Daschle on Uniting the Democratic Party

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Scott Simon talks to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who's national co-chairman of the Obama campaign, about the challenges of winning over supporters of Hillary Clinton, and facing Republican Sen. John McCain in the general election.


Democrats seem to have an awful lot of assets going into the presidential campaign. An exciting, young history-making candidate, lots of money, and overwhelmingly favorable poll numbers on most every issue. But the primary season that ended this week was long, expensive, and contentious. Will the nearly equal number of people who supported Senators Obama and Clinton be able to mend their differences? Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is national co-chair of the Obama campaign. Senator, thank you very much for being with us.

Former Senator TOM DASCHLE (National Co-chair, Obama Presidential Campaign): My pleasure.

SIMON: And let's not waste any time. Should Senator Obama ask Senator Clinton to be his running mate?

Former Senator DASCHLE: Well, I think Senator Obama is going to consider Senator Clinton, along with a lot of other options. Senator Clinton has been an extraordinary candidate, an extraordinary leader, someone with a great vision and a tremendous following in the country. So clearly, she ought to be one of those considered.

SIMON: Senator Obama, of course, has had a very successful primary season, and it's a piece of American history that he is now the Democratic candidate for president. With that being noted, are you concerned that between Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, few other states - he was losing steam as he headed towards the finish line.

Former Senator DASCHLE: I wouldn't take these votes that have been cast as anti-Obama. Hillary is a very, very good candidate and a very strong leader, and so I would hope that the vast majority of those voters who voted for her, given the contrast and given the extraordinary differences that will exist in public policy and persona between John McCain and Barack Obama, that we're going to get most, if not all those votes come November.

SIMON: What does Senator Obama do to try and sew them up?

Former Senator DASCHLE: First of all, we've got to unify our party, and with Hillary's scheduled announcement and with the meeting that they had this week, I mean, it's really begun. I just got off the phone with a very high-level Clinton supporter, a very active person involved in the campaign, and he indicated that there is a great desire and interest on the part of the vast bulk of Clinton supporters and staff and workers - that they want to join now in making sure that we're successful in November

SIMON: You know John McCain. You've known him for some time, I would imagine.

Former Senator DASCHLE: I do, very well.

SIMON: In some ways, he's not a traditional Republican candidate, is he?

Former Senator DASCHLE: He isn't, and it would be a big mistake for us to take his candidacy in any way lightly. We've got a race on our hands. He's very good with independents. He jokes about the media being his base. It seems to me that with the positions he's taken almost across the board, it gives legitimacy to this claim that he would represent George Bush's third term. John McCain today is far more in support of virtually all of George Bush's policies today than he was six, seven years ago.

SIMON: Would you make the argument, as I think Senator Obama himself has suggested, that as fractious and expensive as it is, it sure has created interest?

Former Senator DASCHLE: It has created a great deal of interest. I may be wrong in this figure, but I was told that we've seen about four and a half million new participants, new registered voters, all over the country.

The turnout, the level of excitement, it's democracy reborn, and, you know, we needed it badly. There has been such a degree of cynicism and despair and fundamental angst about the direction our country is going and the political process and the polarization. I think this has been an infusion that has been so helpful.

SIMON: Tom Daschle, national co-chair of the Obama campaign. Thank you very much for being with us.

Former Senator DASCHLE: My pleasure.

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