IMAGE: MEET THE PRESS ROUNDTABLE
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Democratic strategist Bob Shrum speaks as moderator Tim Russert, Mary Matalin, James Carville and Mike Murphy listen during Sunday's "Meet the Press" discussion in Washington.
NBC News
updated 2/3/2008 12:16:13 PM ET 2008-02-03T17:16:13

Heading into the Super Tuesday primaries, Republican John McCain looks pretty comfortable against Mitt Romney — at least compared to the heated battle between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Republican and Democratic strategists said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Factors at play in the Clinton-Obama battle, they noted, include the Iraq war, the economy, political machinery and even the notion of a new Camelot in the tradition of John F. Kennedy when he created an image of youthful hope.

"If it's 'the economy, stupid,' in their minds, she'll do better," Democratic strategist James Carville said. "If it's Camelot in their minds, Obama will do better."

The strategists agreed that Clinton's support of the congressional resolution authorizing the president to declare war on Iraq could come back to haunt her.

"She believed the Bush administration. That was a mistake," noted Carville.

Democrat Bob Shrum went further, saying "she would have been a lot better off" had she immediately apologized.

Republican Mike Murphy said that lack of regret revealed a deeper flaw. "Every politician has a blind spot," he said, "and hers is never admitting failure or mistake, and she's paid a price."

The analysts agreed Obama had seen a surge in momentum in the last two weeks, especially with endorsements like that of Sen. Ted Kennedy, but Republican Mary Matalin cautioned that Clinton has at least one significant advantage in many of the states where the race is close: a political machine that gets her message out.

"She is a machine, and the machine is gonna matter," Matalin predicted.

The group agreed that California, one of the Super Tuesday states, is critical and that Obama is closing the opinion poll gap there.

"I'm for her, I love her to death, I think she would be a great president," Carville said of Clinton, but if she loses California "it would be really bad."

On the McCain-Romney side, Matalin urged the Arizona senator to move closer to conservative cores. "There's a unity message available to him" by focusing on core values, she said of the maverick Republican.

But Democrat Carville said McCain proved that a maverick can do well against "right-wing preachers, nutty supply-siders and talk radio" — what Carville called conservative pillars. "McCain has vanquished all three."

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Video: The Democrats’ dance

  1. Transcript of: The Democrats’ dance

    Welcome all, and do we have a lot to talk about. Well, this is it. It's Christmas , kids.

    Offscreen Voice : Oh, man.

    MR. RUSSERT: Let's start with the Democrats and start with the very latest polls. And here's the roll call : First, Alabama : Obama , 44; Clinton , 37. Next, Arizona : We have Clinton , 43; Obama , 41. Georgia : Obama , 47; Clinton , 41. Illinois , hometown for Obama , 55, 24. Missouri : Clinton , 47; Obama 41. New Jersey , this is tightening: Clinton , 46; Obama , 39. New York , hometown Clinton , 54-to-38. California , the Mason-Dixon has it 45-to-36. The Field poll in California out today, 36-34.

    Here's the landscape. Those are the states that are at stake Tuesday for the Democrats . The advantage for Hillary Clinton , we believe, are in the following: Arizona , New York , New Jersey , California , Tennessee , Oklahoma and Massachusetts . Advantage Obama : Georgia , Alabama , Illinois , Minnesota , Kansas , North Dakota , and we have Alaska . The toss-ups: Arizona , Connecticut , Colorado , Delaware , Missouri , New Mexico and Utah .

    Mike Murphy , what does it all tell you?

    MR. MIKE MURPHY: It is a real race, and he's moving fast. That's the problem. I think if it were before the Kennedy endorsement, before some of this momentum, after her great comeback in New Hampshire , she kind of took things back. Now, after Kennedy , in the last couple of days most of the polls show movement with Obama getting close to her. And movement doesn't stop. Polls tend to be a day or two behind reality. So we're going to have a mixed result. It won't end the race, but it could really be a wash, which is a big, big win for Obama . This is huge. It's almost a national primary, and he's the candidate I think with energy.

    MR. RUSSERT: James Carville , if Hillary Clinton , because of her name recognition and longevity in American politics is considered the incumbent...

    MR. JAMES CARVILLE: Right.

    MR. RUSSERT: ...should she be concerned by the closeness of some of those states ?

    MR. CARVILLE: Well, anybody -- right now, everybody's concerned about everything. Obama 's not 100 percent, no. So I mean, I get it, there's one sort of known and an unknown candidate here.

    His -- that, that, that is dissipating. I think that what the Hillary Clinton campaign takes some, some hope in is the fact that the polling seems to have stabilized. If anything, that she, she went up a little bit after the debate. We'll wait and see if, if that's just a pause in Obama 's momentum or there's something real there. But all of these -- all of this tells us these states are awfully close. It's going to depend on what's in these voters' minds. I'll tell you, if, if, if "it's the economy, stupid" in their minds, she'll do better; if it's Camelot in their minds, Obama will do better. We don't know. We're going to know Tuesday night. It's just amazing, stunning.

    MR. RUSSERT: Bob Shrum , Barack Obama raised $32 million this quarter, Hillary Clinton 10. Does the money factor play into this?

    MR. BOB SHRUM: Oh, I think it plays into it as the process goes on longer and longer. It could go on all the way to Pennsylvania . Look, the conventional wisdom here is that is all going to break about 800 delegates, 800 delegates. But sometimes these things break at the end, and Mike Murphy could be right. It could also break the other way, by the way, it could break toward Hillary Clinton because the real question is, with his momentum, are the lines going to cross? Is there a moment when she's in the position which is very perilous, I believe, in any campaign , of trying to hold on to what she has. He's in the position of trying to move forward.

    And I -- by the way, I believe everybody misreads that debate. I don't think that debate was about the issues or who was slightly better than anybody else. I think it was like the Kennedy - Nixon debate in 1960 . People looked at it, and they made a decision because there was a stature gap, because she has more experience and they wanted to see whether he could sit on that stage with her. And he at least did that, at least did that well, and in that sense I think it helped him a lot.

    MR. RUSSERT: Could they envision either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama sitting at the desk in the Oval Office ?

    MR. SHRUM: I believe they could.

    MR. RUSSERT: Mary.

    MS. MARY MATALIN: Well, that's the point. See, what Obama doesn't have is he does have 100 percent ID now, but he doesn't have love in the states . He doesn't have machinery. Where he has done best and beat her, exceeded her, was where he had campaigned for a long time. There's been many pieces in the paper about how he's running against the clock now. She is a machine, and the machine is going to matter in these proportional states . You hate to reference tactics here with all this lofty talk as it changes the choice, but some of these Democrats are actually looking to the fall, past the whole change hoo-ha, and going to the choice who sits up better not just in the Oval Office , who sits up better against the Republicans . And I think they think that Hillary is a tougher candidate.

    MR. SHRUM: Oh, Mary has endorsed Hillary .

    MS. MATALIN: No.

    MR. SHRUM: That is not a favor to Hillary . Let me tell you, that was the one thing she didn't want this weekend.

    MR. MURPHY: One poll -- in all this forest of polls in a year where we've learned to be a little worried about these last-minute polls, there's one that if I were working for Hillary Clinton would scare the heck out of me, and that's California , because I've seen a private poll, similar numbers, about two points, and he's been picking up almost a half point to a point a day. And everything happens first in California , and that's a good bellwether. If it's bad there, it's going to be bad everywhere.

    MR. RUSSERT: What would happen if Hillary Clinton lost California ?

    MR. CARVILLE: It would be bad. It would be really bad.

    MR. RUSSERT: Really bad.

    MR. CARVILLE: Yeah, it really would. I just know. I'm for her, I love her to death, I think she would be a great president, but losing in -- I mean, I guess if she carried a bunch of other states , generally what happens -- and I agree with Bob -- generally what happens is, is that it breaks in favor of one candidate or the other on Election Day .

    The other thing I would say, I don't know a political professional who would place any stalk in a 36- 34 poll. There is just not that big...

    MR. SHRUM: Right.

    MR. MURPHY: Right, right.

    MR. CARVILLE: ...of undecideds in California . I promise you that. Now, I don't want to have a Field poll down on me, but there's not a political professional in the world that wouldn't automatically discount a 36-34 poll right now.

    MR. RUSSERT: Forty-eight hours before an election.

    MR. CARVILLE: That, that, that is not -- that is not an accurate poll. There's something wrong in the reporting of the way...

    MR. RUSSERT: It seems like an eternity ago, but on Monday Senator Edward M. Kennedy came here to Washington , American University , and endorsed Barack Obama , standing with Caroline Kennedy , the daughter of the 35th president of the United States , and this is what Kennedy said. Let's watch.

    SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA): He will be a president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past. He is a leader who sees the world clearly without being cynical. He is a fighter

    who cares passionately about the causes he believes in without demonizing those who hold a different view.

    MR. RUSSERT: Bob Shrum , what does that endorsement mean?

    MR. SHRUM: I think it was a very powerful endorsement. It -- the -- Teddy has at times been -- he's my friend, but he's at times been the lion in winter. I think he might be the lion in springtime for the Obama campaign . I think he kick-started that campaign , gave it a new start. He said a year ago that he would endorse someone if they inspired him, if they inspired the country. And I think he made that decision. He thinks that Obama can be a transformative figure, thinks he's ready to be president, and knew exactly what he wanted to say in that speech.

    MR. RUSSERT: Mary Matalin , we have Barack Obama 's wife, Michelle , Oprah Winfrey and Carolina Kennedy in Los Angeles today. Do those kinds of big events work?

    MS. MATALIN: They work towards what is a conventional wisdom in this cycle, which is not -- endorsements haven't meant much, but enthusiasm has meant a lot. That's what Huckabee did in Iowa . Stronger than but less coverage than the Kennedy endorsement was Claire McCaskill in Missouri , senator, and Governor Sebelius in Kansas , his home state. These are women, these are -- they were sort of tangentially attached or committed to Hillary . So those kinds of endorsements mean something. This is a lot of hoo-ha. It might, it might contribute to the enthusiasm, but we have not written off on this show and the punditocracy has written off Hillary so many times you can't even count, so...

    MR. SHRUM: Well, let me make clear, I'm not writing her off. What I think happened on Monday was that Ted Kennedy had a huge impact in giving Obama a new chance, a new entry into this race and no other person could have had the same impact that he had. But I'm not writing her off. I think it could break toward her, it could break toward him.

    MR. MURPHY: But in -- it -- she was anything but written off till she started losing primaries. What happened was that great comeback in New Hampshire made it a real race. I think the Kennedy thing has one other dimension. He's clearly a big battleship, huge power in the Democratic Party , to the extent endorsements matter. But he may be the key to unlocking the Latino vote, which is where Obama 's had trouble, and that's another thing to watch in California if it does go Obama 's way. I think Kennedy could get a lot of credit for moving in those numbers.

    MR. RUSSERT: And those are exactly the congressional districts that Kennedy campaigned in over the weekend.

    MR. MURPHY: Exactly. They know it, and they're playing that strategy.

    MR. CARVILLE: First of all, women, what we're seeing here -- and, and everybody knows this -- women are disproportionately higher proportion of the Democrat electorate than they are the general electorate, obviously, 55, 57 percent sometimes. It's not surprising to me at all that the

    Obama campaign would have Michelle Obama with Oprah Winfrey and Caroline Kennedy campaign for him in Los Angeles . However, Senator Clinton , we got to be fair to her here, she has a strong hold on these women voters.

    MR. CARVILLE: They have come in, and they've, you know, they've basically saved her in, in, in New Hampshire . And, you know, a lot of questions...

    MR. RUSSERT: Overwhelming gender gap in favor of Senator Clinton .

    MR. CARVILLE: Exactly. Yes!

    MR. RUSSERT: State after state.

    MR. CARVILLE: State after state. And, and, and it's not in a general electorate that -- it's kind of 52, 48, women, men; 51, 49. In a Democratic electorate it could be 55, 56, even 57 percent in some. The Obama strategists understand this. I had a, a friend of mine, a, a woman in, in Connecticut that got six pieces of mail from, from Hillary 's campaign .

    MR. SHRUM: That same conversation.

    MR. CARVILLE: I mean, it's really -- they -- everybody -- we're -- people watching MEET THE PRESS , both of these campaigns know this down to the core.

    MR. SHRUM: Yeah. Yeah.

    MR. CARVILLE: And believe me, if you're a woman in any of these Super Tuesday states , you're going to get a lot of mail. You're not going to be lonely.

    MR. SHRUM: But you left -- you left out one piece of information. She got six pieces of mail; her husband got -- who's also registered Democrat -- got not one piece of mail. And I think that tells you where the Clinton people want to put their resources. But number two, I'm not sure that you shouldn't send the guy at least one piece of mail.

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