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Does Personality Matter in Presidential Race?; What Should Campaigns Do Now?; Game Changer or Game Ender for McCain; Punch Line Palin

Aired October 17, 2008 - 19:00:00   ET


JANE VELEZ MITCHELL, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, senators McCain and Obama get dressed to the nines for some old-fashioned roasting.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Maverick I can do. But messiah is above my pay grade.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Contrary to the rumors that you`ve heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton.

VELEZ MITCHELL: Given the negative tone of their campaign, could a laugh line give us new insight into the temperament of the men who could be president?

Plus, how former secretary of state, Colin Powell, could provide the crucial game-changing moment of this election. You may be surprised for which team.

And the real Sarah Palin gets to appear on "Saturday Night Live." But how good can her Tina Fey impression really be?

All this, and more, coming up.


VELEZ MITCHELL: Good evening. I`m Jane Velez Mitchell. Welcome to a special election edition of "Issues." Now, let me tell you, we all have issues, especially those presidential candidates. Throughout this campaign, the candidates have concentrated on making a point. Well, last night they tried making a joke.


MCCAIN: It`s true that this morning I dismissed my entire team of senior advisers. All of their positions will now be held by a man named Joe the plumber.

OBAMA: At least we`ve moved past the days when the main criticism coming from the McCain campaign was that I`m some kind of celebrity. I have to admit that that really hurt. I got so angry about it, I punched the paparazzi in the face on my way out of Spago`s.


VELEZ MITCHELL: OK. This were some good jokes there. The setting was the 63rd annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a break from the nastiness of the campaign`s home stretch, where the candidates get to joke about each other and themselves. Both candidates, as you just heard, were hilarious.

But seriously, Barack Obama did seem a lot more relaxed, and John McCain actually came off as likable. Qualifications and experience are one thing, but the debates and last night`s din-din gave us a window into the candidates` temperament.

"TIME" magazine made this their cover story. They say the presidential temperament is, quote, "as elusive as it is essential." And they are right. And with the country in crisis, should personality even matter? That`s what we`re wondering.

Let`s ask tonight`s fabulous political panel. Liz Chadderdon, Democratic strategist and president of Chadderdon Group; John Avalon, a former Giuliani advisor and author of "Independent Nation." He is a fierce independent guy. And Reese Hopkins, a very popular conservative talk show host...

REESE HOPKINS, TALK SHOW HOST: I cannot hear anything in my ear.

VELEZ MITCHELL: All right. Liz Chadderdon, I know you`re viewing this with Democratic lenses, but here`s what struck me watching McCain`s really funny speech at the Al Smith dinner last night. Where has this John McCain been all the time? He was funny. He was generous to his opponent, Barack Obama, who was sitting right there. McCain was gracious. He was self-deprecating. He was loosy-goosy. He seemed like a different person than the angry man we`ve been seeing at those debates. Why haven`t we seen this likable guy, John McCain, before?

LIZ CHADDERDON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, Jane, it`s a really interesting question. I agree with you. I thought he was really quite funny, and he was definitely engaging. Frankly, he`s the John McCain from 2000, eight years ago, the guy on the Straight Talk Express that, oh, if only he`d won the South Carolina primary, what a different place this would be today.

But, you know, where has he been? That`s an excellent question. And the truth is, this gets asked of presidential candidates all the time. It got asked of Al Gore. People said he was funny, and yet we never saw it. It got asked of Hillary Clinton. People kept saying she was funny and personable, and yet we never saw it.

I don`t know what it is, but sometimes these candidates just think that, in person, they have to be this tough person, in order to be president. They have to not crack a smile. They have to always be on the offensive. And then in private they`re actually these very engaging people. When truthfully, America wants to see the more engaging person.

VELEZ MITCHELL: Yes. We want to see the real person. We want them to let their hair -- it`s not -- McCain doesn`t have a lot of hair, as he`s joked in the past about hair plugs, but we want to see them let their hair down and show us who they really are. We want to get inside their souls.

Reese Hopkins, conservative talk radio host, you know, we`ve been borrowing the line from the Clinton campaign: It`s the economy, stupid. Maybe it`s your personality, stupid, should be what we`re talking about here.

HOPKINS: To be honest with you, I don`t know who these people are, who are so impressed by John McCain and Barack Obama and their performance at this event.

Look, I don`t want personality. I don`t need the guy who`s got the cha-cha cha. I need a guy who can go out there and get this economy straight. I need a guy who`s going to go out there and get the job done. I don`t care if they`re funny. I don`t care if they`re engaging.

Please, that`s a joke. Get the job done. Yes, this is all fun and games, and people are telling jokes and they`re roasting each other. Fine. Set that aside. I`m not looking for John McCain to do anything more...

VELEZ MITCHELL: I know you`re not, Reese, but you know, they say life is like high school. They say life is like high school. And in a way, all of this boils down to something very, very simple, likeability.

HOPKINS: No, no, no, life is...

VELEZ MITCHELL: If you were trapped on a desert island, who would you want to be trapped on the desert island with?

HOPKINS: No, no, no...

VELEZ MITCHELL: And I think during the debates it was Obama. But last night it could be McCain.

HOPKINS: NO, listen, life may be like high school, but that`s only because we force ourselves to live in a high school mode. We`re looking for a president, not somebody who`s got the chops to say a funny joke.


HOPKINS: I don`t care about this event, and it means nothing to me.

VELEZ MITCHELL: John Avalon, jump in.

AVALON: Jane, I`ll tell you, you know, look, we`ve all learned the mistake of voting for a president based on who you`d most like to have a beer with.

HOPKINS: Exactly.

AVALON: But it doesn`t undercut the central thing, which is that Americans want someone they can relate to, somebody who inspires confidence in them. And that is not simply song and dance. That`s an ability to connect with America in order to lead it. And that`s what we`ve seen an absence of in the current president.

Last night was John McCain`s best night in a while, because he followed the basic advice that he always does when he does well, which is let John McCain be McCain. Every time he departs from that, he fails.

VELEZ MITCHELL: The reason why personality counts is that we want somebody, Liz Chadderdon, that we can trust. And when we`re watching these debates, it`s really hard to tell who`s given the right statistics. I remember watching the last debate with a bunch of friends, and both candidates cited wildly different estimates of yearly health premiums. And we`re all asking each other, "What`s your health premium? What`s your health" -- we`re trying to figure out who`s telling the truth. We can`t. So that cancels out, and it boils down to who do we trust in telling the truth. Isn`t that true, Liz?

CHADDERDON: Absolutely. And I`ve got to tell you, you know, it may be a bummer that what people want to know is more about personality than about statistics or about resume. But that`s just the God`s honest truth. Because the American people are not stupid, but they are overwhelmed and they`ve got a lot of information to sift through.

And so, for the most part, they are looking through their television sets. They are reading the newspaper. They are getting snippets of these candidates. And when the personality comes through, that`s when they begin to really glean who is this guy? Can I trust this guy? Is this person strong enough to lead? Does this person care about me?

Whether we like it or not, that`s coming through personality more than it`s coming through, how are we going to solve the economic crisis? It`s just -- that`s just the way we are in a modern society.

VELEZ MITCHELL: Reese Hopkins, conservative talk radio show host, I just don`t understand why McCain doesn`t realize at this point that angry doesn`t necessarily work. It`s like the more he punches Obama, the less his favorable ratings are. He goes down in favorability.

So why can`t he make that calculation...

HOPKINS: But see, Jane...

VELEZ MITCHELL: ... and realize that that also applies to perhaps the negative ads like the robo calls in Virginia where they`re bringing up Bill Ayers and they`re talking about extreme left-ism? Maybe the Republican people say that`s not working.

HOPKINS: Jane, let me put it to you this way. You`re arguing a point, but it`s based on who it is that you ask. See, I don`t see enough people right now in television, the media, newspapers -- they`re not asking enough Republicans.

Because Republicans are cheering John McCain for the negative ads about Barack Obama. They`re cheering him for going after him on who it is that he is, and who it is that he hangs around with. Republicans are telling John McCain, go after Barack Obama, his associations: ACORN, William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright. They`re asking him...

VELEZ MITCHELL: But John Avalon -- let me bring John Avalon in, because yes, he`s energizing his base. But his base is wildly energetic. I don`t think it needs to be energized anymore. What about those crucial undecided voters in the tossup states, about six of them right now, and independent voters?

AVALON: You`re exactly right. You`re exactly right. Negative attacks are Kryptonite to independent voters. They`re independent because they`ve declared independence from the extremes of far left and far right and the cynical, hyper-partisan politics in Washington that have just people screaming talking points at each other.

This is what there`s a rebellion going on against in this country. And if Reese wants the Republican Party to simply preach to the choir and play to the base, guess what? They`re going to lose. And they should.

HOPKINS: He`s wrong there. See, no, no, he`s wrong there.

VELEZ MITCHELL: Ten seconds.

HOPKINS: They`re not preaching to the choir. They`re not preaching to the choir. What it is that independents are doing is that they`re holding on their vote. They`re holding their vote hostage against the regular vote. They`re going to decide. But I promise you, 60 percent of independent votes are going to go to John McCain when election rolls around. And I`m putting my life on that.

VELEZ MITCHELL: Well, I`ve got to tell you, hang in there. We`re going to come right back. And I`ve got it tell you, we need a new party called the Procrastination Party. Who are these people who still haven`t made up their minds? I want to meet them.

Coming up, a look at this election`s battleground states. We`ve got some really shocking comments, by the way, for you from one of the four candidates. Want to guess which one? We`re going to tell you in just a moment. Stick right there.


VELEZ MITCHELL: Coming up, we`re going to look ahead to vice- presidential candidate Sarah Palin`s scheduled appearance on tomorrow`s "Saturday Night Live." By trading lines with Tina Fey, she is proving she can laugh at herself. But has she been the butt of the joke just a little too often to save her campaign? And what about her latest remarks on the campaign trail that are causing an uproar? We`re going to tell you all about that in just a moment.

But first, we are back discussing temperament and tone in the campaign with tonight`s amazing panel: Liz Chadderdon, Democratic strategist and president of the Chadderdon Group; John Avalon, former Giuliani adviser and the author of "Independent Nation"; and Reese Hopkins, conservative radio talk show host.

Now, the fact is that temperament intersects with policy. So when John McCain`s natural tendency towards sarcasm came out in the debate the other night, it happened to come out in a way, to some people, looked like he was dismissing the importance of a woman`s health in regards to the abortion issue.

Liz Chadderdon, was that an example of how temperament can backfire? Because it seemed like that could alienate a lot of those Hillary voters.

CHADDERDON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I actually don`t believe that John McCain meant his comments the way they came across. But that`s why, unfortunately, or fortunately, it`s all about how you appear on TV in certain cases, and it`s very much about your personality and how you sell it. Where your eyes are, what your hands are doing and what your voice sounds like.

Listen, I know that we`ve got big problems in America, and we really want to know what the bailout crisis situation is going to be and how our leaders are going to deal with that.

But the bottom line is, when people are giving their candidates five to ten minutes on television, a roll of the eye or a sigh or something like what John McCain did with that question on Wednesday night, can absolutely end a conversation. And it can absolutely end somebody`s presidential campaign.

VELEZ MITCHELL: Well, Reese Hopkins, conservative talk radio host, what was your analysis of it, when he was talking about abortion and he did the air quotes and said, "The health of the mother. Oh, they use any excuse now to get an abortion. Any health excuse."

I mean, do you think that that could potentially alienate all the women that may have jumped on McCain`s side after he chose Sarah Palin?

HOPKINS: No. I mean, what people keep forgetting about the reason why he used the air quotes, if you will, what he was doing was charging Barack Obama what it is that plenty people are refusing to charge Barack Obama with, and that is infanticide. And that is what he is guilty of. This is what Barack Obama voted for in the Illinois legislation. He voted for infanticide.

And John McCain, his temperament was stern. His temperament wasn`t cavalier. His temperament wasn`t sarcastic. He was saying that Barack Obama was worried about a woman`s health. No, he wasn`t. He voted for infanticide.

VELEZ MITCHELL: Well, you know, those are very, very serious charges. And I don`t know that we want to get into the abortion debate right now. Obviously, during the debate that night, Barack Obama gave his explanation of why he voted the way he did in those cases, saying at times there were laws already on the books so he didn`t need to vote again in favor of certain things. John Avalon, former Giuliani advisor...

HOPKINS: So he voted "president."

VELEZ MITCHELL: ... and author of "Independent Nation." I mean, all of this boils down, though, to the temperament. And as we live in a society that has become increasingly desperate, people are getting thrown out of their homes, people are scared. People are afraid to look at their portfolios.

Don`t you have to be extra calm? In other words, isn`t there a ratio where you have to be more calm, the crazier and more out of control and chaotic things get?

AVALON: Of course, temperament matters, and it`s mattered throughout American history. Temperament`s the difference between Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. And I think, as the conservative movement, in particular, found out, that makes all the difference in the world.

And this time we want the candidates to appear presidential, to seem calm, cool and collected, someone who can handle crisis. And it`s really at the heart of a lot of Obama`s argument: look, I may not have the experience, but I have the judgment and the temperament.

And for McCain, he`s saying, "Look, you know me. I`m a bit of a gambler. I`m a straight shooter, but I can be trusted to do the bold thing in hard times." Different arguments, but temperament is at the core of the presidency.

VELEZ MITCHELL: You know, Liz Chadderdon, I think maybe everybody, Republicans and Democrats, looked very elitist, and maybe a tad too presidential at that Smith dinner last night. There they are in white ties, drinking their wine. And to me it was like fiddling as Rome burns. People are getting thrown out on the street. People are losing their homes. They`re leaving their kids at hospitals because they can`t take care of them. Their dogs are going into shelters because they can`t keep them.

And they`re there in white tie, having a grand old time, telling jokes. Don`t you think they should cancel those dinners until we get out of this crisis?

CHADDERDON: No, not at all, because that wasn`t a political fundraising dinner. That was a fund-raising dinner for Catholic charities.

I mean, I agree, we are in absolute tough economic times. But I do not think that neither Senator McCain nor Senator Obama looked like they were fiddling while Rome burned last night. Not at all. It was a good event. It was a good place for both of them to be.

Frankly, it was good for them to be side by side and be seen as cordial to one another. It was a good moment for both of them. But most importantly, it was a good moment for the charities that they were raising money for.

AVALON: And Jane...

VELEZ MITCHELL: Reese Hopkins, maybe you can -- go ahead, John.

AVALON: I think something very important about last night`s dinner happened. To see McCain and Obama sitting together at the same table reinforced something that we forget too often. That our political opponents are not our enemies. And in a season when we`ve seen hate be a very cheap and easy recruiting tool to get out the base, that`s an important reminder for us all, I think.

VELEZ MITCHELL: You know, maybe you`re right and maybe I was wrong. Maybe they should have that dinner after all. That was just my first impression. Those white ties, tail things just set me off.

All right. Thank you, guys. Stay right there. We`re going to have more from tonight`s panel in just a moment.

And later on, we`re going to ask what happens when vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin says, "Live from New York, it`s Saturday night."



VELEZ MITCHELL: Talking politics. We`re back again with Democratic strategist Liz Chadderdon, author and former Giuliani adviser John Avalon, and conservative radio talk show host Reese Hopkins.

Now we`re talking. Is this over yet? As Obama would caution complacency and overconfidence, very dangerous for a front-runner, especially this particular frontrunner, relying on a lot of newly registered young people who -- let`s face it -- may decide to play Guitar Hero on election day, especially if it`s raining. Obama warned against that today.

So Liz Chadderdon, you`re going to play Obama. Reese Hopkins, you`re going to play John McCain. Reese, what do you do now?

HOPKINS: Right now it`s about going for the knockout blow. At this particular point, we`ve got, what, 18 days left coming up. And you`ve got to go out for the knockout blow.

The polls are looking a little positive. They`re not exactly accurate. But they`re a little positive. And at this particular point, you`ve got to pull out all the stops.

John McCain knows the character of Barack Obama. But let`s set that aside. Barack Obama wants a socialist nation, and John McCain`s going to bring that point home that he`s going to -- he does. He wants a socialist nation. John McCain`s going to bring that home. He has got to strike that fear -- and I`m telling you the truth -- that fear into the American public and say, "Do you want to live in a socialist society or do you want a society that promotes you being prosperous?"

VELEZ MITCHELL: All right. Reese, you would make -- you would make a great candidate. You should run for office some day.

Liz Chadderdon, you just heard it. What does Obama do?

CHADDERDON: Well, what Obama does is emphasize that the next president of the United States needs to actually care about every American, not just the richest Americans.

And it`s not about socialism. It`s about taking care of American, hard-working families, making sure that their 401(k)s get stronger, making sure their kids can go to college, making sure they can have jobs. Making sure that they know that the person who is going to stand up for them in the White House, and put economic policies in place that support average American working citizens, is Barack Obama.

It`s the message he`s on. It`s the message that`s working. And if he can keep pushing it through election day, he`s going to be the next president of the United States.

VELEZ MITCHELL: All right. John Avalon, let`s talk about the fact that there are six states reportedly up for grabs right now, states that usually go Republican: Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida. According to CNN`s electoral map, even if McCain were to grab all six, he still wouldn`t have the necessary electoral votes. So is this over?

AVALON: It is not over. Elections are over on election day.

HOPKINS: That`s right.

AVALON: And polls are just a prediction. So let`s not -- you know, everyone`s got to calm down a bit.

The fact is, the trend is moving Obama`s way. There`s -- 90 percent people believe the country is moving in the wrong direction. President Bush is one of the least popular presidents in American history. And Barack Obama is an incredibly talented, compelling, disciplined candidate.

But he`s playing offense. McCain needs to get off defense. But I caution him on this. What Reese just said, he told the truth. There are some in the Republican camp who think you can win this by fear, through stoking fear. Well, that`s a very un-American way to win elections. We solve problems by optimism, not pessimism. From strength, not weakness. And playing to people`s fears...

HOPKINS: If I may...

AVALON: ... is not the right way to win.


HOPKINS: If I may.

VELEZ MITCHELL: Reese, I know you want to get in there.

HOPKINS: That`s not about -- that`s not about fear. That`s not about fear. That`s about reality. And you know, we keep bringing up Joe the plumber. But you know, you heard him say...


HOPKINS: If I may say, Avalon, honestly, Avalon, if I could say to you, you`re like the -- you`re like the worst independent ever. Just call yourself a Democrat.

AVALON: No, I`m the best independent.

VELEZ MITCHELL: That`s not true. He`s right down the middle.

HOPKINS: The truth of the matter is...

VELEZ MITCHELL: He is right down the middle.

HOPKINS: ... is that Barack Obama said it himself. Spread the wealth around. He`s a socialist. Bottom line.

AVALON: That`s crazy. Paul Volcker is...

VELEZ MITCHELL: Guess what? We`ve got to go. And I love you all. And I hope you all run for office one day and you`re all elected. Thank you, fellows, and lady.

This election`s October surprise could be a game changer. What exactly is an October surprise? And whose game are we talking about changing here? That`s all coming right up.


JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to "ISSUES." I`m Jane Velez Mitchell.

Coming up in just a little bit, Tina Fey has been getting huge laughs for her Sarah Palin impression. What will happen if the Alaska governor stops by "Saturday Night Live" tomorrow night? That`s right, tomorrow night with a little taste of the real thing. Find out in just a bit.

But first, depending on which polls you believe, Democrat Barack Obama could be as much as 14 points ahead of Republican John McCain. It`s at this very stage in the campaign when the candidate who is behind looks for that game changer, that one event that really shakes things up

This Sunday on NBC`s "Meet the Press," we could see, could see that game changer; one that possibly takes John McCain out of it for good. Yes, no?

According to Politico, Republican sources say that retired General Colin Powell, who, of course, was formerly Secretary of State under President Bush, and perhaps more to the point once considered a potential running mate for John McCain, may now endorse his opponent, Barack Obama. So will he, won`t he? What happens if he does? What happens if he doesn`t?

We`ve got a fabulous panel. Amy Holmes, a CNN political contributor. Jonathan Allen is a reporter for "Congressional Quarter." And Ramesh Ponnuru is a "Time" columnist and Senior Editor for the "National Review."

Amy, I`m going start with you. Colin Powell he seemed to be to me, and to many other people, one of the more moderate, more reasonable voices within the Bush administration. If he comes out for Obama, and we have to stress, we really don`t know what he`s going to do, but if he does, could that be that fat lady singing for the McCain campaign?

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don`t know if it will be a game changer, but it will certainly be a big boon to Barack Obama. Whether or not it changes votes, it definitely changes headlines and headlines in Barack Obama`s favor.

The press will be swooning, will be talking about it for days. Much like Oprah, when she endorsed Barack Obama. Voters said that it wasn`t going to change the way that they voted, but if you noticed every headline, all these reporters, all this ink was filled on the importance of Oprah Winfrey endorsing Barack Obama and really creating momentum for Barack Obama to get his message out to the voters.

MITCHELL: But there was also backlash.

Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review and a conservative, I want to ask you about the possible race factor. Obviously Colin Powell is African-American and Barack Obama is as well. Will people try to make that commonality the reason for this endorsement, if it occurs? Are they going to try to make this a race issue?

RAMESH PONNURU, TIME COLUMNIST: Well, I`m sure that some people will. But I suppose we`re going to have to wait not only to find out who Powell actually endorses, if he endorses anyone, but also his reasons for it. And I think it would be foolish not to just take him at his word as to why he`s endorsing somebody.

I mean, I think the key question is going to be, even given his very favorable ratings, the positive associations, the positive news that`s going to come out of this, are people really going to say I`m going to vote for this guy because Colin Powell is supporting him? I just think it`s highly unlikely.

MITCHELL: Well, why not. I mean Colin Powell is certainly a better endorser of some of the celebrities to endorse the candidates to much ridicule.

But let me ask you, Jonathan Allen, about this race factor because we can never totally discount that, when we`re talking about this election. And let me bring in the Bradley factor.

Because right now, CNN`s electoral map has Obama with more than 270 electoral votes; that`s the critical number. So the way they`re saying it is, if the election were held today, the polls are showing that Obama would win.

But the key word, the operative word there is polls. Could people be lying to the pollsters? Could we be seeing a Bradley effect in this election? Of course, named after Tom Bradley, the much-loved mayor of Los Angeles who is an African-American, who ran for Governor, was ahead in the polls, everybody thought he was going to win, and then whoops, he lost, because certain white voters didn`t want to tell the pollsters that they weren`t going to vote for an African-American.

JONATHAN ALLEN, CONRESSIONAL QUARTERLY: Well, I think there are really two possible outcomes that the polls don`t match the voting, at least two possible outcomes. One of them is as you mentioned the so-called Bradley effect, where voters may not be telling pollsters the truth about their willingness to vote for a black candidate.

But the other possibility is that the polls may be modeled wrong. All of these polls rely on certain numbers of percentages of Democratic voters and Republican voters and ethnic and racial mixes. And so pollsters are guessing a little bit as to what the electorate is actually going to look like on Election Day.

It`s also possible that some of the assumptions will turn out to be wrong.

HOLMES: But you know what, Jane, in a certain way I think Colin Powell could actually go way against the Bradley effect. I mean some of the, you know, Barack Obama`s vulnerabilities is that he`s a first-term, inexperienced a Liberal Senator, the most Liberal Senator of the United States Senate. And Colin Powell can kind of offer him a sheen of moderation and centrism that this -- we got quite a big hit by John McCain with that whole Joe the plumber, Barack Obama wants to redistribute your wealth.

MITCHELL: If I hear Joe the plumber one more time, my head is personally going to explode. I don`t like to be talked to like I`m a viewer of romper room. And I`m sick of Joe the plumber and I`m sick of Joe the six-pack. So if we could agree just not to mention those two phrases anymore.

HOLMES: No more Joes.

MITCHELL: They really make me, you know, just absolutely go mad.

But let me ask you this question, Amy because you`re talking about bringing in of the moderate voice that could help the Liberal Obama. Why is Obama doing so well in Virginia? That is a red state, as red as my shirt. I mean, it went for Bush. It`s always gone, I think for four decades, for the Republicans. And right now, Barack Obama is winning 53 percent to McCain`s 43 percent. How is that possible, Amy?

HOLMES: Well Jane, historically it`s been a red state. But a lot of demographers have been pointing out over this past year that Virginia is a changing state. And you have these very -- these fast growing suburbs right outside of here in Washington, D.C. and those tend to be Democratic voters.

Those are also voters that know Joe Biden very well. And when Joe Biden was picked, I suspected that he could actually help Barack Obama in Virginia in those areas right here, right around Washington, D.C.

So Virginia is changing, you know, we`ll be able to see on Election Day how much of this was demography, how much of this was Barack Obama`s appeal to Virginia voters. But I think that`s the answer.

MITCHELL: Jonathan Allen, what about North Carolina, which is normally a red state? And now they are apparently in a dead heat. What`s going to happen there?

ALLEN: Well, it looks extremely competitive. And I think there are a couple of factors that play in North Carolina is not totally unlike Virginia. You have a lot of demographic changes. There`s a pretty significant African-American population and there`s an expectation that because Barack Obama is on the ticket, and would be the first black president, that that will stroke African-American turnout. And you combine that with some new voters moving into North Carolina.

And also, I think that we`re not paying enough attention to the shift in attitudes among existing white voters in states like North Carolina and Virginia who may simply be tired of the Republican administration after eight years and be looking for something different. And Barack Obama, as a Democratic candidate, certainly provides that. And so I think there are a lot of factors actually at play, not only in Virginia, but also in North Carolina.

MITCHELL: Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review Conservative, tell me what McCain needs to do. They`re saying Colin Powell, if he endorses Obama, could be a game-ender for McCain. Is there any game changer that he could pull out at this point?

PONNURU: I think more likely what McCain is going to have to do is slog through and day by day try to chip away at Obama`s lead. It`s hard to see after all the debates are over whether -- it`s hard to see any sort of grand dramatic gesture he can make.

And in fact, making grand dramatic gestures, I think, undercuts his ability to look presidential and makes Obama look more presidential. So I think he`s just going to day in, and day out have to cut into Obama`s lead.

MITCHELL: All right, ten seconds, Amy Holmes, game changer for McCain?

HOLMES: I don`t think that I would agree with Ramesh, there`s not a big thing that he can do. But you know what, there`s a lot of time, and Barack Obama he might be making another gaffe like he did this week where he reveals just how liberal he really is and create that opening for John McCain to go on the attack.

MITCHELL: Oh, yes, and there`s always a possibility of that October surprise which just comes out of nowhere as the bombshell that throws everything wide open.

Ok guys, stay right there. Right after this, will "Saturday Night Live`s" Tina Fey out Sarah Palin the real thing and you won`t believe what they`re up to over and SNL? Find out next.

RICHELLE CAREY, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Richelle Carey here and this is your "Headline Prime Newsbreak."

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens struggled to bottle up his temper as he sparred with the federal prosecutor Friday. Stevens is in the middle of this corruption trial; he`s charged with taking gifts from a crooked businessman including thousands of dollars and free work on his house.

Stevens called the government`s star witness oil services contractor Bill Allen a liar. Allen has testified that Stevens knew he was not going to be billed for all the work being done and wanted the invoices only to protect himself. Senator Stevens says he never tried to hide anything.

A Chicago sheriff says he`s going to resume foreclosure evictions on Monday. Sheriff Thomas Dart ended his brief fame when he was assured that paid-up renters will be offered protections when they`re faced with a landlord not paying the mortgage. Banks will have to provide the court with the names of all the occupants in the house and give them a 120-day grace period to find new housing. Dart will also hire a full time social worker to help out; foreclosures in the Chicago area have tripled in the past two years.

And hundreds of teachers in Dallas are now facing life without a job. The district laid-off about 375 teachers; about three percent of its total in an attempt to avoid a projected $84 million budget deficit.


SANDY KEAT, LAID-OFF TEACHER: I kind of warned my children this morning, because you`ve got to let them know. You can`t give them surprises. So I kind of warned them, that if I go, then, you know, I`ll see you, I love you all. My kids are going to lose out. Because they don`t, you know -- I`m a very good teacher. And so they`re going to lose out because they won`t have me.


CAREY: Wow. Almost 500 other teachers are transferred to other schools. Almost 40 assistant principals and counselors also let go. The deficit is being blamed on years of accounting, budgeting and hiring errors. That`s awful.

That`s the news for now.

And keep it here. I`m Richelle Carey.


MITCHELL: It looks like Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin may appear on "Saturday Night Live" tomorrow night. By now, most Americans are probably just as familiar with Tina Fey`s impression of Sarah Palin as they are with the Alaskan Governor herself.

So while it`ll probably funny, conventional wisdom says as galvanizing as the Governor is to the Republican base, she is equally polarizing to the Independents who will eventually sway this election.

Just today, there was a really, really angry face-off as Democratic Vice Presidential hopeful Joe Biden lashed out, and I mean lashed out at a comment of Sarah Palin`s.

Yesterday Governor Palin said this, quote, I`m quoting here, "We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America. Being here with all of you hard-working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation."

Here`s Joe Biden`s response.


SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Now, this is serious stuff I`m about to say. And it`s disappointing. And I hope it was just a slip on her part and she doesn`t really mean it. What she said, it was reported she said that she likes to visit quote, "pro-American parts of the country." Folks, it doesn`t matter where you live, we all love this country.


MITCHELL: It doesn`t sound like they`re laughing. Just a second, this is as angry as we`ve ever seen Biden. As for Palin, can a funny skit turn this around? Or will Barack Obama be laughing all the way to the White House.

Joining me once again are my fabulous guests, Amy Holmes, a CNN political contributor and Jonathan Allen a reporter for Congressional Quarterly, as well as Ramesh Ponnuru a "Time" columnist and Senior Editor for the National Review.

Amy that was a very fiery response from Joe Biden to this very latest statement from Sarah Palin. What the heck was she thinking? Did she pitch Joe Biden a softball to knock it out of the park? Or as the comedians like to say, did she hand him a very good material to work with?

HOLMES: Well as a blue state gal with red state politics, I don`t approve of Sarah Palin`s comments. I can see where they`re coming from because let`s face it she has been viciously attacked because of being a small-town gal. We heard Barack Obama say, what, she was the mayor of some little town Wasilla with only 9,000 people.

So you can certainly see how she`s taking it personally. And we do see more flags and more sort of open displays of patriotism in small towns than in big cities. Go to San Francisco and you have a lot of people who would say I support stomping on the flag.

That being said, I don`t think that she needs to be trying to pit Americans against each other. We all love this county, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, whether you live in New York City, well, New York City, 9/11, New York City or Wasilla, Alaska. So unfortunately, I think that was unfortunate for her.

MITCHELL: Amy, I love you. But I think the people in San Francisco are going to be a little annoyed that suddenly they`ve all been characterized and stereotyped as flag stompers.

HOLMES: I`m not characterizing all of them. But Jane, you have to admit that in America`s big cities, that you see a lot more anti-American sentiment in small towns where people love as Barack Obama would say, their guns and their religion.

MITCHELL: No, but I think that the question of America is sometimes the most patriotic thing you can do. And it`s her definition of patriotism that I think is questionable.

Let`s bring in Ramesh Ponnuru from the National Review on this.

I mean essentially she`s saying that there are pro-American areas of the nation. So therefore, there has to be anti-American areas of the nation. There are real Americans therefore there are Americans who are not so real. I want to be very careful about this.

But I want to ask you, do you feel that there`s possibly a racial subtext to these comments? In other words, where are real Americans, some people you know they`re not so real?

PONNURU: Well, it seems sometimes as though there`s nothing that you can say in this campaign without it being accused of having a racial subtext. I think that what she said was unfortunate. But no, I don`t think that it was said with any sort of racist intent.

And I think that one of the things we should be careful about is inventing racial subtexts when they`re not there. I think we should be very careful before we accuse people of doing that.

MITCHELL: Well, listen I`m not the one who said there`s a real America and there`s a fake America. And --

PONNURU: No, but --

MITCHELL: Pro-American areas and they`re anti--

PONNURU: That`s true. But you are the one who said that there might be a racial subtext here.

MITCHELL: We`ve already heard San Francisco is now anti-Americans -- it never occurred to me that San Francisco is anti-America in my entire life. I mean that is one of the most historic cities in the country. And just because it might have a liberal slant doesn`t mean that it is anti- American.

Let`s bring in Jonathan Allen, Congressional Quarterly.

ALLEN: Well, you know Jane, I think you were right when you said dissent is American. And it seems odd for Governor Palin to talk about pro- American areas of the country when her husband was a member of a party in Alaska that wanted to secede from the United States.

It seemed like kind of an odd person to be talking about pro-American parts of the country. But you know, this is part of traditional campaigning also as well to paint other folks as outsiders. People who aren`t in your party, or aren`t on your team, as being something of an outsider. And we see this from year to year. And it certainly works in some places, and it doesn`t work as well in others. It`s certainly a polarizing speech.

MITCHELL: I mean, absolutely our whole nation is premised on the idea of a bunch of people getting together and saying, we didn`t like how it was, and we`re going to throw some tea and we`re going to make things better. They didn`t do it by being people-pleasers, Amy. They did it by saying, hey, there were things that were wrong and that we need to fix. And those are the greatest patriots of all; the people who basically stood up.

HOLMES: They launched a revolution to separate themselves from Great Britain.

But I think this small-town, big city thing is something that`s very common to politics. I`m sorry that Sarah Palin played into it. I certainly understand where it`s coming from, she said at the Republican convention that, you know, that small-town folks don`t like politicians who say one thing in San Francisco, and another thing in Pennsylvania. And she was playing on that.

And I think she did it here. But I agree with you, Jane, I don`t agree with her sentiments. But I certainly see where they`re coming from.

MITCHELL: Ramesh Ponnuru we have ten seconds this was said in North Carolina, where both candidates are sort of in a dead heat. Impact, alienating or will it get votes?

PONNURU: I think that the bigger an issue that this becomes, the better it`s going to be for Palin.

MITCHELL: For Palin? Really why ok.

PONNURU: Yes, because if people start saying there is a racial subtext, I think people will defend her.

MITCHELL: Ok, got to leave it right there, guys.

Hang tight. We`re going to continue our discussion when we come right back; more fireworks, we promise.


MITCHELL: Back now, talking about John McCain`s running mate, Sarah Palin. She is expected to appear on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend.

I am joined once again, by the fabulous Amy Holmes, CNN political contributor; Jonathan Allen, a reporter for Congressional Quarterly and Ramesh Ponnuru, a "Time" columnist and senior editor for the National Review.

Amy, we all know these are tough times; the stock market is wildly gyrating, I personally am afraid to look at my 401(k). We`re in the middle of a mortgage meltdown, there is a bank implosion. Is this the time for a politician to be palling around with comedians?

HOLMES: I think its ok. I think comedians are ok to pal around with. But I think that it`s a risky strategy.

"Saturday Night Live" is a high-stakes sort of venue and requires being a great performer and also requires really great material. And let`s face it, a lot of professional comics they don`t do well on that show and they don`t do good skits, so I`m hoping that there won`t be these YouTube moments that get repeated and repeated.

If she does well, she defuses a lot of the criticism about her; she re- introduces herself to the American people as a woman of charm, intelligence, confidence and grace. But we`ll see.

MITCHELL: Ramesh Ponnuru with the National Review do you think she`s going to get sand bagged?

Let`s face it, "SNL," a skewed liberal generally uses Republicans and Conservatives as targets. Do you think that they`re going to lure her on and then do something that`s going to make her utterly ridiculous?

PONNURU: It`s a high-risk thing for her because she could fall flat on her face. On the other hand, it`s a really great way to directly engage the popular culture. It is a way to sort of make a joke out of the jokes about her. What I wonder is, how much she`s doing for the ticket, as opposed to for herself on the show.

I mean, the traditional role of vice president is not to make people like her or him better. It`s to make them like the running mate better, and make them dislike the other ticket more.

MITCHELL: I have to agree with you, 100 percent.

Let`s bring in Jonathan Allen, "Congressional Quarterly," and we know the SNL audience is a liberal audience, they`re already for Obama, so what exactly is she accomplishing by appearing on this show?

ALLEN: Well, look I think being able to laugh at herself a little bit is certainly something that is important. People like that in political candidates. If you caught any of the clips of John McCain and Barack Obama at the New York-Al Smith dinner last night making fun of themselves and each other a little bit, it was very popular.

And I think that`s something she has to gain. And, look there is a confluence of interest here that could have her do "Weekend Update" which is where Tina Fey made her fame. And we know that Sarah Palin is really good with the teleprompter, so that might be a way to pull it off and have her look good and have some fun.

MITCHELL: All right guys, we`re going to leave it right there, this was fun talking to you.

I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell, I had fun talking to you and we`re going to see you back here on Monday.

Tune in. More fireworks.