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NBC "Today" - Transcript

Interview

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NBC "Today"

MR. LAUER: Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards dropped out of the race back in January. He's yet to endorse either of his formal rivals.

Senator Edwards, nice to see you. Good morning.

MR. EDWARDS: Good to see you.

MR. LAUER: Do you see --

MR. EDWARDS: I don't look quite as tired as they do. (Laughs.)

MR. LAUER: No, you look rested, actually. Do you see any way, Senator, that Hillary Clinton can still win this nomination when you look at pledged delegates, super-delegates, popular vote, the money issue? Can she still win?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, you know, it's been fascinating to me as I've watched Senator Clinton over the last few weeks. I think she's made a very strong case for her candidacy. The problem she has is it's very difficult to make the math work. And I think that's the place she's in now.

MR. LAUER: You gave an interview to People Magazine. One of the things you said is that you like Senator Clinton's tenacity but that you don't like the, quote, "old-style politics." Let's go back to what Andrea (Mitchell) just talked about that Hillary Clinton said in that interview with USA Today. She said that "Senator Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. The whites in both states" -- she's referring to Indiana and North Carolina -- "who had not completed college were supporting me."

It's raised some eyebrows, because even though campaigns plot these things or chart these things behind the scenes, they don't often come out -- a candidate doesn't often come out and say, "Whites are supporting me." Did she make a mistake? Is this politics, old-style politics?

MR. EDWARDS: Hillary and Barack are both in a very tough and extended campaign. And this is a battle. It's a fight, in both cases, for their political future and for the future of the country. And I think they're just in there fighting. I think that's what she's doing. And I --

MR. LAUER: But does that help the Democratic Party, that comment?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, here's the question. Here's the question. The question is, once this is resolved -- and let's assume Barack is the nominee, because it's certainly headed in that direction -- if Barack is the nominee, the question is, will we all be together and united in ensuring that all these voters that we're going to need in November come out and vote for Barack Obama? That's what I'm committed to.

MR. LAUER: Let me go after one subject in a couple of different ways here. Who is the most likely -- you're a loyal Democrat. You want to defeat John McCain. Who has the best chance, in your opinion, of defeating John McCain in the fall? Is it Hillary Clinton or is it Barack Obama?

MR. EDWARDS: I think they both would beat him.

MR. LAUER: Either one of them. (Laughs.)

MR. EDWARDS: I know you don't like that answer. (Laughs.) They're all laughing back there.

MR. LAUER: One of them has to have a better chance.

MR. EDWARDS: Well, I think right now Barack Obama has a better chance because it looks like he's going to be the nominee. But I think he had -- what he brings to the table is the capacity, number one, to unite the Democratic Party; number two, to bring in new voters, to bring in people who haven't been involved in the process over a long period of time, and to get people excited about this change.

MR. LAUER: Does he have baggage, though? Let's talk about this Jeremiah Wright controversy. He's now severed relationship with his former pastor. You know how tough a general election campaign can be. You remember the swiftboating of John Kerry.

MR. EDWARDS: Oh, yeah.

MR. LAUER: Do you see a fall election campaign where there are images of Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright side by side? Is it going to hurt him?

MR. EDWARDS: I think it depends on how he responds. And, number one, I think most Americans are fair-minded. They're not going to blame Barack Obama for what someone else said. That's number one.

Number two, John McCain has said that he's not going to run that kind of campaign. And when an ad was produced in my state of North Carolina by the Republican Party based on Jeremiah Wright, he denounced it.

MR. LAUER: Yeah, but he doesn't often have control of what actually hits the airwaves.

MR. EDWARDS: There'll be some independent groups that will be out there --

MR. LAUER: So will it hurt him? Does it go back to that -- does it give credence to Senator Clinton's electability argument that she has less baggage and is more electable?

MR. EDWARDS: You see, this all sounds like it's about strategy to me. I think that what Americans are looking for is they're looking for a leader, a leader they can trust, and somebody who will fight for them every day. And I think Obama will do that.

MR. LAUER: So that's what people need to decide when they go into the voting booth.

MR. EDWARDS: Matt, it's what they're going to decide. They take this very seriously.

MR. LAUER: So the North Carolina primary was held on Tuesday. You had to go into the voting booth and make a choice.

MR. EDWARDS: I did.

MR. LAUER: Who'd you choose?

MR. EDWARDS: (Laughs.) I voted, and I'm going to keep that between me and the polling booth right now.

MR. LAUER: You've got 19 pledged delegates. Don't they have a right to know who you think is the best qualified to be the president right now?

MR. EDWARDS: They have a right, number one, to make their own decision. But number two, I haven't said I'm not going to come out at some point and say who I think should be the nominee.

MR. LAUER: But are we getting to a point where your endorsement becomes moot? I mean, if there's already -- if it looks like we have a presumptive nominee, and you said it looks like Barack Obama, then why wait to make your endorsement?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I think the value of these endorsements, including mine, are greatly inflated. I don't have some extraordinary view about what effect I would have, no matter when I did something. And number two, I really think it's important to allow voters and this democratic process to work. And that's what's happened. And I might add, Barack Obama has done pretty well without any endorsement from John Edwards.

MR. LAUER: Let me talk about your fight against poverty. You made the underclass -- you put them at the center of your campaign for president. I know you're very much in support and you want to talk about something called Half In Ten.

MR. EDWARDS: Yes.

MR. LAUER: What exactly is that?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, it's a new campaign that we're launching that I'm going to chair, pushed by an extraordinary group of organizations who care deeply about this issue and have worked on it for a long time. And the idea is to cut the poverty rate in America in half over the next 10 years with some substantive ideas -- raising the minimum wage, expansion of the earned income tax credit, making child care available to low-income families.

And we're going to be out there pushing legislators, pushing Congress, pushing presidential candidates. You know, I'm very proud of the fact that both the Democratic candidates have committed themselves to this cause. And I also had a conversation with John McCain about it and got a good response. So we're going to be out there pushing this issue and making sure that Americans, not just politicians, are responding.

MR. LAUER: When it comes to poverty, would Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama be better suited to deal with poverty in the next four -- (laughs) --

MR. EDWARDS: That sounds an awful lot like what you asked me three minutes ago. (Laughs.)

MR. LAUER: You can't blame a guy for trying a couple of directions, right?

MR. EDWARDS: I think either one of them would be great.

MR. LAUER: No endorsement today.

MR. EDWARDS: Not today.

MR. LAUER: Senator Edwards, good to have you here.

MR. EDWARDS: Thanks, Matt. Thanks for having me.


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