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Interview with Obama Campaign Advisor David Axelrod

Interview with Obama Campaign Advisor David Axelrod

By Piers Morgan Tonight - August 16, 2012

MORGAN: This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT. Good evening. Our big story tonight, battleground Wisconsin. The latest CNN/ORC poll has 49 percent of Wisconsin's registered voters in the Obama column, 45 percent for Romney. With the president's four-point advantage is within the survey sampling error and two polls last week had him in a single digit advantage in a state he won by 14 points in 2008.

That puts Wisconsin on the list of eight crucial states that CNN now considers a toss-up. It joins Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia.

So what does all this mean to Team Obama? Joining me now for more on our big story is David Axelrod, former White House senior adviser to the president.

David Axelrod, welcome back. How are you?

AXELROD: Hey. Good to be with you, Piers.

MORGAN: So what is your overview of where you are right now as team Obama? We are, what, 80 or so days away from the election. The general feeling seems to be it is game on and we know where the battleground is going to be now. Is that your analysis?

AXELROD: Like where we are. I think the president is message is getting out there. And people understand, you know, that he's fighting for an economy which the middle class can grow and get a fair shake. And the contrasts are getting out. So, you know, I like our position but I've always anticipated a close race. We're going to have a close race.

MORGAN: You're going to find yourselves in unusual territory and that it looks clear that Mitt Romney will have more money to spend. And we know from the Republican nominee race, when he's got lots of money, he tends to spend it very negatively. Are you prepared for that? Do you accept you're going to get outgunned financially? And what can you do about that?

AXELROD: Well, I don't think that I need to be prepared for it. It's already happening. I mean, they've been spending prodigiously for several months. This week, Piers, we're being outspent 3 to 1. They're spending $27 million, between Romney and his allies, on negative ads. And some of them are just patently false. One accusing the president of undermining the work provisions of welfare.

Everybody who's looked at it said it's false and yet they keep on running those ads. The current contretemps over Medicare. They're running ads that aren't true but they're running it with great force. So is it a concern? Yes, it's a concern. But I have faith in the American people. We're going to make our case. We're going to straighten out the record. And we're going to make honest comparisons with Romney. And I think we're going to prevail.

MORGAN: The sadness for me about President Obama and these super PACs is that you've had to plow in and you've had to compete. Your super PACs are also running, you know, some would say an absolute pack of lies on occasion. The ad that I really felt incensed by was the one basically accusing Mitt Romney of killing this woman. And you know I thought that one just crossed a line.

Do you regret that you've got into bed with the super PACs, even though you won't admit you have?

AXELROD: Well --

(LAUGHTER)

AXELROD: Well, let me answer -- you have a number of different questions in there. As to the ad you referenced, nobody should or -- should accuse Governor Romney of being responsible for that woman's death. And frankly, Piers, you and I have a difference. I don't think that was the -- that was the -- that was the explicit message of that spot. But what is indisputable is that the workers at that steel company got a -- got a bad deal from Governor Romney and his partners who walked away from millions of dollars after loading up the company with debt and bankrupting the company and leaving the workers and the creditors holding the bag.

So that's indisputable. But the thing about that ad is that it never ran. I think it ran once by mistake. So that's in contrast to the Romney ads that he produced, that he's paying for, and that he's running that are demonstrably false. And so, you know, I would - I would think that the media should concentrate on the ads that people are actually seeing and not on the ads that people aren't seeing.

Now as to our participation in super PACs, that was a tough decision for us. But we were looking at the possibility, and we still are, of $1 billion of outside money being spent against us and nothing in response. Right now, we're raising money at $50 a clip and we're responding to all these super PACs that are raising money in $1 and $5 and $10 million allotments from people like Sheldon Adelson, the gambling magnate in Las Vegas.

So the question was, can you play touch when the other side is playing tackle? And we just decided that it wasn't fair to the cause to tie our hands behind our back and allow them to do what they were doing without any response at all.

MORGAN: When you see the poll numbers closing in somewhere like Wisconsin which today CNN has moved from lean Obama to a toss-up -- when you see that happening and you see the kind of excitement Paul Ryan has generated in the last few days, and it's indisputable. He's got the Republican base certainly fired up. You must be getting a little bit concerned, aren't you? I mean this is going to be a brutal battle, we know that. And as you said, a very close one.

AXELROD: Well, you're right. He has fired up elements of the Republican base. The Tea Party, the social conservatives. He's a champion of those groups. He's a right-wing ideologue. And the right-wing ideologues are excited about his candidacy. I don't think that's where this election is going to be decided. I don't think most voters are going to decide this election. The swing voters in this election share the view that Congressman Ryan has. And Governor Romney, for that matter.

We ought to ban abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. I don't think they share their -- the same enthusiasm for trillions of dollars of new tax cuts skewed to the wealthy that are paid for by cuts in college scholarships and loans and student aid and Medicare and nursing home care for seniors, and the things we need to grow like research and development and new American energy.

I don't think most people share that view. It's a radical view. And it's one that excites their base. But it's not one that's going to win this election.

MORGAN: Mitt Romney has come out today pretty strongly and said that he has gone back and looked at his taxes and that for the past 10 years I've never paid less than 13 percent. This is a direct fire back from him at Senator Harry Reid. And the clear implication is that Harry Reid has deliberately and unfairly and inaccurately smeared him.

Do you believe Mitt Romney when he says that he's paid at least 13 percent for the last 10 years?

AXELROD: I'll say he's setting an entirely new precedent. Maybe we shouldn't have any disclosure laws at all or any disclosure traditions at all. Everyone can just certify for the public that everything's fine, everything's OK, so you don't need to see my tax returns or my financial information.

You know, Governor Romney's father, George Romney, set a standard back in the '60s when he was running for president and he released 12 years of tax returns because he said one year is not enough. You can manipulate one year to create a false impression. But this Governor Romney thinks he can operation under a different set of rules. He has a sense of entitlement that he doesn't have to operate under the same rules that presidential candidates have for decades.

Not just disclosure on his tax returns, by the way, but who is raising money for him, his so-called bundlers. He left office in Massachusetts with the hard drives from his computers with all his records because he said he didn't want opposition researchers looking at it. And he did the same thing when he left the Olympics. He has a penchant for secrecy and he thinks he can play by a different set of rules.

And -- no, I don't -- I don't accept his word on what his taxes say. Let the public see it. Let them understand what's in those tax returns. They say, well, we don't want to do it because the opposition may make issues about it. Well, that doesn't give me much confidence about what's in those tax returns. Let the public make their own judgment.

MORGAN: Let's turn to Vice President Biden. He obviously -- I don't know what your view of this will be. I'll ask you. But he appeared to have dropped you guys right in it, with this phrase about putting everyone back in chains. Let's listen to the offending quote and get your reaction. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: He said in the first 100 days he's going to let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. They're going to put y'all back in chains.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Now I had Rudy Giuliani on last night. Very fired up about this, saying the double whammy of the southern accent that Joe Biden put on, plus this phrase, "put ya'll back in chains," to an audience that contained many African-Americans was a pretty despicable piece of rhetoric.

Do you regret that Joe Biden used that particular phrase?

AXELROD: Listen, I know what the vice president was saying. I think everybody in that room knew what he was saying. He was talking about financial reform and Wall Street reform. And the fact that Republicans and Governor Romney want to roll all that back. And that's going to be right on the backs of consumers. That was a mixed audience that he said that to.

But let me say this, Piers. You know, things are -- candidates are out. They say things. Over the course of the next 84 days, I suspect that every one of the principals who are running are going to say something that are going to create some sort of media furor for 24 hours and those furors are going to -- are going to pass. And I think this is one of -- one of those.

And I appreciate Mayor Giuliani's comments. He seems a lot less exorcised when people on his side, you know, challenge the president's Americanism or say he's guilty of treason, or go through this ridiculousness about his place of birth and so on. That's OK. That's all right with him. So he's a little selective in his judgments.

MORGAN: David Axelrod, I appreciate you joining me tonight. It's getting exciting, isn't it, this election?

AXELROD: Well, I look forward -- I look forward to seeing you along the way, Piers.

MORGAN: I look forward to that, too. Thank you for joining me. 

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