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MARGARET WARNER: The candidates’ frantic travel schedules reflect next Tuesday’s far-flung contests, with 269 delegates at stake in seven states, with primaries in Missouri, South Carolina, Arizona, Oklahoma and Delaware; and caucuses in New Mexico and North Dakota.
We get a ground-level view of the four states with the most delegates at stake from four political reporters: Ellen Soeteber of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Lee Bandy of The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, John Kamman of The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, and Carmel Perez Snyder from The Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. Welcome to you, all.
Lee Bandy, let me start with you. Give us a picture. We know all of the different primaries. The states are very different from Iowa and New Hampshire. Give us a mini-profile of who South Carolina Democrats are and what are the issues that really move them?
LEE BANDY: Well, South Carolina Democrats tend to be a little bit more conservative than the Democrats in either Iowa or New Hampshire. In fact a poll recently showed that 41 percent of the Democrats in South Carolina call themselves conservative to very conservative.
And, African Americans make up a huge hunk of the Democratic Party in South Carolina. They are very conservative on cultural issues. They go to church regularly, once or twice a week, the church is the center of their life. They are opposed to gay marriages. They support prayer in the schools. And so we tend to be a little bit more conservative here in South Carolina.
MARGARET WARNER: And then the job loss, we hear John Kerry talk about the loss of manufacturing jobs, is that really a big issue now?
LEE BANDY: Well, the three top issues in South Carolina are jobs, and health care, health care is a real hot issue. There are a lot of South Carolinians who don’t have health insurance and they are underinsured. Some families are one paycheck away from filing for bankruptcy because they can’t pay their medical bills. And then the war is an issue but the war is not a dominant issue. Let me add something. After listing those three issues the real issue amongst the South Carolinians is electability. They want to elect someone who can beat Bush in November.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. John Kamman, give us a similar mini profile of the Democrats in Arizona. Who are? What do they care about?
JOHN KAMMAN: I would characterize them as moderate. They have no hesitation to vote for Republicans and have filled the statehouse with them. But at the same time, they are very selective and have chosen a Democratic governor who is going to be seen on the national stage quite often.
The issues here are immigration, and to some extent the environment. We have a very large minority population. One third of state is minority, and that includes more than 25 percent Hispanic. So this will be the first test for the Democrats in a largely minority state.
MARGARET WARNER: Would you say the Hispanics in particular, are they big part of the Democratic electorate?
JOHN KAMMAN: Very much so. The Republicans have been romancing them as much as possible but traditionally the Hispanics and Native American population are very heavily Democratic.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Ellen Soeteber, give us the same kind of analysis for the Missouri Democrats?
ELLEN SOETEBER: Well, Missouri is a bellwether state. It’s an interesting statistic that in the entire 20th century Missouri voted for the winner in the presidential election every year but one, 1956.
In large part that’s because the demographics in Missouri come very close to mirroring those of the country as the whole with one exception — we do not have a large Hispanic population and because of that I think you are seeing a lot of the same issues that you’ve seen talked about on the national scene: jobs, the economy in general, health care and health care costs, the war in Iraq. A lot of Democrats here have come to really distrust President Bush. They dislike him almost as much as the Republicans disliked President Clinton. And so electability is something that is being talked about a lot here in Missouri.
MARGARET WARNER: And then there is a large African-American population, is there not, at least in St. Louis?
ELLEN SOETEBER: Right. In St. Louis and Kansas City, and in the Democratic Party, African Americans represent about 20 percent of the vote but we have a significant rural population that tends to be quite conservative on the Democratic side.
Gun control is one kind of unique issue for Missourians. Maybe not so much in the primary although Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry have already come down on slightly different sides on the issue but that’s a pretty hot issue right now in Missouri right now as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Caramel Perez Snyder, give us an analysis of Oklahoma Democrats You’ve got something like a million registered Democrats there.
CARMEL PEREZ SNYDER: Oklahoma voters are probably similar to South Carolina Democratic voters very conservative, very moderate. Unlike Missouri, Oklahoma has only chosen a Republican president — they have not chosen a Democrat as president since 1964. The Hispanic population is very minor here. There’s a large Native American population, but still very Democrat, very conservative.
MARGARET WARNER: How interested would you say — can you gauge the level of interest in this Oklahoma primary among Democrats?
CARMEL PEREZ SNYDER: This is the first year Oklahoma has held such an early primary and for many Oklahomans that means it’s the first time many of them have seen a presidential candidate come to the state. I spoke to one lady last night at the Democratic rally. She is 75. She says she never remembers a presidential candidate coming to this state.
MARGARET WARNER: Lee Bandy, back to you in South Carolina. Which of the leading candidates or which of the candidates would you say are really making a major push in South Carolina?
LEE BANDY: Well, it’s the home of John he had wars. When I say the home he was born in South Carolina so he is a native son. He is making the biggest push. He cannot afford to lose South Carolina. If he loses on Tuesday, then he will pack it in, he says that’s the end for him. Right now the South Carolina primary has boiled down to a two-person race between John Edwards and John Kerry.
MARGARET WARNER: What about Wesley Clark?
LEE BANDY: Wesley Clark surged early in the polls in South Carolina, but he has been fading in the polls. He seems to have written South Carolina off. He is campaigning elsewhere.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you seeing a lot of television advertising there?
LEE BANDY: Seeing a lot of TV. John Kerry is up now on television quite a bit. Of course the general has been on a lot as well and John Edwards spent more money on TV than anybody.
MARGARET WARNER: Of course Howard Dean has announced he is not going to advertise in any of the seven states.
LEE BANDY: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: Ellen Soeteber, in Missouri I notice you had at least three candidates there just yesterday. Are all of them playing? Give us a sense –
ELLEN SOETEBER: The ones playing most aggressively are Senator Edwards, Senator Kerry and Mr. Sharpton. All three of them were here in St. Louis yesterday. Senator Kerry and Mr. Edwards are scheduled to be in Kansas City over the weekend. Governor Dean is supposed to be here tomorrow. The most activity at the organizational level as well as that person have been Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry.
This is a real whirlwind campaign because none of them expected to campaign here because they didn’t expect Congressman Gephardt to drop out so quickly. In fact, when we went out to talk to voters on Tuesday and Wednesday most of them were not aware that there was going to be a primary election next week. Like Oklahoma we don’t usually have a primary this early in the year and also the primaries for the other statewide offices like U.S. Senate and governor, those are not until August. So, there haven’t been ads on the air or signs in the yards. People are starting to go, “What? We have to vote next week?”
MARGARET WARNER: All right. John Kamman, what about in Arizona — who is making the biggest push there?
JOHN KAMMAN: The push is by Senator Lieberman. He started the earliest. Has made the most visits from the Mexican border to the Navaho reservation. He has radio ads in the Navaho language. He has quite a few ads on the Hispanic radio stations and unfortunately for him it has not yet translated into awfully good polling — poll figures. He has a pretty good chance of picking up a third, or part of the one-third, of the Democrats that have not decided yet, but for the moment it’s John Kerry and Wesley Clark in the front-runner position with Howard Dean slightly behind.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes, I noticed today the Kerry folks said they put on an ad in Spanish, a radio ad. So he is making a big play there?
JOHN KAMMAN: Well, I think all of candidates find the Hispanic population a very important one to them. It may be just on the margins but they see the Hispanic vote as the block that they need to get on their side.
MARGARET WARNER: I’m told that we’re having a little bit of a problem with Oklahoma so I’ll get back — she’s back, good. Carmel Perez Snyder, tell me in Oklahoma who is the making the biggest play there?
CARMEL PEREZ SNYDER: We have seen Lieberman came into the state early. He’s been here consistently. However, Clark lately has been running ads. General Clark started running ads in November and they have been real steady.
MARGARET WARNER: I noticed there was a national group ARG that has done a little polling after Iowa but before New Hampshire. And they actually had Clark in the lead in Oklahoma. Does that … go ahead.
CARMEL PEREZ SNYDER: The latest polls we seen show that Clark is in the lead. Edwards is following closely behind and surprisingly John Kerry who has not visited the state at all is in third place right now.
MARGARET WARNER: Lee Bandy back to you. A couple final questions. One of Jim Clyburn’s endorsement today. What percentage of the electorate — the Democratic electorate are African Americans expected to be and how much did the Clyburn endorsement really mean?
LEE BANDY: Well, more than a majority of the primary voters are likely to be African American in South Carolina. It’s a very big vote and it’s going to be the first primary in which the candidates can test their appeal in the African-American community. Jim Clyburn’s endorsement will provide a psychological boost to Kerry’s campaign, but will it mean a lot of blacks will follow Clyburn’s lead and vote for Kerry? Not necessarily.
The black vote in South Carolina is not monolithic. They are independent-minded and they are going to vote for whomever they want. They will not necessarily listen to Jim Clyburn.
MARGARET WARNER: And finally, give us your quick read on the debate tonight which starts very shortly. What should we be looking for? What will you be looking for?
LEE BANDY: Well, it will be interesting to see that how John Edwards responds with Kerry now snipping at his heels — and the last poll in South Carolina showed that the two were in a virtual dead heat. So it will be interesting to see whether either one turns negative.
MARGARET WARNER: And I noticed John Kerry said today he was asked if he was going to campaign in the South. He said yes. Is that a settled matter as far as you are concerned?
LEE BANDY: I think a lot of South Carolinians are suspicious of that. And I’m sure he will be asked tonight in the debate are you going to write off the South? And a Democrat can win the race without the South but it doesn’t leave much room for margin of error.
MARGARET WARNER: Lee Bandy and the other three, thank you all very much.