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June 3, 2008 - 8:58 am

As the fight for the Democratic nomination draws to a close, PJM political expert Bill Bradley is back to share his thoughts on Tuesday’s primaries and the broader picture.

12:05 PM PDT – Wrapping Up: The Obama Speech

So Barack Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee, and Hillary Clinton is making a power play for the vice presidency. Obama, who has nearly a 10-point lead in the Gallup Poll over Clinton, went over the top today with a flood of 60 superdelegates and by splitting the virtually all-white Montana and South Dakota primaries. He won Montana, 58% to 40%, and lost South Dakota — where he once led — 55% to 45%. But because Montana has more voters, he ends up further ahead of Clinton in her once preferred metric of the popular vote.


Still familiar problem areas in exit polling. Obama wins big with younger voters and more educated voters; Clinton wins big with older voters and more working class voters. He wins with men. She wins with women. It’s a combination of a problem for Obama and the ongoing strength of Hillary and Bill Clinton, possessors of a long golden name in Democratic politics and proprietors of a legendary political machine.


That we know. How about Obama’s speech tonight? Well, Obama spoke to over 30,000 people, both inside and outside the St. Paul, Minnesota arena where the Republican National Convention takes place in September. His crowd dwarfed the Clinton and John McCain crowds tonight combined. A ballsy move by Obama in going to the Republican convention site to kick off his campaign against McCain.


Obama was quite aggressive in going after McCain, as you’ll note from the excerpts. Another thing about the speeches. McCain gave one of his better speeches. But he simply can’t compete with Obama as an orator, or in drawing a crowd. His strength, and it’s a real one, is in the town hall format, at which he excels. But the contrast tonight in terms of energy and political theater was stark.


Obama also went out of his way to praise both Hillary and Bill Clinton. A fitting move as he completed one of the biggest upsets in American political history. And indicative of the complex political dance that will take place in the denouement of the Clinton campaign.


Some telling excerpts with regard to emerging themes from Obama’s victory speech tonight in St. Paul:

In just a few short months, the Republican Party will arrive in St. Paul with a very different agenda. They will come here to nominate John McCain, a man who has served this country heroically. I honor that service, and I respect his many accomplishments, even if he chooses to deny mine. My differences with him are not personal; they are with the policies he has proposed in this campaign.


Because while John McCain can legitimately tout moments of independence from his party in the past, such independence has not been the hallmark of his presidential campaign.


It’s not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush 95 percent of the time, as he did in the Senate last year.


It’s not change when he offers four more years of Bush economic policies that have failed to create well-paying jobs, or insure our workers, or help Americans afford the skyrocketing cost of college — policies that have lowered the real incomes of the average American family, widened the gap between Wall Street and Main Street, and left our children with a mountain of debt.


And it’s not change when he promises to continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians — a policy where all we look for are reasons to stay in Iraq, while we spend billions of dollars a month on a war that isn’t making the American people any safer.


So I’ll say this — there are many words to describe John McCain’s attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush’s policies as bipartisan and new. But change is not one of them.


Change is a foreign policy that doesn’t begin and end with a war that should’ve never been authorized and never been waged. I won’t stand here and pretend that there are many good options left in Iraq, but what’s not an option is leaving our troops in that country for the next hundred years — especially at a time when our military is overstretched, our nation is isolated, and nearly every other threat to America is being ignored.


We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in — but start leaving we must. It’s time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their future. It’s time to rebuild our military and give our veterans the care they need and the benefits they deserve when they come home. It’s time to refocus our efforts on al-Qaida’s leadership and Afghanistan, and rally the world against the common threats of the 21st century — terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease. That’s what change is.


Change is realizing that meeting today’s threats requires not just our firepower, but the power of our diplomacy — tough, direct diplomacy where the president of the United States isn’t afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands and what we stand for. We must once again have the courage and conviction to lead the free world. That is the legacy of Roosevelt, and Truman, and Kennedy. That’s what the American people want. That’s what change is.


Change is building an economy that rewards not just wealth, but the work and workers who created it. It’s understanding that the struggles facing working families can’t be solved by spending billions of dollars on more tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy CEOs, but by giving the middle-class a tax break, and investing in our crumbling infrastructure, and transforming how we use energy, and improving our schools, and renewing our commitment to science and innovation. It’s understanding that fiscal responsibility and shared prosperity can go hand-in-hand, as they did when Bill Clinton was president. …


The other side will come here in September and offer a very different set of policies and positions, and that is a debate I look forward to. It is a debate the American people deserve. But what you don’t deserve is another election that’s governed by fear, and innuendo, and division. What you won’t hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon — that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge, but enemies to demonize. Because we may call ourselves Democrats and Republicans, but we are Americans first. We are always Americans first. …


America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past. Our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face. Our time to offer a new direction for the country we love.

9:46 PM PDT – $$$ And The City…

So tomorrow Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may have a private sit-down together.

Perhaps in Washington, where both will address the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), which is the last event on Hillary’s campaign schedule.

Perhaps in New York City, where Obama will appear tomorrow night at two big private fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee. Hillary might appear there, as well.

The two campaign’s fundraising operations are beginning to merge, says Obama’s national finance co-chair, former California state Controller Steve Westly. In LA, where the two campaigns were pretty evenly matched, Clinton backers are beginning to back Obama. In Silicon Valley, which is an Obama stronghold, Clinton fundraisers had already privately signaled their coming support for Obama.

In New York, there was a big private DNC fundraiser featuring Al Gore last Saturday night. The two camps were already talking.

But the big mass integration will await whatever deal is struck between Obama and the Clintons.

9:06 PM PDT – From Hillary’s Message To Her Supporters

Hillary Clinton just sent an e-mail to her vast army of supporters.

“I want to congratulate Senator Obama and his supporters on the extraordinary race that they have run. Senator Obama has inspired so many Americans to care about politics and empowered so many more to get involved, and our party and our democracy are stronger and more vibrant as a result.

“Whatever path I travel next, I promise I will keep faith with you and everyone I have met across this good and great country. There is no possible way to thank you enough for everything you have done throughout this primary season, and you will always be in my heart.”

Her campaign staff talking points tonight included discussion of the vice presidency, saying that she will do whatever it takes for a Democratic victory this fall.

7:17 PM PDT – Hillary Is Running

Quite a good speech by Hillary Clinton, to a small crowd underground at New York’s Baruch College, with no TV monitors or mobile phone service for news of Barack Obama’s presumptive nomination to seep through.

Not that folks were unaware of the reality. For the first time, Clinton gave fulsome praise to Obama for his campaign, calling it “a great boost for democracy.” As I wrote this morning, she did not withdraw from the race, but is effectively suspending her active campaigning.

For president, that is.

It looks like the old Clinton friend who told me earlier today that I was wrong in suggesting she doesn’t want to be Obama’s vice president was right.

Clinton gave every indication of wanting to continue as leader of nearly half the Democratic Party, working with the new leader of the slight majority of the party. The two will meet privately tomorrow.

The two split the final state primaries today, with Clinton winning South Dakota and Obama closing out the season with a win in Montana.

Obama leads her in the last Gallup Poll, 52% to 43%.

I’ll have more information about the coming integration of the powerful Clinton fundraising machine into the Obama campaign later.

6:37 PM PDT – Obama Over The Top, Mac Strikes Back

Barack Obama has gone over the top and is now the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States. America becomes the first largely white nation to have a candidate of African descent as a finalist to be its president or prime minister. Meanwhile, John McCain delivered an effective speech from a suburb of New Orleans, presenting himself as a candidate of change vs. the candidate whose slogan is change. McCain mentioned change over 30 times, including climate change.

Here is the core of McCain’s message tonight: “Each American faces a decision this election and the choice between my candidacy and Senator Obama’s could not be more clear. This is a change election. But the choice is between the right change and the wrong change; between going forward and going backward.

“The right change recognizes that many of the policies and institutions of our government have failed. The right kind of change will initiate widespread and innovative reforms in almost every area of government policy from energy to taxes to government spending and the military.

“The right change will stop impeding Americans from doing what they have always done, overcome obstacles and turn challenges into opportunities. Today, I humbly ask you to join my campaign for the right change, as we move forward together as a nation.

“The wrong change looks not to the future, but to the past for solutions that have failed us before and will surely fail us again. Like others before him, my opponent seems to think government is the answer to every problem. That’s not change we can believe in.

“My friends, we’re not a country that would rather go back than forward. We’re the world’s leader, and leaders don’t hide from history. They make history. If we’re going to lead, we must reform a government that has lost its ability to help us do so.”

McCain chose to speak from New Orleans, actually a nearby suburb, to make a point. Distance from unpopular President George W. Bush. McCain was a tremendous critic of the Bush Administration on Hurricane Katrina. McCain, as I wrote he would earlier, pushed back hard on the emerging line of Obama and the Democrats that his would be a third Bush term.

Speaking before a green backdrop — also part of the color scheme of one of his key backers, Arnold Schwarzenegger — McCain’s slogan reworked Obama’s. Obama is “Change We Can Believe In.” McCain’s is “A Leader We Can Believe In.”

McCain ripped into Obama as, essentially, a special interest politician who doesn’t have the judgment to succeed as president, someone who talks about change but can’t deliver reform. He didn’t hit the experience issue so much, though that will be a major element of the anti-Obama campaign.

The Vietnam War hero also talked up Hillary Clinton, casting Obama’s victory over her as a product of the press and party leaders rather than the people.

Very interesting stuff.
3:57 PM PDT – Maybe Hillary really does want to be Obama’s Vice President

I got off the phone a little while ago with an old friend of the Clintons who told me that something I wrote in an earlier item, suggesting that Hillary Clinton doesn’t really want to be Barack Obama’s vice president and is using the idea to get leverage for something else, is wrong.Here’s what I wrote: “It may be that the Clintons don’t think Hillary can get on the ticket. And that it wouldn’t be good for Bill Clinton’s business interests to have his wife as vice president anyway. But if they can get enough people talking about the need to have her on the ticket, that gives them more leverage to get something else they want.”

This old Clinton friend says that Hillary really does want to be Obama’s running mate. And that Bill Clinton came up with the idea weeks ago.

Why?

Because it would keep them at the center of the Democratic Party the Clintons have dominated at the national level for 16 years. And though Obama would be the senior partner, they would be extremely influential. Needless to say, since Bill Clinton was president for eight years.

Helping Obama win the election would restore Bill Clinton’s now sagging standing with many Democrats, including the black community which once lionized him, in a matter of months. And being vice president is Hillary’s clearest shot at reviving her own hopes to be president.

How would it work in practice? Well, that’s the big question.
2:55 PM PDT – The View From Team McCain

A little while ago, I spoke briefly with Steve Schmidt, senior advisor to John McCain. Schmidt was in the room with McCain when I called him on his cell phone; they’re now going over McCain’s speech tonight, which he’ll deliver in New Orleans.

What are they up to on Barack Obama’s big day?

Getting into the story and engaging the general election.

Schmidt went on CNN and MSNBC this morning setting some of the table for tonight. He’s pushing a hard line on Obama — that he’s not experienced enough or tough enough, and has poor judgment.

Schmidt is also pushing back hard on the emerging Democratic line that McCain would represent a third term for George W. Bush, whose job approval ratings are near historic lows. He cites Hurrican Katrina, energy and environmental issues, and McCain’s long criticism of Bush’s Iraq policy, which led ultimately to the surge strategy which is having some real success.

Tonight McCain will also push hard on his independence from Bush, saying that Obama is pushing the “McBush” theme to avoid a serious debate on the issues. He’ll also praise Hillary Clinton, making something of a play for Democratic voters angry over their loss. They’ve also been something of pals at times, having engaged in a notorious vodka drinking contest a few years back during a Senate Armed Services Committee tour of Eastern Europe.

Schmidt and the other smart guys around McCain figured out that Obama would win the Democratic nomination weeks ago. That’s why they always attack Obama and ignore Hillary.

1:38 PM PDT – Will Clinton Be Obama’s Running Mate?

Will Hillary Clinton be Barack Obama’s running mate? It sure sounds like she wants to be. There’s just one problem. Obama may just not want her on the ticket.

Clinton held a conference call with New York’s Democratic congressional delegation, all of whom have supported her. According to one congressman on the call, Hillary brought up the running mate idea herself, and said she would do anything she can to help Obama beat John McCain.

The Obama camp isn’t saying anything about this today, eager as they are to ease Hillary out of the race and avoid conflict. What I’ve heard from them in the past, however, as in an on-the-record interview with one of Obama’s biggest backers, former California state Controller and Silicon Valley mogul Steve Westly, is that they don’t want her on the ticket.

There’s more interest in having someone with a strong military background, or someone who can help deliver a big state, or the new swing region of the Mountain West.

Clinton comes with a lot of baggage, as I discussed in yesterday’s column. And a very willful husband in the form of former President Bill, who just had to apologize for his latest public blow-up, in which he called a formerly friendly journalist married to his onetime White House press secretary a “slimy scumbag.”

Does Obama need Clinton to hold onto the votes of disappointed women? Can she deliver some of the white working class voters who have been voting for her? We won’t know that today. But clearly the Clintons, as I pointed out this morning, are trying to figure out how to retain an ownership interest in the party they had dominated at the national level for the past 16 years.

It may be that the Clintons don’t think Hillary can get on the ticket. And that it wouldn’t be good for Bill Clinton’s business interests to have his wife as vice president anyway. But if they can get enough people talking about the need to have her on the ticket, that gives them more leverage to get something else they want.

12:00 PM PDT – Dianne Feinstein Says It’s Time for Hillary to Quit

One of Hillary Clinton’s biggest backers, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, told CNN this morning that it’s time for Clinton to get out of the presidential race.

She also said she would like to see Clinton as Barack Obama’s running mate.

Last month, as the Clintons were still ripping into Obama, Feinstein publicly asked them what realistic scenario they had for winning the presidential nomination. And decried the divisiveness.

But she stayed on board Clinton’s campaign, which mostly adopted a more genteel approach.

Now Feinstein wants her to end the campaign.

“There are women all over the country and particularly in my state of California who think she has not been treated fairly,” noted California’s senior senator. “They want her to stand tall. One of the reasons she stayed in the race was to stand tall. She’s done that. The two of them together, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, cover the constituencies of America and I think represent a working team that is unprecedented in the United States.

“I think the time has come to end the primary, to put the ticket together, to bring people together and to march forward together into the convention.”

11:17 AM PDT – Letting Go

The superdelegate endorsements have been trickling in for Barack Obama today, leaving him just over 30 short of an absolute majority of the convention. He’s formally picked up seven new delegate votes this morning. Others, according to all my sources, are on the way. The AP says he has private commitments that will be unveiled later today that, along with expected delegates from today’s Montana and South Dakota primaries, will put him over the top.

So a major topic of conversation at today’s meeting of top backers and advisors — tellingly, not everyone invited is bothering to come — at the Clinton home in Chappaqua, New York will be the road ahead. What exactly does she say tonight? What do the Clintons want from Obama and the Democratic Party they used to run? And how do they go about getting it?

The Clinton campaign’s advance staff (which organizes her campaign events) has already been given notice, I’m told. Which only makes sense because, aside from her speech tonight in New York City, and her long scheduled appearance before AIPAC ( the American Israel Political Action Committee) tomorrow in Washington, she has nothing that I know of on her campaign schedule.

Meanwhile, politicians are meeting, as politicians do. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, formally uncommitted but I’m told a closet Obama backer, will convene a meeting of undeclared senators tomorrow on Capitol Hill. The purpose? To move en masse to Obama.

But if the deal is done tonight, as it may be, Harkin’s group of senators could be left at the station watching the train pull out.

08:58 am PDT – Game Day: End of Primary Season

The five month-long season of Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses comes to an end tonight when the polls close in Montana and South Dakota. By all indicators, Barack Obama is poised to become the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, based on delegates he will win in today’s primaries and on anticipated endorsements from superdelegates, including colleagues in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Top Clinton insiders say they have been invited to meet with Hillary at her New York home today. I’m told by one that this is a sort of “last hurrah.”

She will speak tonight in New York, while Obama moves on to St. Paul, Minnesota, at the site of September’s Republican National Convention, to give his speech tonight signaling the beginning of the general election campaign against John McCain.

While some of the Clintons’ die-hard advisors, such as Terry McAuliffe and Harold Ickes, put out some tough rhetoric over the past few days, her bid for the nomination was effectively ended Saturday when the national Democratic rules committee — which contained a plurality of her supporters — voted against her bid to bring in full delegations from two states which held illegitimate primaries, Michigan and Florida.

In fact, the race essentially ended last month. That’s when Obama, reeling from Jeremiah Wright’s outrageous appearance before the National Press Club, confounded most experts by nonetheless winning a landslide in the last big state primary left, North Carolina, and nearly winning Indiana. The Hoosier State ended up going to Clinton by 14,000 votes, a victory for her claimed by right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh as part of his “Operation Chaos.”

But it was a pointless victory for Clinton, as the superdelegates recognized Limbaugh’s mischief, and gave the former first lady no credit for the state as a result.

Clinton will not, however, end her campaign tonight, nor any time soon. Why not?

Two reasons.

First, she still thinks that a form of lightning might strike. That Obama could have another bout of the Wright Stuff, or something like it. For example, there was a massive rumor yesterday in right-wing circles that video was about to be produced showing Michelle Obama — with Louis Farrakhan, no less! — ranting about “whitey.” The video, of course, did not show up as promised here.

More realistically, here is why Clinton will, at some point soon, suspend but not end her campaign.

If she ends the campaign, she can’t raise any more money to pay off her debt, which sources tell me has reached a record $25 million. If her campaign is suspended, she can raise money to pay the debt, some $11.5 million of which is to herself and Bill.

She will want Obama, whose campaign has shattered all presidential fundraising records thanks largely to its Internet capability, to help her with that. Although Obama supporters are not very happy with her.

And she and the former president have their own agenda. She may want to be Obama’s vice president. Or, failing that, to retain some ownership interest, as it were, in the Democratic Party they have dominated at a national level for the past 16 years.

The maneuvering will be fascinating, and I’ll be covering that today.

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