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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Shailagh Murray
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Monday, May 12, 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, May 12 at 11 a.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Shailagh -- thank you for taking my question and for chatting with us today. Already it's looking like Obama and McCain are training their fire on one another, with Hillary not really in the picture anymore. What does she do to get back into it, or is the end truly near?

Shailagh Murray: Greetings everyone -- it's a gloomy rainy Monday in Washington, probably similar to Hillary Clinton's mood.

St. Paul asks what she does to get back into it. I don't think that's possible at this point -- it seems the math has become impossible. Sort of like a lot of subprime mortgages should have been.

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Boston: Looking ahead to tomorrow's primary in West Virginia, how large a margin does Hillary Clinton need to rack up in order for the media and the superdelegates to take notice? Most polls have her ahead of Sen. Obama by 30-35 points. What is the Obama campaign doing to hold down her margins there, and what would they consider a "victory"?

Shailagh Murray: It's all about expectations, and the assumption at this point is that Clinton will take West Virginia by a whole bunch.

Does it matter whether she wins by 20 points or 30 points? No, I don't think so. Obama has had his share of blowouts, especially in the South, including in states like South Carolina, where the Clinton campaigned aggressively but still lost by a landslide.

These candidates appeal to very different types of voters, needless to say.

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Richmond, Va.: The Post has an article that says Clinton's campaign acknowledges the $20 million debt. Why is she in debt? Didn't she expect to have a competitive race? Was the campaign mismanaged, etc.? I just can't see how a powerful and popular candidate like this would be so far in debt. Do you have a perspective?

washingtonpost.com: Clinton Team Acknowledges $20 Million Debt (Post, May 12)

Shailagh Murray: The Clinton campaign simply failed to anticipate a long battle. They all thought it would be over by Feb. 5, and when it wasn't they had little money left and too many donors who already had been tapped out. Obama often has said one of his smartest moves, by contrast, was assuming that this would go all the way, meaning he was prepared for whatever outcome.

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La Plata, Md.: George Bush won West Virginia twice. Bill Clinton won it twice. See a pattern there? I think West Virginia is way underestimated. If Obama is not popular there, I don't see how he can win the whole shebang.

Shailagh Murray: A perspective on West Virginia from Southern Maryland.

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Arlington, Va.: Obama-Clinton -- say it 5,000 times and repeat. I'm done. What about those other elections, such as congressional or gubernatorial races? Can you give us your five most interesting non-presidential races?

Shailagh Murray: Yes, I'm bored with the top of the ticket too -- although I think you got the second name wrong.

Here are some races to watch:

1. The three Cuban House seats in South Florida -- great brawls with colorful characters.

2. North Carolina Senate -- one of best contests to test Obama's ability to expand the Democratic base.

3. Southwest House battles in Arizona and New Mexico -- three open, Republican-held seats will test Democrats' growth potential in the region.

4. Norm Coleman vs. Al Franken.

5. Sam Graves vs. Kay Barnes in Missouri's 6th District -- Barnes is a close friend of Claire McCaskill, and another Democratic challenger whose fortunes could rise or fall on the presidential race dynamic.

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Detroit: Hello Shailagh -- is the Michigan delegate total 69 for Clinton and 59 for Obama final? Thanks!

Shailagh Murray: No deal yet, but that seems the likely outcome.

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Palo Alto, Calif.: The press, especially The Washington Post, has been against Hillary from the beginning. The latest round of "it's over" seems to be a transparent attempt to hold the vote down in West Virginia, or to get people to vote for Obama there. What do you have against Hillary Clinton? What does the fact that 90 percent of African Americans have gone for Obama but nowhere near that fraction have gone for Hillary mean for the future of women candidates for the Oval Office? It has been 25 years since the last one, how soon do you think the next one will be?

Shailagh Murray: Is the press supposed to be for Hillary Clinton because she's a woman? I'm not getting your point.

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Anonymous: Hillary's in debt for $20 million? Big deal. Send Bill out for 20 speeches or have Babs over to their house for a concert for 20 of their closet friends at $1 million a seat and the debt is paid

Shailagh Murray: It will be interesting to see if Bill Clinton's earning potential has changed as a result of the past six months.

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Charlottesville, Va.: If I might ask you about today's story on McCain and the greens, why doesn't the story use the word "liberal" at any point? Aren't the environmental groups very much a constituency in the Democratic Party, and aren't their policy prescriptions -- higher energy taxes, higher fuel economy standards, alternative energy subsidies -- fairly defined as liberal or big-government-oriented?

washingtonpost.com: Environmental Stances Are Balancing Act For McCain (Post, May 12)

Shailagh Murray: I didn't write the story, and I can't answer for environmental groups, but do you think with gas heading to $5 a gallon that higher mileage standards and alternative fuel sources are still radical ideas? That's certainly not the way Detroit sees it.

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Three Cuban House seats in South Florida: There are three seats in Congress that belong to the Cubans? Or do you mean that three Cuban-born, American citizens are running for Congress? Or that folks in South Florida are running for seats in the Cuban Parliament (or whatever they call it)? I hope you're not telling us that congressional seats "belong" to any cultural, religious, ethnic, or socioeconomic group.

Shailagh Murray: Geez, sorry!

I was using shorthand and meant no offense whatsoever.

I guess you're wondering about the Coleman v. Franken race as well -- that's in Minnesota.

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Sacramento, Calif.: Do you think Clinton will campaign for Obama whole-heartedly?

Shailagh Murray: I think so, but wait and see how fast the whole dynamic changes once we're in general election mode. Clinton will play an important role, but Obama will be alone on stage.

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Washington: Shailagh, to what extent are you beginning to hear serious rumors about vice presidential candidates? On the Democratic side, I originally thought that Obama should choose someone with strong foreign policy experience to better balance the ticket (e.g. Sen. Joe Biden), but as gas prices and the economy have risen as campaign issues/concerns, I am not so sure anymore. Now I am starting to think that someone like Gov. Ed Rendell would be a good choice. He would shore up Obama's support in Pennsylvania and likely help with blue-collar voters in Ohio and Michigan. The fact that he is Jewish would also probably help allay the concerns of another important constituency in the Democratic Party.

washingtonpost.com: So, Candidates, Who's It Going to Be? (Post, May 11)

Shailagh Murray: There are all kinds of theories on this. One is that he needs a guy like Biden or Jim Webb to go mano a mano with McCain on national security. Another is that he needs a safe establishment figure, like Rendell or Strickland, from Clinton's inner circle, who also can help to deliver a big state.

And then there's the red-state argument, that Obama should go with a Democrat who has conquered Republican territory -- like Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (she's also Catholic, female and originally from Ohio -- a powerful combo).

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Helena, Mont.: Obama and Howard Dean have joined forces for voter registration in all 50 states in an effort that kicked off this past weekend. Obama has a large list of donors and volunteers in most of the states. I think he is trying to expand the race -- rather than have Democrats use the two coasts plus one or two states in middle, he is trying to put all states in play in this election. He will have the resources to do it. Will McCain be able to match his resources? If no Federal Election Commission commissioners are approved by Senate, will McCain be able to tap into public financing?

Shailagh Murray: There is simply no way, at this late stage, that the Republicans can compete with this organizing juggernaut. It definitely could change the landscape in some important states, and it is one of the big reasons why a lot of vulnerable Democrats are signing up with Obama.

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Rockville, Md.: Shailagh, I am having a hard time trying to imagine what role Puerto Rico would have in the Democratic primaries. I mean, even though they are a U.S. commonwealth (is that the term?), Puerto Rico is not a state (neither is Guam) and I can't imagine the coverage on primary night if Obama does well in San Juan but Clinton does well in el Campo (the Country). Whoever has the edge, I think that language (speaking Spanish) really will help.

Shailagh Murray: Let's not downplay Puerto Rico -- we're all angling to go there.

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Northville, N.Y.: What's the deal with that special House race in Mississippi tonight? If the GOP doesn't win in the Deep South, where exactly are they going to compete?

Shailagh Murray: That's tomorrow, not tonight ... but good question. I thought the whole point of gerrymandering in the South was to make the outcome of races like these a foregone conclusion? There's a sense that the Republican will prevail, but this has to scare the daylights out of GOP leaders, along with all the "experts" who claim Democrats no longer can compete in the South. That's what makes politics fun -- the voters are usually one step ahead of conventional wisdom.

See you all in a couple of weeks, and don't lose too much sleep staying up for those West Virginia returns. Cheers.

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