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Post Politics Hour
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Shailagh Murray
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Monday, September 29, 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 Shailagh Murray was online Monday, Sept. 29 at 11 a.m. ET to answer readers' questions about the latest news from Washington and the campaign trail.

The transcript follows.

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Shailagh Murray: Good morning everyone. Lots to talk about today. How is John McCain going to regain the momentum? How can Obama put it away? I'd love to hear from you.

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Asheville, N.C.: When polls conducted by The Army Times and others repeatedly have shown the same attitudes toward Iraq, Afghanistan and other military security matters as the rest of us, what can be the point of any story that merely points out how McCain has mobilized specific veterans to support a campaign he has going on? Propaganda in the service of his campaign, that's what.

washingtonpost.com: Brothers in Arms Hit Road to Rally Support for McCain (Post, Sept. 29)

Shailagh Murray: An interesting subplot to the campaign this year. I thought one of the most striking moments on Friday night came with that exchange over the bracelets -- which illustrated your point that people serving in the military have different views, especially on the Iraq war. It's definitely the case that McCain has sought to mobilize service members and create a juggernaut effect -- I'm sure many of you have seen that powerful YouTube video featuring the disabled young man. An aggressive email campaign also is advocating McCain, shall we say, while raising some rather serious claims about Obama.

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Providence, R.I.: Shailagh, I'm curious about preparation for the vice presidential debate. Bob Kaiser's excellent piece revealed that the stand-ins spend a good deal of time researching the debating style of the opposition candidate, so they can give a realistic performance during rehearsals. But Sarah Palin has very limited debate experience; how is the Biden team coping with this? Who's playing Palin in the rehearsals? Thanks for the chat.

washingtonpost.com: Grueling Prep Work Precedes Critical Clash (Post, Sept. 27)

Shailagh Murray: The last report I saw was that Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm was playing Palin. But I'm not sure that's still the case -- all of you who follow this closely, please alert me if the plan is changed.

A wise political person I know cracked that Biden should approach this as a joint appearance, not a debate. That's probably the right attitude. For the Biden folks, the challenge with Palin is that the person we saw in St. Paul is not the person we saw in the Katie Couric interview. She seems to be less in command with every new public appearance. It's one thing for Biden to challenge the confident, even cocky woman at the convention. But someone who is sputtering is way more of a challenge. Above all else you don't want to humiliate her, that would be disaster in my view.

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Fairfax County, Va.: Tom Brokaw clearly showed on Sunday that Bill Clinton is praising McCain more than Obama. Clinton to my ear also is praising Palin more warmly than Joe Biden. A few questions from me as a loyal Democrat and Obama supporter: Why isn't Hillary in charge of the Clinton camp's response? Her husband is totally undercutting her. Since she lost, is he back in the lead? Wouldn't the Obama people be insane to put this man on the road for them? Do you think they will, anyway? What happened between Bill Clinton's convention speech and this past week to sour him on Obama?

Shailagh Murray: I don't get this. It's as if they're not even communicating. For weeks now Hillary has played the good soldier, but as we've seen before (OVER and OVER and OVER again) her husband with a few choice sentences can undercut her like nothing else. That said, I expect President Clinton will spend lots of time in Florida and Ohio in particular, but especially Florida, a state the Obama folks believe is now well within their reach.

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Washington: Please let the readers know that "The Army Times" isn't a soldiers publication, and is owned by Gannett...

Shailagh Murray: Passing this on.

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Marysville, Wash.: I've contacted all of my representatives in the District to voice my opposition to the bailout, and want to know if there's anything else I might do to stop it from passing.

Shailagh Murray: You've done more than most to express your concerns.

But I don't think it's going to work. Many lawmakers truly hate this thing, but the prospect of being blamed for wiping out 401ks and home equity is even scarier.

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Northern Virginia: I think there is a difference between people now serving in the military, who seem (anecdotally) split between Obama and McCain, and people who are veterans, who your story tells me are leaning McCain, even though a third favor Obama. The difference is that veterans, as a demographic, include more old people. Every poll shows that both young and middle-aged people favor Obama, while older people, broadly speaking, trend toward McCain. So it isn't surprising that an older group likes McCain.

Shailagh Murray: This is an excellent point. Thanks for weighing in.

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Crystal City, Va.: With White House support, and the Senate on board, please tell me why the Democrats in the House did not pass this bill last week? They are the majority and don't need the Republican votes, do they?

Shailagh Murray: Nobody wanted to own this legislation -- what a surprise! The truth is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had plenty of problems in her own caucus, especially on the left, and she wasn't about to hang them out there. This is an all for one, one for all situation for both sides.

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Southington, Conn.: Why, in your story on McCain's tactics, did you state that the debate produced no clear winner? Many polls showed Obama clearly winning. Not an attack on your reporting, I'm just curious.

washingtonpost.com: McCain Ready for A Change Of Subject (Post, Sept. 28)

Shailagh Murray: Honestly I am skeptical about scoring winners and losers in debates. Now and then it's obvious, but mostly it isn't. I was surprised at how many commentators gave McCain the clear victory, but it seemed they were mostly reacting to the flashes of old McCain that came through from time to time, which I suppose helped to neutralize what had been a stunningly awful week for the Republican nominee. Low expectations are a wonderful thing -- as I'm sure Sarah Palin is reassuring herself as she starts her debate prep.

Certainly all the polls suggest you are right, that Obama won the debate. I would put it a bit differently -- that Obama benefited slightly more than McCain, because of the disparity in style and demeanor.

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Waterville, Maine: Good morning. Apparently, Sarah Palin is being whisked off to McCain's Sedona ranch to cram for her debate with Biden on Thursday. I couldn't help but notice how many conservative pundits and journalists are aghast at her interview with Katie Couric and, according to Howard Kurtz, there is more to come. Let's not mince words: Bo objective person concerned about the future of this country would consider her qualified to step in as president in an emergency. She makes Dan Quayle's selection seem brilliant. How worried is the McCain camp that she has become a liability instead of an asset, and when will she make an appearance on the Sunday shows? God, I wish Tim Russert was still with us. Having her "Meet the Press" with Russert would be priceless. Your thoughts?

Shailagh Murray: Is this not the most amazing political drama in forever? I mean, where the heck does it go?

My sense is that perception may be starting to move beyond alarm and into pity. A few of my non-political female friends and family members are now mad at McCain's campaign for setting Palin up to fail. Go figure. One woman I spoke to over the weekend said she's not going to watch the debate because she doesn't want to Palin humiliate herself.

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Another McCain Gamble: Any thought on letting Tina Fey do the debate? But seriously, how much of this concern is genuine, and how much is lowering expectations? I really don't see why, given this limited format and the moderator chosen (Ifill is hardly a bomb-thrower) that any politician in any statewide office couldn't get through it without much damage. They're going to spin it as a victory in any event. It's just a job interview, not the SAT. And Biden has to back off, or he'll look like a bully. What's the big deal?

washingtonpost.com: Game Plan for Palin Is Retooled Ahead of Debate (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 29)

Shailagh Murray: Palin's mistake last week, in my humble opinion, was to bluff through issues that nobody expects her to command. Instead of trying to sound like a secretary of state, she should have said, hey, I'm a governor. My perspective on foreign policy is more about immigration and trade than post cold war diplomacy. And then steer the conversation to terrain where she felt more comfortable.

The fact that she didn't do that suggests that she's not thinking well on her feet. Which frankly is probably the worst handicap a politician could have.

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Rockville, Md.: Ms. Murray, I have not read any informed commentary on Biden's debating skills and style. We presume that he has a deep base of knowledge on national and international issues, but that does not by itself make a great debater. Has anyone published material on this recently? What do you know of his skills as a debater? Thank you.

Shailagh Murray: Biden actually has been pretty strong in debates. If you've ever seen him on the Sunday shows, it's similar. He's focused and aggressive. During the primary season, he probably made more of an impact than any of the other overlooked second-tier candidates.

That said, this is a VERY tricky situation. Biden's strength is that he is well versed on the full gamut of domestic and foreign policy issues. It's almost impossible to stump him. Unless he gets his tone right he could sound like a know-it-all.

The biggest challenge may be Gwen's. She has to come up with questions that are fair to both candidates.

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Fairfax, VA: I don't know if this is really a political question but all the articles I'm reading about the bailout seem to be skirting the issue of exactly how much everyday taxpayers are going to have to fork over to pay for it. I'm absolutely livid at the banks for their irresponsible lending, the politicians for their greed and power hungriness in letting it go on and to Bush for refusing to see it ahead of time. But, bottom line, how much am I, as a US taxpayer making $86000 a year going to have to pay for this bailout?

Shailagh Murray: Don't you break a sweat. We'll just borrow the money from China. Or excuse me, borrow MORE money from China.

Actually much of this bailout does not involve cash payouts by the U.S. government. I urge you to check out the many stories in today's newspapers that outline the legislation -- it's more complex than you can imagine.

But rest assured, you will be paying for it eventually. The more debt the government takes on, the fewer services it can provide, and the higher taxes have to rise.

On the other hand, perhaps this bailout will prevent a massive meltdown that would wipe out your retirement savings and home equity, so look on the bright side.

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Palin: I know people who feel the pity you described -- I almost (but not quite) feel bad for her. The bigger question, though: Are those people going to vote for McCain because they feel sorry for her, or shake their heads and vote for Obama?

Shailagh Murray: Well, the Republican friend I cited seems to be leaning towards the latter.

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Reston, Va.: "Palin's mistake last week, in my humble opinion, was to bluff through issues that nobody expects her to command." If nobody expects her to command those issues, why ask the questions in the first place?

Shailagh Murray: It wasn't the questions, it was the answers. It's knowing your own limits.

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New York: What's the deal with Palin? Is she an intelligent person who has been mishandled by a bunch of political operatives, or is there really no there there? Thanks.

Shailagh Murray: We don't really know, do we? Perhaps that will be revealed on Thursday. Or maybe not, the way the last week has gone. Maybe St. Louis will be hit by a hurricane AND a financial meltdown.

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Fort Lee, N.J.: If you'll notice, it looks like Huckabee is acting a lot like Clinton -- ostensibly supporting the nominee, but providing sound bites that don't always put his guy in a great light. What's his game?

Shailagh Murray: Yeah, except Huckabee won Iowa and Bill Clinton was the dang president.

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Richmond, Va.: I see McCain ads jumping on Obama for saying McCain was right a few times in the debate (while leaving out the qualifiers). I fail to see the problem with admitting you may agree with your opponent on some issues. I am soooo tired of the Tom Delay world.

Shailagh Murray: And you are exactly the voter that Barack Obama is trying to reach this year.

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Toronto: My sister, who lives in Texas, has anecdotal evidence of a reverse Bradley effect among moderate Republicans -- i.e. in the privacy of the voting booth, they will vote for Obama. Has anyone in the media examined this?

Shailagh Murray: I totally buy this. I have encountered some of these folks in the South especially, Republicans who have never identified with the religious conservative faction of their party and who are fed up with race baiting and divisions. I would expect to see some of this behavior in North Carolina and Florida. Maybe not enough to make a difference, but enough to notice and ponder.

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Boston: I thought the debate was pretty even. Given the bump in polls, did the Obama team do a better job spinning the debate afterward?

Shailagh Murray: They were both making me dizzy, so I would call the post-debate a draw for sure.

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Cambridge, Mass.: Do you think there' a chance that McCain votes against the bailout at the last minute to give himself some sort of separation from both Bush and Obama on this issue? It would seem to be a possible winning gamble for him, in that he could rail against it for a month and try and win.

Shailagh Murray: I thought that last week but it now seems that both candidates are on board, perhaps McCain more reluctantly. But hey, he can't take credit for helping to cut the deal, if he doesn't vote for it.

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Washington: Not being cynical, because I like Sen. McCain, but did Gov. Palin talk like she has with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric when she ran for governor? Because I can't believe her opponent could have had worse presentation.

Shailagh Murray: It would certainly appear from the extensive news coverage of Palin's Alaska years that she was an open book, very accessible and certainly no shrinking violet. But what she's attempting is a HUGE leap. Way bigger than it would be for the governor of just about any other state, because Alaska is so far off the radar screen in just about every way.

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Re: Richmond, Va.'s Question: McCain's ad criticizing Obama for agreeing with him is a bit strange. He says that Obama is naive and does not understand ... but he is agreeing with a point that McCain is making! Seems like a logical disjoint to me.

Shailagh Murray: Good point.

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Pity Palin?: I'm sorry, but she accepted the vice presidential slot on the ticket. No sympathy from this voter.

Shailagh Murray: That would be the other side of the argument, and I'm sure you're not alone.

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Santa Barbara, Calif.: Before the Gore-Bush debate, it was widely assumed that Gore, the seasoned, wily debater, would trample over Bush. Do you think there are any parallels between that and the Biden/Palin debate?

Shailagh Murray: This speaks to the point I was just making, which is that you cannot discount how out there Alaska is. Bush was far more experienced on the public stage than Palin -- he was the son of a president, for crissakes, and he was governor of a high-profile and politically sophisticated state. Also, he did know his limitations -- he stuck to issues like immigration and taxes, turf that was familiar to him. But you are absolutely right that knowing a lot does not guarantee a strong debate performance.

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Alaska as a small state: Sorry, that won't wash. Arkansas is a small, impoverished, minor state. It's the candidate, not the venue.

Shailagh Murray: Let's start with the fact that Alaska is a state that mails checks to its residents each year.

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Potomac, Md.: Sarah needs to focus on the zingers and being mean-spirited. She shouldn't even try to get up to speed to keep up with Biden; that's a lost cause. She has to rail against big-city elitism, and make snide comments against the snotty Democrat Party. Let Sarah be Sarah.

Shailagh Murray: Free advice for the McCain camp.

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No laughing matter...: Shailagh: Borrowing more money from China is no laughing matter. If U.S. markets continue to look sour, then a great deal of the foreign investment that supports those markets may be withdrawn and deepen the bad times ahead. Either way, being so far in debt only will limit U.S. strategy and policy options in the future.

Shailagh Murray: Oh believe me, I am not laughing.

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Washington State: Good morning. I don't understand the McCain campaign strategy -- after curtailing campaigning last week, he had nothing on over the weekend, and only has one event scheduled this week. With time so short, is that smart? It's fueling conspiracy theories that something else is making him slow down. What do you think? Thanks.

Shailagh Murray: McCain thrives on chaos, and so he has to create some chaos in order to thrive. Maybe he just hasn't hit on the right form of chaos. I'm sure we'll find out.

I'm signing off but thanks for another round of well informed comments and questions. I love hearing from you all and as always I am sorry I can't answer everyone. Have a good week. Thanks, and cheers.

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