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Democrats Remain Optimistic About Senate, Gubernatorial Races


This week, with the November elections less than two weeks off, we are hearing from the chairs of the Democratic and Republican national committees. Today, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the DNC - welcome to the program.

CONGRESSWOMAN DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you very much. Great to be with you.

SIEGEL: In Senate and House races around the country, in addition to local issues, there are some national themes this year. What should become of Obamacare? Who supports women's rights? Did Washington miss the boat on ISIS or Ebola? Should the minimum wage go up? For you and the Democrats, is there some national theme to 2014? If so, what is it?

SCHULTZ: Well, I think any national theme is being driven by the majority of the American people, who simply want to know from the candidates asking for their support, who has my back? And they're talking about the issues that are the most important to them, Robert, which are creating jobs, continuing to get the economy turned around, investing in education and infrastructure and health care. And they'll have a choice between Democrats who want to put those issues at the top of the agenda and Republicans who have doubled down on extremism and put suing the president for doing his job at the top of the agenda or trying to repeal health care more than 55 times or gut it. So the out of touch priorities from the Republicans is really, I think, what is going to be, in part, what helps us be successful. In a midterm, it's normally a tough one.

SIEGEL: But if the overarching question is, as you've put it, who's got my back, are Democrats being hurt by anxiety - however justified or not - over ISIS and Ebola - that perhaps the government didn't have our back quickly enough?

SCHULTZ: Well, the election is really going to turn on whether or not voters have confidence that their issues that are the most important to them are going to be addressed. When it comes to Ebola or ISIL, those are very important security issues, and making sure that we can protect people and keep them safe from harm is critical. But the issues that'll turn voters on or off are whether or not the candidates are dealing with their priorities. And Republicans aren't, and Democrats are.

SIEGEL: What do you make all those polls that are pointing to a slim Republican majority after Election Day?

SCHULTZ: I mean, there are, you know, quite a few polls that have Democrats holding on to the Senate. And these races are close, and they're coming down to the wire. But I think, ultimately, we're going to hold on to the Senate because, in these close races, the voters that are going to go to the polls are casting ballots based on the issues that are the most important to them, which are not shutting the government down or suing the president for doing his job or investigating Benghazi. It's jobs and the economy, and that contrast is what's going to drive voters. And quite frankly, Robert, we're out organizing and out mobilizing our voters. The early vote totals in states where early vote has begun, we're really running circles around the Republicans. And that's going to make a difference down the line.

SIEGEL: Governorships - what's your - what's your forecast there?

SCHULTZ: I think on November 5 - the day after the election - you will see more Democratic governors. That's a certainty. We could have up to eight new Democratic governors, I would say, after Election Day.

SIEGEL: And what race would you direct us to most enthusiastically?

SCHULTZ: Well, Florida, for one. I mean, I think - I think Charlie Crist will be elected governor in Florida. I think Mary Burke will beat Scott Walker in Wisconsin. I think Tom Wolfe will beat Corbett in Pennsylvania. I think we're going to win the gubernatorial race in Kansas, for example.

SIEGEL: That's where Sam Brownback, the Republican, is running for election?

SCHULTZ: That's right. And I think we have been - that the race in Georgia is going to be very close. And Jason Carter, I think, has an excellent chance to win. I mean, those are just a handful, just to name a few.

SIEGEL: You waded into Wisconsin, where you said - you more or less accused Scott Walker of the equivalent of hair-pulling and slapping women in the face. Do you stand by that language - perhaps a little bit pugnacious with hindsight?

SCHULTZ: You know, I said, in the heat of the moment, that I'd chosen the wrong words, but it didn't take away from the fact that Scott Walker's policies are really, really terrible for women. I mean, this is a governor who signed a law repealing the enforcement mechanism for equal pay for equal work for women, signed a bill requiring ultrasounds for women who want to terminate a pregnancy, who opposes an increase in the minimum wage. And so the important point I was trying to make was that Scott Walker's policies have taken women backwards. And it's important for women to know that - in Wisconsin, that Mary Burke is their best choice because they can move forward on the issues that matter to them.

SIEGEL: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Thanks a lot for talking with us.

SCHULTZ: Thanks so much.

SIEGEL: Tomorrow, a conversation with the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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