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Democrats Aim for the Finish Line


Plenty of suspense elsewhere, so let's bring back NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson and our political editor Ken Rudin. They've been joining us week by week as the election has progressed. Good morning to you once again.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And thanks for coming in. Mara, we'll start with you. What do you expect in the final days?

LIASSON: Well, ads, ads and more ads. And most of them negative and very little time to truth squad them. There's going to be a tremendous amount of money spent just in the last weekend, tens of millions of dollars. Six hundred new ads are ready to air over the weekend, and estimates are that spending on advertising in this campaign is going to top even the 2004 presidential race.

INSKEEP: How much will the election be affected, if at all, by the remark this week by John Kerry, the former presidential candidate, talking about soldiers being sent to Iraq and Republicans jumped on him for misspeaking?

RUDIN: Well, I think it's certainly a blip. It's certainly something that the Democrats did not want. Everybody was talking about an October or November surprise, and most people thought that would come from Karl Rove. The last thing that Democrats thought it would come from their own former candidate, John Kerry. But this is exactly what Democrats did not want. They wanted the focus to be on President Bush, on the war in Iraq, and the vulnerable incumbents. The last thing they wanted was a comment from a Democrat that other Democrats ran away from. Harold Ford in Tennessee called Kerry's comments a stupid remark. Bob Casey, who is running for the Senate in Pennsylvania, uninvited Kerry from coming to campaign for him in Pennsylvania. Not what the Democrats wanted to be focusing on.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another thing that could be seen as a distraction, it's just developing in the last 24 hours. Ted Haggard, prominent evangelical minister, opponent of gay marriage, announced he's resigned after a male prostitute claimed they had a relationship. And this is a guy with some connections to the White House.

LIASSON: Yeah, he's not - I wouldn't call my national leader, but he certainly is important in his own state. It's yet one more thing that could further demoralize the Christian conservative base of the Republican Party and cause turnout among those voters to be lower than the White House needs.

INSKEEP: Now, if you're a Republican, you're looking I guess for just enough good news to get by this year. And elsewhere in this program we heard from Tom Reynolds, the head of the Republican effort to win reelection in the House. And he said, look, a lot of this national surveys look bad, but in these surveys when people are asked do you approve of your local congressman, 58 percent said yes, just on a poll released October 31st.

Does that really mean good news for Republicans, that incumbents, generally speaking, have good approval ratings?

RUDIN: Well, they certainly don't. If they were, then they wouldn't worry - be worrying about their fight for survival on Tuesday. Tom Reynolds has been saying all year long that all politics is local. I guess that's what you when you're in the party on the defensive. But the fact is that there's a lot of Republicans running for their lives.

And the fact is that with four or three - three or four days to go before the election, the fact that he does not acknowledge that this is a national election, that Republicans need to come up with a strategy as opposed to what the White House is doing, what the war looks like. It's surprising to me that he's still almost seems blinded to what could really happen on Tuesday.

INSKEEP: Mara Liasson.

LIASSON: Yeah, and look, of all people, Tom Reynolds is in trouble in his own district, not because of any local issue. It's because of a national development, the Foley scandal. I mean he was in the Republican leadership. So this is the year when the all-politics-is-local approach really got swamped by a national anti-incumbent tide.

INSKEEP: Has anything surprised you about this campaign?

LIASSON: Oh, lots of things have surprised me. One of the things that surprised me was how many conservative candidates Democrats managed to field this year. Pro-life candidates in a lot of states, like Bob Casey in Pennsylvania. Candidates for the House like Brad Ellsworth in Indiana, who actually took Grover Norquist's no new taxes pledge. That's something the Democrats don't usually do. And also what surprised me is pretty much what Don Gonyea just talked about - how much time President Bush has had to spend in reliably red states. Going back to places he won 2004 and steering clear of the battlegrounds like Ohio, Pennsylvania. Even Tennessee and Virginia, he's not going to in the last couple of days.

RUDIN: I mean exactly what Mara said. The fact that it's the last week and he's going to be in Kansas and Nebraska, usually those are the states that Republicans ignore, they're in their pocket. And yet the fact that president has a campaign for Jim Ryan in Kansas, who should be - who wins overwhelmingly every other time in Nebraska, which I think hasn't elected a Democrat since 1066. So it's been really, really a long time.

Plus the fact that even with three or four days to go, the fact that not one single Democratic incumbent in the House, Senate or governor seems to be trailing. And that's pretty remarkable.

INSKEEP: The date the Norman conquest and also beginning of your phone number, as I understand.

RUDIN: That's correct.

INSKEEP: Okay. Just a very quickly, Ken. I'm looking here at npr.org at this chart you've put down forecasting different races, which ones are leading Democratic or Republicans or toss up, any predictions as we near Election Day?

RUDIN: Well, of course, you know, as Mara says things could happen in the last three or four days. But right now the Democrats need 15 seats in the House to take control. I have them winning, Democrats picking up anywhere between 18 and 24. Not this amazing landslide they talked about, but certainly enough to make Nancy Pelosi speaker of the House.

INSKEEP: Ken Rudin, our political editor. Thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: And we'll find out if your prediction is true. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good to talk to you again.

LIASSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: We'll be chatting again perhaps after the election on Tuesday.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Rudin
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.