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Week In Politics: Primary Politics And The Climate Change Report


We turn now to domestic politics and our regular Friday commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome back to you both.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

BLOCK: Let's start with Tuesday's Republican primary in North Carolina for the U.S. Senate. Republicans were picking a candidate who will go up against the incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan in November and it seems a prime opportunity for a Republican pickup. The Republican who is favored by the GOP establishment, Thom Tillis, got a big win.

He avoided a runoff. Here he is speaking on primary night.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE THOM TILLIS: For the last four years, I've been in Raleigh cleaning up Kay Hagan's mess. And now, I want to go to Washington and clean up Kay Hagan's mess.

BLOCK: Thom Tillis speaker of the North Carolina House. David Brooks, have Republicans, do you think, learned a decisive lesson from their past debacles with candidates who won their primary and then imploded when it came to the general election?

BROOKS: I tell you, it's pretty decisive. It wasn't only that race. There were a bunch of races around North Carolina, around Ohio, all around the country. Basically you had a bunch of candidates who were supported by - I call them the rogues, Sarah Palin would come in and support them. Ted Cruz would come and support them. Rand Paul would come in, Mike Huckabee.

And they were generally sort of the rebel anti-Republican establishment and those people lost pretty much across the board. And so partly it's the establishment's gotten a little better, maybe moved a little right to defang some of the criticism, a little better at organizing, but I -- you know, we treat the voters like they're idiots here, but they get to make a choice and they made some choices and I think they didn't want people who were likely to lose in the fall.

BLOCK: E.J., there was a huge amount of money poured into this race and a lot of high profile endorsements. How bad do you think the prospects are in this case for the incumbent, the Democrat Kay Hagan

DIONNE: Well, actually, I think she has a real shot at reelection. She's been doing better in the polls. And I think the lesson here is not that the Tea Party lost, but that the Tea Party has pushed the so-called Republican establishment way to the right. Thom Tillis is not a moderate in any way. He has lead the state legislature in a state that's had one of the most conservative governments in the country, whether it's on, you know, very restrictive voter ID laws, refusing the Medicaid expansion and on and on.

And I think this is going to be an interesting test because North Carolina was historically a much more moderate state in its state government. This is going to be the first referendum on this tilt right for the Republicans. So yes, the Republicans are trying not to nominate zany candidates who throw seats away, but the Tea Party has already had a big impact on the Republican Party.

BLOCK: Well, President Obama was in California this week on a fundraising trip for Democrats running for Congress and he's pushing Democrats to have a real sense of urgency about this mid-term election and to recognize what's at stake.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Democrats have a congenital defect when it comes to our politics and that is we like voting during presidential years and during the mid-terms, we don't vote.

BLOCK: David Brooks, Republicans would need to gain six seats if they're going to win a majority in the Senate. How likely do you think that is to happen?

BROOKS: Well, President Obama is right. The Republicans just have better turnout in the off years and I think if you look at the polling and you do all these statistical things that some people believe in then I think you'd say somewhere 60, 70 percent chance Republicans pick up. They've got a lot of opportunities. I think North Carolina is one of the more vulnerable seats for the Democrats just 'cause Kay Hagan, her approvals are around 40.

You know, you look at the basic fundamentals of the race, what shapes mid-term elections? Two numbers shape it. The presidential popularity level, which for President Obama is reasonably low, in the low 40s, 41, and right track, wrong track. Is the country headed on the right track? And it's not. The right track is pathetically low and so you just take these two numbers. That suggests a pretty good opposition party here.


DIONNE: I think - first of all, my sense - and this is not based on a big model, but right out of the air, I think it's more like 50 to 55 percent Republican at this point. I think Democrats have closed some of the gaps, but they are in jeopardy. And the president said it very well when he said people who have the most at stake in a government that works stuff out of the system in mid-terms, those who don't believe in the government can do anything are empowered because they vote.

And I think the one thing Democrats may have going for them this year is this is the first time you have seen a full-court press to turn out their voters who don't usually vote in mid-terms, younger people, African-Americans, Latinos, they are really making an effort that they didn't make in 2010 and we'll learn whether those efforts work.

BLOCK: I want to end by talking about the release this week of a dire new report on climate change. It talked about longer and hotter summers, coastal cities flooding, a lot more extreme weather, more deaths coming from all these changes and the report says it's very clear that warming is primarily the result of human activity, the burning of fossil fuels in particular. David, does this become a campaign issue and should it become one?

BROOKS: I think it probably should. I mean, I bow down to the science. There seems to be a reasonable consensus, which I bow down to. Whether it's going to become a campaign issue practically, I think almost certainly not. You look at some of these vulnerable Senate races, places like Louisiana - believe me, voters in Louisiana do not want some big climate change legislation. To me, the most obvious solution is a carbon tax. That's a political nonstarter for both parties. You know, I just look at the politics of this thing and I think if there's going to be a solution, somehow it's going to come through technological innovation of the private sector because I just don't see a political solution.

BLOCK: E.J., does this report in any way change the discussion of the Keystone XL Pipeline or anything you see headed toward November?

DIONNE: I don't think it'll have a big impact in November, but I think it begins to change the discussion. A New York Times editorial had a nice summary of what it said. It said the Southwest will fry, the East will soak, and Alaska will keep melting. And I think the radicalization of the Republican Party has unfortunately stopped action on this.

You know, in the - before 2008, John McCain, Bob Corker, a lot of Republicans, as David suggested, were willing to say look, this is a problem, it is caused by humans. I think if we get a sense that this is actually going to cost us money over the long run, we may begin acting on it. We tend to act when we're worried about losing money.

BLOCK: Thanks to you both, and have a good weekend.

BROOKS: You, too.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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