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Democrats Facing Intensity Gap

Aired September 28, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. It is five weeks to Election Day and it is a dramatic night in politics. President Obama is at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, looking to reignite the campus energy that played such an important role in his big 2008 win. It's part of an urgent, even some Democrats used the word desperate attempt to close the big intensity gap enjoyed by the Republicans this midterm election year.

The White House is using some tough love in its appeal to disgruntled liberals and disconnected younger voters. Stop whining was the vice president's lecture yesterday. And on the Penn State campus today, don't write that obituary yet was the V.P.'s new message.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reports of the death of the Democratic Party are premature. We're going to do just fine, folks.


KING: Tonight's event and the pre rally is already under way. We're told it will be a return to full campaign mode for the president. We'll take you right there to Madison, live once the president gets under way and will break down his big and difficult challenge this year with "The Best Political Team" on television. So let's set the stage and the stakes.

Our exclusive political duo James Carville and Republican Mary Matalin join us from New Orleans and here in Washington, our Joe Johns and Gloria Borger. And James Carville, let me just start with you and let me tell me upfront we could interrupt you at any moment when the president takes the stage there, but you have run campaigns where late in this campaign you've seen all the polling data. Republicans are energized. And part of the Democratic issue is that the younger voters tend to check out in midterm elections. What's the challenge?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the challenge is, is that you're right. The Republicans are more energized than the Democrats. And I think the White House has calculated that they need to do something. There's not much of a risk that they're going to energize the Republican or Tea Party people anymore than they're energized and it would probably make some sense here.

And they close enthusiasm gap three or four points, they'll save you know a couple or three Senate seats and save some House seats. So it's a reasonable calculation that they're making. And there's not a whole lot of risk to it.

KING: Not a whole lot of risk. Mary, you know this president. He's an excellent campaigner, an excellent communicator. Can he get younger voters who tend to say this doesn't matter to me it's not a presidential election? Can he get them out to play this year?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know it's got to be more effective than telling them to stop whining. Kids never like to hear that, but it's not just their enthusiasm gap. It is that their number one concern is that he hasn't done what attracted them in the first place. And that's change the way things are done in Washington, which was specifically to their ears and to many Independents' ears to get past partisanship and he's really become the most partisan, as Ed Gillespie said, it's hard to know when he went from post-partisan to most partisan.

So he's cross pressuring when he goes to energize them, by what I'm going to be predict is going to be a partisan speech tonight. It's going to be equally offsetting to those other voters that he needs. And particularly in Wisconsin where Feingold is almost double digits behind, which is a seat the Democrats are not expecting to have to defend.

CARVILLE: Let me agree that it's going to be a partisan speech -- I'll agree with that.


CARVILLE: I mean I'll defer to the great nonpartisan Ed Gillespie on that.

KING: I'm thrilled I got you guys to agree on something. Let's show the live picture for just a second here because you see the Milwaukee mayor, Tom Barrett (ph), he is speaking right now. He'll introduce the president. We'll get to that in a minute.

It's important to note he's not just the mayor; he's the Democratic candidate for governor. And Senator Feingold, the Democratic senator spoke just a few moments ago. He is trailing as Mary noted. So is Mr. Barrett (ph). Republicans looking to turn this state that years back was a swing state; it has been reliably blue in recent years.

Republicans try to make inroads (ph). I'm going to go over to the "Magic Wall" and we'll bring Gloria and Joe in as we wait for the president. Just to underscore how important the youth vote is. Number one, this is not just the president's day. You see his labor secretary, his trade representative, the vice president, the Democratic Party chairman and the Health and Human Services secretary all on college campuses today, all with the same message to young people, don't sit this one out, we need you.

Now why does that matter? Let's take a quick look here before we get back to the event. I want to underscore this number. In the presidential election voters under -- voters between the ages of 18 and 29 made up 18 percent of the electorate and they voted overwhelmingly two-thirds for Barack Obama. In the 2006 midterms when the Democrats surged and took back control of Congress, 18 to 29 percent was only 12 percent of the electorate.

They voted overwhelmingly Democrat, but look at the difference. Twelve percent of the electorate versus 18 percent of the electorate, 60 percent for Democrats at large, 66 percent for President Obama. What the president wants this year is to try to recreate something like that, to get that number up. Many Democratic pollsters though tell you that this number, they're worried, could even go below 12 this year.

So as we wait for the president of the United States, Gloria Borger, this is one piece of the puzzle. They've been essentially almost lecturing the liberal base in recent days. They need African- Americans. They need younger people and they need liberals disaffected by whether it's the health care issue or Afghanistan or whatever.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm thinking they're going to show up at some homecoming weekends you know this weekend maybe, maybe go to some fraternity parties to get out the vote. The other group of voters, John that we need to talk about are Independent voters. You look at polls Independent voters say they're more energized to come out in this midterm election than they have been in previous midterm elections.

And overwhelmingly they've turned on Barack Obama. And so, you know, that's another group of voters they have to talk to. But going to these college campuses and if the president is partisan, partisan, partisan, it may turn off some of those Independent voters, so there's a double-edged sword here.

KING: But Joe, many Democrats, and I'm sure you get the same reaction, and we'll bring James and Mary in on this as we wait for the president, is that they believe most of those Independents are gone.


KING: They're mad at the president or mad at the Democratic Party, maybe it's the spending, maybe it's the health care bill and so if you've lost a universe that you know is going to play in the election, the challenge for the president and politics we make it over complicated sometimes --

JOHNS: Right.

KING: -- it's math at the end of the day is to get these people who are not going to show up at the moment to come out.

JOHNS: That's absolutely true. They're trying a little bit with some of the Independents who used to identify as Democrats in trying to reach common ground on certain issues like corporate greed and so on, but at the end of the day they're trying a surgical strike, if you will. You listen to Axelrod and others. They say yes we want to pick off a few of those Obama surge voters and the other half of it is hope that you can do something with those races that may have been made more vulnerable due to Tea Partiers in certain parts of the country, so a little bit of this, a little bit of that.

KING: Let's listen live just for a minute. We're going to listen for the moment just to get a sense of the energy in the room and what the president says right off the top then I suspect he'll have a long list of friends he wants to say hello to. We'll drop out for a second during that.






OBAMA: Oh, hello, Wisconsin. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you everybody. I am -- I don't know about you, but I'm fired up.


OBAMA: And I'm ready to go. A couple of people I want to acknowledge, first of all, a great mayor, somebody who's fighting for working families each and every day, Tom Barrett (ph). Please give him a big round of applause.


KING: We're going to continue our conversation as the president goes through the list of the dignitaries he wants to say hello to. We will get back to the speech when the president gets into the meat of it, but I want to return to a point, Mary, you were making before hand because you heard the president there -- I'm fired up. He knows one of his challenge is to fire up people who were with him in 2008, who are mad at him now for whatever reason.

And he gave an interview to "Rolling Stone" magazine. And I want to read you a little bit from it because you say he's lecturing people. And that is part of the tone of this year. It isn't about health care mostly.

"I could have had a knockdown drag-out fight on the public option. It might have energized you -- remember, he's talking to "Rolling Stone" -- and The Huffington Post -- the liberal Web site -- and we would not have had the health care legislation now. What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to just keep everybody ginned up for the next election or at some point do you try to win elections because you're actually trying to govern?" So Mary, the president's point there, and President Bush faced this from time to time and James certainly knows President Clinton did. The president is saying I got the best deal I could to actually get a health care bill and now these liberals who wanted me to get more are saying well forget about you.

MATALIN: Well just to go back to square one, they -- they misread the mandate. 2008 which was a -- he ran a great campaign and his victory was not a mandate for health care. There are problems with health care. It needs reform, et cetera. But the mandate from the election was to stabilize the economy. So he did something that the overwhelming majority of the population didn't want in the first place and then did it in a way that they didn't like.

And all the time -- all the way along they were saying stop, stop, stop, we don't like this. And the only thing that changed in the polls in the past year is the intensity of opposition to it. So attacking Arianna Huffington, my buddy over there, or the liberals, I don't -- it's such -- he's cross pressuring his own people. He's trying to get out.

KING: James -- help me on that, James, because you know and you know from firsthand experience, you're sitting with your wife right now -- I know from firsthand experience -- when somebody's mad at you in a relationship, you don't fix things by saying you know you're wrong to be mad at me. Get over it --



MATALIN: Well said -- what a good husband you are.


CARVILLE: I think he's trying to explain -- I think he's trying to explain the situation. I saw a t-shirt one time in Austin that said liberal about everything but other liberals. Sometimes liberals can be somewhat annoying -- certainly not Arianna. She has a great Web site there. But he's trying to make the case and I think it's a reasonable case and they've expressed some frustration with the fact that they're under attack and they're trying to do the best they can.

It's a point that he's trying to make. And I give him some credit. They're going out there and trying to do something and, you know, who knows? Let's see what happens. If they get a little more enthusiasm they could save a few seats.

KING: It's almost odd, Gloria that we live in a town now that one of the criticisms and it's a fair criticism that the town has not changed. You can't blame it all on the president. But because he said it would change there's a lot of the anger and frustration about that is aimed at the president. In this polarized environment he has to deal with both polls, both the left and the right are mad at him.

BORGER: Right -- right and he's talking to the left right now because they're the ones who can help him and essentially his message is get real, folks. You know --

KING: Let's listen. Let's listen -- I'm sorry to interrupt, but the president is getting real on this speech. Let's step in and listen for a while.

OBAMA: Two years ago you defied the conventional wisdom in Washington. The message out there was no, you can't. No, you can't overcome the cynicism of our politics. No, you can't overcome the power of special interests in Washington. No, you can't make real progress on the big challenges of our time. No, you can't elect a skinny guy with a funny name, Barack Hussein Obama.


OBAMA: They said no, you can't, but what did you say, Wisconsin?


OBAMA: You -- you proved that the power of everyday people going door-to-door, neighbor-to-neighbor, friend-to-friend, was stronger than the forces of a status quo. It made more difference than PAC money. It made more difference than all the TV advertising. You tapped into something that this country hadn't seen in a very long time.

You did that. And every single one of you is a shareholder in that mission of rebuilding our country and reclaiming our future. And I'm back here today because on November 2nd we face another test. And the stakes could not be higher. Think about it. When I arrived in Washington 20 months ago, my hope and my expectation was that we could pull together, all of us as Americans, Democrats and Republicans and Independents to confront the worst economic crisis since the great depression.

I hoped and expected that we could get beyond some of the old political divides between Democrats and Republicans, blue states and red states that had prevented us from making progress for so long because although we are proud to be Democrats, we are prouder to be Americans. And this country was confronting a crisis. Instead, what we found when we arrived in Washington was the rawest kind of politics.

What we confronted was an opposition party that was still stuck on the same failed policies of the past whose leaders in Congress were determined from the start to let us deal with the mess that they had done so much to create because their calculation was as simple as it was cynical. They knew that it was going to take a long time to solve the economic challenges we face. They saw the data.

They were talking to the economists. They realized that Obama was walking in and we had just lost four million jobs in the six months before I was sworn in, 750,000 jobs the month I was sworn in, 600,000 jobs the month after that, 600,000 jobs the month after that. So before we -- our economic policies could even be put into place, we'd already lost most of the eight million jobs we would lose and they knew that people would be frustrated. And they figured if we just sit on the sidelines and just say no and just throw bombs and let Obama and the Democrats deal with everything, they figured they might be able to prosper at the polls. And that's what they've done for the last 20 months. They have said no to just about every idea and policy I've proposed, even ideas that historically, traditionally they agreed with.

So now the pundits are saying that the base of the Republican Party is mobilized. The prediction among the pundits is there's going to be a blood letting for Democrats. That's what they're saying in Washington. And what they're saying is -- and the basis of their prediction is that all of you who worked so hard in 2008 aren't going to be as energized, aren't going to be as engaged. They say there is an enthusiasm gap that the same Republicans and the same policies that left our economy in a shambles and the middle class struggling might ride right back into power.


OBAMA: Now, that's what they're saying. I'm not making this up. You guys read the papers. You guys are watching the television. They're basically saying that you're apathetic, you're disappointed, you're, oh, well we're not sure that we're going to turn out. Wisconsin, we can't let that happen. We cannot sit this one out. We can't let this country fall backwards because the rest of us didn't care enough to fight.


OBAMA: The stakes are too high for our country and for your future. And I am going to get out there and fight as hard as I can, and I know you are, too, to make sure we keep moving forward.


OBAMA: The other side would have you believe this election's a referendum on me or a referendum on the economy, a referendum on anything except them. But make no mistake, this election is a choice. And the choice could not be clearer. Understand for the last decade the Republicans in Washington subscribed to a very simple philosophy. And I want to be clear.

This is the Republican leadership in Washington, whole bunch of Republicans out all across America are feeling pretty disaffected too by what they saw when the Republicans were in charge. But their basic theory of the Republican leadership was you cut taxes mostly for millionaires and billionaires. You cut regulations for special interests whether it's the banks, the oil companies, or health insurance companies.

Let them write their own rules. You cut back on investments in education and clean energy and research and technology. So basically the idea was if you just put blind faith in the market, if we let corporations play it by their own rules, if we leave everybody else to fend for themselves that America would automatically grow and prosper. But that philosophy failed because in the period when they were in power, understand this, from 2001 to 2009, job growth was slower than it had been in any decade since World War II.

Between 2001 and 2009, middle class incomes fell by five percent. The cost of everything from health care to college tuition just kept going up. And a free for all on Wall Street led to the very crisis that right now we're digging ourselves out. So it's not like we don't have a controlled experiment here. We have -- they were in charge. We saw what happened.

So I've got -- I've had two main jobs since becoming president to rescue the economy from this crisis, to clean up after their mess, and to rebuild our economy stronger than it was before. That's been my job.


OBAMA: And over the last 20 months, over the last 20 months we've made progress on both these fronts. We're no longer facing the possibility of a second depression, and I have to say, Wisconsin, that was a very real possibility when I was sworn in. We had about six months where the economy was teetering on the edge and we could have plunged into a second depression.

Now the economy is growing again. Now the private sector has created jobs for the last eight months in a row. There are about three million Americans who wouldn't be working today if not for the economic plan that we put into place. Those are facts.


OBAMA: By the way, I emphasize those are facts because the other side isn't always interested in facts. To rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation we passed Wall Street reform to make sure that a crisis like this never happens again, so that these reforms are going to end the era of taxpayer-funded bailouts forever. Reforms that will stop mortgage lenders from taking advantage of homeowners, reforms that will stop credit card companies from hitting you with hidden fees or jacking up your rates without any reason. But we didn't stop there.

We started investing again in American research and American technology and homegrown American clean energy because I don't want solar panels and wind turbines and electric cars of the future built in Europe or Asia. I want them built right here in the United States of America with American workers.


KING: Rousing applause for the president of the United States there. He's at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and you see the sea of red behind him, Badger (ph) country he's in right now, trying to rally the youth vote to come out and vote in this year election. An impassioned case from the president we listened to about 13 minutes of the president there. We are going to break this down and discuss it in the other top political news, because we just spent 13 minutes listening to a Democrat, I want to be fair to our Republican friends who are with us tonight. Let me go first to Mary Matalin in New Orleans and Mary, get your take and then to Erick Erickson from You know Mary he is a persuasive speaker and he says that the other side is just throwing bombs and here's my question. When the president says in the next five weeks he's going to fight and fight and fight and be out there, that's good for the Democrats, he's their best weapon. But does it also run the risk if he's out there so much and then they lose big, does it diminish him?

MATALIN: Yes and no, but you know, he looks good. That was an energetic event but he's a one-trick pony. It looks like a retro one- trick pony at that. So what worked in 2008 in a campaign perception is reality, he's now in 2010 and it's been two years of his being in control with the majority of both chambers and large ones at that and he owns these policies so now reality is reality.

And he can talk about -- he can make straw man arguments, he can distort the Republican philosophy, he can distort the cause of the economic crisis, but the reality and the fact that is facing all Americans today is 9.6 percent unemployment and the highest unemployment among the youth demographic in the history of counting such things. So yes, he gives a good speech, but as is always the case, and now we recognize this more he's a -- what we say in politics -- a Chinese dinner. You're hungry an hour later.

KING: Erick Erickson of is that a Chinese dinner and Mary is going to make the partisan rebuttal to the president there and that is what we expect and that's why she is here. When the president says the Republicans said no and no and no, on that ground, that's not a distortion from the president. That is what happened.

Now the Republicans say they disagreed and said no and no and no --


KING: -- because they had philosophical disagreements with the president. But you don't take issue with factually what he is saying there that the Republicans by in large have said no?

ERICKSON: Oh absolutely they've said no and it's worked pretty doggone well for them this cycle. I mean the president campaigned on yes, we can in '08. And the Republicans are campaigning on no, you can't. And guess what, they have got the Independent voters, senior citizens and the like with them. He's really become Humpty Dumpty and all of his student supporters and college kids and Democratic strategists aren't going to be able to put him and his coalition together again for November.

KING: All right Erick and Mary are going to stand by with us. James Carville is in New Orleans as well, Gloria and Joe are with me here. When we come back, we'll break down more of what the president's message is and some other big political stories including we now know for certain on Friday the White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will say good-bye and head back to Chicago where he is most likely to run for mayor -- a lot more to come -- please stay with us. OBAMA: Make people's lives better. I haven't talked about the fact that we made sure that tobacco companies --


OBAMA: Women were out there marching for the right to vote. They weren't sure when it was going to --

KING: The president of the United States live there on the University of Wisconsin campus at Madison. A crowd of about 25,000 people on hand. This the most political event the president has done and the timing is no coincidence. Five weeks from today the American people vote in a midterm election that at the moment looks bleak for the president and his party.

Let's continue our conversation of the president's mission today and other big developing politics and we have James Carville and Mary Matalin in New Orleans. We have Erick Erickson from and also with us now is Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! And Amy, I want to bring you into the conversation because part of the effort here from the president is to convince people like you, frankly, who have been not happy with many of his policies to set that aside at least for five weeks and get out and vote in this election.

I talked to James about this and Mary earlier in the program, but I want to read back to you as well what the president said to "Rolling Stone" magazine. This is talking about health care. He said "I could have had a knockdown, drag-out fight on the public option that might have energized you and The Huffington Post and we would not have had health care legislation now. What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to just keep everybody ginned up for the next election or at some point do you try to win elections because you're actually trying to govern?"

You have heard, Amy Goodman, that from the president. The vice president said last night stop whining, stop complaining about us and get out and vote or you'll get the other guys. Is that the way to convince you to set aside your differences?

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, DEMOCRACYNOW.ORG: Well you know I think it's interesting that the mascot of the University of Wisconsin is the Badger. And I think that the president has gone to Madison to badger his base. I think the issue is what he promised leading up to the election and what he has delivered. And there's no one better to symbolize that than the senator of Wisconsin who now faces a real battle.

And that's Russ Feingold. Look, Russ Feingold did not support the surge in Afghanistan. He did not support the USA Patriot Act. He didn't support the financial reform package of the White House because he said it didn't go far enough. These are the issues that people care about all over this country. And I wouldn't just say it's progressives. This is what President Obama has to deal with. It's not just the rhetoric and the energy that he has when he goes to a young voter rally. It's about his record and that's what people are measuring him against. BORGER: But the question is would you rather he lose? Russ Feingold? I mean, Russ Feingold, you say, stands up for things that lots of liberals believe in, but he could get booted out of office right now.

GOODMAN: I think what he's up against is a man who never did serve in office, Ron Johnson (ph), business executive. He's dominating the airwaves, self-financed campaign. It's not about would we rather he lose. Russ Feingold, who's been extremely popular in this land of Bob Filet (ph), right, there is an interesting history to Wisconsin. You've got fighting Bob Filet, who was senator, who was governor, extremely progressive. And you also have the land of McCarthy. The red-baiter. And the question is, where is this country going right now?

Feingold likes this uphill battle right now. He hasn't had it for a while. But he has very much a strong devoted base because he has stood strong on these principles. And I think Obama would do well to do that.

He doesn't have to fear people voting against him, I don't think. I think President Obama's fear is that people won't come out at all, that they are going to feel uninspired, that they're going to feel disillusioned.

KING: And, James, you lived through this in the Clinton White House in 1994 when the left was demoralized and upset with President Clinton for a long list of reasons and the right was energized and they came out.

I want you to comment and follow up on Amy's point. But I want to read you something else the president told "Rolling Stone." Boy, you can just sense the president's exasperation at this political climate.

He says, "Right now we've got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George W. Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

"The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining is just irresponsible."

So you have the president, to use Amy's words, badgering his base saying essentially what else do you want?

CARVILLE: Yes. And I can sense the frustration. I mean you've got financial reform, that's not good enough. He got health care reform, that's not good enough.

And I think in a sense he's saying, look, I'm struggling against all of this and this is what's going on. To some extent this makes him look for human to me. When he -- just in the side of cool, detached thing and that, you know, I don't get angry at anything.

I can sense it sort of coming through to him and if you saw the speech tonight, he seemed a little more jazzed up than normally seen him. And you know, at a point I think the man is somewhat vexed by somebody else and he's trying to make his case and he's being told that the 2008 electorate that went to the polls as opposed to what's right now what's likely to go to polls in 2010, he would do -- the Democrats would do something like six, eight points better.

And so they're trying to get some of these people back in. Whether or not this is the most effective way, we can certainly debate this. But I kind of like the fact that he's kind of human about it.

KING: And, Mary, you lived this in 2006 when you were helping the Bush/Cheney administration. You had many of the same dynamics. President Bush's base. Some of the base was down. Maybe they didn't like the spending in Washington. Maybe some of them had grown tired of the Iraq war.

And independents was the group that just said, sorry, Mr. President, and went over to the Democrats. And that's why Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House because of the big shift of independents and then a liberal-based enthusiasm in 2006.

Can you do anything five weeks out? You see a more animated president today. That's probably part of it. But especially that group in the middle. Is there anything you can do to get them back?

MATALIN: The reason, and I'm so glad you brought this up is it goes to my earlier point about misreading mandates. The reason the Republicans lost the House in 2006 and that the base was depressed was because they weren't behaving as conservatives.

This country -- forget Republican/Democrat. This country self- identifies 2-1 conservative to liberal. And the Republicans were not being -- behaving like good conservatives, particularly fiscal conservatives.

One-third of the new Congress in 2006, which is the reason Nancy Pelosi is the majority leader today, were Democrats who ran specifically and full -- with full-throated enthusiasm for a specific conservative ideas and issues. Including culturally conservative ones.

So this is a center right, more conservative country. And Amy brings up the good point. She says the point of this election is where's this country going? And those conservatives who were identified 2-1, independents who identify 2-1 are saying we're not going where you liberals want to take us.

That's what it's about. She's right. And that's where the country is.

JOHNS: John, I just wanted to jump in and ask Amy Goodman one more question, because we talked about this language, the words whining and irresponsible. Do you think the left is being -- is whining? Do you think they're irresponsible as the president and the administration have asserted?

GOODMAN: I think people are organizing all over this country. I don't think it's about whining. The administration wants to characterize it that way.

You know, it's interesting. You don't have the conservatives going after the Tea Party movement. You don't have them saying they're whining. But when it comes to people who are deeply committed in their communities, whether it's the issue of health care, whether it's the issue of people being foreclosed out of their homes and seeing the president siding with the banks, our money bailing them out and yet not bailing out the people who are being foreclosed by banks that are supported by taxpayer money.

People see all of this. And yet you have the White House attacking progressives all over this country. Calling them the professional left. Calling them the whiners. Saying buck up.

I think it's progressives who are saying to the president, why don't you buck up? Why don't you stand up for what you said you would represent? Of course, it's not just up to the president. It's up to people, grassroots movements all over this country. To make their demands heard.

And the White House is beginning to hear them and is getting scared. They're hearing that people are angry. And that's why President Obama is out there in Wisconsin right now.

KING: Competing calls to buck up. The president to his base, the base back to the president.

We're going to work in a quick break. We'll continue to watch the president. He's live at the University of Wisconsin.

There's a "Help Wanted" sign at the White House. The president needs a new chief of staff. And among those we've talked to today, the son of the vice president of the United States, a man many thought would be the next Democratic senator from Delaware. No, not this year. But we'll get some of his thoughts.


KING: All right. The president of United States still speaking. He's giving a rousing speech at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. We're continuing to monitor that.

The president trying to get out the vote, especially aiming his pitch at younger voters. You see all those college students behind him.

Let's go back to a moment early on in the president's speech where he acknowledged that if you read the polling in just about any state in the country, the polling shows you young people are not as excited, as tuned in to this campaign as the last campaign in 2008.

The president says that must not stand.


OBAMA: They're basically saying that you're apathetic, you're disappointed, you're -- well, we're not sure that we're going to turn out.

Wisconsin, we can't let that happen. We cannot sit this one out. We can't let this country fall backwards because the rest of us didn't care enough to fight. The stakes are too high for our country and for your future, and I am going to get out there and fight as hard as I can, and I know you are, too, to make sure we keep moving forward.


KING: Now we got a great group with us. And one of the points Mary Matalin was making, I believe, a bit earlier was this is not the same electorate. The two years have passed, 20 months have passed. And many of these same voters who supported the president then might not be with him now.

Let's just break down some of the polling. Want to come over to the magic wall and then we'll start a conversation with our group. Because Rock the Vote, which of course tries to convince young people to get out and vote, they've done a lot of polling.

Who do you want to control Congress? Well, 34 percent of young voters, 18 to 29, want the Democrats to retain control. Close, a little smaller group, 28 percent want the Republicans to take control.

But this is an interesting number right here. And this is what the president is getting at when he talks about apathy. Thirty-six percent say it doesn't matter to me. They essentially think congressional elections, same old chatter in Washington, gridlock in Washington.

Doesn't matter to me. That's a problem for the president and his party.

Now let's move down a little bit and look. Would you be more or less likely to support a candidate backed by the Tea Party? Remember these are voters aged 18 to 29, 54 percent say less likely. So this is not a Tea Party crowd the president is trying to rally for this year's election.

And that's important because there are some Tea Party candidates on the ballot in a lot of the critical states this year. More or less likely to support a candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin. Not a Sarah Palin crowd either, 18 to 29-year-old voters. Sixty-four percent say less likely to support a candidate backed by Sarah Palin.

Now how about this? More or less likely to support a candidate endorsed by Barack Obama? So the president is in relatively safe territory. Half of voters aged 18 to 29 say essentially they'll listen to the president. If he says if he's for somebody, half of them would be inclined to agree.

But here's interesting here. Forty-two percent. Forty-two percent. So 4 in 10 younger voters, the very people he's speaking to tonight, say that's less likely.

And so, James Carville, I want to go to you in the sense that if these voters were overwhelmingly for the president in 2008, has he lost a little bit of his mojo with them in a sense he's trying to get them all to turn out now?

It sounds like he's got a little smaller universe to work with.

CARVILLE: Certainly, he may -- and not doing near as well as he did in 2008. So I don't know of a demographic that we would be doing better in. We seem to be doing a little less bad among younger voters than other demographic.

And again, it makes sense to him to go out and do the things that he's doing today. But look, there's no doubt if you go from winning an election by, you know, eight points to, you know, where we are now. You're not going to -- you're going to lose altitude across the board. But you'd -- apparently lost a little bit less with these younger voters than other folks.

KING: And, Mary, to that point, James is going through the important math of a midterm election. After a presidential election you tend to have a fallout. The groups that fall off the most are African-Americans and younger voters. The biggest drops are among African-Americans and younger voters. Big part of the president's base.

The groups that tend to be steady are older voters, that's the most reliable voting bloc. And at the moment, that's not trending well for the Democrats. So in terms of the math, the Legos of building a successful coalition, where is -- what's the president's challenge with five weeks out?

MATALIN: Well, the reason that there's falloff is not -- it's not arbitrary, it's not capricious, it's not unattached to anything. And it is -- those words -- that was his margin of victory, it's true. Young people and African-Americans.

But to get to have a margin for victory, had all those independents. There is -- the reason they're falling off has nothing to do with his communication skills or his energy or any of the other things we've been discussing because he looks great and he sounds great.

There's not one single policy, not one that enjoys majority support amongst independents or amongst all Americans. And for the first time, five weeks before the election, over 50 percent of the American likely voters do not approve of his job.

They like him personally, there's a -- in some polls it's a 20- point -- 20 points more than his job approval. So they don't like the job he's doing and they don't support any of the policies, so they're voting against him.

That's what this is. It's a referendum on him. He can say it's a choice but it's specifically a referendum on his policies.

KING: I need everybody to hang on just one sec. We've got to sneak in one quick break.

Again, the president is still live on the campus at the University of Wisconsin.

There's a "Help Wanted" sign at the White House. When we come back, we're going to ask our group -- no, not if they'll apply to be the White House chief of staff -- on whether they think the president should stick with his team inside or find somebody new. A fresh voice from the outside.

Stay with us.


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

Hey, Joe.

JOHNS: Hey, John. On the recommendation of his doctors, former President Jimmy Carter is spending the night in a Cleveland hospital. He developed an upset stomach as he flew into the city today.

President Obama phoned Carter at the hospital. A presidential spokesman says Carter sounded like he was doing great and will resume his book tour tomorrow.

During President Obama's earlier stop today in New Mexico, he was asked why he's a Christian and answered by choice. Listen to this.


OBAMA: So I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts Jesus Christ spoke to me in the terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead.


JOHNS: And it's just fascinating the way religion continues to sort of percolate up surrounding the president of the United States.

KING: And when given the opportunity to answer that question, he gave a pretty lengthy answer which has convinced me, number one, it's important to him, number two, he remembers the conversation in recent weeks about polling, showing that a number -- 20 percent of Americans roughly think he's a Muslim.

So the president wanted to make his point.

Joe, I want to go to the magic wall because the Pew Research Foundation had an interesting survey about religion. And here was the religion poll. And this is fascinating to me.

They asked a number of questions. They asked 32 questions. An average number of questions people got right, the average e was 16. Who did better on this test about religion? Who did the best?

Atheists and agnostics know more about the faiths than people who practice the faiths which is a little bit disappointing perhaps. But you see Protestants, Hispanic Catholics doing the worse on this quiz. Atheists and agnostics followed by Jews and Mormons, white evangelical Protestants doing this.

But this is out of 32 questions, this is what you get.

Now let's go quickly through some of the data. About half of Americans knew the Golden Rule was not one of the "Ten Commandments." I'm going to skip down. Ramadan is Islamic holy month, 52 percent knew that. Martin Luther inspired Reformation, 46 percent knew that.

Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, about 45 percent of Americans knew that. So that's not so bad.

These are some of the questions. And Joe, I'm going to give you the quiz. Put you on the spot right here.

JOHNS: All right.

KING: What's the first book of the bible?

JOHNS: Genesis.

KING: Wow. He's a winner. All right, one more then we'll get back to our conversation here.

Where is does the Jewish -- when does the Jewish's Sabbath begin?

JOHNS: Friday.

KING: Friday, sundown. The man is a winner. All right. Let's stop that conversation there. So Joe Johns is up on his faith. That's a good thing.

Let's get back to the big challenge facing the president. By the way, he just wrapped up his speech at the University of Wisconsin. He's shaking hands now.

One of his challenges when he comes back to Washington, his chief of staff, on Friday, Rahm Emanuel, will announce he's leaving. Man, he's got to go to Chicago and make his final decision about running for mayor.

We have a great cartoon -- Todd, if you could pop that up on the screen for me.

We have a great cartoon. This was in the "Chicago Tribune" on Saturday. And if you look closely at that, "AXE," David Axelrod is the license plate on that little minivan pulling away. "Rahm for Mayor" the bumper sticker on the back. "Our work is done here." Leaving the White House in shambles and you see the president in the rubble there.

I could just watch this and laugh for a little while. But I want to go -- let's start with Amy Goodman who is a progressive who has had issues with this White House.

Amy, hiring a new chief of staff is a chance to hit the reset button. Give us your advice. Most indications are he'll pick somebody from within. Is that the right strategy?

GOODMAN: Well, I mean, we look at who has been within. Who President Obama has surrounded himself with. And you hear that speech he gave in Washington.

I think President Obama's, by the way, best hope is the Tea Party, because all he could say is don't vote for them. Whether you're talking Tea Party or Republicans. But about his own record, and that goes to the people he surrounds himself, his advisers.

Look, from Larry Summers to Rahm Emanuel, who the bold progressives organization is saying, dump Rahm. He was instrumental ensuring there was no public option. It is a very big problem who he surrounds himself with.

Because as we know with all presidents, they get very insulated. And President Obama is no different. Yet he surrounds himself with the old guard. With the very people, the vested interests that he attacks when he's at a young voter's rally at the University of Wisconsin.

KING: So Erick Erickson, the next chief of staff will have two challenges. Helping the reelection campaign get under way, but also dealing with a more conservative, more Republican Congress.

Give the president some advice and be nice.

ERICKSON: Oh, boy. You know, Rahm Emanuel was, if you believe "The Washington Post," one of the guys who moderated some of the White House overreach. I'm afraid if he surrounds himself with more people on the inside, he's going to overreach dramatically which is good for my side. Probably bad for the administration.

Frankly, I'm just kind of shocked that all these people are leaving before the election instead of after the election. That's the stunner for me. Larry Summers, Christina -- Larry Summers, Christina --

KING: Romer. Right.

ERICKSON: What's her -- Romer. Rahm Emanuel. It's amazing.

KING: Well, Rahm Emanuel is leaving because of the filing deadline.

ERICKSON: Right. KING: He got to get petitions in Chicago.


KING: All right, James and Mary, you both know Rahm well. You also both know the pressures that a White House chief of staff face.

I'm going to go the Republican first, Mary Matalin, in the sense that you've been through this in the administration. Andy Card staying a long time, then he left. Rahm Emanuel's only be there 20 months.

What is the pressure on the job and what does this president need right now?

MATALIN: Rahm, I like Rahm. He is not an ideological progressive, he's a practical politician, which we will see in his mayoral run in Chicago. I think he was a first rate chief of staff, had a few bobbles, and he knows what they were.

But that's a very critical job and I don't think they can just have a coasting guy. They got to have somebody as strong as Rahm because this president needs it. He's got to navigate a lot of tricky waters.

KING: So, James Carville, you're not volunteering for the job, I don't think. So who's your recommendation?


CARVILLE: No, I don't think so. No. Well, first of all, I'll make the point that Rahm has always said that he wants to run for mayor of Chicago. That's always been a kind of dream of his. So this is not surprise that the man now has decided to run and now he's doing it.

You know, the president seems to trust a small cadre of people, and if the past is any indicator, he'll pick something from that. I don't know, at some point, sometimes, you've got -- you know, you've got to put layers on the onion. Maybe at a point he'll go outside of that, but I don't know if he's going to do that with this next pick.

KING: All right, James and Mary in New Orleans. Erick and Amy, thanks for being with us tonight. Joe Johns, as well, our thanks.

A lot of time taken up by the president's speech, but it's an important night in politics. And when we come back, here's a question. The vice president raised it last night. What are you whining back?

"Pete on the Street," he's asking it. And he's next.


KING: Coming up at the top of the hour on "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME," let's check in with Rick Sanchez for a preview. Hey there.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: There is a heck of a story that's going on right now in Mexico. It's in Oaxaca, Mexico, and there's been a landslide.

They're saying -- you know, the governor just said a little while ago, John, there may -- be as many as 1,000 people perished in this thing. And the toughest thing is they can't get there because the roads are closed.

I'll tell you, we've got correspondent there is and Chad is going to join me. We'll have it for you coming up here on "RICK'S LIST" in just a little bit.

KING: Stop whining. That was the vice president's advice to Democrats, and maybe borrowed that line from me. I say it all the time to our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick.

Pete, stop whining.

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING, USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: John -- John, I'm glad you finally said it on camera. I appreciate it.

Yes, I mean, listen. I want to encourage people to keep whining. I went out there to ask them what they were whining about and I actually got some people to literally whine. Take a look.


DOMINICK: What do you want to whine about?


DOMINICK: Taxes. What specifically?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he should do more with this health care plan, and have it -- I think we should save with what we have instead of taking more money from working Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gay rights, I guess.

DOMINICK: Gay rights.


DOMINICK: What do you want?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone to be equal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm tired of saying the same things that everyone else is saying about jobs and everything else. It's too depressing to even talk about.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything is depressing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are concentrating a lot more on the celebrities and on unnecessary things.

DOMINICK: So your whine is that Americans are distracted by unimportant things?


DOMINICK: The British, do they whine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do they whine? Only occasionally, about the weather.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) the train absolutely insane --

DOMINICK: What do they do? The people on the train. What are they doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They try and get on the train when they can't fit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not going to whine at all.

DOMINICK: And what about in your personal life? Would you whine about anything there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I'm going to whine about something in my personal life.

DOMINICK: What do you got? What do you got? What's wrong?


DOMINICK: You need a date? Yes, right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we can keep whining. I don't know what good it's going to do. Maybe we can get rid of the Democrats and bring something better in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd love to cry, but I'll whine for the vice president.


DOMINICK: John King, I've been on -- I've been working for you since day one. And when -- when do I get my personal hair dresser?

KING: I'll work on that tomorrow. You know I don't believe in whining. I believe you deal, you move on, you get it done. You fix what's wrong.

DOMINICK: You're a problem solver. I agree, John.

KING: I'll get you the hair band (ph) tomorrow, I promise.

DOMINICK: Thank you, sir.

KING: I had an interview with Beau Biden today, the vice president's son and the Delaware attorney general. We couldn't get to it because of the breaking news, the live event tonight. We'll bring you that interview tomorrow.

That's all for us tonight. Thanks for stopping by. "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME" right now.