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Analysis: What Key Players are Saying Post-Primary

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The people who want to be president are making plenty of comments about yesterday's primaries. Hillary Clinton says a narrow victory in Indiana moves her closer to the White House. Barack Obama's campaign says a decisive victory in North Carolina shows he can withstand several tough campaign weeks.

We're joined, as we are often on a Wednesday morning after a primary, by two veteran political strategists. One is Democrat Mark Mellman. The other's Republican Tucker Eskew.

Gentlemen, good morning to you both.

Mr. TUCKER ESKEW (Republican strategist): Good morning, Steve.

Mr. MARK MELLMAN (Democratic strategist): Good morning.

INSKEEP: And I want to begin with Mark Mellman. You must know a lot of superdelegates who are watching these results. Any idea how yesterday's results might be affecting them?

Mr. MELLMAN: Well, yes, Steve. We've known - we knew yesterday going into this race that the superdelegates were really going to decide the outcome of this nomination contest. Most of them seem inclined to decide based on who won the most pledged delegates. The only way to change - for Clinton to have changed that was to demonstrate very clearly, unambiguously that Barack Obama was unelectable.

She's, I think, demonstrated she's a tenacious campaigner, an effective campaign, but she was not able to demonstrate that Obama was unelectable. In fact, he won a strong victory in North Carolina, came very close in Indiana. I think that is not enough for Senator Clinton to change the psychology of those superdelegates.

INSKEEP: Well, Tucker Eskew, as a political professional watching Hillary Clinton, can you see any way that she might be plausibly telling the truth when she says last night it's full speed on to the White House?

Mr. ESKEW: Well, far be it for any Republican to question whether she's telling the truth. I would say that she's a very tough campaigner. I would never underestimate her ability to draw on the strength of that toughness. She's proven it repeatedly, and actually earned the grudging respect of some Republicans who've witnessed her back against the wall and continue to fight on. So I think it's certainly possible, though the math looks very difficult for her.

INSKEEP: We heard this morning, live interview on MORNING EDITION from Rahm Emanuel, Democratic Congressional leader, knows both candidates. And he forecasts that there will be a nominee by the end of May. Does that sound like wishful thinking to you? Either of you?

Mr. ESKEW: I think it's entirely possible, and I think actually it's really the last month or two that's more critical to the future of this race. What we've known as Republicans for a long time is how to run against Senator Clinton. What we learned in the last six to eight weeks, it really - the outlines of how to run against Senator Obama, that's come into clearer view and given us an opportunity to really exploit the yin and yang of the Democratic Party, how their voter profiles really seem quite separate and distinct.

INSKEEP: Mark Mellman, do you think we're within a few weeks of a nominee here?

Mr. MELLMAN: I think we're within a few weeks. I'm not sure it'll be the end of May, though I would hesitate to question Rahm. But the bottom line here is simple. These pledged delegates - I'm sorry, these superdelegates are not required to make their decision on any particular basis. They're free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, up until the nomination's on the convention floor. So there's always an uncertainty attached to what they're going to do. I think, though, that we will coalesce around a nominee by the time we get to July - June or July.

INSKEEP: Tucker Eskew, Republican consultant, people presume that this Democratic fight is good news for John McCain. But Rahm Emanuel was also saying this morning, hey, look at the turnout. Very low Republican turnout, and they didn't even all vote for McCain.

Mr. ESKEW: Listen, no question Senator McCain's got to hold onto this base, but then live up to that brand that he has, that identity as an independent thinker. I think you should look for them to take stronger steps in the weeks ahead, to redefine, or rather re-emphasize that brand as he touches on the environment, climate change, some areas where his independent thinking and maverick streak can appeal to even some of the disaffected Democrats that have arisen out of this very divisive primary.

INSKEEP: Although, let's look at what McCain did yesterday. He gave a speech about judges. He effectively said he'd appoint the same kind of judges as President Bush. He likes very much President Bush's Supreme Court choices. Which leads to something else that we heard on this program from Ted Devine, a Democratic consultant who said, hey, there's pollsters saying now that a lot of Democrats might go for John McCain in the fall. But he says as soon as those Democrats learn that John McCain opposes abortion rights, about half of those people are going to drop away. You think that's true?

Mr. ESKEW: No, I don't. I think you hear that kind of wishful thinking from Democratic strategists every presidential cycle. I think there is a strong line of distinction and Senator Obama - the likely Democratic nominee - voted against John Roberts, a very successful Supreme Court chief. So I think it's -there's a way to reach out beyond the Republican base while sticking true to core principles, and this is one example.

INSKEEP: Mark Mellman, just about 10 seconds for you.

Mr. MELLMAN: Well, people aren't very good predictors of their future behavior here. But the reality is John McCain's telling us he's going to be a third term of George Bush in Iraq. He's going to be a third term of George Bush here at home, adopting George Bush's health care plan. I think we're going to see Democrats unite behind the nominee, and we're going to see a lot of Republicans end up defecting, as well as independents, under the Democratic banner.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much, gentlemen. Appreciate it. Mark Mellman is a Democratic strategist, Tucker Eskew a Republican strategist.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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