MAJOR GARRETT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Senator Clinton, great to be with you.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you so much.
GARRETT: Thanks for your time. A couple of days ago you said, and I quote, "Senator Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. There's a pattern emerging here."
Do you feel like you need to apologize for that?
CLINTON: Well, I was quoting from an AP article, and I certainly regret anybody putting any more meaning on it than that, because this has been an extraordinary campaign. Each of us has worked very hard. We both have nearly 17 million votes. We have attracted voters from all across our country.
And I believe that I have a broader coalition. I have won the swing states which we're going to have to win in the fall, and I think that gives me a much stronger position to go into this nomination. But obviously we're going to have to put together a unified Democratic Party and then try to persuade enough Americans to vote for our nominee so that we can win and take back the White House.
GARRETT: Can you understand how that phraseology might have sounded?
CLINTON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I regret deeply that, you know, rather than my referencing what was I thought an objective source talking about how this campaign has unfolded, anybody would attribute that to me.
GARRETT: Let's talk about electability. The Obama campaign likes to point out that swing states are also Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, states that he won. And they believe that's a very powerful argument for his electability.
Why is it not?
CLINTON: Well, I would argue that caucuses are much less of an indicator of electability than primaries just by the very nature of the numbers of people and the broader cross-section of people who traditionally participate. So the primaries that were won by both of us I think are a better indicator.
GARRETT: Let's go to Missouri then. He won Missouri, though narrowly.
GARRETT: No Democrat has ever been elected, unlike West Virginia. You can go back to 1916. But no Democrat has ever won the White House without carrying Missouri.
The Obama campaign says why doesn't that count in the electability equation that Hillary Clinton talks so much about?
CLINTON: Well, I think it counts for both of us, because it was essentially a tie. I mean, I won 110 out of 115 counties. He won five counties which were population centers.
Democrats have lost in 2000 and 2004 because we didn't win in rural areas. And I think that is a really strong indicator, because I believe that a Democrat will win in the cities, whoever our Democrat is. We will win in the cities because cities often have more needs, they understand that Democrats are going to do better for them than a Republican will. And certainly the contrast with Senator McCain, who is not someone who has been particularly favorable toward helping cities, will be a big help to us.
Our real electoral challenge is outside of the cities. And so look at Missouri. Take Missouri as a perfect example.
I won 100 out of 115 counties. I won in places that Democrats have to win if we're going to be successful in the fall.
I won Arkansas, which is a state that would be great to add. I won Tennessee. I won West Virginia. I think if you look at the big states that I also won that provide the anchors for electoral map, I believe my case is stronger.
GARRETT: Let's talk about West Virginia. Two out of 10 of those who responded in the exit polling surveys said race was important to them. Eight of 10 voted for you.
How proud are you to have the votes of people who appear to be race conscious as they select a potential nominee?
CLINTON: Well, I think the vast majority of people in West Virginia, not, you know, 80 percent of 20 percent, but the remaining very large percentage that voted, didn't say that that had anything to do with their vote. And I think that is exactly the way it should be. It shouldn't have anything to do with their vote.
I would hope gender has nothing to do with anyone's vote. The fact is that I believe people voted for me in West Virginia because they need a fighter in the White House. They need somebody who is going to stand up, take on the oil companies, take on the insurance companies, take on the drug companies, not just in a campaign season, but has a history of doing that. And they need somebody who's going to help solve their problems.
So, they really made what was a very careful consideration and determined that I am more in line with what they think they need in their next president.
GARRETT: You just talked about taking on the oil companies. You have a piece of legislation before the Senate now that would try to achieve a federal gasoline tax, summer holiday, starting on May 26th. That's 14 -- well -- whatever how many days away. Fourteen days away.
What are you personally going to do on the floor of the Senate to make that something more than just a campaign promise or rhetoric, which your opponent, Senator Obama, dismisses it as?
CLINTON: Well, I've talked with some of my colleagues. And this is legislation I introduced with Senator Menendez from New Jersey. I just voted for an energy bill yesterday that we hope will have some impact on price.
GARRETT: But this is your idea. This has been a huge part of what the arc of the conversation on the trail has been in the last couple of weeks.
GARRETT: What are you going to do to tell people, I'm a fighter on the trail, but I'm also a fighter on the floor of the Senate?
CLINTON: Well, I made my case for it. I don't have the votes for it. I'm not the president.
If I were the president, I would have the votes for it and we would be working very hard to implement it. So I have supported other people's ideas. That's the way the Senate works. Sometimes your ideas are supported, sometimes they're not.
But in the absence of presidential leadership -- and of course it's likely President Bush is going to veto even what the Senate has passed because he doesn't like what's in there. In the absence of presidential leadership that will take on the oil companies, we're not going to get anything done. And I think it's really unfortunate, because people are hurting right now.
I am all in favor of long-term solutions to our energy dependence. But what about people who are just wondering how they're going to be able to make, you know, ends meet?
When I was in Logan, West Virginia, I talked about how we need to help people, commuters. How people who use their cars and trucks for their living need help, especially independent truckers.
And then I was shaking hands with people, and a group of women said, "We're nurses. We're home health nurses. We've had to cut out some patients that we would ordinarily see because we can't afford to drive to see them," because in a place like West Virginia, you drive to survive. So this is having an impact on so many other facets of our lives.
I believe it's a good idea. I'm going to keep promoting it. I don't have the votes for it now. I don't have a president who would sign it. But I think it is something that people who are out there looking for some relief right now agree with.
GARRETT: So it's a dead end. Is there another idea you have to do something for this summer? A second stimulus package, something else?
CLINTON: Well, I have voted to do something that I said I wanted to do yesterday, which was to quit putting oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. I am also pushing hard that we do an investigation into the oil traders, the speculators.
I think they are driving up the cost. I think it is also important that as we look at what we need to do, we begin to take on OPEC. Now some of that we can do congressionally, a lot of it we can't do without
But I think it's time for people in Washington to come up with solutions for the everyday problems that Americans have, and not just say, well, we'll get to that, you know, sometime down the road.
We never get to it down the road. People live in the here and now and they should be able to count on their elected officials to take care of the here and now.
GARRETT: Speaking of the here and now, a man you know well, Roy Romer, told me yesterday: "The math is controlling and the math is against Senator Clinton." And he said: "I'm a mountain climber and I know sometimes you're on a mountain, and for the good of the party and for the good of those who are climbing with you, if you can't make it to the summit, you've got to come back down."
He believes that is a place your campaign is in right now. Why is he incorrect?
CLINTON: Well, the delegate race is still very close. And people forget, superdelegates are not bound to do anything. They don't have to make a decision. They can wait and watch. They can wait until the convention. They can change their mind a dozen times between now and the convention.
We're going to see this through in terms of all of the contests yet to be voted on. We're going to see what happens when both Michigan and Florida are seated. The number of delegates you have to get is 2,210.
Because if we leave out Michigan and Florida, we will be handicapping our party, neither of us is close to 2,210. So let's see where we are on June 3rd, we'll see how close we are to the summit or not.
GARRETT: Speaking of superdelegates, the tide has been to Senator Obama recently. He has picked up, I believe, 10 superdelegates, who, as you just said, can change their mind. They were originally for you, they're now for him.
I don't believe there is a single superdelegate that was once for Obama that's now for you. It does appear, does it not, that there is a wave in his direction. And does that not signal something to you about not only the pledged delegates, but about these party leaders and their preferences?
CLINTON: Well, but this is a numbers calculation. Nobody has the numbers yet. So are we in the last two minutes of a game that you don't think one or the other can win? You go to the buzzer, maybe it goes into overtime. We don't know, Major.
And until it's over, it's not over. As I said the other night, quoting from an e-mail that a young woman sent me, "it's not over 'til the lady in the pantsuit says it's over." I'm going to compete in these upcoming contests. I'm going to make the case that Michigan and Florida should seat their delegates.
And then we'll see where we are.
GARRETT: You said overtime. Does overtime last until the convention floor?
CLINTON: Well, we're going to -- let's take it a step at a time. Let's take where we are now. We're going to go into Kentucky and Oregon next week, he'll do well in Oregon, I expect to do well in Kentucky. We'll go on to Puerto Rico, we'll go on to Montana and South Dakota.
May 31st, the Rules and Bylaws Committee will meet about how to resolve Michigan and Florida. We're going to have a lot more information on January 4th -- on the June 4th, I mean, until -- than we do right now.
GARRETT: The convention concludes on August 28th, 2008. Do you know what anniversary that is?
CLINTON: I don't.
GARRETT: The 45th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech. And I've talked to many Democrats who cannot conceive of a situation in which the Democratic Party would not have an African-American, who is so close to the nomination at this point, not deliver the acceptance speech on that day in that resonant moment of history.
What's your reaction to that?
CLINTON: That may very well be what happens, and it would be wonderful for our party and our country. It has been an extraordinary election to have the first African-American and the first woman this close to being the nominee of the Democratic Party.
I have said on many, many occasions, I am honored to be part of this process. I will be in that hall cheering if that is the case. I would expect Senator Obama will be cheering if I'm making the speech.
At some point there will be a nominee. We don't have one yet. And what I hear and a recent poll suggested, among Democrats, 64 percent of Democrats want this to continue until completion.
That's the feeling I get, Major. That whether -- you know, we have our intense supporters who are just totally devoted to either one of us. And oftentimes they're the ones that you'll talk to and they're the ones who are going to be the most visible.
But for the vast majority of people who have voted for either Barack or me, this has been one of the most exciting and, you know, really exhilarating experiences that they've ever had politically.
I have 17 million votes. He has approximately 17 million votes. Al Gore and John Kerry came nowhere near having even 17 million votes when they were nominated. So between us we have nearly 34 million Americans.
Most Democrats, but independents and Republicans who have participated. I think this has been great for the party. I think it's great for our country. I was talking with some people the other day in West Virginia, they're actually talking about the economy and cited some of the issues that they used to get diverted around, that Republicans always use to damage Democrats.
They're actually talking about, you know, what about this gas tax holiday? How are we going to cover everybody with health insurance? What are we going to do to make college affordable?
That's what our debate in our American political system should be about. And that's what this campaign has caused.
GARRETT: And for those Democrats who fear your continued presence in this campaign as an effort to deny Barack Obama that moment, deny the party that moment, deny the country that moment, you would say what?
CLINTON: I would say we're going to have a nominee based on one of us getting to 2,210 delegate votes. That's what it takes to be the nominee of the Democratic Party. Once that happens, we will close ranks.
I will work my heart out to make sure we elect the Democratic nominee president, because this is not just an exercise in who becomes the nominee, this is supposed to lay the groundwork for us to take back the White House. That is what is most important to me. That is what I'm totally intent upon doing.
But we don't have a nominee yet. And until we do, I'm going to be making my case.
GARRETT: Why should the country be comfortable with you running a federal budget with a campaign that's about $20 million in debt?
CLINTON: Well, I think campaigns have had, you know, lots of challenges. I happen to have raised more money than anybody who has ever run for office, except my opponent.
CLINTON: So I think that the fact is it has been an amazing campaign on both sides. He has had a tremendous advantage in a lot of the states, outspending me three, four to one in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, but not able to close the deal.
I mean, when you're outspent that much and you don't win, I think that says something. So the fact that, yes, I've dipped into my resources and, you know, we're going to continue to count on the generosity and the conviction of people who support my campaign, then go to hillaryclinton.com and make that contribution.
It's all part of how we're going to finish up this race.
GARRETT: What's more important, party unity or having that debt retired?
CLINTON: Oh, party unity. We've got to win. I mean, my goal...
GARRETT: Is there a transaction built in there somewhere?
CLINTON: No, nothing that I have any intention of pursuing. I'm committed to trying to get the nomination. And as the nominee, will take care of all of that. Because I believe that it's important to continue to make my case.
I would not be sitting here, I would not be competing if I did not believe I would be the stronger president and the stronger candidate against John McCain. Some people agree with me, about 17 million of them, some people don't, about 17 million of them.
We've never had a contest like this. And I think it has been a privilege to participate in it, and eventually, some time in the next weeks, we'll have a nominee.
GARRETT: Are you ruling out any conversations about having your debt retired?
CLINTON: I don't rule out anything. But I don't think about it. It's not anything I'm entertaining.
GARRETT: Under what circumstances would you run for vice president?
CLINTON: I don't think about that either. I'm not entertaining that either because I am so focused on getting up every morning, doing what I can to try to get the nomination. That's what I believe I need to do and until the buzzer sounds and there is a nominee, that's what I'm going to do every day.
GARRETT: There are those who will say this new math, 2010, is different from where your campaign was two or three months ago and it doesn't fit within the Democratic Party rules as currently constructed. That you're changing the goalposts. Rearranging the field to your own benefit.
CLINTON: I don't think that's the case. It's 2210 including our newly elected Democratic congressman from Mississippi, which was a great victory. The Rules and Bylaws Committee has said they're going to resolve Michigan and Florida on May 31st. I think that's exactly what needs to be done. I wish it had been done earlier because we can't go to a convention and have a nominee only representing 48 states. Especially two states we have to win. The rules were that we wouldn't compete.
There was no hard and fast rule as to what would happen when Michigan and Florida actually voted. Two point three million people voted. The Republicans faced a similar situation. They quickly moved, they resolved, they went on, we have let it drag on but it is becoming abundantly clear to me that we must include Michigan and Florida and that means we must have those delegates counted.
GARRETT: Is someone to blame for it being dragged on?
CLINTON: I think people were just figuring out what to do. I was very much in favor of seating them. I was also in favor of a revote in Michigan. Senator Obama objected to that and now it's going to be decided where it should be decided. Not between the campaigns. It should be decided by the Democratic National Committee. Two Democratic National Committee members have filed challenges, one from Florida, and one from Michigan so we will resolve it and it will be clear what the number is that has to be achieved in order to become the nominee.
GARRETT: Must universal health care be in the Democratic platform?
CLINTON: Yes. Absolutely. This is a core value.
GARRETT: Will you fight for it to be a plank if you are not the nominee?
CLINTON: Absolutely. I believe with all my heart that if the Democratic Party doesn't stand for universal healthcare, we are advocating a cherished value going back to Harry Truman that has been part of what we fight for and what we believe in.
GARRETT: So if you're not the nominee you will fight to have your health care plan, not Barack Obama's as part of the platform.
CLINTON: It doesn't have to be my health care plan but it has to be a commitment to universal health care. I have a universal health care plan. He does not. There are a number of universal health care plans that
others have proposed but the overriding goal is to make sure our platform puts forth a commitment to universal health care.
GARRETT: Senator Clinton, always a pleasure.
CLINTON: Good to talk to you.
GARRETT: Thank you very much.
Mike Emanuel currently serves as chief congressional correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He joined FNC in 1997 as a Los Angeles-based correspondent.