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Transcript: David Plouffe on 'FOX News Sunday'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published November 02, 2008 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript of the Nov. 2, 2008, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Joining us now from Washington for his first Sunday show interview is the unsung star of Barack Obama's remarkable effort these last two years, someone who's rarely seen on television, campaign manager David Plouffe.
And, David, welcome to "FOX News Sunday."
OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER DAVID PLOUFFE: Good to be with you, Chris.
WALLACE: Let's start by going back to Karl Rove's electoral map which we put up in the last segment, and that poll shows Obama now leading in states with 311 electoral votes, 41 more than he needs to win the presidency.
But you just heard Rick Davis saying that there's been tremendous movement in the southwest part of the country, there in three of those blue states — Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico — he says that McCain is now winning in those states. He says Pennsylvania is up for grabs. How do you see those four states?
PLOUFFE: Well, Rick makes a — always makes an effective case for his candidate, but that's not what we see at all.
First, the western states — there's been a lot of early voting happening, as you mentioned in your first segment, in Nevada, in Colorado, in New Mexico. We think we have a decisive edge right now. So John McCain would have to win Election Day by a huge margin to make up those deficits.
The Kerry states — we do not see the tightening in Pennsylvania that Rick talked about. We've campaigned hard in Pennsylvania. We've got a great organization. We have 1.2 million more Democrats registered than Republicans. So we feel good about the Kerry states — Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia.
All of the prime takeaway targets that we've been working on for so long we think are in good shape heading to the election. But obviously, we need great turnout on Tuesday. There are still undecided voters out there.
So in these last 48 hours, we're continuing to talk about the economy, Barack Obama's plans for the middle class, and we're just trying to turn out every supporter we have so we have historic turnout on Tuesday.
WALLACE: You've come up with a number — we've talked about this before — of exactly how many votes you believe you need to win each state. How do you arrive at that number?
PLOUFFE: Well, and the number gets adjusted, obviously, because what we're seeing in early vote would suggest that turnout overall is going to be a little bit higher in some of these states. So I think you're going to see a huge turnout.
The McCain campaign mentioned a 130 million number nationally the other day. We think that's the floor. We think I should be a little bit higher than that.
And in some of these states like North Carolina, with the early vote, I think you're going to see just huge turnout.
And for us, the most important thing is we are seeing newly registered supporters of ours, younger voters, African American voters, Hispanic voters, which in many states are a base for us turning out at big levels.
So we still have a lot of voters in the pool, so to speak, on Tuesday. So the notion that somehow we're voting all of our supporters early and have nothing left for Election Day is just not true.
We're thrilled with what we're seeing in the early vote, and we think sporadic-voting Democrats and newly registered voters are going to vote at historic levels.
WALLACE: I want to get to a little more detail on the turnout question in a moment.
But first let's talk about the thing I brought up with Rick Davis, the fact that you have decided to make a late push in North Dakota, in Georgia, and even in McCain's home state of Arizona. Is there a touch of arrogance here?
I mean, wouldn't it make more sense to focus your resources, focus your advertising and everything, on the states that you need to lock up 270 electoral votes?
PLOUFFE: Well, Chris, we're doing everything we can in the core battlegrounds — Ohio, where Senator Obama will be today, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana. All of those states — we're doing everything we think we need to do to try and win.
In these three states, we've been organizing for some time. The reason Georgia is so competitive right now is all the organizational groundwork we put in, why you're seeing early vote numbers in such large measure. So in North Dakota, Georgia, Arizona, we think all three of those are going to be close.
And there's benefit to having a playing field to yourself. One of the reasons we're so strong in states like Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, even Florida, is the McCain campaign was arrogant. They were asleep at the switch and thought those states would not be competitive.
So we had, you know, two or three months' head start advertising, organizing. So in North Dakota, Georgia and Arizona, we think we have the playing field to ourselves. We think all three will be close.
And we're going to give it a shot to see how — now, I think John McCain should be favored in all three of those states, but we think they're going to be very close.
And if you look at Georgia, the early vote there, similar to North Carolina, is just striking in terms of its composition. And you know, we think we're headed to a very close finish there.
WALLACE: We want to talk about turnout. You say that one of the keys to your strategy is to expand the electorate and get people to vote, certain groups, in ways that — numbers they never have before.
Let's look at the 2004 exit polls, because they show that in 2004, 17 percent of the voters were between the ages of 18 and 29, so- called young voters; 11 percent were black; and 11 percent were first- time voters.
Rick Davis says that he doesn't see those percentages changing. The total turnout may increase, but not the percentages of those groups.
In fact, do you see those groups representing a larger part of this electorate than they did four years ago?
PLOUFFE: We do, in the battleground states. We're obviously not running a national campaign. We're just focused on about 16 states.
So in those states, I think you will see younger voters make up a higher percentage of the electorate. I think African American turnout will certainly be higher in most of them. I think you may see Hispanic higher — turnout higher in states like New Mexico and Nevada.
So you know, you look at North Carolina right now — about 27 percent of the early vote is African American. In 2004, I believe the African American turnout was 18 percent
So even if that slides based on what happens on Election Day, it's going to be a much higher percentage of the electorate. We're seeing younger voters, which was a big part of our primary success, turning out.
I mean, I think the McCain campaign wants to believe that these younger voters aren't going to turn out, and I think on Tuesday night they're going to have a clear sense that they did.
WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about that, because as we said, 17 percent of the voters in the exit polls, 2004, younger voters — I understand you're focusing on battleground states, but are you saying it's going to be more than 17 percent in some of those battleground states?
PLOUFFE: Well, again, it — you know, in some of those states, that number was higher or lower in 2004, but yes, where we're putting in the effort, I think first-time registrants of all ages — younger voters, African American voters — you're going to see their turnout percentages increase.
And obviously, like in Florida, a state where there's an enormous number of sporadic-voting Democrats who did not vote in 2004, one of the things we're seeing that we're so pleased with in Florida is a lot of the people voting early are not regular voters. They're people who have newly been registered or who did not vote in 2004.
And so we think we've got a huge ability to improve the electorate for ourselves in Florida.
WALLACE: Karl Rove, who's going to be on in the next segment, helped invent what's known as the 72-hour project to flood battleground states with armies of volunteers, many of them neighbors — not strangers canvassing in neighborhoods, but neighbors talking to neighbors, armed and aided by micro-targeting to turn out their vote.
To what degree have you copied Rove's play book? And to what degree do you think you've improved on it?
PLOUFFE: Well, I would never admit to copying Karl Rove's play book, but there's no doubt that what the Bush people did in 2004 was impressive.
They had neighbors talking to neighbors. They did a remarkable job increasing Republican turnout in states like Ohio and Florida.
What we've tried to do is have neighbors, colleagues, friends and family talking. Senator Obama did a call last night with 20,000 of our team leaders around the country who are the backbone of the campaign.
And what we see is — we don't think the McCain campaign have really done a good job of emulating the Bush play book of 2004. They're doing a lot of robo calls, a lot of paid calls.
We don't see much activity on the ground, and honestly, right now, phone calls are getting less and less effective. People are tired of being called. So you've got to be at their doors.
And yesterday we had the biggest day of the campaign in terms of canvassing. So we really have tried to build localized campaigns so that in Lorain, Ohio and Tallahassee, Florida; Roanoke, Virginia we've got people from those communities who are out making the case to the remaining undecideds and reminding their neighbors who are supporting Senator Obama to vote.
And we think that's going to be a huge advantage on Tuesday. You know, the McCain campaign in the closing days really can be defined by nastier and nastier robo calls.
And I think what we're doing is meeting people where they live and talking to them about the challenges they face in their lives.
WALLACE: David, I asked Rick Davis about voter suppression, and to be fair and balanced I want to ask you about voter fraud.
ACORN, as Davis mentioned, is alleged to have filed thousands of bogus voter registration in at least 14 states. The FBI is investigating.
In 2003, the Indiana supreme court overturned a mayor's race because of fraud in absentee ballots.
In 2005, a Tennessee state senate race was voided because there was evidence that dead people and felons had voted.
I know that the Obama campaign likes to call this all a smear, but isn't voter fraud a legitimate issue?
PLOUFFE: Well, first, on registration, we're proud of how many millions of people have registered to vote in this campaign. We, as a campaign, made it a priority. A lot of people on their own are doing it.
Obviously, if there was voter registration fraud, the officials are looking at that. These people aren't going to vote on Election Day. Mickey Mouse, Tony Roma, are not going to vote. And obviously, that voter registration fraud should be investigated.
What we're seeing is in Indiana, you know, our opposition tried to limit the number of early vote sites. When the governor of Florida made, I think, a terrific decision to extend early vote, you know, you saw some grumbling from our opponents down in Florida.
So our view on this is simple. We want it to be as easy as possible for people to vote. They need to do so legally, obviously. And I think what you're going to see on Tuesday is just a great turnout.
Now, we're obviously going to monitor all the precincts in all the battleground states to make sure none of the normal suppression activities are effective.
But our sense is that people — whether they are voting for John McCain or Barack Obama, people understand this is a big election with big stakes. I think we should celebrate it in this country that so many people are participating in their democracy.
I think you're going to see historic turnout on Tuesday, and I think that's good for America, and we also think it will be good for our campaign.
WALLACE: On the money side, your campaign is allowing donors to use pre-paid credit cards to contribute, which are almost untraceable. You have not disclosed the names of millions of small donors.
I know that both of those are legal, but does that live up to the standards of Obama's new kind of politics?
PLOUFFE: Well, we are, obviously, following the FEC requirements strictly. We, obviously, have returned a lot of money when people have exceeded their contribution limits, if we've seen something that's fraudulent.
Now, this is something that's affected both campaigns. The McCain campaign has a huge number of anonymous donors, people like Jesus II who have given them multiple contributions.
So what we have done is we've got a rigorous compliance operation to catch all that and have returned a lot of money. And obviously, if something gets brought to our attention that we didn't catch that's a problem, we'll return it.
I think what should be celebrated about our campaign is we have over 3 million people who have contributed to our campaign — teachers, firefighters, nurses, retirees. They're making up the backbone of this field organization in the country.
And it's a real re-engagement in terms of the political process for millions of Americans. And we think that's good for the country. We also think it's going to help us win on Tuesday.
WALLACE: As we said at the top, you very rarely come on television, so I want to take this opportunity to ask you a couple of questions.
Over the last two years, your big insight, or at least it's credited to you, is that you, during the Democratic race, understood that with two well financed candidates like Obama and Clinton, it was going to be a matter of a delegate race, a prolonged race, and that caucuses were just as important as primaries.
What was your strategic insight for the general election?
PLOUFFE: Well, I think as a campaign, we decided — and we've obviously got terrific people working on this campaign who helped make these decisions.
Our number one strategic goal was to have a big playing field. We did not want to wake up on the morning of November 4th waiting for one state. We wanted a lot of different ways to win this election.
Now, that wouldn't be possible without Senator Obama's appeal. We thought he'd have appeal in the western part of the country, have appeal in the mid-Atlantic and states like Virginia and North Carolina. So — but we accomplished that.
Right now John McCain is playing an enormous amount of defense. And again, they did not think states like Indiana, Florida, North Carolina, Montana would be competitive.
Through the summer, through the early fall, we were campaigning there and advertising and organizing, and our opponent left the playing field empty.
And so here we find ourselves two days out from the election with a lot of different ways to get to 270 electoral votes. We do not have to pull an inside straight. And so strategically, that was our most important goal.
And again, one of the reasons we're able to do that is the organization. We can take on this big task of having this many states because we had millions of Americans who are owning the campaign in their own community and are our most effective messengers.
WALLACE: David, we've got about a minute left, and I've got two quick questions to ask you.
First of all, if — I repeat if — Obama wins, would you be interested in coming to his White House?
PLOUFFE: I've got to get through Tuesday, Chris. This has been a long two years. And I've got a wife and a son and a new one on the way, so I've got to dig in with my family here. So I'm trying to get to the finish line on Tuesday, and I will have done my part.
WALLACE: Well, and that brings us to the second question I wanted to ask you. In fact, you do have a very big event coming and that is not the election. It's the birth of your second child.
In fact, that's the reason you're in Washington. Your wife, as I understand it, was due yesterday. What do you do if you're in Chicago on election morning and you get the word your wife's in labor?
PLOUFFE: I will get back as quickly as I can and head to the hospital. First things first, and we're obviously so excited about that. We're hoping that our new one will wait till after Tuesday, but either way we'll be thrilled.
WALLACE: But you're saying that if election morning you find out that the new one's coming and isn't waiting for the election, you're going to leave Chicago and head off to the hospital?
WALLACE: Boy, there are — a lot of people in the Beltway are going to question your priorities, David.
PLOUFFE: Well, listen, we've got a great team in Chicago and I'll probably just get in the way if I'm there on Tuesday anyway.
But no, I think we're going to have a great Election Day, and we're going to have a great turnout, and I think at some point the night of November 4th or the morning of November 5th, Barack Obama will win this election and will be the 44th president of the United States.
WALLACE: David, we want to thank you so much for coming in and talking with us. And now that you know where we are, don't be a stranger.
And good luck and congratulations on the impending birth of your second child.
PLOUFFE: Thank you, Chris.
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