Post Politics Hour

Michael Shear
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Wednesday, February 13, 2008; 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post national political reporter Michael Shear was online Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Michael Shear: Good morning, everyone. Another day, another election. (My ninth of the 2008 presidential cycle, if anyone is counting). Fascinating stuff last night, especially for those of us who have paid close attention to the Washington region for years.

Toss out your questions, comments, complaints, etc., and we'll have a go at 'em.


Virginia: Confession time! I was one of those mainly-votes-Republican Virginians who crossed over to vote for Obama. The thought of Sen. Clinton as president is unacceptable to me. In November I will vote for McCain, but would rather have Obama as president if McCain loses. In your opinion how common was this crossover dynamic in the Potomac Primaries, and how will it play out in such states as Texas? In Virginia, Results Signal A State in Play for November (Post, Feb. 13)

Michael Shear: Why don't we start here. It's a great question about the crossover votes -- Republicans voting in a Democratic primary -- because it doesn't happen that often.

People who identify with one party rarely vote in the other one. I remember Democrats voted in a Virginia Republican primary on behalf of GOP Sen. John Warner, but that's the exception, not the rule.

We'll probably get better information as time goes on, but it appears that a huge number of Republicans did indeed vote in the Democratic primary -- and most of them for Obama, perhaps for the reasons stated here.

The most dramatic statistic of the night was the turnout: Democratic turnout increased more than 100 percent in Virginia and was double the GOP turnout.


Newport News, Va.: What impressed me about the primary here is the sheer number of Democratic vote totals as opposed to the Republican totals. This cannot bode well for republicans in the fall.

Michael Shear: See my note above. And yes, I would think Republicans are worried about this. But keep in mind the following: Republicans may not have been motivated to turn out for a race that many people thought was over. If Romney was still a viable candidate and he was seriously challenging McCain, we might have seen more enthusiasm among GOP voters.


Atlanta: I have a real beef with the media! I'm in Georgia, and I voted for Huckabee -- and only because he's for the FairTax. That's why he won this state. Not because of the conservative thing that the media keeps telling us, not because of anything else (do you really think anyone here really thinks he'll win the nomination?). It seems to be a combination of the media for whatever reason not wanting to talk about the FairTax and their bias against the South. I'm so tired of it...

Michael Shear: Hi, Atlanta.

It's true that there are many folks out there who admire Huckabee because of his support for the FairTax (essentially a plan to replace the income tax and other taxes with a modified national sales tax), but we in the media are not simply pulling the discussion about conservative voters out of thin air. We base this reporting on exit polls -- essentially what voters are telling us after they vote.

Those exit polls couldn't be clearer: Among voters who call themselves conservative in Virginia, Huckabee won by a very large margin. So, there's some real information backing up the reporting (not, as you state, a bias against the FairTax or the South).


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Michael -- thank you for taking my question. I may be dreaming here, but is there any chance that Hillary, seeing the writing on the wall and wanting to foster party unity, may bow out sooner rather than later? Is there any pressure for that to happen, or are we a long way from that?

Michael Shear: I think that won't happen quite yet. (Though I'm terrible at predicting these things, so it's possible she could even bow out during this chat.)

Her campaign has said for days now that they see the primaries in Texas and Ohio on March 4 as her next opportunity to slow the Obama momentum and regain their footing. From there, they look to Pennsylvania as another good opportunity.

I believe polls as late as yesterday showed her leading in those three states, though not by a huge margin. And those polls almost certainly will tighten after Obama's performance yesterday.

I would suspect, given Sen. Clinton's reputed tenacity, that she at least will wait to see what happens on March 4 before making any decisions. If she loses in either of those states -- but certainly if she loses both -- I would set your TiVoes for your favorite news channel. Who knows what could happen...


Roseland, N.J.: Where does the Gilchrest race stand right now? Are we headed for a contested result? Capitol Briefing: Web Activism Defeats Gilchrest and Wynn (, Feb. 13)

Michael Shear: I must say I haven't covered this race. But here's a link to our story on the Web.


Vienna, Va.: I heard that even if Obama wins every remaining state 55-45, he still wouldn't have enough pledged delegates to win without more superdelegates. How far ahead would he need to get for Hillary's superdelegates to bail out? Surely if he keeps winning, the party will recognize the value in avoiding a contentious convention?

Michael Shear: Ahh, the delegate questions -- my favorites. I am convinced that one needs a doctorate in high-level math to figure all of this out. And somehow the campaigns each look at the same numbers and come up with different spin. Imagine that!

Here's my understanding of the spin: Obama's camp is suggesting that with the wins last night, he will be ahead in the pledged delegates by 150 or so. They make the argument that Sen. Clinton would need to win the remaining contests by huge margins to catch him in that race.

That leads to a discussion of the superdelegates, where Clinton has a lead. Their campaign tends to focus on the overall number of delegates, though I believe that she now trails him slightly in that category as well.

I believe the conventional wisdom seems to be that if Sen. Obama comes to the convention with more pledged delegates -- representing the will of the voters -- that the superdelegates will be loathe to flip the nomination to Sen. Clinton.

Makes sense to me, but we haven't had a situation like this in decades, so...


Rolla, Mo.: What accounts for the larger margin of victory by Obama in Virginia as compared to Maryland? Wasn't it supposed to be the other way around?

Michael Shear: So interesting, isn't it?

Part of the answer, I think, is the changing nature of politics in Virginia, where the Democratic Party has become energized and even radicalized in the past several years.

Former Virginia governor Mark Warner gave the party hope (there's that word again) in 2001, but it was in 2005, when Gov. Tim Kaine was running, that the party really surged in numbers and interest.

And then came Jim Webb -- an unlikely hero for the Democratic Party. But his campaign was driven in part by a growing and influential online segment of the Virginia Democratic Party (see this Web site) and their enthusiasm energized the rest of the party in the fight to topple the incumbent senator, George Allen.

As you can tell, I have a special place in my heart for Virginia, and I'm convinced it really has changed. It will be fascinating to see whether that change is enough to put the state in the Democratic column in November for the first time in 50 years.


Washington: It seems calculated that Clinton's campaign keeps announcing the staff shake-ups the same days as her losses. Is this an attempt to take the headline from the Obama wins? Or maybe it is supposed to be a sign that she is making the necessary changes? Or that she's setting up the underdog narrative? Or is it just a coincidence? The Fix: Clinton's Deputy Campaign Manager Steps Aside (, Feb. 12)

Michael Shear: I don't think it's a coincidence; it's probably an attempt to get all of the bad news out in the same news cycle. Better to have the news about Mike Henry, her deputy campaign manager, as a paragraph in a much larger story than to be a new headline the next day.


Atlanta: I read a story over the weekend from Newhouse News Service that said several Clinton strategists and parts of the media are pushing the line on Obama that his supporters are "cult-like." In the past few days I've seen words on blogs such as "messianic," "televangelist" and "crazed," and even Sen. Clinton herself yesterday used "frenzy." Is this Karl Rove ideology at play: Demonize Obama's ability to build a broad coalition of voters by portraying them as crazed lunatics who drank Purple State Kool-Aid?

Michael Shear: Boy, this is a good question. I have not seen the references you mention, though I don't doubt at all that they have worked their way into the coverage of Sen. Obama.

Here's the challenge: how to describe the novelty of what Obama is achieving, and the difference with other political figures, without using terms that could be laced with all sorts of other meaning.

I think "cult-like," "crazed" and "messianic" go too far and should be avoided, but I think there's got to be a way to convey that Obama's fans -- and their passion for him -- represent a new kind of politics that we haven't seen in a long time. I can tell you I've never seen anything close to a rally with 15,000 people in Virginia before. The largest I ever saw was about 7,000 people when President Bush campaigned for Tim Kaine in 2005 the night before the election -- and he was already the president.

I've heard one Obama fan describe herself as part of a "movement" rather than just a political supporter.


Washington: Could you explain how this whole expectation thing works? If Obama wins Hawaii and Wisconsin he'll have won nine or ten states in a row ... but the Clinton campaign seems to be lowering expectations about her winning either, so those states states don't really matter. Huh?

Michael Shear: This is a tricky game, isn't it?

Let me try this on you: If I reported on the night of Super Tuesday that Ron Paul had won California, New York and Kansas, you'd probably admit that was big news -- because no one expected him to do that well. By contrast, the fact that Hillary Clinton won New York was a bit of a yawner since she represents the state in the Senate and none of her Democratic rivals campaigned much there.

Having said that, we have to be careful about being spun by the campaigns, who like to set expectations in a way that benefits them. The trick, I think, is to seek independent confirmation of those expectations. If a campaign says they are ignoring a state but are running lots of TV commercials there, I think we shouldn't pay much attention to their claims of having low expectations.

As I said, it's tricky.


Bush and Kaine?: Did President Bush really campaign for Tim Kaine? Please explain! I'm confused and realize my memory of that race is more faded than I thought.

Michael Shear: Ooops. My mistake. Of course, Bush campaigned for Kaine's opponent, former Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore. Sorry.


Baltimore: Now that McCain has pretty much sewn up the nomination, is there any chance we can see a brain scan on him to ensure no repeat of Reagan's later years that I believe clearly show the onset of Alzheimer's? I'm really concerned about his age and how quickly seemingly good mental and physical health can change when one reaches their 70s. It seems to me the decline is often rapid at that age. Any chance this will become an issue in the fall campaign? And why did no one really raise this issue in the primaries?

Michael Shear: His health was discussed some when he entered the race. And I suspect his ailments -- and his age -- will be discussed more now that he appears to be the nominee.


Springfield, Mass.: Any idea who might be on the short list of McCain running mates? I am very hopeful that Mike Huckabee is not on that list. Thanks.

Michael Shear: The question about who becomes the running mate is a curious one. I suspect Huckabee might be on the list, but whether he would be the choice is anyone's guess.

There are two ways (maybe more) for a nominee to look at this:

1. Make a strategic/tactical pick that helps you with a particular demographic or region.

2. Double down on your strengths, picking someone who enhances the basic message of your candidacy

Huckabee certainly would do No. 1, helping McCain reach out to all those social conservatives who don't trust McCain yet. But he's not a McCain Republican, so it would be a departure from McCain's basic message.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning. The cold, hard, mathematical fact is that in order to start making up ground on pledged delegates and draw even, Hillary is going to have to start winning primaries by clear margins, and in order to do that, she's going to have to start getting two-thirds or more of the white vote. How does she do that? The Fix: How-To Guide For a Clinton Comeback (, Feb. 13)

Michael Shear: Still more questions about the delegate hunt. There's no one better to take us through that than my esteemed colleague, Chris Cillizza, aka, The Fix.

See above.


Richmond, Va.: What do you think is behind the strategy of Clinton not congratulating, or not even acknowledging, Obama's wins? Sure, she is stung, but isn't it good politics -- or good manners, at least? Are you surprised? Clinton Says Nothing About Losses (Post, Feb. 13)

Michael Shear: This is an interesting question. I noted -- and so did several people I talked to last night -- that she almost completely ignored not just Obama but the entire Potomac Primary.

She's done this before, presumably on advice from staff that the best thing to do is to move on after a loss. But I too wonder whether people see that as arrogant.


McCain's health: Am I the only one offended by Baltimore's question? Many people in their 80s are still productive.

Michael Shear: True enough (my active grandmother turns 97 this year). But having said that, not many people in their 80s are president, so it's a legitimate issue I think. If he were elected president, McCain would be the oldest person ever at the beginning of his presidency. (Reagan, obviously, was older toward the end of his.)


Palo Alto, Calif.: For every Obama supporter who feels this is a victory, there's a Clinton supporter who feels that we were robbed.

Michael Shear: Also true. Sen. Clinton has enormous support, which is the only way to explain how hotly contested this nomination fight has become. It's important to remember, I think, that she generates enormous passion among many, many thousands of supporters as well.


McCain's take on Obama: I thought in McCain's speech last night he gave us a preview of how he will campaign against Obama if Obama is the nominee (i.e. Obama lacks substance, can't have change without going into detail how you create that change, etc.). How do you think Obama will be able to withstand this criticism in the election if he is nominated? I feel that given time the public also will begin to look for more substance from Obama. Any chance the media will pick up on the line of criticism in the next few weeks, and that this will help Hillary's campaign?

Michael Shear: I do think that Sen. McCain's speech was a preview, of sorts, of how a general election campaign between McCain and Obama might look. McCain's allusions to hope as being nothing more than a platitude does, in fact, sound a lot like the criticisms of Obama from Clinton.

But McCain has to wonder -- given the current state of the Democratic race -- whether that will work in November, should he face Obama.


Fairfax, Va.: I'm wondering how many Virginia Republicans didn't vote because they were trapped on their homeward commute ... Maryland extended their polling place hours.

Michael Shear: Ha!

Spoken like someone who knows how bad the traffic is here. In fact, speaking of the commute, I'd better get on the road, which currently is covered with an icy, rainy, ugly mix. Wish me luck everyone. See you next week.


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