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Shields, Brooks Weigh Democrats’ Delegate Disputes

March 7, 2008 at 6:35 PM EST
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The fight for the Democratic nomination was shaken up once again this week as Hillary Clinton defeated Barack Obama in the Ohio and Texas primaries. Also, Florida and Michigan might hold new primaries after they were stripped of their delegates for holding early contests. Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the week's news.
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, this proves, Wyoming, everything counts in this thing right now, does it not?

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: It does, Jim. And it’s an example, I think, of where the Obama campaign out-planned the Clinton campaign.

The Clinton campaign, by their own admission, thought very little beyond Feb. 5. And they never devoted the time, effort, energy and resources to the caucuses. And to this date, of the caucuses, Obama has won every one, save one, and that was Nevada.

JIM LEHRER: And is it a simple organization thing, not only in Wyoming, but every one of these states where he does well in the caucuses, he gets there early, gets people on the ground and they do it better than the others?

DAVID BROOKS, columnist, The New York Times: I think that’s basically it. He also has just a native group of people who are going to show up, whether you control them or not, and that’s what we’ve seen in state after state. People just show up spontaneously, and then he takes advantage of what they’ve done.

But whether it’s Wyoming or anywhere else, I think what we’re seeing is this pattern, and it’s a demographic pattern. He does well, just about without exception — except for Wisconsin, this pattern has pertained. He’s done well amongst the well-educated, the more affluent and the African-Americans. She’s done extremely well among the less-educated, the Catholic voters, the Latino voters.

And that pattern has pertained in just about every state, as I said, with the exception of Wisconsin. And so as you look forward, you do think that pattern will probably pertain in places like Wyoming, places like Florida or Michigan, if we vote there again, places like North Carolina, in Pennsylvania, forever.

JIM LEHRER: Did you find it fascinating the curiosity factor that he raised, that here’s a Democrat — I mean, a Republican leader is going to go to hear Barack Obama because he wants just to hear him and see him?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, Obama’s cousin is Dick Cheney, so he’s from Wyoming.

No, he’s a show. He’s an amazing show.

Mich., Fla. might vote again

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
Michigan was a Soviet-style election. There was only one name on the ballot, Hillary Clinton.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, yes.

OK, Mark, is there a solution to the Michigan-Florida delegate dilemma? And if so, what is it? And when are you going to implement it?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don't think there is any, any case to be made for Michigan being seated. Michigan was a Soviet-style election. There was only one name on the ballot, Hillary Clinton.

And it was a conscious decision on the part of both Florida and Michigan to go outside the window. And all the candidates, that window agreed upon, which was that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada would all be held...

JIM LEHRER: That was the agreed-to order by everybody.

MARK SHIELDS: That was the agreed -- that's right. And all the candidates agreed. And when they said, "If anybody goes outside it, their delegations won't be seated and we won't campaign there," and the press releases were issued by each of the candidates. So there's absolutely no case.

Now, is there a practical case that -- do you want to ruffle the feathers of voters in Michigan and Florida, two important states in November, by seeming to disrespect their parties and their voters who did cast votes?

So there has to be some solution worked out, Jim. And I think the fairest one I've heard so far is you split right down the middle.

JIM LEHRER: Both states?

MARK SHIELDS: Just split them, just say 50 percent for Obama, 50 percent for Clinton...

JIM LEHRER: So it doesn't affect the outcome?

MARK SHIELDS: So it doesn't affect the outcome and they all get a chance to go to Denver.

JIM LEHRER: And you don't have re-do anything that way?

MARK SHIELDS: And I think -- I mean, Charlie Crist, the Republican governor of Florida, may be scheming his way onto the Republican ticket by his devious machinations. He says he wants to have another primary.

I mean, my goodness, he thinks it's only fair. He's not going to pay for it. He doesn't think Florida voters ought to pay for it. They'd like to have it maybe around the middle of August, just to kind of keep this thing going, this bloodletting going.

DAVID BROOKS: You're so anti-democratic. They're going to have another primary.

JIM LEHRER: You think so?

DAVID BROOKS: I really feel that. I really feel both...

JIM LEHRER: In both Michigan and Florida?

DAVID BROOKS: ... both states are going to have it. I think both...

JIM LEHRER: Well, now explain that. How are they going to do that?

DAVID BROOKS: They're going to raise the money. There's a lot of money in the Democratic field. I heard James Carville today say he was calling up big donors. I don't know. George Soros can pay for it.

Both campaigns can kick in. People will kick in. I heard it's $18 million to pay for Florida and then maybe an equal amount to pay for Michigan. They'll pay for it. And I suspect they'll hold the primaries in June.

JIM LEHRER: In June?

DAVID BROOKS: And it will keep going.

Stalemate with no end in sight

David Brooks
The New York Times
We're in the second quarter. We're not in the third or fourth quarter, and it's going to get uglier.

JIM LEHRER: And there will be a full-court campaign by both candidates in both those states, with a lot of money being spent, not only just to have them, but to have the campaign, right?

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And the odds are it will decide nothing.

JIM LEHRER: What do you mean?

DAVID BROOKS: Even if you go through Pennsylvania, you go through June, they'll have all these primaries. The odds are extremely high that, even after all that, there will be no decisive winner.

And I really firmly believe there is no primary electoral process that decides this, that they will go toward the convention. If all the patterns pertain, as they have for the past all these weeks, and that they'll both have legitimate claims, Clinton winning the big states, him winning other states.

They will both have legitimate claims. And there's no clear solution unless the angel Gabriel comes down and points a finger at somebody.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the angel Gabriel, how do you see it?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that David and I quarreled on this show earlier about whether it was about arithmetic or it was about chemistry, the accumulation of delegates or whether one would get hot.

I think you can say after last Tuesday that it's like two teams in the third quarter, fourth quarter of a football game, where you had the wind at your back, which Obama certainly did the entire third quarter, and the wind shifted.

JIM LEHRER: The 11 straight victories, et cetera.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And then the wind shifted with Clinton's victories in Ohio and Texas, in particular. And so I think there is a certain -- even though she's lost 12 out of 15 contests, there is a certain momentum there.

Her campaign had made the case that it's all about delegates when they started this 11 string, going through the month of February. It's all about delegates...

JIM LEHRER: Doesn't matter how many you win because...

MARK SHIELDS: And that's right. It's delegates. It isn't how many states or anything of the sort.

Well, now the roles seem to be reversed, that the Obama people are arguing that it's about delegates. He's got a, what, 120-vote lead among earned delegates, I think, over Clinton. And the Clinton people say, "No, no," as David makes the case, "it's about big states."

I think the argument for big states is impressive. She won two big turnout states on Tuesday in Ohio and Texas.

The argument Obama has made -- and I think persuasively, up to now -- was he can bring in new voters. He can bring people in. She, in very major turnouts in both states, in Texas and Ohio, she's got a claim, I think, for this time.

The case for saying that she can carry Massachusetts -- John Kerry carried Massachusetts. The Democrats have not lost Massachusetts since 1984 or New York. The Democrat is going to carry New York.

JIM LEHRER: No matter whether it's Clinton or Obama?

MARK SHIELDS: Whoever is on the ticket. But I think her argument is probably strongest that the Democrats are not going to carry Texas. Her argument is probably strongest in a place like Ohio.

JIM LEHRER: All right, so just carry it another step your way, David. Let's say they go ahead and re-do Michigan and Florida and it's still not resolved. So then what?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there are a bunch of possibilities. If it's still unresolved after all that, maybe they have some sort of deal. And I think you've got to think radically about this. All sorts of things will be on the table.

You also have to remember there will be five months, four months of bitterness, so the atmosphere will be totally different than it is now. Our friend, Peter Hart, the pollster...

JIM LEHRER: It's going to get worse before it gets...

DAVID BROOKS: It's going to get a lot worse. Peter Hart, our friend the pollster, pointed out that we're roughly now 170 days until the Democratic convention. If you go back 170 days, that's about when Fred Thompson announced for president. That was a long time ago; it's going to feel like a long time.

JIM LEHRER: Wow.

DAVID BROOKS: We're in the second quarter. We're not in the third or fourth quarter, and it's going to get uglier.

So a bunch of things can happen. If they're not so poisoned, maybe they'll get together and create a deal amongst themselves. Maybe the Democratic Party elders will get together and somehow reach some conclusion.

But, you know, he has a strong claim. As Mark said, Obama brings new people in. But if she continues to win the working class, she's got a strong claim and, I think, a mental claim in the fall.

Obama may need a change of tune

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
I mean, there's a real lot pain in this country. And Barack Obama has to show, a, that he understands it; b, that he'll do something about it; and, c, that he's tough enough to take on a tough campaign.

MARK SHIELDS: That's his challenge, going into Pennsylvania, I don't think there's any question about it. Barack Obama...

JIM LEHRER: Obama's?

MARK SHIELDS: In Ohio, among non-college-educated Democrats, she won 2 to 1. She won 63 percent of Catholics. She won 67 percent of white women. So he has to figure out a way of getting in there.

I would say to Barack Obama, if you're listening, his campaign, the era of the big speech that we saw, for example, in Wyoming, from the platform may be doomed. It's time that...

JIM LEHRER: He's done that too often, you mean?

MARK SHIELDS: I think what he has to do is he has to show himself listening. He has to be in a position where he is understanding what people are going through.

I mean, we just -- at the top of the news, in Ray's interview, I mean, people are suffering in this country. The more Democrats argue about super-delegates, and Florida, and Michigan, eyes just glaze over.

I mean, the reality is people are losing their homes; they're losing health insurance; they're losing jobs. Gas is approaching $4 a gallon.

I mean, there's a real lot pain in this country. And Barack Obama has to show, a, that he understands it; b, that he'll do something about it; and, c, that he's tough enough to take on a tough campaign.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that he's got to change, he's got to change...

DAVID BROOKS: I think what he's -- first, what he's done this week is, to me, the completely wrong thing. He's gone after Clinton on ethics. That's a disaster. That brings him down to the sort of level that she thrives at. And I think, if they do that for five months, she'll win. He's just bad at that.

To me, the key for him is to show how new politics -- which he stands for, that's what he's got to stay with -- but how does the new politics that he talks about, how does that create bread-and-butter, concrete improvements for people in Youngstown and Altoona?

And if he can't do that, then he'll never win those people over.

MARK SHIELDS: The two are not mutually exclusive though, Jim. I mean, he talks about special interests. I mean, the very fact that there was no public record of the contributions made to the library, the presidential library, which is exactly a presidential library, with public funds...

JIM LEHRER: The Clinton library.

MARK SHIELDS: The Clinton library. I mean, where did that money come from?

That's an absolutely legitimate special interest-lobbyist question. But it is not what his entire campaign is about. Americans want a president.

They're always looking, in my judgment, in the market, for a tough liberal. That is a liberal who won't be pushed around. The last one, actually, was Robert Kennedy in 1968.

Or they're looking for a conservative with a smile on his face and a little compassion in his soul. And that was Ronald Reagan. He exuded that.

And I honestly think that Obama has to show a toughness, that he's not going to be pushed around.

DAVID BROOKS: If he goes after her on ethics, I was with Republicans in the 1990s when they went after the Clintons. They will needle him. The passions will rise. The war they will fight within each other will take control of both campaigns, and they'll go straight into a knife fight.

And to me, he can be very tough by saying, "When she's attacking me, that's the old politics." But if he loses that sense that he's a new sort of politician, he loses everything. So he's got to stay with that and prove his toughness by not talking about ethics, but then get concrete about the bread-and-butter stuff.

MARK SHIELDS: John Kennedy appealed to people at both levels. He said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." And at the Cuban missile crisis, he showed himself tough. People want both in a president.

Obama adviser resigns over remark

David Brooks
The New York Times
The Obama people are nice, they're fresh, they're normal, and they're honest, and they have a little trouble playing politics for that reason. The Clinton people are not like that.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of knives, they've already started, I mean, just the last 24 hours, this Samantha Power situation, a foreign affairs adviser to Obama said in an interview in Europe, called Hillary Clinton a "monster." Then she resigned.

Howard Wolfson, the spokesman for Clinton, says that, if Barack Obama goes after Clinton, it's like being Ken Starr. I mean, what's that all about?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I would say Power and Wolfson are two different sorts of creatures.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, they are. OK.

DAVID BROOKS: Power is a serious foreign policy intellectual who got tired, who was fed up with Clinton, and said something which she thought was off the record which was reported.

And the difference between the two campaign staffs I think is striking. The Obama people are nice, they're fresh, they're normal, and they're honest, and they have a little trouble playing politics for that reason.

The Clinton people are not like that. And so to me what Power did was a mistake. I don't think he should have fired her; I think he should have stuck with somebody and be loyal, somebody who's a valued adviser. But to me, it's a sign of the positive side of the Obama campaign.

JIM LEHRER: When Wolfson says Ken Starr, that's not positive, is it or isn't it?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I mean.

JIM LEHRER: They playing with knives?

MARK SHIELDS: I'm sorry, Ken Starr, I mean, that's really reaching back into the memory bank. Ken Starr? Now, wait a minute. I mean, I guess...

JIM LEHRER: Why would they want to raise Ken Starr?

MARK SHIELDS: I have no idea. I mean, I guess for fierce Clinton partisans, he's a bogeyman. But, Howard, you ought to -- it's time that both sides took a break. They all need a break at this point.

JIM LEHRER: But do you see any sign of that coming? I mean...

DAVID BROOKS: They have these BlackBerries. BlackBerries have changed campaigns. Every 15 seconds, they know the attack the other campaign has made and they feel they have to respond.

JIM LEHRER: And we have to go. Thank you both.