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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Thursday, September 25, 2003; 2:00 PM

How does Wesley Clark's run for the presidency change things? Who will his candidacy hurt most? Will the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to delay the California recall stand?

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took his Talking Points column live to discuss the latest political news.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Terry Neal: Hello everyone. Good to be back...I'll only have about 30 minutes today, unfortunately, because I'm in NY preparing to attend the Democratic debate tonight. So let's get it started!

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Palm Bay, Fla.: Wes Clark's announcement has energized Democratic voters and your column has stuck responsibly to analyzing his real-world chances of success. But, regardless of the nominee, doesn't the real issue in next year's election revolve around Democrats reinventing themselves as a party, getting out the vote and mobilizing people, like the Republican Party has done pretty successfully since the mid-1990s?

washingtonpost.com: The General Takes the Field (Post, Sept. 25)

Terry Neal:
Thank you for that very astute question. I don't know to what extent the Democrats are going to need to reinvent themselves. In fact, it seems that all of the energy in the party is coming from old school-types who want to see the party return to its more traditional roots. But you make a real good point about the mobilizing. You know, the GOP has always had a money advantage, but Dems have been able to neutralize that advantage with a superior ground game. The GOP really outdid the Dems at their own game--grassroots mobilizing--in 2002. The Republicans have essentially caught up to the Democrats in terms of the ground war. And that had disastrous results for the Democrats in 2002. The DNC has been openly acknowledged the problem and promised to correct it next year. Only time will tell.

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Washington, D.C.: I wanted to pose a question about polling conducted within a campaign. I'm a big fan of John Edwards, and his camp released an "internal" poll this morning noting that he has jumped to a ten-point lead in South Carolina (noted in the Raleigh News and Observer). I, personally, am delighted by the news, but should I be more skeptical of a poll conducted by members of the Edwards campaign as compared to a poll conducted by an independent organization? Thanks so much!

Terry Neal: Well, I would say as a general principle, yes. Always approach campaign polls with a little extra skeptism. I'm no expert on polling, but you want to looking at the timing of the poll (did it go up right after some huge ad buy), what's the sample size, was it geographically dispersed, etc. Having said that, it's likely that the Edwards poll is just fine. The thing that gets me about campaign polls, is that they only release them--obviously--when the results favor the candidate. I believe--and I could be wrong, because I'm not sure off the top of my head--that he has spent more money than any of the other candidates advertising in S.C., which could explain some of his jump. But the other candidates will soon start pouring money into the state as well. What will be interesting to see is whether Edwards can hold that lead.

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Dayton, Ohio: Hi Mr. Neal,

Many thanks for the excellent columns over the years. I guess Im perplexed as to the meteoric rise of Clark. I know he performs well in the polls but isn't that because the Democratic establishment has unofficially selected him? Most voters have never heard of him, whereas people like Lieberman, Edwards or Dean have much more name recognition so the momentum behind Clark is really the political elite, not the average Joe.

However, I think his candidacy is interesting considering that he can neutralize Bush on the national security issue, which is a rare avis for Democrats.

Terry Neal: You're correct in one sense. Clark is not the most familiar public figure in the race. But he's got the killer resume. And many people know at least the broadstrokes, most importantly that he was a general. But resume's don't win elections. So we'll have to see how he performs, starting tonight at the debate on the economy in NYC.
On another subject, I'm not so sure the momentum behind Clark is from the political "elite." But I guess that depends on how you define it. Much has been written, for instance, that most of Howard Dean's support comes from the white, affluent, intellectual elite. I think Clark may share some of that base with Dean. But I think to say taht neither have the support of the Average Joe might be premature. We'll see.

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Alexandria, Va.: Any thoughts as to why Bill Clinton was so supportive and encouraging Clark to run, when Clinton effectively fired him as Supreme Commander of NATO when he was President?

Terry Neal: Great question. Some of this is still a little mysterious. But this much we know, while the two men have never been personally close, they are from the same state, they're both said to be extremely intelligent, both were Rhodes Scholars, etc. The Clintons have denied playing the role of kingmaker, but it's impossible to ignore the fact that so many former Clinton/Gore hands--Eli Segal, Mickey Kantor, Ron Klain, Mark Fabiani--have glommed onto the Clark campaign in one way or another. I think a lot of people are assuming that, nunber one, the Clintons aren't weren't completely satisfied with the field, and number two, they are enamored of the idea of having a southern, Arkansas guy with a military background on the ticket.

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Arlington, Va.: Is Howard Dean's approach of staying above the fray going to help him in the long run?

Terry Neal: Pardon? Dean above the fray? Perhaps you jest...
No, what Dean's supporters like about him is his bluntness, his willingness to throw body blows. For instance, he said he wasn't going to criticize Clark for flipflopping on whether he would have voted for the war in Iraq, only to change his mind and go at at Clark later in the same day. Howard Dean is a fighter. If he's staying above the fray, I missed that.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Does General Clark have a special appeal to the African-American community similar to Bill Clinton? I notice that Congressman Charles Rangel is supporting Clark without having ever met him personally, according to a news report. What's your take on who will get the majority of the African-American vote?

Terry Neal: It is often said that black voters are very pragmatic when it comes to supporting candidates in Democratic primaries. In other words, black voters line up behind who they believe will be the strongest candidate in the general. But this year, with no clear frontrunner, and several candidates potentially attractive to black voters, it's difficult to say what will happen. The thing about Clark is that so little is known about his domestic policies at this point, it's tough to say whether other black voters will agree with Rangel. But we will know this answer sooner than we normally would, now that the DC primary has been moved up, giving black voters an unprecedented early roll in picking a nominee. I think as we get closer to the DC primary date, you're going to see the candidates really start to take it a little more seriously.

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Terry Neal: I know this is abbreviated, but I really have to run. Sorry about that. Thanks to all for the great questions. And I'll chat with you next week.

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