Former Gore Aide Says Dems Will Unite

Michael Feldman Democratic political strategist
Political Players is a weekly conversation with the leaders, consultants, and activists who shape American politics. This week, CBS News' Brian Goldsmith talked with former Gore Chief of Staff Michael Feldman about the controversy over Obama's minister, the counting of Michigan and Florida, and a campaign calendar that seems to stretch to his party's convention. Political news this week has been dominated by Senator Obama's speech on race relations and his relationship with Reverend Wright. Do you think the substance of the speech helped him? Or is it possible that this subject-and the endless soundbites of Reverend Wright-hurt him more?

Michael Feldman: Well, I think it's a little too early to tell. I think it was a very thoughtful speech, and well-delivered. I think to the extent that he was navigating a really tough line, he navigated it very well. And I thought-as a lot of people have observed, including his opponent, Senator Clinton-it's a difficult subject. And he was courageous to take it on.

In terms of the outcome in the electorate, you know, we're trying to make predictions based on a bunch of discrete audiences here. It's been very well-received among audiences that either are open to his message, or are persuadable.

There's probably a cross-section of people who may be turned off by the subject altogether. And those are people that he was probably never going to reach anyway. In terms of the people in the middle, in terms of the people who are still making up their minds, race is a tough subject. And it's very hard to know, at the end of the day, how that's gonna play. Roger Simon, the columnist at Politico, praised Senator Obama's speech. But he raised a question. Why didn't Obama say this to Reverend Wright, 20 years ago, when it was politically hard, and not now, when it's politically more convenient?

Michael Feldman: Well, I don't think this is a particularly convenient time to be talking about it at all. I think he addressed his relationship with the reverend in very personal terms. I mean, he actually compared the relationship to the relationship that he has with his own grandmother.

And in putting that in such starkly personal terms, I think he said, look, there are people who are close to you who are involved in your life. And you may or may not agree with them on any particular issue, but they're still part of your world or your family, so to speak. And I think that's how he dealt with that aspect of it. Mike, you're unaligned between Clinton and Obama. You're a not-so-elder statesman in the party at this point.

Michael Feldman: Bless you for saying so. Obama's ahead, by our count, by more than 170 of the pledged delegates. He's pulled almost even among the superdelegates. How does she win this thing?

Michael Feldman: Well, I accept your math. And I understand, you know, the delegate allocation process and how making up that difference in terms of pledged delegates is a tall order for her.

But at the end of the day, what she's done is by winning in Texas and Ohio, by winning in New Hampshire, she has extended the timeline and the time horizon of the campaign. The real primary that's going on right now is this electability primary. And so, by extending the time horizon, she extended the period of time when information helps inform that debate on electability.

Her strategy, between now and then, is to get as many pledged delegates as she can get, and as many superdelegates as she can get. I think he's in a much better position. But the margin is not insurmountable if she's able to convince the majority of the remaining pledged and superdelegates that she's our best bet in the fall. And to that point about electability, there does seem to be some Democratic concern about Senator Obama's trouble with particularly white, working-class voters, as we saw in Ohio and Texas. And just recently--this is before the speech--CBS did a poll which shows that 30 percent of all voters view him less favorably as a result of the Wright controversy. How far does this electability argument have to go before it really starts breaking for Hillary Clinton?

Michael Feldman: Well, I hate to use the cop-out of not being too reliant on polling. But at a time when polling has so often led us astray, there's only so much concrete information we can divine from the polling, that we can then extend out for November and draw any conclusions. And that's especially true in the red hot glare of a controversy or something that's blown up immediately.

That said, uncommitted voters right now, people that have not had a chance to vote yet in the primary process and ultimately these superdelegates, they are watching these polls. And they are trying to determine who's our best match-up in the fall. Right now, I would say that the polling doesn't really tell us very much. It moves a lot. It's been within the margin of error. What is your view of Florida and Michigan apparently deciding not to hold re-votes?

Michael Feldman: Well, frankly, I'm surprised by it. I think the party has to figure out a way-and I think the party will ultimately figure out a way-that in two of the most important general election battleground states, the Democratic voters in those states are not disenfranchised by the process.

And so, I think that this now moves it to a new phase, where the party and the campaigns try to figure out how to make sure the delegates from those states are seated. There is no perfect solution to this problem. And my sense is that, vote or no vote, primary or no primary, caucus or no caucus, that a negotiated settlement is likely to be the end result.