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Clinton Strategy: Is It Worth Reaching For Traditionally Republican States?


Hillary Clinton's lead in national polls has been growing in recent weeks following the debates and tumult in Donald Trump's campaign. States that traditionally vote Republican may be in reach. Does the Clinton campaign try to win those states, too, or focus on just those it needs to win in the Electoral College? Bill Burton joins us. He was national press secretary for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and now serves as managing director of the public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker.

Mr. Burton, thanks for being with us.

BILL BURTON: Thanks for having me on.

SIMON: What does a campaign have to consider before - a campaign that, according to the polls, is ahead in all the states they need, what do they have to consider before they decide to go to other states that they may not need for a majority of the Electoral College but are within grasp anyway?

BURTON: Well, the most important thing in a presidential election is getting 270 electoral votes. And that has to be your top priority, long before you start thinking, how do we expand the map in such a way that we have a real mandate or we really get a thumping out of this election, as opposed to just, you know, squeaking by with a small majority?

So I would think that the calculation here is, where do you have the best chances to get to 270? - and I think that they have a very clear path there - and then where are the places where you can build an electoral majority that puts you in a good place to both have a mandate but also help Senate candidates and House candidates get across the finish line and help actually govern come next January?

SIMON: What are some of the risks at the same time?

BURTON: I would think that the biggest risk to trying to expand the battlefield is that you lose sight of the fact that you need 270 electoral votes in order to win. I think that Hillary Clinton has some of the smartest people in politics working on her campaign, and I don't see that as something that they would make a mistake and do. But there's a lot of opportunities out there. And when people are talking about not just Georgia and Arizona but also states like Texas, you know, there's a lot to reach for. And being prudent about which states that you do reach for makes a lot of sense.

SIMON: The larger mandate you have, doesn't that mean you're - in some ways, you owe more? And I'm not talking about in the worst way, but in the most positive democratic way. You owe more to more people with specific interests and issues who maybe won't give you the room to compromise.

BURTON: I think that if Hillary Clinton gets to office and some of the progressives, like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or some of the folks in the House who really fight for a pretty progressive agenda - if they decide that they're not just going to go along to get along and they try to push things to the left, I actually think that benefits Hillary Clinton. I think that John Boehner came into negotiations with some leverage from the Tea Party saying, you know what, I'd love to compromise with you, but I've got a hundred members of my caucus that are simply not going to go along with this.

I think that if Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer can walk into negotiations and say similar things, it'll help push policies to the left. So, yes, she might feel beholden to some people, but, you know, politics is about coalition-building and relationships. And she's shown herself to be very good at navigating all that, not just on this campaign, but over the course of the last 30 years.

SIMON: Bill Burton, who's the former national press secretary for the Obama campaign in 2008 - thanks very much for being with us.

BURTON: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.