While CNN's Soledad O'Brien tossed softballs at Democratic Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, she was not so kind to her Republican guest during the next hour, on Thursday's Starting Point. O'Brien reported poor poll numbers for both the Romney and Obama campaigns, but went after only the Romney campaign's economic message in detail.
O'Brien teed up the Democratic mayor to respond to Romney hitting Obama for wanting more public sector workers. But she posed the same question of Romney advisor Jim Talent, putting him on the defensive, rather than bringing up, say, President Obama's remark that the private sector is "doing just fine," a statement he later retracted.
And the CNN anchor was content to ask Villaraigosa about both candidates' economic plans polling poorly with independent voters. But with Talent, O'Brien specifically put the Romney campaign's poor numbers in the spotlight – even though the actual polling report emphasizes President Obama's "chilly reception" from independent voters.
"So terrible numbers for both of them on something that everybody has said is the most important issue in this election, which is the economy. What should they be doing?" O'Brien asked Villaraigosa. Contrast that neutral question with her pointed skepticism of the Romney campaign in her interview of Talent.
"When you look at that poll, bad news for both candidates. But let's talk about your candidate specifically. Why do you think that number is so low?" she pressed Talent.
While she initially reported the complete poll numbers on the economic plans – which show President Obama with a slightly higher approval rating than Romney, but a significantly higher disapproval rating – O'Brien only mentioned the approval numbers in her second interview as "bad news for both candidates."
The ABC News/Washington Post poll report states that while the polling for both candidates is not good, Romney "avoids majority criticism" which Obama did not, and has "some room to maneuver" since more voters were undecided about his economic plan. O'Brien didn't shed light on this analysis, however.
A partial transcript of both segments, which aired on Starting Point on June 14, is as follows:
[7:18 a.m. EDT]
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You mentioned what Governor Romney said. And I want to play a little chunk of it – just from Friday where he talked about really the lessons from Wisconsin and targeting what President Obama had said about the private sector doing fine. So let me play a little chunk of that and I'll ask you a question on the other side.
MITT ROMNEY, Republican presidential candidate: He wants to hire more government workers, he says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: So then what do you make of the governor's remarks when he says it's time to cut back on government and help the American people, and he listed firemen, policeman, teachers?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), Mayor of Los Angeles: Well the 325,000 jobs that the President is talking about is saving jobs, not adding jobs, that's one. Two, there's no question that we have to cut programs and cut the deficit. The President's proposed a $4 trillion cut over the next ten years. Mr. Romney talks about cutting the deficit and also proposes a $5 trillion tax cut for – primarily targeted to the wealthy, that we can't afford.
What Democrats and Republican mayors are saying is we have got to do both. We have to cut some spending, no question about it. But we've got to make investments in infrastructure, transportation, in education, in helping us export when 95 percent of the new markets are outside the United States of America. We've got to do things across the aisle, do things to make investments, but also make the cuts that we need.
O'BRIEN: Both the President and Mitt Romney are in the state of Ohio campaigning. And there is a new poll out that's sort of bad news for both of them, I think. Washington Post poll talking about favorable numbers of their economic policy, President Obama at 38 percent and Mitt Romney at 35 percent. And if you look at the margin of error, actually, it's very close. If you look at their unfavorable numbers, President Obama at 54 percent, among independents I should say, and Mitt Romney at 47 percent. So terrible numbers for both of them on something that everybody has said is the most important issue in this election, which is the economy. What should they be doing? What should they be talking about?
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I think both candidates have to talk about the economy, not just what's gone wrong but also what we're going to do in the future. And I think the President has done that. He said, again and again and again, that he's willing to cut spending. But we also have got to make investments. We can't continue to extend the Bush tax cuts and not make investments in education and transportation, in the infrastructure. We have got to do both. And I think the President has tried to extend the hand to the Republicans. But the House leadership has refused again and again and again. And in the Senate, if you recall, Senator McConnell has said his number one job is to defeat the President instead of putting the country back to work.
[8:08 a.m. EDT]
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: There's a new Washington Post/ABC News poll that shows crucial independent swing state voters don't think very highly of either of the candidates' economic plans. Only 38 percent have a favorable view of the President's plans, 35 percent have a favorable view of Mitt Romney's plans. And they are both within the margin of error. So literally neck and neck.
Brings us right to Jim Talent. He's a former senator from the state of Missouri. He's now the senior economic adviser to the Romney campaign. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us. Appreciate your time this morning. When you look at that poll, bad news for both candidates. But let's talk about your candidate specifically. Why do you think that number is so low?
JIM TALENT, senior economic advisor, Romney campaign: Well, I've seen a lot of poll numbers indicating the governor is being received very well by independent voters, Soledad. And look, he is proposing things that really ought to have bipartisan support and have had in the past like approving the Keystone Pipeline, stopping the cap and trade regulations the President wants to pass that he'd – the President said will skyrocket the price of electricity.
So, I mean, his message is that the President's policies were well-intended but are failing. And he's going to move in a direction of empowering the economy. And I think that's being pretty well received.
O'BRIEN: It sounds like that maybe it's – are you saying you think just this particular poll from The Washington Post is wrong because the poll numbers certainly don't say well-received. It says more like, meh.
O'BRIEN: Okay. So let me ask you a little bit about what Mitt Romney said last week about the hiring of teachers and firefighters and police officers, and the context as I know you know was sort of lessons from that Wisconsin recall vote and Scott Walker obviously won. The governor said that there was a message in this for President Obama. And here's what he said. Let's play that.
MITT ROMNEY Republican presidential candidate: And his answer for economic vitality, by the way, was of course pushing aside the private sector, which he said is doing fine. Instead, he wants to add more to government. He wants another stimulus. He wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message in Wisconsin? The American people did.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: So my question for you is this. Was the governor there saying that we don't need more teachers and more firefighters and more police officers? Because that's what it sounded like to me.