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ALEX COHEN, host:

This weekend, the Democratic Leadership Council holds its summer meeting in Nashville. They are the centrist group that brought Bill Clinton to national prominence in the run-up to his successful bid for the presidency in 1992. Clinton spoke to the group that year about voluntary national service.

President BILL CLINTON: We ought to make it possible for every American without regard to race or gender or income to get a college education. But that if we do it, those Americans ought to give something back to their country to rebuild it from the grassroots up and to bring it together.

COHEN: Bill Clinton will be back to speak to the group on Monday, but notably absent from the list of attendees is his wife, the presidential candidate. In fact, none of the other seven Democratic presidential hopefuls are slated to show. Joining me now to talk about that is Bruce Reed. He's president of the Democratic Leadership Council. Welcome back to the program, Bruce.

Mr. BRUCE REED (President, Democratic Leadership Council): Thanks for having me.

COHEN: So this is your big summer meeting and none of the candidates are showing up. What's going on?

Mr. REED: Well, this is not unusual in the third year of the cycle. We are not a litmus test on the way to Iowa and New Hampshire. So in 2003 the candidates didn't show up either. We know that we'll see the Democratic nominee next year at our meeting. But we're happy we've got Bill Clinton coming to keynote on Monday, so it should be a good meeting.

COHEN: Bruce, you sound like this is, you know, no sweat for you, but I wanted to take you back two summers ago; we talked to you when your group appointed Hillary Clinton to help your group set its policy, and now it's blowing you off.

Mr. REED: Look, for us the most important thing is the kind of campaign that the candidates are running. And we're very happy with how this primary campaign is going. And the ideas that the campaigns are running on are very much to our liking. Senator Clinton is running on an agenda that's very much like the one that she developed with us last year. And Barack Obama is running on themes of hope and responsibility, which we've championed for years. So this is a good Democratic campaign, and all Democrats are very much looking forward to next year when we think we've got a terrific chance of taking back the White House.

COHEN: A lot of these candidates are appealing quite strongly to the Democratic base, which frankly is a lot more liberal than your group, the DLC. Do you think they're making a mistake in doing so?

Mr. REED: We're not too worried about a Democrat winning a primary. We know that the Democrats are good at winning primaries. The question is whether we can win the general elections.

COHEN: Bruce, if you could build a Democratic presidential candidate for this upcoming race from scratch, what would that candidate be like?

Mr. REED: My old boss Bill Clinton has always said that the most important aspect of any candidate is that they can make a good case to the country and that whether they are good speaker or where they come from or what they look like is not nearly as important at the end of the day as whether they can win the debate against the other side. And that's why I think we are in terrific shape.

COHEN: Finally, Bruce, I've got to ask. You're going to be in Nashville, city of music, Bill Clinton showing up. Is he going to bring his saxophone? You guys going to go hit the town at night?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REED: You know, the competition in Nashville is pretty steep, but maybe for old times' sake we'll get out the shades and the saxophone and he can jam a little.

COHEN: Bruce Reed is president of the Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC convenes its summer meeting this weekend in Nashville. Thanks so much for joining me, Bruce.

Mr. REED: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Bill Clinton playing his sax on "The Tonight Show" in 1992.

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