Announcer: This is THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW. Today:
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host:
A different country. America changes. It did in 1932 with the coming of New
Deal and in 1980 with the Reagan era. Will the election of 2008 bring an
American epoch of Obama? Frustrated by a fitful war. Shaken by a financial free fall. Is the country turning to something truly new?
Is it talent or timing? Did it take Barack Obama to break through the old
partisan barriers of the Clinton, Gore and Kerry days? Was Obama the
breakthrough candidate America waited for? Or was he just in the right place when George Bush brought down the GOP?
And finally, baked Alaska. She came on cool. The hockey mom from up north. First, we were surprised. Then we were impressed. Then we were worried. Now we simply wonder, why Sarah Palin? Why did you do it, John McCain?
Interview: NBC's Andrea Mitchell, Washington Post's Anne Kornblut,
Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page and New York Magazine's John
Heilemann discuss election
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host:
Hi, I'm Chris Matthews. Welcome to the show.
Anne Kornblut is covering the campaigns for The Washington Post. Clarence
Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Andrea Mitchell covers the race
for NBC News. And John Heilemann covers politics for New York Magazine, which
has his latest story on the cover this week.
First up, just nine days to go. If you believe the polls, Barack Obama could
be running away with it. Could we be looking at the political realignment of
this country? We've seen it before in tough times. Back in 1932 amid the
Great Depression, FDR forged the New Deal coalition that held it for the
Democrats for four decades. Then after double-digit economic problems and the
Iran hostage taking, Ronald Reagan shook things up completely in 1980. Here's
Tom Brokaw on "Today," the morning after that election.
TOM BROKAW reporting:
From coast to coast, it is Lake Ronald Reagan. Blue for Ronald Reagan, red
for Jimmy Carter. Just a few islands, a few states that he picked up last
night. The Republican challenger has won a landslide electoral victory over
President Carter. It is also a major victory for conservative thought in
MATTHEWS: The Bush-Reagan era would end if Obama wins with the strength the
current polls are forecasting. There are key statistics to look at. For
instance, back in 1980, 56 percent of whites voted for Ronald Reagan. George
Bush did even better in 2004. But according to the latest NBC poll, only 48
percent of whites are currently backing John McCain.
Reagan Bush McCain
'80 '04 Now
56% 58% 48%
Exit Polls and NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll
MATTHEWS: And men are another critical indicator. Reagan's and Bush's
numbers with men are not holding for McCain. He's down to 46 percent of men.
Reagan Bush McCain
'80 '04 Now
55% 55% 46%
Exit Polls and NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll
MATTHEWS: And among Catholics, where Bush actually improved on Reagan,
McCain's percentage is down to just 41 percent.
Reagan Bush McCain
'80 '04 Now
51% 52% 41%
Exit Polls and NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll
MATTHEWS: Obama is betting that he can win in Bush states partly because of
the unpopularity of the Iraq War. That's changed the usual partisan lines.
Senator BARACK OBAMA: The men and women from Virginia and all across this
country who serve on our battlefields, some are Democrats, some of
Republicans, some are independents, but they fought together and bled
together, some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served
a red America. They haven't served a blue America. They've served the United
States of America. Nobody should forget that.
Crowd: (In unison) USA! USA! USA!
MATTHEWS: You know, John Heilemann, you hear the Democrat crowds up there
yelling "USA! USA!" in total national unity. Is there something that's
stopping the usual attack on the Democrats as the party of the left, the party
of the anti-American elements, the elitists that's not working now?
Mr. JOHN HEILEMANN (New York Columnist): Well, yeah. I mean, I think those
attacks were coming out of the McCain campaign and were pretty effective until
the global financial system fell apart, you know, six weeks ago. And, you
know, they--you know, Barack Obama is an extraordinary politician in a lot of
ways. He's tapped into something really deep, especially among young voters.
There's no doubt about that. And his kind of post-partisan, post-racial kind
bearing is really compelling to a lot of people. But I do think that what
this election shows more than anything is that when the economy is bad,
economics trumps culture. And that--and people start to look for help. And a
lot of those appeals that might otherwise have been effective against Obama,
they fall away.
MATTHEWS: You know, when you look at that, the realignment here, if you look
at--I hate these terms, it sounds like it's old South Africa, whites, men,
Catholics, those categories are the ones, according to John, and the facts are
showing it, that are shifting during this economic crisis to the Democrats.
ANDREA MITCHELL reporting:
And you're talking also about the Midwest. You're talking about key
battleground states in the Midwest. Seniors. Groups that we never thought
would be going for Barack Obama in such large numbers, if these polls, and
it's a big if...
MATTHEWS: Yeah, it is.
MITCHELL: ...are to be believed. And I think it is--what he showed during
the debates, during the economic crisis, the peak of the economic crisis,
where they coincided with the debates, and that's when he was calm and
reasoned. And even those of us who thought that McCain's feistiness in that
last debate was going to have an impact were wrong. Because what people
wanted was reassurance. They wanted the temperament of Barack Obama.
MATTHEWS: And beneath it all, timewise, was the war in Iraq, which still
divides the country against this president.
Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Chicago Tribune Columnist): Right. And the war, though,
has been winding down in the sense as far as American headlines are concerned.
But it hasn't been a big negative for Obama and has really kind of played into
his image as this steady leader moving forth to push us ahead to the next
MATTHEWS: Yeah. Let me ask Anne--let me ask you about this whole thing.
This is so ironic, it's a tough question to throw at anybody. But could it be
because he is an African-American of mixed background--his mom was American
white, his father from Africa, that he's so post-partisan, so post-racial, if
you will, if that's possible in this country, that he was able to stand up to
the old attack that the Republicans have always launched against Dukakis,
Gore, Kerry, they're lefties, they're elitists, they're from the academy? It
didn't seem to work.
Ms. ANNE KORNBLUT (The Washington Post): Well, sure. I mean, he didn't let
it work. He has said that he--he has been the one who has said, `I'm not
going to talk about race.' You know, he had his one big speech on race and
that was it. Beyond that he said, `I'm going to be the one who's reasonable.'
I think that if he wins and we still don't know, obviously, we're going to be
talking about this as the age of reasonableness, where he said, you know what,
this is all about temperament and being able to handle things. One of his
greatest attributes we've seen in the polling is his temperament.
Ms. KORNBLUT: And the use of the word "erratic" has been one that's really
worked for them against John McCain. So I think you're right. I think when
they throw all of that all at him, it just seems old.
Mr. PAGE: One thing must be mentioned. Chris, you know, with all the
attacks going at Obama, notice how little he's attacking back? I'm sure he's
got attack ads in his closet he could be using against McCain but he's not
MATTHEWS: Remember we used hit him for that and say, `Why don't you hit
Mr. PAGE: Right. Right. Well, you know, it's working for him...
MITCHELL: Well, he has them.
Mr. PAGE: ...because when he played--well, earlier in the campaign...
MITCHELL: No, even now.
Mr. PAGE: But not recently.
MITCHELL: They have attack--they have attack ads. They've got the ads that
show him and Bush, you know, Bush and McCain. They've been very negative in
ads. They've got the money to do that. They do it with surrogates.
Mr. PAGE: Yes, they do.
MITCHELL: But they wall it off from him.
Mr. PAGE: The negative.
MITCHELL: He doesn't get...
Mr. PAGE: Exactly. Exactly. It's a sideways strategy that worked when
David Axelrod was handling Mayor Street up there in Philadelphia. Michael
White in Cleveland. Previous races where they've had a black candidate. You
know, white voters don't like to see an angry black man.
Mr. PAGE: So you show the guy as being very serene, very biographical in his
approach while you have these sideways attacks at the characteristics of your
opponent but not the opponent himself or herself.
MATTHEWS: Here's a tough question, because you covered Hillary for so many
months, and I know this is a--it's so hard to ask this question, but I'm doing
it to you again.
Ms. KORNBLUT: Thanks.
MATTHEWS: Hillary comes out of that old tradition of Bill Clinton vs. the
enemy, fighting Democrat, that fighting stance. Would that have been more
vulnerable to this? That they would have said, `Yeah, here's another fighter.
We'll go fight with her.' In a way, she would have been--she would have had to
Ms. KORNBLUT: Well, look. Remember back at the end of the primaries, she
argued that only she could win certain demographics in certain states. We're
seeing that obviously Obama is able to do it. She would have, I think, run a
very different campaign that would have been more traditional, would have
focused more on winning...
Ms. KORNBLUT: Well, and also demographically, trying to fight for certain
groups of people.
Ms. KORNBLUT: Catholics, where McCain is making strides. You know, he's not
losing as many as he could have. He's actually one of the groups that's
actually stuck with him. I think she would have fought harder on this sort of
peeling away little groups grounds.
Ms. KORNBLUT: But in general Obama has tried to go for everyone. You talk
about a realignment. The realignment is that so many people from across the
board are going. It's not just small groups.
MATTHEWS: As we count it down, by the way, the final weeks, each week we've
been asking the Matthews Meter, 12 of our regulars, who won the week. So we
asked them again this week, which guy, Obama or McCain, won this past week?
Well, 11 to one, a traditional number here now, make it six weeks in a row.
Clarence, no surprise. Colin Powell started this week off. I guess that
really set it going for Barack?
Mr. PAGE: Yeah, there's no question. Powell waited a long time but that's
his style. But it came at the right time for Obama because he'd been hammered
with negative attacks from John McCain and Sarah Palin, and here he stood up
and one thing, he dismissed the Bill Ayers attack line. You know, saying,
well, if he's a washed-up terrorist, as McCain says, why make him the center
of your campaign? That kind of thing really helped.
MATTHEWS: Andrea, you're also among those who thought Barack won this week
MITCHELL: Well, I think that Powell's endorsement was a very powerful start
for the week. And I just think that Obama, this week, in his focus on
Florida, and on Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and the way that they've
expanded the map has meant that they have more roads to 270...
MITCHELL: ...than John McCain does. John McCain is now stuck with New
Hampshire and Pennsylvania. He's got very few options, and for him to win
Pennsylvania, as you know Pennsylvania...
MITCHELL: ...better than anyone, is a real stretch.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. He's got to MapQuest himself to the 270 at this point. He's
got to go directly to 270. He has no room for error. Their interview this
week with Brian Williams, John McCain and Sarah Palin again hammered at Obama
over his connection to the former Weathermen, former terrorist Bill Ayers. A
guest of mine on "Hardball" also hammered the Ayers thing and then went even
Rep. BACHMANN: Absolutely. I'm very concerned that he may have
anti-American views. That's what the American people are concerned about. I
wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in
Congress and find out are they pro-America or anti-America.
(End of clip)
MATTHEWS: John are you on that case?
Mr. HEILEMANN: Oh, yeah. I'm definitely on that case. I'm going to start
with this group right up here. I love watching you do that interview, Chris,
because I can see your eyes light up as you start to realize that this woman's
about to sound like Joe McCarthy on your show and you're about to make a bunch
of news. I mean, it is amazing that that kind of discourse is--that there are
still people in 2008....
MATTHEWS: But I think...
Mr. HEILEMANN: And it actually...
MATTHEWS: I think it's not working.
Mr. HEILEMANN: Well, it's not working at all. Obviously she's been
abandoned effectively by the Republican Party. But it is--it's kind of
astonishing, the contrast, you know, to go back to Obama. You know, it
highlights everything that's so compelling to a lot of people about him
because that kind of attack, you know, that kind of thing coming back in the
other direction, you can't imagine it. It sound so premodern and so weird and
so out of time that it makes the Republican Party look like they are a relic.
MATTHEWS: OK. One last shot by the Republicans this week. We saw an ad
emerging over the week in a TV ad. It basically looks like an old Cold War
scene with Joe Biden warning of a big crisis to come if we elect this
neophyte, his running mate. Is it going to work?
Ms. KORNBLUT: We haven't seen any evidence of it so far. I mean, they have
had a couple of things they could do. They could talk about "Joe the
Plumber," and they could talk about Joe Biden and we haven't seen any shift in
the numbers so far.
MATTHEWS: Is this going to work, the Joe Biden attack?
Mr. PAGE: You know, it doesn't appear to be working in the sense that the
public now has gained a new level of trust for Obama, his ability to take care
of crises while look at how McCain reacted to the economic collapse and McCain
really lost points.
MATTHEWS: I think it's what we saw in those debates that helped Obama.
MITCHELL: I think it's tough and it's powerful. If anything could work,
perhaps this and the empty Oval Office chair. But these are the last cries of
a campaign that is way behind. That is the way, that's the feel of this.
MATTHEWS: And everybody's who's ever done it has always lost. John
Mr. HEILEMANN: Did you see these national polls this week that have, you
know, Obama's running basically as well with Democrats as McCain is running--a
little bit better, he's running with Democrats than McCain is with
Republicans. Which means that because of the difference in party ID, McCain
would need to basically win independents by like 15 points. And he's losing
independents by 15 to 20 points. This race is out of reach.
MATTHEWS: Well, we'll see.
Before we break, who wins this election really comes down to one thing, the
electoral map. That's why TV networks have invested heavily to enhance your
electoral map experience. Just look at all this state-of-the-art stuff out
there now. But it hasn't always been so sophisticated. Back in '68, when
Chet Huntley was anchoring election night, NBC staffers had to use a
ladder--there it is--to bring out the latest visual aid. Eight years later
NBC used the first-ever illuminated electoral map. There it is. Then in 2004
NBC decided to get creative. That ice rink--by the way, it is an ice
rink--that's at 30 Rock will be back this year. But NBC, along with many of
the other networks, will also be relying heavily on the latest computer
technology. Just watch NBC's political director Chuck Todd on the TODAY show
explaining McCain's chances.
(Clip of "Today")
Mr. CHUCK TODD: You keep going. He's got to get them all. Now, the good
news? Every one of these states were states that George Bush carried both in
2000 and 2004. But it's a tough task. He can't afford to lose any single one
of these. Just one puts Obama at 270, let alone a Florida puts there and then
suddenly the numbers don't add up at all.
MEREDITH VIEIRA reporting:
It's way over the map.
(End of clip)
MATTHEWS: Voters are so fascinated by this stuff, Web sites are now popping
up that can show you the final map of every election going back to 1789, when
George Washington won handily, on a smaller map, obviously.
"Saturday Night Live" got in the action this week.
(Clip from "Saturday Night Live," Broadway Video)
MATTHEWS: When we come back, is John McCain having buyer's remorse? Was
picking Sarah Palin a mistake? Plus, scoops and predictions right out of the
notebooks of these top reporters. TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW! Be right
Announcer: THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW is brought to you by...
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Sarah Palin gave John McCain a big boost coming out
of the Republican convention. But then came those network interviews,
especially the one with Katie Couric. Her troubling answers made her an
object of ridicule on late-night TV.
Governor SARAH PALIN: (From "CBS Evening News") Ultimately, what the bailout
does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is
needed to help shore up our economy helping--it's got to be all about job
creation to shore up our economy.
Ms. TINA FEY: (Clip from "Saturday Night Live") What the bailout does is
help those that are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to
help shore up our economy--to help--it's got to be all about job creation to..
MATTHEWS: Things have only gone downhill from there. In the latest NBC poll,
even Republicans listed Sarah Palin as the biggest drag on John McCain.
Clarence, a plus or minus all told, this selection for vice president?
Mr. PAGE: Short-term--short-term plus, long-term minus. I mean, that term
was about 10 days because it has been one bad news episode after another.
Plus the very fact that they refused to let her face the press in a news
conference tells everybody that she's not ready and even in the one-on-one she
has those same kind of problems.
MATTHEWS: OK. You used the phrase "not ready." When she first was presented
to public, rather attractive, surprising, novelty, all that, likable, then
somebody changed the topic from--the question from is she a good junior
partner on this ticket, the new person on the block, or is she ready to be
president at this moment and if she's not ready to be president right at this
moment, she's not ready to be VP. Somebody changed the question and that's
killed her, I think.
Ms. KORNBLUT: Well, look. And they never had a strategy to respond to it.
There was no, look, we're taking a first-term governor who obviously doesn't
have that much experience but we're going to do a series of events, a series
of meetings to roll her out and show that she really is ready. There seemed
to be no strategy except to just bring her out, hide her from the press for a
while, then start doing interviews. It seemed extremely random. It was
interesting. In their joint interview when they said that Colin Powell had
never even met her, well, why not? Why didn't they arrange a meeting to try
and convince people she was ready?
MATTHEWS: OK. Did she pick them or did they pick her? The handlers, around
McCain? I get the feeling she had a hand in this.
MITCHELL: Well, she was promoting herself--she was very actively promoting
herself for a number of months from Alaska, and that was a coming together of
like-minded people. But it was--it shows how shallow, I think, and cynical
the choice was to a lot of the critics. The critics look at her and look at
what's happened and say not ready, not a serious choice, and what he needed to
do was reach independents. He had to make sure...
MATTHEWS: Yeah, right.
MITCHELL: ...the base was there. But he needed a strategy for independent
voters and she was the absolute worst strategy for that.
MATTHEWS: Suppose he'd gone to the default button and gone with a Romney or a
Pawlenty, the obvious choice. Would he be better off now or not, really?
Mr. HEILEMANN: Probably not.
Mr. HEILEMANN: I mean, I think you know--I mean, again, you come back to the
financial crisis and his terrible handling of it. And maybe Romney would have
helped him to kind of figure his way out through that thicket a little bit
better. But I just--to your point, Chris, I don't think anybody changed the
question. I think that's always the question. The question is, are you ready
to be president? It just takes us a little while to get to it sometimes.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. Well, let's get to...
Mr. HEILEMANN: Eventually we got there and she couldn't answer it.
MATTHEWS: Let's get to where we're headed now.
MATTHEWS: It's November 5th. It's November 5th, the day after the big
election this year. Is she the first in line to run for 2012?
Ms. KORNBLUT: I think she certainly has a claim to and she seems like she's
getting herself ready for it, sure.
Mr. PAGE: Yeah. First...
MATTHEWS: Is she running already?
Mr. PAGE: Yeah, sure. First, finish out the gubernatorial term, get a talk
show host job. I mean, there are things she's very good at. You know, she
just isn't prepared as far as the information in her head, quick recall, the
analysis, that sort of thing.
MATTHEWS: Is this a candidate here?
MITCHELL: Sure. It's the talk show deal. It's Sarah Palin vs. Huckabee.
The battle of the talk show hosts.
MATTHEWS: Can she win the nomination, John? Is she a real likely candidate
to win this thing?
Mr. HEILEMANN: She could. And I'll tell you why.
MATTHEWS: I think so, too.
Mr. HEILEMANN: A, she's the most popular person in the Republican Party
Mr. HEILEMANN: And B, as the conservative movement splinters--as it's
clearly--there's going to be a bloodbath after this election, there's going to
be a huge bloc built around populism and social conservatism, and she is both
those things and she's a compelling figure and she's got a lot of fans out
MATTHEWS: We'll be back with scoops and predictions right out of the
notebooks of these top reporters, TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW! Be right
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Anne, tell me something I don't know.
Ms. KORNBLUT: I bet you don't know, or maybe don't remember, that if John
Kerry had won 95 percent of the black vote in Ohio, he would be president of
the United States right now. I think there is a big challenge in Ohio. And
if that number holds true and all the polling suggests it might, Obama's going
to have a really good day on November 4th.
Mr. PAGE: Yeah, but Ohio's a very tricky toss-up right now. Chris, baby
boomers. They're the big swing vote this time around...
Mr. PAGE: ...as they were four years ago. Maybe you don't know it's not
just all boomers but the late boomers. Those born between '55 and '65, which
has been called Generation Jones...
Mr. PAGE: ...for lack of another title. They are the ones who have been the
late deciders. Us or older boomers...
Mr. PAGE: ...decided early on which way we were going to vote. And so, the
funny thing is, too, this is the first time you've got both Barack Obama and
Sarah Palin are late boomers, the same generation. There you go.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
MITCHELL: Take a look at who shows up on the John McCain...
MITCHELL: ...campaign next week. There's always a crisis when a campaign is
behind as to how to keep the candidate's spirits up.
MITCHELL: How to keep him plugged in and focused, and you might see Tom Ridge
or some other old buddies coming around him to help him keep his spirits up
and keep from...
MITCHELL: ...the blame game because I think there's some bad spirits there
behind the scenes..
MATTHEWS: I think you're a very...
Mr. HEILEMANN: Sounds like people...
MATTHEWS: ...nice person to be thinking about that. I mean it. John?
Mr. HEILEMANN: Sounds like people visiting a convalescent home.
MITCHELL: Don't say that.
Mr. HEILEMANN: Sorry.
MATTHEWS: You're not a nice person.
Mr. HEILEMANN: I'm not.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead. What's your--what's your prediction?
Mr. HEILEMANN: My prediction is that the Obama campaign is a lot further
along in its transition planning than anybody imagines right now. They're
actually pretty far down the line, and they've been putting together--you
know, he's got John Podesta from the Clinton administration sitting over there
putting this thing together. They know that if he gets elected he needs to
come out fast out of the gate because of the nature of the world right now.
Treasury secretary in the Obama administration? Larry Summers.
MATTHEWS: OK. I'll be right back with this week's BIG QUESTION. How did
Obama get here? What was the turning point, the most decisive moment in his
two-year campaign for him? Be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
Barack Obama's on the verge of becoming the leader of the free world, but it's
been a long road for him. That brings us to this week's BIG QUESTION: If you
had to name one turning point for Obama, the most decisive moment for him,
from 19--well, from 2004 on to now, what would it be? Anne?
Ms. KORNBLUT: If he wins, putting all his eggs in the basket of Iowa and
then winning Iowa.
Mr. PAGE: Oh, that's the one I was going to pick. You know, Jimmy Carter
MATTHEWS: You can ditto it.
Mr. PAGE: Jimmy Carter showed how important Iowa was and Obama has just
MATTHEWS: Two Iowas.
MITCHELL: The debates.
MATTHEWS: He did well.
MITCHELL: He did well. He showed who he is, and with the--with letting
Lehman go, the economic crisis went down just at the moment he was doing so
well in the debates.
Mr. HEILEMANN: The day when he gave that speech in the run-up to the Iraq
War and announced his opposition to it.
MATTHEWS: Two for that. Two for Iowa. Third one there.
Thanks for a great roundtable.
Anne Kornblut, Clarence Page, Andrea Mitchell, John Heilemann.