Post Politics Hour

Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post White House Reporter
Monday, October 27, 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 Michael Abramowitz was online Monday, Oct. 27 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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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Fairfax County, Va.: It looks to me as though Barack Obama's decision to leave the trail to visit his gravely ill grandmother had absolutely no effect on the outcome of this presidential election, pro or con. Is that correct? If so, is this something future presidential candidates should point out to their schedulers as the big day approaches? Contrary to past conventional wisdom, maybe it's okay to be human and take off a couple of days after all. The same observation applies to Joe Biden's recent compassionate leave for his mother-in-law's death and funeral as well. The campaign seemed to trundle along then also.

Michael Abramowitz: Good morning everybody: I am back from a week with the McCain campaign.

I absolutely agree with you that Obama's departure from the campaign trail had little impact on the race; in fact, it might even have helped him a bit by producing a flurry of stories about him and his grandmother that humanized him a bit.

I will also add, however, that I suspect it would have hurt McCain if he had been forced to do this. So much of the communications from the Obama campaign has been from paid advertising, but McCain relies much more on the free attention he gets from local media covering his rallies and doing interviews with him. That's simply a function of the heavy advantage Obama has in financial resources. So if McCain were forced to leave the trail for a couple of days, I think it would hurt him more.


Helena, Mont.: This election and the midterm in 2006 should put to rest that legislatures can redistrict and make "safe" congressional seats for all time -- or even for 10 years. I remember the venerable Bob Schieffer in 2004 going on about how the House of Representatives was just going to stay the same because of redistricting. We should throw that conventional wisdom in the trash heap. I hope the Democrats see the value of being responsive to the voters in their districts, even with Obama in the White House -- it's what "representative democracy" is all about.

Michael Abramowitz: I think this is a valuable point. I do think that in normal times, it's pretty hard to dislodge a congressional incumbent. But this seems like it could be one of those elections that comes along every 10 or 15 years where even seemingly safe incumbents get swept away in a larger tide.


Cleveland: The latest (and very good) McCain ad -- or more appropriately, anti-Obama commercial -- shows an empty chair in the Oval Office, indicating that there's a problem with Obama being "tested" early in his administration. Is the ad supposed to let me know that Obama's not ready to be tested, that no one will dare to test McCain for whatever reason, or that he's such a maverick that no one knows how he'd respond to a situation, just that he'd respond?

Michael Abramowitz: I think it's some combination of the first two points: That Obama is untested, and that McCain is tested -- and hence voters should trust him more to handle the inevitable crises that come the president's way.


Anonymous: The subject of the deficit has come up occasionally during the campaign (I believe McCain promised to eliminate the deficit, even as he continues the $10 billion-a-month wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in fact promises to increase defense spending), but it certainly has not been mentioned as much as taxes. Just how realistic is it to promise tax cuts and a lowered, if not eliminated, deficit at the same time? I cannot see a candidate getting elected on a platform of "Maybe No Lower Taxes for Now, but No More Deficit." The fact that the deficit largely is financed by other countries is worrying to me but apparently not to the people eager for lowered taxes (and no cuts in services, of course).

Michael Abramowitz: I don't think it is realistic, and I don't think either candidate has offered a plausible plan for reducing the deficit. Now, I will add that many economists don't think now is the time to try for a serious deficit-reduction program, given the state of the economy, but the reality is that there is little salience in deficit reduction as a political winner at almost any time. (There is, occasionally, some salience in proposals to reduce spending, but this may be one year where most voters don't care that most about spending.)


Baltimore: Hi Michael. So, what's the mood like with the McCain campaign?

Michael Abramowitz: I get asked this question all the time. I don't think they are particularly happy with the way the election is going, and they are realistic about their prospects, but they are not giving up either.


Sewickley, Pa.: Have you traveled with McCain before? Do you see a difference in his demeanor toward reporters? What is the mood on the campaign plane?

Michael Abramowitz: I have traveled with McCain a little bit this fall, but I have not been with him in his previous incarnations as someone who has a lot of interaction with the traveling press. He is doing interviews (like "Meet the Press" this past Sunday) and he has been talking to local reporters. When we had a bus tour through Florida last week, the national press was largely kept away, though he did a round of interviews with local reporters. I found his staff reasonably friendly and helpful given the circumstances they find themselves now. As I suggested in my last answer, they are realistic but still defiant, hoping to pull a rabbit out of their hat.


Euless, Texas: I see the Republicans are trying to push the idea of "checks and balances" in government -- that that's why we need a Republican president. I didn't hear them worrying about that from 2000 to 2006. Do you think that talking point holds any water?

Michael Abramowitz: Well, when you are behind, you use every argument you can. I do think that voters in general do like divided government, but again, this may be one of those elections where the traditional arguments don't hold water. Where perhaps it may help the GOP is in some of those Senate races, like in Kentucky, where the GOP is hoping to keep the Democrats from getting a veto-proof majority.


New Orleans: Michael, In your estimation, is McCain tiring on the campaign trail? Yesterday on "Meet the Press" he looked tired. It wasn't so much that he forgot George Schulz -- that can happen to anybody -- but that he took so long with it even into the next question. I'm sure they are all tired, but the wear-and-tear on a 72-year-old man must be tough,

Michael Abramowitz: I agree that he looked a bit tired on "Meet the Press," but my general impression has been surprise at how vigorous he has looked in the wake of what must be a back-breaking scheduled for a candidate of any age. He is very feisty, and undaunted for the most part.


Woodbine, Md.: Has the Bush administration been entirely outfoxed on its Sudan policy by the regime in Khartoum?

Michael Abramowitz: A nonpolitical question in a sea of politics!

I wouldn't say they have been outfoxed. Te Khartoum regime is wily and has a good sense of how to survive, and the reality is that no one in the world -- including the US., Europe and others -- has an interest in a military campaign to depose President Bashir. Given that, it has been hard to have much influence there, as both the Clinton and Bush administrations found. The White House feels that its economic sanctions are having an impact, but it's a slow process, and now we will have a new administration that I am sure will have its own Sudan policy. (I am not saying military action is a good idea, I am just pointing out the realities.)


Anonymous: After the elections, the pressure to name a Treasury secretary in these times of economic uncertainty, a G-20 meeting on Nov. 15, the expiring of the U.S./Iraq status of forces agreement and other issues will be huge. Bush soon will be the lamest of lame ducks, and the country, the world and the media will want to look past him. How do see the 3 months between the election and inauguration unfolding? It should be fascinating.

Michael Abramowitz: I agree with you. I am sure that, given the financial crisis, the new president -- whether is Obama or McCain -- will not want to wait to start putting its imprint on things. If it's Obama, I suspect there will be an immediate push in a lame-duck Congress for a new economic stimulus package. If McCain scores an upset, I am sure he also will try to cook something up, though the philosophical divide between him and the congressional Democrats is broad.


Chicago: From your perspective covering the campaign, do McCain's people seem to be paying any attention to the criticism they're getting from the right? Bill Kristol, for example, uses every New York Times column he writes to critique what the campaign is doing. Frum wrote in The Post that the campaign should look at triage for the greater good of the party. Is this getting through to them, or are they actually upbeat? (Is the Straight Talk Express a bummer-free zone?) Thanks. Sorry, Senator. Let's Salvage What We Can. (Post, Oct. 26)

Michael Abramowitz: I think they are well aware of the criticism, but they are trying to tune it out. This is what happens to campaigns that are perceived to be losing: They get a lot of unwanted and unsolicited second-guessing and advice.


Biden's "Gaffe": I have to know, what was it about Biden saying that Obama would be tested during his first six months that was a "gaffe"? If I were one of the "Axis of Evil" or "bad guys," I'd want to throw trouble to the new guy to see what he was made of. It's one thing for the McCain campaign to make a big deal of it -- that is expected -- but why does the press think it a "gaffe"? What was factually wrong about what he said? It's not the same as saying that FDR went on TV in 1929.

Michael Abramowitz: It's not the same, but it did give McCain an opening to say that the other guy is untested. I suspect Biden would like to have that comment back.


Veto-proof majority: I don't think the Democrats have a chance for a veto-proof majority in the Senate. Perhaps you were thinking about the cloture issue?

Michael Abramowitz: Right. I meant filibuster-proof majority. Thanks.


Southwest Nebraska: Whose decision was it to go into Syria? Does the commander on the ground have that kind of leeway?

Michael Abramowitz: Reporters still are gathering information about this, but this kind of thing has happened before, and the commanders on the ground have leeway to do this. We have no reason to think -- as another reader asked -- that President Bush ordered this.


Arlington, Va.: For many years, some folks have claimed the results of the Redskins game the weekend before the election will predict the election. (I don't remember how, though...) However, this year the 'Skins are off the weekend before the election. How will this effect the results? They're not off -- the Steelers visit FedEx for Monday Night Football on Election Eve.

Michael Abramowitz: As my friends at point out, the 'Skins are playing Monday night, so I don't know whether that changes the significance of this valuable indicator!


Southwest Nebraska: Will Condi Rice endorse either candidate for President? When, or why not?

Michael Abramowitz: She will not, because she still works for the administration.


Fort Worth, Texas: What are the latest poll figures for Obama and McCain, please?

Michael Abramowitz: Our latest poll shows Obama up 52-44 among likely voters.


Montgomery Village, Md.: So Gov. Palin is in Virginia today. Is she really attracting any new voters or changing any undecideds, who seem to be migrating much more to Obama? It seems like all she does is bring out her already-convinced supporters. Is there much talk within the McCain camp that she is running a "rogue" campaign and positioning herself for the future? Upcoming Discussion: The Post's Tim Craig on the State of the Election in Virginia (, noon ET today)

Michael Abramowitz: I don't sense, from my reading of our polls, that she is helping broaden the appeal of the ticket beyond the GOP base. There has been some reports of friction between the McCain and Palin advisers, which I suspect have some grounding in truth.


Where are the McCain people?: I have canvassed for Democratic candidates for the last three elections. Out door-knocking in the neighborhoods, you have a nice camaraderie with your opposing canvassers, a "we're all in it together" mentality. That's changed this year -- not because it's a bitter election, but because I've yet to see any McCain canvassers or literature drops in New Hampshire (and I'm being sent to undecideds and Republican voter homes only). Where are the McCain people?

Michael Abramowitz: From talking with my colleagues who have been watching the so-called "ground game," the GOP does have a considerable volunteer army. But this year, the Democrats appear to have a larger, better-funded and more energized ground operation. So that may explain the discrepancy you see.

I am out of time, but I will be online again Friday answering questions.


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