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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

The Next President; Battlegrounds

Aired October 18, 2008 - 21:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN MCGRAW, MISSOURI VOTER: Even the states we're in right now, we need some difference.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDDIDATE: Senator McCain has not offered a single thing that he would do different from George W. Bush.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama wants to raise your taxes. Raising taxes makes a bad economy much worse.

MCGRAW: I feel like I've had an opportunity of being a part of history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome. I'm John King, in St. Louis, Missouri.

With just over two weeks left in this remarkable presidential campaign, it is without a doubt, advantage Barack Obama. But John McCain has been written off more than once before and promising yet another come back. Where does the race stand nationally, here in Missouri and across the key battle grounds? We will explore that question over the next hour with help from the best political team on television. We'll also recap the debate and map out the third and final presidential debates and map out the stakes for the final stretch.

We are here because nowhere is the race for president closer than in Missouri. This state represents a cross section of America, both urban and rural, with mid-western and southern cultural influences. It is the transition point between the eastern and western United States.

In the last 100 years, Missouri picked the presidential winner all but once. Like several other big battleground states, close races are often settled in the suburbs.

When we came here eight years ago, we found evidence then-Governor Bush was holding his own because of voters like Susan McGraw, who at the end of the Clinton administration told us she wanted something different.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCGRAW: I just feel he is a little bit more honest. He just seems to have more credibility. To me when I hear Gore, I so often that it feels like he is so political and he just wants to be giving the right answers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And now, with the Bush administration winds down, there is talk of change in the suburbs once again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCGRAW: Do you need anything else?

MOLLY MCGRAW, DAUGHTER OF SUSAN: No.

KING: Getting Molly off to school is part of the routine.

MCGRAW: When are you going to find out about staying after?

KING: A push to stay late for extra credit. A few jokes about the election now just three weeks away.

MCGRAW: Who are you voting for?

KING: In Susan McGraw's rearview mirror, two votes for George W. Bush. But in this campaign struggle for the suburbs, she is leaning Obama despite scoring things in McCain's favor on issues like leadership and experience.

MCGRAW: I feel like the state we are in right now, we need something different. To get different, you have to do different. That's why I'm leaning towards him.

KING: The big diverse states like Missouri, those elections are usually decided in the suburbs. And three weeks out, McCain has a problem here and in other key battleground states. Republicans don't expect to win among suburban women, but the margin matters. Four years ago, Democrat John Kerry had just a narrow edge, 51 percent to 48 percent, and President Bush won re-election. But the latest CNN polling shows Barack Obama with a big 56 percent to 44 percent lead among suburban women nationally, and running ahead of McCain, 55 to 42 percent here in the pivotal St. Louis suburbs.

Among the reasons are significant doubts about the woman he chose to share the ticket.

MCGRAW: I'm not so rah rah Obama, but Sarah Palin, I feel like when she talks, she was like, OK, John, I pulled that one off. This is too important. I hate to say it, but Sarah Palin has really -- she scares me.

KING: Stacy Newman feels the same and said picking Palin hurt McCain with a key target constituency, women who voted for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries.

Newman is a long-time Democrat who says the Obama campaign has done little to reach out to Clinton supporters.

STACY NEWMAN, MISSOURI VOTER: I don't know if it's the arrogance woo that we are voting Democratic anyway.

KING: While she was an all but certain Democratic vote in any event, Newman says friends who were once open to considering McCain are contributing to a blog opposing the McCain-Palin ticket.

NEWMAN: So it's been more of the -- the Palin in terms of inciting us to realize that, wait a minute, we have to support the Democrat, even though we are not as emotionally tied.

KING: McGraw's neighborhood features a competition of lawn signs and the fight for her vote involves much more than doubts about Governor Palin.

Four years ago, security concerns kept her in the Bush camp. But this year, pocketbook issues carry sway with this divorced mother of two who said energy and health care costs are squeezing the budget.

MCGRAW: And I keep getting these bills saying, humph, sorry. You are 53 and you are single and, guess what, we're going to raise your premium again, and my deductible, it's like I might as well not have insurance.

KING: One voice, but an important message. A suburban Bush voter leading strongly the other way now because she didn't get what she expected, and thinks it's probably best to try something different.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Let's check in now with two members of the best political team in television. CNN's Dana Bash is following the McCain campaign in Florida. And in Washington, CNN's Jessica Yellin, who has been covering the Obama campaign.

Jessica, let me start with you. If you go into the suburbs and heard Susan, not rah rah Obama, but probably going to vote that way. The support is soft. It's more anti-Republican than pro Obama. How does the Obama campaign address that to solidify these votes in the final two weeks?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The Obama campaign is targeting women like her, John, because they know she is looking to vote on the economy and health care in particular. She brought it up there. They believe the health care message swings not just the suburban voters, but especially suburban women. And Barack Obama is talking about mammographies, pregnancy and how health care can change these women's lives. His health care reform, that is what he will talk about in the closing days targeting exactly the women you interviewed.

KING: So, Dana, how does McCain counter that? You were with him in the Philadelphia suburbs just the other day. It's the same dynamic. How does McCain reach out to suburban women and those Hillary Clinton voters? DANA BASH, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: At the beginning, when they first picked Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign certainly thought that she would help with those women, but you just illustrated it pretty explicitly that it's not necessarily doing that.

Basically, what they have been trying to do with Sarah Palin in particular is target her in some of the smaller towns, the more rural towns with blue collar voters, for example, those voters that Clinton did well with. With regard to the suburban women, John, it's not just female targeted and it's just targeted towards the suburban voters in general. Basically, Barack Obama is going to raise your taxes. That's what he is going to say over and over.

KING: That's the fight for the suburbs. Let's look more globally in the final two weeks. Beginning with you, Jessica, Obama has the advantage. What do they think is the biggest strategic imperative in the final stretch?

YELLIN: They are going into the red states and they are targeting John McCain's economic message hard, linking him as much as possible to George Bush. In places like Virginia and Missouri, where you are, in North Carolina, folks there who might vote for Barack Obama are not voting for him because they like everything he represents and they know that. So they are not selling their broad change message, we'll look like a new America, you know, a new liberal agenda.

What they are doing is saying you hate George Bush. John McCain is George Bush again, and I am different. That's the message they send home as much as possible. They know that Barack Obama -- some of these folks will never -- let me put it this way. Hillary Clinton said in a rally recently, we are not asking you to marry Barack Obama. We are asking you to vote for him. You don't got to love him, but they are selling the message, he will be better.

KING: Dana, Jessica makes a critical point that Barack Obama is on offense and John McCain on defense in so many of the red states carried by George W. Bush four years ago. You are in one of them in the state of Florida. Many others are in play. What is the McCain strategy to try to change the map with two weeks left?

BASH: They really don't think they can change the map in particular. I think they want to keep the map the way it was in 2004. That, obviously a huge challenge. Look at what John McCain is doing this weekend. He is on defense. And not just Florida, but it's the state of North Carolina, the state of Virginia. He is going on to Ohio. Those are all states that George Bush won.

The critical challenge for McCain is kind of interesting in that the organizational tools that Republicans have and they've built up and all of these in all of these battleground states, all of these states where he shouldn't be doing poorly, like Virginia and North Carolina, they don't have as deep of an organizational structure because they haven't had to compete there, at least certainly not in the past eight years or more.

KING: More from Dana and Jessica a bit later in the program. And when we come back, what will it take for either candidate to carry Missouri. We will get insight on this states political DNA.

Plus, the candidate go one final round face-to-face.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In 2004, President Bush won Missouri by a seven-point margin. So what does it take to win this diverse state? Here's a breakdown.

Missouri carries a modest number of electoral votes, just 11, yet has always been a key bellwether in presidential politics. It is part location. Geographically, in the center of America. It is partly its track record. In 26 of the last 27 elections all the way back to 1900, the winner of Missouri has gone on to win the White House.

Let's look at the critical areas for Democrats. It begins in St. Louis. Democrats need to win big in St. Louis county and city. In the city, African-American turn out is key. In the county, suburban women, other suburban voters are critical. Democrats need to run up big margins there to have a chance to carry the state statewide.

Other key areas of Democratic support, Columbia and College Town and Kansas City, key areas for the Democrats to win. But look at all this red. We are looking back at four years ago, George W. Bush carrying the state with 53 percent of the vote. Not many people live out here, but look at the margins, out in the rural areas, George W. Bush 63 to 33 percent. Let's just skip to another county, Douglas county, 71 to 28 percent.

Why is this so important? This is farm country and Christian conservative country. In rural southern Missouri, you have evangelical Christians, farmers in rural areas, key to the Republican coalition.

To go back in time, a Democrat has not carried the state since 1996 when Bill Clinton was reelected president. Look how much different it looks. Bill Clinton performing well down towards his home state in Arkansas. Also, in the rural counties, up in here. Remember all that blue up here, this is 1996. This is 2004. You can see if Barack Obama can turn some of this blue in 2008, he will have a chance, again, in a critical bellwether state.

Joining me from Washington, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, and Democratic pollster, Anna Greenburg.

Neil, let me start with you. If President Bush carried by seven points and John McCain is in a dead heat in our polling now, who is he missing? Who voted for Bush four years ago that is not voting for John McCain right now?

NEIL NEWHOUSE, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: It comes down to the independent voters and the voters in the middle. It's independents and it is swing Democrats. George W. Bush was able to move over to his side simply because they didn't like John Kerry. In this election, we've had a difficult time moving those voters. When you look at the data, you look at Obama winning about 94 percent of the Democratic vote. The last election was closer to 88 percent, the Democratic vote. What we are missing this time is the swing Democratic voters, rural conservatives, especially in Missouri. And we are missing some of those independents.

Anna Greenburg, when you go to the suburbs and you find the swing voters, the classic swing voters, many say there are for Barack Obama. But they are not pro Obama so much, they are not secure Obama. They are anti-Republican and tired of George W. Bush. What does Barack Obama have to do in the final two weeks to make sure they don't drift back?

ANNA GREENBURG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: One of Obama's challenges has been to capture the anti-Republican, anti-Bush feeling in the country and the dissatisfaction with the economy and the war in Iraq. But also, reassure and comfort people that he is someone they can feel comfortable with. One of the reasons why we have seen this race open up, why we're seeing a competitive race in Missouri is because he's actually been able to that, I think both through the debates, all three debates, and through the advertising where he's doing one and two-minute ads straight to camera, talking about his plans. He has needed to reassure the voters that he will be a president that represents everybody, that shares their values.

KING: Neil, Anna hit on a key point talking about Barack Obama on camera, these longer advertisements. How much does resources factor in to where the race stands right now?

NEWHOUSE: I used to say that resources in a presidential campaign don't make that much difference because the campaigns are driven by the media, by CNN and broadcast TV. This election cycle, over the last couple week, we have seen what the Democratic advantage really means for Barack Obama. It's an extraordinary advantage. He is out spending John McCain by 2-1 in the key states.

The ability for Barack Obama to get his message across unfiltered with those longer ads, I think is a significant advantage for Obama in the campaign.

KING: Let me ask you about the Republican coalition. When you look at the polling now compared to four years ago, think about southern and rural Missouri, those evangelical voters, who in the Bush-Rove strategy made the difference twice, are they there for John McCain with the same intensity they were there for George W. Bush?

GREENBURG: I don't think so. Some of it has to do with a lot of reasons and for John McCain himself. He has never been a natural candidate for evangelical voters. Some of it has to do with the economy, some of it has to do with Iraq. I think that we saw, in the Claire McCaskill race, where she actually did -- she didn't win the rural areas, but she did much better in rural areas than Democrats had done previously since 1996. She demonstrates a strategy for reaching out to rural voters in Missouri that could be successful for Obama.

KING: More from Neil and Anna a bit later in the program.

But up next, John McCain and Barack Obama tell us why they think they have the goods to chart a new course for the country.

Later, where the candidates are playing defense and offense on the electoral map. "THE NEXT PRESIDENT: BATTLEGROUNDS" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In their third and final debate in New York Wednesday night, Barack Obama and John McCain clashed on issues ranging from the economy and taxes to the increasingly negative tone of the presidential campaign. The Republican candidate pressed his Democratic opponent with some tough talk.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCCAIN: Senator Obama, I am not president Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.

I'm going to give a new direction to this economy and this country. Senator Obama talks about voting for budgets. You voted twice for a budget resolution that increases the taxes on individuals making $42,000 a year. Of course, we can take a hatchet and a scalpel to this budget. It's completely out of control.

The mayor of New York, Mayor Bloomberg, just imposed an across-the- board spending freeze in New York City. They are doing it all over American because they have to. They have to balance their budgets. I will balance our budgets and I will get them and I will reduce this -- we can do it with this kind of job creation of energy independence.

Look, Americans are hurting tonight and they are angry. And I understand that. We want a new direction. I can bring them in that direction by eliminating spending. Senator Obama talks about the budgets I voted for. He voted for the last two budgets that had $24 billion more in spending than the budget that the Bush administration proposed. He voted for the energy bill that was full of goodies for the oil companies that I opposed.

So the fact is, let's look at our records, Senator Obama. Let's look at what is graded by the National Taxpayer's Union and the Citizen Against Government Waste and the other watch dog organizations. I have fought against spending. I have fought against special interests. I have fought for reform. You have to tell me one time when you have stood up to the leaders of your party on one single major issue.

OBAMA: There's a lot of stuff that was put out there, so let me try to address it. In terms of standing up to the leaders of my party, the first major bill voted on in the Senate was in support of tort reform, which wasn't very popular with trail lawyers, a major constituency in the Democratic Party.

MCCAIN: An upcoming vote.

OBAMA: I support charter schools and pay for performance for teachers. It doesn't make me popular with the Teacher's Union. I support clean coal technology. It doesn't make me popular with the environmentalists. So I have a history of reaching across the aisle.

With respect to a couple of things Senator McCain said, the notion that I voted for a tax increase for people making $42,000 a year has been disputed by everybody who looked at this claim that Senator McCain makes. Even FOX News disputes it. That doesn't happen very often when it happens to come to accusations about me.

So the fact of the matter is that if I occasionally mistaken your policies for George Bush's it's because, on the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of president Bush.

Now, you have shown independence, commendable independence on issues like torture, for example, and I give you enormous credit for that. But when it comes to economic policies, essentially what you are proposing is eight more years of the same thing. And it hasn't worked. And I think the American people understand it hasn't worked. We need to move in a new direction.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Here to assess round three and where the campaign stands now, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, Donna Brazile, CNN political analyst Gloria Borger, and Republican strategist and CNN contributor Ed Rollins.

Ed, let me start with you. By far, I thought McCain's best debate performance, but if he is trying to say I'm not George Bush, he has a problem, doesn't he?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He does. It was by far his best debate performance. He tried for knockouts and he didn't quite score them. He threw good punches, but Barack jabbed and moved and kept him off guard. I think, at the end of the day, the post-election polls and what have you gave Obama the edge.

More important, this could not be a tie. This was one that had to be a game changer. And I don't think John was able to do that. He missed some opportunities too on some of the tax stuff, and some of the -- the spread the wealth was a good remark that he could have played with. But it took him two tries to get to it. And that would help describe what Obama's policies will be.

KING: Donna Brazile, I have to assume in the first 30 minutes or so, everybody thought that McCain was were pushing on offense and had Obama back on his heels in those first 30 minutes, were you getting worried?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No. Every minute spent attacking Obama is a minute John McCain couldn't make a connection with the undecided swing voters. The attacks we have seen with the polls and other evidence will not work. Voters are not interested in seeing the candidates attack each other. They want to hear about their plans for the economy and their plans for the future. And every minute John McCain spent hitting Obama, he really missed scoring a point with voter who really want to know what his plans are.

KING: But, Gloria, he has no choice but to hit Obama. Obama is out spending him, in some cases, 5-1 on TV ads. The polls are going against McCain. What were his options going into the final debate?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. He had no other option. He had to distinguish himself on the economy and sort of raise questions about whether Barack Obama will be a risky president. The Democrats I was talking to, maybe they are not the ones Donna was talking to, but they were pretty nervous the first 30 or 40 minutes of this debate because Obama seemed a little flat. He was unflappable. But then when John McCain started talking about Bill Ayers and Obama, and started getting personal, he fell off a cliff. And the Democrats felt that Obama reacted very well to that. He got his mojo back a little bit towards the end of the debate.

KING: Ed, to Gloria's point there, Obama comes into these debates with a different challenge than McCain did, all three of them. Obama, the fundamentals and the wind are at his back. He just needed to get across the safe threshold, the comfort level threshold. Was McCain -- could he do anything in this final round to keep him from that?

ROLLINS: What he could have done is he could have restored this confidence factor he had earlier in the campaign. He was the commander in chief. He was the man who obviously people trusted. In the course of three debates, I think Obama reached that threshold.

Starting this campaign, the strategy was to wrap Bush around McCain. They did that. He was not able to escape that. The second thing they've tried to make over the last several weeks is John McCain's behavior is somewhat erratic. Not that his words made him erratic, but the facial expressions and some of the things that people get to see. He seemed angry through the night. And I think, to a certain extent, that gives a perception of a man not quite as much in control as he should be, whereas Barack was very much in control.

KING; Donna, to Ed's point about to wrap McCain around George W. Bush or wrap George W. Bush around McCain, however you want to wrap it up, the financial crisis has help Barack Obama because the president is in then news everyday, perhaps more than any debate performance. Is that fair?

BRAZILE: Absolutely, it's fair. John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. And when he says I'm not George Bush, well, he sounds like a Democrat who, of course, have complained about George Bush's leadership on the war and George Bush's leadership on the economy overall.

But look, Senator Obama's goal throughout the last three debates was to assure voter who is had doubts to lead in time of crisis. He came across in the past debate as someone who is steady. For voters who are concerned about the level of experience, again, he used the debate to lay out his economic plans and his vision for the future on education and health care. These debates have been good for Senator Obama and the Democrats. BORGER: I think though, John, that Obama missed some opportunities there during the debate, which is what concerned Democrats to take on McCain on the issue of the middle class or class warfare. I was talking to one Democrat who said when John McCain raised class warfare, Obama should have come back and said the only class that is hurting now is the middle class. Those are the people that I'm fighting for.

In an effort to play it safe, which I think Barack Obama was doing, I think he missed some opportunities there. Did it do him any harm? Absolutely not. Did the debates help him? Absolutely.

KING: Gloria, Donna and Ed, stand by.

Just ahead, the strategy behind Joe the plumber. Will McCain's message of Joe the plumber connect him with working class voters? THE NEXT PRESIDENT: BATTLEGROUNDS continues after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The spotlight was on John McCain and Barack Obama, but it turns out the star of Wednesday night's final debate turned out to be, well, just an "average Joe." Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA, 2008 REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: A couple of days ago Sen. Obama was out in Ohio, and he had an encounter with a guy who's a plumber. His name is Joe Wurzelbacher.

Joe, I want to tell you, I'll not only help you buy that business that you worked your whole life for, and I'll keep your taxes low, and I'll provide available and affordable health care for you and your employees - what you want to do to Joe the plumber and millions more like him is have their taxes increased and not be able to realize the American Dream of owning their own business.

We're going to take Joe's money, give it to Sen. Obama, and let him spread the wealth around.

Talk about Joe the plumber, if you're out there, my friend, and you've got employees and you've got kids, if you don't get - adopt the health care plan that Sen. Obama mandates, he's going to fine you. I don't think that Joe right now wants to pay a fine when he is seeing such difficult times in America's economy.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm happy to talk to you, Joe, too, if you're out there. Here's your fine - zero. You won't pay...

MCCAIN: Zero?

OBAMA: ... a fine. Joe, if you want to do the right thing with your employees, and you want to provide them health insurance, we'll give you a 50 percent credit so that you will actually be able to afford it. MCCAIN: Joe, you're rich. Congratulations. Because what Joe wanted to do was buy the business that he's been working for 10, 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and you said that you wanted to "spread the wealth," in other words, take Joe's money and then you decide what to do with it.

OBAMA: All I want to do if you've already got health care, is lower your costs. That includes you, Joe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We are back with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger and Republican strategist and CNN contributer Ed Rollins.

Gloria, an average Joe became the star of the debate. Who won Joe's vote do you think?

CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST GLORIA BORGER: You know, it's hard to say. I mean, I think they both were struggling over Joe's vote.

I think that it's clear that what John McCain was trying to do was to tell those undecided voters out there - pollsters I talk to say they are lower income women, many of them minimum wage workers and blue- collar men -- to say to those folks, the average Joe, "I'm with you. I'm a different kind of Republican. I'm the one who is going to help you really run that small business you want," and make Obama seem like a captive of the elite, if you will, or somebody who is into spreading the wealth rather than making wealth for people at the bottom end, rather than lifting them up. So, tough argument.

KING: And, Donna, if you look at Sen. Obama's record, you can fairly make the case that he is to the left of John Kerry, to the left of Al Gore, maybe even to the left of Michael Dukakis. As a Democratic strategist, why do you think the McCain campaign has been less effective or not as effective as it needs to be in making that case?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Because people are hurting, John, and they are not look at who is to the left, especially if you are left when your party voted to raise the minimum raise, make college loans more affordable. I think these labels and in a political environment that we are currently experiencing, these labels are just falling on deaf ears. Voters want change. They want a new direction; they want a government that functions, that is competent, and they want a president who will lead the country and help the middle class, and I think the reason why Sen. Obama is doing so well with those voters now is that they have connected the dots.

They are looking at their wallets on one hand, and they are worried about their future -- not just their future, but the future of the country and the future of how they are going to put their kids through school. That's why Sen. Obama is doing well.

KING: Is she right, Ed? Is Donna right in the sense that you came to town with Ronald Reagan back in 1980. You were on the flip side of this debate. Democrats said he was way out there on the right, he was too conservative, he was radical, he was risky, and Ronald Reagan, of course, swept into Washington in a landslide victory. Is Obama in a similar position?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he's in a similar position. The interesting thing about this debate - the first debate was all about "my friend." John McCain said that about 20 times or plus.

The second debate was "I'm going to fight for you," and the third debate was "my friend Joe the plumber, who I'm going to fight for," which I think is a very powerful message he's going to use the last couple weeks, meaning Joe is "ordinary Joe," guys out there who work every day.

The more telling comment of that, as I said earlier, was the "spread the wealth." What that means is you are going to take money away from people who have earned it and give it to those that not necessarily have earned it, and I think that is the issue that McCain needs to talk about for the next two weeks and may have some connection.

That was the Reagan message - lower taxes, let people who work and are producers produce.

BORGER: I think the tax message is the most cogent message that John McCain has, but every time he says Barack Obama is going to raise your taxes, Barack Obama now has had three opportunities before huge audiences to say, "Only if you earn over $250,000 a year."

So it depends on whom Americans choose to believe on that argument, but it's a good argument for John McCain to make and also to say Barack Obama, with the liberals in Congress, is certainly going to raise your taxes.

BRAZILE: Let's talk about big spenders. We have been led to almost $10 trillion by the Republicans, who have borrowed from an account that we don't even own.

So I think, again, to throw around all of these labels, "liberals," "radicals," "risky," when people are looking for common sense leadership, they're looking for someone who has a plan - not just to bail out the banks on Wall Street, but to bail out small businesses, to help states and localities meet their payroll. They are looking for solutions, so I don't think these labels will work.

ROLLINS: The labels don't work if you don't define them. I mean, what you have to basically say -- and it's nice to say it's all Republicans or all Bush that raise the deficit. I mean the truth of the matter is we've got a lot of spending programs that are automatic that are there every year and that are untouchable - Medicare, Social Security, those kinds of things - and I think the reality is that you have to define what a liberal is or what a right-winger is or a conservative is, and I don't think either one did this election.

More important, the voters want leadership. They want someone who is not going to be a part of the Washington establishment, and Barack has very effectively grabbed that mantle "I'm the agent of change" against people who have been there for a long period of time, and it's worked.

KING: Ed Rollins, Donna Brazile, Gloria Borger, thank you all, and when The Next President: Battlegrounds returns, could turnout by African-American voters tip the scales here in Missouri?

Plus, 270 is the magic number for John McCain and Barack Obama. We'll break down the electoral map.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In close races the winner can usually look back and find that little extra that made the difference. For President Bush, it was loyal support and strong turnout from evangelical voters.

This year, it is Camp Obama that thinks it has that little extra as African-American voters here and in other key battleground states see the opportunity to help make history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: At Afro World in inner city St. Louis, Barack Obama is both the candidate of choice and a bestseller.

SHEILA FORREST, ST. LOUIS BUSINESS OWNER: With sales being down and other parts of the business -- like the hair business is not doing that well -- but this has just been a big boon, and very grateful for it.

KING: Sheila Forrest is the owner and already knows Obama is breaking the old rules.

FORREST: I have never have been involved in politics in my life because I was always told that you will lose customers if you get involved with a candidate.

KING: But this year is different, and Obama means new customers and new voters in an energized African-American community. Forrest grew up to her father's stories of marching with Martin Luther King and sees a chance now to do her part.

FORREST: And I feel like I have had the opportunity of being a part of history.

KING: At Leonard Missionary Baptist Church, 84-year-old Ollie James predicts his prayers will soon be answered.

OLLIE JAMES, MISSOURI VOTER: Where I came from with the segregation and all the hatred, I never thought a African-American man would get this far in the United States.

KING: Camp Obama believes just a modest increase in African-American turnout could tip the scales in several key battleground states, including here in Missouri.

MIKE MINTA, PROFESSOR, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: In order to win a statewide election or a national... KING: And Washington University professor Mike Minta says history suggests there will be higher turnout.

MINTA: There is a large political science literature that has looked at first time historic elections -- mostly kind of like on the mayoral races -- where you have seen, when there is a first time African- American, or a Latino, first time running, that turnout increases dramatically.

KING: There is a flip side, of course -- this billboard in the Missouri Ozarks a reminder there are some who won't vote for Obama because of his name or the color of his skin.

Show Pastor Steven Thompson the billboard, and he keeps his trademark calm.

REV. STEVEN THOMPSON, PASTOR, LEONARD MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH: If I spend my time getting angry about the things that people do, then I can't do what I effectively do here. Those people who do stuff like that, the only thing I can say, we pray for them.

KING: Sheila Forrest says she worried she might be supporting Obama just because he is black, so when she sat down for the first presidential debate, she closed her eyes.

FORREST: I heard this just intelligent individual, very self-assured, positive, and it was just a wonderful experience. I didn't see color. There was no color, no color in listening to him. It was awesome -- awesome experience.

KING: Forrest suggests white voters with doubts about Obama try the same test and predicts many will find the candidate who is good for her business will be the best choice for the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: We are joined again now by CNN's Dana Bash and Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, let me start with you. You have covered the Obama campaign. In the African-American community, you hear it over and over: "We can be part of history." But you don't hear that message from Barack Obama. Why?

JESSICA YELLIN: Well, look, John, we just discussed these suburban swing voters. Those are the people that Barack Obama is targeting right now.

The people who are wavering, they tend to be white, and they have reservations about - put it however you want -- making history with an African-American, reservations about Barack Obama. And they don't want - the Obama campaign doesn't want to sell him as a black candidate, as we have seen from the beginning.

So they are targeting a message to the African-American community. They will get out the vote aggressively in the community on the vote day, on the election day, but no, broadly, nationally, he is not going to be driving home the historic nature of this candidacy because he does not want to do anything to turn off white voters who are leaning toward Obama now but still have their reservations.

KING: And so, Dana, inside the McCain campaign, when you bring up the "Well, Obama would make history" argument, how do they react?

CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT DANA BASH: It's very tough. I mean, they understand. You've heard Sen. McCain himself say several times that he understands what he is up against with regard to the fact that there are going to be sectors of these cities that you are talking about where the turnout is going to be perhaps even unprecedented.

But they see a flip side. Unfortunately, they don't talk about it explicitly. We talk about kind of the idea that there are some rural areas in battleground states like here and like in Ohio, like in Pennsylvania, who simply look at this quote-unquote history and say, "I'm not going to be a part of it." So, they are certainly not targeting those voters that way, but the reality is that is the way many voters are going to look at this in those areas.

KING: And so, Dana, let me stay with you on this point. If African- Americans are that little extra, as I put it, potentially for Barack Obama, what about the Christian conservative evangelical base of the Republican party?

It is critical in the southern part of this state, critical in many other battlegrounds? We haven't heard as much about their enthusiasm for the Republican ticket as we did four or eight years ago. Is it there?

BASH: Isn't it remarkable? I remember we covered George Bush four years ago, and that was the entire strategy for Karl Rove and for the Bush campaign.

Obviously, John McCain is a very different candidate. He has had his issues with that community. What they are hoping still is that the Palin effect kicks in. That is where the Palin effect kicks in.

You do see it at John McCain's rallies. You do see the energy still is incredibly high, particularly from people who are socially conservative who simply were not there for John McCain or Sarah Palin before.

But what we are really not seeing is those outside groups that were supposed to help any Republican candidate, that has done that in the past four and eight years ago. We don't see them - at least feel them -- out here on the ground that they are really helping John McCain give that extra push with regard to the grassroots effort that he absolutely needs, and especially in a year like this.

KING: And, Jessica, is there an extra push from Camp Obama? They certainly have the financial resources on the ground. Where do they see as their turnout magic, if you will?

YELLIN: Well, their turnout magic is the African-American vote, for one, and also the youth vote. This is something that we all sort of scratch our heads over. How many young people will come out and vote? Because often they are not included in polls, as we have discussed, and they seem so enthusiastic for Barack Obama.

So young people, African-Americans, and then just their turnout, their organizing machine, we do see evidence that it is unprecedented. With their funds and their careful, methodical planning across the nation, they can really target which areas to get people to the polls. They are already encouraging early voting, and they expect both these two constituencies, African-Americans and young people, to make up that magic that they are counting on, John.

KING: Our thanks to Jessica Yellin and Dana Bash. We will watch all that play out on the ground in the final two weeks, and coming up, the race to 270. We will check where things stand on the electoral map as the campaign enters this final stretch. The Next President: Battlegrounds will be right back.

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KING: One thing you can't miss as you travel across the key battleground states is the financial edge of Barack Obama, and Missouri is no exception. Look at this.

In the week of Sept. 28 through Oct. 4, Barack Obama outspent John McCain on television ads by a more than 2-1 margin. It is just one of the reasons McCain is forced to play defense as Obama gains the upper hand in some key states. Let's take a look.

Just over two weeks left in the campaign, and the math and the map significantly favor Barack Obama and the Democrats. Let's take a look at the bottom line.

We now project Obama leading in states with 277 electoral votes; 270 wins you the White House. You look at this map, you see the significant challenge for Sen. McCain heading into the final stretch.

Six toss-up states left on our map, all carried by George W. Bush four years ago. McCain at the moment trails in several of them, but let's just say for the sake of a hypothetical that he won all the toss-ups left - Florida, 27 electoral votes; North Carolina with 15; Ohio, 20 electoral votes; battleground Missouri, where we are today, 11 electoral votes; Colorado out here in the Mountain West, nine electoral votes; make those red, Nevada as well, and five.

Even if he won all of those, swept the toss-up states left, John McCain still trailing in the race to 270. So the significant challenge heading into the final two weeks -- find something on this state blue and find a way to turn it red.

McCain is targeting Pennsylvania. That is a big target at the moment - 21 electoral votes. However, he is down 12, 13 points in some of the polls. Another Republican target, Virginia. Not since 1964 has it been blue, but it is leaning blue at the moment because our polling shows McCain trailing by at least 10 points.

So when you come back to where we are today and look at this map, you can see, and even Republicans concede, it is bleak for them at the moment and a significant challenge if Sen. McCain is to find a way to turn this around.

Back with our take on the electoral map and public opinion heading into the final two weeks, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg.

Neil, let me start with you. Not to be negative, but if you look at that map it is pretty bleak. Can John McCain do this state by state, or does he somehow have to change the overall dynamic of the race?

NEIL NEWHOUSE, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Well, I mean, John, I certain wouldn't characterize it as bleak. Listen, it is a tough challenge, there is no question about it.

I think it is a combination of state by state and a national approach. A rising tide lifts all boats, and I think if John McCain is able - the McCain campaign is able to raise their numbers just a couple of points - and recent numbers right now indicate it is anywhere between a probably a four to six-point race - I think the race can close to two or three points.

And if that happens, Virginia is absolutely back in play, Pennsylvania potentially could be back in play, and then you've got a state like Ohio, which is about a dead heat, and Missouri and the other states you listed there in the list.

Listen, this race is far from over. Look at what has happened over the last couple of weeks in this campaign, and you project forward, and I am reluctant to make any predictions right now about the outcome of this race.

KING: So, Anna, let's focus on strategy for a moment. Then I want to talk about message. If you are advising the Obama campaign, do you keep playing in six or eight or 10 of these toss-up states or slightly red states, or do you say "Let's do Ohio and Florida, let's batten down the hatches in one or two of these states" and deny McCain the math?

ANNA GREENBERG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I think you keep playing in all the states. First of all, at the moment it looks pretty clear that he is going to win all the states that Kerry won. There were some hopes, I think, that McCain had to win Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, New Hampshire. That is not going to happen.

He also looks pretty sure to win New Mexico and Iowa, so right there that is the victory. So why not play in these toss-up states? He also has an unbelievable resource advantage over McCain. It doesn't seem to be hurting his campaign any to spend the amount of money he is spending in these toss-up states, and some of them are very expensive states, like Florida.

So I don't see any reason from either a strategic or resource perspective why he would not play in these states. Keep in mind even in some of the harder states that he is playing in, he still has a very expensive and sophisticated infrastructure for getting out the vote, so not only do you have these polls that show him ahead, you have a massive operation on Election Day that potentially puts him over the edge in these very competitive toss-up states.

KING: So, Neil, let's do message. If you are giving John McCain 20 seconds of advice on what he needs to do, how he needs to communicate with the American people to change that dynamic, what would it be?

NEWHOUSE: Twenty seconds of advice - it probably starts first with he has to talk about the economy. It has got to be an economic message and it has got to be an economic message that contrasts with Barack Obama.

This is not an election where right now, given the current political environment, where he can just simply talk about his own plans. He has got to draw a contrast, a very stark one, between himself and Barack Obama on the issue of the economy. If we fail to do that, or fail to do it clearly, then our opportunities grow even - become more difficult, that's all.

KING: We need to end it there. We are out of time. Our thanks to Neil Newhouse and to Anna Greenberg, and that's it for The Next President: Battlegrounds.

We hope you will stay with us throughout the final two weeks of this remarkable campaign, and be sure to be right here tuned in to CNN on Tuesday, Nov. 4, for Election Night in America.

The best political team on television will break down the election results with analysis you won't get anywhere else. For now, thanks for spending some time with us. I'm John King in St. Louis. Take care.

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