This is a rush transcript from "The Beltway Boys", August 9, 2008, that has been edited for clarity.
FRED BARNES, FOX CO-HOST: Coming up on "The Beltway Boys," John McCain trumps Barack Obama when it comes to the country's hottest issues. Has Obama lost his presidential mojo?
JEFF BIRNBAUM, FOX GUEST CO-HOST: The economy hanging on by a thread. But we've discovered a silver lining. Wait until you hear what it is.
BARNES: Hillary Clinton says she hasn't decided on her role for the convention yet. Is there dissension in the Democratic ranks?
BIRNBAUM: And an astonishing finale in the key conviction of Salim Hamdan.
BARNES: All that, plus "The Buzz" coming up on "The Beltway Boys," right now.
I'm Fred Barnes.
BIRNBAUM: I'm Jeff Birnbaum, in for Mort Kondracke. Tonight we're "The Beltway Boys."
Tonight's hot story, Obama fatigue. There are a few indications that Barack Obama has lost his luster. For starters, the polls are starting to tighten.
Fred, we have seen some very strong polling for this summer for Barack Obama. But the Rasmussen reports — that tracking poll, reports that McCain is now trusted more than Obama on nine out of 14 major issues.
McCain's biggest advantage is on Iraq. He leads Obama 51-39 percent, a core issue of the McCain campaign. McCain also leads Obama by 4 points on the country's hottest topic, energy. Obama manages to keep up with McCain on the economy. They're tied at 45 percent. That's down from two weeks ago when Obama was slightly ahead in that category. but Obama continues to lead on one of the most important issues, health care. Obama leads McCain by 5 percentage points. But the bad news for Obama is that that's down from 12 points two weeks ago.
Fred, there are some big name polls out showing Obama nationally in a general face-to-face against McCain is ahead by a good 5 percentage points or better. But these internal indications show there may be problems with Obama, which he shouldn't really be having given the weakness in the economy overall, which should be helping his candidacy.
BARNES: It should be. Doesn't seem to be. We have a touch on the larger forces which are directing this campaign. Things like the sour economy and greater voter registrations, new registrations for Democrats way over Republicans. Party I.D., unpopular, administration, which is a Republican administration. I can run down the list. The larger forces are also really lifting. I think Obama — but he hasn't gotten that out in the polls for sure.
There's another indication that worry Democrats and that's the question of whether Obama is fighting back strongly and toughly enough. Watch these two ads and see what you think. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AD ANNOUNCER: Life in the spotlight must be grand. But for the rest of us, times are tough. Obama voted to raise taxes on people making just $42,000. He promises more taxes on small business, seniors, your life savings, your family
AD ANNOUNCER: He's the original maverick.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president and I agree on most issues. There's a recent study that shows I voted with the president over 90 percent of the time.
AD ANNOUNCER: John McCain supports Bush's tax ruts for millionaires but nothing for 100 million households.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNES: Well, wait a minute. I want to mention one other thing. I think that McCain easily wins that battle of the ads. You may disagree.
And I was struck by another thing that happened. We all remember Obama in Berlin. 200,000 people there. Well, compare that with McCain in Sturgis, South Dakota before 50,000 bikers. Now, I think when you compare those two, I think McCain wins that one, as well as the ad fight.
BIRNBAUM: I have to agree with you, Fred. I think Obama loses the macho contest in that latest breakdown. I think Democrats are even worried that Obama may have a John Kerry-like problem, that he's not willing to punch back hard enough.
And I think there's an overall indication, yet a third one here, among Democrats. There are still some Democrats who have doubts about Obama. A recent poll put on by FOX shows that McCain has more support from his father faithful. 86 percent of Republicans back him while only 75 percent of Democrats are ready and willing to vote for Obama. That's — that shows an indication there may be some left over bad feelings about Obama versus Clinton, Hillary Clinton, still left over from the primary contest. And Obama really hasn't made the sale to his own base, which is really fundamental to him winning the presidency, I think, Fred.
BARNES: I think the good news for him is with McCain doing better with his base than Obama is — Obama's base is a lot bigger at this point. McCain could not just rely on his base. You couldn't have a base mobilization election the way President Bush did in 2004 because the Republican base is smaller. Actually the Democratic base is a little bigger. McCain is the guy that has to go to the center.
BIRNBAUM: Actually, one of the most interesting indicators about Obama fatigue or potential Obama fatigue is not a poll at all. It is an actual count of noses. I guess a count of eyes, eyeballs on YouTube.com. This, the most surprising one of all. The "Washington Times" reported this week that over the last couple weeks there have been more viewers of McCain videos on youtube.com than there are of Barack Obama. That's very hard to imagine, that — so strongly for Barack Obama. Maybe McCain is finding his legs somehow or maybe he has better videos. I'm not sure exactly what it is.
But it is a straw in the wind indicating that Obama needs to step up his game somehow, even among the people he's most popular with, we thought, younger voters.
BARNES: One thing that appeals to younger voters, and it's something McCain has more of than Obama — a sense of humor. Unfortunately, Obama is kind of humorless.
I wanted to mention one other thing. Obama is — I'll suspect you'll agree with this. I don't think Obama — hasn't for a while, transcended normal politics. Remember during the primaries, he was going to bring us together and he was going to change — change you can believe in. He's different from all American politicians that we've ever heard of in recent years. And now it's gotten down, he's descended into the nitty-gritty campaigns and elections and he's become a quite different Barack Obama. He's for handing out money, taxing the oil companies and giving you a check for $1,000. I'm still waiting for this.
And this is our week. It proved to me that he's — he transcends at least a little bit. That is if he'll buck some of the special interest groups of the party, those special interest groups. I think an example of his not doing that was his energy plan that he put out a few days ago. It could have been written by the Sierra group or some other group. And maybe it was. But there's nothing about nuclear power, nothing about drilling for oil, nothing about economic growth. Look, he's got to do better than that if he's going to be transcendent.
BIRNBAUM: I think, Fred, he needs to worry about making too many changes. McCain has already labeled him a flip-flopper. If he begins to change his positions too much, I think Obama may have an even worse problem on his hands than the one that you suggest McCain is trying to put on him.
BARNES: All right. Coming up, house Republicans continue to protest on Capitol Hill. And mixed messages on the economy with new concerns. Can the markets hold on?
(FOX NEWS BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ROY BLUNT, (R), MISSOURI: We think the energy needs of the country are more important than Nancy Pelosi's book tour. $23.95 a book is a lot of money but it only would go a short way toward filling up gas tanks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNES: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys."
Hot story number two, oil falling. Republicans are on to something. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as I think you'll agree, Jeff, has made a major world-class Olympic-size blunder in shutting down Congress so Republicans couldn't have a vote whether to open up offshore oil drilling. And so in response, of course, Republicans have stayed on the House floor. The House is in recess but they've stayed on the House floor talking about this, demanding drilling, criticizing Nancy Pelosi, calling for a vote. To him, it's the moratorium on oil drilling.
I think, Jeff, this thing started out as a stunt. Over the last few days, at some point, the stunt became a major political event.
And the real reason is — Jeff, you've seen Republicans this year. You probably have never seen a more downcast group.
BARNES: At any time. This is the first thing that has enlivened them. I wouldn't say electrified them but have gotten hem whipped up and happy and optimistic about the — maybe they're not dead yet.
BIRNBAUM: I agree with you that this was a major world-class Olympic- sized stunt. I think that's one of the reasons most Americans are not paying a whole lot of attention to it. I know it probably does help with the morale of Republicans, that they have finally some issue where the Democrats made a big mistake.
It's quite clear that Nancy Pelosi really made an error by not allowing for a vote on more drilling, especially offshore, given the price of gasoline before allowing the House to go out for a five-week recess. That was clearly a mistake. And I think it will cost Democrats. There may be Democrats not elected to the House of Representatives because of this. It's perfectly possible.
But it is also true, I think, that most people are not paying attention to the couple dozen Republicans on the floor protesting. What they are paying attention to is the price of energy. And there, I think, Nancy Pelosi is going to be beaten, not by the Republicans, but because she's on a very small minority position. She will be rolled when Congress does finally return in September. There will, in all likelihood, be a vote for — that will include more drilling. And she will lose that vote. That will be the major victory.
I'm not sure the Republicans are the cause of it. I think the price of energy is, Fred.
BARNES: And certainly that's changing somewhat.
I want to add two things. And I know you wanted to talk a little bit more about the price of energy. All Americans are not watching the Republicans, what they're doing sometimes in the dark on the House floor. But Republicans are. Talk radio and these other outlets say Republicans are paying attention to, are reporting on this and exciting Republicans.
BIRNBAUM: Let me try to add just another forward-looking piece here. I think a lot of pundits are making a mistake by thinking that the price of energy, as it is now, it's going to continue to be that way. That's not the case. The price of oil is already at its lowest point in the last three months. It's been going down. It stands at $18 a barrel. That's a drastic decline from a month ago when it was about $150 a barrel.
Now, here's a bit of perspective. I think the average price of gas is now about $3.85. It was in the middle of July when gas hit an all-time high of $4.11. What's more, we can expect to keep seeing that drop. It's been on the decline in fact for the last — for the last 21 days straight.
In all likelihood, Fred, I think the price of gasoline is going to decline. It almost always does after the heavy driving season of the summer. By the time we get to the election, especially if Nancy Pelosi is rolled and there is a bill that calls for more oil drilling, we will not hear the candidates talking exclusively about oil. It will not be the issue that it was — it is now. The economy, I think, will still be a very important issue. It just won't be gasoline-centric the way it has been.
BARNES: This issue though, in the short run, has worked beautifully for the Republicans. They needed something on which they were correct and that would lift their spirits and this was it.
BIRNBAUM: Coming up, the Clintons are back in the spotlight. And the Olympics in China, but not without a bit of controversy.
BARNES: Welcome back. Let's check out the "Ups and Downs" for the week.
Down, Hillary Clinton. The Democratic Party and Barack Obama, for that matter, thought the days of Clinton were long done. While she still retains the delegates she earned during the primaries, it was hoped there would be a peaceful hand-over at the convention. But recent comments indicate that might not be the case. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D), NEW YORK: The best way I think — and I could be wrong — but the best way I think to do that is to have a strategy so that my delegates feel like they've had a role and that their legitimacy has been validated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BIRNBAUM: Well, Fred, I'm sure she would like to have a lot of legitimacy. She went on to say she wanted a catharsis among her supporters. There will likely be a lot of demonstrations.
But I think she's not likely to get everything she wants. Obama would very much like to prevent her from getting a role call, put her name in nomination.
But everybody will be watching for one thing — this is the main sub- plot of the Democratic convention — how will the Clintons undercut Obama? Clearly, something is going to happen. It always does. That will be the main — it could be the only drama that happens in this otherwise scripted event. What do you think?
BARNES: Look, I think skullduggery is the word you were trying to think of there.
But whatever they do there at the convention, it's not going to be with the idea of electing Obama president. What you're talking about is a demonstration. Hillary gets up to speak Tuesday night. There's a demonstration by her delegates, noisy, all over the floor. It doesn't stop. It goes on and on, on primetime TV. The next night, Wednesday, Bill Clinton gets up there, another demonstration, on and on. It would not be what the Obama people want for sure.
BIRNBAUM: Right. It will stop before the roll call.
Down. China. The eyes of the world are firmly fixed on the country this week with the start of the Olympic Games. and we're holding our breath they go off without a hitch of course. But between violence in the north, extreme protests and an icy relationship between Bush and the Chinese government, we're less optimistic.
BARNES: Yes, well, look, the International Olympic Committee and China are similar. They're common. They're arrogant. They're undemocratic. They're highhanded. And I don't think the Olympics should have gone to China in the first place. but they're there. I think we need to get over this political story. After the Olympics, we can go back to it and talk about all the bad things China does.
Let's focus on the athletes now. I don't want sports writers talking about politics. There's the great American basketball team, men's and women's soccer team.
Jeff, this is the last Olympics where we have baseball because the Olympic Committee is ending it. Mainly, because it's an American sport. But it's athletes that matter now.
BIRNBAUM: Well, Yes. I think also that Bush was trying very hard to make sure that the Chinese knew he didn't like their human rights activities and tried to do that in Thailand before he got, I think, to China. He probably will be criticized though, before the athletes take center stage, for showing up as he did at that spectacular opening day on Friday night.
BARNES: I won't criticize it.
Down, the Pentagon. A military tribunal delivered a guilty verdict for Usama bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan. While Hamdan was found guilty on all five counts of providing material support for terrorism, he was only sentenced to five and a half years in prison and the judge gave him a credit of five years already served at Gitmo. This is sure to re-ignite the controversy, Jeff, over military tribunals.
BIRNBAUM: Yes. I think this is a black eye basically to the United States government and to the Pentagon. It points out what a lot of critics of the Bush administration have been saying that these tribunals — first the holding of all of these detainees was wrong and unjust. I mean, the judge even said to Hamdan as he was leaving, "I hope you get to see your family soon."
BIRNBAUM: This was not a good outcome for the Bush administration. And it was a great victory I think for the opponents of Gitmo.
BARNES: I think justice was not served here, but not for the reason you say. I think it was treating Hamdan as if he was a poor guy that mistakenly became the driver of Usama bin Laden. And as he said, he was shocked. I thought terrorism was going on.
You mentioned what the judge said, that captain, he said I hope — and this is what he said to Hamdan. "I hope the day comes that you return to your wife and your daughters and your country and that you are able to be a provider and a father and a husband in the best sense of those terms." And Hamdan replied, "God willing."
This man is a terrorist. He was not only the driver, the guardian of Usama bin Laden. For all that captain knows, he'll strap his wife and children with explosives and send them off to kill women and children and Americans.
BARNES: So, anyway, hang on to your hats, "The Buzz" is coming up next.
BARNES: Jeff, what's "The Buzz"?
BIRNBAUM: Well, in Detroit, the mayor there, Kwame Kilpatrick, has been in jail. He's facing all sorts of charges. I hear that to relief the poor people of Detroit who don't need anymore bad news, that they're talking about some sort of plea bargain that may end up with him actually leaving office. That would be a relief, don't you think?
BARNES: It would be a relief.
BIRNBAUM: That's "The Buzz," I hear. Fred?
BARNES: John Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidate, admitted that he had an affair. I think this makes it look bad, in a mild way, for the mainstream media, which wouldn't pick up this story from the "National Enquirer," even though Edwards is an important figure.
Secondly, and more important, think of his wife. He was out campaigning with her when she was diagnosed with cancer, rather than just stop the campaign and go home and spend time with her. Meanwhile, he was having an affair. He said her cancer was in remission at the time. Please!
All right. That's all for "The Beltway Boys" this week. Join us next week when the boys will be back in town.
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