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03-10-08 New York-John Heilemann and Joe Trippi Discuss the

03-10-08 New York-John Heilemann and Joe Trippi Discuss the

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3/10/08
John Heilemann and Joe Trippi Discuss theDemocratic Primary Race Over InstantMessenger
Last night, Democratic strategist Joe Trippi satdown to discuss the Democratic primary with
NewYork 
's John Heilemann from his home on theeastern shore of Maryland. The architect of HowardDean's 2004 primary insurgency, most recently asenior adviser to John Edwards's campaign and aleading advocate for the "bottom-up" style of campaigning, which eschews big donors in favor of grassroots organizing and small donations fueledby the Internet, shared his thoughts on the currentClinton-Obama deadlock. Read on to find out whythis won't be resolved before the convention, aClinton-Obama ticket is likely, and the end of thewriters' strike was a key moment in the race.
JH:
Let's start at 30,000 feet. As of right now,what's the probability (out of 100) that Obama will be the Democratic nominee?
JT:
I would give Obama a probability of 70 out of 100 that he will be the nominee, butClinton could still pull this out.
JH:
Do you think there's any chance, however remote, of Gore or someone elsebecoming the nominee in a brokered convention scenario?
JT:
No, not really. I think there is a much bigger chance that the two of them will berunning together, like it or not. But there is a remote chance of a third candidate if this gets really ugly and Clinton takes a meat ax to Obama.
JH:
What is the likelihood that the Dems will have a nominee before the conventionstarts?
JT:
As of right now the odds are nil, but there are two or three states that wouldobviously change that. If Obama won Pennsylvania it would be pretty much over. If Clinton, on the other hand, can win Pennsylvania and then carry North Carolina (astate that I think is becoming increasingly important), then her case would get muchstronger.
JH:
Wow. "Nil" is a pretty low number  and a pretty grim view of the future. Sowhat's your position in the debate over whether a drawn-out Democratic race (i.e.,one that, by your reckoning, is without resolution until late August) is good, neutral,bad, or disastrous for the party's prospects in the general?
JT:
Well, I don't see the Clintons walking off the field if Hillary has the popular-votelead, which is a realistic possibility. And I don't see Obama walking away from a leadamong pledged delegates. That is why I think it is likely that, however this is
Joe Trippi at the United Nations onFebruary 4
 
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resolved, the two of them run on a ticket together, and here is why: In 1976 and1980 we had fights that went to the convention. In 1976 it was Ford and Reaganfighting it out and Jimmy Carter became president. In 1980 it was Ted Kennedy andJimmy Carter and Reagan became president. History says you don't want tocampaign into the convention, even if McCain will be carrying George Bush'sbaggage. So I think there will be tremendous pressure on the eventual nominee topull the party together by picking the other.
JH:
Okay, switching gears slightly: Would you agree that the past week has beenObama's worst since he announced? And if you were his chief strategist, what wouldyou be advising him to do  go after her or stay above the fray?
JT:
I would absolutely agree that Obama has had his worst week of the campaign,and if this keeps up, it is the one opening Clinton has to getting past him. I think it isa mistake to match Clinton attack for attack. It demeans his overall message anddestroys his reason for being as a candidate of a different kind of politics. If I were inthe Obama campaign I would have him give a major speech this week and tellPennsylvania and the nation that they now have a clear choice. That if they wantattack-and-run politics as usual, then they should vote for Hillary Clinton. If they wantto turn the page, the people of Pennsylvania can say no to the status quo and yes toreal change. He has to frame the choice, and he hasn't done that over the lastthirteen states or so.
JH:
It's interesting, because some Democrats really want him to hit back at her (thusproving he is tough enough to take on McCain) while others think it's a huge mistakefor him to get down in the mud with the pigs (because it makes him just anotherpolitician, and because the Clintons people live in, love, and thrive in the mud).
JT:
Yeah. I think he should avoid the mud  and say mud is the past. And by the way you will have that same choice in November. If the Republicans get in the mud, Iwon't go there with them. You will decide if we go back or we move forward.
JH:
The Clinton strategy is premised on trying to make Obama look like just anotherpolitician. From what you've observed, how different do you think he really is?
JT:
Well, the Clinton campaign is the last top-down campaign on our side  and it isthe best top-down campaign of all time. The Obama campaign is only the secondbottom-up campaign in history  and it is stronger than the Clinton campaign both inmoney and organization. It is the reason Obama destroys Clinton in caucus states.The Dean campaign, when I think of it now, it seems to me we were the Wrightbrothers proving you could design something no one had seen before and that youcould actually fly in politics coming from the bottom up and using new ways tocommunicate. Four years later, win or lose, the Obama campaign is landing a man onthe moon.
JH:
So bottom-up campaigning, done right, wins caucuses. But top-down seems to beholding its own in big-state primaries. What lessons can we draw from that?
JT:
Top-down still is king in TV dependent, massive states like California, New Jersey,etc. But bottom-up raises Obama the money to compete in that medium as well. Soit's not bottom-up that is failing in those states, it is that Clinton’s message worksbetter across those demographics. In the end your message works or it doesn't.Obama has been hit-and-miss when it comes to connecting with blue-collarDemocrats. No matter what the medium, this seems to be a problem for him.
JH:
If you were advising Clinton, what would you be telling her now?
JT:
Clinton has to win Pennsylvania, but then she has a small chance of defeatingObama in North Carolina  and that might shock the superdelegates into rethinkingObama further. The red-phone ad worked, so they need to keep doing that to raise
 
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doubts in people's heads. But the problem she has is very real. They won't bedefeating just Obama anymore; they are going to have to crush all those youngpeople, African-Americans, and progressives in the party that have embracedObama's candidacy. That is one of the reasons that she keeps mentioning what agreat vice-president Obama would be, even as she makes the case that he isn'tready to be president. In the end, Clinton may need a self-inflicted mistake by Obamato get the nomination
JH:
Which of them do you think would be a stronger candidate in the general? Do youbuy the notion that he would put a bunch of states in play that she cannot?
JT:
No, I don't really buy that argument. Most of Obama's wins in states like Idahoand Colorado and Kansas were caucus victories among the most energized partyfaithful. They say nothing about his ability to win those states in a general election.And if there was one state we needed to win in 2004, it was Ohio, and Clinton justwon that state. I think Obama has a strong chance of winning the general with anynumber of possible vice-presidential nominees  Mark Warner, John Edwards, orHillary Clinton and a host of others. I think Clinton, if she somehow gets by Obama,has almost no chance of winning the general now unless she picks Obama. Sheseems to get this already. If Obama has more pledged delegates going into theconvention, it will be very hard for his supporters to accept Hillary Clinton somehowwinning the nomination.
JH:
Speaking of Edwards, do you think he will endorse before the primaries are over?If not, do you think he's aiming to play some sort of honest-broker/party-elder roledown the line?
JT:
I really don't expect him to endorse, but he has surprised me before. But yes, Ithink he may well be one of the few in the party who can help the party cometogether at the convention if this isn't resolved by then. That in the end may be moreimportant in November for the country than his endorsement might be today.
JH:
As HRC has gone more sharply negative in the past couple of weeks, do you thinkshe has crossed the line in terms of giving Republicans attack lines to use againstObama in the fall? Or do you think she has self-consciously held back in order toavoid that?
JT:
I think she has tried to walk the line, and done so with the party's best interests inmind. But she has crossed it on occasion. The 3 a.m. ad could easily be an ad forMcCain, for example. The real question with that ad is what took her so long to do it.
JH:
Explain?
JT:
Anyone who lived through the 1984 election knows that ad was what stoppedGary Hart under very similar circumstances. I saw Pat Caddell (Gary Hart's pollster)on the air for weeks screaming that Clinton should put the red-phone ad up againstObama. I thought the same thing. So it’s amazing to me that it took them so long toget to a spot like that.
JH:
Last question. Do you think the media dynamic has flipped completely now? Aswe head to Pennsylvania, do Clinton and Obama get equally tough treatment, or isObama now the main target of scrutiny?
JT:
No, I think the main dynamic that really changed things was the ending of thewriters' strike.
Saturday Night Live
hit the nerve  the press has been in love withthe Obama story. Edwards had really, really tough weeks with the press; Clinton hasas well, but it all does come around. The press never lets you go forever. Sooner orlater they will get around to you. And now it looks like Obama is in for some toughertreatment. That is a good thing. He is going to have to go through it now or in thegeneral. Get it out of the way now.

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