Post politics hour: election review and latest news

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Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Michael Fletcher discussed the latest news about the Obama administration, Congress and more.

The transcript follows.


Michael A. Fletcher: Wow, the GOP looks to be making a comeback. Did the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia turn strictly on local issues, or do they portend anything for President Obama? Let's talk about it.


Arlington, Va.: Will the Republican sweep yesterday embolden Congressional Republicans to go to even greater lengths to obstruct the Obama agenda? Is the message they received that America completely rejects the Obama agenda?

Michael A. Fletcher: That is going to be something worth watching, although it is hard to imagine how they could go further to obstruct his agenda. There has been almost unanimous opposition to his stimulus plan and health care initiative. Cap and trade has more a geographical political cast, but appears headed toward trouble. Many of President Obama's judicial picks are being held up by the GOP, as have other nominees. As for the message I'm sure they will feel emboldened to at least continue what they've been doing, as they sense a lot of unease with the massive change Obama is trying to bring, particularly to the economy.


Washington, DC: Where did all the passion come from last night? It seemed like all the passion was on the Republican side. The Democrats -- with full control of all branches of government and basking in the glow of an adoring media, Hollywood, and Madison Avenue -- seemed dispirited.

That's a hell of a story. What's going on? How did the Republicans get their mojo back? Does the credit go to grass-roots Tea Partiers? Ranters like Limbaugh and Beck? Those kids who took down ACORN? Fox News? Sarah Palin?

Michael A. Fletcher: You're right, there seemed to be a passion gap. But at the same time the victors in both New Jersey and Virginia ran center-right campaigns. So my guess is that local issues--taxes, in Jersey, the tone of the Deeds campaign--coupled with larger unease about the deficit, the shape of health care reform, and unemployment resulted in what we saw.


NY-23: The only election that will have any direct impact on Washington was NY-23. The hard right and their small tent perspective gave this seat to the Democrats for the first time since before the Civil War. Also worth noting, McDonnell ran as a moderate, not a hard right winger. There is a very good message for the GOP if they care to listen.

Michael A. Fletcher: Good points.


African Americans for McDonnell: I have heard two reports now from Congress people (such as Jim Moran) that African Americans reported voting for McDonnell because they heard and thought Creigh Deeds was against Obama because he wouldn't call himself an Obama Democrat and was against Obama's health care plan.

Has the Washington Post attempted to do any reporting on this phenomenon and if true, could it mean Democrats should take a message that running away from Obama is more negative that attempting to ride his coattails? Should Democrats be reading this as not exciting or even engaging your base has severe consequences?

Michael A. Fletcher: From what I saw in the exit polls, Deeds got 90 percent of the black vote, which is what he could have hoped for. But there was a substantial enthusiasm gap as blacks were 16 percent of the electorate yesterday and about a quarter last year during the presidential race.


Dunn Loring, Va.: In the original version of their article on Obama's photo op at the Dover Air Force base, the NY Times acknowledged that the event was staged to counter the claims that Obama was dithering on the proposed troop increase. As the author of the Post's report, were you told anything similar by the administration? If so, why didn't you report it?

Michael A. Fletcher: No one said that to me. However, the trip was clearly intended to symbolize the gravity of the decision the president faces when it comes to expanding the war.


Republicans and Maine: Very interesting results here. The gay marriage law was repealed, but the anti-tax provisions (there were two, a Colorado-style TABOR bill and an excise tax reduction) were handily defeated, while use of medical marijuana was widely approved. Those results are not an endorsement of the right wing. What's your read on them?

Michael A. Fletcher: It is very hard to read a larger trend into these local results, particularly in off year elections.Hard to know whether they reflect strictly local considerations or something to watch nationally.


Richmond, Va.: How much influence do polls have on turnouts in off-year elections? I know people who saw the polls and decided they didn't want to vote for a loser.. it's too depressing while others were going to vote since they were getting to vote for a winner and that just feels good. In my mind it was looking like the polls were dampening the vote for the perceived loser and pumping up the vote for the perceived winner.

Michael A. Fletcher: Good question. It is really hard to know. Personally, I cringe when I see a blizzard of polls that essentially declare elections decided before they happen. Add to that the kind of minute-by-minute reporting on election day and you have something that just feels like that has an effect on voting. But the pros say no, that the polls basically capture the sentiment that is out there.


Dunn Loring, VA: Have you or any other Post reporter asked the White House why the administration has time to hold numerous meetings with big union boss Andy Stern but made General McChrystal wait months to talk with Obama?

Michael A. Fletcher: Haven't heard the question put that way. But the White House points out that McChrystal talks to the president regularly by video conference and secure phone. Pluse they met on Air Force One in Copenhagen, and the general is expected to be at the White House before President Obama announces his plans for the way forward in Afghanistan.


@ Dunn Loring, VA: This is what the NYTimes originally posted re: Dover:

"The images and the sentiment of the president's five-hour trip to Delaware were intended by the White House to convey to the nation that Mr. Obama was not making his Afghanistan decision lightly or in haste."

First off, this does not mean it was staged, although I can see why it could be read that way by right wingers. They later changed it because, in fact, while the sentiment of the trip may have been this, the images were only allowed because the family of one of the servicemen allowed it. It's shocking to me that so many people think Obama is "dithering" on this - do you want to just send 40000 young men and women to Afghanistan without any thought?

Michael A. Fletcher: The criticism is surprising. I think people would want to know that the president is considering all of his options when it comes to putting lives on the line in a war. Even if Obama made a decision today it would take months to get the troops, supplies and equipment in place. Plus, if the usual pattern holds, the onset of winter will slow the pace of fighting in Afghanistan until the spring thaw. Meaning the president has time to think.


Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Michael, thanks for the chat. Any chance that the President will give ex-governor Corzine a job in the Administration?

Michael A. Fletcher: Interesting question. For a moment there last year, Corzine's name surfaced as a possibility for treasury secretary. I imagine that he could be someone tapped at some point in the future, given his Wall Street credentials and close relationship with the president.


non-election question: Given Liz Cheney's sudden prominence (man, nepotism in DC never ceases to amaze me), I'm curious as to why none of you reporters are asking her questions re: her recent comments about Obama's trip to Dover. She said that Bush routinely made the same trip and didn't "stage photo ops." A) she flat out lied - Bush never went to Dover, B) he couldn't have had photos taken because of the Pentagon policy at the time and C) Mission Accomplished, anybody? Ultimate photo op. What gives? Or is being related to Dick sufficient to protect her from questioned?

Michael A. Fletcher: If we begin questioning Liz Cheney that way, then we would have to do the same with conservative (and liberal) commentators who make all kinds of charges every day. It is their way of making a (great) living. Some comments, I like to think, sink under their own weight.


Washington D.C.: I could hardly find any coverage or analysis on NY23 after the conservative candidate lost. There were no headlines and there was one article. Why is that?

On the run up in your paper it looked like it was to be an important "turning point" election.

Michael A. Fletcher: I know the incomparable Dan Balz mentioned it in his analysis and the paper is close to posting a story that talks about what the race eans to national GOP. So keep clicking.


Philadelphia, Pa.: It is interesting that where Democrats ran to the center, Democratic turnout was unenthusiatic. Yet, in New York Congressional District 23 and even New York City, where progressive Democrats ran, Democratic turnout and the final election results were better than expected. Could this be a signal that Democrats do better with candidates who run more progressive and less to the center?

Michael A. Fletcher: Interesting point.

_______________________ Stick around to chat with Reihan Salam at noon about what yesterday's elections mean for the Republican future.


Yorktown: I know these elections were not a referendum on Obama (that's the talking point, right?), but moderate Democrats are watching. What happens with ObamaCare? With Cap and Trade? Can a moderate Democrat win in 2010 after voting for these massive, bloated bills the explode the deficit? Seems like these elections will resonate over the next few months with Democrats who have to start looking forward to NEXT November.

Michael A. Fletcher: I think you're right. The president may (or may not) be safe politically, but that does not meet Democrats are generally safe. The question however is what will make them safe? And getting stuff done is the usual answer to that. But we'll see what they do.


The real lessons of the night: It comes down to candidates. The Dems ran weak ones in NJ and VA and lost. The right ran a radical in a NY district that always goes to the Republican and he lost.

It's also tough to be an incumbent in bad economic times. That's what happened in VA, NJ, and even NYC.

Finally, there's a different level of "enthusiasm" in off-year elections. You guys are getting carried away with that. Elections like these turn out the die hards and generally the die hards are older and more conservative. It's not an accurate reflection of voting patterns and shouldn't be read as such.

Michael A. Fletcher: Fair enough. But I don't think it is just the press that goes crazy now, but also sitting politicians who are always trying to read the tea leaves. So these analyses sometimes become self-fulfilling.


Chicago..: I pretty much ignored the hype about yesterday's election and watched the Bulls game, poker, and the Daily Show last night. Stewart pretty much nailed the awful irrelevance of cable news last night. Anyway, the only surprise for me was the Dem winning in NY-23. It seems Obama and the Dems should do everything they can to make sure that people like Sarah Palin, Limbaugh, Beck, Bachmann, Newt, and Michael Steele stay the faces of the Fox Party.

Michael A. Fletcher: Trust me, that's what it appears the Dems are trying to do.


It is very hard to read a larger trend into these local results, particularly in off year elections: But you had no trouble leading off the chat by saying the GOP looks to be making a comeback? Care to explain?

Michael A. Fletcher: Just trying to stoke a few questions...the point was that Republicans won in New Jersey and Virginia.


Arlington, Va.: America is a center-right country, and center-right candidates won yesterday. Doesn't this make sense?

Michael A. Fletcher: To a point. But how do you explain President Obama's election and continued popularity (if you believe the polls)?


Boston: I don't think you seriously answered the question about the lack of coverage on NY23 in the Post. It is a proper question to the top political paper in the nation.

Michael A. Fletcher: Seriously, we had a full story on the race in the paper by Perry Bacon Jr. Also, it was mentioned in an analysis and there is another story about to be posted on our website talking about the race's import.


Silver Spring, Md.: "GOP wins reveal cracks in Obama coalition" - Wash Post. Isn't this an example reading too much into yesterday's results?

Michael A. Fletcher: Don't think so, wnot hen you considered that independents went decidedly to the GOP this year after breaking to Obama last year. That would qualify as cracks, I think.


Michael A. Fletcher: Anyway, gotta run. Thanks for the great questions.


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