Mississippi Voters Eye Clinton, Obama

Mississippi voters are preparing for a Tuesday primary that has taken on new significance as the race between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton remains tight. What do Democrats in Mississippi think about the prospects of a so-called "dream ticket" that would match the two?

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Hillary Clinton took her campaign to Mississippi today to try to steal a march on her rival Barack Obama who has been leading in the polls there. Senator Clinton won three primaries this week and wants to start a winning streak of her own after losing a dozen to Senator Obama. And today, she got some more ammunition. An unpaid advisor to the Obama campaign resigned over a report that she had called Senator Clinton a monster in an interview with a British publication.

Well, joining us from Mississippi is NPR's David Greene. And David, another embarrassment for Obama from another of his policy advisers.

DAVID GREENE: Another embarrassment at a time when this was supposed to be perhaps a moment for Barack Obama to regain some momentum. You know, here in Mississippi, a primary on Tuesday and the Wyoming caucuses tomorrow, two contests where the Obama campaign feels they could do well. But now, his campaign again opens the door to Hillary Clinton questioning how he runs his campaign, who he has working for him, their behavior. This is not what he's looking for.

And so Samantha Power is the unpaid advisor. She's a Harvard professor. She was talking to the Scotsman, a Scottish publication and wanted to take back her comment that Hillary Clinton is a monster and try to say it was off the record but it came out anyway. So she resigns and the Clinton campaign really pounced on it.

SIEGEL: It seems that after months of having led a charmed life, Barack Obama now finds himself in one snare after another.

GREENE: It's been a bad 10 days for him. And I think the campaign has to be pretty grateful that it hasn't cost him in delegates. I mean, we have to say even though, you know, these things are making headlines, Barack Obama remains in the delegate lead. And actually, Samantha Power did another interview with the BBC, a separate interview, which gave the Clinton campaign even more ammunition today. Hillary Clinton came out and mentioned that Samantha Power told the BBC that Barack Obama's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq over a 16-month period is really only a best case scenario. And Hillary Clinton really went after Obama on that. Let's give a listen here.

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): He's attacked me continuously for having no hard exit date. And now, we learn he doesn't have one, in fact, he doesn't have a plan at all.

SIEGEL: And yet, despite that, Senator Clinton seems to be peddling a new idea this week, the dream ticket, so to speak, with her in the top spot, Barack Obama as her running mate.

GREENE: Such a strange contrast. She brings it up again today at a rally in Mississippi. You know, Barack Obama has called all this premature, and, you know, though he hasn't ruled it out. But Hillary Clinton today, at a rally, she says that, well, you know, what a historic moment to have both a woman and a African-American running for the Democratic nomination. And then she says this.

Sen. CLINTON: But you got to make a choice. A lot of people wish they didn't have to. I've had people say, I wish I could vote for both of you. Well, that might be possible someday.

SIEGEL: Well, obviously, the idea went over well with the crowd there. David, you're traveling with the Clinton campaign in Mississippi. What are you hearing from the Obama campaign in response to this criticism from Senator Clinton?

GREENE: Well, they've been dealing with these questions. Obama's campaign to the conference call with reporters and they turned a bit negative on their own. I mean, they have been going after Hillary Clinton on the stories that are out now about federal archivists at the Clinton Presidential Library reportedly blocking the release of a lot of documents on pardons that former President Clinton approved. They have been urging Hillary Clinton to release her tax returns earlier than April 15th when the campaign is suggesting they will. So if this back and forth continues, we might see a very negative campaign here. They didn't talk very much about Samantha Power, but the campaign did say that Barack Obama will start to withdraw troops from Iraq if he becomes president.

SIEGEL: Okay, David. Thank you. NPR's David Greene traveling with the Clinton campaign in Mississippi. Take care.

GREENE: Thanks, Robert.

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Obama, Clinton Gear Up for Mississippi Primary

Hillary Clinton i i

hide captionMary Elizabeth Stevens from Biloxi, Miss., shows off her support for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton at a campaign rally at the Hattiesburg train depot in Mississippi on March 7.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton

Mary Elizabeth Stevens from Biloxi, Miss., shows off her support for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton at a campaign rally at the Hattiesburg train depot in Mississippi on March 7.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Barack Obama T-shirts i i

hide captionMoe Mac of Dallas sells Sen. Barack Obama T-shirts, while traveling the Obama Campaign route March 9, in Jackson, Miss.

Marianne Todd/Getty Images
Barack Obama T-shirts

Moe Mac of Dallas sells Sen. Barack Obama T-shirts, while traveling the Obama Campaign route March 9, in Jackson, Miss.

Marianne Todd/Getty Images

Now it is Mississippi's turn in the spotlight.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is hoping a win in Mississippi will help end the momentum Clinton received after victories in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island on March 4. But, the Clinton campaign is fighting for every delegate it can get.

Polls show Obama with a clear lead, but Clinton is running ads in Mississippi to instill doubts about Obama.

Former President Bill Clinton is helping her make her case at town hall meetings and fish fries. He stuck to the campaign's essential script: his wife has the experience, and Obama does not.

"This idea that there is a conflict between experience and change is just bull," Bill Clinton said.

But, in a state that has a sizable African-American population, it would be fair to say that some voters see things in black-and-white.

University of Mississippi political science professor John Bruce says Obama's candidacy has drawn many black voters to his side.

"The point about Mississippi that sometimes people don't appreciate is how much race is still salient," Bruce said.

Obama's candidacy may also be affecting the way some whites are planning to vote, Bruce said. "It's huge in both ways. It's a huge motivating factor for some African-Americans voters, and it's a huge motivating factor for some whites, but perhaps in the other way."

The feeling was always that the battle for the nomination would have been over long before it reached Mississippi, and many Mississippi voters do not know much about who Obama is. At a Bill Clinton event in Meridian on Saturday, voters such as Laura Walley and Rebecca Pitts said they find the Illinois Senator lacking.

"Obama is really a good candidate, but he hasn't shown me clarification of the vital issues. I just don't know where he is coming from," Walley said.

Pitts added that she is not supporting Clinton just because she is a woman. "I never heard of this man til now, and this lady here is the truth of it. She has run the country once before, and she can probably do it again."

But 90 miles away in Jackson, the state capital, it is a different story.

Professor Isaiah Madison says that while he and others were disappointed that Obama may have lost some of his momentum, they remain confident in his potential.

"Look at his campaign, and look at her campaign," Madison says. "This man is a leader, and he doesn't have to do everything. He doesn't have to micromanage. He is able to generate in people a profound commitment to the common cause."

Many Mississippi voters remain dismayed at what they called dishonest and hurtful statements that the Clintons have made about Obama. The thought of Clinton, who is currently trailing Obama in delegates, offering the vice presidential nomination to Obama is preposterous, according to voter Edna Harris.

"I don't think that would work because they already slinging mud," she said. "How can they trust each other? How can they work together?"

As the candidates have said themselves, there has to be a nominee before there is a ticket.

And before there is a nominee, there is the Mississippi primary — and its 33 delegates at stake.

What's Next for the Democratic Candidates?

Barack Obama

hide captionIllinois Sen. Barack Obama talks to the press on the plane on his way to Chicago on Wednesday.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton

hide captionNew York Sen. Hillary Clinton addresses her supporters after winning the Texas and Ohio primaries on Tuesday.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Democrats in more than two-thirds of the country have passed judgment on the presidential candidates, but still, the party does not have a presumptive nominee.

What's more, there are no contests in the upcoming weeks that are likely to prove decisive.

Sen. Barack Obama remains ahead in the number of pledged delegates: He has won 1,368 to Sen. Hillary Clinton's 1,226. But Clinton has recent wins on her side, including the Ohio and Texas primaries.

So, what's next for the Democratic candidates?

Adding Up the Pledged Delegates

It has become increasingly unlikely that either candidate will be able to clinch the nomination on pledged delegates alone.

Obama remains ahead on this count, with a lead of 142 pledged delegates over Clinton.

There are 540 pledged delegates at stake in upcoming contests, according to The Associated Press. The Democratic Party awards pledged delegates proportionally, based on the popular vote. That will make it difficult for either candidate to roll up a huge lead in the pledged delegate count in the contests that remain.

That's because in a close contest, the candidate who loses the popular vote could end up with as many delegates as the winner. (In Nevada, Obama actually got more delegates than Clinton, even though she won the state's caucuses.)

To secure the nomination ahead of the convention, a Democratic candidate needs to accrue 2,025 total delegates — both the pledged kind and superdelegates. Neither candidate is close to the final tally needed.

Shoring Up the Support of Superdelegates

With the division of the pledged delegates so close, the nomination may come down to which candidate makes the most persuasive argument to the superdelegates.

Clinton has commitments from more superdelegates than Obama, 242 to 207.

There are roughly 800 superdelegates — mostly congressmen and governors, as well as members of the Democratic National Committee. While about half of the superdelegates have committed to a candidate, they are free to change their minds before the convention. (Rep. John Lewis, a prominent Civil Rights era leader, recently switched his support from Clinton to Obama).

Will Michigan and Florida Count?

The fight for the party's nomination is a muddle, in part, because the Democrats have not yet decided what to do with the delegates from Michigan and Florida.

On Wednesday, the Democratic governor of Michigan and the Republican governor of Florida urged the national party to allow those delegates to count at the national convention.

The chairman of the national party, Howard Dean, told NPR on Wednesday that, with regard to Michigan and Florida, "If you change the rules in the middle of the game, you disadvantage one candidate." He added that the two states could petition the national party's rules committee by setting forth a new plan for selecting delegates. Or they could appeal to the party's credentials committee in July to ask for the delegates to be seated at the convention.

The DNC stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates when state party officials scheduled their primaries earlier than the national party would have liked. Clinton stayed on the ballot in those states. Obama remained on the ballot only in Florida but did not campaign there. Clinton technically "won" those contests, even though there were no actual delegates to award.

If the Florida and Michigan contests end up counting, Clinton could win the delegates in those states and also be ahead in the popular vote by more than 40,000 votes.

The Next Contests on the Calendar

None of the upcoming contests are likely to be decisive.

The Mississippi primary is on Tuesday; Obama could benefit from the state's 37.4 percent African-American population. African-Americans have overwhelmingly supported Obama in other Southern states, such as South Carolina and Louisiana.

Neither contest, though, will provide enough delegates to significantly stretch Obama's lead.

Clinton is expected to do well in the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, since the state has a large white, working-class, union-heavy population, much like the demographics of Ohio, where Clinton won on Tuesday.

But she, too, is unlikely to pick up enough delegates there to significantly close the gap.

The Money Chase

Traditionally, a presidential candidate who lags in the polls this late in the nominating process sees his cash flow dry up. But both Clinton and Obama continue to have financial success, and there's no evidence that the intra-party battle will hurt campaign contributions.

Obama and Clinton are raising more money than any candidate has ever raised in a contested primary contest. Clinton has said she raised $35 million in February; Obama's campaign says it took in substantially more than that. The real numbers — including the spending — won't be known until the next Federal Election Commission filings are due on March 20.

The Obama campaign is hedging on whether it will take public financing in the fall, assuming he is the nominee. Public financing would give him $84 million from the government, or roughly $1.25 million per day between the convention and Election Day. But it seems clear that he could raise more money privately.

Sharing the Democratic Ticket

One way for the Democrats to settle this close race: The two candidates could share the Democratic ticket — with one candidate as the presidential nominee and the other as the running mate. The question then not only becomes who would receive the most prominent billing, but also whether it makes political sense to have the other as a running mate.

On Wednesday, Clinton told CBS News that she would be willing to share the Democratic ballot with Obama, provided she is "first on the ticket" — that is, with him as her vice presidential running mate. She went on to say, "The people of Ohio said very clearly it should be me," referring to her win the previous night.

The Obama camp did not comment on Clinton's statement and has said that any vice presidential talks are premature.

Multiple Ballots at the Democratic Convention

There is a distinct possibility that neither candidate will arrive in Denver in August with enough delegates to sew up the nomination. That could cause problems for the Democrats — to have two candidates slamming each other for the next five months, while Arizona Sen. John McCain unifies the Republican Party and prepares for the nomination.

History shows the pitfalls of such a scenario: The last time the Democratic convention went past the first ballot for a presidential candidate was in 1952, when the party needed three ballots to nominate Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson lost the election to President Eisenhower.

One reason the Democrats have had more and longer-lasting multi-ballot nominating conventions is because, from their first convention in 1832 until they changed the rule at the 1936 convention, it took a two-thirds majority to decide the presidential or vice-presidential nomination. The Republicans have always used a simple majority.

Reporting and research by David Greene, Don Gonyea, Peter Overby, Ken Rudin, Cory Turner, Laurel Wamsley. Written by Nancy Cook.

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