updated 3/24/2008 11:49:11 AM ET 2008-03-24T15:49:11

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Joan Walsh

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  I‘m David Gregory.  Nobody‘s reached my passport file but it‘s still early.  You may have heard there‘ll be an investigation to all that as thr RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Our first week on the air.  Great to have you.  We are the change we‘ve been waiting for, if you‘re looking for the fast pace, the bottom line of everybody in the room.  What we‘ve got is a panel that comes to play. 

Joining us for the first time, Joan Walsh, the editor-in-chief of Salon.com.  Back with us, “The Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson and our NBC News political director Chuck Todd.  Also with us for the first time former presidential candidate and MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan. 

We begin as we do every night with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day, “The Headlines.” 

I‘ll start right here.  Bill Richardson endorsed Barack Obama today.  Team Obama might have liked it before Texas, but Richardson gives Obama another super-D in the bank and gives a little—a little bit more momentum after a tough week.  Hard part for Richardson, he tells NBC‘s Rick Cohen, breaking the news to Hillary Clinton. 

Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), FMR. ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  It was a tough conversation.  I have great respect for Senator Clinton and admiration and I—affection.  You know, so, it was tough to make the call.  But I did and it got a little heated, it got a little, you know, a little tense, but it was understood and I‘m proud of my decision. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  No hard feelings?  We‘ll see. 

Now on to our other headlines.  Chuck Todd, all day long we‘ve been hearing about passport gate.  What‘s your take? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  I think Watergate it is not.  I mean we‘re finding out more and more about who these contractors were that supposedly went through the passport files and David, I think they have gone through yours already, so be careful.  No, but it is. 

GREGORY:  Yes, right. 

TODD:  Stanley Ink is the name.  This is a contractor who‘s in charge basically of helping to print passports.  So this clearly sounds like it‘s a couple of rogue contractor who were just want to be Lee Atwaters or James (INAUDIBLE) or Karl Roves, you know?  Hoping they‘d find something really fun and start a new law. 

GREGORY:  Is there going to be a congressional inquiry in all of this? 

That‘s what Obama wants. 

TODD:  Actually there is.  Howard Vermin, a Democratic member of Congress, has already called for a hearing. 

Look, the attorney general Michael Mukasey said that he hasn‘t—been referred to him yet. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

TODD:  But he expects that it could be.  So there‘s got to be some investigation. 

Look, it took three years to try to figure out who pilfered through Bill Clinton‘s. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Back in 1992. 

TODD:  .file back in 1992.  Yes. 

GREGORY:  It is amazing, you got all the candidates, all their passport files, what would they be looking for?  We‘ll talk more about it as we go on. 

Pat Buchanan, welcome.  What‘s your headline today? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My headline is Bill Richardson placed his card finally.  A little bit late.  He should have played it before but with that card, he dropped an application and a resume on the desk of Barack Obama.  This fella‘s looking for a job in the new administration.  He‘s got his eyes on the vice presidency because he may be able to help in the southwest.  But the job he really wants is this foreign traveler wants to be secretary of state and you can tell with the way he dropped his endorsement, what he had to say with Barack sitting right beside him, listen up. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARDSON:  America must become the beacon for the world again.  We need a foreign policy based upon American ideals and not, and not the mere ideology of a president.  Senator Obama understands the importance of realism, a principal and bipartisanship in foreign policy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Hey, Pat, that big endorsement today, what does it actually do politically now for Obama? 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think it does a great deal.  New Mexico‘s gone, California‘s gone, Richardson dropped out before Nevada.  I think he realized that, look, he‘s a bit of a bluff.  He can‘t deliver the, I think, the Hispanic vote in the primaries.  That‘s past now, and he didn‘t do that well.  But I do think it does give momentum clearly to Obama.  What it says to the big players who haven‘t endorsed yet, look. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  .Richardson‘s gone, the stampede of the opportunists has begun. 

We better get aboard.  The train is moving down the track. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Gene Robinson, welcome back.  Hit me with it tonight. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My headline is actually a graphical one.  It‘s that picture of Reverend Wright at the White House.  You know?  He wasn‘t out there on the fringe all these years.  He, in fact, he is a prominent clergyman in Chicago.  Of course, we‘ve heard his views, which everyone has condemned including Barack Obama.  But, you know, the idea that he was somebody nobody had ever heard of, who was kind of in the outer reaches of American politics, turns out not to have been the case.  In fact, He was at the prayer breakfast in the White House the day the star report came out and President Clinton. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Back in 1998.  But what. 

ROBINSON:  Exactly. 

GREGORY:  The point of all this is that this is a group of religious leaders from around the country who has been brought into the White House, hardly a pariah. 

ROBINSON:  Hardly a pariah, hardly some—hardly an unknown and someone chosen to come to the White House to hear Bill Clinton‘s mea culpa. 

GREGORY:  Right.  All right.  Joan Walsh, welcome tonight.  You‘re up at bat.  What‘s your headline today? 

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Thanks, David. 

My headline today is Barack Obama is working very, very hard to change the subject and he‘s having some success.  Now he gave a great speech on race as we all know.  Yesterday he stepped on his message a little when he compared his white grandma‘s racial fears to the, quote, “typical white person,” that wasn‘t good.  But today he‘s out with a great ad in Pennsylvania.  It‘s all about working class voters, working class issues and it really—it shows a picture of his white grandmother twice so that‘s good, and I think the Richardson endorsement helps him turn the page this week. 

GREGORY:  Does the passport story mean anything to him?  Does it introduce that anything that makes people sympathetic toward him? 

WALSH:  You know, I think it was him alone, it might be an issue given his. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

WALSH:  .foreign background and his years living abroad.  Since it‘s the three of them, it really looks like some stumbling, bumbling maybe wannabe spy had it in. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

WALSH:  .for all of them.  So I don‘t think it really does anything to his equation in the race at all. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We got “The Headlines.” 

Former candidate and Clinton Cabinet member Bill Richardson throws his support to Barack Obama as we‘ve talking about.  Will more superdelegates follow suit? 

And coming up later in the show, it‘s your turn on this Friday to play with the panel.  Call us 212-790-2299.  The e-mail Race08@MSNBC.com.  The RACE is coming right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Will Clinton voters go for McCain if Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination?  There‘s some new poll numbers.  It could be a warning sign for the party.  We go “Inside the War Room.”  That‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE and heading now “Inside the War Room” where we go behind the scenes in the presidential campaigns and take a closer look at their strategies. 

Still with us, Joan Walsh, Eugene Robinson, Chuck Todd and Pat Buchanan. 

First up, today Bill Clinton told a crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina, a race between his wife and Senator McCain would be best for the country. 

Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  I think it‘d be a great thing if we had an election where you have two people who love this country and were devoted to the interests of the country and people could actually ask themselves who‘s right on these issues instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Pat Buchanan, what is this about, the talking about John McCain and Hillary Clinton together like their running mates? 

BUCHANAN:  Those two love our country.  It‘s suggests there may be somebody around here who‘s got friends that don‘t love our country, David.  I don‘t know if this was calculated or direct or if it‘s just Bill Clinton‘s way.  But as soon as I saw that, what—what came to my sinister mind is, he‘s bringing in Reverend Wright by the ears here and saying, you know, we know Hillary and McCain love our country, and we won‘t have a need of those distractions. 

WALSH:  Oh I disagree. 

BUCHANAN:  If there was two or it.  I don‘t know.  Maybe I‘m wrong about it but it came to his mind, too. 

GREGORY:  But what‘s his—Joan, what‘s he talking about?  What‘s he talking about? 

BUCHANAN:  His mind is as bad as mine. 

WALSH:  I heard him talking about—Pat. 

GREGORY:  Go ahead, Joan.  Go ahead. 

WALSH:  I heard him talking about John Kerry being swift boated.  I heard him talking about, you know, years of Democrats being depicted as soft on terror and soft on national security and John McCain being somebody who has respect for Hillary Clinton and presumably Barack Obama, and who‘s also done some pretty extraordinary things reigning in his nastier supporters.  So maybe I—you know, I was born yesterday, Pat, but I didn‘t hear it that way at all. 

ROBINSON:  I got to tell you, Joan.  I kind of heard the same thing Pat heard.  But my theory is that, it wasn‘t necessarily calculated.  I don‘t think Bill Clinton can help himself.  He gets in a political campaign and, you know, there‘s a—you know, there‘s a gun hanging on the wall and he‘s got to fire it.  I mean he just can‘t help himself. 

GREGORY:  Well, all right.  Up next, up next, still talking about Barack Obama and Governor Bill Richardson, also a superdelegate, moved into Obama‘s corner today as we have been reporting. 

Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARDSON:  It is my distinct honor and privilege to produce the (speaking in foreign language), the next president of the United States, Barack Obama. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Yes, Richardson today.  This just the first of a swell of endorsements for Obama?  That‘s the question.  High-level Obama advisers I talked to today say the plan is to kind of grind out the endorsements as they come up especially between now and the Pennsylvania primary.  Advisers say they have strong private support among the superdelegates but that most don‘t want to go public until they see a clear winner.  But here‘s the key.  The advisers say what they‘re getting from these delegates, Chuck Todd, is they are looking at the delegate counts.  That‘s what they‘re keyed into. 

TODD:  Well, it‘s not just that, they‘re also looking at the fact that—I think you look at a guy like Bill Richardson, and he says to himself, if I‘m going to run for president four years from now, whose supporters do I want to be sucking up to right now?  Hillary Clinton‘s or Barack Obama‘s?  And when you looks at—it looks like Obama‘s are more dynamic and more interesting for Richardson—for a Richardson or somebody else four years down the line. 

So I think there was a little bit of Richardson‘s own ambition, not just to be secretary of state someday in an Obama administration but to be set up to pick up any of the Obama machine if it fizzles out after November. 

GREGORY:  Pat, do you think there‘s any reason for the Obama camp to believe that there‘s any panic after this week among the superdelegates? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, not panic.  I think the linebackers are frozen.  I think it if I were a Democratic superdelegate who had been leaning toward Obama figuring he‘s going to win it, I would have really called a pause with this Reverend Wright thing and wait until really the—all the dust settles on this.  My guess is, and I don‘t know this, that Obama had this card Richardson to play, and he called up and said, we got to get the momentum going.  We need you now. 

GREGORY:  Right.  I bet. 

BUCHANAN:  And then—and then Richardson played the card now, that‘s my guess. 

GREGORY:  Right.  I think that‘s actually very smart. 

Finally, a look at the ugly fight on the Democratic side.  A new Franklin & Marshall College poll of Pennsylvania voters, Clinton supporters were asked who would they vote for if she was not the nomination?  Only 53 percent say they‘ll vote for Obama, 19 percent say they‘ll vote for McCain and just 13 percent say they won‘t vote at all. 

Gene Robinson, that‘s a real warning sign, isn‘t it? 

ROBINSON:  Well, it reflects the degree of passion that there is about both candidates in this race.  I mean, you know, Barack supporters are passionate about Barack and Hillary supporters are passionate about Hillary.  And, you know, I think realistically, I would think this poll mean—would mean more if it were later in the process. 

WALSH:  Right. 

ROBINSON:  Let‘s see what happens after. 

GREGORY:  I don‘t know, Chuck, that says something there to me that may be more ominous especially as the fight goes on, what‘s your take? 

TODD:  Well, I just think that we got to—I think this is a two-way street, I think there‘s no doubt.  And the question that superdelegates, I think, are going to have is they‘re going to say to themselves, who‘s going to lose more Democratic vote when they have—when they go into the general?  Is it Hillary Clinton who becomes a nominee and loses African-American support or is it Barack Obama who goes in there and loses, say, older women or some of the senior vote? 

And I think that that‘s the two things that I think superdelegates are going to weigh, because, you know what?  They‘re out for themselves.  They‘re worried about their own re-election. 

WALSH:  Right. 

GREGORY:  But this isn‘t just about superdelegates, Chuck, this is also about those core supporters of Hillary Clinton and are they willing to step up and vote for Obama?  Are they turned off by this fighter?  Just don‘t—you know, working class voters, maybe, were never going to vote for him? 

TODD:  It‘s March and they maybe not.  But the idea—don‘t forget, we started this campaign assuming a woman nominee was going to have this problem. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

TODD:  .with this same group of voters.  John McCain is uniquely situated to over-perform in the rustbelt against either. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

TODD:  .against a woman nominee or an African-American nominee. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Coming up next, Bill Clinton‘s administation balanced the budget, jumpstarted the economy, and brought peace to Bosnia, but how involved was Senator Clinton, then the first lady? 

And could the ongoing war in Iraq be an asset in the fall?  Karl Rove foresees a, quote, “sea change” in America‘s opinion on the war.  Does it mean danger for the Democrats in November?  It‘s all ahead in our “Smart Takes.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  “Smart Takes.”  It‘s time for where we spent the day scouring the newspapers, blogs, columns and op-eds and we are bringing you the “Smart Takes.” 

Still with us, Joan, Gene, Chuck and Pat.  First up, the first “Smart Take” comes to us from “Politico‘s” Ben Smith who highlights the difficulty of the Clinton math in Pennsylvania.  Here‘s the full screen. 

“Democratic operatives there said they could imagine the vote getting as high as two million in Pennsylvania under that highly optimistic scenario, an unprecedented blow out for Clinton, a margin of 20 percent, for instance, would give her 400,000 more votes in the state and still leave her with more than 300,000 to make up.” 

Joan, tough math, no? 

WALSH:  It‘s very tough math.  I mean other news has been good for her.  She‘s widened her lead over Obama in the last week in Pennsylvania.  But if they really manage to bulk up the ultimate tally of voters, it‘s going to be hard—he‘s going to pick up a ton of votes, she‘s going to pick up more, but it‘s going to be hard for her to close the gap so that is not good news for her. 

GREGORY:  Churck, what do you think? 

TODD:  Well, never mind the fact Obama has the one up with TV ads right now in Pennsylvania. 

WALSH:  Right. 

TODD:  Obama has more money.  So there‘s also that disparity.  He‘s going to outspend her in Pennsylvania and let alone the other states so the likelihood of a 20-point victory in—it would be just unprecedented.  Frankly, if she does win, then we have a whole new set of issues to start debating. 

GREGORY:  Right.  But the issue here is that she, Pat, still wants to change the terms of this debate and get superdelegates not to pay attention to some of these issues with the pure math but to make a more independent judgment based call based on something else. 

BUCHANAN:  No, I agree with Chuck.  Let me tell you why.  You‘re telling me

she wins Pennsylvania by 300,000 votes, the keystone state, the

superdelegates will be frozen?  They will say, look, Hillary Clinton has

taken this state, Barack Obama will lose this to John McCain, then I‘ll

tell you what happens, then Michigan and Florida, where Hillary Clinton is

you know, at least in Florida, where she ran away with victory, they start saying these things ought to count, those raw numbers ought to count. 

But the key thing will be, Hillary is closing fast where Barack Obama was the winner up until April, she‘s now winning, she‘s the stronger candidate as of now. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  She‘s getting more votes as of now.  You‘ve got a real problem for those superdelegates if they‘re choosing a candidate who‘s fading away. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s take a look next at Dick Morris‘s “Smart Take” on what Hillary Clinton‘s White House schedules actually reveal about her experience in the White House.  They came out this week. 

To the quote board, “Hillary‘s experience real enough in ‘93-94 led to total disaster.”  Remember, they lost Congress?  “Her experience in ‘98 to ‘99 was focused almost exclusively on defending against impeachment.  But her schedule shows the vacuity of her experience in the years in between.  The key years of the Clinton presidency, when the budget was balanced, the economy turned around, welfare reformed, Bosnia transformed and Kosovo freed.” 

Gene, what about that 3:00 a.m. phone call? 

ROBINSON:  Well, the 3:00 a.m. phone call must have been, you know, about some social engagement and the, you know, in the east room or something for the—for someone like Hillary.  But. 

GREGORY:  But that‘s not a joke.  It shows you she had a first lady schedule in those key periods, that‘s what Dick Morris is arguing. 

ROBINSON:  Well, she did.  I mean, you know, I personally think there‘s a -

you know, the schedules are interesting.  There‘s a limited amount you can really tell.  You can tell something from them.  But it does bring back

bring us back to that essential question of in—when she claims the Clinton years as experience, you know, what does that mean?  And does she have to take the bad as well as the good?  And I think—you know, what she—the problem is, she‘s tried to kind of have it both ways that she was in on everything that went well and she wasn‘t involved on anything that went poorly. 

I suppose the schedule kind of challenges that version of events in that she does not seem to have been terribly involved in Bosnia or some of the real accomplishments. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Pat, comment? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, you know, I think she would have been better off if she said, look, I was have a very close advisor to my husband, the president, on virtually every issue and we talked it back and forth, instead of saying, you know, I was in on the decision of Northern Ireland or I called in the air strikes on Belgrade or something like that. 

WALSH:  I was in danger. 

BUCHANAN:  I think she‘s going so far—I think she‘s taken it a little—a bridge too far.  She would have been OK if she would have said I was there for eight years when Barack and Rezko were down there in Springfield or something. 

GREGORY:  All right.  “Smart Take” number three, Joan, you‘re on deck here. 

Recen “USA Today”/Gallup poll found that less than a fifth of voters actually agree with the Obama-Clinton fodder to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible and only 20 percent feel the surge is making things worst in Iraq, whereas twice as many feel that the surge is working.  Former adviser, senior adviser to President Bush Karl Rove sees this as trouble for the Democrats. 

Go to the quote board, “The passionate—persistent unwillingness to admit what more and more Americans are coming to believe is true about Iraqi‘s changing situation puts Democrats in dangerous political territory.  For one thing, they increasingly appear out of touch with reality.  For another, Democrats appear to have an ideological investment in things going badly in Iraq.” 

Joan, if McCain can make the case that he was against the war early—the management of the war, was against Rumsfeld early and is standing by, keeping troops now until the situation is stable now, is Karl Rove right? 

WALSH:  I don‘t think Karl Rove is going to prove to be right, David.  I mean I think we know the surge has some limited military success and people see it and they‘re not quite as worried about the, you know, scores of Americans dying as they were a few months ago.  But other polls that I have seen show that a majority want people out by the end of 2009.  They‘ve never wanted a precipitous withdrawal, but I think there‘s still numbers that show Americans are against this war, have doubts about this war, and the only thing that... 

GREGORY:  True enough, true enough.  But Pat, the issue is whether John McCain is seen as something other than a Bush-Cheney neocon and I think he has a shot at that. 

BUCHANAN:  I think here‘s what McCain does.  Forget the past.  He looks to the future.  And he says either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama are going to pull all combat brigades out in 16 months.  That is disaster.  Humanitarian disaster, pours down a sewer what 4,000 Americans died for, it‘s irresponsible.  General Petraeus says you can‘t do what Senator Barack recommends without destroying our position in the Middle East.  The—that will work.  I‘ll tell you what proves it. 

Look at how the Democratic Congress has backed away from either cutting off funds or opposing a deadline because they know the whole part of the country may not like this war, may want out of it, but it does not want a Saigon ending. 

WALSH:  And no one is proposing a Saigon ending. 

ROBINSON:  There‘s a different way to answer the question, though. 

WALSH:  No one‘s proposing that. 

ROBINSON:  There‘s a different to—to ask the question which is, do you want 140,000 American troops in Iraq for the next five years? 

WALSH:  Right. 

ROBINSON:  At a cost of, you know, X billion dollars a day.  Is that what you want?  Or do you want a withdrawal?  I think if you ask the question that way. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, McCain has said—Gene, McCain will say. 

ROBINSON:  .then you get a very different answer. 

WALSH:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  McCain will say, we‘re coming out victoriously and no other way. 

And I don‘t think bringing them out automatically. 

GREGORY:  All right.  To be continued.  Coming up next, “3 Questions.” 

We‘re going to get to the “3 Questions.” 

John McCain foreign policy, will there be a break from Bush‘s approach?  We started talking about it there.  Plus, between scrap re-votes and Reverend Wright, who‘s up and who‘s down as Clinton and Obama end the week? 

Stay right there.  The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE continues after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Still ahead, the big three, three questions on the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, including this, never count a Clinton out.  Hillary Clinton has virtually no chance of beating Obama in the delegate count according to many, but she claims she can still win.  Would that fly with any other candidate?  That‘s next.  First your headlines. 

(NEWSBREAK)

GREGORY:  And we are back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Our first week, so glad you‘re here with us.  We‘ve got the panel that comes to play.  Salon‘s Joan Walsh; The Washington Post‘s Gene Robinson, NBC News political director Chuck Todd, and MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan. 

Now is the part of the show when we look at three questions in the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Finally it‘s Friday, what a dramatic week it has been in the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Question number one is the take-away for the Dems.  Where does this leave both Clinton and Obama?  Hurt or help?  Pat Buchanan, start us off. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Obama is continuing his slow, gradual march to win the delegate count, but he has had a very difficult week because of the Reverend Wright thing.  The damage, we don‘t know how serious it is, how long it is.  I would say it has been a very bad week in that sense for Obama. 

GREGORY:  Chuck Todd? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Yes—no, absolutely, it has been a bad week for Obama.  The question is, is this bottom?  There‘s some evidence that it might be bottom, but sometimes you might stay at the bottom and he may never rise back up. 

But don‘t forget, this hasn‘t been a great week for Clinton.  They have all these schedules that people are going to continue pore through.  And oh by the way, she just lost that Florida-Michigan revote.  So she is in a delegate bind.

GREGORY:  And you can‘t overstate that, can you, Chuck?  I mean, in terms of her strategy for convincing superdelegates, you think those two states were key.

TODD:  They were key because she needed the extra victories, she need the popular vote, and she needed the pure delegates.  And more importantly, these superdelegates, you know, she loses 53 superdelegates which for her would have been about 40.  There‘s 53 superdelegates in Florida and Michigan that are also banned from voting. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Gene, how do you see it? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Oh, I see a bad week for Obama.  I think he‘s happier at the way the week is ending with the distraction of the State Department kafuffle and the Richardson endorsement, I think it‘s a good day for him.  But the week, it has definitely been bad. 

GREGORY:  You don‘t see traction, Joan Walsh, for this speech on race to help reassert the Obama brand? 

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  You know, David, my daughter in high school, her high school senior English class, they read the speech together, it was a gorgeous speech, we‘re going to be reading it, our grandchildren might read that speech.  But in terms of a political document and a political event, it didn‘t put the questions to rest. 

Obama‘s appeal really lies both in his racial healing, but also in his message to independents and Republicans.  His key to electability is independents and Republicans signing on to the Obama vision and they are the very people who are the most concerned about what does his affiliation with Reverend Wright mean?

GREGORY:  All right.  Let‘s move on to this next question.  For days we discussed Hillary Clinton‘s hard math for the nomination.  Mike Murphy on this program said Wednesday that despite Obama‘s stumbles this week, Clinton‘s hopes were fading fast. 

Question number two, this provocative one.  Could anyone other than Clinton plausibly claim to still have a chance, Chuck Todd? 

TODD:  Well, that‘s what‘s amazing.

GREGORY:  Is it the institutional benefit of being a Clinton? 

TODD:  Absolutely, there is—you know, the Clinton campaign has complained about bias against him in the media for a year now.  The thing is if any other candidate, if her last name were Lincoln, Smith, Obama, McCain, you name it, she would be out of this race, she would be drummed out of this race. 

So the fact is, the media always gives the Clinton the benefit of the doubt because Clintons always survive.  They always find a way.

WALSH:  Can I.

TODD:  . at least that‘s what we learned in the past.  But the fact is, there isn‘t a real path for her.

GREGORY:  Go, Joan. 

WALSH:  Can I jump in there?  You know, I think that that is partly true, I‘d be crazy to deny it.  But let me try something else, I think that you have this extraordinary guy, Barack Obama, there still are some questions about him.  And I think anybody—she got very close.  She has got some money, not enough money probably. 

But I think she—other people have an interest in keeping her in the race to keep the possibility alive that if he stumbles, she‘s there.  I don‘t really think he‘s going to stumble.  I don‘t really think that the Wright thing is deadly.  But I think.

GREGORY:  And, Pat, some of those people are in the biggest states, some of them are in the biggest states keeping her in. 

BUCHANAN:  I find myself in uncommon agreement with Joan here. 

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  Oh, Pat, it‘s Friday. 

BUCHANAN:  I‘ll tell you why.

GREGORY:  Good Friday. 

BUCHANAN:  And why she should stay—why she should stay in.  It‘s after Pennsylvania and these other states, if she wins North Carolina and Indiana, then I think the Clintons—I would make a huge stink about, are you going to deny Michigan and Florida the votes?  That‘s the only way you can beat me, by not having a revote?  You go right after Obama on that issue. 

And, again, if Obama is fading, and you know, if she wins Pennsylvania by 300,000, that, for me, if I‘m a superdelegate, that‘s very powerful. 

ROBINSON:  I only disagree a bit with both of you.  I think the reason she‘s still in it, is A, the Clinton name, but B, she is a good candidate.  She‘s a really good candidate.  Obama thus far has been a better candidate and so he‘s ahead and I think he probably will continue to be a better candidate, I don‘t think he‘ll stumble... 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Let me move on to number three.  One of the things that we want to do here is help you the voter and sit back, especially on a Friday night, the big question to think about, tonight it‘s about John McCain‘s foreign policy.  Where was he this week?  Great trip, substantive trip. 

He went to Iraq.  He went to the Middle East, including to Israel.  Also London and Paris, he talked about climate change being a priority.  He talked about keeping the troops in Iraq.  He stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel, but he also talked about a new direction for foreign policy.  He wrote about in The Financial Times. 

Let‘s go to quote board where he said, quote: “We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies when we believe that international action is necessary, whether military, economic or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right, but we in return must also be willing to be persuaded by them.” 

Pat Buchanan, what did we learn about McCain‘s foreign policy through this trip? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, McCain is going to be kinder, gentler president he seems to be saying with regard to Europe.  And what we learned about McCain is he‘s going to run on foreign policy.  He‘s going to make it his key issue.

But I think that that gaffe he had on the Sunni-Shia mistake, it doesn‘t hurt in and of itself, David, but I‘ll tell you, a couple more like that and it will raise his real problem issue, which is the age issue. 

GREGORY:  Here‘s the thing, Chuck Todd, my take on this having covered the Bush White House is, John McCain will be diligent in trying to set him apart from Bush as more of a realist in foreign policy, somebody who is tough on Iran and the threat, somebody who is tough about keeping troops in Iraq.

But somebody who is going to have a much different relationship with the rest of the world, somebody who is going to look at the world alliances much differently and who is going to engage on things like closing down Gitmo and on climate change. 

And the Europeans and all of these G-8 meetings I have been to have been fit to be tied over the Bush intransigence on climate change.  Your take?

TODD:  Well, I‘ve seen this.  There is a Bush precedent on this, for this type of foreign policy.  It‘s Bush 41.  And that is sort of what McCain is saying, it‘s like, look, if you liked George H.W. Bush, the international superstar, which he really was, people loved him around the world and respected him, well, then McCain‘s your guy. 

But you know, there is a real problem about this election.  It is not going to be a foreign policy election.  It‘s going to be a change election and it‘s probably going to be on domestic issues and if you go back, change domestic issues, even when you‘re seen as the number one commander-in-chief of the two candidates, change and domestic issues wins, you.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  And, Joan, there is still the hug between Bush and McCain, literal, on the surge, on Iraq policy, Democrats will run with that. 

WALSH:  And also I thought, you know, we could all laugh or worry what the gaffe—the alleged gaffe an Iran means, but I actually think there is a chance that it wasn‘t a gaffe.  I mean, he had a national security adviser come out this week and say, well, hey, there is evidence that Iran has funded Sunni militants, including al Qaeda as well as the Shia militants. 

So I think some people are wondering if he‘s saber-rattling a little bit in the direction of Iran and you know, continuing a kind of neocon approach to that region.  So that‘s worrisome in terms of continuity. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Pat, take 10 seconds before the break. 

ROBINSON:  Oh, I‘ll take the 10 seconds. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  It‘s not that hard to get along with Europe.  I mean, George W. Bush couldn‘t do it that well, but I think any of the three who are still running could do that.  Tell me something about Russia.  Tell me how we‘re going to deal with Russia, how are we going to deal with Iran if we don‘t deal better with Putin and Medvedev.  Tell me how we‘re going to deal with China and then I‘ll give you some foreign policy props.

GREGORY:  Pat, go.

BUCHANAN:  As I said elsewhere, he‘s going to make Cheney look like Gandhi. 

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  Wow. 

GREGORY:  Nothing to be said after that.  Nothing to be said after that.  Coming up next, it is your turn to play with the panel.  We‘ve got the fodder right there of Florida and Michigan voters sound off about the scrapped revotes.  And some Democrats are even talking about boycotting the general election. 

Plus, why one skeptical viewer is wondering about this curiosity at the State Department.  We‘re coming right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back, we‘re responding to your e-mails and calls as we give you a shot to play with the panel.  Still joining us, Joan Walsh, Eugene Robinson, Chuck Todd, and Pat Buchanan.

First up, Bill Clinton may have launched a veiled attack at Obama when he said Hillary and John McCain are “two people who love their country.”

Jacklyn in Illinois called to say this:

CALLER:  I would just like to make a comment about what President Clinton had made, the statement today, Hillary and John McCain would be the best two candidates in the general election because they wouldn‘t be a distraction.  Bill Clinton has been a distraction in this entire primary.  And he has played the race card.  He has attempted to polarize Barack Obama.  If Hillary and Bill should steal this primary away from Obama, I would not dare ever vote for the Clintons. 

GREGORY:  Pat Buchanan, comment.

BUCHANAN:  I think that came out of Obama‘s camp in Illinois. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  That‘s a fairly potent comment.  I think it needs no explanation. 

WALSH:  It‘s one point of view that‘s out there. 

GREGORY:  Yes, all right.  Moving on—well, go ahead, Chuck, go ahead, Chuck.

TODD:  Bill Clinton‘s press guy, very panicked about this comment already.  They have already sent out a statement to clarify it and just said, well, he was just talking about how patriotic his wife is.  And they really—they‘re a little nervous about it, though. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  The idea of talking up McCain as well in the same breath, it‘s like this is the faceoff that you want and really deserve. 

TODD:  Hey, you know what, our campaign embed, Athena Jones, was noting, who covers Hillary Clinton, Hillary Clinton has yet to criticize John McCain for that mistaking the Sunni and Shia and al Qaeda issue overseas.  So it just sort of adds to this conspiracy that Clinton and McCain are almost running together to defeat Obama. 

ROBINSON:  You know, you‘ve got to run against John McCain if you‘re the Democrats, at some point, or you‘re not going to win. 

GREGORY:  Right, right, right.  Moving on, Obama‘s reference to his grandmother as a “typical white person” still stirring controversy.  Debbie in Minnesota is fired up, leaving us this voicemail, listen. 

CALLER:  A typical white person?  I mean, talk about a stereotype.  If he wanted to bring us all together, I think he should have started in his own church.  I caucused for this man in February, but I sure as heck won‘t vote for him. 

GREGORY:  Gene, that has got to be a bit of a warning sign, no? 

ROBINSON:  Well, I think that is.  I mean, that‘s a shot across the bow.  I mean, I—you know, yesterday we were talking about this, I said that I thought that a “typical white person” remark was kind of a bone-headed thing for him to say and, you know, deserves some clarification. 

And I think—you know, I mean, I don‘t think it necessarily has the legs of the Reverend Wright comments, but it was not a good thing to say.  And.

WALSH:  He sounded tired. 

ROBINSON:  . it left a lot of people with—I think he was tired and, you know, I think—look, I can sit here and say, you know, I don‘t think he meant to give offense, I understand what he was trying to drive at, he was trying to make another point about kind of casual racist comments by people who are not in fact themselves racist but who have this kind of acculturated.  Nonetheless, it sounded bad.

WALSH:  But it really, it really hurt.

BUCHANAN:  It hurt.  He threw—I mean, you don‘t throw grandma under the bus for political reasons, which is what he did. 

WALSH:  And she is also—I mean he insulted both his grandmother in a way because she was not a typical white person.  Let me say that as a white person.  She welcomed her black son-in-law into the family in the ‘50s, she raised her half black grandson in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  So she wasn‘t typical.  On the other hand, it also sounded like he was insulting white people in saying, well, the typical white person is afraid.  So that is bad.

GREGORY:  But isn‘t part of Barack Obama‘s argument here that if we‘re going to have a real conversation, let‘s have the conversation.  Let‘s not parse sound bites, let‘s really understand what we‘re talking about in the full context. 

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  But you can‘t equate Wright with his grandma. 

BUCHANAN:  To drag in a grandmother.

WALSH:  You can‘t equate them.

BUCHANAN:  . who‘s nervous on a bus and equate it with his hate speech in Chicago is preposterous. 

WALSH:  It was bad. 

ROBINSON:  But—yes, the other part—I mean, the other side of it is, that‘s his grandmother, I mean, that‘s half of him.  So it‘s not like, you know, he‘s talking about some other group of people.  This is half of his heritage that he‘s talking about.  And so it‘s understandable that he would feel kind of entitled to speak in that way... 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me let Dell in New York, Dell in New York has her theory on why Richardson endorsed Obama this afternoon.  Listen.

CALLER:  I think that sour grapes and jealousy was him, because he didn‘t get in ahead of Hillary.  Very disappointed in him. 

GREGORY:  I don‘t know, Chuck Todd, I think he may have seen which way the wind was blowing or in his mind, you know, he sees a particular direction that he thinks he can seize on.  No? 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  I don‘t know.  I mean, look, I mean, I think we all think that Bill Richardson‘s campaign to be vice president would have been a more successful campaign had he not actually run for president. 

But, you know, it was weird, you know, remember, he went and watched the Super Bowl with Bill Clinton when Bill Clinton sort of forced himself down there and tried to basically strong-arm him to do it.  And Richardson never did endorse.  There‘s going to be—there‘s a lot of ill will between some Clinton folks and Bill Richardson because Bill Richardson has a resume of experience because of Bill Clinton. 

WALSH:  On the other hand, he did it so late that it doesn‘t help Obama the way it would have been before Texas, for example.  So maybe that was his the last kind thing whose friends.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  This is a point to be made in defense of Hillary Clinton, Pat Buchanan, because these superdelegates, even if they think they know which ways the wind is blowing, they want to see a clear winner.  They haven‘t seen it yet, that‘s why they don‘t want to come out from the shadows just yet. 

WALSH:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  Well, that‘s exactly right.  They don‘t see it clearly and also I think this Obama problem this week.  But you cannot—there‘s a big taint of opportunism, excuse me, on what our old friend Bill Richardson did today, he had been wavering.

ROBINSON:  Oh, I‘m shocked.

BUCHANAN:  . back and forth. 

ROBINSON:  I‘m shocked. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.

ROBINSON:  An opportunistic politician, I‘m shocked.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Glenda in Florida wants to know—she wants to know.

BUCHANAN:  I‘m deeply disappointed in him, right.

GREGORY:  Glenda in Florida wants to know if she is footing the bill for McCain‘s trip abroad.  Listen. 

CALLER:  Love your show.  Congratulations.  I would like to know if the taxpayers are paying for John McCain, Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham‘s political promotion over in Europe. 

GREGORY:  Thanks for calling, aunt Glenda.  Chuck, there has been some payback, right, some reimbursement here, because this is a what‘s called a, codel (ph), right? 

TODD:  Right.

GREGORY:  A delegation going over there.

TODD:  Right.  Not much of a reimbursement, just for the part that had to do with the London excursion, because he did hold a campaign fundraiser there.  But I‘ll tell you, they walked a very fine line here and I think had there been two nominees right now, had there been just a two general election race, I think you would not have seen a codel by McCain, a congressionally taxpayer-funded thing. 

I think they would have just done this privately because there would have been too many questions. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘ve got to leave it there.  You can play with our panel every week night here at MSNBC, e-mail race08@msnbc.com, call us 212-790-2299.  Another play date coming up on Monday. 

Coming up next, our panel predictions.  Chuck is talking Hoosiers. 

Gene gets imprudent.  And Joan sees the future of Hillary and her hats. 

Stay right here, RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE continues after this, on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  End of the show, it‘s prediction time with our panel, Joan, Gene, Chuck, and Pat. 

Joan, you are first up, what do you see? 

WALSH:  I see that Hillary Clinton is going to be wearing her Senate experience hat a lot more than her “I was first lady” hat. 

GREGORY:  Why is that a plus—is that a plus side for her now? 

WALSH:  Well, you know, I think that the Senate argument has always been stronger for her.  A lot of feminists have cringed a little bit at how much she relied on the first lady years.  They were definitely important.  They gave her a lot of knowledge of foreign leaders.  But her Senate time, she has got three times as much as Obama.  She should really pay more attention to that and talk less about what she did back when Bill was president. 

GREGORY:  Chuck, what do see? 

WALSH:  Hoosier daddy.  I‘m going to stick with my Hoosiers basketball theme, which, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  . I am one Siena loss away from.

GREGORY:  You‘ve been waiting all day to say that, haven‘t you?

TODD:  That‘s right.  And I‘m one Siena loss away from being right in the very first prediction I made this week.  But we‘ll leave that be. 

WALSH:  Congratulations. 

TODD:  May 6th, if Obama wins the Indiana Primary, it‘s over.  She will not—Hillary Clinton will end up not lasting the week.  If he sweeps the May 6th primaries, North Carolina and Indiana, then there‘s going to be no path left for Hillary Clinton and the race will essentially be over if Obama can do that. 

GREGORY:  And in part, it is Bill Clinton who has said, Indiana matters.  He has sort of set up that same block just like Ohio and Texas. 

TODD:  And in reverse, he went down to North Carolina today and said, hey, if you pull the upset here and Hillary Clinton wins here, then she‘ll be the nominee and you know what, he‘d be right. 

GREGORY:  All right.  You didn‘t pick AU, did you, this week, Chuck? 

TODD:  I didn‘t, but hey, that was pretty good.  They hung in there.

GREGORY:  Solid showing. 

TODD:  That was a good showing. 

GREGORY:  . for the AU Eagles, very, very solid, first time in history, way to go, Eagles. 

TODD:  Go Jeff Jones.

GREGORY:  Exactly.  Gene, go ahead, what do you got? 

ROBINSON:  Well, congratulations on the AU moral victory. 

GREGORY:  Yes, I‘m an alum, yes.

ROBINSON:  I think Bill Richardson‘s first assignment from Barack Obama ought to be to try to help him with Latino voters.  Now Richardson did not prove to have extremely long coattails with Latinos when he was running for president.  But he is the nation‘s only Hispanic governor.  He is a persuasive guy.  He ought to be able to help Obama there or Obama ought to send him out to try and ask him, by the way, hey, dude, where were you before Texas?  We could have used you. 

(LAUGHTER)      

GREGORY:  But he‘s an asset now, you believe? 

ROBINSON:  I think he can be an asset, yes.  And I think he can—you know, maybe not swing a whole block, but he can be an asset. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Pat Buchanan, prediction time. 

BUCHANAN:  No matter what happens in Indiana and North Carolina, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright will be an albatross hung around the neck of Barack Obama all the way through that convention.  And if he‘s nominated, all the way through November, the 527s are already working on the ads. 

GREGORY:  Will the Republican Party step up? 

BUCHANAN:  The Republicans probably will not—some of them may not want to identify themselves the way they didn‘t want to identify with Willie Horton, but the 527s will be out there. 

GREGORY:  And it only reinforces some of the other questions you think that have been raised about Barack Obama, this is the one linchpin? 

BUCHANAN:  I think it—in a word, it ghettoizes—it drives him back toward his base and it drives him out of the working class, middle class folks, the folks who are voting up in Pennsylvania, the folks who vote in Ohio, folks concerned about NAFTA who would be looking at Barack Obama, will look away when they see Jeremiah Wright on that television set. 

GREGORY:  Comment, Gene? 

ROBINSON:  I think, you know, that certainly will be the intent, it looks like a potential wedge.  I don‘t know how much staying power it has.  Though I agree with Pat that the 527s will be out there with the ads.  They will do their best to make this a huge issue.  You know, I think he dealt with it fairly well this week, didn‘t put it to bed, but you know, it will lose it‘s impact over time. 

GREGORY:  We are going to leave it there for the week.  Great panel tonight.  Thanks for everybody helping me to round out the first week on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Hope you come back.  I‘m David Gregory, that is going to do it for us.  Thank you for watching.  We‘re going to see you Monday, same time, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, right here.  The place for politics.  “HARDBALL” now. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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