Excerpts from Mark Halperin’s Interview with Senior Obama Campaign Officials at the Chicago Headquarters

HALPERIN: So we sat here at this table not that long ago and I said, are you going to change your message between now and the end and you said absolutely not. … But you seem to have changed your message from saying he’s a right-wing extremist to you can’t believe him. Have you changed?

OBAMA ADVISER 1: No, he changed. He changed his message. We’re holding him accountable to his message from the last six years, which is, you know, standing up at the conservative CPAC saying I’m a severe conservative or the campaigning, you know, on the five trillion dollar tax cut all through the primaries. Promising to give everybody a tax cut, even those at the top.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: I think, most importantly, look at our TV ads. Our TV ads haven’t changed. We’re hitting him on “five trillion” today in every battleground state. We’re going up, you know, very soon with more ads, featuring that same contrast.

HALPERIN: The contrast on budget?

OBAMA ADVISER 1: It’s on him wanting to go back to the same policies that crashed the economy. And, you know, basically, out of the mainstream. However that gets painted and whatever examples fit into that, that’s our message. And, for coming out of the debate, he changed his message. We’re saying don’t believe him. Here’s what he’s been running on over the past six years.

HALPERIN: So, the addition of accusing him of being untruthful in the debate is like a little twist? You’re still plan to ride out….

OBAMA ADVISER 3: He’s become more brazenly dishonest about the impact of his policies.

OBAMA ADVISER 1: Or he’s completely aware of how much it’s been damaging him. So, he decided to have an Etch-a-Sketch moment and we’re just going to hold him accountable for that. Our message is the same.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Right, since we saw you last, he has completely changed his message because it was getting him killed. He does his first direct-to-camera, trying to stop the “47” bleed. He goes right on the very first question, trying to stop the tax bleeding.

OBAMA ADVISER 3: Pre-existing conditions.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: And pre-existing conditions. And we’re not going to sit here and allow him to do it.

OBAMA ADVISER 1: So, I notice your story on him having a consistent message. Consistent for the last 28 days, maybe.

HALPERIN: I’ll stipulate that you all know how to run campaigns and I don’t, so I’m reflecting the views of others who’ve run campaigns in both parties who asked this question. Why, six days after the debate, are you all still talking about the debate when the debate didn’t go that well for you?

OBAMA ADVISER 1: Are you talking about the Sesame [Street] ad?

HALPERIN: Yeah, and the President’s best sound bites over the past two days have been about the debate.

OBAMA ADVISER 1: Well, because, it’s not likely that Mitt Romney is going to stop being dishonest in the next debate. I would bet my life he’s not. And, so, we’re not going to let up on it. It has nothing to do with the debate. It’s also talking about what he’s saying on the stump. And, that’s not inconsistent with what the President’s been doing all along. Holding Mitt Romney accountable for the positions he’s taking, regardless of what he’s saying, what he wants you to believe. Now, we did a pretty big push on his foreign policy speech yesterday. Had nothing to do with the debate but we put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in that one and, you know, I think it’s reflected in some of the stories. So, the Sesame Street ad is really just a parody. It is one of the biggest take aways of that debate for Americans who don’t care about politics. That is one of the few things that broke through. So it’s just a parody of that. It’s mostly going to be run on comedy channels.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: It’s not going to run in battleground states.

OBAMA ADVISER 1: We’re not putting it into our rotation.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: And here’s the other thing. It’s important at some point to have a little levity here. And to say to people on comedy channels, “hey, this is fun.” This is, like…

OBAMA ADVISER 1: Or, “can you believe this guy?”

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Right. That debate was parody-able.

OBAMA ADVISER 3: Bold leadership.

HALPERIN: And you say it’s broken through, how do you know that?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Have you seen the viral stuff all over the Internet? Have you searched Funny or Die and how many views that’s gotten? Have you seen how many kids have signed that petition?

OBAMA ADVISER 3: Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, it’s broken through to the consumer media.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: People who don’t read your column, with all due respect, are out there having a conversation about it.

HALPERIN: I know you’re not going to talk about your research in any great detail but is the public polling that shows the battleground states tighter accurate? Inaccurate?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: We are not seeing a dramatic shift. We are seeing what we always thought, which is a small consolidation with him, but we continue to lead in every battleground state. We continue to, our map is continuing to be where it is.

HALPERIN: So, that means that in the eight states we’re talking about, nine if you include Wisconsin, that you think you are ahead or even in every one today?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Mhmm. Yeah.

HALPERIN: So, to the extent the debate had an impact on those nine states, what was it? How would you qualify it or quantify it?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Well, first of all, ..I think it’s too, it’s becoming about time to look or a little soon to figure out what’s noise and what’s not. But, you know, … there’s just not a lot of movement out there. This race is pretty stagnant.

HALPERIN: So, the conventional wisdom is, driven partly by the national polls and some state polls, that the debate had a transformative effect on the President’s and Governor Romney’s standing nationally and in the battleground states is incorrect?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Correct, we do not believe that at all. And, you know, if you want to believe a Pew poll that shows us tied with women voters and having party ID move ten points in a month, which would be 20 million people, I think that you should…

OBAMA ADVISER 1: 20 million people decided they were Republicans in the last month.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Right, it’s just not, you know, it’s just not…

OBAMA ADVISER 1: And we’re going to see more of these polls coming out to show tightening of the race and that’s just, that’s how it goes. And, you know, just like we got a bounce coming out of the convention, we knew that bounce wasn’t real and wasn’t going to be sustainable. This isn’t going to be sustainable either.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: But here’s what the last ones didn’t change, it didn’t change his problems in the Midwest, on a whole host of issues. Didn’t change on cars. Didn’t change on outsourcing. It didn’t make him a better candidate in Ohio or Iowa or Wisconsin. And, you know, you just look at the map, he’s going to continue — we have more pathways to 270 — he’s got his problem, you’ve written that, and you’re right. It is, for him, and for us, in the end, about the map.

HALPERIN: And he has, even in attributes, the debate did not help him in any way as far as you’ve seen?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Look, I think that the people are going to give him, people could give him a second look. But that’s not moving people to his column and I think he’s going to have a problem with, those voters are just going to be tougher for him, especially in battleground states.

OBAMA ADVISER 1: I think Republicans are probably, I think the one thing you could point to that did change is enthusiasm behind him on the Republican the side. Not just to defeat Obama, but more enthusiasm for Romney, which is exactly what happened with Kerry.

HALPERIN: Last time we talked, you suggested one reason Kerry may have come up short is that he did not build as much enthusiasm.

OBAMA ADVISER 1: But he did build it in the debates. And I think that’s, if, you know, giving credit where credit is due, I think that’s something that Romney definitely did.

HALPERIN: So, would it be a problem if the President had the same kind of debate on Long Island as he had in Denver or no because it won’t effect anything?

OBAMA ADVISER 1: Well, if it’s a different style of debate. It’s a town hall.

HALPERIN: I understand but, again, the perception that you’re pushing back against is the debate impacted where things stand. You’re saying it really didn’t. So, I’m saying, if you had another bad debate, would that not matter?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Look, first of all, I don’t think he’s going to have a bad debate. I think the format’s better and I think he’s been very honest — some have been critical of him being honest, but he’s been honest about his issues in that debate, and, you know…

OBAMA ADVISER 3: I think our view is they’re a data point, they certainly reach a lot of people, but they’re not determinative. And, that even in the few days we’ve had after the debate, there have been some important things that have happened. We’ve seen the biggest crowds of the campaign. I don’t think anybody would argue that our base isn’t enthusiastic at this point. We closed out the voter registration period and did some really significant work in key states. You see reporters like Jon Ralston tweeting that Republicans really walked away from what was a major opportunity to close the gap in states like Nevada. Important economic news on Friday and a great fundraising month. So, I think our point is they are one thing that people will tune in to in the weeks ahead but they are not the only thing. And I also think that, you know, there was a big discussion on the Sunday shows, not just about the debate, but about Romney’s truthfulness. And, I think that, you know, the President has been effective in shaping the conversation since last week.

HALPERIN: And is that something that people are inclined to believe, voters you’re trying to reach, that Governor Romney’s not truthful?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: I think they started out by going into the debate being very skeptical about him. Looking at his numbers, he was under water in every battleground state and, I think, he went out there and was fundamentally dishonest and I think it’s up to us to make sure people realize that and that’s what we’ve done.

HALPERIN: Is the view that the President’s….performance, to the extent it wasn’t all you wanted it to be, was, at all, a result of the process of preparing him?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: I think everyone can Monday morning quarterback when this whole thing is over. We are where we are and we got to get ready for the next debate.

OBAMA ADVISER 1: But we have said that, you know, we are going to make some adjustments and, you know, recalculate, like you normally do after a debate, what works and what doesn’t. So those minor adjustments are happening.

HALPERIN: And how have those adjustments impacted how the Vice President is preparing?

OBAMA ADVISER 1: Hasn’t at all.

HALPERIN: How is he preparing?


HALPERIN: Four years ago, there was some concern in this campaign about how he would do given his history. Is there concern this time? People concerned, relaxed, hopeful?

OBAMA ADVISER 1: I think that, I’m only going to speak for myself, [Laugher} I think, you know, Joe Biden is Joe Biden and he’s going to do fine. And, you know, he’s done this before on many different stages and he’s sort of rearing to go.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: I completely associate myself with those remarks.

OBAMA ADVISER 1: I’m sure Ryan will come back with some gaffe, you know, or try to make use of some gaffe but the Vice President has lots to work with there.

HALPERIN: Have they done anything that you’ve been able to measure or see to close the gap, in terms of boots on the ground?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: No. They’re working at it and they’re trying hard and, you know, Priebus releases a statement every other day about some new metric they’re hitting compared to ’08. ….We are where we are. I know ’08 was the greatest campaign in the history of campaigns but we, they are all in ’12 and we should be held responsible for ’12. And, in ’12, we just opened up 120 field offices in Ohio and they’re at 40, not even 40, 30-something.

OBAMA ADVISER 3: They’re moving people from Pennsylvania today into Ohio.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: The thing on the list of things that have gone right for us recently, the thing we didn’t talk about was these court cases. When they lost the Pennsylvania court case, even their own… chairman this is over now and they just moved their staff to Ohio today, meaning the only state they’re now fighting us on is Wisconsin and we’ve seen polls showing that getting more difficult for them. And, so we are Kerry-map plus. And, so, if you have Kerry-map plus New Mexico, which neither side is fighting, we’re at 247. And, when we continue to have more advantage there. Since July, we’ve beaten them in every single battleground state on voter registration. … You know, I think, if you look at Ohio, and you look at Iowa, and I continue to think Governor Romney is going to struggle to win a Midwestern swing state.

HALPERIN: I want to come back to the Electoral College in a second, but just to finish up on the ground. So, you think, in all nine states, your ground game is superior and will count for a point or two?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: I think it depends on where. A point in Florida is a big point, as you know. A point or two — [Harry] Reid added two in Nevada, and that was the off year when they had a small organization. I think what is true is we are superior on the ground in every battleground state, no question about it… I bet my life on that. No question. And I think we have the ability to do two things: both persuade the undecideds and turn out our vote. And that’s something, I don’t think they can do both. At their level you can just pick one, right? And I think that’s a problem for them and I think that’s what we’re doing every single day. The TV is so monolithic, I think people are throwing their TV out eventually, and they’re going to look at their friends and family and say, what do I do in this election? And that’s where the Neighborhood Team Model matters. And, you know, you shouldn’t believe my B.S. or Matt’s [Rhoades]. In the end, look at the numbers. And voter registration numbers in these states have moved dramatically. Our early vote, you look at Iowa, you know, everyone’s reported on it. We have a, not small, mammoth lead. We continue to have a lead in Ohio and, very important, you know, we lost early vote in Florida by 300,000 in ’08. We’re down now 80,000 as of this morning. We continue to close that. We are going to get to parity in the amount of Democrats versus Republicans in Colorado for the first time since 1992. That is a big chunk of business. So, our ground metrics are good. Do I think these states are going to be close? Absolutely, and that’s what we’re preparing for and that point or two you talked about is going to be the difference.

HALPERIN: Back of the envelope, what does the court decision in Ohio mean, in terms of an edge for you?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: It is a fact over 100,000 Democrats used those three days last time to participate in the process.

HALPERIN: A net advantage or total?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Net advantage. And so, we ended up winning by 240,000 last time. That’s a big net advantage.

HALPERIN: If you had to plot his most likely path to 270, what would it include?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: That’s his job, not mine.

HALPERIN: But is it accurate to say that, really, you can’t get him to 270?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Well, I mean, look, I think it’s accurate to say he needs an inside straight. And he needs a bunch of things to come together. And he’s got to win in states right now I don’t think he can, like Ohio, and like Nevada, and like Iowa.

HALPERIN: Right. It always is a little complicated to report when a campaign takes a position about what the data suggests, public and private data suggests as compared to what the public data seems to be showing in terms of a trend. So, they were in that position a couple weeks ago. Based on what you said today, you’re in that position, which is to say almost every bit of data, even looking at polls that are problematic for reasons you’ve discussed, every bit of data suggests the debate did have an impact.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Look, I’m not saying the debate didn’t have an impact. I’m saying the battleground states, it’s impact was minimal.

HALPERIN: But why would it be minimal in the battleground states?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Because they’re seeing more and they’re seeing a much different campaign than the rest of the country is, as you know. They’re seeing the candidates more. They’re seeing media. They’re seeing persuasion. It’s just, you know, that’s no secret that we’ve always done better in battleground polls.

OBAMA ADVISER 1: And we pivoted pretty quickly in the battleground states.


OBAMA ADVISER 1: Well, we went up with the dishonesty ad…. We spent a lot of time in the battleground states.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Remember, also, just factually, the gender gap is bigger in the battleground states and we’ve been going after some of these issues for a very long time. …

HALPERIN: Would you expect to do more micro-targeted television in the last four weeks than you’ve done?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: I’m not going to answer at this point.

HALPERIN: What is the concern level you have about outside groups using provocative ads in the last four weeks?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: We’ve been through this. I think there’s some level of concern, sure. We’re in uncharted territory, there’s absolutely unlimited spending and I you can see some of the stuff coming. I do think I question the value of it, just because of the cacaphony.…

HALPERIN: In the last four weeks, adding up allied groups, what’s your sense of, in the nine states, who will spend more?




HALPERIN: So, again, not that long ago when we sat here, there was concern, as there was at the White House, that you would be outspent. You’re now convinced you will not be?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Well, look, we’ll be outspent but not by a drastic margin like we were in June, May, or before we went on TV.

HALPERIN: But, once upon a time, you were concerned that you would be?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Yes, and our Internet folks have come in a very big way $181 million with the President doing a third of the events he did the month before…. So we’re going to get outspent the final month, but, I think not in a determinative way….

HALPERIN: In the job numbers that we had, and after this there’s one more coming, were you able to see the positive impact of those in battleground states?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: No. We didn’t see it when they were bad. We didn’t see it when they were good. What it is is atmospheric about, you know, you saw Gallup, yesterday. Concerned about the Gallup poll but their economic indicators are showing what everyone else is, which is people are starting to feel marginally better about things in general, which tends to help the economy.

HALPERIN: And are you at all concerned about, have you seen, in anything you look at, concern about their criticism of the handing of the Arab Spring?


HALPERIN: There’s been talk of other states coming back into play. Is that a real thing?



HALPERIN: Arizona.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Oh, I thought he was going to say Michigan. Michigan and Pennsylvania are not coming back into play.

OBAMA ADVISER 3: The DS[CC] had a poll that has up two in Arizona. They put a presidential question on Carmona.

HALPERIN: Does your lack of concern about Michigan and Pennsylvanian mean that you’re not doing research there?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: You know me better than that. …We’re always going to be very careful….

HALPERIN: So, are you any less confident of winning than you were two weeks ago?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: I think we are where we thought we would be. This election was always going to tighten up. To the point made earlier, we knew this was going to be a very close election.

HALPERIN: But are you more or less confident than you were two weeks ago or exactly the same?

OBAMA ADVISER 2: Look, I think we are going to do what we have to do to get to 270. That’s exactly what I think, two weeks ago.

OBAMA ADVISER 1: We’re as confident as we were.

OBAMA ADVISER 3: I don’t think anybody here was ever overconfident. We thought this would be very hard. It’s been very close for a year-and-a-half, you know?

OBAMA ADVISER 1: We’re confident. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be tight. But, I think with that, we have more routes to win than he does.

HALPERIN: What is your message to, as David Plouffe would say, the bedwetters in the Democratic Party, who are all concerned about the debate and what it’s done to the public polling? What would you say to them?

OBAMA ADVISER 1: We weren’t geniuses last week and we’re not stupid this week. It’s going to be a tight race. We’ve always said that.

OBAMA ADVISER 2: And in the battleground states we continue to have more pathways than they do to 270 electoral votes. And we just got to close.

Related Topics: Barack Obama, battleground states, Mark Halperin, pew research center, Sesame Street, 2012 Elections, Budget, Democratic Party, Economy, News, Taxes, The Page

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