Tim Kaine: 'We're Fully Behind' Kendrick Meek
MICHEL MARTIN, Host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Just ahead, NBA superstar LeBron James ponders the next chapter in his career.
LEBRON JAMES: What should I do? Should I admit that I've made mistakes? Should I remind you that I've done this before?
MARTIN: Should I give you a history lesson?
JAMES: What should I do?
MARTIN: I'm thinking maybe the Barbershop guys want to tell him what to do. We'll ask. That's coming up in just a few minutes.
But first, there are four days left to the midterm elections and all signs point to a Republican takeover of at least one house of Congress. In a few minutes, Ed Rollins, a longtime Republican campaign consultant will join us.
But first, somebody who might have the toughest job in Washington right now outside of the president. He is the person charged with carrying the Democratic message in a year when voters are just not happy with the people running things who happen to be Democrats.
He is Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He's also the former governor of Virginia, and he's with us now from his office. Welcome, thank you so much for joining us.
TIM KAINE: Hey, Michel, great to be with you.
MARTIN: Now, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you first about the news of the day, specifically former President Clinton has acknowledged that he spoke with Congressman Kendrick Meek and tried to get him to drop out of the three-way Senate race in Florida and the move, of course, would be intended to benefit independent candidate Charlie Crist; to the detriment, of course, of Republican Marco Rubio. This is the former president on CNN. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)
BILL CLINTON: He talked to me about it. He wanted to talk to me about a couple of times - he was concerned that he and Governor Crist seemed to have frozen the moderate and progressive votes. He thought that there were the majority of the people who did not want Mr. Rubio to win the Senate seat. And he was concerned about it. And he was trying to determine what was the best thing for him to do.
MARTIN: So, governor, the question I had for you is, was the former president freelancing or was he operating under your direction?
KAINE: It was a discussion purely between them, Michel. Because I was with Kendrick last week campaigning with and for him Friday and Saturday and it was all systems were go. And, you know, Kendrick has been a great member of Congress and we're fully behind him.
MARTIN: Why do you think he hasn't gained more traction?
KAINE: I think three-way races are hard and we see a couple of them around the country. And in some instances, they give you the opportunity to do the impossible, and others, the three-way nature of the race makes it very tough. But I do know this, my sense from being in Florida last week is that it's still a volatile race and Kendrick is the Democratic candidate for a reason.
He did something very unusual. You can get on the ballot in Florida either by just getting your party's nomination or you can get a massive number of signatures to get on the ballot. Kendrick's the only guy who's done that ever in Florida politics statewide together. A hundred and forty thousand signatures of people to be on the ballot, and he is in this thing to win and we're behind him.
MARTIN: The difficulty for the Democrats doesn't seem to be their core constituencies, but it does seem to be the willingness on the part of their core constituencies to come out to vote. And also the independents seem to be moving to the Republican side. Why do you think that is?
KAINE: Yeah, let's talk about votes. First, willingness of Democratic core constituencies to come out. Folks have been talking about that. And what we've seen, Michel, in early voting, Democrats are actually doing an awful lot better than people thought we were going to do. And even we're doing better than our own models for early voting turnout in many states.
With respect to independents, independents have a number of concerns. I think one of the concerns is they want to see the economy grow and they want to see meaningful effort to address issues like the deficit. And as far as deficits in spending goes, it's only Democrats who do anything about deficits. President Clinton showed that in the 1990s.
And when President Obama went to Congress this year and said, okay, let's do a bipartisan deficit commission, it was Republican senators who blocked the deficit commission. The president went right ahead and did it by executive order anyway. And we are going to address federal spending issues going forward as we need to.
MARTIN: Are you frustrated, though, by kind of the narrative that has emerged around this election? You could make the argument that the president has essentially done exactly what he said he was going to do.
MARTIN: With the exception of immigration reform, which he said would be a higher priority than it seems to have been for all the reasons we could debate. But is it frustrating to you that you're not getting more credit for doing what you said you were going to do?
KAINE: We expected that there would be challenges. Some of it is frustrating. But, look, whether it's saving the auto industry, equal pay for women, restoring our image abroad, this president has done heavy lifting in a town that doesn't like heavy lifting. You know, Truman and other great Democratic presidents knew that you do the right thing and, at the end of the day, folks recognize it. It may take a bit, but they recognize it.
MARTIN: And finally, though, governor, we're going to hear from Ed Rollins in a minute, but unfortunately your schedules would not permit us to put you two together, I suspect that his argument would be that part of the reason the Democrats are in trouble is that their policies are just not popular. The voters just don't agree with it. What do you say to that?
KAINE: Well, you know, I was on a show once with Ed Rollins and he was talking about something that the president had done and he said, you know, the president's probably right on that. But that's just not popular. Well, you know, what do you want a president to do? You know, one of the reasons that I like this president is from my perch in Richmond where I live, 90 miles away, I look at Washington, and I see a town that doesn't like to do heavy lifts.
They want to kick the hard issue down the curb to the next president, to the next administration, whether it's health care or energy or immigration. This president came in at a very difficult time, and he came and pledged to do the things that have to be done so that we can climb out of the lost decade that the Republicans left us in.
We've turned a shrinking economy into a growing one. We've got to accelerate the rate of growth. The only way we're going to be able to do it is by continuing to progress and tackle tough issues.
MARTIN: Tim Kaine is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He's the former governor of Virginia and he was kind enough to join us from the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee during this very busy period. Thank you so much for joining us.
KAINE: You bet, Michel, glad to be with you.