ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Every time there's another debate, analysts say it's more important than ever. But tonight's Democratic debate in Cleveland between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton really is more important than ever especially for Senator Clinton. She has lost 11 contests in a row. And even her husband has said that if she loses Texas and Ohio next week, our candidacy could be over.
NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, joins us now.
MARA LIASSON: Hello Robert.
SIEGEL: And in tonight's debate, it's hard for me to ask you what Senator Clinton needs to do because she seems to have tried to do everything already. What do you expect to happen tonight?
LIASSON: Well, I think it would be fair to expect that she will continue some of the many lines of attack that she's tried out against Senator Obama on the campaign trail in recent days. She said he's not ready to be commander in chief; that he's naive in his foreign policy; he's hypocritical in his campaign tactics. But in the last debate, we expected some of those two and she came off as very collegial, very reflective at the end. Some people thought it was almost a concession when she said, no matter what happens I'll be fine. But I think one of the most important things she's tried to communicate to the voters and to her own supporters this week is that she is not giving up. She's still fighting and I do expect we will see some of that fight tonight.
SIEGEL: Let's say that she does very well in the debate and goes on to win in Ohio next week or for that matter in Ohio and Texas, does she considerably retake the lead?
LIASSON: It would be very hard for her to retake the lead in delegates even if she wins Ohio and Texas. Let's look at the numbers because the Democrats give out their delegates on the proportional basis if she won Ohio for instance, 52 to 48, she'd only get five more delegates than Obama. If she won by 60-40, which would be an incredibly big…
SIEGEL: It's a landslide.
LIASSON: …big landslide, she'd get 30 more delegates than him.
In Texas, if she wins 55-45, which the polls don't suggest that she would do, she'd get 19 more than him. So the point is that to get back in the lead to become a true front-runner, again, in terms of delegates she's have to win very, very big. Her own campaign has said flatly, they have predicted that after March 4th, they will be within 25 delegates of Obama.
SIEGEL: And as of now, before their primaries in Texas and Ohio, the gap in delegates is about what?
LIASSON: Is a little bit less than 100 delegates including superdelegates. He has 1,300 and something and she has 1,200 and something depending on who's counting.
SIEGEL: Now another wrinkle: Ohio is a straight primary but Texas is a combination of primary and caucus.
LIASSON: That's right. If you have voted in the primary, you were allowed to come back at night and participate in the caucus. Some of their delegates are given out through the caucuses; the rest of them are given out in the primaries. The other thing about Texas, very similar to states like Iowa, the delegates are awarded on state Senate districts and the number of delegates that each of these districts get is based on the turn out of Democrats in a last general election.
So, districts that have a high turnout tend in Texas to be the African-American districts where Obama is expected to do well. They have a higher number of delegates to be awarded. In the districts that are highly Hispanic districts where Senator Clinton is expected to do well, they have fewer delegates because historically they have turned out in lower numbers.
SIEGEL: And then the dimension of the caucus, if the history is any guide here, would benefit Senator Obama as well.
LIASSON: And she has complained bitterly about the caucus system being basically slanted against her kind of voters who can't take two hours off from work.
SIEGEL: Now, when you watch, say, tonight's Democratic debate, I want you to describe the experience of a political journalist because you're on the receiving end - you're not just watching the debate - you're on the receiving end of real-time rapid response e-mails.
LIASSON: That's right. In the old days, you have to go into the spin room after the debate to get this onslaught of opinion. But now we just kind of comes into your computer and the minute Obama says something that the Clinton camp feels is not correct, they'll send you within seconds a list of fact-checks. And if she says something that they think is particularly wonderful, they'll immediate send out a headline that says video moment of the debate and they'll have a link to YouTube.
The other thing that we're getting now is we're not only getting e-mails from both campaigns furiously through the night, we're getting e-mails from the RNC, the Republican National Committee, slamming both candidates. Lately, they have been slamming Obama more. That just tells you who's in the lead.
SIEGEL: Okay, Mara, thank you. Have a good time tonight.
LIASSON: Thank you.
SIEGEL: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
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