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Plenty at Stake as Texas, Ohio Prep for Vote

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

And I'm Anthony Brooks continuing now with presidential politics on the eve of what could be a pivotal moment for the Democrats. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are working hard to shore up support on the eve of primaries and caucuses in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Joining us now to talk about those four contests is senior Washington editor Ron Elving.

Ron, welcome.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Anthony.

BROOKS: Ron, by all accounts tomorrow is do or die for Hillary Clinton in the big states of Texas and Ohio. Of those two big states, where's the focus tomorrow?

ELVING: I think the focus is on Texas, because Texas is the largest state that has not yet voted, second most populous state in the country, an enormously diverse state. And yet it's also the state in which Barack Obama has probably staked out his best chance to defeat Hillary Clinton on this crucial day, March 4th, and set himself up as the presumptive nominee of the Democrat Party.

If he does win Texas, then even if Hillary should win in Ohio and add Rhode Island, he's still going to be so far ahead in delegates that it's going to be pretty much impossible for her to overtake him.

BROOKS: So if Hillary is to stay in the race tomorrow she not only has to win but win convincingly. How convincingly? What does she have to do to make a case that Democrats need to take another look at her and another look at Obama?

ELVING: Taking the Clinton campaign's viewpoint at this juncture, if she can keep it close in Texas and win Ohio, win Rhode Island, she's going to make the argument that even if she's going to have a hard time winning more delegates than he's going to have, she has broken his momentum, she would say; she is forcing people to take another look at Barack Obama as the prospective nominee and have their doubts; she is going to be able to go on to Pennsylvania, perhaps, on April 22nd and then on from there to Indiana, North Carolina, other states, and say she's building the momentum before we get to the convention.

She could make a plausible case for how by the time we got to Denver even if she didn't have more delegates she would have more momentum and be the more plausible November candidate and use that case to bring the superdelegates to her side. And super delegates cast 20 percent of the total vote. They could reverse a lead in pledged delegates in Denver, if they so chose.

BROOKS: Hmm. Two other state voting tomorrow, Vermont and Rhode Island. Do we need to say anything about these smaller states? How important are they?

ELVING: They make a very small contribution in terms of the number of delegates. And we assume at this point their going to split, with Vermont clearly going to Obama, Rhone Island still preferring Clinton by a few percentage points. At this juncture they're probably going to cancel each other out. But if they were to both go for the same candidate, that would add to a sense of momentum.

BROOKS: Hmm. Now, Senator Clinton went on "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend and she's going to join Jon Stewart tonight on "The Daily Show." She's following, of course, in a proud tradition of serious-minded politicians showing they can be goofy. A good strategy for her right now?

ELVING: Yes, I think anything she can do to reach out in particular to younger people - and the demographics for these shows are somewhat younger - to people who have not been in her camp, to people who have seen her as being, if you will, the establishment candidate - to borrow a term from another era. Anything she can do to reach out to those kinds of voters is smart politics right now. She's not going to cost herself very much among the people who have been favoring her; that is to say older voters, some of the women - white women in particular - because they're probably with her and because they're probably not watching these shows.

BROOKS: Her best voter, her most loyal supporter, is a white woman over 65 years old. So this kind of show would make sense.

ELVING: It would. It would, because she needs to reach out to people who are as far away from that demographic as possible. She needs to find more of the first-time voters, people who are for the first time going to contemplate actually going out and making the effort to vote or go to a caucus. And that kind of voter is more likely to either be watching one of these shows or just as significantly picking it up on YouTube or somewhere else on the Internet.

BROOKS: All right. We'll tune in. Thank you very much. Senior Washington editor Ron Elving, thanks for joining us.

ELVING: Thank you, Anthony. 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.

Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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