NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript: Interview with Gov. Bill Haslam

Interview

Date: Nov. 4, 2018
Issues: Elections

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CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Republican Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee. He's the person in charge of getting Republicans elected to state houses across the country. Governor Haslam, welcome to Meet The Press.

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

Good morning. Thanks.

CHUCK TODD:

Well let me start with a similar question I started with Senator Van Hollen. What would you consider a good night for Republican governors? Is it limiting the number of losses? I mean, I know you're defending a lot of seats, sort of like the Senate Democrats. How would you define a good night for the GOP?

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

Yeah, so on the, on the governors map it is sort of the reverse of what it is in the Senate. There's currently 36 governors' races, 26 of which the Republicans, we hold the seats. So it's easy to say this is a little bit more of an uphill battle for us than it has been historically with that many seats. That being said, we feel good about the position we're in, but we're not blind to the fact that a president's first midterm when we have this many seats up, like I said, 26 of the 36, we knew we had our work cut out for us. That's why at RGA we've worked hard. We've, we've raised a record amount of money this cycle. And we're making certain we're putting all that money to good use here in the last three weeks of the campaign.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's interesting, if you look at the Great Lakes region in general, sort of that part of the Midwest, it seems to me that that's gonna, it's possible you'll have Democratic governors in pretty much all of the states that touch a Great Lake if things don't go your way. And particularly I'm thinking Wisconsin in particular. But Michigan, you're behind, and all of these. What do you need to do in the Midwest to make it, to make it feel like it's a better night than we think you're going to have?

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

So eight years ago we had a pretty great night, in terms of taking over a lot of those governors in Michigan, and Wisconsin, and in Illinois as well. Wisconsin, Scott Walker, we all know what a great campaigner he is. He's one of the best retail politicians I've seen. And he's got good results to show in Wisconsin. So that's a very, very tight race. But I have a lot of faith in the end that the people of Wisconsin will re-elect Scott. Michigan is a little bit more of an uphill battle for us. But Bill Schuette has been working hard. He's out trying to get his message and as he's pointed out in his attorney general races in the past, he has closed a lot stronger than people thought he would. So while that's a difficult part of the country for us, we are by no means throwing in the towel. And we're actually somewhat optimistic.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this. There's an interesting conundrum here. You've got a couple of Republican governors in very blue states that are going to cruise to reelection. I'm thinking Charlie Baker --

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

-- in Massachusetts, Larry Hogan in Maryland in particular. And at the same time, you're struggling in some of the reddest states in America, your candidates. In Oklahoma and Kansas. What are the, what are--

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

Yeah, I --

CHUCK TODD:

-- Hogan and Baker doing right? And what are Kris Kobach and Mr. Stitt doing wrong?

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

Well I think one thing to remember in all this is while the Senate races sometimes just turn into red jerseys versus blue jerseys, the governors' races are different. So you made a great, a great point in New England. We, right now, have Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, skipping down a little to Maryland. We have a really good shot to win in Connecticut. I think which, I tell people all the time, that surprisingly Bernie Sanders' governor is a Republican.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

But I think what you're seeing is people look at the practical aspects of electing a governor. Who's going to create jobs here? Who's going to produce the best schools? And who's going to run our state's budget in a way that works? And so it's a lot different decision voting for your governor than it is for your senator, and definitely than it is for your House member.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you about two races in particular. Because they both feature Republican secretaries of state who are Republican nominees. And there's some Democrats who don't think the vote's going to be counted fairly. I'm talking about Georgia and Brian Kemp, and I'm talking about Kansas and Kris Kobach. First of all, should those gentlemen have resigned their seats? Recused, you know, you would say they would -- should they have essentially recused themselves from the vote count?

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

I don't think so. Again, I don't know the specifics of exactly how the process works in their states. But I know how it works in our state, and the secretary of state's role in it. And while he oversees the process, there are a lot of people involved in that. Again, if our secretary of state was running, I wouldn't ask him to step down because there are so many checks and balances in the process that I just don't have any fear about the integrity of the ballot. I can't, I don't know exactly in Kansas and Georgia how they work. But I personally don't have any concern about that.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump is a huge issue in the Florida governor's race. In some places some candidates run away from him. On your side I can think Larry Hogan and Charlie Baker, for instance. Some have been running with him. Is it safe to say that President Trump complicates things in some places and helps in other places? I mean, is he, if he -- if you lose Florida, is it on the president?

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

Well I don't think it's, any race is entirely on the president, win or lose. I think again particularly in a governor's race it comes back down to is your, as the senator said just prior to this, even more so in governors' races it's about the quality of the candidate. I think in Florida the choice is this, in Florida, I think my numbers are right, I think they've added about two and a half million jobs in the last eight years under Rick Scott. The economy is booming. It's even more critical now. You know, the new tax plan, you can no longer deduct your state and local taxes. And so states like Florida, like Tennessee, Texas, that don't have income taxes have all of a sudden become very happy hunting grounds --

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

-- for folks to go out and recruit, particularly out of some of the high states in the Northeast. We've seen that. Florida is on a boom. And if I was Florida, I would not want to turn that around. I compete with Florida all the time. I have a unique perspective as --

CHUCK TODD:

Alright.

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

-- to governor of Tennessee. We're obviously competing with them all the time for new jobs. To me, if they turned around --

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

-- the way they were going -- the direction they've been in now, it would be a big mistake.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me quickly ask you about your home state. You said this about the Tennessee Senate race in the New York Times about Phil Bredesen, the Democratic nominee, and your predecessor as governor. He's making the argument, "I'm another pragmatic in the tradition of Tennessee leaders. I'm going to do what's best for Tennessee." And then you said, "That's always been a good argument in Tennessee." Is it a good enough argument for him to pull the upset?

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

I don't think so. And that has been Governor Bredesen's argument. And he could point back to a good term as governor. But a couple things. Number one, Marsha's run, Blackburn, has run a really good race throughout this time. I think they're well positioned. Number two, Tennessee is one of those states where the Kavanaugh hearings did change things. People realized well it really doesn't matter, kind of, what you're saying. The color of the jersey you're wearing up there is really important. And I don't, I'm not, I don't know exactlyut I think the Kavanaugh hearings had a five or six-point swing in Tennessee.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

I personally think Marsha will win by at least that much.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Republican Bill Haslam, the chair of the Republican Governors Association from Tennessee. Thanks for your time and sharing your views. Appreciate it.

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

Thank you.

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