McDonnell, Axelrod and Priebus on "State of the Union"

McDonnell, Axelrod and Priebus on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - October 28, 2012

CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley. And this is State of the Union.

Hurricane Sandy has sidelined the presidential campaigns in some spots. Both candidates have canceled events in critical swing states, and a more conventional -- political news, but a surprise nonetheless, the Des Moines Register endorsed Mitt Romney for president, the first time in 40 years the newspaper picked the Republican nominee. While the editors praised President Obama's early efforts to revitalize the economy through his stimulus plan, it concluded his record on the economy the past four years does not suggest he would lead in the direction the nation must go in the next four years.

Joining me now for the politics of weather and everything else is Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod. Good morning, David. Let me start here with the storm. When you look at Virginia where this is likely to be the swing state most affected, does anything worry you about that state being more or less paralyzed by weather for a couple three, four days?

AXELROD: Well, the first thing I think we should say is we're most concerned about people. This storm could affect 50 million Americans. The president has been in close contact with FEMA and DHS and all the agencies that have responsibility here to make sure we're doing everything we can for people, and that's what he is going to continue to do throughout this -- throughout this storm. And in terms of how it affects the election, I don't think anybody really knows. Obviously we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe that the more people come out, the better we're going to do, and so to the extent that it makes it harder, you know, that's a source of concern.

But I don't know how all the politics will sort out. It depends on how scenarios are impacted and so the best thing we can do is focus on how we can help people during this storm and hope that it all clears out and that by the next weekend we'll be free of it and people can focus on the election.

CROWLEY: Let me put up a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll for our viewers. The question was who do you trust to do a better job on the economy? This was to likely voters. President Obama 44 percent. Governor Romney, 51 percent. Why after all this time does Governor Romney beat President Obama when it comes to the question of who could best handle the economy?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, Candy, there's a plethora of polls out there.

CROWLEY: A lot of them sort of show this, David.

AXELROD: I actually prefer the CNN polls. I like the one you put out on Friday where we were ahead in Ohio and in states like Ohio and elsewhere people know the reality, which is the president took tough steps to save our economy from Freefall to save the auto industry, which Governor Romney would not have done, and he has a vision of how to move this economy forward that will rebuild the middle class, that will -- and Governor Romney who runs around this country now saying I represent change doesn't represent change. What he represents is a return to a failed past.

CROWLEY: And still more feel think the governor would do better with the economy than the president.

AXELROD: In that particular poll -- in that particular poll, Candy, that may be the case, but in reality that's not the case. If you look at what is going on around the country, the flood of early voting that's going on all over this country very much in our favor I think people know what the reality is. They don't want to go back to the failed policies of the past, they want to move forward. They want to move forward in a way that creates solid economic growth that will lift the middle class, not the kind of trickle down policies that failed the country in the first place.

CROWLEY: You have suggested and others have suggested in the campaign that the momentum that the Romney campaign talks about and is evident in at least some of the state polls is a fiction and that the state polls are further apart and more to the advantage of the president than anyone is letting on. Is that how you see this race in the final nine days?

AXELROD: Well, I do think that Governor Romney gained a little after the first debate. I think it leveled off. And this race is exactly where you and I have been -- I have said this to you many times over the course of the last year, this is a -- it is a close race. But as you look at these battleground states, we are even or ahead in virtually all of them in these critical states like Ohio. We maintain a consistent lead. I think you had it as a three-point lead in early October, a four-point lead with us at 50 percent as of Friday. So, yes, that's how I view it.

But the main thing is not to look at the polling, but to look at the voting. Millions of people vote, a third of the people in Iowa have voted, for example. And we believe that we are mounting up a very, very large lead in Iowa based on where those early votes are coming from.

So we're enthused about what we're seeing. Excuse me?

CROWLEY: Democrats generally do better in most states in the early voting, in the absentee, at least the early voting.

AXELROD: Yeah, but the question is Candy, how are you doing relative to the targets you set, relative to what you have done before? We've seen -- for example, in Florida we've seen record turnout yesterday and particularly in our areas of strength far out pacing anything we've seen before. In Florida, we lost the mail-in vote there by 250,000 votes in the last election, still won Florida, this time we're much, much closer, 60,000 or so is what we believe. So all the indications are very positive.

We built our campaign and our organization for this very close race. And we're very confident in where we are now and where we're going to be on November 6.

CROWLEY: I want to play you just a tiny sort of group of sound bytes that we've taken from the president's speeches over the past week or so.


OBAMA: Governor Romney is hoping you too will come down with a severe case of Romnesia.

Everything he is doing right now is to hide his real positions and try to win this election.

There's no jobs plan. There's just a snow job on the American people.


CROWLEY: There's a gallop poll out that shows that over the past couple of days the president's approval rating has actually dropped about seven points, and it coincides with this kind of rhetoric. Is that your closing argument? Is your closing argument to continue to pound Governor Romney?

AXELROD: First of all, Candy, I'm happy to go poll to poll for you, but let's set aside the polls for a second. The governor's closing -- the president's closing message is exactly what I said before, which is we've made some progress. We have to build on that process, and we have to move forward in a way that builds an economy that works for the middle class. And what we can't do is go back to the failed policies of the past.

Governor Romney, the centerpiece and really the only piece of his plan that is real is this $5 trillion tax cut, $2 trillion in extra spending for the Pentagon, no plan to pay for, it and deregulate Wall Street.

CROWLEY: I asked, David, and our time is sort of slipping away here...

AXELROD: This is what's going to move us forward, and that's not going to move us forward.

CROWLEY: I ask you this because in general closing statements, as you know, tend to turn back to the positive side and there is an argument that a candidate still is pounding his adversary at this point is worried.

AXELROD: Well, Candy, if you have been traveling with Governor Romney, he is pounding us pretty hard as well because this is a close election. It's a choice. But there is no doubt that what Americans have in front of them is a choice between policies that will, you know, emphasize education, research and development, clean energy technology, manufacturing and the kinds of things that will grow this economy, create good jobs, and give people the training and education they need to fill them. That's the president's plan. Governor Romney's plan is to go backwards to the trickle down theory of the past.

That is a choice people face. We're going to keep hammering away at that choice until election day because there's a better future ahead of us, but we need to grab for it and not go backward to the policies that put us in this mess in the first place.

CROWLEY: David Axelrod senior adviser to the president's campaign. Thanks very much.

When we return, Governor Romney is clear on what he thinks Americans want.


ROMNEY: Americans are ready for change, for growth, for jobs, and more take-home pay. And we're going to bring it to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: Will he get the chance to deliver? That with RNC chairman Reince Priebus next.


CROWLEY: Joining me now Republican Chairman Reince Priebus. Mr. Chairman, thank you for being here.

PRIEBUS: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Let me pick up on something that David Axelrod said which is they essentially believe that there is not any momentum now on the governor's side and that the swing states are further apart advantage the president and that you all know that from your internal polls as well as them.

PRIEBUS: That's just not true. I mean our -- our polling shows what a lot of the other polls are showing which is clearly a momentum shift toward Mitt Romney. And if you look at just the -- the state of play in Ohio, for example. You know a month ago, we were seven points down, a couple of weeks later, we were five, three, some of them showing even today in -- in the morning.

So I mean when you have the momentum and you're a challenger in a tie race, the challenger wins in a tie race.

CROWLEY: He is correct that those absentee ballots coming in and the early voting, particularly in Ohio and now apparently in Florida do heavily favor the president. Does that surprise you and what's your push back (ph).

PRIEBUS: Well the -- the -- there are two different types of early voting, there's absentee ballot mail voting which we're ahead and then there's early voting which -- which they're ahead.

But we're not telling you, they're telling you where we're ahead in early voting but what they're not telling you is that they are a fraction of where they were in 2008.

They're -- they're not where they were in 2008. We're far ahead of where we were in 2008 and we're going to be -- you know, our ground game is better than their ground game. We are going to do more voter contacts this year than all of 2008 and all of 2004 combined. We have an army on the ground, Candy.

CROWLEY: How do you know your ground game's better? I mean I've always this, like how do you know that?

PRIEBUS: That's a good question because you can't fake the numbers. We have voice over Internet phones, we have real time -- we use Goggle maps, iPhones, iPads, we do the survey questions door-to- door. They get transferred instantly -- they're instantly transferred on to -- on computer dashboards, so I can tell you in a -- in a second at 1:30 today, if you came by the RNC, I could show you what offices and we can put 40 offices in Ohio, 50 offices in Florida up on a screen and I can tell you here's what's happening in Youngstown; here's what's happening in Hialeah, Florida, instantly.

So the numbers are the numbers. They don't -- they're not created by us and we've got a ground game that is second to none and the momentum's with us and in an tie race, again, the -- the -- the challenger always wins in a tie race.

CROWLEY: There are a lot of talk among Romney types and Romney supports saying we don't have to win Ohio, I know you haven't given up there, but there's other ways, we can expand the map. Where would you expand the map should he not win Ohio? Where is that (inaudible)?

PRIEBUS: Well, you know, I was just in Iowa last night and people feel great about what's going on in Iowa, obviously Des Moines Register endorsed Mitt Romney because Barack Obama hasn't followed through with his promises and I can tell you right now that a lot of the promises Barack Obama made were in Iowa. He didn't come through on those promises and I think that's a big deal.

Wisconsin, I'll be there tomorrow. Wisconsin, I think right now, the momentum's with -- with -- with Governor Romney. We've done a whole lot of winning as Republicans in Wisconsin.

You look at Colorado...

CROWLEY: You have, let me -- let me stop you in Wisconsin because I want to read you something that David Axelrod told the Daily Caller, "We expected Wisconsin to be closer than last time. It is in our column now and it's going to be in our column."

PRIEBUS: Yeah, well he can say whatever he wants to say. I mean they haven't been able to win in Wisconsin for a long time. They claim that the Obama machine was out during the Walker recall. We basically crushed them in Wisconsin.

I've seen first-hand the different between Obama's rhetoric on their ground game and the reality. And the reality is they're not as good as they think they are.

But the -- but the -- overall, besides the ground game talk, this is about the president's policies, the current state of the economy. It is a complete disaster and only one person's been very clear on a plan to get this economy back on track and that's been Governor Romney.

The president still hasn't delivered anything serious as a plan. And that's his problem, he's got -- there's nothing there, Candy, other than perhaps proving Clint Eastwood right.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about party image because I -- I am reminded Mitch Daniels, former governor in Indiana said very early on, this party cannot be about the social issues this time. We really need to concentrate on the economy. And yet, it keeps coming up, as you know, brought on in large part by Republican candidates that are out there.

You saw Richard Mourdock in Indiana sort of step into it with clumsy words or however you want to put it; Todd Akin in Missouri putting two seats in danger that you all had sort of counted on in the Senate.

And -- and you see the president pounding you fairly hard -- pounding Mitt Romney fairly hard on this, here's an example of -- of one of his ads that's out there -- or -- or not.

It was -- it was -- it was quoting...

PRIEBUS: I know the ad.

CROWLEY: You know the ad, I'm sure you do.

My question for you is, do these things hurt you? Do you -- does it hurt the party image to have these issues out there in a way that makes the party or that is portrayed as making the party look unbending and, you know, anti-woman as is described in the Obama ad?

PRIEBUS: Well, I don't think any party has a monopoly on gaffs. I mean clearly, you know, people running for office misspeak and they make mistakes. But I think the reality is, Candy, I mean overwhelmingly, the people out there are not -- and I promise you -- people are not talking about what Richard Mourdock said. What they're asking me about is...

CROWLEY: There's no trickle up, you don't think.



CROWLEY: ... Mitt Romney from these gaffs?

PRIEBUS: There are two things people are talking about. They're talking about the economy and they're talking about what happened in Benghazi. Why -- why after a cry for help to Leon Panetta and after the president gave a directive to protect -- he claims he gave a directive to protect those people. Panetta got a cry for help, Panetta now claims that he didn't -- he -- he told the -- the personnel to stand down. So either the president didn't give the directive or the president isn't being truthful or perhaps Leon Panetta acted as Commander in Chief.

That's what -- this is -- this is the subject right now that people are talking about and the economy, not about Richard Mourdock.

CROWLEY: Sure, but you more than anyone when -- when this is over, you -- you retain your job regardless of -- of -- of what happens and -- and you're dealing with party image. And so I think the other thing we have out there, of course, Former Governor, Sununu suggesting that Colin Powell is support President Obama because President Obama's black and so is Colin Powell. He's kind of since taken it back.

As the party chairman, do you worry about stuff like that? PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, you want people to be disciplined. And obviously, if people misspeak and they cause for no apparent reason, you know, small brush fires on their own, that's a distraction. But overall this is still an election about the economy. The president failed broken promises and now we have this issue with Libya creeping into the debate over the last stretch here to election day.

CROWLEY: Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus, thanks for stopping by.

PRIEBUS: Thank you.

CROWLEY: When we return, Ohio and Virginia are on the president's mind in the final days of the campaign. We'll find out why next.


CROWLEY: In politics as in real estate it's about location, location, location. This year the locations are eight states where the election will be won, two of them Ohio and Virginia. Virginia voted for the Republican presidential candidate for 44 years until 2008 when it went for Barack Obama. He won by racking up huge margins many the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. and among African- Americans.

Mitt Romney has spent $65 million and a lot of time trying to woo Virginia back, and even some Obama advisers are privately saying it looks like Romney may pull off a win here.


ROMNEY: We're going to win Virginia, you know that? We're going to win.


CROWLEY: And Ohio has been critical, in fact, necessary to every Republican presidential win. But President Obama has held on to a small lead there. His strategists are buoyed by polling that shows an overwhelming 2-1 lead for the president among early voters. The president staged the finale of his 48-hour marathon campaign in Ohio.


OBAMA: I am glad to be back in Cleveland, Ohio.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: Despite the money, the trips, and the speeches, Ohio and Virginia remain stubbornly in the toss-up category. A newly released CNN poll shows the president with a 50 to 46 lead in Ohio.

Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: With me now former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, gentlemen, thank you both for joining me.

I want to start with you, Governor McDonnell, because you have a storm coming your way, so you are seeing less of the presidential candidates and more of the weather forecasters. So let me ask you, first. I know you are doing what can you to kind of baton down the hatches in Virginia. What are you being told to expect there?

MCDONNELL: Well, we're prepared, Candy. We're expecting eight to ten inches of rain on the coast, hurricane force gusts, sustained winds of 50, 60 miles an hour, so minor to moderate or severe flooding, and extensive power outages, that's the biggest concern. And over three or four days of storm effects.

But we have an executive order issued, an emergency declaration. We've got the Guard called up, extra state police. So we're ready. We're just asking people to be patient and be ready for a long haul. But we have an aggressive power restoration program in place. And I think we're ready.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the politics of the weather. Let's say -- and Virginia has known a couple of sort of what I would long power outages, as does Maryland where I live. Like we've had a couple of five-day power outages. How does that then affect the election?

Let's say that this is a storm that lasts two days, dumps all this water, widespread power outages. What if anything Tuesday you haven't got the power up? What happens at the voting booth?

I'm sorry, a week from Tuesday.

MCDONNELL: We have contingency plans in place. You know we have had (inaudible) show several months ago, and we had the largest -- third largest power outage in history. But we got everything pretty much back on in seven days. We're not expecting that this time, Candy. We've got about 2,000 additional people that are coming into Virginia to help our power suppliers. And the state board of elections is already planning for extended hours in advance for absentee voting, and it's now a priority, moved up to the same level as hospitals and police stations to have power restored.

So we don't anticipate the problem. We'll be ready. But we're planning for contingencies if there's still a problem. CROWLEY: So, if you still have a problem on election day, you're going to make election places, schools, fire stations, all that kind of stuff, top priority for getting electricity back? Is that what i hear you saying?

MCDONNELL: Absolutely.

I think we'll be ready, Candy. We'll have to wait and see come Wednesday when the storm passes where we are, but all hands will be on deck from other states to help us. And our people have been through this before. We're just not used to a hurricane followed by cold weather and a snowstorm afterwards...


MCDONNELL: the western part of the states.

But our people are ready.


Governor Strickland, let me turn to you. I think you'll get a little brush of this storm, but nothing to keep Ohio politics at a standstill. I want to put up a couple of CNN-ORC polls. This is choice for president among likely voters in Ohio. The president 48, Governor Romney 44.

I want to show you another poll that shows that 92 of folks likely voters in Ohio say they have already made up their minds. Is the table set in Ohio?

STRICKLAND: Well, I think it is. But, Candy, let me say to the governor and to all those that are going to be affected by this storm, Ohio, we wish them the best, and I know the governor will do everything possible to make sure his state and his citizens are well cared for. And I -- you know, my heart goes out to him and to others who are dealing with these very difficult circumstances.

In regard to Ohio, we are going to get some of the remnants of this storm, but it's going to be a great week in Ohio I think politically. Both candidates are going to be here. And it's going to be a hard fought campaign, but the good news from my perspective is that President Obama has maintained a small but a very consistent lead in Ohio. I don't know of any poll that has shown the president not leading over the last few months, as a matter of fact.

CROWLEY: What do you think accounts for the rise of independents?

STRICKLAND: We have a good ground operation.

CROWLEY: What do you think accounts for the rise of independents toward the Romney campaign? What's going on there?

STRICKLAND: Well, you know, I'm not sure there are many true independents. I think people who even refer to themselves as independents typically feel some kind of allegiance to one of the major parties or the other. But Ohio is a very closely divided state. But Ohio's unemployment, as you know, is 7 percent. The auto industry, which Ohioans value greatly and provides a lot of jobs for our people is doing really well. And thanks to the president. And so I think Ohioans are feeling optimistic...

CROWLEY: Any credit to your Republican governor?

STRICKLAND: I'm sorry?

CROWLEY: Do you give any credit for that economy to your Republican governor?

STRICKLAND: Well, I think there are two...

MCDONNELL: I do, Candy.

STRICKLAND: Well, Candy, I think there are two major reasons why Ohio's economy is coming back. First of all, the Recovery Act, which enabled Ohio to be stabilized during a very difficult time. You know, Ohio's economy started recovering before Governor Kasich became governor. In 2010, our unemployment went down 1.6. So the recovery was underway in large part due to the Recovery Act, and the rescue of the American auto industry, which is so important to Toledo and Cleveland and Youngstown, and quite frankly, some 80 out of Ohio's 88 counties, we believe benefit directly from the auto industry.

And so I'm not saying that there is -- has been no improvement under the current governor, but I believe the table was set by President Obama and Ohioans recognize that. And I think that's why the president is going to win Ohio.

CROWLEY: Let me turn to Governor McDonnell. New Washington Post poll out showing president Obama at 51, Governor Romney at 47. This is a race that has a similar situation in Ohio. Your economy is doing better than the national economy is, and this has been a tough row for him to hoe here. What does Mitt Romney have to do if he can get into the state after the storm to turn this around?

MCDONNELL: Well, first I do want to thank Governor Romney who called me yesterday and agreed to cancel three events in Virginia today to allow our first responders to focus on that. I appreciate it. The president is doing the same thing tomorrow.

You mentioned the Post poll. There are two other polls, both Rasmussen and Fox, that have Romney up by two. So it's -- listen, it's margin of error. It's close. And it's going to come down to turnout in the last undecided voters.

I think what Virginians and why Romney will win Virginia is because he is the one that's going to reverse these sequestration cuts. They're going to devastate the military and cost us 200,000 jobs. The president has been a bystander and won't do that.

He is the one with the plan to create jobs. And we've got 23 million people that don't have jobs nationally and eight -- excuse me -- $16 trillion in debt. That's what Virginians are really concerned about and why there's been this momentum towards Governor Romney.

The mishandling of the situation in Benghazi, Libya, no answers, no transparency 45 days after the fact is a great concern. Either the president gave an order that was disobeyed by the Secretary of Defense to provide support in Benghazi or he didn't. And I think people want answers before this election on that, so that's what's going to determine the outcome.

We got a great ground game, and I expect Governor Romney to win a close election in Virginia, Candy.

CROWLEY: You may need some voters to get to the polls.

But we wish you well. Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, we've got a big storm coming before we even get to the election. So, we'll have our fingers crossed for Virginia and Maryland and the surrounding states. Thank you for being here.

Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, thank you as well. 

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