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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Political Parties Can't Escape National Mood

Aired July 24, 2002 - 08:22   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: What with stock slides and corporate scandals, Republicans, long considered the party of big business, are concerned they could be swept up in a wave of anti-business anger come November. But Democrats might not have a whole lot of room to gloat. They were knocked out of office nearly a decade ago.

For a closer look now, we turn to CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

Good morning.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

How are you doing?

ZAHN: Good, thanks.

You just heard a little bit of my interview with House Speaker Hastert. We were talking about Minority Leader Gephardt's prediction, which I guess -- some people say he was misquoted -- but he was quoted in "Time" magazine as basically saying that the Democrats could pick up 30 to 40 seats.

GREENFIELD: Yes, you know, the worst thing in the world you can do in a situation like this is, as you said in that introduction, to kind of gloat and set a benchmark. His people say what he said was there are 30 to 40 seats in the House in contention.

ZAHN: Well, that's true.

GREENFIELD: Which makes sense. That is, most of these seats, you know who's going to win already because the parties redistrict themselves and protect themselves. But the key to this in a midterm election, I think, is to understand that the famous quote of Tip O'Neill, all politics is local, is often not true. I mean it sounds impressive. It sounds like one of those clever things. But a lot to times, and it happened to the Democrats, as you say, in 1994, when a national mood sweeps the country, it's almost never good news for the party in power.

I don't know quite why that is, but it's generally about anger, dissatisfaction, in '94 the Clinton health care plan, the sense that they were somehow not in control. It happened, certainly the Republicans after Watergate in 1974 when the country wanted to punish the Republicans for the then just resigned president.

And the question is whether this sense of economic dissatisfaction is going to be the dominant theme in November.

ZAHN: I wanted to review a Zogby American poll conducted from Thursday to Sunday of this week -- and we're going to put these numbers up now -- that basically found that the congressional campaign was a statistical dead heat, with 35 percent of voters saying they plan to vote for Democrats while 34 percent plan to vote for Republican. So when you talk about this national mood, is that not yet reflected in these numbers?

GREENFIELD: It may not, and that's the question. Here's what we do know about the national mood. There has been a sharp increase in pessimism in the last several months. The basic question that I always pay attention to is when voters are asked do you think the country is basically on the right track with the war on terror, huge numbers after September 11, a surge of patriotism and unity that the country was on the right track.

Now, the numbers have turned negative. More people think we're on the wrong track than the right track. If that continues, eventually, I believe, that leaches into the voters' decision and it almost, for obvious reasons, is never good news for the party in power, right?

If you think things are on the wrong track, even if Congress is divided, you tend to blame the party that holds the White House. And that's the big danger for the Republicans.

ZAHN: So walk us through the strategy both parties are going to use. You've got President Bush, who is very concerned about these declining indexes. You know, you've got the S&P hitting a five year low yesterday. You have many people saying Treasury Secretary O'Neill is out of touch. Upon leaving a meeting yesterday with Wall Street leaders he said he had a good lunch. Some people wanted to hear more from him.

GREENFIELD: Well, maybe he had a good lunch.

ZAHN: The president's getting ready to head off to Texas for a month of vacation.

GREENFIELD: Well, Paula...

ZAHN: And then I want to hear what the Democrats have got to do.

GREENFIELD: ... part of the problem is it's not as if, there's almost like a primitive fraud that believes that there's some enormous power in the leader to pull some lever or chant some special formula and the markets turn around. It doesn't happen that way. And that's the trap, in a way.

But, look, I've heard no less than Dick Morris, President Clinton's one time pollster, actually suggest in public well, there's an easy way out for the Republicans. The president should attack Iraq before November, you know, wag the dog.

But the other problem for the Democrats is if they're seen to be over reaching -- and you already heard Speaker Hastert tell you, raise this flag -- if the sense is that they really want bad economic news, that will be horrible for the Democrats. Back in '98, the Republicans thought they had Bill Clinton where they wanted him because of the scandal with Monica Lewinsky.

ZAHN: Sure.

GREENFIELD: But they were so eager to beat him up that by the, by November of 1998, the Democrats shockingly gained seats. So the Democrats, I think, have to be very careful about being seen to be happy about bad news.

ZAHN: So in Al Gore's diatribe over the weekend, I guess he repeated it again yesterday in Tennessee, where he basically said the Bush administration should scrap their whole economic team, is he helping or hurting the Democrats?

GREENFIELD: Here's a -- let me, and I don't want to be evasive about this, but one of the interesting questions you raised about that is that in some sense, if you look back at what Al Gore was saying in 2000, don't have this massive tax cut, you never know what's coming around the corner, you could see how he'd be tempted to say I told you so, right?

But the public often doesn't like to hear politicians say I told you so.

ZAHN: Isn't that kind of what he's saying?

GREENFIELD: Yes, but, you know, if you get up and say I warned you people if you didn't vote for me there'd be trouble, this is, there's something unseemly about that. But I really think the basic question, and look, it's one of the perils of a 24 hour system where we kind of try to anticipate five months down the road every three hours, is if the economy, if the markets keep tanking, if the economy turns sour, if pessimism is the defining mood of Americans in November, it ain't good for the Republicans.

Beyond that, you know, if I could do predictions, I'd pick the winning lottery tickets and I wouldn't be here on Friday.

ZAHN: We don't want you to win the lottery ticket. We need you here every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Jeff Greenfield, thanks.

Always appreciate your insights.

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