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Transcript: Rick Davis on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the Sept. 7, 2008, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Joining us now to give us John McCain's game plan for the final sprint to November is campaign manager Rick Davis.

And, Rick, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER RICK DAVIS: Thank you, Chris.

WALLACE: Well, as a matter of personal privilege, I'm going to give you the opportunity to respond to David Axelrod, who said, you know, for all this talk about wait till we come in and shake the lobbyists, but the campaign team of McCain is filled with lobbyists or, in your case, former lobbyists. How do you respond?

DAVIS: Oh, I think that, you know, it's just more of the same from David Axelrod. I mean, they've been running against ghosts of the past all along. And I think it just shows that they don't really have anything to talk about.

If they want to run against Rick Davis or our campaign staff, let them. I think it's hilarious. I think it's a wonderful distraction from the real issues that we're trying to debate.

It's a classic example of a campaign that doesn't have anything else to say, so they pick on staff.

WALLACE: Let's turn to the choice of Sarah Palin as the running mate. What does she add to the ticket? Does she bring new states into play? How are you going to use her?

DAVIS: Well, I think she is exactly what we needed to really focus the public's attention on the fact that the brand of John McCain, the maverick, the independent, the guy who's been railing against corruption and ethics abuses in Washington, the guy who wants reform government — and she reinforces that.

And it is a wonderful thing for our campaign to be able to get this kind of attention on our ticket for — coming out of the convention. We've had wonderful events, fantastic rallies. People are excited about this ticket. And let me tell you, this is a ticket that will govern Washington.

WALLACE: But aren't you vastly exaggerating her record as a reformer? Take a look. As mayor of Wasilla, she hired a Washington lobbyist and got $27 million in earmarks.

And in her less than two years as governor, Alaska has asked for $589 million in pork barrel projects. Her record as a reformer, particularly on the issue of earmarks, is far from clean.

DAVIS: Well, let's be clear about this. When she was mayor of Wasilla, there were already people in place who were getting those grants from the federal government. And small towns do a lot of that kind of activity because mayors...

WALLACE: She hired a Washington lobbyist who was supposed to...

DAVIS: ... mayors...

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: ... already involved in that, and so...

WALLACE: She hired a — she...

DAVIS: But let me also point out these...

WALLACE: ... she did hire a lobbyist.

DAVIS: ... these pork barrel projects that you talk about — these were not projects that she tried to get. These were projects that the Republican establishment in Alaska, who she campaigned against and beat many times over — were the ones picking those grants up.

Let me remind you, she vetoed more bills. She cut back on more pork barrel spending in the state legislature than any previous governor. She converted that legislature into reform because she passed ethics reforms and corruption reforms.

She railed against the establishment in Alaska and was able to accomplish great things like passing a significant energy bill that allowed them to create a natural gas pipeline.

These are all things that a true reformer is able to accomplish. So you know, I don't disagree with the fact that these — there were pork barrel projects coming to Alaska, but not from her. Within the state legislature, she beat back those efforts.

WALLACE: Wait a minute. First of all...

DAVIS: She's not a federal...

WALLACE: ... as governor, Alaska — during her 1.5 years, 2 years as governor, Alaska continued to get more federal money for pork barrel projects per capita than any state in the country.

DAVIS: Yeah.

WALLACE: And she was...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: This works better...

DAVIS: Sure.

WALLACE: ... if I get to ask the question.

DAVIS: OK.

WALLACE: And she supported the "bridge to nowhere," and it was only after the federal government dropped it out and killed it, the Congress killed it, that she then opposed it. And in fact, she still got the money for the approach, the ramp, to the "bridge to nowhere."

DAVIS: Congress didn't beat back the "bridge to nowhere." That funding...

WALLACE: I know, but she accepted the money.

DAVIS: That funding was in the grant, and she said, "I'm not spending that money." And what they did — they took a $500 million bridge and she turned it into a $2 million ferry. And that's what she did on her own without any help from anybody else.

WALLACE: Well, actually, it was Congress that killed the money for the "bridge to nowhere."

But let me move on to something else. Governor Palin has given some very good speeches this week, and I think everybody, Republican or Democrat, would say that she was very effective at the Republican convention.

She has not answered a single question from the national media. When is she going to agree to an interview?

DAVIS: She'll agree to an interview when we think it's time and when she feels comfortable doing it.

Look, your network last night had a wonderful special on — Greta van Susteren had an intimate portrayal of this mayor or this governor when she was in Alaska still and not on our ticket. It was a wonderful look inside who Sarah Palin is — a working mother, you know, a brave and courageous politician. And I think you all did a great job of doing it.

It's not like there's no information out there about Sarah Palin, the governor, the mother, the agent for change. There's plenty out there, and I don't think...

WALLACE: Why is she scared to answer...

DAVIS: I don't think our campaign...

WALLACE: Why is she scared to answer questions?

DAVIS: I don't think our campaign is the campaign that has not given immense amount of access to the press. That's the Obama campaign.

WALLACE: Why is she scared to answer questions?

DAVIS: She's not scared to answer questions. But you know what? We run our campaign, not the news media. And we'll do things on our timetable. And honestly, this last week was not an exemplary moment for the news media.

WALLACE: I understand that.

DAVIS: And so why would we want to throw Sarah Palin into a cycle of piranhas called the news media that have nothing better to ask questions about than her personal life and her children?

And I think our attitude would be why don't we let that pass until we expose her to...

WALLACE: I think there are legitimate questions that — and it doesn't have to be a huge news conference. I'm not telling you how to run your campaign.

DAVIS: Sure.

WALLACE: There are legitimate questions about is she or is she not ready to be commander in chief. If last week didn't work, why not this week?

DAVIS: Sarah Palin will have the opportunity to speak to the American people. She just gave a speech to 40 million Americans in her convention.

WALLACE: But that was reading a script. She's not answering questions.

DAVIS: She's in the process of, you know, getting to know people out on the campaign trail, and she will do interviews, but she'll do them on the terms and conditions of which the campaign decides that it's ready to do it.

And, Chris, all due respect, I mean, you know, the information that the news media has been putting out on Sarah Palin is not what I would call objective journalism.

So until at which point in time we feel like the news media is going to treat her with some level of respect and deference, I think it would be foolhardy to put her out into that kind of environment.

WALLACE: Well, you just said that you — what a great job Fox News did with this piece last night.

DAVIS: You did.

WALLACE: You just praised it.

DAVIS: Absolutely.

WALLACE: My only point is there are legitimate questions to ask her, whether it's For anybody else, about what — is she ready to be president, what does she know about foreign policy.

DAVIS: Absolutely. No question about that. And she will be available to the news media when and if we decide that that is going to be the case.

WALLACE: So you're not at this point willing to say when.

DAVIS: No.

WALLACE: Let's get back to your comment last week that I discussed with David Axelrod.

DAVIS: Sure.

WALLACE: And let's put it up on the screen again. "This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates."

And here's how Democratic running mate Joe Biden reacted to your convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.: The silence of the Republican Party was deafening. It was deafening on jobs, on health care, on environment, on all the things that matter to the people in the neighborhoods I grew up in. Deafening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Rick, do you want to focus on personality or a composite view of the candidates, not issues, because of the fact, for instance, that we've got 6.1 percent unemployment, the highest in five years?

DAVIS: No, Chris. And what you didn't — what you didn't show on the screen was the next sentence, which is the composite view is made up of people's values. It's made up of their opinions. It's made up of their judgment and their principles.

And so then I let — then the next sentence says, "And of course, issues will play an important role in people's final decision."

So I respect the fact that the Obama campaign has some kind of a — you know, obsession about Rick Davis. I've been the focus of their advertising, and now their candidate seems to be, you know, wanting to attack me more than anybody else. That's fine. The water is warm. I'm happy to go toe to toe.

But to insinuate yesterday on the stump that somehow those comments implied that I was going to, you know, indicate that he was going to have these Muslim connections or that he had these radical relationships is absolutely out of control. I mean, what is this guy trying to do?

WALLACE: But wait. All right, the Muslim thing may be not fair. Your campaign has talked about the fact that he had this relationship with William Ayres.

DAVIS: Absolutely, but does that quote indicate that? I mean, that's the quote that he...

WALLACE: Well, radical connections — that's what William Ayres is.

DAVIS: But where in that quote is radical connections? I mean, understand something. This is the same...

WALLACE: No, but you just quoted what Obama said on the trail yesterday.

DAVIS: Absolutely, yesterday, against my quote. He said this is what they're saying by saying that it's about personalities. I didn't even say personalities. He's not correct in the way he's quoting me.

And he tries to use that to try and scare you. He says, "They're going to tell you that we're going to scare people. They're going to tell you that, you know — that I've got Muslim connections." Well, this is the same construct he's done before. He's trying to play victim, and I just don't think it's very flattering on his part.

WALLACE: OK. McCain keeps talking about change is coming. But on all the big bread-and-butter issues — taxes, Social Security, energy, trade, health care — there really are not big differences between John McCain and George Bush.

DAVIS: Oh, I think that change is coming. I mean, look at — George Bush couldn't get anything done on Social Security.

I mean, I think that's a fundamental difference between John McCain and George Bush in the sense that I think John McCain's approach to Social Security — getting Democrats to come over to the White House, sit down and get a deal so that we can take this off the table so that not only the people who are currently getting Social Security can feel like they're safe and secure, but all those people in the pipeline to receive it in the future know what their benefits are going to be and what it's going to cost.

WALLACE: But wait a minute. Let's take Social Security as an example. In fact, McCain's Social Security plan is almost identical to George W. Bush's. He's talking about some reform of the system plus private accounts.

You're never going to get private accounts through a Democratic Congress.

DAVIS: The difference is the approach. George Bush said, "Take it or leave it. Here's the way we do it. Private accounts go first and then the balance of the Social Security system has to be fixed in the process."

John McCain says exactly the opposite. John McCain says, "Give me the leadership of Congress, whether Republicans or Democrats, I don't care. Come over to the White House, sit down and let's find out a way to take this off the table."

And then once we satisfy the American public that we've fixed the Social Security system well into the future, then let's sit down and look at Medicare and Medicaid, because those are the things that really are sapping our federal budget.

So what the difference is — and I think this is an important difference, and it is change politically — is that John McCain has a history of getting things done in Congress by sitting down with people who are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

He'll sit down with the Democrats, independents, Republicans alike and say, "We have got to change this system." He's got a long history of doing that. Nobody has passed more bipartisan reforms in Congress than John McCain, and he'll do it as president.

WALLACE: So you're willing to concede that his starting out point is very similar to George W. Bush's on all of these bread-and- butter issues, but that it's — the difference will be the approach in how he deals with Congress?

DAVIS: Oh, I think there are lots of differences in some of these bread-and-butter issues. I think our approach on taxes and trade, even though as a Republican are very similar to George Bush — we have different proposals today.

I mean, look. And most importantly, we have different proposals than Barack Obama, who has this — somehow believes that raising taxes is going to cure an ailing economy. I mean, you know, economics 101 will tell you don't raise taxes into a recession. John McCain has said it over and over.

We have to get more money in the pockets of the American public.

WALLACE: I want to get you to talk strategy over the next 58 days. And let's put up, again, Karl Rove's electoral map, which shows Obama leading in states with 260 electoral votes — again, 270 needed to win the presidency.

Obviously, it's still fluid, but doesn't Obama have many more ways to get to 270 when you look at that map than you do?

DAVIS: No. I think maps are maps and polls are polls, and we're really not going to worry about it. Look. If we were worried about polls, we would have given up a year ago.

What is really amazing about that map, in my opinion, is Colorado. The Democrats just spent tens of millions, maybe $100 million, in Colorado with their convention. They dominated the news media for weeks at a time.

And John McCain just went in to Colorado and had a huge rally, incredibly enthusiastic support. And even though the Democrats have spent tens of millions of dollars in a state that is a clear targeted state, they weren't able to move it into their column.

WALLACE: OK. We've got less than a minute left, and I want to finish with the same question that I asked David Axelrod.

If you had to frame in one or two sentences the choice that you want voters to have in their minds on election day, what would it be?

DAVIS: Well, I think it was really exemplified in the conventions. Our convention focused on putting your country first. John McCain has always put his country first throughout his career — and willing to sacrifice his own political interests for the country at large.

The Obama convention — it was all "me first." I mean, Barack Obama has put himself ahead of the Democratic Party, ahead of the country's interests and ahead of his party's interests. And that is a — that is a — a history in the way he's conducted himself in his public life that I think is a clear difference between the two candidates.

WALLACE: Rick Davis, we want to thank you for coming in and talking with us today, and please come back.

DAVIS: Thank you.