Friday Interview: N.C. Shines in National Electoral Spotlight | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's note: The author of this post is the staff of Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.

Fox News, Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes focuses on critical Senate race

Fred Barnes
    Raleigh — Political pundits across the nation are watching closely this year as North Carolinians prepare to head to the polls to decide whether first-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan will keep her job. Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis is her chief opponent. Fred Barnes, Fox News contributor and Weekly Standard executive editor, is focusing much of his attention on North Carolina's U.S. Senate race. He explained why during a conversation with Mitch Kokai for Carolina Journal Radio. (Click here to find a station near you or to learn about the weekly CJ Radio podcast.)

    Kokai: Before we turn to North Carolina, why is the 2014 election important nationally?

    Barnes: Because it's a time when Republicans really do have a chance to win the Senate, enlarge their majority in the House, and really set the stage for a presidential race that they can win in 2016. If you think of Republicans not gaining the Senate and perhaps losing seats in the House in 2014, it would be so depressing to Republicans that I think their vigor and strength in 2016 would be hampered by it.

    Kokai: Given where things stand right now, just how good of a chance do Republicans have to win the Senate?

    Barnes: Well, they have a better chance even than they did in 2010 and 2012, when they blew it, because they have better candidates. They have the Koch brothers running ads, not against other Republicans and stirring divisions, but against incumbent Democrats. And they have the issues going their way. Obamacare is not the only one. There is the economy and jobs, there's the budget and the debt, and there is the shrinking of America's defense establishment. All of those are good Republican issues, and Democrats don't have a single good issue.

    Kokai: You mentioned Republicans blowing it. Why is it important for conservatives and the Republican Party not to blow it this time?

    Barnes: Because this is a chance to win the Senate that they may not see the likes of for many years to come. They have vulnerable incumbents. They have elections — so many of them are in red states, Republican states won by Romney, sometimes by large margins — and so this is really teed up for Republicans to win the Senate. If they don't win it now, it's hard to imagine when they will win the Senate.

    Kokai: When you're looking at what's happening between now and Election Day in November, what are you going to be watching closely?

    Barnes: Other issues are going to come to bear on this election. You know, the way I look at the future in politics, it's never a straight-line projection of the present. Things intervene. It goes up and down. Candidates can say stupid things and hurt their campaigns. A lot will happen.

    But some things we know won't go away. One is Obamacare. It's still going to be unpopular. The economy is not going to be in good shape when we get to November. America's defense and nuclear deterrent are not going to be strengthened by the time we get there. And the deficit and the debt are still going to be things that are harmful to the country.

    So I think the issues are going to be there. It's just Republican candidates are going to have to take advantage of them in ways that help their campaigns and not say stupid things.

    Kokai: Now let's turn to North Carolina. As part of the overall calculus, how important is North Carolina's U.S. Senate race in 2014?

    Barnes: The way I look at it is it's hard to imagine Republicans winning the Senate without winning North Carolina. Now, they can do that mathematically, but North Carolina is critical. There are open seats that Republicans are probably going to win pretty easily in Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota. But it's the four states with incumbent Democratic senators who voted for Obamacare, have sometimes run as moderates or even conservatives, but then have backed the entire Obama agenda. Those are the people [Republicans] have to beat. And if you win the three open seats and win the four seats with incumbent Democrats, well then you win the Senate. But that includes North Carolina.

    [Before this conversation, Barnes told a John Locke Foundation audience what he believes Republicans will have to do to address Obamacare.]

    Barnes: Remember what Republicans are going to have to do. They're going to have to provide a way for the uninsured to get health insurance. My sister-in-law and my brother-in-law ... just signed up for Obamacare. They're middle-class people who are going to have to be dealt with. But look, that's what Republicans know. They're going to have to do the two things that Obama promised in the first place. We're going to find a way to insure the uninsured, and we're going to try to cut health care costs. Obama did neither one of those — quite the contrary. But that's what is the Republican agenda.

    Kokai: Beyond Obamacare, what are the issues you believe conservatives should be pushing now?

    Barnes: Obamacare is obvious, but the economy is not in good shape. I think President Obama is getting away with the notion that somehow the recovery has finally come and so on. You don't see it in jobs. You don't see it in growth. You don't see it in the addition of full-time jobs. What's happening is we have a lot more part-time jobs. And I think people understand the economy. They see it in their families and their neighborhoods, and Republicans have to take advantage of that. And so far they haven't.

    Kokai: What should they do to take advantage of that?

    Barnes: They have to talk about what the economy needs, and what it needs is tax cuts, incentives, and not more government growth. And Obama has stuck with that since his stimulus back right after he was elected, and that is to pump money out and have government do the job, supposedly, of reviving the economy. That doesn't work. It hasn't worked. It's never worked. And it's not working now. But Republicans have to have an alternative and show what can work. All you've got to do is look back at what Ronald Reagan did in 1981.

    Kokai: Beyond Obamacare and the economy, you've also stressed national defense. What do Republicans need to tell the voters about this issue?

    Barnes: They need to talk about a weak America in retreat. I don't think voters want that. Obama seems to think he's going to get credit just for getting all our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but while doing that he has weakened America. Americans don't want a weak president. They don't want a weak country.

    They want a country that has influence and strength around the world — that had influence and strength for good. And they don't see that with Obama. That's what Republicans have to talk about. It's going to mean spending some money on rebuilding the Army and our nuclear deterrent, but I think it's what voters want. They do not want a weak America.

    Kokai: Even if conservatives are successful at the ballot box in 2014 and even 2016, you've suggested that there will be much more work to do. Why?

    Barnes: It's not the end. When you think about what needs to be done in Washington, it's a long list of difficult things. You have to replace Obamacare with a credible health care plan. One that I think is going to be the hardest is to deal with [is] a very liberal, partisan bureaucracy in Washington that was thrilled to have Obama as president. He gave them a long leash to do what they wanted.

    We saw it at the Environmental Protection Agency. We saw it at the Internal Revenue Service. We've seen it at Health and Human Services. We've seen it all over Washington. The bureaucracy was empowered.

    The bureaucracy is not something that is going to rally around a Republican president and his or her policies. And Republicans are going to have to be tough in dealing with the bureaucracy. The bureaucrats are not their friends, and they're going to have to deal with them accordingly.

    Kokai: Given those challenges, does this election cycle look like a good one for conservatives, a bad one, or is it too hard to tell at this point?

    Barnes: It looks pretty good. There are a lot of vulnerable Democrats. There are a lot of Democratic open seats. The issues are working for Republicans. Things could change between now and November but probably not much, so it should be a good year for Republicans. But it makes a difference whether they win four Senate seats or six or seven Senate seats. And that's where North Carolina comes in. I emphasize, winning in North Carolina is very, very important.
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