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JOHN KING, USA

Twenty-Eight Days until Midterm Election; Campaign Ads

Aired October 5, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. As opening lines go, I am not a witch is tough to top. It's from Christine O'Donnell in a risky new campaign ad that is more proof, if we needed any, this is a campaign year like none other in my memory anyway. We'll get to that in a moment.

But first, some things that annoy me. As a usual consequence of election, four weeks from today, how you vote will affect the debate over taxes and spending, over whether to change the new health care law, what to do about illegal immigration, climate change and more. One thing it is not about is whether Democrats like putting people on food stamps.

But a very smart man who was once speaker of the House that's third in line to the presidency is telling Republicans to close this year's campaign by drawing a sharp contrast between, and I quote, "the Democratic party of food stamps and the Republican Party of paychecks". You deserve better.

I'm not here to pick a fight with Newt Gingrich. Democrats are full of foolish diversions and misleading ads too. In 28 days, it will be over. But if the debate is so nasty and at times so foolish, will we have a good sense of what you voted for or just who you voted against?

Joining us tonight from New York CNN contributor and senior political columnist of TheDailyBeast.com, John Avlon, here in Washington Republican strategist and former Newt Gingrich aide Rich Galen, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger and Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher. Rich, I want to start with you --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- the idea that when you said annoyed me you looked at me.

KING: I just -- listen, listen, he's a very smart guy and he's an incredibly brilliant policy guy, but he likes to throw flames sometimes. He put out this memo today that says to Republicans, I have it too, engage in the tax debate, engage in the spending debate, engage in the size of government debate, amen, let's have that debate. But why this line here -- you should use this vivid contrast between the tax raising, job killing agenda of the Democrats and the low tax, job creating agenda of the Republicans as a way to reinforce the choice for voters this fall. Stop right there. Let's have that debate. Which future do I want -- more food stamps or more paychecks? RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That's classic Newt. (INAUDIBLE) he has said that in every speech (INAUDIBLE) -- you have two futures. But let me just say this, though, I won't take a long time, that we had this -- this is the same kind of thing that went on during the debate over welfare reform way, way back when, the title of which was personal responsibility and work opportunity act of 1996. We are going to make America look like Bangladesh we were told if we pass this thing. It was the same kind of thing. What Newt is saying --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I want to add this, I want to --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: But I want to just add Newt Gingrich just tweeted a short time ago Speaker Pelosi doesn't get it. Her party is making people poor and putting them on food stamps. That's not help. It's harm. Now, he's saying the unemployment rate is up. And he can say, if he wants, the Democratic policies are causing that. That's a debate worth having, but putting people on food stamps?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know I'm old enough to have covered 1994, when Newt Gingrich had the -- his revolution. And I remember talking to Newt Gingrich, reading memos that he put out, which said, these are the words you need to use to describe the Democrats. You're nodding. Remember this? Corrupt was one of the words, right?

GALEN: True.

BORGER: And it went on and on and on, with words to use, adjectives to use, to describe the Democrats. He is good at drawing red lines. That is what he's doing. It's diversionary in the end of course because the red lines lead you nowhere but that's what he does. That's what he's doing. He wants maybe to be president of the United States. He wants to get a Republican majority in the House and this is how he's going to do it, one way or another.

(CROSSTALK)

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: He's crazy like a fox. I mean, Rich, you can talk about the economy and talk about unemployment without using food stamps. If you're bringing up food stamps, you're making a specific sort of point. You're making a cultural point. You're trying to connect sort of culturally sort of this argument along with the economics piece. And so what you're doing (INAUDIBLE) talking about food stamps -- and it goes back to the whole welfare claim. Republicans are very good at divisive language like that. Welfare cleaning (ph) gives you images, sort of drawing a picture culturally for -- typically for the base of their party. I think throwing in food stamps quite frankly --

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: He's not saying to stop giving people who need food stamps.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: He's saying we need to create an economy where food stamps are not necessary.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: You can have a conversation --

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: -- without bringing in food stamps.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: You got to jump in -- from New York, John, come on in.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know it used to be when that you're thinking about running for president, you tried to be more responsible. Now it seems to be if you're thinking about running for president you try to be more irresponsible. And what I think we've got here is a tale of two Newts, right? In 2007, he has his book, "Real Change". He was talking about building broad coalitions. Reminding people that when he passed welfare reform it was with 99 Democratic votes, all true and good, positive and proactive. Now he's talking about secular socialism. He's talking about approving -- Kenyan anti-colonial attitude in the White House. This is fear mongering. This is play to the base, divisive stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: And it's beneath him because he's smarter than that --

BORGER: This is Tea Party for him.

BELCHER: That's my point. That's why you're bringing up food stamps because it is fear mongering. It's about a cultural thing.

GALEN: It is Newt Gingrich driving the discussion which he loves to do --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: What does that have to do with it? Let me let you in on a little fact of life. John King grew up on food stamps.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: John King grew up on food stamps. What does it have to do with the taxes and spending debate? It didn't make my parents Democrat or Republican.

(CROSSTALK) KING: It made my dad want to go out and find a job when he didn't have one.

GALEN: Because he's not saying you should have been denied food stamps. What he's saying is that we need to create an economy where fewer people have to be on it.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

BORGER: But that's not what he's saying. But that's not what he's saying.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: He's speaking in code --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: It is an example of loaded rhetoric to drive a debate and get a discussion. But my point about this, and Newt's a brilliant guy, is to say this -- there are a lot of big issues in this election and when you do things like this, I don't think we end up litigating the issues so the day after the election we know what it is the people actually wanted. I want to give you one more example so we don't just pick on Newt and trust me people out there, if you're saying, there they go, picking on Republicans, we have plenty of Democratic examples and we will get to them in the 28 days to come. This one came --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right after November --

KING: No, we'll get to them before. We'll get to them before, I promise you, as soon as tomorrow. This one came up yesterday. You know, there was a liberal progressive rally on the mall this past weekend. And Glenn Beck compared the pictures to his rally back in August and Glenn Beck is absolutely right when he says he had more people there.

But then he took issue with some people there. There were very signs there of people -- there were a lot of labor union people there, a lot of civil rights activists there. There were some people there who were with the socialist party of America and the communist party of America and Glenn Beck took issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST: Does it matter that our president and our Congress is running our country with the advice and the counsel and the aid of support of the communist party USA? Does it matter? I say yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I say if a few people came to a rally and there's no evidence that they're advising or counseling the Congress or the president.

GALEN: There's an old saying in politics that no matter how good your cause there are people who agree with you that you wish didn't and I think --

BORGER: Right, and, you know, it's the same thing at the Tea Party rallies you see some people who carry racist signs, et cetera, and they don't represent the majority of Tea Party followers. I think that's pretty well documented. So it's ridiculous.

KING: But --

AVLON: It's more than that, it's offensive.

BORGER: Yes.

AVLON: I covered that rally.

BORGER: That too.

AVLON: I cover extremes on both sides and I like beating them up because I think that's important to do, to play offense from the center. But there's a world of difference to say, hey, look at the folks on the left-wing fringe who are at this rally and to all of a sudden try to make a logical leap that communists are advising the White House. That's, again, just fear mongering and we got to draw a sharp line and say absolutely not.

BELCHER: But it's not just offensive, it is offensive, but it's more than that, it's strategic. I mean they are making a strategic decision to draw this. The food stamps, the communists, the socialists, you can se where the strategic line they're trying to draw to sort of -- to get people to think this way. That's not -- it's strategy. Someone's thinking about this. This is not happening by accident.

GALEN: We've got 37 days to go -- 28 days to go, whatever it is, and every vote counts. And both sides are from this point on are going to say things that are solely designed to turn out their base because it's a midterm election.

BORGER: Can I just say when the Democrats wanted to take over the Congress they portrayed the Republicans as extreme as they could possibly portray them. I remember the language --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Culture of corruption.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Culture of corruption.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Culture of corruption, extremists, et cetera and they also took a page from Newt Gingrich in 1994.

KING: They talked about privatizing Social Security and eliminating Medicare. BORGER: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: So now --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: -- the other way.

BELCHER: But let's be clear cultural corruption was very strategic as well because guess what, when we looked at our polling inside, guess where Republicans had advantages, on values, on ethics, and keeping the country safe. However, if they're corrupt, they cannot keep the country safe and they're not the party of --

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: You put it in the starkest possible terms. That's what you do.

AVLON: What we need to do is stand up against the extremists wherever you see them. Call out the fear mongering wherever it raises it head and to do a better job of trying to stop the politics of incitement that we're in right now because it leads to something ugly.

BELCHER: But Abramoff -- but I'll tell you it's easier to make that conversation when you've got Abramoff and all those people tied to the Republican Party than it is to say we're communists.

KING: All right, time-out, time-out, time-out. We'll call a truce on this one here. Now we're going to look forward and we're going to look at what's on the air waves. We started the show with this line "I am not a witch". It is just one line in one new provocative TV ad. We'll break a couple down when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Christine O'Donnell's stunning win in the Republican Senate primary in Delaware made her a household name nationally. And she's a huge Tea Party favorite. She raised a couple of million dollars within hours of that primary victory. And the big question would be when will she spend some of it on television? Here's the first act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL, POLITICAL AD: I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you. None of us are perfect. But none of us can be happy with what we see all around us. Politicians who think spending, trading favors and back room deals are the way to stay in office. I'll go to Washington and do what you'd do. I'm Christine O'Donnell and I approve this message. I'm you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: I'm not a witch of course comes from that ""Politically Incorrect"" clip from the late '90s where she said she dabbled in witchcraft. Let's start with a basic question, first ad out of the box, everyone is waiting to see what it would be. Good idea, bad idea?

GALEN: Well I mean whether it's a good idea or not, the production value -- why would you put her in a black dress against a black background and to say that she's not a witch? The only thing that was missing was a swording (ph) hat and a (INAUDIBLE) broom.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: No. I mean I actually think and we were talking about this earlier today on CNN, I think she looks like every girl used to look in her high school graduation picture --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: -- with the string of pearls and the nice, you know, tame hair and the dark suit.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: This is all about -- she had to reintroduce herself to the voters in that state because the way she had been introduced the first time was on a broom stick and that doesn't work.

BELCHER: But this is the -- but this is the problem, really quickly this is the problem. It's -- do you remember anything from Senator Craig's presser (ph) except him saying "I'm not gay"? That is what stuck in people's minds. That would have been actually a pretty good ad if they had not said -- opened it up with "I'm a witch" -- "I'm not a witch." In my mind I'm going are you talking about being a witch? And that's what voters hear.

BORGER: But how about I'm you?

BELCHER: That's right.

BORGER: What about I'm you?

BELCHER: She should have opened it up with "I'm you" and not a witch. You never repeat the -- and Rich you know this -- you never repeat the negative.

GALEN: Don't repeat the negative --

KING: Come on in, John.

AVLON: This ad is a "Saturday Night Live" skit. I mean with the little -- the sensitive piano in the background and the opening "I'm not a witch", which I guess is a, you know, generational leap from I'm not a crook.

(CROSSTALK) AVLON: I mean it could not be any more absurd. I don't know who advised her, but I'm going three words here -- "worst ad ever".

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I don't get the "I'm you". Do you?

KING: It's Fred Davis (ph). He's a veteran Republican ad guy. He did "Morning in America" and then "Mourning in America". It's an -- I'm going to be somewhat contrary on this. I think everyone's talking about this anyway, why not? The key is what's the sequel?

BORGER: But don't you think --

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: The only people she's got to convince are people in Delaware.

BORGER: But don't --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But don't you think it's too obvious, though, when she says "I'm you" and how do you react to that?

KING: Well that's the Tea Party anti-establishment argument to say you know all these smart people are going to tell us we need to send smart people back to Washington. Look, we've sent a lot of smart people to Washington, look what they've done.

BORGER: Right.

BELCHER: And you know what, I think --

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: I think that's -- I actually think that's really good. The problem is you open up with talking about "I'm a witch". I mean you cannot repeat the negative that's been out there opening up in your ad --

AVLON: Saying I'm going to do what you do means less than nothing.

BORGER: What would you do?

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: Please.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: We would not know that she dabbled in witchcraft were it not for Bill Maher's old show ""Politically Incorrect"". He now has "Real Time" on HBO. He was on the program last night. Just as we were going off the air, we learned about this new ad so we asked Bill for his reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MAHER, HBO'S "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Wow. I think when you have to start your campaign ad with "I'm Not a Witch," the battle has been lost. I think she would have been much smarter to ignore that. But, you know, being much smarter is not her strong suit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ouch, ouch, ouch. At the end there I think Bill's in general agreeing with the group --

GALEN: He could have just put a period there. He didn't have to get ugly. He's just like Newt.

KING: That's good. You want to call it out, call it out. We didn't need that at the end. Just state your opinion, save the other stuff. I've been covering politics for 25 years. I don't think I've ever -- I read a lot of polls -- I don't think I've ever read a poll that has this question, a question like this. Carl Paladino (ph) is a loose cannon who doesn't have the temperament to be governor, agree or disagree?

GALEN: Do I agree? I'm not a New Yorker anymore --

KING: Sixty-one percent of the people of New York agree with that statement, 34 percent of the people of New York disagreed --

BORGER: And he could still win, right?

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Like Christine O'Donnell, he's down double digits in the polls. I think he's actually down more than Christine O'Donnell if you look at the polls.

BORGER: Right.

KING: If you're not familiar, Carl Paladino (ph) is another candidate who stunned the establishment, won a Republican primary for governor in the state of New York. This one is nasty. He has said some nasty things about Democrat Andrew Cuomo who has been happy to return the fire. So much so that Carl Paladino (ph) has felt compelled to put a lengthy video up on his Web site trying to change the subject away from character issues. Let's take a flavor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: This campaign is not about my family. It's not about divorces or affairs. It's about who has a plan to restore prosperity and economic growth to New York State. We need a debate about who will restore job growth to New York -- me or career politician Andrew Cuomo?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am not a witch.

BELCHER: By the way -- by the way, I want to cede (ph) my time to this to Rich so he can talk about production value --

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: We were watching the whole thing, which is two minutes long, and in the background, when he's talking and making this impassioned plea for civility and for -- a bus goes by. I mean this guy is sort of waving. I mean it was just -- he's a billionaire. He could have hired anybody he wanted. He hired, you know, some high school kid with a flip cam.

BORGER: You know it's in the Democrats' interest right now to make this negative and personal because the Republicans want to nationalize this campaign, make it about Barack Obama and if they can -- and the economy and unemployment and all the rest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a choice.

BORGER: It's a choice --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: -- and it's in the Democrats' interest, you know, the Democrats who ran on hope and all the rest. It's in their interest to turn this into a very negative campaign on a personal level race by race.

BELCHER: Of course I'm going to -- of course I'm going to disagree with that.

BORGER: No, you're not.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: No, we are trying to make it about a choice but I think the broader implication here is that look this is sort of what the Tea Party has brought you. And here's -- a state like New York and Delaware, you can see two candidates, quite frankly, are Tea Party candidates, and if they not had Tea Party candidates in there, you have very competitive races. That's what is going to stop Republicans from having a truly sea change election.

KING: John, you get the last word.

AVLON: Carl Paladino (ph) did this to himself. I mean again it's another ad that begins with a negative, this time about adultery, but the sad part -- the serious part, which is that New York State has some serious challenges to face. And we've got -- we've got candidates that have made themselves caricatures, running as Howard Beale (ph), and then all of a sudden trying to turn into a serious professor. It doesn't work that way. And the people who get lost in the shuffle are the people in New York who need serious solutions to the problems my state is facing right now.

KING: All right, we'll keep an eye on all those races and more and -- trust me, trust me, Rich, we'll have some Democratic outrages very soon. We won't wait too close to the election. Rich, Gloria, Cornell, and John, thanks for coming in.

When we come back, a lot more to go, including a conversation with Bob Woodward, he's just written a new book about "Obama's Wars". We'll talk about the debate about Afghanistan and Pakistan and also his thoughts, Obama/Clinton 2012, really? You'll want to hear what he wants to hear in just a minute.

Then we also talk to Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker, the host of our new program at 8:00 tonight among our topics with them, something we just talked about, their take on the "I'm Not a Witch" ad in the Delaware Senate race.

And as we continue our conversation on politics tonight, Bill Maher is back with us. Last night we talked about Christine O'Donnell and Glenn Beck, tonight Bill Maher's take on the unhappy left wing of the Democratic Party.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Joe Johns for the latest political news you need to know right now -- hey Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hey John. At the White House this afternoon President Obama used an event focusing on community colleges to take a shot at Republican tax cut plans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's why I so strongly disagree with the economic plan that was released last week by the Republican leaders in Congress, which would actually cut education by 20 percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Eighty-eight year-old George McGovern, the Democratic Party's 1972 presidential nominee, presented Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a World Food Program award this evening for her efforts to fight global hunger.

A new poll by the Pew Hispanic Center show 65 percent of Latinos plan to support Democratic candidates in their local congressional districts, while 22 percent plan to support Republicans. Compare that to Pew's results among all voters, where 47 percent say they'll support Democrats and 44 percent say they'll support Republicans, which is a little different, of course, from the generic ballot we've been reporting on now for quite awhile.

KING: The Pew numbers are registered voters, we need to be clear about that. When you do likely voters the Republican number tends to come up because of the intensity. But wow what a gap between Democrats and Republicans when you ask Latino voters. Look at the Nevada Senate race, the Colorado Senate race, the big Illinois Senate race, races for governor in some of those states could be a huge issue.

But Joe, the question is how engaged are they in the campaign. Let's go over and take a closer look at some of these numbers because the Democrats would love that. Here's the numbers you just showed -- I just want to put them up again -- 65 to 22, Latinos, their preference when asked who are you going to vote for, for Congress. If those numbers held up boy could that help Democrats in a lot of states.

But here's the issue for the Democrats. Have you thought quite a lot about the November elections, meaning, are you engaged, are you energized? Only about a third of Latino registered voters say they've thought a lot about it. About half of the broader American electorate registered voters say they've thought about it. Will you definitely vote? Are you certain to vote in November?

About half again, 51 percent of Latinos tells the Pew Hispanic Center they're definite to vote in November. About 70 percent of all Americans, we sure wished that would turn out to be true on Election Day. But 70 percent now say they plan to vote, only 50 percent Latinos. So if you have that big drop-off, Joe, all that intensity doesn't matter as much. Now if those Latinos do go to the polls, they look at issues a little differently than the broader electorate.

Education is their number one issue, 58 percent say that, jobs just behind it. The broader electorate, jobs is by far number one. Education, jobs, healthcare, the budget deficit, immigration, the environment, and the war in Afghanistan, but the big question, Joe, is that's a great gap for the Democrats. That's why you see the turnoff operation aimed at Latinos.

But that intensity gap, we talked about it in the broader electorate, Latinos as well could be a problem for the Democrats. And again if they can get that Latino turnout out, you've been in those states. That matters.

JOHNS: Absolutely, it's really fascinating to see how the Latino vote goes these days. You know the thought of George Bush making real inroads and now we see where it is.

KING: At the moment, the Democratic constituency, we'll watch it play out. Thanks Joe. And when we come back, "One-on-One" with Bob Woodward, "Obama's Wars" is his new book. We'll talk about the debate over the war strategy and an interesting political question. Might the president want a new running mate in 2012?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Bob Woodward has been covering and writing about U.S. presidents since the Nixon administration. That's eight presidents over the course of almost 40 years. His latest book is called "Obama's Wars" and Bob Woodward is with us. I want to start Bob, it's a fascinating book. It tells us a lot about the debate about the war strategy. Also tells us a lot about the mindset and the way the president manages. I want to start by playing some of the audio of your interview with the president and he's talking about how he inherits wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from George W. Bush and now they're his challenge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: To quote a famous American, war is hell. And, you know, once the -- the dogs of war are unleashed, you don't know where it's going to lead. When I entered into office, we had two wars taking place. So once you're in, what you're trying to do is to impose clarity on the chaos.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do you get the sense that they have a sense of clarity or is there still a lot of chaos?

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "OBAMA'S WARS": Well, there's still a lot unsettled. And, of course, what that shows, that's part of the long discussion with the president. He just doesn't like war and he wants out of Afghanistan. He came up with a strategy last year and I carry it up until the summer, the secret debates in review, and you see that, you know, like Gates, the secretary of defense, has one, one and a half feet out the door. The national Security Council is not really settled down. Hillary Clinton is kept at a bit of a distance. General Petraeus, the Afghan commander, is kept at a bit of a distance. There isn't this kind of -- I mean, it's his word and you writ rightly used it, clarity. And if you ask the question what about the troops on the ground, what do they see, what do they expect out of this? I think there's vagueness and indirection that shouldn't be there.

KING: And so if you asked people within the White House, they look at this book, and they say, this is proof this president says bare it all, let's have a bare-knuckle brawl and I'll make the decision. They say that's a good deliberative process. If you ask a Republican, they say they read this book and they see a president whose Afghan war strategy is driven by internal Democratic politics. Who's right?

WOODWARD: You can read it either way. This is something -- it's the beauty of the facts. There is not an attempt on my part to put any spin on it. You know, this is what happened. Secret deliberations go on for tens of pages. Some of the secret memos? Exactly what they're trying to do. And you see, it's one tough war. I was thinking this is the 16th book I've done and at some point it ends. Maybe the last book I do will be entitled it's hard to be president.

KING: It's hard to be president. I want to talk more about that. First, you mentioned Bob Gates, the defense secretary, a holdover from the Bush administration, a military man, an intelligence man. Not that long ago, he got into what I'll call the book reviewing business. Let's listen to Bob Gates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There are actually three points I'd like to make. The first is, conflict sells. The second, the relationship among senior officials in this administration is as harmonious as any I've experienced in my time in government. And the third is, I believe this very strongly, presidents are always well served when there is a vigorous and spirited debate over important issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There's a big and spirited debate over important issues, there's no doubt about that. But to the point he made, the relationship among senior officials is as harmonious as any I've experienced in government. Bob Gates goes back a long time. Is that a fair statement?

WOODWARD: You know, you can compare them. There are scenes in the book where the president is pinging on Gates himself saying "I want another option in this strategy." And Gates actually says, "Yes, Mr. President, we owe you another option." They never gave it to him. And the president had to design his own option somewhat based on statements that Gates made in secret memos that Gates wrote him.

KING: I spend a lot of time covering the Clinton White House and the George W. Bush White House. I have not been physically in the building for this. I want you to take your work digging deep on the past three presidents. Is this guy, from a management standpoint, a commander in chief standpoint, making big decisions standpoint, is he more like George W. Bush or Clinton?

WOODWARD: Certainly much more like Clinton. The joke in the Clinton White House is, as you know, is they never made a decision that couldn't be revisited immediately. There was an intellectual rigor to it. It got very emotional. In the case of Bush, as you well know, I know he often told me, he said, look, I'm a gut player, not a textbook player. Obama's all textbook. Somewhat of the law professor in him. The question mark in this is, does he have that x factor, the will to win, the drive? Remember, from his campaign, "Yes we can." He's not out saying "yes we can" in this war. In fact, what he says is, I'm going to limit it. We're not doing a trillion dollars. We're not doing ten years.

KING: I want to close with a political question. I'm guessing you don't design the cover. You have Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton side by side right here at the bottom above your name. You know the talk in town. A lot of people think if the president's weak in 2012 he'll have to do a switch there and run with Clinton as his running mate. In all these conversations when you're doing serious research, things like that coming up?

WOODWARD: It's on the table. And some of Hillary Clinton's advisers see it as a real possibility in 2012. President Obama needs some of the women, Latinos, retirees, that she did so well with during the 2000 primaries. And so they switch jobs. And not out of the question. The other interesting question is, Hillary Clinton could run in her own right in 2016. And be younger than Ronald Reagan when he was elected president. Now, you talk to Hillary Clinton or advisers, they say no, no, there's never a political consideration here, no, no. Of course, the answer is, when you point out to them that her clout around the world when she goes to Europe, when she goes to Asia, when she goes anywhere, is, in part, not just because she's secretary of state or because she was married to Bill Clinton, that people see a potential future president in her.

KING: Perhaps another book down the road for Bob Woodward. Appreciate you coming in today. It's a fascinating book. If you haven't read it at home you should read it.

When we come back, today's top political stories. Also, a conversation with Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker, the new hosts of our 8 p.m. program. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Everyone who follows politics is debating the wisdom of this ad today.

O'DONNELL: I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you.

KING: Among those in the debate, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Kathleen Parker, New York's former Democratic governor and attorney general, Eliot Spitzer. Their new program "PARKER SPITZER" is at the top of the hour. Good idea or bad idea?

KATHLEEN PARKER, CNN HOST: You know we've had this discussion and we do talk about it on our show tonight and when I first saw it I thought, that's chilling. It's kind of growing on me though. It's sort of like Gidget goes to Mordor.

ELIOT SPITZER, CNN HOST: I liked it from the first moment because the whole point is she is mocking the media and everybody else out there saying how ridiculous are they saying that about me? Then she says the most important line, I'm going to go to Washington and do what you want to do to Washington. Basically she's saying, I'm real people.

PARKER: He doesn't mean a word of that. I mean, Eliot's been defending O'Donnell and Palin ever since we started this show.

SPITZER: Democrats can't wait till they're the candidate --

KING: He's having a cable conversion. That's what we call it here. Among those weighing in on the ad is a man that many people often call the voice or at least a push on the Republican right. Now ad critic Rush Limbaugh. Listen.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: You want to know what I think about it? Everybody knows she's not a witch. I mean, come out and say that I'm not a witch -- I mean, how many voters are there in Delaware? 70,000, 150? It's a small state. And this is -- look, HBO television show. And a clip she dabbled in witchcraft, I don't know, it's a little offensive to me.

KING: So thumbs down from Rush Limbaugh.

SPITZER: What Rush is missing is that people who hear this will join her in what she is really saying, which is the establishment voices, the big, bad media, they try to make fun of all of us real folks and I'm going to put it back at them.

PARKER: No, they're not.

SPITZER: She's the last person I'd ever vote for and I don't think she's going to win because I think all her policies are absolutely -- they're just not there. On the other hand, as an ad, I think it might work.

PARKER: Eliot's a politician obviously so he sees things differently than the rest of us, which is yes this is effective because it gets this message across. It's actually -- it's weird, okay.

SPITZER: It is but it's also playing to what she's really saying which is the folks in Washington have failed you. I don't care how good they think they are, how smart they are, they don't get it.

KING: We hear a lot of that --

PARKER: When you have nothing to offer --

KING: -- nothing to offer you say. It's a Palin-esque, I'm like you, I'm one of you, they think they're smart, look what they have done.

PARKER: Yeah.

SPITZER: That's right.

PARKER: Well, we're going to be burning -- at the stake now.

SPITZER: It's a dangerous move. It would be nice to get some folks in Washington who understood what it meant to run a government and to invest it and to be smart. I'm not sure O'Donnell's that person. But you know what, it is clearly the public -- to use the word that Kathleen was using earlier, the zeitgeist is going now.

PARKER: There's no topic upon which Eliot cannot make a speech.

KING: If you start your first ad, the opening line is "I'm not a witch" I can't wait to see where we go from here. Let's move on. What do you have on the program tonight?

PARKER: We've got a star-studded review coming up. We've got not only Christine -- sorry we don't have Christine.

SPITZER: She's going to come in on her broom stick.

PARKER: She's going to -- get us into the sweeps. SPITZER: There you go.

PARKER: Well, to be serious for just one moment if we can haul ourselves back from the brink. We have Dick Armey with us. The figurehead for the tea party movement.

SPITZER: We have Oliver Stone which is always a fascinating conversation. This guy's commentary on politics is fascinating. Of course he just made the remake of "Wall Street" so fun to chat with him.

PARKER: And Doris Kearns, good one to talk to us about presidential history and the current status of the Obama administration.

KING: Fascinating show. We look forward to it. Eliot Spitzer, Kathleen Parker have a great night. We'll see you later.

Next, the candidates try to explain statements that, shall we say, got them that a little trouble.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Joe Johns for more of the latest political news you need to know right now. Joe?

JOHNS: Moveon.org is asking the justice department to investigate allegations that foreign corporations are kicking in some of the $75 million the U.S. chamber of commerce is spending this election cycle. A new commercial for Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul features the voice of a President Obama impersonator talking about Democratic nominee Jack Conway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need Conway in Washington because I know I can count on Conway to vote on more spending and debt, bigger government and higher taxes.

JOHNS: That doesn't sound like the president. The real Obama makes an appearance in a new campaign video for California's Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a --

JOHNS: In Wisconsin, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold got in trouble for an ad in which he accuses Republicans of holding victory celebrations too early in the game. The National Football League objected to his use of game video without permission. The Connecticut Senate candidate's debate, Republican Linda McMahon tried to clarify her stand on the minimum wage.

LINDA MCMAHON (R), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I would never advocate lowering or reducing the minimum wage and that's not what I said. I said we need to take a look at whether or not we need to increase the minimum wage.

JOHNS: Meanwhile, Democratic Richard Blumenthal apologized again for exaggerating his Vietnam veteran era military service.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT DEMOCRATIC SENATE: On a few occasions, out of hundreds, when I commented on it, I described it inaccurately and I regret it, I take full responsibility for it. It was not intentional. But that is no excuse.

JOHNS: Now, this is one thing that has just followed him and followed him and followed him, you know, the credibility question. Once you say something like that, it's very hard to take back in front of the voters.

KING: Dana Bash is with us now. Linda McMahon launched an ad before the debate going right at him on the Vietnam thing, trying to rattle him a little bit. She's trailing in the polls. That's what happens when a losing candidate comes up with a whack attack ad.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It was a pretty tough ad. I mean the whole grainy-faced thing, him looking down at the end. There's no question about it. This is a very interesting race in Connecticut. This is a race that's one of those that should not have been a race at all, I mean, it's a blue state.

KING: The minimum wage debate, you mentioned, she was at a small business event where she's opened the door to maybe a bad economy. You should think about these things. Then she's try to say, no, no, no, I did not suggest lowering the minimum wage. At one point, said, that's a lie, that's a lie. I never said it. You insist one more time about the minimum wage it's a lie. The rhetoric in that one got tight. In that race, we'll let the candidates hash it out. If you look across the country, the tea party, now Republican nominee Joe Miller in Alaska, Sharron Angle in Nevada has talked about this. I believe Ken Buck in Colorado another Republican candidate and to a degree, I think Ran Paul in Kentucky, I may be a little wrong on the specifics of minimum wage but talking about it's time for the federal government not to regulate these things, leave these decisions up to the state. You're just back from West Virginia. The businessman and Republican candidate for Senate who has a pretty fair shot at the moment against a popular Democratic governor, you put the question to him. John Racy.

BASH: Should there be minimum wage or not?

JOHN RACY: Absolutely not because minimum wage is something that Franklin Delanor Roosevelt put in during the depression. It didn't work during the depression, it doesn't work now.

BASH: He's clear about it. You're right. I think he's one of two or three who are absolutely hardcore, no minimum wage. What's fascinating is the Democrats are trying to pick up on themes that some Republicans talk about and try to make it widespread. This is one that you hear the unions and other Democratic strategists really trying to push other candidates to hit the Republican opponents on. That's what I think we saw last night in Connecticut.

JOHNS: West Virginia is one of only five states with 17 percent poverty or higher. It's a state where people are really hurting. It's just hard to see how that helps him in the state of West Virginia.

KING: Except this is an interesting year. The whole idea of the reach of government, the power of government, it will be fascinating. It will be fascinating to see who wins. Before I let you guys go tonight, without any introduction, the Republican leader, perhaps future speaker of the house John Boehner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: I'll come in, and he'll say, oh, Boehner, you're almost as dark as me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that what he says to you?

BOEHNER: Listen, we talk about golf. We'll talk about our skin color. We have a nice relationship. The problem we have is that when we talk to each other there's no connection. You know, I have 11 brothers and sisters. My dad owned a bar. I was a small business guy long before I got into this business. And when I talk about the real world, it doesn't seem to register.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Isn't that amazing? He can turn a question about skin color into the talking point of the real world? To be fair, to John Boehner, the president started this. Remember he gave a speech, he gave a roast where he talked about the fact John Boehner is a person of color, just not a color we see in the real world.

JOHNS: This is national politics. It's not Teletubbies, no group hug. There's big differences --

BASH: Are we going to get in trouble for talking about Teletubbies?

KING: Dana and Joe thanks. When we come back, last night we talked to Bill Maher about Christine O'Donnell and Glenn Beck. Tonight about the Democrats.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Exactly four weeks from Election Day now, it is an election the Republicans are looking forward to and many Democrats say they're going to dread this a bit. Here to talk about his expectations, maybe your expectations for this election and beyond, Bill Maher with us all week. One of the fascinating things, listening to the Obama White House, the president, vice president and others trying to tell the liberal base of the party, we know you're mad at us about health care, Afghanistan, Gitmo, but we need you in November. Listen to this appeal from the vice president saying, please vote.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: Don't compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative. Don't compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative. This is not your grandfather's Republican Party. This is the Republican tea party. This is the party of repeal and repeat. This is the party who said, trust those big guys, they'll take care of you, they'll have your back on Wall Street.

KING: Is that a good turnout message, I know you're mad at us about some things, but those guys are way worse?

BILL MAHER, HBO'S "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Well, yeah, it's at least an attempt. Up until a couple weeks ago I didn't hear a peep about the Democrats, brag about what you've done. They actually have a rather impressive record of accomplishment to run on unlike many other Democratic administrations in the past. They problem stopped a depression. Just that. If they had just done that, alone, but they never seem to have the guts to make the counterargument. They just throw their hands up when it's apparently to difficult to explain to people. I understand it's very hard to get information into people's heads. But T.A.R.P., take that for an example. I mean, that's what the tea baggers and a lot of Americans are so angry about that we bailed out the banks and it cost all this money. Well, make the counterargument. Tell them it cost us somewhere between $50 billion, which the Pentagon loses in the couch every day, and making a profit. We actually could make a profit on it. The stock market was at 6,000 when Obama took over, it's approaching 1,100. If you don't like unemployment at what it is now, a little under 10 percent. Without that and the banks failing it could have been 16 percent or 18 percent. And jobs, they're always talking about jobs. That probably saved millions of jobs. So there's lots of things they could brag about. I read the other day in "Rolling Stone" Obama said he listens to rappers like Nas and Lil' Wayne. Maybe some of that should rub off. They're always bragging. They should teach him how to do it.

KING: He's not as animated as them without a doubt. One of the interesting dynamics, I want to get to the fractures on the right in a minute. There's been an ongoing debate. You have it on your show every week where you have liberals saying we're not happy about this. They haven't done enough about that. What we're seeing in the final weeks in the campaign though is the liberals getting mad that the administration is essentially calling them out saying it would be irresponsible, the president's word, for them not to vote. Listen to Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now program, a leading progressive saying we're fighting but the other guys seem to shall we say, mute their differences.

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW: It's interesting. You don't have the conservatives going after the tea party movement. You don't have them saying they're whining. People see all of this. And yet you have the White House attacking progressives all over this country calling them the professional left. Calling them the whiners, saying buck up. I think it's progressives who are saying to the president, why don't you buck up? Why don't you stand up for what you said you would represent?

KING: You went through what you say is a pretty impressive record, but when you go through it with people like Amy Goodman they say, no, I'm sorry, Gitmo is still open, we're sending more troops to Afghanistan, why didn't he fight for a public option in health care? They have a list, but they say they have a pretty good list, too.

MAHER: Yeah. Look, John, I was the first guy in the media to say Obama wasn't living up to what we thought he was going to be. It's our job, especially in the media on the left to hold his feet to the fire. When it comes time to vote, then you have to as I think I mentioned on our show Friday night, grow up and realize there's a big difference between a disappointing friend and a deadly enemy. Yes, there are lots of ways it's been disappointing. Mostly because he's working with Republican obstructionists and in an era in which almost nothing can get done in Washington. Yes, we should keep holding his feet to the fire. When it comes to voting and you only have two choices, that's the time to rally around the better choice. There's not a perfect choice but there is a better choice and who's going to suffer if they don't show up at the polls? Not Obama. He doesn't need an abortion. But you know, if they don't show up in 2012 and he runs again and it's Republican president and he starts appointing people to the Supreme Court and who don't feel this way -- as a lot progressives do that that should be a right that women should have. Who's going to pay for it?

KING: That's all for us tonight. Thanks for stopping by. Hope we'll see you tomorrow. "PARKER-SPITZER" starts right now.