TOPICS > Politics

National Party Heads Debate Issues in Midterm Elections

November 3, 2006 at 4:26 PM EDT

MARGARET WARNER: First, we’re joined by former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Governor Dean, welcome. Let’s start with predictions. Are you going to take the House? And if so, by how much?

HOWARD DEAN, Chairman, Democratic National Committee: Well, Margaret, I don’t make predictions. If the election were held today, we would take not just the House, we would also take the Senate. But we’ve got four more days of very intense campaigning.

We know the Republicans will be making all kinds of calls, making all kinds of assertions in the middle of the night about candidates. And we’ve just got to put together our get-out-the-vote effort and make sure it’s maximized by Monday — Tuesday.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about a couple of events of this past week. First of all, John Kerry’s remarks about the troops, his subsequent apology. Did that damage the Democrats?

HOWARD DEAN: John Kerry is not on the ballot. He apologized. I think that’s the end of that.

What’s on the ballot is the president of the United States’ behavior and the Republicans’ behavior over the last five or six years: Iraq; the economy, which has been great for the president’s contributors, but not so great for ordinary Americans; the health care system; the culture of corruption the Republicans have brought to the Capitol. Those are the things that people are going to be voting on.

MARGARET WARNER: So are you saying that, even though the president weighed in, the vice president, the White House press secretary, you think the Kerry matter is irrelevant to this election?

HOWARD DEAN: I do. In the long run, I think people — you know, the Republicans always try to push attention elsewhere because their record is so dreadful. But look at — their record in Iraq, which is really going to hurt them, is one of complete and utter failure, to listen to their own military advisors, to support our troops adequately with adequate equipment, and to have a plan.

Colin Powell wrote in his book that you want to use maximum force going in, you have to understand what you’re getting into, and you have to have a plan to leave. They didn’t do any of those things. This is a gross failure.

The economy, great for the top 20 percent. Out here in Toledo, Ohio, not so good for an awful lot of people here who have seen their jobs move to China. So we can do better than this. The American people know we can do better that than this. And that’s why I think we’re going to win.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, another event of this past week — in fact, just yesterday — is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals resigning amid allegations or at least accusations that he had paid for gay sex. Do you think that’s going to have real election repercussions?

HOWARD DEAN: You know, it may. But again, we’re going to focus on what we ought to be doing differently in this country. We want to raise the minimum wage. We want a real ethics legislation to clean up the corruption in Washington. And we want a health care plan that works.

We think there ought to be a down payment where we insure at least all kids and all folks under 25. It’s not expensive to do. We also believe we ought to balance the budget and have middle-class tax fairness. Those are going to be the things we concentrate on.

And, you know, this business about the guy getting phone sex or whatever he did, and John Kerry’s remarks, that is all extraneous stuff. This election is about Iraq. It’s about wanting a new direction for the country. It’s about wanting workers to get paid adequately for the jobs they perform. That’s what the election is about.

Iraq and domestic issues

Howard Dean
Democratic National Committee
We do not need to be in Iraq. We never should have gone to Iraq. The president misled the nation when he sent us to Iraq. We need to fix that.

MARGARET WARNER: So, if the election is fundamentally a referendum on Iraq, as well as some of the other issues you mentioned, what will voters be voting for, in terms of a change in policy in Iraq, if they throw the Republicans out of the leadership and elect Democrats?

HOWARD DEAN: I think what they're voting for is a new strategy in Iraq, a new direction for national defense. The Republicans have touted their ability to defend America; in fact, they've failed.

Korea exploded a nuclear weapon. Iran is about to acquire them. We're in the middle of a civil war in Iraq. Osama bin Laden is still at large. The Republicans have failed to defend America adequately.

We need a sensible, thoughtful and smart -- in addition to tough -- defense policy. So what you can expect from a Democratic Congress, working with a very conservative, radical-right president, is some strictures on what he can do.

We will ask for a timetable, I dare say. We will ask for a plan to be set before Americans. We will ask the president to listen to the military. And my guess is that the Democratic Congress will listen to the military in trying to fashion a way to get ourselves out of Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: So are you saying that the Democrats will be pushing for a specific timetable to get American troops out of Iraq?

HOWARD DEAN: Yes, absolutely. You can't just stay the course with a failed strategy. The president wants to stay the course. I think what the voters are going to vote on is: Do you want a new direction for America, or do you want to stay the course? And if you want a new direction, you can't vote for a Republican, because you're not going to get a new direction.

MARGARET WARNER: And let me make sure I understand this. On timetable, you mean a timetable that is not connected to conditions on the ground, but as a time-driven timetable?

HOWARD DEAN: Every timetable is in connections to do with conditions on the ground. But we want -- we want the president to have a plan to get us out. We haven't heard one word about how the president is going to get us out. It's stay the course, stay the course, stay the course.

We do not need to be in Iraq. We never should have gone to Iraq. The president misled the nation when he sent us to Iraq. We need to fix that.

Now, because we're in Iraq, there have been a lot of conditions created that could be dangerous to the country. So we can't pull our troops out all at once. But we need to be out of Iraq, and we need a plan to get us out of Iraq. And we expect the president to listen to the military about how we can do that.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, on the domestic front, what the president says voters will get if they elect Democrats is higher taxes.

HOWARD DEAN: That's just another Republican desperate move. In fact, the opposite is true. What we're going to do is take back all those subsidies that the president and his Republican friends gave to the oil companies -- who just made $10 billion in the last quarter in a single company -- and we're going to take back all the insurance companies' subsidies they gave the insurance industry and the HMOs in the middle of the night.

And we're going to use that money to help balance the budget, which hasn't been done by a Republican in 40 years, and we're going to use that money to restore Pell grants and cut interest rates for college students so we can make up that job loss that the president has participated in by sending our jobs abroad.

MARGARET WARNER: But he says, if you even -- if you don't reinstate or continue the tax cuts that were passed earlier in his term, that amounts to a tax increase. What are you saying the Democrats will do about that?

HOWARD DEAN: The president has not been truthful to the American people for six years. Why would they believe him now? We have said that we will not raise taxes on middle-class Americans. Middle-class Americans have suffered enough under this president.

What we will do is bring middle-class tax fairness. There are some who believe we could even cut taxes on middle-class Americans. We will do it by rescinding the tax breaks that the president of the United States and the Republicans gave to big oil at a time when big oil was charging us $3 a gallon.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Governor Dean, thank you so much.

HOWARD DEAN: Thanks for having me on.

Republicans and Iraq

Ken Mehlman
Republican National Committee
Again, when you look at these national polls, you've got to put them in perspective. There's not a national election. There are elections in certain congressional districts

MARGARET WARNER: And now we're joined by Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Thanks for being with us, Mr. Mehlman.

KEN MEHLMAN, Chairman, Republican National Committee: Thanks, Margaret. I appreciate the opportunity.

MARGARET WARNER: Predictions first. Are you going to hold the House?

KEN MEHLMAN: I predict we will hold both the House and the Senate.

MARGARET WARNER: So even though conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, among many others, has said today -- and I will just quote you -- "It's hard to see how Republican avoid a real bloodbath on Tuesday," you think you can?

KEN MEHLMAN: I do. I look at lots of different polls. I know that there have been a number of national polls that have been put out. I, last week, looked at 175 different polls. I also looked at the amount of grassroots activity that's occurring around the country. I look at early and absentee voting. And all of that evidence convinces me that Republicans will keep our majorities in the House and in the Senate. I think it will be close, but I think we'll keep our majorities.

MARGARET WARNER: How much do you think your vaunted get-out-the-vote and voter-targeting operation is worth, in terms of offsetting the Democrats' lead in the national generic polls?

KEN MEHLMAN: Well, I think what a good, strong turnout operation does is it helps win close elections. And what you'll see is that there are a lot of very close elections today, and that's where I think it's going to be significant.

Again, when you look at these national polls, you've got to put them in perspective. There's not a national election. There are elections in certain congressional districts. And one of the advantages Republicans have going into the election is that our voters are more efficiently divided than the Democratic voters. That is, there are a lot of Democratic districts -- there are like 70 percent Democrat districts, and there are more Republican districts that are like 52, 53 percent Republican districts.

If you take a national average, the Democrats will appear stronger, but in fact, if you look at it race by race, it will be a lot closer than the national numbers might indicate.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, do you think that this election has come down to a national referendum on Iraq?

KEN MEHLMAN: I don't think so. And I've been to a lot of different places. This morning, I was with Geoff Davis in Kentucky. Yesterday, I was all over the state of Missouri. Before that, I was with Mike Sodrel in Indiana, was in Ohio with Congresswoman Schmidt and with Congressman Chabot. I'm about to be at events with Michael Steele, and then tomorrow we'll be in Minnesota and in Montana.

So I'm really getting a sense in lots of different elections. Each election is different. And the question on the ballot comes down to fundamentally a choice as to who's on the balance. It's true that, in a lot of districts, voters are voting on the basis of issues that have a national impact, like taxes or the war on terror. But if you look at it, I think it's much more of a district-by-district decision-making.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, I listened to President Bush's speech last night in Billings, Montana.


MARGARET WARNER: He was out there for Senator Burns. And he talked about Iraq for at least 10 or 15 minutes.

KEN MEHLMAN: Well, obviously, that's a very important issue. I think that the nature of the war we face was actually called to my mind by what happened in Iran yesterday. Seeing Iran test long-range missiles reminds us that we face a very serious challenge in foreign policy. We face a very serious challenge in the fact that we are a nation of war. And Iraq is a very important front in that war.

And I think what we all have to remember -- look, everybody recognizes, and starting with the president, how frustrating this war has been. It's very hard to fight a war against a movement as opposed to a nation-state.

When you are fighting against a nation-state, you have a surrender of the enemy. But when you're fighting a movement, even if you kill Zarqawi, because of technology, his followers can continue to cause tremendous harm.

But here is what we have to remember. It seems to me the lesson of September 11th is we can't allow another Afghanistan to rise up in the Middle East, a state that terrorists are able to dominate. And if America were to follow the approach that Mr. Murtha and others put forward, I think the unfortunate result would be another Afghanistan right sitting in between Syria and Iran. That's not something we can risk for our national security.

Recent events

Ken Mehlman
Republican National Committee
And I'll tell you, as chairman of the party, we're going to spend more than this party has ever spent before in congressional elections. And a big reason for it is the generous help this president has provided here for the RNC.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me ask you about something that happened this week, and that was John Kerry's remarks and subsequent apology. Do you think that has any bearing and will have any impact on Tuesday?

KEN MEHLMAN: We'll have to see. I was really disappointed in his comments and what he said. It seems to me -- we have an all-volunteer military. The people that join the military are not people that don't have lots of choices in their life, but the people that make the best choice they can, one that puts their country before their own interests, in my cases.

MARGARET WARNER: But can I ask you, do you think it's something voters should -- he's not on the ballot.


MARGARET WARNER: It's nonetheless something you think voters should have on their mind when they go in to vote.

KEN MEHLMAN: Well, I do think voters are going to look, and they're going to say, "Where have the two parties and the leaders of the two parties been with respect to our military and supporting our military?"

This isn't the first thing Mr. Kerry said. He said it was a joke, but then why, on "Face the Nation" a few months ago, did he say that American troops were terrorizing Iraqis? Why did he vote against body armor for our troops? Why did Mr. Durbin have to apologize for making the comments that he made about our troops in Guantanamo being like the Nazis or like the Communists under Stalin?

I think that, unfortunately, there have been a number of comments you've seen Democratic leaders make that really, I think, are unfortunate and are not the right approach here.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me ask you about something else that happened this week -- this was just yesterday -- the resignation of the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, after he was accused of paying a male escort for drugs and sex. Now, is that going to have a demoralizing effect on your Christian conservative base going into Tuesday?

KEN MEHLMAN: I don't think that it will. I think that what people will see it, as I see it, which is a real personal tragedy. Obviously, all the facts aren't out there, but if anything I think what you have to say is, you have to say, for his family, his wife and his kids, your heart goes out to them. And they're in your thoughts and in your prayers.

What you're dealing with there is a personal tragedy, it looks like. We don't know all the facts. And I don't think that it's a political issue; I think it's unfortunately a personal situation.

MARGARET WARNER: So you don't -- you don't expect it to have any dampening effect, not even in Colorado?

KEN MEHLMAN: I don't think that it will. As I said, I think everyone is going to keep -- any time anybody, whoever they are, whatever their political affiliation or religious affiliation goes through something like that, you got to think about them and their family and know what a difficult experience they're going through.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, what should we take from the fact that the president is spending these last days campaigning in states that he won in many cases by huge margins in '04?

KEN MEHLMAN: Well, part of -- I would disagree with some the premise of that. He's in Missouri today. We did well in Missouri. We won it. We didn't win it as much as I would have liked to. He's been in a number of different states. He's going where he can help.

You know, the thing about this president -- I was his political director in '02 and his campaign manager in '04 -- he approaches this whole thing differently than a lot of people do in politics. A lot of people say, "How do I protect myself?" This president says, "How do I help people in my party? How do I help people that agree with me on certain issues and maybe disagree on other issues, but how do we help other people?"

And that's how he's approaching it. He's going where he can be helpful. He also did -- I believe it was 88 fundraisers this year for people, an unprecedented amount of financial and grassroots support the president, the vice president, and the first lady have provided.

And I'll tell you, as chairman of the party, we're going to spend more than this party has ever spent before in congressional elections. And a big reason for it is the generous help this president has provided here for the RNC. And I just -- I thank him for it. It's been wonderful.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Republican Chairman Ken Mehlman, thank you.

KEN MEHLMAN: Thanks a lot.