Steele: Democrats Don't Care About Voters

(AP/Steven Senne, Winslow Townson)
It all comes down to turnout today in Massachusetts for the special election to fill the Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy. Democrats are typically better at getting voters to the polls — that bodes well for Martha Coakley, the state attorney general. But Republican State Senator Scott Brown's supporters are more passionate. And the state's Independents (who make up half of registered voters) are favoring Brown, despite his conservative record.

The cost to Democrats if they should lose the seat is high: Losing their 60-vote edge in the Senate, which would allow Republicans to filibuster health care reform, a tax on bailed-out banks, climate change legislation, or any other key item on President Obama's agenda.

On "The Early Show" this morning, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele claimed a Brown victory would be a sign of the American people "taking charge" of elections.

"A year ago the landscape politically was very different than we see it today," Steele said. "In the past it's kind of been formulaic, A Boston Senate race, a Kennedy: understood. Not so much today."

Steele said if the Republican were to win, he was concerned that Democrats might try to push through health care legislation before he could take his seat and cast the one 'No' vote that could derail it — or that the Democrats might try to delay seating him until they could get it passed.

"It says a lot about the agenda here and it says a lot about the way the Democrat leadership in Washington views the voters out there," Steele said. "They really don't care: 'We're going to do this whether you want it or not, and you're just going to live with it.' And so the idea that you'll have an election, a special election, to fill a seat and that individual's elected and if it's not of the party you want him to be, then you' re going to go ram through the process or change the rules — that, again, is an unseemly thing for them to do in Washington. But it's so typical of what we've seen over the past year."

"Wouldn't your party do the exact same thing?" anchor Maggie Rodriguez asked. "Isn't it true that when the GOP had the majority and the Democrats would filibuster something, you didn't like that?"

"You're mixing an apple and orange here," Steele said. "The filibuster on an issue is not the same as seating a member in the United States Senate. Regardless what's going on in the Senate, there is a process that unfolds. The Secretary of State does what he needs to do, the Senate does what it needs to do. And the fact that they've already made it very clear that [they] will obstruct this process, that 'We will change the rules in order for us to get our way in the Senate,' to me is not what the voters are going to the polls about."

"So you're saying they're trying to do something illegal?" asked Rodriguez.

"Illegal is left for lawyers to decide," Steele said. "When you have Congressman Wiener and others saying that our job will be to delay and obstruct this process, or to speed it up if we can do that, to me goes counter to what the voters in Massachusetts are doing. . . . They expect that Senator to be seated in a timely fashion and if that doesn't happen, then it's going to be a lot of weight on the Democrats' head in Washington."

"Your party has also shown it will do whatever they can to get their agenda passed because obviously it's in their best interests," Rodriguez said.

"That's very true," Steele said, "but there's some things that have a natural process to them. When Ted Kennedy won this seat the first time, they seated him in one day. Mrs. Tsongas just recently came into Congress for her husband's seat, two days. So now you have them saying, 'Well, we could do this in about three or four weeks.' That's the point."

"You're saying double standard?"

"But you kind of expect that from the Democrats at this point," Steele said.

Former Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe was also optimistic about today's outcome. Although admitting that turnout was critical, he said that Coakley represented a change agent to help voters who want health care reform, and painted Brown as an obstructionist who would maintain the status quo.

"President Obama ran for President of the United States promising Americans that those 48 million people who don't have health coverage would get it," McAuliffe said. "We want to make it affordable, accessible and we want insurance companies accountable. Scott Brown has already said he will side with . . . the insurance companies. He's against President Obama now levying these new fees on banks to get our money back. So there's a stark contrast."

"If people want health care, why is a Republican so close to taking this seat and this state for the first time since 1972?" Rodriguez asked.

"I think the problem we're in on health care is we have two bills — one in the Senate, one in the House. It's very hard to convey to the American public exactly what it is because we don't have one bill. Once people see the benefits, I think it will be an entirely different environment.

"But it's not just about health care. This is about an economy. President Obama inherited an economy that was in the tank. He has worked hard, te has done exactly what he said he would do to get our economy moving again. You've seen the unemployment numbers get better every single month. . . . It's the Democrats and President Obama who have been out there fighting for them every single day, taking on the insurance companies, taking on the banking industry to try to help people, trying to get money out there, trying to help people stay in their homes, buy a new home.

"President Obama has been in for one year, he has made tremendous changes. He needs a partner. He needs Martha Coakley in the United States Senate."

"Terry's great on the talking points," Steele responded. "The reality of it is that people of Boston, we saw in New Jersey and Virginia, have a very definite idea of what they want and what they don't want. And I think the administration has erred on the wrong side of that particular equation, and people are sending a sound signal. Now either [Democrats] are going to get the message or they won't."

More on the Massachusetts Senate Race:

Brown Vs. Coakley: It's All About Enthusiasm
Brown, Coakley and the Supermajority
Coakley Trails Brown in Bellwether Polls
Obama's Agenda Hangs on Mass. Senate Race
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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