Kaine Optimistic About Democrats' Midterm Chances

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Melissa Block talks with Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, about the upcoming midterm elections. The former Virginia governor says given all the challenges his party's faced since the 2008 election, they've been in a ditch, and have had to build a ladder to climb out of that ditch. Kaine says despite the poll numbers that are out, he's believes the Democrats can pull off victories in some races that will surprise people.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tim Kaine, is also out pumping the party's message today with a speech in Philadelphia; later, an appearance on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"; and here, on our program, in between. Governor Kaine, welcome to the program.

Mr. TIM KAINE (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Melissa, good to be back with you.

BLOCK: It's your job to try to hang onto Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. And, of course, the polls are looking pretty dismal for your party. We just saw one well-respected handicapper, Charlie Cook, estimating a GOP gain in the House of over 40 seats, which would be enough to give Republicans control. I wonder if your internal numbers, the numbers that you're looking at, are pointing in a different direction at all.

Mr. KAINE: Melissa, we're seeing a couple of things on the polls. First, I'm -you know, I read polls, but if I had believed polls of my own governor's race in 2005, I would have quit after Labor Day because I was about double-digits down, and I won handily. President Obama was down in the Gallup poll after Labor Day by 10 points, in 2008.

Here's what I see as I go around the country: Most of the polls that are being done now are these generic national polls, and they show people are unhappy. They're unhappy with Democrats and Republicans. Some of the polls show a Republican edge. A Gallup poll yesterday had it even. Some of the polls show some energy differential.

But as I look at race to race rather than the big, generic polls, it looks a lot better. We have put some significant energy into the field for the last 18 months - ground campaigns, which tends to be where we're strong - and I think that's going to help us win some races that are going to surprise people. We got an awful lot of work to do. I'm glad elections aren't today and they're seven, eight weeks out. But we know the path to win in these races.

BLOCK: Well, speaking of that work to do, we are now seeing a burst of activity - speeches, proposals from the president this week and, as you mentioned, we're now just eight weeks from Election Day. Do you think Democrats have waited too long to get this message out, especially since a lot of people are going to be voting early, before November 2nd? How do you make up the ground that you may have lost?

Mr. KAINE: Yeah, my sense is we didn't lose ground. What we were doing was, we were doing the things necessary to turn America around after the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The president has made this point: Look, I had some work to do, economic challenging crisis and two wars that were open-ended, blank check, undefined missions when I came into office.

The list of accomplishments has been significant. Taking an economy that was shrinking back to the point where it's growing again, or losing 750,000 jobs a month to adding private-sector jobs - now, eight months in a row - wasn't easy.

Now is the time, though - it's been all substance. Now is the time for the salesmanship. We definitely can make up ground again, just as a lot of candidates have found, including me, that you can make up a lot of ground after Labor Day because people start paying attention. When they pay attention, I think we've got a good message for them.

BLOCK: Governor Kaine, you say it's been all about substance leading up to this, but what do you say to voters who haven't seen the fruits of what you're calling substance? Look, unemployment is still 9.6 percent. The growth that you're talking about is anemic, at best. The White House promised a recovery summer, and people are looking around and saying: Where's my recovery? Why shouldn't the party that controls both the White House and Congress be held responsible for that?

Mr. KAINE: Melissa, there is no doubt that people are still hurting, but I would challenge the assertion that folks haven't seen substance. Every American has seen a president who promised to end combat operations in Iraq, do it. Every American has seen equal pay for women become a reality. Four million more American, low-income kids get health insurance; an American auto industry that was on its back, now actually hiring workers again.

And on the economy, we're not where we want to be but thank God, we're not shrinking. Thank God, we're not losing private-sector jobs every month. We were in a ditch. We've had to build the ladder to climb out of the ditch without any help from the other side. The choice is pretty clear between - do we want to keep climbing? Or do we want to embrace the same polices that put us in the ditch to begin with?

BLOCK: Climbing out of the ditch seems, to me, to be pretty far removed from the passion that was seen in 2008, that fed those big Democratic gains.

Mr. KAINE: Well, you know, I will acknowledge two things. First, you never, ever have passion or turnout in a non-presidential year like you do in a presidential year - never happens. And second, there was a historic and cathartic aspect to the 2008 election in Virginia - and everywhere else - that is hard to match each time.

You don't have to get everybody that voted in a presidential year to turn out, though, to win a lot of races. You just have to increase the normal midterm turnout. And our investment in this kind of grassroots-style politics - through organizing for America, community organizers and engage volunteers - we feel very confident it's going to expand the normal midterm electorate, and help our folks win races.

BLOCK: Governor Kaine, thanks for being with us.

Mr. KAINE: All right, Melissa, take care.

BLOCK: Tim Kaine is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

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