Early Hurdles for Clinton, McCain?

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are the two presumed front-runners in next year's presidential race, but each faces potentially strong challenges from, respectively, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

LUKE BURBANK, host:

And I'm Luke Burbank.

In a few minutes, the search for San Francisco's Zodiac killer. It's inspired a new movie and a wave of obsessed amateur investigators.

Unidentified Man: The more information I collect the more interested in the case I become, and the closer I think a solution is right around the corner. And I'm hooked.

BRAND: First though, this weekend civil rights leaders will be in Selma, Alabama marking the 42nd anniversary of a key event in the struggle for racial equality: the 1965 march on Selma. Joining the festivities will be two Democratic presidential hopefuls: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Late Thursday the Clinton campaign announced that another Clinton will also be there and that would be Hillary Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton.

NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams joins me now, as he does every Friday. Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, I understand this is the first time President Clinton will campaign publicly for his wife's presidential campaign. What does that mean? What does that signify to you?

WILLIAMS: Polls, internal polls showing that numbers are slipping. Hillary Clinton has had a substantial lead over Barack Obama in the black vote, and for the first time now those numbers seem to be slipping in Obama's favor. Hillary Clinton still holds the lead but you can see some slippage. And I think this is directed at the black vote.

BRAND: Hmm. Well, I'm wondering, why hasn't she used him before, because he is enormously popular out on the campaign trial? At least other candidates have found so.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know what, there's two sides to that knife. And he comes with a lot of baggage and they have been very tight about exactly how they're going to handle all the criticism that may come. And we're not just talking about from the Clinton critics of all the people who lead his impeachment on the Republican side. But we're talking about from Democrats as well.

You remember that David Geffen, the movie entertainment mogul out in California, said that the Clintons lie so easily and Mrs. Clinton was overproduced and over scripted. But much of his anger was aimed at Bill Clinton. And so Bill Clinton, in a way, can overshadow Hillary Clinton, so she has to use him with some consideration as to exactly what the intent is and how much she's willing to take the negatives that come with the attention that he gathers.

BRAND: And Juan, you said earlier that some of the black vote appears to be slipping for Hillary Clinton. How important is it for her to hang on to that?

WILLIAMS: She benefits from the good relationship that the black community had with President Bill Clinton. But here's the thing, initially there was such reluctance on the part of - sort of established black political leaders in the country to support Barack Obama, because Barack Obama comes in as a maverick. There's some jealousy about a 45-year-old newcomer, you know, first term senator, whose base is in the white community.

Now, you have him suddenly emerging as more and more of a sort of force, as he goes around the country and black people joining in those crowds, getting to know Barack Obama. And so that simply means that more of those people as they get to know him, see that a black person has a real chance, is a frontrunner for the nomination. They're going towards Obama. Mrs. Clinton doesn't want to risk having that become a landslide.

BRAND: And Juan, let's go to the Republican side this week. Senator John McCain announced his plans to run for the presidency. He announced on the David Letterman show of all places.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: And Letterman asked him about another possible contender for the Republican nomination, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. And here's what McCain had to say.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Late Show with David Letterman")

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona) I think he's going to be a very formidable candidate. I think he rallied the nation after 9/11 - I think the audience would agree with that - and I think he's an American hero.

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (Host, "Late Show with David Letterman"): Absolutely. And…

(Soundbite of applause)

BRAND: Ok. So maybe not such a good idea for such an overwhelming endorsement, it appeared, from a rival.

WILLIAMS: Well, at the moment, you know what, Giuliani's not really a threat. McCain feels that Giuliani's a frontrunner, everybody's in love with him, but when it comes to the conservative base - which is what everybody is after in the Republican primary - McCain feels that he's really up against Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. And that's where the conversation's going to be held. Just in the last week, McCain made it very clear about his antiabortion stance. Again, all intended for that specific niche audience on the far right. That's what's up for grabs.

You're hearing lots of conversations. There's a C-pack or conservative pack convention being held in Washington this weekend. McCain's not appearing, but he's having lots of fundraising and copies and everything else to try to woo that crowd. But he has to be very careful how he does it. He doesn't want to alienate them. But he wants them not to go towards Mitt Romney, who's making a big push at the C-pack Convention this weekend.

So for the moment it's like Giuliani is, you know, the man of the hour, but McCain doesn't take him seriously and doesn't think that he'll be there when the real vote counts.

BRAND: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thanks a lot.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Madeleine.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: There's more coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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