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'Meet the Press' transcript for Oct. 19, 2008

Transcript of the Oct. 19, 2008 broadcast of NBC's 'Meet the Press,' featuring former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell (Ret.), Chuck Todd, David Brooks, Jon Meacham, Andrea Mitchell and Joe Scarborough.

MR. TOM BROKAW:  Our issues this Sunday:  He served as President George W. Bush's secretary of state and was once called the man most likely to become the nation's first African-American president.  He has been courted by both the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns and said this last month:


GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET.):  I have been watching both of these individuals.  I know them both extremely well, and I have not decided who I'm going to vote for yet.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  Is he now ready to make an endorsement in this presidential race?  What are his thoughts on the major issues facing the country and the world?  Our exclusive guest this Sunday, former Secretary of State General Colin Powell.

Then, with 16 days to go, Decision 2008 heads into the home stretch.  What states still are in play?  We will hear the latest on some new state polls with NBC's political director, Chuck Todd.  Also, insights and analysis on the race to the White House with David Brooks of The New York Times, Jon Meacham of Newsweek magazine, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, and Joe Scarborough of MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

But first, General Colin Powell, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

GEN. POWELL:  Thank, thank you, Tom.

MR. BROKAW:  We indicated in that opening, there is a lot of anticipation and speculation about your take on this presidential campaign.  We'll get to that in a moment.  But in your old business we might call this a tour of the horizon.  Whoever's elected president of the United States, that first day in the Oval Office on January 21st will face this:  an American economy that's in a near paralytic state at this time; we're at war in two different countries, Afghanistan and Iraq; we have an energy crisis; we have big decisions to make about health care and about global climate change.  The president of the United States and the Congress of the United States now have the highest disapproval ratings that we have seen in many years.  In all your years of public service, have you ever seen an incoming president face such daunting challenges?

GEN. POWELL:  No.  I have seen more difficult times in our history.  I think about the early '70s when we were going through Watergate, Spiro Agnew, Nixon period, that was not a good time.  But right now we're also facing a very daunting period.  And I think the number one issue the president's going to have to deal with is the economy.  That's what the American people are worried about.  And, frankly, it's not just an American problem, it's an international problem.  We can see how all of these economies are now linked in this globalized system.  And I think that'll be number one.  The president will also have to make decisions quickly as to how to deal with Iraq and Afghanistan.  And also I think the president has to reach out to the world and show that there is a new president, a new administration that is looking forward to working with our friends and allies.  And in my judgment, also willing to talk to people who we have not been willing to talk to before. Because this is a time for outreach.

MR. BROKAW:  Given the state of the American economy, can we continue our military commitments around the world at the level that they now exist?

GEN. POWELL:  We can.  I think we have to look as to whether they have to be at that level.  But we have the wealth, we have the wherewithal to do that. (Clears throat) Excuse me, Tom.  We have the ability to do that.  And so, first and foremost, we have to review those commitments, see what they are, see what else is needed, and make sure we give our troops what they need to get the job done as we have defined the job.  We have that ability.

MR. BROKAW:  If you were called into the Oval Office on January 21st by the new president, whoever it happens to be, and he said to you, "General Powell, I need from you your recommendation on where I begin.  What should be my priorities?" Where would you start?

GEN. POWELL:  I would start with talking to the American people and talking to the world, and conveying a new image of American leadership, a new image of America's role in the world.

The problems will always be there, and there's going to be a crisis come along in the 21st or 22nd of January that we don't even know about right now.  And so I think what the president has to do is to start using the power of the Oval Office and the power of his personality to convince the American people and to convince the world that America is solid, America is going to move forward, and we're going to fix our economic problems, we're going to meet our overseas obligations.  But restoring a sense of purpose, a sense of confidence in the American people and, in the international community, in America.

MR. BROKAW:  What's not on the screen right now that concerns you that should be more prominent in the minds of the American people and the people running for president?

GEN. POWELL:  I think the American people and the gentlemen running for president will have to, early on, focus on education more than we have seen in the campaign so far.  America has a terrible educational problem in the sense that we have too many youngsters not finishing school.  A third of our kids don't finish high school, 50 percent of minorities don't finish high school. We've got to work on this, and my, my wife and I are leading a campaign with this purpose.

Also, I think, the new president has to realize that the world looks to America for leadership, and so we have to show leadership on some issues that the world is expecting us to, whether it's energy, global warming and the environment.  And I think we have to do a lot more with respect to poverty alleviation and helping the needy people of the world.  We need to increase the amount of resources we put into our development programs to help the rest of the world.  Because when you help the poorest in the world, you start to move them up an economic and social ladder, and they're not going to be moving toward violence or terrorism of the kind that we worry about.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, let's move to the American presidential campaign now, if we can.  We saw at the beginning of this broadcast a short tease of what you had to say just a month ago.  Let's share with our viewers now a little more of Colin Powell on these two candidates and your position.

(Videotape, September 20, 2008)

GEN. POWELL:  I'm an American, first and foremost, and I'm very proud--I said, I've said, I've said to my beloved friend and colleague John McCain, a friend of 25 years, "John, I love you, but I'm not just going to vote for you on the basis of our affection or friendship." And I've said to Barack Obama, "I admire you.  I'll give you all the advice I can.  But I'm not going to vote for you just because you're black." We, we have to move beyond this.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  General Powell, actually you gave a campaign contribution to Senator McCain.  You have met twice at least with Barack Obama.  Are you prepared to make a public declaration of which of these two candidates that you're prepared to support?

GEN. POWELL:  Yes, but let me lead into it this way.  I know both of these individuals very well now.  I've known John for 25 years as your setup said. And I've gotten to know Mr. Obama quite well over the past two years.  Both of them are distinguished Americans who are patriotic, who are dedicated to the welfare of our country.  Either one of them, I think, would be a good president.  I have said to Mr. McCain that I admire all he has done.  I have some concerns about the direction that the party has taken in recent years. It has moved more to the right than I would like to see it, but that's a choice the party makes.  And I've said to Mr. Obama, "You have to pass a test of do you have enough experience, and do you bring the judgment to the table that would give us confidence that you would be a good president."

And I've watched him over the past two years, frankly, and I've had this conversation with him.  I have especially watched over the last six of seven weeks as both of them have really taken a final exam with respect to this economic crisis that we are in and coming out of the conventions.  And I must say that I've gotten a good measure of both.  In the case of Mr. McCain, I found that he was a little unsure as to deal with the economic problems that we were having and almost every day there was a different approach to the problem.  And that concerned me, sensing that he didn't have a complete grasp of the economic problems that we had.  And I was also concerned at the selection of Governor Palin.  She's a very distinguished woman, and she's to be admired; but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president.  And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made.

On the Obama side, I watched Mr. Obama and I watched him during this seven-week period.  And he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this and picking a vice president that, I think, is ready to be president on day one. And also, in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor.  I think that he has a, a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well.  I also believe that on the Republican side over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party and Mr. McCain has become narrower and narrower.  Mr. Obama, at the same time, has given us a more inclusive, broader reach into the needs and aspirations of our people. He's crossing lines--ethnic lines, racial lines, generational lines.  He's thinking about all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values.

And I've also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Senator McCain has taken recently, or his campaign ads, on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about. This Bill Ayers situation that's been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign.  But Mr. McCain says that he's a washed-out terrorist.  Well, then, why do we keep talking about him?  And why do we have these robocalls going on around the country trying to suggest that, because of this very, very limited relationship that Senator Obama has had with Mr. Ayers, somehow, Mr. Obama is tainted.  What they're trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings.  And I think that's inappropriate.

Now, I understand what politics is all about.  I know how you can go after one another, and that's good.  But I think this goes too far.  And I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow.  It's not what the American people are looking for.  And I look at these kinds of approaches to the campaign and they trouble me.  And the party has moved even further to the right, and Governor Palin has indicated a further rightward shift.  I would have difficulty with two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that's what we'd be looking at in a McCain administration.  I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian.  He's always been a Christian.  But the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America.  Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?  Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine.  It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave.  And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone.  And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death.  He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.  And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey.  He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.  Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.  And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know.  But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

So, when I look at all of this and I think back to my Army career, we've got two individuals, either one of them could be a good president.  But which is the president that we need now?  Which is the individual that serves the needs of the nation for the next period of time?  And I come to the conclusion that because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities--and we have to take that into account--as well as his substance--he has both style and substance--he has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president.  I think he is a transformational figure.  He is a new generation coming into the world--onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama.

MR. BROKAW:  Will you be campaigning for him as well?

GEN. POWELL:  I don't plan to.  Two weeks left, let them go at each other in the finest tradition.  But I will be voting for him.

MR. BROKAW:  I can already anticipate some of the reaction to this.  Let's begin with the charge that John McCain has continued to make against Barack Obama.  You sit there, as a man who served in Vietnam, you commanded a battalion of 101st, you were chairman of the Joint Chiefs, you were a national security adviser and secretary of state.  There is nothing in Barack Obama's history that nearly paralyze any--parallels any of the experiences that you've had.  And while he has performed impressively in the context of the campaign, there's a vast difference between sitting in the Oval Office and making tough decisions and doing well in a campaign.

GEN. POWELL:  And he knows that.  And I have watched him over the last two years as he has educated himself, as he has become very familiar with these issues.  He speaks authoritatively.  He speaks with great insight into the challenges we're facing of a military and political and economic nature.  And he is surrounding himself, I'm confident, with people who'll be able to give him the expertise that he, at the moment, does not have.  And so I have watched an individual who has intellectual vigor and who dives deeply into issues and approaches issues with a very, very steady hand.  And so I'm confident that he will be ready to take on these challenges on January 21st.

MR. BROKAW:  And you are fully aware that there will be some--how many, no one can say for sure--but there will be some who will say this is an African-American, distinguished American, supporting another African-American because of race.

GEN. POWELL:  If I had only had that in mind, I could have done this six, eight, 10 months ago.  I really have been going back and forth between somebody I have the highest respect and regard for, John McCain, and somebody I was getting to know, Barack Obama.  And it was only in the last couple of months that I settled on this.  And I can't deny that it will be a historic event for an African-American to become president.  And should that happen, all Americans should be proud--not just African-Americans, but all Americans--that we have reached this point in our national history where such a thing could happen.  It will also not only electrify our country, I think it'll electrify the world.

MR. BROKAW:  You have some differences with Barack Obama.  He has said that once he takes office, he wants to begin removing American troops from Iraq. Here's what you had to say about that:  "I have found in my many years of service, to set arbitrary dates that don't coincide with the situation on the ground or what actually is happening tends not to be a useful strategy.  ... Arbitrary deadlines that are snatched out of the air and are based on some lunar calculation is not the way to run a military or a strategic operation of this type." That was on February 10th of this year on CNN.  Now that you have Barack Obama's ear in a new fashion, will you say to him, "Drop your idea of setting a deadline of some kind to pull the troops out of Iraq"?

GEN. POWELL:  First of all, I think that's a great line, and thanks for pulling it up.  And I believe that.  But as I watch what's happening right now, the United States is negotiating the--an agreement with the Iraqi government that will call for most major combat operations to cease by next June and for American forces to start withdrawing to their bases.  And that agreement will also provide for all American troops to be gone by 2011, but conditioned on the situation as it exists at that time.  So there already is a timeline that's being developed between the Iraqis and the United States government.  So I think whoever becomes the president, whether it's John McCain or whether it's Barack Obama, we're going to see a continued drawdown. And when, you know, which day so many troops come out or what units come out, that'll be determined by the commanders and the new president.  But I think we are on a glide path to reducing our presence in Iraq over the next couple of years.  Increasingly, this problem's going to be solved by the Iraqis. They're going to make the political decisions, their security forces are going to take over, and they're going to have to create an environment of reconciliation where all the people can come together and make Iraq a much, much better place.

MR. BROKAW:  Let me go back to something that you raised just a moment ago, and that's William Ayers, a former member of the Weathermen who's now active in school issues in Illinois.  He had some past association with Barack Obama. Wouldn't it have been more helpful for William Ayers to, on his own, to have renounced his own past?  Here was a man who was a part of the most radical group that existed in America at a time when you were serving in Vietnam, targeting the Pentagon, the Capitol.  He wrote a book about it that came out on 2001, on September 11th that said, "We didn't bomb enough."

GEN. POWELL:  It's despicable, and I have no truck for William Ayers.  I think what he did was despicable, and to continue to talk about it in 2001 is also despicable.  But to suggest that because Mr. Barack Obama had some contacts of a very casual nature--they sat on a educational board--over time is somehow connected to his thinking or his actions, I think, is a, a terrible stretch.  It's demagoguery.

MR. BROKAW:  I want to ask you about your own role in the decision to go to war in Iraq.  Barack Obama has been critical of your appearance before the United Nations at that time.  Bob Woodward has a new book out called "The War Within," and here's what he had to say about Colin Powell and his place in the administration:  "Powell ...  didn't think [Iraq] was a necessary war, and yet he had gone along in a hundred ways, large and small.  He had resisted at times but had succumbed to the momentum and his own sense of deference--even obedience--to the president.  ...  Perhaps more than anyone else in the administration, Powell had been the `closer' for the president's case on war."

And then you were invited to appear before the Iraq Study Group.  "`Why did we go into Iraq with so few people?' [former Secretary of State James] Baker asked.  ...  `Colin just exploded at that point,' [former Secretary of Defense William] Perry recalled later.  `He unloaded,' Former White House Chief of Staff] Leon Panetta added.  `He was angry.  He was mad as hell.' ...  Powell left [the Study Group meeting].  Baker turned to Panetta and said solemnly, `He's the one guy who could have perhaps prevented this from happening.'"

What's the lesson in all of that for a former--for a new secretary of state or for a new national security adviser, based on your own experience?

GEN. POWELL:  Well, let's start at the beginning.  I said to the president in 2002, we should try to solve this diplomatically and avoid war.  The president accepted that recommendation, we took it to the U.N.  But the president, by the end of 2002, believed that the U.N. was not going to solve the problem, and he made a decision that we had to prepare for military action.  I fully supported that.  And I have never said anything to suggest I did not support going to war.  I thought the evidence was there.  And it is not just my closing of the whole deal with my U.N. speech.  I know the importance of that speech, and I regret a lot of the information that the intelligence community provided us was wrong.  But three months before my speech, with a heavy majority, the United States Congress expressed its support to use military force if it was necessary.  And so we went in and used military force.  My unhappiness was that we didn't do it right.  It was easy to get to Baghdad, but then we forgot that there was a lot more that had to be done.  And we didn't have enough force to impose our will in the country or to deal with the insurgency when it broke out, and that I regret.

MR. BROKAW:  Removing the weapons of mass destruction from the equation...

GEN. POWELL:  I also assure you that it was not a correct assessment by anybody that my statements or my leaving the administration would have stopped it.

MR. BROKAW:  Removing the weapons of mass destruction from the equation, because we now know that they did not exist, was it then a war of necessity or just a war of choice?

GEN. POWELL:  Without the weapons of mass destruction present, as conveyed to us by the intelligence community in the most powerful way, I don't think there would have been a war.  It was the reason we took it to the public, it was the reason we took it to the American people to the Congress, who supported it on that basis, and it's the presentation I made to the United Nations.  Without those weapons of mass destruction then Iraq did not present to the world the kind of threat that it did if it had weapons of mass destruction.

MR. BROKAW:  You do know that there are supporters of Barack Obama who feel very strongly about his candidacy because he was opposed to the war from the beginning, and they're going to say, "Who needs Colin Powell?  He was the guy who helped get us into this mess."

GEN. POWELL:  I'm not here to get their approval or lack of approval.  I am here to express my view as to who I'm going to vote for.

MR. BROKAW:  There's a summing up going on now as, as the Bush/Cheney administration winds down.  We'd like to share with our audience some of what you had to say about the two men who are at the top of the administration.  At the convention in 2000, this is Colin Powell on President Bush and Dick Cheney at that time.

(Videotape, July 31, 2000)

GEN. POWELL:  Dick Cheney is one of the most distinguished and dedicated public servants this nation has ever had.  He will be a superb vice president.

The Bush/Cheney team will be a great team for America.  They will put our nation on a course of hope and optimism for this new century.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  Was that prophetic or wrong?

GEN. POWELL:  It's what I believed.  It reflected the agenda of the new president, compassionate conservatism.  And some of it worked out.  I think we have advanced our freedom agenda, I think we've done a lot to help people around the world with our programs of development.  I think we've done a lot to solve some conflicts such as in Liberia and elsewhere.  But, at the same time, we have managed to convey to the world that we are more unilateral than we really are.  We have not explained ourself well enough.  And we, unfortunately, have left an impression with the world that is not a good one. And the new president is going to have to fix the reputation that we've left with the rest of the world.

Now, let me make a point here.  The United States is still seen as the leader at the world that wants to be free.  Even though the numbers are down with respect to favorability ratings, at every embassy and consular office tomorrow morning that we have, people will be lined up, and they'll all say the same thing, "We want to go to America." So we're still the leader of the world that wants to be free.  We are still the inspiration of the rest of the world.  And we can come back.  In 2000, it was moment where I believed that the new administration coming in would be able to achieve the agenda that President-elect Bush had set out of compassionate conservatism.

MR. BROKAW:  But it failed?

GEN. POWELL:  I don't think it was as successful--excuse me (clears throat)--I don't think it was as successful as it might have been.  And, as you see from the presidential approval ratings, the American people have found the administration wanting.

MR. BROKAW:  Let me as, you a couple of questions--quick questions as we wrap all of this up.  I know you're very close to President Bush 41.  Are you still in touch with him on a regular basis?  And what do you think he'll think about you this morning endorsing Barack Obama?

GEN. POWELL:  I will let President Bush 41, speak for himself and let others speak for themselves, just as I have spoken for myself.  Let me make one point, Tom, both Senator McCain and Senator Obama will be good presidents.  It isn't easy for me to disappoint Senator McCain in the way that I have this morning, and I regret that.  But I strongly believe that at this point in America's history, we need a president that will not just continue, even with a new face and with some changes and with some maverick aspects, who will not just continue, basically, the policies that we have been following in recent years.  I think we need a transformational figure.  I need--think we need a president who is a generational change.  And that's why I'm supporting Barack Obama.  Not out of any lack of respect or admiration for Senator John McCain.

MR. BROKAW:  And finally, how much of a factor do you think race will be when voters go into that booth on November 4th?

GEN. POWELL:  I don't know the answer to that question.  One may say that it's going to be a big factor, and a lot of people say they will vote for Senator Obama but they won't pull a lever.  Others might say that has already happened.  People are already finding other reasons to say they're not voting for him.  "Well, he's a Muslim," "He's this." So we have already seen the so-called "Bradley factor" in the current--in the current spread between the candidates.  And so that remains to be seen.  I hope it is not the case.  I think we have advanced considerably in this country since the days of Tom Bradley.  And I hope that is not the case.  It would be very unfortunate if it were the case.

MR. BROKAW:  Finally, if Senator Obama is elected president, will there be a place for Colin Powell in that administration?  Maybe as the ambassador at large in Africa or to take on the daunting task of resolving the Israeli/Palestinian issue?

GEN. POWELL:  I served 40 years in government, and I--I'm not looking forward to a position or an assignment.  Of course, I have always said if a president asks you to do something, you have to consider it.  But I am in no way interested in returning to government.  But I, of course, would sit and talk to any president who wishes to talk to me.

MR. BROKAW:  You're not ruling it out?

GEN. POWELL:  I would sit and talk to any president who wishes to talk to me, but I'm not anxious to rule it in.

MR. BROKAW:  General Colin Powell, thank you very much for being with us this morning.  Appreciate it.

GEN. POWELL:  Thank you, Tom.

MR. BROKAW:  Coming up next, Decision 2008, the home stretch.  We'll look at the states and strategies in play with David Brooks, Jon Meacham, Andrea Mitchell, Joe Scarborough.  And Chuck Todd, our political director, will take us through the electoral map.


BROKAW:  The Decision 2008 battleground, we'll have new state polls and our political roundtable coming up after this brief station break.


MR. BROKAW:  We're back.  We're joined now by NBC News political director Chuck Todd, who has some new polls out this morning.

Chuck, what's the big change from when we saw you two weeks ago?

MR. CHUCK TODD:  Well, what we did was we asked our state pollster to take a look at three states.  One that was perceived to be leaning in McCain's column, one leaning in Obama's column, and one pure toss-up.

Let's start with the pure toss-up, Ohio.  Well, our new poll for Mason-Dixon shows it was a toss-up before this morning, it's still a toss-up, 1 point race, margin of error stuff.  Ohio's been one of the few states that hasn't moved as much as we've seen some other states in Obama's direction.

Now let's take a look at Wisconsin, speaking of states that have moved.  This is now a 12-point lead for Obama in this poll, double digits.  We're, we're seeing--we're wondering why the McCain campaign, in some ways, is still actively campaigning there.  Republican Party pulled some money out, McCain is still keeping money alive there.

Then we took a look at West Virginia.  This is a state that popped recently. Well, it is still very close.  McCain has the lead 47-41.

So, just the big picture, Obama is closer in West Virginia than McCain is in Wisconsin.  That sort of tells the story of how this map has shifted, Tom.

MR. BROKAW:  And what, what's driving all that, Chuck?

MR. TODD:  Well, I think a lot of what's driving it is we're seeing the economy drive this thing.  When you look at our current map right now, here's where we were two weeks ago with the toss-up states.  You had some lean--places like Florida and North Carolina still in McCain's column.  And then now with the economy, and that's the best explanation for West Virginia right now, that you see a state like that move.  That tells you that's a state that's always economically hurting a little bit, at least it has been over the last eight years.  And now you're seeing that whatever cultural issues that Republicans successfully used to get that state into the Republican column over the last two elections, they have struggled now.  The economy moved Florida.  It's moved North Carolina.  The banking center of Charlotte really hurting.

But then, we've also seen some movement here in what I call the "region of Brokaw," Montana, and the two Dakotas, both now single digit races.  You're seeing--and frankly, we almost moved Arizona.  There's some evidence there that that is a state that is now only a high single-digit lead here, you know, demographically.  Again, the economy, older voters.  It's hurting everywhere.

MR. BROKAW:  And, Chuck, as I've been listening to these two campaigns and watching their ads, it seems to me if you're a senior citizen in America, they're probably calling you up and say, "We'll come over and do your laundry and drive you to the early bird special if that's what it takes to get you to vote for us."

MR. TODD:  Well, you know, we talk all about young voters, and we talk about African-Americans, we talk about this, we talk about that.  This thing is about seniors.  The difference between Obama fighting for 270 and Obama sailing past 270 is older, white voters.  The thing keeping McCain still with a boxer's chance here is older, white voters.  Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana--these are some of the old--have some of the oldest populations in the country.  So, when these voters, if they start moving in one direction, if they move in towards Obama, which we've seen a little bit of evidence that way, that's how this thing becomes from a close electoral college battle to a landslide.

And, by the way, one other point about our map, and we're seeing this shift. It's almost as if the McCain campaign is conceding the popular vote.  We're seeing a lot of tightening in places that while Obama probably won't carry them, he's not going to lose by large margins.  That means the McCain path is solely now an electoral college path, and if he wins the electoral college, it's hard to see how he actually wins the popular vote, Tom.

MR. BROKAW:  All right, thanks very much.  Chuck Todd.

We're joined now by David Brooks, Jon Meacham, Andrea Mitchell and Joe Scarborough.

Joe, let's begin with you.  The news of the morning that would create quite a buzz, my guess is today, is that Colin Powell, who's always been a Republican came out for Barack Obama.  Long term, make much of a difference?

MR. JOE SCARBOROUGH:  Maybe not long-term, but this is a week that you've got two and a half--this is a campaign where you have two and a half weeks left. And so if a Powell endorsement occupies the, the media for two--three days, that's critically important to John McCain.  He's got to turn the attention back to his campaign, to his issues.  This is a bad distraction for him at a very bad time.

MR. BROKAW:  You're very familiar with Florida.  Will Colin Powell have much of an impact on that state, which is much more in play now?

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  Well, sure, sure it will.  I mean, one of the reasons why John McCain shocked Mitt Romney--remember the last two or three days most people thought Mitt Romney was going to win Florida.  There is a huge military population in Florida and a very large retired military population in Florida. Colin Powell's endorsement helps him probably more in Florida than any other state.

MR. BROKAW:  David Brooks, what's your take on the Colin Powell endorsement?

MR. DAVID BROOKS:  Well, Republicans can either attack Colin Powell or they can regard him as a symptom of what's wrong with the party.  And Powell was not attacking John McCain; he had a lot of nice things to say about John McCain.  He was attacking the Republican Party.  And the key word there was "narrowing." The party is narrowing and leaving a lot of people out, people like Colin Powell, who served in the Bush administration, who spoke at the Republican convention.  And they have to ask themselves, "Why are we narrowing?" And that seems, to me, the, the implication of all of this, and that's the symptom of this whole election.  A lot of people who were Republicans feel they've been left out not by McCain, but by the party.  And if McCain has any blame, it's in the beginning of this campaign, he didn't say, "I'm different," he didn't break with the party, he didn't reform the party.  He got sucked up--sucked in, at least halfway, into the orthodoxy of the party that is narrowing.

MR. BROKAW:  Andrea Mitchell, is it enough for the Obama campaign just to get this endorsement this morning, or will they try to use him in ads and try to pull him out on the trail as well?

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL:  Well, they're not going to be able to pull him out on the trail.  He made that very clear to you, Tom.  But it makes a difference--to expand on what Joe said--it makes a difference with the military in North Carolina and Virginia, two other states that have really big military populations; conceivably, also, in South Carolina as well.

In talking about the narrowing of the party, he's talking, as he told you, about William Ayers, about the robocalls, about the accusations of socialism, about, let's face it, "Joe the Plumber." A lot of the seemingly marginal issues that the McCain campaign has fixed on in these closing weeks are now undercut by the Colin Powell endorsement.  This is a big deal with centrist Republicans, with Republican women in the suburbs.  He's appealing--by mentioning the Supreme Court, he's appealing to a lot of those women who may not agree with Barack Obama on a lot of social questions, but feel the tug on Roe v.  Wade and also would be influenced by Colin Powell and by a centrist Republican saying that this party is different.  I think this is a very powerful political statement.

MR. BROKAW:  Jon Meacham, before this endorsement by Colin Powell today, John McCain has been on the defensive.  He, in fact, at one point cited all the things that were working against him, said, "I've got them right where I want them." This is going to put him more on the defensive, isn't it?

MR. JON MEACHAM:  It is.  And despite all the statements of respect and affection and regard, which are clearly heartfelt, having Colin Powell endorse the Democratic nominee for president is like having the seal of approval from the most important military figure of the age.  Think--when you think about it, he gave his name--General Powell gave his name to the doctrine that we now can see, from our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, is in fact the prevailing wisdom; the, the right thing to do is you exhaust all options, but when you go to, when you go into action you do so with a clear exit strategy and with overwhelming force.  He's--Colin Powell, to use a business term, is a stand-alone brand who's, I think, seal of approval will be hugely important to the--for a big center right part of the country.  This is not a liberal endorsement.  This is from a man--this is from a general who served both Bushes, and I think the first President Bush more happily.  And I think right now the country is more with the first President Bush on questions of power and the role of America in the world than it is with the second.

MR. BROKAW:  Andrea.

MS. MITCHELL:  I--also, I should have said that Sarah Palin is a major factor, clearly, in Colin Powell's decision.  And that is increasingly with the conservative commentators, with Peggy Noonan and others who have written out, Chris Buckley, are really concerned with the choice of Sarah Palin, what it says about John McCain's judgment and what it says about her being, you know, able to step into the presidency on foreign policy, on national security and commander in chief issues.

MR. BROKAW:  All right, let's, let's talk, if we can, about the map that we just saw from Chuck Todd, summarized by The New York Times just this morning, "There was a feel of a political world turned upside down on Saturday as Senator John McCain found himself defending North Carolina and Virginia, while Senator Barack Obama was greeted by huge crowds in Missouri, which Republicans had also considered safe just months ago." That's Michael Powell and Michael Cooper writing today in the, in The New York Times.

You, you've been through campaigns before, Joe Scarborough, you're a keen student of what's going on.  McCain is beginning to run out of some options, but we've been there before with him.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  We have been there before with him.  A year ago John McCain's political career was pronounced dead on arrival.  Remember, he had that bloated campaign staff in the summer of '07, and then of course as we got closer to, to the executioner walking out on stage and finishing it, John McCain came back.  And McCain always closes strongly.  I, I just--I, I want to offer a warning to the Barack Obama campaign, which I'm sure they won't listen to, but I would say go to Florida, go to Ohio, get out of North Carolina.  You don't have to win 350 electoral votes.  These campaigns always tighten up.  We are not a 60-40 country, we are a 51-49 country.  And maybe this year it's 51 Democratic, 49 Republican.  But it's going to be close in the end, and he may regret spending time in North Carolina.  It--maybe it looks like he's going to win now, but I'm telling you, as we've seen, these national polls, when they tighten, all these state races close.  I would just be concerned about getting too clever by half.

MR. BROKAW:  And, David Brooks, I want to read something that you had to say about John McCain recently in your column on September 26th.  "What disappoints me about the McCain campaign is that it has no central argument. I had hoped that he would create a grand narrative explaining how the United States is fundamentally unprepared for the 21st century and how McCain's worldview is different.  McCain has not made that sort of all-encompassing argument, so his proposals don't add up to more than the sum of their parts."

We do know that Barack Obama, with all the money that he has, is going to go on national television for a half an hour, and I suppose it's going to be his...(unintelligible)...for why he ought to be elected president of the United States, try to close the deal.  Does Senator McCain need to do a half-hour speech to the country and be different Senator McCain...

MR. BROOKS:  Well...

MR. BROKAW:  ...than he has been?

MR. BROOKS:  Well, he could show the Al Smith dinner, which was a big New York dinner than happened this week where McCain was himself.

MR. BROKAW:  Right.

MR. BROOKS:  He was enjoying himself, he was hilariously funny, he was graceful.  That's the McCain a lot of us all know and, and see.  What happened to the McCain campaign very early on, they made a decision.  There were a couple advisors, including a frequent guest on this program, Mike Murphy and John Weaver, who wanted a different McCain or a different Republican Party. The maverick, the uniter, post-Republican, really a fusion candidate. Somebody who would have directed right at Colin Powell.  The campaign really got rid of those two guys and went in a different direction surrounded by much more orthodox Republican consultants and ran a very conventional campaign and essentially tied themselves to the deck of the Titanic, a party that was going down.

I'd love to see him give that speech, but they should have given it a year ago.  They--he--and the reason why he behaved the way he did during the financial crisis is he didn't move on from the Republican Party where they are right now.  And that was something that he could have done a year ago.  The books were out there, the ideas were out there.  He didn't take advantage. I'd love to see him, but it may be a little late.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  But we do have to say this though, David, Steve Schmidt's program was working.  I mean, let us remember, Sarah Palin, we can all laugh at her now, but Sarah Palin, those attack ads, a conservative orthodox approach took him from 10 points behind to two, three, four points ahead.  It wasn't until this economic crisis came, and McCain said the fundamentals of the economy are strong, that everything switched, turned on a dime.  I understand what you're saying, and a lot of Republicans agree with you, but that approach was working until Wall Street melted down.

MR. BROOKS:  Well...

MR. BROKAW:  Andrea, I want to share with our viewers a piece of tape, and I think we have it ready.  And, obviously, the Obama campaign has been trying to tag John McCain as a third term of George Bush.  And he really didn't begin to respond until the debate, then he talked about it again over the weekend.  Can we take a look a that?


SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ):  I said it at the last debate.  I'm not George Bush. It's--if, if Senator Obama wants to run against George Bush, he should have run for president four years ago.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  And here's how Barack Obama responded to that, with faint praise, I think it's fair to say.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL):  In the debate this week, McCain felt the need to inform me that he's not President Bush.  Now, I knew that.  In fairness, I don't blame Senator McCain for all of President Bush's mistakes.  After all, he only voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time.  So there's 10 percent of the screw-ups that Bush did on his own.  But that other 90 percent, McCain was right there with him.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  Can they continue to tag John McCain with George Bush?

MS. MITCHELL:  They can, and, in fact, they're doing it with a remarkably negative ad.  I mean, we talk a lot about the negativity on the Republican side.  But the fact is that Barack Obama has so much more money, and some of these targeted ads, one that they unveiled on Thursday and Friday of this week and it's on national television, has John McCain in his own words saying, in another interview, in another context, "I voted, I supported George Bush 90 percent of the time." So they've got him on videotape.  And the fact is, that this ad is running and running and running.  This money advantage, the fact that they've announced $150 million in a month, it is extraordinary, three times what some had predicted they'd be able to do in closing months.  And new contributors.  They have now bought up all the remaining time that is available.  So you talk about a half-hour speech.  Right now, John McCain would be hard-pressed to find the time.  The networks would have to make some kinds of, you know, equal time decisions to get him on because all the time has been bought up.  And they're running these ads over and over again.  Yes, the robocalls are reaching hundreds of thousands of people, the negative robotic calls from the Republican side.  But these ads are reaching millions and millions of people.  Another thing, West Virginia.  We talk about some of these states where you're trying to catch up.  I was told that they're going to spend--Barack Obama's going to spend $5 million on the ground in the closing days in West Virginia, knowing the size of that state and how much that money can affect the turnout in the race.  We are seeing an extraordinary amount of money in this race, and that's a question that has not really been addressed in terms of the imbalance.

MR. BROKAW:  Jon Meacham, we have not talked yet about John Lewis, who compared John McCain to George Wallace and the division and the hate, as he described it.  He then backed off, in a manner of speaking, from some of that. But do you think that that might have driven some people who were kind of on the margins to think more about race and think about it in a negative way as they go into the voting booth?  They say, "If he's going to invoke that, I'm not sure I can vote for a black man."

MR. MEACHAM:  I, I don't.  I think Congressman Lewis is an American saint. He's a martyr in the tradition, literally, of St. Stephen, bleeding for, for the cause of justice.  I think that the remarks at the Republican rallies, the feel of the campaign, as General Powell told you, feeling that it was "narrow," I think in the past seven, 10 days, at least before Thursday, was beginning to turn the campaign into something that we all feared would happen, that race was becoming, as you suggest, more of a factor.  What was interesting to me this week is about five minutes after the debate, the old John McCain seemed back--on David Letterman, at the Al Smith dinner.  And I think a very interesting question for the next 16 days is going to be which John McCain finishes this race?  Will it be the John McCain who wants to--who has long fought for causes larger than himself, as he puts it?  I was talking to our friend historian Michael Beschloss, who pointed out that at the point Vice President Mondale realized there was absolutely no way of winning in 1984, he was advised campaign the last couple of weeks as you want your grandchildren to see you.  And I wonder whether that'll happen with Senator McCain.

MR. BROKAW:  All right.  We want to put up the cover of Newsweek for this week.  I know you'll be grateful to hear that.  "How a President Obama Might Govern a Center Right Nation."

We'll, there are your friends at Newsweek, they've already elected Senator Obama, Joe.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  They have.  And they've got it right.  It is a center right nation, which is fascinating.  You may have a Democratic Congress owning the House, having 60 in the Senate, which I really do believe could happen, and having a Democratic president.  This will be the first time, I guess, since 1938 that one party had such dominance.  But it is a conservative country. Not the type of conservative country that the Republicans have been talking about in the past several weeks, but on economics in particular.  That's why you're talking about how McCain will campaign in the end?  I think we're starting to see the shift.  William Ayers goes to the side, but they start talking about economics, income redistribution, get--you know, taking from the most productive members of society and giving tax breaks to people who don't pay taxes.  This is what we're going to see.

MR. BROKAW:  David Brooks, how would you like...

MR. BROOKS:  They could nationalize the banks...

MR. BROKAW:  How would you like to be a Democratic president facing an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, most of whom are very liberal and have been waiting now to get their due piece, as they see it?

MR. BROOKS:  Well, it's misery, actually.  And I was thinking, they could nationalize the banks; but unfortunately, we already did that.  So...

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, yeah.  Yeah.

MR. BROOKS:  ...the socialism's already happened.

Obama's going to face a choice, and the Democrats are going to face a choice, if he wins.  We're going to have a deficit of $7 trillion--$750 trillion--billion.  Is he going to magnify that, or is he going to try to balance the budget?

MR. BROKAW:  All right, thanks very much David Brooks.  We have to leave it right there.  Thank you all.

And Jon Meacham, we're going to see you back here in three weeks.  You'll have the debut of your new book, "American Lion:  Andrew Jackson in the White House." I've had a preview of it, and it's sensational.  It's history come alive for all of us.

MR. MEACHAM:  Thanks.

MR. BROKAW:  Especially at this time.  We'll be right back.


MR. BROKAW:  That's all for today.  If you missed any of our interview with Colin Powell, you can watch a rebroadcast tonight on Joe Scarborough's channel, MSNBC, at 6 PM.  Or download our netcast this afternoon at

I'll be back next week because, if it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.