Exclusive Interview: Obama Reaches Out to Critics and Republicans

In an interview with U.S.News, Obama says it's time to reach out to unexpected constituencies.

Sen. Barack Obama photographed after an interview with USN&WR reporter Ken Walsh at the University of Maryland, College Park.
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As he savored the prospect of victories in three crucial primaries yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told U.S.News & World Report that he will reach out aggressively to his critics and to unexpected constituencies—including Republicans—in an attempt to further consolidate support for a general-election campaign.

"You know, very rarely do you hear me talking about my opponents without giving them some credit for having good intentions and being decent people," he said. "I think that I would explicitly reach out to disaffected Republicans and remind them of some of their traditions. I mean, there's nothing uniquely Democratic about a respect for civil liberties. There's nothing uniquely Democratic about believing in a foreign policy of restraint. You know, a lot of the virtues I talk about are virtues that are deeply embedded in the Republican Party.... The Democrats don't have the monopoly on wisdom, but we have to make some sharp breaks from the failed administration policies of the past."

Obama also told U.S. News in the half-hour interview, "We have, you know, been happy to have policy debates with Senator Clinton and to offer contrasts, but we haven't engaged in the kind of slash-and-burn politics that we've become accustomed to. If I'm the nominee and John McCain's the nominee [for the Republicans], I'm going to try as much as possible to maintain that tone."

The first-term Illinois senator continued his remarkable string of victories in Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses yesterday with wins in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. This gives him eight consecutive victories. Obama and Hillary Clinton are now running neck and neck for the Democratic nomination, although Obama edged ahead of Clinton in the latest Associated Press tallies of delegate strength.

Clinton strategists admit she needs to win Ohio and Texas on March 4 to remain in contention, and she has stepped up her campaigning in both states, as has Obama.

In the interview, Obama sounded confident and relaxed, and he even returned to a line of argument that has drawn severe criticism from Hillary and Bill Clinton in the past—praise for the political skills of Ronald Reagan. "I do think it's a 'transformational moment,'" he said. "And whether the individual who ends up in the White House fulfills that possibility, you know, depends on both skill and circumstance. What I will say, and I've said this before, is that Ronald Reagan, I think, shifted our politics in a fundamental way. You know, I was criticized by the Clintons for saying that, but it's just a fact that there was a realignment, and the conservative framework for thinking about issues has dominated for the last 25 years. I think we are in a place where we can start changing that."