Did Negative Campaigning in Pa. Hurt Candidates?
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Strictly by the numbers, the Democratic presidential race has not changed much. Hillary Clinton won Pennsylvania yesterday, but Barack Obama still leads in delegates. So this morning we'll ask what has changed. We'll get some analysis from Tucker Eskew, who worked in President Bush's 2004 campaign.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. TUCKER ESKEW (Worked President Bush campaign): Good morning.
INSKEEP: And also from Jennifer Palmieri, who was press secretary for Democrat John Edwards when he ran in 2004.
Welcome to you.
Ms. JENNIFER PALMIERI (Press secretary, John Edwards 2004): Thank you.
INSKEEP: And let me start with you Jennifer Palmieri. This was a negative enough campaign in Pennsylvania that it seems fair to ask if both of these candidates are less electable than they were.
Ms. PALMIERI: I don't - I actually don't think that it's gotten to the point where it's that negative it's going to affect the, you know, general election outcome. But, you know, I think that you have to show that you can take a punch and that you can land a punch in this process. And when you're running for president of the United States you're going to get knocked around a little. But I still think that we're in the realm of a, you know - and this may contrary to what a lot of people think - but a relatively friendly race.
INSKEEP: Does it bother you as a Democrat when you hear our correspondent Don Gonyea report that, well, there were boos when Obama mentioned Hillary Clinton's name last night?
Ms. PALMIERI: Well, but there was also - that's true, but there was also - I think that, you know, you saw when - I thought it was interesting when Hillary mentioned that people had wanted her to drop out and the ferocious response from her supporters. I mean, they, you know, I mean, it's not breaking news that people feel strongly about both of these candidates.
But it is, you know, I think in the big picture it's a good thing for Democrats that you have two candidates that people feel so good about. And, you know, it always seems really ugly in the spring when you're battling it out in a primary. But people, you know, history does show - and it's also true on the Republican side - people come together in a general election.
INSKEEP: We're talking about the Pennsylvania primary with Democrat Jennifer Palmieri and Republican Tucker Eskew.
And Mr. Eskew, let me ask you. It's been said that the questioning of Obama's minister, his remarks about bitter voters and so forth is just a - and what was made of that is just a small taste of what Republicans can do to him this fall. do you think that's true?
Mr. ESKEW: Well, no. I think he's doing things to himself frankly, Steve. The comments about bitter voters. You look at Mrs. Clinton, her comments about sniper fire in Bosnia. These are self inflicted wounds.
In the case of Senator Obama, he's beginning to fill out a picture of himself that voters didn't have. We didn't know this man. We saw a great speaker. And we're beginning to get a sense of maybe a sense of peevishness on his part under tough questioning, a disconnect with middle America, perhaps a sense that he can go just as negative and question just as many motives as many other politicians…
INSKEEP: Although, wait a minute. Let me just ask about that, because Obama's version of events here is he makes a couple of misstatements and the other side gins that up into a whole portrait of a man. Is that what's happening here?
Mr. ESKEW: Well, I think the process is shaking itself out and Senator Obama can blame others, but I think some of it comes right back to his own learning curve. And he's certainly learning. He's getting better as a candidate.
I don't want to minimize the fact Republicans face a very difficult political climate this year. But no doubt the Pennsylvania primaries brought into relief the fact that while they were fighting it our, Republican Senator McCain has done a lot to consolidate his base, build his campaign staff and improve his fundraising.
INSKEEP: And let me ask you both, is there evidence in the Pennsylvania results from yesterday that if white working class voters went for Hillary, which seems to be the case, that they would not go for Barack Obama if he's the nominee in the fall.
Ms. PALMIERI: I mean - I know I - that's sort of reading the minds of the voters and I think that's difficult to do. but I think that what's going to make - superdelegates - it was a bad night for superdelegates because they're going to be anxious to see losses and this late in the process for Obama in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
And he's going to have to take out the map of the U.S. and show the superdelegates how he can get to 270, even though he's not doing well in key battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. They argue that they have a way to get there and that they would bring states into the process - big (unintelligible) states that Democrats don't normally compete in - but they need to convince people of that.
INSKEEP: You're mentioning the Democratic leaders who will ultimately decide the nomination.
And, Tucker, you get the last word.
Mr. ESKEW: Well, Barack Obama's not proven yet to be a strong closer, particularly in states Democrats have to have in the general election. He outspent Senator Clinton three to one. She's a very tough fighter. They've got a campaign underway that hasn't ended and neither of them is ready to claim victory yet.
INSKEEP: Tucker Eskew, good to talk with you again.
Mr. ESKEW: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: He worked in the Bush White House and on President Bush's 2004 campaign. And Jennifer Palmieri, who worked with John Edwards, Democrat in 2004. Thanks to you.
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