Democratic Race Takes a New Turn

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Sen. Hillary Clinton bounced back from a string of defeats to take Ohio and Texas, but she still faces an uphill battle to overtake Sen. Barack Obama in the delegate count.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Just a day or so ago some people were asking if Hillary Clinton would be dropping out of the presidential race this morning. She will not be, after winning Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York, Presidential Candidate): The people of Ohio have said it loudly and clearly: we're going on, we're going strong and we're going all the way.

INSKEEP: Clinton defeated Barack Obama everywhere yesterday, except Vermont. But under the Democratic Party rules, with proportional representation, Obama also won many convention delegates last night.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): No matter what happens tonight we have nearly the same delegate lead as we did this morning and we are on our way to winning this nomination.

INSKEEP: That's Barack Obama speaking last night after yesterday's voting. NPR's David Greene and Don Gonyea are covering the Democratic campaigns and join us now. David, we'll start with you. How much good did Hillary Clinton do herself yesterday?

David GREENE: Well, if you took a look at the campaign last night, they felt like they did a lot of good. I have no seen people from this campaign so excited and so relieved since their win in New Hampshire, you know, that the scene in Columbus, Ohio where we just heard Hillary Clinton was electric.

When she got on her campaign plane we're told she was toasting Chelsea Clinton with red wine as we were taking off from Columbus. You could see her staff just, you know, hugging each other.

And actually one of her supporters from Youngstown, Ohio, who was on this program recently, a school teacher, Jan Pence, who I introduced you to about ten days ago, she wrote me last night. My BlackBerry lit up and she said, don't count our girl out yet. So all over Hillary World, I think a lot of people feeling a new sense of hope right now.

INSKEEP: Well, let's take Barack Obama's point here. Because of the way the delegates are awarded in Democratic primaries, she didn't really gain that much on Barack Obama.

GREENE: Yeah, that's the reality check. I mean, if Hillary Clinton is kind of cheering on one side of the stadium, you have Barack Obama's fans kind of, you know, pointing to the scoreboard. That delegate count, it does remain the same. And if we look at the pledged delegates, you know, the delegates who are determined by primaries and caucuses, Hillary Clinton has a very large hill to climb.

And it's unlikely, unless she blows out Barack Obama in almost every race left that she could catch up. So the attention for the Clinton campaign is going to turn to these superdelegates. These party officials, these top Democrats who have their own votes as delegates at the convention. They're going to have to make the case that even if Barack Obama wins the races and wins the pledge delegates that these superdelegates should come Hillary Clinton's way and give her the nomination. It's a tough case to make.

INSKEEP: Well, let's bring in NPR's Don Gonyea, who's been covering the Obama campaign. And, Don, I'm remembering a moment after Super Tuesday when Hillary Clinton had a bunch of wins but her campaign, it seemed from the outside anyway, didn't seem to know what to do, didn't seem to know how to finish it off. And they quickly fell behind. They lost a bunch of primaries in a row.

Do you have a sense that Obama's campaign knows what to do now that they have lost a few in a row now?

DON GONYEA: They say the object less than a year is what happened in New Hampshire. It was a state that he expected to win where he suffered, in that case, a rather stunning defeat, but they came back from it right away. And took South Carolina and then eventually started that string of a dozen wins in a row that ended last night.

And certainly no toasting on an airplane last night. We didn't fly anywhere. We had a bus ride from the event site past the Alamo back to the hotel. And no symbolism in the Alamo for this campaign. Listen, they're clearly disappointed at having not been able to really nail it down yesterday. And now they know they're in for at least six more weeks of brutal campaigning.

They also know that Senator Clinton is going to come at them hard, as she did in the past week. And while they know that their momentum has been stalled, if not stopped, they're responding in two ways. They say don't forget the delegate count. It is essentially where it was going into yesterday, and that is meaningful. They also say, hey, look, both of these were supposed to be very strong Hillary Clinton states. They were down by as much as 20 points a few weeks ago and they made them very close so do not discount that.

INSKEEP: Don Gonyea and David Greene, both very briefly, do you sense that Barack Obama is in a more vulnerable or exposed position here now? Under scrutiny by other Democrats, by the media and by Republicans all at the same time.

GONYEA: This is what they would have liked to avoid with a win yesterday. Most importantly the attacks and the real tough, tough, tough focus is going to come from the Clinton campaign, running ads like they did - the three in the morning telephone ad that questions his experience. They know that it's going to be a difficult six weeks.

In terms of how vulnerable, they say, look, they are still adding delegates, that the candidate will continue to run the same kind of upbeat, positive campaign about bringing people together. And that Hillary Clinton would have to win the remaining states - remember there's only one more big one - by a landslide to overtake him in delegates. And they say delegates is how you keep score in these races.

INSKEEP: David Greene.

GREENE: Hillary Clinton feels like she turned things negative and that it worked. The question she's now going to face is if it gets too negative will that hurt the eventually Democratic nominee?

INSKEEP: Okay. NPR's David Greene here in Washington. Don Gonyea, thank you as well.

GREENE: Thank you.

GONYEA: Thank you.

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