Post Politics Hour
Monday, October 20, 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. 20 at 11 a.m. ET to answer readers' questions about the latest news from Washington and the campaign trail.
The transcript follows.
Dan Balz: Good morning to everyone. Two weeks and a day left in Campaign 2008. Sen. Obama is in Florida, where early voting is starting. Sen. Obama is in Missouri. Both are competitive states; both were won by President Bush four years ago. That tells you how the landscape is tilted at this point. We'll get to your questions.
U.S.: Dan, I am sure you will have a ton of question in the queue today regarding the endorsement of Gen Powell. My only question, which is being touted by Buchanan and Rush, is whether this is a racially motivated gesture. Given Gen. Powell's history, do you consider this a valid argument?
Dan Balz: Tom Brokaw asked Secretary Powell about that on "Meet the Press" yesterday. Powell said if it were just about race, he could have made this endorsement months ago. He did not understate the potential significance of America electing its first African American president, and said that would be something that should make all Americans proud, but he said there was far more than race that went into his decision.
Dallas: Thanks for the chats, Dan; I'm sure you're looking forward to a break soon. This is less of a question than a proposal: With Obama collecting record amounts of money, it's starting to appear a little unseemly to just throw it at wall-to-wall TV advertising. As a supporter, I would love to see him use it to hire thousands of young people and set them loose on a big community-service project -- a river cleanup in Ohio or senior meals outreach. Something like this would feel like money well-spent, and would be a good tone with which which to start a presidency (fingers crossed), as well as a positive appeal to voters. The campaign-ad model seems very stale to me; doesn't it seem like it's time to think beyond it?
Dan Balz: This is an interesting notion. There are any number of questions already this morning -- and I suspect more on the way -- about Sen. Obama's enormous fundraising advantage and the remarkable numbers he posted for both August and September. I'll post other questions/suggestions/thoughts about the money as we go along.
Helena, Mont.: I supported public financing of campaigns, but I have rethought this. Obama's cash allows him to expand the election to more than the usual blue states plus one or two swing states -- he can make it a national election, where all voters are asked to vote. That's not possible when the candidates are hamstrung with $85 million plus party cash. I think Congress should revisit campaign finance reform and see how they can make it more possible for future campaigns to reach all voters. I know we in Montana have felt more a part of this election than any of the others, because at least one party is asking for our vote and we are being targeted.
Dan Balz: Here's another thought about the value of Sen. Obama's fundraising -- that it has brought the campaign to many states that haven't felt part of previous presidential campaigns. All things considered, that's probably good. If Congress were to look at this with the idea of figuring out how to make it possible for future campaigns to reach all voters -- and there were calls to reinvigorate public financing -- then the amounts given to the two nominees would have to be increased significantly.
One worrisome note about the financial disparity between Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain is that it goes against the earlier, accepted view that the general election should be fought on a relatively level playing field in terms of money. This year it's obviously not close, and there will be some vigorous debate about that once the election is over. Sen. Obama's fundraising shows there is great enthusiasm for his candidacy. The more that people want to be involved, in whatever way, in presidential campaigns, the better. So you've got competing notions of what's good for democracy playing out here.
Seattle: Dan you said, "Sen. Obama is in Florida, where early voting is starting. Sen. Obama is in Missouri. Both are competitive states." I was unaware he can be in two places at once! That can be pretty handy as president.
Dan Balz: Sorry about that. Obama's in Florida, McCain's in Missouri. Obama was in Missouri on Saturday, with some pretty big crowds. Thanks for waking me up.
An owner of a piece of this campaign: Obama also could give his donors a survey to find out what they would want him to do with leftover money, if any. He already gives them (us) surveys from time to time to find out what issues we care about. I really would appreciate a gesture of this type on his part. Obviously the timing has to be right, but he seems to be good at that.
Dan Balz: Thanks for the suggestion. Have you sent this idea to the Obama headquarters?
Washington: Mr. Balz, your statement last week about the media having to take a harder look at Obama because he was ahead in the polls was indefensible. If I am not mistaken, America has a choice between two candidates. Isn't it the responsibility of the media to examine the two alternatives with equal vigor? Your proposal is precisely what is wrong with the media today. Obama is ahead, let's go after him. McCain is picking up steam, let's go after him now. Your comments betray the media's obsession with the horse race and the desire for a narrow race. The polls are what they are. It is not your job to calibrate your examination of the candidates based on the fluctuations of the polls. Shame on you.
washingtonpost.com: The Trail: Questioning Obama (washingtonpost.com, Oct. 13)
Dan Balz: If you read that piece, it did not say the media should not be examining Sen. McCain -- It was an effort to say we should be doing more than reporting on the problems with the McCain campaign and begin to look at Sen. Obama as well, particularly on substantive issues. I recall the media being criticized in the past for not asking harder questions of Candidate and President Bush at various points from 2000 forward. I don't think that asking and trying to answer substantive questions about a candidate's positions represents going after him. I also thought the effort by my colleagues at The Post over the weekend to look at what a transition might bring for either Obama or McCain was helpful, and there's probably more that we can do.
Montreal: Hi Dan -- thanks as always for chatting. Who are some up-and-coming leaders on the non-social-conservative side of the Republican Party? Who's out there to speak for the, for want of a better label, David Brooks Republicans? The moderate wing of the party may have been out of favor lately, but I sense a major comeback coming.
Dan Balz: Without starting a list of names, I'd think that if Sen. McCain loses this race, you will start hearing from the Republican governors. The congressional wing of the party will be very much on the defensive, but the governors will assert themselves as new voices for the party.
Vancouver, Wash.: Hi Mr. Balz. What effect will the TV media have on the outcome of the election on the West Coast if they release exit polling data from the East and Midwest when the polls out here still are open? I would guess it will diminish voter turnout and impact the "down-ballot" races. How do they plan on handling this? Thanks.
Dan Balz: The networks don't release exit poll data or make projections in states until all the polls in that state have closed. It's certainly possible that the outcome of this election could be foreshadowed by some of the states that close earliest, and Virginia is one. If it looks like Sen. Obama is carrying Virginia early in the evening, that will be a clue that he's likely to have a very good night. Both campaigns have extensive get-out-the-vote operations in many Western states, and they'll be doing everything they can to get their supporters out. It's possible some voters may be discouraged if the trends are clear, but there is so much interest in this election that I'd like to think people will come out regardless.
Amherst, N.H.: Hi Dan. Thoroughly enjoying your coverage of this wild election cycle. I can't help thinking that even when it's over, it won't be over, what with the voter registration questions now being raised in key states like Ohio. But my main interest is money: Obama's September total is staggering, but put it in perspective against the 527 money from the GOP side he has to battle against. How much is the NRA spending to spread their message?
Dan Balz: There is far less 527 activity this year than in 2004. That's actually a big change, and our team has chronicled that. Groups like the NRA are not 527s, and they are active in behalf of the Republicans, but organized labor is spending tens of millions in behalf of the Democrats. I don't know how all that balances out, but I think it's clear at this point that Sen. Obama has a big advantage in the direct competition, which is the most important this year.
New York: What is the impact of McCain on Letterman and Palin on "Saturday Night Live." Will that help them in the polls at all? On another note, why is there so little coverage of the Clintons on the campaign trail? They have events every day but we rarely hear about it. And where is Al Gore?
Dan Balz: Letterman and "Saturday Night Live" are good fun, but probably aren't doing a lot to move the polls. The Clintons actually have not been out every day, although they will be more active in the final couple of weeks. The media gives them some coverage but we have to keep our focus on the two presidential candidates and, to a lesser extent, the two vice presidential candidates, plus all kinds of other stories we're trying to do.
Washington: Why do you think that 527 groups have played such a small role this cycle?
Dan Balz: On the Democratic side, Sen. Obama's campaign explicitly said they didn't want their allies to give money to 527s, and that had a big impact. The Republicans haven't gotten their act together.
Keystone-Stater: We've been getting so many commercials for Barack Obama on TV here in Pennsylvania that, as an Obama supporter, I worry it could have the unintended consequence of turning off undecided voters. Has there ever been any research done on the effects of too much campaign advertising?
Dan Balz: I don't know about specific research, though there may be some, but it is a potential problem. People just get tired of it and don't want to hear it after a point. There is some risk there.
Ohio: Being a young adult, I appreciate the extent that Obama is reaching out into our mobile world. He's advertising extensively on hulu.com and on the text mobile service ChaCha. I saw elsewhere that he's advertising in video games. All of these are targeting the 18-to-25-year-old crowd, so we'll see if it pays off. I'm sure it's not as expensive as TV ads, but it's reaching my age demographic in new ways, and I think that's exciting.
Dan Balz: Thanks for sending that along. They have certainly exploited technology to reach younger voters.
Jacksonville, Fla.: At 10 a.m. as early voting began today, there were about 100 people standing in line in front of the voting site in downtown Jacksonville. No one remembers ever seeing so many people on the first day of early voting in previous elections. The 14 other early voting sites in the county also reported lines.
Dan Balz: Here is some breaking news, as the cable networks say. This just arrived from Jacksonville. We'll see what happens elsewhere in the state today.
Miami: I feel these are the best candidates we've ever had run for president. My primary question is, which one is more likely to follow his conviction rather than political expediency? I never had much doubt that McCain, right or wrong, absolutely would follow his conviction. Now that it looks like Sen. Obama will have a potentially substantive win, will this provide the cover for him to get beyond the less-than-statesmanlike Reid and Pelosi -- who are even less liked (for good reason) than Bush -- and truly offer a vision beyond his party?
Dan Balz: If Sen. Obama wins, one of his challenges will be managing the relationship with Democratic congressional leaders, who are likely to have even bigger majorities in the new Congress than they do now. Bill Clinton mortgaged his presidency to Democratic congressional leaders at the start of his presidency and regretted it. This is a different time, but if he is president, that will be something to watch. Sen. McCain, if he becomes president, will have to deal with Democrats to get things done. That alone seems to require giving ground on some things for the sake of results.
Garfield, N.J.: A hundred thousand in Missouri. Realistically, how good an indicator is this that the candidate is doing well? Do we have any recent examples of losing campaigns that drew record crowds?
Dan Balz: Well, let's think back to the Pennsylvania primary. On the Friday night before the primary, Sen. Obama drew about 30,000 in Philadelphia; he went on to lose that primary to Sen. Clinton decisively. So crowds are not always the best indicators. They can tell you how passionate a particular candidate's supporters are, but they can't tell you about the tens of millions of people who never go to political rallies. Still, that was an impressive crowd.
Fairfax, Va.: Does it seem that Powell broke new ground, or is he just joining the long list of other moderate Republicans to express distaste for the McCain campaign and the Palin selection (Brooks, Parker, Buckley, Will, etc.)?
Dan Balz: One big difference is that he actually endorsed Obama. Most of the others -- Buckley is certainly an exception -- have expressed dissatisfaction with the McCain campaign but haven't given Obama the kind of fulsome endorsement that Powell did. Also, Powell is a much, much better-known person, so he speaks with a megaphone.
Nov. 5: What exactly do you guys do after the election is over?
Dan Balz: Here's a good one to end on. We sleep for about six months!
Truthfully, transition to a new president and a new administration means lots of work, starting on Nov. 5. So people will have only a little time to catch their breath.
Wilmington, N.C.: I voted last Thursday and experienced the same crowd as in Jacksonville. Monitors who worked all day said it never let up. It feels good to be a part of it, especially given our poor track record.
Dan Balz: Here's another report, this one from North Carolina. Thanks.
We'll end on that note, with voters now streaming to the polls in states with early voting, or sending in their absentee ballots, or hearing from the two campaigns about making sure they show up on Election Day.
Thanks to everyone for participating. Have a great week!
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.