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Interview with Senator-Elect Saxby Chambliss

Aired November 6, 2002 - 07:20   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: What's the mood there today, Kelly -- good morning to you.
WALLACE: Bill, good morning to you.

Fair to say the mood here ecstatic. Bush aides absolutely delighted. Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, doing a conference call with reporters at 1:30 in the morning declaring that the president has really made history, his party picking up seats, as you said, in the House and in the Senate in this, his first off year election.

Now, the president watched the election returns with Republican leaders, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and the man who will soon become Senate majority leader, Trent Lott. He also called some 30 candidates who won in the House and in the Senate and also a call to brother Jeb, who, as you said, won reelection, this an especially wonderful victory for the president, the president calling it big. He obviously was very much looking forward to seeing his brother reelected.

Now, aides are already saying that the president deserves some of the credit here. They say this is a president who had no coattails after the disputed election of 2000, that he put his prestige and political standing on the line, traveling to some 40 states, raising more than $140 million, and that's all helped lead Republicans to victory.

We expect to hear from the president some time today. He was up rather late, though, so it might be a bit later. He is likely to say that he will call on this Republican controlled Congress to act quickly on his priorities. But, Bill, this administration already thinking about 2004.

That was clear when you heard Congressman Saxby Chambliss, who won the Senate race in Georgia. He came out talking to his supporters. He said he had just talked to the president and that the president told him to tell his supporters that two years from now he hopes they're all on his team -- Bill.

HEMMER: Kelly, thanks.

Kelly Wallace at the White House.

Many people cautioning Republicans across the country not to boast or brag too loudly based on the results from last night. One man who became an absolute surprise winner from the Peach State, the State of Georgia, Saxby Chambliss moves from the House to the Senate side, after his overwhelming victory last night. We say overwhelming, about five points, give or take a few here and there, over Max Cleland.

And we say to you good morning and congratulations.

Tell us this...


Good to be with you.

HEMMER: ... first, about the bragging issue, the boasting issue. Is there a bit of humility still in the Republican Party based on what happened last night?

CHAMBLISS: Oh, well, this, there's no reason to get out there and brag. What we're going to do is I think the American people sent a very clear message that they want Congress to work with the president, not be an obstructionist of the president. They want to see the president's agenda enacted into law and I think you saw that all across America last night.

So there's going to be an awful lot of humility and we're not going to be boasting about this. We're just ready to go to work.

HEMMER: What about the issue in Georgia, though? Take it back to your own home state. You win, defeating Max Cleland, who ran a very tough campaign against the two of you. You have a Republican governor now for the first time since Reconstruction, 130 years, specifically in your state, Senator Elect. What are the Georgian people saying?

CHAMBLISS: Well, the focal point of our campaign was the voting record of Mr. Prism (ph), particularly his saying that he supported the president on a creation of the Department of Homeland Security and going to Washington and voting 11 times against the president. The president was here and made it very clear who he wanted to represent Georgia in the United States Senate to work with him. That issue really resonated with people all across Georgia.

HEMMER: Well, do you think that was truly the message or do you think Democrats just shied away from the polls last night?

CHAMBLISS: Well, no, we had a huge turnout in Georgia. It was about what was expected, in spite of the bad weather. In Atlanta, we had a big turnout here. So I don't think it was a matter of staying away. We carried some precincts that historically Republicans don't carry. I think the message was clear, the message was there, and frankly I think the Democrats nationwide had difficulty in picking what issue to run on and really sticking with that issue.

HEMMER: Why is that, though? Is that because the issue of Iraq was essentially clouded, many suggest, clouded by the president's message across the country, challenging Democrats not to take him up on that issue?

CHAMBLISS: No, I don't think so. I think what happened was that this president took the usual historic Democratic issues away from them. The issue of education, this president was very strong on education. Congress acted responsibly on education. You know, six years ago we were told that Medicare would be broke in 2002. Republicans in the House and the Senate worked hard to restore, protect and save Medicare. So the issues that the Democrats normally point to just weren't there for them this year.

HEMMER: Saxby Chambliss, senator elect out of the State of Georgia, defeating Max Cleland, the Democrat, one of the major pickups last night for Republicans in election 2002.

Thank you, sir, for spending time with us this morning.

CHAMBLISS: Thank you.

HEMMER: You've got it.

Much more from Miami in a moment here, Paula. But, again, a big night for the Republicans. We will now wait and see what happens on issues like homeland security. Saxby Chambliss in the House had said for some time that he would support the president's initiative. The White House has wanted to push it through. They felt they were held up by Democrats in the Senate. We shall see now going forward in January where that issue goes, but it appears right now the White House has got what it needed to put that through -- Paula.

ZAHN: We're going to have a very interesting start of the new year, aren't we, Bill?

HEMMER: Indeed.

ZAHN: Thanks.


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