As Clinton Stages Comeback, Democracy Now! Hosts Debate Between Vermont’s Former Governor Madeleine Kunin and Obama Superdelegate Chuck Ross

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Senator Hillary Clinton won the crucial Ohio and Texas primaries Tuesday night, ending a string of twelve straight defeats in the race for the Democratic nomination against Senator Barack Obama. Clinton also won Rhode Island, while Obama won in Vermont. The final results of the Texas caucuses are not yet known, with the outcome likely to stay up in the air until later today. We host a debate between the only woman ever elected governor of Vermont, Madeleine Kunin, and Senator Patrick Leahy’s state director, Chuck Ross. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Hillary Clinton won the crucial Ohio and Texas primaries Tuesday night, ending a string of twelve straight defeats in the race for the Democratic nomination against Senator Barack Obama. Clinton also won Rhode Island, while Obama won Vermont. The final results of the Texas caucuses are not yet known, with the outcome likely to stay up in the air until later today.

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain won all four states, giving him more than 1,191 delegates needed to secure the nomination. He is scheduled to travel to Washington today to have a private lunch with President Bush and receive his endorsement. In his victory speech in Dallas, McCain offered a preview of attacks for his Democratic rival.

    SEN. JOHN McCAIN: My friends, I’ll leave it to my opponents to argue that we should abrogate trade treaties and pretend the global economy will go away and Americans can secure our future by trading and investing only among ourselves. We will campaign in favor of seizing the opportunities presented by the growth of free markets throughout the world, helping displaced workers acquire new and lasting employment, and educating our children to prepare them for the new economic realities by giving parents choices about their children’s education that they do not have now.

    I’ll leave it to my opponent to claim that they can keep jobs and companies from going overseas by making it harder for them to do business here at home. We will campaign to strengthen job growth in America by helping businesses become more competitive with lower taxes and less regulation.

    I will leave it to my opponent to propose returning to the failed big-government mandates of the '60s and ’70s to address problems such as the lack of healthcare insurance for some Americans. I will campaign to make healthcare more accessible to more Americans with reforms that will bring down costs in the healthcare industry without ruining the quality of the world's best medical care.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, speaking in Dallas. On the Democratic side, Senator Clinton notched a decisive win: the Ohio primary. Speaking to supporters in Columbus, she said she was determined to stay in the race.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: For everyone here in Ohio and across America who’s ever been counted out but refused to be knocked out and for everyone who has stumbled but stood right back up and for everyone who works hard and never gives up, this one is for you.

    You know what they say: as Ohio goes, so goes the nation. Well, this nation’s coming back, and so is this campaign. The people of Ohio have said it loudly and clearly: we’re going on, we’re going strong, and we’re going all the way.

    You know, they call Ohio a bellwether state. It’s a battleground state. It’s a state that knows how to pick a president. And no candidate in recent history, Democrat or Republican, has won the White House without winning the Ohio primary.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Clinton, speaking in Columbus, Ohio. She took Ohio, Rhode Island, and soon after she spoke, the results were in in Texas. She took Texas, as well. That’s where Senator Barack Obama was, in San Antonio. He congratulated Clinton on running a “hard-fought race” but pointed out he still held the lead in the race for the nomination.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA: We are in the middle of a very close race right now in Texas. We may not even know the final results until morning. We do know that Senator Clinton has won Rhode Island, and while there are a lot of votes to be counted in Ohio, it looks likely she won there, too. So I want to congratulate Senator Clinton for running a hard-fought race in both Ohio and Rhode Island.

    We also know that we’ve won the state of Vermont, and so we want to say thank you to the people of Vermont. And we know this: no matter what happens tonight, we have nearly the same delegate lead as we did this morning, and we are on our way to winning this nomination.

    Now, in the weeks to come, we will begin a great debate about the future of this country with a man who has served it bravely and loves it dearly. And tonight, I called John McCain and congratulated him on winning the Republican nomination. But in this election, we will offer two very different visions of the America we see in the twenty-first century, because John McCain may claim long history of straight talk and independent thinking, and I respect that, but in this campaign he has fallen in line behind the very same policies that have ill-served America. He has seen where George Bush has taken our country, and he promises to keep us on the very same course.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Barack Obama, speaking to supporters in San Antonio, Texas. Obama’s only win of the evening came in Vermont, where we’ll go after break for a debate. All that and more coming up. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re going right now to Burlington, Vermont. And if you’re a Vermonter, you may well have gotten a call in the past few days from Senator Patrick Leahy — well, a robo-call from the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging his fellow Vermonters to vote for Barack Obama. You may also have gotten a call from the state’s only-ever woman governor, Madeleine Kunin. She was urging Vermonters to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Well, today, we’re joined by the former governor, Madeleine Kunin, who served as Vermont’s first — and so far only — woman governor from 1985 to 1991. She is co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s election committee in Vermont. She served in Bill Clinton’s administration as the Deputy Secretary of Education and as ambassador to her native Switzerland. She is author of the forthcoming book, Pearls, Politics and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead. We are also joined by Chuck Ross. He’s the state director for Senator Patrick Leahy’s office. He’s a superdelegate for Obama.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! And we’re going to begin with Madeleine Kunin. Well, your state went for Barack Obama last night. Why are you for Hillary Clinton?

MADELEINE KUNIN: Well, I’m for Hillary Clinton, I think, for the same reasons that Ohio and Texas and Rhode Island went for Hillary Clinton, because I do think she is the best, most qualified candidate to be the first woman president of the United States. And I know her, over the years, respect her mind, respect her passionate commitment to the causes she believes in.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think your state went with Obama?

MADELEINE KUNIN: Well, that’s a very fair question, and I think there are a couple of things at work. One is, Obama was here in the spring and gave one of his rousing speeches, and because of Hillary Clinton’s vote on the war. I think the state was strongly antiwar from the start. I was antiwar. I spoke out against it. But I’ve moved from 2002 to 2009, when the next Democratic president will sit in the White House. And as we look forward, there’s really no difference between what a President Obama would do or a President Clinton. They both want to get us out of there as quickly as possible. But for many people, this was still the litmus test. They didn’t look ahead; they looked in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: Chuck Ross, you’re the state director for Senator Patrick Leahy’s office. You were at the Barack Obama victory party last night. Why Barack Obama?

CHUCK ROSS: I think Barack Obama is giving Americans and Vermonters a message that they have been longing for for a long time. He really is suggesting that there’s a new way of doing business, there’s a new way of governing. And he recognizes that the United States faces some real challenges. And I think what he has to say and the message he delivers inspires Vermonters and Americans to believe that we really can reach for the highest rung of who we can be as individuals and who we can be as a country and that he can build a coalition across these artificial divisions that divide us and build a coalition of common purpose to take on these challenges. And that kind of message resonates with Vermonters, and I think it’s been clear it’s resonating across the country. He does well north, south, east, west, every demographic he’s won in. It’s a kind of message that is really about hope, it’s about change, it’s about a new way of governing.

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts about Hillary Clinton, Chuck Ross?

CHUCK ROSS: Hillary Clinton is a fine candidate, and I think what Democrats can be proud of is we have two very good candidates in this race. And that’s what makes it a very dynamic race. So my support for Barack Obama is not a statement against Hillary Clinton; it’s a statement about what I believe Barack Obama can bring to the most import leadership position in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, Chuck Ross, you were at the state office of Senator Patrick Leahy when ten antiwar demonstrators last year were arrested there after a sit-in. Can you explain what happened and why Senator Leahy was being protested in this way, with, among others, an eighty-three-year-old Burlington resident, Marmete Hayes, being handcuffed at the entrance of Courthouse Plaza, where Leahy’s office is located?

CHUCK ROSS: Yes. Vermonters have been, from the get-go, opposed to this war. There’s enormous amount of frustration with the duration of this war and the manner in which we got into it. Vermonters feel a real need to speak out, and when they can come to an office like Senator Leahy’s and be able to get the TV cameras to come, get the press to come and listen to what they have to say, it’s an opportunity they use. And we’ve had a — I’ve had a number of protesters come to our office, as much to have a dialogue, to let themselves speak to me as the representative of the senator. This — we are their porthole to the national scene, and they feel comfortable coming and talking to us. So they — actually, the dialogues have always been very respectful, from our standpoint.

AMY GOODMAN: Madeleine Kunin —-

MADELEINE KUNIN: I would just also -—

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

MADELEINE KUNIN: I would just also add that while, yes, Obama represents change, so does Hillary Clinton. You know, she would be the first woman president after 219 years, and she brings a dramatic change in policy from the Bush years. And she brings change — I will say, at the risk of being, you know, influenced by the fact that she is a woman, not just any woman — I never have supported just any woman — but she’s the first qualified woman, and she would bring different priorities to our country. In the field of healthcare, she has the toughest plan, in the field of education, in the field of the environment with building a green economy. So I think neither candidate really has a stranglehold on the word “change.”

The difference is that Hillary Clinton has the experience and the practice, if you will, to know how to bring it about. And she’s learned. I mean, if there’s one thing I admire in this woman, is her ability to spring back. You know, yesterday, all day, the question was, is this going to be the knockout punch? And I was asked that question by all the reporters. Well, it was not the knockout punch, because she picked herself up and showed how she can fight, how she can win the voters and how strong she is as a candidate.

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts on —-

CHUCK ROSS: You know, and -—

AMY GOODMAN: Just a quick question to Madeleine Kunin, what so many of the commentators were saying was that the way she was able to sweep in three of the four primary states last night was going fiercely negative on Barack Obama. Your thoughts on that, Madeleine Kunin?

MADELEINE KUNIN: Well, I would not use the word “fierce.” She pointed out some realities. You know, for those of us who have watched campaigns, this is still pretty gentle politics. But she has a right to point out the differences. And the difference in that memo with the Canadian consul in Chicago, where Barack Obama’s person, foreign policy adviser, said, “Well, don’t take this too seriously; this is a campaign” — first denied that — I think that’s legitimate. I think it’s legitimate to point out the differences.

It is — here’s where the subtleties of gender come in. When a woman goes negative, she’s criticized more heavily for it than when a man goes negative, because a woman is still supposed to be sweet and nice. And when a woman is tough, she’s considered not likable. If she’s too sweet, she’s not considered tough enough. So she walks a very fine line, and that’s the line Hillary Clinton is successfully walking.

AMY GOODMAN: Chuck Ross, let’s go to that point that Madeleine Kunin raised, the issue of the memo that came out of the Canadian embassy, that one of the top advisers to Senator Obama had gone there and basically said that Barack Obama would not follow through on the campaign rhetoric of wanting to renegotiate NAFTA. Your thoughts on that?

CHUCK ROSS: Well, I think what’s important is what comes out of Barack Obama’s mouth, and I think he’s been very clear in his positions across the campaign in Ohio and Texas.

And I think what’s important for people to understand is we have a historic election in front of us. Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton both will set history when they are elected. And, you know, Barack Obama has demonstrated from the get-go he has a message that’s important. He has a background of experience, starting as an organizer, being a state senator, passing significant legislation there. And as Madeleine knows, the state senate is an important institution, a political training ground. And he’s done important work in the US Senate, as well. He has experience, and what’s most important, he’s demonstrated he has very good judgment. And right from the get-go, Senator Obama was against the war. That is a testament to his ability to read the landscape and make the right call at the right time, and that is the most important job of a president.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask the former Governor Madeleine Kunin about these votes that took place in both Marlboro and Brattleboro, Vermont, that call for the indictment of both President Bush and Vice President Cheney and call on their local police departments to arrest either man if he steps foot in that town. Your comment? Do you support these resolutions in both communities?

MADELEINE KUNIN: Well, I support the fact that these communities were able to do that. You know, that’s Town Meeting in Vermont. Anything can happen. Would I have voted for it? Probably not. But I do respect their speaking out and taking a stand. I think there are a lot of people in Vermont who are frustrated that there’s no impeachment process going on of Bush and Cheney. I don’t think that would serve us well at this time. We’ve got too many issues. This would be very debilitating for the nation. But I think there is a lot of anger that these two men have led us astray and have lost the respect for our country around the world. So this is not atypical of Vermont; we’ve done things like this before.

AMY GOODMAN: Chuck Ross, it’s very interesting that Vermont, one of the whitest states in the nation, went for Barack Obama. How does race play in your state?

CHUCK ROSS: Well, I’d like to say that it doesn’t play an issue. I think Vermonters looked at the candidates. They ignored gender, they ignored race. They chose the person they thought would serve this country the best and had the best message, that offered them the greatest hope that we’ll be able to tackle the issues with a coalition of Americans that can work together and not be working around a 51-49 divide, but working with a majority of people pushing in the same direction, addressing the same issues. And I think that speaks well of Vermonters.

MADELEINE KUNIN: I’d just say, you know, though the two candidates —-

AMY GOODMAN: Madeleine Kunin.

MADELEINE KUNIN: —- the two candidates are very different, but Vermont also went for Jesse Jackson. So Vermont has a history of supporting African American candidates. And I think that’s a great thing. It doesn’t mean there’s no racism, doesn’t mean there’s no sexism. It exists here, just as anywhere else.

But I think the good news about this primary campaign all over the country, not just in Vermont, is the record turnout and the turnout of young people. I just hope they stay with it. They are excited. They know it’s an important election. So that bodes very well for Democrats, because Democrats have had twice as many voters at the primaries and caucuses all over the country than Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Chuck Ross of Vermont, director for Senator Patrick Leahy’s office, an Obama superdelegate, about the issue of the delegates. One of the issues that Senator Obama raised last night in San Antonio was that he still has the delegate edge. It was unusual to hear him, for all the time that the discussion has been that perhaps Clinton had wrapped up with the superdelegates, to hear him say, well, even though she won three of the four states — though I don’t know if that was known exactly at the time he spoke — that he’s got the delegate edge. Talk about the politics of delegates and superdelegates.

CHUCK ROSS: Well, the delegate edge he was referring to last night, I believe, was the delegate edge he has in the delegate lead of those delegates chosen by the primary elections. And that’s — I believe it’s close to a hundred, as of this morning. The caucus process in Texas is not yet conclusive about how that’s going to break. It sounds like it’s going to break towards Barack Obama possibly.

So we have, really, two sets of delegates: those that are chosen through the primary process of the elections that we’ve been following on the state-by-state basis, and then there’s the superdelegates, of which about 20 percent of the voting delegates at the convention will be superdelegates. And the superdelegates are uncommitted from the outset. They can choose the candidate they’d like to support, irrespective, potentially, of how their states vote. So there’s two campaigns going on. There’s the campaign for the primaries, the elections, and there’s this other discussion that’s going on among the campaigns for the superdelegates, people like myself. I happen to be representing Vermont, and I’ve been supporting Barack Obama, very comfortable with my position, in part because I’m representing what the Vermont preference is.

And I think what we’re looking at here is a mathematical situation where it’s difficult to see how Senator Clinton can garner enough delegates, in any event, to win the nomination outright. And so, this is the back-and-forth, and I think what Senator Obama was suggesting last night is, yes, Senator Clinton had a good night — he congratulated her on having a good night — he has had twelve wins in a row; he has won many, many delegates, both primary delegates and he is gathering more superdelegates as he marches forward, and that this race, while it’s still a race, still favors Barack Obama.

And I think one of the stories about last night was that Senator Obama was behind in Texas and Ohio by a significant margin just a few weeks ago. And the pattern is, when Senator Obama can engage a state, he gets people to listen to him, and he moves the electorate in his direction. And frankly, last night that happened, too. Did he win Texas? Did he win Ohio? No. But did he cut the margin significantly? Absolutely. And did he win many delegates from those states? Yes, he did. And so, I think the direction of this campaign hasn’t changed dramatically. We’ve just seen another contest among four states, like the many states we’ve had before them.

AMY GOODMAN: Madeleine Kunin, what about this issue of whether Hillary Clinton should remain in the race for the next seven weeks, she would need to get at least 60 percent of the vote in every single primary, that she couldn’t surpass the delegate count of Barack Obama, and yet the Democratic Party now is ripping each other apart as the Republicans are solidifying behind John McCain? Your response?

MADELEINE KUNIN: Well, she absolutely has to stay in the race. She did so well last night. And, you know, the states she has won are the big states where Democratic voters are. And if we’ve learned anything about this primary contest, it is how fluid it is, how the pendulum swings back and forth. And let’s face it, until recently — well, until last night, Obama really has not been challenged. He has been accepted on face value. Even Saturday Night Live picked that up, you know, the way the reporters have treated him with kid gloves, while they have pointed the finger at her again and again. And I think we’re going to get more scrutiny of Mr. Obama in the coming races. And I think voters will be saying, “Who do we want in the White House? Do we want an experienced woman who knows what she is doing, who will lead us in a new direction?”

And, you know, the superdelegates are there for a reason. There’s — I’ll give you a thumbnail history. After the conventions in 1968, new rules were written, because the elected officials did not go along with the delegates who chose the presidential nominee. There was a big philosophical divide. And that was the year also that Democrats lost. Mondale, Humphrey. And they said, we’ve got to fix this system. We have to have unity between elected officials and delegates who are popularly elected. And so, the superdelegates have a precise role in this campaign, and that is to bring the Democrats together.

It won’t be easy. It may be uncomfortable because it’s so close, but I think the superdelegates have a role. Some will follow the popular vote. I don’t know if Ted Kennedy and John Kerry will in Massachusetts. Some will not. Some declared who they were for, as did Chuck Ross, before the popular vote was taken, as did Senator Leahy and Congressman Peter Welch, before there was a primary in Vermont. So it’s going to be all over the lot. But I’m an optimist, and I think Democrats will come together. Yes, it’s a messy process, but that’s what democracy is. It’s not streamlined. It lets the people speak. And I think in the end, it lets them be heard.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you both one last question, and that is, what do you think your candidate’s greatest mistake has been so far? Chuck Ross, I’ll begin with you, the Vermont director for Senator Patrick Leahy’s office, Barack Obama superdelegate.

CHUCK ROSS: Well, that’s a good question. I think, if anything, it may have been a bit of a letdown after the Iowa caucuses, and — but I think he’s actually been running a very good campaign, and I think it’s been showing up across the country, where he’s been winning north, south, east, west and across the demographic profile.

AMY GOODMAN: And Madeleine Kunin?

MADELEINE KUNIN: Well, I think the fact that Hillary Clinton is so policy-knowledgeable and -oriented didn’t always let people see the other side, that she has emotions. You know, they made such a big deal of that almost-crying moment in New Hampshire, how the ice maiden has melted. Well, she’s never been an ice maiden, but the public didn’t get a real look at the total Hillary Clinton: smart, emotional and ready.

AMY GOODMAN: Madeleine Kunin and Chuck Ross, I want to thank you both for being with us. Madeleine Kunin is the only woman ever elected governor of Vermont. Her forthcoming book is called Pearls, Politics and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead. And Chuck Ross is the state director for Senator Patrick Leahy’s office. He is an Obama superdelegate.

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