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With Paul, Cruz and Clinton On The Verge, 2016 Election Takes Shape

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

This is the time in the presidential campaign cycle when the word if drops out and potential candidates start running for real. First, it was Texas Senator Ted Cruz. This week, it was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Tomorrow, Hillary Clinton will make an announcement. And quick on her heels will be Florida Senator Marco Rubio who is scheduled to make his own announcement Monday. I'm joined now by my two colleagues on the campaign beat, National Political correspondents Mara Liasson and Don Gonyea. Thanks for being here.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey, Tam.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Nice to be here.

KEITH: And I suppose we should start with the newest news. Mara, what are your sources telling you about the Hillary Clinton announcement?

LIASSON: What we hear is that Hillary Clinton is going to get into the race on Sunday, and then next week, she's going to head to Iowa. And she's going to have some small events for a couple of weeks, no big speeches. She's going to give her campaign some breathing room to hire more staff and raise a lot of money because they still haven't gotten completely organized.

KEITH: How does Hillary Clinton, who has been in public life for 25 years, reintroduce herself to voters? Or is that even possible at this point?

LIASSON: Well, I think she will reintroduce herself to voters. She is very, very well-known, but she is going to be making a big effort to communicate that she does not consider herself to be inevitable for the nomination or certainly for the White House. She's going to be fighting for every vote, and she's going to be holding intimate gatherings, small groups of people, voters in people's living rooms, coffee shops, not unlike the listening tour she did when she ran for her first elected office, Senate in New York in 2000. And she's going to be displaying her empathy, her policy chops, some things that maybe people don't know about her.

KEITH: Don, you were with Senator Paul in Louisville when he made his announcement. What was he trying to project with that announcement?

GONYEA: He wants to demonstrate that he is a real small government conservative. But he's also, in a lot of ways, a nontraditional Republican. He is libertarian-leaning, we know that about him. We know he has a lot of the same appeal that his father does. His father, of course, former Texas Congressman Ron Paul ran for president three times. Young people flocked to that Ron Paul campaign, and a lot of them still really like Rand Paul, even though Rand kind of tempers his message and is, let's say, a little bit more mainstream than his father. But he talks about privacy; he says the government can track you by what you do on your cell phone. You should be worried about that, and that resonates with young people. But at the same time, he says he's the candidate who can broaden the traditional Republican Party base.

KEITH: And I hear that he broadened the traditional Republican Party soundtrack; less country music, more rock and roll?

GONYEA: Jimi Hendrix - you hear Jimi Hendrix playing "All Along The Watchtower" in advance of his events. And he takes the stage to that old Edgar Winter classic, "Frankenstein." Remember that from the '70s? That...

(SOUNDBITE OF EDGAR WINTER SONG, "FRANKENSTEIN")

KEITH: Oh, wow.

GONYEA: That's the one. So anyway...

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: Now, since that big announcement, he's had a bit of a bumpy debut, tangling with Savannah Guthrie on NBC's "Today" show. Let's hear that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "TODAY")

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And you once offered to drastically cut...

SENATOR RAND PAUL: Yeah, well before we go through...

GUTHRIE: ...Wait, wait, wait - once drastically wanted to cut defense spending and now you want to increase it 16 percent. So I just wonder if you've mellowed out.

PAUL: ...A litany of, yeah, why don't you let me explain...

GUTHRIE: Sure.

PAUL: ...Instead of talking over me, OK? Before we go through a litany of things you say I've changed on, why don't you ask me a question, have I changed my opinion?

GUTHRIE: Have you changed your opinion?

PAUL: That would be sort of a better way to approach an interview. No, no...

GUTHRIE: OK, is Iran still not a threat?

PAUL: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, listen...

KEITH: Did this play as big outside of the Beltway as it played here inside the Beltway?

GONYEA: Probably not. But a lot of people saw it. A lot of people watch the "Today" show, and it's important to note that for a lot of them, they tune in every day in part because they like Savannah Guthrie on the "Today" show. And they see this confrontation. And the question is, is that a good first impression for a candidate to make with a lot of Americans? But I can tell you, I talked to people about it at Rand Paul events this week, and he scores big points for taking on the mainstream media. J.C. Watts, the former congressman, is on the road with him. He speaks to the crowd, and he says like my dad used to say, a dog doesn't bark at a parked car so it's a badge of honor.

KEITH: Mara, I want to talk to you about Marco Rubio, who is something of a long shot. His political mentor, Jeb Bush, has been publicly considering a run for a couple of months now, scooping up money and staff. So what is Marco Rubio's angle?

LIASSON: Well, Rubio is not - considers himself to be much less a long shot than Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. I think that his path to the nomination, at least as his advisors see it, is based definitely on Bush faltering; that has to happen. But their argument is that there is no faction right now in the Republican Party that is big enough to elect their candidate. In other words, it's so fractured right now that the establishment can't get their guy, Jeb Bush, in. And Marco Rubio, they argue, is acceptable to all the factions in the Republican Party.

KEITH: Now, there's still a lot of candidates in the if-I-run category. Who comes next?

LIASSON: I think the two big ones that we're waiting for on the Republican side are Scott Walker and Jeb Bush. They've been number one and two in the polls consistently in these early states so we're waiting for them to announce. There will be a handful of other candidates - Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, maybe John Kasich. The Republican field is very, very large this year.

GONYEA: Maybe Chris Christie still. What we don't know is what the dynamic will be like when they all get in and they all start going at each other. Most of them have been criticizing President Obama to this point.

KEITH: Which is interesting because Hillary Clinton is the one who is going to announce she's running for president not President Obama.

GONYEA: Yes.

LIASSON: They'll be criticizing her, don't kid yourself. There are at least a dozen - 12, and I think there are going to be more - organizations that are devoted solely and exclusively to attacking Hillary Clinton and finding information that can be used against her. And that doesn't count the RNC, the Republican National Committee.

KEITH: NPR's National Political correspondents, Mara Liasson and Don Gonyea. Thanks guys.

LIASSON: Thank you.

GONYEA: See you on the road.

KEITH: Indeed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.