STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
It may be weeks until the next vote, but the presidential candidates are barely slowing down. That was clear when Hillary Clinton took a chair yesterday. She was in Washington, a few blocks from the house where she wants to live.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are maneuvering for convention delegates who determine the Democratic nomination. And Senator Clinton made a sharp declaration about two states she won - Michigan and Florida.
INSKEEP: Those states were stripped of their convention delegates for voting too early. The only major candidates on Michigan's ballot were Senator Clinton and uncommitted. Still, Clinton told Hispanic leaders yesterday that both primaries were fair and should be honored.
Failing that, she wants new primaries, which leads to a question: how can the Michigan results be fair, results that should be honored, if Barack Obama wasn't even on the ballot?
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Well, that was his choice, remember. There was no rule or requirement that he take his name off the ballot. And his supporters ran a very aggressive campaign to try to get people to vote uncommitted. So it wasn't that he didn't participate at all. In fact, there was a real effort to get people to vote uncommitted, and I still won 55 percent of the vote.
INSKEEP: You say that that is a fair result even without Barack Obama's name on the ballot?
Sen. CLINTON: Well, that was his choice, Steve. I mean...
INSKEEP: Was it the Democratic Party's choice that it would not be a result that would be counted, that most people took their names off the ballot?
Sen. CLINTON: No. I think that the Democratic Party said that they would not under the circumstances count the votes. But we all had a choice as to whether or not to participate in what was going to be a primary. And most people took their names off the ballot, but I didn't. And I think that that was a wise decision because Michigan is key to our electoral victory in the fall. And I think if there is to be any difference between my proposal that we count those votes and any other course of action, it should be a complete redo of the primary. Nothing else is fair, and I feel strongly about that.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about your recent suggestion that perhaps people could vote for both of you and Senator Obama, presumably on a joint ticket. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, has said this week that she thinks you have fairly ruled that out by saying that Barack Obama is not as qualified as John McCain on national security issues. Is she right about that?
Sen. CLINTON: Well, I think we're mixing apples and oranges here. You know, people talk to me all the time as I travel around the country about how they wish they didn't have to choose between us. And, you know, until one of us gets the nomination, neither of us has any ground to offer anything to anyone, and of course I haven't.
So I think that we're just going to proceed through these next contests, see who ends up with the nomination, probably in June sometime that will be resolved. And then one of us will have the duty and the responsibility of picking a running mate.
INSKEEP: Are Obama's national security credentials sufficient that he could serve as vice president, meaning he could have to step into the Oval Office in a moment's notice?
Sen. CLINTON: Well, I think that we're going to go through this process and see where it ends up. And obviously voters are the ones who are weighing our various credentials, who has the experience and the qualifications, who would ready on day one, and we'll see who gets the nomination.
INSKEEP: But if you say McCain is more qualified than Obama, isn't that essentially saying...
Sen. CLINTON: Well...
INSKEEP: ...that would be a problem if Obama's on the ticket in the fall?
Sen. CLINTON: Well, I don't recall actually saying that. What I did say is that, you know, Senator McCain will make national security a centerpiece of his campaign. Everybody knows that. He will bring his lifetime of experience into the general election. I believe I am better positioned, based on my experience, to go toe-to-toe with Senator McCain.
INSKEEP: Some of the experience you mentioned is working on a peace deal on Northern Ireland, working to get refugees from Kosovo during that crisis admitted across the border into Macedonia. The Chicago Tribune has questioned your experience in those areas, for example saying that with getting refugees across the border into Macedonia they were actually let into the country the day before you even arrived. Is that true?
Sen. CLINTON: No. I was there with State Department officials and we went to the refugee camp and the border was closed. And we met with the government and we, I think, helped to persuade them - there were other factors at work - that it would be in their interest and it would be the right thing to do to let more refugees in.
You know, I find this an interesting conversation because there is no doubt that I played a major role in many of the foreign policy decisions. I represented our government and our country in more than 80 countries and I know that people are nitpicking and raising questions. That's fair. That's in a campaign. But compare my experience, even after the nitpicking, with Senator Obama's. I mean, let's, you know, let's look at this objectively here. And I think my experience, you know, is much more preparatory for the job that awaits.
INSKEEP: In cases like Northern Ireland, were you frequently the person at the center of the room doing the talking to the people on the other side?
Sen. CLINTON: What I was was part of a team, and that team included, obviously, the principal negotiators under the direct authority of my husband. I wasn't sitting at the negotiating table, but the role I played was instrumental.
You know, just last, I guess it was, oh, I don't know, maybe in December when Ian Paisley, Martin McGuiness, came to the United States, I think they met with the leadership of Congress with the president and with me, and they thanked me publicly for the role that I had played.
INSKEEP: One last question, Senator. If we get to the end of the primaries and Obama's leading in delegates, which statistically seems like a good possibility, and it's up to the superdelegates to make a different choice, will you be comfortable if the superdelegates make a different choice than the voters seem to have?
Sen. CLINTON: Well, there are three ways people become delegates. They become delegates through caucuses, which are smaller gatherings; they become delegates through primaries; they become delegates because they're appointed to be delegates by the Democratic National Committee. Each delegate has an equal say in the process. That is the system that was set up that has been in place for decades.
INSKEEP: So you're comfortable if the voters seem to make one choice and the superdelegates vote a different way?
Sen. CLINTON: Well, the voters haven't spoken yet. We have a lot of contests to go and I think we'll wait and see where the voters are at the end of all these contests.
INSKEEP: But you're comfortable if the voters go one way and superdelegates go another?
Sen. CLINTON: Well, I'm not going to speculate. I want to see what happens from Pennsylvania to Puerto Rico. I want to see what happens in Michigan and Florida. Because I think that, again, it would very shortsighted for the Democrats to disenfranchise two states we have to win. With all due respect, unless there's a sea change in American politics, we're not going to carry Alaska. We're not going to carry North Dakota. We're not going to carry Utah.
INSKEEP: States that Barack Obama won.
Sen. CLINTON: That's right. We have to look at the electoral map, Steve. Look at who can anchor the states we need to win in running against John McCain. He will be formidable and he will be very competitive in states like Florida.
And therefore I think we have to look and ask ourselves as Democrats, who is the person best able to defeat John McCain, and I think I am that person.
INSKEEP: Senator Clinton, thanks very much for your time.
Sen. CLINTON: Good to talk to you.
INSKEEP: She spoke in Washington yesterday, and we should mention that we've invited Senator Barack Obama to speak with MORNING EDITION as well.