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NBC "Today" - Transcript

Interview

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MS. VIEIRA: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is campaigning in Columbia, South Carolina this morning.

Senator, good morning to you.

SEN. OBAMA: Good morning, Meredith.

MS. VIEIRA: Senator, in this morning's Washington Post, columnist David Broder writes that for you it is now or never in South Carolina. To quote him, he says, "Anything other than an Obama victory on Saturday would represent a significant setback to his long- term prospects."

What is your response to that?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, there's no doubt we want to do well in South Carolina. It's a competitive state. Both campaigns, mine and Senator Clinton's, have put millions of dollars and a lot of time and effort. And so we're going to work as hard as we can, and we think we can do really well here.

MS. VIEIRA: But if you can't win there, where can you win? I mean, you have the African-American vote there. You have the best field organization. Favorite son, Edwards, will surely siphon off white votes from Senator Clinton.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, one thing, Meredith, I want to make sure of is that we are competing for every vote in South Carolina, black and white. And when I travel around the state, the problems that people of all races share are what I'm hearing about all the time. People are living from paycheck to paycheck. They're very worried about this economy. They're concerned that George Bush's stimulus package may leave 50 million people behind after already neglecting, I think, a lot of people who are having a tough time on the home foreclosure market, as well as on the job.

So the economic issues that you hear in South Carolina are ones that cut across lines of race, and those are the ones that we've been addressing in this campaign.

MS. VIEIRA: I know you say that you're campaigning for every vote. And when this campaign began, both you and Senator Clinton said, "Look, this is not going to be about race or gender." But since Iowa, it seems to be dividing along those lines. She has garnered a lot of support among women. African-Americans are siding with you. Is this the way -- particularly in South Carolina, is this the way you thought the campaign would come down?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, everywhere we've gone, we've gotten enormous support from women. We won the women's vote in Iowa.

MS. VIEIRA: But not since then.

SEN. OBAMA: We lost the -- no, but Meredith, that's only been two weeks ago. So, you know, Senator Clinton's a very strong candidate, and she's going to win some and we're going to win some. In Nevada, we won in northern Nevada in places where there is very little African-American support. In fact, Senator Clinton did better in areas like Las Vegas, where African-American support is concentrated.

So I think what's going to happen is that in these contests, each of us is going to have some strengths and weaknesses, depending on what state it is. But what consistently I think we have to communicate is that it is time for significant change when it comes to the economy, that people are concerned about their ability to keep and stay in their homes, pay for their child's college education, and hang on to their job. And that's the kind of package of economic programs that we've put forward that I think is going to make a difference.

MS. VIEIRA: And now the former president, Bill Clinton, is in South Carolina, probably reminding voters that during a Clinton presidency the economy did very well. During the debate on Monday, you brought up his name several times, at one point saying you can't tell who you're running against sometimes. And it led some people to say, "You know, Barack Obama has Bill on the brain. That guy is really getting to the senator."

What is your response to that? Is he getting to you?

SEN. OBAMA: (Laughs.) He's not getting to me. It's just that I think in the Clinton campaign they have had former President Clinton delivering a bunch of inaccurate statements about my record. So naturally I've got to make sure that those are corrected. And, you know, one of the things that I'm confident the American people are looking for is a president they can trust and somebody who's talking to them in a straightforward way about how he or she is going to solve their problems.

And that's not what we've been seeing out of the former president and the Clinton campaign over the last several weeks on issues like bankruptcy and her support of a bankruptcy bill, on issues like NAFTA; you know, the previous support for NAFTA and now her saying that she's not in favor of NAFTA. You know, all we're talking about, I think, is the need for consistency.

MS. VIEIRA: Well, let's talk about --

SEN. OBAMA: And that's what we've tried to do in this campaign.

MS. VIEIRA: Let's talk about --

SEN. OBAMA: And I'm hoping that --

MS. VIEIRA: Let's talk about consistency, Senator, for one second --

SEN. OBAMA: Go ahead.

MS. VIEIRA: -- because the Clinton campaign has released a Web video of you advocating for a single-payer health care system back in 2003, and they've spliced that together with what you said at Monday night's debate. Let's watch that first, and then we'll talk on the other side of it.

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single payer.

SEN. OBAMA: From videotape.) I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care plan.

MS. VIEIRA: Where's the consistency, Senator Obama?

SEN. OBAMA: I'm sorry, Meredith, I confess that I couldn't hear very well there. So what I said during the debate --

MS. VIEIRA: Well, in one of the debates -- go ahead, Senator. I'm sorry.

SEN. OBAMA: What I said in the debate was that a single-payer system is one that I would support if we were starting from scratch. I can't tell from that clip how -- it didn't sound like it was very long, so it may not have had the full context of my remarks. If we --

MS. VIEIRA: But it said --

SEN. OBAMA: -- didn't have a legacy of --

MS. VIEIRA: -- you had never supported one.

SEN. OBAMA: If we didn't -- what I've said consistently is if we didn't have a legacy of employer-based health care, then it might make more sense to set up a single-payer system. I've always said that. I've said that during the course of this campaign.

But what I've also said is we've got to build on the system that we've got and immediately provide health care for people who need it, trying to make sure that everybody has access to a health care plan that is at least as good as the health care plan I have as a member of Congress. That's something that I've been consistent about throughout this campaign, and it's something that I will fight for when I'm president of the United States.

MS. VIEIRA: All right, Senator Barack Obama, thank you so much for your time this morning, sir.

SEN. OBAMA: Great to talk to you, Meredith. Thank you.


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