• This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," October 18, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: Coming up on "The Journal Editorial Report," with just over two weeks to go, Joe the plumber steals the show and puts the tax and spend issue front and center in the presidential campaign. Can it help John McCain close the gap?

    Plus, another roller coaster ride on Wall Street. Recession fears take hold despite the government's historic plan to shore up U.S. banks.

    And cracking the ACORN. A closer look at the controversial group, the allegations of fraud and its past ties to Barack Obama.

    "The Journal Editorial Report" begins right now.

    Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." And I'm Paul Gigot.

    Well, forget Bill Ayers, Joe the plumber is the hottest name in the presidential race. And with just two weeks to go, he has put the candidates' tax plans front and center. But the question remains, can the McCain campaign make the most of this opportunity?

    Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady, opinionjournal.com journalist John Fund, and Washington columnist Kim Strassel.

    Kim, a couple of weeks to go in the campaign, all the polls show John McCain is trailing anywhere from 2 to 14 points, depending on the poll. What's McCain's strategy for the home stretch?

    KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: The value of Joe the plumber is that it really encapsulates what looks as though it's going to be McCain's closing argument. And that McCain argument runs something like this. That with any luck, the financial crisis, the immediate problem, maybe we're getting through hopefully. So now people are starting to wonder, how do we deal with the aftermath? How do we ride out this downturn?

    What John McCain is saying, my opponent over here, he believes government is always the answer. He wants bigger government. He's going to tax people to get bigger government. And I'm saying to you, I want Joe the plumbers out there to have their money, keep their money, make their decision, create more jobs. So that's going to be the debate that he's going to try to make. And I think that's going to be his best shot in closing out this election.

    GIGOT: Dan, does that get him passed — I guess, over the hump? Can that make the argument, especially when he hasn't rebutted the Obama claim that 95 percent of Americans are going to get a tax cut?

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yes, in all honesty, it's a little bit late in the campaign to try to mouth an argument like that. Maybe it will work, if he could couple it with the fact that Obama has so little experience and that you're loading up so much responsibility on him. It's possible that, come November 4th, people may say, I cannot go there with Barack Obama.

    But one of the problems is the financial crisis, pretty knocked the presidential campaign off the pages for two weeks. So they lost two-week's time to make these arguments. But Obama himself, however, persistently in the debates describes the level of spending that he intends to commit to. And it's enormous. It's mind boggling.

    GIGOT: Did Joe the plumber — use of Joe the plumber did open up a fundamental truth about this race and about some of the Obama agenda that maybe most Americans haven't seen, which is there's going to be of an enormous tax increase leveled on this economy if Barack Obama wins.

    MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: I think this is the great thing about what happened in the debate is that McCain finally got Obama to admit that his idea of good government is that, yes, he's going to punish up and coming entrepreneurs, but it's OK as long as he makes the people on the lower rungs better off. And we call that socialism. And not only is that something most Americans don't like, but it's also, we know economically speaking, it means a smaller pie and less to divide up every year that you go on with that kind of policy.

    GIGOT: John, I guess the argument is that liberal conservative dichotomy on taxes and other issues that Mary talked about might have worked — has worked in the past. We know it. But it doesn't seem to have the same salience this year. Is that because of the economy we're in or is it just it's their tired arguments?

    JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM JOURNALIST: Also, the Republicans have been in charge eight years, and that's a lot longer than the Democrats have been in charge in Congress. They get the onus. I also think John McCain has not a consistently anti-government message. For example, on the biggest part of the tax increase, which may be the cap and trade legislation that regulates all the economic activity in this country in order to control global warming.

    GIGOT: Cap trade on all carbon emissions, being oil and coal and anything except nuclear power and alternatives, so just about the entire energy economy.

    FUND: The unelected Environmental Protection Agency may be imposing this on the economy without even a vot4e of Congress. Both John McCain and Barack Obama are pretty much on board.