Guest: Ben Ginsberg, John Harwood, Eugene Robinson, Janet Napolitano
DAVID GREGORY, HOST: Tonight, fear factor. Senator Obama makes his final push to Election Day using Halloween to warn voters that Senator McCain is really President Bush in disguise.
Also, poll position. What can you believe in a year when turnout is supposed to be off the charts?
That and more as RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.
Just four days now to go in the race for the White House.
Welcome to the program. I‘m David Gregory.
My headline tonight, “Star Wars.”
Some of the biggest political stars have aligned today, showcasing their dueling support for the candidates as they tear through the final weekend of the race.
In support of Senator Obama, Al and Tipper Gore faced off old ghosts in south Florida at the first presidential campaign event they have attended in a state since 2000. Gore‘s “pain” message to voters, “Take it from me, every vote matters.” The Clinton cavalry promises to keep its guns blazing as both Senator Clinton and the former president pledge to separately divide and conquer the battlegrounds of Ohio, Florida, West Virginia, Virginia, New Jersey and New Hampshire in these remaining days.
And happening this hour, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger shares the spotlight with Senator McCain at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, nearly four years to the day that he stood in this very state beside a now very unpopular President Bush, a figure McCain keeps sidelined from the trail but whom Obama tries to keep front and center in voters‘ minds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I challenge you. You‘ve seen some of the ads. If anybody here can name a single thing that John McCain says that he would do differently from George Bush when it comes to the economy, I would be interested. He spends all his time talking about me in not very flattering terms.
Now, John McCain says we can‘t spend the next four years waiting for our luck to change, and he‘s right about that. But all of you understand that the biggest gamble we can take is embracing the same old Bush/McCain policies that have not worked and expect a different result. We have got to do something different.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Obama‘s campaign manager is sounding confident, but says he expects these last days to be “ferocious.” Senator McCain‘s campaign manager says they are poised for a comeback in the belief that the campaign has “shaken off” the negative effects that the financial collapse had in the polls.
While crisscrossing Ohio on day two of a Buckeye State bus tour, McCain stuck to his message of economic reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We just had a senior member of the United States Senate convicted. We have former members of coming residing in federal prison. I will clean up this mess and make you proud again of people who serve you in Washington.
I‘m not going to spend $750 billion of your money just bailing out the Wall Street bankers and brokers who got us into this mess. Senator Obama will. I‘m going to make sure we take care of the working people. We‘re devastated by the excesses and greed and corruption of Wall Street and Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: As we head into the final weekend of the race on this final day of October, a month in which neither of the candidates has been haunted with an October surprise—at least not yet—Senator Obama plans to hit the trail in Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, and Ohio. All of those, of course, offensive states. Those are red states.
How about McCain? Senator McCain is going to be in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Florida, going for the big prize of Pennsylvania in the final weekend.
Their appeal to the popular masses continues as well. Senator McCain will make a cameo on “Saturday Night Live,” and both candidates will be featured during halftime on “Monday Night Football. Going to be a good game between the Steelers and the Skins.
Joining me now, Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor of “The Washington Post,” and an MSNBC political analyst; Ben Ginsberg, Republican strategist and former Romney senior adviser and chief legal counsel; and John Harwood, CNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent and a political writer for “The New York Times.”
We‘re going to show you some pictures of a live event going on right now. That‘s Governor Schwarzenegger with Senator McCain there in Ohio at a big rally.
I can remember four years ago, Ben Ginsberg, when there was the very same rally, one of the best of the campaign for President Bush on a day when there was an October surprise, and that was a videotape from Osama bin Laden. Such a difference four years ago. Principally, the fact that on this weekend before the race, President Bush is nowhere to be found on the campaign trail.
He is at Camp David. He is really being kept away from this race.
BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Oh, well, it is absolutely true that President Bush is playing less of a role. It‘s true that this is all about John McCain‘s campaign. And John McCain is different from George Bush, and he wants to draw those differences.
GREGORY: All right, Ben. Sorry about the confusion there. We‘re going to take a minute of this and hear from Governor Schwarzenegger.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA: We‘re going to make him do some squats, and then they‘re going to go and give him some bicep curls to beef up those scrawny little arms. But if we only could do something about putting some meat on his ideas.
Now, Senator McCain, on the other hand, he is built like a rock. I mean, his character and his views are just as solid. So first let me talk to you a little about the experience of the candidates and then which candidate will make the right decisions for our economy.
John McCain‘s character, as you know, has been tested as no other presidential candidate in the history of this nation. He has spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war. He has been tested on the torture...
He has been tested on the torture, on the deprivation, on the temptation, and on the isolation. John has proven what kind of a man he is. We don‘t have to wonder if he is ready to lead. We don‘t have to wonder, is he ready to be president of the United States.
GREGORY: OK. Now we‘re out of listening to Governor Schwarzenegger.
Let‘s get to the panel now.
John Harwood, a big get-out-the-vote operation, bringing in some real muscle, literally and politically, with Governor Schwarzenegger. But again, we go back to the same point, that if it‘s left to Senator Obama, he wants to keep his focus on the guy we‘re not seeing down the stretch here, and that‘s President Bush.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, exactly so. And President Bush, in fact, is the person who has set the backdrop for this campaign. The financial crisis in September just added to Barack Obama‘s advantage. But he‘s the advantage all year long.
President Bush recently, as you know, David, recorded the highest level of public disapproval in the history of the Gallup Poll. That is a leading indicator when a party is trying to extend control of the White House for a third term, and it‘s put John McCain behind the eight ball from the beginning.
GREGORY: And Gene Robinson, this is the one issue—I mean, it‘s just so striking to me that it‘s not just Senator McCain who has had no public events with President Bush, but Republicans across the board have not wanted to be associated with him. He‘s done just this year some 46 events where he‘s raised money for the GOP, but all but four of those events were behind closed doors.
And as I say, even down the stretch here, he is not even involved in a get-out-the-vote operation or rally. It will be Mrs. Bush, Laura Bush, who will be doing that on Monday. It is truly striking.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. I mean, I think they‘re afraid, actually, that he would get out the vote, but get out the vote for the other guy. And when you talk about other Republican candidates, why would they bring George Bush out to the campaign trail given his unpopularity?
The wind is clearly blowing in the Democrats‘ direction this year. It is an awful wind for John McCain and Republican candidates like Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, who all of a sudden is in trouble. A terrible wind for them to have to fight against.
And it does not seem to me to be a wind that is letting up. I don‘t see the vaunted tightening of this race that some people do.
GREGORY: All right.
Ben Ginsberg, let‘s talk about where the race stands right now.
Again, if we look at Governor Schwarzenegger stumping for Senator McCain, this is in Ohio. This is a state that was all about the race in 2004, but it‘s a state that really Barack Obama doesn‘t even need this go-around in one of his many paths to 270.
Nevertheless, here‘s Senator McCain‘s campaign manager Rick Davis saying in a conference call today, “We‘ve established some momentum. We‘ve increased our gains in virtually every one of the battleground states through the course of the week. We‘ve had probably the best 10 days of polling since the convention.”
“We think we‘ve shaken off the effects of the financial collapse that suppressed our numbers prior to the last debate. And we believe we are on a run right now that from what we can tell will be unabated through the course of the election.”
OK. Assume all of that is true, Ben. Where does that course actually take you on the electoral map?
GINSBERG: Well, the course on the electoral map is exactly the map that won in 2000 and 2004. Do you keep the same states you managed to win?
Now, the buffer that they‘ve got, or trying to achieve, is Pennsylvania, which Rick Davis also said today was tightening. So what they‘re doing is going for what has become the traditional Republican red states.
GREGORY: Right. But the reality, Ben, is that you talk about a buffer in Pennsylvania, he hasn‘t got a hold of the Bush states from 2004 or anything like it. Even if he can hold on to the big ones, Florida and Ohio, you think about Virginia, Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado.
These are states that Senator Obama is handily ahead and where the McCain campaign has trimmed back some. So where are the paths? It seem so narrow.
GINSBERG: Well, the paths are narrow, but John McCain has always been the comeback kid and feels a lot confidence in that. And I think Rick expressed that on the conference call.
So if they don‘t win Pennsylvania, it‘s a matter of pulling back some of the states in which they‘re behind but which they see the polls tightening. New Mexico, New Hampshire, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, are all the ones they feel they have to win back while they hang on to Ohio and Florida. And hopefully win Pennsylvania.
GREGORY: All right.
Gene Robinson, there is also the issue of distraction for the McCain campaign. If it‘s not the financial crisis, it‘s this tension that‘s focused on Sarah Palin.
Former Secretary of State, an important figure in the Republican Party, Larry Eagleburger, worked, of course, for the first President Bush, spoke on NPR this morning about Governor Palin and her prospects of being vice presidentnt. Let‘s listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you entirely comfortable with Sarah Palin as the vice president of the United States, that she would be ready to take over in a crisis if she should terribly be called upon to do so?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: That‘s a very good question. I‘m being facetious here.
Look, of course not. I don‘t think at the moment she is prepared to take over the reins of the presidency.
I can name for you any other number of vice presidents who were not particularly up to it either. I can‘t say that she would be a genius in the job, but I think she would be enough to get us through a four-year—well, I hope not—get us through whatever period of time was necessary.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
GREGORY: Gene, the difficulty here is that this is at a time when the McCain/Palin ticket is trying to make the experience argument in the final days against Barack Obama.
ROBINSON: Right. That was a difficult argument for them to make from the minute that John McCain selected Sarah Palin.
But look, she has been a double-edged sword for this campaign from the start. Clearly, according to every poll I‘ve seen, she is a drag on the ticket among Independents and Democrats who might otherwise be inclined to cross over who think she isn‘t ready for the job.
On the other hand, how has this campaign generated excitement? Who has generated excitement and enthusiasm for the McCain ticket? And I would argue that Sarah Palin has done more than her share on that score, certainly with the Republican base, but also people who are curious, who get caught up in the excitement.
So, you know—but right now, if you look at the polls, she is not helping in terms of making that experience argument. And it seems to be important to a lot of people.
GREGORY: All right. Got to take a break here.
Coming next, I‘m going one-on-one with Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. It was her TV debate with Governor Sarah Palin that reportedly made the McCain campaign take notice of its VP pick. What does she think about how Governor Palin has handled herself and how she has been treated during the campaign?
That and more and the late ads that the Obama campaign is putting out in Arizona, McCain‘s home state. We‘ll get to it when THE RACE returns after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: Something‘s happening in America, in small towns and big cities. People from every walk of life uniting in common purpose. Barack Obama, endorsed by Warren Buffett and Colin Powell, a leader who will bring us together.
OBAMA: We can choose hope over fear and unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo. That‘s how we‘ll emerge from this crisis, stronger and more prosperous as one nation and as one people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: That is a new ad from Senator Obama. It‘s running in Arizona, John McCain‘s home state.
We‘re going to talk to Governor Janet Napolitano in just a moment. I think she‘s with us, actually, right now.
Governor, are you there?
GOV. JANET NAPOLITANO (D), ARIZONA: I‘m here.
GREGORY: All right. Thanks for being here.
Well, we just played this ad that Senator Obama is actually playing in Arizona. What a sign of confidence at this stage that he wants to actually take the fight into Senator McCain‘s home state.
NAPOLITANO: Well, I‘m glad he‘s doing that. The polls here have been tightening all summer even though neither Senator Obama nor Senator McCain have treated Arizona as a battleground state. But by registration of voter performance over the last six, eight years, Arizona has changed very rapidly. So it makes sense these last few days to go ahead and take it to the voters.
GREGORY: Let‘s look at the numbers. The latest Mason-Dixon poll out of Arizona, it has McCain at 48 percent, Obama at 44 percent, just a four-point spread.
Would you like the see Senator Obama actually come to the state in the last few days?
NAPOLITANO: That would be nice, but I think that he‘s got ad time going. And he has been here in the past. And we‘ve just got a tremendous get-out-the-vote effort going on. And the volunteers streaming into headquarters across the state of Arizona, it‘s something like I‘ve never seen before.
GREGORY: Let me ask you to assess the impact of Governor Palin, somebody you know from the ranks of governors, chief executives around the country, who you‘ve debated before. What impact has she had on this race?
NAPOLITANO: Well, it‘s been an interesting impact. I think she has shown that women can compete, as Hillary did, at the highest levels. And that is a good thing. On the other hand, I think perhaps being more up to speed on the issues that really would confront a vice president and demonstrating that she really would be prepared to take over the reins of the presidency would have stood her in good stead.
GREGORY: And you don‘t think she‘s prepared? You don‘t think she‘s qualified?
NAPOLITANO: I don‘t think she‘s shown that. You know, Governor Palin, she has been a governor for a little less than two years in Alaska. And that‘s fine.
The main reason I‘m not supporting her is because she‘s supporting John McCain. And I just think John McCain‘s ideas for the economy in particular are the wrong ideas for this day and time.
GREGORY: What has happened in your part of the country, in the Rocky Mountain West, the Southwest? This was always expected to be a battleground this election year after President Bush, in two successive elections, had a strong showing among Hispanics and Latino voters. And yet, here‘s Senator McCain, a son of the West, a son of the Southwest, who has not had any of the kind of success that President Bush had among Hispanics.
NAPOLITANO: Well, if I had to name one factor, it would be that the Republican Party let the immigration debate broaden from being about immigration to appearing to be anti-Hispanic. And that has put a sour taste in a lot of people‘s mouths throughout the West and the Southwest.
GREGORY: And is that—I mean, if there are positive gains here for the Democratic Party, for Senator Obama, do you think the party‘s positioned to make those permanent gains?
NAPOLITANO: Oh, I think so. You know, Hispanic voters, that is a very large continuum, a very diverse group.
But it‘s about family. It‘s about country. It‘s about honor. It‘s about really talking with them about education, jobs, their futures.
It‘s much more than about immigration. But again, the way the immigration debate was handled amongst the Republicans really made the Republican Party seem more anti-Hispanic than the Democratic, and that I think will have a long-term spillover effect.
GREGORY: As you look at the last few days here, and somebody who has known Senator Obama now in the course of this campaign, what do you worry about, if anything, over the last few days, when there is some evidence that McCain is making inroads among undecided voters in some of these key states?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I think the key thing to do is just to keep moving. This is a campaign that has been very disciplined, very focused, really having its eye on the Electoral College vote. And that has been the strategy throughout and it has paid off very well.
So, the key thing we need to do is just keep bringing out the vote, particularly in the battleground states, but all across the country, including Arizona.
GREGORY: All right. Governor Janet Napolitano from Arizona.
Governor, appreciate it very much.
NAPOLITANO: Thank you.
GREGORY: And coming next, what Al Gore told voters in Florida today about what might have been. It‘s on THE RACE‘s radar tonight. We‘ll show it to you right after this.
GREGORY: Back now with a look at what‘s on THE RACE‘s radar tonight.
Al Gore and wife Tipper made two stops for Obama in south Florida, urging voters to remember that their votes, especially, count.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Take it from me, elections matter. Every vote matters. And for those around the world who have been looking at what‘s happened over these last eight years, this is our chance, all of us, to say, don‘t ever count America out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Back with me, John Harwood.
John, I watched what has been happening the last few days in Florida, the star power that the Democratic Party has deployed to the state. And I come back to this same point—this is where Obama would really like to break the back of the McCain campaign, it seems.
HARWOOD: No question about it. The fact that you‘ve got back to back Bill Clinton and Al Gore, both very emotionally resonant in that state, is a reflection of the rising confidence that you hear within the Obama campaign about Florida, and also from Florida Democrats.
You know, at the beginning of this campaign, David, they thought that the presence of so many older voters in that state who are more inclined to be influenced by tradition and more inclined to look at Barack Obama and say, hey, I haven‘t voted for a guy like that before, maybe I‘m not ready for that, they think that the combination of the financial crisis and Obama‘s performance in the debates has allowed them to break through that. I now hear more optimism from within the Obama camp about Florida than I do about Ohio, which is significant.
GREGORY: And is that one of these states where they can really drive up voter turnout because of their ability to spend so much on paid TV advertising?
HARWOOD: Yes. You need tons of money to motivate people and get them out in Florida.
I was in Sarasota with Barack Obama on Thursday. He filled a baseball stadium at 11:20 in the morning, well over the 10,000 capacity of that stadium. A very impressive turnout and a reflection of the fact that Obama, even in that county, Sarasota County, which is a Republican-leaning county, he‘s got something going and he‘s trying to drive it.
All right. John, thanks very much.
Coming next, we‘re going to go inside the war room and look at why John McCain is going back 55 years in a new ad.
Plus, a look at one of the most controversial campaign ads of 2008 when we return.
Sunday is the day to turn back the clocks but the candidates were already looking back.
Today McCain released his closing ad highlighting his lifetime service to the country. While Obama, the state that launched his presidential chances, reminding voters about the last eight years and remembering the McCain of 2000. This half-hour, we‘re going to go in-depth at how a President McCain or Obama would lead. How they would react to crises, road blocks and dealing with a Democratic Congress that is likely to get even stronger this Tuesday.
And speaking of Tuesday, we‘ll talk to ace pollster Charlie Cook about what he expects to happen and why. He is watching for divine intervention. All that and more as THE RACE continues.
Back now for the back half on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I‘m David Gregory.
Glad to have you here.
Here‘s how the candidates are spending the final weekend of the campaign. McCain will be in Virginia and Florida. Two of Obama‘s top targets in this cycle, along with New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. And they‘ll be stopping by 30 Rock tomorrow night to be on “Saturday Night Live.”
Obama will stump in Nevada and Colorado, as well as Missouri and Ohio. Those are just two of six states NBC News believes are still too close to call. We‘re going to go inside the “War Room” with two campaign veterans. Democratic strategist Bob Shrum and Republican strategist and NBC News analyst Mike Murphy. OK, guys. Thanks very much. Mike I wanted to start with you and ask about early voting. We‘ve been seeing the pictures and we‘ve been talking so much about it. What impact will it have this year do you think?
MIKE MURPHY, NBC NEWS ANALYST: I think we‘ll have a big, big turnout this year like most presidential years. The Republican operatives I‘m hearing from are very happy at the amount of Republican votes that‘s being voted early. They feel good about it looking at historical targets.
But I also have to tell you, in a lot of swing states, they‘re very, very impressed with the amount of Democrat early voting, which is higher in most places than the historical averages. So it is showing that old unlimited Obama war chest is paying for a great turnout operation and it is definitely something that‘s helping the senator‘s campaign.
GREGORY: Bob, how do you see it?
BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I agree with Mike. I think it is partly the resources they have. They don‘t have to choose between media and get out the vote. Today McCain cut back his get out the vote operation to put more money into media. And partly, it is the appeal of Obama who has energized a whole new generation of young people. He has energized the African American community in a way we have never seen before. People are willing to stand in those lines for three and four hours.
GREGORY: Do we have a sense in this case, whether we can believe the polls because can we really believe the model. Might we have turnout that so far exceeds what we can contemplate? In 2004, it was that the Republicans who came up in Ohio with what was it, 60, 70,000 voters that nobody knew were there. In this case you can‘t really measure last voters and new voters and what that impact will be.
Bob, you first.
SHRUM: Well, some of the pollsters measuring the new voters and lapsed voters simply by letting people through screen if they say they are going to vote. I suspect is actually a more accurate indication of what is going to happen on Election Day than trying to go back and pretend that this is some form of the 2004 election or to tweak 2004 model, adjust it a little bit.
I mean, Gallup has the most interesting thing. They have what they call traditional. And then they have expanded. It means no matter what the outcome know if it is three points. They‘ll say we had it. If it is nine points, they‘ll say they had it. If it is in between, they will say they had it.
MURPHY: The old a astrologers‘ trick. They have to keep coming up with numbers, one of them will be right.
All of us do deal with polling professionally know generally the smart plan that works is to weight the polling data to historical norm. You ask a great question. Will this be an election where historical norms don‘t mean anything because Obama has pulled so many new young voters and African American voters into the election. The truth is we won‘t really know until Election Day. But I know a lot of smart organizational people in swing states that are telling me that early voting in African American areas is tremendously high. I got an e-mail about lines around the block and police directing traffic in Tallahassee, Florida.
That‘s not enough to swing the whole presidential race but could it make a difference in super tight Florida which could decide the election. My guess is it is going to be big but we won‘t know until we really count the votes.
GREGORY: You know, Mike, one of the thing the McCain campaign is talking about is some tightening in states that are primarily red states. I look today, trying to figure out what states Obama hadn‘t hit 50 percent in, where his lead was fewer than five points. In those states, obviously, McCain has got a better shot. There is the prospect that Obama has topped out and that 47, 48 percent and undecideds are not likely to break for him. But most of those states, Ohio, North Carolina to name just a couple, are states that McCain really has to have. And it is kind of gravy for Obama.
MURPHY: I‘m paid here at NBC to be an analyst and kind of call it straight as I see it. While I agree with what the McCain pollsters are saying about the undecided vote being likely to break in a greater proportion to McCain late, which will help McCain, I also have to say most of the polling spreads are pretty big. I‘d finally say that maybe the biggest factor in all this late polling coverage that we‘re talking about is the margin of error. People forget these polls have a three to four point margin of error in each number. So we are almost to the point where we all need to take a stiff drink and vote this thing and find out.
I think the theory of somewhat of a late break to is true. But whether he‘ll get enough, particularly lined up against the new voters in those swing states. Not impossible. I think McCain can win but I‘ve got to say the numbers right now do look pretty good for Obama. That‘s the reality.
GREGORY: Bob, let‘s just show one of McCain‘s closing ads here, it‘s called “Freedom.” Again, this is something we‘ll be seeing in ads playing in swing states across the country. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I‘ve served my country since I was 17 years old and spent five years longing for her shores. I came home dedicated to a cause greater than my own. We can grow our economy. We will cut government waste. Don‘t hope for a stronger America. Vote for one. Join me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Bob, a strong ad. Again, the idea is if there is any risk in a voter‘s mind, McCain is saying, go with what you know here. Go with the biography that you can trust.
SHRUM: And I don‘t know what Mike thinks about this. I don‘t know what that line where they‘re running against hope, I don‘t know what that is doing in the middle of the ad. Hope usually wins in these presidential campaigns. The other thing is I think that‘s a pre-debate ad. Almost a reprise of his convention speech. In the first debate, in the second debate, I believe Obama passed the threshold. People said he can do the job. He has enough experience. He can be commander-in-chief. And it is very odd for McCain for McCain, he is sort of jumping back to the issue before he picked Palin and that Hillary Clinton ran on and that frankly, it didn‘t work out for her very well.
MURPHY: I think John McCain, that ad cause the good job of telling exactly who he is. Which is a patriot who puts the country first. Who served it his entire life. That‘s an argument the campaign has made with mixed success on and off throughout the campaign. I think it is appropriate to close with it but I think we‘re at the point where any one ad won‘t be the key to it. To the extent it reminds people of the real pragmatic bipartisan McCain, I think it will help.
GREGORY: All right. We keep watching day by day. I‘m glad to have you guys with me. Bob Shrum, Mike Murphy. Thanks to you both.
GREGORY: When we come back, one of the big questions for either man, how will they lead in this political climate, this economic climate? We‘ve got two very smart journalists to take a look at that question when we return right after this.
GREGORY: Welcome back. It has been a long road for Barack Obama and John McCain on their journey to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but the path ahead for our 44th president will likely be even harder. To navigate is one of our next guests, “Time Magazine‘s” David Von Drehle writes, “The men who would be president have been running for months in a parallel universe. A place where a chief executive changes laws by waving a hand and reorders society at the stroke of a pen. Then one of them wins the election. In an instant the winner is sucked through a wormhole back into the real world. Even the strongest, wiliest, most effective presidents much change shape and shift direction to accommodate these and other forces.”
David joins us tonight from Kansas City, Missouri. We‘re also joined by “Time Magazine‘s” assistant managing editor Michael Douglas. Welcome both.
David, let me start with you. I thought this was such an interesting piece because it‘s such an interesting question and we‘ll start with Senator Obama. If he becomes President Obama, he comes into a very, very difficult political and economic environment as you wrote. Very little promise of peace or prosperity.
DAVID VON DREHLE, “TIME”: Yeah. Either one of them will have a tough road, David. But Barack Obama, who has been talking on the campaign trail about a very expansive agenda is going to have a pile of stuff on his desk that he inherits. The economy which is very constraining, obviously. And no one can say exactly where it is going to go. And then overseas, a very full plate. Iraq looks like it has gotten better but at the same time, Afghanistan is getting worse. Who knows what is going to happen with Iran? Who knows what will happen with Russia in these new economic times?
So how he is going to manage to exercise any control over that agenda, to do some of the things he wants to do, will be a big question.
GREGORY: But at the same time, Michael, he presumably, if he wins, if he wins convincingly, if he has got an even bigger majority in Congress, comes in with the kind of mandate that a lot of people felt George Bush didn‘t have in 2000 at the start of a new presidency.
MICHAEL DUFFY, “TIME”: I think, David, depending on what the turnout and the outcome of the election is, Senator Obama might have a mandate even greater than the one he asked for. Greater than the one he campaigned for.
One he ever envisioned. It is part of the alternative reality that sort of
you can turn that inside out. It may be that the next president arrives in office with more wind at his back than he actually expected and has to deal with expectations that are quite tricky to manage. That‘s against alternative reality that David wrote about where he notes that candidates of both parties say things on the campaign trail like we can balance the budget in four years or we can get rid of energy independence in three. It just doesn‘t happen in anything like those timetables. So people get, I guess disappointed.
GREGORY: And we know, David, the top priority is going to be the economy. A President Obama would inherit so much - infrastructure is the wrong word but he is going to inherit process, a financial process to bail out the financial system that is already in place but has to be executed while at the same time trying to change tax policy or make investment in a country to get economy going again when the recession may be at a different, a lower depth than we‘re even seeing it now.
VON DREHLE: Well, you‘re making it sound kind of gloomy there. But I think that‘s exactly right. He sketched out an agenda if he is elected that was made for a different time. It was made for 2007. That‘s when he put that together. And he is going to take office in 2009 in a whole different time. He is going to have, it looks like, a lot of friends, fellow Democrats, running the Congress. But you have to be careful, as you know, in Washington, not just about your enemies but about your friends, too. He has to figure out how to balance what the congressional Democrats want with what he wants, with what the public is willing to swallow. And it will be a challenge. I think Americans are voting right now with their fingers crossed.
GREGORY: Let‘s turn into the potential Michael, for a president McCain. Just talk politically. If there were to be some sort of McCain miracle as the article describes it, the political climate would not be one where he is immediately going to reach across the aisle. There will be a lot of Democrats who are not very happy.
DUFFY: There will be an ungovernable period before actually either side settles down to do anything. President McCain would have to figure out just where he wants to do business with the Democrats and where his own party and Republicans won‘t permit him to do so. A good example, he has been campaigning for the last six or eight weeks since that first debate on the idea of an across the board freeze. Of all federal spending, with a few exceptions. Imagine how that would fly in a Democratic Congress which has greater, a greater number who are Democrats in the House and Senate. Not very well.
Don‘t forget. It is Congress who writes these laws and passes these budgets. Not the president, despite what they say on the campaign trail.
GREGORY: And David, it is also a style that would be put to the test. A presidential style, that of a legislator that we‘ve seen from John McCain who would be president and in a much different position.
VON DREHLE: Yeah. He has been very effective, as you know, in building center coalitions around his favorite issues. Campaign finance, judicial nominations and others. But those are cases where he gets to pick his shots. The president doesn‘t get to pick the stuff that comes across his desk. He has to deal with them all.
And President McCain would have a hard time, I think, figuring out who he would make his home with, whether he will be trying to survive by reaching out to Democrats or whether he would be trying to hold together the Republican base. And remember, from day one he is going to have more conservative Republican who‘s want to replace him on the right and plenty of Democrats who want to replace him from the left. He would be in a tough spot.
GREGORY: All right. This is a great edition of “Time” magazine. It is called the choice. And this piece on how they would lead. Also very interesting. David Von Drehle and Michael Duffy, thanks to you both.
VON DREHLE: Thank you.
DUFFY: And you.
GREGORY: And coming next, the state of the race and what the experts are expecting on Tuesday. I‘m going to talk to Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report. One of the best in the business. He‘ll be here. We‘ll go through the map when THE RACE returns after this.
GREGORY: Back now on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Barack Obama has his eyes on expanding the electoral map on Tuesday, hoping to turn historically red states blue. In the latest Allstate/”National Journal” poll of battleground states, Obama leads John McCain in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
Joining me now, is Charlie Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report and an NBC News political analyst. Charlie, welcome.
CHARLIE COOK, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: How are you doing, David?
GREGORY: Let‘s get right to it. Let‘s look at the map. The NBC News electoral map. Tell never me how you see it just a few days out.
COOK: You know, it is fascinating, the architecture of how Barack Obama has put this together. You basically, he has taken the 21 states, plus the District of Columbia that went for either Al Gore or John Kerry. And he has all of those comfortably ahead. That‘s close but no cigar. Then he is ahead in Colorado and Virginia by good margins. That‘s enough to put him over the top. And then on top of that, you‘ve got a whole slew of states that George Bush carried twice. You‘ve got 10, 11 states sitting there, that are functionally even. And so, you know, three week ago, we would have said, John McCain would have to run the table to win this election. Now, will he can run the table and still come up short. He has to go find something on other tables.
GREGORY: You think at this point, you wrote it would take divine intervention for him to pull this off.
COOK: If we were talking two week ago, I would have said, well, I think Obama is going to win unless there is some huge international event or something. We‘re kind of past that point now. If McCain wins, and Senator McCain is a terrific man and served our country well. But if he wins, I‘m going to be asking paper or plastic or do you want fries with that?
GREGORY: If you‘re looking at Virginia with 13 electoral votes, if Obama can win Virginia where he is soundly ahead, McCain has to be able to answer for that. Right? He has to answer for the loss. And his only real big pick-up there potentially is Pennsylvania where he is also quite far behind.
COOK: That‘s exactly right. He has to go reach over and pull something back from Barack Obama that looks kind of out of reach at this point. You‘re exactly right.
GREGORY: And even New Hampshire where he is going to go back on Monday.
We‘re talking about four electoral votes. Not quite enough.
COOK: Absolutely. This was a fair fight until mid September. Then when the political fight got so toxic. You can‘t blame the McCain people here. They could have done everything differently, they could have a different running mate. And once mid September happened, I think this thing was kind of gone.
GREGORY: You know, Charlie, one of the thing I was doing last night looking through my briefing book, looking at some of the maps going back to 1980.
I want to do this because we talk about red and blue and I just think it is just an interesting visual to go through some maps and comment about the kind of political alignment we‘ve seen since the three eras, the Reagan/Bush era, the Clinton era and then the George W. Bush era. We put up 1980. The map from 1980. Red, Republican, blue, Democrat. Reagan wins handily in 1980 over carter. Runs the table there. 1984, of course, against Mondale. Even more handily. That‘s 1984.
And then what is still the Reagan era is 1988. And we see against, Mike Dukakis, the first President Bush still wins handily where you see the coastal states and the upper Midwest going for Dukakis. This was Republican dominance in that era.
COOK: That‘s right. The key thing was after Jimmy Carter‘s ‘76 victory, the South just wholesale went republican. And what has happened in this race, certainly with Virginia, possibly North Carolina, Georgia, maybe suddenly—maybe suddenly he‘s poaching there. And then he is reaching out into the mountains—in Virginia. And reaching out into the Mountain States and pulling some over there. So this is a totally different map than we‘ve seen. Than we‘ve ever seen.
GREGORY: And then you look at 1992 and 1996. In 1992, you had the Perot e ffect in some of these states. But look at that red and blue, a lot more blue, that straight line from north to south for Bill Clinton. His ability to win in the South. To win in Georgia in 1992. And to Kerry as did he Colorado and New Mexico. And then you look at 1996. More of the same. You get 379 electoral votes. Picks up Florida as well. And then we‘ll just jump ahead. You look again. Red and blue. 2000, 2004. This is where we really get into the sense of a divided country. So much of the country is red and only on the coast, in the Upper Midwest in 2000, you had New Mexico. Even that changes in 2004.
This is the reality we‘ve been living with, Charlie, and we have the potential, if you look at the 2004 map, the potential for this race, this year, to really mix up and muddy up what we think of as red and blue.
COOK: That‘s absolutely right, David. The ‘92, ‘96, were kind of aberrations. Because you had the southerner at the top of the ticket. The other interesting thing, you go back and look through time. 1960 John Kennedy had Lyndon Johnson on the ticket. You look at 1976, Jimmy Carter, 1992, 1996, you had an Arkansan, another southerner.
The thing is we‘re looking at Democrats picking up southern states with no southerner on the ticket. We haven‘t seen that since Moby Dick was a guppy.
GREGORY: All right. Charlie Cook, we‘ll leave it there with the Cook political report. I really appreciate you coming on. Happy Halloween.
COOK: Thank you. You, too.
GREGORY: OK. That is RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE for this Friday. I‘m David Gregory. Thank you for being here. Stay tuned for MSNBC all weekend long, we have extensive coverage of the final stretch for this race. It is exciting. We‘re going to be bringing you a special edition of RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, Sunday night, 10:00 Eastern Time, 7:00 Pacific. Stay right here. HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS is coming up right now. Have a peaceful Friday night. We‘ll see you here on Sunday.
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