By Edward Smith

A week of intense public policy discussion at NCSL’s Legislative Summit was topped off with a serving of pure politics Friday afternoon when political journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann offered their take on the national political scene.

John Heilemann, left, Pioneer Press reporter Bill Salisbury and Mark Halperin discussed the midterm elections Friday at the Legislative Summit's closing session.The duo wrote “Game Change” and “Double Down: Game Change 2012,” best-sellers that chronicled the election and re-election of Barack Obama and all the juicy backroom politics that a couple of political insiders could scoop up.

Handicapping the midterm elections, which they noted usually favor Republicans, is more difficult because of a few trends.

Halperin said the chaotic state of international affairs, an improving economy and a somewhat more favorable view of Obamacare has dulled the edge Republicans were enjoying at the beginning of the year.

“In the Senate races, Republicans are doing surprisingly poorly,” he said. “They should be doing better.”

Heilemann added that “there is so much antipathy against politicians in general that it really isn’t shaping up as a year in which there is a lot of energy,” suggesting that many voters may simply stay home.

Three Senate seats at least will shift to the GOP, Halperin predicted, but that would still leave the Senate in Democratic hands. The changing economic and political landscape has made any definitive call on who will end up in control very difficult.

Looking further down the road to the 2016 presidential election, both men thought the GOP faced a serious challenge for two key reasons. One is the lack of a clear frontrunner, a situation Republicans have not found themselves in for decades. The second is a demographic challenge the GOP seems unable to confront, they said.

“You can’t overstate the importance of the immigration issue,” Heilemann said. “Republicans had a chance to capitalize on that issue and they messed it up. That issue bedevils the Republican Party in a profound way.”

Edward Smith is NCSL’s director of the digital communications.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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