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Game Change: Inside scoop on 2008 presidential election, featuring Obama, Clinton, McCain, Palin, Edwards, Giuliani, more

Mark Halperin
Editor at Large and Senior Political Analyst, Time Magazine
Thursday, January 21, 2010; 10:00 AM

Mark Halperin, editor at large and senior political analyst at Time magazine, was online Thursday, Jan. 21, at 10 a.m. ET to discuss "Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime," his account (co-authored with John Heilemann) of the 2008 presidential election told on "deep background," enabling the authors to reveal inside information without identifying their sources. Some say it reads like a novel.

Book review of 'Game Change' by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (Post, Jan. 17)

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Mark Halperin: Good morning, everyone. Sorry to be a little late. Computer problems! I'm delighted to be back with my hometown paper and to take your questions and comments about "Game Change."

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Fairfax, Va.: Did you expect Sen. Edwards to come out and admit paternity?

Mark Halperin: I did indeed. There is a book coming out soon by Andrew Young, the former Edwards aide who originally claimed paternity of this child, and I felt that Sen. Edwards would want to get out ahead of that tome, in which Young is expected to claim that Edwards is the father and was part of an effort to cover that up.

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Aldan, Pa.: Which of his senior advisors has the most influence on Obama's decison making? He seems to be following almost a Reagan-like approach to governing in his first year.

Mark Halperin: As John Heilemann and I report in "Game Change," candidate Obama was inclined to listen primarily to three close aides -- David Plouffe, David Axelrod, and Robert Gibbs. Some within the campaign believed that that tight circle did not always yield the full range of opinion that a politician should be exposed to. In the White House, Axelrod and Gibbs -- along with chief of staff Rahm Emanuel -- probably have the most influence. With the president's recent political troubles, I wouldn't be surprised if there are increasing calls for him to expand his circle, just like in the campaign.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: I'm particularly interested in how the economic crisis in September 2008 affected the outcome of the race. Do you cover that in your book?

Mark Halperin: We do, indeed. It is in fact one of my favorite chapters in "Game Change." I think readers will be particularly struck by the different relationships that John McCain and Barack Obama developed with Treasury Secretary Paulson and the Fed chairman Bernanke, and by the circumstances before and during the meeting at the White House that Sen. McCain asked President Bush to convene. There is humor, drama, and, John Heilemann and I believe, a lot of really revealing moments in that storyline.

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Harriman, Tenn.: At what point did you find the Democratic nomination was destined to be Obama's and not Clinton's? What was the one thing that ensured it for Obama?

Mark Halperin: I don't think I could pick one moment, but several stick out that we write about in the book. First, Barack Obama's performance at the big Jefferson-Jackson Iowa Democratic party dinner in the fall of 2007 was a key turning point. Some of Hillary Clinton's strongest backers who were at that dinner say they believed in real time that evening that Obama was destined to win. I would also single out Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses and his victory in the South Carolina primary (closely followed by the endorsement of the late Senator Kennedy). Those two moments turned Obama from an apparent underdog to a strong frontrunner.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Do you get the impression that the choice of Sarah Palin was a sponataneous decision? I theorize that is possible because it seems several McCain aides thought McCain was going to chose someone else and then he suddenly annouced that he had chosen Palin. The McCain staff seemed to have had little advance knowledge to research and prepare that Palin could be the choice.

Mark Halperin: You are exactly right. The story in "Game Change" about how much McCain wanted to select Joe Lieberman, how late in the game that gambit was derailed, and how abruptly McCain switched his focus to Palin is one of my favorite in the book. We quote for the first time anyway from the report a lawyer did over a weekend on Palin's background, as well as the real views of the more senior lawyer who was in charge of the overall vetting process. Part of why Governor Palin was so vulnerable to scrutiny of her background was that the McCain campaign picked her so suddenly without preparing background information that would have allowed campaign spokespeople to give accurate and timely answers about various controversies.

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Tampa, Fla.: Hi, Mark -- My question is, what did you hope to accomplish by publishing this book? Yes, you demonstrate some good sourcing but is there a greater good that you're serving? That's an honest question, not a critique. I'm just wondering what you hope people will take away from "Game Change."

Mark Halperin: John and I hope people will learn what actually happened with the candidates and their spouses as they took part in this race of a lifetime. John and I are both interested in public policy, but this isn't a book about policy. It isn't even, in a sense, a political book. It is a book about famous, interesting people engaged in an intense competition, under remarkable pressure. We covered the campaign closely, just as many Americans followed it closely, and I can tell you we learned a great deal we didn't know about the people involved in this race.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I've read your book, and am recommending it to others. How do you think Team Obama's experience during the campaign might be shaping their response to their current political challenges?

Mark Halperin: Thanks for recommending the book. I think Team Obama learned during the campaign that when the media and Democrats are suggesting the sky is falling that they benefitted from staying calm and not rushing to follow the advice of the panicky herd. At the same time, it is possible that they have over learned the lesson -- that this might be a time when a massive course correction is called for. The campaign was, obviously, very successful, and Barack Obama has succeeded at almost everything he has tried in life, so I wouldn't bet against them.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: It is my observation that the Hillary Clinton campaign chose to keep an eye on the big picture and how to keep an image to win Super Tuestday and to win in the November elections whereas the Barack Obama campaign kept on eye on winning the delegate races. Clinton looked at the forest while Obama looked at the trees. The Obama strategy was the one that worked. Is this analysis correct or do you see something different?

Mark Halperin: Your analysis is spot on. David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, and the team he built around him, was extraordinarily focused on the delegate race, and Hillary Clinton's campaign team was not. In some ways, given the mismatch on this score, it is incredible that Clinton got as close as she did to winning. She felt, with ample justification, that she was ill-served by her campaign team -- although it is true that she put the team together and the buck has to, in the end, stop with her.

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Albuquerque, N.M.: Is it pessimistic to assume that Obama, or any other politician, will ever truly change Washington? Or is he actually chipping away at the way the politics game is played?

Mark Halperin: "Chipping away" is a good way to describe it. Before Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush ran on the same kind of platform, and both of them failed miserably in changing Washington, particularly the role of special interests and the level of partisanship. I never thought I would cover a president more polarizing than Bill Clinton, but Bush 43 was indeed more polarizing. Even some Republicans had high hopes that Obama could change the tone of our national politics, but so far, he has not. Some of the blame, no doubt, goes to Republicans, who early on in the administration dug in against the president and refused to cooperate on major issues, including some involving national security. The results of the Massachusetts senate race gives the president another chance to strategize about how to change the mood and culture in Washington, but it is a true challenge.

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Washington, D.C.: Based on your research and your reporting, do you think we'll see another presidential run by Hillary Clinton? She is getting high marks for her current role, she will have plenty of experience, and her approval ratings are higher than they've ever been. Is there a chance in 2016?

Mark Halperin: I think there is a good chance for 2016, but maybe even before then she could head to the White House. I like to regularly float (because I am cheeky) the notion of a 2012 job swatch between Vice President Biden and Clinton. Biden has wanted to be secretary of state forever. If that doesn't happen (don't hold your breath), things could get interesting in 2016. Both Biden and Clinton will be relatively old to run for president, but neither of them has ruled it out. They are close friends, so a contest between them could be quite interesting.

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Bethesda, Md.: Do you feel the election was lost when Palin was picked?

Mark Halperin: No, although in the end, Governor Palin was both a distraction for McCain's campaign team and an asset. The financial crisis and McCain's reaction to it was I think the moment that McCain's chances of winning were reduced to near zero. It was always going to be hard for McCain to win however, because of the decline in President Bush's standing, the Iraq War, and the economy.

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D.C.: What do you think is Palin's future in the Republican party?

Mark Halperin: She will be influential with important elements of the Republican Party for as long as she wants to be. She has an intense, large, loyal following that is unmatched by any other national leaders. Given her new role as a Fox News Channel analyst, it isn't clear to me what the odds are that she runs for president in 2012, but I tend to think it is less likely than some of my colleagues do. (Leading me to invoke my all-time favorite line about life from the great American political analyst Yogi Berra: prediction is difficult, especially about the future.)

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Mark Halperin: Thanks to you all for submitting questions and your interest in "Game Change." I tried to read and type as fast as I can, but I don't have the skill level of Chris Cillizza. Please enjoy your day.

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