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Transcript: Karl Rove on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the Oct. 5, 2008, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: With one month till Election Day, the national polls are interesting, but political insiders are focusing on the electoral map, especially on the battleground states.

For more, we're joined by master strategist and Fox News contributor Karl Rove.

And welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

ROVE: Good to be here.

WALLACE: Let's start with the latest Rove electoral map out just this weekend. Let's put it up on the screen.

Karl, you have Obama continuing to make gains. He's now leading in states with 273 electoral votes, three more than he needs to be elected president. McCain leads in states with 163 electoral votes in 102 states. Those in yellow are still toss-ups. What stands out here?

ROVE: Well, first of all, in the last several days, new polls — there have been 39 new state polls. We're now getting every week an avalanche of polls. I wouldn't be surprised if by the end we aren't getting more than 100 state polls a week.

In the last few days, we've seen Minnesota flip from undecided or toss-up to Obama, and we've also seen New Hampshire with its four electoral votes similarly follow into the Obama camp.

The race is also tightening in — with some states that are critical, with states for McCain to win. Ohio and Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia, Florida...

WALLACE: Let me...

ROVE: ... have all tightened up.

WALLACE: ... break in there, because one of the things that strikes me about that, those toss-up states, is that most of them are traditional Republican states — Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida.

And yet Obama is within the margin of error, actually leading in a few of those. It appears that Obama and McCain are both playing on McCain's side of the field at this moment.

ROVE: Oh, I think that's accurate. But remember, the campaign ebbs and flows. What we're seeing here is a result of the focus of the American people and of voters on the economic problems that have dominated the news the last several weeks. And what has happened then has been a shift to Obama.

Just remember, though, 17 days ago in the electoral college McCain led 227 to 216. Fifteen days ago, on the eve of the news on the bailout, he led 216 to 215. This race is susceptible to rapid changes, and we're likely to see in the remaining four weeks more.

WALLACE: Well, it's interesting. Let's put up the trend lines, because those really do show how this race has changed back and forth.

And if you look, you will see — and again, you know, focus there on the red and the blue — that two weeks ago this race was virtually even, and in these last two weeks there's been a dramatic move toward Obama. Is that all about the financial bailout?

ROVE: I think so. Yeah, I think it's also a little bit about what John McCain did during this, because in the polls what we're seeing is — is that there's slightly more downward movement for McCain than there is upward movement for Obama.

WALLACE: So what did McCain do wrong?

ROVE: Well, it may have been that people said — and again, state polls are a lagging indicator. For example, the state polls that we're looking at here have virtually no surveying done after the Palin-Biden debate.

What we may be seeing is people reacting to McCain suspending his campaign, which may have — they've seen as a political gesture, coming back, and not getting something done initially with the failure of the bill to pass the House on — a week ago Monday.

WALLACE: Now, as we have said over and over, it is just 30 days until the election, which isn't very long in a presidential campaign.

If you were playing the same role for McCain now that you played for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, how worried would you be? Would you be worried that this race was slipping away?

ROVE: Look, every day in a presidential campaign, no matter how good you are, good a position you are, is a day of worry. I mean, that — let's just say every day these guys wake up reaching for the Pepto-Bismol and worrying.

You want the campaign to be fought as much as possible on the other guy's turf. And we're down now to where McCain is playing basically on — in five John Kerry states and Obama is playing in nine Bush states.

Now, I'm not certain that all of those nine are necessarily reachable, but the map is — you know, Obama has forced this more on to the Republican turf and off of the Democratic turf, and that's where you'd like to be at this point.

WALLACE: Now, the big news this week was that McCain is pulling all of his money, all of his ads, out of Michigan.

One, is that a smart move? And two, does it deflate the troops when they hear, "Hey, this was one of the key Democratic states that we thought we could turn red and we're giving up?"

ROVE: Yeah. Well, first of all, remember, each side has now pulled out of states. We had Obama pulling out of Alaska, North Dakota, Nebraska, Georgia, all states where he spent a lot of money. So each side has to start making these kind of decisions.

The question is whether you do it smartly like Obama did, very quietly, or whether you do it in a high-profile leak, as the McCain camp did.

WALLACE: Why would they — why would they do that? Why would you...

ROVE: I don't know. I don't know. And not only that, but it set off a spat of internecine warfare inside the Michigan Republican Party with the former national committeeman sending a letter to Sarah Palin saying, "Please contest the state," and then leaking that to the members of the state central committee, which guaranteed that it would be in the hands of the press.

But let me say this. Michigan is — a lot of the campaign is going to remain there. McCain won't go there and the television ads will not be run, but all of the ground game activity — they have 30 headquarters, 1,000 phones. Those things are already paid for. They're going to complete that part of the program.

The question is — is can the state party come up with some of the money to replace some of the television advertising that would otherwise run there.

WALLACE: Let's discuss the strategy that the McCain campaign is apparently talking about for this final month of the campaign, which is a new assault on Obama's character.

First of all, you talk about going public. Is it smart to go public on the front page of the Washington Post and the New York Times yesterday and say, "We want to turn the page of the economy and go after Obama's character?"

ROVE: Again, I'd wonder about that. I mean, some of the best strategies are the strategies that you don't draw attention to.

For example, right now Obama is running a television ad in battleground states where he basically calls government-run health care an extreme and tries to position himself as somebody who wants neither — no government-run health care or all government-run health care.

I mean, he's attacking single payer, which is sort of the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. But you don't see them out there announcing that. You don't see them drawing attention to it. They simply let the tactic play out, have its impact.

WALLACE: So forgetting the question of whether they should have gone public with it, is that the best strategy for McCain, to go after Obama's character, to talk about Rezko, to talk about William Ayres?

ROVE: He think they've got to do two things. One is they've got to deal with the doubts that people have, the persistent doubts that people have, about whether or not Obama is qualified to be president.

If you take a look at like the ABC poll, CBS-New York Times or the Newsweek poll, all of them say that he has near record numbers of — record percentages of people who do not think he's qualified. I can only find one other candidate in modern American history who has higher numbers than Obama has when it comes to the percentages.

WALLACE: So how do you go after that? How do you make that point?

ROVE: Well, you have — you have to do two things, and that's why it's difficult, because you have to do two things, not one thing.

One is you have to talk about character, values and views of Obama in a way that people consider to be fair and relevant. And second of all, the McCain-Palin ticket needs to give voters a positive agenda so that the people who are concerned about his — Obama's qualifications have something to hang their hat on.

WALLACE: So talking about Tuesday's debate — and you got an extra wrinkle there, because it's not a regular debate; it's a town hall meeting, and partisan attacks don't work so well in town hall meetings — what should McCain start doing on Tuesday?

ROVE: Well, he needs to — he needs to open up on both of these fronts. And incidentally, I thought McCain — one thing that he did well in the first debate and that Obama did not do as well, is McCain's — all of McCain's attacks on Obama were impersonal and indirect.

He said, "Senator Obama does this," or, "Senator Obama voted for this." All of Senator Obama's attacks on McCain were personal and direct — "John, you." In fact, there was one attack where he said — he said "you" six times in one paragraph.

And I think the voters, to the degree that they want to hear this, want to have this more done on an impersonal fact-based basis rather than somebody just sort of poking their finger at the other candidate and yelling, "You."

WALLACE: Let's talk about Sarah Palin, who certainly had a successful debate, eased some of the doubts people have about whether she's up to the job. If you're the McCain campaign, how do you use her now?

ROVE: Again, the presidential candidate and the vice presidential candidate have to be doing the same thing. Maybe it's slightly different. That is to say, McCain does more of the positive and less of the attack. She does more of the attack and less of the positive. But they both have to be in sync as to message and direction.

WALLACE: Finally, we've got about a minute left, and I want to talk to you about an interesting trend that came out this week, and that's voter registration. Let's take a look at the graphics that we've put together.

In Pennsylvania, registered Democrats have grown by 350,000 since 2004. Registered Republicans have declined by 285,000.

In Florida, Democrats have added 130,000 new voters, while GOP has stayed even.

Nevada, Democrats have added 80,000 more voters than Republicans in a state that Mr. Bush won by 20,000 votes last time.

Are those numbers, the big increase in registration for Democrats — are those as significant as they seem to be?

ROVE: Well, they are significant. They're not as significant as they might appear on the surface, because most of those numbers are driven by people who wanted to participate in the primary.

I've been watching these numbers very carefully, and you'll notice the bubble of these is back in the spring, when Nevada's holding its caucuses and when Pennsylvania is getting ready to hold its primary, and has dwindled since then.

But yes, all three of those would indicate secular problems, at least in Nevada and Pennsylvania, for Republicans. The one that I worry about most of all is Nevada, simply because it's so big. I mean, you're talking about a large number of voters, particularly in Clark County, Nevada.

Now, the saving grace for the Republicans is these were driven by primaries which doesn't necessarily carry over to the general election. People want to play in the primary and not necessarily stick in the general election.

The other thing is — is that we do know that in Clark County, Nevada there are a lot of fraudulent registrations of people who simply do not exist.

WALLACE: And real quick, there was a big deal made this week about Ohio, because there's a new rule that you can register and vote the same day. A lot of Republicans were crying foul. You say not such a big deal, as it turns out.

ROVE: Well, you know, it's a — you could register the same day without proof of residency and vote. And in Cuyahoga County...

WALLACE: Let's put that graphic up again. Go ahead.

ROVE: Yeah. In Cuyahoga County, Cleveland, that's — one out of every four voters lives in Cuyahoga County. Four hundred and five people through Friday registered and voted the same day, or they were people who changed their address and did not vote. They keep those two numbers together.

So 405 — that's out of 1,090,000 people.

WALLACE: And we can see the same in Hamilton and Franklin.

ROVE: In Hamilton and Franklin.

WALLACE: But your point is that all this talk about same day registration and voting...

ROVE: It didn't prove out. At least — they've got one more day, but I don't — you know, look. There are — four one-hundredths of 1 percent of the voters in Cuyahoga County showed up and availed themselves of the opportunity for same day registration and voting in Cuyahoga County.

WALLACE: So the big Obama "get out the vote" on the campus of Ohio State University...

ROVE: Ohio State University in Franklin — we had — well, it increased. It was five one-hundredths of 1 percent. So I mean, look.

WALLACE: Well, if it's a close election...

ROVE: If I were the Obama campaign, I'd be worried about it. They had a big hoopla about all those buses and being able to turn out lots of people and bank a lot of early votes.

They may have just simply taken people who voted — who would have otherwise voted on Election Day. They didn't add a lot of new registrants to the roll.

WALLACE: Karl, thank you for coming in today. We'll have you back in a couple of weeks for another status report.

ROVE: Great. Thanks.