Clinton Walks Tightrope on Criticism of Obama
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
First this hour, we're going to look at some of the challenges along the road to the Democratic presidential convention. Hillary Clinton is pursuing a complicated and risky strategy in her bid to defeat Barack Obama. She's trying to do well enough in the remaining contests to narrow the gap between her and Obama. He currently leads in both pledged delegates and the popular vote. Clinton is also trying to convince enough of the superdelegates to come over to her side by stressing she would be a stronger candidate in the general election. And that strategy involves a difficult balancing act: tearing down Obama while at the same time offering him an olive branch of sorts.
NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson has that story.
MARA LIASSON: In Hillary Clinton's latest attack on Barack Obama, only two of the remaining three candidates are ready to be president.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): It's imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander-in-chief threshold. And I believe that I've done that; certainly Senator McCain has done that; and you'll have to ask Senator Obama with respect to his candidacy.
LIASSON: But at the same time, she's also talking about offering Obama the number two slot on her ticket.
Sen. CLINTON: I've had people say I wish I could vote for both of you, well, that might be possible someday.
LIASSON: Her husband has been even more explicit.
President BILL CLINTON: He would win the urban areas and the upscale voters, and she wins the traditional rural areas that we lost when President Reagan was president. If you put those three things together, you have an almost unstoppable force.
LIASSON: Given that Obama has won more delegates, more states and more votes than she has, this gambit has been called, as Obama might say, the audacity of audacity. Here he is responding to her kind offer at a rally in Columbus, Mississippi, today.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I am not running for vice president. I do not believe Senator Clinton is about change because in fact, this kind of gamesmanship, talking about me as vice president, that he maybe is not ready for commander in chief, that's exactly the kind of double speak, double talk that Washington is very good at.
LIASSON: Democratic strategist Mark Mehlman says there are a lot of different reasons behind Clinton's dream ticket talk - not the least of which is convincing Obama supporters that they can somehow elect him by voting for her.
Mr. MARK MEHLMAN (Democratic Strategist): First of all, to say that we can unify the party. Second, to pay him some respect. Third, also, to almost belittle him, to say he is appropriate for the second spot on the ticket. But the reality - it also reflects a reality, and the reality is there is going to be tremendous pressure on these two candidates to get on a ticket together.
LIASSON: Many Democrats feel the race has entered a potentially dangerous phase. They say it's important that whoever loses feels he or she lost fair and square. Otherwise, there could be lasting damage to the party. Hillary Clinton has to be careful that she doesn't get the nomination at the cost of driving away all those young, new voters Obama has brought in or alienating African-Americans, the most reliable voters the Democratic Party has.
Again, Mark Mehlman.
Mr. MEHLMAN: That is a real dilemma. The most important way she can do it, of course, is by winning. And she wants to win Pennsylvania, obviously. She'd like to win North Carolina; that's probably harder. But they do have to be very careful because nothing's going to turn off those superdelegates more than running a scorched-earth negative campaign against your opponent.
LIASSON: And Bill Galston, a former Clinton White House official who is supporting Hillary Clinton this year, thinks it's important that she learns the right lessons from her wins in Ohio and Texas last week.
Mr. BILL GALSTON (Clinton Supporter): While she got some traction in the last week before March 4th with a series of tough attacks, it is not the case that if some attacks are good, more attacks are better.
LIASSON: So as Senator Clinton heads to Pennsylvania, she'll have to decide whether she wants to modify or intensify the kitchen-sink strategy that seemed to work so well for her last week.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.