Obama Stresses His 'Electability' Versus GOP

One day before Feb. 5, Barack Obama is stressing his ability to attract non-traditional votes from independents, first-time voters and even Republicans — trying to contrast himself with Hillary Clinton.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Well, Barack Obama's supporters argue that he would fare better than Clinton against John McCain, who's now the frontrunner for the Republicans.

NPR's Don Gonyea is travelling with the Obama Campaign.

DON GONYEA: Here's how Barack Obama puts it in the days leading up to tomorrow's critical Super Tuesday contest. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, she'll suffer for not having stood up to the Bush administration on key issues including the Iraq war.

BARACK OBAMA: I can offer a clear and clean break from the failed policies of George W. Bush. I won't have to explain my votes in the past.

GONYEA: And in that same section of his stump speech, Obama tries to blunt the argument that Clinton beats him on experience. She says in all of her speeches that she is ready to lead from day one. But Obama keeps going back to her yes vote on the resolution giving President Bush authorization to strike Iraq.

OBAMA: It's not just saying you're ready for day one, the question is are you right on day one.

GONYEA: But attacking Hillary Clinton's record is only half of Obama's approach; he's also starting to lay out how he'll go after John McCain in the general election. And here, again, it's all about linking the opponent to George W. Bush. On the war, Obama says McCain simply stands for a continuation of Bush policies. On the economy, he says McCain had the right idea - at first.

OBAMA: I respect that John opposed Bush' tax cuts. Early on he said it was irresponsible to cut taxes at the same time as we were going into a war.

GONYEA: But now that McCain supports making those tax cuts permanent, Obama accuses him of pandering to Republican primary voters.

OBAMA: John McCain's basic approach is more Bush. Now, the wheels have fallen off the straight talk express and he is starting to say let's extend them.

GONYEA: A key part of the Obama strategy is to generate a new wave of voters, the kind of people flocking to see the Illinois senator even in some unlikely places. Over the weekend, he drew more than 14,000 to an event in Idaho, the reddest of Republican red states.

At a news conference last week, Obama said these new voters might not turn out for someone like Hillary Clinton.

OBAMA: I'm confident I will get her votes if I'm the nominee. It's not clear that she would get the votes I got if she were the nominee. And that, I think, illustrates the potential difference in terms of how we could run our campaigns.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GONYEA: Saturday morning, standing amid a vast, huge crowd in downtown Boise, Idaho was 42-year-old Shirley Johnson(ph). She's a single mom.

SHIRLEY JOHNSON: I'm an independent. And I came here to see what he was about.

GONYEA: So have you decided?

JOHNSON: No, I have not.

GONYEA: Okay. Why not?

JOHNSON: I am very heavily swayed, heavily swayed.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

GONYEA: A day earlier in Santa Fe, 18-year-old Issa Bruin(ph) sat on a railing near the back of an Obama rally. This is Bruin's first presidential election; she describes herself as mildly liberal independent Obama supporter. But admits she's here for a reality check.

ISSA BRUIN: He seems too good to be true. He's just so charismatic and alive and, you know, everything America stands for supposedly. And it just seems too good to be true. And so I want to see him, you know, in person and see if he's going to act(ph).

GONYEA: And if Obama doesn't get the nomination, will she vote for Senator Clinton?

BRUIN: I would have considered Edwards. And I would have - Kucinich. I would have considered him, but Hillary - no.

GONYEA: Will these be attitudes be as hard in November as they are now? It's hard to say in February. It's also hard to say how many new voters there will be on Super Tuesday or in the fall. That's also an open question how many new voters may go with McCain if he is the GOP nominee as independents have been his best source of support as well.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, with the Obama campaign.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Candidates Make Last Appeals to Voters

McCain

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) greets supporters during a campaign appearance at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. on Jan. 3. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mario Tama/Getty Images
Clinton

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) speaks during a roundtable discussion at Yale Child Study Center Feb. 4 in New Haven, Conn. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Romney

Supporters wait for the arrival of former Massachusetts Gov. and GOP hopeful Mitt Romney at the Pancake Pantry Feb. 4 in Nashville, Tenn. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Obama

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) greets supporters during a rally at the IZOD Center on Feb. 4 in East Rutherford, N.J. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. and GOP hopeful Mike Huckabee takes questions during the MTV/MySpace presidential forum on Feb. 2 in New York City. Scott Gries/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Gries/Getty Images

Voters in 24 states were set to shake up the presidential primary map in both parties on "Super Tuesday," with Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in a close fight and Republican John McCain hoping for a decisive victory over rival Mitt Romney.

More than half of the total Democratic delegates and about 40 percent of the GOP delegates are up for grabs.

Most opinion polls showed a tight Democratic race in many states. Among Republicans, Sen. McCain had solid leads in most of the big battleground states.

Competition is particularly fierce in delegate-rich states such as California, Illinois and New York. Eight of the 21 Republican contests are winner-takes-all affairs — in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Arizona, Utah and Montana.

McCain Turns to the Party's Base

On the Republican side, 71-year-old Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has benefited from a changing political climate. The decline of violence in Iraq has persuaded some voters that McCain was right to support the troop surge, while others just see it as a less-pressing issue.

But McCain still has to win over conservative Republicans, who are alarmed by the same nonconformist streak that delights independents. McCain insists he can keep all the factions of the party together in the same big tent.

"We may have a disagreement on an issue or two. That's healthy. Wouldn't we be pretty boring if we agreed on everything?" he told Illinois Republicans at a recent dinner.

McCain has concentrated his campaigning in the Northeast, making stops in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.

Clinton Re-Emphasizing Softer Side

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's recent campaign strategy has been to show voters more of her personality and try to reintroduce herself to the American public as a gentler figure — not necessarily someone who you would want to have beers with, but certainly someone who voters trust.

At a Super Bowl party in Minneapolis on Sunday, she talked about her efforts to define herself over the last month.

"I've been passionate about children's issues and women's issues and issues of justice, legal and economic, my entire life. And I think as the campaign went on, it became clear that I needed to demonstrate who I am as a total package. You know what I believe in, what I care about, why I do what I do, and I worked on that all year," she said.

After the Superbowl party in Minnesota, she returned to the Northeast for campaign stops in New Haven, Conn. at her alma mater, Yale, and in New York. Her husband and former President, Bill Clinton, campaigned on her behalf throughout California in Orange County, Sacramento, Stockton and San Francisco.

Romney Portrays Himself as Best Conservative Option

GOP rival and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is hoping to win the votes of conservative Southerners who may have supported former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson or former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before they dropped out.

At a Nashville diner on Monday, he talked about his stance on immigration.

"Do you want a nominee who helped write McCain-Kennedy that gave amnesty to illegal aliens? No! Do you want a nominee instead who represents conservative principals and keep us inside the house that Ronald Reagan built?" he said.

But Nashville just one of many stops he made leading up to Super Tuesday, jetting between Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, California and West Virginia.

Obama Looks Ahead to the November Election

On the Democratic side, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama campaigned in Connecticut. Recently, he has adopted a two-pronged strategy: first, to highlight the policy differences between him and rival Sen. Clinton on issues such as Iraq. Secondly, Obama talks about which candidate would do better against Republican front-runner McCain.

"I can offer a clear and clean break from the failed policies of George W. Bush. I won't have to explain my votes in the past," Obama said at a rally in Delaware — referring to Clinton's original support of the Iraq war.

Huckabee Stumps Throughout the South

One-quarter of the delegates at stake on Super Tuesday are in the South. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has been wooing the region's large number of evangelical voters, who helped him win the Iowa caucuses — his first and only win during the early voting contests.

But Huckabee has become more realistic as McCain and Romney's primary wins have mounted. After pumping up the crowd at the Chattanooga Convention Center, Huckabee told reporters that there are not a set number of delegates that he needs to win on Tuesday. The important part to focus on, he said, is that he is still in the game.

From NPR staff reports

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.