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Monitor Breakfast

Selected quotations from a Monitor breakfast with J.C. Watts and Frank Luntz

Congressman Watts graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, where he was quarterback of the Sooners and led them to two consecutive Big Twelve Championships and Orange Bowl victories.

He served as youth minister at Sunnylane Baptist Church before being elected to Congress in 1994, where he rose to chair the Republican Conference.

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Representative Watts recently formed a lobbying and consulting firm, J.C. Watts Companies, one branch of which will partner with Mr. Luntz.

Mr. Luntz is founder of Luntz Research Companies and an active pollster and political consultant, as well as the author of the book "Candidates, Consultants, and Congress." He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and doctorate in politics from Oxford.

On the mood of American voters:

Luntz: "There are two words that can characterize how Americans feel right now: anxious, insecure. The anxiousness is about the economy. The insecure has to do with national and international issues. When both of them come together as they may in the next 6 weeks or so, you have a very volatile situation.

...with what is happening internationally, with the market where it is, and with other measurements of American confidence at very unstable levels, [Americans] are looking for leadership. The one attribute that Republicans really beat the Democrats on on election night is strong dynamic leadership. It was over a 20-point advantage for the GOP. It hasn't been that way since the 1980s.

So what Bush has done here, whether you disagree or agree with his policies, is that he has asserted himself; he has taken charge; he is in command. That kind of attribute is what the American people are looking for right now even if they disagree with a detail or two."

On where Republicans can win black voters:

Watts: "You don't hear Republicans talking a lot about civil rights. It is not a bad thing to talk about civil rights. I think that is where the real opportunities lie - in the 18- to 44- to 47-year-old American of African descent with Republicans.

I remain very optimistic about the outreach effort because of one person and that is George W. Bush. I think that is who he is. I think that is his heart. I think he is sincere about it. He is real about it. I think it is driven by who he is.

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...that generation they are more into business opportunities, education, information technology but I would even encourage that generation not to, don't abandon what the civil rights movement stood for. You can be pro-business and pro-tax relief and pro-balanced budget and pro-welfare reform and not carry a confederate flag. And I think that generation understands that a lot more than the older generation."

On whether Democrats can make charges of trickle-down economics stick to Mr. Bush's plan:

Luntz: "They made it in 1980 and Americans elected President Reagan. They made it in 1984, Americans elected President Reagan. They made it in 1988 and Americans elected President Bush. They made it in 1994 and they chose speaker [Newt] Gingrich....

They have got to come up with something better. I don't think the Republicans won in 2002, I think the Democrats lost. And I don't see the voice of the Democratic party, I don't see what drives them intellectually or in terms of their language. There isn't a consistency of message...all they have done, starting in 2000 with Al Gore and particularly in 2002 with Daschle... all the Democrats have done is attack. It doesn't work. ...if you come out of the box attacking, it won't have credibility. So I think they are making the same mistake they made back in 2002."

On how Republicans could signal their interest to black voters:

Watts: "If you want to send a shot across the bow, get the United States Department of Agriculture and the Justice department to move on the black farmer issue. That is critically important."

On the field of Democratic candidates for president:

Luntz: "There is no way for anyone at this point to handicap this race. This is the best Democratic battle for president that we have had since I can remember."

On the significance of President Bush's decision to renominate Judge Charles Pickering Sr., to the US Court of Appeals after he had been rejected last year by a Democratically controlled senate because of concerns about his commitment to civil rights:

Watts: "In Washington, I think you have to realize that there are legitimate policy differences. The fact the Republicans might disagree or the president might disagree with something that the CBC [Congressional Black Caucus] wants something the NAACP may disagree with, I know most of the time that will be perceived as racist but there are legitimate policy differences that are going to be had.

Judge Pickering, there are some facts behind his service that I think are worth mentioning. He had the NAACP and the Ku Klux Klan both opposing the Pickering nomination. You had many black people in Mississippi who did support his nomination. So, that is obviously going to be in the eye of the beholder and I hope Republicans are not afraid to move an agenda that might be contrary to what the Democrats or like Democrats might want.

So I don't read anything into the Pickering nomination other than he is trying to get that post filled with someone that qualifies to fill it."