'Special Report' Panelists Discuss the Tight Race; ACORN Goes on the Offensive

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from October 29, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that more than one candidate has read the polls at the time and not the transcend(ph). I guarantee you one thing, we will be up late on election night.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don't believe for a second this election is over. Don't think for a minute that power will c oncede without a fight. We have to work like our futures depend on it, because they do.


BRIT HUME: Well, both the candidates seem to agree that this is a close election.

And we're going to have some thoughts on this from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent from National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Let's look at a few of these polls. This is, first, the Gallup daily tracking poll. This is of registered voters, and it's not at this stage of the game all that meaningful, but it shows Obama up nine.

Now, the Rasmussen daily tracking poll is of likely voters, and it's got the race, as you can see, much closer. So, what to think?

Well, let's look at the real clear politics average of ten current polls. As you can see, they show about a, almost a six-point lead for Barack Obama.

However, this is a bit closer than it's been. So the question arises, what does this mean? Mara, your thoughts?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: First of all, I think the ray race is getting closer. I think some of it is a natural tightening at the end, which we see every year, every cycle.

I also think the race is getting closer because it's getting closer, because some of McCain's attacks are having effect.

I also think that what you have got is undecided voters -- we don't know whether they're going to break to Obama or McCain, but what we do know at least among African-Americans, there are no undecided African-American voters. There are huge chunks of Obama supporters that are already locked in.

So the theory is maybe undecided voters might break to McCain.

I think there is another thing about the averages. They're very helpful to journalists and other people who follow this because they average the polls. I think at this point it is useless to look at a poll that polls registered voters. Likely voters are the only people we care about.

HUME: Except, though, that Gallup is doing -- and we don't have the numbers ready to show, but Gallup is doing two likely voter screens. In other words, they are asking a set of questions.

One of them is one where they accounting for the distinct possibility there will be a much larger than average turnout this year, and they come about the same place the registered voters do.


HUME: In other words, that's what you would expect. Except you look at the Gallup survey, their old-fashioned screen of likely voters based on past voter behavior, and you come out with a very tight race indeed. So who knows?

LIASSON: Modeling this election is also very tough because the electorate has grown and we don't know exactly how. And we also don't know how many of those new registrants are going to show up.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: In other words, we don't know how to define "likely," because it is a new environment and we'll know after the election, and we'll have the screening that will work. But, of course, it will be too late.

I agree it is pretty obvious that it is tightening. It always does, particularly when you have a newcomer, when people are thinking whether at the last second you want to have a newcomer, a guy you may not really know who he is, in the White House.

There's one other factor here, and that is the extraneous factor, the stock market. It's a fevered chart of the national movement. When it tanked, McCain lost his lead. There is no question it was as a result of that.

The market goes up 10 percent in a day yesterday, and your retirement account grows 10 percent, and you feel a little bit less gloom and doomy.

That's not going to have a divisive effect, but mood is important. And if we're talking about the last say, five percent of the undecideds, who, after all of this torrent of information over a whole year are still undecided, it could turn on how the mood is.

And McCain is scoring with the tax and spend tax, the traditional "he's a liberal" attack, and also with the "can you trust him in a crisis?" attack. And I think if he keeps on those things, it could end up as a close election.


And the other thing is that the voters out there, which I think Mara was suggesting, the voters out there, they're white, and they tend to be soft --

HUME: The voters that are as yet undecided?

BARNES: Yes. They are soft Republicans and independents. In other words, a group that if McCain is going to do well, he would get a disproportionate amount of those folks out there.

But I think there are a couple of things that are working against the tightening, in other words, working against McCain. One is that, usually in October, Republicans save their money and they outspend Democrats like crazy.

They're not doing this October because Democrats have so much money, Barack Obama being on TV tonight on all the stations, all the broadcast stations, and you just hear from everywhere -- outspending Republicans in all Senate races, House races, the presidential race, two, three, four to one everywhere. That's one thing, Democrats have money.

And the second thing is that McCain and Palin are not just sticking to one message, or even the two that Charles mentioned-"is he ready to be president," and then taxes and redistributing the wealth. We have been talking about this suppressed tape that The L.A. Times has, Palin's talking about energy. They're talking about all these different things.

They really need to concentrate on a single message, or maybe two. But the McCain camp hasn't been able to do that as yet in the entire campaign, and they're not doing it now when they really need to.

HUME: So your take would be this tightening that there has been is mostly the natural tightening we're all accustomed to seeing at the end of the race?

BARNES: No. I think the tax and redistributive issue is helping McCain.

HUME: Do you agree with that, Mara?

LIASSON: Yes, I do. I think it's both. I think there is a natural tightening and some of these attacks are working.

I think they are blunted by the fact that Obama has been able to get his message out. He's bought the biggest megaphone that any candidate has ever bought.

He in some of these polls is beating McCain on the tax issue. Why? Because he has had saturation ads saying that he will cut taxes for 95 percent of American voters. It is hard to beat that.

KRAUTHAMMER: He has one other advantage -- people who went out and voted early. Pew poll is right that it's heavily Obama by a 10 percent margin. And if it is a third of the vote or even near that, that means McCain has to win among the others by five percent on Election Day to draw even and have a tie. And that's highly unlikely.

HUME: The voter registration group ACORN has gone on the attack. We will tell you what they said and have a few things to say about it ourselves, next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It happened to him in 1960, in 1965, and again in 2000. He was intimidated so he wouldn't vote.

This year, they're at it again. John McCain and the Republicans are trying to keep him and untold others from voting.

Tell John McCain "not this time."

ACORN, voting is your right. Protecting it is our job.


HUME: ACORN, of course, is an organization that is under investigation in more than a dozen states for fraudulent voter registrations. It is fighting back, as you can see.

More from our panel on this -- Fred? What about ACORN's response?

BARNES: Well, ACORN -- look, whenever you criticize ACORN, whenever you say they're trying to register people who shouldn't be registered, or they're phony registrations, or one thing or another, they always say the one thing-"You're suppressing the vote. You're trying to keep people from voting. You're disenfranchising people."

Well, they hand in all these voter registration things, and then in Ohio and places like that, there are hundreds of thousands of them that are questionable.

If they had money to put ads on television or to produce an ad and put it on television, you would think they would have enough money to straighten out their registration before they hand them in, and have to rely on secretary of state's office in some states.

Interestingly, the Republican National Chairman -- they filed a bunch of lawsuits, and they always do this stuff -- referred to them as a "quasi-criminal enterprise."

HUME: Why?

BARNES: Because they think they're breaking the law knowingly with these voter registration efforts, and getting away with it.

LIASSON: Look, they do pay money. They pay money for the canvassers. That's how they get all these names like Mickey Mouse.

HUME: They claim they don't give them quotas, but something animates these people to sign up the Dallas cowboys, Mickey Mouse, and so on.

LIASSON: Sure. And the big question that we don't know the answer to is how much of voter registration fraud becomes actual voter fraud? In other words, how many people named Mickey Mouse actually vote in the end? Or is the screening --

HUME: You would have to imagine if you have the names of the Dallas Cowboys, that will get screened out. So to would Mickey Mouse. But if you were going to have voter fraud, one good place to start would be with the voter registration rolls.


The thing is this year, more than ever -- well, every year, but this year especially -- tremendous numbers of lawyers and poll watchers, and everybody is going to be on the lookout for Mickey Mouse trying to vote, or someone who is truly being intimidated and turned away wrongly.

HUME: So you don't think we have much to worry about?

LIASSON: My guess is that, unless this is an extremely close election in some of these states, we're not going to hear about it.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think this ACORN attempt to play what is essentially the race card against John McCain would be a comical example of chutzpah if it weren't rather, I think, malicious and dangerous.

People have been accusing McCain in advance of planning the racist campaign since the summer. You had a Newsweek cover which talked at length about how McCain, like other Republicans, was going to use race against Obama.

You had Obama himself saying a few months ago, "They're going to tell you, McCain and Bush, I don't look like them. I don't look like the guy on the dollar. I have a funny name." McCain has --

HUME: By the way, he said I'm black.

KRAUTHAMMER: And McCain has never done anything resembling that. He has been unbelievably scrupulous on the issue of race.

Now you have ACORN telling us that they're going to play, as we saw in the ad, essentially, use racial discrimination against the voters and suppressing them. And if McCain somehow pulls out a victory, you are going to hear again and again in the media about how it was all the Bradley effect, about hidden racism among whites.

This is all a campaign -- it's not a coordinated one, but it's one that's everywhere-as a way of saying that if Republicans somehow are winning it is because of illegitimate racist tactics or innuendo. And McCain has not indulged in that.

BARNES: One of the problems is that -- Mara I think made light of- -is the fact that there will be thousands and thousands of polling places in precincts, particularly in urban areas, where there won't be any poll watchers. Republicans are not going to send people in there. There are some areas where Democrats aren't, either.

If you vote in the suburbs, there will probably be a lot of poll watchers there, because it will be nice and friendly and peaceful. But there are huge areas of the country where there won't be poll watchers, and that's where the voter fraud, if it's going to take place, will take place and has in a lot of cities in the past.

HUME: I guess if you were going to look for a state to be worried about, it would be this Missouri where they have had terrible problems about it in the past.

BARNES: And Ohio, where there are all these voter registrations that are questionable.

HUME: That's it for the panel.

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