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Bredesen Wants 'Superdelegate Primary' to End Obama-Clinton Impasse


As Democrats nationally try to puzzle out how to resolve the seemingly nonstop struggle between presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen has come forth with the latest would-be solution. Bredesen appeared on Fox News Sunday to plug a plan whereby a "superdelegate primary" would be held early in June to resolve the impasse before the Democrats' August convention. As he acknowledged, however, DNC chairman Howard Dean threw some cold water on the idea.

Here is a transcript of Bredesen's conversation Sunday with Fox News Sunday host Christ Wallace:

WALLACE: Now we turn to the increasingly bitter fight among Democrats for their party's presidential nomination.

The race is still close, as you can see, with Barack Obama holding slim leads both in delegates won and in the popular vote, excluding the contested states of Florida and Michigan.

But with both Obama and Hillary Clinton unlikely to clinch the nomination in the remaining primaries, both camps are looking to the superdelegates, those elected officials and party bigwigs, who automatically get a seat at the convention and can vote for anyone they want.

Well, joining us now, one superdelegate with a plan to resolve this mess, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, who comes to us from the Democratic governors meeting in Big Sky, Montana.

Governor, your plan is that shortly after all of the primary votes end in early June that the 794 superdelegates would get together for a two-day business meeting, what you're calling a superdelegate primary, and they would, in effect, vote and put somebody over the top.


Before we get to the question of exactly how this would work, what damage do you think that this prolonged campaign and the lack of any resolution is doing to the Democratic Party?

BREDESEN: I think it's hurting us, hurting us tremendously. You know, at the end of August, come Labor Day, we're going to have a nominee, but if it's the nominee of a divided party and an emotionally exhausted party, there's just not time to conduct the kind of campaign we need to have.

We can win this election, but we're making it -- that way a lot steeper and rockier road than it needs to be.

If it comes down to the superdelegates -- and I don't think anybody wants that to happen, but if that's what it is, it just seems to me common sense to try to move that decision back earlier into June.

And you know, let's get on with a summer of engaging the Republicans. Let's get on with a summer of getting ready and organizing for the fall elections and win this election.

WALLACE: Now, you may not have gotten a chance to read it out there in Montana, but in today's Washington Post, Governor, Hillary Clinton says that she is going to stay in this campaign to resolve the issue of seating the Michigan and Florida delegations even if she has to go all the way to the convention. Your reaction to that, sir?

BREDESEN: I guess my feeling is I certainly understand the point of view of a candidate wanting to, you know, hang on to their strategy as long as they possibly can.

But there's a third leg to this stool. It's not just the two candidates. There's a party here. There's a Democratic Party. And I think that we have an obligation as a party to try to find some way to bring closure to this thing and not let it tear us apart and, you know, lose us an election in the fall.

I don't think John McCain is any pushover whatsoever, and we need to run an "A" campaign, not a "B-minus" campaign come the fall.

WALLACE: Let's talk about the kind of reception your idea has gotten. Tell us what you're hearing, first of all, from the campaigns, then from the party. And my understanding is that national chairman Howard Dean has been pretty negative about it.

BREDESEN: Yes. I've heard certainly from both of the campaigns. And you know, we talked to them at the time that I put that op-ed piece out, I guess, 1.5 weeks ago now.

I think they're interested and intrigued. I think everyone feels that there has to be some -- you know, some end game here and some strategy to move us beyond what we're going through right now.

I certainly am aware that the national party and Howard Dean have spoken coolly about it. And I've spoken with Governor Dean personally, and he's cool to the idea. I think that's fair.

But I think it's an idea that as I at least get outside of the Beltway and into places like Montana, where I am, there's a lot of people that think it's a commonsense approach to the thing.

If you're not caught up day to day in the mechanics of the campaign, I think people see it as a reasonable way to try to resolve a very thorny problem which we didn't expect.

WALLACE: Now, let's talk about what would happen if we got to that superdelegate primary. Superdelegates can, by their very nature, vote for any candidate they want.

You said recently if Obama ends the primaries with the lead in the popular vote that there would, quote, "be hell to pay" if the delegates were to overturn it and to give the nomination to Clinton unless, you added, there was a very good reason.

What reason would be good enough to overturn the will of the electorate as expressed in the popular vote?

BREDESEN: Oh, I just think that if there were new information, if one of the candidates had some enormously damaging thing come out, or if the polls shifted enormously -- I mean, the superdelegates, I think, you know, were designed to, and are certainly entitled to, exercise an independent judgment here.

The point I was making was simply that as we exercise that judgment, I think we have to recognize that there is a sense of fairness about popular votes.

And if the superdelegates are seen as in any way kind of thwarting the will of the people or making a decision, you know, differently than, you know, the majority of the Democratic Party would make, I think there'll be problems.

I think we can navigate that. These are, you know, sophisticated people, elected officials and party officials, who can navigate that. But we need to be careful.

WALLACE: What about the argument -- and there might even be polls by them -- that show that one candidate, not necessarily the candidate who leads in the popular vote -- that one candidate would have a better chance of winning in November than the other candidate?

BREDESEN: Well, I think, you know, any poll that, you know, shows a 2 percent or 3 percent advantage -- those things disappear in a hurry. I don't think that would influence, you know, a superdelegate.

I think, I mean, as one who has not made up their mind -- I think, certainly, what the people who I'm responsible to think is an important component of the thing. I think electability is an important component.

But I don't think any of us are going to chase the polls around as to, you know, where they are in June or something like that. I think we need to exercise a much longer view of this thing and how it plays out.

WALLACE: We're starting to see this week increased calls from some top Democrats -- and the most notable case this week was Democratic Senator Pat Leahy -- for Hillary Clinton to drop out now, not to wait until June. What do you think of that?

BREDESEN: Obviously, each campaign is going to make up their own minds about those things. I've heard some of those -- you know, some of those kinds of comments from other Democrats.

I think, certainly, any candidate is entitled to remain in, certainly, until the primaries are over. And I mean, I personally think that if it can be resolved early in a very satisfactory way, I think that's great.

But I certainly would not call on anybody until at least all of the voters have had their say in the thing, and that will happen on June 3rd. And that's really the reason why I'm talking about mid- June.

WALLACE: Is there a danger here, Governor -- these calls for Hillary Clinton to drop out -- that it could backfire, especially with women voters, who are a very important part of the Democratic base?

BREDESEN: Yes. Yes. I think, you know, it's not only a matter of bringing this to closure, which we have to do. I think it's bringing it to closure in a way that reasonable people on both sides would see as fair.

And I think, you know, some Democratic bigwigs trying to pressure one of the candidates to drop out -- and it just does not have -- it doesn't have the right feel to me.

I think we need to, you know, look to a much broader base of people to make this decision, and it could be the superdelegates. It could be the popular vote.

But it's not only getting it over and done with. It's getting it over and done with in a way that's seen as fair and doesn't hobble us going forward.

WALLACE: You know, Governor, there's an old saying, politics ain't beanbag. But do you think that the Clintons have gone over the line in some of their attacks against Barack Obama?

BREDESEN: You know, I think politics is a contact sport, and certainly, running for president is the ultimate contact sport.

I think this kind of stuff, at this point in time, in a close campaign, is not -- I don't see it as a big problem. To me, the whole trick is to say -- you have to bring it to a closure sometime long before the end of August so that you can start that healing process and, you know, whoever wins can say their mea culpas about what they said, and bring the party back together.

I also think, frankly, the American people -- when I look at someone running for president, you'd like to see how they stand up to those kinds of things. So I don't think that's necessarily all bad. It just needs to be contained and brought to an end early and get on with the business of running as a party.

WALLACE: Finally, as the governor of Tennessee, I want to ask you about one of your constituents, sir.


WALLACE: Political columnist Joe Klein this week suggested that both of these candidates, Obama and Clinton, may be so bloody by the time you get to August, if we don't have that superdelegate primary, that just perhaps party leaders like yourself might want to give the nomination to the then strongest candidate, Al Gore. What do you think of that idea?

BREDESEN: I think, again, there have been two very strong candidates, and if this thing can be brought to closure early on, I don't think that really is a possibility. I think it would have to be an extraordinary circumstance.

I like Al Gore. He's a neighbor of mine in Nashville. But you know, to have two candidates as strong as the ones that we have, and have run as effective campaigns as the two have -- that's our problem. They're both very strong and they've both run very good campaigns.

To sort of set both of them aside and go to a third person, I think, would be a prescription for disaster, in my opinion.

WALLACE: Governor, we want to thank you so much for joining us today. We'll see what happens to your plan. It makes sense, so chances are nothing will come of it. But thank you, sir.

BREDESEN: All right. Thanks. Thank you.

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