MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, nine days left before Election Day 2010. The final countdown and the final arguments. Will it be a GOP wave or more of a split decision? Both sides are fired up and fighting hard to get their voters to the polls.
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PRES. BARACK OBAMA: We need all of you to fight on. We need all of you fired up. We need all of you ready to go.
MR. MICHAEL STEELE: You ready to win? You ready to fire Pelosi? You ready to take down Harry Reid?
MR. GREGORY: Can a Republican send Majority Leader Harry Reid back home and remove Democrats from power in the House? And how will their embrace of the tea party play out on Election Day and beyond? With us exclusively this morning, the man at the center of it all, the leader of the Republican Party, Chairman Michael Steele. Plus, we'll look at the latest polls. Who's up, who's down and who's pulling out all the stops? As the president spends the week trying to rally the Democratic base out West, the right declares war on National Public Radio after the abrupt firing of news analyst and commentator Juan Williams. We'll look at it all with our expanded roundtable: David Brooks of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Jr., MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, and CNBC's Rick Santelli.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: And good morning. Well, here we are. The final countdown to election day 2010. With us exclusively this morning, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. STEELE: It's great to be back with you, David.
MR. GREGORY: Let's get right to it. It's final argument time and the president is on the campaign trail. He's been out West, he was in the Midwest. And on Friday he leveled probably his most potent charge against Republican leaders in Washington, saying that they made a cold political calculation when he came into office, basically not to work with the Obama White House, that they could've cooperated, decided to obstruct. This is part of what he said.
PRES. OBAMA: The Republican leaders in Washington, they made a different calculation. They, they looked around at the mess that they had made, at the mess that they had left me, and they said, "Boy, this is a really big mess." And they said, "It's going to take a long time to fix, so maybe if we just sit on the sidelines, say no to everything, and then point our fingers at Obama and say he's to blame," they figure that maybe y'all would forget that they caused the mess in the first place, and they'd be able to ride anger all the way to election time.
MR. GREGORY: Chairman, what's your answer to that, your vision of what the story of the last two years has been?
MR. STEELE: Well, it actually sounded more like a pity party than a rally. I mean, I can't believe the president's sitting there with, with hindsight saying that we didn't cooperate, that Republican leaders did not cooperate with the president. I think from health care to the environment to the economy, Republicans in the House and the Senate had made, made very clear, "This is what we'd like to do, let's talk about healthcare reform that includes tort reform, that includes other types of mechanisms that will keep sacrosanct the doctor-patient relationship and not put government in the middle of that. Let's talk about job creation by stimulating small businesses and not the federal government." And so the ideas that were put on the table, a lot of them propounded by folks like Mr. Boehner and Eric Cantor and, and Paul Ryan were summarily rejected. In fact, as you recall, David, Republican leaders, particularly specific members, couldn't even get a meeting with the president. They tried, after sending letters and requests, to sit down and go through the president's agenda to see how we could help. We're hoping for a better relationship between the White House and the Republican Congress come January.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let me ask you about the landscape right now. What do you see out there? What are we looking at on Election Day? Is this a huge GOP wave that takes the House and the Senate? What are your views at this point?
MR. STEELE: David, there is, there is a vibration out here that is unlike anything I've ever seen before. I've been on my "Fire Pelosi" bus since September 15th. We get off the bus on October 30th, and in that time, what I've seen is a consistent groundswell of, of excitement and energy towards this election. The voters are tired of the fact that the federal government has not listened to them over the past two years, has moved in its own direction at its own rhythm, and they want to pull back on that. And I think you're going to see a wave, an unprecedented wave, on Election Day that's going to surprise a lot of people.
MR. GREGORY: What does that mean?
MR. STEELE: And now--both the House and the Senate...
MR. GREGORY: What does that mean in terms of the balance of power?
MR. STEELE: ...and state legislatures.
MR. GREGORY: What does it mean to the balance of power?
MR. STEELE: Well, I think the--oh, I absolutely believe in the House the balance of power will shift, as I like to say, with 38 seats, and we need to get to 39 to, to, to get control, but I think we're more than there.
MR. GREGORY: You say the House will go to the Republicans. What about the Senate?
MR. STEELE: The Senate's a little bit tougher, but I think we're going to be there. If this wave continues the way it's going, it has been over the last few weeks, especially, I think you could see the Senate, as well, go to the Republicans.
MR. GREGORY: There's been, there's been a lot of negative attention towards some tea party-backed candidates in some of the statements that they've made, whether it's Sharron Angle speaking to a group of Latinos in Nevada, or Ken Buck's statements about gays on this program last week, or Christine O'Donnell...
MR. STEELE: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...who's gotten so much attention, except for the fact that she's very far behind in that Senate race, she's had some both misstatements or gaffs in the course of her debate with Chris Coons.
MR. STEELE: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think she's actually undermining the Republican brand, specifically?
MR. STEELE: No, I don't. I mean, Chris, you know, folks make mistakes. Lord knows I'm familiar with, you know, foot in mouth disease. I understand how that is sometimes when you get in the heat of a battle, you've got the passion and the fire in your belly, and you really want to get out there and, and speak to the issues and speak to the people, you say things that don't come out correctly. You make missteps, you make--you create misperceptions. And I think that happens a lot in campaigns. It happens on both sides.
What really matters is how the voters receive that, how the voters look at those candidates. And despite those, those foibles and those flaws, if you will, of, of the misspoken word, people understand where their heart is. People understand these folks are going to go out there and fight for them. And, as I said a little bit earlier, David, this, this, this reality right now for people is, is that we want a leadership that's going to listen to us. We want someone who's going to take the fight to Congress and not fight against us. And, you know, whether it's Christine O'Donnell or Sharron Angle, whomever it happens to be, who's got this groundswell of energy behind them, I think that that's what really matters to the people right now.
MR. GREGORY: Is she qualified to be a U.S. senator? Would she be a good senator?
MR. STEELE: I think she would be. You know, again, I don't get to make that judgment. The people in her state get to make that judgment. They're the ones who vote for her. They're the ones who nominated her. And so, for the establishment in Washington or anywhere else to sit back and sit in judgment of her abilities to be a senator, to be effective in the Senate is misplaced. What--all that matters is the people have decided, "This is, this is the standard-bearer we want." And the, and the real push and the fight now is the general election. And the, and the broader population of voters in the state of Delaware, California, Florida, around the country are going to make the decision about the Republican standard-bearers that we have.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you, Chairman...
MR. STEELE: And I think at the end of the day we're going to do very well.
MR. GREGORY: Chairman, let me ask you about the role of outside money in this campaign. It is a big area of debate.
MR. STEELE: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: And the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, appeared on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" this week, and she, like the president, described it as a real threat to the country's democracy. This is a part of what she had to say.
SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: This election is also about our democracy.
MR. KEITH OLBERMANN: Mm-hmm.
SPEAKER PELOSI: If they win, which I fully intend to stop them from doing, but if they were to win, it would mean that we are now a plutocracy and an oligarchy, whatever these few wealthy, secret, unlimited sources of money are can control our entire agenda.
MR. GREGORY: Our investigative correspondent, Mike Skiff, has said that "Not since Watergate have we seen this kind of special interest money without transparency washing into an election cycle." Are you worried about this?
MR. STEELE: No. I don't know what they're talking about. No one's produced one shred of evidence that any of that is happening. And, you know, I--look, you know, when President, then candidate, Obama was asked to disclose some of his donors because there was suspicion of their being, you know, the foreign source of money into his campaign, they refused to do it. So don't give me this high and mighty, you know, holier than thou attitude about, about special interests flooding, flooding the political marketplace. The Democrats have been dabbling in those areas and clearly disclose it. If you, if you think that there's something out there, disclose it, Nancy. Disclose it, you know, anyone else who's got that evidence. Don't just make the charge and sit back and say, "Oh gee, see." Give, give the evidence. Put the evidence out there and then let's have that discussion about whether or not they are, in fact, foreign...
MR. GREGORY: But, Chairman, are you denying, are you denying that there is special interest money, that there's outside money that's coming into the campaign that is not being disclosed?
MR. STEELE: I...
MR. GREGORY: We don't know who the individuals are in these, some of these groups that are sponsored?
MR. STEELE: I--Dave, how would, how would I, how, how would I know that? I don't run those organizations, number one. I'm prohibited by law from engaging such--in such activity, number two. So I know we don't take it, and I suspect that those organizations out there, those 527s and others know what the law is and are complying with the law. So if you have evidence to the contrary, produce it. Otherwise, put up or shut up.
MR. GREGORY: OK, but...
MR. STEELE: It's just that--that's it. Put up or shut up.
MR. GREGORY: Chairman, I, I'm putting up with this question, which is are you concerned that because, as you know, there are laws that you do not have to disclose. That's the question. Is that a problem in our politics...
MR. STEELE: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...when you can put a great deal of money into a campaign without disclosing your agenda or who you are?
MR. STEELE: Well, OK, David, that's a fair question. Well, that's a fair question.
MR. GREGORY: You said put up or shut up, that's the issue.
MR. STEELE: Then the Congress needs to--then, then the, then, then the put up part by the Congress would be to change the law. But the law is what it is right now, and everybody's compliant with the law. And if the law does not require disclosure of certain individuals or information, then...
MR. GREGORY: I'm asking you, is that a problem?
MR. STEELE: I don't, I don't know that it is so far. I mean, I haven't seen any evidence that it is. Why, why are you saying it's a problem?
MR. GREGORY: I'm asking whether you think--there are certainly candidates running who are Republicans who think there ought to be more transparency. Ken Buck from Colorado thinks that you should definitely say where the money comes from if you're getting it in a campaign.
MR. STEELE: Absolute--I--David, absolutely. I'm always--I'm--at the end of the day, I agree with--I am absolutely all for transparency. It's--I think it's an appropriate part of the system. It instills the trust that people have in the system, and it also avoids questions like this because that, that information is out there. And it's absolutely will avoid the, the allegations and the charges just thrown out there in the middle of a, of a, of a, of a discussion about health care and the economy.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Let...
MR. STEELE: So I agree, the transparency should be there. But the law is what the law is right now. And if people are that bothered by it, then the Congress needs to change it.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about another hot button issue this week, the firing of Juan Williams, the analyst at NPR and Fox News Channel. It has become a point of debate in, in the course of the campaign.
MR. STEELE: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Eric Cantor, the Republican whip, issued a statement on Friday saying the following: "Over-reaching political correctness is chipping away at the fundamental American freedoms of speech and expression. NPR's decision to fire Williams not only undermines that, it shows an ignorance of the fact that radical Islam and the terrorists who murder in its name scare people of all faiths, religions, and beliefs. In light of their rash decision, we will include termination of federal funding for NPR as an option in the YouCut program so that Americans can let it be known whether they want their dollars going to that organization." Is this a legitimate part of the campaign?
MR. STEELE: I don't know if it's a legitimate part of the campaign. I think what NPR did was overreaching. I think it was a hyperextended overreaction to his comments. He was expressing a personal perspective, he wasn't giving a political analysis. He wasn't, he wasn't being a pundit about the matter. He was expressing his own personal concerns that he had. I think that the more appropriate thing would have been to, as we've seen in other cases when, you know, a Tina Noten, for instance, made outlandish comments about, you know, Strom Thurmond or others getting AIDS and, and all of this stuff. You take them aside, just sit them down and go, "Wait a minute, that's a line you don't, you don't need to cross." I think, you know, immediately jumping to firing Juan over this was a, was a overreaction. And I think you've seen the reaction, not just by Republicans, but by a whole lot of folks out there around the country, as they, you know, "Really?" The--this is, this is not the appropriate way to, to really handle this. And I think that, you know, NPR is paying a little bit of a price for it.
MR. GREGORY: Should, should federal funding for NPR be cut?
MR. STEELE: That's not my decision. I'm sure the members of the Congress who, who've raised that as a concern will, will address that at the appropriate time. But I think right now my focus and the focus of those of us who are on the political side of this equation are much more interested in getting to the elections on November 2 so we can win and put in place a new Congress to look at questions like that.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let's end with just a couple of points about politics. What does the midterm result, in your mind, say about 2012?
MR. STEELE: Ah, good question. I think, I think it's a transitional pattern. I think, you know, puts us all at a point where, you know, you kind of look down the road to 2012 and say what--for the Republicans, what kind of leader is going to emerge to deal more precisely with the economy, with our relations overseas, with, you know, those concerns that people have about jobs here in the country? I think it may be a harbinger of a very exciting, you know, campaign in '12. Particularly if we do not take the Senate this time, the Senate would, would be in full play in 2012. You would still have the addition of additional House seats that would be out there, as well as some state legislative races so--and governors races. So I think this election cycle in 2010 really lays an interesting foundation for how we go forward. Because you--you're looking at two very different philosophical views of the country.
MR. GREGORY: Do you, do you think that President Obama's a one-term president?
MR. STEELE: I don't know that. Again, you know, my job is to make sure he is, but, you know, because I--we philosophically disagree with the direction the president is going. And I think that, you know, the spending, the debt, the deficit, the burden that's been placed on the backs of future generations is unsustainable. And, and, you know, we've seen that the administration, along with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, are kind of whistling past that graveyard, ignoring the hard facts that we cannot sustain nor afford the continued spending policies of this administration.
And there are other concerns out there as well with respect to, again, our relation with--relationships with Israel, our, our relationships with North Korea. All of these concerns need to be addressed, and I think have pretty much not been, effectively, by the administration. So you're going to see over the next two years, I think, the president try to, you know, step up his game a little bit. But we'll be there step for step on all of these issues, clearly delineating the difference between a government that wants to take and redistribute wealth, and a free people who are there to create that wealth and save it for the future.
MR. GREGORY: And finally, Chairman, let me ask you about your own leadership. You say that you will be judged on...
MR. STEELE: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...whether the party wins this fall and whether you can raise money. Well, the hard truth is that the RNC has really fallen down in terms of raising money. The committee is in debt, you've been really outraised by the Democrats, and yet this is such a positive environment for Republicans. And the criticism has been harsh. It's been summed up by Fred Barnes in a op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal.
MR. STEELE: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Here's a portion of what he said: "Mr. Steele and the irrelevant RNC. Many congressional Republicans and governors no longer trust Mr. Steele as their spokesman. They tend to work around the RNC rather than engage Mr. Steele." Are you irrelevant?
MR. STEELE: No, I'm not irrelevant. And, and God bless Fred Barnes. If he'd only called me and talked to me, I would have shared with him some very interesting information. It's easy to write that without knowledge, and clearly he is without knowledge here because the fact of the matter is, number one, yeah, we have been outraised in recently, recently by the Democrats because they have the White House, the Congress, and the Senate. We don't. But yet, in 2009 we, we outraised the Democrats in like seven out of 11 months where we took in more than they did. We're keeping pace with the Democrats right now. But the bottom line is this, and I, and I really appreciate the question because I said from the very beginning, I would be a different kind of chairman because this is a different time for us, for our party. I wanted us to play on all 50 states. I wanted us to be out in the communities. I wanted a grassroots, bottom-up party that was focused on what the people want out there. And so we've put in place around this country a network now that you're going to see unleashed on November 2...
MR. GREGORY: So, so you'll run for re-election?
MR. STEELE: ...that's going to contribute to the win. So--I don't know if--we'll worry about my re-election after I get through this re-election. But let me just share with you this point, that we have smashed the records in fundraising for, for a party out of power, not having those, those White House, Congress and Senate. We have raised to date over $175 million in this cycle, which is 34 percent more than the Democrats did in a very similar cycle in 2006. And, and, and furthermore, we have also, just to be clear about this, exceeded the amount that was raised by the D--by the RNC in 1994 in, in, in today's dollars. So we have kept pace. And we have 360 victory centers around the country. We have made 35 million voter contacts since January this year because of the work that the RNC has done early. We spent the money early, we didn't stockpile the money, David, as the old RNCs would do...
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MR. STEELE: ...so that they could have a good cash on hand at the end of the month. We wanted the money in the states. That's where it is. And come November 2 you're going to see the effect of that planning.
MR. GREGORY: All right, Chairman Steele, we will leave it there. Thank you very much, as always.
MR. STEELE: You got it, friend. Take care.
MR. GREGORY: And up next, a look at all the very latest polls and all the big races, the 2010 landscape as we head into the final week of campaigning. Can Democrats turn out their voters? What role will the tea party play? Our roundtable puts it all into perspective: David Brooks of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Jr., MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, and CNBC's Rick Santelli.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, will Election Day 2010 bring a GOP wave to Washington? Our roundtable breaks down the biggest races across the country and the keys to the final stretch of the campaign, after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We are back, and we want to go through some of the latest polls that are out just this week in some of the most high-profile Senate races, and I want to start with seats currently held by Democrats. In California, this is breaking information coming from the LA Times, longtime senator Barbara Boxer, she's now at 50 percent in this new LA Times poll over the Republican challenger, Carly Fiorina, at 42 percent. It looked like it was a race that was tightening. Boxer at 50 percent, that's a big deal.
And in Colorado, a new poll out also this morning from The Denver Post. You saw them debate right here last Sunday, the race between Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, Republican Ken Buck. It is now a dead heat, 47-47.
The open seat in Connecticut, Chris Dodd retiring there. An example here of Democrats coming home a bit, state attorney general Dick Blumenthal leading in the polls against former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Republican Linda McMahon. He's up at 57 percent over 39 percent, a widening spread there.
President Obama's Senate seat in Illinois, the candidates both debated here. Well, that race between Republican Congressman Mark Kirk and the Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, a poll out this week, 43 percent for Mark Kirk. He's got a slight edge over Giannoulias. The president certainly a benefactor in that race.
The open seat in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak has managed to surprise a lot of observers, tightened this race against the Republican former Congressman Pat Toomey. Two new polls. One has Sestak with an edge, 44-41. On the left here shows Toomey with an edge at 48, 46 percent. All eyes on Philadelphia and turnout there. That's going to matter.
To Wisconsin, three-term Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, in an unexpectedly tough race and ride, in danger of losing his seat to the Republican Ron Johnson. And here's the latest. It's Johnson with the edge, 49-to-47 percent.
And some recent polling in Republican-held seats now. The contest in Alaska, this has been a wild one. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, she's waging a write-in campaign against the tea party candidate Joe Miller. He defeated her, of course, in the Republican primary. Well, the two of them in a dead heat at 37 percent. You have the Democrat Scott McAdams at 23 percent.
And in Florida, another three-way contest. Republican nominee Marco Rubio leading independent Governor Charlie Crist and Democratic nominee Congressman Kendrick Meek. Rubio at 41 percent, Crist at 26, Kendrick Meek at 20 percent.
And then finally Kentucky. A Republican open seat, tea party candidate Rand Paul is locked in a close and an increasingly nasty race against state attorney general Jack Conway. New poll out this morning indicating Rand Paul at 48 percent, a five-point spread over Jack Conway.
So those are some of the latest polls. Let's talk, overall, about the landscape, and I'll do it with my roundtable here, as I make my way over to them. Joining me to break it all down, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, The New York Times' David Brooks, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, CNBC's Rick Santelli, and former Democratic Congressman, author of "More Davids than Goliaths: A Politic Education," Harold Ford Jr.
Welcome to all of you. That was a mouthful, I have to say.
FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR. (D-TN): Nice walk, by the way.
MR. GREGORY: As we look through the polls--thank you very much. Thank you. I made it over there safely, which is, which is important to know.
David Brooks, again, a snapshot of where we are, what's the big picture landscape of what's going on here?
MR. DAVID BROOKS: There's sort of two big pictures. The first one is if you ask generically on the national level, Republicans still doing quite well, huge leads among independents. They've got a 59-31 percent lead. So nationally, if you look at those numbers, Republicans still actually building momentum. In these individual Senate races, you're seeing a bit of a mixed picture, a lot of tightening. I think, I'm a little dubious about that LA Times poll which showed Fiorina so far down.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BROOKS: I think is you average them, she's like down 2 percent. but generally you see tightening in most--in both races in opposite directions. So Pennsylvania got a lot more tight in the Democratic direction. Illinois moving a little Republican. But, basically, I think you have a situation where it's candidate-driven, people are disgusted by the candidates in both parties, and they're--so they're basically flipping a coin.
MR. GREGORY: And Rachel Maddow, you look at the, the national overhang here, President Obama's approval rating, we had a new poll out this week. He's still upside down, disapproval at 49 percent to approval 47 percent. If you listen to the White House and talking to advisers there this week, they say, "Look, there's a possibility of something that's more of a split decision." Senate states with the Democrats. You heard Michael Steele say the House is going to go to Republicans, in his view. And some key governors races showing some tightening and some good news for Democrats. What do we see?
MS. RACHEL MADDOW: I think that the initial diagnosis that Democrats don't care and were going to be--weren't going to be able to turn out, that they weren't going to be able to get off their hands and actually get out to the polls this year has turned out to be a little bit of--a little bit wrong. We're seeing the high Democratic numbers in terms of early voting, for example. But, you know, it was less than two years ago that this country turned out and elected Barack Obama by seven points, by 10 million votes, and it was--for the second straight election, elected a hugely greater number of Democrats to Congress and the Senate than they did Republicans, and that was less than two years ago. I don't think the country has changed that much. We, at that time, in 2008, saw people screaming about the president's birth certificate and imagining everybody was a Muslim and fainting at the sight of Sarah Palin. I mean, those people existed in 2008, as well, but they lost. And so I think that the narrative has been very exciting on the Republican side, but I don't think the country has changed as much since 2008 as the narrative would suggest.
MR. GREGORY: Rick Santelli, the president has been out there campaigning, campaigning hard, and he's made some, some statements that have certainly gotten people's backs up certainly on the right, and this was one of them. Campaigning in Boston, he said this at a fundraising dinner: "Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we're hard-wired not to always think clearly when we are scared. And the country is scared, and they have good reason to be." Is that's what's driving a lot of this mood?
MR. RICK SANTELLI: I don't the president appears that fearful, actually. I think that comment's a little overrated with regard to the politicians being afraid. I think, if you look at the fear factor, the anomaly was that the last election cycle there was fear. There was fear over the credit crisis. There was fear over the big hiccup in globalization. I think that there is a certain amount of level-headed thinking that's coming in, back into the electorate, and I think they're going to vote out the incumbents. So I think the fear cycle was the last election. I think the fear cycle at this point is in the politicians that are trying to hold on to what was the anomaly of a changing regime in the '08 cycle.
MR. GREGORY: E.J. and, and Harold, both, what about the messaging from the president and Democrats? Bill Clinton has been all over the country, he's got another 22 stops planned in the last nine days, E.J. There's been reporting that he's been baffled that there isn't a tighter message on the Democratic side about jobs, jobs, jobs. The president's talked about Boehner and Karl Rove, and now he's talking about, you know, clear thinking not winning out. Is this a right way to campaign?
MR. E.J. DIONNE: I think a lot of Democrats out there are struck by the fact that there was not a clear overriding message from the beginning, whereas the Republicans have had this list. And it doesn't really answer any problems, but they talk about debt, taxes, unemployment and the like. The candidates I've seen out there that are actually coming up--I think Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania's a good example, I was up there yesterday--are the ones saying, "Yes, I voted for the stimulus, and here's why, and here's the good it did. Yes, I voted for health care, and here's why, and here's what good it did." And I think that Democrats would be better served sort of embracing what they've done, explaining it, and even bragging about it a little bit. But on the overall race, I, I walked into a Sestak headquarters in Harrisburg, and this lovely man at a call center was making calls for Sestak and he said, "Look, we Democrats are procrastinators. We engage late." And I think the best hope Democrats have for closing these gaps is that that gentleman is right there, that procrastination will turn into engagement at the very end. And that's the fight right now.
MR. GREGORY: Well, but, Harold, you know, the big driver of the big change elections--2006, 1994--is whether people think the country's headed in the right direction or the wrong direction. This is what it was for October 20--2006 and October 1994, people feeling the country's on the wrong track, 61 percent and 55 percent respectively in terms of being on the wrong track. Where are we today? Our new polling out this week, October of 2010, 59 percent of Americans think the country's off on the wrong track. Very difficult.
REP. FORD: The question is--there's no doubt, and that number doesn't bode well. The question is whether or not people believe Republicans can lead us in a different and better direction. I think the president--there's a lot to be said about what they didn't have and how they could have had a tighter message, and I'm in that camp. Yet, I think one of the things he's been able to achieve is to get out and remind Democrats why they elected him, what he represents, and that he's still president, and that he needs the help of some Democrats, not tea partiers, not those way outside of the mainstream on the Republican side.
Now, the bigger question is, what happens after this election? Assume Democrats hold narrow majorities in both, and there's a chance we absolutely could. The likelihood is we won't, but the chance is we could. I think the president and Democrats are going to have to take a very, very different approach than they have up to this point. They're going to have to be willing for more reconciliation with the other side. They're going to have to be more focused on growth and jobs, and there might even have to be some admissions about mistakes that were made. Because one thing is clear: Even if we hold, the approach has not been the right approach over the last two years. The goals have been laudable and the right ones, but the approach certainly deserves some tinkering, if not major reshaping.
MR. GREGORY: Look, let me dig in on some issues here. This debate about outside money, David, I just asked Chairman Steele about it, and he seemed to be dismissive of this as a problem, as a real factor in the race, says he's for transparency but doesn't see a problem that you've had such big donations coming from outside groups where we don't know where they're coming from and who they are. Mike Isikoff, who I referenced in that interview, has done some reporting on this, and he talked to us about some of what his reporting shows him. Take a look.
MR. MIKE ISIKOFF: Not since the days of Watergate have we seen special interest money pouring into political campaigns with no transparency, no disclosure about where the money is coming from. You've got groups being set up around the country with names that voters have never heard of bombarding the airwaves with campaign ads. And I think what this is doing is confusing voters more than enlightening them because they have no idea who's behind these ads or what the agenda is of the people who are running them.
MR. GREGORY: Yet, you wrote, David, this week, you don't think this is a big deal. You think this is more hype than real.
MR. BROOKS: I think it's tremendously corrupting in Washington. The question is, does it affect the electorate?
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
MR. BROOKS: And I guess, does it affect voters? A couple things. First, it's important to remember the outside money is only 10 percent of the total money. Most, most money is still candidates-driven and it's party-driven. The second thing is the money is flowing in on both sides. AFSCME, the public sector worker, $87 million; the NEA, $40 million. So there's a ton of money. Though that is...
MR. GREGORY: But you do know where they're coming from.
MR. BROOKS: Right. That's, that's exactly right. The untransparent money is a genuine problem. But then this third thing, and the final thing, is does it affect voters? We've got $3.5 billion being spent on this election. Some of these outside funds like Karl Rove's American Crossroads, they're spending $12 million. Do we really think that's affecting? And then if you've got a race like in Colorado, where the Democrat and the Republican are each throwing 5,000 ads at each other, do we really think if one candidate throws 7,000 as opposed to 5,000, it's going to make a big difference? I really don't think so.
MR. GREGORY: E.J., you do.
MR. DIONNE: Yeah, I think it makes--first of all, Karl Rove's group is spending a lot more than $12 million, by their own account. There's a lot more money coming in.
MR. BROOKS: Maybe a quarter of what AFSCME is.
MR. DIONNE: In total...
MS. MADDOW: That's not true, actually.
MR. DIONNE: ...these secret conservative groups are going to spend about $200, $220 million according to the current estimates. The money matters. And secret money is corrupting, secret money is dangerous, secret money, as Mike Isikoff said, leads to scandal. And the Watergate--we forget that a lot of, of--a big piece of the Watergate scandal was secret money. And to say this money doesn't matter is to say that Karl Rove, who really cares a lot about politics, is wasting his time trying to raise all this money; Ed Gillespie, who knows a lot about politics, is wasting his time. And for voters--you know, people will know about this money. The congressmen are going to know who helped them get elected. The only people kept in the dark are the voters. This is a huge deal, and it's historic and it's dangerous.
MS. MADDOW: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Rachel, go.
MS. MADDOW: I mean, the, the Rove money--I mean, I, I don't know where you're getting the $12 million money--number.
MR. BROOKS: That's from the Center for Responsive Politics.
MS. MADDOW: They're bragging on raising and spending $52 million. They said that was their initial goal, and now they say they're going to blow past that and spend significantly more. So the numbers--we fight over the numbers. One of the issues, though, is that they're not disclosed. Seventy-two percent of people in the last NBC/Wall Street Journal poll said it concerns them that they do not know who is funding these political ads. And I think part of the issue is not just that there's these big PACs, but it's the individual people. The, the owner of the Chicago Cubs could legally contribute $2,400 to Sharron Angle, who's his chosen candidate.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. MADDOW: He doesn't live in Nevada, that's his--but he's spending $600,000 personally for Sharron Angle in Nevada. That is of concern.
MR. GREGORY: But here, but here's the issue. But, but, Rick Santelli, the--part of the issue here is that this is the law of the land, OK? Now, is there the political will, and Democrats are in control, to actually change the law? Because Michael Steele was right, this is the law. You want to change all of this, Democrats and Republicans have to agree to change the law because this is what the Supreme Court has passed.
MS. MADDOW: Democrats tried, Republicans blocked it.
MR. SANTELLI: You know, the pendulum of money swings both ways, and depending on the year, the state of the incumbency, the outcome of the elections, different sides cry foul louder than other sides. But, in the end, there is a process. I personally think money in politics on any level is horrible. I'd like to see a set amount and have every candidate spend it. Have it be completely transparent. But actually getting to that spot, as we have learned through all the legislation over the decades, is very difficult. But, yes, whether it's the Supreme Court or some of these issues regarding transparency, there is a process. I am a firm believer in process.
MR. GREGORY: All right, well, I'm going to--we're going to take a break here. Harold's going to start us off in the next segment, we're going to talk about some of the, the key issues going on in some of these races, as well as the controversy over Juan Williams. More from our roundtable after this brief station break. Don't go away.
MR. GREGORY: We're back with more of our political roundtable, where the conversation hasn't stopped even during the break. I want to talk inside some of these races, some other trends, the vulnerability and the strength of the tea party in this race.
Rick Santelli, of--everyone knows, of course, you are, though you're, you're a mild-mannered man, but you are the father of the tea party, as you sit there. Look at some of the impact, the Delaware Senate race, Chris Coons, Christine O'Donnell, she was supported by the tea party, Sarah Palin--by the way, this is not a close race. She's way behind. You wouldn't know that by all the attention it's getting. And some of her statements in the course of this campaign, beyond having to say that she was not a witch in a campaign ad, she's gotten a lot of attention for. This debate about the First Amendment, whether she understood really what was in the First Amendment, separation of church and state. Does she hurt the Republican brand as someone who a lot of people feel is not qualified to be a Senator?
MR. SANTELLI: I think that there's been a lot of people in Congress that didn't know all the ins and outs of the Constitution. I think we have a whole roomful of people that have record legislation in terms of quantity of pages that didn't read it. Who am I to say or, or put words in the mouth of the electorate in Delaware? I think that the tea party movement is terrific. It's created discourse that might not have otherwise occurred. It's happened in breakneck speed against all odds. Neither of the medias, left or right, I think, really were very happy that they showed up on the doorstep. And as far as O'Donnell, you know, she's a lot more normal, less elite, and I think she's going to make mistakes. Whether she has or not, is not for me to say, but the tea party's going to be--the movement's going to be messy...
MR. GREGORY: But, Harold...
MR. SANTELLI: ...because you're bringing in outsiders.
MR. GREGORY: Harold, if you look at the impact she may have had on the Pennsylvania race, if you're sitting in Philadelphia, you watch TV from Delaware, and do--are there a lot of Democrats, independents who say, "If that's the Republican brand this year, maybe I want to go with a Sestak"?
REP. FORD: If Christine O'Donnell had answered the question like Rick Santelli did when asked about separation of church and state or other things she may not know about and say, "Look, I don't know the full answer to that. Let me tell you why I'm running." She almost celebrated the fact that she didn't know it and even went further and suggested that what clearly is in the Constitution is not in the Constitution.
Look, at the end of the day, the fact that she won that primary, I thought Michael Steele's answer was a pretty good one on it when asked whether or not she was qualified. Voters in Delaware, like a lot of voters around the country, saying, "If the guys in Washington are so smart today, how come we're in the mess we're in today? Maybe we ought to send some people there that are not as smart or not as smart as people in Washington may think."
Now, I happen to think Christine O'Donnell is just--is not qualified for a number of other reasons. I disagree with her on a number of fronts, and I think Chris Coons has done a phenomenal job at pointing out where she's weak. The big issue for Democrats heading into this last week or so, I think is what President Clinton has tried to say and what President Obama is trying to do, which is, "Look at where we've come. Look at the mess we've gotten out of. We've got a long way to go, give us two more years here, and if we don't get this right, then you have the right to remove us from, from power. Until then, give us a chance to stay on path, because if you push us the other way, we're going to go back to the mess that got us into this problem that we're facing today."
MR. GREGORY: Look at, Rachel, look at what's happening in Nevada, where you've got Harry Reid, the majority leader, Sharron Angle, a tea party candidate, who didn't appear to be in this race, she's come back. Both are really disliked in this race, quite frankly...
MS. MADDOW: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...and yet it's a close race. She's running an ad that is reminiscent of what was done to Majority Leader Tom Daschle, you know, really capturing that anti-establishment sentiment out there. This is an ad she's running against Reid.
(Videotape, political ad)
Narrator: Harry lives at the Ritz-Carlton while thousands are losing their homes. The nation needs a new direction and Nevada needs jobs. Say no to Harry Reid.
MS. MADDOW: Say no to Harry Reid because of where he lives is remarkable. I mean, the Sharron Angle campaign, I think, is instructive. Once the Republican establishment got over their discomfort with her winning that primary, the money has just poured, poured, poured into that race. She also ran an ad in that race that I think is the most overtly racist ad of this campaign season, showing a group of white college students being menaced by some tough looking Latinos. The Sharron Angle race, I think, is, is, is important--it's the highest profile race in the country--because for a lot of Democrats, there is no national message. That's absolutely true. Democrats decided they didn't want a national message. But in almost every race, the Democratic message to get out the base is three words, "Google my opponent." Look at this guy I'm running against. Sharron Angle says conservatives should be expected to use guns to try to get what they want if they don't get what they want from the election, the Second Amendment remedies thing; wants people--a woman who's raped and gets pregnant as the result of rape, to be forced to bear that child. To be able to say, "Lookit, you may not like me, but look what you're being asked to choose instead of me," is the most powerful message a lot of Democrats have to share.
MR. GREGORY: Can I just add...
REP. FORD: Here's the problem.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
REP. FORD: A week away, Sharron Angle was thought to be so far out of this race, people have characterized her views as so far out of the mainstream. At the end of the day, the only thing on voters? minds is--are jobs and the economy. What would help in the last week...
MR. SANTELLI: Google the unemployment rate.
REP. FORD: Right. Exactly. What would help at the end of the, at the end of this last week, in addition to Obama and Clinton who--Clinton, I think, has a great message on this, is to talk about what we're going to do to create jobs. Stay away from attacking these guys personally, stay away from talking about foreign money.
MR. SANTELLI: Yeah...
REP. FORD: Money is in politics, it's been there. I was in politics for 10 years, I had some of the worst ads run against me ever. I had some of the most money spent by a guy in my state running against me. That's not the issue. The issue is getting out and making the case for what we're going to do to create jobs and to make the economic situation for individual families better.
MR. GREGORY: Well, to that point...
MR. BROOKS: (Unintelligible)
MR. GREGORY: Hold on, David Brooks. To that point, Fortune magazine, I think, has an interesting piece about how difficult it is for the government really to move something on the economy, and here's a portion, I'll put it up on the screen. And this is really something for Republicans to deal with. "The latest tax-cut screed, the Republican party's Pledge to America, is economically incoherent. It has no meaningful numbers, proposes no changes in programs like Social Security, Medicare, and defense, and asks no sacrifices of anyone, yet says it can balance the budget. Good luck with that." Where are the sacrifices that Republicans are asking voters to make to put them back into power, if they're in power?
MR. BROOKS: They're not. I mean, I mean, to talk--first on the issues...
MR. GREGORY: And a question for Democrats, too, by the way.
MR. BROOKS: Right. I mean, it might be offensive to talk about the issues, but the reason the Democrats are in a mess here is that, first, the economy's bad; second, their, their--the policies are unpopular. Health care has like 38 percent approval. So, but going back to those core issues, voters are not insane, they're going to vote on those core issues. The problem is that the country--and I think the polls are pretty clear about this--the country right now is not willing to make the sacrifices the way the British people are that is necessary to get us back in some sort of fiscal situation that's stable. We know it has to be done. We have to means tests entitlements, that means take away some of the middle class tax subsidies. We have to raise taxes. We probably need to raise taxes on consumption. We're going to probably have to repeal all of the Bush tax cuts, the middle class and the rich, at some point. That's what has to be done. The American people sort of don't accept that yet, and the polls show that. And, as a result, neither party is willing to face that.
MR. GREGORY: E.J. Dionne, I have to switch quickly because we only have a couple of minutes left in this segment. Something that you wanted to talk about and has been a big issue this week, Juan Williams being fired as analyst at NPR. The Republicans, you heard Michael Steele talk about it, they're making it a campaign issue saying NPR's money should be cut. Did NPR do the wrong thing here?
MR. DIONNE: See, I think there are two issues here. The first issue is, NPR is quite simply one of the best news organizations in the world, and anybody who thinks that they are liberal biased, I challenge them to do what a student of mine once did at Georgetown, take a week of transcripts, take a month of transcripts and examine it for political bias. You're not going to find it. Fox News, on the other hand, is a Republican propaganda network that put into circulation the false idea that Obama went to--President Obama went to a madrassa, and they stoked the tea party. They stoked, not the tea party movement, but the death panels. That's on the one side. On the other side, I think NPR made a mistake in the way they handled this. I was a member of a union for a long time. I think employees, contract employees included, deserve some respect. What they should've said is sat Juan Williams down, he's done a lot of good work for them, and say, "Look, you have a choice here. Look at the context you were on with O'Reilly. You could barely get your points out in the middle of the propaganda. Do you want to work for Fox, that's OK, but--or you want to work for us, that's OK. But you've got to decide," if I may use Fox's slogan. They should have handled it that way. But this should not be used to run a smear campaign against NPR.
MR. GREGORY: Rick, does this belong in the campaign?
MR. SANTELLI: I think that a company can make any choice from a management-employee standpoint that they wish. I think the one issue I see in here is the funding from the federal government. It's not an issue to me. I think the funding could be an issue, but it's not going to alter the election results in any way. I think what Mr. Brooks is talking about is the issue austerity. We need leadership. You don't sell belt-tightening in fancy commercials. You don't knock your opponent. What you need to do is you need to tell America that you can get behind us, we'll do the right thing, it's going to be a bit painful. The reason Americans aren't buying into it is because they don't trust Congress, and that's the whole epicenter of this election. Maybe we can put some people we trust in. And maybe they're not going to fit the normal mold. That's a good thing. And maybe if we trust them, we'll actually pay higher taxes, and we won't feel bad about it because the outcome will be a better country and we won't be saying, "Opa!" in five years.
MR. GREGORY: Rachel, I, I--address the Juan Williams issue, too. I want to get your views on that.
MS. MADDOW: On the Juan Williams issue, I think it may be an election issue if Jim DeMint leads the Republicans on this, and the Republicans, like they did with Newt Gingrich in power, decide that they're going to go after Big Bird and they're going to try to make public--they're going to go after him like they went after the NEA and wage culture war again. On this issue that the American people just need to be told that belt tightening is the right thing, we just need the right politicians, it makes a lot of sense here at MEET THE PRESS. But in the real world, when you talk about the real politicians and what they're actually putting out there...
MR. SANTELLI: Because we haven't had any leaders that can sell the idea.
MS. MADDOW: ...the, the prototypical tea party fiscal conservative candidate, right, is probably Marco Rubio. Marco Rubio's economic plan right now is to add $3.5 trillion to the deficit. That's what he's proposing. And he's, he's being marketed as the fiscal conservative outsider to do that.
MR. BROOKS: Well, we should mention Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, is actually doing it...
MR. SANTELLI: Exactly.
MR. BROOKS: ...and his approval rating has gone up.
REP. FORD: And Ed Rendell...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Go ahead.
REP. FORD: ...the governor of Pennsylvania. And no, I'll answer succinctly, no, NPR should not have fired Juan Williams.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
REP. FORD: If they were going to do it, they should have did it like, like E.J. said.
MR. DIONNE: Should I just say, David and I argue politics on NPR all the time. So I should disclose that. And I would note, I'm a liberal. I'm always countered by David or somebody more conservative than David.
REP. FORD: Is that possible?
MR. DIONNE: Thank God it is.
MR. GREGORY: We're going to leave it there for just a moment, but we're going to come back. We're going to get some Election Day predictions here from the roundtable on the keys to the last couple of weeks. Don't go away. We have one more commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We're back. Just a couple of minutes left.
Harold, what do you see on Election Day?
REP. FORD: I think Democrats can hold both the House and the Senate very narrowly if, in this last week, it's all about the economy and jobs and the president promises to push the reset button with Republicans and particularly with the business community.
MR. GREGORY: You're not ready, you're not ready to pronounce the House is gone?
REP. FORD: No. No.
MR. GREGORY: Rick Santelli.
MR. SANTELLI: I think we're going to send a record number of incumbents to Disney World on November 3.
MR. GREGORY: Rachel, break it down. Does the House go?
MS. MADDOW: I don't know. I'm on--I'm a bad predictor, I have to say. I think that it's going to be closer than people think. I do not think it's going to be a Republican landslide, but I do think we're going to get a lot more red. I do also think that Christine O'Donnell's new show on Fox is going to be awesome.
MR. GREGORY: You'll be a viewer.
MS. MADDOW: Yeah.
MR. BROOKS: Democrats actually go to the Vineyard, not Disney World, when they lose, so I'm guessing it'll be, it's a guess, 52 seats the Republicans pick up, but not as many in the Senate as they think.
MR. GREGORY: Right. So they, you think Democrats hold on to the Senate.
MR. BROOKS: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: And, and some of those key governorships, the White House looking at California, looking at Florida, looking at Ohio, saying that'd be good for 2012.
MR. BROOKS: Yeah. Ohio is probably Republican, California probably Democratic, but nobody knows who's going to show up. That's the big mystery.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. What do you see, E.J.?
MR. DIONNE: Right now Republicans would take the House, the Democrats would hold the Senate. But if the far right in the Republican Party wakes Democrats up and they find a coherent economic message, I still think they have a chance of holding on to both, narrowly.
MR. GREGORY: The, the--Sarah Palin was out this week and saying, "We can see 2012 from my house," a play on her slipup from 2008. Harold, what is the relationship between this midterm race and Barack Obama's run for re-election in 2012?
REP. FORD: Again, I think after the race, the president's got to push the resent button on a number of fronts. If he does not do that, if we think by holding narrow majorities that we've won somehow or another in this election, we've completely misread the public. They want answers on the debt, they want answers on taxes, and most importantly want answers on growth. If we don't answer that, then it's going to be a--it's going to be a worse year for, in 2012. But he's a smart guy, and the White House is even smarter.
MR. GREGORY: Ten seconds, Rachel.
MS. MADDOW: I think that the Goldwaterization of the Republican Party is a, is a possibility. If they do very, very well in these elections, I think that we're seeing a very Jesse Helms culture war kind of vibe from Republican candidates, and that may push the 2012 candidates way to the right in the Republican...
MR. GREGORY: All right. We have...
REP. FORD: Chris Christie is not that way. He's formidable. He's not a culture war guy.
MR. GREGORY: That's true. All right. We're going to leave it there. Thank you all very much.
Before we go, a few quick programming notes. Watch MSNBC tomorrow night at 9 PM Eastern for the documentary "The Assassination of Dr. Tiller," reported by Rachel Maddow. Also this Tuesday evening, I'll be moderating a debate between the three candidates vying to become the next U.S. senator from Florida. Viewers in Florida can tune in at 7 PM to their local NBC affiliate. The rest of us can watch, around the country, can watch live on WESH, weshtv.com. And that's how you can see it.
That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.