Political Directors Weigh What's Next
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We're going to continue our look at last night's results with two bonafide former White House political directors. Doug Sosnik worked in the Clinton White House, and Sara Taylor worked in the Bush White House.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. DOUG SOSNIK (Former White House Political Director): Thank you, Michel.
Ms. SARA TAYLOR (Former White House Political Director): Thank you.
MARTIN: Can't resist asking you the same question I asked Karl Rove. Who's the real comeback kid, or comeback mature person, Doug Sosnik?
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Mr. SOSNIK: Well, I think, obviously, Hillary Clinton had a great night last night, and she not only came back, but she won, as opposed to her husband who came back and finished second in 1992. So she really had a very good night. And also, John McCain did, as well.
MARTIN: Okay. So, Sara Taylor, so it's a tie for the comeback kid title?
Ms. TAYLOR: Well, you know, I would differ slightly. I think that this was a huge night for John McCain, and I think that Hillary Clinton - because almost no one expected her to win this primary going into it - really overshadowed his story. But if you think back to last summer, when basically his campaign took the month of August off. I had, you know, countless people in our party work for him and left the campaign. And, you know, both not only at the staff level, but people forget how many people in Iowa and other states deserted his campaign. And the fact that he won last night is a pretty remarkable comeback story.
MARTIN: What about the independent vote? I mean, how do you think the independent vote played itself out? Do you think there was a split between McCain and Obama that hurt itself in the end? Or do you think the independents were all on the McCain side?
Ms. TAYLOR: Well, you know, certainly people were projecting about 4-1 to Obama going into the election. It looks like it was closer to split. That probably did hurt him in the final analysis and helped Mrs. Clinton win the campaign, but it was an interesting and fascinating night last night.
MARTIN: Doug, I want to ask you about women and young people. It seems that as in Iowa, the youngest voters - 18 to 29 - came out for Obama as they did in Iowa, but women were strong for Clinton in New Hampshire, unlike in Iowa, where Obama actually got the women's vote. What do you make of it?
Mr. SOSNIK: Well, it's true that Hillary Clinton did much better last night amongst women in Iowa. She also did much better amongst independents than she did in Iowa as well. And she did - she carried the voters from 40 and older last night, as opposed to Iowa, where she only carried the voters from 55 and older. I think she did cut down fairly significantly, though, in New Hampshire on the young voters against Obama. He still did well there, but not as well as he had in Iowa.
MARTIN: What do you make about her - is it women came home for Clinton, or do you think that she made more direct appeal for them? What do you think?
Mr. SOSNIK: Well, I think that - I think she was more effective in communicating, in general. And I think it certainly applied to women. Also, just going back to what Sara said a minute ago, I do think John McCain had a really significant night last night. And I do think he's probably pretty likely to be the Republican nominee based on his performance last night and based on the fact that the alternatives in the field are so flawed in the minds of most Republican voters. And I think while a year ago, they might have been shocked to the party establishment to embrace McCain, I think he's looking better and better to them now.
MARTIN: You've any thoughts, Sara?
Ms. TAYLOR: I think that he's in a strong position. I think it's a little early to make that case just yet. I think we need to get through Michigan. And if he does very well in Michigan, you know, we'll probably be in a two-man race. You would expect Mike Huckabee to do well in South Carolina. And then, as you head into February 5th - Florida on February 5th - it gets a lot more difficult, I think, for him to compete.
MARTIN: I'll tell you one thing I'm puzzled by, Sara. Among those Republicans who disapproved of the war in Iraq, a big margin for McCain, even though he supported the surge. He's been very critical of those favoring a pullout. What do you make of that? I mean, a big margin among those of the disapprovers in the Republican over Mitt Romney. What do you make of that?
Ms. TAYLOR: Well, I think a big part of - you know, look. Iraq's a very tough issue, and people have weighed in, and, you know, lots of ways and expressed an interest in pulling troops back. But the one thing that I think most Americans agree on Iraq is they want a leader who knows what his strategy for Iraq is and for the Middle East.
And there's - John McCain has done an excellent job, and has been very consistent. And whether you agree with him or not, you do want a good outcome in Iraq no matter who you are. And you do want someone who has, you know, conviction on the issue. And so I think that while maybe they disagree with his course, they respect the fact that he is strong on the issue and knows where he wants to lead.
MARTIN: We're going to have more with our political heavyweights - two former White House political directors - Sara Taylor and Doug Sosnik, in just a moment.
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MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, so much talk about the youth vote. We want to talk with some younger voters who also cover their peers. Two college newspaper editors are next.
But first, we're going to continue our conversation with former White House political directors Doug Sosnik, who worked in the Clinton White House, and Sara Taylor, who worked in the Bush White House. They're both here with me in the studio to talk about the results of the New Hampshire Primary.
Mr. SOSNIK: Hi, Michel.
Ms. TAYLOR: Hey.
MARTIN: On the Democratic side, Doug, what does former Senator John Edwards do now?
Mr. SOSNIK: Well, I think his intention is to stay in the race as long as possible and hope to become the alternative to either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama. I think he probably has a little bit of money left, but not a lot. I don't see necessarily any state that's particularly favorable for him to break through. And my guess is that, as the old saying goes, campaigns don't end. They just run out of money. I think he'll stay in as long as he can. And when he has no more money, he'll have to get out.
MARTIN: What about Bill Richardson? He says he's staying in. Is it realistic that he'll really do better out West?
Mr. SOSNIK: Well, he could do well in Nevada, and that might be his last holdout - stop - being the governor from nearby New Mexico. But it's hard to see how he breaks through at this point, given his lack of resources and how - whoever he's failed up to now. Though he's run a very good campaign, he's just - hasn't been able to get in the same league with the top-tier candidates.
MARTIN: And, Sara, to you. How disappointing do you think the Iowa and New Hampshire results have been for Governor Mitt Romney?
Ms. TAYLOR: Well, he put a lot of effort into these early states. And so while I'm sure he's disappointed with the outcome, he did run a very good campaign. He ran a very methodical campaign, I thought. And at the end, it wasn't necessarily that he lost. It's that he got beat. And so he'll have resources to continue in Michigan. And that's a state that he could do very well in.
MARTIN: Why do you think?
Ms. TAYLOR: Well, his father was the governor there. The Romney family has been a prominent family in Michigan for a very long time. And people will connect with him there because they will have known him and known him in a more intimate way than other voters. That said, I don't think you can argue with McCain's momentum. He has momentum coming out of New Hampshire.
MARTIN: He also has some good endorsements in Michigan, too.
Ms. TAYLOR: He does. And he did very well there in 2000 - a state he won. And so it'll be an interesting race there. But I think that Romney does need to score a win here fairly soon. And his team is smart, and they know that.
MARTIN: Go ahead, Doug.
Mr. SOSNIK: Romney, I think, really is an example, though, of what you don't do in modern politics to get ahead. I mean, he is an impressive guy, but he appears to be so inauthentic in his positions and flip-flops, that it's really, in this day and age, I think, it's completely what people are not looking for in an elected official. And if you look at like some of the speeches on election night in Iowa from Huckabee and Barack Obama, who are - they're completely different on the spectrum, in many ways, they're saying many of the kinds of things. And for people in New Hampshire to be trying to decide at the end, as an independent, between McCain and Obama, it shows you that having a core and conviction to being authentic is far more important than trying to position yourself right on issues. And I think Romney is the type of politician that may have done well in the past, but it's exactly what people we're not looking for in this day and age.
MARTIN: You buy that, Sara?
Ms. TAYLOR: Well, I think that, you know, he has evolved as a candidate and as a leader. And I think that in the environment that we're in, that has presented some challenges for him.
MARTIN: What about Mayor Giuliani's Florida strategy? It's not that he bypassed - I mean, he all but bypassed Iowa. He did spend some time in New Hampshire, but then kind of pulled up stakes and said, you know, let me cut my losses here and sort of go straight to Florida. Does that make sense? Does that work?
Ms. TAYLOR: Well, I think it probably makes sense for him. The risk in that strategy is, of course, your fate is now up to other people. Because if somebody runs away in the next few states with this and goes into Florida the clear frontrunner, and, you know, he's really not going to be in a position to catch that person. Now, the alternative is if Governor Romney were to eke out a win in Michigan and you were to have, you know, three candidates having won three states and, truly, you know, a jump ball, so to speak, you know, he could all of a sudden become attractive. But I think that that becomes pretty unlikely at this point.
Mr. SOSNIK: That's not really a strategy. That's what you call reality. I mean, he didn't go to Iowa. He didn't go to New Hampshire because he knew he couldn't win. And if that's your preference, and then, as Sara says, you are no longer in control of your own destiny…
MARTIN: Is this still a rationale for his candidacy?
Mr. SOSNIK: Well, so far, I think the strongest rationale that the Republicans have had in the primary up to now has been they're better than the alternatives. That's really been the best-selling point. And the candidates who've the best are the ones that haven't entered yet and appear to be the white knight, that they're going to come in to save the day.
Once they get in, they all become as flawed as the next guy. And that's why, I think, the Republican establishment is going to back in to supporting McCain, largely because the other candidates are also flawed that they can't possibly support them because they know they can't win in November.
MARTIN: But, Sara, why is the Republican establishment having such a hard time settling on somebody? I mean, it just - I mean, each of these people had their people. I mean, they all have long records.
Ms. TAYLOR: Sure.
MARTIN: They've all been around. They've all done things - things that people, I think, people don't like. But it just seems that the excitement is all on the Democratic side. People like their candidates. It seems like people on the Republican side, it's just they're just they're tolerating their candidates.
Ms. TAYLOR: Well, I think - look. We've had a very strong field of candidates with men who have had some very impressive accomplishments. So I would disagree. I would take issue, I guess, with what Doug said, to a degree. But look, it's not…
MARTIN: I'm sorry. But if you're getting record coming out on the Democratic side and the Republican side, people are showing up, but not…
Ms. TAYLOR: Sure.
MARTIN: …but not with this set of gangbuster numbers, not with this sense of this is just great. I really need to be here.
Ms. TAYLOR: Republican turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire was as higher - or -as it's ever been. And Democrat turnout has been higher - not much higher in New Hampshire than it was over the Republicans. So I think this is early.
Look, Barack Obama has no doubt generated a lot of excitement in their party. And the question is, you know, when he gets under the microscope and people really look underneath the veil, is he a candidate who is prepared to lead the country? And that hasn't been answered. And Hillary Clinton, while an impressive person, certainly has a significant number of flaws, which is why you've seen - even in their own primary - the fact that they've taken a second look.
Mr. SOSNIK: Well, I would say a couple of things. First of all, the excitement is certainly on the Democratic side. Iowa, which is a state that went for George Bush in 2004, you had twice the Democratic turnout as you had Republicans. And last night in New Hampshire, 60,000 more Democrats voted in primary than the Republicans. And the answer to your question, I think, about the Republicans not being excited about their field is that the Republican Party has been taken over by the social movement conservatives. And they're very uncomfortable with all the candidates, except for Huckabee. And Huckabee is the one candidate who's probably most unelectable.
And the last thing I'll say is that amongst, I think, President Bush's legacies, one of them's going to be that he will probably, more than anybody else, do more to spur voter participation and turnout in this country in the election. We've already seen it in the first two states. People understand now that who is president of this country has an impact in their life. And you're going to see enormous turnout in November. And what you saw in 2006 - which I think you'll see in 2008 in the general, and you've seen in the primary - is that independents are overwhelmingly supporting Democrats. Fifty-nine percent of independents in 2006 voted for Democrats. In these two early states, majority of independent voters have voted for Democrats.
MARTIN: All right. I have to give Sara the last word, because I let you have the last word last time. But Doug, I have to ask you, is it true that you're going to take a role on the Clinton campaign? Is that right? That was the rumor last night.
Mr. SOSNIK: I am going to take an informal role as a strategic adviser.
MARTIN: What does it mean informal role? She'll take your calls.
Mr. SOSNIK: It means that I'm not going to go in the office every day and work full time.
MARTIN: You won't put a tie on. Okay.
Sara Taylor, I got to give you the last word.
Ms. TAYLOR: He wouldn't do that, anyway.
MARTIN: He wouldn't do that, anyway. Last word to you, Sara Taylor. And point of clarification, Sara's right. The turnout in the Iowa Caucus on the Republican side was 20 percent higher that it was in the previous.
Ms. TAYLOR: Yeah.
MARTIN: Okay. But last word, quickly, if you would.
Ms. TAYLOR: Yes. So I think that, look, this is - general elections are different than primaries. And as we head into November, I think you're going to see a lot of excitement on both sides of the aisle. And I would expect - as we saw in 2000 and 2004 - very, very competitive races.
MARTIN: Sara Taylor, Doug Sosnik - two top political strategists and former White House political directors - here with me in the studio.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. SOSNIK: Thank you. Michel.
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