Nation, World + Society

Breaking down the midterm elections with New York Times journalists

Veteran reporters came to UCLA to discuss demographic and political trends that will determine who controls Congress

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NYT midterm election panel
Les Dunseith/UCLA

New York Times journalist Alex Burns discusses the 2018 mid-term elections with his colleagues Adam Nagourney, Maggie Haberman and Nate Cohn.

President Trump is not on the ballot in 2018, but his ascendance and reverberations from the 2016 presidential election will dominate congressional races across the country in November. That was the assessment of national political reporters from The New York Times during a panel presentation held at UCLA on June 26.

Nearly 400 people filled Korn Convocation Hall at the UCLA Anderson School of Management for “The Midterm Elections 2018: Prospects for Los Angeles, California and the Nation,” which featured Times journalists Alex Burns, Nate Cohn, Maggie Haberman and Adam Nagourney.

Fresh evidence of political turmoil had come in just before the event started, when U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, a 10-term congressman who was considered a possible replacement for Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, was toppled Tuesday by newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the New York Democratic primary.

“If I was a moderate Democrat facing a primary, I would be really scared,” said Nagourney, the newspaper’s Los Angeles bureau chief, referencing the split in the Democratic Party between the left-leaning wing that embraces the views that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigned on in 2016, and traditionalists symbolized by Crowley.

Haberman, who covers the White House, added that it is notable that the candidate who beat Crowley is a woman. “The amount of authentic, organic female energy on the Democratic side is huge, and I think this is an example of it,” she said.

While Democrats are a house divided, the GOP “is becoming a party of one person,” Nagourney said. “It is becoming the party of Trump.”

Nate Cohn, a correspondent focusing on polling and demographics for the Upshot, the New York Times’ data-driven news vertical, said that candidates most strongly aligned with Trump can expect to draw support from a solid base of 35 percent to 37 percent of the general electorate in November. This includes John Cox, the GOP nominee for governor of California.

At the same time, the president’s divisive rhetoric and nationalist policies are generating energy on the political left that is encouraging for Democrats who hope to retake control of the House of Representatives. Cohn said that roughly as many California Democrats voted in the June primary as voted in the November 2014 general election, which portends a far greater turnout in the fall.

Yet a huge storm cloud hovering over the political landscape has yet to burst, the panelists said: the outcome of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Haberman, who was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team of journalists recognized for its coverage of the White House and the Russia investigation, said that the president has stalled on Mueller’s request for an interview for as long as possible, and that the odds that the president will sit for an interview with the special counsel are “less than zero.”

Mueller is likely to decide soon whether to subpoena or indict a sitting president, issue a report on the campaign’s ties with Russia, or delay significant action until after the mid-terms. Asked if the White House expects the special counsel to eventually issue a scathing report, she said simply, “Yeah.”

In response to one of several audience questions, Haberman also said that potential efforts by Russia to influence the 2018 mid-terms should be getting more attention.

Assuming that federal intelligence agencies are correct in determining that Russia meddled, she said, and that the meddling had an impact, then we should expect Russia will attempt to influence American elections again. “That is a really important question, and one that does not get talked about enough for 2018,” Haberman said.

Jennifer Steinhauer, the New York Times editor of live journalism, offered opening remarks, as did UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Dean Gary Segura. Segura thanked UCLA School of Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin for playing a key role in bringing the event to UCLA. Watch a video of the event here.

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