TOPICS > Politics

Campaign 2004

March 1, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT

MARGARET WARNER: The biggest one-day cache of democratic presidential delegates yet is at stake tomorrow, some 1,151 of them, from primaries in nine states and caucuses in Minnesota.

We get an on-the-ground view from two states where John Edwards has spent a lot of time in hopes of catching John Kerry. That comes from Joe Hallett of the “Columbus Dispatch” in Ohio, and Gayle White of the “Atlanta Journal Constitution” in Georgia. And for an overview, they’re joined by “New York Times” political reporter Adam Nagourney. Welcome to you all. Gayle White, give us a profile of the likely voters coming to this democratic primary tomorrow in Georgia.

GAYLE WHITE: Well, about a third of them may be black. We won’t have as high a percentage probably of African-Americans as South Carolina, but we do expect a significant African-American turnout tomorrow.

Voters here in Georgia are angry at George Bush, they are dissatisfied with the situation in Iraq. They are concerned about jobs and health care and education, and they are ready to vote for somebody that they think can get rid of George Bush.

MARGARET WARNER: Georgia has no registration by party, is that correct?

GAYLE WHITE: That’s correct.

MARGARET WARNER: So how many independents or Republicans might participate?

GAYLE WHITE: It’s really hard to say, and the issue this year is confused by the fact that we are having a nonbinding referendum on a state flag design that is also going to appear on the ballot tomorrow. Now, people can ask for a Republican ballot if they like, it will of course show George Bush unopposed, but it would give them a chance to vote on the state flag.

We don’t know how many independents and Republicans might do that instead of voting in the Democratic primary. Also there does seem to be some confusion among some voters about whether they have to vote in the Democratic primary to vote on the state flag. And as I said, for Republicans and independents that’s not the case, but many of them believe it is.

MARGARET WARNER: Joe Hallett, Ohio also has an open primary. Give us a profile of the likely electorate there in tomorrow’s primary.

JOE HALLETT: Well, I think the likely electorate will be blue collar union, 40 percent of the state’s vote comes from the, Democratic vote comes from the Cleveland area, and that vote is blue collar, union, right now overwhelmingly with Kerry. We ran a poll on Sunday of about 3700 registered Democrats showing that Kerry was beating Edwards in Ohio by 30 points.

But I think we will see, particularly in Columbus and southeastern and southwestern Ohio where the voters tend to be more moderate or are even conservative, a number of independents voting in the primary. So it’s really hard to say. I think will it be closer than our poll suggests, but it’s still John Kerry’s to lose here in this state.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, Ohio has lost a lot of manufacturing jobs, hasn’t it? I mean, that was one reason that John Edwards thought this might be a good state for him, in addition to it being an open primary.

JOE HALLETT: Yeah, that’s right. Ohio has lost about a quarter of a million jobs since 2001 — 153,000 of them have been in the manufacturing sector. And jobs here clearly are the big issue. The trade issue, the whole personal security area is huge here.

People are worried about their jobs, they’re worried about having health care insurance. It far supersedes national security issues.And Kerry and Edwards have been appealing to voters on trade, NAFTA has been a big issue here. And Edwards thought he could make some hay on NAFTA because Kerry supported the NAFTA vote, but Kerry has pretty much neutralized him on that, they both have roughly the same position on NAFTA.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Adam Give us a national overview of Edwards of course hopes that he’ll have a late surge as he’s tended to do in other states. Are there any states where a late surge might put him over the top?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: The other two stints are Minnesota and Maryland. I suppose it’s possible there. But again the four main states we’re looking at tomorrow for possible, I use the word upsets, are Georgia, Ohio, Minnesota and Maryland. And as you pointed out, there have been times when Edwards has closed in the final days of the campaign, and also done better than we expected in the final days, and the polling did pretty bad this whole year, so I think it’s possible.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Adam, give us an understanding of Edwards’ strategy at this point. For weeks and weeks he wanted essentially a one on one with John Kerry with no other viable rivals, he finally got that two weeks ago. Yet only yesterday in that we ran a little clip from that debate did he really sharpen his tone on Kerry. First of all, what do the Edwards folks say about why he waited so long and then why he did it?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: Well, I mean, the reason why he waited so long is he put himself in a position because of the way he won in Iowa and, excuse me, came in second place in Iowa and won in South Carolina, by running as the positive candidate. I mean, he frequently criticizes opponents for what he calls sniping. So put until a difficult position to do what candidates were behind normally have to do, which is to put it charitably, point out differences with their opponents, or sniping. So I think that’s what made him delay so long.

What he finally decided to do at the end, I don’t know. At this point he’s won one state, he says he’s going to stay on after Super Tuesday if he doesn’t win any of the ten states, but, you know what, he’s got to do something to shake it up. And by every indication sort of status quo was not working, so I think that’s what the thinking was.

MARGARET WARNER: Gayle White back to Georgia, I know you’ve done your own polling. What have the Democratic and independents, if they’re going to participate, what are they saying they’re really looking for in a Democratic candidate, what are they say going the Kerry Edwards match-up?

GAYLE WHITE: They’re saying they want someone that they think will be strong against George Bush. They’re saying that Kerry and Edwards are both likeable men. The one phrase we keep hearing over about Edwards is that he’s not quite seasoned enough yet, which seems to mean that Kerry’s age and experience is carrying a lot of weight here. They like Edwards, he speaks with a southern accent, he has textile town roots, he identifies with a lot of the voters here and they identify with him. But they seem to really respect Kerry’s senior status at this point.

MARGARET WARNER: Joe Hallett, same question to you about what the voters are telling you and your polling people about what they’re looking for and how they see Kerry and Edwards.

JOE HALLETT: Well, what was just described in Georgia is exactly what’s happening here in Ohio. Kerry’s experience is winning over, his willingness to take on George Bush, the Democrats I talk to here more than anything want to beat George Bush. I think their campaign has served them very well here. The basis very energized.

We had a poll of registered Democrats in early January where they seem to be demoralized at that time, 70 percent of them told us they didn’t think that the Democrat could beat George Bush. Now we just polled last Sunday and 47 percent of the registered democrats we talked to said that Bush’s re-election was likely. So the candidates are connecting with the voters particularly the Democrats here, and Kerry in particular, although Edwards is maybe one of the best retail politicians I’ve ever seen, but it is Kerry’s experience and a sense that he can beat Bush that appears to be winning the day for him here in Ohio.

MARGARET WARNER: So, briefly, you do expect a big turnout, or state officials do? Joe Hallett.

JOE HALLETT: Yes, I’m sorry. Yeah, well, actually the secretary of state projected only a 34 percent turnout. I think it’s going to be larger than that, because I think we will see a significant crossover of independents into the Democratic primary.

MARGARET WARNER: Go ahead, and one other quick question for you while you’re finishing that, Dennis Kucinich of course Ohio is his home state, is he any kind of factor?

JOE HALLETT: No. He will do well on the west side of Cleveland and his district, but our polling shows he’s only at about 5 percent of support. I don’t think he will be a factor in this race.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Adam, back to you. What are the Edwards folks saying, and we hear what John Edwards says publicly that no matter what happens tomorrow night he’s going on, but what are the Edwards folks say going what he’s going to do if say he should do poorly tomorrow?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: You know, they’re saying the say thing that he’s saying, but you’ve been in this business for a long time. The fact is when a candidate is in this situation he or she and the people around him have to cab in advance say we’re going to drop out if things go really bad. You know, Edwards keeps looking forward till Tuesday the 9th when their four southern states where he thinks he could do well.

But you reach a point in this where you begin to risk looking silly if you keep losing again and again, I’m not saying that he’s there at all yet, but if tomorrow night he loses nine states, ten states, even eight states, I mean, you’ve got to imagine what that conversation is going to be like in that room. And they’ve got to start thinking about their future, whether it’s running for president in 2008 or 2012, whether it’s being vice president or whether it’s doing something else. So reality will hit home tomorrow night, unless, as is possible, he pulls out in three or four states tonight.

MARGARET WARNER: Are the Kerry folks getting any signature naturals, putting any pressure directly or through fundraisers on Edwards to get out?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: Not that we’ve picked up yet, but again I think they look at the calendar and realize that ten states tomorrow are going to put, could put all the pressure on Edwards that needs to be put on him. We’ll see what happens on Wednesday. Again the national Democratic leader Terry McAuliffe has kept a back seat during this, but I think things could change a lot depending on what happens tomorrow.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, briefly, Kerry looked a little testy yesterday in that exchange in the debate. Do the Kerry folks feel that Edwards attacks either are scoring the kind of points that will hurt Kerry in the fall or keeping him from, keeping him spending money that otherwise he might put to better use against Bush? In other words are they getting impatient with this?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: Up until yesterday in New York I think they welcomed this, because for the most part it was a non-contentious debate, he gave Kerry a platform to sort of make his arguments, he was winning again and again. I think, I was in the studio during this, so I was, I think Kerry was irritated, I’m not sure he was upset, but I think he was irritated. What you got to watch out for sound bites, quotes from Edwards that he says now could be used against Kerry should he get the nomination, that’s the main thing here.

MARGARET WARNER: Thanks. Adam Nagourney, Gayle White, and Joe Hallett, thank you all.