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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Lindsey Graham, Richard Durbin; Interview with Mike Rogers

Aired September 23, 2012 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: The fall campaign opens up: advantage Obama.

Today, Mitt slips.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that I'm not going to get 100 percent of the vote and my campaign will focus on those people we think we can bring in to support me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Adding up Romney's 47 percent problem with Republican senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic senator Dick Durbin.

Plus, the deadly attacks on Americans in Libya. It's apparently not what we thought. The latest from House intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers.

And who are those people anyway? A look at the undecideds with Republican pollster Whit Ayres, Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page and CNN senior political analyst Ron Browntstein.

I'm Candy Crowley. And this is State of the Union.

As Mitt Romney struggled to regain footing after his 47 percent victim remark, the president was contemplating his first four years and a slight change to the hope and change theme.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside. That's how I got elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: We are at that point in the campaign when everything becomes fodder on the stump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: The president threw in the white flag of surrender again. He said he can't change Washington from the inside, he can only change it from outside. Well, we're going to give him that chance in November, he is going outside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: That point of the campaign when even the responses do not go unresponded to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: He stood up at a rally proudly declared I'll get the job done from the inside.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: We are at that point where there is little time to recover from mistakes, big or small. Joining me to assess the outlook for November, Democratic senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Thank you both for joining me this morning.

First to you, Senator Durbin, because we are seen polling indicating that in the battleground states as well as nationwide the president now seems ahead by an amount that is perceptible. As far as you were concerned, where are the biggest danger points for the president message-wise or campaign-wise as he moves forward?

DURBIN: Well, Candy the momentum has shifted in Obama's direction and that's a good thing from our point of view. We're not taking anything for granted, this is still a campaign with three presidential debates left, one vice presidential debate, and four or five events that none of us could predict on this Sunday morning show. So we're not taking it for granted, but we do have momentum coming out of the convention, and some of the problems and mistakes of the Romney campaign have given the president more traction in these battleground states with working families.

CROWLEY: And Senator Graham, to you, why to you think Mitt Romney is struggling so much? We've talked so much about the history of the numbers as it relates to unemployment or anything else and how it would seem that President Obama would not be doing well, and yet, Mitt Romney is the one who is struggling. Why?

GRAHAM: Well, to be honest with you, I think if history holds here and undecided voters break against the incumbent as they generally do, this is a very close race, and quite frankly, I like our position. You know the comment...

CROWLEY: Really?

GRAHAM: ...the president said we can only change from the outside -- yes, I really do. I think no one has ever been re-elected with unemployment over 7.6 percent. No one has ever been re-elected with an economy this bad and undecided voters break against the incumbent three or four to one. So, yes. But just -- we've talked about Mitt Romney's tax return. We've talked about his speech, the tape of his speech at a campaign -- fundraiser. We've talked about his dog being on top of the car, but we're not talking about or they're not talking about what they have done.

And this idea you can only change Washington from the outside, in the first two years of the Obama administration, they had 60 United States senators, a big majority -- Democratic majority in the House. They could do anything they wanted to without Republican help, and they did. The stimulus was supposed to have us at 6 percent unemployment. It has been a flop. It grew the government, hasn't create jobs.

Obamacare was supposed to lower premiums for everybody. This $2,200 per person higher, and people were not lose their health care -- guess what, they're losing six million or seven million people that have been displaced. They promised to reduce the deficit in half in its first term. This went up by 51 percent.

So, this is why Mitt Romney is in good shape. During the debates, we're about to focus on four years of Barack Obama, not everything just about what Mitt Romney may have said or putting his dog on the car.

CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, it is true that this president campaigned more than any other, although they all campaign on let's change Washington because everybody hates Washington, but this president, more than any other, has been one that said I'm going in there, and I'm going to change Washington, hope and change, hope and change, and now he says, you know what, you really can't change Washington. Is that a tack technical mistake do you think, or is it word play?

DURBIN: No, I think the president did not anticipate when the Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said my highest priority, highest priority is not to deal with the recession, not to deal with the cost of health care, not to deal with what's happening on Wall Street, he said his highest priority was to make sure Barack Obama was a one-term president.

CROWLEY: But, again...

DURBIN: That really set the stage.

CROWLEY: He did have that Democratic Senate and Democratic House for half of his tenure.

DURBIN: And we faced a record number of Republican filibusters. Remember, when we had 60 votes, we also had a poor situation, a sad situation with Ted Kennedy going through cancer therapy, unable to attend, and then Robert Byrd in decline and finally passed away. So there were just a few moments when we had 60 votes.

But let me get down to the bottom line here. The bottom line is when the American people are asked this basic question, which of these two candidates, Obama or Romney, do you think is better prepared to move this economy forward in the next four years? Overwhelmingly they say it is President Obama. And you know why, because Romney's approach to politics and this economy as evidenced by his 47 percent remark writes off so many Americans, ignores the economic realities facing middle income families.

When he says he wants a tax break of $250,000 a year for the wealthiest people in America, it means middle income families will pay more taxes. They understand that. And they are not going to support a president who is going to make life even more difficult for those living paycheck to paycheck.

CROWLEY: Senator Graham, let me ask you, and I know you mentioned this as something that we've been talking about, but Mitt Romney did put out his tax return for 2011 this past Friday. He also put out a summary that was certified from his tax accountant saying, look, here's what I did in the last 20 years, showing that he paid taxes in each of the last 20 years.

You were really critical of Democratic leader, Senate majority leader Harry Reid who said, you know, I've been told he didn't pay any taxes. Do you think Harry Reid owes Mitt Romney an apology?

GRAHAM: No. I think all this stuff is just political fodder. Nobody is going to vote based on Mitt Romney's tax return. He gave 30 percent of what he earned away. He is doing -- he's a lot more generous than I am. I don't know about the rest of y'all two, but I'm sort of amazed at the generosity of the Romney.

CROWLEY: $4 million.

GRAHAM: And he has paid his taxes lawfully.

Yeah, but the bottom line, it's not going to be about this speech that he gave at a campaign fundraiser, and quite frankly it's not going to be about a 14-year-old comment that President Obama made about redistribution, it's going to be about you, your family. And let me tell you again, no Republican stopped Barack Obama from doing what he wanted to do in his first two years. He passed the stimulus, Obamacare. He got his major initiatives through on a party line vote, and all of them have failed.

The reason Republicans came back in 2010 and got the House and should have gotten the senate, we made our own mistakes, we should be in a majority in 2010 -- but we came back, roaring back, it's not because people all of a sudden became Republicans, it's because after the first two years of Barack Obama and this runaway tax and spend train, they wanted us to stop what was going on. And he said in 2009 if I don't get this right in three years, I'll be a one-term president. Well, the gas prices have gone up by over 100 percent. We've increased the debt by 50 percent. Unemployment at 8 percent for 37 straight months. The most sluggish recession. Nobody is hiring because the threat of higher taxes and overregulation. This is not a sound economy, and this is why Mitt Romney is going to win the race.

CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, let me -- my last question on the race in general because I want to ask you all about congress as well at leaving town and the unfinished business. But senator, is there not a point here that some of what's happened in the economy or what has not happened in the economy is on the president's doorstep and is that not something that voters should be looking at and, in fact, are looking at?

DURBIN: Candy, we've had 30 straight months, 30 straight months of uptick increase...

CROWLEY: Is it as good as you thought it would be? Is it as good as you thought it would be when Democrats passed the stimulus bill, when you passed the health care bill, when we talked about the summer of recovery, is it as good as you thought it would be right now where we are?

DURBIN: We were all hoping it would be better. We didn't realize the depths of the recession that the president inherited. But people feel positively about the future of this economy and this country. Jobs are coming back into the United States. We're seeing an increase in manufacturing jobs at a rate even greater than the last Republican president's administration.

And let me tell you what I think the bottom line here, the bottom line here is people understand Mitt Romney. They understand his values.

DURBIN: And they understand what he is offering is to go back to the same economic policies that created this recession.

Why are his income tax returns still important? Well, he doesn't meet his father's standard. His father set a standard in terms of disclosure. He hasn't met that standard, and there is something in those income tax returns he doesn't want America to see, so he has selectively been disclosing few things here and there. He is still...

CROWLEY: Well, but isn't this...

DURBIN: ... the first presidential candidate...

CROWLEY: ... sort of a matter of blaming...

DURBIN: ... in history with a Swiss bank account. Pardon me?

CROWLEY: But there's nothing that suggests that there's something illegal has gone on. I grant you, we haven't seen all of them for the past 20 years, but are you not, in effect, blaming the player when what you ought to do is blame the game? It is the IRS system, and he took advantage of it, which I do, which I assume both of you do?

DURBIN: But let me tell you why it's important, Candy. It confirms the suspicion of independent and undecided voters that Mitt Romney is out of touch with the average American and middle income family. And he doesn't have a plan that's going to help them have a better situation in the future.

It just confirms some of his earlier statements about his values and writing off 47 percent of the American people. That's why the income tax returns are so important. CROWLEY: And, Senator Graham...

DURBIN: The fact that he has a Swiss bank account, it's legal, but he is the first presidential candidate to ever have one.

CROWLEY: And, Senator Graham, you cannot dismiss the fact that people do vote on the basis of, does this guy or woman some year hopefully understand who I am? Does he understand the struggles I go through?

This is a man who has been wealthy from the moment he was born. This is a man who has said a lot of things that cause voters out there to go, whoa, he doesn't get me at all, including the 47 percent.

So you can say this is not going to be about tax returns. It's not going to be about this. But it is going to be about who this guy is, who people perceive Mitt Romney to be. Is it not?

GRAHAM: I think it's going to be about your bank account, not his Swiss bank account. It's going to be about your job, whether you have one, or you are afraid of losing it. At the end of the day, Mitt Romney and Ann Romney are two fine people.

At our convention you showcased who they are when the camera is not on, helping people in a way that just really touched my heart. No, this election is about the economy and the future of America.

After four years of Barack Obama, Obama economics, everything they promised hasn't come true. The stimulus, we were supposed to be at 6 percent. Why aren't we? "Obama-care," if you pass it, premiums will go down. They're going up. I promise you I'll reduce the deficit in my first term...

CROWLEY: But to the question, though...

GRAHAM: ... it has gone up 50 percent.

CROWLEY: But to the question, Senator Graham.

GRAHAM: (INAUDIBLE) and ask yourself, is President Obama's energy policies good for you and your family? Go to the gas pump.

CROWLEY: But isn't the question whether Mitt Romney...

GRAHAM: Go look on your 401(k)...

CROWLEY: ... would be any better?

GRAHAM: ... statement.

CROWLEY: But isn't the question, would Mitt Romney have done any better? And don't people look at him and think, he doesn't get me?

GRAHAM: Oh, that's what this is about, yes. He -- during the debates he will tell you, I'm about to repeal "Obama-care" and work with Democrats to replace with something that matters. I'm not going to have another stimulus package that grows the government, doesn't create jobs.

I'm going to give you certainty in your taxes. I'm going to take the EPA, this made it very hard for people to grow their business, and reform the regulatory side. I'm going to give you certainty in taxes. And we're going to stop spending money like a drunken sailor.

Yes, the debates will be about what he will do, but nobody wants to talk about what Barack Obama has done. We'll talk about Romney's tax returns...

CROWLEY: Well, we've got those debates to look forward to. GRAHAM: ... and the reason they want to talk about everything else but what they've done is because he has failed to deliver as he promised as president of the United States.

CROWLEY: I have to leave it there. Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Dick Durbin, thank you both so much for getting up on a Sunday morning, I appreciate it.

DURBIN: Thanks, Candy.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Confusion reigns here in Washington and on the streets of Libya over the death of four Americans. The latest on the investigation is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Thousands of Libyans took to the streets Friday to protest the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. They demand the disarming of militias that helped to take down Muammar Gadhafi's regime.

The demonstrations have added to the uncertainty surrounding Libya. And more than a week after the killing inside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, we know less than we were so sure of the day it happened.

At the time U.S. officials indicated there was no intelligence indicating a specific threat. That may be technically true, but there is word now that days before the attack there were warnings about insufficient security in Benghazi and the potential for an attack. It leads to questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don't know how you argue we weren't caught flat-footed. They stormed our consulate, were successful in that and killed our ambassador and three other employees. That is being caught flat-footed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: As well, the administration's early line was that the attack was not premeditated. That it was the spontaneous work of a handful of people who used a broader protest over an anti-Muslim movie as cover to murder the Americans.

It turns out maybe there wasn't even a broader protest. We are still unsure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: What happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack and we will not rest until we have tracked down and brought to justice the terrorists who murdered four Americans. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So far Libyan authorities have detained eight people. Up next, House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers is here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: I'm joined now by House intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers. Mr. Chairman, thanks for being here.

REP. MIKE ROGERS, (R) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN : Candy, thanks for having me back.

CROWLEY: Tell me what we now know about what happened in Benghazi with the murder of those four Americans?

ROGERS: Well, there's still a little bit of confusion, but it's very clear as even I said last week this had to be a pre-planned event. We know it was an act of terrorism. I think the administration has come to the conclusion it's an act of terrorism now.

So we had two separate events. You see what's playing out now with people trying to get their militias under control, which those -- that's been a huge problem. I think this is more than that. This is clearly a specific attack on our U.S. embassy, and it kills a U.S...

CROWLEY: Was it aimed at the ambassador?

ROGERS: Well, that's still unclear. There still is some indication that they may have, in fact, known the ambassador was either there or in the area at the time of the attack, but 9/11 is probably more important to that equation than even the ambassador.

I do think it was wildly successful even beyond their dreams to be able to kill, you know, the American face in Libya, our United States ambassador, and...

CROWLEY: Who were they?

ROGERS: I still -- we don't know for sure and for certain yet. We have at least i look at the information have a high degree of probability that it is an al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliated group that had a very specific target in mind, and that was to attack the consulate and cause as much harm, chaos, and death as possible.

CROWLEY: And was there, in fact, a protest about this film going on outside the consulate at the time this occurred or was this just a one-off attack?

ROGERS: I believe this was an attack. The notion about the film, and I think the administration was ill-advised to push down that road.

CROWLEY: Right. And to assume that that's why everybody was there, but my broader question that I want you to also say that, but the -- my broader question is if we were told that there was outside the consulate a protest going on as there have been in 20 or more countries about this film and that somehow inside that group there were people who were heavily armed who launched this attack, Was there any protest at all going on?

ROGERS: I have seen no information that shows that there was a protest going on as you have seen around any other embassy at the time. It was clearly designed to be an attack. And what's so egregious about this is that -- and why every American should be offended, this isn't about George Bush or Barack Obama, it's not about Republicans, it's not about Democrats, they targeted and killed the face of the United States of America, a U.S. ambassador, and three embassy employees who were there dedicated to work in the United States of America.

This as a serious event as I have ever seen. And it's been confusing to try to follow where the administration has been. I'm disappointed the president didn't say I'm not going to the fundraiser, I am going to go on national TV and put this right, Americans deserve the truth. They deserve the facts. And they deserve to tell the world we will not tolerate a U.S. ambassador being treated badly, let alone killed.

CROWLEY: A stronger message from the president, a more national message than what you had hoped for.

ROGERS: We would hope a strong message, but some message. America -- the president needs to go on TV and set this right. This can't be about the election, it has to be about an American ambassador who was killed. This is our foreign policy, our national security here is at stake. He needs to be out front and leading on this issue. He shouldn't wait until after.

CROWLEY: Can I put you in the column of those Republicans who are upset with the administration for a lack of communication with those of you in congress who have this particular purview?

ROGERS: Well, I'm in a different role. I'm the chairman of the intelligence committee. We don't only get formal briefings, but we collect our information from the intelligence community in a variety of ways. I have heard the complaints. I did go to the briefing and thought not a lot came out of it, and it seemed that they doubled down.

Well, I think they doubled down. I think they thought that they were boxed in a corner, and they had to double down on their information. It was a little confusing to me. I didn't understand why they chose to do that. And then I think they made a follow-on mistake by buying the advertisement in Pakistan.

The administration gave credibility to this video that certainly nobody in America had seen and very few across the Middle East.

CROWLEY: You are talking about - that there was advertisement in Pakistan of both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the president saying we had nothing to do with this film? Bad idea you think?

ROGERS: I think it was a horrible idea. It gave credibility, and then it gave a permission slip to al Qaeda, to Pakistani officials. You saw the minister come out and say he was offering $100,000 to the death of the person who produced the video. This is a minister of the government of Pakistan. It gave a permission slip because of this attention and credibility that was given to this video that should not have been given by our president and our secretary of state.

And as you have seen, it hasn't been effective. I'm not sure who gave them the advice. I thought it was horrible advice. I think they have exacerbated the problem, and I think hopefully we shake ourselves out of this.

This is a national security issue that we'll have to deal with whomever wins in November. This is a big deal for the national security to the United States of America.

CROWLEY: Let me read to you something that Mohammed Morsi, the president of Egypt as you know, said to the New York Times." He was talking about the U.S. dealing with the blowback that we have seen across the Middle East.

And he said "successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of this region." Is this the word of an ally here? Is this what you want the guy to be saying? We're giving them money? We're...

ROGERS: Very concerning, and here's the problem. They have -- after he was elected in violation with the treaty of Israel, they moved tanks, heavy armor, into the Sinai. And they did it on their own. And we're not dealing very well with it.

So, what you are finding is he has a horrible economic problem in his country. He has a huge problem to deal with. It's best in those times a politician like Morsi to find somebody to blame. He is tough on the United States. He is going to be tough on Israel. Don't worry about the fact that you don't have a job or a future in Egypt.

CROWLEY: Yeah, but we are giving him money. I guess that's the concern.

ROGERS: Well...

CROWLEY: And I understand that we need to try to stabilize and that you supported the administration saying, look, we have to be players here. We can't just, you know, walk away. But the fact of the matter is that every time you turn around, the president, I get that he is playing to his home audience, is saying things that undermine how his citizenry look at the U.S., which is giving them money.

ROGERS: Well, and this is the huge problem here. Because it's not just in this particular case, it's in the protests over the film. Those governments are using that to incite trouble, violence, and political happiness with their own regimes in those particular countries.

CROWLEY: So governments want these, because it makes us the bad guys, and they look better.

ROGERS: Absolutely.

So that's why engagement and being aggressive diplomatically as well as follow-through is so important all across the Middle East. I had a very senior Middle Eastern Arab nation intelligence official after our meeting -- I said what would you ask of the United States if I could make you king for a day. He said please tell me what your Middle East policy is.

That's caused that confusion, that lack of this sense of disengagement, is causing us huge problems, and that's why I thought the reaction to what happened with the president and the secretary creating a television ad in Pakistan was just adding -- was fomenting the problem and giving permission slips for all of the bad actors to do bad things.

CROWLEY: Just quickly if I can regarding Syria. Dan Senor, as you know who is an adviser to Mitt Romney, was on TV the other day talking about how it's been a year since the president said, you know, Assad has to go. He is still there. He is still killing his own people, and Senor said the U.S. looks impotent. Do you agree with that assessment?

ROGERS: I will -- I just returned from the region recently. There is frustration from the region about the lack of leadership on the United States on this issue. I do think a slow walk to this was probably the right path, the problem is you have to do that with a sense of leadership by bringing people together. That part was missing. The slow walk was there with no U.S. leadership trying to bring Turkey and Saudi Arabia and the Qataris and the Jordanians to the table.

CROWLEY: Can I get a one word answer, agree or disagree, the U.S. looks impotent when it comes to Syria?

ROGERS: They're not looking good right now. Let's put it that way, Candy.

CROWLEY: Congressman Chairman, Mr. Chairman, thank you so much.

ROGERS: Thank you so much.

CROWLEY: Polls show a huge majority of voters have already settled on President Obama or Mitt Romney. Next, a closer look at that small group who hasn't decided.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Six weeks until the election of one of two men with entirely different ideas about the role of government and the best direction for the country. How is it then that a Pew survey finds about 7 percent of registered voters nationwide are what pollsters call pure undecided. They have not indicated a preference for any candidate. The dynamic holds true in key battleground states like Ohio, Virginia, and Florida with just 6 percent or less of the electorate undecided.

5, even 7 percent is not much, but in the right place it's more than enough to decide an election. Up next, profiling and targeting the decided with pollsters Whit Ayres and Anna Greenberg, plus reporter Susan Page of USA Today and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Saturday Night Live having some fun at the expense of that small, but coveted block of voters, or were they actually planning to show up at the polls at all? Joining me, Republican pollster Whit Ayres, Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

My goodness, I don't have to say a word, I'm just going to throw open the floor. Who are - you know, Saturday Night Live because - and you hear a lot of folks going they can't possibly know anything if they haven't decided yet. Who are these undecided voters?

WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Candy, they tend to be more independent than Democrat or Republican. They're less engaged. They're just now paying attention. We know from exit polling that about 1 out of 10 voters made their decision in '04 and '08 in the last week. And in 2008, they split equally between McCain and Obama as you'd expect in an open seat race.

In 2004, they broke for Kerry, the challenger, over Bush the incumbent, which is also typical of an incumbent reelection. I think we're like to see the same this time with late deciding voters breaking for Romney rather than Obama.

CROWLEY: Because generally, Anna, isn't that sort of how it generally works is that the president is well known, so if they're undecided a week before, you clearly know they have problems with the president and that they should break for Mitt Romney, but not necessarily.

ANNA GREENBERG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, I they that's right. They should break for Romney.

But a couple things about that number. Probably half of the undecideds are not voters. We know that people say they're going to vote, and they aren't actually voters, and so some of them just truly -- they really are the most disengaged. So really maybe -- it may be two or three percentage really. So, it's that small.

You know, it's actually - while it seems hard for us to imagine not paying hard to the election. It's actually not all that hard. Media are diffuse. A lot of people are watching a lot of different things. They're taking care of their kids, their working. And so it really is for a lot of people just starting, and I think the conventions and the debates starts focusing the choice for some people.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: I think that the universe is bigger, though, than 2 or 3 percent or even 7 percent. In the USA Today/Gallop poll swing states that we put out this week, about 1 in 5 registered voters said either they hadn't made up their mind or it was possible they would change their mind and that makes....

CROWLEY: So, persuadables.

PAGE: They're persuadables. And that means an event like the debate that you're going to moderate, Candy, could have an affect on these people who are kind loosely tied to one candidate or the other.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: A slightly different perspective, one thing that's striking about people who call themselves undecided, we look at this, we had Pew and both NBC/Wall Street Journal accumulate some of their polls so they're enough to look at. They are negative on both candidates to an unusual degree. I mean, you go back to '04, people are undecided if the fall express positive favorable views of both John Kerry and George W. Bush, this year - excuse me -- it's the opposite. Obama's approval rating is miserable, Romney's favorable/unfavorable is miserable among these undecided voters.

So I mean, it is possible that a lot of these people we are calling undecided today we'll look at both of these and not vote.

I wonder if the key variable in this election is really who we're talking about as undecided or whether, more importantly, is whether each side can change the electorate by bringing out their base. In other words, it's not the numerator, it's the denominator.

CROWLEY: Absolutely, and that was sort of where my next question was going, too, which is it does not seem to me that the messages that we are hearing off the campaign trail are aimed at persuadables. It seems that they are aimed directly at the base. It is just hard core campaigning.

GREENBERG: Voting has started. We have early vote in many states. We have got absentee ballots going out in many states. You know, probably half the electorate is going to vote for election day, so part of what is happening is that they are speaking to their base because they're starting to vote and in really important swing states like Iowa, for example.

PAGE: And the biggest achievement of the Democratic convention was in increasing Democratic enthusiasm. We've seen that lag all year and then suddenly now equal or even an advantage for Democrats, so Democratic core voters got engaged and excited by Bill Clinton's speech, Michelle Obama's speech, President Obama's speech at the convention, and that may turn out to be the most significant thing that's happened in the end of this campaign. CROWLEY: And by -- go ahead.

AYRES: In 2008 there were 7 percentage points, more Democrats than Republicans in the electorate. That's the largest advantage for Democrats in 14 years. In 2004 it was absolutely equal. In 2010 it was absolutely equal between Democrats and Republicans.

So the Obama campaign better hope that they have an electorate that looks more like 2008 than like 2004 or 2010.

BROWNSTEIN: That is absolutely critical, Candy. But 2004, just to be clear, was the only time in the history of modern polling that Republicans equaled Democrats as a share of the electorate in a presidential year. But I agree. I mean, I think the Obama campaign is basically Rovian in its view of the electorate in that they view they believe that it is more cost efficient to find a voter who agrees with you and might not vote than it is to persuade the kind of classic swing voter. And,you know, this election, I mean, many things could tip this election, but as important as any will be, what is the minority share of the vote? We have an enormous ratio of disparity where Obama is running twice as well among non-whites as whites. It was 26 percent in 2008. It could be enormously influential whether it's 26 again, 27, or 25. And the campaigns I think are very much focused on that composition of the electorate through their ground games and turnout efforts.

GREENBERG: And you are starting to see the groups that have been holding back that are Democratic leaning findings are moved more solid for the president. So under 30 have been very week compared to where they were four years ago. We're starting to see them move back.

We're also starting to see it, by the way, at the congressional level which has been lagging the presidential. Some of these groups are also -- and it reflects, I think, the Democratic enthusiasm coming out of convention and also what I think the direct the way the direct voter contacted the Obama campaign is doing.

CROWLEY: So if you looking at these upcoming debates as the next - the last three chances that these two candidates will get to address, a huge group of people. Do you say to your Republican candidate or to your Democratic candidate go out there and talk to the folks who are with you? Or do you say, hey, you're going to be on a big national stage, so don't go crazy left or don't go crazy right?

AYRES: We're at the start of the fourth quarter, and Mitt Romney is behind by a field goal. It's just that close. He needs to score points. He is behind, but not by very much. It's an average of 3.3% as of a Real Clear Politics average this morning, so he needs to score points. The most important thing that Mitt Romney can do is give people confidence that he knows how to fix this economy. They don't believe Obama has or can, but they are not yet persuaded that Mitt Romney can either. That's the most important thing to come out of your debate. CROWLEY: We're going to pick up with that thought in just a second, but for months Romney supporters have had the same answer about the likability gap.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: When they get to know him, I think they are going to really like what they see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People are still getting to know Governor Romney.

PAUL RYAN, REPUBLICAN VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As people get to know the real Mitt Romney and not the one that President Obama is talking about I think they're going to be satisfied and very happy with the choices they have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: But isn't this a case of voters simply not like liking what they're seeing? We'll ask our panel next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back with pollsters Whit Ayres and Anna Greenberg, USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page, and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

Let's pick up where we left off, which is you're advising these candidates. What do they do in these debates? Do they go central or do they go straight to the base?

GREENBERG: Well, I think - sorry - some of it I think is about temperament. And I think that part of what Romney needs to do in these debates is show he is consistent, even-keeled, that he is the campaign is - because they sort of lead to this impression that they're kind of all over the place and not sure what they're doing, and if you think back to 2008 debates how important it was, that contrast between President Obama and John McCain. John McCain looking sort of erratic and uncomfortable. So that's not about substance, but I actually think that's a really important piece of this debate for Romney.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Ultimately, President Obama was the one who got 52.8 percent last time. So I think the challenges are somewhat different. Romney does have a challenge of cutting into the president's base. If you look at the poll right now, I think one story that's pretty simple in this election is that the groups that were skeptical of Obama to begin with, primarily blue collar whites and senior whites, have been moving generally somewhat further away from him in this election than they were in '08.

But if you look at the polling consistently, we have a poll out this week, our Heartline Monitor poll, the groups that were strong for Obama, Romney is not cutting into. I think that's largely a function of choices he made in the primaries on social issues that are hurting him with upscale white women and on immigration with Hispanics. But the reality is if you look at three key pillars of the Obama coalition, what I've called the coalition of the ascending, because they're growing: young people, minorities and college educated whites, especially women. He is - he is returning very close to his '08 numbers among those groups.

BROWNSTEIN: Which were enough for a majority.

So I think the challenge for Romney, ultimately, he has more, I think, necessity to reach out beyond where he is than the president does.

PAGE: Yeah, well I think that's true. But what a different kind of race this is than 2008. There you had two outsider candidates. You could have a battle for the middle. You could see people looking for a new direction. Now we've got an electorate that is disappointed in the president they elected in 2008 but not at all convinced that the Republican challenger offers a good alternative.

So it makes it a smaller, meaner kind of race, I think, because you see this battle for a half a percentage point here or can I get a little bit more enthusiasm here for a race where people are not that happy, not that excited about their choices.

AYRES: But it's important to keep an eye on the big picture here. The big picture is the economy. If you want to predict how Barack Obama's vote goes in a state or a demographic group, all you need to know is how many people approve of his handling of the economy, not overall but the of the economy. Right now you have less than a majority that approves of his handling of the economy...

CROWLEY: Under 50 percent is a danger zone for an incumbent, yes?

AYRES: Exactly. And the door is open for Mitt Romney to get those people who are dissatisfied with Barack Obama's handling of the economy. That is his task over the next six weeks.

PAGE: And that's what he's failed to do so far, is to get people to walk through that door that's been open all year.

GREENBERG: And in fact, people's perception of the economy is getting better, whether it's consumer confidence or the Gallup tracking, people's perception of the economy is improving. It's coming from Democrats and independents. I think it's harder and harder for Romney to make this a referendum on the economy. And that's why I go back to parts to two of his vulnerabilities are sort of - sort of being elite and out of touch and the other is sort of not being sure what he stands for.

And so I know debates are about substance, but I think if he can't convey those two things, I think it's hard if there are any persuadables left to meet them. BROWNSTEIN: A slight amending on Whit. I think, look, a lot of numbers we've been throwing out. To me the election really comes down two numbers. For President Obama, it's 80/40. He won 80 percent of non-white voters in '08. If he holds that number in 2012 and they represent at least the 26 percent of the vote they did last time, he can win a majority with 40 percent of whites. That's it.

But - and within that I think a big portion of that is holding the president not on economic grounds. Minority voters, he's winning - you know they have suffered in the economy, but Romney has offered very little, particularly on immigration. And then again those upscale, those college educated white women who I think are really holding to the president largely on the social issues that the Republican primary brought forward in the spring.

And I think part of the challenge that Romney has is that a big chunk of the modern Democratic vote ultimately is not moved by the economy and he's positioned himself in a way that leaves him very little access to those voters.

AYRES: Let me just mention one other number if I can quickly. According to Gallup data, 68 percent of the country is dissatisfied with the country right now. Now yes, that's down from 78 percent. But we've gone from absolutely horrible to just really, really bad.

GREENBERG: But the numbers are moving in the right direction, that's what matters. It's not the absolute number it's what direction...

(CROSSTALK)

GREENBERG: Exactly.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you because I want to in our final two minutes I want to talk about down ballot, because we've said a lot about whether Democrats can possibly take back control of the House, whether Republicans can take control of the senate, which looked a little more likely several months ago.

Tommy Thompson who you know is a Republican. Wisconsin senate Democrat said that he believes that his numbers, which are falling as his opponents - his Democratic opponent rise, is partially due to Romney's fall. What's happening down-ballot.

AYRES: What's happening is down-ballot is a whole lot of very, very close Senate races. Out of the 33 Senate races, 16 of them are incredibly competitive right now.

CROWLEY: Then they're -- they're more competitive now than they used to be, correct?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, we are at the lowest of split ticket voting since 1960 if you look at the long-term trends. And there is an overwhelming correlation. We're seeing routing. I have been looking at the numbers the last weeks, 85 percent of Romney voters are voting Republican in competitive senate races, 85 plus of Obama voters are voting Democratic.

Even in 2010, the biggest Republican year since 1938, nine states where Obama was 47 above Democrats won eight of them, 15 where he was 47 or below, Republicans won 13 of them. You can run, you can't hide.

The president will have an enormous impact on these races.

CROWLEY: I have to leave it there, I'm sorry. I hope you'll come back. This has been great fun. I learned a lot.

Next up, Mitt Romney looks to the heavens to highlight his latest criticism of President Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Time now for a check of the top stories. Mitt Romney is promising to reinvigorate the U.S. space program. The Republican presidential nominee says President Obama has weakened NASA and conceded America's position as a leader in space exploration. Romney says his administration would implement a four- point space plan that would include having NASA focus more on national security.

First Lady Michelle Obama says it's important to make sure no one is denied the right to vote. Her comments at last night's Congressional Black Caucus's annual banquet comes as more than a dozen states have new voter ID laws that critics say are unfair to minorities, the elderly, and college students.

The election isn't until November 6 but ballot casting starts before then in some states. Early voting begins in Iowa Thursday. It is already underway in Idaho and South Dakota.

And you probably heard about that ancient piece of papyrus that referred to the wife of Jesus. It has caused a stir. But a New Testament scholar says it looks more like a forgery. He says the papyrus could be authentic but that the writing on it is a modern translation of Old Coptic language and that the message may have gotten mixed up during that translation.

Thank you so much for watching State of the Union. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Head to CNN.com/SOTU for analysis and extras.

And if you missed any part of today's showing you can find us on iTunes. Just search State of the Union.

Next, for our viewers here in the United States, Fareed Zakaria GPS with guest Bill Clinton.