Post Politics Hour

Michael D. Shear
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Monday, November 3, 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 D. Shear was online Monday, Nov. 3 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


Michael D. Shear: Good morning everyone.

Hmmm. What shall we talk about? Let's see. Oh, right. The election is tomorrow!

Finally, after the amazing two years that we've had, it all comes down to one more day.

So fire away!


Northville, N.Y.: Are we really going to start doing this all over again starting in 2010? If you were in charge, what would you do to shorten this insanely long process? If the parties can come to an agreement on debates, why can't they do something about this?

Michael D. Shear: Great. It's one day before the 2008 election, so let's start our questions with, what else, a question about 2012.

In fact, I heard a rumor the other day that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is heading to a Republican function in Iowa the week after the election. C-SPAN: Fire up your Road to the White House 2012 cameras!

Seriously, having just spent two years of my life covering this campaign, I do believe it's too long. The problem is that the system is, by Constitution, left to the two parties -- whose interest is in gaming the system for what they think is an advantage, not in making it shorter.

That said, I think there may be quite a push in the Congress in the next couple of years to change the process. We'll see.


Rockville, Md.: I understand McCain is stopping in Tennessee today? That sounds bizarre. Is he really campaigning there, or in Southeast Missouri?

Michael D. Shear: The Tennessee stop is deceiving. He's stopping in the tri-cities, which is at the tip of southwest Virginia -- the place where Republican support in the Commonwealth is strongest. I suspect that's why he's going there.


Arlington, Va.: Is Sen. Obama's decision not to visit Pennsylvania in the closing days of the campaign a big mistake?

Michael D. Shear: McCain definitely has picked up a bit of support in Pennsylvania in the past few days, but all of the polls still have it at a seven- or eight-point lead for Obama, who is well over 50 percent in all polls.

I suspect that Obama has better targets to spend his time in -- such as Ohio.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning. John McCain seems to be getting traction by arguing that Obama will raise taxes on the middle class. Obama's plan obviously is only to raise taxes on the top 5 percent. How might Sen. Obama have responded better? Or is this just a byproduct of Obama's lack of a track record -- i.e. that voters don't really know whether or not he'll stick by such a promise.

Michael D. Shear: Part of the success of these kinds of attacks is merely by planting the seed of doubt -- and McCain has done that well. Obama also has helped McCain by having a bunch of different numbers out there -- your taxes wont go up if you make less than $250,000; your taxes will be cut if you make less than $200,000; etc. McCain has seized on that to suggest that Obama would be willing to fudge with the numbers once he's in office.


St. Paul, Minn.: Thanks for taking questions on this big day before the big day. Everything seems to be going solidly in Obama's direction, given the consistency in the polls. What are the factors or "unknowns" that could result in a shift towards McCain at this late date? Is there any chance that something really big has been overlooked?

Michael D. Shear: There are several unknowns out there. One is race -- the country never has elected a black president. In fact, there never has been a black nominee of a major party. Does that matter? How does that play out when people go to vote? There are lots of reason to think it won't affect things that much, but we just don't know.

The other is young voters, and turnout generally. Obama has been successful in energizing the young like never before -- but will they turn out? Or will there have been a late-night kegger that keeps them in their dorm rooms with a hangover when they should be voting?

Just kidding about that last part. But the fact is that youth turnout often is overstated. That could affect Obama's vote.


Washington: Which scenario do you think is more likely: McCain wins Pennsylvania, or Obama wins Arizona?

Michael D. Shear: Given the current polling, I think it's more likely that Obama wins Arizona. (According to Pollster.Com, Arizona is currently 49-43, McCain. Pennsylvania is currently 52-44 Obama.) But I don't think either one actually will happen.


Chicago: Thanks for taking my question. The final polls seem to have a wide range. They range from Obama up 3 percent in U.S./Battleground polls to 13 percent in CBS/New York Times polls, with many other falling somewhere in between. Many pollsters obviously are going to have egg on their faces Nov. 5. Is there a penalty for being a way-off pollster? Do they go out of business? Lose business? Or are they just subject to derision by their peers?

Michael D. Shear: This is a good question. I never have heard of a pollster going out of business because of a single election (though it may have happened). What pollsters generally will say is that their polls are not predictive, that they only measure what might happen in a given moment.

Having said that, I agree with you. Now that almost every pollster is giving Obama an edge with one day left, they hardly can hide from their shame if they all turn out to be wrong.


Anonymous: Michael, I think the reason the campaigns have become such long affairs is because they generate a lot of business and money. Heck, MSNBC would be filled with infomercials if it weren't for political coverage.

Michael D. Shear: Good point.


Pennsylvania: We've all been so focused on just getting to the polling date, that maybe the question of what happens once a winner is declared hasn't been greatly discussed. I'm concerned, with how many supporters on both sides who feel strongly about his/her candidate, as to what may happen when one loses. Any thoughts on this?

Michael D. Shear: Look for a story today, I believe, in which we examine the question of what preparations officials are making to keep people orderly, whether they are celebrating or are angry because their candidate lost.


Chicago: Any ideas on how, with both presidential contenders being senators and Congress looking to come back for a lame-duck session, the newly elected president will affect the agenda of Congress between now and the inauguration? Will Congress defer some to the newly elected president, or will he be treated simply as a fellow senator? Has this happened before?

Michael D. Shear: I suspect that both men will return to the Senate with a completely different profile during the lame-duck session. The winner will very much be seen in a new light, as the new president, even though he has not yet taken office. The loser will be treated with some respect, but also with some reduced influence, at least at the beginning.

Some examples: Sen. John Kerry returned to the Senate after losing and hardly was heard from for a while. Sen. Edward Kennedy lost his bid for the White House, but eventually re-emerged to become one of the most powerful senators in the country.

And of course, Sen. Hillary Clinton looks to become one of the leading Democratic senators now.


Re: Raleigh: " Obama's plan obviously is only to raise taxes on the top 5 percent." And his written promise was to accept public campaign financing, but we all see how long that lasted!

Michael D. Shear: Good point, Raleigh. One of the things that voters care deeply about is whether they can trust politicians. Polling suggests that Obama's decision to back away from his promise on public financing did not affect them much -- he still leads McCain on trustworthiness.

But it's a good question, and something to watch out for if he becomes president.


La Vale, Md.: Good morning and thanks for chatting. So this is your last chat before the election, care to make some predictions? What will Obama's electoral total be? What will Obama/McCain popular vote percentages be? Who will win the Senate races in Minnesota, Kentucky, Georgia and North Carolina? How many house seats will the Democrats have in the next Congress? How many total votes will be cast in the presidential race?

Michael D. Shear: I'll keep my guesses to myself, thanks -- but if the chatters here want to offer their predictions publicly, that would be great!

Why don't you go first, La Vale?


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Michael. What do you think of this news article that was just posted on WJLA's Web site?

Michael D. Shear: The article is one that suggests a new poll from Survey USA finds McCain gaining ground on Obama in Virginia. It's definitely possible -- Virginia has not voted for a Democrat since 1964. So anything's possible.


Press on Obama's Plane?: My father-in-law in Florida has heard that two reporters have been kicked off the Obama plane (one being from the New York Post). I can't find any information on this. Rumor? True? Washington Times Loses Seat on Obama Plane (Post, Oct. 31)

Michael D. Shear: Here's an article about it.

Conservatives have made a big deal about the fact that the ones who were kicked off had endorsed McCain, including the Dallas Morning News. I would just note one thing: The McCain campaign also kicked off the Dallas Morning News to make room for other news organizations.

My sense is that it had more to do with organizations that were in places that were not competitive. But I certainly do not have any inside information.


Austin, Texas: Good morning. With all of the talk about how Sarah Palin has energized the conservative base, has there been any analysis of the flip side to that coin -- how much effect she has had on getting liberals out to vote against her? Any consensus as to which base she has been a bigger motivating force?

Michael D. Shear: Our recent poll found that she has become a drag on the McCain ticket overall. She's very much a plus among the base, but is not doing what the McCain advisers had hoped with the rest of the electorate.


Richmond, Va.: Is the Obama campaign at least using Hillary in rural Pennsylvania as a backstop against any inroads McCain and Palin might be trying to make there? Where is Biden these days? The newscasts all say where Obama, McCain and Plain are campaigning, but they never mention where Biden is. Thanks.

Michael D. Shear: I believe, as one of our readers notes, that Biden will be in Philadelphia today at the parade for the Phillies.


Washington: Prediction: Obama takes Illinois.

Michael D. Shear: A bold reader.


Missouri: I'll bite on La Vales' query: Obama 53 percent and McCain 45 percent; Nader and Barr together net 2 percent. Democrats win Minnesota and North Carolina in the senate races while the GOP incumbents hold on in the other three.

Michael D. Shear: And another. Most pundits think the Democrats will do better in the Senate. We'll see.


Roseland, N.J.: On Election Day of the last cycle, the pundits who were on the news channels clearly were influenced heavily by exit polls. They couldn't directly discuss them, but I remember on CNN Paul Begala being ebullient and Bob Novak doing everything but giving a eulogy for the Bush campaign. Of course, it didn't work out that way. Has same-day exit polling gotten any better in four years? Will anyone have the good sense to not look at them before going on the air?

Michael D. Shear: I hate exit polls. Last time around, as a Virginia reporter, the exit polls suggested early in the day that Kerry was going to win Virginia. Of course it didn't turn out that way. My hope is that they are better this time.


Washington: McCain is saying that they are focused on winning Pennsylvania, and that that is the key to their victory, which is why they're spending so much time there. But it seems like he should be spending more time in Florida, where the Democrats really have kicked it into high gear and made that a very competitive race. McCain may win Pennsylvania, but if Florida falls -- when he was thought it was surely his -- then Pennsylvania doesn't even matter.

Michael D. Shear: It is certainly true that without Florida, McCain's chances seem very, very limited. But assuming he captures Florida, he needs another big state. Pennsylvania would be one; the other is Ohio. They always said that assuming Florida was in their column, they absolutely would need one of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Michigan is out of reach, so that leaves the other two. And the problem for McCain is that even with Florida and one of those two, there are many ways for him to lose.


Perhaps the last Sarah Palin question, ever: Where are the medical records Sarah Palin said she would release?

Michael D. Shear: She apparently has decided not to. It's definitely a blow to open government. We in the press should have pushed harder, in my opinion.


Punditry: Should McCain pull off an upset of vast proportions, the pundits will look just as bad as the pollsters. I saw a list of 24 national commentators from both sides, and all but one (Fred Barnes) are predicting an Obama victory. This could be a failure of intelligence gathering on par with the failed hunt for WMD in Iraq.

Michael D. Shear: Point taken.


Scarsdale, N.Y.: What would be the respective equivalents of Crawford, Texas, for Presidents Obama and McCain?

Michael D. Shear: McCain's would be his compound in Sedona, Ariz. It's a big house in a valley, with a winding river cutting through it. Very beautiful, and very impossible to get to except through a winding road that the Secret Service could secure easily.

For Obama, I'm not sure. I think it would be more likely that he would operate like Bill Clinton, going to vacation at houses owned by friends and donors. Perhaps the Hamptons?


Baltimore: Bold prediction: African Americans will over-perform and make up 32-33 percent of the electorate in Georgia and Obama will win.

Michael D. Shear: Another bold one.


Philadelphia: What parade today for the Phillies? No, seriously. Is there another one somewhere today? No parade, just a campaign stop: Biden To Campaign With World Champion Phillies (Fox News, Nov. 2)

Michael D. Shear: A correction here. Sorry, Phillies fans....


Horse's Mouth on "Obama's Plane": I'll one up "your sense" -- the Dallas Morning News itself flatly denies the Drudge/Howard Kurtz nonstory.

Michael D. Shear: Ah. Perfect. This is a perfect example of how the Internet rumor mill puts things out there that are just not true.


The Palin Prank: What was the reaction at the McCain camp regarding Palin's handling of the Canadian radio prank? It has to be one of the most painful things to listen to. Was she even paying attention to what they were saying, or is she really that out of it? The Sleuth: Sarah Palin Pranked by Sarkozy Impersonator (Post, Nov. 1)

Michael D. Shear: I've been in Washington for the past couple of days, so I haven't heard directly from any of the McCain people about this. Seems like a not-very-nice thing to do.


Silver Spring, Md.: Is the Post planning an Extra edition tomorrow night?

Michael D. Shear: More than you wanted to know: Here's The Post's election night plan, just announced:

WASHINGTON -- October 30, 2008 -- The Washington Post and today announce a comprehensive package for the 2008 elections, including in-depth political news and analysis from the paper's award-winning political team and groundbreaking news aggregation and video technology.

The Post's political team will go behind Tuesday night's results in the races for the White House, Congress and the nation's statehouses, providing in-depth reporting and analysis on where the country stands after Election 2008. Our correspondents, anchored by veteran political reporter Dan Balz, will report from Washington and around the nation on the history-making contest between Barack Obama and John McCain and tell us where the victor will lead the country beginning in January.

"Throughout the campaign season our political reporters have been at the forefront, regularly breaking stories and providing insightful, powerful analysis that drives the nation's political dialogue," said Marcus Brauchli, Executive Editor, The Washington Post. "On Election Day, our reporters will be embedded with the presidential campaigns and in battleground states around the country so that we can offer our readers both in print and online authoritative coverage of this historic vote."

" will bring together The Post's unbeatable political reporting with the innovations we've made throughout the year to create a suite of features and products that allow people to customize their election night experience," said Jim Brady, Executive Editor, "Whether it's through live video coverage, an interactive election map, or a mobile phone, we will provide the source for users get national and state-by-state election coverage in the format that works for them."

Special features include:


Live Video Coverage -- The Washington Post and Newsweek's political teams will anchor live election results of the presidential and state races on Election Day, beginning when the polls close at 6 p.m. ET until after the presidential race has been decided.

Chris Cillizza, Jon Meacham, Dana Priest, Lois Romano, Marc Fisher among others will host the program., Len Downie, Dan Balz, Sally Quinn, Shailagh Murray, Jonathan Capehart, E.J. Dionne, Dana Milbank, Jon Cohen, Daniel Klaidman, Richard Wolff, Jonathan Alter and others will provide in-depth analysis throughout the night. Guest will include two of the top governors from battleground states: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.

Political veterans including Democratic Chairman Howard Dean, GOP election lawyer Ben Ginsberg, former Bush White House deputy Tim Griffin and DNC spokesperson Karen Finney will contribute insider perspectives.

Live Photo Galleries -- Washington Post reporters embedded with the John McCain and Barack Obama and local Virginia and Maryland Senate candidates will provide regularly updated images throughout the day of their reactions and the reactions of voters to news.

Washington Sketch -- Dana Milbank on the ground with the McCain campaign in Phoenix, will sketch responses to the exit polls and election-day news. In addition clips from sketches throughout the election will be compiled into a finale piece.


TimeSpace Election -- A presidential election map and timeline using cutting-edge technology to bring all of the site's coverage (including partner content) onto one, easy-to-navigate page.

Vote Monitor -- Users can post reports about their experiences at voting booths across the nation, highlighting problems that arise. This on-the-ground user coverage will appear on a map depicting potential hot-spot areas. A blog will host related news stories from The Post and other sites.

Live Discussion Series -- On Election Night, readers can ask questions and talk with The Post's political reporters and columnists including Bob Kaiser and Marc Fisher, addition to Tom Baxter of Southern Political Report, Robert Struckman of New West and Mark Blumenthal of

Tucker Carlson and Ana Marie Cox will provide analysis the following day. Users will also be able to interact with guests during the election night video show through a live discussion platform below the video screen.

Crystal Ball -- Readers can try to beat the pundits in predicting who will win the White House and Congress.

Political Landscape 2008 Map -- Full state-by-state coverage of presidential, senatorial and gubernatorial races, including electoral counts, candidate profiles, past election results, demographics, campaign ads and the latest headlines.


The Fix -- Chris Cillizza will provide regular analysis of the final developments in the presidential and state races. He will post voting returns on Election Day, plus updates through Twitter.

The Trail -- A daily diary of campaign 2008 will have continuous news and updates from the Post's political team embedded with the campaigns and in battleground states around the nation.

Behind the Numbers -- Analysis of the daily Washington Post/ABC News tracking polls, providing insights into trends that could foreshadow election results.

PostPartisan -- The Post's opinion writers offer quick takes on the campaigns' final moments and the Election Day results.


Mobile Devices -- Political coverage is available on across all mobile internet enable phones, including an optimized easy-to-read design on the iPhone. Full election results will be available for users.

Amazon Kindle -- Kindle users can receive a free one-day subscription to The Washington Post during the final week of the election, in addition to continuous updates from Chris Cillizza's popular blog The Fix and the daily diary from The Trail.

Campaign Tracker -- Windows mobile users can follow our most popular campaign blogs, including The Trail, The Fix, The Sleuth and Fact Checker.

Text Alerts -- Provide breaking election news alerts on results and stories that are posted to


Widgets -- Users can add their favorite political blogs to their own sites.

MyWebPost -- Users surfing other sites can view related articles displayed in a page overlay.


Avon Park, Fla.: Much has been made of the fact that Obama appears to be leading among early voters. Could those early voters merely be people who would have voted on Election Day if there weren't early voting? Therefore it may not be such a boon for Obama?

Michael D. Shear: It's possible. There is some talk in Republican circles about the notion that early voting among Democrats cannibalizes their Election Day vote. I'm not sure how to judge that until after tomorrow.


Scotia, N.Y.: Every four years we get these master plans by the candidates, cuts for people making this much, increases for others, but it's all jive -- because Congress has the final say. It's almost as bad as Ed Koch running for mayor of New York based on his support for the death penalty: It's not his call. What would you be willing to bet that President Obama's $200,000/$250,000 tax cut/tax increase ever becomes law, given the large number of Blue Dogs in the Congress?

Michael D. Shear: It's a very good observation, Scotia. The assumption is that a President Obama would have an easier time getting his agenda through a strongly Democratic Congress, but the truth is, there always are competing agendas, even inside one party. The idea that Obama would have an easy time is probably folly.


Polls: You wondered whether a pollster had ever gone out of business because of one bad poll. In 1936, Literary Digest magazine issued a poll that said that Alf Landon would trounce FDR. Of course, the reverse happened, and the magazine went out of business soon after. Although the poll was large, its methodology was highly inaccurate. It's still a textbook case of the importance of survey design.

Michael D. Shear: Leave it to our brilliant readers ... here's an example I had not heard of.


Bluffton, S.C.: Who's the leading contender to replace Barack Obama in the Senate?

Michael D. Shear: Hmmm. A good question, though maybe a bit premature?

I don't know. You might head over to The Fix, by my colleague Chris Cillizza.


Riots in the Streets: I think this stuff about domestic unrest is so much hooey, maybe even wishful thinking by some people. We had a dead-heat election in 2000 resolved by an embarrassing Supreme Court decision that no legal scholar can justify logically, and we had nothing. Zippo. It will be the same this time, no matter who wins.

Michael D. Shear: I think you're probably right. And I certainly hope so...


Undecideds: The polls appear to estimate the undecided's at 8 percent. That's where they were in New Hampshire when Clinton came from behind to defeat Obama in the primary. She captured, in essence, all the undecided's. Could a scenario like that play out for McCain.

Michael D. Shear: It's possible, I guess. Pollsters would say that's unlikely, but who knows?

Okay everyone, that's all the time I have. See you after it's all over.


Live Post election coverage: Mike, if you're talking webcast, that's no good to me, as they never caption it and I'm deaf. Have asked numerous times. Wouldn't cost them much. Please pass on my request. We'll also have Washington Post Associate Editor Robert Kaiser (and guests) taking questions in a text format: Election Night Discussion.

Michael D. Shear: One last one: Here's something that might help for you.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

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