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RNC's Ed Gillespie 'taking nothing for granted' in '04

GOP strategist Ed Gillespie
GOP strategist Ed Gillespie

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush last week named GOP strategist Ed Gillespie as his choice to succeed Marc Racicot as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Gillespie, 41, talked with CNN's Judy Woodruff on "Inside Politics" Thursday about being selected to run the RNC and his role in next year's election.

The following is an edited transcript of the interview:

WOODRUFF: Some people would look at your job and say you've got a sitting president who's very popular; you've got majorities in the House and the Senate; you're raising money, more money than the Democrats, by far -- This is going to be a cakewalk for you.

GILLESPIE: I hope you're right, but I'm not expecting a cakewalk at all.

The fact is that the parties are at parity in this country. The president is very popular right now. But when it comes to election time, we are optimistic about his fortunes. But it's likely to tighten, obviously. We have good opportunities in the House and the Senate to expand our majorities there and also to pick up some governorships. So, yes, I am optimistic, but taking nothing for granted.

WOODRUFF: How do you keep from being overconfident?

GILLESPIE: You look at past history and you realize that the voters are very careful about their selection every other November. And they weigh these things seriously. And I think that it's important to keep telling them what it is you're going to do in the future, not just what you've done in the past.

WOODRUFF: The Washington Post's Dan Balz wrote just a couple of days ago that preparations are under way behind the scenes at the White House and the RNC for what he calls a comprehensive assault on the electorate, he said using everything, political and governmental strategy, available.

He talked about the war. He mentioned the war on terror. He mentioned prescription drug benefits being added to Medicare. He talked about an ideologically charged battle for the Supreme Court. Are we really looking at both politics and policy when it comes to winning this election?

GILLESPIE: Well, I think that voters cast their votes based on good policy and what is the policy you're for.

I believe that the president has laid out a very positive agenda. And that's why he's been so strong and so popular. He's out there trying to help create more jobs, trying to add momentum to this recovery, trying to restore our 401(k) and college funds, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, provide to seniors a prescription drug benefit in their Medicare program, while modernizing the program.

So I think he's had a very proactive and positive agenda the voters like. And Republicans in the House and Senate have moved forward with this agenda. And I think they'll be rewarded for those positive issues come next November.

WOODRUFF: Now, [White House senior adviser] Karl Rove was in Texas Wednesday and was quoted in a meeting as saying that you're not only targeting the states you won, which would be the clear thing you'd want to do, but you're also going after some of the states that Al Gore won. He mentioned New Mexico, Iowa, Oregon, Wisconsin. Is this realistic, do you think?

GILLESPIE: Well, Judy, I don't -- if the RNC members see fit to affirm the president's recommendation next month at their annual summer meeting and I'm the chairman, my view will be that there's nowhere that we're not competitive.

I think that we can compete in states that we did not carry in 2000. I think the president is very popular and very appealing to voters across the country, including in the Northeast, on the West Coast, places where traditionally we've not been strong in the past. And, yes, I would stretch the battlefield as far and wide as we can in 2004.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about another thing we keep hearing about lately. And that is the Republican Party wanting to target married women. Now, we know that, among -- at least the pollsters tell us that women had more difficulty supporting the war in Iraq. Is that going to be an issue with these women? And is that something you feel like you need to address?

GILLESPIE: Of course. I think that talking about foreign policy, national security, homeland security, the economy, education, all those issues matter.

And I'm not one who believes that there are women's issues. There are issues that women care about. Women care about a broad range of issues, and they want to know about the war. They want to know about international relations. They want to know about what we're going to do on education, about jobs and retirement funds. And so I think that we can improve our numbers there.

I think we can improve our numbers with Hispanic voters and African-American voters and Asian American voters as well. We have opportunities to grow in a number of areas. And we have the message to do that with in this election cycle.

WOODRUFF: [Democratic National Committee chairman] Terry McAuliffe said recently that President Bush has hung a for-sale sign on the Capitol. What's your reaction when you hear things like that?

GILLESPIE: Well, Terry McAuliffe talking about fund-raising tactics is a little bit like Madonna saying we ought to be careful about dressing more appropriately.

I think that Terry's -- he gets his message out. But, look, the president's been able to raise a lot of money in his campaign, all from individuals, because of this positive agenda I just mentioned. And when you look at -- I looked at the RNC. And I was looking at our numbers there at the RNC. And since the president was sworn in, 915,000 -- and then some -- new donors have contributed to the Republican National Committee. Their average contribution is less than $30.

People see the president, they see the party trying to get things done. When you look at Terry and the Democratic field, all you hear is negativity, what they're against. And I think that that frustrates voters.

WOODRUFF: Well, you may say you've got your work cut out, but people still look at this and they see the president very popular and an election that's something that we're going to be watching right here on 'Inside Politics.'

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