Lynn Sweet and Patrick Healy on Connecting McCain and Bush Over the Economy and Whether Clinton Alone Can Blunt Palin

"Imagine it, people! One day you'l be able to access the Internet with an object only this big! Wait, what's that you say?" Photo: Getty Images

Every day until November 4, a series of writers and thinkers will discuss the election over instant messenger for nymag.com. Today, Lynn Sweet, Washington, D.C., bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times, and New York Times political reporter Patrick Healy discuss Palin's advantage with regard to Wall Street turmoil, Biden suggesting Clinton might have been a better V.P. choice for Obama, and how Clinton supporters might (or might not) see a Palin bait and switch.

P.H.: We're bracing here for the markets to open … oy. Biden sounded pretty tough on the morning shows. I keep wondering if Obama-Biden will REALLY be able to get people to see McCain as a third Bush term on the economy, and not just on Iraq.

L.S.: Biden did beat up on McCain. Portrayed him on the CBS Early Show as out of touch. How many times can they say McCain-Bush or Bush-McCain?

P.H.: Right? They really want that to break through. But I wonder if voters really know enough details about the candidates' economic platforms to make a direct link between McCain and Bush. Iraq is easier. McCain was pro-surge, Bush was pro-surge, Obama was against the war. Easier to just remember one word — SURGE!

L.S.: You have a point. But if the economy is bad, Palin's reform message — that she will fight Washington — may come through stronger.

P.H.: Totally true.

L.S.: Fannie and Freddie and Lehman all happened on the senators' watch. There has been a concern in Congress about GSEs — government sponsored enterprises like Fannie and Freddie — for years.

P.H.: That's right. And I must say, McCain sounded like the reformer watchdog this morning, decrying the "fat cat" salaries of corporate titans. A lot of voters will like that.

L.S.: Obama, meanwhile, has been on a tear against CEO boondoggles.

On another topic … do you miss covering the Clinton presidential campaign?

P.H.: LOL. Yes and no. I'd love to hear how Hillary would argue against McCain on the economy. She really found her voice on economic issues toward the end of the primaries, and she made her case with real enthusiasm and grit.

But I don't miss her stamina, ha-ha-ha. Sixteen hours a day, go go go! It was a little tiring — but I admired her energy.

L.S.: Obama has a bunch of women-targeted events coming up in the next few days — they need to stop the Palin drain. Clinton and Biden are doing a Webcast aimed at female voters on Wednesday. (This morning I posted a column on Biden, Clinton, Obama, and the Palin threat.)

P.H.: And Palin and McCain are back together today in Ohio. It's like he's addicted to her political magic the way drivers are "addicted to foreign oil."

I had heard something like that Webcast was in the works. And Clinton has been praising Biden. I did wonder what he was up to the other day, suggesting she might have been a better V.P. pick for Obama than he was. Biden off-the-cuff or a tactical quote?

L.S.: I don't have a sense it was that tactical. But he probably did know at the time that they would be doing this joint event.

P.H.: Makes sense. You know what I kept hearing over the weekend? Especially after the SNL skit on Palin-Hillary…

L.S.: Loved Tina and Amy.

P.H.: They were A+.

Anyway, I just kept hearing more and more bewilderment from women of all political stripes that they would be inclined to vote for Palin-McCain, or attracted to the ticket, because they are women who once supported Hillary. I know that story line has been out there for awhile, but it's the thing that has set in with Palin. Every time women friends of mine outside of politics see her, they feel like they're being baited. (And some of them are Republicans or "hockey moms.")

L.S.: Palin seems pretty straight forward. What's the bait and switch?

P.H.: The bait is that 90 percent of what she says totally resonates with these women … but these women feel that the 10 percent of what Palin says that they disagree with should account for a lot more than 10 percent. I guess they feel that the Palin gift-wrapping is far, far more appealing than what's inside the package.

L.S.: Maybe there were a lot more than we thought of Clinton backers who did not agree with her on issues — and this floating group had no big ideological problem moving to Palin. Inconsistent on the policy front, of course.

P.H.: You may be right about that. At Hillary events, I'd always see women carrying Hillary's books for her to autograph, like It Takes a Village. But there were probably a lot of women (and men) who were not true believers but went her way in the primaries.

In hindsight, I may have underestimated Hillary's ability to break from her past and the Clinton baggage and win over people who DID NOT like her in the nineties. (I wrote about this a little in my Hillary versus Palin piece recently.)

L.S.: Can HRC alone blunt the Palin impact?

P.H.: Such a provocative question. And a very smart one. You know what I keep hearing privately from advisers to Hillary? They say, "Why is it our job to blunt Palin's impact? Hillary is not on the ticket. Obama didn't choose her." I don't think it's so much about resentment, it's an honest assessment that Hillary can only do so much in this regard. (And she doesn't want to be blamed if this vote doesn't go Obama's way.)

L.S.: And while Clinton has been raising money for Obama, some on the Clinton team are disappointed that Obama donors have not helped her to erase her debt more.

P.H.: Yeah, that is a big point of resentment among some in her camp. I wonder what her latest debt level is. Last month, she had only chipped away at $2–3 million, her people said. Which is a pretty small fraction…

L.S.: What's her leverage with the Obama folks at this point in terms of her debt reduction?

P.H.: I suppose her availability to stump for the ticket against Palin. But I don't know if they discuss this explicitly. Most of the talks about Hillary's role and the debt is on the Cheryl Mills…David Plouffe level. (For readers, Cheryl is a senior Hillary adviser and former Clinton White House lawyer, and Plouffe is the Obama campaign manager.)

L.S.: Was there real Obama…Bill Clinton détente in Harlem?

P.H.: They looked pretty awkward at the beginning. Bill Clinton making pithy comments, and Obama chiming in afterward with meaningless lighthearted banter. It felt a bit staged to me. But by all accounts, it was a "fine" conversation. The private talk … neither lovey-dovey nor ugly.

L.S.: CNN says Obama is losing support in New York … can the Clintons be forced to wear the jacket for that?

P.H.: Ha-ha. I don't think she'll ultimately take the hit there. The sadness among her supporters is kinda understandable. And I think N.Y. will ultimately come through for Obama, if polls and history are any guide.

Earlier: David Frum and Lynn Sweet on Rattled Obama Supporters and Whether Even ‘Change’ Is Still Needed

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.