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Democrats Elleithee And Gabbard: Voters Are Asking 'Who's Looking Out For Me?'


Let's sum up the Democratic campaign for president in a sentence. We'll get nominations for that sentence from Mo Elleithee of Georgetown University, who is a one-time spokesman for Hillary Clinton.


And also from Tulsi Gabbard, a member of Congress from Hawaii who has endorsed Bernie Sanders.

Congresswoman Gabbard, you're on the line. Good morning to you.

TULSI GABBARD: Aloha, good morning.

GREENE: Aloha to you. So what is your sentence summing up this race on this morning after Super Tuesday?

GABBARD: We have a robust Democratic primary with a clear choice in contrast between our candidates, and the race is far from over - lots of states to come.

INSKEEP: Mo Elleithee?

MO ELLEITHEE: I think this has been a very substantive and energetic Democratic primary. I think it is on a trajectory for a Hillary Clinton victory, but it's been a very spirited race.

INSKEEP: OK, a lot in that sentence, and the other sentence to unpack - a few clauses in there. Stay with us. We're going to invite you both to add to those sentences. It's all part of our coverage of the Super Tuesday primary results. Donald Trump, as you may have heard, was a big Republican winner, as we are hearing elsewhere in the program. Among Democrats, Clinton won seven states, Sanders, four. Let's report on how they reached this point. NPR's Tamara Keith has covered the campaign from the start.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took the stage early, well before most of the results were in. But even then there were hints that he knew it wasn't going to be a great night.


BERNIE SANDERS: As I think all of you know, this campaign is not just about electing a president, it is about transforming America.


KEITH: Sanders was surrounded by friends and supporters in his home state of Vermont where he won his most decisive victory of the night. At a rally in Miami, Fla., where people will vote in two weeks, Hillary Clinton was already looking ahead.


HILLARY CLINTON: Instead of building walls, we're going to break down barriers and build...


CLINTON: ...Build ladders of opportunity and empowerment so every American can live up to his or her potential.

KEITH: Clinton swept the southern states voting yesterday, and the margins were huge. Credit goes to her strong support among black voters. Clinton also won in Massachusetts, a state that Sanders had hoped to have in his win column. It's all a boost to her potentially historic candidacy. Nine months ago, at a big outdoor rally in New York, Clinton alluded to that highest, hardest glass ceiling she hopes to break and said she was glad to be...


CLINTON: In a place with absolutely no ceilings.

KEITH: For Sanders, this moment in the campaign is a come down from the heady days of summer.


SANDERS: Whoa. In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of people here.


KEITH: Sanders' political revolution drew legions of young fans and filled arenas, but big crowds and remarkable fundraising totals from small individual contributions haven't translated into the kind of broad-based support needed to win the Democratic nomination. Clinton hasn't drawn big crowds, but she has brought out more than enough voters to win in states from Alabama to Massachusetts and Nevada. This, even as she spent the entire campaign batting back controversy over the private email server she used as secretary of state. A key moment came in the first debate back in October on CNN, when Sanders seemingly gave Clinton a pass.


SANDERS: Let me say something that may not be great politics - but I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.

CLINTON: Thank you. Me too, me too. (Laughter).


KEITH: That was the beginning of a very good run for Clinton. But as voting drew near so did Sanders. It became a race between his idealism and Clinton's pragmatism.


CLINTON: I'm not running on just telling you what you want to hear. I'm telling you what I think I can do.

KEITH: Clinton won the Iowa caucuses, but by the closest margin ever. Sanders had a decisive win in New Hampshire, and Clinton's march to the nomination looked to be in trouble. But then came wins in Nevada and South Carolina, giving Clinton momentum into last night's contests. And now she has a massive lead in the race for delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Now let's continue our discussion with Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii, and Mo Elleithee of Georgetown University.

GREENE: And, Congresswoman Gabbard, let me begin with you. As Tamara Keith, our colleague, just said, Hillary Clinton now has a massive lead in delegates. You've resigned your senior post at the Democratic National Committee recently to endorse Bernie Sanders, who now appears to be well behind. Tell us why you did that.

GABBARD: Well, there's so much at stake in this election. There are multiple states - 35 states that still have yet to vote. Bernie Sanders won a few, he lost a few last night. But really, I resigned from the DNC because I feel so strongly about conveying and communicating to the American people - before they go and vote in our Democratic primary - the contrast between our two candidates on the issues of war and peace and what kind of commander in chief we want to lead our country - one that will lead us into more of these interventionist regime change wars that we've seen for over a decade in Iraq, Syria and Libya, or, a candidate that I see in Bernie Sanders who exercises good judgment and who will work hard to take on those who threaten the United States but will fight for peace and stop these interventionist wars?

INSKEEP: Mo Elleithee, how do you think Hillary Clinton is drawing that contrast so far?

ELLEITHEE: Look, I think she had a rough start in this campaign. And I will give Bernie Sanders all the credit in the world for the type of energetic campaign that he's run and the type of support he's built. But I do think he's falling far behind in the delegate count. I don't see him turning it around. I believe, though, that he has done something incredibly important, and that was help bring some focus to the Democratic Party, help bring some focus to the Democratic debate, help elevate some issues that weren't being discussed, and I think he has made Hillary Clinton a far stronger candidate.

INSKEEP: Let me ask both of you about that. What do you think Democratic voters so far are telling the country? On the Republican side, people can say Republican voters are telling the country they're angry. What are Democrats telling the country? Congresswoman Gabbard, you first.

GABBARD: Well, I think when you see the energy and the enthusiasm and the inclusion of a whole group of people who have felt disconnected and now feel hopeful that they actually have an opportunity to be a part of the process, to be a part of our democracy, to have their voices be heard, to talk about these very important issues, I think it's a great thing for this discussion and to be able to lay down a path forward for our country.

INSKEEP: Mo Elleithee?

ELLEITHEE: I think the fundamental question that voters are asking in this election is, who's looking out for me? They see too many forces out there working against them. They feel that the system is rigged one way or another, whether it's Tea Partiers who believe that the government is working against them, or progressives who believe that Wall Street is working against them. They just believe that no one is looking out for them. I think what we're seeing on the Democratic side are two candidates who are out there aggressively arguing, we are the better voice for you, we are the people who are going to be your champion. And I think more people - they're speaking to more people, whereas the Republicans are speaking to a very narrow sliver of the electorate.

GREENE: Congresswoman Gabbard, you raised an interesting issue, which is the debate over how interventionist the United States should be. Are you suggesting that Hillary Clinton is too interventionist when it comes to foreign policy, in your mind?

GABBARD: I am, and I've looked at this very carefully, and for myself, you know, I'm a soldier in the National Guard. I've deployed twice to the Middle East. And I've seen firsthand very personally what the cost of war has been - the high human cost, what to speak of economic cost that we've taken here at home with the limited resources we have and the trillions of dollars that we've spent on these interventionist wars. Secretary Clinton's record actually speaks for itself. She voted for and championed the Iraq war. She was the architect behind and the major advocate for the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya within the administration, which has really strengthened our enemy in ISIS and al-Qaida having a stronghold there now. And now currently, present day with Syria, she's advocated strongly for the overthrow of the Assad regime and is pushing for a so-called no-fly zone, which will escalate that war there.

GREENE: I guess I wonder - Mo Elleithee, would Hillary Clinton deny that she has that record, or celebrate it?

ELLEITHEE: Yeah, I think - and I respect Tulsi more than words can say when it comes to national security and her record of service - but I think, you know, we - most Democrats would believe that we are in a better place today internationally, globally, our standing in the world's a different place than it was eight years ago and that Hillary Clinton was a big part of the reason why. That's a record she can stand on.

INSKEEP: Tell me if you really think your party is in a better place politically than it was a few years ago. You've each got about 20 seconds here. You said that Democrats are speaking more broadly to the public, but how much does it bother you that Democratic voter turnout is down this time from the last contested election and Republican turnout is way, way up? About 20 seconds each.

GABBARD: Go ahead Mo.

ELLEITHEE: I'm not as worried about that. I believe there are fewer Democratic candidates than there are Republican candidates building the infrastructure to turn people out. So I'm less concerned about that, but I will say this. Democrats take this - take Donald Trump for granted at their own peril. This is going to be a tough election. It is going to be a contested election, and they've got to bring their A-game. I feel good about where Democrats are, but it's not going to be a cakewalk.

INSKEEP: About 10 seconds here. Congresswoman?

GABBARD: Low turnout is always a concern across the board. I think that it's been clear our party is going through a change and really is bringing in new voices, which I think is a good thing for everyone.

INSKEEP: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, thanks very much.

GABBARD: Thank you. Aloha.

INSKEEP: We - all right. Aloha. We also heard from Mo Elleithee, executive director of the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.