March 17, 2008 -- Former President Clinton, in an exclusive interview today with Robin Roberts, said that he thinks Democrats are torn between two candidates they like and that it's time to "chill out" and let the voters decide who should be the party's presidential nominee.
"The voters get to decide," Clinton said. "I think we should just celebrate this. If we just chill out here and let all the voters have their say, my gut is it's gonna come out all right."
Roberts spoke to Clinton in New Orleans, where he was working with the Clinton Global Initiative.
When the conversation turned to politics and the tight race between his wife, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the former president said Democrats are dealing with a difficult decision between two strong candidates.
"I expect a spirited election in the fall, no matter what happens," Clinton said. "But we should just let the Dems decide. This is a tough choice for them."
Even among party leaders a debate exists about how to determine who will win the nomination.
"If it comes down to the superdelegates and they overturn what people decide in the elections, it would be harmful to the Democratic Party," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday on "This Week."
Clinton conceded that the odds of his wife or Obama getting to the magic delegate number of 2,025 aren't good without superdelegate intervention.
"I think, almost mathematically impossible for each -- any of them -- to get a majority of the pledge delegates," he said. "If we had the Republican system of winner take all in the big states then Hillary would have a prohibitive lead on the delegates because she won the preponderance of the big states. The Democrats decided and they set up this, and i think the dilemma that the Democrats are gonna have when all this is over. We should just wait and see. We don't know what's gonna happen in any of these states. We gotta let 'em vote."
The former president also outlined a potential scenario in which the Democratic delegate leader and popular vote winner were not the same.
"If Sen. Obama wins the popular vote then the choice will be easier," he said. "But if Hillary wins the popular vote but can't quite catch up with the delegate votes, then you have to just ask yourself which is more important and who is more likely to win in November. I don't know that it'll be an easy decision but that's what leaders sign up for."
"The main thing is nobody should say or do anything that stops all these other states from voting because we made a decision -- the Democrats did long years ago -- to allocate these delegates in a way that makes it almost impossible for anybody to get a majority of them if you have two candidates who have the political, personal and financial support and fortitude to fight it through to the end, and that's what's happening," Clinton said, adding. "It's the most amazing election I've ever seen."
Part of the problem is that Democrats are so pleased with their two choices, Clinton said.
"They got two candidates," he said. "They basically like them both, and they have different strengths and they have to decide which skill set is more important, No. 1, for the country's welfare in the long run, and which one is more likely to be elected. And you know I have my strong conviction but I might be wrong."
The Democratic Party has barred Michigan and Florida delegates from the convention because the two states moved their primaries earlier than the party wanted. The Clinton campaign has been pushing for the two states' primary votes to be recognized by the party.
"The fundamental fact is most voters like them both," he said. "They're trying to decide who will make the best president. And I think we just ought to let every state and Puerto Rico vote, let them all vote, and see where we are, and I think it will become clearer than we know, what to do."
The race for the Democratic nomination has taken some nasty turns, with surrogates and campaign members from each side making controversial attacks on the other. Clinton said it's all just part of the political game.
"It's just politics," he said. "It's not that big a deal; it's nothing like [what] Bob Kerry said in '92 when I was running in Georgia," he said. "I think it's important not to overreact here. This has a been a fairly mild election."
As the campaigns trudge on toward Denver's convention and, eventually, November, Clinton said he expects the competition to remain lively.
"I expect a spirited election in the fall no matter what happens," he said. "Now, do I think Hillary's more electable? I do. But on today's facts, given a six-week campaign, I think they would both win. I think the Republicans did a very smart thing to nominate Sen. McCain. I think he is clearly not only their most electable candidate, but quite possibly the only candidate who could have won a general election."
But Clinton hasn't spent all his time focused on his wife's campaign. His post-presidential activities included starting his 2005 Global Initiative, an effort to bring world leaders together with nonprofit organizations and businesses all to address global issues.
He has now taken it a step further by reaching out to those who bear a great responsibility in the years to come: students and universities.
It's called the Clinton Global Initiative University and it began in New Orleans two years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city, leaving hundreds of thousands of people in the region homeless.
"[I'm trying] to get more college students involved in the kind of work that we do at the Global Initiative every year, to get more campuses to brand themselves by the service they give as well as by their athletic teams, their academic programs," he said. "By coming to New Orleans I wanted to highlight how much the students here in these colleges have done and are doing to try to rebuild the city and how much still needs to be done, and to emphasize that people from outside New Orleans can make a contribution to this."