Election outlook: Voter turnout in key races

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," October 20, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Americans, like so many other issues that the president is touching right now. have lost confidence in this president's ability to lead. There is a malaise in this country of how people are feelings that this president is handling big problems.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  The president isn't on to the ballot here. Republicans are desperate to put him on the ballot because they are trying to run away from their own terrible record.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, the chairs of both parties on "Fox News Sunday" this weekend. This as the president is now campaigning in a couple of different campaign events, one of them in Maryland for the lieutenant governor who is running for governor.

And as you look at the pictures, while the president is speaking, a lot of people noticed that people started moving out and leaving. In fact Reuters reported it this way, "President Barack Obama made a rare appearance on the campaign trail on Sunday with the rally to support the Democratic candidate for governor in Maryland. But early departures of crowd members while he spoke underscored his continuing unpopularity." Different reporters reported it differently. You see the pictures.

Let's bring in our political panel here in New York, Jason Riley, editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, Ellison Barber, staff writer for The Washington Free Beacon, and Jim Rutenberg, chief political correspondent New York Times Magazine. Jim, when you see that and you see all these ads tying back to every policy is on the ballot, you wonder how much this president is factoring in to this election.

JIM RUTENBERG, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE:  Yes, that 40 percent or in thereabouts kind of approval rating is a mess. And you have a president, second term, midterms, there should be like blues songs about it if politics is more soulful. So he comes into this. It's going to be rough, and things are even worse than they may have expected.

BAIER: You look at the Wall Street Journal question, which party do you prefer, registered voters say Republicans 45 percent, Democrats 43 percent. Then you go to the likely screen at it jumps, Republican 49 percent, Democrat 44 percent. Ellison, what, you know, how do you see Democrats across the board dealing with these numbers?

ELLISON BARBER, WASHINGTON FREE BEACON: It's interesting because The Washington Post had a poll last week as well that they said their overall party approval rating is somewhere around 30 percent, which is the lowest it has been for them. But then you look at Republicans and their approval rating is similarly not good. I think the thing that you always go back to and look at is what the president's approval rating is. And Gallup had a poll today where the said for the 23rd quarter from July to October his average approval rating was 41.5 percent. It is difficult for Democrats to possibly combat an approval rating like that. When have the majority of Americans disapproving of the president and disapproving of him on almost every single issue. And I think that is something that for Democrats to overcome is incredibly difficult.

BAIER: Jason?

JASON RILEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: And it's not just a red state Democrat problem. That's what's so remarkable about the Maryland footage. That's a deep blue state that Obama won by 26 points in 2012. It's quite remarkable I think. But what's also remarkable to me is the reaction to this from the White House which is to make overt racial appeals to get out the base. We have the president of the United States and an attorney general making overt racial appeals to voters. I find that very disturbing, Bret.       

BAIER: How so?

RILEY: Well, the voter ID stuff that they've been talking about constantly as if there's some sort of Republican conspiracy out there to deny blacks the franchise. It's just not true. Black voter turnout in 2012 was higher than white voter turnout in 2012. And on another level, why should blacks be eager to run to the polls to support the Senate Democrats and Harry Reid. What have they done for blacks? Black unemployment is higher. Black labor participation rates are the lowest they have been in 30 years. Black poverty is going up. Why should blacks be enthusiastic about getting out to the polls to keep the president's party in power? There's no reason for them to be. But to have a president out there pushing this racial angle, we have had stories in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to this effect, I think is very troubling.

BAIER: Jim, we talked about ground game. Mike Emanuel had a big piece about this. It is the factor that everybody focuses on as we come into two weeks. Democrats usually have a very strong ground game. If you look at the early votes, though, the breakdown, it's pretty evenly distributed.

RUTENBERG: Yeah. And some of these early states, you're not seeing the huge Democratic advantages that you have seen in the past. I think a lot of people are looking at Colorado as maybe the first great test case in some of these ground game sort of numbers. The problem with the ground game numbers are they're very hard to track in real-time. I mean, you can say how many doors were knocked upon. We're not going to know until the very end. But I will say this. I think the Republicans have made up some ground. And I also think if this ends up being a wave election or even a half a wave election, the Democratic advantages are not going to show up.

BAIER: Let's look at some of the races that are changing here. If you look at, let's see, New Hampshire, there's a new poll out in New Hampshire about Scott Brown three points back and the Real Clear Politics average I think has it even closer than that. That's one that Democrats really, Ellison, weren't really prepared to fight for.

BARBER: Yeah. There are quite a few states from Iowa to Colorado that Democrats weren't thinking they were going to have to fight, and I don't think Republicans necessarily thought they were going to be able to flip them.

And when I spoke to Republican staffers kind of about their ground game earlier today, they said they were more competitive in places like Iowa and Colorado because they have completely restructured the way they are doing their ground game from 2012. And you look at some of the early voting data that's come out of a place like Iowa where they say right now of the people that have voted, 43 percent of those people have been Democrats, 40 percent have been Republicans. Democrats are still ahead there, but that is substantially better than what it was last time around when only 32 percent of those early voters were actually Republicans. And Republicans say they have reached out to voters in different ways and gotten data in different ways than they have in the past.

And one of the most interesting things that I think I have learned from them talking with some of the staffers about this today is they said one of things they have done is they have changed their get out the vote effort and their messaging. And in Iowa specifically they're using this tactic where they're using social pressure to target voters through pamphlets and e-mails by saying don't be the only person in your neighborhood that doesn't vote. And they say that they have noticed that that has been incredibly effective for them in somewhere like Iowa.

BAIER: I tell you, if I get one more email from both parties about, you know, we're really disappointed. Answer our e-mails.

One question, Georgia, this has gone the other way. Michelle Nunn has really closed that gap and some have her leading. The Real Clear Politics average is at 1.4 with the Republican up down there. But you talk about an African-American effort to get out the vote. Georgia is a place where that moves the needle.

RILEY: The challenge she has is she's trying to distance herself from a president, and that doesn't go over too well with the black voters she needs to come out and support here. Kentucky, Alison Grimes has got the same problem, won't even say whether she voted for Obama. But her indifference on that or her unwillingness to come forward with that is hurting her with the black voters that she needs. So that's the -- sort of the catch 22 that these red state Democrats have.

BAIER: I want to go down the line here. Is Ebola factoring into this election?

RILEY: I think so, but only at the margin, only at the margin.

BARBER: Maybe a little bit in terms of just there's a general dissatisfaction and distrust in the way that the government right now is handling things.  I'm not sure that it necessarily something that will be a major issue in two weeks, but it factors into the general distrust.

RUTENBERG: And I would say in some states more than others. I hate to shout out to a competitor, but The Washington Post had a very good piece today about the North Carolina race where the Ebola and ISIS are just kind of shifting the campaign debate in a way that hurts Hagan, the Democrat.

BAIER: We do it all the time. So thanks you for joining us. We really appreciate it. Thank you.

We'll talk about all things economy with a special economic panel coming up.

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