Tipping the Balance in the Senate

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, October 5, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Welcome back to The Beltway Boys.

The big fight in New Jersey over the Senate race has vastly complicated the high-stakes battle for control of the Senate. What is the Republican Party's response to the legal battle, and what other races are in play that could tip the balance?

For answers, we turn to Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, chairman of the Republican, National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Thanks for coming onto the show.


KONDRACKE: Now, your candidate, Doug Forrester's campaign previously was based on Bob Torricelli's scandals in New Jersey. Now that Frank Lautenberg is the candidate, how's Forrester going to win this?

FRIST: Well, you know, in truth, Doug Forrester has been out there promoting less taxes, creation of jobs, homeland security. But that voice had been drowned out by the ethical challenges, the ethical problems of Bob Torricelli.

If, if at the end of the day, Lautenberg is, Senator Lautenberg is on the ballot — and again, we don't quite know at this juncture — if he is, Doug Forrester's voice of creation of jobs, protecting the homeland, and lower taxes, protecting the environment, he will all of a sudden be heard for the first time, because the clutter will have been removed from the field.

Frank Lautenberg is somebody who clearly did not want to be the United States senator. He left the United States Senate voluntarily. That lack of really caring about being a United States senator, versus a new voice for New Jersey, is something that we'll take all the way to the winning line.

KONDRACKE: OK. Now, you're the man who approves all ads around the country that are, that the senatorial committee runs on television. And you've said two different things, actually, to Roll Call, one to me and one to one of our reporters, about how you're going, how you might use the war or not use the war against Iraq as an issue.

I mean, you said to me that, that it was not a political issue, and that anyone who uses it is doing a disservice to the country, and it would backfire. And then you told one of our reporters that, that the president is leading on the war on terrorism and against weapons of mass destruction, and a failure to follow that leadership would be useful information for the voter to use on election, on Election Day.

Now, how are you going to use the war in Iraq?

FRIST: Well, the war itself is not a political partisan issue. And again, we're talking about possible loss of life, that the policies being formulated today. I said it's not a partisan issue because it shouldn't be that Republicans are for regime change and Democrats are not.

And indeed, that's not going to be the case, we're going to have a resolution that's going to have probably 80, 85 percent of Republicans as well as Democrats.

Now, when it comes to issues like homeland security, security of the United States, which is being debated on the floor of the United States Senate, that does become a partisan issue.

Right now, you've got Republicans out there who, consistent with what the House has passed and what the president of the United States has said, is that we want a strong homeland security department, giving the president the flexibility that he in his best judgment says that he needs in order to protect the homeland.

That indeed is a campaign issue, because either you're for it or you're against it.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Well, yes, I know, but that — isn't that true of the war? Now, if Senator Wellstone of Minnesota, who's a liberal, votes against the resolution that you say 80 or 85 senators may vote for, why shouldn't that be used against him...

FRIST: And then — yes — that, well, that, that...

BARNES: ... in the Minnesota Senate race?

FRIST: I think that's right. I think the point about Iraq is that we're formulating that policy right now, and we're putting together a resolution, and it is important from the international standpoint to see that for the most part, we're going to be unified.

But once that vote comes to the floor — and again, Senator Wellstone is out there right now saying, I'm not going to support the president, I'm not going to support the resolution going into Iraq — once you do that, and you take a stand, I think it is legitimate, because the people of Minnesota are going to want to say, over the next six years, who is going to care the most about following this president...

BARNES: Right.

FRIST: ... and the vision that he has in terms of security for the United States as well as the international community?

BARNES: OK, fair enough.

Let me ask you about the peculiar situation in Missouri, where the incumbent senator, Jean Carnahan, the Democrat, was appointed and not elected, which means that if Jim Talent, the Republican, and a former congressman, wins, he will be eligible to be sworn in as a senator immediately after election day, immediately after November 5? Except that the governor, a Democrat, has to sign the certification that goes to Washington.

Can you imagine Democrats actually blocking that?

FRIST: No, and I think, number one, your hypothesis is right, that Jim Talent is going to win that race for a whole range of reasons, so I feel very comfortable about that. It'll be close.

It's not unusual to have a senator filling an unfulfilled term, and that's what Fred Thompson did in my own state of Tennessee. He was sworn in early. With elections, and the legitimacy of elections today, I would find it mighty hard for the Democrats to stonewall the will of the people of Missouri by not allowing him to be sworn in early, just as people like my colleague Fred Thompson had been sworn in early.

BARNES: Of course, as a result, Senator Daschle could — well, I'm trying to think how Democrats might not agree to a, a, a lame-duck session.

FRIST: Well, you know, I don't think...

BARNES: Because Republicans would be in control with Jim Talent taking ....

FRIST: No, that is true, but I think after the election, surely — and we're seeing gaming of the New Jersey election, and we've seen gaming by the Democrats of these elections. But surely, surely that — after we have elections on November the 5th, and we've won straight up, they're not going to be gaming the system after that day.

That's going to be too much for the American people. There's already an outrage what happened in New Jersey. There would be a huge outrage if they tried to deny us the win that we deserve straight up.

KONDRACKE: OK, let's, let's go through, quickly through some of the other races here. South Dakota, I mean, that, that's, that's a Democratic seat which is Tom Daschle's home state and all. But it's, it's very close.

FRIST: It is neck and neck... the really — the polls up and down every day. But it is neck and neck. Yes, John Thune, a congressional candidate, already holding statewide office, or a congressman who is running, very attractive candidate, very aggressive. Tim Johnson's somebody who has been in office for a while, really hasn't delivered a lot in terms of to the state itself.

We're going to see that play out all the way to the end. People think it's a surrogate race in many ways. John Thune representing the president of the United States, Tim Johnson representing Senator Daschle. That's in part true. But there will be national focus. At the end of the day, I believe it will be John Thune.

BARNES: All right, let me ask you, senator, about the four shaky Republican seats. I assume you're going to say that Republicans will win in Texas, New Hampshire, and Colorado. But then there's Arkansas, where Tim Hutchinson is trailing in polls. And I've talked to many Republicans who basically think he's going to lose.

FRIST: Well, you know, if you look at the big landscape overall, and you say, Who is neck and neck today, within the margin of error, plus or minus 3 points? You got Minnesota, you got South Dakota, you got Missouri, all three incumbent Democrats. You have Arkansas, which again is within the margin of error, very close. Only one Republican out of all of those.

That puts us in pretty good stead. And again, Tim Hutchinson is out there working hard, doing a great job, strong campaign. His opponent is somebody that I'm sure that he'll be victorious over by the time we come to November 5.

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

FRIST: Good to be with you.

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