Update on the Presidential Race

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sparred in a debate Wednesday in Philadelphia. Also this week, John McCain gave his first major economic speech as the presumptive GOP nominee. Polls show a desire for change of party in the White House, but McCain is running even with Democratic rivals.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

All three presidential candidates make time to meet today with a man whose vote they do not need. He's a man that each candidate would hope to work with after winning the White House. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in Washington. He meets the candidates late in a busy week. Republican John McCain announced his economic plans. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama finished a debate in Pennsylvania last night.

NPR's news analyst Juan Williams was listening. And Juan, do either of the Democrats have reason to be, shall we say, bitter?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, Steve, you know, it's a - I think what you saw last night really is evidence of the tenor of the campaign as it stands right now. You know, there're no draws in politics. And at the moment neither side can win outright with the chessboard as it is.

Clearly Senator Obama has the better position. He has the lead in terms of pledged delegates and votes. And so Senator Clinton is hard-pressed to catch him. And so it's like two chess players waiting for an opening to show the voters exactly how the game progresses.

And at the moment what you have is Clinton looking for a stumble, you know, that would say he can't be elected. And you have Obama looking for her to stumble and saying it's time for her to get out.

So the bitterness is pretty high right now.

INSKEEP: And, of course, when we say bitter we're referring to Barack Obama's remark about white voters of a certain kind being bitter and turning to God and guns, among other things. Obama was asked about that last night. What did he say?

WILLIAMS: Well, basically he tried to get away from it and say, you know, that he had been misunderstood. That he had spoken badly, was inarticulate, he said.

Really the first 40 minutes of the debate they spent discussing the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and then as you said, this statement about bitter voters clinging to guns and religion. And so Senator Obama was on the defensive, and, you know, he got bruised - he got knocked up pretty good by both sides.

INSKEEP: Although, let me ask about the complaint that the makes as I look at this account of the debate. He argued that it's really unfair of people to grab a single statement, just beat it into the ground and repeat it again and again. He even reminds Hillary Clinton of her statement about not being the kind of person who would bake cookies back in 1992. Is there something to that complaint?

WILLIAMS: Well, no, because this is hardball politics, and what we saw yesterday is a real effort by the moderators - Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC - as well as Senator Clinton to challenge Senator Obama on a really tight question. Is he electable in the fall versus John McCain? Can he withstand a barrage on these very difficult questions?

Mrs. Clinton made it very clear that Democrats need to win in the fall, and seemed to make the case that Obama is not yet prepared. But when she was asked whether Obama can win versus McCain, she said yes, yes, yes. And when Senator Obama was asked whether or not Hillary Clinton can win in the fall, he said yes. Neither of them committed, however, to have the other one on the ticket. So it was interesting moment here in the balance.

INSKEEP: And as they debate, what is John McCain saying that he would do if he is elected president as the Republican?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's interesting. This week he gave a very important speech on the economy. John McCain is saying I am still a man who believes in tax cuts in the sort of Reagan/Bush supply-side theory of economics. He wants to eliminate the alternative minimum tax. He wants to slash corporate taxes. For working-class people, the only big offer he had was to suspend the federal gasoline tax for the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

INSKEEP: Does McCain also have conservatives in mind as he talks about tax cuts?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely, because what he's trying to do is make it clear that, you know, while he's been a maverick and sometimes diverted himself from the Republican line, here he is saying now to corporate Republicans, here he is now saying to people who might be looking at a third party challenge - that John McCain is a Republican. You can trust him. You can trust him not only on the war, but you can trust him in terms of economic policy.

INSKEEP: Analysis from NPR's Juan Williams. Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're very welcome, Steve.

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