TIME managing editor Richard Stengel met with Senator Obama in Portsmouth, N.H., for a talk on their flight to New York City. Here are highlights of their conversation:
You've been engaging with Senator Clinton in a more direct way. Is there a danger of damaging your brand of new politics?
If you look at every public statement I've made over the past two months, you'd be hard-pressed to say that at any point we've been gratuitous, nasty, personal. We've had some policy differences that we described. We're running for the presidency of the United States of America, not for student-council president. This has been a relatively civil campaign.
Her campaign just issued a statement saying you had less foreign policy experience than any President since World War II. Would you say Al Gore is really the catalyst for concern about climate change?
They want to press what they consider to be a comparative advantage. It seems to get less traction as people hear me talk. If Senator Clinton has specific differences with me on Iraq, Iran, Burma, she can pick her hot spot, and we'll have a fruitful debate. The American people might not agree with everything I say, but I don't think they'll say, "The guy doesn't know what he's talking about."
How do you deal with the idea that some people might not vote for you because of your race?
Racism is a function of our society. There are some people who aren't going to vote for me because I've got big ears. Part of my optimism about Americans is that I don't think they expect me to be deracialized in order to represent them.
A few months ago, we ran a cover story called "The Case for National Service."
One of the things I think I can bring to the presidency is to make government and public service cool again. There's such a hunger among young people for some outlet for their idealism. That's why you see these movements around Darfur or climate change. You don't see it expressed in terms of people wanting to serve in the Justice Department or the foreign service. Why should they, when the core missions of those agencies have been gutted?
He has been working on this for decades. The country and the world caught up to him.
Would you offer him a job in an Obama Administration?
In a minute.
What about Bill Clinton?
In a second. There are few more talented people.