John Dickerson was online at Washingtonpost.com on Thursday, Feb. 7, to discuss the outcome of Super Tuesday and speculate on the upcoming twists of the presidential race. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.
John Dickerson: Hello. John Dickerson here. I'm looking forward to your questions.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Sir, does the Kennedy endorsement in this day and age really matter outside the huddles around the water coolers in the Senate or the lawns parties at Martha's Vineyard? Surely the Clintons are as much "the establishment" now as the Kennedys were in the '60s and '70s. Thank you.
John Dickerson: The Kennedy endorsement didn't seem to help Obama in Massachusetts nor did Caroline Kennedy's campaigning for him in California do much for his vote with women. But I think it added a lot of pace to the week for Obama and added to momentum which surely helped him. Also we can't know how much it helped in the ads they ran using Caroline. So I think it helped just not that much. Also, I should note it was the JFK patina that helped Obama the most, though I think that was a bit overblown.
Albany, N.Y.: I think I've got a pretty decent idea by now what kind of president Hillary Clinton would be, but really don't have a clue about how Obama would deal with Congress or foreign policy or how he would run the White House. He doesn't have much of a record as a working politician, but I haven't seen a single story on how he operated as a state legislator or a senator—his campaign staff seems to be very good, but that's all I know. Can you shed any light on how Obama likely would operate as president?
John Dickerson: It's a great question. There have been some stories about his legislative career. He was a consensus builder who worked with Republicans and was willing to take half a loaf rather than see something fail. His record in the Senate is kinda thin. The campaign talks about his work on proliferation issues and his lobbying reform legislation which are both real achievements but don't tell us a great deal. Neither is particularly grand in terms of working with Republicans since they're not particularly hot button issues. We know very little about his management style except that he's messy.
Pittsburgh: It seems as though both Obama and Clinton have currently reached a kind of stalemate, except in one area: Raising money. Going forward, how important do you think Obama's advantage in this area will be in his ability to eke out a win in the remaining primaries and caucuses?
John Dickerson: I don't know if it'll bring him wins but it's a big advantage in allowing him to target lots of different places at once. It gives him an edge though and it certainly helps him win the news cycle.
Richmond, Va.: Is it a surprise or not that Hilliary disclosed that she had to lend $5 million of her own money to her campaign and that some of her "senior staff" were going without compensation? Sounds a bit Giuliani-ish to me. But what does it mean going forward?
John Dickerson: It's a bit of a surprise. It shows us just how desperate they are for cash in the Clinton campaign. I think it means Obama has a money and organizational advantage that will not be decisive but it's so close every little bit helps.
Avon Park, Fla.: With Obama expected to do extremely well in the next set of primaries, will the value of winning them diminish? What I mean is, will he still have significant momentum going into the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4?
John Dickerson: It's always hard to figure expectations. The Obama campaign is on the phone with reporters claiming Virginia is a must win for Clinton in an effort to make those primaries before Ohio and TX seem like big wins because for now the news coverage has made it seem like he's going to run the table until 3/4.
Donegal, Ireland: Are Americans aware that their consistently falling reputation in recent years among Europeans—and indeed citizens worldwide—can be saved by electing a certain type of candidate? How heavily do you think this weighs in the minds of ordinary American voters? Do they realize that that the eyes of the world are pondering this election intently, and that just the perceived ambitions of the potential new president-elect can change the tarnished perception of the U.S. incalculably?
John Dickerson: I don't know if Americans would put it that way but certainly Democrats believe this. Obama has made this argument specifically.
P.S. I am a huge fan of Donegal.
Washington: Assuming McCain disappears from the nightly news soon (since the GOP primary will be over) and we see the Obama-Clinton show night after night till mid-summer, who benefits? Do the Democrats get lots of free publicity, or does McCain get to fundraise in peace while the Democrats spend their days and money tearing each other down? I know this is somewhat unanswerable, but what's the current conventional wisdom?
John Dickerson: I think McCain benefits. He needs a break and his staffers do too. Also, as you point out, he can raise money and work on unifying the party. Also Republicans hope that the Democrats carve themselves up and hurt their party for the general election. That doesn't look like it's likely though. Tensions are high but Democratic voters tell pollsters they'll be happy no matter who wins.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Howard Dean said Tuesday that he would seek to avoid a brokered convention by getting Hillary and Barack together to "make some kind of an arrangement." Under what circumstances could you see either of them backing out, and does Dean have any real power here? Big fan of the Gabfest— long live the most adequate political team on the Internet.
John Dickerson: This makes absolutely no sense to me. What kind of deal are they going to work out? It will all come down to the Democratic credentialing committee if the delegates continue to split like this. The rules that govern that committee are very complicated and not really known.
Atlanta: Do you know how intensely team Clinton plans to contest the February string of primaries? Obviously, they can survive losses, as they did in New Hampshire, but Rudy Giuliani's skipping-states strategy hurt him in Florida. She likely would stay in the news, but not contesting for weeks does seem to have perils.
John Dickerson: I think they're going to contest. They don't want to make the mistake Rudy did. However we might see something like South Carolina where they contest but also spend a lot of time somewhere else— i.e. Ohio and TX.
Raleigh, N.C.: Good afternoon! The Democratic primary race ... when you write your book, won't it kinda feel like stealing money, given that the story is writing itself? In all seriousness, is this the most dramatic (in the literary sense) race of our lifetimes, or is 1968 still the most dramatic? Also, do you think the high interest is at all related to people being tired of Bush, or is it the inherent drama and closeness of the two primary campaigns?
John Dickerson: It's a great race for all of those reasons. The Democrats are going to nominate the first black or female candidate. The Republican nominee is likely to be a guy who was long thought dead. Lots of rumors of Romney dropping out or suspending campaign today.
Bow, N.H.: I am seeing some stories about the potential damage a protracted Obama-Clinton fight could have on the party. We have our own issues here in New Hampshire stemming from a choice mailing and e-mail the Clinton campaign put out the weekend before our primary that badly misrepresented and distorted Obama's record. The bad feelings from that are not receding yet, and we'll see if they linger into the fall. Are you seeing similar issues in other states?
John Dickerson: There is some bad blood but in exit polls voters still show that Democrats are pretty happy with both candidates and would be happy if either is the nominee.
Another Pittsburgher: Does anyone besides me wish the U.S. would switch to a single nationwide presidential primary, with results based on popular vote? And better yet, not even hold said primary until after Labor Day? I think our nominating system, including the conventions, simply is obsolete.
John Dickerson: Lots of people have suggested that. It's nutty though I like the fact that candidates have to campaign one on one in these small states. Perhaps a rotating regional primary system would solve some issues and still keep it small enough to keep some element of the retail aspect of campaigning.
Elmwood Park, N.J.: Who are all these brilliant anti-Iraq War voters who tell the pollsters that they are voting for McCain? Do things like this ever make you doubt your choice of profession?
John Dickerson: I talk to people all the time, all across the country, who don't support the war and didn't at the time who are McCain supporters.
Columbia, Md.: Just heard, Romney is suspending his race. True or not?
John Dickerson: Yes he's suspending his campaign.
Washington: Wow! Just announced that Mitt Romney will bow out today. When will Huckabee follow suit, and what does that mean for the Democrats?
John Dickerson: I'm not sure Huckabee will drop out immediately. I think it means Democrats will start to feel some pressure to iron out their problems quickly. Fortunately for all of us that probably won't change the protracted battle we're facing for Democratic nomination.
Summit, N.J.: Given that it's now basically impossible for Clinton or Obama to win enough delegates in the primaries to clinch the nomination, how much of a lead would one candidate or the other need to build up to make the superdelegates fall in line? Does Hillary have longer-standing relationships with lots of superdelegates, and does that give her an edge so long as she stays close to Obama in the pledged-delegate count?
John Dickerson: It's a great question and I have no clear answer. Here's what's in play:
1. The fortitude of already pledged superdelegates.
2. What the superdelegates that aren't pledged will ultimately do.
Hillary has stronger ties though as a general matter.
"Momentum": I'm laughing at the analysis you offered on the Kennedys because on your own website, Tim Noah has an article about how the Momentucrats—those who judge elections through perceptions of candidate momentum—lost the Super Tuesday electoral rhetorical battle to the Arithmecrats, who judge elections based on votes. Care to comment?
washingtonpost.com: Triumph of the Arithmecrats(Slate, Feb. 6)
John Dickerson: I haven't had time to read Tim's piece but you can argue it either way. By the numbers Super Tuesday was a dead even split on delegates and number of votes. Obama won more states but Clinton won the big ones. On the question of momentum however, Obama doesn't turn out 20,000 people at his rallies because he lacks momentum and he didn't raise all that money just because he says a few nice words. And he didn't break through Clinton's serious lead in the polls in lots of states because he lacked momentum. Enough double negatives for you?
Columbia, Md.: I am a Democrat but would prefer McCain over Bush. This is a no-brainer. As for voting for any candidate—I know what I am getting with Clinton, I do not know what I am getting with Obama. His record needs to be vetted more. And I hope it is before the convention.
John Dickerson: I don't think his record will get a great deal more vetting. It's gotten a good amount. There's not that much more to go through because, well, he's a young guy and he's been in a few tough fights but not a lot of them that can be picked over.
Anonymous: "We know very little about his management style except that he's messy." Meaning lots of clutter on his desk? Or are you speaking of his dealing with people? Please elaborate.
John Dickerson: Sorry. I was referring to Obama's answer at one of the debates that he doesn't keep track of paper well. I should elaborate and say that he's run a heck of a campaign so clearly he's got some organizational skills.
Alexandria, Va.: What do you think would be the implications if one Democratic candidate has 200 more primary electoral votes than the other candidate, but the superdelagate votes give the nomination to the trailing candidate?
John Dickerson: by electoral votes I assume you mean pledged delegates. It's tricky. Lots of people will be up in arms if a candidate wins by superdelegates. It might touch off the kind of fuss that created the superdelegate system in the first place!
Gabfest listener: Have you seen the piece today by Adam Nagourney about how Obama's performance on Tuesday didn't live up to the hype? Sounds as though Nagourney is faulting Obama for not conforming to the media's chosen "narrative" prior to Tuesday. Maybe the headline should be "Times Newsroom Sets Unrealistic Expectations for Obama." What do you think?
washingtonpost.com: In Vote, Obama Fell Short of Fervor(New York Times, Feb. 7)
John Dickerson: Oh I quite liked Adam's story but I take your point. I think what was interesting is what happened on election day to Obama? Exit polls have consistently shown that voters who are still undecided on election day pick HRC. Is that because they think she's more experienced and a safer pick? Not sure...
Edinberg, N.Y.: You know, I got a chance to buy this car, a beautiful convertible, that hasn't been tested yet, but which the manufacturer says gets 59 miles to the gallon and goes zero to 60 in 3.8 seconds with zero emissions. But the manufacturer just starting introducing cars into this country from Bulgaria, which has no track record building cars.
Or I can buy an Accord. Tough choice.
John Dickerson: You should work for the Clinton campaign.
Naperville, Ill.: Clinton's strategy for years was to wrap up the nomination on Super Tuesday. Obviously that didn't work. Has she invested at all in setting up ground operations in the remaining states? Conversely, what kind of operations does Obama have in the remaining states? The race might be tied at the moment, but Obama had to run up an absurdly steep hill to get here while Hillary was running on flat ground. Obama's people have to be elated at where they are right now.
John Dickerson: This is where momentum matters too. Obama has more humans running around on the streets for him feeling super energized. (Though I should note that there is empirical data to refute or at least muddy list claim. The last Gallup (or maybe it was PEW) showed that HRC actually had more intense feeling from her supporters. Nevertheless, Obama does seem to have an operations advantage in some of the upcoming states. And yes, they are elated.
Romney: I guess he didn't want to spend the rest of his fortune in order to spend history with the likes of Huckabee and Paul. "Another one bites the dust."
John Dickerson: Brutal for him. He spent a lot of money on ads and organization and had the full backing of the conservative commentators and he still couldn't get voters to buy what he was selling.
Endorsements: John while you went with the easy, conventional answer, take a look at the rolling poll numbers in Massachusetts and California. Obama was in the 20s consistently and had a huge bump up in the polls and at the polls following these endorsements. This is a race for time. If Massachusetts and California had held their primaries when originally scheduled, both would be more influential in 2008, and Obama would have had the time to catch up with the big-name candidate. By the way, I supported Edwards and voted for Obama, but I like Hillary an awful lot.
John Dickerson: you may see it as easy and conventional but it seems to me that we're in agreement. Endorsements matter but they don't matter enough. I get the Obama spin that you've put forward I just don't buy it.
Denver: Obama generally has run a brilliant campaign with the exception of managing expectations. He seems to have turned a major achievement of reaching stalemate on Super Tuesday into a disappointment. Are his pollsters as wrong as Zogby?
John Dickerson: I'm not sure it's seen as a disappointment. He won more states and may have won more delegates and he made up pretty big deficits even in places he lost. Managing expectations is almost impossible and particularly hard for a momentum candidate like him. If you're claiming you're building a movement you can't then say: don't move too fast.
Austin, Texas: Does Romney's withdrawal lessen pressure on McCain to make nice with the right wing of his party?
John Dickerson: No I think he still wants his base in the general and as a news management issue he wants fewer questions about how angry his own party is with him so there are still reasons to try to build bridges.
Arlington, Va.: No offense to Donegal, but we really don't care what the rest of the world thinks, and I find it offensive that he'd think it matters. When people start asking Ireland to intervene in Bosnia or Sudan, or to fix the crises in North Korea or Iran, then we'll care.
John Dickerson: I think there are a great number of voters though who do care what the world thinks— both Republican and Democratic voters.
Kamloops, B.C.: Why are so many people carrying on about an Obama/Clinton ticket? Wouldn't a red state governor be the smart/safe choice? What is the rational for such a ticket? What are the advantages/disadvantages?
John Dickerson: It's a parlor game. I think it's silly too but what can we do about it. It would also be stupid for both of them. Hillary wouldn't want to be outshined and Obama would want someone who is new generation the way he is. Or he'd want a serious red state governor for ballast (if he sees that as a problem)
Re: Limbaugh (yuck!): Do you think that Rush Limbaugh effectively has marginalized himself as an influential broadcaster, what with his vendetta against John McCain and especially his obscene insinuation re: McCain and Lindsay Graham?
John Dickerson: I think he'll be more popular than ever. He's not effective clearly but he now has someone to rail against and his listeners do too. Two targets is better than one. But he took a pretty strong rebuke on Super Tuesday.
Minneapolis: John, can we divine anything about Obama and Clinton's governing styles based on how they've run their campaigns thus far?
John Dickerson: Great question. I dunno. They've both run pretty great campaigns. Clinton's money problems aren't a plus for her and you'd have to give Obama the edge on organization just because he built it fast and it has run so well— and he's younger.
Fort Lee, N.J.: I don't expect you to agree, but there's something faintly racist about the media's apparent surprise that Hispanic voters don't all break in favor of Obama, as if there was no difference between all minority voters, or all Hispanics for that matter. Well, there's a hell of a lot of difference, and I wish these guys would stop being surprised.
John Dickerson: Is that the surprise? I thought the surprise was that Obama couldn't pick up a bigger share among Latinos. I've seen similar surprises with women voters (Though Obama was able to win women in IA).
Princeton, N.J.: Any signs that Democrats in Florida and Michigan might hold caucuses to choose delegates? Those states could have a huge impact now. Would the national party welcome caucuses, or would it spark a big fight because Hillary won most of the delegates that at present don't count?
John Dickerson: There is some hint of this but for the moment Howard Dean has suggested that the two campaigns try to work out a compromise.
St. Mary's City, Md.: Do you see McCain trying to win over the religious right by putting Huckabee on the ticket? If so, do you think it will work? I'm concerned that this may turn out to be a Faustian bargain for both McCain and the GOP. Also, McCain in 2000 had strong appeal with independents and GOP mavericks. Is that the case this year, or have they switched to Ron Paul? On the Democratic side, my impression of Obama is that many of his supporters are independents and party mavericks as well. It would be interesting if the national race had both Obama and McCain chasing after independents.
John Dickerson: That won't buy off the right. They are not easily bought and there are a lot on the right who don't like Huckabee. Will it help him with evangelicals? Maybe but probably not. Also McCain gets 1/3 of evangelicals even with Huckabee in the race so he's got some inroads there on his own.
If McCain and Obama ran against each other it does seem to me that it would be a big fight for the middle and lots of states would be in play.
Washington: You responded to my earlier question of who benefits more in the coming months—GOP or Democrats—from the ongoing uncertainty in the Democratic field. You said McCain would, and then explained why he probably wouldn't (the Democratic campaign has not been terribly negative and the candidates' goals and policies are pretty much identical). Was this a glimpse into your own view perhaps—if it's a tie, let's give it to our friend McCain?
John Dickerson: I'm confused by this. Sorry if I was unclear. McCain stands to benefit from a protracted Democratic fight but only if it gets really nasty and right now Democrats don't seem to think that it's gotten nasty enough to penalize either Obama or Clinton if they win.
Arlington, Va.: Obama gets most antiwar votes because he, you know, actually opposed the war. However, antiwar people can respect McCain because his kid actually enlisted. So each of these candidates are "living their values," to some extent. Then there's Hillary—she enabled this war, and authorized action against Iran. Yet we know that Chelsea never, ever will enlist in the Armed Forces. Never say never? I'm saying never. It's easy to declare war on the backs of other people's children.
John Dickerson: I wonder, do people all really know that McCain's son is over there? I agree with your analysis though.
Lubbock, Texas: So far, Hillary Clinton has dominated the Hispanic vote. At the moment, is there any reason to believe that Texas's large Hispanic population will vote any differently than California or Nevada's Hispanic populations? I noticed that Obama narrowly won the popular vote in New Mexico, but am unaware as to how he did among Hispanics. Thanks.
John Dickerson: He did better among Latinos in NM than he did in CA I believe (sorry, don't have the exits in front of me). Folks I talk to think that Latinos will matter in TX but for lots of the coming Democratic primary contests they won't play a huge role.
Henderson, Nev.: I am curious as to why the issue of absentee ballots—cast long before Sen. Obama received the Kennedy and Shriver endorsements, has not been taken into account? Many voters in Massachusetts and even more in California voted long before South Carolina. The huge Obama "movement" that ensued after his win in South Carolina could have been a determining factor for those voters, especially if you couple the "he could win" scenario along with the Kennedy endorsement. I think delineating just how many absentee ballots were cast in both states may provide some insight—what's your take on this idea?
John Dickerson: Very smart.
Rochester, N.Y.: Democratic turn-out was astounding Tuesday night—it was higher than Republican turn out in every state but Arizona, Utah and Alabama. That includes deep-red states like Oklahoma and Georgia. Is this bad news for Democrats because it might mean that voters will be all worn out before November? Don't studies show that parties with high turnout in primaries usually have lower turnout in the general election? Presumably Howard Dean is worried.
John Dickerson: That's an interesting question. I think Democrats want to be in control and unless a bigger uglier fight breaks out to split the party I think there will be energy enough for Democrats. But it's really worth watching to see if that happens either because of disappointment about the ultimate candidate or the view that the two candidates are too similar.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Maybe I'm nuts—well I am nuts—but Obama just made a statement that he's sure he can stand up to any GOP Swift-Boating attacks, because (paraphrasing) the Clintons have the best opposition research team out there, and if they couldn't find anything on him, there's nothing to be found." Are the Clintons and Karl Rove really equivalent when it comes to this stuff? Seems ... well, naive.
John Dickerson: Well it's not a bad line from Obama though yes he's likely to get a lot worse from Republicans in the fall. You don't seem that nuts to me.
New York: The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz thinks McCain is being treated unfairly by the media. What do you think?
washingtonpost.com: Has McCain Got It?(Post, Feb. 7)
John Dickerson: I didn't get that from Howard's piece. I thought he was saying that McCain benefited from both his intestinal fortitude and some good breaks he couldn't control.