Democrats Spar as McCain Tours 'Forgotten' U.S.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton prepare for their next presidential contest, North Carolina on May 6. Meanwhile, reports Politico's Jim VandeHei, presumptive GOP nominee John McCain has been visiting farflung corners of the country.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

Thanks, Mark. The Mars-and-Wrigley merger - I'm a little scared. I like peanut-filled M&Ms, not gum-filled M&Ms. It might be...

MARK GARRISON: That would be pretty gross.

PESCA: Yeah. Agreed.

GARRISON: The almond ones are great.

PESCA: Almond gum? Never had it. Will Hillary Clinton pull a Tar Heel steal? Will Barack Obama be a Hoosier loser? And will either handle Guam with sufficient aplomb? I'm trying to gussy up the political race as much as I can because I have noticed there's a little political fatigue out there. Little bit. You notice that?

(Soundbite of yawning)

PESCA: Little bit.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

No, I'm awake. I'm awake!

PESCA: Let's power through doldrums, and the best way I know to do that is to get a guy who's excited! Jim VandeHei is the executive editor of Politico. Hey, Jim.

Mr. JIM VANDEHEI (Executive Editor, politico.com): Hey. How're you guys doing?

PESCA: We're good. So, Jim, let's start off with the number-one hottest political question. We bandied it around already. What kind of lettuce do you like?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Oh, me? I like good, old, crisp, iceberg lettuce.

PESCA: Yes!

MARTIN: Sure.

PESCA: You're a real American.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Unlike that - that fancy arugula.

PESCA: Fancy arugula.

Mr. VANDEHEI: That's a Barack Obama one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: So confusing to the Iowans. Did he say arugula? Is that a country in Africa that I don't know about? So, the reason we're talking about this is the cover of Newsweek has a sprig of arugula juxtaposed with a glass of beer, and the symbolism there is that Obama, who once asked an Iowa farmer about arugula, might be out of touch. Like windsurfing with John Kerry. Or like George H. W. Bush not knowing what a supermarket scanner is. Jim, do you think it's a fair symbol?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VANDEHEI: Do we really think that Hillary Clinton, in her free time, throws back shots with a beer chaser in dive bars throughout America?

PESCA: I think - yeah, you're right. She probably funnels. It's more efficient that way.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Hey, politics is all about being a good actor, and creating a good narrative, and there's no doubt that - I do think that Obama has a problem, in that he often does seem sort of coolly detached, if not sort of aloof, to a lot of voters, and that's probably part of the reason he does not do well with working-class whites, and certainly hasn't in Pennsylvania, Ohio, in other states.

I don't think it's sort of a game changer for him, but it - he does have to prove that he can do something to connect with voters that aren't just the African-American voters, and aren't sort of your traditional "liberal elite." And that has been the story - you guys were talking before about getting bored with the campaign. I can understand that, because it feels like nothing has changed, even after Pennsylvania.

We're still locked, talking about electability, still talking about the big obstacles that he has, and the big obstacles that she has. The truth is very little has changed. He still has the pledged-delegate lead, and the popular-vote lead, and most superdelegates that we've talked to do not seem terribly moved by Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania, though they do seem a tad more skeptical of Obama now, certainly, than they did a month ago.

PESCA: Mm hm. So, Obama was asked by everyone about the white-voter gap, how she's winning among white voters, and he was asked that question in a place he hadn't been before, the show - "The Sunday Show" on Fox News. Let's hear a bit of that.

(Soundbite of TV show "The Sunday Show")

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): What we've done has been successful throughout. I mean, it's not like I've been winning in states that only have either black voters or Chablis-drinking, you know, limousine liberals. I mean, we've been winning in places like Idaho. We've been winning in places like Colorado.

PESCA: Jim, my question is, unless he does it anew, can he just point to his past victories in the mountain west, and that will be sufficient?

Mr. VANDEHEI: It may be sufficient. You know, as long as he has that pledged-delegate lead, and the truth is, like, in a place like Idaho or some of these states that he's won where he says, well, you know, it's not like I'm just winning with the same coalition. He kind of is winning with the same coalition, because in caucus states, he basically gets sort of, like, the real elites in the party, or the real activists in the party.

He's always done pretty well with those groups, and I think the reason that some superdelegates are getting a little more skeptical, saying, come on, like, you've spent all this money, and all this time in Pennsylvania, and you did not seem to be able to make inroads with these voter groups. And he was not making these inroads at a time when there's all-of-a-sudden controversy around him, whether it's Wright or his bitter comments.

And now, you know, that's what Hillary Clinton always wanted, just plant that seed of doubt, and hope that somehow it sprouts, and somehow it blossoms in time for her to be able to win. I still think - almost every Democrat I talk to thinks it's going to be very difficult for Obama not to win the nomination. That's why he's playing it safe.

That's why he's saying, you know what? I'm not going to debate her anymore, because last time I didn't do very good in the debate, and I'm the frontrunner, and I'm going to try to play it safe. Run out the clock, win in North Carolina, win in Indiana, and get out of this race and get into the general election. You see there were a couple of stories this morning where his aides are describing that they're sort of bored with the process.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. VANDEHEI: It's a dangerous place. I understand that.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. VANDEHEI: You can understand it. But it's a dangerous place to be in, because do you think Hillary Clinton's bored with it? This woman is like - there's nothing that seems to stop her. Every day, she seems absolutely full of energy and ready to go to war with Barack Obama. So if he gets sleepy, he can be in trouble.

PESCA: Yeah. And she proposed a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates. I was looking up the format, because I read a book on them. Lincoln-Douglas debates start with one speaker speaking for an hour and a half.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: The other one has an hour to respond. And then a half-hour rebuttal. Now, I don't even think C-SPAN would pay attention to that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VANDEHEI: You can carry it live on the radio, though.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VANDEHEI: I'd love to - I can't think of anything I'd rather do than listen to those guys for an hour and a half.

PESCA: Yeah. Well, here's something I kind of enjoyed, although Barack Obama might not be enjoying it. And it's - Jeremiah Wright has taken to the airwaves. He's giving a speech later this afternoon at the National Press Club. Yesterday, he spoke at a NAACP event in Detroit. Here, the Reverend riffs on a beloved figure in the Democratic Party while making a point about discrimination.

(Soundbite of speech)

Reverend JEREMIAH WRIGHT, Jr. (Former Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ): Only black children, 50 years ago, were singled out as speaking bad English. In the 1961s - that's been all over the Internet now.

John Kennedy could stand at the inauguration in January and say, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask, rather, what you can do for your country." How do you spell "ee-SK (ph)"? Nobody ever said to John Kennedy, that's not English. Ee-SK, what's Ee-SK?

PESCA: Wow, that is a Von-Meter-esque (ph) Kennedy impersonation, huh?

Mr. VANDEHEI: I guess.

PESCA: I guess Reverend Wright will accuse me, fairly, of taking that cut out of context, but that's how the media works. Do you think that his repeated speeches, if he takes this tone, are going to continue to hurt Obama?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Number one, the speech, if you didn't listen to it, it's worth listening to and watching. It was a pretty amazing speech. The guy is a very smart thinker, and a very clever speechwriter and giver. That said, the timing is terrible. The last thing Barack Obama wants is a media tour by Reverend Wright.

He wants to distance himself as much as possible from him, and from his comments. And Reverend Wright seems to be pushing himself into the news each and every day. And the media are more than willing participants in filming his - and airing his speeches, you know, live. With last night, I think it was Fox, or CNN, or maybe both, ran almost the entire speech that he gave before the NAACP.

He speaks before the Press Club today. Barack Obama needs to figure out a way to push this stuff behind him because when - that's what troubles the superdelegates. And the reason I keep coming back to superdelegates is, like, that's all that matters for Hillary Clinton. She does not think she is going to win the pledged delegates.

She does not think she is going to win the popular vote. She has to convince those undecided superdelegates that, you know what? He's not electable, and it's worth risking the wrath of African-Americans, which are the base of the Democratic Party, to elect Hillary Clinton instead because she'll say, I can win, he can't.

PESCA: Jim, if only for a brief moment on the BPP, and online all the time at Politico, you have recharged our political batteries. Thank you very much.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Take care. Enjoy the day.

PESCA: Jim VandeHei, executive editor of politico.com.

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