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Transcript: David Axelrod on 'FOX News Sunday'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published May 11, 2008 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript of the May 11, 2008, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Well, with just six primaries left, Barack Obama is now in a commanding position for the Democratic nomination.
After his big win in North Carolina and slim loss in Indiana, he has once again opened up his lead over Clinton in delegates and now needs 161 more to secure the nomination.
And in the popular vote, Obama leads by more than 700,000, excluding the disputed primaries in Florida and Michigan.
Joining us now from Chicago, Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod.
And, Mr. Axelrod, welcome for the first time to "FOX News Sunday".
OBAMA STRATEGIST DAVID AXELROD: Thanks, Chris. Good to be here.
WALLACE: Since the primaries Tuesday in North Carolina and Indiana, Obama has picked up 21 superdelegates, and Clinton has picked up a net gain of two, putting you and your campaign in the lead in superdelegates for the first time.
Do you see those superdelegates starting to break sharply for Obama?
AXELROD: Well, I think you're going to continue to see that. I think that's a natural thing. We're coming to the end of the process. I think people saw the results on Tuesday as very meaningful.
And I think there's an eagerness on the part of the party leadership and activists across the country to get on with the general election campaign. Senator McCain's been out there campaigning as the nominee for some time, and I think people are eager to engage.
So I think you're going to see people making decisions at a rapid pace from this point on.
WALLACE: When you say at a rapid pace, should we expect a flood or a trickle over the next 10 days?
AXELROD: Well, I think a flood would be overstating it, because I think people — I think people, out of respect for the process and the candidates — some may withhold their judgment.
But I think we're going to — we've been announcing several, you know, each day for the last few days. I think we're going to continue to — we're going to continue to unfurl these endorsements on a regular basis here.
WALLACE: Now, you just said that you think that there's an eagerness in the party to get on with the general election campaign and to go up against McCain.
I know you're going to say that Hillary Clinton has a right to run as long as she wants, so please don't give me that answer. But do you think that Clinton continuing to take shots at Obama's policies and his political strength — do you think that hurts the Democratic Party?
AXELROD: Well, first of all, let me say I don't — I think that Senator Clinton cares about the Democratic Party. I think she cares about this country. I think she understands how much we need change in this country.
And I don't think she wants to impair our chances to achieve that, so, you know, I assume that she will do what she thinks is appropriate within those parameters.
On the whole, you know, I think this has been a good process for us and for the Democratic Party. You know, we have registered 3.5 million new Democratic voters.
The Obama campaign has organizations all over the country that are going to be ready to go. We just announced a 50-state registration drive for the fall. So in many ways, this has been a strengthening process.
And I've said before that what we don't want is at the end of the process to get into a situation where we impair our chances in the fall. And I trust the folks on the other side, Howard and folks on the other side, agree with that.
WALLACE: Senator Clinton got a lot of attention this week for some comments she made to USA Today. Let's listen to a tape of them.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CLINTON: Senator Obama's support among working — hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. And how the — you know, whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WALLACE: Mr. Axelrod, what do you think of a Democratic presidential candidate describing the race in such stark racial terms?
AXELROD: Well, I have to assume that Senator Clinton didn't say that the way she wanted to say it. I don't imagine that she chose the words as she would if you asked her that question again.
And the truth is that that isn't even the fact. In Indiana, we split voters who make $50,000 a year or less evenly. We did better among non-college-educated voters there. And the same is true in North Carolina than in some of the immediately — immediate preceding states.
And we've done well across the country in various states with these voters.
WALLACE: Well, let me just ask you, though, Mr. Axelrod...
AXELROD: So the thesis itself is — was wrong. The words weren't well chosen, but the thesis was wrong.
WALLACE: Why are the words not well chosen? Forgetting whether they're accurate or not, I mean, what do you find offensive about talking about white voters not going for Obama?
AXELROD: Well, I'm sure that Senator Clinton didn't mean to conflate hard-working Americans and white Americans in the same sentence. I know she doesn't believe that, and I don't think she meant to, and I'm sure Howard would say the same thing.
WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about that.
AXELROD: I think there are a lot of hard-working Americans of all backgrounds and races and ethnicities, and of course she believes that, too.
WALLACE: Let me ask you about that, because right after the Pennsylvania primary, you gave an interview to National Public Radio in which you said the white working class has gone to the Republican nominee for many elections.
Do you, in effect, think that — first of all, do you believe that? You did say it right after Pennsylvania. And secondly, are you, in effect, conceding the white working class to John McCain in the general election?
AXELROD: Not at all. And I think that this is a year in which we have a great chance to do what we haven't done for many cycles and rally working class Americans again of all backgrounds, because we're living through a dismal time in our economy, and much of it has to do with the policies that we've seen.
So I don't think when you look at — when you look at the polling, when you talk to people anecdotally, I don't think people are going to turn — they're not interested in a repeat of the last four years in terms of policies. They understand that they've been disadvantaged by these policies.
And I'm very confident that we're going to run a strong campaign. The thing that I think Senator Obama will also do is compete strongly for independent voters.
And you saw it yesterday in the L.A. Times poll in which he was leading that he was even with Senator McCain among independent voters. I think that's going to be an important metric in terms of how this election turns out.
WALLACE: Let's talk about the end game here, how you ease Hillary Clinton gently out of the race.
On Friday, Senator Obama was asked about helping Clinton pay off the millions of dollars in debt her campaign has racked up, and he didn't rule it out. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Obviously, I'd want to have a broad range of discussion with Senator Clinton about how I could make her feel good about the process and have her on the team moving forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Question: Will the Obama campaign help Clinton pay off the millions of dollars in debt she's racked up?
AXELROD: You know, Chris, she hasn't asked, and we haven't offered. And I think that that discussion is way premature. And the truth is I think that Senator Clinton will have the capacity to retire her debt. I don't believe that Senator Clinton is looking for a deal. I don't think that's what this is about.
I think she's competed very hard over the course of several years, and I think she's playing it out as she sees — as she sees fit. I don't think she's waiting for a cue or a signal from us or an offer of financial assistance. And I think that would demean her to suggest otherwise.
WALLACE: Let me ask you about the other side of it from the Obama campaign. I was talking to some Obama contributors, small ones in recent days, who said they'd be outraged to see any of their money going to help pay off the Clinton campaign.
One, they oppose the campaign. Two, it would go to Washington insiders like Mark Penn, who are the kind of people that they supported Obama to get out of Washington.
AXELROD: Well, of course, no one's talking — I don't think even under any scenario no one said that we were going to transfer money from the Obama campaign to the Clinton campaign.
We obviously need the resources we have. We have a great task ahead of us. And so that — I think that that was — there was a misunderstanding out there about that.
But, look. The fact is we've had a very competitive race for a long period of time. Feelings are raw. I think those feelings will heal over time, because ultimately Democrats are united around the concept that we need — that we really need change in Washington.
And I think that, you know, it's hard to measure unity in the middle of a primary campaign. But I think we will have unity in the fall.
And I think that will include not just Democrats, but independents and some disaffected Republicans who understand that we're way off track in this country and we need to change direction.
WALLACE: But let's talk about healing and unity. There's obviously been a lot of talk in the last few days about a possible dream ticket of Obama and Clinton, but Robert Novak says in his weekend column that Michelle Obama wants no part of the Clintons. True or false?
AXELROD: That's false. There's been no discussion about vice presidential nominees and this whole scenario. Again, you know, we have not had any overtures. We have not made my overtures.
I know that this is the parlor game of choice in Washington. But we're just going out there and meeting voters, fighting for every delegate, fighting for every vote. That's what Senator Clinton is doing.
And you know, we'll focus on the vice presidential choice at the appropriate time.
WALLACE: Let's turn to a possible general election campaign against John McCain. Obama and John McCain got into a flap recently after McCain suggested that your man is favored by Hamas because a Hamas adviser spoke favorably about him. And here is how Obama responded. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So for him to toss out comments like that I think is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: The McCain camp says that phrase, losing his bearings, was a pretty obvious way of bringing up McCain's age.
AXELROD: Boy, I think they're awfully sensitive. I didn't read it that way at all. But when we say losing his bearings, we're talking about the fact that he promised an elevated campaign, a campaign on issues and so on, and he's been engaged in a series of kind of gratuitous, ad hominem attacks lately.
And I understand this, because he's running, you know, with a platform and a program that is demonstrably failing the country, and the country knows that. But one would hope that Senator McCain would live up to the commitment he made to run a more elevated campaign.
We were encouraged when he said that he wanted to have — when his people suggested that perhaps there would be a series of town hall meetings, joint town hall meetings, around the country to talk about the issues in detail.
Let's do that. Let's do that kind of thing. I think the country's hungry for a serious campaign because these are serious times.
But let's not engage in the nonsense that he knows isn't the fact, that he knows demeans not just Senator Obama but himself in the process. That's what Senator Obama was referring to.
WALLACE: Mr. Axelrod, let me pick up on the last point you made, because it was something I was going to ask you.
The McCain campaign has suggested the idea that Obama and McCain would travel around the country, starting this summer — joint town hall appearances, joint debates, perhaps without even a moderator, something like a Lincoln-Douglas style.
How seriously are you guys thinking about that?
AXELROD: Very seriously. We take that as a serious idea. And again, we believe that is the most significant election we've faced in a long time.
We're at war. Our economy is in turmoil. And we've got so many challenges that the people of this country deserve a serious discourse, and it shouldn't be limited necessarily to three kind of very regimented debates in the fall.
We ought to begin sooner, and we ought to have a free-flowing conversation about where we want to take this country. So you know, we're interested in that proposal and eager to sit down and talk about it.
WALLACE: So I just want to pursue this. You're talking about starting this summer before the conventions, correct?
AXELROD: Well, look. We haven't worked out the details. This was a concept that Senator McCain surfaced, and what I'm saying is we're interested.
And I don't think I can get into any details here, Chris, because we're just at the beginning of that conversation. But Senator Obama is very committed to having an open and direct dialogue about the future of this country with Senator McCain of the sort that America deserves right now and needs right now.
And so, you know, we're eager to sit down and talk about it.
WALLACE: And listen, we'd like to invite you right now to do a debate on Fox, sir.
AXELROD: I was wondering how long the invitation would take in coming here, so...
WALLACE: Well, consider yourself invited.
AXELROD: ... you disappointed me. I thought it would be quicker than that. I thought it would be quicker than that.
WALLACE: Sorry to disappoint you. Mr. Axelrod, thank you. Thanks for coming in. Please come back.
AXELROD: OK. Good to be with you, Chris.
Chris will sit down with former Clinton Chief Strategist Joel Benenson, to discuss what he blames for turning voters away from Hillary Clinton just days before the election.