Transcript: Swing State Governors on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'FOX News Sunday,' September 19, 2004:

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: The Bush and Kerry campaigns are now concentrating on about a dozen swing states. And over the next six weeks, we'll talk with the governors of key battlegrounds about how the race looks from their perspective.

We start today with two of the most fiercely contested states. First, New Mexico, whose five electoral votes went to Al Gore in 2000 by just 366 votes, and has now gone to the Democrat three elections in a row. We welcome Democratic Governor Bill Richardson.

Minnesota, with 10 electoral votes, was another narrow win for Al Gore in 2000 and has not gone to a Republican presidential candidate since 1972. Now that could change this time. We welcome Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty.

And, gentlemen, thank you both for being with us today. Good to have you with us.



WALLACE: Governor Pawlenty, let's start, if we can, with the latest polls in Minnesota. An American Research Group poll has Kerry up two, but the Gallup poll has the president up one.

Governor, why do you think a state that has not gone to a Republican since 1972 — that's seven straight presidential elections — seems to be doing so well for President Bush? And, in fact, do you think that Kerry can win this race without Minnesota?

PAWLENTY: Well, Chris, I think it says a lot about the strength and qualities and characteristics of this president to have, in the land of Humphrey, Mondale and McCarthy, George Bush leading or at worst tied with Senator Kerry in this race is amazing.

And I think it speaks to the strength and clarity of his leadership on the war on terror, and more recently, speaking about the ownership society on the bread-and-butter issues of jobs and health care and education.

WALLACE: Governor Richardson, let's switch to you and let's look at the polls in New Mexico. In a Wall Street Journal poll, Kerry is up 10. But in an Albuquerque Journal survey, the president leads by three.

Why do you think that the president is doing so well in a state that, at least in recent presidential campaigns, has trended Democratic?

RICHARDSON: Well, right now, Chris, I think the race in New Mexico is dead-even. The Albuquerque Journal poll is very reliable. It's within three points, margin of error.

The good news here in New Mexico is Democrats successfully kept Ralph Nader off the ballot two days ago. This is about 4 percent. In the Al Gore race, where Al won by 366 votes four years ago, 4 percent is significant. These are Green voters, independent voters, that we believe we can get for Senator Kerry.

Conservatives are always popular in New Mexico. Four military bases, two nuclear weapons laboratories, proximity to Texas: So the president has had somewhat of a political base.

But Senator Kerry is very strong with Hispanic voters. His new messages on economic growth, on Iraq, his new strength and forcefulness is coming across very well. He was just in New Mexico two days ago.

I'm in Nevada. I think this is another battleground state that the Hispanic vote is going to be crucial — Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico — that I think Senator Kerry, with his increased strength among Hispanic voters, with increased Hispanic turnout, could turn the tide.

WALLACE: Governor Richardson, let's take a look at the big picture. When this race started, the Kerry camp was talking about picking off some of the states that went to George W. Bush in 2000 and, in fact, are typically Republican states like Colorado, Missouri, Virginia.

But in recent weeks, they've scaled back their advertising in those states dramatically, and in fact they are being forced to fight to try to hold on to states that Al Gore won in 2000, states like Minnesota and Iowa and Pennsylvania.

Isn't that a bad sign when the battle is being fought on your turf, not theirs?

RICHARDSON: No, Chris. Because winnowing down in terms of what states you're going to concentrate on happens toward the end. And I know that the Midwest is very competitive. Tim has confirmed that.

My view has always been, Chris, that there's some pockets of opportunity in the West where Republicans and the president have been strong because of the migration of easterners moving into western states, the strength of Hispanic voters, the huge growth of Hispanic voters.

And I'm talking about states like Nevada, where it's a dead heat, states like Colorado, where an attractive Hispanic Senate Democratic candidate can bring in some votes for Senator Kerry.

RICHARDSON: Or in New Mexico, I believe now with Nader off the ballot, with a governor's organization like mine, we can win New Mexico. And I believe also Arizona is going to be very, very close.

So, the pockets of opportunity, maybe you lose some toward the end, but you gain some at the same time. And then I've always maintained that the Southwest, the West is real good battleground area, pockets of...

WALLACE: Let me bring in Governor Pawlenty, if I may.

I would think that you would be feeling pretty good now about all the time about all the time that John Kerry is spending having to defend states that Al Gore won in 2000.

PAWLENTY: That's exactly right, Chris. When you look at states like Minnesota and Wisconsin and Iowa, Missouri and some others, to have the Kerry campaign have to vigorously contest for traditional Democratic strongholds, that's a great sign for the president and for his prospects.

But again, I think it boils down to strength in troubled times or challenging times and, frankly, likability. I think the swing voters — data that we're seeing from the polls and what we feel and hear on the streets is people like this president because he's strong and clear and consistent, particularly on the war on terror. And he's also likable. And those same qualities are at least in question with respect to Senator Kerry.

WALLACE: Governor Pawlenty, in Minnesota — let's try to break it down a little bit more about what you think is driving this race. You know, there is the Iraq and the national security issues, there's the economy and domestic issues. Obviously, all of them are important, but give us more of an insight into what you think is driving voters in your state.

PAWLENTY: Well, I think, for example, the new Knight-Ritter poll of the key swing states confirms, of course, that the war on terror and national security is the number-one issue, and that's the president's strength. But beyond that — and then that's a big factor in Minnesota as well, a positive factor for the president.

But beyond that, I think in Minnesota people have figured out that classic liberalism unchecked has really been discredited. And so we've moved into the mainstream. And for Minnesota, they view the president's policies on these key issues of the ownership society and getting away from kind of a traditional entitlement approach to everything, to more of an option and choice and empowerment approach to health savings accounts and education and Social Security and other key issues, people have figured out that that's worth a try, and it's a good new approach.

And I think actually President Bush, even though he's the incumbent, is the change. And people perceive that as an exciting possibility for these key domestic issues.

WALLACE: But, Governor Pawlenty, Minnesota has lost almost 20,000 jobs since George W. Bush became president. Why isn't that hurting him more?

PAWLENTY: Actually, Minnesota is just about back to where we were, in terms of jobs, prior to the recession. And it was a deep recession. We've got a 4.8 percent unemployment rate. So, relative to the rest of the nation, we're doing pretty good.

Now, we still have a ways to go, and the economy is still improving. But Minnesota's economy is actually on the mend, and I think people feel that.

WALLACE: Governor Richardson, you made mention a couple of times to Senator Kerry's new and improved or sharper message. But the subtext of that — and I don't want to put words in your mouth — seems to be that, whether it's Iraq or whether it's the economy, that, up until the last few weeks and some would say even up until today, that the senator has failed to make a clear distinction, whether it's foreign policy or economic policy, between what he would do and what the president would do.

RICHARDSON: The point, Chris, is that the Bush administration, through surrogates, through the Swift Boat ad group, have put out a lot of misleading information about Senator Kerry.

And my point is that Senator Kerry, when it comes to Iraq, for instance, he's being very clear. He is saying that the president has made a mess out of the situation, and at the same time we've got wrong choices on building international support for our effort, wrong choices in securing a peace.

Right now, 20 percent of the National Guard has no health care. The president goes to this speech on the National Guard recently and basically doesn't — sugarcoats things; he spins.

The security situation, I think as Senator McCain mentioned earlier, is in very dire straits. There is not going to be, probably, elections there unless more security steps are taken.

So, what Senator Kerry is saying is that we need an exit strategy, we need to build international support for our goals, we need to find ways to bring NATO, the United Nations and other nations in the Arab world in an effort to secure the peace, and that the president is just sugarcoating things, and the situation in Iraq is a mess, and we need an exit strategy.

And he's been saying that very forcefully and eloquently. And it's a great response he is getting, not just from the electorate, but from all people all across the country.

WALLACE: Governor Pawlenty, we've got about 30 seconds left. I'm going to give it to you for the final word. How do you respond to what Governor Richardson just said?

PAWLENTY: Well, first of all, Senator Kerry's plan for Iraq can't be a defeatist strategy. Americans don't like defeatist rhetoric, and they don't like defeatist approaches. We're not going to have the efforts there just turn Iraq over to chaos. We need to finish the job.

President Bush clearly has established himself as the person who's been strong and clear and consistent. Senator Kerry's bounced around the room like a Superball on the issue. And the American people don't like that. They want strong, clear leaders when it comes to our national security.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you both so much for joining us today. And we'll see what happens in your two key swing states. Thanks a lot.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

PAWLENTY: Thank you.