Candidates Grind Toward Super Tuesday

The presidential nominations could be decided in the wave of primaries on Tuesday. John Harris of Politico.com sets the scene.

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Big California love for Barack Obama and John McCain this weekend. The Golden State's First Lady and JFK's niece, Maria Shriver, endorsed Senator Obama yesterday while her governator husband stumped for John McCain earlier in the week.

In the LA Times the left coast's largest newspaper endorsed both candidates yesterday. It's first presidential pickings since 1972. And the country's largest Spanish language paper, Los Angeles-based La Opinion also said si to Obama and McCain with its own endorsement.

All this love from the state with the biggest delegate goldmine in tomorrow's 22 state primary blitz, 24 contests in all. It's going to be a big day in election history. Beyond this West Side Story though, Hillary Clinton is barely holding on to the national lead and Mitt Romney has hinted that maybe Huckabee should just bow out.

Super Tuesday, superdelegates, Super Bowl Sunday stumping. John Harris, editor in chief of Politico.com is back on the BPP to give us a rap and a preview in politics. Hey, John.

JOHN HARRIS, (Editor in chief, Politico.com): Good morning.

COLEMAN: Good morning. So these new national polls in the Washington Post and ABC have Clinton and Obama neck-and-neck, 47 percent to 43 percent and the gap's closing in state polls like California. So what happened here to Hillary Clinton's lead?

HARRIS: Well, I mean, clearly we've got a two-person race once John Edwards dropped out and the debate in Los Angeles last week was the first time we saw it on the same the stage. It's now a head-to-head contest. It's between the two of them and so it's not surprising really that that lead would narrow for Hillary Clinton, and once more Barack Obama's big victory it seems like a month ago now but I think it was just a week - in South Carolina - clearly provides a lot of momentum. His candidacy is clearly a serious alternative. Ted Kennedy's endorsement shows that. All those things show that. We have a very clear picture of Hillary Clinton being up, Barack Obama surging but we won't know the magnitude of that surge until tomorrow night.

COLEMAN: I keep hearing people talk about momentum. Historically, how important is momentum?

HARRIS: Well, momentum historically has been very important. We've seen candidates go from obscurity like Jimmy Carter, you know, winning the Iowa caucus and then using New Hampshire as a bounce to effectively become national candidates overnight. In this election, we're seeing less of that because the candidates are so well known and, you know, individual states not unreasonably are, sort of, keeping their own role in the process saying, Wait a minute, we'll decide. They're not necessarily genuflecting to what the early states said they should do. Take for instance on the Republican side, Mike Huckabee won Iowa but he didn't get much of a bounce nationally beyond that.

COLEMAN: Well, it's interesting, all the candidates are just pouring tons of money into advertising and appearing on so many of the talk shows. Yesterday Obama had a media blitz that started in the morning. Here he is on "Face The Nation" about his bipartisan appeal, or so he says.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): The Republicans consider her a polarizing figure, and I think that we can attract independents and Republicans in a way that Senator Clinton cannot.

COLEMAN: And then last night the $250,000.00 ad that ran in 22 states during the game.

OBAMA: We want an end to this war and we want diplomacy and peace. Not only can we save the environment, we can create jobs and...

COLEMAN: All right, so you have these ad blitzes by all the candidates. You've got Oprah back out there for Obama. You've got Bill Clinton in for Hillary. Do you think we're going to come out with a definitive candidate on Wednesday?

HARRIS: I don't know what answer you're looking for, so I'll just give the honest one. I think the answer is no.

COLEMAN: No, you really think?

HARRIS: And I think a lot of people that are going to - who are saturated with politics. They were thinking, okay, if I can just get to February 5th...

COLEMAN: Right.

HARRIS: I'll handle it. I'm afraid they're going to have to hang on, particularly on the Democratic side. I think there's an excellent chance that the race will be locked up for John McCain come Wednesday morning. I don't think that's likely on the Democratic side. These candidates are so close and what's more is that the delegates in these states will be awarded proportionately. So if you win 40 percent of the vote you'll get something like 40 percent of the delegates. Knowing how close this race is, it seems unlikely that either Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama can just put it away on Tuesday.

COLEMAN: We're talking to John Harris, editor in chief of Politico.com. You just brought up Senator McCain. I wanted to ask about - this is interesting - Mitt Romney intimated on CNN's late edition that this whole race on the Republican side would be better off sans Huckabee, and he was saying, Oh, for conservative voters' sake. One, is he right or it would be for Mitt Romney's sake?

HARRIS: Well, certainly Mitt Romney feels that he would - what he's needed all along was what Barack Obama has got on the Democratic side, a one-on-one race. He's saying, just give me a shot at John McCain. Conservatives don't like him. I can be the conservative candidate. And of course, he's trying to swing his punches, but Huckabee is getting in the way. So, you know, I mean, Huckabee's got just as much right to be in the race as Romney. What's more, I'm not sure that assumption is totally true. The exit polls in Florida show that a lot of Huckabee's support - if Huckabee hadn't gone to the race - would have gone to John McCain. So Romney feels like he can run as the authentic conservative in the race. The problem is a lot of conservatives don't necessarily see him as the authentic conservative, because his own positions on so many of the important litmus test conservative issues have shifted over the years. So he's never gotten that clean shot at McCain that he was hoping for.

COLEMAN: Well, it's interesting. It seems that McCain has come under such scrutiny for being not conservative enough. It's almost like Mitt Romney is, kind of, deflecting a little bit of that but perhaps one of the weirdest pieces of videotape to make it around YouTube, Ann Coulter talking about how much she would support Hillary Clinton if John McCain were the nominee. We just have to play this for people if they haven't heard it.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

Ms. ANN COULTER (Conservative Pundit): If he's our candidate then Hillary's going to be our girl, Sean, 'cause she's more conservative than he is. I think she would be stronger on the war on terrorism. I absolutely believe that.

Mr. SEAN HANNITY (Conservative Pundit): You would vote for Hillary over...

Ms. COULTER: Yes, I will campaign for her if it's McCain.

COLEMAN: Okay. With only about 30 seconds left, what was that?

HARRIS: That is weird. There is this visceral dislike among a certain breed of conservatives and Coulter is one for John McCain even though John McCain, on most issues, is pretty conservative. You know, the idea that Hillary Clinton is more conservative than John McCain is just a fantasy. It shows you how much animus there is among - in some quarters - toward McCain.

COLEMAN: Yeah, I don't think I want to go into Ann Coulter's head either. I don't blame you. Hey, John Harris, editor in chief of Politico.com. Get some sleep. You have a big day tomorrow.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

COLEMAN: Thanks a lot.

HARRIS: It'll be fun. See you.

COLEMAN: Stay with us. We're going to parse the Super Bowl ads here on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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