updated 1/14/2008 11:06:41 AM ET 2008-01-14T16:06:41

Guests: David Brooks, Susan Page, Chuck Todd

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  We are back.

Obama wins Iowa.  Clinton, an amazing comeback New Hampshire. 

What happens now?

Who to put this in perspective, no one better than David Brooks—you read his column every Tuesday and Friday in “The New York Times”  -- Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief for “USA Today”; and Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News.

Welcome.

What a week in American politics.  Five days—Iowa, New Hampshire.

David Brooks, what happened?

DAVID BROOKS, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Well, it was a great week for people that hate pundits. 

(LAUGHTER

BROOKS:  We were wrong.  I’ve decided dishonesty is the best policy.  I’m just going to deny I said everything that I said before New Hampshire.

But the big mystery I think today is who—what happened.  Why were we so wrong?  What happened in the end in New Hampshire?

And I’d say the first thing to be said is it’s extremely wrong that nine polls were wrong in New Hampshire about Obama’s big lead.  So I think the most likely thing that happened is there was a late swing.

Now, what caused the late swing?  And it was a bunch of things.  It was the debate performance, which Clinton (INAUDIBLE) to say.  It was the tears. 

And it was a lot of women, high school-educated women, who said I don’t want Hillary Clinton’s career to end here.  It’s not going to be me.  Those pundits say she’s going to be finished, but it’s not going to be here, and it’s not going to be me who’s going to finish her off.

And so I think in the last couple days, they swung to her in large numbers.  And we all missed it.  But I think that’s what happened.  And she took the educated—high school-educated working-class vote, and Obama stuck with the college-educated, more affluent.

RUSSERT:  The polls are so interesting, Susan Page, because your paper’s poll, the Gallup poll, our poll, all the polls, Hillary Clinton’s own track showed her down 11 points.  Barack Obama’s track showed him up 14.

Peter Hart, who polls for NBC News and “The Wall Street Journal,” said the polls were accurate, they just stopped polling on Sunday.  It was a five-day election.  No one polled Monday or Tuesday, and there was a huge shift, as David just articulated.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “USA TODAY”:  We all thought five days was not enough time to stop the arc from Iowa, but it turned out it was because voters were really paying attention.  You know, I wonder—there’s a secondary factor that I think comes into play, and that is, historically, black candidates have over-polled and under-performed when people go to the polls.  Now, we didn’t see that happen in Iowa, and we didn’t see it happen when Harold Ford ran for the Senate from Tennessee, but it’s possible that was also a factor, as well as the swing of women voters toward the end in New Hampshire.

RUSSERT:  Do you see that racial difference in primaries polling?  It’s usually general elections.  And the Democratic primary, not usually, but it’s New England, and some people have been suggesting that may have existed.

What do you think?

PAGE:  I think it’s hard to know why people vote the way they do when it’s at such odds with, as David said, all the polling we had.  I don’t know if that’s the case.  There have been races where that’s been the case, where the race with the candidates has made a difference.

I think it’s going to be some time before we know.  We’re going back in the field to re-interview the people we had in our poll that was—had him up 13 points to ask who changed their mind, who didn’t go to vote who said they were going to vote, maybe who did go to vote who told us they weren’t going to vote, who didn’t make it through our likely voter screen.

RUSSERT:  Are you going top publish that?

PAGE:  Oh, absolutely.  We want to know why the poll was off and we don’t want to repeat the error.

RUSSERT:  Perfect.

Chuck Todd?

CHUCK TODD, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, NBC NEWS:  Look, I think it’s a confluence of events that swings 12 points.  And I’m going to go and assume Mark Penn’s poll was accurate, since that’s the Clinton poll.  And you know, one—I love everybody’s bashing the media.  The Clinton campaign was changing their campaign staff on the day of the primary.  They clearly thought they were going to lose.

RUSSERT:  They hadn’t written a victory speech.

TODD:  Correct.  They were only concession speeches, right.  Exactly.

So it’s a confluence of events.  I think race was worth two or three points.  I don’t think—I think we’ve grown beyond where it’s 10-point swings, but let’s be realistic.  It probably was worth a couple of points, though women bounding together worth a couple points.

Independents sitting there going, who needs my vote more, Obama or McCain?  We found I think it was about eight percent of the electorate, according to our Mason-Dixon/McClatchy poll, said that they were deciding between Obama and McCain. 

That’s what the Obama people think.  They think they lost some of that to Independents saying—strategically deciding.  And then he was relying on young folks.

They may have gotten complacent.  It was a blowout, you know?  And turnout was at where the secretary of state said it was going to be.  It didn’t blow out all sorts of—so I think you take all of that, and they’re all worth about two points.  And I think we’re probably all correct in trying to dissect this.

RUSSERT:  Twenty percent of the voters in Iowa were young voters.  In New Hampshire, it was only 11.  And in 2004, it was as high as 14, according to some analysis.  So younger voters may have under-performed.

Go ahead, David.

BROOKS:  I just want to get to the race point.

RUSSERT:  Yes.

BROOKS:  Because that really is important about America and what kind of country this is.  And Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, one of the best pollsters in the country, had a piece in “The New York Times” saying he did think it was a racial element.  And for all my incredible respect for Andy, I just don’t agree with that.  And here’s my reason why.

Among men, there was no swing.  Obama did not lose men.  Why would white working class women swing away from a black candidate but not me? 

And secondly, if you’re swinging away from the black candidate, do you then say, oh, I’m going to vote for the women?  I think they would have swung backwards (ph) if it was based on sort of a tribalism.  So I just don’t see there’s that much evidence for the race thing.

On the other hand, for the late swing, which I buy, if in the exit polls when you ask late deciders, “Who did you go for?” Hillary Clinton did not have an advantage, or a big advantage with those people.

So there’s no clean theory that fits all the data.  And that’s what makes it look complicated.  I’m looking forward to Susan’s new poll.

RUSSERT:  It’s kind of nice to say we don’t know.

BROOKS:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  It feels good.

BROOKS:  It’s liberating.

RUSSERT:  There was a assessor (ph) in New Hampshire who had an interesting theory, and he makes—he’s an expert on this.  He said it was ballot position.  It was worth two or three points.  That Hillary Clinton was at the top of the ballot and Barack Obama was buried down—people don’t realize there are like 14 names on the ballot, people I don’t even know—from all parts of the country who decided they wanted their name on the ballot in New Hampshire.

But all those events in the big pot boiling over, you cannot take it away from one of the greatest upsets in the history of American primaries.

PAGE:  You know, she—she campaigned differently in New Hampshire than she campaigned before.  She was answering questions from voters.  Remember, she got a lot of criticism in Iowa because she would do these speeches in these rallies and not stay around and take question after question from voters. 

She did that in New Hampshire.  She was much more accessible to the press.

She showed toughness in that Saturday night debate, when everybody seemed to be ganging up on her.  And then she showed vulnerability when she teared up on Monday.  So there was—perhaps voters had a bigger picture of her.  And perhaps it was somebody that women could more easily identify with, especially maybe working class women in their lives, the feeling that everybody’s against you, that men are ganging up on you, and that you’ve got too much to do and there are times when it’s just more than you can take.

RUSSERT:  We’re going to take a quick break.  A lot more of our conversation with David Brooks, Susan Page, Chuck Todd.

Politics 2008, there’s nothing like it.

We’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back talking about what happened in New Hampshire, primarily, and then a look ahead to the future caucuses and primaries.

The tears, that has been replayed over and over again.  Hillary Clinton asked about how she gets through it.  “Who does your hair?” was part of the question as well.  And then she internalized it and talked about how much she cares for the country and why she was in this race and what she had hoped to do.

Jesse Jackson, Jr., who is a supporter for Barack Obama, said the other day that the tears have to be analyzed, that Hillary Clinton didn’t cry after Katrina, and these tears have to be analyzed as to, I guess, whether they were real enough, David Brooks.  That’s not me talking, that’s Jesse Jackson, Jr.

BROOKS:  I don’t know if she cried after Katrina or not.  She may have.  She didn’t do it on camera.  I think they were real.

Look, the people are under a lot of stress.  I love talking to politicians after they lose an election, because they’re open.  And they feel personally rejected.  It’s like you ask the entire country to date you and they said no.

And so I’m sure she was under a lot of stress, feeling a lot of personal rejection.  And it came out.

I don’t know if her upset had to do with what she was talking about at that moment, but she was clearly upset.  And it opened up the wall.

I had a Democratic senator once say to me about Hillary Clinton, you can always tell what position she’s going to take.  You can never tell the thinking she used to get there.  There’s a wall there, and you will never get behind that wall.

Well, for a second, at least it appeared, we got behind the wall.  And it wasn’t so scary for a lot of people.  And so I think the tears were a gigantic factor.

And let’s face it, the reason people go to politicians and vote for them or vote against them is not because they like their health care plans.  It’s because they have an emotional connection that is subrational.  And that made that connection, at least for some people.

RUSSERT:  Susan Page, after the tears, there were big discussions in the NBC News workspace amongst women.  A lot of younger women said, “Why did she do that?  That’s not what we’re supposed to do.”

Middle-aged women, elderly women said, “Come on, she’s exhausted.  There’s nothing wrong with that.”  One turned to me and said, “Mitt Romney cried on ‘Meet the Press’ about integrating the Mormon faith, so men do it too.”

When you look at that, as a journalist, but as a woman, what do you see?

PAGE:  I thought it was a factor of exhaustion.  I thought that was a factor.  But I thought it hurt her.  I mean, this is yet another area in which I was wrong in New Hampshire.

I thought that there’s a big penalty for women who want powerful jobs, and especially commander in chief, to show weakness and vulnerability.  And that was—that was clearly wrong.

I could totally understand why she did it though.  I mean, as tired as we all were in New Hampshire, those candidates had to be more tired—the pressure that she felt after that third-place finish in Iowa.  But I was—I was surprised that the electorate responded in a way that kind of welcomed it and said, hey, this is something we wanted to see from you.

I’ve interviewed Hillary Clinton many times, starting in 1992 during that campaign, and I’ve never felt I got past the wall.  I never felt I had a really spontaneous exchange with her.  That voter on Monday had a spontaneous exchange with her.

RUSSERT:  And the voter wound up voting for Barack Obama.

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  But comments in the local New Hampshire papers the morning after, many women said, for the first time, I understood her, I sympathize with her.  “I multitask, too.”

I bring the kid to the school, I’m trying to cook dinner, I’m trying to keep the job, I’m trying to do the laundry, and suddenly I saw Hillary Clinton basically reaching out saying, I’m trying to do it all and I’m not sure I can get this done.  Became a very sympathetic figure to some, a victim to others.

PAGE:  Well, and it’s a tightrope that I think women generally walk, doing lots of things, feeling not especially appreciated sometimes.  And sometimes being demeaned by men.

I mean, I thought there were—when Barack Obama said to Hillary, “You’re likeable enough” in the debate, I thought every woman I know, including myself, has had some man say that, something to me, and I thought, “Oh yeah, buddy?”

And I think maybe the women watching that debate felt that way.  It’s the same way when John Edwards said in a previous debate, “What about that jacket?”  And I think there might be some identification (ph) factor.

I don’t think that’s enough to get you to the White House, but it was enough to get her through New Hampshire.

RUSSERT:  How about when her husband, former President Bill Clinton, said, “I can’t make her younger, taller.”

PAGE:  I just have to say, my husband will not be saying those words in public to other people.

RUSSERT:  But in a curious way, Chuck Todd, some women in New Hampshire when her husband said that, they were upset with President Clinton.  But I think sympathetic towards Hillary Clinton, the wife.

TODD:  Look, I got emails from some friends—female friends and family in this 24-hour period of the tears and the whole thing that said, “What’s going on here?”  I had one—a member in my family said, “I’m depressed.  I can’t believe this whole thing is ending, this whole thing is turning into a coronation.  How is it that a well-qualified woman is losing to the cool kid in class?”

You know, this is—you know, why is this happening like this?  And so you put in all this anecdotal—you had it, you had it, you had it.  And you suddenly, I think, do see what happened here.

She touched—she finally became a movement candidate for the first time.  This was always supposed to be the plan.  You know, Obama became the movement candidate, she became the establishment status—you know, Democratic candidate with the last name of “Clinton.”  She finally became Hillary.

For the first time in this campaign she becomes Hillary.  Can she keep it up?  Can she stay Hillary the whole time?  Are we going to see her now basically be a woman candidate, not just a candidate for president who’s a woman?

RUSSERT:  Helen Reddy, “I am Woman.”

TODD:  Well, I mean, you know, the thing is, is, you know, 50 -- anywhere from 55 to 60 percent of electorates around the country in primaries are women.  It’s a way to win the nomination.  I think that that’s what we’re going to see.

RUSSERT:  David Brooks, to your earlier point, voters in Iowa, they had a chance to coronate Hillary Clinton.  And they said, you know what?  We’re voting for Obama.  We’re going to keep this debate or discussion going. 

The voters in New Hampshire had a chance to anoint Barack Obama.  They said, you know what?  Let’s keep this debate going.

Fair?

BROOKS:  Yes.  And the voters in California are extremely grateful.

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  Coming your way February 5.

BROOKS:  This is going to be going on and on and on.  It really at this point now looks—I’m sort of out of the future (INAUDIBLE) business after this past week, but it does look like it will be an old-fashioned delegate race with a pile of delegates here, a pile of delegates there.  And it won’t be settled by the media.  It will be settled by delegates.

RUSSERT:  And Democratic Party rules allow for a proportional representation or delegate allocation.  So if you win a state, you divide those delegates.

BROOKS:  Right.

RUSSERT:  They’ve both got the same number of delegates out of New Hampshire I think.

BROOKS:  Right.

PAGE:  They did.  And in fact, Democratic rules require that.  Democrats don’t have the option of doing winner take all by states. It’s different with the Republicans, who have...

RUSSERT:  Yes.

We’re going to take another quick break.  We’re going to come back.

A lot more with Brooks, Page and Todd right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back.

David Brooks, William Jefferson Clinton, he stepped out in this campaign trail.  In Iowa, got in a little trouble for saying that he opposed the Iraq war from the very beginning.  But in New Hampshire, at the end, his anger showed through.  He said that the press hadn’t been tough enough on Barack Obama, that it was fairyland, and that it was time to really hold Barack Obama accountable.

Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist, said that she was depressed by the language he was using.  “Fairy land” referring to Obama as a kid.

What’s your sense of that.

BROOKS:  If Hillary Clinton had lost in New Hampshire, we would be raking Bill Clinton over the coals, because he was awful.  His attitude was condescending, nasty, mean.  And it’s only the upset victory that stumped on that story.

And I thought his behavior in the last couple of days, but no only him, across the Clinton campaign—because they really don’t have much respect for Obama.  They don’t think he’s earned this.  And so they were assaulting one with quotations that they think show Obama’s a flip-flopper.

I think those quotations were highly doctored and highly misleading, frankly.  There was one Bill Clinton used, a 19 -- or 2004 quotation where Obama said, “There’s no difference between me and Bush on the war.” 

Well, he was talking about a very specific policy of, as they stand down, we stand up, about training Iraqi troops.  But that was interpreted by the Clinton campaign as the entire war policy.  And so I thought they were—they were getting really tough, and it’s just unbecoming to see a former president get in the gutter that way.  And I just don’t think his behavior has been that great.

RUSSERT:  You know, the irony is when Bill Clinton talked about those comments and talked about other comments, when Obama said on “Meet the Press” in 2004 that if he was in the Senate he wasn’t sure how he was going to vote, because I was asking him—he’s giving the keynote—“Your position on the war is different than Kerry and Edwards.”

I asked Obama about all three of those quotes in November on “Meet the Press.”  Former President Clinton said no one’s ever asked him.  Yes, he had been asked.  He had been asked and he answered the questions.

And so I was sort of intrigued as to why it was being brought up the final days in New Hampshire.

BROOKS:  Well, the Clinton people are—they don’t like the media in the best of circumstances, but they really felt we were giving Obama a free pass, which I think is unfair, but they are—they were filled with that sense of fervor that Obama was getting a free ride.

RUSSERT:  What’s your sense?

PAGE:  Bill Clinton always a double-edged sword.  I mean, undeniably popular with core Democrats who remember the ‘90s well.  But of course, it also reminds you of the ‘90s.

And look what they did in the victory speech in New Hampshire.  Bill Clinton was not there.  It was Hillary Clinton standing in front of a group of young people who were amassed behind her.  You didn’t see Bill Clinton the way you saw him in Iowa.

I think the Bill Clinton we saw campaigning in New Hampshire was the Bill Clinton his aides often talked about at the White House but they didn’t show publicly, which was somebody who saw—you know, kind of whining, criticizing other people, woe is me.  That’s not something they showed when he was president, but there was no shortage of tell-all memoirs that talked about him doing that with his staff.  We saw a little of that.

RUSSERT:  Bill Clinton?

TODD:  Yes—no, I agree with you, David.  I think that if she lost, that would have been one of the things we were talking about, is how awful he was.

I mean, I’ve always thought this was a contest for Hillary—of Hillary versus Clinton.  And that, you know, every time he appeared was just never—it always reinforced Obama’s message.  And then he was doing it more.  And then this lashing out.

I mean, the irony here is you do wonder that if—if Obama’s the nominee, Clinton’s going to enjoy being a surrogate for him, because all the things he’s criticizing Obama for were things that Clinton was criticized for in ‘92.  In fact, I had one Clinton person—Clinton support—say to me, you know, the best way he can help Hillary is to say, here’s why you don’t want Obama in the White House... I was awful my first three years.  I was terrible.  I made all these rookie mistakes, and I wasn’t ready.

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  I bet you’ll never hear that, Mr. Todd.

TODD:  The irony is, the best way he could make the case against Obama’s experience is by saying, you know what?

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKS:  The parallel that reminds me is when George H. W. Bush, George Bush the elder, looked at Bill Clinton and he saw a pissant who doesn’t deserve this.  And when the Clintons look at Obama, that’s exactly the way they talked, the way George H. W. talked about Clinton.

PAGE:  It didn’t work for George H. W. Bush, of course, because people wanted change and they didn’t think he was in touch.  And so that’s maybe a lesson for Hillary.

RUSSERT:  Is the attitude just, wait your turn?

BROOKS:  I mean, that’s not only the attitude among the Clintons, it’s an attitude on the Bush administration toward Obama and it’s an attitude in the Senate.  Now, a lot of this is envy.  Who is this guy that’s been here, done very little, and now he’s a superstar?  So they’re envious.

But on the other hand, there is a sense of people in Washington who have been working this a long time that when you negotiate, say, an immigration bill, it’s a tough negotiation.  There’s an inside game you have to master, and there are Democrats and Republicans who are upset the way—with the way Obama handled the immigration bill.

They thought he betrayed them to do a little showboating when they were working on that.  And so they had—there’s a vestigial anger among that.

Today—or this week in “The Wall Street Journal,” Karl Rove had a piece about mentioning Obama, extremely negative.  Because let’s face it, the people in the Bush White House think Hillary Clinton is better qualified to be president.

RUSSERT:  Or, do they prefer to run against her?

BROOKS:  I think it’s genuine.  They like Hillary Clinton.  The people in the Bush White House think Hillary Clinton’s serious on the war, she’s serious on foreign policy.  They would entrust—they would trust their legacy to Hillary Clinton more than to Obama and more, frankly, to a lot of the Republican candidates.

RUSSERT:  How does the Clinton campaign deal with Obama in a state like South Carolina, where half the voters are African-American?

PAGE:  I think it’s tough.  I think it’s tough. 

I think you maybe go back to battling for the women’s vote.  You know, African-Americans make up about half the electorate in the primary—Democratic primary in South Carolina, but 60 percent of them are expected to be women.  So, you know, black women are pulled two ways in terms of breakthrough candidates who speak to their lives.

And I think it—you know, you try to get through to South Carolina.  I mean, South Carolina, Nevada, are not the best states coming up for Hillary Clinton.  She’s better off in Florida in the February 5th states.

So she needs to make a battle for them, but her target, I think, is a little bit beyond that.  Because by necessity, she had been leading in South Carolina.  You know, we’ll see what the polling shows now that we’re through this second contest.

RUSSERT:  We have another quick break.

We’re talking to David Brooks, Susan Page, Chuck Todd.

A lot more campaign 2008, the race for the White House, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back talking about the race for the White House with Chuck Todd, the political director of NBC News; Susan Page, the bureau chief for “USA Today” here in Washington; David Brooks.  You can read his column every Tuesday and Friday in “The New York Times.”

Let’s stay on the Democrats for just a second. 

You and Senator Obama have exchanged emails.  You cited this in one of your columns, which I found pretty instructive.

BROOKS:  Yes.  I cover—I love the Senate, so I cover senators.  So I covered Obama quite a lot before he became God and the messiah and cherubs started singing when he walks in the room.  And you got to know him.

And frankly, I was extremely impressed by him.  And a lot of things happened that reminded me he was a real person and a very perceptive person.  And that story I told in the column, this was at the moment when the Republican Congress was spending wildly, really behaving awfully, and I would write these columns attacking the Republican Congress.

But just to make myself feel better, I would throw in a few sentences attacking Democrats.  And Obama sent me an email one morning and it said, “David, if you want to attack us, fine.  But you’re throwing in those sentences to make yourself feel better.”  And he understood me perfectly.  It was like he read my mind better than I could.

And that’s the level of perceptiveness that he has.  And everybody who’s worked with him tells the story of, “He understood me.”  And conservatives at the “Harvard Law Review” tell stories like that, at the University of Chicago Law School a lot of conservatives tell that story, that he is able to see and understand and respect you, which is why he has this little bounce among conservatives.  People think he respects them and that he understand their point of view even if he doesn’t agree all the time—or ever.

RUSSERT:  And why at all his rallies he talks about, there’s some Independents here.  And he says, and there’s even some Republicans here, and he talks kind of quietly.

BROOKS:  Right.

RUSSERT:  But it’s a calculated attempt, I believe, for his campaign to reach out and not be afraid to bring other people in?

BROOKS:  Yes.  And I was at a lot of conservative Christmas parties, and I would go around the room asking, you know, “If you had your choice, President Clinton or President Obama, who would you want?”  And I’d say it was 90 percent “President Obama.”  And a lot of them would vote for him over some of the Republicans.

RUSSERT:  Really?

BROOKS:  There are a lot of Republicans who like Obama.

RUSSERT:  What’s a conservative Christmas party, short on the food?

BROOKS:  Well, the key thing is there are very few conservative Hanukkah parties.

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  Susan Page, we have Nevada, the biggest union out there, the Culinary Workers, have endorsed Obama.  And then we have South Carolina.

You seem to suggest that those can be difficult areas for Hillary Clinton?

PAGE:  Well, I assume so.  I mean, Nevada...

RUSSERT:  No predictions, please.

PAGE:  No predictions.  I mean, talk about trouble polling in New Hampshire.  Try polling the first Nevada caucuses.  So I don’t know what’s going to happen in Nevada, but that Culinary Workers Union endorsement I think important, a heavily unionized state.  You assume that for these caucuses, which are confusing for people, maybe the unions will be successful in turning out their people.

South Carolina, you know, certainly—certainly a tough state with the African-American population.  And maybe she’ll pull something out there, but I think not a natural (ph) state.

It’s when you get to places like New York, New Jersey, California, there’ll have been a little time.  It’s a couple of weeks until then, on February 5th, where she can make her case.

She’s going to make a case that he’s a talker and I’m a doer.  We heard that in New Hampshire.  She’ll have more time to develop that argument as opposed to just making that charge.

RUSSERT:  Play out Nevada and South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

TODD:  Well, I think the—I think that Obama doesn’t get the nomination without winning South Carolina.  So, there is that sort of must-win feel for him. 

Now, obviously, it’s all there for him.  But I think, you know, they ought to try—the Clinton folks need a split.  I think it’s going to hurt them if they’re 1-3 going in to February 5th because there is going to be—they’re they only contests that we’re going to cover between now and February 5th that feel of winning.

You know, it’s going to have an effect on the national polls, which then will have an effect on a lot of these state polls.  So, I think that the Clintons really need to figure out—you know, she has Harry Reid’s machine, or part of it, her son—his son is running her Nevada campaign out there.  So, you know, she had the edge, really.

Obama had a late start in Nevada.  He gets this culinary union, which basically was going to go with whoever had won Iowa, Edwards or Obama.  They were just anti-Clinton.  So he’s got that.

But he is—it’s a winnable—it’s a doable thing because it’s organization.  And, you know, Nevada politics is very tribal.  They don’t have—it’s not really in the...

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  So are you saying Nevada is still wide open?

TODD:  I think Nevada’s a lot more wide open, particularly with Richardson gone.  She has done a lot of work—we were talking about this before—a lot of work with Hispanics.  This has always been the ethnic group—she knew she was eventually going to lose blacks to Obama.

She’s been working this hard.  It matters in Arizona, obviously, a lot for that primary.  Colorado and California.

RUSSERT:  And in South Carolina, if she can tap into the hard-core Democratic white base and bring in some of those black women...

TODD:  This is where John Edwards is in the way, though.  And sort of his role in this at this point, I mean, he is—you know, now, he may not make threshold in all these Nevada places.  Where do his second choice voters go?

You know, there are literally two assumptions about John Edwards’ supporters that both Obama and Clinton make.  Obama people assume if you’ve made the decision not to be with Clinton, then you’re going to eventually stay not being with Clinton.  The Clinton folks believe Edwards’ support is blue collar, it’s less educated, and at the end of the day, they will go with Clinton because they believe that she feels their pain a little bit more than Obama.

And I don’t think we know where that—where that Edwards split—my guess is, the way this race—it’s going to split right down the middle and we’ve got ourselves—we’re going to—forget February 5th.  March 4th, Ohio, Texas, and a couple of other primaries.

RUSSERT:  Many Super Tuesday.

TODD:  We’re going to keep going.

RUSSERT:  Hispanic voters, do you think that they be a bellwether in this? 

BROOKS:  That’s key, the absolute key, because Obama’s got what you want to call the Starbucks Democrats, very well-educated.  Hillary’s got the Wal-Mart Democrats, less well-educated.

Normally, the Wal-Mart Democrat beats the Starbucks Democrat, but Obama has the African-Americans, which makes it a tie.  And then the final big bloc sitting out there is Latino voters.  And right now, they’re probably with Clinton.  But I think that’s the thing that both of them have to focus on over the next month or two.

RUSSERT:  Another quick break.

David Brooks, Susan Page, Chuck Todd, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back.

One more question on the Democrats.

February 5th, Super Tuesday, Chuck Todd.  There are closed states where only Democrats can vote, like New York, and open states like California, where Independents, Republicans—David Brooks has friends in the Republican Party, as he talks about, who went to his Christmas party.

It’s an open primary.  Explain how that effects Obama.

TODD:  Well, I mean, I think that Obama’s got to—I remember we went through this in 2000, when McCain was winning with all these Independents in these primaries and we were looking at Super Tuesday then.  I think they were March 10th that year, and looking, and most of the Republican primaries were closed, off to Independents.  And the Republicans really do sort of keep that out (ph).

Democrats, because they were—well, it’s the nature of Democrats, please, come on in, everybody.  You know, they—more of their primaries are at least semi-open, where at least Independents can come in, and some allowing even Republicans to come in.

That’s something that’s going to help Obama, because a majority—a majority of these states on February 5th are open to Independents.  Not that many are closed, New York being the most prominent.

So, it’s—you know, she has been beating him among—you know, she beat him among rank and file Democrats in New Hampshire.  He beat her among Independents.  We’ll see.  I think that that track—you know, Obama’s got to feel pretty good about how the rules work, potentially in his favor.

RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the Republicans, Susan Page.

Next Tuesday, Michigan.  Mitt Romney versus John McCain.

PAGE:  And advantages.  Each has advantages in that state.

Mitt Romney, of course, son of the governor, former governor, and also born in Michigan, announced his campaign in Michigan.  Clearly some advantages there.  But it’s a state that John McCain won eight years ago and a state where, you know, he’s obviously campaigning hard in there.

For Romney, I think a must-win state.  I mean, it’s hard for me to imagine how Romney continues to campaign or matter at all if he loses Iowa and New Hampshire, where he invested so much money and time, and then goes on to lose Michigan, which his campaign has talked about as kind of a safety net.  If John McCain can win that, that winnows that Republican field down a little bit, although it remains a pretty big field.

RUSSERT:  A friend of mine, a Republican that you know, David Brooks, said, “I think we might have a real convention.”  He said, “You could have four or five winners in the first five contests.”  Huckabee in Iowa, McCain in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney pulls out Michigan.

Who wins South Carolina?  Fred Thompson is going to make his last stand.  Rudy Giuliani waiting in Florida.

Explain the Republican primary right now.

BROOKS:  Well, it’s a fractured party.  And it’s a party that’s really facing some long odds in regaining the White House. 

So it’s a party in a bit of an electoral crisis, and it’s splintering out.  And what we’re seeing, I think, is the old Republican coalition becoming obsolete and new things growing.

Mike Huckabee represents a new thing, a mixture of social conservatism with economic populism.  John McCain is still a new thing, which is a sort of independent resurgence.

Mitt Romney tried—was a new thing posing as an old thing.  He tried to pretend he was Mr. Reagan conservative, but now in Michigan he’s rediscovering his true self—assuming there is such a thing—and that is the businessman.

And to me, the fascinating thing about the race in Michigan is that you—it’s an economically hard-hit state.  They’ve lost -- 50,000 families lost jobs year after year after year.  What appeal is going to work there?

Is it going to be Mitt Romney’s “I’m a business man, I know how to fix this,” like in the gubernatorial race up there, or is it going to be a John McCain, “I’m going to use government to retrain you, I’m going to use government for this and that”?  It’s a much more affirmative use of government than we’ve seen from the Republican Party.

And Mike Huckabee, on that score, is even more affirmative in the use of government.  The small, limited government, government is the enemy Republicanism, that’s just washing away right now.

So, you’re seeing this revolution in the Republican Party that is still half formed, and that’s why the race is still half formed.

PAGE:  I mean, no talk at all about a George W. Bush Republican.  I mean, that’s one of the things that’s made it so wide opened and fractured, it seems to me.  There’s not—there’s no sense that—nobody is talking about, “I want to continue to the policies of George W. Bush.”

You never heard his name in New Hampshire unless it was a Democrat saying they were going to bring about change from George W. Bush.  No vice president in this race, no governor from California in this race is a—no governor from Florida, all for particular reasons.  One’s this, one’s foreign-born.

It makes his party seem quite unformed, as you say.

RUSSERT:  It was quite interesting in the New Hampshire exit poll, a swing state like New Hampshire, we asked about the Bush administration policies.  Ninety-three percent of Democrats said they were angry or dissatisfied with him.  I understand that.  These are partisan Democrats, turn the page.

Those who voted in the Republican primary, 50 percent said they were angry or dissatisfied at Bush administration policies.  That’s extraordinary in a swing state, Chuck Todd.

TODD:  It is.  And it would be—I remind you, you know, of all the polling we did early on when we did Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.  The one place where Bush had an unfavorable rating, over 35, was New Hampshire, among New Hampshire Republicans.

So, there is something I think unique to New England.  I think the Republican Party has just gone out of business in New England.  And I think that is a little bit of what we’re seeing there.

But I want to go back to Michigan.  This should be Huckabee’s—this should be an open field running for Huckabee for the very point you brought up, David, and that is, he is figuring out how to marry evangelicals with working class Republicans.

I was talking with Ken Mehlman, the former chairman of the RNC.  He loves what Huckabee is doing.  He’s not sure he’s going to beat Huckabee.  He’s not saying that.  But he’s just like, finally a Republican who is trying to reach out to working class.

You know, whatever the old Reagan Democrats, whatever you wanted to call them, but—to Wal-Mart Republicans, I think they like to call him.  And you know, Michigan, to me, is a fascinating test for Huckabee.  It’s a place that if he really were going to be the nominee and wanted to be the nominee—and I have my doubts on that—then he would be making an all-out effort for Michigan before South Carolina, because it’s very (INAUDIBLE).

RUSSERT:  It’s interesting you say that.  I went to the Huck and Chuck affair, Mike Huckabee and Chuck Norris in Iowa.

TODD:  Did you have a Huckenburger (ph)?

RUSSERT:  I didn’t have a Huckenburger (ph), but I did talk to a lot of people, and they were from the right to life anti-abortion movement, the Home Schooling Association, and the flat tax groups, fair tax groups, and Amway distributors.  That’s Michigan.

TODD:  That’s right.

RUSSERT:  It’s all there.

TODD:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  But Huckabee seems to be taking a pass on Michigan, right?

TODD:  Somewhat of one.  You know, he’s making some effort.  It’s almost if he’s trying to make enough effort to peel away whatever support he can from Romney to assure the McCain victory...

RUSSERT:  You don’t think he wants the nomination?

TODD:  I think he wants your job.  OK?  I think this guy wants to be on television.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  I think he—I go back to this.  I mean, when watching McCain and Romney go after this thing, the only two guys that want this more than anything, I feel like, are McCain and Romney.  I feel like even, you know, Giuliani has his legacy if he loses this or not, it’s 9/11.  Mike Huckabee now has his legacy.  He’s a member of the club.

You know?  He just wanted in.  He wanted respect.

Fred Thompson just wants to make sure people don’t think he’s lazy—stupid.  He doesn’t mind if he thinks he’s lazy.  He just doesn’t want them thinking he’s dumb.

I feel like the only two guys that want it more than anything else are Romney and McCain.  That’s why McCain can do what he did, come from nothing.  And that’s why Romney won’t stop.

RUSSERT:  David Brooks, you’re a columnist.  You get paid by “The New York Times” to offer your opinions.

You wrote a whole column about Mitt Romney.  You just didn’t want him to be the president.

BROOKS:  I just don’t think he’s sincere.  I just—I think some of the flip-flops not only on the life issues, but on every single thing at a rally—somebody will challenge him on No Child Left Behind, he’ll deny he supported it.

You’ve got to have conviction in tough times.  You can’t just come to an audience and say, “I’m with you.”  You’ve got to say, “I’m me and I’m going to try to persuade you why I’m right.”

And I just don’t—fundamentally don’t trust the fact that he will stick by his convictions under all circumstances.  And I will say one thing that underscores this total Republican race.  All the Republican candidates like each other, except Romney.  They all hate Romney.

RUSSERT:  Another quick break.

David Brooks, Susan Page, Chuck Todd, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back.

Let’s go forward to November.

What are the issues that are going to divide these parties?

BROOKS:  There are two big issues that have come out of this campaign.  One, the crisis of authority.  People have lost faith in their political system and their leadership class to solve their problems.  And whether it’s Huckabee, Obama, McCain, they’re all taking different stabs at that—we’re going to make sure the political process actually works.

And then the second big issue is middle class anxiety.  People are making $50,000, $60,000 a year, they have—they feel OK with their personal situation, but they feel fundamentally insecure, they might lose their health care, who knows what’s going to happen with Chinese and Indian workers, and so there’s a lot of anxiety out there.

Those are the two big issues that have just burbled up at every town meeting.  And every campaign takes a different slice at those two issues.

RUSSERT:  Do they favor the Democrats or Republicans with those issues?

BROOKS:  Well, the whole climate favors the Democrats.  I mean, they’ve got a huge advantage in party I.D.  They are the party of change.  It’s very hard to win the White House three terms in a row.  But they are domestic policy issues more than policy issues, so it favors the Democrats.

RUSSERT:  Do you think that the issue of terrorism will be a central issue?

BROOKS:  It depends what happens.  My sense is that the issue of Iraq and terrorism, especially if the surge continues to produce relative stability, those will recede.  And I think we’ve already seen them recede.  But if something happens, then all bets are off.

RUSSERT:  Susan?

PAGE:  One reason we’ve seen them recede though is that within the parties there’s not—within each party there’s not much difference on position on Iraq.  There’s a lot of difference, I think, between Republicans and Democrats perhaps going forward in Iraq.  What happens next?  How fast do we pull out, and what conditions?

So I think Iraq could rise again as an issue, especially if the situation there gets worse in terms of violence.  And also if there’s no more political progress.  I mean, I think events on the ground could make Iraq a bigger issue.  Remember all those U.S. soldiers there, although that has gotten less attention.

Middle class anxiety, absolutely.  The housing crisis has contributed there.  High gas prices, lack of health care coverage, all those things have combined to make people very nervous.  Even when their personal situation is gone.

RUSSERT:  If Republicans are considered the incumbent party and we have recession, even “mild recession,” it’s not the kind of climate you want to be running in, in November.

TODD:  No.  I mean, I actually agree with David.  Nobody ever frames this stuff better than David does when he does this in his columns.  And I always love reading them, because this whole feeling of what’s wrong with America, America and exceptionalism, you know, it’s that, you know, we’re no longer—I think we asked in our NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, you know, do you believe that, you know, America is going to be better for your children right now? 

And it’s that sort of depression.  I mean, American, it’s sort of similar—I think this election is a lot like 1980 more than anything, where there is just, America is in a funk and they’re looking for—they’re just grasping around, looking for somebody to make them feel a little bit better, because they’ve lost faith in every institution.  You know, look...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Well, and that’s what scares Republicans.  I’ve talked to some Republicans because Obama—I’ve talked to some conservative Republicans who, because they like Obama, they sit there and they say, you know what?  Obama could do for liberalism what Reagan did for conservative. 

Reagan made conservative cool again.  And their fear is Obama could make liberal cool again, and suddenly take a center-right country and move it center-left without anybody even realizing it after eight years, which is what Reagan did.

RUSSERT:  So, the Reagan Democrats, and we have the Obama Republicans.

BROOKS:  Well, Clinton will not realign the country.  Obama could realign the country.

PAGE:  And of course, in ‘80, people were willing to take a leap of faith with Reagan, didn’t necessarily think Reagan was the answer.  Lots of concerns about Reagan.  Not that popular at some points early in his term, but willing to take a leap of faith because they weren’t happy where things were.

TODD:  And they wanted and needed reassurance.  They needed somebody to—you know, Reagan was the grandfather.  I think with Obama, it’s sort of making people look forward again and in the future.

So, I mean, that’s why you see so many people and you see there and, gee, Obama feels like he fits the times.  He fits the times better.  But we’ll see if he gets there.

RUSSERT:  With all this anxiety, Independent Party, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

BROOKS:  Don’t see it.  I think you’ve got to have a couple of things to run independently.  You’ve got to have an opening.  I don’t think there will be an opening.  Clinton and Obama are not unacceptable to the middle.  If it’s John McCain versus Clinton or Obama, there’s plenty of room—there’s plenty of candidates appealing to the middle.

Second, you’ve got to have an issue.  Ross Perot had an issue, which was entitlement reform, but Bloomberg doesn’t have that issue.  So he’s talking seriously about running.  And maybe he dislikes Hillary Clinton enough to run.  But I just don’t see an opening or an opportunity for him to do that.

RUSSERT:  Doing surveys around the country...

BROOKS:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  ... gauging not only just beating Ross Perot, getting 20 percent.  Mike Bloomberg would not run unless he can see a way to close the 40 percent so he can get the 271 electoral votes necessary.

TODD:  Right.  Well, he’s trying to apparently run—you know, every time I’ve been critical of this, a former—a former mentor of mine will email me who’s involved in the—you know, the ‘08 thing, and just says, you know, this idea that he can, you know—has to—he can be pro-gun and win in a state like Missouri, he goes, you’re missing it.  You know, there’s 35 percent that are anti-gun in Missouri, and that’s all it’s going to take type of thing.

And so, I mean, I think that there is this belief that somehow suburban America is going to—the radical suburbs are going to unite around a Bloomberg candidacy, and that’s where it’s sort of weird.  I mean, the radical middle has never sort of like risen up and said, here we come in our Volvos and Jeeps, you know, or Cherokees.  And we’re coming and we’re following you.

That’s what makes it hard, is where does this passion come from?  Like, Perot had anger.  What’s Bloomberg’s—you do need a little bit of passion in the base of your constituency, and he doesn’t have that.

RUSSERT:  Well, if each nominee has high 40 negatives, and the country is anxious...

TODD:  Clinton-Romney.  I always thought Clinton-Romney was...

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  There’s a businessman who has a 73 percent approval rating in New York, who has a billion dollars to convince America he can do for America what he’s done for New York—Susan.

PAGE:  You know, the first election I covered was in 1980, and you’d go on the John Anderson bus and they would have these plans where, you know, if only this happens and this happens, maybe he can go through here and win.  And if you’ve got a billion dollars and want to run for president, you will be able to see a path that takes you where you want to go.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  You can always find a survey, right, that will say here’s 35 percent, congratulations.

BROOKS:  It’s worth saying though this is the year the advertisements have scarcely mattered.  So your billion dollars may not go very far, because the ads just haven’t made a big difference.

RUSSERT:  Free media.

BROOKS:  You have to rely on that.  You don’t need a billion dollars for free media.

RUSSERT:  David Brooks, thank you very much.  You can read your column every Tuesday and Friday in “The New York Times.”

Susan Page, on the front page of “USA Today,” practically every day.

And Chuck Todd, “First Read,” MSNBC.com.

When do you write that?

TODD:  You know, every morning.

RUSSERT:  Thanks very much. 

See you next weekend.

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