Down to the Wire
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JIM LEHRER: Congressman Paxon, do you agree, first of all, that these House races should be seen as a referendum on the Republican Revolution?
REP. BILL PAXON, Republican Campaign Committee: (New York) Well, I think that it’s very clear that as people now in the final days of this campaign are focusing on what really happened in Washington versus the labels that were placed on our Congress the past two years, they like what they see. And they’re looking at it in terms, Jim, of Congress that has fulfilled its commitments, to take a look at things like balancing the budget, uh, trying to provide tax relief and welfare reform. They’re contrasting it with the last Congress that brought about an 18 percent approval rating two years ago today, the lowest approval rating in American history under the last Democratic Congress. This is a choice between going back to the failed policies of the last Congress and a Congress, a majority that has done its job and moved ahead. And, you know, the three races you just pointed out, in all three of those races, as of today, our Republican incumbents, after being attacked unmercifully by organized labor and the Democrats, now enjoy double digit leads in terms of the reelection. So I think we’re on track. I think that voters are now focusing, and it’s one of the reasons, it’s 60 percent of the Democrat consultants recently surveyed by the hotline in Washington say the Republicans are going to keep control of the House.
JIM LEHRER: So you’re comfortable with people voting on the record of this Congress, correct?
REP. PAXON: Darn right. Two years ago today, the approval ratings for the Democrat Congress was 18 percent, the lowest in American history. Today, according to three independent polls, including Gallup, it’s the highest approval rating in a decade or more. People are focusing on what’s really gone on. And, you know, we’ve just seen the Democrats and their labor boss allies do too much negative advertising too soon. And the American people are fair. And they say, we’ve listened for a year at millions of dollars worth of attack advertising, now we’re looking at the other side, and they’re getting the right message. You’ve got in those three races, for example, our members are up by at least double-digit leads. And as you look around the country, whether it’s the Northeast, whether we’re on offense, going to gain seats here in the Northeast, Phil English will hold his in Pennsylvania, we’ll gain seats in New Jersey, in New York, in Massachusetts, in the south where there’s 19 open Democrat seats, 30 total Democrat seats that are open, we’re going to win a majority of those.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
REP. PAXON: In the state of Washington where for a year now I’ve listened to Democrats say they’re going to beat all our six freshman incumbents, all six of them are now ahead. And let’s just take a look at Seattle, where Rick White and Randy Tate had almost $3 million worth of attack ads run against them by their labor unions and their allies, and they now enjoy double-digit leads going into the final week of the election.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Congressman Frost, it’s all going against the Democrats?
REP. MARTIN FROST, Democratic Campaign Committee: (Dallas) Well, of course, what Bill doesn’t tell you, those candidates, his candidates are under 50 percent. And if you–an incumbent is under 50 percent, chances are that incumbent is going to lose. Let’s take another example. Newt Gingrich, the speaker, came to this city, Dallas, Texas, about a week and a half ago to raise money for the Republican Party. None of the Republican candidates would appear with him. They didn’t want to be photographed with him. Newt is poison. And I’m glad Bill is reminding people that is candidates are running on the record of the last Congress. This was a record, and it’s interesting, I spoke to a college class today, and I reminded that class that this Congress, these Republicans tried to cut student loans by $10 billion, and they were appalled. These Republicans tried to kill the AmeriCorps program. These Republicans tried to cut Head Start. I mean, this is an extreme group. There is a reason why Republicans have not won back-to-back elections for Congress in the last 70 years. It’s been since 1928 on the eve of the Great Depression that the Republicans have been able to string two elections for Congress. They held the Congress from 1946 to 1948, from 1952 to 1954. And now they’ve held it for two years. We’re going for the three-peat. We think it’s two years and out for this crew.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe, Congressman Frost, that the–that the record of this Congress, of the Republican Congress, is enough to run against, and is it working from one part of the country to the other–
REP. FROST: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: –for Democrats?
REP. FROST: Absolutely, Jim. And, in fact, I’m not sure where Bill comes up with his numbers–we have a number of candidates who are leading in the Northeast. We have a number of candidates who are leading on the West Coast. There are three states in the Midwest that have traditionally had Democratic congressmen, they don’t have a single Democrat in their delegation, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa. There will be Democrats elected from those states, and we have a number of Democrats in the South who are leading against Republican incumbents. We think we can pick up two seats in North Carolina. There are two Republicans in Texas we think we can beat, a couple of Republicans in Georgia we think we can beat. We’ve already picked up a seat in Louisiana, because you have two Democrats in a runoff. We think that we can pick up enough seats in the South to offset any losses that we have in open seats and that we’ll pick up seats in all the other regions of the country.
JIM LEHRER: And all–all attributed or mostly attributed to a negative view of the Republican Congress?
REP. FROST: And a negative view of Speaker Gingrich. Now I want to reiterate, Speaker Gingrich was in this city, Dallas, less than two weeks ago. Not a single Republican candidate would appear with him.
JIM LEHRER: Everybody’s running against or away from Newt Gingrich, Congressman Paxon?
REP. PAXON: Oh, Jim, everybody’s running in support of a Congress that’s accomplished its goals. Look at USA Today’s story says that there is less anger toward Congress today than in recent history. As a matter of fact–
JIM LEHRER: What about Gingrich? What about Gingrich?
REP. PAXON: 62 percent of Americans are going to vote to reelect the incumbent to Congress. The fact is Newt Gingrich is running in one district in the state of Georgia. He’s our leader. He’s–let me tell you this–you give the people a choice between a Republican Congress that has accomplished the goals that we set out to accomplish, working to balance the budget, family tax relief and welfare reform, versus the policies of nationalized medicine and higher taxes and lack of welfare reform under the last Congress, it’s not even a close call, and–
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let’s–go ahead. Sorry. Go ahead and finish.
REP. PAXON: I have to comment because–
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
REP. PAXON: –Martin has said, well, you know, you’re in trouble if you’re below 50 percent. Well, then he’s got a real problem because I just look to the numbers. John Over–these are Democrat incumbents–Over–Massachusetts, Rivers in Michigan, Ward in Kentucky, Browne in California, Orton in Utah, Voekmer in Missouri–all below 50 percent. Those are just some of many. The Democrats have the problem. They have not said a single positive thing in this campaign, except vote against Republicans, and the fact is as we get down to the wire, poll after poll shows the American people like what they see. We’ve taken the approval ratings from 18 percent to 50 percent or more. We’re still not–still not high as we’d like to be.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let me–
REP. PAXON: It’s the highest it’s been in at least a decade.
JIM LEHRER: Let me try to move it to the next two years. What’s the positive reason, Congressman Frost, for people wanting a Democratic–why should they want a Democratic Congress? Why should the House become Democratic-controlled for the next two years?
REP. FROST: They should want a Congress that protects education, that protects the environment, and that protects Medicare and that doesn’t try and cut Medicare by $270 billion. They should want a constructive centrist Congress. The Republicans had a golden opportunity two years ago to move to the center. They chose to stake themselves out on the far right. It’s very interesting–I don’t know that Bill will want to talk about this–but Dick Armey, the Majority Leader, was quoted a week ago as saying he needed to elect some more right-wing Republicans so they could outvote the moderates in their own party. This is not a revolutionary country. This is a country that wants gradual responsible change.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Paxon, why should the Republicans continue to control the House of Representatives?
REP. PAXON: We will continue to control–
JIM LEHRER: Why–
REP. PAXON: We’ll attain our majority of seats based on a positive agenda of common sense reform. We’re the party that initiated balancing the budget after 26 years. The Democrats couldn’t do it, and we’re going to keep our pledge. We’re the party that’s promised to appeal the tax increases that Martin and the Democrats passed in ’93. We’re keeping our word. The party that promised welfare reform that the President promised he wouldn’t deliver. We did illegal immigration reform, telecommunications reform, health care reform, a market-oriented farm bill–this has been the most productive Congress of my lifetime, and I think it’s very clear the American people are now starting to respond. Those approval ratings of Congress are up. The reelect numbers are up in polling. The fact is that again and again and again the Democrats have tried a negative approach with their labor allies, spending unprecedented sums of money. And today–as we approach the election a week from today, we’re on the ascent, the Democrats have stalled out after September, and the numbers are moved in our direction dramatically, based on a positive agenda of real change. And by the way–
REP. FROST: If Bill will let me get a word in–
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Frost.
REP. FROST: –the ABC tracking poll shows us up by 12 points on the generic question of would you vote for a Democrat or a Republican for Congress, and they were only up by 5 points when they captured all those seats last time. We’re going to take control of the House. We’re going to have a net gain of 30 seats in this election.
JIM LEHRER: What’s the connection, Congressman Frost, between the presidential race and the House races?
REP. FROST: I don’t think there’s a direct one-to-one relationship, but the better the President does, the better we will do. I’ve been on the other end of this. I remember 1984, when Walter Mondale was our nominee and doing very poorly and how difficult it was for us, and how we lost a lot of seats that year. This is going to be better. It’s better to be winning the presidential election. It’s not a one-to-one coattail relationship, but it does help.
REP. PAXON: Jim–
JIM LEHRER: How do you see the connection, Congressman Paxon?
REP. PAXON: I can’t help but comment. Martin is a little selective. The Hotline and Reuters both have generic ballot questions.
REP. FROST: Reuters shows us up by three.
REP. PAXON: Republican or Democrat–
JIM LEHRER: We’ve got to–
REP. PAXON: –for Congress in your district–and they’re both even. They’re both within the margin area.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask you the connection–
REP. PAXON: It’s interesting–the Roper Organization says that when we’re even in the generic ballot, we actually enjoy an 8 percent lead. So I feel very good about where we are.
JIM LEHRER: Quickly, the connection between the presidential race and the House races, Congressman Paxon.
REP. PAXON: Oh, well, first of all, we’re–unlike the Democrats, who don’t want to talk about Bill Clinton, uh, we’re very proud to run on a ticket that says Bob Dole–
JIM LEHRER: All right.
REP. PAXON: –next year will signed the balanced budget and tax relief and make–
JIM LEHRER: So there is a–
REP. FROST: That’s why they’re running ads. That’s why they’re running ads saying vote for a Republican Congress to offset–
REP. PAXON: No, we’re not running those–no, no, no–that’s not–
REP. FROST: –to offset–
JIM LEHRER: –terrific–
REP. PAXON: We’re running ads reminding folks what a Democrat Congress did two years ago.
JIM LEHRER: We–we have to go, gentlemen. Thank you very much.
REP. FROST: They’re conceding the presidential election.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.