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The Post's David Broder on the Battle for the House

Free Media
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Tuesday, September 5, 2000; 3 p.m. EDT

The presidential race is tight this year, but the toughest fight in November may be the struggle for control of the House. The GOP's majority in the House hinges on the outcome of less than 20 House races.

David S. Broder
Broder (The Post)

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and reporter David S. Broder is the author of a book entitled "Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns & the Power of Money," and has written extensively about primaries, elections and special interests. Broder joined "Free Media" on Tuesday, September 5 to talk about Campaign 2000 and the race to win the House. Read the transcript.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Laurel, Md: Except for the first two years of the Clinton administration, the legislative and executive branches have been in some sort of split state since the early eighties (Reagan had a Democratic-controlled but politically sympathetic House his first term). This state has sometimes been called "benign gridlock" because the two parties are each more extreme than are the public at large.

How much change would be necessary in the make-up of the House and Senate to give either party a free reign to broadly implement their visions (assuming they win the presidency)?

David Broder: That is an excellent question. To have effective control of the Senate, a party would have to control 60 seats--enough to impose cloture and end a filibuster. It is harder to say how many seats would be necessary for effective control of the House, because some issues cut across party lines. But I would estimate that you would need 250 seats or more to have effective control of the House.

Fairfax, Va.: There seems to be a belief among many political analysts that a two party system is best. Why? Most people who are registered consider themselves as an "Independent." If the two parties are failing to attract members, then why not give equal media attention to the other parties (Reform, Libertarian, etc.)?

David Broder: I think the advantage of the two-party system is that it produces majority winners--and therefore broad coalitions of support. You are right that the number of self-described independents is growing. But independents are not necessarily supporters of minor party candidates. I think we try to give due attention to minor party candidates, but obviously devote more coverage to those with a real chance of winning.

Arlington, Va.: Why is it that we constantly see politicians try to get the "women's vote" and "women issues" usually defined as feminist and pro-choice. With women making up over 50% of the electorate now, how in the world can women be considered a unified group? I know that my mother, sister, aunts, and female cousins don't consider themselves to be represented by Patricia Ireland. In fact, they usually disagree with her.

David Broder: You are right in saying that women come in all varieties--referring only to their political views, of course. But when there are sharp differences between the genders in candidate preference on on issues, we would be foolish to ignore that reality in our reporting.

Atlanta, Ga: Mr. Broder,

The two party bias by the mainstream media is once again painfully obvious in this years presidential campaign.

This year the Libertarian Party will achieve some newsworthy goals this November: Harry Browne will become the ONLY third party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states, and the Libertarian Party will become the first 3rd party to have their presidential ticket on the ballot in every state for three straight elections. The last 3rd party to accomplish this feat was the Republican Party, in the 1860's.

So, what does the Libertarian Party have to do to garner political coverage from the mainstream press?

David Broder: What the Libertarians are accomplishing is significant. But we cannot ignore the reality that 30 or 40 times as many people are preparing to vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate. Our job is to cover the race; not try to influence the outcome.

Madison, Wis.: I've heard this argument from a Nader supporter: A Democratic ticket comprising the DLC-Scoop Jackson wing of the party is apt to lead some progressive Democrats to stay home. But the Nader candidacy will entice some of those Democrats to go to the polls to vote for Nader, and then they'll vote for the Democratic candidate for Congress. Hence, it's argued, in a close congressional race the Nader candidacy could make the difference between the Republican and the Democrat, and if there are enough of those races, the difference between a Republican and a Democratic Congress. Your comments?

David Broder: I expect it is true that most Nader supporters would vote for a Democratic, rather than a Republican, congressional candidate. So it is possible that he may marginally help the Democrats in their effort to retake the House--assuming that he pulls out voters who would otherwise be stay-at-homes.

Silver Spring, Md.: You said:

"I think we try to give due attention to minor party candidates, but obviously devote more coverage to those with a real chance of winning."

However, how can an independent candidate or third party ever have a chance without additional media coverage? Do you see a catch-22 here?

David Broder: If we imposed some kind of news blackout on independent or minor party candidates, we would be denying them a chance to compete. But we have done a number of stories on Buchanan, Haegelin and Nader, so readers of the Post are certainly aware of their campaigns and their basic positions. Beyond that, it is not our responsibility, as I understand it, to promote anyone's candidacy.

Washington, D.C.: Given that neither party will have secure control of the House or Senate, how will either Bush or Gore be able to govern? It would seem to be particularly difficult for Gore, given his poor relationship with the GOP. Would he cultivate some of the few Jeffords-Morella Republicans?

David Broder: You raise a very important question. I agree that a closely divided House and Senate will be a challenge to the new president--and it may be particularly difficult for Gore, who bears the scars of the battles of the past eight years.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa: What is your prediction of the number of House seats each party will have after the election?

David Broder: I cannot possibly guess at this point how many seats Republicans and Democrats will control in the new House. The campaigns are really just beginning to go on the air in most of the battleground districts.

Washington, D.C.: If you were to pick one race that really epitomizes the Republicans and Democrats respective strategies to win the House, which would it be and why?

David Broder: It is hard to pick a single race that is emblematic of the battle for the House. Races with incumbents are different from the open seat contests. But a terrific open seat race is going on in the 8th District of Michigan, centered on Lansing, and terrific Republican incumbent race is the Sherwood-Casey battle in the district centered on Scranton, Pa.

Washington, D.C.: What kind of weight do the issues have in local races? And are you seeing any sort of trend in what issues are important this year in the House races?

David Broder: In many of the races in our Sunday roundup of House contests, health care--especially prescription drugs--is at the top of the agenda. Education, Social Security and taxes are also very important.

Arlington, Va.: Do you think it is newsworthy that Sen. Lieberman is running for reelection to his Senate seat as well? Or is it only newsworthy if the Bush campaign raises it? Tangentially related -- what makes something a negative (or attack) ad? Is it tone or subject or is it all a matter of perception?

David Broder: Sure, it is newsworthy that Sen. Lieberman is running for reelection. We have reported on that and I'm sure will continue to do so.

Silver Spring, Md.: I keep hearing about Vice President Gore's poor relationship with the GOP, yet I read that when he was in the House and Senate, he co-sponsored several bills with Republicans, including John McCain. Is his bad relationship real or just more campaign hype?

David Broder: Vice President Gore worked on bipartisan legislation during his House and Senate years, as most legislators do, but in general, was regarded as a more individualistic and partisan figure by his colleagues.

New Orleans, La.: Can you talk about the differences in approach the two parties have used to help congressional candidates? For example, I read that Democrats during the convention used the local media to help congressional candidates get out the parties message. Did Republicans do the same thing at there convention and what affect is it having?

David Broder: Both parties took advantage of the big local media turnouts at their conventions in order to publicize congressional candidates. I can't judge how effective these efforts were, but the parties think they were very worthwhile in building up name recognition for first-time candidates.

Los Angeles, Calif.: Given George W. Bush's predilection for taking advice from his father, do you think the Gore campaign could make an issue of Iran-contra or the Savings & Loan debacle/fleecing and subsequent pardons?

David Broder: I doubt that most voters want to revisit Iran-contra or the savings and loan fiasco in this campaign. People are understandably more interested in current issues.

Los Angeles, Calif.: What would the political fall-out be if George W. Bush's off-color aside about Adam Clymer, and Cheney's affirmation, had been about a foreign prime minister? Can we afford such "straight talk" in the international arena?

David Broder: Bush's comment about Adam Clymer was certainly imprudent in that setting. I'd bet he wishes he could have it back.

Burke, Va.: What's the best way for a voter to communicate that she would like both parties to stop demonizing the opposite side and govern?

David Broder: Phone, write or e-mail the campaigns and tell them you want the negative stuff to end. They'll get the message.

West Palm Beach, Fla.: Which party is leading in the polls right now and which candidate is ahead in the polls for the presidential?

David Broder: Polls last week generally gave Gore a small lead over Bush. There are a number of polls being taken this week and their results may be more meaningful, now that people are back from vacation.

Washington, D.C.: If Buchanan gets the $12 million from the FEC, is there any chance that he could play a significant role in this election?

David Broder: If Buchanan focuses his campaign spending in a few states where he ran well in the past,he could affect the voting in those states. But overall, his support does not look too impressive.

Rockville, Md.: Is either party concerned about the appearance (not to mention substance) of the hosted parties at their conventions? It seemed completely out-of-hand.

David Broder: I could not find a great deal of conscience-stricken apology either in Philadelphia or Los Angeles. I think the politicians like those parties.

Bethesda, Md.: Which party would really benefit in Congress from their candidate winning the presidency?

David Broder: Both Republicans and Democrats would like to see their presidential candidate win; both think it would improve their chances of winning the House.

Washington, D.C.: Do you think that the best of American society (however you choose to define that) are entering politics on the national level?

washingtonpost.com: What about on the local level?

David Broder: The four candidates nominated by the major parties represent high levels of political skills, I think, and all four have significant past accomplishments. I do not think this is a bad field at all.

washingtonpost.com: Thank you to David Broder and to all who participated.

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