Lauer to Edwards: Will Obama Get 'Swiftboated?'

Does bringing up Reverend Wright amount to "swift boating" Barack Obama? That’s what Today anchor Matt Lauer suggested in an interview with John Edwards. For the third time this year the Today show used the term parroted by Democratic partisans to wonder about the evil Republican smear machine.

LAUER: Does he have baggage, though? Let's talk about this Jeremiah Wright controversy. He's now severed his relationship with his former pastor. You know how tough a general election campaign can be.

EDWARDS: Oh, yeah.

LAUER: You remember the swift boating of John Kerry.

EDWARDS: Oh, yeah.

LAUER: Do you see a fall election campaign where there are images of Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright side by side? Is it going to hurt him?

Lauer also took Hillary Clinton to task for saying she appeals to working class whites, which is who the Democrats need to win this November. Lauer opined that "a candidate doesn’t often come out and say ‘whites are supporting me.’" And asked Edwards if this is "old style politics."

This was at least the fourth time an NBC News host or anchor has fretted about Obama being "swift-boated" by odious Republican tactics, questions which presumed the criticisms of John Kerry in 2004 were mendacious. Check the April 23 NB post by Brent Baker for the previous instances.

The entire Friday interview was a gigantic love fest between Edwards and Lauer. The only challenging aspect was when Lauer pressed Edwards on who the former candidate will endorse.

The entire transcript is below.

MATT LAUER: Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards dropped out of the race back in January. He's yet to endorse either of his former rivals. Senator Edwards it's nice to see you. Good morning.

FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC): Good to see you. I don't look quite as tired.

LAUER: No, you look rested actually. Do you see anyway, Senator, that Hillary Clinton can still win this nomination when you look at pledged delegates, superdelegates, the popular vote, he money issue, can she still win?

EDWARDS: Well, you know, it's been fascinating to me as I watched Senator Clinton over the last few weeks. I think she's made a very strong case for her candidacy. The problem she has is, it's very difficult to make the math work. And I think that's the place she's in now.

LAUER: You gave an interview to "People" magazine. One of the things you said is that you liked Senator Clinton's tenacity but that you don't like the, quote, "old-style politics." Let's go back to what Andrea talked about that Hillary said in that interview with "USA Today." She said that "Senator Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans is weakening again. The whites in both states," she's referring to Indiana and North Carolina, "who had not completed college were supporting me." It's raised some eyebrows because even though campaigns plot or chart these things behind the scenes, they don't often come out -- a candidate doesn't often come out and say "whites are supporting me." Did she make a mistake? Is this politics, old-style politics?

EDWARDS: Hillary and Barack are both in a very tough and extended campaign. I mean, this is a battle. It's a fight in both cases for their political future and for the future of their country. And I think they're just in there, fighting. I think that's what she's doing.

LAUER: But does that help the Democratic party, that comment?

EDWARDS: Well, here's the question. Here's the question. The question is what does this resolve? And let's assume Barack is the nominee because it's certainly headed in that direction. If Barack is the nominee, will we all be together and united in ensuring that all these voters that we're going to need in November come out and vote for Barack Obama? That's what I'm committed to.

LAUER: Let me go after one subject in a couple of different ways here. Who is the most likely -- you're a loyal Democrat. You want to defeat John McCain. Who has the best chance, in your opinion, of defeating John McCain in the fall? Is it Hillary Clinton or is it Barack Obama?

EDWARDS: I think they both would beat him. Either one of them will beat them. I know, you don't like that answer. [laughing] They're all laughing back here.

LAUER: One of them has to have a better chance.

EDWARDS: Well, I think right now, Barack Obama has a better chance because it looks like he's going to be the nominee. But I think he has, what he brings to the table is the capacity, number one, to unite the Democratic party, number two, to bring in new voters, to bring in people who haven't been involved in the process over a long period of time and to get people excited about this change.

LAUER: Does he have baggage, though? Let's talk about this Jeremiah Wright controversy. He's now severed relationship with his former pastor. You know how tough a general election campaign can be.

EDWARDS: Oh, yeah.

LAUER: You remember the swift boating of John Kerry.

EDWARDS: Oh, yeah.

LAUER: Do you see a fall election campaign where there are images of Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright side by side? Is it going to hurt him?

EDWARDS: I think it depends on how he responds. And, number one, I think most Americans are fair minded. They're not going to blame Barack Obama for what someone else said. That's number one. Number two, John McCain has said that he's not going to run that kind of campaign. And when an ad was produced in my state of North Carolina by the Republican party based on Jeremiah Wright, he denounced it.

LAUER: Yeah, but he doesn't often have control of what actually hits the airwaves.

EDWARDS: No. They'll be some independent groups.

LAUER: So does it hurt him and does it give credence to Senator Clinton's electability argument, that she has less baggage and is more electable?

EDWARDS: You see, this all sounds like it's about strategy to me. I think that what Americans are looking for, is they're looking for a leader, a leader they can trust and somebody who will fight for them every day. And I think Obama will do that.

LAUER: So that's what people need to decide when they go into the voting booth?

EDWARDS: Matt, it's what they're going to decide. They take this very seriously.

LAUER: So the North Carolina primary was held on Tuesday. You had to go into the voting booth and make a choice.

EDWARDS: I did.

LAUER: Who did you choose?

EDWARDS: [laughing] I voted and I'm going to keep that between me and the polling booth right now.

LAUER: You've got 19 pledge delegates. Don't they have a right to know who you think is the best qualified to be the president right now?

EDWARDS: They have a right, number one, to make their own decision. But number two, I haven't said I'm not going to come out at some point and said I will say who I think should be the nominee.

LAUER: But isn't it, are we getting to a point where your endorsement becomes moot? I mean, there is already, if it looks like we have a presumptive nominee, and you said it looks like Barack Obama, then why wait to make your endorsement?

EDWARDS: First of all, I think the value of these endorsements, including mine, are greatly inflated. I don't have some extraordinary view about what effect I would have, no matter when I did something. And, and, number two, I really think it's important to allow voters and this democratic process to work. And that's what's happened. And I might add, Barack Obama has done pretty well without any endorsement from John Edwards.

LAUER: Let me talk about your fight against poverty. You made the underclass, you put them at the center of your campaign for president. I know you're very much in support and you want to talk about something called half intent.

EDWARDS: Yes.

LAUER: What exactly is that?

EDWARDS: Well, it's a new campaign that's we're launching that I'm going to chair, pushed by an extraordinary group of organizations who care deeply about this issue and worked on it for a long time. And the idea is to cut the poverty rate in America in half over the next ten years with some substantive ideas, raising the minimum wage, expansion of the earned income tax credit, making child care available to low-income families. And we're going to be out there, pushing legislators, pushing the Congress, pushing presidential candidates. You know, I'm very proud of the fact that both of the Democratic candidates have committed themselves to this cause. And I also had a conversation with John McCain about it and got a good response. So we're going to be out there, pushing this issue and making sure that Americans, not just politicians, are responding.

LAUER: When it comes to poverty, would Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama be better suited to deal with poverty in the next --

EDWARDS: Boy, that sounds an awful lot like what you asked three minutes ago.

[laughter]

LAUER: You can't blame a guy for trying in a couple of directions, right?

EDWARDS: I think either one of them.

LAUER: No endorsement today?

EDWARDS: Not today.