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Painful period for Clinton campaign

NBC  News’ Washington bureau chief and host of "Meet the Press" discusses Hillary Clinton's decision to stay in the Democratic presidential race and the difficulties of an Obama-Clinton ticket.
/ Source: NBC News

Msnbc: Tim, the tide appears to be turning with more of the superdelegates moving from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama.  As of Tuesday night’s primaries you’ve been saying the Democratic race has been decided.

Tim Russert:  I talked to a lot of active Clinton supporters and I asked them what they thought. Based on my reporting, what I learned was I could not find an objective Democrat who did not think the race was over – that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee.

Msnbc: There’s a story of Hillary Clinton asking superdelegates to quietly support here so they won’t face public scrutiny.  Is she really getting anyone to do that or is it just a way to explain the lack of reports of people switching to her?

Russert:  I think it’s a painful period for the Clinton campaign. She has fought a very energetic race, but the math just isn’t there. If you add up all the elected delegates that are still to be won and the undeclared superdelegates, she would have to win 70 percent of those and no one has done that in 48 contests.

If you just take the elected delegates, she’d have to win 88 percent of them and no one has come close to doing that.

It’s just a difficult process to go through, but again, people who support her and like her are telling me – they won’t do it on the record – “We know it’s over. It’s just finding the best way to end it.”

Msnbc: Earlier this week, referring to Barack Obama and the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Hillary Clinton said, “Whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me and in independents I was running even with him and doing even better with Democratic-leaning independents I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.”

Is she playing the race card?

Russert: It is interesting.  One undeclared superdelegate from North Carolina said it was driving a wedge between the races in the party.

There are two ways to look at this.  One is, obviously, Barack Obama is going to need a higher percentage of the white vote against John McCain than he’s been getting against Hillary Clinton.  But if Hillary Clinton was the nominee, she would to need to win African Americans 90 to 10 in order to carry states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

The interesting thing is if she’d had gotten 30 percent of the black vote in North Carolina, she would have carried the state.

It’s unusual for a candidate to be using words like “whites.”  It’s something we don’t often hear and something obviously at least one undeclared superdelegate took offense to.

Msnbc:  Harold Ford and other Democrats are saying they’d love to see and are doing everything they can to encourage a ticket that is Obama-Clinton.  Is that realistic?

Russert:  Most campaign strategists I talk to think it would be difficult, because of the intensity of the campaign.  Now, other candidates have overcome that – John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan and former President George Bush.

But look at the Electoral College map.  If Barack Obama becomes the official nominee, he wants to win states like Colorado and Virginia and North Carolina because states like Florida and Ohio have been elusive for the Democrats.  So the question is would Clinton’s presence on the ticket help him in those kind of swing states?  Many Democrats have told me it might make it more difficult.

But you never know in politics and obviously that’s going to be the next phase of the story once the nomination is officially wrapped up.

Msnbc:  There’re been some questions as to the effectiveness of Howard Dean as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.  You’ve got a couple of former DNC chairmen on Meet the Press Sunday.

Russert: I do.  Sen. Chris Dodd, a former DNC chairman who supports Barack Obama and Terry McAuliffe who supports Hillary Clinton.  We’re going to discuss the state of the race and just what’s in the best interest of the Democratic Party as Hillary Clinton decides to soldier on.

Does she continue on?  Should she continue on?  What does it mean for the long-term unity of the Democratic Party?  We’ll also discuss Clinton’s comments about her support from white voters.

All Sunday morning, on Meet the Press.