The Weekend in Politics

Jim Vandehei at Politico.com talks about this weekend in politics.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

Now, if you opted to hop off the political bandwagon this weekend, you missed bumpy ride. Hillary got mad, Barack went on the defensive, Ralph said he's running and Mike visited "Saturday Night Live" and wouldn't leave. It's time for politics on the BPP.

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: All right, let's just start with the big news from the weekend. Ralph Nader announced that he will attempt his fifth run for president. Often considered a spoiler by Democrats in the 2000 race, the almost 74-year-old answered that charge on NBC's "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Meet the Press")

Mr. TIM RUSSERT (Journalist; Host of "Meet the Press"): George Bush won Florida by 537 votes. You got 97,488. Democrat after Democrat says, to this day, Ralph Nader if your name had not been on that ballot, Al Gore would have carried Florida. Exit polls show he would have carried Nader voters two to one. Gore would have been president, not George Bush. You, Ralph Nader, are responsible for what has happened in the last seven years.

Mr. RALPH NADER (Independent Presidential Candidate): Not George Bush? Not the Democrats in Congress? Not the voters who voted for George Bush but they were Democrats in Florida, 250,000 of them?

I'm amazed at the liberal intelligentsia here, that they are analytic and they deal with all kinds of variables. But when it comes to the 2000 election, there's just one variable. And I might add that Solon Simmons and other scholars - he teaches at George Mason - have shown that by pushing to Gore to take a more progressive stance, he got more votes than the votes he allegedly - they were drawn from for the Green Party.

STEWART: That was Ralph Nader on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday. Today, on the line, is executive editor of Politico.com, Jim Vandehei. Hey, good morning, Jim.

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

STEWART: I'm doing well. So you've got Ralph Nader running for president again. He turned 74 this week. His candidacy was called a non-event by surrogates of both Clinton and Obama. You already have Ron Paul tapping into the American outrage of the system. So what is Ralph Nader's agenda here?

Mr. VANDEHEI: I think his agenda is what its been the last, you know, four or five times that he's run. It's Ralph Nader and it's his sort of railing against corporate America, and he feels that the Democratic Party is still too captive to corporate interest - which, I think that message actually did resonate in some of the past elections. It's a little odd right now, his timing, because it feels like even Clinton who, you know, sort of grew up in the new Democrat wing of the party, has sort of adopted a lot of his anti-corporation language. And certainly, Obama has been playing to a similar populace theme, John Edwards was before. So it's hard to see where exactly he fits into this.

Mike Allen, my colleague, I had him call Nader last night and find out sort of what his take is on Obama and Clinton and what his gripe his, and he was really harsh. I mean, he called Clinton a panderer and a flatterer, said that Obama's spineless and has a relatively mediocre record and just gets guided along by his professional handlers and that neither of them are tough enough to change Washington.

STEWART: And that seems to be his goal, to change Washington.

Mr. VANDEHEI: I guess it's his goal. I mean, he's not going to win the election, so I guess the idea would be to get those issues on the agenda. The truth is I feel like those issues have sort of been on the agenda. And the frustration you hear from Clinton and Obama - and both are very frustrated 'cause they feel like he did, obviously, hurt the Party in 2000 and perhaps gave the presidency to George Bush. They feel like he's a distraction, and we are still a narrowly divided country, and if it is a close election that he could tip it once again. So for many Democrats, it's like, enough is enough, Ralph.

STEWART: Let's go on to the scold heard round the Cable News Networks this weekend: Senator Clinton taking Barack Obama to task over some mailings that criticized her positions on NAFTA and healthcare. She spoke in Ohio with all its 141 lovely delegates. She was clutching the mailers in her right hand when she said this.

Sen. HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove's play book. This is wrong, and every Democrat should be outraged.

Shame on you, Barack Obama. It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public.

STEWART: Senator Obama responded that his fliers stand.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Unlike some of the attacks that have been leveled about me that have been debunked by news organizations, these are accurate.

The notion that somehow we're engaging in nefarious tactics I think is pretty hard to swallow.

STEWART: So what was actually in those mailers that made Hillary Clinton so angry?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Well, the funny this is they weren't new mailers. They've been out there for a couple of weeks, and I don't know if she'd just gotten her hands on them that day or if they just decided that was a good day to start talking about them.

There were two, I guess, that were in question. One was about her healthcare plan, which to me, I think, was pretty darn accurate. I mean, she does mandate coverage for everybody to get to universal coverage for everybody in America. So that, I mean, I think that's, like, just true…

STEWART: Yeah, and the mailer…

Mr. VANDEHEI: The other one was about her position on NAFTA. And there was a quote…

STEWART: We just want to point out, for people who don't know, that the mailer pointed out that the difference in their healthcare plans, that she mandated healthcare for everybody, where he doesn't.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Right.

STEWART: I just wanted to clear that up. Go ahead. I'm sorry, Jim.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Then the other one was on NAFTA, which, that mailer did use a quote that a newspaper article had attributed to Hillary Clinton, but later said, well, wait. That was our own language, when she was talking favorably about NAFTA. So that one, at least there was a reason she could be upset about that one.

But the truth is this stuff happens all the time. I mean, every candidate is sending out, like, literally thousands of these mailings with different messages targeted at very specific groups. And on any given day, any candidate could pull one or two and be, like, I'm outraged. Shame on you. I think she's trying to figure out a way to penetrate, you know, what almost feels like a shield around Obama. She's not been able to attack with any efficiency or any effectiveness, and I think she's just trying to find something that works.

STEWART: And for people who want to read more about that mailing, if you go to factcheck.org, basically, they echo what you just said, that the healthcare charge really isn't off base, but that the mailings, when it comes to NAFTA, pushes it a little bit by taking that quote which really shouldn't be attributed directly to her.

But Clinton's campaign sent out e-mail to supporters over the weekend asking to send money to raise $1.3 million for Clinton to run ads in the March 4th primary states. It's full of debate moments from last week. And it does not include that plagiarism back and forth, but it does include a point when Hillary Clinton spoke about how hard it's been for her is nothing compared to how hard it's been for some people. But on "Meet the Press," they pointed out that sentiment may have been heard before.

Sen. CLINTON: You know, the hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country.

President Bill CLINTON: The hits that I took in this election are nothing compared to the hits that the people of this state and this country are taking every day of their lives.

STEWART: Of course, that is Hillary Clinton, and then her husband when he was running for office using very similar language. Tomorrow, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are going to be sitting next to each other again. Do you think it's going to get ugly in the way it did over that plagiarism comment? Could we see this come back to haunt her?

Mr. VANDEHEI: I don't know, because I thought the last debate would have been more personal and included more sharp attacks from Hillary Clinton because she really wants to figure out a way to distinguish herself from Obama. And the truth is, when you're in that two-person setting, it's kind of hard. It's sort of an intimate setting, and to be real sharp and to go on the attack, you really start to appear nasty. Because even when she talked about that plagiarism charge, you know, it felt like everyone in the crowd was kind of cringing when she went on the attack. So she needs to be careful in that setting, and I think she knows that.

The challenge for her is somehow she has to change the dynamic and do so in a way where it doesn't seem completely calculated. And that's not easy to do. I think the interesting thing is she's really playing up in a new ad now, this sort of, you know, the softer side of Clinton, which we've seen a couple of times. We saw it in New Hampshire, where it was used very effectively by the campaign. She's trying to do it again, playing off the closing moments of that last debate.

And I think that, you know, our reporter who's on the road with her says that when you interview people in her crowd now, there's certainly a lot of sympathy and they feel like she has not gotten fair coverage like Obama has. And they feel like she's been mistreated. So I think she's really hoping to exploit a little bit of that, as well.

STEWART: That fair coverage was skewered on "Saturday Night Live" when they returned this weekend. They had a whole opening skit about how the media is all for Obama. But really, the funniest political moment came during "Weekend Update" when Governor Mike Huckabee made an appearance on "Saturday Night Live," and he wouldn't really leave and wouldn't really acknowledge the mathematical impossibility of getting the nomination. Let's listen.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Governor, Arkansas; Republican Presidential Candidate): Well, Seth, the media loves to throw around the term mathematical impossibility.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUCKABEE: No one can ever explain exactly what that means to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SETH MEYERS (Performer, "Saturday Night Live"): Well, let me give a shot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEYERS: Basically, it takes 1,191 delegates to clinch your party's nomination. And even if you won every remaining unpledged delegate, you would still fall 200 delegates short.

Mr. HUCKABEE: Wow. Seth, that was an excellent explanation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUCKABEE: But I'm afraid that you've overlooked the all-important superdelegates. Don't forget about them.

Mr. MEYERS: Yeah. Well, I won't forget about them. But the superdelegates are only in the Democratic primary.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUCKABEE: They can't vote in the Republican primary?

Mr. MEYERS: They cannot.

Mr. HUCKABEE: Oh-oh.

STEWART: So with just about 45 seconds left, does Mike Huckabee want to be vice president? Does he want to get a lot of face time so he can charge money for speeches down the road? Does he want to be Ronald Reagan next time around? What does he want?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Yes, yes, yes.

STEWART: Oh, okay.

Mr. VANDEHEI: I think mostly, he wants to - I don't think he thinks he'll be vice president. I don't think he's - he's probably not the best fit right now for McCain. I think what he's doing is trying to raise his profile, you know, sit in the back. Hopefully, he could, you know, thinks he can maybe run again in 2012. Undoubtedly, what he does right now is he does a lot of paid speaking, and it doesn't hurt to be in the national stages, the number two presidential candidate to be able to - on the Republican side, to be able to get that fee to go a little bit higher and to keep your profile high.

STEWART: Jim Vandehei is executive editor of Politico.com and our regular Monday morning politics guy. Nice to talk to you, Jim.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Enjoy the day, bye.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Hey, that's it for this hour of the BPP. Thanks for listening. Stick with us throughout the day at npr.org/bryantpark. I'm Rachel Martin.

STEWART: I'm Alison Stewart, and you have been listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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