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Nation Awaits 'State of the Union'

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Nation Awaits 'State of the Union'

Nation Awaits 'State of the Union'

Nation Awaits 'State of the Union'

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President Bush delivers his annual speech Monday. Meanwhile, the 2008 presidential race heats up, with the Republican primary in Florida and Super Tuesday on Feb. 5. It'll be a doozy, says John Harris, editor of Politico.com.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Governor, Arkansas; Republican Presidential Candidate): There are not two people who are better at street-fighting politics than Bill and Hillary Clinton. Don't underestimate the scrappiness with which they'll approach this race.

ALISON STEWART, host:

And that's coming from the other side. Republican Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, he talked about that yesterday on Fox. He was discussing the Clintons' tag-teaming of Barack Obama. Well, that scrappiness didn't seem to work in the Palmetto State.

Senator Obama's win in the South Carolina primary led to some, shall we say, highly descriptive headlines.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Shall we?

STEWART: The New York Post called his 55 to her 27 percent victory, quote, "The Dixie Blitz." Now, the L.A. Times had this warm fuzzy headline on its site for a while: "Obama Gets a Big Hug from South Carolina Democrats." Okay. So throw in some big-name endorsements on top of it all, I'm guessing not a whole lot of sleeping for the editor-in-chief of Politico.com, John Harris.

Hey, thanks for waking up this morning to be with us, John.

Mr. JOHN HARRIS (Editor-in-Chief, Politico.com): Oh, absolutely. This campaign's like being in the world's longest highway tunnel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: It's a little bit scary, but kind of interesting.

MARTIN: It's not bad. That's pretty good, actually.

STEWART: So you heard those two extreme headlines. What do you think is an accurate headline for Barack Obama's win in the South Carolina primary?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, it was a thumping. There's no doubt about it. What's not clear yet, and we'll find out soon enough, is whether that victory translates to other places. He obviously won on the strength of the African-American vote. About half the South Carolina electorate went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, and did decently about a quarter of the white vote in a three-way race.

So he could argue that this is a cross-racial victory, but it was largely an African-American victory. Other states don't have as much African-American vote, so we'll have to see if the momentum carries over. It's now two for two. Hillary Clinton's won two, Barack Obama's won two. We've got a real, authentic jump ball on this race.

STEWART: All right. So for those folks who actually had plans Saturday night, unlike me, and didn't watch this happen live, let's play a little bit of Barack Obama's victory speech, and then Hillary Clinton's no-I'm-not-conceding speech.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): After four great contests, in every corner of this country, we have the most votes, the most delegates and the most diverse coalition of Americans that we've seen in a long, long time.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Now the eyes of the country turn to Tennessee and the other states that'll be voting on February 5th.

STEWART: Do you think it was smart for Senator Clinton not to really acknowledge a defeat and take on the I've-moved-on message?

Mr. HARRIS: You know, these consolation speeches are always tricky. Remember, Howard Dean effectively ended his candidacy when he botched it four years ago in Iowa. I do think I don't think Hillary Clinton botched her speech. I do think it was part of a calculated strategy. Look, South Carolina, it's just, you know, what would you expect given the demographics of that race?

Now, I do think that some Democrats thought it was not gracious, and I do think that there's - not just with respect to that speech - but more generally, Bill and Hillary Clinton's campaign message, a lot of Democrats are recoiling at it. One of the most important to recoil at it is Senator Ted Kennedy, who is going to announce later today his official endorsement of Barack Obama. And, in part, Kennedy had to say, it's because he doesn't like the Clintons' arguments and their tactics in this race. He's - it's partly a positive, and I take mostly a positive statement about Obama, but the slap at the Clintons is unmistakable.

STEWART: Let me - I'm going to get you to referee something. In our morning meeting, we were having a discussion about whether or not Ted Kennedy's endorsement matters, whether or not Carolyn Kennedy writing in the New York Times in her op-ed and the back pages she did that Barack Obama was somebody who inspires her the way people come up to her and say, your dad inspired me. Do they make a difference? Do they mean anything?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, look. If I could be Clinton-esqe and sort of play both sides of the argument here, obviously, endorsements matter only at the margins, but look. We're in a razor-tight race, so what happened at the margins really matters. I think especially with respect to Ted Kennedy, his endorsement of Barack Obama is a validator. It says, look, this isn't just a media sensation. This is for real, and it establishes him as a serious candidate for president who could, you know, we could plausibly imagine in the job.

It's not that that wasn't established in a lot of people's minds before that. But Ted Kennedy carries a lot of gravity because of his history and because of the sort of feelings of affection that a couple of generations of Democrats feel towards him and his family. It's a big deal.

STEWART: We're talking to John Harris, who's the editor-in-chief of Politico.com. Let's talk about the GOP, the front-runners John McCain and Mitt Romney. They're going for the win tomorrow in Florida. But Rudy Giuliani was counting on this victory. Let's listen to him off yesterday on "Face The Nation".

(Soundbite of TV show, "Face the Nation")

Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former Mayor, New York City; Republican Presidential Candidate): The best chance we had was here in Florida, and I think that's going to be proven correct on Tuesday.

STEWART: He's not doing nearly as well as he thought he would. Why not - in Florida?

Mr. HARRIS: You know, the strategy he had, which is, look. I don't have to play seriously in the early states because I can count on my national popularity and run this race on my own time just turned out not to be true. It doesn't work. You have to play in the early states. They are the gatekeepers to this race. That's been true in previous elections, and it turns out it's true in this one, too.

STEWART: What are your sources telling you about Giuliani? Will he drop out if he fails to either win or place in Florida?

Mr. HARRIS: I have heard that. I mean, there's a couple of realities. One is he just doesn't have the money to compete unless, you know, there's kind of a thunderbolt surprise in Florida and he pulls it off. In which case, he would have enough of a jolt to compete in Super Tuesday.

You know, I've always tried to avoid - we talked about this last week. I try to avoid the role of the press being the, you know, sort of hooting people out of the race or banging the gong. That's up for them and their - the supporters to decide. But there's - if he does poorly in Florida, there's not a lot of rationale for his candidacy. I will say that.

STEWART: Before I let you go, I want to talk about the State of the Union tonight, the president of the United States giving his final State of the Union address. Now, based on past speeches by a two-term presidents, is this going to be a highlight reel, or are we going to hear something new, do you think?

Mr. HARRIS: No, no, no, no. No nostalgia trips, obviously. The whole subtext of this, they should have it as a scroll line at the bottom of the screen, as I am not a lame duck.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRIS: And Bush is going to try to convince Washington of that. He's going to talk about issues that tend to unify his Republican Party. One of them is spending and make a big push on cutting out these - the so-called earmarks that members of congress put in budget bills so they can bring pork back home to their districts - a big campaign against the earmarks, in addition to the usual stuff: the Iraq war, obviously, and increasingly in recent weeks, the economy being a big issue. He's going to talk about it tonight as an example where Republicans and Democrats can work together.

STEWART: John Harris, editor-in-chief of Politico.com, always a pleasure.

Mr. HARRIS: Thanks. Back to the tunnel. It's been a pleasure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Thanks, John.

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