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Democratic Party Leaders Mull Next Steps in Hard-fought Race

March 5, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
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With Hillary Clinton's campaign on the rebound after wins against Barack Obama in the Ohio and Texas primaries Tuesday night, the Democrats face a long, potentially divisive road to the nomination. Three former White House hopefuls and one former Clinton administration official discuss the road ahead for the Democratic race.
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JIM LEHRER: And now, four seasoned Democratic views of the race.

Leon Panetta is a former House member and Clinton White House chief of staff. He now directs the Panetta Institute for Public Policy at California State University.

Former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley ran for president in 2000. He’s now an author and hosts “American Voices” on satellite radio.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson twice ran for president. He’s the founder and president of the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition.

And former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro was Walter Mondale’s running mate in the 1984 presidential election. She’s now a practicing attorney.

Now, first, let’s just go around to make sure everybody knows where you all stand.

Mr. Panetta, you’ve endorsed Hillary Clinton, correct?

LEON PANETTA, Former Clinton White House Chief of Staff: That’s correct.

JIM LEHRER: Reverend Jackson, you’re supporting Barack Obama?

REV. JESSE JACKSON (D), Former Presidential Candidate: Indeed.

JIM LEHRER: Ms. Ferraro, Hillary Clinton?

GERALDINE FERRARO (D), Former Vice Presidential Candidate: Absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: And, Senator Bradley, Barack Obama, right?

BILL BRADLEY (D), Former Presidential Candidate: One hundred percent.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

Starting with you, Senator Bradley, do you believe that both Clinton and Obama are viable candidates and both should go on from this point on?

BILL BRADLEY: I think Barack Obama has a much stronger chance of beating John McCain in the general election. I think Hillary is flawed in many ways, and particularly if you look at her husband’s unwillingness to release the names of the people who contributed to his presidential library.

And the reason that is important — you know, are there favors attached to $500,000 or $1 million contributions? And what do I mean by favors? I mean, pardons that are granted; investigations that are squelched; contracts that are awarded; regulations that are delayed.

These are important questions. The people deserve to know. And we deserve, as Democrats, to know before a nominee is selected, because we don’t want things to explode in a general election against John McCain.

JIM LEHRER: But as a practical matter, based on what happened yesterday, winning three out of four and where the delegate count rests right now, do you think she still has a really good — there’s a real good possibility she could win the nomination, Senator?

BILL BRADLEY: No, I really don’t…

JIM LEHRER: You don’t?

BILL BRADLEY: … because, mathematically, even if she won 60 percent of the rest of the races, she’d still be behind in pledged delegates. And that would mean that the super-delegates would end up making the decision.

And I think increasingly super-delegates are going to go with Barack Obama, particularly in districts that he won substantially.

I don’t think you’re going to find congressmen, even congresspeople that are behind Hillary early, go against their district, because if they go against their district, they’re going to find that they could very well have a primary challenge the next time.

The importance of super delegates

Leon Panetta
California State University
The reality is that they're very close in the delegate count. We've got a group of about 10 primaries that are still ahead. She's got a very good chance to win Pennsylvania and win a group of those states.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

Leon Panetta, do you still see a reasonable chance that Hillary Clinton could be the Democratic nominee?

LEON PANETTA: I don't think there's any question. As a result of yesterday, it's pretty obvious that this is a very close contest. And it's been an exciting contest.

But the reality is that they're very close in the delegate count. We've got a group of about 10 primaries that are still ahead. She's got a very good chance to win Pennsylvania and win a group of those states.

She goes to the convention. And that's probably where this is likely to wind up. She goes there. And the question is: Who gets the big endorsements from Al Gore, from John Edwards, Bill Richardson?

You have the issue of the super-delegates and where they go. And I believe super-delegates ought to be independent and decide what's in the best interests of the party and the country.

And then you have the whole issue of what happens with the delegations from Michigan and Florida. All of that remains to be fought out, and all of that can make the difference in terms of who gets the nomination.

JIM LEHRER: And you think, in using all of those possibilities, those factors, that Hillary Clinton has an edge, as we speak tonight?

LEON PANETTA: Well, I think she's very much in the running. And she certainly is not in a situation that everybody thought that she would get knocked out. She's still fighting. And I think she still has a very good chance to get the nomination.

JIM LEHRER: Reverend Jackson, how do you see the possibilities, Obama versus Clinton, tonight?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, talks of early exit are over and talks of inevitability are over. But the popular vote, delegate vote gap remains about the same. And so, in the remaining contests, we will see it play out with the people.

My concern is that the super-delegates should play the role of a reconciling, not overwhelming the popular vote. If there is a legitimate role for the 796 super-delegates, it must be to close the gap, not to somehow defy the popular vote.

And at the end of the day, the people, the voters must speak and be heard.

JIM LEHRER: But you don't think, Reverend Jackson, that Senator Clinton should drop out now?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, I'm sure, until there's a mathematical impossibility, she will not drop out. I mean, we thought this would be over on Super Tuesday at half-time. We thought it would be over yesterday at the third quarter in Texas and Ohio. Now it's going to the fourth quarter. So it must play out.

And I just hope that, in the playing out, that they do not get in a situation where they rub each other so raw until they can not reconcile, because this is the playoff game. The Super Bowl bill, of course, is in November.

When Humphrey and Johnson could not reconcile over this Vietnam War question, in the end, it allowed Nixon to go down the middle. When Kennedy and Carter could not reconcile, it enabled Reagan.  So the big deal now for the two of them is to create an ending where there is a big tent, where all of those in this primary season get under that one big tent and await the winning in November.

Florida presents a dilemma

Geraldine Ferraro
Former Congresswoman, D-N.Y,
I think Florida really has a legitimate argument for being seated. In addition to that, both candidates appeared on the ballot, and neither one of those candidates appeared at any time or campaigned.

JIM LEHRER: Geraldine Ferraro, do you see a scenario that has Hillary Clinton winning this nomination?

GERALDINE FERRARO: Absolutely. I was really rather surprised that Senator Bradley went into an attack negative mode, because that really wasn't his style when we served together in the Congress and he was in the Senate. And I will not do the same thing.

But let me just say to you that I feel very, very strongly, as does Leo, that there are lots of votes out there that should and will be counted.

You know, this whole situation with Florida and Michigan, I can't -- if I were an attorney representing Michigan, I'd just say, "Hey, listen, you're in deep trouble. I can't see how I could move the delegates to accept your position that you should be there when you violated the DNC rules."

But Florida is another instance. Florida, on the other hand, has had a situation where the date of the election was set by a Republican governor, a Republican state legislature. They had no choice: Either go to the polls and vote or don't go at all.

You have that right taken away from you because it's done by a Republican governor in violation of Democratic Party rules. And it was done so that Florida and the Republican Party would really be focused on in a way different from hanging chads (inaudible) four years ago and be in a position where they would become real players in the Republican Party, as they were with Rudy Giuliani dropping out and John McCain being endorsed by the governor.

So I think Florida really has a legitimate argument for being seated. In addition to that, both candidates appeared on the ballot, and neither one of those candidates appeared at any time or campaigned.

And I say that, as a Floridian part-time, I offered to go out and do a fundraiser for Hillary over the Christmas holidays when I was down at my home. And they said, "Don't do it. Don't do it. We're not allowed to campaign. We're not doing anything. We're not coming into the state."

So I know they didn't do that. That was an even playing field for both of them. And so that state, I would argue, with the delegates for them to be seated.

But that's what super-delegates -- I was part of the Hunt Commission that created those super-delegates in 1982. They are meant to be independent.

The unfortunate thing is that they're not supposed to make the decision on their political future, which is what Senator Bradley raised before. And he's right. Some of these people have had primaries against them or they're worried about it and they're getting pressure.

It was interesting to watch Congressman Cleaver from Missouri the other day say, "How come only African-American members of Congress are getting these kinds of pressures? How come nobody is pressuring John Kerry and Ted Kennedy?"

And, by the way, the co-chair of the Obama campaign, Governor Patrick, and now Patrick Kennedy in Rhode Island, where your state, you represent half of that state, where the state goes 58 percent-42 percent? You know...

Controversy over super delegates

Bill Bradley
American Voices
And the political decision is going to be a combination of what is best for the country and the party and what is best for their own political circumstance.

JIM LEHRER: All right, let's go through the super-delegate thing. Beginning with you again, picking up with you, Senator Bradley, how do you feel about the super-delegates? Should they play a key role, if it's necessary, in order to throw this thing one way or another finally?

BILL BRADLEY: Well, if it goes as far as the convention, they are clearly going to play an important role. And the point I was making is that basically they're going to make a political decision.

And the political decision is going to be a combination of what is best for the country and the party and what is best for their own political circumstance.

And it's not in Massachusetts. I assume that if somebody was a strong Clinton person, they could challenge Ted Kennedy in the primary. I don't think they would win, but they could.

There are plenty of people who supported Barack Obama and in districts across this country, not in Massachusetts, but across this country, and not just African-American districts, that went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.

I think certainly a congressional candidate has got to think twice about an Obama campaign challenged in the next election from people who are not novices. They know how to organize. And so I think this will factor in to the kind of decisions that are made by super-delegates.

JIM LEHRER: And you think it's perfectly legitimate for the super-delegates to play this kind of role?

BILL BRADLEY: Absolutely. There are no rules with super-delegates. They're not pledged. All of them could shift at the last moment.

JIM LEHRER: How about you, Reverend Jackson? Do you think the super-delegates, if it comes down to it, have the responsibility and everybody will buy it if they make the final decision, if it comes down to a close vote, as to who's going to be the nominee?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, they have the power to do so, but their vote must not be used to overwhelm the popular vote. That's why I said best they are to guide and reconcile, not to overwhelm.

The other thing I fear in this process of just on the horse race talk, there's not enough talk left about what's in the wagon connected to the horse.

And the impact of the crises of our time, the home foreclosure crisis, the need for a bottom-up economic stimulus, the need to address the issue of Appalachian poverty, issues of great substance are being lost in all of the horse race talk.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

Well, let me go to Leon Panetta on an issue that -- on a phrase that Reverend Jackson mentioned at the very beginning, which is the possibility of things rubbing raw between -- so raw between the Obama folks and the Clinton folks that there could be a very serious problem for the Democratic Party. Are you concerned about that?

LEON PANETTA: Well, I think all Democrats are concerned that we could pull defeat from the jaws of victory by virtue of going at each other and dividing along constituent lines, along racial lines, et cetera.

Look, I think that this has been a very good fight. Frankly, both candidates are going to be better for it when it comes to November, because whatever they're facing now is nothing compared to what they're going to face when they have to deal with the Republicans. So this has been a healthy fight. It's good.

But the key for both of them is to keep this on a high level, to go after the issues that Jesse Jackson was talking about, the issues about the economy, the issues about the war, the issues about health needs, et cetera, the kind of concerns that really do face the American people.

And, in the end, what's important is, no matter who wins, that the loser loses with grace and unifies the party. And so, for that reason, I think ultimately, although we're concerned about obviously having a continuing battle, I think in the end this can be very healthy for the Democratic Party as we go into the November election, if we are unified and if we keep this on a high plane.

Experience, electability debated

Rev. Jesse Jackson
Rainbow/Push Coalition
We are a better America than we were 43 years ago. And it is this hope that's driving these large masses of people.

JIM LEHRER: Well, Geraldine Ferraro, let's be very specific here for a moment. The issue that the exit polls and the pundits say that really caused it to go the way it did, particularly in Ohio and also in Texas for Hillary Clinton, was this 3 o'clock in the morning thing, that she was ready to get that call as president and Barack Obama was not.

Do you agree that that's a legitimate issue and that's something that will not rub things too raw, if the two of them continue to debate that?

GERALDINE FERRARO: I think that was more of an issue where it was run in Texas than it was in Ohio. In Ohio, I understand that the main issue was the economy, and that's because things are such a disaster there.

You have people who are really concerned about how they're going to feed their families, where jobs are going, who can create jobs. And it was based on the substance of her stands on these various issues that they went out and voted for her.

And it was interesting to see where they did these exit polls that a lot of little, old ladies like me were voting for Hillary because we've seen all this. We have looked at who can get things done.

And to be quite frank, I mean, I can give -- I will give Barack Obama, you know, absolute praise for the best political campaign I have ever seen run. But this is not about process anymore; this is about who can be the leader.

And even his remarks on all the television shows this morning -- and I watched quite a few this morning -- was on process, counting the delegates, whether or not we can win, if the caucuses are here.

There are no caucuses in November. Can we win in November? Can he win in the large states where they're out counting votes in elections? That's an important issue.

And can he stand up? He can laugh about, you know, her experience. I happen to have been in Geneva as part of the Human Rights Commission during the first part of the Clinton administration. I was in Beijing with her. I have been involved in a whole bunch of NDI programs. I'm on its board.

I've seen her involvement in 82 countries that she visited. You know, you don't have to negotiate treaties in order to get experience. None of us did in the House or in the Senate. We had experience before we ever would embark on something like this.

JIM LEHRER: Well, Senator Bradley, how would you respond to that on behalf of the Barack...

BILL BRADLEY: The idea that Senator Clinton has got a lot of experience from the time she was the first lady, I think the facts don't make that case. I mean, she has not named one issue that was a critical, national security issue, that we're in a time of war, where she played a significant role.

She has no experience in weighing different kinds of intelligence reports and trying to make a decision. She hasn't managed the egos and agendas of a national security staff. In fact, as first lady, she didn't even have a security clearance.

So I can't buy the argument that somehow or another -- I mean, the role of a first lady is very important. I don't doubt that. And I think, in certain diplomatic situations, she was helpful.

But in terms of being a person ready to go with the so-called red phone at the bedside on day one is just incorrect, given what the whole facts are.

JIM LEHRER: Leon Panetta, do you agree with that?

LEON PANETTA: You know, I think the real issue is going to be, again, who has to face the tremendous pressures and crises that a president has to face on walking into the Oval Office?

And the reality is that, while all of Bill's arguments -- by the way, a lot of those arguments could be used against Barack Obama, in terms of experience -- but the fact is, when somebody has been for eight years in the White House, even though they aren't always part of the meetings, they're part of the decision-making process because they are close to the president. They see the issues that the president has to deal with.

And in today's world, a president is going to have to face those kinds of difficult decisions and face the issues that advisers are going to have to present to them.

I mean, if there is a military requirement of some sort and you've got 10 generals in front of you with all of their medals, you're going to have to question them. You're going to have to be tough enough to say, "Is this the right step?"

And we've seen in the past presidents who have made mistakes early in their administration by not having that willingness and that experience to raise those questions.

So can Barack Obama learn what it takes to make those decisions? Of course he can. But is there a margin of error that is involved with somebody who has never been there to make those decisions? You bet there is.

JIM LEHRER: Reverend Jackson, how would you respond to that, the margin of error issue on Barack Obama?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, you know, it is a learning experience for everybody. It was for Ted Kennedy and will be for everybody.

But I don't want to miss this. This is a huge, historic, transformational moment. I think that this coming weekend, we marched for the right to vote 43 years ago, blacks and teenagers and then Latinos in 1975. And Hillary and Barack are the conduits through which a new America is being born.

We are a better America than we were 43 years ago. And it is this hope that's driving these large masses of people. And I think in Barack you see a combination of the hope, the faith, and the substance.

The issue about judgment about Iraq is the correct case for him to make and it cannot be refuted. The issue about a trade policy that enforces environment and labor policy is a matter of substance.

This idea of reinvest in America and stop these record foreclosures, I think he has with him a combination of charisma and faith and substance that draws people. And in the end, the more people, the more likely we are to win.

JIM LEHRER: All right. I want to go around one last time, starting with you, Reverend Jackson. Could you see a Obama-Clinton ticket or Clinton-Obama ticket?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, it's remote ordinarily. But as we move toward avoiding this train wreck in Denver, I wouldn't take anything off the table, if they end this fight and not rub each other raw and have the capacity to reconcile without hurt and bitterness.

JIM LEHRER: Geraldine Ferraro, do you see that ticket?

GERALDINE FERRARO: I could see -- sure, I could see either of them reaching out to the other. I don't know if that would be the best way to go, but, you know, it's up to the two of them. It would not be up to me.

JIM LEHRER: The reason I'm asking is because it came up, of course, this morning.

What do you think, Leon Panetta?

LEON PANETTA: It's unlikely. But if it's the only way we can bring the party together and keep the constituencies that are important to the Democratic Party together, then it's something they ought to seriously consider.

JIM LEHRER: Bill Bradley, seriously consider it?

BILL BRADLEY: Well, I think Barack is going to win. And whether he selects Senator Clinton as the nominee for vice president remains to be seen.

I think that anybody, whether it's Senator Clinton who wins or Senator Obama who wins the nomination, they're going make a judgment, a kind of coldly political judgment, about who can best help them become president of the United States and govern afterwards.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Thank you all four very much.