Clinton Takes Pennsylvania Primary

Senator Hillary Clinton scored a 10-point margin of victory over Senator Barack Obama in Pennsylvania's presidential primary yesterday. Republican strategist Sara Taylor and Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter discuss Clinton's win and look ahead to the upcoming primaries in North Carolina and Indiana.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Just ahead, politics and race. We'll check back in with a couple of the Pennsylvania voters we've been talking with to ask about how they feel about the results of yesterday's Democratic primary, and we'll ask journalists covering the campaign for president how much race mattered and if the media is getting it right on race, or not.

But first, results from Pennsylvania. Voters in the key battleground state have spoken and gave a decisive victory to Senator Hillary Clinton yesterday over Senator Barack Obama, a margin of about 10 percentage points. Turnout was heavy, and although she still lags behind Obama in the popular vote and pledge delegates, her win insures the fight continues. Here to tell us more are Sara Taylor, Republican strategist and former White House political director for George W. Bush - she's on the phone with us from Detroit - and Stephanie Cutter, Democratic strategist and communications director for Senator John Kerry's White House bid in 2004. She's here with me in the studio. Welcome back to you both, thanks for joining us.

Ms. SARA TAYLOR (Republican Strategist): Good morning.

Ms. STEPHANIE CUTTER (Democratic Strategist): Good morning.

MARTIN: Stephanie, if I heard the word margin one more time last night I thought I would scream. But why was there so much focus on Mrs. Clinton's margin of victory?

Ms. CUTTER: Well, you know, a lot of people were trying to predict what the victory would mean for her. And a double-digit victory, which she got, 10 points, means that she would live to fight another day, that some were arguing that she had a credible argument to superdelegates and people that have yet to fight, that she's the stronger candidate against McCain. And others were arguing if she wasn't in double digits, if she was in single digits, then Barack Obama ate into her base of vote, and there's a legitimate argument for her to get out.

MARTIN: Well, who cares though? Ten beats nine. I mean - I really don't - it's true. Ten beats nine.

Ms. CUTTER: True, and at the end of the day, you know, she's arguing a victory is a victory.

MARTIN: Right.

Ms. CUTTER: But a victory in the popular vote in Pennsylvania doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to make up that delegate margin which is really the real contest in terms of how we pick a Democratic nominee. And she lags behind Barack Obama, and with the seven contests left, it's unlikely she's going to be able to catch up in both the popular vote and pledge delegates. So there's a question on the table as to where is this all headed? What happens on June 3rd when she's still behind Barack Obama?

MARTIN: OK, so Sara, what about, let's take the other side of it. Senator Obama is still ahead in the popular vote and pledge delegates so did yesterday really matter?

Ms. TAYLOR: Well, it was significant for her. One, it was a big victory in another very critical general election battleground state, and her argument becomes very compelling when you look at Ohio, which she won, Pennsylvania, Florida which she won, that she's able to go to the all important superdelegates and make the case that she is better equipped to beat Senator McCain in a general election and there's increasing evidence that suggests that that's in fact the case.

MARTIN: What is that evidence?

Ms. TAYLOR: Well, I think if you look at these large states, which do matter. If you look at how independent voters have focused in on the race and they're looking at Senator Barack Obama, I think in a different light. And when you couple a number of things that have happened over the course of the last many weeks, his pastor's comments, his loose but still association with some Weather Underground members, and, you know, fair or unfair, you know, this I won't wear a flag lapel pin. A lot of Americans, a lot of middle Americans, a lot of the folks that carried Hillary Clinton to victory last night are starting to look at Barack Obama and say he may think too differently from me for me to support him. And I think there's a lot of Democrats and independent Democrats who are starting to develop this line of thinking.

MARTIN: OK, we saw both campaigns go negative, as Sara, you mentioned a couple of things were exploited as issues. I want to read something from the New York Times this morning editorial page which is after all, Mrs. Clinton's hometown paper. It said that it is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity for which she is mostly responsible does nothing but harm to her, her party, and the 2008 election. Stephanie, is that a fair criticism and is this campaign damaging either her or Senator Obama to the point where they are becoming unelectable - where each of them is having an electability problem in the fall?

Ms. CUTTER: Well, it's certainly not the race the Democrats wanted, and it is driving up the negatives of both of our candidates. In terms of the impact of these negative ads on Hillary Clinton, per the New York Times editorial, you know, Sara was talking about who was stronger in a general election to reach out to independent Democrats or independent voters. Hillary Clinton, as a result of negative campaigning, has flipped her favorability amongst independent voters from 58 favorable to 59 unfavorable in just the last three months. Now that is a compelling argument also to make, as to who's stronger in the general election. Right now, despite all of this negativity, despite the bitter comments and some of the gaffs that have happened over the past six weeks, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are both running even against John McCain. So, in terms of who's stronger to run in the general election, the maps looks very different depending on who the nominee is, and when faced with a choice between a Democrat and Republican, these Democrats are going to stick with the party and vote for the Democrat, which is either going to be Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. These big state arguments don't hold up in a general election as you're comparing apples and oranges.

MARTIN: Sara?

Ms. TAYLOR: Well, I disagree. You know, as a Republican I think most of us were engrained to think for many years that we should salivate at the fact that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee, but as you - as we watched this Democratic race unfold, it becomes more clear, I think to a lot of us, at least it does to me, that she's the more compelling candidate.

MARTIN: Because?

Ms. TAYLOR: She's extremely smart, extremely capable, extremely tough. You know, Bill Clinton, for all of the analysis that's been done on his impact in this race, he is by far a net-plus when you look at research and focus group material for her. And I think as we head into an environment where the economy becomes more central, given the downturn we're experiencing in this country, the Clinton's make a very compelling case. And I think that as we head into a general election, particularly given what has unfolded around the Obama narrative, makes her a much stronger candidate.

MARTIN: Briefly, Sara, is race part of the narrative? Do you think race was a factor?

Ms. TAYLOR: Of course it is. Unfortunately, but it is.

MARTIN: How so?

Ms. TAYLOR: You know, this argument that the Obama campaign makes about how they've won more states and they're going into, you know, Kansas and Nebraska and other rural states that Democrats haven't been competitive in, you know, I think it's just fallacy to think that a Democrat, regardless of who it is, Clinton or Obama, is going to be able to win those states in a general election.

MARTIN: But you didn't answer my question which was how does race matter?

Ms. TAYLOR: Well, race matters because unfortunately in America, as Roger Simon pointed out in the political - based on some polling that you have about eight percent of Americans who, you know, will say to a pollster that they won't support somebody based on race. And if eight percent say it out loud, there's probably another eight percent who are thinking it, but won't say it. And so it is a factor. We've come a long way in this country, but we haven't come all the way.

MARTIN: Very briefly, Stephanie, same question to you, did race matter in this race?

Ms. CUTTER: I think unfortunately, the answer is yes. You know, Barack Obama won something like 92 percent of the African-American vote and Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly won the white vote. Barack ate into her margin, closed the gap quite a bit from Ohio, but she still won that vote. When faced with a different choice in the general election between Barack Obama or John McCain, I still think race will be an issue. Whether or not it's as big of an issue that we're seeing in the Democratic primary is a question, but it's something that we have to deal with.

MARTIN: All right. Stephanie Cutter, Democratic strategist and communications director for Senator John Kerry's White House run. She was here with me in the studio in Washington. Also, Sara Taylor, Republican strategist, former political director for President George W. Bush. She was on the phone from Detroit. I thank you both so much, especially after such a long night. Thanks so much.

Ms. TAYLOR: Thank you.

Ms. CUTTER: Thank you.

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