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Ohio Gov.: Clinton Is More Electable

Political Players is a weekly conversation with the leaders, consultants, and activists who shape American politics. This week, CBS News' Brian Goldsmith talked with Ohio Governor Ted Strickland about his presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, and the challenge she faces in his state's must-win Democratic primary on March 4. Governor, you must be disappointed with the fact that Senator Clinton has suffered through ten straight losses since February the 5th.

Ted Strickland: Well, of course, I would have preferred she had won those ten races. But I am pleased that the delegate count is fairly close. And I look forward to her potential wins in Texas, Ohio, and then Pennsylvania. And I think that will make her well-positioned to go the distance. But she was the overwhelming favorite at the beginning of this race. She had so many assets at her disposal--and stratospheric poll numbers. What do you think went wrong?

Ted Strickland: Well, first of all, I think Barack Obama is a superb candidate. And he has had all the resources he could possibly need to compete. But I also think that Hillary Clinton never expected to walk away with the nomination without a fight.

And if you look at the states that she's won-- New York, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Arizona, and I think that's going to include Ohio and Pennsylvania and hopefully Texas--I think she has won the states that are going to be critical for a Democrat to win in November in order to win the presidency.

Barack Obama has won some states that we probably don't have a realistic chance of winning in November under the best of circumstances. So it's a competitive race. I'm not willing to dance on her political grave. I think she has a very good chance of coming back and taking the lead and eventually winning the nomination. But the problem with the argument that he's won a bunch of states the Democrats don't need is Wisconsin. That's a critical state that has voted for Democrats in every election for twenty years. And their demographics are very similar to Ohio's. So how do you explain her losing Wisconsin?

Ted Strickland: Well, I think Obama had the support of some of the political insiders there in Wisconsin, which I assume was helpful to him, including the support of Governor Jim Doyle. But, listen, Ohio in my judgment is unique among the states in its diversity. And it is more like America, I believe, than nearly any other state.

And so we'll just see what Ohio does. I think if the election were held today, Senator Clinton would win convincingly. But there are a couple of weeks to go and the people will eventually make the decision. And, of course, we will accept that decision. But I believe being only about 65 to 68 delegates behind at this time, it's so premature to assume that this contest is over.

As I said, if she comes back and wins Texas and Ohio and Pennsylvania, then she will have demonstrated that in the states that are essential to us winning in November that she is the stronger candidate. What does she have to do now to win your state?

Ted Strickland: Well, Bill Clinton carried Ohio twice. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have spent a lot of time in Ohio.

When I was in Congress from rural Ohio, Hillary Clinton was in my congressional district at least five times herself campaigning for her husband and, at times, campaigning for me. And so I think Hillary Clinton understands the importance of campaigning throughout Ohio and that all parts of Ohio are essential to her win.

I also think she's got to do well in the debates. And the last and final debate will take place in in Cleveland, Ohio, next Tuesday night.

And I believe she does well in debates. But I think the debate in Ohio will be so widely watched that it could, in fact, be the determining factor in who carries Ohio. And Senator Clinton's message--economic growth, dealing with the mortgage foreclosure crisis, providing health care to all people, leaving no one out, her tactful approach to ending the Iraq war and withdrawing our troops in a safe manner--I think those are messages that the common sense folks in Ohio will embrace and will be attracted to. Do you think Senator Obama is less electable in a general election in Ohio?

Ted Strickland: I have said for a long time that I believe, in the fall election, Senator Clinton would be the strongest candidate because of her experience and background. I think Senator Clinton standing toe to toe with Senator John McCain discussing foreign policy and our international relationships would present a very strong and convincing message to the American people that she is capable of being the commander-in-chief, that she understands foreign policy, that she has great experience and knowledge in dealing with countries and world leaders.

And I do believe that Senator Obama's limited experience when it comes to foreign policy would indicate that Senator Clinton would be the strongest general election candidate. A few days ago, Mrs. Obama said that this is the first time she's been proud of this country in her adult life. What do you make of those comments?

Ted Strickland: Well, you know, sometimes when you are involved in a political campaign you say things that don't come out as you meant them. And of course, that comment sounds like something that we would hope no one would say. But I think we ought to give Mrs. Obama the benefit of the doubt here.

I don't think she meant to disparage her pride in America. And I think it's really unfortunate when something is said in a campaign and then it's taken in a way that it was not meant to be. And so I would certainly not criticize Mrs. Obama. Now, if she said it again or if she clarified the statement to indicate that she meant it exactly as it was spoken, that would be a different matter. But I don't want to jump on Mrs. Obama. I think it would be unfair for people to do that over this statement. But does this reinforce a larger theme that the Clinton campaign has been pushing, which is--in their view--that they are prepared for the way the Republicans allegedly twist words and attack people about their patriotism. And the Obama campaign is not.

Ted Strickland: Well, I do think Senator Clinton has been tested. She has gone through the fire, so to speak. The Republican attack machine has focused on her for many years. And she has handled herself with dignity and has come through the fire and has remained standing.

So in that regard I do think she is perhaps better prepared to deal with the onslaught of attacks that always comes from the Republican right wing during presidential elections. I mean, we saw what they did to John Kerry. And they no doubt will do it to whoever the Democratic nominee is. And I think Hillary Clinton has experienced that attack machine and perhaps would be better able to deal with it in the November contest.

Ted Strickland was elected Ohio's governor in 2006, winning more than 60% of the vote. Before then, Strickland served six terms in Congress, during which he worked with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton to help author the Children's Health Insurance Program. The son of a steelworker, Strickland worked as a psychologist, minister, and professor before being elected to Congress on his fourth attempt. He graduated from Asbury College in Kentucky, received a Master's degree at the Asbury Theological Seminary, and earned a doctorate at the University of Kentucky. Strickland is married.

By Brian Goldsmith
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