The following is a transcript of the interview of Hillary Clinton with the editorial board of the Sioux Falls Argus leader on May 24, 2008, provided by the Argus Leader. A transcript download–as well as a series of video downloads–is available for those who have download capability and some version of Microsoft Word. I have also transcribed the “assassination” portion of the tape–with all the um’s and verbal pauses left in–and I do think my version is a bit more accurate , if a little harder to read.
For those who have heard stump speeches, and have tried to figure out what a candidate is like based on what they can say in front of a wildly cheering crowd or by trying to puzzle out an official campaign website written by assistants, this in-depth interview by what one would presume to be some of South Dakota’s most educated citizens is a rare insight into a candidate’s capabilities.
A little disappointing that they don’t say who asks each particular question, and you don’t see their faces in the video, but at least they give the names of the board members. The subtitles are mine.
If you want to cut to the chase, the “assassination” comment is in the “people have been trying to push me out” section, and there is a darker statement right after it that made my spider sense tingle that I have highlighted in green.
EB: . . . the editorial board for the Argus Leader. I’m Arnold Garson, the publisher. To my right here is Randell Beck, executive editor. Barb Facile is assistant controller. Greg Robinson is director of administration and Nestor Ramos is editorial writer.
EB: We’d like to spend a few minutes here with you exploring some of your thoughts about issues relating to South Dakota. Perhaps we can start with a general question. What is it that you think South Dakota democrats should be looking for in your candidacy? What are you offering South Dakota democrats at this point?
Alternative Energy –Wind and Biofuel
CLINTON: Oh, I think I’m offering three things that are important to South Dakota and important to our country. First, I believe that I have the understanding and the experience and leadership necessary to actually produce results for our country. Based on what many of us know will be a very challenging political environment. Inheriting what we will from President Bush and having to move forward to both repair the damage and to try and come up with an affirmative agenda that really does deal with the economy, health care, education and so much else. I think that I have a level of understanding as well about the world that we are now inhabiting with respect to American leadership and the need for us to reassert our values and our moral authority in the world. But to do so in a way that creates common cause again with much of the rest of the world. I am very concerned about what I see as a deteriorating leadership position, an economic standing that is very detrimental to our strategic, political, economic standing and I think we have to have a president who has a clear idea about how to re-balance all of that. Finally, I think that for a state like South Dakota, not uniquely to it, but certainly on its own merits in terms of what it needs in a president, there’s a lot of unfinished business. South Dakota has a lot of the same problems that everybody in America has. But you also have an agricultural sector that could be at the epicenter of a new energy approach that America would lead the world toward. If you look from the Dakotas to west Texas we could power so much of our country based on the electricity that would be produced by what is, I think, aptly named the Saudi Arabia of wind. That would, again, put South Dakota right in the middle of that development. We have to have a transmission, a distribution system, which we haven’t really invested in since the Great Depression. So the unfinished business confronting us with energy would be particularly advantageous from wind to bio fuels here in South Dakota. I think that the [inaud] project would be a breakthrough project scientifically. We have to end George Bush’s war on science, which has undermined our investment and our leadership and open inquiry and advances that will benefit humanity. The understanding that will come out of that project here, as well as economic benefits, would be considerable. I think that the whole question of how to revitalize rural communities is one that I’ve spent a lot of time on from Arkansas to upstate New York and have specific ideas, have produced results, have a very clear sense of what a president could do working cooperatively with states and local governments, the private sector and not-for-profit institutions as well as universities. So I think on the large issues as well as the more specific ones, I offer a clear set of alternatives and solutions. I don’t come with just the same speech I’ve made everywhere else. I have a very deep respect for our commonality as a nation, but also our uniqueness state by state and region by region. I believe that I am better positioned to produce the results and solve the problems that we must if we’re going to restore confidence and the competence of our government. Which is really one of the underlying crises that exists right now.
EB: We’ll get into some of those issues in detail in a few minutes, but, what points as South Dakotans make up there minds a week from Tuesday, what points do you think separate Barack Obama and you?
Summary of Election Issues
CLINTON: Well, I think there are several. One is my experience. I know that some have painted experience as a deficit or a detriment of this campaign and I see it as an advantage. I think having been involved in making changes for people and their lives for 35 years, being a leader in education and health care reform, having a front-row seat in what it takes to be an affective president because I know very well that you have to do much of the work that your administration will rise or fall on within the first year that you’re in office because of the way that our political system works. And I think I have a built in set of advantages. And actually being able to produce the results that we’re going to hope for in a democratic president. I think on specific issues, my plans are both more progressive and more practical. I have the only universal health care plan left in this campaign and I have it for a purpose. I believe in it with all my heart. But I also think that anything short of a universal health care system would not work. So when Barack leaves out 15 million people, won’t take on the tough issue of how we get everybody in the system, I think that’s conceding defeat before we’ve actually started the debate. I believe it’s imperative that our democratic nominee continue what we’ve always stood for since Harry Truman, which is universal health care. How we get there, the uniquely American solution that I’m offering, which we can also go into, I believe paves the way. On energy, I have been more progressive and more comprehensive for longer. Before this campaign, I was putting forth a lot of the solutions that are now pretty much taken as part of any democratic platform, and I’ve worked on these issues for quite some time. I understand the balance we have to strike but also the tough decisions that a president must make to take on the vested interests like the oil industry if we’re going to be successful. On other issues where I’ve been a leader, home foreclosures and what I’ve offered for more than a year, which I think would have made a big difference in preventing the economy from being as difficult as it is and certainly saving people’s home, I’ve been more progressive and more out front. Finally, on the international front, I think it matters that I have been engaged at a high level of diplomacy and activities for 16 years now. Not only on behalf of my husband’s administration, but taking on issues like women’s rights which I believe have to be core to the concerns of American foreign policy. We do not understand the connection between the oppression of women and the denial of their rights and the rise of extremism and fundamentalism in ways that really endanger our values and our safety. I don’t think you understand exactly how a president can use our leverage. I stand firmly for fiscal responsibility, both because I think it’s the right policy here at home. I’m the only candidate who has told you how I would pay for everything I’ve proposed. But I also stand for that because I think we have undermined our security because of the fiscal recklessness of the Bush administration. I mean going from a balanced budget and a surplus to the debt and deficit we have now. Borrowing money from the Chinese to buy oil from the Saudis, to the fall of the dollar. It has put us at economic risk and that means we are also at political and strategic risk. I just think that the whole package that I’m offering is one that puts me in a position to be a stronger, better president and to be a stronger candidate against John McCain.
EB: Senator, you’ve mentioned a number of issues that we will come back to. One that you haven’t is the Native Americans. What would a Clinton presidency mean for Native Americans? Not just in South Dakota, but across the country.
CLINTON: Well, I’d like to build on the steps that we took during the 90s. They were not enough in terms of the results, but they were a beginning. The government-to-government relationship that was reinforced when we hosted tribal leaders from around the country, the work to try to elevate the Indian Health Services and certainly to put more money into the services across the board that are needed in Indian country. But it is very troubling to me that the poorest people in America are the first Americans. You look at conditions on many of the reservations, it’s a rebuke to all of us, democrats, republicans, every administration going back hundreds of years. I have put forth a very broad agenda to try to deal with the problems in Indian country ranging from some very specific new investments, not only in the existing services like the Indian Health Services, but in new approaches in dealing with some of the specific needs, like the rise of diabetes which is such a ravaging disease and is now affecting increasing numbers of children and young people in Indian country. I also believe that we will benefit the Native Americans if we have universal health care. If we have a broader economic strategy and extend to reservations some of what worked in the 90s, like empowerment zones, renewal tax credits. Those were beginning to bear some fruit and they basically have been downplayed and even eliminated by the Bush administration. So we need both the general policy changes like universal health care, but we need the specific targeted relief. Then, I guess, more than that, I think a president can bring real attention in a sustained way to what’s going on in Indian country. I don’t think most Americans know that. I think here in South Dakota, you have a much clearer idea. But I don’t think my constituents in New York City, perhaps, know or people living in Florida. They may know something about their own particular Native Americans or if there’s a reservation with a casino attached to it. But I don’t think people really understand the history of broken promises. I would like to make the argument that we should be doing everything we can to improve the lives of our first Americans as a high priority of our country, not as an afterthought.
EB: What would help the rest of the country understand this?
CLINTON: I think a president who really elevates it. You know when I was First Lady, I went to a number of reservations. My husband also did. Certainly the first visit to Pine Ridge was significant. But I think we have to do it on a sustained basis and I think there has to be a presence in the White House of representatives of Indian country. We have to elevate the positions like raising the status of the director of the Indian Health Services. There just has to be a greater awareness and attention paid on a sustained basis to the issues that are so in need of attention.
Ethanol-(read CORN-South Dakota’s big cash crop)
EB: Let’s change to ethanol quickly. An issue that is big here as you know. Do you believe that ethanol has become in part or even largely to blame for rising food prices as we are hearing more and more from the nation’s capital that ethanol is the culprit here?
CLINTON: Well based on my understanding of the evidence, it is a small contributor. But I think there are larger drivers of the increase in food prices. Like the rising cost of oil, which is directly impacting because we truck so much of our food and every time the price of gas goes up, the price of food will follow. Droughts, some of the difficulties here and around the world, so, yes I think it’s a small contributing factor. But I believe that what we’ve tried to do with ethanol over the last several years is to help create a market, the way we’ve helped to create and sustain markets in other commodities. We still subsidize oil. Why on earth are we subsidizing oil? Because we’ve always done it. I mean that seems to be the explanation. But when oil is $130 a barrel, you wouldn’t think we’d need to. One of my goals as president is to introduce more benchmarks into legislation so that when oil was $10-$20 a barrel, subsidizing it made sense. When it’s $130 a barrel, it doesn’t. So there need to be triggers. There need to be switch ons and switch offs in legislation. We’re trying to create an ethanol market. We can’t rely just on corn for gasoline blending and we can’t rely just on soybeans for bio diesel. But we’ve got to start with what we’ve got, and I have proposed a strategic energy fund that would be making direct investments in cellulosic ethanol research, which I think holds a lot of promise, but we’re just not tackling it with the urgency that is required. so, over time, I think corn will recede because it isn’t the most energy efficient form of ethanol. It’s, for example, much less efficient than sugar cane is for the Brazilians. But there are other sources of ethanol that we’re just beginning to understand. I’ll give you an example I know from New York. We have done research at one of our universities over several years now showing that we could use fast growing sugar maples as a crop. There’s sort of a dwarf version of them. And, obviously, the sugar would be a very good source of the energy that we need. But we need a demonstration project, the federal government has to be a partner. That’s not happening and so we’ve got to continue to support the ethanol we have now, but we need to do three things. First, we don’t have a distribution system because the oil companies won’t put in the tanks or the pumps. So if you’ve got a flex fuel car, you’ll be luck if you have any place nearby to go fill it up because that just not something that the oil companies are willing to do. They have to be required to do it. We need to have that research that goes into try and get corn more efficient, because I think there is still some steps that we can take there. And the cellulosic has to be at the top of the list.
EB: Would you see corn as a diminishing importance as a source of ethanol then?
CLINTON: Well, I think, like anything else, the market will have to determine that. But I think, from what I know, in the future there will be other sources of plant material that will be more efficient that can be grown here effectively in South Dakota. Farm wastes will be an efficient source. We’re just at the beginning of understanding ethanol. so for people that throw up their hands and say, it’s not efficient or it is removing corn from the food chain, both for humans and livestock therefore we should quit subsidizing it, I think is very short sighted. So we have to continue to subsidize what we know gives us an ethanol base. But we need to be putting on a faster track all the alternatives.
EB: Well it sounds to me, just to follow up on one thing, you could envision benchmarks, you mentioned that, as a way to trigger, perhaps, diminished subsidizes if ethanol in certain areas to accentuate other areas of ethanol, is that correct?
CLINTON: Over time, over time, right. Because for me, I want to know what works best. Corn was the most plentiful crop we had that could give us a quick return. It will probably always play a role. But I think that all the other elements for ethanol are present in many other of the crops that we can produce. And I want to experiment, I think that there is a tremendous opportunity out there. I was talking with some farmers in North Carolina. They want to experiment with tobacco. I don’t know whether that’s a worthy experiment or not, but we should try it. My sugar maple example, we need to be looking for how we unlock the power of the sun, which is really what we are talking about here. We’re taking what the sun does and its incredible glory as it grows plant life with that power within it, how do we release it. That’s what we need to be looking for.
EB: Who coordinates all of that policy?
The role of government, educational institutions, and the private sector
CLINTON: The Strategic Energy Fund. Just like after Sputnik went up, well you can even go further back with the Manhattan Project. When Sputnik went up, we were behind in the space race and it was viewed as a great setback for America. President Eisenhower called in his scientists. He was very willing to listen to experts, unlike our current president who I think takes pride in not listening to scientists. They created the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, DARPA, in the Defense Department because, of course, they viewed the space race as integral to our security. I view energy as integral to our security as well. Out of DARPA, first under President Eisenhower, then under President Kennedy and presidents until recently, we funded so much basic research. It is out of DARPA that the internet was developed. It should be, and I have proposed an energy DARPA, if you will, where we would have scientists, researchers, technicians, engineers, people in their garages as well as in universities, dreaming about energy and coming up with the ideas that will power us into the future. That’s what we need to be doing again. We need to do it on clean coal, we need to do it on all the various forms of electricity production. We need to do it on a basis for a new way to fuel transportation. The internal combustion engine is probably the only invention that hasn’t changed very much in over 100 years. We don’t fly around in planes that look like those that the Wright brothers pioneered, but the internal combustion engine is basically the same technology. We are losing our competitive edge and we are missing opportunities that could create new wealth, I think at least five million new jobs in a new energy environment and which would put us on a firmer security basis. So the government would be the organizing, coordinating, funding mechanism, but it would work as we did in the past with the private sector, with universities and colleges, with innovators and inventors. I think it would be an exciting and tremendously successful enterprise, but it’s not happening.
EB: You characterized South Dakota, and the rest of the Midwest, as the Saudi Arabia of wind and we can attest to that by living here. What is the federal governments role, Senator, in advancing beyond where we are now? Advancing beyond as well as the role in transmission lines, which is a key ingredient.
Government Role in energy
CLINTON: It’s key, if we don’t do it we will never realize the promise of wind, or of solar, or even geothermal. Again, I think we have some lessons from the past. South Dakota, like a lot of states, benefited greatly from the federal government’s decision in the 1930s to electrify the nation. There were places the private sector would not go because there was no profit. It’s similar now with cell phone and high speed internet access. I have a continuing debate with our big utilities in New York because they can make so much money if they just keep deepening the access in New York City and the surrounding suburbs, they don’t want to go to the Adirondacks. There’s a lot of space between customers and it’s not particularly profitable. And the way we have seen our telecom industry, our utilities and every other major public interest business develop over the last several years is they’ve gotten bigger and bigger but they haven’t felt, or have been required to invest in the public access to their services. I think the federal government has to make a commitment to a distribution system. Now if we were to think about a huge investment in wind from the Dakotas to west Texas, which my advisers tell me is the area we’re referring to as the Saudi Arabia of wind, then it would be less than ideal if all we did was put up the turbines. That would not necessarily deliver the results. So we have to have a plan. And I know that some people are allergic to planning, but I think it’s very unfortunate since we are losing out. Other countries are making big investments in their infrastructure. They are investing in their physical infrastructure, their energy infrastructure, their telecom information infrastructure, so that’s what I would look to do. I would partner with the private sector. I think there’s a lot of money to be made doing this, but I think the federal government has to stand behind the expansion of the grid. We need to modernize the grid, we need to repair, modernize and expand the distribution and transmission lines. I think it would be a really smart investment. I feel the same way about solar rays. I think that there is certainly a lot to be said for investing certain parts of the Southwest, in the desert, the kind of solar rays that might be contributing to electricity. If we were sitting around this table 75 years ago and we were talking about the need to electrify, you’d hear everybody saying well, you know, the government shouldn’t be involved and that, and those were all the arguments. We’ve got to have a sense of American mission again to realize the promise that we always have provided for earlier generations. Energy gives us a chance to break the boundaries. But you can’t do it without a president who leads and a federal government that coordinates.
EB: Water, for a moment. It’s not unique to us, certainly, but many western states and Midwestern states are facing enormous water shortages as we look out over the upper Midwest. South Dakota has struggled, in part, with a current project which Congress and the administration has not supported as vigorously as we would like and we are behind on the funding. What would a Clinton presidency do to insure that, not just South Dakota, but other water starved parts of the country get the water supplies we need to keep economic development at the forefront?
CLINTON: Which project are you referring to?
EB: It’s called the Lewis and Clark Water Project, which is coming from the Missouri River, specifically for Sioux Falls and this region.
CLINTON: Well I know there’s been a tremendous gridlock over what to do with the Missouri River. I’m well aware of that because of the needs that you have and the concerns that further downstream . . .
EB: Right, Missouri . . .
CLINTON: Missouri, Iowa to some extent, Missouri primarily. You have this barge traffic and the like. Again, I think we’ve got to start looking for a balance here. I don’t know what the right balance is. I haven’t studied it to the extent that I would need to. But I think when it comes to water, you’re right to put it on the top of your priority questioning because it’s not only in the upper Midwest. We saw what happened between Georgia and Florida last summer. Clearly what’s happening in the west in states like Nevada, which are fast growing and have very little water resources to call on. I think we’ve got to have a president who will work with the states because we’ve traditionally allowed states to determine the ownership of and the usage of water. Where a water source crosses state lines, like the Missouri River does, then people go to Congress, they try to figure out a way to advantage themselves and disadvantage, perhaps, their neighbors, and what we need is a serious look lead by a president who will bring all the parties together because, again, we’ve got to think out 10, 15, 20, 30 years. We need to do more to capture and collect water, which we haven’t done a good job of in this country in previous years. We have to set some priorities for water usage. We’ve got to figure out how we don’t fritter away our water. I know there’s a dispute going on between Arizona and Nevada over water supplies and Arizona is saying, we’ve imposed all of these conservation measure and, until you do, we’re not going to share our water with you. Well, there’s some merit to that in terms of how we best utilize the water and conserve what is a diminishing resource. Again, I think that this has to be one of those issues that a president leads on, brings the parties together on, tries to figure out how to strike the right balance and, certainly, we ought to be smart enough to some kind of win-win solution with respect to the Missouri River, just to take that as an example since you raised it.
EB: The issue of the moment though has been the amount of money that the federal government is willing to put in and at what pace for this particular project. When this city runs out of water, at some point not very far down the road in that timeframe that you mentioned. The size and scope of the project is one that truly only the federal government can fund, so, with all these other priorities on the table, this becomes an important issue for us.
Water, regional infrastructure issues (sewer, highways), and privatization
CLINTON: Well it is an important issue and, again, I’ve put forth a pretty detailed infrastructure plan because we’re way behind in national infrastructure projects. Water and sewer systems are particularly under funded. And failure to keep up with the demand and to really put the money where we need means it just costs more every year because the cost goes up. Again, I’m more familiar with the challenges we face along the Great Lakes but because we have deteriorating water and sewer systems, we’re polluting the lake. It’s going to cost us more to clean it up. I mean we’re not being smart about how we make investments today that are actually going to save us money and provide economic returns down the road. Previous generations of Americans did that. We’ve got to change the mindset. We have been living with the Ronald Reagan philosophy of government being the problem, you know, the government shouldn’t try to solve anything. We shouldn’t be making investments. The attitude that everything should be privatized. We cannot do that on these big projects. The federal government has to be a partner. I know in the recent legislation that Senators Johnson and Thune passed, I thought that was a pretty clever idea where the Sioux Falls project was going to have the money, you know, you were going to get the promise of pay back. Well, we have to make sure that’s real, number one, but also there are different ways we can come up with the money. As I understand that project, by coming up with the guaranty that the federal government will make it good, you’re actually going to save money for the federal government. Because given the absurd procurement and budgeting rules in the federal government, everything costs more than it should cost. So what we need to be doing is making national commitments but coming up with creative ways to help finance them. I’ve said that we should have a bond program like we did during World War II, where people like my parents and grandparents bought war bonds so that we could build our war industry. I think Americans would buy build America bonds. And that could help be part of the funding to pay back what we need to pay back to communities like Sioux Falls. We are acting as though we are helpless in the face of all these important urgent demands. That is not the America that I believe in. I believe we are better than that. We are smarter than that, and we are richer than that. But we have beggared ourselves where we can’t repair our bridges that are structurally deficient. Somebody should come along and buy them and repair them. That makes no sense. So I think that this is part of a larger political and even philosophical debate that needs to be lead by a new president. Because otherwise, our standard of living will deteriorate. Our problems will increase and we will wonder what happened to us. Because what is happening that we’re living in a country where we can’t figure out how we’re going to solve our water problems. Where we can’t guaranty that our food supply is save. This is not the kind of can-do spirit that has always marked us as a nation.
EB: We’re going to begin to turn the corner here a little bit with some other areas. Some of the biggest names in democratic politics in South Dakota are on the Obama side of the ledger – former Senators McGovern and Daschle, for example. Who are your key people in South Dakota?
The 2008 Presidential Election
CLINTON: I just have a lot of grassroots support. I have a very vigorous volunteer effort that understands the odds that we face, but are undeterred. And I am very grateful for that. I think that if you look at this campaign starting in late February moving forward, I’ve done much better. The longer this campaign has gone on, the better I’ve done. Which I think is an interesting observation. I lead in the popular vote. More people have now voted for me, not only more than my opponent, but more voted for me than anyone who has ever run for the nomination of a political party in our country. There are a lot of people who really believe in me and support me because they think I would be the best president. I think having the campaign go on until the people in South Dakota actually get to vote is a very important part of democracy. I readily accepted Senator McGovern’s offer that Senator Obama and I appear side-by-side. I have accepted that, I have urged that. I think that the people in South Dakota deserve it. He doesn’t seem to want to debate me or even appear on the same stage with me, which I think is kind of strange since he’s going to have to certainly do that in the fall, I would expect, if he is our nominee. So I feel very good about my campaign, I’m very grateful for the support that I’ve received against pretty daunting mountains to climb because people have been declaring it over for many months and voters seem to have a different idea and keep coming out and voting for me and I hope to do well here in South Dakota.
EB: The reports this morning and overnight were that your campaign had made certain contacts or overtures to Mr. Obama’s campaign just in the past 24 hours and were working on some sort of deal for your exit.
CLINTON: That’s flatly untrue. Flatly, completely untrue.
EB: No discussions at all.
“people have been trying to push me out”
CLINTON: No discussions at all. At all. Now I can’t speak for the 17 million people who voted for me, and I have a lot of supporters. But it is flatly untrue, and it is not anything that I am entertaining. It is nothing I have planned. It is nothing that I am prepared to engage in. I am still vigorously campaigning. I am happy to be here. Looking forward to campaigning here. Going to Puerto Rice tomorrow and I expect to be back here before the election. But this is part of an ongoing effort to end this before it’s over. I am very heartened by the strong support that I’ve shown in Kentucky and West Virginia just in the last two weeks. They sure don’t think it’s over. I don’t think the people who are here in South Dakota looking forward to vote think it’s over and I sure don’t think it’s over. Neither of us has the number of delegates needed to be the nominee and every time they declare it, doesn’t make it so. Neither of us do. I’ve never seen anything like this. I have, perhaps, a long enough memory that many people who finished a rather distant second behind nominees went all the way to the convention. I remember very well 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, where some who had contested in the primaries were determined to carry their case to the convention. I’m ahead in the popular vote. Less than 200 delegates separate us out of 4,400. Michigan and Florida are not resolved. No one has the nomination, so I would look to the camp of my opponent for the source of those stories.
EB: Well, I was just going to ask, one presumes that’s where it originates.
CLINTON: I would think so. But that’s been the pattern for quite some time now. Honestly, I just believe that this is the most important job in the world, it’s the toughest job in the world. You should be willing to campaign for every vote. You should be willing to debate anytime, anywhere. I think it’s an interesting juxtaposition where we find ourselves. I have been willing to do all of that during the entire process and people have been trying to push me out of this ever since Iowa.
CLINTON: I don’t know. I don’t know. I find it curious because it is unprecedented in history. I don’t understand it. Between my opponent and his camp and some in the media there has been this urgency to end this. Historically, that makes no sense, so I find it a bit of a mystery.
EB: You don’t buy the party unity argument?
CLINTON: I don’t because, again, I’ve been around long enough. You know my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just don’t understand it and there’s lot of speculation about why it is, but . . .
EB: What’s your speculation?
CLINTON: You know, I don’t know, I find it curious and I don’t want to attribute motives or strategies to people because I don’t really know, but it’s a historical curiosity to me.
EB: Does it have anything to do with gender?
CLINTON: I don’t know that either. I don’t know. I’m not one to speculate on that because I think I want to be judged on my own merits and I believe I am, but others have.
EB: It sounds like what you’re saying then is this: That South Dakotans who are certainly thinking ahead to voting on June 3rd can be confident that there will be a competitive race on the day they vote.
CLINTON: That’s right. That’s right. Well, if I have anything to do with it.
Election polls and the electoral map
And the other thing that I want South Dakotans to really think hard about is winning in November. The electoral map is the target here and consistently over the last weeks, I have had a considerable lead in the electoral college calculation over my opponent. And a source that is, perhaps, suspect to all of us as democrats but seems to have a pretty good track records, Carl Rove does a rolling assessment and ABC News got a hold of his maps and calculations last week. It coincides with everything that I’ve seen from every other source. If the election were held today, I would win, I would beat McCain, and McCain would defeat Senator Obama. I was just in Florida, every poll for the last three, four months, I defeat Senator McCain, McCain defeats Obama. In the battleground states that we have to win, and in the anchor states that any democrat state must win, I’m ahead. So if South Dakotans are concerned, as I am, that we place our best candidate, our stronger candidate against Senator McCain in the fall, the evidence is overwhelming. Now if you look at the states that I have won, it totals 300 electoral votes, give or take. Now some of those states a democrat is not likely to win – Oklahoma, Texas. We can compete but, if history is a guide, they will be tough for us to win. But states that I’ve won that I know I can win, like Arkansas, like West Virginia, like Kentucky, like Florida, Ohio, where, again, I defeat McCain and McCain defeats Obama, are states that we have to win if we’re going to be successful. Senator Obama has won states totally about 217 electoral votes. Far below the threshold of what we need at 270, and the Rove analysis which is, as I understand it, a calculation based on every public poll available. Because there’s a theory that, apparently, he subscribes to, as do others, that any one poll is not as good as averaging all polls. And polls within individual states that are done locally, as well as national polls that go into those states, will give you a better picture. Now does that mean that my opponent can’t win? Of course not. But does it mean, based on what we know now, if you were a South Dakotan, who would your better bet be to actually win the White House, it would be me. I think that’s a very important piece of information and it’s one of the reasons why I am competing and continuing to compete. Because my goal here is to win in November. I respect Senator McCain. He’s a friend of mine. But I do not believe that he has the right ideas for our country and I do not believe he should be the president after George Bush. It would be like a continuation economically and in Iraq of Bush’s policies. So I think democrats need to think very carefully about this vote in South Dakota.
EB: Are you saying that you don’t think Obama can win those states that you’ve been so strong in?
CLINTON: No, I’m saying he can win. No, let me say it this way. Based on the evidence now, and the margin of my victory over McCain and McCain’s victory over Obama, he will have a much harder time. Of course he can win. Anything can happen in politics.
EB: If he were the nominee, would you campaign for him in those state?
Clinton role if Obama is the nominee
CLINTON: Absolutely. Absolutely, I’ve said I will do anything and everything I’m asked to do. I am a democrat and I am an American and I think the damage that George Bush has done to our country is considerable. Therefore, we must have a democratic president. I think the odds are greater that I would be that president than my opponent. That doesn’t mean he can’t win. That doesn’t mean I won’t move heaven and earth to do everything I can if he is the nominee to help him win. But I’m a real believer in evidence based decision making and if you look at the evidence as this campaign has gone one, I’ve gotten stronger and stronger. If you look at where I get my votes, it’s primarily from primaries and that’s where I get my delegates. If you look at where he gets his, it’s primarily from caucuses, which are not representative and are largely driven by the most activist members of our party. I believe I have a stronger base to build on to achieve victory in the electoral college and I’m going to do everything I can to make that case. If I make it, I’ll be the nominee and I will win. If I’m not successful making it, I will do everything that I can to try to elect a democratic president.
EB: Fair enough. It sounds like your strategy to win essentially rests now on Michigan and Florida.
CLINTON: No. Neither of us has the delegates we need.
EB: But he’s closer than you are.
Superdelegates and the electoral map
CLINTON: He’s slightly closer than I am, slightly. I mean less than 200 out of 4,400. One of us has to get to 2,210 and neither of us is near there yet. He keeps saying, oh, but I’ve gotten to 2,025, but that excludes Michigan and Florida. I don’t think it’s smart for us to have a nominee based on 48 instead of 50 states. Hopefully, Florida and Michigan will be resolved on May 31st when the DNC Rules Committee meets. But even then, we still have to convince super delegates. Now, super delegates are in the process for a purpose. Their task is to exercise independent judgment, and the independent judgment they should exercise is who is the stronger candidate to win in the fall. And, if they exercise that independent judgment, they should look at all the evidence and they should make their conclusion. I’m waiting to see the electoral map that leads my opponent to the 270 electoral members. That’s all I ask, and that’s what a super delegate should ask. Show me the map. It’s not the math, it’s the map. And I can show you the map about how I put together the 270 electoral votes.
EB: In your mind, what would a fair resolution to that board in Michigan situation look like?
Seating Florida and Michigan voters
CLINTON: Well, in my mind, it would be fully seating the delegates and here’s why: Even though they moved their dates, I think there were extenuating circumstances for both. The case is clearer for Florida. Florida has a republican governor, a republican legislature, and I mean huge majorities in both, not just a close divide. They determined they were going to set their date to benefit republican candidates, and democrats really had no choice in the matter. They could have said, well, we’re going to be pure, we’re not going to participate. They never could have afforded to run a primary in Florida. That would be prohibitive. So they did go along with it, but I think there were very understandable reasons why they did. And 1.7 million people showed up. It was a totally level playing field. We were all on the ballot. There was little or no campaigning so nobody was in there. The voters took it very seriously because they thought it was important and they voted. And the idea that voters should be punished for what, at worst, was a acquiescence by party leaders in Florida, which has already suffered disenfranchisement in 2000 and 2006, where our congressional candidates lost because they mysteriously, in her district, couldn’t find 18,000 votes, would be adding insult to injury. Why would you punish the voters of Florida – a state we have to win in the fall. So I would fully seat Florida for all those reasons. If you want to punish the state party, punish the state party with something, but don’t punish the voters. I think in Michigan, it’s a more difficult call, but I believe still, in Michigan, the idea is to win in the fall. So whatever the rule is, there’s a lot of flexibility to come up with an appropriate remedy short of, again, penalizing the 600,000 people who came out and voted. So I hope that the governing principle that, we are democrats, we don’t deprive people of their vote, we don’t disenfranchise them. That, in order to enforce our rules, there’s got to be ways that are short of that, would lead to fully seating those delegates.
EB: Senator, we really appreciate your time this afternoon.
CLINTON: Well, thank you.
EB: It was great to be able to pick your brain and thank you a lot, we appreciate it much.
CLINTON: My pleasure. Thank you all very much.
EB: Thank you for the discussion.
CLINTON: Thank you.