updated 4/1/2008 5:20:20 PM ET 2008-04-01T21:20:20

Guests: Ron Brownstein, Harold Ford Jr

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  I‘m David Gregory.  Hillary Clinton vows to go the distance while Bill Clinton says everyone should just chill out. 

We‘ll try as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory, coming to you today from Los Angeles.  Search no more.  You have found your space for the fast pace, the bottom line and every point of view in the room. 

Today we are going to follow the money, the campaign money, that is, and we‘ll try to answer some of the big questions in this race.  Among them, where does Al Gore fit into the ‘08 race? 

The foundation of the hour, a panel that come to play.  And with us tonight, MSNBC‘s political analyst and host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Rachel Maddow, NBC News analyst and chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, Harold Ford Jr, political director for Atlantic Media, Ron Brownstein, and host of MSNBC‘s “MORNING JOE” Joe Scarborough himself. 

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

Joe Scarborough, a lot to talk about.  Kick us off tonight.  What‘s your headline? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, “MORNING JOE” HOST:  Well, the big headline is, Hillary Clinton, not going anywhere.  Of course, that‘s a headline today because, of course, they said the same thing over the past couple of weeks.  But more and more people keep telling Hillary Clinton she needs to just step aside for the good of the party.  She‘s not going to do it.  Her husband, Bill Clinton, says that there‘s no way in the world they‘re going to do it. 

People point to a new Gallup Poll that shows Hillary Clinton 10 points down.  The Clintons don‘t care.  The way they look at it, a big win in Pennsylvania just turns things around.  You get people like Michael Barone who, of course, wrote the bible of politics, “The American Almanac of Politics,” talking about now how actually Hillary winning in the popular vote is within reach.  Hillary Clinton vowing to stay in if Michigan and Florida don‘t get a second chance. 

She‘s got a lot of cards up her sleeves.  She‘s going to be throwing them down between now and Denver.  She is not going anywhere. 

GREGORY:  And as long as she stays in it there‘s a chance for Barack Obama to make a major misstep and that‘s where she capitalizes.  That‘s the argument she‘s making. 

SCARBOROUGH:  There‘s no doubt about it.  Everybody—I mean a lot of pundits have been saying get out of race.  I can guarantee you, no politician that has been in politics as long as Hillary Clinton has been in politics would get out of the race with four, five months left to the convention where anything can happen. 

Of course, we all talk about how Hillary Clinton can‘t get the delegates she needs to win the nomination.  Well, guess what?  Neither can Barack Obama. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Not until the superdelegates come in.  The Clintons know that better than anybody else. 

GREGORY:  All right.  A lot more on that ahead. 

Rachel Maddow, your headline tonight? 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  America, meet John McCain, meet the new John McCain.  Same as the old John McCain with the Democratic nomination process still not wrapped up and therefore the Democratic Party essentially feeding to John McCain, all the territory he could possibly want to, define himself for the American voters, to redefine himself if he so chooses.  McCain sticks very close to the one thing that people already know about him, which is that he has a military background, that he is the son of an admiral, that he‘s the grandson of an admiral, and that he‘s somebody who served his country in the military honorably. 

He has the chance to define himself kind of any way he wants as the Democrats continue to ignore him.  But he sticks with the same message. 

GREGORY:  But why not buff up your biography when that‘s what it is strongest selling points before he gets into a toe-to-toe debate on issues? 

MADDOW:  Well, he‘s buffing up the part of his biography that I think

people acknowledge is his strength.  I think the worry about John McCain is

if I was—working on his campaign, what I would be worried about is not so much the strength of his military service and that part of his biography. 

What I would be worried about are the other things about his record and about his strengths that seem like he might not meet what the country needs right now, particularly on the economy, particularly on domestic issues, some of the other non-military, non-foreign policy stuff.  And people kind of wonder where he‘s coming from.  He‘s chosen not to address those holes in his resume with the big redefinition tour. 

GREGORY:  He really could try to own the issue of the economy right now while nobody is really paying attention to it day in and day out.  The Democrats are kind of distracted.  More on that ahead. 

Harold Ford, welcome.  What have you got for us tonight? 

HAROLD FOLD, JR., NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST:  Amid all the euphoria that some Republicans have about the fight amongst Democrats, John McCain is struggling or is facing challenges in unifying this donor base of his.  I think some of it speaks to your last point.  I think many Republicans who have given mighty dollars over the last few election cycles particularly to George Bush have some concerns about his ability not only to bring the party together and to unite the country, but to speak to those issues that are critical for the American people.  One, the economy, and deep, deep concern about whether or not his position on Iraq, not only is winning message but, in fact, is the right message. 

He has some work to do still.  And it‘ll be interesting to see over the next few weeks, as the Democrats continue to fight, if John McCain can find his traction and find the kind of footing needed to bring the kind of donors, the Republican donors that can help fill those coffers for him. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

Is part of it, do you think, Harold, that he is not under fire right now from the Democrats, once he starts to feel more heat and more Republicans will feel the need to close ranks? 

FORD:  Well, I think the Republicans have tried to define him over the Democratic candidate is, whoever emerges, as someone who wants to raise taxes and retreat on serious defense issues.  And that message—or I should say that series of messages is simply not working.  The normal call list of play list that Republicans use at the national level, at least for John McCain, is not working to an extent that it will bring that Republican donor base before.  It may happen once the race is joined.  But as of right now, as exciting as it is for Republicans, John McCain can‘t seem to get the right message in tune together to attract donors to his side. 

GREGORY:  Ron Brownstein, a lot to talk about from over the weekend. 

What are you focusing on tonight? 

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA POLICAL DIRECTOR:  The opening bell sounded today for the most fundamental debate since the Great Depression over how to regulate Wall Street and the financial market sire.  Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson put out the administration‘s plan for restructuring the way Washington oversees Wall Street. 

Immediately, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton said it didn‘t go far enough to prevent the kind of problems like the mortgage mess or the collapse of Bear Stearns.  Interestingly last week, John McCain argues the way to increase stability in the markets was to reduce regulation and reduce taxes.  And what was really the backdrop for all of this, David, is a change over the last generation that has made average Americans more dependent on Wall Street than ever before, put their retirement and their prosperity and makes this kind of abstruse debate very much a kitchen table concern for average Americans. 

GREGORY:  Well, that‘s the real question here which is, how much can Washington get involved?  You see the administration now actually playing a more activist role in dealing with the economy but if you are running for office, what do you do beyond express concern and empathy for voters, when what you‘re suggesting is that this is the issue that underlines most of what voters are thinking about. 

BROWNSTEIN:  That is one aspect of that whole big economic question.  But we‘re seeing a big divide right away.  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on a variety of fronts have proposed to significantly increase Washington‘s oversight and its role for that matter in restructuring these delinquent mortgages heading towards foreclosure, whereas John McCain last week very forcefully argued against the federal government doing very much more than it is now and in fact, argued that more activity for the most part would be counterproductive. 

You‘re seeing a clear ideological divide that, I think, is likely to extend across an entire range of issues relating to the economy as this campaign moves forward. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Except Hillary Clinton also today came out talking about $100 billion in tax cuts for middle-class Americans.  You talk about muddying up the issue on economics and going into John McCain‘s territory.  That‘s exactly what the Clinton camp is trying to do. 

MADDOW:  And Joe, don‘t forget Hillary Clinton also proposed tort reforms.  She proposed insulating part of the lending crises—the kind of lending industry from lawsuits. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

MADDOW:  I couldn‘t believe that came from a Democratic politician. 

BROWNSTEIN:  But Rachel, but that is really—yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know that came from a politician who represents New York state and Wall Street. 

BROWNSTEIN:  That is really—I mean that is looking at the tail, not the dog.  I mean if you look at the overall thrust of what these two Democrats are talking about on the financial issues and more broadly on the economy, they are looking at a much more activist approach.  The Democrats have been willing to risk, I think, in the last several elections, whereas McCain, in some ways, is moving even to the right of Bush on this financial and mortgage meltdown where he is resisting even some of the things that the administration seems to be open to in terms of expanded activity to restructure some of these—homes that might otherwise be. 

FORD:  David, I think. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think he can be more activist than what the Feds already been over the past couple of months. 

FORD:  David, where the big. 

GREGORY:  All right, quick comment, Harold, then we go to a break. 

FORD:  I think one of the indicators is going to be what Congress does when they return.  You‘ll find conservative Republicans who‘ve heard over and over again at home over this Easter religious holiday break that something needed to be done.  I think all of the labels, all the stereotypes, and frankly, all the partisanship is going to get thrown out of the win.  The Congress and the Senate will act and pass something far more aggressive than we‘d seen up to this point in trying to address this mortgage challenge that the country is facing. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Coming up from the economy, campaign money, money, money.  The reports the Clinton campaign is having trouble paying its bills.  Well, how bad is it?  We‘re going to look deep inside the Clinton war room and find out. 

Plus Bill Clinton with some reassuring words for his wife‘s supporters. 

Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  Don‘t you let anybody tell you that somehow we are weakening the Democratic Party.  We are strengthening the Democratic Party.  Chill out.  We‘re going to win this election. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Just chill out.  What do you think of Bill Clinton‘s comments?  Does it have a point?  Does he have a point? 

Call us 212-790-2290 - sorry, 790-2299.  I always get tripped up on that last number.  Or e-mail us Race08@MSNBC.com

The RACE will be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Barack Obama turns on the charm with Pennsylvania voters hitting the bowling alley and the basketball court with voters.  Will it work and get up some support he needs to win the Keystone state? 

The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE comes right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back and we are drawing back the curtains to take you deep “Inside the War Room” in the ‘08 RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Still with us, Rachel Maddow, Harold Ford Jr, Ron Brownstein and Joe Scarborough. 

First up here, the Clinton campaign literally going for broke.  The campaign ended February with $33 million in the war chest, but according to election rules, only $11 million of that can be spent on battling Obama in the primaries.  “Politico” laid out the numbers today. 

To the quote board.  “If she had paid off the $8.7 million in unpaid bills she reported as debt and had not loaned her campaign $5 million, she would have been nearly $3 million in the red at the end of February.  By contrast, if you subtract Obama‘s $625,000 in debts and his general-election-only money from his total cash on hand at the end of last month, he‘d still be left with $31 million.” 

Earlier this afternoon Clinton spokesman Harold Wolfson insisted to MSNBC the campaign‘s cash flow is good. 

That make sense to you, Joe? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, I don‘t know about the cash flow being good but they certainly can survive and a lot better in March and April than they could have in January or February.  The reason why we‘re not seeing this on the front pages of all the newspaper now is, obviously, Hillary Clinton has got about four more weeks, three more—four more weeks until Pennsylvania, the next big contest.  So she has a chance to reload. 

This “Politico” story, though, is obviously where they want it to end.  They want to pay off those bills in Ohio and some of the other states where the vendors are starting to complain, and raise the money, bring it in. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So timing is everything and she‘s fortunate to have not run into these problems earlier. 

BROWNSTEIN:  You know, the reality. 

GREGORY:  But Ron, speak tactically here.  

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  What does it matter on the ground?  Is it not an impact to her?  You see what‘s happening in Pennsylvania.  He‘s up on the air spending a lot more time on TV than she is.  Does she have the ability to keep going? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, right.  Well, the reality is, first of all, in—

Hillary Clinton raised more in donations of $200 or less in February—it‘s $17 million—than she did the entire campaign up to that point.  She was able to tap into a base of small donors that people assumed did not exist for her.  But she is facing a candidate who is setting an absolutely blistering financial pace. 

I mean we talked about the breakthroughs Howard Dean made on the Internet and amongst small donors.  Well, in February Barack Obama raised more in donations of $200 or less than Howard Dean did in his entire campaign.  So keeping up with that is very difficult. 

And what we don‘t know is whether Clinton has been able to sustain the fundraising in February, in March, as she has faced more questions about whether she should stay in the race. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  I have a feeling that money is not going to be the decisive factor between now and Pennsylvania, maybe as Joe suggests.  But if you do get more anxiety among Democrats about this dragging on, that is one place where she could feel the pinch over time. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Next up, John Edwards is still mum on who‘s getting his endorsement for president.  But it‘s not looking too good for Barack Obama.  “New York” magazine reports that during a phone call after Edwards dropped out, quote, “Obama came across as glib and aloof.  Clinton, by contrast, engaged Edwards in a lengthy policy discussion.  In his own Edwards sit-down, Obama dug himself in deeper, getting into a fight about Elizabeth and health care, and her plan for health care, that his plan is universal, a position she considers a crock, and high-handedly criticizing Clinton‘s plan, and by extension, Edwards‘s plan as well for its insurance mandate.” 

Rachel, what do you make of it? 

MADDOW:  I think this would be a really big deal if John Edwards‘s endorsement was going to be determinative.  I just don‘t think that John Edwards or even Al Gore or any other Democrat has the stature that‘s going to be a tipping factor in this race.  I think the endorsements are interesting.  And the endorsements when they are superdelegates have a quantitative effect on who‘s going to get the nomination.  But nobody from any of the other presidential candidates to any of those—any of the elder statesmen in the Democratic Party is—has enough juice to push this thing one way or the other. 

But it‘s not the way this thing is going to resolve. 

GREGORY:  Harold, that‘s provocative point.  Does John Edwards really matter at this stage? 

FORD:  I think he‘s relevant but I think Rachel‘s point is well taken and this is now up to the voters.  If endorsements and pundits and the careful analysis provided by so many in the media really, not to the extent some of us would want it, this thing would have been over a long time ago.  The reality is, voters want to be heard. 

Now I must say if you‘re in the Hillary Clinton camp or in the Barack Obama camp, and in light of the last story about money on the Clinton side, you would certainly welcome an endorsement from John Edwards.  He was a candidate for president himself. 

GREGORY:  Sure. 

FORD:  He fought this thing like these two other guys along with several others that ran.  And his endorsement has been coveted.  I think it would probably have a little more of an impact than some of the others.  But at the same time. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

FORD:  .Pennsylvanians are going to decide based on who they believe best suited to represent their interests.  And as much as I like, respect and admire John Edwards and his wife, voters there are going to listen more closely to their neighbors and their friends there. 

GREGORY:  We are—we‘re still in the war room.  Moving on, indications that the Clinton camp is again playing the gender card.  Clinton adviser, senior adviser and director of women‘s outreach, Ann Lewis told the Associate Press this, quote, “My e-mail is bursting with women who are furious, and it‘s grown in the last week.  They were very angry that people would be so dismissive of Hillary and, by extension, of them and what they value.” 

Ron, who are they talking about? 

FORD:  Well, in general, I think it‘s a dangerous thing for Obama to have his supporters, as Pat Leahy did last week, call on Senator Clinton to get out.  It is a very easy thing to turn around against his campaign as I think they recognize, not only among women but among all the voters in the remaining states, you can make the argument that, in effect, the insiders are trying to disenfranchise you.  It‘s a very easy argument to make and I think that‘s why you saw him move so quickly away from those comments. 

But look, that is part of the reason why Hillary Clinton raised all that money from small donors that I talked about in February.  There are a lot of women in the Democratic Party who are very reluctant to see this campaign fizzle out.  I was in San Antonio the weekend before the Texas primary.  With 40 women who had flown down on their own expense from San Francisco, the Bay Area to campaign for Hillary Clinton. 

So there is that emotion, that passion.  Now whether it‘s enough to overturn Barack Obama‘s lead is another question.  But there‘s no question that that emotion is there and that is what Ann Lewis is picking at. 

MADDOW:  I would just say. 

GREGORY:  And finally “Inside the War Room,” Obama this weekend attempting to chip away at Clinton‘s double-digit lead in Pennsylvania, launching what some are calling a charm offensive in the Keystone state. 

Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  We played basketball with Bob Casey and neither of us got injured.  We have stopped by some sports bars, I must admit, and had a few beers.  And then we went bowling, which didn‘t go so well.  There was an 8-year-old who was giving me tips. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Joe, you know a thing or two about retail politics here.  What do you make of what is a little bit of a change in him getting out there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  Who he‘s trying to appeal to, as opposed to what he is known for, which is the big rally as the soaring orator? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.  He needs—you know, he needs to do that.  But my gosh, if you‘re going to do it, be like Ronald Reagan.  I mean go—like Reagan went to south Boston back in -- 1984 and held up a mug of beer, he drank it.  He looked like he belonged.  Barack Obama, from what my good friend Harold Ford tells me, is a good athlete.  But when it comes to bowling, he bowls like my 4 ½-year-old daughter.  He got a 37, a 37.  Look at this.  Look at him.  Look. 

GREGORY:  And you can‘t win on (INAUDIBLE) for president. 

SCARBOROUGH:  He‘s horrible in bowling.  A—you cannot bowl a 37 in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and expect to get Reagan Democrats on your side. 

MADDOW:  You heard it here on MSNBC.  Barack Obama bowls like a girl, says Morning Joe Scarborough. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  Well, you know what? 

MADDOW:  This is going to come back.  This is going to come back. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what, Rachel, I got to say that‘s not such a shocking assessment.  I think a lot of people are saying it.  A 37. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Joe, actually he bowls like. 

GREGORY:  All right.  All right.  We‘re going to break here. 

BROWNSTEIN:  And that‘s the problem. 

GREGORY:  Coming up, Bill Kristol says we don‘t always vote for the candidate with the best resume.  And according to Matthew Yglesias, Hillary Clinton is playing a game of political kicking. 

“Smart Takes” are coming up right next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  “Smart Take” time.  Welcome back.  We spent the time reading the newspapers, pouring over the columns and scouring the blog so you don‘t have to.  Time now for our “Smart Takes.”  And here again, Rachel, Harold, Ron and Joe. 

Our first “Smart Take,” Andrew - Gumbel, rather, of the “L.A. Times,” pointing to historical evidence that a Clinton win is not unprecedented. 

Quote, “On every occasion on American history when the race for the White House has been close enough to be contested, the candidate with fewer votes has prevailed.  If the Clinton camp can create the perception that voters from the early primaries are now suffering buyers‘ remorse and that the party‘s grass-roots supporters want her after all, she still has a chance.” 

Harold, this is really the strategy she is pursuing, right?  Buyers‘ remorse.  Keep the race going as long as you can. 

FORD:  Look, she believes that she‘s best suited and qualified to be president and believes that she‘s best suited and qualified to take John McCain on in the fall.  Joe has the spot on.  When you‘re this close in the race, anybody running anyone in a competitive race, and I‘ve been in a few of them, you‘re not going to let up. 

Now what Senator Obama has got to do is win one of these three primaries here coming up that he‘s not expected to win.  She has to do the unexpected also, which is really to win out. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

FORD:  If she doesn‘t do that, then it ends for her.  So all of the analysis, and I‘ve heard my friend David Brooks put a number, 5 percent, 6 percent, I don‘t know how you can do those things.  When you‘re in a competitive race for political office, and you‘re serious about winning, and you are running with all of your heart and laying out the issues and ideas, you got a chance to win and she is right there and Barack is right there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And. 

FORD:  I just got an e-mail.  Barack is ready to take Joe on in a bowl-off any day next week and share... 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what? 

FORD:  Hopefully he can make it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ll tell you what.  We‘ll make it fair.  My 4 ½-year-old daughter will bowl.  I‘ll coach her. 

FORD:  Right. 

GREGORY:  Hey, but Ron Brownstein anything (INAUDIBLE).  This is not all that complicated.  Either Hillary Clinton keeps winning or Barack Obama shuts her down with a victory.  I mean, he can‘t expect, you know, to just rest on the idea of the delegate count if he can‘t put her away in some of these contests. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, I think—actually, in the end he might be able to.  I mean Barack Obama is like a fighter with a head-on points... 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

BROWNSTEIN:  .who could win the match but is complaining that the other guy won‘t go down.  You know, won‘t. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  He hasn‘t knocked her out.  As Harold Ford suggested if he wins something that he‘s not supposed to, would have won Ohio or Texas, or could win Pennsylvania or even Indiana, perhaps he can force her out of the race.  Her problem is, is that if he is ahead in the popular vote and the pledge delegates, it will take, I think, overwhelming. 

GREGORY:  Exactly. 

BROWNSTEIN:  ..in the superdelegates to overturn it.  And right now, nothing is moving in that direction.  The big endorsements continue to go toward him. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  The senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar, today, Richardson, Casey, and so forth, and the polling doesn‘t provide a clear advantage for her, she‘s going to need that to develop that to have any chance of overturning this, because in the end. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  .I think superdelegates can be very reluctant to overturn a verdict from the voters. 

GREGORY:  Let me get to my second “Smart Take” from Bill Kristol of “The New York Times” today, warning John McCain against relying too much on his military service to get him elected.  This goes back to Rachel‘s point earlier. 

To the quote board.  “Here‘s something for the McCain campaign to remember.  Democracies don‘t always elect the man who has done the most for his country.  If voters had simply looked at the biographies of the major party candidates, they would have chosen George H.W. Bush in ‘92, Bob Dole in ‘96, Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.” 

Rachel, you got Kristol reading your mind here. 

MADDOW:  Well, yes, except he‘s getting it wrong as usual.  I would—

I mean, when you look back at those races, honestly, what you can say about this democracy is that we tend to elect the candidate who runs the best campaign and/or who has the controlling interest in the Supreme Court, and/or who does not have a third party spoiler candidate siphoning off some of his votes. 

It‘s not explained by yes or no on the biography.  It‘s explained by all of the individual dynamics of those races.  So Kristol, once again, is being kind of cute.  But I think he‘s being fundamentally wrong. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes, but the presidency is. 

GREGORY:  Comment, Joe, real quick. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Oh sorry. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I was just going to say I think Kristol is actually right.  Biographies don‘t win campaigns.  It certainly didn‘t win it for John Kerry, didn‘t win it for Al Gore.  In the end people want to know where you stand, what you‘re going to do over the next four years and that‘s how they vote.  Biography—whether you‘re talking about running for president, senator, governor, or even congressman, biographies just doesn‘t count as much.  Your past doesn‘t count as much as your future.  John McCain relies. 

MADDOW:  The campaign. 

SCARBOROUGH:  John McCain relies. 

GREGORY:  Go ahead, Ron.  Real quick, Ron. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Presidencies are not a lifetime achievement award.  I think your past is relevant, as Joe suggested, to the extent that people see it as predicting what you would do for them in office. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Got to take a break here. 

Coming up, “3 Questions” and your e-mail.  Don‘t go away. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory, coming to you from Los Angeles today.  Glad you are here.  Time for the big three questions. 

Back with our esteemed panel, MSNBC political analyst and host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Rachel Maddow. NBC News analyst and chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council Harold Ford Jr., political director for “Atlantic Media” Ron Brownstein and “MORNING JOE” himself, MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough. 

First up, if you happen to be one of the many nostalgic Democrats out there who is waiting, hoping, dreaming that Al Gore will gallop into Denver on a white horse and may be your knight in shining armor, I must advise you grab a kleenex while you listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What about the idea of the honest broker who goes to the two candidates and helps push one or the other of them? 

AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Kind of a modern Boss Tweed. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Except his name would be Al Gore. 

GORE:  Well, I‘m not applying for the job of broker. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Still, Gore‘s stature in the party seems to keep growing, which leads us to question number one; what exactly will Al Gore‘s role be in this election?  Ron Brownstein, any idea. 

BROWNSTEIN:  He has a big project.  He announced a multi, multi-million dollar ad campaign over the next year to focus attention on climate change and global warming.  I suspect that that will be his principle focus.  He will try to avoid being drawn too deeply into the role of trying to tip the scales or settle this.  I think most Democratic leaders would like this to be settled largely by the voters, to the extent they will provide a direction for the party. 

MADDOW:  I would say also—

GREGORY:  Joe Scarborough, this is somebody who has got unique experience when it comes to contested elections that draw out all of the passion and all the divisiveness in the country.  Doesn‘t he want to put his stamp on this at some point? 

SCARBOROUGH:  He just can‘t.  The problem is we have a couple of unique problems.  Their names are Clinton and Gore.  Bill Clinton should be the senior statesman of the party, a latter day Clark Clifford.  He can‘t come in because Hillary is in the race.  Al Gore should be able to replace him, but for the fact Hillary is in the race. 

Hillary Clinton and Al Gore obviously didn‘t like each other from the very first day.  From the day of Bill Clinton‘s inauguration, they were fighting.  They were fighting at the end of the presidency in 2000, when Al Gore, the Gores believed that Bill Clinton, first of all, hurt them with the Monica scandal, and then hurt them even more financially by going after the Clinton/Gore donors for her Senate campaign. 

There‘s not enough room for Al Gore to get in this as an honest broker. 

GREGORY:  Let me move on.  There‘s no question that the fight between Clinton and Obama has at times resembled an ugly brawl.  But James Carville had this warning for Obama if he‘s the Democrat who gets to play in the general election Super Bowl.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CARVILLE, CLINTON BACKER:  If somehow or another Senator Obama‘s campaign thinks that if they get this nomination, somehow the Hillary attack machine is something, they are crazy.  I know these guys on the Republican side.  I know Charlie Black.  I know Rick Davis.  They don‘t care what the “New York Times” thinks.  They don‘t care what Keith Olbermann thinks.  They don‘t care.  They are going to go out.  This is powder puff stuff compared to the stuff we are going to see in the general. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Powder puff.  This brings us to question number two; is James right?  Is McCain‘s attack machine tougher than Clinton‘s?  Harold, what do you say?

FORD:  I don‘t think there is any doubt.  There‘s many on the panel that have said this.  Joe and Ron have said this, even Rachel.  What we are seeing now between the Democrats is warmups, is pregame compared to what will happen when this campaign is joined. 

I went through a campaign in Tennessee where things were said by the National Republican Party, things were done that I felt were obnoxious, repulsive, revolting.  People called it what they thought it was.  And that didn‘t sway, dissuade anyone from doing what these guys went out and did.  So if anyone believes that this race is not going to get harder and tougher, I think they are kidding themselves. 

Having said that, I thought Senator Obama was right the other day to say that Senator Clinton should stay in this race as long as she sees fit.  She has every right to.  Senator Clinton, I think, is responding to some of the things that Senator Leahy and others have said.  And I respect Senator Leahy and all who have suggested what they suggested about Senator Clinton.  This is not their call.  This is the voters‘ call. 

Anyone who believes, again, that this race won‘t get harsher, uglier -

unfortunately the language becomes even more intense, is simply kidding themselves. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, this is the reason for Hillary Clinton to stay in the race, to make Barack Obama, at the very least, if she wins it or makes him a better candidate by keeping the pressure on. 

MADDOW:  Well, I think there are two critiques of what‘s going on with the Democratic presidential nominating contest right now.  One of them understands historical contest and one of them doesn‘t.  The one that doesn‘t understand it is the one that says this race is very personal and divisive and they are being mean to each other and, therefore, it should stop.  We are not that far out of—we are not that far out of the point in our history when we used to settle political disagreements with guns on the floor of the Senate and with canes over one another‘s heads. 

Partisanship and nastiness, this barely even competes.  That‘s the analysis I think that‘s somewhat historically cheap.  The one that does make sense is the one that says the contest is going on for too long.  When you look at the historical context in the modern era, the party that‘s divided this late in the game, when the other side has picked their candidate, the divided party tends to lose.  It is just a matter of timing, not a matter of tone. 

GREGORY:  Let me just—go ahead. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Real quick, for all of the complaints from the Obama side, there is a way to end this race.  You know, to win some states that he is not expected to win to the point where enough super delegates move toward him that he reaches the magic number.  It is within their capacity to end this.  They shouldn‘t only be complaining about Hillary Clinton not taking the hint and getting out.  Ultimately, if they want her out, they could knock her out. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They couldn‘t knock her out in New Hampshire.  They couldn‘t knock her down at Super Tuesday.  They couldn‘t knock her out in Texas or Ohio.  You know, if he wants to be heavyweight champ, he has to knock her down and keep her down and he can‘t do it. 

MADDOW:  But the Democratic party is set up institutionally to put the Democratic candidate at a disadvantage.  Remember, the delegates were apportioned differently on the Republican and Democratic side.  

SCARBOROUGH:  If Barack Obama had won this—

(CROSS TALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  If Barack Obama had won this thing a month ago he would have been absolutely slammed by the Republicans going into the fold.  James Carville is dead right.  This has been powder puff.  The longer he fights the Clinton machine, the stronger he will be in the fall. 

GREGORY:  Let me get into a final question here.  Let me get to the final question, which is Barack Obama‘s promised a different kind of politics, as we all know.  This weekend, he stepped into the familiar mine field of the culture wars, insisting on the importance of sex education for children like his two daughters.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  If they make a mistake, I don‘t want them punished with a baby.  I don‘t want them punished with an STD at the age of 16.  You know, so it doesn‘t make sense to not give them information. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  When all the talk of change and hope is over, the Atlantic‘s Marc Ambudder (ph) wonders if this will look like the others, writing “ the net effect of the competitive Democratic primary may well be that Obama becomes less of a unifying figure and more of a, well, Democrat.”

Question number three; come November, will Obama simply be another liberal Democrat?  If you look at his views, Rachel, despite all of his talks of a new kind of politics -- 

MADDOW:  I think that if the Republicans get to define Barack Obama, he will be a Commie, obviously.  He will define himself as the unifying centrist.  We have already seen that in the primary race.  That‘s the way that he wants to compete.  Republicans are going to define any Democrat as a Commie in this race.  Every Democrat should know to expect that and every Democrat should have a strategy against it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  A Commie?  How about just describing him as the most liberal member of the United States Senate. 

MADDOW:  According to that “National Journal” poll that said that John Kerry was the most liberal in 2004. 

(CROSS TALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Issue by issue by issue by issue, if we are playing by the old rules, Barack Obama will be established as a liberal Democrat and it will work.  But I don‘t think we are playing by the old rules this year.  I think he actually may be able to transform ideology a bit.  But if he can‘t, he is in trouble. 

MADDOW:  For a minute though, that National Journal poll—

(CROSS TALK)

MADDOW:  Can we talk about the fact in—

SCARBOROUGH:  No.

MADDOW:  Wait.  No, wait.  You can‘t throw it out there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Gun control.  Let‘s bring up the Supreme Court.  Let‘s bring up abortion.  Let‘s bring up taxes. 

MADDOW:  Joe, how do you explain that in 2004 that same “National Journal” poll said the most liberal member of the United States Senate was John Kerry?  Now in 2008 they say it is Barack Obama.  How do you think that—

(CROSS TALK) . 

GREGORY:  We get the disagreement.  We get the disagreement. 

BROWNSTEIN:  I have been transported to an episode of Cross Fire here, left and right craziness.

(CROSS TALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  Other than Rachel‘s conspiracy theories, the reality is that Obama does have a voting record in many ways can be portrayed as conventional liberal.  What he does have is a demeanor and style of politics that does, as I think Joe was suggesting, has potential of transcending that.  He strikes many centrist voters as someone who, whatever his initial ideological preconceptions, as someone who will listen to the other side and work with the other side.  That‘s his potential to reach beyond the partisan divide that we have seen in the electorate the last couple of election, do better among independents, do better perhaps even among moderate Republicans. 

But there‘s no doubt that the basic structure of the competition between these parties, between these candidates, through the election, if he is the nominee, will push them back to a more conventional ideological position than both are in today.  McCain, for that matter, as well.  Someone who will be less appealing to voters in the middle by the time Democrats get through with him than he is today. 

Having said that, it does not have to be Kerry/Bush, a 49 yard line against 49 yard line.  You have two candidates who do have the potential to change the map and change the coalition. 

FORD:  If this race boils down guns and abortion, Democrats will have a challenge.  If it is about the economy, energy independence and how we craft a different standing for American world, Democrats will win.  If it is about this other stuff, Democrats will have a great challenge come November. 

GREGORY:  Let me take a break here.  Coming up, Christa sees some dark clouds in President Bush‘s final days in office.  And it‘s not too late to play with the panel.  Call us, 212-790-2299 or email us at RACE08@MSNBC.com.  RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back and it is your turn to throw your hat in the ring.  We read your e-mails and listened to the voicemail.  Time for you to play with the panel. 

Still with us, Rachel Maddow, Harold Ford Jr., Ron Brownstein and Joe Scarborough.  Bill Clinton had some reassuring words over the weekend for his supporters.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Don‘t you let anybody tell you that somehow we are weakening the Democratic party.  We are strengthening the Democratic party.  Chill out.  We are going to win this election.  . 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  What did you think, starting with Rachel in Illinois; “Bill should chill.  The quotes coming from him lately are far more nagging or embarrassing than anything coming from the heavily criticized Michelle Obama.”  On the flip side, Romo in California says “as an Obama supporter, I think Hillary should stay in the race.  It is better to play softball as long as possible and become stronger nominees so that when hardball times come along, they will be better against McCain.” 

We will get to John McCain‘s point in a minute.  Harold, one of the things I do think is interesting here, which is the level of distraction that Bill Clinton has played to a lot of people who are watching this race in the Democratic party. 

FORD:  Bill Clinton remains the most popular figure in the Democratic party.  He‘s them most dominant figure in the party.  He and Al Gore sit at the top of that.  Second thing, Democrats have out-voted Republicans some two to one in this primary process, and third, have out-raised Republicans by almost three to one financially. 

I think some of the concerns and consternation on the part of many about the fight between the two of them is a little overstated.  Three months ago was the Iowa caucuses.  Who would have thought we would be where we are today?  Three months ago seems like two years ago now.  Three months from today will seem the same.  Both of these candidates need to continue to mature.  One will emerge as the nominee.  When that happens, John McCain or Clinton, John McCain or Obama, will be off to the races and the country will have a very serious, different and, frankly, interesting discussion, and I think a pretty stark contrast between the two of them.  I‘m not as worried—

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about McCain for just a second.  Lee in Arizona thinks the new John McCain ad could be confused for an SNL short.  Listen to this.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why does John McCain seem to frame everything around war, like the New Mexico ad I just saw?  I swear, if I hadn‘t known better, I would think it was a “Saturday Night Live” skit.  Why is it war, war, war with him? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  What‘s interesting, Ron Brownstein, is you have to know that McCain is going to try to own this issue for the rest of the campaign.  But does he pivot at some point and try to own something else in his political identity. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, you know, the definition of national security and what it takes to safeguard national security in America is a lot different after the Iraq war than before.  John McCain clearly by experience and by having worked on these issues has a big advantage starting off the campaign over both Democrats in the polls.  On the other hand, to the extent Democrats can argue that he offers simply an extension of a direction, particularly on Iraq, that most Americans still oppose, it becomes a much more freighted issue. 

So, it‘s clearly it is not as simple as it would have been in an earlier period, and there will be reactions like those of your caller there, who basically say he is offering a kind of open-ended commitment to this war at a time when most Americans are still uneasy with that concept. 

GREGORY:  Reading the news of the Clinton campaign‘s financial woes, Chris in Maryland projects a sharp dip in the candidates‘ electoral stock price.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  With the financial woes and the mismanagement of Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, why should we feel confident in her running our country if she can even manage her campaign? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Joe Scarborough, this comes a lot, the question of the biggest thing these candidates have run is their campaign.  Are voters looking at that and looking at money problems, how they run the campaign generally and extrapolating that about how they lead. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No.  They look at whether they win or not and you can look at Hillary Clinton, who had some financial problems after Super Tuesday.  We found out she had to loan herself five million dollars.  That was supposed to be very bad news.  You had the Dunkin‘ Donuts scandal, how much money they were spending on doughnuts and catering, guess what, she did.  She won Texas and Ohio, at least in the popular vote. 

At the end of the day, people do concern themselves only with the results of elections.  I will say this; for those who have suggested that Barack Obama has done nothing really significant in his life other than run for office and hang out in the United States Senate for a year before he started running for president, he has run one of the most extraordinary presidential campaigns in American history already.  And my gosh, I—I never have seen anybody run a presidential campaign like this, a historic campaign with a ruthless efficiency he has. 

I would make that argument were I in the Obama campaign.  They haven‘t done that, which suggests that they are a lot smarter than I am and this caller, because, obviously, voters don‘t care about that. 

FORD:  If you recall a year ago, John McCain spent 23 of the 25 million dollars that he had raised and was near out of money.  I know Senator McCain would hope that‘s not the barometer, as Joe just said really well. 

MADDOW:  The real fiscal responsible candidate, in terms of spending, raising and spending money and not carrying debt, is Ron Paul, who raised more money in the fourth quarter of 2007 than any other Republican candidate, has no debt, is running an incredibly ship shape campaign, even though he‘s out of it now.  I don‘t think those are the grounds on which voters make their decisions. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s your bumper sticker, no debt, no delegates. 

GREGORY:  You can play with our panel every week night here on MSNBC, and get ideas for bumper stickers just like that.  Email us, RACE08@MSNBC.com, phone number 212-790-2299.  Thanks for all of it.  Up next, prediction time.  Ron see as relationship between John McCain‘s exposure and Hillary Clinton‘s support.  This is MSNBC.  It‘s the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Remaining moments here.  Prediction time.  It‘s rapid fire style tonight.  Joe, you are up first. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m going along with Bill Clinton‘s prediction that the polls can be very good for the Democratic party.  I‘m going to focus on the state everybody is focusing on right now, Pennsylvania.  The new numbers are in.  The deadline is upon us for registering to vote.  Democrats have picked up close to a quarter million new voters on the Democratic rolls since the Iowa caucus, back at the beginning of the year.  Republicans have only picked up around 40,000. 

It is going to be a big, big year in 2008 for Democrats, regardless of who the nominee is.  If you need any evidence of it, look no further than Pennsylvania and the party registration.  They have got the voters on their side.  They are going to win.  This is supposed to be a swing state.  If this is happening in a swing state, imagine how a blue state America would look. 

GREGORY:  Harold, prediction time. 

FORD:  Congress is returning from its Easter and religious holiday break.  I predict Capitol Hill Republicans will abandon President Bush and side with Democrats on an economic growth package, with the key part being some kind of intervention to help housing prices stabilize in the country and to cut down on the enormous number of mortgage foreclosures in the country.  George Bush will see his own party say we need a bigger package now. 

GREGORY:  They‘re going to be facing the voters, not him.  Ron Brownstein, what do you see? 

BROWNSTEIN:  The more clearly John McCain moves into the general election mode, as he did today with his speech, the more pressure Hillary Clinton will face from other party leaders to get out of the race.  The real cost to Democrats of this extended race is not the risk that one of these candidates will open an un-closeable wound to the other.  It is the opportunity cost of not being able to define McCain before he defines himself.  The more progress McCain makes on that front, the more eager Democrats will begin to turn to that work and that puts pressure on Hillary Clinton to cede the field. 

GREGORY:  Finally, Rachel Maddow, what do you see? 

MADDOW:  I‘m with Ron on this one.  I think the super delegates are going to start pulling the rug out from underneath Hillary Clinton.  I think Dean‘s call last week that they need to decide before Denver really did resonate with Democrats.  I think Clinton‘s call that she‘s going to stay in it until late August, until the convention, did not rest resonate with people.  Super delegates will start to move. 

GREGORY:  Thank you tonight for a great panel.  I‘m David Gregory That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE for tonight.  Thank you for watching.  See you balk back in Washington tomorrow night, same time, 6:00 Eastern, only on MSNBC.  Stay right there.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now.

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

END   

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