Did the Kentucky showdown change the presidential race?
This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," October 13, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the vice presidential candidates square off in their one and only debate. So did their Kentucky showdown change the presidential race? And what should we expect from next Tuesday's Obama/Romney rematch.
Plus, a closer look at Romney's recent poll surge and the Obama's campaign response. Will the liar-liar strategy work?
And congressional hearings on Libya shed new light on what happened before, during and after the deadly attack in Benghazi, and raised new questions about the administration's response.
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
All eyes were on Kentucky Thursday night when Vice candidate, Joe Biden, and Paul Ryan squared off in their one and only debate. The two sparred over everything from reform from Iran to Medicare reform to middle class taxes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The middle class got knocked on their heels. The Great Recession crushed them. They need some help now. The last people who need help are 120,000 families for another, another $500 billion tax cut over the next 10 years.
REP. PAUL RYAN, R - WI, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There aren't enough rich people and small businesses to tax to pay for all their spending. And so the next time you hear them say don't worry about it, we will get a few wealthy people to pay their fair share, watch out, middle class, the tax bill is coming to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; columnist, Bill McGurn; Political Diary editor, Jason Riley; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.
So, Jason, did Joe Biden help the Democrats get their mojo back?
JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: I think he did what he was tasked to do last night by Democrats, which is to energize the base. After last week's debate performance by Obama, Democrats were concerned. They were worried. I think they were less so after this vice presidential debate. And I think that was Joe Biden's primary concern, energizing the party again.
GIGOT: How did he specifically do that?
RILEY: Well, he did that by mentioning a lot of things that people had wanted or Democrats had wanted the president to mention last week, the 47 percent remark, the auto bailout, and so forth. That's what they wanted to hear and he served up a lot of red meat last night.
Kim, what about Paul Ryan? How did he hold up under the onslaught?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Paul Ryan's job was to go in there, meet all these accusations. Everyone knew what was coming. This was going to be Joe Biden just lambasting him right and left. So his job was to go out there, meet this test run for the Obama campaign strategy, refute it, call them out on it, and generally not put in any big errors that would in any way dominate the discussion in the days after and any way check the Romney campaign. And to that extent, he did do that.
GIGOT: One of the features of this debate was the Biden mannerisms and his behavior. Biden-interruptus, you might call it. Let's look at it what --
-- how Biden interjected himself when Ryan was speaking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Here's the problem. They got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, turning Medicare into a piggy bank for Obama-care. Their own actuary from the administration came to Congress and said one of out of six hospitals and nursing homes are going to go out of business as a result of this.
BIDEN: That's not what they said.
RYAN: 7.4 million seniors are projected to lose the current Medicare Advantage cover they have. That's a $3,200 benefit cut.
What we're saying --
BIDEN: That didn't happen. More people signed up.
RYAN: These are from your own actuaries.
BIDEN: More -- more people signed up for Medicare Advantage after the change.
RYAN: What they're saying --
BIDEN: No -- nobody --
RYAN: Mr. Vice President, I know --
RYAN: Mr. Vice President, I know you are under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground.
But I think people are better served if we don't keep interrupting each other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: All right, Dan, by one count, 83 times --
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yes.
GIGOT: -- Biden interrupted? How effective was that as a strategy?
HENNINGER: I think it was totally in effective, Paul. At that point, I think there might have been about 25 interruptions.
And let me just -- somebody counted. There were 83 interruptions in a 90-minute speech and Joe Biden probably spoke three-quarters of the time, which means he effective destroyed every statement that Paul Ryan tried to make. And, you know, Biden came across as a bar-room bore. Except in a bar, you can say, thanks, old timer, I've got to go home.
And he forced 60 millions of people to sit and listen to him for 90 minutes.
GIGOT: All right, Bill, but was Ryan too differential given that onslaught? There's some conservatives that think he should have been more assertive.
BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: Yes. I think three things. I think he was too differential. I think he let Joe Biden have the last word on too many things and so forth. That said, I think he did what he was there to do, which was to show he was a vice presidential candidate, that he had a good demeanor, a good argument. No one is going to remember anything bad about what he did. Joe Biden dominated the debate. You can say he won, but it might be also that he lost the debate, especially once we see the "Saturday Night Live" portrayal of this.
GIGOT: You mean he might have won in terms of the --
GIGOT: Well, he led the debate but he lost it, if you look at his smirk, his snarl --
MCGURN: My former colleague, Marc Thiessen said one of the measures of a debate -- he was saying this before the Romney debate -- is who cuts the ad after the debate. The RNC has this ad of laughter --
GIGOT: Republican National Committee.
MCGURN: I think it's very, very effective and so forth. And I think in the post-debate, what are people going to remember? They aren't going to remember the fine points. They are going to remember Joe Biden's mannerisms. Michael Goodwin, in The Post today, says, he was laughing at the beginning, he was angry at the end, it wasn't clear whether his medication was wearing off or kicking in.
RILEY: If you like Joe Biden, you are happy with that performance. If you didn't like Joe Biden, you thought he was a bore last night. But what about the people in the middle? What about the undecideds?
GIGOT: And what do you think? What do you think?
RILEY: I think that it wasn't just the interruptions but the condescending manner that turned off some of those undecided voters. And I think that that may come back to haunt the ticket later on.
GIGOT: Kim, was -- do you think Paul Ryan looked presidential? Rose to the presidential level on foreign policy?
STRASSEL: He did. Look, that was a bit of a mixed performance at times. You know, he scored very heavily talking about Libya and Benghazi at the beginning, talking about American projecting its image in the world. Some of the focus groups afterwards showed some people thought that was some of his most effective lines of the entire debate.
I think there was less of a good response on some issues, Syria and Iran to a certain degree. Although, the question is again whether or not Biden's performance was just so over the top that, did any of that really matter because people were having a hard time paying attention to anything about Joe Biden?
HENNINGER: Paul, this was supposed to be a debate. It's called a debate. It was not supposed to be a WWF smack down.
What I'm saying is that I think most people came to it tuned in because they wanted to hear the vice president of the United States and his opponent talk about the issues that are before the American people right now, primarily being the economy. They were not given the opportunity to do that. And the reason they weren't is because of the way Joe Biden behaved during the debate. So I think he's going to cost the Obama campaign long-term among undecided voters.
GIGOT: Any obligation here, Bill, on the part of the moderator? I hate to pick on the moderator --
MCGURN: Yes --
GIGOT: -- but they're supposed to make sure people can at least hear when they say.
MCGURN: I was disappointed. I don't think she was biased. I know some people say she was biased in the questions and so forth. But I much preferred the first format because I found disconcerting, part what Dan said, but partly, they were debating with Martha Raddatz, one person, rather than debating with one another and the American people. If you look at the split screens, they weren't looking at each other. I found we had a much more productive debate the last time. I would rather the issues to be debated be decided less by one newspaper person or one TV reporter than by the candidates themselves.
GIGOT: Yes. It's not a press conference, it's a debate.
GIGOT: All right.
Much more on this week's vice presidential debate when we come back. Plus, a look ahead to Tuesday's Obama-Romney rematch. Expectations are high for both candidates. So will the president raise his game and can Mitt Romney sustain his momentum?
GIGOT: We are back with more on this week's vice presidential debate and a look ahead to Tuesday's Obama/Romney rematch.
First, let's look at a clip from the debate on the economy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: And by the way, they talk about this Great Recession as if it fell out of the sky like, oh, my goodness, where did it come from? It came from this man voting to put two wars on the credit card, at the same time, put a prescription drug benefit on the credit card, a trillion dollar tax cut for the very wealthy. I was there. I voted against them. I said, no, we can't afford that. Now, all of a sudden, these guys are so seized with the concern about the debt that they created.
MARTHA RADDATZ, DEBATE MODERATOR: Congressman?
RYAN: Joe and I are from similar towns. He's from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and I'm from Janesville, Wisconsin. Do you know what the unemployment rate was in Scranton today?
BIDEN: Sure do.
RYAN: It's 10 percent.
RYAN: Do you know what the day you guys came in? 8.5 percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Kim, one of Ryan's jobs was put the onus on Biden about the state of the economy. Did he accomplish that or did Biden turn the tables and really put the focus more on Romney's agenda?
STRASSEL: Yes. Paul Ryan didn't get much of a chance to put the onus on Biden for anything.
Look, I think he did go out there, he tried to the extent that he could while he was dodging the kitchen sinks that were coming at him to put some information out there --
-- continue to further the Romney agenda, the sort of positive vision for the economy. But he didn't get a big chance. That's something Mitt Romney is going to have to be aware of and get ready for as he moves into this debate with Obama. Because now they've got a sense of what's coming. And by the way, Obama won't make the mistake of going onto the stage --
STRASSEL: -- and in any way making those style mistakes Joe Biden did.
GIGOT: One thing that I saw -- the answer from Ryan I felt was weak. He said Romney is a car guy. What does that mean? That's not an answer on the bailout.
GIGOT: That's not an explanation. That's just one of those nonsense --
RILEY: I think on domestic policy, I think Ryan did OK mostly. Most of the debate was foreign policy, which plays to Biden's strength. But on domestic policy, I thought Ryan did OK, with the exception of his discussion of entitlement reform where I think Biden got the best of him on saying, who do you trust when talking to seniors, talking directly to the camera. He did that a bunch of times. And I thought that came off well for Biden. So I think he was a little defensive, Ryan was, in defending his budget proposals from the past and he got distracted from that. On whole, on domestic policy, I thought Ryan had a pretty strong night.
GIGOT: Is this going to have any impact on the presidential race, Dan, or are we going to forget about this, except for the Saturday night clips on Joe Biden's antics?
HENNINGER: No, I think it will have an effect on the race, Paul, because, again, as I keep saying, I think voters out there who are going to decide the election are paying very close attention to what these people are saying in terms of, why is the economy behaving as poorly as it is. If you think -- connect this to what Barack Obama himself has been doing out there, in his stump speeches, he primarily mocks and ridicules Mitt Romney rather than talking about his own record. And Biden's weird performance was kind of a piece of that technique that they have adopted. I think voters are looking for something deeper from the president now. The burden is on him to show it next week.
GIGOT: No hint of a second term agenda in Biden's --
MCGURN: No, not at all. I think he showed President Obama that you can be aggressive, you can defend it and --
GIGOT: So Romney ought to be on notice, he's coming at you?
But he also showed us how not to be aggressive at the same time. And one of the dangers is -- I got the impression from the last presidential debate that Romney was holding back a little bit. That he was a little nice.
MCGURN: That he left a few zingers on the table and so forth because he was dominating. He didn't want to --
GIGOT: But Obama -- But, Bill, Obama is such a cooler customer than Biden. Biden is all heat and energy and attack. Obama is laid-back. I mean, can he really go on the attack like Biden?
MCGURN: I think he can, but I think the danger is he opens the door for Romney to be more aggressive in his responses. And I think Governor Romney will be more aggressive.
GIGOT: He will have to be more aggressive than Paul Ryan.
RILEY: Two things. I think you will see Obama being more aggressive, closer to Biden's performance here, but without the smirking, without the condescension --
GIGOT: And more dangerous potentially for Romney.
RILEY: And the difficulty is the format of the next debate. When ordinary people are asking the question, it's hard to do that and then turn to your opponent and attack.
GIGOT: Briefly, Kim?
STRASSEL: Look, one of the problems the Obama campaign has had is up before Denver, they were careful not to have the president be aggressive in attacks because it would have a knock on his likability numbers. You are seeing that happen now. So that is also the burden he bears going into this. There's a lot of Independent who are still interested in voting for him because they like him. If he's very mean and very nasty the way Biden was this week that could potentially hurt him more, especially among sub groups like women.
GIGOT: All right.
When we come back, this week's congressional hearing on Libya sheds new light on what happened before, during and after the September 11th Benghazi attack, and raises new questions about the administration's response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We will get to the bottom of it. And wherever the facts lead us, wherever they lead us, we will make clear to the American public that whatever mistakes were made will not be made again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RAUL LABRADOR, R - ID: Given the information that you saw on TV and your knowledge of the situation in Libya, did you come to a conclusion as to whether this was a terrorist act, or whether it was based on some film that was on the Internet, Lt. Col. Wood.
LT. COL. ANDREW WOOD: It was instantly recognizable to me as a terrorist attack.
LABRADOR: Instantly recognizable?
WOOD: Yes, sir.
REP. RAUL LABRADOR: And why is that?
WOOD: Mainly because of my prior knowledge there. I almost expected the attack to come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Powerful and potentially damaging testimony this week from Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who commanded a security team there prior to the September 11th assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee held hearings Wednesday into that attack, which killed four Americans, including U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
We are back with Dan Henninger. Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski.
So, Matt, you followed the hearings this week. What did we learn that we didn't know?
MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think three things principally. First of all, we learned there was no protest at the Benghazi mission.
GIGOT: No demonstration at all?
KAMINSKI: None at all. There were no anti-video protesters there. And that State seems to have known this much earlier than the administration let on. The second thing we learned is that they definitely thought it was a terrorist attack earlier than they made clear. The third thing we learned was that repeated requests to boost security at the Libyan mission were turn down and an elite force led by Lt. Col. Wood of 16 men was pulled out in August --
GIGOT: Pulled out?
KAMINSKI: -- asked to extend into the fall.
GIGOT: We have a clip at the debate, because Benghazi was a big topic at the vice presidential debate. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Our ambassador in Paris has a Marine attachment guarding him. Shouldn't we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi, a place where we knew there was an Al Qaeda cell with arms?
BIDEN: Well, we weren't told they wanted more security. And we did not know they wanted more security.
And, by the way, at the time, we were told exactly -- we said exactly what the intelligence community told us that they knew. That was the assessment. And as the intelligence community changed their view, we made it clear they changed their view.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Bret, blame it on the intelligence community. How is that going to play?
BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, maybe it will play well if the Republicans allow them to get away with that. We've been saying consistently, and we've been talking about Libya for a long time on this show, this was a failure of policy. It wasn't a failure of intelligence. In fact, intelligence, as Matt just pointed out, was all there. We knew what was happening in Benghazi. We knew very quickly what kind of incident we faced. We had been tracking Al Qaeda in Maghreb, in North Africa. This was not a failure of intelligence. This was inattention by the administration and then a later effort to spin it in a way that was politically convenient by blaming this video instead of the rise of extremism there.
GIGOT: Dan, throwing the intelligence community over the side though is -- has -- politically, pretty risky strategy in the past for political leaders.
HENNINGER: It is, but I would say it's of a piece with the Obama/Biden strategy. He said right there, we didn't know. By "we," he means the vice president and the president. It's of a piece, Paul, with what they said about the recession and the economy. Obama said the economy wasn't my fault, George Bush did it. And now Joe Biden is saying, we didn't know, the intelligence community didn't tell us. They have this instinct not to take responsibility at all for any serious event.
KAMINSKI: The hearings show they did know. There were requests put in to State for more security because they were very worried things were getting out of control in Libya this year.
GIGOT: But, does that mean there's a fissure here between Secretary of State Clinton's State Department and their narrative and the administration and the political campaign's narrative, which wants to say, well, it was the intelligence community or we didn't get the right story?
KAMINSKI: Well, there seemed to be something -- Patrick Kennedy, the other state official that testified, said that he had gotten the same briefing and that he said the same thing they were saying. But the night before this hearing, State went out there and put out a very different story than the administration had pedaled in the first week --
KAMINSKI: -- after the attacks.
STEPHENS: But, Paul, the Benghazi story is a piece of the administration's larger strategy, which is, so long as we have an election on, the rest of the world may as well not exist. Iran doesn't exist. Syria doesn't exist. The serial rebuffs from Russia don't exist. And a terrorist attack in Benghazi sure as heck doesn't exist until it becomes a political problem for us.
GIGOT: So where is Secretary of State Clinton in this? She's seems to be out of the picture.
KAMINSKI: Looking for the next job --
-- or keeping a low profile. It was very telling that they did put out Susan Rice, who is one of the leading candidates for that job if Obama wins a second term.
GIGOT: U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
KAMINSKI: To the U.N., who did -- went out on the first Sunday talk shows after the attack to try to explain what happened, that it was the fault of the video and it was a spontaneous demonstrations.
GIGOT: So we will learn a lot more about what really happened in Benghazi. This issue isn't going away.
What about the debate in general on foreign policy, Dan? Who got the better of that in your view, Ryan or Biden?
HENNINGER: I think in some ways perhaps Joe Biden did, merely because he would not allow Paul Ryan to explain himself fully. But the interesting thing was that when they got on to something like Afghanistan, if you listen closely, basically, what Joe Biden was saying was that our intention was to get out, both of Iraq and of Afghanistan. And he was not going to let anything stand in the way of that argument.
GIGOT: But doesn't that resonate with the American mood right now, which is let's not undertake any more of these adventures?
STEPHENS: I thought that was such a missed opportunity for Paul Ryan on Afghanistan, on Syria, in part, because the Romney campaign hasn't really articulated a truly distinctive position. It hasn't been willing to take a risk. Paul Ryan would have been in a much stronger position if he said, I believe we should impose a no-fly zone on Syria just as we did in Bosnia without the risk of a single combat.
Another thing he should have pressed in Afghanistan is, yes, we want to get out, but we also want to win. We don't want to squander the sacrifice of 2000 American soldiers who have been there for twelve years so that the Taliban can pick up just where they were in 2001.
GIGOT: That's a very good point. But the other one, on Syria, that's not where the Romney campaign policy is. So it was tough for Ryan to be able to go there, as much as I agree with you.
Coming up in our second half hour, a closer look at Mitt Romney's post-debate bounce. He's taken the lead in some national polls and is closing the gap in some important swing states. How big is the surge? And can Romney keep it going?
Plus, there's no doubt the Obama campaign is feeling the heat. But could their new attack strategy backfire?
GIGOT: A number of new polls leave little doubt that Mitt Romney is enjoying a post-debate bounce. The Real Clear Politics average of national polls this week put him in the lead for the first time, With the Republican candidate also gaining ground among key voting groups and in some important swing states. So is the surge real? And what can Mitt Romney do to sustain it?
For answers, we turn once again to Republican pollster Whit Ayres. Well, Whit, I got to first pay you a compliment. A couple of weeks back, before the debate, when Republicans were thinking it was over, or at least some of them were, you were saying, No, this race is a lot closer. So where does it stand now?
WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Well, thank you, Paul. That was a pretty easy call.
AYRES: Today, if you look at the effect of the debate, it's pretty significant. I'm talking about the first presidential debate.
AYRES: In the eight polls that were released in the week immediately before the debate, Obama had a lead of 3.6 percentage points, on average. In the seven polls that have been released so far in the week after the debate, Romney has an average lead of 1.3 percentage points. That's a net turnaround of about 5 percentage points, which is very significant in a race this close.
There are some commentators who are saying the race is back where it was before the conventions. I don't think that's right, if you look at the data. Romney is in a stronger position now than he was in in August.
GIGOT: So is Romney -- is it fair to say Romney's actually leading, or is this essentially a tie?
AYRES: It's essentially a tie right now. The data is so close. But Romney was behind by a field goal, now he's kicked a field goal and we've got a tie race going into the final weeks.
GIGOT: OK, so what voter groups have moved in the last three weeks? Are you talking about independents? Are you talking about specific demographic groups? Who's moved?
AYRES: Well, one group that hasn't moved are the strong partisans. Democrats and Republicans who turn out are going to vote for their own nominee.
GIGOT: Right. Right.
AYRES: The key statistic to watch with the partisans is enthusiasm. And the presidential debate clearly helped Republican enthusiasm and hurt the Democratic enthusiasm.
On the other hand, the group to watch as far as the ballot test goes are the independents...
AYRES: ... because they are much less locked into their particular preference at the moment. Your own polls showed that in Virginia, according to The Wall Street Journal poll...
AYRES: ... independents moved a net 7 points toward Romney after the debate. And in Ohio, independents moved a net 12 points toward Romney after the debate. Those are big swings among independents, and it's one of the reasons Romney is so much closer.
GIGOT: If Romney wins independents by that kind of margin, does he win the election?
AYRES: It all depends upon the relative turnout of Democrats and Republicans.
AYRES: In 2008, Democrats were 7 points more than Republicans in the electorate, but in 2004, there was no advantage for either party. So if we have an electorate that looks like 2004 and independents continue to support Romney in these margins, of course, Romney will win.
GIGOT: What about the disconnect or the difference between the national poll levels, which are tied or have Romney slightly leading, and some of these state polls, where Romney's gained but Obama still seems to have an advantage? I'm talking about Ohio, for example, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. You've seen Romney pick up, but Obama's still in the lead. Why the disconnect between those and the national polls?
AYRES: In part because those states lean more Democratic than some of the other swing states, and in part because the Obama campaign has done a pretty good of trashing Mitt Romney in places like Ohio.
But one thing we've seen since the presidential debate is that a rising tide lifts all boats. And so Romney has come up across the board. If he can keep it going nationally, he will also keep it going in these swing states.
GIGOT: The head of Suffolk University poll, respected poll, said this week something really surprising, which is that they've stopped polling in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida because they think the tide has moved so strongly towards Romney in those states that they think Romney is going to win those states.
Are you there yet? Do you agree with that?
AYRES: I might buy that for North Carolina and Florida. I don't yet buy that for Virginia. I think it's still incredibly close in Virginia right now.
GIGOT: OK, so what do you think the shape of the electorate is going to be? You raise that point, and it's a very interesting one. Is it going to be like 2008, or is it going to be like 2004, which was an even break between Democratic, Republicans, or are we talking about some kind of average in between?
AYRES: That, of course, is the question of the moment, Paul. I think the best guess is somewhere between the no advantage in 2004 and the 7- point advantage in 2008. Most presidential elections over the last 30 years have been somewhere around 3 to 4-point advantages for Democrats, but Republicans have still managed to win because they did so well among independents.
GIGOT: Well, if there's a 3 to 4 percentage advantage this time for President Obama and Democrats, then Romney really does need to poll very, very well with the independents.
AYRES: That's correct. And he has consistently done so, so far. He's doing better with them now.
GIGOT: Just briefly, what's the biggest surprise so far in this election cycle as you look at the polling data?
AYRES: I think the biggest surprise to me was the performance of Mitt Romney versus Barack Obama in the first presidential debate.
AYRES: That's the biggest mismatch I can remember since Reagan and Mondale in 1984. And the effect that that mismatch had on the polling numbers is pretty dramatic.
GIGOT: Yes, it really (INAUDIBLE) OK, Whit Ayres, thanks so much for being here.
AYRES: Thank you, Paul.
GIGOT: When we come back: With the president's poll numbers slipping, the Obama campaign is going on the attack. But could their new strategy backfire?
GIGOT: Well, with the president's post-debate poll numbers slipping, the Obama campaign and its surrogates have settled on a response, and it's being dubbed the "liar, liar" strategy. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB SCHIEFFER, "FACE THE NATION": Are you saying that Governor Romney lied or was dishonest?
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, yes, I think he was dishonest. Absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plenty of people have pointed out what a liar Mitt Romney is and was last night. I mean, if he was talking, he was -- if he was speaking last night, he was lying.
STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: We expected an aggressive debater to show up last night on the debate stage with Barack Obama. We didn't expect an aggressively dishonest debater to show up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: We're back with Dan Henninger, Bill McGurn, Jason Riley and Kim Strassel.
So Kim, what's behind this strategy of saying that everything that Mitt Romney says is made up?
KIMBERLEY STRASSEL, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, what's behind it is that Obama got thumped at the Denver debate. And then, basically, all they had after that was to claim the guy who was up there had been fundamentally dishonest.
And this is one of the problems the Obama campaign has is it's not running on a positive agenda. It's not offering any ideas. Its idea for a while was to scare the public about Mitt Romney's agenda. One of their problems is when Mitt Romney went out and explained himself so well and so fluently in Denver, that somewhat undercut that strategy. So now they've turned to saying the guy's just...
STRASSEL: ... a liar, a hypocrite, a flip-flopper.
GIGOT: So you're saying this is all they got, or is this -- or is this...
STRASSEL: This is all they got.
GIGOT: OK. All right, Dan...
STRASSEL: And I think you saw that with Joe Biden, too. It's pretty much all they got.
DAN HENNINGER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I think it's what they've chosen to do. Their problem was suggested by something Whit Ayres was just saying. Barack Obama needs 2008 levels of turnout among Democrats. His dilemma is he also has needs to attract independent voters, and this liar tactic is something that's meant to energize Democrats.
GIGOT: Yes, but it's -- an MSNBC -- they love that!
HENNINGER: Exactly. The problem is it's a mistake. It's a very ugly, hard-edged word. And you notice Joe Biden did not use that. He said "malarkey," which is another way of saying the same thing. I think they're going to turn off and discomfit a lot of independents if they keep pushing this liar and dishonesty line.
GIGOT: You know, Bill, Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, said something I've heard -- I've picked up from a fair number of Democrats, which is, you know, instead of just going on attack, what Obama really needs in this next debate, the next two debates is to actually tell people what he's going to do in a second term...
BILL MCGURN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Exactly.
GIGOT: ... to say why this next four years is actually going to make your life better than the last four years.
MCGURN: Right. "Liar" doesn't do that. I -- I -- look, "liar" is a cheap and easy way out of things and very disgusting sometimes, but it's inherently weak. You look like the weaker party. Remember Bob Dole, "Stop lying about my record"? I worked in the White House with George Bush...
GIGOT: Yes, that was effective.
MCGURN: ... you know, "Bush lied, people died." We had "liar" thrown at us all the time, and Bush still got his war funding even through a Democratic Congress. It inherently makes you look weak. And I think people tune out. I think Dan's right. I think -- it's not just the harshness, I think people tune that out.
GIGOT: But doesn't Romney have to be prepared somehow to do more than he did the first time? I thought he did a pretty effective job of saying, You know, you're not telling the truth about what I'm saying, without actually calling him a liar.
GIGOT: But nonetheless, it's clear they're doubling down, the Democrats are, on this strategy. Romney is going to have to, I think, do a little bit better than Ryan did because Ryan almost took it a little too easily. Jason?
JASON RILEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Oh, I -- I -- I agree. I think that one of -- one of the problems with -- with Ryan's performance was allowing Biden to get away with saying, A lot of what you want to do, particularly on foreign policy, is very similar to what we're doing. And he's got to differentiate himself. The Romney-Ryan ticket has to differentiate themselves on all of these things, from foreign policy to domestic policy.
But one of the weaknesses of the "liar" claim that I don't think we've touched on is that I don't think it works very well with the general public, who thinks all politicians stretch the truth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
RILEY: I don't think it's a particularly effective attack on those grounds alone.
HENNINGER Well, they're not really trying to repute (ph) Romney, they're trying to ruin Romney, and they've been trying to do that from the beginning. I kind of degree with you, Paul. I think next week, Mitt Romney has to call Barack Obama out on this tactic and put it in his face and tell the American people exactly what's going on here.
GIGOT: Let's look at a Mitt Romney ad that is new this week on jobs and the economy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Look at the evidence of the last four years! We've got 23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work. There's suffering in this country!
President would prefer raising taxes. The problem with raising taxes is that it slows down the rate of growth. I'm not going to raise taxes on anyone because when the economy is going slow like this, when we're in recession, you shouldn't raise taxes on anyone. My plan is to bring down rates to get more people working. My priority is putting people back to work in America!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: So Kim, is that an improvement over the other Romney ads we've seen earlier?
STRASSEL: You betcha! I mean, this is -- this is the Romney from the debate. This is the Romney out there talking about growth, how it ties into taxes, how it ties into the jobs and the economy. And that was the message that resonated when he was up there on stage with the president, and the more he can spread it around the country, the better he does.
GIGOT: Yes, that seems to me to be the winning strategy, particularly if you can put more explanations around the specific policies that will increase jobs.
When we come back: The presidential race is tightening in all- important Ohio, but that's not the only big race on the ballot. A look at the expensive and increasingly nasty Senate showdown there next.
GIGOT: Turning now to the battle for control of the United States Senate. This week, we go to Ohio, where Iraq war veteran and state treasurer Josh Mandel is taking on the incumbent Democrat, Sherrod Brown. The RealClearPolitics average shows Brown with the edge, but both sides are spending big in the run-up to November 6th, making it one of the most expensive Senate races of the cycle.
So Bill, you've written a column about this race. Who's got the edge?
MCGURN: Well, you know, if you read the papers, you think Sherrod Brown has the edge. He's the incumbent. He's smart. He's a good retail politician, working class. But from what I hear in Ohio, and not from the Mandel campaign, I think Josh Mandel might squeak this out. He's campaigning in the hustings, and so forth. And you'd never get that impression from reading the story.
GIGOT: What's he running on? What is Mandel big theme?
MCGURN: He's running on the economy. I mean, that's really it. And I think a lot of people are comparing him to Romney. And certainly, if Romney gets a good turnout, that will help him because people pull the Republican lever.
But some people say it might be better to look at the Ohio legislature, where the Republicans have control, and they may be picking up more seats and that Mandel is kind of running on that same philosophy there.
GIGOT: You know, Dan, I know Sherrod Brown a bit. He's a good sparring partner with us sometimes, sends us letters to the editor, calls me on the phone and takes us to task now and then for some of our editorials. He's a kind of populist guy, Democrat, you know, runs on the really big issue of China and trade, which plays into the manufacturing base.
You're from Ohio. You know that kind of politician sells in that state.
HENNINGER: It does up to a point, though, Paul. But you know what? It hasn't been selling that well recently. Rob -- Senator Bob Portman was elected in 2010 with 57 percent of the vote. John Kasich, a very conservative Republican, was elected governor in Ohio. There's a base in Ohio...
GIGOT: It was close, though. It wasn't -- it wasn't Portman's margin.
HENNINGER: But there is...
HENNINGER: ... base in Ohio to support a candidacy like Josh Mandel's. The question about Mandel, who's a very young-looking guy who's in his mid-30s, is whether he has the depth and experience to step up to the Senate level against someone like Sherrod Brown. That's, I think, what voters are trying to figure out about him right now.
GIGOT: Let's give viewers a shot at the both of them and how -- a couple of the ads that are running in this race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we go, fans. Sherrod Brown steps on the field. I have to say, under his leadership, Ohio hasn't fared well, 280,000 jobs lost. Brown drops back -- sacked for supporting the new $1 trillion health care law that cuts $700 billion from Medicare spending! Looks like there's a penalty on Brown.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Voting with Obama 95 percent of the time. That's going to cost taxpayers $500 billion in new taxes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ohio just can't compete as long as Sherrod Brown is calling the plays.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The trade deficit that China has cost the United States almost 3 million jobs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sen. Sherrod Brown is calling for action against cheating China.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN, D - OH: They don't play fair, and we've got to fight back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sen. Brown says his bill will enforce trade and import laws with China.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bill passed the Senate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It creates and protects jobs by cracking down on Chinese currency manipulation.
BROWN: I brought Democrats and Republicans together to pass tariffs on China. Now we can level the playing field for American workers. I'm Sherrod Brown. That's why I approved this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: So Kim, why are Republicans spending so much on this race, which is an expensive race, when some of the other -- polling on some of the other races shows they're closer races?
STRASSEL: Because they think that this is as good a pickup opportunity as any that might be out there. Look, the reality is Sherrod Brown -- you described him as a populist. That's true. He runs as such. He's also an exceptionally liberal senator who is stuck to the hip to the Obama administration's record. So on stimulus, on ObamaCare -- and this is a state that is not necessarily overly liberal. In fact, it's conservative in many ways.
So they see this opportunity. They've got this young man who's relatively new to politics, very charismatic. He's been a big fund-raiser. And he's already made up a lot of ground. At one point not too long ago, Josh Mandel was down 17 points in the polls. The fact some of them now have him ahead shows that there is a real openness out there in Ohio voters to change.
HENNINGER: But you know what's really interesting about the outside groups, Kim, is that they're hanging Barack Obama's policies around Sherrod Brown's neck, and that, I think, is going to carry -- going to have something to do with what happens in Ohio at the presidential level.
GIGOT: All right, Dan. We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Time for "Hits and Misses" of the week. Kimberly Strassel, first to you.
STRASSEL: This is a hit for David Siegel, the CEO of Westgate Resorts, who this week sent an e-mail to his employees noting that if Obama is reelected and if he raises taxes, Mr. Siegel will have no choice but to cut jobs.
Now, this caused enormous controversy, with critics arguing that he was threatening employees with layoffs if they vote a certain way. Baloney. What he actually did is what you wish more CEOs would do, he tied taxes on the wealthy to the real world.
GIGOT: Bret Stephens.
STEPHENS: This is a miss to the Obama administration and that famous "Russian reset" that's supposed to be yielding us all kinds of terrific dividends. Most recently, the Russian government said it wasn't going to renew a 1991 treaty by which we have been helping the Russians dismantle hundreds, in fact, thousands of nuclear weapons.
You add this to the expulsion by the Russians of USAID from Russia and they way they've been treating us in Syria, and you can see how this Russian reset is working out for us.
KAMINSKI: Paul, the Nobel Peace Prize committee has given some unusual awards over the years...
KAMINSKI: -- to Al Gore, Jimmy Carter and President Obama in his ninth month in office.
KAMINSKI: But on Friday, it was the first time the award came in the form of an anti-depressant...
KAMINSKI: -- by giving it to the EU (INAUDIBLE) pep talk that you've done OK --
GIGOT: The European Union.
KAMINSKI: The European -- exactly -- that you brought peace to the continent. And I guess it's a qualified hit.
GIGOT: All right. Bill?
MCGURN: Jack Welch set off a firestorm when he complained that the process of verification for the unemployment figures was cooked. He might look at Illinois. There the state just found out that 1,100 inmates in the county jails and state prisons collected more than $2 million in unemployment from the taxpayers.
Now, remember, to collect unemployment, every two weeks, you have to verify that you're available for work and you're looking for work. You know, given what we know about Chicago, maybe they should start looking into how these guys are voting.
GIGOT: It could be early.
MCGURN: Early voting.
GIGOT: And remember, if you have your own hit or miss, please send to us at JER@foxnews.com. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @JERonfnc.
That's it for this week's edition of the show. Thanks to my panel. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.
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