Michael Barone’s snapshot analysis of the presidential race, 82 days out.
HH: Joined now by Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report, one of the country’s preeminent political analysts. Michael Barone, tell us what you see as you look at your magic electoral map there over the last few weeks.
MB: Well, what I see, Hugh, is that, some evidence that the enthusiasm gap, the balance of enthusiasm, the motivation, may be working more nowadays for John McCain than for Barack Obama. I see a very close presidential race, and I see one that, where Obama’s weaknesses have been effectively spotlighted by the McCain campaign and beginning to make an impression on voters.
HH: Now the big news of the day is not yet news, it’s a rumor, that Colin Powell will be appearing at the Democratic convention and endorsing Barack Obama. Any significance to that in our assessment, Michael Barone?
MB: Well, I think that would be a plus for Barack Obama. I mean, you know, when Powell was the Secretary of State in a Republican administration, National Security Advisor in a Republican administration, he’s an American that very many people respect. And you know, thinking back to the fall of 1995 when some people were mentioning Colin Powell as a possible presidential candidate, he was running ahead of the incumbent, Bill Clinton, as a Republican. So yeah, I think that would be a help to Barack Obama.
HH: Okay, any speculation as to what that would be about? Is that bitterness about the war, do you think? Is that an attempt to reclaim some high ground after the famous U.N. appearance? What’s your gut on that?
MB: Well, my gut tells me that Colin Powell has genuine differences with John McCain on foreign policy, that Powell is more of a realist and more of a cautious type of guy. As Secretary of State, he to a considerable extent let the building run things, his assistant secretaries of state. He let John Bolton, who was an assistant secretary of state on disarmament things actually take a key role and supported Bolton. But for the most part, he was in line with the State Department professionals, and I think he has some reason to believe that John McCain is in a difference place on foreign policy. And you know, this may be simply an assertion of principle. I think Colin Powell may feel, as many, I think most Americans feel, that it would be a good thing as a general proposition for the country to elect a black person as president, and that might be a contributing part of such a decision, if it is made.
HH: Now Michael Barone, in terms of, I want to get to the map, but before that, a question about polling generally. I have been worried that the pollsters, of whom you are an alum, are not getting their turnout models adjusted for this year. The special election in Mississippi, I’m told, had turnout that rivaled a presidential year, and it was a special election. Do you think there’s a turnout bulge which has not been absorbed into the data keeping, and therefore, maybe this race isn’t what it’s said to be right now?
MG: Well, turnout is the hardest thing for pollsters to simulate, and to project. And so I’ve been taking a look at a number of polls. I mean, you notice that a couple of weeks ago, or ten days ago, the U.S.A.-Gallup poll showed McCain with a lead among likely voters, 49-45. That, the screen procedure that Gallup uses in that poll, which is different from what it uses in its tracking poll, as I understand it, tends to eliminate from the likely voter sample a set proportion of registered voters based on past voting habits, and on expressions of whether they’re likely to vote in this election, whether they voted, perhaps, in the primary and so on. And so it serves as a real kind of barometer of the degree of enthusiasm of voters. Its results tend to be quite volatile, wobbling in which direction. I’m not sure they’re valid as to pointing to where things are, but there’s a suggestion there that the McCain voters are more motivated. I mean, we can see it also in the fact that in almost all the polls, McCain is getting a larger percentage of Republicans saying they’re going to vote for him than of Democrats saying they’re going to vote for Obama.
HH: Have you ever seen buyer’s remorse in a party before, Michael Barone?
MB: Buyer’s remorse?
HH: Over a nominee? You know, they got all excited about Barack Obama, and now the thrill is gone, and all of a sudden, he’s making mistake after mistake, and we’ve got foreign wars breaking out. Do you, have we had a ‘nominate McGovern, and then a month later, say oh, gosh, what have we done’ sort of thing?
MB: Well, there’s often a certain amount of, you know, all these people are all human beings, and they do have some weaknesses which perhaps in the first flush of enthusiasm many of us tend to overlook. I think that some of that is happening with Barack Obama. His switches, or perceived switches on any number of issues, you know, his refusal of the town hall debate, this has diminished the feeling among some voters that he is a special and different candidate.
HH: I’ll be right back with Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report.
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HH: Michael, when I was gone, a big story broke in The Atlantic about the internal Hillary Clinton campaign memos, especially memos by Mark Penn. Have you had a chance to read those yet?
MB: I have read many of those memos, Hugh, and let me put it this way. Back in the old days when I used to be involved in campaigns, I’d been involved in some dysfunctional campaigns, and this was a dysfunctional campaign in some important respects, including the fact that a lot of the chief advisors, and some of them quite talented people, had a deep-seated mistrust of each other.
HH: Amen to that. This is the memo that has really caught my eye. It’s by Mark Penn to Hillary. All of these articles about Obama’s boyhood in Indonesia, and his life in Hawaii, are geared towards showing his background as divers, multicultural and putting that in a new light. Save it for 2050, writes Penn. He continues, it also exposes a very strong weakness for him – his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values. He told the people of New Hampshire yesterday he had a Kansas accent because his mother was from there. His mother lived in many states, as far as we can tell, but this is an example of the nonsense he uses to cover this up. Was Penn on to something, Michael Barone? It’s touchy, it’s delicate, but did he know what he was saying?
MB: Yeah, I think Mark Penn was on to something there, and this is, you know, the tactics he’s suggesting here are one that the Clinton campaign didn’t really take up and use. But I had a former Democratic campaign consultant tell me the other day, he said gee, if I was running the Obama campaign, I would run pictures of him, you know, doing ordinary American things, you know, walking the kids to school, doing this and that, that he’s kind of, you know, familiar with the ordinary American life. And I said well, there’s a problem there. I said they don’t give their kids Christmas presents.
HH: Ooh, brutal.
MB: They don’t, apparently they think that that’s too materialistic, too much sort of things. I mean, it’s a defensible position. Their kids look like nice kids. But it’s, you know, this is a man who has chosen to live in university communities his whole life. And if you talk much to the kind of people who live in university towns, not just those who are professional academics, but those who choose to live in that kind of town because they like the ambiance, they like the commercial facilities, it’s congenial to them, you will see that they look upon the rest of America with, if not contempt, at least from a distance.
HH: Well, the term that’s been used in David Freddoso’s wonderful new book, his condescension, sort of radical condescension. Have you had a chance to read Freddoso’s new book yet?
MB: I have not read Freddoso’s new book, but you know, there’s a certain ‘eat your arugula’…
HH: Yup, yup.
MB: …sort of talk that has come from both Barack Obama, and in the course of political speeches, so I feel it’s reasonable to bring it up, of Michelle Obama.
HH: There is another Penn memo that says as she was rallying after her big wins in Texas and Ohio, he urged Hillary to “increase concern about what Obama would do to Congressional races, trying to test now in white, rural districts.” That’s interesting. That’s a little neurology there for Democrats on down tickets, Michael Barone. Do you think that there might be an anti-Obama effect, and in certain places like Southeastern Ohio, and Western Pennsylvania?
MB: Well, Hugh, as you were asking that question, my mind immediately went to the 6th and 18th Congressional districts of Ohio, in Southeast Ohio, where Hillary Clinton got as much as 81% of the vote. I think that Obama is a hard sell in some parts of the country, as I call it, Appalachian America, and I think for the same reasons that he does so well in the academic communities. The academics, the university town people sense he’s their kind of person. The Appalachians suggest that he’s not. And so I think he’s, yeah, I think there’s a sort of differentness there to him that is off putting to people, and you know, a sense that he went to Berlin and said that the Berlin wall came down because the world acted as one. Actually, the world didn’t act as one. There was a conflict there. There were some bad guys that liked putting the Berlin wall up, and liked keeping it there, and liked shooting people to death who were seeking freedom by trying to get over that wall. So I think he’s, you know, he comes from a somewhat different place.
HH: I was with over the last couple of days Col. Tom Manion, running for Congress in Pennsylvania, Craig Williams, also in the Reserves, soon to be, I think, a Colonel, also running for Congress, and that one in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. These are, they’re counting on McCain sort of rallying the center, and combining with decent turnout among Republicans to take back some of these Pennsylvania districts, Michael Barone. Realistic shot here? Col. Tom Manion is a hero, his son was lost in the war, his wife and he are campaigning to preserve victory. What do you think of this sort of an appeal?
MB: Well, if you asked me that two or three weeks ago, Hugh, I would have said not much of a chance. I would give you a little more positive answer right now, because I think there’s, you know, we’ve got McCain is competitive. I’ll give you two reasons why I’ll give you a more positive answer. Number one, the energy issue. Drill, drill, drill is now the feeling of most of the American people, and the Democrats and Obama are very much on the defensive on that. They’re scampering around trying to prove that they’re going to make the oil companies drill, except oh, it’s in places where they can’t find any oil. Yeah, they’re going to tax the oil companies. Gee, that’s going to help produce more oil, isn’t it? They’re going to tax them higher, that is. And I think the other one is maybe people will wake up that with Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress, a lot of people in Delaware County, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Chester County, Pennsylvania, are going to be paying more in taxes with that combination. It is a, I think there’s some risk there. I mean, the tax issue, I think, is already working against Obama in Michigan, where the Democratic governor and the Democratic legislature with a few Republican votes imposed higher taxes, and said that was going to help the state’s economy. Well, it demonstrably has not helped the state’s economy, and it’s pretty unpopular, and I think it’s possible to make the case there.
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HH: As we close this out, Michael, over at Election Projection this weekend, the race closed on the basis of state polls to as close as it’s been, 298 EVs for Barack Obama, 240 for John McCain. But as I look at Election Projection’s map, we’ve got light blue in Nevada, light blue in Colorado, light blue in Michigan, and light blue in Ohio, a bit darker blue in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. That’s where this election’s going to be decided. To win there, what should John McCain do in the vice presidential choice?
MB: First, do no harm. And I think get somebody who seems to be up to the job. I mean, the Pew Poll that was just released today showed a big advantage for McCain, a growing advantage, that would use good judgment in a crisis, McCain over Obama, 51-36. Can get things done? That was for Obama last time, 43-37, now McCain 42-40. I think that that’s an advantage. I think McCain’s already made a good start at basically saying you know, about Obama, he’s not ready to lead, and poking fun at this sort of Messianic image that is part of the Obama campaign. And I think he needs to get somebody there who will be a plausible governor.
HH: Any names?
MB: Any names? I’m going to leave that aside right now. Everybody’s talking about the same names.
HH: All right, so you don’t have a strong feeling one way or another? Because I keep looking at Nevada and Colorado, and thinking there are a lot of Mormons in those states, and Michigan which is Romney’s home town. But then I see Pawlenty’s got Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin all around his, you know, within driving distance of his house, and that matters to me a little bit. So it’s a tough choice between those two, I think. Michael, if you had to bet the house, who’s going to win this thing as we go into Day 82 from the election?
MB: Well, if I had to bet today, I would probably have to bet on Obama, because I think that you know, he’s leading today, this is a possibility. But I would take a look at, Hugh, the, take a look at the InTrade numbers. John McCain was trading as low as $30 dollars on that index. I thought he was a very good buy at $30 dollars. He’s now at $37. I think McCain’s a good buy at $45. So I think he’s really got a shot at winning this, and what just happened in Georgia, which I think underlines McCain’s message of strength and preparedness, illustrates…
HH: Yup, you’re ending the show the way Rudy Giuliani began it, on the same note. Michael Barone, always a pleasure. Thank you, sir, from U.S. News & World Report, got a great blog as well.
End of interview.