RCP Newsmaker Interview with Gov. Ed Rendell

RCP Newsmaker Interview with Gov. Ed Rendell

By RealClearPolitics - May 4, 2010

RCP: I’ll start by asking your assessment of Sen. Arlen Specter – we’re just past the year anniversary of him switching parties.

RENDELL: He’s done an excellent job working the state among Democrats. First of all, he had a great head start because in his 30 years as a senator I was amazed, as we organized these calls in six regions of the state with Democratic party county chairmen and with Democratic county commissioners, he knew as many of them personally as I did. And he had done favors for them – even as a Republican senator. So he started off with those 30 years going around the state. He’s pretty non political in giving help. So that was a help. He’s done pretty well ingratiating himself with the Democrats. That was shown by the overwhelming vote, endorsement he got by the state committee. The overwhelming AFL-CIO endorsement he got. He’s got most of the public officials in the state on his side solidly.
And so I think he’s done a good job politically, he’s also done a good job on issues. He’s turned out to be a very solid and reliable vote for the president. I think a lot of us here in Pennsylvania – the stimulus is viewed certainly among Democrats very well. I think a lot of us here feel indebted to him for the stimulus, and supporting the president. So I think he’s done well in the year that’s passed. Does that mean he’s going to automatically win? No, ‘cause this is going to be a low-turnout election. There isn’t much enthusiasm for the gubernatorial primary. It’s going to be a low-turnout election, and anything can happen in a low-turnout election. But I would believe that he’s likely to win by double digits.
RCP: Why do you think that the enthusiasm is so low? This was seen as a potential blockbuster primary between Sestak and Specter, and it never materialized.
RENDELL: I think Sestak made a huge mistake. He had $5 million, which is not inconsiderable, and he waited until three and a half weeks out to go on television. If he had spent some of that money earlier he might have built some enthusiasm.
RCP: There was some talk that he was smart to wait, because the polls are closing now and it might have an impact. But you don’t see that happening?
RENDELL: No. He’s not going to lose by 20 points now, I absolutely agree with that. But I just think that it’s tough to build enthusiasm in three and a half weeks.
RCP: On the gubernatorial side, is there any reason why none of the candidates have attracted attention? Are Democrats demoralized?
RENDELL: Not a lot of money raised, not a lot of TV. One candidate started TV about six weeks out. When I ran against Bob Casey in 2002, we were both on TV in the middle of January. And also, the names aren’t as big. I was the longtime mayor and district attorney in Philadelphia. Bob Casey was a household name in the state. So there were bigger names in that primary. In this there’s a lot of local officers and county officers running. It’s not the same. That doesn’t mean that whoever wins the Democratic primary can’t turn into a solid candidate for the fall. But right now, there are no big names.
RCP: Onorato seems to have a slight lead in some of the polling we’ve seen.
RENDELL: By default, because he’s the only one on TV.
RCP: Do you plan to be heavily active in these races?
RENDELL: As much as they want me to be. I normally don’t endorse in Democratic primaries. I did endorse Senator Specter because I was part of the group that got him to switch parties. I’ve stayed out of the governor’s race. But I’ll help the winner to the extent that he wants me to help him.
RCP: Back to Senator Specter. This month we have primaries not just in Pennsylvania but a lot of other purple and red states. Senator Cornyn talked at a breakfast [last week] about Democrats having to move to the left to win primaries and that it would hurt them in November. You point out that Senator Specter has proven to be a reliable Democratic vote. Do you think that this primary has forced him to move farther than the left than he would have?
RENDELL: I don’t think so. And I don’t think that’s much of a factor. Remember, we have 1.3 million more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state. So the real key to winning Pennsylvania is to persuade the vast majority of those Democrats to vote and to vote for you if you’re a Democrat. This is a state that’s a 50-50 toss-up state. And even independents tend to be slightly more progressive.
RCP: So ultimately to the extent that there has been a battle, you don’t think it’s harmed Senator Specter if he goes on to win the nomination?
RENDELL: It has harmed him, and it’s harmed Sestak if he goes on to win because the winner of the Democratic primary will be broke and 5 or 6 million dollars behind the Republican candidate, and that’s where it’s really going to hurt. I don’t think it’s positioning. If you look at the ads – and remember, the TV ads are what the public really sees. And if you look at the TV ads, they’re not way out liberal positions. So I don’t think that has hurt them. But the loss in spending the money – Sestak will spend every dime of his $5 million-plus and Specter will spend six or seven at least, maybe more.
RCP: Congressman Sestak has been angry about this ad launched where he says Senator Specter is denigrating his military service. What is your assessment of that ad?
RENDELL: I hate negative ads in general. In 14 elections I’ve never used negative ads. I hate all of them – I hate them on both sides. I’ve seen it – it is what it is. Sestak has certainly made a big deal of his military service. He’s been in uniform more often that not. So I think he sort of makes that fair game by making so much out of his military service.
RCP: You mention that the turnout this fall is going to be key. The White House and the DNC have been talking about their efforts toward that end in the past few days. What advice would you give as a former party chair yourself to try and keep up that surge vote.
RENDELL: I think we’ve got to be aggressive with our message. Democrats have really sat by silently cowering behind our shower curtains and let the tea partiers be the only voice that America has heard. We haven’t done a good job selling the stimulus, which has been a big success. Without the stimulus, the recovery wouldn’t be anywhere near where it is today. It’s not perfect, but it’s been a big success and we let the Republicans win, that the stimulus was a bunch of social welfare programs that nobody cared about. It’s ludicrous. The health care reform bills – very few Americans know all the good stuff about it. Again, we haven’t been heard.

We’ve been out-smarted, we’ve been outshouted. All those things. I think it’s time for rank and file Democrats from governors to senators to Congressmen to local elected officials and committee people to start talking about all the good the president’s done and all the good that Congress has done. Right now, Americans have gotten basically one side of the story. I don’t fault the tea parties, I don’t blame the conservative media. I blame us for not being aggressive in supporting the president and telling people what we’ve done. If you look at the president’s first 16 months and think of what he’s gotten passed into law – and we’ve got financial reform – it’s pretty incredible.
RCP: So to run as the party of results as Governor Kaine –
RENDELL: The party of results, the party of positive change, the party that is trying to create opportunities for the American people. The party that protects the American people. Credit card reform – a big deal! In  ordinary years that would be a big deal. I don’t think we’ve gotten one merit badge for it.
RCP: In this polarized climate though, it seems as if it’s gotten harder and harder to move the needle. The president’s numbers have been holding where they are, there hasn’t been much of a bounce from health care. Why do you think the numbers are so hard to move, and can that change?
RENDELL: I think it’s hard is because what’s happened is, the Republicans, the conservative factions won the spin battle on stimulus, won the spin battle on health reform. And once you lose the spin battle, it’s hard to climb up the mountain and take it back. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard. It’s the reason that I go – I’ve been going around the country talking to state party dinners to try and give a message, let’s roll up our sleeves and be proud of what we’ve accomplished, be proud of the fact that we take care of people, be proud of the fact that we’ve created opportunities. Be proud of it. Don’t shirk from it. It’s who we are, it’s what we believe, and that’s the message we ought to be getting out there.
Of course our base is dispirited, although I think a little less than it was in January. But of course it’s dispirited because we haven’t communicated with them well enough to get them fired up about what the president and what the Congress has accomplished.
RCP: How do things stand in your mind in Pennsylvania 12? Handicappers now are saying the Republican candidate has the advantage – is it a winnable race?

RENDELL: Of course. And the most important thing is, I set the special election for primary day. We do terribly in special elections, Democrats, because Republican voters are much more reliable and they’ll come out in an election that’s at an unusual time. But the fact that it’s on primary day is important.
RCP: You say that Democrats should be embracing the record that the party has established. But it seems Mark Critz has not been doing that. He said he’s against the health reform law, come out against cap and trade. Is that just the reality of the district or would you like to have seen him fight more on the party’s agenda and record?
RENDELL: Well again, I would have – I assume he knows the district better than I do. But I think health reform in a lot of parts of that district is going to be a godsend. A lot of people in that district don’t have health insurance, a lot of working folks. We’re a state that has a plan to cover working people who don’t have health insurance. We have about 50,000 people enrolled and 300,000 people on the waiting list now. That’s tripled during the recession, and a lot of those people are in the district.
RCP: On some national issues – I know you’re working with the governors association this year. How do you see national issues playing into the gubernatorial races this year.
RENDELL: I think national issues play into gubernatorial races less than, obviously, in Senate and Congressional races. Much less. They tend to be more decided by personality, leadership qualities and by state or local issues. They still have some effect, no question about it, but not as much as Senate and Congressional races. But I think we have a good chance overall in the governor’s races, and a great chance to take back ironically the four largest states in the union. They’re all Republican governors – California, New York, Florida and Texas. And I think we have a great chance to make a clean sweep. I think New York is definite. I think our candidates are gaining ground rapidly in California, Texas and Florida. I think we’re going to wind up winning all four of the biggest states in the union.
RCP: Given the struggles other incumbent Democrats are having, are you glad you are term limited and don’t have to run again in this climate?
RENDELL: Sure. No incumbent Democrat or Republican has an easy road this time. It’s just a fact of life when the economy is this bad, and people have lost their homes and their 401ks and their mortgages. They tend to blame the people in office. But I would have enjoyed the fight. I would have enjoyed the fight. I think we’ve done a lot, have a lot to be proud of in Pennsylvania. Lowest unemployment rate and best economy in a large state. They’re still not good – but the Wall Street Journal said that Pennsylvania is the only large state to be fiscally stable. So there’s a lot of good stuff that we could have run on. And I was always a pretty good money raiser too. I wouldn’t have had any trouble getting the positive message out.

RCP: Do you have a plan yet for when your term is up?
RENDELL: I teach a little. I teach one course at the University of Pennsylvania. I want to teach more. I do a little sports TV – I’ve had a post-game Eagles TV show for the last 12, 13 years. I want to do more of that. And I’m writing a book. And I’m writing a book called “My Life in Politics: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up.” Those are the only three things definitely I know I want to do.
I’ve always sort of believed that the future takes care of itself. So we’ll see. And I do intend to stay politically active, make speeches and if anyone wants me to go on TV and radio I will. I’m not going to stop believing the things I believe in.
RCP: Rahm Emanuel is looking to run for mayor, there might be an opening at the White House. How about White House chief of staff – is that a job that would appeal to you?
RENDELL: Well sure. But I think that the Obama team – which I have the greatest respect for – is not about to hire a free spirit like myself. So I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell. But look, if the president of the United States asks you to serve, it’s something you have to seriously consider. But I don’t see that happening. But again, I want to help the cause. I believe that government can and should be a force for improving the quality of people’s lives. And I’m going to spend the rest of my life continuing to push that message.
RCP: Maybe a spot in the Cabinet then?
RENDELL: Maybe. But again, same thing. Free spirit.
RCP: What do you think of Donovan McNabb coming down here to Washington?
RENDELL: I think you guys are going to make the playoffs this year. You have a playoff-caliber defense. And I think the difference between what McNabb will give you and what Jason Campbell gave you will be enough to make the playoffs. I think McNabb can win them three more games easily. I think the Giants and the Eagles are going to bring up the rear in the division.
RCP: Have you seen Steven Strasburg pitch at all there in Harrisburg?

RENDELL: I went to the opening game, the first game he was supposed to pitch. But it rained and he didn’t start until 9:30, threw two innings and it rained again. But he pitched an incredible game a couple days ago in Redding, and he’s going to be the real deal. The only reason he’s not pitching at the major league level right now is the arbitration year. And as soon as that time period ends they’ll bring him up I think.

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