Political roundtable reflects on Democratic race

One day after Hillary Clinton exited the race for the White House, a team of NBC News correspondents gathered on "Meet the Press" to reflect on the Democratic primary season. Joined by Ron Allen, Lee Cowan, David Gregory, Andrea Mitchell, Kelly O'Donnell and Chuck Todd, NBC's Tim Russert navigated the political landscape as the group took a first bite at putting this year's high-pitched, fast-paced scramble for Democratic delegates in historical perspective.

The panel was in agreement; Sen. Barack Obama ran a disciplined, consistent and meticulously crafted campaign that the Clinton camp failed to anticipate. According to NBC's David Gregory, the tipping point was Iowa, when Obama stuck to his plan and didn't attack Clinton. That allowed momentum to build after his surprising victory in Iowa.

Sen. Clinton, the group agreed, was sidetracked in her bid by poor management, an inconsistent message, and a powerful husband who seemed oblivious to self-censoring at all the wrong moments. NBC Political Director Chuck Todd pinned the Clinton team's poor strategy on false assumptions. "The biggest myth was that the Clintons controlled the [Democratic Party] apparatus," he said.

According to Todd, the real acrimony at the heart of this battle was between Obama and Bill Clinton. "[Bill Clinton] believes he was turned into a racist and that the Obama campaign tarnished his image," Todd said. "There is [still] another secret meeting that has to take place, that’s between Obama and Bill Clinton, and I'm told that Bill Clinton is not over this yet."

Todd further suggested that it was the election of Howard Dean as DNC Chair, and the ascent of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi within the party who loosened the crack in the Clinton armor that Obama had pried open and ultimately slipped though.

Andrea Mitchell called Sen. Clinton's exit speech an audition for the vice presidential role, but the majority of the group agreed that it would be a difficult, and potentially crippling decision for Sen. Obama to bring the unpredictable Clintons into his camp, even with restrictions and oversight. "After all," Ron Allen noted, "even with her gracious concession and her apparent whole-hearted endorsement of her rival, in her heart, [Senator Clinton] still believes she should be the nominee."

The key for the Obama campaign, according to correspondent Lee Cowan, is finding a role for Sen. Clinton in the field, as the Democratic candidate cannot take the political risk of compromising the message of change that won him the nomination.

Turning to the November election, Chuck Todd displayed an ebulliently wonky side when Russert presented his detailed Electoral College map of the potential national outcome. Claiming that 26 states were in play for both candidates, Todd confessed that a potential third straight presidential election with a one-state decision is what [news directors] dream about, but a landslide is more likely.

Ron Allen concurred, predicting a landslide for either candidate, because they had such opposite opinions on key issues. Todd noted that both candidates won their party's nomination due to their stand on national security, but that with the economy faltering, the country is shifting its focus to domestic concerns. The first candidate that figures out how to talk to working-class voters about the economy, and feel their pain is going to win the election, Todd said, and neither one of them is good at it yet.

Russert seemed pleased to have such a seasoned table of insiders to hash out results with, but he tipped his hat to the real battle that lay ahead with his parting words to the group: "You've had an easy Sunday in a cushy studio. Now back out on the road!"