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Video: Closing arguments: the final 48 hours

updated 11/4/2012 1:51:36 PM ET 2012-11-04T18:51:36

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This morning on MEET THE PRESS, our special Election Day preview.  Two days now for the candidates to make a final sail as this campaign comes down to what maybe a photo finish.

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How the politics of the race shifted after Hurricane Sandy’s devastating effects along the East Coast?

(Videotape)

BRIAN WILLIAMS:  An entire region remains crippled and hurting tonight.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: The president on the scene of disaster in New Jersey and gets high marks from a political foe.

(Videotape)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:  The president has been all over this, and he deserves great credit.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  What more should the federal government do to get life back to normal in the storm zone?  And should more attention be paid to a changing climate’s impact on the severity of these storms?

Plus, the final sprint of the campaign.  Can the president’s Midwestern firewall hold against Mitt Romney’s efforts to expand the battleground map?  We cover it all this morning with two key voices in the campaign: The architect of the president’s re-election campaign, White House senior adviser David Plouffe; and majority leader of the House, Republican congressman from battleground Virginia, Eric Cantor.

Also, our new head-to-head numbers in our poll and a primer on each side’s path to 270 from our political director Chuck Todd.

Then, what issues mattered most in the campaign, like jobs, new jobless numbers out just days before the vote; and mattered the least, like Romney’s religion and even foreign policy.

Our roundtable weighs in.  Democratic mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker; Host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough; Republican strategist Mike Murphy; co-host of TODAY, Savannah Guthrie; and NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw.

Announcer:  Live from NBC News Election Headquarters at Democracy Plaza in New York, this is a special edition of MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

GREGORY:  And good Sunday morning.  This is it from our NBC News Election Headquarters at New York’s Rockefeller Plaza, now transformed into Democracy Plaza.  We’re just 48 hours away from Election Day, and these two candidates are in their final sprint.  Last night after a packed day, Romney in Colorado and Obama in Virginia, trying to turn out their supporters and close the sale.  Back here in New York, meantime, areas near here in Staten Island, Queens, Long Island, and New Jersey still dealing with the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy.  Nearly a week later, long gas lines, electricity is still out for two million, and, of course, falling temperatures now.  We’ve got it all covered this morning.  And to start things off, we’ve our final NBC News/Wall Street Journal pre-election poll numbers.  Let’s go right to our political director Chuck Todd.  He’s in his command center with the latest snapshot.  Good morning, Chuck.

MR. CHUCK TODD (Political Director):  Yes.  Good morning, David.  Well, let’s get right to it.  Let me show you the numbers, 48 for the president, 47 for Mitt Romney, a little bit inside the number, slight gender gap advantage for the president.  He leads by eight among women.  Mitt Romney leads about-- by seven among men.  What’s interesting about this 48-47 figure, it is the exact final number and from the NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll from 2004 with Bush when he was at 48 and John Kerry was at 47.  One of the reasons for the slight uptick for the president, remember we had him at 47-47 just two weeks ago.  Look at this job approval on the handling of Sandy, 68 percent approve of how he did and 15 percent disapprove.  David, we haven’t seen numbers like this for a single event for the president in his handling of an event since bin Laden.

GREGORY:  You were talking about it looking a lot like 2004.  Back then, the Osama bin Laden tape was a late break in the campaign.  Now Hurricane Sandy, we’ll be talking about the campaign’s impact by the storm and more from you Chuck later on in the program.

Earlier this morning, before he left with the president for a full day of campaigning in New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, and Colorado, I spoke to White House senior adviser David Plouffe.

(Videotape)

GREGORY:  David Plouffe, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. DAVID PLOUFFE (Senior White House Adviser):  Thanks for having me, David.

GREGORY:  The indelible images of this week had to do with Hurricane Sandy and an impact on this race because of the president’s time and the images that we saw, there meeting with Governor Christie in New Jersey who as we heard gave him such high marks, touring the storm zone.  And, of course, the images continue to be very, very difficult.  But as we look at Christie and the president together, was this the October surprise, these political foes, together in leadership, and Christie giving the president such high marks?

MR. PLOUFFE:  Well, I don’t think so, David.  First of all, you know, that’s what leaders should do.  We’ve had so many people affected.  People lost loved ones, so many people out of power, really struggling.  And so I think what’s incumbent as leaders no matter where they come from, now matter what political party they are working together.  And I think that’s what you’ve seen.  And it’s going to be-- take a long time to recover, but that’s what the American people expect out of their leaders is at moments of real challenge and crisis to put, you know, other things aside and just focus on doing the right job for the American people.

GREGORY:  I know you’re focused on storm recovery as part of the administration, but you do focus on politics, we’re two days out.  Did Hurricane Sandy and the response have a political impact on this race?

MR. PLOUFFE:  Well, David, first of all, the political impact of Sandy is-- is sort of irrelevant.  What’s important is the impact we’re seeing with residents of New Jersey and New York, Connecticut, West Virginia, we have got to make sure that we stand by them to recover.  We believe this race is very stable, you know, all through the fall.  And I think that we’re headed to a very close race where the president has an edge in enough battleground states to be re-elected on Tuesday night.

GREGORY:  Despite Governor Christie’s high marks for the president, the reality is in Staten Island, and in this area in New York and in this region, you have so many people without power, you have critical shortages of gasoline.  Has the federal government done enough to reach those people who are still suffering here almost a week after this storm?

MR. PLOUFFE:  Well, we’re doing everything we can, partnering with state and local officials, to make sure that we’re getting fuel into the area.  We’re providing direct assistance to allow affected families and people to have money for lodging and food.  We’re doing everything we can.  We flew, you know, power equipment from California on some military aircraft into the area.  So we’re doing everything we can.  This was really an unprecedented storm and it's had-- obviously impacted so many people on the Eastern Seaboard.  And it’s going to take a while to recover.  So we’re going to be there, each and every day.  You know, we’ve made a lot of progress.  Not enough.  I think everyone would-- would attest.  Until everyone has been reached and gotten assistance, we get all the power on, the work continues.  But I think FEMA has done just an outstanding job.  The president obviously has been working on this intensively.  And our local leaders, Governor Christie and Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Cuomo and Governor Malloy, and all of the local officials are doing everything they can obviously because there’s people hurting out, they are suffering out there.  And we have got to stand by them and make sure we stay on this till the job gets done.

GREGORY:  Let me take you back to political handicapping here in the final two days.  You’ve heard our latest numbers, The NBC News, Wall Street Journal polling a one-point edge for President Obama in the national head-to-head.  Handicap, where you think where the race is in these battleground states and nationally?

MR. PLOUFFE:  Well, I’m very confident, David, that two days out from Election Day the president is going to be re-elected on Tuesday night.  It’s going to be a close race.  We have believed that the entire campaign, and that’s the campaign we built was one to win a close race.  But if you look at states of Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, all these states right now, we think the president is in a good position to win.  And we think Governor Romney is playing defense.  He is spending, you know, his last day in Florida and Virginia on Monday, states they were telling you in the media a few weeks ago they thought were done deals.  They are far from done deals.  I’d rather be the president today than Governor Romney in terms of those two states.

GREGORY:  So, let me ask you this. I talked about the Midwest and firewall for President Obama. You seem to be up in Ohio at least a couple of points based on our polling and other public polling I’ve seen.  A new poll from The Des Moines Register out this morning, has you up five in Iowa.  Do you believe Ohio and Iowa are done deals in the president’s column?

MR. PLOUFFE:  David, not until the polls close.  So, we feel good about our position in both those states.  We think we have done terrific in terms of the early vote in Ohio and Iowa.  It’s important to understand, for Governor Romney to win states like Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, he’s going to have to carry Election Day by a huge margin.  And we think we’re going to do very well on Election Day with Election Day voters.  So, we’re in I think a commanding position, but our big challenge now is to make sure we execute and make sure that we get our vote out.  And that’s what we’re spending all of our time on.

GREGORY:  So, let me ask you about a couple of issues here in the final stretch, the arguments from Governor Romney boil down to the economy and the unemployment rate higher than when the president took office. Here’s Governor Romney last night.

(Videotape)

MITT ROMNEY (Colorado, Last Night):  He said he would bring the unemployment rate down to 5.2 percent by now.  And we just learned on Friday it’s 7.9 percent.  It is nine million jobs short of what he promised.  And unemployment-- unemployment today is higher than when Barack Obama took office.

(End Videotape)

GREGORY: So if you’ve got anxiety about the economy, this is the president’s record, you have to be disappointed.  Is that what you’re fearful of?

MR. PLOUFFE:  No.  I think we’re going to win the case on the economy in this election, which is the primary reason we’re going to win the election.  You know, the economy is beginning to come back.  We’ve got to build on that progress.  You know, we have created five and a half million jobs in the last 40 months, over two million jobs by the way, over the last 12 months.  So we have to do a lot more. But, listen, Governor Romney wants to return us to the very same policies that created the recession in the first place when we were losing 800,000 jobs.  He wants to return to those policies.  So that’s really the choice--do we build on the progress that we’ve made.  And we have a lot more work to do.  The president has got an economic plan to continue to create jobs and grow the middle class.  Or do we take a risk and go back to the same policies that wrecked our economy and devastated the middle class.  That’s all Governor Romney’s offering.

GREGORY:  There is also an issue of how you work with the other side.  Governor Romney has been critical saying that all this president has done has attacked the other side and not work with Congress, even Mayor Bloomberg, here in New York, who endorsed the president for a second term said that he was still disappointed by the president.  This is part of-- of his remarks or his op-ed that he wrote in that endorsement in 2008, he writes, “Obama ran as a pragmatic problem-solver and consensus-builder.  But as president, he devoted little time and effort to developing and sustaining a coalition of centrists, which doomed hope for any real progress on illegal guns, immigration, tax reform, job creation and deficit reduction.  And rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice, he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.”  That’s from someone who endorsed the president.

MR. PLOUFFE:  Well, Mayor Bloom-- Mayor Bloomberg had a lot of other more positive things to say.  I-- I guess I’ll say this.  David, you-- you covered this president for four years carefully.  You know how often he has reached out to the Republicans.  We have done a lot of things with the republicans.  We cut taxes for the middle class and small business.  We’ve signed trade deals to expand markets, patent reform to help our entrepreneurs, ending Don’t ask, don’t tell.  We’ve gotten a lot done with the Republicans.  There’s no question, there’s a lot more to do.  But here’s the picture, Governor Romney, if he’s elected, has promised to plunge this Congress and this country into a bitter battle over repealing health care.  Do we think that’s really going to help the tone in Washington?  Absolutely not.  He has promised to rubber stamp a tea party agenda.  You know, Senator Reid, the democratic leader in the senate, put out a statement on Friday saying, you know, the Romney agenda is D.O.A.  So the notion that somehow Governor Romney is going to come in here and rubber stamp a tea party agenda, plunge the country into a health care fight, and that’s going to help solve the dysfunction in Washington, it’s going to be worse.

GREGORY:  Before you go, I want to ask you about what is still a-- both a highly politicized but very important question about this raid in Libya on our consulate in Benghazi that killed our ambassador Chris Stevens.  A lot of misinformation about this and a politicization of this in the final days but still important questions that seem to boil down to this, why was security at our consulate so inadequate, particularly when there had been warnings in advance about an attack on the consulate?  Why was there such little force nearby to respond to the kind of attack that ultimately took place?

MR. PLOUFFE:  Well, David, that’s exactly why the State Department has an accountability review board that’s going to-- right now is undertaking a very thorough investigation.  Obviously, as facts come out, those have been released.  But, you know, Admiral Mullen and Mr. Pickering, these are-- are respected leaders who are going to see what happened, what lessons can we learn from this?

GREGORY:  Why not put out the facts before the election?  Are you deliberately waiting until after Election Day before you respond to these questions in a detailed fashion?

MR. PLOUFFE:  Absolutely not.  You know, all the information, obviously that-- that has been commented on has been, you know, because we’ve released it.  The-- an investigation like this is very important.  We have to get it right so we can learn lessons here.  And-- and I think the president has been very clear.  He wants to understand-- make sure the country understands fully what happened, what lessons do we learn from that and hold folks accountable.  I will speak for one minute, David, on the politics.  It is remarkable.  You look back at the 2000 in October.  The USS Cole bombing took place in the weeks before that presidential election.  Seventeen of our sailors were died or killed tragically.  And what president, then Governor Bush said was, we need to speak as one voice.  And-- and really for that entire campaign, President Bush then-- then Dick Cheney said we need to speak with one voice.  We need to find out what happened here.  And I do think the politicization of this has been unprecedented.  But the important thing here is we have to fully understand what happened here and take those lessons forward so that we can protect these diplomats who are doing such heroic work.

GREGORY:  David Plouffe, we will leave it there.  Thank you very much.

MR. PLOUFFE:  Thanks, David.

GREGORY:  We’re joined now by our political roundtable, Joe Scarborough is here Morning Joe, of the TODAY Show, Savannah Guthrie, our own Tom Brokaw.  Mike Murphy, Republican strategist, of course, and the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker.  You’ve been working hardest of all in all of this.  And I want to start with you, Mr. Mayor.  How are things in the wake of Hurricane Sandy for-- for your folks in Newark and around this area?

MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D-Newark, New Jersey):  Uh, there’s a tremendous amount of suffering going in-- in the city in New Jersey and in this region right now.  There’s impotency of words in-- in many ways to-- to express what happened in southern New Jersey counties.  The suffering going on now that you have people going without power, we're now in our sixth day approaching our seventh.  So it’s going to be a very difficult road to get out of a state of emergency, in other words to get to a point where we've stabilized folks. but then the cleanup and the restoration for people that have been-- had their lives really devastated, lost everything in this.

GREGORY:  What-- what effect of the federal government are you feeling?  Do you give the-- the Obama administration high marks at this point for what they’re delivering?

MAYOR BOOKER:  Oh, I’m going to give everybody high marks.  I’m going to give President Obama, I’m going to Governor Christie, I’m going to give countless local leaders.  This is the best I’ve seen it and we’ve now been through a number of challenges really going back to this-- this-- this area being hit so hard by 9/11.  It seems like every challenge from hundred-year snowstorms or the hurricanes, people are getting better together but, you know, Obama was on the phone with me directly the night of the incident, the night of the event.  The-- the governor was reaching out to me before the event even happened to make sure we had what we needed.  The integration of services, the sharing of communication, the sharing of-- of critical assets, it was really an incredible job.

GREGORY:  There he is, Joe Scarborough, the political impact of this.  I talked to a Republican close to Mitt Romney who said, look, Governor Christie was doing his job but he was really effusive in his praise before anything had been delivered.  You look at the numbers from Chuck Todd, there’s a political impact here, isn’t there?

MR. JOE SCARBOROUGH (Host, MSNBC's Morning Joe):  Well, there may be.  There certainly was in 1992 with George H.W. Bush, there was again in 2006 with-- with George W. Bush in his mishandling of the hurricane.  But, you know, it’s hard to say.  People in the Romney camp felt like and I sort of sensed it as well this did freeze the race in place for a couple of days.  But you look at polls this morning out, a new one in Pennsyl-- Pennsylvania, the Tribune newspaper poll has it tied.  New Hampshire, WMUR poll has it tied.  Ohio, the Dispatch poll, plus two Obama, within the margin of error.  The Florida poll, Miami Herald has right now Romney plus six.  And so we go into this weekend, Republicans hoping this is a replay of 1980 where Ronald Reagan made a late break.  But Reagan had started his break a little bit earlier.  By Sunday, Jimmy Carter knew the race was over.  If this is a late break, this is a really late break.  And again, looking at some of these polls, Romney can do it.  The question is, whether the hurricane stopped the momentum for 48 hours and whether that in the end will stop him from overtaking the president.

GREGORY:  Tom Brokaw, you’ve seen this before, and in this case, you have the ultimate political foe of the president giving him such high marks.  This is a Republican and a Democrat working-- working together, leadership at the highest level, and this has what’s been a problem for the-- for the president.

MR. TOM BROKAW (NBC News):  Well, after Katrina, they rewrote the opening chapter of the Boy Scout handbook for president and they said if there’s a hurricane, don’t screw it up and try to reach across party lines.  And the president did just that.  Some of our polling people have been talking to undecided voters out there in Colorado and other places, and they saw the president as a leader in a way that they had not before, because nothing like a hurricane or a national tragedy of this magnitude creates empathy across the country.  It’s not just confined to New Jersey and Connecticut and New York.  People everywhere can say, that could be me, and how did the president handle himself.  So I do think it helped him and it did hurt Romney by freezing his campaign.  But the fact is that if this thing has been moving every 48 hours or so, we’re back to essentially a tie in the battleground states.  It’s going to be a fight to the finish.

GREGORY:  Savannah, you also have-- the fact that there’s a lot of people as the mayor is talking about, who are still without gas, electricity.  There’s growing frustration.  That has a potential impact as well.

MS. SAVANNAH GUTHRIE (NBC News):  Yeah.  And-- and it can change on a dime if people start feeling that the federal response isn’t what it should be.  But look, when you have a race this tight, things like a hurricane-- this can move the needle when you’re talking about a race that’s so close.  And I think it was an important moment for the president because in the last three to four weeks of the campaign, I don’t think he had been going out of his way to appeal to independents whatsoever.  This was a campaign built to turn out the base of the party.  And here was a moment, handed to him seemingly from above, where he could look like that strong independent steady in a storm very appealing to the middle of the road voters.  And I might add to unmarried women voters who are going to be very key in this election.

GREGORY:  Mike Murphy, 48, 47.  Does it look a lot like 2004 to you where it broke for President Bush there at the end or not?

MR. MIKE MURPHY (Republican Strategist, Columnist, Time Magazine):  Well, it-- it does, because I think you see the same Republican enthusiasm.  President Obama has an advantage of demographics.  Mitt Romney has an advantage in enthusiasm.  And well got a great polling lock and what happened last week now, everything is tied.  And so it's what’s going to happen yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  And I’d rather have enthusiasm right now than anything else.  So I think it’s going to be a very close election.  We got that new poll, highly respected local poll in Ohio shows the two points.  People forget the margin of error.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. MURPHY:  This stuff is all statistically tied.  It can go either way.

GREGORY:  All right.  A lot more from all of you as we come back here.  We’re going to take a break and when we come back, House Republican Leader Eric Cantor from battleground Virginia, a key state Romney hopes to pick up come Tuesday.  He will join us.  We’ll get his take on where the race stands and what happens after the election and the tough choices like the approaching fiscal cliff.

Plus, more with our roundtable here.  What issues mattered the most in this campaign?  That’s coming up right after this break.

(Announcements)

GREGORY:  Coming up, new polls out this weekend in key battleground states, giving a snapshot of where the race stands in the final days.  The Des Moines register out with a new poll this morning that shows President Obama up five in Iowa.  In Ohio, a similar story, our NBC News poll there shows the president ahead by six, but as we said another poll there has it only by two.  Anyone’s guess now in Florida.  Two different polls there.  Two different numbers.  Bottom line is, it is tied as you can see.  In Colorado, the president leading there by a small margin.  And look at this--in New Hampshire, all tied up at 47 a piece in New Hampshire where you’ll see the president on the final day.  What does it all mean for the battleground map and the path to 270?  More with our roundtable up next after this brief break.

(Announcements)

GREGORY:  Joining me now from Richmond, Virginia, the House majority leader Congressman of the battleground state of Virginia, Eric Cantor.  Leader, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA, Majority Leader):  Good morning, David.

GREGORY:  I want to start on the impact of Hurricane Sandy, what we’ve been talking about here.  Our numbers this morning shows 68 percent approval for the president’s handling of the impact of that storm.  Governor Christie, of course, Republican of New Jersey, a key surrogate for-- for Governor Romney, leading the praise in effect for the president.  Last night on Saturday Night Live sometimes satire can be stinging, this is how they-- they show it, and I want to have you react to it.

(Videotape, Saturday Night Live)

MAN:  Also I would like to give a sincere thanks to President Obama for how he handled the situation.  On Election Day, I’m voting for Mitt Romney.  But if I had to pick one guy to have my back in a crisis, it would be Barack Obama.  He’s been amazing, you know, so kind, such a leader, a true inspiration.  Again, I’ll be a good soldier.  I’ll vote for Romney.  But I’m going to hate it.  Do you hear me?  I will hate it.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  It gets a laugh leader.  But my question is, do you think in real life Governor Christie overdid it and gave an advantage to the president in this critical-- critical final week?

REP. CANTOR:  Listen, Governor Christie was doing what he had to do, and he still has a challenge ahead of him.  And, you know, my hat is off to him, to Mayor Booker, who is there with you, in dealing with the tragedy that has occurred.  I mean, we’re seeing the reports down here in Virginia just as the same as everyone across the country.  Our hearts go out to the people who do not have lights, some do not have shelter, do not have fuel to drive their car or-- or to carry on their lives.  I think this goes really beyond politics right now.  And this is an issue of human compassion.  I know that we’ve got thousands of folks here in Virginia who have not only donated, I know our power company here has sent up many, many crews to help those in New York, New Jersey area get back on track.  And I think, David, that’s really what this is about, America coming together.

GREGORY:  The other issue, of course, that will be perhaps decisive in battleground Virginia is the economy.  Here was, after the latest job numbers came out and unemployment ticking up to 7.9 percent, a headline from the Los Angeles Times that caught my eye that seems to be a direct challenge to Governor Romney.  And this is it.  The jobs report arouses new optimism.  October data shows solid growth and suggest a smoother road for whoever wins the presidency.  The economy seems to be moving in the right direction, is the suggestion there.  Does that hurt Governor Romney’s case?

REP. CANTOR:  Look, David, the-- the reality is this, 7.-- if 7.9 percent unemployment, if 12 million or so people out of work and eight million more either underemployed or working part time, if that is satisfactory to you, then this is acceptable, this Obama administration’s performance.  What I will tell you from the folks that I meet, it is totally unacceptable.  This is not good enough for us in America.  I just ran into a gentleman the other day in an airport.  He is a home builder.  He told me, Congressman, please do something about this economy.  He said I had to take a position as a chef in an airport diner because I couldn’t find a-- a position that matched my skills.  Well, you know what?  We can do better by him and the millions of other Americans right now who are in that situation or even some worse that don’t have a job.  That’s what this-- that’s what this election is about.  It is about providing some hope so people can figure out how to make their life work again, and this administration, this president, has no track record to run on that he can provide any solution to this vexing problem for so many millions of Americans.  That’s why Mitt Romney is going to win this election, David.

GREGORY:  But the economy is improving.  More jobs are being created.  Is that not a fact now?

REP. CANTOR:  The-- the fact is you need approximately a hundred and twenty five thousand new jobs created every month just to keep up with population increases.  And-- and again, all we hear from the president is negative attacks and no solutions.  This is the difference.  Mitt Romney has provided a-- actual plan of how to get jobs growing again in America.  That’s the difference.  If folks want to see a better future with more jobs, Mitt Romney’s got a plan.  And that’s why I see here on the ground, David, in Virginia, there is a lot of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  I was with Paul yesterday here in Richmond.  We’re going to win this state, and I think we’re going to win it a lot bigger than most people are predicting.  Yes for Mitt Romney and yes for George Allen.

GREGORY:  Leader, you’re talking about the plan that Mitt Romney has.  Well, the president, as he is making his final argument, took on the sort of change that Governor Romney is offering.  He was speaking last night in your state.

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We know what change looks like and-- and what Governor Romney is selling ain’t it.  Giving more power to the biggest banks isn’t change.  Another five trillion dollars tax cut for the wealthy, that’s not change.  Refusing to answer questions about the details of your policies until after the election, that’s definitely not change.

(End Videotape)

GREGORY:  How do you respond to that?

REP. CANTOR:  What I respond-- did you hear anything that has to do with the solution to a problem in the president’s short remarks there?  No.  That’s the difference.  Mitt Romney is offering solutions is an answer to folks that are asking-- the millions of Virginians and Americans that are asking right now how are we going to turn this thing around?  How can I make my life work again?  Mitt Romney has a plan.  The president doesn’t.  The president is full of negativity, character assassinations and attacks.  I think America is a much more optimasic-- optimistic place.  People are aspirational here.  They want to see things get better.  They want to know how.  Mitt Romney is providing that plan.  That’s why we’re going to win, and I think going to win big on Tuesday night.

GREGORY:  But it’s striking.  Ohio is such an important state here in the battleground map, Leader Cantor, and yet this is a radio ad that the Obama-- the Romney campaign is running in that critical state about the auto bailout and about Jeep.  I want you to listen to it.

(Videotape, political ad)

MAN:  Barack Obama says he saved the auto industry.  But for who?  Ohio or China?  There now comes word that Chrysler plans to start making Jeeps in--you guessed it--China.  Mitt Romney, he’ll stand up for the auto industry, in Ohio, not China.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  The head of Chrysler said that that is deceptive, that they are opening production facilities to service to Chinese market while they’re also expanding production in Ohio.  This from a business leader, Governor Romney, who apparently thinks its good business to outsource in order to make companies more competitive.  Is this the hopeful specific agenda that Governor Romney has for the state of Ohio and the country?

REP. CANTOR:  You know, I-- I  think the point of-- of that ad is the fact we need a president who’s actually going to focus on increasing the competitiveness of America so that we can see plants openings here and we really need a president who’s going to focus on making things in America, so we can sell them abroad.  And I think that’s why you have seen former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca endorse Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidency.  Again, we need somebody with some solutions.  We need somebody with the demonstrated ability to work with all parties, all sides…

GREGORY:  I understood, leader, you…

REP. CANTOR:  …bringing them together with…

GREGORY: …don’t think that’s a deceptive ad?

REP CANTOR:  …the single focus of getting this economy back on track.  David, I’ve not seen the ad.  I just heard it.  Now, I’ve not seen the ad.  They’re apparently not running it in Virginia.  So I’ve not seen the ad.  But I do think the point is Mitt Romney has demonstrated the ability of-- of building jobs, of-- of making it so that we can have more investment, more economic activity in America.  He has a demonstrated track record and has provided an actual plan whereas all you’re getting from the president in these closing days of his campaign is more negativity, more attacks, and I just think that, again, Americans are looking to see how they can make their lives work again.  Barack Obama is not providing any answers, and if you like the way things are now with nearly eight percent unemployment, that’s what you’re going to get if you re-elect the president.

GREGORY:  Majority Leader Cantor, thank you very much.

REP. CANTOR:  Thank you.

GREGORY:  Let’s turn back to our political round-- roundtable.  Mike Murphy…

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.

GREGORY:  …that ad in Ohio, that issue in Ohio, is contentious.  The-- the Romney campaign is doing this because they see some disadvantage in terms of how he’s perceived vis-à-vis the auto industry.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, look, in all the metal bending states, the Obama campaign has done a good job of attacking Romney.  Now, look, I-- I don’t like that particular ad, and the reason I don’t like it is it reminds me of the Obama ads about the auto bailout, which are incredibly misleading.  They’ve been going on for a year.  So, I think they both get a yellow flag on that.  But Romney does have a political issue in Northern Ohio with the auto bailout, and that’s what they’re trying to address.  We’ll see if it works or not.

GREGORY:  I also want to talk more generally about, you know, closing arguments, Mayor Booker, the economy.  Here’s a chart of unemployment through the Obama presidency and that final jobs report is at 7.9 percent.  If you’re President Obama, you like that down slope there, don’t you?  And that’s the argument he’s making, 7.9 percent, though, is still higher than when he came into office.

MAYOR BOOKER:  The reality is he’s made dramatic improvements in the economy and to accelerating with the job creation going much, much better.  I really want to bring up the point, though, that’s online with that about this idea of enthusiasm.  I-- I campaigned very hard in the 2008 campaign and saw euphoria and-- and excitement.  In this campaign, we have metrics that there’s not only more enthusiasm, but more involvement, more engagement but it’s a different kind of engagement.  You have women coming into campaign headquarters and, I’ve seen it all around the country, saying I’m here because I want to fight to defend Planned Parenthood, defend the women’s right to choose, defend equal pay for equal rights-- equal pay for equal work.  I see military folks volunteering in campaign headquarters saying I’m here to defend my right to serve in the military whether you’re gay or not to fight for my country.  I see small businesses in (Unintelligible) showing up at campaign headquarters because I got SBA loans, Ryan budget is going to cut that, I’m here because he defended the auto industry.  I’m not that kind of business, but my business is in Michigan and it depends on people having resources.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  That’s-- that’s not showing up out there.  It’s-- I mean, The New York Times yesterday had a front page article on their website talking about the difference over the past four years, that four years ago people did go.  And it was about hope and change.  And this year, the people just seem a lot more solemn.  We’ve heard it time and time again just…

MAYOR BOOKER:  Then, why do we have…

(Cross talk)

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  …oh, hold-- hold  on a second.  Hold on a second.

(Cross talk)

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a second.  And this is the-- this is the-- this is the fascinating thing.  The Obama campaign is talking about metrics.  They‘re talking about data.  They’re talking all of these numbers.  And yet you’re not seeing the enthusiasm in the crowds.  Yesterday in Iowa, at a very small crowd, Joe Biden had nine hundred in Colorado, even CNN was reporting…

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  …that-- that the crowds were much smaller this year.

GREGORY:  But, Tom, you’re-- you’re focused on the closing arguments and what’s striking about it?

MR. BROKAW:  And the closing arguments are negative arguments.  It’s about keep the other guy out.  It’s not about enthusiasm with all due respect, Mister Mayor, for the candidates on either side.  It’s-- there’s great fear in the Republican Party that Obama will get four more years.  There’s not a passionate love affair with Mitt Romney.  There’s been a lot of disappointment in your party with the president of the United States.  On the other hand, there’s greater fear that Mitt Romney is going to get into office.  So more than any other time that I’ve been doing all of this, I’ve seen in the closing days fear take over.  And more negative campaigning.  It’s not about me, it’s about keeping the other guy out.  I think that’s what’s going on here.

GREGORY: And Savannah, we think about the question, why is it that incumbents lose?  You go back to the first President Bush, he had a problem with his base, you know, no new taxes.  He breaks that pledge.  But he’s also got a down economy.  Jimmy Carter has a down economy as well.  And the reality is that this president still is facing a down economy.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Yeah.  But you can overcome a down economy with the graph you showed.  It’s really the trajectory that matters.  But to me the signature weakness of the Obama campaign has been a lack of a second term message.  I think that people fire incumbents when they don’t show the energy and the passion for the job.  That to me why that first debate was so devastating for President Obama because it underscored people’s worst views of what the president could be, kind of listless, lacking fight, lacking passion.  I remember the 1992 campaign.  That was kind of the book on George H. W. Bush that he just didn’t have fire for the job beyond, I ought to be re-elected.  You have to have a message beyond I’m entitled to be re-elected.

MR. MURPHY: The Obama people have made an interesting political calculus.  They made it over a year ago, which is we have got problems with the economy so we’re going to make our campaign about Mitt Romney.  And it may work politically.  That’s the campaign that the Republicans have done too very effectively but the day after the election, if you win that victory, you also lose, because you haven’t rallied the country to any kind of agenda.  And we’re just going to be back in the trenches again.  Romney has that challenge too.  But the president sets the agenda and the tone and they’ve decided to make this a slaughter Romney campaign.

MAYOR BOOKER:  And this is why I disagree.  And this is why I think FDR was able to make four terms of re-election.  This is where President Obama was-- because people remember that fear when our country was falling in freefall in jobs, foreclosures, financial industry, the auto industry.  Here is a president in my lifetime never seen inherited a worst set of cards that not only got us out of the crisis, the fear that was in this community here in which I live was palpable.  And now not only have we stabilized that economy, we showed for over 30 months of job creation accelerating at the end.  And you don’t underestimate how personal this is for people who have a child with pre-existing conditions who are now invested in this re-election because one person wants to get rid of Romney-- rid of Obamacare and one doesn’t, don’t underestimate.  And I see this passion from women.  It’s not a negative message, keep Romney out, it’s I want to defend those things that are important to my family, such as access to a women’s right to choose her life.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  There’s still a lot of fear out there, though.  I mean, Mike Murphy has seen it in the polling and whether you’re in Ohio, whether you’re talking about single women in Ohio, whether you’re talking about parents trying to get their kids into college, the people believe that the American dream is slipping away.  Every poll is showing this.  People aren’t as optimistic about the future as they were about four years ago.

MAYOR BOOKER:  But that’s why this is such a clear choice (Unintelligible) college access.

(Cross talk)

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  Wait, wait, wait.  Clear choice?  Wait a second.

MAYOR BOOKER:  He’s doubled-- he’s doubled the Pell grants.

(Cross talk)

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  The president has no plan looking forward in four years and you know it.

MAYOR BOOKER: No, come on.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Come on.  Your talking points are not going to convince anybody but you.

MAYOR BOOKER:  Come on.

(Cross talk)

MAYOR BOOKER:  Joe, I love you, and I had too little sleep, so please don’t make me say something I will regret.  But very clearly here-- very clearly here, number one, when it comes to college access, this president has a plan.  He’s doubled Pell grants. He’s opened up more access opportunities.  I see it in my community.  People couldn’t afford college before this president.  Number two, when you come to a plan, this is something you and I actually agree on.  We’ve talked-- you and I have talked a lot about Simpson-Bowles.  Here is a plan that actually says I want a balanced approach.  The other guy says no revenue increases.  He’s keeping an ideological hardened position.  Here’s a president where you have…

GREGORY: Good comment…

MR. MURPHY: The president made a grand bargain in 2008.  He has a pitch now.  He had a pitch then.  And the pitch then was I’m going to put the country way in debt and I am going to get the economy going and bring down unemployment.  He got a four-year shot.  It didn’t happen.  No results.  That’s why it’s a dead even election.

MAYOR BOOKER: The reduction you have in the unemployment rate is obvious, we just saw the graph.

GREGORY:  Let me-- let me get in here.  I want to go to a break and we’re going to come-- we’re going to come back.  We’re going to get more from our roundtable.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  (Cross talk) your broadcast.

GREGORY:  We’re also going to look back at some of the big moments of this campaign and ask everybody here what stood out.  We’ll get agreement about that I am sure.  Also, Chuck Todd is coming up on what both sides think is now the road to 270.  We’re back with our special election preview after this.

(Announcements)

GREGORY:  We are back and we go back now to Chuck Todd at his command center with the numbers and the maps.  And Chuck, I’m interested in the route to 270 for both candidates.  We’ll get to that in a minute.  What do…

MR. TODD:  Yep.

GREGORY:  …the final schedules tell us about where these campaigns think they are?

MR. TODD:  You know how I feel.  I think the schedules are more accurate sometimes than the polling itself.  Here’s the president’s final two days.  Today it’s offense.  He’ll be in Florida, New Hampshire, Colorado but he also goes to Ohio.  In fact, the last couple of days Ohio has been like an airline hub for Air Force One.  But more intriguing to me is where the president is spending Monday.  Monday is firewall day.  That’s his final day in the trail and it’s Ohio, Wisconsin and Ohio.  And now let me show you the Mitt Romney schedule.  Also a same feeling, if you will, today it’s offense day.  He’s trying to go into Pennsylvania.  That’s kind of an insurance policy, if you will, if Ohio doesn’t go well.  But he also hits Ohio today and Iowa today.  But what’s interesting is his Monday, David, also feels defensive, if you will.  It’s Florida, it’s Virginia, it’s New Hampshire.  Why? He needs those three states plus either Ohio or Pennsylvania in order to get to his magic number.

GREGORY:  All right.  So what’s the route that they like to get to two seventy?  Start with the president.

MR. TODD:  Well, I’m going to give you the simplest routes for both of them and for the president, it’s that Midwestern firewall.  So up here, we’ll put Pennsylvania over here which is a state of course that I think David Plouffe believes is in this column.  So if that’s the case and you just give the firewall to the president, you see Iowa is actually a luxury here.  It’s either-- he’s at 271 before you put Iowa there, if you put Ohio and Wisconsin, I just want to tell people watch the numbers here if you will.  Now, the simplest way for Mitt Romney, it means Florida and Virginia.  It also means New Hampshire.  It also means Colorado.  And then if he is putting Pennsylvania in play, it’s one of these states.  And if you look here, that’s the importance of Pennsylvania.  Wisconsin would actually be enough.  He could lose Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania and he could get there.  The problem is, Wisconsin is looking like a state at the same day voter registration state.  So then if you look at it that way, he needs one of these others and Ohio, if you believe the two-point race there, that would put him over.  So that’s why what explains, if you will, David, why Romney’s going to Pennsylvania because if you only-- if you take away Pennsylvania, he’s only got two routes and Ohio and Wisconsin both seem to be a little where he’s a little bit behind.

GREGORY:  All right.  Chuck Todd, thank you so much.

One note about this, and that’s demographics, Mike Murphy, they both have models of what the electorate will look like.

MR. MURPHY:  Right.

GREGORY:  Is it as white as it used to be?  Is it more nonwhite than it used to be?  This is not political science, this could decide the race.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.  It’s more nonwhite.  And that’s Romney’s problem.  That’s why the Colorados are tough, why Nevada as they were ten percent employment, may well be one that we don’t carry.  As-- and what’s interesting about Ohio is that state does not have a large minority votes.  It’s about 85 percent white.  And if Romney were getting the same white vote there he gets in Virginia where he’s tied and the Romney campaign is nervous, he’d be winning Ohio.  So that’s also the story in Pennsylvania.  One quick footnote on Pennsylvania--one reason the Romney guys like it, even though historically it’s more Democratic, though it did like the Republican governor, is there has not been a campaign there.  They haven’t had the 200 million dollars of negative ads.  They’ve only seen the debates.  So Romney’s numbers are a lot better there in a lot of the states where we’ve had the trench warfare.  They think they might have a shot at that.

GREGORY:  People may not believe this, but there is a morning after this race, Tom and Savannah.  And what happens in Washington after that?  David Brooks in his column this week writes about the fiscal cliff which happens at the end of this year, big tax increases and also cuts.  Here’s what he writes.  “The bottom line is this: If Obama wins, we’ll probably get small-bore stasis.  If Romney wins, we’re more likely to get bipartisan reform.  Romney is more of a flexible flip-flopper than Obama.  He has more influence over the most intransigent element in Washington-- the Washington equation House Republicans.  He’s more likely to get big stuff done."  Savannah, this is a key question.

MS. GUTHRIE:  It is.  And the president has basically banked on the fact that the election will resolve these issues, that the election process would litigate the issues of whether the Bush tax rates should be rolled back for the wealthiest of Americans.  Two years ago when he caved on that and allowed them to be extended, he said we will answer this question two years after the election.  So he’s counting on a lot.  He’s also banking on the fact that the-- the Republicans will want to work with him post election.  You can question whether or not that’s a naïve belief but he’s counting on it, especially when you look at the makeup of Congress not likely to change.  So we’re going to have the same set of circumstances potentially if Obama wins re-election, and yet he is out there promising that-- that the fever will break post-election.  He’s got a lot riding on it.

MR. BROKAW:  I think it’s going to be a status quo election.  And-- and I think that if Romney wins, for example, he’s still looking at a House of Representatives that has a very considerable Tea Party presence in it.  The Tea Party people are not going to go away.  It’s an insurgency.  It’s out there.  It has more power than its numbers in many ways, which we have learned in the last couple of years that they exercised that power very effectively when they choose to.  And what we don’t know about him as president of the United States is just how nimble he can be.  We have seen him as a candidate.  And he kind of is a linear candidate.  He kind of walks down one road.  But does he have the flexibility to move and to be political and to strong arm people and to adapt to the current conditions?  That’s the unknown about Mitt Romney as president in my judgment.

GREGORY:  Here is the cover of the Parade magazine with Joe and Mika on the cover.  Hey, Mister President, how is it that you actually govern?  So you’re focused on this question as well, Joe.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  I certainly am.  And, you know, we’re talking about bipartisanship in Parade magazine this week, and I think the fact you showed the picture of Mika staring at me and not backhanding me.  I think that’s a positive step forward.  She…

(Cross talk)

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  …she practices restraint every day.  Exactly.

MAN:  That’s why they sat us so far apart.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  I know.  So if Mike-- and you’re looking at that picture, it looks like she’s about to haul off and hit me.  I-- I think that’s a good sign not only for Morning Joe but for America.

MR. BROKAW:  I really believe that that is the great undercurrent in the country.  They want them to work together.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.

GREGORY:  Yes.

MR. BROKAW:  And there’s been no indication…

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  Really.

MR. BROKAW:  …whatsoever in this campaign they are prepared to do that.  And that’s what frustrates everybody, and that’s what leads me to the idea that it’s a very negative campaign.  Because it doesn’t address what the country wants, Republican, Democrat, or Independent.  Hey, if we get together on Main Street, you’ve got to get together on Wall Street.

GREGORY:  I want to-- I’ve been thinking about this-- this week, and the final two days, what moments of this campaign really stand out.  I want to ask you all that.  This is what stood out for us.

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT BARRACK OBAMA:  If you’ve got a business that you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.

MITT ROMNEY:  I couldn’t believe he actually said that.  He said you’re taking me out of context.  The context is worse than the quote.

PRESIDENT BARRACK OBAMA:  When it comes to a woman’s right to make her own health care choices, they want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century.

MITT ROMNEY:  I went to a number of women’s groups and said can you help us find folks, and they brought us whole binders full of women.

Well, I’m not getting rid of all of health care reform, of course.  There are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place.

PRESIDENT BARRACK OBAMA:  We got to name this condition that he’s going through.  I think-- I think it’s called romnesia.

SUSAN RICE:  What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo.

MITT ROMNEY:  It was very clear.  This was not a demonstration.  This was an attack by terrorists.

MR. EASTWOOD:  So I’ve got-- I’ve got Mister Obama sitting here.  And he’s-- I-- I just was going to ask him a couple of questions.

BILL CLINTON:  No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.

MITT ROMNEY:  There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that-- that they are victims…

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  When he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims, who refused personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about.

(End Videotape)

GREGORY:  So there it is.  We’re two days left.  Mayor, what stands out for you as a moment?  We’ll go around the horn here within couple of minutes.

MAYOR BOOKER:  Well, the-- the Clinton speech, when he basically put it plain that and he used simple arithmetic--this is a phenomenally damaged economy, and now this is a president who faced challenges that haven’t been seen since great depression and brought it back.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MAYOR BOOKER:  But the-- the second part of that, though, was the part where I got fired up, because I’m not reflexively partisan, was there any Republican primaries when they asked those candidates, would they accept nine dollars of tax cuts for one dollar…

GREGORY:  10 to one.  10 to one.

MAYOR BOOKER:  10 to one.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MAYOR BOOKER:  And all of them said no.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MAYOR BOOKER:  You cannot solve this economy to the balanced approach…

GREGORY:  And Bill Clinton is making the sale in the final hours.

MAYOR BOOKER:  …and that’s why-- that’s why Obama is a better choice because he’s got a balanced approach.

GREGORY:  What stood out for you, Mike?

MR. MURPHY:  Three quick things.  One, a stupid irritating Republican primary that did nothing to help the Republican cause.  Two, an incredibly timid and negative and somewhat cynical Obama campaign that will weaken him if re-- if he is reelected.  And a debate that took Romney from dead to maybe president of the United States.

GREGORY:  Yeah, that-- that debate was huge, Joe.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  I-- I’ve got to say, for-- for me, it’s a Republican looking at the Republican party, and it was a-- a horrifying primary process that damaged the Republican brand.  Secondly, a-- a-- a terrible, I think, Republican convention, where Mitt Romney didn’t make the turn to the middle.  And, third, just a remarkable first debate that if Mitt Romney wins will be a debate that political scientists will be looking at fifty years from now.  It really could be the big turning point.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MS. GUTHRIE:  I hate to agree, but I have to say the debate is kind of the BCAD, line of demarcation, because not only was it President Obama’s worst night and probably a near death experience for him, but Mitt Romney suddenly was a-- a credible candidate after the Obama campaign put a lot of money and resources into trying to kill him in the crib all summer.  Romney emerged and it also sign-- just sig-- signals the time when Romney did that pivot to the center.

GREGORY:  Right.  Yeah.

MS. GUTHRIE:  So I think it’s an important moment.

GREGORY:  Mister B.

MR. BROKAW:  I-- I think the first debate.  I think that history will long record that if he survives this-- that debate was something unprecedented.  I have never seen anything like that in my lifetime, when a man who had to convince the country, he was a strong leader, disappeared from that stage.  On the Romney side, I think the 47 percent comment, and you twin that with his appearance at the Republican National Convention in his acceptance speech, not mentioning at one moment any of the military sacrifices that are being made in this country by working class families all across America.  It did not come up in the two longest wars in America’s history.  And the right went after him more strongly than the left did.

GREGORY:  Right.  We’re going to take a quick break here.  A final note right after this.

(Announcements)

GREGORY:  Thank you, all.  Enjoy the final sprint.  I wanted to say roll tide to you, Scarborough.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:  All right.

GREGORY:  I wanted to remind our viewers that help is still very much needed for those recovering from hurricane Sandy.  You can call 1-800-help-now to make a donation.

And before we go, a couple of programming notes this week on Press Pass, I sat down with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein to talk about politics and his new film about the raid on Osama bin Laden called SEAL Team Six which premieres tonight on National Geographic channel.  You can watch our conversation at meetthepress.nbc.com.

And stay with us for continuing coverage of the final days of the 2012 campaign on Tuesday.  I’ll join Brian Williams and the rest of our team for our complete coverage live here on Democracy Plaza.  Coverage starts 7:00 PM Eastern and goes all night.  For now, that’s it.  We’ll be back next week.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

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