Return to Transcripts main page
McCain Health Scare; A Look At John McCain and Barack Obama's Lobby Machine
Aired July 28, 2008 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, everybody.
Everybody tonight is talking about John McCain's health. He showed up at an event in California today with a small bandage on the right side of his face saying that he had had a mole-like spot removed just as a precaution.
But he is a four-time skin cancer survivor. He is also 71 years old. It is a fair question that we are asking tonight. Should his health be a factor in this race? Will it be?
Meanwhile, for all the ups and downs in McCain's campaign and all the hype surrounding Barack Obama's international trip last week, the numbers don't lie.
Our CNN poll of polls shows Obama with just a five-point lead over John McCain, only five points, with 99 days to go until Election Day. And of course, that poll doesn't fully reflect the response to Obama's trip, but it is still anybody's race.
And one big hurdle that both candidates face is, they like to pride themselves on being free of Washington power brokers and their money. But lobbyists and money, can they ever be totally free of that influence? We are going to look deep into that tonight, all of that and a lot more, no bias, no bull, right here in the ELECTION CENTER.
But we begin tonight with John McCain's new melanoma scare. At an event today that was supposed to be all about the economy, McCain went off message and talked about his brushes with melanoma, urging Americans to get tested for skin cancer.
Then, he sat down with Larry King, who asked him if voters should be concerned about his health.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think so, Larry. I mean, as -- as I say, melanoma is something, if you look at it and you be careful, it's fine.
I had one serious bout with it. And that was due, frankly, to my own neglect, because I let it go and go and go. In fact, I was running for president at the time. I'm not making that mistake again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, we want to know what is going on with John McCain's health and will the questions about it affect his campaign?
And here with some answers right now are CNN's Dana Bash, who is following the McCain campaign, and our chief medical expert, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
And, Sanjay, Senator McCain has had a history of melanoma. He has made that clear. He's gotten a clean bill of health. And you recently were one of a small group of reporters who had a chance to review his medical records. How much do you think people should be concerned?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this melanoma history is far and away his biggest health concern.
He's a pretty healthy guy 71-year-old guy otherwise. When you have a mole like this removed, for the general population, it certainly isn't a big deal. But I think it's fair to say, as a doctor, and I think his doctors would say the same thing, that, given his history of melanoma, the most serious of one was eight years ago, it is a bigger deal with him.
People are going to be more cautious with him. We don't know anything because the biopsy results haven't come back, but there is of a higher degree of concern for someone like him, given his past history.
BROWN: And the hospital who treated and released him, we should say, put out a statement saying -- quote -- "that this is a routine minor procedure." But you point out we are not going to know anything until the biopsy comes back. How long does that take? When are we going to know something?
GUPTA: Well, he's John McCain. He's a presidential candidate. So, it may be a little different.
BROWN: They speed things up, right?
GUPTA: They may speed things up. I still think it will probably be the end of the week probably before we hear anything. They typically either remove this using a scalpel knife or they actually just freeze it off sometimes. I don't know what they did specifically for him. But, usually, two or three days after that is when you get the results back.
BROWN: And given McCain's past history, what is his risk of reoccurrence here?
GUPTA: This is a great question. And it's a little bit more complicated than you might think.
If you look across the board, it's about 65 percent over 10 years. And again the melanoma that was the most in question was the one from 2000. That was the one eight years ago. You saw that he had some bandages or scars on the left side of his face. He had that swelling still that you still see today. So, it's eight years out. And it's 65 percent over 10 years, but the risk goes down year by year.
So, given that he's eight years out and has not had a recurrence in that particular location, I would it's almost negligible that he's going to have a reoccurrence from that melanoma.
BROWN: All right, Sanjay Gupta for us tonight -- Sanjay, thanks.
GUPTA: Thank you.
BROWN: And let me bring in now Dana Bash.
Dana, John McCain's age, health status, they have been discussed throughout the campaign. What if any concerns are you hearing from your sources about the political ramifications of all this?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: About the political ramifications, Campbell, I am hearing some concerns. McCain advisers, they know full well that this is a reminder to voters that obviously he is a cancer survival and it's a reminder that John McCain is a candidate who will be 72 years old next month. He would be the oldest president ever elected.
Polls show that that worries voters. And McCain's advisers are painfully aware that that is exacerbated any time McCain's health is the subject of discussion, like it is tonight.
BROWN: And, Dana, McCain called this a routine checkup, but it did seem to come completely out of the blue, especially to people like you, who are very aware of his schedule and with him all the time, didn't it?
BASH: It did. It came completely out of the blue, Campbell.
And it is quite perplexing. Barack Obama went to the doctor to get his hip checked this weekend and he took the press corps with him. We didn't find out about McCain's checkup, which he calls routine, until after it happened. And it's because of that element of surprise and because of McCain's history that this ended up the story out of the McCain camp today, not what they worked really hard to stage, which were sound bites hitting Barack Obama on an oil field.
It seems that McCain still hasn't necessarily grasped how much he is scrutinized or frankly how to manage that -- Campbell. .
BROWN: All right, Dana Bash for us, as well as Sanjay, who spoke to us a moment ago, thanks very much, Dana.
BASH: Thank you.
BROWN: You can see more of Larry King's one-on-one with John McCain tonight at 9:00 Eastern time right after the ELECTION CENTER.
Today's news does raise the question: How will McCain's health affect the rest of the campaign? And we want to bring that question to our panel, our political panel, talk radio host Lars Larson, joining us as he often does, CNN political analyst Roland Martin and CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger.
Roland, let me start with you.
If elected, John McCain would be the oldest first-term president to serve. I think if I got the number right, 23 percent of voters say his age will make him a less effective president, according to our polling. Is it fair for voters to ask, is this guy healthy enough to be president?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. I think the health of any president is important.
And keep in mind, when Paul Tsongas ran against Bill Clinton in 1992, remember that scene where he went swimming to show that he had overcome cancer. The reality is, Tsongas died within the eighty-year time frame that Bill Clinton served as president. And so of course voters do look at the health of a candidate, because it is extremely important. You want to make sure that person has the ability to remain in office.
BROWN: Lars, we mentioned McCain has had melanoma four times now, but is there a risk that Obama if he tried could overplay the age issue? I think of Ronald Reagan using age tout his experience.
LARS LARSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He could.
I think of President Reagan as well. You talk about presidents that are effective, Ronald Reagan was the most effective president of the last century, and he was the oldest. And, yet, the job of president is about making decisions. There are a lot of people of that age who make fantastic decisions.
But I do think that a president's health is always relevant and it's worth taking a look at it. But the fact is that the senator is a survivor of cancer. Good for him. I will bet he's just glad he's not stuck in one of those government health care plans like Senator Obama would like to foist on us.
MARTIN: John McCain has a great health care plan. He has a great plan.
BROWN: Let me get Gloria's take on this quickly before you move on into other areas here.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Campbell, you are never going to hear Barack Obama talk about John McCain's age.
BORGER: He doesn't have to do that. What you are going to see is when you see the two of them finally together at one of those presidential debates, you are going to see the difference. It is going to be very important for John McCain to prove that he's as vibrant as Barack Obama when he goes mano a mano with him on those debates. That will be key.
BROWN: All right, guys, stay with us. We have got a lot more with the panel coming up, Lars, Roland, and Gloria.
Coming up, a lot can happen in 99 days. We are going to get a snapshot of where the race stands right now, some pretty surprising numbers to bring you tonight.
Also ahead, John McCain and Barack Obama, who both portray themselves as above politics as usual, do they actually have public relation problems with lobbyists? We're going to take a closer look at both of their ties to lobbyists later right here in the ELECTION CENTER.
BROWN: As we have been telling you, there are 99 days to go until Election Day. And that puts the latest poll results into perspective tonight.
Our CNN poll of polls shows Barack Obama with a five-point lead over John McCain, not a lot of breathing room at this point in the campaign, frankly.
So, what will it take for one of them to break this thing wide open? We have got three of the smartest people in politics back with us now to talk about that, Lars Larson, Roland Martin, and Gloria Borger with me now.
And, Gloria, 99 days out, it's anybody's race. What should each of these candidates' priorities be?
BORGER: I think, right now, they both have to reassure voters that they can lead the country.
I think Barack Obama did that on foreign policy or attempted to do that when he did his European tour. Now he's spending his time today, for example, reassuring people that he can lead on the economy.
I think John McCain has already let voters know that he can be commander in chief. They seem to believe that he can. So, he has got to reassure voters that he cares about them, that he's not George W. Bush, and that he can also lead this country out of an economic mess.
So, both of them, right now, talking about their bio, letting the voters know just who they are, and establishing their leadership credentials and their character credentials, because presidential votes are very, very personal things, Campbell. You have to like the person. You have to believe in that person.
BROWN: And, Roland, I want to mention this article to you today. This is "The New York Times," headlined, "Where's the Bounce?"
And it's asked, "Why, given how sour Americans feel about President Bush and the Republican Party and the perception that Mr. Obama is running a better campaign than Senator John McCain, why the senator from Illinois is not scoring even higher in national opinion polls??
Are these numbers disappointing when you look at the big picture?
MARTIN: No, because it's illogical for people to sit here and ask as if somehow Obama will be running away with this whole race, considering the fact that, if you look at the two, John McCain has been around for, what, 30 years. He ran for president in 2000.
BROWN: Roland, come on. You can't argue that Barack Obama needs help with name recognition at this point in the game.
MARTIN: No, no, no. Campbell, there's a reality that, when you have run before, look, people knew John McCain was going to be this formidable force. The bottom line is, he's running against somebody who you add the fact that he is African-American, the whole issue of the Muslim name, how people say, oh, my God, he's the Muslim, he's the Muslim, you add it all to the fact that they say, John McCain is a known entity. Simple as that.
BROWN: Lars, what is it going to take? What is it going to for McCain? Does he need an Obama gaffe at this point? What is it going to take?
LARSON: You know, when the Internet stops bringing up the middle name, Roland has got to bring it up again, as though he wishes the issue was still there.
MARTIN: No, I'm stating a fact. That's what you have here.
MARTIN: That is part of the equation, Lars.
LARSON: The fact is, is that Obama ought to be doing a whole lot better right now. And he's running against, frankly, kind of a weak Republican candidate, who ought to be out beating the drum on drilling for oil, making sure that America has the energy needed to push it forward, and he still can't pull a lot of points. Three points in one poll, five or eight points in the other poll, that's nothing.
MARTIN: Can I remind people, this is same conversation we had in the primary. People said, why isn't Obama putting Clinton away? He ended up winning the nomination. This is a close election.
BORGER: Roland, both of these candidates have got some problems right now.
LARSON: Yes, no kidding.
BORGER: Because Obama is stuck in the high 40s, and McCain is stuck in the low 40s. And that's not where either one of them wants to be right now.
Now, McCain is doing better than he has any right to be doing, quite frankly, given the fact that his campaign hasn't been exactly terrific, and you have a president with a 28 percent approval rating. However, he is not doing as well as he needs to do if he wants to win this election. And neither is Obama at this point.
LARSON: Gloria, I have got to tell you something. Obama, with this citizen of the world nonsense in Europe last week, the fact that he won't advocate for drilling for oil, that all Americans, Republican and Democrat, know we need to be doing right now, Obama has got problems. Senator zigzag can't figure out which direction he's going in Iraq, whether the surge worked or not.
MARTIN: And, Campbell, remember, 2000, you had a popular vice president, and a president with a major force with the economy. Al Gore still lost. This notion that somehow you can just run away with something, it's just nonsense. It will be tight.
BROWN: But how reliable do any of you think the polls are actually going to be this year? Because we hear about Obama's massive voter registration efforts, reaching out to young voters, but having cell phone problems with young voters in terms of trying to gauge where they really are in the process, what their turnout is likely to be.
And, also, race is an issue here, which you can't deny. Historically, people are not honest in polling when it comes to racial questions.
BORGER: I think there is that racial issue. And you put your finger on the other issue, which is that this is going to be an election about demographics.
If older voters vote in fewer numbers than younger voters, Barack Obama is this next president of the United States. Those younger voters are the people that are rough to locate because they're on their cell phones, and the pollsters may not have their cell phone numbers. but I think it's going to be about demographics in a way much more than it is about race.
BROWN: Go ahead, Lars.
LARSON: Younger voters don't vote. That's the truth. Fifteen percent...
BORGER: They did in the primaries.
BROWN: Gloria is right. Come on, Lars.
LARSON: Wait until the general. They generally don't vote.
And, secondly, this issue of race, the guy's in this lead right now. He has got almost half the country in a country that is only 15 percent black, and you're still going to complain about race? Come on.
MARTIN: Hey, Lars, news flash, you have the Tom Bradley effect.
Look, if I'm the Obama campaign, forget the polls and McCain. The only thing that matters is November 4. They don't matter right now, Campbell. Look at John Kerry. At this point, he was beating George W. Bush. He lost.
So, if I'm Obama and McCain, I'm running as if they don't mean nothing, that it's a tied race, and it's all about getting your voters to the polls, period.
BROWN: All right, guys, hold it there. You're coming back. We got have to take another quick break.
But now that Barack Obama is done with his overseas tour, will voters see him differently? We will talk about that with the panel when we come back.
Also, Candy Crowley looks at what the Obama campaign hopes have changed now that he's back home.
Also, the candidates want you to think of them as Washington outsiders. We hear them talk about it all the time. But stick around, because it turns out being totally fenced off from lobbyists and their influence in Washington, easy to talk about, not so easy to actually do.
BROWN: Barack Obama is back from his world tour without missing a beat, back on the presidential campaign trail here at home, talking about economic issues, which is, of course, the issue that voters say they care about the most.
And for the very latest on his day and the end of this trip, we bring in now senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, who traveled with Obama to the Middle East and Europe. And she is in Chicago tonight, happy to be home, I'm sure -- Candy.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Campbell.
I have not talked to a single Obama source today that didn't think that this trip was an absolute 100 percent success. And now they would like to stop talking about it.
CROWLEY (voice-over): It's not the wall in Jerusalem, the Elysee Palace in Paris, or 10 Downing Street in London, but this picture is where the voters are.
This is Barack Obama flexing his economic muscle, or, as an aide put it, a demonstration to voters of who will be advising him on the economy. It's room full of brainpower, from businessman Paul O'Neill, who served as George Bush's first-term treasury secretary, to labor leader John Sweeney, to former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So that the market is thriving, so that hard work is rewarded.
CROWLEY: It's a meeting to help Obama pivot from a trip designed to show his agility on the world stage, to the home front, where he needs to show a steady hand to steward a flailing economy.
OBAMA: And this is an emergency that you feel not only just from reading "The Wall Street Journal," but from traveling across Ohio and Michigan and New Mexico and Nevada, where you meet people day after day who are one foreclosure notice or one illness or one pink slip away from economic disaster.
CROWLEY: Every state mentioned is a fall battleground.
With polls continuing to show voters trust Obama more than John McCain on the economy, the McCain campaign welcomed Obama home trying to rough him up. Advisers called the Obama meeting just another photo-op, while the candidate toured an oil field and slammed Obama for refusing to support the kind of things that will address one of the major issues troubling voters, the cost of energy.
MCCAIN: So, Senator Obama opposes offshore drilling. He opposes reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. He opposes storage of spent nuclear fuel. And, so, he is the Dr. No of America's energy future.
CROWLEY: Even before Obama left Europe at his final press conference in front of 10 Downing Street, he knew this trip might seem off point back home.
OBAMA: We have been out of the country for a week. People are worried about gas prices. They're worried about home foreclosures.
CROWLEY: And it's hard to top pictures with the city of Amman in the background or 200,000 Europeans in the foreground, but, today, a standard Washington photo-op did just fine.
CROWLEY: And just one more thing about today for Barack Obama, Campbell. He spent almost three hours in the office of Eric Holder. Eric Holder of course is one of those people leading the V.P. search for Barack Obama. We are not very far away -- Campbell.
BROWN: Ah, we shall see. Candy Crowley for us tonight -- Candy, thanks very much.
We want to bring back the political panel now, Lars Larson, Roland Martin, Gloria Borger.
So, Roland, Obama obviously got rave reviews from foreign leaders he met with. It was a great week full of photo-ops. But are any Americans really going to care? We know that the economy is far and away the number-one issue to voters here at home. And what about that meeting today? Was that anything more than a photo-op?
MARTIN: Well, first of all, that's what these campaigns are about right now, being able to show that you're leading.
Campbell, on the first part of your question, Americans should care. Every time we have a crisis, one of the things that happens is, we lean on other countries to also intervene, China with Sudan, China with North Korea, the Russians with Iran.
So, I think Americans should be less arrogant as to thinking somehow that we don't need other foreign leaders to help us when it comes to governing in the world. We do. So, you need McCain and Obama talking to leaders of other countries.
BROWN: Lars, he did make it back from his around the world adventure without a major foreign policy gaffe. Knowing you, are you surprised by that, impressed at all?
LARSON: Actually, I differ with that. He gave that big speech in Germany at the Tiergarten park and talked about being a citizen of the world.
LARSON: That's the wrong emphasis.
The fact is, he wants to be president of the United States. His first priority should be the United States, not the rest of the world. And sometimes the right decision for America will not be the right decision for Germany or France or countries that like to sell nuclear reactors to the Iranians and things like that.
MARTIN: And, Campbell, exhibit A, the arrogance of people like Lars who somehow think that say citizen of the world is a bad thing.
Lars, we are citizens of the world when it comes to global economy... LARSON: No.
MARTIN: ... when it comes to global climate, comes to terrorism.
BROWN: Gloria, give us a reality check.
BORGER: I am going to settle this argument on the economy here, because the truth is that neither of these candidates are experts on the economy.
John McCain has said previously that it wasn't his strong suit. Barack Obama has no long-term experience in managing a national economy, much less a global economy. These folks both need to show that they have got their advisers around them, because that gives people comfort.
That's why a lot of people are talking about Mitt Romney possibly as John McCain's running mate, because he does have some credibility on the economy. So, I think Obama understands that, again, getting back to that word reassurance, that he got to do this and sit down with people like Bob Rubin and O'Neill, by the way, who was formerly George W. Bush's treasury secretary. Did anybody miss that, that he was sitting in the room with Barack Obama today? That was interesting.
BROWN: Guys, is this their mission, the two of them, from here on out, is to essentially convince you that they're the guy who can best lead this charge getting us out of this economic crisis?
MARTIN: I think, Campbell, we make a mistake when we somehow think the president can do anything and everything. The people around the president, whether Obama or McCain, are absolutely vital to leading any administration.
LARSON: Campbell, I have to tell you something. The president -- the government is not supposed to drive the economy. The government can screw it up, for certain. And the government may need to tweak a few things.
But McCain's got it right. We need energy to run this country. And there's Barack Obama saying, gee, we're worried about oil.
Yes, we are, Senator. Why don't you do something about it and get your colleagues in the Senate to stop blocking energy legislation?
BROWN: Let me ask Lars this, because this is something McCain is going to have to overcome. Polling consistently shows voters trust Obama more to handle the economy by a margin of almost 20 points. Now, they're with McCain on commander in chief issues, but, on the economy, they're with Obama.
LARSON: I wonder what that means, though, because do they think that $800 million -- sorry -- $800 billion in new taxes invigorate the economy? We can tax our way to prosperity.
MARTIN: Lars, what it means is they probably don't agree with the Bush tax cuts being extended for the rich. That's probably what it means, Lars.
BROWN: Gloria gets the last word, guys.
BORGER: I love that.
Today, we got the news that there's a $490 billion projected budget deficit. People believe that the economy has been mismanaged. McCain can run against the president on this and say, I'm promising you a balanced budget and I will get to it. And Obama can run against McCain on this, saying, you can't make the president's tax cuts permanent because we can't afford to do it.
BROWN: And Obama can lump McCain in with Bush on this.
BORGER: You bet he can.
BROWN: They have a real challenge on this front.
BORGER: All right, Lars, Roland, and Gloria, don't go away. We're going to have you guys back a little bit later, a lot more to talk about.
As Candy Crowley said, Barack Obama met with members of his vice presidential selection team today. "The Washington Post" is reporting that Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is telling people that he has gotten a real serious look from the campaign. And according to "The Post," Senators Evan Bayh and Joe Biden of Delaware have also been seriously vetted.
So, if you think that you're the one who actually knows the answers and who will win the veepstakes, well, go to CNN.com/electioncenter and click on the veepstakes link. You can predict a winner and check the political fortunes of every possible running mate. Right now, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius is the Democrats' number-one choice, followed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. That might change given this story. For Republicans, Mitt Romney is the current leader, followed by Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
Coming up, more on that $482 billion deficit that Gloria Borger just mentioned. Who has got an economic plan to deal with that? Also, a live briefing -- troubled singer Amy Winehouse rushed to the hospital. We're going to have the latest from London -- coming up next.
BROWN: What you're looking up there is a lot of red ink. The Bush administration's new deficit projection for the coming year is $482 billion. That this the highest dollar amount ever, although technically, it is less of a bite out of the economy than the deficits of the 1980s. Before huddling with the panel of economic advisers today, Barack Obama was quick to explain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It was not an accident of history or a normal part of the business cycle that led us to this situation. There were some irresponsible decisions that were made on Wall Street and in Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: John McCain put out a written statement on the deficit today. He said, "There is no more striking reminder of the need to reverse the profligate spending that has characterized this administration's fiscal policy."
Coming up, we are also going to talk about lobbyists and their professional spin on both the Obama and McCain campaigns. But first, Randi Kaye is here with tonight's "Briefing" -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How are you, Campbell?
KAYE: Good to see you.
President Bush has ordered the execution of an army private convicted of four murders and eight rapes. The crimes took place near Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where Ronald Gray was stationed in the 1980s. The last military execution was back in 1961. Under the law, the president must approve executions of military personnel.
Doctors will test political columnist's Robert Novak's brain tumor to see if it is cancer. Novak got sick yesterday at his daughter's home on Cape Cod. Tonight, he is in a Boston hospital. Last week, the 77-year-old Novak struck a pedestrian with his car in Washington.
Police say they know why a man opened fire in Knoxville, Tennessee's church, killing two people. Detectives discovered the suspect's motives in a letter he left in his car. They say 58-year- old Jim Adkisson hated the Unitarian church's progressive social policy. He's been held on $1 million bail.
And Grammy-winning singer Amy Winehouse is in a London hospital tonight. A spokesperson says Winehouse suffered a reaction to her medication. Doctors plan to keep her in the hospital overnight for some observation. Winehouse has battled drug addiction for years. She even sang about it in her hit single "Rehab."
BROWN: All right, Randi, thanks. Appreciate it.
And still ahead tonight, the movers and shakers paid to schmooze, paid to influence the presidential campaign. John McCain has them. Barack Obama has them, too. We're going to look at both campaigns equal time and how they're equally being courted by lobbyists, trying to get the next president's attention. That's coming up in the ELECTION CENTER.
BROWN: When it comes to taking money from lobbyists, both Barack Obama and John McCain say that they are squeaky clean. But what is the real truth? After all, in politics, as in life, money talks.
So, tonight, we are starting a series investigating the lobbyists and the candidates, "No Bias, No Bull." CNN's David Mattingly is in Washington with a look at Obama's lobbyists -- David.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, we're always talking about how much money the campaigns are raising but some are saying the source of that money might be getting harder to track, even if the campaign has a no lobbyist rule.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): The Obama campaign is an extraordinary money machine, especially impressive because it made an unprecedented pledge, no money from lobbyists.
OBAMA: I don't believe we can take on the lobbyists if we keep on taking their money.
MATTINGLY: It sounds like out with the old days of big lobby money and in with the small donor. In fact, campaign figures show 94 percent of the money going to Obama comes from people writing checks for $200 or less. Sounds good, right?
But some political observers say that does not mean lobbyists have been locked out. They could still have influence.
LISA LERER, "THE POLITICO": People who are not directly registered as lobbyists but perhaps working for a company maybe, you know, working for a company capacity that's conjunctionally (ph) related to government affairs can give money. And just because you don't take money from lobbyists, of course, does not mean you're not taking money from big business.
MATTINGLY: The Center for Responsive Politics estimates Obama has taken $18.8 million from lawyers and law firms, some that employ lobbyists for special interest clients. One of the big rewards for big lobby contributors was access to the White House if your candidate won. But some say where lobbyists are out of campaigns, they've only been replaced by so-called bundlers.
MATTINGLY (on camera): Bundlers are deep pocket contributors who work to get others to reach into their deep pockets to give the maximum allowable individual contribution. This creates huge bundles of cash.
SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: We've been trying to find out more about them, the specific amounts that bundlers are responsible for having raised and the occupations and employers of these bundlers, so that we can better identify where the money is truly coming from.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): The Obama campaign says it does use bundlers. This e-mail obtained by CNN shows a top dollar Obama fund- raiser definitely acting like one. The e-mail promised a private meeting with Obama for Iranian Americans if the group could raise 250 grand.
KRUMHOLZ: We know that Barack Obama has raised at least $52.2 million from bundlers, or about 18 percent of his overall receipts.
MATTINGLY: The Obama campaign says the e-mailer was wrong to make that promise and fell short of the stated dollar goal. A spokesman says the candidate spoke to the group for 15 minutes, pausing for handshakes and photos.
In fact, the campaign now seems to want to make sure everyone at least has a chance to meet the candidate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If you make a donation in any amount, by July 31st, even just $5, you could be selected to come to Denver to attend the convention and even join me backstage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And that is the all-time perk behind any contribution.
BROWN: David, I've got to ask, because as I understand it, Obama does take money from lobbyists who are at the state level, state lobbyists and local lobbyist, correct?
MATTINGLY: Yes, he does. His campaign says what they're doing is not a perfect system or a perfect symbol but they say they do not take money from registered federal lobbyists, which is where the big money and the big influence usually came from.
BROWN: All right. So I guess we have to be very specific when we ask them which kind of lobbyist they are banning from their contributor's list.
All right, David Mattingly for us tonight. Thanks, David. Coming up, it is John McCain's turn. He is known as a maverick but he hob-knobs with some pretty high level Washington insiders. Our series continues when we come back.
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Larry King. And coming up on the show tonight, John McCain is here. And I'm going to ask him about Barack Obama, the economy, his running mate and his health. There was a new development on that front today.
We'll talk about it all next on "LARRY KING LIVE." And back to Campbell Brown after the break.
BROWN: The presidential candidates like to portray themselves as Washington outsiders. The image and reality, not quite the same thing.
Tonight in the ELECTION CENTER, we're taking a "No Bias, No Bull" look at the candidates' ties to Washington's ultimate insider's lobbyists. And we've already looked at Barack Obama. So now, here's CNN's Joe Johns with an eye opening look at some of the people John McCain rubs elbows with on a regular basis. Joe, live down in Washington, what do you know?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, John McCain and the lobbyists is sort of a story that won't go away and that is partly because the Democrats like to talk about it so much. And like always, when you're following the lobbying game, it's about money and who gets access to power.
JOHNS (voice-over): To hear John McCain tell it, he's your guy in Washington fighting against the unchecked influence of big businesses and their lobbyists.
MCCAIN: The workers and entrepreneurs of America are taken for granted by their government while the lobbyists and special pleaders are seldom turned away.
JOHNS: Those lobbyists often kick in top dollar to gain access to the highest corridors of power, right? Sure. But how does that McCain rhetoric square with this, a fancy 2006 soiree of the little known but well respected international Republican institute in Washington? The video from the group's own Web site shows the chairman of AT&T, which has just donated $200,000 to the institute introducing none other than John McCain, who is still chairman of the institute's board.
JOHNS (on camera): Remember, at the time, McCain was fresh off of a term as the chairman of the Senate committee that regulates telephone companies like AT&T. AT&T says there were no strings attached to the donation but that's not always the point. PROF. LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Access this is name of the game. It's getting in the door to see your candidate so you can make your case. Sometimes you don't even need to see the candidate. You just talk to staff members, the people who influence the candidate's decision.
JOHNS (voice-over): OK, so which is it? Will the real John McCain please stand up? Is he the scourge of a system in Washington that rewards lobbyists and their wealthy bosses? Or is he the guy who hob-knobs with, and therefore, might somehow be influenced by the very interest he says he's trying to root out?
Answer? Both. Smart politicians know that tough talk on lobbyists sounds good to the public. But the reality is players at this level can't live without them.
SABATO: They know they work with lobbyists. They have staffers who've been lobbyists. They are going to depend on lobbyists for a lot of the information for the decisions they make if they get elected. So, absolutely, there's a lot of hypocrisy involved.
JOHNS: The group, IRI, that held the event McCain attended gets just about all of its money from the federal government to do things like promote democracy around the world and help governments run more efficiently. It's a cause McCain believes in.
A former IRI staffer who also worked for the last McCain presidential campaign says that while the IRI event may have brought McCain and the lobbyists together, there was never a quid pro quo.
TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The important question is, are those lobbyists getting anything, any special favors or special privileges for their donations? In the case of Senator McCain in general and IRI specifically, there has never been a single time when someone gave money and said, this is what I want in exchange.
BROWN: Joe Johns back with me now. And, Joe, I got to ask with all this talk of clearing out the lobbyists, he -- McCain has also gotten a lot of criticism over his campaign manager, Rick Davis, who is a former lobbyist.
JOHNS: That's right. And there are some other former lobbyists as well, you know, a variety of people. You might even need a scorecard to keep up with all of them.
The Democrats say McCain is tainted by this. The Republicans say he is completely above it. He's put in actually a conflict policy to try to tell people who are actually paid by the campaign that they can't work actively as lobbyists. But still, the story tends to dog him quite a bit, Campbell.
BROWN: Joe Johns for us tonight. Joe, as always, thanks.
Coming up next, my political panel looks at the lobbyists and their motives, their influence on Obama and McCain, and what it means for you. You're deciding this election. We'll be right back.
BROWN: While both candidates say they are not interacting with big bucks lobbyists, well, it is happening quietly behind the scenes, "No Bias, No Bull."
Let's bring back our political panel now. Radio talk show host Lars Larson, CNN political analyst Roland Martin, and senior political analyst Gloria Borger.
OK, Roland, on Obama's Web site, it says, "We don't take money from lobbyists or Political Action Committees and we're going to build a broad base of individual donors to ensure that this campaign answers to no one but the people."
We just heard David Mattingly report he's taken money from state lobbyists, from local lobbyists, because they say he has no influence on the state level. This sounds a lot like parsing to me.
MARTIN: That's exactly what it is. I mean, we cannot sit here and deny the reality that lobbyists, they play a significant part in the political game. In fact, Campbell, it's also the onset about of our sales. Our own media companies, we all have lobbyists as well. And so, we can't act as if it doesn't even affect us.
BROWN: I know, but we're not standing up and saying that we're going to oppose lobbyists.
MARTIN: Well, actually, we are saying that when we talk about commentaries and stuff. The point is you don't do business in the nation's capitol unless you have people who are beating those doors --
BROWN: So you're OK with it. You've got no problem with him telling people that he's got this huge issue with lobbyists and quietly behind the scenes --
MARTIN: No. No. He tries -- he tries to clarify by saying I don't take federal lobbyists, but again, state lobbyist is still a lobbyist. Lobbyist or lobbyist.
BORGER: Corporate money.
BROWN: All right, Lars, let me ask you the same question.
LARSON: Listen --
BROWN: McCain, you know, after he became the Republican nominee, said he was going to take this dramatic step, purging his campaign staff of anyone with lobbyist ties. Several staffers did leave. But as we heard from Joe Johns, Rick Davis, his campaign manager, former lobbyist, still there.
BROWN: Charlie Black, former lobbyist, now, still in a senior adviser position. A lot of parsing. You're either OK with lobbyists or you're not, right?
LARSON: Well, here's the problem, Campbell. I don't know why everybody is so excited about this. I take the position at gosh (ph). You mean the oil companies might come to Capitol Hill and say let us drill some more. Or the pharmaceutical companies might come up and say, let us get drugs to market quicker to treat people's diseases. That would be horrible, wouldn't it? And it would be awful if the auto companies stated and said we could compete more effectively and make better automobiles if you free us up from some of this ridiculous legislation.
MARTIN: Oh, Lars.
LARSON: Why is that a bad thing?
BROWN: I'm not -- I'm saying the hypocrisy is a bad thing.
LARSON: Yes, I understand.
BROWN: But to Lars' point, to Lar's point, Gloria, let's play devil's advocate, why are we demonizing all lobbyists?
BORGER: I don't know.
BROWN: By why is the lobbyist guaranteed in the Constitution?
BORGER: See, I think that people basically understand that lobbyists lobby for everyone. They lobby for your schools, and they lobby for oil companies. So, take your side here.
What I have a problem with is both of these campaigns acting as if they're holier than thou, trying to be purer than the other candidate.
LARSON: God bless you, Gloria.
BORGER: When in fact -- when in fact, both of these candidates, Obama can take money from corporations, right? I mean, come on. It's sort of ridiculous.
MARTIN: Campbell -- Campbell, we demonize lobbyists because it's easy. Just like the American public, they love to criticize the media. But when they get in trouble, guess what? Our phone gets to start ringing first off.
LARSON: You mean, I got to agree with Roland?
MARTIN: Of course, you do. I'm right.
LARSON: I got to agree with you, Roland.
MARTIN: I was right, of course.
BROWN: Address Gloria's point about the position they take, of being holier than thou on this issue.
BROWN: I mean, why not be honest with the American people and say, yes, we have lobbyists we are working with and dealing with because the lobbyists, in many cases, are here on your behalf?
LARSON: Campbell, the answer is this, because then the mainstream media will come out and say, you can't be on the side of lobbyists, as though being on the side of lobbyists is evil. Like they said the lobbyists represent the longshoreman, and, you know, the AFL-CIO and the auto workers and the oil companies. I wish a candidate would be honest, both of them, and just say, lobbyists are --
MARTIN: Hey, Lars, there are some lobbyists that are frankly slimy and we should attack when they begin to write the laws. But, look, I'm not going to say all are bad but a lot of them are bad, Lars.
BORGER: Look, a candidate just has to make the case that he is not bought and paid for. That is it. That is all the American public wants to know, which is that you are independent and nobody has bought your vote.
LARSON: But, you know, even that, Gloria, is kind of ridiculous because a candidate who has to take several hundred million dollars to become president is going to say, I've taken several hundred million but I'm independent. This is like a trust fund kid saying, I'm really independent even though dad is sending me checks every month.
BROWN: All right, guys, we got to end it there. To Lars, Roland and Gloria, I can't wait to hear the candidate who says, I'm only going to avoid slimy lobbyists.
I'm just going with the good lobbyist, OK. Make that case.
All right. Appreciate it, guys, as always, to Lars, Roland and Gloria tonight.
LARSON: Thanks, Campbell.
BROWN: News headlines coming up next, including Barack Obama talking about the odds of his winning. We'll have that after the break.
BROWN: Live from the ELECTION CENTER right now, here are the hour's headlines. A biopsy is being performed on a spot of skin removed today from John McCain's face. The senator will have more to say about it next on "LARRY KING LIVE." At a fund-raiser just now, Barack Obama told the crowd, "We are now in a position where the odds of us winning are very good, but it is still going to be difficult."
The remnants of Hurricane Dolly are causing severe flooding in New Mexico. We're keeping an eye on that.
And singer Amy Winehouse was rushed to a London emergency room tonight. A spokesperson said Winehouse suffered a reaction to her medication.
That's it from the ELECTION CENTER tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" with Senator John McCain starts right now.