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Obama Stresses His 'Electability' Versus GOP

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Well, Barack Obama's supporters argue that he would fare better than Clinton against John McCain, who's now the frontrunner for the Republicans.

NPR's Don Gonyea is travelling with the Obama Campaign.

DON GONYEA: Here's how Barack Obama puts it in the days leading up to tomorrow's critical Super Tuesday contest. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, she'll suffer for not having stood up to the Bush administration on key issues including the Iraq war.

BARACK OBAMA: I can offer a clear and clean break from the failed policies of George W. Bush. I won't have to explain my votes in the past.

GONYEA: And in that same section of his stump speech, Obama tries to blunt the argument that Clinton beats him on experience. She says in all of her speeches that she is ready to lead from day one. But Obama keeps going back to her yes vote on the resolution giving President Bush authorization to strike Iraq.

OBAMA: It's not just saying you're ready for day one, the question is are you right on day one.

GONYEA: But attacking Hillary Clinton's record is only half of Obama's approach; he's also starting to lay out how he'll go after John McCain in the general election. And here, again, it's all about linking the opponent to George W. Bush. On the war, Obama says McCain simply stands for a continuation of Bush policies. On the economy, he says McCain had the right idea - at first.

OBAMA: I respect that John opposed Bush' tax cuts. Early on he said it was irresponsible to cut taxes at the same time as we were going into a war.

GONYEA: But now that McCain supports making those tax cuts permanent, Obama accuses him of pandering to Republican primary voters.

OBAMA: John McCain's basic approach is more Bush. Now, the wheels have fallen off the straight talk express and he is starting to say let's extend them.

GONYEA: A key part of the Obama strategy is to generate a new wave of voters, the kind of people flocking to see the Illinois senator even in some unlikely places. Over the weekend, he drew more than 14,000 to an event in Idaho, the reddest of Republican red states.

At a news conference last week, Obama said these new voters might not turn out for someone like Hillary Clinton.

OBAMA: I'm confident I will get her votes if I'm the nominee. It's not clear that she would get the votes I got if she were the nominee. And that, I think, illustrates the potential difference in terms of how we could run our campaigns.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GONYEA: Saturday morning, standing amid a vast, huge crowd in downtown Boise, Idaho was 42-year-old Shirley Johnson(ph). She's a single mom.

SHIRLEY JOHNSON: I'm an independent. And I came here to see what he was about.

GONYEA: So have you decided?

JOHNSON: No, I have not.

GONYEA: Okay. Why not?

JOHNSON: I am very heavily swayed, heavily swayed.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

GONYEA: A day earlier in Santa Fe, 18-year-old Issa Bruin(ph) sat on a railing near the back of an Obama rally. This is Bruin's first presidential election; she describes herself as mildly liberal independent Obama supporter. But admits she's here for a reality check.

ISSA BRUIN: He seems too good to be true. He's just so charismatic and alive and, you know, everything America stands for supposedly. And it just seems too good to be true. And so I want to see him, you know, in person and see if he's going to act(ph).

GONYEA: And if Obama doesn't get the nomination, will she vote for Senator Clinton?

BRUIN: I would have considered Edwards. And I would have - Kucinich. I would have considered him, but Hillary - no.

GONYEA: Will these be attitudes be as hard in November as they are now? It's hard to say in February. It's also hard to say how many new voters there will be on Super Tuesday or in the fall. That's also an open question how many new voters may go with McCain if he is the GOP nominee as independents have been his best source of support as well.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, with the Obama campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.