Election 2008: Money, Media & Influence


I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, faith and politics again. It's Sarah Palin's turn. What does Sarah Palin believe and does it matter? We'll talk about it in a conversation with two theologians who share her faith background. That's in just a few minutes. But first, our weekly political chat, Sarah Palin takes the spotlight this week in an exclusive interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News, her first with major media since joining the Republican ticket. Sarah Palin declared herself ready for the job. The interview is considered such big news itself that ABC is dribbling out excerpts over two days of programs, more runs today. Clearly, Palin has captured the nation's attention, but we want to know if she's really moving voters. To talk about that, we're going to turn to NPR political editor Ken Rudin. We also expect to be joined by polling expert Ron Lester. Welcome to you both. Thank you so much for joining us.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Before we get to the polls, let's talk about the interview. As we mentioned, Sarah Palin spoke in an exclusive interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News. A lot at stake and - a lot at stake, I think, for both, but as I mentioned, she declared that she is ready, she didn't hesitate for a minute when she's asked...

RUDIN: Didn't blink.

MARTIN: Didn't blink when she was asked to join the ticket, but there was one excerpt that seems to be getting a lot of attention. This is where she was asked about whether she shares the Bush Doctrine. I want to play that short clip.

(Soundbite of clip from ABC News interviewing Sarah Palin)

Mr. CHARLES GIBSON (Anchor, ABC News): Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska; Republican Vice Presidential Candidate): In what respect, Charlie?

Mr. GIBSON: What do you interpret it to be?

Governor PALIN: His world view?

Mr. GIBSON: No. The Bush Doctrine, enunciated September 2002 before the Iraq war.

Governor PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made.

MARTIN: Ken, as I said, there's a lot at stake here. How do you think she did overall? And how do you make - what do you make of that answer?

RUDIN: Well, if you're a Palin supporter before and remain a Palin supporter, you could look at that the same, maybe that was a gotcha question, that maybe Charlie Gibson was talking about a generic Bush Doctrine and maybe she dismissed it completely. What I was more interested in, I thought, was her cavalier response to questions about war. If, for example, if Georgia and Ukraine were members of NATO and Russia invaded them, would we go to war with them? And basically, her answer was, I guess so, or I think so, or probably so. And I thought that was very like, almost not realizing the import of what she was talking about. Also about, whether Israel would attack - take out a nuclear facilities in Iran, she was asked about them. She said - and the question was, would you second guess Israel? And she said, well, you know, Israel is our ally and you know, I wouldn't second guess them basically. And I think, in questions of war and peace, you know, there's a lot of things that she - look, she hasn't met with world leaders. She hasn't been around the world. She's a governor of Alaska, for goodness sakes. But there were some answers about peace, war and peace, which I think everybody cares about that I thought were a little too cavalier.

MARTIN: Lacking in gravitas, it sounded to me.

RUDIN: Yeah, perhaps.

MARTIN: Ron Lester, I do want to point out that you are a Democrat...

Mr. RON LESTER (Polling Expert): Sure.

MARTIN: That you do extensive polling for media organizations, so people are relying on you for - as unbiased as possible...

Mr. LESTER: Objective.

MARTIN: Analysis of...

Mr. LESTER: Right.

MARTIN: Well, we'll say unbiased, but analysis of sort of these issues. What's your take on how she did overall?

Mr. LESTER: I think, I would give her about a C. I think she came off as being very scripted. I think she didn't make a lot of mistakes, but there's no question about the fact that she brings something to the ticket. There was a Palin bump post convention. That was very good. She puts a new face on it. She makes it look younger. She's mediagenic. She comes off as the face of change, much more so than John McCain does, so she has advantages. The question is, can she address the fundamental issues? Is she all show and no go? Can she talk about the economic problems that we have that are very serious? The nation is trillion dollars in debt. Can she talk about national security, about the war in Iraq? How to get out about the situation in Afghanistan? We have a hot spot in Israel and Palestine right now. Can she fundamentally address those issues? And she hasn't proven that yet.

MARTIN: Well, Ken seems to be suggesting that this is a bit of a war-shock test. I mean, where you stand you on this depends on where you sit, that Republicans are going to say or supporters, people who are already there say, well, she did fine. She's the vice president after all. Our ticket got the order right, that John McCain has the foreign policy experience. She doesn't need to have it. Her biography clearly indicates that she's going to take these matters seriously. She's got a son serving in the military. And Democrats are saying, this morning on the morning talk shows, most of the Democrats where saying, did a terrible job, clearly unprepared, lacking in seriousness. Is there any objective reality here?

Mr. LESTER: I would agree with Ken, but here's the problem. She can't run around being scripted, standing behind John McCain for the whole campaign. She's going to get off. She's going to be on her own. She's going to have to address those questions at some point, somewhere, and some time. She's got to show substance on the issues. That day is going to come now. If you're a McCain supporter, there's no question about the fact she brought a lot to the ticket already. I mean, you could take a look at Georgia. The Obama campaign has pulled their advertising there. It's not really one of the top 11 states anymore. There are a couple of other states that the McCain bounce has really gone up since Palin has come on. She's brought something to the ticket, but 55 days is a long time, 24 hours is a long time of politics, so we'll have to see how she does in the long run.

MARTIN: I want to hear more about what you were just talking about in a minute, but Ken had another thought.

RUDIN: Well, I was thinking, the Republicans will make the argument that, look, it's only been a week since the Republican convention ended in St. Paul. But having said that, the national polls are now even, Barack Obama's lead in desperately needed Democratic states like Pennsylvania and Michigan have eroded. The USA Today/Gallup Poll had McCain up by 10 points, which is of course, larger than any other poll, but obviously the Palin campaign gave them the bump. The Democrats will argue also justifiably that if you look at actuarial tables alone, John McCain is 72 years old, he's had bouts with cancer in the past. Even though a lot of people say that vice presidents don't matter, when you have a John McCain nominee, you have to be realistic and say that his running mate does matter.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're talking here about Sarah Palin, her exclusive interview with ABC News and what effect she's having on the ticket. Ron, I want to dig in to more on this polling question. According to the ABC News, Washington Post Poll, published on Tuesday, just a couple of days after her selection, after her pick. White women shifted from an eight-point pre-convention edge for Obama to a 12-point McCain advantage now. But other analysts are saying that really all of this did was consolidate the people who are going to vote Republican anyway, that it isn't really moving votes one way or the other. It energized the base but it hasn't really moved the independents and it certainly hasn't moved any Democrats. What do you say to that?

LESTER: Well, I would disagree. I think that the movement that Sarah Palin has brought is real. I mean, among white women, they were down eight, now they're up 12, that's net movement of 20 points. But I think the support there is soft. A lot of white women are suburban, they're working moms, they're your soccer moms who are more upscale, they're your Wal-Mart moms, who are more middle class and more down scale. And I think they relate to Palin on the face of the matter. She's a working mom, she has five kids, yet she had time for a career. So, they like her style, but once again...

MARTIN: The people vote on that though?

LESTER: Well, that's my point.

MARTIN: Did they vote on biography more than issues?

LESTER: Well, initially, they like her style, they like what they see, but they'll dig deeper. And she has to be substantive on the issues. They are hurting in terms of gas prices, a lot of them are hurting in terms of their mortgages, in terms of their jobs, some of them are paying private tuition for college. She has got to address these fundamental issues now. Obama clearly has an economic plan. John McCain has said that economics was not his forte. But Barack Obama, I think, has done a pretty good job particularly during the primaries of addressing the economic issues, of addressing the fact that we have a huge deficit of talking about how the economy, the budget needs to be balanced, how we need to raise taxes on the rich, not the middle class. And I think they'll respond to that.


RUDIN: Democrats have been saying that basically that, you know, this is just their fluff and that they'll get through it. But if you look at Barack Obama's statement - speeches lately, I think he has lost some of his edge. I don't know if it's because overconfidence, because he's seen national polls showing him clearly winning, the 270 electoral votes needed. But if you listen to his early speeches in South Carolina, in Philadelphia on race, and then fast forward to his speech in Denver, I thought a lot of the specifics were gone. I think that his lost a little bit of the edge. If you listen to all - what everybody has been talking about. Everybody has been talking about Palin. When Obama and Biden respond, they took about well what about - they're not really mavericks, and I think that dialogue has somehow - McCain has suddenly run the conversation. Obama needs to resume as Ron was just saying he needs to remind everybody that the issues like the economy, like gas prices, like food prices, like the war in Iraq. Those are Democratic issues and they should not focus so much on Sarah Palin and her, you know, her ability to become a maverick candidate.

MARTIN: So, you're saying Obama has been put in a defensive posture. He's putting up the Democrats or I have been put in the posture of reacting to what McCain and Palin are doing as opposed to pressing their issues.

RUDIN: It's only been a week, but yes they've been doing that.

Mr. LESTER: What I would say is that, the Democrats is not in the defensive posture but they need to regain the offensive, they need to talk about the issues that worked for them which are two. Basically economics. Getting the economy back on track, reducing the debt, lowering gas prices, getting these mortgage situations straightened out, number one. And number two national security, how do we get out of Iraq in an honorable way. What happens with Afghanistan, how about the hotspot of Israel and Palestine? So, economics, national security, I think that these are arguments where the American public will side with Barack Obama and Joe Biden, you know, I think...

MARTIN: One of the Obama advisers said to me at the Democratic Convention when I last spoke to him that if the election is about experience then John McCain wins, if the election is about change then Obama wins, but my question is what is the election about?

Mr. LESTER: Well, the election is about change and that's why John McCain - every other word out of Sarah Palin and John McCain's mouth now is change. Change this, change that, change this, they learned that and the focus groups have told us that. I mean that's why Barack Obama won over Hillary Clinton and if you ask the question who has the most experience, Hillary was ahead of Barack three to one, but Barack won the nomination. This is a change here.

RUDIN: And I think the reason the Republicans are talking so much about change is they use to think that the word experience was their card but when you pick, you know, and of course when you have to look at McCain versus Obama you do have the experience on the Republican side, but then when you look - when you pick Sarah Palin to be - a heartbeat away and compare that to Joe Biden's, you know 435 years in the senate then the experience card disappears for the Republicans and that's why they focus on the word change.

MARTIN: What's the next big event to look for - a potentially gain changing event? We only have about a minute left.

RUDIN: Clearly the debates, and the first one September 26th in Oxford, Mississippi, three presidential race debates, one vice presidential debate, they could be game changers.


Mr. LESTER: I think that you will see the Obama campaign role out a sharper, more critical campaign message focusing on McCain, Palin, and the economy in the next few weeks or so. They will be very sharp and very clear.

MARTIN: Ron Lester is a polling and public opinion expert. I do want to point out that he is a Democrat. Does extensive polling for media organizations. Ken Rudin is the Political Editor here at NPR of Political Junkie, both were kind enough to join me in our Washington D.C. studios. I thank you both so much for speaking with us.

RUDIN: Thanks, Michel.

Mr. LESTER: Thank you.

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