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Democratic Race in the Home Stretch

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up General Motors announces that it will close plants that make SUV's and it may scrap the Hummer.

CHADWICK: First, in South Dakota and Montana today, the long primary season finally does end. There are conflicting statements reported from the campaign of Senator Clinton about her plans.

BRAND: The campaign chair says she will not concede, but an earlier report from the Associated Press quotes her senior campaign official saying the Senator would acknowledge that Senator Obama will get the number of delegates he needs to get the nomination. The Clinton campaign, again, refutes that report.

CHADWICK: John Dickerson, chief political writer for Slate.com, John, is this a careful parsing of language, or what?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Writer, Slate.com): Yes, it's a careful parsing of language. It's also language coming out in the middle of negotiations between the two campaigns, negotiations that are going on in both real time and also in the press. And it's also a sign of confusion. One of the big thing that's up in the air is the question of does Barack Obama have the actual numbers? And that will push Senator Clinton, I think, one way or the other if by the time she's giving his speech he's gotten over that important threshold number. And we'll just have to see if that happens.

CHADWICK: This number is 2,118, that's the number of total delegates that you will need now to win the nomination in the Democratic Party, that's the number.

Mr. DICKERSON: That's exactly right, and Obama will get to that number. It's just a question of whether he gets to it tonight. You know part of this, the parsing, is about what Senator Clinton will say tonight in her speech after these primary results come in. And if by that hour the magical number has been reached that will affect the speech in one way. If that magical number isn't reached until, say, tomorrow, a few more superdelegates come out, then that changes what Clinton may be forced to say when she speaks tonight.

CHADWICK: John, we do know that Senator Clinton has plans for this big event in New York tonight, this speech you've referred to. She's called in supporters and big donors from all around the country - invited them to come to this event. There are reports that word has gone out to staff that they have one more week left and then the campaign is not going to be paying them any longer. What are they waiting for?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, they are waiting, both sides are waiting, as you point out, it's over. Now the question is just how to manage the end. And there are a couple of constituencies here. One, Clinton wants to have maybe some of her debts paid off. There are a lot of rumors going around. So - there's a question of her debts. There's also a question of her supporters, some of the African-American supporters, have taken a lot of flack for supporting her and not Barack Obama. Then there's the question of the vice presidency. Will she be offered it?

Will they at least have a conversation about it? And then there are all kinds of other issues, including will Barack Obama say anything, perhaps, to tamp down or absolve Bill Clinton of some of the things he's said that have been perceived by some people to have a kind of racial tinge to them? Lots of issues to be played out there. Barack Obama doesn't want to force Clinton's hand too much. He knows it's over, he knows he's got the numbers.

In fact, one of the ways he'll be evaluated by her supporters, many of whom have raised the charge of sexism, is how he handles her exit from the race. Is he sufficiently gracious? Does he being this party healing process that everyone's desperate, everyone in the Democratic Party anyway, is desperate to have begin.

CHADWICK: Senator Obama is holding a rally in St. Paul, Minnesota tonight. That's where he's going to be, not in Montana or South Dakota, but St. Paul, Minnesota. What is the point of that?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, I'm actually with Senator Obama in Chicago right now. He's flying at the end of the day to Minnesota. That's where the Republicans will hold their convention. Minnesota is a swing state. And Obama is going there to basically kick off his general election campaign. He's had lots of little mini kickoffs, he's really been in a fight more with John McCain, much more so than Hillary Clinton. But this is an attempt for him to being telling the story that will consume us for the rest of the election year as we go into the general election. So he's going there and he'll talk about bringing people together. He'll talk about, you know, he's in a swing state so he has to be there to kind of fight for that state that will be important in the battleground map for the general election. And he wants to set the themes on his own terms for that general election battle with John McCain.

CHADWICK: John Dickerson, from Slate.com, with Senator Obama on his way to Minnesota. John, thank you.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thanks, Alex.

BRAND: One of New York State's last undecided superdelegates has decided. She is Irene Stein of Ithaca, New York and she's chairwoman of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee. She's here now. And welcome to the program, Ms. Stein, who are you backing?

Ms. IRENE STEIN (Superdelegate, Chairwoman, Tompkins County Democratic Committee): I'm backing Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. I'm convinced having thought this through very carefully and watched every kind and source of information that I could think of that she is the candidate that is strongest against the Republican candidate John McCain.

BRAND: Why did you wait until now?

Ms. STEIN: Two different kinds of reasons. One, I take my responsibility as superdelegate very seriously and that responsibility is to act according to my judgment as to what would be best for the Democratic Party and the nation. Second, it was a very difficult situation for me personally because Tompkins County, my county, is the only county in New York State where a majority of the voters supported Senator Obama in the primary. So, I take that very seriously.

Secondly, I was elected to this DNC, which in turn allowed me to be a superdelegate. And I was elected by the State Democratic Committee, which is heavily supportive of Hillary Clinton. I have a lot of conflicting pressures on me. I would watch the data very, very carefully, and I came to the conclusion that we will not win with Senator Obama if he is our candidate. Hillary Clinton is substantially stronger when you look at the analysis that shows how they fare in each state according to that state's Electoral College votes. Because as you know, the popular vote does not elect a president.

We found that out, unfortunately, at the beginning of the Bush years, in my opinion. The Electoral College vote does, and Hillary Clinton is very strong, and she easily beats McCain and this has been consistent. Putting that hard data together with my judgment and my gut based on about 30 years in political life, 30 years of interacting with people in politics, I just felt that Hillary Clinton is the much stronger candidate.

BRAND: But do you worry that your vote now may be a little - too little too late? That Barack Obama...

Ms. STEIN: I did not feel ready to make a vote earlier, and I don't know if I would have altered anything by making a vote earlier.

BRAND: How do you feel though about going against the wishes of your constituents, the voters in your county who went for Barack Obama?

Ms. STEIN: I'm not happy about it. But I was not elected by them to make this particular judgment and I've explained it to them to the best of my ability, and I hope and believe that they respect my goodwill and I think they fully understand no one will work harder than I to elect the Democratic candidate, no matter who that person is.

BRAND: Ms. Stein, thank you for joining us.

Ms. STEIN: You're very welcome.

BRAND: That's Irene Stein of Ithaca, New York, a newly announced superdelegate for Hillary Clinton.

CHADWICK: Seattle lawyer and Democratic superdelegate David McDonald was on the Party's Rules Committee that met over the weekend to settle the difficult issue of the errant Michigan and Florida primaries. He stayed undeclared through that process and now says he will vote for Senator Obama. David McDonald, we spoke on Friday. Welcome back. How long have you known that Senator Obama is your candidate?

Mr. DAVID MCDONALD (Democratic superdelegate): Oh, I would say about 18, 19 hours, or so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: Really? You only just made up your mind, really truly?

Mr. MCDONALD: Yeah.

CHADWICK: I know that you felt you shouldn't say where you were before this Rules Committee meeting over the weekend, but did you really have some instinct of where you were going?

Mr. MCDONALD: No. But what I had is from watching that either one of them could win the general election. And just to step back a bit on the process, I really was doing my best to simply not get attached to either candidate. But once the Rules Committee was over, I had the day to sightsee in D.C. and took it rather than watching news that day. And having a six-hour plane flight with no cell phone interruptions and unfortunately, or fortunately I suppose, no movies on the plane that I hadn't seen. And a night's sleep, and then woke up and thought, well, you know, I need to think about this, this morning, and started thinking about it, but I needed some free time, frankly. I mean, I kept coming back to the fact that Obama started with a 50-state strategy and was willing to go early into relatively tough territory where we for the last number of years have not really been contesting seats, and dig out Democrats and organize them. That and coupled with the energy level that I was seeing in Obama supporters were really kind of the tipping factors.

CHADWICK: What do you think of the process this year? Because Senator Obama does come to the end of this, well, as John Dickerson writes at Slate.com, not sprinting across the finish line. I mean it's a difficult end for him.

Mr. MCDONALD: It is a difficult end. But what he gains from it is he is tested. A president's got to be able to deal with surprises and adversity. I mean, let's face it. That job does not go according to script. So he's gotten out of this extended campaign something he never would have gotten if everybody folded up on February 15th.

CHADWICK: You've said that you're confident either candidate can win the general election.

Mr. MCDONALD: Yes.

CHADWICK: But I wonder what is your assessment of Senator McCain as a candidate. And what does your party have to do in order to win? Against him?

Mr. MCDONALD: I'd say the main thing we have to do to win against McCain is remind people that he's not all that different than George Bush. And I don't think the public wants to continue the Bush agenda.

CHADWICK: But if the public has an idea of Senator McCain, it is as someone who often disagrees with his party leadership and with the White House. He's been a difficult ally for the Bush White House for years.

Mr. MCDONALD: My memory is that he was a more difficult ally for them before the 2000 race for president than after. And that afterwards, when he could begin to see he might run again, he seems to have been far more supportive of Bush. And I think it's the last eight years, the actual Bush tenure that we need to look at.

CHADWICK: What role would you like Senator Clinton to play now?

Mr. MCDONALD: I would like her to put in the same tenacity into getting a White House administration that's Democratic and a broad mandate from the public to carry across an agenda that both Houses of Congress will support. And I think, from the years I've known her that's what she wants to do too. I mean, she probably wants a night's sleep, or something, but you know, I think that's where she is too.

CHADWICK: David McDonald, superdelegate from Seattle and now declared supporter of Senator Obama for that nomination. David, thank you.

Mr. MCDONALD: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.
Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).