Post Politics Hour
Monday, October 6, 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 chief political reporter Dan Balz was online Monday, Oct. 6 at 11 a.m. ET to answer readers' questions about the latest news from Washington and the campaign trail.
The transcript follows.
Carlsbad, Calif.: Good morning Mr. Balz, thanks for taking the question. A number of pollsters are starting to compare Obama's lead at this stage of the campaign against data from past campaigns and concluding that it is unlikely that McCain can catch up in the next month. What is your view on that question in your experience with previous campaigns, and given the nature of current economic realities? Also, it is all over the Web today that McCain is planning to go "extremely negative" against Obama as a result. Do you think that will hurt of help him?
washingtonpost.com: 50 Percent, 8 Percent and October: Some Historical Context (Pollster.com, Oct. 4)
Dan Balz: Good morning to everyone on another day of turmoil in the financial markets and on the eve of the second presidential debate. We'll get right to questions, beginning with this one.
Senator McCain is certainly in a difficult position. There have been a series of shifts nationally and in the battleground states over the past two-plus weeks that have put him in a hole. What's important is the number of key states where Senator Obama is at 50 percent of just above. That's a key threshold, meaning that McCain will have to peel away people who are now saying they will support Obama.
The one thing to remember is that we are in a terribly volatile moment because of the economy. So far this has pushed voters toward Obama, but we don't know what the next 29 days will bring, either in the markets, the broader economy or the campaign. Four years ago some people looked at historical comparisons and said there was virtually no way for President Bush to win, given his approval rating at the time (which was obviously much higher than now but not that strong for an incumbent seeking reelection). Bush overcame those odds.
Can McCaoin overcome the odds he now faces?
Baltimore: What's your prediction on how McCain's attack ads/Palin's attack stump speech will fare, overall? Are we seeing a possible game-changer or a last-ditch effort? What should we watch for? Thanks.
Dan Balz: The last month of the campaign is likely to be pretty negative. Both campaign seem ready for that. Will it be a game-changer? In this environment, with so many people worried about the economy, their jobs, their retirement savings, their home mortgages, it's going to be harder for the negative attacks to break through. The risk for McCain is that people will see the attacks as a distraction from what really concerns them. But what McCain is counting on is that in a time of uncertain, doubts about Obama could become more important. We'll all be watching the movement in the polls, the degree to which attacks and counterattacks go over the line and whether either side will pay a real price for that, as opposed to gaining an advantage.
Greenbelt, Md.: I know this is a politics discussion and not a economics discussion, but today's drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average makes me realize that, roughly speaking, all the money I saved for retirement in the 1990s (which wasn't much) has not earned anything, net, in the past 10 years. And the money I'm putting into my retirement fund with every paycheck seems to be going into a black hole. Any candidate for any federal office who can tap into the anger I feel about this will be tapping into something electorally powerful.
Dan Balz: I suspect you are one of many millions of Americans with these thoughts and you'll be heard on election day.
Buffalo, N.Y.: Thanks for your articles and chats. In the past week we have heard McCain say he "often" consulted Palin before tapping her as vice presidential nominee, despite the fact they met what, twice? And on Friday, it came out that the decision to close shop in Michigan was made by McCain's advisers without even telling Palin, let alone consulting her. So why have the press not pushed McCain to explain things like? In what areas did he seek Palin's advice, and why was she not involved in the Michigan decision? Is it that McCain is simply unavailable, that he refuses to answer such questions, or is the press wary of asking such questions?
Dan Balz: It would be easier to know the answers to questions like that if McCain were doing daily press conferences. For the last several days he's been holed up in Arizona doing debate prep and not really talking to reporters. The press is certainly not wary of asking these questions.
South Bend, Ind.: What exactly has caused Indiana -- a state that is normally solid red, do be up for grabs in this election? In places like Virginia and North Carolina it is demographically more explainable -- with a combination of larger black populations and more liberal voters in Northern Virginia and the Research Triangle, respectively -- but what explains Indiana's move toward the toss-up category?
Dan Balz: That's an excellent question and one I tried to puzzle through in a web piece a couple of weeks ago. Part of it is the economy, part of it may be the proximity of Indiana to Illinois. But it's been one of the biggest puzzles on the map this year. I wrote in that earlier piece that if Indiana was competitive, then states like Ohio and Michigan should not be, tha Obama ought to be well ahead there. Well, at this point, we can see that McCain thinks that Michigan is gone for him and new polls in Ohio show Obama with a lead outside the margin of error. We'll see if all his holds up.
Mt. Laurel, N.J.: It seems that this is not the same John McCain who ran a dignified campaign in 2000. My question is, how much is he involved with the 2008 campaign's strategy?
Dan Balz: Every campaign is a reflection of the candidate. McCain is involved in his own campaign, just as Obama is in his.
Rockville, Md.: Hi Mr. Balz. What does your experience in politics -- whether presidential, congressional or otherwise -- tell you about negative campaigning? Is there empirical data to support its effectiveness? Is there anything about this particular year that might make it resonate more or less than in other years? Thank you for your insights.
Dan Balz: Negative ads can have an effect on campaigns. That's pretty well documented. If they didn't work, candidates would not use them. There are also some people who believe that negative ads -- particularly those that are not personal attacks but that raise policy differences -- are helpful to voters. As I mentioned in an earlier question, the current economic crisis may make it harder for negative attacks on other topics to break through.
Iowa: A USA TODAY/MTV/Gallup Poll of registered voters 18-to-29 years old shows Obama leading McCain by 61-32 percent, the most lopsided contest within an age group in any presidential election in modern times. Do you think these young people will show to vote on Election Day? Are they moved by the burgeoning economic woes?
Dan Balz: I assume everyone is moved by the economy right now, no matter what their age. We've seen evidence of high interest among young voters this year but they still have historically low turnout rates, so we'll see if the combination of the economy and the Obama campaign's efforts to mobilize them will work.
Chicago: What script do you expect McCain to follow tomorrow night? His frosty, dismissive posture toward Obama in the first debate seemed to work against him in the reviews/polls. Do you expect to see a warmer demeanor?
Dan Balz: I don't know whether it will be warmer or not, but a town hall format means there will have to be more interaction -- certainly with the audience and perhaps with Obama. McCain loves town hall meetings, although we'll see how he handles one with an opponent on the stage. Governor Palin was certainly friendly toward Biden (and he toward she). Maybe McCain will take a page out of her debate book.
Gas City, Ind.: Do you think there's any sentiment among Republicans that maybe this wouldn't be such a bad election to lose? I mean, all indications are that the next several years are going to be difficult economically and militarily. They might think: "Give Obama 2 1/2 years, and come back fighting with a new and better candidate who can rail against the Democrats."
Dan Balz: Maybe some Republicans feel that way, but no party really wants to take a beating, even if times are going to be tough.
Minneapolis: Given the recent swing towards Obama at the state and national level, how do you see the focus of the two campaigns shifting? Does Obama simply need to play it safe? Should McCain bring up Ayers or Rezko in the debate, or does he need to continue to let his surrogates make those accusations?
Dan Balz: Obama ought not to become complacent and there's no indication that he is, given the quick surfacing of the Keating 5 episode. McCain may well bring up both Ayers and Rezko although it's likely we'll hear more of that from surrogates. One reality is that there are not the 527s around this year to carry these negative attacks, so it's left to both campaigns and the national party committees' independent expenditure ads to do so.
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