BOCA RATON — Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama spent time with The Palm Beach Post this morning, talking about the impact of the Florida's primary on his race with Hillary Clinton, whether to seat the state's convention delegates and what a national catastrophe fund should look like.
Here's the interview, which has been partially edited.
Q: At this point in the race, why not seat the entire Florida delegation with a full vote based on the Jan. 29 primary?
A: They're definitely going to be seated. We're not the final decision maker on this. But we've said to the DNC that we want the Florida delegation to be seated, and I'm confident that it's going to be worked out sometime in the next 10 days. I expect that the delegates are going to be participating at the convention.
These weren't rules of my making. We just followed the rules. But Florida is too important to have this linger into the fall. I'm confident in a weeks time this thing will be resolved to the satisfaction of the people of Florida.
Q: Senator Hillary Clinton was in Palm Beach County this week calling for the delegation to be given a full vote. At this point in the race, is there any reason you haven't taken the same position in public?
A: The key for me is just making sure the Florida delegation is seated.
I don't want to get too deep in the weeds of the DNC rules.
Keep in mind that the people who put these rules together and people who made these decisions are generally not people of my selection. I'm not yet the nominee or at the point where I'm the person who's helping to shape the DNC. I'll have more public commentary about.
Right now, my goal is to make sure I'm focusing on letting everybody now that I want to make sure they're seated and our team is working actively with the DNC to make that happen. Obviously, Senator Clinton's people have say-so as well. I'm confident that it will get resolved.
Q: If voters care more about health care and economic issues than the flap over its primary, why do polls show Clinton ahead of John McCain in Florida and you in a statistical tie, if not trailing the Republican presidential candidate?
A: It's because we haven't campaigned down here. It was a huge disadvantage to me not to have a full primary process in Florida. If I hadn't campaigned in any states, I'd be behind everywhere we go.
The reason we ended up winning twice as many states is because I actively campaigned there. People became more familiar with me. Starting off from scratch, Senator Clinton had much higher name recognition and greater familiarity, given her work as first lady and people's familiarity with Bill Clinton.
That's part of the reason we're devoting three days to Florida now and why I expect to be here a lot during the summer and fall. We're very confident that as people get to know me and know my track record and where I want to take the country, we'll do very well here.
Q: Assess the Florida's impact on the primary race. You've done well in many states, but have had trouble in bigger states.
A: The truth is that the states where Senator Clinton has won a lot of these bigger states, it's just a lot harder to campaign in bigger states. And I benefit from one-on-one interaction with voters.
The really big states where it requires a lot of time because you've got a lot of media markets, overcoming the name recognition disadvantage is more significant. But I don't think anybody doubts that I'll win California for example.
Q: Did it help your campaign heading into Super Tuesday states for votes in those states to know that the election results in Florida did not count?
A: No, I don't think so. I don't think so. If you think about it, on Feb. 5, we did very well in a lot of states. States like California where we lost by single digits, the issue there was we really didn't have enough time to campaign there. We had one day or two days to campaign in California. It would have been the same situation in Florida.
And then there was a lot of front-loading going on and that was to the advantage of the candidates who were best known. But moving forward, I'm very confident we've got five months and a state like Florida is absolutely critical to our success. And we're going to spend a lot of time here and a lot of resources and put a lot of staff on the ground.
One good thing that has happened in this primary process is we've seen enormous interest on the part of voters: A lot of new voters getting registered, a lot of new voters going to the polls. I think that's going to be true in Florida and I think that's going to be helpful to our cause.
Q: During the past two years, Gov. Charlie Crist has distanced himself from President Bush and been one of the few bright spots in the country for the GOP. Will his support of McCain hurt your argument in Florida that McCain represents a third term for Bush?
A: There's no doubt that Gov. Crist is an effective communicator and popular governor. But ultimately the voters in Florida are going to make their decision based on the person at the top of the ticket. And John McCain's positions are almost identical to George Bush's on the big issues that people are really focused on.
His economic policies basically revolve around the continuation of the Bush tax cuts. His health care plan doesn't provide universal health care, but is almost identical to George Bush's tax breaks for people without any regulation on the insurance market or assurances that people can get coverage and afford coverage. His policies on Iraq are almost identical to George Bush's.
So I think people are going to be making their decisions based on what John McCain says and not what Gov. Crist says.
Q: The U.S. House approved a national catastrophe fund in November. Do you support that bill?
A: I think it's a good start. I think that we need a national catastrophe fund. The key is to make sure that it's run efficiently, that its adequately funded and that we build in smart incentives to assure that developers are mitigating risk when they're making decisions on where to locate homes or businesses.
If we do that, then I think it will help not only Florida but states across the country where the problem of getting homeowners insurance has become increasingly difficult.
Q: Building incentives?
A: There are a number of ways to do it. But the key is to make sure you're not setting up a fund where developers don't have to have any regard as to whether they're building in a flood plain or whether they're creating more risky situations.
But the bottom line is for the residents of Florida, they need protection in the same way that people in the Midwest need protection from tornadoes or other natural disasters. And I think its important for us to make sure the federal government is playing a role as a backstop in that process.