Primary Season Wraps Up
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
What a difference a day makes. As people in Montana and South Dakota vote in the final primaries of a long primary season, superdelegates are moving quickly to announce their support for Barack Obama. By most accounts, Senator Obama is less than 20 delegates from reaching the magic number to win the Democratic nomination. Meanwhile, it was a dramatic day regarding the Clinton campaign, with mixed messages about whether Senator Clinton might suspend her campaign this evening.
So we've summoned NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, along with her delegate calculator, for the latest update. Mara, where do things stand right now?
MARA LIASSON: Well, as you said, Barack Obama is very close to the 2,118 delegates he needs. I think actually the latest AP count is less than 20. There are 31 delegates at stake today in Montana and South Dakota, so he does need those superdelegates, and all day long he has been rolling out superdelegate endorsements - basically, by the hour. Jimmy Carter has now endorsed him; Debbie Dingell, prominent Michigan political powerhouse, wife of Congressman Dingell; and Jim Clyburn, the Democratic whip in the house, has also endorsed him.
LIASSON: Obviously, Clinton has said the race isn't going to be over until all the votes are counted. She hasn't said whether or not she's going to appeal the Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting all the way to the Democratic convention. But I do think it's fair to say that this race is all over but the shouting, and of course, there might be some more shouting.
SIEGEL: Well, one - one argument that Clinton has been making to the superdelegates is that she's received more popular votes than Senator Obama has, and speaking of Congressman Clyburn, a superdelegate who's now formally endorsed Obama today, he had something to say about that. He was speaking with NPR's Michel Martin about the claim from Senator Clinton that she's received more popular votes.
SIEGEL: There's something that's called new math, there's something that's called old math, and I suspect that this is probably Clinton math.
SIEGEL: Mara, what do you make of this math argument?
LIASSON: Well, this math argument - Clinton gets the, quote, "majority of the popular vote" by either not counting any votes for Obama in Michigan, where his name was not on the ballot, or by not counting the votes from four caucus states - Nebraska, Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington - that never reported - sorry, five states - that never reported their popular vote totals. But the point about this popular vote argument is that in the Democratic Party, delegates decide the nominee, not the popular vote. And what's more important, this argument has not been working with the superdelegates.
She has made a very persistent argument that she's stronger in the general election. If the superdelegates thought so, they wouldn't be swinging to Obama so strongly. I think they believe now that giving the nomination to her would mean risking alienating the most important voting bloc in the Democratic Party, African-Americans. They do see Obama as the future of the party. He's brought in a whole lot of young voters. And at least for those battleground-state polls that she keeps on pointing to, where she's doing better against McCain than Obama is at the moment, they just aren't compelling enough to the superdelegates.
SIEGEL: Well, let's consider the future for Hillary Clinton if Obama does, either tonight or tomorrow, reach that magic number of 2,118. There was talk today, evidently, Senator Clinton told her fellow New York Congress members that she would be open to the vice presidential spot on an Obama ticket.
LIASSON: That is a - that is the big piece of news for today. The big question now, since she has said she'd be open to it, will she decide to aggressively campaign for the vice presidential slot, in effect trying to force her way onto the ticket. That would be unprecedented but of course, there's a lot this year that has been unprecedented.
SIEGEL: work to unify the party, work her heart out for Obama in the fall. Get back in good graces with African-Americans in the Democratic Party. And then, if she can't get on the ticket, think about what else she might want - a seat on the Supreme Court. Other runners-up in presidential battles have asked for that and gotten it, like Earl Warren. If Obama doesn't win, she could think about running again in 2012.
But I think the story now in the next couple of weeks is going to be this whole question of the vice presidential slot and whether or not he would give it to her, and how hard she's going to push for it.
SIEGEL: And just briefly, if that's - if those are the future questions for Clinton, what are the next steps for Obama?
LIASSON: He has to unify his party. Some of it is kind of internal party business, getting fundraisers on board, getting prominent supporters from Clinton on board with him. Also reaching out to the voting groups where he didn't do very well: white working class voters, Hispanics, Jewish voters. He's been on a kind of tour of those voters recently. He's going to Boca Raton, Florida, and the Mountain West for Hispanics, and he's gone to Malcolm County to reach out to Reagan Democrats. So he's got a lot of work to do, and he's already begun that.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: Its NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.