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Former Senator George McGovern Switches Support from Clinton to Obama

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Many political analysts say Tuesday’s primary results in North Carolina and Indiana make Senator Barack Obama the all-but-certain nominee. But Senator Hillary Clinton is vowing to press on with her presidential bid. We speak to former senator, Senator George McGovern, who has dropped his support of Clinton to endorse Obama. Senator McGovern won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 and ran against Richard Nixon. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryMar 11, 2008Fmr. Presidential Candidate George McGovern on the 2008 Race and How He Helped Transform the Democratic Nominating Process
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the national story of the campaign, Senator Hillary Clinton vowing to press on with her presidential bid despite calls for her to drop out. The website Huffington Post has proclaimed Clinton is out of math, money and momentum. Many political analysts say Tuesday’s primary results in North Carolina and Indiana make Senator Barack Obama the all-but-certain nominee. He now leads by 150 delegates, with six contests to go.

On Wednesday, Clinton’s campaign revealed she had lent herself $6.4 million over the past month, this on top of a previous loan of $5 million.

Meanwhile, a prominent supporter of Senator Clinton, former Senator George McGovern, announced he is dropping his support of Clinton to endorse Obama. Senator McGovern joins us on the phone right now from South Dakota, one of the upcoming primaries. Senator McGovern won the Democratic presidential nomination in ’72.

Thank you very much for being with us.

GEORGE McGOVERN: Well, it’s my pleasure, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us, Senator McGovern. Well, when we had you on the broadcast about a month ago, you were proudly endorsing Senator Clinton.

GEORGE McGOVERN: Yes. Both President Clinton and Senator Clinton have been friends of mine for thirty-six years. They went, at my request, down to Texas and spearheaded the McGovern presidential campaign in Texas in ’72. I must say, it’s not easy to sell George McGovern in Texas, but they did their best. They worked night and day on that campaign. And so, I’ll never forget that.

And we’ve had two very talented candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It’s been a long, exhausting campaign, but I think we’re nearing the time when the Democrats have to unite behind their candidate, who’s going to take on McCain, who’s been getting a free ride here the last couple of months. And I heard yesterday that Senator Clinton is going to stay on through the remaining primaries. They’re all rather small primaries, including my state of South Dakota. But that’s only about — it’s less than a month away, so maybe we’ll see an end to the competition between the Democrats in an effort to unify the party so we have a better chance to win in the fall.

AMY GOODMAN: When you were on our broadcast, Senator McGovern, you said, “I don’t change my mind on things like this in the middle of the battle. I made the decision to back her, and I’ll stay with her.” What changed?

GEORGE McGOVERN: Well, I think the battle is about over. Senator Obama has won almost a majority of the delegates. He’s way out in front, I think somewhere around a 150-delegate lead. I’m told that the superdelegates are about evenly divided between the two candidates, so that’s not going to change much if that ratio continues.

Hillary Clinton is an extremely talented woman. She’s a highly intelligent one, and she has a right to stay in this race as long as she wishes. But I just hope we don’t see a repetition of ’72, the year I won the nomination. In the last month, a desperate move was made by the candidates I had defeated in eleven primaries, including the two biggest ones, New York and California. I had that nomination all but won, too. But my opponents ganged up on me in that last month and continued that fight right on to the convention floor. So, it was a big gift to Richard Nixon, who was elected by a large majority in the fall campaign, partly because I was so scarred up during the battle for the nomination. I don’t want to see a repetition of that in 2008.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think Hillary Clinton is hoping for? Do you think she’s running for vice president right now?

GEORGE McGOVERN: I don’t think so. I think that she’s a very proud United States senator from one of the biggest and most powerful states in the union. She has been in that White House for eight years as First Lady. And it’s an enormous challenge even to run. But to stay in it as long as she has and to fight as hard as she has, it’s very hard to let go of that. And I understand that fully. If she decides to go through the remaining five or six small primaries, why, that’s her privilege, and I don’t think she ought to be battered to quit today. I think it’s a decision she’ll have to make that she can live with, feels comfortable with.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it feel to be welcome back into the fold, given you told us your grandchildren and your children were all supporting Obama, as you had been supporting Senator Clinton?

GEORGE McGOVERN: Well, I’m outnumbered in the McGovern clan. I have been right along. I have three daughters and one son. All four of them are out working for Senator Obama. I’ve got ten grandchildren old enough to vote, and every one of them is in the Obama campaign.

I think he has fired the enthusiasm and the imagination of young people in a way that maybe hasn’t been done since my campaign back in ’72. You will recall that I had young people pretty solidly in my corner then, too. And we ran into some problems on the way to the final stages of the nomination battle and more problems after I was nominated. But I feel in the air somewhat the same atmosphere today that we had then.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Senator McGovern, I want to thank you very much for being with us, speaking to us from his home in South Dakota. Senator George McGovern, former Clinton supporter, has switched his support to Barack Obama. Thanks for being with us.

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