Charles Gibson's Exclusive Interview With Barack Obama

ABC's Charles Gibson had an exclusive interview with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama today.

Gibson: Senator, do you have any better idea than anyone else how this thing gets resolved?

Obama: Well, I think it's going to get resolved by the American people. You know, we've had a vigorous contest with some great candidates. And, you know, what the American people ultimately are looking for is who can bring about the kinds of changes that are going to help them afford health care, send their kids to college, retire with dignity and respect, settle this war in Iraq in an honorable and responsible way.

And, you know, the debate is continuing. The reason I think we've done well is we've said very clearly we want to change how business is done in Washington, and I think that ultimately, you know, the votes that are generated and the delegates that come out of these primaries and caucuses will end up settling the Democratic nomination. And then we're going to have just as fierce a contest for the general election.

Gibson: But it does feel like we're in a triple-overtime game, and there is no provision for a shootout to end it.

Obama: You know, we are going to just keep on going. And we have always believed that this was not going to be easy. You know, we're going against a formidable candidate in Sen. Clinton. She has, you know, 100 percent name recognition and she's got a big infrastructure in and outside of Washington that can sustain her campaign for a long time.

So what we've got to do is to continue to build the grass-roots base that we have and continue to deliver this message that all the issues that we've been talking about are not going to be solved if we can't change how business is done in Washington.

Gibson: But there's such an interesting dynamic here. The party sought the ultimate in democracy by apportioning delegates after each primary and caucus. And it's doubtful, when you look at the numbers, that either one of you can reach a majority in pledged delegates.

And that seems at this point to leave it up to the 800 superdelegates, the party regulars, in effect, who are appointed, not elected. Is that any way to pick a nominee?

Obama: Well, we feel confident that if we are delivering our message and working hard in the upcoming contests that we're going to maintain a big lead in the delegates that came out of the caucuses and the primaries. And, you know, hopefully that will have some bearing in terms of how superdelegates think about it.

But ultimately, I think what we have to stay focused on is why I got into this race. And it wasn't a numbers game; it wasn't how superdelegates are going to operate or the rules of the DNC.

The reason I got into it was because I was meeting too many people who didn't have health care. I met too many children who aren't being educated. I met too many veterans who weren't being cared for when they came home.

And I am firmly convinced that unless we are able to bring the country together, push back some of the special interests that have come to dominate Washington, and start having an honest conversation about how we solve problems in this country that we're going to perpetuate the same thing that we've been seeing over the last 15, 20 years, which is gridlock in Washington.

That's what I want to stay focused on. And if I do, I think that not only will voters respond, but ultimately the superdelegates will respond, as well.

Gibson: Do you favor a revote in Michigan and Florida?

Obama: I think it's important to make sure that people of Michigan and Florida feel as if they're part of this process and that they're heard. And we've just decided that we're going to play by whatever the rules the DNC has set forth.

That's what we've done from the start. And I'll leave it up to the Democratic National Committee to make a decision about how to resolve it. But I certainly want to make sure that we've got Michigan and Florida delegates at the convention in some fashion.

Gibson: So if they can find someone to pay for it and you have primaries in Michigan and Florida at some future date, you're for it?

Obama: I'm going to let the Democratic National Committee make up that -- make that decision. What I'm interested in is making sure that I have the opportunity to get the message out to people about the kinds of changes I want to bring in Washington.

I mean, part of the problem in Michigan and Florida was we were told that they wouldn't count and we were asked not to campaign there. And that's what everybody agreed to.

So we didn't have the opportunity to fully campaign in Michigan. My name wasn't even on the ballot. In Florida, I didn't campaign at all. And so what we want to make sure of is that we are able not just in Florida and Michigan but all across the country, to interact directly with voters, to hear what their concerns are, and to tell them how I intend, as president, to open up government to help them solve their problems.

And I'm confident that there's a way of solving this that's fair to everybody and fair to the people in Michigan and Florida.

Gibson: You had a few hours, a day-and-a half now, to analyze the results from Tuesday. What happened on Tuesday? A lot of people thought there was a chance you could close the deal on Tuesday. Was it her contention that you're too young, too inexperienced to be commander in chief?

Obama: You know, I don't think that was it. We started off 20 points behind in Ohio, double-digit lead for her in Texas. We closed that lead, but we couldn't close it all the way.

And part of it was that we had won 11 in a row and, at a certain point, I think people started saying, "Well, maybe we want this to continue a little bit further." They want me to earn this thing and not feel as if I'm just sliding into it.

And, you know, I think we made some mistakes, as well, which is inevitable during the course of a long campaign.

But what we want to do is make sure that, going forward, that people understand why I got into this race, they understand the 20 years of fighting for change that I bring to this race, that they understand that when I opposed this war in Iraq from the start, or I decided not to take PAC money or federal registered lobbyist money, that that stands in stark contrast to the way business in Washington has typically been done.

And I think that when we start doing well, people start forgetting what an insurgent campaign we are and how unlikely it is that I'm sitting here. And I think it's always useful for us to be humbled a little bit and for people to remember that this really is a movement for change that comes from outside of Washington.

Gibson: You made the point on your campaign plane yesterday -- you said she went negative in the last few days of that. To fight back, do you have to do the same? In other words, do you have to, in effect, show some toughness in all of this, greater than you have so far?

Obama: Well, you know, there have been moments, episodes during the course of this campaign -- you'll recall in South Carolina, where they employed some of these same tactics. And at some point, we had to hit back.

And, you know, we're going to have to make sure that we're not just letting a bunch of charges go unanswered.

You know, if Sen. Clinton wants, for example, to talk about issues of transparency and vetting, then I think it's important for her to release her tax returns, as I have, and as many presidential candidates in the past have.

But I do think that it's important for us not to lose sight of why I am running in the first place, and that is not to have a tit-for-tat battle with Sen. Clinton but rather to explain how I can help the American people raise their kids, stay in their homes, find good jobs, retire with dignity and respect.

If I'm doing those things and playing enough of the defense that's required in national politics, then I think we'll be fine.

Gibson: She said just a couple of hours ago on this subject of qualifications to be commander in chief, she said, "Sen. McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign. I will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign. Sen. Obama will bring a speech that he made in 2002."

Now, she's said that before, but it's pretty in your face and one, I wonder, what is your reaction. And, does that kind of back and forth, if you get tough, essentially weaken either one of you as the eventual nominee?

Obama: Well, I think Sen. Clinton, like Sen. McCain, believes that life begins when you arrive in Washington. So she discounts all the work that I've done as a community organizer, as a civil rights attorney, as somebody who taught constitutional law, as a state senator, as well as a United States senator. Apparently, to her, that's irrelevant.

On the other hand, all her experience is relevant, work at the Rose law firm or her work as first lady. So that's something, obviously, that we're going to contest.

But I think that, ultimately, the American people see through some of this stuff as the typical game-playing that goes on during political season. And what we have to do is make sure that I stay focused on the things that got me into this race in the first place.

I meet too many families who are struggling right now. I hug too many mothers who have lost sons in Iraq to get into the gamesmanship of politics. I want to make sure that the Democratic Party is focused not just on how we win an election, but why we should.

And whenever I do that, we end up doing well. And I think when we lose sight of why we got into this thing, then, you know, we end up just playing politics like everybody else.

Gibson: But I guess that's the question, to come back to what happened Tuesday. It's whether or not by getting tougher, by going into what are traditional politics, that she may have turned the tide. And if you have to do that, do you feel in some way that you compromise what you wanted to do throughout in this campaign?

Obama: I think that it's important to make sure that she doesn't get a pass and that she's not able to simply dictate the terms of the debate, but I think that it's also important for us to stay focused on what my positive agenda for change is.

So I want to spend time talking about the $4,000 tuition credit for every student, every year, in exchange for national service that can make college more affordable. I want to talk about middle-class tax cuts for families making less than $75,000 a year. Those are the things that I'm going to continue to push forward.

But I do think that if Sen. Clinton believes that her criteria for winning should be her foreign policy experience, then I have to remind the American people that, on the one issue where she had a potential to have an impact, and that was the vote on the war in Iraq, she made the wrong call.

If she wants to suggest that both of us have to be properly vetted, then I think it's important for our campaign to make sure that that doesn't just apply to me, but it also applies to her.

So I just want to make sure that, going forward, the voters have a chance to make an accurate assessment about who will be the strongest candidate going into November. And I am absolutely confident that will be me.

There was a poll out I think just yesterday showing that I'd beat Sen. McCain by a substantially larger margin than Sen. Clinton, because we attract independents and Republicans and I think have the capacity to break out of the same old, divisive politics that has been the practice over the last several years.

And that's always been the premise of this campaign, that if we want to get something done for the American people, then we're going to have to change how politics works.

And I understand that that's hard. And what's easier and what Sen. Clinton is a master of is playing politics as usual. And she's as good at that game as anybody is out there. I just don't think it delivers for the American people, ultimately, because I think Washington will continue to be gridlocked.

And our battle throughout this campaign has been to persuade people that, in fact, change is possible. And I think Senator Clinton's argument has been that's naive and that's romantic and the best you can hope for is these kind of small tactical victories. And that, ultimately, is going to be the test for the voters to make up their minds on.

Gibson: It was an ABC News poll, so I appreciate your taking notice of that.

Final question: It is interesting. We've had nine weeks since Iowa. After Wyoming and Mississippi in the following week, it's going to be essentially a six-week clear field in the state of Pennsylvania, an interesting laboratory, an interesting microcosm.

Does it magnify the importance of Pennsylvania way beyond proportion? And how important does Pennsylvania, do you think, become?

Obama: Well, I think it's important to remember that, after Pennsylvania, almost immediately we have races in North Carolina, we've got races in Indiana, we've got races in Oregon and Kentucky and West Virginia, and then, ultimately, Puerto Rico and Montana.

So I don't want to get lost in just thinking about one state when we've got 11 more contests to go. After Mississippi and West Virginia, we'll have at least nine or 10. And what we want to do is campaign in all of those states.

One of the differences between our campaign and Sen. Clinton's has been she apparently has only five or six states on the map that she thinks are relevant. And that's part of what happened in Texas and Ohio. We won 11 in a row, and they said, "Well, it's only Ohio and Texas that count."

And then now we've got another 10 or 11 contests, and they're trying to suggest that only one of them counts. We believe they all count. And so we're going to actively campaign there, partly because that's what I want to do in the general election.

Democrats have I think ceded too many states to the Republicans. We just say, "Well, we can't compete there." I don't believe that. I think that we can compete anywhere if we show up, if we're talking to people about our vision for the country.

And so Pennsylvania is going to be important, and I want to make sure that we're putting together the best possible campaign there.

There's no doubt that Sen. Clinton has an advantage. She's got the support of a popular governor, Ed Rendell. She's got a lead in the polls. She's got the support of a lot of the political establishment there.

But we'll still compete there, as we will in North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky and all the other states.

Gibson: Senator, you're kind to take the time on a day when you legitimately should be able to simply just take long naps. I thank you. All the best to you.

Obama: Thank you so much, Charlie. I appreciate it.

Gibson: All right. Best to you.

Obama: Good.

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