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Midterm Test: How to Get Out the Vote


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. With just a little more than a week to go before the midterm elections, many key races for the House and Senate are still neck-and-neck, and while Republicans have had their share of bad news on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to a congressional scandal at home, it's unclear whether voter discontent will be enough to return Democrats to power. There's also the question of whether voters in both parties will care enough to go to the polls. Joining us now is Democratic strategist Jack Quinn. Mr. Quinn served in the Clinton White House as counsel to the president. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JACK QUINN (Democratic Strategist): Thank you so much.


HANSEN: Republican strategist Ed Gillespie is a partner in Quinn, Gillespie & Associates, a political consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Mr. Gillespie is the former chair of the Republican National Committee, and welcome to the program.

Mr. ED GILLESPIE (Republican Strategist): Thank you. Great to be with you.

HANSEN: Mr. Gillespie, let me ask you about what's been dubbed the values voters. Is there a sense that the Republican Party is losing their hold on them, and if so, what are the Republicans doing to retain these voters?

Mr. GILLESPIE: Well, I don't know that we're losing our hold on those voters. I think that one of the occurrences that may affect turnout and outcome in some critical races is the ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court on gay marriage. The fact is, I think most Americans believe that that is, at a minimum, an issue that should be worked through in the political process, and that could have a pretty big impact, and I think help turnout in a way that helps Bob Corker in Tennessee and George Allen in Virginia.

HANSEN: Mr. Quinn, do you think the recent ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court on same-sex marriage will have an effect on these races?


Mr. QUINN: Well, I think, you know, any development of that significance is something that people pay attention to. I think it affects people on both sides of the issue. And the indelicate subject, of course, is Mark Foley, and I think that this has got to distress an awful lot of people on both sides of the political dialogue. And I think there's nothing more devastating to a politician or a party than when one seems to have behaved in a manner that is contrary to the views and positions articulated in the course of a political campaign, and I think that that is one thing that is a real drag on the Republicans this year. It goes precisely to the question a lot of people have been talking about, namely whether or not the Republican base will be motivated to come out and support Republican candidates.

HANSEN: Let me ask you, Mr. Gillespie, what about the Republican Party faithful? Many of them have expressed discontent. Will this keep them from the polls on November 7th?

Mr. GILLESPIE: I don't think it's going to have an impact on that. The fact is, we're seeing a rallying effect right now in internal polls and in some of the public polls amongst rank-and-file Republicans who are a little bit tired of being told we're going to lose on November 7 and are rallying to our candidates and looking at the choices before them in the election in November and understanding that it's probably not - if you're a core conservative, having Nancy Pelosi run the House is probably not a good thing, a liberal Democrat from San Francisco. So I think you're going to see turnout.

The Foley - the reason Mark Foley resigned is because he was not who he was purporting to be, but that's unique to that one individual who left the House in disgrace or would have been expelled had he not. I don't think in races in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Connecticut and Indiana, that voters are going to go in and think, well, here's my choice, my incumbent Republican congressman and the Democratic challenger, and here's where they are on taxes and on the war on terror and other significant issues, but that former congressman in Florida makes me mad, so I'm not going to vote, or I'm going to vote for the Democrat. I don't think that's going to translate into the individual races across the country.

HANSEN: One of the things we are trying to talk about here is whether voters are actually going to get out there and vote during this election. We've gone out into parts of the country and there seems to be a growing discontent about the entire process.

There's also some disillusionment, particularly with a recent Pew poll among black voters. Twenty-nine percent said they don't think their vote is going to be accurately tallied, and they're maybe twice as likely now as they were in 2004 to say that they don't have any confidence in the voting system. Mr. Quinn, let me ask you. How are the Democrats responding to that?

Mr. QUINN: Well, you know, it's difficult as a national party to respond to that because - and I must say, in the case of the Republican National Party, like the Democrats, it too is powerless to make sure that electronic voting machines and the like work. These are all matters under the jurisdiction, of course, of local and state governments. It's a very fair concern. It's certainly my hope that across the nation these governments do absolutely everything they can to ensure the integrity of the ballot places in every state and locality.

HANSEN: Could I ask the same question to you, Mr. Gillespie? Are the Republicans concerned about this disillusionment with the voting system?

Mr. GILLESPIE: Yes. And we have to restore confidence in the voting process for all Americans. Both parties I think have a responsibility to ensure the integrity of the process and to encourage participation. But I do worry about a very sour atmosphere out there and an attitude amongst voters that is going to result in low turnout in this very important midterm.

HANSEN: I'm going to ask you to switch positions for a minute. Mr. Gillespie, what would you advise the Democrats to do to win?

Mr. GILLESPIE: Well, I think they should put forward a positive agenda. You know, in 1994, when Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 40 years and won 52 seats, we did not just run against Bill Clinton and his agenda. We put forward a positive agenda, 10 specific things that we would do if we were given control of the House for the first time in 40 years, called it the Contract with America, ran ads in TV Guide and on radio and made - had a place where you could go and get copies of the actual bills themselves.

And I think having that kind of positive agenda is important. It's unifying and it's positive. I know what the Democrats are against, or I guess more specifically who they are against, but you don't hear them much talking about what it is they're for. And I think it would be in the interest of the country and probably in the interest of their party to lay out here are the 10 things we'll do if we get control of the House and Senate.

But I suspect they're unwilling to do that because, you know, it is a majority center-right country, and they are a left party.

HANSEN: Mr. Quinn, what advice would you give to the Republicans to win?

Mr. QUINN: Persuade the president to go down to the rose garden tomorrow and introduce a new secretary of defense, perhaps a new vice president, confess error in the prosecution of the war in Iraq, acknowledge that a terrible mistake was made and suggest that the president needs Republicans in the Congress to support him in charting a new course that will help lead us out of that morass.

HANSEN: Jack Quinn is a Democratic strategist who served in the Clinton administration as White House counsel. Thanks for your time.

Mr. QUINN: Sure, thank you.

HANSEN: Ed Gillespie is a Republican strategist and former chair of the Republican Party. Thank you for coming in.

Mr. GILLESPIE: Thanks for letting me be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.