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Democratic Party Faces Tough Choices as Race Pushes On

April 23, 2008 at 6:20 PM EDT
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Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama shifted their focus to Indiana and North Carolina Wednesday, after Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania on Tuesday ensured that their campaigns will go on. Four Democratic Party leaders assess the road ahead for the presidential nomination.

RAY SUAREZ: So just where are the Democrats headed, to a brokered national convention in August, to a challenge to party rules in July, or will their presidential nominating process be wrapped up by June?

We turn to four party leaders for some answers.

New Mexico governor and former presidential candidate Bill Richardson has endorsed Barack Obama.

Former Colorado congresswoman and presidential candidate Pat Schroeder is supporting Hillary Clinton.

Former House Democratic Whip David Bonior of Michigan managed John Edwards’ presidential campaign. He’s not endorsed a candidate.

Nor has Ralph Dawson, a Democratic National Committee member from New York and a convention super-delegate.

Well, let me start by getting a quick thumbnail portrait of the race from all four of you. Now that the dust is clearing from a very hard-fought contest in Philadelphia, where does the race stand this evening?

Governor Richardson?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), New Mexico: Well, Senator Obama is ahead in delegates. I think that Pennsylvania, Senator Clinton deserves a lot of credit, but the reality is that Senator Clinton is going to have to win 70 percent of all remaining delegates.

There are nine primaries left. I think it looks good for Senator Obama in some of the major states, like Indiana and North Carolina two weeks from now. And I think his nomination is going to happen.

And the best thing that can happen for the Democratic Party is that we coalesce around the candidate. I’m not saying Senator Clinton should get out now, but eventually, after June 3rd, after the last primary, I think we need to come together.

And we are really divided. We’re hurting each other. The campaign is negative. And that’s going to help John McCain.

RAY SUAREZ: Pat Schroeder?

FORMER REP. PAT SCHROEDER (D), Colorado: Well, first of all, I think Hillary was amazing. I mean, she is like our lioness. She’s so strong and yet very tender. So the tough and tender woman just keeps going; I don’t know where she gets it. So Pennsylvania was terrific.

But I really don’t worry about the future. I think it’s very positive for the Democratic Party, and let me tell you why. I see George W. Bush channeling Herbert Hoover, for heaven’s sakes, and now we see John McCain channeling George W. Bush.

Now, the difference between Obama and Hillary is about like this, and the difference between either one of them and John McCain is, oh, my goodness, way, way out there, miles and miles.

The other thing is both of these candidates are building a strong infrastructure in all of these states and people are getting to participate and they’re getting their voices heard.

So, yes, there’s some dissension right now. But I think, long term, it’s going to be very positive. And you’re going to have an infrastructure already built for the general that we haven’t had in the past.

Considering likely outcomes

Former Rep. David Bonior
The question that we have to face, I think, as a party is we've got to get our candidate ready to fight a tough race with John McCain. He's going to be very difficult.

RAY SUAREZ: Ralph Dawson, what do you see?

RALPH DAWSON, Democratic Super-Delegate: Well, Senator Obama is obviously ahead at this point, but he is not likely to get to the magic number of 2,025 without super-delegates. So we have to watch to see where this campaign goes.

Obviously, Senator Clinton is beginning to build some momentum, now, having done well in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

So we look to North Carolina and to Indiana to see whether one candidate or the other can, if you will, win on the other person's court.

So we look to see whether Senator Obama can hold North Carolina or whether Senator Clinton can make a tremendous showing there. And we look to Indiana to see whether Senator Obama can prevail in Indiana to demonstrate that he can do well in a Rust Belt state.

So the campaign continues, and I think we're learning as the process goes.

RAY SUAREZ: And, finally, David Bonior?

FORMER REP. DAVID BONIOR (D), Michigan: Well, Ray, I think that Senator Clinton deserves a lot of credit for the way she's fought in this campaign. She's a real fighter with great spirit, and she had a fabulous victory the other night.

But the reality is the numbers just are not there for her. Even if she wins, as others have suggested here, if she wins out the rest of the nine states and territories that we have left, she probably is not going to get the three indices that she needs to get the convention to vote for her.

And that is she's got to have the most total votes won, or the most contests won, and the most pledged delegates. And so the reality is that Barack Obama probably is going to be our next nominee.

Now, is that unusual to have a nominee lose out at the end? Not really. You can look at Walter Mondale and Gary Hart. Gary Hart won a slew of races at the very end, but was not the nominee.

And the same thing happened, of course, to Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown, if you remember back in '92, did the same thing to him.

The question that we have to face, I think, as a party is we've got to get our candidate ready to fight a tough race with John McCain. He's going to be very difficult. John McCain has a very powerful story to tell.

And I want to see a little bit more vigor out of Senator Obama. I want to see a little bit more passion out of him; I want to see a little bit more fight out of him.

And I think there's a lot of people out there that feel the same way. We think he's probably going to be our nominee, but he might need a round or two more to warm up before we get into the ring for the general.

Preparing to challenge McCain

Bill Richardson
Governor of New Mexico
I think that this campaign has gone on long enough. I think a lot of issues have been debated.

RAY SUAREZ: So it sounds like you're saying that this process, these states that remain and the ones just fought, might be doing something good for Barack Obama, even as you concede he's likely the nominee?

DAVID BONIOR: Yes, I think the system is -- I'm not as worried about this idea that it's going on too long, we're fighting with each other. I think it's all going to come together.

But I want to see it come together around a candidate who's ready to get up there, and stand up, and struggle for the things that are really important in this party.

We've had a chance to really talk -- we haven't talked very much in this election actually about education. We haven't talked about climate change. We haven't talked about our veterans and the serious health problems they have.

These are major issues that have been absent for the past six weeks. We need a candidate out there that's speaking with passion about them. And I think, once that happens, you'll start to see the party coalesce around that person.

RAY SUAREZ: Governor, how do you respond to that, that your guy is likely the nominee, but maybe he has to ramp it up? And David Bonior wants to see more out of Barack Obama before giving him the title "Democratic nominee."

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, the first point I want to make, I am in fundamental disagreement with, I think, all of your panel that may think that this process is good for the Democratic Party, this constant, daily in-fighting, negative ads in major states, while John McCain is out getting votes and raising money and being an international statesman.

So I do want to separate myself from that. I think that this campaign has gone on long enough. I think a lot of issues have been debated.

We've had a lot of good candidates out there. These two have come out. And so that's one point I want to make.

The second is, look, you know, Senator Obama is, I think, his strongest attributes is he can bring this country together. He's a fresh voice. That's what the American people want to see.

And what I'm saying is that, you know, Obama is somebody that is unique in his approach to politics. And he, on debates, is ready to make contrasts with Senator Clinton. He has not run the overwhelming negative campaign that she has. I mean, that's a reality. Yes, there's been back-and-forth.

But I do believe that he's been tested. He's got the experience, I think the background. He can go head-to-head with foreign leaders.

And in my judgment, because of this unique quality of attracting independents, being able to bring the country together, win in battleground states like Colorado, and Missouri, and Kansas, and others, that he'd be our strongest general election candidate.

Handling Florida, Michigan votes

Former Rep. Pat Schroeder
We clearly have to count Florida. There was nothing the Democratic Party down there could do....The Democrats had no authority there. So when you put that together, it looks very different.

RAY SUAREZ: Pat Schroeder, other members of the panel have suggested that your candidate, Hillary Clinton, can't get to 2,025. And there's been a difference of opinion about whether continuing this process really helps the Democrats set the table for fighting John McCain in the fall.

Talk about those two things.

PAT SCHROEDER: Sure. Well, first of all, we've got to decide what to do about Florida and Michigan. If you counted those votes now, she would be ahead in the popular vote. So let's get that out on the table.

I think Florida is a no-brainer. We clearly have to count Florida. There was nothing the Democratic Party down there could do. They had a Republican governor, a Republican Senate, and a Republican legislature that changed the election date. The Democrats had no authority there. So when you put that together, it looks very different.

Secondly, I disagree that it's so negative. Yes, they're talking about different things. One's saying, "I have more experience." The other one is saying, "Look, I'm bringing new people in."

They're both bringing new people in. It's amazing how many people are coming into the party or re-registering. That's very exciting. That's a plus. And we're getting organization on the ground, and that's a plus.

So maybe what we have to do is put both of them on the ticket. I don't know.

But I think Americans are very worried about what's going on in this country, with the war, with the economy, with education, with the environment. There are so many problems.

And the real question is: Who can best address them? And I think the voters are really pondering this and taking it very seriously.

And I really think, once we have a candidate and a ticket together, then McCain is going to shrivel, because people are going to really realize that he's just more of the same. He's McSame. And I think we'll all come together and have that infrastructure and move on.

RAY SUAREZ: Ralph Dawson, let's talk a little bit about Florida, since you were part of the DNC effort that disqualified the seating of the Florida delegation.

Did this work out the way that you had intended, a? And, b, what do you think of Congresswoman Schroeder's point that the Democrats will come together, that what's going on in the party right now is not a problem?

RALPH DAWSON: Well, with regard to Florida, I think that the Florida party broke the rules at a time when it was important for the DNC to send a signal that the rules had to be followed. So I think that the actions of the DNC in that respect were appropriate.

I think that we still have time, though, to address the Florida and Michigan situations, either before the Rules and Bylaws Committee by the end of June or later with the Credentials Committee.

I personally would hope that the Florida party would get together with the campaigns and with the DNC and try to work toward a solution that allows the seating of Florida and Michigan delegates in some form.

I think the most important thing here is that we settle upon a nominee by the end of June. I think that, while the campaign gets a little out of control at times, on balance, this has been good for the party.

We've now had over 28 million people vote in Democratic primaries and caucuses. That is good for the party.

So if we move forward, and shortly after the close of the primaries, the window closes, I guess, about June 10th, and the last primary is June 3rd, I would think that, in the month of June, those who remain uncommitted could come to a conclusion with respect to where they stand. And that we could coalesce around a nominee in June. If we do that...

Swaying the super delegates

Ralph Dawson
Super delegate
[W]e need to take in as much information as we can and make a judgment. I haven't gotten there yet, and apparently neither have about 300 others.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, let me jump in there, because you talk about those who remain uncommitted, as if they're some other people, not you. You're one of the last few uncommitted super-delegates from the state of New York.

What is it that you need to see -- and quickly, please -- to make you commit one way or the other?

RALPH DAWSON: Well, I don't know what that will be specifically. I happen to like both of the candidates, think they will make great presidents.

So what we really need to look at is which candidate we think will run best in this cycle. And we need to take in as much information as we can and make a judgment. I haven't gotten there yet, and apparently neither have about 300 others.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, David Bonior, what is going to sway those super-delegates? You're on the phone with a lot of people. You're talking to a lot of people. What in these next several weeks -- or is everybody going to wait to see what happens in North Carolina and Indiana?

DAVID BONIOR: I think they're waiting for that two weeks from today to find out what happens in North Carolina and Indiana.

And if Senator Obama does well there -- and maybe just a reality that Senator Clinton faces the facts, and there will be a period of time in which she will be given a grace period to come to the realization that it's over. And then I think the drums will start to beat, and then there will be pressure on her to leave.

Now, if she does well, then it's probably going all the way to the 2nd of June. And then there will be great pressure. Howard Dean has already started this at the DNC level. Ralph is absolutely right: We've got to get the super-delegates to make a commitment shortly after June 2nd, if they haven't by then.

We need at least five months -- June, July, August, September and October -- not three months. We don't need three months, half of August, September and October. That's not enough time for us. So we've got to get this decision, I think, done before the convention.

RAY SUAREZ: And you feel sure that it will be done before the convention?

DAVID BONIOR: I don't feel sure, but my sense right now is that the numbers, as I said earlier, are so steep of a climb for Senator Clinton that I assume that they will be done around the first part of June.

RAY SUAREZ: David Bonior, Ralph Dawson, Pat Schroeder, Bill Richardson, guests, thank you all.

DAVID BONIOR: Thank you.

RALPH DAWSON: Thank you.