a lot of flaws as a candidate. For example, you would think that he would be able to take advantage of the bad economy in a place like Michigan, his home state because of him being a businessman, but he opposed the bailout of the auto companies which has been spectacularly successful and has saved General Motors and Chrysler, and he’s still arguing that it was a bad idea. That’s hurting him in Michigan. Heck, it’s hurting him against Santorum in the primary even though they both had the same position, partly because Romney was in favor of the bank bailout but against the auto bailout whereas Santorum was much more consistent. He was against both of them.  So, I still think Romney is (a) the more likely nominee and (b) the stronger general election candidate, but he’s been hurt a lot by the race so far.

John Sparks
Carl, it’s always a pleasure. I’ll be watching with interest, as I know you will, and look forward to visiting with you again real soon.

Carl Leubsdorf
Happy to do it, and it’s just been a fascinating race and much more than we could’ve bargained for.

12/9: A Look at the GOP Contest in Iowa and New Hampshire

With time counting down to the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, are there more twists and turns ahead?

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

The Marist Poll’s John Sparks visits with Marist Poll Analyst and syndicated political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News about the latest trends in the 2012 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.

Listen to the interview below.

John Sparks
Carl, it’s less than a month until the Iowa caucuses, and according to the latest Marist Poll there have been some changes. But before we talk about those changes, I’ve got to ask you: Which is more important to a candidate, Iowa or New Hampshire?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, it depends which candidate, I think, because for certain of the candidates for the group of — that we call the conservatives in this race, they’re all conservative, but basically who have been jockeying all year for position, and I’m talking about Speaker Gingrich, Governor Perry, Representative Bachman, in particular Herman Cain because he’s not there anymore, and to a lesser degree Ron Paul, Iowa is more important because it’s going to establish the pecking order among those people. In effect, we’ve had sort of two primaries going on, the — on one side, the establishment side, we’ve had Romney and the two former governors, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, and on the other side, we’ve had the other candidates. So, among the other candidates, they’re jockeying for position, and Iowa is extremely important because of the nature of the electorate, quite conservative. It’s a caucus system which encourages activists, so… But for Governor Romney, while there’s some importance in Iowa, the key thing for him is to win New Hampshire and win it decisively so that the media does not write: Well he won, but he didn’t meet expectations because he needs to use New Hampshire where he has a summer home and where he spends a lot of time as a board to sort of propel himself into the primaries in South Carolina and Florida.

John Sparks
Well, let’s talk about Iowa first since it comes first. The caucuses are January 3rd, and the latest Marist Poll has Newt Gingrich on top with 26%, followed by Mitt Romney at 18% and Ron Paul at 17%. Now Marist Poll Director Lee Miringoff says, “Hold on tight for further twists and turns.” Carl, do you think we could see more changes between now and January the 3rd?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, historically there have been a lot of changes in the last six weeks, and one thing I’ve been advising everyone that I’ve talked to and probably have discussed in these interviews previously, is that Iowa tends to firm up in the last month to six weeks. There are a lot of changes near the end, and the way it stands in August or in June probably isn’t going to be the way it’s going to end up, and that, in fact, has happened with the emergence of Speaker Gingrich as the leader there. It’s going to be interesting. I don’t know whether he can maintain it. It’s a shorter period he has to maintain it than some of the others who’ve come up. There’s the question: If he doesn’t maintain it, who would get his votes since just about everyone of his rivals among that group has been up there earlier.

Ron Paul is an interesting and sort of a separate phenomenon. He has a very fervent following, a lot of it young people. He’s got a solid vote, which is I would rate at 10-to-12%. But the latest poll is, not only the Marist Poll but the two others that were taken, show his numbers coming up in Iowa, so he’s clearly a contender for first place.

And the third player near the top of the poll, Governor Romney, has not spent that much time in Iowa. He spent a lot of time four years ago. He definitely has a following. We have to remember that while the Iowa Republican Party and likely caucus attendees are pretty conservative, maybe a quarter to a third of them are more moderate and more establishment, and Romney will do very well there whether he spends a lot of time in Iowa or not. I found interesting in these last polls, and we’ll find out later if it was meaningful, Romney’s numbers appear to have come down in Iowa for no particular reason, and this is the phenomenon we saw four years ago that the more he campaigned in a place, the less well he did, and people forget that at one point he was the leader in both Iowa and New Hampshire four years ago, and he ended up winning neither. So, whether we’re seeing that phenomenon in the fact that he’s dropped from the mid 20s into the upper teens (inaudible) polling caucuses is very difficult and finding likely attendees.

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John Sparks
You know, Carl, second choices might tell us something because Herman Cain was still in the race when the Marist Poll was taken, and 28% of Cain’s supporters said that Gingrich was their second choice, followed by Paul and Romney with each 19%.

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think the general assumption has been that Cain’s vote is… more of it will go to Gingrich than to anyone else. They’re both from Georgia. They both had some affinity on the issues. They’re quite…  There are a few suggestions that Cain will in fact endorse Gingrich fairly soon, so that’s not surprising. In a way, the thing that Romney most fears is the consolidation of the conservative vote behind one candidate early in the game. Romney was counting on the fact that the conservative vote would stay very divided, and, in fact, in a very divided conservative vote, Romney with say 25% might win the Iowa caucuses. But if the vote begins to consolidate in Iowa behind one person, then, at the moment that appears to be Gingrich, that’s a problem for a candidate like Romney who has shown great difficulty in getting above about a quarter of the vote everywhere except in New Hampshire.

John Sparks

The Marist Poll showed that among caucus goers who consider themselves Tea Party or conservative and Evangelical Christians, Gingrich gets 35% compared to only 11% for Romney.

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, that’s not Romney’s electorate, but the… I didn’t notice what percentage in your poll was people who consider themselves conservatives as opposed to moderate or however it’s described in the poll, and maybe it wasn’t asked. But I said, the assumption has been about two-thirds of the caucus electorate or maybe a little more would be Tea Party people, Right-To-Lifers, Christian conservatives, the various factions that make up the right side of the Republican Party, and that is not a group that where Romney is going to do very well.

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John Sparks
You know, I think it’s always interesting, polling people and asking them why they vote like they do, and in Iowa, three in ten that are likely to be caucus goers tell us they want a candidate who is closest to them on issues – 29% say the candidate who shares their values is a key, and that’s flip-flopped a month ago. Any significance to this that now there’s…

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think it seems to be fewer of them are saying that the first choice would be someone they think that can win, and actually we’ve seen in the some of the polls lately, more people think that Gingrich can win than think Romney can win. Romney has not… Romney has run this very buttoned up campaign where he tries to avoid the other candidates, where he behaves like the front-runner, where he straddles the issues and tries to say as little as possible, and when you combine that with his bland personality and the fact that he doesn’t have much of a persona, I think it’s hurt him, and I think it’s, you know, Gingrich has emerged as a more dynamic candidate, as a candidate who could get in Obama’s face. I mean, the thing that Republicans want most is to beat President Obama. They want a candidate who will stick it to him in the debates and who will be outspoken, and I think they see Romney is not able to do that. So, in the other candidates, and I say Gingrich is the favorite of the moment, they see ones who both agree with them and can be aggressive against Obama.

John Sparks
It’s interesting that you mention the general election. When Iowans turn to the general election, Obama ties Ron Paul, but he defeats Gingrich in Iowa 47% to 37% and he defeats Romney 46% to 39%.

Carl Leubsdorf
That’s interesting. That’s especially interesting because Iowans have been subjected to a steady barrage of anti-Obama rhetoric. The president’s been there a couple of times, but since there is no Democratic primary, most of the — most of what’s coming out in politics is Republicans, and most of what they’re doing is attacking Obama, and for Obama’s numbers to hold up that well is probably a good sign for him from the Fall that I think it’s the calculation of the Obama campaign at this point that in a relatively close election where they have a reasonable chance to win, Iowa would be one of those states that the president would be able to carry. It’s considered one of the states definitely in play. It was carried by, I guess, by Bush in ’04 and by Obama in ’08, but that is not a great sign for the Republicans, and there’s some sense, and there’s a new Pew Poll on this too, that what’s going on in the Republican Party has actually hurt the party somewhat. Whether that will have a long-term affect, we don’t know.

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John Sparks
Carl, organization has always been an important factor in the campaign.  Is it still an important factor, especially in Iowa?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, it’s important in Iowa because in order to vote, you have to go to a caucus in your precinct, and there are 2,400 precincts in Iowa, and the weather in January when this takes place is often not very good, and traditionally, the way you won in Iowa is you set up a structure in every county, you said the 99 counties and then a lot of the towns, to get people out to the caucuses. I think that’s going to be less of a factor. If it is a big factor, Speaker Gingrich will be in big trouble because he doesn’t have much of an organization there. Ron Paul’s got a perfect organization out there supposedly, and Mitt Romney has one because he had one four years ago. But, this campaign has really been fought out in the televised debates. That’s what’s really driven the race and have gotten the most attention, and the flubs of the various candidates like Governor Perry’s problem, naming the third department he would get rid of or outside issues like the problem Mr. Cain had with various women have really driven the narrative of this campaign, and television advertising’s about to start really full scale in Iowa, but I don’t think that’s the major factor either. I would guess organization will be less important. But if we wake up on caucus morning and Newt Gingrich is in fourth place, then we’ll know organization was more important than we think it is, but I think it’s been reduced a lot.  Another factor on the organization side is there’s a difference between the Democratic caucuses and the Republican caucuses in Iowa.  In the Democratic caucuses, they have a system where if you get — if someone has less than 15%, their support doesn’t count. The caucuses are precinct caucuses. They elect delegates to the county conventions, which eventually this will get to a state convention. In the Democrats, they all line up for the different candidates in different corners of the room. Anyone who’s got under 15%, his candidate is out, and those people can go join one of the other groups, and you really need organization to do that. The Republicans have a straight vote. It’s like a straw poll. When they arrive at the caucus, they vote for one of the candidates, and that’s how the delegates are allocated to the county then. That’s much easier. It’s more like a regular election than a primary than like a caucus, and if they don’t want to stay for the discussion of the issues and all that, they can go back home as soon as they vote. The Democrats, you got to stay awhile. So, it’s another factor that reduces the importance of organization in this election.

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John Sparks
Let’s go from Iowa to New Hampshire. The New Hampshire primary comes a week after the Iowa caucuses, and the latest Marist Poll shows that in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney is in the lead 39% to 23% over Gingrich, but that lead has been cut in half since last month’s Marist Poll in New Hampshire. Any significance there?

Carl Leubsdorf

Yeah, I think a couple of interesting things there. One, Romney has steadily been… I think most of the fact that it’s been cut in half is probably because Gingrich has gained and less that Romney has been consistently in most polls in the neighborhood of 40%. And the fact is, if he gets 40% in the primaries, he’s almost certainly going to win. One thing… the biggest caution on New Hampshire is that the day after the Iowa caucuses, all the numbers you’ve seen so far in New Hampshire will be worthless because the numbers will change according to what happens in Iowa. It happens every year, you see a real change, and the fact that the primaries are only — and the caucus in Iowa and the primary is in New Hampshire are only week apart means that there can be a big affect of what happens in Iowa. What that means is that the winner in Iowa will get a boost in New Hampshire. Now, if it’s Gingrich, and he’s already surpassed 20%, that could put him up near the 30% level. And, unless Romney comes out of Iowa with a feeling well he did okay considering he didn’t campaign much there, his numbers might come down a little bit. Now if Romney’s numbers come down a little bit, that votes probably not going to go to Gingrich, it’s probably going to go to Jon Huntsman who is the former Governor of Utah, has concentrated in New Hampshire, and although his record is equally as conservative as the other candidates, his more moderate manner and the fact that he’s not spent all of his time bashing President Obama gives him an appeal to the independents.  Remember in New Hampshire, independents can vote in the primary, and with no Democratic primary, we expect a lot of independents to vote there. Not all independents are moderate to liberal to be sure, but I think there are more of those than arch conservatives. So, what you’ll see in… Now if Romney comes in to say a strong second in Iowa, his numbers will hold up very well, but if comes in a weak third, he may suffer some erosion there, and certainly the winner in Iowa will get a bump up, so you’ll see a change there by the Thursday or Friday of that week, and it’ll determine whether anyone actually has a chance of beating Romney. The great fear I think from the Romney point of view is that he survives to win, but he wins so narrowly that it does not give him a boost for the later primaries. As I said before, New Hampshire is extremely important to Romney. He was governor of a neighboring state. He has a summer home there. He’s spent a lot of time there. He really needs to have a strong victory there, or he’s going to have real problems when the race moves south.

John Sparks
Interesting that you mention the independent voters in New Hampshire. Romney leads Gingrich by 12 points among Republicans in New Hampshire, but when it comes to independents, his lead opens up to 21 points over Gingrich.

Carl Leubsdorf
Well that’s exactly right because the two candidates who the independents are most likely to vote for or like more than will vote for are Romney, considered the moderate in this race. Remember, he’s taken all these conservative positions, but a lot of people don’t believe he really believes them, including a lot of conservatives, so he will get a lot of that independent vote, but if he falls or has seen trouble, it’ll go to Huntsman I think.

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John Sparks
According to Marist, the New Hampshire voters are firmly committed to their candidate – 49% say they’re strongly committed while 31% report they’re somewhat committed, whatever that means, but that may tell us something…

Carl Leubsdorf
That’s more than in Iowa is and…  that’s more than in Iowa that it’s… they’re less committed, I think.

John Sparks
Correct, but I wondering if this might tell us something about what the general election might be like in New Hampshire. There’s something that’s interesting about New Hampshire.  Marist has President Obama losing to Romney in New Hampshire by only three points, 46/43, but they have the president defeating Ron Paul by only two points, and they have the president defeating Gingrich by ten points and yet…

Carl Leubsdorf
I think…

John Sparks
I was going to say – and yet a majority of New Hampshire voters, 52%, say they don’t approve of Obama’s performance.

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think if you compare the two states, Obama has much less chance of carrying New Hampshire than Iowa, especially if his opponent is Romney who is — we said is well known there and has ties there. He is not popular in New Hampshire. All the polls have shown that consistently. He’ll have a difficult time carrying New Hampshire. I would bet if you could get an Obama person to say what was the map that they would have assuming that they barely got over the 270 mark needed for an electoral vote, what’s on that map? I would guess that Iowa would be on it and New Hampshire would not.

John Sparks
Probably so.

Carl Leubsdorf
One of the interesting things in New Hampshire that I should mention is the influence of the Union Leader newspaper. For years, the Union Leader, which is the only statewide paper in New Hampshire, has played an outsized role in New Hampshire Republican politics. It’s… the person that has supported hasn’t always won, but a recent study showed that, I think by Nate Silver of the New York Times, was that the endorsement of the Union Leader is definitely worth a number of points.  That candidates who were endorsed by the Union Leader gained strength afterwards. A couple weeks ago they endorsed Speaker Gingrich as their candidate. That’s undoubtedly one of the factors in his rise to 23% in the Marist Poll, and it will be a factor because when the Union Leader endorses someone, they don’t just write one editorial and then go back to their knitting.  There will be more front page editorials in the Union Leader, and not only will they spend some time supporting Gingrich, but they will be beating up on the candidates they don’t want, and number one on that list is Mitt Romney. So, that is going to part of the dynamic here. It will help whoever emerges from Iowa as the leader of that conservative group, and, at the moment, it looks like it will be Speaker Gingrich.

John Sparks
Carl, I’ve got to ask you with everything that’s going on in my business, people are not reading newspapers as much, so does the Union Leader still have the influence it once had?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, you know it’s interesting in New Hampshire.  It’s the closest thing to a statewide newspaper. Television, there’s only really one major television station in New Hampshire, WMUR in Manchester. Now, of course, they get news on cable, and they get a lot of Boston TV in New Hampshire, but New Hampshire outlets — New Hampshire has an interesting group of newspapers. I know a fair amount about it because my son, Ben, works for the Concord Monitor. There’s a string of local regional papers in New Hampshire, most of them dailies but some weeklies, and which have a fair amount of readership in their local area. The Union Leader has more influence. Manchester is the biggest city in New Hampshire. It has a bigger readership, and also what the Union Leader does gets trumpeted by TV. It’s always a big thing. What some of the smaller papers do doesn’t get as much as publicity.  So, I think it’s less than it once was, but all signs are it does have influence and especially on the Republican side.

John Sparks
Carl, it’s always interesting to talk presidential politics with you. We’re getting to that time when the rubber meets the road, and I look forward to visiting with you again real soon.

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10/11: A Look at the Republican Contest for the Presidency

The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary are just months away.  With so much attention given to these early contests, what are the implications for the current field of Republican candidates?  The Marist Poll’s John Sparks speaks about this issue, the contest on the national level, and President Barack Obama’s re-election strategy with Marist Poll Analyst and syndicated political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

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John Sparks
Carl, we’re three months away from the Iowa caucuses.  So, where we are today with a GOP candidate?

Carl Leubsdorf
Mitt Romney is, as he’s been for some time, the frontrunner, but he’s — in one sense he’s not a very strong fron-trunner.  If you look at the Republican polls, he’s polling between a quarter and a third of the Republican vote.  He hasn’t gone up much.  He hasn’t gone down much.  He’s sort of stable there. And if you look at the more conservative candidates, and I’ll include just about everyone else in the field except Ron Paul, who I think is a special case, they’re polling about 50% of the Republican vote, but the problem is, of course, that it’s all divided up.  And when Perry came into the race, it first was going to be Michele Bachmann, and she had that good debate performance in June and suddenly she started gaining, and then Perry came into the race and then everyone sort of — the conservatives sort of shifted over to him.  Now he’s had some problems and some bad debates. He’s clearly not fully ready for what’s come up.  He’s had the controversy over the racist word on that ranch his family leases in Texas, and he’s dropped, and Herman Cain has come up.  It’s like the vote is shifting from one of them to the other while Romney is over there on the other side.  So, eventually one of two things will happen. Either the conservative vote will consolidate behind someone, and Perry is still the best chance for that, or Romney might be able to win against the very divided field if they all sort of stay in and no one can get enough votes to beat him.  If in Iowa, if in the Iowa caucuses, the field is divided enough, it is not impossible that Mitt Romney could win the Iowa caucuses with a rather low percentage. That’s happened before that the winning candidate didn’t have that much support, and he’s already the favorite in New Hampshire. If he won in Iowa, he’d have a good chance of winning in New Hampshire, and history tells us that Iowa/New Hampshire double winners are almost always nominated.

John Sparks
This business of Rick Perry renting the ranch with a name that’s a racial epithet, is this going to be a fatal blow to his campaign do you think?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I don’t think it’s fatal in itself.  His… and I think his bigger problems are two other things.  One is that his position on immigration, which is a very volatile issue and where Republicans feel especially strongly against the flood of illegal immigrants who’ve come into this country, because of the fact that Texas passed a law granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens, and Perry has strongly supported it, that is a very unpopular position in the Republican Party. That was one of the big factors, I think, in his loss of support in the Florida Straw Poll, and the other is that he has not performed well in debates.  Again, it’s not all that surprising. He came into the race late. He’s not spent a lot of time dealing with some of these national and international issues, and it’s sort of the classic situation that the successful politician on the state level, be he a senator or a governor, doesn’t realize until he gets into it how difficult running for president is. Every issue that was visited before is going to be revisited, and he’s suddenly expected to be an expert on all sorts of subject that he never thought much about.

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John Sparks
I want ask you about Herman Cain. I saw a poll today that has Romney and Cain tied on top. Do you think that we could really see a presidential election with two African Americans facing off?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think we could see that some day, but I don’t think we can — likely to see it in 2012.  Herman Cain is basically the “none of the above candidate.”  I think that’s really for the conservatives.  Now he has a lot of appeal to the conservative portion of the Republican Party, the Tea Party crowd. He’s a terrific speaker. He’s very dynamic.  I remember, I have one of my sons, who does some work in politics, told me last summer, said, “The guy you really ought to watch out for is Herman Cain.” And, he does very well when he speaks before these conventions, but he’s really the “none of the above candidate.” I think no serious Republican politician or analyst expects him, in fact, to be nominated, but it’s a sign of Perry’s problems that his support suddenly shifted to Cain.

John Sparks
You and I spoke back in June about Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Sarah Palin. Do you believe any of these folks are still serious players?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think Ron Paul is a serious player to the extent that he’s always going to get his 10-to-12%. He has a very strong following.  It’s interesting, I wrote a column in the Dallas Morning News about the fact that the press doesn’t take Paul seriously, and they never pay any attention, and I discussed some things that he had said at a breakfast I was at with him for reporters, and he said, you know, that some of the economic stuff he talks about, he admits it’s a little arcane and that he hasn’t explained it very well.  Paul’s not going anywhere, but he’s also not going to be nominated.

Now as for the other ones, Sarah Palin, as far as we know, is not in the race and has no plans to enter, and that hasn’t changed any.  Of the others, I would guess that most of them have no real chance. I don’t think Michele Bachmann has a chance. I don’t think Newt Gingrich has a chance. The one in that group who might conceivably have a chance is Rick Santorum, and I say that only because he’s come across in the debates as a pretty intelligent guy.  He’s got strong views which fit with the Republican Party.  He knows what he’s talking about, and he doesn’t do some of these verbal shenanigans that Gingrich does denouncing the reporters, and he served two terms in the United States Senate, so he has a background of some experience. He doesn’t have much money and he’s just sort of hanging in there, but it’s conceivable that if the Perry candidacy would not get its moorings and would not recover that he’s the one in that group who just might have an outside chance to make a strong showing in Iowa and somehow get into this race.

The question in the end is: If Perry doesn’t recover to be a strong foe for Romney, can one of these other people do it?  And what happens to the many Republicans who are very cool to the Romney candidacy? Do they just accept it?  We’ve sort of run out of new candidates.

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John Sparks
Yeah, but you know, Carl, if Mitt Romney is the fallback, is that really so bad for Republicans?

Carl Leubsdorf
As a neutral analyst, I think it’s probably pretty good for Republicans.  By all signs, he’s still the strongest general election candidate they have.  He consistently runs better against President Obama than the other candidates. He’s a much better candidate for the party in the North than I think Perry would be, who has — beyond all the issues we’ve talked about, has — there are some — he’s so culturally Texan and Southern that that might be a handicap and appealing to moderate independent voters in Northern states.  Romney, who is from Michigan and served in Massachusetts, would have some appeal there. Now he’s got some problems, most of which are getting very little attention now because of all the to-do about Christie and Herman Cain and Perry. For example, his position on immigration is more hard line than Perry’s, and that could be a problem with Hispanic voters who will be very crucial in states like Colorado and New Mexico and Nevada. He was strongly opposed to the administration’s bailout of the auto industry as he was to most of the administration’s economic policies. Well, the auto industry bailout of Chrysler and GM seems to have worked. It’s one of the success stories the administration has, and there are a lot of auto workers in Wisconsin and Ohio and in Michigan who are probably very happy about it and might not like a candidate who is against it, so there are some issues out there.

John Sparks
I saw a Rasmussen Report that said “A generic Republican wins over Obama 47 to 41 among likely voters.”  Do you think that any of these Republicans could defeat the President?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, we don’t know that now. If the President’s approval level is in the low 40s and if unemployment is 9% and if more than 70% of the country think that the country is going in the wrong direction, historically it says that it’s very hard for that president to get re-elected, and that would be a real problem.  However if things improve a little bit, it may really depend on which Republican runs against him. The one… the other warning signal for Obama in the current situation — current polls, is in that poll that you mentioned, Obama had 41%, but even in a number of polls that show him ahead in major states, he’s ahead like 45 to 43 or 46 to 44 or 44 to 41.  An incumbent who’s polling in the mid 40s historically is going to have a lot of problems in an election because that probably means that the — all the ones he doesn’t have are going probably going to be against him in the end.

John Sparks
Do you think the main issue, though, still is going to be the pocketbook and jobs?

Carl Leubsdorf

Sure, barring something happening.  I mean it’s always possible something would happen in the month before the election to take attention. Our attention spans seem to be very short on these things, and something becomes a big issue.  Remember when everyone said that the BP oil spill in the Gulf would be the defining issue for Obama, well, that didn’t last very long, and although the anti-terrorism policy has been very successful in this administration because of the ability to kill major Al-Qaeda leaders starting with Osama bin Laden and a whole bunch of others. That’s not getting very much attention these days, so it’s the economy, and it’s the outlook for the economy isn’t very good. It’s as likely we’ll have a double dip recession that will have — than that we’ll have a speedy recovery.

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John Sparks
Carl, people complain that our government is broken, needs fixing, but what about the presidential election process? It’s media-driven, and isn’t the problem that the process is more about headlines and controversy than finding an effective executive who’s right for the moment?

Carl Leubsdorf
To a considerable degree, yes, although I think that it’s interesting.  I mean the cover — the news coverage is certainly that way, and it’s focused on these things. I think the voters, and especially in some of these early states who are much maligned because Iowa and New Hampshire, which come first in the process, are not typical states. They’re much wider than the country as a whole. Iowa is much older than the country as a whole.  Still the people there, I’ve been in those states for a number of elections, and they take it very seriously. They listen to the candidates. They discuss issues.  The press may not be — on cable television may not be discussing the issues, but when they have town meetings with candidates, that’s what they want to know is where these candidates stand on the issues, and that in many cases determines how they vote.  One of the problems is — with the system is that that’s true in the early states, but when a bunch of all these other states compiled in afterwards, it’s sort of like a ping-pong effect, and what happens earlier has an enormous effect on what happens later. That’s why, for example, while Mitt Romney is certainly ahead in New Hampshire now, he has a home there and he’s campaigned there before, the day after the Iowa caucuses, those numbers in New Hampshire are all going to change. If he does well in Iowa, he ought to be able to hold that lead, but if he does very poorly there, and one of the other candidates, whether it’s Perry or Santorum or Cain, does very well, believe me, there will be a quick boom for that candidate in New Hampshire in the five or eight days between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

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John Sparks
Carl, while the Republicans are posturing, what’s Obama’s strategy?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, for most of this year, President Obama tried — continued to try something that he talked about a lot during in the 2008 campaign and the debt-ceiling fight tried to — which was to try to be in the middle ground, to be, as the White House people used to call it, the adult in the room and to work our compromises with the Republicans in Congress on some of these economic issues and some of these budget issues.  Not only did the effort fail, but the result of it is that everyone’s — the voters’ attitude towards almost everyone in politics went down. And although you’ll find many polls that show that more people favor the Obama position versus the Congressional Republican position, it hasn’t helped Obama’s approval rating, which is — continued to hover in the low 40s.  Starting with Labor Day, the White House has switched course.  When the president presented his jobs program, which by the way included some things that many Republicans have supported before, they show no sign of interest in supporting now, basically what President Obama was proposing was a proposal that was not likely to be approved, but which he could take the country and use as an example to say, “This is what I’m trying to get and this what the Republicans are against.” It’s quite clear that the Republicans are not going to make any major deal in part because they can’t.  Even the leaders who are interested — were interested in dealing with him, such as Speaker Boehner, found themselves constrained by the more hawkish members of their constituency in the House of Representative, and even when they’ve — now both sides agreed on what the budget level should be for the year that just started, the House — some of these House Republicans still trying to cut them even more.  So, I think the White House recognizes there’s not going to be a deal on jobs program, and they’re going to use this politically as much as possible.  When the president was in Dallas recently, he pointed out — he sort of fingered Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, and said, “What kind of a jobs program is he for?  Why is he against everything I propose?” And it’s sort of the Harry Truman policy — procedure in 1948.  And Harry Truman in the 1948 election was in deep trouble, and at the time of the Democratic Convention, there was a lot of dissatisfaction, and they all thought they were going to lose, and he electrified that convention, and the way he did it was he made a speech at 1:30 in the morning in which he called Congress back into special session and said he was going to make them consider all the things that they had refused to do.  Well, they didn’t consider them anymore than they had before, but he had an issue, and he took the issue of the do nothing Congress to the country, and Obama is doing something of the same thing, and we’ll see how that works.

John Sparks
Harry Truman also surprised everyone on Election Day in 1948. Is Obama going to be a Harry Truman you think?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, one reason they surprised him is because polling wasn’t as good as it is now.  With modern polling, it — you’re very rarely enormously surprised. Now the result can be slightly different from the polling. You could have one candidate ahead by two points and then the other one wins by three.  In presidential campaigns, the polling has been quite good lately, but it’s — a lot is going to happen between now and November of 2012, and the situation is going to be affected by external events, going to be affected by the course of the campaign. Obama said the other day that he’s the underdog in the election, and that’s probably true, but a lot of people in Washington would not be totally shocked if in the end he gets elected.  That generic Republican you talked about doesn’t exist, he’s going to have to beat a real live one, and each of them has his shortcomings.

6/13: The 2012 Republican Field

Election Day 2012 is more than a year away, but for Republicans, the contest to find a candidate to oppose President Barack Obama is in full swing.  What should GOP candidates be doing now?  Which issues will be relevant, and where do the candidates stand?  The Marist Poll’s John Sparks speaks with Marist Poll Analyst and syndicated political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

John Sparks
Carl, only 17 months until Election Day 2012.  Now that’s a lot of time unless you’re a potential candidate.  President Obama has a lock on the Democratic nomination, but if you’re a Republican who wants to be president, what do you need to be doing now?

Carl
Well, and it’s, of course, for Republicans, the timeframe is a lot shorter, because the Iowa Caucuses is the first test will take place either in February or perhaps in January, so that’s only seven or eight months.  There’s several things a candidate needs to be doing now.  One is raising money.  The way presidential politics works is you need certain amount of money to maintain an operation and to run media and you use a certain amount to get to the opening test, and then you have to have the facility to raise additional money if you manage to survive the opening test, so candidates may typically spend a lot of time fundraising, and that’s an area where a couple of the potential candidates have a big advantage.  Mitt Romney, who ran before and then showed considerable capability of raising, and has already raised a lot of money, has a big national organization to do it and Sarah Palin because I think she could gem up a campaign very quickly and raise a bunch of money because of the intensity of her following. So, that’s one thing that you do.

You’re getting staff together. You’re getting people to run your operations, especially in the three crucial early states – Iowa, where they have the caucuses; the New Hampshire primary, which comes eight days later; and the South Carolina primary, which has become a crucial test for — especially for Republicans.  Every Republican nominee since 1980 has won in South Carolina. The other early test is the Nevada Caucuses.  That may be less of a significant place to where not all the candidates may campaign there.  So, you’re doing staff.

The third is you have to have a certain understanding of the issues, and for candidates, it’s almost too late to do that. That’s what they’re supposed to have done over the last two or three years because — the reason is because the candidates, it’s fine when they make speeches and do their own thing, but starting on Monday the 13th of June, we’re going to have a series of Republican debates, and that’s a real opportunity for candidates to show that they understand the issues and what their positions are, but it’s also a potential pitfall for candidates who are not up to speed. One of the hints that I got a couple months ago that Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, was probably not running was that he was at a press session that I was at, and I thought that he was not up to speed on the issues. He’d had problems with that four years ago, but we sort of forgave him because he didn’t have much money and a small staff. Now running the second time, he really needs to know that.  I think Sarah Palin could have problems with that if she runs.  She continually seems to say things that aren’t quite right.  And you’re running against people like Romney, who’s been around the track before, and Michele Bachmann, who’s a member of Congress and so has had to vote on a lot of these issues; Newt Gingrich, who knows a lot of substantive things, so you got to be prepared on the issues.

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John Sparks
Let’s say you’re a Republican who wants to be a president, what issues do you believe that President Obama is most vulnerable on?  Bin Laden didn’t buy the groceries for instance.

Carl
Well, clearly the key issue at this point looks like it’ll be the economy and the fact that the economy has not recovered as quickly from the deep recession that President Obama inherited as he would like and as certainly as Americans would like.  There’s a new Washington Post poll and it shows, for example, that more people think the recovery has not started than think it has started.  The statistics don’t say that. Corporate earnings don’t show that.  The increase in employment, modest though it’s been, doesn’t show that, but the public feels that way, and that indicates a vulnerability for Obama and an opportunity for the Republicans.

Now having said that, their issue at this point is it’s easy enough for Republicans to beat up on the Obama just as it was for Democrats four years ago to beat up on President Bush.  What they need to do though is talking to — if they’re going to be talking to Republican audiences, and some of them are going to try to want to draw differences to show that either they’d be a stronger candidate or that they’re a better Republican. It’ll be interesting to see, for example, if differences develop on the controversial Republican budget that passed the House, the one devised by Congressman Ryan of Wisconsin. There are some signs that some of the Republican candidates, while generally in favor of the thrust of that, are not signing aboard the plan to phase out Medicare down the road, which has proved to be very controversial.  So I think there will be some effort to draw differences.

There’ll also be an effort to point out vulnerabilities on the issues of their fellow candidates, and a number of the Republican candidates have vulnerabilities at least in terms of the Republican electorate.  Mitt Romney well publicized because the healthcare plan that he passed in Massachusetts was considered in some ways the model for the Obama National Health Care Plan.  The Republicans are strongly against what they call Obama Care, so that makes Romney vulnerable, especially the concept that everyone would have to buy health insurance, even though ironically that’s something that was originally devised by the Republicans.

Another issue is the environment, the so called Cap and Trade proposal that a lot of Republicans were for in the past, including some of the candidates like former Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota, former Governor Huntsman of Utah, popular Republicans now.  They’re all going to have to be against it, so the candidates will be picking at each other at some of these issues.

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John Sparks
How important will social issues be in this upcoming election?

Carl
I think social issues will not be that important.  For one thing, I think that the Republicans pretty much agree on those issues.  There are a couple of small differences. Governor Huntsman, I believe, is in favor of at least civil unions if not gay marriage.  Most of the Republicans are against that.  Romney was for it originally but is now against it.  They’re all strongly against abortion rights.  Now, what will make a difference on the social issues is that I think some of the religious conservatives who were an important block in the Republican Party feel that some of the candidates are much more with them and much more genuine in their positions on these than the others.  So, they’re likely to back candidates like Michele Bachmann, maybe Rick Santorum, and some of the others, maybe Newt Gingrich, more likely to back them they’re going to back Governor Romney or Governor Huntsman.  In the general election, I think it’s the divisions between the parties are pretty well known.  They haven’t changed.  The Republicans will take — will oppose abortion rights in their platform as they have consistently since 1980. The Democrats will support it.  I think within an election where the economy is such a crucial factor and is going to be such a big issue, social issues will not play that a big of role, but you’ll hear a lot about that during the Republican primaries.

John Sparks
What about foreign policy, specifically the Middle East, Israel, Libya?

Carl
Again, I think that it’s too early to understand.  With the economy, we know that whether it’s going to be better next year or worse next year, it’s going to be an issue because Americans, when push comes to shove, they care about their jobs, the future of their jobs, the jobs for their children, and the well-being of their families.  Foreign policy issues come and go, and a lot of that really depends on what’s happening in the world at the time of the election.  President Obama recently got into some problem politically on the Middle East issue by saying something which in fact was true and had been U.S. policy all along, that the starting point for any Arab-Palestinian agreement would — Israeli-Palestinian agreement would be the boundaries from 1967 but with changes.  Critics said, “Oh, he wanted to go back to the boundaries, and Israel would never do that.”  Republicans immediately jumped on that because several said that he had thrown Israel under the bus. I mean this kind of rhetoric you hear always. The fact is Jewish vote has been heavily Democratic in recent years, more because of domestic policy, I think, since all American politicians are in favor of Israel, and I don’t think that’ll be a big issue.

Now depending what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya, that could be an issue. I think President Obama will benefit to some degree from having killed his — American forces having killed Osama bin Laden, and he’ll benefit to some degree if he’s able to show some more drawdown of U.S. forces in some of these wars, something he promised he’d do.

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John Sparks
I count about a dozen who have either announced for the Republican nomination or may be flirting with the idea.  I’d like go down my list and have you comment about each one…

Carl
Sure.

John Sparks
…and what do you think the challenges might be for each one of those, and you mentioned Mitt Romney.  He announced June the 2nd.  Would you say he is the front runner?

Carl
He is the closest thing to a front runner that there is.  When you take the non-candidates out of the race, he leads in the Republican polls. The Republicans… And he’ll probably raise the most money.  He has the biggest organization. He has the most experienced staff, and he’s a second time candidate.  The Republicans have had a tendency in the past to nominate the next person in line and to some degree I think that’s true, especially with Governor Huckabee out of the race.  His problem is that he’s not very popular among his fellow Republicans, especially the other candidates.  They don’t think he’s very genuine, and there’s some signs that Republican voters don’t either. In 2008, he was the leader at one point in both Iowa and New Hampshire and ended up losing in both states, and there was some sense that he didn’t wear well as a candidate whereas some candidates, the more they campaign, the more popular they get. Seemed with him, the more he campaigned, the less popular he got.  So, he obviously [has] a lot of strong opposition from the more conservative wing of the party that thinks he’s a closet moderate.  He was pretty moderate when he ran for Senator against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts in 1994.  He’s changed a number of his positions on social issues since then, and he also politically, he’s unlikely to win Iowa and is unlikely to make it as the major focus of his campaign, although I’m sure he will campaign there, but he’s put all of his major emphasis on New Hampshire.  He was of course governor of Massachusetts. He has a summer home in New Hampshire. He announced his candidacy there, and the fact is he has to win in New Hampshire to be in the race.  You become a player in the race once the voting starts by winning in one of the early states.  If you can’t win in the early states, you’ve got a lot of problems because the support tends to go to those who are succeeding.  He has to win in New Hampshire.  If he doesn’t win in New Hampshire, he’s not going to win in South Carolina, and he probably won’t win in Florida and maybe not even Michigan where his father was governor, so that’s what he has to do.  But, he starts out as the favorite in New Hampshire and is likely to be one of the two or three finalists in the GOP race.

The real wildcard in the Republican race is, of course, is Sarah Palin, the former Alaska Governor who gained instant fame when John McCain picked her as his running mate in 2008.  She has a lot of hardcore support in the Republican Party, but even a lot of Republicans have become increasingly convinced that she would not be a good president.  It’s interesting to note that she’s known for, of course, attacking what she calls the lame stream media, but some of the most trenchant criticism of her have come from Republicans and from conservatives, so it’s not only the liberals who are after her.  She showed in her visit to the historical sites in the week of Memorial Day again her ability to command the spotlight and get attention and did in some way detract from Governor Romney’s announcement in New Hampshire. She certainly got a part of that story with her criticism of him.  So… but whether she’s running for president or just wants to have a role in it, she certainly — she’s expressed views about certain candidates. She’s critical of Governor Romney. She praises Rick Perry whom she supported also when Governor Perry was running for re-nomination in Texas against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. The general assumption is that she probably is not enthusiastic about Michele Bachmann’s candidacy because she wants to be the número uno conservative Republican Tea Party woman, and it doesn’t help her for someone else to emerge who’s a competitor for that. But exactly what’s she’s up to, whether she’s running isn’t clear. She could have a big impact on the race by supporting one of the other candidates.  She may well do that, so I think she’ll remain a figure to watch even if she’s not going to be a candidate.

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John Sparks
What about former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum?

Carl
Now, he’s one of the longer shots in the race.  Of course, the last time he ran for office, which was for re-election in Pennsylvania in 2006, he got beaten rather badly, and he’s one of the very — one of the candidates making a strong pitch for the religious conservative vote.   His… he almost certainly will have to show something in Iowa, and that’s going to be a tough job for him because he’s up against two candidates who are from the neighboring state of Minnesota, former Governor Tim Pawlenty and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.  And Congresswomen Bachmann, in fact, is an Iowa native, born in Waterloo, Iowa, where she’s going to announce her candidacy.  Newt Gingrich, when he announced — the former House Speaker, when he announced his candidacy a couple of weeks ago, had a rough time because of his criticism of the Ryan budget, the Medicare proposal, and then he got some bad publicity over his buying expensive jewelry for his wife at Tiffany’s, but at the same, he was drawing pretty big crowds in Iowa, and he could be a player in the Iowa Caucuses too.  So, Santorum is going to have beat out most of those three – Bachmann, Pawlenty, and Gingrich, and I’m not sure that he can do that.

John Sparks
Those were the next three on my list, and there’s also another that has consistently made some noise down in Texas, Ron Paul, the Libertarian.

Carl
I think Ron Paul has a limited amount of support.  I mean he has a fervent following, and he will show once again that he has that following, but there’s no sign that he can broaden that support enough to be nominated.  He’s sort of an odd duck in some ways in this field because being a Libertarian, he does not share all of the conservative views on the social issues, and he’s also against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s voted against funding for that.  He’s going to be a lively figure in the debates, but he’s almost certainly not going to be the nominee.

John Sparks
There’s another Libertarian, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, what are his chances?

Carl
Well, I think they’re pretty minimal because it’s hard to get attention in a big field.  The Democrats discovered that last time. There was some fairly prominent Democrats running like former Governor — then Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Senator Biden of Delaware, who of course, ended up as the Vice Presidential nominee, Chris Dodd, a prominent Senator from Connecticut, and they were unable to get traction because the race was so focused around Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and even John Edwards, who had made a good run for the nomination four years earlier, before, of course, all of this legal problems arose, had trouble becoming the third getting into that Clinton Obama mix.  So, I think some of the Republicans are going to have the same problem, and a rather obscure figure from a small Western state is going to have a lot of, like Paul Johnson, will have a lot of trouble breaking through.

John Sparks
You mentioned Michele Bachmann, and that makes me think of the Tea Party and another Tea Party type I think of Herman Cain, the radio personality…

Carl
Well and Herman Cain is the early surprise in the Republican field.  Herman Cain is a black businessman from Atlanta who headed — was it Godfather’s Pizza, I think?

John Sparks
Yes.

Carl
And, he also has radio talk show. He… the Tea Party folks love him, and although he’s sort of been dismissed by the establishment, his numbers have consistently risen so that, for example, there was a recent poll in Iowa in which I think Romney ran first, about 20%, but Cain was tied for second with Sarah Palin, and I should’ve mentioned him among the candidates in Iowa who have a potential of breaking into that religious conservative group, the ones that Santorum was going to have trouble beating because Cain is certainly a player in that too.

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Carl

Now, whether he can beat out Michele Bachmann and how Pawlenty figures in it, those are two interesting… the two candidates from Minnesota.  Pawlenty, the former governor, appears to have gone somewhere to the right since he became a candidate.  While he has an evangelical background, his basic appeal was that he was a reasonably successful conservative governor of a liberal state and got along with the Democrats and the legislature for the most part, and that would be his argument. He’s… now he realizes that being from Minnesota he has to make a showing in Iowa, and so he’s trying to do that two ways. One is by spending an awful lot of time in Iowa, which is exactly the right thing historically to do, and the other is putting a little more stress on the social issues that he might otherwise.  Now, he’ll be up against Michele Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota, who was, as I said, born in Waterloo, Iowa.  She’s sort of a surprise in the field.  I think as long as Sarah Palin looked like a candidate, no one had paid much attention to Michele Bachmann, but Sarah Palin increasingly looks to most Republicans and most analysts like she’s not running, and I’ve seen Michele Bachmann speak before conservative audience, and she gets a pretty good reaction. People like Romney and Pawlenty are not very exciting figures, so someone who can create a little excitement in the right of the party, like a Michele Bachmann or like a Herman Cain, might show something.

The Iowa Caucuses are sort of an odd thing because being caucuses, the turnout tends to be less than in primaries when — and tends to be more confined to the activists in the party. Now that was not true of the Democrats in 2008. The turnout for the caucuses was enormous and far exceeded what they had in their previous gubernatorial primaries. Republican turnouts have tended to be smaller and have tended over the last 25 years to become increasingly conservative so that about two-thirds of the turnout for the caucuses are… identify themselves as religious conservatives.  The only way one of those people from that group doesn’t win there is if there’s so many of them that they divide up the group and someone more moderate like a Romney slips through in a crowded field.

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John Sparks
There are two other names from the past that sometimes get mentioned, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.  What about those two?

Carl
Ironically, Perry, who’s quite conservative, supported Giuliani in 2008.  I don’t think anyone knows quite what Giuliani’s up to.  I mean, we hadn’t heard very much from him. Now, he has shown up in New Hampshire a couple times and is making noises about running. My view of Giuliani is that if he didn’t make it last time, he’s not going to make it this time. It’s four more years since the attacks of 2001, which is where he made his reputation.  The war against terrorism is not a big issue, not as big an issue as it was four and eight years ago.  He still has positions on the social issues.  He’s pro abortion rights and pro gay marriage that are to the left of the Republican mainstream and I just don’t see how he — I think he could play some havoc with the Republican field in New Hampshire, I mean, one of the things — one of the potential problems for Romney in New Hampshire, and we’ve not mentioned one who’s more likely to run, former Governor Huntsman of Utah who was recently President Obama’s Ambassador to China, also on the more moderate side of the Republican party.  If a Huntsman or a Giuliani gained any traction in New Hampshire, and Huntsman will concentrate heavily there, they could squeeze Romney.  Romney… On the right side of Romney are going to be the social conservatives and contrary to some belief, there are more Tea Party types in New Hampshire than one would think.  However, the primary is probably going to be less conservative than say the Iowa Caucuses in part because in New Hampshire independents can vote, and because there’ll be no Democratic contest, you’re going to find a lot of independents voting in the Republican primary, and that’s the hope for Romney, but it’s also the hope of someone like Huntsman or a Giuliani if he would run.  And, if a Giuliani or a Huntsman gains any traction there, I’d say Romney could get squeezed. The centrist sometimes has — probably he’d be the centrist in that field.

Rick Perry, now that’s an interesting thing too. Until a couple of weeks ago, he consistently said he didn’t want to run for president. He had no intention of going to Washington. He wasn’t interested in it.  Then all of a sudden as the legislative session neared the end of its regular session, he said, well, he’s going to think about it.  He would have some appeal in the Republican Party.  Although he started out as a Democrat, he was Al Gore’s state chairman in 1988, he’s been elected statewide six times as a Republican, supports all the social issues, came off a legislative session where they’ve passed legislation to require a sonogram for women who are planning to have abortions, tightened the podium rules, did a number of things the conservatives like.  He could have some appeal to the Republicans. I think he’d be a pretty tough candidate to sell in a general election. For one thing, he also has flirted with the idea of secession. He said a year or so ago that one alternative to the heavy handed Washington was for the states to secede.  Well, it’s hard to run for president of the United States if you’re talking about seceding from the union.  As I say, some of the Republicans might appreciate that, but it’s hard to see how that would help him in a general election. I’m a bit skeptical that either Giuliani or Perry will run.

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John Sparks
At this stage of the game with so many out there testing the waters, at this point in time is the 2012 race the president’s race to lose nonetheless?

Carl
I think that’s probably still true.  It’s interesting when you look back at presidents running for re-election and what their record is.  Jimmy Carter in 1980 is the only time since the 1890’s when a president was beaten for re-election four years after his party regained the White House. In other words, the other presidents who’ve been beaten for re-election, and there’s several of them, their party had been either in office several terms, for example former — the first President Bush was beaten for re-election, but that would’ve been the fourth consecutive Republican term in the presidency. The same thing was true of President Hoover in 1932.  Gerald Ford, of course, was beaten in 1976, but he’d never been elected president. So, Carter is the only one who when he brought his party back into office, then four years later his party — he and his party lost it.  Presidents have an enormous advantage running for re-election. On the other hand, there’s been a lot of attention to a statistic that no president’s been re-elected with the unemployment rate higher than 7.2%, which it was when Reagan was elected, re-elected. It almost certainly will be above that in November of 2012.  On the other hand, as Nate Silver pointed out in 538.com, which is a branch of the New York Times, Reagan would undoubtedly had been re-elected with a higher unemployment rate because he won by such an enormous margin.

So, I think that the economy is the real problem but that Obama still starts the year as the favorite, but things change.  At this point before the 1992 election, no one thought there was a realistic chance the Democrats would beat the first President Bush, but — and the top Democrats who were being someone who people thought could be presidents, most of them were not running in the race at the time in the same way that some top Republicans are not running this time.  And, Bush continued to lose support, and Bill Clinton turned out to be a very good candidate, and Bush got beaten by Clinton, so a lot can change. It’s still very early.  The economy at this point next year is going to be a lot more important than the economy at this point this year.

John Sparks

Carl, it’s always a pleasure talking to you, and we’ll look forward to visiting again down the road as the race shapes up.

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10/28: The Ramifications of the Midterm Elections

October 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Carl Leubsdorf, Featured

Will the GOP retake the House? Will the Senate be gridlocked? And, what are the lasting effects of Tuesday’s midterm elections? The Marist Poll’s John Sparks speaks with Marist Poll Analyst and syndicated political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News.

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

John Sparks
Carl, we’re right on top of the midterm elections. I read an estimate that said in the House, about 168 seats are solidly Republican, 155 solidly Democrat, about 112 seats in play.  Do you think that the Republicans have a chance to retake the House?

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Carl Leubsdorf
Oh, I think most people think that the Republicans are going to retake the House, and the only real question is by how much they take it.  All signs are, and I’ve been just looking at a lot of polls of House Democratic incumbents, and there’s so many districts in which the Democratic incumbents are polling in the low 40’s, some that are ahead by a couple of points, some that are behind by a couple of points.  An an incumbent who’s in his low 40’s at this time, two weeks out from the election, is in very deep trouble, and undecided vote is unlikely to go with the incumbent. So if the national polling on intent and Congressional elections is anywhere close to correct and you’re seeing those have anywhere from a five to a 10-point Republican lead, the Republicans are going to gain between 50 and 60 seats, and they need to get 39 to take the House.

John Sparks
You know, we’ve both seen polls that indicate that voters are angry. They say, “Throw the bums out regardless of the party.”  They want change which is kind of ironic since President Obama campaigned on change just two short years ago. But, do you really think that incumbents are in trouble?

Carl Leubsdorf
Oh yeah, I think they are, but they’re mostly Democratic incumbents who are in trouble.  One reason for that is there are many more Democrats who represent swing districts. As a result of the 2006 and the 2008 elections, the Republican representation in the House was reduced substantially, and most of those districts are pretty safe Republican districts, but, for example, you have 48 or 49 Democrats who represent House districts that John McCain carried in the presidential election. That kind of a district can go either way and has in different years, so the Democrats have to defend an awful lot plus, they’ve been running the government for the last two years, so they’re the — any anti-incumbent wave is going to strike them and inordinately high.

John Sparks
Do you think that we could wake up on November 3rd to see a repeat of say, what we saw in 1994 with the Contract with America when the Republicans won in droves?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, the Republican… The difference between this and 1994 is that in 1994 most of us thought that the Republicans would win the Senate, which they did, and we had that pretty much pegged because there were so many open Democratic seats in the Senate. But in the House, most of us were quite surprised by the Republican landslide in the House.  It broke very late.  A lot of Democrats were quite unprepared for what happened. There’s no surprise this time.  For the last year or more than a year, some analysts have been saying that the Democratic hold on the House is in trouble, that many Democratic freshmen and sophomores in districts that are not particularly Democratic would have a tough time. So, we won’t be surprised at all. I mean, we’ll be surprised by two things.  We’ll be surprised if the Democrats keep the House, and we’ll surprised — be surprised if the Republicans win a majority, win 70 or 80 Democratic seats as opposed to more like 50.

John Sparks
Let’s take a look over at the Senate side of things. What do you think is going to happen?

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Carl Leubsdorf
Well, that’s interesting because it looks at this point like the Democrats have a pretty good shot of holding the Senate.  Now some analysts have pointed out that there has been no election in modern time where the House has switched parties where the Senate has not switched parties, and yet it looks at this point like the Republicans are likely to fall a seat or two short in the Senate.  Not only that, but a couple of races where the Republicans have had fairly comfortable leads, the polling shows they’ve tightened up a lot.  For example, in Pennsylvania where Arlen Specter, the incumbent, was beaten in the Democratic primary by Joe Sestak, a congressman.  Ever since then, the polls have showed that Pat Toomey, the conservative Republican challenger, has been ahead of Sestak by anywhere from 7 to 10 points.  In the last two or three days, we’ve had a couple of polls showing Sestak pulling ahead by 3 points.  In the primary, he came on very late, and it’s always possible that that will happen here again, and what makes the polls somewhat credible is they continue to show a comfortable Republican lead in the governor’s race there. So we’ve seen that there.  We even saw a poll in Wisconsin where, I think, most many Democrats gave Senator Russ Feingold up for as a loser this year, that someone came out with a poll this week that showed him a couple of points ahead. So, we’ve got half a dozen at least very close Senate races, and there is some history that in a wave election where there’s a big swing to one party, all of those close races go one direction, and that’s certainly possible that at the end all these close Senate races will go Republican along with the House, and the Republicans will win the Senate. One other thing about the Senate, whichever party wins the numerical majority in the Senate, whether it’s 50/51/52 seats, it’s going to be a very small majority, and given the fact that the Senate has decided you need 60 votes to do almost anything, the Senate is certainly headed for gridlock city.

John Sparks
Carl, you know we’ve been talking about the immediate election, but there are some down ballot races, state results that are going to have an impact on the makeup of the Congress, and I talk about redistricting.

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Carl Leubsdorf
I think there is a real danger for the Democrats of what I call a double whammy in this election that not only will they lose the House and possibly the Senate, but certainly a lot of their Senate seats, but that what’s happened in some of those down ballot races, especially legislative and gubernatorial races, will set the Democrats up for another defeat in two years, and let me explain what I mean.

As you know, every 10 years, legislative and congressional seats are –  the boundaries are redrawn according to population changes. Some states gain Congressional seats, some lose Congressional seats, and in other cases, the population is shifted within the state, so the boundaries get redrawn.  And, it looks like that because this is going to be such a Republican election, and that’s going to carry through into state legislative races, that the Republicans will have a real advantage in redrawing the district lines. For example, in Texas, which will probably gain four seats, and Florida, which will be probably gain two seats, the Republicans will probably control the legislature in both.  Probably win the governorship in Texas. Florida is closer. They might not win there. But a couple of Northern states like Michigan and Ohio, which are losing seats in Congress, the Republicans are doing well there, too.  So, if they redraw the lines in these states to favor the Republicans, it could make it that much harder for the Democrats to rebound in two years, even if the economy improves and President Obama gets re-elected. There’s another factor in this.  The Senate seats, of course, come up every six years, and the Senate seats that are going to be up for election in 2012 are the ones that were elected in 2006.  Well, 2006 was a big Democratic year so as a result of the 33 Senate seats up next time, only 10 are Republican seats, and most of them are pretty safe.  So this is why Republican leaders are talking about, even if they don’t win the Senate this time, they think they can win it next time.  And, if it’ll rebound, then the House would be very difficult for the Democrats.  So, they may be in the minority for more than two years here.

John Sparks
You know, the president and first lady are traveling now stumping on behalf of Democratic candidates.  Former President Clinton has been out on the campaign trail too I understand.  What will it be like for the president and the — his administration with Republican control of the Congress?  What can we look for in the way of running the government for the next two years?

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Carl Leubsdorf
Of course, the president will continue to run the government in terms of the executive branch, and it’s going to be very difficult for the Republicans, even if they win the House and even if they get a small majority in the Senate to be able to follow through on some of their promises to basically stop what Obama has done and, for example, repeal and replace major parts of the health reform bill.  The president will still have the veto.  He certainly will be using it, and that requires a two-thirds vote in either — in both houses to override him, and that will be very difficult. For example, if the Republicans try to deny funding to carry out the health bill when the appropriation bill is up for the Department of Health and Human Services, the result of that will be that it’ll be very hard to pass an appropriations bill for those departments. Even if they get it through both houses, again, the President will be in a position to block it, so I think there’s going to be a lot of — they’re going to be at each other’s throats a lot, and unless they can find some areas to do some cooperating, you’re not going to see much of that. Now, the other thing that will happen with a Republican Congress and especially Republican House is, we’ve seen this before, that when the other branch has the control of the Congress, they have control of the committees, and they can conduct investigations. And Darrell Issa of California, Republican congressman who’s due to the head the committee that the government — used to call it Government Operations Committee, has already said that he’s going to hire a lot of FBI agents, and he’s going to conduct a whole series of investigations of the way the Obama administration has done its business. So, the administration, if that happens, can expect to have its top officials spending a lot of time testifying on Capitol Hill as the Republicans try to poke holes in its record in advance of the presidential election.  So, the administration will have to do the best it can with this. It’s not a unique situation obviously. President Clinton faced it after the 1994 election. He really stood tough on budget issues, but — and in the end forced a confrontation which rebounded in his favor.  So, I think we’re in for a lot of acrimony and not much cooperation.

John Sparks
When I think back about a Democratic president losing popularity, I think back to Jimmy Carter and the scenario that we were in prior to the election of 1980 where we had a Democratic president who was slipping, who was hurt.  He was stymied by the Iran hostage crisis, but at that time the Republicans had Ronald Reagan who came in waiting in the wings and took the election of 1980.  When I think about our present times, I see Obama losing the confidence of the American people, but I see the Republican Party this time in much of a disarray. Would you agree?

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Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think two things to that.  First is for all the talk about how badly Obama’s doing and all of his problems, his job approval isn’t that bad. There was a new poll today, I think he was — his job approval was 47%. It’s never gone below the low 40’s, and it sort of stabilized in the mid to upper 40’s, so it’s not like he’s in the high 20’s, which is where former President Bush ended up, and Carter ended up pretty low too at the end.  So that’s one thing. He’s not as unpopular as people think, and the electorate and presidential elections is very different from Congressional elections.  Young people vote more. Minorities vote more, and things that help the — those help the Democrats.

As for the disarray in the Republican Party, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, and I mean that’s really what it is, it’s the right side of the Republican Party, is really feeling its oats after having won a bunch of primary fights with establishment Republicans.  Now, ironically some of those primary fights may be the reason that the Republicans don’t win the Senate, that there are a couple of Senate seats that they probably would’ve won with the establishment candidates and might not win with the Tea Party candidates.  But in any case, it’s clear that the Tea Party group has a lot of support in the Republican rank and file, and you can see a really bitter fight developing for the Republican presidential nomination in which one or another or several candidates backed by various Tea Party groups and bowing to really shake up the Republican Party take on the more established wing.  For example, if former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska runs against — as a Tea Party candidate against Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, who’s more of the establishment type, you can see a really divisive primary fight and possibly the nomination of someone who’s not electable. I mean, we’ve seen that before. The Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964.  He was not electable and lost to President Johnson. The Democrats nominated George McGovern in 1972. He was not electable.  In both cases, they would more acted the swing of the party forced the nomination on the establishment wing, and they took a licking in the election.  So, so much is going to depend on the economy and how things go in the next couple of years.  If unemployment is still near 10% in the spring of 2012, President Obama is going to be in trouble no matter who the opponent is, but if unemployment drops to say the 8% level, which these days would look pretty good, and put people in much more optimistic about the trend, it’s going to be much harder for the Republicans.  Elected presidents tend to get re-elected in this country.  Jimmy Carter did not, and he was — that was an unusual situation.  He had regained the White House for his party in  the 1976 election and lost four years later. The other incumbents who’ve been beaten were President Bush who was beaten in 1992, but that was the third Republican term after the two Reagan terms, and same thing is true many years ago President Hoover in 1932.  So someone who brought his party back in to then lose in four years, that would be unusual, but of course, nothing’s impossible in politics.

John Sparks
Carl, the mention of acrimony a moment ago certainly resonated with me. I am very concerned about that. It seems like to me that the bitterness has been responsible for the lack of productivity on the Hilltop, and now we see polls where voters are angry…throw the bums out… what in the world would it take to get folks on both sides of the aisle to work together, to have logrolling, to do deals, to live to fight another day?

Listen to Part 6:


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Carl Leubsdorf
Well, you know logrolling has been made a dirty word, too. It’s one of the problems.  We used to say, and that it would be good if the parties, if the all liberals were on one side and all the conservatives were on the other side.  I’ve just been reading a book about the 1938 Congressional election where President Roosevelt tried to defeat several conservative senators in the Democratic Party so that the Democratic Party would more reflect his liberal progressive point of view.  And what’s happened is that with one party — instead of two parties that are coalitions where there’s sort of a natural effort in the middle to work together, we have one on one side and one on the other, and it’s not only personal acrimony, they — there’re two things. They act… They really disagree with each other on the approaches. You see that in this debate about taxes where the Democrats want to increase the taxes on those over a certain income level, and the Republicans don’t. You see it on the role of the government in the stimulus bill that has become such a controversial issue. That was one of the first things that passed after President Obama came in. By all independent analyses, the stimulus bill really saved the economy from going off the cliff even worse than it was. It saved about 3 million jobs, and it got some things going that really were helpful to the economy. But, all you hear from the opponents of Obama and most of the Republicans saying that they wasted $800 billion. Well, no… independent analysts don’t think it was wasted.  The bank bailout, the bank bailouts have had a terrible press, but the fact is that they stabilized the banking system.  So, it seems like as soon as one side gets in, the other side is determined to prove what a bunch of failures there are.  You would’ve thought with a big economic crisis two years ago and Obama having won by a fairly considerable majority, that there was a basis for the parties cooperating more, but that didn’t happen, and I’m not sure now what it would take to have that happen.

John Sparks
Anything you’d like to add before we call it a day?

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Carl Leubsdorf
No, I mean I think one thing that’ll happen of course is there always are some surprises on Election Day.  Some people we thought we were going to lose are going to win. Some people who were going to win going to lose.  But, I think everyone in the political world would be shocked if, for example, the Democrats retained control of the House of Representatives, or something like that happened or if some of the candidates on the Republican side, like you know, some of the more conservative candidates if they won, but some of them probably are going to win, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the Republicans deal with that. But, there will be some surprises. Something will happen that we didn’t expect.  But, with — modern polling has gotten very sophisticated. There’s an awful lot of it being done. There is a lot of comparing of apples and oranges in different polls, but the polls this time are so consistent and so uniform both on the district and state level and on national level, that it’s hard to see the major result of the election being a surprise.

9/22: Inside the Midterm Elections

September 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Carl Leubsdorf, Featured, National, Politics

On November 2nd, American voters will go to the polls and decide who will win the 2010 midterm elections.  Republicans believe they have a chance to regain a majority in the Senate and recapture a number of seats in the House.  But, will Tea Party candidates hurt Republican chances to re-take the Senate?  What are the chances Tea Party candidates will prevail on Election Day? What does all of this say about how voters feel about the job President Obama and the Democrats are doing?  The Marist Poll’s John Sparks talks with syndicated political columnist Carl Leubsdorf who writes a weekly column for the Dallas Morning News.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

Listen to the interview or read the transcript from the interview below.

Listen to Part 1:


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John Sparks
Carl, we’re on the eve of the midterm elections.  Now, Republicans had hoped to win back the Senate.  But since the primaries began last spring in some states, the Tea Party has defeated an establishment backed GOP contender I think eight times.  What are we seeing here?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think we’re seeing sort of a division in the Republican Party whereas a faction of the Republican Party, reacting in part to the current economic situation and the Obama presidency, but also reacting to some degree to the Bush administration and what they felt was overspending and lack of fiscal discipline during that administration is basically calling forward sort of a return to basic Republican principles, and they’re taking on some of the establishment figures in the Republican Party who they blame for some of the problems.  Actually, the people who are being taken down in some of these fights, some of them had nothing to do with it, but that’s really about it, and they’re trying to create a more aggressively conservative Republican Party, especially on economic issues.

John Sparks
We’re going to talk a little bit more about that in a minute, but I want to ask you next what sort of chance do you think these Tea Party nominees have against the Democrats in the general election?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well it depends on — entirely on the state.  For example, in Utah where one of the Tea Party people took on Senator Bennett, a veteran conservative Republican, beat him in the party convention, Utah’s so Republican that they’re going to elect a Republican Senator.  The same thing in Alaska where Joe Miller ousted Senator Lisa Murkowski, a more moderate Republican, in the primary. If it’s a two-way race between Joe Miller, the Republican, and the Democratic candidate, the Republicans will win because Alaska is a pretty conservative state.  However, in Delaware, which had its primary on Tuesday, this is a Democratic leading state these days. It used to be much more evenly divided, and even the Republicans say that their candidate is so conservative and her credentials, so questionable that by beating — they beat the one Republican, Congressman Mike Castle, who was — had an excellent chance to win that race.  He might’ve even had a chance if the Democrats had nominated Vice President Biden’s son, who’s the state attorney general.  So, with him — Castle out of the race and Tea Party candidate Republican in, even the Republicans think they can’t win it.  So, it really depends on state-by-state.

John Sparks
I read a short time ago that the Republican Party said that they would be backing Christine O’Donnell, but do you think they really will?  Will she get the backing of the Republicans?  Will she…

Carl Leubsdorf
She’ll get the official backing, and their policy — this is John Cornyn, the Texas Senator who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee.  Their policy is to back the party nominee, and they’ll do that. However, as someone pointed out today, in order to run a competitive race in Delaware, you have to buy television time in Philadelphia which covers a good deal of the state, and that’s an expensive media market, and I can’t see the Republican Senate Committee spending a lot of money in Philadelphia on that race.  So, yes, they’re backing them, but they’ll have their priorities, and that’s not going to be one of them.

John Sparks
Do you see Republicans burying the hatchet within their own ranks and unifying in order to be viable against Democrats?

Carl Leubsdorf
I think at some places they are and some places they’re not.  For example, in Kentucky where Rand Paul, the son of Congressman Ron Paul, defeated the establishment candidate to win the Senate nomination, Mitch McConnell, the other Senator from Kentucky, who’s the Senate Republican leader, has made peace with Paul even though he backed Trey Grayson, his opponent, because he figures there’s a good chance Paul’s going to be the other Senator from Kentucky, and he wants to bring him inside the tent. But, Mike Castle in Delaware isn’t going to do anything for the woman who beat him, and you could easily… It’s a fascinating situation because you could have a situation in the Senate… the Republicans are all saying, “After the Delaware race, our chances of winning the Senate are diminished,” and that’s always been a threat.  Since Rand Paul won his race, that has been a threat, and since Sharron Angle in Nevada won the nomination against Harry Reid, that the Republicans would fall short in the Senate because of a couple of these people who would be too conservative, too right wing to be elected.  However, if the Republicans do win the Senate, and it’s certainly still possible, you could have a situation where they have a very minimal majority, 51 to 49, and that that majority is going to depend on a couple of these Tea Party people, so that could be a fascinating situation. The fact is that whichever party wins the Senate next year with 51/52 seats, because it takes 60 votes to get so much done in the Senate, neither party’s going to have a working majority in the Senate.  But, I think some of the Tea Party people having succeeded in party primaries this year, they think this is just the beginning.

Listen to Part 2:


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John Sparks
Carl, we typically think of the midterms as a time when the party out of power historically makes gains against the party in power.  And, with this emergence of these Tea Party primary victories, and we’re seeing what appears to be in some sense sort of a civil war within the ranks of the Republicans, how do you think all of this is reflecting on the Obama administration?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, the problem it poses directly for the Obama administration is it’s created quite a bit of enthusiasm in the Republican Party, and so the turnout for the Republicans in their primaries this year has on the whole been greater than that for Democrats.  That is sometimes an indicator of what will happen.  The converse of it is that you have a situation in the Democratic Party where there’s some disappointment in the Democratic Party that Obama hasn’t done more.  Now, he’s passed a lot of his major initiatives, but you’ve got liberals who wanted single payer in the health bill and didn’t get it, and then you got some conservative Democrats who don’t like the health bill at all. Democratic turnout seems likely to be down.  Turnout is a big factor in midterm elections. Not as many people vote in them as vote in presidential elections, and the Democrats were helped in ’06 in the Congressional election, ’08 in the Presidential election by a big increase in turnout, especially minorities and young voters. If those folks don’t turn out this year, the electorate will be older, whiter, more conservative, and that’s going to help the Republicans.  So, the enthusiasm in the Republican Party of the Tea Party people is certainly going to help them some at least in this midterm election.

John Sparks
You know, it’s interesting that President Obama based his campaign on change and now it’s the Tea Party members within the ranks of the Republicans who are calling for change within the ranks of the Republican Party.  Has change become everyone’s mantra these days?

Carl Leubsdorf
Oh, it’s always been. I’m old enough to remember when Dwight Eisenhower ran for president after 20 years of Democratic White House control, and the motto of the campaign was “It’s time for a change.”  ,And, John Kennedy was going to get American moving again.  The out party always talks about change.  Now, of course, some of the change that the Tea Party folks and that some of the Republicans want, the Democrats will tell you this isn’t very much change because they’re talking about a policy on taxes, which — extending all the Bush tax cuts, which is basically what was done during the Bush years.  They’re talking about cutting domestic spending. They tried that in the Reagan years. They talked about that when the Republicans won Congress in 1994.  So, how much of a change this is, it’s a changeover of Bush policy where the second President Bush certainly spent an awful lot and had big deficits, but change is in the eye of the beholder I guess like beauty.

Listen to Part 3:


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John Sparks
Let’s talk about New York for a minute.  Rick Lazio lost out in his bid to be the Republican nominee for governor.  What chances does Carl Paladino have in New York?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I think he had about as much chance as Rick Lazio would’ve had, which isn’t very much.  You know, what’s happened in New York, and in some degree it happened in Delaware too, is that the old moderate Republican faction in New York represented by Governor Rockefeller, Senator Jacob Javits, a lot of those folks aren’t Republicans any more.  They’re either independents or Democrats.  And, as the Republican… and the same thing is true in Delaware.  As the Republican Party has gotten smaller, the conservatives are the ones who are left, and they can control primaries, but they can’t win statewide elections. Someone predicted today that the main difference of Paladino winning the Republican nomination because Rick Lazio will already be on the ticket as the Conservative Party nominee, is that Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate for governor, instead of winning 70 to 30 over one of them will win 70 to 15 to 15 over the two of them.  This is a real long shot for the Republicans.  The Republican Party in New York is in terrible shape. They have a terrible time electing statewide candidates. They’re down to like two or three House members in the whole delegation. Although, the chances are they’re going to pick up a couple of those this year.

John Sparks
Carl, we’ve certainly seen polarization between Democrats and Republicans, and now it appears that we’re seeing certainly polarization more so within their respective parties.  What effect is this having on our government being able to operate?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, I remember 20-30 years ago when everyone said it was ridiculous to have two parties that were coalitions and wouldn’t it be better if one party was the conservative party and one party was the liberal party?  Well, as it turns out, that’s not better.  It’s worse. It’s created this polarized situation. When both parties were coalitions, there was much more room for compromise between them, but compromise in Washington has become a dirty word.  A Republican who works with the Democrats gets in trouble.  Take the case of Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, certainly a good card carrying Republican on all issues, except he’s worked with the Democrats on environmental issues a little bit, and he supported the Democratic Supreme Court nominees as qualified, and his — a couple of his own committees in South Carolina passed resolutions saying that he wasn’t a good Republican.  There was an interesting poll taken at Allegheny College some months ago, and one of the questions was:  Do you think it’s better for politicians to try to compromise the other side or to stand up for their principles?  And, most Republicans said they ought to stand up for their principles, and more Democrats said it’s better to compromise with the other side.  That in a nutshell is what we see happening.

Listen to Part 4:


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John Sparks
Carl, we’re a couple of journalists. We’ve been talking horse race. There’s a lot of criticism about concentrating on the horse race. Is it an inescapable trap that we’ve fallen into in covering elections since the technology has changed the way that elections are covered?

Carl Leubsdorf
Well, elections are about who’s going to win after all, and one of the questions in this election as in many is: What will happen if the side that’s out — because what will happen in policy depending on how the outcome was?  Now, Barack Obama when he campaigned for president promised he would have a more aggressive government in fighting economic issues.  He said he would try to pass national health reform. He said he would try to work on climate control, and that’s what he’s done as president with some success; although, the true success of it if it proves to be successful will be long-term which is one of his problems.  The Republicans haven’t quite said in this election what they would do if they got in. They’re concentrating on saying “no” to the Democrats at this stage.  But, the policy implications of this election, there are always policy implications in any election.  I think most of us expect a pretty gridlock situation in Washington no matter how this election comes out. You got a Democrat in the White House. He’s not going anywhere.  You have a fairly good chance the Republicans will win the House, and you got a good chance that the Senate won’t be able to act one way or the other whichever party gets control. That’s a prescription for gridlock.  And, a lot of the issues that are out there, like taxes and some of the pending issues, are going to be — not much is going to be done about them until after the next presidential election and perhaps it sorts out.  Now, we thought that would happen after ’08, and it did to some degree. That’s why Obama has been able to pass some of the things he’s been able to pass.  But, because of the unemployment situation, the economy, and the fact that what Obama has done hasn’t been that popular in part because people don’t see how it affects them in the short-term, now people want to change that.  So, we’ll see.  But, at this time of an election campaign, it’s really about who’s going to win and who’s going to lose, and that’s what we’re talking about.

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John Sparks
Carl, it’s always a pleasure talking with you. Anything else you’d like to add?

Carl Leubsdorf
No, I think that one factor that… there’s still a few… Newt Gingrich made a good point today.  He said, “This election isn’t over.  The Democrats have a lot of money.”  And, that’s… for one, we’re so eager to declare the result of an election, even though it’s not going to take place for two months, but there is of course, always the possibility that the Democrats — something will happen in the next couple of months that will get the Democratic turnout up enough so that instead of losing between 40 and 50 seats, they lose 35 seats in the House and manage to keep control of the House and keep a narrow majority in the Senate. But, because of the Senate situation, it’s going to be very hard for them to get much done anyway, but there is — there’s always the outside chance that things won’t go the way they’ve been. But, this election, it looks like for weeks and weeks, it’s been pretty much… the numbers have not changed.  They go up a little bit  They go down a little bit. My friend Peter Hart, the veteran Democratic pollster and one of the best in the business, said that he thinks that there’s not any question about whether the hurricane is going to hit the Democrats. It’s going to hit them.  What we don’t know is whether it’s going to be a Category 5 hurricane or a Category 4 hurricane.  So, I think that’s probably true, and it doesn’t look like a good year for the Democrats.  But, until they count the votes, there’s always the possibility of something different.

John Sparks
Well, what do you see on the hurricane front two years from now when the White House is up?

Carl Leubsdorf
Oh, that’s a long way away. The idea that Barack Obama would be elected was certainly just a distant thought at this point four years ago, but I do think that the Republicans have a basic problem.  At the moment, they don’t have a strong candidate against Obama, and the same split we’ve seen in state after state is likely to manifest itself during the primary campaign. Clearly, the leading figure in the Republican Party in terms of popularity within the party and as a dynamic force is Sarah Palin, and there are a lot of Republicans who think that they would love to have her heading their ticket next time. But, the last poll I saw showed that 71% of Americans thought that she was not qualified to be president, and half of the Republicans polled felt that way.  So, if that happens, she’s going to have a tough time winning an election.  However, if unemployment is still 10%, anything becomes possible.  But, you’re going to see a very bitter Republican fight, and we know who some of the players are, but we don’t know who all of the players are, and we certainly don’t know how it’s going to come out.  So, that’s going to have a big impact.  Every elected president since Jimmy Carter has been re-elected.  Every American president who won — brought his party back into the White House has won a second term in the last 50-60 years except for Jimmy Carter. The presidents who were beaten for re-election like the first President Bush and Herbert Hoover were extending their parties hold on the White House.  So, the norm will be for Obama to be favored and to be re-elected, but I guess rules in politics, like everything else, were made to be broken, so we’ll see.

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Carl P. Leubsdorf

September 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Carl Leubsdorf

Carl P. Leubsdorf was Washington Bureau Chief of The Dallas Morning News from 1981 through 2008 and continues to write a weekly column for the paper and its web site, www.dallasnews.com. The column has appeared every Thursday since March 1981 and and is distributed nationally by the McClatchy Tribune (MCT) News Service.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

A native of New York City (3/17/38), he received his B.A. with honors in government in 1959 from Cornell University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.  He was also associate editor of The Cornell Daily Sun.  In 1960, he received a M.S. with honors in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. In 1999, he received the school’s Alumni Award.

From 1960 to 1975, he worked for the Associated Press in New Orleans, New York, and Washington.  He came to Washington in 1963, covered Congress from 1966 through 1975 and, from 1973 through 1975, was chief of the AP’s Senate staff and chief political writer.

From 1976 to 1981, Mr. Leubsdorf was a correspondent in the Washington Bureau of The Baltimore Sun, covering the 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns and serving as White House correspondent from 1977 to mid-1979.

With The News, he primarily wrote about the White House and national politics, while directing the paper’s political and Washington coverage. In 2001, Washingtonian Magazine named him one of Washington’s top 50 journalists.

Mr. Leubsdorf has been to 23 national conventions and covered every presidential election since 1960. He has written about 10 presidents – John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – and 10 vice presidents – Hubert Humphrey, Spiro Agnew, Gerald Ford, Nelson Rockefeller, Walter Mondale, George Bush, Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden.

In addition, he has been a visiting fellow at Yale University; written for the Columbia and Washington Journalism Reviews, and the Annals of the American Academy of Political Science. He has appeared on many television shows, including CBS’s “Face the Nation”, NBC’s “Meet the Press”, PBS’s “Washington Week in Review” and “Lehrer News Hour”, CNN’s “Inside Politics” and “Reliable Sources”, “The McLaughlin Group” and C-SPAN Journalist Roundtables  — more than any other journalist in its first 25 years.

For four years, he was co-host of a weekly public affairs television program, “Capital Conversation,” which combined the resources of The Dallas Morning News and the broadcast bureau of its parent corporation, Belo Corp.  The program, which was seen in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio on Belo stations, won the Dallas Press Club’s 1998 Katie Award for best television public affairs program.

He was president in 1996 of the White House Correspondents’ Association and in 2008 of the Gridiron Club, Washington’s oldest journalistic organization. He is currently the organization’s secretary.