Weighing In On the VP Debate

Scott Simon talks to NPR news analyst Juan Williams about the vice presidential debate.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Between the vice presidential debate and the financial crisis, Senators Obama and McCain sometimes found it almost hard to make the front page this week, but they were still out there making news. NPR's news analyst Juan Williams has been on the campaign trail. He joins us from member station KPPS in San Diego this morning. Morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Is John McCain pulling out of Michigan? There have been conflicting reports.

WILLIAMS: He is pulling out of Michigan. There's some resistance now, people encouraging him not to do so, to get back in. It's a real psychological blow to his campaign to suggest that after spending - and he spent, you know, $7.9 million there already, heavy on the ads, spent more than Barack Obama's 7.5 - that he's decided somehow that, you know, he can't hold the fight there, hold the line there and has to move on. So the decision for internally, among people who are McCain campaign operators, was viewed as obvious because they have some limits in terms of spending, having accepted public financing, and have decided to take the fight to Ohio and Pennsylvania.

But in general, the way the Republican Party and many of his stalwarts have responded is to say, oh, why are you doing this? Is this a signal that we're losing, that we can't win? And the campaign is having to say, no, no, hold on, we didn't mean to convey that.

SIMON: But all campaigns have to prioritize at some point, don't they?

WILLIAMS: They do. And right now it's creating a very difficult electoral map for the McCain campaign. As you say, they have to prioritize, but what they're looking at, Scott, is trying to hold on to the states that President Bush won in '04. And when they look at that they see that, for example, Indiana and North Carolina right now are tossup states. You can't tell who's going to win there, or in states like Florida and Ohio, the critical Ohio, are leaning towards Barack Obama. So you really get down to Senator McCain and looking at states like New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Minnesota, trying to hold on to Virginia, as we said, you know, Ohio, Florida, Indiana. It's very difficult then to see exactly how he puts the states together to get those electoral votes that you and Dan were talking about.

SIMON: And before we leave the debate, apparently it drew nearly 70 million viewers. That's 18 million more than the Obama-McCain debates. Now does this suggest to you, Juan, that these vicepresidential debates are going to be maybe any more influential than other vice presidential debates, or were people just watching it like it was "American Idol"?

WILLIAMS: Oh, I think they're watching because Sarah Palin has become such amazing story. They wanted to see if Tina Fey was going to show up. But these numbers are "American Idol" numbers. These are unbelievable numbers, but I don't think - you know, you think back to Dan Quayle messing up so terribly in his debate. It didn't affect the outcome there. George W. Bush won that election. You can't think of really a race where you say, oh, yeah, that vice presidential debate, that was definitive, that pushed the candidate, the presidential candidate over the top. People vote on the top of the ticket, Scott.

SIMON: NPR News analyst, Juan Williams, thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

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Correction Oct. 11, 2008

In this interview, we incorrectly said that after Dan Quayle's debate performance, "George W. Bush won [the] election." In fact, Quayle was the running mate for George H.W. Bush.

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