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'Special Report' Panel on the Obama Camp's Unnecessary Attack on 'Joe the Plumber'; a Breakdown of the Battleground States

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from October 17, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D-DE) VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: If you're unlike Joe the plumber — it would be nice if he got a license — but Joe the plumber — now, I know you got a lot of plumbers out here making over 250 grand. Raise your hands, please.

KEITH OLBERMAN, MSNBC: Mr. Wurzelbacher's opposition to taxes apparently extends to not paying them at all, period.

HOWARD WOLFSON, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON ADVISER: Who cares that he has tax liens? What it says is that John McCain's campaign didn't vet Joe the plumber.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He didn't ask Senator Obama to come to his house. He wasn't recruited or prompted by our campaign. He just asked a question.

And Americans ought to be able to ask Senator Obama tough questions without being smeared and targeted with political attacks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST: All right — Joe the plumber. We heard about him all week. Now he's under attack. What about that?

Some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Charles, Joe has been under attack. Reporters are in his background, his personal story, and some people saying he was never vetted by the McCain campaign. This guy asked a question outside his house.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, count me as pro-Joe. The idea that the McCain campaign has to go around investigating the background of a guy who just stepped up and asked Obama a question is pretty insane.

Also, I'm not sure how sure it is for Democrats to ridicule and attack this guy. After all, aren't Democrats the party that are continually talking in a very lachrymose way about the single moms sitting around a table who is trying to work out her life?

Well, here is a single dad who is working hard. He doesn't have a license. A lot of my colleagues in punditocracy practice psychiatry without a license. I don't complain about that.

The guy is trying to make a living, and he's asking a question. He represents the kind of person who aspires to something higher. I think it's a mistake to go around for Biden to ridicule this guy. It just doesn't look good.

And, look, the larger issue here, of course, isn't the guy. It's the way that Obama responded. The mistake Obama made, and that's why Joe is being attacked — it is a way to cover it up an obscure the issue — Obama made a minor gaffe. He said the idea by raising taxes is to spread the wealth.

That's not how Americans understand the taxes, and I think that's a weakness. McCain has hit it. I think it's a theme. And as long as it's about the Joe, the Democrats imagine that it will take the spotlight off Obama. I'm not sure that's going to work.

BAIER: Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I don't think it's going to work, either. Charles, I join you in being pro-Joe, and I do practice some psychiatry, as a parent. We all do. And I'm not getting a license for that either.

Look, I don't mind Joe Biden attacking Joe whose last name I can't pronounce and won't try-

KONDRACKE: Wurzelbacher.

BARNES: Very good. Because Joe Biden's job to protect Barack Obama. But that's not the job of the media. Why is parts of the media jumping in and attacking Joe as well? I guess they take it that it's their job as well to protect Barack Obama.

And his answer was the problem. What he was saying is I want to tax the productive people in America more so I can give some of that money, whatever my priorities are, to people who aren't as productive and aren't paying any taxes in the first place.

And the truth is that's not a popular position.

BAIER: Now, on that point, Barack Obama says that 98 percent of small businesses, Mort, are protected-they will not get taxed under his plan.

The issue is the two percent that will get taxed under his plan. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, at least three out of four small businesses that employ ten or more people would be subject to a tax increase under Senator Obama's plan.

And you look at small businesses overall. In 2004, they created 100 percent of the new jobs0 — 1.86 million new jobs in America, while big businesses that year cut 181,000 jobs.

It puts a little bit in perspective about how much of an economic engine small businesses in the two percent really are.

MORT KONDRAKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Right.

And, look, Obama has said at one point he would not raise taxes during a recession, and I don't know why he doesn't go back to that position, because we are in that recession and you don't raise taxes in a recession, everybody knows that. And it is worrisome that he doesn't repeat that.

But look, it is not the question that Joe asked Obama that has elevated him to national prominence. It is the fact that John McCain in the debate and ever since has been talking about plumber Joe.

So that raises the question, is plumber Joe everyman, as McCain is pretending that he is? No, he is not. He is a conservative Republican who thinks that Social Security — wait a minute!

(CROSSTALK)

KONDRACKE: He has been elevated to be a symbol for everybody in the country.

Secondly — wait a minute — this guy is this guy.

BAIER: It is the issue, not the man.

KONDRACKE: No, you want to make it the issue. It is the man. The man is being made a symbol of an issue.

He doesn't make $100,000 a year. He would not have a tax increase under Obama. If he started a business, a small business, he would get more help from the Obama programs to get his business started than McCain would give him.

You know, McCain's got no small business tax cut.

BARNES: Mort, please!

(CROSSTALK)

KONDRACKE: The use of him as the symbol for everybody in America, and he is not.

KRAUTHAMMER: One point. He never said he made a quarter of a million.

And secondly, if having a lien on your taxes is a reason to be ruled illegitimate-

(CROSSTALK)

KRAUTHAMMER: Charlie Rangel, who just paid nine times as much in back taxes, has no standing to talk about tax policy.

BAIER: With just 18 days before the election, the focus intensifies on the battleground states. We will break them down with the all-stars when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But for those of you who are getting a little cocky, who support he me and start reading the polls, I just got two words for you — "New Hampshire." Everybody thought we were going to win them in the primary. We were up ten in the polls the day before the election. We ended up losing.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Stand up and fight! America is worth fighting for! Nothing is inevitable. We never give up! We never quit! We never hide from history. We make history. Now let's go win this election and get this country —

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: A fired up John McCain and a cautious Barack Obama.

Here you see the realclearpolitics.com electoral map — 286 as the polls show it now, electoral votes for Obama, 155 for McCain.

And here's a quick look at the schedules. Obama's schedule over the next few days — Virginia, Missouri, North Carolina, and Florida. McCain's schedule — Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, Ohio and Missouri.

Mort, let's start with you. What does this schedule tell you, and what does the map tell you about this race?

KONDRACKE: Well, the map says and the schedules tell us that Obama is ahead and McCain is behind, and he's behind even in red states that George Bush carried.

However, Obama is also right to say let's not forget about New Hampshire, let's not forget about Ohio or Pennsylvania or all those states that he lost to Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

You go down these states, in Ohio Obama has got 49 percent of the vote, Nevada, 49 percent, North Carolina, 48 percent, Missouri, 49 percent, Indiana, 45 percent, Florida, 49 percent. He is not over 50 percent in any of those states.

And he is ahead by three points, something like that. This thing could turn around.

He has a lot more money. He has a lot more field organization. But complacent, it would be crazy for Obama to be complacent.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: McCain is behind in these states because he's behind nationally. With a couple of exceptions, this is not regional weakness. If you're behind by, let's assume six or five nationally, what will happen is that Obama holds the marginal states.

And he is now in the field, as you read that list, of what ought to be McCain states.

One exemption, I think, is Florida, where it's particularly hard hit on the mortgage and foreclosure issue, and, secondly, with all of those retirees, the crash on the markets has really hurt them. So McCain is hit on these specific issues because of the economic tsunami in Florida, especially.

But generally, it's just a regional expression of a national problem.

BAIER: Fred, I know you're dying to wrap it up with Joe.

BARNES: I agree with that. Ohio is an important state — where Joe's from, Mort.

So here you have this poor little plumber who asks an innocent question, asks a very good question of Barack Obama, a man with tens of millions of dollars he's spending, and who does Mort side with? Who does he hammer? Poor Joe!

KONDRACKE: I'm not hammering Joe!

BARNES: The truth is Charles is right. When you're up by five, that puts you in a stronger position in all the marginal states, like Virginia and North Carolina.

BAIER: Bottom line, there is time for the McCain campaign.

BARNES: If McCain can move up nationally, he will win most of these red states.

BAIER: That's it for the panel.

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