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Pressure Grows on Clinton, Obama Claims Momentum

May 7, 2008 at 6:20 PM EDT
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Barack Obama easily won the North Carolina primary Tuesday, while Hillary Clinton narrowly won in Indiana -- leading to fresh speculation as to whether the nominating battle may be nearing an end. Mark Shields and David Brooks weigh the road ahead for the Democrats.

GWEN IFILL: The Democratic race for president continues, but for how much longer?

Judy Woodruff has our campaign report.

MAN: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hillary Clinton was back campaigning today, looking to squash any suggestion she give up on the Democratic race for president. But the results from two primaries yesterday certainly did not advance her cause.

She lost North Carolina to Barack Obama by a decisive 56 percent to 42 percent margin, while her narrow 51-49 percent victory in Indiana was much closer than her camp expected.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even as she vowed to fight on at a rally in Indianapolis last night, Clinton also struck a conciliatory tone.

CROWD: Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), Presidential Candidate: I know that people — people are watching this race, and they’re wondering, I win, he wins, I win, he wins. It’s so close. And I think that says a lot about how excited and passionate our supporters are and how intent so many Americans are to really taking their country back.

But I can assure you, as I have said on many occasions, that, no matter what happens, I will work for the nominee of the Democratic Party, because we must win in November.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Barack Obama was equally gracious when he spoke at his victory rally in Raleigh. But while seeking to heal the divisions of a brutal primary campaign, Obama set his sights on a general election run against Republican John McCain.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), Presidential Candidate: Yes, there have been bruised feelings on both sides. Yes, each side desperately wants their candidate to win. But ultimately this race is not about Hillary Clinton; it’s not about Barack Obama; it’s not about John McCain.

This election is about you, the American people.

BARACK OBAMA: It’s about whether we will have a president and a party that can lead us toward a brighter future.

This primary season may not be over, but when it is we will have to remember who we are as Democrats, that we are the party of Jefferson and Jackson, of Roosevelt and Kennedy, and that we are at our best when we lead with principle, when we lead with conviction, when we summon an entire nation to a common purpose and a higher purpose.

BARACK OBAMA: This fall, we intend to march forward as one Democratic Party, united by a common vision for this country, because we all agree that at this defining moment in our history, a moment when we are facing two wars, an economy in turmoil, a planet in peril, a dream that feels like it’s slipping away for too many Americans, we can’t afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush’s third term.

We need change in America. And that’s why we will be united in November.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Obama scheduled no campaign appearances today…

MAN: What a great day to be in West Virginia with the Clinton family.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … while Clinton rallied supporters in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and talked about jobs, education and gas prices.

Meeting with reporters afterwards, Clinton was asked about whether her decision to loan her campaign more than $6 million last month was a sign of weakness.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, it’s a sign of my commitment to this campaign. It’s a sign of how much I believe in what we’re trying to do.

And my supporters have been incredibly generous. You know, they are putting money into this campaign on an hourly basis. I read their e-mails. You know, single moms who decide to give me $20 out of their paycheck every month, retired people who have never contributed to a campaign before.

And, you know, I’m trying to make sure that their investment is a good one, and because we are being outspent. Everybody knows that. We historically in the last several months have been outspent 2-to-1, 3-to-1, 4-to-1, even 5-to-1.

But we’ve remained competitive. And I have been willing to loan that money to my campaign so that, you know, we could be competitive. And I think it’s paid off.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Clinton also was asked to explain the delegate math that keeps her fighting for the Democratic nomination.

QUESTION: You clearly seem determined to stay in this, at least through all the voting. But does there come a point when Senator Obama hits, I think, 2,210 delegates where you would say, OK, that’s it, he’s the nominee?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I’m glad you used the figure 2,210, because I think that’s the right figure, because that includes the seating of delegates from Michigan and Florida, something that I have said consistently, as you know, Mike, for months now has to be resolved, that, to leave it hanging or to in any way discount and reject the votes of the people of Michigan and Florida would haunt us in the fall election, in my opinion. So, 2,209 or 2,210 is the number, and at some point one of us will get there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the two campaigns held competing conference calls with reporters. Clinton strategists backed up her contention that the party is obligated to seat delegations from Florida and Michigan, which in turn would raise the number of delegates needed to win the nomination to 2,209.

BARACK OBAMA: How are you, sir? What’s your name?

MAN: My name is Cameron. How you doing?

BARACK OBAMA: Good to see you, Cameron.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Obama team rejected that logic, calling it another creative attempt by the Clinton camp to clear her a path to the nomination. They repeated that party rules stipulate only 2,025 delegates are needed.

According to the Associated Press, Obama now leads Clinton in the overall delegate count, pledged and superdelegates, by more than 150.

Today, Hillary Clinton did secure one more superdelegate, North Carolina Congressman Heath Shuler, whose district she won in yesterday’s primary.

But Obama picked up four superdelegates, that on top of former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern’s endorsement, who switched from Clinton, saying, “The mathematics are against her at this point.”

The first of the six remaining contests for the Democrats is West Virginia, next Tuesday.

Weighing Tuesday's vote

David Brooks
New York Times columnist
It's not only pundits who are essentially declaring this race over. You're beginning to hear it among Democrats who have been sort of sitting back and waiting and around.

GWEN IFILL: And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields is here. And "New York Times" columnist David Brooks joins us from Chicago.

Gentlemen, a long night last night. Welcome.

MARK SHIELDS: Good to be here.

GWEN IFILL: So, Mark, Hillary Clinton said today it was a new day, a new state, and she was off to West Virginia.

Is it really a new day for her campaign?

MARK SHIELDS: It is a new day for her campaign, but it's not a bright day.

The -- Hillary Clinton is running out of time, running out of real estate, and running out of arguments. I looked, and she now has fewer -- she's no closer to Barack Obama than she was before winning Ohio and Texas and Pennsylvania, the two best months of her campaign and the two worst months of his, really, from the beginning of March to the beginning of May. She has not closed the gap. He's further ahead in popular vote.

And in that space of time, Gwen, he's picked up 55 superdelegates' endorsements, to 24 for her. So, it's -- the end is very much in sight.

GWEN IFILL: David, today, one of the other things that we heard her say was that this is a dynamic electoral environment.

Define for us what you think she might mean by that and what the reality is.

DAVID BROOKS: I have no clue, because it's not a dynamic electoral environment. It's a very stable electoral environment.

The demographic groups in primary after primary have stuck with the same candidates. And, to me, the basic fundamental headline from last night was that Barack Obama had a terrible seven weeks. He had a bad debate performance. He had Jeremiah Wright twice. He had the bitter-gate comments. And he still held his people and he actually did better in Indiana with some of the demographic groups that Hillary Clinton had done well with -- the Catholics and some of the white ethnic groups.

So, he has a very resilient base of support. And, as Mark said, it's not only the base of support. He has got support among Democratic elites, among the superdelegates. And what has happened today is the social organism has begun to move on.

It's not only pundits who are essentially declaring this race over. You're beginning to hear it among Democrats who have been sort of sitting back and waiting and around. And I have begun to even sense it among many people, not in the tight inner circle of the Clinton camp, but in the outer circle of Clinton world, who have psychologically capitulated.

So, there's no question there's momentum today, and it's not in her direction.

Nearing the finish line?

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
What Hillary Clinton is going through right now is reality setting in. It's painfully public and publicly painful.

GWEN IFILL: So, David, when David Plouffe, the campaign manager for Barack Obama, says, "We can see the finish line," you kind of agree with him.

DAVID BROOKS: I do. And I think what you saw was Obama yesterday, last night, giving a general election speech.

David Axelrod, his campaign chief, said he might go to non-primary states, really talking about general election. He gave a speech about patriotism, designed to appeal to independent voters. I think Obama's ready to move on to the general election.

And I suspect a lot of people are going to think that's the right thing to do, because, when you look at his base of support, there has been some damage done to him over the past six weeks. He's essentially lost a lot of the moderate voters. And he's got to get those people back to begin the climb through the fall.

GWEN IFILL: Is there any way, Mark, that Hillary Clinton's continued presence in this, if indeed she stays in this race through the next six primaries, is good for the Democratic Party?

MARK SHIELDS: It can be good for the party if it isn't scorched earth.

I mean, I think that it's entirely reasonable to say Hillary Clinton is entitled to continue the fight. The race is not over. Mathematically, she's not been eliminated.

But, at the same time, remarks like Mark Penn, her -- his statement, her former chief strategist, that Barack Obama cannot win in November, or by Harold Ickes to be on the lookout for another October surprise involving Obama, I mean, those are harmful, hurtful and just helpful to John McCain in the fall.

John McCain's treatment of Mike Huckabee is the model here. I mean, when Huckabee was being urged to get out of the race, McCain said, look, he has every right to make this race. It's his decision.

GWEN IFILL: And that's what you think Barack Obama should do?

MARK SHIELDS: And I think the one other thing that -- understand this. What Hillary Clinton is going through right now is reality setting in. It's painfully public and publicly painful. It's the implosion of all her aspirations, all her ambitions.

And this is a time for the Aretha Franklin approach, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, on the part -- respect on the part of the Obama people. They shouldn't be taking victory laps. They shouldn't be gloating. They should give her time.

Finishing with grace

David Brooks
New York Times columnist
I personally believe there has been a lot of harm done to the Democratic Party. I think the polling reveals that in spades. But if you have a gracious few weeks [...] I think you will begin to heal that.

GWEN IFILL: So, David, if you were -- assuming for a moment that they call you and ask your advice over there at the Chicago headquarters of the Barack Obama campaign -- and -- or say, better yet, from the Arlington, Virginia, campaign headquarters of the Hillary Clinton campaign, and say, "David, how do we get out of this?" what would you suggest they do in the next couple of weeks?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I guess, from the Hillary Clinton camp, I would say harvest a few wins -- presumably, she will do quite well in West Virginia and Kentucky -- but not attack Barack Obama and just begin to have the conversations across the campaigns, conversations that will start among the personal level and then proceed through the -- to the top level.

And, really, it's -- that's the way to do it. Just have a gracious campaign. Take a few victory laps, make the points you want to make, and thank the people who have been supporting you -- and she's run an incredibly resilient campaign -- but never attack.

And, if you do that, I think you will see a lot of the psychology -- and I personally believe there has been a lot of harm done to the Democratic Party. I think the polling reveals that in spades. But if you have a gracious few weeks of -- take a few victories, I think you will begin to heal that.

And let's face it. The Democrats are still in an extraordinarily strong position. You saw a congressional race in Louisiana Republicans lose. Republicans are in terrible shape, so Democrats have plenty of room to bounce back from this.


MARK SHIELDS: That Louisiana House race last Saturday, a House seat that the Republicans had held for 34 years, where President Bush got 60 percent of the vote, the Democrat, Don Cazayoux, won, in spite of the fact that the Republicans threw against him: This is a creature of the national Democratic Party. This is a Barack Obama supporter. This is a Nancy Pelosi pawn.

And it didn't work. I think that, in a strange way, liberated the superdelegates. When they saw that it didn't work in this Republican district in Louisiana, it told you something about Barack Obama's resiliency, and that they could support him.

GWEN IFILL: Before we move on to what Barack Obama needs to do, I want to ask you, Mark, about the money question, because, last night, almost the second sentence out of her mouth was, and, by the way, call my Web site and send me some money.

And, then, today, it was revealed that she has lent her campaign $6.4 million, to a total...

MARK SHIELDS: On top of the $5 million.

GWEN IFILL: Yes. It makes it -- brings her to more than $11 million she's lent her campaign out of her own pocket.

What does that -- does it matter at this stage of the campaign, money?

MARK SHIELDS: It matters in this sense, Gwen.

There are -- they're probably $20 million in the hole, I mean, $11 million to the Clintons themselves, $10 million to their vendors. And what the Obama people are concerned about right now is that will be one of the negotiating chips that the Clinton campaign and the Clintons will try and exercise for the -- for their support, endorsement, and all-out backing of Obama, that the Obama people raise that money.

I think it would be, quite frankly, foolish. It would -- there is precedent for it, but I don't think that -- I mean, a couple that has raised -- made $109 million in the past seven years, it seems that it's not a charity case.

But Mark Hanna, the great Republican boss, said, there are only two things that matter in politics. Money is the first, and I can't remember the second.

MARK SHIELDS: And I think money could be a sticking point between these two camps.

Looking to the general election

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
John McCain is [...] leading a Republican Party where he is far more popular than the party underneath him.

GWEN IFILL: Mark, if you're Barack Obama, and you still have the Michigan and the Florida delegations out there still not seated, still no negotiations, no plan worked out for how they're going to participate, what do you do?

I mean David. I called you Mark. I meant David. That was for you.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think -- I think you do not wage that aggressively.

I think Obama pretty much has this won, and I think the crucial thing -- and I think Mark indicated this -- is that you give her space. You have nobody calling for her to get out. I think what McGovern did was not helpful. You give her some self-respect and give her time to set the retreat of her own time and of her own making.

And I don't think you fight at all. And I think what they're doing is the right thing. They're focusing on the general election. And you turn it all on John McCain. And that's -- that's the right focus right now.

GWEN IFILL: One of the final things that Hillary Clinton has been saying in the last couple of days is that she can still -- she is still in a better position, based on the exit polls we have been seeing from this -- from these primaries, to win with white blue-collar voters, and that's something that is a deficiency for Barack Obama, David.

Is that a risky strategy on any level for the general election for the Democrats?

DAVID BROOKS: She's got a very good argument. I think her argument is essentially correct, which is that African-American and liberal voters will vote Democratic, no matter what, but the downscale white voters won't necessarily vote Democratic.

And I think it would be an extremely strong argument if it didn't come with Hillary Clinton attached. If it came with a less polarizing politician, you could make that case. But the fact of the matter is, when you go to the fall and you look at who's going to share Americans' values, Hillary Clinton comes with all the baggage of the past 15 or 20 years, and she has not proven to be very strong among those kind of voters, who are independents, who are not the sort who would vote in Democratic primaries.

So, Barack Obama's going to have to win over those voters, but I don't think Hillary Clinton, with all the baggage, would do better than him in the fall with those people.

GWEN IFILL: John McCain must be watching all of this with great interest, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: I think John McCain has to be. But John McCain is presiding over, leading a Republican Party where he is far more popular than the party underneath him.

I mean, Republicans in the House are terrified right now about November. And that...

GWEN IFILL: That's what we hear from Newt Gingrich.

MARK SHIELDS: ... that -- and Newt is, one of the times, speaking the truth.

GWEN IFILL: Mark Shields, I'm going to write that down. Thank you very much.

Thank you, David Brooks.