"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Democrats are crowing that victories this week in elections for governor in Virginia and New Jersey mean they have the momentum going into the 2006 campaign. But Republicans say these were local races on local issues.
We want to talk politics now with Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. He joins us from Santa Fe. And Governor Mike Huckabee, Republican of Arkansas and chairman of the National Governors Association. He joins us from Little Rock.
Governors, welcome to both of you. Thanks for coming in today.
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: It's a pleasure, Chris.
GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: Thank you, Chris.
WALLACE: Let's start with the outlook for Republicans. When you combine the election results Tuesday night with the president's drop in the polls, with growing doubts about Iraq and other issues -- and, Governor Huckabee, why don't we start with you -- how much trouble are the president, the White House and congressional Republicans in right now?
HUCKABEE: Well, Chris, let's be honest. It wasn't the best week we've ever had as the Republican Party. But the good news is this is a midyear election or a midterm election and we've got next year to make some course corrections. I don't think that this is some trend -- clear in Virginia and New Jersey.
We didn't win the elections, but we didn't hold those offices, so we still have the same number of governors that we did before Tuesday. I think we have a chance to sort of get motivated, play our best game next year.
WALLACE: Same question for you, Governor Richardson. How much trouble are the Republicans in right now?
RICHARDSON: Well, clearly, last Tuesday was a bad signal for Republicans. There's a mood out there of a collapse of confidence, failed leadership. You combine Katrina, the competence issue there, with a lack of trust on Iraq, with huge budget deficits, with gas prices soaring, you can't separate.
The voters are smart. They send signals. If you look at Virginia, this was a red state and we won by six points. In addition to that, the president campaigned right before the election in Virginia. That is a referendum on his leadership.
Republicans had a bad day. And it's going to take more than course corrections. I love Governor Huckabee -- well, I'm not going to overdo that. But I just want to say that governorships right now -- we have 36 governorships up next year. We're optimistic.
We have shown -- governors have shown we can win in red states. 12 Democratic governors out of the 22 are in red states. And I believe it's a good sign for Democrats in the '06 election and the '08 race.
WALLACE: Let me bring your friend, Governor Huckabee, in here.
Governor, you know, there are a lot of points that I think you'd agree with that Governor Richardson just made. It has been a tough year, actually, for the president, the first year of his second term. Among other things, Social Security reform went nowhere.
Let me just ask you a couple of specifics. Should he, do you believe -- does he need fresh blood in the White House staff? And give me one or two issues that you think he really needs to hit starting in January.
HUCKABEE: Well, you said I would agree with Bill Richardson. I certainly agree that he loves me. He's a great guy, and I love him back. I don't agree on all the points, and especially that this was a referendum on the president.
The truth is George Bush was at the height of his popularity four years ago in 2001 and a Democrat won the Virginia governor's race then. We won two out of three races that were on the statewide ballot, attorney general, lieutenant governor. We lost the governor's race.
WALLACE: Yes, but, Governor, look ahead, if you will, to what the president needs to do.
HUCKABEE: Well, I think he's clearly got to redefine the scope and vision. There's been a lot of distractions with the Scooter Libby issue and the Iraq war. Without a doubt, this has not been a good week. And I'll acknowledge that.
It would be disingenuous for me to say oh, it doesn't matter, and we don't care, and it's no big deal. Of course it's a big deal to us. But it's not a big deal in the sense that we have seen this mudslide going from Republican to Democrat, because we haven't.
And I think what you're going to see is a real motivated Republican Party. The good news is the fund-raising in the Republican Party is at an all-time high. We're going to go into those 36 governor races tuned up and ready to play the "A" game.
WALLACE: Do you think, Governor Huckabee, there are a couple of specific issues that the president needs to focus on with the State of the Union speech next January?
HUCKABEE: Well, I'm not sitting by the phone waiting for him to call me and tell me what he ought to do, but if it were my advice, it would be to give some real focus on some of the domestic issues like health care and energy.
Governor Richardson, I want to talk to you, if I can, about something that the Democrats are hitting very hard right now, and that was what we saw in the last segment, and that is the question of pre- war intelligence.
Speaking honestly, do the people of New Mexico care all that much right now about what Dick Cheney or someone else said back in 2002?
RICHARDSON: Well, they do care, because the issue is a lack of trust. And I think the administration needs to start telling the American people the truth on a lot of Iraq issues -- the recognition that there's no exit strategy, that there's a need for a political solution, that the military solution is just not there.
I think that needs to happen. But, you know, you take Mike Huckabee. He has been a leader among the governors in fighting against the administration's cuts on Medicaid. Gas prices are so high, Mike, that this is what, really, people in New Mexico care about.
And the administration is just not responding. They're hunkering down. The president is basically saying on Iraq if you don't agree with me, you're unpatriotic. That's not the right response to those that are legitimately criticizing his policy.
WALLACE: Governor Huckabee?
HUCKABEE: Well, I don't think the president can be blamed for everything that's gone on, for example, with energy prices. And as far as an exit strategy, there is one. Get a stable Iraqi government. That's critical to a solid Middle East peace process and to bringing some stabilization to the region.
Going back to 2000 and 2001, 2002, and when did we know, and what we knew, I would say that the average person looks at the speeches that were made by both Democrats and Republicans and would come to this conclusion. Nobody knew exactly what the truth was, but they acted on the truth as best they knew it.
Was it completely accurate? No. We all agree to that. But Democrats were just as misinformed as anyone else when it came to deciding on whether there were weapons of mass destruction.
But I would agree with Governor Richardson. People are interested in how much fuel costs. They're interested in whether they can heat their homes this winter and whether they can afford to purchase food. And I think that's why the issues are going to have to bubble up on the domestic agenda very quickly for Republicans.
WALLACE: Governor Richardson, let me ask you about the man that I think everybody agrees was the big winner on Tuesday night. Excuse me. And that was Tim Kaine, who was elected governor in the conservative state of Virginia.
Now, here is a Democrat who talked about his faith, talked about his opposition to abortion. What lessons should democrats learn from Tim Kaine about how to win in red states?
RICHARDSON: That we should not -- that we can talk about values, that the religious and values issues is very strong for Democrats. Secondly, that his administration with Governor Warner was fiscally responsible. We balance budgets. We won in suburbs of Virginia that had been Republican, so that's a very good sign.
And in addition to that, a huge turnout of the African-American, especially the Hispanic vote, that we had been losing in the past, eroding to the Republicans.
So there were a lot of good signs, but the main sign, Chris, is that governors should be the leaders of the Democratic Party, because the most innovative policy changes in this country are happening at the state level, not in the Congress.
I think the American people, with all due respect to your first segment -- I mean, that's all process, who said what when. What the American people want is clear policies that address issues of fiscal responsibility, of better schools, of access to health care, of doing something about energy prices, in case of a disaster in my state...
WALLACE: Governor, I've got to...
RICHARDSON: ... do we have an adequate response.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, we're running out of time and I've got to ask you both, and it seems that Governor Richardson has taken us right there, about 2008 and who sees a president when he looks in the mirror.
Governor Huckabee, briefly, first, there was a poll in your state that indicated people are dead split about the idea of you running for president in 2008. How seriously are you taking the idea?
HUCKABEE: Well, you know, if I read that poll, I'd realize that what they'd like for me to do is lay down in the middle of the highway and they'd decide which side of me they'd run over, and I don't blame them.
Let me just respond. The short answer to Governor Richardson's previous question was this. Democrats win when they talk and sound and act like Republicans.
WALLACE: All right. Well, that's a good answer. Thank you.
Governor Richardson -- and I hope you'll be equally brief -- there's a report this week about you going to a fancy Georgetown dinner party, and let's put up on the screen what the report said. Richardson was quoted by one guest as saying, "I'm running and you can tell people that." Two others recalled him saying, "I'm going in 2008."
Governor, simple yes or no question. Is that story true?
RICHARDSON: Well, you know, this is the season for rumors. What I've said and I've always said, Chris, I got to get re-elected in one year. I've got a broad agenda in New Mexico. I love being New Mexico governor. New Mexico has been very good to me. We'll see after '08.
WALLACE: Well, not after '08. That will be a little late. But did you say at that party -- simple yes or no -- I'm going?
RICHARDSON: Those are rumors. You know, this was one of those dinner parties where there were a lot of people supporting a bunch of candidates.
WALLACE: Well, you could end the rumor, Governor.
RICHARDSON: Well, no, that is incorrect. I said that beyond '06, we're going to take a look at a lot of options.
WALLACE: Okay. Governor, that's a yes or no answer.
Governor Richardson, Governor Huckabee, thank you both. Thanks again for joining us.
And, Governor Richardson, good luck with your new book, "Between Worlds: The Making of a Political Life". Thank you both, sir.
HUCKABEE: Thank you.