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McCain-Palin Campaign Manager Rick Davis

Thursday, September 11, 2008
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HH: Pleased to welcome now to the Hugh Hewitt Show Rick Davis, campaign manager for McCain-Palin. Mr. Davis, welcome to the program, good to have you here.

RD: Hugh, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

HH: Let’s start with the controversy swirling around today. Senator Obama is out denying the fact that his lipstick and dead fish comments were directed at Sarah Palin and John McCain respectively. What’s your response to that denial?

RD: You know what? It’s just shocking to me that he’s in the denial business. I mean, this is not the first time that he’s tried to cover up these kinds of insults to our ticket. And look, we’re just not going to put up with it. This is, we have 55 days, we’re going to protect our candidates, both of them, and we’re just…we’ll let the people judge whether or not he was targeting these quotes to our candidates. And look, I can’t imagine what he was talking about if he wasn’t talking about Governor Sarah Palin and John McCain.

HH: Of course some of the pushback from his pals in the media have been well, John McCain used this analogy a few years ago, as did many other people. Of course, I’ve used that analogy a thousand times as well, but it wasn’t in the context of Sarah Palin having used the lipstick joke so often. Is that the incredulous part?

RD: Well, and it was directly in the context of talking about his opponents. So I mean, I can’t imagine what the context would have been if he had been talking about something else. Look, I mean, everybody’s responsible for their own campaigns. And the one thing that Barack Obama has repeatedly said over and over and over, is that words matter. Well, he’s right. Words do matter, and he ought to start picking his words a little more carefully.

HH: Now Rick Davis, in the conversations leading up to the selection of Sarah Palin as the Senator’s running mate, did you discuss, did you anticipate the savage sort of attacks on her from Obama affiliates and the left wing blogosphere, and increasingly mainstream media? Was that part of the calculation?

RD: Well, we knew it was going to happen, because it’s been happening to John McCain for such a long time. I mean, this isn’t new. I mean, we’ve been under siege by the left wing media for a long time. And of course the Obama folks, even though they pledged a new kind of campaign and a post-partisan kind of campaign, that it’s been anything but that. I mean, Barack Obama attacks John McCain every single day on the stump. He’s done it in days where we haven’t competed in that regard, and days that we did. He continued to attack John McCain even while he was running against Hillary Clinton, so I mean, we’re used to it. We know it’s going to happen. And we understand it and we’re disappointed by it, we don’t think it’s adding to the dialogue of good politics, but look, we’re big boys, we understand it, we think we can handle it. And the one thing that shouldn’t be underestimated is Governor Palin can handle it. She’s tough, she’s got good ethics from the experience she’s had in Alaska, it’s a tough place up there, too. She’s fought the establishment, she’s fought the media, and she’s ready for prime time.

HH: Now when you mention the left wing media, do you include any of the broadcast networks in that designation, Rick Davis?

RD: Well, you guys have run all those guys off the air by and large. I’ve got to tell you, what is most shocking to me is the correlation between the left wing bloggers and broadcast TV. And when you see things pop up there with absolutely no semblance of fact at all, and then within hours show up on broadcast TV or in newspaper articles the next day, you wonder where’s the separation, where is the sourcing on this stuff. And I’ve got to tell you, I mean, nothing is more flagrant in that regard than the treatment that Governor Palin received literally immediately upon announcement of her selection. And I’ve got to tell you, it makes me feel pretty good about keeping that announcement secret, because otherwise, she would have been nitpicked to death by this media horde.

HH: Now there are reports that Obama has flown teams of lawyers and private investigators to Alaska. Have you received those same reports, Rick Davis?

RD: Absolutely, and we’re getting them from all around, not just in Alaska, but you know, people in the know around here. And look, I mean, it’s consistent with everything else they’ve done. It’s the most negative campaign I’ve ever seen waged. And look, we shocked them. I guarantee you, they didn’t have any opposition research on Governor Palin when they started, and I’m sure that’s thrown their campaign for a loop. So it doesn’t shock me.

HH: Now I know you had to be high on the Governor to be part of the team that advised Senator McCain to select her. However, did you anticipate the kind of reaction, the positive reaction across broad cross-sections of the United States, not limited by ideological lines whatsoever?

RD: You know, the more we looked at Governor Palin, the more we thought that she had great potential on the national stage. You know, she is one of these people who is straightforward, shoots straight at voters, no dancing around whatsoever. The whole culture of Alaska sort of suits that. And it was time to sort of punch through in the noise that exists in this election with somebody like that. And I’ve got to tell you, though, I have been really, really happy with the reaction that I’ve seen in both the Republican Party, but also with independents and disaffected Democrats. And let me tell you, the number of disaffected Democrats is going up every day.

HH: Is part of that in response to the attacks on her as a mother and as a pro-life figure and as a religious person?

RD: You know, I think that the most heinous thing is really the attacks on her family. I mean, she’s been in politics. She knows how tough it can be. And she’s absolutely committed to campaigning hard regardless of what people say about her. But the attacks on her family are a new thing that has sort of sprung up this year. Senator McCain has had to go through some of that. And it’s just uncalled for, and I wonder who is policing the media on this, because the old standards of putting the candidates through the tests, through the rigors, nobody’s complaining at all about that, it’s a tough business. But it’s an important job, and the American public needs that. But to attack the family is well beyond the pale, and that’s where we hope that we can draw some lines.

HH: There are rumors again today, and I’m not going to give voice to the specifics of them, that involve the children of the Palins again being the target of just smears and innuendo. Have you hear these? Do you expect them to be aired by the mainstream media? Or do you expect them to reintroduce the old boundaries?

RD: No, we’re going to do everything we can as a campaign to put the stop sign out there on this kind of thing. And look, I mean, there’s some indications that the media, because of the backlash, frankly, from the incredible sort of frenzied attitude when she was first announced toward the family, may have been backlash. And I’m hoping that right now, the media will take a look at these stories and thing twice about them, and frankly, at least call the campaign and talk to us about them. We’re shocked by some of the stuff we see on the air or in newspapers that nobody has ever bothered even asking our opinion of. And look, we’re the most accessible campaign in the history of presidential politics. We’ll answer any questions from any reporter at any time. John McCain interacts with the media more than any other candidate in history, and we’re happy to have this discussion. But why do we have to read about it for the first time in the papers?

HH: Now you’ve got the Charles Gibson interview coming up. First of all, how is Governor Palin preparing for that?

RD: She’s going to Alaska. Her son, actually, deploys on 9/11. He joined the Army a year ago on 9/11, and he’s gotten his orders, and he’s headed overseas. And so she’s going to go up and see him off. And it’s a very touching family moment that frankly, we’d just as soon the campaign not get in the middle of. But the same day, she’s going to have her first interview with Charlie Gibson, and she’s really looking forward to it. I think it’s a great opportunity in Alaska, on her home turf, to have an opportunity to talk to the national press.

HH: Now ABC put out a statement that “nothing is off the table”. How do you interpret that, Rick Davis?

RD: Look, I think that what they need to do, and I long ago gave up trying to tell journalists what they ought to be doing for their living, but look, it’s the voters who want to learn something. That’s the duty that reporters have, is to educate the voters. It’s not to play gotcha, it’s not to see who’s smarter in the interview. It’s to make sure voters get a good sense of who these people are. You know, presidential politics is the most intensely personal politics there is. People want to test you. They want to see what you’re made of. They want to know your grit and your enthusiasm for the job. And I think that if they’re going to serve a good purpose in this interview and any other after that, it’s to always think in terms of what’s the voter really want to know about you.

HH: Rick Davis, in terms of the debate preparation, her debate’s coming up quickly. Have you selected someone to play Joe Biden yet?

RD: You know, I don’t know. I may just want to have Joe Biden play Joe Biden. My impression from a statement he made earlier today is he might be looking for a job. He announced that maybe Hillary Clinton was more qualified to be the vice presidential candidate than he was, so maybe I’ll just see if he wants to do a little moonlighting.

HH: Are you afraid of the Torricelli option coming up here with Joe Biden suddenly deciding he really shouldn’t be the vice presidential nominee, Rick Davis?

RD: No, I honestly…I think that chaos is our friend in this political cycle. You know, the stuff, the ups and downs that we’ve seen as a campaign only have made us stronger. And so I’m not going to assume anything. But look, it’s the most important decision any candidate makes prior to becoming president of the United States, and that is the selection of your running mate. And basically what Joe Biden said today was maybe Barack Obama made a mistake.

HH: Wow. Now let’s talk about money. There was a New York Times article that suggested the Barack Obama campaign is not raising the kind of money they expected, that he’s spending far more time having to chase it, and that you are, on the other hand, see the RNC and affiliated committees which it is legal to raise money for still, brimming to the rim of their coffers. What’s the situation when it comes to resources.

RD: Well you know, look, we’ve been very smart about how we’ve raised money, but also how we’ve spent it. And we’ve always made sure that we had plenty of resources to win the election, both in the primary and today. And we cannot be happier with the financial condition that we’re in today. And the RNC has done a terrific job of working as our partner in fundraising and also spending the money in a way that will help our ticket win in November. What’s shocking to me are some of the decisions that are made by the Obama campaign. First of all, to break his oath to the American public that he would participate in public funding if the Republican candidate did, John McCain at the time said I’m in if I’m the nominee. And of course, in those days, we weren’t even sure if he was going to be. I’ll participate. He’s done everything that he promised the American public he would do. John McCain has taken the public funding, has a very set amount of money that we’re allowed to spend. And what does Barack Obama do? The minute he thinks he can outspend the Republican by raising more money, he says you know what? I’m not going for that public money. I’m breaking my oath to the American public, and I’m going to go a different way. And you know what? He’s the first candidate in the history of public funding to not participate in the system, so it tells you a little bit about the guy and what his commitments are really for. But you know what? What’s really the incredible irony of the whole situation is now from what I can tell, he’s under an incredible pressure to raise a lot of money. I just did a calculation on the back of an envelope. He’s got to raise $100 million dollars a month in September and in October to be even with the spending that we already have. And so my sense? He’s going to have to run around every single day hanging around donors and going to fundraisers when we can go out and campaign for the American people, which by the way, was the whole idea behind public funding, so you can spend more time with the voters. So the bottom line is, you know, you’ve got to live with the decisions you make.

HH: Rick Davis, I want to talk about some of the questions that remain unanswered about Barack Obama, and begin with the Bill Ayers association, which was the subject of a brief exchange, not particularly clarifying last night on the O’Reilly Factor. Do you believe there are additional question that Barack Obama ought to be asked, and which he ought to answer about his longtime association with his colleague and unrepentant terrorist, Bill Ayers?

RD: You know, look. It’s a disturbing relationship. As a campaign, we’ve chosen not to make this relationship a big case in the campaign. We understand that a lot of people are going to ask questions about it. Look, it’s legitimate ground to ask about, and I think that the folks like you and others can vet this out in a very effective way. And look, I think the people who you surround yourself with, the people who you talk to every day, the people who advise you on your career choices, are relevant to the American public. You know, we’re happy to talk about the people who have surrounded John McCain for most of his career, you know his friends from POW camp, Orson Swindle, people like that, Bud Day, probably his closest friend in the world to this day, is the most decorated war veteran alive today in America. I mean, these are people who have been close and confidants to John McCain for really his entire adult career. And I’ll compare those relationships to anybody’s.

HH: Now when the Obama campaign attacked John McCain for being married to Cindy McCain, who happens to have wealth that her father earned, the house issue came up. But there was not any inspection of the Rezko-Obama relationship with regards to their house. Is that another unanswered question that deserves more scrutiny?

RD: Sure. I mean, even law enforcement officials have spent a lot of time scrutinizing Rezko deals in the past. And look, I mean, Rezko is another classic example. He’s a guy who Barack Obama was a lawyer to for some time, you know, developed a close, personal relationship and a business relationship with a convicted felon. And I think there are still many unanswered questions as to how the transaction and the ability for Barack Obama, you know, a guy who was just in the process of making his first couple of million bucks off of the books that he wrote, could afford a house that his partner in that transaction, Rezko, had to help pay for. So look, I mean, life’s not fair. The national media doesn’t spend the amount of time inspecting the Rezko transactions with Barack Obama as it does wanting to talk about Cindy McCain and her holdings, all of which, by the way, she paid for with her own money. And so we’ll see. I mean, I think guys like you and others in the business, you know, that ought to be fair game.

HH: There is also a double standard on Churches. Sarah Palin’s Church, both of them, have been under enormous scrutiny by CNN and others over the last 48-72 hours. But Trinity Church is off limits, their bulletins, their preaching, et cetera. Is this a double standard that bothers the McCain campaign?

RD: You know, I would say beyond that, there’s something going on in the media right now, and I’ve seen it on television in the last couple of nights, and that’s literally an attack on Christianity itself. I mean, every one of these candidates are good Christians. There’s no question about that. They all have something in common, and that may be one of the most important things they have in common. And yet, the news media has all of a sudden decided that they’re going to start differentiating between their faiths. They’re going to start differentiating between their beliefs and what Churches they go to, or what kind of education they got in religion, and what they believe about religion. And I’m just wondering where’s that coming from? I mean, is now the role of the media to divide us on religious lines, too? I mean, I always thought that was sort of sacred ground in politics. I think it ought to continue to be, and I’ll a little disturbed by the patterns.

HH: Last question, Rick Davis. Get out the vote efforts – there’s this alleged phenomenal machine at the disposal of Team Obama. Does Team McCain think they have a ground game equal to that? And where is this election coming down to in terms of swing states?

RD: Well, you know, you can only turn out the votes that are for you, and I think we have a very formidable operation because of the additional resources that we’re getting, money that you talked about earlier. We’re increasing our ground game every single day. And look, I mean, what we have right now is more enthusiasm than the Republican Party’s seen in years. You know, we got spanked pretty hard in 2006. Republican supporters and voters were pretty unhappy with the way our party was headed, and we now have an excited party, a motivated party, a party that’s growing in numbers, and we see in the polling data that the generic Republican ballot’s starting to tick up. There are more people saying I’m a Republican again. And if we can bring this party back to health, if we can excite people about this ticket, there’s no question that we can deliver that vote.

HH: States to watch, Rick Davis?

RD: You know, look, I mean there are two big chunks. I mean, in the Southwest, you know, places near where John McCain has grown up politically, is Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. It’s a very important battleground in the West. We have two Westerners on the ticket. And then we shift over to the Midwest, and places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, very important states in the Midwestern part of the country. So I think those two, and of course, you know, we always talk about Florida. Florida’s been the battleground in past elections. No doubt it’ll be again.

HH: Rick Davis, a pleasure talking to you, check in again as the campaign progresses. Thanks for your time.

RD: Thank you, Hugh.

End of interview.

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