Rove's Take: Biden vs. Palin and the Electoral College

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This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," September 18, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: We'll have more of Sean Hannity's interview with Governor Palin later in the hour. But first, we turn to Karl Rove. Karl, how fascinating is it going to be, in your mind, this debate between Senator Biden and Governor Palin?

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISER, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: It's going to be one of the high points of a campaign that's already had a lot of high points. We've got this sort of fresh, unknown face from Alaska, and then this sort of longtime Washington insider who's got a reputation for long-windedness. And the two of them going at each other in this debate and the two of them sharing their visions for America are going to be real interesting to watch.

VAN SUSTEREN: It'd be interesting to sort of advise either one. I mean, you have to admit that it's sort of difficult for Senator Biden to see -- if he's too hard on her, then he'll -- you know, people will jump him for it. If he's too soft on it, people will jump him for that. I mean, he's actually in a more precarious position, I think.

ROVE: Yes, each one of them has their own challenges, but Senator Biden's clearly is going to be, How do you deal with -- it's difficult for him to deal with, you know, this sort of fresh, new face who just happens to be a woman. It also is going to be difficult for him -- look, if I were sitting in the Obama high command, I'd be worried about him popping off because if you go back and look at his failed campaigns for president and his congressional experience, he does have a tendency to, you know, say some sort of hurtful things, mostly hurtful to himself.

But he generally gets -- you know, his questioning of -- in the Judiciary Committee, for example, is legendary. So I -- you know, we saw it today with this comment that he made about taxes. So it's going to be interesting to see how they get him focused and restrained.

On her case, she's going to have to deal with a lot of topics that governors don't have to deal with, and she won't have the advantage of, you know, 10 months of running for president or even being picked the normal time that conventions are held in July and August and having the advantage of, you know, not five weeks between the time she was picked and the time she debates, but having, you know, 10, 12, 14, 16 weeks between the time that she was picked and the time she debates.

VAN SUSTEREN: How much behind-the-scenes preparation now do you think that they are giving her for this debate?

ROVE: I think they're giving her a lot. I mean, my suspicion is -- from what I see and from what I hear, they've got some of their top people traveling on the plane with her, Randy Scheunemann, for example. She's also getting a lot of notebooks, I would suspect, on various topics. She's also probably got free access to any expert inside the campaign that she wants to.

And she's got some very good people working with her who've been down this road before. Tucker Eskew, who's her counselor, is a very able guy who's been through this drill before. But yes, there's a lot of work going there just simply because, look, if we were talking about the -- you know, the budget of the state of Alaska, and you know, tribal governments in Alaska, she would know far more than you or I could ever imagine knowing. But when it comes to a wide variety of federal issues, whether it's health care or others, you know, there are just -- there are some things that governors do and there are some things governors don't do.

VAN SUSTEREN: You wrote an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal about negative ads, about -- about who gets harmed more from the negative ads and who gets the benefits. What's your advice for the candidates?

ROVE: Well, each one of them has been going over the line a little bit, each one of them, though, in a different way. In the case of McCain, his ads have been directionally -- mostly directionally accurate. For example, this summer, he ran, you know, the ad that talked about how Obama was a celebrity taken with his own press notices, having the big rally in Berlin, and so forth, the fake presidential seal.

But sometimes, they get just a little bit too cute. I'm not certain I would have compared Obama -- it's fine to say he's a celebrity, but I'm not certain I would have gone so far as to compare him to Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. The ad that they did on sex education, where they had Obama dead to rights, they simply tossed out the label "Conference of Sex Education." It would have been more powerful had they found a way to put on the screen or to say the exact words of the law, which are that instruction from K through 12, there's be instruction on avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. I mean, K-12, they're going to be telling kids about how to avoid getting sexually transmitted diseases. I mean, that's more powerful than simply tossing the label out.

Obama's sins are more problematic because he's not directionally accurate. We saw an ad over the weekend, for example, in which they went out and said John McCain would be -- his administration would be dominated by lobbyists, and they put up a picture of Bill Timmons, a Republican lobbyist in Washington. They called him "the consummate insider." And they said his presence in the transition planning for McCain was evidence the McCain administration would be dominated by lobbyists.

Well, first of all, McCain is the guy who took on Abramoff. McCain is the guy who has taken on campaign finance reform. McCain is the guy who expresses his disdain for lobbyists coming before him in his official capacity. And if putting a guy like Bill Timmons in charge of your transition planning is a sign of being -- of what your administration is going to turn out, look, they've got Tom Daschle, a Washington lawyer, spouse of a lobbyist and the consummate D.C. insider as the head of the Obama transition. You could just make the case that if it's Bill Timmons versus Tom Daschle, they're both consummate insiders, and both of them would therefore be an indication that both administrations would be dominated by lobbyists.

I mean, they're just fundamentally unfair. And they concluded by calling John McCain dishonorable. I think there are few things that -- few words other than dishonorable -- I mean, that's one of the last things you'd attach to John McCain.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Karl, stick around. We have more with you.

Next, you're going to see why this race is such a cliff-hanger, why it's so exciting. Karl breaks down the electoral map. This election could literally come down to some key votes in only a couple of states. The clues to this election next.

And later, Donald Trump goes "On the Record." Guess what he thinks about Governor Palin. Remember, Donald Trump gave to Senator Clinton's campaign, so you do want to hear this. We're back in two-and-a-half minutes.


VAN SUSTEREN: We're back with Karl Rove, and everybody in the business looks at Karl's maps, so we're going to share them with the viewers tonight. All right, Karl, let's look at this electoral map of yours. It's close if the election were today. Tell us the story on this.

ROVE: Well, if the election were today, there are 227 states (SIC) that are outside the margin of error for McCain and there are 216 states -- electoral votes that are outside the margin of error for Senator Obama. And there are 95 electoral votes in seven states that are too close to call one way or the other.

The change from the last map that we put out was Wisconsin, which recent polling has moved from Obama to a toss-up. Now, you know, as you can see, there are about seven -- the cream-colored states are the toss-up states. There are seven of them. In addition, there are nine other states that the campaigns to various degrees are playing in, starting from the West Coast moving east, Washington state, Oregon, New Mexico, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Florida, North Carolina and New Hampshire. While they're outside the margin of error, both camps or one camp is trying to play in those states.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, so viewers who are just sort of coming new to this game, they'll know now why, for instance, Senator McCain was in Wisconsin today and why everyone keeps -- why the candidates seem to be in only Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada.

ROVE: Right. Well, and New Mexico. We had Senator Obama in New Mexico. Senator McCain and Governor Palin were in Iowa. So you're right, though. Most of the country -- there are going to be 16 states that are likely to see a lot of these candidates. The closer we get to the election, a couple of these are going to fall off. At the end of the day, there are probably going to be between 12 and 14 states that are going to see the candidates right up to the end.

VAN SUSTEREN: In looking at these states, it seems like the economy - - because these are not necessarily, you know, border states, where you might get the, you know, horrible, you know, something coming up to its shores (ph) so much, but the economy -- these are -- these are states that they're suffering.

ROVE: Well, some of them actually are doing -- you know, the Colorado economy is pretty good. The Nevada economy is pretty good. Housing in Nevada is a problem, but the overall economy is pretty good. But it just depends.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you've got Wisconsin, Michigan -- you've got Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

ROVE: Yes. The industrial Midwest has always been in recent elections a battleground area, and it's that way this time around, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there -- with Florida -- you have that as a red. Is that at any risk at all? Because boy, we all spent -- we know where we were eight years ago.

ROVE: Yes, we do. Look, Florida is something that both campaigns have got to pay attention to. Senator Obama's been running a lot of advertising there. Senator McCain has been running only a modest amount of advertising. I was with Governor Crist last night in Orlando. He feels comfortable about the state. But this is one that both campaigns are going to pay attention to right up to the end.

My sense is that they will be (INAUDIBLE) present in the state simply because it's got so many electoral votes and was so close eight years ago. It was not close four years ago, went for the Republicans by a margin of 5 percentage points, almost 500,000 votes four years ago.

VAN SUSTEREN: But if you look at this map, most of the states that are in cream color are in a little area, and if you're trying to maximize your money, you might want to stay just in the industrial Midwest and let the opponent take Colorado and Nevada.

ROVE: Well, except that -- look, each side has got -- I mean, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico are all vital states. In fact, if you look at the way that Obama attempts to put this together, he's trying to get all the states that John Kerry carried four years ago. Plus, he's trying to take Iowa, New Mexico, which gets him to 278, I think, and then he's got to take -- and Nevada, excuse me. He's got to take those three states, which gets him to 268, two less than what he needs. And then he's got to try and get either Colorado or Virginia.

So you know, he's trying to win everything, and that means that he can't lose Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or Michigan, which McCain is making a big effort for, particularly Pennsylvania and Michigan.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Karl. The maps are fascinating, as always.

ROVE: One more thing. Let me...


ROVE: Let me make one last point. This is very close, but the advantage is still to Obama. If you take a look at it, take the states that are the toss-ups and give them to whomever is leading in that state today -- like, for example, give Nevada to McCain, give Colorado to Obama - - the Electoral College ends up 273 for Obama to 265 for McCain, a very, very close election.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, thank you.

ROVE: You bet.

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