Q&A: Carville and Matalin in High School

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Most high school election campaigns are decided over bake sales and banners. Not so for the Washington-area students at the focus of Lifetime Television's new reality show Election. Seasoned political strategists — and spouses — James Carville, 61, who helped orchestrate Bill Clinton's winning campaign in 1992, and Mary Matalin, 52, a longtime adviser to Dick Cheney, have signed on to counsel the candidates for school president. They talked with TIME's Melissa August about their show, and other matters:

TIME: Why a high school election?

Matalin: They are old enough to know, as my husband likes to say, "you make rain or you get rained on." They are old enough to know that there is a consequence for not participating, and you can have a real impact if you do participate.

Carville: It probably came out of the fact that I thought Election was just an incredible movie. I teach at a community college, Northern Virginia Community College. I love young people. I identify with them. It never was a goal of mine to grow up. I tell people I'm in a 61-year battle with maturity and I'm holding my own.

TIME: What will we see every week?

Matalin: The kids will have whatever platform they are running on, and our job is to be their mentors and strategists, but not against each other. We'll be working for each of them together. We'll help with campaign tactics and communication tactics, and help them run a better campaign.

TIME: Will each of you have a candidate?

Matalin: No, we aren't going to be competing against each other. James and I have worked on campaigns together. Campaigns are campaigns. Where James and I part ways is we have philosophical differences, but we would generally be hard-pressed to see any differences in any campaign advice we would give.

TIME: Do you see any early signs of your daughters' political leanings?

Matalin: They are only in fifth and second grade. They are pretty opinionated. I don't know where they get that.

Carville: I have people ask me if I'm going to convince my daughters to be Democrats, and I say, "I have yet to convince my daughters to close a door." I don't how in the world I would ever convince them to be in a political affiliation. I suspect like most parents won't admit, I don't think I have a lot of stroke in the way they think.

TIME: What will be different about running a high school campaign?

Matalin: We presume and hope that it will be devoid of cynicism and gratuitous negativity and the kinds of things that have made most people feel negative about politics. I think kids are naturally idealistic and sincere. They make a promise and they want to keep it.

Carville: I donít think of myself as running the campaign. I look at myself more as a kind of communications coach. The real trick with any 61-year-old dealing with any 16-year-old is to do something to get them to listen to a word you say. I'm remarkably unsuccessful with my own.

TIME: What if a high school senior comes to you and says, I read the paper and see all the negative stuff — why should I get involved in politics?

Carville: I would say you have a perfect right not to be involved. And let me tell you that all the Jack Abramoffs in the world are going to be involved. And if you want to turn the country over to them, then fine. If you think you will go into any other profession that doesn't have that, you're going to be extremely surprised. Human nature is what it is and is in my view insufficient reason to leave something as important as public affairs over to cynics.

TIME: Who would you like to see run for President in 2008?

Matalin: Here's my prediction for 2008, the first guy or gal, the first candidate, whose message is hopeful and optimistic and "can do" will be the first guy out of the pack and the last guy left standing. People are in bad news fatigue. I really would like to see an honest, authentic serious debate. This is historic in that both primaries are wide open. Seeing who the nominee is will be like watching what the Democrats stand for.

Carville: I'm for the H-bomb. I'm crazy about Mrs. Clinton. If she runs I would certainly be for her. I like all the candidates on the Democratic side. I think 'O8 is going to be fascinating year. I just wish I were a little younger so I could get in the middle of it.

TIME: Is it too early to say that you won't be involved in the 2008 election campaign?

Matalin: I don't know. I'm sure whoever is nominated I'll be a surrogate or a fundraiser, whatever they want. I'm a Republican conservative no matter what.

TIME: James Carville, how did your part of Louisiana fare in Hurricane Katrina?

Carville: I've been working with the people in Louisiana. I've been trying to raise money. It pains me to say it but the President has a good proposal out there. People in Louisiana tell me it's a darn good proposal and we hope it gets through the Congress, so I'm here singing the President's praises, which is an unusual place for me to be.

TIME: How far is LSU going in the NCAA tournament?

Matalin: I won't even pretend that I have one scintilla of understanding of it. But we're really into LSU.

Carville: I always wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I'm having tons of fun working with the people at XM. I picked Northwestern State which I'm ecstatic about. I think LSU matches up well with Duke. I think they can beat Duke. I've got them in my final four. Is that an honest pick? I don't know, but I think they're pretty good.