Christie Out, Perry Down ... Obama An Underdog?

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently announced that he will not enter the White House race. Texas Governor Rick Perry's poll numbers have tumbled, especially after reports showed him and his family frequenting a hunting camp with a controversial name. President Obama's poll numbers slipped to the point where he declared himself an underdog in the 2012 election. Also, a new report gives clues as to how restrictive voter laws might impact the elections. Michel Martin speaks with Ron Christie, a former assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney, and Corey Ealons, a former staffer for President Obama.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up the baseball playoffs are in full swing and women's basketball is poised to crown a new champion but the men well, their preseason has been cancelled. We'll be talking sports in the Beauty Shop. That's in just a few minutes but first we want to take a look at some of the political news dominating the front pages. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie makes it official he will not run for president. This after GOP candidate Texas Governor Rick Perry took another hit over the weekend.

The Washington Post published a piece about the controversial name of the hunting camp used by Perry and his family and as Perry's poll numbers dropped some observers are questioning his viability as a potential general election candidate. Meanwhile Herman Cain is on the rise and at the same time a new study takes a look at how changes in voting laws around the country could have a profound impact on the 2012 elections particularly for young minority and low income voters.

We wanted to make sense of these stories so, we've called upon not one but two former White House staffers. Ron Christie is a Republican. He's a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. Also with us, Cory Ealons. He is a Democrat. He's a senior vice president of the strategic communications from FOX Global and he's also the former director of African-American media for the Obama administration. Welcome back to both of you. Thanks for joining us once again.

RON CHRISTIE: Thanks a lot Michel.

COREY EALONS: Pleasure to join you.

CHRISTIE: Good to be here.

MARTIN: Ron before we get to the political (unintelligible) I wanted to take a closer look at the issue of voting rights because there was a new report from The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law that examines recent changes to voting laws around the country. These include tighter regulations for voter registration drives, requirements for photo ID's, proof of citizenship at polling places and reports suggest that some five million voters could be affected, which in many states could be kind of the margin that decides, you know, the outcome. And so, Ron, let me just ask you, for the purpose of argument. Let's stipulate that there is no evidence in bipartisan, high level bipartisan commissions have found that there is no evidence that there's some epidemic of voter fraud just as there's no epidemic of voter intimidation. So, why wouldn't a reasonable person assume that the purpose of this is to keep people from voting who are more likely to vote Democratic?

CHRISTIE: I just don't accept that on the premise, Michel. I think that it's important to realize that the one of the most important things we have is the integrity of our ballot box. You've seen millions of people cross our borders illegally over the last several years. You've had instances which have actually been documented where ACORN, a former community activist group, was in trouble frankly for trying to get people to register for vote illegally.

So, I don't have any problem whatsoever of having a system in place to ensure that the integrity is kept which is by presenting a valid ID and for those who say that it's going to disenfranchise minorities or women or other individuals I would point out that you have to have an ID to go to the store to pick up a prescription drug or to pick up Claritin which I take for my allergies. So, I just think that the charges on the face that in some way you're trying to disenfranchise voters or to move back to a 60's poll tax is ludicrous.

MARTIN: Let me just clarify on the ACORN piece. I mean, ACORN says they were the group that were defrauded because they had paid people which was legal in many jurisdictions to get people to register and that they were the ones who reported the problem and that they were the ones who were actually the victims of the fraud. So, I just want to clarify that. But Corey, what about Ron Christie's point?

You have to show an ID to get on a plane. You have to show an ID to buy cough syrup or allergy medicine. Is it really so onerous to ask people to show an ID to participate in a foundational exercise of our country?

EALONS: Well, I'll tell you this but the primary issue with this is that it's so painfully transparent where these changes are taking place. They're taking place in battleground states that President Obama won in 2008 and that Democrats are going need again in order to recapture the presidency in 2012. You're looking at what's happening in Ohio where they're cutting back on the number of days that you can vote early.

You're looking at Florida where they're taking actions similar to this. It really is absolutely despicable when you look at the challenges that we face to this country and the amazing inroads that we've made throughout the Civil Rights movement and other times to expand the franchise, to expand the opportunity to vote at a time when we have so few people already voting for quite frankly people right of center to take these actions is just absolutely despicable.

MARTIN: Well, let's stipulate that let's just take your perspective and say okay, let's say it is despicable. Is it really still wrong to ask people to show an ID to vote at a time when as Ron Christie pointed out there aren't many people who are in the country without proper documentation and it is diluting of the value of the franchise that people vote who are not qualified to do so.

So, is it really an--are these restrictions really that onerous even if they're politically motivated?

EALONS: If you're looking at one right that we have universally as people in this country, as citizens in this country it is the right to vote and when you look at the impact that these new issues are going to have on seniors, on youth, on low income people, it is a travesty what's happening right now in states, key states. Battleground states all over the country and again, that is the travesty is that this is happening in a way - in another words they know they can't win on the issues so, they're going to change the rules.

And ultimately that is not what America's all about.

MARTIN: Okay, let's talk about speaking of battleground states. A new ABC News Washington Post poll finds that only 37 percent of those polled believe that President Obama will win the election next year. I'll play a short clip of an exchange between President Obama and Good Morning America anchor George Stephanopoulos that was earlier this week. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you the underdog now?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Absolutely. Because, you know, given the economy there's no doubt that, you know, whatever happens on your watch you got...

STEPHANOPOULOS: You embrace that pretty quickly.

OBAMA: You know, I don't mind. I'm used to being an underdog.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us by the way I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're speaking with Ron Christie, former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush and Corey Ealons, former aide to President Obama. We're having our political chat. We're checking in on the top political news. So Corey, does the president have something to gain by saying that he's an underdog? Normally, you know, the president, he's got the big airplane. He's got the big motorcade. You know, he's the guy who comes in chest bumping.

EALONS: Right.

MARTIN: What's the benefit of saying, I'm an underdog.

EALONS: Well, I got to tell you, you have to appreciate the fact that this president is clear-eyed about the challenges that he's facing ahead. Last cycle in 2008 he was basically running against history as the first serious candidate for president and he overcame that. This cycle he's running against the economy, he's running against potentially billion dollar contributions that can't be traced thanks to rulings that have been made by the Supreme Court.

You want to talk about a Coke machine? The Coke machine won't be dispensing Coca-Cola. It's going to be dispensing cash in crazy amounts all over the country.

MARTIN: That's a reference to the Koch brothers that it's a play on words where...

EALONS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...big Republican funders of conservative causes as well.

EALONS: And then he's continuing to run against the GOP leadership and the Congress. I mean, just this week Eric Cantor has said, look, we're not even going to allow the president's jobs bill to see the light of day and ultimately that's not what the American people want. They want the president and the Congress to come together. They want them to work together to lead us out of this morass that we're in right now.

So, again the president is very clear-eyed about the challenge that he faces and that's why you've seen an adjustment in his tone and that's why he's working diligently, not just for reelection but to get the country moving again.

MARTIN: Ron, talk about the race on your side of the aisle. What is up with Texas Governor Rick Perry? You know, a month ago, you know, he was the man and all the headlines were talking about oh, he's the one to beat, he's the one to beat. You know, poll numbers dropping, poor debate performance, and then there was this whole issue around this hunting camp that was known by a racial epithet and I hope you'll excuse me if I don't choose to use it.

So, you know, how do you - well, let me well, I'm just going to ask you what grade do you give him for how he's handled this?

CHRISTIE: I give him about a C and this is why I've been saying for months that I never thought that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would enter the race. It takes an enormous amount of organization and enormous amount of money and frankly an enormous amount of poise to mount a credible bid to be president of the United States.

I think Governor Perry was putting his finger up to the wind and listening to all the cheerleaders and folks telling him he ought to jump in the race. Then all of a sudden, once he got in, he realized it's a lot harder than running for election of governor from a state.

So I frankly don't find myself all that surprised by his drop in the polls now that folks have gotten to know him a little bit, and I think that incident with the name of the camp that his family has leased is ridiculous. You know, I know there are those who say, oh, it was years ago, but I'm sorry. If there's a place that has that sort of name, I would think that you might have a little bit more cultural sensitivity to go into a place like that.

But very briefly, going back to the president, you know, I only wish that Corey was as clear-eyed as he said President Obama is. Just yesterday, we found that the senate majority leader, Harry Reid, objected to bringing the president's jobs bill up for a vote because they don't have the votes.

You have the number two in the Senate, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, saying that the Democrats don't have the vote. So the notion that somehow the Republicans are holding up the president's jobs bill is laughable, given that you have the two top people in the United States Senate - which is run by the Democratic Party, I might add - who won't bring up the president's jobs bill because they don't want it to go down and have the president face a very embarrassing defeat.

MARTIN: Corey, you want to answer that? Because I do want to save two minutes to talk about Herman Cain, if we could. So do you want to answer that?

EALONS: Oh, absolutely. Again, where are you seeing the main intransigence against this president? I mean, this is a situation where if the president said it's dark and it's dark outside, they would say it's light. And when you look at what's in the legislation that he's put forward, it's all pieces that have been agreed upon by Democrats and Republicans in the past, and it will be paid for.

CHRISTIE: Corey, (unintelligible).

EALONS: Ron, hold on one minute. Ron, I didn't interrupt you. I didn't interrupt you, Ron.

Here's the thing. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of the Republican Party, campaigned across the country, saying that rich people who have benefited from prosperity of this country deserve or need to pay their fair share, because we're just not in the position to continue to support them. Ronald Reagan said this.

President Obama is saying the exact same thing right now, and you have Republicans across the country calling it an anathema. So that's just where we are.

MARTIN: Okay. Where we are also is we're almost out of time. So Ron, give me two words on - well, more than two words - on Herman Cain: rising in the polls, won the Florida straw poll. Is he coming on? Does he have a chance - someone to watch, or really running for vice president? What's your take?

CHRISTIE: Someone to watch. And, again, it's amazing to watch, but Corey can't answer the fact that the two top Democrats have blocked the president's jobs bill and not the Republicans.

I think it says a lot about the Republican Party that you can have a very attractive, very articulate, very strong businessman seeking his party's nomination, win the Florida straw poll and surge in the polls.

While I don't ultimately believe that he will prevail in winning the party's nomination, given the enormous structure that it takes to have as a major league candidate, I do think he proves that, you know, his ideas can win out. His message can win out, and that people are examining him, not based on the color of his skin, but the content of his message. And it wouldn't surprise me if he's on somebody's short list.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, you know what? We're going to let Corey, you know, get the last word next time. Ron Christie's a former aid to Vice President Dick Cheney, later President George W. Bush. He's currently a fellow at Harvard, teaching at the Institute of Politics. He was joining us from the studios at Harvard.

Corey Ealons is a senior vice president for the strategic communications firm VOX Global. He's the former director of African-American Media for the Obama administration. He was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio.

Gentlemen, thank you.

CHRISTIE: Pleasure to join you both.

EALONS: Thanks a lot, Michel.

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