Campaign: Debate over Debate; GOP Running Mate

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Sen. Hillary Clinton wants a solo debate with Sen. Barack Obama before the May 5 Indiana primary. The Obama says no, citing four previous one-on-one debates with Clinton. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain ponders choices for a running mate?

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

In South Bend, Indiana yesterday, Senator Hillary Clinton challenged her Democratic opponent Senator Barack Obama to join her on a one-on-one Lincoln/Douglas-style debate.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York, Presidential Candidate): I think that would be good for the Democratic Party, it would be good for our democracy, and it would be great for Indiana. So, I am hoping that we'll be able to get that scheduled and hold it before the May 6th primary.

HANSEN: Senator Obama declined the offer, saying over the next 10 days we believe it's important to talk directly to the voters of Indiana and North Carolina.

Joining us to discuss primary politics and a swell party is NPR's Don Gonyea. He's been following the candidates around for the past few months. Are you wearing your tuxedo from last night's White House correspondents' dinner?

DON GONYEA: I did not sleep in my tuxedo this year and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: …I've learned that…

HANSEN: This year.

GONYEA: …you feel better about yourself in the morning if you don't sleep…

HANSEN: This year…

GONYEA: …in your tux.

HANSEN: …I love that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Listen, let's talk politics first, about Indiana certainly. Do the people there want another debate?

GONYEA: Well, don't you love it when you ask someone a question and they answer with this: It depends who you talk to.

HANSEN: Oh, thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: No, it's - and I can tell you if - I haven't seen any polling on the debate question, though there's a pretty good chance someone's asking those questions today. But supporters of Hillary Clinton will tell you we need a debate, she needs a debate. Indiana deserves the right to see these two candidates on the stage squaring off, talking about the issues.

And that's the pitch for the Lincoln/Douglas-style debates that Senator Clinton made yesterday. Senator Obama, who was none too happy with the way the last debate went in Pennsylvania, where he got roughed up. But he also made the point in subsequent events that it took 45 minutes before there was a substantive question about Iraq or Iran or the economy.

So he thought it kind of trivialized the whole thing. He is not inclined to debate, and their response to Senator Clinton's challenge is there have been 21 debates this primary season, 21 nationally televised debates. Four of them have been Obama versus Clinton, one-on-one. People know what our positions are. It's important for Senator Obama to be out there holding rallies, town hall meetings, speaking directly to the people.

And his supporters will tell you exactly that. A lot of them have their talking points down.

HANSEN: Yeah. And the contest then goes on with these town meetings and keep talking - let's talk about the Republican nominee, the presumptive nominee, John McCain. Is it too soon to talk about a running mate? He was out with his former rival Mike Huckabee in Little Rock, Arkansas.

GONYEA: And we've seen him out on recent weeks with Mitt Romney. And there's a lot of talk about him possibly being a number two on the ticket. Here's the deal with the McCain campaign right now: the Obama-Clinton show or the Clinton-Obama show - call it what you will - is his favorite TV show these days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: He's, you know, not doing too many events. He's doing just enough to kind of keep his name out there and meet people and get a little press coverage and not cede everything to them. But I can picture him with a big bowl of popcorn just watching them slug it out, because that is, Republicans feel, good news for him.

So, naming a vice president nominee in the middle of all this would suddenly put all the focus back on him. And then there'd be, you know, the vetting of that person and there'd be critical articles and, you know, all kinds of things. He's not in any hurry for that. So…

HANSEN: Sure.

GONYEA: …I would say no sooner than June.

HANSEN: Sure. He can stay in the headlines from now until the convention about that kind of - our speculation, media speculation.

GONYEA: Exactly.

HANSEN: All right. We've buried the lead - you went to the White House correspondents' dinner last night. President Bush was there, and here's a clip from him.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Senator McCain's not here. He probably wanted to distance himself from me a little bit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. BUSH: You know, he's not alone. Jenna's moving out too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. BUSH: The two Democratic candidates aren't here either. Senator Clinton couldn't get into the building because of sniper fire and Senator Obama's at church.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: And - so that was kind of the tone of the president's. What he did is he basically walked through the eight of these that he has done - eight of these he has done. And this was his last time. And he lamented that a little bit.

Probably, you know, the most memorable moment, though - again, it's his valedictory - he ended it. They brought the Marine band on stage and he took up a baton and he conducted the Marine band doing "Stars and Stripes Forever." And you could tell he was having fun with it. And it was a nice moment and a good way for him to say farewell to all of us, even though we're going to be bugging him for another eight months.

HANSEN: Sure. Well, get some sleep. NPR's Don Gonyea.

GONYEA: Yeah.

HANSEN: Thanks a lot.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

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