RACHEL MARTIN, host:
So, indeed, it is a holiday weekend. For most of you out there, today is a day off, sleeping in, grilling in the backyard, taking in a parade or two. But on this Memorial Day, there are three kinds of people who don't stop working - among others, probably - presidential candidates, morning show radio hosts - and newscasters - and political analysts. We now bring these three elements together in our Memorial Day edition of the BPP's weekly political roundup. Joining us is our friend Jim VandeHei - who I assume doesn't have the day off - editor of politico.com. Hey Jim.
Mr. JIM VANDEHEI (Executive Editor, politico.com): Good morning.
Mr. VANDEHEI: I actually have to confess I'm going to slack off. I'm going to go to the Brewers-Nationals game today.
MARTIN: Ah, well.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Sorry!
MARTIN: I'm so pleased that you're still on the clock for us. Thank you! So I want to start by acknowledging one story, and then we will - I promise we will move on, but it's out there, we've got to address it, Hillary's RFK assassination gaffe. To remind folks who have been living under a rock, haven't looked at a paper, on Friday, the editorial board of the Argus Leader Newspaper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, asked Clinton whether she was going to stay in the presidential race. Here's what she said.
(Soundbite of press conference)
Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.
MARTIN: OK, this was a bizarre statement, but the press leaped all over it. It was all over the shows over the weekend, the Sunday talk shows. The campaign has since tried to clarify her comments. Clinton did so herself explicitly in an op-ed in the New York Daily News, saying she was just trying to say that many significant turning points, even tragic ones, happen late in campaigns. Why the hubbub? Are we just so desperate as media machines that we glom onto everything that's put before us like this?
Mr. VANDEHEI: I think the big reason is that everybody's been wondering, why the heck is she still staying in the race? And what nobody will say publicly is what everyone's whispering about privately, like, what if something terrible happened? What if, in fact, you know, he were assassinated? And I think that's why everyone jumped on it, because we think that's what she's thinking in private anyways.
And for her to voice that - and if you listen to the context of it, I don't think that it was intended to be as mean-spirited and icy and cold as it actually sounds. But still, to voice that at this time, you know, given what's happening with the Kennedy family, and given sort of the fact that there are a lot of Democrats who are very worried about Obama's security, to me, it's just weird.
MARTIN: The initial response from Obama's campaign was that the remark had no place in this campaign. They were trying to move on, trying to take the high road. But they did get some leverage out of this, right?
Mr. VANDEHEI: Oh, absolutely. I mean, everybody, especially in sort of the new media culture, whether it was, you know, Politico, Drudge Report, Huffington, all the wires, all the blogs, everybody pounced on this in a way that made it a huge story and was able to sort of light it on fire to the point that it ended up leading the paper in the Washington Post and the New York Times. It was on all three networks. It consumed the Sunday shows, as you had just mentioned. And so, it's been a three-day, burning story that everybody's been paying attention to, you know, at the expense of other stories people could be paying attention to.
MARTIN: Speaking of which, John Harris, your colleague, wrote about this very topic on the media, including politico, went totally gangbusters on this, gave short shrift to issue-oriented stuff like Obama's speech about Latin America. So in that spirit, let's do just that and talk about that speech. Obama was addressing on Friday Cuban American National Foundation in Miami. What the takeaway from that speech?
Mr. VANDEHEI: Well, you clearly - he has a different foreign policy than now even Hillary Clinton, and certainly than Republicans, and I think one of the big pieces of that is that he is saying, listen, we have to engage with these countries that are run even by dictators that we don't like and whose policies and politics we don't agree with. He thinks that, philosophically, you've got to be able to talk to these people.
You have to be able to try to push them to make the reforms that you want to, instead of just using isolation and strength. I think in the general election, this is going to be a tremendously important issue, because there's a huge difference in the mindsets of the Republican Party, and certainly John McCain and Obama, and a lot of liberal activists, in how you deal with foreign leaders, especially post 9/11.
MARTIN: The speech underscored the need for Obama to make inroads with the Hispanic vote, Hispanic voters in the states.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Definitely.
MARTIN: And any evidence as to whether or not he has been able to do that in the last few weeks, John? Or Jim, I'm sorry.
Mr. VANDEHEI: There's no firm sort of empirical data to point to that says yes, he's doing tremendously better with Hispanics. Remember the states that had large Hispanic communities have not been kind to him. If you look at the exit poll at places like Texas, Arizona, he has not done as well with Hispanics as he's done with other parts of the Democrat, sort of, constituency groups.
The question is, over time, if he puts a tremendous amount of focus on it, assuming he gets the nomination between now and November, can he start to stand out from the stereotypes that exist and some of the tension that exists between Hispanics and African-Americans, and connect with them?
I think mostly he tries to connect with them through his biography saying, listen, you know, I sort of grew up in a different land and came here and made something of myself. And that's sort of the great immigrant experience, something that many Hispanics, and certainly Hispanics with families that would like to live that experience, completely understand.
MARTIN: Let's move over to the GOP side, talk about Senator John McCain. He apparently got a clean bill of health, "ish," right? Doctors said Friday that the 71 year old is doing pretty OK.
Mr. VANDEHEI: It seems that way. The truth is if you watch the guy in the campaign trail, there's no reason to believe that he is anything but fit. I mean, the guy carries a schedule that most of us I don't think could handle. He's been doing it for several years now. And the truth is, like, he's been for the most part been pretty sharp on policy, coming from the Senate or on the campaign trail.
And the question is - I do think this is going to dog him, and I do think it should be an important question. The question is, you know, when he has gaffes, which he had a few months ago when he was talking about Iraq and he kept screwing up on whether it was Sunnis or Shias, people start to really question sort of, like, is his mental acuity is as sharp as it needs to be? And shouldn't we worry that if he's elected, and he's 72,73, 74, that that could put sort of the country at jeopardy?
I mean, the older you get, obviously the more susceptible we are to getting sick and not recovering as quickly. I think he can overcome that mostly by caring on a pretty robust schedule and try to put himself in positions that show, you know what? I might be old but I'm still strong and I'm still as vibrant as anybody else out there.
MARTIN: And he was partying, apparently, over the weekend, had a barbecue at his ranch, invited Bobby Jindal, the new governor of Louisiana, Mitt Romney, former presidential candidate, Charlie Crist, governor of Florida. Little VP talks, I imagine.
Mr. VANDEHEI: This will be our new obsession now for the next couple of months, trying to figure out who the heck each one of these guys takes as their vice president. I mean, I think McCain has a pretty long list of people he's trying to try to find. I'd be shocked if it were Mitt Romney. I don't think they have any personal chemistry whatsoever. In fact, they loathed each other when they were head against each other, and I don't know what Romney actually brings to the ticket.
Crist would be intriguing. Not married, I don't if that turns off Republicans, but he could possibly cement Florida. But a lot of Republicans think that if it's Obama versus McCain, McCain will probably win Florida anyway. Bobby Jindal would be interesting. The guy's 36, so when you juxtapose him with McCain, it looks like grandpa and his little grandson.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. VANDEHEI: So, I don't know, it might be a little weird. I think he's going to take a close look at Tim Pawlenty up in Minnesota, a younger governor who he thinks, you know, could possibly help him win Minnesota. But there's a lot of Republicans who think that even with Pawlenty they can't win Minnesota.
So, I think both candidates are going to take a long, hard look at trying to do something unorthodox and unconventional to show that they are a different kind of candidate and try to appeal to the middle, because we all know that's where these presidential elections are won. So that's why you hear Sam Nunn talked about for both tickets. That's why you hear Michael Bloomberg talked about for both tickets.
MARTIN: And we'll be paying attention for the next few weeks. To be sure, you will be with us as we do so. Jim VandeHei, editor of politico.com. Hey Jim, happy Memorial Day. Enjoy the game today.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Thank you. Bye-bye.
MARTIN: Hey, stay with us. Coming up on the show, sports with a BPP friend, Bill Wolff. That's coming up next on the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.
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