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Democrats Turn to Unifying Party After Primaries

June 5, 2008 at 6:35 PM EDT
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With the nomination in Sen. Barack Obama's hands and Sen. Hillary Clinton planning her formal exit from the race, Democratic leaders are eyeing the general election. A panel of lawmakers and analysts discuss how to bring the party together after the divisive primaries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, with this year’s contentious Democratic primary fight finally poised to come to an end, the question on many Democrats’ minds is how to heal the rifts within the party.

For that, we are joined by Ellen Malcolm, she’s president of Emily’s List, a Democratic fundraising group for women candidates that had backed Senator Clinton.

We’re also joined by two senators. Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh, he served as Hillary Clinton’s national campaign co-chair. And Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey, he backed Barack Obama.

Gentlemen, senators, and Ellen Malcolm, thank you all for being with us.

Senator Bayh, I’m going to start with you. As a longtime supporter of Senator Clinton, are you now prepared to support Senator Obama?

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), Indiana: Absolutely, Judy. I was very strongly for Hillary, but I was never against Barack. He’s a very impressive individual, ran a great campaign, and Lord knows the country needs a change.

The economy’s not doing as well as it should. We need a better strategy in Iraq. We need more working together and reconciliation in this capital, and that’s something that he’s been very good at.

So, yes, I can give him my wholehearted support.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ellen Malcolm, you and your organization, Emily’s List, long supported Senator Clinton. Are you going to turn your support to Senator Obama?

ELLEN MALCOLM, Emily’s List: Well, we are. I think there is such a vast difference between where Senator Obama is on issues and Senator John McCain. We will all unite and try to win the general election.

I think it’s going to take a lot of time. Certainly, there are a lot of women that are very disappointed, and sad, and angry and are processing their own emotions about this. But we’ve got a long ways to go to November. I think we will come together, and I think it’s going to be a good year for Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Senator Casey, what are you hearing? You’ve obviously been supporting Senator Obama since before the primary in your state of Pennsylvania. But what are you hearing from other Democrats in Pennsylvania, which went for Senator Clinton by, what, almost 10 points over Senator Obama, and from other Democrats, for that matter?

SEN. BOB CASEY (D), Pennsylvania: Well, what I’m hearing in Pennsylvania I think you’re hearing across the country. Democrats across the country know that this is an opportunity for change, and we can’t allow even a very tough, competitive race to divide us. We’ve got to come together; we have to unify.

And I think we will, because I think most Democrats realize that the question now before the American people is: Are we going to have a third term for President Bush and his policies, which means a war without end in Iraq, the same tax cuts for wealthy Americans at a time of war, and votes against children’s health insurance, for example?

Or are we going to change and take a different path? I think Senator Obama represents that change, but I think Democrats and a lot of Republicans and independents want us to take that different path.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But how hard do you think that’s going to be, Senator Casey? We heard Ellen Malcolm just now say a lot of these women, in particular, sad, disappointed, even angry.

BOB CASEY: Well, I think that’s understandable. Whenever you have a campaign that is so competitive and so close, you’re going to have that. And I don’t think unity comes with one event or in one week or in one day. It’s a process; it will take time.

But I think we all have to work towards it. The candidates do, both of the candidates who were running. Their campaigns and their staff have to work at it. And public officials, like me and others who were supporting either candidate, have to work at this and bring people together.

What we’re getting this week, though, I think is some clarity and also, I think, the beginnings of some consensus that will begin to start the reconciliation process.

But I think in a matter of weeks, and certainly in the next couple of months, we’ll achieve the kind of unity that we need to prevent that third term for President Bush and elect Senator Obama.

Clinton holds new power in party

Ellen Malcolm
Emily's List
She comes out of this election having gotten 18 million votes almost and did a phenomenal job, and I think really comes out of this stronger than she did going in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ellen Malcolm, what are some of the things that Senator Obama needs to say, do? What needs to happen?

ELLEN MALCOLM: Well, before we get to what he needs to do, I think Hillary Clinton is going to be a tremendous asset for the Democrats in November.

You know, she comes out of this election having gotten 18 million votes almost and did a phenomenal job, and I think really comes out of this stronger than she did going in. And a lot of folks are going to listen to her and hear what she has to say.

And I think she is going to work very hard for the ticket, as she's said over and over again. And I think her voice will resonate with a lot of those women, and working-class Democrats, and Hispanics that went for her.

And they'll listen to her, and they'll see the differences between Obama and McCain. And I think she will help bring them along.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You're confident of that, even though she's waiting several days to come out and actually announce her support?

ELLEN MALCOLM: You know, I think they're both exhausted. I know I certainly am. I mean, this has been a long haul. And I think they deserve to take a deep breath.

I think Senator Obama said he wanted to go on a date with his wife, and I certainly can appreciate that.

She deserves, I think, given the wonderful showing and the job she's done, to take a couple of days. And she's been very clear she's going to have an event on Saturday, and we're going to gather, and she's going to announce her support for Senator Obama.

Working to bring in new voters

Sen. Evan Bayh
I think, by focusing on their foremost concerns, these economic anxieties, he'll have strong appeal to middle-class, blue-collar working men and women, because one thing they know is it's not working the way it ought to now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Bayh, the exit polls we know showed in a number of states that Senator Obama had a hard time attracting white, working-class voters, these often are described as voters with less than a college education.

How hard, do you believe -- I mean, in your state of Indiana, he lost Indiana. How hard is it going to be for him to attract those voters?

SEN. EVAN BAYH: Judy, he's going to focus like a laser on middle-class economic anxieties -- job creation, the cost of health care, college affordability, cost of gasoline, pension insecurities, those kinds of things -- and demonstrate the strength, and the commitment, and the ability to make progress, to bring people together.

And so I think, by focusing on their foremost concerns, these economic anxieties, he'll have strong appeal to middle-class, blue-collar working men and women, because one thing they know is it's not working the way it ought to now.

And this, as Bobby Casey was saying, this choice really is pretty clear when you get right down to it. If you like the way things are, if you want four more years of what we've had, then Senator John McCain is your choice.

If you think we can do better, if you think the government has not been responsive enough, then Barack Obama is your choice. And so I think that will resonate well, when it gets right down to it, with middle-class working men and women.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how important do you think Senator Clinton's support is going to be in accomplishing that for him?

EVAN BAYH: Well, I think Ellen was right. It's an important signal, and Hillary's going to send that very strongly, starting on Saturday. I believe she'll offer basically to campaign in any way whatsoever that Senator Obama would like her to campaign.

So she's going to do her dead-level best to convince her supporters to join with Senator Obama, to lead this nation in a better direction.

And after the understandable period -- as Ellen was mentioning -- of, sure, there's disappointment. And people need a chance to take a deep breath, to reflect, and then focus on going forward.

And when they do that, I think the vast, vast majority of Clinton supporters will conclude that Senator Obama is the right way forward in a contest with John McCain.

General election; a new challenge

Sen. Bob Casey Jr.
I think a lot of the supporters in Pennsylvania, whatever voter group they happen to belong to, will naturally flow to Senator Obama, though some voters, we'll have to continue to work to earn their vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Casey, let me come back to you, because a lot is being made, again, right now, of the working-class, blue-collar voters and other voter groups that Senator Obama had a really -- had a hard time breaking through with.

I just today looked at the percentage of the white vote that he got in Pennsylvania, 37 percent to Senator Clinton's 63 percent. That's a pretty significant margin.

BOB CASEY: Well, Judy, I do think that some of the analysis that's been done over the last couple of months on this has actually been way off, in terms of this: A primary election is different than a general election.

The fact of the matter is, I could make a very good case that Senator Obama's opponent, Senator Clinton, was the strongest opponent any nominee has add in 50 years to compete against. That's a factor.

And I think now, when voters evaluate, this isn't a question between two Democrats, two very strong Democrats. It's a question of whether voters will support a Republican candidate for president who does, as Evan said so well, want more of the same, the same path, the same policies, for the most part, versus a Democrat who wants to take a different path.

And I do think that the equation is different. I think a lot of the supporters in Pennsylvania, whatever voter group they happen to belong to, will naturally flow to Senator Obama, though some voters, we'll have to continue to work to earn their vote. There's plenty of time to do that.

But I think it's going to be an economic focus and also a sense that people want a sense that their president is going to fight for them, especially people that are living under tremendous economic stress. Senator Obama has demonstrated that. With Senator Hillary Clinton's help and with the help of others, I think he'll carry Pennsylvania, and I think he'll be the president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ellen Malcolm, again, look, these exit polls across the country, Senator Obama had a tough time with so-called older women voters. What did they have -- what was their trouble with him?

ELLEN MALCOLM: I think they were extraordinarily excited to have Hillary Clinton running for president, and I think she did a phenomenal job. You know, voters tended to have doubts. Are women strong enough, tough enough to be president? And I think Hillary Clinton answered those doubts.

She really did an incredible job. And that's going to help all women running for office, because they're going to be a little more credible.

I think those older women are very disappointed that they missed the opportunity this time to see her elected to the White House. But they'll come around, too, because I think, again, you know, we talk about the economic anxiety and all the issues facing this country. They want to see change, as well.

Obama prospects for November good

Ellen Malcolm
Emily's List
At the end of the day, we're going to come together, because we need to win this election and the country needs change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You say they'll come around, but we heard some of them just last Saturday at the Democratic National Committee, five days ago here in Washington, saying, "We're going for McCain." And we've heard them say that across the country.

ELLEN MALCOLM: You know, there's sort of -- what are the stages of grief, I remember reading about, and I think a lot of these voters are going through them. One minute they're sad; the next minute they're angry. But they're going to -- and everybody has to process it. I myself have to process my disappointment and even some anger about this.

But at the end of the day, we're going to come together, because we need to win this election and the country needs change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Bayh?

EVAN BAYH: Judy, can I just add one thing? You ask about blue-collar workers in my own home state. There's a fact your viewers might be interested in.

The Democratic Party nominee has not carried my state in 40-some years, or a long time; 1964 was the last time, so 44 years. A poll out of my state last week, very credible statewide poll, had Barack Obama ahead in the state of Indiana by 1 point, 43 percent to 42 percent.

So, now, it's early. You know, things can change. But that shows a great appeal in a state with a lot of blue-collar, middle-class voters that we've not done well in recent years. And so that shows his ability to do quite well in a place like our state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, since we've heard about Indiana, let's hear about Pennsylvania, Senator Casey. I think most polls right now show Senator Obama doing pretty well, but what's your sense for November?

BOB CASEY: Well, it's early, but I think, just as Evan said in Indiana, in Pennsylvania, Senator Obama, the latest surveys I've seen show him ahead. And that's a good sign.

But I think we've got to assume it's going to be a very close and tough race in our state. Senator John McCain has a lot of appeal and could be a very tough candidate, so we don't take anything for granted.

That's why this process of bringing people together and really focusing on those concerns that voters have -- I think Senator Obama's economic strategies, focusing tax cuts on middle-income families, making sure we're focused on the home mortgage crisis, and focusing on health care, those issues that middle-class families are dealing with right now are the ones that they expect the next president to be cognizant of, but also to have an action plan to deal with. And I think they're seeing that already.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, on that note, we will leave it and we look forward to following this election with all three of you. We appreciate it.

Senator Casey, Senator Bayh, Ellen Malcolm, it's good to see you all three. Thank you.

ELLEN MALCOLM: Thank you, Judy.

BOB CASEY: Thank you.