This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Nov. 17, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: John Kerry said that there were enough voters for him, but in Ohio they just didn’t get them to the polls. Nancy Pelosi (search) says the voters need to be better educated about where the Democrats really stand. Those are a couple of the explanations that Democratic leaders have offered for their losses in this election. But not all Democrats quite agree.
One who has a different view is Jamal Simmons, a Washington public relations consultant, who has worked for a number of Democrats, including the presidential candidate campaigns of Bob Graham and Wesley Clark.
He joins me tonight from Little Rock, where he is attending the library opening of Bill Clinton (search) and whose administration he served.
Mr. Simmons, welcome. Thank you very much for coming in, for waiting for us to come to you. We’re glad to have you.
JAMAL SIMMONS, FORMER WESLEY CLARK PRESS SECRETARY: Thanks for having me, Brit.
HUME: Give me your thoughts about this election and what you think — what lessons you think Democrats should take away from it?
SIMMONS: Well, having spent many of the last years in the South working for southern-based candidates, including Bill Clinton who I was honored to work for in my first campaign as a paid worker, I think that what is happening here is the Democratic Party is not connecting with the majority of American voters. It’s very clear.
We’ve lost 7 of the 10 last presidential elections. We’ve lost all of the congressional majorities for the last 10 years. We’ve lost most of the governorships and we’re in danger of losing the state legislatures. So the party is now becoming a minority party. And we’ve got to do something about that.
SIMMONS: Well, I think what we’ve got to do is invite people in who are winning elections in these states. People like Brian Schweitzer (search) out in Montana who became the governor, Jan Napolitano in Arizona. Let’s bring them to the table.
HUME: What is it that they’re addressing? I mean what issues is it or what concepts are they addressing that you feel other Democrats are not? In other words, what message — what is the wrong message, what is the right message?
SIMMONS: Well, first of all we need the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates that are strong on national security. A muscular, forward-leading defense policy that shows the American people we understand that we’re at war, that there are is a terrorist threat from abroad and that we’re serious about taking the threat on. This isn’t a defensive position that we’re being offensive about and tactical about our defense.
We’re going to — we need to share with people that we understand they’re freaked out. They are upset about a culture that they feel is out of control, that is out of their hands. And that Democrats understand that and we take that seriously. Once people begin to trust us on issues of their culture, to begin to trust us on issues of defense, they’ll listen to us on protecting Social Security and giving higher wages to workers and on making sure we have health care for all Americans. But we’ve got to at least cross the threshold of the two issues that they clearly want to know, the Democrats understand.
HUME: What is missing, in your view, in the Democrats’ message on the culture?
SIMMONS: Well, for instance, Bill Clinton apparently, according to all press reports, advised John Kerry to give a speech about being against gay marriage. Instead of giving that speech about being against gay marriage, John Kerry played defense on gay marriage. He didn’t ask him to change his position, he just asked him to explain his position on the issue so the average American understands it.
If we can take an issue like that, just like Montana with Brian Schweitzer; when the governors came out against gay marriage, he then was able to shift the debate back to the economy in Montana and people voted for him.
So, the more we can talk about the economy, the more we can talk about what we all share in the social issues. But what’s more important is to get the party out of the hands of the D.C. and New York insiders, and back into the hands of people who are winning states — winning elections in states that happen to vote Republican.
HUME: Do you believe a Democratic Party argument against gay marriage (search), the position against gay marriage would run the risk of alienating a voting block, which has become important to the Democrats and which many Democrats feel sympathetic toward?
SIMMONS: No. I think that in fact what we’re for is what most people in America are for. We’re for making sure people have the ability to share property, making sure people who are sick can visit each other in the hospital, making sure — trying to encourage long-term relationships of whatever nature. But we wouldn’t call it marriage. Most people in America are for those things. They just don’t want it to be called marriage.
And so I don’t think we’ll alienate people by talking about that. Even the human rights campaign was against having gay marriage as an issue during this election. So Democrats have got to speak up and be strong about our values. And then we can start talking to people about the other things that are important, like healthcare, Social Security, education and the rest.
HUME: What do you draw from this poll number about which much has been made about values playing such a big part in this election, moral values? Is that part of what you’re talking about when you’re suggesting a more definite position on gay marriage? Or are there other things there as well?
SIMMONS: Well, for instance, there are times when people who are friends of ours and allies come out with a position taking the nativity scene out of a public square. Is that the issue we’re willing to forfeit our electoral future on? It maybe an important constitutional issue. But Democrats have to stand up and say hey look, we’re a people of faith, everybody should have their expression of faith allowed to be in the public square. But that’s not really the issue right now. What is more important is the war on terrorism, Social Security and the rest. Instead, we allow our agenda to be defined by these other social issues that many people feel as if are attacking their culture in the country.
And I guess the real point here is that we need to really focus in on our priorities, think about what’s really important. And are we willing to sacrifice Democratic majorities to go after social points that just really don’t have that big of an impact on people living in ghettos in cities, or in rural areas where they don’t have health care. I mean those are the people that we’re supposed to be fighting for. And if we lose elections we can’t do anything for those people.
HUME: Jamal Simmons. Very interesting. Thank you very much. Glad to have you.
SIMMONS: Thanks for having me.
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