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Shields and Brooks Consider Impact of Pa. Contest

April 22, 2008 at 6:20 PM EST
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After weeks of heavy campaigning in Pennsylvania, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in the Keystone state's Democratic primary Tuesday. Political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks weigh the candidates' chances going into and coming out of Pennsylvania.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. He joins us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

David, to you first. There seem to be different levels of expectations out of Pennsylvania for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Explain how that works.

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, I think the gods of spin have had a loya jirga and reached some sort of consensus, I think, which is that, if Hillary Clinton wins by more than 10 points, then she gets a real charge out of this. If Barack Obama actually wins the state by any margin, he knocks her out of the race. And if it’s in between, that all depends.

But there’s going to be a second layer of analysis. I think a lot of the super-delegates and a lot of the spin-meisters, including myself, will be looking at the second layer, not only the total margin, but who did well where?

If Obama can’t do well among high school-educated whites, that will underline his key weakness. But I’m going to be paying most attention to places like Chester County, Exton, Pennsylvania, sort of the fast-growing suburbs, because we know Obama is going to do well in the affluent suburbs, the mainline.

But in the fast-growing suburbs, that sort of voter really matters in the fall. And if he can show some strength there, then I think he’s got a positive message to take out.

Clinton could 'lose by winning'

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, what about those expectations, though, that Hillary Clinton is expected, general consensus, she needs to do better than Barack Obama?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Yes, it's really ironic that Hillary Clinton, by the consensus of the experts, can lose by winning and somehow Barack Obama can win by losing, if the margin is enough.

I mean, it's like we're playing the over-under in football betting. It's the number of points that are scored.

I think a win is a win. And the problem for Hillary Clinton is she has to close the gap. She has to close the gap in delegates to make a case. She has to close the gap in popular vote. And if it isn't a one-sided victory that she wins in Pennsylvania or does win, if she does win, it's not good enough at all.

And I personally think that this is the cleanest test we've had, Judy, since Iowa. If you think about it, we've had six weeks for this campaign. And there's been no intervening clatter of political attention.

There's no gubernatorial race going on. There's no senatorial race in Pennsylvania. And I just think this is a clean test. Each candidate knew what he or she had to do. And so I think the results cannot be taken lightly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, you see it as a clean contest? And tell us a little bit more about those voters in Chester County and some other specific parts of the state that you're looking at.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I mean, I think for the white working class is the key, I think, to Democratic elections, and that's high school-educated white voters.

John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, who've written a book called "The Emerging Democratic Majority," estimate that to win a Democrat has to win 45 percent of those white, high school-educated voters, to win in the fall.

Bill Clinton sure did that. John Kerry and Al Gore have not done that. Barack Obama has not done particularly well amongst those voters. So he's got to win those voters, who tend to be in western Pennsylvania and central Pennsylvania.

But most of the country has some college education. They're working in office parks or in health care in some way. They're teachers. They are middle class, not super-affluent or not inner-city folks. And they're in Colorado. They're all around the country.

And so I'm really looking at those fast-growing suburbs to see how Obama does there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And if Obama can't do well with or doesn't do well with those voters, what does it say?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he's still overwhelmingly likely to get the nomination. It's still extremely hard to see Hillary Clinton getting the nod.

But she will have an argument. If he does poorly among those key groups, she'll say, "Hey, he might do well in certain groups, which are Republican states, but he can't do well in swing states." And Pennsylvania is potentially a swing state, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Florida.

Obama needs to capture old and new

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, how much does it matter? I mean, you know, David is talking about looking under the numbers or inside the numbers, if you will.

MARK SHIELDS: If Barack Obama wins tonight, nobody will be looking at the innards. I mean, it won't mean anything. He will be the de facto nominee of the Democratic Party if he does win tonight, even by three votes.

I don't minimize the challenge he faces with white, working-class voters. But I'd point out, Judy, Pennsylvania is a lot more like the Democratic coalition was when I grew up. It was a New Deal coalition. It was composed of white, working-class voters. They were the central majority in that coalition.

And in addition, their outlook was they were economically quite liberal and progressive, wanted government intervention big time into the economy, like the New Deal, and at the same time they were socially and culturally conservative or moderate.

The new Democratic Party David describes, the Colorado, is more progressive, moderate, liberal, rather, on social and cultural issues, and more moderate and restrained on economic intervention.

So Pennsylvania is what was the Democratic Party. Colorado is what is becoming the Democratic Party. You have to win both to win.

It's hard for me to believe, if Al Gore and John Kerry both won, both won Pennsylvania, in a lot better times, that a Democrat is not going to win Pennsylvania in 2008, given, I mean, oil at $118 a barrel and all the other problems the country faces.

Both sides fatigued

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, is this the kind of thing that those super-delegates who still haven't declared are sitting out there, they're going to be looking at this to make up their minds?

DAVID BROOKS: I think they will be. I think they're going to decide sooner or later, I have the feeling, but Mark is right. If Obama wins, then there's no decision. Then it's all over.

But if not, you've got two candidates who are running relatively straightforward. And they have to figure out when they can get off the fence.

I suspect, if Hillary Clinton wins by less than 5 percent, then the pressure from Howard Dean and other people in the Democratic Party to get those super-delegates off the fence will begin to build.

And so there's this second layer of expectations. Even if she wins, but it's not a big win, then I think the party elders will grow increasingly impatient.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One other quick, last point. The campaign has clearly taken a more negative turn, Mark, since the last primary. What's behind that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, what's behind it is fatigue. What's behind it is that there are no great substantive issues, differences between the two. The war was at the beginning, but it seems less so now.

And so as a consequence, people on both sides are tired. Their tempers have grown short. Their patience has grown short.

And, you know, Obama has been accused -- he's been too much of a Bambi, that he's got to show toughness. He's come back -- if he loses tonight and has turned tough and loses, then I think they'll say, "Gee, he gave up his specialness and still lost." If he wins, then they'll forget that he turned tough in the last week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And quickly, David, how do you see this negative turn?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, he's got to be a tough hope-meister, which is a tough thing to do.

I don't know whether he senses vulnerability and just wants to finish Clinton off or whether the campaign is sincerely worried, but they have certainly shifted their whole image in the past couple of weeks. They have gotten a lot tougher, more conventional, I think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.