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Luke Perry and Nina Tamrowski on the Campbell Conversations

On this week's episode of the Campbell Conversations, Grant Reeher presents a midterm elections recap with analysis from Nina Tamrowski, a Political Science Professor at Onondaga Community College, and Luke Perry, a Political Science Professor at Utica University.

Program transcript:

Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher. Well, we've been talking about it for months, and it finally happened. The midterms are over, except for some of the counting at least. With me today to parse out the results and their implications are Nina Tamrowski, she's a political science professor at Onondaga Community College, and Luke Perry who is a political science professor as well, he's at Utica University and the director of its Center of Public Affairs and Election Research. Luke is also a regular panelist on, “The Ivory Tower”. Luke, Nina, welcome to the program.

Luke Perry: Thanks for having me.

Nina Tamrowski: Thank you.

GR: So, Luke, I'll start with you and then we'll get Nina in on this, but I, you know, I think most of our listeners by the time they hear this, are familiar with the basic results from the election. That, you know, there was an expected red wave, it didn't really materialize across the country, but something of a red wave did hit here in New York State. So let me ask you this then. Aside from that basic pattern, were there one or two things that stuck out to you from these midterms that really caught your attention? And you could take that at any level you like.

LP: One thing that stood out to me is where Republicans did well in House races, and Florida was one place which isn't so surprising. Florida was a swing state early this century, but it's moved pretty strongly to the right and is now solidly Republican. And Republicans did well this cycle. New York, on the other hand, moved to the left decidedly during the Trump era. Yet this election, Republicans did very well in New York with a close gubernatorial race, the closest since 2002. And a very strong performance in the House races, which is really a sticking point for Democrats nationally now as they try to hold on to the majority, though it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

GR: Yeah, I want to come back to what happened in New York, definitely. Nina, what about you? Anything other than what Luke said that caught your eye?

NT: I would just add one more detail, and that's that gerrymandering matters, right? Because these House seats that did go red here in New York State, they were court ordered for the most part. And so the original plan that came out of the state legislature last spring, you know, got thrown by the wayside. And again, a special master created these districts. Whether that was fair or not probably depends on who asks and answers the question. But yeah, I think the gerrymandered seats here in New York mattered. But we saw it in, you know, flips around the country as well. Florida in particular, and Texas and North Carolina, where we know there's been Republican slanted seat making and Democrats just haven't had control of those state legislatures to do that in return.

GR: That's interesting. Yeah, we'll come back to that, too, okay. So I wanted to do this at the beginning, there's already been tons of ink that have been spilled and probably billions of keyboard strokes that have been punched already on this election. I mean, it's gotten a lot of attention both before and immediately afterwards. And I wanted to throw out to the two of you a couple of maybe contrary propositions about this and see what you think about them. So Nina, I want to start with you, here's the first one. It's that although this red wave didn't really materialize across the country, it does look like the House of Representatives is still extremely likely, I think at this point to be in Republican control. I mean, it's going to be just a few seat margin, but they're probably going to have control. And whichever way it goes in the special election in Georgia, if that's what it comes down to, the Senate is going to be almost evenly split. So it's we're kind of where we were before.

NT: Right.

GR: Here's my proposition. In terms of policy during the next two years nationally, I would suggest that whether we have the red wave or not, the outcome is about the same and that is, not much is going to happen. That that that it seems like where the country is right now is we're going to call this question again in 2024. And we're kind of moving into a moment, individual players may ebb and flow, but policy wise I kind of see stasis. I don't know what you think about that.

NT: Yeah, I totally agree and I think of the consequences of that stasis. I mean as we have two years of nothingness. I mean we'll continue to see the public opinion, you know, scores of the Congress go down and voters get so I think disgusted with the lack of progress on any front. So I think it's just bad generally for engagement, right? People think, oh, there they go again doing nothing and then blaming each other. So I don't see how polarization will stop at all. And I agree with you policy wise, the Republicans haven't really put much forward anyway with regard to policy and the Democrats are going to be stymied in that. Joe Biden is supposedly not a lame duck, but I think he's going to, you know, look like a lame duck.

GR: Yeah, he's kind of gotten what he's going to get. Luke, do you have any reaction to this topic about where we're going to go as a country policy wise?

LP: I think you're right, Grant. I don't expect a lot of major policy developments. Now, that's with the caveat that you can never predict what's going to happen over the next two years. Two years ago, we didn't expect Russia to invade Ukraine and the American government to spend billions of dollars supporting them. And the Biden administration realigning foreign policy in the region to try to contain the threat of Russia. So you don't know exactly what's going to happen. But the reality is the 2024 campaign now begins. And in terms of party politics, there's little incentive in Congress for both sides to work together, particularly Republicans, to help a Democratic president. And I think the fundamentals remain the same coming out of 2020. I felt like if the Democrats could get Covid under control and turn the economy around they'd be looking pretty good by 2024. They haven't done that yet. They had a fairly successful midterm all things considered and I think if those two variables can be resolved the Democrats will still look good in 2024.

GR: Interesting. So let me stick with you and ask you this question and that is, how much do you think, and particularly thinking about the Senate but also some of the races at the House level too, that maybe one of the ingredients on the red wave that wasn't was that the Republicans shot themselves in the foot during the primaries with some weak, maybe even wacky candidates that ended up running and that maybe a better candidate selection on their part might have provided some of that wave that they were looking for. I mean, I you know, thinking about Herschel Walker, you know, thinking about some of the other candidates that were out there that were a bit off in different ways.

LP: I think you're absolutely right. Mitch McConnell hinted at this a few months ago, suggesting that Senate candidate quality was going to be a problem and I think we saw that. Republicans knew that to be usually successful in retaking the Senate, they had to win Pennsylvania. And that was one of the first to be called on election night and Mehmet Oz was a main reason for that. What we've seen is Trump endorsing certain candidates who follow a similar ilk to him, a national celebrity, be it on television, be it a former sports star like Herschel Walker in Georgia, and that's just not a strong recipe for being successful, particularly in competitive statewide races. And then from a policy perspective, I think the Supreme Court did Republicans no favors with the overturning of Roe, because I do think in competitive states that was an issue that created some drag for Republicans.

GR: I suppose they did them one favor by deciding it earlier in the summer, rather than having it be the last decision, so the Democrats would have really ridden all that outrage. Nina, any thoughts about that? Did you see weak Republican candidates out there coming out of the primaries?

NT: Oh, yeah. I mean, I'm thinking of Arizona, which is still undecided, but yeah Blake Masters I think is losing ground there. So, yeah, I think every candidate endorsed by Trump, not every, you know, JD Vance survived in Ohio, but most of the candidates endorsed by Trump have struggled to win or have outright lost. And so, yeah, I think this is going to lead to a kind of a reflection point for the Republican Party. Like how far do they want to go over the edge? They’re at the edge. Did they jump? I don't know. So it's interesting to see the Republicans trying to figure this out. I mean, I think there's consequences for Kevin McCarthy, whether he becomes speaker or not. So there's just a lot of fallout and among Republicans, so, it’s a lot to watch.

GR: Luke, you want to jump back in?

LP: I just wanted to add too, that, It seems like you've already got potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates like Chris Christie telling it like it is that Republicans didn't do well under Trump electorally in 2018, they didn't do well in 2020 and Trump's influence at 2022 doesn't seem to be helpful either. Now a lot of Republicans are outspoken about not wanting him to announce prior to the runoff in Georgia, the Senate comes down to that. So Trump was good for Republicans electorally in 2016. But that has not been the case since the Republicans are starting to come around to this.

GR: Yeah, mentioning Chris Christie, I mean one of the other questions I want to put to both of you is some individuals shined and some individuals didn't shine. We've talked about some of the ones that didn't shine in the elections. Who was the biggest winner in the elections? I mean, Nina, It seems to me going back to the Republicans I mean, I thought, you know, it was Ron DeSantis. He was the big winner of the night. What do you think?

NT: Well, I mean, I think Ron DeSantis, you know, he's king of Florida. But I don't know that that flies anywhere else. You know, I mean, given the turnout of women and young people across the country, I mean, we don't, I think have final figures on that. But it looked like Democrats pulled it off because of women and young people, you know, voting more blue. So I don't know how DeSantis is going to fly in this climate if he tries to leave the state. And he's in some ways sometimes coarser than Trump. So if we're seeing a reevaluation going on of Trump's, I don't know, capacity, I don't know if DeSantis looks much better in that regard. You know, look at what he did on the taking the Venezuelans up to, you know, Martha's Vineyard. And, you know, they're just he does things that are very, you know, cruel and undignified and I think that'll catch up with them in a lot of parts of the country.

GR: And do you see it the way I think Luke was suggesting that Trump, in a way, is a loser in these midterm elections?

NT: Yeah, I agree. I agree because I think look at Mitch McConnell has already, again, said, well, we knew those candidates weren't strong that Trump put forward. I heard a Paul Ryan in an interview this week saying we've got to get past Trump, you know, so what used to be, you know, the establishment Republicans are finally speaking out about, you know, Trump's lasting power.

GR: Do you think they're less afraid of them? Is that the issue? What's the change?

NT: Well I think, didn’t Peggy Noonan have an article this morning, like, how many times do you have to be kicked by the mule, right? That they've lost, they've lost the presidency, the Senate, the House. I mean, they might have won back the House, but they could have could have been a much bigger win. So, yeah, I think maybe we'll get past the holidays. I mean, the other thing is there's the possibility of Trump being indicted in the next couple of weeks. So I don't know how he comes out of this looking better than he does now. So, yeah, I think his days are numbered and his influence is probably numbered. It's kind of a paradox, though, too, right? Like Republicans can't live without his face, but they can't live with him either because he's not helping them anymore, you know?

GR: Now they've got to figure out a way to shift it perhaps to somebody else. Luke, who do you see as the as the big winner or winners in this midterm?

LP: Well, on the Democratic side, it's got to be Joe Biden. I mean, half of the Democrats nationally are enthusiastic about him running again. The other half just kind of shrug. He doesn't get his props it did better than Obama at this point. He’s done better than Clinton at this point. I think kind of under the radar right now is how well Democrats did in state legislative races throughout the country and gubernatorial races. During the eight years of the Obama presidency, Republicans made extraordinary gains at the state level and state houses. And so far, we haven't seen that and that's pretty remarkable. And I think it's kind of getting lost in the shuffle with everything else going on here.

GR: Now, you should send those thoughts to the president, he'll appreciate them. I got to take a break right now. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and my guests are Utica University Political Science Professor Luke Perry and Onondaga Community College political science professor Nina Tamrowski. We're discussing the midterm election results. So I want to drill down, Nina, a little bit more specifically on something that both of you have been talking about, which is the implications for all this, for the dynamics of the presidential race in 2024. And I had thrown out Ron DeSantis as perhaps the big winner. You pushed back on that. So how do you see, I mean, it's early days, but why not everybody else is doing it. How do you see the dynamics for the presidential election 2024 now beginning to shape after these midterms?

NT: Well I think there's so much that's hard to say, that I think, you know we'll see Ron DeSantis I think kind of make a go of it but I wonder if there's going to be, you know, like a resurrection of Chris Christie or Nikki Haley. You know, some of the people who ran, you know, in early ‘16 even before Trump, you know, vanquished everybody. So I think about, you know, what do those people try to mount a comeback? Do we see, you know, Rubio and Ted Cruz, you know, try to make an effort? That'd be an interesting Florida battle between Rubio and DeSantis. But yeah, I think there's other Republicans who are probably just dying to kind of break free of this, you know, this Trump, you know, kind of rambling skeleton in the background and kind of remake the Republican Party. And by the way, I think be better for democracy if they did, you know, so I think we do need a competitive ideologically-based party instead of a personality based one.

GR: Interesting distinction there. Luke, do you see any room opening up on the Republican side for a genuinely moderate Republican candidate to be competitive in the primary season on the Republican side?

LP: Moderate and primaries don’t typically go together well, so I'm skeptical for that. But kind of building on what was said, I see three potential camps of candidates in the Republican primary. One is Trump himself, right? He fills that camp himself. Two, Ron DeSantis and people of his ilk who are going to take a lot of what Trump has done and try to sell that with less personal baggage and not being indicted and all that stuff. And then the third camp is what Nina I was talking about, I think, a new direction for the party, getting back to sort of the more Bush Republican model and trying to get away from a party being based on one person's personality. So I think you'll have these three groups all kind of competing and it’s very hard to predict at this point how that's going to unfold.

GR: But not room for a John Kasich then…

LP: No, not in the primary because you need that ideological base and that's on both sides. You got to make your ideological base happy to win a national presidential primary. And I don't see room for that in a hyper-partisan era for someone like that to emerge successfully.

GR: Is it almost a foregone conclusion now given that you thought Joe Biden was the big winner in the midterms, that he will then stand for reelection, that that pushback within the Democratic Party, as you said, kind of will just become a shrugging of shoulders and they'll just get the nomination, you know, by default?

LP: I would be surprised if he declares that if somebody were to launch a serious challenge towards him. But I'm not convinced he's going to run, I've always thought he was probably going to serve one term. I think the major thing, holding him back from doing that is the prospect of Donald Trump running and winning. And so I think Democrats to be very careful to move on from Joe Biden with that in mind, because as we talked about before, Trump has been a proven loser for the Republican Party since 2016. Biden's track record is the opposite. So I get Democrats are not super enthused about him but he has been successful in defeating Trump.

GR: What's your take on that Nina, what do you think Biden's future is?

NT: You know, I agree with Luke on that. I've never thought that Biden was going to run for a second term but only because he can't say that, you know loyalty is a lame duck on day one, right? So I think he's got to go forward with the kind of conversation dialog that, yep, I'm running, I'm running, I'm running. And also I think that kind of puts down any chance of Democratic infighting, right? We don't see the progressives, you know, angling to put forward a candidate and we don't see the establishment people trying to pick on, okay, who's next, who succeeds him. You know, so I don't know, I think I think it might be politically smart for Biden to say he's running. I do think he's so competitive, though, that I think if Trump was to like, you know, gain some momentum here, maybe Biden would say, yep, I'm in, you know, because I think Biden could beat him twice. And I think Biden likes that prospect. But I think that's really the only thing that why Biden would stay in the race and run again. I do think he's going to turn it over.

GR: David Brooks, I heard him on PBS the night of the election and, you know, he seems to always suggest that he has inside information, you know, he's talking to these people all the time. And he intimated that he thought both Biden and Jill Biden, his wife, want him to run. And so he seemed to be suggesting that he would be in. The age is a pause for me, though, because it's a very hard job and he is getting up there. Not to be ageist but it's just the fact of the matter is it's a tough job at any age. So let's look at New York State now and Nina I want to stick with you on this. It is really interesting that Republicans did so well in the state relative to expectations. I mean, that governor's race should have been 20 points, not five. And when you look at the state and you look at the profiles and the backgrounds of some of the Republican candidates, I mean, again, Lee Zeldin would not be on paper the kind of candidate you think would be competitive with someone like Kathy Hochul. And then you add on to that the fact that there has been a recent history of the Republican Party in the state as an organization having lots of internal divisions and not being terribly functional so why did the New York Republicans over-perform? What was their secret sauce?

NT: You know what I wonder if the enthusiasm gap was bigger in New York. I mean, for whatever reasons, I think Republicans must have turned out in really strong numbers. Maybe they saw they really had a shot in Zeldin. I mean, there were some polls showing four point difference that he had closed since summer from 17 points, you know, so maybe they just had more enthusiasm and Democrats, I think you could claim get complacent in New York because it's such a Democratic stronghold. And you know, and like we're talking about supermajorities in our state legislature so I'm sure lots of folks just stayed home or they thought it was a shoo-in for Hochul and the legislative seats. So I wonder if it's a turnout issue. And I also think Republicans are deceptively strong upstate, right? We always assume that there's a so fewer people up here. But yeah, they made a real showing, you know, north of Westchester, even Westchester, Sean Patrick Maloney lost, you know, so yeah, they really turned it on, you know. So I think that definitely surprised a lot of people for sure.

GR: What's your take on that Luke, anything to add there? Figure this puzzle out.

LP: I think Zeldin ran an effective campaign. He prioritized crime. That was an issue that polling showed had saliency not only with Republicans, but with Democrats. It was a top three issue state wide. And that was the centerpiece of his campaign, so that was a smart move. Zeldin, coming from Long Island, boosted House candidates there. The Republicans picked up two House seats in Long Island, where Democratic candidates did not run again. So that helped them in terms of the overall numbers statewide. And I think we have to recognize, as we were talking about before, that Trump has been great for Democrats in New York over the last five years. And they've pretty much, I think, maxed out their power at the state level. And that was coupled with unified Democratic control in Washington. So you had Republican candidates throughout the state running against the Biden administration, Hochul administration, and what they claimed was one party rule. And I think that message had saliency at a time when most people are unhappy about the direction of the country because they're paying more for groceries and gas and Covid is still a problem and they've got concerns about schools so all that came together to help Republicans.

GR: One of the things that I thought helped Republicans in New York was just to take that last point there also, though, that tapped into long standing frustrations about the state of affairs economically in New York State. And I thought there was a synergy between the national dissatisfaction with economics and how that maybe layered on to dissatisfactions about the state of affairs in New York, because voters have been saying that they think New York has been on the wrong track for, I think, decades now, almost. So what do you think? Do you think there will be particular lessons that Kathy Hochul will take out of these election results? I mean will she tack a little bit more to the right, will she double down on maybe trying to do more for ethics and transparency than she did before? Some people hope that she would be a change agent for New York. I think it's fair to say she hasn't been one so far. So where does she go?

NT: Hmm, boy, I think you're right. I think she's going to have to tack to the right. I wonder if we'll see another bail reform package even. I mean, I think the crime issue is whether it's real or not, right? I think voters perceive it's real. And probably for New York City, it's more real than for the rest of us upstate. I think we'll see her, you know, probably working more closely with Mayor Adams to try to, you know, take care of that issue a little bit. But I don't know, again, if you can reform bail again to placate the right. And I'm not sure if that's politically right policy wise, the right thing to do either. So, yeah, I think you're right I think she'll tack to the right. She does have upstate roots. She knows how to speak that language. So yeah, I think she might have to play that game.

GR: We’ve got about two or 3 minutes left, and Luke I want to come back to you because I want to talk about the 22nd congressional district here in New York. And Luke, you and I have to eat some crow. I don't know if you remember this or not, but last time you were on this program, you and I were kind of in agreement that when Brandon Williams won the primary the Republican Party were kind of handing that seat to the Democrats. That turns out not to be the case (laughter). As we're pulling this crow out of our mouth, what do you think the dynamics were particular that race that allowed Brandon Williams to pull out what on paper is a big upset?

LP: Williams certainly deserves credit. He wasn't favored to win in the primary, went against all the party endorsements and secured the nomination and then won as a political novice in a nationally competitive race. So certainly deserves a lot of credit for that. I think the main reason for victory is that he blew the doors off Oneida County. The new NY 22 has Syracuse and Onondaga County as its geographic base. But I had thought going into the election that Oneida County could be a tipping point. I didn't imagine that Williams was going to win Oneida County by 18,000 votes, rivaling what Francis Conole did in Onondaga County. Conole could have lost Oneida County by 5000 votes, 10,000 votes, 12,000 votes. (and) still won the election. So I think what we're learning here is that Anthony Brindisi is a strong Democratic candidate in 2018, narrowly won Oneida County in 2020, just lost Oneida County by three points, kept that area competitive for Democrats and that's what the next Democratic nominee in NY 22 is going to have to focus on because Onondaga County and Syracuse is not going to be enough to win the election.

GR: Interesting to also bear in mind, correct me if I'm wrong, that thinking of the Democratic primary that was where Francis Conole was weakest and I think Sara Klee Hood really cleaned up in that area.

NT: She did, right.

GR: Do you have any other thoughts Nina, about what was the key here for Williams?

NT: I don't because I was surprised. I would have been eating crow right along with you because I thought for sure it might be close, but I thought Conole would pull it off and well, maybe the other thing is, you know, Williams played it smart in the last couple of weeks. He did start preaching a more moderate message, right? I mean, he did back off any commentary on Trump and ‘24. You know, he really moderated his conversation and maybe that was appealing as people started paying attention to the race.

GR: Yeah, we heard we heard the word socialism last, I think. We'll have to leave it there. This was really great, both of you. That was Nina Tamrowski and Luke Perry. Again, Luke, Nina first of all, good to see both of you again and thanks for making the time to talk with me.

LP: Thank you.

NT: Thank you, it was fun.

GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the Public Interest.

Grant Reeher is Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is also creator, host and program director of “The Campbell Conversations” on WRVO, a weekly regional public affairs program featuring extended in-depth interviews with regional and national writers, politicians, activists, public officials, and business professionals.