Karl Rove's Take: West Virginia Primary Fallout

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," May 13, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Tonight, she clobbered him. Or rather, West Virginia Democrats clobbered Senator Obama, sending a crystal-clear message to other states in the nation who Democrats in West Virginia want to run this country. We will hear from her in just a moment.

But first, Senator Obama has meanwhile moved on to the general election battleground state of Missouri. He spoke earlier tonight.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a lot of talk these days about how the Democratic Party is divided, but I have to tell you, I am not worried. I've been campaigning in 46 states over the last 15 months, all across America, and I'm not worried about the Democratic Party being divided come November. And the reason is, is that there's too much that unites us as Democrats. There's too much that's at stake as a country. And there is going to be a clear choice when it comes to the election on November 4.

This is our chance to build a new majority of Democrats and independents and Republicans who know that four more years of George Bush just won't do. And this is our moment to turn the page on division and distraction and actually get things done. That's why I'm running for president, and that's why I hope you will support me here in Cape Girardeau and all across Missouri. We're going to spend a lot of time in Missouri, making sure we win this state!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you become the president of the United States, Ms. Clinton — (INAUDIBLE) Ms. Clinton's going to be your vice president?


OBAMA: What, are you a reporter, or...


OBAMA: That's what these guys have been asking all day long. You know, it's too early. You know, Senator Clinton is still competing. We haven't resolved this nomination. I haven't won the nomination yet. And so what I've said is I'm not going to talk about vice president this or vice president that until I've actually won. You know, it'd be presumptuous of me to pretend like I've already won and start talking about who my vice president is going to be. I've still got some more work to do, so — but I'll let you know, all right?


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Clinton spoke to supporters earlier in West Virginia.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Under the rules of our party, when you include all 50 states, the number of delegates needed to win is 2,209, and neither of us has reached that threshold yet.


CLINTON: This win in West Virginia will help me move even closer.


CLINTON: It is a fact that no Democrat has won the White House since the 1916 without winning West Virginia.


CLINTON: The bottom line is this. The White House is won in the swing states, and I am winning the swing states.


CLINTON: And we have done it by standing up for the deepest principles of our party, with a vision for an America that rewards hard work again, that values the middle class and helps to make it stronger. With your help, I am ready to go head to head with John McCain to put our vision for America...


CLINTON: ... Up against the one he shares with President Bush. I'm in this race for the millions of Americans who know that we can do better in our country, for the nurse on her second shift, for the worker on the line, for the waitress on her feet, for the small business owner, the farmer, the teacher, the coal miner, the trucker, the soldier, the veteran, the college student!


CLINTON: All the hard-working men and women who defy the odds to build a better life for themselves and their children. You will never be counted out, and I won't, either. You will never quit, and I won't, either.



VAN SUSTEREN: West Virginia Democrats could not make this plainer: They want Senator Clinton. So now what? Joining us live in Austin, Texas, is Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to President George W. Bush and now a FOX News contributor.

Karl, we know what West Virginia wants, but what — big picture, what does this mean?

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISER, FOX POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there are four things to take out of tonight, I think. First of all, this doesn't really change the primary dynamics all that much. Senator Clinton went into tonight about 178 delegates behind Senator Obama. She comes out tonight maybe about 168 delegates behind him. She picked up probably a net of 10 or 11 on him. She came into the evening — he came into the evening, he needed about 150 delegates to get to 2,025. He ends up being about 140 delegates away from that target. She needs to take about 72 percent of the delegates yet to be elected in the remaining caucuses or the primaries and the superdelegates who have yet to decide. This doesn't change much of that narrative at all.

Second of all, it doesn't change much of the narrative about Senator Obama's weakness. In fact, it heightens it. He has a big problem with working-class white blue-collar voters. He cannot break through to them. I mean, tonight, he should be winning — doing better than he is in West Virginia, given the fact that momentum is on his side. He is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party. And for him to do as badly as he did among this key voter group tonight, you know, speaks of some real weakness in the general election.

There are two other issues...

Watch Greta's interview with Karl Rove


ROVE: There are two other minor tactical things. I think he made a mistake by not going out tonight and having a speech. You ran some footage of him appearing at Cape Girardeau this afternoon, but he, for the first time since this primary season began, did not go out and have, you know, a primetime event during which he could speak to the American people through all the cable and network TV shows that were going on. I think that was a little bit of a tactical mistake. He missed an opportunity to lay his message out. In fact, he looks a little — you know, you did him a favor by putting up the footage. If you didn't do that, he'd look like he was ducking the fact that he lost and missed out on the opportunity to sort of look confident.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask you a quick question. Does it look like he's a poor loser? Because, I mean, the reason we did that...

ROVE: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: The reason we put that tape (INAUDIBLE) you know, forever in this horrible crisis of trying to be, you know — you know, put the same amount out for both because they're both neck and neck...

ROVE: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... On this. So we had to dig deep for that tape and had to struggle with, you know, how we were going to do this.

ROVE: Right. Well, absolutely. Look, it makes him look like a sore loser and it makes him — I mean, a sore — you know, a sore winner and a sore loser all at the same time. And it also makes him look like he lacks confidence. And most important of all, he missed an opportunity to go out and lay out a message that helps people understand, Hey, this was a minor bump in the road, and here's why I'm going to be the nominee and here's why I'm going to be the next president, and he missed out that opportunity. You did him a service by reaching down and finding the footage from Cape Girardeau, but I'm not sure everybody else would.

There's one other minor thing, the fourth point about tonight. The exit polls heretofore have, by and large, shown Senator Obama to be underperforming in the actual election day, overperforming in the exit polls, underperforming on election day. That may flip tonight. You know, the early exit polls had Senator Clinton getting 68 percent of the vote. I've been watching these county by county precinct returns, and I'm not certain she can get to 68 percent. We need to wake up tomorrow morning, but we may have tomorrow morning evidence that she slightly underperformed what the exit polls said she was going to do.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, the superdelegates are watching this very carefully. Let me ask you a series of quick questions. And you know, if I were a superdelegate, this would make a difference to me.

ROVE: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: If they — if in the Democratic primaries and caucuses, they did not allow crossovers or people who are independents to vote, and the only let the Democrats, who would be the nominee, likely?

ROVE: That's hard to say because — you know, it's — my gut tells me it'd probably be Senator Clinton, but I'd have to go back and look at the data state by state by state.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. If you counted Florida and Michigan completely, because there are 2.3 million voters, and maybe some people think they've been punished enough because we've — you know, we've made so many cracks about them for the last six months and we put them at the risk of losing it. But if you counted them fully, who would be the nominee, likely?

ROVE: Well, I think Senator Clinton would be a lot closer to being the nominee. She would not still — I think she would be, rather than 140 delegates behind tonight, she'd be probably 75 or 80 delegates behind, and maybe even less because my sense is, is that if the contest were closer, a bunch of these superdelegates that she's hemorrhaged, or a lot of the superdelegates who've come in and supported Obama would not be in Obama's camp.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Let's say, hypothetically, on June 5, it's an absolute tie in terms of delegates. Who — if you were going to pick a candidate to run in November, which candidate would you want, looking back to see which states Clinton won and which states Obama won? Who would you rather run with in November?

ROVE: Well, if I were a Democrat, I'd probably be a little bit concerned about two things with regard to Senator Obama's candidacy. One is he has won the nomination — he'll win the nomination, I believe, in large measure because he has done extremely well in very deep red states that are caucuses, like, for example, Idaho, where there are 18 delegates to the Democratic national convention chosen by less than 20,000 or roughly 20,000 people voting in a caucus, as opposed to the 22 delegates in New Hampshire chosen by almost 300,000 primary voters. And he did this in caucus states all around the country and really gained a big advantage over her because of that.

And second of all, I'd be concerned about Senator Obama because, again, this critical weakness. He cannot do well among blue-collar, working-class people. He's got a problem of elitism and a problem of philosophy and values that makes it very difficult for him to close the sale with these people.

Remember, you know, the media has declared him the likely general election nominee of the Democratic Party. I think that's probably right. And even then, he can't close the sale in West Virginia and couldn't close it in Pennsylvania before that, or Indiana in the intervening weeks.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, you say that he doesn't do so well with the blue- collar and that he did win the caucuses, like Idaho. Is this because in the caucus, you've got to be able to take off work? And you can't be serving in Iraq, you can't be doing two jobs, you can't be taking care of kids. You've got to be able to caucus. It's very different than a primary, where you can even send in an absentee ballot. Is that why he wins those, in part?

ROVE: Well, I think that's part of it. But you know, also, students have a disproportionate effect in caucus states because they — you know, they can organize and it's easy for them to get there and they come in a group. Take a look at Idaho, where the substantial number of the delegates — or the attendees at caucuses were college students. Take a look at Iowa. You go to Johnson County, the site of the University of Iowa, and Obama does very, very well. You go to some of these rural counties, where there's no college, and he doesn't do so well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, as always, thank you.

ROVE: Thanks, Greta. Thanks for having me on.

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