Post Politics Hour

Washington Post White House Reporter Anne E. Kornblut.
Washington Post White House Reporter Anne E. Kornblut. (washingtonpost.com - washingtonpost.com)
Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Wednesday, September 10, 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 10 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 Anne E. Kornblut was online Wednesday, Sept. 10 at noon ET to discuss the latest in political news.

Kornblut also wrote this article in The Post's Sunday Outlook: What's Fair Game With Sarah Palin? (Post, Sept. 8)

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Anne E. Kornblut: Hi all! Busy week -- and I'm chatting with you from the McCain/Palin event in Fairfax, so please forgive me if there are pauses. But let's go ahead and get started!

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Anonymous: As I watch the evening campaign coverage on TV, I am left with only one question: When is Sen. McCain going to stop hiding behind Gov. Palin's skirt?

Anne E. Kornblut: Is this a metaphorical question, or a literal one? Or both? Either way, you make an interesting point. It does seem as though it is Palin's ticket now, and that the race (at least on the Republican side) is about electing her, does it not?

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Toronto: Did the Democrats really believe the Obama campaign would be a cakewalk? I know the media said so, but you say that every election cycle. Hell, you said Hillary was "inevitable." Is that the source of today's panic? Barack Obama is a terrific candidate with a lead, but can he come from behind? If yesterday is any guide, he's not much of a counterpuncher. And the media's support of Obama actually hurts -- when people hear the "lipstick on a pig" and hear the crowd roar on YouTube, but The Washington Post ignores it, they know the media is in the tank. You wouldn't ignore a similar line from McCain. Is the media to blame for Obama's unpreparedness for a real fight?

Anne E. Kornblut: Well, this is a pretty curious posting. If you actually look at today's Washington Post, you'll see the lipstick story to which you refer. Also, we have quoted the Obama campaign repeatedly as saying that this will be a tough race -- they even said it when some of the pundits out there said it should be easy for them. So you should work on your facts! But thanks for writing in.

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Paducah, Ky.: Yeah, Palin won't give you interviews, so you are checking a few facts. As a major paper, what are you doing to overcome the unwillingness to talk? How about some news analyses. How about some focus groups and special polls? You seem to be throwing in the sponge. Get over it and cover her.

Anne E. Kornblut: Excuse me? (And what's with all the hostility today, people?) We are, believe it or not, covering Palin very diligently -- and as best we can given that she does not want to be interviewed or do press conferences. As soon as this event here in Fairfax is finished, in fact, I'm going to be getting on a flight with her to Alaska -- and will continue trying to cover her there. We also have a team of reporters on the ground up there, and have done a lot of analyses of her record. So, keep reading, and we'll keep reporting. Believe me -- that's our job, and we want to do it.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Anne -- thanks for chatting today and for your excellent recent reporting on Gov. Palin. The McCain campaign has been amazingly successful at deflecting questions about where they stand on issues and on Gov. Palin's inconsistent statements, and are turning the election into a referendum on who said what about lipstick. As a voter I find this extremely frustrating and demoralizing, but it doesn't seem to show any sign of abating. Is this strategy likely to continue to work? The thought of six more weeks of this type of pitched battle is more than I can bear.

Anne E. Kornblut: If you will look at the most recently released Washington Post poll, you'll see an interesting number -- Obama does well among voters who care most about the issues, while McCain does better among voters who are focused on personal stories and personality. (Points to our polling division for noting this to us reporters today). In that context, the conference calls and the attention the McCain campaign is trying to draw to the lipstick question is understandable.

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Hampton Cove, Ala.: I am watching Barack Obama attack John McCain and Sarah Palin in a public school in Norfolk during school hours. Yet, your newspaper ran a headline story that McCain is not allowed to hold a rally in a Fairfax County high school because it is wrong to use public schools for political purposes. As you find nothing Obama does is wrong, do you think Obama might be slightly less right for using a public school to attack his opponents?

washingtonpost.com: McCain Rally Moves to Park As School Debate Continues (Post, Sept. 10)

Anne E. Kornblut: This is a good question, and it was just raised here at this rally in Fairfax by one of the introductory speakers. I do know that when I was covering Hillary Clinton, she held a rally at a local school in Virginia as well. Our Metro staff has (as you know) been all over this story, so I'll make sure they're aware of it, also. My gut tells me it's a local school-by-school issue, but don't quote me on that -- I just don't know.

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San Diego: I think it's funny to watch Team Obama panic. There's a long way from here to Nov. 4 ... why do you think they're so utterly thrown by a momentary bounce in the polls? Obama's gone so negative so fast -- it's really a total flip-flop from a guy who just told us in his much-lauded Denver speech that he wanted the race to be about issues, not personalities. If so, why the "lipstick on a pig"? Why call McCain a liar?

washingtonpost.com: McCain Camp Sees An Insult in a Saying (Post, Sept. 10)

Anne E. Kornblut: You know, what's actually interesting, as one who watches the Obama campaign and its advisers up close, is that they really aren't panicking -- they've been more consistent than I think I've seen any campaign, except perhaps the Bush campaign in 2000 and 2004, which they always described as being like a "marathon." Their answer to questions about the polls is that they're not worried, and a few tough lines aside, they don't seem to have changed their strategy at all.

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Dripping Springs, Texas: Is the Anne Kilkenny letter mostly factual or mostly false?

washingtonpost.com: E-mail on Sarah Palin grabs spotlight (Tampa Bay Tribune, Sept. 6)

Anne E. Kornblut: I got that letter, and the answer is, I do not know. I have not published it myself, because I can't verify it.

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Richmond, Va.: Shouldn't someone tell Obama that he can't win by being so sexist to Governor Palin? Is he that desperate? He is that desperate!

Anne E. Kornblut: I have a suspicion that the Obama campaign knows this -- especially after running against Sen. Clinton for so long. I also have a hard time believing that the "lipstick on a pig" line from last night was sexist -- if that's what you're referring to. If anything, it seems that the definition of sexism is being rapidly expanded to include anything the other side doesn't like -- which is not to excuse insensitivity when it is real, but is just to say that both sides probably need to be careful of crying wolf when it is not.

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Louisville, Ky.: Hello, Anne. Thanks for taking questions today -- I enjoy following your articles. The other day on NPR I heard a wrap up of the campaign day. NPR reported that Palin was still touting her Bridge to Nowhere experience as evidence of her reformer status. NPR immediately had a sort of clarification (that discussed her being for it in her 2006 campaign and how she eventually did not support it but kept the money and spent it anyway).

I was so pleased to hear them do that. The Post has been very clear about this as well. So much criticism of the "media" is for reporting spoken inaccuracies without the reporter's clarification. Is there any guideline there at The Post for introducing these sorts of clarifications? I wish all reporters would do this. Also, why do you think the McCain Campaign still is encouraging her to tout this, as well as the bit about putting the governor's plane on eBay, when they have been discredited? How does the McCain group justify that?

Anne E. Kornblut: I did not hear the NPR clarification; thanks for drawing it to my attention. We're now in that season of the campaign -- with accusations flying, both sides responding, and, in this case, added into the mix, a candidate whose record everyone is just getting to know rather than having memorized. As for the McCain campaign's claims, yes, they still are using her opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere as a big applause line at events, as well as the eBay sale of the jet. But if you parse their words, they are being technically accurate -- Palin says she "put the jet up for sale on eBay," which is true, although she fails to mention that she did not sell it on eBay, and clearly wants to leave the impression that she did.

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Baltimore: I just saw a clip of McCain using the same "lipstick" expression a few years ago in reference to Hillary Clinton's health care plan. Is this sort of faux outrage overreaching? Aren't they risking getting dunned for political correctness, especially since they're the anti-PC party?

Anne E. Kornblut: Thank you for bringing up my favorite phrase of this campaign -- "faux umbrage," or as I started calling it back during the primaries, "fauxmbrage." The thing is, it has a tendency to work. Both sides are really riled. And the McCain campaign is clearly enjoying revving up their supporters at every grievance, real or imagined.

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Washington: "Lipstick on a pig" probably was innocent. But his continued attacks on Palin -- trying to diminish her by calling her inexperienced and constantly harping on her motherhood -- isn't innocent at all. It's calculated, and it's a continuation of a pattern of attacks we saw him use against Hillary Clinton. Given that Obama still needs to win over the Clinton supporters, how in the world did they decide on attacking Palin as a strategy? It's unbelievable!

Anne E. Kornblut: You are probably right on this -- it's a very fine line he is trying to walk. As one of the earlier posters suggested, he just can't throw up his hands and hope Palin goes away; yet running against her is complicated, for exactly the reasons you mention.

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Detroit: The McCain campaign has been able to get away with claiming that the press unfairly reported on and gave attention to Palin's pregnant unwed daughter -- yet even to this day, little attention has been given by the press to the "joke" that McCain made more than a decade ago about Clinton's daughter. I don't see why the latter received so little publication at the time and is not published now in light of the complaints of the McCain campaign regarding treatment of a child of a politician in the news. If people knew what McCain had said, I think they would look at him differently.

Anne E. Kornblut: Thank you for this. It's a great point.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: When Dana Milbank and others reported that the Secret Service was headed to Romney's sister's house, leading many to speculate (and was correctly speculated when the Secret Service went to Joe Biden's house) that Romney was the vice presidential pick, what was that all about? Was that a diversion tactic to throw people off? If so, is that a proper use of Secret Service resources?

washingtonpost.com: McCain VP Update: Secret Service Says They Did Not Sweep Romney's Sister's House (U.S. News & World Report, Aug. 28)

Anne E. Kornblut: I have absolutely no idea. I will ask Dana to please carry out that line of reporting.

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Re: "When Lies Become Facts": Jonathan Weisman's piece today was interesting and depressing. In light of the way that what candidates say becomes "true" despite ... well, the truth ... I am wondering what you think the media can do to prevent this situation. It seems that, often, candidates' claims get front-page stories (and clear headlines), while stories that question the veracity of these claims often are relegated to the inner sections of the paper and the inner sections of an article -- i.e. somewhere in paragraph ten. Why do you think there are hardly ever stories headlined something like "Palin's Claims about Bridge to Nowhere Untrue" on the front page? Has nothing been learned about the need to call spades spades in the past eight years?

washingtonpost.com: As Campaign Heats Up, Untruths Can Become Facts Before They're Undone (Post, Sept. 10)

Anne E. Kornblut: What can I say is that we're trying to hold both sides to account, and sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don't. But your remarks are welcome, thank you.

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Land of Faux: What about faux racism? The governor of New York says that "community organizer" is code for "black," and that is why Palin mocked the phrase in her convention speech.

Anne E. Kornblut: I heard that, too -- and I have to say, I also wasn't aware that "fairy tale" was going to strike people as racist, either, back during the primaries. This is where it gets tricky. I feel qualified, as a woman, to make a judgment call on what is sexist. Less so when it comes to race. Is that ideal? Probably not. Suggestions?

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Much has been made of Gov. Palin's one-time support of the Bridge to Nowehere (including today's Post article) even though she changed her mind once the high price became known. However, The Post and other media have studiously ignored the fact that both Obama and Biden voted for this pork project. Isn't it worse to support such wasteful spending than to change your mind and oppose the project?

Anne E. Kornblut: Those are all good points. I think the point of the Bridge to Nowhere coverage has been that she is claiming she always opposed it, but did not (where Obama and Biden are not running on a platform of opposing the Bridge to Nowhere). But thank you, that is a great thing to bring up.

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Reston, Va.: Hi Anne. With respect to the "campaigning in a school" topic, it is indeed a local issue. The Fairfax County School Board apparently has a rule prohibiting the use of public schools for campaign purposes during the day while school is in session. The school system where Obama is speaking has no such rule. I suppose one could question whether or not the typically Democratic-leaning Fairfax County would have raised a kerfuffle if Obama asked to speak.

Question for you: NBC Nightly News ran a story last night saying that Palin didn't sell the plane on eBay, but instead listed it on eBay where it failed to sell, and then sold it through conventional means. Doesn't this sound like splitting hairs? And doesn't the media risk the chance of coming off as being petty in their effort to be seen as "truth" detectors?

Anne E. Kornblut: Actually, I saw that NBC piece, and thought it was a good one. McCain has said on the campaign trail that Palin sold the plane on eBay and made a profit. That's just factually inaccurate. I'll leave it to readers to decide what is splitting hairs, but still think it's our job to separate truth from untruth. And thanks for the Virginia update.

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Accusations, yet no proof: What are these people talking about? When exactly has Obama talked about Palin's motherhood -- oh yeah, when he said her family was off-limits? I think we need to go back to a literacy test for voting.

Anne E. Kornblut: A fair point. Obama has not mentioned Palin's family at all, He's stuck to her record as far as I am aware. I'm heading back out with him again next week and will double-check.

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Mansfield, Ohio: Your article titled "What's Fair..." asked some what-if questions about how the GOP might act differently if all the nit-picky things about Palin being scrutinized in the media belonged to a Democrat like Hillary. However, isn't the better question to ask "how would we reporters act differently" if Sara Palin were a Democrat? You just referred to The Post's reporters already on the ground in Alaska. How many reporters were on the ground in Wilmington, Del., the week after Obama chose Biden?

Anne E. Kornblut: It's a very good question. We actually had a team of reporters covering Biden, too -- and for a lot longer, because we knew he was on Obama's short list, so we had time to prepare. The major difference, I think, is that Biden has been reported on over and over for many decades, so there was just less to discover for the first time, whereas Palin has been one of many governors (and a new one) so she was new to the scene. But believe me -- we are equal opportunity diggers.

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Running against her is complicated: Why? If women want to play with the big boys, they need to toughen up. If they want to run for office like men do, if they want to hold office that only men have held, then they need to be able to take any criticism and not run behind their gender. Women can't have it both ways -- they can't be immune to any and all attacks on their policies because they're women. If Palin can't take the heat of the campaign, perhaps she should get back into the kitchen.

Anne E. Kornblut: I'm going to leave the substance of this e-mail alone, but just say that this was the attitude Sen. Clinton had when she first got into the race -- that she was going to have to be tough and withstand a lot of garbage. That is probably a requirement for anyone, male or female, running for higher office.

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Washington: If the people at whom an untruth is targeted (aka "swing voters") have an inherent mistrust of mainstream media, then does debunking a claim on the front page of The Washington Post ("When Lies Become Fact" ran on page 1 today) have any effect on voters? Bridge to Nowhere, Saddam links to al-Qaeda, tax issues ... is there any evidence that fact-checking can break a myth spread by a campaign?

Anne E. Kornblut: Who knows? Are you saying I should quit and go make money? For an interesting musing on this question, please see my colleague E.J. Dionne's column today.

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Washington: After additional investigation, it seems as though Sarah Palin was not a member of the Alaska Independence Party but that her husband, Todd, had been a member for several years. While it would have been a very serious issue had she been a member, I remain concerned about the fact that her husband was a member for so long, especially given the fact that he apparently is her closest advisor. How much of an issue do you think his membership in the AIP ultimately will be?

Anne E. Kornblut: I really have no idea, but thank you for bringing it up. I think that Alaska generally is a subject that is new to most voters in the lower 48, so I could see it cutting either way -- freaking out people who don't understand it, or being seen as so remote as to be unimportant.

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Montgomery Village, Md.: Anne, I thought I heard several weeks ago that Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain would be making some "nonpolitical" joint appearance tomorrow on Sept. 11 and discussing the importance of community service. Is this still happening? How tense might that be given what has transpired in the past week?

Anne E. Kornblut: As far as I know, the event still is happening in New York -- and I have a feeling they will not be going out for cocktails afterward. That said, these guys all are accustomed to passing each other in hallways and green rooms around debate time, so I have no doubt they'll handle it just fine.

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Westcliffe, Colo.: You appear taller online than on MSNBC. Is it the lighting, or does Chris Matthews shrink the life forms around him, like the touch of Death shriveling flowers?

Anne E. Kornblut: Um, are you being short-ist? (Or is it height-ist?)

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Southwest Nebraska: "Lipstick on a pig" -- reference to Sarah Palin's appearance and right-wingedness, reference to Palin as Princess of Pork (now known as earmarks), or simply an innocent use of a popular phrase?

Anne E. Kornblut: Thank you for bringing up my favorite question in all of this, which is: Are we now no longer to discuss pork-barrel spending, in addition to lipstick?

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Arlington, Va.: One interesting angle on the "lipstick" controversy that hasn't gotten much coverage is that Obama's lines immediately preceding it had previously appeared almost verbatim in a Tom Toles cartoon. Do you think this is a problem for Obama, given the fact that his running mate previously has been accused of plagiarism?

washingtonpost.com: The Toles cartoon in question.

Anne E. Kornblut: I actually think that's a much better question to be asking. These guys borrow lines from each other and others all the time (and Palin, of course, only has read from one script so far). But it is a very fair point, and thank you for raising it.

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Brigantine, N.J.: I don't understand how Washington can get so lathered about the Obama campaign accusing Palin of being inexperienced. She is. Does Washington really feel comfortable with the possibility of a Palin presidency? To be fair, Washington would be justified in accusing Obama of the same weakness -- but only if (s)he admits to the same failing in Palin.

Anne E. Kornblut: It's interesting, right? I don't know that it's Washington asking the question -- or that even it's Washington's to ask -- but instead voters. Do voters care about experience? We will find out to what extent. And in the meantime, it's a question that was raised about Obama, and will be about Palin.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Anne. You said earlier that you will be traveling with Gov. Palin on her flight back to Alaska later today. On the campaign trail, does Gov. Palin speak to reporters at all (i.e. off the record), or has she been completely shielded from anyone who wants to ask her substantive questions? What do you think about her upcoming interview with Charlie Gibson?

Anne E. Kornblut: I just met up with her campaign yesterday, but so far she has not spoken to reporters, or come anywhere near us. I tried to watch her as closely as I could on the rope lines in Ohio and Pennsylvania yesterday, and she did not appear to be answering regular people's questions, either

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Tampa, Fla.: If attacking Palin for lacking experience is sexist, then wasn't attacking Obama for lacking experience racist? And will Palin hide behind her skirts and refuse to have a female journalist interview her? Palin can cry sexism when a man puts tough questions to her, but she can't when the questioner is a woman. Hillary had the guts to face a hostile press, and didn't cry sexism when she was pressed on the issues. Palin seems to lack Hillary's courage.

Anne E. Kornblut: A lot of people seem to feel the same way here. It's a very interesting question, that is for sure.

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Anchorage, Alaska: Do voters care about experience? After the eight years of George Walker Bush, experience never will be a requirement for the job of president. In fact, it should never even come up in conversation.

Anne E. Kornblut: What I love is that we have a new Alaska constituency down here in Washington. Thank you for writing in.

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Re: "Nit-Picky Things": More of a comment than a question -- remember when Al Gore was running for president in 2000? Everyone kept calling him a liar and it stuck. Why does Sarah seem to be wearing Teflon?

Anne E. Kornblut: Is she? She has been out in the public eye for a little more than the week, and hasn't taken any questions yet or deviated from her speech script. I have a feeling that there is a lot more to come in this campaign. Or maybe I am wrong.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Anne, no hostility here -- your chats are one of the few reasons to smile at work! How about a softball question for you? When the election is over, and you get a long break from all this chaos, what is the first thing you are going to do on your break?

Anne E. Kornblut: Thank you so much! You know what? I am merely hoping it actually ends on Nov. 4 like it's supposed to ... no recount this year, please! And then I will start to think about it.

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Pennsylvania: What would happen if a Washington Post reporter billed the company to the tune of some $16,000 for more than 300 per diems out of fewer than 600 days' employment (while instead spending those nights at home)? Seems to me that having to reimburse The Post and getting fired probably would be the least of that reporter's problems; maybe criminal charges, too? Do you think some Republican fat-cat will donate the cash for Teflon Sarah to repay the State of Alaska, and then she'll smear the media for raising the matter in the first place?

washingtonpost.com: Palin Billed State for Nights Spent at Home (Post, Sept. 9)

Anne E. Kornblut: I had this exact same thought (and no, Washington Post bean counters reading this, I am not going to try it as an experiment). But it seems a lot of people probably do have to be more accountable with their expenses than that.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hello. I am really surprised that more high-profile Democratic female governors, senators and representatives (Clinton, Sebelius, Pelosi, etc.) have not yet mobilized more to counter the enthusiasm for Palin. It would make much more sense for them to go after Palin on Obama's behalf, given that he and Biden have to tread lightly in attacking her.

I think it is extremely important that Sen. Clinton shout from the rooftops, particularly to her former supporters, about the extreme differences between her and Palin. Do you expect to see more Democratic women legislators mobilizing on this front? It just doesn't seem to me that they are doing much, when they could be making a huge difference.

Anne E. Kornblut: My understanding is that Sen. Clinton does not want to get into it in this way -- yet. She's not running against Palin, and she knows all too well how she can energize the Republican base. But I am hearing from a lot of Clinton supporters who feel the same way -- pleading with her, almost.

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Anonymous: "I tried to watch her as closely as I could on the rope lines in Ohio and Pennsylvania yesterday, and she did not appear to be answering regular people's questions, either." The AP's experience is similar. To someone skeptical of the Palin selection, this doesn't exactly give me a warm feeling.

Anne E. Kornblut: We'll see how long it lasts...

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Is this a first for this election?: Since when has Alaska and Hawaii played such an important role in the elections? Nearly 50 years since they have attained statehood, and they are each playing an important role. Interesting?

Anne E. Kornblut: Fascinating. Yes.

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Iowa: The new McCain attack ad on Obama's support for a sex education bill ran on my TV station this morning, and I have to say it was the sleaziest thing I've seen in years in any political campaign. Joe Klein blogged on TIME saying the same thing. What happened to the "honorable" campaign pledges?

Anne E. Kornblut: Thoughts, anyone? E.J. Dionne also has a good column on it.

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Chicago: As you cover these campaigns, are you meeting people who are smart or zealous (or both)? In other words, politics has become such a cynical game played for its own ends -- complete with spinmeisters and bloviators who do nothing but attack and mislead -- that I'm having a hard time believing that sincere, well-meaning Americans still participate. When you walk through the crowd at a daytime McCain-Palin rally, for example, are you meeting informed citizen voters or partisan hacks? This campaign took a very nasty turn recently, and the way America has reacted to it leaves me very depressed. Thanks.

Anne E. Kornblut: All of the above. There are a lot of very genuine people on both sides -- and people who are completely insincere as well. But thank you for the question and hang in there. I'm a believer that the worst thing that ever could happen would be for people who care to give up, regardless of which side they're on.

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Anne E. Kornblut: Apologies all, but the event in Fairfax just ended, and I have to pull up stakes! Will speak to you all from Alaska...

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