Obama Adviser Sees Presidential Race Opening David Axelrod, chief strategist for Barack Obama, says he thinks the contest with John McCain is widening. Polls show Obama slightly ahead of McCain. Axelrod says he does not think racial concerns are making the contest closer than it otherwise would be.
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Obama Adviser Sees Presidential Race Opening

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Obama Adviser Sees Presidential Race Opening

Obama Adviser Sees Presidential Race Opening

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On this morning after the presidential debate, we've called one of the presidential campaign managers. David Axelrod is a Chicago political consultant who has guided Barack Obama's campaign. He's back in Chicago this morning. Mr. Axelrod, good morning.

DAVID AXELROD: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about some news made in the debate last night. John McCain said he's going to - if he's elected - order the Secretary of the Treasury to immediately buy up bad home mortgages and renegotiate them for homeowners. Is this something that Barack Obama would support?

AXELROD: Well, look. That is part of a legislation that was passed. The rescue package gives the Secretary of Treasury the authority to do that and it's one of the tools that's available. I don't think at this juncture, that is the - that Obama would be all in on a strategy like that.

INSKEEP: Oh, meaning that there's going to be a legal authority that questions what will happen?

AXELROD: But it is a tool that's available and it was put there for that reason.

INSKEEP: Obama did say in a general way last night, Senator McCain is right that we've got to stabilize housing prices. How to do it if not that?

AXELROD: Well, I think we have to see this is a fast-moving situation. And whether you buy the - you know, whether you buy the paper or how you move forward I think is something that needs to be determined. But it's certainly available. That thing that was odd was Senator McCain didn't seem to recognize that that was already a vehicle that could be utilized and indicated that that was something new that he was.

INSKEEP: He's saying I would order this thing to be done as opposed to living and it's an option for some.

AXELROD: Yeah. I mean, it's a large decision. It's a $300 billion decision to do that. That's I think the costs associated with it. And you know, I think if that is the most effective way to help homeowners, then - but you may be able to implement - you may be able to - in a less direct way - influence policy as regards to mortgages and that's something that needs to be explored.

INSKEEP: We're talking with David Axelrod. He's campaign manager for Senator Barack Obama. And Mr. Axelrod, after watching the second debate last night, I wondered maybe others did, too. Why are the candidates relatively civil when they're meeting face to face, but they seem much more harsh toward each other outside the debates in their commercials and in their speeches and elsewhere? [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: David Axelrod is Obama's chief strategist, not his campaign manager.]

AXELROD: Steve, I can't speak for the other campaign. The basic critique that Senator Obama delivered last night is the same one that he's been discussing all over the country. There's a very different philosophy between these two candidates. Senator McCain essentially is proposing a continuation of policies we have. He wants, you know, the $300 billion and tax cuts for big corporation, the very wealthy.

INSKEEP: If I could stop you for just a second...

AXELROD: Not once he argued that to the middle class. On health care, there are profound differences. You know, Senator McCain is pretty much wedded to the philosophy that's governed us for the last eight years, and Senator Obama wants to change it.

INSKEEP: Unidentified Woman: Stem cell research could unlock cures for diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's too. But John McCain has stood in the way.

INSKEEP: And that ad goes on to say he's opposed stem cell research. FactCheck.org, the website, says that's misleading it best and that McCain has favored stem cell research since 2001, for seven years.

AXELROD: Well, he's had - he does have a mixed record on stem cell research. But the fact is that his party's platform, his choice of a candidate for vice president who was adamantly opposed, says something else. So I mean...

INSKEEP: But isn't that false to say that he has opposed stem cell research when he doesn't?

AXELROD: Excuse me.

INSKEEP: Isn't it false so to say he's opposed stem cell research when he doesn't? He hasn't for seven years?

AXELROD: I think if you listen to the wording of the commercial, I think he has opposed stem cell research and...

INSKEEP: Oh, in the past.

AXELROD: That has been clear. I think that you just acknowledged that until 2001, he voted against it and he's endorsed a party platform that is hostile to this, embraced the running mate who is hostile to it. And I think one of the questions in this election is on many, many issues, look, John McCain once said that the Bush tax cuts offended his conscience. He once said that they were irresponsible. Now, he wants to double down on them. He's made a Faustian bargain with the right wing of his party, and he's embraced much of its agenda. So the question is, can you be certain exactly where he'll be when he's president - if he were President of the United States? And I think that's a legitimate question.

INSKEEP: Mr. Axelrod, one other thing I want to ask you about. A lot of voters that we interview and that we read about seem to just now be coming to grips with the idea of a black candidate for president. Do you think that racial concerns have made this race a little closer than it would otherwise be?

AXELROD: You know, I really don't. I think that if there are voters who are motivated that way they're unlikely to be voting for the Democratic nominee, anyway. And I think this race is opening up right now because people are beginning to focus on who represents change and who does not.

INSKEEP: Although - let me - if I could interrupt you just because.

AXELROD: I hope so. I don't believe that at all. I have a very positive view of what's going on in this country right now and I think Senator Obama received a great - he's been received well all over this country, support all over this country and it's growing by the day.

INSKEEP: Sorry to cut you off a little bit just time is short and I want you to hear this tape from Tina Graham(ph). She is a white Democrat we interviewed last week in Southwest Virginia. She doesn't like John McCain at all, but is not sure that she can pull the lever for Barack Obama.

TINA GRAHAM: Until he was nominated to run for president, I never really thought about whether or not that I was racist or whatever you want to - however you want to put it or whatever. It's just the fact that I think that he will represent them in what they want and what they need and stuff, and forget about - you know, they're his people, they're his race.

INSKEEP: David Axelrod, that's a Democrat, someone who's sympathetic to your side. In just a few seconds that we have left, how does your campaign tried to deal with voters like that?

AXELROD: Well, I think we're going to - we're talking to voters all over the country about their circumstances and our economy and how they're going to fare in the future our policies and the policies of the other candidate. I have to tell you, Steve, I think the vast majority of them are responding. We're doing as well with Democrats as John McCain is doing with Republicans at this point. So I mean, I understand the fascination of the media with this issue. I think what we're going to find out in November 4th is that that is an overstated factor in the race.

INSKEEP: Mr. Axelrod, thanks for taking our questions this morning.

AXELROD: OK. Great to be with you. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Appreciate it. David Axelrod is campaign manager for Senator Barack Obama. And by the way, we have put in a request for Senator John McCain's campaign manager as well.

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