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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/09/11

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Jon Erpenbach, Charles Benson, Barbara Ehrenreich

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Thank you. And thanks to you at home for staying with us the next hour. It`s now nine seconds to 9:00 p.m. on the East Coast -- which means the polls are officially closing in the great state of Wisconsin in three, two, one, they are closed. Today, voters in six districts across Wisconsin took to the polls to decide whether or not they want to recall six Republican state senators -- six senators who helped pass that state`s very unpopular, very divisive union-stripping bill just five months ago. So far, in terms of instant results, we`ve got precisely nothing because the polls just closed a second ago, but we`ll bring you the results as we get them over the course of the hour. Back in 2006, you will recall, a man named George W. Bush was president, Dick Cheney, of course, was vice president. The Senate majority leader at that time was Bill Fritz, Republicans of Tennessee. House speaker was Denny Hastert, Republican of Illinois. Republicans had a virtual lock on all of Washington heading into election night 2006. They controlled every single lever of power that they could control in D.C. By the end of election night 2006, that was no longer the case. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: By midnight in Washington, it was a new day for the Democrats, a national wave swept Republicans from power in the House for the first time since the Republican revolution in 1994. But the Democratic wave didn`t end there. Well after midnight, the Senate began to fall as Democrats turned red states blue. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: 2006 was a clean sweep for Democrats. They won a total of 30 seats to take control of the House. They won six seats to take control of the U.S. Senate. And they also claimed the majority of governorships across the country. It was a Democratic route, bit of a landslide. It was a shock to Republicans across the country. And while a night like that is euphoric for Democrats and liberals in the moment, people who think about the long term prospects for any party know that a night like that is sort of bittersweet because, yes, you just won a whole bunch of seats, but you just won a whole bunch of seats that there`s no way you can possibly hold for the long-term. You know, have Democrats in office holding seats that will be very difficult to defend in future elections. So, a night like November 2006 election night was great for Democrats, but also they knew it couldn`t last. It`s sort of setting yourself up to lose in the next election. But what happens in that next election after that one in 2008 is that Democrats did not lose. Democrats actually picked up more territory. Democrats won another 21 seats in the House in `08. They picked up another eight seats in the Senate and they maintained their grip on the governor seats across the country that they controlled. If you imagine a grandfather clock with a pendulum swinging from side to side, right? In 2006, the pendulum swung all the way over to the Democratic side, but then in 2008, it was like somebody just broke off the side of the clock so you could swing the pendulum out even further. Over the course of those two election cycles, Democrats picked up 51 seats in the House and 14 seats in the Senate. That was in `06 and `08 -- which meant in 2010, that pendulum was way out there, poised to swing back hard against the Democrats, and boy did it. During the 2010 elections, Republicans won back control of the House. They picked up 63 seats in the House. That means they picked up more than the Democrats had put together in those last two Democratic elections. Republicans in 2010 picked up six seats in the Senate. The story was even more dramatic at the state level. Republicans won 680 seats in sate legislatures across the country last November. That`s more than at any time since 1928. They also took control of six governorships. The pendulum did swing back and it swung back hard in the Republican Party`s direction in the last election. And this is sort of the way that modern American politics works. When you elect a whole lot of people in one party, in the next election, you are likely to elect a whole lot of people from the other party. We tend to swing back and forth now. That is how we vote now. But how fast does that pendulum swing? After the Democratic gains of 2006, it took four years until things swung back in the Republican direction, and has now only been eight months since Republicans took control of the House and all these state legislatures. And eight months seem frankly a little quick for the pendulum to already be swinging back in the Democratic direction. But there are, now, very specific, very empirical signs of deep voter dissatisfaction with how Republicans are governing in the places where they are in control -- thanks to that great election they had last November. You may have seen the "New York Times" poll last week that said 82 percent of Americans now disapprove of Congress. And, yes, of course, everybody always hates Congress. Congress has always Dick Cheney level approval ratings. Everybody hates Congress. It`s always bad. But 82 percent is the worst it has ever been, ever. And within that 82 percent, it`s Republicans in particular who bare the brunt of that disapproval. Today, CNN released a poll about how people view the political parties right now and the percentage of people who say they have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party is at 59 percent. That 59 percent for context is the worst that either party has ever polled at ever in the two decades that CNN has been asking that question. CNN`s been polling on the favorability on the Tea Party since January of last year. And the number of people who now view the Tea Party favorably is just 31 percent. That`s the lowest their favorability rating has been in the entire time that CNN has been polling on the Tea Party. So, yes, people are angry at Washington right now. People are angry, I think, at politics in general. But there is unprecedented fury and disproportionate disdain being directed at Washington Republicans and Washington conservative Republicans in particular. Part of this is the product of the debt ceiling fight which made everybody hate Washington, right? But people who made distinctions of who they hated the most, they made pretty clear distinctions. At the height of the debt ceiling fight, people disapproved of President Obama`s handling of the negotiation by just less than a majority, 48 percent of people disapproved of how President Obama was handling that. People disapproved of congressional Democrats by 58 percent. But congressional Republicans, people disapproved of them by 71 percent -- 71 percent of people disapproved of how congressional Republicans were handling the debt ceiling crisis. People don`t seem to like how the Republicans are behaving in the offices to which they were elected in their big Republican election back in November 2010. The pendulum will inevitably swing back against the Republicans from their big win in 2010, a win that big in 2010 is inherently unsustainable. They are occupying political territory they just can`t hold in the long run. That it just the way that American politics works now, it goes back and forth. When you have a big win, there`s inevitably a correction in the political system. So, when is that correction going to happen? When will the pendulum swing back against Republicans after this giant, great, landslide election they had in 2010? Will it take four years? The way it did for the Democrats after 2006? Will it take two years in time for President Obama to earn a second term in the 2012 elections? Or will the pendulum swinging back against the Republicans start to happen even sooner than that? What`s going to happen tonight, say, in Wisconsin? Scott Walker in Wisconsin is one of the Republican governors that was elected in the big Republican 2010 election. That big election about he`s one of the people elected in that election about whom voters seem to be having some degree of buyer`s remorse. And this has been happening all over the country. New Republican governors who took office just eight months ago are now looking at their approval ratings dropping like a rock month after month. But more than any other unpopular newbie governor from the class of 2010, it was Scott Walker who became a national story when he decided to make a blunt no warning attack on union rights. He had not campaigned on attacking union rights, but he went after Wisconsin union rights and he went after them with both barrels. He`s surprised even people who voted for him. He provoked a real political constituency in Wisconsin -- the labor movement and people who believe in labor rights. Labor rights have a deep history in Wisconsin. But he also made a political enemy out of anybody who -- you know, ever had a teacher who they liked or who knows and loves the snow plow driver, anybody else who has that kind of job who Scott Walker was going after in this union-stripping law that he pursued. The recall elections in Wisconsin today are nationally important, I think, for three reasons. First, Wisconsin is part of this country and what happens in Wisconsin is important because it is part of America. That`s perhaps most important. But second, what is happening in Wisconsin is only happening because of the Democratic base, not the Republican base. Oh, yes, there is one. The Democratic base is the reason these recall elections are happening at all. I reminder both to the Beltway press and to Beltway Democrats, that the Democratic Party does have a base. And it isn`t just a liability. It can also be a tremendous asset to the Democratic Party if they would just pay some freaking attention to them every once in awhile. But the third reason I think these recall elections today in Wisconsin, where polls have just closed, the third reason I think these have national implications is because the pendulum that swung in a Democratic direction for four years, from the `06 elections through the `08 elections, and then swung back towards Republican starting in 2010, that pendulum swing determines whether or not Barack Obama gets a second term. It determines control of Washington. It determines the makeup of Supreme Court. It determines everything else about the trajectory of partisan politics in the United States. And tonight`s results will be among the first, clear empirical signs of whether the pendulum is still swinging that same Republican direction as last November or whether it has turned around and is coming back. Joining us once again on this momentous night is Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach, who is one of the 14 Democrats in the state Senate who left the state earlier this year in an attempt to halt passage of Governor Scott Walker`s union-stripping bill Senator Erpenbach, I see you are among friends tonight. How is the mood there in Madison? STATE SEN. JON ERPENBACH (D), WISCONSIN: Yes. Well, it`s good, Rachel. I`d like to introduce you to Madison, Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin, Rachel Maddow. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) MADDOW: That is very, very, very impressive, sir. ERPENBACH: They love you. MADDOW: I guess I`m moving. ERPENBACH: Yes, you should move to Madison. You`d love it here. MADDOW: I have a feeling that might be a good idea. Senator, what do you think is going to happen today? We heard confidence from the Democratic Party the last couple of weeks. But in recent days, we`ve heard a lot of caution these races are likely due to be close, if not in some cases impossible for Democrats to get some pick ups. ERPENBACH: Right. I do think we`ll do very well tonight. I think three or four seats is certainly possible. But we`re in uncharted territory here in the fact that we take a look at any normal election cycle and the incumbent isn`t about 50 percent on election day, that usually means a lot of trouble for incumbents and undecideds usually break two-to- one for the normal challenger. Now, that`s normal election cycle, Rachel. It`s not normal right now. What we`re dealing with, with the recalls in Wisconsin, we`ve never been in this territory before so we don`t know what to expect. I do know we had thousands of people throughout Wisconsin today on the phones, knocking on doors, getting voters to the polls, and hopefully, that will pay off. MADDOW: I wonder if some of the outcome of this process, some of the political bottom line is actually what we`re seeing behind you, is the mobilization itself, regardless of what happens tonight in these individual recall races and we are still awaiting the first results. Has the Democratic Party been fundamentally changed in Wisconsin just by this process, just by seeing people so excited and aggravated and angry and motivated by state politics? ERPENBACH: Yes. No, it`s a really good point to bring up. I`ve been over the state four or five times since we`ve been back, helping candidates who are running against Republican senators. And I run in to so many people who have said the same thing. I`ve never been involved before in an election in my life. I`ve never worked on a campaign. I voted once or twice but never really been involved. Now, they are involved. They`ve been involved from February. And they just didn`t leave their emotions; they spread out throughout the state of Wisconsin. I jokingly say this, but it`s true, even gym teachers are involved in the campaigns now here in Wisconsin. Now, gym teachers usually involved in sports and, OK, whatever. They are massively involved. So, people from all walks of life are coming out and they`re working really hard for the Democrats across Wisconsin. MADDOW: Senator, how important do you think your stance on this was, your meeting the Democrats in the state legislature -- obviously, some of what`s going on here is the people who are mad at what the Republicans did and how they did it. But how do you think it was that you and your fellow Democratic state senators took that hard line and fled the state and denied them a forum and worked so hard? Was that a motivating factor to this big upsurge in energy and mobilization we`ve seen in the state? ERPENBACH: Well, first reason we did it -- and you know this -- to give people in Wisconsin time to see what the governor was proposing. And I thought we`d be gone for, believe it or not, half a day but it turned out to be two weeks. But more and more people read the legislation and more and more people showed up in Madison and in Green Bay and over in Lacrosse and protesting and so on. So, what we saw, and people sending us e-mails, people ending us videos and people sending us letters to our office admiring what we were doing, but more importantly, we were admiring what was going on back here in Wisconsin when we were gone -- thousands of people showing up. And again, they could left that energy here in February after the vote and said, OK, well, it`s over. They didn`t. They`ve been working on the recall campaigns ever since. So, I mean, that`s what is probably the coolest thing about all this stuff in the end is the fact people are engaged and staying engaged, in the process. MADDOW: Democratic State Senator Jon Erpenbach from Wisconsin -- please tell Madison hello for me, sir, and thank you again for your time tonight. Good luck. ERPENBACH: All right. Rachel Maddow says hello, everybody. See you, Rachel. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) MADDOW: Thank you. This is self-esteem boost day at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. Thank you, Madison. We should go out for coffee sometime. Now, joining us right here in our studio for a change is Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst. Gene, Madison says hi. EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I say hi to Madison. Been there, it`s a wonderful place, and it was awhile ago, there was no THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW then. But I`m sure they love you. MADDOW: Gene, I`ve been spending a little bit more time in Washington recently than I usually do, mostly by accident, but I`ve been talking to national Democrats who have been bringing up Madison to me. I feel like I`ve been having a lot of conversations where I -- is Washington watching what`s going on in Madison? It feels to me that Washington is, that Beltway Democrats are paying attention to what`s happening. Is that your sense? ROBINSON: Well, certainly, the Democratic base part of Washington, you know, labor organizers, people who are deeply involved in Democratic politics are definitely paying attention to Madison, because as you said, it does give us a sense of where the pendulum is, and it also, I think, if the recall efforts are successful, will -- it will convince us that this was a serious overreach by Governor Walker. MADDOW: Is this more of -- as you say, is this more of a statement about Republican politics than it is about Democratic politics? That`s what I was getting to with Senator Erpenbach, about how important it was to this huge uprising we have seen in Wisconsin that the Democrats in the legislature took a strong stance. ROBINSON: I think that was really important because you see the result, Democrats had something to cheer. They have something to be angry about. They have something to cheer about, and they had something to do. MADDOW: Yes. ROBINSON: I remember during the, you know, when the Democratic senators were on the lam, and everybody talked about, you know, the recall elections that could be organized and, you know, only senators have been in office for a year and it sounded kind of complicated, and it sounded somewhat far-fetch because recalls usually don`t work. You know, it sounded like a kind of Rube Goldberg plan. Look where we are tonight, I mean, they did it. They actually got it together and did it, and we`ll see the results. But I think that organizational process was very important for the Democratic Party, not only in Wisconsin, but potentially nationwide. MADDOW: And potentially nationwide what would that look like? If the Democratic water nationwide, if the Democratic in the Beltway, if Democratic leaders in the White House decided that they wanted to give the Democratic base something to cheer for, what would they pick? What would they do? ROBINSON: Good question. And what would they be able to get? The White House and Congress and the leadership in Washington, which frankly has not done a whole lot of base tending recently, what could we get them to buy and would it -- you know, we missed public option for health care, we missed a lot of potential things along the way, I`m not sure what it is. MADDOW: You know, but the Wisconsin Democrats didn`t win. The Wisconsin Democrats took this stand. They fought tooth and nail. They literally went down screaming. We`ve got footage of the screaming as these things were passing the assembly and them trying to stop the sort of dead at night, ad hoc committee basis by which they passed this and suing them, recall efforts. They`re just -- they are throwing everything they`ve got and they have not on policy terms won at all. And the fact that they have not won has not dampened the enthusiasm for what they`re doing. It`s the fight itself that it seems like what people are cheering for. ROBINSON: Right, the fight -- they drew the line and they stuck to that line. So, in a sense what they can give Democrats nationwide, potentially, is an example, and Democrats in Washington they can give an example that you can -- you can insist -- and Republicans insist very well. MADDOW: Yes. ROBINSON: As you pointed out. Democrats can insist too and say, no, we`re actually not going there, and if you try to take us there, we`re going to fight you and we`re not going to -- we`re not just going to say, oh, gee, they are so obstinate, we`re going to give in. We`re going to fight you. And potentially, we`ll get a different outcome. Even if you lose the first time, you might win the next time. MADDOW: Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist -- it is great to see here in person. Thanks, Gene. ROBINSON: It`s great to be here. MADDOW: Appreciate it. It is recall election night in America. Am I right that we have a couple of numbers from the poll closings? Can we have what numbers that we have? All right. In the second district in Wisconsin State Senate recall, Nancy Nusbaum is the Democrat who is challenging Republican Senator Robert Cowles. There`s only 1 percent. Cowles leading 94 percent to 6 percent. At 1 percent in, don`t extrapolate. I can`t tell you now that polls have closed, I`m comfortable saying this is one of the races that Democrats feel like they are least likely to get. Out of the six Republicans facing challengers tonight, Cowles is the most likely to hold on to his seat. I think Partial results from one other race, from the 14th State Senate district in Wisconsin, Republican incumbent is Luther Olsen, the Democrat challenger is Fred Clark. Again, with just 1 percent reporting, Democrat at 56, and the Republican at 44 percent. Again, do not extrapolate from 1 percent. The Luther Olsen race thought to be a better shot for the Democrats than the previous race that we just showed. But again, it is early yet. Polls are closed in Wisconsin and we`ll keep you posted as we get more numbers across the hour and across the evening. Being recall night in America, recall election night in America is weird enough thing. It`s never recall election night in America. That never really happens. Over the past century, there have been 20 state legislative recall elections in total in the entire country over a century. Tonight there are six. That means there`s no precedent. That means nobody really knows how things are going to turn out tonight. Anonymous zillions from the right, incumbents who have never run against the opposing party, unions getting out the vote -- who knows? There are so many moving parts, it`s fascinating. It`s going to be a great night. We`re trying to figure it out race-by-race as Democrats try to regain the state Senate in Wisconsin. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The interview tonight is Barbara Ehrenreich. Plus, we got the latest from the London riots and, of course, from the Wisconsin elections. We`re starting to get in our results tonight. That`s all coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Polls closed at 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight in the Wisconsin state Senate recall elections that have achieved some national prominence because of the subject matter, frankly. Recall elections against Republican state senators who supported the union-stripping agenda of Governor Scott Walker. We`ve started to get in numbers some very preliminary numbers from these races. Can we put up our latest? With 1 percent in, our first results from the 2nd district in Wisconsin: Robert Cowles, the Republican incumbent facing a Democratic challenger named Nancy Nusbaum, again, with just 1 percent, Cowles leading 94 to six. Do not extrapolate from 1 percent in, even though the Democrats think that Mr. Cowles has a good chance of holding to his seats tonight. In the 8th district in Wisconsin, with 1 percent in, Republican incumbent Alberta Darling leading her Democratic challenger Sandy Pasch, 62 percent to 38 percent. Again, just 1 percent of precincts reporting there. And in the 14th district, the Republican incumbent in the 14 district is Luther Olsen. His Democratic challenger, Fred Clark, with just 2 percent in, Olsen behind Clark, the Democratic challenger leading the Republican incumbent 52 percent to 48 percent. Again, just 1 percent and 2 percent in in these races. Do not extrapolate, but this is what we got. In the 10th district, Republican incumbent Sheila Harsdorf, the Democratic challenger is Shelly Moore. We thought we had 1 percent in there. We do not at this point have any results to report there. But we will keep you posted as these trickle in. Generally, the way these things happen on local elections is that you get 1 percent and 2 percent, and they start coming in in larger increments. But we`ll be watching over the course of the night. In 2008, the presidential election in the great state of Wisconsin was not at all close. Barack Obama beat John McCain by 13 points. That was a bigger margin than Obama got in Nevada, or I Minnesota, or in New Hampshire, was almost as the margin by which he won the great state of New Jersey. Even though Wisconsin sometimes from a distance if you squint looks a little bit purple, frankly in 2008, Wisconsin was deep blue. It was a blow out in the `08 presidential race in Wisconsin. Still though, on that night, in that same election in which Barack Obama all but made John McCain irrelevant for Wisconsin voters, that barely even tell he was running, on that same night, these six Republican state senators also won their races, Republicans. It`s because broadly speaking, they represent Republican districts -- at least five of the six of them do. State senate races, of course, are local races and even when a whole state leans really far blue, specific parts of that state, of course, might still lean red. And these six Republican senators who all won even on the night when Obama won the state by 13 points, these Republican senators are the ones facing recall elections in Wisconsin today and that`s why this is going to be a tough fight for Democrats. That`s why Democrats say for all their enthusiasm, excitement, for the anger at Republicans in Wisconsin right now, it`s going to be really hard to pick off these Republican state senators. "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" crunching the numbers on each of these districts yesterday and concluding, quote, "Democrats are running uphill in five of the six elections, trying to capture districts that are more Republican than the state as a whole in their partisan makeup. In order to overcome that disadvantage Democrats will have to win the turnout battle, carry independents, or both." Again, polls in these six recall elections closed at the top of the hour, we will keep you apprised over the course of the hour as we get in more results. But at this point, at this point, while we are still waiting for further information on these results -- can I have a teleprompter, I`m sorry, I can`t make the whole script up by myself. Oh, here we are. I should let you know that I`m still making stuff up that Ed Schultz will be broadcasting live from Madison at the top of the hour. Until we get more results in, anybody who tells you how the results are going to turn out frankly is lying or spinning you, which is usually the same thing. There`s no predictive model for saying what`s going to happen in an election like this. Elections don`t usually happen in August for one, the timing alone is strange on this. But beyond that, this is the biggest mass recall in American history. As far as the historians have been able to figure out, there`d only been 20 recall elections for state legislators in the entire country in the past century. And tonight, there are six in the state of Wisconsin alone. Add to that the chaos tactics at least one side has pursued here. Remember, the reason the recalls have been happening on staggered dates this summer in Wisconsin is that Republicans ran candidates who they admitted were fake Democrats. Republicans ran people they admitted were impersonating Democrats just to be confusing, just to force Democrats to go through a fake primary election and to create a more confusing calendar. Wisconsin`s Government Accountability Board, the agency that oversees elections in Wisconsin, says they`ve seen weird deceitful voter repression here like fliers telling people how to obtain absentee ballots and how to return them to the wrong place, or by dates that were way after the election is over. The Accountability Board also says it got complaints about robocalls with incorrect dates and incorrect information, pretty obviously designed to suppress the vote. Republicans in the state legislature passed new rules after the recalls were set that would make it harder to vote in Wisconsin. The new rules are not technically in effect for the recalls, but people will be asked about or notified about those new rules in a way that will likely be confusing for them as they go out to vote. So, combine all this confusion and chaos tactics coming mostly from the Republicans side, you combine that with the totally, historically unprecedented nature of the election, the weird timing, the lack of polling, all the crosswinds of politics and everything else that affects a typical election -- and what you end up with is, frankly, does anybody know what is going to happen tonight? Can anybody predict what is going to happen tonight? No. Nobody really can. Joining us now to try to get closer to a yes on that, trying to get closer to understanding all of this is Charles Benson. He`s reporter for WTMJ-TV, just outside Milwaukee tonight. Right now, he`s at the headquarters of Republican State Senator Alberta Darling, who is one of the recalled targets in tonight`s election. Charles, it`s good to see you. Thank you for joining us. CHARLES BENSON, WTMJ-TV: Good to see you, I can make a prediction, but I don`t think I`ll be right. MADDOW: I feel the same way. What`s the news like at Alberta Darling headquarters and what are you hearing from them in terms of expectations? BENSON: Well, she`s a 20-year veteran. She`s been through a lot of these elections. But I talked to one Republican here who says she`s on pins and needles. You`re right. There`s no road map for this. No one really knows what to expect in an August election. You know, this time of year, voters are more interested to see if the Brewers were going to make, and how the Packers and possibly win another Super Bowl. So, this is not another issue voters are confronted with in August. But in all the money spent in this election, voters are engaged and aware there is a recall election today. They are estimating more than $30 million were spent on these recall elections, some are estimating and they go as high as $40 million. So, if you`ve been watching any TV, you know there`s an election today. MADDOW: In terms of the enthusiasm and the turnout issue, of course, which is going to be key in any offseason election, we`ve covered a lot and seen a lot of evidence of how excited the Democratic base is, how excited the base of voters is who are angry at Republicans, including Alberta Darling and Governor Walker over some of the Republican tactics and policy position here, what are you seeing in terms of the Republican base and energy there, are they excited about the elections as well? BENSON: Well, that part of the base has been hard to read, because they`ve been called sort of the silent majority. They are going to be interesting to see what they say here tonight. Are they going to say we`ve been listening, we`ve been watching, we`ve got your back, Governor, or is this going to be a case where they are going to hear from those upset with what the governor has done and really not happy with the direction the state is going right now, and will that voice be heard tonight? I can tell you, though, in Alberta Darling`s district, there are Democratic pockets, there are Republican pockets, it does mostly lean Republican. And I`m hearing that there are presidential-like turnouts in some of these districts. So, what does that mean? Which side got their voters to turn out? And that`s what everybody is going to be waiting to see here tonight. But it`s very clear that those people who lived in this district did get out to vote. MADDOW: Charles Benson of WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at Alberta Darling`s headquarters, Republican incumbent there facing a recall tonight -- Charles, thank you very much for your report. I really appreciate it. BENSON: You`re welcome. MADDOW: While we watch returns in recall elections about the middle class in Wisconsin, we, of course, are very excited for our guest on the interview tonight. She is Barbara Ehrenreich, one of the great American writers and journalists about making it in the middle class in this country. Stay tuned for that. Plus, live election results as they come in tonight. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Polls closed at 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight in the Wisconsin state senate recall elections, being watched as a potential national bellwether. We`ve got very preliminary results in so far, but here`s what we got. In Wisconsin state senate district 2, the Republican incumbent is Robert Cowles. His Democratic challenger, Nancy Nusbaum. At this point with 8 percent in, the Republican leading the Democrat, 62 percent to 38 percent. This is considered to be the safest Republican seat of them all. In district 8, the Republican incumbent is Alberta Darling. The Democratic challenger is Sandy Pasch. Right now, polls closed at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. We do not yet have anything other than 2 percent in. Alberta Darling at 62 percent of her vote, her Democratic challenger, Sandy Pasch at 38 percent of the vote. In district 10, where the Republican incumbent is Sheila Harsdorf. Her Democratic challenger is Shelly Moore. Right now with 11 percent in, Harsdorf, the Republican, ahead, 57 to 43 percent. In district 14, the Republican incumbent senator is Luther Olsen. His Democratic challenger is Fred Clark. Right now with 17 percent of the vote in, the Republican incumbent, Luther Olsen leading 59 percent to 41 percent. In district 18, the Republican incumbent is Senator Randy Hopper. Democratic challenger is Jess King of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Right now with just 6 percent in, Republican incumbent Randy Hopper leading 54 percent to 46 percent. And finally, in district 32, what Democrats hope to be their best chance of a pick-up tonight with just 7 percent of precincts reporting, Republican incumbent Senator Dan Kapanke trails his Democratic challenger, Jennifer Shilling 52 percent to 48 percent. We` will keep an eye on the results as they come in tonight. Stay with us live here on MSNBC. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Right now as we speak, from Virginia to Massachusetts, 45,000 Verizon employees from two separate unions are on strike -- 45,000 people. Unlike in Wisconsin where Governor Scott Walker`s stripping of union rights led to the massive protest this winter and the recall elections, we are watching results from tonight -- these workers are not protesting a tax on their right to be in a union, they are on strike because Verizon wants to roll back employee`s benefits -- things like health care and pensions. Those are benefits the unions fought for and won over the last couple of decades. Verizon union workers have the benefits because that`s what unions do, they make employers pay and treat and compensate their employees on a whole better than they would an individual employee-by-employee basis. That`s the whole point of unions. In this country, unions equal a middle class. You see the two lines sloping downward almost like synchronized swimmers there, almost indistinguishable from one another. One of those lines represents the rate of union membership in America. The other one is middle class share of national income. I can`t tell which line is which? Don`t worry about it, they are basically identical. Not just people in unions who benefit from unions, it`s the entire group of Americans we call the middle class -- which is why unions are not the hated empire the conservative movement really wants them to be. In the midst of the daily protests in Wisconsin this spring against Governor Walker`s union-stripping adventure, 77 percent of Americans sided with the public unions in Wisconsin on their right to organize. At around the same time, only 39 percent of people overall had an unfavorable view of unions. Don`t tell the beltway press and conservative movements. The Beltway press has monopolizing their speed dials. But Americans actually like unions. And the Democratic base is entwined with them, 2/3 of Democrats are really cheerleaders for unions. Look at those numbers -- they really, really like them, and that makes sense if this, frankly, has sunk in, if it has sunk in the fate of the middle class and fate of unions are inextricable. It makes since the base of the Democratic Party would be pro-union if the point of the Democratic Party is to stick up for the middle class and the fortunes of the middle class. But it also makes sense for another reason, it makes that Democrats really like unions because union and the policy goals for the Democratic Party have bumped into each other more than once in the last century. For almost all Democratic Party policy accomplishments, for almost all of the things Democrats now brag about, unions have been crucial, if not essential if there`s a difference between those two things. President Obama acknowledged as much at a Labor Day picnic almost two years ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Much of what we take for granted, 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, health insurance, paid leave, pensions, Social Security, Medicare -- they all bear the union label. It was labor that helped build the largest middle class in history. Even if you are not a union member, every American owes something to America`s labor movement. Few have fought longer and harder for health care and America`s workers than you, our brothers and sisters of organized labor. In good economic times and in bad, labor`s not the problem, labor`s part of the solution. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Labor part of the solution. Organized labor, good for the country, that`s what the president`s point was there. Organized labor, also good for Democrats, capital "D" Democrats, even in recent years as union membership has declined, the Democrat`s Party electoral successes have owed so much to union voters and union get out the vote efforts and organizing strengths -- not to mention union money. When Barack Obama was running for president and the three presidential elections before that, almost 60 percent of union household voters voted for the Democrat in the race. Union membership trump a lot of other traditional voter demographics, gun ownership, education, race, church attendance, age, just being in a union in 2008 made you significantly more likely to vote for Barack Obama than all of those other factors. And look at the money part of it. In the most recent election, these were the top donors, outside groups that spent the most money on the 2010 midterm elections. They were all corporations, all giving to the Republican side of the race -- all but three of them, the only three that gave more money to the Democratic side than to the Republican side were the three unions. They were the only competition to all the top donations to the Republican side. Corporations, big business, they know they have a home in the Republican Party, people who work for a living, the whole dream of the American middle class is supposed to have a home in Democratic politics. Union rights and union strength are inextricably intertwined with Democratic politics, unions do not succeed without strong Democrats and Democrats do not succeed without strong unions. So, after a generation of unions taken it on the chin, and the middle class reeling as a result, the recall elections in Wisconsin today are frankly about whether or not Democrats can hit back when union rights are attacked, about whether or not the Democratic Party knows there`s an economic point to its existence. Joining us tonight for the interview is a author and journalist that has done more than anyone else in the country to force the issue of Americans not making it, the disappearance of the American middle class into the national debate -- she is Barbara Ehrenreich. And her landmark book, "Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America" has been reissued for a tenth anniversary, which makes me feel old. Barbara Ehrenreich, thank you very much for being here. I really appreciate your time tonight. BARBARA EHRENREICH, AUTHOR: Glad to be with you, Rachel. It`s a treat. MADDOW: I don`t want you to play pundit about this Wisconsin election night that we are watching, but do you think we`re having a national fight, national debate at least about working for a living, about jobs, about class? EHRENREICH: I don`t know how much it`s being framed by that by the candidates themselves, but it`s something we`ve got to have. I mean the -- you`ve been saying middle class, I think we can also use words like "working class," and it`s been going downhill for a couple of decades -- stagnating wages, inability to organize into unions, loss of rights in the workplace. You know, it`s on every front. And when I say this, all right, somebody`s going to say she`s talking class war, it`s true, but we didn`t start this war. MADDOW: In terms of the way this translates into Democratic politics, watching that tape we just played of President Obama in 2009 giving that really strong pro-labor speech about the importance of unions to everything that has benefited the working class and middle class really over the past century, I found myself thinking -- I wonder if we will see that guy again on the campaign trail. I wonder if Democrats are reconnecting to the need to talk about economics and economic populism as a way of connecting with people who generally elect them. Do you know if that`s possible? EHRENREICH: I don`t know -- those that little clip of Obama with his strong pro-union speech made me really nostalgic, we have not heard that man for a long, long time. And the unions -- you know, as you mention, they have been putting their money -- member`s dues money into supporting Democratic candidates, but they have not been getting that support back. I mean, look, Obama talked about raising the minimum wage more before he was elected. It hasn`t happened. No talk about that anymore. He talked about reforming labor laws -- it would be possible for workers to exercise their right to bargain collectively, to organize. No, no support on that. And I -- I don`t see that connection between the Democratic Party and the unions that you described as being entirely healthy anymore. The Democratic Party has to know that people, middle class people, working class people, are going to stand up and go their own way if they don`t get something in return. MADDOW: Barbara, you started working minimum wage and low-wage jobs in 1998 for "Nickel and Dimed." Economically, things were good then compared to how they are now. How do you think it would be different now to pursue that same project? EHRENREICH: You know, it`s -- I really still talking about this subject 10 years later. At the time when "Nickel and Dimed" first came out, I thought things were changing in a positive way because there was a struggle for a living wage, to raise people`s wages to an amount they could actually live on indoors. And that sort of petered out. It petered out with the recession. We`re still talking about the same issues. Only it`s a lot worse now. The kind of low-wage jobs I worked on to do research for "Nickel and Dimed" are not so easy to walk into anymore. They`re just not there. So people who once had two jobs to help support their family now have one or zero jobs. In the meantime, you know, we`ve really lost ground on the safety net. Even though Obama, I`ll hand it to him, did something to extend unemployment benefits, you know, in `08 and `09. But you know, we are not seeing ground being gained. We`re seeing people crowding into smaller and smaller dwellings because they can`t afford to live on their own. We`re seeing people forced to give up medical care because, you know, food costs and fuel costs are so high. I hate to say it, but there has been a real deterioration in the condition of so many people that you might call middle class. MADDOW: Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the landmark book "Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting by in America," which has been reissued for its tenth anniversary with a new afterword. Re-reading the book in preparation for talking to you tonight, Barbara, just reminded me not only what an important piece of journalism you did there but how much it changed my whole thinking about the country. So, thank you for what you`ve done and thanks for joining us tonight. EHRENREICH: Thank you. MADDOW: Ed Schultz is in Madison right now -- in front of a big loud boisterous crowd. And he`s going to have the very latest on the Wisconsin recall elections. That`s coming up right after the top of this show. And here we`ve actually got more from the rioting in Great Britain, including some incredible footage from new rioting spreading throughout Britain today. That`s just ahead, stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There are more than 16,000 police officers on the streets of London tonight. That is more than six times as many police as normally are there. The riots in Britain continued today for a fourth day But the worst of the violence today was not actually in London. It has been hundreds of miles to the north instead. Reports tonight of rioters fire-bombing a police station in Nottingham and attacking police officers in Liverpool. Earlier today in the city of Manchester, several stores were set on fire. Others were ransacked by rioters. Police in riot gear were attacked by bricks and stones. In nearby Salford, police came under attack and parked cars were set on fire. In Birmingham, which is Britain`s second largest city, young rioters attacked police and again looted stores. Nearby in west Brohmage (ph), rioters torched cars and shopkeepers closed shop early. At least 700 people across the country have been arrested in connection with the British riots so far. Again, this is day four. After days of images like this, there was some highly contrasting and more hopeful sights in the streets of London today. Hundreds of people -- look at this -- taking to the streets armed only with brooms and dustpans, literally cleaning up their neighborhoods inch by inch. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Six Republican state senators in Wisconsin are facing recalls tonight. These are six Republican state senators. Five of their six districts lean quite Republican. Here are the results tonight. We`re still getting partial results in from Wisconsin in Wisconsin state senate district 2 the Republican incumbent is Robert Cowles. With 49 percent of the vote in, Cowles he leaves his challenger 57 to 43. In Wisconsin state Senate district 8, the incumbent Republican senator is Alberta Darling. With 7 percent of the vote in she leads her Democratic challenger Sandy Pasch 71 percent to 29 percent. Again, just 7 percent in. In district 10, the Republican incumbent is State Senator Sheila Harsdorf. Her Democratic challenger Shelly Moore. With 54 percent of precincts reporting, the Republican Harsdorf leads her Democratic challenger 58 percent to 42 percent. In district 14, a Republican incumbent is state Senator Luther Olsen. His Democratic challenger is Fred Clark. Right now with 51 percent of precincts -- sorry, excuse me, with 30 percent of precincts reporting, the Republican incumbent leads his Democratic challenger 51 percent to 49 percent. In district 18, the Republican incumbent is State Senator Randy Hopper. His Democratic challenger Democrat Jess King. Right now with 7 percent in, the Republican ahead 54 percent to 46 percent. And in district 32, the Republican incumbent is Dan Kapanke. Democratic challenger is Jennifer Schilling. With 24 percent in, Kapanke leads -- excuse me, Kapanke trails 49 percent to 51 percent. We will be updating the recall election result as they come in throughout the night. But now, live from Madison, Wisconsin, with the latest, it`s "THE ED SHOW." Have a good night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END