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Political Analysis: Will Republicans Retake Congress?

Political Analysis: Will Republicans Retake Congress?
Political pollsters and pundits are telling us that the leadership in Congress could change hands as a result of next Tuesday's elections. KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner tells us what a Republican majority in the House would mean to two San Diego legislators.

Political pollsters and pundits are telling us that the leadership in Congress could change hands as a result of next Tuesday's elections. KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner tells us what a Republican majority in the House would mean to two San Diego legislators.


Gloria Penner


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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Assumptions about politics are often wrong, and the predictions being made about this midterm elections may not come true. But pole after pole, as well as tradition tells us that the party of the president is likely to lose seats in next Tuesday's vote. Most pundits predict the feeling of dissatisfaction is so high among likely voters that the Democrats could lose control of Congress. If Republicans take control of the house and possibly the senate, it could change many policies from healthcare to immigration reform, and most specifically it could change the profiles and the power of the member of San Diego's congressional delegation. To discuss this possible political power shift in Washington is my guest, KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner. Good morning, Gloria.

GLORIA PENNER: Good morning, Maureen. And you are absolutely right, the poles are showing that Republicans are pulling ahead in Congress.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are the poles actually telling us?

GLORIA PENNER: Well, you know, it depends on the pole. I've been tracking the poles since the beginning of October to see. And I'll just give you an idea. Sample poling tells us, for example, and this is an amazing thing, the News week pole from early October said that Democrats were ahead by three percentage points. But let me tell you, that's the only pole that says that. No other pole that I've been able to track says that Democrats are ahead. In fact, the other extreme is the gallop pole which says that Republicans are ahead by 14 percentage points. 14. That's a big spread. And when you take a hook at it, well, this is the third consecutive week that Republicans have led. And so it really looks as though they have some momentum. Although the Democrats are doing their best to kill that momentum and to diminish the lead. We don't know yet if they have been successful because poling hasn't taken place yet this week.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why do the voters responding to these poles seem eager to support Republicans?


GLORIA PENNER: Do you remember way back to 1992, Maureen, when the slogan from bill Clinton's campaign, and it made him famous, I mean the slogan became famous, it was, it's the economy's stupid. Now, I'm not calling you stupid, Maureen, I'm not calling anyone stupid, I'm just quoting a famous slogan. No issue is more important to voters after two years of rising unemployment, and rising federal spending. And there's also concern about whether the Obama administration let the country down on the stimulus plan. Even though if you look back and begin with the bail outs that all started in the bush administration. But people think of it as the Obama stimulus plan. And then there's the healthcare plan, which is very confusing to a lot of people. And if you listen to an NPR report yesterday, actually it was the California report. It looks as though the state insurance commissioners are going to have a lot of power over how that health care plan is allowed to go forth. So although Obama is not on this year's ballot, the election is widely seen as a referendum on his policies. And that might be the big reason, that is the big reason that Republicans think they're on the verge of an election land slide.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How many seats would Republicans have to win to take control of the House of Representatives.

GLORIA PENNER: Start with the basic numbers there are 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Half, about 218 would be needed to have a majority. The GOP needs to have a net gain of 39 seats to claim control of the chamber.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And some pollsters so they are likely to win well more than that. I mean, like 50 or something.

GLORIA PENNER: Absolute. I mean, the pollsters are all over the place. Again, a real clear politics see the Republicans taking 222 seats, Democrats a hundred and 80. Nate silver of the New York Times sees the Republicans winning 226 and a half seats, I don't know how he got the half seat. And Democrats would win 208 and a half. Maybe it's a very small purpose in that other seat. Crystal ball feels the Republicans have a good chance to pick up the house by 47 seats, and the congressional quarterly suggests the Democrats will take 205, that's the most positive number I've seen for Democrats, and the Republicans 190. So election night and the next day, going to be fascinating. Because many of those races will not be decided by the end of election day.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, if Republicans win a majority in the house, many things may change. Certainly there will be a change in leadership, speaker Nancy Pelosi will probably be replaced by speaker John Boehner. But Gloria, you're focusing on what might happen to two of San Diego's congressional representatives if the house changes hands. Democrat Susan Davis and Republican David Issa.

GLORIA PENNER: If we were to pick a member from both parties, Susan Davis and Darryl Issa would fit the bill. From the website, that's my Congress, I think you will enjoy this, they rated both of them. Susan Davis got a progressive rating of 53 out of a hundred points. And a conservative rating of 12 out of a hundred points. Remember that now. Darryl Issa got a progressive rating of six out of a hundred points and a conservative rating of 52 out of a hundred. So when you think of them, you think of them really on opposite sides of the political spectrum. It's possible that when you take a look at them, you get a pretty good idea that the -- they reflect the mainstream ideas of their parties.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. So you -- you spoke to these candidates, and you talked to them about those contrasting ideas about major issues. What did they have to say to you.

GLORIA PENNER: First of all, I spoke to Darryl Issa a while back when I had him in the television studio, and I asked him, what was his objections to the president's healthcare over hall by Republicans? Because he certainly had objections to that.

NEW SPEAKER: It's a long list. 50 of all, I'll make it as succinct as possible. Canada, which is many people's model in the Democratic Party, spends nine percent of their gross domestic product on healthcare. We've spend 18 percent. Under Obama's proposal, which is now law, it's going to 22 percent, it doesn't cover everyone and it's got no cost containment. Republicans realize that we've gotta drive down the health care while maintaining a high level of service, and we're going the opposite direction. So is the problem real? Yes. Are the solutions, including eliminating defensive medicine, reducing the unreasonable lawsuits that sometimes occur that cost all of us a lot of money was that dealt with in healthcare? No.

GLORIA PENNER: Sometimes it's hard it realize that Darryl Issa and Susan Davis are looking at the same piece of legislation because certainly she has a different take on not only on the legislation, but also on what is needed to have good healthcare in this country and good healthcare policy.

NEW SPEAKER: (Davis) the key here in this area is developing a culture where hospitals and physicians and agencies are working together to bring those costs down. And what's happened as a result of the legislation, and again, here we are trying to move these issues forward. It's very easy to stabbed stand on the side Hines and not want to do anything. But we think that the very enactment of the healthcare affordability act means that we're really forcing folks to come together and address how can they make certain that the patient is number one, and that they're getting the best care in the best way possible.

GLORIA PENNER: So there you have it. I mean, you definitely have Darryl Issa reflecting a Republican attitude that is prevalent in Congress now toward the president's healthcare program. Then you have Susan Davis really being a booster for it. So people have a clear choice there. Which sometimes just makes it harder because they think the choice is so clear. I wonder if this is reason, or if something is being left out. That was one issue. There is another issue that has sort of dropped to the bottom when you think about one of the issues about what's broiling the country these days, as we said, it's the economy, whether the government fulfills its tasks properly, Afghanistan to a certain extent, and way down there now is immigration reform. That really has dropped to the bottom. However, there are still people who are kind of interested in it. The Hispanics, one would think Hispanic voters who sometimes were immigrants themselves might be conditioned by how -- what the attitudes are on immigration reform. So I did ask both candidates about their attitudes toward immigration. And what should be done about it. Let's start with Susan Davis this time.

NEW SPEAKER: (Davis) there are a number of proposals on the table that would provide a opportunity for people after having met many different criteria for the length of time they have been here, education for fines, many ways that I think we can begin to address that in a way that can get bipartisan support. And I think that there are members on both sides of the isle that are interested in trying to find the ways in which we can west do that without people feeling apprehensive that it is just an automatic process. It will not be an automatic process. It will be a very difficult one for people. But I think it's one that we can focus on and we can begin to find the key ways of moving forward.

GLORIA PENNER: Now whether immigration reform really becomes something that is taken up in the next Congress is a question, but the word amnesty scares a lot of people. And the Republicans have used that word a lot. We know Brian Bilbray works that word a lot when he talks about an immigration over haul, you don't want amnesty. So I asked Darryl Issa, what can Republicans do to encourage immigration reform?

NEW SPEAKER: (Issa) we need to get interior reform. And I always say it's like a ship. You can't just patch the outside of the ship. You need a bilge pump. We keep talking about border security, and I'm for that. But we need to have a system to allow guest workers to come in legally, and we need to have a system that those who break the rules and break the rules can be deported.

GLORIA PENNER: What would you do with 11 million people? Would you deport all 11 million?

NEW SPEAKER(Issa): I believe you have to ask the question for each individual. Is this individual eligible for a guest worker program? Do they have a job? Or are they part of the Oceanside gang who terrorizes the legal immigrant community?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, there you have the contrast of the two parties that may switch power in this up coming election with the possibility of the Republicans taking over Congress. Now, if this switch does occur, Congressman Issa is in line to welcome the chairman of the house over sight committee. Democrats, Gloria, are expressing concern that he will use the power of the subpoena to launch investigations into the Obama administration. What does he say about his intentions.

GLORIA PENNER: I did ask him about that. And he didn't mention going after the administration specifically. He did say that we have trillions of dollars of taxpayer money, much of which is being wasted, and it's being wasted because no administration looks for its own mistakes. So that sort of gives you a clue that he's going to be looking for the mistakes in this administration. He talks more about government holding the spending of this government accountable, and that it's gotten lost. And that we hear about earmarks, those being of course congressional spending in local districts, and he says, you know, it's not just the members of the Congress who earmark. It's also bureau Democrats. This has to be seen as -- to make sure it's fair and right, you can't just let bureau -- these are people who work in Washington. So he's going to go after bureau Democrat, but he's going to be very aggressive about it. No question with it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the last time Republicans held the chairmanship of the oversight committee you had investigations in Whitewater, and Vince foster's death, and people were shooting pumpkins.

GLORIA PENNER: That was Republican chairman Dan Burton who reenacted the death of White House aide Vince foster in his backyard, including destroying a pumpkin to somehow connect president Clinton to the death. And he could never really let go of that Vince foster death.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So that's why the Democrats are expressing some concern. In a GOP take over, what committees would Congress man Susan Davis lose her leadership position in.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, I think you have to start with how the committees are in effect appointed. They are elected by the caucuses of the two major parties in congress, and the majority party has given the chairmanship and the majority on each committee. She's on the committee on armed services right now. And of course of course the majority down, the Democrats -- she's also the chair woman on that subcommittee on military personnel. If the Republicans take over, she will essential lose her position as chair woman. And somebody will have to leave that committee. Because you can't have a majority democratic committee if you have a majority Republican in Congress.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And as we leave this topic, I know that president Obama has been out on the stump for Democrats, trying to get out the democratic vote next Tuesday. Are chances improving for the Democrats?

GLORIA PENNER: Well, from Reuters, and this was late yesterday, it says that Democrats are off to a stronger than expected start in early voting. This is the mail-in ballots that people are sending in. Early ballots in a handful of key state it is although more Republicans took advantage of the early voting process than in 2008 when president Obama lead that democratic election sweep. The early voting numbers that are coming in, now, are favorable to Democrats. However, we're still seeing that although 52 percent of the voters say their representative is part of the solution to the problems, it still looks as though Republicans have a lead.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you Gloria penner, thank you so much, KPBS political correspondent, and you're gonna be joining us for a postelection wrap up show next Wednesday.

GLORIA PENNER: I'm looking forward to that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you are listening to, and place your comments to Days, you're listening to KPBS.