ALISON STEWART, host:
Twenty-twenty-five. That is the magic number for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Each is hoping to make it to that number of delegates to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Now here is the funny thing. What everybody at at one point described as that too-condensed, crammed-up, jammed-up primary season, what was going be a sprint to a nomination, has turned into one heck of a marathon.
Forty states in, and still not clear who will be the Democratic nominee. Obama won Mississippi last night, and 17 of its 33 delegates, and he leads Clinton. Now we all get to pause for a whole six weeks before heading to the next big contest in Pennsylvania. So what did we learn during the past 69 days since the Iowa caucuses way back on January 3rd? John Harris, editor-in-chief of politico.com joins us to break it all down. So, hey, John...
Mr. JOHN HARRIS (Editor-in-Chief, politico.com): Hey. Good morning.
STEWART: How are you? So with 20/20 hindsight, I mean - I thought at this point, and I think a lot of people thought at this point, with that sort of tight, tight primary and caucuses in the winner, the winner of the nominations would be - it would be so clear by now.
Mr. HARRIS: Oh, no. I have to tell you I predicted it all exactly. If you go back to what I was writing in late December, you'll see that I had this called almost to a tee.
STEWART: Why are the Democrats in this position of not having a clear nominee at this point?
Mr. HARRIS: Well, because their race is tied. It's no big surprise. We've seen this situation for the last few weeks. Certainly since Super Tuesday, it's become clear that probably we're - we certainly knew we were going to end up with a very tight contest. Since the last week it's clear to me that this is probably going to go on past Pennsylvania. There's no way that this nomination's going to get solved with Michigan and Florida in dispute. Neither of these candidates have managed to take what for both of them has been moments of momentum, and do what nominees usually do, which is usually build on that, and create something invincible.
STEWART: Now here comes the issue. There's a lot of time before Pennsylvania, and a lot of stuff can happen. Let's just talk about what happened yesterday, the fight getting a little personal. Geraldine Ferraro, Clinton supporter, fundraiser and a political predecessor, really - you know, she was the 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate.
Mr. HARRIS: Sure.
STEWART: Told last week, for people who haven't heard this story yet, if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position, and if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky who he is. She went on to defend herself when a lot of people said, you want to clarify that? Saying that anytime that you talk about the Obama campaign in this way, you're accused of being a racist, so you have to shut up. Now Clinton has called this regrettable, said she does not agree. Is that enough?
Mr. HARRIS: I don't know. Says who? Certainly not Obama's supporters. I guess we're going to see how much Obama thinks this discussion somehow helps him, in which case, he's probably going to keep the heat on Senator Clinton, and say, hey, look, you forced me to repudiate, and regret, and all the other different verbs - I lost track - when Louis Farrakhan made remarks that Clinton wanted Obama to distance himself from. So is he going to now turn the tables and say, look, you know, step to the plate? Or is he going to say, as he's done in some other occasions in the past, look, let's move on, I don't want this election to be about race?
STEWART: But I would think that the black vote is going to be very important in this race, as we've seen already.
Mr. HARRIS: Well, the black vote, Obama has it, emphatically. When we started this race, there was a question of whether the Clintons could compete seriously for the African-American vote based on historically their strong support within that community. And you'll see the - you'll recall that a lot of the elected members of Congress from the Black Caucus were backing Senator Clinton. That's over. Obama has the black support.
STEWART: But what if he's not the nominee? That's the question. If he's not the nominee, and Senator Clinton is, what about the black vote?
Mr. HARRIS: Well, that is why this contest is very interesting. That's why lots of Democrats really, really are uneasy, and even though as a political reporter, I would love seeing this go on 'til June, or even 'til the convention in August, that's why most Democratic leaders really do not relish that prospect. You're quite right. It would be a very, very serious political problem for the Democrats to - if Barack Obama is not the nominee, and in any way this was seen as the Democratic establishment stealing it from an African-American who had more votes.
STEWART: Yesterday was the Mississippi primary. Did anything instructive come out of that for either candidate? In terms of the exit polls?
Mr. HARRIS: No, this was a - this continued the status quo. We've seen it all across the South. Not just in the South, but especially the South - a racially divided vote. I wouldn't say polarized, because I don't know that it was necessarily people voting on the basis of racial resentment, or anything like that, but there's no question Obama, you know, swept the African-American vote. Hillary Clinton won - she didn't win quite as emphatically - the white vote. So, what we saw in Mississippi continued a pattern throughout the South.
STEWART: So everybody's looking towards Pennsylvania. Is this 42-day gap the best thing ever for John McCain?
Mr. HARRIS: No, not necessarily. There's two different views on this.
STEWART: Oh, hit me with both.
Mr. HARRIS: Not really clear which one of them is going to turn out to be true. People say it's good for McCain because he got the Democratic candidates roughing each other up, and in some case making the arguments that he wants to make in the general election against either one of them. The flip side of that, though, is that, look, all the attention of the political world is on the Democratic race.
RACHEL MARTIN, host: Yeah, he's getting no love from the press.
STEWART: That's a good point.
Mr. HARRIS: He's almost a ghost out there, and no presidential candidate ever wants to be a ghost.
STEWART: John McCain, he spent yesterday in Missouri focusing on general election stuff.
Mr. HARRIS: Uh huh.
STEWART: In talking economic issues and NAFTA. So what does his strategy need to be over the next month?
Mr. HARRIS: I think he needs to look for opportunities to pounce on, you know, potentially impolitic things that the Democrats are saying, and that gives him an opportunity to start to lay out his general election case. Even more importantly, behind the scenes, or somewhat behind the scenes, he needs to unite his own party. Recall that lots of the conservatives in particular aren't especially with the fact that he is their nominee, even though he is.
Mr. HARRIS: Can he, you know, sort of politely tell people to get over it, and have them enthusiastic about his candidacy by the fall?
STEWART: Yeah, just get over that. Just get over that thing.
Mr. HARRIS: Yeah, get over it.
STEWART: Right. John Harris is the editor-in-chief of politico.com, and John, on your website today, there is a little bit of an article about Mitt Romney saying, sure, I'd be the vice presidential candidate. No problem.
Mr. HARRIS: Yeah, the line forms on the right.
MARTIN: Except I'm picking from the line on the left, would be McCain's answer to that, right?
Mr. HARRIS: McCain - I don't think based on everything we know about their personal relationship is going to be terribly enthusiastic about that prospect. And I don't know that unlike say Obama, who - or Clinton, if they lose the nomination, there's going be a lot of people saying hey, we want this guy to be vice president. I'm not sure that Mitt Romney finished the Republican race with that kind of hardcore support that's going to insist that he's on the ticket.
STEWART: Who's on McCain's shortlist? Do you have any clues?
Mr. HARRIS: You know, there's just the names that we hear. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty...
STEWART: Tim Pawlenty.
Mr. HARRIS: Is the one who's got support among conservatives, so that might be good. If McCain's looking for a little rainbow on his ticket, which might be wise in this election year, there's some talk that Colin Powell might come out of retirement. That would be interesting.
STEWART: Oh, that would be interesting.
MARTIN: I haven't heard that.
STEWART: The last one, you got me with that last one. John Harris, Editor-in-Chief of politico.com. What are you doing for the next 42 days?
Mr. HARRIS: I'm going be watching our traffic. There's a lot of political junkies out there, and this is heaven for them.
STEWART: All right, John. Thanks a lot.
Mr. HARRIS: OK, see you.