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Ben Pershing
Washingtonpost.com Congressional Blogger
Wednesday, September 24, 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.

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Ben Pershing, washingtonpost.com congressional blogger, was online Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

Read the latest post from Capitol Briefing, and also see his election analysis at The Post's new Political Browser, a collection of the biggest and best campaign stories of the day from across the Web.

The transcript follows.

Get the latest campaign news live on washingtonpost.com's The Trail, or subscribe to the daily Post Politics Podcast.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Ben Pershing: Happy Wednesday, everyone. Sorry for the slightly late start. Let's get going.

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Montgomery Village, Md.: Michael, how can I find out how much Joe Gibbs and/or his company have donated to McCain's campaign? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: FEC Presidential Donations Database

Ben Pershing: Why not check out the handy donations database above? You can also find donor info at FEC.gov.

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Washington: So do you think the Republicans are going to get away with opposing the bailout in order to run against it, even though those same people were in power for the past seven years and did nothing to address the underlying issues when they were in power? It seems that if the Democrats were smart, they would insist that a majority of Republicans (and John McCain) vote in favor of the bill before bringing it to a vote.

Ben Pershing: Harry Reid said yesterday that he wanted the White House to secure McCain's vote for the package or else many Democrats won't go along. This puts the administration on the spot. If McCain and other Republicans run against the bailout, then Democrats won't be willing to help Bush get what he wants. If McCain decides to run against the bailout, then there may just be no bailout. And the markets won't like that at all.

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Richmond, Va.: Wow, what a poll shift. Do you think this economic crisis is a game-changer long-term? Thanks for taking my question.

washingtonpost.com: Upcoming Discussion: Post Polling Department (washingtonpost.com, noon ET today)

Ben Pershing: The economic crisis definitely is a game-changer for the foreseeable future. Even if a bailout passes and the news dies down, it seems that most voters will be very worried about the state of the economy from now through November. McCain could bounce back if Obama really messes up one or all of the debates, or if a big crisis abroad puts foreign affairs back on top of the issue pyramid.

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Fredericksburg, Va.: A difficult question I know, but how much of the administration's maneuvering and urgency about the bailout package is politically driven? Clearly this situation is a nightmare for Republicans, facing a tough presidential battle and an even worse outlook in other regional elections. The faster they get this story out of the headlines the better. Comment?

Ben Pershing: Well, everything is politically driven in Washington, to put things simplistically. But I think Paulson and the administration are pushing for fast action on the bailout because they're worried about the markets, and because they're worried that the more the public and Congress look at the bailout plan, the less they'll like it. Which seems to be happening as we speak.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: How much longer before the conventional wisdom changes from "Biden says the occasional dumb thing because he talks so much" to "Biden says the occasional smart thing because he talks so much"?

Ben Pershing: I guess that's a "glass half-full" approach Democrats could take. The Biden gaffe storyline definitely is picking up steam, but fortunately for Democrats, their are other stories crowding it off the front page for now.

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Arlington, Va.: I'll admit up front that I'm a huge Palin/McCain supporter. I don't understand the whining by the press about the availability of Palin for questions. I think she has answered everything the American people need to know. If the McCain campaign wants to keep her away from the press until after the election, I think that's a fair campaign strategy. What more does the press think they need to know from her? What right do they have to hound her to get this information?

Ben Pershing: I see your point, but there is a general tradition that presidential and vice presidential candidates make themselves at least somewhat available to the press on a regular basis. Reporters don't just want to hound Palin about her past record in Alaska, they want to ask her what she thinks about the economic crisis and whatever else is the news of the day. Fairly or not, keeping her away from reporters fuels the media's perception that the McCain campaign thinks she can't handle the spotlight.

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The Bailout Vote: Ben, as an ardent Obama supporter, I have to say they both should be there when the bailout vote comes down in Congress. I will be very disappointed in either or both of them if they are no-shows. That includes if they are not impactful votes too ... this is just too important, and their current job is in the U.S. Senate.

Ben Pershing: Unless the vote happens right in the middle of one of the debates, I definitely think Obama and McCain will be there in the Senate when the time comes. I don't think either can risk not showing up.

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Lansdale, Pa.: I am sensing huge public opposition to this bail out from both left and right. Do you know what Congress is hearing from its constituents? Personally, this may well shift my vote in November if my representative votes for the bailout. I also will be looking at the presidential candidates' senatorial votes, and may be inclined to vote or at least withhold any vote based on their vote on this issue.

Ben Pershing: I'm not sure exactly what members are hearing from their constituents, but each day seems to bring a fresh poll showing the public is turning against the bailout.

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Chicago: What's your current thought on the top of the ticket impacting the tightest senate races? If Obama ends up beating McCain by 10 percent, as indicated in your latest poll, is that likely to make winners of Hagan, Merkley and Franken? Any other Democrats also made winners if Obama wins by that kind of margin?

Ben Pershing: A big Obama win definitely would help fellow Democrats down-ballot, though it's tough to tell yet which states. The three you mentioned -- North Carolina, Oregon and Minnesota -- are all good possibilities. Democrats in some other swing states -- particularly Udall in Colorado and Warner in Virginia -- probably will win on their own momentum and don't need much help from Obama. Mark Warner actually may give Obama a ride on his coattails, rather than the other way around.

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washingtonpost.com: Warner Leads Gilmore By 30 Points, Poll Finds (Post, Sept. 24)

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Mount Vernon, N.Y.: The race so far continues to be tight, but it's interesting that in 1932, according to Jonathan Alter's account of that election between FDR and Hoover, in spite of the Great Depression the race stayed very close until the very end, when FDR just took off and crushed Hoover in a landslide. Ditto 1980, with Reagan and Carter. Is that the conventional wisdom this time -- that Obama will do well enough in the debate that the independents will decide at the very end that it's time to change course?

Ben Pershing: Sure, that's a possibility, and the comparison to 1932 could be apt given the economic climate. At the same time, a war could break out abroad, or Obama could say or do something stupid, and that might push nervous Independents back to McCain. Forty-one days is a long time.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Michael -- thanks for taking questions today. Was Gov. Palin's big debut in New York yesterday overshadowed by the media kerfuffle regarding access to her appearances and meetings? It seems like the media was pretty steamed about it (and rightly so, in my opinion), but is that something voters care about? In other words, will voters see another tightly controlled administration hostile to the press, and not want to go there again?

Ben Pershing: Yes, the controversy about Palin's restricted access yesterday probably blocked out the coverage the McCain campaign wanted -- photo ops of her with world leaders, looking presidential. The public probably doesn't care that much about this, but they'll care if the press keeps writing stories suggesting she's somehow afraid of the scrutiny.

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Chicago: Sad, isn't it, that it takes the potential meltdown of the country's economy to get the presidential campaign coverage off "lipstick on a pig" attacks? When reporters are writing those stories and chronicling the latest fake outrage, etc., do you think to yourself "man, are we being used"? Thanks.

Ben Pershing: There are probably some stories that make reporters sigh over having to cover. But there's such a demand for news now in the Web-driven cycle that there's room to do both -- the big picture stories on the economy and the state of the race and the shorter hits, mostly on the Web, on whatever the latest minor controversy is.

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Washington: Every time the media covers a Biden gaffe story, the McCain campaign's decision to bar the press from talking to Palin seems smarter. Seriously, what's the upside of talking to the press if you can be gaffe-free and still get coverage by not talking to them?

Ben Pershing: That's one way of looking at it. It actually might be easier for the Obama campaign to hide Biden, as he's got a very long record and has run for president before. It's harder to hide Palin because the press is still eager to learn more about her. I haven't heard many reporters suggest that Biden's background and views are a mystery.

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Washington: Why did the Democrats let the ban on offshore drilling expire? Couldn't they have summoned the necessary fortitude to bring it to a vote, even though the president has threatened a veto? Recommendations by the Minerals Management Service seem tainted by the scandals that have racked that office. Are the Democrats that scared to take a stand on offshore drilling? Can't they talk to the American people like adults and explain that there is no one-sentence answer (just like this is no one sentence question -- sorry about that) to the problem of our reliance on foreign oil?

washingtonpost.com: House Democrats to Let Ban on Drilling Expire (Post, Sept. 24)

Ben Pershing: The polls have tipped decisively in favor of more oil drilling, despite Democrats' efforts for months to persuade people on this subject. And there are some vulnerable Democrats out there who would be very upset with their leaders if they were forced to walk the plank on this issue. Democratic leaders looked at the politics of this issue and decided it was too big a risk to have a potential government shutdown.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi. I have asked this question at a number of politics chats and not gotten a response. Do you know if there is any plan to broadcast the debates online? I have Internet access but no television, a strategy that is now putting me in a position of possibly missing the debates. ... Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: We will be streaming Friday's debate live on washingtonpost.com.

Ben Pershing: See above. This Web site is your one-stop shop for all political news. Who even needs a television?

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Asheville, N.C.: Sitting in a one-hour line for gasoline tonight (big local shortage), I listened to a podcast outlining the Wall Street bailout. I'm beginning to wonder if 2008 ends up in history books the way 1929 did. Anyway, what sayeth ye with respect to the Tar Heel state? I see polls with the state anywhere from a tie to McCain plus 20! Can Obama and Kay Hagan pull it off?

Ben Pershing: Kay Hagan definitely has a shot to unseat Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina. Democrats have done a very good job of tarring Dole as ineffective in the Senate. Obama also has a chance, but I would say it's a smaller one than Hagan has. If Obama wins North Carolina then he probably would win a lot of other swing states too and the race wouldn't be close.

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Chicago: You've now written two answers where you assert that keeping foreign policy in the headlines helps McCain's poll numbers. What's your basis for saying that? (Personally, I have a hard time believing that war in Georgia or new violence in Pakistan or Iraq would help McCain, but maybe that's just me.) Thanks.

Ben Pershing: I'm not saying McCain wants something horrible to happen, I'm Just saying that if you look at poll numbers, voters consistently give Obama a big advantage on economic issues, whereas the race is much closer on foreign policy issues -- and McCain still has a huge advantage on which man would be the better commander in chief.

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Gaffes: At least Biden is willing to discuss politics in a variety of settings and doesn't limit himself to reciting a canned stump speech. The media should lay off their fixation on Biden's "gaffes" until Palin begins to speak candidly so the two veep nominees can be judged on equal ground. Otherwise the media are penalizing Biden for his candor while allowing Palin to hide behind a curtain of silence.

Ben Pershing: Seems like the media is punishing both candidates right now -- Palin for her silence and Biden for his gaffes. It may be an impossible standard, but the best way to avoid the negative coverage is to appear often in the media and, when you do, don't say anything foolish.

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Tailoring: Has the coattail effect ever been studied and quantified scientifically? Maybe it's one of those things we think occurs but doesn't, or at least not in the way we assume it does?

Ben Pershing: I'm sure the coattail effect has been studied, though I don't have a good link to send you at the moment. It's a fairly simple and demonstrable statement to say that some candidates drive large turnout for themselves (Obama, for example, is expected to get historically large African American turnout). At least some of those Democrats who don't normally vote but do turn out to vote for Obama will end up also voting for Democrats for the Senate, House, etc. So yes, I do think coattails exist.

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College Station, Texas: Other than Proposition 8 in California, which attempts to overturn gay marriage, what states have wedge-issue ballot measure that could motivate voters to turn out who might not otherwise vote because of diminished enthusiasm for the candidates? I know the same-sex marriage ban was big in Ohio in 2004.

Ben Pershing: One that comes to mind is Colorado's Amendment 48, which officially defines a person as any fertilized human egg. That should bring out a lot of people on both sides of the abortion debate.

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Calabasas, Calif.: Do you think comments like the one Campbell Brown made (that McCain is being chauvinistic in protecting Palin from the press) will start to gain traction?

washingtonpost.com: Campbell Brown: McCain Campaign's Handling of Sarah Palin 'Sexist' (washingtonpost.com's Political Browser, Sept. 24)

Ben Pershing: I think a lot of people already have pretty firm views on Palin and the sexism issue, so that may not change much now. Many Republicans think she has been treated unfairly by the media, while many Democrats think she's getting a free ride and was a cynical pick by McCain. So reaction to Brown's comments likely will split along those lines.

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Washington: Okay, so Rove and Miers need to testify ASAP, but not Dodd, Frank and Obama's friends from Fannie and Freddie? If The Post and other left-leaning pubs want to do their jobs, look into the fact that people with the closest ties to Fannie and Freddie are the ones drafting the legislation. Not to mention that some of Obama's top advisers are from there. Dodd and Frank have taken mucho dinero from them, and obstructed efforts to rein them in. What about when the federal government ordered them to give these high risk loans, many to minorities, to be "equal" as Janet Reno put it. A little background would be good.

Ben Pershing: The "background" is that both the McCain and Obama campaigns have ties to Fannie and Freddie. Both parties have taken money from them, their huge lobbying teams have employed both Republicans and Democrats, and both Republican- and Democratic-led Congresses and White Houses have failed to increase oversight over them.

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Richmond, Va.: I was fascinated this morning listening to an interview that NPR conducted about the Palin effect. It appears that more people than perhaps the pollsters think really do vote on one issue. Here we are in the middle of a horrific financial crisis, and many of those pro-Palin people said was it was because she was for hunters, implying -- without proof -- that the Democrats were going to take away their hunting privileges. So, broad-brush issues like a housing meltdown, job losses or the high price of health care just don't seem to matter to a lot of people. Thus, the question: How much do individual issues matter?

Ben Pershing: You're always going to have slivers of voters who value one issue above all -- whether it's guns or abortion or the environment or whatever. But I think the evidence suggests that most voters look at a range of issues, particularly the voters in the center that both campaigns are fighting for.

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Hartford, Conn.: Hank Paulson led one of the largest investment banks in the world. He didn't see this coming? Or if he did, why didn't he do anything about it? Any chance one of the congressmen asks him this today?

Ben Pershing: That would be a good question to ask. I think his answer would be that he and others knew there were problems in the credit and mortgage markets, but hardly anyone knew how bad it would get. Isn't that reassuring?

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Re: The Politics of Bailout: I have to disagree slightly that there's some politics here. There is no way that the Treasury Department can spend $700 billion dollars responsibly that quickly. There has to be some reason for the rush.

Ben Pershing: Well, I agree that some of the reason is political, if that's what you're asking. The practical reason is that the markets need reassuring, and the political reason is that the administration is more likely to get exactly what it wants if the process is rushed.

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Huntsville, Ala.: If the country really is 54% democratic, as The Post poll says, then the election is over for the Republicans. Of course, in the past, the country has not been that way for either party. Usually it is in the high 30s or 40s. Do you think the poll is skewed because of this?

Ben Pershing: No, Gallup also has reported that Democratic affiliation has reached extremely high levels. And the 54 percent number you're looking at includes both self-identified Democrats and people who lean Democratic. The overall party ID is roughly in line with other national polls.

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Bailout Mechanics: If either house of Congress votes against the bailout, to what extent can the White House proceed unilaterally?

Ben Pershing: I don't think there's much the administration can do without congressional approval. Congress has to appropriate money for the administration to spend it, and it's not like Bush has a $700 billion slush fund sitting around.

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Ben Pershing: Thanks for the great questions, everyone.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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