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Analysts Discuss the Latest Primary Results

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - September 15, 2010

GWEN IFILL: We take closer look at yesterday's twists and turns with three strategists who follow them for a living: Republican Kevin Madden, Democrat Steve McMahon, and Matt Kibbe, president of the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks and co-author of a book on Tea Party politics.

I have to start by asking you, Kevin Madden, what happened last night?

KEVIN MADDEN, Republican strategist: Well, look, I think what you saw was a very -- an electorate that is very animated around sending a message to the establishment, that they were not going to send -- they were basically sending a message to Washington that they weren't going to send the same people back to Washington, career politicians.

And, at the same time, you're looking at an electorate that is very animated, very mobilized around issues like spending and deficits. Right now, the American public is so anxious and angry at what they see out of Washington, more spending, piling up deficits, growing the size of government. At a time of a very sluggish economy, they think that those actions are stifling economic growth.

GWEN IFILL: Have mainstream Republicans been caught off guard this season?

KEVIN MADDEN: I think that they -- I think that, right now, what we are is are looking at a new electorate that is sending a message, and it's taking us a lot longer than it should have in order to get it.

GWEN IFILL: How about you, Matt Kibbe? Is that what you've seen happening with the Tea Party folks?

MATT KIBBE, president, FreedomWorks: Well, if you look what happened this Tuesday, it is what's been happening all along. And it has been a message from the American people, from all of the activists that are animated on these fiscal issues, that it's not good enough just to be a Republican. You have to actually have a record -- and a credible record -- on these fiscal issues.

GWEN IFILL: But we have seen this, and up until now, we have described the Tea Party as the so-called Tea Party or as this group that doesn't really have a leader.

MATT KIBBE: Right.

GWEN IFILL: Today, it's got actually a form and a function.

MATT KIBBE: It is. And the establishment doesn't quite get the power of this organic, networked community that has come out on these ideas. And it's no longer about name I.D. It's not about how much money you have in the bank. It's whether or not you can connect with this community and turn out the vote. So, hard work and principle is defining this election cycle.

GWEN IFILL: Steve McMahon, it's usually the Democrats who are having these kinds of problems at this stage in a campaign. What did you see happening last night?

STEVE MCMAHON, Democratic strategist: Well, I mean, it's a problem for the Democrats that there's all this energy on the right, but it's also an opportunity, because one of the things that happens when you have so much energy so far on the right side of the party is, they tend to leave the middle behind.

And that is happening in at least Delaware, for sure, where the nominee now trails the Democrat by 16 points, according to a recent poll. If Mike Castle had been the nominee, he would have a double-digit lead over the Democrat. So, you saw a swing of 26 points in that race alone.

You see in Nevada Reid would have been the most vulnerable senator in the United States Senate, perhaps, but he drew a Tea Party candidate, so he's in a race that is a dead heat, and Democrats have a great shot there -- in Kentucky, the same thing.

And, in Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, who was defeated by a Tea Party candidate, may pull a Joe Lieberman and run as an independent, which I think puts that race back in play for Democrats, too. So, it cuts both ways. There's energy on the right, but, in going so far right, the Republicans run the risk that they leave the middle behind and create opportunities for Democrats...

KEVIN MADDEN: I think the issues, though, that are mobilizing voters across the political spectrum right now are not right-left. I think what you're looking at is a -- an electorate that is very worried about the size of -- the growth of government. They're very worried about spending, and they see deficits piling up in Washington. They -- they -- right now, the middle...

GWEN IFILL: Excuse me. And they blame a lot of the Republicans and Democrats who are currently in Washington.

KEVIN MADDEN: Correct. Right. And what they -- I think the middle right now is as -- closely aligned with Tea Party sentiments. And I don't think that -- I think what happens is a big problem for Democrats right now, is that they're deriding these folks at their own peril. I think that it's a big -- I think it becomes a big problem for them.

STEVE MCMAHON: I'm not deriding them, Kevin.

KEVIN MADDEN: It does look like a political tin ear when you say, these are extreme issues. It is not extreme to say that Washington is spending too much money and we're piling up too many deficits.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me tell you who is deriding these folks, and that is Karl Rove, who was President Bush's biggest strategist, who basically said last night, it is at our own peril as a party do we embrace these candidates who he basically said are less credible.

What do you do? Does that help you when, frankly, someone of Karl Rove's stature takes after you like that?

MATT KIBBE: Well, we don't call the Tea Party movement beautiful chaos for nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

MATT KIBBE: I mean, we don't any longer take our direction from guys like Karl Rove or the Republican National Committee.

And these folks have gone right around the establishment, not just the Republican Party, but the Democratic Party as well. So, you have got to look at this more in a global picture. And I would challenge you on the idea that somehow candidates like Sharron Angle and Rand Paul are out of the mainstream.

I mean, the idea that government shouldn't spend money it doesn't have, the idea that government can't and shouldn't take over our health care system, that's where the independent voter is today. That's the very center of American politics. So, I do think that the Tea Party is shaking up American politics, but it's a very health -- healthy thing.

GWEN IFILL: And, today, we saw Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman, and John Cornyn, who runs the Republican Senatorial Committee, start to make nice -- make nice sounds about the Tea Party.

STEVE MCMAHON: Here's the point I was trying to make. I'm not trying to deride or run down the voters in the Tea Party movement, because I think you're right. Many independent voters are very concerned about the size of government, the amount of money that is being spent, and they're voting on that basis.

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