TOPICS > Politics

Obama, McCain React to Wall Street’s Turmoil

September 15, 2008 at 6:40 PM EDT
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Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama pushed their proposals to reform Wall Street Monday as the financial sector reeled from the demise of Lehman Brothers and the selling of Merrill Lynch. Political reporters discuss the latest campaign news.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For an update on the latest developments, we turn to Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, National Journal’s political daily, and Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief for USA Today.

Good to see both of you.

Susan, first of all, how are the two campaigns, presidential campaigns, handling all this bad news from Wall Street?

SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: Well, they’re both focusing on it. I got the first e-mail from Barack Obama’s campaign at about 6:00 and one from John McCain…


SUSAN PAGE: … a.m. — and one from John McCain’s campaign about an hour later expressing concern, saying they empathize with the problems Americans were having, but with rather different approaches to addressing these.

Much more attitude of government role from Barack Obama and what he said today. John McCain, in his initial statement, said he was glad there had been no federal bailout for Lehman Brothers, said that was the right thing to do.

And while John McCain is stepping up his attention to this issue, he’s not going as far as Barack Obama is going and talking about what the government would do to help solve it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you really see a difference here in approach, Amy?

AMY WALTER, Editor-in-Chief, The Hotline: Well, and I think it’s a difference in approach we’ve been talking about for a while, in terms of the kind of ways in with these two candidates are trying to talk about the idea of changing the bad economic news, right?

Both of them are saying clearly this is not good. What is my administration going to do about this?

The McCain campaign actually launched an ad — that was one of the first things that came into my e-mail box that piqued my interest, was an ad that went out almost immediately after the news of this came out, saying, you know, this is why you need mavericks like John McCain and Sarah Palin in Washington, because they’re going to be able to reform, insisting you need reformers to reform.

Now, what that means specifically we don’t know yet. And same with Barack Obama, who’s coming out and certainly trying to make the case that John McCain, because he has subscribed to the same policies as George Bush, isn’t going to be able to take us out of this yet.

What it means for average people, I don’t think they’ve actually enunciated that yet.

McCain trying to redefine self

JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, can John McCain argue that what's needed is reform, when he's been in Washington for 26 years?

SUSAN PAGE: I think he's got a very hard row to hoe on this one. For one thing, he's got to distance himself from President Bush. And you saw both John McCain and Sarah Palin today basically blaming the Bush administration for a failure of oversight that contributed to the problems we saw. That's the first thing he has to do.

And then he's got to talk about approaching the economy when that's never been his strong issue. You know, John McCain would much prefer to be talking about national security issues or energy than talking about regulation of the financial markets.

I think this is an issue that really rebounds to Barack Obama's advantage. For one thing, it gets us talking, focused squarely on the economy, as opposed to, for instance, lipstick on pigs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So naturally a benefit for Obama?

AMY WALTER: Anyway -- well, that's a good question. I mean, certainly I agree here...

JUDY WOODRUFF: As long as we're not talking about lipstick on a pig.

AMY WALTER: ... as long as we're not talking about lipstick, which I'm glad that we're not, but we're also talking about George Bush, which is that any time you're talking about George Bush is a good day for Barack Obama and a bad day for John McCain.

Now, who this is going to help, again, I think it comes down to this, which is who voters see as actually giving them something to make them feel as if there's -- they feel confident that one of these people is going to take them a different direction.

Now, McCain I don't think helps himself very much today when he, in his statement -- where I agree with Susan, he looked somewhat uncomfortable talking about the economy -- where he said, "You know, the fundamentals are strong."

And that -- Obama jumped right on that statement, saying, "All right, this is the same guy. He believes the fundamentals are strong? Really? I don't know anybody else who believes that the economy is doing particularly well."

JUDY WOODRUFF: Have these candidates been talking enough about the economy? Is it -- or is it they have been talking about it and we haven't been listening? What's been going on?

SUSAN PAGE: Well, I think that the Obama campaign in particular has tried to turn the focus back to the economy, but they've been distracted by seven other things.

They have not controlled the issues agenda since the Democratic convention ended. I think they've had a couple weeks where Republicans have driven what we've talked about on cable newscasts and written about in newspapers and that has not been particularly economic issues.

The fact is Barack Obama has been talking about economic issues. And, in fact, in March, he gave a rather extensive speech that talked about regulation of financial markets in the 21st century, which got I think very little attention until this morning, when his campaign e-mailed it out so we could all take another look at it.

Biden working hard against McCain

JUDY WOODRUFF: And speaking of other things, Amy, how is the Obama campaign now handling the Governor Palin choice?

AMY WALTER: By trying not to talk about it, the Governor Palin choice, and letting other people do that. Even Joe Biden today -- this was the new Joe Biden that we're apparently going to see on the trail that the Obama campaign introduced us to last week, saying, you know, he's going to go out there and define this race, define John McCain.

And he did come out and make some of those statements like we were saying earlier about McCain not getting the economics, being part of the Bush economic -- you know, following the Bush economic policies.

And so I think, you know, for Biden, it's fascinating what I'm seeing right now, which is -- remember, he was introduced, first, as the guy who was, yes, part of Washington, could give Barack Obama the heft on foreign policy issues.

Then, during the convention, we were introduced to him as the local boy from Scranton who's going to go out and get those blue-collar voters.

Now he's the insider again, and he's the insider saying, "Look, I've been in Washington long enough to know this guy is no maverick." So that's -- he's taking on whatever -- he's like a shape-shifter. He's taking on any role that the campaign wants him to play, which is, quite frankly, what your vice presidential candidate should be doing for you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what we should look for from him?

SUSAN PAGE: I think we're going to see him take a much more aggressive stance. The Obama campaign in the last few days have decided they have to go more fiercely on the attack.

They don't want Barack Obama to do that. He's the reformer who's been above politics. That means he'll do it in two ways. He'll do it with Joe Biden, and they'll do it with their ads, which already are much tougher in the last few days than they've been in the previous couple weeks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But they still do have this, if you will, phenomenon of Governor Sarah Palin out there, who is getting...

SUSAN PAGE: Sarah who? I think their approach now is, "Who? I'm sorry?"

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, who is getting -- still getting a lot of attention and who is limiting her exposure to the news media, done one interview in the two-and-a-half weeks since she was introduced.

AMY WALTER: Well, we've been talking about this before, that at some point we knew that the bounce was going to come down. And part of -- the good and the bad if you're Sarah Palin about not granting interviews is that the press then becomes less interested in you.

And she goes on the trail, but very scripted. She gave a 15-minute presentation in Nevada, worked the rope line for a little bit, got back on the plane.

So she's not giving reporters any news. They're not going to spend a whole lot of time paying attention to her.

SUSAN PAGE: I think she's going to be forced to do more interviews. And, frankly, she did well on the first interview she did, so why not do more interviews?

And especially since she can make a case -- clearly, the Obama people have had trouble kind of dealing with her, responding to her. So it makes all the sense in the world that she should do more interviews, I think especially with -- USA Today would be a good place to start.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Or the NewsHour or Hotline.

AMY WALTER: Absolutely.

Money in the election

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about money? I mean Barack Obama broke all records last month, $66 million, Susan.

SUSAN PAGE: Incredible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much difference is this going to make?

SUSAN PAGE: You know, it's an incredible sum of money, to think a candidate could raise that kind of money in a month. I think it does not make very much difference.

This is a presidential race. It's attracted enormous interest. Both candidates are going to have enough money to make their case.

This election will turn not on money, but it will turn on how they do in the debates and what happens in the real world, in the economy, with the war in Iraq and the situation with national security.

AMY WALTER: I think the one place where it could help Obama -- and he's already been doing this anyway, which is on the ground. Now, you know, we hear report after report from these states that Barack Obama has the staff and the infrastructure in some of these places.

And if we're looking at the polls a month from now like they look today, where Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, two or three points difference, that's where your on-the-ground operation can make a big difference.

Now, I agree there's a law of diminishing returns when it comes to television advertising and some of those other things. But when it comes to on-the-ground, having the people in place right now doing the early absentee vote programs, getting those votes counted, making sure they have the systems in place, that money is very important.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's a lot of money. Not a bad thing. We'll see how much difference it makes. Amy Walter, Susan Page, thank you both.

SUSAN PAGE: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.