JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT

Can the Clintons save the day for struggling Democrats?

Candidates embrace Clintons ahead of midterms

 

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," October 25, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," with midterms just over a week away, a look at what could make or break Republican hopes for a wave election. Vulnerable Democrats are running away from an unpopular president, but can the GOP bank on an Obama backlash?

And they're being called the Democrats' secret weapon. Can the Clintons, Bill and Hillary, save the day for some struggling candidates?

And from new Ebola concerns to lone-wolf terror threats, national security is taking center stage in some key races. Will it help Republicans, come Election Day?

Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

Well, they can run, but President Obama isn't letting them hide. With just over a week to go until Election Day, vulnerable Democrats are still trying to distance themselves from the unpopular president and his policies. A task Mr. Obama made more difficult this week when he told the Reverend Al Sharpton in a radio interview that these candidates are all his allies in Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA(voice-over): The bottom line is though these are all folks who vote with me. They have supported my agenda in Congress. So, yeah, this isn't about my feelings being hurt. These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me. And, you know, I tell them, I said, you know what you do what you need to win. I will be responsible for making sure that our voters turn out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Washington columnist, Kim Strassel; and Political Diary editor, Jason Riley, author of the new book "Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed."

So, Jason, is President Obama the single biggest liability for Democrats this election year?

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: In some ways, he's a liability. But it depends on the race. I mean, the reason President Obama's on Al Sharpton's show is because the Democratic Party has a problem with getting out black voters because he's not on the ticket. So if you're in Georgia and you're trying to distance yourself from Obama, but you need black voters to come out to the polls, you've got a dilemma. And that's what the Democratic Senate candidate down there has. In other parts of the country, however, if you're in New Hampshire and trying to do the same thing, the black vote is less important there. So distancing yourself from President Obama might be working for you. So it depends on the race. But Obama is trying to give cover to these Democrats so that they can do what they think they need to do in their individual races.

GIGOT: Yeah, but is he helping them by saying, look, to everybody -- I know he did it on Sharpton's show, but it's now been broadcast everywhere, including on this program that, hey, these guys are my allies. They voted for me, my program. That doesn't help them, does it?

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: -- in Arkansas?

RILEY: Well, it might help in Arkansas.

GIGOT: Really?

RILEY: It depends. It depends. Again, to the extent that you need the black voters out to win, it's going to help. That's what he's trying to do. He has to get that base out. It's a midterm election. Black voters typically skip midterm elections. If they skip this one, Democrats are in trouble. He's figuring there are people I've lost, I've lost them. Let's get people out to the polls who normally would not come out for a midterm election.

GIGOT: You agree with that, Dan?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, I think that the Democrats and Barack Obama is trying to draw to an inside straight. The deck is stacked against them. He actually told a black radio talk show host earlier this week that some of these folks don't even know there's a midterm election. The Democrats said privately did not ask him to go on Al Sharpton and make this statement about how tight he was with all these candidates. The Associated Press poll came out this week and the level of, quote, "enthusiasm for the president" is 9 percent. So I think it is the president and it is his policies and there's a reason they're trying to run away from him.

GIGOT: Kim, Donna Brazile, who -- a Democratic partisan, good strategist -- she recently said she thought Democrats who run away from the president are making a mistake for precisely the reason Jason suggested. Because they're going to need that black turnout, that base turnout, single women and so on to win. So don't run away from the president, embrace him. Smart strategy?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: No, not. Look, I'm going to be a lot more aggressive on this. The single biggest problem Democrats have right now is Barack Obama.

Here's another way to look at all the Senate races that are out there. OK? Every race in which a Republican is winning or has momentum, looks poised, that is a race that's been nationalized. It's a race that's about Barack Obama and it's a race about how those candidates have supported his policies. And those are where Republicans are winning. The few races where the Republicans are still having a bit of trouble are the ones, for instance, like Georgia or Kansas, where the main issue has remained the Republican in the race. So in Georgia, for instance, David Perdue made some outsourcing comments.

GIGOT: Right. And that's hurt him.

STRASSEL: And in Kansas, it's the question of Pat Roberts and his residency in the state. When these races get nationalized, the president is simply so unpopular, the Democrats are in trouble.

GIGOT: Let's take a look at an ad in one of the races where we'll show how Republicans are trying to nationalize the race around Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The war on coal, ObamaCare, $700 billion of Medicare cuts. Nick Rahall voted with Barack Obama for all of it. Now Obama says --

OBAMA: I'm not on the ballot at this fall. But make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot, every single one of them.

ANNOUNCER: A vote for Nick Rayhall is a vote for the Obama agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Jason, that's a West Virginia Congressman. Do you think that's an effective ad?

RILEY: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

I think it's very effective, because Obama, heretofore, has always been more popular than his policies. And now --

GIGOT: Personally, you mean?

RILEY: Right. His personal likeability rating has always been higher. But that's been falling of late. Now they're not too far apart. So for him to talk about his policies this way, I think it has Democratic strategists cringing, frankly.

HENNINGER: Well, his approval nationally is at 40 percent. Usually, when it's around 45 percent, a party gets really nervous. In a lot of these red states, he's well below 40 percent, sometimes below 35 percent in places like Arkansas. So I think the Democrats are extremely nervous. Worse, their base is depressed. They're back on their heels. And unless they can produce turnout, they simply have no chance.

GIGOT: You know, this reminds me of what happened to Republicans in 2006 with George W. Bush. They just -- they couldn't win. And they had no choice but to run away from him. But when they did, it didn't help them all that much.

All right. When we come back, they may be running away from President Obama, but plenty of candidates are embracing the Clintons as the election nears. So could the former first couple save the day for Democrats?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Some are calling them the Democrats' secret weapon this election season. So can the Clintons give struggling candidates the boost that President Obama cannot?

In Kentucky, Democratic Senate challenger, Allison Lundergan Grimes, made news earlier this month when she refused to say whether she voted for Mr. Obama. But she was only too happy to welcome Bill Clinton back to the state this week for the third time, calling herself a Clinton Democrat. Grimes is hoping this plug from the former president can help push her past Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the campaign's closing weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON,: What's being a Senator about anyway? One candidate believes it's about getting new jobs, getting good jobs, giving middle class people a chance to give their kids a decent life. Nobody can tell me it's not a Senator's job to create jobs.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: And I choose Allison because she will work with people in both parties to do what's right for you.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Elect Allison to the Senate.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Kim, seems like old-home week here watching Bill Clinton campaign like that.

STRASSEL: Flashback, flashback.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Is it true the Clintons are better political assets for Democrats than the president this week, this year?

STRASSEL: Well, I think the White House would like to think that. But here's the interesting thing, Paul. If you go down and you look at where the Clintons have been putting most of their efforts, places like Kentucky, North Carolina, Arkansas, home state for the Clintons, they're not moving the dial, which is really interesting. Because they're supposed to be down there convincing Clinton Democrats, more moderate, and everything, the party's still OK. And here's why I think it's not working. The person who summed this up, Tom Cotton, the Republican running for the Senate down in Arkansas, came out and said, "You know, I'm not worried that the Clintons support Mark Pryor," who's the Democrat incumbent in the race. He said, "I'm worried that Mark Pryor supports Barack Obama." And they just don't seem to be getting any separation from the president despite all their efforts campaigning for these candidates.

GIGOT: So this week, here's her schedule. New York for Andrew Cuomo, and then she went to Minnesota, then she went to Rhode Island for governor candidate, Gina Raimondo. Then we have Massachusetts, Maine, North Carolina, back to New York, and then New Hampshire. Those -- some of those, couple of those are key races. But some of those look like safe races.

(LAUGHTER)

Is this the Hillary Clinton primary campaign starting for 2016 or is this really going to help Democrats this year?

HENNINGER: I would say the former, Paul. This is the Clintons. That means it's all about them.

(LAUGHTER)

And they've got, it looks like, an election to run in 2016. So I think they're taking the opportunity to go out and collect chits, produce favors for the local Democratic Party leaders who will owe them come 2016. More importantly though, the Democratic left still does not like the Clintons. I think they're trying to put the left in checkmate, make that 2016 nomination a done deal, message being, "You've got to come over and play ball with us because we have run up so much support inside the Democratic Party." That's what's going on here.

GIGOT: The Elizabeth Warren preemption tour?

HENNINGER: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: The Senate from Massachusetts.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: -- Elizabeth

RILEY: I think they are an asset to the Democrats, however. They're hugely popular. After Obama, they're the biggest fundraisers for the party. They remind Americans of better times, peace, prosperity, relative to what we have now.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: -- don't forget the recent troubles --

RILEY: Exactly --

GIGOT: -- and harken back to the olden days.

RILEY: Exactly. I think they are an asset. And whether or not it's working, I think, it depends on the race. Democrats have largely given up on Kentucky. Now they're back in that race in terms of spending money there.

In Arkansas, I think Kim is right. Hasn't really moved the needle much. But there's still a couple weeks left. Remember, Bill Clinton did this for Mark Pryor back in 2002. He went down there. Again, a lot of it was about the black vote because Clinton is still very popular among blacks. So he's there trying to get that base out that typically stays home during midterm elections.

GIGOT: Kim, so here's an existential political question for you.

(LAUGHTER)

Can you be a Clinton Democrat without being an Obama Democrat? Is there such a thing?

STRASSEL: That goes back to the Cotton comment. At the moment, I think anyone in the Democratic Party is having a very difficult time convincing a lot of voters that this party is anybody but Barack Obama's.

And one thing that's interesting to me about watching this Hillary Clinton tour out there across the country is I would imagine there has to be a little bit of concern within her camp that she's not resonating with some of these people that were supposed to be her bread and butter, for instance, the white working class. That was always going to be the basis of the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign. These are the people they need to be convincing this year to come out and vote for these Senate candidates. And again, in those state, southern states in particular, that's not working.

GIGOT: What about the separation? Can you say, you know, I'm not really an Obama Democrat, I'm a Clinton Democrat, as Grimes is trying -- it would seem to be a preposterous idea, which is why Grimes doesn't want to admit she voted, even though she probably did?

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: Yeah. I think that's reality. They're in a tough spot. This is the party of Barack Obama now. He was elected twice with the support of the party. And as we saw him say, make no mistake about it, this is about my policies. That's true. And if they lose big-time in this election, then it will be because the party of Barack Obama. Now Hillary has to somehow thread the needle between that and the center, which the Democratic Party just doesn't occupy anymore.

GIGOT: All right, thank you.

When we come back, from lone-wolf terror threats to new Ebola concerns, a look at how national security issues are playing out in the campaign's closing weeks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Well, from new Ebola worries to lone-wolf attacks, national security issues have returned to the campaign trail, and Republicans are hoping they'll give them the edge in some key races, come Election Day.

In North Carolina, Democratic Senator Kay Hagan's recent admission that she missed an Armed Services Committee meeting on terror threats in order to attend a fundraiser has given handed her GOP challenger, Thom Tillis, some fresh ammunition in the campaign's closing weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: In January, President Obama refers to the Islamic State as a J.V. team. Days later, the Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on new global threats. Senator Kay Hagan? Absent. Hagan's missed over half the Armed Services hearings this year. In fact, Hagan admits she prioritized a cocktail party to benefit her campaign. While ISIS grew, Obama did nothing. Senate Hagan did cocktails.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: We're back with Dan Henninger and Kim Strassel. And Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Matt Kaminski, also joins the panel.

So, Matt, this is fascinating. For the first time, I think, since 2004, the national security hawk issue is back playing in the campaign. Is that how you see it?

MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Absolutely. And you saw it with Scott Brown in New Hampshire, who was the first Republican to start running ads about President Obama's policies in Iraq and Syria. And he has closed the gap with the Democratic incumbent, Jeanne Shaheen. I think this growing anxiety and these pictures of ISIS rolling through Iraq, just bad news, adds to the anxiety and I think adds to the problems for the Democrats this cycle.

GIGOT: Kim, let me ask about Ebola, too. Is this playing into this? Now we have another Ebola case. This time, in New York City. How is that playing into the security debate?

STRASSEL: What you see happening out there in race after race is a growing number of Senators who, for instance, came out initially and said they agreed with the president, for instance, on his policy of not instituting a travel ban. Now as they see the fallout that the administration is getting among the public that does not seem to believe the White House is handling this well, they are all running to distance themselves. You've had Senate candidate after Senate candidate now reversing itself, calling on the administration to say that they should institute a ban. So that is also playing in the race quite strongly.

GIGOT: Democrats, Dan --

HENNINGER: Yeah.

GIGOT: -- you know what they say? They say this is fear mongering. This is all just Republicans trying to raise the anxiety level of the American public and it's really not fair and not relevant.

HENNINGER: Yeah. Well, let's see if we can understand something. The Republicans aren't making this stuff up, are they? They didn't create the Islamic State as an issue. They didn't create Ebola. They didn't create Ukraine. OK? It's all very real.

The reason I think they're having a problem has a lot to do with President Obama's -- excuse me -- way of handling these crises. He doesn't react to them until they have built into a crisis. Didn't do anything in Ukraine. Islamic State, he reacted after the Yazidi were up on the mountain, after two beheadings. Ebola, they were running from behind as well. So you get a crisis, it's in people's faces all the time, and it looks as though the administration is not -- is always behind the ball. That is what is creating the anxiety, the president's reluctance to address these issues before they build into a crisis.

GIGOT: But, Matt, our Democratic argument is, you can't hold Kay Hagan or Jeanne Shaheen responsible for Obama's failures on foreign policy. They don't have really anything to do with the Iraq policy. And besides, they're saying, look, we're just as tough on ISIS as the Republicans. What's your response to that?

KAMINSKI: I think the reason why this is working -- and it really is working -- is that it plays to legitimate anxieties, obviously, but also it plays to a growing distrust of how a Democratic-led government has performed over the last six years under President Obama, a president that these candidates have supported. Trust in government is again at all time lows. You had not only the mishandling of Ebola, but you also had the scandal at the Veterans Administration, at the IRS, and it's one thing after another.

The other important point is that you've seen these national stories become localized, these national stories. For example, the story on Thursday night about this doctor --

GIGOT: Right.

KAMINSKI: -- Eric Spencer, in New York, came down with Ebola. He happens to be from Detroit where I am right now. It was the lead story on the local news here about how a guy from here has come down with this disease.

GIGOT: Kim, the -- you know, about a decade ago, when President Bush was in office, people talked about the security moms issue. That security had become a Republican advantage among women. And usually, women vote Democratic for the most part by majority. Is that issue cutting now, security issue back again? Is this security issue working with women for Republicans?

STRASSEL: Yeah. I think you see two things. One, if you look at the polls, the numbers have once again increased. Republicans always tend to be viewed more favorably in terms of their ability to handle foreign policy. But those numbers have increased in recent polls. But also, yes, the fact that Democrats are not winning by enormous margins among women, that those margins are quite small, probably plays into this.

And just one quick thing, too, about your question to Matt. One reason these ads are proving very effective against Democrats is because they're pointing out Democrat-specific failures, for instances, sitting on the Armed Services Committee to attend hearings and their own roles.

GIGOT: OK, good point.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits & Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for "Hits & Misses" of the week.

Jason, start us off.

RILEY: This is a miss for Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who refused to debate his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino, one-on-one on television. Paul, he finally agreed to a debate, but he insisted that two other minor candidates be involved. Oh, yeah, and the debate had to be held during World Series game number two.

(LAUGHTER)

How's that for a political profile in courage?

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Matthew?

KAMINSKI: Paul, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has done a pretty good job of restoring investor confidence here in the state. But he gets a miss this week for signing a bill that would make it virtually impossible for any car company, especially Tesla, who makes an electronic car, to sell directly to customers here. He's basically bowing to the lobby of car dealerships which is very powerful in his state. And one victory for the middle man here.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Yeah. A loser for consumers.

Dan?

HENNINGER: Well, Paul, we have talked on this program before about these occasional national pickets against McDonald's. They want to raise the minimum wage. McDonald's just reported a 30 percent drop in its quarterly profits, a 5 percent drop in its revenue across the globe. So franchisers are saying, we've got to do something like this, and what they think they're going to do about it is go to automation. So a miss to the minimum wage, which they'd like to raise to $15 because the only people earning that minimum wage are going to be robots inside those McDonalds.

GIGOT: Get ready to talk to nobody --

HENNINGER: Yeah.

GIGOT: -- at your favorite local fast-food joint.

And remember, if you have your own hit or miss, be sure to tweet it to us at JER@FOXNews.com.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and to all of you watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Be sure to join us next week for a special one-hour show as we count down to the midterm elections.

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