'This Week' Transcript: Stephanie Cutter and Newt Gingrich

PHOTO: This Week Roundtable

STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Good morning, and welcome to a special election edition of "This Week."

ROMNEY: The Obama campaign is slipping.

OBAMA: We've come too far to turn back now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's on, the final sprint.

OBAMA: We'll win this election. We'll finish what we started.

ROMNEY: We're going to bring big changes to get America stronger again.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The candidates crisscross the battlegrounds...

BIDEN: We need you, Ohio!

RYAN: Hello, Colorado!

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... to break this deadlock race. The big questions now: Can Obama's swing state firewall stand up to Romney's momentum? How will Hurricane Sandy shake up the campaigns? And with just nine days to go, could a final October surprise send this election into overtime?

Questions for our headliners, top Obama adviser Stephanie Cutter and House Speaker Newt Gingrich for Romney. Plus, insight and analysis on our powerhouse roundtable, with George Will, Austan Goolsbee, Nicolle Wallace, Gwen Ifill from PBS, and Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. It's your voice, your vote. Reporting from ABC News election headquarters, George Stephanopoulos.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again. With just nine days to go, the October surprise is here. Hurricane Sandy, threatening a massive stretch of the U.S. from Virginia to New England all the way to the Great Lakes. It's already caused both candidates to scramble their schedules. It will complicate both campaigns' efforts to get their voters to the polls. We're going to get into that, plus our latest ABC News-Washington Post poll in just a moment.

But let's begin with our weather editor, Sam Champion, leading our storm coverage from Lower Manhattan. He's following the track of Sandy right now.

Good morning, Sam.

CHAMPION: Good morning, George. And let me show you first the satellite picture, which will show you, this storm is basically one of the largest we've ever seen in the Atlantic Basin. We'll move quickly to the hurricane track, the latest out from the hurricane center completes this storm. Well, actually, it feels exactly the same way they did several days now, making a left-hand turn toward to the coastline by the time we get into Monday.

Wind field from this storm is incredibly impressive. We've got tropical-storm-force winds 1,000 miles across in the storm and hurricane-force winds about 200 miles across. It basically means, it doesn't matter where this storm comes on shore for anything other than a storm surge, which is expected to be about 4 to 10 feet high. After that, wind and rain in a very large area.

Let's go to Matt Gutman. This storm, by the way, is cruising by the coastline, and Matt at its closest point in North Carolina. Good morning, Matt.

GUTMAN: Hey, good morning, Sam. It's still about 250 miles away, pushing these 60-mile wind gusts right in here. And this looks like some sort of semi-apocalyptic storm. This is not snow. This is sea foam roiled up by the ocean. The waves out there about 30 feet high, just beyond the coast here, and it's kicking up this very strange phenomenon of sea foam.

While a lot of the folks here are accustomed to hurricanes and storms of this velocity, what they have not seen is this cold combined with it. It is absolutely cold out there. And hour after hour, Sam and George, it has been getting colder out here. The weather is intensifying. And it's just going to get worse. This is just a sliver of what the folks up north are going to see.

George?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sam and Matt, thanks very much. This storm is a monster.

Now the race for the White House. We have brand-new numbers from our ABC-Washington Post tracking poll. As you can see, this race remains a dead heat, with Romney holding on to the tiniest of leads of one point over Obama among likely voters.

And we have two new polls out this morning from those all-important battlegrounds. First, Virginia, where the Washington Post shows President Obama clinging to a four-point lead. That's down from eight points in mid-September. And in what may be the most consequential states of all, Ohio, more signs of momentum for Mitt Romney. The latest poll from a consortium of Ohio newspapers shows the race all tied up, 49 percent to 49 percent.

And with that, let's hear from the campaigns, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for Governor Romney, deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter for President Obama.

And, Stephanie, let me begin with you and that poll out of Ohio. It shows Governor Romney coming on very strong in that state that matters so much. It looks like a real threat to your firewall.

CUTTER: Well, George, you know, that's one poll. There have been several polls out this week, one including that showed us up 5 in Ohio. We feel pretty good about where we are on the ground there. In many cases, we're beating Mitt Romney 3 to 1 in the early vote. Our people are turning out, and they're turning out in very high numbers. We feel good about Ohio. We think we're going to win it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And let's dig into that ABC News-Washington Post poll, as well, Stephanie. It shows Governor Romney really making headway on the economy and who offers a clear plan on the economy. Back in July, President Obama had a 16-point lead on that measure. Today it's tied. We know that President Obama is focused on that, and now you're distributing plans all across the country, but did you wait too long?

CUTTER: Absolutely not. I mean, you know, it's interesting that you're pointing out your national tracker poll, but in the Virginia poll you just cited, we are beating Mitt Romney when it comes to who do you trust to get the economy going, who do you trust for the next four years.

In terms of the president's plans, we're happy to talk about them. The president laid them out at the convention. We ran a two-minute ad on it. We've been campaigning across the country on this plan. You know, whether it's putting the best-trained workers in place all over this country, 100,000 math and science teachers, bringing jobs back to this country, rather than sending them overseas, or doing some nation-building here at home. We're ending two wars, using that savings to do some nation-building here at home, these are big plans. And the president laid them out at the convention, and it's what, you know, a second term of an Obama presidency would mean.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So how do you...

CUTTER: It does stand in sharp contrast to Mitt Romney's plans, which essentially just boils down to a $5 trillion tax cut he can't pay for.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So how do you explain why the gap has closed so much?

CUTTER: George, we can look at these polls a million different ways. They all say something different. At the end of the day, what we are focused on is getting the president out across this country, meeting as many voters as possible, but also implementing that ground game that we've invested so heavily on. Our people are coming out. Ohio, Florida, the first day of early voting in Florida yesterday, record numbers of people are coming out to vote. It's something like we've never, ever seen. And that's a sign. That's a sign that there is momentum behind the president's re-election. There is energy on the ground. We're a little over a week out, and we're confident.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're also seeing a raft of newspaper endorsements come out overnight on the weekend. President Obama getting the endorsement of the New York Times, several newspapers in Ohio. The big surprise, though, this morning, the Des Moines Register hasn't endorsed a Democrat since -- Republican since 1972, Richard Nixon. They endorsed Mitt Romney, saying he offers a fresh economic vision.

I want to read a part of that endorsement right here. It says, "Barack Obama rocketed to the presidency from relative obscurity with a theme of hope and change. A different reality has marked his presidency. His record on the economy the past four years does not suggest he would lead in the direction the nation must go in the next four years." How much does this hurt?

CUTTER: Well, you know, they endorsed Mitt Romney in the primary, so this was not much of a surprise. It was a little surprising to read that editorial, because it didn't seem to be based at all in reality, not just in the president's record, but in Mitt Romney's record. It says that he'd reach across the aisle, which he'd do the exact opposite. It's the exact opposite of what he did in Massachusetts.

And, of course, over the course of running for president over this last six years, he's never once stood up to the far extreme right wing. Just this past week we saw it, when he wouldn't take down his ad for Richard Mourdock, who had -- you know, it's a now famous comment that it's God's will if a woman gets pregnant through rape. He's not willing to stand up when it matters.

So the fact that he's going to bring people together and work across the aisle is just nonsense. And in terms of newspaper endorsements, you know, we feel pretty good about where we are. This morning brings the Miami Herald, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the New York Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Toledo Blade, the Youngstown Vindicator. I could go on. We feel good. There is momentum. There is movement out there with people wanting a second term of an Obama presidency. We feel good about where we are.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, let's get into the impact of Hurricane Sandy. We've already seen President Obama cancel trips to Virginia and Colorado. You all have invested so much in the ground game to get out the vote. How much does the hurricane hinder your efforts there?

CUTTER: Well, we have to -- we have to see how it goes. You know, of course, we're all hoping that the hurricane doesn't have huge consequences for people's safety. We've taken every precaution that we possibly can. The president took down a couple of stops so that he could be at the White House to monitor the situation. And, of course, he's, you know, given every resource he can to state and local partners to ensure that people are safe. So we -- we just have to see how this goes. And, of course, we're all hoping for the best and for -- for people's safety.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Stephanie Cutter, thanks very much.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's turn now to the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich. Mr. Speaker, thanks for coming in this morning. You just heard Stephanie Cutter right there. She believes their campaign is ahead in Ohio, that the early vote is coming in for President Obama in those key battleground states. Your response?

GINGRICH: Well, I think you put your finger on it with the Des Moines Register. Here's a newspaper that has not endorsed a Republican in 40 years. And now -- they were for Obama four years ago. They've switched. I think the fact is, the paper in Florida this morning did the same thing, had been for Obama, it switched.

In Ohio, we clearly have gained ground. I think across the country we have. And if you look at the internals of the Washington Post poll, I doubt very much if Obama is going to carry Virginia. I think the poll way oversampled Democrats.

But the bigger issue is, whether it's unemployment or it is what's happened in Benghazi, where we've had this strange story over the weekend that the secretary of defense apparently refused to obey the president's order. If the president is telling the truth and he actually instructed his assistants to get aid to Benghazi, we're now being told that the secretary of defense canceled that.

And I think these kind of things all drag down the Obama campaign. You'll notice he's canceling his trips over the hurricane. He did not cancel his trips over Benghazi. And so you have to wonder, between Benghazi, the price of gasoline, and unemployment, just how much burden the president's going to carry into this last week.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He does have a burden, as you point out, with a lot of those stories coming out at the same time. He also has built up a lead in some of these battleground states, according to the wealth of polls we've seen across the country, and it's raised the prospect of the possibility of Governor Romney winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College. Mark McKinnon, who worked for Governor -- President Bush has said that Republicans won't accept that. Is he right?

GINGRICH: I don't know what he means by we won't accept it. I mean, we're a nation of law. We're going to obey the law. I think it's very unlikely, as a historian, that you're going to see Romney win -- I think he's actually going to end up winning around 53-47. And I think it's very unlikely he can win a significant popular victory vote and not carry the Electoral College.

You know, James Carville has a rule: Incumbents get the last poll. Well, there are a lot of states where that last poll means -- for example, in Ohio -- that Obama would lose at least 51-49. You go around the country, there are lots of states where Obama is at 47, 48, sometimes 49, sometimes 46, and James Carville always said, you never get -- if you're the incumbent, you never get a break, because they had four years to decide they're for you, and they ain't doing it the last week.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's look at the closing arguments from President Obama. He was in New Hampshire yesterday taking aim at Mitt Romney's record in Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Once he took office, he pushed through a tax cut that overwhelming benefited 278 of the wealthiest families in the state, and then he raised taxes and fees on middle-class families to the tune of $750 million. Does that sound familiar to you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: His argument, of course, that's exactly what Governor Romney is going to do if he's president.

GINGRICH: Look, wait a second. The fact is, Barack Obama would trade the job creation of Romney as governor in a heartbeat. He would trade the unemployment rate of -- of Massachusetts under Romney in a heartbeat. He'd love to have had the bipartisan ability -- Romney worked with an 85 percent Democratic legislature. Obama would love to have been able to work with people as well as Romney did.

You look at Romney's record, and it makes, frankly, Obama's presidency look pretty thin and remarkably ineffective. Longest period of high unemployment in American history since the Great Depression. Every person who buys gasoline today is paying $2 a gallon more because of Obama's energy policies. I think Obama, if he had a chance, would love to have Romney's record in Massachusetts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The price of gas is going down in these final weeks, isn't it?

GINGRICH: Sure, because it goes down every fall when the summer travel goes in. It is still the most expensive for this time of year in American history. It is still $2 a gallon more than it was when Obama became president. And we're learning more and more about how much bankruptcies there are in the solar power industry he was taking care of.

So you have a president who badly invested your tax money to distort energy policies, while making you pay $2 a gallon more. That's a pretty tough record to go into Ohio or Florida, or anywhere, and say to folks, "Why don't you keep voting for $2 more on gasoline, because you like Obama so much, you don't mind paying for it?"

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, Mr. Speaker, you heard Stephanie Cutter bring up this issue of Richard Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate in Indiana, and saying that Governor Romney is wrong not to stand up to him and say his comments were wrong and to take down his ad endorsing him. Your response?

GINGRICH: Well, my response is, if you listen to what Mourdock actually said, he said what virtually every Catholic and every fundamentalist in the country believes, life begins at conception. Now, this seems to be fixated by the Democrats, but the radical on abortion is Obama, who as a state senator voted three times in favor of allowing doctors to kill babies in the eighth and ninth month who were born, having survived late-term abortion, and the Democratic Party platform, which says you should pay with your tax money for late-term abortion, something which is about a 20 percent issue, but doesn't seem to fascinate the press nearly as much as the Stephanie Cutter...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Mr. Speaker, what -- what Mr. Mourdock said exactly was that this life after rape, as horrible as it may be, is something that God intended to happen. You agree with that?

GINGRICH: And he also immediately issued a clarification saying he was referring to the act of conception, and he condemned rape. Romney has condemned -- I mean, one part of this is nonsense. Every candidate I know, every decent American I know condemns rape. OK, so why can't people like Stephanie Cutter get over it? We all condemn rape. Now let's talk about whether we also condemn killing babies in the eighth and ninth month.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Speaker, thanks very much for your time this morning.

GINGRICH: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Our powerhouse roundtable is standing by. That conversation starts in just 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Back now with our roundtable. Great to have George Will here. Also, Austan Goolsbee, former Obama adviser, University of Chicago economics professor. Gwen Ifill of PBS. Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast, welcome. And Nicolle Wallace, of course, adviser to President George W. Bush, now political contributor to ABC.

And, George, we just heard both sides talk about their chances right now. Newt Gingrich predicting a 53-47 win for Governor Romney. Stephanie Cutter maintaining confidence, as well. Who's bluffing right now?

WILL: Both. Both are bluffing, because no one knows at this point. What we do know is that the trends for the last three weeks or so favor Mr. Romney. And so the question is, what will interrupt that trend, if anything? Who knows?

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the question is, Andrew Sullivan, has the trend already been interrupted? Some signs that Romney's momentum had peaked at the end of last week. In fact, that Ohio poll we showed actually stopped polling, I think it was Tuesday night.

SULLIVAN: For the last three weeks, the state polls, the swing state polls have basically not changed. If you look at the state polls, they're the same they were three weeks ago. The bump that -- that Obama got from the second and third debate have stabilized this. And the chances in the Electoral College at this point -- unless, you know -- unless you're right, unless this ABC poll in Ohio, which to me is really stark news...

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mean the Ohio poll, yeah.

SULLIVAN: If it's equal in Ohio, then that changes the equation. But -- but that's a sudden move. The last three weeks, look at all the swing state polls, everything in them, it's been -- it's been the same race for three weeks.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One thing that has been clear, though, that is three weeks, Nicolle Wallace, that first debate clearly changed the narrative of this race.

WALLACE: Right. It served as like a light coming on and recasting Mitt Romney in a rather durable way. What -- I agree that the polls in Ohio is really the only one that matters. I don't buy that there's a path without Ohio for Romney. So what they're pointing to this morning, what -- what does suggest something that may be destabilizing the post-debate stability is the Des Moines Register editorial could have a ripple effect in that part of the country. If -- if they have polls showing them even, you know, everyone wants to be on the side of a winner, that could change the mentality of those voters in Ohio, and they are mounting a new, you know, paid media effort to try to neutralize some of the damage done by the -- what they feel like false attacks about the auto bankruptcy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That has become the big issue, Gwen Ifill, in Ohio right now, the auto -- auto bailout. The other argument you heard from Stephanie Cutter is that about 20 percent of the voters in Ohio have already voted.

IFILL: They have. And a third of the voters in North Carolina have already voted, in Maryland, in Georgia. Stephanie Cutter is right about this. There were a lot of lines, parts -- on the East Coast, because they were worried about Sandy and maybe they wouldn't be able to vote at all, but I also think you have to look at what these candidates have in front of them. They have to get out there.

I never -- I've talked to a lot of voters. I never had them say I was waiting to see what my newspaper endorsement would be before they decided.

(LAUGHTER)

So they're all trying to figure out what they're going to do. And the candidates want to get out, but the president had to cancel a lot of -- a couple of Virginia events. Mitt Romney had to cancel. But where do they go? Back to Ohio.

And Colorado. I'm watching Colorado very carefully. I think those suburbs around Denver, Arapahoe County and Jefferson County, where voters are really -- have gone back and forth, that's where a lot of this is going to get decided.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Austan Goolsbee, Colorado is not going to be affected by Hurricane Sandy, but every one of those other states is.

GOOLSBEE: Yeah, look, but I think we're kind of kidding ourselves to think that the race is going to fundamentally hinge on any of these things. It's not the last three-and-a-half weeks the race has remained unchanged. It's really been basically a year-and-a-half. All the fundamentals of the economy, of the polling, of the politics of the country point to it's going to be a razor-thin margin, we're going to be up late on election night. And so I think whether they're actually able to have their events or not, I still...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: ... never been a point in this election all year at which Obama has not had a lead in Electoral College vote, ever.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's...

SULLIVAN: So he would have to lose it in the last week, having led all year...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you would agree that, if Ohio has flipped, that changes the whole ballgame.

SULLIVAN: Yes, it does.

WILL: There has been a big change. It's not a particular state. It's the change in Romney's gain among women. And that, I think, represents a huge recoil by professional women with college degrees against the condescension of the Obama campaign, which says -- Austan, hang on -- which says, essentially, don't you trouble your pretty little heads about these men's issue like unemployment and all the rest. Worry about contraception, which has been a constitutional right for 47 years. It's a distraction, the entire war on women trope, and I think professional, educated women find it offensive.

WALLACE: And it also reveals a grave miscalculation. I mean, the Obama campaign put -- put this front and center in their convention, and it had a positive effect in terms of rallying their base. It maybe put back together the Obama coalition and united the women that were -- that care about reproductive freedom first and foremost.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the president still has a double-digit lead among women.

WALLACE: Of course, but Republicans don't need to best Democrats. They just need to tighten it. And I think they both made a gamble. And I think it was unclear who was going to end up being correct, but the Romney campaign made a gamble that enough women cared about the economy and economic issues more than or at least as much as...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: ... in the debates, Obama related women's issues to family and economic issues. He did not isolate it that way.

GOOLSBEE: Exactly.

SULLIVAN: And, of course, the big elephant in the room is that the Mitt Romney that showed up on October 3rd was like an alien that ripped off his mask and said, "I'm brand new now."

WALLACE: But we liked him. But we liked him.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Isn't that the point? You know, we liked him better.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: He has -- you know, it's like -- he has evolutionary ideology, like he still has evolving doctrines.

(CROSSTALK)

IFILL: But, Andrew, at this point...

SULLIVAN: One day it's true, the last day it's not.

IFILL: But at this point in the campaign, all that matters is who's got the last-minute enthusiasm. I don't know about the word momentum. I think that comes freighted with meaning. But I think enthusiasm. You can -- you cannot argue that the Republicans, who had gotten a little depressed, were enthused after...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: But they've got a new candidate. They got a brand-new candidate October 3rd.

IFILL: Ask people who won all three of those debates, they said that the president won the last two, Romney won the first one, but Romney won all three. That's how important that first...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: Yeah, because he's a new -- he's a brand-new candidate.

(CROSSTALK)

IFILL: ... campaign of distractions, we know that. It's a distraction for both candidates to talk about the joys of bipartisanship after they are elected. It's a...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a fundamental issue, isn't it?

IFILL: It is. For the president say, well, you know, we'll prick that balloon, and when I become president, we won't have partisanship anymore in Washington. For Mitt Romney to say I can go and fix it, nobody believes any of that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, except that, you know, the Des Moines Register -- and Nicolle was bringing it up -- I also want to bring this to you -- I think the most powerful argument they ended up making that could have some impact if people actually read it is they seem to back up this idea that Mitt Romney had a better chance of forging bipartisan coalitions.

GOOLSBEE: I found that very surprising. I don't think people pay that much attention to newspaper endorsements, but if you go back and look at Massachusetts, I mean, Mitt Romney vetoed 800 bills by the Democratic legislature in Massachusetts. And he had the 34 percent approval rating when he left office. So I don't know if we start peeling back on the onion on that if it's actually going to show.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Got to take a quick break. A lot more from you coming up. We'll look at the final week of the campaign and more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): ... today is 300,000 people. I created jobs in America. I ran a business. I see what's going on today, and I am frightened to death.

(UNKNOWN): We have Republicans trying to redefine rape. If you think that this election won't affect you and your life, think again.

(UNKNOWN): Families in this crash had received letters from President Obama that were not personalized. They were form letters. A family sacrifices their child, and you choose to send a form letter to them.

(UNKNOWN): For you, Mr. Romney, it's about politics.

(UNKNOWN): For us, it's about defending our country.

(UNKNOWN): Defending our freedom.

(UNKNOWN): We deserve a commander-in-chief that understands what's at stake.

(UNKNOWN): But to trust you as commander-in-chief, I don't think so.

(UNKNOWN): I don't think so.

(UNKNOWN): As a veteran, I don't think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sampling of the ads being run all across the country by the candidates' allies, independent expenditures. We're back now with the roundtable, George Will, Austan Goolsbee, Gwen Ifill, Andrew Sullivan, and Nicolle Wallace.

And let's take a look at the closing arguments of the campaigns right now, George. You heard Andrew talk about how we saw a different Mitt Romney at the debate. That seems to be the argument that President Obama and his allies are making. Look at Colin Powell when he endorsed President Obama this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: One day he has a certain strong view about staying in Afghanistan, but then on Monday night, he agrees with the withdrawal. Same thing in Iraq. On almost every issue that was discussed on Monday night, Governor Romney agreed with the president with some nuances. But this is quite a different set of foreign policy views than he had earlier in the campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, George, that had been an argument the Obama people had kind of shied away from earlier in the campaign, preferring to paint Governor Romney as a hard-right conservative.

WILL: Well, that's right. Right now, that charge is really an accusation that Romney can live with, which is don't believe him, as Andrew says, because you might like him. And I think people say, well, look, our last impression of him -- this is your closing argument -- is of someone that we can live with. So I think the -- the Obama attack is buttressing the Romney tactic.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you agree?

GOOLSBEE: I don't think I do agree. I mean, I think, if you're paying attention to the policy, it's got to at least worry you that he's got a bunch of stated policies in his platform, his vaunted five-point economic plan, if -- if you start unpacking them, there -- there aren't any details, and what he's saying now is totally different what he was saying before. I think that will make people nervous. I think they're going to say...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you flip to a popular policy, don't people usually accept that?

GOOLSBEE: I don't think he's flipped to a popular policy. I think he's basically just -- he's got a thing in writing that says my policy is A, and then he's saying, well, you say A is my policy, but it's not. I think people are going to be confused.

WALLACE: But the problem is that Obama is eroding his own trust and credibility by not being able to settle on one or the other. You cannot be both wrong and -- and -- and coreless. So I think that Obama has undermined his own attack by not being able to settle on one.

And, listen, campaigns that are exhausted and stressed -- and they both are. But to me, this is a little bit of a window into which campaign is feeling a little bit more battered and which campaign is enjoying a little bit -- a teeny-tiny bit more lift from the momentum. And, you know, again, it doesn't matter who has the national momentum. This is coming down to essentially seven, like, gubernatorial races, really. But I think that Obama has undermined his own attacks on Romney by not being able to -- by, frankly, flip-flopping.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: Well, I'm sorry, but Romney was a severe conservative from January to October, and now he's a new candidate. What I'm amazed at is why Republicans aren't scared about what he'll be in January or July.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: ... whatever it is, is better than Obama.

SULLIVAN: ... but how do you know that? Because he's supporting what will be a massive increase in debt. His math will balloon the debt, just like Bush did, tax cuts, increase in spending, and no details on how -- increase in defense spending, and no details about how to balance the budget? And a war in Iran?

(CROSSTALK)

IFILL: Let's go back to the foreign policy debate, which shockingly was less than a week ago. It feels like it was a month ago, right?

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Monday, right.

IFILL: It was just Monday. But this is what -- this is what the final message was from both of them that night. The final message from Mitt Romney was, "I can be trusted. You can trust me. I'm going to speak for you, and I'm going to be a perfectly mellow moderate choice."

(CROSSTALK)

IFILL: Let me finish. Let me finish. And the president's argument was that, "You cannot trust him." So the president was behaving as if he was the underdog. There's no question about that that that's what he came into that debate to do, and that's what then came -- went out on the campaign trail all week now. I don't know if the Romnesia argument really works. I don't know if people vote based on the fact that they don't know what the guy believes. Maybe they do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But voters did think that President Obama won that last debate.

IFILL: They do. They do, because he came out (inaudible)

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: ... Romney changed his entire foreign policy overnight. I mean, who is this guy? And why are we talking about how this affects the race, rather than we have an obvious someone who has no core at all and has changed it a dozen times to appeal to whatever market share he's appealing to. Do you want that kind of person with that kind of character, as someone who has no character essentially, but what advantages him in the moment?

(CROSSTALK)

GOOLSBEE: ... to an actual argument about economics. And that argument is, one side saying, well, conditions aren't that great and the other side saying, but they were much worse, and they've gotten somewhat better. And the dispute is really the Obama people saying go look at Romney's policy, they're exactly what George Bush said in 2001 and Romney saying, well, look at the president, what he's for hasn't worked. And that's kind of the last argument that's going to go (inaudible)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I -- that could be. But, George, I want to bring this to you. It does feel like the president -- they have started to send out these economic plans right now. But the bulk of his message on the stump has been -- you know, yesterday in New Hampshire, talking about Mitt Romney's record in Massachusetts, and basically a get out the vote message. In some ways, they've ceded this argument of change to Mitt Romney in the final days.

WILL: I think that's right. They're saying Romney is the candidate of change, but we don't like the change. Now, Andrew, if I just heard Andrew right, he said vote against Romney because he would balloon the deficit. That's an odd argument for voting for the man who added $5 trillion to the deficit. That's Mr. Obama.

SULLIVAN: We know that the recession added $5 trillion to the deficit, which was caused by the previous administration.

WILL: And the...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: And we also know that Romney's policies will increase the debt, massively, immediately.

WALLACE: But voters believe that Obama's will do so much more harm. I mean, I think that's...

SULLIVAN: That's just wrong.

WALLACE: Voters, unfortunately, are choosing between two men, each of whom are -- are far from perfect. I think that's why you see a lot of the message in the final days...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: But one of whose math adds up...

WALLACE: ... is very negative.

SULLIVAN: ... and one of whose math does not add up, one of whose math will lead to balanced budgets, one of whose math will not, ever.

(CROSSTALK)

IFILL: I want to (inaudible) George's point about change, because that was an interesting change -- change in Mitt Romney's speech this week. He kept talking about big change. You want big change? I can bring you big change, which is something that underdogs -- I mean, that challengers do. We've heard Bill Clinton do it. We heard -- we heard...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's the classic challenger argument.

IFILL: We heard Barack Obama do it, certainly. But the hopey changey thing is now benefiting the Republican this time.

WALLACE: That's right. And it's transcended to their signage. I mean, it really is their closing message.

WILL: More than any election since at least 1980 and arguably 1964, this is about the proper scope and actual competence of government. It's not going to come down to a nuance. It's going to come down to a basic feeling people have, who understands government better?

(CROSSTALK)

GOOLSBEE: I think that's fair, though it will be interesting to see, if you had a huge hurricane that affected -- sometimes you...

(CROSSTALK)

IFILL: Say. Say a huge hurricane.

(CROSSTALK)

GOOLSBEE: ... well, either positive or negative, they can get really angry that the response wasn't big or they could say, "Whoa, do we all want to be on our own when something like this happens?"

STEPHANOPOULOS: And one other potential -- potential surprise this week, or at least piece of news that could factor into people's judgments, we're going to get that final unemployment report coming out on Friday. You're an economist. Of course, you're also a partisan supporting President Obama. But looking at the numbers right now, what are you expecting to see? And how much difference will it make?

GOOLSBEE: We've seen over the last year-and-a-half that unless they're unbelievable outliers, one month's numbers don't seem to crack through the shell that much. Now, that said, we had a probably artificially too optimistic number last time, so there will probably be some rebound, but at the same time, the economy has been improving. So I think most people are expecting the unemployment rate not to move very much.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And not showing up in people's views right now. They are -- more people believe the country is going in the right direction right now. But from what you're saying, you could see jobs created, but the unemployment rate's still...

(CROSSTALK)

GOOLSBEE: ... that can definitely happen on a monthly basis.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So let's also look at -- everybody has been talking about how close this race, right, is right now. And I want to show one ad that President Obama is running down in Florida and some of the other battleground states, emphasizing how close the race is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): Five hundred and thirty-seven, the number of votes that changed the course of American history.

(UNKNOWN): Florida is too close to call.

(UNKNOWN): The difference between what was and what could have been. Make your voice heard. Vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's why both campaigns, George Will, have spent so much time and effort in these last weeks focusing on turnout above all else.

WILL: It's an American tradition. Woodrow Wilson was elected because he carried California by fewer than 4,000 votes, lost Minnesota by fewer than 400 votes. This is nothing new in America. And one of the beauties of the Electoral College system is, we quarantine our close elections and the litigation that's apt to follow them in one state, rather than pouring all of the ballots into one big pool and having litigation in every precinct across the country.

(CROSSTALK)

IFILL: But you know what that ad is supposed to do? It's supposed to freak Democrats out. That's -- it's supposed to remind them of their worst day ever, which is the day that they lost the presidency, they think, either because people didn't show up to vote or because the Supreme Court didn't do what they wanted.

So what everybody -- there's a guy in Washington, Curtis Ganz (ph), who runs -- who counts every four years, he has a very gloomy count of how many Americans don't vote, and he's usually correct. What is -- what both campaigns want to do now is raise that number and make sure the people who show up are their people. And that's all that's left for these last...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's right. And...

(CROSSTALK)

IFILL: ... and not just in the battleground states.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get you in on this, because one of the other arguments the Obama campaign makes is that a lot of these national polls, especially the Gallup poll, which has consistently showed in the last week or so a five- to seven-point lead for Mitt Romney is simply missing these Obama voters who are going to get out again.

SULLIVAN: Well, yeah, well, we have two polling universes right now. We have Rasmussen and Gallup in one corner showing one race, and all the others showing another, which is dead even. According to Gallup and Rasmussen, we're headed for a landslide for Romney.

STEPHANOPOULOS: For Romney, yeah.

SULLIVAN: Remember, last year, though, Gallup predicted in its last poll for Obama an 11-point victory, and he got seven. So they missed last time by 50 -- by a huge amount.

I don't know what's going on out there. George, none of us does, I think. I think it's going to be extremely close. And I think -- I think like Nicolle. I think that this is going to be about Ohio, and I think it may be just the auto bailout alone, of all the policies, of all the arguments...

IFILL: Or it'll be about miscounting Latino voters or people who don't respond to hard-line phone calls or just the science of polling.

SULLIVAN: Or the number of times I've refused to pick up my phone when I can see it's a research firm.

(LAUGHTER)

But -- yeah, but, nonetheless, I think a nightmare, frankly -- I think maybe we can all agree on this -- is that there are some Electoral College-popular vote difference, if one gets one and the other...

(CROSSTALK)

GOOLSBEE: I think a nightmare scenario is actually that it doesn't just come down to one state, like Ohio, and we're up tonight -- it's that you got four or five states, and each one of those five is in that circumstance, and then we're in total confusion waiting for it to come out.

SULLIVAN: And we have December 31st coming up. It's not like we have all the time in the world to make these decisions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you talk about Ohio, they don't even count all the absentee votes in Ohio until November 16th. It will take longer than that for the provisional votes.

But, you know, Andrew...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... nightmare, because you talk about polls. Last time around, our ABC News-Washington Post had President Obama's number dead-on, 53 percent. Now they've got Romney at 49 percent. Talk about the possibility Governor Romney wins the popular vote, loses the Electoral College.

WILL: We've had -- this is our 57th presidential election. In 52 of them at least, the popular vote and electoral vote have coincided. John Quincy Adams in 1824, Hayes over Tilden in '76, Harrison over Cleveland in '88, Bush over Gore in 2000. That's not a bad record, 52 out of 56, so I wouldn't worry about it so much. And if one wins the electoral vote and loses the popular vote...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: I think 2000 was a moment of great crisis in this country. And I think lot of the particularization in this country, after that, with 9/11, is what's caused this country to be what -- what I would call a cold civil war.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It would become even more partisan coming out of that.

SULLIVAN: And it would become even worse.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And to pick up -- to pick up on Andrew's point, this will all be happening, Nicolle, as we face this December 31st deadline, when the tax increases would hit, spending cuts take place, and approaching the debt limit.

WALLACE: Look, and this is part of Romney's closing argument, also, that the stakes are too high. Mitt Romney is running as a turnaround artist. He's running as a guy that can fix big problems. And this is what I think is helping to fuel his -- his surge in the -- in the final days, that -- and I think this is also why people aren't as disturbed that his positions tend to evolve. People have historically low views about the competence of government. And if they know one thing about Mitt Romney, even if they're not voting for him, he is the guy that kind of turned around the Olympics and that can get things done.

SULLIVAN: With the federal government funding him.

WALLACE: Well, look, you know...

SULLIVAN: I'm sorry, but you can't say you're a turnaround artist when you're relying upon federal funds. I'm sorry.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In this partisan, polarized environment, Gwen, we're also seeing a huge racial gap. Six out of 10 voters, according to the latest, white voters voting for Governor Romney, about 8 out of 10 minorities voting for President Obama.

IFILL: Well, and not only that, but there was an Associated Press poll that came out this weekend that showed that actually the majority of Americans still admit -- now, this is a computer online poll, so people -- I guess are more honest than they are in a telephone poll -- still admit racial bias.

Now, that -- we elected a black president, so we didn't expect it all to go away, but theoretically, in a very tight race, if that affects 5 percent of the vote, which is what the assumption is, that could affect the outcome, as well, just pure animus. I don't think most people like to think that way, like to think that that's where America is, but I don't think you can ignore -- it would be naive to ignore that as a factor.

SULLIVAN: If Virginia and Florida go back to the Republicans, it's the confederacy, entirely. You put the map of the Civil War over this electoral map, you've got the Civil War.

IFILL: I don't know.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're rolling your eyes, George.

SULLIVAN: Am I wrong?

(CROSSTALK)

WILL: You are, and I'll say why.

(LAUGHTER)

Democrats have been losing the white vote constantly since 1964, so that's not new.

IFILL: John Kerry lost the white vote.

WILL: Here's -- right. Here's what we're trying to talk about. 2008, from Obama, gets that many white votes. This time, the polls indicating may get this many. We're trying to explain this difference. Now, there are two possible explanations. A lot of white people who voted for Obama in 2008 watched him govern for four years and said, "Not so good. Let's try someone else." The alternative, the confederacy hypothesis, is those people somehow for some reason in the last four years became racist.

SULLIVAN: No, that's not my argument at all, George.

WILL: It sounds like it.

SULLIVAN: Please. No, no, no. I'm just pointing out the fact that the white people who've changed their minds happen to be in Virginia and Florida. And if you actually look at the map...

WILL: But that is not true.

SULLIVAN: ... they were the only two states...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: Let me just point...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: ... Republican Party. They were the only two states in 2008 that violated the Confederacy rule.

WILL: Andrew has made an empirical statement that is checkable and false, which is that the people moving -- or the white people moving away are in those two states.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: And a lot them were Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: Which Confederate state is for Obama right now?

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... this could be Ohio, because that's where President Obama is focusing on now, the white male vote in Ohio. We'll see if that holds up. We've got to take a break. We're going to talk about the Senate when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: If you're going to comment on my record, I would at least have you refer to it. Excuse me.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Excuse me, I'm not a student in your classroom. Please let me respond, OK?

KAINE: George, you famously said when you were governor that you enjoyed knocking Democrats' soft teeth down their whiny throats, and you didn't say it with a smile, either. That's not what it's going to take to fix Washington.

(UNKNOWN): Senator, you're a liar. You're lying to the people of the state of Ohio. You're falsely attacking me. And I won't stand for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senate debates getting heated in these final days. We're back now with our roundtable. And, George Will, before I come to you, I want to put up this map showing 16 toss-up races right now for the Senate, reminding everyone, if President Obama wins, the Republicans needs to pick up four Senate seats to get control. If Governor Romney wins, they need to pick up three. And this thing is completely up for grabs right now.

WILL: Yeah, we often say all politics is local. This year may be no politics is local. Maybe there's going to be a national trend and all the marginal states tip the same way. They did in 1982 and some other years. No one knows at this point. But the Republicans going in defending only 10 seats, attacking 23, it should have been easier for them than this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the questions, Andrew Sullivan, is how much these -- so much discussion it turns out of rape in these Senate races, both Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock now in the last week, will complicate the Republicans' efforts to get control.

SULLIVAN: Well, yeah, and that's what's interesting about after the election. Will the Republicans interpret their results in the Senate as a function of their moving way far to the fundamentalist right, which is the center of the party at this point? And if they interpret that, then there might be hope. I mean, I'm supporting Obama because I want to save the Republican Party from being completely insane. That's where I'm going. And I think if they're defeated, if people like Akin and Mourdock...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: We appreciate that.

SULLIVAN: ... you'll get saved at some point. But if Mourdock and Akin are the lead stories, they lose...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... not the only stories. I want to go to Nicolle Wallace on this, because Akin may cost the Republicans a Senate seat in Missouri, but...

WALLACE: Probably will. Probably will.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... there -- there is this Senate seat in Connecticut, Linda McMahon coming on.

WALLACE: Right, and here you have someone who's so not crazy. She's actually running an ad that says vote for President Obama and vote for me. And I believe she's the only Republican Senate candidate running that ad. And I -- I understand for folks who are involved in the Senate races at a national level, that it's working and has had the effect of tightening her race, which has remained pretty tight the whole time.

The other thing about Connecticut is when our lights go out, they stay out. It's like, you know, the dark ages, literally.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In Connecticut.

WALLACE: So this may be a state where we can actually evaluate and examine after the fact the ground game, because it's possible that people in Connecticut won't see very many TV ads.

IFILL: Thanks to the hurricane. But, you know, I've interviewed both Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. And here's the thing. Neither of them come -- I don't like the words crazy and insane to describe people who are actually trying to put themselves forward to run for public office and represent people, because both of them are speaking to constituencies in their states, in Missouri and Indiana, who respond to what they say, who believe that life believes at conception.

So they don't think what Richard Mourdock said was crazy. They're not so -- they didn't like what Akin said about rape, women's bodies shutting down, but they were willing to forgive him for it. And that's why those races are closer...

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he's not out of it right now.

IFILL: Akin is not out of it, and Mourdock is not out of it.

SULLIVAN: He's crazy to believe that evolution is a lie.

IFILL: And you may disagree, but I'm talking about what it takes to get Senate candidates elected in these conservative states.

SULLIVAN: But I'm just saying, on the principles, they deny that evolution takes place. I think that puts you in a crazy category.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which race are you watching?

GOOLSBEE: I'm -- look, I'm in Chicago, so I'm watching that Indiana race, because it's on -- it's on our TV, and it's surprisingly close. I would have never thought that the Democrat had a chance with that seat.

But I think George's insight is really the strongest one to think here, that we've got a bunch of races, they're all close, you don't know what's going to happen, they aren't independent. I think George's insight that what happens at the national level is probably going to carry over on the final momentum is true.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So that could affect, George, especially the races in places like Virginia, Montana, North Dakota, where Republican candidates had been behind, but there has been some momentum for -- for Governor Romney.

WILL: I would also pick Wisconsin for the following reason. In 2010, when the country moved to the right, no state moved more emphatically to the right than Wisconsin. Then they tried to -- the public employees unions to recall the governor, and the governor to fight that created a huge infrastructure that stayed in place.

Now, Wisconsin has voted Democratic in five consecutive presidential elections. Bush lost it by two-tenths of a percent and four-tenths in 2004, but five straight times. And this could be the year when the Republicans win there.

Now, Tammy Baldwin, very liberal Democrat, Tommy Thompson, fairly conservative Republican, they've run negative campaigns. The coal state hates both of them at this point, as far as you can tell. But, therefore, neutralizing their negatives, this may be the real bellwether.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's going to have to be the last word, I'm afraid, because we're running out of time, but, just to underscore that point, they're now running ads, both sides, in Minnesota to hit the Wisconsin voters, because the Wisconsin voters may be completely sick of it, getting it in their own state themselves.

Thank you all very much. For all of you at home, Gwen and Austan are standing by to answer your questions on Twitter @austan_goolsbee and @pbsgwen. Just use the hashtag #thisweek.

And now we pause to honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice. This week, the Pentagon released the names of four soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

And -- and we'll be back in a moment with the latest on Hurricane Sandy from Sam Champion.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And before we go, let's check in one more time with our weather editor, Sam Champion, for the latest on Hurricane Sandy. Sam?

CHAMPION: Good morning again, George. And we're looking at the very latest from the hurricane center. And what folks should know this morning is nothing has really changed. This storm is still on track to be a major hitter, anywhere from Washington, D.C., all the way up to Maine.

I'll show you this satellite picture. This is amazing. The clouds extend from the Carolinas north of Hudson Bay in Canada, almost to the Arctic Circle. This is one of the largest storms we've ever seen in the Atlantic Basin in size.

Now, take a look at the track, and you can see this storm makes its left-hand turn by Monday morning, making landfall on the Jersey shore, the Hurricane Center believes, sometime by the time we get to Tuesday morning, George. It's a rough storm, just as long as everyone's prepared and ready.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you will be on top of it. Thanks, Sam. That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. For all the latest on Hurricane Sandy, check out abcnews.com and "World News" with David Muir tonight. And I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."

END

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