MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, 48 hours to go, the final push to Election Day.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): Your government is out of control. Do you have to accept it?
Crowd: (In unison) No!
REP. BOEHNER: Do you have to take it?
Crowd: (In unison) No!
REP. BOEHNER: Hell, no, you don’t!
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Now, in this election, the other side is betting on amnesia. They’re betting that you forgot who caused this mess in the first place.
MR. GREGORY: With the president’s handling of the economy and distrust of government dominating the debate, will voters sweep Democrats from control of Congress? And how will Republicans lead if they return to power? With us exclusively this morning, two men at the center of it all, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine; and the current chair of the Republican Governor’s Association and former RNC chair, Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi. Kaine and Barbour debate what’s at stake this Tuesday.
Then, the very latest polls, Election Day projections, and political analysis from Tom Brokaw of NBC News, National Journal’s Charlie Cook, Time magazine’s Mark Halperin, NPR’s Michele Norris, and Chuck Todd of NBC News.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: But first this morning, breaking news over the weekend as authorities in Yemen arrest a young woman there on suspicion of mailing explosives concealed inside cargo packages destined for Chicago-area synagogues, bombs powerful enough, according to U.S. officials, to take down airplanes. The president calling this plot a credible threat as investigators continue to search for more suspects inside Yemen, and officials here are looking closely at the suspected involvement of al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, AQAP, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Here with us this morning with the very latest, the president’s counterterrorism chief deputy, National Security Adviser John Brennan.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. JOHN BRENNAN: Thank you, David.
MR. GREGORY: What more is known about the plot this morning?
MR. BRENNAN: Well, we’re still working very closely with British authorities, Emirati authorities, as well as the Yemenis and other services. We’re trying to get a better handle on exactly what might else be out there. That’s why we’ve taken exceptionally prudent measures, in my mind, as far as preventing packages coming into the United States from Yemen. The Yemeni authorities have been very cooperative in this effort, as have other governments and services. So we’re still trying to understand better exactly what we might be facing.
MR. GREGORY: Is it your fear that there are additional devices out there, additional bombs out there in the mail somewhere?
MR. BRENNAN: I think we have to presume that there might be, and therefore we have to take these measures. But right now we do not have, you know, indications that there are others that are out there. In fact, FedEx and UPS have stopped all the packages that are coming into the United States that were being mailed from Yemen. So I think we feel as though the appropriate steps have been taken, so we feel good about where we are right now. But we need to continue to do this investigation and get to the bottom of it.
MR. GREGORY: So additional active threats right now, is it, is it anything beyond the prospect of additional packages?
MR. BRENNAN: Well, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been quite vocal in terms of threatening attacks against the United States, against Western interests, against the Yemenis. They are a determined group, they are a dangerous group. We are determined to stop their plans and to thwart their attempts, so we need to keep the pressure on them.
MR. GREGORY: And this is al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen that is behind this, in your mind? A reminder, of course, this was the same group that tried to launch the Christmas Day plot as well.
MR. BRENNAN: It certainly bears the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And since these packages originated from Yemen, that is who I’m looking at very closely.
MR. GREGORY: Who is–who or what was the ultimate target, in your mind?
MR. BRENNAN: Well, the British have come out and Prime Minister Cameron’s came out and said that they–he believes that the intention was to detonate this IED on the plane. But the, the terrorist wouldn’t have known where that plane was going to be. It was a viable device, it was self-contained, so it could have been detonated and activated. It was addressed to some locations in Chicago that have been associated with synagogues. So, therefore, what we’re trying to do is determine whether or not the target was the aircraft itself or the ultimate destination.
MR. GREGORY: So was it passengers? Did they try to get this on passenger planes? Or were they trying to exploit the cargo system?
MR. BRENNAN: I don’t know exactly the extent of their knowledge of how these cargo packages are moved and whether or not they’re on cargo aircraft or passenger aircraft. We just know that there was an intention to try to carry out some type of attack with these IEDs that were going to be transshipped on aircraft to the United States.
MR. GREGORY: My understanding is that the bomb maker behind this is sophisticated, somebody that you may think you know. I mean, this was not an amateur hour.
MR. BRENNAN: No, it’s a very sophisticated device in terms of how it was constructed, how it was concealed. We know that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has carried out similar types of attempts in the past. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Detroit bomber Christmas Day last year, as well as the attempt against Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, they bear very similar types of traits and characteristics. The bomb maker in Yemen who is putting these together is a very dangerous individual that we need to find and bring to justice.
MR. GREGORY: And are the Yemenis seeking him out as we speak?
MR. BRENNAN: Yes, we are, and we’re doing it very aggressively.
MR. GREGORY: What about the exploitation of cargo and that screening? Is this an area that is vulnerable?
MR. BRENNAN: Well, this is something that the United States has taken very seriously, particularly since 9/11, making sure that we’re able to understand the cargo that’s coming into the United States, apply different types of measures, security measures, screening, trying to identify high-threat cargo that is given a particular attention and scrutiny. So we are working very closely with our partners. A lot of packages that are mailed from overseas will have several transshipment points en route, so we have to work very closely with those partners.
MR. GREGORY: Finally, the evolution of al-Qaeda. You look at a branch like this, these are small bore attacks. There seems to be an attitude of, “Hey, pull off what you can pull off here one at a time, one hit at a time, one person at a time. Send packages, if you can do that.” You know, an individual can try to take down a plane. What does this say about how the, the group is evolving?
MR. BRENNAN: I think they still are at war with us, and we are very much at war with them. And so they’re going to try to identify vulnerabilities that might exist in the system. They continue to go after aviation targets. We need to stay one step ahead of them. We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been able to thwart some of these attacks, again, working very closely with our partners overseas. So we feel as though this is something that we need to maintain our vigilance every day for the foreseeable future.
MR. GREGORY: Mr. Brennan, thank you very much.
MR. BRENNAN: Thank you, David.
MR. GREGORY: And now we turn to Decision 2010. Election Day just 48 hours away, the president yesterday stumping in Philadelphia, Connecticut and Chicago, arguing that in this election the stakes are high.
(Videotape, October 30, 2010)
PRES. OBAMA: Unless each and every one of you turn out and get your friends to turn out and get your families to turn out, then we could fall short, and all the progress that we’ve made over the last couple years can be rolled back.
MR. GREGORY: Joining me now, two men trying to lead their respective parties to victory Tuesday, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine; and the current chair of the Republican Governor’s Association, former RNC chair, Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi.
Welcome, both of you. Here we go.
FMR. GOV. TIM KAINE (D-VA): Great to be with you, David.
MR. GREGORY: We are on the eve of the election.
Governor Barbour, let me start with you. Is that what Americans should expect? You heard the president say there a rollback of Democratic accomplishments, a rollback of the Obama agenda.
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R-MS): Well, there’s no question that this midterm election is a referendum on Obama’s policies. He talks about it, the public talks about it. The dominant issues in America are all of this spending, outrageous spending, sense of debt, skyrocketing deficits, joblessness. And what the American people are looking at and they’re saying, “The Obama policies aren’t working. They–we need new policies. We need a, we need an economic growth agenda.” So it’s very clearly a referendum…
MR. GREGORY: But are they voting for rollback? Are they voting for a rollback and a repudiation?
GOV. BARBOUR: They’re voting to, they’re voting to–they will vote, in my opinion, to repudiate these policies. If Republicans win, that’s what it will be, a repudiation of Obama’s policies.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Kaine, are we looking at a realignment here politically in Washington, or something of a split decision on Tuesday?
GOV. KAINE: Well, David, I think the Republicans are saying they’re going to take both houses. We believe we’re going to hold onto both houses. And we’re going to see. I’m not going to predict. I, I, I believe that we’ll hold onto both houses. But the margins’ll get narrower because the American public isn’t a 59-41 nation. The margins will get narrower. I think this is a choice, a clear choice, not a referendum. It’s a choice between a Democratic Party that is doing heavy lifting to turn a shrinking economy that the Republicans left us into a growing economy, stopping combat operations on Iraq, and so many other key achievements. And what you have on the Republican side was crystallized by Senator McConnell this week. He was asked, what is the number one Republican priority if you take over either house? He didn’t talk about jobs, didn’t talk about deficits. He said, “We want President Obama to be a one-term president.” They have a political and partisan agenda, which they’ve had from day one. We’re the problem solvers trying to get this nation going after a lost decade that they’ve created.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Barbour, do you see realignment? Do you, you see the House going–most political analysts believe the Republicans retake the House.
GOV. BARBOUR: Well, what I see is that we’ve just gone through, in the last nearly two years, the biggest lurch to the left in American political history. And if you mean a realignment, the American people want to yank America back away from that, yeah, they do. Do I see a realignment in the sense of that one party is going to win some total control? No, I don’t. I think Tim is right, that we’re a center-right nation. And I think that this election will push us back toward the center. But it’s because people know that the Obama-Pelosi-Reid policies have been far left.
MR. GREGORY: House vs. Senate, what goes Republican?
GOV. BARBOUR: Well, I–I’ll be surprised if the House doesn’t have a Republican majority. I think it’s harder in the Senate. I think Republicans’ll make big gains in the Senate. And, of course, for my particular line of work, I think we’ll have at least 30 Republican governors.
MR. GREGORY: Right. A reminder it’s 39 needed in the House, 10 in the Senate for Republican control.
Let’s talk about some of the issues, Governor Kaine, health care, for one. You said this week that Democrats would be nuts if they try to create distance between themselves and the Democratic Party generally.
GOV. KAINE: Actually…
MR. GREGORY: Democratic leaders and President Obama. In fact, back in March on this program, I had asked you what would be the fallout from passing health care, and this is what you said.
(Videotape, March 21, 2010)
MR. GREGORY: Governor, at what cost will victory be achieved?
GOV. KAINE: David, this is going to be great for Democrats. You know, I’ve been on a ballot seven times and won seven races. I would love to be running on this. This is going to be a big win for the American public, and every Democrat everywhere will get a tailwind because it will solve the big issue and done it well.
MR. GREGORY: But, Governor Kaine, you, you…
MR. GREGORY: You said the Democrats would get a tailwind.
GOV. KAINE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: Democrats do not agree. They are not running on health care…
GOV. KAINE: A lot of them are, David.
MR. GREGORY: …in your–hold on–in your–a lot of them are not. In your own state…
GOV. KAINE: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: …there’s only one Democrat in a tight–toss-up race who’s actually defending his healthcare vote. The president was stumping for Tom Perriello.
GOV. KAINE: Gerry Connolly.
MR. GREGORY: Is he actually defending his vote?
GOV. KAINE: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: In those toss-up races around the country, they are not actually standing up for health care.
GOV. KAINE: David…
MR. GREGORY: They don’t see it as a tailwind.
GOV. KAINE: David, I’ve been in 40-plus states as DNC chair, and you can pick out Democrats who are, who are not running on health care. But the overwhelming majority of candidates that I’m standing up with, they’re proud of the party, proud of the president, proud of the accomplishments.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
GOV. KAINE: And they’re thrilled that they have reformed a healthcare system to stop insurance company abuses, make sure that young people can stay on family policies until age 26, help seniors and help small business. So, sure, if somebody stands up, a Democrat, and says they’re against it, that’s going to be newsworthy. But all the Democrats who are out there campaigning for it, that’s not so newsworthy, but I can assure you…
MR. GREGORY: Right. Governor, you’re sitting here saying…
GOV. KAINE: …the overwhelming majority…
MR. GREGORY: …that there are a majority of Democrats around the country who are actually campaigning…
GOV. KAINE: Absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: …on their healthcare vote.
GOV. KAINE: And the last poll I saw, The New York Times poll, had a 49-41 we would, we would approve health care rather than we would want to roll it back or change it. And that’s only going to get stronger as we go along.
MR. GREGORY: Actually the polling shows that most are against it. But 52 percent say…
GOV. KAINE: Well, not this is the most…
MR. GREGORY: …that they–that you should give it a chance to, to work.
GOV. BARBOUR: Look, Democrats are running from Barack Obama on healthcare reform like scalded dogs. I mean, he comes to the state of Texas…
GOV. KAINE: That’s not why he’s getting 35,000 folks at rallies.
GOV. BARBOUR: …he comes to–he comes to the state of Texas and the Democratic governor for Texas goes all the way across Texas to get somewhere else. The same thing in Georgia. Has a fundraiser for the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida and they won’t let the press in.
GOV. KAINE: Well, David, you’ve seen the rallies, too. The president has done, I guess, 10 to 12 rallies with now 250,000 people. I’m going to Cleveland later today, showing up for this president. And that’s what we’re seeing all across the country. Despite Republican’s assertions, “Oh, there’s an enthusiasm gap,” we’re seeing strong Democratic performance in early voting and we’re seeing significant turnout all over the country. And then the field efforts are kicking in, and we’re seeing polls–the poll today that I saw shows that if you just ask registered, Democrats have an edge over Republican this time. Likelies, they still have an edge by about 4 points. That’s what we’ve got to do between now and Tuesday.
MR. GREGORY: Governor…
GOV. KAINE: If our voters turn out we win.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Barbour, let me ask you about what happens after Election Day. You have a Republican Party that’s making pretty rash promises: a repeal of health care, a promise to cut $100 billion out of government spending without being specific in this contract with America, this promise to America, and a blueprint for how to govern that doesn’t talk about Social Security or Medicare. How are they really going to lead?
GOV. BARBOUR: Well, I can tell you how Republican governors are going to lead. In my state, we’re spending this year 13.3 percent less in state appropriations than two years ago. Same thing in Tim’s state. In Tim’s state…
GOV. KAINE: Yeah, I was spending less than when I started.
GOV. BARBOUR: …they’re spending more than 10 percent less. The federal government is going to have to learn that you can spend less money and provide the services that the country needs. So the first thing I think Republicans are going to do is make sure that we cut spending, and that’s going to be a very serious thing, and it’s got to be done. Whether it’s $100 billion…
MR. GREGORY: But we don’t have specifics.
GOV. BARBOUR: But what is $100 billion? It’s three percent.
MR. GREGORY: They don’t say the way they’re going to do it.
GOV. BARBOUR: It’s, it’s 3 percent of the federal budget.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
GOV. BARBOUR: I’ve cut my budget 13 percent, so it can be done. More importantly, it’s got to be done. We’ve saddled–in the Obama administration, first three budgets more than $4 trillion of new debt that we’re putting on our children and grandchildren.
MR. GREGORY: Can Republicans really pull off a repeal of health care? You think that’s what the country wants?
GOV. BARBOUR: I think if they don’t fully repeal it and replace it, they will make such big changes in it over the next three years that you won’t recognize it.
MR. GREGORY: And, and, Governor, the president talks about building some consensus with Republicans.
GOV. KAINE: Right. Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: Where will that consensus come? Will it be harder after Tuesday? Will we see more gridlock, not less?
GOV. KAINE: Well, well, David, it can’t be harder because the Republicans decided from the day this president was sworn in they weren’t going to cooperate with him on anything. If these margins narrow, the Republicans will be forced to govern. So, for example, on the deficit issue, let’s talk about that. The president went to Congress last year in the State of the Union and said, “Join me in a bipartisan deficit commission to get control of federal spending.” The Republicans in the Senate blocked that bill, they wouldn’t vote for it. They voted against it even though they were sponsors. Thank goodness the president has, by executive order, appointed a deficit commission that’s going to report out soon. You know, we’re going to put the Republicans to their word and see if they are willing to reject what they did in the Bush administration and actually get serious about spending and deficits.
MR. GREGORY: See that, Governor Barbour, you talked about the tea party. You told the National Journal that they’re basically part of the Republican Party and they’ll be OK with Republicans if they get their shot in the batters box. What’s that going to look like if you get these tea party candidates coming in to Congress?
GOV. BARBOUR: I think the tea party voters, Republican voters, most independents in the United States, they’re concerned about outrageous spending, skyrocketing debt, deficits, and they way that it has not produced jobs. So what I think we’re going to–you’re going to see Republicans do that’s going to be joined in, we’re going to attack spending. Spending is the problem. We’re not going to raise taxes when we’re trying to recover from a recession, and there’s certainly no recovery going on on Main Street. They may think it is in some economist’s office, but on Main Street we, we need an economic growth plan and it sure can’t have big tax increases in it.
MR. GREGORY: With 30 seconds left I want to ask you what 2010 means to 2012. Do you think the president faces a challenge from the left, left a primary challenge in 2012?
GOV. KAINE: I don’t. No, I think the president has got solid support among Democrats that I see, because, look, they understand. We were in a loss decade. We’ve taken a shrinking economy and turned it into a growing one, stopped combat operations in Iraq, equal pay for women, saved the auto industry. The president is going to be the Democratic nominee in 2012, and we feel like the progress that he’s been able to achieve is going to put him in very, very good shape.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Barbour, you said you’d wait till the end of the year to judge the mood about your own potential run for the presidency. Will you challenge the president in 2012?
GOV. BARBOUR: We were going to decide after November 2, but I was thinking about the president having a challenge from the left. Who is there to the left of him?
MR. GREGORY: But you haven’t decided about a run for the presidency?
GOV. BARBOUR: I haven’t given it any thought. After this election’s over, we’ll sit down and see if there’s anything to think about.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we’re going to leave it there. Thanks to you both.
Up next, the final countdown to Decision 2010, all the latest polls, Election Day projections, political analysis from our roundtable: Tom Brokaw of NBC News, National Journal’s Charlie Cook, Time magazine’s Mark Halperin, NPR’s Michele Norris, and Chuck Todd of NBC News.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, we break down the very latest polls from Tuesday’s biggest races. Plus, Election Day projections and political analysis from our expanded roundtable. It’s right after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We are back. We want to look through some of the latest polls out this week in some of the most high profile races. And let’s start with those Senate seats currently held by the Democrats. Key, of course, for Republicans to win if they’re going to pick up 10 needed to control the Senate. Ten is the magic number. We start in California, and look at Barbara Boxer. She’s widened that lead. She’s now at 49-41. It’s an 8-point race. Fiorina was in the hospital a couple days this week. She appears to be losing ground.
To Colorado. last week, remember, dead even. This week we see the Republican, Ken Buck, pulling ahead of the Democrat, Michael Bennet, just a bit now. In two of the polls, it’s a 4-point race or maybe even tighter than that.
President Obama’s former Senate seat in Illinois, very tight race. Still showing Republican Congressman Mark Kirk a slight edge against Alexi Giannoulias. The president out for Giannoulias this weekend. A look at the percentages, only 44 percent, they’re well below 50 there.
To Nevada. No race more significant symbolically, with Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fight of his political career against tea party candidate Sharron Angle, who, in two polls, has that edge. Four points for Angle over Reid. They are still below 50 percent there.
The open seat in Pennsylvania, where Democrat Congressman Joe Sestak in a tight race against Republican former Congressman Pat Toomey. A new poll out this morning showing again it’s Toomey with the edge, a 2-point lead. Turnout is so important here.
Washington state now, this is the Democratic firewall. Senator Patty Murray and Republican Dino Rossi still battling. It’s one of the toughest races this cycle. Two polls this week showing her, Murray, up slightly. She’s personally popular. The real enemy there is Washington, and that’s what she’s up against.
To Wisconsin. Three-term Democratic Senator Russ Feingold slipping away from the Republican Ron Johnson. This is now a 7-point race in Johnson’s favor.
And some recently polling in the much talked about Republican-held seat of Florida. What a crazy week. This week we mentioned earlier, we’ll talk about it some more, the fact that President Clinton was trying to get the Democrat, Kendrick Meek, out of the race by suggesting he get out. It is a three-way race. You can see why. It’s Rubio, the Republican, at 45 percent, Crist at 28 percent in the latest poll, and Meek down to 21 percent. If that support for Meek went away, what could that mean for the race? He’s still in the race, but what about the African-American turnout? That’s a, a real fear now among Democratic professionals.
Those are the latest numbers. We want to bring in Chuck Todd, our political director and our chief White House correspondent, to go inside the numbers a little bit, Chuck, and let’s talk–we talked about the House some with our first two guests. Go inside the fight for the Senate; the magic number is 10 for the Republicans.
MR. CHUCK TODD: Well, let’s look at the path to 10 here, and we start with the four that Republicans believe they have in the bank. These are four Democratic-held seats that look like Republicans have them, North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas and Wisconsin. So the question is, where do they get six more? Let’s move along. They believe the Republican wave, these ones in yellow–you talked about all three races–that these ones in yellow, that the Republican wind will get them these three seats, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Colorado. That gets them to seven. How do they find three more? Well, these are the four toughest hills to climb for the Republicans, these four in red, West Virginia, Nevada, California and Washington. Republicans think they’re going to get Nevada, but it’s a real coin flip as far as turnout’s concerned. Washington is their next best shot. The problem they have is they have to win one of West Virginia and California. In this week, both Republican candidates have faded.
MR. GREGORY: Let’s talk about the House here. And inside the numbers, the key number is 39.
MR. TODD: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: That’s what Republicans need. But you’re looking at some additional numbers that are going to be a real key to election night.
MR. TODD: I am, because, you know, we talk about the 39 seats. But there really is an easy way to figure out why everybody thinks Republicans have the House control in the bag, and that is the number 49. Forty-nine Democrats hold districts that John McCain carried in 2008. So, essentially, Democrats are playing an away game, if you will. These are a lot of seats that they won in 2006 and 2008. They’re going to get a–their majority pretty much basically on these 49 seats. In addition, I’m also following the 14 Democrats, and there are a few more than these 14, but there are 14 Democrats who are marginal seats, very close, ones that Obama narrowly carried, who voted for health care, who voted for cap and trade. This is why, when you see these predictions of 50 to 55, they’re right here. This is where you get the numbers. Anything above that will tell you that it was an even bigger wave than anticipated.
MR. GREGORY: All right, very interesting. We’ll invite you back to join our roundtable. And we want to turn to the rest of our roundtable this morning. Joining me, the National Journal’s Charlie Cook is here; Time magazine’s Mark Halperin, author of “Game Change”; our own Tom Brokaw of NBC News; and the author of “Grace of Silence: A Memoir,” NPR’s Michele Norris. Welcome to all of you.
We’ve gone through the numbers. Tom Brokaw, as you look at a little bigger picture, what are voters preparing to say on Tuesday?
MR. TOM BROKAW: I, I think they’re preparing to say that we, we’re not happy with anything that’s going on in this country, that the recession turns out to be more systemic and deeper than they were told earlier. I kind of divide the country up this way: They don’t believe anything that they’re hearing from the traditional institutions on Wall Street and in Congress, and they believe everything that they read on the Internet. And that’s a prescription for a lot of turmoil, and that’s what we’re going to see here. There’s a real attempt, I think, to try to get the attention of Washington on the traditional political establishment to say, “Hey, we’re in charge from the ground up. It’s no longer a top-down game.” You’ve got a political landscape now of traditional Republicans, traditional Democrats, the populous represented by the tea party, and then the moveable mass of the independents who are really driving these elections more with every election cycle.
MR. GREGORY: Charlie Cook, you heard Governor Kaine say, “Oh, we’re still going to hang on to both here.” What’s the real math telling you about how it looks?
MR. CHARLIE COOK: Well, I think we have two different elections going on. On the House level, this has become a nationalized, almost parliamentary, election where the candidates don’t matter so much. It’s red/blue. I mean, it’s, it’s really dissolved into almost a straight party vote. But in the Senate, there, there’s a separation that’s occurred, and maybe it’s because of all the money that’s in there. But where Democrats are actually hanging on a lot better in the Senate races than in the House races, where I don’t think it’s really very plausible that they could get–that Republicans could get a majority in the Senate right now. But in the House, I think this thing’s just going to be explosive.
MR. GREGORY: You made a–an interesting point. Talking about the Senate, the tightest races are in states that are not particularly hostile to the Democrats.
MR. COOK: Well, I think, I think Chuck’s point was very well taken that it, it is a home turf election for Democrats in those last few elections–last few states. I mean, California, the president’s job approval rating’s 53 percent in California. That’s 10 points higher than it is in the rest of the country. And Washington state’s not a bad state. I think Democrats are sort of hanging in there. I, I think they’ll end up losing Pennsylvania and Illinois, but boy, those are awfully, awfully close. And then Colorado, that’s–one strategist said they–that was his nominee for the most likely recount in the country was Colorado, it’s so close.
MR. GREGORY: Michele Norris, you’ve been around the country talking about your book but also talking to voters. And the mind-set of the voter’s so interesting. The Economist magazine has a provocative cover this week that features Barack Obama sort of surrounded here. And the headline is the angry voter. We can put it up on the screen for the audience to see. “Angry America,” the angry voter. And yet we’ve also seen kind of the mosaic of this election year. You had Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin rallying supporters on The Mall. And then yesterday, the, the Restore Sanity Tour of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert of the–of Comedy Central, estimates of 200,000 people, it wasn’t an official metric. And Jon Stewart speaking, not so much as a liberal or a conservative, but kind of, you know, arguing for the middle. Here’s part of what he said.
MR. JON STEWART: We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate, and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done. But the truth is, we do. We work together to get things done every damn day! … The only place we don’t is here (points to Capitol) or on cable TV.
MR. GREGORY: Michele, on the left or on the right, there’s a message of “We’re the ones who can’t get it right,” in the media or in Washington.
MS. MICHELE NORRIS: Yeah. You know, it was interesting, the, the Rally to Restore Sanity or Fear, there are a lot of Democrats who looked at that and said, “Boy, you know, if these were voters that might be in our camp, wouldn’t it have been interesting if those people we’re out canvassing or actually doing something on the weekend before the election?” But I’ve been in 20 cities in 30 days, and it’s an interesting time to be listening to Americans right now.
Tom, you’re right, they’re angry. They’re not just angry at Barack Obama, though, they’re angry at everybody in Washington.
MR. BROKAW: Mm-hmm.
MS. NORRIS: This, this word that we throw around in Washington, “recovery,” it seems like a mirage out in America. People don’t feel like this is something that’s temporary. The pinch feels permanent. Even people who have jobs, who are not in foreclosure, they say, “I’m OK, but you know what, OK is the new great.” And for a lot of voters, that’s not good enough.
One thing we don’t catch here, though, is that there’s a certain degree of pragmatism among voters. They–they’re very results-oriented right now. They want someone who’s going to go to Washington and get something done. And part of the frustration is they’re hearing candidates that are tearing each other down, and they’re not talking enough about what they’re actually going to do.
MR. GREGORY: But, Mark…
MS. NORRIS: That could swing around to both parties, because even if the GOP takes over the House, they’re going to come in with great expectations. The voters want to see results.
MR. GREGORY: Mark Halperin, what does a rally like yesterday say about the mood of the voter that they can attract that kind of crowd?
MR. MARK HALPERIN: Well, I think it says a lot about the star power of Jon, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I think that Michele’s right, that a lot of Democrats look at that and say, “This is not rallying us for the election 48 hours away, it’s simply showing that some people on the left are angry at the media, just as some people on, on the right are.” You know, anger and fear are dominant now, and that’s propelling what’s going to happen on Tuesday. The challenge is going to be for the president and for the Republicans, ascending and–in the majority, perhaps, to then take the anger and fear and actually do what the election’s supposed to do, absorb the message and actually try to do something about it. It’s going to be really tough, and the pressure’s going to be, not just on the president, which everybody focuses on, but also on those new Republican leaders.
MR. TODD: You know, I’ll just say this, though. You know, this is two different Washington environments. If the Republicans control the Senate or if they do not–or if the Democrats control the Senate. Because it almost frees the House to be more polarizing, potentially, the Republican leadership, if there is no Republican Senate. And then it becomes this odd game of the White House and the Senate against the House. And that’s just going to–it–I–you know, we don’t know yet the tone out of the House Republicans until we know who controls the Senate. And I just–and, and that’s going to be, potentially, I think, a problem for the White House. It would be easier if it were a clean break, in an odd way, of being the White House vs. congressional Republicans. But you’re going to have this weird dynamic between the Senate and the House before this stuff ever even makes its way to the president.
MR. GREGORY: Charlie Cook, I want to stay in kind of inside the races a little bit in terms of what you’re looking for on Election Day. We’ve talked some about the Senate; I want to talk about the House and look at a few races that you’ll look on early in the evening to get a sense of magnitude. It’s not so much a question in a lot of people’s minds that the Republicans take the House, but it’s a question of magnitude. And we’ll put it up on the screen. Virginia 5, Tom Perriello, the freshman Democrat, trying to hold off Robert Hurt. The House race in Indiana 2 is Representative Joe Donnelly, the Democrat, and Walorski is the Republican there. And Kentucky 6, the Democrat Ben Chandler trying to hold off Andy Barr. Why do those matter?
MR. COOK: There’s no–(clears throat)–excuse me. There’s no one–(clears throat)–excuse me. There’s no one bellwether. You got to look at a basket of them. And those are states–it’s early, early states. We’ll get–if you see three, four, five of those going Republican, you’ll know that they’re having a pretty good night. If Democrats are surviving–or maybe four or five of them. If you see Democrats surviving in half of these, then it means it’s not going to be such a bad night. But, but we’re going to be watching. By 10 o’clock we’ll have a really good idea of whether this is sort of a large, grande, or venti election. I mean…
MR. GREGORY: And, Chuck, you looked at the polling from that district because the president was just there Friday night.
MR. TODD: We did. Our, our Republican partnership on the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Public Opinion Strategies, did some overnight polling. The president went to Virginia 5, Charlottesville, that district down there in central Virginia, and they found that the Republican is leading with 45, Perriello’s at 42, and the third party candidate is, is at 6. And more people said they were less likely to support Perriello because the president was there than more likely, so they believe it didn’t have a huge effect. But the president was going down there–and this gets at the odd math of the night and what’s going to make this difficult, because Perriello’s one of about a dozen, dozen and a half Democrats who Democrats believe can win without 50 percent because of third party, and they’re–a third party conservative challenger. Perriello is sort of the, the outsized example of this because he actually is advertising on behalf of this conservative candidate. And that’s why the president went there, to try to boost up the imprint there.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about the president. The, the best-selling book “Game Change,” Mark Halperin, that you wrote with John Heilemann, you’ve written a new afterword, and you talk a bit about Obama–and, Tom, I’ll have you comment on this first. Let me put a portion of it up on the screen, from the book: “[Obama has failed] to put forward what might be called a `theory of the case': a sustained, compelling distillation of his vision of the role of government in–at this moment in history, the connective tissue between his inspirational rhetoric and concrete policy proposals. …
“The absence of a theory of the case has persisted since Obama arrived at the White House. And it has left him a worryingly indistinct figure, even among his supporters – with many on the left seeing him as a temporizing, compromising moderate, while many of those in the center perceive him as having pitched to the left.” Does that sum up how we got here?
MR. BROKAW: Well, I–one of the things that you never want to have happen to you in American politics or in politics anywhere is let the opposition define you. And the White House was way too slow to the challenges that began to emerge with the tea party movement and then within the Republican Party establishment. I hear from Democratic supporters of President Obama words like he’s been too passive; one of them even saying, a very enthusiastic supporter when he got elected, “The guy comes off as arrogant to me. He doesn’t seem to be in touch.” And there was not passion about the two fundamental issues in the economy. The economists and, and think tank people can say this recession is over, but if you’re in danger of losing your house and you don’t have a job, or you think you’re going to lose your job, it doesn’t get any worse than that. And the White House was slow to respond to that in a passionate, kind of proactive fashion, and so I think that they lost not just a beat, but a couple of beats going into this.
MR. GREGORY: And, Mark Halperin, I’m going to invoke Jon Stewart again because the president appeared on “The Daily Show” this week. And kind of to Tom’s point, this was one of the exchanges that people thought was a little unsteady by the president.
MR. STEWART: So you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t say you’d run this time as a pragmatist. You would not–it wouldn’t be, “Yes, we can, given certain conditions”…
PRES. OBAMA: No. No, I, I, I think–I, I think what I would say is…
MR. STEWART: Yeah.
PRES. OBAMA: …yes, we can, but it is not–but it is not going to…
MR. STEWART: Yeah.
PRES. OBAMA: …it’s not going to happen overnight.
MR. GREGORY: Doesn’t sound like the fighter in 2008 who says, you know, “We’re not going to stop trying. We’re going to keep fighting, we’re really going to change this place.”
MR. HALPERIN: You hit the exact right word, it’s fight. He is not seen as someone who gets up every day fighting for the American people. And what’s going to be on the line starting Tuesday night for him is if he doesn’t–if he’s not seen very quickly as fighting for the American people, for jobs and for their future, he’s going to not win the fight to get re-elected or to be a successful second half of this–have a successful second half of this term.
MS. NORRIS: You know, there’s something else he said that night in that interview with Jon Stewart. He said there’s a lot of things that the White House has accomplished that America does not know about…
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MS. NORRIS: …which was also a damning statement in that he has not made his own case. Americans, in some ways, are adverse to complexity when it comes to politics. They want things that are easy to understand, and the White House has not always done a good enough job of explaining even their accomplishments that they should be able to stand on.
MR. GREGORY: And, and, Tom, despite what Governor Kaine says, there are really precious few Democrats who are out there campaigning on the president’s agenda. I mean, we have looked at this, we’ve studied this. And there are a fair amount of Democrats who are saying–Jean Taylor in Mississippi, “I voted, I voted for McCain.”
MR. BROKAW: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Others saying, “I’d vote against Pelosi as speaker.” Others kind of apologizing for their votes.
MR. BROKAW: Yeah, they’re running from him. And the other thing is that if you look at the Internet, where–which is a game changer in American politics. We have never seen the impact that it has like it does this year. If you go onto almost–I was checking the weather in Livingstone, Montana, the other day, and they had a banner about “This is your ticket to get rid of a liberal,” and it was Nancy Pelosi’s picture up there. No, a lot of people are running away from them. And, and, and that has become a part of the, of the texture of this campaign, if you will, is it’s a separation from the White House and what’s going on out across the country.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we’re going to take a short break here. I want to come back and talk about the message that everyone takes away from Tuesday. Republicans, Democrats, the president, how will Washington change? More with our roundtable after this brief station break.
MR. GREGORY: We are back with our roundtable. I want to talk about how Washington changes after Tuesday.
But, Michele Norris, let’s talk about the drama in Florida, the three-way race. We learned this week that former President Clinton actually tried to urge Kendrick Meek, who is far behind, to get out of the race, seemingly to help Governor Crist. This has all blown up because he’s saying he’s not going to do it. I was moderating the debate down there this week. Crist had said, “No, I don’t know who I’m going to caucus with. It’ll depend.” Now he’s even saying he would, he would have caucused with the Democrats. And now Clinton’s going back there to try to make up with Meek. What impact will this have? A lot of Democrats worry that African-American voters are not going to turn out in those other key races like the governor’s race.
MS. NORRIS: There’s a worry that it won’t just have an impact in Florida, that it’ll have an impact around the country. The Democrats have put a lot of effort into trying to bring out young voters on Tuesday and to try to, to drive up the vote among African-Americans. You talked about the impact of the Internet, this is a story that has quickly become a national story beyond Florida because of the blogosphere. Bloggers were all over this, and even if Meek, you know, didn’t step out, the impression is that someone tried to muscle him out of the race, which doesn’t set–sit well with a lot of African-Americans voters.
MR. GREGORY: Do you see an impact, Charlie?
MR. COOK: Oh I don’t think so, because I don’t think Florida is, is on the radar screen for people outside of Florida the way a lot of these other races are. They’re more–there’s a lot more of these that are, that are sort of engaged that–I think more so.
MR. GREGORY: Tom Brokaw, what is the message that Republicans take away from election night? As we were talking before, they’re making some rash promises out there and, you know, even Governor Barbour wasn’t able to fill in the blanks on where they’re going to cut $100 billion and, and knowing that that’s not going to get anywhere near to dealing with the deficit.
MR. BROKAW: Well, some of the Republicans who are already here in Washington and are not running for re-election are beginning to look askance at some of the people who are coming on their side. They anticipate some internessing warfare going on. Jim DeMint coming up from South Carolina is not going to just fall in line behind Senator McDonnell, for example–McConnell, from, from Kentucky. There have been some very rash promises. Michele Bachmann, the kind of volatile congresswoman from Minnesota, said, “We’ll cut spending by 23 percent and we’ll have it–the budget balanced. We’re going to repeal the healthcare bill.” You’re going to go to 30 million Americans and say, “we’re going to take your card away.” You’re going to go to families and say, “Your 26-year-old no longer can be on your policy”? And President Bush introduced the prescription drug benefit, which is now over $1 trillion. Are they going to pull that back in an effort to get–so there are some big promises that are going to be made, they’re going to be very hard to achieve. And there are, on the Hill, on the Republican side, there is already a lot of nervousness about how they get their act together and present a unified front.
MR. GREGORY: And, Mark Halperin, as you write in the book, how does the president change the game again? Because that’s what he needs here. He’s going to have a different looking Washington, he’s got to do something.
MR. HALPERIN: He can’t be passive, and he can’t assume–people said it’s better for him politically if Republicans take back control of Congress. He can’t assume that will automatically be better for him. He is not focused on his re-election as much as he is focused on getting things done. And getting things done with Republicans in control of the House, almost certainly, and having a working majority in the Senate is going to be difficult. He cannot just sit back. He has to, not only as you talked about before from, from “Game Change,” have a theory of the case, he’s also got to think about expanding his circle. He must improve his relationship with the business community in this country, and he must win back the independent voters who are going to vote in droves for Republicans on Tuesday.
MR. GREGORY: You teed me up very nicely. Look at his margin over McCain among independent voters in 2008. He was very well ahead, 52 to 44 percent.
You look at it today, in our most recent poll, Chuck Todd, and he’s completely upside down: 40 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval among independent voters. What’s the road to recovery?
MR. TODD: Well, it’s going to be–I think their hope is that this battle over the budget, the first six months, what, what I’ve had some folks tell me, both in the White House and on Capitol Hill, is what health care was in the summer of 2009, in the fall of 2009, is what the budget fight of 2011 is going to be. And that is where their lines in the sand are going to be drawn. And the way the White House is hoping to look at this–let’s remember, if Republicans pick up 70 House seats, which is sort of the very top of the ceiling, the Republican majority in the House will still be smaller than the current Democratic majority. So what the White House sees as possible with this Republican House majority is that they’ll have–they’ll be pressured on two ends of this thing. You have the tea party guys that are going to pressure and not be falling in line with Boehner and they’re going to want, they’re going to want these votes on repealing health care, they’re going to want these big-ticket votes. Then you’re going to have the guys that realize 2012 is coming, and the president’s going to be on the ticket, and it’s going to be much harder to win some of these states. And they’re hoping there are 15 to 25 moderates they’ll always be able to potentially peel off, and in these budget fights, on specifics, on Social Security, on Medicare, on to the healthcare plan. And that’s where they think they can start at least talking to independents again.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BROKAW: But you know, David, a Republican, a key figure, kind of on all the traffic patters on the Republican side on the Hill said to me, “You know, if Obama plays small ball for the next couple of years and let’s us just fight among ourselves, if they have to increase the debt ceiling for example, and members of the tea party say, “We’re not going along with that,” and then you get close to a government shutdown, which is–which undid Newt Gingrich after ’94, you know, then it could work to his advantage. But it’s going to take a very skilled political figure to pull all that off.
MR. GREGORY: It’s also interesting, Michele, that, that, that the prospect here is for a more liberal caucus, actually, in the House, a, a Senate that’s even more difficult to control…
MS. NORRIS: Right.
MR. GREGORY: …if it’s more sharply divided, and a conservative–a Republican Party and caucus that’s even more conservative. Look at the Bloomberg poll that found what it is that Americans really want. We’ll put it up on the screen. Sixteen percent indicated the priority would be to stick to principles, even if it means gridlock; 80 percent said they want Democrats and Republicans to get some things done and work together. Is that really possible now?
MS. NORRIS: Well, it’s going to be difficult because many of the moderates on the Democratic side, for instance, find themselves in the fight of their lives. I mean, this is where the recruiting effort in the last midterms comes back to bite them in that they recruited moderate candidates in Republican-leaning districts who have a very difficult time now. And if they leave, you’re right, we’re going to wind up with a smaller liberal Democratic caucus and a much more conservative larger Republican caucus. And that does not lead to this kind of compromise that people seem to want.
MR. HALPERIN: Candidate–sorry–candidate Obama in 2008 agree with that 80 percent and put himself forward as a person uniquely qualified, more qualified than Hillary Clinton and John McCain, to get the parties to work together. He couldn’t do it, and in some cases chose not to do it, with Republicans in, in the minority. Now that they’re in the majority, the conventional wisdom is it will be even harder, that they will have won an election with tea party support, they’re looking to 2012 to beat him. He needs to, to do what is necessary, to fight for what is necessary to get that done.
MS. NORRIS: You know, you talked about…
MR. GREGORY: And, Tom–yeah, go ahead.
MS. NORRIS: …you talked about bipartisanship during the election. But one of the things you got out of talking to people at the White House now is that they, they feel that bipartisanship is overrated. They don’t talk about this in the same way that they did.
MR. GREGORY: Tom, you, you, you always counsel we got to keep our eye on some of the big issues here. One of the biggest ones that you wrote about in an op-ed in The New York Times is what’s absent from the campaign debate, which is the war in Afghanistan. In December, there’s going to be a review. Next July, we’re talking about pulling some of our troops out and talking to commanders on the ground. They’re seeing some progress, but we’re not having this debate.
MR. BROKAW: No, we’re not having this debate. And, by the way, the weekend was a reminder of where we are in the war against Islamic rage, where people can put some detonation devices on UPS and FedEx packages and ship them into this country. We’ve spent more than $1 trillion on these two wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan so far. We’ve lost thousands of young Americans. So many of them have come back gravely wounded. One percent of the American population is doing 100 percent of the fighting, and that’s not only unjust, it’s immoral in a way. And it ought to be a dialogue in an, in an election year of any kind, and especially in a year when the country says that it’s paying attention to what is going on. And so I think that’s a big missing component, and nobody is putting it on the table except to say, “Well, we’re going, we’re going to support our veterans and support our defense budget.”
MR. GREGORY: It is interesting, Charlie Cook, that the president has sort of taken off the table the, the issue for Republicans that somehow he has not done a good job protecting the country. He’s–there’s a lot continuity with the Bush years, and he’s ramped up some of our efforts in the national security area, this is sort of a, a benign issue for him.
MR. COOK: It is interesting that the area that people suspected would be his weakest–national security–at least as of this moment, isn’t so much. And the biggest problem, when we, when we see polling saying that they–that people think that Republicans would do a better job creating jobs, jobs for people than Democrats, wow, historically, that’s very, very unusual. And I think right now the Democrats are paying a price for a focus that wasn’t on the economy for all of last year. When they were doing cap and trade, when they were doing health care, they should have been focused on the economy. But I tell my Republican friends, “You should consider this an unearned win.” The Republican Party still has lousy numbers. They are the beneficiaries of this election, not the victors, and that they should not overread a mandate here. People are just more mad at Democrats than anything else.
MR. GREGORY: Quick point, Chuck, before a break.
MR. TODD: On, on Afghanistan, the Democratic caucus that will be left, you brought this up, is going to be a very liberal caucus, very anti-war caucus. This is going to be a political challenge for him like no other. And by the way, a lot of these tea party conservatives have all talked about “we don’t want to be there forever” in these debates. Tom’s right, it’s not in the campaign trail, but it does come up in debates, and I’ve monitored these tea party answers. They’re all like, “I don’t want to be nation builders.” There may be a bipartisan majority on Afghanistan in Congress…
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. TODD: …but it may be to start speeding up by the fall.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Got to take another quick break here. When we come back, some final thoughts. And I want to take up the important question, as well, of what do Tuesday’s results mean for 2012? We’ll be right back.
MR. GREGORY: Just a couple of finals thoughts here.
Chuck, you’re thinking about 2012 already.
MR. TODD: Well, I am. Actually, the White House is thinking a little bit about 2012. David Plouffe cares about three states; that’s Florida, Colorado and Ohio. But Republicans are very excited about the sweep that they are going to have in Wisconsin. It’s bigger–every other Midwestern state is explainable in a very state-specific way. Wisconsin is a big comeback for Republicans. They love the fact that they may really put it on the map in 2012.
MR. GREGORY: Tom Brokaw, final thought as we go into Tuesday?
MR. BROKAW: Well, as Jon Stewart might call me, I’m the old dude at this table, so I remember a long time ago. And at the end of the first two years of Ronald Reagan’s administration, the unemployment numbers were higher than they are now, his approval ratings were lower than President Obama’s are. President Clinton, at the end of his first two years, had Newt Gingrich sweep into office with the Contract With America. Guess what? Both of them were elected by wide margins when they ran for a second term, something to keep in mind.
MR. GREGORY: Charlie Cook, just 15 seconds, your final outlook for Tuesday is what?
MR. COOK: Explosive on the House and very impressive Republican gains on the Senate and gubernatorial level.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We’re going to leave it there. Thank you all.
Before we go, a programming note. Visit our Web site tomorrow for our Web-only special, MEET THE PRESS 2010: THE FINAL COUNTDOWN. Our special pre-election day roundtable with break down everything you want to know going into Tuesday. I’ll be joined again by The National Journal’s Charlie Cook, plus Politico’s Jonathan Martin, Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, and our own Kelly O’Donnell, our congressional correspondent. That’s our Web site, mtp.msnbc.com. Tomorrow morning at 9 AM is when you’ll be able to see it.
Please stay with NBC News all night. On Tuesday, I’ll join Brian Williams and the rest of our NBC News team for complete election results and in-depth analysis.
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