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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Post-Debate Analysis

Aired October 15, 2008 - 23:00   ET


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: Given the realities that we're going to inherit come next January. So it was great being here tonight.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": One final question Senator Clinton before I let you go. I know you've got a tough schedule over there. If he's elected, Barack Obama, president and he asks you to give up your position as United States Senator and join him in the cabinet, is that something you would consider doing?

CLINTON: Well, I really want to stay as Senator. I am committed to being in the Senate, working with President Obama. I think we have a real chance to break the gridlock, get things done, start progress going again in America. And I want to be part of that in the senate.

And one of the lessons that I took away from my husband's administration is don't take Senators out of the Senate. You need every Democratic Senator that you possibly can have. We still might have to face a filibuster if we don't get the 60 Democratic Senators.

We can't afford to whittle-down the majority that President Obama will need to make some very hard decisions that will be in the best interest of our country. So I am looking forward to being a Senator, continuing my life-long work to try to come up with ways that will help every person live up to his or her God-given potential. And I'm excited about working with President Obama on health care, energy and all of the other important matters before our nation.

BLITZER: Senator Clinton thanks very much for joining us.

CLINTON: Thank you very much Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator Hillary Clinton, the Senator from New York State out at Hofstra University.

Anderson I guess this is the night that we're going to be getting some reaction. Because Rick Davis the campaign manager for the McCain campaign, he's standing by to speak with us as well. We'll talk to him in a few moments.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "AC360": We'll talk to him very quickly.

We've got another hour of our post-debate coverage on here "360." John King is going to go to the magic map; show us the break down state by state where this race now stands.

We're going to have more from our focus group. But we have new polling in. Just now we conducted a poll immediately after this debate. Campbell Brown has that. What are we hearing?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let me give you the audience breakdown first so that people have a sense of what we're talking about. Just a couple of notes of caution; first, this is only a poll of people who actually watched the debate.

Secondly the audience breakdown is 40 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican, everybody else Independent. So more Democrats but this also tracks with the population in the country, which is 36 percent Democrats, 27 percent Republican and the rest Independent.

So you had slightly more Democrats watching the debate and slightly more Republicans watching the debate. Overall who did the best job in the debate; Obama by a substantial margin, 58 percent to McCain's 31 percent.

We also looked, Anderson, at favorables and unfavorables whether people's opinions of the candidate changed. First Obama before the debate his favorable was at 63 percent. After tonight his favorable goes up to 66 percent. Unfavorable was at 35 percent, down to 33 percent. For John McCain before the debate his favorable was at 51 percent, after the debate down to 49 percent, a slight drop there. His unfavorable at 45 percent, after the debate, going up to 49 percent.

But again, and let me just say more Democrats in this poll; more Democrats watching the debate. Also there are more Republicans watching the debate of 40 percent to 30 percent breakdown.

COOPER: And we're going to be getting more polling information as we get the numbers in, crunching numbers that will come to Campbell for that throughout this next hour of our coverage.

David Gergen, what do you make of those polls I mean, the fact that there are certainly more Democrats in that sample? Overall does that --

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We know there are more Democrats in the sample; that clearly skewed the numbers the public perception now is going settle in. And we're not the only one finding this tonight that Obama has won three in a row. And that's very important towards his progress, towards his presidency.

COOPER: Other polling and other networks are saying the same?

GERGEN: Yes, and I believe that Jeffrey has looked at this.

JEFFERY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, CBS is almost identical, and in fact even a broader margin for Obama.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think if McCain made any mistakes this time I think he made all the points he wanted to make on substance but again it is those facial expressions, those grimaces. Sometimes you could tell how angry he is at Barack Obama, how much he really doesn't like Barack Obama. And in each of these three debates he's been unable to hide his kind of personal feelings.

COOPER: It is interesting to see both men and look at -- when they do look at each other, I mean John McCain did look at Barack Obama this time around and Barack Obama seemed to smile a lot more at John McCain, kind of shake his head, laugh even sometimes at some of the attacks.

John McCain seemed to seethe at times and certainly looked -- I mean I think you can fairly say with some contempt at times. Does all that matter?

GERGEN: Yes. It matters a great deal.

And I think very importantly there were a lot of rumors that John McCain was going to try to goad Barack Obama into some kind of outburst and he never unnerved Obama the whole time.

I thought one thing as flat as Obama was at times he never lost his cool, he never lost his steadiness whereas McCain seemed at times -- there were times he brought back memories of Bob Dole in 1996. And that was as we remember that was a disastrous time for Bob Dole.

I don't think McCain went that far but the looks and the disdain and the contempt and the anger that he felt was palpable throughout the middle section --

COOPER: Go ahead Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it would matter if it didn't fit the storyline and if it didn't fit what everybody was sort of already thinking about each of these two candidates. And particularly for John McCain because number one, perhaps his negative attacks on Obama have not succeeded but more importantly perhaps something we were talking about before the debate because Barack Obama's attack ads on McCain have worked.

And that's why what you saw with the grimaces with those facial expressions which frankly, those of us who see him on the campaign trail even in these town halls that's kind of the way he is. It just doesn't serve him well in a situation like this.

AMY HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: If I could add to that. I think we're missing an important point here which was in the closing and I think that's where McCain actually fell off. He tried to rely on his personal honor and his personal integrity. He talked about trust me.

There is a long line of McCains who've been serving in this country, which is a great thing and a great thing for John McCain. But it didn't talk about the voter. And what am I going to do for you.

Conversely Barack Obama in his closing although I think he had been flat throughout these whole thing, that we he came to his closing he talked about here's what I'm going to do for you. This is my middle class tax plan. This is what I'm going to do --

COOPER: Which was actually, Leslie, something he did throughout this debate directly looking at the camera and addressing viewers directly.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Being an Obama and says it -- yes. Very much so. One thing interesting about McCain was respect I think the first debate was poor the second was a little better and this was by far his best. But he was still bested by Barack Obama in these.

I mean, he played offense which was to his strength. But I think Obama played good defense.

COOPER: Hilary very briefly --

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The style difference I think was important for one reason. Because the polls have showed that Barack Obama has exceeded the 50 percent mark in terms of support.

What John McCain had to do was change people's minds tonight and he couldn't do that and under this scenario.

COOPER: Not a game changer.

ROSEN: Because Barack Obama was too reassuring.

COOPER: We've got to take a break -- we've got to take a quick break.

Our coverage continues all throughout this hour. And then at midnight we're going to replay the debate so you can see it.

And as we go to the break we're going to be showing you the best moments and the most important exchanges. Here is one of them.

We'll be right back.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Americans are hurting right now and they're angry. They're hurting and they're angry. They're innocent victims of greed and excess on Wall Street and as well as Washington, D.C. And they're angry and they have every reason to be angry and they want this country to go in a new direction.



COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage all throughout this hour and then in the next hour we're going to be playing the debate again for you. And we're going to be playing really the best moments throughout this hour as well. So stick around for that.

And join us along online at

So Alex Castellanos is anything tonight a game changer. I mean does this make any difference? When we wake up tomorrow and this thing is just a memory? ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think so. But John McCain wasn't going to win this election tonight but he was going to get back in to this election tonight, he was going to turn that --

COOPER: And did he do that?

CASTELLANOS: I thought he did plenty to do that --

COOPER: He's back in?

CASTELLANOS: And a couple of things: one is these debates are tests of strength. Man to man here sitting at this table and John McCain said, look, if you wanted to run against George Bush you should have run four years ago. Barack Obama's response not much, if somebody did that to you personally, you would respond.

Was that the strength of a president; so I thought that was important. And also he raised an important question tonight, why would you raise anybody's taxes at a time like this and there's no answer to that. So I think people --

COOPER: Well, I think Barack Obama's answer was I'm not raising 95 percent of the population's taxes or sort of about 90 percent or whatever.

CASTELLANOS: But he was Joe the Plumber's. And we had a new character in this debate tonight in this campaign; Joe the Plumber. Is now -- who is going to be the best president for Joe the Plumber. And on that it's a pretty fair fight this evening, McCain helped himself.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But you also how he just completely dismissed Lily Ledbetter because he wanted to deal with that. Here's the deal we talked with these cast of characters, it's also in terms of how you present yourself and how you come across.

Obama's deal is I'm not going to spend my time attacking on you. McCain wanted to spend a lot of time there because he is saying look, I'm not going to sit here and drive my negatives up. I'm going to focus on Independent voters. And I think in our survey that's what he speaks. He said I will stay cool, calm and collected because I want Independent voters and that's where he's winning.

COOPER: Roland Martin, just for our viewers joining us a supporter of Barack Obama; Alex Castellanos, supporter of John McCain.

BROWN: They hadn't noticed that.

COOPER: In case you hadn't noticed. Campbell, you have some more poll numbers.

BROWN: Yes, these on more about people's perceptions a couple of these numbers. And let's first talk about who expressed his views more clearly in the debate? Obama 66 percent to McCain's 25 percent.

COOPER: Wow. BROWN: Who spent more time attacking his opponent? McCain 80 percent, Obama 7 percent. Who seemed to be the stronger leader in the debate in your view, Obama 56 percent to McCain's 39 percent. And who is more likable in the debate Obama 70 percent McCain 22 percent.

Some of those I think reinforced existing perceptions we've seen on other polls especially on the issue of attacking and who's more likable. But again, just to be clear 40 percent of the audience that we polled on this Democratic, 30 percent Republican; that tracks slightly more than the population and a few more Democrats watching the debate tonight, a few more Republicans.

COOPER: But John King, those are numbers wide apart.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Those numbers are wide apart, I'm a bit skeptical because of the Democratic slant in the percentage, more Democrats watching the debate. The numbers, significant number of Republicans, and so McCain's numbers are low.

I'm probably the wrong guy to ask this question because I'm very skeptical of these polls taken in the immediate moments after. There's people are watching the debate and your phone rings right after the debate. I'm just very skeptical of these.

I do think heading on to this debate McCain had a much bigger challenge, which is try to take command of the economic argument, which he is losing.

What I would have liked to have seen tonight and I would love to see over the next few day is, what do Independents think? Because, if you look at any polling, any polling and both guys are holding their base; 90 something percent of Democrats are going to vote for Obama, 90 something percent of Republicans with very few exceptions, Virginia one state are going to vote for John McCain. And the question is, what about the Independents.

That will decide who wins Ohio, who wins Missouri, who wins Florida; if John McCain can get back in the game in Virginia and that's what I would like to see.

COOPER: We heard from Hillary Clinton a short time ago. Rick Davis from the McCain campaign is standing by -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much Anderson.

Let's speak to Rick Davis the campaign manager for Senator McCain. Rick thanks very much for coming in.

RICK DAVIS, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Hey, thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we heard a dramatic statement from Senator McCain tonight when he said -- sort of paraphrasing I am not President Bush. Tell our viewers what he would be doing differently than President Bush when it comes to the current economic crisis.

DAVIS: Well, I think one of the things is clear is that he's not President Bush and he made that clear tonight. And I think that he made it clear that the next four years in his administration will be significantly different than the last eight years of George Bush's.

Look, the clear distinction that I think has the greatest impact on the economy right now and what is happening in Washington and frankly an area where Barack Obama looks more like Bush than John McCain does is in spending. I mean, tonight we heard almost every program that Barack Obama talked about requires new government spending. When you added it all up it's almost $1 trillion.

And when John McCain had the opportunity to talk about what he was going to do. He talked about cutting spending. He talked about taking the hatchet out and hacking that up and then when that was done taking the scalpel out and getting what is left.

So I think that is one of the things that is clearly different. I mean George Bush didn't veto a single spending bill that had all this pork barrel projects in it and excess government spending. He let domestic spending increase in exorbitant rates and we saw the biggest growth the government that we've ever seen since FDR.

And so I think that John McCain will hold the reigns on that. He says, he's vetoing any bill that comes in with pork, he's going to cut the size of government, and he'll attack tax programs whether they're in the Defense Department or any other agency. And there are no sacred cows in a McCain administration.

BLITZER: Well, here is a question that's just sort of confusing to some. Senator McCain like Senator Obama voted in favor of that $700 billion bailout package to help try to stabilize the financial markets out there, the credit market. But there was another $100 billion or so in what some called "earmarks or pork barrel spending" in that same legislation. And as you point out he hates that kind of stuff. Why did he decide to vote for the legislation even though it included unrelated spending?

DAVIS: I think that -- because of the existence of a global financial meltdown that was occurring around every American at the time that this thing was done and the prospects that this effort would try to alleviate that. I mean, obviously John McCain said going into this thing that he had certain principles that he wanted adhered to. He wanted to make sure that CEOs out of these companies that were being invested in or acquired weren't getting big payouts or golden parachutes or even big salaries.

He said that he wanted to make sure there was total transparency. And he also said and you're right, I don't want anymore pork barrel on there.

But you know what this is the problem with Congress. I mean, Congress led by Democrats attached programs to those things that had absolutely nothing to do with trying to restructure the financial system of our country.

And John McCain spoke out about it. But at this time for him to have opposed that and potentially done more damage to the financial system and the course of doing it was a sacrifice that John was willing to make.

And so he swallowed hard, voted the way he felt would help aid most of the Americans to bring this kind of money in and allow him to be able to then offer programs like what he's talked about tonight, with his homeownership restructuring program where he's allowing people to come in and restructure their mortgages so that their houses aren't underwater financially and destroy the neighborhoods and the banks that are around them.

BLITZER: There was extensive discussion and question for Bob Schieffer, on Roe versus Wade and abortion rights for women. And there was a clear difference between these two presidential candidates.

Your candidate Senator McCain said he would like to see Roe versus Wade the Supreme Court case that authorized -- that legalized abortion in the United States reversed and let the states decide whether there should be abortion rights for women.

If that were to happen in the McCain administration and the Supreme Court if it changed that he nominated someone who was approved became a justice that turned Roe versus Wade around and a state or two or several states decided to make abortion rights illegal, would that be ok for Senator McCain?

DAVIS: Look, Wolf, you want to throw anymore more hypotheticals into that question for me and make it even more difficult?

Look, John McCain talked tonight, about the compassion that he has in his family, the adoptions that he and Cindy have gone through and the love that they have for their child and the need to be able to expand adoption throughout the country.

He talked very articulately, I thought, about the fact that abortion is a bad thing in our country and we need to do everything we can to reduce it. He also said very specifically as you point out that he is a federalist and he thinks that the original Roe decision was flawed at its core and that it ought to be allowed to be done by the states.

And outside of that I don't think it's very hard to understand where John McCain's position is on it.

What's interesting to me is Barack Obama had a very hard time talking about the Roe decision and he wasn't very clear as to where he stood on this issue. And he obviously was concerned about the political ramifications of talking about abortion which he is diametrically opposed to and supports abortion.

He has voted in favor of third trimester and they had a very interesting discussion tonight, about the Born Alive Act and the consequences of Barack Obama's votes. And I thought Barack Obama looked very defensive and seemed to not really understand his own record.

BLITZER: Rick Davis is the campaign manager for the McCain/Palin campaign. Rick thanks very much for coming in. DAVIS: Hey, thanks for having me Wolf. It's good to talk to you.

WOLF: Thank you.

All right, Anderson, let's go back and get some analysis on what's going on.

COOPER: We want to correct one poll graphic that we put up. And I think Campbell said it correctly, we just had the wrong graphics so let's just put the graphic up and Campbell will just put all the way down.

BROWN: Yes, just to reiterate, this is on the question of who had spent more time attacking during the debate, as we told you it was McCain 80 percent to Obama 7 percent on our poll. We had those names flipped around. Sorry about that.

COOPER: That's the correct information.

We have a lot more polls ahead in the next hour of our coverage and the next 40 minutes of our coverage before we start to replay the actual debate here on "AC360".

Post-Debate, we also have the magic map of John King and the best political team on television. Although we have so many of them it's one of the best political horde on television right now.

We'll be right back.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, I think it's true that we shouldn't apply a strict litmus test and the most important thing in any judge is their capacity to provide fairness and justice to the American people. And it is true that this is going be I think one of the most consequential decisions of the next president.



COOPER: And welcome to our Post-Debate Analysis on "AC360."

John King right before the break was talking about wanting to see the reaction on Independents to tonight's debate. Campbell Brown actually has some new polling in which it has Independents in them -- Campbell.

BROWN: Yes, this is our breakdown and just to remind everybody the overall number in terms of how people, who they thought won the debate was 58 percent in favor of Obama, 31 percent for McCain. But this is the break down on where Democrats, Republicans and Independents stood.

Democrats no surprise here 88 percent thought that Obama won, 5 percent McCain. Independents 57 percent for Obama, 31 percent thought McCain won it. Republicans 18 percent Obama, 68 percent McCain. So pretty much where our overall number was it seems to be where Independents were breaking down.

COOPER: And John, if you would extrapolate that out to the Independents nationwide, what does that means for the race?

KING: If that's the case and that opinion holds over the next 19 days -- what it does for the race is it means Barack Obama is the next president of the United States. That 19 days is a long time, I think McCain was more effective tonight trying to do the spending and the connecting the dots on the economy and saying Barack Obama is liberal and you don't want him right now. But if that's how Independents saw it tonight, it shows you how you how steep the hill is for John McCain.

COOPER: We have more polling numbers?

BROWN: Yes, and it's on issues of the economy that they don't reflect that at least in the polling that we have. Who better handles the economy, Obama 59 percent, to McCain's 35 percent. Who would better handle the financial crisis, Obama 56 percent, McCain 35 percent. Who would better handle health care, big margin here 62 percent for Obama, 31 percent for McCain. Who would better handle taxes a little bit tighter but not that much, 56 percent for Obama 41 percent for McCain.

COOPER: So David Gergen, if you are John McCain tomorrow and you were in his campaign, what is the message? What do you go out and besides how I won on the debate and did I do great, how does the race change now for John McCain?

GERGEN: Beats the hell out of me.

COOPER: By the way, as a presidential advisor did you ever say that to a president?

GERGEN: He said that I think he will come to regret that he was going out and whip Obama's you know what. That was his pledge. He went out and threw everything he had at it tonight. It did not work; I think the message out of these polls is pretty darn clear.

And so after that I don't know quite where you go. I do think you have to do two things. I think you have to do everything you can to help save as much of the Senate and the House as you can for your party.

I think you have to need -- you need to see if you can leave this with your honor intact. I think you need to go positive about what you do on the economy and get rid of this stuff about Bill Ayers and all this garbage that we've been going through now. Which maybe -- it is relevant in one sense, yes, it's formally relevant but it's not really relevant to the voters.

And they've sent a very clear message on that. And get back to a positive message to see if he can close the gap a little bit. If he can bring it down to three or four points he could still win. I think it's very hard now --

BORGER: But I think it's hard because here is where money and organization comes in. And right now Barack Obama as John was saying earlier he's got the money. He's going to pour more into ads.

CASTELLANOS: I've seen in the commercials three to four to one.

BORGER: At least.

KING: And they are everywhere.

BORGER: And they're everywhere. And he's got the organization. The silver lining of going through that long primary season is that he's got the troops on the ground.

COOPER: So tomorrow "On the Trail" do we hear about Ayers, do we hear about ACORN? And do we hear about that stuff from the McCain campaign? Do they keep hammering away there?

TOOBIN: I think they do because they don't have much else to say, especially Sarah Palin. I mean, Sarah Palin wants to motivate her base. She's the one who wants to talk about Ayers and A.C.O.R.N.

But just looking at those polling numbers so far. What they show is that people feel about the debate what they feel about the campaign. It's about 50 to 40 for Obama overall. And what it seems to me is that the campaign -- the debate simply just didn't change anyone's mind.

BASH: I'm just going to say that yes, actually this week he hasn't been talking about Ayers, he hasn't been talking about A.C.O.R.N. I did an interview with Senator McCain where I brought it up and then of course, he talked about it. But other than that, not so much.

I think that the thing his campaign was most happy about in terms of what he did tonight and you know that because of the email that we got and linking it to YouTube. The YouTube clip was the fact that he said and you heard Rick Davis reiterate this.

I'm not George Bush. You're not running against George Bush. I mean they were probably doing handstands inside the war room. Because it's a fact that they sent this out and actually sent an email to a couple of people inside the war room and I said, you finally said it. You're so happy right? And they said absolutely, they were absolutely thrilled with this.

Because they understand that times are tough. That it's very difficult for John McCain right now. But the key for them is to keep trying to separate himself from George Bush. And he has to say that explicitly like he said tonight.

BORGER: But that's playing defense and that doesn't change anything.

MARTIN: I mean I can understand separating from George W. Bush, but when you completely run away from who you are, the people who understand you --


MARTIN: All of a sudden the voters are going, we are confused. COOPER: We've got to take a break. Because we've got to get a couple of breaks in here in the next half hour. And Roland will continue to talk online at

BROWN: And he'll talk through the break.

COOPER: But you know that is fun saying.

We'll be right back our coverage will continue. "AC360" will be right back.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Mr. Ayers, I don't care about a washed up terrorist, but Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship. We need to know the full extent of senator Obama's relationship with ACORN who is on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voters' history in this country.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "SITUATION ROOM": Twenty days to go right now. Tomorrow it will be 19 days until the end of this campaign; the election on November 4th.

Let's walk over to John King; he's over at the magic map. Nineteen days, let's say, Senator McCain's got lot of work ahead of him right now in our estimate. Obama has 277 either in his corner or leaning toward him; 270 the magic number.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to win the White House. He never saw a map that looked anything like this especially this close to Election Day.

277 electoral votes; we now project Barack Obama would win if the election were today. 19 days is a long time; but that already puts him over the threshold. John McCain trailing back here.

Let's look at the steepness of the challenge. These are the six tossup states; the gold states. The red states are leaning or strong McCain depending on how dark they are; the blue states leaning or strong Obama depending how dark they are.

The gold states are the tossup states; all states huge electoral battlegrounds won by George W. Bush four years ago.

Barack Obama leads in several of these states right now. Let's hypothetically, Wolf, give them all to John McCain just to show the steepness of the hill. He wins Florida, 27 electoral votes, again Obama is ahead right there right now. North Carolina it's a very competitive race, let's say McCain wins it. Ohio, Obama is ahead in this huge battleground but let's give it hypothetically to McCain. I spent much of the week Missouri; it's a state that is a tossup right now; again for the sake of argument. And let's complete it by giving him Colorado where Obama in some polls is ahead and Nevada where I believe in all the polls, Obama's ahead.

McCain still loses the election. So what he has to do in 19 days is not only get up the huge hill of winning all those states which are big battleground states and expensive battleground states. He has to find something on this map that is blue, that is substantial and change it.

They have tried and tried and tried in Pennsylvania, Wolf; 21 electoral votes, if they could change that that would be a game changer. See? But they're down ten or 12 point there so we're going to leave that blue.

Where else do they go? We just leaned Virginia Democrat today; Obama leads by about 10 points. That would put the game back in play if McCain could make it a tossup state. You'd get there; he would still need to find something.

Barack Obama tomorrow will be in the state of New Hampshire. That is where John McCain revived himself. But that is only four electoral votes. But McCain is looking at this map saying where do I go?

And I want to come back to this, the 2004 map so you can see it. This is how it played out four years ago. And again, I'm going to give you some states. This was solid red last time. It is in play. This is now leaning blue. It was red last time. No Republican has ever won without that. The Democrat leads right now.

This is in play. This is in play. Some would even say that Indiana might be in play out here. You are looking at a map, this is what the Republicans would like to see four years ago. Instead it is trending, it's very hard with 19 day left; he has to change the big fundamentals he cannot do this state by state. He has to change the big fundamental.

BLITZER: And unlike Barack Obama he is much more limited in the money that he has; the resources he has. They recently gave up on Michigan. At what point do they give up, let's say, on Pennsylvania, take the money, take the resources of the people and move it to Ohio or Virginia or North Carolina? States where maybe they have a better chance?

KING: You make a fascinating point. They say they will not give up in Pennsylvania because they believe they can win there. But again, they are down ten, 12 points now. It shows you the steepness of the challenge. They will have to make some of those decisions in the next six to ten days.

They say Pennsylvania will not be one but you will keep asking the questions. Where do you go in the map?

You make a great point, Wolf. Obama has more money. He is spending on television. In my travels in this battleground states you run into Obama people, not one or two people, but an office with ten, 12 people, half of them on the payroll; in rural Ohio, rural Indiana, in rural North Carolina -- places where the Democrats have never had paid campaign staff offices this late in the campaign.

The resource question, the fundamental dynamic of the race and just exhaustion I have found out there essentially in this financial meltdown. It is a very steep hill for McCain. They are not going to give up but it is a steep hill.

BLITZER: Nineteen days as of tomorrow. John, stand by.

We're going to go back to Columbus, Ohio. Soledad O'Brien is out there with a focus group. We'll hear some thoughts from them. Much more coming up right here. Our coverage continues.

Remember,; go there, more information. Stay with us.


BLITZER: If you missed the debate you'll be able to see the whole thing at the top of the hour. Stand by for that.

But we're going to go off to Columbus, Ohio, right now. Soledad O'Brien is joining us once again.

Soledad, you're with the focus group. The focus group, we saw the little squiggly line at the bottom of the screen. What they liked, what they didn't like. But pick up the story, give us the assessment right now a little bit more than an hour after this debate concluded.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: What they liked was John McCain from the get-go, really, I would say 25 minutes into the debate John McCain came out very strongly. You could see, let me play you a clip, you've heard this before, where he distances himself from President Bush; probably the strongest line of the night from John McCain.

Listen to it.


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.


O'BRIEN: Take a look at the squiggles, immediately when he said you should have run four years ago, those squiggles go up sharply because really people here found that they really resonate with them.

But the opposite of that was William Ayers. Any discussion about William Ayers, member of the Weather Underground in the '60s, dial testers went right down. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: I don't care about an old washed up terrorist. But as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extension of that relationship. We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama's relationship --


O'BRIEN: You see the dive. Literally it goes off the cliff. You can watch that right on the screen.

Senator Obama had virtually a home run when he talked about personal and parental responsibility in education. People in this room loved that.

Let's play a little clip.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Parents are going to have to show more responsibility, they have to turn off the TV set, put away the video games and finally, start instilling that thirst for knowledge that our students need.


O'BRIEN: Have you ever seen someone when says turn off the TV set, you see the lines just shoot sharply up.

And so those were some of the highs and some of the lows. Interesting to see from the folks who work at SMU, Professor Dan Schill (ph) and Rita Kirk (ph); one thing that they found in the electronic polling they do with this team ahead of time.

John McCain when asked if they thought he was qualified, he basically rated about the same before and after the debate. Barack Obama gained a point, gained a tremendous step really putting him within tapping distance of John McCain on the qualified issue. They have seen that in every single debate until now. That has been interesting to watch.

Jim Simon, curious to know, you are a registered Republican, is that right?


O'BRIEN: All right. Well then, correct me on that.

SIMON: Independent.

O'BRIEN: Registered Independent, forgive me.

What resonated with you tonight?

SIMON: Well, a couple of things. I think, like most folks we wanted to see the debate go big not small. I think -- and address big issues, clarifying positions with some specifics. I felt there was more of that. That was good. I felt particularly the views on social issues were very interesting. We hadn't heard much of that before. That was the high, if you will.

O'BRIEN: Interesting to see a lot of people here felt they finally got some of their questions finally answered. Thank you for that.

I want to give a final handraising. If you were forced to vote tonight, I know many of you are still on the fence. If you're forced to vote tonight, you have to vote, raise your hand if you would vote for Senator Obama? Ten on this side, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 people out of our -- so basically split right down the middle.

Thank you very much to our panel. Appreciate all the time. They have been here literally for hours.

Anderson, I'm going to send it right back to you.

COOPER: Soledad, thanks. We want to thank everyone at Ohio State for helping us over the last three debates we've had at Ohio State. We've had the focus group at each one and it's been fascinating. We appreciate all their help.

Coming up, we're going to have more polling numbers out. New polling information out that Campbell is crunching the numbers on right now, including an answer to the question do you want more debates? I think we all know the answer to that one but we'll be right back.


COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing post-debate coverage here on "AC360".

We have a couple of new poll numbers for you. Campbell Brown has that -- Campbell.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR, "ELECTION CENTER": Yes, these are worth taking a look at. This is on the question of Obama's connection to Bill Ayers which is we've certainly discussed a lot. Whether or not it matters to you, 23 percent said a great deal, 14 percent somewhat, 11 percent not much, 51 percent not at all.

And I think my favorite question in the polls, would you like to see more debates? Two-thirds of you said no thank you we have had enough.

COOPER: I'm stunned.

BROWN: 67 percent said no, 32 percent said yes.

Anderson, I think it is worth noting the trend in all of our post debate polling going from the first one to the third one here. Obama has gone up across the board on favorability, on addressing the issues, strong leader, likeability, expressing his views clearly; from debate one to two to now, increasingly up.

McCain, it has been the reverse. Obama's favorability at its highest now than it's been in all three of our debate polls.

COOPER: And we're going to be replaying the debate in about 11 minutes from now here on CNN.

But in our remaining time, I just want to kind of go around the table, our partisan table and also our nonpartisan reporter table and get a sense of where the race goes now. How things change, if it changes at all?

Roland, from the Democratic perspective.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: For Obama, stay strong in terms of being a leader. For McCain, you have to go hardcore on the economy to reconnect with people. That's what you have to do. You have to attack him on taxes the best that you can.

COOPER: Paul Begala, Democratic.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: McCain needs to listen to David Gergen. His only hope is to go big, to be about the economy, to be big and affirming and heroic.

Barack tonight neutralized not only the tax issue but Ayers, abortion, ACORN, the three A's that they've been hammering him on.

One last polling data, 83 percent want to see more debate analysts.

COOPER: Alex Castellanos?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think Senator McCain can win this thing if he comes out against more debates tomorrow. I think now time for a little buyer's remorse before the sale. If Senator McCain can make a case, imagine what January's going to look like in Washington.

Democrats, good people up there, they start getting everything they want without restraint; taxing, spending, and no grown-up supervision there. They've all got the keys to the candy store.

Can the economy, on the edge of a precipice, afford that now? I think that's the case Senator McCain has to make tomorrow morning.

AMY HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think Alex is right about that. And I think he needs to do what he's always needed to do which is focus on the middle class. This is a huge economic crisis. We know there have been wrong track numbers for months and months and months. He needs to talk about what am I going to do for you on day one to turn this ship around.

He started tonight --

COOPER: Did he say middle class tonight?

HOLMES: I don't believe that he did. He hasn't and he started to finally articulate a vision of small government, why we cut taxes, how it grows jobs and why we support small businesses.

COOPER: He said Joe the Plumber. HOLMES: He said Joe the Plumber but he needs to do a lot more of that. Focused, repeating over and over, not switching from Ayers to this to that.

COOPER: Hilary Rosen, Democrat?

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think Senator Obama has been convincing the American people for a long time that he's the right guy for this job. I think tonight he was kind of reassuring the American people that he can do this job. I think that door closes.

But there is a cautionary note here for Democrats which is there's going to be a lot of focus on Speaker Pelosi and Harry Reid and what happens when the Democrats control Congress. They've already started issuing their commitment to things like pay as you go budgets and fiscal responsibility. So you'll see Democrats hitting hard on that, while Republicans are going to try and create the Democratic Congress as the boogeyman against Barack Obama.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That is a frightening image of the Democratic Congress without supervision.

COOPER: How many people in this country know who Pelosi is?

SANCHEZ: It's not to the level of knowing who Newt Gingrich was when they demonized him. But I think the argument is going to be made about what to do when you have -- you don't have a balance of power in there. I think it's an interesting thing that the real effort is debates are not game changers, we know that, we need to just kind of come to the reality of that.

But McCain started his effort yesterday when he came out with that six-point plan. It was very simple, common sense approaches to what to do about taxes and the economy.

And Barack Obama by the end of the day said I agree with that, too. He needs to keep it simple not as a Republican or Democrat but as a leader.

COOPER: I'll give the same advice to this table, try to keep it simple in the time that we have. Campbell?

BROWN: If it's not a game changer, if this wasn't, what's going to be between now and Election Day? What real opportunity is there for `Senator McCain? And no one has really talked about it tonight.

I was curious to see if anybody would bring up some sort of big Hail Mary pass. We heard a little talk about Senator McCain doing something like, saying he would only serve one term.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what we heard from Barack Obama tonight, what we're going to hear for the next couple of weeks is the closing argument, because he's had an argument as he's gone throughout this campaign. It's been a consistent theme.

And John McCain has to have an argument. He's still looking for his argument and he's got to talk about the middle class and the Congress; 12 percent approval rating. Say it's going to be all liberal. That could help.

COOPER: David Gergen?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We talked a lot about what John McCain needs to do. I would like to focus on Barack Obama.

He has drawn upon these debates to help transform the race. He's in a commanding position now. It does seem to me his goal should be two things, to run up the score so he gets a convincing victory, not just a small victory, but a major convincing victory. And try to define what he needs to do as president so he can say the day after the election, I have a mandate to do the following three things.

Paul will tell you how important that is. That mandate is so important to governing well. If he can run up the score and get a mandate, he'll be much more effective with governing.

BEGALA: Diminish expectations, don't you think?

GERGEN: Yes, exactly.

BEGALA: Diminish expectations. He's not going to solve everything.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I would just like to point out how different the country is from when we started covering this race two years ago. We had Republican debate after Republican debate where the focus was immigration; something that has not even come up in any of these debates.

The economy has completely taken over this race. And I think that is only to the benefit of Obama specifically, but Democrats in general.

COOPER: You had black hair when this race started.

TOOBIN: I did. I'm catching up with you.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: John McCain's biggest problem is going to be convincing people it's not over. You know, all of this, and so going forward, he's got to keep that base going.

I'm reminded of the last couple of weeks of the Dole campaign when they came up with a 96-hour tour. Just something to pump some energy in it so you end it on a high regardless of how it --


KING: It's not over, but remember where we started the first conversation before the first debate. It's a Democratic year. 90 percent of the American people think the country is on the wrong track. Only 10 percent of non-Republicans in this country approve of President Bush's performance in office.

John McCain had to keep Barack Obama in the debates from doing one thing, stepping over the "I'm safe, I'm not a risky president" threshold. Barack Obama has stepped over that threshold in these debates. It is very hard now to push him back.


DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENG: I'll tell you what John McCain started to do yesterday and obviously he did it tonight in the debate and he'll do it tomorrow is on that issue of the economy. He's going to try to hit much more on the idea that Obama is going to spend more, he's going to raise your taxes, I'm going to lower your taxes. And where he's going to do it? Just like yesterday, tomorrow he's going to go to the fiscally conservative Philadelphia suburbs because he thinks that that's place he's going to play.

But he's also going to continue to reprise the theme from the end of his Republican convention speech which is, "fight with me, fight with me, fight with me." That's twofold, one, remind people that he's a patriot. And secondly is to energize that base and to remind people don't give up because remember I've come back from the political dead before.

COOPER: Well, the race continues, Wolf, another 19 days.

Blitzer: Yes, but who's counting? I guess we will be counting.

November 4th, that's the Election Day. I know, it was a long time ago. I was a youth, but look at me now.

All right, November 4th, that's Election Day. We'll, of course, all be back the entire best political team on television. But we're not going anywhere because over the course of the next 19 days, you're going to want to stay here. We have something important and new to inform you about.

Throughout this election, all of these remaining days, CNN has established a special voter hotline number and it's up and running already right now.

If you spot voting problems, this is what you can do. Here is the number. Call 1-877-go-cnn 08. Let me read the number specifically and write it down because we don't know if there are going to be voting problems, but if there are, call this number, 1-877-462-6608. And we'll be all over it.

There are already reports across some of these key battleground states and elsewhere of some voting irregularities.

We want to alert you that tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m., our coverage will resume with "American Morning." I'll be back in "The Situation Room" tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

And if you missed the debate or if you want to see it again, here's a good idea. Here's what you can do. You can stick around because in a couple of minutes, right at the top of the hour, the debate will be replayed right here on CNN.

For all of us, thanks very much for watching. We'll see you next time.