Rendell in Des Moines

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is the keynote speaker for the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2010 Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.  Rendell spoke with me a few minutes ago before heading into a pre-banquet reception with high-dollar donors.

Pennsylvania Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz is among a handful of Democrats who are running ads touting their support for health care reform.  I asked Rendell if other congressional Democrats across the country, including those in Iowa, should follow her lead.

Rendell: “It’s hard for me to offer advice without knowing the circumstances and the context of the electorate — the demographics — but I think if you look what’s happened from the health care bill in the past three or four months, there’s nothing but positives.  There have been six significant changes that have come on line already.

“…I would talk about those things if I was campaigning because everybody loves them. You know, the great paradox of the health care bill is that when you talk about the components, everybody likes them.”

Henderson: Is 2010 shaping up to be like 1994 or 1998?

Rendell: “It feels like ’94, but with a couple of big differences. Number one:  ’94 was mostly a sneak attack. We didn’t have as much media.  We didn’t have 24/7 cable.  We didn’t have the interest in politics that’s come from President Obama’s election.  In ’94, a lot of Democrats never knew it was coming and stayed home.

“Since June, all the media has talked about is the enthusiasm gap: ‘The Democrats are going to get hit hard this year because Republicans and Tea Partiers are going to come out. Democrats aren’t.’ Democrats have heard so much of that that they’ve become alert.  That’s number one.

“Number two: in ’94 the Gingrich folks — the Contract for America — came across as reasonable and Gingrich came across as a serious-minded guy.  Right now the Republicans are getting hurt badly by all of the crazies, all the wackos — the Christine O’Donnells, the Sharron Angles, the guy in the Nazi uniform, you know, the people who are saying, ‘Get rid of the 14th Amendment.’

“It’s got Democrats and some independents just shaking their heads.  The more of that that goes on: get rid of Social Security, end Medicare, make it criminal for someone to have an abortion even if they’re the victim of rape.  When people hear that, they start getting scared and they start thinking: ‘You know, Democrats might not be doing so great, but do I want to turn the reigns of the government to this group?’ And I think that’s helping, so that wasn’t there in ’94.

“So I think it’s ’94 with two very, very important differences and also I think the president’s done a good job the last two weeks in rallying the Democrats, in rallying the Obama voters and I would be disappointed if his work and the work of people like myself doesn’t pay off.”

Henderson: Senator Tom Harkin said this spring he was glad he wasn’t running this year.  Do you wish you were more fully in the game in 2010, as DNC chair?

Rendell: “I’d love to be chair.”

Henderson: Or running for governor?

Rendell: “I’d love to be running for reelection ’cause I’d love to make the case that targeted and appropriate and controlled government spending can and has made a huge difference in people’s lives.  The things we’ve spent money on in Pennsylvania, you can see the results…If you target spending right, government spending can be very effective.  What the taxpayers have to look out for is bad and wasteful government spending.  But does anybody want to not spend money on our roads, our bridges, our dams, our levees?  Do you think the folks in Cedar RApids would have liked to spend some money on their levees before 2008?  You bet they would have, so we’ve got to distinguish between good government spending and bad government spending.

“I’d love to have my name on the ballot and I’d love to be fighting that fight right now and part of me, although Tim Kaine’s done an excellent job, I wouldn’t mind being back at the DNC to fight that battle because we need spokesmen to fight that battle.”

Henderson: As someone who’s from Pennsylvania, what can you tell me about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  He was in Iowa a couple of weeks ago and said he wasn’t running for president.

Rendell: “He’s smart because he’s not ready and remember, he’s done some very good things.  The cuts were necessary and, you know, it’s important to make the cuts and also tell the citizens that they’re going to have to tighten their belts and everyone’s going to have to for a little while.  Making cuts is one thing.  Making cuts and having government continue progress in education and energy and things like that — that’s the tougher task.  It’s takes guts and courage, but it’s easy to make cuts.  The question is can you make those cuts and make government work more effectively with less money and that challenge really will play out over the next two or three years in New Jersey.  If Chris Christie’s going to be a legitimate presidential candidate, it will be 2016, not 2012.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.