Barack Obama Makes His Case

Steve Kroft Interviews The Democratic Presidential Candidate

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This past week was supposed to be the one in which Republicans and Democrats effectively decided who were going to be their presidential nominees and that seems to have happened with the Republicans and John McCain. But for the Democrats it's different: Hillary Clinton, once the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination, is now fighting for her life against Senator Barack Obama.

60 Minutes spent time with each of the Democrats this past week, first Senator Obama, who captured 13 out of 22 states up for grabs on Super Tuesday and capped it on Saturday with an exclamation point, sweeping Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington.

Correspondent Steve Kroft was with Obama a year ago, when he launched his improbable campaign, and rejoined him on Monday under much different circumstances.

Last February, Barack Obama was a little-known African-American senator from Illinois with a campaign staff of 30, whose only known accomplishments were two best-selling books and a stirring speech at the Democratic convention three years earlier. He promised a grass roots insurgent campaign that that would bring new people into the political process and shake up the status quo. And it's taken him from political neophyte to presidential contender.

"I know you'd like to consider yourself the underdog. But by the time we're finished with the next round, it's possible, maybe even likely, that you'll have more delegates than Senator Clinton. Or that you will have won more states. And that you will have raised more money. And have more money on hand. So explain to me how you're an underdog," Kroft asked.

"Well, she continues to have enormous name recognition. I think there's a lot of affection for the Clinton brand among Democrats. And, you know, she still has more institutional support. So, you know, part of what we have to do is, you know, score a convincing knock out. You know, we're like the challenger and she's like the champ. And, you know, you don't win on points," Obama explained.

On Super Tuesday, Obama picked up more delegates than almost anyone expected. And 60 Minutes was at Obama's headquarters with his chief strategist, David Axelrod, when the first exit polls began rolling in.

Early exuberance was tempered somewhat by losses in California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Later that night, the 60 Minutes team was invited to the candidate's hotel suite, where he watched the returns with his family.

"What do you think?" Kroft asked.

"Split decision," Obama predicted.

"You feel like you've got the momentum?" Kroft asked.

"You know, seems like everywhere we go, the longer we are in this race, the stronger we get," Obama said.

The original campaign staff of 30 has swollen to 700, plus hundreds of thousands of volunteers. Obama has received checks from 650,000 contributors and is raising a million dollars a day. But in some ways the real race is just now beginning.

"I mean, one of the problems that you have, still, is the question of experience. And you've done a lot of remarkable things in your life. But when you sit down and you look at the résumé - there's no executive experience. And, in fact, correct if I'm wrong, the only thing that you've actually run was the Harvard Law Review," Kroft pointed out.

"Well, I've run my Senate office. And I've run this campaign," the senator replied. "One of the interesting things about this experience argument is that it's often posed as just a function of longevity. You know, 'I've been here longer.' Well, you know there are a lot of companies that have been around longer than Google…but Google's performing."

He has been helped by the media's lust for a good story and the electorates' hunger for change. What he lacks in executive experience, he has made up for with a grasp of the issues, an ability to read the public mood, and the gift of turning Democratic boilerplate into political poetry.

"What began as a whisper in Springfield has swelled to a chorus of millions calling for change. It's a chorus that cannot be ignored. A chorus that cannot be deterred. This time can be different because this campaign for the presidency is different," Obama said in his Chicago Super Tuesday speech.

"When you say you want change, I mean the subtext there seems to be change from the Bushes and the Clintons," Kroft remarked.

"I think that there's a difference, obviously, between the Bushes and the Clintons," Obama replied. "But I do think that Washington is comfortable with itself. And I think the Clintons are part of that status quo that has to change itself."