The Scott Brown Effect: Are Democrats Running Scared?

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This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 25, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: Are the Democrats in trouble for the mid-term elections? Karl Rove joins us here in Washington.

Karl, mid-term elections -- they're just around the corner. I suppose that was a rather rude awakening for some in Massachusetts.

KARL ROVE, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH ADVISER: Yes. Absolutely. In fact, look, mid-term elections -- critical moments are happening right now. As the Republicans scramble to get candidates for Congress and Senate, this has given them a big boost in the arm. And as Democrats attempt to keep their members who are running for reelection, it's obviously hurt those. We had a defection today of a senior Democrat first elected 1992 to the House from Arkansas, who's pulling the rip cord and bailing out, Marion Berry.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why is he bailing out? Is it because he doesn't think he can win or it's time?

ROVE: Well, I think Berry is an interesting example because he's representative of a large problem the Democrats have. There are 49 Democrats in the House of Representatives who represent seats carried by Bush and McCain. Forty-eight of those districts were carried by Bush and McCain all three times.

His district was 59 percent for McCain, up from 54. It's a district in the northeast corner of Arkansas, main city's Jonesboro. It's got a little of the exurbs from Little Rock down to the southwestern part of the district. And the northwestern part of the district, it's the historically Republican Ozark country. But it's a Republican district.

And here you had one of the more partisan members of the House, who'd been a relatively good vote for the Democrats on all the big issues and a member of the leadership, and he pulled the rip cord because I think, in part, he saw that this is not going to be a good year to be a Democrat, at least in his part of the world.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about Senator Blanche Lincoln?

ROVE: Well, Blanche Lincoln's in trouble. In fact, the Republicans have had a spirited primary developing. The front-runner there was probably a state senator from Conway, Arkansas, Gilbert Baker, now the Republican congressman from the state. Now Boozman from the third district up in the northwest corner of the state is talking about running. She is losing in the polls to several of these members, a 12-year incumbent in the Senate. So she's got real problems.

And you know, that's not all. I mean, we had Beau Biden today, son of the vice president of the United States, the attorney general of Delaware, who was fully expected to be the Democrat candidate for the United States Senate -- today announced, I'm not running for the Senate.

VAN SUSTEREN: And why isn't he running? Is it because he thinks he can't win? He gave a statement saying -- that wasn't the reason that he gave as a public statement.

ROVE: Look, clearly, that is the reason because he's losing in the polls to a very popular Republican congressman first elected to the House in 1992, was governor before that for 8 years, Mike Castle. And...

VAN SUSTEREN: That's -- I mean, that's a real blow to Vice President Biden.

ROVE: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, it's his seat. He's held it for a long time. I guess it's much like the Kennedy -- so-called Kennedy seat, which Scott Brown says is the people's seat, but nonetheless, it was held by Kennedy for a number of years. I mean, when you can't hang onto the seat, that's - - that's a blow.

ROVE: Right. Well, and there's some conversations (INAUDIBLE) look, Beau Biden, you know, enjoys being attorney general, but you know, not every child wants to follow exactly in the footsteps of their father or mother. And in this instance, he decided he was not going to be running for the seat once held by his father.

I think there's a certain amount of -- of, you know, admirable reaction there, frankly. I know that George W. Bush and his brother, Jeb, for example, both thought about running for governor while their father was president in 1990, and both of them decided for largely the same reasons not to. And one of them was they didn't want to be running for office while their father was serving in the Oval Office.

VAN SUSTEREN: So at this point (INAUDIBLE) the RNC and the DNC, what, do they have big charts of the entire United States?

ROVE: Oh, sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: And then -- and then...

ROVE: They've all -- they've all got...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... they're playing a board game. It's a board game.

ROVE: Yes. Well, they've all got maps. This is my map, which people can get -- for the United States Senate races, I'm going to keep track of these at You can see this map. It'll change over time. We'll also have a little thing that'll allow you to see the changes over time. But what this says is the Democrats, which today 59-41, are after the election likely to be no better than 55-45, and could be as low as 52-48 after the election.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tell me what it means for the -- whether, you know, the Democrats have any risk of losing, for instance, the Senate.

ROVE: They could. Today, I think the outcome is more likely to go from a 59-41 Democratic Senate to no better than a 55-45, and maybe even as bad as 52-48 because the Democrats today -- I mean, the Democrats are in trouble in Harry Reid's home state. He's 11 points behind. Colorado, Bennet is 6 points behind his Republican opponents. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, 7 points behind. Arlen Specter down by 5. And then Delaware, where, you know, the Beau Biden withdrawal, Mike Castle is now the favorite there. And Republicans doing well in defending their own territory.

So we're likely to see a significant shift in the Senate. That's a big shift, to go from 59-41 to maybe, you know, as little as 52-48, and with the two independents giving the Democrats their 52, Lieberman and Sanders, Lieberman of Connecticut, Sanders of Vermont. And -- and -- and this assumes that the Republicans don't yet come up with strong candidates in Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Indiana and New York, where, you know, the races are just now starting to gel.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, the pink means those are leaning Republican. I'm stunned a little bit by California. That's leaning Democrat? That isn't solid Democrat?

ROVE: No, it's not because, look, Barbara Boxer is up by 9 against Republican opponents who are virtually unknown compared to her. And if you're an incumbent Democrat in California and you're way below 50 percent and not in the double-digit lead, you got a problem.

And look, here's another example, Indiana. Republicans don't yet have a candidate, but there's a new poll out today from Scott Rasmussen showing that a Republican House member, Pence, a member of the House leadership, is ahead of Evan Bayh by I believe it's 6 points. He's not a candidate. He's thinking about entering the race. But that's how rapidly this can change and how these numbers can change. This is a very conservative look at it (INAUDIBLE)

VAN SUSTEREN: But that's stunning because Evan Bayh is a moderate Democrat. He was governor of the state. So that's actually surprising to me.

ROVE: Well, but he has voted for bad things. I mean, he's voted for health care. He -- you know, he's got to go home and defend that vote. He voted for the budget. He voted for the stimulus bill. I mean, look, this is the problem. The White House is looking at the results in Massachusetts and saying what it really was evidence of was the same kind of anger that got Barack Obama elected. No, it's not. It is anger at Barack Obama's policies. It's not the politics...

VAN SUSTEREN: They would have voted for his team otherwise.

ROVE: Right. Sure. That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: If that were the theory, they would have voted Democrat to support him.

ROVE: That's right. In fact, President Obama's statement that -- you know, that these same anger -- you know, the same forces that got him elected elected Scott Brown is just -- you know, it's so laughable, it's hard to think that he really was saying that with a straight face.

The Democrats have a problem not with their politics but they have a problem with their policies. And the policies have turned the American people, particularly three vital groups that are going to play a disproportionate role in fall elections against him -- independents, which voted for Obama in '08 and are now significantly in the Republican camp, college-educated voters, who again have flopped from being for Obama to being against Obama, and now seniors, who were mildly supportive of John McCain and skeptical of Obama, and because of health care battle are now strongly in the anti-Obama, anti-Democrat column.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it would seem to me if -- I mean, assuming that the situation is -- you know, is as bleak as you say for the Democratic Party, that sooner or later, they're going to start pointing fingers at you (SIC), whether it's the Speaker of the House blaming the president, the president blaming the Congress. I mean, at what point does that happen?

ROVE: Well, that's right. It's starting to happen now. Already, you're getting Democrats on the record saying, you know, that they don't get it down at the White House. And I think that's going to get worse, not better because of the moves of the White House.

This -- you know, David Plouffe is an able fellow. He ran the president's campaign. He's an able manager, knows how to get things done. But installing him at the Democratic National Committee in charge of a unified campaign effort basically says the Obama White House is going to take control of each of these campaigns and run them.

And we already have had criticism of -- they already did this in New Jersey, where the president's people, including his pollster, stepped in and took command of the Corzine campaign and it didn't help. It's -- and in Virginia, where they were openly critical of the Creigh Deeds campaign weeks before the election. You know, the president had put an extraordinary amount of effort into both the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections in November.

I've never been able -- I can't find on the record any evidence that any president has done as many stops in those two states as President Obama did in history. He made five stops on three separate days for the two candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, and it fell flat, I mean, flat -- badly flat.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, stand by. We have much more with you in two minutes.


VAN SUSTEREN: We're back with Karl Rove. Karl, State of the Union is coming up in two days. The...

ROVE: Rescue, rebuild and restore.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's that? Is that what you think the theme is going to be?

ROVE: That's the theme. They've got, you know, talking points out already, sort of pointing to that as being the -- the organizing framework for the speech.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, that seems to me that -- that would not be the one I might choose because that sounds like, you know, What have you been doing for the last year, would be my first thought at that moment. You gave that sort of -- that mantra. That would not be a good one.

But the president has a difficult problem in that he needs to sort of satisfy the moderates by moving closer to the center, but in doing that, he alienates the far left, which has been, you know, his strong base. So what does he do?

ROVE: Well, you've talked about the tension he's got within the Democratic Party. He's got a broader tension which is he's just seen a rejection of his policies in Massachusetts by an electorate that's dominated by independents and is distinctly more left of center than the rest of the country. So I mean, he's got a problem in -- in -- not only inside the Democratic Party but between all these groups that he's got to bring together in order to provide a strong Democrat turn-out in the fall, namely independents and Democrats.

This is always a tough call. Having been inside the White House for six of these speeches, or seven, if you count the first speech that every president gives shortly after taking the oath of office, this is a problem because there's a -- first, a tension between how much of this is explaining what we've done and how much is explaining what we want to do? How much of it is new? How much of it is bold?

And almost every White House tends to get it wrong because you tend to get it muddled. You tuned to sort of -- you know, there's a tension between, We must lay out our laundry list, and the group that says, We must explain what we've done, the group that says, We've got to go on the offense, and the group that says, We've got to, you know, rebut our critics.

And the problem with the president is, is that he's going to give this speech seven days after there has been an earthquake in Massachusetts which has upended what he wanted to do. He wanted this to be, We passed health care, I'm going to sign it shortly, and then here's the next big thing, global climate change, you know, job program, whatever. Now he's going to have a much more difficult task because everything is going to be looked at through the prism of the upset in Massachusetts.

VAN SUSTEREN: Except he'd be in a far worse position if, for instance, this were past the mid-term elections and then they had lost a lot of seats. I mean, so he's -- at least he's at a better position now than if, indeed, that happens.

ROVE: Well, it will happen. There have -- only twice in American history has a president seen his party gain seats in the House and Senate in the first off-year election, 1934 and 2002. And every bit of data we have points towards Democrat losses that are equal to or greater than the average of the post-war era.

You know, look, they're in bad shape. In 1994, the '93-'94 election cycle, the Republicans took the lead in the so-called generic ballot for the first time in March and then slipped back behind the Democrats. The Republicans in the Gallup took the lead last October and November. And Rasmussen, which is looking at likely voters, the people who are most likely to come out this fall, already has the Republicans up by 8.

And I mean, the events of the last couple -- of the last few days -- the defeat last Tuesday in a deep blue state -- I mean, Massachusetts last elected a Republican to the United States Senate in an open race in 1966. Then the retirements or decisions not to run that we've seen since then are indicative of a growing problem for the Democrats, of people saying, You know what? I'm reading the tea leaves, and it's going to be a really ugly year, and I would either like to go out of here a winner or not enter a contest that makes me a sure loser.

VAN SUSTEREN: What did Clinton do in '94 when he lost -- when all the seats were lost and then he had to get up and speak at the State of the Union?

ROVE: Well, he moved to the center and he...

VAN SUSTEREN: But how -- how do you move to the center but not alienate your base, if your base is farther to the left?

ROVE: Well, this was triangulation. And what he assumed was that the left wouldn't have a place to go. The problem for President Obama is that the expectations of his left are so high and his record thus far has been so poor in delivering for him -- his rhetoric has been good for him, mostly, Get out of Gitmo, universal health care, you know, cap-and-trade, you know, stimulus spending.

All these things have been -- have resonated well with Democrats on his left. But the results have not satisfied them, nor have they satisfied the American people, albeit for different reasons. Democrats on the left have said he hasn't gone far enough to the left. The American people said, Oh, wait a minute, you're spending way too much.

VAN SUSTEREN: But the only one he got was the stimulus bill. Those other things you've named, even with a Democratic House and Senate, he hasn't gotten.

ROVE: Right. Well, he has gotten -- he's got the largest increase in discretionary spending in recent decades. He's increased the -- in the middle of the FY '09 year, he increased discretionary domestic spending 10 percent. Then he increased it again for the FY '10 budget, the budget that we're now living in, for a full year, another 12 percent. The combined total means a 24 percent increase in discretionary domestic spending from January, when he took office, to October of this year, when he leaves -- when the fiscal year ends.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Karl. Well, all eyes will be on Washington on Wednesday night. Thank you.

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