Post Politics Hour
Monday, March 31, 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 Shailagh Murray was online Monday, March 31 at 11 a.m. ET.
The transcript follows.
Shailagh Murray: Greetings everyone from Lancaster, PA, where Sen. Barack Obama is holding a town-hall meeting. Bring on your questions, and thanks for participating.
Avon Park, Fla.: With Howard Dean calling on superdelagates to decide by the early July, why do they need a month to decide, given that the last contest is on June 3? What could happen during that period?
Shailagh Murray: Who knows? Are these superdelegates high maintenance or what? I find it so hard to believe that this is going to play out all the way to the convention, but that's certainly how the campaign has unfolded to date.
St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Shailagh -- thanks for taking my question. It seems to me that McCain's campaign seems to be off to a somewhat slow start, given that he has the stage all to himself. His big speech on the economy didn't get much play, and his address on foreign policy received mixed reviews at best. Is this low-profile intentional on his part, perhaps to save money (and energy)? No one's paying attention anyway, given the intense scrutiny on the Democratic nomination. Or is there a lot going on behind the scenes that we're not seeing?
washingtonpost.com: Analysis: Democratic Battle Helps McCain (AP, March 31)
Shailagh Murray: One thing about politics: there's usually less going on than you think. What was that Oscar Wilde said -- it's better to be talked about than not talked about? People pay attention when candidates start engaging with each other, because they're looking for contrast. But McCain can certainly use his time wisely, building organizations in states where he didn't campaign, wooing Republican constituencies who remain suspicious of him, that kind of thing. But those wouldn't take place in public, and you're right that he will be fighting for airtime as long as the Clinton-Obama brawl is the main event.
Alexandria, Va.: I'm a bit confused on your brief article today. You say Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is "staunchly" anti-abortion, and yet he's supporting Sen. Obama for president, and says focusing only on Roe v. Wade is not a litmus-test issue for him. So is he really "staunchly" anti-abortion? It's hard to put that next to a sentence suggesting he's "less ideologically rigid" than his forebears...
washingtonpost.com: The Obama-Casey State Tour (Post, March 31)
Shailagh Murray: He's staunchly anti-abortion to the extent that he opposes embryonic stem cell research -- that's pretty staunch. But if you are familiar with his father's record, Casey has departed quite significantly by backing not only Obama, but also Gore and Kerry, despite their differences over abortion. But I leave it to the theologians to determine whether a Catholic can be pro-life and support a political candidate who supports abortion rights.
Bloomington, Ind.: Good morning Shailagh. I was watching the NASCAR race yesterday and saw two Obama commercials during the broadcast. Do you know if they ran nationally, or just in Indiana and the other states with upcoming primaries? Seems like the Obama camp is targeting the correct demographic in the NASCAR audience to cut into Clinton's base.
Shailagh Murray: I'm not sure what channel you were watching, but most likely that ad ran just in Indiana (though possibly in North Carolina and Pa too -- not sure what ad you saw). And Clinton was advertising on ESPN last night during the Nationals/Braves game.
Chicago: Good morning and thanks for taking my question. With the recent superdelegate endorsements of Obama (Sen. Klobuchar and the entire North Carolina congressional delegation) the odds against Clinton getting the nomination seem to grow every day. It also seems like her only hope is that Obama's campaign somehow implodes (another Rev. Wright controversy -- only worse -- and he handles it badly) so that all of the superdelegates now think he can't win against McCain. If that is, in fact, her best road to the nomination, after Pennsylvania (assuming she does not completely blow Obama away) wouldn't it be best for her to do what Huckabee did -- stay in the race but not do any kind of attacking of Obama? If the Obama implosion occurs, then she is there to accept the nomination; if it doesn't, she been a loyal Democrat and might even get the vice presidential slot, if she wants it. What do you think?
Shailagh Murray: The North Carolina delegation is unofficial and the Obama campaign says that the original report was not accurate...that's just FYI. But you are right that Clinton is banking on an Obama implosion -- given the pledged delegate gap, that's her only realistic chance. I'm not sure, however, whether she would score many points within the party, if she struck a Huckabee-like posture. Would anyone ever mistake Hillary Clinton for Mike Huckabee??!! That said, the party leaders I talk to don't necessarily buy the theory that this battle is seriously hurting the party and that Clinton has to drop out ASAP to allow Obama to warm up against McCain. Their sense is that the most tested Obama is in the primary season, the tougher he'll be in the fall. Should he be the nominee, of course.
Austin, Texas: Do you think the Democratic contest might end sooner than any of us expect? I was struck by seeing Hillary over the weekend having to say that she's not dropping out. The fact that she has to actually say that somehow makes me suspect that the end may be near -- kind of like when the owner of the team expresses "complete confidence" in the coach.
Shailagh Murray: Take all of it for what it's worth -- which is basically a news cycle worth of coverage. There are simply too many variations on the next two months. Plus, if it's true that Sen. Clinton is not paying her bills, as the Politico has reported, then money problems could be a big factors.
New York: Is the question of Rev. Wright coming up at Obama's town meetings? Thanks.
Shailagh Murray: It is not. Which is interesting. But these days, it's mostly hardcore supporters who show up at Clinton and Obama events, so that doesn't mean voters have lost interest. I suspect the people who were most disturbed by Wright's statements are still troubled by them.
Harrisburg, Pa.: This statement can apply to both candidates, so it is not a dig at one candidate over another. Recently, Obama and Clinton have been in Harrisburg, and both candidates celebrated how they had to turn away thousands of people who waited several hours to see the candidates. I wish to remind these candidates that those people who wait for hours only to be turned away are also thousands of voters with thousands of friends. Maybe it makes a great visual to pack a few thousand people like sardines in Harrisburg's Forum Building and turn away thousands more, yet when you are trying to woo us, it would be better if you allowed the candidates to speak in the field outside the Forum Building where one easily could fit perhaps 10,000 -- and not have to turn anyone away.
Shailagh Murray: The Obama campaign is keenly aware of this problem, and on the current bus tour, they are doing mostly smaller-scale town hall meetings -- which don't work with crowds of more than 2,000. Once you distribute tickets to the local unions, volunteers and their families, etc., there are very few seats left of the general public. The campaign plans to do more big rallies closer to primary day, so you should get another chance in a much bigger venue. It's amazing to me the time that people are willing to sacrifice to attend these events -- you basically have to give up half a day.
Defining "Centrist" Rightward?: I wonder if you might give me a rundown of how the political media defines "centrist" and "moderate." I've seen both McCain and Lieberman recently attached to those terms, but can't figure out how that situation came about. Like Lieberman, McCain may deviate from right-wing dogma on discrete issues when it comes to domestic policy questions, but on questions of foreign policy, national security and war, McCain -- and Lieberman -- are as extremist as it gets in the mainstream political spectrum. On those obviously central issues, there simply is nobody and nothing to the right of McCain. So where is his "centrism"?
Shailagh Murray: That's a book topic, wouldn't you say?! I suppose we apply the word to people in either party who depart with the traditional right or the traditional left. But it's vague and lazy. Plus traditionalists in both parties are a dying breed, when you think about it.
Washington: What is the impact of the Democratic primary on Howard Dean -- will he survive as the head of the party?
Shailagh Murray: Umm, do you know anyone who wants the job? Because more than a few Democrats wouldn't mind replacing him. That won't happen before November, but Dean has stirred some strong resentment for not firmly litigating the Florida and Michigan mess and for not firing more shots at McCain, who's just standing there with a target on his chest.
Hard Core Supporters?: Only the hard core? That seems weird to me. This is a chance for the people of Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana et al to come in and kick the tires. Are crowds being managed in a Bush-like way?
Shailagh Murray: No no, they're not stage managed. But think about it -- if Obama holds an event in a field, 20,000 people show up. Try paring that down to 2,000. It's the wedding guest list from hell.
Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: I saw your piece on Klobuchar -- a person unknown to most Americans as Plato, but still, a good read. How about Obama's newly found long lost good buddy, Bob Casey? Are they smokin' Pennsylvania or what? It seems from the local press there's not a saloon, pig sty, hardware store, pleasure house, diner or trout stream they won't visit to press the flesh and say "howdy do?" I have to say, I was leery. I didn't think Obama would spend much time here given the pre-campaign spin of Clinton dominance. Still, great local politics, yes? "Good words to you." Thanks much.
washingtonpost.com: The Trail: Klobuchar Endorses Obama (washingtonpost.com, March 31)
Shailagh Murray: Yes, well, Amy is new to the Senate -- but a nice gal, and of course, every superdelegate counts. Having spent a few days on the Obama-Casey express, I will tell you, these two LOVE each other. It's hilarious. All of us Congress rats were marveling at how animated Casey has become.
Stay tuned for the first post-bus trip Pennsylvania poll. If Obama looks to be creeping up, you may see quite a bit of him.
Anonymous: Hi Shailagh. In its appeal to the superdelegates, has Barack Obama's campaign been pressing them to suggest that Hillary Clinton drop out of the race?
Shailagh Murray: This is tricky for the Obama campaign. As I wrote on the Trail this morning, in the Klobuchar endorsement item, Obama has taken a conciliatory tact toward Clinton, urging her to stay in as long as she wants. And unless he underperforms in the next few contest, does it really matter? He's got to be very careful about not alienating her voters, so I doubt you'll be hearing much tough talk directly from the campaign. It seems the surrogates may be backpedaling too, after Leahy sort of went overboard last week. One thing to keep in mind is that Clinton seems to do better with voters when it looks like people are ganging up on her. So if you're an Obama supporter, you would presumably not want to give that impression.
Wow!:"It's amazing to me the time that people are willing to sacrifice to attend these events -- you basically have to give up half a day." And you give up half a day to watch a baseball game, go shopping, do any one of thousands of worthless things we do every day. It must come as a surprise to you, but most of us out here are pretty serious about our country and we are serious about getting to know the people who may come to run it.
Shailagh Murray: No, no, I didn't mean it that way. It was a statement of marvel, not scorn.
To all of you caring and responsible citizens, I bid farewell for two weeks. Must hurry off to a gas station where the Illinois senator is holding a press conference, although I'm not sure the cameras can get a clear shot of the price per gallon in this soggy weather. Cheers and take care, Shailagh
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