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updated 10/26/2008 12:29:12 PM ET 2008-10-26T16:29:12

MR. TOM BROKAW:  Our issues this Sunday:  With just nine days to go, polls show Obama widening his lead over McCain while the Republican vice presidential nominee comes under increased criticism.  What will be McCain's final message to undecided voters?  We'll ask the candidate himself.  For the first time in nine months, our exclusive guest, Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain returns to MEET THE PRESS.

Then, insights and analysis on the presidential battleground states and the battle for congressional control, including a filibuster-proof U.S. Senate. Our political roundtable weighs in:  Charlie Cook, political analyst for the National Journal, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report; Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News correspondent traveling with the McCain campaign; and Chuck Todd, political director of NBC News.

But first, we're live here in Waterloo, Iowa, with the Republican nominee for president, John McCain.

Senator, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ):  Well, thank...

MR. BROKAW:  It's been a while.  I know you've been busy, but it's good to have you back here again.

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, thank you.  I noticed you mentioned, nine months.  I think I still have been more appearances on MEET THE PRESS than anybody else.

MR. BROKAW:  I think that's true, except maybe Bob Dole's probably got a few more than you.  But he's got a few years on you.

SEN. McCAIN:  Still time to catch up.

MR. BROKAW:  Listen, I, I don't have the most encouraging news for you today from the NBC News/Mason Dixon poll.  Here in Iowa, it now shows that Obama has a lead of 11 points, 51 to 40 points--percent.  Four years ago, as you know, George Bush won this state.  It's been determined a battleground state.  But the lead has been widening for Senator Obama right along the way.  I know you're a film buff, so let me begin with a film metaphor.  Do you feel more like Kevin Costner in the "Field of Dreams," or like George Clooney at the--at the tiller of the ship in "A Perfect Storm"?

SEN. McCAIN:  I, I think that I could draw my own, and I'd have to think of it, maybe, maybe "The Gipper." I feel like when--I feel like Knute Rockne when--at halftime when he said, "You go out there and get one for the Gipper." And look, those polls have been consistently shown me much further behind than we actually are.  It all depends on the voter turnout model.  And, and everybody gets bored except for us junkies about the process and aught.  We're doing fine.  We have closed in the last week.  We continue this close through next week, you're going to be up very, very late on election night.

We are very competitive in many of the battleground states, and I see these polls ranging from a 3 point gap today in Zogby to your 11 point one.  And they're all over the map; and, obviously, I choose to trust my senses as well as polls.  And the enthusiasm at almost all of our campaign events is at a higher level that I've ever seen.  And I've been in a lot of presidential campaigns, usually as the warm-up act or, you know, one of those things.  And I see intensity out there and I see passion.  So we're very competitive here, and I'm very happy with where we are and I'm very proud of the campaign that I've run.

MR. BROKAW:  Senator, in the last of the presidential debates moderated by Bob Schieffer, you drew greater distinction between yourself and George Bush. You said, "I am not George Bush." And then this past week in The Washington Times, a newspaper in Washington, this was the account, "Senator John McCain blasted President Bush for building a mountain of debt for future generations, failing to pay for expanding Medicare, and abusing executive powers, leveling his strongest criticism to date of the administration whose unpopularity may be dragging the Republican Party to the brink of a massive electoral defeat.

"`We just let things get completely out of hand,' he said of his own party's rule in the last eight years." But then we have an account of you on MEET THE PRESS going back to June 2005.

SEN. McCAIN:  Yes.

MR. BROKAW:  And this is what you had to say about your relationship with President Bush at that time.

(Videotape, June 19, 2005):

SEN. McCAIN:  The fact is that I'm different, but the fact is that I have agreed with President Bush far more than I have disagreed.  And on the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I have been totally in agreement and support of President Bush.  So I strongly disagree with any assertion that I've been more at odds with the president of the United States than I have been in agreement with.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, March 5, 2008):

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, I'm very honored and humbled to have the opportunity to receive the endorsement of the president of the United States, a man who I have great admiration, respect and affection.  I intend to have as much possible campaigning events and--together as--in keeping with the president's heavy schedule, and I look forward to that opportunity.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  Senator McCain, both in tone and language, you are very close with President Bush in those appearances.  The Congressional Quarterly did a review of your votes, 92 percent of the time you voted with President Bush. So it's a little hard for the public to separate you from this administration, isn't it?

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, it may be the way you describe it.  And, by the way, the last interview that I did with The Washington Times, of course I've been repeating for the last eight years that the spending was out of control. That's why I voted against these projects--these pork barrel spending.  I was the harshest critic of the failed strategy in Iraq and pointed it out in hearing after hearing and fought against it.  I've supported action to address climate change, from--since 2000 and said we've got to do something about it. There were sharp disagreements there.  There were a number of disagreements on general overall philosophy.  I am a Republican.  I respect the president of the United States.  Of course we let spending get completely out of control, and I've been talking about it for a long, long period of time.

Now, I know how it is on this show.  You show various segments and comments that we make thousands of, and I understand that.  But the fact is I am not George Bush.  The fact is that I was not popular within my own party.  The fact is that when I said that we were failing in Iraq and we were going to lose, I was criticized by Republicans.  The fact is when I did campaign finance reform with Russ Feingold, I was opposed by my own party and my own president.  So do we share a common philosophy of the Republican Party?  Of course.  But I've, I've stood up against my party, not just President Bush, but others; and I've got the scars to prove it, including taking up, with Ted Kennedy, immigration reform, knowing full well that that was going to hurt my chances in the primaries.  So I could go down a long list of issues with you.

Do I respect President Bush?  Of course I respect him.  But I pointed out we were on the wrong track in a whole lot of ways, including a $10 trillion deficit, including saying we got to rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and, and propose legislation to try to fix it before that triggered the housing collapse, including today when I'm saying they should be going out and buying up these mortgages and giving people mortgages that they can afford rather than bailing out the banks.

MR. BROKAW:  We're going to get to that...

SEN. McCAIN:  Sure.

MR. BROKAW:  ...very issue in a moment.  One of the things that you've been saying in the course of your campaign is that Senator Obama has neither the experience nor the judgment to be the president of the United States.  We've got some polls on how he's doing with the American voter on some of the critical issues of the day.  This is the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that was taken from October 17th to October 20th.

On health care, who's better equipped to deal with that?  Obama has a 39 point advantage over you in that poll.  As you can see, the economy is up 21 points; the housing crisis, a 21 point advantage; taxes, 14; in Iraq, you have an advantage over Senator Obama of about 5 points.  These are not pundits...

SEN. McCAIN:  We finally found a pony.

MR. BROKAW:  These are not the pundits or the media elite.  This is a broad-based poll across the country.

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah.  That I don't agree with.

MR. BROKAW:  People making judgments about who's qualified.

SEN. McCAIN:  But I don't agree with their, with their conclusion that I'm a, quote, 11 or 12 or 14 point, whatever it is.  We have polls, including I think a Zogby poll, showing us 3 or 4 points behind.  So if you want to continue to referring to a poll that I disagree with, I have to start out our conversation I don't agree with that.  We are closing and we have been closing.

MR. BROKAW:  But it's not the only poll, Senator.  A number of polls show that.

SEN. McCAIN:  Oh, and it's not the only poll that shows us close.

MR. BROKAW:  Mm-hmm.

SEN. McCAIN:  So, you know, I'm sure we don't want to spend the morning arguing about polls that are accurate or inaccurate, but I will stand before the American people with my view that, that I think that we don't, we cannot fine small business people and their, you know, or their employ--small business people who have employees without health insurance, that he's going to fine them if they don't have, have the insurance policy that they want, that Senator Obama wants them to have.  That if they have children that don't have health insurance that Senator Obama wants them to have, they will be fined.  That he wants to spend an addition trillion dollars.  I'll stand on those issues.  I'll stand on them, and I'll take the verdict of the American people.  And I guarantee you that two weeks from now you will see this has been a very close race.  And I believe that I'm going to win it.

MR. BROKAW:  All right.  I, I, I don't want to dwell on these polls unduly.

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah.

MR. BROKAW:  But even if you had a big...

SEN. McCAIN:  Here we go again.

MR. BROKAW:  ...if you even had, even if you had a big margin of error...

SEN. McCAIN:  I can give, I can show you...

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.

SEN. McCAIN:  ...again, a Zogby poll and our poll and other polls that will show different numbers than the one you're showing.  So...

MR. BROKAW:  Well, yeah, but those are the big universe polls.

SEN. McCAIN:  So you're starting out, in all due respect...

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.

SEN. McCAIN:  ...with fundamental assumptions that I don't agree with.  So it's hard for me to respond to assumptions that I don't agree with.

On the economy, look, we just, we just figured it out with "Joe the Plumber." Americans just figured it out.  He wants to spread the wealth around.  And every time there's a poll, there's a different tax plan.  There's a different tax plan for America.  He's the guy that Senator Obama voted to--for a Democrat budget resolution with will impose taxes on individuals making $42,000 a year.  That's just a fact.  He wants to raise taxes in a time of economic difficulties.

MR. BROKAW:  But he continues to insist that...

SEN. McCAIN:  The last time a president of the United States that did that was a guy named Herbert Hoover, protectionism and raising taxes.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, Ronald Reagan raised taxes as well, after the first two years in office.

SEN. McCAIN:  Not in these times.  Not in times--not in economic times like these.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, right after the recession he did, in the first two years of his office.

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, look, I would be glad to review the Reagan record, but the Reagan record was certainly one that reined in spending.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, let me ask you...

SEN. McCAIN:  And certainly one that I'm very proud of in as far as both their economic and national security policies.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, let me ask you about that business about spreading the wealth around...

SEN. McCAIN:  Sure.

MR. BROKAW:  ...which has been a favorite phrase now of the McCain campaign. And also your vice presidential candidate has used the word "socialist" and "socialism."

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. BROKAW:  Do you honestly think that Barack Obama would have as his advisers--Warren Buffet; Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve under Ronald Reagan, who is widely credited with saving the economy at that time; Bob Rubin, former Treasury secretary; and even Chris Buckley, the son of the godfather of the modern conservative movement--both endorsing his economic policies and help shaping them if they thought he was a socialist of some kind?

SEN. McCAIN:  All I know is that Senator Obama's record is very clear.  It's his record, not Volcker's record, not anybody else's.  He started out in the lefthand lane of American politics and has remained there.  He has been judged the most liberal United States senator.  Biden's number three.  "Joe the Biden" is number three.  Bernie Sanders is number two.  And, and I respect that.  But let's not, let's not call it anything but it is.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, he...

SEN. McCAIN:  He's voted for tax increases, against tax cuts, has advocated raising capital gains tax.  Another, another anchor, Charlie Gibson, said, "Why would you want to raise capital gains taxes and--when you know that that could decrease revenue?" He said, "It's a matter of fairness." He said to "Joe the Plumber," it's "spreading the wealth around." I, I--his political philosophy is very, very different about what he believes is future of America's concerned.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, can we, can we...

SEN. McCAIN:  I believe the worst thing you can do is raise taxes.

MR. BROKAW:  Can we share with the audience, then, a couple of...

SEN. McCAIN:  Sure.  Sure.

MR. BROKAW:  ...your comments about taxing wealthy Americans?

SEN. McCAIN:  Sure.

MR. BROKAW:  This is from April 11th, 2004.  It's MEET THE PRESS...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. BROKAW:  ...and this is what you had to say about wealthy Americans and taxes at that time.

(Videotape)

SEN. McCAIN:  I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportional amount that went to the wealthiest Americans.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  And then this is what you had to say on "Hardball" back in 2000 to Chris Matthews.

(Videotape, October 12, 2000)

SEN. McCAIN:  Here's what I, I, I really believe, that when you are--reach a certain level of comfort, there's nothing wrong with paying somewhat more.

(End videotape)

SEN. McCAIN:  That's what--listen, even the flat tax people somewhat pay more.  Even--you put into different, different categories of wealthier people paying, paying higher taxes into different brackets.  I mean, and the, and these are different times, my friend.  These are times of the biggest financial crisis we've faced in America.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, let me raise that, then, if I...

SEN. McCAIN:  So, so let me just tell you again, I also said, when I opposed the Bush tax cuts, said--that is left out of this equation, I said I've got to--we've got to get spending under control.  Spending was completely out of control.  We laid a $10 trillion debt on future generations of America.  We owe the Chinese a half a trillion dollars.  Spending was, was the, was the, I think, the really biggest aspect, to a large degree.  It weakens the dollar, it raises the cost of goods to Americans.  The housing crisis combined with a, with a country that's living way beyond its means is a, is a combination which has put us into this great financial crisis we're in.  So...

MR. BROKAW:  But there, there is this continuing use...

SEN. McCAIN:  ...I feel that...

MR. BROKAW:  ...of the phrase "socialism." How would you describe the $700 billion bailout that has the United States government buying shares in American banks, in effect nationalizing those banks to a degree, and even your own mortgage plan of spending $300 billion to buy bad mortgages from banks, having taxpayers who have done the responsible thing, in effect, subsidize people who've done the dumb or wrong thing?

SEN. McCAIN:  Because we are in a financial crisis of monumental proportions. The role of government is to intervene when a nation is in crisis.  A homeowner's loan corporation was instituted in the Great Depression.  They went out and they bought people's mortgages, and, over time, people were able, then, to pay back those mortgages.  And the Treasury actually made some money.

This Treasury in this administration is spending its time bailing out the banks.  The cause of the crisis was the housing crisis, as we know.  And how--home values, as long as they continue to decline, then we're not going to see a turnaround in this economy.  A lot of other things have to happen, have to happen, but at least let's understand that we ought to keep people in their homes.  That's the American dream.  And they say now that maybe they're going to address that problem.  Let's address it first.  And so when a, when a nation is in crisis, that's when a government has to intervene.

Now, a lot of the times you were talking about, 2004, other times, times were pretty good overall.  You had different--you have to have different roles of government in different times.  I'm a fundamentally--obviously, a strong conservative.  But when we're in a crisis of this nature, that's when government has to help.  That's, that's what, that's what our fundamental belief--the reason why we have governments.  In times of crisis, we go in and we try and help the people, especially in this situation where they're the, the victim of a drive-by shooting by excess, greed and corruption in Washington and Wall Street.  And again, I and others said we have to have legislation to rein it in.  Senator Obama didn't lift a finger.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, you did--you made your comments about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac at the time of the accounting issue, when that was first raised. Can you cite a time...

SEN. McCAIN:  In, in reality, we, we proposed legislation and made a statement that said, "Look, it's not just the accounting, this whole process is going to lead to disaster." I'd be glad to provide you with the letter.

MR. BROKAW:  Let me ask you quickly about your $300 billion bailout of, of mortgages.

SEN. McCAIN:  Hm.

MR. BROKAW:  Some people have said, look, if there's a homeowner out there who's done the irresponsible thing...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. BROKAW:  ...and a bank is looking at that foreclosure and saying, "Hey, I don't have to work this out.  I can just get the government to pick it up," why should a taxpayer in Waterloo, Iowa, or in Akron, Ohio, have to subsidize somebody who has done the dumb, wrong thing?

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, in simplest terms, if their neighbor next door throws the keys in the living room floor and leaves, then the value of their home is going to dramatically decrease as well.  And again, this has been done before. As I said, during the Great Depression and...

MR. BROKAW:  And that's when Republicans called it socialism under FDR.

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, look, in the Great Depression, there were some things that worked and some things that didn't work.  But for the government to do nothing in the face of a massive crisis of proportions that we have not seen, I mean, it's hard for us to imagine how, in, in retrospect, how serious the Great Depression was, but the fact is that Senator Obama, by the way, opposes that, that; and I want to use some of the $750 billion to go and buy those mortgages and that, I think, will stabilize the market.  It's not the only thing that needs to be done, but I think it's a vital first step so Americans can realize the American dream.

MR. BROKAW:  I stop...

SEN. McCAIN:  And by the way, this is primary residences.

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.

SEN. McCAIN:  There's a lot of circumstances that, yeah.

MR. BROKAW:  I stopped briefly in Michigan on the way here and that's a state in meltdown, as well as you know, and the Center for Automotive Research at Ann Arbor says unless Chrysler, GM and Ford get $15 billion, they'll run out of money in a year and the American auto industry could disappear.  Do you think that the American government should give those three automotive makers $15 billion to tide them over.  And is it important to preserve the American brand of automobile?

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, let's get the first $25 billion to them first.  That way--we, we just gave them $25 million.  Let's give them the $25 million and see how that works before we say we're going to give you some more.

MR. BROKAW:  But they say they need another $15 billion in addition to that.

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, again, let's get the $25 billion to them to, to start with and see how that goes.  But let me just give an example.  There's a microcosm there.  There's an example.  Michigan thinks we got tough, so guess what?  They raised taxes.  They raised taxes in Michigan, and guess what? Things got worse.  Michigan, as I understand it, is second--one of two states in America that has a declining population because businesses are fleeing the state.  So the worst thing we can do is increase taxes.  And Senator Obama wants to do that, and now it's $200,000.  I guess last week it was $250,000. It changes with ever--whatever the polling data tells him and his advisers. But the fact is you don't want to raise anyone's taxes in tough times.

And just one other thing is businesses now are paying 35 percent taxes.  Now, immediately, somebody's going to say, "Well, they don't pay that 35 percent." Ask Fred Smith, the CEO of FedEx; ask Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay; ask John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco; they'll tell you that they pay 35 percent, OK? But they'll also tell you that one of the reasons why they're attracted to going overseas, to Ireland, it's 11 percent tax there.  So why not go to Ireland where you can get qualified workers and, and you can save money and create jobs and, and invest?  So this business about fat cat bailout and corporate, all that kind of stuff, we need to reduce the business tax in America and we need to keep, and we need to keep capital gains taxes low. That's 100 million Americans who have something to do with capital gains taxes.

MR. BROKAW:  Senator, let me...

SEN. McCAIN:  So we have a stark difference.  Senator Obama wants to "spread the wealth around," "fairness." And that, that is the most liberal economic position that I've seen in the United States of America.  Just a fact.

MR. BROKAW:  Let me ask you some facts about your running mate.

SEN. McCAIN:  Sure.

MR. BROKAW:  Governor Sarah Palin.  You continue to defend her, she continues to light up Republican rallies wherever she goes.

SEN. McCAIN:  I don't, I don't defend her.  I praise her.

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.

SEN. McCAIN:  I don't defend her.  And she needs...

MR. BROKAW:  Here's the latest...

SEN. McCAIN:  ...no defense.

MR. BROKAW:  All right.

SEN. McCAIN:  And here's another poll, the same way.

MR. BROKAW:  Let me, let me share with you another poll if I can.  The Washington Post/ABC News poll and this is what we have to share with our audience here today on that.  When she came out of the convention, she had a 59 percent favorable rating, it's now down to 46 percent, unfavorable is up to 51 percent.  This may be the most critical issue for you, and that is independent voters, women voters, her favorable rating now among them is just 40 percent.  It was 64 percent right after the convention, and it's now 59 percent.  Many people think that she's just simply not qualified to be president.

SEN. McCAIN:  Because?  Not qualified because?

MR. BROKAW:  She's not qualified because she's had a lot of exposure in the last three months or so, a vice presidential debate, a number of interviews with people who were selected by your campaign, after all.  She's had--some of those interviews were quite friendly, not necessarily prosecutorial.  And they have come to the conclusion, based on everything that we're seeing, that she's not qualified to be president.

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, I--the--first of all, I thought she did fine in, in the--actually, so did most people--in the debate with, with Senator Biden. She has more executive experience than Senator Biden and, and Senator Obama together.  She took on the governor of her own party because she had seen what she's thought was corruption.  She's been a mayor.  She has 24,000 people underneath her.  Her husband is a--works the third shift on a oil--in--facilities on the North Slope.  He's a--they, they have a--she has executive experience and has given back money to the taxpayers.  She has taken Democrats as well as Republicans into her administration.  It sounds like I'm, I'm "defending" her, but the fact is she is a dynamic person with executive experience, leadership, reform.  She's exactly what Washington needs.  I'm so proud of the way she ignites the crowds.  The way that she is--she has conducted herself is, in my view, incredibly admirable.  I am--do we--do, do Sarah Palin and I disagree on a specific issue?  Yeah, because we're both mavericks.  But we share the same goal of cleaning up Washington.  You think some--we will clean up and reform Washington together, and she has the credentials and the vision and the dynamism and the strength to do that.  I could not be more proud of her.

MR. BROKAW:  You know in politics that symbols are very powerful.

SEN. McCAIN:  Sure.

MR. BROKAW:  Those pictures of you when you were a prisoner of war in Hanoi have been a very powerful reminder of what you went through.  And then in the last 10 days or so, we've learned that the Republican National Committee spent $150,000 on her wardrobe at Neiman Marcus and at Saks when she was portraying herself as a hockey mom representing the values of Main Street.  Wasn't that a colossal mistake on the part of the RNC?

SEN. McCAIN:  Look, she lives a frugal life.  She and her family are not wealthy.  She and her family were thrust into this, and there was some--and some third of that money is given back, the rest will be donated to charity. Look, Americans right now care about whether they're going to stay in their homes, whether they're going to have a job, whether they're going to be able to keep their health insurance, if we're going to come out of this ditch that we're in.  They want change.  They want reform.  She is a role model to millions and millions and millions of Americans.

MR. BROKAW:  I know you were disappointed when Colin Powell last week came on MEET THE PRESS...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. BROKAW:  ...and praised you as a friend, a longtime admirer of yours, but said he was going to vote for Barack Obama.  And he listed a number of reasons why he was going to do that.  There was a pretty sharp reaction across the country, both pro and con, on the part of people who'd been following politics carefully.  Here's what Rush Limbaugh had to say on his radio program about the reason that Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama.

(Videotape)

MR. RUSH LIMBAUGH:  It was totally about race.  The Powell nomination, or endorsement, total, totally about race.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  Do you agree with Rush Limbaugh?

SEN. McCAIN:  No.  I'm disappointed in General Powell, but I'm very, very happy to know that five former secretaries of state who I admire enormously--Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, Larry Eagleburger, Al Hague--Jim Baker, Henry Kissinger, Al Hague, Larry Eagleburger and one other, and over 200 retired flag general--generals and admirals are supporting my campaign. I'm very proud of their support.

MR. BROKAW:  Senator, we opened today with a--how you're doing in Iowa.  The Des Moines Register has endorsed...

SEN. McCAIN:  George Shultz.  George Shultz is the other one.

MR. BROKAW:  George Shultz, right.

SEN. McCAIN:  George, I'm sorry I left you out to start with.  George Shultz, the great--one of the great secretaries of state in history.  Anyway, go ahead.  I'm sorry.

MR. BROKAW:  We opened today with, with the poll here in Iowa in which you're trailing by 11 points, according to our NBC/Mason Dixon poll.  The Des Moines Register has endorsed Barack Obama as well.

SEN. McCAIN:  I'm astonished!

MR. BROKAW:  It's the state's largest newspaper.

SEN. McCAIN:  Shocked!  Shocked!

MR. BROKAW:  Now stay with me.  Stay with me for a minute here.  Here's the Arizona Republic, your largest newspaper in the state of Arizona today.  "We have seen the irascible McCain.  the bawdy and irreverent McCain.  And, yes the temperamental McCain.  Likewise, we here in Arizona have seen the former Navy pilot and war hero evolve--slowly and with lots of fits and starts--into a statesmen." That's the Arizona Republic today endorsing you for president. I'm confident...

SEN. McCAIN:  God bless the Arizona Republic.

MR. BROKAW:  I am confident that you are aware of this, but our viewers probably are not.  This is, I would think for you, a very poignant Sunday because it was 41 years ago today that you were shot down on a bombing mission over Hanoi.  This is the Associated Press account of that.  "October 26th, 1967.  Navy fighter pilot John McCain being captured by Vietnamese civilians in Truc Bach Lake near Hanoi, Vietnam." Actually, it's in Hanoi.  "McCain was tortured and imprisoned for more than five years, and eventually awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross Medal, and Prisoner of War medal."

A week later, your mother wrote this letter to President Lyndon Johnson.  "My dear Mr. President, As the parent of a son who was shot down in Hanoi last week, and is now a prisoner of war, I wonder if you are interested to know that both my husband and I back you and your policies 100 percent in Vietnam? One reads so much of the opinions--of other opinions that I just hope that you and the people really making the sacrifice believe in our country and in you. May Gold bless you and keep you strong in your courage and convictions." That's your mother, Roberta McCain, who is still going strong.

SEN. McCAIN:  Ninety-six, still going strong.

MR. BROKAW:  For all the obvious reasons, that experience was a defining moment in your life, and you said it changed your attitude toward you are your country's from then on, not your own man.  How has this campaign changed you?

SEN. McCAIN:  It hasn't changed me.  It's made me humble and grateful and aware of the trust and faith and confidence that so many people have in me that it motives me to continue to want to serve my country.  But I think it also validates service to country and putting your country first.  We're going to do well in this campaign, my friend.  We're going to win it, and it's going to be tight, and we're going to be up late; but it will be because there's so many Americans who believe that I can give them the future for themselves and their children and their grandchildren that we all aspire to.  And I'm deeply honored.

MR. BROKAW:  Four years ago I interviewed President Bush at a time when it looked like he may be in trouble against John Kerry, final weekend of the campaign.  I showed him a map.  He said, "Oh, I just don't do that.  Karl Rove does that." As soon as the interview was over, he said, "I'll win here," and pointed to southeastern Ohio.  Where will you win if you win?

SEN. McCAIN:  I, I think there are obviously the battleground states that you and the panel are going to be going over right after the segment of the program, and we are very competitive in those areas.  And we're going to have to just get out our vote, work hard over the next nine days, and, and make sure that people know that there will be a better future.  People are very worried now.  Very, very worried, and have every reason to be.  I think it's all about who can assure a better future.

MR. BROKAW:  Senator McCain, I hope this has been a better Sunday than it was 41 years ago.

SEN. McCAIN:  Thank you.  And it's good to be with you.  And I appreciate your many years of informing the American people.  You've come a long way from South Dakota, but you'd never forgot where you came from.

MR. BROKAW:  That's true.

SEN. McCAIN:  Thank you.

MR. BROKAW:  Thanks for being here.  Thank you.

Coming up next, a look at the presidential battleground and the battle for control of Congress.  Our political roundtable:  Charlie Cook, Kelly O'Donnell and Chuck Todd all next, only on MEET THE PRESS, live today from Waterloo, Iowa.

(Announcements)

MR. BROKAW:  Our political roundtable on the final nine days of this campaign right after this brief station break.

(Announcements)

MR. BROKAW:  We're back; and live from Waterloo, Iowa, once again our political roundtable this morning in a very intimate setting here, Charlie Cook, Chuck Todd and Kelly O'Donnell.

Welcome to all of you.  We've got a lot to talk about this morning.  Let's talk about some of these states that are kind of surprises.

Chuck, in the South, we had been looking earlier at Georgia.

MR. CHUCK TODD:  Right.

MR. BROKAW:  Because of African-American registration, Democrats thinking they may have a chance there.  Let's share with our viewers what the latest NBC News Mason-Dixon poll is in Georgia.  McCain still has a 6 point lead, but that's within reach for Senator Obama.  Is it possible that Senator Obama could take Georgia?

MR. TODD:  You know, you look at these early voting numbers.  Georgia's one of these states, along with North Carolina and Florida, that we're seeing early voting, and because they're states that have to keep track of these statistics, we know exactly how many African-American ballots are being turned in, how many Dem--and it is through the roof.  There are--turnout among African-Americans might actually be somewhere between 95 and 100 percent in some of these places, in some of these states.  And, in fact, we're seeing this shrinkage of a lead in Georgia for Senator McCain.  It's actually got some folks wondering is South Carolina now in single digits?  What's going on in Mississippi that this prediction of big African-American turnout that everybody thought might happen, we're seeing play out so far in some of these early voting states.  And when you look at Georgia and compare, which is a lean McCain state, compare where McCain is here in Iowa, a lean Obama state, and that just shows you the battlefield here right now, the battleground, where it is shifted--even the lean McCain states are--Obama has a better shot at right now than McCain does in these lean Obama states.

MR. BROKAW:  All right, let's take up Missouri.  Missouri's a real bellwether state...

MR. TODD:  It is.

MR. BROKAW:  ...for the Republicans, and it's effectively a dead heat at the moment.

MR. TODD:  It is, and it's the longest streak of, of the state getting it right.  You know, we always like to look at that one state.  But it usually is a trailing indicator of where the national polls are, and it is a--still a Republican state.  It is, you know, a pinky on the scale for the Republicans, not a big, not a big thing.  But if you see a surge for Obama of 5 or 6 points nationally, then he's probably tied or maybe even a little bit ahead in Missouri.

MR. BROKAW:  Kelly, we hear a lot about the Obama organization in getting out the vote, which is the great strength of President Bush four years ago.  What about the McCain get out the vote operation?

MS. KELLY O'DONNELL:  Well, one of the big differences, Tom, is money.  The enormous imbalance of money is a real concern for the McCain team.  That's something they simply cannot match.  On ground game they say they have a lot of volunteers, they say that they are in a great degree energized by Sarah Palin.  Looking back on your conversation with Senator McCain, when he talks about her popularity, that's part of what they're getting at.

One of the things that's interesting, I find, in talking to advisers, is with that enormous advantage in polling, in money, in everything that has been sort of the cultural experience of Barack Obama, that he has become almost like an incumbent when you consider the typical power of an incumbent in a race.  And that's really a very different dynamic and a real challenge for the McCain team to try to overcome that.  They're hoping that some of the voters who have not decided yet will break their way.  They're hoping that the ground game, although it does not have the size and scope of the Obama team, can still be effective sometimes in part because there may be Republicans concerned about the--sort of the depth of the Republican crisis, and that that may energize them to knock on doors and to make the phone calls.

MR. BROKAW:  Charlie, we're going to get to the electoral map here in a moment, but voters often in the closing days of a campaign size up everything. And if they see this thing moving too swiftly in one direction, aren't there going to be some voters out there in the middle who are going to say, "I don't want that to happen.  I'm going to be," if you will, "an anchor to windward"?

MR. CHARLIE COOK:  Sometimes that happens, although this is an election where, you know, back over the summer Obama was averaging like a 3-point lead, and at that point every little thing was important.  But then September hit, mid-September hit, the markets hit, and now I think you can Monday morning quarterback a lot of these people.  You could say--you know, you could say, "Well, if they'd--if McCain had just done this or that.  If he had picked Palin--or not picked Palin, if he'd done this." You know, after September little things didn't matter anymore.  This thing got just so incrementally harder that it could be that people pull back a little.  But we're not seeing any metrics, the things that Chuck was talking about.  We're not seeing any that show, in this thing, sliding backwards.

MR. BROKAW:  All right, let's take a look at the electoral map.  Here's where it was a week ago.  And here's...(unintelligible)...of the key number, it seems to me.  We had likely or lean Obama, a total of 264 electoral votes. You need to get to 270.  Those states that are in yellow, as you can see, like Nevada and Colorado and Ohio and Virginia, and some new ones in Florida, those are the states to keep your eye on.  Now, a week later, Chuck Todd, and our experts have done an analysis and likely lean Obama, 286.  And what we've done there is moved Virginia and Colorado to a different category, Chuck.

MR. TODD:  We have.  We, we've shifted them to lean Obama.  Now, our map we do not base it solely on polls.  We base it a lot of things--advertising, organization on the ground, what's going on.  And it is clear that now Obama has an advantage.  Does this mean we think he's a lock to win Colorado, Virginia, even some of these other states that have been--no.  It means if we were Las Vegas oddsmakers, we'd say he's the favorite.  You know, he's got a--he's a 4 or 5-point favorite in some of these places, maybe even 6 or 7 in places like Iowa.  But this is a shift.  Now, why is it important?  If he does lock in Colorado and Virginia, first of all, what's not in his column right now?  Florida and Ohio, the last two states.  Throw in Nevada.  I mean, this, this Hispanic--one of the things we--underreported story of the cycle is how Hispanics have just turned on the Republican Party, hurting John McCain. Frankly...

MR. BROKAW:  Who is a friend of theirs.

MR. TODD:  Who is a friend of theirs.

MR. BROKAW:  Right.

MR. TODD:  You know, this is a Shakespearean--you know, the S...

MR. BROKAW:  Right.

MR. TODD:  ...in John McCain is going to stand for Shakespeare, I think, when this campaign's over.  And if you move Nevada now to, to 290, and then you get to 291, that gives Obama the luxury of actually losing Pennsylvania and still staying at 270, if everything locks in.  So he has developed a path to 270 without Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.  That's--that really makes it tough for McCain.

MR. BROKAW:  Charlie, as you look at this electoral map and you're in the Obama camp, what would make you nervous about that map and this point?

MR. COOK:  Everything seems too good.  That, that, that it's like, "No, no. There's no way things are going this, this well.  What's going to go wrong?" I mean, that's, that's what would terrify me.

MR. BROKAW:  All right.  And in the McCain campaign, Kelly, where you spend a lot of time, obviously, late at night in the bar, what makes them nervous?

MS. O'DONNELL:  Well, I think they are most concerned about the fact that they believe they have made an argument that John McCain has the life experience, the willingness to work across the aisle, and that has not caught on.  That has been, I think, a very difficult thing for them.  They argue frequently that they don't feel that they have had the same fairness of treatment in the media.  They believe that that has hurt them.  They also understand the money difference.  They're often very critical of Senator Obama for not taking the public financing.

When they look at the map, they often say New Hampshire.  Against the polling, they say John McCain has had a long personal history there, great affection for that state that they believe that that could go his way.  That's four votes.  And they are looking at Pennsylvania.  They see Pennsylvania differently than the pollsters and the Democrats, and they are really looking in places where Hillary Clinton was strong, believing they can make up some ground there.

They are realistic.  They know what this map is, they're listening to all these conversations.  The thing I am struck by is they have seen this candidate in previous times come back from the dead, do the impossible.  And I think staffers have embraced that idea.  There's realism, they understand where they're at.  But they are not as disheartened as you might expect because he says, "I'm going to put one foot in front of the other, there's a few days left to go," and they really push on.  So there is not a sense of, of overwhelming defeat.  In fact, there is a sense of, "We're going to show them." So that's I think one of the things I've been surprised by.

MR. BROKAW:  Still a warrior.

MS. O'DONNELL:  Very much so.  And that, that really kind of bleeds into the whole staff.  You don't see much, you know, long faces.

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.  One of the things that they're fighting against, frankly, is that from within their own party and people who are identified with their party are now beginning to be very critical how the campaign has been run.

MS. O'DONNELL:  Very much so.

MR. BROKAW:  Bill Kristol in The New York Times said fire the campaign staff.

MS. O'DONNELL:  Mm-hmm.

MR. BROKAW:  And here's what David Frum, who is a speech writer to President Bush, former speech writer writes today in The Washington Post, "McCain's awful campaign is having awful consequences down the ballot.  I spoke a little while ago to a senior Republican House member.  `There is not a safe Republican seat in the country,' he warned.  `I don't mean we're going to lose all of them.  But we could lose any of them.'" That's got to be terrifying to them, Charlie.

MR. COOK:  Yeah.  The, the, the pessimism up there--and the thing is that's so, so amazing to this is that we've seen parties get hit with train wrecks, but it's so rare to have a party hit with two train wrecks in a row:  2006, where they lost 30 House seats and six Senate seats; and now this time.  And last time it was on Iraq and scandals, and this time it's the stock market and the economy.  I--we--we've never, this is like, it's a hundred-year flood, these two elections together, and if it were any worse, it'd be biblical.  I mean, we're looking at, I mean, a Senate incumbent, a Republican incumbent in trouble in Georgia?  Astonishing.  House seats in places where Republicans--Democrats don't even fly over are in trouble.  This is, I've never seen anything like that.

MR. BROKAW:  And the big number to keep your eye on, we have to remind our viewers, is 60 Senate seats because then it makes it filibuster proof.  Here's what you wrote in your political report, Charlie, "The open GOP seats in Virginia and New Mexico are lost causes for the party, while the open seat in Colorado leans toward Democrats, which would put the Democrats at 54 seats.

"That leaves six seats in the Toss Up column.  All are held by Republicans. ...  Three incumbents (Sununu, Dole and Smith) are failing in their challenges, two more are running slightly ahead (Chambliss in Georgia, Wicker) and one is in a statistical dead heat (Coleman in Minnesota).  One thing we do know is that the races in the Toss Up column never split down the middle; one party tends to win a majority of them." You're on the spot.  Are they going to get the 60?

MR. COOK:  Well, the first question is, does--is Joe Lieberman--what's your base?  Fifty or 51?  Is Joe Lieberman a Democrat?  Is he an independent?  And what happens in Ted Stevens' trial?  Because if he's acquitted this week, then odds are he probably survives.  If he's convicted, odds are he goes down.  If I had to pick a number, I'd pick 59, but do I have--would I bet a dime on it? No.

MR. BROKAW:  Chuck Todd, we have Hillary Clinton out on the campaign trail for some of these Senate candidates, including Al Franken, who has come from double digit back to within reach, easily within reach in Minnesota.  Here's Hillary Clinton campaigning for Al Franken in Minnesota.  We're going to share that video with you now.

(Videotape)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY):  We don't have a lot of time to turn our economy around, and it's going to take a new president and 60 senators willing to stand up for change.  Now any single Republican can block the progress we need.  Al Franken could very well be that 60th vote.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  Look, I'm going to come back to this again.  A lot of people get very nervous about the idea of the Democrats having big majorities and a filibuster-proof Senate, and a Democrat in the White House.  They'll say it's "Katie, bar the door, and certainly lock up the treasury."

MR. TODD:  You know, the old direct mail guy, Richard Viguerie is probably thinking, "Really?  Did Hillary Clinton really do an ad for Al Franken?  I can't wait to write mail on this." Look, I understand the political strategy in Minnesota.  It's a three-way race.  All Franken needs is Democrats to vote for him and he wins.  He doesn't need swing voters.  But if you're Roger Wicker or Mitch McConnell, are you going to grab that ad and run it in your state and say, "Hey, Hillary Clinton and Al Franken are trying to get the 60 Senate seats.  If you want, she can become..."

MR. BROKAW:  She becomes the Ted Kennedy of this election.

MR. TODD:  Well, the two of them together.

MR. BROKAW:  Right.

MR. TODD:  And so I was stunned when I saw that, that Clinton did that ad.  I get the strategy for Minnesota, but it was one of those things you're like, some, you know, these aren't, these aren't just state-known figures.  Hillary Clinton and Al Franken could be created to become liberal boogey men and women in a place like Mississippi and Kentucky, which is the difference between getting from, you know, 58 to 60.

MS. O'DONNELL:  And Senator McCain is beginning to do that.  One of the rallying cries at his events now is "Obama!  Pelosi!  Reid!" And the response from the people attending his events is a huge roar, trying to make that argument.  It's not the sexiest political argument.

MR. COOK:  Right.

MS. O'DONNELL:  It's not one that is easy to put on a bumper sticker.  But they're trying to drive Republicans to do those get-out-the-vote activities, to cast their ballots, actually saying that even for some Democrats, if it is a complete Democrat control, that that will be hard for those members who live in states that are actually a little bit more conservative because it would be easier to fight against a McCain presidency than to have all of that Democratic control.

MR. COOK:  Here's...

MS. O'DONNELL:  So that's a tactic.

MR. COOK:  Here's the ironic thing that normally, historically, people preferred divided government, sort of checks and balances rather than one party control.  But the support for dividing government is now lower, one of the lowest it's ever been.  And, and it's a sign of the anger and the frustration, the fear that's out there that, that people are willing to give it to one, or more willing to give it to one side than normal.  And that's, that's really unusual.  And, and, to me, you know, going back to the Obama thing, my home state is Louisiana.  Now, Louisiana did not elect 36-year-old son of Indian immigrants last year just to show that they were multicultural, just to show that they were open-minded and all this.  It was like, "This state is in such bad shape, we've tried everything else.  The kid seems smart. He seems really knowledgeable.  Let's give it to him.  We have nothing to lose." And I think writ large, that's kind of what you're seeing nationally with Obama, with his, you know, relatively thin credentials and youth and all this.  And people are saying, "Gosh, things are so screwed up, we got to do something desperate."

MR. BROKAW:  That fact is that Obama did go back on his word about accepting public financing.  He went to private sector.  He is spending a ton of money. Is this the end of public financing in American politics, Chuck?

MR. TODD:  I, I--$3/4 billion dollars is what he is going to raise.

MR. BROKAW:  Right.

MR. TODD:  This is--his ad campaign is going to be more than Geico, OK?  For this, for this last year.  His brand more than, I think, Diet Coke.  About...

MR. BROKAW:  McDonald's.

MR. TODD:  Yeah.  About equal for what McDonald's is.  This is an astronomical figure, and, and it is going to trouble a lot of folks because how, this is, once again, every time government tries to rein in campaign finance system, the--money finds like, you know, it's like this thing in "Jurassic Park" where the Jeff Goldblum character says, "Life finds a way." Money always finds a way no matter how you rule it, and this is happening again.  And it's--it...

MS. O'DONNELL:  Well, it's...

MR. TODD:  ...might be ungovernable.

MS. O'DONNELL:  At the top of the McCain campaign, they are constantly talking about the fact you'll never see a future candidate accept public financing given what Senator Obama's been able to do.  And they also suggest that what brought this whole process into being in the Watergate era was the need to try and prevent corruption.  And a question about will there be real doubts about some of his small donors, Senator Obama's, after this all wraps up.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, the irony is, of course, that the greatest philosophical resistance to the idea of public financing comes from the Republican Party...

MS. O'DONNELL:  Yes.  Yes.

MR. BROKAW:  ...from the conservatives, who say it's all about free speech.

That's it.  Kelly O'Donnell, Chuck Todd, Mr. Cook, always nice to have you with us.

We have to leave it right there.  We'll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. BROKAW:  That's all for today.  Our thanks to our old friend here at KWWL-TV, our NBC affiliate in Waterloo, Iowa.  I'll be back next week, the final Sunday before Election Day, because if it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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