updated 3/10/2008 11:04:05 AM ET 2008-03-10T15:04:05

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  And the race for the White House goes on and on and on.  Hillary Clinton wins Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island.  Barack Obama wins Vermont.  John McCain locks it up, is embraced by George W. Bush.

Where do we go from here?

Here to put it all in perspective, three extraordinary political journalists—Chuck Todd, the political director for NBC News; Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign policy and foreign affairs and political reporter for NBC News; Chris Cillizza of thewashingtonpost.com and the “The Washington Post” ink-stained newspaper, correct?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  That is correct.

RUSSERT:  You’ve got them all.

Well, Chuck Todd, what happened last Tuesday?

CHUCK TODD, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, NBC NEWS:  Well, this race got reset.  You know, the Clinton campaign said that, you know, March 4th should be a day that, you know, decides whether their campaign is a campaign of big states, and they can move on, or whether Obama can win a big state.  You know, they totally wanted to ignore the February contests; they successfully did it.

They reset—they reset the race.  You know, Obama, they put Obama on the ropes, particularly in the last 72 hours.  He had a horrible final 72 hours in the campaign.  And it proved that you can’t close poorly and expect to still win.  Organization can only get you so far, and organizationally he was still able to keep the delegate totals from basically being neutralized from what—from Clinton’s victories. 

But she’s got a perception bump.  And all of a sudden, you know, this feels like, you know, Obama is still ahead, but Clinton has life in her.

RUSSERT:  What happened to the 11 primaries Obama won in a row?

TODD:  Well, those 11 primaries are still going to prove to be very important, because he built a huge delegate lead, a delegate lead that is almost insurmountable for her without going around other ways—either Michigan/Florida, or the superdelegates.  So you can’t sit here and say that they didn’t count, but all of a sudden, Obama is on the defensive in this one case.  He can’t—he’s had three chances to close the deal and he hasn’t been able to do it.

RUSSERT:  So after...

TODD:  And he’s yet to win a big state.

RUSSERT:  Three chances.  After Iowa, she bounced back with New Hampshire.  After South Carolina, she bounced back Super Tuesday.  After 11 in a row, she bounced back with March 4th.

TODD:  Right.  So the question is though, you know, how often can you do that?  Look, we have never seen a candidate in Clinton’s position—Ted Kennedy was in this position in 1980, Gary Hart was in this position in 1984, Ronald Reagan was in this position in ‘76.  These candidate never end up winning, but they can keep the race going.

RUSSERT:  A final question for you in this round.

How many delegates did Hillary Clinton net gain on Tuesday night?

TODD:  As soon as we finally get all the Texas caucus results in, it looks like she will net maybe as many as eight.  It could be as few as six.  Possibly nine or 10.  So...

RUSSERT:  Out of Ohio, Texas and Vermont (sic), a net gain of eight?

TODD:  A net gain of eight when all is said and done.  At least she won more states than delegates—or she won more delegates than state, but it was close.

RUSSERT:  Andrea Mitchell, what happened Tuesday night?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  Well, first of all, women came back.  And white men came back.  Blue collar voters came back.

The troubling signs for the Clinton campaign that she began to see in Virginia and Maryland...

RUSSERT:  And Wisconsin.

MITCHELL:  And Wisconsin—big time in Wisconsin—were negated, were reversed in Ohio.  That was a big thing.  And Hispanics in Texas.

Now, race was an issue in Ohio—blue collar voters.  Questions about Barack Obama with white men.  And that could be troubling for the party down the road. 

But Hillary Clinton managed to put back together her coalition, I think, first of all, by going negative, by the attack ads, by raising questions about his ability to be commander in chief, by questions about his authenticity.  And also by going positive—by going on “Saturday Night Live,” by going on “David Letterman,” by going on with Jon Stewart.  She was the warm Hillary Clinton in the Texas debate, and then she was the funny Hillary Clinton in these cameo appearances.

So, it was a one-two punch.  You know, punching and then coming back and showing her warm and fuzzy and funny side.  And I think that she managed to overcome what was really a meltdown in her campaign in Wisconsin.  Not that she doesn’t have enormous problems—structural problems within the organization.  They are all fighting amongst themselves.

RUSSERT:  We’ll get to that.

MITCHELL:  We’ll get to that.  But, you know, I think that there are really some serious questions now that superdelegates who were ready to go over to Barack Obama after March 4th, that some of these party regulars and elders and insiders have some questions that she has managed to raise, some doubts about Obama’s ability to take a punch.

He was playing prevent defense, he wasn’t aggressive enough.  He had a bad 72 hours, as Chuck had said.  And, you know, the questions about what happened with an economic advisers who, you know, clearly sat down with some diplomats who he should not have been talking to.

RUSSERT:  From Canada.

MITCHELL:  From Canada.  And questions about NAFTA, which is poison in Ohio, and also in Pennsylvania, coming up.  And we can talk about that.

So, some of the regulars are now saying, wait a second.  Is she right?  Is he really tough enough?  And he’s now realizing that and beginning to rev up.  So we are in for a really negative seven weeks until Pennsylvania.

RUSSERT:  Chris Cillizza, Andrea suggests Hillary Clinton had a slam and smile strategy—throw the kitchen sink, in the words of her campaign, and then go on the late-night shows and be very charming.

CILLIZZA:  I think Andrea’s exactly right.  I think that’s what they did, and they did it smartly.

I think the problem that the Clinton campaign had had through this whole process—and, you know, it began January 3rd, but we all know it began before then, sort of trying to position each other against each other.  The problem they had is they could never get anything to stick to Obama.

They tried to attack him on change, the experience—he’s too inexperienced, we can’t trust him.  But they had never been able to sell that argument to voters.  Time and again, voters would say, you know, we just prefer change to experience.  Clinton would win overwhelmingly among those who valued experience, that that was a little bit of people as compared to the large number of folks who said we want change, we want a candidate who can bring about change.

What they did, whether it was that 3:00 a.m. phone call ad, or whether it was something else, they effectively pinned the idea of, maybe he really isn’t ready on to Obama in the last 72 hours of the campaign.  It’s the first time in what’s been, you know, a several-month campaign they’ve been able to put something on Obama and have it stay, have the press follow up on it.

It was helped, frankly, by events—the NAFTA/Austin Goolsbee situation, the Tony Rezko trial starting at the exact—of the 365 days of the year, that is the worst single day, frankly, that the Rezko trial could have started, this guy, a real estate developer with ties to Obama.  The trial starts one day before votes that he could lock it up.

So, the Clinton campaign was helped by external events.  And I think it’s important to acknowledge that.  But they were finally able to get into voters’ minds that question, just—I don’t know if they convinced voters that Hillary is the one, but I think what they did is they wedged—they insinuated themselves in there some doubt as it relates to Obama, and it’s that doubt.  It’s a question of, can they pivot that doubt, can they make that a bigger and bigger and bigger section of people’s minds between now and Pennsylvania?

RUSSERT:  We’ve got to take a quick break.

We’ll be right back with more of our conversation, the race for the White House.  Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Chris Cillizza, all putting it in perspective, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back talking about the race for the White House.  The Democrats, it looks like it’s going down to the wire.

Chuck Todd, Chris mentioned the terrible 48 hours that the Obama campaign had leading into junior Super Tuesday—last Tuesday.  This whole situation with NAFTA, where Obama and Hillary Clinton said they’d try to renegotiate, there was a story that came out from Canadian television which said that one of Obama’s aids had talked to a representative of the Canadian government and said, in effect, don’t worry about campaign rhetoric, no major change is going to happen.

TODD:  Right.

RUSSERT:  Obama went out and said the story’s just not true.  And we now learn that one of his economic advisers sat down with a representative of the Canadian government from their Chicago consulate.  But all that being said, either Barack Obama went out and said something that he knew not to be true, which he says absolutely didn’t happen, or people on his campaign, after hearing him say something they knew not to be true, let it go on for a few days.

TODD:  Right.  And what it did was—and this is why the story is so important, and it has nothing to do with NAFTA.  What it did was it made him look like another politician who will say one thing—say what you want to hear to you when he’s talking to you as a voter, and while his people go behind the scenes and say another thing to the folks in Canada.

And so it was the first time—you know, for a year and a half—Chris talked about this—the Clinton campaign had been trying to say this guy’s just another politician.  After all, he’s been on the ballot six times in the last 12 years.  This is his sixth campaign.  He’s done nothing but run for office every two years.  This guy is a political animal, and yet he’s talking about a new kind of politics, this and that.

Well, this is the first time that they had—he gave them evidence of this—and this is why it was so bad.  But there was something else about the Obama campaign over the last four weeks that I think we should—we should point out.

They haven’t changed their strategy since South Carolina at all because they feel like it’s been working.  You know, it’s almost the same deal—they dump a bunch of people organizationally in, they do a bunch of these big rallies, he says the same speech.  OK, he throws in maybe a little extra thing on NAFTA here in Ohio, or an extra little thing for Hispanics in Texas, but it’s the same schtick. 

And it is now over this long campaign starting to wear thing.  So they do need to sort of come up with something new.  They did play a prevent defense.  I mean, it was as if they just assumed, well, this worked, let’s keep doing it until it doesn’t work anymore.

Keep running the ball up the middle until they finally bring nine—you know, nine people in there to stop the run.  Well, the Clintons finally stopped this thing.  So he’s got to adjust.

You know, the Clintons had no choice but to adjust.  They had to keep adjusting.  Nothing was working and they kept adjusting and kept adjusting.  They think they found something.

I don’t know if it works long term.  Can she go negative for seven weeks and successfully do that?  It’s never worked for her before.  Every time it does, it always hurts her and her negatives go up.

So, I don’t know if she can keep this balance up for seven weeks.  She can do it for four days, which she did really well.  Seven weeks is another story.

RUSSERT:  Andrea, we heard the Obama campaign after Tuesday say, OK, clearly this is going to be negative.  We’re the campaign of hope, and yet we’re going to fight back.  And suddenly, the Obama campaign saying to the Clintons, where are the tax returns, where are the records from the library which show what you did, your schedule when you were first lady?  Where are the records for the $500 million raised by the Bill Clinton Foundation?

Is that going to be sustained request by the Obama campaign?

MITCHELL:  Oh, you bet.  And it’s actually very good politics, and there’s some real reason to that.

I mean, where are the tax returns?  They say they’re going to be released April 15th—on or about April 15th.  Well, that will give enough time for all of us to really go through those tax returns.  And there’s a reason they didn’t want to release them.

Bill Clinton has been raising money and giving speeches and being involved with all sorts of business people, foreign and domestic.  And there’s going to be a lot of questions raised as to where all the money came from.

Five million dollars from their joint account was loaned to her campaign by the Clintons at a critical time to keep the campaign going.  And we don’t know the source of their income.  So there’s a reason why they didn’t want that at.

The donors to the library.  All former presidents have had questions about this, but this is a presidential couple, former White House couple, with someone running for president.  And so the scrutiny that will be attached to that if those names ever come out, that’s a big deal.  So...

TODD:  But the Clinton—can I just say though, the Clinton campaign is getting a small pass in this respect—if it’s just the ‘07 tax return, I guarantee you Clinton—Bill Clinton’s isn’t as great as it was in ‘06.  So, which tax return are they going to release?  If it’s just the ‘07, I think they’re going to be...

RUSSERT:  They said all the tax returns since he left the White House.  That was the...

MITCHELL:  And if that’s...

TODD:  I have a feeling we see...

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  You know, when I first asked the question back in September at the debate, the response was, well, when I’m the nominee of the party you’ll get it.  And then in Cleveland...

MITCHELL:  I’m a little busy.

RUSSERT:  I’m a little busy, but we’ll get it out as soon as we can.  And then they set the date last Sunday as April 15th, not knowing whether they’d be going on to Pennsylvania or not.

TODD:  Which, by the way, is one week before the Pennsylvania primary.

CILLIZZA:  You know, I just—to pick up on Andrea’s point, I thought it was fascinating.  Right in the aftermath of March 4th, the Obama campaign holds a conference call in which David Axelrod, the lead media consultant, lead strategist for Obama, paints Hillary Clinton as it relates to her tax returns as a habitual non-discloser. 

Now, he doesn’t sort of expand on that, but I think everyone knows—certainly in the political world knows—it goes back to the past controversies as regards to the Clinton administration, whether it’s Whitewater or something else.  And I think that you will see that strain of thinking come up more and more, this idea that, is Hillary Clinton really vetted?  What about all this stuff that happened in the past?  Doesn’t that make it more difficult for her to appeal to Independents?  Do we really want to go back to that time? 

I think that’s a strain of argument that the Obama campaign will make, either subtly or if it looks like things are going tough, not so subtly.

RUSSERT:  Didn’t he use the word the most “secretive” politician?  I think I heard the “S” word.

CILLIZZA:  And I think that that is key in terms of what Obama’s strategy is going to be—remind people, don’t—you saw this when the race was a little bit more back and forth.  Chuck is right, they haven’t done this, they stayed on one strategy.  But when the race was more back and forth in the lead-up to February 5th, you saw the Obama campaign seek to paint the Clintons as, they’re saying they’re the most vetted, they’re saying they’re the strongest.  What evidence do we have of that?

I think they go—they return back to that storyline in a major way.

MITCHELL:  It’s no accident that this is taking place from David Axelrod exactly as stuff has begun to stick in the last week to Barack Obama and the beginning of the Rezko trial which Chris referenced.  So, as they are seeing that doubts about their candidate are being raised by the Clinton team about whether he’s really vetted and what might be out there, and is it safe as a Democratic Party to go with this man, and, please, superdelegates, don’t go quite yet, you don’t really know when he is, that’s when this whole counterattack is taking place.

RUSSERT:  Another quick break.

We’ll be right back.  More of 2008, the race for the White House, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back talking about campaign strategy.

Chuck Todd, take a few minutes for us, please, and put this into the delegate perspective.  Right now amongst elected delegates, Barack Obama is how far ahead of Hillary Clinton?

TODD:  Approximately 140 to 150.  I mean, we’re still waiting for some—believe it or not, we still haven’t allocated the delegates from Colorado on February 5th.  We’re still getting new counts out of California that actually move delegates.  But it’s approximately 140 to 159.

What does that mean?  That means, you know, Hillary Clinton has to won 62 percent of remaining pledged delegates just to get the pledged delegate lead back.

These next two contests before Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Mississippi, Obama’s likely to pick up a net of 15 to 20 delegates.  So that means that gets it to 160.  That moves her number up to 65 percent. 

You start taking away North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Montana, states that we’re pretty confident that Obama’s going to win, the number starts climbing to 70 percent, 71 percent, 72 percent of these pledged delegates.  So it is becoming highly unlikely.

And frankly, when you look at Pennsylvania—and I was looking at how the delegates are allocated—Hillary Clinton won Ohio by 10 points, she netted nine delegates.  She could win Pennsylvania by 10 points and net maybe only eight delegates.

A ton of delegates are in the Philadelphia media market.  Forty-three—almost half of the delegates that are allocated by a congressional district in Pennsylvania are in the Philadelphia media market.  That’s going to be Obama’s stronghold.  He will likely lose the state, statewide, and again benefit from how delegates are allocated, because the African-American precincts, congressional districts, have a greater delegate.

RUSSERT:  The superdelegates, Andrea Mitchell, there’s 800 of them.  About 500 of them or so have committed.  She still has a lead of about 40 or 50 amongst the superdelegates.

I heard Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania say the other day, well, if he had a lead of some 400 delegates overall, then I would understand.  Well, sure, that’s a solid lead.  But it’s 100, 150, well, that’s when the superdelegates kick in because that’s not that big of a lead.  And don’t dare challenge the superdelegates as being anti-Democratic, because the caucuses that have been held in many ways are anti-Democratic because of the hour of the day they’re held.

MITCHELL:  This—Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania’s talking point was basically to fix what he had been telling us the week before, which was that, you know, whoever came out with more delegates—well, first of all, both he and Bill Richardson had been saying that whoever had more delegates should be the nominee.

RUSSERT:  After March 4th.

MITCHELL:  Ed Rendell did not want seven weeks in his state of the Democratic Party tearing itself apart.  So he had said, if you don’t win both Texas and Ohio—and he said this, interestingly, right after being with Bill Clinton in Philadelphia last week.  He came out and said exactly what Bill Clinton had said in Beaumont, Texas, earlier.  You had to win Texas and Ohio, that was the standard.

They both, I think, were assuming she wouldn’t win both Texas and Ohio, and that it might be time to kind of resolve all of this on March 5th, that there was an exit strategy.  It didn’t happen.  She won.

She surprised some of her own people by winning three out of those four primaries.  And now Ed Rendell is trying to get right with the Clintons and say, you know, we’ve got to go with the superdelegates and...

RUSSERT:  Two of her staff members, Jay Carson and Phil Singer, actually shaved their heads because they bet that she would win three out of the four.

Has—just a quick point, Chuck.  She won the popular vote in Texas by four or five points.  Who’s going to win the delegates out of Texas?

TODD:  And Obama’s going to win the delegates, because he’s going to win the caucuses, fairly handily.  So what do we color our map?  That’s what I keep—the single most important thing here on NBC News—what do we color the map?

RUSSERT:  Well, we colored Nevada Clinton...

TODD:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  ... even though Obama won...

TODD:  The delegates.

RUSSERT:  ... the delegates by one.  So we stay consistent.

TODD:  I guess we do.  But that’s the confusing nature of the Democratic Party.

CILLIZZA:  There’s two counterpoints I just wanted to make about the delegates.

Number one, it is very unlikely that while—Chuck is 100 percent right, it is close to insurmountable for Senator Clinton to overcome Obama in pledged delegates.  It is also close to impossible for Barack Obama to get to 2,025, that magic number, to seal the nomination formally among pledged delegates.

So the problem then becomes is, superdelegates are going to put one or the other over the top.  So Barack Obama is making the math argument, he’s right to make the math argument.  But pledged delegates alone will not win Barack Obama the nomination.

The other point that I think we saw on March 4th, math is not necessarily an argument that gets people out to vote for you.  The Obama campaign, in the run-up to the—these votes said the math makes it impossible for her to win.  Well, math doesn’t motivate people.

You know, average voters are not following, oh, OK, you got two delegates out of here.  Now, in the end, the delegates are very important.  I’m not suggesting they’re not.  But I think the Obama campaign’s focus on, it is mathematically impossible for her to win the nomination backfired against him, because Hillary Clinton went out to talk to average voters and said, this is about you, this is about the economy, this is about who we can trust.  And the Obama campaign, meanwhile, has the abacus out and is saying, well, if you put this half-delegate here and this—it’s not a compelling argument as it relates to an average voter trying to make up their mind.

RUSSERT:  You know what was interesting?  Is that, also, the voters of Ohio said that they thought Obama would be a stronger candidate in the general election.  And yet, they said, my vote that I want to cast, I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.  I prefer her.

It’s fascinating how they work—how their minds work.

MITCHELL:  She made a better case on economic issues.  And in that one primary.

RUSSERT:  More to come.  We’ll be right back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we’re back talking about the race for the White House, joined by three extraordinary political journalists—Chris Cillizza of “The Washington Post”; Andrea Mitchell of NBC News; and Chuck Todd, our political director, also here at NBC News.

Chris, everyone talked about March 4th, the final decision-making by the voters, how they closed overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton.

CILLIZZA:  That was the thing I was the most struck by in the exit poll, Tim, is late deciders—they qualified people who decided three days or less before the election—went overwhelmingly 20-plus points to her.  They also went to her, by the way, in Texas, a smaller margin, but still a double-digit margin to the exit polls.  But I just found that stunning.

It shows what we were talking about before, the Clinton campaign, based on what it did strategically and also on external factors, closed ver strong.  If you look back at all of these big primary and caucus days leading up to March 4th, the Obama campaign closed either neutral or stronger than the Clinton campaign.  Almost every one of them, huge rallies, 17,000 people at a rally somewhere where never had ever seen 17,000 people before.  Stories about this movement, that the country was moving.

In the days leading up to March 4th, Barack Obama was talking about whether or not he had been truthful about NAFTA, his ties to a guy who was on trial for extortion, Tony Rezko, and whether...

RUSSERT:  Not related to him.

CILLIZZA:  Not related to him, certainly.  But again, not a good story for him.  And whether he was up to the challenge on national security.

That is a tough trifecta to push back on.  And I think what you saw is the Clinton campaign benefited among these people who—and it’s a lot of people.  It’s about one in five voters in both Ohio and Texas, according to the exit poll.  People were making up their mind at the last minute.

When they tuned in, they got a Hillary Clinton who was both, as we talked about before, smiling on the one hand and joking, but also very tough on national security.  And they got a Barack Obama who looked a little bit back on his heels, a little bit under fire.

RUSSERT:  Let’s assume Obama wins Wyoming and Mississippi, and then it’s six straight weeks into Pennsylvania.  Andrea Mitchell, what does that state look like?  You know it well.  You started your journalistic career there, went to school there.

How does Barack Obama remove the question mark that the Clinton campaign has put over his head in a state like Pennsylvania?

MITCHELL:  Well, he’s got to do a lot of retail politicking.  You know, as Chris was pointing out, he had so many advantages in Texas and Ohio.  He outspent her enormously.  And Election Day in Toledo with her, she had a rally that was so poorly attended that they were bussing in AFSCME labor people at the last minute just to try to fill it up.

So, he’s got to do a lot of retail politicking.  Advertising alone I don’t think will do it in Pennsylvania.

The advantage she has in Pennsylvania is demographic.  Fifteen percent of Pennsylvania voters are 65 and over.  This is one of the oldest states in the country.

Health care is an enormous issue there—jobs.  It’s a rust belt state.

RUSSERT:  And in Ohio, voters 65 and older voted for her 70 to 30.

MITCHELL:  Right.  Now, he’s got the core of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but in Philadelphia the new mayor, Michael Nutter, is an African-American and endorsed Hillary Clinton.  Now, you’d expect that, still, Philadelphia would be an Obama area, because it is so heavily African-American.  Then you’ve got the suburbs around Philadelphia, which also ought to be very favorable to Barack Obama, because they tend to be, you know, leaning towards an upscale audience.

But again, it is the first of these states that are a closed primary, unlike Ohio.  So Republicans and Independents cannot cross over and help him there.  And they have been more favorable to Obama.

It should be a good state for her, but, boy, seven weeks—six weeks after next week’s primaries—that’s a long time for missteps.  And she may be too confident, and it may sound as though they’re taking too much for granted in Pennsylvania.

She’s heading to Scranton, where her father grew up and where she was baptized.  Another Hillary Clinton birth state.  She’s heading there this weekend.

TODD:  Don’t forget her brother was a backup quarterback for Penn State, there in State College.  I’m sure we’ll hear about that.  And Joe Paterno, and, who knows—maybe they’ll trod him out.

But I think what you’re going to see in Pennsylvania is sort of this Obama stronghold in the Philadelphia area versus the T, as they call it, that sort of thing, in between—or as James Carville likes to call it, it’s Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle.  So you’ll have the strength of—in the Alabama portion of Pennsylvania for Hillary.

And then Pittsburgh, which I think is going to end up being the swing battle here, because it’s—Pittsburgh, in some cases, very similar to Ohio.  It’s mostly white, but it’s urban.  And so, how well can he make some inroads there?  Can he do well there?  Can he beat her in the Pittsburgh media market?  I think if he does, then maybe he can carry the state.

It’s very hard.  The burden—the good news for Obama is the burden is on her to win.  And if he somehow pulls it off, this is another shot for him to knock her out.

RUSSERT:  OK.  What are the issues that Barack Obama starts raising in a state like Pennsylvania?  Does he go to the war?

She keeps saying, I bring a lifetime of experience to the Oval Office.  John McCain brings a lifetime of experience to the Oval Office.  Barack Obama brings a speech.

Does he say, my speech said the war was a dumb war and we shouldn’t have done it.  Your speech was, I cast this vote with conviction to go to war.

Does it go back to Iraq?

CILLIZZA:  The problem, Tim, I think, is that in the final days before March 4th, that was a large part of Barack Obama’s pushback, which is that he doesn’t—he doesn’t just have experience in these things, but when the 3:00 a.m. phone call comes, he has the judgment to make the right decision.  Look what he did on Iraq—she was wrong, he was right.

If you look at the exit polling though, number one, Iraq is not the motivating factor by a long shot among people who voted in that.  The economy is the dominant factor.

But even among folks who did say Iraq was the most pressing concern and most important issue facing the nation, tied in Texas, I believe, or within the statistical margin of error, those people who chose Clinton versus Obama.  And she actually was ahead in Ohio among people who said the war was the most important issue.

So, I’m not convinced that that is where he heads.  I really do think where he heads is to say, remember that these are the Clintons.  That entails a lot of good, but it also entails a lot of potential bad.

Remember that the ‘90s were not all perfect for us.  Remember the problems.  Do we want to put that back in the national spotlight against John McCain?

That would be my guess.  It’s hard though, because that’s a personal argument at its root, not a policy argument.

MITCHELL:  And Pennsylvania has a huge number of people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is a John Murtha state in that area between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  So, the war is actually partly better for her among veterans and their families.

RUSSERT:  In terms of health care, Andrea, in the Cleveland debate Barack Obama, for the first time, raised names.  He said, you know, talk to Congressman Jim Cooper, talk to Senator Bill Bradley, Democrats who were frozen out by Hillary Clinton and the health care discussion.  We could have had health care in 1993, but because of the way she dealt with it we have nothing and have nothing today.

Does that argument work, or does she still have so much credibility on the issue of health care, it’s impossible to chink away at it?

MITCHELL:  Well, he’s got six weeks to try to make that argument, that he knows how to work better with people, he plays better with his playmates and schoolmates.  But, you know, she can make the counter-argument, I worked with Lindsey Graham, I know how to work in Congress, I’ve been a good senator.  And I think that health care is still a net plus for her.

Health care is a huge issue in Pennsylvania.  And I think that she still has health care attached to her, for better or for worse.  And in Pennsylvania she can make the argument, I’m a fighter, I tried to get you health care.  It didn’t work, but I’ve learned my lessons and I now know how to do it better.

RUSSERT:  What do you think?

TODD:  You know, the only thing—this whole Pennsylvania strategy is—I’ll say this, where do they go after Pennsylvania?  You know?

It does seem like that they’ve moved the goalposts and we have Pennsylvania.  OK?  And the Clinton campaign is saying, we win Pennsylvania.  But then that’s it.

Then I think that they want to be done.  They want the primary season to end on April 22nd.  The problem they’ve got is there are a couple contests before, and there are a whole bunch after.  And he’s likely to win most of these remaining contests.

So, they are putting everything on the line here in Pennsylvania.  It’s a tough—it’s a tough thing to do.  And then even if they win, then what?

MITCHELL:  Well, I think then what—then they say, we’ve won all the big states and we should be anointed.  But the delegate map runs counter to that.

TODD:  Right.

RUSSERT:  We’re going to come back and talk about that and a whole lot more.

We’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back.

All right, guys.  Michigan and Florida, you knew I’d get to it eventually.

I heard Hillary Clinton on Tuesday night ticking off all the states she won—I won Florida, I won Michigan. 

Well, did she?

TODD:  Well, she won some straw votes down there.  They held beauty contests in both states, and she got the most votes.  So that’s one way of looking at it.

But she’s getting no delegates out of it.

RUSSERT:  Why?

TODD:  Because of the rules.  The DNC punished Florida and Michigan and said, if your states violate the window for when you can hold a primary, you’re not going to get any delegates...

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  Did her campaign agree with that punishment?

TODD:  Well, Harold Ickes, who is now—I guess now the chief strategist on the Clinton campaign, according—Mark Penn might have a little something to say about that.  A very influential Rules and Bylaws Committee.  I’m one of those geeks that every once in a while goes to a Rules and Bylaws Committee.  And there are basically three people that run the Rules and Bylaws Committee: Harold Ickes, Donna Brazile, and the Fowler family—Don and Carol

RUSSERT:  From South Carolina.

TODD:  From South Carolina. 

And, you know, Harold Ickes always—you know, when he votes for something—and he voted to punish Florida and Michigan.  Now, he was reminded of that, and he said, but he wasn’t an agent of Clinton at the time and it’s a whole different story.

RUSSERT:  But Hillary Clinton, back in December, said, you know, the votes in Michigan don’t count.

TODD:  Don’t count, and she agreed to it.  She signed the pledge that all four early states—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada—asked the candidates, don’t campaign in those states.  She agreed to it.

The question is, what do you do?  I mean, the fact is, these delegates are sitting out there.  It appears the chairman of the Democratic National Committee is not going to be a leader in this thing.  So somebody else is going to have to step up.

I think the most interesting person to ask about Florida might be Al Gore.  And Al Gore is waiting to play a role.  And maybe he’s not ready to endorse between Obama and Clinton—I’m sure (ph) he would pick Obama over Clinton.  But maybe he will step in to say, wait a minute, guys, we are not going to have a—have a nomination fight somehow solved with shenanigans out of Florida.  And you could almost see that this would be a place he would be comfortable stepping in and saying, guys, let’s fix this Florida situation.

RUSSERT:  OK.  So here we are.  One of the suggestions is that the delegations from Michigan and Florida be seated, and they be divided 50-50 between Obama and Clinton.  That they would be seated, they could vote, but they’d have no impact on determining the nominee.

The other suggestion—and Howard Dean said this to Florida and Michigan—if you want to have a do-over, if you want to try this again, present me a plan and we’ll sanction it if it fits our guidelines.  The difficulty is it’s expensive.  Who’s going to pay for a primary and/or caucus in Michigan or Florida?

What happens, Andrea?

MITCHELL:  Well, the Republican governor of Florida is not going to pay for it, a Democratic primary do-over.  But, you know, it may be that they have to spend the money, that the national parties have to spend—the national party, rather, has to spend the money for a do-over to prevent (ph) bloody warfare on the floor of—they cannot go to the convention and have a credential fight over this.  They can’t, you know, start and end the Democratic convention with this being the storyline.

RUSSERT:  Both Clinton and Obama have raised lots of money.  Hillary Clinton, $35 million in the last—I think that’s in the month of February.  Obama probably $50 million.

Will the DNC say, hey, campaigns, give us $10 million each...

MITCHELL:  Ante up.

RUSSERT:  ... so we can sponsor primaries, caucuses in Michigan and Florida?

CILLIZZA:  I think that the thing that—yes, I tend to believe that there may well be a revote because of what Chuck touched on earlier.  We’re talking about, OK, Michigan, yes, but we’re talking about Florida, the epicenter of what Democrats—Democrats believe that voters were disenfranchised in 2000, that Al Gore won, that George Bush wound up being the president, and the next eight years are punishment for what happened—George W. Bush being president of the United States.

Can you imagine a scenario whereby Florida is in any way, shape or form seen as being disenfranchised by the Democratic Party, the party that, let’s count every vote, everyone’s voice needs to be heard, this symbolic—this is not, you know, Idaho or even California.  This is Florida.  This is the place where we spent—you know, you vote on the...

RUSSERT:  Three times.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  I think this is—this is 00 the symbolic sort of power of that within the Democratic Party I think is such that it would be almost impossible for them to do anything short of giving the voters in that state their say.  And that’s why I think a revote is probably the right thing.

RUSSERT:  OK.  So what happens if Michigan says, you know, we’re in this too.  We’re going to have a caucus.  We have a tradition of caucuses.  The Clinton campaign says, hold on, caucuses seem to skew to Obama.

MITCHELL:  They don’t like caucuses.

TODD:  Right.  Well, look, I do think though that this—Michigan—Michigan has got a problem because Obama’s name wasn’t on the ballot.  And you’ve got—I’ve talked to some Michigan Democrats.  I think you have too.  There’s a lot of pressure being exerted on the white Democrats of Michigan.

RUSSERT:  Yes.

TODD:  Jennifer Granholm, John Dingell, people like that, by the African-American Democrats who are saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, Obama’s name wasn’t even on the ballot.  We’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to have—there is going to be a revote in Michigan.  I would—I would be shocked if there wasn’t.

Florida is a different situation.  They sit there and say, hey, all the people on the ballot—and they also don’t have the money to do it.  They have no money.

RUSSERT:  But there was no campaigning.

TODD:  There may not be a worst state party in the country, by the way, then the Democrats down in Florida.

RUSSERT:  There was no campaigning other than a national cable TV buy by Obama which played...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Which bled into there, and here going down there, I think, for a...

RUSSERT:  Fundraiser.

TODD:  ... fundraiser toward the end.

CILLIZZA:  But remember that the Clinton campaign—the Clinton campaign privately had said if there is any way we can figure out a way to make Florida matter in a real substantive way in the lead-up to that primary, we’re going to.  They tried to make...

TODD:  Nobody at AFSCME sent real money down there.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  Right.  They tried to make that national cable TV ad buy a sign that Obama was secretly—but nobody bought it.  But it shows where the—Florida ranks in terms of the Clinton priorities.

MITCHELL:  I think the bottom line is that, looking towards the general election, Florida and Michigan cannot be dissed by the Democratic Party because they cannot risk, you know, blowing off these two states.  So they have to find a way to redo it.

TODD:  Well, and the thing is that what’s interesting is, is you actually have two different election strategies as far as Obama and Clinton are concerned.  Clinton has no path to the presidency without Florida and Michigan.  In fact, when I’ve talked to Clinton folks in the general, and they say—I’ll sit there and say, Florida and Ohio, you know, the two last two—and they’ll say, oh, no, no, no.  She can’t win Ohio, but she can win Florida.  You know, Florida is a very important state to the general election.

For Obama, he’s got other paths.  Michigan is important to him.  And I think that that’s why they want to figure out—Florida, at the end of the day, I don’t think he thinks he can beat McCain in Florida.  And I think that’s right.  And I think he’s right.  I don’t think he can, but he’s got other paths to the presidency.

RUSSERT:  Final question.  If they have do-overs in Michigan and Florida, and they end up 54-46, does it affect the elected delegate count?

TODD:  They might as well have done it 50-50.  I’ll tell you what’s going to happen.  I mean, he’s going to win 54-46 in Michigan, she’s going to win 54-46 in Florida.

RUSSERT:  It’s a wash.

TODD:  It will be the 50-50 wash anyway, a waste of $10 million.

RUSSERT:  We’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we’re back.

John McCain locked up his primary, embraced by George W. Bush on Wednesday at the White House.  Begins to raise money, unify his party, get some—a little kitty from the Republican National Committee.

The Democrats, Chris Cillizza, had hoped to define John McCain during April, May, June.  They’re going to be otherwise engaged going after each other.

CILLIZZA:  Well, you know what’s interesting?  Is I think that up until March 4th, this process on the Democratic side had been largely a good thing. 

Huge amounts of money, as you mentioned earlier, being raised.  Voter turnout beyond I think any expectations.  Enthusiasm, media coverage.

I’m not sure that after March 4th, the tipping point hasn’t been reached.  I think we’re looking—we mentioned this earlier.  I think we’re looking at a campaign that is going to be much more negative on both sides than it has been to date. The Clinton campaign has to feel as though their national security strategy was validated in Ohio and Texas. 

I think you’re going to see it tip from, well, this is all a good thing for the party, it’s party-building, primaries are good things, too.  John McCain is now unifying a party that he might have had trouble unifying if he had to worry about a Democratic candidate back and forth every single day.  He’s unifying it.  He’s raising money.  He’s doing all the things we should be doing.

Meanwhile, we’re headed for seven more weeks of savaging one another.  And as Chuck points out, after Pennsylvania, it’s—let’s go all the way to June 7th.  After the Puerto Rico caucus, there’s still not going to be a hard and fast resolution.  That is the most likely outcome.

Obama’s going to have a lead in the pledged delegates.  Senator Clinton, I cannot imagine, will have dropped out of the race.  And so there’s no obvious end to it.

John McCain, meanwhile, continues to run on national security, continues to raise money, continues to unify the party.  All of those things happening while we just don’t have any end to the storyline on the Democratic side.

RUSSERT:  Andrea Mitchell, when these young whippersnappers were still in their play box...

MITCHELL:  Don’t talk (ph) to me.

RUSSERT:  ... we were covering the MAD doctrine, Mutual Assured Destruction.  The Soviet Union, the United States, arming with nuclear weapons.

MITCHELL:  The Cold War.

RUSSERT:  The MAD doctrine—Mutual Assured Destruction.

How does this end?  If Obama goes to the convention and says, I have more elected delegates, I won more states and caucuses, I have accumulative more popular votes.  How can you possibly give her the nomination?

Hillary Clinton says, hold on.  He may have the math on his side, but I’ve won Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, New Jersey, all the big states that are so necessary for a Democrat to carry in the fall.  Plus, there’s a question mark about him and whether he’s ready.  I’m ready from day one.

What—how does this end?

MITCHELL:  Well, those are exactly the arguments that they’re making, and it has to end with some wise man—and maybe it’s Al Gore, who would be the only person to have, you know, the gravitas to say, wait a second, you are going to elect a Republican.  After everything the Democrats have complained about for eight years, which is worse?

RUSSERT:  All right.  So then they say, run as a ticket.  And Hillary Clinton will say...

MITCHELL:  And who’s on top?

RUSSERT:  ... you’re only 46 years old.  I can give you some training.  You can get some experience.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  ... this week.

RUSSERT:  And Barack Obama will say, wait a minute.  I want to be vice president with Bill Clinton in the White House?

MITCHELL:  Looking over my shoulder?

RUSSERT:  What will I possibly do?  And why should I be vice president?  I won more delegates.

MITCHELL:  See, it’s a game of chicken, because, in the end, he can say, I’ve got a movement, I’ve got all these new voters that are critical to the Democratic Party.  I’ve got people who will stay home.  Whereas, if I’m on the ticket, they’ll still come to...

RUSSERT:  And Clinton will say, really?  All those white women in Ohio, in other places are going to not stay home, or they’re not going to vote for John McCain if they think that you’re the nominee, Mr. Obama, rather than me?

MITCHELL:  Somebody has to blink and say, for the good of the party, I’ll step back.

TODD:  It’s two battles.  It is two—basically, Hillary Clinton is saying, I can win if this is a repeat of 2000, 2004.  I can get to 270 the way Al Gore and John Kerry can, basically using the same states.

Barack Obama is saying, I can build a new Democratic majority with Colorado, with Virginia, with the West, with maybe even the South again.  What is your future, DNC?  Which future do you want?

RUSSERT:  What a campaign.

Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Chris Cillizza, we’re going to have you back because this is not going to stop for sometime soon.

We’ll see you.

               

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