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NBC "Today" - Transcript


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NBC "Today" - Transcript

MR. LAUER: Now to "Today on the Trail." With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in a virtual dead heat, every delegate counts on the Democratic side. Today 94 delegates are up for grabs in Wisconsin and Hawaii. But on Monday, Senator Obama started the day campaigning in the delegate-rich state of Ohio, which holds its primary in just two weeks.

His first stop was in the northeastern part of the Buckeye state at a factory in Niles, Ohio. I caught up with him on the trail about 20 minutes away, at Youngstown State University.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

While thousands waited to hear Obama's message of hope and change --

SEN. OBAMA: Matt Lauer, how are you?

MR. LAUER: Hello, Senator. I'm well. How are you?

SEN. OBAMA: Good to see you.

MR. LAUER: It's nice to see you.

- behind the scenes, I asked Senator Obama if he's changing his campaign style to include more substance.

(To Sen. Obama.) You seem to have started to listen to the critics who started talking about these speeches and the inspiration and the hope, and said, "But where's -- you know, you've given me the whipped cream. Give me the mashed potatoes." Is that a fair assessment?

SEN. OBAMA: There's no doubt that we want to strike a balance where we explain to people that it's important for us to get people engaged and motivated and involved, but not just for abstract feel- good stuff; rather, to deliver on health care for all people or deliver on college affordability or create good jobs. And so hopefully, the longer I stay in this campaign, the better I get at it.

MR. LAUER: His opponent, Senator Clinton, has questioned if he can withstand negative attacks from Republicans in the fall.

(To Sen. Obama.) Have you stopped to think about what the Obama version of swiftboating might be in this campaign cycle if you get to the general election? What they did to John Kerry, what's that version going to be with Barack Obama?

SEN. OBAMA: Oh, I think we can already anticipate it because we've already seen it. First of all, I've had to go up against the Clinton machine, and it's not as if they're playing tiddlywinks, right?

MR. LAUER: Right.

SEN. OBAMA: I mean, every day --

MR. LAUER: Hardball.

SEN. OBAMA: -- they've got a press conference accusing me of this or that or the other. So we've been battle-tested during the course of this primary. But we've also seen these scurrilous e-mails that are going out suggesting that I'm a Muslim and that I don't pledge allegiance to the flag.

MR. LAUER: Right.

SEN. OBAMA: You know, so I think there will probably be some of that. That may not come explicitly from the Republican National Committee, but I think that we'll probably see some of that stuff underground.

MR. LAUER: How about race?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I --

MR. LAUER: In its purest sense.

SEN. OBAMA: I don't think that you're going to see explicit racial appeals. I actually think that there are people in the Republican Party who would be offended by that. I don't think the American people would tolerate that. But I do think that you'll see exaggerations of my positions that make me as some wild-eyed liberal. And that's not unique to me, though. I mean, let's face it. They would do the exact same thing to Hillary Clinton.

MR. LAUER: I think when people talk about vagaries in your message, sometimes they may be talking more about vagaries in the Democratic message. If there's a bumper sticker out there for the Republicans, it's going say, "Less taxes" --

SEN. OBAMA: Strong defense, small government.

MR. LAUER: -- "strong defense, smaller government."


MR. LAUER: What's the bumper sticker for Barack Obama and the Democrats this time around?

SEN. OBAMA: Opportunity, growth from the bottom up instead of the top town, a smart foreign policy and not just one that talks about being tough. Matt, I think that's where we're going to be having a significant debate.

MR. LAUER: John McCain is someone, throughout the course of his life and his military career, who had to put his own life and the life of others on the line. Is that a disadvantage to you when it comes to people looking at you as making the crucial decisions that may affect our military future and our safety down the road?

SEN. OBAMA: Look, there's no doubt that John McCain, in what he experienced in the Vietnam War, has a unique credibility that, you know, I don't think anybody can contest. And the question, though, is, going forward, who's got the best judgment and the best policies?

MR. LAUER: Through that curtain, you've got about 6,000 people.

SEN. OBAMA: That's good news.

MR. LAUER: People who see this say there's a huge "wow" factor here. The critics say this is a rock concert, and we don't need to hire a rock star; we need to elect a qualified president. How do you respond to that?

SEN. OBAMA: You know, this is part of what we need from the next president is somebody who can excite the American people, get them to feel that we can do big things. And part of the problem that we've had in our politics is there's so much cynicism out there that people just tune out.

MR. LAUER: Are you going to give them prose and poetry today or meat and potatoes?

SEN. OBAMA: Oh, you know, you always want to give them some meat and potatoes, but, you know, you also want to make them feel that possibly you can do great things.

MR. LAUER: Good luck to you.

Obama spoke for 45 minutes on a wide range of issues. As he left the rally, I asked him if he can win in Hawaii and Wisconsin.

(To Sen. Obama.) Can you go 10 in a row?

SEN. OBAMA: I think it's possible. You know, we feel good about the campaigning we've done there. But you never take it for granted. Remember New Hampshire.

MR. LAUER: Yeah. When do you think you might be able to wrap this up?

SEN. OBAMA: I think it's premature to talk about wrapping it up, but I know that pretty -- what's pretty apparent now is that we're building a big pledged delegate lead that I think it'll be hard for Senator Clinton to catch up on. Now, we've got to campaign hard in Texas and Ohio. But after March 4th, I think the party is going to have to take a look and see if it's time for us to go ahead and move forward with the nomination.

MR. LAUER: You've been gracious with your time, as always.

SEN. OBAMA: Thank you.

MR. LAUER: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

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