RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Twenty-four hours ago, almost any political analyst believed that our next guest would be the winner of the New Hampshire primary. Instead, Senator Barack Obama finished second. He fell behind Hillary Clinton in a vote with record turnout. And he is on the line this morning.
Senator, good morning.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Why do you think the election changed so quickly at the end?
Sen. OBAMA: Well, you know, polls are notoriously unreliable, especially when you're seeing big turnouts like this. You don't know how things are going to play themselves out. We did very well. I mean, our votes were where we expected them to be. And, you know, Senator Clinton ran a good race. What is inspiring, I think, both about Iowa and New Hampshire, is to see how intensely people are following this campaign, how people who may not typically vote are coming out to vote. I think this is going to be a hard-fought contest all the way through February fifth.
INSKEEP: Although you pointed out elsewhere this morning that there were a lot of late-breaking votes. Why do you think, at that last moment, significant numbers of people would choose to vote for someone other than you?
Sen. OBAMA: Well, you know, it's very hard to gauge. I'm sure that people are going to analyze it. Clearly, Senator Clinton did better among women than she had anticipated - many of the pundits had anticipated. How that played itself out during these last several days is hard to gauge. What I know, though, is that we've really shifted the political terrain. It's indisputable now that people want a different kind of politics. They are hungry for change in Washington. I think our message of bringing people together and pushing against the special interests and really trying to be straight with the American people about how we're going to solve problems, you know, that's the right message. And I've just got to make sure that we are delivering that message and translating that into concrete terms for the people in Nevada and South Carolina and the other states that haven't voted yet.
INSKEEP: Which we're going to talk about in a moment. I'd like to ask, though, whether you believe it's fair or not - do you believe that Hillary Clinton and - to some degree - Bill Clinton have succeeded in raising some doubts about your readiness to be president?
Sen. OBAMA: No. I mean, keep in mind, you know, those were all arguments that had been made in Iowa as well - and had been made vigorously. You know, I think that, right now, the American people are narrowing the field. They have focused on several strong candidates. We're in that mix. And, you know, they're going to be, you know, lifting the hood and kicking the tires over the coming weeks to figure out who is going to be able to best deliver on the change that they want. And the argument that I'm going to keep making is that we can't get that change unless we have a working majority that can attract independents, attract some Republicans. And that is something that I think I can do most effectively as the nominee and, ultimately, as the president.
INSKEEP: President Clinton - former President Clinton - also raised questions about whether your record was really so different on a key issue - Iraq. He said it was a fairy tale, as you know, that your voting record was any different than Hillary Clinton's when it came to Iraq. And he said there was some doubt as to whether you've even been that strongly against the war in the beginning.
Sen. OBAMA: Well, you know what? Former President Clinton has continued to mischaracterize my record on this. And we're going to have to call him on it. You know, the press has already pointed out that he's wrong about this. But he keeps on repeating it. And at some point, you know, we're just going to have to keep drilling away at the fact that it is indisputable, I opposed this war from the start - in 2002, 2003, 2004. And that the fact that I voted for funding for the war once I got in the Senate is perfectly consistent with my position that it was important to make sure that our troops had the equipment and the tools that they needed at a time when things were very dicey.
INSKEEP: And when Clinton claims that in 2004, after the war had begun, you said you didn't know how you would have voted on the Iraq war resolution. Is he misquoting you?
Sen. OBAMA: Well, he's partially quoting me. This is an interview that I did with "Meet The Press" at the 2004 convention. When Tim Russert, after having shown a clip, where I explicitly opposed the war, then said, how is it that you seem to anticipate all these problems and your nominees, John Kerry and John Edwards, did not? And, you know, out of an interest in supporting my nominees, I said, well, look, I don't know exactly how I would have voted if I'd been in the Senate. What I do know is that, from where I stood, the case was not made. Now, Bill Clinton always leaves that second part out, which is convenient. But I think that anybody who has examined this issue recognizes that my position on Iraq has been consistent.
INSKEEP: And the next place you'll be tested - or one of the next places, anyway, that you'll be tested - would be South Carolina - first southern state; also the first state with a significant black vote. Do you think that you have proven to black voters that if they back you - instead of Hillary Clinton, with whom they have a long past - that they'll be backing a winner?
Sen. OBAMA: Well, I think that there's no doubt that we are in a very strong position to win. And I think even if you talk to the Clinton camp, they would say that we are in a strong position to win, as they are. We are seeing enormous numbers of people - first-time voters, younger voters -participating in the process. And, you know, I'm reaching out not just to the African-American community but to people from all walks of life, saying we can put together a coalition that we haven't seen in a long time to actually move a progressive agenda forward. And that's what I'm going to be trying to do over the next few weeks and then, hopefully, over the next eight years.
INSKEEP: I assume you'll still be talking about change.
Sen. OBAMA: Well, change, but in very specific terms. I mean, I think that one of the thing - points that I've been trying to make over the last several weeks is that when I talk about change, it's not some gauzy pie-in-the-sky change. I'm talking about making sure we have a health care system where every American can get health care that's as good as the health care I have as a member of Congress.
INSKEEP: Oh, that's something - just to take that specific goal, that's something people have been trying for years and have had only incremental success.
Sen. OBAMA: Well...
INSKEEP: Can you name one concrete thing you can do that other candidates would not do to move things forward in Washington?
Sen. OBAMA: Well, it is going to require the American people, enlisting them in putting pressure on Congress to make it happen. This is part of the point that I've been trying to make, Steve. There's no shortage of plans out there. There's no shortage of policy papers. This is not a technical problem. It's a problem of politics. It's a problem of getting a big enough coalition of people who are organized, inspired, mobilized and will then put pressure on those who are elected, in combination with a president who is able to lead, in order to get it done. There's no magic solutions here. And the problems that we face - whether it's climate change or health care or making college more affordable or dealing with our foreign policy - is less a problem of, you know, getting the perfectly calibrated policy. It has to do with, you know, are we able to get people to work in the same direction? And that's what I can do.
INSKEEP: Senator Obama, thanks very much.
Sen. OBAMA: Great to talk to you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Barack Obama is running for the Democratic nomination for president. He is in New Hampshire.