TOPICS > Politics

Clinton Looks to Ohio, Texas for Rebound in Tough Race

February 27, 2008 at 6:15 PM EDT
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Sen. Hillary Clinton told the NewsHour Wednesday that she remains optimistic about her chances in next week's Texas and Ohio primaries as she battles Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. Clinton details her campaign outlook and the prospects for a general election race against presumptive GOP nominee John McCain.

JIM LEHRER: Now, our interview with Senator Clinton. Judy Woodruff talked to the New York Democrat this afternoon in Zanesville, Ohio.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Clinton, thank you very much for talking with us.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I’m happy to talk to you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re here in Ohio where you had the 20th debate among the Democratic presidential candidates last night. What effect do you think this one is going to have on the campaign?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, one never knows, but I feel very good about it and have had a tremendously positive reaction from people where I’ve been today, in Cleveland, here in Zanesville.

I just feel that people are focusing on what the really big issues are, kind of getting through all the clutter and trying to decide who they want to be their president, and who they hope would be the person to turn the economy around and be the next commander-in-chief, and get our country back on the right track.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of the economy, this is a state with one of the most difficult economic experiences of the last few years. They’ve lost hundreds of thousands of jobs. What exactly would you do as president about the people who are hurting in Ohio that Senator Obama wouldn’t do?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, several things. This is also a state that it’s in the top 10 with home foreclosures. The number of people who were foreclosed on last year, 150,000 households, an additional 13,000 in January alone, and I have been to Parma and to Dayton and to Cincinnati listening to the stories of people who have been in this terrible situation.

So I’ve said we need a moratorium on home foreclosures for 90 days, just like what we would do if a corporation couldn’t pay its bills. You would bring the creditors together. You would work out some kind of payment schedule. That’s what we need to do for all these homeowners.

I also would like to freeze interest rates for five years on these adjustable-rate mortgages, the subprime mortgages. And I have a fund that would help communities deal with the consequences of foreclosure.

So in the very near term we need to be trying to control the cascading home foreclosure crisis, because we can’t get the economy back on track if we can’t get the housing market picked up. And people who have paid off their homes, if they’re in this housing market, are seeing their home values drop.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, on the point about freezing those adjustable rates, I think Senator Obama has argued that if you do that, though, then what you’re going to do is raise the rates on the non-subprime loans.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, there’s no basis for that. You know, we are in a difficult economic position. The Federal Reserve is desperately cutting interest rates, trying to drive those interest rates down.

What are the big costs that people have in their lives? Their home, their energy costs, their health care costs, their education costs. They have just kept escalating.

And beneath a lot of these subprime mortgage rates are abusive lending practices that we can’t turn the clock back and say, “Don’t do that. Don’t inflate the appraisal. You know, don’t be marking people’s payments as late so that you can raise their interest rates.”

I mean, people are suffering. And if we freeze the adjustable-rate mortgages, which a number of economists have agreed with me, is a very sound way of trying to stabilize the housing market. The conventional market, which is being affected by the impact of the rising interest rates in the subprime market will actually be stabilized.

So it’s funny to me that Senator Obama would be to the right of George Bush on this, because after sort of dragging his feet President Bush has now come out talking about doing something on moratorium, looking at the interest rates.

And this, remember, would be voluntary. This is what I would do right now, and I would certainly do it if I were president, to try to get everybody to understand, if we don’t take these steps, we’re going to have an even more serious economic recession on our hands.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as you know, a lot of the blame for losing these jobs has been focused on NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. You talked about it at length in the debate last night.

You’ve said that you’ve long opposed it. Your critics say, well, it really hasn’t been that long. Help us understand, when did you decide that NAFTA was not a good thing?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I had my doubts about it way back at the beginning of Bill’s term, but I was working on health care. But David Gergen and others have apparently remembered a lot of the meetings we were in where I raised a lot of questions.

But it’s hard to argue with the economic success overall of the Clinton years: 22.7 million new jobs, family income up $7,000 on average, more people lifted out of poverty than at any time.

So the impact of NAFTA and other trade agreements was not so obvious in the economy at large until the Bush administration, because they stopped enforcing trade agreements. They really stopped going to bat to try to keep jobs in this country. They gave more and more tax breaks to, you know, people who were not committed to growing the economy and jobs here.

So since I’ve been in the Senate, I have raised a lot of serious questions. And I’ve said, look, I have a plan to fix it. We’ve got to get core labor and environmental standards in the agreement. We’ve got to get better enforcement mechanisms. And we have to end the ability of foreign companies to sue over laws we passed to protect our workers.

Shifting momentum

Hillary Clinton
New York senator
I don't think I'm entitled to anything. I hate being a front-runner. I find that sort of, you know, burdensome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you a political question about Ohio. Your husband, the former president, has said that if you don't win here in Ohio and in Texas, that you're not going to be able to win the nomination. Is he right about that?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I'm doing everything I can to win, so that's my goal. And I'm working really hard. I feel good about both states. We have great campaigns going, and I think that we're going to be successful.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We just had it confirmed this afternoon that Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, longtime friend of yours and President Clinton's, has confirmed that he is going to support and will vote for Barack Obama at the convention. Comment?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, he is a dear friend. And I respect him so greatly. And I understand the incredible pressure that he's been under. So he's my friend today, just like he was yesterday, and he'll be my friend tomorrow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: People look at what's happened to your campaign, Senator Clinton, and they say, "What has happened?" All of last year, you were the front-runner. You were the presumed -- you were headed for that nomination.

And then January comes along, boom, Senator Obama starts winning primaries. He's now won 11 in a row. How do you explain what's happened?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: None of this is surprising to me. You know, last spring when I looked at how the race was shaping up, I knew that it would be a close contest, and I assumed it would be with Senator Obama.

And at that time, you know, I said, "We've got to start thinking about Texas. You know, we've got to start thinking ahead."

I think it's great that this has been a close contest. I don't have any problem with that. I don't think I'm entitled to anything. I hate being a front-runner. I find that sort of, you know, burdensome.

So for me, getting out every day and talking about what I would do as president and, you know, answering people's questions, putting forth my ideas is energizing, because it should be hard.

You know, this is like a job interview. We're asking people to hire one of us to contend to have the toughest job in the world. So it shouldn't be handed over; it should be the result of a vigorous contest.

Criticism of Obama's rhetoric

Hillary Clinton
New York senator
I think that Americans are looking for answers and they're looking for a president who will be a champion for them and start solving their problems. And I believe I offer that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You've been talking in the last several days -- even weeks, maybe -- about Senator Obama being long on words, long on rhetoric, but short on substance and on really being able to bring people together to get things done.

And there was even -- you even ridiculed him over the weekend. They played a clip of it at the debate last night. And yet you talked about celestial choirs and everything's going to be perfect.

But when Senator Chris Dodd, presidential candidate -- you were running against him -- yesterday endorsed Senator Obama, he said he does believe that Senator Obama has the experience, he said, the judgment and maturity, and he said he's been able to touch people in a way that no one else has.

Does Senator Dodd have a point?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Oh, absolutely. There's no doubt about the power of Senator Obama's oratory, which is extraordinary, his ability to inspire. That's incredibly important. But...

JUDY WOODRUFF: He also said he has the judgment and the maturity.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, that's up to the voters to determine. And last night in the debate, Senator Obama basically said that he'd been given the responsibility to chair an important subcommittee on the Foreign Relations Committee that oversees Europe and NATO.

And it's very important to us right now, because of Afghanistan, because of Kosovo, and what's happened in Serbia with our embassy being burned. And basically he said, "You know, I haven't conducted any business in that committee of any substance because I've been running for president."

I mean, four years ago, he was in the state senate. And I think that people have a right to say, "What is it you are presenting to the American people as evidence?"

And it always goes back to a speech he made in 2002, and I commend him for the speech. He wasn't in the Senate. He never had to cast a vote.

When asked in 2004 how he would vote, he said he wasn't sure. He probably would have voted against it, but it wasn't the ringing endorsement of the position he took in the speech.

And he actually complimented George Bush on his conduct of the war in Iraq. By that time, I was a critic and going after Bush for what he was doing.

And, of course, when he came to the Senate, we've exercised exactly the same judgment, when you can really compare on how we have voted.

So I think that voters have a right to say, "Well, wait a minute. We know about one aspect of this campaign, the speeches, the inspiration. Where are the solutions? Where's the record? Where's the positive difference you've made in people's lives?"

And I think that Americans are looking for answers and they're looking for a president who will be a champion for them and start solving their problems. And I believe I offer that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you're not disagreeing that inspiration is a part of leadership?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I don't disagree. And I think I inspire a lot of people. I see them coming. They start crying on the rope line. They flood my events. They are contributing to the tune of $1 million a day on the Internet.

I am very proud of the incredible support that I have and the vision I have for America and, you know, the dreams that I have that I can help to deliver, you know, a better future for people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In one of the recent debates, this issue came up, and I believe Senator Obama said something to the effect, "Do you think the people who are for me have been duped?"

Do you think they have -- I mean, are they being naive in supporting him, if you're saying he really doesn't have the record...

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, you know...

JUDY WOODRUFF: ... a substantial record to back it up?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: People can vote for whomever they want. This is an incredibly free and open process. You can vote for or against anyone on the basis of whatever you believe or want to believe. And I have no argument with that. I mean, I think that that's the way our system works.

Debating foreign policy experience

Hillary Clinton
New York senator
I'm saying that people need to take foreign policy and national security seriously. President Bush ran as a compassionate conservative -- whatever that meant -- and it turned out he was neither.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You've made a speech this week in Washington where you said, "We've already seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security." And you said, "We can't let that happen again."

Are you seriously saying you see that little difference between President Bush and Senator Obama?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: No, I'm saying that people need to take foreign policy and national security seriously. President Bush ran as a compassionate conservative -- whatever that meant -- and it turned out he was neither.

And 9/11 happened, and he then preemptively led us into Iraq, and we've seen the consequences of his failed policies, because 2000 wasn't about foreign policy. It wasn't about national security.

People were, you know, in a fairly good frame of mind. We had a very successful eight years in terms of peace and prosperity. So they were free to vote on anything they chose.

And there were lots of articles, as you remember, about who you'd rather have a beer with. And, you know, I just to this day, you know, regret that that election was not really as full an exploration of all the different aspects of what it means to be the president of the United States in the 21st century.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So are you -- but you're suggesting that the United States could end up in a similar situation, if Senator Obama were in the White House?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: No, I'm suggesting that this election has to be about the full range of responsibilities that end up in the Oval Office.

I know from my personal experience that nearly everything ends up on the president's desk. And people have to ask themselves who they believe would be the best president and who, as a Democrat, they believe would be the best nominee to go up against John McCain.

We know -- I think it's a pretty fair prediction -- that Senator McCain will run primarily on national security. We know that. There isn't any guesswork here.

He has said he doesn't know much about the economy. He has said, you know, he would leave troops in Iraq for 50 or 100 years. But he's very confident about his positions and where he believes he would lead the country.

So I think, as we go forward in this Democratic nominating contest, people in our party have to be looking over the horizon and ask themselves, "Who would stand toe-to-toe with John McCain?"

Challenging GOP nominee

Hillary Clinton
New York senator
I don't even think we can adequately imagine the difference it would make. It would be the shattering of the highest and hardest glass ceiling. And it would send such a message of hope and opportunity to every little girl, to every young woman.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of Senator McCain, we now see public opinion polls showing almost half of the American people are looking at Iraq and, for the first time the number is that high, the first time in a year the numbers is that high of people who say we should keep U.S. troops in Iraq until that country is stabilized.

Do you have any concern that that position that you and Senator Obama hold, of getting the troops out, could end up being a negative against Senator McCain?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I think that that will be at the core of Senator McCain's campaign. And I believe my experience in foreign policy, serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee, you know, having negotiated to open up borders during, you know, war, and helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland, and so much else that I've done, will give me a lot more credibility in making whatever argument we have to make against Senator McCain.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two other things, Senator. You made a notable direct appeal last night toward the end of the debate for people to vote for you because you're a woman.

You said, "Being the first woman president would be a sea change." And I think you went on to say, "It would give a real challenge to the way things are done and what the rules are."

What would be different about having a female president?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Oh, I don't even think we can adequately imagine the difference it would make. It would be the shattering of the highest and hardest glass ceiling. And it would send such a message of hope and opportunity to every little girl, to every young woman.

That's probably the most common thing that people say to me out on the campaign trail. There's two things, actually. One is that, you know, people say, "Well, I'm here because of my daughter," or, you know, "My little girl just learned that we've never had a woman president and, you know, I want her to know she can do anything."

I mean, it would be a very deep change in how people see themselves and who is able to fulfill this position. And I think that it's, you know, I think that...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you want people to vote for you for that reason?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: No, I've said consistently through this campaign that, you know, I'm asking people not to vote for me solely because I'm a woman. But I am a woman.

And I think there's been, you know, an interesting development in the campaign where somehow, you know, we're expected not to talk about that whereas it is a big difference? I mean, we've never had a mother or a wife or a sister or a daughter in the Oval Office? I think it would be a very big change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And more of a sea change than to have the first African-American president?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I was just speaking for myself. I think, from my perspective, more than half of our population is female. And so it would have a direct effect on more than half of our population.

JUDY WOODRUFF: By what they would see?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: By what they would see, what they would feel, what they would believe about themselves.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One last thing. Senator Obama seemed to be going out of his way last night to defer to you. Several people commented on this. It's almost as if he were trying to pull the Democratic Party together, mindful of keeping you in the fold, not alienating you, depending on what happens.

Did you have that same sense last night, that he seemed to...


JUDY WOODRUFF: ... defer?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: No. I mean, you know, I was too involved in it. I couldn't comment on what it looked like. I was just very focused on what we were doing up there.

But, obviously, we both believe that we will have a unified Democratic Party, we will have a very successful campaign, and we will win the White House. That's what, you know, we've said over and over again. And I think both of us will be committed to doing that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Your husband said yesterday you will win Ohio. Will you win Ohio? And will you win Texas?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: You know, Judy, I don't make predictions. I just get up every day and do the work.

And what I have found is that more and more people seem to be taking a hard look at both of us and concluding that they will support me. And we'll see how it turns out on Tuesday when people actually get to vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Clinton, thank you very much for talking with us.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Good to talk to you. Thanks.