Obama Strategist Looks Back on Pa. Primary

After Sen. Hillary Clinton's win in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary Tuesday night, Sen. Barack Obama is looking ahead to the next race. Steve Inskeep talks with David Axelrod, chief strategist for the Obama campaign.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Next, let's hear from the two campaigns that will keep right on battling for the Democratic nomination. We begin with a man who's candidate lost in Pennsylvania last night. David Axelrod is chief strategist for Barack Obama's campaign. He's on the line. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Chief Strategist, Obama Presidential Campaign): Thanks so much.

INSKEEP: And he's in Evansville, Indiana, where Obama's going on to campaign in the next primary, which is the point of my first question: What has prevented Barack Obama from landing a knockout blow?

Mr. AXELROD: Well, first of all, you know, we started off this campaign months and months ago with an almost impossible task, and what's happened over those months is that we've won twice as many primaries. We've won 150 or more delegates. We've won half a million more votes. We've brought lots and lots new - I mean, you know, there's a lot of momentum behind this candidacy. But…

INSKEEP: Although every time that Hillary Clinton…

Mr. AXELROD: …Senator Clinton is, she's a formidable opponent. And while I think that we will prevail here, the process has to run a little longer, and we will - before it comes to a conclusion.

INSKEEP: Although you had millions of dollars more to spend in Pennsylvania, and Hillary Clinton was able to overcome that and win when she had to win.

Mr. AXELROD: She didn't have to overcome anything. She was 22 points ahead when the - when we began. She ended up winning by about nine points. And so, you know, when we to the state of Pennsylvania, the first thing we arrived to was a declaration by the Clinton campaign that she was unbeatable. She had the governor of the state, Ed Rendell, supporting her, and his entire political apparatus. It was a closed primary in which independent voters couldn't participate, and we do much better with independent voters. It's one of the reasons we do better in general election polling than she does. So this was a home game for Senator Clinton, and she held serve and did what she had to do. But all it's done, it hasn't changed the fundamentals of the race. We're still well ahead in delegates. She would have to win better than 70 percent of the vote in the remaining primaries in order to prevail.

INSKEEP: You mentioned the general election, Mr. Axelrod, and I want to ask about that because as you know, in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton won working class white voters, voters with incomes under $50,000. And she's won voters like that in the past, which raises this question: In a general election, if Barack Obama's the nominee, does he have enough support in his base - young voters, new voters, upscale suburban voters - to win, even if the working white class were to go to John McCain?

Mr. AXELROD: Well, let's understand that the working - white working class has gone to the Republican nominee for many elections, going back to the, even to the Clinton years. And so, this is not new that Democratic candidates don't rely solely on those votes. But if you look at the Washington Post poll recently, Senator Obama was doing slightly better among those voters in the general election than Senator Clinton. But what he can do that she hasn't been able to do is attract independent voters, attract younger voters, and that's why we're winning in a lot of these battleground where she…

INSKEEP: Are those constituencies enough to win?

Mr. AXELROD: …even in the large states that she claims as harbingers of the fall, including her home state of New York. There was a poll yesterday that showed Senator Obama with a point more in the lead against John McCain than Senator Clinton in California. In many of these large states, Senator Obama is doing better in a general election match up with John McCain than Senator Clinton, and a lot of it has to do with the ability to expand the Democrat base.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Mr. Axelrod. We're about to hear in a moment from Howard Wolfson of Hillary Clinton's campaign. But before we do, I want to ask you if you think - given the tenor of the campaign in Pennsylvania the last six weeks and some of the issues that came up - do you think that Hillary Clinton's campaign has played fair and focused on important issues?

Mr. AXELROD: Well, I'm not going to talk about fair, because I'll let others judge what's fair and what's not fair. I think it - what is fair to say is that they declared that they were going to throw the kitchen sink at Barack Obama. It's fair to say that they ran negative ads in Pennsylvania to which we had to respond. And I think it's pretty clear that their strategy is to try and tear down Senator Obama. And…

INSKEEP: Mr. Axelrod?

Mr. AXELROD: And, you know, and, and, you know, ultimately, I don't think is a prescription either for - to win the nomination or…

INSKEEP: Mr. Axelrod, thanks very much. We want to give some time to Howard Wolfson, here. Appreciate you taking the time, though, this morning.

David Axelrod is chief strategist for the Obama campaign.

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