Divisive Primaries Are "Great" For Dems

Bob Schieffer, David Axelrod and Howard Wolfson on "Face The Nation"
Bob Schieffer, David Axelrod and Howard Wolfson on "Face The Nation"

In spite of widely-voiced fears that weeks of negative comments between the Democratic presidential candidates may lead to irreparable divisions that could hamper the ultimate nominee, Hillary Clinton's communications director said today that the primary contest "has been great for the Democratic Party."

Appearing on Face The Nation, Howard Wolfson told host Bob Schieffer, "We have seen record turnout in states that Senator Obama won and we've seen record turnout in states that Senator Clinton won, most recently in Pennsylvania. Democrats are enthused. They're excited. They want to send a Democrat to the White House."

Wolfson did not think that supporters of the losing candidate would fail to back the winner following the Denver convention. "I think that both the Obama campaign and the Clinton campaign are absolutely committed to coming together at the conclusion of this process, coming behind whoever the nominee is, and enthusiastically supporting that person."

David Axelrod, chief strategist of the Obama campaign, concurred: "We do have a party that is very, very focused on winning. We understand that a continuation of these Republican policies would be disastrous for people across Indiana, across North Carolina who are sitting there this morning watching this program and going through their bills and wondering how they're going to pay them and know that we can't afford more of the same Bush economic policies.

"But the question is how we get to that change," Axelrod said. "We do have to come together not just as a party, but as a country. We have to get past our divisions. We have to push back on the special interests in Washington.

"I think there's a hunger for change in this country. I think people are going to come together in a great coalition for change. I think it's important that that change be not just change of party, but a change of politics in Washington."

Schieffer also welcomed former CBS News correspondent Roger Mudd (author of a new book, "The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News") to the studio, who discussed the evolving role debates have played in presidential contests, with the main change being their proliferation.

"If you remember, you didn't get a debate until after the convention, after the parties had picked their two nominees," Mudd said. "There was the Kennedy-Nixon great debate in 1960. Johnson refused to debate; Nixon refused to debate.

"It was not until Gerry Ford and Carter got together, and there was a series of debates and there was a mistake in each one of them that damaged that candidate: Gerry Ford said Poland was free, and Ronald Reagan came and said to Carter, 'There you go again,' and to Mondale, 'I won't use age as a weapon against you.' And they caught George Bush looking at his watch.

"But now the debates are all the time, and those debates now furnish the raw material of the coverage. The question is whether those debates are, in fact, genuine debates or whether they're practiced, professionally coached spinning. I mean, I watched you interview Mr. Wolfson and Mr. Axelrod, and they didn't lay a glove on you, Bob, did they?"

"No," Schieffer agreed. "They didn't get off the talking points. I mean, they were like little boys in Sunday school. They've been told to behave themselves on Sunday morning. I find that a little bit striking, because this campaign, how really harsh it has become."

Read the full "Face the Nation" transcript here.
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.