The Washington sniper, the talk of war in Iraq, and the possibility of nuclear weapons in North Korea have pushed election coverage off the front pages and the television screens. Now the death of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone has further complicated the situation.
We'll talk about all of it with the Senate's Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, and Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, the top strategist for House Republicans.
Gloria Borger is here, and I'll have a final word on Washington and the problems of the real world.
But first, Tom Daschle on Face the Nation.
ANNOUNCER: Face the Nation, with CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.
SCHIEFFER: Good morning again.
And joining us now from St. Paul, Minnesota, where he had planned to be spending this day campaigning with Paul Wellstone, is the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle.
Thank you very much for coming, Senator Daschle.
Here in our studio, Congressman Tom Davis. We're going to talk first to Senator Daschle.
Senator, Paul Wellstone was somewhat unique. He was, by any definition, a far-out liberal, but his conservative colleagues in the Senate sometimes liked him, I think, as much as his liberal colleagues. And I think the reason for that was that he really did believe in these causes that he fought for. And, as I'm sure even you would admit, sometimes that's kind of a rare thing in Washington.
What do you remember most about Senator Wellstone, and what is the Senate going to be like without him?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE, Majority Leader, D-SD: Well, what I remember, Bob, is his tremendous passion for public service, his belief that he could truly make a difference. And with his energy and with his liberalism out there for everyone to see, fighting the good fights each and every day with a sense of humor and a sense of self-deprecation that I think is virtually unparalleled in Washington today.
So we're going to miss that energy, we're going to miss that sense of humor, that dedication, that real feeling of making a difference and bringing that feeling to work each and every day he was in the United States Senate.
SCHIEFFER: He was so different, in the sense that in some ways the Senate is now a millionaire's club, and yet, when he was elected to the Senate the first time around, it meant an enormous pay raise for him. It was the most money he had ever made in his life. I'm not even sure he had a suit in those days.
You remember campaigning with him in those early days. What was that like?
DASCHLE: I remember campaigning with him. In fact, I remember a time campaigning, and I looked down at his shoes, and I could see the socks coming through his shoes, and asked him if it wasn't time to buy a new pair. I said, wasn't -- I asked if he was taking this common-man theme a little too far, but he said that's -- those pair of shoes are something Sheila paid and bought for him in a sale at one point, and he loved them, and he wasn't going to give them up.
DASCHLE: But that was Paul Wellstone.
SCHIEFFER: Let's talk about a little what happens now. The newspapers out in Minnesota this morning, friends of the Wellstone family are saying, and we have confirmed, I think, that members of Wellstone's family have asked the former senator, former vice president, former ambassador to Japan, Walter Mondale, to run in Wellstone's place.
Have you been able to confirm that, or do you know that?
DASCHLE: Bob, I don't know that. I know that Vice President Mondale has been approached by a number of people, and I know that he's giving it great thought. But I think, given the current circumstances and the fact that Paul's funeral will not be held at least for a couple of more days, I think most people are trying to wait until we've had an opportunity to think about Paul's life and to think about the contribution he made.
I know this. I know Paul would want us to win that election, and we're guaranteed that we're going to do all we can to make that happen a week from Tuesday.
SCHIEFFER: But do you think, in fact, that Senator Mondale would be the strongest candidate?
DASCHLE: Oh, I think he would. I don't think there's any question. There's such a tremendous reverence for him, respect for him. The contribution he's already made to his country and to public life is something that's pretty remarkable.
So he would be the great unifier, and I think there would be overwhelming support in Minnesota for his candidacy.
SCHIEFFER: Well, it's our understanding that he will not make any announcement of his intentions until after the memorial service for Senator Wellstone on Tuesday, I believe it is. But most people are now saying they believe that in fact he will do it.
GLORIA BORGER, U.S. News & World Report: Senator, let's talk about this fight for control of the Senate. You want to remain the majority leader of the United States Senate. You're traveling around the country to try and do that.
There are about five races right now that people say are really too close to call.
One of them happens to be in your home state of South Dakota, and that is where Senator Tim Johnson is pitted against Republican John Thune. John Thune was hand-picked by this president and his political advisers to try and defeat Johnson.
What's going to happen in that race?
DASCHLE: Gloria, we're going to win it. The last polling that we've seen over the last several days has indicated that Tim is opening up a little bit of a lead. He's got an incredible organization. And I think the people of South Dakota recognize he's made a remarkable contribution in his time in the Senate, and he deserves to be re-elected. I think that's exactly what is going to happen.
BORGER: What's the deciding issue? The Republican -- John Thune -- tried to make Iraq an issue. What is going to be the deciding issue?
DASCHLE: I think the deciding issue in South Dakota is going to be the clout that we currently have in the Senate, given our current circumstances. Never before have you had a member of the Appropriations Committee, a member of the Finance Committee, and the Democratic leader of the Senate, who happens to be now the majority leader, all working together for the interests of our state.
I can't think of a more powerful combination than that, and I think that at the end is going to be what people in South Dakota believe is the difference. We have that opportunity to continue that clout, and I hope that's exactly what happens.
SCHIEFFER: Senator, and I don't mean this in a personal way, but I was down in Georgia this week covering the race down there between Democrat Max Cleland and the Republican Saxby Chambliss, and I'm getting the impression that the main issue in all these races is Tom Daschle. I don't mean Tom Daschle personally, but the fact that you are now the majority leader, Democrats now hold the Senate.
My sense of it is that the real issue is, a Republican Senate or a Democratic Senate.
DASCHLE: Well, Bob, I think there's a lot of truth in that. I think that there is a big difference between Democrats and Republicans in this election, even though I think oftentimes the Republicans have tried to blur that difference. They've tried to blur it on prescription drugs, they've tried to blur it on the economy, on so many issues. And I think that drawing that difference is something Democrats have wanted to do.
This is about checks and balances. They control the White House. Currently they control the House. That may change in the election. But we control the Senate. And the question is whether or not we should have the checks and balances that this election could bring.
I believe the American people and the people in almost every one of the states that you'll visit would want those checks and balances in place as we look to the 108th Congress.
SCHIEFFER: But if there were a Republican sitting here, he would say it's not checks and balances, but obstructionist tactics by the Democrats in the Senate, who are blocking things like homeland security, which they see as the key to fighting terrorism. How do you respond to that?
DASCHLE: Well, I think we've had a very productive Congress. We've passed election reform and campaign reform, and we've passed a new trade bill. We've passed a good number of pieces of legislation, including the corporate governance legislation that passed last summer, the so-called Sarbanes bill.
But there are times when we don't believe that the far right-wing should dictate what the laws of the land should be, and we recognize our role in stopping the right-wing from having all of their agenda put into law within the Congress.
So we think that that checks-and-balance approach to government is a good thing, and I think the American people do as well.
BORGER: Senator, I'm going to ask you to become a political pundit right now and ask you, what's your pick for an upset Senate race?
DASCHLE: I think the best pick would be one of the two Carolinas, Gloria. I think we're going to win Texas, by the way. But if you're going to see a real -- an opportunity for Democrats, it would be either Lindsay Graham and the -- Alexander's race in South Carolina, where I think Alex is now even with Lindsay Graham, or Elizabeth Dole and Erskine Bowles. Erskine Bowles is now even in North Carolina as well.
Those two races are ones that I think we have a real good chance of winning. But I think we're going to win Texas as well.
BORGER: Do you think this country is just as split down the middle as it was during the presidential election of 2002?
DASCHLE: I think it's hard to say. My guess is that, because you've seen all of these very, very tight elections, that it may be just as split as it was two years ago. We have about 10 races that I think are within the margin of error that could go either way.
But over the course of the last week in particular, we felt some real momentum. We felt a spirit out there that we hadn't seen until recently. And I believe that we could end up a lot better off than we originally expected we might.
But no question, this is an election where there is a good deal of division within the electorate about where they want this government to go and what kind of government they want in the 108th Congress.
SCHIEFFER: Speaking of Election 2000, there's another similarity here, because, as you well know but I think most people in the country don't, because of the strange way or the different way that they conduct the election in Louisiana, Mary Landrieu, who is the incumbent Democratic senator there, has to get 50 percent of the vote, or somebody has to get 50 percent of the vote, or there will be a runoff, and that won't be decided until December 7th, I think it is.
So we may well go down to the wire all the way into December before we know who is in control of the Senate.
What do you hear about the situation in Louisiana, Senator?
DASCHLE: Well, Bob, the situation is much more stable this week than it has been in the last couple of weeks. Mary has solidified her substantial lead. She's at least 20 points ahead of just about any one of her opponents.
And she's within that golden 50 percent threshold right now. The last poll I saw had her at 48 percent with about 12 percent undecided. All she has to do is pick up a third of that undecided and she is over the top, over that 50 percent. And we're reasonably confident that that is exactly what is going to happen.
SCHIEFFER: All right. Senator Tom Daschle, thank you very much. We really appreciate you coming this morning.
DASCHLE: My pleasure, Bob.
SCHIEFFER: Let's talk a little bit about Republicans and the House.
Tom Davis, congressman from Virginia, heads up the committee in the House that raises the money for Republican candidates. And also I would say you're the chief strategist for the House races.
How does the House look to you right now?
REP. TOM DAVIS, R-VA: It looks very good to us. As you know, I did this two years ago when a lot of the pundits in this town thought Republicans would lose the House and we ended up holding our own.
We think we actually have an opportunity to make history this year and gain a few seats. There aren't that many seats that are really contested at this point, so it will move one way or the other very small. But we think we have probably a better chance to pick up seats than lose any seats at this point.
BORGER: If the Republicans were to keep the House, and let's just say that the Republicans were to take the Senate, what would be the first thing on the Republican agenda?
DAVIS: First of all, we'd pass a budget. The Senate, for the first time in 25 years, couldn't pass a budget this year. So we have appropriation bills that are stacked up at this point that we can pass in the House, and the Senate, having no constraints at all...
BORGER: Would you make the tax cut permanent?
DAVIS: We've only passed -- well, we tried to. I mean, we passed that. That's stacked up in the Senate, along with welfare reform which we've stacked up the reauthorization of that bill, a prescription drug bill which we've passed in the House for the second straight Congress. Couldn't get a bill out of the Senate where we could even compromise. Homeland security bill would be critical to get out.
SCHIEFFER: How many House races would you say are competitive at this point?
DAVIS: I'd say at this point we're watching about 20 races. There were about 40 on Labor Day. And as you look at where the money has gone and the polling at this point, it's down to maybe 15, 20 races, tops.
SCHIEFFER: If the Democrats were to take control from you and the Republicans, how many of those competitive races would they have to win?
DAVIS: They'd have to win almost all of them. You have to remember, these competitive races, over two-thirds of them are in districts that President Bush carried last time. So it's on our territory. That's why we see a lot of Democrats running ads with President Bush if they're incumbents.
I heard Senator Daschle say he sees a movement toward the Democrats in the last week. We've seen a movement toward our candidates in most of the races. But there is no defining national trend at this point. It seems to be a series of state and local trends.
BORGER: But over half the people in this country, I think one recent poll said 53 percent of the people, believe that the economy is in pretty poor shape. Is that affecting Republican candidates at all?
DAVIS: Not really, because I don't think -- this economy started to slide before President Bush took office, and they recognize that the events around 9/11 didn't help the economy at all.
They also recognize, I think, that part of President Bush's recovery program has been held up in the Senate, part of the stimulus package, his energy program, making the tax cuts permanent.
So they're not faulting the Republicans or particularly the Democrats. It's really going race by race at this point.
BORGER: Does the president's popularity, which is now above 60 percent, around 60 percent, does that trickle down to Republican candidates? What's the impact of that on this race?
DAVIS: Traditionally in midterm elections, a president's unpopularity hurts them. I don't know that it elects one Republican, but it creates an atmosphere where good candidates can thrive, and that's what we're having.
This is one of the highest popularities in off-year elections for a president we've seen before, and that's going to help us keep the House and maybe add to it.
SCHIEFFER: But in this debate about does the president have coattails, since some Democrats are putting George Bush in their ads, you have to wonder if he does have coattails, who are they coattails for?
DAVIS: Exactly. Well, I think they're helpful. Traditionally, if people are happy, they'll re-elect the incumbents. But I think the president has been a tremendous asset. People, I think, recognize that items are stacked up in the Senate that have passed the House. And I think we're going to return a lot of Republicans to the House.
SCHIEFFER: Congressman, talk quickly about this, the impact of the sniper. We had the sniper, we had the war talk, all of these things have literally pushed election news off the front pages and off the television screens all over America.
DAVIS: It reminds me of 1962, when the missile crisis just kind of froze the elections. Democrats only lost two seats -- they lost four seats that year; Republicans picked up two.
It has really frozen the campaigns, so that the Democratic strategy that they started in July and August of running on prescription drugs and Social Security, it really hasn't been able to get off the ground, and people are concerned with those but with a lot of other issues.
Also, we've been able to answer their attacks. We're the only party that's passed a prescription drug bill. We are the party that basically quit spending the Social Security surplus and balanced the budget and forced, we believe, President Clinton to sign a balanced budget agreement.
We're happy to talk about economics, but the voters have a complex matrix of issues that really varies district to district.
SCHIEFFER: So what you seem to saying here is that when something like this happens, it hurts the challenger more than it hurts the incumbent.
DAVIS: It does. They have not...
SCHIEFFER: And you've got more incumbents.
DAVIS: Absolutely. And what's happened is they have not been able to nationalize these elections and get that breeze they need to try to pick up additional seats.
BORGER: But the nation is generally not in a very good mood. More than half of the people in the country think it's heading in the wrong direction. Why wouldn't that affect incumbents?
DAVIS: Well, they're not upset with the political leadership. The incumbents it's affecting are governors, because governors are dealing with money coming in and money going out or having to slash budgets or raise taxes. But at the congressional level, and even at the presidential level at this point, they don't seem to have the same kind of concerns about the leadership.
SCHIEFFER: Tom Davis, thank you very much. In addition to being an astute politician, you are also a political scientist by training, if I recall, and you always bring good perspective.
DAVIS: Thank you.
SCHIEFFER: We'll be back in a moment with our roundtable discussion.
SCHIEFFER: And we're back now with Dan Balz of The Washington Post, the political writer and editor at The Post.
Well, you heard Senator Daschle and you heard Tom Davis. If both of them are right, everybody's going to win.
DAN BALZ, The Washington Post: Well, they seem to see a lot of movement that is not quite as easy to discern when you're watching these races in the way we do.
These races, particularly for the Senate, have been close all year long. They continue to be close. They're going to be close on election night. I mean, we face a long election night in a number of races that are going to be cliff-hangers all the way to the end.
At this point, you would have to say the Democrats probably have a little bit of an edge in holding on to the Senate, but not a big edge. And Congressman Davis is probably right, the Republicans have a little bit of an edge in holding on to the House, but not a big edge.
So, we're in a divided country, and it's showing up.
SCHIEFFER: Yes, and there are these bizarre aspects to this election. I mean, you go back to New Jersey, where you had Bob Torricelli, who was under fire for all of these scandals, and then he's replaced at the last minute by Frank Lautenberg. I would have to say that the Democrats are in better shape in New Jersey as a result of that than they were in the beginning.
How would you assess it if Walter Mondale becomes the candidate in Minnesota? Would that mean that the Democrats have a better chance, or would they have less chance than with Paul Wellstone?
BALZ: I think they would have as good or slightly better chance with Walter Mondale as with Paul Wellstone. It looked in that race as though Senator Wellstone had opened up at least a small lead. And I know Republicans were more worried about the race than they had been earlier.
I think with Mondale you continue that. You continue the legacy of Wellstone. And I think that it would make Republicans very uneasy about their hopes in that race.
SCHIEFFER: It's going to be very difficult for the Republican to campaign.
BALZ: Well, and they will only have a couple of days to do it.
BALZ: I mean, it's going to be at most a three-or four-day campaign under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
BORGER: I think the thing about Vice President Mondale is also that he has remained in Minnesota. He was the ambassador to Japan, but then he went back to Minnesota. He's in private law practice in Minnesota. He teaches there at the university.
So it's not as if he disappeared off the political stage in the state. And so people, I think, would feel comfortable with him, feeling he had not left the state.
SCHIEFFER: Yes, and he is truly an icon in that state.
SCHIEFFER: I don't think there's any question about that.
Talk a little bit about the House. What do you see happening there?
BALZ: Well, very little movement. The Republicans do think they might pick up a couple of seats. That may be optimistic, but I think that there are not very many competitive races, but the ones that are, are genuinely, you know, very close, neck-and-neck kinds of races. There is a lot of money that's being poured into those races, particularly by the two campaign committees here in Washington.
I think we're at a point, though, that voters are, you know, voters tune out these ads. The ads, particularly that the committees are running, are very, negative ads. The arguments that are going back and forth are difficult for people even who cover the races to sort of sort out, let alone the average voter. I think arguments over who's got a better prescription drug program, or what's going to happen to Social Security, or even the sort of the state of the economy, are being tuned out by voters at this point.
SCHIEFFER: You know, I think that is a very good point, because we've reached the point in this political-ad business where these ads have become cartoons rather than ads.
I was down in Georgia this week, and one of the reporters down there told me, he said, you know what's happening in this campaign is that Saxby Chambliss, the Republican, is trying to paint Max Cleland as an extreme left-winger, which he's not. And he said Max Cleland is trying to paint Saxby Chambliss as an extreme right-winger, which he's not.
And that all comes from these ads. I just don't think people are taking them very seriously.
BORGER: Well, it's kind of interesting. In a state like South Dakota where ads cost nothing, there are so many of them that you turn on the television set, when I was out there, there's nothing other than political ads. And people have just decided, as you were saying, to tune them out.
SCHIEFFER: They've become elevator music.
BALZ: I think there's another element to this, and that is that neither party, and in a lot of states with big races, neither of the major-party candidates has offered a real plan, alternative vision. They have mostly spent their time on trying to dump on the other candidates or to character assassination or go with cookie-cutter kinds of solutions that people don't think really are the answer to the problems.
SCHIEFFER: What do you think, Dan, the impact of the sniper has been, the way it just sort of pushed news off of every newspaper and off of every television screen?
BALZ: I tell you, I was talking to a member of the state house in Texas on Wednesday of last week, and he said, people here are not talking about the economy, they're not talking about Iraq, the only thing they're talking about is the sniper.
I think what we've seen this fall is a succession of large news stories that have pushed campaign coverage off the pages of the newspapers, off of local news, so what people are left with are negative ads. That's most of what they're seeing, and that's not a very healthy diet.
BORGER: And that may mean very low voter turnout in the next election.
SCHIEFFER: That may be the bottom line here.
Thanks to both of you.
I'll be back with a final word in just a minute.
SCHIEFFER: Finally today, Washington is where we deal with things that happen in other places. If a drought hits the Midwest or a hurricane rakes Florida, Washington is where they decide who gets federal aid. If a kid goes crazy with a gun in a Colorado high school, Washington is where the gun lobbyists and the anti-gun people square-off.
But then that plane plowed into the Pentagon, and the anthrax scare came along, and then there was the sniper. What we used to watch from afar here in Washington was happening here at home.
Nothing can ever match the horror of 9/11, but I was standing in the CBS news room last week when Chief Moose read the chilling message from the sniper, "Your children are not safe."
There was an audible gasp. I've never heard a reaction like that from veteran journalists, but our kids had been threatened. I can't remember, even in the first days after 9/11, when anxiety ran so high and there was so much real fear in the air. At least after 9/11 we soon learned who was behind it.
Nor can I remember such a feeling of relief when it was finally over. You could see it on the streets, on the faces and in the voices of the local radio and TV reporters who were almost giddy. We all were.
Then a plane crash took the life of someone many of us knew, Paul Wellstone.
They say Washington is an artificial place where people lose touch with ordinary Americans who are dealing with the day-to-day problems of the real world. But the real world came home to Washington last week, and it came in a terrible torrent. This community has survived, but she'll never forget.
That's it for us. We'll see you right here next week on Face the Nation.