Transcript: Obama Chief Strategist David Axelrod on 'FNS'

The following is a partial transcript fo the Sept. 7, 2008, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: We're joined by two of the men running the campaigns. First, Barack Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, who comes to us from Chicago.

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


WALLACE: Let's start with Governor Sarah Palin, who a lot of people felt drew some blood in her attacks against Barack Obama this past week. Here's one example.


PALIN: Though both Senator Obama and Senator Biden have been going on lately about how they're always, quote, "fighting for you," let us face the matter squarely. There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you.


WALLACE: David, how are you going to counter Sarah Palin?

AXELROD: Well, look, this ultimately isn't a race between us and Sarah Palin. It's a race between Barack Obama and John McCain. They're the candidates for president.

And the real issue in this race is who's going to bring the change the country needs. John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. He says we've made great economic progress under George Bush.

Middle-class families, average families, in this country have lost $2,000 of income. Unemployment is at a five-year high. Home values are dropping. The housing industry itself is teetering on the brink.

We can't afford four more years of that kind of progress, and I think that's what's going to be the issue in this campaign — not the barbs back and forth, but what's going on in people's lives.

Obama represents real change that will help lift the middle class in this country and rebuild our economy. And that's what this campaign is about.

WALLACE: But, David, Sarah Palin is a political fact and she, at this moment, is a political phenomenon. And here's how Obama went after Governor Palin this week. Let's put it up on the screen. "My understanding is that Governor Palin's town of Wasilla has, I think, 50 employees. We've got 2,500 in this campaign."

Question: Does Senator Obama really believe that he has more executive experience than Governor Palin?

AXELROD: Well, look. We'll let the voters sort through the experience issue, but, Chris...

WALLACE: But Wait, wait. No, wait, wait.

AXELROD: Wait, wait. No, wait, wait. No, wait. Hold on a second, because we don't really know — you don't know as much as you should about her, and neither do we, because she was basically an unknown.

John McCain, we're told, wanted to pick Joe Lieberman, wanted to pick Tom Ridge. The right wing of his party ran him off of that. And she came in late in the game and no one really knows.

She hasn't sat down with you or any interviewer to ask any — answer any substantive questions. All she's done is read a couple of speeches. So there's a lot to be — to be learned about this ethics investigation in...

WALLACE: But it's a simple...

AXELROD: ... Alaska, about why she told us she was for the — against the "bridge to nowhere" when she campaigned for it, why she said she was against lobbyists and earmarks when she hired a lobbyist to go and get earmarks.

I mean, there are a lot of questions to be asked, and hopefully she'll sit down with you soon.

WALLACE: Well, from your lips to the McCain campaign's ears. But I asked you a simple question. Does Senator Obama really believe he has more executive experience than Governor Palin?

AXELROD: I think Senator Obama believes that he has the experience to be president of the United States, the broad experience that's necessary to lead this country forward and bring the change that we need, and we'll let the voters decide about that. We're not running against Governor Palin.

WALLACE: Yeah, but we keep hearing that you're going to put out Hillary Clinton and a lot of the female Democratic governors this week to try to counter Palin. What's their line of attack going to be?

AXELROD: Well, look. We are going to have both men and women out campaigning for us, because our party believes that we need change in this country. And I think the American people believe that, and that's where we're going to go.

Governor Palin plainly is on the ticket because she believes, as John McCain does, that we should continue the policies of George W. Bush, the same kind of tax cuts for big corporations and the wealthy, the privatization of Social Security, which is something that McCain has embraced, the same approach to health care that's been such a dismal failure, the same sort of sloganeering around energy when we need a real energy program to move this country into energy independence and rebuild our economy.

These are the kinds of things we're going to be talking about.

WALLACE: Let's talk about this issue of change, because as you saw at the convention, John McCain says he is the real agent of change, he is the real reformer. Let's watch.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not.


WALLACE: Now, David, McCain and Palin do have records of going up against their own parties. When has Barack Obama ever gone up against the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, let me say this, Chris. Senator McCain on the biggest decision that he'll ever make in public life, which is the choice of a vice presidential nominee, decided not to go up against his own party, was told he couldn't pick the person he apparently thought was the best choice, and he went with Governor Palin instead. So I think that's important to note.

WALLACE: All right, but...

AXELROD: One of the first things that Senator Obama did when he came to the U.S. Senate was push for the most far-reaching ethics reforms that we've seen since Watergate.

That didn't please people on either side of the aisle, and he has done that consistently in his career. He's reached across party lines to find consensus, and he's taken on his own party on issues like ethics reform.

You know, what was interesting about these attacks about bipartisanship and so on is that people like Dick Lugar, the very respected Republican senator from Indiana, spoke out and said, "These are just partisan attacks. I've worked with Barack Obama." They worked together on arms control.

Senator Coburn in Oklahoma worked together with him on budget issues, like putting the budget on Google so we could see how our money is being spent, and putting caps on contracts around the Katrina rebuilding.

Senator Obama has a strong record of working across party lines to produce progress for people.

WALLACE: But, David, you know, because you guys always talk about ethics legislation and the nuclear non-proliferation deal with Dick Lugar, I went back and looked.

Both of those measures passed by unanimous consent. They were so accepted by the Senate that there was not even a vote. In fact, ethics legislation was one of the campaign promises. These were not...

AXELROD: Well, Chris...

WALLACE: If I may, if I may, these were not areas where Barack Obama went up against the leadership of his own party nearly in the way that John McCain did on campaign finance reform, on limiting interrogation of terror detainees, on immigration reform.

He did not go up against his own party on either of those issues.

AXELROD: Well, it's funny you mention immigration reform. During the Republican primaries, McCain said he'd now vote against his own bill. So I think you have to put a little asterisk next to that.

The fact is on ethics reform, it was a tremendous battle within his own caucus and within that Senate. Of course everybody voted for the final bill because you can't vote against an ethics bill.

But in shaping that bill, Senator Obama went up against both — leaders in both parties who weren't happy about changing the rules that they've lived with all these — all these years.

Let me make one other point on this issue of reform, Chris. I heard Senator McCain say the other day that he would — that he's going to tell the special interests it's over and that he can't wait to introduce Governor Palin to the lobbyists and the pork barrelers, he said.

Well, all he has to do to do that is convene a meeting of his senior staff because almost everybody who's running his campaign is a major Washington lobbyist, including your next guest.

They've lobbied for oil companies, drug companies, insurance companies, for foreign oil interests, for foreign governments. That's who's running his campaign.

So people have to ask themselves, "If these are the people who are running his campaign, who's going to run his White House?" It's not change. It's more of the same.

WALLACE: McCain — I want to talk to you about Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, who will be on next, because your campaign has been hammering him this past week for something that he said.

And let's put it up on the screen. "This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates."

Now, afterwards, the McCain camp said what he meant to say, or to expand on it, is who has the right judgment. And they point to this exchange over the last few days on the question of the troop surge in Iraq. Let's watch.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated, by the way, including President Bush and the other supporters.



PALIN: I guess when you turn out to be profoundly wrong on a vital national security issue, maybe it's comforting to pretend that everyone else was wrong, too.


WALLACE: On a matter of judgment, the kind of thing that Rick Davis is talking about, wasn't Obama wrong and McCain right about the troop surge?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, you want to talk about a matter of being profoundly wrong in judgment, it was the judgment to go into Iraq in the first place instead of going after Osama bin Laden, who's resurgent today. But let's leave that aside for a second.

What Senator Obama has said is that he believes that the surge reduced violence beyond what he and anybody expected. What it hasn't done is created the political reconciliation between the parties in Iraq that you need for a stable peace.

WALLACE: Well, let me just pick up...

AXELROD: Hold on, Chris. It has enforced...

WALLACE: How can you say that it has reduced violence beyond what anybody expected? Reduced violence beyond what John McCain expected?

AXELROD: I believe it did. I think if you ask any of the military people involved and they answered honestly, they'd say, "We did not know," and they got — and there were — the troops did a magnificent job.

General Petraeus deserves credit. But there was some serendipity involved as well in the Sunni "awakening," in the decision of the Mahdi army to lay down...

WALLACE: Where did John McCain ever say, "The troop surge — I'm going to support it, but I don't know that it's going to really work?"

AXELROD: The point is this. We were told that the surge — the purpose of the surge, Chris, was to promote political reconciliation and to shift the responsibility to the Iraqis.

Today we are still spending $10 billion a month to defend Iraq, rebuild — to defend Iraq and rebuild Iraq, even as they have, the Iraqis, a $78 billion, $79 billion budget surplus. That is wrong, and I think the American people know it's wrong.

And to say that this was a success when we're still mired there at $10 billion a month, when we still have, you know, over 10,000 troops in Iraq is, I think — really miss the point.

But if we want to talk about judgment, let's go back to the beginning and ask whether it was the right judgment to go in in the first place.

I understand that Governor Palin would like to talk about this aspect of it, but there's a much larger discussion to be had about this. And on the broad sweep of things, including whether we should be in Afghanistan or Iraq, Barack Obama's been right and John McCain has been wrong.

WALLACE: All right. Let's — because we've got about a couple of minutes left, and I want to talk some strategy with you.

I want to put up Karl Rove's latest electoral map, which is an average of recent state polls. It shows Obama leading in states with 260 electoral votes, McCain leading in states with 194, and states with 84 electoral votes, those in yellow, still toss-ups, with 270 votes, of course, need to be elected president.

Is that basically how you see the electoral map at this point? And aren't you vulnerable in longtime Democratic strongholds like Michigan and Pennsylvania?

AXELROD: I think we're going to win in Michigan, and I think we're going to win in Pennsylvania.

Those are two states that have really felt the impact of these bad economic policies of the Bush administration, and really understand the need for change, and want a president who understands that we haven't made great progress in the last eight years and that we can't just keep doing what we're doing.

I think we're going to do well in those states, Chris, and I'm — you know, it's going to be a battle. There are going to be a lot of resources in there, but at the end of the day I think we're going to win both those states.

WALLACE: And finally — and we've got about a minute left — if you had to frame in one or two sentences the choice that you would like to see voters having in their minds as they go to the ballot box on election day, what would you like the — how would you seek to frame the choice?

AXELROD: Well, the choice is between a path that leads us to more of the same and a compounding of the problems that we've already seen over the last eight years, and someone who offers the kind of change that we need to rebuild the middle class, rebuild our economy, rebuild our standing in the world and our security and move America forward.

It's very, very simple. You vote for John McCain, you're voting for more of the same. Barack Obama represents change and hope and progress for this country.

WALLACE: Well, I think it was more than two sentences, and they were slightly long, but you certainly framed the choice. David Axelrod, thanks so much for coming in and talking with us today.

AXELROD: Great to be with you, Chris. Thank you.

WALLACE: Safe travels on the campaign trail, sir.

AXELROD: Thank you. See you out there.