RACHEL MARTIN, host:
After many, many months of primary contests, the most historic Democratic primary in modern history reached its denouement on Saturday, when Hillary Rodham Clinton held her final presidential campaign event and said this.
(Soundbite of speech)
Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): As I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him and throw my full support behind him.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
MARTIN: That was the big politics news over the weekend, Hillary Clinton conceding the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama Saturday in Washington, D.C. OK. So, that's finally done. But what now? There are still many questions to ponder. What does Clinton's future hold? Will her voters rally behind Obama? As we look to the general election, who will round out the tickets in the VP slots? And what kind of tone can we expect from a McCain-Obama fight for the White House? To answer all of these questions and more, we turn to our guru of the political, Mr. Jim VandeHei, executive editor of Politico.com. Hey, Jim.
Mr. JIM VANDEHEI (Executive Editor, Politico.com): Morning. How are you doing?
MARTIN: We're doing OK. Hey, so, the speech on Saturday, Hillary Clinton, concession, authentically graceful exit or political stagecraft or both?
Mr. VANDEHEI: Oh, everything, the combination of both and politics. So, I do think, you know, it took her a couple of days to come to grips with the fact that she wasn't going to win it. I think everybody who sort of knows her knew that eventually she would do the right thing and she would endorse him, and I think she'll go out and emphatically campaign for him. It's not in her interest whatsoever to make it appear that she's doing anything short of an all-out effort to try to elect him.
MARTIN: Her White House dreams are over, indeed, but the dream ticket hopes are still alive. People are still chattering about the VP stuff. Yesterday on ABC's "This Week," California Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, big supporter of Clinton, she said that Clinton's 18 million votes won during the primaries and her special appeal with women and the working class make her, quote, "the natural VP choice." Clinton campaign communications director, Howard Wolfson, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" yesterday this.
(Soundbite of TV show "Face the Nation")
Mr. HOWARD WOLFSON (Campaign Spokesperson, Hillary Clinton for President): It's not a job that she's seeking, and it's not a job that she's campaigning for. But she has made it clear, during the campaign and now, that she will do, as I've said, whatever she can and whatever she is asked.
MARTIN: OK. I don't want to spend too much time on this, but for the record, here and now, as we move ahead, let's just get this out of the way for the last time, Jim. What do you speculate is going to happen in the short term for Hillary Clinton?
Mr. VANDEHEI: I'd be shocked if she was put on the ticket. I know Barack Obama's people do not want Hillary Clinton on the ticket for a couple of reasons. I think at the top of that list are they're just worried that it interferes with their message that they're trying to bring radical change to Washington, given that she's a creature of Washington, and obviously, very much attached to the city for the last couple of decades.
And they also worry about sort of all the baggage that comes with the Clintons and the unpredictability of it. Remember, he runs a very tight ship. It's been very controlled, very few leaks, very little drama. They don't want to change that formula. They feel it works. So, I think she'll return to the Senate, and she'll spend some time trying to figure out what's next. She'll want to figure out who wins in November. If Democrats don't win the White House, I would guess that she'll try to run again in 2012.
If she sticks around the Senate, I think she has a very bright future there. She, in some ways, is a much better senator than she might have been president. Her personality really plays well in the Senate. She's been able to win over a lot of Republicans. So, if she decides to stay there, heal any wounds from the campaign, she could have a bright future there. She could go back to New York and run for governor. I mean, the sky is still the limit. The Clintons are not gone, that's for sure.
MARTIN: I want to turn now to Obama and McCain, general election. They have said that they want to hold - McCain has challenged, quote, unquote, these - Obama to take part in these town-hall meetings, where both of them would be on stage and field questions from folks around the country. They've declined such a town-hall meeting that was proposed by ABC and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Your thoughts about that - first, that declination and second, the town-hall meetings in general. Is this a good idea for the candidates?
Mr. VANDEHEI: I think it's a fabulous idea if they could pull it off, and I think they will figure out a way to pull it off. If they're going to really have an authentic conversation with each other in front of a crowd, if they do 10 of these, that's fantastic. I mean, there's huge differences between these two candidates. Also the group of people over the weekend, and they're like, I don't get it. Like, why do we have to vote? Like, what are the differences?
And that - I'm always alarmed when I hear that, because in this election in particular, there's huge differences, and hopefully those town-hall meetings would clarify them. They've made it clear that they don't want them to be sponsored by individual networks or media outlets, that they want these to be wide open, probably not all that tightly-moderated, if moderated at all. So, they're a sort of throwback to a time when the candidates would actually get up there and talk to each other about the big issues and...
MARTIN: Imagine that.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Both candidates they think that they would be good in this forum. McCain, I think, is making a miscalculation if he really thinks that he's going to outshine Obama in this format. I think Obama can be as equally compelling in that format as McCain's going to be.
MARTIN: Well, what's interesting to me, as we approach this, is that both of these men have really fashioned themselves, and authentically are, these change-makers, independent-minded men in their parties, and are both working to secure those votes. What can we expect from such a campaign? It might be really different than what we've seen before.
Mr. VANDEHEI: It could be. I mean, I would take issue a little bit with what you just said in that both of them claim to be big change agents that have taken on their party. The truth is McCain has done that. There's no doubt that he took on his party with campaign finance reform, with immigration, with spending. It's why a lot of Republicans always consider him the skunk of the party. They don't like him because they feel like he's not then authentically committed to conservative causes.
Barack Obama talks a lot about change. The trick for him is going to be able to prove that there's been substance to those comments. His Senate career was, in some ways, very unremarkable and very conventional. There weren't that many opportunities where he broke from his party and challenged party orthodoxy. And if he wants to show that he's a different kind of Democrat who is going to shake things up, he's going to have to figure out two or three issues where he can really draw a clear contrast with his own party to show that he's a different kind of politician. I think that's easy to do in a general-election context, but it'll be interesting to see which issues he picks.
MIKE PESCA, host:
Yeah, but he has the change symbolism in spades. John McCain might have the record, but he just doesn't strike people immediately as, wow, that's something different from what we've ever seen before.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Absolutely. And that's going to be the trick, because he's - McCain, for some reason, has not done a good job, especially in these last couple of months where he was essentially running unopposed, where he didn't really have anyone necessarily attacking him day to day. He should have done a better job of cementing that image, because he does have a legislative background to back that up. I mean, the allure of the Obama campaign for a lot of people has been, like, it is some loft rhetoric, in some ways, like beautiful lyrics, when he is speaking.
People have to - and he's going to have to prove that there is some substance to that, and I don't think that that's much of a challenge, because he was not all that specific on some issues in the general election, so it makes it easier to pivot. We've already seen him start to pivot a little bit in talking about the Middle East and how he would deal with Iran.
For the longest time, a lot of people seemed to think that, oh, he would be talking to Ahmadinejad without any hesitation. And now, he sort of backing away a little bit from that, and saying, wow, and there's never no pre-conditions. There's always things that happened before you have a run-up to discussions which isn't that radically different from where McCain will wind up.
MARTIN: Well, we will check in with you again as we always do, Jim, as these candidates start to map out their strategies and hit the ground with an eye towards November. Jim VandeHei...
Mr. VANDEHEI: You have a good day.
MARTIN: Executive editor of Politico.com. Thanks as always, Jim.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Bye-bye.
PESCA: And that's just the fascinating thing about the election, that John McCain can point to the record over and over again, and then Barack Obama's going to be - I mean, he doesn't really even have to point to facts as much as he just gets people in the gut.
MARTIN: That's the advantage...
PESCA: Have people say...
MARTIN: Having the record.
PESCA: Yeah. People - well, if the advantage is not having the record and just the kind of emotional appeal that he has with people who are going to say, wow, we've never seen anything like that before. McCain, definitely a creature of Washington, and he can say over and over again, yeah, I'm the creature in Washington who was always telling you for 20 years that Washington is broken, and Barack Obama just going to paint, no, you're just a creature of Washington.
Anyway, this is good stuff, fascinating stuff, as I hope will be our BPP Book Club, which is coming up next, and we'll talk with Neil Gaiman about his book, the "Anansi Boys," on the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.