This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," November 7, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Tonight, take a look right behind me at our Capitol. Tonight, it's up for grabs, and tomorrow is the showdown. Who will control the House, the Senate? We're just hours away from finding out. Back in 1994, Republicans ripped power away from the Democrats for the first time in 40 years, led by Newt Gingrich. We sat down with the former speaker of the House and the author of the new book, "Rediscovering God in America," a few moments ago and talked about winning and losing.
VAN SUSTEREN: I know you've won an awful lot of races. Early on in your career, you ever lose?
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I lost twice, my first two elections '74 and '76. Winning was better.
VAN SUSTEREN: I was going to ask you, explain losing. What's it like for the candidate? Because a lot of people are going to lose in the next, you know, 36 hours.
GINGRICH: Well, my two daughters were pretty young back then, and they used to say it got to be a really long night. And you kind of stand around and think people have rejected Dad. So it's a — you know, it's a little bit — both of my races that I lost were very close. I got 48.5 percent and 48.3 percent. And we'd get up the next day and go back and keep campaigning, and eventually wore — you know, wore out my opponents and finally won.
But I also had two very close races late in my career, where it would be 3 o'clock in the morning and you'd be waiting for the last three precincts and you'd wonder what was going to happen. Those were a little tense. My — Cathy (ph), my older daughter, had just married her husband the first time we had a very close race. And he was sitting there at 2:00 in the morning, going, isn’t this kind of supposed to be fun? He said, "this doesn't seem like much fun."
So you know that the tomorrow night, there are going to be a lot of folks who are very tense and very focused, and I think there are going to be a lot of very close races.
VAN SUSTEREN: How about making that phone call? Because that's sort of the — you know, that's when you call your opponent and you congratulate your opponent, but I imagine you don't feel too much like congratulating the winner.
GINGRICH: One of the things that helped keep my career alive is that the very first time I lost, in 1974, I was a brand-new, young, you know, college teacher running for Congress. And I went on WSB, and John Pruitt (ph), who was then the very popular anchor on WSB, was doing the election night anchor. And he happened to have the very senior Democrat I ran against on the phone as I arrived at the studio. And he said, Oh, Congressman Flint (ph), wouldn't you like to talk with Newt Gingrich. He just walked in. And Flint on the air says, No, I don't want to talk to him at all, and just was sort of pounded on him (INAUDIBLE) And he looked so un — like such a bad sport that it actually kind of — people felt sorry for me and felt good for me. And it created a bond that Pruitt and I had for the following 30 years.
VAN SUSTEREN: But it's sort of interesting. You know, people say terribly mean things about each other, especially in, you know, the most recent races, and these horrible negative ads, you know, basically calling everyone, you know, a liar, a cheat and anything else. Yet when we see them, you know, in the Green Room or something, they actually seem sort of friendly, you know, post-election. No grudges?
GINGRICH: Oh, I think in the meanest races, there are grudges. I think in the very — in some of the ones that are very personal and very vicious, there are grudges. But I think most of these folks are a little bit like people who play football or any other contact sport, where you actually are colliding, and you know, you know it's — you want to win. You want to be very intense. But there's something about being an American that's bigger than the current campaign. And then you try to find a way to get along together. And frankly, the system is pretty brilliant because you got 100 senators, 435 House members. You kind of have to learn to work with each other to make it work. So you get over it.
VAN SUSTEREN: Who is the luckiest candidate in this election, I mean, in the sense that, you know — you know, in many fields, luck, I mean, talent, brains, that's very important, but luck sometimes helps. Is there anyone really lucky this year?
GINGRICH: Oh, I think the luckiest is Arnold Schwarzenegger.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why?
GINGRICH: I mean, he got the weakest opponent he could have gotten in a state that's a very difficult state for a Republican. He's probably going to win in a landslide. He sort of reestablished himself as a larger-than-life figure, having had a bad year last year. And I think that having Phil Angelides is probably as much luck as he could have hoped for this year.
VAN SUSTEREN: And the unluckiest one this year? Who's...
GINGRICH: I think Mark Foley.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why?
GINGRICH: Well, because he left. He disappeared.
VAN SUSTEREN: That wasn't, like, luck. I mean, that's — I mean, I would think...
VAN SUSTEREN: ... it was more like luck for the person who might be the same party in the next district.
GINGRICH: I think the way it happened, he probably feels like it was a large meteorite that came from outer space. One minute, he's running for reelection and he's fine, and the next minute, he's smushed and he's gone. It was a — it was about as fast a turnaround in somebody's life as I've — I mean, I shouldn't be even smiling because, you know, I knew Mark for years and it's a very sad moment. But you think about the speed of that turnaround — you know, two hours after he talks to a reporter, he's resigned and he's gone.
VAN SUSTEREN: Being in office is one thing. Running for office seems to be another set of skills. Is it?
GINGRICH: I think they're very different. I think governing is about 10 times more complicated than campaigning. And campaigning takes just a level of energy and endurance and focus. Plus, it helps if you like people. I think if you watch, say, Bill Clinton, or for that matter, President Bush — I mean, both of those guys, you can feel that they like people, that they're exhilarated by the crowd. They gain energy. And I think that that helps you as a candidate. I think people can sense — if you're the kind of person who reaches out and who really enjoys being with other people, that comes through.
VAN SUSTEREN: Who's the smartest tactician — I'll take you out of the mix — smartest tactician in terms of being an actually politician racing (ph)?
GINGRICH: The two smartest in my lifetime were Nixon and Clinton.
VAN SUSTEREN: How are they alike?
GINGRICH: They both had an ability to see a situation and figure out five possibilities faster than you and I could have described it. It just intuitively worked up here. Very different personalities in other ways, but I would say that Nixon and Clinton are the two smartest senior politicians I've ever met.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think politicians sometimes get bored? I mean, you know, every day — especially, like, in these long presidential races, day after day after day, getting up, getting hustled to a different place, giving the same speech, shaking hands? I mean, everyone seems to like it, but how?
GINGRICH: The narrower ones get bored. The broader ones learn and engage and are fascinated by everything around them. Reagan used to tell this wonderful story about these two psychologists who both go in the building at — early in the morning, a very young guy and a much older guy. At the end of the day, they come back at exactly the same time. They leave their practices. And the young guy is exhausted. The older guy looks totally fresh. After a couple weeks, the young guy can't stand it anymore. He says, I don't get this. We both go in at the same time. We both have the same number of patients all day. We both listen to their problems. The older man goes, You listen?
GINGRICH: So I think some politicians get burned out by the experience. Others get exhilarated by being in a new town, meeting new people, hearing a new story. And it may sound funny. It may sound shallow. But the best political leaders I've ever met are learning 16, 18 hours a day, engaged totally in the process of what they're doing.
VAN SUSTEREN: We hear so often conventional wisdom, who's going to win, who's not, the polls and everything. Do you buy conventional wisdom, or is that just sort of, like, you know, cable news, Washington chatter, we all sort of seize upon and it becomes sort of fact, for some reason?
GINGRICH: No, I try to scan very widely. I try to look at all the different polls. You know, Realclearpolitics.com obviously carries a huge volume of polling. And I try to get a flavor of what do I intuitively think is right? You know, the great stories from the Midwest — in 1978, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune had this poll in the Saturday before the election, and the three Republicans running statewide, two Senate, one governor, were all going to lose by 18 points. The following Tuesday, they won by 18 points.
I mean, that wasn't a 36-point turnaround. The poll was wrong. John Engler was going to lose in 1990 to Governor Blanchard, and on the Saturday morning before the election, the Detroit paper had him down 12 points. He won by 8 points. And it was a combination of the poll was wrong and about — in an off year, who turns out changes everything.
So my ground rule has been for my whole career, show me the first 10 precincts. After all the polling is done, I want to hear in the real world, what did real people do? Who decided it mattered enough to show up? And that's why I'll be looking tomorrow night with utter fascination to see what's going to happen because I think this has been one of the most volatile elections I can remember. And the Republicans were in desperate trouble three or four weeks ago. Right now, it feels to me like they've come back dramatically, and I don't know what the final result will be tomorrow night.
VAN SUSTEREN: When you look at polls — they don't poll cell phones. A lot of people have cell phones. They might — they poll hard lines, but maybe for some neighborhoods, they have hard line phones in their home but they don't have the wherewithal to get up to go to the polls. So it's hard to understand how the polls can be anything but sort of a seduction that we succumb to.
GINGRICH: Well, I mean, if you take enough polls, you do learn some things and they're useful, more for attitude than for candidacy. But you have what — people who are watching us, you want to understand polls, a poll of all adults has no meaning at all. A poll of registered voters has a little bit of meaning. A poll of likely voters has a lot more meaning, if you're accurate on who the likely voters are. Polls on Friday nights are very under-Republican by definition. For some reason, whether it's going out to football or whatever. Republicans aren't available on Friday nights.
VAN SUSTEREN: They're the party people?
GINGRICH: I think they're actually the parents who go watch their kids play football.
VAN SUSTEREN: They're not the ones out at the bars and...
GINGRICH: No, I — well, they may well do that after the game. But I'm just saying, it's interesting. And so you get — when you've looked at the polls long enough, you get kind of a sense of the art form of what are you looking for and what do you I think the factors are.
And in a number of states, you know the Republicans will tend to outperform the polls by between 2 and 7 percentage points because, historically, that's what they do. And so you look for those kind — this is in an off year. In presidential election year, you have a different set of variables because the turnout is so much higher.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Is this going to be an exciting election, not who wins or loses, or is this going to be...
GINGRICH: It's going to be a very exciting election.
VAN SUSTEREN: It's not going to be a thud?
GINGRICH: Oh, this is — if you are interested in watching history be made — I mean, whether you're Republicans and you're frightened you might be crying, or you're Democrats and you hope you're going to be celebrating, whether or not tomorrow night it turns out Republicans do better, so the Democrats are crying and the Republicans are celebrating — I think starting with the earliest returns from Kentucky and Indiana and then going to New Hampshire and to Connecticut and coming across the country — I mean, I'm going to be glued, watching carefully, because I think it's going to be absolutely fascinating.
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