Rove's Radar: What the Recent Polls Mean, 'Joe the Plumber' and More

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," October 23, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: First, Karl Rove, President Bush's former deputy chief of staff and FOX News contributor. Karl is going to tell you why the race for the White House is far from over. Don't count out Senator John McCain and his Alaskan governor.


VAN SUSTEREN: Now, here's what I hear all the time, Karl, is that I hear the race is tightening between Senator McCain and Senator Obama, but I also hear -- everyone says, Well, that's to be expected. Why is that to be expected as you come up on the Election Day?

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's to be expected that people make up their minds as you get closer to election day, but that doesn't necessarily mean it tightens. You know, some elections widen out. But this election is tightening. We saw today the Gallup tracking. The traditional tracking was down to 4. The "Investors Business Daily" tip, which was the most accurate poll in calling the 2004 election, has it a 1- point race, as does the AP poll that came out yesterday. So I don't think it's 1 point, but I think this thing has definitely closed up from where it was, you know, 7 to 10 days ago.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, that -- those are national polls. When I look at my handy map, which I study all the time, it does not look particularly close when I look at the number for the Electoral College.

ROVE: Well, look, Greta, first of all, get help, professional help, because if you're spending time looking at that map constantly, you are into this election more than is healthy for a human being.

Look, the state map will trail the national numbers because we're looking at -- you know, we get lots of data points on the national level. Every day, there are a multitude of polls. I think we're up to seven daily tracking polls, and then a multitude of other polls coming out. But the individual states, there are much fewer data points. So we have to go back and use, like, for example, the last two weeks of polling data in order to make a decision about -- in order to display where a state might be today.

So the national number is going to tighten before the state number tightens. But we've seen it, for example, in Florida, which has gone from, you know, being Obama to now being toss-up. And we're likely to see this map tend to reflect more the national number, the closer we get to the election.

If people want to sign up to get these maps, all they've got to do is go to and sign up, and we'll send them these maps every day that we issue them. Right now, we're issuing them twice a week. Next week, I think we're going to have maybe three or four maps before the election next week.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, maybe I do need help, but I have an awful lot of fun looking at them and studying them, and I've learned a lot. So I go to In fact, I even put it on GretaWire. It's on the blog roll now.

ROVE: Thank you. Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: People can just go to GretaWire, and they go right down and that -- they can go there. That's the easy way.

All right. "Joe the Plumber" -- has he had an impact on that? Is there some way to measure it?

ROVE: Yes. Look, there -- he's -- in a campaign that -- you know, you never have something going -- a campaign going in a straight line towards a certain destination. There are twists and turns in a campaign. And "Joe the Plumber" has been a twist and a turn in this campaign.

He has personalized and epitomized what the Obama tax plan would do. It would tax small business. In the top 1 percent, three out of every four filers in the top 1 percent report business income. They're small businesses, Subchapter S. Of the top 5 percent, out of the over 8 million filers in the top 5 percent who are going to get hit by the Obama tax cut - - tax increase, there are 4,650,000 small businesses.

So if "Joe the Plumber" epitomizes the cost of the -- this is not just some rich guy lying on the beach in the Hamptons. This isn't some rich guy who's got -- you know, who's living in Maui. This is a small business person, a woman who owns a landscaping business or a guy who owns a small tool and die shop, or a family who owns a set of restaurants, or we as know now, Joe the plumber, who owns a business, employs people. The profits that we're going to take away from him by taxing him more heavily is the money that he or she uses to invest in plants and equipment and people.

And what Obama is doing is he is taxing small business, the job creator, at a time when the economy ain't looking so good. And I think this has helped people understand in a very personal way that this is not about impersonal names and numbers, this is about real people and having a real impact on their lives.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, so the national polls look like it's tightening up.

ROVE: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Your -- your map that I studied looks like Senator Obama is substantially out in front.

ROVE: Right, 306 Electoral College votes. But remember, I mean, McCain -- if McCain -- this comes down to a simple thing. If McCain wins Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada, which are today either toss-up states or leaning to Obama, then he wins the election. Senator McCain wins the election. If he loses two or more of those states, then he's got to pick up something, which is why he's still keeping his hand in in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. And I think beneath the radar scope, I think he's also keeping his hand in in Wisconsin and Minnesota, though he's not running a lot of advertising there.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's hard to understand when you look at these maps, and then I turn on the television and I see that Senator Obama draws, on what would be a bad day for him, 35,000 people showing up, and sometimes it's up 80,000, 90,000. You know, I've never seen such extraordinary crowds.

ROVE: Well, you have, actually, if you think about it, earlier this year. I would remind you he had the second largest crowd of the entire primary campaign season was, I think, 35,000 people outside Philadelphia, suburban Philadelphia, just before the April 24 Democratic primary, in which he lost the state, you know, by a pretty comfortable margin to Senator Clinton.

We saw it in Oregon, where he had to spend a lot of time in order to assure that he would -- the state, which is very liberal, did not slip away from him. He had the largest single rally of the campaign. We've got to be careful. Good-sized rallies are what every candidate loves to see. And let me tell you, from going through two presidential campaigns myself, you'd rather have bigger crowds rather than smaller crowds. But for example, in 1972, the guy who had the bigger crowds was George McGovern, and he lost in a nearly 50-state sweep to Richard Nixon.

So it's a sign of momentum. It's a sign of enthusiasm. But it's not necessarily dispositive with regard to who's going to win.


Watch Greta's interview with Karl Rove: Pt. 1 | Pt. 2

VAN SUSTEREN: Coming up, more with Karl. What does Karl think of the personal attacks on Governor Palin, the power of the women's vote this year and whether Senator Obama's millions of dollars spent for 30 minutes of TV time is a gigantic waste of money or not?

And later: A spectacular verbal bomb by Senator Obama (SIC), a bad gaffe. Did he get whacked by the media? Nope. Here is your question. What if Governor Palin had said it? Said what? Well, hang around. You're going to find out.


VAN SUSTEREN: More from our interview with Karl Rove.


VAN SUSTEREN: If you're advising a candidate, that half-hour that's being purchased on broadcast, is that -- I guess it depends on how you do, largely. But you know, your thought on doing that?

ROVE: Well, if you've got as much money as Obama does, it doesn't -- you know, there's no financial down side to doing it. You're not taking a scarce resource, you're taking an abundance of cash and going out there and buying the -- buying a half an hour on the networks.

Now, the question is, I mean, how much damage do you do to yourself if you bomb? In those cases, I don't think you do much damage to yourself. I think people just simply say, Well, he had a boring speech last night on television.

The question is, what kind of up side do you have? And if the up side is, Look, I can look presidential, I can sound confident, I can sound reassuring, I deliver my message without any filter whatsoever, and McCain, because he accepted public financing, does not have the wherewithal, the financial wherewithal, to match me, so people will be seeing me in isolation to and McCain out there, just looking like the ordinary candidate on the campaign trail, and see me in a big studio giving a speech.

We know that that's occasionally helped. Remember, Ronald Reagan, you know, sort of got his career start by giving a speech in 1964 for Barry Goldwater on national television. But you know, it is -- it's, I think, a relatively low down side for him and some good up side for him, for Senator Obama in giving this.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. What about the woman vote? It's often been said by some, I don't know if it's true, but in 1996, the women vote mattered. Now we've got a woman who's on the ticket, and now she's going to be releasing her medical records. Of course, she had five children. And Senator Biden and Senator McCain have released their medical records, or at least shown it to the media. Senator Obama has given a one-page summary from a doctor, a letter.

ROVE: Yes. And I'm not sure that Senator Biden...

VAN SUSTEREN: Doesn't seem fair.

ROVE: Yes. I'm not certain Senator Biden has released all his medical records with regard to his brain aneurysm. I don't think he's given out all those. But yes, people are starting to dump out records, a little bit later than normal on the Democratic side. McCain has been an open book about his health issues for years and years and years. But yes, look, the American people, you know, sort of want to be assured that you're physically up to the job. And you know, it's just one of the -- one of the things candidates have to go through.

VAN SUSTEREN: But I'll tell you, Karl, the e-mails I get is the women, you know, think it's a little bit of a rub that Governor Palin has to put out hers. And of course, you know, she's had five children. I mentioned it a second ago. And it doesn't seem like necessarily that the boys are, you know, pulling -- you know, maybe Senator McCain has. But you know, they need to produce the same amount of records because I -- if the women's vote is important, that's the kind of thing that's really going to make women annoyed.

ROVE: No, you're right. If there are two standards, one for Sarah Palin because she's a woman and one for Barack Obama because he's a man, yes, you bet. And look, we've already seen this. I think one of the reasons that Senator -- that Governor Palin has had the kind of enthusiastic support in certain quarters that she has had is because -- I mean, look, the people said she's not experienced enough to be president.

Well, heck, you know, the guy on the Democratic side has no executive experience. He's been in the United States Senate for what, 143 days worth of Senate business? He's done virtually nothing in the Senate except run for president. You'd be hard pressed to name a single thing that he did in the United States Senate.

On the other hand, Senator -- Sarah Palin has been governor of a state with an $11 billion operating budget, a $1.7 billion capital budget, 29,000 people work for her. She cut taxes. She returned oil revenues to the people of the state. She recut the deal with the oil companies with regard to the royalty share that the state got off of oil taken from state lands. And she tossed out the old sweetheart deal for a gas pipeline and negotiated a tough new one with the companies that's going to serve not only Alaska better but serve the United States better by getting the gas to the lower 48, where we need it, which is the industrial Midwest.

So I mean, you know, she's got a bigger record. She's got more executive experience than anybody, and I think, frankly, a bigger record of accomplishment in the job that she holds than Senator Obama has in the job he has.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, then, explain why some say or some polls suggest or something that she -- that her -- that her numbers have gone down recently, if she has that record that you've recited.

ROVE: Because she has been on the receiving end of brutal coverage and because the elite Eastern media doesn't know what to make of a woman who can shoot it, field dress it, filet it and fix it for you. I mean, they just -- you know, they -- she is culturally, you know, out of step with people who live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and who populate the news bureaus of all our major newspapers and network television programs.

I mean, you know, this is not a woman that they're used to running into at the tony, you know, cocktail parties they go to. This is a woman who's a mother of five, who broke glass ceilings, who lives in Alaska, who's a successful small business person and a conservative maverick outsider governor of the state of Alaska, and that's just not the kind of people that they run with.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it'll be -- it's a fascinating election to watch this year.

ROVE: It sure is.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, thank you very much. I'm going to keep -- even though you think I need help by going to all the time...

ROVE: Go there.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's on my blog roll. I have to go read it.


VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, Karl.

ROVE: Thanks, Greta.


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