First Re-Election Bids Require Balancing Act Freshman Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) talk about the challenges of raising money, campaigning in their districts and continuing their work in Washington as they head rapidly to their first re-election bid in 2008.
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First Re-Election Bids Require Balancing Act

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First Re-Election Bids Require Balancing Act

First Re-Election Bids Require Balancing Act

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

G: Gabrielle Giffords from Arizona, a Democrat, and Peter Roskam of Illinois, a Republican. They both came to Washington, following close high-profile elections. And with more than a year to go before November 2008, they're both already looking toward tough reelections.

Gabrielle Giffords and Peter Roskam both join us now. Welcome back to the program.

PETER ROSKAM: Thank you.

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: Glad to be here.

NORRIS: Now, you know there's an adage in congressional politics that the toughest race you're likely to face is your first reelection. How rough does that road ahead look for both of you? And I want to begin with Congresswoman Giffords.

GIFFORDS: Well, it's not just an adage. Actually, statistically, that's the case. It's easier for a new member to not get reelected than it is once you're in - you're a well-ingrained incumbent. But for me, in my district, I come home on a regular basis. I understand my district. It's still the Wild West. We have a lot of independent thinkers out there. And I know that I'm going to have some tough opponents, but I'm working very hard to represent my community. And I think I'm being pretty effective here.

NORRIS: Congressman Roskam?

ROSKAM: You know, Mayor Daley is one of the great legendary figures in the Illinois politics and he had the greatest line of all time. He said good government is good politics. And so I've spent a great deal of time and energy back in the district, in particular, in putting together an effective district office operation. So that when people call in or write in or stop by and they've got a problem, they know that in my office they've got an advocate in trying to solve their problem and come up with a solution to what they're dealing with, particularly, in terms of their case work.

NORRIS: You know, the turnaround for freshman Congress people is quite incredible. You get there at Washington, you sort of get your - get the lay of the land and just at a point where you probably catch your breath and get your sea legs, you're up for reelection again.

ROSKAM: You know, the Founders were brilliant in how they structure the House and the Senate together, and you've got to think of it. I mean, you put your finger right on it in that we are very accountable to our districts. Think of the House of Representatives as that hot cup of coffee, the one that you can hardly bear to pick up. It's so tumultuous and sort of spicy. And then, you've got to think of the Senate as sort of that cooling sleeve that goes around that hot cup of coffee. But the balance between the two chambers is really interesting.

What our responsibility is as members of the House is to be that voice with a very attuned ear to what's happening back in the district. And the short cycle makes both Gabrielle and I very sensitive to what's happening in our districts.

NORRIS: You know - so you have to focus on governance, but you also have raise a lot of money if you want to mount an effective campaign. Gabrielle Giffords, I know that you're part of your party's frontline program. You're in the top five in terms of fundraising. That's quite impressive for a freshman member of Congress. How have you been able to raise all the money and how do you balance that with your full time job?

GIFFORDS: We do a lot of grassroots events. In fact, we call them cactus- roots events because they come from the west. And on an average, for example, my last quarter, my average contribution was $238 and it came from 676 individuals. Ninety percent of those individual contributors actually came from my home state of Arizona. And, again, that's just for one quarter. So I do a lot of very local-type activities and try to balance that with my extraordinarily busy schedule.

NORRIS: Hard to do that, though, if you always have to pass that?

GIFFORDS: When you don't sleep a lot. That's an effective way.

NORRIS: Congressman Roskam, you may be facing a bit of deja vu in your reelection. It looks like you may be facing another female, Iraq veteran. What do you think about that prospect?

ROSKAM: Well, I've seen it before. And, you know, in the course of the campaign in the 2006 race, we put together, I think, a very dynamic grassroots campaign and then there was a lot of national attention as well. A lot of other folks came in and decided that they wanted to play a role. Ultimately, I was able to characterize my opponent as someone who was being largely supported by people outside of the district, and the district ultimately made the decision and trust me with their voice in Congress.

NORRIS: Hmm. Most important lesson that each of you took from your last election?

ROSKAM: Keep the ball in the ground, frame the debate and move forward, and don't get drawn into debates about issues that are superfluous to your district.

NORRIS: You kept the list. That was five things.


NORRIS: Congresswoman Giffords?

GIFFORDS: Well, for me, you know, it's to take the job seriously, but to take yourself far less seriously. I'm doing a job that is an honor to do, but the issues are really what matters. I'm an individual that's a voice from my community. I'm working hard but not to get too full of yourself and think that you're the only person out there that can do the job.

NORRIS: You know, several people are retiring in both the House and the Senate. And in more than one case, they've talked quite openly about the regrets that they have or things that were said and ads that were run in tightly contested races. You both had very scrappy contests last time around. You had to throw your elbows out a bit, really fight for your victory. Were you completely comfortable with that or did you - in looking back - perhaps leave your comfort zone?

GIFFORDS: Well, for me, I ran an extraordinarily positive campaign and what I told my supporters was that, you know, I'm not going to go negative. And if that's the sort of candidate that you want, then I'm not the person for you. Because I believe that the change that has to happen with the nastiness and the bipartisanship and the bickering, it has to start with us.

NORRIS: Congressman Roskam?

ROSKAM: In my case, I'm happy to be accountable for the things that - with the Roskam For Congress campaign said and did, and printed, and mailed, and put on the airwaves. Sometimes the frustration in campaigns is you're held to account for things that you're legally not even and able to interact on. So my view is to engage people substantively on issues, to not poison the well in terms of personalities, because there's good people in both sides of the aisle that have a desire to come here.

NORRIS: How much time do you both spend thinking about your reelection at this point?

GIFFORDS: Well, I'm getting married in a couple of weeks, so I've been spending a lot of time thinking about how I'm going to get down that aisle and spend time with my family and friends and my fiance for our wedding. So I haven't been spending a lot of time on the reelection. Obviously, there's ongoing campaigning that you have to do in terms of raising money and showing up at certain events. But in my mind, in my district, it's such an independent district that I just don't do regular campaign activities. I'm not talking to folks about the bipartisanship, the importance of working together and America being focused on some very specific goals.

NORRIS: And hope there's time for a honeymoon in that.

GIFFORDS: Probably next year.

NORRIS: And Congressman Roskam, how much time do you spend thinking about this right now?

ROSKAM: Well, campaigns are really marathons. They're not sprints. And if you look at when election day is, we're over a year out from the next election day. So thinking in terms of a long distance runner, there's a pace to it and you don't want to start sprinting now. But you want to make sure that you're pace is at the right clip right now.

NORRIS: Congressman Roskam, Congresswoman Giffords, thanks so much for talking to us. And, Congresswoman, best wishes to you.

GIFFORDS: Thank you so much.

ROSKAM: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, and Peter Roskam, a Republican from Illinois.

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