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Robert G. Kaiser
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_ Full Coverage: Elections '98


Direct Access with
Robert G. Kaiser

Tuesday, November 3, 1998

Washington Post Senior Correspondent Robert G. Kaiser hosts live coverage of the 1998 elections. Kaiser, a former managing editor of The Post, answered questions with help from the newspaper's political staff.

Kaiser: Good evening, and welcome to a live discussion on's election night special edition. I am sitting a few yards from the national desk of The Washington Post, where election night is always a special adventure. I hope to bring you a bit of the excitement in the newsroom in the next few hours. I am also going to try to answer readers' questions to reporters and editors handling the election coverage. If you have a question for Post political experts, post it here and I'll see if I can get an answer. We will also welcome comments from readers on tonight's results. Here we go...

Boise, Idaho: Has the Clinton scandal effectively paralyzed the legislative process? Will we be waiting for the next two years to pass with a president even more "lame-duck" than his two-term predecessors were in their final two years?

Kaiser: Tonight's results are undoubtedly going to have a big impact on the House of Representatives as it contemplates how to proceed on the Clinton investigation. If early returns indicating strong showings by Democrats are borne out through the night, it's reasonable to wonder how avidly Republicans will want to pursue impeachment of the president. On the other hand, it isn't easy to see how the House Judiciary Committee can now stop its inquiry. This is going to be an interesting spectacle in the days and weeks ahead.

London, England: If Schumer wins and boots out D'Amato, will this take some of the air out of the Clinton impeachment process? D'Amato has been one of the leaders of the witch hunt.

Kaiser: Early projections do suggest that Sen. Al D'Amato may have been defeated today by Rep. Chuck Schumer. Interestingly, D'Amato abandoned the role of leading critic and investigator of Clinton after his hearings into the Whitewater issues failed to generate either dramatic findings or much political payoff for D'Amato. He didn't mention Clinton's troubles in his recent campaign. So his defeat, if he is going down, isn't likely to have a big impact on the impeachment front.

Chicago, Ill.: Why as the boomers age have we not experienced a higher turnout at the polls? Don't the older, better educated (aka boomers) vote in greater numbers?

Kaiser: It's too early to know how various age cohorts turned out today, but we know already that boomers are far from the most politically active group. Their parents, mostly still alive, are much more active. Why is that? Let the boomers explain.

New York, N.Y.: Do you believe the nation prefers a system in which the president is from one party and the majority in Congress the other?

Kaiser: Recent experience strongly supports the questioner's proposition. We have had brief periods of one-party domination, but they have all ended quickly in modern times. Some poll findings do support the idea that many Americans like a government in Washington divided by party.

Cary, N.C.: Is there any way we the American people can get the president to resign?

Kaiser: Interesting question. If, as polls continue to tell us, considerably more than half the public thinks the president is doing a good job, what leverage do those like this questioner have on the president's thinking? My own hunch is, not much. On the other hand, a lot of newspaper editorial pages and serious commentators have already called on Clinton to resign, with no obvious effect so far. If tonight's results don't give the Republicans a strong boost, it's hard to see how any new pressure will build to push the president out of office.

Belfast, Northern Ireland: Are the results that are coming in going to be a major disappointment to the Republican Party? I had heard some Republicans saying about six weeks ago that they might pick up as many as 60 seats.

Kaiser: So far the Republicans have little to cheer about. The election did look radically different six weeks ago than it does tonight. But let's wait for more hard results before drawing any sweeping conclusions.

Los Altos, Calif.: The media and the Inside-the-Beltway crowd are still fixated on the Clinton sex scandal. Even this forum seems overly fixated. When are you guys going to wake up and realize most of us here in the real world SIMPLY DON'T CARE? Why? Because it doesn't really effect us.

A good question along these lines would be: How does this election effect the stock market and the economy? Would the stock market plunge if the Democrats become too powerful in Congress?

Kaiser: Hey, you can't blame us for the questions here, only the answers! Seriously, I think a lot of politicians around the country implicitly took your point of view in recent weeks by campaigning for office without ever mentioning the Clinton scandal. How that will affect their behavior when they get back inside the beltway remains to be seen.

Kaiser: One interesting aspect of the returns so far comes from Maryland, part of our home territory here at The Post. Turnout in the governor's race was very high, particularly in black neighborhoods. In Prince George's County, Md., black turnout was evidently as high as it usually is in a presidential election. And this happened despite the fact that key black political leaders in the state were, at best, lukewarm in their support for Gov. Glendening, the winner today. Not sure what this means, but it is interesting.

Menlo Park, Calif.: Could you please try and make a best guess to answer the second question posed by the person from Los Altos: How will the stock market take the Democratic wins? How has it taken these events, historically?

Kaiser: Sorry, I lost the thread there for a moment. No stock market predictions will emanate from these quarters. I've been fascinated by the steady rise of Wall Street in the last couple of weeks. What did the buyers think the result today would be? I have no idea.

Alexandria, Va.: How accurate are exit polls? For example, the media is calling Democratic Rep. Charles Schumer a winner in New York, but the results tabulated (so far) have D'Amato ahead. Have the exit polls ever "blow it?"

Kaiser: This is a very good question. When the results of exit polls are close – within three percentage points, say – then we can't rely on them to make a firm prediction.They are polls, albeit polls with more respondents than the usual survey. Their record is good, but far from perfect. We have been embarrassed over the years by the occasional exit poll that was way off the mark. Luckily, no one who wins an exit poll can be sworn into the House or Senate. You have to actually win the election for that.

Laurel, Md.: Why are you and other outlets (Yahoo! for one) already projecting Parris Glendening the winner in the Maryland governor's race? The stats as of 9:11 p.m. EST showed Glendening with barely a 1,300-vote lead. Given the hair's breadth race four years ago, isn't this a little premature?

At what point have you ceased to report and are now creating the "news?"

Kaiser: We've had several questions on this, so I went across the room and talked to Bob McCartney, the Maryland editor, and his deputy, Mike Abramowitz. They said the exit poll showed Glendening 8 percentage points ahead, and they said traditionally strong Democratic precincts, particularly in Baltimore, aren't reporting yet. Nevertheless, The Post did not declare Glendening the winner in its first edition, still not on the streets. We are (in response to another question that has come in) quite conservative about making projections. We know we can't compete with the TV networks for speed. We compete for authority.

Chicago, Ill.: Bob, Tell us what the chances are for Carol Moseley-Braun.

Kaiser: At this hour the count shows Moseley-Braun several percentage points behind. The exit poll shows the same.

Putney, Vt.: If the Republicans do badly, but still retain the majority in the house, is Gingrich's speakership in danger?

Kaiser: If the Republicans lose seats in the House but retain their majority – a longshot possibility at this hour – Gingrich's critics will be bolder than they have been. Can they mount a serious challenge to his speakership? Perhaps, though it isn't clear today who the Republican member is who could successfully topple him.

Gaithersburg, Md.: Your earlier response to a question about the "projected" defeat of Sen. D'Amato indicates you don't see a link between that and public attitudes toward possible impeachment of the president. Given that, if D'Amato does lose, to what do you attribute his possible loss? (And do you think he can still pull it out?)

Kaiser: I didn't mean to suggest I know why New Yorkers gave apparently preferred Schumer to D'Amato. I only tried to point out the fact that D'Amato did not campaign on an anti-Clinton platform. We'll all be hearing a great deal in the next few days on what the election results mean for Clinton.

Alexandria, Va.: Given that this election seemed to hinge on turnout, and the Democrats effective effort to mobilize their core constituencies, does the Republican tactic of avoiding confrontation with the president in the closing days of the past session of Congress seem to have backfired? In other words, did the Democrats win the battle of mobilizing core constituencies in today's election?

Kaiser: Interesting question, too soon to answer it. We love putting out tonight's paper, but in my experience, it's the Thursday Post that has the most interesting reading. That's when we will try our best to evaluate the results. We'll also have a chance to interview a lot of politicians and experts on Wednesday to ask their opinions. And we'll be able to study more of the facts on turnout, margins of victory and so on. So stay tuned!

Grand Rapids, Mich.: Did Lee Hamilton's seat go Republican or stay with the Democrats? I had heard that this district would be a strong indicator of how the election results might progress.

Kaiser: The Hamilton seat is still too close to call, according to Maralee Schwartz, the Post's political editor.

Greenbelt, Md.: If you are so "conservative" in calling elections, why did you respond to an earlier question by saying "...Glendening, the winner today"? (Right after Los Altos, Calif., before Menlo Park, Calif.).

Kaiser: Because, alas, I make mistakes in this new, instantaneous medium. Sorry. The paper will be more cautious.

Boise, Idaho: 1992 was known as the "Year of the Woman." What, if anything, do you feel the 1998 elections will be remembered for?

Kaiser: I just put your question to Len Downie, The Post's editor. He said it is too soon to know, but offered an interesting hypothesis: This COULD be a year remembered for the strength of African-American sentiment as expressed in many parts of the country. Certainly in Maryland black voters have given a huge lift to the Democrats statewide. There are other signs of a big black turnout.

Washington, D.C.: What are the polls saying about the Senate race in Wisconsin?

Kaiser: I don't have an exit poll number, but I see from the terrific service is providing for raw election returns that with 19 percent of the precincts reporting, Feingold is comfortably ahead by about 9 percentage points.

Kaiser: Questions reaching me suggest that some readers haven't figured out how to get the latest results from individual races. In fact our system is really humming tonight. Here's what you do: click on House, Senate, or Governors at the top of the home page and you'll be taken to pages that quickly allow you to see the results of individual races. They are usually less than 10 minutes old. You can also read the stories from the early edition of tomorrow's paper by going from the home page to the National Roundup, then to the stories from Wednesday's Post.

Alexandria, Va.: What time do the polls close in the western states - California, Oregon, Nevada, etc.?

Kaiser: The numbers: Polls close in California, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon and Washington at 11 p.m. EST; in Nevada, Iowa, Montana, Utah they close at 10 p.m. EST.

Saverna Park, Md.: Why didn't the Republicans field a better candidate in the Maryland governor's race? It seems to me that, given the large number of Democratic defectors to the Republican ticket (Maryland is a 2-1 Democratic state), a better candidate would unseat Glendening.

Kaiser: Is the glass half empty or half full? Seems to me you could argue that Ellen Sauerbrey was a strong candidate if she could come so close, twice, to Glendening in a state that is nearly 2-1 Democratic.

Washington, D.C.: What, if anything, is to be made of the extremely low voter turnout in D.C. (18 percent)? Would the turnout have been higher if Mayor Marion Barry were running for reelection? Has Congress's control of the D.C. government created that much apathy?

Kaiser: D.C. turnout has been really low for years. This city clearly has a weak political culture a quarter century after it first got a meaningful local vote. I'm sure the fact that the control board has had control of the city for years now has discouraged some voters. But lots of factors have evidently persuaded Washingtonians that voting isn't worth their while.

Kaiser: The polls just closed in California, and the AP, as well as several networks, are calling a Democratic sweep at the top of the ticket.

New York, N.Y.: Seems like voter turnout was a factor in the results tonight. Many exit polls are showing a higher than usual african-american turnout. By your indicators, what is the effect of voter turnout tonight? Any analysis?

Kaiser: It does look like turnout is up a little, and up a lot among labor union members and their families, and among African-Americans – both traditionally Democratic groups. In the next 20 minutes or so The Post's analysis of today's national exit polls, exploring who voted and for whom, will be available on I just read an early version of the story, and I recommend it highly.

Toronto: What would be the significance of a win by Barbara Boxer in California? (By the way...outsiders think the Republicans are in a witch hunt against your president).

Kaiser: California is the biggest news of the day for the Democrats, certainly. I look forward to learning more about how Boxer put together what looks like a winning coalition. It's interesting to note how strong the Democrats now look up and down the West Coast. This looks more and more like an important new fact of American politics.

Minneapolis, Minn.: What do you think of Jesse "The Body" Ventura's apparent victory for governor of Minnesota?

Kaiser: WIth 29 percent of precincts reporting, Ventura has 37 percent of the vote; Humphrey, the Democrat, and Coleman, the Republican, each have 31 percent. This is a startling upset in the making. Ventura is certainly the anti-politics candidate, and his strength has built dramatically in the last month. Is Garrison Keilor ready for this?

Kaiser: Following up on an earlier question, I now see that the Democrat running for Lee Hamilton's House seat in Indiana (the 9th district) has opened up a lead of about 4 percentage points with three quarters of the precincts reporting. But it's still too close to call a victor. (The Democrat, Baron Hill, is running against Republican Jean Leising.)

Kaiser: The Post story from tomorrow's paper on how various groups voted is now available on the national roundup page.

Amherst, Mass.: How can Glendening be declared the winner in the governor's race as he is on if only 83 percent of the votes are in?

Kaiser: Ellen Sauerbrey, the Republican challenger, has virtually conceded that Glendening won.

Sacramento, Calif.: Boxer's lead against Fong is not surprising to us out here in the west. She has a good track record with women's rights and has held the Senator "ship" on a steady course. She is well-liked. Matt Fong does not present a clear picture on what he stands for except that he is a Republican. I think this will cause him to loose this election.

Kaiser: Thanks for your comment.

Kaiser: We're going to sign off now after a long day of chat. We'll be back tomorrow with an interesting lineup of commentators on the results, beginning with Lou Cannon, the great California expert, at 2 p.m. EST Wednesday. Hope to welcome you back then. Thanks to all for the steady stream of intelligent, interesting questions.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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