The Memory of Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, October 26, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: The Beltway Boys are back again.

Labor unions, their money and power and manpower, is critical to Democratic hopes of maintaining the Senate and taking over the House on Election Day.

And joining us to talk about what unions are doing in that drive is Steve Rosenthal, political director for the AFL-CIO.

Great to have you, Steve.


BARNES: What, Steve, will be lost in the Senate, or by the liberal cause, by the death of Senator Paul Wellstone?

ROSENTHAL: Well, it's a tragic loss for all of us. Senator Wellstone was just a champion for workers. This is a guy who woke up every day trying to figure out what he could do to advance the cause of working families. He was a voice, a lone voice, oftentimes, in the Senate for us. And he was a guy who pushed the envelope, who made us work a little harder and try a little harder, and to demand more.

And it's just a terrible, terrible loss for everybody.

BARNES: What do you make of the Senate political race situation in Minnesota now, where it looks like former vice president Walter Mondale will replace Paul Wellstone on the ticket? I know your boss, John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO, is supporting Mondale. How do you see things breaking down there?

ROSENTHAL: Right, I'm glad you said my boss. We, you know, we try not to link the word "boss" and John Sweeney...

It's -- it almost seems crass to talk about it in the shadow of such a tragic event yesterday. But I know that with just 10 days left until the election, it's been an awful lot of the focus. And at this stage of the game, we think that certainly Senator Mondale, former vice president Mondale, former ambassador Mondale would be an outstanding guy to pick up the mantle, to carry the torch that Paul Wellstone carried so well for so long.

BARNES: Well, will that stir a bigger Democratic turnout, or will Democrats be despairing?

ROSENTHAL: Well, you know, what's kind of interesting is that after the tragic loss of Senator Wellstone, you hear President Bush and Senator Dole and Trent Lott and everybody talking about what a strong and important voice he had and how, whether or not they agreed with him, that voice will be missed.

And I hardly think that anybody can count on Norm Coleman to pick up that, that important job that Paul Wellstone did. So I think that it's going to be really important for the voters of Minnesota to know that they've got a chance now to carry on the tradition that Wellstone set.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Steve, turning to the national picture now, a lot depends on election day about -- in both the House and the Senate on turnout. And I wonder which side, the Democrats or the Republicans, do you think have the -- has the intensity going into this, this election?

ROSENTHAL: Well, it's interesting, right now, it really does come down to, it seems, a race-by-race campaign. And we've got an awful strong organization in place in state after state. We think that union members, working families in general, will be mobilized to participate.

Overall, it seems as though it's going to be a rather low-turnout election. There's so much anxiety out there right now about jobs and prescription drugs and health care, and an awful lot of confusion about which candidates will be better on those issues.

We happen to think that by and large, at this stage of the game, if the Republicans gain control of the -- keep control of the House and gain control of the Senate, with George Bush in the White House, it'll be the first time that happened since 1952 in this country, and we know that the agenda that they're going to move will not be good for working families.

So a lot of very important races. It gives us a chance to mobilize voters around those key issues and the fact that there's so much at stake in this election.

KONDRACKE: Well, I've seen both you and John Sweeney quoted as saying that the, that the Democrats are not energized, and that the, that the Democratic candidates are indulging in me-tooism on these issues.

I thought that, that all those, those issues that you mentioned, prescription drugs and the economy and all that, benefited Democratic candidates. So I would, I would have guessed that you'd say that the, that, you know, the Democrats are pumped.

ROSENTHAL: I think by and large what you find in this election is that when we've talked about the me-tooism, it's really been more about the Republicans. In other words, that the… -- when the Democrats say, We've got a good prescription drug plan, and they, and they have a better plan than the Republicans, the Republicans say, Well, we have a plan too.

So there's been a lot of muddying or cloudy water around those issues. I think it's been tough for the Democrats, by and large, and they have not done a great job of articulating a program that connects with workers. But it's going to be critical in the closing days that working families take a good look at both candidates and who they want to control the Congress and who's really going to be in there fighting for them every day.

And I think that with organizations like ours and others, making calls, knocking on doors, contacting voters, and urging them to participate, we're going to do everything we can to make sure that more and more people are turning out to vote.

BARNES: Steve, do you think the Democratic candidates would be wise to advocate ending the, the future parts of the Bush tax cut and criticizing Bush on Iraq?

ROSENTHAL: We think that it's really, really important that there be a strong economic agenda put forth by the Democrats, that they articulate a strong agenda and make that reverberate around the country…

BARNES: I haven't heard one.

ROSENTHAL: Well, I agree with you, it's been hard. But through this election and into the next, that's going, that's going to be critical.

There were 100,000 people, by the way, protesting in D.C. today. It was a little tough for me to get over here on the Metro train because there are so many people out there protesting right now.

KONDRACKE: Your, your Web site says that, that the Democratic agenda should, should include extended unemployment benefits, Medicare prescription drugs, and four, and 401(K) reform. But how does that get more workers working, getting jobs? I mean, what does it do to stimulate employment?

ROSENTHAL: Well, look, there, there, there are a load of things that need to be done to, to stimulate employment, and, and we've got to do more to protect the jobs of people out there right now. I mean, you see in the, in the survey that you put up a little bit earlier on the screen, it said that the economy is now the number one issue on, on working families' minds.

You look at the -- you know, in poll after poll around the country, people are not talking about the war, they're not talking about terrorism. Those are serious problems, no doubt, but the bottom line is that politicians in both parties need to really begin to address issues that matter to, to working families.

Certainly the Bush administration has turned a deaf ear on working families, and there needs to be a real check on that in Congress right now.

BARNES: Steve, you all have -- in organized labor have targeted certain states. And let me ask you about one of them, Missouri, in the Senate race there, where Jean Carnahan is the Democratic incumbent. Republicans say this is their best chance for a pickup, and they think they'll win there.

ROSENTHAL: Well, Jim Talent is a guy who, who had a zero percent record, that, that is very tough to do. You have -- that's, that's a guy who has to wake up every day and figure out, How am I going to stick it to workers? to have a zero percent record on our scorecard.

So there's a real clear contract there. Jean Carnahan has been a real fighter for working people. And we think when all is, when all is said and done that, that working families in Missouri will turn out in big numbers and reelect her.

KONDRACKE: Steve, thanks so much for being with us.

ROSENTHAL: Thanks, thanks for having me.

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