Post Politics Hour

Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Campaign Finance Reporter
Tuesday, November 11, 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 campaign finance reporter Matthew Mosk was online Tuesday, November 11 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Matthew Mosk: Good morning. We're just learning that the Obama transition team is planning to brief the press this afternoon on, among other matters, how the White House will handle its interaction with lobbyists. Meanwhile, there are reports out today that the president-elect will be sending campaign aides down to Georgia to help in the Dec. 2 runoff election for a hotly contested U.S. Senate seat there. Gov. Sarah Palin has been blanketing the airwaves with her view on the campaign. Lots of political news to talk about. Let's get started!


Henly, Texas: How long does it take to count the votes in Alaska? Last I heard there were some 90,000 uncounted ballots -- more than 20 percent of the ballots cast -- which easily could change the outcome of both the House and Senate races there. Also, does anyone have an explanation of why Alaska's voter turnout was apparently less than in 2004, despite Palin being on the ticket and having hot races for House and Senate? Something isn't adding up.

Matthew Mosk: Thank you Henly. This question began to be explored shortly after Election Day on our Investigative Blog.

Washington Post investigative blogger Derek Kravitz reports that this year's voting turnout is not expected to eclipse Alaska's 66 percent turnout in 2004 or its 60 percent clip in 2000. He remarks: "This is especially odd given that Alaska's Board of Elections saw a 12.4 percent hike in turnout for the August primaries, before Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was selected as the Republican Party's vice presidential nominee."

Alaskan returns (without the uncounted absentee and contested ballots) show the McCain-Palin ticket garnering 136,348 votes. In 2004, President Bush got 190,889 votes, a "significant disparity," the Anchorage Press reported. "These numbers only add to the oddity of this election in Alaska; in the run-up to Tuesday, Alaskan voters seemed energized to vote for a ticket with our governor on it, despite the barrage of criticism Palin faced."

The blogs are going nuts over these numbers, and I suspect we have not heard the last of it.


Falls Church, Va.: I understand there will be a run-off in Georgia. What about Minnesota and Alaska?

Matthew Mosk: Hi Falls Church. The run-off in Georgia is because neither candidate garnered 50 percent of the vote. That's not how they're handling things in Minnesota or Alaska. Alaska, as we just began to discuss, still is counting its first round of votes. I'm not sure why it takes so long up there, but it is a very big state with lots of remote areas, so we'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now. In Minnesota, Sen. Norm Coleman and former comedian Al Franken are separated by a mere 206 votes. After they certify those results, my colleague Paul Kane tells me they will begin a recount that won't likely be resolved until mid-December.


Georgia: Matthew, can you clarify the protocol for me? What should President-Elect Obama be called? ABC, NBC/MSNBC call him, since last Tuesday evening, "Mr. Obama," not "Sen. Obama"? Why is that? Is he still not a senator for the next 70-some days? Thanks!

Matthew Mosk: Our protocol guru Al Kamen tells me there is no reason for this. You can still call him senator, or president-elect.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning. Can we review some recent history? My understanding is that Obama agreed about a year ago to "pursue an agreement" with his Republican opponent on public financing. This summer, he asked McCain to agree to rein in the Republican National Committee and conservative 527s. McCain refused (almost certainly to Obama's relief). This gave Obama an opening to forgo public financing without breaking his pledge. Is that about right? If not, what in my understanding is wrong? If so, why are traditional media heavyweights (including, ahem, a couple of your Washington Post co-workers) so persistent in getting this wrong? If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read that Obama broke his pledge I could have maxed out to each candidate!

Matthew Mosk: Hi Raleigh. I'm not sure I agree with your timeline. Candidate Obama made a pledge to engage the public financing system so long as his eventual opponent followed suit. It was only later -- when he discovered he possessed stupendous fundraising skills -- that he began to hedge on that pledge by suggesting that he would only enter such an agreement if Sen. McCain could get outside groups to disarm. Honestly, I think Sen. McCain would have been thrilled with any deal like that, but probably understood, as Sen. Obama did, that it would be near impossible to broker that sort of arrangement.


Seattle: So was John McCain's campaign the last to receive public financing? Where will the $3 that I check go to now?

Matthew Mosk: Hi Seattle. The answer to your first question is yes -- unless Congress makes changes to the system as it is currently written, most experts agree it is unlikely any future presidential candidate will avail him or herself of the option. As for the $3 check off, my understanding is that any money not used is returned to the U.S. Treasury.


Philadelphia: What's going on with the ballots in Alaska? And why such low turnout?

Matthew Mosk: This question gives me a chance to provide you with an Alaska update from our congressional reporter, Paul Kane. He tells me that the latest report from the frozen north is that, tomorrow, they will be counting 52,000 votes that have not yet been tallied. Guess they do things a bit different up there.

_______________________ Alaska Turnout, Results Raise Questions (Washington Post Investigations Blog, Nov. 6)


Omaha, Neb.: I was wondering if you could provide an update on Hillary Clinton's debt relief. The last I heard, she still had substantial debts (especially to her consultants). I know that Barack Obama was reluctant to make a fundraising appeal to his small donors, but now that the race is over, do you think he would make this type of a push? It seems like everyone who was willing and able to give Clinton $2,300 for the primary already has maxed out. Are there any deadlines for paying off the debt?

I see that there was a reference to an ongoing "frosty" relationship related to the debt in a Politico article today.

Matthew Mosk: The Obama fundraisers I have spoken to all expect there to be some sort of effort, after Jan. 20, to help Sen. Clinton further retire her debt, which now stands at just under $8 million. The major sticking point remains the question of how to handle payments to Clinton strategist Mark Penn. That's a big chunk of the remaining debt -- $5,279,535.40 is owed to Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates. The Obama folks I've spoken to said they want Clinton to take care of that portion herself.


Fairfax: There's always talk of giving the opposing party a few cabinet positions and this time around Dick Lugar's name is getting some mention as secretary of State. While I think he'd make a great choice and put the very important loose nukes issue front and center, isn't he more valuable to an Obama administration in the Senate, where he's shown a willingness to be bipartisan, especially on foreign policy issues instead of being replaced by a potential ideologue?

Matthew Mosk: Maybe so, Fairfax. Here's how one of the best political reporters in the country, my former colleague Peter Baker, described the situation on the New York Times Web site this morning:

"So maybe Mr. Obama really is considering Mr. Lugar for secretary of State, as many in Washington have been assuming. But wait. Mr. Lugar's office said the conversation Monday had nothing at all to do with the Cabinet. 'It was not about secretary of State,' Andy Fisher, a Lugar spokesman, said in an e-mail message. 'Lugar is not interested (as he explains repeatedly). Nothing about that position was discussed during the call. They discussed ways in which they will continue to work on a number of foreign policy fronts as Lugar continues his Republican foreign policy leadership in the Senate.'"


They will be counting 52,000 votes that have not yet been tallied.: That would still be a lot less than 2000, or 2004. Also what about the polling analysis (FiveThirtyEight, etc.) that was accurate everywhere but Alaska, where it was way off? Hmmmm.

Matthew Mosk: Attention editors: Do I hear more chances for national political reporters to venture to Alaska? :)

Like I said, these questions probably aren't going away.


Washington: As a person who happily would have voted for Sen. McCain in 2000 and 2004, I am continually nonplussed by Gov. Palin's apparent inability to recognize how her own behavior on the campaign trail contributed to her ticket's loss. It was insulting enough that Sen. McCain cynically hoped to pander to disappointed Hillary Clinton supporters by choosing Gov. Palin as his running mate, but when a campaign's rhetoric rises to the level of open viciousness -- which Gov. Palin engaged in with relish -- that results in whipping supporters up into such a frenzy that they openly call for the death of a presidential candidate, then something is terribly wrong.

What was even more disturbing was Gov. Palin's failure to immediately reject and disavow that kind of behavior. Rather than moderate her attacks, Gov. Palin only increased them by impugning Sen. Obama's character. It is one thing if Gov. Palin really believes that Sen. Obama is "anti-American," a "socialist," or a "communist." However, if she was only using this inflammatory language to garner votes, then it tells me a lot about her own character. Not to mention that she had very little actual understanding about the job for which she was applying.

I was greatly disappointed in Sen. McCain and believe he ran one of the most dishonorable campaigns I can remember. I didn't necessarily agree with all of his positions, but I always felt he was principled and admired the way he was able to reach across the aisle for bipartisan support. How does he recover his reputation after this?

Matthew Mosk: But did you see her cook a meal for Matt Lauer this morning?


Springfield, Va.: Does The Post have someone in Minnesota reporting on the recount? If not you are missing an election being stolen by Franken! Election night Coleman was ahead by more than 700 votes; since then 99 percent of the "missing votes" found -- including a stack of absentee ballots found in an election supervisor's car -- have been tallied for Franken. Franken also is arguing that voters who voted for Obama and other Democratic Party candidates but left the vote for senator blank should be counted as a vote for him. You are missing election fraud by not reporting this story!

Matthew Mosk: Our intrepid congressional reporter is on the midnight train to Georgia.

But I suspect we'll be back to Minnesota before all the votes are counted, and recounted.


Washington: Richard Cohen is stealing my thoughts. I've thought Al Gore would make the best secretary of state at the best time. Obama's Cabinet: Start With Al Gore (The Washington Post, Nov. 11)

Matthew Mosk: Our transition watchers tell me that, at least for now, this is "one distinguished journalist's idle musing."


St. Paul : Hi Matthew. Following the election last week, Sen. McCain has had the good sense and grace to disappear for a bit so the focus can rightly be on Sen. Obama and what lies ahead. No so Gov. Palin, who seems intent on elbowing her way into every news cycle. What's going on with that? One would think she was at the top of the ticket.

Matthew Mosk: That's an interesting question, St. Paul. I suspect Gov. Palin saw an emerging storyline in which she was being blamed for Sen. McCain's defeat. That seemed to be the early line from inside McCain's circle of advisers. She probably calculated that she needed to be proactive before the cement dried and history left the 2008 Republican defeat on her doorstep.


Missouri: Hey, Matthew. Given the good results in a good many states of early voting, wouldn't it make sense for more states to insert that privilege into their constitution? (The Missouri secretary of State already has declared her desire to push for this.) Even better, wouldn't it make sense for Congress to pass a law that would cover voting for all federal elections (House, Senate, pres)? Thanks

Matthew Mosk: As with any debate about politics, there are the merits and there is political calculation. Setting aside the merits of early voting (you are obviously a fan), there have been some heated disputes about the strategic value of early voting. My experience with this was watching the debate in Maryland. Democrats pushed for early voting, in part on the theory that it would increase turnout from working-class voters who might not have time to break away from work on Tuesdays (and whom they presumed were probably more likely to be Democrats), while many Republicans opposed early voting by raising concerns about the potential for fraud (though probably with some fear about a strategic disadvantage). These things are always more complicated than they first appear. As for the outcome in Maryland, voters (in the majority-Democrat state) just approved a Donstitutional amendment that provided for early voting.


re: Franken: Please pass on to the poster concerned about the Franken-Coleman race Nate Silver's indispensible Web site, It's a great way to educate oneself on the issue of the Minnesota race, and the status of ongoing recounts in general.

Required reading for everyone interested in the nuts and bolts of the various "zombie" races.

Matthew Mosk: Thanks Nate -- will do.


Herndon, Va.: The Ohio State employee who searched government databases for embarrassing info on "Joe the Plumber" also used her government computer and e-mail account to raise money for Sen. Obama's campaign. Why is this story not getting more press attention? Inquiry into Jones-Kelley computer use wrapping up (Dayton Daily News)

Matthew Mosk: Here's an interesting story on the topic from the Dayton Daily News.


Albany, N.Y.: Why do so many reporters continue to think it was a big deal that Obama turned down public financing? Sure, he said he would take it, but then circumstances changed and he realized it wouldn't be in his interest to do it, so he changed his mind. This kind of thing happens all the time.

Matthew Mosk: This question has been a subject of some casual but intense discussion among some of the reporters at The Post, with views on both sides. Those who argue that breaking the pledge was a big deal point out that the pledge was made for a reason -- candidate Obama wanted the public to believe he stood for a campaign free from the corrupting influence of money. Those who support public financing believe it allows for an even playing field that makes the presidential campaign a debate of ideas, not a contest of who has the bigger wallet. The fact that he broke the pledge when it no longer was convenient rubbed some people the wrong way. There are reporters who hold the opposing point of view, too -- that candidate Obama saw an opportunity to raise money from small donors in a way that he thought wouldn't expose him to corrupting influences, and so felt comfortable changing his position.

Ultimately, reporters don't have the luxury of taking sides on this.


Chattanooga, Tenn.: "I guess they do things a bit differently up there." Ridiculously low vote totals and ridiculously lengthy time horizons to count votes. Just exactly what would it take for you to consider the Alaskan election situation, in light of the vice-presidential candidacy, primary turnout, and felonious status of one of their senatorial candidates, more than just slightly unusual?

Matthew Mosk: Thanks Chattanooga. I don't mean to sound flip about what is obviously a situation that is troubling to many. I absolutely expect that news outlets will do more to investigate what went wrong, if anything, with voting in Alaska.


The GOP: So Palin says that bloggers are just pajama-wearin' kids, and the RNC thinks that we all just have Bush-hangovers -- that the Obama victory reflects us not wanting Bush anymore. I think it is really sad that the GOP just can't hear. It's not just Bush -- it's his policies and his leadership style ... that is what the country tired of. The GOP really needs to find a way to move itself along in order to rebound.

Matthew Mosk: There are some really interesting efforts afoot along those lines. A group of young Republicans in positions of leadership within the party have started a group to try and address deeper concerns about the party and its future. Here's a quote from their Web site:

"Either we can spend the next several months -- or years -- trying to figure out what just happened, excusing our defeat away as a temporary blip or the result of a poor environment, and waiting for Barack Obama to trip up. Or we can refuse to take this defeat lying down, and start building the future of our party now."


Washington: The Post's ombudsman was fairly tough in her Sunday column concerning The Post's bias and imbalance in election reporting. What was your reaction to her column? What's the newsroom's reaction to her arguments and statistics? An Obama Tilt in Campaign Coverage (The Washington Post, Nov. 9)

Matthew Mosk: Thanks, Navy Yard. I have great respect for the ombudsman and appreciate very much that The Post has someone sit outside the newsroom and give it careful scrutiny. I suspect this will be received as an important after-action report, and will be studied as the newspaper looks forward to covering the next campaign season.


Matthew Mosk: And on that sober note of navel-gazing, I want to thank you for your continued interest. You can keep close tabs on the transition and the Obama presidency on our blog, "44," which is tracking every twist and turn. All the best!


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