Potomac Hat Tricks for Obama and McCain

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In this week's edition of The Political Junkie, NPR's political editor Ken Rudin talks about the outcome of Tuesday's "Potomac Primary." Also, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) a Super delegate for Barack Obama, talks about the Democratic primary in Tenn., won by Hillary Clinton on Feb. 5.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

John McCain and Barack Obama scored hat tricks in yesterday's Potomac primary. Mike Huckabee hangs on while Hillary Clinton focuses on Texas and Ohio. Superdelegates become super important.

It's Wednesday and time for another visit with the political junkie.

(Soundbite of archived political speeches)

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Ms. GERALDINE FERRARO (Former Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate): My name is Geraldine Ferraro.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. WALTER MONDALE (Former Democratic Presidential Candidate): When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Mr. JOHN KERRY (Former Democratic Presidential Candidate): I'm John Kerry, and I'm…

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. KERRY: …reporting for duty.

(Soundbite of applause)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Former Democratic Presidential Candidate): Yaah(ph).

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR's political editor Ken Rudin joins us for the latest on the presidential race and other political news.

Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia are not close. Senator McCain gets ever closer to his magic number. Governor Huckabee still believes in miracles. After eight wins in a row, Senator Obama edges into the delegate lead while Senator Clinton shakes up her campaign staff and hopes to block his momentum next month.

Later in the program, the case for settling for Mr. Good Enough. That's in marriage not politics.

But first, the Political Junkie. If you have questions about yesterday's result - what's next in the presidential race - give us a call. In a few minutes we're going to focus on the role of superdelegates in the Democratic Party. Should they vote with their district, their state, with the overall popular vote, or vote with your conscience? Out phone number is 800-989-8255. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And you can also join the conversation on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

NPR political editor, Ken Rudin, joins us here in studio 3A, as usual.

Hi Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi Neal.

CONAN: And as usual, he has a trivia question for us.

RUDIN: Excuse me. Well, yeah, it (unintelligible) me up. Well, actually, there was some talk about whether you can win the nomination and not have the most votes.

CONAN: The delegate votes.

RUDIN: No, no, no, delegate votes, obviously, you have to have that to win a nomination. But what if you don't have the most popular votes is some question about whether the superdelegates should go to somebody who is trailing in the popular vote. The question is - did I make it more confusing? The question is who is the last person to get more popular votes during the primaries but not win his party's nomination?

CONAN: Okay. The last time a nominee of a major political party got the nomination with the most without…

RUDIN: Without winning the most popular votes in the primary.

CONAN: Okay. If you can figure that out, then, well, send in your suggestions - 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

But getting back to the popular votes we were recounting, just yesterday. After that, will it take a miracle to deny John McCain the Republican nomination?

RUDIN: Yes. And I think all the demands or the request of Mike Huckabee to drop out of this, no reason he should drop out of it because there are a lot of conservatives who needed a vehicle to express their disenchantment, shall I say, with John McCain, and Mike Huckabee is that vehicle.

I think, mathematically, it's very possible or if not likely that John McCain could have it wrapped up by March 4th, when four states including Texas and Ohio have their primaries. But, you know, there's no reason he should drop out before them but, I think, it's pretty close.

CONAN: And does this - does Huckabee's continued campaign continue to divide the party?

RUDIN: Well, it's like saying that maybe Clinton or Obama should drop out because that's dividing the party and certainly the party is divided on Clinton or Obama. But again, I think, you know, there's no reason they should be a coronation, the purpose of the primary season is to, you know, sort out differences or try to campaign to address who had supported opponents' concerns.

And I think in some sense, Huckabee might be not a bad thing for John McCain because McCain has to know that before he goes after Clinton or Obama, he has to have a united party behind him. He doesn't have that right now.

CONAN: On the Democratic side yesterday, Senator Obama not only swept the three primary elections, they were not close.

RUDIN: Not only that - the eight in a row - I mean, I think, it's fair to say that after Super Tuesday, that it was just, you know, anybody's game. And I still think it's anybody's game because Hillary Clinton is banking a lot on the delegate-rich states of Texas and Ohio.

But it almost reminds me of Rudy Giuliani that, you know, he was just waiting for some miracle to happen in Florida, hoping that by doing nothing until then, until Florida, suddenly the voter will see that he's the right guy for the nomination. I'm not saying Hillary Clinton is doing that but after looking at what happened yesterday and certainly over the weekend, that's eight in a row. And more and more people are starting to say that he is - I hate the word frontrunner but he's certainly has the momentum. We'll see it next week. He has these Hawaii caucuses, where he was born - I mean, he wasn't born in the Hawaii caucuses, he was born in Hawaii - and Wisconsin primary and then, of course, March 4th, could be do or die for Hillary Clinton.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

Nick(ph) is on the line. Nick with us from Charlotte in North Carolina.

NICK (Caller): Thank you for having me on.

CONAN: Sure.

NICK: My question is about Hillary Clinton and her staff shakeup letting some people go or the choice her staff leaving and then donating some of her own personal money…

CONAN: $5 million.

NICK: Yeah. That's quite a bit of money. I was just wondering about your ideas on desperation or just kind of strength of her shaking things up.

CONAN: Well, losing your campaign manager and your deputy campaign manager, Ken Rudin, doesn't make you look like a confident campaigner?

RUDIN: No. That's true. And if you'll listen to - look at some of the blogs out there, the fact that the campaign manager was a Latina, Patti Solis Doyle, there are a lot of Hispanic groups who are very upset about that and if - I mean, I don't know how much important - how important the fact that Doyle is Latina but given the fact that Hillary Clinton wants to do very well in Texas with a sizeable Hispanic population. There are a lot of groups upset about that, so obviously, it doesn't give a good signal.

On the earlier point though, it's not that she donated the $5 million, she loaned her campaign $5 million and since that gesture, she has, you know, recovered that loan with the contributions, but so has Barack Obama. It was not a good sign both the loan and the staff shakeup. It shows that they saw it clearly a bunch of unease in the Clinton campaign.

And another thing that happened today, David Wilhelm is Bill Clinton's campaign manager in 1992, (unintelligible) the chairman of the DNC, he endorsed Barack Obama today.

CONAN: nick, thanks for call.

NICK: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's go now to Leslie(ph). Leslie is on the line with us from Elkhart in Indiana.

LESLIE (Caller): Hi. I have two quick questions. When they color the maps in and show the states by a candidate, they color Michigan and Florida as Clinton, are they counting those delegates in her delegate votes?

CONAN: No, not yet because the Democratic Party, when those two states move their primaries up beyond the date that's stipulated by the Democratic Party, is that your delegates will not count, so the delegates are not added to her total.

LESLIE: Okay. That's good. And then what happens to the candidates - the delegates that are already committed for Edwards and Richardson, et cetera?

CONAN: Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: Well, they're free to do - vote anyway they want. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have met with John Edwards hoping for endorsement the last couple of days. I'm not sure what endorsements mean at this point but they are free to vote whoever they want to or they can remain uncommitted.

One more thing about the Michigan and Florida delegations, yes, Hillary won the two primaries but nobody else campaigned there. And there's a big brouhaha going on right now over what to do about those two delegations. Julian Bonds has said that there's no way you can disenfranchise those delegations - important states, Michigan and Florida at the convention. But Al Sharpton said that seating them would be in violation of the DNC rules.

The states knew that if they move up their primaries to January, they would forfeit delegates. They did it anyway. Now, Hillary Clinton is saying look, we have to seat these delegates. And Barack Obama said, wait a second, that would be changing the rules.

CONAN: Now, the other thing interesting is those states try to move up ahead of Super Tuesday so that there would be really important and relevant in choosing the president - the presidential nominees. And in fact, if they'd stayed right where they were, Ken, they would be huge.

RUDIN: Absolutely. Absolutely, they outsmarted themselves by half.

CONAN: And of course, the radio stations and television stations in Miami and Detroit are more than a little upset that they're not getting the revenue from the political ads that would have flown.

Anyway, Leslie, thanks very much for the call.

LESLIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

I wanted to ask you about one - two races on the congressional side yesterday in Maryland and they were in the first district, Albert Wynn, the incumbent lost to the fourth district - excuse me, Alfred Wynn(ph) lost to a more liberal Democrat in the first district. Mr. Gilchrest, a Republican, lost to a more conservative Republican.

RUDIN: Yeah, while it's interesting how we have two potentially Democratic and Republican nominees and Barack Obama and John McCain have always talked about reaching across the aisle, and yet we saw in these two primaries, Wayne Gilchrest, one of only two Republicans in the House who voted to have a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The conservatives never liked Gilchrest; they especially didn't like him on that, and he was defeated by a conservative state senator by the name of Andy Harris.

On the other side, Albert Wynn, African-American congressman who had initially voted for the war in Iraq, initially supported, but of course, he has since becoming an opponent, John Edwards who is also a black ran against the fact that she felt that Albert Wynn was almost like Bush-like to willing to vote for the Republicans and so she - so just as Wayne Gilchrest fell to a challenge from his right, Albert Wynn fell to a challenge from his left.

CONAN: And what does it say about the party's - we're talking about the possibilities sort of post-partisan politics in Washington after the 2008 elections, yet the parties seem to be becoming more polarized.

RUDIN: Well, yes and no, I mean, we also saw last week in Super Tuesday, the Illinois had congressional primaries and they were a bunch of like Dan Lipinski, a Democratic congressman who - the left liberal blocs were out to get him because, you know, they thought he was insufficiently liberal and he did fine. So I think, each district has its own thing but these two congressmen did fall to the ideological superior candidates.

CONAN: And we have some suggestions for an answer to Ken's trivia question this week. Chris(ph) suggest that the last person to win the delegates but the not the popular vote in the primaries was Bill Clinton.

RUDIN: No. Bill Clinton actually in 1992, he had nominal opposition from Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown. Bill Clinton clearly had the most popular votes in the '92 primary season.

CONAN: Katie(ph) suggest it was McGovern.

RUDIN: McGovern is correct. That is the correct answer. In 1972, Hubert Humphrey had the most votes but it was George McGovern with the most delegates. And even though there was a challenge to his winning of all, they had a winner take all back then. In 1972 in California, the Humphrey people tried to get rid of those delegates from McGovern at the convention. He failed. McGovern got the nomination on the first ballot.

CONAN: And there has been a lot of speculation that could happen this time around that, though, it's a very close race, maybe the candidates who got the most popular votes in the primaries, well, might lose because of the Democratic superdelegates - and they're an awful lot of them, Ken.

RUDIN: Right. There are 796 of them, at least, not including Florida and Michigan. Donna Brazile, who's the member of the Democratic National Committee, said she would resign her party post if the superdelegates decided this nomination especially at a time when both Obama and Clinton are evenly matched, both at a time when voters are deciding between the two of them.

And I think both African-Americans and women would feel the rug pulled out from under them if their candidate was defeated by these insiders. Now, once upon a time, these superdelegates - well, they do have a role and they were created in 1984 - the grownups for the Democratic Party. I say that with quotes, did not like George McGovern. In '72, did not like Jimmy Carter. They wanted some establishment voice there.

CONAN: We'll talk - coming up, we're going to be talking with a superdelegate and congressman from Tennessee, Jim Cooper. If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

Stay with us. You're listening to the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

It's the Political Junkie segment of our program. NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin, is with us.

And tomorrow is Valentine's Day. And that might seem like a non sequitur but, Ken, tomorrow we're asking our listeners to help us make a mixed tape of Valentine's Day TALK OF THE NATION edition mixed tape. I understand you're going to submit a Ken Rudin Valentine's Day mix?

RUDIN: Well, actually, one of my two passions in life, aside from politics and, of course, TALK OF THE NATION every Wednesday on NPR stations around the country, where you can tune in - oh, I'm sorry - is also music. Since 1975, I've been making my own music mixes on - dare I say - cassette tapes. When I do it on cassette, it's only because my eight-track player broke.

But, I just love the cut of music, I mean, you know, everything from new stuff, I mean, I love The Turtles, I love certain…

CONAN: Oh, they're new.

(Soundbite of music)

RUDIN: Well, they were in 1965. You know, and certain Beach Boys songs but not the ones, not the Top 40 crapoly you always hear everywhere like "Sunflower" (unintelligible) like, you know, Psychedelic Furs and, well, I like a whole bunch of stuff that is kind of weird.

CONAN: So tomorrow, what we're going to be doing is offering, well, Ken Rudin's Valentine's Day mixes. There's going to be a Neal Conan Valentine's Day mix, so we want you to suggest your Valentine's Day tune that will be included in a listeners' mix tape. Send in your suggestions, one song per e-mail please. The address is TALK OF THE NATION - the address is talk@npr.org.

So Ken, what one tune is going to be on yours?

RUDIN: Well, I think, well, I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You haven't decided yet.

RUDIN: Well, "For No One" by The Beatles. I love "For No One" from the Revolver album.

CONAN: Sure.

RUDIN: "The Only Living Boy in New York" with Simon and Garfunkel, and "Peppermint Lump" by Angie. "My Sunset" is the worst song he's ever heard in his life.

CONAN: And that's a recommendation?

RUDIN: Yes.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail that we have from Andrea(ph) in Oklahoma City. At the convention, do the superdelegates vote in private, secretly or is it on the public record for all to see?

RUDIN: Oh, absolutely, it's public. I mean, the delegates - each delegation offers its votes, you know? Oklahoma cast this - 15 votes for someone Senator Clinton; 14 votes for Barack Obama - whatever. But a lot of them have announced their endorsements or decisions - positions even before the caucuses began.

Walter Mondale, for example, in 1984 had like 100 superdelegates in his corner even before Iowa. So a lot of people said that they're stacking the deck, but they - it's definitely on public. And you can find the names of all your superdelegates - just to let you know they're - every Democratic member of Congress, the Senate, former presidents, former vice presidents, former state party chairs, DNC members, things like that.

CONAN: Joining us now from his office on Capitol Hill is congressman and superdelegate Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee.

Thanks very much for being with us today.

Representative JIM COOPER (Democrat, Tennessee): Thank you, Neal. Superdelegate makes me sound important, doesn't it?

CONAN: It sure does and it may be very important come late August. Your state Tennessee voted for Senator Clinton on Super Tuesday yet as I understand, you're pledged to Barack Obama. And will you stay with that or vote with your state when it comes to the convention?

Rep. COOPER: Well, my district went for Barack and I pledged my support to him back last May so I'm very enthusiastic about his candidacy and I think what' happening nationwide especially after the Potomac primaries is you're going to see a victory for Barack before the convention.

CONAN: If your district had voted the other way, would you reconsidered?

Rep. COOPER: I doubt it because as I remembered figured out you owe your constituents your best judgment not your slavish obedience, and I've had personally experience working with several of the candidates and in my opinion, Barack is the best.

CONAN: So your intention all along is to vote your conscience.

Rep. COOPER: Absolutely. I think that's what you're elected to do. It's a representative democracy, it's not a poll-takers' democracy.

CONAN: Yet, what about Donna Brazile's point that if superdelegates, for example, Senator Clinton wins the most popular votes yet loses the nomination on the basis of superdelegates, that that isn't fair?

Rep. COOPER: Well, Donna is in a particularly ticklish situation because isn't she Chelsea Clinton's godmother in addition to being our national Democratic Party figure, in addition to - I don't know. Her state's Louisiana, I guess, to think, was strongly for Barack. So I can't figure out her conscience for her.

I think what you're going to end up seeing is most superdelegates will follow the popular will. We are the Democratic Party after all. That's a big D and little D. And I think that before the convention, more and more superdelegates will be headed in the popular direction which seems to be the Barack direction.

RUDIN: Congressman Cooper, how important is it when you look at polls, what Democrat would be the strongest candidate in November, the strongest candidate against John McCain, how significant are those numbers?

Rep. COOPER: I think it's a telling indicator. No early poll can tell how we'll do in November and certainly the Republicans will throw everything they have at us that you want a strong contender and elections are fundamentally about the future that's why Barack Obama's message of change is so important to focus people on the future not on the past and certainly not on details of the '90s.

CONAN: After his sweep of the Potomac primaries last night, Senator McCain his in his victory speech, well, began at least this first tentative swipe at the now Democratic frontrunner, Senator Obama. Let's listen to what Senator McCain had to say. And in fact…

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): (Unintelligible) John Edwards passionately advance is that this country should be rewarding work and not wealth. And that's an area where John and I completely agree. And it starts with our tax code which has been rigged by special interest with page after page of loopholes that benefit big corporations and the wealthiest people.

CONAN: And I regret the mistake. That was clearly the wrong cut. That was Senator Obama in an appeal for Senator Edwards' supporters. And they're undeclared too, in effect, I guess, Congressman Cooper, their superdelegates too.

Rep. COOPER: Exactly. And I think they're about 26 of them, so they could make a difference. But Barack already has a popular delegate lead of 136, and I think that's jus going to grow. It seems almost insurmountable at this point how the Clinton delegates could accumulate faster than Barack's current lead among what I would call the real delegates as oppose to the superdelegates.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line, this is Jerry(ph). Jerry with us from Boise in Idaho.

JERRY (Caller): Yes. Hi. I just have a quick question. Your guy there was mentioning the access to the names of the superdelegates and I'm just wondering where would you google to get that answer and also I was told or I heard on the news the other day that Chelsea Clinton is a superdelegate and I wanted to know if that was true or not. And I I'll take my answer off the air.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks for the call.

Do you know if Chelsea Clinton is a superdelegate, Ken?

RUDIN: I don't know why she would be and I don't know - I know Bill Clinton certainly is and Al Gore is, of course, but I don't know about Chelsea Clinton. I don't have the link to the superdelegates in front of me but I can get that for you.

CONAN: And we'll put it on the TALK OF THE NATION page, so go to npr.org/talk after the show's over and we can get that for you.

Here's an e-mail question from Eric(ph) in Greensboro in North Carolina.

(Reading) If superdelegates were suppose to vote according to the predetermined formula, why not just run the formula. I thought these votes were apportioned to folks with ex officio insight. Let them be insightful. That's, I guess, your position, congressman.

Rep. COOPER: Well, I think superdelegates will have a role to play in the event of unforeseen circumstances and national emergency, and also personal experience in dealing with the principles because not every voter gets the chance to work closely with these people as some of us have.

But I think, in general, superdelegates will follow the popular will. Connecticut's a good indication. You saw the week before the Connecticut primary which Barack Obama carried. You virtually the entire Democratic delegation swing to Barack Obama.

CONAN: Well, Mrs. - Senator Clinton supporters have pointed out the state of Massachusetts where you have, of course, senators Kerry and Kennedy, supporters of Barack Obama, the governor, Deval Patrick supporter Barack Obama. Yet that state went decisively for Senator Clinton.

Rep. COOPER: But we proud House members stay much better in touch with our district…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. COOPER: Senators and governors of - if you look at the congressional delegation of Massachusetts, you saw a much better, more telling indicator of how Massachusetts really voted.

CONAN: Jim(ph) in Campbell, California, e-mails…

(Reading) If superdelegates were to defy the will of the voters of the Democratic Party particularly after Obama's incredible surge in momentum, I and, I suspect, many others, would be very angry indeed. I suspect I would become thoroughly disenchanted with the party and would either for McCain or a third-party candidate. And that's one thing that, again, that Donna Brazile was talking about.

Rep. COOPER: Exactly right. This is the greatest groundswell that I've seen or heard of, you know, since John F. Kennedy days, the crowds that Barack is attracting. For example, the caller from Idaho earlier, he polled 14,000 people in Idaho. What other living Democrat could do that? I'm not sure the Rolling Stones could do that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's…

Rep. COOPER: This is an amazing phenomenon and the superdelegates must be very careful not to counteract that.

CONAN: Pat's(ph) on the line with us calling from Dayton, Ohio.

PAT (Caller): Hello. I feel very strongly - can you hear me?

CONAN: Yes, you're on the air. Go ahead.

PAT: Okay. I feel very strongly that the media is focusing too much on the small picture such who's winning the number of states. For example, Idaho as opposed to the role of the superdelegates, which is to focus on who can actually win in November? I agree with what your speaker is saying, the speaker from Tennessee that we should be looking ahead and that the superdelegates should be voting their conscience.

However, if their looking at the numbers, it's very unlikely no matter which Democrat won in the primaries in states such as Idaho that Idaho is going to go Democratic when it comes to the Electoral College. On the other hand, states such as New York, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which are very important swing states, the superdelegates need to focus on who will win those states in November. The popular vote is really irrelevant unless we win in November.

CONAN: And I'll ask Congressman Cooper to respond, but to point out that those states you just mentioned, Pat, they're not swing states. If they're not in the Democratic column, the candidate doesn't have a chance, but anyway, Congressman Cooper?

PAT: Wait a minute. What do you mean?

CONAN: Well, sates like New York, Pennsylvania - go ahead.

PAT: The Democrat does have a chance in those states.

Rep. COOPER: (Unintelligible)…

CONAN: I'm saying if - never mind. Go ahead.

Rep. COOPER: (Unintelligible) the caller's remarks are good but we need to refine it. It's really who wins the Electoral College, you know, that's our system.

PAT: Exactly right.

Rep. COOPER: We not need to figure that out and Democrats haven't been as adept of that as Republicans in recent years.

PAT: But do you really think it's important who were winning the states that when it comes to the Electoral College, the Democrats have no chance because those are lot of those states are the ones that are giving Obama his so-called momentum.

Rep. COOPER: Yeah, but they're also states like Mississippi that a Democrat hasn't won in decades that Barack Obama could conceivably carry for the first time in modern history. So don't just write off all the unusual states because Barack has a reach that no previous Democratic candidate has had.

PAT: But can he carry Ohio and Pennsylvania…

Rep. COOPER: Well…

PAT: …or California?

Rep. COOPER: …we'll find out in a few weeks, won't we?

CONAN: Pat, thanks very much for the call.

RUDIN: And one thing about Pat's call also remind you of to talk about the importance of California primary news is very important. But to remind you that Ted Kennedy, Jerry Brown and Gary Hart all won the California primaries and yet they did not win the nomination.

Rep. COOPER: Yeah.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail question from Tom(ph).

(Reading) If the Democratic convention doesn't seat the Florida and Michigan delegates, should the number of delegates needed to nominate be reduced by half the sum of those Michigan and Florida delegates?

Ken?

RUDIN: It is absolutely correct but the latest thing I've heard - first all, the Obama people would love to have them caucus and, of course, the Hillary camp said no, absolutely not.

CONAN: They already had a primary.

RUDIN: We already had a primary and we won it. Then, of course, Barack Obama does very well in caucuses. The last, I heard, the possibility is that they will seat these delegations but they'll divide them up 50-50 between Obama and Clinton. So ultimately, they won't decide - they won't have a decisive role in deciding who's the nominee is but will be seated, they will not be disenfranchised.

CONAN: Would that be a workable solution, do you think, Congressman?

Rep. COOPER: I do think that would be good because we can't leave the big states out as he says. I'm sorry the party ever gotten involved in this snafu. You know, it's not a very attractive situation to even think of disenfranchising Florida and Michigan. We got to get around it somehow.

And my impression, you know, Barack played by rules. He didn't campaign in those states. His name wasn't on the ballot, but some others did it differently and you know, I think, dividing the candidate - delegate seat evenly will work pretty well.

CONAN: Congressman Cooper, thanks so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Rep. COOPER: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Jim Cooper, Democrat from Tennessee, and he joined us on the phone from his office on Capitol Hill.

You're listening to the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is going to be George(ph). George with us from Overland in Kansas.

GEORGE (Caller): Hi. I've had a - I wanted to just cut to the chase in November. I've been hearing a lot of comment about a super ticket. How does Ken think a Obama-Clinton ticket would run either way, veep or vice or president? And would Huckabee have any chance of being a veep in the McCain campaign?

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, the thought of Hillary Clinton be getting the vice presidency seems very unlikely. I don't think she'd wanted, I don't think anybody would ask her to do it.

It's very possible that if Hillary Clinton suddenly won Ohio and Texas and then somehow superdelegates move her way, you know, there could be such an anguish among African-Americans that they may say she may try to reach out someway by putting Obama on the ticket. I don't know if he'd want to do that either. I still think both Clinton and Obama have better choices than each other on the ticket given the uncomfortable feeling they have about each other.

It's the same about McCain and Huckabee. Conservatives are distrustful of McCain but they're also not enamored of Mike Huckabee either. I think that it needs to be a more traditional conservative for John McCain ticket. Huckabee's records as governor of Texas - governor of Arkansas and issues like taxes and immigration have not satisfied all the people on the right, so I suspect that the McCain looks elsewhere for VP.

CONAN: George, thank you.

GEORGE: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's talk now with Bill(ph). Bill's with us from Jackson, Wyoming.

BILL (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi Bill.

BILL: My question is for Ken pretty much. I want to know if he has an answer to the question of why when discussing Mike Huckabee's strong showings, there's nobody mentions the fact that he supported the Fair Tax because that's the reason I supported him.

CONAN: The Fair Tax proposal, a vastly simplified proposal for, well, it gets rid of the IRS, in effect whether he wants to put the closed for business sign on the door of the IRS.

BILL: (Unintelligible) Congress talking about giving everybody a one-time treat of $600 rebate when we have a bill in Congress which everybody has 10 to 35 percent increase in take-home pay.

CONAN: Well, to what degree is the Fair Tax proposal - by the way, President Bush signed that legislation just about an hour ago. But, Ken?

RUDIN: Well, I'm not sure. I mean, I know that a lot of people are attracted to Huckabee on this issue. I know a lot of people attracted to Ron Paul on his issues on monetary, reforming things like that. That's not, to me when I talk to voters (unintelligible) I think that what attracts them to Mike Huckabees of the world or specifically Mike Huckabee is that he's outgoing and positive and friendly and affable and things like that. And he has a strong belief, you know, religious belief that a lot of voters are attracted to.

I'll be very honest, that Fair Tax is not what I've heard. I was out in Iowa and New Hampshire but I didn't hear those issues as much as the other things I just mentioned.

CONAN: And of course, he did extremely well in Iowa.

RUDIN: He did.

CONAN: Yes.

RUDIN: By the way, they asked him the other day, they asked him if him - to what a chance is he'll - if he drops out of the race and runs for the Senate from Arkansas, there's a lot of people who like but his words were I have a better chance of changing my hair green - dyeing my hair green and covering my body with tattoos than running for the Senate in Arkansas.

CONAN: Bill, thanks very much for the call.

And finally, Ken, where looking ahead, I guess, next primary is Wisconsin. (Unintelligible).

RUDIN: He's confident in Hawaii caucuses. In Wisconsin what's very interesting is mostly white state but it's a kind of demographic that have gone to Barack Obama in the past. It's a high-income, education or higher education; also the fact that independents can vote in either primary. And if the Republican race is seen to be locked up then perhaps all those independents that John McCain has been counting on, may go Obama's way as he did in Virginia, and it could help Barack Obama there too.

CONAN: Ken, thanks very much.

As always, Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. He joins us every Wednesday. And you can read his weekly Political Junkie column on our Web site at npr.org. He got this week's up in time, go figure.

Coming up, if you're a woman of a certain age, 30 or fortyish, don't wait for Mr. (unintelligible), Mr. Big or Mr. Right to show up. Lori Gottlieb's advice, settle for Mr. Right there right now. That's next.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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.

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Will Superdelegates Decide Democratic Nomination?

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Walter Mondale may not have had the passion but he had the delegates in 1984. hide caption

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The last time sophisticated Democratic delegate counting was a serious art form: 1988. hide caption

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The California Democrat and House Foreign Affairs chairman was 80. hide caption

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Two Maryland congressmen, Wayne Gilchrest (R) and Albert Wynn (D), are defeated. hide caption

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Forty years ago today, the ex-Minnesota governor launches his fifth bid — with more to come — for the GOP presidential nomination. hide caption

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Donna Brazile says she will resign from the Democratic National Committee if superdelegates determine the party's nominee. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Donna Brazile

Donna Brazile says she will resign from the Democratic National Committee if superdelegates determine the party's nominee.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Super Tuesday has come and gone, and the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is continuing. If you had raised that scenario six months ago, you would have been laughed outta town. But the fact is, nobody is sure who will come out on top. Hillary Clinton went into the contest as the prohibitive favorite, off her time as first lady, her experience in the Senate, her support among women, and at least 15 years of being an integral part of a nationwide campaign apparatus with proven success at raising money and assembling an organization.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, was not supposed to be able to stand up to the Clinton juggernaut. With just a couple of years in the Senate, he was thought to be a tad short in the substance/experience department. But here he is, raising tons of money (a record $32 million in January alone) and lots of hope, and as of this date he has been the winner of 22 of the 32 primaries and caucuses held. He and Clinton are about even in votes and delegates. And that trend is expected to continue, with Obama thought to have an advantage in most, if not all, of the remaining February contests while Clinton awaits more favorable terrain in early March, when Ohio and Texas vote. A battle all the way to the convention?

Maybe not.

The party's national chair, Howard Dean, has made it clear that he would love some sort of "arrangement" to be worked out before then. Dean may not have the power to accomplish that, but the 796 Democratic "superdelegates" might.

Superdelegates are those party leaders and elected officials who are automatically delegates to the national convention. They include every Democratic member of the House and Senate, Democratic governors, members of the DNC, former Democratic presidents and vice presidents, former Democratic House and Senate leaders, and ex-DNC chairs. One person who ordinarily would be included on this list, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, has been disqualified because of his endorsement of Republican John McCain.

Democrats first introduced these delegates in 1984 as a way of giving "adults" some supervision to make sure the party did not go off on some wacky path — as many thought it did when it nominated Sen. George McGovern (SD) in 1972. Similarly, former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter won the nomination in 1976 against the wishes of many in the party establishment. The original role of these superdelegates was to make sure the party resisted the urge to once again nominate an outsider.

These superdelegates, then and now, may vote for whomever they want, irrespective of the choices made by voters in their own states. In 1984, well before the first primary or caucus, nearly 100 superdelegates had already endorsed the party front-runner and establishment favorite, former Vice President Walter Mondale. When the primary season had ended in early June, Mondale had claimed the nomination: not because of an impressive string of victories (he actually lost three of the five primaries on that final day, including California, to challenger Gary Hart), but because of the support of the superdelegates.

Fast-forward to 2008, and again we are in a position where the superdelegates could decide who wins the Democratic nomination. But here's the rub: If they declare a preference now, while the primaries are still going on and the two candidates effectively even, they have the potential for ending a nominating contest while the voters are still weighing the pros and cons of Obama and Clinton. That could have the effect of not only leaving a lot of voters furious, but it also could come at a time when many Democrats are looking at the November general election with excited anticipation. Let's face it, Walter Mondale was not going to defeat President Reagan in 1984. Conversely, either Obama or Clinton has a solid shot at winning the general election this time around — but not if one party faction, African Americans or women, feels the rug being pulled from under them. (Donna Brazile, for one, says she will resign from the Democratic National Committee if the superdelegates determine the party's nominee.)

And let me leave you with one more thought: whither the delegates in Michigan and Florida. The DNC warned both states that if they were going to move up their primaries to January, in violation of party rules, they would be stripped of their delegates. Both states knew that but did it anyway, and the DNC sanctioned them. (In retrospect, a dumb move on their part; had they only kept their original dates, both states could have played a crucial role.) Now Michigan and Florida are arguing that their delegates should be seated, and a potential convention fight is in the offing. The Obama people, of course, would love a "do over" — each state could hold a caucus to determine how their delegates would be allocated. The Clinton folks, naturally, want the primary results to count — Hillary Clinton won both states — and so they may take their case to the national party's credential committee sometime in June.

And what if the Democratic nominee were to be decided by the disputed delegates from Michigan and Florida? It might make the protests at the 1968 Chicago convention look like a tea party.

P.S. I always write that "nobody could have foreseen" the Dem race still going on. Not true. I just started clearing out the cobwebs of my inbox and found this note from Brett Sonnenschein of Brooklyn, N.Y., written last July:

"Everyone is talking about the Super Duper Tuesday primaries as deciding the nominations in 2008. But what are the odds that it doesn't? What if Clinton and Obama split the Democratic primaries down the middle that day? Do you think it could happen? And if there's no clear front-runner and most of the delegates have been decided, what happens next?"

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: It's been more than a half-century since Adlai Stevenson walked into the 1952 Democratic convention in Chicago as a non-candidate and left as the nominee. Here's a timeline for when the Dem nomination was sewn up ever since:

1956: Unlike '52, this time Stevenson ran and won in several key primaries over Sen. Estes Kefauver (TN), notably the late contests in Florida and California. By the end of July, Kefauver ended his candidacy and endorsed Stevenson, who went on to win the nomination easily on the first ballot.

1960: Sen. John F. Kennedy (MA) won every primary he entered and was the clear favorite for the nomination from the outset. His principal challenger, Sen. Lyndon Johnson (TX), didn't declare his candidacy until the convention opened in Los Angeles. But Kennedy won easily on the first ballot.

1964: There was no Democratic opposition to President Johnson.

1968: Vice President Hubert Humphrey didn't win, let alone enter, a single primary contest. But with the party machinery and the convention controlled by his supporters, Humphrey was easily nominated in Chicago.

1972: Sen. George McGovern (SD) went from long shot to likely nominee once he defeated Sen. Humphrey (MN) in the California primary. But anti-McGovern forces at the Miami Beach convention had one last chance: They fought to change the rule that awarded California's 271 delegates on a winner-take-all basis. Had they succeeded, McGovern's nomination would have been in jeopardy. But the full convention upheld the state law, and McGovern had his nomination.

1976: Former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter's victory in the June 8 Ohio primary essentially ended the fight for the nomination.

1980: President Carter lost some key primaries to challenger Sen. Edward Kennedy (MA) on June 3, notably in California and New Jersey. But his victory in Ohio on the same day gave him a majority of the delegates needed to win renomination. Kennedy refused to concede, however, and battled on to the convention in New York in a vain attempt to defeat the rule that bound the delegates to vote for the candidates they were elected to represent on the first ballot.

1984: Former Vice President Walter Mondale's victory over Sen. Gary Hart (CO) in New Jersey on June 5, the last day of the primaries, gave him a majority of delegates. Hart's victory in California on the same day was too little, too late.

1988: Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis' win over the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the Wisconsin primary on April 5 made him the clear favorite to win the nomination, and his victory in New York two weeks later all but sealed the deal. It became official on June 7 with landslide victories in California and New Jersey.

1992: Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton didn't win his first primary until Georgia, but for nearly all of the primary season he was the clear front-runner. He went over the top with a sweep of the primaries on June 2.

1996: There was no Democratic opposition to President Clinton.

2000: Vice President Al Gore defeated former Sen. Bill Bradley not only in Iowa and New Hampshire, but in every single primary and caucus as well. Bradley was gone from the race by March 9.

2004: Sen. John Kerry (MA) also began with victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. His win in Wisconsin on Feb. 17 eliminated former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and with Kerry's near-sweep of Super Tuesday on March 2, Edwards ended his campaign.

Now, time to hear from the readers.

Q: Could you explain the role of the Republican "unpledged" delegates? Are they simply the GOP's version of the Democrats' superdelegates? — Kaye Drahozal, Lawrence, Kan.

A: Not really. Unlike the Democratic superdelegates (see above for the large list of who's included), Republican unpledged delegates — all 123 of them — are comprised of GOP state chairs and national committee members.

Q: I noticed that in your most recent column you repeated the contention, which I've seen elsewhere, that since 1928 there's been no election in which a sitting president or vice president did not contend for his party's nomination. Didn't President Harry Truman and Vice President Alben Barkley sit out the contest in 1952, when the Democrats nominated Adlai Stevenson? - Mark Morehouse, Salt Lake City, Utah

A: This has been a very popular question all year long. The fact is, up until the 1952 New Hampshire primary, President Truman was silent about his plans. But that didn't stop his supporters from campaigning for him. Granite State Democrats went all out for him, and the assumption around the country was that he would seek a second full term.

Then came Sen. Estes Kefauver's surprisingly lopsided victory over Truman in the primary on March 11. It sent shock waves throughout the party, but it only made pro-Truman Dems work that much harder for the president.

But if the N.H. primary results were a surprise, that was nothing compared to Truman's announcement 18 days later in which he said, at the end of a speech at a Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner in Washington, "I shall not be a candidate for re-election."

So while it's true that Truman did not run in '52, the campaign season began with the assumption that he would. And as the race to succeed him in the party went on, Vice President Barkley made it clear that he wanted the job. After hinting all spring that he was "willing" to be the nominee, Barkley officially declared his candidacy on July 6. At the convention that summer, Barkley was nominated by Sen. Thomas Hennings (D-MO), and House Majority Leader John McCormack (D-MA) gave the seconding speech.

The Veep was never a serious threat to win the nomination. He was 74 years old, and incurred the wrath of organized labor. As it was, Barkley received 78.5 delegates at the convention. He was a candidate.

TOM LANTOS DIES: The California Democrat, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, died Monday at the age of 80. He had been in failing health and announced last month he would not seek re-election to the seat he had first won in 1980. The only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress, Lantos was a tireless fighter for human rights around the world. He was also an early advocate of the war in Iraq but in recent years had been a vocal critic.

His death leaves the House at 231 Democrats, 198 Republicans, with six vacancies: Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Richard Baker (R-LA), who resigned; Bobby Jindal (R-LA), who was elected governor; Roger Wicker (R-MS), who was appointed to the Senate seat left vacant by Republican Trent Lott; and Julia Carson (D-IN) and now Lantos, who died.

MARYLAND PRIMARIES CLAIM TWO CONGRESSMEN: Albert Wynn (D) and Wayne Gilchrest (R) go down to defeat.

1st Congressional District: Gilchrest, who has been on the outs with conservatives for years on an assortment of issues, weakened his case even further by becoming one of only two House Republicans who supported a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In a three-way race, he lost to state Sen. Andy Harris, 42 percent to 33 percent.

4th Congressional District: Wynn, who narrowly defeated challenger Donna Edwards in their 2006 primary, fell in Tuesday's rematch. Edwards, who has criticized Wynn for his vote on bankruptcy rules and his initial support for the war in Iraq, won 60 percent of the vote to Wynn's 35 percent. Both candidates are African American. It was the first time a black woman ousted a black congressman since 1994, when Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) unseated Rep. Craig Washington in the Democratic primary.

ON THE CALENDAR:

Feb. 19 - Wisconsin primary; Democratic caucuses in Hawaii.

Feb. 21 - Democratic presidential candidate debate, LBJ Library, Austin, Texas (CNN/Univision).

March 4 - Primaries in Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont and Texas.

IF IT'S WEDNESDAY, IT'S "JUNKIE" TIME ON TOTN: Reading this column is bad enough; you can also hear a "Political Junkie" segment every Wednesday on Talk of the Nation, NPR's live call-in program, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. If your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can still hear it on the Web.

IT'S ALL POLITICS: That's the name of our weekly political podcast. It's a combination of brilliant analysis and sophisticated humor, hosted each week by NPR's Ron Elving and me. It goes up on the Web site every Thursday and can be heard here. Want to subscribe? Go to the iTunes web site, type in the name of the podcast — or just "Ken Rudin" — and voila. It's easy to find, and easy to subscribe to.

*******Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

This day in campaign history: Former Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen launches his fifth bid for the Republican presidential nomination (Feb. 13, 1968).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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