Transcript: Karl Rove on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the Oct. 26, 2008, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: And hello again from Fox News in Washington. Well, with little over a week left until Election Day, the presidential race has come down, as it always does, to a handful of battleground states.

And joining us now from one of those states, Florida, is the architect of two presidential election victories, Karl Rove.

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

ROVE: Thanks, Chris.

WALLACE: Well, let's begin with the latest version of the Rove electoral map. Let's put it up on the screen. This, of course, is an average of recent state polls.

It shows Obama with his biggest lead of the campaign, leading in states with 317 electoral votes to McCain's 157, with 270 needed to win the presidency.

Karl, you now have Ohio a blue state, Indiana, Colorado, Virginia. These are states that Republicans traditionally win.

ROVE: Yeah. And from Thursday — last Thursday was the most recent map before this one, and from Thursday there were 46 individual state polls in less than 48 hours, and they moved Indiana from being toss-up into the Obama column, giving him his largest lead thus far this campaign.

In order to — in order for McCain to win, he's got a very steep hill to climb. He's got to win all of the toss-up states, 64 electoral votes, all the yellow-shaded states on the map.

Then he needs to strip away Ohio and Indiana with 31 electoral votes to get him to 252. And then he needs to either win Colorado and Virginia, which gets him to 274, or win one of them plus Pennsylvania, which would get him to 282 or 286. It's a steep uphill climb.

WALLACE: Well, and to make it seem even steeper, let's take a look at the trend lines of your electoral map, because they're really quite fascinating. What they show is that this race was tied. In fact, for a brief moment in mid-September, McCain was ahead in the states with the electoral vote.

And then you see, starting in mid-September, it just — the red and the blue lines seemed to diverge and Obama steadily widens his lead for over a month now. How does John...

ROVE: Right.

WALLACE: ... McCain turn that around in nine days?

ROVE: Well, first of all, the race — you know, it depends — he can turn it around if you believe that the race is somewhere between one and four or five or maybe six.

We've got so many polls out there, it's unbelievable. We've had in the...

WALLACE: You're talking about what the margin is in national polls.

ROVE: In national polls, right. If the race is a — you know, last week we had two polls with the race being at one point. We had a poll with one that was at 13 points, and one was at 12 points, and several at 11 points.

I mean, the — we're all getting — we're all getting poll-itis here. In the first 24 days of October, this year, there have been 177 national polls. By comparison, in 2004, during the first 24 days of October, there were 55.

We've had 300 percent more polls in 2008 in the month of October than we had in 2004.

WALLACE: But assume for a moment, Karl, that — and according to the latest RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Obama's lead is eight points this morning.

Assuming it is eight points, how does McCain possibly turn that around in nine days?

ROVE: Well, it's — it's difficult. What he's got to do is pound home on two big messages. One message is, "I'm right on the issues and he's wrong when it comes to taxes and the war on terror, and I'm experienced and ready to be president, and whatever his strengths and skills are, he, Senator Obama, is not ready to be president."

And you've got to make that message in a handful of states and repeat it constantly and hope that your ground game on Election Day is able to give you a point or two more beyond what the polls show you having.

WALLACE: You know, part of the problem, of course, Karl, is it isn't a question of closing the gap now, because in fact, there's heavy early voting in a bunch of states, and let me put that up on the screen.

In North Carolina, more than 900,000 people have voted already. We don't know who they're voting for, but we do know their registration. More than half of them were registered Democrats.

In Nevada, 200,000 people have voted early, and more than half of them are Democrats.

Karl, hasn't Obama basically already banked much of his current lead?

ROVE: Well, first of all, let's be a little careful. In 2004, for example, 48 percent of the early and absentee votes in North Carolina were from Democrats, and Bush won the state by 14 points.

This year there are about — 50 percent are from Democrats. So that's the first thing. Let's make certain we understand how much it deviates from past patterns.

Second, we've got to be very careful about taking a snapshot now and seeing that that's how it's going to end up. For example, in North Carolina, there are 65,500 more Republican absentee ballot requests that have yet to be voted than there are Democrats. That's going to even it up a lot.

And thirdly, we've got to be very careful. This is what both campaigns are trying to figure out. Are they cannibalizing their Election Day turnout? That is to say, are they getting to the polls people who would otherwise vote and banking them early, or are they getting new people who might not otherwise vote? And that's — that we won't really know until Election Day.

But the evidence is starting to appear that what's happening is these are not first-time voters. In fact, it looks like first-time voters and younger voters are essentially the same percentage that they were in 2004 or less.

Now, African American — votes slightly differently. In Florida, for example, there's evidence that the early vote, particularly the early vote that showed up at the polling places as opposed to absentee ballots, is more African American than it was in previous elections.

WALLACE: One thing that we are witnessing already is dissension within the ranks of the McCain campaign. And we're starting to see this — there's a big article today in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about it.

There have been a bunch of other reports — people pointing fingers at each other about what went wrong with the McCain campaign even before we get to the election.

Why do you think that this has started so early and so publicly?

ROVE: Well, look. We've seen this a couple of times this year. We saw it in the Clinton campaign, and now we're seeing it in the McCain campaign, where before the election is totaled up, before the votes are all cast, before the decision is made, people start pointing fingers and blaming each other.

It is a sign of undisciplined people who do not have the loyalty that they ought to have to the candidate whom they're serving. And it's — it's a sad sight to see. Nobody makes themselves look good by this process.

WALLACE: It is not generally a phenomenon we see in winning campaigns, however, is it?

ROVE: Oh, you know, occasionally, you see it. But you're right, it's in campaigns that are behind, and people want to make certain they escape with the best reputation they can.

Let me say — and this is a point of personal privilege — I was particularly amazed by the attacks this morning in the New York Times piece on Steve Schmidt. You can — you can blame the campaign for doing good things and bad things.

But when Steve Schmidt began to assume more control of the campaign in June was when the campaign began to get up on its legs and get into the fray, and you know, the tactics that he led them — got them to a slight lead in — at the time of the convention and a clear lead by the time of the — of the economic meltdown.

And I was appalled by the — sort of the personal attacks on him. You never like to see this. It's — but you particularly don't like to see it 10 days before an election.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about another aspect of this, because there are growing reports about dissension with regard to Sarah Palin, that supposedly she has turned on some of the McCain advisers who are assigned to her campaign, thinks that they did a very bad job rolling her out.

They conversely are saying that she's a diva and that she has gone — I love these expressions — she's gone rogue, which means she's not following the McCain speaking points. What do you know about that, and what do you make of the — this fight between the McCain camp and the Palin camp?

ROVE: Yeah, look. This is a story line the media likes. I do know this, talking to some people inside the McCain campaign who are working with Palin, they have enormous respect for her abilities. And I think this is maybe a little bit overblown.

But look. This is, again, as you say, not the kind of thing you like to have happening in your campaign. And it's generally a sign that people are throwing in the towel and thinking that they're going to lose.

On the other hand, we've got two people that I know inside the McCain campaign who are not throwing in the towel. One of them is the presidential candidate, John McCain, and the other is the vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.

Both of them are energetically out there on the campaign trail, and this is what is going to really matter in the last 10 days, not what staffers are trying to — trying to cover themselves with as we get in the final 10 days.

WALLACE: Well, let's talk about another part of this equation, and that's voters. And if you believe the polls — and I'm going to get to you in a moment about the reliability of all these polls — they really do seem to have soured on Sarah Palin.

Let's take a look at the latest Washington Post poll. A majority of voters now have an unfavorable view of the governor. Right after the Republican convention, they favored her by 2-1. And voters now think she does not have the experience to be president. Just after the convention, they did, by a narrow margin.

Karl, whether it's deserved or not, has Sarah Palin turned out to be a mistake?

ROVE: I think she has been more a plus than a minus. Remember, the same Washington Post poll says that 43 percent or I think 44 percent of the American people believe that Barack Obama is unqualified to be president.

So you know, let's not focus just exclusively on the Republican candidate for vice president. The Democratic candidate for president has a qualification problem with the American people.

But look. I think she has energized a lot of people inside the Republican Party. She gave him a big boost of momentum at a critically needed period of time.

She has been on the receiving end of relentlessly negative coverage, I think a lot of it unfair, some of it motivated by the cultural disconnect between her sort of middle America values and views and sort of the values and views of those who cover her.

But I think overall she's been far more a plus than she's been a hindrance to the ticket.

WALLACE: Do you blame it all on media bias, media coverage, or do you think she bears any responsibility or the McCain campaign's handling of her bears any responsibility for the fact that she seems to have lost some standing with voters?

ROVE: Yeah, look. Look, let's be — let's be clear about this. We can argue all day long as to whether or not there would be a better way to bring her out than the way that they brought her out. And look. Hindsight is always 20/20 clarity.

But — so I — I could make the argument that there are better ways to bring her out. But again, I'd make the point that she brought a lot to the ticket at a critical period of time.

And sure, there were mistakes. She's a first-time candidate. I think, though, that a lot of people give somebody who is a first-time candidate on the stage, particularly one who emerges so late in the campaign — they say, "Look, OK, I'll give you a little bit more leeway than I might give somebody who's been out there campaigning for two years or somebody who's been a player on the scene for 20 years."

But look. She has been — I think a lot of the coverage of her has been unfair. Look, Joe Biden has been a gaffe a day. If she had said, for example, in the debate, vice presidential debate, that string of misstatements that he made, the media would have carved her up.

But they gave him a pass, and they've given him a pass pretty consistently. And why? Because he's an old familiar face and they sort of — their allowance for him is, "Oh, he does that all the time. We're not going to pay attention to it."

WALLACE: All right. I want to ask you — I said I was going to — a question that I get asked a lot. How reliable are these polls?

And I want to put up two examples from this week. Take a look at these two national surveys. A New York Times poll taken this week showed Obama up 13 points. But an Associated Press poll taken the same time showed Obama plus one.

As a political strategist, how do you know, Karl, which numbers to believe and which ones to throw out?

ROVE: Well, first of all, that's why every campaign has its own pollsters, so they can have numbers that they believe in. But everybody looks at these numbers. And you're right, those — that was on Wednesday that we had those — there were — there were 10 polls released on Wednesday.

Two of them, the Investors Business Daily and A.P., had it at one. And CBS/New York Times had it at 13. The day before, there were nine polls, battleground at two points, ABC/Washington Post at 11. On Thursday, there were 10 points. G.W. battleground at three, Newsweek at 12. That was the range of these.

WALLACE: So how do you know which to believe?

ROVE: We have — well, you — first of all, you believe your own. That's why a presidential campaign takes a lot of time figuring out who its pollster is and then very carefully monitors what that pollster is doing.

But second of all, look, there are good polls and bad polls. And there are — you know, with all due respect to the CBS/New York Times poll, it is one of the least reliable.

With all due respect to Newsweek, who I write a column for occasionally, their poll is unreliable.

So you start to pick out polls that you think better represent the tone of the election.

Now, In 2004, Investors Business Daily was the poll that came the closest to forecasting the actual outcome. They were 0.4 percent off. The problem is we don't necessarily know whether Investors Business Daily is the most accurate poll of this year.

My general view is this. We endow these polls, first of all, with a false scientific precision they simply do not have.

And second of all, we spend way too much time covering them. I mean, think about that — 177 polls this month, compared to 55 four years ago. That's three times as many opportunities for media outlets to spend time covering the racehorse rather than the substance of the campaign, to talk about who's up, who's down, as opposed to what exactly the candidates are saying.

And I know there's this tension in coverage, but the proliferation of polls, particularly polls run by universities that may not have the skill and capability that a professional polling outfit has, are really not helpful to the process, in my opinion.

WALLACE: Well, that clears it up entirely, Karl. Thank you so much for joining us. And we — you and I will get to spend a lot of quality time together on election night. Thanks again.

ROVE: I'm looking forward to it. Thanks.