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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

The Last Presidential Debate Being Held Tonight; Obama's Debate Strategy; Varying Poll Numbers; Election Voter Fraud; New Allegations Against ACORN

Aired October 15, 2008 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you Wolf. Tonight the final countdown to that final presidential debate, will Senator McCain lift his sagging poll numbers? Will Senator Obama win over undecided voters? We'll have complete coverage for you.
And tonight, the Dow Jones industrials plummeting more than 700 points on new pessimism about a weakening economy. We'll assess the political impact and tonight rising anger over charges that the left wing activist group ACORN is engaged an outright election fraud. We'll have that special report.

And we'll tell you about explosive comments about race and politics from top Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha, all of that, all of the day's news and much more tonight from an independent perspective straight ahead.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT; news, debate and opinion for Wednesday, October 15th. Live from New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody. Senators Obama and McCain making their final preparations for tonight's third and final presidential debate. That debate comes as polls show Obama increasing his lead nationally and gaining ground in battleground states. The focus of tonight's debate will be the economy and domestic policy.

Both of these candidates have proposed massive new spending programs to help this weakening economy of ours. Voters want Obama and McCain they say to provide specific details of their plans and on Wall Street today, stocks plunged more than 700 points on new evidence of a worsening economy.

We have extensive coverage from our correspondents at the debate site tonight at Hofstra (ph) University on Long Island, New York. Ed Henry, Jessica Yellin and Bill Schneider. We begin with Ed Henry who's with the McCain campaign -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, the stakes could not be any higher for John McCain tonight. Clearly this could be one of his final chances to change the dynamics of a race that is slipping away from him. He's falling behind in a lot of these key battleground states right now and if you look back to the first debate on national security, McCain did not really exploit his advantage on that issue.

The second debate, a town hall style, one he did not take advantage of, a comfortable format for him. And now the third debate, as you mentioned, on domestic issues, largely the economy, that should play well for Barack Obama. But we also have to pay attention to the fact that there's a format change tonight that actually could benefit John McCain.

Bob Schieffer (ph) of CBS News has more latitude than the previous two moderators to ask follow-up questions, try to get these candidates to actually engage on the substance of issues affecting the nation, especially the financial crisis. The more fireworks he can generate, that could benefit John McCain in terms of giving him a chance to get his shots in, but also finding a way to lay out some of those positive plans on the economy that you also mentioned that John McCain has been laying out over the last 48, 72 hours.

It's a tough balancing act though to get your attacks in, also show a positive tone without upsetting these undecided independent voters and it's a balancing act frankly that so far John McCain has not had a lot of luck with -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Ed. Ed Henry.

Senator Obama is expected to strongly defend himself against any charges that he plans to raise taxes. Senator Obama is also likely to go on the offensive, asserting that Senator McCain is in his opinion erratic. We've heard that word a lot. Jessica Yellin now reporting from Hofstra (ph) University -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, Barack Obama's goal tonight is first to do no harm. With his significant lead in the polls and with his past success at these debates, he really wants to repeat what he's been able to do before which is remain calm and even tempered no matter what comes his way and that would underscore the campaign spin exactly what you just said that Barack Obama is a steady guy who would offer steady leadership while John McCain is an erratic man who would offer a volatile kind of White House.

Now Barack Obama is prepared to defend himself against accusations that he plans massive tax increases. This is what John McCain has alleged consistently on the trail. Aides tell us Obama is also prepared to respond to charges that his association with former 1960s radical Bill Ayers (ph) somehow taints him. Obama has called those charges a distraction from the issues that voters care about most really the economy. And that's what he would like to talk about as much as he can tonight.

Now Obama's top advisor, David Axelrod (ph), tells us that because he is so familiar, Obama is with the topics tonight, what they really focused on in debate prep is this different kind of format. As Ed mentioned, it's a very -- it allows for much more for back and forth and also it's seated. It's the first time they'll have a seated debate. So they say they really worked on some of the logistics, what it will be like to debate somebody who is in such close proximity.

Finally, Lou, I'll tell you that aides are playing the expectations game heavily, saying that this is John McCain's chance to turn his campaign around. It is his -- pressure is on him to have a game changer and they say basically a draw tonight would play to Obama's favor -- Lou.

DOBBS: They're not going so far as to suggest that Senator Obama is in point in fact the underdog, though?

YELLIN: No, no one has said that to me from the campaign.

DOBBS: All right...

YELLIN: Only his wife on the trail.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Jessica Yellin.

Well these latest poll numbers show Senator McCain is on the defensive in key battleground states. Now seven states have voted for President Bush only four years ago could now go to Senator Obama. Bill Schneider joins us now from Hofstra (ph) University. Bill, tell us what in the world is happening to those battleground states in those states and to Senator McCain?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is movement and there's movement in all of them away from Senator McCain. As you just noted, all the states we have been calling battleground states voted for Bush last time, which means John McCain is defending Republican territory.

Take Colorado, a key battleground state that voted for George Bush by five points in 2004. Now we're showing a four-point lead for Obama. Not enough to make it a lightly Obama state at this point, we're still calling it a tossup, but clearly movement in Obama's direction.

The mother of all battleground states is Florida. Now Florida of course, the Democrats would love to have sweet revenge by taking Florida. It voted for Bush in 2004 by five points, now it's tilting slightly to Obama by five points, still a very close state, still a tossup.

Georgia nobody has really being calling a battleground state, though Democrats did have some hopes that they might be able to compete there. Georgia voted for Bush by 17 points. Now McCain is ahead in Georgia, but only by eight points, which means the Republican lead has been cut just about in half.

Missouri's an interesting state. Missouri is a bellwether (ph) state. Missouri has voted for the winner in every presidential election save one for the past 100 years. Where is Missouri right now? Of course last time they voted for Bush. Right now it's just about a tie. McCain can take some heart -- some hope from the fact that he has a one-point edge in Missouri, but I would say the bellwether (ph) state really isn't pointing clearly in either direction.

And finally the big news in our polling is Virginia. Virginia hotly competitive, it's voted Democratic for the last 44 years in presidential elections. Bush carried it by eight points. Our current poll shows Obama leading in Virginia by 10. That is a statistically significant lead and it led us at CNN to shift to Virginia from the tossup category to the leaning Obama category, which is giving Obama a little bit of a boost -- Lou.

DOBBS: And it was just a few weeks ago that Senator McCain actually had a lead in that battleground state, correct?

SCHNEIDER: That is correct; Virginia has been back and forth for a while. But this is the first time we're showing a significant lead for either candidate and it's Obama.

DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much, Bill Schneider.

A prominent Democratic Congressman saying racism will play a role in the critical swing state of Pennsylvania. Congressman Jack Murtha also says quote, "there is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area." Murtha represents that area. The state's 12th Congressional District which includes southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Congressman goes on to predict Senator Obama will win Pennsylvania but the race issue could cost him as many as four points from his lead, again in the opinion of the Congressman. Last April, while speaking before a group of liberal contributors in San Francisco, Senator Obama touched off a firestorm when he blasted small town voters in Pennsylvania and other states.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: And despite those comments, Senator Obama still maintaining a lead in the polls in Pennsylvania. In an interview, a new interview with the "New York Times" magazine, which is published this Sunday, Senator Obama expressed regret over those comments. He said, quote, "That was my biggest bone headed move."

Senator Obama saying he was only trying to point out that working class voters in small towns have a right to be frustrated because they've been ignored by both parties. Well joining me now three of the best political analysts in the country, all CNN contributors, syndicated columnist Diana west, "New York Daily News" columnist Errol Louis -- Errol is also the host of "The Morning Show" in New York City on WRL -- and Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf -- good to have you with us. Errol, do you buy that rationalization from first Senator Obama on those bone headed comments?

ERROL LOUIS, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Was it a bone headed move? Oh, absolutely, I think that he was understating it, if anything. He lost Pennsylvania handedly during the primary, of course. DOBBS: And Jack Murtha, talking about his own district. Has this man taken leave of his senses?

LOUIS: You know I'm not sure. I imagine he doesn't have a general election opponent himself to be making those kind of comments. But you know look, underlying it, there's an element of truth and if discussions about race are about talking past one another, creating a lot of confusion, I think this is a perfect example of it. These men are supposed to be political allies and here they are falling all over each other and alienating a lot of people at the same time. I mean it's a perfect example I think of how race is lived and misunderstood in this country.

DOBBS: Are you surprised that after making those comments that Senator Obama is actually in the lead in Pennsylvania?

LOUIS: No, not at all. Listen, you know look, there's nothing scarier than what we have seen in the economy over the last month. And you know fear is about the unknown, fear is around race, uncertainty of all sorts I think is getting swept away along with everything else in this political climate by the stark reality that we have an economy that's just falling apart. I mean you know 750,000 jobs lost. They're being lost by people who have got much bigger concerns than some washed-out, leftover biases that they may have grown up with.

DOBBS: Hank Sheinkopf, do you agree?

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Jack Murtha is not going to be the defeater in that district no matter what happens. He's awfully popular, brings home a lot of bacon. He's got an important committee, a serious guy. That's not the issue. The issue is what are people really going to do in the voting both? We don't know. We've never had this kind of experience. What will they really do? Will race be the issue that decides the vote? Will it be something that helps them figure it our or will they say wait a second; we need some change because the economy is awful. Something has got to give.

DOBBS: Is there any way in the world that he can ascribe -- I mean it's one thing to make what I consider frankly to be -- speaking of bone headed statements, that would be one of the biggest, but to suggest that he could quantify it and say it will cost four points in the race for Senator Obama. What do you think, Diana?

DIANA WEST, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: In terms of whether he can quantify this?

DOBBS: Well or whatever you'd like to answer.

WEST: Well I think that this has got -- this is a very -- we're at a very sad point because I am surprised at having made those comments about bitterly clinging to guns and religion, that Senator Obama would be ahead in these kinds of states that have a lot of small town voters.

DOBBS: Right. WEST: I find it amazing. I think that a lot of our traditional beliefs about the way people think and act are being shattered in this election. One of whom would be in a time of economic crisis, I am amazed that Americans seem to be turning to one, the one, Senator Obama of course, who is someone who embraces what I would increasingly describe as socialist policies. He spoke about it this week in terms of spreading wealth around.

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: Socialism and everything else...

WEST: Wait a second...

DOBBS: We'll be right back with our panel.

Also new charges of election fraud by the left wing activist group, ACORN, a federal appellate court defending the integrity of our voting system and an important battleground state, all of that and much more up here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: A victory for common sense tonight in Ohio. The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Ohio and Ohio secretary of state must come up with a new system to verify thousands of new voter registrations and of course to eliminate possible fraud. The appellate court saying the current system, quote, "is essentially useless". Mary Snow reports tonight from Cincinnati, Ohio. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, after initially fighting a court battle, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Bruner (ph) now says she will comply with that order by Friday. She must hand over to counties a list of new voters whose information does not match motor vehicle records or Social Security records.

She estimates at least 200,000 people may be affected. She had initially said that the state has already enough checks in place and she said that she feared that some voters would be penalized. But in this ruling today, the court is saying that nothing in this order will limit anyone's right to vote and at the very worst, it may actually mean that some people would have to vote for the provisional ballot. Lou?

DOBBS: Well in point of fact, what it does mean, especially what Secretary of State Bruner (ph) said, it means that in all likelihood that legitimate, lawful registered voters will not have their vote nullified by someone who is not eligible or legally registered to vote, correct?

SNOW: That's correct.

DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much, Mary Snow.

Well Republicans tonight say Secretary of State Jennifer Bruner (ph) has been playing politics with voter registrations with just 20 days to go before the election. Louise Schiavone has our report -- Louise.

LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, Democrats who are in Ohio's executive branch now have questioning about valid integrity have become just as nagging for them as they were for the GOP four years ago. Clouding the picture this time, the clumsiness of Ohio's voter registration process in a year when some 666,000 new voters have signed up to cast their ballots.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has called Ohio's Secretary of State Bruner (ph) on the carpet for assistance the state Republican Party calls, quote, "essentially useless, not unlike asking for a drink of water and being given access to a fire hose at full volume", end quote. But Bruner says the system is complicated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER BRUNNER, OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: Anything that is done to match our records with Social Security Administration's records is done through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIAVONE: State Republicans had warned a sign up and vote early program this month was too slap dash.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN DEWINE, DEP. CHAIR OHIO REP. PARTY: There's a great opportunity for people who otherwise shouldn't be allowed to vote to be able to cast a ballot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIAVONE: Lou, Ohio is not alone, these states also provide for same day registration and voting. In Ohio, 13,000 people registered for the first time and voted the first week of this month. Lou?

DOBBS: All right, Louise, thank you very much.

I want to turn to our panel here very quickly. Errol Louis, I mean we're talking about a secretary of state, in the case -- the Republican Administration Ken Blackwell (ph), in this case the Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat. I mean these two secretaries of states have been embarrassing in their partisanship, have they not?

LOUIS: Well yes, that's one problem with the voting system in Ohio and many other states. I think the other problem though Lou is that we have allocated billions of dollars to the Help America Vote Act for all kinds of technology, much of which has been disproven and is faulty. Ohio had to throw out all of their optical scan machines and replace them with something better.

DOBBS: Right.

LOUIS: Instead of spending money on systems, because as we're seeing now it's systems. It's not just a piece of hardware. It's how do you verify the address? How do you have enough staff to process the paperwork? How do you get the thing done?

DOBBS: Well they're going to have to find out because the appellate court said that what they were pulling was a joke.

We'll be right back. Up next, more new allegations of widespread election fraud against the radical left wing group ACORN. We'll have details.

And much more on the leading Democratic congressman who has called his own district racist. We'll have more on those stories and the presidential debate coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: New accusations tonight in the voter registration scandal that involves the radical left wing activist group ACORN. Michigan's attorney general is now investigating hundreds of suspected fraudulent voter registration forms and he has filed charges against at least one ACORN worker. Bill Tucker has our report -- Bill.

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, a voter registration worker with ACORN is behind bars in Jackson, Michigan. Antonio Johnson (ph), a convicted felon, is now charged with six counts of forgery for falsifying signatures on voter registration forms. He faces up to 14 years in prison on each count.

ACORN for its part says it does not tolerate its workers breaking the law and that anyone found doing so are fired, as has been Mr. Johnson. An ACORN spokesman also though tends to dismiss criticism of its voter registration work as politically motivated. It's a response however that rings hollow for critics of the group, including some who have been aligned with ACORN in the past.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREG HALL, TRUTH2POWER: The only response so far is, everybody's a liar but us, we're square just celebrate the voters, it's all these bad people that we've got over here doing all this wrong. It's not us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER: Now Hall thinks the ACORN leadership needs to take responsibility for its problems and put a stop to them. He and other critics point out this is not a first-time offense, but that ACORN voter registration drives have drawn attention in recent years because of the persistent fraudulent voter registration forms that are being submitted -- Lou.

DOBBS: All right, Bill, thank you very much. Bill Tucker.

In Pennsylvania, another key battleground state, also new allegations of voter registration fraud against ACORN. Drew Griffin is live in Philadelphia. He has the latest for us tonight -- Drew. DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, just echoing what Bill Tucker said. You know it's year after year that election officials are telling us they have a problem with ACORN. Now Philadelphia has sent 1,500 ACORN registration forms over to the U.S. attorney here for possible criminal investigation. They've tossed out another 6,200 that were just bad and by the time this election is over, they are saying that it probably is going to be around 10,000.

That's the number of registration forms handed in by ACORN that are just no good. And it's really mucking up the system as they try to process all the new applications for voters who really do want to legitimately vote in this election.

DOBBS: Drew, you have been reporting on this -- on ACORN for some time now. In the case of Philadelphia, 8,000 forms, that's what -- about 10 -- is that about 10 percent of what they have submitted?

GRIFFIN: Yes, they have, according to the election officials here, submitted 78,000 applications.

DOBBS: Yes.

GRIFFIN: Now I -- those numbers I gave you, Lou, were up until September and so everything processed after that, they won't be able to actually spit out until after the election. It's not to say that those voter -- those fraudulent voter registration cards are going to mean there's going to be fraudulent voters out there.

They just have put them aside. They'll deal with the criminal aspect of that later. But up to 10,000, I mean it's a big chunk of these registrations that have to be processed that they know they are just bad.

DOBBS: Absolutely. Well, Drew, thank you very much. Drew Griffin, appreciate it, reporting from Philadelphia.

Let me turn to you first, Hank Sheinkopf. This is a pattern, 13 states, it's ACORN. They've described themselves as nonpartisan, it's clear that they're supporting Barack Obama. It is clear they're a Democratic Party adjunct.

It is also clear that at least 40 percent of their funding that's being intermingled with other activities is coming from the federal government. This is nonsense. Why in the world is it being tolerated by either party?

SHEINKOPF: It's being tolerated by either party because both parties have a problem. They're not really parties. They don't get people out. They don't register them effectively and what they're doing is hiring vendors to do their work that they should be doing, number one. Number two...

DOBBS: Both parties are effectively cheating the system, cheating the American people, meanwhile claiming that they are representing the people's interests. SHEINKOPF: Both parties are not doing anything at all. And what they're doing is vending it out, like the Bush administration has done. It's the same game, Lou.

DOBBS: It's the same game, but this one is being carried out by the Democratic Party.

SHEINKOPF: No question about it.

DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much, Hank Sheinkopf.

Coming up here next, the market today plummets; the cost of the government's Wall Street bailout is soaring. We'll have the story for you.

And you won't believe what top executives of the troubled insurance giant AIG are doing with your taxpayer money. Corporate junkets to Europe. Better than California, at least for them. We'll tell you all about it, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT; news, debate and opinion. Here again, Mr. Independent, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: On Wall Street stocks today plunged on renewed fears of a weakening economy, the Dow Jones industrials plunging 733 points, closing at 8577. Today is the second largest point loss ever behind September 29th 777-point loss. The price of crude oil today dropping to less than $75 a barrel for the first time in more than a year, at least some good news to tell you about tonight. The Bush administration putting the cost of the federal bailout now of Wall Street banks at $850 billion, but in fact the cost to the American taxpayers will be much higher. Lisa Sylvester has our report -- Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, the federal government has committed a lot of taxpayer money in a very short time. Take a look at these figures. The $850 billion bailout passed by Congress, that includes to buy stakes in banks and to buy up toxic bank assets, $200 billion for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a $29 billion loan for Bear Stearns, $123 billion for AIG, $87 billion to repay JP Morgan Chase for providing financing after Lehman Brothers collapsed, $154 billion to purchase mortgaged back securities, $200 billion in bank loans through the Fed's auction facilities, $50 billion to set up commercial paper facilities, another $50 billion to insure money market funds, and on and on. All told, Lou, the bailout stands at $2.2 trillion. That's three times higher than what Secretary Paulson said it would originally cost.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are talking about adding $300 billion on top of that with a second stimulus package and the two presidential candidates are amazingly still promising that they will cut taxes. Obama wants to offer a refundable tax cut of 95 percent of workers and to eliminate income taxes for seniors who make less than $50,000 a year. McCain, for his part, he wants to cut corporate taxes from 35 percent to 25 percent and he's introduced a $300 billion plan to buy troubled mortgages. So there's a lot there, Lou.

DOBBS: There is a lot. At least it used to be. A couple of trillion dollars used to be a lot of money. I'm not sure given where we are today that anyone can even, I certainly can't, even begin to comprehend what these people are thinking about. Thank you very much, Lisa Sylvester.

Well, executives at AIG apparently have no qualms about spending taxpayer money on expensive corporate junkets. AIG executives just last week went on another junket, this time an exclusive partridge hunting trip to England. At the same time, taxpayers were loaning the company another $38 billion on top of that $85 billion loan to prop up the failing insurance giant.

AIG spent $86,000 on a trip attended by four of its executives and four guests. The story first reported on Britain's news of the world and according to that report, AIG executives made light of the company's trouble as they wined and dined at a luxury 17th century manor. It has to be a luxury 17th century manor if you're partridge hunting in England.

AIG was heavily criticized for spending half a million at a corporate retreat in California last month. They had said they had learned their lesson. An AIG spokesman confirming to us that the hunting trip did take place. He said the company regrets the event wasn't canceled. So I do want to pass on to you their regrets.

New charges today against Congressman Tim Mahoney in the scandal plagued 16th Congressional district in Florida. Congressman Mahoney was voted into office two years ago, after his predecessor Congressman Mark Foley was forced to resign over a scandal involving text messages to Congressional pages. Now Congressman Mahoney faces charges himself on charges of covering up an extramarital affair and paying hush money to the other woman and perhaps paying money to another woman as well. The list may go on as Kitty Pilgrim now reports -- Kitty?

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, today there were more allegations of wrongdoing. There were demonstrations outside Tim Mahoney's office in Florida both for and against the Congressman. The issue is, did he pay hush money to a former staffer, and if he did, were those payments legal?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's lied and we want to know the truth. Where did that money come from, Tim? You may be a sleaze ball. We know that because of your affair with this woman, and I understand other women which I won't go into. How were these women paid? From taxpayer dollars? Or from your campaign funds? Both of which are illegal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are a country based on innocent until proven guilty. He has not been proven guilty of this. The only thing he has admitted to is having affair.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PILGRIM: Now the Associated Press and ABC News are reporting another affair between Congressman Mahoney and a Martin County Florida official. The real question there also concerns money. The Congressman, because of the personal relationship, helped the county win a $3 million payout from FEMA. The Martin County administrator says he has no knowledge of any personal relationship. There was no preferential treatment in the FEMA payment. AP and ABC News are also reporting the FBI is allegedly asking for legal files on these issues. The FBI would not comment and Mahoney's office would not return calls, Lou.

DOBBS: I can't imagine why not. But there it is. Kitty, thank you very much.

Let's turn to the panel. Diana West, I mean Congressman Mahoney, I mean he's a busy little boy for a fellow who wanted to bring ethics and honor to a job that he said that Mark Foley had disgraced.

WEST: He's the Democrat who replaced the Republican scandal Congressman, now he's turned into the scandalous Democratic Congressman. This doesn't raise the same radar in the media however, even though we're talking about it here. There's no real ginned up upset. Similarly you know the Republicans were trounced for all kinds of economics malfeasants but we have Charlie Rangel in New York not generating any kind of waves about Democratic problems. Again, it's a very strange political season and, again, I think it's media dereliction.

DOBBS: Media dereliction? It sounds to me certainly without equivocation, it's Congressional dereliction and what about the prospects of a cover-up here in Congress?

LOUIS: Well, I don't know about a cover-up. I know that to the extent you get scandalous news, I mean trust me in New York Charlie Rangel was big news and the various investigations that he's going through and so forth. I think though that you know these ended up being 435 Congressional districts where the voters are going to make the decision. As we saw, there are people for and against this new scandal Congressman. Whether he stays or whether he goes, I think from a national perspective, I couldn't care less what they are doing down there, other than to see whether or not the majority in Congress is going to increase, whether or not the policies and the personnel are going to take the country in a direction that's going to matter to me. I think probably most people are using the same criteria.

DOBBS: Do you agree with that?

SHEINKOPF: How do you equate what Charlie Rangel did with the malfeasants in the government in Washington? I mean how do you that? That's off the edge.

WEST: Malfeasants among Congressmen.

SHEINKOPF: Corruption is bipartisan. Welcome to the world.

WEST: It's by partisan, of course, but it's not bipartisanly discussed, it's not bipartisanly -- the interest is not there.

SHEINKOPF: That's not accurate.

WEST: It is accurate.

DOBBS: We're a little less than three weeks away from the election, the partisanship is starting to ramp up a little bit. We'll be back with our panel in just a moment.

First we're going to put out a question to you. Our poll question tonight, my friends: Do you believe Senator McCain has to win the debate tonight if he is to win the election? Yes or no? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results here later in the broadcast.

Up next, Congressman Jack Murtha's assertion that racism will be playing a role in his home district during this election and Senator Obama gaining ground in critical swing states. We'll have much more. We'll be talking with our panel as we prepare for the finest political team in television to present to you tonight's presidential debate. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Senator Obama leading Senator McCain in electoral votes now in several key battleground states. Joining us now for more on what is happening in those swing states with the very latest in polling as well is our John King. John, what's giving Senator Obama what is obviously momentum?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, overwhelmingly it is the financial crisis that has several key constituencies trending Obama's way. And big debate tonight, 19 days of campaigning left. But Lou as you look at the map, here is where we are. We now project Obama leading in states with 277 electoral votes. That of course seven more than 270 you need to win and John McCain now significantly behind.

Again, there is time for Senator McCain to change this map but let's just give me one scenario. I'll give you one scenario of how bleak the map is for Senator McCain right now. Six toss up states left. They're the gold states on our map, all carried George W. Bush four years ago. Let's say John McCain won them all. Florida, 27 electoral votes, North Carolina, 15 there, Ohio, a big battleground 20, Missouri, I just came back from this state, Lou 11 electoral votes there, Colorado, out in the west, nine, let's give that to Senator McCain and Nevada lastly over here in the west, that's five. Even if Senator McCain wins all the toss ups left, Barack Obama will be unless McCain can change something else the next president of the United States. So McCain has a significant challenge.

The easiest way to put the map of big back on his favor is to take Virginia back. We just moved that to lean Obama today based on the new polling there Lou and here is what is significant in Virginia. As you know the population growth has been up here in the Washington suburbs. Barack Obama leading almost by 60-40 in the suburbs in northern Virginia, more Democratic voters there. John Kerry did OK up in the northern suburbs. But Barack Obama now winning by a bigger margin. Significantly as well down here in southeast Virginia, yes, you have an African-American population in the Norfolk and Hampton Roads area, but you also have a significant military and retired population in the coastal areas of Virginia as well. Barack Obama winning in this area by a nearly 60 to 40 margin.

And Lou, you mention them quite a bit on the program so I'll close with this footnote. Among independents in the state of Virginia and more and more Americans of course say they don't affiliate with either party. Barack Obama leading 48 percent to 41 percent. If Obama can keep that edge among independent voters here in the state and he's picking up ground among independents elsewhere, a very steep hill for Senator McCain as we enter the last month of campaigning.

DOBBS: All right. John, thank you very much. John King, putting it very clearly, the challenge to Senator McCain.

Errol, what do you think? Is there any way in which one can reasonably expect Senator McCain to overcome given all that is prologued here, two previous debates, the campaign, any reasonable expectation he can turn things around?

LOUIS: I don't know about an expectation but we know from history, after just one debate in 1976, Ronald Reagan made up 20 points. He just swept through and unseated Jimmy Carter as president of the United States. So in theory it can happen.

I think what you have here though is this split message where John McCain desperately needs to reach out to independent voters for all the reasons John King just outlined. And yet the places where they're looking, they're looking in New Hampshire, they're looking in Iowa, they're looking in Pennsylvania. Those are not places that his message is necessarily going to resonate.

I think that you know when you have Sarah Palin going in there and kind of throwing out the red meat to those Republican base, at the same time they're turning off those very independents that are crucial to an actual victory. So I think they've got to get their story straight and figure out where they want to take it. I think we'll start to hear some of that. I mean perhaps we'll hear that in tonight's debate, where he wants to go with his few days left.

DOBBS: Hank as a Democratic strategist, I want to just raise one thing with you. One of the tests, it seems to me of Obama's strength right now was the much reported encounter with a plumber, in the rope line and the plumber asked him about raising taxes. Obama acknowledged that he was going to raise his taxes then he's going to spread the wealth around through the tax system, he believes that that's appropriate. And there's been no impact. Not even a whisper in reaction.

It is clear from the Obama tax plan that he is in point of fact, even though just about 40 percent of all Americans, working Americans don't pay taxes, those folks are going to be getting checks, there's going to be tax credits for a host of issues. None of that is registering with independent voters. Independent voters seem to be buying into that. Does that surprise you?

SHEINKOPF: It does surprise me. Remember Walter Mondale in 1984? He said don't worry, I'm going to tell you the truth, I'm going to raise your taxes and he got killed. Here's the bottom line Lou. What is more important is what voters pay attention to. They only have limited room like any other human being for news that's not necessary and what they see is a Dow that is falling. They see an economy that is in indeed in trouble and that's all they're paying attention to and that means change it right away, please. And Obama has a different kind of rhetoric and much better rhetoric on that quite frankly than McCain does.

DOBBS: Is there anything in your judgment that you think McCain can do to reverse it?

WEST: Yes, I think there are many things McCain could do to reverse this. Namely, I'm not sure that he will do it, I'm not sure he will do these things, but it has surprised me that the economic crisis is actually solidified and extended Senator Obama's lead. Namely because so much of the problems that resulted in these sub prime mortgage meltdowns are things that come right out of Senator Obama's colleagues in the senate, policies toward not reigning in Fannie Mae which is one of the lead culprits in all of this.

DOBBS: He might not be able to do that, because it takes too long. Is there anything that you expect McCain to do tonight?

WEST: I expect him to raise ACORN and Senator Obama's ties to ACORN and I expect him to try to lay out the reason that Bill Ayers is an issue because of his ideologies.

DOBBS: We're going to be back with our panel in just a moment.

A reminder to vote in our poll. The question s my friends, do you believe Senator McCain has to win the debate tonight if he is to win the election? Yes or no? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results upcoming.

Next, the final presidential debate an hour away. We'll be going to Hofstra University for a live report. We'll be back with our panel to figure out exactly what Senator McCain must do and Senator Obama must not do. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Presidential candidates set to face off in what will be their last presidential debate before the election. Jessica Yellin joins us now from Hofstra University. Jessica, what are the candidates strategies as we understand them tonight?

YELLIN: Well for John McCain, the goal tonight is to make people take another look at Barack Obama. Aides say they want him to focus on the issues, but they also want him to delve into these questions, who is this man, will he raise taxes, what will his priorities be in the Oval Office. This is his last chance to address a huge national audience face to face with Barack Obama and make people question who this man, Barack Obama is, as the McCain campaign puts it.

For Obama's challenge, very different. The pressure is on for him to essentially make no mistakes. He doesn't need to do anything memorable, he just needs to be even keeled and even tempered because he has such a significant lead. He has done well in these past debates and he wants to emphasize this campaign message that Barack Obama offers steady leadership and John McCain as they put it is erratic. It's a message you and I have talked about for several nights now.

One thing that's very interesting and different tonight, Lou, both men will be seated and it's the first time they will be debating one another in such close proximity which changes the dynamic. It makes it both more tense if they do attack each other but it also makes it much more awkward. Experienced politicians say it's much more difficult to attack somebody in a debate when they're seated so close to one another and both men say they have practiced so they know what it's like to debate in this kind of format and it will allow him to mix it up much more. They will each answer questions for two minutes, they'll get two minutes on each side to answer a question and then five minutes to have some sort of free form debate. They really do have an opportunity to get into it if they choose to -- Lou?

DOBBS: That puts a lot of pressure on the moderator, tonight Bob Schieffer of CBS. Jessica, thank you very much, Jessica Yellin as we get ready for the debate there at Hofstra University.

We're back with Diana West, Errol Louis, Hank Sheinkopf.

Hank, you were shaking your head there as Jessica was talking about John McCain. What's your view?

SHEINKOPF: It's not working, this negative attack, this prances of the stage like a tiger about to maul is not working, talking about the economy, that's what people care about. That's why those numbers are drifting. Talk about the economy, give us a plan, that's the balance argument, Lou.

DOBBS: What do you think, Diane?

WEST: I think he should talk about the economy, but I think there's a coherent argument he needs to make that to show that this is not just a race between a man who wants to tax and spend and a man who wants to tax and spend less.

We have learned over these past weeks is that there are connections in Obama's past between the people that have come up, the Bill Ayers, the Jeremiah Wrights, that needs to be explained. He needs a narrative for people to understand why it is indeed dangerous, dangerous ideology that comes with a Barack Obama presidency.

LOUIS: You know if he does that Diana I think he might as well end his campaign tonight. I think the voters have told pollsters in every possible way, I mean if you look at what's happening in Virginia, I mean, for Obama to be up ten points in a state that's never gone Democrat in the last generation, what people are saying is, we have heard it, we don't care. There's been millions of hits on these websites where there have been I don't know how many thousands of hours spent on right wing talk radio going over this stuff. They've been doing for the last year. It does not mean anything to people. I mean if he were to do that tonight it would be fatal.

WEST: He hasn't done it. He hadn't presented a coherent case. He has not presented that case. I don't know if he knows how.

DOBBS: Tax and spend and tax and spend less. As Lisa Sylvester tonight reported, $2.2 trillion in federal spending and more pork from the Congress. I mean we have reached this is a surreal level of government spending that swamped any of the old concepts about tax and spend liberals and prudent, if you will, responsibility Republicans. Both of them have moved into a whole new era, as have we all, unfortunately.

We'll be right back with our panel. We will be going to the final presidential debate, at Hofstra University in about an hour. Just how aggressive will McCain be in this debate and how aggressive can Obama afford to be. Stay with us, we're coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: We're back with Diane West, Errol Louis, Hank Sheinkopf. Hank, we're watching a tremendous Talmud in this country, the markets, we're watching government nationalize banks, your thoughts?

SHEINKOPF: Not good. We're going to see if this trend continues can complete change the electoral map, the demographic map, the financial map, government control of business, this is something even Eisenhower warned us about. He said beware of the military investment complex on the way out the door. Now the military industrial complex is us. Now what's going to happen, who know?

DOBBS: And you're saying irrespective of party we're looking at a corporate hysteria?

SHEINKOPF: It does not matter which party is in control. This is a corporate hysteria and that does not bode well for democracy over time unless somebody gets control of it.

DOBBS: Errol?

LOUIS: A gigantic mismatch. Government is being asked to do more and more and more, but as you reported just tonight, the systems by which we pick our leaders, by which we run our elections are so fatally flawed. I mean they're weak, they're unreliable, they're subjects of manipulation. We have some real deep thinking that has to get done. When you ask the candidates about it, they're saying talk to me in my second term. Right now I've just got to win this election. That doesn't bode well; it's going to have to be up to the citizens to fix the things that the political system doesn't want to address.

DOBBS: The combination of power between corporations and government, are overwhelming our lives in every respect. This isn't what the Republicans have in mind, or the Democrats have in mind, nor the conservatives or necessarily the liberals. What is going on in your view?

WEST: I think part of it is an infantilization (ph) of the human spirit. I think that we're looking for governments for the answers. It's a vicious cycle. It makes you look more and more to government for the answers and it's very frightening. What Hank and Errol are both saying is correct.

DOBBS: Looking to government, but too many people are looking to slamming at the market. We have seen excess and absurdity in both of these political parties, yet as everyone goes to these polls here on the 4th of November they're going to be talking about themselves as Republicans and Democrats, talking about issues as if there were some distinction here and none of these distinctions and definitions honoring a changed world as you described it, both political, economic and governmental.

SHEINKOPF: We have a real problem. Someone needs to provide extraordinary leadership. We need Churchill or someone like Roosevelt in the time of extraordinary crisis and because of the changes we have put in place they protect us in the real crisis. Either one of these men wants to be president. The question you have to ask yourself is why would you want to walk into a tornado?

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Errol Louis. Thank you very much Hank Sheinkopf, Diana West. Appreciate you all being here.

Tonight's poll results: Two-thirds of you say Senator McCain has to win the debate tonight if he is to win this presidential election. We thank you for being with us tonight. CNN's special coverage of debate night in America continues right now with Wolf Blitzer and Campbell Brown with a special edition of the ELECTION CENTER. -- Wolf? -- Campbell?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Lou,

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