Democrats Back on the Stump After Debate

The Democratic presidential candidates went in different directions after Wednesday's debate in Pennsylvania. Sen. Hillary Clinton was in Philadelphia Thursday, while Sen. Barack Obama went south to Raleigh ahead of May's North Carolina primary.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

We begin this hour with presidential politics. One day after a contentious debate in Philadelphia, Senator Barack Obama completed a sweep of Pennsylvania's major newspapers. He won the endorsement of a Philadelphia daily news. Hillary Clinton did get an endorsement from one publication today the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania came out on her side.

We have reporters out with both candidates. In a moment, we'll hear what Senator Clinton was up to.

But first, we're going to NPR's Don Gonyea. He's following Barack Obama in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Hello, Don.

DON GONYEA: Hi, there.

NORRIS: So North Carolina votes on May 6, but the Pennsylvania primary is just around the corner, just five days away. What's behind the strategy of going to North Carolina at this point?

GONYEA: Well, the Obama campaign is looking ahead just a little bit, but recall, too, that the campaign has always rejected that intense focus on Pennsylvania as such a huge make-or-break state. Certainly, it's an important state but they say it's a lot more important for Senator Clinton.

They say it is a 50-state strategy that they're running, and there are nine contests that will really help decide this thing once Pennsylvania is completed. So a couple of thoughts in North Carolina today.

NORRIS: Well, back in Pennsylvania, Senator Obama faced a real grilling at that debate last night. Has he responded to that or talked at all about the debates today?

GONYEA: He has been talking about it. His aides have been talking about it. At this town hall meeting just concluded, somebody asked a question about it, and there was kind of hissing and boos from the crowd which, kind of, got a laugh from the candidate.

But the theme has emerged that last night's debate was an example of the kind of things that Senator Obama will face in the general elections. He said, hey, it was an early preview and he said it was kind of a gotcha debate with focus on trivial things. Give a listen to what he says.

BARACK OBAMA: Forty-five minutes before we heard about health care, 45 minutes before we heard about Iraq, 45 minutes before we heard about jobs, 45 minutes before we heard about gas prices.

GONYEA: So that really is, kind of, the focus on it. He was also asked if he will join a debate that has been proposed coming up in advance of the North Carolina primary. And he just laughed, and he said, well, let's just see what the schedule allows. But he says, truth be told, he could recite Senator Clinton's lines, she could recite all of his, and he seemed to be downplaying that possibility.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Don Gonyea with the Obama campaign in Raleigh, North Carolina. Thanks so much, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

NORRIS: NPR's David Greene is with the Clinton campaign in Pennsylvania.

Hey, David.

DAVID GREENE: Hi, Michele.

NORRIS: Where exactly are you right now?

GREENE: We're at Haverford College where Hillary Clinton just wrapped up an event as one of those gorgeous days on a college campus. Students are out bathing in the sunshine, though I wish I were, too.

NORRIS: Now, we heard what Senator Obama had to say about last night's debate. What about Senator Clinton? What did she have to say?

GREENE: Well, you know, if you ask the campaign about the debate last night, they talk more about what Senator Obama did, and less about what their own candidate had to say. And they feel like it was a very good night for them.

That grilling of Senator Obama on issues such as his former pastor Jeremiah Wright and some other issues. They feel like it sort of broke the aura. It's some wind out of Senator Obama's sails and showed that when he's under tough questioning and he says - and the campaign says that whoever wins the nomination will be under tough questioning in the general election, it shows that he can be rattled a bit.

And now these stories have been out there, of course, Michele, and one of the questions the campaign has had to answer is, look, these stories about Reverend Wright and some of the other stories have been out there, and yet Senator Obama continues to pick up all of these superdelegates.

So, you know, are these negative stories having a real impact, but before a night that the Clinton campaign says that they feel like it was good for them.

NORRIS: So that raised a bit of a question or a dilemma for the Clinton campaign. Recent polls have shown that her efforts to expose Barack Obama's vulnerabilities have also hurt her standing with the public, lowered her likeability ratings. How does the campaign deal with that?

GREENE: Yeah, and that's the tough situation they're in. And Hillary Clinton was dealing with it a little bit today. This event in Haverford College, a really nice feeling, focusing on the issues, she sat there with her daughter Chelsea Clinton who was sitting in a big cushy chair in front of a lot of the college community.

And one person stood up and said, Senator Clinton, if we're out canvassing for you, what should we tell people right now? And she said, well, why don't you tell them I'm really nice? Why don't you tell them that I'm not as bad as you think? So I think they're trying to combat the perception that she really is the nasty side of this race while realizing that being nasty and ripping into Obama a bit is one way that she's going to be able to stay in the game, at least in this campaign's view.

NORRIS: And it's good. But before we say goodbye, I assume that she'll be spending most of her time or the next five days in Pennsylvania.

GREENE: Most of the time, it looks like. But one quick stop in North Carolina tomorrow. But then, it looks like really going across and blanketing the state of Pennsylvania after that right up until Tuesday.

NORRIS: That was NPR's David Greene speaking to us from Pennsylvania.

Thanks so much, David.

GREENE: thank you, Michele.

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