'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, Oct. 29th, 2010
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Guests: Richard Engel, Mitch Stewart, Ari Berman, Jefferson Smith, Alexi Giannoulias,
CHRIS HAYES, GUEST HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thanks so much. Have a great weekend.
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: You, too.
HAYES: And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
With just days left until Election Day, can President Obama energize his voters enough to make the difference? We‘ll talk live with the head of the Obama group, Organizing for America, on what the president and his party still have to do.
Then, special interests super PACs have spent more than $8 million to defeat him, but Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias is still standing. And he‘s our live guest tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To this question.
SHARRON ANGLE ®, NEVADA SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, certainly—
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: And she‘s still refusing to answer questions.
All that and the story that no one seems to be talking but should be.
But, we begin tonight, we have a lot of politics to get to—but we begin with the story that has been dominating the headlines and the cable news air waves all day today. The interception of two packages bound for Chicago with explosive material inside. Packages apparently contained laser printers with toner cartridges that have been tampered with.
You‘re looking at one of those cartridges now.
It was found covered in white powder with wires sticking out of it and a circuit board attached to it. Preliminary analysis shows the explosive material found in the cartridges was PETN, the same kind used in the failed plots of both shoe-bomber and the underwear bomber.
Tonight, NBC‘s Pete Williams is reporting that officials say the amount of explosive material found in one packages was five times greater than what the underwear bomber was carrying last year on Christmas Day.
If you wonder past the television set today, you‘ve probably notice this story is getting a lot of attention. By this afternoon, we got a briefing from the president himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Although we are still pursuing all the facts, we do know that the packages originated in Yemen. We also know that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist group based in Yemen, continues to plan attacks against our homeland, our citizens, and our friends and allies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Both packages were intercepted before they reached the U.S., one in Dubai and one at a British airport. But all cargo planes arriving at U.S. reporting carrying cargo from Yemen were delayed for extra security screening today. Of course, we don‘t know all the details behind these devices, but generally speaking, there are two ways, we as a country can react to and interpret this kind of news.
One option is, which is familiar by now, we should all panic. There are terrorists out there and everybody should freak out.
The other option is: we should consider the fact that these devices were intercepted as good news, as evidence it‘s actually not super easy to carry out a terrorist attack inside the United States. There are a lot of people working very hard to prevent that from happening, and look, they were, in this case, apparently successful in those efforts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: The president was clear: our counterterrorism professionals are on the job. And the president is not going to change his schedule and there‘s no cause for Americans to change their schedule.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Joining us now is Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent.
Richard, thanks a lot for coming on tonight.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: My pleasure.
HAYES: So, do you think this incident today—I mean, again, it‘s very early in these, and I‘m always hesitant because we get these—we get breaking terror news and a week later, it turns out we got it totally wrong. So, with that caveat, do you think it looks now like this was sort of an American intelligence success story, a counterterrorism success story?
ENGEL: There is one success story clearly, that letter bombs, package bombs were sent to a Jewish community center and a synagogue in Chicago, and they were sent from Yemen through a variety of other countries because you have to use intermediary shipping agents before they came here. That‘s why they were intercepted in the U.K. and in Dubai.
So, yes, it is a success story that the Saudis passed on the intelligence, that the U.S. counterterrorism officials were able to mobilize—mobilize their allies, and not only stop those two packages from arriving even before they got to American shore. And then they stopped every single package, and there are not that many of them. We‘re talking just about between 10 or 20 packages that were on their way from Yemen to the states.
So, yes, a very effective response. All of the allies apparently coordinating, Saudis passing on this key piece of intelligence.
But there‘s another way of looking at it. Was it also a success from the militant‘s point of view? I‘ve spoken to senior counterterrorism officials who say that militants, al Qaeda included, are starting to consider failed attacks as a success because of the amount of attention they get, because of the amount of this interruption they cause.
Militant groups considered the attack in Times Square, which also failed, to be a success because it put their name back into the headlines. It disrupted New York. It cost New York a lot of money. It scared some people.
So, there has been an order, I‘ve been told by senior counterterrorism officials, to keep it up, to keep the pace going for little kinds of attacks, which even if they‘re not successful, have a strategic effect from their point of view. So, it‘s like almost calling in a bomb scare to a school.
ENGEL: You sit back and you watch the kids scatter, and if you‘re a bomber, that is a pleasurable experience because you were able to project power onto that situation.
But, from the law enforcement perspective, nobody got killed.
HAYES: So, do we have any indications yet? You talk about militants. In the presidential briefing today with Robert Gibbs and with Brennan, there was talk about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Is it fixed yet where—who is responsible for this? Do we know who is behind this and what the intent was?
ENGEL: I don‘t know who—and I think the investigation is ongoing. The suspicion is all on al Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula, and that‘s a pretty clear suspicion. It was mentioned by the president, so I think that‘s the chief suspect right now.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is an al Qaeda franchise. It wants to attack the United States. It has used PETN in the past. It was the group that tried to bomb the airliner as it was coming into the United States on Christmas Day almost a year ago.
So, if we assume that is the organization, instead of trying to physically bypass security by putting it onto a person, they thought, hey, why not—why go through all that expense, we‘ll just put something together and we‘ll pop in the mail. If it blows up? Great. If it doesn‘t blow up? It only costs a few hundred dollars and look at all the disruption that we‘ve done.
HAYES: Look at all the disruption—keep calm and carry on I guess is the takeaway.
NBC News chief correspondent Richard Engel—thank you so much for joining us.
ENGEL: My pleasure.
HAYES: Just four days before the election, the end game for Democrats. The man who helped President Obama make history in 2008 will join us.
And next: Video evidence of what happens when Rachel Maddow leaves a staffer on the side of the road in Las Vegas. Oh, yes, she did.
Stay with us.
HAYES: That‘s Rachel Maddow, of course, pulling away from a 7-Eleven in Las Vegas this week where they were reporting on Nevada‘s crazy Senate race.
Great thing about covering elections on the ground is that actual flesh and blood voters are so much more complicated and surprising than the inner poll numbers and percentages that we so often use to represent them. For instance, if you were engaging in political profiling, you‘d think a guy from an Army surplus store would be into Republican Sharron Angle with her Second Amendment remedies and her “us” versus “them” campaign ads on immigration.
But while one of our producers was briefly stranded in that 7-Eleven parking lot, she got a chance to see up close that those profiles are not at all a sure thing. Conventional wisdom, meet Prosper Mintz, owner of the Mad Man Army Surplus Store in Vegas, big fan of Second Amendment and a former Sharron Angle voter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PROSPER MINTZ, ARMY SURPLUS STORE OWNER: I‘m going to vote for Reid because I think Angle is a racist, against Latin people, so I won‘t vote for her. Politics should not mix with races or religions, meaning Angle shouldn‘t be against illegal aliens or Latin people like her commercials say.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you going to vote for her before?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No kidding?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And those ads made you change your mind?
MINTZ: Absolutely, because I think this country belongs to everybody, not just one group of people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Just when you think Republicans face no consequences from their racist campaigns, along comes one vote in this case. There may be others.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Tom Perriello went to Washington to do what‘s hard. He went to do what is right. And now, the lobbyists and the special interests are going after him, and the question I have for you is: when somebody like this has your back, do you have his back?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: That was President Obama in Charlottesville, Virginia, tonight, stumping for a Democratic congressman named Tom Perriello.
Now, this is the kind of event at first blush would seem to make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Tom Perriello is in the fight for his political life right now. He tries to hold on to the House seat he won two years ago. The district he represents in Virginia is sort of one of those iconic swing districts. Even though Tom Perriello won there in 2008, the district actually went for John McCain.
Congressman Perriello, like many congressional Democrats, is trailing in his race right now, but he‘s closed the gap significantly. A new poll out today shows Perriello trailing Republican State Senator Robert Hurt by just 8 points. That‘s down from a 26-point gap just one month ago.
Given that reality, this is exactly the kind of district where the Democratic candidate, especially the incumbent Democrat, generally says to the president, “I love you, dude, but I cannot be caught dead with you right now, whatever you do, just stay away.” And yet, there‘s President Obama tonight standing alongside Tom Perriello at a campaign rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: He didn‘t go to Washington to do what was easy, to do what was popular. He went to do what was right.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Go, Tom, go! Go, Tom, go! Go, Tom, go!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: So, what gives? Why does this endangered Democrat want to be seen with President Obama? Because the way that Tom Perriello won two years ago is the same way he‘s going to win this year if he manages to win.
In 2008, Tom Perriello won in part by cleaning up among young voters at the University of Virginia. He won by getting lots and lots of votes from African-American voters. And he won by cashing in on new voters. Those are the groups that ultimately put him over the top.
Fast forward two years and his path to victory this year is exactly the same. If Tom Perriello is going to win on Tuesday, it‘s going to be with the support of young voters, of African-American voters, and the new voters—the people who also tend to be most excited by a presidential visit.
That was the recipe not just for Barack Obama‘s victory in 2008, it was a recipe for a lot of Democratic victories in tight congressional races in 2008 as well, like Tom Perriello in Virginia and Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina. They‘ve won because those groups turned out in big, unprecedented numbers.
The next three or four or five days of this election are going to be about one thing: Repeating the amazing miracle the Democrats pulled off in 2008 in terms of bumping up the African-American turnout, which is already very high, bumping up youth turnout and bumping up new voter turnout. It is not an easy task. Turnout among constituencies all tends to be lower in midterm elections. The question is now: Can they pull it off again?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: In the United States of America, anything is possible if we‘re willing to work for it, if we are willing to fight for it and believe in it. So, I need you, guys, to keep on fighting. Tom needs you to keep on believing.
In these last four days, I need you to knock on doors and make phone calls and talk to your neighbors and vote, because if you‘re willing to step up to the plate, we won‘t just win this election. We won‘t just send Tom back to Congress, but we will rebuild this middle class and we all put people back to work, and we will reclaim the American Dream for future generations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Joining us now is Mitch Stewart. He‘s the executive director of Organizing for America, which grew out of the 8 million volunteers from President Obama‘s 2008 campaign.
Full disclosure: he‘s also my brother‘s employer.
Mitch, thanks so much for joining us.
MITCH STEWART, ORGANIZING FOR AMERICA EXEC. DIR.: My pleasure. Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: Good to have you here.
So, what is—you know, we talk about turnout, and it certainly was the case in 2008 that the Obama campaign was able to pull off this remarkable thing that hadn‘t been done before. What does that mean mechanically? How do you get that turnout? What does that look out?
STEWART: And I think you mentioned this with Tom Perriello, and I have a unique perspective on this because I was the district director in Virginia in 2008 and Tom end up winning by just over 700 votes. And he did using the same sort of tactic that he learned prior to running for office, which is organizing.
And Congressman Perriello‘s campaign right now is literally one of the best in the country. And it‘s not just an event with 10,000 people like we had in Charlottesville earlier today. He has an army of volunteers that are out there talking to neighbors, talking to their friends. As you talked about path way to victory, in a lot of instance, it is increasing turnout with African-American or youth voters, or folks who have less likelihood of participating in a midterm election.
But it‘s also persuasion. And what we learned in 2008 and what continues to be true now is that having a neighbor, someone that you have a pre-existing relationship with, talk to you about why Tom Perriello is the best choice in the fifth congressional district is the most powerful persuasion tool that you have. And he‘s got an army of folks that are out there doing that every single day for him.
HAYES: There‘s been a lot of talk—obviously, there‘s been kind of this mantra over the election, about the enthusiasm gap, the fact that, you know, we‘ve all seen the footage of Tea Parties and obviously, enthusiasm in 2008 was as high as certainly I‘ve ever seen in the election in my lifetime.
Do you, guys, see the enthusiasm gap sort of turning up in your numbers and in the doors and calls and the volunteer recruitment? Do you see it narrowing? What can tell me about that?
STEWART: Well, there are several different I think metrics that we‘re incredibly encouraged by. The first is early vote numbers that we‘re seeing across the country. If you were to believe the stated enthusiasm gap that we‘ve been hearing about now for almost a year, you would expect that Republicans would be turning out in droves in early votes. And, you know, not just in, quote-unquote, “Republican states” but frankly across the country.
And that hasn‘t happened in Nevada, in Washington, in California, in Illinois, in Maryland, North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio—states across the country right now Democrats are outperforming Republicans.
So, the first thing that‘s incredibly important for folks to understand is that this enthusiasm gap has not materialized, and there‘s nothing to suggest at this point that it will on Election Day. You can make that argument, but, frankly, there‘s nothing to back that up. And we believe at OFA that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. And—so we‘re incredibly encouraged by that.
The other thing that we‘re incredibly encouraged by right now is this huge enthusiasm that we‘re seeing within our own support universe. So, volunteers coming into offices across the country, this rapid growth in voter contact, which is what Tom Perriello‘s campaign has done in Virginia so well. But we have droves of volunteers come in.
And in these past six months, Democrats across the country have made over 72 million door knocks and phone calls. And that‘s volunteer phone calls and door knocks. So, it‘s something we‘re incredibly encouraged by. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, four days left.
But we feel like we‘re certainly heading in the right direction. If there‘s an enthusiasm gap right now, it‘s certainly not on our side.
HAYES: Let me ask you: final question here. OFA is sort of a strange hybrid. It hasn‘t really been tried before. You tried to—take this sort of unprecedented campaign, turn it into something that existed while the president was in office.
There‘s been criticism from both sides. There‘s been criticism from Democratic congressmen who are not excited to get calls in the field from people who are in OFA mailing list, saying get out of here. There was criticism that felt like that there was—that it wasn‘t independent enough from the White House. There was not enough mobilization.
What have you learned about what this organization is over the last two years?
STEWART: Well, I think this organization was founded under two principles, and these were principles that our volunteers told us. The first is they want us to support this president‘s agenda. That‘s what they told us. And for the last, you know, 14 months, that‘s what we‘ve done.
And because of Organizing for America‘s volunteers across the country, we have historic health care reform. We have financial regulatory reform. We have a host of generational pieces of legislation that our folks rightfully feel extremely proud about and they should.
The second, though, is that they want to keep organizing. They tell us that they want to continue organizing locally. So, that‘s a big part of what vote 2010 is. We‘re allowing our volunteers, empowering them, giving them the tools necessary to be successful. And they‘re out there right now organizing for local candidates.
They understand, I think, at an intimate level why it‘s important to support the president‘s Democratic allies. And like I said, we‘re extremely encouraged by what we‘ve seen up to this point. We have four days left, a lot of work and a lot of sleepy and tired volunteers. So, if they‘re listening, please—if they‘re watching, please stay with it. Four more days and we‘ll look forward to celebrating with all of you and your viewers on November 2nd.
HAYES: Four more days for you. I understand it‘s your birthday tomorrow, correct?
HAYES: So, you‘ll probably be working on your birthday.
STEWART: Yes, I will.
HAYES: Mitch Stewart, executive director of Organizing for America, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
STEWART: Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: All right. Joining me now: Ari Berman, who is a contributing writer for “The Nation” magazine, a colleague of mine, and he‘s the author of a great new book, “Hurting Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics.”
Ari, thanks so much for joining me.
ARI BERMAN, THE NATION: Chris, thanks so much for having me. Great to see you, from New York at least.
HAYES: So, Tom Perriello has sort of bucked, I think, the trend that you see in a lot of swing districts in which you‘ve seen a on lot of Democratic members of Congress try to put distance between themselves and the president based on what the president‘s poll numbers are on those district. He‘s really run on the legislative record of Democrats.
Why haven‘t when seen more of that?
BERMAN: Yes. Well, he really has bucked the trend, as you say, and most Democrats are running away from the president because they viewed the president as unpopular.
The irony, of course, is that the president‘s numbers really determine their numbers. That if Obama is up, they‘re going to be up. And if Obama is down, a lot of Democrats who are distancing themselves from the president are also going to lose.
And so, I think, from the very beginning, a lot of particularly conservative Democrats thought they could differentiate themselves from the president, but I don‘t think it‘s going to be possible ultimately.
HAYES: Now, in the book, you talk about—you do a lot of great reporting about what this sort of grassroots mobilization for the Obama campaign looked like at the ground level and stuff in North Carolina. You have people that weren‘t involved before knocking on doors and driving out o remote areas that have never been canvassed before.
What do you see as a reporter in the difference between that in 2008 and what is now in 2010 -- particularly because we have heard so much about organizing on the right and the Tea Party?
BERMAN: Yes. Well, I just don‘t think there‘s been nearly as much being done on the Democratic side of that, despite the good work that Mitch and others are doing. I mean, I think after the election, a lot of Obama supporters sat back and they said, OK, we did our job. We got—we got him elected. We‘re going home.
And also what happened is, Democrats were incredibly successful at decentralizing power and giving these local organizers a lot of real ownership of the campaign in ‘08. But now, so much of the stuff is being run out of Washington, the White House is running a very conventional top-down insider White House. I don‘t think there‘s a whole lot of outlet for the grassroots in 2010 like there was in 2008.
HAYES: Final question here: Republicans are going to make gains in the Senate this year, and predictions on “FiveThirtyEight” and other places that they probably aren‘t going to get a majority, we‘ll see. You‘ve argue that counter-intuitively that a smaller majority might benefit the Democrats, which seems crazy perhaps.
But why do you think that might be the case?
BERMAN: Well, I think Democrats have to big of a tent and haven‘t really glued their party together enough with some core principles. And I think, if you look, you know, Bush was able to get a lot done—George W. Bush—with a relatively small and ideologically united majority—I would say more than the Democrats have had with a much larger majority.
And I think the most reactionary elements of the party are bringing more harm than good at this point. So, I think, perhaps, an ideologically, more cohesive majority could be better in the long run because it will allow the Democrats to focus on some core principles, push them through and will also give them an incentive in the Senate to start fighting, you know, the filibuster, which is running rampant at this point and no one is really talking about it.
HAYES: Yes. I think that was the part of the argument that really won me over, because I think with the smaller majority, it‘s going to be impossible to ignore the abuse of the filibuster and it‘s going to be had to be dealt with.
Ari Berman is contributing writer for “The Nation” magazine, author of the great new book “Herding Donkeys”—Ari, thanks so much for being here.
BERMAN: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.
HAYES: He survived more than $8 million of special interest money, and he may still be the next senator from Illinois. Alexi Giannoulias will be here live.
And later, chasing Sharron Angle, the quest continues.
Stay with us.
HAYES: We‘re back. I‘m Chris Hayes, in for Rachel Maddow tonight.
With the midterm elections only four days away, there‘s a natural inclination to focus on the big ticket races, the U.S. Senate, the House, even governor‘s races. But there are signs—actual, real signs—that draw attention to why down ballot state races, the ones not many are talking about have taken on huge national importance in this election.
Check out this little flyer. It was circulated in minority neighborhoods in Houston this week and purports to back the Democrat Bill White for Texas governor. It‘s even got the imprimatur of the official-sounding Black Democratic Trust of Texas.
But read the flyer more closely and this is what it says. Quote, “Republicans are trying to trick us. When you vote straight-ticket Democratic, it is actually voting for Republicans and your vote doesn‘t count. We are urging everyone to vote for Bill White. And a vote for Bill White is a vote for the entire Democratic ticket.
We have fought too hard to let Republicans use voting machines to deny our basic rights. We must guard the change and not vote straight ticket Democrat.”
Fight the power, right? Well, no. This is a very fake group, and it‘s trying to trick Houston voters into not voting for down-ballot Democratic candidates in what amounts to a very weird kind of vote suppression triage. Go ahead - they‘re saying vote for Bill White, the Democrat running for governor, just don‘t vote for the Democrats running in all those other races further down the ballot.
What would compel a nonexistent group to mislead voters into only avoiding a vote for down-ballot candidates? It‘s hard to know, but it maybe because of the result of a census taken this year, state legislatures in most parts of the country, including Texas, will redrawing the map for Congressional districts.
Those decisions about what districts look like and what kinds of voters they have are monumentally important, because they tend to create districts that stay either red or blue until the next round of redistricting.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the DLCC, says more than 4,000 state legislature races, now in play nationwide, will be involved in that redistricting. Republicans control those legislatures. They‘re going to find ways to make it easier for Republicans to get elected and then stay elected to Congress.
Democrats are likely to do the same for Democrats. It‘s important. Well, other folks think it‘s important, too. It‘s a big reason why national money has been flooding into state races this year, a census year, races in which there are no federal limits on how much money can be raised.
How much money are we talking about this year? The “Wall Street Journal” estimates about $200 million, twice what was spent in the last midterm election.
Joining us now is the founder of the Bus Project, a nonprofit progressive organization that mobilizes young voters and the Democratic state representative from Oregon‘s 47th district, Jefferson Smith. Jefferson, how are you doing tonight?
REP. JEFFERSON SMITH (D-OR), FOUNDER, THE BUS PROJECT: Hey, Chris.
Doing well. Good to see you.
HAYES: Good to see you, too. So you‘re running for reelection, right? You have to go around and you have to, say, explain to people why they should care about the state legislature. How do you communicate particularly to new voters and young voters the stakes for a local race like yours?
SMITH: How to get folks excited about local races? I do cartwheels.
HAYES: I‘ve seen you do them, actually.
SMITH: I sang “I‘m Just a Bill” on the radio. This is what I did. But it‘s not just that. I think it‘s sort of the fundamentals of democracy. One, the difference that a volunteer can make on a local race.
You know, Oregon‘s legislature - Oregon‘s House - was decided by a single seat and that seat was decided by 40 votes. Any volunteer, any set of contributors can help flip 40 votes.
Second, it‘s just building relationships. And luckily, as you try upfront to build relationships, if you elect a leader, that person doesn‘t move to D.C. And third was how much is at stake. We know that education, that implementation of health care, the public safety - these are things that don‘t happen just in Congress. These things mostly happen in states.
We know the Christian Coalition didn‘t start in Congress. They started with school boards. We know that women‘s suffrage didn‘t start because Congress wanted to do it. It happened first because Wyoming and then Colorado and so on and the Justice Brandeis told us that states can be laboratories. So if you can communicate both fun, relevance and sort of historical importance, people get pretty motivated.
HAYES: One of fun things that you do in the Bus Project, which has become something of an annual tradition, is called trick or vote.
HAYES: What does trick or vote involve for the viewing audience who I feel like will appreciate this undertaking?
SMITH: Yes, it‘s fun. People should do it. The Pew came out with - The Pew Charitable Trust came out with a study that said that the best way to increase voter participation was face-to-face contact like knocking on doors.
And Chris, what‘s the one cultural tradition that happens every year that involves knocking on doors?
HAYES: Trick or treat.
SMITH: Yes, exactly. Halloween. When is Halloween?
HAYES: Right before Election Day.
SMITH: Always a couple days before the election. So we might be too old to trick-or-treat, but we‘re never too old to trick-or-vote. We go around, reminding people to vote, get some candy and have a party afterward. It‘s fun.
HAYES: So one of the things we‘ve seen at the national level this year is this influx of money, often through channels that are able to mask who the donors are. Are you seeing that kind of influx in state races? Are you yourself personally, colleagues of yours? Is there that kind of money pouring into the local races?
SMITH: You mean the secret money?
SMITH: I don‘t know. It‘s secret. Who knows? It‘s secret money. Yes, we certainly are seeing an impact of kind of the centralized hidden dough on elections at all levels. And just as importantly, it‘s not just that it‘s secret money; it‘s selfish money.
It‘s not advocating for a public interest but for a very specific set of self-interests. And a big set of our problems, which I think is so insidious and important is that a huge portion of our problems are, in a market sense, nobody‘s job, right?
Whose job is it to figure out education for this century, to figure out what health care reform should be? Whose job is it to do energy reform? BP‘s? Maybe. That why I think - that‘s why this stuff has got to be all of our jobs, not anyone‘s jobs.
That‘s why volunteers and people committing to the public interests are so important. That‘s why it‘s an honor to be here and urge people to get engaged in the last few days. The volunteers watching your show are priceless. Definition of priceless - worth a lot, not for sale.
HAYES: That is Oregon Democratic State Representative Jefferson Smith who will be in a magical costume, I‘m sure, this weekend and knocking on doors as he wants to do this.
HAYES: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Jefferson Smith, thanks so much for joining me tonight. I really appreciate it.
SMITH: Thanks a lot, Chris. Thanks for having me.
HAYES: Republican super-PACs have spent many millions - many, many millions - in an effort to defeat Democrats in state elections. Coming up, their prime target in the Illinois Senate race. Democrat Alexi Giannoulias joins us on the interview. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Right here in Illinois, in this Senate race, two groups funded and advised by Karl Rove have outspent the Democratic Party two to one in an attempt to beat Alexi - two to one. Funded and advised by Karl Rove.
Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign sources. So the question for the people of Illinois is, are you going to let special interests from Wall Street and Washington and maybe places beyond our shores come to this state and tell us who our senator should be?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: President Obama stumping for Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate for Obama‘s old seat in Illinois earlier this month. The president made note of the fact that Mr. Giannoulias is one of the many Democrats under siege from outside interest groups in this election.
The so-called super-PACs have spent over $8 million campaigning on behalf of the Republican Senate candidate in Illinois, Mark Kirk. One of the most prolific Kirk supporters? The Karl Rove Crossroads GPS.
And according to the nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group, the Sunlight Foundation, Crossroads GPS have spent a whopping $3.4 million in just the last 20 days on opposition media against Mr. Giannoulias.
$3.4 million in anonymous donations - and that‘s just in the 22 days since President Obama himself called them out on it.
Joining us now for the interview is the recipient of all that opposition, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Illinois, Alexi Giannoulias. Thanks so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS (D), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE IN ILLINOIS: Thanks for having me on.
HAYES: So Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads have spent more than $5.5 million against your campaign in September. Chamber of Commerce has spent a $1.5 million against you in the last month. How has that affected the tenor of the race?
GIANNOULIAS: Well, let me just say that in no other state in the country is there a more stark choice between two candidates. I‘m very proud - very proud to be the first candidate to run for the U.S. Senate in Illinois history not to take money from federal lobbyists and corporate PACs.
I thought it was important to send a message that we have to end the power and ability of special interests to control legislation in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the “Wall Street Journal” called my opponent a pig at the trough, one of the most prolific special interest fundraisers in the history of the U.S. Congress.
Now, Karl Rove and the Chamber have come in and spent about $10 million in secret money - in secret money where you don‘t know where it‘s coming from, what country and what amounts, to try and take President Obama‘s Senate seat.
And it‘s pretty simple, Chris. It‘s pretty simple. Mark Kirk helped George Bush and Karl Rove wreck this economy. And now, Karl Rove is repaying the favor to Congressman Kirk.
HAYES: Mr. Giannoulias, do you think this is a prestige thing for these groups? Do you really just dislike you? Why is so much money being targeted there?
GIANNOULIAS: Well, I like to think it‘s not a personal dislike. I will tell you, again, Congressman Kirk has voted for every single one of the Bush-Rove budgets that have really destroyed this middle class, that has brought this country to its knees.
And now, Karl Rove is repaying the favor. They want Mark Kirk to win. And then, he will be bought and paid for by the special interests and he will be beholden to them, continue to be beholden to them for a very long time.
And I‘ve got to tell you, that‘s what people are sick and tired of in Washington, D.C. And I think the ability of the secret money to come in flies in the spirit, flies in the face of what this democracy and this country was built on.
I think Citizens United was a step backwards for this country.
And that‘s why I think, you know, we‘re still going to win this race.
But again, millions of dollars of money we don‘t know - we have no idea where it‘s even coming from. That‘s wrong.
HAYES: Let‘s talk for a second about solutions. If you were elected to the United States Senate, your colleague in Illinois, Dick Durbin, is the sponsor of Fair Elections Now Act that would really be one of the most sort of far-reaching reforms of the way that we finance elections in this country. Is that something you would be a co-sponsor of starting day one in January, were you to be elected?
GIANNOULIAS: Absolutely. Campaign finance reform is incredibly important to me. But again, I‘m not just, you know, talking the talk.
Not only did I end pay-to-play in the State Treasurer‘s Office my first day in office, but again, I made a pledge not to take money from federal lobbyists and corporate PACs, the first candidate to ever do that from Illinois.
And has it put us at a significant fundraising disadvantage? Absolutely. Is it the right thing to do? Absolutely. And I think we need people to stand up, to step up and to be leaders on campaign finance reform, on filibuster reform.
We have to change D.C. politics as usual in order to turn this economy around and turn this country around. I really believe that.
HAYES: I‘m glad you mentioned filibuster reform, because before I let you go, I want to get you on the record on that. Is that - do you think the filibuster has been overused? And do you support a move, whether it‘s in the Rules Committee or it‘s something done through statute, to change the way the filibuster is currently operating? Is that something you‘re going to pursue if you‘re elected?
GIANNOULIAS: Absolutely. Now, you know, there‘s not even a filibuster. Now, it‘s the threat of a filibuster that destroys legislation. Take the Disclosure Act for example. That should have been a no-brainer. It should have passed easily.
And the fact that it didn‘t says something about the way the U.S.
Senate works. So I would be unequivocally in favor of filibuster reform. I think it‘s important. That, along with campaign finance reform, needs to be at the forefront of what takes place with the next Congress.
HAYES: Alexi Giannoulias, who is running as a Democrat for President Obama‘s old Senate seat in Illinois, thank you so much for your time tonight. I know you‘re busy. I really appreciate it.
GIANNOULIAS: Thanks so much. Thank you very much.
HAYES: Earlier this week, Rachel tried to get an interview with Republican Senate candidate, Sharron Angle, in Las Vegas, “tried” being the operative word. So how hard is chasing down Sharron Angle? This hard.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NATHAN BACA, REPORTER, KLAS TV IN LAS VEGAS: You haven‘t talked about how you would prosecute those wars. No answer at all?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Sharron Angle back to her press-avoiding ways today. That‘s up next.
HAYES: Want to hear what Republican Senate candidate, Sharron Angle has to say about the two wars this country is waging right now. Good luck with that, America. Ms. Angle is not saying.
Coming up, the Las Vegas reporter who has been doggedly trying to make Sharron Angle say something, anything. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACA: Early voting is going on right now, and we haven‘t been able to tell any of these voters right here exactly what Sharron Angle‘s views are about the two wars that we‘re in, how we‘re going to be prosecuting these wars and whether or not national security issues - whether or not we need to spend more on the military or less.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: That was Las Vegas reporter, Nathan Baca, appearing on this show Wednesday night talking to Rachel about Republican Sharron Angle‘s absolute refusal to answer any questions about anything in her effort to unseat majority leader Harry Reid in the Nevada Senate race, including, as Baca pointed out, the very important question of the wars still being fought on two fronts.
It‘s not often that anyone is even asking that question in this election. On the rare instance it does happen, it would certainly be nice to hear the candidate actually answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARRON ANGLE ®, SENATORIAL CANDIDATE IN NEVADA: I think when it comes to major policy issues, the people in Nevada are most concerned about our jobs, our homes, and our economy.
BACA: But if you want to be one of 100 U.S. Senators that are going to be deciding on war powers and on ratifying treaties, which is what a senator has to do, you have to answer these questions.
ANGLE: Well, certainly, and I‘ll answer those questions when I‘m the senator.
BACA: So you have no answer for them now? Why? We have many Air Force people at (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Air Force Base. We have two wars that we‘re prosecuting right now. You haven‘t talked about how you would prosecute those wars. No answer at all? You are literally staying silent about the two wars we‘re in right now.
ANGLE: You know, the two wars that we‘re in right now is exactly what we‘re in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Yes. The two wars we are in right now are exactly what we are in. The very persistent Nathan Baca of KLAS TV in Las Vegas pursuing Sharron Angle through the city‘s airport today, something he has done a lot of in this campaign.
That video was sent to NBC News by the Reid campaign. Oh, and it gets worse because Mr. Baca was waiting for Sharron Angle at the airport this morning along with a reporter from our NBC affiliate in Las Vegas, KSNV.
The Angle campaign threatened this afternoon that both stations will not be allowed into Angle headquarters on election night.
Nathan Baca joins us now for the second time this week. Nathan, thanks so much for your time tonight.
BACA: Certainly, Chris, and greetings from Las Vegas.
HAYES: Good to see you. So you approached Angle at the airport, received some criticism for that. Her spokesman said you treated her as if she were Paris Hilton. I‘m wondering how you respond to that.
BACA: In a sense, Sharron Angle is a public figure. And we‘ve been trying to get answers from her, whether it is through the past few months and asking for some sort of sit-down interview with her, and ultimately, even just E-mailing and calling the campaign to find out serious policy questions.
We‘re not asking as you would Paris Hilton about what the next fashion is. We‘re asking about policy questions that affect the life and death of American citizens when it comes to war.
So when we‘re asking these questions, we‘re not getting any specific answers from her, entire fields of policy questions that have remained unanswered. That‘s when we have no choice but to literally find out where Sharron Angle‘s going to be and ask those questions.
Now, yes, we did find her at the airport. It was through the magic of Twitter that somebody happened to tweet that they were sitting right next to Sharron Angle.
HAYES: I love that.
BACA: And we waited for her. And she was there with her husband. And she was coming down the escalator and both myself and that other reporter you mentioned - we followed her through the airport asking her the questions that we have not been able to ask her or the campaign for months.
HAYES: Real quickly - I want to ask you what you think this suggests.
I mean, she said, “I‘ll answer those questions when I‘m in the Senate.” But I wonder what you think the way that she‘s comported herself in this campaign, the fact they‘re now threatening to kick you out of election night suggested whether in fact she will do that when she‘s in the Senate.
BACA: It does beg that question, whether or not she will answer these questions if she is elected senator. I would like to think that any U.S. Senator, one of 100 people in the United States that have this high office would be willing to sit down not only with a constituent, but also a member of the press who represents tens of thousands of - hundreds of thousands of Nevadans here to be able to get these clear answers on policy issues.
Again, we‘re not asking trivial questions. We‘re asking questions of these sorts.
HAYES: Nathan Baca is a news reporter with KLAS TV in Las Vegas.
Thank you so much for coming on again tonight.
BACA: Thank you.
HAYES: When it comes to Sharron Angle doing everything she can to avoid talking about the wars, it puts her, for once, right smack in the mainstream. That‘s next.
HAYES: Everybody agrees that this election is about the economy.
Makes perfect sense. It‘s what most directly affects most people‘s lives. People who have been unemployed for more than 99 weeks or having their homes foreclosed on or who thought they could but can‘t afford to send their kids to college- they should care a lot about the state of economy and jobs.
The politicians also have an obligation to not just cater to what voters‘ immediate worries are, but take some leadership in shaping a responsible politics. And responsible politics must acknowledge that we are in the 10th year of perpetual war.
Well, not we, exactly. Less than one percent of the country is actually fighting our two wars, but they are doing so because our political leaders ordered them to do so, the same political leaders running for reelection without mentioning the syllables “Af” “ghan” “is” or “stan” in that order.
And that is total cowardice. It‘s cowardice on the part of Democrats who don‘t want to talk about it because it divides the party and feel awkward about having overseen escalation of war its base wants out of.
It‘s cowardice on the part of Republicans who don‘t want to actually stand up and enunciate the almost total lack of daylight between their position on the war and the hated President Obama.
Go through 100 candidate stump speeches, watch 100 random YouTube clips of politicians on various political talk shows. And the war we are fighting in Afghanistan, a war that has men and women serving multiple tours of duty and we are funding to the tune of $100 billion this year is nowhere to be found.
This is a failure of our politics. Polls suggest that a majority of Americans don‘t approve of the war‘s course and want the troops to withdraw. If elections are the people‘s judgment on how we are being governed, then it is simply unacceptable that this majority of Americans finds itself without with a party to represent it.
This election could very well be the first since 9/11 in which no one from either political party either wins or loses because their views on war. Politicians can put it off. They can ignore it as a political issue, but only for so long. There will be a reckoning.
Elections don‘t always make for the best, most honest and clarifying policy discussions, but they do present people, voters with an opportunity to make a change, to draw a line in the sand and say, “If you‘re not on my side of this line, I‘m voting against you.” War is as worthy as anything of being that line in the sand, and we all deserve a shot at drawing.
That does it for us tonight. Rachel will be back on Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern with a special election night preview. Have a great weekend and a happy Halloween. Good night.
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