A Glum Stephanopoulos: Dems ‘Hoping for a Miracle’ in Mass, Party Braced for ‘Big Defeat’

January 19th, 2010 12:12 PM

On Tuesday’s Good Morning America, former Democratic-operative-turned-journalist George Stephanopoulos appeared glum about the prospects of Democrats in Massachusetts’ special Senate election. He intoned, "And White House and congressional Democrats are hoping for a miracle but they're expecting, right now, the Democrat, Martha Coakley to lose."

In a previous segment, reporter John Berman spun, "And, finally, perhaps, civility is at stake" in the Senate election. As videos of health care protests appeared onscreen he added, "President Obama promised to reach across the aisle to govern. Yet, Scott Brown has been able to tap into voter anger and frustration that seems so prevalent." [Audio available here.] So, would the election of the Republican somehow create incivility? Would a victory by Coakley prevent more? Berman didn’t say.

According to co-host Robin Roberts, Stephanopoulos, who ran into trouble last year for his close contacts with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, was "on the phone this morning, working [his] contacts in Washington." Stephanopoulos related, "Democrats are braced for a pretty big defeat here right now."

Stephanopoulos interviewed Republican strategist Mary Matalin and Democrat Donna Brazile. He seemed incredulous when Brazile confidently predicted a Coakley victory with vast Democratic turn out. He sputtered, "But, do you think they will?"

On Monday, the ABC journalist lamented that a Democratic loss would be "Shakespearean" and a "tragedy of Greek proportions."

Berman also pointed out how the President has failed in previous efforts to rally supports for people or events: "And then, presidential prestige. The President campaigned in New Jersey and Virginia for candidates and lost. He campaigned for the Olympics in Copenhagen and lost. And now he's campaigned here."

A transcript of the January 19 Stephanopoulos segment, which aired at 7:04am EST, follows:

ROBIN ROBERTS: And, George, as always, heard you on the phone this morning, working your contacts in Washington. What are you hearing?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Democrats are braced for a pretty big defeat here right now. The polls do show a dead heat. But, Scott Brown, the Republican, has really been surging in the last couple of days. And White House and congressional Democrats are hoping for a miracle but they're expecting, right now, the Democrat Martha Coakley to lose.

ROBERTS: I heard you say this morning that it would be the biggest defeat, political defeat, in your lifetime?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely. Upset. Absolutely. Three months ago, Martha Coakley was 30 points up in this race. And the reason for that is because it's connected to President Obama's agenda and health care reform. I think the implications are so profound. We have a poll out that shows, basically, on health care reform the needle has moved since August. 51 percent opposed right now. Only 44 percent support it. The real problem though for President Obama, and you’re seeing it play in Massachusetts right now, those who are strongly opposed on health care reform outnumber those who are strongly for it two-to-one.

ROBERTS: Two-to-one. And could this be an indicator, perhaps, of the midterm elections what we see?

STEPHANOPOULOS: No question about it. Again, if you look at the poll, we ask are you more likely to support or oppose a candidate who supports health care reform. Only 12 percent more likely to support. 24 percent more likely to oppose a candidate who supports the health care plan. So, this just has profound impact on the midterm elections, on President Obama’s agenda.

ROBERTS: And, independents, key, once again.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Same thing. Independents two-to-one against reform right now. Let's get some more on this. We’re going to bring in our two dueling strategists, Donna Brazile for the Democrats, Mary Matalin for the Republicans. And, Donna, let’s broaden this out a little bit. Tomorrow is the year anniversary of President Obama's inauguration, and what a difference a year makes. The Wall Street Journal editorialized on that this morning. They say "12 months later, Obama's approval rating has fallen further and faster than any recent President's. Congress is despised. The public mood has shifted sharply to the right on the role of government and a Republican could pick up a Senate seat in state with no Republican members of Congress and that Mr. Obama carried by 26 points. Donna Brazile what went wrong?

DONNA BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I think this race has really stirred the passions of people across the country. George, I hope the voters in the Bay State prove that Washington Democrats won't. 13 Hours is a long time to turn out the votes and assure that Martha-

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, do you think they will?

BRAZILE: I think so. Despite the inclement weather that might occur up there. But, look, this is a race that matters to Democrats across the country because of the President’s domestic agenda really requires Democrats across that state to come out today, to show their support and back this candidate. There's no question that Mr. Brown had the momentum going into the final days of the campaign, but it stalled over the last couple of days, I think Martha will pick up the steam today, turn out her voters. The Democrats have the apparatus. We can win this race today.


MARY MATALIN: Well, I love my sister from the who-dat nation, but it’s not true that Brown has stalled. In fact, the Democrat is cratering and she started cratering when Bill Clinton came in and she went-further imploded when Barack Obama came in because he was very negative, attacking State Senator Brown. And the polls show that 59 percent of the people think she ran a negative campaign. And that's just not how it's working anymore. And that's how the Democrats have been running the campaign. But, it's important to know, with Brown- if he wins, And we're talking about health care, but he ran relentlessly and consistently on cutting taxes, stopping profligate spending and prosecuting the war on terror. So, there's a road map here. And if follows really on the big losses a true-blue New Jersey and a new-blue Virginia for Democrats. They’re not just losing independents, they’re losing soft Democrats. Very scary for Democrats.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the big question coming out of this is, what does it mean for President Obama's health care plan? They’ve gotten so close. Passed it through the Senate. It’s in the conference committee right now. Donna Brazile, Congressman Barney Frank, we talked about this, a loyal a Democrat as you’re gonna find, says if Scott Brown wins in Massachusetts, health care reform is dead.

BRAZILE: I hope not, George. We might not get the biggest package. But I can tell you this much, Democrats will continue to fight to make major changes in our health care system. Look, Scott Brown has run a remarkable campaign for a Republicans in the Bay State. But there's no question at that the Democrats are now anxious to win this seat. President Obama went up there, he ignited the passion. I think Democrats will turn out their voters and shock the Republicans that we're not going to send another no vote to Washington, D.C.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If not, Mary Matalin, is health care dead?

MATALIN: Not necessarily, Brown is in the Senate, if they don't, it would be remarkable if he did try to further thwart the will of the people by not certifying his election or jamming through something if he's in there. We can go back to the drawing board and get those kind of reforms that people want, portability, pre-existing conditions, you know all the substance of it. But, broadening out, this has been the President on the eve of his one-year anniversary, a year of living dangerously, he's driven his party into a brick wall on all of the issues across the board. And if the papers are to be believed this morning, he's going to double-down. Unlike President Clinton who read the will of the people. And course corrected and adjusted and went on to have a successful presidency. This one seems determined to do quite the opposite.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I hear Donna chuckling. But, Donna, I’m afraid we're out of time this morning. We'll come back to you both real soon on this. I'm interested to see what happens in Massachusetts today.

BRAZILE: We will win, George.

MATALIN: Good luck.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We’ll hold you to that. See you guys later.