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What midterm lessons politicians can learn for 2016

Even as a long midterm campaign season comes to a close, politicians don’t have much time to breathe before the race for the White House in 2016. With a new party in control of Congress, what will the next big race look like? Judy Woodruff speaks with Democrat strategist Jeff Link and Republican strategist Doug Heye for what both parties can expect.

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    One thing's true in politics: It's never too early to start thinking about the next election. So what do last night's results mean for both parties as they plan for the race for the White House?

    We're joined now by two veterans of political campaigns.

    Jeff Link is a longtime Democratic strategist who worked most recently on Bruce Braley's Senate campaign in Iowa. He also worked on both of President Obama's campaigns in 2008 and 2012. And Doug Heye is a veteran campaign consultant and a former communications director for the Republican National Committee.

    Welcome to both of you.

  • DOUG HEYE, Republican Strategist:

    Thank you.


    So, Doug Heye, to you first.

    What is the message for your party, for both parties coming out of this election, not just for 2016, but for right now, before we talk about the presidential?



    First and foremost, I think we saw from Mitch McConnell what our message is going to be today and then in the coming weeks, as we go from the lame-duck session into the new Congress. And that's one of Republicans need to be able to demonstrate governance.

    We have seen so much — and I can tell you, the past two-and-a-half working in the House of Representatives for Eric Cantor, we saw a lot of dysfunction in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. I think it's important for Republicans to be able to show that they can do not just some of the big things that we pay attention to and that make headlines every week, like immigration or tax reform, but the day-to-day governance that just hasn't happened in Washington.

    You can pass appropriation bills that passed the House on a bipartisan basis so far this year, but have been stuck in the Senate. We can pass trade deals that the president supports, but that haven't gotten to his desk. Those kinds of things can show Republicans and Democrats and independents that we're serious about governing and we're trying to do what is best for the country.


    Jeff Link, what would you say the message to Democrats is?

  • JEFF LINK, Democratic Strategist:

    Well, I think the message to Democrats from yesterday's election was, when you're the party in control of the White House, midterms are tough.

    And I think that's what we saw. It's similar to 2006. President Bush faced a midterm in 2006 where he lost 30 seats in the Congress. And so it's just difficult in these midterm elections for the party that controls the White House.


    Does the Democratic Party, Jeff Link, need to think differently about how it approaches the next presidential election, because were the voters saying something to Democrats about, we don't like what you stand for, do you think?


    No. I don't think it was as much about the message that the Democrats delivered in these races.

    I think it's a lot about who made up the electorate. Here in Iowa, for instance, we had slightly lower turnout yesterday than we did in 2010. For Democrats to win, we have to have a bigger electorate. We have to have more people participating in the process.

    We have to have a message that drives people out to the polls. But it's really the makeup of these midterm electorates is a real advantage for the Republicans.


    Well, and you can talk about that, Doug Heye.

    But I also want to ask you about what many people perceive right now as two parts of the Republican Party, the mainstream part and then the part of the party — the part that is what Mitch McConnell said today, we want to work with the president, and other Republicans who are saying, wait a minute, we're going to Washington to hold our ground.


    Yes. That's something I dealt with pretty personally for the past two-and-a-half years, as we sometimes pulled votes that were being voted on in the House of Representatives because we couldn't get some things forward.

    And it's going to be a challenge for Republicans to figure out exactly how we're all going to march together in lockstep, especially when there's a complication of — and we're already seeing this with Rand Paul and Ted Cruz — starting to stake out their position for 2016.

    But that's why I think it's important that we start doing some of things that are the day-to-day governance. Again, appropriations bill, they are not terribly sexy. They're not what people talk about, but we can get those things done and move forward legislatively.


    But do you think — you mentioned Rand Paul. Do you think he — he campaigned in I believe 34 different states for candidates in this midterm election. Does he come out of this with a leg up for 2016?


    I think he certainly is showing already that he's aggressively moving towards 2016 and that he's preparing to run against Hillary Clinton, not necessarily any Republican voters.

    He put on his Facebook page told what he called Hillary's losers. And it's everybody who Hillary Clinton has campaigned for in the past months and who has lost. And in his remarks last night on multiple networks, he's gunning for Hillary Clinton. And that's a way that he's trying to stake out his claim for 2016.


    Well, and, Jeff Link, Hillary Clinton was one of the Democrats who was in your state of Iowa campaigning for Congressman Braley.

    She was in I think I saw 15, 20 different states. Many of the candidates she campaigned for didn't win. Does that weaken her as she considers a run for the presidency?


    No, I don't think so.

    I mean, I think many people here in the state were happy to see her, not only once, but twice this fall. And I think she was a big help to Congressman Braley. He didn't get over the line, but that's not because she wasn't a help or because Bill Clinton wasn't a help.

    Again, it's just a tough year to run as a Democrat. And she was traveling around the country for Democratic candidates, and they weren't all successful.


    Do you think there was a message in this campaign then for her and for the kind of campaign she needs to think about if she decides to run? And most people assume she will.


    Well, yes.

    I think her message shouldn't be just a generic Democratic message. I think it has to relate to her experience and her background and what shaped her and where she wants to take the country. I think you have to pick issues that really demonstrate who you are and not just the laundry list of Democratic issues.


    And that brings me back to you, Doug Heye.

    For Republicans, are they — do they come out of this election with some sort of signal that they can run farther to the right, that they need hew to the center? What message do they…


    I think they need to show that they can get things done, they can post results.

    And that is where it will be interesting to see what governors run. I think they could be emboldened by this, a Rob Portman, who clearly wants to get things done. And if Jeb Bush runs, he's somebody who has always shown himself to be one of the adults in the room. That would be a real strength for them as they move forward. They're about legislating. They're about getting things done, because voters want to see things get done.

    And they obviously repudiated the president's message today, which I do think is a complication for Hillary Clinton. What's her legacy now that she runs on? And how does she run in an Elizabeth Warren Democratic Party that has turned its back right now, with candidates literally turning their back on President Obama?


    All questions that we will have a chance to think about in the months to come.

    Doug Heye, Jeff Link, we thank you both.


    Thank you.


    Great. Thanks.

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