'This Week' Transcript: David Plouffe and Ed Gillespie

David Plouffe and Ed Gillespie are interviewed on 'This Week.'

ByABC News
November 1, 2012, 6:42 PM

NEW YORK, Nov. 4, 2012— -- STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Good morning, and welcome to a special election edition of "This Week."

AUDIENCE: Four more years!

AUDIENCE: Mitt! Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!

STEPHANOPOULOS: It is here. After two years...

ROMNEY: I'm Mitt Romney, and I'm running for president of the United States.

OBAMA: We are not going back. We are moving this country forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... more than $2 billion.

BIDEN: This man has courage in his soul and a spine of steel.

RYAN: What is missing is leadership in the White House.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Just two days to go in this historic campaign. In these final hours, is Obama closing with a kick? Do Romney's last-minute moves signal confidence or desperation? How has Hurricane Sandy changed the race? And will we know the winner Tuesday night? We'll ask our headliners, Obama's top White House strategist David Plouffe and Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie.

Plus, insight, analysis, and election predictions on our powerhouse roundtable, with George Will, Donna Brazile, Matthew Dowd, Cokie Roberts, and Ron Brownstein of the National Journal.

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


STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again. This is it, just hours to go before the final votes. And for so many Americans, up to 40 percent of voters, Election Day has already come and gone, a new record that has already led to long lines like these at polling places across the country.

Both campaigns see some good news in the early vote, which makes sense. The race has been tight from the start, the closest in memory, and today it could not be closer. Our brand-new ABC News-Washington Post poll shows an absolutely dead heat, 48 for Obama, 48 for Romney.

Still, in those critical battleground states, nearly all of the public polls this week show a small but steady lead for President Obama, and it's in the battlegrounds, especially those Midwestern states of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio where the candidates are making their closing arguments.


OBAMA: The American auto industry is back on top. Osama bin Laden is dead.


We have made real progress. But we are here today because we know we've got more work to do.

ROMNEY: The question for this election in my view is this: Do you want to stay on the same course we're on, or do you want real change? Because we represent real change.



STEPHANOPOULOS: And with that, let's hear from the campaign's top strategist, Ed Gillespie for Governor Romney and David Plouffe for the president.

And, David, let me begin with you. Good morning. You know, I know you've been steadily confident throughout this campaign, but you saw our ABC News-Washington Post poll, still absolutely deadlocked, 48-48. It can't seem to break out of that range. How can you remain so confident?

PLOUFFE: Well, George, we've always known this was going to be a very close race. But it is going to be decided in the battleground states, and we think in those states -- you mentioned three in the Midwest, in Florida, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada -- we have an important lead in those states.

Early vote's gone very well for us. We think we're closing with strong momentum. The president is having terrific events out there. So I am confident two days from now, the president will be re-elected. We have the support to win this election. We have to make sure it materializes in vote, and that's the challenge for us over these next two days, is to make sure we are getting all those supporters to the polls on Election Day.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So much of this last week defined by Hurricane Sandy. The president's gotten a lot of praise from people like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Mayor Bloomberg of New York, but it's not unanimous. Some pretty harsh criticism from the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, on CNN. Take a listen.


GIULIANI: I don't know what the heck he was doing in Nevada while people are still being discovered dead in New York. I mean, if I were the president of the United States, I sure wouldn't be flitting around the Midwest and the West. I feel pretty darn offended seeing my president floating around, campaigning while people are suffering.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Your response?

PLOUFFE: Well, Mayor Giuliani is running around the country campaigning for Mitt Romney and popping off. The people in New York and New Jersey -- Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Christie, Governor Cuomo, Governor Malloy in Connecticut, Governor Tomblin of West Virginia -- they're working with this president and this administration and FEMA every day. And our focus needs to be -- and really the country has been united -- Mayor Giuliani may be an exception to this -- in focus on recovery, making sure we stand by those who've lost so much and need to recover, and this is going to take a long time.

But, you know, the federal government is doing all they can to partner with state and local officials. You know, we flew, you know, equipment, power equipment in C-17s from California to help restore power, getting fuel into the area, direct assistance to help people with lodging and food. So we're doing everything we can to make sure -- and this is going to take a while -- but that we stand by the people on the Eastern Seaboard who've been so affected.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your predecessor, Karl Rove, of course, top strategist for George W. Bush, has said that Hurricane Sandy in this last week has helped give the president a real boost politically. Do you agree?

PLOUFFE: Listen, we're not worried about the politics. We're worried about making sure we do the right thing by those who've been affected by the storm. We think this has been a stable race. I think Karl Rove might have said that because a few days ago he predicted a big Romney win, and my sense is Karl is going to be at a crossroads himself on Tuesday when he tries to explain to the people who wrote him hundreds of millions of dollars why they fell up short. So, listen, we're confident the president has the electoral votes to win this if we get our vote out, and that's what we're focused on in the next two days.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You do remain so confident. You talked about the firewall -- Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin -- but we're seeing Mitt Romney go into Pennsylvania today. I know you and a lot of Democrats think that's a desperation move, but some of the polls are tightening right there, and it is a state where you haven't invested a lot of resources. Worried at all?

PLOUFFE: Well, first of all, George, we have a great organization in Pennsylvania, much better than Governor Romney's. We've been working there for two years. So we've got a great organization, great volunteers.

Listen, this is a desperate ploy at the end of a campaign. I mean, to win Pennsylvania, Governor Romney would have to win two-thirds of the independents. He's not going to do that anywhere, much less Pennsylvania. So the truth is, they're throwing some ads up and Governor Romney is, you know, traveling in the state he's not going to win.

But what really matters in terms of the Electoral College is, we're the ones playing offense. George, as you know, a few weeks ago, Governor Romney's campaign was saying, oh, we're going to win Florida, we're going to win Virginia. On Monday, the day before the election, Governor Romney is going to Florida and Virginia. Why? Because he's at great risk of losing those states.

So in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, we're playing offense on states that they thought they had the inside track on, and they don't. So, you know, I think a lot of this is a smokescreen, to try and mask the fact that in the places that will decide this election from an Electoral College standpoint -- Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin -- they are -- it's going to be close, but they are definitely in a weak position heading into Election Day.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So is there anything that worries you in these final 48 hours?

PLOUFFE: Well, sure, George. I mean, we -- listen, four years ago, when -- at this time, two days out, everybody thought we were sailing to victory, we were very concerned, because, you know, support levels don't mean anything if they don't materialize into votes.

So we're just going to -- you know, the president is traveling around the country, the vice president, the first lady, former President Clinton is going to be with us today in New Hampshire, as he was last night in Virginia, we're throwing everything we can at this. But this really comes down to our amazing volunteers, our staff out in the field, who have to make sure the people who support the president exercise their right to vote. So that's our biggest task right now, from a political standpoint, is to make sure that we get our vote out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, even if the president wins, his margins are going to be smaller than last time around. Doesn't that mean less of a mandate? And won't it make it harder for the president to succeed in his second term?

PLOUFFE: Well, George, you know, as soon as the election's over, we've got to move on to the pressing business. We've got, obviously, some fiscal and tax issues in front of us. We've got a lot of potential, I think, to do some great things on education, on manufacturing, on immigration.

And so, no, I think that, you know, we need to try and have compromise and balance. If we do that, if those two things are present, we're going to be able to solve our long-term deficit challenges, we're going to be able to do some things to create jobs in the short term, and build on the progress that we've seen over the last four years.

And that's really the question: Are we going to build on the progress that we've made after we've dug out of this recession? Or are we going to take an enormous risk and go back to the same policies that wrecked our economy and devastated the middle class? Which is really, at the end of the day, in our view, all Governor Romney is offering.

STEPHANOPOULOS: David Plouffe, thanks very much.

PLOUFFE: Thanks, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And with that, let's go to Ed Gillespie for the Romney campaign. Good morning, Ed. Good to have you this morning. You heard David Plouffe right there, his closing argument, Governor Romney would be an enormous risk.

GILLESPIE: And that we're doing better, we should build on the progress we made. The fact is, George, the unemployment today is higher than the day President Obama took office, 23 million Americans struggling to find work, the household income down by $4,300. That's what this campaign is about, them saying, you know, we need to keep doing this, we need more of the same, essentially, we need four more years like the last four years, and Governor Romney promising real change.

You know, in terms of President Obama's policies, we've heard that if he's re-elected, I guess his agenda is he will establish a secretary of business. He thinks that somehow is going to help foster job creation, when Governor Romney has been talking for -- for months now about his five-point plan to grow the middle class with greater -- unleashing domestic energy supply, balancing the budget, tax reforms, greater trade. You know, we have a very strong agenda that is resonating with the American people, and that's why he's going to win on Tuesday.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard David Plouffe's assessment of the battlegrounds right now. They believe they're in a strong position with that Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin firewall, and you heard him say that you all are playing defense in Virginia and Florida and a desperate ploy in Pennsylvania. Your response?

GILLESPIE: You know, four years ago -- it's -- it's a remarkable juxtaposition here that Mitt Romney will be in the suburbs of Philadelphia today, and, you know, four years ago, Barack Obama was in Indiana. When you look at where this map has gone, it reflects the -- the change and the direction and the momentum toward Governor Romney. And the fact is that a state like Pennsylvania being in play, a poll out today showing Michigan a dead heat, you know, this -- the map has expanded.

Wisconsin, Minnesota has expanded our way. We feel very confident in terms of where we are in the -- in the target states. We've been able to expand into Pennsylvania while fully funding and staying current with everything we need to be doing in Florida and Virginia and Ohio and all of the other target states.


GILLESPIE: I think what you're seeing, George, if I can just say, you know, when you listen to -- to your previous guest and he talks about the ground game, ground game, ground game. They constantly talk about that, and they're doing conference calls all the time on this. Their assumption seems to be that these undecided voters, the -- you know, the president and Governor Romney are both about 47 percent, 48 percent, as you know, in these polls, and their assumption seems to be that these undecided voters aren't going to turn out and that they, therefore, prevail because of their superior ground game versus ours.

Number one, their ground game is not superior. And, number two, I think those undecided voters are going to turn out, and they're going to break pretty strongly against the president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you think they're going to break -- but when you see all the public polls in the battleground states, most of them show the president holding a quite small in many of the states, but steady lead in a lot of the key battlegrounds. You just think those state polls have some kind of statistical bias in them?

GILLESPIE: Well, it depends on which ones. I mean, I -- you know, there was a poll in Virginia, as you know, my home state, that had the president winning by 2 percentage points -- I think it was 47-45 -- and Governor Romney winning the independent vote by 21 percentage points. Now, I can tell you, George, if Governor Romney wins independents in Virginia by 21 percentage points on Tuesday, he will not lose to President Obama by 2 percentage points.

So there is -- you know, the most recent public poll for one of the other networks had -- Ohio had Obama ahead, but it had a plus-9 percentage point Democratic advantage. That would be a bigger margin than -- for President Obama in 2012 than he enjoyed in 2008. I just don't buy that. I don't see it.

I actually believe, when I look at the data, when I look at where the president is, when you're the incumbent president of the United States and you are at 47 percent or 48 percent on your ballot two days before the election, you are in deep trouble. And that's where they are today. And I don't -- I believe, when I look at the intensity numbers, when I look at being on the road for three days with Governor Romney and the crowds, when I look at the undecideds, I believe that Governor Romney will not only win on Tuesday, I believe he could win decisively.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In these final days, of course, so much in the Northeast impacted by Hurricane Sandy. You heard Mayor Giuliani in the previous segment. The president's also received some praise, as well, and most voters, according to our polls, think he's handled the hurricane about as well as he could. Does Governor Romney have any quarrel with the way President Obama has handled the hurricane?

GILLESPIE: Well, from what we've heard from the governors, they're working well with FEMA. There's a good working relationship between the state and the federal government.

As you know, Governor Romney has focused very much and asked our supporters to help those, our fellow Americans who are in need, and who have been harmed by this devastating hurricane. We've constantly and consistently asked people to donate to the Red Cross and to the Salvation Army and put that information up on the -- on the screens at our events. We've asked people to bring canned goods and to -- and Governor Romney turned some of our volunteer centers into collection centers.

So we are keeping those hurt by the storm in our -- in our prayers and in our thoughts and trying to not only keep them in our thoughts, but in our actions, as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, do you agree with Karl Rove that the president's response has helped him politically in this last week?

GILLESPIE: You know, I just don't know. You know, we're very focused on highlighting the difference in this election. Governor Romney is closing very strong, with a big speech about the differences that would happen in the next four years.

I think when you look at where these two candidates are going and what they're saying, it reflects kind of the strategy, President Obama asking his supporters to vote for revenge, Governor Romney asking our -- our -- asking Americans to vote for love of country, very sharp contrast. And, again, I think this gets back to their desire, their assessment that they need to still energize core Democratic voters.

In your poll today, George, as you know, there's a difference in intensity between self-identified Republicans and self-identified Democrats, of about percentage points, Republicans saying they're certain to vote relative to the Democrats. And what I hear from the president is kind of an energizing the base message. Governor Romney, you know, has a much bigger message that I think resonates strongly with a lot of those undecided out there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Ed Gillespie, thanks very much for your time this morning.

GILLESPIE: Thanks for having me on.

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



(UNKNOWN): Oh, my god. It's washing everything away.

(UNKNOWN): They keep telling you to go, go, go. Where are you supposed to go?

(UNKNOWN): Uh-oh. Uh-oh.

CHRISTIE: The Jersey Shore took an absolute beating, and New Jersey kind of took it in the next worse than any place, I think.

(UNKNOWN): Up to 100 homes have been decimated and left in a rubble that is still smoking even today.

(UNKNOWN): You don't understand. You got to get your trucks here on this corner. We're going to die. We're going to freeze. We got 90-year-old people.

OBAMA: You're going to OK. Everybody's safe.

(UNKNOWN): My youngest daughter yesterday, Faith, said, "Daddy, I want to go home." I told her, "It's going to be a while, honey."


STEPHANOPOULOS: Hurricane Sandy this week affecting so many millions in the Northeast. Back now on the roundtable, talk about the political impact, as well. We're joined by George Will, Cokie Roberts, Ron Brownstein of the National Journal, our political analyst Matthew Dowd, and Donna Brazile.

And, George, that was a bit of a surprise in this final week, but now we're coming into this final week, and both campaigns back to full speed campaigning. Do you see either side having momentum in these final 48 hours?

WILL: If there's been a momentum change, it's because of the hurricane, which may have slowed Romney's momentum at all, but I'm not sure how many Americans out there, after nine months of intensive campaigning, are paying attention to this. Now, David Axelrod has said that a presidential campaign is a MRI for the soul. At the end of it, you know the souls of both these guys. I think the country knows. I think they know that, as we Goldwater voters say, this is a choice, not an echo election, and they're ready to vote.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Matthew Dowd...

ROBERTS: They've already voted.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... when you look at -- so many have already voted, exactly -- you look at our ABC News-Washington Post poll, 48-48 today. You go back six months, almost exactly the same. It doesn't move.

DOWD: Well, that's -- well, that's what they -- the most interesting thing about this, which is why it's very akin to 2004, is the stability of this race, with a few slight rises and falls. This race -- there was no Romney momentum after that first debate. He took back three or four points. The race went to where it was, and it stayed there for three weeks.

I actually do believe Sandy has had an effect. I think Monday morning, Mitt Romney would have won the popular vote and lost the Electoral College. I think that's what would have happened. I think what happened in the course of this week, because the president's handling on it and his approval on it, you can see a slight change in his approval rating and a slight change in a very strong approval on him and a slight change in his favorability. And in a race that's razor-thin, that slight movement can shift it from a million vote loss in the popular vote to a million vote gain.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And the president has been at that 50 percent level now in approval.

ROBERTS: That's right. And that's a very important number, because we know presidents can get re-elected at that number. It happened again in 2004. But you really felt this week like the air went out of the -- the Romney balloon. From the -- from the first debate on, it was just blowing up and up and up. And even though the numbers weren't changing that much, there was a real sense of movement in that campaign. And it just seems to have completely dissipated.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I want to bring this to Ron Brownstein with a question I just asked Ed Gillespie. You see that especially in these state polls, in the battlegrounds, which show this consistent lead for the president, but you also heard Ed Gillespie there, they think there is just something fundamentally wrong with those polls.

BROWNSTEIN: They think it's going to be a different electorate. I mean, they think the electorate is going to be like 2004, when through the efforts of Matt and his colleagues, for the first and only time ever, Republicans equaled Democrats as a share of the vote on Election Day in a presidential election. That was a country, though, George, that was -- 77 percent of the voters in 2004 were white. We're talking about an election this time where it's going to be 74 percent, 73 percent, or 72 percent.

And you see two very different coalitions for the president. In the Sun Belt, he is relying on this growing minority population, plus the upscale white women, where he's running very well, states like Virginia, Colorado, Florida. In the Rust Belt, however, in that firewall of Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin, he is running significantly better than anywhere else in the country among those blue-collar white voters, and that is kind of the last line of defense that Romney has not been able to get over.

BRAZILE: Well, George, thank you, because I think President Obama has regained his altitude following that first debate, when many people just went back and said, "What happened?" He has a slight tailwind, especially in these battleground states.

I've been to many of them. I've been on the radio. And people are so enthusiastic. Six months ago, I couldn't get anybody to return my call. I just...


They were like, "Stop it." But two days ago, they were not just returning calls, they're bringing people to the polls. As you know, in Ohio today, it's all souls to the polls. The polling stations are opened for, you know, five hours, and people are going out and they're voting early.


ROBERTS: The long lines at the polls are really something.


DOWD: The problem with the Romney campaign's theory of the race and what Ed said, the problem with that, it's like the line, "Are you going to believe me or your lyin' eyes?" And their theory is, which is every time you feel a losing campaign, these three things happen. The first thing happens is, don't believe -- the public polls are wrong. That's the first sign of a campaign that's about to lose. The second thing, we're going to change the nature of the electorate, and you're not seeing it reflected in the polls. And the third thing is, the only poll that counts is Election Day. When you hear those things, you know you're about to lose.

WILL: But the polls are all over the map.

DOWD: No, they're not.


ROBERTS: They've been so consistent.

WILL: Well, Gallup -- Gallup and Rasmussen are much more encouraging to Romney than the others. In fact, there are campaigns in this country today who've hired two poll takers because they're not sure what they can get from one.


DOWD: George, there's 23 polls, 21 of them are -- are in the president's favor.


WILL: ... this is our first presidential election since Citizens United. We began this with all the talk about the power money that was going to be unleashed. Obama campaign spends a billion, Romney campaign spends a billion. Procter & Gamble this year will spend $3 billion advertising detergent.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But there was such concentrated spending.


ROBERTS: ... billion dollars over five white women in Ohio. That's what we're doing. That's right.


ROBERTS: ... bought them -- bought them a house.


ROBERTS: But -- but it has been very helpful to the TV stations.


BRAZILE: And 67 super PACs have sprung up over the last 30 days, mostly Republican super PACs, and it's not making a difference...


ROBERTS: ... it could make a difference in the Senate and House races, however.


ROBERTS: ... place that we didn't expect to see this...


BROWNSTEIN: And the reality is, you are going to see a lot of Republicans come out and you're going to see enormous racial and ideological polarization in this race. You know, Obama's formula for victory, 80 percent of the non-white vote, 40 percent of the white vote, if minorities are at least the 26 percent they were last time, in your poll this morning, 38 and 78, right on the tipping point.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Ron, I want to bring -- I want to bring that question to Matthew Dowd, because I wonder when you look at it, and you see how sophisticated each side is, how much money they both had, are we into an era now where almost every presidential election is going to be this close, kind of like grandmaster chess? You almost always play to a draw?

DOWD: Well, if you take a look at the -- three of the last four, they've been within two or three points a race, which is unprecedented in modern times. The other thing that's happened is, 35 years ago, 80 percent of the people lived in the target states that people concentrate on in these campaigns, 80 percent of the voters lived in the target states. California was a target state; Texas was a target state; New York was a target sate.

Today, less than 20 percent of people now live in the target states. And what that's driven, because of the polarization of this country, and how we've spent our money, into this 49-49 situation, that's going to be very difficult, and we could have this conversation for anybody to govern in the...


STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get to that conversation in our next roundtable, have to take a quick break right now. And when we come back, what to watch for on election night, what to expect the day after, and all that talk this week about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Look at "Saturday Night Live."


(UNKNOWN): I would like to give a sincere thanks to President Obama for how he handled the situation. On Election Day, I'm voting for Mitt Romney, but if I had to pick one guy to have my back in a crisis, it would be Barack Obama. He's been amazing. You know, so kind, such a leader, a true inspiration. Again, I'll be a good soldier. I'll vote for Romney, but I'm going to hate it.




OBAMA: I've shown my willingness to work with anybody of any party to move this country forward. And if you want to break the gridlock in Congress, you'll vote for leaders, whether they're Democrats, Republicans, or independents, who feel the same way.

ROMNEY: When I'm elected, I'll work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress. I'll meet with them regularly. I'll endeavor to find those good men and -- and good women on both sides of aisle who care more about the country than about politics.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And after a bitter campaign, both candidates promising bipartisanship if they're elected. We're going to get to that in a little bit. I'm back here with the roundtable.

George Will, probably the biggest display of bipartisanship this week, those photos of Governor Christie and President Obama touring the storm damage in New Jersey. How much difference does that make?

WILL: Well, aside from, as I said, slowing whatever momentum Mitt Romney had, anything that gives the president a chance to look presidential -- and all presidents go to disaster areas, it's not a unique policy on the part of Mr. Obama -- but -- and then to have him with a man who sort of exemplifies fist-in-the-mouth Republican partisanship, Mr. Christie, it obviously couldn't hurt.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of Republicans grumbling about Governor Christie's fulsome praise of the president.

DOWD: Well, you had Hurricane Sandy, and then you had the Christie bear hug, and the Christie bear hug, I actually believe, actually did more for the president in this slight movement, as I said, in his approval rating than actually even really his handling of the -- of the hurricane.

You had a guy that was more engaged with the president than the Democratic governor of New York and the major of New York City, that -- and that, I think, an iconic figure, I think, did more for him. And I think there's a lot of Republicans out there that are thinking, like, wow, did you really have to go that far?

ROBERTS: You know, what's so interesting, though, about this bipartisan business, is that there's a cognitive sort of dissonance going on here, because at the same time that the candidates are closing with this and thinking that this is the way to appeal to the American people, and Americans say they are for this, and many more people identify as independents than ever before, but at the same time that that's happening, we have this totally polarized electorate where we see them at 48, 48, 49, 49, and so, you know, what does the country really want? Does it really want bipartisanship? Or does it really want to just kill the other guy?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, and not only that, but you have the Congress increasingly behaving in a quasi-parliamentary manner. We have the highest level of party-line voting since the late 19th century. And voters are behaving in a parliamentary manner. If you look at the polls, George, this week, this month, in the key Senate races, at least 80 percent of the people voting for Obama in almost all contested races are voting Democrat for Senate, at least 80 percent who are voting for Romney are voting Republican for Senate. And it's up to 90 percent correlation in Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, so enormous pressure on members to stand either with or against the president, because they're being sent by the...


STEPHANOPOULOS: And I want to talk about what that means for whoever gets elected in a little bit, but let's focus first, because we still have an election two days away, on what's going on in those battleground states. Let's start out with Ohio. And, Donna Brazile, I'll come to you on this. You know, 11 out of the last 12 public polls have the president with this small lead, but in the past -- and then -- and Ron Brownstein has used this term -- Ohio has been Heartbreak Hill for Democrats, especially John Kerry, at the very end, it slips away. Does the president have what it takes to prevent that?

BRAZILE: Absolutely. First of all, he's doing very well with working-class whites. I believe he's up a percentage point or two. He's doing good with union households. The rescue of the auto industry has helped him, 1 out of 8 Ohio voters have some affiliation with the auto industry.

I think all of that, combined with the fact that he has a terrific ground game, I know the Republicans discount, you know, this whole notion that you can win on the ground in three days. I used to tell Bob Shrum, our noted Democratic guru, that if you just leave me $10 at the last -- in the last 48 hours, I can make up 2 to 3 percentage points. I think in this race here, the Obama team will make up at least 3 to 4 percentage points on the ground.

WILL: Ohio has really -- it's Ground Zero for suffering in the -- in the age of globalization. They lost -- in the first decade of this century, they lost 600,000 manufacturing jobs. They have one of the worst records in the country of keeping their college graduates in their state. They have the fewest congressmen since the Civil War.

So it's a state in decline. But it also is participating in the recovery somewhat, in part because of policies touted and bragged about by a Republican governor.


DOWD: The signs of Ohio -- the signs of the Democrats' advantage -- the signs of the Democrats' advantage in Ohio actually started to show up in 2004. If 60,000 or 65,000 people had switched their vote, John Kerry would have won Ohio, lost the popular vote, and won the Electoral College.

And those signs, Ohio is a state that's like Pennsylvania, which used to be a swing state, in my view, and the economics and the dynamics of Ohio are now moving in a place that it's no longer a, quote, unquote, "reliably Republican state" or a state Republicans could count on the Electoral College. It's now moving in a direction much more akin to Pennsylvania than the other states that Republicans could rely on.

ROBERTS: Which is one of the interesting things about the Electoral College, because it does shift. You know, people complain that -- as you said earlier, New York's not in play, California's not in play, these great big states. But the truth is, it does shift. And so the different states rise up in different elections and become the focus of attention. And it really does make it an election where the whole country has to be paid attention to in a way that it would not be without the Electoral College.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, only two Democrats have reached 50 percent of the vote in Ohio since 1940, and yet Ohio I think in this election exemplifies the central, most intriguing paradox of how this is unfolding. On a national basis, Obama is looking at the poorest performance among working-class whites of any Democratic nominee since Walter Mondale in 1984. He's at 32 percent among non-college white men and 39 percent among non-college white women nationally in your ABC tracking poll through the whole run. But in Ohio, he's 10 points better among both of those groups than he is nationally. Wisconsin and Iowa, as well.


BROWNSTEIN: ... because the Bain story, the Bain story has a cultural and emotional resonance in the Midwest that it doesn't have in the Sun Belt, not as powerful in Colorado, Virginia. In Ohio, the idea of the rich guy coming to town, shutting down the factory and taking the profits just resonates. It detonates.


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... made a difference, George?

WILL: Sorry?


STEPHANOPOULOS: Isn't that where money made a difference?


STEPHANOPOULOS: That early spending in Ohio on those Bain ads?

WILL: Probably. And if it works, Mr. Obama will have a mandate not to be Bain Capital...


WILL: ... but there's another side of this, also. Mitt Romney may have been the man who came to town and shut some plants down. Barack Obama is the man who came and tried to shut down the coal industry.


WILL: Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and Pennsylvania are three important states where coal matters, and it will be interesting to see in southwest Ohio how...


DOWD: At this point in time in the campaign, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and what happened with the (inaudible) with most everybody believing that climate change is bringing in this, the argument that I don't -- Mitt Romney is not going to be making at this time is that somehow his environmental policies or somehow his climate policies are going to affect the coal country, is not an argument anywhere in this country Mitt Romney wants to make.


BROWNSTEIN: ... Ohio last weekend, and the most common indigenous plant is a yard sign that says, "Stop the war on coal. Fire Obama." But are there enough people there to overcome what is...


STEPHANOPOULOS: If the president has an advantage in Ohio, even if it's a small one, that puts more pressure on Governor Romney to do better in, I would say, one of two states, Donna Brazile, Wisconsin or this late play for Pennsylvania.

BRAZILE: And I think it's a foolish gamble, because -- I mean, John McCain did that four years ago. He tried to go into Pennsylvania and stir up a lot of, you know, last-minute support, and it wasn't there. President Obama has a strong lead in Pennsylvania, in large part because the volunteers there have enlarged...

STEPHANOPOULOS: He's not much above 50 in Pennsylvania...


BRAZILE: Well, but -- but, George, I mean, we won the state by 10 points last time. I think the suburbs going -- that Mitt Romney is relying upon in Philadelphia, they're not going to come out in support.

ROBERTS: Well, particularly because of women. I mean, this is a place -- Pennsylvania is a perfect place where this is a problem, because you have those Philadelphia suburbs, and that's where all this conversation about contraception and rape and all of that are having a hold.

And, you know, it's very interesting, because women have not traditionally voted on those issues. They've voted on economic issues. But when you ask African-Americans and Hispanics what issues they vote on, they say the economy, as well. And yet they have turned off the Republican Party in huge numbers because of civil rights and immigration.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And Governor Romney is going to those suburbs today.

ROBERTS: And I think women -- I think women are having the same reaction this time around, where they are beginning to feel unwelcome in the Republican Party, and if that happens, that's a big problem.


WILL: ... lot of Republicans think about Pennsylvania, they think of Lucy and the football. It always looks good; it's never there. But in 2010, Republicans elected a governor, both -- both legislatures, 12 out of 19 congressmen, elected two...


BROWNSTEIN: But you know why, George? The big reason -- the big reason, in 2008, Barack Obama won those four suburban counties outside Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester, and Bucks, by a combined 200,000 votes. They moved. And the question is, in this election, as in northern Virginia, as in the suburbs of Colorado, you're seeing the same dynamic in these states. Can Obama hold those college-educated white women on non-economic issues?


BROWNSTEIN: So far, he is.

DOWD: If Mitt Romney was ahead in Ohio, there'd be no play that they're doing in Pennsylvania.


DOWD: I will take the Philadelphia Eagles to win the Super Bowl this year sooner than I will take Mitt Romney...



STEPHANOPOULOS: David Axelrod is going to shave his mustache...


WILL: One thing we can probably agree on is, early in the evening, when the results come in for Bucks County, the largest of the collar counties around Philadelphia, we'll probably know...


STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll also already know -- I want to get to something else, because we also already know on -- in two states especially, three states, so much of the vote is in, 70 percent of the vote already in, in Colorado, 70 percent of the vote already in, in Nevada, more than 40 percent of the vote already in, in Iowa. And in all -- in two of the three states, George Will, right now President Obama in Iowa and Nevada has built up a pretty strong lead.

WILL: Well, we've been saying this all year long. This isn't a persuasion election; it's a mobilization election. And the early voting indicates -- actually, both sides are doing rather well. That's why so many people have voted. And it'll be a marginal difference that decides this election.

ROBERTS: But, you know, what -- when we talk about all these sort of traditional things, I think the two parties are looking at two different electorates. And the Republicans, as you heard earlier, are looking at independent voters, and that makes all the sense in the world, you know? Independents generally sway elections.

But this year, with things so polarized, the Democrats, instead of looking at independents, are looking at ethnic groups. So it's non-whites and women. And it's really a question of which electorate...


BROWNSTEIN: ... if you're talking about moving independents. The denominator is changing the composition of the electorate, which is key...


BROWNSTEIN: ... which is key for the Democrats, how they view it.


BRAZILE: It's also growing the electorate. It's also growing the electorate. You know, I was shocked when I went up to Chicago a few months ago, and back in the day, when Matt and I were running campaigns...

DOWD: I had hair.

BRAZILE: ... yeah, mine was darker, the field department was actually one of the largest components of a campaign. Now it's the analytics. I mean, they've matched up this technology with the field operation, where they know exactly who voted in 2008, didn't show up in 2010, and that's why the Democrats have been able to double the registration, 1.8 million new people, and part of this early voting, especially a quarter of the vote in North Carolina, is early voting.


DOWD: Independents -- independents are not -- 30 percent...


DOWD: ... what we say are not really independents. There's only about 5 percent or 6 percent of people that are really independent that are truly independent. They've already sort of picked their tribe or picked their team on it, and I think the theory that -- every time that the Romney folks say this, they say look at the independents in that poll, oh, we're winning them. But don't look at the overall number in the poll, because we're losing.


ROBERTS: ... where those independent voters are going to make a difference, though, is -- I keep coming back to it, because it's going to matter in the end -- is the Senate and House, because when you say, you know, that the candidates have...


ROBERTS: ... yeah, to have 80 percent or 90 percent of the presidential vote, that is still that 10 percent to 20 percent, and those are the independents...


BROWNSTEIN: You know, look, that is also -- we have to say -- you know, indicative of something else here. I mean, we're talking about this enormous racial polarization. Democrats clearly have a problem with whites. The incumbent president struggling to get 40 percent of the white votes. But Republicans are looking at losing, again, 80 percent or more of this growing non-white population. Mitt Romney, a candidate in a country that is now almost 40 percent non-white, is basically relying on whites for 90 percent of his vote.


DOWD: ... biggest problem facing the country...

BROWNSTEIN: And in the long run, that is not a...


DOWD: ... divides at every level that exist.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, Romney could equal the best performance ever by a Republican challenger among whites, Eisenhower '52, Reagan '80, Bush, and Bush '88, and lose. And so what is the message of that to Republicans if that happens on Election Day, if he wins 58 percent or 59 percent...


STEPHANOPOULOS: And what does that mean, George Will? And this gets us to the next part of the conversation. What does mean for whoever wins coming in the day after, almost certain to face kind of a very similar lineup in Washington than one they have right now, Republicans in control of the House, maybe a few fewer states, Democrats probably in control of the Senate, maybe by a seat or few -- seat or two fewer. What does this mean for the next president and the prospects of getting done what he needs to get done?

WILL: Well, you've just answered the question in posing it. The country is supposedly seething with fury at the status quo and seem to be poised to replicate it. That is, Washington, on the morning after, may very well -- particularly if Obama wins and the Democrats hold the Senate -- it will be Washington as it is today, only more so.

ROBERTS: Except that there are some issues that have to be dealt with, and that's the -- that's the question of whether people will then say, OK, this election's behind us, and let's actually move on to try to deal with some of these...


DOWD: The dysfunction (inaudible) the dysfunctional that is going to be even more exacerbated, which I didn't think was possible, is going to be more exasperated because we're going to have a president elected with no mandate, no real vision, and no real majority. And everything that you just laid out on this is that the system -- the political system is broken. People feel no ability to sort of -- they feel like they have to choose between two alternatives that they don't really like in the course of this. That's why we have close election after close election.


WILL: Matt, I disagree. I don't think the political system's broken. I think it's working beautifully. It's a representative system.


DOWD: It is absolutely broken.


BROWNSTEIN: It struggles to deal with the level of party-line unity and quasi-parliamentary behavior that we're -- that we're experiencing, and especially when you consider, in 2004, George Bush, it's a campaign you helped won, won the narrowest re-elect margin of victory in the popular vote for a re-elected president ever. Obama today is probably saying, you know, 2 1/2 points looks pretty good. I mean, you're talking about a country that is split as closely as can be, and I'm actually -- I'm with you. I'm not totally pessimistic about doing the big deal on the budget in 2013, a la 1997, when the country sent back a Democratic president, a Republican Congress. If the country sends back divided country, it might say we have to get this done. But looking forward, the question is, when the country is so closely divided and the parties are so deeply divided, how do we function unless...


BRAZILE: ... 2010, after that election, even that was a contentious election, but yet the president was able to muster the support with the Democrats and Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts...


BRAZILE: ... the payroll tax, unemployment...


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... I was struck this week to read that -- this was in Politico, but you hear it also in talking to people that actually liberals seem to be getting a touch more nervous at the prospect of President Obama winning. Of course, they want him to win, but they are a little bit nervous that he is going to sell out to the Republicans on the budget.

BRAZILE: Well, they're worried about the grand bargain being, you know, a grand attack on entitlements at the expense of, you know, extending the Bush tax cuts for another two, two, four years.


ROBERTS: ... look, if he really -- if he says -- does what he says he's going to do, that's going to happen, not the Bush tax cuts for everybody, but -- but certainly entitlements will be addressed, if he does what he says he's going to do.

BRAZILE: And the Democrats are really pushing the payroll tax cut extension...


DOWD: He will lose -- he will lose four years of his -- in my view, he will lose four years of his presidency if he's re-elected if he doesn't within the immediate aftermath of Election Day go back to what he said in 2008, when he was running, and said basically I was elected because I was elected to bring the country together. It's more divided today than it's ever, it's more polarized than ever. He should, within 24 hours, reach out and say we can't allow this to happen...


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... what he is going to do, right?


BROWNSTEIN: He's almost certainly going to go back to the deal that he negotiated with John Boehner during the debt ceiling crisis. And the big question will be -- and I think you could pass that in the Senate if he wins -- the big -- and you'll probably pass it in the House -- but the question will be whether Boehner would be willing to bring it up without support from a majority of Republicans, which it probably won't happen? I mean, that'd be the critical question, if he wins in 2013.

ROBERTS: He's more likely to do that than -- than previous speakers...


WILL: He didn't mean it in 2008. He wouldn't mean it in 2012. he does not think he was elected to shrink the government...


WILL: The reason the country is so divided is one candidate wants more government, more taxes, and more redistribution of income. The other wants less of all three, and there's no way, unless we dissolve the electorate and elect a new electorate, you're going to have...


STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to -- I want to pull back, because, again, we still have an election on Tuesday. Don't want to get too far ahead of it. And I want to ask all of you to talk about other things you're going to be watching for through the night on Tuesday?

DOWD: Well, to me, I'm going to focus really on this historic divide that I think we're going to see, and I think that is an unbelievable thing. What you're going to see in this election, as we've had the run-up to this, is young versus old, black versus white, single women versus married women, the geographies, the West Coast versus the East Coast, which you've seen it's going to be even more so (inaudible) and that incredible divide that we're -- and it's going to be faith, divide by spirituality, people that go to church every Sunday versus people that believe in God but don't go to church every Sunday. That incredible divide -- we talk about our political divide, but that cultural divide that exists in this country is something that somebody -- maybe not a political leader -- somebody is going to have to address, because that's what's causing much of the difficulties we're having.

BRAZILE: Well, George, of course, I'm going to focus on the whole issue of voter intimidation, voter suppression, because as you well know, 33 states tried to impose onerous, burdensome rules that...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Many rejected by the courts.

BRAZILE: ... would cause a lot -- rejected, but there is still a lot of confusion, a lot of confusion.


ROBERTS: ... Supreme Court might be having arguments on that on Monday.

BRAZILE: And, look, we might -- you know, when I think about Florida (inaudible) my blood pressure, you know, somehow jumps up, but this is going to be a very close election. And clearly, in some of those states where we've had this contentious battle over voter I.D., that's something I will watch on Tuesday night.

WILL: Blacks vote one way, whites vote another, but they do so in a context of unimaginably improved race relations in this country. We can't postulate a national crisis from this kind of demographic result in the voting.

What I'm going to watch for is a proposition, Proposition 30 in California. One in eight Americans lives in that state. They're being asked to solve their problem, which some of us think is caused by high taxes, by raising their taxes. If they don't do that, the big issue of 2013 is going to be a number of blue states -- California, Illinois, New York -- coming to Washington, trying to offload their debts on the American taxpayer, and that will be a fight that no one's anticipating. But if that proposition goes down, as I think it will, that will be an issue.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you also have to keep an eye on Gary Johnson, the libertarian candidate.

WILL: Well, Gary Johnson, who knows? He's on 48 ballots. In Colorado, for example, Colorado is voting on legalizing marijuana. He may be the only candidate in history who handed out marijuana rolling papers with his...



WILL: But, anyway...

BRAZILE: How do you know that, George?


WILL: The question -- the question is...

(UNKNOWN): Somebody told him.



WILL: The question really is, in Colorado, is he going to take more votes away from Romney or from the libertarian counterculture types who are trying to legalize marijuana?


ROBERTS: I'm going to be watching women. I think that -- I'm very curious to know whether this year Republicans have done to women what they've managed to do to Hispanics and blacks, and -- and voter ID, I think, is just contributing to that.

BROWNSTEIN: Upscale women.



BROWNSTEIN: I think in terms -- in terms of the result, there are two things I'll be watching. The two most critical questions, what is the minority share of the vote? What is the white share of the vote? Does the minority share of the vote continue to grow, as it has every election since '92? The second thing I think is this anomaly where the president is running better in the Upper Midwest among working-class whites than anywhere else. If he can hold that and increase the minority share of the vote, it's going to be a much better night for him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, and we'll come back with your predictions in just a minute. That is coming right up.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are back now with election predictions. I have to take a pass, because I'm anchoring on Tuesday night...



STEPHANOPOULOS: So I'll give you a sealed one. But, George Will, you go first.

WILL: I forgot my exact number. I guess you have a graphic here. I guess the wild card in what I've projected is I'm projecting Minnesota to go for Romney. Now, that's the only state in the union, because Mondale held it -- native son Mondale held it when Romney was -- when Reagan was getting 49 states -- the only state that's voted Democratic in nine consecutive elections. But this year, there's a marriage amendment on the ballot that will bring out the evangelicals and I think could make the difference.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Big win for Romney right there.

ROBERTS: I think I said 294 for Obama, and that was because I didn't give him Colorado, because he couldn't get them all. I mean, at some point, the law of averages kicks in. But I did give him Virginia, and I think that's...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're giving him Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa, all the big states he's focused on?

ROBERTS: Well, Iowa I don't think we can call a big state.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a battleground.

BROWNSTEIN: So I in the popular vote believe Obama will win the narrowest margin of re-election -- popular vote victory for any re-elected president ever, and in the Electoral College, I have him at 288. It could be 303, it could be 271. The one thing I feel strongest about in there, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Ohio, Romney has not shown he can break through there, and as long as that's true, Obama is at least at 271, which is what counts.

DOWD: I have Electoral College similar, 303 Electoral College votes for Barack Obama. I think that's been a pretty stable number over the course -- it could vary by a few, but I think it's pretty stable.

The one thing -- and I also predicted a very, very, very close -- I think by 0.6 percent win on the popular vote. I am not as confident in that as I am in the Electoral College. I think there is still a chance that Mitt Romney wins the popular vote, but he loses the Electoral College. There's still a chance it's divided, the popular vote versus the Electoral College.


ROBERTS: Particularly because New York -- particularly that New York and New Jersey may be not getting to the polls.


BRAZILE: Yeah. And that could depress turnout in the Northeast. I think I gave President Obama 313. I've been going back and forth between 303, 313. I'm still worried about some, clearly, North Carolina.

The other thing is that, in order for Mitt Romney to win, he has to have a large turnout on Tuesday, and 6 out of 10 people voting must support him just to overcome the huge numbers that President Obama has racked up in the early voting in those battleground states. On the popular vote -- and it's hard to talk about -- but I do believe that President Obama will eke it out barely.

ROBERTS: It's a tie. It's a tie.

BRAZILE: But he -- but it's -- it's a tie.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It is going be a tight race. And just very quickly, we have about 20 seconds left. Anybody see Republicans taking control of the Senate?



ROBERTS: I think they -- I think they pick up two seats or one, depending on how Angus King caucuses.

DOWD: I predict the 2016 presidential race starts Wednesday. The 2016 presidential race starts Wednesday morning.

ROBERTS: Oh, it's already started.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Well, that is the last word today. For all of you at home, go to abcnews.com/thisweek to submit your election predictions. And tune in next Sunday to see who got it right. Plus, Donna and Matt are standing by to answer your questions on Twitter @donnabrazile and @matthewjdowd. Just use the hashtag #thisweek.

And now, we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice. This week, the Pentagon released the names of two servicemembers killed in Afghanistan.

And we will be right back with a look ahead to "This Week."


STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News" with David Muir tonight, and all day tomorrow on ABC, a day of giving. All of our programs, starting with "GMA," will be joining a call to action to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy. For information on how you can help, please visit abcnews.com.

And Tuesday night, Diane Sawyer and I will be at ABC's election headquarters in Times Square with our entire political team -- there we were rehearsing yesterday -- for live coverage of Your Voice, Your Vote 2012. It begins at 7:00 Eastern and continues all night long.

So much coming up, and I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."


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