MR. CUOMO: Senator, good morning. Thanks for being here.
SEN. OBAMA: Thank you so much.
MR. CUOMO: So, one of the questions that pops up this morning, you have been a critic of Hillary Clinton for not having a definite stand on issues. Turns out that you voted 'present' and opposed to "yes" or "no" over 100 times as a state legislator. One vote in particular I want to talk to you about. The bill was about trying juveniles as adults. You voted "present" instead of "no." Were you playing politics?
SEN. OBAMA: No. As the newspaper points out, this was a standard practice in Illinois. You oftentimes would strategically vote 'present' because you were still negotiating a bill, or because there was some element in the bill that was unconstitutional or had problems that needed to be tweaked. And it was a signal that you would send to the sponsor of the bill that you were willing to work with them to try to make the bill better.
But the fact is that I worked on tons on bills. I was a leader on very controversial stuff, like reforming the death penalty, or welfare reform in the state of Illinois. And, as was noted in the article, I took leadership on many of the issues that were discussed.
MR. CUOMO: And we understand that more than 4,000 votes, we're talking about 130 "present" votes. But let me ask you, when you put yourself out there as the agent of change, that you won't play politics as usual, and then the explanation for why you vote "present" is inside politics, is that sending a mixed message?
SEN. OBAMA: No, it wasn't inside politics. This was particular strategies in order to improve legislation that had a impact on my constituents. But, look, I understand we're in the last two weeks of a campaign, and we're going to be spending time combing over everything from my kindergarten records to these "present" votes.
But the fact is that on the critical issues that oftentimes have been controversial, I have been a leader. And that's what I think this election is going to be about. People are absolutely convinced that now is a time for big change in how business is done in Washington. Because, I think, we've been communicating that change during the campaign -- we're doing well in Iowa -- and I think we're going to be doing well elsewhere.
MR. CUOMO: Now, both you and your main opponent at this point, Hillary Clinton, are saying you're the proper agent for change. Hillary's husband, the former president Bill Clinton has been coming after you a little bit lately about whether or not supporting you is risky. Let's take a listen to what he had to say.
FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) It's less predictable, isn't it? I mean, when's the last time we elected a president based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running?
MR. CUOMO: That is just the opinion of one man. In our latest poll, ABC News/Washington Post poll, on the issue of experience, you still have a long way to go. Only 9 percent of those polled say yes, you have the experience for the job. Could it be that you're a promising candidate but just simply not ready?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, that's not what the poll says. What it says is they don't think I have the best experience. But I think we wouldn't be doing well if people weren't confident that I could lead this country. And the fact is, is that I've been in office longer than the two other leading candidates, that I've served in the United States Senate.
The last time this argument was made, by the way -- ironically, it was leveled against Bill Clinton when he was running in '91, '92 and people were suggesting there's a governor of a small state, has no foreign policy experience, and he argued rightly at the time that the question was did you have the experience rooted in the real lives of real people that could bring about real change. And I believe I have that experience, and increasingly, the people in Iowa and the people in New Hampshire and across the country, agree.
MR. CUOMO: And let me ask you now, John Edwards has been coming at you a little bit now. Obviously the Clinton campaign is bearing down on you. How is it different going from being the hunter to the hunted as a presumed frontrunner?
SEN. OBAMA: (Laughs.) Well, you know, it actually beats the alternative.
MR. CUOMO: (Chuckles.)
SEN. OBAMA: You know, we're glad that we're doing well. You know, we've got terrific momentum on the ground in Iowa, we're seeing enormous crowds. I think people really want to see the kind of politics that can bring the country together, that is pushing against the special interests, that is straight with the American people about the challenges we face, and they know that this election could be a defining moment for our politics.
MR. CUOMO: Let me ask you --
SEN. OBAMA: And so whether it's on --
MR. CUOMO: I'm sorry Senator, let me just ask you, going to the same point, what do you think the bigger obstacle is for you in becoming president -- the Clinton campaign machine or America's racism?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, I don't think actually race has played a significant role in this campaign. I have no doubt that there are people out there who might not be comfortable voting for me because of my race, but I think there are some people who are excited about the prospects of being able to help heal some of our past racial divisions. Overall, though, people are going to vote for me because they think I can deliver healthcare for them, they think I can bring well-paying jobs back to America, they believe that I can help repair our standing in the world and make us safer. Those will be the criteria by which people judge me. And so far, so good.
MR. CUOMO: Senator, and by the polls, yes, you're doing very well. Appreciate you coming on this morning.
SEN. OBAMA: It was great to talk to you. Merry Christmas.
MR. CUOMO: Thank you. Merry Christmas to you and to your family as well.