MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. If you tuned into the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte you might've heard keynote speaker Julian Castro tell his inspiring family story. Later today we will hear from one of the key players in that story, his mother Rosie, an activist in her own right. That's coming up later.
But first we want to check in on the presidential race that is turning into a cliffhanger the analysts from both parties have long predicted. Here with us to give their analysis of what's happening now and what's to come, Corey Ealons. He's a former communications advisor for the Obama administration. He's currently a senior vice president with the strategic communications firm Vox Global.
Ron Christie is a former aid to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. He is now the president of Christie Strategies, a media and political strategy firm. Welcome back to you both. Thank you for joining us once again.
COREY EALONS: Always a pleasure.
RON CHRISTIE: Thanks, Michel. Good to be here.
MARTIN: So let's talk about the latest polls. The Washington Post ABC News poll just out today finds President Obama with a slight edge over Governor Romney but the Gallup daily tracking poll has Mr. Romney up by two points. So, Corey, what do you make of this?
EALONS: What I make of it is that these polls, in the closing days of an election, are going to be all over the place. The administration and the campaign have said, from the beginning, that this was going to be a very, very close race. We all know that. And again, you have to take a look at all of the races, all of the elections, prior to 2008.
2008 was a change election so you had a lot of crossover voting and the president won by a reasonable margin. The elections prior to that - 2000, 2004 - razor thin close. And because of the divisiveness of the electorate, Republicans and Democrats and very few independents, it's coming down to that again.
MARTIN: Ron, what do you say?
CHRISTIE: I think Corey's basically right here. I think that you have a very polarized electorate. I think most folks across the country have made up their mind who they're going to vote for, for president, and I think it's going to really hinge on several key battleground states. My home state of Virginia, Colorado, and Ohio will be integral, and of course, no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio.
President Obama is currently a point or two up in Ohio, so it's going to be a critical opportunity and, frankly, a challenge for both candidates to mobilize their voters to make sure that they go out and vote and cast those ballots.
MARTIN: You know, Ron, the Post poll says that barely one in eight voters say that there's a chance they could change their vote. Do you - you know, both of you talk to the campaigns probably, you know, hourly.
MARTIN: Do you really believe that that many voters are in play - that even that many voters are in play?
CHRISTIE: Well, I do, actually. I think if you look at the debate, the presidential debate, tomorrow evening at Hofstra University, they're actually bringing in undecided voters, but voters who say that they really do intend to vote. So I think that there are a significant minority of people who genuinely haven't made up their mind. And that's why you see the ad blitzes on the radio and on television, and that's why you see the candidates crisscrossing in these remaining three weeks to try to get those undecided to swing their way.
MARTIN: So, Corey, you're shaking your head in agreement with Ron, so I'm going to ask you a different question. Obviously, the state by state count is what really matters in the electoral contest. So do you agree with Ron's analysis about where the campaign really is? It basically comes down to Virginia, Colorado, and Ohio?
EALONS: Well, I think my states are slightly different. I'm looking at Ohio, Virginia, and Florida, actually. Florida is always the big ticket because it has over 20 electoral votes. So it's always a big ticket. As Ron said, no Republican presidential candidate has ever won the presidency without Ohio. And Virginia is this newly reborn swing state where the president has been doing exceptionally well over the past several weeks.
Again, it has tightened in the past few weeks, but it's going to be tight. What I will also add, very quickly, is that Ron talked about getting the vote out. This is where you can spend a bazillion(ph) dollars over the airwaves with all these ads going back and forth between the candidates, but this is where the ground game counts.
When you're talking about close elections, the team that has the best ground game and is able to get their vote out is probably going to win this thing. And that's why early vote counts so much in this election, as well.
MARTIN: Well, let's talk about the debate which is coming up. It's tomorrow evening. The second debate of the top - of the ticket. And if you're just joining us, we're catching up on the latest political news with former Obama administration White House advisor Corey Ealons, and former Bush administration advisor Ron Christie.
It's no - Corey, I'll start with you - it's no secret that the president's supporters were very disappointed by his performance in the first debate. I don't think that's news at this point. What do you think the president's going to do differently? Do you have any insights into what he's being advised to do? Or do you have any insights as to why he didn't seem to do as well as many people hoped he would've?
EALONS: Well, you know, there was a lot of hand wringing two weeks ago after the president wrapped up that first debate. And he himself has said, already, that he didn't think he did very well and may have let folks down. I think, quite frankly, it comes to the skill of debating. Ultimately, debating is just like any other muscle, and if you don't use it over a period of time it apathies.
Just like if you don't shoot basketball or throw a football after a while you lose that skill. The president hadn't debated in four years. Governor Romney participated in 19 out of 22 debates during the primary season. He is said to have won 16 of those debates, and god knows he prepped and prepared enormously for this first debate because he realized what was at stake.
So he out-performed expectations, to be sure. You match that up against the president's under-performance and you have what you have. Coming into tomorrow, I think he needs to, one, push back more aggressively against the negative information and misinformation that the Romney campaign is putting forward. And secondly, he just needs to be awake. He needs to be present. He needs to have a bit more energy.
And I think this format, this town hall format, affords him an opportunity to do that.
MARTIN: What does Mr. Romney need to do, Ron, in your opinion?
CHRISTIE: Well, I think Governor Romney needs to come out once again, and give a very strong performance, strong based on his command of the subject matter, be it domestic or foreign policy. And really convince those wavering voters why, after four years of an Obama administration, they need to change horses and to go with him.
And I'll tell you, I think Corey is spot on with his analysis here. One of the things that I found, working with Governor Romney in the 2008 cycle, helping to prepare him for debates then, is that it is very physically and mentally exhausting to stand at a podium for 90 minutes like the two gentlemen did in the first debate.
And this town hall format - I agree with Corey here - it will allow both candidates, I think, the opportunity to move, to walk around, to directly engage voters. So it will be easier for them to make a connection with the people at Hofstra University, but of course, they're trying to make a connection with tens of millions of people who will be tuning in tomorrow night.
MARTIN: You know, speaking of connections, Ron, I'll ask you this. That a number of media outlets that are - and the journalism associations, particularly, that are connected to journalists of color - have pointed out that very little has been discussed that particularly pertains to African-Americans and Latinos. Of course, there was the Univision, you know, format.
But, you know, African-Americans, Latinos, women, you know, Asian-Americans, some specific issues there. And I wonder, you know, Ron why you think that is. Is that strategy or oversight?
CHRISTIE: Well, I think it's oversight. I think that we really do need to have an honest discussion about the fact that there are 23 million people who are unemployed or under-employed. We need to talk about the fact that nearly one out of eight Americans are in poverty. The number of folks, recipients of food stamps, have gone up significantly.
These are issues that are under the radar screen of most of the mainstream media, but affect so many people that we come into contact with every day that I think it is somewhat of an embarrassment that we're not discussing these very key facts and these very key issues.
MARTIN: Corey, what do you think?
EALONS: Well, I take a slightly different view of that because there has been a push, since the beginning of this administration, for more issues that are focused on minority communities and the African-American community in particular. And I always go back to looking at the broader policies that have been presented.
When you look at the issue of education and you understand that African-American children are subject to the zip code that they're born in as far as the quality of education they receive, that's an African-American issue. When you look at the Affordable Care Act and you understand that African-Americans suffer disproportionately from chronic illness, that is an African-American issue. So I beg to differ, slightly.
MARTIN: Well, the president could have brought that up. Couldn't he have? I mean, was anybody telling - you know, who was telling him not to bring that up? Couldn't he have brought that up?
EALONS: Well, I...
MARTIN: Governor Romney could too, for that matter. Neither of them chose to do so. So what does that say?
EALONS: Sure. Well, I'd say it this way. Right now it appears that the president is gaining anywhere from 96 to 98 percent of the vote, of the African-American vote, if you believe the polls. If that's the case, the community gets the message. They know that he is working on their behalf and that their well being is covered in the broader policies that the president is putting forward.
MARTIN: Before I let each of you go, I did want to ask - we just have a couple of minutes left and I was wondering if I could just ask you about, you know, one issue. Speaking of, you know, issues that people thought might be energizing, Representative Todd Akin is the Republican candidate for Senate in Missouri. He made these comments, saying that - he told a TV interviewer that quote-unquote legitimate rape rarely results in pregnancy because a woman's body can shut down and prevent conception. We were told that he was going to be completely shunned by, you know, the party, and it appears that national money has shut off, but he's - you know, there's a story today that's saying he's like Lazarus rising and that he, in fact, is within striking distance.
Ron, I'm curious. What do you make of that? Do you think that's a good thing? I mean obviously if you're Republican, you want the Republicans to take the Senate back, but is that a good thing that he's resurgent in this way?
CHRISTIE: No. I think this guy is a disgrace. I think he's a jerk. I think he should not be sitting in the United States House of Representatives. He certainly shouldn't be sitting in the United States Senate. This is one issue that I think transcends partisanship and I think it revealed a very dark and a very disturbing thought pattern, that somehow women, you know, in these situations - I just - I'm just so offended by his very even presence that he's associated with the party. I just think he needs to go.
MARTIN: But he won't, so...
CHRISTIE: I know. He won't and I think that's to the detriment of the Republican Party and I think our party leadership should have been a lot more outspoken and done a lot more to push this jerk off the stage before the filing deadline so we could have had another Republican in there.
EALONS: Well, Ron, I think the problem there is that they were outspoken. I mean, you had members of the Senate leadership, you had members of the House leadership, you had members of the Republican Party leadership all disavow this guy and say exactly the types of things that you just said and now they're doing a full reversal, getting onboard, sending him money, feeding money into superPACs to support him and so it's a complete reversal of this disavow position that they took several weeks ago. It is abhorrent. It is unfortunate, and I think unfortunately it does say something about the status of the Republican Party right now.
MARTIN: If control of the Senate were at stake, if you were a Democrat, do you honestly think Democrats would do differently if it was a matter of holding onto the Senate or losing it?
EALONS: I absolutely know they would. They would not support someone who took a position that was so categorically offensive to an overwhelming majority of their - of a broad constituency.
MARTIN: Ron, you have 10 seconds to respond to that. I think that's only fair. What do you say?
CHRISTIE: Well, I agree with Corey and I think that - I don't think it reflects poorly on the Republican Party, but it reflects poorly on the ability of the people in the party hierarchy to force someone out who has no business being in public service.
MARTIN: Ron Christie is the founder and president of Christie Strategies. That's a media and political strategy firm. He's also a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. He was with us from our bureau in New York. Corey Ealons is a former Obama White House communications advisor. He's currently a senior vice president with the communications firm VOX Global. He was here with us in Washington, D.C.
Gentlemen, thank you again for speaking with us.
CHRISTIE: Take care, guys.
EALONS: Always good to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.