This afternoon we spoke with White House senior adviser David Axelrod about the election results.
TAPPER: Democrats lose the two big governors races, independents break for the Republicans — how is this not a reflection on the president or his policies?
AXELROD: I think you’ve got to focus on the race that was actually about national issues. The one race that really focused on the President and national issues was this race up in New York 23, the special election in a distinct that’s been held by Republicans for 140 years. The Republicans got involved in a civil war up there. The Democrat embraced the President’s policies and his vision for the future. And now a Democrat holds the seat for the first time in 140 years. So I think there was auguring in that problems for the Republican Party, because they’ve got a deep fissure, they pushed moderates away. And it was encouraging for us.
TAPPER: President Obama went to Virginia, he told Virginians vote for Creigh Deeds, he went to New Jersey, told New Jerseyians vote for Jon Corzine… Why didn’t people turn out?
AXELROD: Well first of all, understand Corzine was 15 points behind in the Summer, he polled more votes than his job approval rating. And so you know, he – there’s no doubt he made an improvement. I think the president helped, helped there. But the President can’t, he can’t command people to vote, particularly in a state race that was about state issues. And you know I think that was true in Virginia. I think that was true to a large degree in New Jersey. And turnouts were low there and certainly turnouts of young people were low. If you look at the New York 23 race turnout was actually pretty good for a race of that kind. And there was a lot of energy and a lot of interest. And I think that is the truer predictor of what might happen in the future.
TAPPER: You know you look at the HBO film “By the People” and these incredibly excited crowds, full of young people – those young people did not vote. President Obama told them to vote. Obama for America told them to vote. The Democratic National Committee told them to vote. Why didn’t they vote? Why weren’t they excited to vote for who the President told them to vote for?
AXELROD: (Joking) Jake, I know for a fact you didn’t see that movie so I’m not going to entertain this question.
TAPPER: I saw blurbs. I saw clips.
AXELROD: I think that young people were energized by the President about the set of issues and concerns that he ran on. I think they’ll be energized again in 2010. But you know some of it is a personal appeal and we are going to work hard over the next year to make sure that in these national elections that are coming up our voters and particularly young voters are strongly engaged.
TAPPER: But why weren’t they this time?
AXELROD: Well, I think that these races were state races, they really weren’t about these national issues. And so as has been the history, these voters weren’t engaged. Remember this activation of young people was a really new development in 2008. You saw vast increases in the participation of young people. I think you’re going to see that again. But I don’t think you can assume that they’re going to come. You have to motivate them. And I believe we can motivate them around these national issues and the President’s agenda.
TAPPER:; What about the independent voters? They broke even in Virginia between Obama and John McCain in 2008. Yesterday McDonnell walked away with them over Creigh Deeds. Are they leaving the Democratic Party, is the Democratic Coalition, the Obama coalition bleeding independents?
AXELROD: I think one thing it that has happened is that Republicans are leaving the Republican party. The Republicans are at a 20-year low in terms of Republican identification. Some of those Republicans now call themselves independents — and yet I think in state races they are supporting Republicans. The big party identification question is what’s going to happen to moderate Republicans. Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, a lot of the leaders of the Republican party went into a Republican district, essentially purged the Republican candidate for being too moderate, and said to moderate Republicans: “there’s no place for you in our party.” And they lost a seat that was held by Republicans for 140 years. I think that’s the greatest story that has come out of this election.
TAPPER: Well let’s talk about that then – this template for what you think is going to happen in 2010 when it comes to other races – in Connecticut and Florida and Illinois — how much of a factor do you truly think that is going to be when it comes to what candidates Democrats are going to be facing? And also doesn’t that mean in a lot of cases you are going to have an even tougher time up on Capitol Hill getting Republicans –
AXELROD: I can see that this as a concern that, that Republicans on the right are threatening to purge moderates who have the temerity to say, “Yes, we are going to cooperate with the president or our Democratic colleagues to solve a health care problem, to help solve the economic problems that we have.” And it has a chilling effect. And one hopes that they are not intimidated. You saw the other day Gov. Pawlenty taking off against (Maine Republican) Senator (Olympia) Snowe for having worked with us to try to solve the health care problem. I think that sends a very tough message and you know we’re going to have to work our way through that. So from a governing standpoint I don’t think this is a great development. From a political standpoint I think its disastrous for the Republican party.
TAPPER: Before I let you go – I just want to ask about the Federal Reserve announcement (that it is not raising interest rates.) Do you have any reaction to that?
AXELROD: Well I mean obviously the Fed is an independent body and I think what they did was a recognition that there’s still, we’re in a fragile time. We’re growing for the first time in four quarters but the recovery is fragile and needs to be, we need capital in the market, we need lending, we need robust economic activity. So I assume that was the motivation of their decision.
TAPPER: Obviously – whether or not Gibbs approved of how the question was asked — there are a lot of voters who are very worried about the economy, a lot of voters who are very concerned about the economy. Even if mostly they were talking about property tax issues in New Jersey, transportation issues in Virginia, that has got to be a concern for any party that is the incumbent party.
AXELROD: Yeah, Jake we’re governing in the worst economy since the Great Depression. We found the economy in a ditch when we arrived in January. Our job is to pull the car out of the ditch. It would be helpful if the people whose policies helped create the mess in the first place didn’t sit roadside critiquing how we were pulling the car out of the ditch and instead jumped in and helped us push. But that notwithstanding, these are tough times and obviously there is a heavy burden and responsibility that…falls on the governing party. And that’s just something you accept. That’s part of the deal.
TAPPER: Gibbs told us that the president didn’t watch election returns– do you know what he was doing?
AXELROD: You know, I really don’t. I talked to him late at night. I don’t know precisely what he was doing. He takes a thick notebook home every night with a couple hours of reading so I am sure that is part of what he was doing.
TAPPER: Maybe he was watching the Bulls/Bucks game?
AXELROD: Maybe he watched the Bulls/Bucks game; if he watched the second half he would have been a happy man.