Transcript courtesy Federal News Service.....
BARACK OBAMA CAMPAIGN CONFERENCE CALL
SUBJECT: "THE LAUNCHING OF A NEW WEBSITE AND DISCUSSING HOW THE MCCAIN CAMPAIGN IS TAKING THE LOW ROAD"
PARTICIPANTS: DAVID PLOUFFE, OBAMA FOR AMERICA CAMPAIGN MANAGER; SUSAN EISENHOWER, PRESIDENT OF THE EISENHOWER GROUP, INC., THE GRANDDAUGHTER OF THE FORMER PRESIDENT
3:30 P.M. EDT, THURSDAY, JULY 31, 2008
MR. BURTON: Hi, this is Bill Burton, with the Obama campaign. Thank you all for joining this call. After a spate of negative attacks and misleading advertisements, we are hosting this call to launch a new website on the tactics of Senator McCain and his campaign.
I'm joined by Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe, and Susan Eisenhower, president of the Eisenhower Group. I've just sent you a link where you can see the site previewed. It'll be "thelowroadexpress.com," but the preview link is in your e-mail inbox right now where you can take a look. And with that, I will hand it off to David Plouffe.
MR. PLOUFFE: Thanks everybody for spending a few minutes with us today. You know, it wasn't too long ago that Senator McCain and his campaign were talking about the straight talk and civility, in (hoping ?) to run a -- pledging to run a respectful campaign focused on the issues.
And sadly, each and every day -- increasing with each and every hour, they seem to take a turn to what The St. Petersburg Times in Florida today said in an editorial, is that "the 'Straight Talk Express' has taken a nasty turn into the gutter." And it seems like we hit another low note every day from this campaign.
And, you know, observers from across the country, including some prominent Republicans, are questioning the tone of Senator McCain's campaign. Many news organizations have expressed real sadness at this turn from Senator McCain.
We have this ad that they just put out yesterday referencing Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Five Ohio newspapers, who are in a consortium to ad-watch campaign advertisements, said on a scale of zero to 10, for truthfulness this ad rates a zero. Factcheck.org called it "false."
And so rather than we've got people struggling with high gas prices; with wage stagnation; rising health care costs; we've got growing security concerns in Afghanistan -- this is an election in a moment of great consequence. And John McCain, unfortunately, seems to have made a very strategic decision to, rather than engage -- as the focus of his campaign on the substantive issues, character assaults, negative advertisements.
And, you know, I think that this is not the John McCain voters thought they were going to be seeing in this presidential campaign. And, aside from the fact that Americans deserve better in terms of dialogue, we do think that, you know, there's a lot of voters out there who thought John McCain might be a little bit different. And, in fact, he's not just embracing, sort of, the Rove playbook that people really are tired of, but he's taken it even to a further extreme.
In fact, today -- he, himself, today in Wisconsin, kind of went into "a ravine in Racine" when he said he was proud of this ad. Said it was an ad about substance. And we can most assuredly tell you that voters around the country do not think there's anything substantive about this latest ad; do not think it's something that John McCain should be proud of. And, ultimately, I think it's something that's going to harm their campaign in the long-run.
We are launching a website today called "LowRoadExpress.com." And we are going to catalog all of the various commentary about Senator McCain's campaign tactics; their increasing negativity; the gutter style of politics they're practicing. We are also going to use this website to correct myths, (or mistruths ?) that are put out by the McCain campaign.
Now, unfortunately, it's probably going to be something (we're ?) going to be updated with great frequency every day. Bill has sent you around the URL, but we're going to have video on here. It's got news stories, and some factual information. And it's something that we are going to make sure also -- all of our supporters and voters around the country are aware of, so that they can go there and keep track of the latest turn into the gutter from the McCain campaign.
I mentioned earlier that there's been a lot of commentary, not just for Democrats or from news organizations, but also some from Republicans who are concerned about this town, urging John McCain to clean up his campaign.
And we're joined today by Susan Eisenhower, and I'll let Susan say a few words, and then we'd be happy to take some questions.
MS. EISENHOWER: Well, thank you very much. I'm delighted to be here. I am pleased to have, you know, the opportunity to add my voice to the voice of others to suggest that what America really needs is the right kind of campaign at this critical moment in American history.
I say this as a life-long Republican. I say this as a foreign affairs expert. And I think that few would doubt the fact that we've got multiple crises unfolding, including a financial crisis, an energy crisis, and a health care crisis -- not to mention the grave situation we find ourselves in in Afghanistan, and the lives that are being lost in Iraq.
And I don't think that these things have -- these kinds of comments and innuendos have any place in a presidential campaign of this importance. I also think that ordinary voters are tired of the kind of "swiftboating" attempt to bring out the negative side of -- the twisted ways that they can create negativity about people, because the issues are just too big right now.
As for Senator McCain, I would say this as a member of his party, that I -- first of all, I would add my voice to those who think that Senator McCain can't possibly mean this because he has been a great public servant and a real genuine American hero. I suspect that he is under pressure to take steps like this because he is showing, actually, in many ways, that the Republican Party -- and I know he doesn't mean to do this, but that the Republican Party is a party that is running out of ideas.
I would finally just close these little remarks by saying that the world is watching. The world is watching this election very carefully. This is a unique opportunity to restore confidence in this country. And I don't think it befits the campaign to have anyone's patriotism called into question, or anybody's credentials, because, frankly, we're very fortunate to have two well-qualified candidates running for president of the United States.
MR. (BURTON ?): Thank you so much for that.
And now we will open it up for questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
At this time if you would like to ask a question, please press *1, and record your first and last name. Before stating your question, please provide your media affiliation. One moment, for the first question.
Q Hi, it's John Dickerson from Slate.
If we stipulate all the inaccuracies that we've all written about in these ads -- focusing then for a moment here on Senator Obama's recent remarks when he says that Bush and McCain have said, you know, he's not patriotic enough; he's got a funny name; you know, he doesn't look like those other presidents on dollar bills -- what specific remark or instance is Senator Obama talking about when he says this about Bush and McCain?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, we put out a statement on this, John, a little while ago. And I can -- the jist of it was, this is a race about big challenges -- as Susan said, a slumping economy, a broken foreign policy, an energy crisis, health care crisis. We weren't suggesting in any way he's using race as an issue, but does believe that, you know, the McCain campaign -- that's part of the point of this call, is using the same old low-road politics that voters are very unhappy about, that distracts voters from the real issues in this campaign.
And we think that it's clear from John McCain's comment today -- that he's proud of this ad and considers an ad like this to be substance, that, unfortunately, we think that tenor of his campaign is unlikely to change. And so that's what he's offering voters -- is increasingly harsh character attacks, personal attacks, while people are out there struggling every day, very serious about this election, very serious about the problems we're facing.
And, again, I think that it's particularly troublesome because, you know, I think voters did expect different from John McCain. I think many of you in the media expected different from John McCain. And he is not only allowing his campaign to proceed in this fashion, he is fully embracing it.
And so it's clear what they're going to be offering the American people over the next 96 days -- I think selling voters short. And what we're going to offer the American people is ideas about how we bring about real change.
And people are going to have a fundamental choice. I mean, a few weeks ago it would have been -- there's a clear path -- there's two different paths here, you know. John McCain largely wants to keep us on the same path, in terms of the economy, and health care and foreign policy. Barack Obama is offering a different path.
Now there's also a different -- two very different choices, in terms of the tone of campaign news two individuals are running. And so we have a choice of continuing down the same old kind of politics that have become all familiar over the last eight years, or we can offer something that's a departure there as well.
So, you know, the end of the ad we released yesterday really said it best, it's the same old politics and the same failed policies that John McCain is now offering. And we're hoping that, you know, as the days pass here -- and I think it will be clear that this kind of ad that they're running and this kind of campaign that they're running is not going to be terribly resonant with voters, that they will perhaps change gears here, but we don't have great hopes for that.
OPERATOR: Tommy Christopher.
Q Hey, it's Tommy Christopher from AOL News. My question is this: There's been some analysis of McCain's celeb ad that suggests that by selecting Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, two young white girls, that this is some sort of a nod to the Southern strategy, similar to the ads that are running in Harold Ford, Jr. by Bob Corker. I want to know what you thought about that. Do you think there's anything to that?
MR. PLOUFFE: No, my only analysis of the ad is that it's frivolous and demeans the dialogue in the campaign, and I think that -- you know, John McCain said he was proud of that ad today, thought it was an ad of substance. I can assure you from what we're seeing in the country that the voters don't think it's very substantive or something that John McCain should be proud of.
And so it's really -- you know, it's meant to create shock value, I guess. A lot of time has been spent talking about the ad. They apparently are running the ad, so they're running it in a number of states across the country, which from a strategic standpoint we're pleased by because we think it's going to do them absolutely no good and probably quite a bit of harm.
But, again, this is a -- you know, they've made a choice, and the choice they have made is to -- as we're dealing with a faltering economy, challenges around health care and education, people very unhappy with the direction in terms of foreign policy, what they're offering the people is this type of message, and it's going to continue each and every day. I assume this is not a two- or three-day strategy from the McCain campaign.
So, you know, folks ought to just buckle up their seatbelts. We certainly know this is what their campaign is going to be about. And, again, one of the purposes of unveiling this website is we are going to update it with great frequency and make sure that you in the media and voters have access to it, and we're going to play it very straight down the middle and just put up commentary and fact checks that are done on their assertions and commentary on their campaign. And we think that -- again, I think that people expected better from John McCain. He himself promised better, and to have made this choice, which is to essentially take the campaign, his campaign, into this low road, into this gutter, is not what the American people are looking for. And, again, we'll see how voters respond to it, but I have a fairly high degreed of confidence that at the end of the day this is not going to be received well by voters.
OPERATOR: Gordon Trowbridge.
Q Thanks. It's Gordon Trowbridge from the Detroit News. I wanted to ask David, does the campaign have any concern that this type of line of argument that the McCain campaign appears to be following has any particular appeal to swing voters in states like the upper Midwest -- Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania -- or in places like Virginia or Colorado where your strategy is targeted? Do you see any evidence, either anecdotally or anything, in your polling that makes you see any worry about damage that this strategy that they're following could do to Senator Obama?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, Gordon, I'll take the opportunity in that question to make a broader political point and then get to your specific question. You know, the way we do this race is we are right now actively engaged in 18 battleground states -- we hope to add some more over the coming weeks -- and the way we do this campaign is I think a little bit different than some of the analysis based on this public poll or that public poll. We spend a lot of time figuring out what the turnout is going to be in these states. I think one of the underappreciated story lines -- I guess it's not a storyline -- one of the underappreciated facts of the election right now is the disparity between the intensity of Obama supporters and McCain supporters. It's a disparity George Bush enjoyed two years ago but not nearly too the degree we do. And that's going to mean more favorable turnout patterns, it's going to help us register voters, it's going to help us organizationally.
And so we spend a lot of time thinking about we think X number of people are going to turn out in a state -- let's say Michigan -- and what we think our base load is, how we think we can grow that if we reach high turnout levels in various demographic groups; what that will mean, and then ultimately, who are the swing voters? Not just how many people are undecided, who are they? What do they think about issues? Do they want fundamental change in Washington or not? Who are they demographically?
And when we look at this in these battleground states -- and, again, all we care about is 270 electoral votes, so our entire strategy here is based on the acquisition of that, and right now we have a lot more ways to get there than John McCain does. And, you know, the truth is John McCain needs to win -- has to win -- states like Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and we're right now ahead in all of them. But it's just one, I think, fairly -- you know, looking at where the polling is today, even when it's favorable for us, to less it's less important than a really thorough analysis of how we think the votes are going to come down on November 4th.
And so we feel very confident about where we are. And, you know, what we're building in these states is really unprecedented in presidential politics, which is we are building what would be considered historically large senator and governor races in all these states, and not just in TV ads, but they're in a lot of organizational work that we think has not been seen before in presidential politics. So we've got sort of their own contained campaign units in these states.
So, to your question about this, we're not concerned about it at all. I think the voters still need to learn a lot about Barack Obama but, you know, their top-line impression of him -- both of these candidates have fairly good favorable ratings. I think John McCain is running the real risk of raising his unfavorable ratings and doing great harm to himself and not harm to us. But I think what people are focused on is who's going to bring about change in the economy, in health care, in foreign policy, obviously -- it's a fundamental choice really of are we going to keep doing the same thing in this country or are we going to try something different.
And so, I don't know, maybe the McCain campaign has decided that they don't think they can win the election based on the direction that they're offering the country substantively, so they're trying to sort of run these gutter distractions to try and somehow convince people that Barack Obama should not be president. But we're confident that over the next 96 days, people are going to -- their knowledge base of Barack Obama is going to get even strengthened; they're going to have a clearer sense of where he wants to take the country. And I think in states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, where the economy is such an issue, where these voters fundamentally believe that George Bush's policies have harmed them and their families and that John McCain is offering more of the same, that at the end of the day, we are going to be in very good shape.
So we'll, I guess, watch them, continue to try these strategies of low road and character assassination, but we're absolutely confident that if we stay focused on what really matters in people's lives, that we are ultimately going to be successful electorally.
Q And just to follow up on that briefly -- you don't have to just take our word for it, Gordon, you know -- even John Weaver, one of John McCain's closest political aids, has said that this ad diminishes John McCain and called it "childish." And Mike Murphy, a media consultant who worked with McCain's 2000 campaign said that McCain and his campaign need to be careful of its tone. So I would say that this is a bipartisan sentiment that has been expressed on both sides of the aisle.
OPERATOR: Johnny Vitsen (ph).
Q Yeah, hi. It's Johnny Vitsen at the Golden Mail. I'd like to go back to this latest question because I don't believe you properly answered it. As part of his stump speech during the primaries, Mr. Obama warned against unnamed bloggers or people who were sending out scurrilous e-mails that would question his patriotism and his name, and he would say, by the way, did I mention he's black? Somehow in the last few weeks this has morphed from sort of unnamed figures to the Republican Party. You raised that specifically in the Jacksonville fundraising dinner. And now it's more from that into John McCain and the Republican Party.
So two questions. First, what caused you to evolve from sort of unnamed figures to specifically Republicans, and what on earth has any Republican ever done to deserve that?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, you know, I think that what we're seeing out of the McCain campaign unfortunately, the Republican Party and certainly some of their allies, have been some very aggressive charges. And I thin that the point is that -- you know, our point is that it is a strategic effort. And, again, we assume it's going to last all the way until November 4th -- perhaps they won't give this up -- to distract the American people, to somehow suggest that Barack Obama is nothing but an empty celebrity, to suggest that -- I think the McCain campaign was quoted a couple of weeks ago -- I think Steve Schmidt was quoted saying their message and their strategy is going to be that, you know, we're a risk that the country can't afford.
And so I think that what we are seeing is a consistent campaign here to try and distract people away from the issues, away from what both of these candidates are offering from a substantive and from a policy perspective, and from how they both plan to change Washington to these distractions of a much more personal nature. And I think that yesterday's ad is just the latest example of that. I think that their antics around the Landstuhl issue, which have now proven to be demonstrably false, are another example of it. And so I think that, you know, they are just going to continually try and distract, unfortunately in an increasingly personal way, and, you know, throw catnip out there and see if people will bite on it. But we're going to stay focused on putting forth in front of people -- as Barack did in Iowa today -- I mean, you know, we think a very important thing happened today.
Exxon Mobile today reported the largest quarterly profit in American history. John McCain is offering over $4 billion in new tax breaks for the oil companies. I understand Shell is going to report profits up by 33 percent -- $1.2 billion and more tax cuts for Exxon Mobile. And, you know, John McCain has energy ideas only Exxon Mobile could love, and they do love it, because John McCain, in the month of June alone, as reported by the Washington Post, raised over a million dollars from oil and energy companies -- an astounding number -- because I think it's clear to the oil industry that John McCain will be their best friend in the White House.
So I think that, you know, we obviously think his campaign behavior is important and that's why we're unveiling this website today, and we're going to make sure that the people who are refereeing this race out there and the conduct of it, that their comments are put in front of voters. But we also think that today was a very important moment, and I think for voters wondering who is going to ultimately put our country on the path to energy independence, and put the needs of families and American consumers ahead of the oil companies, today was another indication that the choice is clear, that John McCain is offering ideas and plans that are going to benefit the oil companies to the tune of billions of dollars, and they have rewarded him in a major way in his own campaign.
MR. BURTON: Well, we've got time for one more question.
OPERATOR: Seth Wallace.
Q Hi, this is Seth Wallace from the Huffington Post. Thanks, you guys, for putting the call together and taking the time.
David, I have a question for you. You talked about the contrast that was sort of clear up until a couple of weeks ago with the clear choice between the different style of campaigns. Are you afraid at all that getting involved and frequently updating a pushback fight on all of this will continue to obscure that message?
And then secondly, sort of related, I'm curious why you picked this particular moment to mount this defense.
You say you don't believe the McCain is talking about race, but yet even in this call several of the questions have been about that. And isn't it also the McCain's camp charge that you are now playing the race card, also sort of a way of getting race into the dialogue, and what do you think about that?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I really can't speak to the McCain campaign's motives on that. You know, we put out a statement today and we're pretty clear about it. I think that, one -- I mean, the website we're putting up is going to be very straight down the middle and really just contain commentary and factual pushbacks, both in terms of the conduct of their campaign and the low-road nature of it, but also there is an increasingly large number of mistruths out there.
One example -- one substantive point they make in their ad, claiming that Barack Obama supports taxes on electricity. What they're referring to is the cap-and-trade system, that John McCain himself supports. So they are attacking us for a position that John McCain himself holds. So we're going to update that with things like that. And so we hope it just becomes a clearinghouse for people who are tying to sort through the noise out there. And, you know, we're not going to put our own editorial comment on it; we're just going to put the facts out there.
And the reason why we're doing it now is we've kind of hit a critical point here. I mean, John McCain every day -- I mean, his comment suggesting that we'd rather lose a war than lose an election; these antics around Landstuhl, which have proved to be demonstrably false; this latest attack, which, again, has been completely discredited. I mentioned the Ohio newspapers, who have a scale of zero to 10 in terms truthfulness and gave it a zero -- the New York Times, the Low-Road Express. There is just commentary after commentary that are both dealing with the falsehoods that the McCain campaign is putting out there, but also the increasingly misfortunate tone of their campaign.
And so, you know, we've kind of hit a critical mass here. Well, we think it's important to catalogue all this. And we do think this is important to voters because I think one of the reasons John McCain starts with some strength with independent voters is because they do think that he has a history of behaving a little bit differently than a lot of politicians. And the road he's on right now, he is going to quickly erode that political capital, which is very hard political capital to build up.
So, you know, they clearly believe that in the bargain these scurrilous attacks will distract enough voters to be beneficial to them. I really strongly believe that won't be the case. I think that John McCain is really doing great damage to his reputation here. You know, we've spent a lot of time in these states talking to voters, and just in the last week, even before this latest ad hit, you know, we picked up a lot more concern about the tone of his campaign, and partially that's because people do believe this is a very serious election. They're dealing with serious problems and they expect a more serious discussion. And so we think at the end of the day McCain is doing great harm to his reputation, which seems to be eroding really by the hour here because his campaign seems to sink to new lows every day, and we think that it's important for people who are out there, both our supporters, who talk to a lot of undecided voters, but as well as voters at all, that they have a place to come to on this website, LowRoadExpress.com, to get some facts.
MR. BURTON: Susan and David, thank you both for taking the call. And if any reporters have any further questions, please feel free to contact me here at the campaign. Thank you.
MS. EISENHOWER: Great. Bye-bye.