Monday-Morning Politics Update

Talking all things politics with Politico.com's Jim VandeHei.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

West Virginia, it's the Mountain State, and it's appropriate, really, considering the scale of the challenge before Hillary Clinton. On the one hand, she's expected to win the bulk of West Virginia's 39 delegates in tomorrow's primary, but that victory only puts her a few feet above base camp, really. Reaching the summit is an altogether more daunting challenge. And even though she keeps infusing her effort with her own cash, more and more superdelegates have fixed their gaze on Barack Obama's ascent.

MIKE PESCA, host:

I love this extended metaphor.

MARTIN: Do you like it?

PESCA: Keep going.

MARTIN: Here with another chapter in the never-ending saga of that is...

PESCA: I feel my head getting light.

MARTIN: The 2008 presidential election is our friend and political guru, executive editor of politico.com, Jim VandeHei. Hey, Jim.

Mr. JIM VANDEHEI (Editor in Chief, Politico.com): Wow. It's good to be here.

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: You know, it's Monday. I'm feeling kind of sprite. I got a good night's sleep last night. OK, Obama leads Clinton. Here are the numbers, 1588 to 1426. That's in pledged delegates. And now, he leads her in endorsements from superdelegates 277 to 271. That's according to NPR. Chief Obama strategist David Axelrod was on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday. He said that flow of endorsements, well, you know, he expects them to keep on coming. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of TV show "Fox News Sunday")

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Chief Strategist, Obama for America): I think you're going to see people making decisions at a rapid pace from this point on.

Mr. CHRIS WALLACE (Host, "Fox News Sunday"): When you say "at a rapid pace," should we expect a flood or a trickle over the next 10 days?

Mr. AXELROD: Well, I think a flood would be overstating it, but I think we're going to continue to unfurl these endorsements on a regular basis here.

MARTIN: Jim, what is the challenge that Obama faces as he tries to navigate the next few weeks until the last primary? He has to be a little careful, right? He can't go off declaring victory. Yet at the same time, he has to start engaging McCain for the general if he is indeed the winner.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Yeah, I mean, he - at - his challenge is to at least feign interest in the waning weeks of this campaign. I mean, I think it's over. I mean, all he has to do is not do something incredibly stupid or have something incredibly bad come out that no one is aware of. And I've talked to folks in the Clinton campaign, and they say there's nothing out there that they're aware of.

There's no May surprise. There's no October surprise on Obama. So I don't see how he does not get the nomination. Clinton people, a lot of them are already making their plans for what they do after the campaign. They're already talking about, you know, what happens with Hillary Clinton next? They would need a miracle.

Now, they're not going to drop out because they know that they're going to blow Obama away in West Virginia and potentially do the same thing in Kentucky, and that they're going to do it on the backs of working-class whites, and they're going to continue to make the case that, listen, man, we're winning swing states, states that are tough to win with swing voters. However, that argument's not working with the superdelegates. Nobody seems fazed by it, and nobody seems convinced by it.

MARTIN: So, when you yourself were making the rounds yesterday, you were on "Face the Nation," and you said that Hillary Clinton is living on a prayer. And you said, though, that she still has a prayer. What does that mean?

Mr. VANDEHEI: She has a prayer that as long as she's in the race. As long as she doesn't drop out, anything can happen. Who knows what could happen? It would take a miracle. It really would take more than just a game-changing event. It would take something much bigger than the Reverend Wright controversy to deny Obama the nomination. But as long as she's in there, the potential for that exists. And I think that's what's in her mind.

You have to remember the psychology of the Clinton family. They feel that for decades now they've been counted out. And every time people sort of left them for dead, they've risen from the ashes, and they've won when everyone said you can't win. And so that kind of fuels them. That's part of their emotional DNA. They're not going to go down easy.

That said, it's crystal clear from my conversation with folks that the word has been sent from Hillary Clinton on down to watch your words carefully. Avoid a lot of the negative attacks. Let's set the stage for if and when we have to get out of here, we can do so with class and in a way that continues to hold her stature high inside the Democratic Party.

MARTIN: Well, she's still out there using words and trying to draw some distinctions between herself and Senator Obama. She's still campaigning. She caught some flack last week for some statements, some remarks she made during an interview with USA Today. Let's listen to that.

(Soundbite of interview)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): There was just an AP article posted that found how Senator Obama's support among hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again.

MARTIN: So people jumped and said that she's equating whites with hardworking, and that those are the only hardworking people. I mean, people really jumped down her throat for this comment.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Well, I mean, it clearly was clumsily worded. I don't think she was suggesting that only working-class whites work hard. I mean, let's be honest. Barack Obama has a problem with white voters. Look at the polling results. In each and every state, he's having a hard time winning the white vote. He's having a very hard time winning the working-class white vote.

That's what Hillary Clinton's campaign has been saying forever, so I don't totally understand the big uproar over that one comment, which I think most people could sort of see was clumsily worded on her behalf. But she was pointing to an Associated Press story that was simply marking the fact that he's got to figure out a way to bring working-class whites into his fold in order to win swing states like West Virginia in a general election, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the list goes on.

PESCA: Maybe some of the uproar, say, from Charlie Rangel, who's a Clinton supporter, maybe it was honestly felt from him. But do you get the sense that because she's trailing, the media have sort of assembled like angry villagers with torches? If this really was a neck-and-neck race, you'd get more people defending her comment. Now the media, for some reason, is really looking to drive her out of the race, and is it the media's role to do that?

Mr. VANDEHEI: You know, I think that she's got a raw deal from day one. I think that the media has been - and we've written about this - I think that the media has been gaga over Barack Obama from day one and not as aggressively scrutinized him as we have scrutinized her. I don't think that's the case at Politico, but I do think it's the case at most news organizations, and I think so.

Her frustration, I think, is well-founded. I mean, I don't think that it's simply a red herring for them to blame the media. I don't think the media is the reason that she's not going to win the nomination, but it certainly has not been on her side. I don't think there's a huge push for people to say, hey, get out of the race. I think people are just simply pointing to the numbers, which we have for some time.

I think she's been living on a prayer for months. We were writing months ago that she had maybe a 10 percent chance of winning the nomination, and that wasn't based on some exotic formula we came up with. It was based on our conversations with people in the Clinton campaign. They can do math. They know they couldn't win the pledged delegates. They know the Democratic Party's not going to deny an African-American candidate who wins the pledged-delegate race the nomination.

So I think people are simply pointing out the reality. That's what in the minds of most Democrats and certainly Democrats in Washington we talk to. It is over. That said, she's not going to go out easy. I think she'll stick to this thing through June. She lets all the states vote. She'll continue to try to make her pitch. Listen, I won the popular vote, if you factor in Puerto Rico and Michigan and Florida, and people are going to say, that's silly. And eventually, she's going to say OK, I'm out, and the Democratic Party is going to unify.

That's another one of the silly arguments I keep hearing. Oh, the Democrats are so divided. They're never going to unite. They're going to unite, for crying out loud. The Republican Party is in about as damaged a state as you can remember. You have to go back to Watergate to find the time when the Republican brand was this damaged.

MARTIN: Jim, I could listen to you wax on forever and ever, but alas, we have to leave it there. I'm sorry. Jim VandeHei.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Oh, that's OK. Back to poetry.

MARTIN: Back to poetry! Executive editor of politico.com, thanks, Jim. Stay with us. This is the BPP from NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.