Can Obama Be Called the 'Presumptive Nominee'? Several more superdelegates threw their support behind Democratic presidential candidate Barak Obama on Friday, all but erasing the once-substantial lead of his rival, Hillary Clinton. Political analysts E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times say the race is essentially over.
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Can Obama Be Called the 'Presumptive Nominee'?

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Can Obama Be Called the 'Presumptive Nominee'?

Can Obama Be Called the 'Presumptive Nominee'?

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

We begin this hour with politics, and it was a good day for Barack Obama on the superdelegate front. By some counts he has nearly erased Hillary Clinton's lead in superdelegates, and by other tallies he may have already pulled ahead. Now, to put this in context, before primary season - before the primary season began, Clinton was ahead by more than 100 superdelegates. While there are six nominating contest to go, this week Clinton's paths to the nomination got much steeper.

I'm joined now in the studio by our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome to both of you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

NORRIS: We certainly have a lot to talk about this week, and a lot of people seemed to be saying this race is over; the party seems to be coalescing around Barack Obama. Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who has assiduously trying to remain neutral in this race, said at this point, quote, Barack Obama, Barack is the presumptive - the presumptive - excuse me - nominee. So I want to hear from both of you.

David, is this over?

BROOKS: Yes. I thought it was over weeks ago, but now it's really over. And I think what's really changed this week is the psychology of the party has changed. I think people had a sense the part - there was this primary fight, but it's over, and the audience is leaving the theater. And Hillary Clinton can continue to make arguments about why she would be the better nominee, but nobody is listening anymore. And so people - that was a phase - the primary season was a phase, but that phase is over.

NORRIS: Hillary Clinton is not leaving the theater.

DIONEE: No, but she is sort of sitting there watching the credits while everyone else has walked out. I think that what happened to Hillary Clinton is that because Obama built a modest but clear delegate lead in the caucuses and in the two weeks after Super Tuesday, every primary night became game seven for Hillary Clinton in the seven-game series. She couldn't lose. Whereas Obama could lose in Texas and Ohio and move on. He could lose in Pennsylvania and move on. And finally, Democrats are just looking for him to show strength somewhere so they could say, okay, he's the guy.

And I think when we look back, one of the biggest things that happened here is that Barack Obama, the former community organizer who came out of Chicago politics where organization is a sacred world, understood that organization was going to matter. Hundred thirty-two delegates of his lead came out of the caucuses; another 73 came out of the two weeks after Super Tuesday. That's...

NORRIS: So the organization in those later states really made...

BROOKS: Right. And Hillary Clinton was counting on inevitability and so she would float right to nomination, and that was their critical error. Without those 205 delegates, we wouldn't be where we are right now.

NORRIS: Now, the question of how they ultimately define victory, if indeed he is the nominee, that's still an if, but if he is, how they define that; Barack Obama was asked directly this week if he is the presumptive nominee. He demurred. But he was also asked about this rumor that the campaign is planning to declare victory after the Oregon primary on May 20th.

Before we go on, let's take a quick listen to what he had to say.

BARACK OBAMA: That will be an important day. If at that point we have the majority of pledged delegates, which is possible, then I think we can make a pretty strong claim that, you know, we've got the most runs and it's the ninth inning and we've won.

NORRIS: Now, David, he's talking about winning, but does it seem like the campaign is trying hard not to prematurely engage in that sort of victory strut?

BROOKS: Yeah, very intelligently. He is the nominee, but he does not have the power to decide when this is over - only Hillary Clinton has the power to decide that. I think they're intelligently giving her the room to do this with respect and with dignity, but she has to decide this. Because I think the evidence is overwhelming, the last month or two have really hurt the party. The divisions are there, they're healable to some degree, but it has to be done with grace. And how this ends will be extremely important, and it all depends on her taking the initiative, her signing up to his campaign and not him forcing things. And I think they are completely aware of that.

NORRIS: Well, the divisions are stark. I mean, we heard Hillary Clinton this week talking about the different kinds of voters that the different nominees attract.

Before we go on, let's take another listen to another clip. This is Hillary Clinton talking to USA Today in an interview. Let's take a quick listen.

HILLARY CLINTON: There was just an AP article posted that found how Senator Obama's support among working - hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again and how the, you know, whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me; and in independents I was running even with him. And I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.

NORRIS: E.J., either candidate is going to have some reaching out to do. Obama will have to either reach out to those blue collar voters, older voters who seemed to have preferred Hillary Clinton in a string of primaries. Hillary Clinton, if she were the nominee, would have to reach out to college kids and black voters.

DIONNE: Right. Well, first, I think lesson number one for politicians is they should appeal to voters and not analyze them. Obama got into trouble when he did that in the San Francisco bitter comment and Hillary Clinton created some controversy, which I don't think will be that great because the race is over, by being so explicit in analyzing the racial composition of these voters. But there's no question that these primaries have almost become a kind of ethnic and class and age census.

I think the biggest line is age, and that almost all groups below the age of 45 are much more pro-Obama, and that almost all groups over the age of 65, except for African-Americans, are pro-Clinton. And I think Obama's main task here is to keep pushing up the age line. He can't win if his appeal is concentrated below age 55. But as you got up - if he can sort of start building support among moderately older voters and cut his losses among those over 65 and 70, then he's fine. But that's his real challenge.

NORRIS: He started to do that in Indiana, but he still has ways to go.

DIONNE: It's really hard to do. This is - in this election demography has been king, and people from different demographic groups have different mental maps of what leadership consists of, and those were extremely subtle maps of what they're looking for in a candidate. And most candidates find it extremely hard to appeal to people they don't naturally appeal to, and that's going to be an extreme challenge for Obama. If one thing the last month has done is it's demonstrate to John McCain how to run against Barack Obama; go to the working class, go for older voters, and it's hard to shift those kind of alliances once people make a view of you.

NORRIS: And we don't have a lot of time, but there was an interesting poll this week that showed that Barack Obama seems to be holding his own with Jewish voters and yet the campaign seems to be working very hard trying to reach out to that group of voters, trying to quell fears among Jewish voters. What's the worry there?

DIONNE: Well, I think that Jewish voters are a very, very important part of the Democratic Party organization. There is a strong sentimental tie between Democrats and the Jewish community, and they have been - also been very important to Democratic fund-raising and Democratic organization. I think there is a general perception that if you are seen as in some ways hostile to the Jewish community, that has spillover effect with other groups.

I think Democrats are just always uneasy when the Jewish community shows signs of turning against you. In fact, he's done reasonably well with Jewish voters in most of these primaries. But politically the only state where - that might be in play where they could matter is Pennsylvania, and if he can put Florida in play. And if they're going to put Florida in play, he needs Jewish voters.

NORRIS: We only have a little bit of time. David, I want to turn to John McCain, if I can. Is he using his time well as he sits on the sidelines watching the Democrats spar and spit at each other?

BROOKS: To some extent. He's showing he's not George Bush. He's going to go on to talk about climate change. What he hasn't done is demonstrated a narrative of the economy. He's had his plans on the economy. He does not have a narrative of where he sees the economy evolving and how he's going to address that problem.

NORRIS: Thanks to both of you. Always good to talk to you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. He's also the author of the book "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right." And David Brooks of the New York Times. Thanks to both.

DIONNE: Thank you.

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