by Ted Manna
American Reporter Correspondent
November 20, 2007
CO-CHAIRS ON CANDIDATES: IT'S A ROLL OF THE DICE
DENVER, Nov. 20, 2007 - The national campaign co-chairmen of both top Democratic Presidential candidates weighed in with their opinions about the CNN debate Friday in exclusive interviews with The American Reporter, each claiming that the race is far from over and that their candidates will continue to gain ground over their opponents.
Federico Peņa, Secretary of Transportation under the Clinton Administration, and Wellington Webb, a three-term mayor of Denver, are co-chairmen for the Obama and Clinton campaign. They took time out of their busy schedules (Webb is actually on vacation) to speak candidly about how the candidates fared in the debate, Both agreed that Clinton made no missteps this time, as she apparently did in the last debate when some were confused by her views on drivers' licences for illegal immigrants in New York State.
"I think, overall, Hillary did very well," Webb said, "given the fact that she is the frontrunner and everyone else is trying to take her down. She demonstrated she can take a punch and then give one back.
"In the last debate, she tried to stay above the fray. This time she counter-attacked. I thought she should have done it a little sooner. The other candidates have to know she is not going to stand there and take it. And it was interesting that she concentrated on Obama and Edwards and did not go after the others."
With a battle among the top three candidates taking center stage at the debate, the lower tier were able to gain ground without any attacks on the three frontrunners. They focus=ed instead on their own experience and stands on the issues.
The debate did live up to expectations, as Clinton came out swinging against her two major opponents, claiming Obama did not "step up" on the issue of health care and accusing Edwards of "throwing mud ... right out of the Republican playbook."
"There was more of a separation among the candidates this time," Peņa commented. "There were no major mistakes and no major advances. I thought Sen. Obama was direct and did better this time, but we know debate is not his best suit. He has never excelled in debates. His strength is the consistency of his positions on the major issues, like the war. Consistency is very important, because these sound bites can be used by the Republicans to hurt the ultimate winner, the Denver-based attorney said.
"That's what happened with John Kerry, the 'I voted no before I voted yes' thing. This was what - the fourth or fifth position from Hillary on licences? Barack voted no on going to war with Iran, he was against the war in Iraq and he has a credible position on withdrawal from there."
Peņa said the Obama campaign believes that the more Obama presents himself to the American people, the more he gains. Recent polls showing Obama and Cilinton virtually tied, or Obama slightly ahead, prove this. With the first primary less than seven weeks away, "we are feeling very good," Peņa said. "To be tied at this point is perfect. I would not be surprised if we win in Iowa. The key is the intensity of our supporters."
He characterized the other three early primaries as "definitely winnable" and claimed Clinton has slipped in New Hampshire. There, Peņa thinks the key is the independent vote, he said. The advantage goes to Obama because he has more support "in terms of ground troops."
In Nevada, the site of the first of the western primaries, he thinks Obama has the edge as well, where the challenge will be to get out the vote in a state that is almost 20 percent Hispanic.
South Carolina voters, 50 percent of them African-American, have to be convinced that Barack can win; a victory in Iowa will bring more support from that segment.
Peņa, who is of Hispanic heritage, cited his own experience running for mayor in Denver when he had almost no support from the Hispanic community in the primary. He garnered enough votes to be included in a three way run-off and then won overwhelmingly because Hispanic voters "realized a Hispanic candidate could win.
"It's the same for Barack. The key is the conviction by African- Americans that Barack can win. If we can win in Iowa, we will convince more African-Americans to support him."
Webb was confident that Clinton will regain some of the momemtum she lost after the last debate "because of her strong position on national defense.
"She did not equivocate on the protection of the American people," Webb said. "
And what distinguishes her is her experience in dealing with sensitive issues. When you run a government, when you are in the executive branch, you need to negotiate, he added.
"You need to be more cautious based on who you are negotiating with. You never say what your points are prior to the negotiation. Everything can't be fixed by legislation."
Pat Waak, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, said she is careful to remain unbiased before the Democratic National Convention next year, but thought there are five major candidates in play - Clinton, Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich. She predicted that all the attention on the election so early would lead to record voter turnout at the polls.
"The western voter is a very independent voter," Waak said. "In 2004, John Kerry lost the state by 150,000 votes, but we elected a Democratic Senator (John Salazar).
"Colorado is a targeted state. There is more money from the Democratic Party for things like technical support, training and tracking voters. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is asking us what resourses we need. This year we have raised almost $1 million. I wouldn't want to predict who will win the nomination. We have to keep reminding ourselves that in 2004, Howard Dean was leading in all the polls before the primary."
According to Peņa, "it's still a roll of the dice for all candidates."
An ABC News/Washington Post poll just released last night shows that Peņa might be spot-on when he calls the presidential race still a "roll of the dice." In a telephone poll of a random sample of Iowa homes conducted Nov. 14-18, with a 4.5 point margin of error, 55 percent of Democrats now say they want a leader with "new direction and new ideas," while "strong leadership and experience" only appealed to about a third of the likely voters, a definite boost for Obama who campaigns on a platform of "real, meaningful change."
While Clinton still retains her lead as the most electable candidate, Obama is also gaining on one of Clinton's main strengths: an image of strong leadership. Last summer 23 percent called him the strongest leader. This time it's 27 percent. Last month, Clinton led Obama 2-1 in "trust to handle the situation in Iraq." In this poll, 26 percent pick Obama (up nine points) while 23 percent take Clinton, down by six.
Clinton still has a 2-1 lead over Obama nationally, Peņa believes a win in Iowa will have a domino effect in the other three primaries, as he gets more exposure and more African-American voters realize that Obama just might be a winner.