Video: Analyzing the next step for Democrats

updated 2/4/2004 8:37:10 AM ET 2004-02-04T13:37:10

NBC’s Washington Bureau Chief and moderator of Meet the Press looks at the results and importance of Tuesday’s seven primaries and caucuses.

MSNBC:  Tim, we can talk about the candidacy of John Edwards and how well he did in South Carolina and Oklahoma or John Kerry who did very well just about everywhere else. Then there's Howard Dean who did not do very well. What do you think happens from here?

Russert:  This Thursday, organized labor -- the Service Employees Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- are going to sit down with Howard Dean and say, “Howard, you haven't won a primary yet and we are rethinking our support.” The AFL-CIO wants to endorse John Kerry. They want to bring an end to this primary race and focus on George Bush. The argument made to Dean will be, “You got into this race to defeat George Bush and you were brilliant at defining the issues: the tax cut, the war and reading the anger towards the president amongst the activists core base.  But your involvement now could detract from that mission.”

Whether Dean listens or not is a whole different deal. He's raising a million a week from the Internet. He can keep his airplane afloat from city to city. Can't spend much on TV but he seems angry and determined to continue forward. I think he really believes the nomination was his. That he almost had it won and now it was taken away and he has to go through a couple phases before he resigns himself to the fact he can't be nominated.

MSNBC:  At this point in the race, how important to Senator John Kerry is getting that late change in labor support? If you look at what John Edwards did in South Carolina, he seems to have done well in part by appealing to independent voters.

Russert:  Yeah, the American Federation of Teachers is going to endorse John Kerry Wednesday. And look for more unions to join that as well as governors, senators, congressmen and the establishment of the Democratic Party.  John Kerry wants to go to Tennessee and Virginia -- bypass Washington State, Michigan and Maine this weekend. John Edwards wants to beat Kerry in Tennessee and Virginia and then also go to Wisconsin. And if he can get Kerry one-on-one in Wisconsin and then go to California, New York and so forth.

MSNBC:  And he becomes the anti-establishment candidate then?

Russert:  That's exactly what he's hoping for. Someone wants to be the alternative to the front-runner. First it was Dean, now it's Edwards. 

MSNBC:  John Edwards has been very nice to John Kerry until this last week or last couple of days.  Now he’s been attacking John Kerry. Everybody in Washington thinks, “Oh, it's a marriage made in heaven -- Kerry and Edwards. But can it be if this continues and Edwards really wants to continue and take it on?

Russert:  Well, it's profound change in John Edwards’ strategy. In Iowa and New Hampshire he threaded the needle by saying, “All the negativity's on my side. I'm the positive choice, the man who speaks of optimism.” When he attacked John Kerry for voting for NAFTA and being in Washington too long and raising money for lobbyists, John Kerry responded, “This is not a time for on the job training.”  That's the kind of quote Kerry made of Edwards that can come back to haunt that team if Kerry decides to pick Edwards to be vice president. But we're a long way from that.

MSNBC:  In Oklahoma, it was a very close race between John Edwards and Wesley Clark. You could almost hear Kerry supporters saying, “Come on, General, finish first.”

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Russert:  A week from now, in Tennessee and Virginia, Kerry wants two sons of the south. Kerry's strategy, win Michigan, split the vote next week with a mixed decision and win this nomination in Wisconsin. 

MSNBC:  Obviously Tuesday was a big night for John Kerry, but John Edwards demonstrated that he can also get Democratic voters. He did it in Iowa, didn't do well in New Hampshire, went south of the Mason-Dixon line and South Carolina, goes to the southwest. He has grown with every week in the presidential campaign. John Kerry has got to be looking a little bit over his shoulder at this point.

Russert:  Every time John Kerry looks like he is going to lock this up, John Edwards emerges and says, "Not so fast." In Iowa He was right on Kerry’s heels.  Tuesday he had a decisive win in South Carolina and ran a very competitive race in Oklahoma.  He is a very good campaigner.  He has a solid week to go to Tennessee and Virginia and draw the limelight.

The interesting thing is now John Kerry is saying, “Wait a minute.  Not so fast. We are not going to go just to Tennessee and Virginia; we are going to other stops this weekend. We are going to Michigan where there're 150 delegates and Washington State where there're 100 delegates and Maine with 35 delegates.

People talk about this being a delegate fight, Kerry is winning decisively in delegate states, including the ones he sees this weekend. John Kerry may pay Wed Clark’s way to Tennessee and Virginia to keep Clark in that race, so you have Clark, Kerry and Dean and Edwards all dividing that vote.  Then go on to Wisconsin and then on to Super Tuesday. If Kerry can keep the opposition at three or four opponents as opposed to just one, he can close this down quickly.

MSNBC:  We should talk about some of the other candidates who have been in the race up to this point. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said if you don't win by Tuesday, somewhere, think about getting out of the race.  Al Sharpton put all his chips in South Carolina which has fully half the Democratic voters are African American. Al Sharpton got 9% of the vote down there.  Dennis Kucinich has not shown up anywhere so far.

Russert:  I don't think they will get out of the race. I think Al Sharpton wants to take this to the convention. He cares about his issue, mission, message.  He wants a role to play in the party. He lives off of the land -- he lives well off the land, I might add. It's in his interest to continue to be a presidential candidate.

MSNBC:  Joe Lieberman bowed out of the race. He was the vice presidential candidate four years ago and thought he could run as the centrist, indeed, conservative Democrat, especially on family values.

Russert:  Joe Lieberman wanted to get out before it went to Connecticut. His views happen to be out of sync with the liberal primary democratic voter.  We have seen that.  He went 0-7

MSNBC: The political operation of the White House is watching all this, as they have been every week thus far. When do they begin to start really identifying John Kerry in their terms?

Russert:  Ed Gillespie has been out all week trying to do that, talking about the record on national defense.  They believe Kerry will emerge as nominee.  They originally thought Dean would. Now they are focusing all their attention on John Kerry.

MSNBC:  All in all then, what are we hearing in all these Democratic primaries, beginning with Iowa?

Russert:  They oppose the war. They think the economy's in bad shape by a margin of 80 percent and over 80 percent say they're angry or dissatisfied with President Bush.

The one interesting thing that's been so striking to me is the way the Democratic Party has united. And, at the polls, if you ask about the war, every state -- Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina; north, south, east and west  –- there is overwhelming opposition to the war. When it comes to the economy, in Oklahoma, Missouri and South Carolina, over 70% say the economy is not good. And there’s anger and dissatisfaction with George W. Bush.

These are Democrats, granted, and they're supposed not like the incumbent presidents of a different party, but you can almost feel how this party has coalesced around the mission of defeating George W. Bush.  Not since the Republicans were united against Bill Clinton have we seen this phenomenon. 

The Democrats are extraordinary united.  They are putting electability far above anything else.  It speaks well for them in November.


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