STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steven Inskeep. This may be the moment when John McCain gets the normal treatment facing most presidential frontrunners. People scrutinize the candidate's life even more intensely than they did before. And this morning John McCain, the crusader against special interests, can open his New York Times if he wants to find a long exploration of his relationships with lobbyists. NPR analyst Juan Williams is tracking the presidential campaign and joins us. Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's this story say about McCain?

WILLIAMS: The New York Times is reporting on its front page that Senator McCain was involved in a very close relationship with a number of lobbyists, including one particular woman.

INSKEEP: This is in the year 2000, you're talking about, his campaign for presidency then.

WILLIAMS: That's right. And it became so close it was a matter of concern because there was all sorts of possibilities of a scandal that would damage his reputation, even beyond the idea that he's a Washington reformer.

INSKEEP: Did he ever do anything for her clients?

WILLIAMS: Well, yes. Her clients included Cablevision, EchoStar and the like. And there were some efforts on behalf of those clients, but the McCain campaign has been very clear in saying that nothing out of the ordinary was done for these clients, and also pointedly denied that there was any romantic link.

INSKEEP: Now, given that the story here goes on to describe his relationships with other business leaders and so forth, and we should emphasize professional relationships here, favors he excepted and so forth, how much of a problem is this going to be for John McCain?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's a matter of what happens now. This morning already the McCain campaign says that the senator will have a major press conference and address this issue. But already what you can see is that people who were opposed to Senator McCain on the Republican side because of his moderate stances are seizing it is an opportunity to portray him as a man who is not a true conservative and a man who is in tow to the power of Washington lobbyists and therefore not a good representative of the GOP in the November campaign.

So it may be that you now have people who didn't like John McCain who plan to use this to try to unsettle what looks to be a sure route to the nomination.

INSKEEP: Juan, when you move beyond Republican insiders and look at Republican voters, is McCain generating much excitement now that he appears to be the likely nominee?

WILLIAMS: Not at the moment, Steve. He got an endorsement the other day from Former President George H.W. Bush. It looked as if the Republican Party was trying to come together behind McCain as the almost certain nominee. But if you're talking about voters, just the other night in Wisconsin you had 1.1 million Democrats show up to vote, but only 400,000 Republicans. It was a lopsided turnout. And that's what's been going on nationwide. Since these primaries have started, you had more than 11 million Americans voting in the Republican primaries, but nearly 17 million Democrats, which is about 50 percent more.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about those Democrats. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, of course, are the candidates left standing. They've got a debate coming up. And Hillary Clinton, who's been losing a lot lately, has been promising to draw a clear contrast with Obama. How can she do that?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think she's going to go clearly at the idea she expressed just yesterday, that it's time to move beyond soundbites to sound solution, beyond good words to good works. And so she wants to drive home the idea that she is the one of substance.

She's also picking up on the idea that he had promised, Senator Obama, to use public financing of the general election campaign if his Republican opponent also agreed to do so. Well, John McCain has agreed to do so. But now Senator Obama is saying he doesn't think he's going to participate in that kind of public financing. So she'll accuse him of a flip-flop there.

And then there's some smaller issues having to do with Senator Obama using some language very similar to language used by now-Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, who was a client of David Axelrod, who's running the Obama campaign, when Deval Patrick was running for governor of Massachusetts.

INSKEEP: Allegations of plagiarism, I mean that's the word that's being put on it.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think plagiarism is such a strong word. But it looks like copying or using similar language. That's why I was trying to be a little bit cautious.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Okay. Be sure to put it in your own words, in any event, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR News analyst, Juan Williams. Thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

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