There are few watching this year’s Congressional races closer than White House Political Director Sara Taylor. Taylor, a top strategist for Bush-Cheney ’04, is a key leader in the effort to hold Congress in what has proven to be a difficult political environment.
Some polls show GOP candidates surging in the last days, fueled by grassroots conservatives that have recognized the catastrophe a Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid could be for the conservative movement.
In an exclusive interview, Taylor spoke with Townhall.com to discuss the stakes of this election and what a Democrat majority could mean.
Q: The biggest story in the news right now is John Kerry’s remarks. What do his remarks about our troops say about Democrats and their ability to lead in a post 9/11 world?
ST: With all this focus on Kerry, I’m having flashbacks to ’04. His comments were insulting to our troops. Just look at the Democratic Party to see how unfortunate they were. Their leaders called on Kerry to apologize. You now have candidates around the country canceling appearances with Senator Kerry.
Q: Besides national security, what would an America with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid look like?
ST: We know a couple things for starters. Just given the way the big issues in this election have played out. You have candidates on both sides of the aisle who have been vocal on the most important issues facing our country: the war on terror and the economy. And in most cases, those candidates have very different views. Just consider what Democrats have done this year alone. You have Harry Reid who bragged about killing The Patriot Act. You have large numbers of Democrats in both caucuses, in the Senate and the House, having voted against the CIA interrogation program, House Democrats having voted against the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Most Senate Democrats have voted to block or kill The Patriot Act at one point or another. And so, certainly they have a very different approach to the war on terror. It suggests they don’t understand the fight we’re in.
Furthermore on the economy, most of the candidates and many of their colleagues in the Democrat Party have come out against keeping the tax cuts permanent. We know that the economic growth we’ve enjoyed the past several years has been certainly in part, if not largely driven by the tax relief, and they will eventually raise taxes and they’re not really shy about it. Their desire not to make the tax cuts permanent will be a pretty steep tax increase on American families. But, certainly on those two issues they have very different philosophies than our party and would take the country in a very different direction.
Q: Fiscal conservatives have been frustrated with the actions of Washington in the last few years. Contrasting Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, how would you respond to fiscal conservatives’ criticisms and why should they turn out to vote?
ST: When you look at the stakes of this election, particularly given the last two issues that I mentioned, the economy and the war on terror, we need to make sure the country keeps moving in the right direction. The country’s faced many challenges: defending our homeland, two wars and a natural disaster that has taken significant financial resources.
We also need to be mindful of just how much progress we’ve made in reducing the deficit. The President set a goal of reducing the deficit in five years; he’s done it three years ahead of schedule. Fiscally, we’re certainly making great progress, and that’s a result of keeping discretionary spending low and largely because of the tax relief that the President signed, both in 2001 and 2003, that has fueled our economy.
Certainly, we have a strong economy. We need to keep our economy strong, and one way to do that is to make this tax relief permanent. Democrats have been pretty clear they’re not going to do that. You will see increased spending with a Democrat Congress. You will see increased taxes, and that’s not a direction any of us want to see the country go in.
And then, the war on terror; this is an incredibly important fight. We’re making great progress around the globe. There’s a lot more to do and we need to continue to keep the tools that the President has already signed into law and get a strong terrorist surveillance bill from the Congress. Those two reasons suggest why it is so important all Republicans and conservatives should turn out to vote.
Q: Speaking of the booming economy, it’s an incredibly underreported story. We’ve had a booming economy: unemployment’s at 4.7%, historically, historically, low, but the media hasn’t really reported it. According to the The Washington Times 77% of election related stories that have run in the last month by the three major networks have “tilted” in favor of Democrats. What are some of the things that conservatives can do to counter this media bias that we’re up against?
ST: Well, several things. One, I think exactly what you’re doing on Townhall.com. It is really important that conservatives get their message out and Republicans get their message out, and one way to do that is over the internet. You know, all of the campaign activities from writing a letter to the editor to being engaged in a local campaign or phone bank or doing door-to-door activities. All of that matters and adds up. It was one of the great tests of the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2004. I think a lot of folks would argue that the President’s re-elect faced similar challenges in terms of getting its message out; and very effectively, utilized the internet.
Q: The big three networks help shape what folks in Washington call the conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom says that Republicans will lose big this election. What are the signs you see that could prove it wrong?
ST: Well, I’m looking at a couple of things. At this point, the Republican National Committee grassroots effort, I look at a report they produce very day, their grassroots effort has exceeded the amount of activity that the President’s campaign did, which was unprecedented. I think that you’re going to see that ground game produce wins in close races in a number of places around the country and that is going to account for some Republican successes. I have also been looking at the absentee ballot returns and just keeping tabs on early voting and absentee balloting and a couple of trends seemed to have emerged. One, as expected, more and more people are voting earlier and by absentee. Two, Republicans are doing quite well all around the country with regard to this measure. Given the combination of both the absentees and early votes and the Party’s robust grassroots effort, I don’t see any evidence that Republicans on a national scale are less enthused than Democrats. What I see is that they’re very enthused, and they’re participating in the process; they’re engaged, and that they’re very active in these campaigns. That bodes well for the GOP.
Q: Recent news reports are saying that early voting is going to be an even bigger factor this year than it was in 2004 and most indicators are showing that it’s favoring the GOP. Can you elaborate on that, some of the specific races or anything that you could touch on?
ST: I’ll just sort of pick a few of the Senate races for states that have partisan registration. You see 8 to 10% advantage in New Jersey, Maryland, Arizona; you see an 8 to 10% advantage over the Democratic Party when you compare registration and returns, which is very significant, particularly when you get into a state like Arizona out West, where already Senator Kyle is banking votes over and above his opponent that will give him a lead going into Election Day. It’s certainly easiest to measure in partisan registration states since we see this advantage both at the congressional and statewide level in many places, but even when you look at states that don’t register by party, there’s ways to look at some of the activities the party does to segment voters to check how those segments are performing, and they’re performing very strongly. It’s an effort that the Republican National Committee deserves enormous credit for, and they’ve done a tremendous job on the ground. If we look at that data, we feel really good about what we’re seeing on the ground. Strong early returns are indicative of the Get Out the Vote effort and ground game that the party is running.
Q: A story that has been under-reported this cycle is how competitive Republican Senate candidates have been in New Jersey and Maryland – two very blue states. Does this fact counter the media’s “wave year” theories?
ST: I think you raise an excellent point. New Jersey presents the party with an excellent pick up opportunity. Michael Steele has run a very strong campaign in Maryland and is in real striking distance to winning. We’ve also seen some trends emerge in states where our party has been on defense, in Montana and Rhode Island where Republican candidates had fallen behind a few points but are now in very competitive races and are in position to win. Certainly, the states you mentioned and some defensive states that people have wrongly written off are very much in play today.
Q: Getting more into the states, several states this year having on the ballot, marriage protection amendments, or stem cell research is on the ballot in Missouri among others. How do you think this will impact the turn out effort?
ST: Well, I think that it does impact it. It impacts it on both sides, in fairness. It did in 2004 as well. When you look at one of the ways these ballot initiatives will impact Republicans, certainly in a positive way, you’ve got all this sort of punditry buzz that Republicans aren’t energized and they’re not turning out to vote. Take a situation in Missouri where it’s important for Jim Talent to win, to energize the Republican base. Conservatives are all turning out to vote on the stem cell initiative. I don’t think any of them are voting for Claire McCaskill. It works both ways, but it’s certainly another issue on a ballot in states that will motivate Republicans and likely will help Talent and other candidates as well.
Q: What do you think has been the most effective ad that Republicans have run in this election cycle?
ST: Well there have been effective ads on both sides. I think one of the most effective ads I’ve seen run is one Nancy Johnson ran discussing the importance of terrorist surveillance while contrasting with her opponent and their differences on that issue.
Q: As the President campaigns around the country in these final days, what issues will he be emphasizing and how will he contrast the different visions for America that Republicans and Democrats have?
ST: He has primarily been and will continue to talk about the importance of continuing to fight and win the war on terror and succeeding in Iraq, and also the importance of keeping the economy growing by making the tax relief he signed permanent. Those are the two main issues I think you will see him discussing and the differences between the two parties on those issues.
When you have in many cases 70 to 80% of the Democratic caucus voting against these measures in the war on terror – on terrorist surveillance, on CIA interrogation – it shows a real mindset and a real difference in approach between the two parties on what is needed and what kind of war we’re in. Ultimately, they believe, as some in their party have suggested, that terrorism is a law enforcement problem. Certainly, we believe we need every tool we can get to keep the country safe. The President contrasts it very strongly out on the road. Secondly, the same is true on the economy, keeping tax relief permanent and the differences between the two parties on it.
Q: Final question and I appreciate your time. The most important question to me, why should conservatives turn out to vote and cast their ballot for Republicans?
ST: Because the stakes are too high. We need Congressional leadership that realizes we are at war and will continue using the tools needed to keep our country safe. We need leaders that will make tax relief permanent and keep our economy growing. When you have a potential leader of the Senate, Democrat Harry Reid who brags about killing The Patriot Act, when you consider a potential Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who says she “loves tax cuts” but votes against every tax relief package, when the would-be Democratic Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel says he can’t think of one of the President’s tax cuts he’d make permanent, we see just how different our two parties are. You have to look no further than the Democrat Leadership’s own words to understand how critical getting out and voting is. These issues are too important of a fight to be left to chance.