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Transcript

White House Insiders

Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2004; 1:00 PM

With Election Day less than a week away, the presidential race is still too close to call. Both sides are feverishly courting undecided voters, rallying their base and aggressively pushing their candidate.

Washington Post White House correspondent Dana Milbank took your questions and comments on President Bush, the current administration and covering the White House.


White House Insiders is a show featuring Washington Post staff writers Mike Allen and Dana Milbank. Every two weeks, one or both will take your questions on the White House, the president and the Bush administration.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Dana Milbank: Good afternoon. It's four days to the election, and nobody has a clue what's going on -- not the candidates, not the campaigns, and certainly not me. But let's see if I can BS my way through the next hour anyway.

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McLean, Va.: Do you have a feel at all for what the feeling is in either of the camps right now? Are they frantic, confident, etc?

Dana Milbank: Highly anxious, with a thin veneer of confidence.

Karl Rove assembled us last night in Pennsylvania to tell us everything is going according to plan, Bush is up in 8 of 10 battleground states, etc, etc. This went on until somebody reminded him that four years ago at this time, he was predicting 320 electoral votes for Bush and smooth sailing in Florida.

The polls have become relatively useless. They aren't fine-tuned enough to be predictive when the race is as tight as it is. That could change if we see a real surge by one candidate over the weekend, but nothing yet.

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Bethesda, Md.: What do you think the chances are that we will have a definitive winner by Wednesday morning? What do you think the public reaction will be to a 2000-like (or worse!) situation?

Dana Milbank:
Depends on which Wednesday you're talking about. Actually, I'm optimistic that we'll have a victor by then, though there will no doubt be all kinds of legal skirmishes. If there is a recount, I'm hoping it'll be in Santa Fe rather than Columbus or Tallahassee.

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Seattle, Wash.: Dana:

Is it just me or does the fact people are taking oaths to get into Bush campaign events (now verbally per Froomkin today) seem a little scary even for Halloween?

People and the press should be outraged that they can't listen to the President unless they take an oath!

Is this still America?

Dana Milbank: Boo.
Couple of updates on this. Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel said they've quit the loyalty oaths some time ago. I haven't seen this happen myself but am not usually in a position to see it. He also says they let in uncommitted voters at the discretion of a precinct captain, or some such. Finally, we have an email from a guy who says he had a ticket to the Kerry/Springsteen event in Madison yesterday but was sent away because he was wearing an anti-abortion T-shirt. Don't know if it's true.
Whatever the case, there's a lot of crowd control going on at Bush events. But this is having the perverse effect of reducing crowd size, which is a traditonal way campaigns show momentum. Kerry had more than 80,000 in Wisconsin. I haven't seen Bush break 20,000 in a while.

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Washington, D.C.: What is up with those weird Karl Rove practical jokes? Is he always like this?

Dana Milbank:
Good question. First he sits down in front of the 747's tires, then he walks back on Air Force One in a surgical mask telling them he's going to make a 'circumcision.' We only hope he meant 'incision.' Perhaps it is a show of confidence and ease in the last days. Perhaps he needs a vacation.

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Honolulu, Hawaii: Hi Dana,

How much distinction is there between White House staff and Bush/Cheney campaign staff? Are there laws that delineate between the two?

Dana Milbank:
Hello, swing state of Hawaii. When I heard Cheney was going there Sunday, I casually asked my editor, Maralee Schwartz, which reporter was going with him. She did not answer. (Please send emails to her, schwartzm@washpost.com urging her to send me.)

But that was not your question. There are distinctions between the official White House staff and the campaign, but they commonly blur--as they did during Gore's 2000 campaign, Clinton 1996 etc. The official White House staffers have separate email accounts and phone lines for campaign business, and they're technically volunteering when they're doing political stuff. Also the campaign reimburses the government for seats on Air Force One and the like. But, obviously, Bush's ability to govern is all about his ability to win on Tuesday.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Dana,
Is this weapons story out of Iraq the "October surprise"? While I don't think it is quite the damning evidence the Kerry campaign makes it out to be, I must say I've been honestly confused by the multiple and what seem to be contradictory responses of the administration. These people seemed to be so good at staying on message and they completely fell apart over this.

Dana Milbank:
No, the October surprise is when Osama bin Laden is pulled out of the basement of the Old Executive Office Building this afternoon with bits of ice in his beard.

Actually, we're about out of time for the vaunted October surprise. I liked Cheney's line when he said Kerry hunting in camouflage was an "October disguise." As I wrote earlier this week, there seem to have instead been a number of small, negative October surprises -- the missing weapons, the flu shots, unhelpful words from Allawi, etc. The Bush side initially was on the defensive on the explosives, although they're pretty confident they've been able to push back now by suggesting Kerry is reckless and blaming the troops.


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Weber State University, Utah: Do you feel that if this election goes as the election in 2000, that the general public will be "fed up" with the electoral college and press for a popular vote type of election? Also do you feel that if these elections don't go well, that the rest of the world will use loose even more confidence in the United States?

Dana Milbank:
I expect there will be a lot of anger, and there may be more movements, as in Colorado this year, for othre states to award their electoral votes on a proportional basis. I highly doubt we'd go to a popular vote, however. That would require a constitutional amendment with supermajorities of the Congress and states, and if successful could have disastrous consequences of encouraging extremist third parties.

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Santa Cruz, Calif.: Would you like to make a prediction? At least a qualified one. Be brave, it's only a guess.

Dana Milbank:
I have said for more than a year that:
1) Bush will win reelection, and,
2) My predictions are almost always wrong.

Historical patterns and economic models are pretty much all on Bush's side. But it's hard to drive using the rear-view mirror.

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Columbia, Md.: How much influence do you think the 527s are having? Do you think they will be allowed to continue in this form in coming years?

Dana Milbank:
Their impact on advertising, particularly the Swift Vets, has been huge. But the real test will be Tuesday, to see if the liberal groups like America Coming Together and their vaunted turnout machines do the job for Kerry.
There will probably be an effort to rein in 527s after this. And, if successful, money will find a new way into the political process, as it did this time.

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New York City, N.Y.: Hi, Dana,
you must be the hardest-working reporter the Post has, based on all the articles and various postings you do - thanks! (You deserve a lil trip to Maui...) Thanks for keeping us well-informed and for keeping your sense of humor! Will you write a book about this campaign?

Dana Milbank:
I certainly hope you cc'd this to Maralee Schwartz.

No book this time; my last one was that rare combination of a commercial and critical disaster. But thanks.

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Virginia: What is an average day like for you on the trail with the President? I don't mean the event itself, but the other part. Do you spend most of the time on Air Force One watching Fox News and eating peanuts? Who in the press corps do you sit with at lunch? Are there "good witches" and "bad witches" within the administration? Want to name names? Thanks for giving us a peek.

Dana Milbank:
Funny you should ask.
As it happens, the White House press charter is at this very minute full of journalists from Entertainment Tonight and other such shows, carrying mini cameras and filming every move the press corps makes -- every mouthful, every yawn, every whine. I had my face in my hands early yesterday morning, rubbing my temples to get rid of a headache, and I looked up to see a camera in my face. I checked for cameras before using the bathroom on the back of the press bus.
So when you watch these shows, you will see: lots of well-fed reporters getting on and off the press charter (our turns on Air Force One come up infrequently) and shuffling through endless buffets, then crunching out stories under excrutiating deadline pressure before heading to the hotel bar.

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Milwaukee, Wis.: A question about the profession of reporting on politics? Do you and other writers have a severe downer, withdrawal symptoms even, when the elction is over and it's back to mundane life? I have been following every detail of this election campaign and I'll be sad when it's over.

Dana Milbank:
Do not be discouraged: the 2008 campaign will begin within days.

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Silver Spring, Md.: This may not be your purview, but can you give any insight as to why the Post has not picked up the KSTP-TV angle on the al Qaqaa story? The New York Times, NPR, and Aaron Brown's CNN show have all now given it prominent play (with the latter featuring David Kay, who ought to know, expressing apparent certainty about what the tape shows); why not the Post? Are you doing any reporting that may refute this apparent evidence that the explosives were indeed under seal until after the invasion? Readers need to know before Tuesday. Thanks.

Dana Milbank:
Don't know about the specifics on that, but we've been trying to keep the matter in perspective despite the partisan hype, as my colleagues Brad Graham and Tom Ricks did today:

Munitions Issue Dwarfs the Big Picture
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7418-2004Oct28.html

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Eight Ball, Md.: Since you already went on a limb with forecasting results, gives your prediction of what the post election administration will look line whether W stays or JFK come in.

Dana Milbank:
Don't want to get behind the Eight Ball, Eight Ball, so how about this prediction: there will be Republicans in the new cabinet, regardless of which man wins. Kerry, if elected, would need to make a serious effort to repair the breach if he hopes to do anything with what will almost certainly be a Republican House.

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Annapolis, Md.: On the Daily Show last night, John Zogby said, without hesitation, that John Kerry was going to win the election.

Why is he so confident? After all, he is in charge of many of the polls that have Bush leading in the swing states.

Dana Milbank: Zogby's methods have been questioned by other pollsters, because he puts his thumb on the scale more than most by "weighting" his numbers-- a bit of hocus pocus I saw first hand spending a night at his headquarters during the 2000 campaign. Don't know if it's legit in a social-science sense, but he was the closest to being correct in 2000.

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Entertainment Tonight

How does the regular White House press corps react to these "newbees?" Is it fun or do they just get in the way?

Dana Milbank:
The thing you must know about the White House press corps is we love to complain about everything -- the plane, the food, the speech, the phones, the security sweeps and, yes, the newbees. But the ET characters are just a temporary bother. The dynamic of the White House press corps is very much like high school. The network correspondents are the football players and cheerleaders, the wire reporters are the student government, the newspaper reporters are the geeks and the camera crews are from shop class.


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Arlington, Va.: Re: Blaming the soldiers

Did you catch Rudy Guiliani's slip that people shouldn't blame the president, that we should be looking at how it's the soldiers' fault we missed it? I'd be interested to know how many folks in BC04 reacted to that!

Dana Milbank: Much backing and filling from America's mayor after that.

As a Giuliani aide said after that: "This was not Rudy's most articulate moment."

Giuliani also issued a statement saying: "We don't need someone who voted against funding our troops during war to take my remarks out of context. Like the President I wholeheartedly support our troops."

The Bush folks cannot be happy that Rudy inadvertently stepped on their message, but the flub is not likely to be lethal.

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New York, N.Y.: Is is it just wishful partisan thinking on my part, or does this weeks news cycle clearly have Bush playing defense and Kerry on the offense?

Dana Milbank: That was definitely true early this week. And the Bush people have had to drop much of their plan of going positive in the final days. What matters most, though, is the next few days. And the Kerry folks can't decide whether to go back to domestic issues or try to squeeze more out of the explosives.

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San Diego, Calif.: Do you believe from what you are hearing that Hawaii is really in play? Or is Cheney going out there wishful thinking -- like in 2000 when the GOP wasted time in California at the end?

Dana Milbank:
I do not think Hawaii is really in play, nor Arkansas, nor Colorado, nor Michigan, nor any of these late entrants. But do not mention that when you send your email to Maralee Schwartz (subject line: Send Dana to Hawaii).
Thanks for paying attention.

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