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Kaine: Obama May ‘Adjust and Correct’ Policies After Midterms

November 1, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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On the eve of Election Day, Gwen Ifill talks about the stakes for the midterm vote with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine.
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GWEN IFILL: Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. And he joins us now.

Welcome, Governor.

TIM KAINE, Chairman, Democratic National Committee: Hey, Gwen. Good to be with you.

GWEN IFILL: So, tomorrow, we’re waiting to see what the outcome is. And I have heard Democrats saying it depends on the turnout. How much of that is true, and how much of the outcome is already cooked?

TIM KAINE: Well, Gwen, it does depend on turnout. And we — you know, I’m encouraging folks to get out there and vote.

We’re seeing some positive signs. About 12 million Americans in our targeted races and targeted states have voted already. And not only are we seeing no enthusiasm gap, in virtually all of our targeted areas, Democrats are voting early more than Republicans are. And so that is an early sign that some of the doom-and-gloom prognostications may be premature. We’re feeling good about early voting.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me try some of the doom and gloom on you. We have heard the term bloodbath. What’s your response to that?

TIM KAINE: Well, you know, they’re saying all kinds of things. And I think some of it is, if they say it over and over again, it may persuade some Democrats to stay home.

It’s very important that we turn out. And, again, we’re seeing — you can look at polls, but the best bit of data we have right now is the actual votes that are being cast in states that allow early voting. And Democratic performance in virtually all of those targeted areas is strong.

GWEN IFILL: Democrats are turning out to vote early, as you say, but how do you know they’re voting for you?

TIM KAINE: Well, we feel pretty good about that. I think the issue is, if our votes turn out — if our voters turn out, we win. Some of the generic polls I have seen suggest that, while there still may be a gap among likely voters on the — among registered voters, Democrats are strong.

And so we feel like, if we get our folks out, they’re voting our way. Obviously, tomorrow is going to be big. But the early signs are not the doom-and-gloom signs that the other guys are predicting.

GWEN IFILL: This is not the first time that elections have turned around the notion of change.

TIM KAINE: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: In your opinion, have the Republicans managed, this time, this cycle, to usurp that mantle from the Democrats, who had it last time?

TIM KAINE: Well, it is the case, Gwen, that people are hurting. So, it’s a tough time. All midterms are tough, as you know, having covered these.

Since Teddy Roosevelt, the average midterm is, you lose 28 House seats and lose four Senate seats if you’re the party with the White House. And with a tough economy, it gets even tougher. So, clearly, there are folks out there who haven’t yet seen enough change. They want to see more change.

And the argument that we make to voters is, look, the Democrats have done the heavy lifting behind President Obama to take a shrinking economy and turn it into a growing economy. We have got to grow more.

But the only way we will is by moving forward, rather than embracing the Republican policies that put us into the tailspin.

GWEN IFILL: You have been traveling the country, working — campaigning for, what, how many Democrats by now? Are you keeping count?

TIM KAINE: Oh, my gosh. I have been in, yes, 40-plus states and like a quarter-of-a-million miles here in recent months in airplanes.

And we’re definitely, since Labor Day especially, seeing very strong enthusiasm activity at the president’s rallies that have been huge, canvassing and turnout — voting turnout efforts that are strong. So, we have got work to do, but we’re feeling good.

GWEN IFILL: But — pardon me — what message are voters telling you when you go out there and you talk to them at — not just at rallies, where there are lots of people who are very happy, but what is the source of this discontent that you’re — that we’re picking up, at least, in our polling?

TIM KAINE: I think that the discontent is just largely connected with, we don’t see the economy yet as where we want it to be.

I mean, so many people are hurting. And whether it’s job losses or foreclosures and even somebody who hasn’t lost a job, there’s somebody in their family or somebody in their neighborhood who has. And so that’s — it’s touching everyone. That’s the — the main source of the frustration.

The point I make when I talk to these voters is, the only way we will go from there to where we want to be is taking steps along the way. You don’t just jump to the top of the ladder. You have to climb every rung. And it started with a GDP that was shrinking in 2009 that’s now grown five quarters in a row, shedding private sector jobs 22 months in a row. We have now grown private sector jobs nine months in a row. We’re turning it around. We have to keep climbing, rather than go backward.

GWEN IFILL: But you did concede this morning on another news program that the president might have to make some adjustments — your words — adjustments and corrections after the election. Could you elaborate on that?

TIM KAINE: Oh, sure, absolutely.

Look, this president, every day, he is looking at the state of things to try to adjust and correct. And it’s very, very common for presidents in midterms. About two years in, you start to see that. You have seen some folks from the White House announce they’re going, and so that there are some positions to be filled.

You will see that going forward. The president is very, very proud of the accomplishments thus far, but recognizes that folks still have a lot of anxiety, and it’s important to carefully read that and review that in terms of policies going forward.

GWEN IFILL: We will hear in a few moments from the head of the Republican Governors Association, Haley Barbour, who is obviously the governor of Mississippi. And he has been saying — and I’m curious and imagine he will say it again — that this is an Obama referendum; this is a referendum on the Obama presidency.

What do you say to that?

TIM KAINE: I say it’s a clear choice. It’s a choice between a Democratic Party that has been doing heavy lifting at a tough time to turn our economy around and a Republican Party, Gwen, that they just told the American public what their top priority is.

Mitch McConnell, Republican minority leader in the Senate, was asked, what is the number-one priority if Republicans take over the majority in either House? He didn’t talk about economy, didn’t talk about deficit, didn’t talk about American competitiveness or defense. He said: Our number-one priority is to make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president.

That means their priority is pure partisanship. We have seen enough of that. We have got to have folks in office who are committed to progress and doing the heavy lifting to solve America’s problems.

GWEN IFILL: If, indeed what — you do believe the president has accomplished progress and his agenda in the last two years…

TIM KAINE: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: … why are we seeing so many Democrats who would otherwise be running saying, I helped with health care, I helped save the auto industry, I helped with the stimulus — why aren’t they saying that? Why, instead, are they saying that they’re not quite — that they’re not — they’re not Nancy Pelosi?

TIM KAINE: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: One congressman was holding up his driver’s license to prove he wasn’t Nancy Pelosi.

TIM KAINE: Yes, Gwen, I — that gives me some gray hair, when I see people do that.

The good news is, again, having been in 40-plus states, the overwhelming majority of Democrats that I campaign with, they talk with pride about their party, their president and their accomplishments, saving the auto industry, saving our financial system from collapse, women entitled to equal pay for equal work, health insurance reform. Most Democrats are very proud of those things.

There are some who kind of want to hold the accomplishments at arm’s length. And everybody has got to decide, A, what they believe and how to run their own race. But I think the best thing to do is just be proud of who you are and what you have done. And Democrats have a lot to be proud of right now.

GWEN IFILL: And, finally, Governor, with the late counting that is going to go on in states like Washington and Nevada with these very tight races, are you anticipating recounts? Are lawyers already on the ground?

TIM KAINE: I definitely suspect there will be recounts. We’re seeing an awful lot of razor-thin races House and even statewide races that we think will be razor-thin. We’re prepped for it.

But the main thing that suggests is, here, 24 hours before the polls close, it’s very important for everybody to vote, so that these razor-thin races will have a little bit of spacing in them, and we won’t need the lawyers.

GWEN IFILL: Governor Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, thank you for joining us.

TIM KAINE: You bet, Gwen.