DNC Executive Director Patrick Gaspard Discusses The Upcoming Presidential Election, GOP Voter Suppression Efforts

The New Hampshire primary is over, and Mitt Romney was the clear winner with a double-digit lead. Now it’s on to South Carolina. The writing is on the wall, though. It looks like the question in November for conservatives will be, “Who do we hate the most? Mitt Romney, or President Barack Obama?”

Meanwhile, the President has been in the comfortable position of not having to attack Mitt Romney, the likely nominee. His Republican challengers are doing the work for the President.

We’re talking about campaign 2012 with President Barack Obama’s man in the Democratic National Committee, Executive Director Patrick Gaspard.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  One of the issues that – that we’ve clearly seen – first of all, the President’s job approval numbers have been on the increase in the last several months, since – but, clearly, his performance still is an issue.  Folks say he has not handled the economy well.  That is going to be issue number one.  And so how do you make the contrast when people say, “What have you accomplished?” when they think enough hasn’t been accomplished?

MR. GASPARD:  Well, Roland, I have a lot of faith in your audience, and they know that when this president walked in, we already had lost 8 million jobs in the recession; and as a consequence of policies that he put in place – some really tough decisions that the President led on – we’ve grown the private sector by over 3 million jobs in the last 22 months, and there was a report last week that demonstrated that, for the first time in years, we’ve seen an increase in manufacturing as well.  And I know that I don’t have to tell you and a lot of your – your – your audience what we did in saving the iconic American automobile industry, which Mitt Romney and every, single Republican up on Capitol Hill told us we should allow to just drop dead.

MR. MARTIN:  There’s no doubt [the] 2012 strategy will look different from 2008. ’08 was focused on hope and change, but you’re dealing with a significant number of people who say, “We’ve been let down by this president” – young voters.  I’ve heard it from lots of African-Americans, independent voters as well.  And so, how do you deal with it when people say, “We thought he was different.  We thought there was going to be change, but we simply don’t feel and see enough change”?

MR. GASPARD:  Roland, clearly we are in some really challenging times, and there’s absolutely no doubt that, when you’ve got unemployment where it is and – you know, clearly trending downward; but, still, there’re some really stubborn metrics there, and the crisis that we have in – in the housing markets, one can understand why folks might be frustrated with the pace of change.  But I also know when I get around this country, when the President gets around this country to talk to young folks and talk to all Americans, they appreciate that change.  He’s the kind of president who stares down the banks and says, “I’m not going to give you the money for direct student aid.  I’m going to give it directly to students.”  “We’re going to double the size of Pell Grants, so that our children can out-innovate and compete with the rest of the world.”  They also know that change looks like a candidate who says, “I’m going to draw down the war in Iraq and bring those brave men and women home so they can serve in this country,” and then he manages to fulfill that commitment for them.  That looks like change.

And I also know – particularly for the young folk, who are out there wondering what the future’s going to look like for them, when they step back, and they see that, as a result of the healthcare reform that this president passed, millions of young folks now have access to quality care through their health insurance that didn’t have it before that law was passed – that looks like change to them, and I know that they’re going to double down on the bet that they made on Barack Obama in 2008.

MR. MARTIN:  One of the things that I talked about after 2008 was the question of whether or not his election will be a moment, or [an] actual movement.  And in talking to a number of people – and you served in the White House prior to coming to the DNC as political director – that there was a belief that then – that Pres. Obama and his team left the movement behind.  Was that a mistake – leaving that movement behind – and not saying, “Look, we need you involved in” – “every step of the way” versus, “We’re over here doing our own thing”?

MR. GASPARD:  It’s been very clear to us from day one that it would be really, really difficult to kind of sustain the energy that we had in the first-time candidacy in 2008 and all the energy the Democrats had to move past eight years of George Bush, but I am heartened and really encouraged by the kinds of numbers that we’ve already seen.  If you look at Iowa and New Hampshire, for instance, Roland, in both of those states we had more activists out communicating a message about this president and the direction that we’re going in, than all of the Republican candidacies had, combined.  So, we understand some of the frustration that exists out there, but I want to assure you and everyone in your audience that we have never moved away from the movement in Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and all the states that not only are going to matter in this election, but are going to be a part of growing economic security for all Americans – [crosstalk].

MR. MARTIN:  African-Americans are vital to the President’s reelection campaign.  When you look at 2008, African-Americans were so vital when you talk about North Carolina, even winning narrowly in Indiana, and then when you begin to look at some of the other states as well.  And so how robust will this campaign be in terms of targeting African-Americans – not just saying, “Hey” – folks thinking, “We’re going to bank on their votes?”  Because I’ve heard David – David Plouffe.  I’ve heard Jim Messina say, “We’re going to meet or exceed what we did in 2008.”  Frankly, I think that’s crazy talk to somehow think you’re going to actually do that, but I get trying to be proactive.  But – but how involved will that be in terms of reaching out to them, whe- — whether it’s on the ground, whether it’s advertising, whether it’s as volunteers?

MR. GASPARD:  We have the – the – the – again, another great question, Roland.  We have the most ambitious field program that I’ve ever seen in my 20 years of working on national political campaigns, and that includes our effort in 2008.  We’ve already had very early conversations with grass-tops leaders, folks at the grassroots, a lot of folks in the faith community who know that now is the time to begin to get the message out, ten months out and not ten weeks out.  So, there’s been early engagement in the African-American community and all communities that are going to help determine the outcome of this election.

MR. MARTIN:  What about the effect of voter suppression laws that ’ve been passed?  Of course, Republicans will say “voter protection laws,” but when you look at, frankly, preventing folks from voting, putting up barriers.

MR. GASPARD:  This is of serious consequence for not just this election, Roland, but for our democracy, moving forward.  We believe that we’re a party that’s trying to grow access, while Republicans – particularly those who are running for President this year and for House and Senate – are doing all that they can to limit participation in the system.  A few weeks ago, you had one of my colleagues on your show who talked about the robust voter protection instrument that we’re standing up right now.  If your viewers want to learn more about this, they should go to democrats.org.  There’s a report that lays out in detail all that we’re doing right now in state after state, like Florida, where Republicans have tried to eliminate early vote and force folks to have photo I.D.s; in Texas, for instance, where they’re allowing people with gun licenses to come in and vote, but if you’re a student, and you’re – and you want to use a student I.D., they’re denying you your franchise.

MR. MARTIN:  I- — if you go to a private college.

MR. GASPARD:  If you go to a private college.  That’s – that’s exactly right.  So, in state after state – there are, I think, 36 Republican state legislatures now that have pushed some of these regressive laws, and in places like Ohio, we’ve got[ten] on the ground.  We’ve collected petitions, and we’ve fought back against these efforts, and we’re going to continue to do so, ’cause it has profound consequence – again, not just for this year, but for years to come.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  Patrick, we certainly appreciate it.  Thanks a bunch.

MR. GASPARD:  Oh, please.  Anytime, Roland.