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Texas, Ohio Nominating Contests Key for Clinton


Joining us is political analyst Susan Estrich, a law and political science professor at the University of Southern California Law School.


Professor SUSAN ESTRICH (Law, Political Science, University of Southern California Law School): Thank you.

HANSEN: Hillary Clinton has lost the last 11 primaries, but she raised $35 million in February. What's going on?

Prof. ESTRICH: Well, I think there's the sense that it's not over yet, that she has a base of very loyal supporters. And she set this up, I think, smartly to say after Super Tuesday where she did very well, look down the road a month. Tuesday in Texas and in Ohio is the next major contest. She set that up as her firewall and she appealed to her base of delegates, which is large, supportive and enthusiastic to say give me the resources to make that stand, and they did.

HANSEN: So what political strategic advice would you give her at this point?

Prof. ESTRICH: If I knew, believe me, I've got a phone, I'd call her, you know. I think you play the hand you're dealt, and her hand is the hand that's based on her experience; it's based in part on the accomplishments of the Clinton years; it's based on, you know, her longtime presence in American politics, and that's her hand.

I think she's playing it as effectively as she can. Some people think she's pushing it to the edge, but that's what politics is about. And it's a choice for voters. And I think if she does well on Tuesday night, she'll keep playing that hand. I think if she doesn't do well on Tuesday night, it's a sign that this is not the year for that particular hand.

HANSEN: And what would really happen if she does not win Texas and Ohio on Tuesday?

Prof. ESTRICH: Well, I think what would happen in practice is people on the inside would say to her, look, you know, you built a firewall, the firewall comes down you get burnt. You're burnt. You know, what ends campaigns is the cold dose of reality when your own supporters and your finance people and your political supporters say it's time.

HANSEN: You wrote the book called "The Case for Hillary Clinton" back in 2005 and you argued that she would make a great president even if she was a polarizing force. If she gets the Democratic nomination, would this idea of being polarizing hurt her in the general election?

Prof. ESTRICH: Sure. I mean, you'd rather be viewed as the unifying force than a polarizing force. But I think George Bush was a polarizing force, at least initially, and he was a bull at least for a time to build a strong coalition and be a very effective and popular president until he got himself in trouble in the wrong war.

I think if Hillary does win the nomination her job will be to reach out beyond her base, which is strong and enthusiastic, and convince people to take a second look. And one thing that does happen in presidential campaigns in my experience is you do, particularly with debates, have moments where people take a second look and they would judge based on what they saw.

I think she's actually been very effective in the debates during the Democratic primary and been a very strong candidate. She's come across as articulate and thoughtful and warm and human. But, you know, Barack Obama has been extremely effective as well, and that's what's made it such a tough race.

HANSEN: You've written that Americans use words as charismatic and inspirational to describe Barack Obama, but while Hillary Clinton is called calculating and ruthless. Why this disparity?

Prof. ESTRICH: Yes. Well, I think Obama has tapped into something very real. I think he, for a lot of people is, you know, the embodiment and the projection of what they want politics to be. And I think he has been very skillful and very talented in articulating those hopes and dreams. Whether he can sustain that under the attack of Republicans is something no one really knows.

As for Hillary, she, both because of her own past and Bill Clinton's past, and I think also, to use the bad word, sexism - still a subtext of almost unconscious resistance a lot of people have to powerful, strong women - she rubs some people the wrong way - rubs enough people the wrong way that you hear those adjectives all the time.

HANSEN: Susan Estrich was the first woman to head a major presidential campaign when she worked for Michael Dukakis. She's currently a law and political science professor at the University of Southern California Law School. Thanks a lot.

Prof. ESTRICH: Thank you. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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