The battle for the Buckeye State: Can Romney make a comeback?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," September 29, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the battle in the Buckeye State. Both candidates campaign hard in all-important Ohio. President Obama is leading in the polls but can Mitt Romney still turn it around. We'll ask Governor John Kasich.

Plus, just call him the 10 percent president. That's how much responsibility Mr. Obama will take for the exploding deficit. We'll give you the real numbers.

And new details on the deadly consulate attack in Libya raise more questions for the White House. Should it have been anticipated? Could it have been stopped?

Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

All eyes were on Ohio this week as President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney both hit the Buckeye State hard, hoping to put its 18 electoral votes into their column come November 6th. The Real Clear Politics poll average shows the president widening his lead there. But my guest this week says we shouldn't write Mitt Romney off just yet.

Ohio Governor John Kasich joins me now.

Governor, great to have you on the show. Welcome.

GOV. JOHN KASICH, R-OHIO: Thank you, Paul.

GIGOT: So the polls show that Mitt Romney is trailing. How do you explain that, and is that true?

KASICH: You know, Paul, I don't pay a lot of attention to polls because it depends when they take them, what the sample looks like and everything else. But I can tell you this, these guys have been in Ohio so much, I think they should start paying income tax.


In fact, is this thing wasn't as close as close can be, they both wouldn't be here.

GIGOT: Sure.

KASICH: So I expect this to go down to the wire, Paul. No question about it. We are always a swing state. It will be very close.

GIGOT: So the Democrats are saying one of big factors helping the president is the auto bailout, particularly in the northern part of the state. Is that how -- one of the factors here, you read back to help the president?

KASICH: Look, we're up 123,000 jobs over the last year and three- quarters. We're actually, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, actually down 500 jobs, auto jobs in Ohio.

GIGOT: Really?

KASICH: The situation is -- yes -- Chrysler has expanded but Ford and General Motors have shrunk their footprint. But we're thrilled that we've -- we are stabilizing the auto industry out here and we're thrilled about that. But, of the 123,000 jobs, most of them that are coming, the biggest categories are business services and health care. We are having some specialty manufacturing rebound, but it's hard to argue that if, in fact, the Bureau of Labor statistics says we are down a net 500 jobs that you can attach to why we are up 123,000. And Ohio is actually doing much better.

GIGOT: One of the -- one of your colleagues, Ohio colleagues, Speaker John Boehner, had something to say about the polling and the race in Ohio. I want to listen to that and get your reaction to it. Let's listen.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: One of the things that probably works against Romney in Ohio is the fact that Governor Kasich has done such a good job of fixing government regulations in the state, attracting new businesses to the state. So our unemployment rate in Ohio is lower than the national average. As a matter of fact, I think it's four points lower than the national average. So as a result, people are still concerned about the economy and jobs in Ohio, but it certainly isn't like you've seen in some other states.


GIGOT: No question, your unemployment rate, 7.2 percent. The national rate, 8.1 percent. But is the paradox here that John Kasich, the Republican governor, is helping President Obama win reelection?

KASICH: You know, Paul, I think that's -- I don't accept that. The fact of the matter is, number one, it's hard to defeat an incumbent president. Two, Ohio has always been a swing state. And number three, in order for Mitt Romney to do better, he has to be here more. The situation is we are doing better here. We went from 89 cents in a rainy day fund to a half a billion, to a loss of 400,000 jobs, to up 123, a balanced budget and all that, so people are feeling better here. But we have the wind in our face. You know the uncertainty of threatened tax increases, more regulations, the big debt hanging over our head. I've got the wind in my fact all the time. And as I say, if I want the wind at my back, Mitt Romney has to be elected president because the uncertainty is paralyzing businesses.

GIGOT: But should Mitt Romney associate himself with the policies of successful Republican governors. I'm talking about you in Ohio but --


GIGOT: -- also take Scott Walker in Wisconsin or Terry Branstad in Iowa and other states with lower unemployment than the national average.


GIGOT: And I haven't heard him do that.

KASICH: We'll I've seen him do it, and I've been with him a number of times where he's talked about the fact that -- look, Paul, you know, the philosophy and the policies we've pursued out here are not much different than what I saw Ronald Reagan do when I was a member of Congress and he was president. We balanced the budget. It was real. We reduced taxes. We reduced marginal rate on income taxes. We killed the death take. We have our regulatory environment under control. It's not that we don't have any regulations but they are not duplicative and they don't --

GIGOT: Sure.

KASICH: -- lack common sense. Those are the things we have to do to get America moving again. So I think -- and that is what Romney talks about, lower taxes, smaller government, better regulations. When I see him do that, I feel pretty good about it because I think he is on the right path. You may not hear it through the megaphone of national media. But when I'm with him, I hear him do that. And he should do it more.

GIGOT: I paid attention to your race in 2010. You ran against a candidate who ran a campaign very much like the president is, Ted Strickland --

KASICH: Oh, yes.

GIGOT: -- the incumbent governor -- class war, soak the rich, tried to associate you with Wall Street and big banks. But you beat him. How can Mitt Romney beat a campaign like that in Ohio?

KASICH: He's got to be here, Paul. When I see him out -- he was in my hometown not long ago. He had an overflow crowd that was just amazing. I've been around a lot of national campaigns. When you are out with him, you see the enthusiasm. Look, the most important thing for candidate running for president is to get people to understand that he understands their problems or she understands their problems and knows how to fix them.

As Jim Rhodes, the four-term governor of Ohio, used to say about wallet, all that matters in Ohio, at the end of the day, is the size of this wallet.


If it's getting fatter, and people are working, they will do well. If it is smaller, they will not do so well. Romney needs to make that case and needs to be back here as often as he possibly can so people can see him, know him and conclude that he not only understands their problems but he has a way of fixing them.

GIGOT: OK, Governor, thanks so much for being here. I assume we'll see Governor Romney and you on the trail in Ohio a lot.

KASICH: All the way to the finish line.


GIGOT: All right, thanks.

KASICH: Thanks, Paul.

GIGOT: When we come back, we go from Ohio to Colorado where the candidates will square off Wednesday night in their first presidential debate. There is no doubt Mitt Romney has a lot riding on his performance there. Our panel has some advice for the governor, next.


GIGOT: From Ohio to another important swing state, Colorado, where the candidates will meet next week in their first presidential debate. Mitt Romney has lot riding on his performance on Wednesday night. What does he need to do in that debate and in the weeks ahead to shift the campaign narrative?

Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, let's start out. How far behind is Mitt Romney now?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: If you look out there at the polls, he is behind in nearly every swing state poll there is. Now there is an argument and his campaign is making that argument that they are not nearly as far behind as many of the media polls out there. But there is an understanding in the campaign that they have some ground they're going to have to make up.

GIGOT: So that's what -- they are saying basically, they're admitting behind the scenes that they are behind and they have to make up. They sound like they know it because they are trying to find different shifting narratives to be able to get ahead. Have they fastened on a single strategy yet?

STRASSEL: Here is what they've been trying to do for the last two weeks, ever since they came out with the bad headlines. They have been telling donors on telephone calls and they've been promising the media they want to do this reboot where they have a much more forward-leaning campaign, a much more aggressive about rebutting some of the president's claims, much more about presenting a bold and optimistic future based on their own ideas. But they are having a hard time breaking through the media narrative. That is potentially the big opportunity in the debate.

GIGOT: In the debate.

All right, Dorothy. That's -- I agree with Kim. It's an opportunity for Mitt Romney, American people to see him unadorned, no intermediaries, except for the moderator and Barack Obama.

How good a debater is Mitt Romney?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Oh, he's proved himself very effective. He did that in that last "60 Minutes" interview. He is a terrific counter-puncher. And he sat there fluently answering --


GIGOT: Last Sunday on "60 Minutes."

RABINOWITZ: Last Sunday. And it was remarkable to see because he had all this information and insight about questions he had no idea he was going to be asked. That was really impressive.

GIGOT: So you think he's more effective in an environment like that than he is on the stump?

RABINOWITZ: Yes. He is -- you can't be prepped for that kind of interview. No one can say you aren't. When they ask you this, you don't know what is coming. Look at this in contrast to what happened to the semi-disastrous convention speech.


And it's my view that, before this debate, he should be looking at these two speeches where -- these two opposite polls of success, the convention speech where he was in his narrative filled with consultants if -- not his own.

GIGOT: And biography.

RABINOWITZ: And biography and all the rest of it. And he has to ask himself, what was it in me that made me think this is effective. That he has to ask. And he has to say, I am going off on a brand new shore now. Everything matters. I have to say, I am not going to be that person who wants to touch every base as I was trained to. What the Independents, the undecideds --


GIGOT: Instead of massaging voter groups, focus in on policy --



GIGOT: Right, right, right.


GIGOT: OK. The campaign is leaking the strategy, Dan, of what they want to do in the debate, Mitt Romney wants to do is essentially call Barack Obama on his deceptions. My question is, is it smart to leak your strategy in advance to the media, number one, and then, is it a smart strategy to go after Obama's deception?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, at the very least, it probably allows Barack Obama time to polish his deceptions.


That's possible.

GIGOT: They're pretty highly polished already.

HENNINGER: Yes. But to your point, I wouldn't agree with that strategy. That is pretty much what they have been doing up until now, so far, is reacting to Bain Capital and the rest of it, which puts them on the defensive and having them playing Obama's game. I think Romney probably needs to go in there with a thought-out piece-by-piece critique of Barack Obama's economic policies, linking him to the weak economy that he has presided over four years. I say that because, my sense, Paul, is there are a substantial number of voters who -- and one has read of these people --

GIGOT: Sure.

HENNINGER: -- who say, I think I'm going to vote for President Obama. I don't feel that strongly about it, but I don't feel Mr. Romney has made the case with me. But I wish I could hear him out before I finally make up my mind. And this is the opportunity to do that.

GIGOT: Yes, that Obama narrative is basically an inherited disaster. And he made some progress, and don't let Mitt Romney, who is just like George Bush, bring you back to the disaster. And some people are buying that narrative, however, reluctantly, I think because Romney has not connected Obama's policies to the actual pain they feel?

RABINOWITZ: Speaking of forward looking, if they want forward looking, let him imagine himself as the president he would be, and let him present to the people, get it in the debate, what the disaster is in a second term for Obama. What would be the case? He doesn't have to worry about being Mr. nice guy and all the rest. This is the one and only chance. There is life after the presidency, he should figure out. And he ought not to look back and say, I didn't risk being an Independent thinker.

GIGOT: I didn't leave anything on the table.

Kim, what are you hearing from the campaign about how they are going to proceed?

STRASSEL: The big question that remains out there, too, is we're seeing two different Romneys out there on the stump, day to say. Sometimes you see an aggressive Mr. Romney who is out rebutting some of the president's arguments and making a big campaign. Sometimes you see sorrowful Mr. Romney who sort of laments that the president has led us to this point and --


GIGOT: Hey, Kim, which do you like?


Which should he be, aggressive or sorrowful?

STRASSEL: I think he needs to be aggressive but I think the media strategy -- I mean, the media pressure on him is to come across as sorrowful attributes. 47 percent comment, he has to look as though he feels for everybody and is in touch with America. I think you can be aggressive while also speaking for all Americans and that's what he's got to manage to do in the debates.

GIGOT: Yes. He has to link Obama's policies to the bad economy and explain how they're linked and how his policies would be different and do better.

When we come back, President Obama says he bears some responsibility for the federal debt that has exploded on his watch, but just how much? We will give you his answer and ours, next.


GIGOT: Just call him president 10 percent. That is how much responsibility Mr. Obama will take for the national debt, which has climbed a whopping 60 percent on his watch. That inconvenient fact was pointed out by CBS's Steve Kroft on last Sunday "60 Minutes." And here is what the president had to say.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When I came into office, I inherited the biggest deficit in our history. Over the last four years, the deficit has gone up, but 90 percent of that is as a consequence of two wars that weren't paid for, as consequence of tax cuts that weren't paid for, a prescription drug plan that was not paid for, and then the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We took some emergency actions but that accounts for 10 percent of this increase in the deficit.


GIGOT: We've asked Wall Street Journal assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, to run the numbers, and he joins me now.

So, James, let's take these one by one. Did President Obama inherit the biggest deficit in American history?

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: It wasn't the biggest and he didn't inherit it.


It was not the biggest as a percentage of GDP. World War II had some bigger deficits.

GIGOT: Three years.

FREEMAN: And he didn't really inherit it. He helped create it. Because '09 includes much of the Obama first year in office and especially something he doesn't seem to want to remember, but the stimulus, $800-plus billion.

GIGOT: As a share of the economy, which is a good way to measure these things, the deficit was 3.2 percent in fiscal 2008. It did balloon to 10.1 percent in fiscal 2009. I would give President Bush some credit for that because, in fact, the recession had started. So that built the recession for the first six months of his term. But what you are saying is, there is this little thing called an $830 billion spending --


FREEMAN: Yes, the stimulus --


GIGOT: -- in February 2009 --


GIGOT: -- that he doesn't, President Obama doesn't want to take any credit for, but it passed six months before -- I mean --


GIGOT: He signed as president.

FREEMAN: He signed it into law. The stimulus was huge.

GIGOT: Right.

FREEMAN: He also signed another omnibus spending bill shortly after that in the spring of 2009. But even in the beginning of fiscal 2009, where he wants to throw it on President Bush, this is when President Obama was in the Senate. He voted for TARP. He had voted for the budget resolution that year. So he really has a hand in all of this spending. You saw in that graph the big spike was in that year of --


GIGOT: Let's take a look at the spending numbers, too, because spending traditionally has been about 18 to 20 percent, sometimes get up to 21 percent of GDP. Under President Obama, it really has spiked to 25 percent of the economy in fiscal 2009 and it stayed very high, above 24 percent.

FREEMAN: That's right. He has taken us to this new normal level of spending, an unsustainable level, if you look historically. This is why it's all about, for him, trying to deny paternity over that 2009 spending. You look at the chart, it skyrockets. And then we're basically -- been running, during his term, as a percentage of GDP, at a roughly flat level. It's only if he can avoid blame for getting it up to that increased stratospheric level that this seems reasonable.

GIGOT: What about his point there was a prescription drug benefit that wasn't paid for, two wars that weren't paid for, and tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 that weren't paid for?

FREEMAN: The tax cuts, when you look at revenue to the government, that's what really rebuts the Obama argument. What you see is the Bush tax cuts happened in 2001 and 2003, and then you see a surge in government revenue later in the Bush years.

GIGOT: So by the 2006 and 2007, revenues were already back to over 18 percent of the economy, which is about where they've been for the last --


FREEMAN: Historical norm.

GIGOT: Right.

FREEMAN: They fall as we go into recession. People needing more benefits from government on the revenue side. They should say people making less money in the recession --


GIGOT: The economy not growing as fast.

FREEMAN: Right. And you are always going to see taxes decline at that point.

GIGOT: And the economy hasn't grown -- because it's grown so slowly, we see revenues have in fact got gone back to 16 percent of the economy.

FREEMAN: That's right.

GIGOT: That is really, really low. So that is big chunk of the explanation for this --


FREEMAN: The whole explanation is Obama spending, running up the deficit, and not offset by higher tax revenues because of a slow economy. We would say because of Obama policies on regulatory and tax and other things.

GIGOT: Yes. One of thing about the tax cuts is the president himself decided to extend them for two years in 2010. Remember that deal with Republicans? Because he said we needed it to help the economy.


FREEMAN: Right. Now also, then the other part of the blame he throws on Mr. Bush, the prescription drug plan, when Mr. --


GIGOT: Which I would put on Mr. Bush, too.

FREEMAN: OK, except Mr. Obama rewrote that plan to spend more money. So, so --


He owns it now and it would cost less if he hadn't intervened. So you wonder, if he's going to claim 10 percent, if he is going to make up a number, why didn't he just say zero? Why didn't he say, Bush deserves all the blame?

GIGOT: So how much of the president's statement on "60 Minutes" is true, 10 percent?


FREEMAN: I'm having a hard time --


Maybe -- look, zero, because he has been signing spending bills every year. The government spending is all on his signature.

GIGOT: All right, James.

Still ahead, the latest on the investigation into the deadly attack on our consulate in Libya. Missed signs and changing stories has many are demanding answers. Will we get them?



GIGOT: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested this week that the September 11th consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya involved the al- Qaeda affiliate in North Africa going further than any other Obama official and acknowledging the assault was likely the work of the terrorist group. That admission Wednesday has led to many questions about what took the administration so long with Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham issuing this statement. "We recognize that Al Qaeda involvement in the terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Libya is an inconvenient truth for a president who claims to be destroying Al Qaeda. But it is not too much to ask why the president and his administration have taken so long to state what has appeared obvious for a long time what really happened in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012. We're back with Dan Henninger. Also, joining the panel, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Matt Kaminski and "Foreign Affairs" columnist Bret Stephens. So given all that we've learned in the last couple of weeks. How big a security failure was that attack on the consulate?

MATTHEW KAMINSKI, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: It was far bigger than anyone in the administration is willing to admit. We've known for about six months that Benghazi, that the security situation in Benghazi was getting out of control. There were attacks on the British consulate, which was closed, there were attacks on a U.N. envoy, (INAUDIBLE) bombing of his convoy, and a bombing attack also on the U.S., a bomb that was set off outside the U.S. consulate there, too. So there have been reports out of Benghazi and generally out of Libya. The U.S. issued a statement at late August warning Americans not to travel there, telling them that there is probably bombings and assassinations.

GIGOT: Wow. We also know that Zawahiri, the number two, well, now he is number one at Al Qaeda, head, basically called for the revenge against the United States for the killing of the terrorists by a drone attack named al-Libi. So, they had ample warning here to be able to do something. Did they fall down on the job, Bret?

BRET STEPHENS, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yeah, I mean it seems like -- I mean there were a number of cascading failures. I think that it's fair to say that I mean it was probably a serious mistake for the ambassador, Ambassador Stevens to go to Benghazi. It was a serious mistake for them to -- not to have a Marine detachment at our facility in Benghazi at -- inside embassies.

GIGOT: But I'll say this for Stevens, Bret. He was a brave guy. And he was involved in a transition and wanted to be involved in the transition for building a new Libya. So you have to take some kind of risks like that if you are going to be involved in it.

STEPHENS: There is no question about that. But at the same time, people knew that Libya was a terrorist hot zone and becoming more so. Most of our embassies, almost all of our facilities are secured by Marine guards. It seems strange that we would have to say, Marines guarding our facilities in the Bahamas, but not -- not in Benghazi or Tripoli.

GIGOT: So why did the administration go to the story so quickly, which was ...


GIGOT: It was just all about the video reaction in the Muslim world - - to -- let's face it, an obscure Youtube video that nobody knew about until almost after the riot started?

HENNINGER: I think this is the key question, Paul. I don't know why they went to that narrative, but what is interesting is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped off of that narrative herself several days later. And when she was at the United Nations, also said that it was -- they knew that Al Qaeda had been active in the Arabian Peninsula. It seems to me that the secretary of state is basically distancing herself from what the White House was saying because if it comes out later in an investigation that the White House or ambassador Rice was withholding information about what happened when they knew it there is going to be a problem for this administration.

GIGOT: Well, now, just to be clear here. Ambassador Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reports to Hillary Clinton. I mean she is the technically part of the State Department operations. So -- and she made one of the most clear statements about the association with the video and basically refused to acknowledge whether or not this was a terrorist attack?

HENNINGER: We don't know who was calling the shots. But we do know that what they were saying breaks into two separate parts. And that what they've been saying now suggests that they did know early on that Al Qaeda was involved in that. And I suspect that that is probably one of the reasons ambassador Stevens was getting active there. Because it was well known to people in Libya that Islamic extremists in Al Qaeda was getting much more active in eastern Libya.

GIGOT: Well, we know this from his diary, which the CNN reported came across unreported, his anxieties that were represented in that diary about what was going on. And yet the State Department press spokesman, Hillary Clinton's right hand media man attacks CNN for reporting this.

KAMINSKI: This very (INAUDIBLE) attack, and he called it disgusting, and that he got involved in an exchange with a different reporter, using words that we can't repeat here. But it just reveals the very sort of reluctance on the part of the administration to be very open about this. I mean it is a campaign, they have other things going on, but this has been a stunning attack on U.S. sovereign soil, and it's anytime that you should be very transparent about what you know, what went wrong, it should be right now.

STEPHENS: But, look, there is something about the larger narrative of the Obama administration ...


STEPHENS: ... and its attitude towards the Middle East. A, that the Obama -- that the president has gone after Al Qaeda in an unprecedented way. And B, that in a sense our lighter cultural footprint helps secure American interests. And that is precisely why our facilities were not well defended. Both of those narratives are being undercut by just what happened in Libya. Al Qaeda remains a serious threat ...

GIGOT: Has not been defeated.

STEPHENS: ... and just because President Obama is in the White House doesn't mean we are beloved by millions of Arabs around the world.

GIGOT: We're going to find out a lot more about this Libya these days on forth. Still ahead as foreign policy emerges as a central theme in the presidential race, team Obama is pushing a new narrative that Mitt Romney will get America into another war. But is war more likely in a Romney presidency or a second Obama term?



VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: He said it was a mistake to end the war in Iraq and bring all of our warriors home.


BIDEN: He said it was a mistake to set an end date for our warriors in Afghanistan and bring them home.


BIDEN: He implies by the speech that he is ready to go to war in Syria and Iran.


GIGOT: That was Vice President Joe Biden earlier this month at a campaign stop in Pennsylvania suggesting that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was ready to go to war in Iran and Syria. It's the theme the Obama campaign is pushing with the president himself getting in on the act. In an interview with "60 Minutes" last Sunday Mr. Obama responding to his opponent's criticism of his Middle East policy said, quote, "If Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so." So rumors of war, Dan. What the political strategy here or do you think there is one?

HENNINGER: Well, obviously we are in a moment when everything Barack Obama says is related to his reelection. And so it is with this. A key element of the Obama reelection strategy has to do with perceived voter fatigue over wars, Iraq and Afghanistan.

GIGOT: The tide of war is receding, it's one of his campaign themes.

HENNINGER: Exactly. And when he talked on "60 Minutes" about what he had accomplished in foreign policy, the first thing he says is, I ended the war in Iraq. And now he is winding down Afghanistan. And from that premise he is suggesting to people that Mitt Romney just might start it up again because he is advised by the same people who got us into the war in Iraq.

GIGOT: Associate Mitt Romney with Bush and the fact that a lot of people still don't like the fact that we had that long ...


GIGOT: ... that long -- those long years of war, Matt. So, how fair is the charge?

KAMINSKI: Well, I think, you know, it definitely worked for him. Because I mean people are ready to --were very responsive to that message. The problem is that, you know, chaos adores vacuums and we are creating a vacuum in the Middle East and Iran.

GIGOT: Right now?

KAMINSKI: It is being created by President Obama. So, I think, Mitt Romney can make a very good case saying look, if anyone is creating the situation where we might be -- end up in a war it is thanks to the policies of President Obama in Iran, possibly (ph) in Southeast Asia and Pakistan and Afghanistan and in the wider Middle East.

GIGOT: So, and when you say creating a vacuum. Because we've left Iraq with -- nobody -- the war was essentially over when the president came in, so I mean just winding down, but we didn't leave any troops at all there. We are staying out of Syria. So, this is area is festering, and then, of course, the biggest problem, Bret, is Iran?


GIGOT: And ...

STEPHENS: And you have to ask yourself, Paul, if this is a president who says I'm not going to have any more wars in the Middle East, how serious can he be about confronting Iran militarily, if necessary?

GIGOT: And maybe preventing the war?

STEPHENS: If they passed that red line that Benjamin Netanyahu drew at his U.N. speech ...

GIGOT: 90 percent enrichment of uranium on the way to a nuclear bomb?

STEPHENS: That's right, and they are getting extremely close. I mean they now are enriching uranium to a 20 percent level, increasing their capacity. These things are kind of inventory every few months by the International Atomic Energy.

GIGOT: And the jump from 20 percent to 90 percent is actually much smaller than it sounds.

STEPHENS: It's -- I've been told by nuclear scientists that once you are 20 percent you are actually 87 percent of the way toward the bomb.

GIGOT: But this key point here of war, it gets down to a fundamental difference of foreign policy, whether or not President Obama's policy towards Iran, four years of diplomacy, four years of trying to coax them into ...


GIGOT: ... into a discussion quid pro quo, we'll give you something if you stop pursuing a nuclear weapon, hasn't worked. Has that taken us closer to war or further away?

STEPHENS: Yes, because it -- because it's persuaded the Iranians that they are going to be able to tiptoe across the nuclear threshold while Israel and Jerusalem and Washington are squabbling with one another over, you know, what the precise red line is. You know, a philosopher that some people in the Obama administration might like a lot, Leon Trotsky, once said, you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. We may not be interested in going to war with Iranians, but the Iranians may be interested in going to war with us.

GIGOT: You could make a case, Matt, that if Mitt Romney is elected, he -- the last thing he is going to want to do is get into a military conflict, because most new presidents are really focused on domestic agenda, because they have to be, because that's really what makes or breaks them.

KAMINSKI: And that is actually what he is running on, obviously. But I think, you know, I think, you know, I think, you know, Iran is obviously something down the road, but there's a problem right now in Syria, our abdication of any leadership on Syria, that war completely spiraled out of control. It's now spilling over into Lebanon, it's also spilling over into Iraq, which we have completely abandoned. So, I think, if Mitt Romney does get through this, he will be facing a very dangerous world.

GIGOT: What should Romney say in response to President Obama's taunt -- and it's really a taunt -- that he is a warmonger?

HENNINGER: I would -- personally, I would regard that as a virtually infantile remark by someone running for the presidency of the United States, suggesting that your opponent is going to start a war when there is no evidence whatsoever of that. And, you know, let me just give you one example, Paul. This was U.N. week, all the world leaders were here, the President of France Bernard (sic) Hollande said we cannot just stand by while terrorists take over Mali, Northern Africa ...

GIGOT: Mali?

HENNING: Mali. Which has been under assault by Islamic extremists. In his "60 Minutes" interview, Barack Obama said, I think that the Middle East and Northern Africa are moving towards an area of peace and prosperity. And they'll be allying with us. He has stuck his head in the sand of the Middle East.

GIGOT: All right, gentlemen. Coming up, we turn from the presidential campaign to the battle for control of the Senate and the fierce fight being waged in Massachusetts. Can Scott Brown hold on to Ted Kennedy's old seat or Will Elizabeth Warren return it to the Democratic hold?


GIGOT: Turning now from the presidential campaign to the battle for control of the United States Senate where Republicans hope to overcome the Democrats 53 to 47 seat majority. This week we look at the race in Massachusetts. There Republican Senator Scott Brown is running to hold on to the seat once held by liberal icon Ted Kennedy. It's one Democrats would sorely like to take back. And are hoping Elizabeth Warren, the brains behind President Obama's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is the candidate who can do that. We're back with Dan Henninger and Dorothy Rabinowitz and the Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Mary Kissel. So, Mary, very rare for a Republican to hold the Senate seat in Massachusetts. Brown won in 2010 under special election. What is he doing? What is his strategy to hold on to that seat?

MARY KISSEL, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: No, he is positioning himself as an independent, as a person who is going to represent every person in Massachusetts. And he is also calling out Elizabeth Warren on her hypocrisy, which is, you saw it when she called herself a native American, in which the "Boston Herald" also revealed this week that she has represented big companies trying to deny payments to retirees. The bankrupt steel company and also Travelers Insurance. So, this sort of goes at the heart of what Elizabeth Warren says she is for.

GIGOT: So underlying her authenticity.

KISSEL: And I'm just ...

GIGOT: Claims about authenticity as a populist ...

KISSEL: Right. Not just the authenticity, but that she understands the plight of the common person.

GIGOT: We have got back-to-back ads here, first by Scott Brown and then followed by Elizabeth Warren. Let's look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Elizabeth Warren is trying to put questions about her heritage behind her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Warren admitted to identifying herself as Native American to employers something now genealogists have said they have zero evidence of.

She is facing tough questions about whether she claimed to be a minority for professional gain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Warren did give an answer. The problem is, it keeps changing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there anything that is going to come out about you that we don't already know?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I don't think so, but who knows.

ELIZABETH WARREN: As I kid I never asked my mom for documentation when she talked about our Native American heritage, what kid would? But I knew my father's family didn't like that she was part Cherokee and part Delaware. So, my parents had to elope. Let me be clear, I never asked for or never got any benefit because of my heritage. The people who hired me have all said they didn't even know about it. I'm Elizabeth Warren, I approve this message. Scott Brown can continue attacking my family, but I'm going to keep fighting for yours.


GIGOT: So, Dorothy, who's got -- who got the best of that exchange?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Scott brown did. But she's come out with this pretense that her family is under attack. But one of the thing about this is, that Scott Brown said something that, look at her, you know. You can say she is not a Native American or close to that, and he came under attack with the question of how can you tell anybody's heritage from their face? Well, let me tell you the first thing that Elizabeth Warren said when all this came up about Harvard, was I have high cheekbones. I've always had high cheekbones. You know high cheekbones.


GIGOT: Don't know them, Dorothy, I don't.

RABINOWITZ: Well, but she could think that you got a look at your heritage from the cheekbones -- what the point is? This is a person who has transformed herself from this raging class warrior ...

GIGOT: Right.

RABINOWITZ: You saw at the convention, who is talking about the system is rigged against you. Wall Streeters are walking around there, shamelessly and -- to this rather shrinking violet until Scott Brown got her virtually out of the gate at that debate with her character.

GIGOT: Right. OK. So, Scott Brown, who does he need to appeal to? Who is he trying to get the votes of? Because Democrats have a basically three to one registration edge in the state. Although 51 percent of Independents -- voters are independent.

KISSEL: That's right. He has to win independents. And if the president has a big surge close to election day that's going to be tough in a state that's predominantly independent and where Democrats have such an edge. Dorothy, though, referred to the debate, it was a very revealing exchange in that debate where Scott Brown essentially explained what this populist agenda that Elizabeth Warren is pushing would mean to the average voter. He talked that -- she challenged him on jobs bill that Scott Brown didn't sign on to. And Brown said, it would have raised your taxes, $450 billion, it was a bipartisan rejection. And the professor, as he called her, responded well, it would just be a fractional tax on people making more than a million dollars a year. And they had this very revealing exchange about the cost to the average voter.

HENNINGER: Well, let's get into some political detail here. Scott Brown bit Martha Coakley, a formidable Democrat, by 107,000 votes in 2010. How did he do that? He did that by winning the central part of the state and southern state and the northeastern part of the state, Boston is totally Democratic except for south Boston where these white blue color Irish unionized workers live. Those people supported Scott Brown. Now, the mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, has endorsed Elizabeth Warren, he said he is going to send his political machine into south Boston.

GIGOT: Like Democrat.

HENNINGER: And Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO has been touring those neighborhoods pleading with the guys not to vote against Elizabeth Warren. And I think that is where the battleground is going to be. Right there.

GIGOT: It's going to be fascinating to watch. We have to take one more break. When we come back hits and misses of the week.


GIGOT: Time now for hits and misses of the week. Matt, first to you.

KAMINSKI: Here a hit, really a hit to the NFL and the referees for striking a very reasonable labor deal this week. The NFL got their freeze to move to a 401k plan for the pensions, as most American workers do, and got more flexibility in hiring. The referees got a very fat pay increase befitting a league that's doing so well. Now, you wonder why they put us through the last weeks, but, hey, it was pretty exciting.

GIGOT: Well, when they get -- they get the Packers compensatory draft picks.


GIGOT: That's when they get a hit from me. Mary.

KISSEL: I'm offering a mega miss to Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin, who missed this week's final deadline to drop out of the race. If you recall Mr. Akin tarnished not only himself, but the entire Republican Party with his bizarre comments on what he called legitimate rape. Yet a motley Republican crew is standing by their man. It includes Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum. I think they may come to regret that decisions, but the Democrats sure won't.

GIGOT: James.

JAMES: This is a hit to Chick-fil-A for continuing to stand up for their constitutional freedoms. A Chicago alderman recently claimed that he had successfully intimidated them into stopping their donations to groups that politicians don't like. But the company says, no. The Chicago thugs are not going to tell them who to support and good for Chick-fil-A.

GIGOT: OK. All right, Kim.

KIM: This is a hit for Andy Williams who died this week at 84. The death of a man who crooned "Moon River" and did those famous Christmas specials, has a lot of Americans thinking back to a gentler era of American entertainment, but what's notable about Mr. Williams is that he really was one of those rare stars past or present whose private life was every bit his claim cut, as his public persona. While so many of his contemporaries were living hard and dying young, he was out there putting in the hours and delighting audiences all the way until the end.

GIGOT: That is because he was born in Iowa, Kim.


GIGOT: You learned how to live right in the Midwest. Mary, Todd Akin has a chance to pull this out?

KISSEL: Oh, he is many points behind. And he won't have much of a funding pool to fight Claire McCaskill, so I think it's a tough road for him.

GIGOT: OK, Mary, thanks, and remember, if you have your own hit or miss, please send it to us at and be sure to follow us on Twitter at JERonFNC. That's it for this week's edition. Thanks to my panel and all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. And hope to see you right here next week.

Content and Programming Copyright 2012 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2012 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.