Candidates Make Last Swings for South Carolina, Nevada

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Jim VandeHei of Politico.com previews tomorrow's South Carolina Republican Primary and Nevada's Democratic Caucus.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

So states rushing to move up their primary dates have created an interesting challenge for the presidential candidates this weekend. South Carolina will hold its Republican primary, Saturday. That's the same day Nevada holds its Republican caucus, leaving the leading Republican candidates with two states to conquer.

But South Carolina doesn't have its Democratic primary until January 26, so the Democrats have extra time. And they've turned their focus to the Nevada caucus this weekend. So just what can we expect to see this weekend in a race where there isn't really a clear frontrunner on either side? Can I say that, Jim?

Jim VandeHei joins us, co-founder of Politico.com. Hey, Jim.

Mr. JIM VANDEHEI (Co-founder, Politico.com): How are you doing?

MARTIN: Well, we're doing okay.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Good.

MARTIN: How are you doing?

Mr. VANDEHEI: I'm doing great.

MARTIN: Great. So I want - there are so many things to talk about today. First, I want to get your take, though, on this decision in Nevada. The federal - a federal judge there dismissed this lawsuit that was brought by Clinton supporters that would have shut down these nine casino sites for the Democratic caucus in Nevada. Can you - for people who haven't heard about this, can you sum it up and tell us what the upshot is.

Mr. VANDEHEI: There's a very powerful union called Culinary Workers and essentially a lot of those employees working at casinos. And the Democrats have set it up where those workers can actually caucus on caucus day at casinos -beautiful arrangement. Obama got the endorsement of that union. And that union is super powerful.

I mean, think of the AFL-CIO on steroids…

MARTIN: Wow.

Mr. VANDEHEI: …in one state. And so, Clinton supporters tried to keep those culinary workers from being able to vote at the casinos, which would obviously help her win the election.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. VANDEHEI: A judge ruled for the Culinary Workers and for Obama.

MARTIN: Okay, there you have it. So speaking of Hillary Rodham Clinton, she has taped an interview with Tyra Banks. I mean, my first question is, really, how did Tyra get to be political must-stop? Obama was there a few months ago. I don't know what the world was coming to, but…

STEWART: What do you think about that Jim?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Yeah. In other words - I mean, it's "The View" with Tyra Banks (unintelligible)…

STEWART: But what do they get specifically at Tyra Banks?

Mr. VANDEHEI: …for politicians will go anywhere, will go anywhere. I think the idea for Hillary Clinton is she wants to show, again, her more human side, her softer side. She goes on Tyra Banks and she talks about sort of what she was feeling, like, what she learned that her husband, the president, was cheating on her? And she says, you know, I - you know, I decided that it was in my best interest and in my heart, I needed to stand with him…

MARTIN: I think we have a tape of that.

Mr. VANDEHEI: And it even came up at, what happens when other women who have husbands who are cheating on them. What advice do you give them. And she says you just have to do, you know, what you think is right, what you think is right in your heart. I think it's a good chance for her to appear, you know, regular and like a woman who has the same problems that other women might have.

MARTIN: Let's listen to a clip of her from that.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): I really had to dig down deep and think hard about what was right for me, what was right for my family. And I never doubted Bill's love for me, ever. And I never doubted my faith and my commitment to our daughter and our extended family. But I had to decide what I had to do.

MARTIN: When you hear that, you think, well, that was a good move or hmm, maybe not so much?

Mr. VANDEHEI: You know, I think for so many voters, they're just so sick and tired hearing about it, thinking about it and having a piece or a part of the political debate. But it's unavoidable, especially now, as you know, on this month, we're celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Monica Lewinsky…

MARTIN: Who is celebrating it?

Mr. VANDEHEI: They're celebrating. You'll see it all over the place, so where's your stories about it that people are talking about it. And the Clintons know they have to deal with and they're trying to do it in the best way possible. I mean, who the heck wants to talk about the fact that your husband had and affair - be kind of a bummer.

MARTIN: I have a theory about the whole Tyra thing.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Oh, can you share?

STEWART: Well, for the Obama…

MARTIN: I think Obama, you know, Oprah-Obama, Obama-Oprah, Oprah-Obama, if you want to reach young African-American women, maybe Tyra Banks is your stop. She's not going to go on Oprah.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Very smart analysis. You should be running for politico.com.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: We'll talk about that later.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay, let's move to South Carolina. A lot of focus there. That's where the Republicans are on the stump. Jim, who has to win there?

Mr. VANDEHEI: (Unintelligible) so wide open, I don't know that anyone has to win in the market. Fred Thompson, at some point, has got a win and everyone else has won.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: He needs one, doesn't he?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Come on, give me a state for crying out loud. I'm a Southerner and an actor. Give me South Carolina. I don't know. If he doesn't win it, everything you hear from his people that he would drop out at that point. But the truth is the thing is so wide open, who knows?

I think anybody who wins it has a lot of wind at their back because they can look at history and say no Republican has ever won the nomination without winning South Carolina. I won South Carolina. What I would say that that is whatever. This is a brand new year. It's wide open, wild things are happening. I don't know that South Carolina is going to indicate anything beyond the fact that South Carolina has voted for somebody.

MARTIN: Mitt Romney seems to be putting in a kind of a half-hearted effort there. Is that fair to say he's not even (unintelligible)?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Half-hearted he bails. Then he said I'm leaving. I'm going to Nevada where no one else is really is competing and, by the way, there's a large and sizable population of Mormons. He thinks if he wins Nevada, it has more delegates in South Carolina. He could say, listen, I'm still leading in the delegate count. I'm winning states, and he keeps (unintelligible) because he worked in the Olympics, likes to talk about medals and then say I now have two gold medals.

And him saying going into February 5th, I'm as much a frontrunner as anyone else in this race. So basically, he was staring reality in the face and reacted to it because he knows he didn't really have a good chance of winning in South Carolina.

MARTIN: Okay, so you tell us it is wide open there. It - should it be this wide open, are we kind of behind the timeline right now on settling on a couple of nominees? Or we're just so uncomfortable with this idea that it's actually competitive that it makes us perhaps in the media a little bit nervous?

Mr. VANDEHEI: I think it's actually a good thing that it - that this thing is pointing out and that it's wide open at this point because I - my theory is that most people did not tune in to this election at all until January. And then all of a sudden, they get hit over the head with Iowa and New Hampshire.

And had there been crystal clear frontrunners coming out of those two state, I would have felt like, you know, the decision is being made without most people even - being able to have their voice heard.

Now, everybody gets to have their voices heard because it's going to February 5th and probably beyond for Democrats and Republicans. So finally, more than half of the country will be able to have a big say in who their nominees are. And I think that's a good thing. I mean, the fact that the process awards so much power to tiny Iowa, tiny New Hampshire, which are predominantly white, middle-class states are not necessarily reflective of people in California…

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. VANDEHEI: …or Texas, or South Carolina. I think the fact that's going beyond that is probably a good thing for democracy. I like being realistic of that.

MARTIN: It's (unintelligible) us. Telling us like it is. Jim Vandehei is the co-founder of Politico.com.

Hey, thanks, Jim.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Enjoy.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Hey, coming up. A really, really fast runner, not as fast as he wanted to be, though. We're going to explain why.

This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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