Editor: Clinton Has 'No Plans' to End Race
MIKE PESCA, host:
Big votes tomorrow in Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. North Carolina has 115 delegates up for grabs. That's the most of any state yet to vote. Indiana has 72. That's the second most. Back again for the BPP politics roundup is Jim VandeHei, executive editor of politico.com. Hey, Jim.
Mr. JIM VANDEHEI (Executive editor, politico.com): How you doing?
PESCA: I'm well. So, looking at the voting on Tuesday, let's just consider the plausible outcomes. Do you think anything will end this race?
Mr. VANDEHEI: Certainly nothing would end the race. Even if Hillary Clinton were to lose both Indiana and North Carolina, which I think is unlikely, she would stick in - she'd stick in the race. She clearly feels like this Reverend Wright thing has hurt Obama, and she has no desire, and no plans to get out of the way.
I think most people anticipate that Obama will win North Carolina. There's a heavy African-American population, demographics seem to favor him, and that she'll win Indiana. If that's the case, we're essentially in this holding pattern most likely until June, and probably all the way, or potentially all the way to the convention.
PESCA: You're so psyched for Puerto Rico.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Exactly. We'll get a nice little vacation, and then we'll wait until an even nicer vacation in Denver when we try and sort this thing out. I think the party will try to step in, in June and somehow end this. It's not going to be easy at all for them because Hillary Clinton has no plans to step aside.
She's going to say I came close in the popular vote. I won big states. I have the momentum here at the end. Take Guam out of the equation, he hasn't won since February, for crying out loud, you know, heading into Tuesday. This is one of the most intriguing races I can ever recall.
PESCA: By the way, you mentioned Guam. What kind of Guam momentum did Obama get out of his, what? Seven-vote win? Not seven delegates, seven actual people.
Mr. VANDEHEI: Whatever, it's a win, sure, whatever. No one usually pays any attention to Guam, and we'll say it's a win, and it puts his losing streak to an end. But the truth is that the big states the Democrats care about, the Pennsylvanias, the Ohios, The Texases, you know, now North Carolina, Indiana, he has to prove he can win in these states.
He has to prove that he can move beyond the African-American population, and sort of the liberal elites, and start to connect with voters across the board. He's had trouble doing that, and that was before the Reverend Wright controversy. You know, put the polling aside, there's no doubt that the Reverend Wright thing has hurt Obama.
Certainly in the minds of a lot of voters who are still trying to sort through, like, what was going on with his relationship with this guy for 20 years? Why did he say he had not heard any of this controversial stuff? And now why is he distancing himself from it completely, now that it's been aired publicly? That's going to take a lot of time to sort of work its way through the minds of most voters. I don't think we're going to be able to measure this stuff in the short term. I would caution people not to hyperventilate, to sort of see how this stuff plays out.
PESCA: Is that why, you think, there were a couple of bubbles with the Reverend Wright? First was when the right-wing radio and others were playing his video, and then Barack Obama gave a speech. The polls then said actually the whole Wright thing maybe didn't knock Obama that much. But this time around, with the Reverend Wright talking to the National Press Club, it seems to have affected Obama. Why the difference?
Mr. VANDEHEI: Well I think it's - I think it's affected him personally much differently. I mean, he's clearly rattled. This guy is usually very calm, and collected, and he's the confident one on the campaign trail. He suddenly looks really wobbly. He does not have that self-confidence that we're used to seeing.
At the same time, Hillary Clinton looks more confident than we've ever seen her, so I think at a personal level, it's had an effect. I think it's having an effect on the race, because it was four, five straight days of sustained coverage of his comments, and then Barack Obama having to distance himself from them. I thought, even the polling data after his speech in Pennsylvania, I thought people again were reacting too quickly, saying oh, you know, this has blown over. It's not a big issue.
I always thought it would be a big issue. Maybe not a big issue this week, next week, but at some point, it would be. He had too close of an affiliation with the reverend, and those remarks are too explosive to too many voters for it not to have an effect. So, just because it doesn't have an effect in the short term in Democratic polling does not mean that it does not have a big effect, like, say in the general election, if he were to win the nomination.
PESCA: Senator Obama was on "Meet the Press." He talked, of course, a lot about Reverend Wright, and he also answered a question that he's been getting a lot. Tim Russert put it to him. How are you going to defend or define your patriotism?
(Soundbite of TV show "Meet the Press")
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): When I think about this country, I think about my grandfather fighting in World War II in Patton's Army. I think about my grandmother staying back and working on a bomber assembly line while she's raising a kid as they are coming out of the Depression. This country defines for me what's possible for not just me, but for so many people who see this as a beacon of good, including my father, who originally came here seeking an education in this country.
PESCA: Jim, my question to you is, when Barack Obama is questioned about his patriotism, or his lack of a lapel pin, why does he answer in this way? Just by giving the reasons that he is a patriot, and not trying to swing back hard at the premise of the question?
Mr. VANDEHEI: You know, I don't understand. He should have known. he should have anticipated for months this was going to be a big issue, and he should be responding with, you would think, a lot more emotion. Essentially, Tim Russert is questioning his patriotism, and I don't think, in reality, he's not a patriot.
He should be speaking from the heart, and saying, for crying out loud, it's a ludicrous question. Sorry I didn't wear a flag on my lapel, but I've been fighting for this country, thriving off this country. He has a wonderful narrative to tell, but for some reason, he has allowed this to become a big issue, and if there's - talk to Republicans off the record, it's - the Republicans are a party in total disarray.
They just lost a House seat in Louisiana. I think they held that seat for more than two decades. This could be a devastating election for them, and the one thing that they keep pointing to is, man, I hope we get Obama, and I hope we can just talk about patriotism. The guy is very vulnerable on the issue, and he should have known that, and it's his job as a politician to figure out a way to make sure that he can transcend that issue, and put it to rest.
PESCA: Well, let's go on to Senator Clinton. She was on one of the Sunday shows, it was "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," and here she was asked a question she's been asked a lot, and George - the issue was she wants to eliminate federal taxes on gasoline during the summer, and George Stephanopoulos said, can you name one economist who thinks this is a good idea? And here's how Senator Clinton answered.
(Soundbite of TV show "This Week with George Stephanopoulos")
Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I'll tell you what. I'm not going to put my lot in with economists, because I know if we did it right, if we actually did it right, if we actually had a president who used all the tools of the presidency, we would design it in such a way that it would be implemented effectively.
PESCA: Now, aside from the fact that she couldn't name an economist, what do you make of that answer?
Mr. VANDEHEI: I mean, it's silly season. This happens every summer, and it seems to be getting worse and worse, where politicians try to come up with these short-term solutions to the oil and gas crisis. The truth is, like whether you're releasing additional oil, additional supply from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, or whether you are trying to cut back the gas tax for a short period of time, none of those have that big an effect on the pricing of gasoline, and certainly none of them do anything to fix our long-term problem.
The reason she can't cite an economist is because most economists think it's a silly idea. Virtually every newspaper has now done this piece and talked to the majority of all the economists who are thinking about these issues, and they say that it's silly. You're never going to pass it on, and basically will get eaten up before it ever gets to the consumer.
And the consumer might save a couple of bucks here and there, but it does nothing to sort of dampen the pressure on them, because gas is going through the roof. So, I think it's not a very defensible position, nor has it been for McCain, who has adopted the exact same position. I think, in this one, Obama has said, listen, this is silly politics. Most economists would agree with him.
PESCA: And back to the same kind of question we asked about the lapel pin, where you thought that Obama maybe needed to show more fire in the belly. His reaction to Senator Clinton and Senator McCain's has been intellectual, and he's criticized it for the economics of it, but he hasn't really gone out there and said this is exactly what I'm talking about.
This is the worst kind of Washington solution. This is what's wrong with America. He's made the point, but done it more subtly. Is it just part of his personality? Or is he - doesn't feel that he has to really fight back that hard because he thinks he's going to win anyway?
Mr. VANDEHIE: It's a very good question. I don't know. I mean, it's one of the things you hear from Democrats, that they want to see more passion from the guy, and whether it's defending Reverend Wright, or whether it's defending his patriotism, whether it's talking about the gas tax. So, it would seem like, you know, the gas tax looks like a great opportunity to get out there and speak with real passion and differentiate himself.
He certainly has, when asked about it, but I think in campaigns what you have to do, especially in this Democratic campaign, when there's so few policy differences between the two, you have to find those differences, and then use it to illustrate how you're a different kind of candidate. The gas tax seemed like a perfect one to do. The truth is, it's happening at a time when like the media infrastructure is focusing almost exclusively on his relation with Wright.
So it'd be hard for him to break through, even if he were to do that on a sustained basis, and that might be part of his thinking. Plus, I think, on a personal level, he's very consumed about trying to move beyond Wright, because their internal polling data shows exactly what the external polling data shows, which is that the Wright thing continues to be a drag on him. It is driving up his unfavorability ratings, and hurting him with the voters he's had troubles with already, which are working-class whites.
PESCA: All right, Jim VandeHie of politico.com. Thank you very much, Jim.
Mr. VANDEHIE: Enjoy the week. Bye.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.