Roundtable on the Tightening Race

Roundtable on the Tightening Race

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume - October 29, 2008


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that more than one candidate has read the polls at the time and not the transcend(ph). I guarantee you one thing, we will be up late on election night.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don't believe for a second this election is over. Don't think for a minute that power will concede without a fight. We have to work like our futures depend on it, because they do.


HUME: Well, both the candidates seem to agree that this is a close election.

And we're going to have some thoughts on this from Fred Barnes, executive editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, national political correspondent from National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Let's look at a few of these polls. This is, first, the Gallup daily tracking poll. This is of registered voters, and it's not at this stage of the game all that meaningful, but it shows Obama up nine.

Now, the Rasmussen daily tracking poll is of likely voters, and it's got the race, as you can see, much closer. So, what to think?

Well, let's look at the real clear politics average of ten current polls. As you can see, they show about a, almost a six-point lead for Barack Obama.

However, this is a bit closer than it's been. So the question arises, what does this mean? Mara, your thoughts?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: First of all, I think the ray race is getting closer. I think some of it is a natural tightening at the end, which we see every year, every cycle.

I also think the race is getting closer because it's getting closer, because some of McCain's attacks are having effect.

I also think that what you have got is undecided voters -- we don't know whether they're going to break to Obama or McCain, but what we do know at least among African-Americans, there are no undecided African- American voters. There are huge chunks of Obama supporters that are already locked in.

So the theory is maybe undecided voters might break to McCain.

I think there is another thing about the averages. They're very helpful to journalists and other people who follow this because they average the polls. I think at this point it is useless to look at a poll that polls registered voters. Likely voters are the only people we care about.

HUME: Except, though, that Gallup is doing -- and we don't have the numbers ready to show, but Gallup is doing two likely voter screens. In other words, they are asking a set of questions.

One of them is one where they accounting for the distinct possibility there will be a much larger than average turnout this year, and they come about the same place the registered voters do.


HUME: In other words, that's what you would expect. Except you look at the Gallup survey, their old-fashioned screen of likely voters based on past voter behavior, and you come out with a very tight race indeed. So who knows?

LIASSON: Modeling this election is also very tough because the electorate has grown and we don't know exactly how. And we also don't know how many of those new registrants are going to show up.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: In other words, we don't know how to define "likely," because it is a new environment and we'll know after the election, and we'll have the screening that will work. But, of course, it will be too late.

I agree it is pretty obvious that it is tightening. It always does, particularly when you have a newcomer, when people are thinking whether at the last second you want to have a newcomer, a guy you may not really know who he is, in the White House.

There's one other factor here, and that is the extraneous factor, the stock market. It's a fevered chart of the national movement. When it tanked, McCain lost his lead. There is no question it was as a result of that.

The market goes up 10 percent in a day yesterday, and your retirement account grows 10 percent, and you feel a little bit less gloom and doomy.

That's not going to have a divisive effect, but mood is important. And if we're talking about the last say, five percent of the undecideds, who, after all of this torrent of information over a whole year are still undecided, it could turn on how the mood is.

And McCain is scoring with the tax and spend tax, the traditional "he's a liberal" attack, and also with the "can you trust him in a crisis?" attack. And I think if he keeps on those things, it could end up as a close election.


And the other thing is that the voters out there, which I think Mara was suggesting, the voters out there, they're white, and they tend to be soft--

HUME: The voters that are as yet undecided?

BARNES: Yes. They are soft Republicans and independents. In other words, a group that if McCain is going to do well, he would get a disproportionate amount of those folks out there.

But I think there are a couple of things that are working against the tightening, in other words, working against McCain. One is that, usually in October, Republicans save their money and they outspend Democrats like crazy.

They're not doing this October because Democrats have so much money, Barack Obama being on TV tonight on all the stations, all the broadcast stations, and you just hear from everywhere--outspending Republicans in all Senate races, House races, the presidential race, two, three, four to one everywhere. That's one thing, Democrats have money.

And the second thing is that McCain and Palin are not just sticking to one message, or even the two that Charles mentioned-"is he ready to be president," and then taxes and redistributing the wealth. We have been talking about this suppressed tape that "The L.A. Times" has, Palin's talking about energy. They're talking about all these different things.

They really need to concentrate on a single message, or maybe two. But the McCain camp hasn't been able to do that as yet in the entire campaign, and they're not doing it now when they really need to.

HUME: So your take would be this tightening that there has been is mostly the natural tightening we're all accustomed to seeing at the end of the race?

BARNES: No. I think the tax and redistributive issue is helping McCain.

HUME: Do you agree with that, Mara?

LIASSON: Yes, I do. I think it's both. I think there is a natural tightening and some of these attacks are working.

I think they are blunted by the fact that Obama has been able to get his message out. He's bought the biggest megaphone that any candidate has ever bought.

He in some of these polls is beating McCain on the tax issue. Why? Because he has had saturation ads saying that he will cut taxes for 95 percent of American voters. It is hard to beat that.

KRAUTHAMMER: He has one other advantage--people who went out and voted early. Pew poll is right that it's heavily Obama by a 10 percent margin. And if it is a third of the vote or even near that, that means McCain has to win among the others by five percent on Election Day to draw even and have a tie. And that's highly unlikely.

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