John Edwards photo

Interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS News' "Face the Nation"

January 20, 2008

SCHIEFFER: And good morning again.

Well, there's big news overnight. If it came too late for your morning paper, John McCain did win the Republican primary in South Carolina. This was really a must-win for Senator McCain over Mike Huckabee. And in Nevada, it was Hillary Clinton in a state where Barack Obama had the support of two powerful labor unions. And to put some icing on the cake for her, she got 64 percent of the Hispanic vote, which really augurs well for super Tuesday, when states like California and Arizona, which have large Hispanic populations, go to the polls. Mitt Romney won in the Republican Nevada primary, but the other Republicans really didn't compete there.

Joining us now, Democrat John Edwards, who I must say did not do well yesterday in Nevada, which raises questions about where he goes from here. He's in South Carolina this morning.

And I guess that's where we start, senator. Can you keep your campaign going?

EDWARDS: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, Bob. I mean, I'm now in South Carolina. I got my butt kicked in Nevada. And what you learn from that is, from all my life when that's happened to me, you just got to get up and start fighting, and particularly when you're fighting for the causes of your life, which is making sure that people who don't have a voice get a voice, and fighting for the middle class and low income families. That's what my life is about. And I'm here in South Carolina, the place that I was born, fighting with everything I got.

SCHIEFFER: Well, senator, let me ask you this. Do you think this has less to do with you and more to do with just historical forces, that you just sort of had the bad luck to run for president on the year when you have the first woman to be seriously considered as electable to the presidency running along with the first African-American to be seriously considered as electable?

EDWARDS: Oh, do I think that's a factor? Of course it's a factor. There's no doubt about that. And we've got a couple of candidates who've gotten massive publicity and raised $100 million-plus each. But I'm not in the business of making excuses, Bob. Not about Nevada, not about the campaign. All three of us are going to be perfectly fine when this thing's over. The question is, will we have done what needs to be done for America? I mean, are we going to do what has to be done to preserve the middle class and help low income families and help single moms who have no health insurance and bringing this war to an end? I mean, that's what this is about. It's not about any of--any of us personally.

SCHIEFFER: Well, but the polling in Nevada yesterday seemed to suggest that Senator Clinton was the one who could do those kinds of things. I mean, here you had these big labor unions endorsing Senator Obama, and yet she carried union households when asked who's the candidate with exactly the right experience. She just swamped everybody in the field on that. I mean, what is it about your message--why can't you get your message out?

EDWARDS: Well, for all the reasons you just talked about, Bob. And first of all, congratulations to Senator Clinton. She should be congratulated for what happened in Nevada. But she and Senator Obama have both spent massive amounts of money there, put a massive effort into the--into the state. We didn't run a single radio or television ad.

But the excuses are meaningless. I mean, what matters here is what's going to happen for the country, what--Senator Clinton and Senator Obama both get an enormous amount of attention, as they have from over a year ago, but I think the key for me is to keep fighting for what it is I believe in. It's what I've done--I'm 54 years old, Bob, I've been doing this all my life, and I'm certainly not going to stop now, fighting for the people that I'm fighting for. And that's exactly what I'm going to do here in South Carolina, and this is a place I know very well.

SCHIEFFER: Well, what exactly is your strategy here, senator? I mean, are you trying to hang around to hope for a brokered convention? I mean, it seems to me somewhere along the way you got to win a primary here.

EDWARDS: Oh, of course I do, there's no question about that. But this is a long process. As much--as much as the media likes to think that all of America is obsessed with what happened in Nevada or in Iowa or in New Hampshire, we've had three states vote so far out of 50. We've got 47 left to vote. And if you take this as--in a long view, which I do--you know, I'm seasoned to this, I've been through it before--you know that there are lots of ups and downs in these campaigns. I mean, I see--I just heard you announcing Senator McCain's victory in South Carolina. The national media had written him off four or five months ago, said he was dead, had no chance. I heard it over and over and over, and all of a sudden he's now the Republican front-runner. I'm just telling you this is a long process, and this is going to go on for a while.

SCHIEFFER: You, in a strategy memo that was, quote, "leaked," and a lot of the news media picked up on, you referred to Senator Clinton and Senator Obama as the celebrity candidates, and you also talked about Senator Obama being too weak to stand up to the Republicans and Senator Clinton being too corporate. What do you mean by those characterizations?

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, let me just say about each of them, they're both very good candidates. There's a reason that they are where they are. It's not an accident. And they deserve credit for it. They have gotten an enormous amount of attention, but they've run very good campaigns, both of them. I think there are differences in the approach that each one of us take to this race. Senator Clinton, I think, is more the old style, Washington working the way it does, and it's OK to take the money from the lobbyists and the special interest PACs, which I've never done, and I'm proud of.

Senator Obama, I think, has a lot of--a lot of great ideas, and he does believe in change. I believe he believes in change. He believes in it deeply. But he has what I would describe as a more academic approach to it than I do. I think if you're going to bring about change you have to be willing to fight for that change, that it's not going to happen unless you're willing to take on these moneyed interests.

So I think each of us have a very different perspective on how we do what needs to be done for America.

SCHIEFFER: Some people in the Clinton campaign are telling me privately this morning they now believe that this thing will be wrapped up on super Tuesday. Why do you believe that's not so? Or do you?

EDWARDS: Oh, I have--this--we have a long way to go. And we got a primary in South Carolina this Saturday. There's no way--the one thing we know from all the polls and everything else, from these first three contests, is these races are enormously unpredictable. And that's certainly true here in South Carolina. And then we go to February 5th, where there're states all over the country, big states--like New York, California--but there're also a lot of other states--Oklahoma, Kansas--there're a whole group of states up from all across America that in many ways represents the cross-section of America.

And what we need to think about is--as a party--is who are we going to put up against who now looks like it may be John McCain on the other side. I mean, this is a guy who's a great advocate for campaign finance reform. So are we going to put a candidate against him who've taken in lots of money from lobbyists and PACs? And he's also a very strong candidate, with a long, long record, including an extraordinary record of military service. So he will be strong. And we have to put up somebody who's strong against him and somebody who represents change in a meaningful way.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think this controversy that broke out over--basically, over race between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama is over? Or will that come back?

EDWARDS: I don't know the answer to the--I don't--that's a good question, Bob. I don't know the answer to that. I sure hope it's over. It's not good for my party, and I think much more important than that, as much as I love the Democratic Party, it's not good for America. I mean, I grew up in the South in the '50s and '60s, and I've seen--I've seen too much of this. And I want to see us continue--we've made progress, we still have huge work to do on issues of race and equality in this country. But we shouldn't be stirring historical problems. Instead, what we ought to be doing is moving this country forward on this issue. It's a very important thing for America.

SCHIEFFER: One quick question. If you do not do well in South Carolina, do you plan to go on to super Tuesday?

EDWARDS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I've said over and over I am committed to this. My cause has not gone away, and I'm in it for the long haul.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Senator, thank you very much. Hope we'll talk to you again.

John Edwards, Interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/279160

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