GOPAC’s Chairman Frank Donatelli talks with C&E about President Obama’s home-stretch campaign strategy and his predictions for midterm election results.
C&E: With President Obama’s popularity in the mid 40s, Democrats will be looking to establish some distance from the president. Who, in your opinion, has done the biggest 180 degree about-face from 6 months ago?
Donatelli: I would say maybe [Democratic Candidate for Senate in Colorado] Michael Bennet. Simply because he was an appointed Senator and he spent 2009 voting for everything; Obamacare, Stimulus – I think he voted for the whole package. Now he is trying to distance himself and run as a moderate Democrat. Bennet is not the only one, of course, but he is the first that comes to mind.
C&E: The Administration has stuck to their attack on the Chamber of Commerce for about a week until most of the media turned on this line of attack. Today, they seem to have even lost Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC as she spent the morning pointing out where Democrats are benefiting from overseas donors. Has the attack landed flat?
Donatelli: I think this is a kitchen sink campaign that at the White House has launched. They are reaching out to attack anyone and anything they can. If you are going to make such an explosive charge like America’s leading business association is using foreign money to benefit a particular campaign, they should at least have something to back it up. Instead they have been unable to produce anything and it is frankly a little embarrassing. Especially for this administration which, in 2008, pointedly refused to disclose their donors on multiple occasions.
This is a charge which has no foundation and I think that is why it fell flat. But you have to understand this is about whipping up Democratic voters – get the base revved up and out to vote. They don’t care how accurate these charges are.
C&E: President Obama is spending the last weeks campaigning in blue states: Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, Washington, etc. Is the dynamic he seeks to change simply Democratic turnout, or is there an attempt here to depress the other sides’ turnout, or even some last minute fundraising?
Donatelli: There may be a little fundraising [efforts], we’re late in the cycle here so if you don’t have the money needed now you’re out of luck. The more [Obama] campaigns, the more he increases [Republican] turnout. I think it is all about turnout among the Democratic base. The White House is trying to build a firewall and save as many House and senate seats as they can in what they think are blue leaning states. Their schedule lends credibility to that; Maryland, Washington, the states you mentioned. Virtually all are blue states where they are trying to save endangered incumbents.
I think they are missing an opportunity to do something productive here – talk about an economic message. The unemployment rate is at 9.5 percent, Mr. President, and you’re not talking about getting that down. Instead, you are spending your time just attacking your opponents. It is not presidential or particularly effective.
C&E: Far be it from you to advise your adversary, but if you could continue to offer them some friendly pointers that you may have learned over the last two cycles which were not good for the GOP, what would you say?
Donatelli: I think you always have to give hope to people. People need to believe that things will get better, and they have no reason to think that today. That is what always sustained Ronald Reagan; even through the tough times, people thought that in time things would get better. The president has given the public no reason to think anything is getting better. Instead he lashes out at opponents and sounds more like the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee rather than the president of the United States. He should try to recapture that hopeful rhetoric that he was so good at in 2008, and not just try to scare them.
C&E: With only two weeks of campaign left, it is prediction time. What kind of Congress do you think we will wake up to on November 3rd?
Donatelli: The GOP is in a good position to win the house. I think they will see a 50 seat gain. In the Senate we may come up just a little short; that may be a two cycle effort to win back the senate. I’ll say plus 8 [Senate seats for Republicans]. Also, I think we will win a lot of governors and legislative House and Senate seats…
C&E: A headline running on Huffington Post/Pollster highlights a poll that shows possible Republican gains upwards of 447 House seats and 113 Senate seats.
Donatelli: That sounds a little high to me. I’ll be happy with 400 seats in the right states. I can tell you where we will definitely win: we will win the majority in Pennsylvania, the Indiana House, the Ohio House and both chambers in Wisconsin. That will give us a huge push forward on redistricting. Chairman Frank Donatelli was Senator John McCain’s Deputy Chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential elections. His previous appointments have included serving as an Assistant to President Reagan for Political and
Intergovernmental Affairs and as Deputy Assistant to the President for Public Liaison at the White House. Mr. Donatelli served on White House Chief of Staff James Baker’s team that negotiated the 1984 presidential debates, a role he reprised as a Senior Advisor to Bob Dole in 1996. He was also a Regional Political Director for Ronald Reagan and was active in the presidential campaigns of George H.W. Bush.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at email@example.com