A Look At Democrats' Chances In The Midterms
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Last week, we spoke with Senator John Cornyn, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Today, to campaign efforts on the other side of the aisle. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and he joins us now.
Senator Menendez, welcome to the program.
Senator ROBERT MENENDEZ (Democrat, New Jersey, Chairman, Democratic Senatorial Committee): Thank you. Good to be with you.
NORRIS: Republicans are counting on this thing they call the enthusiasm gap to help deliver voters to their side going into the elections on November 2nd. Is that more than just political rhetoric? Are Republicans at this point more motivated at the grassroots level than Democrats?
Sen. MENENDEZ: Well, I think the reality is, is that the Tea Party, which is totally militated in the Republican Party and has also defeated several of their mainstream candidates, including incumbent U.S. senators, has generated a lot of enthusiasm in their party. And there is no question about that. We constantly have to remind the voters: Is negativity and no the solution to our problems? Because that's all that Republicans have had for the last two years.
I mean, when you see Mitch McConnell say that my number one job as the Republican leader in the Senate is to make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president, I would think that his number one job should be to help us turn this economy around.
NORRIS: Let me ask you about the politics of some of the candidates in your own party. How concerned are you when Democrats seem to be running away from core Democratic issues or from the president himself? I'm thinking about a West Virginia candidate, like Joe Manchin.
Sen. MENENDEZ: Well, look, our party is truly a big tent party, and that means we have liberal, conservative and centrist Democrats. And people represent in the first instance the views and values of their state. So I'm not surprised that Governor Manchin is doing what he has always done: stood up for West Virginia and strike a responsive chord with the electorate in his state.
NORRIS: Was it a mistake for President Obama not to endorse the Democrat in Rhode Island because of his friendship with Lincoln Chafee, an independent? Did he put friendship above party loyalty?
Sen. MENENDEZ: Well, you know, the president gets to choose who he endorses, as I get to choose who I endorse. Clearly, from my perspective, I would have endorsed the Democratic candidate for governor.
NORRIS: So you're disappointed that he chose to do that?
Sen. MENENDEZ: I just have a different view.
NORRIS: Hmm. What's going to influence turnout in these last days?
Sen. MENENDEZ: I think, as voters hone in on these final days, they're going to think about: What is my choice? And when they come out to vote, I think the contrast of choosing someone who wants to move forward versus someone who wants to go backwards is going to be the core. I mean, you know, the last time I checked if you want to move forward, you put your car in D for Democrat and drive. If you want to go backwards, you put it in R for reverse and Republican.
NORRIS: Now I mean no disrespect, but you know what the Republicans will say, that if you want to rev up the economy, that you vote R. And if you want to drive the economy down further, you vote D.
Sen. MENENDEZ: Well, you know, I don't think that they have valid currency. History can't change the fact that when Ben Bernanke came to members of the banking committee, of which I'm one, in November of 2008, and said we're going to have a series of financial institutions collapse. And if they collapse, they will create a global financial meltdown. That's the reality. That's what the Republicans left us. And that's why an overwhelming margin in just about every poll I've seen when people are reminded of that reality they choose to move forward with Democrats.
NORRIS: Now, I hear you talk about the problems that you inherited, looking backwards. At some point, though, isn't a sign of leadership taking full responsibility for the hand that you're dealt?
Sen. MENENDEZ: Well, I think...
NORRIS: Taking ownership?
Sen. MENENDEZ: ...we have taken full responsibility for the hand that we're dealt. That doesn't mean, however, that we have an absence of history. You know, you can't, after two wars raging abroad unpaid for, tax cuts to the wealthiest people in the country unpaid for, and a Wall Street that was allowed to go unchecked - all happening during the Bush years - believe that an economy of the size of this nation can be turned on a dime. And so we have taken responsibility.
That's why we passed the Recovery Act. That's why we passed the HIRE Act. That's why we passed the Small Business Act. That's why we reformed health care to get cost under control. And I could go on and on. We have taken responsibility. But what is amazing to me is that Republicans both want us to forget history, short-term history, nor that they have any responsibility for co-joining in government and are using all of their powers to obstruct.
NORRIS: Senator Menendez, it's been great talking to you. Thank you very much.
Sen. MENENDEZ: Thank you, Michele, great to be with you.
NORRIS: Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey is in charge of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Last week, we spoke with his Republican counterpart, Senator John Cornyn. He runs the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.