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Sweet: Obama on his state senate present votes and negative campaigning. Transcript from MSNBC "Morning Joe" interview.

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CHICAGO--Barack Obama defends his "present' votes while a state senator and says negative campaigning is not going to work in the 2008 cycle.

(my comment: except when it does.)

" You know, the same style of negative campaigning, trying to undermine folks because your message may not be resonating, I think that's not going to work in this kind of election, because people understand we've got some grave concerns.."



NEW YORK – December 21, 2007 – With just 13 days until the Iowa Caucus, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) joined Joe Scarborough earlier today on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Below is a rush transcript of the interview. "Morning Joe" telecasts weekday mornings from 6-9 a.m. ET. Chris Licht is executive producer.

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JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR: We're joined now by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Senator, thank you so much for being with us.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good morning, Joe. Merry Christmas.

SCARBOROUGH: Merry Christmas.


SCARBOROUGH: Hey, let me just say, we want to thank you, first of all, for not torturing us with these god-awful Christmas ads.

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, no, he actually kind of did.

SCARBOROUGH: It wasn't Rudy Giuliani's, baby. It wasn't even close.

BRZEZINSKI: It wasn't Rudy Giuliani's, but does have a family Christmas commercial. So, he's on record for having one.

SCARBOROUGH: He loves Jesus, too, but it's not embarrassing. That's all that matters.

BRZEZINSKI: All right.

Senator, speaking of your record...


... let's talk about it. Because you're getting a lot of flack, sir, about your voting record in the Illinois Senate and specifically about voting present 130 times. People are saying it shows a lack of leadership, that you're indecisive. And here's Hillary Clinton taking a swipe at you on this. Take a listen.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: A president can't vote present. A president can't pick and choose which challenges he or she will face.


BRZEZINSKI: Senator, your response?

OBAMA: Well, look, we're getting to be entering silly season in our presidential politics right now.

You know, my character and my Illinois record was terrific when I was 20 points down in the polls.


Now, suddenly, they're look at 100 or so present votes that I took out of 4,000 votes, most of them strategically with the Democratic leadership on a set of issues where some laws were unconstitutional, some bills needed to be improved. You know, this really isn't a serious issue.

What we need to focus on is how are we going to move the country forward. That's what the Iowa caucus-goers are focusing on, that's what New Hampshire is focusing on. And that's why we're doing well: because people want to hear what are our ideas for delivering on health care and college, and making sure that we've got a foreign policy that restores our standing in the world.

And that's what we're going to be talking about in the closing days of this campaign.

BRZEZINSKI: One hundred thirty bills out of 4,000 may put it into context but there's one specifically that people are looking at, and it's the one that would have allowed victims of sexual abuse to protect their privacy by having court records sealed. You were the only state senator not to vote in favor of it and to vote present. Explain that one.

OBAMA: Well, you know, look, Mika, there are a whole variety of reasons why some of these bills might have been drafted poorly, some of them might have not held up to court scrutiny. And so, my general approach is that if a law had a good goal but hadn't been structured properly, that I would go to the sponsor of the law and I would suggest to them changes, and sometimes people would accept those changes, sometimes they wouldn't.

But here's the bottom line: We've got a few days left before the first presidential contest. And people are asking who can lead on really hard issues. Whether it's my opposition to the war in Iraq, my willingness to reform a death penalty system that was broken and had sent 13 innocent men to death row, whether it was leadership on hard issues like welfare reform or ethics reform, those are issues where I've consistently stepped up and led.

And I think people are aware of that record. And that's why they have confidence that I can lead on providing health care to people who need it or making sure people's retirements are secure or making sure that kids can go to college.

And we're going to keep on talking about those issues. We suspect that the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will end up being very responsive.

SCARBOROUGH: Senator, what do you think when you see Senator Hillary Clinton comparing you to George W. Bush when it comes to foreign policy?

OBAMA: Well, you know, maybe the more apt comparison is to her husband, because, you know, the same arguments that she's now making are the arguments that George H.W. Bush were making against Bill Clinton back in 1992.

They were saying here's a governor from a small state who has no foreign policy experience whatsoever, going up against this guy who was very much the Washington insider. And Bill Clinton at the time, I think, said that, "You can have the wrong experience and the right experience and that my experience is rooted in the real lives of real people and will deliver the real results if we have the courage to change." And, you know, those words -- those words apply today as well.

SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Senator, there's a fascinating poll that just came out of New Hampshire. It shows that you are in a dead heat now with Senator Hillary Clinton -- 32 percent to 32 percent. This was supposed to be the senator's firewall in case she didn't beat you in Iowa.

I wonder if you think -- we were joking about the kneecapping from third persons, from cocaine to kindergarten, to you name it. Do you think that voters in New Hampshire may be responding negatively to those attacks and that's why your poll numbers are on the uptick?

OBAMA: Well, I think that our poll numbers were on the uptick, and that's why we were subject to attack.

And, you know, the voters clearly are not responding to these attacks because what they want to hear about is, "How are you going to make my life better?" And that's been our focus.

OBAMA: People understand that this is a critical election and that the same old politics just won't do. You know, the same style of negative campaigning, trying to undermine folks because your message may not be resonating, I think that's not going to work in this kind of election, because people understand we've got some grave concerns. We've got to fix our economy. We've got to fix our foreign policy. And they're looking for new ideas to make that happen.

SCARBOROUGH: You know, we've had a lot of fun this week with Mike Huckabee's Christmas ad and the Ikea shelf in the perfect cross that was formed in the background.


You certainly have had varied backgrounds. You've lived in several countries and been exposed to several different faiths. Does that scare you, that shot of Mike Huckabee in the foreground with the cross behind him? Or are you, sort of -- or are you, kind of, like me, kind of jealous of him because you didn't think about it first?


OBAMA: Well, you know what? Mike, I think, there's no doubt he's sincere in his faith. And I respect that.

You know, my Christmas ad focused on my asset, which was two adorable daughters, who seem to be able to deliver their lines better than me and my wife. It took us about six takes to do that. They always nailed theirs. Michelle and I were fumbling and bumbling. So, it's pretty clear where the talent in front of the camera is going to be.

SCARBOROUGH: I was going to say, you were also smart enough to let your wife talk first.


OBAMA: Absolutely.

SCARBOROUGH: One of the more impressive people we've seen in public life.

BRZEZINSKI: And there was no family fighting when you were trying to make that commercial? That went smoothly? Tell us the real story.

OBAMA: You know, it did go smoothly. There was a point where I kept on muffing my lines, and Sasha, my 6-year-old, was sternly lecturing me about, you know, I should have done my homework and practiced more.

So, what can I tell you? When I'm in my house, I am -- I'm often getting advice from women.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, you are.

SCARBOROUGH: I want to ask one more question about the Huckabee ad and about religion and separation of church and state.

In the past, Democrats have been easy targets, because -- for Republicans, who'd always talk about God and talk about faith, but were uncomfortable talking about religion and talking about their belief in God. And this year, Republicans are talking an awful lot about faith and religion.

Do you think Democrats have learned from their mistakes in the past that they're not quite so nervous bringing up God and the importance of faith not only in their personal life but also in decisions they make as leaders?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I'm proud to be a Christian. And I've talked repeatedly about the importance of my faith in my life.

I think the key is to allow religion to inform your world view, but stick to the basic principle that in this democracy there is separation of church and state.

But there's nothing wrong with Democrats showing up in church, talking to religious leaders, letting them know that this is how my faith informs my values and my policy. And, you know, if I'm talking about poverty, I don't hesitate to quote Scripture because it's a way of connecting those values to the faith that other people have and hopefully can inspire people to get more committed and more involved to deal with some of the problems that we have in our society.

SCARBOROUGH: And finally, what in the hell happened to the Bears this year? What happened, Senator?

OBAMA: You know, it starts with the defense. We had some injuries, and the D collapsed. And that's how we won last year.

We still have quarterback problems. Joe, do you play quarterback?


SCARBOROUGH: Well, I did in high school. And I would say usually it's a job that you leave for professionals, but if you're going to let Rex Grossman play, I might as well move to Chicago.


OBAMA: Why not?


All right. Hey, Senator, good luck out there. Greatly appreciate you being here.

OBAMA: Thank you so much. Take care, guys.


SCARBOROUGH: All right. You, too. Have a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 21, 2007 2:24 PM.

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