From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones and NBC's Mark Murray
ORONO, ME -- Clinton seemed to dismiss the idea that Florida and Michigan -- two states whose primaries she won but weren't contested and didn't award delegates -- should hold caucuses so that their delegates could be seated at the Denver convention.
In a 12-minute media avail here Saturday, the senator also said superdelegates had historically been independent for a reason, added Wisconsin to the mix of states she was feeling good about, and sought to paint Obama as "increasingly" the establishment candidate.
"I think that the people of Michigan and Florida spoke in a very convincing way, that they want their voices and their votes to be heard. The turnout in both places was record-breaking and I think that that should be respected," she told reporters. However, Clinton was the only major Democratic candidate on the ballot in Michigan, as a significant number of people there voted "Uncommitted." And it's worth noting that Clinton never spoke this way about Florida and Michigan until right before the South Carolina primary, a contest she lost decisively.
Clinton was asked whether superdelegates -- the party bigwigs and elected officials who aren't bound by the results in their states -- should in fact vote according to the choice voters in their state made, as Barack Obama suggested earlier this week. "Superdelegates are, by design, supposed to exercise independent judgment. That is the way the system works. But, of course, if Sen. Obama and his campaign continue to push this position, which is really contrary to what the definition of a superdelegate has historically been, I will look forward to receiving the support of Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Kerry," she said. Both senators are from Massachusetts, a state Clinton won on Super Tuesday.
*** UPDATE *** The Obama campaign responds to Clinton's charge.
And later: "We have always looked to a mixed system and it's been the way we've done it for as long as I can remember, and I think that again if people want to go after delegates who are in places that I've won, who are supporting somebody else, then what's good for the goose should be good for the gander."
The senator said she had sent letter to NBC in response to comments made by MSNBC's David Shuster about her daughter. "I am a mom first and a candidate second, and I found the remarks incredibly offensive. You know, I can take whatever comes my way. That's part of what I signed up for as a candidate, as an officeholder. But I think that there's been a troubling pattern of comments and behavior that has to be held accountable. So I have sent a letter to the head of NBC expressing the deep offense that I took and pointing out what has been a troubling pattern of demeaning treatment and I would expect appropriate action to be taken," she said.
When pressed on whether she would participate in the upcoming debate being hosted by MSNBC, Clinton was noncommittal: "We've accepted a lot of debates from a lot of different sponsors and, you know, we're gonna wait and see how this plays out."
Also in the media avail, Clinton reiterated her belief that she's the best candidate to take on John McCain, despite recent polls showing Obama performing better in head-to-head match-ups against the Arizona senator. Clinton said she had "been vetted, tested and proven as a winning candidate against tough opposition" and could "go toe to toe with McCain on national security," which she said she was convinced the Republicans would try to use as an issue in November 2008.
She said she was ahead in the popular vote and in delegates and that she was drawing the voters that would be needed to beat McCain -- like women, Latinos and those making less than $50,000 -- and that that she had "every confidence that we will win back the voters that Sen. Obama has been attracting."
Clinton also was asked whether she now saw herself as "the underdog" in the race and saw Obama as the candidate of the establishment. She didn't answer the underdog part of the question directly, but did try to paint Obama as the "increasingly" establishment candidate. "He has increasingly relied on big endorsements and celebrities to sort of attach himself to to get the kind of validation that comes from that sort of endorsement and he has increasingly, in my view, really tailored his positions so that they are more establishment-oriented, like giving up on universal health care. So I think there is an argument to be made there that if we want a Democrat to be the Democratic standard bearer who stands for the positive, progressive agenda of the Democratic Party as opposed to more of the same or a little less than more of the same then I think I'm the best candidate to carry that message," she said.
When asked whether she could envision a scenario where she manages to win enough delegates to avoid the superdelegates becoming a factor, Clinton said anything was possible and appeared to add Wisconsin to the mix of states in which she would be competitive. (Her campaign has consistently spoken of the March contests as the ones she's in the best position to win. Wisconsin is a state the Obama campaign believes it will win, according to a leaked campaign strategy memo.)
"Anything can happen in a campaign. You all covered me in New Hampshire; you know anything can happen in a campaign. So I feel very good about what we're preparing to do with these upcoming contests and then particularly, you know, on to Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. This is a contested primary and it's bringing a lot of interest to the Democratic Party. I think that's all to the good and I anticipate that we will be, you know, really criss-crossing the country comparing and contrasting our records."
*** UPDATE *** On the issue of superdelegates, Obama spokesman Bill Burton emails First Read: "[Clinton] is misrepresenting Obama's position on superdelegates –- it's his view that the superdelegates as a whole will follow the choice of voters and support whoever wins the pledged delegates nationwide."
And Burton provides this statement from Obama yesterday: "So I think the question is, for those who are not yet committed, the super delegates that are still out there trying to make up their minds, my strong belief is that if we end up with the most states and the most pledged delegates, and the most voters in the country, then it would be problematic for political insiders to overturn the judgment of the voters… My central point is, at the end of the day, each state is allocating a certain portion of delegates and if we've got the most delegates… then I believe I should be the nominee."