NPR "All Things Considered" -Transcript
MS. NORRIS: Since January, we've kept tabs on two freshmen members of Congress: Gabrielle Giffords from Arizona, a Democrat; and Peter Roskam of Illinois, a Republican. They both came to Washington following close, high-profile elections. And with more than a year to go before November 2008, they're both already looking toward tough reelections. Gabrielle Giffords and Peter Roskam both join us now.
Welcome back to the program.
REP. ROSKAM: Thank you.
REP. GIFFORDS: Glad to be here.
MS. NORRIS: Now, you know there's an adage in congressional politics that the toughest race you're likely to face is your first reelection. How rough does that road ahead look for both of you? And I want to begin with Congresswoman Giffords.
REP. GIFFORDS: Well, it's not just an adage. Actually, statistically that's the case. It's easier for a new member to not get reelected than it is once you're a well-ingrained incumbent. But for me in my district, I come home on a regular basis. I understand my district. It's still the Wild West. We have a lot of independent thinkers out there and I know that I'm going to have some tough opponents. But I'm working very hard to represent my community and I think I'm being pretty effective here.
MS. NORRIS: Congressman Roskam?
REP. ROSKAM: You know, Mayor Daly is one of the great legendary figures in Illinois politics. And he had the greatest line of all time: He said, "Good government is good politics." And so I've spent a great deal of time and energy back in the district, in particular, in putting together an effective district office operation so that when people call in or write in or stop by and they've got a problem, they know that in my office they've got an advocate in trying to solve their problem and come up with a solution to what they're dealing with -- particularly in terms of their case work.
MS. NORRIS: You know, the turnaround for a freshman congress people is quite incredible. You get to Washington. You sort of get the lay of the land, and just at the point where you probably catch your breath and get your sea legs, you're up for reelection again.
REP. ROSKAM: You know, the founders were brilliant in how they structured the House and the Senate together. And you've got to think of it -- I mean, you put your finger right on it in that we are very accountable to our districts. Think of the House of Representatives as that hot cup of coffee -- the one that you can hardly bear to pick up it's so tumultuous and sort of spicy. And then you've got to think of the Senate as sort of that cooling sleeve that goes around that hot cup of coffee. But the balance between the two chambers is really interesting.
What our responsibility is, as members of the House, is to be that voice with a very attuned ear to what's happening back in the district. And the short cycle makes both Gabrielle and I very sensitive to what's happening in our districts.
MS. NORRIS: You know, so you have to focus on governance, but you also have to raise a lot of money if you want to mount an effective campaign.
Gabrielle Giffords, I know that you're part of your party's front line program. You're in the top five in terms of fundraising. That's quite impressive for a freshman member of Congress. How have you been able to raise all that money; and how do you balance that with your full-time job?
REP. GIFFORDS: We do a lot of grassroots events. In fact, we call them cactus roots events, because we come from the West. And on average, for example, my last quarter my average contribution was $238 and it came from 676 individuals. Ninety-percent of those individual contributors actually came from my home state of Arizona, and again, that's just for one quarter. So I do a lot of very local type activities and try to balance that with my extraordinarily busy schedule.
MS. NORRIS: Hard to do that, though, if you always have to pass the hat?
REP. GIFFORDS: Well, you don't sleep a lot! That's an effective way.
MS. NORRIS: Congressman Roskam, you may be facing a bit of deja vu in your reelection. It looks like you may be facing another female Iraq veteran. What do you think about that prospect?
REP. ROSKAM: Well, I've seen it before. And you know, in the course of the campaign in the 2006 race we put together, I think, a very dynamic grassroots campaign and then there was a lot of national attention as well. A lot of other folks came in and decided that they wanted to play a role.
Ultimately, I was able to characterize my opponent as someone who was being largely supported by people outside of the district and the district ultimately made the decision to entrust me with their voice in Congress.
MS. NORRIS: Most important lesson that each of you took from your last election?
REP. ROSKAM: Keep the ball on the ground, frame the debate and move forward and don't get drawn into debates about issues that are superfluous to your district.
MS. NORRIS: You kept a list. That was five things. (Laughter.)
REP. GIFFORDS: For me, you know, it's to take the job seriously but to take yourself far less seriously. I'm doing a job that is an honor to do, but the issues are really what matters. I'm an individual that's a voice for my community, I'm working hard, but not to get too full of yourself and think that you're the only person out there that can do the job.
MS. NORRIS: You know, several people are retiring in both the House and the Senate. And in more than one case, they've talked quite openly about the regrets that they have for things that were said and ads that were run in tightly contested races. You both had very scrappy contests last time around. You had to throw you elbows out a bit and really fight for your victory. Were you completely comfortable with that or did you, in looking back, perhaps leave your comfort zone?
REP. GIFFORDS: Well, for me, I ran an extraordinarily positive campaign. And what I told my supporters was that I'm not going to go negative. And if that's the sort of candidate that you want, then I'm not the person for you, because I believe the change that has to happen with the nastiness and the bipartisanship and the bickering -- it has to start with us.
MS. NORRIS: Congressman Roskam?
REP. ROSKAM: In my case, I'm happy to be accountable for the things that the "Roskam for Congress" campaign said and did and printed and mailed and put on the airwaves. Sometimes the frustration in campaigns is that you're held to account for things that you're legally not even able to interact on. So my view is to engage people substantively on issues, to not poison the well in terms of personalities, because there's good people on both sides of the aisle that have a desire to come here.
MS. NORRIS: How much time do you both spend thinking about your reelection at this point?
REP. GIFFORDS: Well, I'm getting married in a couple of weeks so I've been spending a lot of time thinking about how I'm going to get down that aisle and spend time with my family and friends and my fiancÃÂ© for our wedding. So I haven't been spending a lot of time on the reelection. Obviously, there's ongoing campaigning that you have to do in terms of raising money and showing up at certain events, but in my mind, in my district, it's such an independent district that I just don't do regular campaign activities. I'm out talking to folks about the bipartisanship, the importance of working together and America being focused on some very specific goals.
MS. NORRIS: And I hope there's time for a honeymoon in that.
REP. GIFFORDS: Probably next year.
MS. NORRIS: Congressman Roskam, how much time do you spend thinking about this campaign?
REP. ROSKAM: Well, campaigns are really marathons. They're not sprints. And if you look at when Election Day is, we're over a year out from the next Election Day. So thinking in terms of a long distance runner, there's a pace to it and you don't want to start sprinting now, but you want to make sure that your pace is at the right clip right now.
MS. NORRIS: Congressman Roskam, Congresswoman Giffords, thanks so much for talking to us. And Congresswoman, best wishes to you.
REP. GIFFORDS: Thank you so much.
REP. ROSKAM: Thank you.
MS. NORRIS: That was Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona; and Peter Roskam, a Republican from Illinois.