updated 2/19/2008 10:34:32 AM ET 2008-02-19T15:34:32

Guests: Ron Brownstein, Elisabeth Bumiller, Chris Cillizza

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  In the race for the White House 2008, it’s mid-February and it’s still going strong.  Who would have thought it?

And here to put it in perspective, three journalists with insight and experience on the campaign trail: Ron Brownstein, the political director for Atlantic Media; Elisabeth Bumiller, who works for “The New York Times”; and Chris Cillizza, who toils for “The Washington Post.”

Welcome, all.

RON BROWNSTEIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  Thank you.

ELISABETH BUMILLER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Thank you.

RUSSERT:  All right.  Ladies first.

Elisabeth Bumiller, let’s start with the Republican side.  We watched the endorsement of Mitt Romney and John McCain.  Not warm and cozy.

BUMILLER:  No.  No.  That was—that was a lot of—a lot of theatrics going on when we saw that. 

Days before—days before McCain had made quite clear that he was—that he—you know, that there was no love between McCain and Romney.  It was a very bitter race.  A lot of animosity, personal animosity.

On the record, from McCain’s closest advisers, saying, you know, we don’t think he played by the rules the rest of us do.  He’s spending all his own money.  He’s a flip-flopper, he’s changing his positions.  Very bitter.

But, you know, this is business.  And McCain has said, you know, this is business and, you know, you do what you have to do to get the nomination.

RUSSERT:  John McCain knows that when he endorsed George W. Bush in 2000.

BUMILLER:  Right.

RUSSERT:  That was a very bitter race.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I was struck by that comparison, is that John McCain clearly swallowed a very bitter pill in 2000, knowing that, well, this is for the good of the party, and if I want to have any future in this party, I need to endorse George Bush, get behind him, campaign for congressional candidates.  He did all those things.  That’s what put him in position to be the George Bush figure in early 2007.

He wound up sort of going through a very long roller-coaster ride to get back to what looks like the nomination.  But I think—I can only imagine that this is one of those times where you wish you knew exactly what politicians were thinking, because what a moment for John McCain, watching a guy who he clearly has made no attempt to disguise his distaste for.

He and Mitt Romney do not like each other personally.  This is not a political thing.  This is a personal distaste to watch his opponent, who he had been waiting for years, I think, to hear those words, “I’m endorsing John McCain,” knowing he had finally—that roller-coaster was finally back up at the time.  Amazing.

RUSSERT:  Ron, was this as much about 2012 as it was 2008?

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.  If you’re Mitt Romney, as Chris is suggesting, there’s no percentage in being against the inevitable nominee of your party if you want to have any future.

Now, you know, it’s a little easier for a Mitt Romney to endorse John McCain, and perhaps John McCain to endorse George W. Bush, because I don’t think anybody is thinking about a second John McCain term if he gets—if he gets elected.  Although maybe John McCain is.

On the other hand, I think it is going to take a long period of rehabilitation if Mitt Romney is going to have another shot in 2012.  I would be dubious today based on the way this race unfolded, particularly with all the questions about his sincerity and flip-flopping, that he could be a viable candidate in 2012.  I think that’s a long shot today, from my perspective.

RUSSERT:  But conservatives really embraced him at the...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, they didn’t—well, yes, but they didn’t embrace him enough at the ballot box.  Right?

I mean, 2008 is a remarkable Republican race.  You have the tail wagging the dog.

John McCain did what—came out of New Hampshire really in the same position that he did in 2000.  He had moderates and Independents, not so much among conservatives and hard-core Republicans.

In 2000, Bush was able to consolidate that bigger bloc of the party against him.  In 2008, no one ever was.  The moderates were really able to drive this nomination because conservatives never coalesced.  And the fact is that Romney failed at what he set out to do, which was to become the consensus conservative candidate against a moderate, which is how you end up with a 35 to 40 percent plurality front-runner, which McCain was for most of this process.

Really an incredible story of the way this Republican race ended.

RUSSERT:  The radio conservative talk show hosts have consolidated around Mitt Romney—Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter—all saying that he’s their choice.

BUMILLER:  Well, Limbaugh is now saying he might actually vote—he was joking the other day that he might actually vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.  I mean, I think this is—a lot of this is entertainment.  But I don’t think there’s anything John McCain can do, despite outreaches by Phil Gramm on behalf of John McCain, to bring in Rush Limbaugh at this point.  I mean, as Limbaugh himself has said, he would be—he would be seen as a party hack if he suddenly embraced John McCain.

And so they’re going to try and do it without him.  They are working very hard though to get other conservatives, other radio talk show hosts.  There’s been, you know, a concerted effort over the last couple of weeks to do that.

But I think they’re going to—they’re going to go with that.  I don’t think Limbaugh is going to come around.

RUSSERT:  Sean Hannity, another radio talk show host, said that, well, if John McCain would come around on McCain/Feingold, if John McCain would come around on the McCain/Kennedy immigration bill, if John McCain would come around on the McCain/Lieberman global warming.  But if John McCain starts shedding all these different positions that he’s held in order to appease conservatives, how’s that going to help him with Independents?

CILLIZZA:  Well, you know, Tim, I think the problem is what you just listed.  It’s not just that John McCain supported a comprehensive plan.  It’s not just that John McCain supported campaign finance reform.  It’s that both those had his name on them, that he was the lead person on these things.

I think it would be very hard for him—I’ve got to be honest, I would be stunned if he all of a sudden said, you know what?  That whole thing that I pushed for that two decades on campaign finance reform, now that I’m the nominee it doesn’t make as much sense.  I mean, that would be crazy.

I still think—and, you know, if Rush Limbaugh doesn’t come around, he does come around—I still think in the end, presidential elections are the most partisan choices people make.  It divides the country 48 one side, 48 the other side.  And we—they fight over that small percentage in the middle.

Then conservatives are given a choice between John McCain, who they probably agree with 75 to 80 percent of the time—it might even be higher than that—and Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, who, frankly, they’re going to agree with 20 percent or less of the time, some of them may stay home.  I find it very hard to believe that they vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

I would guess the large majority of them wind up behind John McCain.  I think it’s a stay home for John McCain and...

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  But it’s more than uniting the base.  You have to energize.

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  I largely agree with Chris.  And the fact is that McCain has an overall very—a conservative voting record.  But the exceptions are very high-profile cases where he has taken a position that has really antagonized the conservative base, and they view him as someone who has made his fortune in some way by defecting from Republicans.  And that adds in this very partisan era.  That’s the sort of sense of betraying your team, I think, is something that, for example, Democrats held against Joe Lieberman.

Now, your point though is right, which is that we fight presidential elections at the margins now.  And both parties have very solid bases, and persuasion is a big part of it, and I think will probably be a bigger part in this election than usual.  But mobilization, turning out your side, matters.

In 2004, Bush won by increasing the share of Republicans in the electorate to the point where they equaled Democrats on Election Day.  The first time we’ve had that in the history of modern polling.  If John—right now Republicans have a deficit in party identification.  Democrats have an advantage.

So, the Republicans are going to need kind of extraordinary mobilization even to stay even with the Democrats on Election Day in ‘08.  And you have this question of, at the margin, does this kind of carping from the right make it harder to do that?

CILLIZZA:  And there are several silver bullets, I might add.  Hillary Rodham Clinton, a person they thought even if the economy was bad, the war was bad, the Republican brand was tarnished, well, if Hillary Clinton was on the other side, their base would turn out.  That’s not looking as definite a proposition as it once did.

RUSSERT:  We’re going to get to the Democrats later on.

Mike Huckabee is still in the race.  Want to come back and talk about him. 

John McCain, if he’s the nominee, who will be his running mate?  Condoleezza Rice, perhaps—Elisabeth Bumiller’s book.

We’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back—the race for the White House.  Let’s stay on the Republicans for a little bit.

Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, still in the race.  Took a side trip this weekend to the Cayman Islands for a paid speech, saying he has to earn some income.  All the senators running are drawing a government check.

But it’s interesting.  Even though Huckabee lost Virginia to John McCain, there’s a new poll out from Texas which shows 45, McCain; 41, Huckabee, Elisabeth.  Huckabee is figuring, why not hang in here for a little bit longer?

BUMILLER:  Yes, and he’s right.  And, you know, there’s a lot of—right now, from McCain’s point of view, you hear a lot of the sniping, time for him to get out, people are urging him to get out, but there’s also a very strong view in the McCain camp that this—what’s the problem here?

He’s focusing attention on us, you know, because there’s still something of a race, assembling (ph) through a race.  We can—you just can go on where we try to get our act in order.  And so—and you see McCain talking very positively about him on the—on the campaign trail to the point where people are suggesting, you know, would he be McCain’s running mate, perhaps help him with conservatives?

You know, I don’t have any indication that’s a serious consideration at this point.

RUSSERT:  Well, he helps him with evangelical conservatives, but a lot of economic conservatives don’t like Huckabee.

BUMILLER:  Right.

BROWNSTEIN:  They don’t like McCain, either.

RUSSERT:  And foreign policy conservatives still distressed by some of the things Huckabee has written.

BROWNSTEIN:  No, absolutely.  I mean, if you are the Club for Growth, I really wonder—which is a leading conservative economic political action committee—is their leadership on a suicide watch?  When they were left—when they were left, they had taken the shoelaces away from Pat Toomey, I mean, because you’re left with John McCain, who they dislike for opposing the Bush tax cuts.  And not only that, for his view on global warming, where he supports mandatory reductions in greenhouse emissions, which they view as a big regulatory program.  Then you have Huckabee, who they dislike even more for raising taxes in Arkansas.

Look, Huckabee is still winning a significant share of the conservative vote.  It is striking that, even at this point, with John McCain as the consensus nominee, with the entire party being told, here is the guy, you still have this large conservative share of the vote in Virginia, the vote for Huckabee.  The poll in Texas suggests the same thing.

I mean, there is still resistance on the right that Huckabee is able to, you know, harness into votes.  Now, you know, for what purpose, not really clear, other than they continue to raise his visibility as a possible vice president.

John McCain would obviously have the choice of picking someone who reinforces his message as a maverick, or someone who would be more conventional, someone who would balance the ticket.  And if he does balance the ticket, you’ve got to think he’s going to look south to someone who’s very close to the evangelical conservatives.

RUSSERT:  In Texas, the governor, Rick Perry, the two senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison, John Cornyn, everybody’s endorsed McCain.  And yet, if Huckabee makes a race of it in Texas in two weeks, isn’t that embarrassing to John McCain?

CILLIZZA:  I think it gets to Ron’s point.  It is stunning to me.  You have seen literally, and with Mitt Romney quite vitally, the entire party infrastructure—Jeb Bush, the president of the United States has sort of hinted that John McCain is conservative enough.  Everyone is lining up behind John McCain, and yet the regular people who vote don’t seem to be ready to end this yet.

I mean, if you look at—if you look at February 5th, Mike Huckabee won Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, West Virginia, states where Mitt Romney was playing, hoping to build his coalition.  It seems to suggest that while the party establishment is very ready for this to be over and to, let’s start talking about John McCain as the nominee, that the people, the rank and file voters, are not.

And I think, yes, if John McCain loses Texas—and that poll suggests that’s a possibility—again, to Ron’s point, I’m not sure it goes anywhere.  I’m not sure Mike Huckabee has the organization, the financial wherewithal, the ability to beat back the establishment in that way.  So I’m not sure what—to what end.  But yet, it is absolutely a black mark on McCain.

When everyone lines up behind you, and you can’t win one of the biggest states in the union...

BROWNSTEIN:  One thing to keep in mind is, it is a one-note campaign though with Huckabee.  He is winning states with large amounts of Evangelical Christians, and he is winning Evangelical Christians by large amounts.

Beyond that, among the non-evangelical Republicans, his vote is very low.  In some states like California, New Hampshire, Michigan, it’s single digits.  So, basically what you’re seeing is the social conservative base of the Republican Party, which now is the biggest single bloc within the party, is still resisting McCain and still feeling a pull toward Mike Huckabee, which is kind of an area of concern looking down the road, but not really a base big enough on which Huckabee can substantially challenge McCain.

BUMILLER:  I have to say, Huckabee on foreign policy so far has been a—let’s be honest, a disaster.  I mean, his answers to questions, he was unaware of the new national intelligence estimate the day it came out.  I mean, you look at some of his answers to questions, and he’s got a long road ahead.

RUSSERT:  And he called George Bush’s foreign policy arrogant.

BUMILLER:  Yes.  So...

BROWNSTEIN:  He’s an identity politics candidate right now.  I mean, he’s like Jesse Jackson in his first race in 1984, where the point of the campaign was essentially making the statement about the first serious African-American candidate.

He is an identity politics candidate for evangelicals.  And there really isn’t much more to his campaign right now than that.

I mean, he’s getting those votes.  He’s not getting very many votes beyond that.  But if you’re John McCain, you have to look at that and say, wow.  You know, even at this point, as Chris says, with the entire infrastructure coalescing around him, you still can’t bring those people into the fold.

RUSSERT:  Huckabee, I think, would love to come in second place in the delegate count.

BUMILLER:  Right.

RUSSERT:  Take the silver medal from Mitt Romney that Romney talks so much about.

On the vice presidential running mate for John McCain, Elisabeth Bumiller, you have a book, “Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,” a biography. 

If Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, will some suggest to John McCain, why not take Condi Rice?

BUMILLER:  I think some will suggest that, but I think—you know, I have to say I don’t think it goes anywhere at this point.  Now, we’ve all been wrong.

RUSSERT:  It would help your book enormously.

BUMILLER:  Yes, let’s me honest here.  But I have to say—I’m a journalist here—I just don’t see it.

There was a lot of talk a couple years ago when things were looking somewhat brighter at the State Department when she first took office.  But I think it’s an awful lot of Iraq.  I think it’s an awful lot of national security.

I also think she’s so tied to the Bush administration on some of the most problematic things that happened on our commitment to the war.  You know, on getting in to the war, on the missed clues to September 11th.  And I think she would be a big target for the Democrats.

RUSSERT:  John McCain has been very critical of the management of the war.

BUMILLER:  Right.  And she was—she was right there.  She was national security adviser on that management.  She was in charge of coordinating the management of the war.  I don’t see—I think this is—I don’t—this seems like a big problem to me.

RUSSERT:  What’s the most interesting thing that you discovered about Dr. Rice when you were writing the book?

BUMILLER:  Politically, the most interesting thing I discovered was that she has an extremely tense relationship with the vice president.  We all know about her problems with Donald Rumsfeld.  They’ve been well, you know, catalogued.

But she also talked about it in the book.  You know, on a record to a journalist about her real differences with the vice president.

So that’s—so when you have the sitting secretary of state discussing openly her problems with the vice president, that tells me that things are very tense in there.  Much tenser than we know.

But on major issues—Middle East  You know, on Iran.  There are some real differences.

RUSSERT:  We’re going to take another quick break.

The book, once again, “Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,” by Elisabeth Bumiller.

We’ll be right back with more of our political panel after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we’re back—the race for the White House.

Ron, you said something that perked my interest—John McCain just running for one term.  He would be 72 if he was elected.  If Obama’s the Democratic nominee, it will be 72 versus 46, the biggest age disparity in the history of American presidential elections.

BROWNSTEIN:  Absolutely.  In ‘92, the Clinton/Bush was the widest ever.

Look, a McCain/Obama race would be all about contrast.  And in some ways, Clinton/McCain—Hillary Clinton and McCain—might be strength against strength.  But Obama/McCain would be, I think, the dynamic we’ve seen in the Democratic race on steroids, where you would have one candidate clearly the candidate of experience, especially in national security.  The other offering profound change, generationally, and really in every possible way.  And so it really would sort of, I think, hinge on what voters are looking for in the next president.

You do have—we are at a time of war, which puts enormous continuity on experience and being able to handle national security.  On the other hand, we’ve had more than two-thirds of the country saying we are on the wrong track.  The president’s majority disapproval for the longest period of any president in half a century.

Clearly, the country is looking for change and a new direction.  No Republican is going to run as a third term of George W. Bush.  So you would see that contrast offered about as starkly as you could imagine in the—you know, in the physical presence of these two candidates.

RUSSERT:  They may not want to run as a third term of Bush, but the Democratic candidates is going to refer to him as Bush/McCain.

BUMILLER:  You already see that going on.

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  That’s the whole competition for the Republicans.  That is the essence of the race—can they—can they establish themselves as an independent change in course for the country, or do the Democrats simply make them a continuation of a course that the polls say pretty unequivocally the country has rejected?

RUSSERT:  Elisabeth, John McCain will say we’re going to stay in Iraq until the war is won, and far beyond, 50 years, 100 years, as he was saying in one of his...

BUMILLER:  Ten thousand years at one point, yes.

RUSSERT:  Secondly, the whole idea of sitting down with leaders around the world, even dictators, Obama will say, yes, I’ll do that.  And McCain will say, how could you possibly do that?

BUMILLER:  Right.

RUSSERT:  You take the Bush tax cut, McCain says make it permanent, Democrats say roll it back.

This is going to be a big election, with big differences on big issues.

BUMILLER:  Right, which is why the McCain people are very—are somewhat divided on who they want to run against.  You know, McCain will say he doesn’t—he won’t (INAUDIBLE) question.  But I think that the majority now have indicated and I do believe that it would be a better race against Obama.  It’s a bigger contrast, it’s a sharper contrast.

They’re also making noise now about this messianic candidate.  That’s the new buzzword out of the McCain camp, that this is the messiah here, and we’re going to—you know, what is he offering besides himself?  You know, he, himself, if you elect him, this will be a transformative event.  So they’re already going at the substance, “Where’s the beef?” approach to Obama.

CILLIZZA:  I was struck in McCain’s victory speech with the Potomac, Chesapeake—pick your river --  primary.

BROWNSTEIN:  Body of water.

CILLIZZA:  Body of water primary—Maryland, Virginia, D.C.

McCain gets up, he talks about how hope can be empty, that hope means to have something behind it.  We all know hope is Barack Obama’s buzzword.

Then at the end, just in case you missed it, he says, “I’m fired up and ready to go.”  That’s how he closes the speech.  Obviously, again, the sort of—the tagline of Barack Obama’s campaign. 

You know, it’s fascinating to me that John McCain—does he try and co-opt that message?  Because that hasn’t worked, to my mind, for Hillary Clinton.  She has tried to say, I am both change and experience, this is not a black or white choice.  I am hopeful.

That hasn’t worked for her.  You know, that hasn’t sold.

People who say they want change—and that’s been a majority in almost every single exit poll that’s been conducted in these races—say—go overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.  There’s not a fight for change.

Does McCain try and make the change argument, that he is a voice of change?  I think that’s complicated by a number of things. 

He’s 72 years old.  He supports the Bush plan, he supported the surge.  He’s been critical of the administration, but broadly supports the war in Iraq.  I mean, I think that’s going to be a very hard sell for McCain to make.

The question is then, where does he go?  Does he push on experience?  And is that a fundamentally different choice than we’ve seen on the Democratic side, where Hillary Clinton is trying to say it’s experience versus change, and you should take experience?  People have said, no, we want change.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  Right?

CILLIZZA:  Yes.

BROWNSTEIN:  You know, it’s interesting.  I would think that it is not going to be great ground for John McCain to do a “Where’s the beef?” argument on domestic policy with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton because John McCain is fundamentally a foreign policy, national security candidate.

He has a few interests in domestic—on the domestic side, mostly government reform, spending reform, holding down government spending.  But on issues like education, health care, energy, he is simply not comfortable talking about these issues in depth. 

And you could argue—I mean, we talked about Obama matching up against Clinton—I’m sorry, Obama matching up against McCain.  Clinton’s great strength, if she is the general election candidate against McCain, is that she might have a better opportunity than Obama to neutralize national security issues and force the debate back on to domestic policy, where I think John McCain isn’t really as comfortable as he is talking about national security.  Whereas with Obama, I think McCain might have an easier time just keeping it focused on that question of who’s ready to be commander in chief.

With Clinton, I think that would be harder.  He would have to get into a debate on health care, on energy, on issues like that.  And that is something that’s going to take some work between now and the fall.

RUSSERT:  The debate I had with Senator McCain, I read a quote back to him about his lack of interest...

BUMILLER:  Right.

RUSSERT:  ... in economic—he goes, “Where did you get that?  I never said it.”

The next Sunday on “Meet the Press” he goes, “Well, yes, I did say it.  Let me explain what I meant.”

BUMILLER:  Because he has—it’s interesting.  He had Carly Fiorina traveling with him, at least in Michigan, Florida, I believe.  You know, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.

And he would turn to her at these town hall meetings in Michigan and say, well, you know, Carly can answer the questions, she’s an expert.  She would answer the questions on the subprime mortgage crisis.  And on one hand, he says, well, it shows my confidence that I’m able to call on other people.  But she was handling a lot of the economic decisions.

RUSSERT:  Vice President Carly Fiorina.

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  We’re going to come back and talk about the Democrats, Clinton versus Obama, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back—the race for the White House.

And here to put it in perspective, Chris Cillizza of “The Washington Post.”  He writes five times a day. 

Elisabeth Bumiller of “The New York Times.”  And her book, “Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,” a biography. 

And Ron Brownstein, political director for Atlantic Media.  His book, “The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship has paralyzed Washington and paralyzed America.”  We’re going to talk about that in a little bit.

But let me start—Obama versus Clinton.  Our NBC count has Obama, Chris Cillizza, ahead by 131 elected delegates.  And with this proportional allocation we have, our calculation is that if Hillary Clinton won Ohio and Texas by, say, 57-43, which is a blowout, a big mandate, she would only net about 35 elected delegates.

How does she winnow down that total?

CILLIZZA:  You know, the fascinating thing is, throughout this race the great advantage I think that Hillary Clinton had is she was the front-runner.  You know, she was the candidate even though, OK, Barack Obama, he’s raising a lot of money, people are excited about him.  Still, Hillary Clinton, look at these national polls, look at the money.

Well, let’s look at the national polls.  They are now tied.  Some polls have Barack Obama ahead.  He runs as strong, if not stronger, than her against the likely Republican nominee, John McCain. 

Delegate count, which you mentioned, Tim, very hard for her in the near future, in the foreseeable future, frankly, if you overtake that.  Money—Hillary Clinton had to loan her campaign $5 million before February 5th to, in her words, do what it took to win there.  Barack Obama raised $32 million in January alone.  No sign that that’s slowing at all.

I think what the Clinton campaign is having a very difficult time grappling with is, how do you run the former first lady, part of the Democratic first family, as an insurgent candidate, as the underdog candidate?  It is very difficult.

She has spent her entire political career, frankly—go back to 2000 -- running as the assumed candidate.  Yes, Rick Lazio made a run at her in 2000, but let’s be honest, Hillary Clinton was going to win.  In 2006, she wins with 67 percent of the vote.

Now she has to figure out a way in a very short period of time, frankly, because I don’t think—if she does not win Ohio and Texas, I think it is almost impossible for her to justify staying on.  So she has to figure out between now and March 4th how she remakes a career that was built around the idea that she was the front-runner, this was inevitable, so get behind her.

I think that will be very hard.  You’ve seen shake-ups in the senior staff.  That probably helps.  But that doesn’t fundamentally change the way in which this campaign has been conducted, or, frankly, the way in which her public life has been conducted.

You’re asking her to change since 2000 to 2008, eight years.  OK.  Take those eight years.  Let’s throw those out, and we’ve now got three weeks for you to become the insurgent challenger and present to people why they should choose you over Barack Obama.  That’s a very—not impossible, but a very, difficult challenge.

RUSSERT:  Go ahead.

BUMILLER:  Yes.  I think the plan is to get as many delegates as possible.  I think it’s math right now, and so even—that’s why she’s competing in Wisconsin, in which they were not going to compete in.  And the idea is, OK, if she loses, she still gets some delegates.

It’s to rack up delegates all the way through to June 7th and Puerto Rico.  And then hopefully, from their calculation, she is down—she is, like, less than 100 below Obama.  And then she can make the argument, they say, that all those superdelegates, you know, should vote their conscience, should vote for what they believe in, and not go with the will of the people, because the will of the people at that point, it’s too close to tell what it is.

RUSSERT:  The superdelegates...

BUMILLER:  That’s the plan.

RUSSERT:  ... close to 800 party officials, former presidents and so forth, it’s been interesting watching them.  About half of them just say, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

BUMILLER:  Right.

RUSSERT:  The other half—Hillary Clinton had a sizeable lead.  It seemed to shrink.  Over this last week, there’s been a net gain of superdelegates for Obama of 11, and a reduction of two net for Hillary Clinton.

BUMILLER:  Right.

RUSSERT:  So how does she go to a convention and say, I know I have won fewer elected delegates, I know I’ve won fewer states, I probably have had fewer popular votes, but you should still nominate me, Mr. and Mrs. Superdelegate?

BUMILLER:  Well, I think—as I said, I think if the vote is as close as they would like it to be, if it reaches their goal of less than 100 behind Obama, whatever that number is, I think they could argue—I don’t know that they will—you know, that it is so close, you know, this has to be taken to the convention.

RUSSERT:  And then, I swept Ohio and Texas and Pennsylvania?

BUMILLER:  Yes.  If you look at—yes, right.

BROWNSTEIN:  You know, this race right now seems to be moving in different directions on different planes.  As you suggest, kind of the elite level of the Democratic Party—in 2007, most of the elite endorsements went for Hillary Clinton.  Since the voting began in Iowa, the movement has been very clearly toward Barack Obama.

First, we saw between New Hampshire and South Carolina a red state procession of red state senators and governors --  you know, Ben Nelson, Claire McCaskill...

RUSSERT:  Of Nebraska.

BROWNSTEIN:  Of Nebraska.  Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Janet Napolitano, the governor of Arizona.

RUSSERT:  Tim Johnson of South Dakota.

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.  Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.

RUSSERT:  Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

BROWNSTEIN:  A whole...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.  And then since—since South Carolina, we are seeing the left of the party begin to consolidate in many ways around, starting with Ted Kennedy, including then MoveOn.org, the online liberal organization, endorsing him with 3.2 million members.  Just what he needs, more fundraising help.  You know, a number of unions, the SEIU in California, David Obey in Wisconsin, a liberal firebrand in the House, Kate Michelman, a feminist leader, and so forth.

So, the direction at the elite level is clearly toward him.

Now, at the voter level, it really is more stable than it looks.  You know, the basic coalitions these two candidates have established pretty early on in this race, and certainly even—really going back in 2007, Hillary Clinton has been the beer track candidate.  She’s relied on a traditional Democratic coalition of blue collar workers, seniors, and now Latinos, who kind of fit into this.

Barack Obama has been the historic wine track candidate, running very well among upscale, well-educated white voters.  But adding to it, moving African-Americans from one side of the ledger, historically with the beer track candidate, over to his, in effect, melding the constituencies of Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson, is what he’s become, something we’ve never seen.

And these two coalitions seem to be, Tim, about equal in size.  They are about—each about half of the Democratic constituency.

If you look at primaries, I would say to you, other than Missouri, there’s not a single state that one of them has taken that they should not have taken given the underlying demographics of that state.  What’s really tipped this race, I think, is the inexplicable failure of Hillary Clinton to be able to compete in the caucus states, more than anything else.

Now, if this demography holds, she has a slight advantage in Texas, a larger advantage in Ohio.  But Chris is absolutely right.  If she can’t hold both of those, given the movement at the elite level, I think they will—they will—the leadership of the party will take a loss by Clinton in either of those states as evidence of the time to consolidate and try to close out this race, rather than waiting another seven weeks until Pennsylvania at the end of April.

So, she has—she has a demographic advantage in Texas and Ohio, but she’s got to bring it home to keep this race going.

RUSSERT:  We’re going to take a quick break.  We’ll come back and talk a lot more about Obama versus Clinton.  What a race.

Right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we’re back—Obama versus Clinton.

We just heard Ron’s analysis.

Chris, the Obama people say, well, what about Virginia?  Didn’t we rearrange coalitions down there?  We won voters making less than $60,000.  We won white men.

CILLIZZA:  And they’re right, to an extent.  They did, but they didn’t win white women.  They didn’t win in the southwest portion of the state, which would be that blue collar, lower-middle class.

You know, look, if you look at Ohio, I do think—and I totally agree with Ron about the demography of it—southern Ohio, it happens to also be where the governor of Ohio who is endorsing Senator Clinton, who has a lot on the line here, would like to be the vice president of the United States.  Southern Ohio looks at...

RUSSERT:  Ted Strickland.

CILLIZZA:  Ted Strickland—looks a lot like places in Virginia that Hillary Clinton did well in.

One other thing though on superdelegates, because I think this is so important.  Superdelegates are a group of people who are either elected officials or really, really involved party activists.  This is the establishment of the establishment of the Democratic Party.

These are people who are survivors in the political process.  They will go with what winds up being in their best interest.

They are not necessarily ideologues.  I think they are pragmatists, by and large.  And that’s where I think the problem Elisabeth talked about, the Clinton strategy, keep it close and tell the superdelegates, vote your will, don’t vote what your state is. 

The problem is, is money, as we’ve already seen, follows momentum.  Barack Obama wins early states.  He raises this massive amount of money.

I think that superdelegates will follow momentum, too, and that’s why I think Ohio and Texas are so central to Hillary Clinton.  I think she not—probably not only needs to win them.  If she wins 51-49, I’m not sure that’s enough.  I think she has to win them...

BUMILLER:  Yes.

CILLIZZA:  ... she has to win them broadly.

Given what he’s done in some of these places like Virginia, we thought that was going to be a single-digit race.  Barack Obama got 60 percent of the vote.  Maine, even, where they talked about—the Clintons talked about winning a caucus in Maine, he wins by 15 or 16 points.

You know, I think she needs to show that that momentum has come to a screeching halt, not that it’s slowing, in order to slow what you talked about, Tim, that creep of superdelegates over from Clinton to Obama.  Always remember, these people—these superdelegates are politicians, and they will make a decision that is in their own best interest, as opposed to what I believe—as opposed to...

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  We saw John Lewis and David Scott, African-American congressmen, in your paper, Elisabeth, on Friday.  Lewis saying he was moving, and then his office said, well, he’s going to probably vote for Obama but many not endorse him.

Bottom line is, in those two congressional districts Obama won 80 percent of the vote.

BUMILLER:  Right.

RUSSERT:  There’s a message there for them in terms of their own voters.

BUMILLER:  Right.  And I think—I think we could trace it to South Carolina.  And there’s—I mean, there’s a number of reasons for it, but I think one reason you could argue would be that Bill Clinton, in South Carolina, alienated a lot of African-American voters, felt he injected race into it.

But I also think what’s going on is that, Obama, for the first time—and people have written about this in my paper—is seen by the African-American community as a really authentic black candidate who has a really serious shot at being president.  And that has been—I think it caused a lot of this.  It’s just we can put our faith in him and...

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  Going in to South Carolina, Ron, all the polls indicated that the African-American community was going to split, maybe 60-30, 60-40, between Clinton and Obama.  And then came some comments by Bill Clinton.  He said they were misinterpreted, the whole idea about “fairy tale,” implying to Obama’s position on Iraq, other comments about risky—roll of the dice, a young, articulate African-American.

Things that were heard differently by African-Americans than a lot of whites.

BROWNSTEIN:  An extraordinary story, right?

RUSSERT:  Yes.

BROWNSTEIN:  I mean, a candidate with so much appeal in the black community, such a connection with it, ends up...

RUSSERT:  And suddenly...

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  ... boom, within a week, blacks are voting 90-10 for Barack Obama.  And that’s a very difficult hurdle to overcome in a state where there’s significant black voters.

BROWNSTEIN:  In Maryland and Virginia it was 8-1 in both states.  They’re each about a third of the electorate.  And it does become a big hurdle.

In Ohio, it’s about a fifth of the vote.  It certainly keeps him in the game.

In Texas, it’s also about a fifth of the vote, only slightly smaller than what Latinos were in 2004.  Now, the Clinton camp hopes to widen that differential.

Yes, I mean, this is—look, the Clinton people hope to stay competitive.  I mean, they expected the black vote to break for Barack Obama if he was validated by the early states as someone who had a real chance to win.  But they don’t think they were expecting to deal with 8-1.

Can I just be clear about Virginia though?  Less change probably in Virginia than people think.

In essence, Virginia is the Barack Obama coalition.  It is a large African-American population.  And then among the white voters in the exit polls, 70 percent of white voters were college graduates in Virginia.

The non-college white voters, the downscale white voters, have been the core of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  She still won them 57-42 in Virginia.  She won them in Maryland 61-32.  There just weren’t very many of them.

When you get to Ohio, 60 percent of the white voters are the non-college voters who favor her.  Now, in Wisconsin and Texas, there are also a majority of the white voters, but only a slight majority.  And so you could imagine Texas especially being a state where the Latino vote slightly outnumbers the black vote, the non-college white vote slightly outnumbers the college vote.  You could imagine that being a place where, if momentum is going to play a role, that could be a real weak link in the chain for Senator Clinton.

Ohio is still a bigger hurdle, I think, even with the large black vote, because so much of the white vote is downscale.  And we saw in polling, for example, from Quinnipiac it is still a big hurdle for him.  Even in these states where he’s doing his best, he really doesn’t seem to be cracking into that vote, especially the non-college women. 

That is Hillary Clinton’s core.  She’s winning them 2-1 in most places.  She got 60 percent still in Virginia and Maryland among those voters.  They don’t really seem to breaking in a way that some of the coverage would have suggested after that result.

BUMILLER:  And I also would like to say that the women’s vote, we have seen this in a number of primaries, that there is a strong sense that Hillary Clinton is getting beat up on.  And there are—by, you know, a lot of white men in this race.  And so she is getting a lot of votes from women.  Anecdotally, you can also see it in the polls, who just go in and quietly, in the privacy of the booth, pull the lever for Hillary Clinton because they’ve had it.

BROWNSTEIN:  Very quickly, the swing vote among women is college-educated women.  They do bounce around.  And they have been conflicted in this race from the beginning.

Obama did well with them in Iowa.  Clinton won them in New Hampshire.  He did win them in Virginia.  College-educated white women voted for him, whereas in Maryland, she held them by double digits.  That’s why she was able to keep it closer.

And as you go forward, I still think that is a critical swing constituency for him if he’s going to, for example, take a state like Texas.  He probably has to win those upscale women who have been ambivalent about Clinton from the beginning.  They have obviously had differences, kind of cultural problems.  But in the end, when she seems on the brink, they seem to rally around her.

BUMILLER:  Right.

BROWNSTEIN:  And...

BUMILLER:  It’s very—yes.

BROWNSTEIN:  ... you might see that again.

RUSSERT:  Clinton people are very open, Chris.  They’ll say it’s a 50/50 coalition.  If you’re a woman over 50, and if you make under $50,000, you’re our voter.

Then you add on Latinos, and that’s the coalition they hope will prevail in a place like Texas.  Although, to Ron and Elisabeth’s point, it is interesting.  In Texas, the latest poll we saw, 49-41.  Eight-point spread between Clinton and Obama, Clinton on top.

CILLIZZA:  And I just—I return back to momentum.  And I really think, you know, Barack Obama has not just won—I mean, that’s what I think we have to remember.  He hasn’t just eked by in these—in these states since February 5th, although important to note Hillary Clinton did win the New Mexico caucuses.  It was announced...

RUSSERT:  Late call.  Late call.

CILLIZZA:  ... slightly after we had eight other votes that had gone after it.

But I think that she needs to find a way to stop the momentum.  Barack Obama—and I’ve always believed this—the way that you beat Hillary Clinton is not by running a traditional campaign, because she would probably beat you in a traditional campaign.  You transform it—for voting for Barack Obama is about voting for a movement, and it’s about voting for something that is bigger than just a political campaign.

That speaks to movement, that speaks to momentum.  I’m not sure that a 52-48 win in Texas is enough.

I mean, you know, I think the narrative will play itself out.  But I’m not sure it’s enough when he is winning these caucuses 75 percent, 72 percent.  He’s winning primaries.

I keep coming back to Virginia, a state that we all thought was at least going to be competitive.  It was one of the Potomac primaries the Clinton campaign put an emphasis on.  OK, we’re going to lose Maryland, we’re going to lose Virginia—or we’re going to lose D.C., rather—but in Virginia we can do it.

They lose 60-40, essentially.  That is telling.

I think she needs to say, I can build not just a 50-plus-1 coalition in the Democratic Party, I can build a 55-plus coalition in the Democratic Party.  I think she can do it in Ohio.  I think she can do it in Pennsylvania.  I’m not sure she can do it in Texas.

RUSSERT:  We’ve got to take a break.  Right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we’re back—Obama versus Clinton.

There was an interesting article in the “Boston Globe” the other day which said that Deval Patrick, when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, had the same campaign consultant, David Axelrod, who’s doing Barack Obama’s campaign.  Ran on hope, an inspirational campaign, and then got elected and hit some barriers and burdens trying to govern.  And so that when the presidential campaign came to Massachusetts, people were a little bit more cautious.  And Hillary Clinton won by 15 points, I think, in Massachusetts.

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  So, it looks as if Hillary Clinton now is really trying to say, slow this train down, hope is not enough, words are not enough. You have to have someone who is experienced, who can truly get things done.

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, you know, both as a candidate and a potential president, the range of possibility for Barack Obama is much wider than for Hillary Clinton.  With Hillary Clinton in both categories, as candidate and president, you pretty much know what you’re going to get.

I mean, she probably has a voting range between like 49 and 50.5, or 48.5 and 50.5, and you know the kind of competence and the way she’s going to approach the presidency.

Obama could be really almost anywhere on the spectrum.  Some people think he’s going to be Jack Kennedy, some people think he’s going to be Jimmy Carter.  You know?  And it could go either way.

And as a general election candidate, he could either be transformative and build a new coalition, continue to excite this enormous turnout among young people, or he will never cross the threshold of being perceived as ready to be commander in chief.  And John McCain will just sort of cudgel him with that through the entire general election.

So, you know, it’s understandable that I think Democrats will have a little hesitation here about, you know—because it is—the potential—I think the upside is higher and the downside could be lower.  It’s just a broader range of possibility.  He could be a transformative president and candidate, but also could be one who has a lot of trouble.

RUSSERT:  Elisabeth, a lot of Democrats said to me, in Virginia, Obama, 21 percent of the vote was Independent, 8 percent was Republican.  We have a real chance here to broaden our party dramatically as long as he holds up, as Ron suggests, as someone people can envision in the Oval Office.

BUMILLER:  Right.  And that’s going to—and that’s going to change in the general election because they’re going to have to get into specifics.  He’s going to have to—he rolled out an economic plan the other day.  He’s going to have to do that on other issues as well, much more substantive.

And I think that also—I think the factor here is Iraq, which right now is kind of in the background.  But things are going somewhat better there. 

There was a vote in parliament just this past week.  It was the first decent sign—it could all blow up in a minute, of course—that there’s some political reconciliation going on.  And John McCain is going to beat him over the head with that, that things are going better militarily and now they’re going better politically.  And it’s going to be very—you know, and he’s going to have to come up with much more specifics.

CILLIZZA:  I just think it’s ironic that we’re talking—and there is a part of the Hillary Clinton argument that is, we need to slow down.  I mean, I think all of us—I would put myself in that category—had the old February 6th vacation planned a year ago.  I mean, we’re talking about—Elisabeth mentioned June 7th and the Puerto Rico primary.  I mean, this is stunning.

BROWNSTEIN:  That could be a big issue.

CILLIZZA:  This is stunning that it has gone this long.  And I think that is—to be serious here, I do think that that is a problem with the Clinton argument.

Thirty states, 29 states, have voted.  Barack Obama has won the majority of them.  He has won the popular vote.  This is not John Kerry winning Iowa, winning New Hampshire, and then the race is over in 2004.

This is half of the country, more than half of the country, having their say.  I’m not sure that people—people may not be choosing the way Senator Clinton would like them to choose, but I’m not sure they’re making sort of an emotional pick that’s based on two states with small, limited, diverse—not diverse populations.  This has been the broadest, longest election we could imagine.

RUSSERT:  Ron Brownstein, I want to give you equal time to Elisabeth’s book.  “The Second Civil War,” give me 30 seconds.

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.

Well, look, I mean, the story of the book is basically the story of America and how we have gotten to a period of such intense and divisive—intense partisanship and polarized politics in Washington, which I argue is making it impossible for us to make progress on the most serious problems facing the country.  And I think when you look at this campaign, however it turns out in the end, the undeniable core that John McCain and Barack Obama have each struck with varying message of reconciliation about trying to bring the country back together to build broader coalitions and build broader consensus to attack our problems, shows, I think, that Americans are looking for a different style of politics that is less polarized than we have seen pretty much over the last two decades.

And looking—finding a way to enlist all of the talents in our society towards solving problems.  And a great deal of the promise that both of these candidates I think offer to their supporters is the idea that they can reach across party lines and ideological divisions and find ways for us to work together on many of these problems like energy, health care, immigration.  Because without that, I think the next president is going to find it very difficult to do 51-49 politics again.

RUSSERT:  Ron Brownstein, “The Second Civil War.” 

Elisabeth Bumiller, “Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,” a biography.

Chris Cillizza, we read you every hour of every day on thewashingtonpost.com.

BROWNSTEIN:  You’re behind already today.

CILLIZZA:  I’m just going to...

RUSSERT:  A pamphleteer.  A pamphleteer.

CILLIZZA:  ... write and staple (ph) them.

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