Former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, now heading up Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, said Thursday his candidate is the most electable Democrat and predicted a strong Iowa caucus finish - whenever the caucuses happen.
McAuliffe delivered a high-energy talk to two-dozen supporters -- mostly students -- on campus Thursday afternoon. Clinton is ahead in polls in 33 of the first 36 primary and caucus states, he said.
"The only states we're not up in, we're tied for the lead in North Carolina against Edwards, we are 3, 4 points behind Obama in Illinois and the same thing against Richardson in Michigan," said McAuliffe. "Besides that, she's doing great."
Still, he doubts Iowa polls that show Clinton in the lead. "We're probably in second place behind Edwards and moving." McAuliffe emphasized the amount of time Edwards has spent in Iowa since his 2004 presidential and vice-presidential campaigns.
"Iowa and New Hampshire will stay first, no matter how they have to move it," McAuliffe told reporters after the speech. "Nobody wants to go into `07. It doesn't impact us as much as it impacts some of the other candidates who don't have as much resources. They're trying to decide, `Do I go to Florida? Do I go to Michigan? Where do I go? And when do I go?'"
Noting that that very afternoon, the Michigan House of Representatives had joined the state's senate in moving to Jan. 15, he added, "they need to get some finality to this calendar."
Looking ahead to the next cycle, McAuliffe said wider reforms in the nomination process are needed.
"Once this is done, whoever wins, hopefully it's us, we've got to get the Democrats and Republicans together in a room early and work this out jointly together. I don't know if regional's the answer, a lot of people recommend that. I do know that people don't want it to go too early. People want broad representation in the process. Next time around people have got to know ahead of time where those states are going to be. The issue comes down to Iowa and New Hampshire. And there are many people, everybody knows (Michigan Sen.) Carl Levin and he's got every right to say what he likes. He just doesn't think, and he's very vocal; he doesn't think Iowa and New Hampshire should go first. I believe Iowa and New Hampshire have a special place, I'm of the idea that you've got to do things like this (event); you've got to go to the living rooms. They put you through the grinder with questions, which I think is a good process."
Nonetheless, McAuliffe said, "We will deal with whatever calendar is given to us. We are competing everywhere."
"It is over the evening of February 5," McAuliffe told the audience. "There are too many delegates at stake on the same day. Could be 60 percent. In five months this is over." While he was not overconfident, McAuliffe seemed to draw a picture of inevitability as he rapidly cited 20- and 30-point Clinton leads in large states.
With the nomination in hand, McAuliffe looked ahead to the general election and attacked the electability question that has hovered around the Clinton campaign. "Hillary today is the only candidate who wins the general election against every single Republican. She's the only one who beats Rudy Giuliani in New York and California," he said. "If we've got to compete in two of our blue states, like California and New York, that's trouble if we got to spend tens of millions of dollars defending what should be true blue states. We've got to win Ohio. Hillary today walks away with a double-digit lead in Ohio. Today we win Florida against every single Republican. We are ahead in Iowa today in the general. We are now tied for the (general election) lead in the state of … Texas."
McAuliffe has no doubts that the general election will be tough and expects the Republicans to attack.
"These guys are not going to give up power easily. You've got to be prepared. She knows what she's up against. They have thrown the kitchen sink at this woman. She has had it all. And guess what? She's still winning. Now she's out telling her story for the first time, and that's why her numbers keep going up, her negatives are going down. Why during the re-elect did Hillary carry 58 of 62 counties? She carried 37 counties that George Bush carried in New York, with over 60 percent of the vote. 'Cause they got to know her. She knows what's coming and we're ready with all of this; we're winning the general election. We're not going to let people define her."
"The Republicans are smart, they're tough. They go after our assets. They went after John Kerry's assets. He was in uniform and he'd served. They took a positive and tried to turn it into a negative. We're not going to let ANYBODY do that to Hillary Clinton. We are going to defend her and her record. We understand what's coming; some of the candidates have gotten a little … frisky already. We're going to defend her, but we're going to stay positive, 'cause that's what the public wants."
McAuliffe was reluctant to let anyone off the hook, pausing his talk every time someone left the room to push for a Clinton commitment.
"All of our candidates are great. I think probably collectively, the best field we've ever had," he said. "But I think what stands out is when people watch Hillary in those debates, and you've got the seven guys and Hillary up there, she stands out and everybody says `tomorrow, the woman could be commander in chief of the United States of America.'"
Despite the mention of gender, McAuliffe said, "I'm excited to elect the first woman president of the United States of America. But you're not going to elect her because she's a woman, you're going to elect her because she's strong, she's tough, she's experienced. But that is another benefit."