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Chris Cillizza
Washingtonpost.com Political Blogger
Friday, September 26, 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 buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

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Chris Cillizza, washingtonpost.com political blogger, was online Friday, Sept. 26 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the latest political news.

Read the latest post from The Fix or follow him on Twitter.

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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Chris Cillizza: Good morning, everyone. Even though we are less than 12 hours from the first planned presidential debate, it's still not clear whether it actually will happen.

John McCain and Barack Obama woke up this morning in Washington, and McCain at least plans to stay until some sort of compromise (or at least the outline of a compromise) is worked out.

It's uniquely possible that we could find out the fate of the debate (poet and didn't know it) in the next hour -- so stay tuned.

Let's get started.

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Baltimore: I know that candidates are supposed to try to depress expectations going into a debate, but it seems like Palin and McCain are taking that a little far.

Chris Cillizza: This is the least predictable campaign I ever have seen personally or even read about. Just when things seem to be settling in to a rhythm, something comes along and totally disrupts the storyline.

McCain's gambit to suspend his campaign to come back to Washington was -- from the start -- a high risk/high reward maneuver. If McCain came back and a deal was brokered quickly with congressional Republicans lauding him for his leadership, it would have been seen as a master stroke.

As it stands right now, with no deal in place and pressure mounting on McCain to make a decision about the debate tonight, it could wind up being a disastrous move. If McCain winds up going to the debate when no deal is worked out, he looks ineffective and political -- not exactly the image you want to send to voters just 39 days before the election.

Much hangs in the balance over the next few hours.

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Seattle: Chris, I've been dying for your chat to come this week. Do you think anyone is buying McCain's "Suspending Campaign and go to Washington" gambit? Didn't he make the Immigration Bill talks more difficult when he screamed profanities at Sen. Cornyn?

Chris Cillizza: As I just wrote, I think that McCain's move has serious political implications -- whether it winds up being seen as a good or a bad move in the long run.

I am not sure average voters are following every move in this amazing fight over the bailout; rather, my guess is they have picked up a few generalities -- McCain went back to try and solve the problem, the problem appeared to have gotten worse, etc.

That's obviously not a good story line for McCain. His campaign knows they need to find a way to make this, at least, a neutral move for his candidacy. The only way they can do that is if some sort of deal is reached and McCain can claim victory for playing a part in it. Can that happen in time for him to make it down to Mississippi for the 9 p.m. ET debate? Seems like a tight fit.

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Ballston, Va.: I'm streaming live C-SPAN at work right now; I was expecting the House members to be a bit more heated and feisty. It's rather dull.

Chris Cillizza: Streaming C-SPAN live! Awesome.

True story: Before Mrs. Fix came into my life, I occasionally would come home from work and watch C-SPAN just to see what was going on.

As you can imagine, that made me quite the lady killer. Not.

_______________________

Pittsburgh: Do you think the bailout crisis will be of more help to the Democrats or Republicans in terms of House and Senate seats in November? Do the Democrats now have a stronger chance of reaching 60 senators?

washingtonpost.com: The Fix's Friday Line: The Top 25! (washingtonpost.com, Sept. 26)

Chris Cillizza: I really think the political implications of the bailout package depend on what happens in the next 48 hours.

Judging from national and state polls, however, the rising focus on the economy is a boon for Democrats. Voters tend to trust Democrats more than Republicans on economic matters right now, and the more that voters believe the current administration's policies have in some way caused the current crisis, the more likely they are to opt for the candidate of change.

As I wrote in my Friday House Line (linked below), Democrats are in strong position today to make double-digit gains in the House -- a function both of the political environment and the massive financial edge Democrats enjoy over their GOP counterparts.

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Roller coaster fan: If McCain becomes President, can we expect as exciting a time as we have had this past few weeks?

Chris Cillizza: We always have known that McCain is a risk-taker, someone who is willing to take chances that other, more cautious politicians would shy away from.

He showed that tendency toward seat-of-the-pants-ism when he picked Sarah Palin as his vice presidential nominee, and again earlier this week with the campaign suspension gambit. The Obama campaign has, of late, tried to use this tendency against him, painting him as "erratic" and not presidential.

Who wins that debate?

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Bethesda, Md.: Hey Chris -- is it the liberal media (ha ha), or is Palin's star quickly fading? Even some commentators on the right seem to be shifting against her.

Chris Cillizza: Ah the old "liberal media." Damn them.

I actually think the economic crisis has pushed Palin to the back burner of late, which -- judging from her interview last night with Katie Couric -- is a good thing for the McCain campaign.

Palin struggled to put together cogent answers on any of the questions she was asked and seemed very much off her game.

Because of the attention paid to the bailout talks, however, what could have been an absolutely disastrous moment for McCain campaign got very little press attention.

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Baltimore: So, if you were moderating the debate tonight, what sort of question would you open with?

Chris Cillizza: Well, now that the debate is on, I will need to think more seriously about this question. Off the top of my head:

"What would be the first tangible thing you would do upon taking office to change the way in which America is perceived in the world?"

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Fairfax, Va.: The metaphor the corporate media keeps copying from one another is this is a "goldilocks" debate, with Sen. Obama not wanting to be too cool and Sen. McCain not wanting to be too hot. But the reality is television is a cool medium -- Nixon learned that when he was sweating bullets in his 1960 presidential debate with John F. Kennedy. My advice to Sen. Obama is to just stay cool.

Chris Cillizza: I think this is a very astute analysis of what Obama needs to do. The more statesmanlike and steady he looks, the better.

I'll have more on what to expect out of both candidates in tonight's debate in a Fix post later today.

_______________________

Bronx, N.Y.: One thing is for sure -- McCain has lost David Letterman's vote for all time. Probably Paul Schaffer's too.

Chris Cillizza: Letterman was not happy about the cancellation. But, he got Keith Olbermann as a substitute!

Also, did anyone catch Craig Ferguson's take on McCain's campaign suspension?

Genius.

_______________________

What a surprise: Not every gamble pays off, apparently.

Chris Cillizza: Indeed. I have equated this standoff about the debate to a presidential staring contest. McCain blinked.

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Re: Debate is on!: So, does this mean McCain blinked?

Chris Cillizza: See my last post.

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Fort Myers, Fla.: Re: McCain announcement -- so, they are exactly where they were before McCain ever got to Washington? And now it's a go?

Chris Cillizza: Right. This is not a good moment for McCain's campaign. What it looks like is that they did is cut their losses -- acknowledging that his pledge to postpone the debate wasn't going to work and that it wasn't likely that he would be able to declare a victory on the bailout/rescue bill any time soon.

_______________________

Annapolis, Md.: Isn't tonight's debate about foreign policy? Will economic policy seep into the questions? I think more people will watch tonight then normally would of because of the hijinks that have been going on the past week.

washingtonpost.com: McCain Doubling Down on Debate? (FiveThirtyEight.com, Sept. 25)

Chris Cillizza: Yes, the stated theme of tonight's debate is foreign policy, and yes, it's almost certain that the ongoing fight regarding a bailout of the financial sector will come up.

I would agree that the back-and-forth of "will it or won't it happen" in regards the debate has driven up interest in tonight's now on again soiree. I, for one, can't wait. For all the folks interested in my thoughts on the debate, I will be providing them in real time via The Fix and Twitter.

If you want to sign up for my Twitter feed, search for "thefix" on the site.

_______________________

New York: Obama is a very intelligent man, but he often meanders like he's thinking out loud. Tonight he needs to keep his remarks snappy and concise without sounding like bumper stickers. And yes, he needs to keep his signature cool.

Chris Cillizza: I do think that Obama's biggest potential weakness is his tendency to ramble a bit -- giving a three-minute answer when a 30-second answer would suffice.

But, if you watched him during the Democratic debate, he drastically curbed that tendency -- giving more focused, shorter answers.

He'll need to keep that up tonight.

_______________________

Red State Senate Races: Hi Chris. If you had to rank the Senate races in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, which Democratic candidate do you think has the best shot at winning?

Chris Cillizza: Good question.

All three are major long-shots.

Here's how I would do it:

1. Oklahoma
2. Nebraska
3. Kansas

_______________________

Chris Cillizza: Folks, I have to run to write some analysis for The Fix on what McCain's going to the debate means for the campaign. Make sure to check it out. I am going to grab a few of the best questions sitting in the queue and will answer them later today on The Fix.

_______________________

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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