updated 10/22/2008 11:28:11 AM ET 2008-10-22T15:28:11

Guest: George Allen, Chris Redfern, Jay Carney, Jeffrey Goldberg

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, the numbers game.  Who is up in the race and why the electoral map is getting smaller for John McCain.  Our new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll numbers out tonight and they speak volumes about the state of this race.  Also, this is only a test, but when it‘s the real thing, Senator Obama, is he up for the job?  It is the issue that his running mate is inexplicably raising two weeks before the election.  That and more as RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.

Exactly two weeks to go in the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Welcome to the program, I‘m David Gregory. 

My headline tonight, “Poll Position,” a leading indicator of Obama‘s strong position in the national polls is the enthusiasm gap with Senator McCain.  According to our new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll, 52 percent of Obama supporters say they are excited to vote for him, while only 26 percent of McCain supporters say they feel that way about their candidate.  And 39 percent of people planning to vote for McCain say he is the lesser of two evils.  Just 14 percent of people voting for Obama would describe him that way.  More of the numbers at the half hour tonight.  There are some important headlines, don‘t miss it.

On the trail today, the candidates were in offense.  McCain in blue state Pennsylvania, Obama in red state Florida.  So who has the better shot of successfully poaching the other party‘s territory?  If the polls are accurate, it is Obama, at least for now.  It of course may all come down to the economy.  McCain is talking about taxes, yes, but he is looking for ways to disqualify Obama.  And today he seized on comments that Obama‘s running mate Joe Biden made last weekend that Obama would be tested by a crisis during his first six months in office. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Even more troubling than that is that Senator Biden told campaign donors that when that crisis hit, they would have to stand with them because it wouldn‘t be apparent that Senator Obama would have the right response.  Forget apparent.  Forget apparent.  We know Senator Obama won‘t have the right response. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  A little later, why Biden brought this issue up in the first place and which leader overseas might actually do the testing.  But back to the trail now.  While McCain talks about the test, Obama is talking about jobs, which polls show much more, many more people care about in this campaign.  In an event designed to look presidential rather than a typical rally, Obama convened battleground state governors as well as the CEO of Google and Paul Volcker, the former Fed chairman, to talk about the economy.  Well before the roundtable, Obama attacked. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  President Bush has failed so far to address the crisis on Main Street.  And Senator McCain has failed to fully acknowledge it.  Instead of common sense solutions month after month, they‘ve offered little more than willful ignorance, wishful thinking, outdated ideology.  So we‘ve seen what happens with their policies.  We‘ve had an eight-year experiment.  We see where it leads.  This economic crisis is the final verdict on that failed leadership.  It is time to try something new. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Joining me now is McCain supporter and former Virginia governor George Allen.  Senator, always nice to have you. 

GEORGE ALLEN, FORMER SENATOR:  Good to be with you, David. 

GREGORY:  So I don‘t have to tell you or any Republican that Senator McCain is in a tough spot right now.  He is behind.  So the question is who is hurting him the most?  Is it Obama?  Is it President Bush or is it his running mate, Governor Palin?

ALLEN:  Well it‘s certainly not his running mate, Governor Palin.  She brings a lot of enthusiastic folks out.  And for Virginia, let me just speak to Virginia since I was with Todd Palin Saturday—excuse me, Sunday at the races in Martinsville.  And you‘re talking about the poll position.  If the people at the NASCAR races were going to be an indicator, we‘re in really good shape.  The other thing that matters to Virginians is energy.  And Governor Palin clearly is very knowledgeable and conversant on energy.            

GREGORY:  Right, but let‘s talk about her qualifications.  Senator, let‘s talk about her qualifications because it‘s not—the leading indicator is not just the NASCAR races, it‘s the polls that we have to go on as we look at Senator McCain in Pennsylvania here.  And the reality is that the polls show us, a lot of people questioned Governor Palin‘s credentials, whether she is really qualified.  Most voters, according to the polls, don‘t believe she is.  Is that a drag on Senator McCain at this point?

ALLEN:  Well, I think what the people are going to look at is the tickets and what are they advocating, what solutions?  Who has the agenda and the right ideas to rejuvenate our economy?  Who has the right ideas for energy independence?  Who is going to provide the strong leadership for national defense that I think Virginians care a great deal about. 

They don‘t want to see weak leadership.  They don‘t want to see us more dependent on foreign energy.  They would like to see us use clean coal and allow us to explore off our coast in Virginia.  Both of those two key energy issues are jobs issues for Virginia, whether it is coal, whether it is exploring off our coast.

And as far as taxes, Virginians realize that a good prescription is to reduce taxes, rather than increase taxes.  Then you get vice president nominee Joe Biden talking about the prospects of an international crisis if Barack Obama would get elected president.  And then you put that in where a lot of people are envisioning the worrisome situation of a Democrat Congress, House and Senate and ramming through tax increases, taking over health care and having us more dependent. 

GREGORY:  OK, well we‘re going through all the issues, senator.  I want to get back to my first question here because you said Governor Palin was not a problem.  What about President Bush? You saw firsthand the kind of drag that President Bush could be back in 2006.  How much is he hurting John McCain right now?

ALLEN:  Well, obviously, Barack Obama loves to bring up President Bush all the time.  And I think John McCain said it just fine and perfectly.  Look, if you want to run against President Bush, you should have ran four years ago.  John McCain and President Bush agree and disagree, depending on the issues.  But John McCain clearly is going to set out a new agenda for our country on energy policy and tax policies to make us more competitive.  And it is after all, John McCain‘s surge strategy that has turned the tide in Iraq. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about enthusiasm among voters.  I referenced this off the top.  Among voters and supporters of each of these candidates, Democrat are a lot more excited to be voting for Barack Obama than they are to be voting for John McCain.  You know your party.  You know the grassroots.  Would you describe Republicans as excited right now or fairly despondent?

ALLEN:  Well, the ones, the 29,000 that showed up at the McCain/Palin rally in Fairfax County seemed very enthusiastic.  The ones that were in Richmond nearly 25,000, the same in Virginia Beach last week, 10,000 in Prince William County over the weekend.  They all seemed very, very enthusiastic. 

And so you know, a vote counts the same.  A vote is a vote.  And I think that Barack Obama, I have to give him credit.  He has a lot of enthusiastic supporters and so do we.  The key is those undecided independent voters who are going to look at who has the right ideas for their families, tax policy, energy policy or national security. 

GREGORY:  Are you troubled at all by the messaging from Senator McCain?  A few weeks ago we were talking about lipstick on a pig.  Now there are attacks about whether Obama is a socialist or whether he has ties to Bill Ayers.  Then we‘re talking about Joe the Plumber.  There does not seem to be, in the estimation of many, a singular, coherent message that he‘s driving home day in and day out in the middle of such a difficult climate in the country. 

ALLEN:  Oh, David, if you would listen more closely, I think it‘s a very coherent message as far as rejuvenating our economy, energy independence, which is a national security, economic competitiveness, balance of trade issue that families and small business understand and also obviously making sure we have a strong national defense.  And you mixed all those folks together. 

I think Joe the Plumber actually represents a lot of Independent voters.  In fact at the races in Martinsville on Sunday, there was a fellow named Ron.  I called him Ron the trucker.  He wanted bumper stickers to put on his trucks.  We ran into Patty, the small business owner in Blacksburg.  We ran into Ken the carpenter.  So we had a lot of new folks with those names.  But they represent small business owners, people who care about their companies, their vitality, our economy and their families. 

And so I think that is perfectly legitimate to look at what are the views of people all across America.  And a lot of these folks are Independent.  I think in Virginia, you‘ll see in places—

GREGORY:  But Joe the plumber actually conceded the fact that he would get a tax cut under Barack Obama‘s plan.  So is he the best example?

ALLEN:  Well, I know that some folks attacked Joe the plumber.  He is expressing his views.  He has aspirations, as do a lot of folks.

GREGORY:  I didn‘t attack him, I‘m just asking you a question.

ALLEN:  I‘m not saying you did.  Don‘t be defensive, David.  I‘m just saying there have been those who have been attacking him. 

Here‘s an ordinary citizen expressing his views.  And whether it was Ron the trucker from Altoona, Pennsylvania, he had certain views.  He cares about energy prices.  That affects his company.  And so people have all sorts of reasons why they care about who the next president of the United States is.  This election is going to set the direction of our country. 

I think it is the most important one since the 1980 election when Ronald Reagan was running against President Carter.  And clearly, whomever gets elected here, whether it is Senator McCain or Senator Obama, will determine the direction of our country, whether it is going to be a more competitive energy policy, tax policy, the judges who are nominated.  And also, how we‘re going to be protecting ourselves against these vile, hate-filled terrorists.  

GREGORY:  Important points all.  I want to end on something that was said by a member of Congress, Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota.  It has brought up an issue of kind of the tone and the terms of the debate and what the impact is on the Republican Party.  This is what she told Chris Matthews on “HARDBALL.”  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELLE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  What I would say, what I would say that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look.  I wish they would.  I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would be, would love to see an expose like that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Senator, do you agree that this is an issue that needs to be investigated? Or should be part of our political discourse, whether elected officials are pro-America or anti-America?

ALLEN:  I think what we ought to look at is every official, if they‘re elected, look at the record as a good indicator of what they will do on the issues and ideas in the future.  Chris Matthews will cause all sorts of answers that people might not agree with.  I know Michelle Bachmann.  She is a good, smart leader.  And I don‘t think we need to be talking about anything other than people‘s ideas and issues and which will create more jobs. 

GREGORY:  But Senator, I don‘t think we need to take that sort of shot.  She spoke for herself there. 

ALLEN:  Oh, I‘m just having fun. 

GREGORY:  It didn‘t appear like Chris Matthews was filling her ahead. 

ALLEN:  I‘m having fun.

GREGORY:  Let‘s be clear.  I want to be—you don‘t agree with that sentiment, in other words.  And I just wondered, do you think that‘s bad for the party at a time when the party is under stress?

ALLEN:  Personally, in all the speeches that I give, I try not to get into personalities and innuendo.  Just talk about the facts.  Look at the record.  And then I think voters can determine who is best for our country‘s security, our economy, our energy policies, the judges who will be nominated. 

Those are the sorts of things that I think most people care about.  And people in the midst of campaigns will say different things from time to time.  And then it sometimes can be a distraction.  And I think that so long as we‘re talking about ideas, issues and the proven record of performance, people who pay taxes, work for a living and care about their families will on our side. 

GREGORY:  All right, former governor and former senator George Allen, thank you very much for being on the program.  Always appreciate you being here. 

ALLEN:  My pleasure David, thank you.

GREGORY:  All right, coming up, the other side of the aisle.  I‘m going to talk to a Democrat about Obama‘s strategy in key battleground Ohio.  We‘ll talk about that.  And we want to show you live pictures of Obama‘s rally right now in Miami.  Senator Obama just took the stage.  We‘ll have much more when RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back now to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Moments ago, we heard from Republican George Allen of battleground Virginia.  Now let‘s go to another key battleground state, that is Ohio, with Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.  Sir, welcome. 

CHRIS REDFERN, CHAIRMAN, OHIO DEMOCRATIC PARTY:  It‘s good to be here, thanks. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s look at the polling.  It is a dead even race in Ohio.  You think back to 2004, how close it was then.  The polling shows Obama with a 46-45 lead.  Pardon me, McCain with the 46-45 lead.  This is within the margin of error so this is a dead even race. 

But if you look at the economy in Ohio and I don‘t have to tell you whether it‘s home foreclosures, 300,000 slipping into poverty between 2001 and 2005, the unemployment rates being what it is and a financial system in distress, this would appear to be a state that is prime pickings for Senator Obama, and yet it still remains difficult.  What are you up against?  What obstacles are you up against in Ohio for Senator Obama?

REDFERN:  Well those challenging numbers you just provided about Ohio really speaks to the importance of change here in our state.  Embracing NAFTA as John McCain has done, as a free trader, he doesn‘t walk away from the fact that he has waved the white flag of surrender on manufacturing jobs here in the state of Ohio. 

What we have to do is continue to point out that John McCain has agreed with George Bush 90 percent of the time for the last eight years, whether it was on trade policy, whether it was on SCHIP, whether it was the important issues confronting Ohioans.  John McCain has been a friend to George Bush and this administration every step of the way. 

What I have to do, what others have to do is convince those Ohioans who are on the fence still, that 67 jobs lost every day since the first day George Bush took office is an investment we don‘t need more of.  We need to invest in the middle class, in tax cuts offered by Senator Obama, and Senator Biden will help grow middle income states, blue collar states like Ohio.  I like our chances this November. 

GREGORY:  You‘re talking about the economy, which is obviously the most important issue.  But Republicans will think about the southern part of the state and turn out those voters in the more rural districts where cultural issues may trump the economy in rust belt state like Ohio.  Again, how big of an obstacle for Obama on that score?

REDFERN:  Well when you have by their own account, these robocalls that are spewing forth their 100 percent negative campaign, it serves to distract voters.  What I have to do and what we‘ve done with the great support of our friends in the Campaign for Change is travel the state, especially in southeast and southern Ohio and talk about the real impact that John McCain and George Bush have had on the state‘s economy, especially in rural southeast Ohio. 

I‘ve been to Steubenville, I‘ve been to Pomeroy and to the small communities have been heavily hit by the negative policies, the trade policies of George Bush and John McCain.  And when you talk about losing jobs versus cultural issues, so-called cultural issues, we‘re really proud of the fact that Barack Obama and Joe Biden are talking about the issues that do matter most.  It‘s the core beliefs, cutting taxes for the middle class, affording tax credits to small businessmen and women who want to grow their jobs.  Those are the things that matter most in southeast and southern Ohio, all across the state. 

GREGORY:  What about early voting and voter registration?  What are you seeing there?  And of course a lot of people are wondering whether Ohio is prepared to head off the voter problems that they had on Election Day in 2004. 

REDFERN:  Look, I recognize that the polls show us almost dead even in the state of Ohio.  That‘s why a great get out the vote effort is essential to our success. 

I‘m pleased to report that all across the state, early vote totals are trending our way.  Early absentee voters are trending our way.  We‘re very confident that our get out the vote effort will be the best in the nation.

And although the polls show us nip and tuck here 14 days out, that only poll that matters in Columbus, Ohio, shows Ohio State at number nine and that other team at No. 1.  And I think most Ohioans are focused on paying their rent, affording their health care costs, and we know that the poll that matters is taken on November 4th.  And I‘m very optimistic about our chances here in the state. 

GREGORY:  What do you think Senator Obama needs undecided voters in Ohio to be thinking about as they go to the ballot box on November 4th?

REDFERN:  Well, what we need is to see more of Senator Obama and Senator Biden.  Michelle Obama is here this week as well.  Every time they come into the state, huge rallies, huge crowds turn out.  Hunger, hungry for this change that I spoke of.

What we need to continue to do is push back on the negative campaigning that‘s coming from John McCain and continue to talk about the things that bring us together, not just as a state but as a country.  Focusing on middle income voters, economic security in building our state and building our country.  If we stick to our core message that Barack Obama has talked about this entire campaign dating back to the primaries, we will be successful, not just in Ohio but in Michigan, Iowa, North Carolina, and the rest of those battleground states.

GREGORY:  Chris, I don‘t have to tell you, I remember back in 2004, maybe it‘s a bad omen, when Governor Schwarzenegger of California came to stump for President Bush, one of the best rallies that Bush had in all of 2004.  I think they came to Columbus.  It was a great rally.  And he is coming back again for John McCain.  Are you worried?

REDFERN:  He is.  It is supposed to rain.  So no need to turn out for that rally. 

GREGORY:  This is an indoor event.

REDFERN:  I‘ll tell you, with the kind of track record that George Bush has had over the course of the last eight years, it really begs the question of John McCain, why did you agree 90 percent of the time?

Now John McCain can bring in a governor of California to speak to the voters of Ohio.  The only governor that matters in this state is Ted Strickland.  And every day, Governor Strickland works with and for Barack Obama and Joe Biden because he understands we need friends in the White House, those who are going to stand up for middle income wage earners, whether they live in Toledo or Columbus or Cincinnati.  I‘m very confident, very optimistic that we‘re on the right track in the state. 

GREGORY:  All right Chris Redfern, who is the Ohio Democratic chair, thanks very much for your time tonight.

REDFERN:  Thanks, David.

GREGORY:  Coming up next, is Obama doing enough to lock up former Hillary Clinton supporters?  What former top Clinton strategist Mark Penn has to say about that.  You would be surprised.  Some kind words is coming up next in “Smart Takes” on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back now on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with a look at “Smart Takes.”  Hillary Clinton‘s former chief strategist Mark Penn writes in “Politico” today that “Obama is taking the home stretch in stride.” 

To the quote board.  “Obama need only keep this election on track, hold big rallies in key states, roll out any remaining endorsements such as Colin Powell‘s, flood the airwaves with ads and mobilize young people to show up at the polls.  He is winning because in addition to a strong base of young voters, he is doing well among Catholics, working-class voters and seniors, groups that McCain needed to overcome Obamas youth support.  McCain has failed to make his long years of service relevant to the problems the country facing today.  Active grannies who backed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primaries and might have been logical McCain supporters are now with Obama, a helpful trend in Florida and Pennsylvania.”

Joining me now is the Washington bureau chief for “Time” magazine, Jay Carney.  Hey, Jay.

JAY CARNEY, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, TIME:  Hey, David.

GREGORY:  First of all, it is striking to see Mark Penn write something like that about Barack Obama.  But we can get past that.  Is he right? And if he is right about working class voters, Catholics and even active grannies, those Hillary Clinton active granny supporters, why is it that McCain is taking such a strong stand in Pennsylvania?

CARNEY:  Well because I don‘t think McCain has much other choice.  He‘s pulled out of Michigan.  He‘s pulled out of, it seem to be scaling back in New Hampshire and Wisconsin.  All these states that John Kerry won in 2004 that McCain needed at least one of them to make up for his definite loss in Iowa and probable loss in New Mexico.  He‘s got problems in Virginia, a Bush state. 

So Pennsylvania is really his only chance, as he sees it, to pick up a significant Kerry state, a blue state.  And even though the polls there don‘t look very good for him, he is counting on western Pennsylvania to deliver victories for him somehow. 

Now Mark Penn is clearly right.  He is reading the same polls we are.  And certainly Obama has the money to flood the airwaves.  Those of us in the Northern Virginia media market can see it.  It‘s like a fire hydrant taking on a garden hose.  Obama is on 24 hours a day. 

GREGORY:  All right, Jay, stick around. You‘ll be back with us with the panel.  It‘s coming up at 6:30.  The release of the new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll, that‘s coming next.  We told you about the lack of excitement for John McCain.  What does that mean for the head to head match-up?  Later in the program, NBC News political director Chuck Todd joins me about a look at what‘s happening to the battleground states with just two weeks to go now.  RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE returns right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Our new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll is just in.  The headlines, Obama breaks away in the head to head match up and McCain has a bigger problem than being tied to President Bush.  We‘re going to go inside the numbers and then inside the map with NBC News political director Chuck Todd as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE continues. 

Back now on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Now just two weeks away from election day and we have a brand new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll to show you.  First up, the head to head numbers reveal a dramatic snap shot in the final stretch of this race. 

Here it is: the Obama/Biden ticket has opened up a 10-point lead, again, a 10-point lead for Obama/Biden over McCain/Palin, gaining three points in the last two weeks.  Our last polls showed them at six points up.  Now they‘re at 10 points up.  It‘s 52 percent.  The McCain/Palin ticket has lost one point, and now trail with 42 percent. 

Here with me to look at the numbers, all of the numbers, Jay Carney, “Time Magazine‘s” Washington bureau chief, Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women‘s Forum, and an MSNBC political analyst, and Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for “The Atlantic.”  Jeffrey‘s blog is on Atlantic.com.  Welcome all. 

Jay, let me go back to you, because I know you‘re crazy about polls. 

Ten points.  This is a big deal.

CARNEY:  It is a big deal.  You can see in other polls that that margin is pretty representative.  It shows that the financial crisis has injured McCain probably fatally and that a lot of those voters that we talked about in the previous segment, Catholics, seniors, some of the ones who were on the fence about Obama, seem to be swinging towards the Democratic side right now. 

GREGORY:  Michelle, initial thought about this ten-point spread. 

BERNARD:  Right now, it looks to be an enormous spread.  I wouldn‘t necessarily say that the financial crisis has, you know, fatally wounded the McCain campaign.  I think that it would be very difficult for Senator McCain to win right now, at least based on these numbers.  Really two weeks can be an eternity during an election year.  Anything can happen at this point in time. 

Historically, we always see the numbers sort of narrow and wind down as we get closer to election day.  And that will probably happen in this case.  And I think—I still believe that this is going to be a nail biter and it will not be an early night on November 4th.   

GREGORY:  All right.  That‘s an important prediction.  Let‘s move on to the next question in the poll, concerns about John McCain.  This is really striking, 34 percent say that his VP is not qualified to be president if the need arises.  At 23 percent, he would continue President Bush‘s policies.  Jeffrey, this is striking.  Governor Palin is the bigger drag right now for Senator McCain than President Bush.  That‘s a development.

GOLDBERG:  It is an astonishing number.  Maybe it shouldn‘t be astonishing.  I‘ve been talking to the McCain people a bit, some people in the McCain campaign.  And look, they made a bet.  They made a bet that her reformer credentials that McCain touts would really have an impact on the country.  Instead, it‘s these questions about her complete lack of foreign policy and national security experience, among other questions. 

And they made a bet.  You know, everybody talks about John McCain loving to throw the Hail Mary.  It doesn‘t look like this one is going to be caught right now. 

GREGORY:  Jay, let‘s look inside these numbers.  Voters‘ views of Palin, positive 38 percent, neutral 13 percent, negative 47 percent.  That negative number has popped, has spiked ten points in the past two weeks.  After she‘s been on “Saturday Night Live” and been charming and had very likable performances, what is driving the negative? 

CARNEY:  I think that devastating week she had with her Katie Couric interviews reinforced the idea not only that she wasn‘t experienced enough to be president should something happen to John McCain, who would be the oldest first term president in history, but that McCain himself exercised poor judgment in picking her.  It wasn‘t just about Palin.  There have been poor vice presidential picks in the past, Dan Quayle in 1988, that didn‘t take down the ticket.  But—because they didn‘t—it wasn‘t the same problem. 

Because of McCain‘s age, because of the emphasis he placed on national security experience, and the disparity with in experience Obama, the Palin pick I think has been disastrous. 

GREGORY:  You know, there‘s going to be parallels to Dan Quayle.  And this next sound bite is only going to exacerbate that.  This was a question she was asked by Denver affiliate KUSA.  It was a question from a third grader.  Let‘s play that tape. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Brandon Garcia wants to know, what does the vice president do? 

GOV. SARAH PALIN ®, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That‘s something that Piper would ask me as a second greater also.  That‘s a great question, Brandon.  And a vice president has a really great job, because not only are they there to support the president‘s agenda, they‘re like the team member, the teammate to that president.  But also, they‘re in charge of the United States Senate.  So if they want to, they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom.  And it is a great job.  I look forward to having that job. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Michelle, obviously, she‘s wrong.  Either she doesn‘t know or that‘s not what she meant.  I suspect she meant that the vice president can break the tie in the Senate.  But she certainly explained it as a vice president who could really be influential on forming policy. 

BERNARD:  Absolutely.  I think this is another problem for Sarah Palin.  It is so interesting to think about what can happen in such a short period of time.  When she was announced as Senator McCain‘s vice presidential pick, she really put the Republican base back together.  There was so much excitement about the campaign.  And then we saw the Katie Couric interview.  Quite frankly, after seeing this question from the third grader posed today, I am certain that we will see on Youtube within the next few hours that quote of Senator Palin, just within the last year or so, where someone asked her about being vice president, and she said she wouldn‘t necessarily want the job unless someone could tell her what the vice president does. 

These things are really a definite problem for the McCain campaign.  They have to figure out a way to clean up their message and clean up what she says and does on the campaign trail over the next two weeks. 

CARNEY:  You can‘t say that she‘s very ambitious. 

GREGORY:  Right she wants to run policy. 

CARNEY:  Going to run everything, yes.

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about concerns for Obama now.  Let‘s go down to the list.  We did this for McCain a moment ago.  Again, the same thing; 23 percent concerned that he is inexperienced, not ready to be president.  As you go through this, 18 percent too liberal, 17 percent would raise taxes, 16 radical connection to Ayers and Reverend Wright.  Look at this, 33 percent, none of these cause a concern.  Jeffrey?

GOLDBERG:  I‘m struck.  Numbers here jump out.  The 16 percent number

is a pretty interesting number.  You know, there is kind of this sort of a

underneath the surface, there‘s a feeling among some people that McCain will introduce Reverend Wright.  Ayers didn‘t work very well as a campaign strategy.  These numbers would give anyone pause.  He has promised not to do it.  Given these number, there is no reason to do it. 

GREGORY:  But Jay, here, even in the constellation of concerns about Obama, the bigger number is still that none of these particular line items are that big of a concern, because 33 percent say none of them are a concern. 

CARNEY:  Right, David.  I think that‘s a product of his strong performances in the debate, reassuring performances in the debates, where he didn‘t necessarily clobber John McCain, but he made no mistakes, seemed completely conversant in policy, both foreign and domestic, and came across as presidential, plausible as the leader of the United States.  So I think that‘s a reflection of the debates and his victories there. 

GREGORY:  Let me get in one other point here.  Go ahead. 

BERNARD:  I was going to say, if you take a look at those numbers one more time, it really puts the McCain campaign in a huge conundrum, because if you look at the issues, you really to have ask yourself if you‘re working for Senator McCain, you know, negative—ask yourself, what do you do if you go negative?  It doesn‘t work.  If you talk about the economy, it doesn‘t work.  If you talk about who is ready to lead on day one, it doesn‘t work.  What we‘re going to see again is unfortunately, Senator McCain has been put on defense again, and yet again has to find another message over the next two weeks. 

GREGORY:  They may have driven up the concern about connections though, if it is at 16 percent nationally, it could have an impact in some states like Ohio, potentially, if it‘s a really close race. 

Let me move on to the issue of taxes, because Senator McCain was out there again today, talking about taxes and bringing up Joe the Plumber on the campaign trail.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  The Obama tax increase would come at the worst possible time for America and especially for small businesses like the one that Joe dreams of owning.  As Joe has now reminded us all, America didn‘t become the greatest nation on Earth by giving our money to the government to spread the wealth around. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  But here‘s the bad news for senator McCain.  Look at the polling on who would be better on the issue of taxes.  Here‘s the result: advantage Obama.  This was even just a couple much weeks ago.  Now, it is an advantage Obama.  And jay, quickly, this shows you the message from Obama that most folks are going to get a tax cut under his plan is starting to seep through. 

CARNEY:  Yes.  He has parried the charge that he is a big tax, big spending liberal fairly well.  Again, partly because of his demeanor.  It also help that in the give and take of the 24-hour news cycle that the counter-argument on Joe the Plumber proliferated around the country very quickly, that he is not a licensed plumber, that he doesn‘t make enough money to suffer from a tax hike and all those things.  It really blunted the McCain message. 

GREGORY:  All right, we‘ll take a break hear.  Panel, thank you.  Coming up next, how are voters‘ concerns about the economy and VP nominee Sarah Palin playing out in the battleground states?  NBC News political director Chuck Todd is going to join me live when THE RACE returns right after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back now on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Our new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows Obama with a 10-point lead over McCain.  But the number that matters now is 270.  That‘s the number of electoral votes needed to win the presidency on November Fourth.  Is Obama showing the same traction in the key battleground states?  Let me bring in NBC News political director Chuck Todd, who is up in New York this evening. 

Hey, Chuck, we‘ve been talking about the poll.  I just want to show one more number and get your overall reaction.  Who is better at improving the economy?  Again, advantage Obama, 49-28.  So you look at the ten-point spread, the numbers on Palin being a bigger drag to McCain than even President Bush, and then these numbers on the economy.  What is your overall take-away? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  I‘ll tell you, it shows you that John McCain is in a big hole.  This is—we haven‘t seen somebody in a hole this late since Bob Dole in 1996.  We know how that election turned out.  Now McCain is in that looking for something else to somehow shake up this race.  Right now, on the trajectory its on, he is not going to do it.  The question is, can he hold what he‘s got and at least keep this a semi-competitive thing on the battleground?  I say semi because we‘re starting to see some shifts there.  Or does the whole thing go over a cliff? 

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about the map, what you have in front of you.  And this notion of the map, as I said at the top of the hour, shrinking for McCain.  How is that playing out as you outline it there? 

TODD:  What you‘re seeing is—let me highlight two states very quickly, Colorado.  That is a state, frankly, that is very hard to sit here and say it is still in toss-up.  We still have it in toss-up.  It is probably—just as arguable to say it is in lean Obama or on the way there.  Let me give you another one, Virginia, getting very close to being the same thing.  You can easily sit there and say, Virginia is getting close.  The fact is, they haven‘t voted Democrat since 1964.  I think that‘s why a lot of us are holding off.  That‘s why I would hold off. 

Then he also leads in Florida.  These are leads.  These are not insignificant leads.  These are three of the toss-up states that he leads in.  Guess what, we haven‘t even talked about Ohio.  We haven‘t talked about Missouri, talked about Nevada, North Carolina or Indiana.  He is sitting at 313.  Frankly, you can take away Florida.  He‘s at 286, which was President Bush‘s total.  He could lose both Florida and Ohio, the way things are going. 

This Virginia-Colorado strategy, David, which you and I have talked about for six months, since Obama became the nominee.  He is going to look for another way to go without Florida and Ohio.  He has not only found that way, he is well on his way to getting there, and he might get Florida and Ohio, too. 

GREGORY:  Well, and you talk about Colorado and Iowa.  There has been some reporting that McCain may actually consider those gone at this point.  You said this morning on “MORNING JOE,” if that‘s the case, and Obama can hole on to those Kerry states, it is over, right? 

TODD:  You start going, where does he get to 270?  Then I guess you have to say, I guess it is Pennsylvania.  McCain has cut his ads in Wisconsin.  He has to find another state to make up for these nine electoral votes.  He could give up the Kerry map.  He could give up the Kerry-Gore combination map, which includes New Mexico and Iowa.  He can‘t afford to give up any more states. 

If Colorado was gone, and the reason being, David, by the way, Hispanic voters.  We talk about youth.  We talk about older voters.  We talk about African-Americans.  Hispanics, McCain is losing them by much bigger margins than President Bush did.  That is why the West is starting to fall away from him and why they‘re trying to search for another path.  I guess it is going to be Pennsylvania.  We saw Governor Palin there yesterday.  There‘s word they‘re still going to keep trying to send people back there. 

They have no choice, David.  They need to find another state to get to 270. 

GREGORY:  And McCain people talk about the 260 strategy, which is basically a hold of the big red states from 2004.  We talked to the Democratic chair from Ohio.  Look, this is a state that is dead even right now, that Bush carried narrowly in 2004.  Given the straits that they‘re in economically, might you expect that Obama would be doing better there now? 

TODD:  That is true.  Except you also wonder, is the state tapped out of new voters?  The Obama strategy has been to find a state that you could change the electorate in a big way.  He did it during the primary and caucus season in places like Iowa, Indiana and North Carolina.  Now he is doing it in the general election.  He is doing it with 600,000 new voters in Virginia, 700,000 new voters in North Carolina, a couple hundred thousand new voter in Indiana. 

There were not that many voters to find in Ohio compared to those other states.  I think that may be something they‘re running up against.  I‘ve talked to some Obama folks who think they could get 300 electoral votes and not win Ohio, which just tells you how tough Ohio always was and why the Obama camp had to go about this other path, had this been—if things got closer and it was an electoral vote by electoral vote battle. 

GREGORY:  Quickly, one of the unexpected moments, Senator Obama going to leave to campaign trail to visit with his ailing grandmother.  He spoke about her at the Democratic convention.  Let‘s play that and have you talk about the situation afterwards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  She is the one who taught me about hard work.  She is the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life.  She poured everything she had into me.  And although she can no longer travel, I know that she is watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Again, he‘s leaving the campaign trail for a couple days at the end of the week.  This is when human real life moments intrude on an otherwise well planned campaign. 

TODD:  That‘s right.  And, you know, he is going to have an opportunity to see his grandmother toward the end.  That‘s obviously something that means a lot to him.  He wouldn‘t be doing this if things weren‘t serious and grave.  Obviously, it is one of those things, it sucks the oxygen out of the campaign for a couple days.  I hate to put this in crass political terms, but that almost subtracts two days off the campaign trail, which if you are ahead isn‘t such a bad thing.  If you were behind, it wouldn‘t be a great thing. 

So, again, not trying to get politics involved here.  The fact is it is real life getting in the way. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  All right, Chuck Todd, our political director in New York tonight.  Chuck, thanks as always. 

TODD:  All right, David.

GREGORY:  Coming up next, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic and his candid conversation with one of McCain‘s closest advisers about the state of the race, the state of mind for John McCain.  Jeff will be with us again in just a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back.  VP nominee Joe Biden has said that if elected, Barack Obama will face a, quote, generated international crisis shortly after taking office, and that this test will reveal he has, quote, a spine of steel.  Joining me now is the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, author of the book “Prisoners, A Story of Friendship and Terror.”  Pretty good that I got the book you mentioned there again. 

GOLDBERG:  Very nice.  Thank you very much. 

GREGORY:  This was Sarah Palin today on the campaign trail seizing on those comments from Joe Biden.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  He guaranteed that if Barack Obama is elected that we will face an international crisis within the first six months of their administration.  He told his Democrat (sic) donors to mark his words, it will happen, that there were at least four or five scenarios that would place our country at risk in an Obama administration.  I guess, we have to say, thanks for the warning, Joe. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Thanks, Joe.  I mean, the politics aside, he is hitting on a real issue here in your judgment. 

GOLDBERG:  Look, it is true.  He would be an inexperienced president.  There are people out there, Putin, Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, who are interested in testing America anyway.  So there is a reasonable chance that they want to test even more if you have a young president.  That said, I mean, I think McCain‘s best hope at this point is that Biden keeps doing his political analysis.  Because first of all, his surety was surprising.  You don‘t know that this is going to be the case.  He said it with such surety. 

It is a real issue.  It‘s an issue that you wonder why Biden is bringing it up at this point. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about your conversation on your blog on Atlantic.com under Voices.  You talked to Mark Salter with the McCain campaign.  And he had some interesting thing to say about the press, namely.  Let‘s put up a portion of that.  Your question to him looking back: “do you think there was something false about your salad days with the press?  Mark Salter: No, I‘m trying not to draw general lessons about the press or us or the meaning of life out of all of this.  Otherwise, I‘d despair.  I think the media is driven by a need to see this history happen.  I think they‘ve rationalized it.  They think that they‘re on the level with McCain, that he‘s not the old McCain.  But he is the old McCain.  He just doesn‘t know what happened to the old press corps.  They rationalized a reason to go get him.  Every Obama attack, they carry.  Every McCain criticize of Obama, they rush to blunt, even before Obama does.”

What does it say about their state of mind right now?

GOLDBERG:  It says that they are, in some ways, cycling through the various stages of grief and they‘ve sort of lodged at anger.  It‘s premature, obviously.  Mark Salter is a smart, astute guy.  We all know him.  He is very upset.  One of the reasons that people like Mark Salter are upset is that for years they‘ve had a wonderful relationship with the press, as we all know.  McCain has always been extraordinarily accessible, extraordinarily funny.  And all of a sudden, the questions get hard, the stumbles get magnified and they really don‘t know what is going on. 

To be fair to Mark Salter, I think he is on to something.  In many parts of the country, including many parts of the media, there is an interest in seeing history happen.  And this is his oblique way of talking about the first African-American president.  And so, you know, he is tapping into something that is real.  He believes, like many people around McCain, that the press is default liberal, but also has been fair in the past.  And now the change is that they don‘t think the press has been fair.  They had there is a thumb on the scale for Obama. 

GREGORY:  Jeffrey Goldberg with “The Atlanta.”  Jeffrey, thank you very much.  That is the program for this Tuesday, 14 days before election day.  I‘m David Gregory.  Thank you for watching.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews is up next.  Good night.

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