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Journal Editorial Report

Trump chipping away at Clinton's lead in key swing states?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal: Editorial Report," September 3, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall.  

(CHEERING)

TRUMP:  Our message to the world will be this: You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country.  Can't do it.  

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST:  Welcome to the "Journal: Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.  

That was Donald Trump in Phoenix, Arizona, on Wednesday, doubling down on his hardline position on illegal immigration, despite some recent suggestions he might be softening -- that was his word -- on his signature campaign issue.  The speech followed a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto earlier in the day where the Republican presidential candidate struck a more subdued tone, promising that a Trump administration would work with Mexico to secure the southern border.  

Joining me on the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist, Kim Strassel; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady; and editorial board members, Joe Rago.  

Kim, let's start it off by talking about the Mexican trip, which a lot of people in advance said was high risk for Donald Trump.  How do you think that turned out for him?  

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST:  I think that that was a good moment for Donald Trump because, look, the point of this was to take this opportunity to go down and show that he had the ability to talk to a foreign leader, he had the temperament to go and do a negotiation.  This is something that Hillary Clinton has hit him on hard, suggesting he's not qualified.  To go down there, not have any too big of an explosive moment, be able to do the photo-op and shake hands, that was arguably a good moment for Donald Trump.  

GIGOT:  Mary, you cover Mexico.  You know all those folks down there.  It didn't play as well in Mexico, although I tend to think, for an American audience, I tend to agree with Kim.  What do you think?  

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST:  I don't think it was a good moment at all.  In Mexico, President Pena Nieto is being called a traitor to his country for having met with Donald Trump.  And I think even though the moment he may have seemed diplomatic, the fact that he came back and basically sandbagged the Mexican president, I think is sending a signal to the world that this guy, if he becomes president, is not someone we can trust.  

GIGOT:  Now, the Mexican president did invite both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  And Donald Trump is the only one who took him up on it.  I don't understand why Hillary Clinton didn't do it?  It would seem to me she would want to do it, too.  

O'GRADY:  I agree.  I think it's a better opportunity for Hillary Clinton. I think what was going on there is the Mexican president thought, if Trump is softening and he comes down here and we make some progress on a more reasonable, you know, relationship between the two countries, that he would get credit for it.  And I think it backfired on him.  And it may have worked well with Trump for his base but I think, for the Hispanics in this country, they didn't like it at all.  

GIGOT:  I don't know.  It seemed to me one of the arguments, James against Donald Trump that Hillary Clinton is making is that basically he can't be -- he can't behave in polite company.  

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR:  Right.  

GIGOT:  He looked, on stage, to me, with Pena Nieto, at least sober, gracious, respectful.  

(LAUGHTER)

O'GRADY:  Yes.  In the moment.  

GIGOT:  OK.  

O'GRADY:  But the follow-up, I think, was devastating.  

GIGOT:  All right.  Let's talk about that follow-up.  

FREEMAN:  I was going to say in the moment, just to disagree a bit.  

(LAUGHTER)

I thought he looked presidential.  I thought it was also a great moment for Pena Nieto, even if there's temporary domestic political blow back, because he was the statesman.  He understands, this is their neighbor and he -- whether it's Trump, Clinton, he's saying I understand we have a relationship, I want to work on it.  I think he did the right thing.  

The blowback.  Now, I wish Donald Trump had just gotten on the plane with the bucket of Kentucky Fried --

(LAUGHTER)

-- and flown back to New York and called it a day.  Obviously, that didn't happen that way.  I think he seems to feel that he was sandbagged because Mr. Pena Nieto, after the meeting, said I'm not paying for the wall.  

GIGOT:  Right, which isn't a surprise.  

(LAUGHTER)

FREEMAN:   Not a surprise.  Mr. Trump is making an unreasonable request of our neighbor to pay for a wall to keep some of our neighbors down south out.  It's a totally unreasonable request.  So I think he did not react well.  The moment was a triumph for Mr. Trump and I think from there it went downhill.  

GIGOT:  Let's talk about the speech, Joe, and the immigration policy.  We had 10 days of back and forth.  We didn't know what he would be softening, that was his word, his approach to immigration, would he not be.  In the end, I read it as, no softening.  

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL PAGE MEMBER:  Yeah, I think Trump has gone from point "A" to point "A" on immigration.  He essentially embraced mass immigration--

GIGOT:  Mass deportation.  

RAGO:  Mass deportation, excuse me, in a 10-point plan on all the security measures that he was going to take not only at the border but internal enforcement measures against businesses, E-Verify, which is a dysfunctional program to kind of cross-check who has the right papers.  And no incentive for people who are already here illegally to come out and have some kind of legal status going forward.  

GIGOT:  Kim, so on Joe's point, I want to talk about the politics of this immigration speech because it's interesting to me, after you have that event in  Mexico, come back and then you indicate you may be softening and then you don't, what's the politics, what's the political calculation?  

STRASSEL:  Look, I think what he was trying to do with the Mexico trip, he's trying to walk a very careful line here, Paul.  He went down to Mexico in part to show himself to be presidential --

GIGOT:  Right.

STRASSEL:  -- but also to say, look, I can work with this, I can negotiate.  
He's trying to sort of appeal in that way to an Hispanic audience in United States and --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  What about the immigration.  Why no change on immigration?  

STRASSEL:  It's, I think, that this is a result of the blowback he got from many of his base supporters over the last week, which hammered on him on the suggestion that he was going wobbly on his signature issue.  That seems to have resonated in the end and that seems to have informed that speech in the end, which I don't see in any way how you can say was a softening, but was, in fact, kind of a more aggressive version of a lot of what he's saying.  It's very law-and-order Donald Trump speech.  

O'GRADY:  Paul, Trump had something called Trump's National Hispanic Advisory Council.  One member resigned from it.  One member came out and called the whole thing a scam.  

GIGOT:  After the speech?  

O'GRADY:  Yes.  And Alfonzo Aguilar, the president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principle, a really solid free-market conservative Hispanic, said that he's inclined to pull his support from Trump.  

GIGOT:  James, quickly, do you think it was a success politically?  

FREEMAN:  No.  And he's running out of time to redefine here.  But I think he's got -- I thought what he was doing was moving toward the sweet spot of we're going to fight criminality and terrorism but we're not going to limit legal immigration.  And he missed an opportunity here.  

GIGOT:  Certainly the criminality came through loud and clear.  

FREEMAN: That was a big part of it.  

GIGOT:  OK.

Still ahead, as the presidential campaign kicks into high gear, polls show the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tightening both nationally and in some key battleground states.  What it means for the post-Labor Day sprint to the White House, when we come back.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT:  As the candidates gear up for the post-Labor Day sprint to November, polls show the race for president is tightening.  With a latest RealClearPolitics average giving Hillary Clinton a 4.5 point lead over Donald Trump nationally, down from almost eight points earlier this month. That lead shrinks to 3.9 points in a four-way race with Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, and Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.  And in some key swing states, Trump appears to be chipping away at Clinton's lead as well.  

Ed Goeas is a Republican pollster and president of the Tarrance Group.  He joins me now from Washington.  

Ed, good to see you.  

ED GOEAS, PRESIDENT & CEO, THE TARRANCE GROUP & REPUBLICAN POLLSTER:  Good to see you, Paul.  How are you?

GIGOT:  Good, thanks.

What do you make of this Trump modest bounce?  

GOEAS:  Well, it's very interesting.  I think everyone keeps looking for big movement in the race.  Both candidates, if you look at the average of all the polling going back to the last year, both candidates have been working within a certain range, bandwidth, if you will, on the ballot. Hillary's bandwidth is a little higher, Trump's is lower.  But as we have seen the fluctuations of the race, it's come from Hillary bumping to the top of her range and Trump to the bottom or both being in the middle.  Or as we're seeing with the numbers, I think Hillary has been inching down towards the bottom of her range and Trump has had a couple of good weeks leading up to his speech in Arizona on immigration this week.  So --

GIGOT:  On that point, Ed, I think what it looks to me like is Hillary Clinton's favorables have been going down, and with that, her ballot test, back from the mid 40s to maybe upper 40s in some surveys, now back down. That's the big change in the last two weeks.  

GOEAS:  Actually, the image of the two candidates is not changing much.  
Both started a year ago with a 55 percent unfavorable rating.  If you look at the averages today, Hillary is at 54 percent, Trump is at 56 percent unfavorable.  Those numbers are baked in.  That's what I mean about everybody keeps looking for big movements in the race.  

GIGOT:  Right.  

GOEAS:  I think the only potential for big movements to break out of that bandwidth that they've been in is the first debate and that's nearly a month away.  

GIGOT:  And is that -- would that be in particular, Trump can improve his image as a potential president, is that the key test for him in the debate?  

GOEAS:  I think as it's, first of all, there's not much expectation for the candidates to move their favorable/unfavorable rating but I do think you could see him bumping up towards the top of his range and her knocked to the bottom, or vice versa.  But the bottom line, I think, is this race is, if you look at the numbers today, you mentioned 4.5 points, if you look at the race today, I believe that's about where the race is.  That's kind of the center of them both being in the middle of their bandwidth.  

GIGOT:  Is this a race where one of the two candidates could win the presidency with 45 percent of the vote?  

GOEAS:  It is, and that's why you look at, I think you're going to see everyone looking more and more at the four-way ballot.  

GIGOT:  Right.

GOEAS:  The interesting thing about the four-way ballot is actually Hillary losses more.  For example, the latest FOX News poll, she had a six-point lead on the two-way, and dropped to a two-point lead on the four-way.  She loses more of that vote.  And I think, where in the past, we've always kind of downplayed the four-way ballot, because those candidates in the fall tend to fade away.  

GIGOT:  Right.  

GOEAS:  Because the negatives are so high with both these candidates I think you're going to see them driven to that point on the four-way ballot and, if not vote for those candidates, they may well stay at home.  

GIGOT:  Well --

GOEAS:  And that's when you see the numbers change.  

GIGOT:  OK.  What puzzles me that, that the vote for Gary Johnson, Libertarian, would be coming from Secretary Clinton.  The Libertarian you would think would be taking votes away from the traditional more free- market party, the Republican Party.  Why do you think this might be happening, gaining votes from her in this election?  

GOEAS:  Well, again, it's coming from Independents.  It's not coming from Democrats or Republicans.  It's coming from Independents, who have a 65 percent unfavorable rating of both these candidates.  What you see is that Trump, in the four-way, Trump's advantage with those Independents shrinks because -- because he's also losing some of those Independents.  But in the case of Hillary Clinton, she has two places those Independents can go. They can go to Stein or Johnson --

GIGOT:  Right.

GOEAS:  -- and that's what's happening.  It's not that all those votes are going to Johnson.  

GIGOT:  Do you see any chance that Trump can flip this where he comes up on top, other than maybe a sterling debate performance?  

GOEAS:  You know, I have felt all along that there's nothing in the numbers that says he can't win this race.  So that's always an opportunity -- that's always going to be an opportunity for him.  You know, he's at a little bit of a disadvantage if you look at the numbers.  But certainly he can come in to play.  I think more and more, the focus is going to become the ground game.  I was talking to someone this week about Hillary having 450 people on the ground for her campaign in Ohio, and with Trump, he's depending on the national party.  They have 100 people on the ground in Ohio for him.  That could make three or four points difference on Election Day.  

GIGOT:  Yeah.  

GOEAS:  And if she has a superior turnout, these numbers all of a sudden become that much harder to overcome.  

GIGOT:  Does it look to you like Pennsylvania maybe, which Trump targeted, increasing out of reach for his campaign?  

GOEAS:  Interesting, this week, RealClearPolitics moved it back into a toss-up on the presidential.  And I think when you're looking at the Senate race, the assumption in Pennsylvania, the assumption in New Hampshire is that as long as you keep the margin of the loss, if he loses those states, low they can overcome it with running a superior campaign, which, to date, they've been running very, very good campaigns, both in New Hampshire and in Pennsylvania.  

GIGOT:  All right.  Ed Goeas, we'll keep watching.  Thanks for being here again.  Hope to talk to you before the election is over.  

GOEAS:  Thank you, as always, Paul.  Thank you.

GIGOT:  Still ahead, Hillary Clinton's post-convention bounce may have flat-lined but one poll number in particular is rising for the Democratic presidential candidate.  Find out what it is when we come back.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT:  A milestone of sorts for Hillary Clinton as a new Washington Post poll shows 56 percent of Americans share an unfavorable impression of her, up six points in thee weeks, and a new high for the former secretary of state.  Donald Trump's unfavorable rating is at 63 percent in the same survey, making them the two most unpopular presidential candidates in more than 30 years of polling.  

We're back with Kim Strassel, James Freeman, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, and Joe Rago.  

James, you heard Ed Goeas --  

FREEMAN:  Yeah.

GIGOT:  -- say it's winnable but Trump is trailing.  Where do you see the race?

FREEMAN:  He's got it right where he wants it.  

(LAUGHTER)

No, in all seriousness, he's trailing as he has been for a while.  Less of a deficit than before.  When Kellyanne Conway joined this campaign, she said she would rather be in his position than Hillary Clinton's.  I think she would still say that.  If you look at the up side that each candidate has going into the stretch here, normally when incumbents, and I think you have to consider her the incumbent, because she's the establishment figure running for an Obama third term, when they're in the situation she is, they are in deep trouble.  They often lose.  Late deciders tend to give the new guy a try.  His immigration speech aside, he's actually had a good few weeks here of fairly disciplined message on the economy, on taxes.  So I think he's in a good spot and he's better on TV than she is.  He should win the debates.

GIGOT:  I agree with you, but the change candidacy, all right?  If an incumbent is polling as poorly as she is, the problem is you've got -- the question is, can that challenger present himself as a tolerable president? Worth taking the risk?  And that's what Trump's -- the barrier Trump hasn't gone over yet.  

O'GRADY:  Well, Ed mentioned the ground game.  

GIGOT:  Right.  

O'GRADY:  And Trump's ground game is really weak.  If you look at the number of offices she has opened compared to the number of offices he has open in important states, he's way behind.  He says he's going to catch up. Let's take Florida, for example.  She has 34 offices in Florida.  He has one.  What is he going to do to fix that?  He's going to use R.V.s.  

(LAUGHTER)

He'll use three R.V.s.  He's going to put one down the -- what is it – the I-4 --  

GIGOT:  I-4.  

O'GRADY:  -- corridor.  And he's got two others that are going to roam around the state.  And the other part of their strategy there is registering voters.  Maybe it's going to work but I think that's a little bit of a stretch.  

GIGOT:  There is a real disconnect here in the just the breadth of the organization, Joe.  Trump -- Clinton is really a machine.  They've got a lot set up.  Trump isn't raising much money.  And he doesn't have must have of an organization.  

RAGO:  No, it's remarkable if you look at it.  More money has been spent on this year's Senate races than the presidential contest because Trump is not spending money on advertising.  So that's one thing I think he could do.  I think a good Trump, a more professional Trump could go a long way to close this gap.  It's advertising, organization, showing that he has a better temperament, tone, experience.  If he does those things, I think he could make it more competitive.  

GIGOT:  Kim, on that point about performance, it does seem that a lot of people are giving Trump more credit for being a more consistent, more disciplined campaigner over the last couple weeks, as James suggested. Reading off the teleprompter, he's not had any riffs that are getting him into trouble.  Do you think that that is true and that's -- can that help him get over that barrier of people concluding that he is a plausible president?  

STRASSEL:  I think it's been a stunning reversal, and he has had, as Ed Goeas said, a good couple of weeks leading up to the immigration speech. We'll see what effect that immigration speech has on him.  But he's clearly-- he brought in this new team.  Clearly, has decided that he is going to act in a sort of presidential disciplined manner.  I think the frustration for Trump supporters will be, in the end, if he does all of that and he does it perfectly and say he has a great debate performance, and in the end, it nonetheless comes down to the things that Joe was just talking about, and Mary, that he just doesn't have the ground game because he didn't do that investment, that's going to be great knock for his supporters.  

GIGOT:  What a disappointment that would be for all of his supporters who were saying -- he was telling them, look, I'm funding my own campaign, I don't need to take money from all of these rich guys, and I'm a businessman, I know how to organize, and then to fail on something so fundamental to a presidential campaign.  

FREEMAN:  Yeah.  I think he's got to write big checks at the end here, at a minimum, to keep faith with his supporters, and whatever he does after this to make sure they're backing him.  But you can also look at this the other way.  She has been out-spending, out-advertising, out-organizing him for weeks and weeks and months and months, and where is this race?  It's not working.  The facts are bad for her.  The American people don't like the Clintons' corruption, the dishonesty.  Just this week, we learned the Clintons have taken $16 million from taxpayers to support them in post- presidential life.  This is --

(CROSSTALK)

O'GRADY:  James, that only means that she's an incredibly beatable candidate.  So why the heck is he so far behind?  

FREEMAN:  He's not that far behind.  I think she will be beaten.  

GIGOT:  All right, thank you all.

Still ahead, Hillary Clinton's unfavorable numbers may be tough to turn around as her e-mail woes continue to mount.  We'll have the latest in that ongoing investigation, next.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT:  The FBI on Friday released a summary report of its probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server as well as the note from Clinton's July 2nd interview with agents.  The documents reveal the former secretary of state could not recall any briefing or training by the State Department related to the retention of federal records or handling classified information.

Mrs. Clinton also told the FBI that she did not recall receiving any e- mails she thought should not be on an unclassified system.  The FBI notes that it was unable to track down all of the devices used by Clinton, making it impossible to know for sure whether her e-mails were hacked.  

Tom Fitton is the president of the watchdog group Judicial Watch and author of the new book, "Clean House: Exposing Our Government's Secrets and Lies."  

Welcome, Mr. Fitton.  

TOM FITTON, PRESIDENT, JUDICIAL WATCH & AUTHOR:  Thank you, Paul.  

GIGOT:  You have now looked at the FBI report, as have I, and what is your biggest takeaway?  

FITTON:  Well, Mrs. Clinton's remarkable lack of memory.  30 to 40 times she says I don't recall.  At one point, she blames the concussion she had near the end of her term, with perhaps her inability to recall briefings she should have received about whether or not she could be taking government records with her when she left office.  She had a Blackberry device that she kept in a sensitive part of the State Department, where Blackberry and other computer devices like that are banned, because that's where classified information is created, used and discussed.  Then she blames everyone else in the State Department for the classified mishandling of documents, saying, well, if they're on my system, I was relying on other people not to send me material that was classified.  

GIGOT:  Right.  

FITTON:  But she admits she was a principle who should have known about the handling of classified information and recognizing it, even if it wasn't marked.  

GIGOT:  I will tell you one thing that stood out to me is that there's -- a record in there that Colin Powell warned her in an e-mail at the beginning of her term that if she wasn't careful and if she used the personal e-mail, all of what she said could become federal records subject to the Federal Records Act.  And instead of -- I mean, sort of saying, OK, I better go on to not use my private server she went on to use her private server despite the warning.  

FITTON:  And not only that, but Powell seems to suggest don't tell anyone about it because if they find out about it they're certainly going to point out that they're government records.  And, boy, if that isn't an incentive for her and explains why she didn't tell anyone about it outside the State Department.  Frankly, it looks like she didn't tell too many people about it inside the State Department because, according to the FBI, even her closest aides didn't know about the private server until it became public.  
It's unbelievable.  

But the other big thing is that after the e-mail scandal was broken by "The New York Times," her e-mails were deleted.  

GIGOT:  Right.  

FITTON:  And there was a meeting with her lawyer, David Kindle, between -- that involved the person who deleted the e-mails, whose name we don't know, and David Kindle, and they were asked about what went on at that meeting and attorney/client privilege was cited and no one got an answer.  

GIGOT:  Now, there's also, the report says, 17,448 work-related e-mails that she and her lawyers did not turn over to the State Department.  Are those the e-mails that, in fact, you have been trying to get a hold of in your Freedom of Information Act requests?  

FITTON:  Yeah.  That's curious because now, you know, it answers a question perhaps, because we've been told there are 14,900 e-mails sent or received that she didn't turn over.  

GIGOT:  I thought I had seen that number 15,000 or so.  This is a different number.  It's even more.  

FITTON:  There's a second disk that has classified material.  So I'm wondering if the difference between those two numbers -- is the 2,000 or so on that second disk, are there 2,000 records that are classified that were deleted by Mrs. Clinton?  It seems to suggest some of them were.  

GIGOT:  To suggest - we will probably never see what was deleted, right? The FBI says we don't have that, we don't have access.  They didn't getting access to the archive server and so they probably can never get those back.  

FITTON:  No.  They talk about the archive -- archive computer being mailed and being lost, her having 13 devices, which is probably a world record for even in this day and age.  I know we like to upgrade our devices quickly, but 13?  And so much for convenience, if you need 13 devices and you're going through 13 devices.  

What comes across here, Paul, is that this is a pretty big operation.  And they spent a lot of time moving records around.  And once it became known that she had the records, removing them and deleting them, and then making sure they were really deleted.  The FBI really blew it on this one.  And a lot of the questioning avoided a lot of elephants in the room related to records retention and their obligation us under law there and the Federal Records Act and Freedom of Information Act.  And the pass on the classified information is readily apparent.  Mrs. Clinton thinks she's a law unto her herself when it comes to classified information.  It's remarkable.  

GIGOT:  And the purpose of this, in your view -- and we don't have a lot of time here -- was to disguise what e-mails -- make sure that the public would not see any communication she might have had with the Clinton Foundation, for example, and politically related e-mails.  

FITTON:  You know, there's this big lie, I think, in Washington or a big falsehood that the cover-up is worse than the crime.  There's usually something to cover up, and we're seeing in these e-mail releases she didn't want access to any of her personal e-mails because they documented, you know, Benghazi guilty knowledge and these "pay-to-play" connections with the foundation, for sure.  

GIGOT:  Finally, Tom, how many more e-mails do you think will come out here between now and the election?  

FITTON:  Oh, I think several thousand.  The governments is going to have to tell us in the middle of September where -- when are we going to get these 14,900 evidently the FBI recovered.  So they will be coming out over the next few months, and it's just a question of how quickly the courts force the government to move and the Obama administration to move.  

GIGOT:  All right.  Thank you for being here.  

FITTON:  You're welcome.  

GIGOT:  Still ahead, Obamacare makes a return to the campaign trail.  With rising premiums and shrinking options, could the controversial law help Republicans keep control of the Senate?  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT:  Is Obamacare making a return to the campaign trail?  With health plan choices shrinking and premiums soaring ahead of November's open enrollment period, the controversial Affordable Care Act may be a defining issue in some key Senate races this fall.  

Here's an ad running in Arizona where Republican Senator John McCain is locked in a tight race with Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Obamacare is failing Arizonans.  First, a massive rate hike, more than twice the national average.  Then America's largest health insurer, abandoned Arizona's failing Obamacare exchange.  That's devastating, especially to rural counties.  Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick bragged about her Obamacare vote, saying:

REP. ANN KIRKPATRICK, D-ARIZONA & U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE:  It's also the one I'm most proud about.

ANNOUNCER:  While Kirkpatrick is proud at putting us at risk, John McCain is leading the fight to stop Obamacare.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT:  All right, Joe, no doubt about where McCain thinks he can win on that.  That's the -- between now and November, what new are we likely to learn about the Affordable Care Act?  

RAGO:  Well, we'll get final premium rate increases.  Right now, they're just submissions to state regulators.  It's about 18 percent to 22 percent on average nationally.  

GIGOT:  For one year?  

RAGO:  That's for one year.  You have a McKenzie study this week saying that the average lowest rate increase is going to be 11 percent.  So you're really having some serious problems with these exchanges.  

I think health care has receded a bit in recent years as a political issue because Republicans can't do anything about it as long as President Obama is in office.  Now that's changing, and I think it's re-emerging as a real flash point in this election.  

GIGOT:  What about the choices?  Because there's a new Kaiser study showing that 31 percent of the counties in the United States are now only going to have one insurer in the Obamacare exchanges.  Is this lack of choice becoming an issue?  

RAGO:  Yeah, I think it is.  In Arizona, for example, there's several county where's there are zero insurers selling any kind of Obamacare policies.  You've got a big withdrawal of the major insurers.  It's really down to kind of Medicaid contractors who are selling these plans, low quality, very narrow network of doctors and hospitals.  And just not what people have come to expect from normal private insurance.  So it's becoming an issue in people's lives.  And that naturally comes into politics.  

GIGOT:  Mary?  

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST:  Well, I mean, I think one of the -- you mentioned the 31 percent of the counties in the United States.  Another statistic that came out of that same study is that almost 60 percent of the counties will only have two insurers.  As Joe was mentioning, the withdrawal of these companies, which can't make money in these places because of the rules in the Obamacare, is leaving Americans with very little choice.  And of course, when you don't have choice, that pushes up prices.  

GIGOT:  Kim, on the politics of this, for example, in the Indiana race, Chuck Schumer, Democrat, recruited Evan Bayh to run in Indiana, thinking he would have a pretty free run, but Evan Bayh voted for Obamacare and decided not to run in 2010, which that was such a contentious issue.  But now that vote he made back then is going to come back here and become an issue.  Are Republicans ready to make that an issue?  

STRASSEL:  Yes, his competitor out there, Todd Young, is already hitting him on this, talking about how he was a deciding vote for Obamacare back in 2010, trying to make him responsible for that vote, and talking up his own reform alternatives to Obamacare.  You have seen this play out in several states where there are people -- in Wisconsin, for instance, Russ Feingold voted for Obamacare.

GIGOT:  Right.

STRASSEL:  Out in Colorado, Michael Bennett was one who voted for Obamacare.  The competitors are definitely trying to hold their feet to the fire on that and think that it could be a defining issue.  

What's also notable about the Senate race is, too, Paul, aside from actually having some Democrats who voted for the bill, it so happens THAT some of the states being worst hit by the law, like Arizona, like North Carolina, just happen to be places where there are very come competitive Senate races.  And you are seeing the Republicans that really move aggressively attempt to make it a defining issue.  

GIGOT:  All right, Kim, so how are the Democrats responding to this, because a lot of them once had thought, well, this would be a great, like most entitlements, and work for us down the road.  Are they defending it, are they saying it's the proudest vote I've made, or are they walking away from it?  

STRASSEL:  Some of them are walking away from it.  What you're beginning to see, like what just happened in Florida, too, is a lot of pressure on Democrats to say what they would do.  And I'm not really sure this is going to work for them.  Like in Florida, for instance, Patrick Murphy, Democrat returning against Marco Rubio, his solution for what you would do is he said we need a public option.  

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  Right.  That's where they're falling out.  

STRASSEL:  Yes.  And that's where a number of them -- and Hillary Clinton has said that as well, too.  I don't think that necessarily helps them. Republicans are saying, look, you're going to make a bad situation worse. And they're really jumping on that in an aggressive offensive way, too.  

GIGOT:  The public option, is that the savior for the Democrats?  

FREEMAN:  More government control.  You know, there was a --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  I'm sorry.  Pardon the interruption.  Huge step toward national health care if it passed.  

FREEMAN:  Right.  And disaster.  Obamacare has already run kind of public option light.  We got those evil private -- public -- excuse me -- private corporations out of the business, they ran these co-ops, they have failed all over the country.  You took away the profit motive, patients didn't benefit.  Taxpayers obviously didn't either.  

It's hard to call this a sleeper issue because, obviously, its failures are manifest, but it is a problem.  You look at Russ Feingold, in Wisconsin, he has spent years pretending that it's working.  It's not.  It's a problem for him.  

GIGOT:  All right.  Thank you all.  

Still ahead, this Labor Day, a look at the state of the American economy and disturbing new data about the plight of working age men in America.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT:  With Labor Day weekend upon us, a look now at the state of the American economy and the workforce, and some disturbing new data from political economist, Nicholas Eberstadt. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Friday, Eberstadt argues that America is now home to a vast army of jobless men, noting that there are roughly seven million between ages 25 and 55 who are not only unemployed but no longer even looking for work.  

So, Mary, you want to get to Eberstadt, but let's step back.  Got the jobs number this week.  Kind of a mediocre number, 50,000 new jobs.  Where are we in terms of the economy?  

O'GRADY:  First of all, we're in the late stages of a very long recovery but it's been very tepid.  We haven't grown very fast.  I think that basically if you want to try to understand what's happening in the labor market, looking at unemployment is as helpful as looking at the employment rate, in other words, the number of people who are actually participating and in wages.  And in both those counts, the number of people participating, who are able bodied people, who are actually either looking for work or working, is at the lowest level it's been since the late 1970s. And wages have not been growing.  And fundamentally, that comes down to productivity because productivity is a jargon word but it really means output per worker.  And you can't have wages going up if output per worker isn't going up.  

GIGOT:  And that means investment --

O'GRADY:  Exactly.

GIGOT:  -- to drive technological change and new innovation.  

FREEMAN:  Right.  And that decline in productivity we're seeing is happening at the same time you've had this terrible business investment environment.  It seems weird.  We see stocks at high levels.  But when you look at the level of the company, they are not investing in new plants, new equipment, technology, all those things that allow people to produce more and get paid more.  Obviously, Friday, we saw the employment numbers basically follow the bad GDP numbers.  It's a slow-growth economy.  It's a limited-opportunity economy.

GIGOT:  As a political matter, Joe, this -- let's take the factors.  I think benefitting Clinton would be low gasoline prices, which is often a political hot button.  You have low inflation.  The economy is growing, no recession.  On the other hand, you've had such mediocre wage growth and slow growth, so it's hard to know politically who is going to benefit from the economy.  

RAGO:  Yeah.  The other thing I would throw is you have a low unemployment rate.  The flip side is that the rate is low because a lot of people have left the workforce and just are no longer participating in the economy.  I would give a slight political advantage to Trump on the state of things. This would normally be a change election.  Now, can he prosecute the economic case?  We really haven't seen that so far.  

GIGOT:  What you mean by that is make the case, here's what's happening, here's why you haven't had the growth in wage increases, here's why policies aren't working, and here is my better alternative.  That's not the thing he typically does.  

RAGO:  Right.  He's not saying look what Obamacare regulations are doing to the labor market and pushing people into part-time work.  He's not saying here's why energy regulations are preventing the business investment that we're talking about.  

O'GRADY:  He's mentioned those things from time to time, but he has trouble staying on message.  And another giant problem is that he is against free trade, and free trade is a very important part of the engine of growth.  

GIGOT:  All right, Kim, let's talk about the Eberstadt numbers.  The figures are striking with all these men out of the workforce.  These guys are Rago and Freeman's age.  

(LAUGHTER)

Unfortunately, I think I'm out of that demographic.  

So we have to work even harder.  What about those numbers?  They're really dispiriting when you look at them.  

STRASSEL:  Yeah.  He calls this am out-and-out crisis, and points out there are basically, as a percentage of the population, more able-bodied men not working, not even actively seeking work, than any time since basically following World War II.  And moreover, what they're doing -- and they fall into certain demographics and types of people as well too.  It's often African-Americans, for instance.  And they're not using their time when they're not working very gainfully either.  They're proving to be a drag on society.  So it is a very bleak situation and one that hasn't been talked about enough.  And I think that's why he's highlighting it because he says it's a crisis.  

GIGOT:  I think some of these people are workers who may have lost their jobs, don't have the skills in a changing economy to adapt, it's not their fault.  But what role has government played here.  

FREEMAN:  I think another factor we haven't talked about yet is we've seen a decline in new business creation, the creation of new employers to hire these people, and I that is really a much better way to solve an issue of someone not having the skills or their old company fading away.  We're not creating the new businesses.  And this is the "you didn't build that" culture that President Obama has presided over for years.  And I would say Mr. Trump has really laid out some compelling ideas on tax reform and regulation in terms of allowing that business creation, getting the government off the back of particularly small business.  

Another point, the NFIB numbers, small business is hurting more than big businesses, so I think that's a focus, and that's what he's pointing up.  

GIGOT:  All right.  

We have to take one more break.  When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT:  Time now for our "Hits and Misses" of the week.  

Kim, start us off.  

STRASSEL:  Paul, this is it a big miss to the Supreme Court refusing to reinstate North Carolina's voter I.D. law, thereby robbing that state of the comfort of knowing they have some integrity at their polls at this upcoming election.  This is a reminder of how important the Supreme Court is in this upcoming presidential race.  The I.D. law they refused to reinstate is not much different than ones the court has up held in the past.  The only thing that's changed is that Antonin Scalia has passed away.  So another reminder of the stakes.

GIGOT:  All right, thanks, Kim.

Joe?

RAGO:  Paul, another big miss to the European Union for rewriting Ireland's tax law to charge Apple $14 billion in retroactive taxes.  Apple complied with the law but the E.U. decided that Ireland's corporate tax rate was too low and, therefore, a subsidy.  This is an attack on tax competitiveness and tax competition between countries.  And if you want to know why British voters decided to leave the E.U., here it is.  Maybe Apple should be next.  

GIGOT:  All right, thanks, Joe.

Mary?

O'GRADY:  This is a hit for the people of Venezuela.  On Thursday, a million people turned out on the streets of Caracas, many of them traveling from other cities around the country, to ask the military dictatorship to abide by the constitution and allow a recall referendum -- to judge the president, whether the people want him or to say, no, he should be recalled before the end of the year.  It's very important it's done before the end of the year, because if it's done next year, he can pass the torch to his vice president.  And Venezuela needs change and the people of Venezuela deserve a lot of credit for taking to the street.  

GIGOT:  James?  

FREEMAN:  A hit to Mother Theresa being canonized as a saint this weekend by the Catholic Church, provided an inspiring example for the people around the world with her work with the poor in the slums of Calcutta.  Shared a message of hope, faith and love, and really just a life of service rather than condemning people for the sins of global warming, for example.  

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT:  All right, James, thank you.

That's it for this week's show.  Thanks to my panel and thanks to all of you for watching.  I'm Paul Gigot.  Hope to see you right here next week.

END

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