NBC "TODAY" INTERVIEW WITH SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE INTERVIEWER: MEREDITH VIEIRA
MS. VIEIRA: This morning we are kicking off a new series we call Today on the Trail. Over the next few weeks we're going to catch up with the leading presidential candidates as they campaign around the country. We'll take you behind the scenes at town halls and rallies for a backstage look at the men and women who hope to be elected president 524 days from now.
So where were the candidates this holiday weekend? Well, over the last 96 hours the leading contenders criss-crossed the country, traveling more than 10,000 miles and visiting nine different states.
Democratic Illinois Senator Barack Obama hit four different states, covering nearly 4,000 miles. We caught up with him Monday in the place where he began his day, Littleton, New Hampshire.
(Begin videotaped segment.)
SEN. OBAMA: My name is Barack Obama, and I'm running for president. (Cheers.)
MS. VIEIRA: If Barack Obama is president, what specifically are you going to do?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, number one, I suspect we will still be dealing with Iraq. And so I will undoubtedly spend a lot of time making sure that we've stabilized the situation in Iraq.
MS. VIEIRA: So many people feel that if we were to remove the troops, it would create a vacuum and the situation would get worse.
SEN. OBAMA: I think all we can do is exercise our best judgment doing --
MS. VIEIRA: So it isn't a good thing here. It's just the best of the bad plans.
SEN. OBAMA: It's the best of a bad situation.
MS. VIEIRA: When you come to a small town like Littleton, it is personal. They lost someone in Iraq.
SEN. OBAMA: Oh, absolutely.
MS. VIEIRA: I'm watching you place that wreath at the monument there, and I wonder what was going through your head, because to become president is to take on those people.
SEN. OBAMA: Yeah. Well, it's, I think, the most solemn obligation you take on as president is to keep the American people safe, but also to make sure that you're exercising good judgment in ordering young men and women into combat.
MS. VIEIRA: Why you, why now, because some people would say, "You know, Barack Obama, the least experienced on the national scene of the top Democratic contenders."
SEN. OBAMA: Not the least experienced in politics or in bringing people together to solve problems; the person who's been in Washington the shortest amount of time.
MS. VIEIRA: I'm wondering if you have found it to be more of a challenge to get voters because you're kind of well-known.
SEN. OBAMA: Maybe that at the end of this thing people conclude, you know, it's not Barack. And that's okay.
MS. VIEIRA: That would be okay?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think that that's why we have elections.
SEN. OBAMA (at campaign rally): One of the things that we haven't talked about that's, I think, critical is making sure that every American has basic health care.
MS. VIEIRA: You said that by the end of your first term, you would have universal health care.
SEN. OBAMA: That's five and a half years away. We should be able to get that in place.
MS. VIEIRA: What part of this process, this campaign process, do you enjoy? And what part would you do without if you could?
SEN. OBAMA: I love the retail politics. I mean, I love --
MS. VIEIRA: The one on one with people.
SEN. OBAMA: -- the one-on-one stuff. You know, there's just a real --
MS. VIEIRA: A sort of Americana feel to it.
SEN. OBAMA: Yeah. It really does feel good. And people are generous and creative and they've got good ideas.
The part that I probably like least is, you know, the way that Washington keeps score of the race; you know, the horse-race aspects of it.
SEN. OBAMA (at campaign rally): I grew up in Hawaii, and so when you grow up in Hawaii, it's sort of like growing up here. You know, you look around and you say, "I want to keep this for the next generation."
(To Ms. Vieira.) We've already proposed increased fuel efficiency standards on cars, providing car companies some help on their health care costs, in exchange for them investing in new technologies, promoting alternative fuels much more aggressively than we're doing now.
MS. VIEIRA: But what makes you so convinced you can do it?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, because we've done tougher things in the past. You know, when I think about earlier generations dealing with the First World War, a great depression -- you know, we've done some pretty remarkable stuff.
CAMPAIGN HOST: It is my pleasure, it is my privilege, to introduce Senator Barack Obama.
SEN. OBAMA (at campaign rally): I'd always been a little skeptical about elective politics, but I did what I often do when I'm confronted with a tough decision. I prayed on it. Amen. And then I asked my wife. Amen.
MS. VIEIRA: When you first broached this subject with Michelle, what did she say to you?
SEN. OBAMA: She wasn't that thrilled. I mean, keep in mind, this has been a whirlwind.
MS. VIEIRA: The only time today that I saw you even start to bristle a little bit, if I can use that word, is during the last press conference when somebody said to you, "The rap on you -- a lot of style, no substance." That's the one time I felt that got to you a little bit. Am I wrong?
SEN. OBAMA: That's part of the thing that I'm getting accustomed to in national politics is that you go through sort of a series of tests, a series of gauntlets. I don't actually mind that, because, look, all of the candidates are applying for the toughest job on earth.
MS. VIEIRA: Do you have a weakness on the campaign trail, anything that you have to have with you at all times? A stuffed animal?
SEN. OBAMA: I like a certain brand of green tea, trail mix; I'm a big trail mix guy. But the main thing I need is I've got to get my workouts in. I'm not picky. It doesn't have to be a fancy gym or anything like that. But you've got to block out an hour somewhere.
MS. VIEIRA: When your head hits the pillow tonight in Iowa, will you fall fast asleep, or will your mind be racing about the next day?
SEN. OBAMA: The truth is that I just sleep like a log these days, because, as you can see, we go full throttle.
MS. VIEIRA: Do you dream of the White House?
SEN. OBAMA: I don't dream of the White House. I dream of the beach. I dream of playing basketball. I dream about my kids. I spend enough time thinking about that during the day.