Obama, McCain Attempt to Woo Clinton Supporters
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's widely reported today that Senator Hillary Clinton will suspend her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on Saturday and the prospective candidates from both parties have already begun efforts to win over her supporters. When significant percentages of Clinton voters told pollsters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Kentucky, and other states that they would not vote for Senator Obama, many Democrats dismissed it as understandable campaign passion that would cool over time. But a few angry Clinton supporters at last week's contentious DNC Rules Committee meeting chanted McCain, McCain and several columnists wrote today that Senator Obama should not assume that the generally older whiter more female and more blue collar voters that formed Senator Clinton's base will automatically transfer their allegiance to Senator Obama. Clinton supports, what do Senators Obama and McCain have to do to get your vote? Our phone number is 1-800-989-8255. Email us email@example.com. You can also comment on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation. Also this hour, we'll talk with political writers from three different parts of the world to find out how America's presidential election is seen outside of the United States. If you're from another country or live overseas, you can email us now. The email address again is firstname.lastname@example.org
But first, voters who supported the candidacy of Senator Clinton and the choice they now face to support Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain. What would make them an enthusiast of either candidate? Joining us here in studio 3A is Ramona Oliver, the communications director of Emily's List, a group that advocates for the election of pro-choice Democratic women candidates, and Todd Harris of . .Navigators, a Washington-based consulting firm. He used to work as a senior communications strategist for Senator John McCain. And it's good of both of you to be here.
Mr. TODD HARRIS (Principal, D.C. Navigators): Pleasure to be here.
Ms. RAMONA OLIVER (Communications director, Emily's List): Thank you.
CONAN: And back in March, the Gallup poll reported that in a survey they conducted, 28 percent of Clinton supporters would vote for Senator John McCain over Senator Barack Obama. Now again, that was back in March, but that's still a pretty startling figure. Todd Harris, do you see vulnerabilities there? Do Republicans see an opportunity?
Mr. HARRIS: Oh there's absolutely an opportunity there, and you don't even have to go back to March. You can go back to a new CBS poll that was just released yesterday, showing that 22 percent of Clinton supporters are indicating that they plan to support John McCain this November. And 7 percent of them are undecided. This creates a huge opening for Senator McCain. You saw it in the remarks that he gave the other night, how profusely he was praising Senator McCain. It was actually quite...
CONAN: Senator Clinton.
Mr. HARRIS: Oh excuse me, Senator Clinton, making a direct appeal to her supporters, when Senator McCain is out talking about the need to address issues like climate change, the need to cut taxes on America's working families, and these issues go straight to the heart of these Clinton supporters. And remember, and I think that this is really important, these supporters had an opportunity already once to vote for Senator Obama, and they declined. Both candidates, both Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, laid out the best case they could make. These voters did not support Senator Obama. That means that they are on the market. There's no question that it's going to be up to Senator McCain to close the deal, but he can.
CONAN: He said in that speech you referenced, from Louisiana, "as the father of three daughters, I owe her a debt for inspiring millions of women to believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach." Well, Ramona Oliver, is 25 percent of Clinton's support really in play here?
Ms. OLIVER: Well, I think this isn't a new concept. Women make up the majority of swing voters. They're going to make up the majority of undecided voters in this general election. Anybody who wants to win an election needs to make their case and win women.
But there's a big piece of this puzzle that I think my colleague is leaving out here. Senator Clinton, who really is the leader of this tremendous coalition that's made up women, Hispanics and supporters, is going to be working to help get Barack Obama elected to the White House. She's going to, already said, that she's going to do everything that she can to see Democrats win the White House. And she is the leader of this group, and I think a lot of women will follow her lead.
But I also think that you're talking about two different groups, Democratic women, who've been supporting her, and then the swing women voters, that might be independents or moderates, that are going to be a critical factor in the general election. And I think there's some really good things that have happened in previous elections that show the Democrats can win that group.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. Again, our number is 800-989-8255. Email is email@example.com. Our guests, again, Ramona Oliver of Emily's List and Todd Harris of DC Navigators, former communications strategist for Senator McCain. And let's begin with Mary. Mary's with us from Leavenworth in Kansas.
MARY (Caller): OK. I was a Clinton supporter, and since she's no longer running, I am going to support John McCain. And it's because I supported her, not because of her gender or anything like that, it's because of her experience. She's been in the Washington Senate for a number of years and she knows what's going on. Obama's only been in there for what, three years, and he can't show me anything that he has done for his own state of Chicago, Illinois. And I know John McCain will be - he's got a lot of experience, and that's what I want in the White House, is somebody who's got some experience, who knows what they're doing and John McCain has it.
CONAN: And Mary, would you describe yourself as a Democrat, Independent, what?
MARY: This will be the first time I've ever voted for a Republican president. I am going to vote for him, and I hope a lot of people do not go by the party, the Democrat or the Republican or Independent, I hope they just look at the experience that John McCain has. And I have kept up on this and if people would just look at his experience, not his age, and look at Obama's experience, and not his youth or his charisma or his color. Just look at the experience of both people, and stop and think, who do you want to run this country?
CONAN: And that was John McCain's, well, line, throughout the speech from Kenner, Louisiana, on Tuesday night - experience.
Mr. HARRIS: Yeah, I think you're going to hear what Mary was saying echoed by millions of Americans across the country. There's no question that this is a change election, and both Senator McCain and Barack Obama will bring significant change to Washington. But there's a real sentiment among swing voters, and among a lot of people who supported Senator Clinton, that only John McCain, between those two, has the leadership and the experience to actually implement that change in Washington, to bring real, fundamental reform to our institutions of government. And so, while I'm pleased to hear Mary make that comment, I'm not surprised.
Ms. OLIVER: Well, I think that, you know, I know there are people out there who think like Mary does, but I think there are a lot more out there who will, you know, have been on either one side in the Democratic primary or the other, and will see that there were some differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but will also see that there is a gulf between the Democratic nominee and Senator John McCain. And the issues that the overwhelming majority of the country wants to see move forward on are ending the Iraq war, doing something about health care, protecting the environment. Those are issues that Barack Obama is going to champion, that Hillary Clinton's going to be championing as well. And these are issues that the majority of the American public is at odds on with Senator McCain.
Mr. HARRIS: I think it's important to point out that it's not incumbent upon Senator McCain to get all of Clinton's supporters. If he just gets, you know, the CBS poll's I mentioned 22 percent, let's say he loses half of that. If 10, 11 percent of Clinton supporters come November are voting for John McCain in these very tight, close elections that we've had these last several years, that's going to be enough to put him in the White House.
CONAN: Mary, would it make a difference to you if Senator Clinton goes out and campaigns for Senator Obama? I think that Mary's left us. Anyway, we thank her for her call. Let's see if we can go next to Deena (ph). Deena with us from Salt Lake City in Utah.
DEENA (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Hi Deena.
DEENA: I would actually vote for Obama if he puts Hillary on the ticket. Otherwise I'm probably going to vote for McCain.
CONAN: What if he...
DEENA: I feel like that because, you know, I'm wooed, and I love the wonderful rhetoric of Senator Obama. And I feel good after I hear him speak. But when rubber hits the road, and stuff has to get through Congress, and that gridlock, I think Hillary Clinton's the one that can do it.
And I think on the other side of the ticket, on the Republican side, McCain's the one that can get that done. I agree whole-heartedly that stuff - it has to change in Washington. But I just don't think Obama's wonderful, feel good, rhetoric, is going to make anything happen at all.
CONAN: And it doesn't sound, from what you're saying, as if say, Senator Claire McCaskill, or Governor Kathleen Sebelius, if they were the vice presidential choice, just simply a woman would not sway your decision?
DEENA: Oh, no. It's - no, I wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton just because she's a woman. I mean, I'm a Democratic woman, I'm older, I'm white, I'm educated. I just think she has the moxie to make things happen. She knows how things are done in Congress. And I think, you know, having the president is great. And the rhetoric, like I said from Obama, is great. But, who's really going to get things done? And I think that she understands that process so much better than Obama.
MS. OLIVER: You know, I think one of the great silver linings of this presidential primary process is that Hillary Clinton is still going to be out there, getting things done in the United States Senate. And you know, she has pledged to support Senator Obama. I think...
CONAN: She will on Saturday.
MS. OLIVER: Yes, yes. But, she's already said that she will work very, very hard to help make sure the Democratic win the White House in November. And I think it's not surprising that there's been a lot of talk about Hillary Clinton on the ticket. This legacy of this primary in this campaign that she's run is just astounding. I mean, nearly 18 million voters voted for her. She won critical blocks of voters who are going to be important to Democrats when it comes to winning up and down the ballot in November. She won in critical battleground areas. She's going to be a force in this process no matter where she is.
CONAN: Again, Deena, thanks very much for your call. Appreciate it.
DEENA: Thank you.
CONAN: And it's interesting Ramona, you've not mentioned the issue of choice as yet, or abortion. This is another huge gulf. Many people who support Senator McCain prove to not to know Senator McCain's position on abortion.
Ms. OLIVER: Yeah. It is, I think is the great misnomer of the public perception of Senator McCain, thus far is that people are not aware that he is anti-choice. That he would restrict further women's reproductive rights. And women's access to reproductive health care. And that a lot of his positions, where he tried to present himself as a moderate, are wholly at odds with what the American public wants right now. I mean, who needs another hundred years of Iraq?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HARRIS: Let's remember George W. Bush, in 2004 in his contest with John Kerry, received 48 percent of the women vote. And there's no question that people understood that President Bush was pro-life. I really think this November that for Clinton supporters, for women, for men, the issues are going to be pocketbook issues. Who's got the most experience and the leadership to reign in spending, cut taxes, and I think with that narrative, John McCain's going to come out on top.
CONAN: Todd Harris and Ramona Oliver are with us. If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. Clinton supporters, what do Senators McCain and Obama need to do to get your support? I'm Neal Conan, stay with us. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Now that Barack Obama has all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination for president, the fight begins to see who can win over Hillary Clinton's supporters, or significant percentages of Hillary Clinton supporters. If that's you? What do Senator's Obama and McCain have to do to get your vote?
Our phone number is 800-989-8255. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. you can also weigh in on our blog, that's at npr.org/blogofthenation. Our guests are Ramona Oliver, communications director of Emily's List and Todd Harris, who's with D.C. Navigators, a consulting firm. And was the former senior communications strategist for Senator John McCain. And again, if you'd like to join us? 800-989-8255. and let's begin with Paul. Paul's with us from Portland, Oregon.
PAUL (Caller): Yeah, hi. You know, when the elections first started, I was a Clinton supporter, but over time I just became more interested in what Obama had to say. But it really - it just infuriates me that so many Democrats and Independents, are willing to, I guess, cut off their nose to spite their face because Clinton didn't win the Primary. And they're forgetting key elections.
But, like you were just talking about, like abortion, and the fact that the next president's going to be able to appoint so many Supreme Court Justices. I just can't believe so many Democrats would be willing to bail on their party as a whole in order to vote for McCain who, experience or no, I mean this was some key issues of the election.
CONAN: Well, Todd, let me ask you. Do - in the long run, yes, of course, issues are extremely important. People do vote on emotion, a lot, and the character that they see, or they perceive, in the candidate. It's not just issues.
Mr. HARRIS: Well, I think that's right. And to be honest, you know, I'll take my partisan hat off for a moment. I think that we've got an embarrassment of riches this election cycle. Both, in terms of the life story and the character of both Senator Obama and Senator McCain.
You know, both of them have very compelling, emotional, life stories. And there's no question that that's very important. And so, once those two things sort of neutralize each other, then you really do get down to issues of importance. And you know, I know that, you know, Democrats are going to be saying from now to November, that John McCain is nothing more than a third Bush term.
CONAN: George Bush, yeah.
Mr. HARRIS: But when you look at major issues, you know, the conduct of the war for the first several years, climate change, government spending, energy policy. I mean, issue after issue, McCain has not shown fealty to the president or even to the party, but has put his country first. And the fact is, despite Obama's soaring rhetoric on bringing the country together, if you look at his record in Washington, there's really very little evidence of him actually doing anything concrete to bringing about that kind of change that he talks about so much.
Ms. OLIVER: I, you know, speaking back to the caller's question. I think that a lot of particularly Democratic voters, and I know I've heard from a lot of Democratic women over the last couple of days, there is going to be a process of - there's a lot of women who are very upset right now, who are very angry, who are very disappointed. I'm one of them.
But I think that, you know, just like we go through, sort of, our process of grief, eventually we will come through this. And we will look at the record of John McCain, and his wanting to continue the war in Iraq, and wanting to do little or nothing on being able to make sure that everybody has health care. And know that what I want from my country is not what John McCain represents.
But the other thing about Senator Obama that has really, you know, just inspired a nation, too. And he has made, already, such dramatic change to our political landscape. I mean, he has literally erased apathy from, sort of, our political consciousness and engaged so many people, again, in believing that their governments can do better, and being a part of that process to make that change happen. And it has been led, very much, by women.
CONAN: Let me ask - first let me thank Paul for his call. Appreciate it Paul. Let me ask you, in the past Democrats have relied on the gender gap. A plurality of women, going by significant percentages to the Democratic candidate. Can Democrats rely on that again, this time around?
Ms. OLIVER: Absolutely. In fact, you know, look at any of the recent, generic polls in terms of who American voters and who women voters want to control Congress, to control the White House? It's by wide margins, the Democrats. The issues that women care about, you know, no woman wants to be taken for granted. You know, you have to make your case. And the issues that they care about align most closely with what the Democrats want. In terms of health care, and Iraq, and the economy.
Mr. HARRIS: I agree with that, actually. And I think that particularly white women, former Clinton supporters, I think both McCain and the Obama campaigns will be in full courtship mode over the next several months because there is a perception that a lot of these votes are on the market. And both campaigns are going to be working overboard to get them.
But, you know, in addition to women, there's another critical voting bloc that has tended, in the past, not tended, that is always, universally voted Democratic, that I think is also up for grabs this cycle, and that's the Jewish vote. You know, Barack Obama is going to have significant problems in South Florida. I was just in South Florida the other day, and talking to Jewish voters, there's significant, significant concern. And you don't need to move many - you know, remember 1980, you know, Jimmy Carter only won 60 percent of the Jewish vote which was unheard of. You don't need to move that many Jewish voters before you start putting some pretty significant swing states into play.
CONAN: Florida, for the most part.
Mr. HARRIS: Florida, certainly. But you know, Neal, there are five states where the margin between Kerry and Bush, in 2004, was smaller than the total number of Jewish votes. So you move some of those, a lot of states come into play.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line? I have to expect some skepticism with that. But anyway, Libby(ph), let's go to Richmond, Virginia.
LIBBY (Caller): Yes, I'm a little bit nervous. I didn't really think my call would get through. But, the thing I keep hearing is that women are acting like they're disgruntled, and they're going to take their toys and go home. And I'm a middle class, educated woman, and we all have a lot of issues on our minds. And I just think that the worst thing that could happen to our country is to have people go to John McCain because they're mad at the Democratic Party for what's happened. That's all. I would like to say a lot more, but that's really, basically what I'm thinking right now.
Ms. OLIVER: And in the end I think that's going to be a small group of people. And I think that's in any dynamic, in any election. That if your candidate doesn't win there's a tendency for those supporters to, you know, think that they might stay home, but there's too much at stake. And there's too many important issues on the table right now with the economy, with gas prices, with Iraq war, for anybody to stay home in this election.
CONAN: And let me ask you, Todd, if Senator McCain, the more he reaches out to that Clinton constituency, doesn't he also risk alienating, or desensitizing his own conservative base in the Republican Party?
Mr. HARRIS: I don't think you're going to see, in fact I know that you won't see Senator McCain changing his positions on any issues in order to reach out to Clinton's supporters. But you know, campaigns are all about which issues are going to be emphasizing. And I would not be surprised, as he - most conservatives understand that McCain is a maverick, that he thinks independently, and that he has not marched in lock step with conservatives in Washington. Nor has he ever.
And in this cycle, where there is such a huge cry for change, you know, a lot of Republicans, while McCain may have made them quite angry over the past several years, people are now like, well he's our maverick now. And so there's no question that issues like global warming, you know, talking about the environment. Those issues are going to make him a soft place for Democrats to land, to support a Republican this cycle.
Ms. OLIVER: I think Senator McCain's transformative powers mainly apply to himself, and his message. But, you know, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton have this primary cycle brought out almost on a two to one basis, Democrats and Independents supporting them, supporting their campaign. There was just a huge turnout amongst Democrats. Huge energy. The Democratic campaign committee are out raising the Republican campaign committee by huge numbers. There's going to be great gains in the House, in the Senate, in State Houses around the country, and we are going to win the White House because of that.
CONAN: Libby, thanks so much for the call. Appreciate it.
LIBBY: Thank you very much for what you're doing.
CONAN: All right, bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to Aurora. Aurora with us from Miami in Florida.
AURORA (Caller): Yes, hello.
CONAN: Hi there.
AURORA: I'm a Floridian, and a Miami Cuban, lifelong Democrat. So if you know anything about Florida politics, I'm a rare bird.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: And stubborn, too.
AURORA: And I voted Democratic all my life. But, I'm seriously thinking of voting for McCain this year because like the first caller Mary said, I think experience. I think the world is really messed up, and we cannot afford somebody with on-the-job training. He's only had two years of experience. Basically, it's just a beautiful rhetoric, but I don't think he has the experience to get things done in Congress.
And I'm just looking out for - yes, issues are important, but like the lady from Emily's List said, we're probably going to win Congress, we're probably by a large majority. So, I don't think he's going to be able to put through Supreme Court Justices that the Democrats don't support. So, I'm just looking at the bigger picture. And I think McCain has the experience to do it. Plus, I think he's a maverick, and he's gone against the Republican Party several times in ways that I've supported.
So, and also I'm very upset with the Democratic Party for what they've done to the Florida vote. So, it's just - it's a perfect storm for me to go to McCain, and that's the way I feel. A lot of my Floridian friends are saying the same thing.
CONAN: And do you think that these passions will cool over the next coming months, especially as Senator Clinton, in almost every certainty comes out and campaigns enthusiastically for Senator Obama?
AURORA: I don't know - I really, I mean like I said I am looking at the bigger picture. I think McCain has more experience, and the country is - the world is messed up. And like I said, I don't think we need a president who's going to have on the job training. McCain is experienced, and yes there's problems with a lot of his issues - I'm pro-choice, but like I said, I think we're going to win Congress. And I think the Democrat's are not going to allow a lot of those appointments. So, I'm...
CONAN: Aurora, thank you.
AURORA: I think I'm going to take a gamble on it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: OK. Thanks very much. And we spoke to a lot of these issues before - we're running out of time. I wanted to get to this email from Karen in Rockford, Illinois. "I voted for Hillary Clinton because I think her health care plan is better, and she has sustained her passion for enacting it for years. I would enthusiastically vote for Barack Obama, and donate to his cause if he acknowledged and harnessed that passion with her on the ticket as VP, or as health and human services cabinet secretary. Let her run the ball on health care, while he ends our occupation of Iraq, and fixes global warming. Barack Obama should trust that the American people can handle the complex politics of having a former president married to his vice president will deal. That's one of the fantastic advances of feminism."
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: So, Ramona, let me ask you Ramona Oliver - does Hillary Clinton on the vice presidential line. Does that solve a problem?
Ms. OLIVER: I don't think - I think it's not very surprising that this email, and that a lot of people talked about Senator Clinton on the ticket, as I said. She's accomplished so much with this historic campaign.
But I think ultimately this is a decision for Senator Obama, for the two of them to talk about it, and you know - from our perspective at Emily's List we sure are going to be respectful of that process.
But I think the bottom line is, the one thing you can take heart in is - no matter what, no matter from where, Senator Clinton is - has come out of this primary process so strong with such a tremendous base of support. So much stronger than when she went in, and will be a major force from making the kind of changes that she's been advocating for in this campaign on health care, on energy, and on Iraq.
CONAN: And Todd Harris just on that last point. Should Senator Clinton be named to the ticket? Does that reduce Senator McCain's opportunities to make incursions?
Mr. HARRIS: I don't know if it does or it doesn't, but I don't think that the healing within the Democratic Party will be finished until Obama has announced his decision. And if it's not Hillary Clinton then there are going to be a whole lot of disillusioned Clinton supporters who once again will be back on the market, and Senator McCain plans to court them vigorously.
CONAN: Todd Harris, a Republican consultant who works at D.C. Navigators, here in Washington - previously, a senior communications aide to Senator John McCain. Thanks very much.
Mr. HARRIS: My pleasure.
CONAN: And Ramona Oliver, Communications Director of Emily's List, a group that advocates for the election of pro-choice Democratic women candidates. And thanks very much for coming back on Talk of the Nation.
Ms. OLIVER: Thank you.
CONAN: And this is Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.