The Choice 2008
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He is editor at large and senior political analyst for Time magazine. Halperin was ABC News' political director from 1997 to 2007, and covered five presidential elections for that network. He is the author of The Undecided Voter's Guide to the Next President (2007) and co-author of The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on June 17, 2008.

“The most important decision a candidate has to make is to figure out how they want to present themselves to the American people and to do it consistently.”

Mark Halperin

Tell me what you assert about story control as an important element in running for the presidency.

The most important decision a candidate has to make is to figure out how they want to present themselves to the American people and to do it consistently. They won't always succeed, but the winner is the one who most regularly goes out, presents himself or herself the way they want to be seen.

How does the other side disrupt that?

If you're trying to beat someone for president, the smartest thing you can do is to say: What's the narrative? What's the story line? Where [are] the images and impressions and characteristics that are unattractive that show up on the radar screen when that person's out in public? And how can you every day tease those unattractive things out, make those the dominant image that the public sees, rather than the positive image that the candidate wants to present?

And when you talk about the "Freak Show," what do you mean by this?

Modern presidential politics has become dominated by these extreme voices, people on the right and people on the left. You hear them on the radio, you see them on the Internet, on cable TV. They don't care about consensus. And their targets, by and large, are the candidates running for president.

American political journalism has always had elements of the freak show. What's different now, and the terrain on which McCain and Obama fight, is the freak show is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, delivered electronically into people's homes. ...

Say you're McCain. … What's the story you want to tell about yourself at the beginning of the process?

McCain wanted to tell two stories at once. He wanted to preserve what had made him one of the most successful politicians of the last 10 years: the public appeal to independents, an outsider, a maverick, someone who was willing to fight his own party. But also [he wanted] to tell a different, parallel story, a story about a guy who had learned that you couldn't kick the Republican Party in the teeth and expect to be the party nominee. Simultaneously telling two stories at once is an old and important way to get elected president. McCain is not a very gifted person at doing two things at once, but he learned to do it well enough to win the Republican nomination.

What is the story that Obama has to tell?

To become the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama has told a different story than anyone had ever told as a presidential candidate: It is post-historical, post-racial, post-modern, and it fits not just his biography, not just his style of rhetoric, but the vision he has for America. ... It's a story about changing Washington, changing America, stopping the Iraq war. And again, it's so natural to him. It fits so well with his own sensibilities that it's made him very successful.

What does McCain do about disrupting the Obama story?

There are three ways for the Republicans to try to disrupt this incredibly successful narrative that Obama has ridden to [the] Democratic nomination. They can say he's liberal; they can say he's fake; they can say he's untested. They've got to decide which one is going to be most important. And McCain is attracted to all three, because when he looks at Obama, that's what he sees.

And for the Obama people looking at McCain trying to do this parallel thing?

Obama has to choose. Does he say McCain is not really a maverick? Does he say he's not really a loyal Republican? How to square that? And which way does he attack? That's going to be a challenge for Barack Obama right up through Election Day. ...

Why is the Democratic National Convention in 2004 interested in Obama speaking?

Barack Obama, for [Sen.] John Kerry [D-Mass.] and for the Democratic Party, represented a lot of what they wanted to have the party stand for: a diverse party, a forward-looking party, a young party. And also they knew that Obama would be a great speaker. They wanted a keynote speech that would electrify the crowd, electrify the country. And they got that with Barack Obama.

Did he write the speech himself?

As far as I know, he wrote a lot of it. Like most great political speeches, the candidate, the speaker himself played a huge role in writing it, but I'm sure he had help. The key to it is that it is his voice. One of the reasons that Barack Obama is such a great speaker when he gives speeches from text, as he did at the convention, is because he insists that it be in his voice.

He had a star quality.

He had about him a quality of communication, a quality of presentation and a physical quality that is unusual. The fact that he was also African American and appealing to the highest and best aspirations of America was just a bonus. If he had that same ability, and he weren't African American, he'd still be a star. But doing it as an African American, someone from a past that was not privileged, was a special thing for a lot of people. But the presentation itself is so awesome that it would have, on its own, made him a big deal.

How did Obama first grab your field of vision?

I knew a lot of Obama's political advisers. Everyone I knew who knew Obama said this is someone you need to watch; this is someone you need to meet. It was not the kind of thing I've ever heard about too many people.

What do you think it was that they had seen? What did someone like [chief strategist for Obama David] Axelrod see in somebody like Obama?

[They saw] that he was a unifying figure, that he was someone who was incredibly poised as a young person, was very smart, and someone who was in public life for the right reasons: not for political ambition, but because he wanted to help change the country in a way that he thought would be positive. They were incredibly impressed by that. And then, of course, you have to add on to that great political skills -- a great speechmaker, great with people, great in all kinds of crowds, from fund-raisers in Manhattan, fund-raisers in Beverly Hills to rural Illinois; someone with a great touch, and someone who only comes along once or twice in a generation.

Who is Axelrod?

David Axelrod is a former journalist and a political consultant who has clients across the country but has really specialized in clients from Illinois, where he lives. He is in politics for the right reason. He's not a mercenary consultant; he's someone who tends to work for people who he likes, and drifts away from clients who he doesn't like.

Does he work with a lot of African Americans?

He does. David Axelrod has clients across the board, including a lot of African American clients. But once Obama became his client, once he identified Obama as a special force -- every political consultant who works in national politics thinks in some part of their brain, I'd like to help elect a president. For David Axelrod, the blessing he had was he got hooked up with someone who he actually thinks would be a great president and who he really wants to help.

Is there something about it that's different? About running an African American candidate?

If you're working for an African American candidate trying to get elected, say, statewide in Massachusetts, like [Gov.] Deval Patrick, statewide in Illinois like Barack Obama, there are some technical issues you have to think about: Can you increase the African American vote to offset any loss of vote among other racial groups? And then there's some thematic issues: How can you take advantage of the highest and best aspirations of America to say we are a diverse nation, we are a nation that does not discriminate, while also dealing with the fact that there is discrimination still in the United States? Figuring out how to leverage the upside and diminish the downsides of that -- David's very good at that. ...

Obama gets to the Senate, and fairly quickly, my sense is, it's grooming time. Are you picking up on that from your perch?

I think there were a couple of moments when Barack Obama looked and said: "You know what? I can be bigger than a United States senator from Illinois." I think the speech at the convention did that. I think his book tour did that, and the reaction he got on Capitol Hill from his colleagues, his ability to raise money for other people, the invitations he had to speak around the country. In many ways, by many measures, Barack Obama was unlike anyone who'd ever come to the Senate as a freshman.

Obama's advisers looked at what they could do without getting him overexposed, without exposing him to potential problems, while doing enough to test the waters and to see just how much interest is there going to be in this guy.

Every time they tested the waters, every time they did a little bit of an experiment, the answer came back the same: There's a lot of interest. ...

Was he the transcendent figure? Am I right about that?

I think Democrats always want to find someone who is inspirational and exciting, and someone who's new and different. When they chose people like John Kerry, [former Mass. Gov.] Michael Dukakis, [former Vice President] Al Gore, they chose safer, more conventional nominees, people who were solid, who had the right issue positions for the party, but not who were necessarily exciting. [Democrats want to find] people who would say to a new generation of young voters, in particular, this is a different kind of politician. Obama did that.

What are they worried about?

Obama's advisers had two concerns. One was they said that Obama can't win if this election is played by the old rules. If what matters is experience, if what matters is connections and endorsements, they knew [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y.] would be the Democratic nominee. Their other concern was, as much trust as they had in Obama, was he ready to go out and keep from making the kind of mistakes that can derail a presidential campaign in one news cycle?

Both of those concerns were well founded. They thought about them all the time. They worked on trying to mitigate the danger they pose to his candidacy. And in the end he was able to get by, just barely, by changing the rules of the game and by being one of the most error-free first-time presidential candidates this country has seen in the modern era.

How does the Obama campaign confront the issue of race?

Within the Democratic Party process, within Iowa and New Hampshire and all the contests that follow, being an African American who understood how to talk about race in a nonthreatening way is an advantage. It helped Obama win the nomination not just because he won an overwhelming majority of the African American vote but also because a lot of people who vote in Democratic primaries and caucuses are delighted to have a Democratic nominee who's African American.

It's a bigger challenge in the general election, but they saw it as a net plus for winning the nomination.

You don't think he wanted to avoid being black in the early going, [to] say, "Look, I'm not going to be [Rev.] Jesse Jackson running for president; I'm going to be Barack Obama who happens to be black running for president"?

Obama's speech in Philadelphia about race really crystallized a focus on him and how adept he is at talking about race. But he does it every day. Maybe it's because of his biracial heritage. Maybe it's because of how smart and intellectual he is in thinking about all things, including race. But this is a guy who's completely at ease with his own place in the world as an African American, and with race in general in American life. It's truly one of the most remarkable things about him.

And it gave him the comfort and the confidence to go out and say: "Yeah, I'm doing something historic. Yeah, race is a factor for some voters, but it's not going to define me. And it doesn't define the way he thinks about his candidacy or about a potential presidency." ...

Let's look at it from Hillary Clinton's perspective. Who is he?

I think people who say that the Clinton campaign -- and the Clintons themselves -- didn't take Obama seriously were wrong. They recognized that he was the biggest threat to her nomination. They thought in the end they could beat him. They thought they'd get a higher percentage of the African American vote than she ended up getting. They thought that Obama's weaknesses would be more exposed than they ended up being exposed in the nomination fight. But they took him seriously right from the moment he thought about entering the race as someone who could upset all of their plans.

What does Obama's camp think of Clinton?

The Obama campaign felt that Clinton was vulnerable if they could [make] the race about something different than the old rules and if Obama could be competitive in fund raising, which they learned early on that he could be. And they recognized the two trump cards that they held [and] on which they played skillfully through the process: the Iraq war and her vote to authorize it, and Obama's opposition; and then, as one Obama adviser said to me: "Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton. That does not sound like change, and it never will."

They recognized that she was running a campaign about the past, and they were running one about the future. And they thought that was a pretty strong card that they could play over and over again. ...

How much of it is Obama running the campaign, and how much of it is Axelrod?

Obama is hands-on as much as he needs to be. I think one of his great skills as a manager, perhaps his greatest skill, is hiring good people and telling them, "No drama. I want this to be a well-run, collegial group." And one of the most remarkable things about the Obama campaign is that is what it has been from beginning to end, people who like and respect each other, who don't look to hog the credit. You don't see a lot of stars emerging from this campaign, even though they've done so well, because they're constantly sharing the credit. Their focus is on getting Obama elected. They're the envy of anyone who's ever worked in a presidential campaign in terms of how competent and collegial they've been.

And when he wins Iowa, what's that like for him?

Winning Iowa was a very big deal for Obama. And I think to some extent he lost New Hampshire because they began to look past Hillary Clinton and to think about what it was going to mean to be the Democratic nominee, having sewed up the nomination early and hopeful that the Republican nomination fight would go on for a long time. Of course, the reverse happened. Clinton was now able to come back and win New Hampshire. The Democratic race went on forever, and McCain was able to, in relatively short order, win the Republican nomination.

What happens in New Hampshire?

Clinton's campaign was in shock and in panic. It's amazing that they were able to get the campaign schedule out every day in New Hampshire, let alone put together something that would allow her to win. Their head was on the guillotine, and this was going to be the end of the campaign if they couldn't find a way to win.

Their best asset was that voters realized that, and I think Hillary Clinton was able to tap into that concern the Democrats had. There were a lot of people in the party, not just in New Hampshire but in the subsequent states, who were torn between these two candidates or who liked Hillary Clinton more. They were not ready to say Obama, untested, should be our nominee.

What is the conventional press wisdom that winter?

As 2007 ended and 2008 started, the press had consensus on one thing: They wanted Obama to win the nomination. They didn't want Hillary Clinton to win. ...

A lot of the media doesn't like the Clintons. A lot of people in the press feel the Clintons are an old story and prefer a new story. A lot of them feel they had not been sufficiently courted by Hillary Clinton. And a lot of them felt that she would be a weak general-election candidate. ...

And what do they like about Obama?

Obama is the kind of candidate that a lot of political reporters have spent their life waiting to cover. He's exciting; he's interesting. He's someone who they can relate to because he's not a regal figure. He's a normal, natural and human figure. And they also believe that it would be one of the best stories they could ever cover if an African American was elected president of the United States on their watch. ...

In South Carolina, Bill Clinton emerges as a force. Race begins to emerge as an issue. Take me there.

Race is a complicated issue in American politics. Always has been, probably always will be. And the Clintons saw their worst fear coming true in South Carolina. ...

Bill Clinton tried to talk about race in a way that would help his wife, that would try to defuse race as an issue and an advantage for Barack Obama. But the way he did it, and the way Obama's allies took advantage of it, made it seem as if he were racially insensitive. And it allowed Obama to consolidate support that was very powerful for him.

I think for a lot of African American voters, two things happened around the early contests that really helped Obama win the nomination with a lot of African American support. One was they saw him win Iowa. They saw an African American win in a state that was white, and saw that he was being treated as a very plausible, very viable candidate. They also simultaneously saw Bill Clinton talking about Obama in a way that they found disrespectful. They saw it not as the norm of politics but as an attempt to diminish an African American who is now deemed a viable presidential candidate. And a lot of African Americans didn't like it.

Bill Clinton thought he was just playing by the normal rules. But with the overlay of race, I think it really hurt Hillary Clinton in the minds of a lot of African American voters who went en masse to Obama.

And then the Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright thing happens.

Rev. Wright is a classic example of a candidate losing control of his public image. Obama had done a masterful job of not being seen as a black candidate, as a scary radical candidate, as a candidate who was different from what Democrats wanted to see in a strong nominee. Wright comes in and changes the narrative. And in the freak show, Wright was perfect fodder for cable, for talk radio, for the Internet, to allow any message Obama wanted to be put forward to be completely overwhelmed. Wright became the Obama story. …

Obama and his advisers knew that Wright was a big problem. That if people went back in mind [with] what he had said, if they looked at Obama and looked at Wright in their relationship, that it could change the impression that people had of Obama. …

Obama had no ability to drive a message until he gave his speech in Philadelphia, in which case he did a masterful job, through substance and stagecraft, taking back his story, of trying to diminish Wright as a figure. And until Wright popped up yet again at the National Press Club, Obama had been successful in changing the narrative, of stopping the freak show dead in its tracks. And it's testament to his skill that he was able to do that, because that is a rarity in presidential politics.

As long as we're in this realm and we're leading up [so] close to Pennsylvania, what about the elitist comment?

For a lot of Obama's critics, the "bitter" remarks in San Francisco were not just a slip; they were a revealing slip. They showed what they believed Obama's attitude was toward many issues, including working-class voters in rural areas. And Obama had so much trouble with that remark because repudiating it was, I think, a little bit uncomfortable for him, because part of him believed a lot of what he said. …

He's got to prove to them that he's authentically theirs or available to them.

It's one of the greatest frustrations. You talk to white working-class voters or he listens to his pollsters, and they said: "We don't know if he's authentic. We don't know if he understands us." For Obama, who came from a family of limited means, who believes that he projects an authenticity that's his greatest strength, this is a frustrating thing and one that he'll have to solve with white working-class voters if he's going be the president of the United States. …

This is a bad time for Obama. You've got Wright; you've got the elitist comment. This is probably the tough testing time that every candidate must go through.

Obama was tested by Wright, by his "bitter" comments in San Francisco. What got him through it was a very strong performance by the candidate. His staff, coming together, came up with a strategy to counteract it, and a lot of money.

Obama was able to paper over problems whenever they arose, particularly during this tough time, by simply outspending Hillary Clinton in what is still a very important part of presidential politics, which is paid television commercials.

You mean he could control his message, his story.

The news was filled with accounts of Obama in a negative way. His relationship with Rev. Wright, what he said at the San Francisco fund-raiser, all of that was negative. But a lot of what voters were hearing on television, through paid television advertising, were positive messages about Obama -- phone calls, direct mail, all the ways that campaigns communicate with voters. ...

In the end, Obama is still standing. What do we know about him as a result of looking back on his primary campaign?

Obama doesn't get rattled easily. He doesn't make very many mistakes. And he recognizes that when you have short-term problems, you need to address them, but you can't get consumed by them. You have to be thinking about the longer term. It speaks very well of him as a potential candidate to beat John McCain, and it speaks well of him as a potential president.

And the downside we've discovered about him?

I think Obama's soft treatment by a lot of the press has not tested him as much as he'd be tested in the White House. I think we've also seen that his relationship with voters who don't like him is not as close as it might need to be if he's going to be an effective president to really unify the country. And I think he hasn't been able to reach out as much as some people thought he would to Republicans in what is still a very divided country.

… Who is the John McCain that runs for president in 2000? What is the story he tells about himself then?

McCain was running as an outsider, someone who was not part of the establishment, someone who would change Washington. And he lost to a very formidable political machine and the son of a former president. After he lost that race, he assumed he'd never get a chance to run for president again, that his time was done.

And he started to repair relationships with the party, not to run for president but to be an effective ally of George Bush and an effective Republican senator from Arizona.

That's a different story than some people tell us, of course. He goes against the tax plan; he flirts with the Democrats maybe across the aisle, maybe be an independent. People even say he doesn't even vote for George W. Bush for president. How do you come up with the alternative view?

After he lost to President Bush, McCain had an initial period where he was angry at Bush, he was angry at other people who worked for Bush, and he was angry at the Republican Party for having rejected him. He went through a period of intense confusion about his political identity.

He recognized in the end that he was a Republican, that his core values were of the Republican Party and that he wasn't going to leave the party. He was going to work within the party and began to help people raise money. He began to help Bush more with his agenda, particularly on national security, and began to see himself as someone who would work for President Bush's re-election in 2004.

When you look at the famous picture of the [Bush-McCain] hug, what do you see?

That picture represents John McCain and his relationship with George Bush in all its complexity. It's uncomfortable, it's of necessity, and it's a relationship about which he has made his peace in the sense of, if he's going to be president, he's going to be part of George Bush's Republican Party.

When he's standing there giving that speech in 2004, is he running already? Do you think he's probably weighing, deciding?

I think he knew in the back of his mind that there was again a renewed opportunity to potentially run for president and that any chance he had required being a good soldier; that you couldn't run against the Republican Party to become the Republican Party nominee.

Tell me a little bit about McCain's relationship to [former chief strategist] John Weaver.

McCain has good political instincts, but he's not a very detail-oriented guy, and he doesn't always know who the right people to trust are. John Weaver was someone who could sweat the details for him, and McCain could be confident that Weaver had his best interests at heart. Weaver was thinking every day, what are the six things, 20 things we need to do today to position John McCain to be president of the United States?

And he was doing that ever since 2000?

Weaver wanted McCain to be president in 2000, and he didn't give up. He recognized that in his heart and in his mind that he thought John McCain would be the best president. ...

And it's easy to do things, even after you lose the White House, to try to advance someone's interest, someone's prospects of being president even without their cooperation, even without their knowledge. So Weaver was able to do countless things every day to say if McCain decides to run, if McCain wants to get onboard, I've got a presidential campaign in waiting that I've already started to build.

He picks up the phone and calls [Bush campaign media adviser Mark] McKinnon and says, "Let's put coffee together with [Bush adviser] Karl Rove." How hard is that for John Weaver to do? And how important is it that he did it?

Weaver recognized that McCain had to reconcile with Bush, that Weaver himself had to reconcile with Rove, that there needed to be peace, even if it was a difficult peace, between the McCain wing of the Republican Party and the Bush wing of the Republican Party and among the principals, to position McCain to possibly run for president in 2008.

Do you think it was hard for McCain to say, "Oh, OK, I'll go along with this"?

A lot of people look at what McCain did in reaching out to religious conservatives and reaching out to some people and some groups that he'd rejected in the past and said: "This is hypocritical. This is a deal with the devil." I think John McCain basically matured, and he saw that these groups were an important part of the Republican Party, that it didn't mean that he was endorsing everything they'd ever said or believed, but that they were an integral part of reaching out and finding a way to get elected.

Was part of it cynical? Was part of it calculating? No question. But I don't think he did it in a way that was uncomfortable for him, because I don't think John McCain is very good at doing that. He seemed to accept the fact that the Republican Party was bigger than just John McCain's maverick band of rebels. ...

What are the parallel stories to 2006 when McCain's deciding to run?

McCain was trying to present himself as what he's always been: someone with appeal to independents, someone who was willing to cross his party to try to change Washington. But he also wanted to be, for the first time, an elder statesman, someone who was inheriting the mantle of the Republican Party and someone who, by and large, had supported the Bush agenda. …

In the spring of 2007, he's got a velvet bus, he's got a budget of $150 million, and he's got campaign offices he just started to open up in 35 states. Is this a square peg in a round hole?

McCain created an operation that was not consistent with what he wanted to be, what he was. It was a big, well-funded, front-runner's campaign, and one that depended on the prospect of inevitability rather than fighting, being the underdog, the maverick, anti-establishment. It was not a good fit for him, and it crashed and burned as people probably should have realized it would. ...

Who is close to him around this time?

Part of McCain's problem as a manager and as a presidential candidate is [that he does] not have a central authority. He had several advisers with different titles, all of whom felt at any given moment that they were running the campaign or playing the biggest part in advising how things were going. That can sometimes be a strength, and they're all talented people. But I think part of his problem, part of why the campaign was on a bad trajectory, is there were too many people with too much authority decentralized in too many different places for there to be strong decisions and for there to be recognitions of problems.

Was he managing the money?

McCain is not a detail guy, so when he hired people to raise a lot of money for him and to spend a lot of money for him, he wasn't aware of the details and was stunned when he learned just how much had been spent on his behalf and on what kind of things -- not a lot of things that were going to help him get elected president. ...

When it falls apart, what happens to John McCain? What happens to the people around him?

McCain had to get rid of allies who had worked with him, particularly John Weaver. He had to rebuild his campaign, and he had to recognize that if you were going to win, it would have to be with a smaller operation, a different style of operation, and one, frankly, that was more suited to the way he likes to run for president. He never gave up because he recognized the fundamental weakness in everyone else he was running against. And he recognized the fundamental importance of the New Hampshire primary, where he knew he could do well, even without money, even without a giant campaign operation. ...

He's still hanging with the Iraq war that summer when he's out on the stump. Presumably people in his campaign are saying: "Downplay the war. Back off from the war. The war is harming you." Were there those kind of discussions inside the campaign? And why did he go forward?

McCain's political advisers would say all the time when they talked to reporters, "If John McCain would change his position on the war, if he would distance himself just a little bit from George Bush, we'd have a much better chance to win this nomination." But they knew two things: first, that McCain believed what he was saying and that they couldn't get him to change it; and two, although the press, the Democrats and a lot of independents found McCain's position unpalatable, within the Republican Party, support for the president, support for the war was still quite high. McCain had to just try to isolate the problem, to try to keep his support for the war from becoming his whole candidacy in the mind of independents, and he was able to do that by talking about other issues. ...

And yet McCain wins the nomination without actually winning the conservatives almost anywhere. He finds himself at CPAC [Conservative Political Action Conference] and has to do what?

The weakness of the Republican field allowed McCain to win the nomination in a way that was unthinkable in previous years: He won without consolidating conservatives. ... There's still, at CPAC and beyond, a lot of animus toward McCain based on his past record, a lot of sense that he wasn't one of them. And McCain wasn't very good at going into a place like CPAC and suddenly saying, in a convincing, in a compelling way, "I am a social conservative."

It's not what his emphasis has been on. It's not where his heart is as a politician, and he couldn't fake it well enough to win them over. ...

So how much is being or not being "Bush III" the big problem that McCain is facing? ...

What the Democrats have largely settled on is to say, look, McCain has a history sometimes in his past of being a maverick, but what he is now is a Bush Republican, someone who will continue a set of policies that are incredibly unpopular. If McCain cannot paint himself as the un-Bush -- probably not the anti-Bush -- he'll lose the election. He must separate himself from George Bush.

He has to implicitly be stylistically and substantively different enough from Bush that the American people can say, "He is a candidate of change." And the McCain campaign knows that. ...

Let's back up of a second and talk about the press and their relationship to McCain, all the way back to 2000 even.

The press likes John McCain. They like his story. They like him personally. ... McCain is open. He's accessible. He understands the way reporters play the game. He understands the needs of reporters. And he also is an appealing guy. He's a great guy to spend time with. And reporters find all of that exceedingly attractive.

What about his life story?

McCain has always been uncomfortable talking about his biography. Biography is not destiny in presidential politics. But his story as a prisoner of war, his story as someone who has fought back from a lot of adversity is something that reporters are attracted to, and so attracted to it that McCain doesn't need to talk about it. It's there in the mind of reporters. It influences a lot of the coverage, and it's been a big benefit for him almost without a break throughout his campaign, this time and in 2000. ...

Our film always ends with two guys waving from behind at the convention, the balloons falling. What is the choice we are facing?

The choice is to say, which one of these people is best equipped to deal with the post-Bush era: America's role in the world; how to fix the economy, including and especially health care; and how to project [to] the American people a sense that change is possible at a time of partisan warring in Washington and in a lot of state capitals? And the choice is between someone who's been at it a long time but is more closely associated with the status quo, and someone who is newer but clearly represents a greater change. ...

Place this campaign in terms of the great stories.

The Democratic contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is unlike anything we've ever seen, and it's overshadowed what is in some ways just as an incredible story. John McCain, with all of his biography, with his experience from 2000, being left for dead and then coming back to be the Republican nominee is a phenomenal story, as is McCain's entire life story.

On the Democratic side, you have a former first lady beat by a guy who no one had heard of just a few years ago. And in a time when the public is engaged, there's more press coverage than there's ever been, it is one of the great not just political stories of modern times, but one of the great stories that anyone who's alive now has ever seen. And it continues into a general election in which you've got two candidates who have been press darlings their whole careers and now feel like they're being under siege every day. And you've got an outcome that really matters, that voters are engaged, not because it's fun and interesting but because it's important.

posted october 14, 2008

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