MIKE PESCA, host:
It's bound to entertain you. Everybody has a mania to do the primary from Pennsylvania. OK, the original lyrics said polka, but tomorrow is the Pennsylvania primary. It's been six weeks since the last Democratic nominating contest. Trivia question, which state was it? And who won? Jim VandeHei, the executive editor of politico.com, is here. Jim, you know the answer to that, right?
Mr. JIM VANDEHEI (Chief Editor, Politico.com): I didn't even hear the question. What is it?
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: What was the last state to have a primary? Who won?
Mr. VANDEHEI: Mississippi, Obama.
PESCA: Yes, correct.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Yes.
PESCA: OK, you qualify for our next 17 questions.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Wow, that would have been bad if I would have got that one wrong.
PESCA: This is been a long six weeks, huh?
Mr. VANDEHEI: It has been a long six weeks, an exciting six weeks.
PESCA: OK. Pennsylvania is - tomorrow is fascinating because I really do think - you had an Ed Rendell clip on a couple minutes ago saying, well, you know, if Hillary wins by four or five points, that would be amazing because she's been outspent.
The truth is, if she wins by only four or five points in a state where the demographics heavily favor her, I think her campaign would be devastated. They know they have to win, probably, by double digits to really keep the superdelegates engaged on her side. Yeah. That was Rendell playing the expectations game.
And obviously, if you set them low, and she just does what she's, quote, unquote, "supposed to do," it seems good. And a lot of people in the media are trying to put a number on it. We have a clip of Sam Donaldson and George Stephanopoulos yesterday on "This Week."
(Soundbite of TV show "This Week")
Mr. SAM DONALDSON (Journalist, ABC News): Well, in my mind, she needs to win. Now, if she wins by half a point or a point, that's not good enough. But I can't tell you whether it's six points or eight points. But I know that Senator Obama's people are putting it much higher. And in the press, we're generally putting it, you have to win double digits.
PESCA: I take it you agree with that. Is that fair, though?
Mr. VANDEHEI: Well, it's politics. I mean, nothing's fair.
PESCA: It's not fair! It's not about fair!
Mr. VANDEHEI: It is about expectations in the minds of superdelegates, especially those that have real influence, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reed, and the others that I think a lot of superdelegates look to for some direction. And the truth is, a lot of Democrats want this thing to come to a close. They're going to let it be open. They're going to let it go on as long as they feel Hillary Clinton can make a plausible case for the nomination.
If it's tight in Pennsylvania, and I think tight is five, six points or less for Hillary Clinton, you're going to have more questions being asked about her viability because Pennsylvania is a state that has so many sort of working-class white, has a lot of Catholics, a lot of demographic groups that, in the other states, have voted for Hillary Clinton.
Democrats are wringing their hands right now because they're worried that, wow, it's getting really negative, and this could hurt the Democratic brand. I personally think that's a little hyperventilation on their side.
The truth is, A, what happens in April never dictates what happens in November, and people will forget about the negativity now, and most likely will forget about this whole nominating fight, you know, three or four months from now when they reengage in the campaign.
PESCA: Well, that's as far as, perhaps, people who are dedicated Obama supporters, maybe the thought is, wouldn't go to Clinton. And you're saying, yeah, they would. Or the Clinton supporters wouldn't go to Obama. You're discounting that. But what about the other part of that argument that, by bloodying each other up, it weakens them and makes either candidate more vulnerable to John McCain?
Mr. VANDEHEI: Well, I never really understood, sort of, the firm premise on that one, that, well, it's going to make them weaker, and it makes them bloodier. Do you think the Republican Party wasn't going to whack them on all these issues anyways? It's not like their unearthing information that was not discoverable by the Republican Party or their critics.
And so Republicans are going to seize on Jeremiah Wright, whether Hillary Clinton does or not, they're going to pounce on the comment about some folks being bitter and clinging to their guns and to God, whether Hillary Clinton brings it up or not. The truth is, this campaign has not been that negative. I'm reading the same papers you are this morning.
Everyone talks about, oh, Obama's sharpening his tone. Even if he's sharpening his tone, the idea of raising in an ad the fact that Hillary Clinton took money from lobbyists, if you look back through history, that's not actually that negative of an ad. A, it happens to be true, and B, it happens to amplify a portion of his message that he's been trying to talk about for some time, albeit in a sharper way.
So I don't think that you're going to see a lot of lasting damage to these candidates. What it does do is, it makes McCain the beneficiary, mainly because no one's paying attention to him. It allows him to fix his weaknesses. It allows him to try to repair his relationship with conservatives. It allows him to start to reach out to a new voter groups.
He's doing this tour this week, where he's going to, you know, places that he calls sort of forgotten America, where he can start to try to broaden his base and fix his campaign and not have to be in the headlines with negative stories. That's probably good for John McCain.
The truth is, in general elections, most people do not really tune in on the head-to-head match up until about five weeks before the campaign, and that's when all this stuff will resurface anyways, and people will be looking at it through a different prism because it will be affected by the way they feel about the war at the point, the way they feel about the economy at that point, mortgage crisis at that point.
PESCA: Well, there was something objectionable about that negative ad, and that was the background music. But that's just me. I hate all those trekly, little du-do-du-da, Barack Obama's a nice guy. But I want to kind of push back or challenge you on the question of, well, them bloodying each other up. You're right.
The Republicans will raise issues, and they're going to do after vulnerabilities. But what maybe we saw, for instance, last week in the debate was, the longer that the Democratic candidates are at each other's throats, the more opportunity there is to make a gaffe under pressure. Now, I wanted to pull something out.
The debate was contentious and things were thrown at both candidates. But as part of one of the answers, something was said which no one has really jumped on, but I think could become an issue in the general election. The context is, Barack Obama was asked about his association with a former member of the Weather Men, Bill Ayers. And one of the things he said to defend that was this.
(Soundbite of ABC News Democratic presidential nomination debate, April 16, 2008)
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn's statements because I certainly don't agree with those either? This kind of game, in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, is somehow their ideas could be attributed to me. I think the American people are smarter than that.
PESCA: And then he went on to say that he compared his association to Bill Ayers to his association with a Republican Senator Coburn, from Oklahoma. And I saw John McCain jumped on that. No Democrat did. But John McCain jumped on that and said, how can you compare a bomber to a U.S. Republican senator? That's the sort of thing - well, what do you think - that would become fodder for the general election.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Yeah, I saw that McCain jumped on that on "This Week," and probably smartly so because, probably Coburn must be insulted that he's sort of being compared to a person who's not repudiated in their past, being engaged in terrorism. I mean, I don't think like that give and take on Coburn would be a huge campaign issue.
I think the William Ayers thing in itself could be a big issue, and again, it would have been a big issue whether or not it was talked about in the debate and whether or not Obama made a gaffe or not a gaffe in comparing him to Tom Coburn. This idea that Obama keeps laying out, that like his past associations should not be fair game for his critics, strikes me as absurd.
You don't get that many opportunities in a campaign to sort of get a window in and try to figure out, well, what makes these people tick? Where do their ideas come from? What types of relationships have they had in the past.
PESCA: Especially since we only know the guy for four years.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Exactly. The problem is, is that he tries to run as, I'm an unconventional candidate who wants to practice a new kind of politics. The fundamental problem with that is, is that when he was in the U.S. Senate, he was a very conventional politician who didn't really do much at all to change the tone of Washington.
There's different groups he could have gotten involved in, and he could have made a much bigger stand to try to push away from the partisan politics that dominates Washington, and he did not. That's why, I think, as reporters, as voters, people have to sit there and look at, well, what has he done in his career?
Whether you like him or not like him, I think this is fair. And what the Obama partisans have to think about is there was a different candidate not long ago who ran on a platform of talking about changing the tone of Washington and practicing a new kind of politics, a compassionate kind of politics.
PESCA: A uniter, not a divider.
Mr. VANDEHEI: I don't think that Obama partisans would not want people to have probed deeply into Bush's past to figure out if there's any indicator that he's actually tried to practice that in reality.
PESCA: All right. Jim VandeHei, executive editor of politico.com. Thanks very much, Jim.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Take care. Bye.
PESCA: Coming up on the show, how awesome was this year's New York Comic-Con? We'll find out from a comic-book store owner and blogger. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.
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