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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Friday, July 25, 2008 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post national political reporter Jonathan Weisman was online Friday, July 25 at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Jonathan Weisman: I know I'm five minutes early. Usually I'm late. But what the heck, with Obama still abroad, we stateside reporters may as well chat with you stateside chatters. So let's get started early, shall we?

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New York: Of those mentioned in the article on McCain's vice presidential choice, who do you think has the least chance of getting it? And are there any dark horse candidates? Thanks so much for the chat.

washingtonpost.com: McCain May Act Soon on VP Pick (Post, July 25)

Jonathan Weisman: This really is an uninformed guess, but I'd say Tom Ridge has the least chance. He's pro-choice, which is problematic. I don't really think he can deliver Pennsylvania. And the last thing most people remember about the guy is his telling us to go buy duct tape and tarps. I also don't believe Bobby Jindal. Too young, undermines what is becoming practically the entire reason for McCain's campaign: experience v naivety.

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New York: I'm fascinated by the meme in the Post of "unfairness" Obama is getting more coverage on his global trip than McCain is for his Pennsylvania trip. The Post quotes a right-wing anchor at Fox News as saying the public wants Obama but this is unfair to McCain. For years, right-wingers have defended the dominance of right-wingers on talk radio and Fox News with the notion that "the market is deciding" this domination. These pundits rejected the "Fairness Doctrine" being extended to network newscasts and even cable and talk radio. Today, the right-wingers suggest McCain should get the benefits of a "Fairness Doctrine." My question is, why doesn't The Post ask Clear Channel, Fox News and others if they now support extending the "Fairness Doctrine" to cover themselves?

washingtonpost.com: Ich Bin Ein Obama (Post, July 25)

Jonathan Weisman: I'll put that out there in the form of your question. Look, you have to be a bit sympathetic to the McCain camp's complaints, at least for this week. Obama has thoroughly dominated coverage. When McCain was in Europe he received nothing like this, but he also didn't speak to crowds of 200,000, nor did he have the blessed events Obama has had, like the Iraqi prime minister endorsing a time table for troop withdrawals, or a swish from the three-point line in one try.

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Fairfax County, Va.: Forgive me for mentioning a non-Washington Post poll, but I'm puzzled by the "tracking polls" that provide daily numbers, averaged from interviews over a few days. I have been very surprised that the tracking polls stay just about the same no matter what happens. One candidate can have a terrible week or a gaffe and the other can have a great week, either of the two could launch a big TV campaign, and there is no more than a slight, quickly dissipating tremor in the poll numbers. Is this typical of past campaigns? Can anything move the needle at this time of year, or is the contest on "pause" until the vice presidential announcements, with both sides working just to stay in place? Or do you think we'll be in this same holding pattern until Nov. 4?

Jonathan Weisman: I'm not really surprised at all. Most people decided whom they were going to vote for a long time ago. Vacillations are on the fringe, and in this political climate, that is more so than ever. Plus, this campaign has been going on longer than any in history. I would be hard pressed to find a voter who doesn't feel like he or she has seen enough of John McCain or Barack Obama.

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Boston: Now that I think of it, I know Romney and have met Obama. Romney is far better looking, and he's charismatic too ... I know he ran a lousy campaign, but if the GOP wanted star power, they had it in their primaries.

Jonathan Weisman: I think it's down to Romney or Pawlenty, but I'll probably be proven wrong. In the end, though, I firmly believe McCain and Obama have to win this on their own. The hype around running mates rarely translates into votes.

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Kinda Surprised That You're Here: Didn't know there were any reporters left stateside this week...

Jonathan Weisman: Well, Dan Balz is the older and wiser of us. He got the draw to travel with Obama this week. I'm on next week. Quite the come down.

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Woodbridge, Va.: So, will today's London Times column win the prize for the best commentary (or at least the funniest) on Obama's world tour?

washingtonpost.com: The anointed one's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a miracle in action -- and a blessing to all his faithful followers (Times of London, July 25)

Jonathan Weisman: John Stewart did say that while in Israel, Obama would be trekking to Bethlehem to see the manger he was born in.

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Paramus, N.J.: Good morning. It looks like the Democrats have found their Reagan; the pictures look great on the news, and it doesn't matter what the pundits are saying, good, bad or indifferent. I don't see how McCain battles this, as his manner on TV is not all that attractive -- there's that giggle after telling a joke, and the reiteration of "my friends," which is irritating. (I seem to remember that we had quite a lot of discussion of this sort of thing when there was a strident-voiced woman candidate who was prone to laughing). He is more prone to clumsy statements than his opponent, too, and the Bush/GOP brand is poison. The only hope he has is a blockbuster revelation along the lines of Bush's DWI conviction, or a Sept.-11-style attack. Otherwise, history would tell you this is a blowout, no matter what the polls say in July. Wrong?

Jonathan Weisman: Well, not Democrat has won over 50% of the vote since LBJ, if I'm not mistaken. All signs -- in the economy, in the war, in voter fatigue with the GOP -- point to a blowout. But the polls do not.

That tells me voters are still not all that comfortable with Barack Obama. And they know McCain well. I'm planning to work hard through November. I hope you keep reading.

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Grumpy Old Man: Instead of going with the exact personification of the term with daily complaints about Obama's trip, why didn't McCain's team focus on their own message and wait for a better moment to ask for the spotlight?

Jonathan Weisman: That wasn't so grumpy. I kind of agree. They just looked a little whiny. The McCain folks knew they were going to be overshadowed. They should have just laid low and let it pass. Instead, they complained and tried (but failed) to counterprogram. I think that compounded the problem.

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Sacramento, Calif.:"Most people decided whom they were going to vote for a long time ago. Vacillations are on the fringe, and in this political climate, that is more so than ever." In past elections there have been 15-point or even 20-point swings in national polls. Are you saying this one is immune to that type of swing?

Jonathan Weisman: I think there are special factors that are reducing the numbers of undecideds. The length of the campaign is one. The enthusiasm for Obama on the Democratic side is another. They aren't voting against McCain. They're voting for their candidate. And I think the anger and frustration has engaged the electorate. In 2000, I remember voters thinking Bush and Gore were basically the same. They didn't much like them and they couldn't much decide. There aren't many making the same calculation this go-round.

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Niles, Mich.: Will John McCain issue a statement after his meeting with the Dalai Lama in Aspen, Colo., today? Will the two take questions together for the press and network anchors on hand?

Jonathan Weisman: I'm sure he will make a statement, but don't look for the Dalai Lama on Larry King tonight.

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Plainsboro, N.J.: How do you explain the fact that while the candidates are separated by a few percentage points in most polls, there is a yawning chasm separating them in column-inches? Both percentage-points and column-inches are empirical, measurable concepts that should lead one to scientific explanations and conclusions, are they not? So how do you explain this phenomenon, and what conclusions can objective observers draw from it?

Jonathan Weisman: I think to ask the question is to know the answer. There is a media fascination with Obama. He is an historic candidate. He is doing interesting things, traveling to red states, speaking to 200,000 people in Berlin, etc. We've all been covering McCain for years. But the media has an obligation to be fair and cover both as equally as possible. We had a McCain story at the top of the front page today next to an Obama photo.

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Vice President Romney?: McCain needs a massive turnout from Republicans to win. This means the Christian conservatives probably will decide the election. McCain's footing with them is currently weak; add a Mormon or any nonfundamentalist Christian to the ticket, and the race becomes Obama's to lose -- if it isn't already.

Jonathan Weisman: If you are right, McCain's in deep trouble, I don't think Tim Pawlenty or Bobby Jindal would rally Christian conservatives either. Your calculation is the Rove calculation of 2000 and 2004, and it worked then for George W. Bush. McCain and his campaign are making a different calculation for a very different candidate. They will win if they win independents. They are never going to mobilize Christian conservatives the way Bush could and they know it.

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Olney, Md.: No "right-winger" is asking the government to enforce equal time for John McCain this week, but commentators certainly are allowed to note the disparity of coverage by the news organizations that claim to be unbiased and only report the news. My own opinion is that Obama deserves the coverage, but not the fawning descriptions. When Republicans speak, reporters -- especially from NPR -- state what wasn't said, and what they think should have been said, and then present the opinions of those who disagree. The rule for Democrats appear to be "state what they said, then find someone to agree with it."

For Sen. Obama, I would have liked to hear just one reporter compare U.S. rules on immigrants with the fact that German-born children of legal residents from Turkey in Germany do not become German citizens, unlike American-born children of illegal immigrants here. I also would have liked to hear someone wonder, given that according to the senator the Berlin Airlift in 1948 was wonderful, why the liberation of Iraq isn't just as wonderful?

Jonathan Weisman: Fascinating. I would venture none of the reporters traveling with Obama yesterday knew anything about German immigration laws.

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Polls Schmolls: Why don't news organizations just pool dollars and invest in a few better polls with larger samples and cell phones included? That would in the long run be more accurate. Or would the business problem for media be that there would be fewer polls showing daily public opinion shifts that the media then could exaggerate and misinterpret wildly. After all, that's really the point of polls ... or am I just being cynical?

Jonathan Weisman: The big polls, The Washington Post/ABC, Wall Street Journal/NBC, New York Times/CBS, are investing a lot of money in the cell phone question and our samples are huge. But the thirst for polling data is insatiable. Readers lap up the results from Rasmussen and Survey USA, even though many of them know that the results from robocalls are extremely suspect.

Besides, do you think the newspaper industry is flush with cash these days?

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Does the Post have any political reporters investigating the legitimacy of the Enquirer's stories about John Edwards?

Jonathan Weisman: Yes, and to be quite honest, we're waiting to see the pictures the Enquirer says it will publish this weekend. That said, Edwards is no longer an elected official and is not running for any office now. Don't expect wall-to-wall coverage.

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Chicago: Which Post reporter is covering the House Judiciary Committee's hearing today on executive power, the Bush administration and impeachment? Is it the jokester Dana Milbank? Will The Post be able to write something serious about a very serious topic?

Jonathan Weisman: My friend, you are a diehard. How many committees have issued subpoenas and contempt citations against administration officials? How many have been enforced? We all know these things are going nowhere. Why should we devote resources to a hearing that will result in nothing?

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Robocalls: I believe recent studies have found robocalls to be more reliable. That said, I would hate to deny any college student, actor or second-jobber an opportunity for four hours of calls at minimum wage!

Jonathan Weisman: Actually, the biggest problem with robocalls is the self-selective nature of who takes them. Women tend to be the ones who rush to the phone, and some of the women will answer the poll. That's why our callers are instructed to mix it up, ask for the man of the house, ask for the youngest member of the household of voting age. Otherwise the sample will always be biased.

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Sacramento, Calif.:"I think there are special factors that are reducing the numbers of undecideds." Just one more question on this: Does this include the moderates in swing states who actually decide the election? Or is my premise incorrect this year? Is there enough Democratic energy in Ohio (for example) to make independents irrelevant?

Jonathan Weisman: I think independents are being driven to one candidate or another by the same factors that are driving everyone else. Are you fed up and ready for something different or are you still concerned about national security and in search of a more comfortable choice?

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Anonymous:"We had a McCain story at the top of the front page today next to an Obama photo." When will The Post stop being so biased! No one "reads" newspapers anymore. Pretty pictures count for so much more!

Jonathan Weisman: Give me a break.

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Chicago: Hey Jon -- there was a very favorable piece on your buddy Piyush Jindal in today's Wall Street Journal. Does he have a real shot at vice president, or are the Republicans simply trying to raise his profile for future endeavors?

washingtonpost.com: Rebel With a Cause: Bobby Jindal's Spiritual Journey (Wall Street Journal, July 25)

Jonathan Weisman: Actually, I have known Bobby Jindal for awhile. He worked at my wife's company in DC before going into politics. That said, I really don't think he will be chosen. I've already written this but I'll write it again. The central line of attack of the McCain campaign is Obama's youth and inexperience. Jindal has an amazing resume and remarkable experience. But to voters, his youth would be equated with inexperience, and that would undermine McCain's argument against Obama.

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washingtonpost.com: Upcoming Discussion: Slate on Bush Administration Scandals and Who Could Be Charged for Them (washingtonpost.com, noon today)

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Washington: But if you think about it, Bush was like two different candidates in 2000 and 2004. In 2000, it was no nation building, for the assault weapons ban, for Kyoto, etc., to blur the distinction between him and the more moderate Gore. In 2004, he faced the more liberal Kerry and could afford to move right (granted, he also had been governing from the right). In 2008, I would argue that Obama also is a liberal. Granted, the environment is far different (and much more tilted toward the Democrats), but I think he needs to be careful about appearing too moderate for conservatives looking for any reason to stay home.

Jonathan Weisman: Well, alright then. I do think Bush was two different candidates, the compassionate conservative of 2000 and the post 9-11 warrior of 2004. It was 9-11, not conservatism, that drove the 2004 election.

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Vienna, Va.: Jonathan: Jimmy Carter got 50.1 percent in 1976, so I guess we could cite you on a technicality there, but I agree -- history says that if Obama wins with 51 percent or 52 percent, that's an impressive accomplishment. My question deals with McCain's vice presidential choices: Romney, Pawlenty, Jindal, Portman and Ridge. After McCain demeaned Obama's foreign policy comments as coming from a guy who never has served in the military, it's interesting to note that of those candidates, only Ridge ever served in the military, and he's not likely to get it. I know logic and consistency of message isn't a hallmark of politics, but won't it be a problem for McCain to put a nonmilitary person one heartbeat away from the presidency after his earlier comments?

Jonathan Weisman: A very good point, but no, McCain's military experience will cover for his running mate. And as I said, McCain will win this or lose it on his own. His veep can't carry him over the finish line.

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Bethesda, Md.: Bobby Jindal for keynoter, setting him up for 2012, 2016 or 2020.

Jonathan Weisman: YES!

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East Windsor, N.J.: Why did the GOP goad Obama into making this trip overseas? After all, this spring McCain visited the Middle East (Iraq and Jordan with Lieberman), Europe (to see Gordon Brown), Canada (for a fund-raiser), Colombia and Mexico. If he hadn't traveled to all those places, I think it would have been impossible for Obama to justify an overseas jaunt before he even was nominated. The Republicans brought this on themselves, didn't they? And now they are whining about the media coverage? I don't get it.

Jonathan Weisman: There is much truth to what you said. McCain goaded Obama into traveling to Iraq, thinking he would be told in no uncertain terms by the Iraqis and by U.S. military commanders that U.S. troops had to stay. And they were probably counting on a pretty cold reception by the grunts on the ground.

They would never have guessed that the Iraqi prime minister would choose Obama's visit as the occasion to announce his support for withdrawal time tables.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you understand what happened re the Obama visits to Landstuhl and Rammstein? What does it mean that Obama had to go as a candidate, rather than as a senator? It sounds to me like the Pentagon was pulling his chain, and he is coming away looking like a jerk, but the details aren't clear enough to tell what really happened. And yes, I did read Dan Balz's article on this topic.

washingtonpost.com: The Trail: No Troop Visits for Obama in Germany (washingtonpost.com, July 25)

Jonathan Weisman: We have one of our Pentagon reporters trying to track down just what DOD told Obama. But this was perfect for McCain. If Obama had gone, he would have accused him of using wounded troops for political gain. Now that he didn't go, he snubbed our fighting men and women. Catch-22.

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Purcellville, Va.: You say the voters know John McCain, but do they really know him, or only think they do? I have a family member (a former GOP insider) who's very concerned about McCain's temperament.

Jonathan Weisman: They think they know John McCain. I have seen polling that shows pro-choice Republicans saying McCain is pro-choice, and pro-life Republicans saying he's pro-life. That's a pretty powerful ace in the sleeve.

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Calabasas, Calif.: Your poll the other day said that voters see Obama as the riskier candidate. In today's climate, could that work to Obama's benefit?

Jonathan Weisman: A lot of pollsters like to say this election is like 1980. Voters then were very unhappy with the status quo, but they saw Reagan as too risky, too out of the mainstream. In the end, though, they broke for him big time. They just couldn't vote for Carter again. That might happen this go-round as well, but to many Americans, Obama is more different than Reagan ever was. We shall see.

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Leesburg, Va.: I think race is the greatly unreported "elephant in the room." We now have a poll showing Obama is considered a far riskier choice by voters, but not much in the way of explanation. If Bobby Jindal were chosen for the vice presidential slot, wouldn't that confuse the rednecks to the point they might not vote at all?

Jonathan Weisman: I hate to say it, but yes, I think you have written the unwritable truth. Frankly, we haven't quite figured out how to write about race either.

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Washington: Come on, Obama supporters ... yes, the picture was good, but his speech wasn't. It sounded like he was apologizing for us to the Europeans. If anything, going on the past century, it is the Europeans who should be apologizing to us -- and especially the people of Africa, whom they physically dominated for decades.

Jonathan Weisman: I heard Rush Limbaugh saying this yesterday, and I don't get it. Most of his speech spoke of America as a force for good in the world and chided the Berliners for not seeing that. What specifically are you referring to?

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Washington: Re Jindal: My brother and my sister-in-law, both liberal Democrats now retired in Louisiana (the sister-in-law is a Cajun) surprised me by speaking quite favorably of Jindal and how he is cleaning up the state in a variety of ways. These are people who absolutely detest Bush, so there obviously is something to Jindal's appeal. But for me, also a liberal Democrat, I'm not sure I would vote for anyone who participated in an exorcism, even in college.

Jonathan Weisman: No doubt, Gov. Jindal would deliver Louisiana. But was that state ever in doubt?

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Baltimore: Does Bob Barr have the potential to tip any states from McCain to Obama?

Jonathan Weisman: Democrats like to think so. I doubt a former congressman from suburban Atlanta has that much sway. He's no Ralph Nader. That said, maybe he's a factor in Georgia. And I did see a poll yesterday in which adding Barr and Nader to the ballot expanded Obama's narrow lead to 11 points.

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Poll question: So, why are people even allowed to give "undecided" as an answer in a poll? I think they should be forced to pick a candidate, as if the election were being held today. As a follow up they could be asked "are you likely to change your mind about your choice?" I think this would give a more accurate reading of the voter's leanings.

Jonathan Weisman: Some polls push leaners and undecideds to make a choice. Others don't. I think both are helpful. It is good to see how big the universe is of undecideds before election day.

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Albany, N.Y.: I answered a robopoll during the primary. The only question was "do you support Obama or Clinton?" It could have been my 4-year-old son answering the phone. Seems to me like it's not the most reliable way to do it.

Jonathan Weisman: Just curious, are you a woman or a man? Our polling director says robocalls skew heavily toward women because they answer the phone.

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Why?:"Why should we devote resources to a hearing that will result in nothing?" Because the people deserve to know if their government is being run by people who have abused their power? Because if there are no consequences, the next administration might take it to the next level? Because it is the job of the fourth estate to hold the government accountable when the branches refuse to hold each other accountable? I usually love your sense of humor, but just because we all know there will be no impeachment, that doesn't mean there is no reason to hold the hearings or no reason to cover them.

Jonathan Weisman: So, Why, just curious. Do you think your government is being run by people who abused their power? Thought so.

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McLean, Va.: Jim Webb has taken himself out of the running. The gays loathe Sam Nunn. Chuck Hagel is too Republican on domestic issues. Colin Powell is too old, and seems ill-inclined to attack McCain. If Obama wants a running mate with foreign-policy experience, who is left? Joe Biden?

Jonathan Weisman: You have put your finger on a problem. The universe of contenders has really shriveled to three fairly conventional picks, Joe Biden, Tim Kaine and Evan Bayh. Biden would get the nod if Obama really felt like he needed the foreign policy cred, but my guess is he's gonna go for someone who may be able to deliver a state. Hence, Bayh or Kaine.

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Dryden, N.Y.: I'm AARP eligible so I tend to forgive McCain a lot of his verbal missteps. I am less certain about what I only can describe as a meanness that sometimes comes through when he talks about his opponent. Am I only imagining it, or does the senator really believe that Sen. Obama doesn't "deserve" to be the nominee? It sometimes seems to be the case from his body language.

Jonathan Weisman: I think that is becoming more pronounced, and if Obama maintains his narrow but steady lead in the polls, you may see it more. McCain has really tried to control his temper. Sometimes that comes through in that forced, uncomfortable smile. But he has been razzed but good for saying Obama would rather lose a war to win the presidency.

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Anonymous: Great job today on the chat answers, thanks for them. No question

Jonathan Weisman: Thanks for the positive feedback. You should see my in-box. Not so much.

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Austin, Texas: There have been many reports of lots of enthusiasm among the young for Obama. Think they'll actually turn out to vote this time?

Jonathan Weisman: Beware the naysayers. Remember when Mark Penn laughed off Obama's predictions that young voters would deliver the Iowa caucuses to him? This time, it may be real.

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Washington: The Biden-for-vice-president chatter seems to have died down, with Bayh and Reed getting more ink; is that just the nature of the media beast, where the chattering class just moves from one potential candidate to another, or have Biden's chances actually been diminished?

Jonathan Weisman: As I said, I think Biden is among the final three contenders. Jack Reed has taken himself out of contention.

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Obama Hates America!: Here's what Rush is referring to: "I know my country has not perfected itself," Obama said. "We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions." Pretty awful, huh?

Jonathan Weisman: Pretty awful. frankly, I think my country is perfect in every way, especially the billboards and fast food. And I certainly think our every intentions have been fulfilled. Just look how we have saved Darfur!

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Baltimore: Why does your veep roundup not include Clark or Richardson? Richardson could solidify the Hispanic advantage; Clark took a heavy shot for the team earlier, and he certainly shores up the Clinton camp ties and military cred.

Jonathan Weisman: Clark shot himself in the foot, even if you do not think he intended to question McCain's military service. The hoopla happened.

To be honest, I'm surprised Richardson does not appear to be in the final running, but we just aren't hearing it.

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Philadelphia: For the last month or so Obama has consistently been ahead in the national polls by two to six points, and the pundits keep saying that he just can't break through. If Obama won the general election by two to six points it would be a landslide, right?

Jonathan Weisman: Right! And on that note, my time is up. Have a wonderful weekend everybody!

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