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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Wednesday, May 14, 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 Anne E. Kornblut was online Wednesday, May 14 at noon ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Anne E. Kornblut: Hi everyone! Thanks for joining on yet another post-primary Wednesday. I look forward to everyone's questions.

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Washington: Did you catch the article in the Hill this week in which a number of GOP Senators explain that they wouldn't be interested in the vice presidency because they are "too old"? I don't think any of the senators making that comment were much older than McCain.

washingtonpost.com: Senators say whether they'd agree to be vice president (The Hill, May 12)

Anne E. Kornblut: That was a great piece. I think at least one of the respondents who said he was too old -- Pete Domenici of New Mexico -- is at least 76, which is actually older than McCain (who is 71). But it's a good point. Maybe the trick is how old the candidates feel, not how hold they actually are?

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Is Sen. Obama planning to make any concrete overtures to appeal to Sen. Clinton's supporters, other than constantly talking about "party unity"? Also, considering The Post has done an article about the racism Obama has faced on the campaign trail, when is there going to be a similar article about the sexism Clinton faced on the campaign trail, such as Rep. Steve Cohen comparing her to Glenn Close's character in "Fatal Attraction"?

Anne E. Kornblut: Very good questions, thank you for them. I do expect Sen. Obama will make very direct overtures to Sen. Clinton's supporters if he winds up winning the nomination -- it seems like an obvious next step. As for the sexism/racism question, it is always worth exploring further. Both Obama and Clinton have benefited from their so-called "natural constituencies" -- African American voters and women -- but I haven't seen data backing up the theory that people aren't voting for Clinton because they don't want a woman president. Most of it is anecdotal, like the incident you mention. A very good story idea; thank you for it.

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Chicago: Thanks for taking my question. People keep saying that Obama has a problem with "working, hard-working, white voters" but it seems that his real problem is with voters who live in Appalachia. If you look at the states that have counties in Appalachia, all of those counties went heavily for Clinton. Since all of West Virginia is in Appalachia, it does not come as a big surprise that Clinton won big last night. What is it about voters who live in Appalachia that makes them so pro-Clinton or anti-Obama? It is a race thing, a class thing or an education thing (or some combination thereof)?

Anne E. Kornblut: This is a very good question, and it's something we've started to look at as well -- the geographic component, as opposed to the demographic one. That's one (fun) challenge in trying to sort out what is happening in this election -- looking at the various cross-sections and trying to figure out which means what. Stay tuned...

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Fairfax, Va.: Wasn't Obama winning states with high percentages of white voters (Iowa, etc.) before he began losing them (West Virginia)? Was it the media playing "The Clip" over and over and over again, or was it Clinton chiming in to say she wouldn't have stayed with a pastor like Wright that turned white voters against Obama? Has anyone at The Post or in the mainstream media written about why white voters, once for Obama, are now deserting him?

Anne E. Kornblut: Here's another one on this subject. It is, in my view, hard to say that "white voters" are deserting him en masse; I think we'll see in the Oregon election next week that they are not, if the outcome is as the polls suggest. There appear to be other demographic factors -- or perhaps more accurately economic and geographic factors -- that are making the difference.

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Madison, Wis.: Anne, we keep on hearing that Obama has a problem right now with working-class white voters, but as of now Obama leads McCain in virtually every general-election poll -- including your Washington Post poll by 7 points. If Obama is having such a problem with these voters, wouldn't him getting any of them to come home just increase his margin over McCain?

Anne E. Kornblut: Again, those are national poll numbers, and we're seeing the working-class white voter question play out at the individual state level. But yes, if Obama were to make gains among those voters in the particular swing states we've seen -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia -- it easily could start to shift the equation further.

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Arlington, Va.: Maybe those Senators are thinking ahead to how old they would be in eight years if, goddess forbid, McCain were to win two terms. Except for Cheney, it seems most vice presidents take the office with an eye towards running for the top job themselves when the time comes.

Anne E. Kornblut: A good point...

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2012: Hi Anne. When the pundits speak of 2012 and Hillary Clinton's chances of securing the nomination, the assumption is that Obama loses to McCain. I think Clinton may run even if Obama beats McCain if Obama's popularity is not soaring. What do you think?

Anne E. Kornblut: It's funny, I hadn't even thought of that. But I'll file it under "What to Think About the Next Four Years." Right now I am trying to figure out how we get through June 3...

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The sexism story: should mainly be about the media -- it's much more easily and consistently found there than among voters (but it has certainly perpetuated the sexism among voters), found most especially (but not solely) among the bloviators on cable's gossip-fest channels ... which ironically include the word "news" in their titles. Who's writing that story -- no, that book?

Anne E. Kornblut: It's a really good question (to sound like a broken record here today). I have to admit I'm much less of a punditry consumer than many of you -- given that I'm on the road so much -- but I have seen some of the most incendiary remarks and talked to a number of my (female) colleagues about it, and opinion is divided on whether the commentators have been sexist or just generically obnoxious. I hope it's something we get to look into more deeply.

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Washington: After now three GOP districts have voted for Democratic representatives, if you were a Republican House members running for re-election this year, do you think you would continue to support Bush's agenda, or would you maybe think about working across the aisle? I keep waiting for this to happen, but those GOP folks are really disciplined.

Anne E. Kornblut: I think you make a really good point -- and in some ways, the down-ticket races this year will be as interesting as the presidential race, as a reflection of what is happening nationwide. I would expect to see these Republicans trying to distance themselves from Bush if his numbers stay as consistently low as they have for all these many months.

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Avon Park, Fla.: My question is regarding Florida and Michigan. Even though the Clinton campaign is advocating that they be counted now, they weren't advocating that when they were ahead. Harold Ickes and Terry McAuliffe voted for the Democratic National Committee rules to strip those delegates. Why aren't the media challenging the Clintons on that?

Anne E. Kornblut: Oh believe me, they are being challenged on that, and have been for months. They just don't really respond to the challenge in a direct way.

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Princeton, N.J.: I am sick and tired of the constant nattering (thank you Spiro) on the Clinton-Obama race. McCain recently has made a number of deeply troubling speeches (on economics, foreign policy and the environment) which haven't received nearly the coverage of the horse race. For example, McCain proposes to keep the Bush tax cuts, increase defense spending in addition to funding the war forever, and make even more expensive tax cuts (Alternative Minimum Tax). All of this will cost trillions. He proposes to pay for his programs by eliminating $18 billion in earmarks. This is much more important than the entertaining horse race.

Anne E. Kornblut: This is a concern I hear from many Democrats, even some Clinton supporters who want her to stay in the race. We are, in fact, covering McCain ... and I expect that soon we will be back to covering the Democrats and Republicans in direct contrast.

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Sterling, Va.: John Edwards got 7 percent of the vote yesterday. What is that about? West Virginia residents don't know he dropped out, or they disliked both of the other choices so much that they preferred to throw their vote away? (Then why not just stay home?)

Anne E. Kornblut: Well, his name was there on the ballot, so that made it easier. He must be feeling pretty good about that little nugget today; let's not forget, Edwards has made poverty the center of his persona, and few places feel the issue more than West Virginia. So it may be less political than gut instinct.

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How to get through June 3: With the nonsense going on in the Democratic primaries, the best way it would seem is with a bottle Jack Daniel's and a fistful of Oxycontin.

Anne E. Kornblut: I'll take that under advisement.

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Painter, Va.: We've had several special elections now where the GOP has tried to tie the Democratic nominee to Obama as a handicap and it has failed. I'm wondering, do you see any down-ticket races out there where the candidate could be hurt or helped by being on the ticket with their party's nominee? For example, I think Gilmore is helped by being on the ticket with McCain. I don't think Warner is particularly helped or hurt by being on the ticket with Obama.

washingtonpost.com: Democratic Victory May Be a Bellwether (Post, May 14)

Anne E. Kornblut: This is another good question on this point. I've been so focused on the presidential that I haven't scoured the congressional landscape well enough to know how the race is affecting everyone else. But I will make it a mission to find out soon....

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New York: A friend of mine works at the Clinton Foundation and they don't give him (or several of his co-workers) health care. Do you believe the Clinton Foundation's practices should be viewed as part of Hillary Clinton's record?

Anne E. Kornblut: That's really fascinating. I can't say what I think the foundation's policies should be, and without knowing the particulars of your friend's case (is he part-time, on contract?) it's hard to say what it would mean in the context of a campaign. But feel free to have him call me....

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Why the GOP lost Mississippi: Americans can't abide by this stuff. Most of us over 35 took classes in school that told us that the evil Soviet Union did things like this and torture, kangaroo courts, domestic spying, etc., etc. Regardless of what GOP-apologist windbags say, this is not an America any real conservative, liberal or otherwise wants or imagines!

Anne E. Kornblut: Thank you for this observation...

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Applying history: I know you have to grasp at whatever straws are left for you, but it's a little ironic to hear Clinton say "history shows no Democrat has ever won the presidency without winning West Virginia" when history also shows that no woman has ever won the presidency, period. No black candidate, either. Based on history, the Democrats should just concede now.

Anne E. Kornblut: Very true, although there are certain mathematical realities to the electoral college. I think a more problematic question for Clinton is why voters should believe she will be better able to game the electoral college out than she did the primary -- given that she basically didn't consider that Obama could win the post-Feb. 5 states and did not take into account proportional allotment of delegates, which is why Obama is in the lead now.

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Skip the Oxycontin: But there are really nice bourbon distilleries in Kentucky, and if you are fortunate enough to also visit Oregon, they make the best Pinot Noir in the country out there ... and they don't ship much of it back to us on the East Coast, so enjoy yourself!

Anne E. Kornblut: And I hear they make margaritas in Puerto Rico, too...

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Atlanta: Hi, Anne. I just got back from vacation where I had no access to political coverage (imagine!) and now I am playing catch-up. So, how exactly does Hillary have one-half of a superdelegate? I don't get it.

Anne E. Kornblut: Some Democrats abroad count as half a delegate, I know that much; there may be other places where an odd number of delegates makes that possible as well. Sorry for the imprecise answer. Better question is: Did you vacation on Mars?

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Dryden, N.Y.: Kudos to Senator Clinton on West Virginia, but she still seems to waging a quixotic battle. Can you share any scuttlebutt about her campaign finances? Who is paying for what now appears to be a vanity campaign? That you for the help.

Anne E. Kornblut: She's at least $20 million in debt, perhaps more. Today, in fact, she is meeting with her fundraising folks (as well as superdelegates) to figure out how to proceed. She could loan herself more money, and also try to hold more fundraisers, though that presumably will get more difficult if she continues to look like she is (or in fact is) losing.

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Franconia, Va.: Any idea what Bill Richardson has been up to in terms of campaigning for Obama since the big endorsement? I suspect quite a bit, but it seems to be underreported. Whatever the events so far, I am hoping Richardson can make a real difference in Puerto Rico, so that is why I was curious. I know he is not Puerto Rican, but it can't hurt to have total fluency in Spanish. I thought of this because I saw an (amateur) photo of Richardson schmoozing at the Kentucky Derby recently. Of course he is a horse guy, but I think being at the Derby may still have had something to do with the upcoming Kentucky primary.

Anne E. Kornblut: I heard him on NBC, but that's about it of late. I'll check into it.

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About Clinton as veep: How silly is it for the Obama-ites and Dem elites to even think that someone like the mostly unknown Sebelius (or any other generic woman) could be substituted in place of Hillary Clinton to appease her supporters? To follow that reasoning, why not substitute any other black candidate who doesn't have the "Wright/bitter/failure to reach white working-class voters" baggage? Do they really think Clinton supporters are that stupid?

Anne E. Kornblut: A salient point....

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Long Island, N.Y.: Anne, a congressional question: Seeing how the GOP can't seem to win a special election this year (0-3 after last night, all in districts you would think they would win), do you think its in their best interest to ask "Vino" Fossella to serve out his term in New York's 13th District? In my opinion, if they have any intention to hold the seat, they probably are better off taking their chances in November with a new candidate who will have the summer to get ready. I know there's talk of him running again, but the Democrats had targeted this seat prior to his problems. As a former Staten Islander (and a classmate of his from high school) I can't see him winning an election where he will be the entire focus of a campaign.

Anne E. Kornblut: And another good question on this. I hate to be a pass-the-bucker here today, but I'm better off holding my tongue than talking about specific races I haven't studied yet; make sure you ask this question again when my colleagues Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane do their chats.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Anne -- thank you for taking my question and for chatting with us today. Put on your journalist/psychologist hat for a moment -- what does Sen. Clinton want? Did you see anything in her speech last night to lead you to believe that she's working on a graceful exit, or is she going to take this thing all the way to August, no matter what the impact might be on the Democrats?

washingtonpost.com: Video: Clinton Victory Speech (washingtonpost.com, May 13)

Anne E. Kornblut: Bingo! You have asked the $64,000 question that all of us are dying to know the answer to. In the meantime, we speculate (with the help of guidance from advisers around Clinton, many of whom are reading tea leaves as well).

It appears that Sen. Clinton really does want to finish the race, by her own account out of deference to the people who have voted for her and want to. If you watched her speech last night, you saw her reference an elderly lady who voted for her absentee in South Dakota, and later passed away; that gives you a sense of how committed she is to continuing until that primary (June 3). Some people believe she's trying to leverage her way onto the ticket, or prod Obama into helping her retire her debt. That said, it does not look like she's heading all the way to the convention (at least right now). Her advisers have more or less said they expect it to end in June.

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Fallon, Nev.: Several great Democratic candidates entered the race for the White House but eventually dropped out for various reasons; I like to think it was because it was obvious the race would be between two novelties, not who might be the best Democratic candidate and the best person to lead our country out of the mess that the worst government in our history has brought upon us. I wonder -- what would the Democratic race have been like had Obama and Clinton entered the race on an equal footing? Obama has come out of nowhere, challenged the candidate many thought would be a shoe-in, and has outdone her!

Anne E. Kornblut: An interesting hypothetical ... thoughts?

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Arlington, Va.: I saw a story yesterday that said Bob Barr announced his candidacy for president. Will his entry into the race have even less impact that Ralph Nader's?

washingtonpost.com: A Spoiler, by Way of the Dairy Case (Post, May 13)

Anne E. Kornblut: That is probably hard to measure at this stage. I would suspect so, but bear in mind that there are a lot of disgruntled conservatives out there.

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Chicago: Hi Anne. If it's now clear that -- even with Michigan and Florida counted -- Hillary can't win the delegate count, then what reason does she have to keep exacerbating the wound felt by the voters of Michigan and Florida? At what point will the press declare that she is now effectively working for McCain by hurting Barack's November prospects?

Anne E. Kornblut: It's not really up to the press to make that assessment, but certainly there are people at the periphery (and not-so-periphery) of the Obama campaign who are arguing that already. Officially, though, the Obama position is that Clinton has a right to stay in the race through the final voting on June 3.

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Washington: Hi Anne! Thanks for taking the time to do these chats. So does the Democratic win in the Mississippi special congressional election (combined with Illinois and Louisiana) prove that down-ballot Republicans can't count on Obama's baggage to rescue them from the anti-Republican mood in the country? The GOP ran ads in Louisiana and Mississippi featuring Obama and Rev. Wright, and it didn't seem to make any difference.

Anne E. Kornblut: And another ... a very good point, and one that the Clinton folks were not happy to see, because it undermines their central case -- that she is more electable (and he is a drag).

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Anchorage, Alaska: How many Republicans who bailed out of their congressional careers (in either the House or Senate) early last December in order to feed at the trough are now doing so? So much for wanting to spend more time with their families and loved ones (unless lobbyists and high rollers are loved ones). Good session today.

Anne E. Kornblut: Who doesn't love a lobbyist and/or a high roller? Let me pass on this idea. I'd love to read this story.

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Washington: Re: Republicans in their 70s being too old to be vice president -- to be fair, this isn't the same as saying that being in your 70s is too old to be president. vice presidents are ideally people who could run for president after a successful eight-year run by their party's president. So this may just mean that these Republican senators are saying that 78-plus is too old to be president. Although I suppose this may be moot given that John McCain is 8,000 years old.

Anne E. Kornblut: All I know is that after about a year and a half on the campaign trail, I am, at 35, also too old to do the grueling work of running for any of those offices.

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Ashland, MO: When you run a horse race, the winner isn't declared until the first horse crosses the finish line. As the Kentucky Derby illustrates, unfortunate things can happen. Why is the media in such a hurry to declare the Democratic presidential primary over when no one has reached the finish line?

Anne E. Kornblut: I'm actually not so sure we're angling for it to end (despite my previous post on the grueling travel). We had a great poll in yesterday's paper showing that more than 60 percent of Democrats are fine with seeing it go on. It is mainly Democrats -- specifically Obama backers -- who are eager to get it over with, for obvious reasons, and the press (largely, in my view) is reporting the mathematical probability of how it will end. But you are right, that does not take into account potential disasters, though the Kentucky Derby analogy this year may not quite help Clinton.

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Portland, Ore.: Hi Anne, love your chats! A quick report from Portland -- everyone is talking about the primary. On the train every night, people are talking about it. At work, people are talking about it. In the bars too. From my ears and eyes, it seems that Obama supporters outnumber Clinton supporters easily, at least here in PDX. Not news to those following the polls, but I thought I'd give you an on-the-ground update.

Anne E. Kornblut: Love the update! We'll see you guys out there soon. This is one of the great things about this primary ... seeing people absolutely everywhere engaged. It was not, I can attest, like that in the past two presidential races I covered.

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Applying history addendum: No Democrat has won the presidency without carrying the District of Columbia, and Clinton did not win the District. Want phony comparisons? I can give you a dozen.

Anne E. Kornblut: Another point ... thank you for this.

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Herndon, Va.: Re: Your comment earlier that Hillary Clinton "did not take into account proportional allotment of delegates" -- I've seen the Newsweek report attributing this mistake to a Mark Penn comment to Clinton staff in October (which, of course, he denies). But in any event, I find it hard to believe that no one among her campaign strategy planners considered the impact of proportional allocation. Can you elaborate more on what you know in this regard?

Anne E. Kornblut: We're still reporting it out -- and will be for some time I suspect -- but I know for certain that the campaign did not take the full measure of how things would work after Feb. 5, when the proportional allocation became so important. That's not to say that no one knew -- Harold Ickes, for one, did -- but the focus of the campaign was winning a lot up front, sweeping Obama out of the race fast, and not having to worry about it. When that failed to happen, they were caught flat-footed.

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McLean, Va.: Anne: I think in many ways the best news of the night for Obama came from Mississippi. If he needed further validation of his argument that the old electoral map no longer applies, he got it in that congressional race. The superdelegates have to look long and hard at that when considering him.

Anne E. Kornblut: And another...

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Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: So Vice President "Deadeye Dick" Cheney went to Mississippi and got the Democrat elected in a special election for Congress. Wow! When was the last time a Wanted-Poster Republican was credited with driving the opponent into office? Perhaps the Democratic National Committee or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (Rahm's outfit) should hire Cheney for public speaking events (when/if he leaves office) ahead of state and federal elections. In a weird year of campaigning, it's getting weirder. Thank goodness. Thanks much.

Anne E. Kornblut: Thank you...

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Floris, Va.: "Fact -- Hillary Clinton got 67 percent of the vote last night in West Virginia." Fact: Obama has received 65 percent or more of the vote in ten different states.

Anne E. Kornblut: And we definitely are hearing about Obama's earlier victories today, from his staff, as a reminder. Thanks for mentioning.

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Don't Skip the Oxycontin: You can substitute the bourbon for Jack or even a Pinot Noir (although the Rogue Brewery in Newport, Ore. is awesome), but by skipping the Oxycontin you won't be dulling sufficiently the inanity of the continued horse race...

Anne E. Kornblut: So many suggestions!

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Chicago: Is there any chance John Edwards or Al Gore will endorse before Hillary drops out?

Anne E. Kornblut: Of course there's a chance ... I would say Edwards is likelier than Gore, but neither is tremendously likely.

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San Diego: Why on earth would Clinton want to be vice president (or, maybe, why would Democrats really want Clinton to be vice president)? The vice presidency is largely ceremonial. Clinton could do much more and have much greater impact on the next four or eight years of an Obama presidency if she remained in the Senate. Personally, I think it would be a waste of talent for her to be vice president. Two quick notes: Puerto Rico is famous for rum, not tequila, so I'd skip the margaritas and go for rum-based drinks. And since 1912, no Democrat has won the presidency without winning Minnesota.

Anne E. Kornblut: Rum, rum -- I will have to remember that. Thank you. I think Sen. Clinton would consider the vice presidency for a number of reasons -- it would be historic for her to serve in the role, it is a powerful job even in non-Cheney times, and she would be able to speak on behalf of the U.S. in foreign policy -- and of course she would be second in line to the presidency. But obviously we don't know her exact thinking on this yet.

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San Diego: Do you believe there will be a large number of superdelegates making their decisions after Tuesday's Oregon results (the mathematical wrap up of the majority of nonsuperdelegates) or do you think most will wait until June 4 and allow Hillary to play out the race (in order to not offend her supporters)? Also, what is you suggestion on showing non-college-educated blue collar workers that he is a champion for them and one of them?

Anne E. Kornblut: Very hard to say. So far the superdelegates have proven that they are none too eager to get ahead of things, so it would not surprise me if they waited as long as possible. As for Obama, I would expect to see him talking about his personal history a lot more -- can anyone say "single mom on food stamps"?

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Anne E. Kornblut: Thank you so much, everyone, for joining in today! It is always a pleasure to hear from you all. Keep it coming. And talk to you all soon.

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