Wednesday’s CBS Early Show began to declare the presidential race over as co-host Julie Chen touted new CBS News/New York Times poll numbers and proclaimed: "Obama surge. As the candidates head to the final showdown, Barack Obama opens up a 14-point lead. Can John McCain turn his campaign around in the final debate?" Co-host Harry Smith followed up with: "A lot of people say this is John McCain's last chance to really make a difference with just what -- two weeks and several days before the election." Correspondent Jeff Glor reported: "For 90 minutes, John McCain and Barack Obama will be sitting only four feet away from each other, which is about the only thing that's close about this race right now."
Glor later pinpointed the reason for McCain’s fall in the polls: "...independents, where there's been a shocking shift in the span of just one week, Obama turned a ten-point deficit into an 18-point lead. 21% of voters say they've changed their opinion of John McCain for the worse, citing the campaign's reliance on negative attacks and the selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate." At the top of the 8AM half hour, co-host Russ Mitchell reiterated that point in a news brief: "Meanwhile, it appears McCain may have hurt himself. 21% of voters say their opinion of McCain soured over the past few weeks because of negative attacks on Obama and his choice of Sarah Palin as running mate."
The Early Show used the same "surge" language to describe Obama leading by only five points in September’s CBS News/New York Times poll. A CBS News poll from the first week in October only had Obama leading by three, not even close to the 14-point lead described in this week’s poll. Such a sudden wild swing in Obama’s favor would appear to be an exaggerated result.
Following Glor’s report, Smith talked to McCain advisor Nicolle Wallace and Obama communications director Robert Gibbs about the poll numbers and the upcoming debate. Gibbs was on the same page as CBS as he quoted from the poll: "But I think the most illuminating number which you see, which is 60, more than 60% of the people think John McCain is more interested in attacking Barack Obama than in talking about what he'd do as president." The poll question asked was: "What do you think John McCain has been spending more time doing in his campaign -- explaining what he would do as president or attacking Barack Obama?" 61% said "attacking" and 31% said "explaining."
Later, Smith asked both of them "Bob Schieffer questions" that might be asked in the final debate. Smith’s question about Obama: "Considering your lack of experience Barack Obama, how have you been tested that proves you're ready to become President of the United States?" Smith’s question about McCain: "Admittedly, the economy is not your strong suit, Senator McCain, with the economy in the worst economic crisis since the great depression, why should we trust you to get us out of this?" It is interesting to note that the Obama question would allow the candidate to "prove" he’s been "tested," while the McCain question wonders why people should "trust" him given his lack of economic knowledge.
After the discussion with Wallace and Gibbs, Smith turned to CBS pollster Kathleen Frankovic and asked: "Alright so, first things first, with a giant lead now, double digit lead, first time we've seen in this election cycle. Is it insurmountable? Could that lead collapse?" Frankovic cited some historical examples of electoral comebacks, but added: "And I should note, that this was a really bad weekend to be a member of the president's party, after the stock market crash." Smith and Frankovic then proceeded to describe Obama winning in numerous different states based on the latest polls.
Here is the full transcript of both segments:
JULIE CHEN: Obama surge. As the candidates head to the final showdown, Barack Obama opens up a 14-point lead. Can John McCain turn his campaign around in the final debate?
HARRY SMITH: And the last debate is tonight. Our own Bob Schieffer is going to be moderating. It's right down the road at Hofstra University, Long Island. A lot of anticipation about this. A lot of people say this is John McCain's last chance to really make a difference with just what -- two weeks and several days before the election.
JULIE CHEN: But first, the stakes could not be higher for John McCain heading into tonight's third and final presidential debate. The latest CBS News poll shows Barack Obama widening his lead. Early Show national correspondent Jeff Glor is at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, where tonight's debate is being held. Jeff, good morning.
JEFF GLOR: Julie, good morning to you. We're inside the debate hall right now. And a lot of people are wondering how sharp the verbal attacks will be up on this stage tonight. Because that new poll shows those attacks are not working on the campaign trail. For 90 minutes, John McCain and Barack Obama will be sitting only four feet away from each other, which is about the only thing that's close about this race right now. Trailing by 14 points, with 20 days left, McCain may need a moment.
ROGER SIMON: Yes, John McCain has to do something and he has to change the conversation. But having a strategy and being able to carry it out are two different things.
GLOR: The third and final debate is all about the economy and domestic issues. So expect a blizzard of numbers, especially after both candidates unveiled economic rescue plans this week. John McCain's included $52 billion in new proposals, most targeting the critically important senior voting block.
JOHN MCCAIN: Retirees have suffered enough and need relief.
GLOR: But the poll shows the group he may need the most help from is independents, where there's been a shocking shift in the span of just one week, Obama turned a ten-point deficit into an 18-point lead. 21% of voters say they've changed their opinion of John McCain for the worse, citing the campaign's reliance on negative attacks and the selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate. But tonight, for those 90 minutes, no ads, no running mates, just two men debating, making one final unfiltered case to the American people. After a long campaign and two debates already, both candidates know a lot of what the other candidate will say tonight. What they don't know is what the moderator will say. Once again that is CBS's own Bob Schieffer . Harry.
SMITH: Thanks, Jeff. Joining us now, Nicolle Wallace, senior advisor of the McCain campaign and Robert Gibbs, senior advisor in the Obama campaign. And good morning to you both.
ROBERT GIBBS: Good morning.
SMITH: We were just looking at these numbers now, these horse race numbers, the CBS/New York Times poll with Barack Obama out to a double-digit lead. Let me ask you first -- do you wish the election were today, or tomorrow, or can you wait three weeks?
ROBERT GIBBS: For a lot of reasons, I wish it was yesterday, I'd get to go home and see my son. But look, Harry, I don't believe a ton in the -- maybe the overall numbers, we don't put a lot of stock in that, we're working hard everyday. But I think the most illuminating number which you see, which is 60, more than 60% of the people think John McCain is more interested in attacking Barack Obama than in talking about what he'd do as president.
SMITH: Alright, do you-
GIBBS: 60% of the people think Barack Obama would rather talk about the solutions he has in being president than in attacking John McCain.
SMITH: Do you wish the election were, what, three months from now? Do you need more time?
WALLACE: We need a little more time. You know, I've sat here before in this room and we've talked about John McCain being down, we've talked about John McCain being out.
WALLACE: I think he said on Monday, he's been counted out by opponents before, he's been counted out by the national media before, he's heartened by the fact that Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are planning a liberal Democratic takeover of all of the levers of government, they're measuring the drapes and we're fighting for the American people.
SMITH: Alright here's -- what is going to happen in this debate, last time? Because last week there was all this anticipation of a heavyweight fight, a 12-rounder. How -- who's going to win on points? How many -- will somebody lay a glove on the other person? It didn't really seem to happen. And the takeaway, especially for independents, was that Barack Obama won. What does your candidate have to do tonight in order to make a difference, especially three weeks from now?
WALLACE: No one can out-talk Barack Obama. I mean, he's brilliant. He is absolutely-
SMITH: Lowering the expectations.
WALLACE: -a brilliant speaker. In America, he's the most gifted political communicator of our generation. But I think that what they're looking for is a fighter and John McCain laid his cards on the table on Monday. He said there's one person in this race who says what he's going to do and does what he's going to say. And there's someone else, who, you know, lobs untrue attacks against John McCain. The truth is Barack Obama spent more millions attacking John McCain than any politician, Democrat or Republican, in the history of American politics.
SMITH: And Gibbs sits here silent, silent.
GIBBS: Well, the talking points are down. The question is, what John McCain do we get? Do we get the John McCain that we've seen that's erratic in this economic crisis? That's gone from one bad solution to the next, or do we see-
SMITH: You guys are both all over your talking points.
GIBBS: -or do we see John McCain that is more interested in personal attacks than he is in talking about how we get this economy moving again and creating jobs for working people.
SMITH: I'm going to give you Bob Schieffer questions and I need about a 10-15 second answer from both of you, okay. Here's a Bob Schieffer question for tonight. Considering your lack of experience Barack Obama, how have you been tested that proves you're ready to become President of the United States?
GIBBS: In 25 years of public service, Barack Obama has been tested. He's reached across party lines to work with everybody interested in creating common sense solutions to get things done.
SMITH: And here's my John McCain Bob Schieffer question, not that he's going to use these, but, you know, what -- that I wish he would. Admittedly, the economy is not your strong suit, Senator McCain, with the economy in the worst economic crisis since the great depression, why should we trust you to get us out of this?
WALLACE: We're in more of an economic -- more than just an economic downturn, we are in a major national crisis. And in an hour of crisis, John McCain is someone who has actually reached across -- reached across the aisle, worked with Democrats to take on big entrenched special interests and has a record of reform that is the best indicator yet that he's the only one that can shake up the broken institutions in Washington and Wall Street.
SMITH: It ain't over till it's over. We thank you both for being with us this morning.
WALLACE: Thanks, Harry.
GIBBS: Thanks for having us.
SMITH: We'll be watching the debate with bated breath tonight. Thank you so much.
HARRY SMITH: And joining us now is Kathleen Frankovic, head of CBS News polling unit . Good morning, Kathy.
KATHY FRANKOVIC: Good morning, Harry.
SMITH: Alright so, first things first, with a giant lead now, double digit lead, first time we've seen in this election cycle. Is it insurmountable? Could that lead collapse?
FRANKOVIC: You know, we have some examples from the past, Harry Truman made up this ground in 1948. Hubert Humphrey almost beat Richard Nixon, after coming back from a big deficit. At one point, Ronald Reagan was this far behind. And I should note, that this was a really bad weekend to be a member of the president's party, after the stock market crash.
SMITH: Right, and we're going to illustrate that right now, because there are a bunch of states that were thought to have been sort of in play, not the least of which is Wisconsin, which really looks like it's going to be blue now.
FRANKOVIC: Well, the Quinnipiac poll conducted over the weekend shows a 17-point lead in Wisconsin for Barack Obama.
SMITH: Wow, amazing.
FRANKOVIC: That's huge.
SMITH: Yeah, Minnesota is another one that the Republicans really thought, at least for the moment, as the picture stands right now, really looks like it's going to go blue.
FRANKOVIC: Yes, that's an 11-point lead in the same polls conducted over the weekend. You know, this was a state the Republicans held their convention there in hopes that it would turn red.
SMITH: Yeah, kind of get some sort of spillover effect.
FRANKOVIC: Republican Governor.
SMITH: That whole idea of the Mississippi River strategy that people thought would be helpful in terms of getting to the White House. Another one, John McCain, we heard last week pulled his resources out of Michigan. This has been reliably blue, but it was thought to be at least a little bit in play.
FRANKOVIC: Clearly a state where the economy matters a lot and economic concerns certainly pushing people towards Obama.
SMITH: Alright, and out west -- out west, right in John McCain's neighborhood, what is going on with Colorado?
FRANKOVIC: Well, that also showed a nine-point lead for Barack Obama in the latest Quinnipiac poll. A Democratic state they hoped to get, they held their convention there. And you know, environmental concerns, young voters, all those things that matter, that help them-
SMITH: Changing demographics, right, right. And if this goes that way, might some of these other like Nevada and New Mexico?
FRANKOVIC: I think it's fair to say that both of those states are in play. That if there is a big Obama lead on election day, they're likely to turn blue too.
SMITH: And if the election were held today, do you think even Indiana?
FRANKOVIC: Well, there aren't any really new polls there, but our 50-state model that we did last week suggests that even with a five-point Democratic edge, that could be a state that turns blue on election day.
SMITH: Wow. Kathy Frankovic, thank you so much, do appreciate it.
FRANKOVIC: Thank you.