updated 2/11/2008 11:44:13 AM ET 2008-02-11T16:44:13

Guests: David Brooks, Roger Simon, Dan Balz

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  What a race for the White House.  Super Tuesday is no more.  It’s now on the Chesapeake Tuesday.  The District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia awaits us.

Let’s put this race in perspective.  Three seasoned, extraordinary journalists—David Brooks, you can read his column ever Tuesday and Friday in “The New York Times.”  Roger Simon, Politico.com.  You can read his column every day.  And Dan Balz, national reporter for “The Washington Post.”

Welcome, all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you.

RUSSERT:  How about this race, Mr. Brooks?

DAVID BROOKS, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  I know what’s going to happen.  I planned it out.  And it’s going to go on.

I think I read the other day we’re about five weeks from Iowa.  And we’ve probably got another 75 days before the delegates stop being counted.  And we could be going that whole time.

RUSSERT:  Can you imagine January 3rd was Iowa?  It seems like 10 years ago.  It’s breakneck speed.

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM:  It does.  And can you imagine that we could actually have a convention where we don’t know the outcome in advance, a TV show where we don’t know the ending?  Something more than a TV show?

RUSSERT:  This is reality TV.

SIMON:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  The chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Den, Dan Balz, said the other day that, Well, if it keeps going like this, maybe I should bring the candidates together and try to have some “arrangement.” 

Good luck.

DAN BALZ, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good luck, Mr. Chairman.

I think this race is on its own course.  These two candidates are not going to look to Howard Dean to try to settle this.

He may have a role to play in terms of figuring out what they might do with the Michigan and Florida delegations.  But in terms of getting in the middle of this, I think I would advise him to stay away.

RUSSERT:  David Brooks, where are we?  When you look back at Super Tuesday, there were more than 14 million popular votes cast.  There was less than a half of one percent difference between Obama and Clinton.

Twenty-two states.  Obama won 13.  She one eight.  One still too close to call.  The delegates practically even for the night.

Where are we in this race?

BROOKS:  Well, why do we have so many close elections?  I’m not quite sure whether voters are just random and they split 50/50, or whether campaigns are really good.  And so they manage to get close to 50 percent because they just understand the electorate better than campaigns did in the past.

But we certainly are even.  And if you’re looking forward, I think you have to say that the next month, because of the states that are coming up, are pretty good for Obama.  But then after February, you get into March and April.  You’ve got good states for Hillary, because the constant in this whole thing has been the candidates have generally kept their core constituencies. 

Obama, upscale, educated white men.  Hillary, downscale, less educated white women.

And Latinos and African-Americans splitting also for—traditionally.   And in the coming months—coming weeks, there are a lot of states that favor Obama—more educated, more upscale.  But then when you get into the Ohios, the Pennsylvanias, the Wisconsins, you’ve got states that favor Hillary.

RUSSERT:  The Hillary Clinton campaign, Roger, will say it’s the 50/50 club.  If you’re a woman who’s over 50, and you’re someone who makes less than $50,000, you are our voter.

SIMON:  It seems to be true.  But you know, this doesn’t feel to me like a demographic election, where demographics are destiny.  It seems to me, as David hit on, at the risk of stating the obvious, which, of course, we’re never supposed to do, we’ve got two really candidates in the Democratic Party. 

And the voters go out and they say, you know, I’m really split.  It would be nice if they were running together, but I’ll vote for him, I’ll vote for her.  And we’re getting results that show that split.

I think they’ve got their advantages and disadvantages.  One is better on the stump.  One is better in debates.  But they’ve got messages, they’ve both got strategies, they’ve both got staffs—one has more money than the other right now.

But the voters are seeing two candidates they really like, and we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re splitting their votes.

RUSSERT:  The exit polls, Dan Balz, are so instructive.  Voters who decided a month ago, six weeks ago, strongly Hillary. 

Then the campaign started.  Those that decided in the last week or so, strongly Obama, caught up in a lot of the excitement.

Those who went into the voting booth—the day of decision makers—tilted Clinton.  As if, I can’t decide what to do.  Maybe—she says she’s ready from day one.  Maybe experience—am I taking a—I mean, you can almost see the turmoil going on.

BALZ:  You know what was so interesting about Super Tuesday?  It had the feel of New Hampshire morning again in which the coverage, the commentary, the sense of the campaign was, Obama rising, Obama surging, Obama on the brink of something big.

And then, once again, Hillary Clinton pulled it back.  She didn’t win Super Tuesday, but she prevented him winning California, which would have been a big event.

And what’s interesting about this, I agree with both Roger and David.  But what’s different about this race is, in terms of the coalitions, if you look at what Senator Clinton has, she basically has what has been the winning coalition in a Democratic race, with this exception—the African-American vote is with him.  And that has changed the dynamic, it’s change the balance of this race.  And I think it’s one of the reasons why neither one can get a real advantage over the other.

The coalitions they have are stable.  And they’re different than we have seen in the past.

RUSSERT:  Expectations are such an important part of this.  No one expected Obama to win California a week out.  Then there was one poll, one public poll that said he’s ahead, wildly ahead.  And everybody started surging, charging, saying, oh mighty God, he’s going to win California.

If Obama had the night he had on Super Tuesday, and you knew that a week in advance, saying, you know what, this may really happen, people would say, boy, that’s a pretty big night.  But because of this expectation, do you think it was diminished?

BALZ:  I went back and looked at some notes that I took from an interview with the Clinton team shortly after New Hampshire in which we were talking about February 5th.  And it was clear from that interview that they thought they were going to win February 5th decisively in terms of delegates.

They had turned it into a delegate race.  They believed they were going to do that.  And the fact that Obama held them even I think certainly was far different than they had though three weeks out from Super Tuesday.

RUSSERT:  Is there something—go ahead.

SIMON:  One reason the candidates are so irritated with us sometimes is they say, you know, we make the expectations, not them.  We create expectations and we dash those expectations, or we confirm them.

Take Massachusetts.  I don’t recall when Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama—I mean, it was a very, very big deal, but I don’t recall many stories saying, oh, this means Obama’s going to win Massachusetts.  I mean, that’s not the filter that it was viewed through.  But a few days later, and especially on Super Tuesday, when he lost Massachusetts, it was said, oh, well, that shows you the Kennedy endorsement didn’t really mean anything.

BROOKS:  Well, it’s also the voters are volatile, which is why our attention has been volatile.  And Andy Kohut of Pew Research has made this point.  Voters, as Roger said, are very closely divided.  So they’re switching back and forth with great rapidity.

The polls on the Republican side have been pretty good, because the Republican voters are pretty stable.  But the polls have been switching back and forth.  And even on Super Tuesday day, the exit polls, some of them showed pretty good gains for Obama in New Jersey.  And those weren’t accepted only by us in the media, but by people in the campaigns.

And so people in the Clinton campaign were really worried about New Jersey.  And the exit polls were wrong because of different turnout models, and people are switching back and forth.  But that’s why we look so stupid, it’s because of voters.

RUSSERT:  Now, the headline—the headline I took from Brooks on this one is, “Democratic Voters Unstable.”

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  We’re going to take a quick break.  We’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back.

This extraordinary race for the White House, 2008, let’s talk about money.

Roger Simon, Hillary Clinton announced this week that she loaned $5 million of her own money to the campaign.  Where did it come from and why did she do it?

SIMON:  Well, the latter is easier to solve.  She did it because she had to do it.  She couldn’t raise enough money.  But what—it is extraordinary. 

I mean, the Clintons have some wealth based mainly on speeches and book royalties and things like that, and a house they own.  But it’s not like Romney family wealth.  It’s not like hundreds of millions of dollars.

Five million dollars, I am guessing, is a significant proportion of their total wealth.  And she has to loan it to her campaign in a month where her opponent raises $32 million, has a base of support of over 700,000 contributors.  And now we hear he will raise—Barack Obama—will raise another $20 million in February.

Plus, Hillary Clinton has maybe the best fundraiser in the world, Terry McAuliffe.  The man who can get blood from a stone, but he couldn’t get $5 million extra from Democratic contributors.

I don’t believe money is destiny.  But this was not a good sign for the Clinton campaign.

RUSSERT:  The contributors to the Clinton campaign, Dan Balz, are maxed out, we hear.  People who have given the maximum amount of money allowed under law.  Obama’s contributors have given smaller amounts, and they can be revisited and re-recruited. 

Can Clinton expand her fundraising base, or is this a permanent problem?

BALZ:  I think it’s a permanent problem, because they have known they’ve had this problem almost from the beginning of the campaign.  And what they have worried about all through the campaign is the ability of Obama to keep growing and growing and growing.

And what we saw in January was just this extraordinary outpouring.  I mean, 170,000 new donors in January alone.  And as you say, most of them not maxed out.  So they come back to those people for $25, $10, $15, and they just keep coming regularly.

BROOKS:  This is why I think demography actually is destiny in this race, because she does so well among high school educated.  And on Super Tuesday, she won in state after state.  But she won the high school educated by 20 points, 30 points.  In Arkansas, I think by, like, 40 points.

But he does so well among the college educated, winning them by 20 points.  And there, the college educated, or rich, are more affluent and have more money to give.  And so he’s got this incredible universe of people who can give him money.

And she has the support.  She just doesn’t have the support among people—among tens of thousands of people who can actually give money.

RUSSERT:  Whenever there’s a discussion of the Clintons and money, people sometimes get somewhat skeptical and say, uh-oh, what does this mean?  There were headlines a few weeks ago about a business relationship between Bill Clinton and Ron Burkle, this entrepreneur in Los Angeles.

Will there be a scrutiny of the Clinton money and where it’s coming from?

SIMON:  Oh, I think there will be a scrutiny of every dollar.  I think even the old scrutinies which haven’t yielded results, the contributors to the Bill Clinton Library, her records as first lady.  Everything comes back to revisit you in a campaign.

Those issues you think have been put to rest are never put to rest.  And people are going to want to know, is this $5 million of the Burkle money?  Where did it come from.

And just one thing about demographics.  I still believe—correct me if I’m wrong—that Barack Obama has more small contributors than Hillary Clinton.  So his people don’t have as much money, but they’re giving.  And they’re still capable of giving more.  And there’s more of them.

RUSSERT:  Why is that?

BROOKS:  Well, that’s because if you look at—one of the fascinating things from 2004 was, which two organizations produced the most donors for the Democratic Party?  The University of California system and Harvard University.

It was not hedge funds.  It was not law firms.  It was universities.

And the Democrats have a pretty big donor base among upper middle class academics.  And Barack Obama does extremely well.

And that doesn’t mean they’re maxing out at $2,500.  They probably can’t afford that.  But they can afford to give $500 or $1,000.

RUSSERT:  So, these ivory towers are bastions of liberalism?

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  Dan Balz, what do you think?  Will there be a focus on the Clinton money?

BALZ:  I think there will be, but, you know, I mean, this is a really interesting campaign, Tim.  There’s a focus on everything for about eight seconds, and then there’s another focus on something else.

So, right now there will be a focus.  But, you know, we get distracted.  And there is so much going on in this campaign that I don’t know how deeply we’ll be able to go in the Clinton money.

I mean, as Roger said, you know, people have been waiting for information about the Clinton Library donors for a long time.  It’s been raised.  It disappears.  It will get raised again, it will disappear. 

So, the fact that she—you know, she did have to loan herself money is an important story, but I think it’s important for the reasons we’ve talked about—the advantage politically that this says—that Barack Obama has in terms of the resources that he’s going to be able to tap going forward.

RUSSERT:  Will his financial advantage, David Brooks, help him in states like Ohio and Texas and Pennsylvania, that you mentioned as pro-Hillary states?  If he launches a massive air war on television, he could really tighten those, couldn’t he?

BROOKS:  I just don’t think so. 

RUSSERT:  You don’t?

BROOKS:  I think at this stage, they are both so well known, that the advertising is of marginal utility.  Of some utility, but marginal utility.  And if you go back through the history of this race so far, you would not say advertising has turned a lot of votes.

I think the Mike Huckabee/Chuck Norris ad made a difference.  Unless Barack can get Chuck Norris to come over, I don’t—I don’t think it will make the big difference.  I just don’t think advertising has shifted many votes.  And I’m sorry to say for those of us in the media that I’ve talked to a lot of business people, and they say, well, advertising doesn’t shift a lot of consumer dollars for our business either.

Broad-based TV advertising, print advertising, is just of less utility in moving votes than it has been.

RUSSERT:  What does?  Is it the free media, the debates?

BROOKS:  Face to face.  And this was something actually Karl Rove discovered in 2004 and other people have discovered.

If you get a neighbor going to a neighbor, then that can move a vote, someone they trust and know intimately.  There’s I think a greater degree of cynicism and a greater screen (ph) toward mass media messages than intimate messages.

BALZ:  One place where the money can make a difference is what we saw on Super Tuesday.  Senator Clinton did well in those big states, the states where neither one can advertise heavily, can really spend a lot of time.  But what the Obama campaign was able to do with its resources was to put organizations early into those smaller caucus states.  And those paid off, because the margins he got in those states were significant enough that he got a big differential in delegates which offset some of his losses in those bigger states.

SIMON:  Also, we all know the national calendar and what’s coming up next.  But I think a lot of people don’t know there’s a primary or caucus in their state until a week before or a few days before.  And paid media, commercials, alerts them to the fact that an election is coming up and this candidate wants your vote.

But it is interesting that Barack Obama has done so well in caucus states where he was thought to have a disadvantage, that Hillary Clinton was the organization candidate.  But Barack Obama has done very well in building organizations, as you say, where people go door to door, friend to friend, and knock doors for Barack Obama.  And he’s got some critical caucus states coming up.

RUSSERT:  Another quick break.  We’ll be right back.  Our discussion on the race for the White House 2008, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back.

As they scrub for every delegate, David Brooks, Michigan and Florida, two states that moved up the dates of their primaries, the Democratic National Committee said, don’t do that, and if you do, we will not count your delegates.  They went forward, had their primaries.  Hillary Clinton participated in both—at least her name was on the ballot.  And the other candidates in Michigan took their names off the ballot; in Florida, did not campaign.

The Clinton campaign is now suggesting, well, maybe we should seat those delegations.  

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  What will happen if those delegates are seated and they cast the pivotal votes to nominate Hillary Clinton?

BROOKS:  Barack Obama will have a very good argument, because he didn’t campaign.  He kept the pledge, I’m not going to go to Florida and it’s not a race.  So I’m not going to campaign, so you can’t change the rule after the vote.

On the other hand, a lot of people showed up in Florida in particular and voted for Hillary Clinton.  So that’s her—it’s going to be her argument.

They can try to storm the—you know, they can have a little posse outside the convention hall and try to storm in.  It would be like the conventions of old.  It would make us all happy.

But there are a lot of—there are a lot of complexities that the American people are about to wake up to if we go to the convention.  A, the superdelegates, the party insiders who may determine the thing.  Not the regular voters.  And God knows what kind of deals are going to be cut to do that, or will be thought to be cut.  And then these sorts of things.

So, the American people are about to wake up to a process that seemed transparent at first, is about to get much more opaque.  And how they react to that will be an interesting story.

SIMON:  These are the two nightmare scenarios for the Democratic Party.  First, that the candidate that goes in with the most pledged delegates—that is, delegates won in primaries and caucuses—has, in fact, that decision nullified by the candidate who gets more superdelegates, and it’s thrown under the convention floor.

The convention can make any rules it wants.  And you have to say, basically, no, we’re not going to accept the judgment of the people here, those people who went to the ballot box and cast ballots.  No, we’re going to take the party war horses—the past party chairman, the members of Congress, the past governors, all the rest—we’re going to let them decide.  That’s the first explosion.

The second explosion is, as you say, your gift for understatement, saying that Hillary Clinton is suggesting that Florida and Michigan—and she’s demanding it.  She says it every chance she can get.

She’s the only name on the Michigan ballot.  Nobody campaigned in Florida.  Everyone assumes they will eventually be seated—assuming they can find hotel rooms for them.

But the imagining was they would be seated when it didn’t count, when it was just a nice unifying thing.  But for them to be seated and cast ballots that could change who the nominee is, it’s almost unimaginable.

BALZ:  There’s going to have to be something in the nature of an agreement worked out before you get to the convention on Michigan or Florida, or you’re going to have a chaotic convention. 

The second is, there is no way that either Obama or Clinton can win this nomination without superdelegates.  There is no mathematical possibility at this point that either can get to 2,025 by Puerto Rico on June 7th simply through pledged delegates.

RUSSERT:  And tell our viewers, there are 800 superdelegates.

BALZ:  Eight hundred.

RUSSERT:  As Roger was saying, they are governors, senators, congressmen, mayors, former presidents, former Democratic National Committee chairmen...

BALZ:  Right.

RUSSERT:  ... Democratic National Committee members...

BALZ:  Right.

RUSSERT:  ... local political operatives, if you will.  About 400 of them have already announced publicly who they’re for, either Obama or Clinton.  So there’s 400 left who are thus far not publicly announced.

BALZ:  But even the publicly announced are not—they can change their minds.

RUSSERT:  They’re not bound.

BALZ:  They’re not bound in any particular way.

Now, historically, superdelegates, you know, blow with the wind.  You know, they go with the winner.  And as the public makes clear who they want as the nominee, the superdelegates fall in line.

There will be a battle on that this year.  But Obama has already put down a marker, basically saying superdelegates are going to have to think hard about going against the will of the people.  And that is, in fact, reality.

I mean, these are delegates who come—you know, if you’re a member of Congress, you come from a congressional district.  How did that congressional district vote in the primary?

You come from a state.  What does that state look like in terms of down-ballot races and who’s going to be the stronger nominee in your particular state.

You have personal loyalties.  And then there’s going to be the pressure from both campaigns.  It’s not going to be an easy time to be a superdelegate over the next few months.

RUSSERT:  Do you think Bill Clinton will be making calls to superdelegates?

BALZ:  He might make a couple.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON:  He is a superdelegate.  Terry McAuliffe is a superdelegate.

I mean, it’s fine if the superdelegates merely reaffirm what the pledged delegates showed, they go with the winner.  What’s not fine is if they change the winner.

It’s going to go back to the nightmare days of which Mississippi delegation to seat.  Remember those days?  Which is the legitimate delegation?  Who are the legitimate delegates to the...

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  What was it, ‘72, Willie Brown, “Give me back my delegation” in—the greatest convention speeches ever.

BROOKS:  I’d love to be a Republican ad maker.  The Boss Tweed—it will all come back.  Long streams of limousines determining the Democratic nominee.  It’s great to be a Republican.

BALZ:  This is the process.  It’s an interesting thing, is that—I mean, the historical roots of this. 

The proportionality that we are now dealing with in terms of this Democratic race is a gift from Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson after the 1998 race was finishing and before they went to the convention.  This was the price Jesse Jackson extracted from Michael Dukakis.

RUSSERT:  All right, Dan Balz.  I wondered where that came from.

Another quick break.

David Brooks, Roger Simon, Dan Balz—the race for the White House 2008, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back talking about the race for the White House with Dan Balz, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”  You can also read his work on washingtonpost.com.  Roger Simon, Politico.com.  He posts every day and every day—each day.  David Brooks from “The New York Times,” his column on Tuesday and Friday.

David, what are the differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?

BROOKS:  Personally?

RUSSERT:  Politically, personally, as you look at them as candidates.

BROOKS:  You know, in terms of policies, I really don’t think there’s much difference.  And I think when you get into policy issues, they’re trying to make something over whether health care is universal or not.  But really, it’s a sensibility difference.  And I think it was evident if you looked at the two speeches Tuesday night.

She gave a working-class speech.  The themes were hard work, struggle, politics is rough, I will not be swift-boated.  If you assume politics is a rough business and you want a tough, hard-working fighter, she’s your person.

He gave his usual speech, which was the hopeful, let’s change politics.  More aspirational.  He’s more—he’s more high-thinking, sensibility.  She’s more, I’m going to deliver some goods and good prices.

And so I think that’s the basic difference between the two.  He promised to transform politics, she promises to fight within the politics which we understand.

RUSSERT:  And Roger Simon, Hillary Clinton saying basically, if we mobilize our  Democratic voters, we can win this election.  Obama saying, that’s not enough.  We’ve got to bring in Independents, we have to bring in crossover Republicans.  We have to broaden our base not only to win the election, but in order to govern.

SIMON:  I think that’s an accurate reflection of where they are.  But what’s helping Obama in this race is the weakness on the Republican side, relative weakness.  That there is no unifying Republican.

So Democrats are able to vote with their hearts for Obama, those who like him, and say, you know, we don’t have to worry that Obama can’t beat the Republican in the fall.  Barack Obama is going to be able to beat John McCain.  Barack Obama is going to be able to beat Mitt Romney.  He’s going to be able to beat Mike Huckabee—we can vote with our hearts. 

It’s the opposite of what happened with Howard Dean’s early success, pre-voting success, and John Kerry.  Oh, we love Howard Dean, but, you know, he really can’t win.  We’ve got to go to a stronger candidate.

I think that’s helping Barack Obama say that, yes, I can do this.  Even though it’s extraordinary and historic to have an African-American candidate, I can get elected.

RUSSERT:  What’s at stake?  What’s the differences?

BALZ:  Well, I don’t think this is, you know, a big ideological fight within the Democratic Party.  This is not, in that sense, a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.

This is a sense of two visions.  I mean, as David said, this is—you know, this is Barack Obama and people who are now gathered around him saying we are tired of what we have been through politically, and it is time to do something different.  And if you nominate Hillary Clinton, you are going to be plunged back into a lot of what you don’t like about the politics of the last 10 or 15 years, whether it’s the Bush era or parts of the Clinton era that even some Democrats would not like to revisit.

But Senator Clinton speaks very directly in the way that the Clinton message always has been, aimed at middle class people, aimed at people who don’t have time to think about the process of politics, but who have to worry about putting food on the table, educating their kids, paying for health care.  She speaks more directly to them than Senator Obama does.  And I think that’s where the difference really is.

RUSSERT:  Bill Clinton’s role in the campaign has changed dramatically, hasn’t it?

BROOKS:  I think vanished is the word you’re searching for.  I think he was there on Super Tuesday night, but I think he had tape over his mouth, so he couldn’t say anything.

And really, her worst weeks were when he was most voluble.  And I can’t imagine he’ll be too voluble in the next several weeks or months as we go ahead.

RUSSERT:  But people close to him suggest that his presence was enormously helpful in New Hampshire, in Nevada.

BROOKS:  I’m sure people close to him say that.  It was not too helpful in South Carolina, and it’s not too helpful beyond. 

People just don’t like the role.  They don’t like the Clintons when they’re ugly.  I mean, if there’s a—if there’s a message from this year—well, there are two competing messages.

One, what Dan talked about, the middle class anxiety.  But the other, people sick of politics, politics of the brutality. 

And that’s why Barack Obama is doing well.  That’s why Hillary Clinton dropped when she was most nakedly political.  People do want a change not only in substance, but in tone.

RUSSERT:  Bill Clinton?

SIMON:  He was—going into this, he was supposed to be a huge plus.  I mean, he is, was, a beloved figure in the Democratic Party.  An icon, a hero, the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to be elected to more than one term.

And I think he’s managed to diminish that rather quickly.  And by going negative.

I think it’s hard to—I think it’s hard for him to campaign as a surrogate.  I think it’s hard—much easier for him to go out and throw whatever punches he wants on his own behalf  But he ran some pretty tough campaigns against—especially the one against Bob Dole, where he through a lot of punches.

Throwing it for his wife is a whole different thing.  I think it looks uglier and it comes across as uglier. 

I think raising intentionally or unintentionally the race issue was a huge mistake from which he has never recovered.  And I think the closest she has ever come to maybe telling a fib is saying that she can keep him under control.  I think he will do exactly what he wants to do.

RUSSERT:  The one time that Hillary Clinton’s the most forceful on this subject, Dan, is whenever she’s asked about a co-presidency.  She knows that that is lethal in the minds of people.  At least that’s the way she reacts.

BALZ:  Well, and I think she’s right about that.  I mean, I think that the—that the hardest thing she’s had to do in this campaign is walk that line between saying, you remember the ‘90s, the ‘90s were really good for people, and saying, I’m going forward, I’m not going backward.

I mean, she oscillates between those two, and the more the former president is out there speaking on her behalf, the more visibility it gives to the idea of a co-presidency.  And I think as much as the race issue caused Bill Clinton a problem, I also think it was that factor, that it became the Clintons, as opposed to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

RUSSERT:  Although, with the economic bad news, initially the Clintons would say, boy, it wasn’t like this back when we were in charge.

BROOKS:  Yes, and that’s part of it.

I’m struck by how Bill Clinton’s touch, his intimacy with how middle class voters were feeling, seems off tone.  And I think he spent—he spent the last seven years giving corporate speeches, going places like Davos.  I just think as I watch him speak, his sense of where the voters are is actually not where it was.

I think he’s on a big retro circuit, and I think we saw this with Rudy Giuliani’s candidacy.  You actually lose touch with what normal voters are thinking.  And I’m struck by how often he’s off key.

RUSSERT:  Another quick break.  We’ll be right back with more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we’re back.

Before we turn to the Republicans, a final word on the Democrats.

How is this all going to end?

(LAUGHTER)

BROOKS:  I would rather at this moment be in the Clinton shoes than the Obama shoes, because I fundamentally think the big states that are hanging out there are not the highly-educated states, but they’re the states with the lowest college degrees.

If you look at those big states and where they rank, the number of people with college degrees, the Ohios are low.  The Pennsylvanias are low.  The Wisconsins are low.  And that’s the sort of place she tends to do a little better.

I agree with all of us that it’s not going to be settled by the pledged delegates.  It’s going to go into superdelegate land.  But I have to think it’s slightly better to be her than him at this moment.

RUSSERT:  Roger?

SIMON:  I think it’s going to get to the convention.  Maybe it’s just because I want an exciting convention.  But I don’t think it’s going to be determined before we get to how the superdelegates are going to go.  And now just how they go, but whether they’re going to really be counted or not, and how we’re going to count them.

And Michigan and Florida.  What do we do with these two huge states?  How do we see them?

Do we try to divide them somehow?  Do we try to do a caucus before the convention? 

I think it’s going to be unsettled all the way to Denver.

RUSSERT:  How do you not count the superdelegates?

SIMON:  You have a vote on the floor and decide not to count the superdelegates.

RUSSERT:  Which a convention can do.

SIMON:  A convention can do.  Not easily, but it can do it.

RUSSERT:  All right, oracle.  How does it all end?

BALZ:  I’ve gamed this out so many times, I have to be totally honest and say, I don’t know.  And you know what?  I think that’s wonderful.

RUSSERT:  I’m with you.  I wish I knew.

BALZ:  You know, I could—you know, I can see a path for Obama.  I can see a path for Hillary in the same way that David did.  But this race is something we’ve never seen before.

BROOKS:  Something will happen.  Events happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  And Dan Balz, you’re not alone.  Apparently, the Obama campaign is in the same shoes as you are.

Al Hunt, over at Bloomberg, got a copy of their analysis of all the future races, and they conclude they’re going to end with 1,806 delegates; Clinton, 1,789.  This is before the superdelegates.  And you need 2,025.

This could be fun.

SIMON:  And that’s without Michigan and Florida.

RUSSERT:  Exactly right.  Exactly right.

The Republicans—John McCain, is it over?

BROOKS:  It’s over.  I don’t know what Mitt Romney—what he doesn’t get about this.

(LAUGHTER)

BROOKS:  I would invite Mitt Romney to take a look at the election returns in California, which is kind of a large state.  And it was an all Republican primary, and Romney got crushed.

Romney won a grand total of three counties.  He won Fresno, he won Sierra, and he won Shasta. 

If you’re running a campaign where you mobilize the conservative base against John McCain, you’re probably going to do a little better in Orange County.  You’re probably going to do a little better in San Diego.  You’re probably going to do a little better up the coast, or northern California.

He didn’t.  And so there’s just no possibility for him.

So, this race is over.  And sooner or later he’ll understand that.

RUSSERT:  McCain has two-thirds of the delegates he needs, and it’s a winner-take-all system.  In a couple weeks, he has—mathematically he’ll have it all.

BROOKS:  Right.  So I would invite Mitt Romney to save the money and buy another house.

He won the states where he bought houses.  If he had bought a house maybe in California, then...

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON:  I would never say never.  I would never say it’s over.  But it’s close to it.  And for another reason.

McCain got almost a perfect result in that Mike Huckabee did well.  I mean, Mike Huckabee wins this swathe of states in the South, and it means he can raise money, he can continue to stay in, and continue to take votes away from Mitt Romney.

So, if McCain had any worries that it was going to be head-to-head, him against Romney, with Romney rallying the conservatives at the very end, he’s now—he still has Huckabee as his buffer, hanging in, I think, to make an almost unstoppable case for the vice presidency.  I mean, we thought this guy would be a good vice president even before he won Iowa.

I mean, he matches well in age to McCain.  He’s only 52.  He’s a governor, he’s from the South, he’s good with evangelicals, he’s a moderate—immigration.

People are going to begin screaming for that ticket.

RUSSERT:  Yet, Rush Limbaugh said both McCain and Huckabee would destroy the party.

SIMON:  Let me say one quick word about—about what is now being called the talk show wing of the party.

The talk show wing of the party rarely gets the nominee it wants.  It didn’t want George W. Bush.  It wanted Gary Bauer. 

George W. Bush refused to support an amendment to the Constitution banning abortion.  It didn’t want Bob Dole, who wouldn’t even read his party’s own platform on abortion.  It didn’t want George H. W. Bush, who it hated.

It hasn’t gotten the nominee it has wanted since Ronald Reagan.

What John McCain will do will satisfy them on judges and say, look, you want to win, I’ll give you the judges you want.  The rest of it, let me go out.  Let me get some Independents, let me get a few Democrats.  Let me be a Republican president in November.

RUSSERT:  Dan Balz, John McCain has grit.  We saw that when his campaign was down in the doldrums and he’d pull up in a van and get out, and that was his campaign in New Hampshire.  But he was also blessed with some luck or temporary alliances. 

In New Hampshire, Rudy Giuliani, after spending several million dollars, said, I’m out of here, I’m going to Florida, leaving that playing field to McCain and Romney.  McCain wins.  If Giuliani had been on the ballot, who knows?

South Carolina, Huckabee stayed right in that race, split the conservative vote with Romney.  McCain wins.  Florida, exactly the same.

If Romney had gotten McCain one-on-one in each of those states, perhaps a totally different result.

BALZ:  Well, and also in Iowa.  Huckabee defeats Romney, which puts the first dent in his armor, so that—all along the way.

You know, this notion of Romney sticking in there, I mean, there’s clearly no way that Huckabee will get out before Romney does.  I mean, it just seems, you know, that they’re—he’s going to stay in to keep causing problems for Romney.

So, I mean, the idea that Romney has any play left in this that suggests he can do anything successful...

RUSSERT:  Why did Huckabee get so untoward Romney?  What happened there?

BROOKS:  Well, first, can I jump in? 

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKS:  I’ve been saying this wherever I can, and no one listens to me, no one believes me.

RUSSERT:  We are today.

BROOKS:  But I’m screaming into the wind.

But Huckabee does not hurt Romney.  If you ask Huckabee voters, as several polls have done, who’s your second choice, they go for McCain in pretty high numbers.  Then if you ask people, suppose it was a two-man race without Huckabee, McCain tends to do better than he does in those same polls if it’s a three-man race.

So my point of view is that, sure, Huckabee’s voters are extremely conservative, many of them, but they’re not economically conservative and they do like authenticity.  And they really don’t like Mitt Romney.

And I think it’s not a foregone conclusion that Huckabee has taken away from Romney.  I think if you look at the polls, you could argue he’s taken away from McCain.

I doubt though that Huckabee would be the vice president, because McCain is in his ‘70s.  People really look at the vice president extremely seriously as a president.  And there are large parts of the country that just don’t want Mike Huckabee as the vice president.

And he doesn’t solve McCain’s essential problem, which is economic policy.  He’s got to find some 40-year-old business superstar and put that person as vice president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mitt Romney.

(LAUGHTER)

BROOKS:  That’s exactly right.  It’s regrettable they detest each other.

RUSSERT:  How did that happen?

BROOKS:  How did that happen?

RUSSERT:  Yes.  Why don’t they like each other?

BROOKS:  They all—well, generally, the Republicans detested Romney.  And there were stories of them in green rooms before debates and they’d all be (INAUDIBLE) the other, and then Romney would walk in and the place would go dead silent.

And I think that’s in part because they resent the flip-flopping.  But I think it’s also because of the ads that Romney ran against many of them, which they regarded as over the line, as candidates tend to regard negative ads run against them.

RUSSERT:  Another quick break.  Right back with more of our Decision ‘08 coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we’re back.

2008, November.  John McCain versus Hillary Clinton and/or Barack Obama.

How do you see it?

SIMON:  I think John McCain is going to have to take his campaign up a notch for the fall.  If he wins, he will have won in a relatively weak field.  He will have won—I hate to call it luck—but in large part because the war got better and he was well-positioned on the war.  Immigration was removed as a front-burner issue in the Republican Party.

That’s, I don’t think, enough alone to base a fall campaign.  He is not a natural stump speaker.  Campaigning for president is about campaigning, to a large extent.  It’s about performing.

I don’t think he can do an endless series of town halls where he tells—speaks for seven minutes, three of which are old jokes, and then he takes questions against a Barack Obama, who’s a real natural stump speaker, and against Hillary Clinton, who’s improved greatly on the stump and throws out a blizzard of issues for people to latch onto.

RUSSERT:  Dan?

BALZ:  Well, you know, every match-up at this point shows why McCain could be a formidable candidate in the fall.  I think he will have most of the Republican base back.

I mean, the poll that we did over the weekend, when we matched McCain against both Clinton and Obama, they were—both races were quite competitive.  And one of the things it showed is that Republicans and conservative Republicans were all with McCain.  I mean, the kinds of margins we’ve seen over the last two elections were basically there for McCain -- 85 percent, or 88 percent Republican support for McCain.

And we know that he has done well with Independents consistently.  And that put him in a different league than any of the other Republican candidates who are out there.

I do think that age could be a factor in this.  I think particularly if there’s a contrast with Obama.  What you will have is McCain playing the experience card and Obama playing the change, new generation, let’s go to something different card. 

But I think it will be a tough fight.  I would not rule out McCain at this point.  But I think that everything we have seen this year is that the enthusiasm, the energy, and the landscape tilts towards the Democrats.

RUSSERT:  If there’s an economic downturn—the Republicans are considered the incumbent party in the White House—won’t that have a huge affect on the race?

BROOKS:  It could, though it’s had a surprising effect so far.  And the war.  It’s a Democratic year.  There’s a Democratic tide.  There’s no question.

And there’s also no question that McCain has to raise his campaign, I would say, two notches on the subjects (ph).  Nonetheless, people vote on character, basically.  And you look at McCain versus Hillary, McCain will win Independents, and she has no evidence that she can win over white men.

So he’ll have a base there.

If you look at him versus Obama, he will win the security crowd.  Obama is the most liberal senator.  He’ll play that issue.  A lot of people still are not liberal, even though they don’t like the Republicans.  And if something happens in a national security sense in the fall, he would do extremely well.

So I do think he matches up reasonably well.  Much, much, much better than his party matches up against the Democratic Party.

RUSSERT:  In the Michigan primary that did not count, 50 percent of the white men, I believe, voted uncommitted, rather than vote—what is the problem?  What’s there?

BROOKS:  Well, you know, you can chalk it up to simple sexism.  You could chalk it up to the tone of voice that Hillary Clinton might have.

I think, you know, white men, especially white men making between $40,000 and $60,000, or $75,000 a year, they’re Republicans.  George Bush won those people by 23 percentage points in 2004.

So, the Republicans have a base.  They’ve squandered a lot of that.  But a guy like McCain, unlike a guy like Romney, I think, could actually win some of those people.

SIMON:  And I think as Dan hit on, we should not underestimate the challenges that the Republican Party is going to have as a part next fall.  We tend to adore them because we’re looking at two separate party races—Republicans and Democrats.  But you still have an unpopular war.

It is less unpopular than it was because it’s no longer on the front page, but no one knows what’s going to happen to the surge, will the surge end and will those troop levels come down.  Will the violence come up?

You still have a party who lost—who seems to have little chance to regain either house of Congress, and is really going to try to fend off further losses in both houses.  And you have a president who is simply not popular.

And you’re going to have to have a Republican candidate finessing that, saying, yes, I’m a true Republican and I want the Republican base.  But on the other hand, I really don’t go along with George Bush and everything he’s done.

RUSSERT:  And don’t look at these pictures of John McCain hugging George Bush in the ‘04 race.

SIMON:  Which I think we might see a few times on TV.

RUSSERT:  In the Democratic side, Dan Balz, if Hillary Clinton emerges as the nominee, what happens to those young voters, the intensity of the African-American voter?  Is there a fallout?

BALZ:  Potentially.  And I think that a lot of that will depend on how this Democratic race ends between now and whenever it ends.

You know, I had thought up until now that the fight between Obama and Clinton was not so nasty and so bad that this party would have trouble unifying.  And I still generally think that the Democratic Party will be unified.  But we’ve got such a long way to go in the Democratic race.  How it ends will be very important in answering the questions you raise.

RUSSERT:  And the day a few weeks ago with those shots at each other about representing Wal-Mart and representing slumlords, it got pretty personal.

BALZ:  Right.  But then they came back and—you know, in the Hollywood debate, and it was on a much higher plane, and they seemed to have, at least for that 90 minutes, reasonably good body language between the two.

So we’ll see.

RUSSERT:  And we will watch it.

Dan Balz of “”The Washington Post”; Roger Simon, Politoco.com; David Brooks, Tuesdays and Fridays in “The New York Times,” thanks for a very smart, interesting, intelligent discussion, with no yelling and screaming.

I love it.

Counterprogramming right here.

We’ll see you.

Transcripts

Watch Tim Russert Saturdays, 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET and Sundays, 12 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,