Obama, Clinton Fight for Wisconsin

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Democrat Barack Obama is favored in the presidential contest Tuesday in his home state of Hawaii. But the contest in Wisconsin is very much up for grabs, says Jim VandeHei, executive editor of Politico.com.


So from the blood sport of boxing to the blood sport of politics. Los Angeles Times recently cataloged the spate of faintings at events for Barack Obama around the country, which the paper suggested was yet one more measure of the phenomena that seems to be the Obama campaign. But phenomenon or not, he seems to be roughly tied in national polls with Hillary Clinton, although he's had some momentum. The two are fairly close in delegates as well, and Clinton seems to be trailing him only by a few points in Wisconsin, which in pure voter-bucking fashion has it's first meaningful primary in years.

Jim VandeHei is kind enough to join us. He's the executive editor of Politico.com, and he's often with us for the BPP political round up.

Hey, Jim.

Mr. JIM VANDEHEI (Executive Editor, Politico.com): Hey. How are you guys doing?

FOLKENFLIK: Good to have you, man.


Are you excited about tomorrow?

Mr. VANDEHEI: I am. You know Wisconsin is my homeland. My people will finally be able to speak and have their voices heard.

STEWART: Let my people vote.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. I was going to say just like William Schneider would say, your peeps. There are about 92 delegates in play, I'm told. So tell us briefly what a win would mean, each for Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, as they look ahead in all those states that are in play on March 4th.

Mr. VANDEHEI: I mean, I think if Clinton were to win, and I think it's highly unlikely, it would be huge. I think it's be a game changer, because everybody anticipates that she's going to lose Hawaii and Wisconsin and that she's going to have to rely on Texas and Ohio to save her campaign. I think Obama is widely expected to win because he spent more money. He spent more time there. I think the demographics tend to favor him not as dramatically as in states like Virginia and Maryland, but certainly do favor him.

It's fascinating, because I do think this really does come down to Texas and Ohio. There's almost this error of desperation that your feel inside the Clinton campaign because they just don't know how to attack Obama and how to stop his momentum. He's impenetrable.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know that's interesting. You know, both were in Milwaukee Saturday for that Wisconsin Democratic party fundraising dinner. And that pivot that you're talking about for Clinton is also in some ways affecting him. People have questioned how tough Obama can be, right? For a national campaign?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: And Saturday, he said he's up for the fight. I wanted to play this clip.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): I'm skinny, but I'm tough. And I am looking forward to a debate with John McCain.

FOLKENFLIK: So how fine a line does this guy - this self-identified candidate of hope, a seemingly post-racial, post-partisan figure, how fine a line does he have to walk when he's also trying to kind of hammer his opponents?

Mr. VANDEHEI: I think at this point he can - it's not that fine of a line. The question is, once he gets to a general election - I really do think this is a legitimate concert that the Clinton people raise, that the guy has never had to run a tough campaign in his life. The truth is, people say that Clinton's been tough on him. She really has not. This is not been a nasty campaign by any measure. The guy's never really had attack ads run against him. He's never really had to get whacked around by the Republicans, who are pretty darn good at his stuff.

I mean, I think - I've talked to many people in the Clinton campaign who genuinely feel that if Obama gets the nomination, he has no chance of beating McCain. Some of that is, I think, is sour grapes, but some of that is very legitimate. When I'm talking to them, they fell very sincere that he will have a tough time because he's never actually had to articulate his position on Iraq, on Iran or on a lot of issues. And there's no way Republicans will let him off the hook. That's like - he's proven pretty darn agile on this campaign.

FOLKENFLIK: Sure. Let's turn to Senator Clinton herself. She told Wisconsin Democrats she can get things done, and let's play that.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): It's not about the bright lights and the cameras. It is about the changes we can make that actually deliver results in people's lives.

FOLKENFLIK: So she's the pragmatic one. She's the accomplisher, and that's the pitch that she's making publicly. In private, she's doing something similar, but she's got this sort of this what seems like a two-track strategy, right? For chasing delegates? She's trying to push the party to give her credit for the hundreds of delegate she got in Michigan and Florida, even though they have been punished and stripped of delegates for reigning in their early primaries. She's also trying to, you know, convince the superdelegates that hey, you guys got to try this race, and you've got to come home to me. I'm the one who can get things done. What kind of luck is she having with those arguments?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Not much. And in some ways, it's sort of an absurd argument. If it turns out that she's behind in pledged delegates and she' behind in states one and behind in the over all popular vote, I think most people would think it's absurd for her to say make Michigan count when Obama didn't even compete there at all. Make Florida count when the party said, hey, it's not going to count anyways, and then hopefully a bunch of superdelegates will come to her. The truth is, it's not going to happen. I mean, if Obama wins Texas or Ohio, it's over, period, because the super delegates will make it be over. Even the ones that are committed to Hillary Clinton - take the ones out that don't actually on her payroll or are not long time supporters that go back over a decade, all those people will start to move towards Obama because they don't want a long drawn out messy fight, especially if it looks like there's a clear winner. So some of it - I think that we're getting side tracked in some of this.

FOLKENFLIK: Sure. Very briefly, John Edwards met with Obama yesterday. He's already met with Clinton, been in close contact. Briefly, how likely is he to pick sides, and what would it do?

Mr. VANDEHEI: You know what, I don't' mean to sound like totally cynical. I don't thinks it'll do anything. I don't understand why people would spend as much time trying to get an endorsement? Endorsements, 99 out of 100 times, don't do a darn thing in politics. We get all hooped up about it, but it never does anything. You think - how many people have you ever met that said, well, I don't know who I'm going to vote until I find out that John Edwards is going to do.

FOLKENFLIK: Okay, that said…

Mr. VANDEHEI: But it gives you a good day's worth of campaign coverage, and it's like a nice little jolt. But I don't - I mean, look at Ted Kennedy couldn't deliver Massachusetts for Obama.


Mr. VANDEHEI: So it's not that - I don't think these things matter that much.

FOLKENFLIK: That said, we got little less than a minute left. On the GOP side, John McCain's benefiting from getting some of the delegates bequeathed him by Mitt Romney. You says he's ready to take on the Democrats.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): I can out-campaign them and I can out-debate them and I can out-perform them in what I think my vision for America is.

FOLKENFLIK: In the last 30 seconds we have, how much of advantage for does Senator McCain have over the two Democrats now that he focus on them in the national campaign?

Mr. VANDEHEI: He has an advantage if, at least for the next month, if he uses his time effectively. He's got to figure out how he's going to start to raise money. He's got to figure out what exactly his general election strategy's going to be. And quite frankly, he should probably work on how he delivers the speech and how he performs in debates. He might think that he can out campaign Barack Obama, assuming that he's going to be the nominee, but he's not.

FOLKENFLIK: Okay. We're going to cut it off there. Jim VandeHei, executive editor of Politico.com. Thanks so much.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Enjoy the day. Bye.

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