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PBS NewsHour

Why winning Georgia is crucial for the GOP’s Senate hopes


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to politics: Yesterday in Georgia, voters chose the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in what turned out to be a tight primary election.

It sets the stage for what will be one of the closest watched races of the year, a contest that could help decide control of the Senate.

With us to talk about this race and the broader Senate landscape is our political editor, Domenico Montanaro.

So, welcome back to being on air.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Domenico, the Republicans have now — it was a tight race. It was the runoff, but they have their candidate now. Tell us about him. His name is David Perdue. Who is he?

DOMENICO MONTANARO: David Perdue is the former CEO of Dollar General and the sneaker company Reebok, which everybody knows.

Jack Kingston is who he defeated 51-49, Kingston, a member of Congress. It shouldn’t be lost that David Perdue in this race was the only person who ran in this primary who wasn’t either a member of Congress or a former elected official, so he really played that outsider card.

He ran this ad depicting babies on the lawn in front of Congress crying, depicting all the lawmakers are crybabies, essentially. So he really tried to play that card, hit Kingston with being on that insider status. And that’s what part of what did help him. He also poured in about $3 million of his own money, which was certainly helpful.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Didn’t hurt.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So, now Perdue faces a well-organized Democrat. And, normally, this is Deep South, not fertile territory for Democrats, but in this case, she is the daughter of a well-known former senator.


And Democrats have some hope that Michelle Nunn, who is the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, will do fairly well in this race, and appears tied in most polling at this point with Perdue, because, one, her legacy and the name, but also because of the changing demographics of the state.

So I think that this is a state that the Democrats are starting to feel a little bit better about. And given the fact Perdue is kind of a political novice, has never run before, Nunn is in a similar situation, but she also has tried to play this outsider card.

Now you are going to see Republicans — and we have already seen Republicans take strong aim at Michelle Nunn. We know the Democrats are already picking apart David Perdue’s business experience, trying to reopen the Mitt Romney playbook, to say this is someone who cost jobs and who shipped jobs overseas.

The real question is going to be over the next two months, can Michelle Nunn withstand the barrage that comes her way?  If we look on Labor Day or two weeks after Labor Day and this race is still tied, this is going to be an actual potential pickup for Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this race, as you and I were talking earlier, especially important to Democrats, because the overall — the national Senate landscape for them is not very friendly.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: That’s right. And that’s why we care about this race, because there are 12 races in the country that we should all be looking at right now.

But you can see from our map that 10 of those states are seats held by Democrats — well, or are Republican targets. Only two of those races are in places that are held by Republicans, Kentucky with Mitch McConnell, who is the minority leader, who could become majority leader, and this race in Georgia.

Well, if Georgia is on the board for Democrats, then the ability for Republicans to take back the Senate, to net the six seats they need out of this landscape, makes it much, much more difficult. There are already three states on this map that we have seen are likely heading toward Republicans in Montana, West Virginia and one other.

And you see that because of that, if Republicans aren’t able to hold Georgia, then the landscape becomes much more difficult for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats start out with a disadvantage, and it’s just tough.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, it is. But right now in Alaska and Arkansas, Mark Pryor and Mark Begich are doing very well and probably better than most Republicans thought they would.

And they may be a little bit of gum in the dam, so to speak, because if they can hold, then you see Democrats likely holding a one- or two-seat majority. If they lose, you could see a much broader wave come the Republicans’ way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I like that metaphor, the gum in the dam.

But the other thing, finally, I want to ask you about, Domenico, is this report came out yesterday from the — respected organization, saying that the turnout in this year’s primaries so far is not only down, but in most of the states where there have been primaries, it’s at historic lows.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Yes, 15 of the 25 states so far have seen historic lows.

And this is a trend, the pattern that we have seen since the 1960s, when there was a high in primary of about mid-30s of eligible population turning out from the study from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate. But now only 14.7 percent so far have turned out.

And there’s a lot of reasons for this. People are upset with almost everything. Pessimism reins. They are upset with the president. They are upset with Congress. They are upset with Republicans, who they feel are blocking the president. They are upset with the president, who they feel is using too much executive authority.

And it goes back and forth. People aren’t feeling much better about the economy, despite the headline economic numbers. And what it all leads to is a large disinterest, frankly, in what we’re seeing in politics, but it does have consequence. Elections have consequences, as we’re talking about whether or not the — who holds control of the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s pretty depressing, and maybe people watching and all over the country will, you know, take notice and pay more attention to those races.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: I think anybody can be in favor of more engagement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Domenico Montanaro, we thank you.


The post Why winning Georgia is crucial for the GOP’s Senate hopes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Will the president’s low approval rating cost Democrats the Senate?

President Obama's low approval rating could hurt his party's chances in the Senate. Photo by Getty images.

President Obama’s low approval rating could hurt his party’s chances in the Senate. Photo by Getty images.

One key factor in any election is the popularity, or unpopularity, of a president.

An unpopular president can drag down his party and make life difficult for vulnerable incumbents in tough races.

That can be especially true in midterms when fewer voters turn out. The ones who do show up are generally the most politically active.

President Barack Obama’s approval rating sits at about 41 percent, if you take an average of the last two months of major national polls. So what might that mean for this election?

Democrats are already expected to lose seats–both sides agree. The question is how many. If history is a guide, it could be very close as to whether Republicans wrest control of the Senate.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats to make that happen. Since World War 2, when a president’s approval rating is below 50 percent, as President Obama’s is now, the party out of power has gained an average of 5.5 seats.


That’s about three seats worse for the president’s party when his approval rating has been above 50 percent. In those cases, though, even a popular president has seen his party lose an average of 2.6 seats. (Combining the popular and unpopular presidents, overall their parties have lost an average of 3.7 seats in midterms.)


Elections, however, don’t happen in vacuums. Other issues come into play – where the races are being held, who the candidates are, and the popularity of the opposition party.

That’s a big wildcard. Democrats are clearly playing on unfavorable turf. But candidates in Alaska and Arkansas with longstanding family ties – Mark Begich and Mark Pryor – have more than held their own, so far.

And the Republican Party’s brand continues to suffer with favorability ratings in the low to mid 30s. Democrats and the president are slightly higher, in the low 40s generally.

There is also a lot of pessimism–broad majorities see the country as off on the wrong track, many aren’t feeling as good about the economy as the headline economic numbers suggest, and Congress’ approval ratings are at or near all-time lows.

All that may add up to the one constant – a declining interest in politics from the broader electorate. In May, Gallup found interest in this election at a 20-year low.

And in a report out Tuesday, the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University found that turnout in these primaries are at an all-time low. Just 14.8 percent of eligible voters have turned out to vote, down from the mid-30s in the 1960s and 18.3% four years ago.

The post Will the president’s low approval rating cost Democrats the Senate? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Senate agrees on short-term fix for highway fund

Drivers on Interstate 580 approach the MacArthur Maze interchange in heavy traffic near Oakland, California, in this
         2007 file photo. Photo by Noah Berger/AP

Drivers on Interstate 580 approach the MacArthur Maze interchange in heavy traffic near Oakland, California, in this 2007 file photo. Photo by Noah Berger/AP

WASHINGTON — The Senate agreed Wednesday on an $11 billion measure to temporarily fix a multibillion-dollar shortfall in federal highway and transit programs, setting up a vote next week on several alternatives.

But senators will likely end up simply adopting a measure that passed the GOP-controlled House by a sweeping bipartisan vote last week, which would send it directly to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The House bill would provide enough money to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent through May 2015. The fund pays for transportation programs nationwide. The money would come from pension law changes, customs fees and a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks.

The largest chunk of the money, $6.4 billion, results from allowing employers to defer payments to their employee pension plans. Funding pension plans normally results in a tax savings for companies, and deferring those payments means they will pay more in taxes and increase federal revenue. Critics say the idea is a gimmick since the pension changes cost the government money in the years beyond the 10-year window in which legislation is officially scored for its impact on the budget.

The measure is among the few must-do items before Congress goes on a five-week vacation in August. Without action, money to states for highway and transit projects could dry up next month at the height of the summer construction season.

The highway fund is expected to run dry by the end of August if Congress doesn’t act. States have been told to expect an average 28 percent reduction in aid. Some states already have begun to delay or cancel construction projects due to the uncertainty of federal money.

It’s hoped the measure will buy time for Congress to act next year on a longer-term highway measure.

Earlier this month, the NewsHour’s Quinn Bowman reported from West Virginia on one project that depends on these federal highway funds, and those who could be affected.

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U.S. proposes new rules to curb oil train fires

Rail tank cars will soon be updated, according to a new set of rules proposed by federal government. Photo by Flickr
         user woodleywonderworks

Rail tank cars will soon be updated, according to a new set of rules proposed by federal government. Photo by Flickr user woodleywonderworks

WASHINGTON — Thousands of older rail tank cars that carry crude oil would be phased out within two years under regulations proposed Wednesday in response to a series of fiery train crashes over the past year, including a runaway oil train that exploded in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.

Accident investigators have complained for decades that the cars are too easily punctured or ruptured, spilling their contents, when derailed.

The phase-in period for replacing or retrofitting the DOT-111 tank cars is shorter than the Canadian government’s three-year phased plan. However, regulators left open the question of what kind of tank car will replace the old ones, saying they will choose later from among several proposals.

Besides oil, the proposed regulations would also apply to the transport of ethanol and other hazardous liquids. The regulations also apply only to trains of 20 or more cars, which would include most oil shipments.

The proposal also makes mandatory a 40-mph speed limit through urban areas that freight railroads had voluntarily agreed to earlier this year. Tank cars have ruptured in several accidents at speeds as low as 24 mph. Regulators said they’re considering lowering the speed limit to 30 mph for some trains that aren’t equipped with more advanced braking systems.

The freight railroad industry had met privately with department and the White House officials to lobby for keeping the speed limit at 40 mph rather than lowering it. Railroad officials said a 30 mph speed limit would tie up traffic across the country because other freight wouldn’t be able to get past slower oil trains, which are often 100 cars or longer.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx also said the government’s testing of crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana shows the oil is on the high end of a range of volatility compared with other crude oils, meaning it’s more likely to ignite if spilled.

The post U.S. proposes new rules to curb oil train fires appeared first on PBS NewsHour.