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Clinton Strategist Discusses Future



I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

It began more than a year ago and finally today, the Democratic primary season comes to a close. Yes, you heard that right.

And on this key day, we'll be taking a measure of both of the Democratic campaigns.

SIEGEL: For Barack Obama, superdelegates who've stayed quiet are finally speaking up. That includes former President Jimmy Carter. And today, voters in South Dakota and Montana are the last to weigh in at the polls. In those states, there are 31 Democratic delegates at stake, but eye's are on the remaining superdelegates, nearly 200 of whom remained uncommitted.

Their decisions in the next hours and days will determine the nomination.

BLOCK: NPR's Don Gonyea has spent much of these five months following the Obama campaign; he joins us now. And Don, final two primaries - Montana and South Dakota - what do we expect tonight?

DON GONYEA: Well, the Obama campaign is looking for victories in both places. More importantly, though, it's about that kind of final delegate count at this point.

And what they're hoping for, again, is that they get the majority of the delegates from these two states, and that it be enough to push them over the top.

So, the candidate can actually declare that he has surpassed the number needed to win the nomination tonight.

BLOCK: There's been talk all day, Don, about whether Senator Clinton tonight will effectively suspend her campaign, what exactly she might have to say - and that's got to be the talk of the Obama campaign as well.

GONYEA: It is, absolutely, but I can tell you they are being very low-key today. They're really kind of leaving that story to the Clinton campaign to talk about and to react to.

Senator Obama was at home today in Chicago. Certainly, his top aides have been working the phones and trying to monitor the situation there as well, while also monitoring the, you know, any new superdelegates that have had come in and supported him, announced that they're committed to him. We've had a number of those today - that number continues to grow. But mostly it is a low-key day, preparing for tonight, for the Obama campaign.

BLOCK: And tonight, Barack Obama is not going to be in South Dakota or Montana. He is going to be in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Yesterday, he was in Michigan - today, Minnesota. Explain that for us?

GONYEA: Sounds like the fall campaign, doesn't it?

BLOCK: It does.

GONYEA: Michigan, of course, an important battleground state, Minnesota as well. Minnesota is one of those states Democrats feel they need to win. It's also a state that John McCain thinks he's got a shot at. But beyond the symbolism of it being a battleground state, it is also the place where John McCain, the Republicans, will hold their nominating convention in August.

So it's like Senator Obama is putting a bit of a marker down there, sending a message before that.

BLOCK: And when he sends that message in his speech tonight, what do you think we'll hear from him?

GONYEA: You know, he has really been kind of reprising some, some old themes. And in some ways, we're seeing Senator Obama - and we will see it tonight - re-introduce himself to American voters, to, to get them to, to look at him as the nominee, even though he hasn't officially claimed that yet. And he will talk about bringing change to Washington. He will talk about how he has tried to run a different kind of campaign, a campaign focusing on the positive. He will talk about a Bush administration that he says has left so many people behind over the last eight years, and how John McCain to him represents a continuation of that.

BLOCK: Okay, NPR's Don Gonyea, traveling with the Obama campaign. Thanks so much.

GONYEA: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Well, now to Clinton campaign chief strategist Geoff Garin. Welcome to the program.

BLOCK: Hello, Robert.

SIEGEL: Geoff Garin, given today's superdelegate endorsements for Barack Obama and those expected tomorrow, it looks like he's going to win the nomination pretty soon. How will Senator Clinton acknowledge that fact?

BLOCK: Well, tonight what we are going to acknowledge is - that her success and getting the votes of nearly 18 million people all around the country. So, so, tonight is a night of celebration for Senator Clinton. Then in the coming days, she really is going to be thinking and talking with folks about how to do two very important things. First, she wants to keep faith with those 18 million people who supported her, who have really invested their hopes in her. And she also wants to keep her commitment to ensure that we have a strong and united Democratic Party. So she will be thinking about how best to do that, talking with her supporters and others about how best to do that. And she'll move forward from there.

SIEGEL: I'm hearing what you're not saying right now. You're not saying that the campaign goes on full tilt, all the way to Denver, fighting for the nomination.

BLOCK: Well, I think that is what those conversations will be about. I think it's - Senator Clinton wants to make sure that we have a strong and united Democratic Party. She wants to - she is a realistic person. She cares very deeply about the Democratic Party, but she also does have a great sense of responsibility and a great sense of obligation to the nearly 18 men and women who believe in her effort to keep the promise of America for the middle class. And so, she really wants to be thoughtful about that. She wants to do the right thing, and I personally have every confidence that she will do the right thing.

SIEGEL: She was quoted today in a conference call with the rest of the New York State congressional delegation saying that she is open to being Barack Obama's running mate - a remark that sounds pretty close to a de facto concession, wouldn't you agree?

BLOCK: Well, she was asked about that, and she said really very much what I'm saying to you - is that she has a commitment to doing whatever she concludes will be most helpful in ensuring that Democrats take back the White House in November and defeat John McCain. So she - that it was really an answer to a question that was posed to her. It's been a question that's certainly come up over the past several weeks. And right now, her focus is on what is the best way for her to redeem the investment that people have made in her and help the Democratic Party be successful.

SIEGEL: Will Senator Clinton make these decisions mindful of Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean's concerns that everything get wrapped up in June and that their be a - someone that the party agrees upon in June. Is that a fair statement to what's guiding her decision making?

BLOCK: Well, look, I don't think she has any interest in dragging this out to a point that would be harmful to the prospects of Democrats being successful. And so she is very mindful about that. That is what she'll be talking to folks about and listening to people's opinions on. So that, you know, she's a realistic person. She is a very committed Democrat. And so she is going to figure out what is the best way to redeem the hopes of the people and to serve her party and her country.

SIEGEL: Senator Obama talked about meeting with her in the near future, at her terms. Would you expect there to be a meeting between the two candidates very soon?

BLOCK: I would think that that would be a certainly - a reasonable thing to do. And I don't think this will take Fred Astaire choreography to pull off. These are two people who have been crisscrossing the country together for a very long time now, that they've really been on a very special journey together. So I think, you know, in terms of arranging that kind of meeting, that won't be a heavy lift at all.

SIEGEL: Well, Geoff Garin, thanks a lot for talking with us.

BLOCK: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Once again, Geoff Garin, who is chief strategist for the Hillary Clinton campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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