updated 10/17/2012 11:02:17 AM ET 2012-10-17T15:02:17

POLITICS NATION
October 16, 2012

Guests: Alicia Menendez; Howard Dean; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Erin McPike, Dana Milbank


REVEREND AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: Thanks, Chris, and thanks to you
for tuning in.

Tonight`s lead, fight night in New York. Just under three hours away
from what could be the biggest night of the campaign. Obama/Romney, round
two.

This debate is a town hall format. The two candidates will answer
questions from undecided voters. One question everyone is asking, will
President Obama bring the heat tonight? Will he challenge Mitt Romney`s
claims on taxes, on abortion, on jobs?

Late this afternoon, sources told NBC News the president does, indeed,
plan to hold moderate Mitt accountable for the positions governor Romney
took for the last year. Before leaving for New York this morning, he
seemed relaxed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: How are you feeling about tonight?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel fabulous. Look
at this beautiful day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: What are you going to say?

OBAMA: Gorgeous. Hope you enjoy the day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Are you aware Michelle voted for you
yesterday?

OBAMA: Thank goodness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: For Governor Romney, the question is, can the candidate,
known for being out of touch, connect with people in the town hall setting?
How will he handle a tougher President Obama? They are big challenges for
both. The tension is high. The stakes are even higher.

Joining us from Hofstra University, the site of tonight`s debate, is
Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and former chairman of the
Democratic National Committee.

Thanks for your time tonight, governor.

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Thanks.
Nice to be here in this loud place tonight. They`re ready for them.

SHARPTON: Yes. Well. Let me ask you, governor. You and I have been
in debates together in 2004. President Obama said he was too polite in the
last debate. What are we going to see from him tonight n your opinion,
governor?

DEAN: Well, you know, the American people root for the underdog. I
think the president is the underdog in tonight`s debate and he needs to
come out smoking. He needs to call Mitt Romney on things he said. He took
three positions on taxes and three positions on immigration, all in the
week before the debate last time. I think the president will call him on
that and then the president has to go ahead and say what he`s going to do,
because Mitt Romney has no plan for the economy, he has no plan for defense
and he has no plan, period. The only plan he has is he wants to be
president of the United States. President`s been president for four years.
He`s got to say what he`s going to do in the next four.

SHARPTON: Now, does the president have to try to find middle ground
between confronting Mr. Romney without looking like he`s being antagonistic
and, quote, "nonpresidential"? How does he find that delicate balance,
governor?

DEAN: Well, he -- I think that`s what he was trying to find last time
and it apparently didn`t work. I saw the debate. I thought he did fine.
But, I know the media doesn`t think so. He needs to go after Romney.
Romney is a guy who is questionably qualified for president. His positions
on defense are very unusual. His positions on the kind of rights for women
are certainly out of the mainstream. And I think the president has to go
after him. The president`s going to defend American values in this debate
here. And I think he needs to make Mitt Romney show he`s either out of
step or he doesn`t seem to have any core principles. One of the two.

SHARPTON: Now, I threw out Romney lied throughout the last debate. I
think that the vice president went after Ryan. Didn`t use the term lied
but he use everything that is synonymous with it. How far should the
president press Romney on his lack of being transparent and candid about
his record?

DEAN: Well, I think he -- first of all, he ought to talk about being
lack of - being transparent on his taxes. This guy has a Swiss bank
account and Cayman Island account and he wants to be president of the
United States? Of a whole group of people that are suffering where they
can`t pay their mortgage and they can`t pay their kids` college tuition
bill.

So, you know, the problem I wouldn`t say the use word, lie. I think
he changes his position and tells people whatever they want to hear. And
that`s actually worse than not telling the truth.

SHARPTON: How challenging will it be for the president to connect
with voters in a town hall -- in a town hall setting and engage Romney at
the same time? He has to answer the questions, relate to those in the
audience, but at the same time confront Romney?

DEAN: Well, I`m having a little trouble hearing because I think the
Koch brothers` helicopter just went over the scene here.

But no, I think the president has to confront Mitt Romney. But, this
can`t be just about confronting Mitt Romney. It has to be about
leadership. The suspect a leader. He`s been a leader for four years. He
has to show he`s a leader and say what he`s going to do. I think he ought
to swat Romney aside because Romney doesn`t have any positions I can figure
out, that have been in one place for more than a week or so, but then he
has to say what he would do. The president has to say what he has done and
what he would do in order to lead.

This president doesn`t have a bad record. The truth is, we are better
off than we were four years ago. And the president shouldn`t be ashamed of
that.

SHARPTON: So, aside from confronting Romney and not letting Romney
get away with, what you would say, different things, I would call lies and
other things, he should establish his record and project what he`s going to
do in the next four years?

DEAN: That`s right. The most important is projecting what he would
do for the next four years. Romney has no plan. He said he`s going to
generate 12 million jobs. Conservative economists say, no, it`s only two
million. He says he`s got a five-point plan to do this. You look under
the hood, there`s nothing there. He`s going to give $5 trillion -- excuse
me, he`s going to cut $5 trillion or cut taxes, whatever it is. Middle
class people are going to pay for that.

This is a hocus pocus campaign, Al, that`s all it is, hocus pocus.
The president needs to call him on that, but, then say what he would do
otherwise. What people are looking for in this country is leadership.

SHARPTON: Right.

DEAN: And Mitt Romney got away with pretending he was the leader the
last time. He won`t get away with it tonight.

SHARPTON: Governor Howard Dean, thank you for your time tonight.

DEAN: Thanks a lot, Al.

SHARPTON: Joining me here in studio is Krystal Ball and Steve
Kornacki, both co-host of "the Cycle" on MSNBC.

Thanks to you both, for joining me tonight.

KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC HOST, THE CYCLE: Thank you, reverend.

SHARPTON: Steve, who has the bigger challenge tonight between the
president and former governor Romney?

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST, THE CYCLE: I think it`s Obama. It
clearly is. I mean, we have seen a sustained bounce for Mitt Romney in the
poll after the first debate. A bigger bounce than most people thought he
was going to get or would be able to get and a more enduring bounce than
people thought possible. And you are running a risk here where one of the
biggest things that happened that`s positive for Romney coming out of the
first debate, is that his positive personal ratings went up pretty
dramatically. He had a problem extending out of the primary season, pass
the conventions and through September where he was more disliked by people
than liked. And that we have never seen that in a presidential nominee.
He took a major step in the first debate toward overcoming that problem.
In part because he was able to be very assertive and very confident,
without being challenged by the moderator, and without being challenged by
Obama.

So, there`s - it is not only that Obama has to show more of a fight
himself and show people that he is really fighting for this thing, I think
that he needs to go after, like governor Dean said, he needs to go after
Romney in a way that puts Romney on the defense a little bit. Because
Romney is not on his script, when he`s not reading off his prepared mark
remarks, that`s when he gets in trouble. That what he says things that
makes people scratch his head and people say, what is this guy talking
about here? And that`s - I think that is the challenge for Obama, is to
try if he can maneuver Romney into a corner like that.

SHARPTON: So Krystal, the president`s challenge, Steve feels is to
get Romney off his game and at the same time deal with projecting who he is
as president. Doesn`t Romney also have a challenge that now he`s got this
bounce bigger than most thought, that he`s got to maintain that kind of
appeal so people don`t think it was a fluke and that he was just being
scripted and that`s not the real Romney? Doesn`t he have to rise in his
performance tonight?

BALL: Absolutely. The expectations for him going into the last
debate were so low that I think when he didn`t show up in a maniacal in a
top hat, people thought he performed positively. And I would disagree with
Steve a little bit. I think the stakes are higher for the president, but I
actually think Governor Romney has a bigger challenge because he`s outlined
a set of policies that are toxically unpopular if he actually describes his
real policies and meanwhile has made statements that are in contradiction
to those policies.

So, he`s got to navigate those waters. And that`s a lot more
complicated of a thing, especially now that the president knows that that
is Mitt Romney`s game plan. That he is going to come in and try to at
least make a rhetorical attack to the center. He has a game plan coming in
so he knows how to deal with that. So, I would say, again, while the
stakes are very high for the president, that cannot be overstated. I think
Romney has a very tough challenge - (INAUDIBLE).

SHARPTON: Since, Steve -- since I tend to see her point because
Krystal is right, since he distorted or lied or whatever way you want to go
with it, he has to remember the lies and remember the distortion.

BALL: Be consistent.

KORNACKI: I will tell you, though, and I remember this guy from when
he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. When he won that race in a
Democratic state against Shannon O`Brien. He is very good in these
settings when he`s on his script. And that`s what we saw in the first
debate. And it`s true. He has all of these vulnerabilities on policy
questions.

There are two problems here. One is that Obama did not force him onto
the defensive at all in the first debate. The second is that the breadth
of topics discussed in the first debate was very narrow and favorable to
Romney. Nothing about women`s health issues came up in the first debate.
Nothing about immigration, nothing about climate change. This was supposed
to be the big domestic policy debate. It was really limited to jobs,
economic growth, health care. And Obama has a record there to defend. But
it meant Obama was on the defensive for that debate. And all the stuff
that got Romney in trouble and the Republicans in trouble for six months
out of this year was off limits. That`s got to come up tonight.

SHARPTON: Well, let me show you Romney in the last debate and him
bending the truth a little. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will not reduce the share
paid by high income individuals. I know that you and your running mate
keep saying that. And I know it`s a popular thing to say with a lot of
people, but it`s just not the case.

Regulation is essential. You can`t have a free market work if you
don`t have regulation. Number one, pre-existing conditions are covered up
my plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Krystal, how do you knock him off his game?

BALL: Well actually, I think the president had a pretty good line in
that debate. It was one of his stronger moments where he said, you know,
now he`s been talking about this plan, and now he shows up here and says,
never mind.

So, I think he has to continue to say, you know, this is what governor
Romney has been running on, and the math simply doesn`t add up. If he
really wants to cut taxes by 20 percent at all levels, the middle class has
to pay for that. And to force the specifics.

You know, the thing I actually am excited about is that this is a town
hall debate, so you will be getting actual questions from citizens. It
makes it less predictable. And it means you are not going to be focusing
on the kind of topics that Washington insiders really care about like
Simpson/Bowles, Dodd/Frank and all --

SHARPTON: That a lot of people don`t understand.

BALL: They don`t understand and it is nor the kitchen table kind of
stuff that people are deciding this election on.

KORNACKI: I give you 100 bucks if a citizen mentions Simpson/Bowles
in this debate. I don`t think it`s on anybody`s mind other than --

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON: You know, this is the Romney -- but the format tonight is
as a town hall meeting. A participant will ask a question. Candidate a
will answer followed by candidate b. The moderator will ask a follow-up
question for discussion. And I think that, you know, we are going to see
where that goes because it does bring the difference in the questions to
what ordinary people have.

And I think that when I keep saying I feel that Romney lied and others
say it`s policy, there`s one thing when you take a different policy
position. Nothing when you say, my health plan includes a plan for pre-
existing condition when it doesn`t. That`s a lie. That`s not a policy
change.

KORNACKI: If you are Obama and he goes down that road on that subject
or anything else, you have got to be ready to pounce. And you have got to
make it absolutely clear to people, who don`t follow this stuff day in and
day out basis that this is not true. And I -- the failure of Obama to do
that in the first debate, I mean, that`s what set so many people off
because the openings were there time and again. And he didn`t even detect
them.

SHARPTON: But, the issue is Mr. Romney and the president, are they
going after their base, to energize their base, or are they going after
swing voters, Krystal?

BALL: I honestly think that the most important thing is to fire up
your base, because the most devastating thing for the president, last time,
wasn`t even his performance. It was the judgment of his base that he
performed poorly, and the depression among the base thinking, oh my
goodness, we could lose, all that hand-wringing. You know, if the
independent voters see that the basis fired up, sees that the president is
getting positive reviews, just like Joe Biden. He has fired up the base
that was the most important thing for him to do.

SHARPTON: Base or swing voters, what should they go after?

KORNACKI: You know what? I think it`s a specific subset of voters
and that`s women. That`s where Obama has had, the extent he has been
leading all year, he has had an outsized advantage among women that started
to erode in the last two weeks after that first debate. And that`s why I
think again, it`s important for Obama, if he can, to move the discussion
away from the narrow framework set for the first debate and talk about some
issues that created that gender gap in the first place.

SHARPTON: Well, that`s a good segue because we are going to be
talking about women next.

(LAUGHTER)

SHARPTON: Thank you, Steve Kornacki and thank you, Krystal Ball.

And I might say the vice president did do a good job of firing up, so
much to his opponent had to use a lot of water that night, Mr. Ryan.

You can catch both of them on "the Cycle" weekdays at :003 p.m. right
here on MSNBC.

Coming up, why shouldn`t we be surprised or you be surprised, or you
will be surprised, to see President Obama landing some big political
punches tonight?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: When Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt,
we said, no, we are not going to take your business advice. We re-invented
the dying auto business that`s come roaring back to the top of the world.
We have come too far to turn back now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: And look at this, Paul Ryan in a soup kitchen. Why is the
guy who takes from the poor washing pots? We`ve got the real story behind
it. And it`s a mess.

All that, plus a woman`s right to choose is in serious jeopardy. How
do you call out a candidate who wants to repeal Roe Versus Wade but won`t
admit it? Big news from the president today on that strategy.

You`re watching a special edition of "Politics Nation" as we get ready
for what could be the biggest night in this campaign, on the place for
politics, MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: If the Romney/Ryan ticket is elected,
should those that believe abortion should remain legal be worried?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don`t think that
unelected judges should make this decision, that people through their
elected representatives and reaching a consensus in society for the
Democratic process should make this determination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: That was the silence heard around the country last week.
Paul Ryan left very little doubt what a Romney/Ryan presidency would do to
a woman`s right to choose. Roe Versus Wade is in serious and immediate
danger. Governor Romney has said so himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Do I believe Supreme Court should overturn Roe V. Wade? Yes,
I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: No question. A woman`s right to choose is under one of the
biggest challenges in decades. But the issue did not come up in the first
debate. Sources say the president will call out Governor Romney`s stance
on abortion rights tonight. And this is a real vulnerability for him.
He`s tried to back away from it. And he had to be corrected by his own
campaign twice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you intend to pursue any legislation
specifically regarding abortion?

ROMNEY: I don`t -- there`s no legislation with regarding -- in
regards to abortion that I`m familiar with that would become part of my
agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Oh, no, I`m not familiar with that. Never even heard of
it. My agenda? Come on, no way. Look, we`ve seen him say whatever`s
convenient. He`s tried to muddy the waters on this issue. Just today we
found this Romney mailer in Virginia. It reads, quote "it`s your health.
Shouldn`t it be your choice?" It`s a mailer about health care. But by
using the word "choice" the Romney campaign seems to be implying something
else.

A Romney presidency means Roe Versus Wade would be in the greatest
peril it`s been in two decades. And tonight he must be confronted on it.
But how do you call out a candidate who wants to repeal roe Versus Wade
even if he won`t admit it? It`s political jujitsu and it`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: In tonight`s debate Mitt Romney will be trying to convince
us that he really cares about the regular folks. That he understands the
problems of the poor and the working class. His running mate Paul Ryan was
trying to do the same thing over the weekend, when he stopped by a soup
kitchen in Ohio for a photo op that became a big mess. Ryan was hoping to
show he felt their pain. Instead, he exposed the shallowness of his
campaign. Turns out, Romney showed up long after the soup kitchen`s
breakfast, long after most of the people used its services were already
gone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: Thanks for letting us come by. We just wanted to come by and
say thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that`s OK.

RYAN: Looks like we are after mealtime. Can we just come back and
say it to people?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure. There is not too many left. Because it is
over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: It was over. The soup kitchen was empty but that didn`t
stop Ryan`s photo op. Inside the kitchen, most of the dishes were already
done. Look, you can see them stacked up, sparkling clean. There were just
a few dishes intentionally left dirty for Ryan to rinse off for the
cameras. In fact, a volunteer says, quote "it was all about him coming in
and doing dishes for publicity. We had to save dishes. We would have gone
home by the time he arrived."

These people volunteering their team had to stay late just so Ryan
could get his photo op. When he finally showed up, Ryan was there for just
15 minutes. And for much of that time, all you could hear was the click of
the cameras.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: I`m going to give you another one. I need some more soap.
Need good hot water, really fast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: The soup kitchen volunteers says, quote "it was the
phoniest piece of baloney I`ve ever seen. That I`ve ever been associated
with. And in hindsight, I would have never let him in the door." The
phoniest piece of baloney, that just about sums up the entire Romney/Ryan
ticket.

Joining me now is Ezra Klein, "Washington Post" columnist and MSNBC
policy analyst and Alicia Menendez, host and producer for "Huff Post Live."

Thank you both for joining us.

ALICIA MENENDEZ, HOST, HUFFPOST LIVE: Hey, Rev.

SHARPTON: Ezra, let me start with you. Sixty-two percent of the cuts
in Paul Ryan`s budget cut program that help the poor, $3.3 trillion. Does
Paul Ryan really think that scrubbing a few dishes at a soup kitchen will
scrub that from his record?

EZRA KLEIN, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. Look. I agree
with you. It isn`t the photo op, it`s the budget. That soup kitchen in
part because that does gets federal funding as I remember from the story,
gets about $17,000 in federal funding every year, gets a couple hundred
thousand from private donations.

The kind of federal funds that go to groups like that soup kitchen are
from the parts of Ryan`s budget that get squeezed the absolute hardest.
Because what he has done try to protect some things like he doesn`t cut
Social Security, doesn`t cut defense, doesn`t increase taxes. And as such,
where he really had to get those savings are in the parts of the budget
that end going to low-income programs for the poor and in particularly also
to state aid which is where a lot of those grants come from.

SHARPTON: So, he cuts things like the soup kitchen and then he poses
in the soup kitchen and no one confronts him. Should the president
confront Romney about the Ryan budget that he endorsed and he has the
running mate and raised the question, how do you cut from the poor and
working class while you use them as props for photo ops?

MENENDEZ: I think it would be even better if that question comes from
someone in the audience tonight. But, yes, I think it`s incumbent on
President Obama to draw that type of contrast. We know why Paul Ryan was
there. This election is going to come down to suburban women. They are
not a fan of Ryan`s budget. They are not a fan of Romney`s 47 percent
comments. So, less say look on caring. They want to show this image of
them catering to the very poor.

The problem with that, well, critics will point out, is that these
charities are supposed to be there when people fall through the safety net.
They`re not supposed to actually be the safety net.

So, to Ezra`s points, you can`t make cuts to Medicare, to social
programs, to things that are actually supposed to be our collective safety
net. And then try to portray an image as though you understand the plight
of the working class.

SHARPTON: Now Ezra, you know, as phony as that picture ends up being
where those - that video and those photo ops, is the smoke and mirrors
around the Ryan`s budget? I mean, you have done a lot of work on it. What
does the Ryan budget really do to working people in this country? And what
does it do to the wealthy?

KLEIN: The Ryan budget cuts essentially all spending that goes to
working people. Significantly. In fact, the largest cuts pretty much in
the budget come either from Medicaid or the sort of everything else that
doesn`t go to defense or seniors.

SHARPTON: That`s the largest cut?

KLEIN: That is the largest cuts. I mean, that is (INAUDIBLE) about
two-thirds of the cuts there. By the way, Romney`s budget more extreme
than Ryan`s. Ryan is looking for about $5.3 trillion in cuts. Romney is
up to around $7 trillion and he doesn`t touch Medicare, so that`s now
around $8 trillion. And that`s all coming - I mean, what does the
government do that`s not senior, defense taxes or it`s low-income programs.

SHARPTON: What is the truth about the tax cuts?

KLEIN: The tax cuts in Ryan`s budget, excuse me, are more -- again,
are on the other side, more extreme than in Romney`s budget. They do -- as
I remember, they go down to a 25 percent for a top tax rate. It is just a
giant tax, like Romney`s budget, they say they will pay for it. They
haven`t offered any pay for us. But, even if you believe them, even if you
believe they will somehow make this math add up, which everybody seems to
think they can`t do when they actually run the numbers, even if you believe
them, the fact they won`t raise a dollar in taxes means that in order to
cut the deficit, they need to take that money, because they don`t want to
touch Social Security, they don`t want to touch defense, they need to take
that money mostly from programs that go to low income Americans.

SHARPTON: Alicia, should the president challenge on his and Ryan`s
specific budgets and his tax cut plans?

MENENDEZ: I think he has to. I think it`s the biggest contrast in
this election. It`s the -- it`s the basic choice that is framing this
entire election. And I think, unfortunately, many Americans are unfamiliar
with the details that Ezra just laid out. So, if the president can
quickly, swiftly articulate his own budget, the Ryan budget, the Romney
budget, the ties between them, I think that will be a major selling point,
particularly with middle class voters who would be hardest hit by
Romney/Ryan tax plans.

SHARPTON: Alicia, we have seen a more clear contrast in two
candidates` positions in women`s rights and Roe Versus Wade. And we are
looking at the fact that governor Romney, when questioned about his
favorite justices, he said John Roberts, Alito, Clarence Thomas, Scalia,
all four an absolute threat to Roe Versus Wade and women`s right to choose.

For some reason, that makes no sense to me, it did not come up in the
first debate. It has to come up tonight. How will it affect Romney if, in
fact, it surfaces tonight and he has to deal with the fact that he is on
record saying he is for the repeal of Roe Versus Wade and he would appoint
judges in the light of Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia?

MENENDEZ: Well, It does a lot to mobilize the Democratic base, you
know. We know that four years ago President Obama won by 13 points with
women, a lot of that unmarried women, women who have never been married,
women who have been married and divorced, women who have been married and
widowed. For that portion of the democratic base it`s a huge issue. And
this is an issue beyond that. You know, you have the "USA Today" poll out.
When they asked, you know, men about the biggest issue in this election,
open-ended question, most of them talked about the economy. When they pose
the same question to women, four in 10 women saying that it was abortion,
access to choice, that was the biggest issue for them. I`ve never seen
numbers like that before. And I think that`s very clarifying. It`s
mobilizing for the Democratic base. And it absolutely will be toxic for
Romney if it comes up tonight.

Ezra Klein, Alicia Menendez, thank you both for your time tonight.

KLEIN: Thank you.

MENENDEZ: Thanks, Rev.

SHARPTON: Coming up, on the day of the big debate, a major blow for
right wingers trying to suppress the vote. Big news from a key
battleground state.

And it`s the question everyone is asking -- how aggressive will the
President be? We`ve got news on his plan of attack tonight. You will want
to hear this. You`re watching POLITICS NATION on a big debate night here
on the place for politics, MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Will the President challenge Governor Romney when he abuses
the truth tonight? We`ll hear from Debbie-Wasserman Schultz, the
chairwoman of the Democratic Party, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)]

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: The debate, I think it`s fair
to say, I was just too polite. Because, you know, it`s hard to sometimes
just keep on saying what you`re saying isn`t true. It gets repetitive.
But, you know, the good news is that`s just the first one. I think it`s
fair to see that we`ll see a little more activity at the next one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: President Obama may have been too polite at the first
debate, but he`s shown before he can throw a political punch when he has
to. Remember back in 2008, his bat was against the wall, in South Carolina
against Hillary Clinton, he needed a win. And in a big debate, he came out
swinging.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: But when you comb my 4,000 votes in Illinois, choose one, try
to present it in the worst possible light, that does have to be answered.
That does have to be answered.

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I did not say anything
about Ronald Reagan. You said two things. You talked about admiring
Ronald Reagan and you talked about the ideas of the republican.

OBAMA: Well, I was working on those streets watching those folks see
their jobs shipped overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the
board of Wal-Mart. I was fighting these fights. I was fighting these
fights.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: There`s no doubt this President can throw a punch when he
wants to. The question tonight is, just how hard should it be?

Joining me now live from Hofstra University, site of tonight`s debate,
is Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic
National Committee. Thank you for coming on the show, Madam Chairwoman.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL), DNC CHAIR: Thank you, Al.

SHARPTON: The President --

SCHULTZ: Good to be with you.

SHARPTON: The President says, we`ll see some more, quote, "activity
tonight." What do you expect?

SCHULTZ: Well, I think we`ll certainly see tonight President Obama
talk about his clear vision for moving America forward. His plan to create
a million manufacturing jobs, his plan to cut tuition increases in half,
his plan to make sure we can hire 100,000 new math and science teachers,
but what we`ll also see tonight is President Obama making sure that Mitt
Romney is held accountable and not allowed to hide and distort and simply
set aside his severely conservative policies that he`s been running on for
the last 18 months.

SHARPTON: You know --

SCHULTZ: Policies like his $5 trillion tax cut plan, which he says
doesn`t exist, which we clearly know increases taxes on the middle class to
pay for budget-busting tax rates for millionaires and billionaires.

SHARPTON: Now, we know, Madam Chairwoman, that Mr. Romney did not get
challenged in the first debate by the president. When he does get
challenged, he gets a little flustered when he gets backed into a corner.
Let me show you this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Ten thousand bucks? Ten thousand dollar bet?

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: When you release yours, will you follow
your father`s example?

ROMNEY: Maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

You know, I don`t know how many years I`ll release. I`ll take a look
at what the -- what our documents are. I`m running for office for Pete`s
sake, I can`t have illegals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: He doesn`t seem to take a punch too well, Congresswoman.
When he`s hit, he kind of wobbles and kind of loses his place. If there`s
more activity tonight, the president may be able to rattle him and he not
come off as this confident presidential appearance that he came off in the
first debate.

SCHULTZ: Well, Reverend Al, I think the important thing tonight is
that the American people will continue to have the opportunity to see the
very clear choice and the stark contrast. This is a town hall meeting-
style debate. It will be an opportunity for both candidates to connect
with the folks in the room, connect with the voters watching at home. Mitt
Romney has not done that very well because he has such extreme positions on
issues like education, on health care, on immigration reform, that it`s
hard to be in touch with middle class working families when you are so
dramatically out of step with those same families.

And when you`ve dismissed 47 percent of the American people as
victims, dependent on government who don`t want to take personal
responsibility for themselves. So, it`s going to be interesting. But the
bottom line is that Mitt Romney is not going to be able to run or hide from
his extreme positions that now he`s simply trying to pretend don`t exist.

SHARPTON: Yes. You know, women`s right to choose didn`t even come
up in the first debate. One, were you disappointed? And two, do you think
it will definitely come up tonight?

SCHULTZ: Well, I think it will come up tonight because I`m sure that
the people in the audience who are asking questions will have an
opportunity to submit a question on women`s -- a woman`s right to make her
own reproductive choices which Mitt Romney has consistently and
overwhelmingly opposed. He said he would be delighted to sign a total ban
on abortion if it was sent to him on his desk by the Congress. He embraced
the platform of the Republican Party which has exceptions for rape, incest
or the life of the mother.

This is a candidate for president who would really leave women in a
situation where they could not make their own reproductive choices. And
when it comes to his goal of repealing Obamacare, they would no longer be
able to get a wellness visit available without a co-pay or deductible or
birth control, so that we can prevent unwanted pregnancies and let women
make their own choices about when and how to start a family.

SHARPTON: Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thank you for your
time tonight.

SCHULTZ: Thank you so much, Reverend Al.

SHARPTON: Coming up, before the big night, the Supreme Court deals a
major blow to a key republican fighting to block the vote. Big news out of
Ohio.

And debates are known for moments. We will get one tonight. We`re
going back to the classics. This is a special edition of POLITICS NATION
on the place for politics, MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Will there be a make or break moment in New York tonight?
That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Tonight, we`ll be looking for big ideas and clear policies,
but we`ll also be looking if any big moments, the moments that will be
played and replayed and define the debate. In 1992`s President George H.W.
Bush was caught checking his watch, leaving viewers wondering if he was
bored with the debate and his job. By contrast that same night, Bill
Clinton crossed the stage to engage a woman in the audience and show he
understood the economic pain she was enduring. And in 2000, most of the
post-debate buzz was about -- was all about how Al Gore invaded George W.
Bush`s personal space. So, will there be a big moment tonight?

Joining me now is Erin McPike from Real Clear Politics and Dana
Milbank, columnist for "The Washington Post." Thank you both for joining
me.

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Hi, Reverend.

ERIN MCPIKE, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Thank you.

SHARPTON: Erin, let me go to you first. Does the president need a
big moment tonight?

MCPIKE: Not so much as a big moment. He really just needs to have a
big night. You know, everybody has been talking about how his debate
performance two weeks ago was just not very strong. And so, what the
president has been doing is practicing, getting more aggressive but not too
aggressive because he`ll going to be answering voter`s question as opposed
to a moderator`s questions, so he`s going to be talking to real people
tonight.

SHARPTON: Now, Dana, when you look at the history of these kind of
debates, you have certain moments to stick out. Let me show you a few Mr.
Reagan, Quayle, Bentsen. Listen to this. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I will not make age an issue of
this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my
opponent`s youth and inexperience.

DAN QUAYLE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I have as much experience in
the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.

REAGAN: I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack
Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you`re no Jack Kennedy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Dana, can these moments really make or break a candidate?

MILBANK: Well, they absolutely can Reverend. The thing is, you don`t
really don`t know in advance whether you`re going to see one. And many
times people attempt these moments and they fall flat. So, I think both
candidates are going to be wary of trying to force one of these punch lines
in there, I think. But that doesn`t mean they`re not going to be quite
aggressive. You`re going to see, I think, a much more feisty debate this
evening. And the Obama folks are telling me they`re going to hit
particularly hard on the issue of jobs.

My "Post" colleague Glenn Kessler came out with a study based on
Romney`s own numbers today saying his 12 million jobs plan is actually made
of whole cloth. Complete baloney, based on studies that are over a
different time frame and aren`t actually addressing Romney`s jobs plan at
all. So, this has fallen into the president`s lap. I expect him to hammer
at that very hard this evening.

SHARPTON: So, you expect the President and are you being told that
the President is going to hit hard and hard on the jobs and the issue of
Mr. Romney`s economic plans?

MILBANK: Absolutely. Any -- basically, the President could spend
the entire night saying you`re wrong about this, you`re wrong about this,
you`re making up your facts on this. That`s not fruitful. What he wants
to do is zero in on things relevant to the middle class. That`s the
economy. And that`s particularly jobs. This particular thing of the
center of Romney`s campaign, the 12 million jobs, has fallen apart on this
very day. So, it`s a very natural thing for Obama to be hammering away at.
And he`s going to try to keep coming back to that.

SHARPTON: Erin, what do you expect tonight? What are you hearing?

MCPIKE: Well, we talked to Rob Portman today, the senator from Ohio
who has been coaching Mitt Romney. And what Portman says is they don`t
know which Barack Obama is going to show up tonight. The very same thing
they were saying about Vice President Biden last week. They know that he
will be more aggressive but they just don`t know how aggressive he`s going
to be. So, they`ve had to be a little bit careful about their debate prep
because they don`t want Mitt Romney to have a bad moment where he`s too
aggressive.

Now, I think we`ll hear a lot about the $16 trillion debt from Mitt
Romney. What I don`t know yet about how much we`re going to hear from the
president is that the unemployment rate a couple weeks ago drops below
eight percent for the first time in years. Which obviously is a good
number for the President. But the Obama campaign hasn`t pushed that very
heavily and it will be very interesting to see what the president does with
that tonight.

SHARPTON: If Mr. Romney decides to attack, Dana, and say the -- on
economic issues and even question the unemployment numbers, as some in the
extreme right has, is the president going to attack back or is the
president going to use it as a teachable moment?

MILBANK: President Obama is prepared to -- I don`t think he`s going
to rattle off statistics like he`s some sort of professor but he`s going to
talk about 5.2 million private sector jobs created, a long stretch of
positive employment reports. You know, the monthly unemployment figures go
up and down. He doesn`t want to dwell on that too much. He certainly does
want to draw Romney into a discussion of the auto industry. So, there will
be a lot of statistics but all focused on job creation, raising doubts
about Romney`s plans and actually demonstrating what has been done today.

SHARPTON: This is a town hall setting. Do you think, Erin, that a
lot of this will be about who creates the best chemistry with the audience
in terms of answering the questions and relating to the spirit of the
questioner?

MCPIKE: It may very well be. And we expect that President Obama is
generally pretty good at that. But what Rob Portman told us today is that,
look, Mitt Romney has been holding town hall after town hall for the last
two years as he`s been campaigning for president. And he has a lot of
practice. Whereas, sure, President Obama was doing that when he was first
running in 2007 and 2008, but he hasn`t had a lot of town halls as he`s
been running for re-election. And so, he might be out of practice or a
little bit rusty, whereas Mitt Romney is in better practice. And so, they
are feeling a little bit, in fact, potentially overconfident going into
tonight`s debate.

SHARPTON: Erin McPike and Dana Milbank, thank you both for your time
tonight.

MILBANK: Thanks, Reverend.

MCPIKE: Thank you.

SHARPTON: Just hours before the big debate, a major blow to the
republican efforts to suppress the vote. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: We`re just over two hours away from tonight`s big debate.
Behind all the posing and positioning, this will be a debate about what
kind of government we want for this country. What kind of democracy we
want for the people. What these two men talk about is important. What
also important is what we the people go out and do about it. We must
exercise our precious right to vote. Today we got information from the
highest court in the land that every vote does matter.

This afternoon the Supreme Court rejected without comment an effort by
Ohio`s right wing Secretary of State Jon Husted to restrict voting in his
states. The court`s decision means that voters in Ohio will now definitely
be allowed to vote early, into three days before Election Day. It`s a
devastating blow to Husted who has repeatedly tried to block early voting
in his state, all part of the national effort to suppress democrat votes
for this election and blocking early voting is especially egregious. In
2008, 93,000 voters cast their ballots in the final three days of Ohioans
early voting including a surge for minority voters.

Today`s ruling in Ohio adds to the GOP losing streak. Republicans
trying to block the vote have lost in the courts in states ranging from
Texas and Florida to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. This is a huge victory
for all Americans. In essence, the Supreme Court ruled today against GOP
officials who wanted less voting, not more in this election. There are now
26 states and the District of Columbia that allow early in-person voting.
Remember, voting is a right not a privilege. So, exercise that right.
Watch tonight`s debate and think about which candidate`s vision is right
for America. And then get out there and vote.

Thanks for watching. I`m Al Sharpton. A special live edition of
"HARDBALL" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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