C&E: What was your impression of the overall results of the midterm elections?

Donatelli: It is an historic day for Republicans and conservatives. It was a victory from top to bottom. The focus so far has been on federal races but when you go down to local races, we experienced unprecedented gains. The only way to explain that was it was a nationalized election where the voters voted ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on this administration and its policies. The people voted to tighten our belts and cut back on government, not to expand it.

C&E: Starting at the statehouse level, what were your impressions of Republican gubernatorial gains?

Donatelli: I think the gubernatorial gains are probably the big story of this election. In terms of large states, with the exception of California, New York and possibly Illinois, we have most of the top 15 highest populated states in the country. We have a solid block of governors in state around the Great Lakes area, from Pennsylvania stretching west to Iowa and Missouri. Those are traditionally key states at a presidential level. I think it is a tremendous leg up for our 2012 nominee. Then you have the issue of redistricting – having the [state] legislatures [in the Republican camp] is a plus there. I would expect a high profile effort to begin dealing with financial crisis at the state level to start immediately. At the state level, there is no impediment like at the federal level. Think of what [New Jersey Governor] Chris Christie could do with a sympathetic legislature? We are looking fro the reform effort to start early next year.

C&E: You had mentioned Republican gains in the legislatures earlier. I think they gained control in 19 or 20 state legislatures? …

Donatelli: I think it is up to 24 or 25 now. Both Houses in Minnesota, the Oregon House is Republican. Both Houses in New Hampshire, Maine, North Carolina, Alabama and one house in Colorado. I think the total is now around 24.

C&E: That level is where you believe the party will have the most impact next year?

Donatelli: We’ll be able to move forward at the state level with reform and redistricting, and it really replenishes the Republican bench in a way we have not had for a long time. State legislators wind up being members of congress and, in at least one case, a president. We now have a full compliment of qualified individuals prepared to move up.

C&E: What about the Senate? That appears to be the place where the most potential Republican gains were not maximized.

Donatelli: 6 is a very good number, we could have easily gone up from that. The wave seemed to stop at the Rocky Mountains this year. I think for right now 47 is a robust number. It will enable us to stop the White House and I will say it may be possible to put together some interesting legislative coalitions on taxation and spending issues over next two years.

C&E: What impact will 2010 have on the 2012 cycle?

Donatelli: Of the 33 [Senate] seats up, you’ll note that 23 are controlled by Democrats in states that were won by Bush and McCain. Remember, the original take on 2010 because of retirements, Senate Republican were going to have a tough time. One election, even just two years later, is very different from the last. Just looking at the map now, the opportunities for pickups for Republicans in moderate states is dramatic. Nebraska, Alaska, Missouri and Montana come to mind. On the House side, because of Redistricting, the opportunity to even expand our ranks in the House is a possibility. I make no judgment on the presidential contest that year, but even if [Obama] can reassemble his old coalition, it is deep but not very broad. If he can put his old coalition together, he will expand his margins in very blue districts but not in moderate districts. Even at the height of his popularity, his reach was not broad necessarily. Regardless of what happens in the presidential election of 2012, [the potential for] expansion for Senate and House Republicans are real.

C&E: What are your final impressions of the 2010 election?

Donatelli: The issue configuration was as good as it will ever be for the GOP. We had a laser-like focus on the economy and an almost academic discussion about limited government. That kind of election goes to Republicans, and I think that is the lesson moving forward.

Chairman Frank Donatelli was Senator John McCain’s Deputy Chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential elections. His previous appointments have included serving as an Assistant to President Reagan for Political and
Intergovernmental Affairs and as Deputy Assistant to the President for Public Liaison at the White House. Mr. Donatelli served on White House Chief of Staff James Baker’s team that negotiated the 1984 presidential debates, a role he reprised as a Senior Advisor to Bob Dole in 1996.  He was also a Regional Political Director for Ronald Reagan and was active in the presidential campaigns of George H.W. Bush.

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at nrothman@campaignsandelections.com