GOP Strategy for Midterm Victory: Money, Terror, Taxes and Incumbency

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," on October 21, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: I'm Mort Kondracke.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: And I'm Fred Barnes. We are "The Beltway Boys." And the "Hot Story" is, it's not over yet.


BARNES: I am obviously talking about the campaign and the election coming up on November 7th. Now Mort, the conventional wisdom which you often participate in has it that a landslide is building — a wave, as a matter of fact, I've heard you use that word, wave — and the media, of course, is right in there with Democrats and the conventional wisdom creating this bandwagon effect to buttress the idea.

KONDRACKE: I base mine on independent thinking.

BARNES: Being carried by that supposed surge.

Look, the political environment is bad for Republicans. Everybody knows that. It is the six-year itch which you've talked about. And I rather doubt if Republicans will win a single Democratic seat, beating a Democratic incumbent.

But, Republicans have some real advantages as we go into the final two weeks, some real strengths. And I am going to go over them for you, Mort, so pay attention.

KONDRACKE: We're the optimists. Go ahead.

BARNES: You might want to take notes. The first weapon, money. The GOP has a cash advantage over Democrats, that's a cash advantage, especially in competitive races where they have a two to one edge. They have an edge of what, $46 million.

Now, Republicans also have a better ground game, that is, boots on the ground in key states and a better get out the vote organization. A memo circulated by the RNC Friday says Republican volunteers who are very, very important have contacted more than 14 million voters this year, seven million since Labor Day alone and they have made one million voter contacts each week for the past five weeks. Mort, that is not nothing.

Another advantage for Republicans, the two T's: terror and taxes. Both issues rile up the base favorably and also many voters. Here is a brand new RNC ad hitting the terror theme, Mort. Watch.

I loved it. But here is President Bush on Thursday on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania hitting the taxes theme. Watch.


GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: When the Democrats had a chance to deliver tax relief for the American people, they voted no. This is a party that is genetically hostile to tax relief.

With every vote they have cast they make clear to the American people, higher taxes are a part of the congressional Democrats' DNA.


BARNES: The final advantage is incumbency. If you are an incumbent, it is harder for a challenger to win than for a challenger to win in an open seat. A final thing, and that is Republicans had the dominant theme in September and it was terror and taxes, particularly terror. They lost that with Mark Foley. Now they have not gotten it back yet. I think whose theme is going to dominate the last two weeks it is up for grabs. Republicans need to grab it.

KONDRACKE: A couple of things.

That scary terrorism ad reminded me a lot of the 1964 famous daisy ad that Lyndon Johnson used against Barry Goldwater, the little girl picking off daisies as the count down to nuclear war. It is designed to scare the electorate and I agree, terror is an important issue. But I think it is trumped by the Iraq issue. And there is constantly bad news about Iraq, the latest one was that Operation Together Forward designed to clear out Baghdad is not working according to the chief spokesman for the command in Iraq.

BARNES: They're neither together nor moving forward.

KONDRACKE: So all of that makes the environment terrible, as you say, for Republicans and good for Democrats. According to the NBC Wall Street Journal poll, President Bush's job approval rating is at 38 percent. That is not good. Now Republicans say legitimately that, well, these national polls do not give an accurate picture of the situation in Republican districts where the battle ground is in this campaign because Democrats are trying to take over Republican districts but National Public Radio did a poll of 48 most competitive districts with named candidates and there the Democrats had a 21 point advantage on the question of voter intensity and 38 of these districts were Republican-held districts and there it showed that these were districts where in 2004 the Republican candidate got 57 percent of the vote. It shows the Democrats up by four percent. And that's in those specific districts.

Now, looking to individual Senate races, Republicans are deeply pessimistic about these Senate races: Conrad Burns in Montana, Mike DeWine in Ohio, Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania.

And if that is all accurate, and I think it is, except there was some question about whether Chafee out of name loyalty because his father was such a great senator, might conceivably pull it out. In any event.

BARNES: And Republicans are not, as The New York Times said, pulling out of Ohio. They are still bankrolling DeWine and he could come back.

KONDRACKE: That's true but he's got a long way up to go. So the battle for the Senate is basically thought to be in four specific races that the Democrats need to win three of them in order to take over the Senate. One is in New Jersey which is actually a Democrat incumbent Bob Menendez, is up over his challenger Tom Kean Jr. I think that is such a blue state and Menendez will retain the seat.

BARNES: But Kean is in the ball game. Four points is not much.

KONDRACKE: I agree. And in Missouri Republican incumbent James Talent is locked in a tight race with Democrat Claire McCaskill. Talent is up one point in a poll this week. I have no idea what is going to happen in that race.

BARNES: I think Republicans nationally are emphasizing this race more than any other. I agree, one point means nothing. But I think Talent is the favorite.

KONDRACKE: The open seat in Republican seat Tennessee, Democrat Harold Ford Jr. is holding a two-point lead in the latest poll over Republican Bob Corker. Now I think Corker is doing a lot better than he was before since Tom Ingram, who is Lamar Alexander's chief of staff went down there to take over the campaign. A lot more energy and it looks like Corker is picking up there, a lot of people that I talk to say that.

And then perhaps the premiere race of this cycle, at least the one that Bill Clinton campaigned in and George Bush, on the very same day is in Virginia where Republican incumbent George Allen is up three points in the latest poll over Democrat James Webb. I think you have to say that this race is leaning toward Allen.

BARNES: And Allen's - I know his internal polling shows it's even better than three points.

KONDRACKE: So, what else have you got to say about this race?

BARNES: The - I think you are wrong about that LBJ ad, this ad this year on terror because look, everybody knew Barry Goldwater wasn't going to drop an H-bomb. That's why they took that ad off after one showing but the terrorist threat is real, as I have often heard you say, so there you have it.

KONDRACKE: One other point, and that is that this NPR poll showed that independents who - lots of people say independents don't vote, in fact they represent 20 percent of the electorate even in off year elections are going 50-30 for the Democratic candidate.

BARNES: And it also showed, Mort, that there is astonishing happening in politics that no other polls show. That there is a huge shift in the gender gap that women now, at least young ones, are more Republican than men than men are. Can you believe that? The polls showed that.

KONDRACKE: No, it didn't.

BARNES: Yes it did. Raises doubts about that NPR poll.

KONDRACKE: We're not going to get into the weeds on this.

So here is the bottom line predictions for the House and the Senate. In the House I now say that Democrats will pick up 25 seats, four more than I said last week and Fred stays at Democrats picking up 18 so we both agree that the Democrats take back the House.

And in the Senate we are keeping our predictions from last week, I say that the Democrats will win five seats, which will put them at 50-50 and then Dick Cheney will have to cast the deciding vote. Fred says Democrats plus four and bottom line, Republicans hang on to the Senate.

BARNES: They should.

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