A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
New polls showed President Barack Obama ahead in several key swing states with just six weeks to go until the election. Mixed economic news this week with reports showing higher consumer confidence but weaker GDP growth. And the NFL reached a tentative agreement with its referee union. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News and Michael Hirsh of National Journal join guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Lisa Lerer politics reporter for Bloomberg News.
- Chris Cillizza author of The Fix, a Washington Post politics blog, managing editor of PostPolitics.com and author of a new book, "The Gospel According to The Fix."
- Michael Hirsh chief correspondent at National Journal magazine and author of "At War with Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering its Chance to Build a Better World."
Friday News Roundup Video
With the first presidential debate scheduled for Oct. 3, 2012, our panel discussed how significant the event could be in shaping the election outcome. “It’s very important because you’ve got so many eyeballs on it,” The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza said. Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News said the debates could move the opinions of Mitt Romney’s donors and fellow Republican politicians. Michael Hirsh, chief correspondent of National Journal, added that Romney “really needs a knockout punch” to emerge from the debates.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. New polls track a widening gap between President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney in the swing states. Early voting begins in Iowa. And U.S. economic growth for the second quarter is weaker than expected. Joining me in the studio to talk about this week's top national stories: Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, and Michael Hirsh of natural -- of National Journal. Not Natural Journal, not the environmental...
MR. MICHAEL HIRSHWell, we think it's natural.
PAGEWelcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZAThanks, Susan.
MS. LISA LERERThanks for having us.
PAGEWe welcome our listeners, too, and we invite you to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, last week on the Friday News Roundup, we had, as a panelist, David Corn whose video from a Romney -- from a Mitt Romney fundraiser has caused quite a stir. And we're still talking about it this week. We saw an ad, Chris Cillizza, come out that is Mitt Romney's really most assertive effort to respond and repair the damage done.
CILLIZZARight. The Romney campaign, like all campaigns, essentially never admits error that things are going, at all, badly. This is not unique to Democrats or Republicans. But you see in this ad that you mention, Susan, it is Mitt Romney talking about that he and Barack Obama both care deeply about the poor and middle class but that his policies will do more to help the poor and the middle class than Barack Obama's policy.
CILLIZZAClearly, that messaging, the way they had shot that, him talking to the camera, is all meant to say, I'm not that scary guy that you thought I was in this video. But I would say we live in Virginia. My wife and I, we saw the 47 percent ad. It's in the Obama ad now. It is solely the background, the Mitt Romney video playing over -- kind of a voice-over saying, this is what he said. I was driving to the studio this morning, Susan, listening to the radio.
CILLIZZAI heard an ad paid for by Priorities USA Action, a big Democratic super PAC, exact same thing, just playing that 47 percent clip. So Mitt Romney is smartly -- I mean, he has to try to get out from under this. But Democrats are not going to let him simply kind of forget that this happened just because he shoots one ad saying I care about the poor and middle class.
PAGESo, Lisa, how much damage do you think has been done by this video? And is it something that, a week from now, will it be forgotten, or is it something that's going to have really be a continuing problem for the next five weeks of this campaign?
LERERWell, I think the problem for Mitt Romney is that the video built on an image of him that was already in place. The Democrats had spent much of the summer, you know, just slamming him for his work at Bain, sort of working to portray Romney as this guy, this rich guy who is out of touch with people, who didn't care about the workers, you know, at companies owned by Bain and places like that. So this -- the emergence of this video really just built on that image.
LERERAnd what was remarkable to me, 'cause I was out with the Romney campaign the week the video came out, was just how flat-footed they were caught by it. I mean, part of it was his schedule. They arranged a hastily scheduled news conference, had reporters scrambling in gym clothes to get there. It was so quickly scheduled, you know, to respond. But then they had a schedule for the week that was really focused on fundraising.
LERERSo that gave them very few opportunities to drive a message in campaign rallies and events like that, and even this ad that they put out, which, you know, was a very unusual ad for the Romney campaign. It just -- as we said, just showed him talking straight to the camera. It was very simple, took nine days. And in that nine-day period, Democrats put out a whole bunch of ads talking about the 49 percent remark. So they were pretty slow to come back with a forceful response.
PAGEYou know, Michael, we had -- we see in the Gallup daily poll that Barack Obama now has a lead of 6 percentage points. Now, that's not a double digit lead, but that's a wider lead than we've seen previously in this campaign. In a series of swing state polls, all of them show President Obama with either a tiny lead or a significant one. Has this race turned?
HIRSHI think it has. I think -- and I think the 47 percent comments in the ad that the Obama campaign put out effectively quoting Romney saying that again and again has had impact as some early polling indicates. Perhaps the best measure of how seriously the Romney campaign thinks it needs to take this and how worried it is about his slide in the polls is the fact that the candidate himself is now addressing it head-on.
HIRSHThe, you know, the empathy gap has become as big as the missile gap once was in previous campaigns in that you heard Romney do the -- something remarkable the other day in an interview with NBC where he actually began talking about his health care plan in Massachusetts as evidence of his empathy for the middle class which, you know, we haven't heard before. It's a measure of their desperation on that.
PAGEWhich he had spent an entire primary trying to distance himself some.
PAGEOne thing we do not see in this race now. This is not a referendum on Barack Obama's handling of the economy. That was the race the Romney people had hoped to be fighting.
CILLIZZAYeah. It's fascinating, Susan, because, all the way until about three weeks ago, you know, all the way, I would say, up until the Democratic convention, that was the race they were prosecuting. You know, a Republican strategist told me yesterday -- and it made sense to me, and I hadn't thought of it this way -- they said you can only make it a referendum on President Obama when the -- when President Obama continues to take on water and your guy is kind of able to keep the spotlight fully on him. Look at what's happened in the last three weeks. Democrats had a very solid convention.
CILLIZZAI think, I don't -- not solely attributable to Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama, but they certainly helped. And then you had a week of foreign policy in which Mitt Romney rightly or wrongly was seen as jumping the gun and trying to score political points, releasing a statement prior to the death of Amb. Chris Stevens. And then last week, and into this week, in truth, you had the whole 47 percent video. See, you've had the focus beyond Mitt Romney, his credentials, what kind of campaign he's been running for the last three weeks.
CILLIZZAAnd we haven't really seen that much about Barack Obama. It is coinciding -- talk more about this, I know -- but it's coincided with a fascinating development, which is, even though there are -- the signs are back and forth in terms of the economy getting marginally better or marginally worse, staying the same, confidence about the country moving in the right direction has moved up, I would say somewhat inexplicably, after staying kind of very steady and negative for a very long time.
CILLIZZAAnd people -- Barack Obama's handling of the economy has now kind of bumped up. It's a fascinating thing because, usually, these numbers, particularly at this point in the election when, you know, it's been litigated six ways to Sunday, they don't move. But there is some movement at the moment.
PAGEYou know, that's so interesting, Chris. And, Lisa, I wonder what you make of that. We saw -- the headline this morning in The Wall Street Journal is "Numbers Augur Trouble Ahead," looking at a big decline in orders for durable goods, a recalculation of the GDP for the second quarter at a lower measure. And yet in The Conference Board Report, consumer confidence at its -- at a high, a seven-month high. What is happening? Is the economy getting better as consumers think? Or are there -- or is there trouble as we see with durable order goods?
LERERWell, the economy is still doing what the Fed has said it was going to do and what it's been doing for a long time, which is a slow, long, up-and-down recovery. But you do see this disconnect where consumers are looking at their home values, which home prices have gone up a little bit. They're looking at other indicators like that, and they're feeling the stock market. And they're feeling better about what they're seeing. At the same time, business is looking at a whole different set of things, right?
LERERThey're looking at the looming fiscal cliff. They're looking at what's going on in Europe still. And they're feeling awfully nervous about what's coming down the pike. And they're saying things like, well, you know, we -- there was a survey of CEOs that said, you know, all the CEOs said, like, we don't think we're going to be hiring all that much. So there is this very strong disconnect between the business world and consumers.
LERERAnd part of that -- what folks who studied this sort of thing have told me is that part of that stems from the election, in fact, that the election, having all of these ads out there, arguing one way or the other, shapes people's opinions about how they feel about the economy. And you see that with consumer confidence. Pew did a study that showed consumer confidence among Democrats was higher than among Republicans, so it becomes a reinforcing message.
LERERAnd what some, you know, economic analysts and folks like that said is, you know, these numbers are going to be a little crazy until after the election, consumer confidence numbers, and they're not really going to be the best indicator to look at.
HIRSHYeah, I think, you know, it continues to be this smorgasbord economy, as I call it. I mean, there's something there for everyone: Republicans, Democrats, independents, far right, far left. It's mixed news. We've been getting this for, you know, month after month with a slight bias, I think, toward improvement, which is what you get after a few years of very slow growth, not quite enough to replace the number of jobs lost, which would be 3 percent or better, but, you know, enough to make people feel a little bit better.
HIRSHAnd, you know, for example, the home price jump was actually quite striking. It was 17 percent, the highest percentage jump since 2004. So people feel a little bit marginally more wealthy, and, of course, this is going to benefit the president.
CILLIZZAAnd I would just add, from -- excuse me -- from a purely political standpoint, Susan, what's fascinating is perception is almost more important than reality when it comes to the economy, which is that if people feel like things are getting better, even if there's -- I always say -- we talk about consumer confidence. We talk about the housing prices, all of these kind of measures that we use to say things are getting better, things are getting worse, how much are the average person consumes, how they feel about the economy through the same way we do.
CILLIZZAI think they have a general sense of things moving in the right direction or the wrong direction, and it's a self-fulfilling prophecy in some way. If you think -- regardless of what the external measures show, if you seem to think things are going to get better, maybe you spend more money. Maybe you buy a house. Maybe you buy the car. Then things do get better. And I would say, for President Obama, we knew the -- given the unemployment rate and some of the other factors out there, we knew he was never going to be able to run on, see, I've turned the economy around.
CILLIZZAWhat he has to run on is what his message is on this last two-minute ad that they are now up with, which is, essentially, I came in at a bad time. I did what I could, and things are slowly but surely improving. For a long time, I didn't think that message would sell because people didn't think things were slowly but surely improving. But this last couple of weeks suggests maybe people do now think the economy is kind of, again, lurching, not sort of speeding, but lurching in the right direction.
LERERYou know, Chris, I think, makes a really good point. If the economy is really, really bad and improves slightly, that feels awfully good to people. So it doesn't need to completely come back for it to help the president, but there are some data points in all of this that are really good for the president.
LERERAnd one of them is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised their latest employment estimates and say that basically the economy has reclaimed all the jobs it lost since January of 2009. And that's a really, really nice data point if you're -- that's a data point that I can guarantee you people in Chicago were cheering about.
PAGEYeah, it's a modest recalculation of jobs numbers, but it meant that it just got over the edge so that President Obama can argue there has been a net gain of jobs during his first term. Well, we're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll continue our conversation about the campaign and about those debates that start on Wednesday in Denver. We'll take your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Our phone lines are open. And we'll read your emails, email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio: Lisa Lerer, a politics reporter for Bloomberg News, and Michael Hirsh, he's chief correspondent at National Journal magazine. He's author of "At War with Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering its Chance to Build a Better World." And Chris Cillizza, he's author of "The Fix," a Washington Post politics blog, and he's managing editor of postpolitics.com. His new book is titled "The Gospel According to The Fix."
PAGEWell, many of us will be in Denver on Wednesday night for the first of three presidential debates. How important -- Chris, is this the moment when Mitt Romney can change the arc of this campaign that we've been talking about this morning?
CILLIZZAOK. So I would say the answer to that is it's very important, Susan, because you've got so many eyeballs on it and that there are so few moments in these campaigns in which a significant number of average people are paying attention. The conventions we know are one based on ratings. Debates traditionally have been another. So it means that there just aren't that many. There are now 40 days left before the election.
CILLIZZAThere just aren't that many opportunities in which you're going to have large millions of people paying attention to any one event. Now, you know, as I've long believed that that's the case, one of the people who works for me sent me something from Gallup yesterday that says there's -- only in 1960 and in 2000 is there evidence that the candidate going into the debates ahead left the debates behind and vice versa. So maybe they don't matter as much.
CILLIZZASo I throw that data point in there though I do tend to believe that, in the dynamic of this particular race, Mitt Romney needs -- if the race continues exactly as it is today, Barack Obama will win. Mitt Romney needs something. It does not have to be this, you know, titanic change, but he needs something to change the narrative back to Barack Obama's not getting the job done on the economy. I will. It seems to me that the debates are certainly his best chance with a big audience to make that change.
PAGESo, Lisa, we've had a campaign where both sides have been relentless and thrashing the other guy. And yet last night, Beth Myers, top aide to Mitt Romney, sent out a memo saying, wow, Barack Obama is just a terrific debater, and this morning, a memo from David Axelrod, top advisor to Barack Obama, saying that Mitt Romney is a terrific debater. Setting expectations, I guess.
LERERRight. They're both trying to lower -- both campaigns are trying to lower expectations, which is normal...
PAGEFor themselves and...
PAGE...raise some for the other guy?
LERERRight. Which is normal because of how important this moment is. I think it's particularly important. I saw that, you know, the same Gallup numbers, which are really interesting that mostly it doesn't really actually move voters that much. But what it will move for Mitt Romney is opinion in Washington. There's a lot of people in Washington, a lot of Republicans who are getting really nervous about what's going on in this Romney campaign. They feel that the race is becoming unwinnable.
LERERThey feel that the campaign is not driving a message. A lot of Romney donors are getting nervous about what's going on. So the debate is really his chance to reassure those people as well and, you know, make sure the money keeps flowing and make sure sort of the Republican Party still keeps its confidence in his operation.
PAGECharlie Cook, who writes the -- a non-partisan political newsletter and who is a friend of "The Diane Rehm Show" has a column out this morning at National Journal called "Shades of 1996, Unless Mitt Romney does something quick, he could see GOP donors abandon him, just as they did Bob Dole in 1996." Michael.
HIRSHRight. Yeah, I mean, it's a good point. A number of us have been writing that for some time, that this could be, if Obama pulls ahead, a repeat of Clinton's successful win in '96. And I do think that this debate is huge for Romney as been -- as has been suggested. Maybe that's one reason why, you know, the Obama campaign, further trying to lower expectations for Obama, said the other say that Romney's been doing more preparation than any previous president or candidate, you know, in modern presidential history.
HIRSHI think that, given his slide on the polls, he has to change perceptions. Obama's like the champion. He was ahead on points. He's kind of just got a coast, you know, stay away from the knockout punch. And Romney really needs that knockout punch. And he's going to be throwing some roundhouses, I think.
PAGEAnd, you know, we saw lines in Iowa yesterday of people waiting to vote. Early voting started in Iowa. How important is the -- are these -- this move in many states to allow more and more people devote before Election Day?
CILLIZZASo a couple of things, Susan. I think, hugely important is the answer. Thirty states have some form of either in-person early vote, absentee early vote. And the stat that I was struck by as I was -- I'd like to say that I had these at my command, you know, months ago. But as I was doing research for the show last night, in 2004, about 20 percent of the overall vote was cast early. In 2008, 30-ish. I'm estimating 30-ish percent was cast early. In 2012, the estimates are 40 percent of the vote will be cast.
CILLIZZASo, I mean, we're talking about four in every 10 votes will be cast before Election Day. I mentioned earlier the Obama two-minute ad that they are now up with where he's talking to the camera going through the Obama plan and trying to make his final argument. And you might watch it and think, it's end of September. Why would you run this ad in Iowa and New Hampshire and Colorado? Well, because, as you mentioned, Iowa, people can starting voting now.
CILLIZZASo you don't leave that ad until the last week of the campaign anymore. You run it now because, the truth of the matter is, winning on Election Day, on the actual Election Day, Nov. 6, is really kind of only part of the whole thing. Now, I think this is a test of organizational power because I think what you want to do, Susan -- both these campaigns want to do -- is you want to get the people who you know are for you, get them there when they can, get them to vote, get it banked.
CILLIZZAAnd then start worrying about the undecideds and those people as we get closer to Election Day. So it's hugely important, and I think it's a story that deserves more attention than it's gotten thus far.
PAGELisa, do we know which campaign is advantaged by the rise in early voting?
LERERWell, traditionally Democrats have been advantaged in early votings that would lead to, you know, lead people to think that the Obama campaign would have an advantage there. But, you know, what's really interesting about early voting as well is that this is really the first set of hard numbers that we're all getting about how things are looking. So it gives another data point to analyze the race, and it's also a really big test of the campaign's ground game that people who tend to come out early are undecided voters.
LERERThey're not people on the fence. They're the real partisans, you know? So it's a test of how well each campaign can turn out their own forces. And early votes in some ways are more valuable than Election Day votes, right, because they set a certain narrative how those votes come in and also because those are banked. So even if you have some October surprise, something goes crazily wrong in October, you still have those votes that you've banked from early voting. So that's a great thing for the campaign.
CILLIZZAJust very quickly. To add to Lisa's point, I think that is why it is not a great moment for Mitt Romney to be struggling in the kind of broad campaign narrative. Look, he'd rather be struggling today than in the last two weeks of the campaign. But still, Susan, again, four in 10 people will vote early. It's not good to be looking like the guy who's not going to win when that process opens up.
PAGEYou know, it also, to me, underscores the importance of this first debate over the other debates because a lot of people will tune in to this first debate. Maybe it'll make up their minds if they've been just a little bit softly committed to one side or the other. You know, by the time you get to the third debate, what -- a third of the electorate may have already cast a ballot.
HIRSHRight. I mean, we've known for some time that this election is going to depend on a very small number of undecided voters nationally, you know, possibly even less than a million by some estimates. What the polls have indicated in recent days as they swung toward Obama is that more and more of these undecideds, particularly in the ballot round states like Ohio, are swinging toward Obama. And that's been really devastating news for the Romney campaign.
HIRSHSo overall, I think it changes the dynamics that is the early voting, but I'm not sure that it's going to be decisive as much as, you know, what that first debate in particular says about how well Romney can make his comeback that he needs to make now against Obama and how many of those yet undecided voters, which is a very small now, he can affect.
PAGELet's invite some of our listeners to join our conversation. We'll go first to Robert. Robert's calling us from Nashville. Robert, you're not in Nashville, Tenn. You're in Nashville, N.C.?
PAGEAll right. Well, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
ROBERTThank you. Undecided Blue Dog Democrat in the swing state Eastern North Carolina. I think what happens as an undecided voter is we know we can't trust the campaign ad, and so we listen to the news. And, lately, even as a Democrat starts not to trust the news, the 47 Percent video keeps getting brought up by the media here over and over, plus the campaign ads, but we rarely hear about the videos of Obama in '08 and '12, talking about redistribution of wealth.
ROBERTAnd then we hear the media telling us all about the polls, and we know that the polls about gay marriage (word?) strongly in favor. But we see the voters doing the absolute opposite. So we don't know whether we should trust the polls to be accurate or the media to be reporting truthfully. And then we know the campaign ads are run by the campaigns. So it's really hard as voter, especially an undecided voter, to figure out who's given us the right information that's accurate.
PAGEYeah. Robert, thanks so much for your call. Now, you say you're an undecided voter. You're leaning one way or the other now?
ROBERTI'm a moderate Democrat, and I was leaning towards Romney, and now I really don't know. North Carolina has been more affected by some of Obama's policies than other states...
ROBERT...which tends to make North Carolina a swing state, and we're not stupid down here. We know when Michelle Obama comes five times, you know, President Obama comes, and, you know, when Democrats go to military bases, you know, there's sometimes another reason for it other than just -- so we -- we're just kind of -- everyone is kind of just sitting on the fence, waiting to see something they can trust.
PAGEYeah. Robert, thanks so much for your call. Of course, North Carolina is a state that voted for Barack Obama four years ago. We though it was a state that Mitt Romney had a good chance of picking up, but the latest poll shows Obama with a very narrow lead.
HIRSHIt's quite remarkable, considering it's a state with 9.6 percent unemployment considerably above the national average last time I checked, although North Carolinian officials I talked to explain that partly because there's been such a huge influx of immigrants into the state. But the fact that Obama has been able to stay competitive, I think, is really striking.
HIRSHI mean, you know, our own Charlie Cook, who you quoted earlier in National Journal, got to the point where he couldn't believe that Charlotte would be picked as the site for the Democratic Convention there because he thought it was going to be lost again to the Republicans, as so much of the South is automatically now. But North Carolina looks very, very competitive.
PAGEYou know, Robert, early in his call, mentioned and asked, really, why the 47 percent video, which is embarrassing to Mitt Romney, gets so much play in comparison to the video from, I think, 1998 that shows Barack Obama talking about redistribution of wealth. Why the disparity, Chris?
CILLIZZAWell, obviously, if you think the media is biased, you will not buy my explanation. But I will give you my explanation anyway, which is you mentioned the most important thing that I was going to mention, Susan, which is the redistribution of wealth video was from 1998. It has been litigated out before in the 2008 campaign, and we're talking about 14 years ago. The Romney 47 percent video was shot, I believe, in May of this year.
CILLIZZASo immediacy and kind of recency of thought, I think, do matter. And I think, again, the redistribution of wealth is not -- if you listen to the full clip, Barack Obama is making a broader point about sort of what role he thinks government can play kind of broadly in that process. I think it's a little less damning than just the -- if you cut out the redistribution of wealth line. So I feel like a little bit of old news there.
CILLIZZAAnd the Romney thing, again -- Lisa mentioned this right off the top -- it goes so directly to the character that Democrats have sought to paint of Mitt Romney: wealthy guy who says one thing to his wealthy friends and something different to the public. All of it fits into an existing narrative there about him.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls. We'll go to Steve. He's calling us from Venice, Fla., which is another one of those battleground states. Hi, Steve.
STEVEHi. I did not vote for Obama, but I must say I have -- I'm leaning towards him now. I -- four years ago, I thought the sky was falling in. And I was invested in the market, and my portfolio went down to practically nothing. A house that was somewhere in the high 300s went down to about 240. And here I am, three years later, and I find myself feeling quite good about my portfolio. I'm feeling good that my house value is going up.
STEVEI feel like I can freely go out and have dinner at night with my wife whenever I want to. I feel like I can buy her a nice present, you know, whenever I want to. And I don't feel this gloom and doom that I've been hearing, and, particularly being invested in the stock market, that's all I heard from the stock market.
PAGEAnd, Steve, let me ask you. You didn't vote for Barack Obama four years ago? Do you think you'll vote for him this time?
STEVENo. I'm leaning towards him because I think he's a decent man. Of all the things that I've experienced in the last four years, which -- and we were, I mean, almost to the point of depression in this country -- and all the fights that my own party had created for him and all the blocking and controversy they've created for him, despite all that, he's done extremely well, I think, and I feel like the fellow deserves four more years. I think now he'll have much more freedom in making his point...
PAGERight. Yeah. Steve, thank you so much for your call. Very interesting. Michael.
HIRSHWell, what can you say but sign him up for the next Obama ad, you know? I mean, that is precisely the Obama campaign's narrative, hark back to how devastating things were precisely four years ago, the fall of 2008, incomes collapsing, stock market collapsing, personal wealth down to a level not seen since 1929. Indeed, the crash was probably worse than the Depression crash. And that's what they're arguing.
HIRSHThat's what the president is out there saying, and you have to give him credit. At least it has been a consistent message, whereas the Romney campaign is sort of all over the map on it.
LERERI think even more damaging for Romney is the fact that his economic plan, which is the -- that's the core of his whole candidacy, is that he's the guy. He was a successful businessman who knows how to move America towards the economy of the future. But the president's economic plan is starting to gain traction with more voters. Our poll found that 48 percent or 39 percent of people prefer Obama's economic plans and think he has a better message, you know, a better vision for a successful future.
LERERThat's very damaging for Romney. And on his tax plan, we found that more than half of people are really skeptical about his tax plan, and that's going to be an issue that -- you know, a lot of people recognize that's going to be a huge issue in the next year or two of taxes. So I think that, you know, not only do people think that perhaps Obama helped -- they feel their stock market is better. Their home values are up. So they feel good about what Obama did in the past four years. They're also looking at the plans going into the future and feeling better about the president's plan.
CILLIZZAAlso very interesting, Susan -- sorry, very quickly -- that he said -- I think Steve said, I think President Obama is a decent man. That likeability factor -- you know, he seemed -- the call was kind of about how he feels better about his own life, but he came back to why he would vote for him is 'cause he thinks he's a decent man. That is a huge benefit for Barack Obama. On likeability and who you think understands your problems, he has huge leads over Mitt Romney.
CILLIZZAAnd people often make the presidential decision based on kind of feel. They make it less on sort of strict policy decisions and more on who kind of understands me. Who do I think is a good person who I admire and respect?
PAGEAnd, of course, we saw the Obama campaign have a strategy of spending a lot of money on ads early on that tried to define Mitt Romney not as a likeable guy, but as a rich guy who doesn't understand your life, who has exotic investments and who you can't trust to handle the economy, to really undermine his core asset was his ability to turn around the economy.
HIRSHYeah. I mean, that's why, I think, in some ways, the best analogy for this campaign is sort of a reversal of 2004 with, you know, Obama in the role of President Bush and Romney in the role of John Kerry. I mean, the Democrats have really done a fierce job and very successful job of defining Romney. And what -- as was said earlier, one of the reasons the 47 percent video had such impact is it fed right into that image of Romney.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. And when we come back, we'll talk about some of the critical Senate races, including that race in Missouri where the gaffes just keep coming. We're talking with Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, Michael Hirsh of National Journal. We're taking your calls. We're going to take -- read some of your emails, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGELet's go back to the phones. We'll talk to Adam. He's calling us from St. Louis, Mo. Adam, you're on the air.
ADAMHi. Good morning. Thanks for taking my call, Susan. So yesterday, "Fox and Friends" went on the air and made the claim that the polls are -- the word they used was rigged -- the polls were rigged in favor of President Obama either for the purpose possibly of scaring Romney donors away from giving any more money was one sort of hypothetical because the media, according to them, is generally in the pocket of the left.
ADAMIt seemed, you know, we've heard this kind of thing from the right for a while 'cause they're biased. That's typical. But this seemed to take it to a new level, and I'm wondering what's going on here. Primarily, I wonder if they're not preparing to, you know, claim that the election was rigged because it's starting to look worse and worse for Romney and just trying to do damage control or something. I'm just wondering about your reaction about it.
PAGEAdam, thanks so much for your call. You know, one of the arguments that some conservatives have been making is that polls increasingly show a larger proportion of people who identify themselves as Democrats. We saw a long memo yesterday from Frank Newport, the editor-in-chief of the Gallup poll, talking about party identification. Chris, what's the issue there?
CILLIZZASo I think the issue -- let me first say, Susan, that the idea of that, the entire media establishment, if you can even say media establishment -- I'm not even sure that exists anymore. But let's assume it does -- is somehow in cahoots to drive this election in some way to Barack Obama. I just -- as someone who works in the media day-in and day-out and sees my colleagues working hard and spending time, and, you know, I just find it insulting, number one.
CILLIZZANumber two, the -- at issue is, how do you develop a sample, which is the sample being the -- obviously, we're not going to poll 500,000 people in Florida. You have to poll a statistically representative sample. It's usually around 1,000 people. Who makes up that sample? What do you base it on? There are some people who say you should only base it on exit polling, which is the last election. Look at what the voter composition in the state was by party ID and based on the nets.
CILLIZZASome people say, well, you should just take what you get. You make the calls. You take what you get in terms of party identification. You go from there. Other people say it's somewhere in between. I think what it all gets at is polling is not science. It is not art either, but it is somewhere in between. That is developing the sample is critically important. The hardest thing for any pollster -- and I think the vast majority of them spend lots of time trying to get this right -- is figuring out what does the electorate look like.
CILLIZZAWhat -- we know it'll look like in a way. We know what it looked like in 2010. It seems unlikely it's going to look like either of those things. Oh, wait, incredibly good for Democrats in 2010, incredibly good for Republicans. Is it somewhere in between? And if you're -- you don't want to miss change. Ohio was the one that gets the most criticism. There's a real possibility that because of the economy's improvement in Ohio, because the auto bailout is seen favorably by six in 10 people that there is some real movement towards more people identifying as Democrats there.
CILLIZZAI'm not suggesting we know that for a fact. But the idea to say, well, it was this way in a way, and it has to be this way. Or it was this way in 2010. It has to be this way. I just think it misses the point of what the polls are trying to do, which is to capture now, not to capture two years ago, not to capture four years ago.
PAGEWell, polls by Gallup and also by the Pew Research Center, those are two of the most respected polling organizations in the nation, neither of them wait for party identification because they both argue that people -- if they feel a little better about President Obama, an increasing proportion of people say they're Democrats. It doesn't mean they changed their party registration. Why, those states don't even have registration by party. But that it's lagging indicator, not the leading one. But it does lead to people looking at the composition of polls and saying, can I trust it?
HIRSHLook, Susan, the bottom line here, as Chris just suggested, is that these are businesses, and they live or die on the basis of whether they are right. The polling firms that, over time, whether they identify more with the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, that prove to be more accurate are the ones that are cited more often and become more successful. So, you know, there's no reason they would have to be skewing any of these numbers artificially, no matter which party they identify with.
PAGEAdam, thanks so much for your call. We've got a tweet from TinLazy (sp?) asking, "What are the most important Senate races?" And I'd like to start by talking about the race in Missouri which has been quite in the news. What's the latest, Lisa?
LERERI don't want to be unladylike in my comments but that was the latest. That's, of course, a reference to the latest gaffe by the Republican candidate there, Todd Akin, who said that Sen. Claire McCaskill was unladylike during the debate that they had. So, you know, he's in the race. The deadline for him to drop out passed this past week. So you're seeing some Republicans start to come along, folks like DeMint, you know, Sen. DeMint or Rick Santorum who, of course, ran in the primary. But you're not going to see a big flow of Republicans.
LERERThe NRSC sort of said, well, maybe we planned this, but Chairman John Cornyn was pretty clear that he didn't feel particularly excited about doing that. It does not seem -- I think had Todd Akin said nothing, maybe he could have won this race. The state was trending Republican. It was trending against Sen. Claire McCaskill. But the series of gaffes that he's made during the course of his candidacy has made it pretty tough for Republicans to win and has the -- you know, it's going to make it pretty tough for them to expand their -- dramatically expand their control in the Senate.
PAGEAlthough Missouri is a state that's gotten a little Republican, we should think of it as a big bellwether. It's really not anymore. Chris, do you think Todd Akin still could win this Senate race?
CILLIZZAI think in the same way that it is -- I think physically possible, but I could still dunk a basketball. It is at the outside bounds of possibility, Susan, but let's not rule it out. I'm 6-foot-2. I'm not that old at this point. But no is the broad answer. I'm not dunking a basketball, and I don't think Todd Akin is winning the Senate race.
CILLIZZAAnd here's why. I know there's data that suggests he's within kind of mid to upper single digits behind Claire McCaskill. There's a good reason for that. Claire McCaskill waited smartly until Todd Akin could no longer pull out of the race, which is earlier this week. That even if he pulled out of the race, his name would still be on the ballot. She did not use the legitimate rape comments that Mr. Akin used. He has now handed her another campaign ad with -- saying that she was more ladylike, as Lisa mentioned, in the 2006 campaign.
CILLIZZAI have a feeling, having spent some time watching campaigns, that the McCaskill campaign -- they've already started to use the legitimate rape. They will use that comment more and more. And I think under that level of scrutiny, added to the fact that Todd Akin has struggled to raise money, and so even if he could -- I'm not sure there's a good pushback on the legitimate rape comments, but let's say he had one -- I can't imagine what it be. Let's say he had one. He doesn't have enough money to litigate that debate anyway.
CILLIZZASo Missouri is, to your point -- it's clearly stated -- Lisa always talked about it as a bellwether. Now, no one thinks that Barack Obama is going to win it. He's not spending money there. Neither is Mitt Romney. So Todd Akin's probably going to get 44, 45 percent of the vote just 'cause he has an R after his name. But I just don't see how he winds up winning given the self-inflicted damage he's done to himself.
PAGEMichael, another of the key Senate races is in Massachusetts where Scott Brown is running for a second term. Elizabeth Warren is challenging him. What's happening in that race?
HIRSHWell, a bit of controversy as in all these interesting races. Some of Scott Brown's supporters were seen sort of doing a tomahawk dance, you know, hand chops like they do in the Atlanta Braves game.
PAGENow, why were they doing that? What's the back story?
HIRSHBecause there was -- Elizabeth Warren, at one point, suggested that she had Native American heritage, may have cited that for employment benefits as a, you know, as a Harvard professor. And that has ensued -- what has ensued has been, you know, a couple of months-long controversy over what her real heritage is, which still has not yet been determined. I think we're awaiting the DNA test. But that is a race that's been sort of up and down the whole way. And I think, unlike the Missouri race at this point, it may be too close to call.
PAGEWe also have Scott Brown questioning Elizabeth Warren's law clientele, the people she has represented as a lawyer. Lisa, could that be an issue that's troublesome for her?
LERERYou know what? I think what he's trying to do is undermine her credibility at every turn, right, the argument that she lied about her heritage. Part of her whole narrative is that she sort of brought herself up from a very working-class background in Oklahoma. So he's trying to undermine that whole story by bringing up these -- and that she was been a strong advocate for consumers, you know, did bankruptcy law, things like that.
LERERSo he's trying to undermine, you know, her legal credentials but also her whole life story by bringing these things up. Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, is -- you know, Scott Brown has very high likeability ratings, so she is trying to undermine that by not talking about him as a person but saying, well, by voting for Scott Brown, you're voting for a Republican majority in the Senate. She's bringing up votes he made that were more on the Republican end of things.
LERERSo that's, you know, sort of the latest developments, but this -- it's remarkable to me that this Native American issue is still going on. I mean, it started in the spring, and he's out with a second ad today or yesterday bringing it up again. It's just something that her campaign has just been unable to move past.
PAGEWe've got an email from Jonathan, who writes us from Washington, D.C., where we are, and asked, "What are the actual chances of a return of the Senate to Democratic majority?" Now, Chris, of course, the Democrats now hold the Senate, but there had been a lot of thought that the Republicans had a great shot this year at winning it back. How does it look now?
CILLIZZAWell, I don't want to give -- I don't want to make this the Charlie Cook hour, but I will point in the column that Charlie Cook might -- I would say the first person who gave a job in Washington sidebar. But in the column that you cited earlier in which Charlie talks about this, are we facing '96, he also talks about the danger in the Senate. And he said, you know, there was about a 65 percent chance he would have said a year ago that Republicans would take over. I would agree with him.
CILLIZZALook, Susan, you have 23 Democratic seats up and 10 Republican seats up. Those numbers alone would suggest, well, this is trouble. I would add to the fact you have a Democratic senator in Nebraska, not exactly a Democratic stronghold, retiring. You have a Democratic senator in North Dakota, not exactly a Democratic stronghold, retiring. Up until mid-August, Claire McCaskill looked like no matter who Republicans nominated, she was going to lose. That's three seats right there.
CILLIZZAA couple things have happened. One is Olympia Snowe, a very moderate Republican senator from Maine, retired earlier this year. Angus King, who is an independent former governor -- but we believe will caucus with Democrats -- is likely to win there. That's a seat we -- the Republicans didn't expect to lose that I think they will. And you've just seen some of these races not come along as much. You've seen Virginia -- Tim Kaine and George Allen. Tim Kaine, I think, has a slight lead there. I mentioned Missouri.
CILLIZZAAnd you've seen places like -- to be honest, I never thought we'd be talking about Indiana at the end of the September. This is a seat where Dick Lugar, a moderate Republican senator, lost a primary to a conservative guy named Richard Mourdock. And all of the sudden in Indiana -- which Barack Obama is going to lose even though he won it in 2008, he is going to lose -- is a relatively conservative state. We've got polling out, nonpartisan or bipartisan polling that shows that the race is basically tied.
CILLIZZASo you've seen a couple opportunities come on the board for Democrats that we didn't think -- and you've seen a couple opportunities, Missouri being the largest one, come off the board for Republicans. And I now think, look, Democrats have no business having as good a chance as they currently have to hold the Senate.
PAGEYou know, I'm sorry to say we have apparently failed to convince every member of our audience that they can trust media polls.
PAGEHere's an email from Paul, who says, "What is the media going to do when Obama underperforms the skewed polls they have been quoting?" And here's an email from Jean, who writes, "Perhaps pollsters and poll reviewers should know that there are some, like me, who rarely tell the truth when polled, depending upon the nuisance value of any particular intrusion. I generally lie on one or more questions." Hey, Jean, I'm sorry to hear that. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGELet's talk for a moment about the post office default, a non-political story but one that perhaps deserves a little attention. The post office is facing its second default in as many months. Why, Lisa?
LERERWell, it has to do with health benefits that are paid out to retirees, that they can't afford to make payments on those. Those -- so they're going to default on those payments. The mail will still come, and the benefits will still be paid even though they're defaulting on them. But it sort of undermines the long-term confidence, the long-term numbers for the post office liability.
PAGEMichael, should people expect any effect on their mail service?
HIRSHNot immediately, but we have to wait until, you know, Congress comes back after the November election, and they have a few other things on their agenda to deal with, like the fiscal cliff. So, you know, there -- obviously, there are long-term solvency issues with the postal service. No surprise there. It's not necessarily their fault. It's because there are a lot of private carriers, people are not using the snail mail as much on any number of levels. So, you know, this is something Congress has to address, but I don't think it's going to be a priority.
PAGEYeah. Let's go to Matthew calling us from Arlington, Va. Matthew, we've got a few minutes. What do you have got to say?
MATTHEWWell, just a comment, and I'll be brief. And I've wrote some comments, and I'll just quickly read it. I'm an independent. I've worked since I've been 12-years-old. My wife has worked since she's a teenager. We've both served in the military for over 20 years. We've reset our careers, found jobs in the public sector. We've saved, bought houses, put money in the economy. We've never taken public assistance, although I think Romney and his campaign has been inept.
MATTHEWAnd, by the way, I did vote for Barack Obama and not George Bush either time before that. But I do have an incredible problem with the president that I voted for, looking at me on the television and telling that I need to pay my fair share. I've had relatives and friends who have not worked for over three to 12 years, have been subsidized and refused to get jobs because the ones available, media had said, are beneath them.
MATTHEWI think there is a real problem with the system in many cases, but it goes beyond the system. And I do think that Romney had a sense of truth when he said some people feel victimized and cannot get past that. Again, if you'd comment on that. Thanks.
PAGEAll right. Matthew, thank you so much for your call. And thank -- our thanks to you and your wife for your service to our country. So here is a voter from another swing state for whom Romney's message has really resonated.
CILLIZZAYou know, Susan, I'm continually struck by the fact that if you look at this race on paper, I believe Mitt Romney should be winning the race because of people exactly like the caller, which is there is this kind of discontent that it's gotten slightly better. But there's a discontent in the country if Barack Obama still -- if you ask how he's handling the economy, you have a majority saying he is not doing well. And yet campaigns and the candidates matter, and that's what we're seeing.
PAGEYou know, we have had a lot of polarization, partisan division in Washington. There has been one thing that has pulled our capital, our nation together, and that was with the replacement refs in the NFL. Lisa, we saw the president, Mitt Romney agree that they were -- that call on Monday night was outrageous. How glad is America that the real refs are back?
LERERI think America is awfully glad. There was just an unbelievable public outcry here about the replacement refs. And it just showed how much that kind of outcry can get things done. They went back to the table, and they negotiated that with an eight-year agreement.
HIRSHYeah. I mean, yeah, you could take away our middle class, you know, you can debilitate our economy, but don't take away our football. That seems to be the message here.
PAGEMaybe we need the replacement refs to come to Washington during the fiscal cliffs negotiations in some way and help us read and accord there. Chris, we'll give you the last word.
CILLIZZAAs someone whose wife is a college field hockey coach, I understand frustration with poor refereeing better than Moses. And I think, you know, for a league that's been so set on a wonderful PR effort by NFL, I think at Lisa's point, they realized the time had come. They were bleeding in PR perspective, and a deal had to be made.
PAGEChris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, and Michael Hirsh of National Journal magazine. Thank you so much for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
LERERThanks for having us.
HIRSHA pleasure, Susan.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Megan Merritt. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program is a production of WAMU 88.5 from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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