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The Next President: Battlegrounds

Aired October 12, 2008 - 21:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shutting down the operation was the only course left to take.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A sad day for a small town, but it's a sad day for the country.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's what the American people need to know.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will get the rising cost of food and gas under control. I will help families.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now is not the time for panic. Now is not the time to turn Americans against each other.


JOHN KING, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hello and welcome, I'm John King in Columbus, Ohio.

With the presidential election a little more than three weeks away, the volatile economy is by far the dominant issue, and a handful of battle ground states will determine the out come.

Over the next hour, we will map out where the race stands here and nationally, with the help of the best political team on television. We will also look back at highlights from the second presidential debate, and look ahead to the third and final McCain- Obama face off coming up Wednesday.

We are here in Ohio because this state tops the list of battle ground states. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying this state. With the economic and political climate now favor the Democrats. During the Bush presidency, the unemployment rate here nearly doubled, 200,000 jobs have disappeared.

As we learned first hand in our travels here, losing a job can change everything, even your vote.


KING (voice-over): They are not welcome inside anymore and yet they can't seem to walk away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shutting down the operation was the only course left to take.

KING: It's not just the shock at 200 jobs lost, it's how it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don't have any more answers than what Jennie knows.

KING: Locks changed at the end of a shift, a form letter in the mail, health insurance canceled with two days' notice.

It hurts more because places like Ashland used to be different. Employers were part of the small-town family.

DEB SHERIFF, ASHLAND RESIDENT: That when you thought you would retire from there, you know.

KING: Deb Sheriff worked at Archway Cookies for 31 years. Her father moved here from Michigan back in the '50s to help build and open the bakery.

SHERIFF: We were family. They looked out for us. We got good raises twice a year. We got raises twice a year. We haven't had a raise in maybe six years. So it's just devastating.

KING: Nobody was getting rich here. The jobs paid from $14 to $18 an hour, but there was health insurance.

Deb's Sheriff's daughter is a single mom who also worked at the bakery.

SHERIFF: My daughter had a heart attack three years ago, so she is on heart medicine. She's got high blood pressure. She's diabetic. And we have no benefits as of today. It's going to be hard for her and hard for all of us.

KING: Tiny Ashland was already struggling. When the factories closed, the vacant storefronts on Main Street soon followed.

For 19 years, Archway Cookies protected Tim Mowery from the decline around him.

TIM MOWERY, ASHLAND RESIDENT: The town of Ashland is a dying town. All the manufacturing is leaving.

KING: Politics are, for the most part, predictable in a conservative place like this and Republicans count on big margins to help offset the edge Democrats have in urban areas like Cleveland.

SHERIFF: I like John McCain. I especially like him because he served our nation.

KING: Deb Sheriff doesn't know about his economic ideas, but feels strongly Barack Obama lacks the experience for such troubled times.

SHERIFF: I never even heard of Obama until he started running for president.

MIKE DAVIS, ASHLAND RESIDENT: But they are still back in semi trucks and taking...

Mike Davis is among the many here who say losing their jobs is changing their political thinking.

DAVIS: We will be leaning towards Barack Obama at this point because the country needs to go definitely in a different direction. Washington is corrupt and everybody knows it. You have the extremely rich and you have us.

UNIDNETIFIED FEMALE: That is what we both heard on the phone today, that we have no money.

KING: Walk the crowd and there are rumors the banks cutoff credit. A buzz the machines were trucked overnight to a bakery in Canada.

And a numbing sense among people like Diana Anderson that nobody outside this town will care much.

(on camera): Do you think the government and the corporate culture and the political culture -- forgive me -- gives a damn about people like you?

DIANA ANDERSON, ASHLAND RESIDENT: No, I absolutely don't. That's obvious.

KING (voice-over): Anderson is absolute in her opposition to abortion, usually a reliably Republican vote for president. Not this year.

ANDERSON: Definitely, Obama.

KING (on camera): Definitely. No question?

ANDERSON: Definitely, no question about it. I'm definitely going to vote for Obama.

KING (voice-over): For Anderson, looking for a job means looking at politics differently.

ANDERSON: McCain has shown me nothing that would benefit us in our economy. He is the Republican and I honestly feel he probably is for corporate America.

KING: Obvious trouble in a place McCain needs to win big, a small town where painful change makes things predictable.


KING: For years ago, Ohio tipped the election in favor of President Bush. So it's no surprise both candidates have been here the last view days trying to ease the palpable economic anxiety.


MCCAIN: This crisis started in our housing market in the form of subprime loans that were pushed on people who couldn't afford them. Bad mortgages were being backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And it was only a matter of time before a contagious of unsustainable debt began to spread. This corruption was encouraged by Democrats in Congress and abetted by Senator Obama.

OBAMA: We can't afford four more years of John McCain's call for less regulation so that no one in Washington is watching anyone on Wall Street. We've seen where that leads us. We are not going back there. We are -- we are going to turn the page on these years of economic policies that put Wall Street before Main Street and ended up hurting both.


KING: Let's turn to two members of the best political team on television, Dana Bash, who is in St. Paul, Minnesota, covering the McCain campaign, and our Jessica Yellin is in Washington. She has been following the Obama campaign.

Jessica, let's start with you. The economic anxiety benefits Barack Obama politically, but how difficult is it to craft a message at a time of volatility with such uncertainty about what comes next?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: John, it is working quite well to his benefit. The people you interviewed, Diana Anderson and Mike Davis, those are the people we were saying just a few months ago, these are lunch bucket voters Barack Obama will have a challenge winning. These financially unstable times have helped Barack Obama because it gives substance to his change message. He is now talking about specifics. It is not this airy fairy idea of nebulous change, but specifically he plans to turn around this financial crisis, help with the markets. And he's targeting the message in Florida and focusing on foreclosures, in North Carolina focusing on plant closings. And in Ohio where you are, focusing on health care. They think especially health care reform is the issue that will take them home to Election Day.

KING: So, Dana, the burden is higher for McCain because many voters are not so much in love with Barack Obama, but they're tired of a Republican White House and tired of Republican rules, if you will. How does a McCain campaign try to capture this moment?

DANA BASH, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It is incredibly difficult. And you see it every day on the campaign trail, john McCain and his aides are really struggling how to figure out that question.

Inside the campaign, they are very, very candid about the fact that you can't think about creating a worse political scenario for John McCain heading into the final months of this election. What he has been trying to do is turn the dynamic and the discussion to not so much about the economics but about leadership, that Barack Obama is not somebody you can trust. They realize that is not enough. By week's end, he has been trying to throw ideas out there, like saying to retirees, you no longer should have to sell off stocks. Things like that, they are trying. Just the way they are doing it and the way that McCain is or maybe isn't explaining it, some fear how much that will sell.

KING: More from Dana Bash and Jessica Yellin a bit later in the program.

But up next, Ohio's new voters. We'll look at their potential impact on whether John McCain or Barack Obama carries this important state.

Later, in the "NEXT PRESIDENT: BATTLEGROUND," the race issue.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I couldn't. I can't vote for him because he's a black man.



KING: Election Day is on November 4th. But the voting is already underway here in Ohio. This is one of the several states where early voting could have an impact on a dramatic outcome of the presidential race. Since 2004, more than a half million people have been added to the voting rolls here in this battleground state. Let's take a closer look at how the state of Ohio breaks down.


KING: Ohio and the 20 electoral votes always a battle ground and the history books tell you why it's critical to John McCain. No Republican has won without carrying the Buckeye State.

Let's look back in time to break down the keys to victory. This is 2004, George W. Bush winning narrowly with percent to 49 percent in the state of Ohio. How did he do it? For starters, the Democrats win big up here, Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, the industrial areas, the places with a high African-American population, blue-collar union towns down here. Democrats also do well in the city of Columbus, Franklin County. The city itself has a decent African-American population and a Democratic base. The rest of the state -- we'll clear the ma- -- small town rural places, like Ashland County. Not much of a population there, only 0.5 percent of the state. But this is how the Republicans offset the big margins in the city, 65 percent for George W. Bush there, 34 percent for John Kerry.

The other key for Republicans is to win big down here, Hamilton County in Cincinnati, the communities are around day and rural areas down here. That is the Republican base in the state of Ohio. Critical for George W. Bush four and eight years ago. And more critical for John McCain now. One quick look back in time. The last time a Democrat carried the state was 1996. This is what it looked like. Barack Obama wants to make the map look like this. To do that, he has to win in Cleveland where John Kerry did, but Toledo and down around here. This is more small-town blue-collar America. As Barack Obama studies the map, one footnote that might make them a bit nervous. We come fast forward to the 2008 Democratic primaries. This light-blue area, Senator Hillary Clinton, she beat Barack Obama by convincing margins in many of the areas here, small-town blue-collar, largely white communities. Critical to a Democratic victory, if Obama is to put Ohio in his column where he struggled months ago in the primary there.


KING: Joining me is the Ohio secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner.

Let's start with the bottom line, new voters? You have registered how many new voters in the state?


KING: That's quite a good number. On the plus side, that's optimistic. The more people who vote, the better.

Let's go through some of the counties. The number one net change, Cuyahoga County where Cleveland is, number two, Franklin County where we are, and the city of Columbus, that's where you find most of the Democrats. Do you believe, based on the county by county numbers, the advantage would go to the Democrats so far in what you're seeing in the new numbers?

BRUNNER: It remains to be seen. In the primary, a lot of new registered voters declare affiliations by voting. We did have a lot more Democrats voting than Republicans voting at the primary. It would appear to trend that way with the new registration.

KING: Enough to tip the state? You know how it went years ago for George W. Bush, 51-49. Based on what you're seeing, if we re-ran the 2004 election with these new voters, do you think the state would switch?

BRUNNER: Hard to say because we have such diversity in the state of Ohio. And you get into the southeast area, and even though Democrats have won in that area, there the views that are not as progressive as they are about acceptance of diversity as they are in the urban areas. People do wonder about the Bradley effect. Even though we have new registered voters and they are more likely to trend Democrat, we are not sure how they will affect each other.

KING: We'll watch that play out. With all these numbers comes controversy. One, in Green County, the Republican party trying to sue the block, I think, or at least at an investigation to look into voting, same-day voting, they believe, on the final registration day. That's a college area with young people coming in. What's the dispute there?

BRUNNER: This is the Green County sheriff who's made a public records request on the board of elections for the names and addresses of all the voter who both registered and voted on the same day during this period of overlap. We have, between when you can start voting absentee and still register and do it on the same day. The difficulty with that is we have three colleges, two of which are African-American colleges, located in the county.

KING: An organization also called ACORN, a liberal group, they have been registering voters in a number of states. Our Drew Griffin, investigative correspondent, has done some work on it. In a number of states, people have called into question the forms coming in and filled out by the same person. Your state has come under fire as well. What is the situation there? And how do you look into the things and convince people in the state and around the country, our voter rolls, yes, they will be swelled with new people, but will also clean out fraud?

BRUNNER: What happens when someone registers to vote, is they are sent a confirmation notice. If that notice comes back and shows the person doesn't appear to live there, that person's name would be marked on the voter registration rolls. If that person voted in absentee ballot, that ballot has already been voted on paper and segregated so that ballot would come into question and most likely not be counted.

ACORN has had difficulties in the past. And I believe they have tried to work those out and warn officials ahead of time, but again, when you bring in pate people to register voters, you will have people who try to register massive numbers to earn more money. It is a problem. It's better if it's a group that's trying to find its own members and make sure they are registered.

KING: Four years ago, after the outcome, many Democrats and liberal groups complained that your predecessor, the Republican, was part of some effort to cook the books and fix the race here. Conspiracy theory or reality when you look back four years ago? Are you satisfied with the results the? And looking forward, I assume the Republicans will come after you because you are a Democrat. How can you convince people that this state, which could determine the winner of this presidential election, will have a fair and honest election?

BRUNNER: We have studied our voting machines and voting systems. We are aware of their vulnerabilities. We've instituted procedures at every county level. We have also looked at what happened in 2004 with the long lines on Election Day. We've changed our systems, 53 of 88 counties have touch-screen voting machines which, from a supply and demand standpoint, can present problems. But we have mandated back-up paper ballots in the amount of 25 percent people who voted in the last election. In addition, in those counties, when the polling places are larger places, there will be two lines, one for the machines and one for paper. Because we know two lines will make the voting go faster.

KING: Jennifer Brunner, the secretary of state here, we wish you the best of luck during the early voting already under way, especially on election day a few weeks away.

BRUNNER: Thank you.

KING: Thank you for joining us.

When we come back, the candidates address the economic crisis and why they are prepared to lead the country out of it.

Later, what role will race play in the election?

The "NEXT PRESIDENT: BATTLEGROUND" will be right back.


KING: John McCain and Barack Obama squared off in their second debate a few days ago. At the town hall-style format in Nashville, both candidates talked about why they believe they are best prepared to address the country's biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression.


OBAMA: The question in this election is, are we going to pass on that same American dream to the next generation? Over the last eight years, we have seen that dream diminish. Wages and incomes have gone down. People have lost their health care or are going bankrupt because they get sick. We have young people who have the grades and the will and the drive to go to college, but they don't have the money. We can't expect that if we do the same things we have been doing over the last eight years that somehow we will have a different out come.

We need fundamental change. That's what is at stake and that's the reason I decided to run for president. And I'm hopeful that all of you are prepared to continue this extraordinary journey that we call America. But we are going to have to have the courage and the sacrifice, the nerve to move in a new direction.

MCCAIN: The challenges we face are unprecedented. Americans are hurting tonight in a way they have not in our generation. There are challenges around the world that are new and different. They will be different. We will be talking about countries sometime in the future that we hardly know where they are on the map, some Americans.

So what I don't know is what the unexpected will be. I have spent my whole life serving this country. I grew up in a family where my father was gone most of the time because he was at sea and doing our country's business. My mother basically raised our family.

I know what it's like in dark times. I know what it's like to have to fight to keep one's hope going through difficult times. I know what it's like to rely on others for support and courage and love in tough times. I know what it's like to have comrades reach out to you, and your neighbors and fellow citizens, and pick you up and put you back in the fight. That's what America is all about. I believe in this country. I believe in its future. I believe in its greatness. It has been my great honor to serve it for many, many years.


KING: With us to help break down the debate and the state of the campaign is Republican strategist and senior CNN contributor Ed Rollins, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and Democratic strategist and Clinton White House veteran, Jennifer Palimerry (ph).

Ed, let me start with you. We saw the classic change versus experience argument. Given the argument on Wall Street, the anxiety across the economy. Which holds the most sway at the moment in your view?

ED ROLLINS, CNN SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR: Right where you are, John, in the heartland of America and the critical factor that you have to win right there to win Ohio. For those voters you interviewed, people who were displaced from the cookie factory and the voters in Ashland, the message of Barack Obama is about their life, what's going on in their life. John McCain's message was about heroism 40 years ago, what it takes to lead in a war. Great courage which he has always had, but I don't think it would relate as much as Obama's message did to those people.

KING: So, Jennifer Palimerry (ph), if the Republicans are saying Obama has the wind at his back, what worries you? He can't rely on the fact that voters are tired of pushing the Republicans, can he?

JENNIFER PALIMERRY (ph), DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: When the voters saw how the two candidates handled the financial crisis, they saw a steadier hand in Barack Obama. You had a somber tone and he struck with the same principles and same line throughout. You saw much more erratic reaction on the side of McCain. I think McCain's biggest problem is Georgia Bush. Second, people feel that the fundamentals of the economy and that being strong, that continues to hurt him. Lastly, I think that he had a moment to be seen as a calm, steady leader and didn't meet that bar.

KING: Gloria, bank in 1992, when our friend Mr. Carville said it's the economy, stupid as a campaign slogan, the Clinton campaign said specificity is the character issue of this campaign. When it comes to specifics to help voters deal with the volatility and uncertainty and fear many of them have that when they look at the economy, does either candidate have the edge when it comes to here are the specific things I would do to help you?

GLORIDA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. McCain has been -- he threw out a proposal at the debate and another proposal late last week about your 401K plan. What people are looking for generally -- because they know these presidential candidates right now cannot change things. They're looking for leadership. It's not theoretical. It's real. It's a real crisis.

In the clips you show, the problem McCain has is he is not sticking to one message. He is going back to experience message, but he was talking about being the change agent and the maverick. We are the mavericks. That's gone out the window when people don't want any risk anymore.

Obama has related change to the economy. He's saying we need to turn the page on eight years of Bush. That's very natural for him. The change argument was forced for McCain. He has gone back to experience it and it's not working well for him in Ohio it seems.

KING: Gloria, Jennifer, Ed, stand by. More of our debate recap to come.

Just ahead, Barack Obama and John McCain on the struggling economy and how they'd fix it.

Plus, a look at how the electoral map will shape the campaign's final three weeks.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ohioans like voters across the America rank the economy by far as their top concern in this presidential campaign. At the Nashville debate, question number to the candidates was how would they address the current financial crisis?



OBAMA: Step one was a rescue package that was passed last week. We have got to make sure that works properly. That means strong oversight and making sure investors, taxpayers are getting their money back and treated as investors. It means we are cracking down one CEOs and make sure they are not getting bonuses or golden parachutes as a consequence of this package.

And in fact we just found out that AIG, a company that got a bailout, just a week after they got help withstand on a $400,000 junket. And I tell you what, the Treasury should demand that money back and executives should be fired.

But that's only step one. The middle class need a rescue package. And that means tax cuts for the middle class, it means help for homeowners to stay in their homes. It means that we are helping state and local governments set up road projects and bridge projects that keep people in their jobs and then long term we have got to fix our health care and fix our energy system that is putting such an enormous burden on their families. You need somebody working for you and you have got to have somebody Washington who is thinking about the middle class and not just those who can afford to hire lobbyist.

MCCAIN: Americans are angry, they are upset and they are a little fearful. It's our job to fix the problem. I have a plan to fix this problem and it's got to do with energy independence. We have to stop sending $700 billion to countries who don't like us very much. We have to keep taxes low. All Americans taxes low. Let's not raise taxes on anybody today. We obviously have to stop this spending spree going on in Washington.

Do you know that we have laid a $10 trillion debt on these young Americans who are here with us tonight. $500 billion of it we owe to China. We have to have a package of reforms and it has got to lead to reform, prosperity and peace in the world. And I think that this problem has become so severe as you know, we will have to do something about home values.

You know that home values of retirees continue to decline and people are no longer able to afford their mortgage payments. As president of the United States, Alan (ph), I would order the secretary of the treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loans in America and renegotiate the new value of those homes, at the diminished value of those homes and let people be able to make those payments and stay in their homes.

Is it expensive? Yes. We all know, my friends, until we stabilize home values in America, we are never going to start turning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy. And we have got to give some trust and confidence back to America.


KING: Joining us again Republican strategist Ed Rollins, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger and Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri.

Ed Rollins, give Senator McCain some advice here. You know how this works. To turn this around he needs to get white rural Americans who helped George W. Bush win the White House and he needs to increase his appeal among those so-called Reagan Democrats. They got that name back in the day when you worked for Ronald Reagan. What can McCain heading into the third debate to try to change this economic dynamic?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He has to have a plan basically that's that is realistic and people help create jobs and stop this. If I was running his campaign I would say step forward I would say listen, this thing is so difficult, I am going to pledge one term. Here's my team. I will tell you my treasury secretary and who my people are. We are going to spend all of our time and energy turning this thing around.

And so four years from now, you will be back at work. This economy will be stable, and I'm not going to worry about being reelected. Because I don't think I can make the tough decision and get reelected.

I think that's the only thing he can do to make people pay attention to him. I think throwing out the mortgage concept in a debate that has not been followed up just confused a lot of people, including Republicans. Jobs and stability in this economy is what people want to hear.

KING: Gloria, do you agree? It almost doesn't matter who McCain is. That he's the Republican and it's at bad year?

BORGER: I think obviously being a Republican on the ballot is not a great thing this year, but let me disagree with Ed for a moment. Because I think the one-term president idea might have been good two or three months ago, but I think now if McCain were to do that now, that would seem like just another move, if you will.

And I don't know whether the American public would buy it as much as they would have when we weren't sort of smack dab in the middle of a real crisis.

ROLLINS: I don't disagree except I think at this point he has to make people pay attention to him. That would be something bold. Another Hail Mary. I think he has to do something to say maybe he is different. There is no solution he has offered that is going to make people at this point stop this momentum towards Obama.

KING: Jennifer Palmieri, Ed just used the word "different", your worked for a guy who won the White House by saying he was a different kind of Democrat, he happens to be the last Democrat to win the White House and he often ran against the liberal orthodoxy of his party.

Barack Obama is by far more liberal than Bill Clinton. What advice would you give Barack Obama for the next few weeks when you know what's coming. He will raise your taxes, he is a liberal on taxes, he is a liberal spending and a liberal on everything else under the sun. Give him advice.

JENNIFER PALMIERI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: First of all on the promise of your question, I certainly accept that Clinton ran to the center of his party but he had to do that because he was living with the legacy of Jimmy Carter and the legacy of the fact that Democrats spend too much and they are fiscally irresponsible and you can't count on them to run an effective government.

Bill Clinton needed to do that, Bill Clinton, I think because of his presidency addressed a lot of those weaknesses. I just don't accept that Barack Obama has to run to the right of his party, certainly not the way or at least not in the way Clinton did. And I think people say that he has -- I know McCain campaign likes to say he has the most liberal voting record or claim those are the numbers, but Obama can flipped that around as he successfully has and says that's because I voted with George Bush.

KING: We need to end it for now.

Thanks to Jennifer Palmieri, Ed Rollins and Gloria Borger.

And coming up we will check our electoral map and see which states will matter most in the closing weeks. You are watching the next president to battle grounds.


KING: The national polls are one barometer of presidential politics and there, it's advantage Obama. But more important, much more important, is the state by state Electoral College outlook and again it's Obama with the edge forcing John McCain to play defense in many states carried comfortably by President Bush back in 2004.

So changing the map is a top McCain priority heading into Wednesday's third and final presidential debate.

With just one final presidential debate on the schedule and a little over three weeks left to Election Day, the electoral map is currently titled and tilted significantly in favor of Barack Obama and the Democrats. The math is pretty simple. It takes 270 to win, Obama now leads in states with 264 electoral votes, John McCain well behind with 174. And what that means essentially is that John McCain needs to run the board. The gold states are the toss up states. McCain if nothing else changed would have to win them all to get the presidency.

Let's do it that way, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. Ohio goes Republican, Missouri, Colorado and Nevada would just get to the finish line or if Barack Obama could take one of these states away. Let's switch Colorado back to blue, Obama wins in a narrow election.

That significantly narrows the options for John McCain and gives Barack Obama so many choices. If he can simply take the State of Ohio, put that in the Democratic column, he wins the White House. If he can't win Ohio and that stays red, Virginia is an option where the Democrats are spending and trying to get those 13 electoral votes. That would be enough. The biggest challenge for John McCain is not only keeping all of these toss up states were carried by George W. Bush, McCain has to win almost all of them and more significantly needs to turn something blue to red. The State of Pennsylvania is one target. That would be a significant pick up, but at the moment, John McCain trails by 10-12 points if you look at the polls there.

The bottom line is this. The gold states, all Bush in 2004. All states McCain has to win to have a reasonable chance at 270 to take away Obama's advantage in an almost all of these states now McCain is either trailing or leading by the narrowest of margins.

Joining me now to discuss the map and the state of the race, veteran Democratic pollster Peter Hart is in Los Angeles and back again with us are CNN's Dana Bash and Jessica Yellin.

Peter, when you look at the map, number one, Democrats haven't seen a map like this in sometime. The question is, can John McCain change it with a state by state checkers strategy if you will? Or does he need chess, does he need to fundamentally change the dynamics of the race and have the states follow?

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it has to be chess, John. That means he has to be able to appeal on a broader basis. He cannot compete without changing the economic game plan. And these states are all trending the wrong way. There has to be a whole fundamental change to make it work for him.

KING: And so Dana Bash, where does that fundamental change come from or does the McCain campaign do it differently, do they think they can they go state by state? BASH: I think they feel like they have to go state by state and what Peter says I'm sure is absolutely accurate. You need chess, not checkers. And right now talking to McCain aides, they are playing checkers and point to states you were talking about at that map, John. The five states that had been in the republican column, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. They are hoping to turn things around and basically get one or two blue states. I'm in the state of Minnesota. This went Democrat and has gone Democrat for a while, but John McCain is spending a lot of time here. Wisconsin as well, another blue state.

He told the people of Wisconsin at a rally at the end of the week, I absolutely need you to help me win this state or I won't win. They understand how delicate this is and how the fact is that these numbers are trending the wrong way in the red states for him right now.

KING: So, Jessica Yellin, Obama has the advantage. There are some Democrats who wish, they like this luxury, but they wish they would say don't compete in 12 states, pick four or five and dump everything there and essentially block John McCain. Yet Obama is still going to Indiana and still campaigning in western states and the Democrats haven't carried forever. How do they view the map right now?

YELLIN: They have been playing chess for months and they have these states in sights and they should continue to play the game they laid out last year and that includes states like Indiana and it includes states like Georgia.

But it's not to say he ignores the reality that he has a better shot in places like Ohio where you are where he has been spending so much time this past week and he is even doing debate prep in Ohio even though the debate is in New York. He is focusing on places like that like Florida where Democratic voter registration is they believe so much higher than the new voter registration for Republicans.

They think there is enormous momentum and the economic message is clicking. So the campaign is feeling really confident about their game plan. Some say it's a little arrogant, they like it.

KING: Peter Hart, looking ahead to the next debate, is there one constituency subgroup? Is it independents, is it baby boomers? Is it older white men? Who is it that if John McCain, if he could move them, nationally, some of these other states would fall back into play?

HART: Independents, that is where the game is for John McCain. At the beginning of the month, he was doing very well with independents. About a 13-point lead. He is trailing by four points with independents. If he can't move the independent vote, he is not going to be competitive because there more people who identify with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. That's his problem and to pick up on where Jessica is at in terms of the confidence of the campaign, it appears that it's very high, but I would tell you with 25 days, these things move so quickly and the economics is running they have to be there.

Jessica Yellin, Dana Bash stand by. Just ahead, the impact of race on the race. The next president's battlegrounds will be right back.


KING: In 1982, polls showed Los Angeles African American Mayor Tom Bradley with a comfortable lead over his white opponent for California governor. When the votes were counted, Bradley lost. That result came to be known as the Bradley effect, that is white voters saying they were supporting a nonwhite candidate, but in the end they don't. Which leads to the critical question as this campaign nears the finish line. Will there be a Bradley effect that works against Barack Obama?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are calling all of our union members and retirees around the state.

KING (voice-over): Sometimes they hear it on the other end of the call.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I ask you how you are planning to vote in the upcoming presidential election?

KING: Or in rural Portsmouth, Obama supporter Jean Carlson said it might come up after church or in conversations over lunch.

JEAN CARLSON, PORTSMOUTH, OHIO: It's an undercurrent, I think it's sad but it's still an undercurrent here.

KING: An undercurrent of racism, a reluctance or refusal to support Barack Obama because of the color of his skin.

RANDY BASHEN, SCIOTO COUNTY, OHIO: It basically comes down to that. After the election, in Appalachia, it's probably the hardest place in the state of Ohio because the population of the black vote here in southern Ohio is probably two percent.

KING: In Ohio and several other major battle grounds the race issue is an urgent focus as increasingly optimistic Democrats and their allies confront what many believe is the last potential barrier to victory.

GERRY MCINTEE, AFSCME PRESIDENT: You know when it gets real bad? When they never -- they just never look you in the eye. Well, I can't vote for him.

KING: At this labor rally in Cleveland, union leader's Gerry McIntee's frustration in the open.

MCINTEE: I can't vote for him because he's a black man. He's not one of us. Well, sisters and brothers, when you hear that, you know what you ought to say? This is what I say. That is bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED). That is total, absolutely (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

KING: The AFL-CIO promises a $200 million election effort, 70 million phone calls to union households, 25 million mail pieces. Many of them featuring white class voters vouching for Obama. Others rebutting rumors he won't wear a flag pin or isn't a Christian.

MCINTEE: You go and you talk to a member. I spoke to some. Do you support Barack Obama? You know his record. His record's good for working men and women. Gerry, I know, I like you. But he's a Muslim. Barack Obama's a Muslim. He's not even a Muslim, he's a Christian.

KING: Democrats across Ohio say increasingly troubling economic news is turning more and more voters against McCain and the Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a critical election. It is. It's frightening right now.

KING: But they concede much of the support for Obama is soft. It's one reason Democrats are more aggressively addressing the race issue and encouraging early voting among union voters that they worry might change their minds.


KING (on camera): We're back with CNN's Dana Bash and Jessica Yellin along with Democratic pollster Peter Hart. Peter, you crunched the numbers. How worried are you in the data you see that people are flat-out lying to you, that voters who say they will vote for Barack Obama in the end will not?

HART: I think there will be somewhere in the neighborhood of two to percent of the total electorate who may tell the pollsters they'll vote for Barack Obama, at the end of the day they won't. Many of these people just tell us that it bothers them, and it concerns them that Barack Obama has to support of Jeremiah Wright and Al Sharpton.

So when you see that, it's a tip-off and a clue as to where we are. But overall, I would tell you the economy is going to top race in terms of this campaign.

KING: Economy tops race, Jessica Yellin. But if it's two to four percentage points in a state like Ohio, in a state like Pennsylvania, if John McCain can get within the two to four points, what is the Obama campaign doing to directly take this on?

YELLIN: Look, John, they think they have two advantages. First of all, I should say they don't even acknowledge that a Bradley effect exists because they don't want to buy into that whole idea. But at the same time they acknowledge there are voting day, unexpected occurrences. What they'll say is they'll get out as much of the African American vote as possible. They are targeting people. They will drive them. They will do whatever it takes to get them in with organized field work.

But there's also this unknown. All these young voters who have cell phones, who aren't necessarily included in polls because pollsters tend to call a home number and not a cell phone number. So I don't know how many that represents, but they're hopeful this energized youth vote can make up for any difference in the racist vote not turning out for him.

KING: And Dana, how does the McCain campaign handle this? Because sometimes they say things, they want to say Barack Obama is culturally to the left of you. They raise things about his associations in the past and know it comes back from the Democrats and others on the left, they say you're race baiting, you are trying to dance up to that line so the others take it the rest of the way, if you will.

BASH: And they're extremely angry at that, John. I had a conversation with a McCain adviser at the end of the talking about that fact. They said, look, it is very difficult for us. We should be able to say that he is culturally to the left. We should be able to say he's not experienced. Because they say we believe those things.

But it is very, very difficult to do that in this environment when you're running against an African American opponent. But they say look at the fact that at least to date, John McCain has made a decision not to really go there on Jeremiah Wright. In terms of association, everybody admits he was much closer to Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor, than William Ayers, for example. They're not going there primarily because of the race issue.

So they're kind of in a pickle. They're continuing to sort of go down this road of the idea that Barack Obama is not ready. And they insist that that is simply what it is on the face value and not something that's more sinister, if you will.

KING: And Peter Hart, is there anything in closing that Barack Obama can do, or do people who have this mindset, are they locked in? Or by going into the communities, by being on the main streets if you will in small town America, can he change minds or does he simply have to deal with this dynamic?

HART: Two things, I think on the economy works for him, and people are scared and nervous and I think that goes beyond race. And number two, the more they see him, the cooler, the more composed he is, the more comfortable people get.

And in the end of the day, I think that's what's going to count.

KING: Peter Hart, Dana Bash, Jessica Yellin, thanks for joining us. That's all from here in Columbus, Ohio, today. Thanks for spending some time us.

Remember, the final presidential debate is Wednesday night. Coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. We hope you'll tune in.

And as we say good-bye, we want to go back to where we began this hour. All Americans feel the anxieties with the worst week on Wall Street since the Great Depression. Add in job losses and losing your health insurance and what you get is a mix of anger, fear and more often than not, a sense that the politicians simply don't understand. Seeing it up close as we did outside a suddenly shuttered job site here in battleground Ohio is a stark reminder of the pain and frustration that will confront whoever wins the presidential election now just a little more than three weeks away.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You get all these fat cats like he says, making more and more money. We're not getting nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Devastating the community. A lot of places are closing up and moving out. But Archway has been here since 1950. I mean, it's devastating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It would have been nice if they would have informed people instead of just dropping the ball on everybody. It's a shock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This country needs to stop, take a look at itself, and get rid of the politics, and let's fix this thing. I mean, it's going to take a lot of hard work. So as far as the election, there's no clear-cut candidate in my mind. I don't know.

It's a big family up here. That's what it is. We are all going to take care of each other.