A close confidante of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton says that, one way or another, the intense political battle between her and Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination will be resolved by June and won't spill over into the party's convention later in the summer, as many Democrats have feared.
Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's campaign chairman and former head of the Democratic National Committee, adds that Clinton and Obama agree on "90 percent of the issues" but believes the remaining 10 percent — involving healthcare and foreign policy — are too substantial for voters to ignore.
Speaking to CityBeat by telephone Feb. 22 as Clinton was preparing for a debate in Austin, Tex., the one-time leader of the Democratic Party struck an upbeat but pragmatic tone about his friend's chances of winning the nomination. Clinton must win the March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas, as well as the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania, by substantial margins to claim the prize, McAuliffe concedes, which is doable.
"You don't have to have a landslide victory," he says. "We will win those three states. And if we win Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, we'll win the nomination."
As anyone not living in a cave knows, the race between Obama and Clinton has been neck-and-neck; Obama has scored 11 consecutive victories in assorted primaries and caucuses, giving him the momentum and a slight lead in delegates. Generally, Clinton has won delegate-rich states like California and New York while Obama has won more states overall.
Noting Clinton's previous victories in the more populous states as well as in Republican-leaning states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Tennessee, McAuliffe says the New York senator would have the party's best shot at success in the general election against Republican Sen. John McCain.
Brushing aside worries about a brokered convention, he says, "It's a possibility, but I don't think it's likely. My best guess is this will be done in June, well before the convention. It's in all of our best interests to resolve this."
'Disparity in treatment'
McAuliffe thinks the media has given preferential coverage toward Obama and his campaign, partially because he's charismatic and handsome but also because he's a relatively new face on the political scene.
"Clearly, there's been a disparity in the treatment," McAuliffe says. "On the other hand, I'm not going to sit here and complain. We knew it was going to be a long, hard race."
Political pundits enjoy having something dramatic to write and talk about, he adds. "My gut feeling is people wanted a race. I used to cringe early in the race last year when people talked about Hillary's 'inevitability' for just that reason."
Before becoming Clinton's campaign chairman, McAuliffe was head of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005. He also co-chaired President Bill Clinton's re-election campaign in 1996 and previously worked on the campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Dick Gephardt. A lawyer, McAuliffe wrote the book, What a Party! My Life Among Democrats, a New York Times bestseller last year.
'Nobody knows more about health care'
One important difference between Clinton and Obama, McAuliffe says, is their health care proposals.
Clinton's plan would require everyone to have insurance coverage, similar to current requirements for automobile insurance. It would allow people to stick with their current plans, choose among dozens of other plans like the ones offered to congressional members or opt into a public plan like Medicare.
Further, Clinton wants to provide tax credits for working families to help them cover their costs and would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions.
By comparison, Obama's proposal would make a new national health plan available to all Americans, including the self-employed and small businesses, that's also modeled on the ones offered to Congress. It would include guaranteed eligibility and would provide an income-related federal subsidy to buy into the new public plan or purchase a private health care plan for people who didn't qualify for the Medicaid or S-CHIP programs.
Additionally, Obama's proposal would create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals who want to buy a private insurance plan. The exchange would create rules and standards for participating insurance plans to ensure fairness and to make individual coverage more affordable. Insurers would have to issue every applicant a policy and charge stable premiums that wouldn't depend upon health status.
McAuliffe points out that Obama's proposal isn't mandatory and would likely leave large amounts of people without coverage, including about 390,000 Ohioans and 1.7 million Texans. In fact, an independent analysis of the plans recently confirmed this statement, indicating up to 15 million people nationwide wouldn't be covered under Obama's plan.
"Unless you get everybody in the system, the system will still be as faulty as it is today," McAuliffe says. "You cannot let people opt out of the system. It should all be about choice (of plans)."
Obama's plan doesn't offer enough help to small businesses to let them comply, he adds.
"Nobody knows more about health care than Senator Clinton," McAuliffe says.
Still, Clinton is famously known for botching her previous attempt to reform the nation's health care system, which occurred while she was First Lady in the mid-1990s.
"Her goals were laudable," McAuliffe says. "We tried, (and) obviously some mistakes were made. We've learned from our mistakes."
Emphasizing that the number of uninsured Americans has grown from 33 million in 1994 to 47 million now, he says, "She was right that health care was going to become a national crisis."
Obama and his supporters counter, however, that neither President Clinton nor the First Lady made another attempt at health care reform during their remaining years in office and that Hillary hasn't attempted to lead on the issue in the Senate.
The other major difference between Clinton and Obama is their approach to foreign policy and how "we deal with dictators," McAuliffe adds. He and Clinton criticize Obama for a recent comment that he would consider bombing Pakistan without first talking to that nation's leaders, under certain circumstances, stating that it shows Obama is inexperienced on national security issues.
Both President Bush and President Clinton have used just such a policy in the past, Obama's campaign replies. Moreover, the Obama camp ironically notes that he previously was criticized for stating in a debate that he would consider meeting with leaders in Iran and North Korea without pre-conditions. At the time, Sen. Clinton said a meeting with a president shouldn't take place unless other preparatory diplomatic talks have occurred first."
Super-delegates are the party's 'safety valve'
Despite fears that the close Democratic race so far could mean the decision would rest with the party's 795 super-delegates and that scenario could rip apart the party, McAuliffe says that won't happen — and he doesn't want the rules to change in the future.
The scenario isn't unusual, he says. The party has used super-delegates for years, and they were designed to prevent a potentially "catastrophic candidate" from emerging as the front-runner.
"It was sort of a safety valve," says McAuliffe, a super-delegate himself. "These are actual delegates. They aren't super. They've held this status for years."
Obama is sparking greater interest in politics and helping Democratic turnout, particularly among young people, McAuliffe says, which are good in the long-term.
"People are excited. He's new and different and closer to them in age," McAuliffe says. "It's good for the party. (But) change is just a word. You have to have the experience to get the change you want.
"I've known Hillary for 25 years. It's personal for me. Barack Obama is a great person, but I support Hillary. She has years and years of experience. With the world in such a perilous condition ... we need someone with Hillary's experience to deal with all of these issues."
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