Discuss as:

Newsvine Q&A: Chuck Todd on U.S. Politics

The following is a summary of the Questions and Answers, pulled from the Newsvine comment thread below:

Chuck, every major website, as I write this, has, on the front of it, the story of McCain's admission that he doesn't know how many homes he owns. Do you think this is going to be a problem and affect the way people see him now as a candidate? Because I personally see it as close to insane for someone running for president of the United States to not know. It seems, with all his gaffes, that he's really beginning to show either his age, or his intelligence; and probably a little of both.

-Mike Rupert

McCain's answer on the homes definitely gave Obama an opening... it was a gaffe, the question is how big. The response by the McCain camp and the RNC makes me think they are very nervous about this gaffe. they have unloaded on Obama today with Rezko and Ayres...

Hey Chuck,

I enjoy watching your segments on the MSNBC and NBC news programs. In my opinion you have become America's resident political statistician. Anyhow, I have been following politics for the past eight years, I even interned on the Hill 2005. The one thing I have not been able to get a firm understanding of is the electoral college. If you will, please give me a brief "Electoral College for Dummies" lesson.

Thanks in advance and keep up the great work!


A state's electoral college votes is based on the number of members of Congress they send to Washington (House + Senate). DC gets 3 votes, assuming it would have two senators and 1 House member. And add it all up, you get 538 electoral votes... Why we have an even number of EVs is beyond me. The fact that we could have a tie is just ridiculous. I could go into more detail but the reader is right, even Wikipedia will have this mostly right.

Hi Chuck -
I know that you think that Biden is the most likely choice for Obama's VP right now, but do you think it's possible that he's going to pull a surprise? Is there any likelihood that he might pick someone totally undiscussed and unexpected - like Al Gore or (as per Michael Moore's suggestion) Caroline Kennedy? He did say he wanted someone who didn't want to be thinking all the time about being the next president (which eliminates you-know-who)...

Boy were you busy yesterday, Chuck, and I was lucky enough to catch your commentary quite a few times! I wasn't sure you were going to show up today! : )

-Jen in Upstate NY

I don't expect a surprise. Obama's campaign has been very disciplined throughout this year and half and they seemed intent on always sticking to a plan. So my guess is we won't see a surprise... But I live for surprises!

Can McCain rally any social conservatives to his side? Ridge and Lieberman are pro-choice, Romney's iffy, and Huckabee is out. Who is McCain's best shot for bringing out social conservatives?

If McCain picks Ridge or Lieberman, will social conservatives stay home? Ridge isn't that liberal socially, just on abortion. But people seem to be ignoring that.

Why isn't J.C. Watts on the national scene right now?

-Andrew (aka Online Apps)

J.C. Watts decided to make money rather than get back into politics. There was an open senate seat in OK he could have had if he wanted in 2004 but he passed it up. Maybe he'll go back and run for GOV from OK; if he can win GOV or SEN in OK (something I think he CAN do), then maybe he'll be a player again on the national scene. As for the persons who mentioned Barbour and Sanford... these are two govs who deserve more play. Haley's not getting vetted because of his extensive DC and lobbying connections. Sanford has simply kept a low profile, maybe too low or he'd be mentioned. He's Pawlenty with a Southern accent a bit more of a stubborn streak. I would wager a lot on who McCain might pick but my gut says Pawlenty.

I have a question about the downballot situation -
What are projections on the number of Democratic seats that will be picked up in both the House and the Senate?

-Jen in Upstate NY

Here is my range... Dems are likely to pick up a minimum of 5 senate seats... my guess is that if they start winning a 6th or a 7th... they'll get another 5 and get their 60... but that's a long shot.

On the House side... I think the low range is 10 seats for the Dems and the ceiling is 25.

And if Obama implodes, ala Dukakis in 1988, how will that affect these optimistic projections?

-Tom Bombadil

I think even an Obama implosion would have Dems still pick up 4-5 Senate seats and 8-10 House seats. Too many GOP retirements

Chuck, Where is all the media when it comes to Sen. McCain's statement concerning his apparent desire to reinstitute the draft? What would he intend to do with all the draftees? Who would be drafted...everyone or just the poor who can not afford college?


Am I waiting for something that will never happen? Obama had to put up with all the Wright stories, all the lies from republicans and yet McCain gets no negative coverage. What about the Keating 5 scandal? What about the fact that he's missed more votes than anyone? I have wondered why McCain no longer has media on his bus and has pretty much cut you guys off. Doesn't take a genius to figure out that he's hiding something. I think the one event a day, at which looks exhausted, has to read his stump speech (and does that poorly) and the weekends off are very telling. Is anyone looking into it? In other words, when will the magnifying glass be taken to McCain?

-Shirley S.

McCain's house gaffe is going to bring about a bunch of stories about his wealth. You'll see more coverage of both candidates on all the newscasts.

Hi Chuck.

I am a fan of Obama, but right now I'm trying to find a way to not see Obama's campaign as blowing it. Is there any chance that Obama plans to go negative, but is playing the Ali rope-a-dope strategy? Ali let Foreman punch until he was tired, than came out blazing to win the match. Do you think the same thing can work in politics? Let McCain go negative, block as needed, then unload on McCain in the last eight weeks or so? I speculate that a big late flurry of negative campaigning might have more impact than a sustained negative campaign, so let McCain punch until he has made so many gaffes, lies, and politically incorrect jokes that he just can't defend himself against the onslaught. We all know negative campaigns work, but what works better? A long drag through the mud, or a final round surprise assault with a lot of fresh attacks?

-Tony C. SA TX

Ask me again after the Dem convention. I'll be curious to see if the Obama campaign has some tough words for McCain during the convention. Will we see some rhetoric similar to what Bush's convention had for Kerry in '04? If we do, then I think you'll see a candidate and campaign ready for the fall. If you don't, you may want to start to worry.


You said on MTP this week that the McCain campaign was feeling good about where things are in the campaign right now. Do you share their assessment? It seems to me that the race really hasn't been altered that much. The attacks seem to have moved some soft Obama support into undecided and McCain's shored up a bit of his base, but the fundamentals haven't changed much. Might their optimism actually be good for Obama in the long-term in that it lulls the McCain campaign into a false sense of security, whereas they really need a "game-changing" event. (Maybe that McCain picks a safe VP choice instead of something unexpected?)

Also, doesn't Obama's talk of a VP who's "not about ego, self-aggrandizement, getting their names in the press" really point away from Biden? Shouldn't Jack Reed be getting more attention now?


Yeah, I think the McCain folks have reason to feel good... They have turned this race into a referendum on Obama. Now, it may turn out 50%+1 of the country and 273-worth of electoral votes decide Obama's ready for the job but the onus is on him now more than ever; And the spotlight is brighter thanks to McCain so that means he can't make as many mistakes as he did in the '07 part of the Dem primary season.

At last Saturday's forum with both candidates, McCain gave an interesting account on his Christian faith and how it helped him during his time as a POW, involving a guard who drew a cross in the sand. However, many blogs have pointed out that his story is oddly similar to one by Alexander Solzhenitsyn ("The Gulag Archipelago") which was released back in 1973. I'm curious to know why this story hasn't gotten any traction or verification by the mainstream media. Plagiarizing a story such as this one, with such strong religious emphasis, seems like it would be awfully damaging to McCain.


I think this game of gotcha on personal stories is going to get old for a lot of folks on both sides of this campaign.

Rachel Maddow got a show! Hurray! Speaking of which, does a "political director" direct anything? Is it a managerial position? If you helped Rachel get her show, thank you very much, I am a big fan and will add the hour back to my lineup (I cancelled "Verdict" long ago, and cancelled RTTWH a month ago). What is Rachel's show going to be called?

-Tony C. SA TX

Actually I do... it's a behind-the-scenes job editorially, helping to shape stories we cover on both network and cable; making sure we're in place for big stories (like helping to decide when to start staking out VP candidates and which candidates to stake out).

1)What is your take on the suburban Chicago 10th Congressional District race between Mark Kirk and Dan Seals?

2)When Obama responds to the McCain camp's attacks in a speech or town hall, should he really be listing in detail all of McCain's ngeative remarks for his audience? ("they'll say this about me, they'll tell you that about me") Isn't Obama just reinforcing his opposition's message that way, even if followed by his counterattacks?

3)Considering how busy you are, why is making time do this Q & A important to you?

As always, thanks.

-Lenore K.

If the Dems can't knock off Kirk in the 10th this cycle with Obama at the top of the ticket, then they'll never beat him. He's more vulnerable this year than he has been since he replaced John Porter a while back; Kirk's VERY good at voting his district over his party or he wouldn't still be there. Should be an interesting rematch this year with Seals, who is getting real national party support this time,

As for why do I do this? Because it's a way to exercise the political brain; get a feel for what questions are being asked; being a voyeur on the debates many of you have with each other. I wish I could spend more time each week but it is a bit time-consuming. Still, I've gotten plenty of ideas for columns, analysis and for First Read just from doing these chats.


Can you comment on why the mainstream media never talks about either John McCain's age or his connection to the Keating five and the Savings and Loan debacle? Is the media really that afraid of seeming biased that they ignore those issues much less the failure to know the differerence between Suni and @!$%#e and even locations on a map?? Also is it true that mcCain was ranked 894 out of 899 in his class and should we not know that??


For the media to jump on controversial stories like this, it takes the opponent to push them hard on the media... I think the Obama campaign has been very hesitant to bring up either topic

Comment Preview:


Thanks for the consistently good analysis; many of us rely on it. Recent stories tell of the disparity in coverage of the candidates, the idea that Obama has received more "face time" in the press than has McCain. But as I read it, the vast majority of stories on Obama are things like "why isn't he leading by more?" or "Obama's (fill in the blank... women, white men, etc.) problem." Is the focus of coverage truly trumped by its sheer volume?

Like all outlets, MSNBC played the "Paris Hilton" ad over and over and over. Will screen media afford the same free time to Obama's ad about McCain's many houses?



I think you'll see a lot of coverage of the Houses and the wealth of McCain

Now that Obama appears to be "going negative," does that mean that those 527's that pledged not to run negative ads as he had asked are now released from their pledge?

What do you think will happen, Chuck? Are we going to see a "landslide" of negative ads?

-Jen in Upstate NY

I think this is going to be a VERY negative TV campaign from here to the end... But, no, I don't expect too many Obama 527s; he dried up the money.

Hiya Chuck! Couple of things....

1)A blogger on another site said ""We need an experienced person, not someone like Senator Obama who is one of the least experienced candidates for president in the last hundred years, if not the least experienced" Can you please put Obama's experience into some historical perspective?

2)One hit of "veep-crack" - could Clark be the dark horse we're not watching?

Thanks as always!

-MI, Rochester NY

experience in government doesn't correlate to presidential greatness. Timing is everything; ask Reagan, Truman, Hoover etc...
Obama's 12-year elective office career is actually about average for a successful presidential candidate. Clinton had 14 years in office before winning; Bush had just 6 years; Reagan had 8 years plus a presidential run (so I say 12 years)... Kennedy was in year 12... Nixon was about 14 years... anyway, Atlantic and National Journal columnist Jonathan Rauch did a great study on this about years in elective politics and success on the presidential trail. Check it out.

Chuck: Do you feel as I and many others that the Dems seem in a total state of disarray with the convention less than a week away. By all rights this election should have been a given for the Dems, they just seem intent on giving this to the GOP. Newsvine has been abuzz with this scenario or that taking place at the convention, you would think at this juncture the platform should be fixed, future policies stated and an outline for implementation of suggested programs posted. Obama seems to be either backing off or changing positions on a regular basis, is he not who we had hoped he was?


I do think we in the media will get a positive/negative impression by how organized the conventions are for each respective nominee.

Hi Chuck,
In Obama's speech on the economy at Cooper Union in March he spoke at length on the role of government in market regulation. He explained the failures of both Republican and Democratic administrations in allowing Wall Street to set the economic agenda notably through actions like Reagan's Depository Institutions Act of 1982 and Clinton's repealing of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 and replacing it with the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. This shift allowed the creation of giant mergers and financial institutions including the like of CitiGroup and Bear Stearns, as well as the merging of commercial and investment banking which, through high-risk mortgage lending, also helped lead to the subprime crisis.

My question is this: While Obama's rhetoric concerning the economy sounds markedly different than the previous Democratic party line through promoting such government sanctioned regulatory measures, do you think he is proposing a real economic shift? Is this a move away from neoliberalism towards a more proactive government program? If so why is Bob Rubin, who helped Clinton repeal Glass Steagall along with a $300 million lobbying effort, sitting on Obama's board of economic advisers? Is this straight talk about Obama's policies or will we see more moderation as the general campaign drags on such as what occurred with all the NAFTA talk? Thanks for your time, you're my favorite analyst in the biz.


I think Obama is a real blank slate on the economy; I think his instinct is that he's a globalist, a free-trader; but the populist in him says, challenge these trade agreements, get a bit more protectionist. We just won't know for sure; he wants to compromise with business, like Bill Clinton, but the rank-n-file of his party won't be nearly as forgiving of Obama if he becomes too close to business, than they were of Clinton. Different times, different expectations.

How come we only hear about the Dem and Reb parties? Why isn't the news media talking about the other candidates that are running for president? I truly believe that if the news covered the other people running it would give the American people more to choose from, other than the two want-a-bes.

-Larry Burgess

sorry, i think the internet gives a third party candidate a chance to prove critical mass. Neither Bob Barr nor Ralph Nader have proven it.

If McCain does win and the Democrats get a majority in Congress, could that be a good thing for the GOP? The Dems will most likely block everything McCain tries, giving the GOP the firepower for more "obstructionist Congress" ammo.

-Andrew (aka Online Apps)

McCain will want to sign bills... so I think he'll do everything he can to work with a Dem Congress... But whether he succeeds depends on what issues he tackles first: global warming? he'll get an early victory; immigration? maybe that issue too. But Social Security? no chance.

Hi, Chuck,
Some of us worried that there would be some kind of "October trouble" in Iraq/Iran to swing the vote to the right because of a manufactured heightened sense of fear. Things are relatively stable there... So how to swing the vote ? Manufacture another fear-inducing situation. The situation in Georgia/ Russia is so complicated it is difficult to understand with media soundbites, but it produces the sense of fear the right has used to control the power. Is this their October moment, and did the right (bush, cheney, etc) help to make it happen ?


I wonder if voters are becoming numb to these so-called October surprises... just a thought

Chuck –

In order of likelihood, what five states do you see as most likely to flip from GOP to Dem? IA and NM appear the most likely ... but after that?

Also, it would seem Nevada would be ripe for the taking for Dems this year -- the demographics are trending their way (Hispanic population), their voter reg numbers have spiraled since 2004, and the repub Governor has had a scandalous tenure. Yet McCain's maintaining a slight lead, and you mentioned recently that if you were to "push" NV come late Oct., you would nudge it into McCain's column. Why is Nevada such a tough nut to crack for Obama? On the surface it would seem an ideal takeover for all the above-mentioned reasons.

-Tad Davis

top five Red states that could go blue: Iowa, NM, OH, CO and VA. I am not there on NV... even with their damaged GOV; he's not on the ballot.

top five Blue states that could go red: Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and ?

There aren't five blue states that are realistic flips... perhaps MN if Pawlenty is picked but even then, I don't buy it...

Crystal ball time. What factor will have the biggest impact on the outcome of the presidential race:
1) Debates 2) TV advertising 3) GOTV efforts 4) Other?


In order: debates, GOTV, race, TV ads

A lot of us are asking about McCain's houses gaffe. How damaging do you think this will be? Is this one of those turning points in the campaign or just a one-day story?


I think this was a big gaffe... may have cost Romney a spot on the ticket.

I just bought a carton of milk and it had Chuck Todd's picture on it.

-Dr. Ivan Divorni

deserved that one


Although I feel Biden was by far the most qualified to be president when he was running do you think that Obama almost owes the 18 million Clinton voters the respect to put her on the ticket. With the current problems he is having wouldn't her name as the VP do nothing but help him win.

-David Frazier

It's all about Bill Clinton; I think if there were no Bill Clinton, Hillary would have been the running mate, period.

Do you think Obama should tackle the race issue (people's reluctance to vote for an African American) more head on? Or would this work against him? Should he have a dialogue with Americans about this or try to defuse it indirectly? This is pretty unprecendented and it's hard to know wahat the best strategy would be. What are your thoughts?


I don't know the answer to this... I think he should confront it in rural American, perhaps this is what Biden should do for him; I do think ignoring it as if it is not an issue is a mistake.

Do you think Obama has made a mistake in waiting so long to choose a VP candidate. It seems to me that he could have controlled the news cycle this entire week by doing so and instead appeared indecisive.


All in all, they wanted a short window between pick and convention to prevent too much backseat driving. It's an interesting strategy that McCain is looking forward to following as well.

I saw in an article within the past week or so that McCains children as well as his wife had a monthly credit card balance as much as $50,000 each. How does he expect to connect with the normal working family with this kind of spending behavior? Some people don't even earn $50,000 a year. How come the Obama camp did not jump on this piece of information?


I think the house gaffe made McCain vulnerable on this issue; let's see how well Obama exploits it.

Can you address the issue of the supposed liberal bias of the media? I've seen a study that claimed that although Obama receives a larger quantity of coverage, it's been more negative than McCain's. Seems to me the media bias is more towards making sure it's a horserace (which it undoubtedly is already.) What are your thoughts on the "media agenda?"


I think there is bias in the media but I contend it's personal bias, meaning if a person lives in NYC, they might have a bias on the gun issue simply because of where they live. I think the right (and now the left) are exploiting the public's hatred of the media to create this myth of entrenched ideological bias in the media. It's just not there; is there bias due to geography (what I call the dreaded Amtrak corridor of Boston-NYC-DC), a tad, but it's not necessarily based on party. I think there's been a view that the media is friendlier to Dems than GOPers and GOPers believe this so they end up intentionally antagonizing their media relationships which in turn create a human reaction of bias.

If you treat the press badly, they'll treat you badly... If you treat a Starbucks coffee person badly, they'll treat you badly... if you treat a cop badly when he's writing a speeding ticket, he'll write it for more... It's human nature.

Chuck, I watched the Faith Forum on CNN, and found myself literally screaming at McCain during his interview. But almost all the pundits who followed said McCain did a great job and Obama's answers were somehow inadequate. My question is, what does it mean that my reaction to candidates is so different from the pundits? Really, what does it mean? I am a white, 49 year old single Protestant woman with a college degree. Does this put me out of some kind of demographic for the "average American"?

-Amy B. Portland, ME

Look, I think folks forget that the target audience for many of these forums aren't the folks who are watching every single event of the campaign but the voter who hasn't had a lot of time to tune in. And that's how I judge these events, how would the average occasional viewer digest what they saw.

How can the McCain campaign get away with characterizing Obama as elitist when McCain has always been wealthy and owns more homes than he can keep track of? It seems as though Clinton got away with the same thing. Yes, Obama went to a private prep school - on scholarship. Yes, he went to Ivy League schools - by taking out student loans. He passed up higher paying jobs to be a city organizer. I don't understand how someone working their way to the top is treated with such disdain and somewhere who was born with a silver spoon is considered the everyman.

Also, is it possible that Obama may actually hold a much larger lead over McCain than is reflected in all the latest polling? If I understand correctly, only land lines are called. I'm 25 and I do not know anyone my age who even has a land line. Does the term 'likely voters' include all the new voters that registered during the primaries?

-Gina – Seattle4Obama

well, let's see how the Obama campaign amplifies the house gaffe... that will tell us whether they'll successfully push back against the McCain elitest charge.

Bruce Richardson—

You are so correct. Obama's intellect, demeanor, class, and graciousness has, somehow, become a negative for him in this campaign.

Something is wrong with this picture!

Maybe Chuck can speak to the declining standards that Americans are applying to our leaders.

-Ann M.

Again, I addressed this a little bit up top; but the audience for these events are not folks like you who know the nuance of the campaign but the avg. voter who haven't had the chance to tune in as much.

This McCain letter to Steve Capus, how many times are we going to play 'blame the refs'?

This is something of a desperation move right?

Shouldn't presidents be made of sterner stuff?

Also... as a follow-up to my you vs Olbermann fight boxing question last week, now that she's part of the team, you vs. Maddow... who wins? I know she's small, but she looks scrappy.

-Rodney Hopper

I'm guessing many members of the McCain campaign wished the letter hadn't been sent.

Do you think that the Rezko and Ayers attacks by McCain will actually go anywhere. Considering they were in the news early in the primaries they never seemed to get much traction. What are your thoughts?


It depends if there is any new information that pops up. Old stories get new legs when there is new information. I'd argue Rezko's potential sentencing before the election is a new piece of information that won't be helpful to Obama.

As political director of NBC, what's your response to criticism from the McCain camp that the network is unfairly biased against McCain? It seems to this dispassionate observor that you faced a similar charge during the Dem primary from the Hilary camp and there was a demonstrable shift in your coverage. I can't prove that and have no statistics to back it up. Just a gut feel. (I watch NBC News nightly as well as Hardball.) Chris Mathews definitely became more sympathetic to Hilary after the fuss (and after Pennsylvania went for her.)

I have enormous respect for you and Mathews and the other contributors to the network but I truly believe I saw a 'pulling back' in the face of that criticism. Do you concur? Have you had internal discussions or post-mortems on your coverage?


Look, I take all critiques seriously, whether from a viewer or a presidential campaign. In this instance, since no one at the network received this letter before a member of the media did, I'm skeptical that it was a serious criticism. If it was, they would have kept the communication private.


Ok, I'm going to have to pull the plug on this thread. But the good news is that the folks at Newsvine want to have a Convention thread that I jump into at least once a day during the convos to answer questions... I may only have 30 mins here and 30 mins there, but I hope to answer 20-40 questions daily.

------ Original Post --------

I'm Chuck Todd, NBC News Political Director. Please join me for another Q&A session here on Newsvine, on Thursday, August 21 starting at 3:30 ET, where we'll be discussing U.S. Politics and the unfolding presidential election. Feel free to post your questions here in advance, and please remember to vote for your favorite questions by clicking the small arrow in each comment box. Click here to read my last Q&A.

For those of you visiting us here for the first time, please know that Newsvine is an interactive web site designed for members to participate in thoughtful discussions about news-related topics. Feel free to take a look at the Newsvine Code of Honor, it's a short list of standards that existing members hold themselves to here.