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PoliticsNation, Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

October 3, 2012

Guests: Erin McPike; Cynthia Tucker; Rich Stengel, James Peterson, Ana Marie Cox, Abby Huntsman, Neera Tanden

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

Tonight`s lead, fight night in Denver. In just under three hours,
President Obama and governor Romney will meet on the stage at the
University of Colorado in their first debate with tens and millions of
Americans watching at home.

The debate will showcase two competing visions for America, two
conflicting views of government, a clash of ideas about the kind of
democracy we want. It could hardly be a more stark choice for the country.
But this is also personal it`s about two men and who are and how they will
connect with the American people. No doubt about it, this is a big night.

Join me now is Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Cynthia Tucker and
Erin McPike who covers the campaign for "Real Clear Politics." Thank you
both for coming on the show tonight.



SHARPTON: Now Erin, let me go to you first. Mitt Romney is behind.
What does he need to do to catch up? You have covered him for large part
of the year. What does he need to do tonight?

MCPIKE: He needs to show, especially middle class voters, that he has
a plan. We`ve already heard from the Obama campaign that the president is
likely to push Mitt Romney on specifics and in the past couple of days Mitt
Romney has telegraphed that we might see more specifics like immigration,
especially tax policy. That`s what we`re going to be hearing more from him
tonight, some specifics so that when a president pushes him, he`s ready.

SHARPTON: Now, one of the big gaffes or big mistakes, Cynthia, that
we`ve seen from Romney is this tape, the video that came about the 47
percent and that`s bound to come up many say tonight, either from the
president or from the moderator.

Bill Clinton today went after Mitt Romney`s 47 percent comments. Take
a listen.


believe the other day when the president`s opponent said 47 percent of
American people who don`t pay income tax, just want to hang and be
dependent on the government. You know, we just have to wean them off
because they don`t want to pay income tax.

Now, a guy with a tax account in the Cayman Islands is attacking other
people? When you really bust someone for what you did, it really takes a
lot of goal, you know.


SHARPTON: Now, that`s former president Clinton, Cynthia. Will the
president go after Mitt Romney tonight? Do you think?

TUCKER: Well, it`s hard to imagine that somebody, either Jim Lehrer
or the president himself, won`t bring up the 47 percent video because it
has been devastating to Romney. Obama has used it in ads and it plays into
the perception of Romney as a very rich guy who is completely out of touch
with ordinary voters.

However, I can`t imagine that Romney hasn`t are practiced responses to
that. He`s already had an ad where he sits down, he faces the camera, he
tries to assure voters that he wants to help 100 percent of Americans,

But the danger for Romney is seeming fake or false when he tries to
connect. He has, no doubt, practiced a lot, rehearsed a lot. He has a lot
of answers already planned but can he seem genuine when he`s given that
answer -- those answers as something to watch out for?

SHARPTON: Now, Erin, the 47 percent, according to all polling, has
really crushed Romney. The latest NBC poll shows 45 percent of Americans
said it gave them a more negative view of Romney. Now the polls show 55
percent had a negative reaction. So he has to deal with it if it comes up
and it`s likely to come up. You heard Cynthia say that he`s had to have
some kind of answer and he`s had to have an answer.

What could he say tonight? What could he do tonight to answer such a
devastating problem once campaign?

MCPIKE: His campaign had said earlier that, yes, they absolutely do
expect to have things come up and yes, they will be ready. One of the
things that we have been hearing him say on the campaign trail is that he
cares about 100 percent of Americans. But the real way we expect him to
diffuse is by saying that he and President Obama both care about all
Americans to say that they are on the same pain. That`s the way that he
will likely deal with it, just that they both care about everyone.

SHARPTON: Now, let me go back to you, Cynthia.

Cynthia, let me give you a lot of people that are conservative that
are giving advice to Mr. Romney.

Peggy Noonan says, tell Romney to treat the president with respect but
not different.

Newt Gingrich says be on offense without being offensive.

Karl Rove says, dash of humor is worth its weight in gold.

Charles Krauthammer said, Mitt has to go large.

Bill Kristol says, Romney has got to explain his tax plan, and on and
on and on.

So, what`s he going to do? I mean, what should he do tonight? What
advice should he take?

TUCKER: Well, you know, Mitt Romney is suffering from a surfeit of
advice. Conservatives are clearly very worried about the poll numbers
which have shown him behind. The race may be tightening a bit but he is
still running behind in key swing state.

What advice can he take? Good question. I will be looking to see
which advice he decides to follow. But, I think the average voter want
some specifics from Mitt Romney. Partisans, conservatives who have already
made up their minds may want him to attack the president. You know, go
after him, be aggressive.

But I think undecided voters out there who are giving Romney a second
look want specifics about how he is going to improve the economy to them,
for them, and about taxes. Give us a plan for balancing the budget that
makes sense.

You know, Romney plans to cut taxes for the rich, enlarge the
military, no military cuts, basically, and he says balance the budget.
Well, most economists have said the math just doesn`t add up. I think
average voters are looking for Mitt Romney to explain that. Give us some
straightforward answers that add up and make sense.

SHARPTON: Now, Erin, it is Romney that`s going to have to convince
the American people because the president is the incumbent. So you assume
Romney`s got to bring the fight to him. When you deal with the big picture
economic issues and the economic issues that we`re looking at today, how`s
he going to deal with it?

Let me give you an example. He was on "meet the press" and David
Gregory tried to press him on specifics. Let me show you what happened.


DAVID GREGORY, HOST, MEET THE PRESS: Give me an example of a loophole
that you will close.

people at the high end, high income taxpayers are going to have fewer

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: The devil`s in the details though. What
are we talking about? The mortgage deductions? The charitable deduction?

ROMNEY: The devils and the details. The angel is in the policy.


SHARPTON: Can you go into a debate, Erin, with just kind of talking
around it, the devil`s in the details, loopholes without specifying which
loophole deductions without saying which ones? Doesn`t he have to be more
specific tonight and really show that he has a detailed plan that is
superior or at least equal to what the president has been saying?

MCPIKE: He does, and in the past couple of days he has done some of
that. He floated the idea of capping deductions at $17,000 a year. So we
will see some of that from him. It`s interesting to see what the president
might do to respond to that $17,000 cap that Mitt Romney floated. I am
sure that the Obama campaign has been busy thinking up an answer that the
president can offer on that.

Now, I`ve also heard from the Obama campaign that the president is
likely to get more specific on his own tax plan for a second term tonight
as well. So, we should see some more from him tonight on that, too.

SHARPTON: All right Cynthia, let me run down -- the debate is going
to be 90 minutes long. Six 15-minutes segments in all. Three on the
economy, one on health care, one on the role of government, and one on
governing. Who does this format favor, in your opinion?

TUCKER: Well, I think that tomorrow we are going to be listening to
pundits say that Mitt Romney did what he needed to do. It favors the
challenger just by putting him on the same stage with the president.

However, Mitt Romney has several obstacles to overcome. Not only does
he have to give specifics as we`ve been talking about, he has to appear
warm. He has to seem empathetic. He has to connect with the voters he
hasn`t connected with before.

But it`s also true that pitfalls that face the president. Obama
clearly, genuinely does not like Mitt Romney. And while he can go after
him aggressively on policy, the president shouldn`t seem mean-spirited,
perpetual, or smug. So there are some pitfalls facing both candidates,
some mind fields out there.

SHARPTON: Well, Cynthia and Erin, thank you both for being here.

Cynthia, I disagree with you. If you stay on MSNBC tonight, the
pundits will be out tonight, not tomorrow morning, saying what should have

TUCKER: Tonight. Yes. Tonight.

SHARPTON: Stay right here.

Coming up, it`s rare for these two men to be in the same room and
tonight it is personal. We`ve seen reports of real dislike. "Time"
magazine`s Rick Stengel previews the big night. And the bombshell tape
from Matt Drudge and FOX News turns out to be five years old. Their race
obsessed playbook is tired, old, and wreaks of desperation. All of that.

Plus, the big question is, which Mitt Romney will show up tonight.

You`re watching a special edition of "Politics Nation" as we get ready
for the big debate, the big debate in Denver tonight.

Stay with us.


in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take
them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We
will kill bin Laden, we will crush al-Qaeda. That has to be our biggest
national security priority.



SHARPTON: Have you checked us out on facebook? The "Politics Nation"
conversation is going all day long. Today, everyone was making their
predictions for the big debate.

Rima thinks Obama will be brilliant, informed, and won`t depend on any

Debbie says, it will be refreshing if Romney tells us where he stands
on these issues.

Our facebook fans were also wishing President Obama and the first lady
a happy 20th wedding anniversary.

Anita says, happy anniversary to two great role models.

And Burt says, a debate victory would be an excellent anniversary

I`d like to give a big thank to all of you who came to my facebook
page today to wish me a happy birthday. We want you to join us too.

Head over to facebook and search for "Politics Nation" and "like" us
to join the conversation going long after the show ends.


SHARPTON: That`s a live picture of the stage where President Obama
and governor Romney will meet late they are evening. These two men have
different ideas on the economy, different ideas on social issues, different
ideas on health care. But they do agree on one thing, the other guy is a
great debater.

Mr. Romney`s senior adviser Beth Myers issued a memo calling President
Obama, saying that he`s a universally-acclaimed public speaker with natural
gifts. As for congressman Paul Ryan, he`s just gushing about the
president`s skills.


very -- he`s a very gifted speaker. The man`s been on the national stage
for many years, he`s an experienced debater. He`s done these kinds of
debates before. This is Mitt`s first time on this kind of a stage.


SHARPTON: Forget my running mate. The president`s the guy to watch
but not everyone agrees.


OBAMA: I know folks in the media are speculating already on who`s
going to have the best zingers. I don`t know about that. You know, who`s
going to put the most points on the board.


OBAMA: No, no, governor Romney, he`s a good debater. I`m just OK.


SHARPTON: So they are praising each other. But something tells me we
won`t see too many compliments on that stage tonight.

Joining me now is Rick Stengel, managing editor of "Time" magazine.
"Time`s" latest issue is called, who is telling the truth, the fact war.

Rick, thanks for coming on the show tonight. What does governor
Romney need to do tonight, in your opinion?

he needs to do is to seem presidential. One of the things that folks
haven`t been talking about is if you go back to Reagan/Carter in 1980, what
were people looking for? They were looking to see Ronald Reagan, can he
stand on the stage with president Carter? Will he seem presidential?

You know, we sometimes forget that President Obama is the president
and he will be standing on that stage next to his opponent and sharing that
space. And in many ways, that`s the biggest and first calculation that
people make. They are going to say, actually could he, governor Romney,
that is, have that role or not.

SHARPTON: And does he belong on that stage in the first place and
then does he look presidential? And you`re right, because Ronald Reagan
was an actor in many people`s minds, even though he was governor of
California. And then they were stunned when he walked on that stage and
seemed to. And you know, I disagree with most of Reagan`s policies but he
seemed presidential.

STENGEL: Right. And he didn`t stumble.


STENGEL: It was the first thing. And then, he actually - he was
calm. He felt -- he felt like he deserved to be there. I think one of the
things that governor Romney has to do is not only share that he deserves to
be there but that he has some substance, more than people realize.

SHARPTON: Substantial and national review reports that Romney`s team
thinks it`s critical that Romney endear himself to the American people in
this debate. They say, quote, "Romney`s advisers acknowledge that it will
be difficult for him to endear himself to the country, especially under the
hot studio lights but they consider it critical. This is really about
introducing him to the country. It`s the largest audience he has ever had.
Everybody`s watching.

STENGEL: It will be the most important hour of his political life.
But, one of the things I found when I interviewed Romney before the
Republican convention, we did it down in New Orleans is that, he hasn`t
done this yet. But he`s very at ease talking about finance, talking about

As a consultant, he was involved in many, many different industries.
He can talk about technology, he can talk about retail, he can talk about
cars. And I think people want to see, what`s your expertise? What is it
about your background and knowledge base that would make you a better
leader of the free world in terms of free jobs? He hasn`t really ever
explained that very well.

SHARPTON: Your interview in the September 3rd issue of "Time ", you
pressed him on tax loopholes, which ones he would close. You kind of went
at him to really give specifics.


SHARPTON: And his response was, I know our Democrat friends would
love to have me specify one of or two so they could amass the special
interest to fight that effort. Can he get away with that tonight? I mean,
he hinted at details recently but will he be forced to be more specific?

STENGEL: I`m going to make a prediction here on your show.


STENGEL: Which is that actually tonight he will reveal something
about those deductions, which ones he would eliminate. I bet he will
mention, for example, the mortgage interest deduction, he will say, we will
do something about that or the deduction for local and state taxes. I bet
that he will come out and say something substantial along those lines that
he has not said before. In part, really, for people like us to go, well,
now he`s really coming forward with details.

SHARPTON: Now, it also without giving him an advance, the president
cannot be prep to respond to what he does and know he is going to be

STENGEL: Well, you know, I have been on the other side and done
debate prep before I do go, over so many different alternatives. I bet
each of these guys will have seen almost every possible thing that could
come out of the ether there, you know, things that you and I would not
necessarily have thought of. So they are probably -- at this point, they
are both over prepped.

SHARPTON: Let me raise another point to you. Even written by
Politico`s Glenn Thrush, shared some in light - insight into the president
and his feelings about Mitt Romney.

According to Thrush, President Obama began campaign preparations
feeling neutral about Romney. But like the former governor`s GOP opponents
in 2008 and 2012, he quickly developed a genuine disdain for the man, When
he talked about Romney, aides picked up a level of anger he never had for
Clinton or McCain, even after Sarah Palin was picked as his running mate.
If it gets personal tonight, how careful do both men have to be with their

STENGEL: Well, I actually think one of the great myths with
presidential politics is that at some point somebody does a story about,
hey, it`s getting personal. It is always personal. These were always very
competitive guys. You know, it`s like Lebron and Kobe, do they like each
other? I don`t know. But they want to beat each other.

I actually think the level of personal antipathy and discord in this
race is almost less than any I have ever seen. Neither of these guys are a
hater. They are both, you know, they are both you know, very focused.
They are no drama guy. I mean -- and whether they dislike each other or
not is immaterial. Doesn`t matter.

SHARPTON: Rich Stengel, thank you for your time this evening.

Coming up, the right dusts off their old racial playbook and Rush
Limbaugh is fanning the flames. It`s ugly.

Plus, the GOP`s Todd Akin problem just got worse. A new tape

You`re watching a special edition of "Politics Nation" as we get ready
for the big night here on MSNBC. Stay with us.


CLINTON: I don`t think senator Dole is too old to be president. It`s
the age of his idea that I question.



SHARPTON: We`re back with a live look at the stage in Denver where
President Obama and Mitt Romney will debate tonight.

On the day of the big debate, the GOP`s Todd Akin problem just got
worse. Akin is, of course, the Missouri Senate candidate who six weeks ago
set off a huge controversy with an absurd legitimate rape comment.

Now, "Slate" magazine uncovered video of the congressman giving a
speech on the house floor from 2008. In it, he slams abortion doctors as
terrorists, saying that they sometimes perform abortions on women who are,
quote, "actually not pregnant." How`s that even possible? But listen to
what else Akin said about abortion?


REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: And yet just as slavery is
fundamentally un-American, so even more so, anything that violates the most
fundamental right, the right to life.


SHARPTON: He`s comparing slavery to a medical procedure. It`s
another reminder from Todd Akin about the war on women waged by his party.

Just this week we saw him caught on tape saying it`s OK for a woman to
be paid less than a man for the same work and saying his opponent, Claire
McCaskill, was more lady like in 2006.

But somehow Republicans are lining up to support him, even some who
denounced him six weeks ago like RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who six weeks
ago said, he wouldn`t support him, and now calls it his obligation.

And big names are getting behind Akin, leaders like Jim DeMint,
Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. Some
of the legitimate rape candidate is not going away.

Governor Romney called on Mr. Akin to lead leave the race weeks ago.
What does he think now? He might not be asked about Akin tonight but
sometime soon he will. What will he say?


SHARPTON: We`re back on POLITICS NATION with the right wings lame
effort to cook up an October surprise in the election. The Daily Caller
web site claimed they dug up a shocking new tape, they called President
Obama`s other race speech and they ran with it straight to FOX News.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: A bombshell is about to be dropped on
the 2012 race for the White House because tonight you will hear from Barack
Obama like you have never heard from him before.

This is what so called unbiased journalist have been trying to hide
for years, it is a glimpse into the mind of the real Barack Obama.


SHARPTON: A bombshell. A glimpse into the mind of the real Barack
Obama. Oh, sounds shocking. So what did they have? A five-year-old
speech opened to the public that was widely covered at the time and during
the 2008 campaign but the founder of the Daily Caller had this bizarre
explanation about why old news was suddenly new news.


TUCKER CARLSON, THE DAILY CALLER: People say, this has already been
reported. Well, actually, it hasn`t been reported and I know because I
reported on it the first time.


SHARPTON: He knows it hasn`t been reported because he reported on it.
OK, Roger. Roger that. It shows just how desperate the right wing is and
today conservative websites jumped on board, going back to their old
playbook and dredging up their most offensive rhetoric to attack the
President and they`ve embarrassed themselves with this latest attempt to
cook up an October surprise.

Joining me now is James Peterson, professor at Lehigh University and a
contributor to And Ana Marie Cox, Washington correspondent
for The Guardian. Thanks to both of you for being here tonight.



SHARPTON: Ana Marie, this was the big bombshell that wasn`t. But
what does it say to you about the right wing in this election?

COX: Well, you`ve mentioned it. It screams desperation. It`s not so
much, October surprise, it`s a 2007 surprise. I mean, their timing is off,
to say the least. I mean, I always knew that the GOP wanted to turn the
clock back in America but I guess I had -- I thought they were going to
turn it back a little further than 2007, 2007 seems pretty recent to me.
But, you know, I actually, I was watching FOX last night with a civilian
friend of mine who happens to be conservative and he was very excited to
see this tape and when it came on, he looked a little -- he was interested
and then I was watching it and said, wait minute, it looks like he`s giving
that speech in front of an audience. So, wait, so he gave it in public?
And so, you know, I don`t think this is actually working with real people
out there.

SHARPTON: Not only did he give it in public, the press was there. He
was announced candidate for president.

PETERSON: That`s right.

SHARPTON: Mr. Peterson, Dr. Peterson.


SHARPTON: I mean, you laughed. This is unbelievable to me.

PETERSON: It`s -- it`s unbelievable. I mean, one, the tape`s been on
YouTube since it came out. Take a look at it. Look at the comments in
context as well because it`s actually saying some pretty important things
about the Katrina and the response to Katrina. I mean, at the end of the
day, folks like Hannity and folk like Tucker Carlson are actually playing
to their base.

I mean, I don`t think normal independents or people who are, the few
people who are still undecided in this race are going to be impacted by
this but for the red meat radical right, this kind of tape is fodder for
galvanizing their base and trying to get folks more ginned up around issues
that really don`t matter at this point in this election.

SHARPTON: Ana Marie, so people are clear, June 5th, 2007, the day of
the speech, some of the media outlets who coveted included NBC News,
Associated Press, Chicago Sun Times and USA Today, ABC News reported it on
March 16, 2008. Politico wrote about it on September 7th, 2008. Oh, and
look who else reported on the video. FOX News.


SHARPTON: Back on June 5th, 2007.

PETERSON: And Tucker Carlson himself.

SHARPTON: The day the President gave the speech. So, this is the new
bombshell, Ana Marie?

COX: Well, you know, as a blogger, someone that comes from the
blogging rule, I`m always happy when the bar is lowered for what news is
but this is even lower for me. You know, I mean, I think I like to think
that I can do a lot of real reporting using Google and YouTube but I don`t
think that even I would ever call something that was five years old
breaking news.

SHARPTON: And covered.

COX: That`s right. I`ve always had a lot of respect for Drudge and
his siren but maybe it`s time to retire that now.

PETERSON: Maybe. Ana Marie makes a good point, though because stuff
like this really works in the right wing blogospheres. So, Rush Limbaugh
is going to get a couple segments out of it. Glenn Beck will get a couple
of segments out of it. It helps in terms of their, sort of, if you want to
call it news cycle that sort of generate more discourse.

SHARPTON: Well, let me hold you out there Dr. Peterson because Rush
came in but I don`t think he could help him on this one. Let me show you
what Rush had to say talking about the President, was an angry guy.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I`ve always known this guy as an
angry guy. I`ve always known this guy had a chip on his shoulder, I`ve
always known this guy got a problem with this country and I`ve always known
that there was no truth of this business that he was post racial.


SHARPTON: Now, he`s an angry guy because of this speech but ABC, NBC,
Chicago Sun Times, Associated Press, all of these reports that covered it
and was there. He duped them all Dr. Peterson.

PETERSON: Listen. First, some of Rush Limbaugh`s listeners. The
fact that President Obama is black actually equates to him being angry.
But for those of us who live in the real world, we understand, this is one
of the most moderate, one of the most compassionate and obviously one of
the most diplomatic presidents we`ve had in recent memory. So, I don`t
know if this stuff has any traction with independents or with folks on the
Left. But clearly, there`s a base that the right wing tends to pander to
and Rush Limbaugh`s audience is really reflective a bet.

SHARPTON: Well, Ana Marie, Dr. Peterson brings up race. So, let me
go there. George will wrote a column about the election and wrote a very
controversial line about whether the President should be re-elected. Let
me quote that. He says, "The nation, which is generally reluctant to
declare a president a failure, thereby admitting that it made a mistake in
choosing him, seems especially reluctant to give up on the first African-
American president. If so, the 2012 election speaks well of the nation`s
heart, if not its head." So now he`s saying that The Nation does not only
want to admit that it made a mistake but they certainly don`t want to do it
to an African-American. That`s a new twist in race, Ana Marie.

COX: Yes, it is. And actually I know that Rush Limbaugh has
referred to him as the affirmative action president, which is distasteful
to say the least. Let`s say, I`d like to think of him as just the
President, you know? I will say that it`s true that Americans do not like
to fire people as much as Mitt Romney does, that`s probably why they don`t
like Mitt Romney very much. And so, you know, we tend to want to give
people another chance all the time.

Most talking to another civilian, a friend today, it`s amazing how
this comes up, who is telling me, you know, he did OK for four years, I`m
willing to give him another four years to do another OK job. And I think
that George Will is right about the sentiment of the American people in
terms of how they fell about their presidents but -- to bring race into it,
I`m not sure it`s --

PETERSON: It`s crazy.

COX: Yes. Well, I`ll go with what Peterson. It`s actually kind of
crazy. Yes.

SHARPTON: All right. Well, Peterson, let me go to you quickly. I`m
running out of time but the New York Times did report that a group of high
profile republican strategists put together a plan to attack President
Obama by linking the President once again to Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
This was in May.


SHARPTON: The "New York Times" wrote it saying, quote, "Do exactly
what John McCain would not let us do in 2008." The plans suggested hiring
a quote, "Extremely literate conservative African-American to sell the
message and label the President a metro sexual black Abe Lincoln.

PETERSON: Yes. Yes. Listen, I`m not sure exactly --

COX: That`s a Halloween costume.

PETERSON: Yes. Exactly. I don`t know what they mean by the last
comment. But here`s the thing that`s interesting, George Will who I
normally respect, I mean, this President is enjoying the numbers that he
has now and -- that he is not actually despite a lot of these rationalized
attacks. I mean, the reason why this deck was disapproved by Romney is
because they really don`t need it.

They`ve had rationalized attacks through the food stamps president
comments, the welfare ads, this strategy has been in place in other ads and
other ways, it says that this deck was exposed early enough so that folks
could really see some of the CD inner workings behind back room door
strategy sessions by some of these politicians.

SHARPTON: Well, it`s playing into that stereotype. Angry black man.
Rush is angry man. I know some blacks that are angry, he`s not more angry.

PETERSON: How about that Rev.? And happy birthday, Rev. Happy
birthday Reverend Al.

SHARPTON: Thank you. Thank you. Professor James Peterson, Ana Marie
Cox, thank you both for your time tonight.

COX: Yep. And happy birthday.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

Still ahead, it all comes down to this. Nineteen primary debates for
Romney but none on the biggest stage in politics. President Obama`s been
here before. So what will happen tonight? We`ll talk about it on this
special edition of POLITICS NATION as we gear up to NBC`s primetime
coverage of the first presidential debate of 2012. Stay with us.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I
am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent`s youth and



SHARPTON: Tonight, 50 million people are expected to watch President
Obama and Mitt Romney debate America`s future. How will the President make
a case for four more years? How will Romney try to revitalize his
campaign? That`s next.


SHARPTON: Welcome back. President Obama gets the first question at
tonight`s debate and Mitt Romney will have the last word in the debate that
50 million Americans may be watching. The stage is set for the highest of
political drama.

Joining me now is Abby Huntsman, host and producer of HuffPost Live.
And Neera Tanden, president of Center for American Progress. She helped
prep Hillary Clinton for the democratic primary debates four years ago.
Thanks to both of you for being here.


SHARPTON: Abby, what`s the biggest danger for Governor Romney

HUNTSMAN: Well, Reverend, let me start by wishing you a very happy
birthday. I can`t think of a better president than the first presidential

SHARPTON: You have a file on me, I hear. I hope everything is fine
or good. Well, go ahead.

HUNTSMAN: I think we`ll survive unless you can`t hear me but I would
say, the biggest challenge that Romney has is he`s in a box. Tonight is
the domestic policy debate. So, no matter what he says, it`s likely he
said the complete opposite about some of those issues in his past. But
look, people are wanting to see the real Mitt Romney. They want to know
who he really is. So, I think his biggest challenge is not being himself.

SHARPTON: Now, your dad, Jon Huntsman, was a candidate against him
and debated him. Did you have a problem, did the Huntsman team figured out
which Romney is going to show up?

HUNTSMAN: That`s the biggest question. People keep asking, which
Romney is going to show up tonight, is that, you know, the conservative
Romney that we saw in the primary, is this the moderate Romney that we saw
when he ran against Senator Kennedy or I think it`s going to be a whole
different version of Romney? But I will say, the only way he`s going to I
think knock President Obama off message is if he does show a side of
himself that none of us have ever seen and that`s the only way he`s going
to hit it out of the ballpark if he`s completely different person, if he
shows us maybe who he really is. I would argue that we haven`t seen the
real Mitt Romney yet.

SHARPTON: Neera, you have prepped Hillary Clinton four years ago. If
you were prepping the president tonight, what would you tell him?

take advantage of this format. It`s 90 minutes. It`s on substance. He
has a very big advantage over Romney in that he has policies and proposals.
He knows where his policies are. They haven`t shifted dramatically. He
also understands Mitt Romney`s policies and the lack of definition. So he
has a lot of opportunity to define Mitt Romney because Mitt Romney has been
so vague.

So, I would say keep this debate on substance. Take it to Governor
Romney on issues like taxes and energy policy where there has been a lack
of definition and really communicate to the American people that they can`t
take a risk on Mitt Romney. That if you don`t know where he stands on
taxes and you don`t know where he stands on energy, you can`t take a risk
that he will do the right thing three months, four months from now.

SHARPTON: But Neera, people keep saying Romney is not that good but
in fact, he has shown that he can rise to the occasion from time to time.
He dominated Newt Gingrich doing the January debate in Florida. Let me
show you some of the clips.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is he still the most anti-immigrant

four of us, yes.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That`s simply inexcusable.
That`s inexcusable. My father was born in Mexico. My wife`s father was
born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that`s I`m anti-
immigrant was repulsive.

GINGRICH: We discover to our shock, Governor Romney owns shares of
both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

ROMNEY: You checked your own investments? You also have investments
from usual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.


SHARPTON: If he comes off aggressive Neera, what should the President

TANDEN: You know, I actually think that this is a real challenge for
Governor Romney and if he falls into the trap of being as aggressive as he
was in the primary, that will backfire. The difference between the primary
and the general election is the primary, nobody liked the republican
candidates. So, when Mitt Romney attacked Newt Gingrich or attacked
Rick Santorum, he wasn`t punished by voters for that because no one liked
one of them more than the other.

If he goes after the president very aggressively who is pretty popular
with the American people, one of the most popular politicians in the
country, frankly, I think it will really, we`re down against him, there
will be a backlash. People, as you point out, people don`t like him and he
needs to get over that hump. And so, he`s in a box of being -- he needs to
contrast with the President but he can`t be too aggressive.

SHARPTON: Go ahead.

HUNTSMAN: Can I just jump in real quickly? I think that we forget
though that Romney is a great debater. We saw in the primaries that he was
really everyone`s favorite in the debates. So, I think we can expect that
he will do a good job. Frankly, I would argue that he`s more comfortable
on the debate stage than he is ordering a milk shake at McDonald`s when
he`s out doing his campaign stump speeches. So, I do think he`s in his
element on the debate stage. He will have memorized lines. We know what
we`re going to expect. But I think the only way he`s really going to, like
I said, hit it out of the ballpark is to show us a side of him that he`s
never seen before and completely surprise us.

SHARPTON: But let me ask you this, Abby, let me ask you one question.
The last time we had an incumbent democratic president that was challenged,
let me show you, 1996, Bill Clinton just kind of mostly ignored Bob Dole`s
attempt to bring it on kind of. Listen to this in their debate.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. President, what do you say to Senator Dole`s
point that this election is about keeping one`s word?

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON (D), UNITED STATES: When I ran for president,
I said, we could cut the deficit in half for four years, we cut it by 60
percent. I said our economic plan would produce eight million jobs, we
have 10-and-a-half-million new jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But I think -- is very, you know, wisdom --
experience an intelligence.

CLINTON: I can only tell you that I don`t think Senator Dole is too
old to be president. It`s the age of his idea that I question.


SHARPTON: Abby, if the President ignores him and goes as Clinton did
in `96, does that neutralize what you think is a good debater in Mr.

HUNTSMAN: That`s exactly what Mr. Obama has to do. He has to remain
calm, he has to make it look like he is confident, like he is the commander
in chief that he is for the United States and I think if he does said it,
if Obama can be just who he is, I think there`s no way that Romney can get
the narrative that he actually wants. I think you`ll see it even if Romney
does a good job. But if Obama can just be himself, then I think that he
will be just fine.

SHARPTON: Abby, Neera, thanks for your time and I think you`re right,
if the President is who he is and Mr. Romney is who he is, I think that
will work to the President`s favor. We`ll be right back.



SHARPTON: Welcome back to POLITICS NATION. In just two hours, the
two presidential candidates will debate their visions of America`s future.
I had the honor of addressing voters from a debate stage, too. Back during
my 2004 run for president. And while I looked a bit different then, my
passion was the same as it is now. And these debates, it`s important to
show that passion. These candidates must try to connect.


SHARPTON: What people don`t understand is before you can turn people
out, you have to turn people on. And the only way you`re going to turn
people on is you must address their interests and address their issues.


SHARPTON: These men must also expect the unexpected. In my 2004
campaign, protesters disrupted one debate and I had to roll in with it.


SHARPTON: You know, I don`t get to the black caucus debate and start
acting up now.


Y`all respect our right to be heard like we respect everybody else.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, first let me say, to my dear friend Reverend
Sharpton, amen. You have spoken the truth.

SHARPTON: I`ll take that as an endorsement, but go ahead.


SHARPTON: Now, we probably won`t see protesters tonight but we`ll
likely get a surprise or two. Voters will be watching to see if these men
seem authentic. Out there under the hot lights, there`s no hiding, no way
to fake it.


SHARPTON: Speaking on the issues and interests of people that have
been ignored, it`s almost contradictory to say, if you don`t win, get out.
Did you come in to win or did you come in to stand up for something and
make that win?


SHARPTON: And while pundits will obsess about who had the best zinger
tonight, the American people want to hear ideas, solutions.


SHARPTON: People are suffering, people are literally choosing one
month to buy prescription drugs and pay their rent the next month. They
want answers. They don`t want out best shot at one another.


SHARPTON: Voters want answers and they want leadership. That`s what
they will be looking for tonight. When I ran, I could give a good
performance because people didn`t expect me to win. But tonight, one of
these two men will either remain president or be president. They must gain
the trust and faith of the American people. That`s what all of us will be
looking for tonight.

Thanks for watching. I`m Al Sharpton. "HARDBALL" starts right now.


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