Magazine article Politics Magazine

With 37 Gubernatorial Races Looming, Nathan Daschle Thinks the GOP's Newfound Bravado May Be Short Lived

Magazine article Politics Magazine

With 37 Gubernatorial Races Looming, Nathan Daschle Thinks the GOP's Newfound Bravado May Be Short Lived

Article excerpt

Politics: Democrats suffered two tough losses in November. How do you assess what went wrong in New Jersey and Virginia?

Nathan Daschle: In both of these states there's a very powerful political forte at play, and we saw it coming a year out. Both have very fierce independent streaks. They like to buck the party that's in the White House. We knew Virginia would be particularly difficult--it was 30 some years since the party in the White House won that governor's race. In New Jersey, it was 24 years. In New Jersey, you had to add a couple of things to the equation. First, the very difficult economy hurt an incumbent governor there, more so than would have been the case otherwise. And then on top of that, the property tax structure, which Jon Corzine did not create but rather tried to reform, is just a fixture of New Jersey politics and people don't like it.

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Politics: Did you think McDonnell's margin in Virginia was going to be as big as it was?

Daschle: Depends on what point in time we're talking about. But we knew that race was going to be very tough. We started strategizing in January about how we could win that race, and we knew that the only path to victory was going to require a couple of things. First, we had to be very aggressive, which is what we tried to do in the spring when we went after McDonnell. And second, it required talking to voters about what they cared about most, which was jobs. So when we went after Bob McDonnell in the spring, we went after him on jobs. That's the message that we left with voters, and we saw some movement in the numbers. In the end, Virginia proved once again that it was going to go against the party in the White House. I'm pretty proud of the way we ran our efforts in that race, and I was disappointed in the result, but not surprised.

Politics: The tension in that race between the White House and the Deeds campaign, is that sort of dynamic a concern for 2010?

Daschle: I think it's much less of an issue in governors' races than it is for Senate races. Our feeling in general is that this president is trying to make very important changes for this country and those changes don't happen without a little bit of pain in the short term. The governors know that, and they support what he's trying to do. They may not agree with him on every issue, but they support what he's trying to do. That being said, governors' races end up being much more about state and local issues than federal. And I think Republicans are giving us an opening because they are so intent on trying to make these races a referendum on what they perceive to be divisive federal issues.

Politics: So how do you make the evaluation as to what extent the White House can help in 2010?

Daschle: I'm probably not going to spend a whole lot of time trying to slice and dice our map to figure where that can be helpful or not. The president is a tremendous asset, both as the leader of the party in terms of reaching out to new voters, and he's certainly a tremendous fundraiser. So he can be an asset to us across the board, and I think we're going to be very happy to work with him next year.

Politics: Tell me about some of the structural changes at the DGA and the new approach you're taking for this cycle.

Daschle: In January 2007, I became executive director, and we made a decision that we were going to take ourselves off what used to be a one-year cycle. What that meant was that we were going to try to bank money at the end of each year, which we've done. It meant that we were going to be smart about how we spent money in the out-years, and that meant that we were going to look at races in the out-years as though they were taking place in 2010. We weren't going to be any more generous with our spending in an out-year than we would be in 2010, because all that money comes from the same pot and we knew we needed as much as we could get for 2010. …

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