Midterms & Your Money: Texas, Tennessee and Florida

By , Erin McEwanU.S. EconomyFOXBusiness

Economy a key factor in midterms?

FBN's Connell McShane talks to voters in Texas about the state's the Senate race.

Day 3: Blackburn Responds to Taylor Swift

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Knoxville, TN

Taylor Swift has spoken. Now, in a Fox Business interview, Rep. Marsha Blackburn has responded.

The Republican candidate for Senate also made significant comments about economic issues where she has differences of opinion with President Trump, but it’s the comments on Swift that will get the most attention, so let’s address them first.

FBN's Connell McShane speaks with Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn

The music superstar sent shockwaves through the worlds of politics and entertainment went she jumped into the political fray, telling her more than 100 million Instagram followers, “I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me. She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act....”

In our interview today, I asked for Blackburn’s response and here is what she told me:

• “Of course I support women and I want violence to end against women. I’ve been very active in abuse shelters and child advocacy centers. I’ve been advocating for women and equal pay since I was 19 years-old.”

• On Swift: “She is a talented young woman. I’ve been one of those who has done more for songwriters and making certain that there is tax equity for songwriters. We’re getting ready the Music Modernization Act that I helped steer through Congress. It’s going to be signed Thursday by the President. I’ve been very active in that and Taylor Swift will benefit from that.”

• On whether Swift can turn out young voters to support her opponent, former Governor Phil Bredesen: “Tennesseans are more interested that Marsha Blackburn is endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, by the Fraternal Order of Police and by the NRA.”

The interview also covered a number of other subjects. Blackburn is in a very close race here with Gov. Bredesen, but she feels like the momentum is moving in her favor. She says the “intensity” of her supporters increased following the confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh in Washington. On the economy, Blackburn says people are noticing “this Trump economy is really working.” Then, she outlined two areas where she has some disagreement with the President.

• On Trade:  “I’m not a fan of tariffs. This kind of gives me a little heartburn with the tariffs.”

• Where else does she differ with Trump? “There is daylight between us on the trade issue and also on the spending issue.” Blackburn went on to say she went to Washington to “drain the swamp” but spending has not come down, regardless of who is in the White House.

After our interview with Blackburn, we found ourselves on the University of Tennessee campus to scout out locations for our live reports on Fox Business. They will air throughout the day on Wednesday. We’ve lined up some young voters who support both Rep. Blackburn and Gov. Bredesen. You’ll hear from them on “Mornings with Maria.” Then the two candidates debate on campus Wednesday evening. It’s their second debate of the campaign. The polls show Blackburn surging late, but her lead is in the single digits (President Trump won by 26 in Tennessee). Governor Bredesen had turned down multiple interview requests from Fox Business as we continue with our series on the “Midterms & Your Money.”

Tuesday Day 2: Goodbye Texas, Hello Tennessee 

 

Texas is still a red state. It might be lighter shade of red, but it’s still red.

We learned a lot in a long day of reporting around the Houston area on Monday. After some interesting conversations with local voters (see earlier post), it was time to catch up with the candidates themselves.

First stop: Cruz headquarters. Incumbent Senator Ted Cruz was on a particularly tight schedule, but he squeezed in a one-on-one interview with FOX Business just before flying from Houston to Dallas for a fundraiser with Vice President Mike Pence.

 

Here’s what we learned from Cruz:

• He thinks the battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has energized his supporters. Cruz told me, “The good news in Texas is there are a whole lot more conservatives than liberals. This election is all about turnout. If we turnout common-sense conservatives, we’ll win and I think the Kavanaugh battle has energized a lot of conservatives.”

• Cruz thinks the race was so close to begin with because his supporters had become complacent.  He explains it by saying, “Politics can be strange. Success can bread complacency. The danger in this race is that a West Texas oil worker, his job is going great, he’s focused on going to work and going to church and taking care of his kids. And Election Day comes along, the urgency may not be there and he or she stays home.”

• Cruz says “anger is a good motivator” and he feels like Republicans are now angry enough to vote, thanks in large part to the Kavanaugh hearings.

• Bottom line from Cruz Camp: this race is close for Texas, but they think they will hang on and win re-election.

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As soon as the Cruz interview wrapped, our crew was on a mission to find and speak to the candidate everyone around here seems to be talking about: Rep. Beto O’Rourke. As a side note, when I say “crew,” I’m referring to our talented team: producer Erin McEwan, photographer Ben West and our “sound guy” Chris Chimenti.

Rep. O’Rourke is a Democrat from El Paso, who has made a habit of selling out rallies on college campuses, and brags about having visited every county in Texas during his campaign. Whatever happens in November, he’s already surpassed any realistic expectation for a Democrat running in Texas in 2018. A Dem hasn’t won a statewide race here since 1994. Still, there are many questions surrounding the Beto campaign. Yes, he’s popular with young people. That’s great, but young people aren’t exactly the most reliable when it comes to turning out to vote. I wanted to ask him about that, but unfortunately we were told by his campaign he wouldn’t be available for a Fox Business interview. Sometimes, though, you just show up and hope for the best. That’s what we did. We showed up.

When we arrived at Lone Star College, the gym was starting to fill up. Hundreds of college students rolled in. Many were wearing t-shirts with “Beto” across the chest. Beto himself walked in shortly thereafter, wearing a button down dress shirt he was already sweating through, and a Lone Star College baseball hat. He focused much of his speech on the benefits of immigration. Then, he moved on to turnout. He pointed out Texas ranks last in the nation in voter turnout. “This is by design,” Beto told the crowd. “This is on purpose.” The college kids ate it up. But will they show up for him next month?

After the rally, we were told Beto would do some interviews with the college newspaper and the local press outfits, but us “national types” were last on the list. As it turned out, we walked over to the bookstore and Beto was holding court with a small group of supporters and some reporters. After a few questions from one of the locals, Ben West and I stepped up with our camera and microphone. We quickly introduced ourselves and started asking questions. Beto, to his credit, answered them without hesitation.

Here’s what we learned from Beto:

• How does he think Kavanaugh will impact the race? “I don’t know,” answered Beto. That’s already a strange answer from a politician. He then said he’s looking to represent “all Texans” on all the big issues - whether that be the next Supreme Court justice, health care or education. And then he added, “I feel good about this.”

• Feel is a big part of Operation Beto. He hasn’t hired a pollster. From what we could tell, he doesn’t even have an experienced staff of political operatives around him. If he did, one of them probably would have tried to stop us from interviewing him without an appointment to do so.

• He’s running as a liberal in deep red Texas, but he doesn’t necessarily talk that way. He speaks about reaching out to Republicans, and when I asked him about his “liberal” economics, he responded with a shot at President Trump’s trade policies. “When I visit farmers with farmers who have seen reciprocal tariffs levied on the pecans that they’re growing, I don’t know what party affiliation they are, but I know that tariffs and trade wars are bad for this state more than many others.”

Bottom line after our Monday on the campaign trail: Texas is still a red state, and Senator Ted Cruz is hoping it’s just red enough for him to win a second term.

The next stop for us is Knoxville, Tennessee. The Senate race there between Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Governor Phil Bredesen is so close that Taylor Swift felt the need to weigh-in. She’s for the Democrat Bredesen.

We have an interview lined up with Blackburn, but not yet with Taylor Swift (or Bredesen for that matter). I’m told Taylor is on tour, otherwise I’m sure she’d love to speak with me.

We’ll report back from Tennessee ahead of a debate between the two candidates scheduled for Wednesday evening.  Go Vols!

Monday Day 1: Great State of Texas 

Senator Ted Cruz: Trump's economic agenda is winning 

Economic policies backed by the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers will generate support at the ballot box during the midterm elections, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told FOX Business in an interview Monday. Watch the entire interview here. 

Avalon Diner - Houston

Which side is MORE angry?

I just wrapped up a conversation with some voters here in Houston at the Avalon Diner. Some of it was seen live on “Mornings with Maria” and we continued for an extended period on the FOX Business Facebook page. We learned a lot from Dan the Republican and Mark the Democrat.

There’s no doubt Rep. Beto O’Rourke has built up a lot of energy around his insurgent campaign. Mark says he used to vote Republican, but was turned off by the 2016 Presidential election, and has now switched parties. He’s 100% behind Beto, who he thinks “tells it like it is.” Dan identifies with the Tea Party movement, and has been a long-time supporter of Senator Cruz. He thinks his guy will win by 2-3 points, in a race he concedes should not be anywhere near that close.

So, what does this all come down to? Supreme Court? Trade? Jobs? Maybe a combination of all those, but both Mark and Dan agree there’s another very important component: anger. I asked Dan if the strong economy will help the incumbent Cruz, and his answer was very interesting. He says he fears voter apathy might be taking hold on the Republican side. In other words, people are doing so well they don’t feel the NEED to vote. Will the Kavanauagh confirmation battle change that? Some of our data suggests it might, but Dan isn’t so sure. He thinks the Kavanauagh story fires up both sides, and they effectively cancel each other out. Mark the Democrat says, “My friend over here is probably right.” He’s angry. Some of his friends say they’re angry. Many will channel that anger into support for O’Rourke.

But....Mark says this state is still solidly RED. That’s why both Mark and Dan agree it’ll be close, but Senator Cruz will hang on. More to come from here in Texas today. We’re currently on the road, driving to Senator Cruz’s headquarters for a one-on-one interview with FOX Business.

Sunday:  Hitting the Road

Heading to Houston from New York's LaGuardia Airport 

 

What matters now? That’s the question I’m thinking about most as I get set to board a flight this evening to Houston.

Quinnipiac University conducted a poll last month, asking Texas voters what the most important issue was to them in deciding the U.S. Senate race between Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Respondents said immigration was the top issue (27 percent), followed by health care (21 percent) and the Supreme Court (16%), just ahead of the economy.

Now that we’ve been through the emotional confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was sworn in on Saturday, I’m wondering if we will find priorities have shifted.

Fox News polling last week showed the Kavanaugh confirmation battle increased interest in the midterm elections among Republicans in some key states. Is that happening in Texas? We asked voters Monday morning at the Avalon Diner in Houston.

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I’m curious as to what they will say. I’m also curious to see if the buzz surrounding O’Rourke’s candidacy is real. We’re planning on attending one of his many college campus rallies, and we hope to catch up with Cruz if his schedule permits.

Texas is the first stop on our week-long series of reports that we’re calling “Midterms & Your Money.”

How has the Kavanaugh confirmation changed the election dynamic? How about the revised trade deal with Canada and Mexico?

Follow along here and on the FOX Business Network all week as we make our way through Texas, Tennessee and Florida.

The final two Senate races are considered toss-ups (Texas is leaning toward Republicans in the Fox Power Rankings), and if the Democrats are still holding out any hope of flipping the Senate, they likely need both states. More to come tomorrow morning....