Roundtable: Democrats Dominate Early Voting Early voters are turning out in record numbers to cast ballots in this year's historic election. Plus, how will the presidential candidates' last-minute media blitz affect Tuesday's vote? Farai Chideya speaks with reporters Corey Dade and Jerome Vaughn.
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Roundtable: Democrats Dominate Early Voting

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Roundtable: Democrats Dominate Early Voting

Roundtable: Democrats Dominate Early Voting

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And now we're going to take a look at more of the week's news with Corey Dade, Atlanta correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, and Jerome Vaughn, the news program director for WDET in Detroit, Michigan. Hi folks.

Mr. COREY DADE (Atlanta Correspondent, Wall Street Journal): Hi there.

Mr. JEROME VAUGHN (News Program Director, WDET): Hey, good to be with you.

CHIDEYA: So, let's talk a little bit about infomercials. And I'm not talking about Ginsu knives, I'm talking about the presidency. The Nielsen television rating show that more than 33.5 million people tuned in to watch Obama's 30-minute paid segment on Wednesday. Let's listen to a bit.

(Soundbite of a Barack Obama's infomercial)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Nominee): We've seen over the last eight years how decisions by a president can have a profound effect on the course of history, and on American lives. But much that's wrong in our country goes back even farther than that. We've been talking about the same problems for decades, and nothing is ever done to solve them. This election's a defining moment.

CHIDEYA: Jerome, how do you rate this, not on politics, but on production values?

Mr. VAUGHN: It was truly a beautiful thing. I mean it was really hard to imagine in many ways that, you know, we're talking about this as an infomercial. But I mean, you know, in places the music swelled and the photography was gorgeous. And it was actually very interesting.

It wasn't anything like, you know, back in the day, you used to see infomercials for flovies(ph) too, you know, cut your hair and things like that. It was quite engaging, and I think because of that, it really had an effect. I mean that's why so many people watched it the other night.

CHIDEYA: It wasn't cheap either. We should say that from what we know, the infomercial ad by just the time alone, is estimated to have cost $5 million. And the commercial itself, producing it cost somewhere between three and $5 million.

Now that's a small part of just $150 million that the Obama campaign raised in September alone. But it's raising another question, Corey, which is public financing. Here's what Senator McCain said about Obama's huge coffers to CNN's Larry King.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Nominee): That he signed a piece of paper back when he was a long-shot candidate, and he signed it. It said, I won't - I will take public financing for the presidential campaign if John McCain will. I mean this is a living document. He didn't tell the American people the truth.

CHIDEYA: Is this something that he, meaning Senator Obama, made a tactical or ethical violation about in terms of saying he's going to take public financing, but then realizing he may well be the best financier in the whole country in terms of raising political money, and saying, oh, actually, that's not really my plan.

Mr. DADE: Well, I think - you know, I obviously can't speak for him, but if along the lines of ethics, you know, did he lie? Well, I don't think anyone has really proven that he actually lied. He may have had every intention to take that money - take the public financing then.

But as well we know, you know, any candidate has the prerogative to change their mind. I think the question is, would McCain be raising this, if in fact the money was not helping Obama hold his lead over McCain. That's sort of the issue, and so at the end of the day, you know, Obama - you know, McCain has a different in-run - end game to asking the question. I think the thing to keep in mind is that considering the kind of campaign that Obama has run, he actually needed this money for it. This is about the most expensive campaign you can imagine because he had to come from so far behind. He had to literally build an infrastructure himself if he hadn't - if he had taken public financing, he wouldn't have been able to do that.

CHIDEYA: Corey, let me state with you and talk about how voters are seeing their part in the process. Millions of people are actually going to the polls early, and you've been covering both Georgia and North Carolina. North Carolina is a traditional Republican stronghold, so how is that state playing out both in terms of early voting and overall in the polls?

Mr. DADE: Well, I'm actually here right now Farai, in North Carolina doing some reporting on the Senate race and the turnout so far. Just yesterday, the election board here in North Carolina decided to extend the voting hours - early voting on Saturday until 5 p.m. There are two specific heavily populated counties in Carolina who raised the request and they acted on it. And the unique thing that North Carolina has going is sort of a one-stop shop, where you can essentially register and vote on the same day and that has brought voters out of the wood works.

And at this point, we're talking about, you know a state that obviously wasn't in play before, but at this point, you know, we're talking about turnout, you know where you may have as many as, you know, at this point perhaps 100,000 new voters who have turned out so far. And you know, why? Well, obviously you know, the competitiveness of the campaign in the state, but what's happened here in North Carolina also is that it has experienced sort of dramatic demographic changes since 1990, with sort of that the economy down here changing into a more IT, high tech job force that requires workers from other parts of the country to come here. And so, what's happened in Virginia that has changed the dynamics there has also happened in North Carolina, with North Carolina a little bit further behind in that effort.

CHIDEYA: Mm hmm.

Mr. DADE: And so the voting attitudes are changing quite frankly, becoming more moderate.

CHIDEYA: All right, Jerome, I want to take you in another direction, which is to take what Corey just said about this unprecedented flow of voters to the polls and put it in the context of people who are non-traditional voters, people who, you know the common, let's listen to what he had to say about the countdown to change initiative.

Mr. VAUGHN: It's about getting young people engaged in the process. It's easily about kids and what they want to see happen and how they not only perceive it, but work towards it and it's kind of a - it's an aggressive move to connect all of these movements to make that difference on November 4.

CHIDEYA: Again, the group that he's running as a business, is running a countdown to change, and it's a social networking site that's aimed at younger urban Americans. Since youth could make a huge difference in this election, what's going to reach them? What do you think, Jerome? Is it online social networking, is it door to door, what do you think is going to make a difference?

Mr. VAUGHN: I think it's a matter of the combination of all of them. I mean, I know that's the easy out for the answer but you know, they talk to each other face to face about these things. I work here, you know, on the edge of a college campus and you see Obama t-shirts all over the place. You see stickers - bumper stickers, lawn signs, all the old form stuff. But you know, people are texting each other, they're watching the infomercial. I mean, it is every form of media that people are getting involved in, and young people especially are getting involved in. I want to say, the other thing, you know, along that line is - this is all about Obama, and that's not to say all the young people are going to vote for him necessarily but he's the one that's brought this change to the process that's energized people. You know four years ago with, you know, President Bush and John Kerry, we didn't see all this energy in the youth. It's about Obama and what he brings to the table, and especially with the urban youth, that's why they are really excited about it.

CHIDEYA: Corey, does that make it hard to cover the campaign fairly because for example, you can say, well I want to cover equal sides of A and B. But if B is not much of a factor, if for example, there are not as many youth oriented organizations that are McCain affiliated organizations, how does that complicate the job of the journalist?

Mr. DADE: Well, I think journalists are, you know, predisposed to looking for balance. And I know, and I've just had this conversation with a Republican yesterday that the media is biased toward more favorable coverage for Obama, and my response to him is that, Obama has run for all intents and purposes a very media centric campaign which means that for a long time during the primaries, when he was ready to announce any big policy decisions, when he was holding events, a lot of them were calibrated and scheduled and arranged in big markets where he could get TV coverage.

At certain times of the day when he wouldn't have to compete with other news broadcasts, and so as a result, he learned how to manipulate the media better. I think going forward though, through the campaign, the challenge for journalists and news organizations is to, you know, counter with something else, and so in this case, you don't look to cover McCain's impact with young people per se. You look to cover McCain's impact wherever he's having the greatest impact.

CHIDEYA: Mm hmm. Right.

Mr. DADE: So in many instance, it's rural America. In many cases, it's more conservative communities, older citizens and that's where you balance it out.

CHIDEYA: Jerome, quickly, what do you think folks in our business should be doing in the final couple of day of this campaign?

Mr. VAUGHN: Well, I think they should be getting some sleep this weekend if they can manage it. After that, I think, you know, really - I think a lot of us are going to be looking for - is there something that is unusual, that's out of the ordinary. I mean, both McCain and Obama, they're going to be giving their stump speech, they're going to be out there, talking to as many people as they can. You know, is there going to be a new last minute message, is there going to be a new last minute development? I think that's really what we're going to be looking for in the next couple of days.

CHIDEYA: All right. Gentlemen, we will be all in this together. Thank you.

Mr. DADE: Thank you.

Mr. VAUGHN: My pleasure.

CHIDEYA: Speaking to Jerome Vaughn, news program director for WDET in Detroit, Michigan. He joined us from their studios. Plus, Corey Dade, the Atlanta correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

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