Ed Rendell & Vin Weber on “Political Capital w/Al Hunt”

AL HUNT: We begin the program with the latest from the presidential race with two veterans of the campaign trail, Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania; Vin Weber, former Republican congressman and advisor to Mitt Romney. Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us. Governor, let me start with you. Barack Obama has had a couple of good months and, yet, if anything, he's slipped a little in the polls. Why can't he pull away in this race?

GOVERNOR ED RENDELL (D-PA): Well, I think the American people really haven't started paying attention, Al. All of us do, the insiders and the people who watch the political shows. But the American people, after the Olympics, I think they'll pay a little bit of attention to the convention and a little bit more attention to the campaign. And when the debates roll around starting September 26th, that's when they'll really fix on this. I think after those debates, Barack Obama is going to widen his lead significantly.

MR. HUNT: Vin Weber, on the other hand, John McCain is known by almost everybody, can't get above 43 percent and Republican, former colleagues of his like Jim Leach and Lincoln Chafee have endorsed Obama.

VIN WEBER: Al, our candidate, John McCain, is being dragged down by a party that's not very popular. His problems are with the party, not with John McCain. Senator Obama's problems are Senator Obama. The Democratic Party is sailing at a high speed, but I don't quite agree with Governor Rendell that nobody is paying attention. We've had a long, long torturous process of nominating candidates for president this year, longer than ever in my experience.

And at the end of that process, people still just don't know about Obama. I don't think it's negative or anti; I think it's still that he's a question mark and in many ways becoming a less distinct figure in people's minds rather than a more distinct figure in people's minds. John McCain has the opportunity to overcome that, but he's got the drag of the Republican label this year, no question about it.

MR. HUNT: Vin, let me ask you about Russia. John McCain is sending Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham over to Georgia right now. If the Democrats and Barack Obama did that, wouldn't you Republicans be screaming bloody murder; that's interference with foreign policy?

MR. WEBER: I think that John McCain has been right about Russia more than this president has and more than Senator Obama has for a long time, right about Russian intentions. The question of what we do with policy vis-à-vis Russia going forward, of course, is a lot more complicated matter than that. But I think what he's trying to do is reassure a close ally and friend who has sacrificed a lot for us, the Georgians have, that they've got friends in the United States. He's not trying to make policy; he's not trying to change policy. He's just trying to reassure.

MR. HUNT: Governor Rendell, do you agree with John McCain that we're all Georgians now?

GOV. RENDELL: Well, I think everyone in the United States empathizes with Georgia and I think we're probably all rooting for them in the Olympics as well, especially when they face the Russians. But, look, John McCain has been a supporter of George Bush. He said he supported 95 percent of the things that George Bush has done. And George Bush's foreign policy has failed across the board, and especially in containing Russia. We've tried to befriend Russia and it hasn't worked. We haven't in any way altered their policy and we need someone to come to Washington and have a fresh and new look, something different than the Bush-McCain administrations and Congress have been giving us.

MR. HUNT: Let me go to domestic politics with both of you. Senator Obama got clobbered in the Pennsylvania primary by Hillary Clinton, who was your candidate, Governor Rendell. What does he have to do to win Pennsylvania in the fall?

GOV. RENDELL: He has to, in my judgment, make a few less of those big speeches at rallies and do a few more small meetings where he gets to answer people's questions and where they get to see his personality. He's a terrific guy. He's smart, he's funny, he's down to earth, and he's got to let the people of Pennsylvania know that, number one.

Number two, he's got to draw the clear distinctions between the economic policies that he's talking about and that Senator McCain's talking about. For example, here in Pennsylvania, a huge issue is American companies that get tax breaks for moving jobs abroad, those tax havens abroad. Senator Obama not only wants to close them, he wants to use that money to incentivize companies for creating jobs here in the U.S. That'll be music to Pennsylvania's ears when they hear that.

MR. HUNT: And Governor Rendell, is there any running mate, any vice presidential choice, that Obama could make that would help him in Pennsylvania?

GOV. RENDELL: Well, first and foremost, Senator Clinton. There is absolutely no question in my mind. If you're looking at pure electoral politics, Al, Senator Clinton's up here in the help she would give the ticket; everyone else is down.

MR. HUNT: And who would be at the top of that second tier?

GOV. RENDELL: Joe Biden, in Pennsylvania. Joe is a Scranton native. We've seen his commercials for the last 30 years. He's very popular in Pennsylvania.

MR. HUNT: Okay. Vin Weber, Minnesota and Wisconsin are two blue states that are targeted by McCain. He's behind a little bit in both states. What's he have to do to win those states?

MR. WEBER: Yeah. There's a poll out today that shows him only behind four points in my state of Minnesota and a little bit more in Wisconsin. We think that that's competitive. I don't think it's a whole lot different than what Governor Rendell talked about. We've got a country with a lot of economic problems, a housing crisis that seems to be only getting worse. The candidate that can best identify with the voters' anxiety and convince them that they've got a program that goes forward to solve some of these economic problems, I think, is going to be the candidate that can win in places like Minnesota and I think that's probably true in Pennsylvania as well.

MR. HUNT: Okay, and which running mate could John McCain pick that would help him win those sorts of states?

MR. WEBER: Well, Governor Rendell didn't list the most obvious one to help capture Pennsylvania, and that would be Governor Rendell, and probably help with a lot around the rest of the country as well. But he's made it clear he probably kind of doesn't want to do that.

I don't know. You know, I'm very close to my own governor, Tim Pawlenty. He would certainly help in Minnesota; I know he's a friend of Governor Rendell's, as well, through the National Governor's Association. Governor Romney, who I supported in the nominating process, would bring a lot of credibility on economic issues. He would help in Michigan as well.

MR. HUNT: Did Barack Obama make a mistake taking a week's vacation in Hawaii this past week? Governor Rendell?

GOV. RENDELL: I don't think so. Again, I agree with Vin; people have focused on this during the primaries. But I also believe that they really haven't started looking at it in terms of who am I going to vote for, you know, absolute choice, until after Labor Day. And Senator Obama's going to go full speed ahead when he gets back from Hawaii. Nonstop, we're going to run 18, 20-hour campaign days, so I think he deserves a little vacation. Remember, he's got two young daughters that he hasn't seen a whole lot of in the last two years, and a man's responsibility as a father comes first, even above a presidential candidate.

MR. HUNT: Vin Weber, as the father of two daughters, do you agree?

MR. WEBER: (Chuckles.) I agree he deserves a vacation. I'm talking to you today from Duluth, Minnesota. I think Senator Obama would have been smarter to take his vacation on the beautiful north shore of Lake Superior, maybe gone up into Michigan's upper peninsula. I don't think -

GOV. RENDELL: How about Lake Erie? How about Lake Erie?

MR. WEBER: Lake Erie's nice, too.

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