Shields and Brooks on the Week in Politics

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - October 22, 2010

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Getting a taste of Halloween there in a tough congressional district in Northeastern Ohio.

David, what do you take away from that? And what does that say about the rest of the state of Ohio and the rest of the Midwest?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, my first impression is all the people at the end there who said they were not sure who they were going to vote for, they are probably not going to vote.

The people who are energized have decided who they are going to vote. And that's a sign of a couple things. One, Ohio has been in this situation for a couple decades now. And the Industrial Midwest has been losing these jobs.

And what is interesting politically is that it has shifted. It has shifted quite dramatically, Ohio has, from Sherrod Brown, who's one of the more liberal members of the Senate. Now they're probably going to vote for, on the Senate side, Rob Portman.

And Portman is a pet project of mine, because people focus on Christine O'Donnell so much and some of the wackier Republican nominees. Portman is a very responsible, very serious person who is running for the Senate, doesn't say any stupid things about witchcraft. And he's got a huge lead, like a 15-, 20-point lead.

And what's particularly interesting about that, especially concerned with the joblessness there, is Portman is an ardent free-trader. And Sherrod Brown, the senator from Ohio, is not. And -- but Portman seems to be cruising to victory, even though he is for free trade and globalization.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that means jobs could leave.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think, well, what all this means is that people want jobs, but nobody has a recipe for how to get them. And so they are trying different things.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I would say a couple of things. First of all, historically, when times are bad, voters, especially in the Industrial Midwest, have turned to the Democrats. And this year, that's not the case. Democrats hold the statehouses in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan. And the -- and Minnesota is held by a Republican.

The only state where the Democratic candidate for governor has consistently led in the polling has been Minnesota, where there is a Republican. It is a change election. This is a "Groundhog Day" election, I mean, the Bill Murray movie where the same day -- this is 2006, 2008, 2010. It's a change election. They're throwing people out. For the Democrats -- it was the Republicans who were in office in 2006, 2008. Now, unfortunately for them, they are in office and they're feeling the wrath of the voters.

I would say, in that particular district, the 16th District of Ohio, the Stark County mess along Canton, that John Boccieri...

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you know that state well.

MARK SHIELDS: Boccieri -- well, Boccieri, the freshman Democrat, if he does survive -- and he is a superb candidate -- and Democrats hope that he does -- it will be -- and David Rogers of Politico made this point -- it will be in large part because the Democratic leadership in the House made the decision to let the House members out 30 days earlier.

He's a brilliant one-on-one campaigner. And if he does survive, it will be because of his effective retail campaigning.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, broadening it out a little bit, early voting has begun. I guess there are 32 states where people are already voting.

David, are we seeing any patterns here?

DAVID BROOKS: We're seeing some patterns.

We're seeing, in general, Republicans are voting early in greater proportion than their registration numbers. But I'm struck by, it's not a huge effect. So there are more Republicans voting than you would expect district-by-district, but it's not like it's 2-1. It's slightly above.

So I'm not sure what -- we can tell any tea leaves. If you look at the polls, I think what has been striking to me is consistent building of momentum, at least on a national level, for Republicans. So, on the generic ballot -- "do you want a Republican or Democrat?" -- the Republicans continue to gain, and especially among independents.

In the Pew poll, Republicans have an advantage 49-30 among independents. In the Gallup poll, it's 59-31. So, even though people have continued to be angry and the Democrats are getting more active, among independents, Republicans are still continuing to gain nationally. I'm not sure we see too much from the early voting, though.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You see a change in the dynamic with this early voting?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don't. I mean, basically, the same people who voted early vote late. I mean, there really isn't -- in 2008, the Democrats made a great effort among African-American voters, and they did increase their turnout considerably, and among Latino voters.

I personally have grave reservations about early voting. I mean, I think...


MARK SHIELDS: I think that Election Day is the closest thing we have to a civic sacrament, when people meet their neighbors at the firehouse or the school and they vote at the same time.

I think it's important that campaigns be aired all the way through, that people aren't voting three weeks before, before debates are held. I just think there's a lot -- I mean, we have gone now from one out of 20 voting early -- and there is a reason that people vote absentee, obviously, people in the military, people who are bedridden, people who have to travel.

But now it's become sort of a -- you know, just sort of a casual thing, and you can vote any time at all. It doesn't increase turnout. It hasn't increased turnout, really. And I don't think it's a healthy development. I sound like an old fogey here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Curmudgeon.

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