OBAMA'S 'TRUTH TOUR': Supporters Make a Last-Minute Stop Here
The Barack Obama "Truth Tour" swung through Southern Pines Monday to do some last-minute campaigning for the Democratic presidential candidate.
The group of local and national elected officials included U.S. Congressman Bennie G. Thompson, of Mississippi; state Rep. Dan Blue, of Wake County; Anne Franklin, chairwoman of the Triangle Transit Authority; and Brad Thompson, former state director for U.S. Sen. John Edwards. The group stopped by The Pilot's offices as part of an 11-town tour on the eve of the primary election.
The four said North Carolina will be in play come the November election.
"Unlike it's ever been before," Blue said.
They said that the growth of unaffiliated voters, who tend to like Obama, makes them think that he has a chance to beat the Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, in this historically conservative state.
"We still believe North Carolina is a state where ideas will prevail," Brad Thompson said. "I think Democrats have a chance to win it here."
In their visit to The Pilot, the members of the Truth Tour spoke with Staff Writer Matthew Moriarty, Editor Steve Bouser and Publisher David Woronoff. Here is an edited transcript of the tape-recorded interview, conducted on the day before the May 6 primary.
Q: Has this campaign gotten too divisive?
Blue: My personal objection, and I think it's the conclusion that a lot of people are reaching, is that you really do have to unite people. This slicing-and-dicing stuff, this highly partisan stuff -- you've seen it in North Carolina -- is something that has to change if we're going to solve the problems that really make us greater than what we are. The big problems, whether it's health care, whether it's the question of really ending the war rather than just getting the rhetoric and the other multitude of issues.
Or take the energy thing. I thought it was a perfect example, with all this debating, as you probably saw with all the talking heads yesterday.
Q: About Sen. Clinton's proposal to suspend the gasoline tax?
Blue: Yes. We went through that debate about putting a cap on it, which made much more sense than having a moratorium for three months. But that debate, looking more long term, fulfilling an obligation toward not just ourselves for the short term but ourselves for the long term and the next generation, getting policies that really work to deal with this energy stuff.
I was in college in the Sixties and early Seventies and law school in the Seventies, when we started really seriously discussing alternative energy sources. In 1973, when I got out of law school, I sat in those Nixon gas lines, and, you know, we started seriously talking about solving energy dependence in this country. And where have we gotten? From 30-cents-a-gallon gas to four-dollars-a-gallon gas.
Franklin: We've gone backwards, actually. In 1980, we did the ride-share program for the region, and this county was part of that activity. We had 20 percent of the population that were ride-sharing. And it's way down to like 3 or 4 percent now. So we've lost ground.
Q: Do you think North Carolina is in play for the fall election?
Brad Thompson: Definitely.
Blue: Oh, absolutely. Unlike it's ever been before. Primarily because Sen. Obama's doing something different. I mean, I've watched these numbers and seen them analyzed every way you can analyze them. The identification of independents with this campaign. You know, North Carolina is a state that's trending as much independent, almost as Democratic and Republicans. And they are identifying with this kind of inclusive politics that Sen. Obama is talking about and that he represents.
So that's why I think we will be competitive. I worked hard in the last competitive election in North Carolina in 1976, when Jimmy Carter won, by a small margin, but he won it. And I think the dynamics fall in place better for this election this fall than they have since 1976 for it to be a Democratic year.
Brad Thompson: We still believe North Carolina is a state where ideas will prevail. Obviously we go back and forth. We are open to a debate. This year, I believe the quality of the ideas presented about where we go forward will move us to being a competitive state. And I think Democrats have a chance of winning here.
Q: Has Sen. Obama lost some momentum lately with all the Jeremiah Wright stuff and everything?
Rep. Thompson: I don't think there's any question that it's taken the campaign off the front pages for several days. The senator admitted that. But I think he was forthright in addressing the Reverend Wright issue. ...
But it is, it was, an unfortunate distraction. But I don't see how he could get blamed for sermons preached by a minister, regardless of the relationship. I think the public, over time, sees it as an unfortunate situation, but not something that would torpedo completely his campaign.
Q: If Hillary Clinton were to get the nomination, would your guy actively campaign for her?
Thompson: He's a Democrat. You know, I think he respects the process. I would expect him like any other person to do that.
Blue: He said he would.
Q: They've caused each other, whoever gets the nomination, quite a bit of damage haven't they? -- that Republicans could use against them later on.
Blue: Well, there's no question about that. You can look at the polls and stuff and see the negative effect of this kind of prolonged campaign. ...
And I think that that's happened much more so with Sen. Obama, because he's been subject to a much more negative campaign. There's no punches pulled on it. That's what they said they were going to do after Super Tuesday -- the kitchen sink strategy. I call it the bathroom commode strategy. (Laughter.)
Not withstanding that, he's still standing and I think still progressing on, because of the ideas that he's talking about in this election. And that's really what's important. Not these side issues. Not these personality issues. You've got two people who love this country. Two people who want to give their all to serve this country -- certainly, Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton as well as Sen. McCain. And so, once you accept that as a fact, and I really do think it's an absolute fact, then we ought to talk about ideas. And that's what Sen. Obama's campaign has tried to do. Talk about the big ideas as we're going to move forward as a nation.
Brad Thompson: In a contest such as this has been, ultimately, you hope that the strongest vision will prevail. That's what I believe the contingent have confidence in, a sense of where the future should be for this country. And we are confident that that will ultimately be where the people of this country decide to cast their ballot, and that will be with Sen. Obama.
Q: Walk me through the math where Sen. Clinton could win the nomination, unless some of the superdelegates --
Blue: That's clearly where they're aiming. From the standpoint of elected delegates, it's clear that Sen. Obama will end this campaign cycle with more elected delegates. He's already won 31 states or caucuses, so he's locked down those numbers. He will have more elected delegates, more states, and right now he's leading the popular vote by over half a million. He will have won all those other indicators.
Mind you, this election started as an effort to get the most delegates. That's how we've always chosen our nominee -- the person who got the most delegates. In this case, he'll have the most elected delegates. There's a 20-vote margin among the superdelegates. I was a superdelegate for a long time. I'm not anymore. There's a 20-vote margin on that one in her favor, but it's closing every day.
So the only way to get the nomination is to convince the remaining 200-and-some superdelegates to side with her or to convince the superdelegates who've already committed that they ought to change their minds and side with her. So I don't say anything is mathematically impossible. There is always an infinite ability to make things work.
Q: Given that, it seems like with the fervency Sen. Obama seems to have, particularly with younger voters, would they abandon the Democratic nominee if anybody but Obama was at the top of the ticket?
Blue: I don't know. I read the blogs, surprisingly enough. I am a 57-year-old who reads the blogs and tries to keep up with what younger people are saying and how they process information. They are at a level in this campaign unlike anything I've seen, even though I'm a product of the late Sixties.
I've never seen anything like what I'm witnessing with these young people now. And I think it's just that they feel that their time has come. They want to have some impact on how their country goes. They're exercising the true visions of that. So I know that if it seems like a back-room deal, there will be revulsion and absolute revolt -- not only by younger people, but other people. Because we want transparency.
We want people to think that their vote does matter, that these old fogies aren't going to go behind the scenes after this thing has gone a certain way with the electorate and then make a different deal than the millions of people who participated.
Franklin : I think the story is in the young people who are involved. And we might think of teenagers, but I'm seeing the late 20s to mid 30s who are basing their whole life direction on contributing to this effort. It's very interesting. There's whole group working on foreign policy issues, a whole group working on energy issues, a whole group working on health issues. Their energy is not going to go away if they don't get the nominee.
I remember that we lost a lot with the McGovern campaign, but a lot of people came into public life as a result of just being impassioned with that campaign. And that energy doesn't go elsewhere. If you take a look at those people who got engaged then and managed to shape public life -- do I think they're all going to fade back and sort of give it up? I don't think so.
Q: Will our hometown boy, John Edwards, have a role in this thing?
Blue: I think at the end of the process John will re-emerge. Brad ran John's state operation when he was in the Senate. Brad was state director for John when he was a U.S. senator and knows him probably better than any of us. And I've known him, practiced law next door to him for almost 20 years.
I think that John will re-emerge after this primary is over with. The themes that he was raising in the campaign have already gained some currency -- in certainly Hillary's campaign and Barack's, but also to some degree even with John McCain.
So resurfacing with these poverty issues, pointing out that America really has to be inclusive and give people a chance to appreciate the American dream -- I think it's something that resonates.
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