updated 7/29/2007 3:08:45 PM ET 2007-07-29T19:08:45

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:

Clinton and Obama go toe to toe.

Mitt Romney says he, not Rudy Giuliani, is the Republican front-runner, as Fred Thompson edges closer to entering the race.

And the attorney general under blistering fire from the U.S. Senate.

Insights and analysis from Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, and Chuck Todd of NBC News.

But first, six months before the Iowa caucus, the presidential campaign is fully engaged, and here to offer their perspective, six columnists and reporters who’ve lived and breathed politics.

Welcome, all.  What a week!  Let’s go back and renew the bidding here a little bit.  The bait Monday night, this was the question that was asked and how Senator Obama and Senator Clinton responded.  Let’s watch.

(Videotape)

MR. STEPHEN SORTA:  Would you be willing to meet separately without precondition during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL):  I would.  And the reason is this that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY):  Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year.  I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise the meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.  I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes.  I don’t want to make a situation even worse.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  After that debate, both campaigns furiously spinning, trying to say their candidate had the better answer for the Democratic Party primary constituency.  The next day, Senator Clinton, in a phone call to an Iowa newspaper said this:

(Audiotape, Senator Hillary Clinton with Quad-City Times, Tuesday)

SEN. CLINTON:  And I thought that was irresponsible and, frankly, naive.

(End audiotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Irresponsible and naive.  Barack Obama that day and the next day responded this way:

(Videotape)

SEN. OBAMA:  I think what is irresponsible and naive is to have authorized a war without asking how we were going to get out.  And, you know, I think Senator Clinton still hasn’t fully answered that issue.

The general principle that I was laying out is that we should not be afraid, as America, to meet with anybody.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Dan Balz, give us some perspective.

MR. DAN BALZ:  Well, Tim, this, this argument that unfolded this week is, in many ways, the basic fault line in the Democratic race.  Senator Clinton is promoting herself as the most experienced, the most ready to be president. Barack Obama’s promoting himself as the person who can bring the most change to the country, to the—Washington, to turn a page on what we’ve been through for the last 10 years.  It started out clearly in that way.  I think on the first night of this, Senator Clinton probably had the better answer.  I thought on the second day, she opened up a debate that she probably didn’t want to have, and it unfolded in the rest of the week in which we saw both sides feeling that they were getting the better of this, that they think they have the upperhand in this argument and they’re prepared to take it from here to the Iowa caucuses.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Obama upped the ante with this comment about Senator Clinton.

(Videotape, Thursday)

SEN. OBAMA:  I don’t want a continuation of Bush-Cheney.  I don’t want Bush-Cheney light.  I want a fundamental change.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Clinton responded to that this way.

(Videotape, Thursday)

SEN. CLINTON:  This is getting kind of silly.  You know, I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but I’ve never been called George Bush or Dick Cheney, certainly.  You know, you have to ask whatever’s happened to the politics of hope.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Ba-boom.  Ron.

MR. RON BROWNSTEIN:  Look, six, seven months into the year we have the first real exchange in the Democratic race and, as Dan says, very revealing because it shows what each side believes is their whole card; Obama that he is the candidate of change, Hillary Clinton that she is most prepared to deliver the change the Democratic voters want.

What I thought was particularly interesting about the way this unfolded is that each believes they have a winning argument.  And the arguments don’t really intersect, in a way.  It’s, it’s almost as if they are not competing on the same turf, but offering voters very different versions of qualities and skills that they would bring to the White House.  In a way, the election may turn more on what Democratic voters are looking for than one out-pointing the other on the other guy’s turf.  Because they really are offering something very different in terms of their personal backgrounds and what they are saying is going to be their strengths in the Oval Office.

MR. JOHN HARWOOD:  And, Tim, it also works on different levels.  It could be effective for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary and effective for Hillary Clinton in the general election.  I thought what was fascinating about it was the way both campaigns have turned in how they’re handling this.  The night of the debate Barack Obama’s advisers come into the spin room—I think Dan was there as well—and the, the first answer they gave when I asked about what Obama said, they said, “Oh, you didn’t think he was promising to personally meet with those leaders, did you?  It was lower level aides.  He—this was going to be the same position that Hillary Clinton laid out.” Later they made the distinction.  Now Hillary Clinton’s campaign has gotten around at the end of the week to say, “Well, Obama really had our position.  Look at what he said on a Miami TV station before the—before the last debate.” So they’ve all switched around, and it’s probably because there are two different things going on, one in the general election, one in the primary.

Offscreen Voice:  But he...

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me follow that up, and then open it wide open here.  The Miami Herald is what you’re referring to, John, where Barack Obama, the day before the debate, said he would meet with Chavez of Venezuela under certain conditions.  Then, however, an interview Hillary Clinton with—gave to Keith Olbermann back in January surfaced, and let me show that and then come back and talk to everybody.  Here we go.

(Videotape, January 23, 2007)

MR. KEITH OLBERMANN:  Would you reach out immediately to the Syrians and the Iranians, even with the tensions between this country and Iran?

SEN. CLINTON:  Absolutely.  I don’t see it as a sign of weakness, I see it as a sign of strength.  You know, our president will not talk to people he considers bad.  Well, there are a lot of bad actors in the world, and you don’t make peace with your friends.  You’ve got to deal with your enemies, your opponents, people whose interests diverge from yours.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Reach out immediately?  Absolutely.  Not saying precisely that she’d meet with a foreign leader...

MR. EUGENE ROBINSON:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...but she would negotiate with Iran and Syria.

MR. ROBINSON:  Right.  So it’s, it’s close.  And like everything in this fight, that could be spun either way, and, and she can interpret it however she wants.  I think what’s really interesting about this fight, and, and I think the Obama people seem to now be having so much fun with it, is that it allows Obama to talk about an area that was seen as a potential real weakness for him, foreign policy.  He gets to, to, to get in some blows on foreign policy, to say, “No, I meant, I meant to say what I said and this is why.” So in addition to portraying himself as the agent of change, I think the more he talks about foreign policy, the theory would be, the more people will be comfortable with him as a foreign policy president.

MR. RUSSERT:  And the most important thing is he can say, “She voted for the war and I was against it.”

MR. ROBINSON:  Exactly.

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL:  I think, I think that’s the issue that he now sees as an opening and that’s why he keeps—he’s the one who, after she first escalated in that newspaper interview in Iowa, he’s the one who has kept it going and he’s the one who spoke to it at a rally, which is a real escalation, and agreed to come out and do that interview with us, which was the first time either of them had been actually on camera speaking to it, which brings it to a new level of force on television.  And I think it’s because he sees it as a way to re-emphasize with the primary voters, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire, that she voted to authorize the war.  So this is...

MR. HARWOOD:  Because she had blurred that distinction.

MS. MITCHELL:  Exactly.  She had blurred that distinction partly because he had been reluctant to pick the fight.  He had really been hanging back.  There was some concern that he wasn’t enough—scrappy enough, really, to fight and to win and to take on Republicans in a general election.  And here he’s getting engaged.

I think initially, Dan, you’re, you’re absolutely right.  At first they realized this was a mistake, that he had opened up another wound on foreign policy experience.  But he turned it to his advantage and then jumped in to try to attack her on the war.

MR. RUSSERT:  Then why did Hillary Clinton, the next day, if she, in fact, had won the first round, continue it by saying Obama was naive and irresponsible?

MS. MITCHELL:  Because they thought that they had won.  They really thought that they had scored after that debate.  By, again...

MR. RUSSERT:  Then why pile on with those, with those words?

MS. MITCHELL:  Because they were—they are an aggressive, tough, fighting campaign.  There is no machine like the Clinton war machine.

MR. BALZ:  I, I think that was not planned.  I am not convinced that they had a plan that she would go out and say—and, and accuse Obama of being irresponsible and naive in a newspaper interview.  I think she freelanced that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Which is interesting, because other times we have seen Hillary Clinton saying, “I didn’t stay home and bake cookies,” “I’m no Tammy Wynette,” “This is a right-wing conspiracy.” Sometimes, when she’s freelancing, words come out that really do draw a firm line...

MS. MITCHELL:  I think—well, I don’t know.  I think there was a...(unintelligible).

MR. HARWOOD:  (Unintelligible)...do it for the first time in this campaign.

MR. ROBINSON:  Yeah.

MR. CHUCK TODD:  Two things I think about this thing that I think are going to be important for us three months from now is, is, one, it’s—is it got—Obama got his sea legs.  You saw him yesterday in Iowa, and he, he hit her again.  He hit, you know, talked about—he’s just comfortable, suddenly, hitting her.

MS. MITCHELL:  Absolutely.

MR. TODD:  It’s almost like a boxer who takes the first punch from the champion and realizes, “Oh, I can stay in the ring.  I can do this.” And so I think the fact that he got comfortable starting to hit her a little bit should be something that gives the Clinton camp a little bit of pause...

MR. RUSSERT:  We’ll show you...

MR. TODD:  ...and why, ultimately, Obama’s got to feel like he got the best of her, even if, frankly, in a general election, he may have made a mistake.

MR. RUSSERT:  We’ll show you how comfortable Senator Obama got.  This is a quote from the Chicago Sun-Times about foreign policy.  “Tuesday night,” it says, that the “foreign policy judgment,” Obama said, “was the best of all” the “candidates.”

“At an off-the-record session sponsored by Time-Warner in New York,” “‘One thing I’m very confident about is my judgment in foreign policy is, I believe, better than any other candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat.’

“‘And I don’t base that simply on the fact that I was right on the war in Iraq.  But if you look at how I approached the problem, what I was drawing on was a set of experience that come from a life of living overseas, being able to see the world through the eyes of people outside our borders.’”

MS. MITCHELL:  I...

MR. ROBINSON:  Well, you know, he’s, he’s, he’s not a shy and retiring person, really.  I mean, he, he has a lot of self-confidence.  He believes that he’s a smart guy and can lead the nation.  You know, one, one thing I’m curious about is, is whether this will have any impact on the polls and how people in the nation are, are—see the substance of this question, to the extent there is a, a substance.  Do—and I...

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, first thing...

MR. TODD:  Well, substance is lost.  I mean...

MR. ROBINSON:  But I wonder, I wonder if people aren’t receptive to a prospective president who says, “You know, the old kind of traditional foreign policy wise man way of looking at things, you know, ‘We can’t meet with foreign leaders because we could be used for propaganda purposes,’ guess what? We’re losing the propaganda war, OK?  It’s not like we’re doing that well right now.” So...

MS. MITCHELL:  The Edwards people—the Edwards people actually think that the, that the polling on this will help them.  It’s already helped them in Iowa and other places where people don’t like to see this kind of infighting in Washington, and that that will actually be the bounce for them.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, but pick up on the, on the big picture.  If Obama is able to say, “All the wise men told you to vote for the war...”

MR. ROBINSON:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  “...that it had to be done that way.”

MR. ROBINSON:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  “I was the one candidate that—who didn’t.”

MR. ROBINSON:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dennis Kucinich will say he did, but...

MR. ROBINSON:  Exactly.

MR. RUSSERT:  “And, and that I believe that fundamental change means reaching out and talking to other leaders.  I grew up in Indonesia, my father’s from Kenya.  I have a different perspective than those who, in effect, grew up in Washington.” Will that work?

MR. ROBINSON:  And when you talk—well, when you talk to him, I think this is something he, he sincerely believes, that, that his biography is, is an important—well, obviously it’s an important part of who he is—but an important part of how he would approach the job, how he would be seen around the world.  He thinks that’s a—that would be a real advantage for him as president and for the, for the nation.  And so I, you know, I think you’ll hear more of that.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Well, look, we have real crosscurrents in public opinion right now.  Obviously there’s enormous dissatisfaction with the direction of the country.  There’s a real palpable desire for change that is broad and deep across the electorate.  On the other hand, there is a sense that these are dangerous times, and that puts a premium on steadiness and experience and being able to be judicious in, in handling threats.  So you, you have these—you have these twin elements that are there in the public.  Senator Clinton and Senator Obama speak to very different aspects of those that, really, almost the yin and yang of those desires.

And, and keep in mind, I mean, the position from which he begins when he makes a statement like that, that is not where the Democratic electorate—Obama makes the statement that he is the strongest on foreign policy, that is not where the Democratic electorate is right now.  Right now the core of Hillary Clinton’s advantage in this race is that Democrats see her as a tougher leader who is better able to handle a crisis.  Not only women but, strikingly, men. So that is something that he does have to erode.  One of this advisers said, said to me a couple of weeks ago, “Strength is a leading indicator in the presidential race,” and I believe that is absolutely right, that if he cannot erode that advantage, it’s going to be very hard for him to get past her.  So this is an effort to, perhaps, to around it and make the argument, as you were saying, that “there are a different set of values that I bring.” But we should keep in mind that the public, as is often the case, is conflicted, being pulled in two directions at once.

MR. ROBINSON:  Well, I...

MR. HARWOOD:  Tim, I think that’s exactly right, and if you look at our Journal/NBC poll among Democrats, so Barack Obama’s argument’s change; her’s is experience.  She’s a lot healthier on change than he is on experience.  He was down by more than 2-to-1 among Democratic voters on that issue.  And so I talked to a senior Republican strategist yesterday who said Hillary Clinton’s chances of becoming president got a little bit better this week because of the impression that the general electorate is going to get of her position.

MR. BALZ:  I was going to say, on, on our most recent poll we asked, “Are you looking for a candidate who is more likely to deliver change or a candidate who has strength and experience?” Among Democratic voters they prefer change by a margin of about 10 points over strength and experience.  What’s interesting is that, as John said, Senator Clinton is way ahead on the experience quotient.  On the change quotient, she and Obama are running almost even at this point.  So Obama has two things he has to do.  One is he has to move that bar farther in the direction of change, and he has to become the candidate of change, not in a tied race with her on that.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Can I add a third thing that he—that fits—that—look who asks the question.  The question was asked by kind of a—seemed like a well-educated, upscale Democratic voter.  That is Barack Obama’s strength.  He is doing much better with college-educated voters than he is with non-college voters.  He’s following in the lineage of candidates like Eugene McCarthy, Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas and Bill Bradley, whereas Hillary Clinton, with this more hawkish answer, certainly fits into the constituency that she has, which is a non-college specially working-class audience, and we have run this race in the Democratic Party four or five times before, and the candidate in Hillary Clinton’s slot has always won.  Barack Obama, I think, has to figure out a way to reach out beyond that base.  And while this answer, I think, is very attractive to those kind of voters—and I think there is a constituency for it—it’s not clear that it solves his larger strategic problem of escaping the Starbucks ghetto.

MS. MITCHELL:  And even among women voters you see this disparity where educated women, college-educated women, women of, of, of a higher income level are less supportive of Hillary Clinton.  Her real margin over Barack Obama at 15, or 12 to 15 points is all among lower income, high school or less-educated women who see her as supporting their needs, their social needs, rather than appealing to, to intellect.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  And who are the largest block in most Democratic primaries.

MR. TODD:  But one giant difference between Barack Obama and Bill Bradley and all—everybody else that you mentioned is he’s African-American, and he could put together that, that, that winning coalition that no Democratic candidate, who has been the candidate of the elites and they’ve all failed, they’ve all come up short, but, but, boy, you know, imagine if Gary Hart on Super Tuesday back in ‘84 had had a piece of the African-American vote that Obama’s going to have.  It’s a different...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  It makes it more formidable...

MR. TODD:  It’s a different campaign.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  It’s more formidable than any of them.

MS. MITCHELL:  Speaking of the elite, by the way, that question Tuesday night about foreign policy, Gene, that you mentioned...

MR. ROBINSON:  Mm-hmm.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...was posed by the CEO of Time Warner on Hillary Clinton’s turf.  It was a major fund-raising and gathering point in New York where Barack Obama has an advantage among Wall Street and other elites.

MR. HARWOOD:  It’ll be interesting to see how this plays at the yearly coast convention later this week when the candidates go to that group of people on the left side of the Democratic spectrum.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  I’m guessing Obama’s answer is more popular.

MR. HARWOOD:  I would guess.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Margaret Carlson in Bloomberg News weighed in on this, and she had some interesting things, talking about Hillary Clinton, and this is what Margaret Carlson had to say.

“She absolutely doesn’t admire and like very much Barack.  In fact, Obama is the only candidate who gets under Clinton’s skin, and the aftermath of a mild exchange at the debate shows just how much.”

There something there, Dan?

MR. BALZ:  I think there is something there.  We’ve seen some evidence of that from time to time.  The Clinton campaign has been—obsessed is too strong a word, but, but obsessed is not far off—with Obama and the Obama campaign from the very start of this.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is it because he’s an upstart who’s in her way?

MR. BALZ:  I think that’s part of it.

MS. MITCHELL:  And a successful part.

MR. BALZ:  And, and a very bright new-age person who, who has made clear that he wants to, you know, close the book on not just the Bush era but the Clinton era as well, that, that he thinks...

MR. RUSSERT:  So turning the page is a double turn.

MR. BALZ:  ...he thinks—he thinks—he thinks this, this period that we have been through for the last 12 or 15 years has been bad in terms of what it’s done to American politics.  He wants to change that.  She’s certainly part of that, so there’s a personal element there.

MS. MITCHELL:  The only disagreement I’d have is that John Edwards also gets under her skin.

MR. ROBINSON:  Yes.  I think that’s clear.  I think that’s clear especially after he criticized her apparel at the, at the YouTube debate.

MR. RUSSERT:  Right.

MS. MITCHELL:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  We’re going to get to that.

MR. ROBINSON:  We’re going to get to that.

MR. TODD:  I’ll tell you, I think what it—what really irks the Clinton campaign is that part of their appeal was supposed to be not just competent change, not just basically doing a better version of John Kerry’s 2004 campaign, but she was also supposed to be the exciting candidate.  She was supposed to be the ones getting the big crowd.  She was supposed to be the ones doing the first, being the first woman president, that this was supposed to rally people and get people excited.  And instead, he’s taken that piece away from her, where this campaign right now is a debate about him.  She’s ahead, she’s the front-runner.  She may end up the nominee and she may end up being president, but the primary campaign is all about him.  It’s all about whether—is he experienced enough?  And if you think he is, you’re probably with him.  And if you don’t think he is, you’re with her.  But it’s about Obama.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show John Edwards weighing in, as Andrea mentioned, with his comments, and come back and talk to everyone.  Here we go, John Edwards.

(Videotape, Friday)

FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC):  If you’re looking for what’s wrong in Washington, why the system is broken, why the system doesn’t work, one perfect example’s what’s been happening just over the course of the last four days. We’ve had two good people, Democratic candidates for president, who’ve spent their time attacking each other instead of attacking the problems that this country’s faced.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  John Harwood, there’s a third way.

MR. HARWOOD:  Exactly.  First of all, Edwards took a cheap shot at Hillary Clinton’s jacket.  I liked her jacket every much as I like Andrea’s jacket today.

MS. MITCHELL:  Thanks.

MR. HARWOOD:  But secondly, look, the, the Edwards people think that Democrats don’t want to see their primary candidates attacking one another, first, and secondly, that there’s a consensus on foreign policy, broadly speaking, and they want to get to domestic issues.  John Edwards, in that same debate, drove the point that he wants to raise the minimum wage even further than Congress rose it, up to $9.50 an hour.  He has been leading some of the Democratic argument.  He did on the issue of private equity taxation.  He came out, said he was for raising taxes on hedge fund managers.  Within days Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both had echoed that position.  He’s leading in Iowa.  If he can win in Iowa in January, it’s a different race.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let’s look at these polls and, and take that into consideration.  The first, the national polls.  And here they are, there’s three of them—Hotline, Washington Post and Gallup.  Hillary Clinton with significant leads in all those polls, the same order—Clinton, Obama, Edwards.

Now look at this.  Favorable/unfavorable, Hillary Clinton:  47 percent favorable, 48 percent unfavorable.  Relatively hard for this state of the race to have that high unfavorable.

Obama’s favorable/unfavorable—his favorable’s 49, his unfavorable’s 26, never heard of 11.  Ideas, views towards him are still very much formulating.

Let’s look at New Hampshire, because that’s important, obviously:  Clinton, 36; Obama, 27; Richardson, 11; Edwards, 9.  Very fluid race.

Let’s look at Iowa.  Edwards, 27, as John Harwood mentioned; Clinton, 22; Obama, 16; Richardson, 11.

Now look at women.  Look at this.  Amongst men, Edwards clearly in front, 31; 17, 14, 15.  Women:  Hillary Clinton, 10-point difference between how she’s scoring with women rather than men.

MR. ROBINSON:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  What does it show us, Dan Balz?

MR. BALZ:  Well, it shows us, A, that Iowa is critically important in shaping this race.  As John said, if John Edwards were to win Iowa, this would be a different race because, up to now, most people seem to think this is a race between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama with Edwards sort of there.  Edwards is, in many ways, a one-state candidate.  He has, he has to do it in Iowa.

The other question about Iowa is, who comes in third in Iowa?  Let’s say Edwards is either first or second.  We don’t know that, I mean, he could end up third or fourth by the time we’re done with this.  But what happens to Obama or Clinton if they finish third in Iowa?  And I think there is a general sense that if Hillary Clinton wins in Iowa, she will be very, very difficult to beat.  But if she doesn’t, and if she were to finish third, we have quite a race on our hands.

MR. RUSSERT:  And what you have in Iowa is that people can show up at that caucus and change their party that day if they’re so motivated.

MR. ROBINSON:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  And then you go to New Hampshire, where independents can vote...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...in either primary.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  I’m going to disagree slightly, two, with my colleagues.

For Chuck, I think the race is more about Hillary Clinton than anybody else. It’ll be the first choice Democrats face is whether they believe she can win a general election.  I think that more than anything else is the pivot in the race.

And I disagree with both Dan and John that John Edwards winning Iowa would fundamentally change the race.  It would change the race if he can—if he’s able to follow it up in New Hampshire or thereafter, which is, is a challenge for him in particular, and for Southern candidates historically, in general, have not done well in New Hampshire.

The Clinton campaign, I think, would rather have John Edwards do well in Iowa because of the belief that he is less likely to translate that into future success.  Now, if Edwards crumbles in Iowa because of the difficulty of sustaining local support when he’s not run—polling well nationally, the risk to Hillary Clinton is that Obama could win Iowa, and with the momentum from Iowa, going into New Hampshire, a state where he already leads among independent voters, though he trails among Democrats, that, it would seem to me, is a much greater risk to her than having John Edwards win and, in effect, potentially—unless he can translate it elsewhere—taking Iowa off the table, the way a Tom Harkin did.  It—Iowa becomes much more of an all-or-nothing event for Hillary Clinton if John Edwards loses ground.

MS. MITCHELL:  Make—well, she can, she can spin Iowa.  If Edwards wins Iowa, they can play the way Bill Clinton did with Paul Tsongas winning New Hampshire.  They can play a second-place finish into a victory.  But they can’t do that as, as easily with Obama.

MR. RUSSERT:  But here...

MR. ROBINSON:  But I don’t think a third-place finish would be fatal for either Clinton or Obama in Iowa.  I think they would both—they would both develop...

MR. TODD:  I do.  I think it’s—I think it’s fatal to Obama.  I think if Obama...

MR. ROBINSON:  You think so?

MR. TODD:  First of all, don’t forget, Iowa’s a three-dimensional chess.  If one of them—if Clinton knows she could finish third, then don’t be surprised if they start figuring out a way to make sure Edwards—and I agree with Ron on that point, he’s very disagreeable this morning, but I agree with Ron on the fact that an Edwards victory in Iowa is, is the second-best result for Clinton.  You know, because this calendar sets up really well for Obama if...

MR. RUSSERT:  So you’re suggesting if there would be chicanery that the people would...

MR. TODD:  Oh, it’s not even—no.

MS. MITCHELL:  Oh, no, no, no.

MR. TODD:  Chicanery, it’s the way—now, wait a minute.  It’s the way the Iowa caucuses work.

MR. ROBINSON:  It’s politics.  It’s politics.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Yeah.

MR. ROBINSON:  Mm-hmm.

MR. TODD:  When you don’t get viability, that’s the way, that’s the way it works.  You’re going to see crazy deals.  But the Clintons have to deny Obama victory in Iowa, because this thing—you pointed out the independents—this thing sets up well for Obama going in through the first three states.  You know, the trouble starts for him in Florida, assuming Florida is going to count, and that’s...

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, that’s—South Carolina is also a big...

MR. ROBINSON:  South Carolina is very big for him.  Yeah.

MR. BALZ:  But what’s interesting now is that New Hampshire should be a very good state for Barack Obama.  I mean, it is by far the best Obama electorate in those early states in terms of the demographics.  Hillary Clinton’s doing very well right there in—at this point in New Hampshire.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.

MR. BALZ:  Better than you would think she would do.

MR. RUSSERT:  Again, it’s women, women, women, as she is the only woman candidate in the race.  Friday night she went to a hairstylist convention. She posted this photograph—photographs on her Web site.  All the various different hairstyles, a cut above the rest.  As you can see there, she says, “Pay attention to your hair because everyone else will.” Hillary Clinton, clearly trying to identify with working women.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, that, that hairstylist convention, they were primarily African-American, and so this is exactly her cohort.  She was mocking her own hairstyles, but she was also going one step farther.  She was taking on those who have criticized her for her appearance, including John Edwards at the debate and, importantly, The Washington Post column that I think you have some, some interest in...

MR. HARWOOD:  You know...

MS. MITCHELL:  ...the column that described her physical appearance during a Senate debate on the cost of higher education, which would...

MR. HARWOOD:  Are you suggesting Tim had more interest in it than you did?

MS. MITCHELL:  No, I’m just suggesting that, that we can get to that and show what that column had to say.

MR. RUSSERT:  You’ve opened, you’ve opened the...

MS. MITCHELL:  The door.  Well...

MR. RUSSERT:  ...chasm.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...the—good, Tim.  Well, this was the column, the fashion columnist, Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion columnist from The Washington Post who wrote about Hillary Clinton’s cleavage, and...

MR. RUSSERT:  And her showing a bit of it on the Senate floor.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...showing a bit of it on the Senate floor.  And this was used—seized upon by the Clinton campaign in an e-mail from her campaign...

MR. RUSSERT:  In a fund-raising letter.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...in a fund-raising letter by Ann Lewis saying that this is exactly what women have to put up with.  And if Hillary Clinton connect—can connect with women and say, “You see what we have to put up with?  This is the way they trivialize us,” it helps her on—in just about every level, both on fund-raising...

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to give Gene Robinson equal time for barber shops.

MR. ROBINSON:  Well, I’ll take equal time for barber shops.  I think Barack Obama needs to find some barber shops in New Hampshire to, to visit.  And, you know, he won’t have a lot of hair left if he get’s it cut that many, many times.  It’s pretty short right now.  I also—let me, let me jump in and, and offer a word in defense of Robin Givhan, the Washington Post columnist who wrote the cleavage column, as her former boss.

MR. ROBINSON:  You know, you either cover fashion or you don’t.  And, and I think it’s some—it’s legitimate to argue that, that you shouldn’t worry about fashion, but, you know, it’s the way we present ourselves to the, to the world, to others.  We make decisions every morning on what we, what we put on and how—what what sort of image we want to project.  And, unfortunately, in our society, women are scrutinized in a way that men aren’t.  I mean, what, what did John Edwards wear at the YouTube debate?  What did Barack Obama wear...

MS. MITCHELL:  She arguably—if you look at the Senate floor any day of the week, if you look at the floor of the House of Commons when a new Cabinet minister was speaking who had a far more low-cut neckline...

MR. ROBINSON:  Yes.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...this was so marginal.  This was like microscopic evidence of, of an—of...

MR. HARWOOD:  I’m going to defend that column, too.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...inappropriate attire.

MR. HARWOOD:  I’m going to defend that column, too.  When you look...

MR. ROBINSON:  It’s—I don’t think...

MR. HARWOOD:  ...at the calculation that goes into everything that Hillary Clinton does, for her to argue that she was not aware of what she was communicating by her dress is like Barry Bonds saying he thought he was rubbing down with flaxseed oil, OK?

MS. MITCHELL:  That...

MR. TODD:  It was 3:30--whoa, whoa, whoa.  It was 4:00...

MS. MITCHELL:  Sometimes a blouse is just a blouse, to paraphrase...

MR. RUSSERT:  OK.  I’m going to move on to South Carolina.

MR. TODD:  But, but...

MR. RUSSERT:  I’m going to move on to South Carolina.

MR. ROBINSON:  OK.

MR. RUSSERT:  OK, this is important.  Here’s the poll from South Carolina, and again we show Hillary Clinton ahead 43; Obama, 27; Edwards, 17.  Look at this.  A breakdown amongst black voters, African-American voters, half the voters in that primary 52, 33, 5.  Hillary Clinton considerably ahead of Barack Obama.  Is that a warning signal for Mr. Obama?

MR. BALZ:  Absolutely.  I mean, he has to do very, very well in the African-American community in South Carolina in order to win that primary.  I think they believe over time—and if you talk to David Alexrod about this, he’ll tell you that at the beginning of Obama’s Senate campaign he was not doing that well among African-Americans in Illinois, and, as the primary went along, he did better and better and better.

MR. RUSSERT:  As he gets better known.

MR. BALZ:  Right.  And they think the same will happen in this race and therefore will happen in South Carolina.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  It’s a subset of the larger point we were talking about before.  I mean, right now Hillary Clinton is running better with Democrats who want a candidate who will defend their interests.  Barack Obama is doing better with candidates who are looking for someone to affirm their values. And African-American voters tend to be interest-oriented voters, very tangible.They have education needs, health care needs, to a greater degree than a lot of the upscale white liberals who tend to look for kind of a statement kind of candidate.  And that is the same challenge.  Now, David Axelrod believes it’s largely a function of the fact that Hillary Clinton is better known.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senior...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Senior—the...

MR. RUSSERT:  Adviser.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  ...Obama camp believes it’s a function of name identification; over time it will solve itself.  I am not sure it solves itself.  Because, unlike her husband, Bill Clinton who chafed at being in that position and complained in 1992 that all of the smart people are voting for Paul Tsongas, she is very comfortable and very focused on who her constituency is.  Going to that hairstylist convention is a sign they know who their vote is and they’re comfortable with it, and they are trying to lock in on it.

MR. ROBINSON:  I—you know, I, I am surprised that Obama hasn’t gained more ground in South Carolina.  The times I’ve been there I have thought he was getting some traction among African-Americans.  He’s been going to the state, he’s been—you know, he’s—it’s not that he hasn’t been trying.  I agree that he needs to, he needs to make up some ground there and, and start doing it now, because I think that, potentially, would be fatal.  I mean, if he does that poorly in, in South Carolina among black voters.

MR. RUSSERT:  Trouble.

MR. ROBINSON:  Trouble.

MR. RUSSERT:  We have to take a quick break.  We’ll come back and show the Democrats matched against the Republicans, get inside the Republican primary race and talk about the attorney general of the United States, Alberto Gonzales, right after this.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  More with our MEET THE PRESS roundtable.  The Republicans and the attorney general after this station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we’re back.  Let’s look at some interesting polls.  The generic question, “Are you going to vote for a Democrat or a Republican for president of the United States?” And look at these margins in their question: 51 to 27 in The Hotline poll, Battleground poll, 49, 38.  And then when you match up specific front-runners, Giuliani, in both polls, beats Hillary Clinton.  You match Giuliani against Obama, Giuliani wins in one poll, 49, 45; Obama wins in another poll.  Then take Fred Thompson.  Thompson loses to Clinton in one, ties in another.  But Obama does much better against Thompson than Hillary Clinton does, winning handily in both those races.

What does that mean to you, Chuck Todd?

MR. TODD:  Well, I think that she’s having a problem of electability.  The Clinton folks will say that they, they believe their biggest challenge is proving electability, and it, and it really bugs them because they actually feel like, and the polls show that, you know, the fact that she’s competitive with Giuliani, they think that should be a good thing, you know.  I think there were some folks that thought she might be 10 points down to Giuliani at this point.

But when I look at those polls and you see the difference—and to me the Fred Thompson number’s more telling than the Giuliani number, because Thompson is generic Republican.  Nobody really knows who he is, so he’s generic R. There’s automatically a white independent men vote, and that’s who I’m pretty sure it is, that it’s white, independent men who will not vote for her right now.  Maybe they will at some point, but right now, they just automatically say, “I’m with the R.  I’m with the R.” And they are giving Obama a chance, which is what I think explains the difference between why Obama can do well—better in sort of a generic test than Clinton does.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dan Balz, Fred Thompson keeps saying he likes the temperature of the water, it’s feeling good.  Is he going to run?

MR. BALZ:  I think he’s going to run, sure.  There’s no indication that he’s not.  He’s had some problems this week.  He’s—his—the person who was putting the campaign together left the campaign, forced out.  They’ve had some other departures.  You know, I was thinking the other day, can the wheels come off a, a wagon that hasn’t come out of the, come out of the factory yet?  We’re certainly not at that point with him.  I think every indication is that he’ll get in in early September.  There’s talk that he might get in just before the New Hampshire debate early in September.

And a lot of Republicans expect that, if he does get in, that he will get a bump, that he will move in the polls, that he’ll have a good month.  And then people are going to stand back and say, “What’s he all about?” There are a lot of unanswered questions about what he would be like as a candidate.  He’s handled this period, up to now, quite well, and the question is, once he becomes a real candidate, what are people really going to think of him.

MS. MITCHELL:  I...

MR. RUSSERT:  Let’s look at that Republican race.  Here are the latest national polls for the Republicans.  Three of them on your screen.  Giuliani ahead in all of them, Thompson in second place in all of them.  John McCain in third place, Mitt Romney, 8, 8, 8 in all the national polls.  But New Hampshire, much different story.  Neighboring to Massachusetts, the former Massachusetts governor doing quite well, 34.  Giuliani in second, Thompson third, McCain in fourth.

Let’s look at Iowa.  Again, it’s Romney in front, Thompson in second, Giuliani, McCain, Gingrich.

Let’s look at South Carolina.  A little different story.  Giuliani ahead, McCain, Thompson, Gingrich and Romney way down in fifth place.

Although, the Romney campaign put out a memo saying, “We’re the front-runner and not Rudy Giuliani.” The Weekly Standard, the conservative magazine, seems to differ.  They have a cover of a magazine out this very morning, which I have right here, and I will show you on the screen, “See Rudy Run:  Why Giuliani, Despite Everything, Remains the GOP Front-Runner.” John Harwood.

MR. HARWOOD:  Look, I think when you take all factors into consideration—Iowa, New Hampshire, resources, Romney’s personal wealth, his attractiveness and the lack of sort of negatives ideologically within the Republican Party, I think he has more assets than anybody else in the race and is an undervalued stock at the moment.

Rudy Giuliani has strength on his side.  He stands for strength, post 9/11. The question is going to be how does that hold up when we really engage in the campaign and they start going after him on the social issues and as well as some of the personal dynamics—what he’s like as a person, his, his business dealings and all that sort of thing.

MR. RUSSERT:  Didn’t Romney and Giuliani have many of the same views on the social, cultural issues before this campaign?

MR. HARWOOD:  Yes.  But the difference is Romney’s gotten right on those issues and Giuliani hasn’t.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  You know, compared to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984, George W. Bush in 2000, Hillary Clinton in 2004, there is no front-runner in the Republican race.  There isn’t—this is a wide open, much more fluid race than on the Democratic side.  But I agree with John about the assets that Romney is putting together and the risk that exists for the other candidates.  If he wins Iowa, given his proximity as a former governor of Massachusetts, he would be a very strong favorite to win New Hampshire.  And that would then put everybody in a very difficult position.  If you have the same person win Iowa and New Hampshire, even with the new changes in the calendar and Florida moving up, it gets very difficult for everyone else.

You know, the Republican race, since 1980, has followed the exact same pattern:  Two candidates split Iowa and New Hampshire, one of them wins South Carolina, and that winner is the winner.  Now, if you allow the same person to win the—both of the first two, that really, I think, is, is asking candidates to do something that really hasn’t been done:  Turn it over at that point and—overturn it.  That’s not going to be easy.

MS. MITCHELL:  (Unintelligible)

MR. ROBINSON:  What surprises me, and, and I think the Giuliani campaign should be really happy about, is his leading in South Carolina.  I mean, that’s—that is—the South Carolina Republicans are conservative, church-going, kind of, you know, bedrock Republican-based voters.  And that Giuliani, with his liberal views on, on abortion and gay rights, can do that well in South Carolina...

MS. MITCHELL:  There’s a lot of military there.  That’s, that’s, that is...

MR. ROBINSON:  Well, there’s a lot of military, right.  And you know, his central appeal has been, “I,” you know, “I will keep America strong.  I will defend America.  Never again.” And, and that, that message has some legs.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Ron, what Rudy Giuliani is saying is, “Let the states deal with these issues.”

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.  Right.  I talked to him in South Carolina a week and a half ago, and he basically is trying to pull together all of his views on social and, for that matter, many of the regulatory issues around the common theme of federalism, that the way that we can reduce the tension in our society on issues like guns, gay rights, is to try to—avoid the effort to try to come to a single national solution that everyone will accept, because we can’t get there, and, in effect, allow the states to reach their own equilibrium.

Leads into some interesting positions.  He opposes, for now, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, saying states should be allowed to go their own way.  But he’s also moved away from his position in the ‘90s of supporting a national ban on assault weapons.  He says states should be allowed to go their own way.  Now, obviously this serves his political interest, because it allows him to try to reconcile his generally left—moderate-to-left social views to the right of center party, but it also is an intriguing idea that, among others, Howard Dean talked about in a different way—similar way in 2004...

MS. MITCHELL:  But, but Ron, it, it, it’s a great column, and it’s a really interesting dodge, I think, on his part.  But you’ve got issues like guns, which, as a former New York City mayor, he should know better than anyone that local gun control is meaningless.  These are national issues that have to be engaged on the national level.  So he can try to say it to try to get around his obvious social issue problems with the Republican primary voter, but it really isn’t a credible position.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Gay marriage?  Does that have to be dealt with on the national level?

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, well, certainly abortion.

MR. RUSSERT:  I want...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  That’s an—that’s an interesting question...

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to go to—I want to go to Gonzales.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  ...ultimately.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dan and Chuck, real fast, on the Republicans.

MR. BALZ:  Well, I, I talked to Giuliani about this in the spring as well, and—particularly on the issue of abortion.  He believes abortion is a, is a, is a constitutional right.  How can you say that and then say but let the—it would be better if the states decide?  He said to you, as he said to others, on education he agrees with what the president is doing, which is a much more assertive federal role in an area that has historically been a local and state issue.  I think it doesn’t add up.

MR. TODD:  Well, I’ll just say quickly, to sum up, is that I think that Giuliani’s strength in South Carolina is more—is, is interesting because Romney has a real weakness there because he’s already has been campaigning there.  Don’t forget, where Romney has spent money—Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina—and he’s in first place in Iowa and New Hampshire, he’s in fifth place in South Carolina.  I think it’ll be fascinating if, if it’s Romney vs. Rudy in South Carolina.  Will the evangelicals hold their nose and vote for the Mormon or hold their nose and vote for the pro-choice guy? That’s going to be where I think this nomination’s decided.

MS. MITCHELL:  (Unintelligible)

MR. ROBINSON:  Pro-choice.

MR. TODD:  Yeah.  And that’s where they’re going to be where this thing is decided is South Carolina.  Iowa and New Hampshire may end up being semi-meaningless if, if—even if Romney sweeps them.

MR. HARWOOD:  Oh, that’s...

MR. TODD:  Semi-meaningless.

MR. HARWOOD:  If Mitt Romney comes out of Iowa and New Hampshire with wins, he’s going to be hard to stop.

MR. TODD:  South Carolina...

MR. RUSSERT:  Will part—will part of the factoring be the strategic vote? Who can beat the Democrat?

MR. TODD:  I think that they—the national poll numbers may matter.  It’s going to be just like the 2004 a little bit with the Democrats.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  One thing...

MR. TODD:  Electability may matter more with Republicans than any of us understand.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  One thing to keep in mind, the primaries are like billiards. Every shot changes every subsequent shot.  If Mitt Romney comes out of Iowa and New Hampshire certified as the conservative winner of those states, as John suggested, South Carolina may look very different than it does today. And I will guarantee you, what—whoever wins New Hampshire, South Carolina will look very different that next morning than it does today.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let’s go to Alberto Gonzales.  To give you a flavor of it, this is an exchange that he had with New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer about why he went to a hospital room, when he was counselor to the president, to talk to the attorney general.  Let’s watch.

(Videotape, Tuesday)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY):  Did the president ask you to go?

ATT’Y GEN. ALBERTO GONZALES:  We were there on behalf of the president of the United States.

SEN. SCHUMER:  I didn’t ask you that.

ATT’Y GEN. GONZALES:  I can’t...

SEN. SCHUMER:  Did the president ask you to go?

ATT’Y GEN. GONZALES:  Senator, we were there on behalf of the president of the United States.

SEN. SCHUMER:  Why can’t you answer that question?

ATT’Y GEN. GONZALES:  That’s the answer that I can give you, senator.

SEN. SCHUMER:  Well, can you explain to me why you can’t answer it directly?

ATT’Y GEN. GONZALES:  Senator, again, we were there on, on an important program for this president on behalf of the president of the United States.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Oh, boy.  That’s the way it went all during that hearing. What’s at stake here?  It’s a question that the attorney general answered in February about the eavesdropping, wiretapping without warrants plan for the president, the anti-terrorism plan, as he described it.  This is what the attorney general said in February.

(Videotape, February 6, 2006)

ATT’Y GEN. GONZALES:  There’s not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  There was disagreement within the attorney general’s office and within the Department of Justice.  And so, when asked why he had said what he said in February, this was the attorney general’s response this week.

(Videotape, Tuesday)

ATT’Y GEN. GONZALES:  The disagreement that occurred and the reason for the visit to the hospital, senator, was related—was about other intelligence activities.  It was not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the American people.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  The FBI director, who was also at that hospital meeting, had a different recollection.  This is what he said before the House.

(Videotape, Thursday)

FBI DIRECTOR ROBERT MUELLER:  The discussion was on a national—a NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  The Senate now is considering perjury against the attorney general of the United States, Dan Balz.

MR. BALZ:  Extraordinarily so, yes.  But he is in a completely isolated position at this point, Tim.  All of the other testimony suggests that he is telling a story that is different from what everyone else’s recollection is. I don’t know how you square that circle.

Offscreen Voice:  It seems...

MS. MITCHELL:  And he’s got one supporter, and that is George W. Bush.  This is remarkable in that every leak you’re getting out of the White House shows that no one in the White House wants this to continue.  This is really hurting the president, it’s hurting the White House because you’ve got an attorney general who not only doesn’t have credibility, he doesn’t seem to be terribly smart about the way he’s handled this whole thing.  And Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary chairman, has said, “We’re sending the testimony.  We strongly urge to you to reconsider it.” He’s basically giving him the perjury warning that “you can change your testimony.” He’s got one week to do it, and if he doesn’t come back and have a new recollection, I think he’s in serious trouble.

MR. ROBINSON:  Remember, this, this hearing this past week was, in effect, an open-book test.  They let him have the questions beforehand.  They told him what they were going to ask him, and he still manages to, to, to mangle the whole thing.  It seems fairly clear that he is trying to, to, to parse something much more finely than it can be parsed by saying, “not part of the program as announced by the president.” You know, it—there is a story in The New York Times this morning, I don’t know if we’ve checked it out that said, “Well, it was an aspect of the terrorist surveillance program that was not announced by the president later.” So—but this...

MR. RUSSERT:  But there was disagreement about this.

MS. MITCHELL:  (Unintelligible).

MR. HARWOOD:  Of course.

MR. ROBINSON:  Of course there was.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Harwood and then Ron.

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, as, as Gene suggested, you square the circle by saying that Mueller was talking about data mining and the—Gonzales was being asked about wiretaps.  The problem is that it simply—the impression that he leaves is of somebody who isn’t straight with the Congress, who isn’t terribly competent, who doesn’t have the confidence of anybody in this job.  I can understand why the Democrats are pushing this—they’re bleeding the administration politically on this—and why Gonzales, who seems to think he’s been wronged, will stay there.  And Bush knows that, knows, knows that confirmation of a successor will be difficult, but Gonzales is taking so much punishment.  I wonder how he gets up in the morning and keeps going to the office every day.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  You know, to take a step back from the fine points of the testimony, this, at this point, is more about President Bush, I think, than it is about the attorney general.  The president has decided, and I think the, the White House is comfortable with the strategy of confrontation on most fronts with the Democratic Congress, thinking that the conflict is driving down the approval rating for Congress.  This week the House and Senate are both going to vote on expanding health care for working poor children who are uninsured, and the president’s threatening to veto that?  You know, we have the executive privilege fight.  There’s a broad range of conflicts brewing, and I think the White House feels that they are baiting Democrats into a sustained series of arguments that are bringing them down to a level in approval that is even lower than the president’s.  And whether that matters more than his low approval rating next year is another question, but I think the White House is very comfortable engineering conflicts across a broad range.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, they may be...

MR. RUSSERT:  Chuck Todd, the politics of Gonzales.

MR. TODD:  I just think it’s remarkable what Gonzales has said.  He seems to be, at this point, more loyal to Bush than Bush is to him because of what you just said.  I mean, I think the, the White House must be glad that he’s taking all the arrows right now and he is sort of almost distracting Congress to just go after him.  How any—I don’t think any other human being could take this kind of punishment and stay in the job.  And I think a lot of folks, probably, in the Bush administration would just as soon this guy would just resign.

MR. RUSSERT:  If you talk to senators...

MR. TODD:  And he hasn’t resigned.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...Democrats are more interested in having him stay than Republicans.

MR. TODD:  Right.  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  It’s like a pinata.

MR. TODD:  It is.

MR. ROBINSON:  Or like a...

MR. HARWOOD:  They bring him back.

MR. TODD:  They bring him back, and he is a terrible—I mean, he’s terrible at this.  I mean, he’s...

MR. ROBINSON:  Reliably so.

MR. TODD:  He is not...

MR. ROBINSON:  I mean, he can be counted on.

MR. TODD:  He is not a very good—I mean, he may have been a good lawyer, but he’s not good at...

MS. MITCHELL:  But Ron has a point here that the latest polling does show that Democrats in the House and Senate are so in—held in such disregard. There was a poll the other day that said, for the first time, 71 percent of those questioned didn’t like their local congressman, that even when Congress was notoriously unpopular, you always liked your local congressman.  There’s something going on here and—that this Congress that came in November of ‘06 has already lost so much support.  I think people are really fed up with what’s going on in Washington.

MR. BALZ:  And the biggest—I think a lot of that has to do with Iraq...

MS. MITCHELL:  Sure.

MR. BALZ:  ...and the failure of this Congress to change the president’s policy.  Not easy to do, obviously, but people believe they voted for a Democratic Congress that would bring change.  It hasn’t happened.

MR. RUSSERT:  We’re out of time.  Dan Balz, Andrea Mitchell, John Harwood, Chuck Todd, Gene Robinson, Ron Brownstein.  I think we’ve solved just about everything.

MR. TODD:  Yeah.

MS. MITCHELL:  Yup.

MR. RUSSERT:  We’re going to continue our discussion with this extraordinary group on the Internet.  And how has the Internet changed covering campaigns? Our MEET THE PRESS Take Two Web Extra on our Web site this afternoon at mtp.msnbc.com.  We’ll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  That’s all for today.  Check out our MEET THE PRESS Web site, sign up for our weekly newsletter.  Each Friday you can find out who’ll be meeting the press on Sunday, delivered e-mail right to your computer. Subscribe at mtp.msnbc.com.  We’ll be back next week.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS. 

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