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'Meet the Press' transcript for Feb. 17, 2008

Transcript of the Feb. 17, 2008 broadcast of NBC's 'Meet the Press,' featuring  Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Margaret Carlson, Al Hunt, Bob Novak, Kate O'Beirne, Mark Shields

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: As Obama moves ahead of Clinton in the elected delegate count, the candidates exchange strong words on the campaign trail.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): Some people may think words are change, but you and I know better. Words are cheap.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): She's right. Speeches alone don't do anything. But you know what? Neither do negative attacks.

MR. RUSSERT: With us, for Barack Obama, his fellow Democratic senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin. For Hillary Clinton, her fellow Democratic senator from New York, Chuck Schumer. Durbin and Schumer square off.

Then we reunited the renowned "Capital Gang" for some insights and analysis on this extraordinary campaign. With us, Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News, Al Hunt of Bloomberg News, Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times, Kate O'Beirne of the National Review and Mark Shields of PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."

But first, this Tuesday it's Wisconsin and Hawaii, two weeks from Tuesday, Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont. Obama vs. Clinton. And joining us now, two senators each representing the candidates: Senator Chuck Schumer from Clinton's home state of New York, Senator Dick Durbin from Obama's home state of Illinois.

Gentlemen, welcome both.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Glad to be here, Tim.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Good to be with you.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Durbin, let me start with you. And Senator Schumer, please watch. Here are the latest polls from Wisconsin. It's Obama 47, Clinton 42. From Ohio, a week from Tuesday, right now is 55-34. And in Texas, 49-41. Senator Durbin, how do you see the race?

SEN. DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that we feel good about it. We've seen record turnouts in the Democratic primaries, and I think there's a, there's a feeling that Barack Obama's captured the imagination of millions of voters across America. That's good for the party and it's good for the country. We don't take anything for granted. We're ahead at this point in elected delegates. We're going to continue to work hard. But I think this message that Barack Obama has brought to the campaign is resonating. The people of this country want to see a change. They want to see this country move forward. And the fact that he's now attracting a lot of younger voters who've never participated, independents and even Republicans is an indication we can put a coalition together to not only win in November, but to govern and to solve some of the problems afterwards.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Schumer, are Texas and Ohio must-wins for Senator Clinton?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I don't know if they're must-wins, but they are very, very important, no question about it. As you've seen by the polls, she's doing well in those important states. And you know, Hillary Clinton, she knows how to get from point A to point B. She has experience, she has deep knowledge of how government works and she never gives up. And, you know, there are setbacks, there are ups and downs in this campaign; Obama ahead, Clinton ahead, Obama ahead. One thing's for sure, this campaign is going to twist and turn a whole lot of times, and I'd say to the voters, to everybody, I've seen it myself, don't count Hillary Clinton out because she is one fighter. She has tremendous knowledge, tremendous experience. And I think when you look at it--Barack is a great candidate, but Hillary, by her experience, is the better candidate and the better president.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Durbin mentioned elected delegates. Let's look at those. Right now it's 1116 for Obama, 985 for Clinton; a lead of 131. The superdelegates, it's now Obama 183, Clinton 257. These are elected officials and party officials. Last Sunday it was 174; Obama's gained nine in a week. Clinton was at 262, she's lost five. Some erosion from people who've switched sides.

Let's look at contests won and popular vote. Obama's won 21 states plus the District of Columbia and Virgin Islands, that's 23; Clinton 11. The popular vote, Obama 9.3 million, Clinton is 8.6 million. That's a cumulative figure.

Senator Schumer, if Barack Obama was ahead at the end of this primary season in elected delegates, states won and popular vote, should he be the nominee?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, you know, again, to predict what will happen after June 7, when there are going to be so many twists and turns, you need to know lots of details. Did he win the other states 60-40 or did he win them 50.1 to 49.9? Is the popular vote overwhelming or is it not?

Let me say this, Tim. This is a closely fought contest. It is going to twist and turn a whole bunch of times. And I think making a set rule now in February, when we have till June 7, when there are 19 states, many important ones--Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania--that haven't voted, when we know the way these campaigns work, there are twists and turns, doesn't make sense. Each candidate's fighting hard. It's a darn close election. I think Democrats believe that this is a very good election because we think there are two good candidates as opposed to, "Oh, we have to settle for somebody," and making a set rule now of any type--each candidate is going to proffer the rule that is in their best interests right now. But for the moment, let's let the primaries move forward and let's see where we are at the end of the day on June 7.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Durbin, if a candidate--either Clinton or Obama--happened to be ahead in elected delegates, states won, popular vote and the other candidate was given the nomination because of superdelegates, what would happen at the convention?

SEN. DURBIN: That'd be a serious problem. You know, the voters will have the last word in November. The elected delegates should have the last word in Denver. Those are the delegates who have stood before the voters. I'm one of those superdelegates, as is Chuck. There are almost 800 of us. We've been involved in this party and given a lot of our lives to it. But let's be very honest about this. The final word has to be decided by elected delegates. And I listened carefully to what Chuck had to say, and I can, I can perceive what the Clinton strategy is now: to use these superdelegates to try to overcome the vote of elected delegates. And that would be unfortunate. It may divide our party. And we ought to have the wisdom and judgment as superdelegates to want this party to be united coming out of Denver.

The last point I want to make is this: It isn't just a matter of winning as we go forward, it's the margin of victory that counts when you deal with proportional delegates. For example, New Jersey was a hard-fought state, but the end of the day, Senator Clinton prevailed. Kansas was a hard-fought state. At the end of the day, Barack Obama prevailed. Barack Obama netted more delegates out of Kansas than Hillary Clinton netted out of New Jersey, so the margin of victory's important. And in 14 states, Barack Obama's margin of victory has been over 20 points. It takes those margins to really move delegates.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, said to Bloomberg News, it would be a problem for the party if the verdict would be something different than the public has decided. Do you agree?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, let me say this. There are good arguments on each side. Nancy Pelosi,, have said basically what you've just quoted. Howard Dean and Jim Clyburn have said that the superdelegates ought to vote their conscience. And each has an argument there. I have another goal here--and I think Dick agrees, by what he said--and that is that at the end of the day, we don't have such an internecine battle that we lose the general election. Most Hillary supporters are strong for Hillary; most Barack supporters are strong for Barack. But I think most of us all feel winning that general election and making sure that there's not another four years of Bush-McCain is predominant. So having a set rule in sand when, of course, each candidate chooses the rule at the moment that is in their self-interest, makes no sense. We ought to let this play out.

And then--and I don't think that--and I'd have to say this to Dick--I don't think either candidate wants or can even get away with forcing their will down the throat of the other. At the end of the day, on June 5, for the sake of party unity--June 7--Howard Dean and the two candidates will have to get together if neither candidate has 2025, which is the margin that the rules require to win, and come up with a strategy. Each candidate will have to have buy into that strategy to determine who wins because if the loser and their supporters stalk away, then we will lose the general election. So, you know, this, this issue of how the superdelegates ought to vote, you know, this great epistemological, metaphysical issue, no one thought about it three months ago. To me, it is not a great moral issue. The great moral issue is defeating George Bush, John McCain, and coming up with a way that we can do--walk away from the convention unified. And neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama, I think, want to have an internecine fight where one side is so bitter that the other feels that they can't enthusiastically support the winner.

MR. RUSSERT: Besides superdelegates, another important issue is Florida and Michigan, and this is what happened. Back in August of '07, Howard Dean wrote this letter to all the candidates:

"As leader of the Democratic Party, I strongly urge you to adhere to the 2008 delegate selection rules. The 2008 Delegate Selection Rules. ... The 2008 Delegate Selection Rules adopted by the full DNC at its August 2006 meeting clearly provide that only four states - Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire," "South Carolina - may hold their respective contests prior to February 5, '08. The [Rules and Bylaws Committee's] finding of noncompliance included a 100 percent loss of pledged and unpledged delegates."

If you tried to move your primary up, you've lost all your delegates. Florida and Michigan did it, they lost all their delegates. The Clinton campaign put out this statement: "We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the" nomination "process." "We believe the DNC's rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role. Thus, we will be signing the pledge to adhere to the DNC approved nominating calendar."

That was the Clinton campaign in September. Here's the Clinton campaign in February. "With regard to Michigan and Florida, our position is clear. We're going to ask our delegates to vote to seat the delegations from Florida and Michigan. We do not think that" "many Americans should have" had "their votes and their voices and their preferences denied.

"We had an enormous turnout, particular in Florida, the largest turnout in the history of the Democratic primary in Florida. And we believe that it is critically important that those delegates have an opportunity to express their preferences at the convention.

"I don't believe that anyone seriously thinks we're going to have a national convention in which the delegations of Florida and Michigan are not going to have a say. So that is our position."

Senator Durbin, your reaction.

SEN. DURBIN: Well, Michigan and Florida are critical for victory in November. There's no doubt about it. And Barack has said at the end of the day there's going to be an aggressive campaign to win the votes for the presidency for the Democratic candidate in those two states. But just like the superdelegate issue, we have to look carefully at what's happening here. The superdelegates should not be in a position to trump the elected delegates in Denver, and I hope that the Clinton campaign is not arguing that we should abandon an agreement that was reached by all of the presidential candidates to abide by the Democratic National Committee rules. Neither Chuck nor I nor any elected official would want our fate determined in an election where a name isn't on the ballot and where we weren't allowed to campaign. That's Michigan. And, of course, in Florida, none of the candidates campaigned. So to say that the outcome of those elections, which Senator Clinton agreed would not be counted, will somehow be counted in Denver is to change the rules after the election. That isn't fair. We've got to find a fair way to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida that really keeps to the basic agreement that Senator Clinton, Senator Obama and all the Democratic candidates entered into.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Schumer, Senator Clinton said in October, "You know it's clear this election they're having in Michigan is not going to count for anything." Is that your position?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, no. Here's the bottom line once again, Tim. Each candidate, of course, takes the position that benefits them at the moment. Now on this one, popular vote, particularly in Florida where no one violated the rules, but Florida went ahead on its own and had an election and Hillary won. Now, Senator Obama naturally says don't seat Florida. Senator Clinton says...

MR. RUSSERT: Well...

SEN. SCHUMER: seat Florida. Let me just...

MR. RUSSERT: Wait a minute--wait a minute. Senator...


MR. RUSSERT: ...the Clinton campaign put out a statement saying they accepted the DNC rules. But...


MR. RUSSERT: So you're no longer accepting them?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, let me say this, Tim. The bottom line is, for Florida and Michigan, I believe it's much like the superdelegates. There's a great dispute here and it's not just Hillary Clinton. The senators from Michigan, Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, one of whom's endorsed, one of whom hasn't, says you must seat Michigan. The senator, the Democratic senator from Florida, says "You must seat Florida. Those are my voters, they should be paid attention to." Here's what we have to do. Same thing as the superdelegates. Should Florida and Michigan be--the hang--you know, hanging in the balance. And we get to June 7 and I don't think that'll happen, by the way. I think there's going to be a clear winner. I think it's going to be Hillary, but that's how these things work. Al Gore said it Sunday. But let's say we're not there. Then Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have to sit down and come up with a process that both sides buy into and both sides will abide by. You cannot--you cannot let these internecine battles create a war.

If they were to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates, the Barack Obama campaign would feel aggrieved and who knows what would happen in the general election. If they were not to seat them, the senators from Michigan and Florida would feel aggrieved, Hilary Clinton would feel aggrieved, again, we'd have a fight. We're going to have to--it's premature now to say we must do this. We have four months of an election, tens of millions of voters, and twists and turns in a campaign we don't know. But the overall rule, Tim, that has to govern here--and I think Dick would agree with this--my guess is in their heart of hearts Hillary and Barack both agree even though we're in the heat of a campaign, is to come up with a general way to solve this problem. It's unique, we haven't had this since I don't remember, I think 1956, where you haven't had a majority govern before the convention. But come up with a plan that each side can buy into and each side will abide by no matter who the ultimate winner is.

MR. RUSSERT: One of the plans being proposed is that there be caucuses in Michigan and Florida where both Obama and Clinton could compete. Would you support that?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, again, Barack has done better in caucuses, Hillary has done better in primaries. So I guess the, the Clinton campaign would say if we're going to have something, you have to have primaries. The problem there is Florida has a Republican governor and a Republican legislature, and they might not go in primaries.

Again, to say right now what should be done--I know, you know, this is the punditocracy loves this--it's premature and it's destructive for the Democratic Party where, you know, we have blown it before. We, you know, we thought we were going to win in 2000, we won the popular vote, we didn't have the president. We thought we were going to win in 2004. We are on the edge of victory here because Americans want change, and both Hillary and Barack represent change. To have these fights right now destroy the party, greatly weaken the party, makes no sense. Let's go through the election, let's go through the primaries through to June 7, I believe we'll have a clear winner. If we don't, you have to have not Chuck Schumer, not Dick Durbin, not some back room group, but Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama sit down and come up with a way to solve this that each can buy into before the winner is chosen.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Durbin, would you support a do-over, a new caucus or primary in Florida and Michigan, where the candidates could compete?

SEN. DURBIN: Well, we certainly don't accept these elections, because we agreed and Senator Clinton agreed that they wouldn't count. And so now to count them is fundamentally unfair and doesn't play by the rules that Senator Clinton and Senator Obama agreed to. Now, the states of Michigan and Florida as Chuck has described here have their own set of challenges. When I ask the senators from Michigan, could we do a caucus, they say no, we can't get that done. Well, they certainly are not going to have time to do a primary, I wouldn't think. So it really is a very difficult situation that's been created.

I do agree, and I think Senator Obama agrees with Chuck's premise. At the end of the day, we should follow the principle of fairness, we should stick by the rules that were agreed to, we should respect the voters who turned out in record numbers in these Democratic caucuses and primaries. If at the end of the day it appears in Denver that something happened in a back room by the elite or the big shots or those well connected, that isn't any good for the Democratic Party. And for those of us who want to change the course of this nation, like Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, we don't want that outcome in Denver.

SEN. SCHUMER: Here, here. We agree.

MR. RUSSERT: Gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Senator Schumer, Senator Durbin, you are roommates here in Washington?

SEN. DURBIN: That's true.

MR. RUSSERT: You are the "Odd Couple"?

SEN. DURBIN: That is really true.

MR. RUSSERT: Which one's Felix, which one's Oscar?

SEN. DURBIN: If you mean who makes their bed, that's me.

SEN. SCHUMER: He is the neat one, but Dick, I was at the house last night, you weren't there. I was lonely.

MR. RUSSERT: We're going to leave it there.

SEN. DURBIN: Did you make your bed?


MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, "The Capital Gang" is back, right here on MEET THE PRESS. Margaret Carlson, Al Hunt, Bob Novak, Kate O'Beirne, Mark Shields, together. The race for the White House 2008 through the eyes of "The Capital Gang."

MR. RUSSERT: "The Cap Gang" weighs in on Decision 2008 after this brief station break.


MR. RUSSERT: And we're back. Washington will never be the same. "The Capital Gang" is back. Let's watch this from Friday. Clinton in Ohio, Obama in Wisconsin.

(Videotape, Friday):

SEN. CLINTON: There's a big difference between speeches and solutions, between talk and action. I have the highest regard for my opponent. I just believe that if you were hiring a president, I would be the one you would hire for this job.

SEN. OBAMA: I've got 10-point plans all over my Web site. We have made specific proposals on everything. But what Senator Clinton doesn't understand is, none of that means anything if all we're doing is bickering and engaging in the same old partisan politics.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Bob Novak, is that the race in a nutshell?

MR. BOB NOVAK: That is it, and that is just about the most unattractive appeal that I think she could have made to try to save her failing candidacy. The people I talk to and the, who are close to her say that we've got to show that he's a left-winger, a government person, get the blue-collar voters out of Ohio in. She's not going to--she's not going to--she can't do that. It will backfire on her. So they have a terrific dilemma with this important Ohio primary coming up.

MR. RUSSERT: Kate O'Beirne, how do you see the race?

MS. KATE O'BEIRNE: Well, you can appreciate Hillary Clinton's enormous frustration. She is so deeply rooted in policy, has these well-thought-out positions, loves nothing better, and along comes a smooth-talking, aspirational, you know, it's all about hope and change, and she's enormously frustrated. But it's--he fits the public mood, you know? Hillary Clinton has always stood for sort of the bitter partisanship of the '90s, and I--his change election--people aren't demanding from him those details. They're not very far apart on policy. So the likeable, aspirational, hopeful candidate, I think trumps her policy prescriptions.

MR. RUSSERT: Margaret Carlson.

MS. MARGARET CARLSON: She has the daunting task of convincing the country that the guy they've fallen in love with is bad for them. She's like a scolding parent. And that's not an appealing road to have to take. She's tried everything, though. She's tried Hillary the fighter, Hillary the comeback kid who's found her voice, Hillary the vetted; "Vote for me because all the bad stuff is already out." These are not, you know, lift you up kinds of reasons for voting. And I think going forward she's going to have to get only more negative, and that makes it even harder going against a person who has hope and inspiration on his side.

MR. RUSSERT: Mark Shields.

MR. MARK SHIELDS: I think if there's one message, Tim, from this election and the voters, it's "Don't get ahead of ourselves. Hold on." I mean, after eight days, the first part of the year in New Hampshire, they said, "Hold on," when it looked like Obama was going to rush to the nomination. Nobody has gotten momentum yet out of victories, really, up till now. So I don't think this race--I think the race is far from over. I think she has certain things she has to do, Senator Clinton, and one is that he--his campaign, I think, has been accused, and legitimately so, of being long on theme and short on specifics. Not on Web site, but on the platform. Hers lacks theme. She has to make the case for her, rather than the case against him. She attempted, spent a lot of time, energy and effort trying to disqualify him earlier in the race; didn't have enough experience. It didn't work, obviously. She has to make the case. But she has to give people, in this year, as Kate said, when they're looking for hope and they're looking for inspiration, she has to give them some.


MR. AL HUNT: Tim, we did this show for 17 years. This is the first time we've all agreed on something. So we, we must be wrong.

Look, I, I do agree that she's not out yet. She's got maybe a 30 percent chance to win, that's not as good as 70. But she has to run the table, Tim. She has to win Ohio, she has to win Texas, she has to win Pennsylvania. There has to be some kind of a makeover caucus, primary in Michigan and Florida, she has to win those. And if she does all that, then it's a very competitive race. That's a tall order.

Now, let me say that if you're Barack Obama and you look at Ohio and Texas and you want to have a knockout, you have a very important and tough strategic decision. Where do you punch? Which place do you go? And there's great division within the--in the Obama camp on that right now.

MR. RUSSERT: What about Wisconsin? Does she have a chance for an upset in Wisconsin?

MR. HUNT: That would really begin a Hillary comeback if she were to upset Obama in Wisconsin.

MR. RUSSERT: Mark Shields.

MR. SHIELDS: I believe Wisconsin will be a lot closer than people--it's not going to be a Virginia, a Maryland, a blowout by any means. I think it's going to be close. Everything I know and have heard about that state, have learned, it is a, it is a close, competitive race. And let's be honest, I mean, the narrative of the race will change. If she narrows it and then wins Ohio and Texas, she is the comeback kid.

MR. RUSSERT: Bob Novak.

MR. NOVAK: One thing I think is clear, though, that she--that this will not be--go into the convention in Denver. Every Democrat I talk to says that is a disaster. You'd probably have credentials fights, you'd have fights over superdelegates. It'd be a good old-fashioned kind of convention that, that I would love.

MR. HUNT: You'd love.

MR. NOVAK: I'd love it. But, but it wouldn't be good for the Democrats. They--there will be some kind of a settlement made, who has the momentum. Right now, he has the momentum. But it could--it can change very easily because these people really don't, don't disagree, disagree on policies. This is the, the hero of the week.

MR. RUSSERT: But how would that work, if the race--if Obama wins Wisconsin and if Clinton wins Texas and Ohio but the margins are small, and Obama still has a lead amongst elected delegates, how do you arrange a deal?

MR. NOVAK: There has to be some kind of arrangement. Now, Howard Dean has, has offered to do it. I thought that was the joke of the week, that they would let him pick the candidate of the party. But there, but there has to be some kind of a--an avoidance of a collision. They, they outsmarted themselves by having the convention so late in, in--the Democrats did, in, in August, because they just--there's just no time. And all this--if they go all the way into Denver and John McCain has been crowned long before, he's brought back all the dissidents, I think that'd be a very untenable position for the Democrats.

MS. O'BEIRNE: I thought the conversation between Senator Schumer and Senator Durbin was so revealing. Senator Durbin made his arguments based on the merits: "It would be unfair to change the rules now. You ought to listen to the voters. This is a matter of basic fairness." And Senator Schumer arguing in favor, I guess, of superdelegates not going along, necessarily, with the popular vote or the, or the candidate with the most delegates. He talked all process, and I think it's because he doesn't have the merits on his side. I, I do not believe--I would be surprised if the superdelegates, who are largely politicians, thwart the will of the voters by doing anything other than, than rubber stamping, if you will, going along with the candidate with the greatest number of delegates than, than the largest popular--they're also politicians looking at the polls, and if Obama is leading McCain, I think they'll go with Obama.

MR. RUSSERT: Margaret.

MS. CARLSON: How you see Michigan and Florida and the superdelegates depends on who you're for. The superdelegates, Obama doesn't want to play by the rules as stated, although I doubt many voters understand the superdelegate rule, which is you do what you want and you're supposed to save the party from people who are insurgents. And on Michigan and Florida, he does want to play by the rules because the rules are clear, and there is--there are lots of statements of Clinton on the record saying, "Yes, Michigan and Florida don't count."

MR. SHIELDS: Not for the first time, Margaret Carlson is absolutely right. The Clinton people have the case for the superdelegates on their side. Up--they started after the 1980 campaign. There was an attempt to bring grown-ups in, to have somebody, Tim, who had a continuing interest in the party beyond a particular candidate or a particular campaign, beyond the passions of the moment, that had a lot longer view, that these people came in, that they didn't have to compete to get there. There was no sense that they were then to be an appendage and just reflect the vote return; they were there as independent actors. Now you want to change that, fine. I think as a practical matter, Kate is right, that if it's going to work wrath upon you if you do go against what is seen as a very popular decision.

MR. NOVAK: But the reliance on the superdelegates was a, was a part of the old Clinton plan of tying this thing up well in advance, that this wasn't going to be a contest, it was going to be decided by February 5, and this, and the superdelegates were just one small element in that old...


MR. NOVAK: ...that strategy, which has been a failed strategy.

MR. SHIELDS: Well, there are two...

MR. RUSSERT: Al Hunt, you wrote a column today which says it's peer review.

MR. HUNT: It is. And I think superdelegates are very good idea and I think they should be free to vote. Ted Kennedy should vote for Barack Obama if he wants to. John Lewis can decide which one he wants to vote for. I think Kate's right. If one candidate has clearly won, there's no way in the world these superdelegates are going to try to thwart the will of the majority. The only way they will matter if it's an absolute deadlock on June the 10th.

Florida and Michigan, it's a different story, Tim. That goes back to the questions you asked Senators Schumer and Durbin, what are the rules, what did everyone agree to? I did interview Nancy Pelosi, who is the chair of the convention, a far more important figure in this whole thing than Howard Dean, and she said it would just be wrong for those delegations to be dispositive, that that is--that would blow up the party if anyone tried to do that.

MR. RUSSERT: So what happens if Obama has the lead amongst elected delegates, but Clinton does very well in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and has the lead with the popular vote?

MR. HUNT: He comes in with 2,000 delegates and she has 1800 delegates, he'll be the nominee.

MR. RUSSERT: How about if he has a lead of 10?

MR. HUNT: Then I think it's up for grabs.

MR. RUSSERT: Anyone disagree?

MS. O'BEIRNE: I think he could have a lead of one and I think, I think the superdelegates would ratify what their--what Democrats who bothered to show up for caucuses and primaries did.

MR. NOVAK: I think there is such a resistance to deadlock at the convention that they're going to break in one direction or another.

MS. O'BEIRNE: Mm-hmm.

MR. NOVAK: And as somebody said, I think the idea that if Obama is ahead of Clinton--of McCain in the polls and she's behind, I think there'd be a rush to Obama.

MR. RUSSERT: So public polls will play a role?

MR. NOVAK: I think so, a big role.

MR. SHIELDS: As my precinct committee woman taught me 70 years ago, you know, a day is a lifetime in politics; a week is an eternity. I mean, we're talking right now in February for a convention that's going to be held the end of August. You know, what happens? What do we learn about either of them or their supporters? What does former President Bill Clinton do? What do we find out about Chicago politics? I mean, it, you know, all of those are going to be a dynamic in the decision, and I think that's the case that is made by many to wait for the superdelegates. I mean, they've all been courted, they've been wooed. That's fine, I think that's fair. But I think there is a virtue and a value to wait until all the evidence is in. They are jurors of a sort.

MR. RUSSERT: But Florida and Michigan you think is...

MR. SHIELDS: I think, I think if Hillary Clinton leads in the popular vote, I think her case is strengthened to going in. I mean, I think Obama has to win.

MS. CARLSON: For Florida and Michigan?

MR. SHIELDS: I'm sorry. Pardon me. If she wins Ohio and Texas and Pennsylvania, I think at that point, Tim, that there's an, there's an argument, can this guy win Democratic votes. I mean, Ohio being a perfect example. Can he win blue-collar, moderate-income Democrats?

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Bill Clinton. Mark, you raised him. Bill Clinton's been back on the campaign trail. This is what he said on Tuesday. "Well, I think she's been the underdog ever since Iowa. ... We've gotten plenty of delegates on a shoestring." And then this: "After February 5, we went through a dry spell because the caucuses aren't good for her. They disproportionately favor upper income voters who don't really need a president, but feel like they need a change."

MS. CARLSON: They all came in limos to the caucuses.

MR. SHIELDS: Yeah. All those rich people in North Dakota.


MR. SHIELDS: You been to Maine recently?

MS. CARLSON: Right. Yeah, yeah.

MR. NOVAK: You know, he, Bill Clinton, now that he's a millionaire, is even worse then he used to be.

MR. HUNT: But you like him more now that he's...

0R. NOVAK: No, it is--he is really almost a terrific embarrassment. I think they wish that he would just--he was supposed to be the great asset for her campaign. I think he's a terrific liability now.

MS. CARLSON: He was a great asset when he was behind the scenes. Once he came out after Iowa, he was given full rein because he--she lost Iowa, so, "Oh, my God, what are we going to do? Oh, well, let's put Bill Clinton out there." And it turned out to be a terrible error, because it reminded people of "The Clintons." Separately, they're a lot better than they are together, and he has been--he's done nothing but hamper the campaign.

MR. RUSSERT: But in Texas and Wisconsin he gets big crowds, Mark, as a surrogate.

MR. SHIELDS: He does--he does get--he gets big crowds everywhere he goes. But one of, one of the people in the Clinton campaign, rather high up, confessed to me when he was going through that terrible period where, in South Carolina, where he did the Jesse Jackson equation with Barack Obama, and it obviously hurt the campaign, said that the problem is Bill Clinton, seven years had been out of office and he's been--he's rusty. He's been given speeches for $250,000 to Bob's friends, the CEOs, and they're an uncritical group and they just kind of give him adulation. He's lost his political edge and his political skills and I think it's been apparent in this campaign. When he said the other day they'd been running the campaign on a shoestring, a shoestring, Tim, $140 million is a shoestring?

MR. NOVAK: Only...

MR. SHIELDS: Mike Huckabee's running on a shoestring.

MR. NOVAK: Mark Shields said one of the great lines that I have stolen, as I've stolen many of his lines when he--and it worries people, and because Bill Clinton in this--you know, in a Clinton administration, would not just be a first husband, he would be a major figure. And Mark's line was, "Think of Bill Clinton as the president's husband, all alone in the White House every day with nothing to do." Now that is something I think that worries people.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask about Hillary Clinton's observation back in December, and here it was. "I have a campaign that's poised and ready for the long term. We're competing everywhere through February 5. ... So I'm in it for the long run. It's not a very long run. It'll be" all "over by February 5." That was the plan of the campaign. The financing, the organization...

MS. O'BEIRNE: Absolutely. Sure.

MR. RUSSERT: ...Super Tuesday, and out.

MS. O'BEIRNE: Sure. Everything was in place. We don't even have to much worry about caucus states. You know, nobody's in a position to deny this to us. She looked so different by February 5 than she had as recently as December. I thought in the fall when she looked more formidable, she was running on her own. It looked more like her Senate race in 2000 when Bill Clinton was not much in evidence at all. And I couldn't agree more now that he's back on the scene, it's--I mean, the public's contemplating what now, 28 years of Bushes and Clintons? And to be reminded--the scandals. Already the media is wondering what has be been up to in his post-presidency? It is a, it is a major problem for her. He might draw big crowds, but at an enormous cost. You see how liberal elite opinion has turned on the Clintons now that they no longer have to defend them against Newt Gingrich or Ken Starr, a lot of his long suppressed antipathy is there.


MS. O'BEIRNE: It is a major--based on that quote, this is a major surprise to Hillary Clinton.

MS. CARLSON: I don't think we--I don't we remember gaffs by Senator Clinton other than maybe the driver's license, but there's a litany of them on behalf of Bill Clinton. Those are the ones we remember. That is not the kind of surrogate that's going to help you in the end.

MR. RUSSERT: Joe Klein made this observation, Albert Hunt. Let me see what you think of it. He writes this. "If nothing else, a presidential campaign tests a candidate's ability to think strategically and tactically and to manage a very complex organization. We have three plausible candidates remaining - Obama, Clinton and John McCain - and Obama has proven himself the best executive by far. Both the Clinton and the McCain campaigns have gone broke at crucial moments. So much for fiscal responsibility."

MR. HUNT: Oh, I think that's absolutely dead on, Tim. I mean, there's a wonderful piece by Josh Green in The Atlantic that talks about the total disarray of the Clinton campaign. The biggest enterprise that either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama have ever run in their entire lives are these campaigns. And you--one just looks at the result. Whoever wins, and I don't think it's a foregone conclusion, David Axelrod and company at that Obama campaign have run circles around the Clinton campaign. They weren't prepared for a protracted battle, they weren't, weren't prepared for a money fight, they weren't prepared for caucuses, they weren't prepared for a tough alternative. And what happened, Tim, every smart politician, every smart political strategist comes in with a game plan. But the really good ones are able to adjust. They're able to throw out some stuff, tweak some stuff, the Stu Spencers, the James Carvilles. These people couldn't adjust.

MR. NOVAK: Let me say what's wrong with Joe Klein's proposition. That this is--that this--we pick a president on the basis of the way they run their campaign. We also have something like, like issues. There are no issues in the, in the Clinton vs. Obama campaign. It's just stuff about who's got experience and who's not, who's change and who's not. But when you get into, say, McCain and Obama, then you get into the question of Obama being for high taxes, for big government, for protectionism, for--against the global economy. Then, then you get into, into real issues. There's no issues being discussed in, in, in, in, in Clinton vs. Obama. We haven't discussed any issues. It's, it's all, all this campaign images and imagery, nothing to do with what they really will do as, as to the kind of a, of a, of a, of a, of a regime they would put on the country.

MS. CARLSON: But on the issues, they don't differ that much. So going up against McCain, they aren't going to differ that much on the issue.

MR. NOVAK: But I was responding to the, to the, to the Klein proposition.

MS. CARLSON: Right. But, but on the moment, that's why, you know, she's campaigned on experience, and neither one of them have much experience, and senators never do.

MR. RUSSERT: The, the disarray in the campaign, The Wall Street Journal had this article about Mark Penn, the strategist, saying to Mandy Grunwald, the ad maker, "Your ad doesn't work. The execution's all wrong." Mandy responds, "Oh, it's always the ad, never the message." Guy Cecil, the political director, said, "I'm out of here."

MR. SHIELDS: "I'm out of here."

MR. RUSSERT: There, there seems to be real tension.

MR. SHIELDS: Well, I, I can say as a veteran of four losing presidential campaigns, the backbiting and second-guessing are endemic to losing campaigns. And, and the factions that are always present in any campaign become even more intense and more polarized. I don't, I don't think there's any question. That, that happens in, in every campaign.

MS. O'BEIRNE: I'm happy to say we avoid the backbiting, but we, in our business, do a whole lot of the second-guessing, too. In fairness to the Clinton campaign, had we had our end of season show in December, I think we also would have been viewing her as, as the favored candidate, maybe all but inevitable candidate.

MR. NOVAK: No, I wouldn't. No.

MS. O'BEIRNE: Bob wants this put on the tape.

MR. NOVAK: Don't speak for me. Don't speak for me, because I, I--on Bloomberg, I take a different position.

MR. SHIELDS: No, I mean...

MS. O'BEIRNE: It's so easy.

MR. HUNT: Wait, wait, wait, Kate. Let me just say, the reason I think that Josh Green piece, which I alluded to, to a minute ago is so important because what it--the point it makes is not just there's disarray, not just a campaign in trouble always has backbiting, but the, the decisions that were made of who to put where and why Senator Clinton chose various people.


MR. HUNT: Why she picked people for loyalty rather than for competence. And I think that's a far more important question, at least, than, than anecdotes about a losing campaign.

MR. SHIELDS: And we've seen that in this current administration, where loyalty is the transcendent virtue to look for.

Bob made the point to Tim about the differences between John McCain and the issues. But one of the interesting things is that John McCain, there's such agreement. I mean, global warming, John McCain's with the Democrats, and drilling at ANWR, John McCain's with the Democrats. That the government negotiate for better prices on the prescription drugs, John McCain's with the Democrats. On CAFE standards, John McCain's with the Democrats. So I don't know, Bob. I mean, maybe we will find some issue differences.

MR. NOVAK: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think you're acting like you're in your old role as a campaign flack instead of a, an honest journalist. Because there are, there are obviously huge differences. Whether you agree with him or not, there's a huge difference on Iraq, that's going to be a major debate. There's going to be huge difference on the, on the policy toward Iran. There's going to be a huge...

MR. RUSSERT: Wait. Mr. Novak, Mr. Novak, I read your Evans and Novak Political Report on Wednesday, and you seemed very pessimistic about the Republican chances. Let me, let me read it, we'll let the viewer decide here. This is what Novak wrote: "Amid the exciting windup of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and the mop-up of the Republican contest, the reality is that 2008 shapes up as a very bad year for the GOP. The fact that the Democratic turnout in [the] Virginia primary was double the Republican reflects the larger, more boisterous Democratic rallies from Iowa to the Potomac primaries. The pessimism and gloom in the business community is particularly pronounced.

"Adding to the dark mood among Republicans is the increasing prospect" they'll "not be able to bolster their morale by running against the detested" "Hillary Clinton" of New York. "Her unification of Republicans has been one of the few GOP assets going into the campaign." It'll "take time and effort to work up a passion against the likable" "Barack Obama" "no matter how leftist he really is."

MR. NOVAK: Now, those, those are...

Mr. HUNT: (Unintelligible)

MR. NOVAK: I wrote that. I wrote that, as a matter of fact. But...

MS. CARLSON: You had a deadline.

MR. NOVAK: No, no. No, no, no. It was exactly right. But, but I, I am saying there are policy differences. Now, that, that's, that's, that's the reason--there's two reasons why, why if you, if you go further into the newsletter, that there are...

Mr. HUNT: No, please.

MR. RUSSERT: Wait. I took it out of context?

MR. NOVAK: Yes, that's right.

MR. RUSSERT: I read three paragraphs!

MS. O'BEIRNE: Available by subscription, let's remind everybody that.

MR. NOVAK: There are, there are, there are, there are, there are, there are two reasons why this could be a, a competitive contest. One thing is John McCain, as I have said many times, is the only Republican with a chance to win the election this year. And, and the, and the, all the, the conservatives who are fighting him were riding against their own interests.

Second place is I disagreed with Mark, and I think he knows, there will be considerable policy differences. Before you interrupted me, I was going to say the big differences on trade and taxes, which are very, very important for the--for the country.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, Kate O'Beirne is not waffling. This is the cover of the National View. This is her article right here. "Please Nominate This Woman--This Couple" by Kate O'Beirne. That's who you want.

MS. O'BEIRNE: Absolutely. As you talk to Republicans, I think--I think Bobby put it on that, too, they look across this bleak landscape for them. If you knew nothing else, you'd recognize it's extremely difficult for a party to win that White House a third consecutive time. And then you pile on top of it, an unpopular president, an unpopular war, the enormous advantage Democrats have on the issues, the party identification numbers look terrible for them. And they keep talking, "Oh, Hillary Clinton, maybe she can--even she would have to be favored, I think, in this climate, but maybe she can bail us out."

MR. RUSSERT: John McCain has been trying to unite the Republican Party. Here's Thursday, Mitt Romney's endorsement of John McCain up in Boston, not particular close body language, but nonetheless he said the right words.


MR. RUSSERT: It reminded us of 2000. This was the John McCain endorsement of George Bush. Not very happy there. But 2004, a much different story. There's the hug, and even the kiss here. These are people who obviously...

MS. O'BEIRNE: They later bonded.


MR. RUSSERT: Bonded. Tomorrow, we expect this endorsement, John McCain with Bush 41 down in--there's an endorsement coming from George Herbert Walker Bush, which leads us to this poll in Texas. Right now, John McCain, 45; Mike Huckabee, 41. What does that tell us?

MS. O'BEIRNE: This is not...


MS. O'BEIRNE: This is not helpful. I think bad for the Republicans now. I think Mike Huckabee has become sort of a repository for people who are uncomfortable, Republicans, with John McCain, unhappy with John McCain. And it's just not, it's not helpful to have this go on as a proxy for that kind of discontent. John McCain's going to be the nominee, and it's crucial that he enthuse and unify Republicans.

MR. NOVAK: And...

MS. CARLSON: But there's nothing that can unify the Republicans except Hillary Clinton. And could two people be more further apart while shaking hands than Romney and McCain? There is not going to be a coming--a great coming "Kumbaya" moment for Republicans. It's not going to happen.

MR. NOVAK: Huckabee serves no useful purpose except to boost up his lecture fees, which is the way he makes a, makes a living. And Huckabee...

MR. SHIELDS: Do you oppose that?

MR. NOVAK: Not at all. But I'm not running for president. Huckabee...

MR. SHIELDS: Thank God.

MS. O'BEIRNE: (Unintelligible)...competition, Bob.

MR. NOVAK: Huckabee is the, is the--is getting votes from people who are, who are unhappy with the McCain choice, unhappy with his positions that--on several issues. And McCain is a high-tax, protectionist person who in the Southern Baptist Conference was a...

MS. O'BEIRNE: Oh, Huckabee is.

MS. CARLSON: Huckabee.

MR. NOVAK: Huckabee is, I'm sorry, high-tax protectionist who, in the Southern Baptist Conference was allied with the left-wing forces.

MR. RUSSERT: So he won't be vice president?

MR. NOVAK: Absolutely not.

MR. RUSSERT: Who will McCain take, Bob?

MR. NOVAK: They don't have any idea, but I'll make a prediction that it will be somebody that will really not be on the A-list. And I have some, I have some possibilities.

MR. RUSSERT: Give us one.

MR. NOVAK: One would be former Congressman, former special trade, U.S. trade representative, former budget director Rob Portman. I think he would be an excellent...

MR. RUSSERT: From Ohio.

MR. NOVAK: From Ohio. Another one would be a younger congressman, ranking Republican on the Budget Committee and a tax cutter, Paul Ryan. Somebody like that who would, who would be younger than McCain, which isn't hard to find, and, and somebody who would be much more regular on taxes than McCain has been.

MR. RUSSERT: Let's go around the table. Quick guess. John McCain's VP.

MS. O'BEIRNE: Younger, outside Washington, with experience in economic and domestic policy issues. Maybe Rob Portman, maybe Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina or Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.

MR. SHIELDS: Got to be worried about John McCain-Fred Thompson. You don't need two grumpy old white men on the--on the ticket. So I think Kate is right. I think I'd consider gender. I'd think about a woman. Kay Bailey Hutchison has been mentioned. I know there's resistance to her, but from Texas. I think Mel Martinez, if he can find his baptismal certificate that he was born in Miami instead of Havana, I think, you know, a Latino would make sense. But I think--I'd probably bet on Pawlenty at this point.

MR. RUSSERT: Margaret.

MS. CARLSON: I think John McCain needs somebody younger, of course, but who's created a job and who's had executive experience, and so it argues for a governor. Could be Governor Crist, who's at about 70 percent in Florida, and delivered Florida to him, or I agree, Sanford, who's young, cheerful, and would...

MR. NOVAK: Cheerful?

MS. CARLSON: I think he--well, compared to you, compared to you and John McCain.

MR. NOVAK: I'm a Sanford fan, but nobody's ever called him cheerful.

MR. RUSSERT: Albert Hunt.

MR. HUNT: I agree with Kate. I think it's either Sanford or Pawlenty.

MR. RUSSERT: OK. Democrats. Obama, Clinton, who's the nominee?

MS. O'BEIRNE: I think Barack Obama has a better chance of being on this ticket than Hillary Clinton does. I just can't figure out what spot he might be in, Tim. At the moment, and these polls have not hold--held up two weeks, never mind--I mean, two days, never mind two weeks. I, I would--I think Barack Obama is now favored.


MR. SHIELDS: I think predicted that President Kerry would not seek a second term, my prophetic credentials are pretty tarnished. I'd say right now, betting, I think Obama is the favorite to, to win this nomination. But I wouldn't, I wouldn't bet your ranch.

MR. RUSSERT: Margaret.

MS. CARLSON: You know, Elvis never left the building. You just cannot count the Clintons out. They're such fighters. But the curve is like this for Obama and it's just flat for Clinton. So at the moment you'd say all, all the excitement, all the hope is with Obama.

MR. NOVAK: This is not going to be decided on who has the delegates at all these delegate counts, and counting superdelegates. It's going to be who has the momentum, and I think Obama will have the momentum.


MR. HUNT: Tim, I said earlier that she has to run the table. If she does that, she could win it, but that's the--there's no margin for error. You have to go with Obama right now.


MR. SHIELDS: Tim, just one point about Hillary Clinton. I can remember in 1980 the Republicans want to run against her so badly--1980, every Democrat's hope with Jimmy Carter in big trouble was that the Republicans would nominate this guy with prematurely red hair, orange hair, out of Hollywood. Not nominate George Bush, not nominate John Connally, not nominate Howard Barker who could beat Carter but who could beat him. The last thing I recall, he won 44 of the 50 states. You got to be careful what you wish for in this business.

MR. RUSSERT: That is the last word. We're going to continue on our Web site. We're going to talk about Obama's VP choice, and also the outrage of the campaign. We got to get to the outrage. "Capital Gang," it was great to have you back. And more of "The Capital Gang," their predictions coming up,, our MEET THE PRESS Take Two Web extra. That'll be on our Web site this afternoon, We'll be right back.


MR. RUSSERT: That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it is MEET THE PRESS.