Obama Discusses N.H. Vote, Campaign Message

On Tuesday, almost any political analyst believed that Sen. Barack Obama would be the winner of the New Hampshire primary. Instead, Obama finished second behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in a vote with record turnout.

Steve Inskeep: Why do you think the election changed so quickly at the end?

Obama: Well, you know, polls are notoriously unreliable, especially when you're seeing big turnouts like this. You don't know how things are going to play themselves out. We did very well. I mean, our votes were where we expected them to be, and Sen. Clinton ran a good race. What is inspiring, I think, both about Iowa and New Hampshire is to see how intensely people are following this campaign, how people who may not typically vote are coming out to vote. I think this is going to be a hard-fought contest all the way through Feb. 5.

Although you pointed out elsewhere this morning that there were a lot of late-breaking votes, why do you think at that last moment significant numbers of people would choose to vote for someone other than you?

Well, it's very hard to gauge. I'm sure that people are going to analyze it. Clearly, Sen. Clinton did better among women than she had anticipated and many of the pundits had anticipated, and how that played itself out during the last several days is hard to gauge. What I know though is that we've really shifted the political terrain. It's indisputable now that people want a different kind of politics. They are hungry for change in Washington. I think our message of bringing people together and pushing against the special interests and really trying to be straight with the American people about how we're going to solve problems — that's the right message. And I've just go to make sure that we are delivering that message and translating that into concrete terms for the people in Nevada and South Carolina and the other states that haven't voted yet.

I'd like to ask, though, whether you believe it's fair or not, do you believe that Hillary Clinton, and to some degree Bill Clinton, have succeeded in raising some doubts about your readiness to be president?

No. I mean, keep in mind those were all arguments that had been made in Iowa, as well, and had been made vigorously. I think that right now the American people are narrowing the field. They have focused on several strong candidates. We're in that mix, and they're going to be lifting the hood and kicking the tires over the coming weeks to figure out who is going to be able to best deliver on the change that they want. And the argument that I'm going to keep making is that we can't get that change unless we have a working majority that can attract independents, attract some Republicans, and that is something that I think I can do most effectively as the nominee and, ultimately, as the president.

President Clinton, former President Clinton, also raised questions about whether your record was really so different on a key issue — Iraq. He said it was a fairy tale, as you know, that your voting record was any different than Hillary Clinton's when it came to Iraq. And he said there was some doubt as to whether you had even been that strongly against the war in the beginning.

Former President Clinton continued to mischaracterize my record on this, and we're going to have to call him on it. The press has already pointed out that he's wrong about this, but he keeps on repeating it. And at some point, we're going to have to just keep drilling away at the fact that it is indisputable that I opposed this war from the start in 2002, 2003, 2004, and that the fact that I voted for funding for the war once I got into the Senate is perfectly consistent with my position that it was important to make sure that our troops had the equipment and the tools that they needed at a time when things were very dicey.

Now, when Clinton claims that in 2004, after the war had begun you said that you didn't know how you would have voted on the Iraq war resolution, is he misquoting you?

Well, he's partially quoting me. This was an interview that I did with Meet the Press at the 2004 convention when Tim Russert, after having shown a clip where I explicitly opposed the war, then said, 'How is it that you seem to anticipate all these problems and your nominees, John Kerry and John Edwards, did not?' And out of an interest in supporting my nominees, I said, 'Well, look, I don't know exactly how I would have voted if I had been in the Senate. What I do know is that, from where I stood, the case was not made.' Now, Bill Clinton always leaves that second part out, which is convenient, but I think that anybody who has examined this issue recognizes that my position on Iraq has been consistent.

In your concession speech last night, you quite generously said of your opponents that your opponents share the same goals as you do, that they're all honorable, that everyone in the race, in your opinion, is patriotic. Some of your opponents may say, if that's the case, why should voters choose the senator with only three years' experience?

Well, three years' experience in Washington, Steve; 20 years' experience working on the streets of Chicago as a civil rights attorney, as somebody teaching constitutional law ... at the state level, providing health insurance for people who didn't have it, providing tax relief for families who need it. There is, I think, a perception in Washington that that's the only place that matters. I think the American people reject that. That's why we're doing so well. That's why we're in this race, and, ultimately, what they want is leadership. They want, I think, somebody who can inspire the country to come together and solve problems. I would not be running if I was not absolutely convinced that I am the person best equipped to do that.

And the next place that you'll be tested, or one of the next places, anyway, that you'll be tested, would be South Carolina, the first southern state, also the first state with a significant black vote. Do you think that you have proven to black voters that if they back you, instead of Hillary Clinton with whom they have a long past, that they'll be backing a winner?

Well, I think that there's no doubt that we are in a very strong position to win, and I think that even if you talk to the Clinton camp that they would say that, you know, we are in a strong position to win, as they are. We have put together, I think, a great campaign. We are seeing enormous numbers of people, first-time voters, younger voters, participating in the process. And I'm reaching out, not just to the African-American community, but people from all walks of life saying we can put together a coalition that we haven't seen in a long time to actually move a progressive agenda forward. And that's what I'm going to be trying to do over the next few weeks, and, then, hopefully, over the next eight years.

I assume you'll still be talking about change?

Well, change, but in very specific terms. I mean, I think that one of the points that I've been trying to make over the last several weeks is that when I talk about change it's not some gauzy, pie-in-the-sky change. I'm talking about making sure we have a health care system where every American can get health care that's as good as the health care I have as a member of Congress.

Although, that's something, just to take that specific goal, that's something that people have been trying for years and have had only incremental success. Can you name one concrete thing you can do that other candidates would not do to move things forward?

Well, it is going to require the American people, enlisting them in putting pressure on Congress to make it happen. This is part of the point that I've been trying to make, Steve. There's no shortage of plans out there. There's no shortage of policy papers. This is not a technical problem. It's a problem of politics. It's a problem of getting a big enough coalition of people who are organized, inspired, mobilized and will then put pressure on those who are elected — in combination with a president who is able to lead — in order to get it done. There are no magic solutions here. And the problems that we face, whether it's climate change, or health care, or making college more affordable, or dealing with our foreign policy is less a problem of, you know, getting the perfectly calibrated policy. It has to do with are we able to get people to work in the same direction, and that's what I can do.

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