updated 4/10/2008 10:19:57 AM ET 2008-04-10T14:19:57

Guests:  David Gregory, Chuck Todd, Michelle Bernard, Pat Buchanan, Harold Ford Jr.

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I‘m David Gregory, just 13 days until Pennsylvania and the race there is tightening.  Tonight, the poll and the ad wars, and the new Democratic battle over Iraq.  The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to the race, your stop for the fast pace, the “Smart Take,” and every point of view in the room.  At half past the hour, don‘t forget, the big questions tonight, including what did you learn about how the Democrats will manage the war in Iraq from the Petraeus hearings?  And later, your e-mail as well. 

The bedrock of our panel—our show, rather, a panel that comes to play.  And with us tonight, NBC News political director Chuck Todd; MSNBC political analyst and president of the Independent Women‘s Forum, Michelle Bernard; and MSNBC political analyst and former presidential candidate himself, Pat Buchanan. 

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

My headline tonight, the prospect of a January surprise in Iraq.  Both Democrats promise a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops if elected.  Senator Clinton says they will begin to come home within 60 days if she‘s elected president.  Today she accused Senator Obama of making an empty promise to end the war. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Obama, on the other hand, says he‘ll end the war, but his top foreign policy advisers said he won‘t necessarily follow the plan he has been talking about during this campaign, that the plan is just words. 

That‘s the choice.  One candidate will continue the war and keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely.  One candidate only says he‘ll end the war.  And one candidate is ready, willing and able to end the war. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  But even critics of the war argue a rapid withdrawal is a mistake.  Former national security adviser to the senior George Bush, Brent Scowcroft, appeared on “MORNING JOE” this morning.  I was a guest this morning there as well.  And I posed this question to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Is a withdrawal—an orderly withdrawal, even, as senators Clinton and Obama talk about, a recipe for disaster? 

BRENT SCOWCROFT, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  I believe it is, especially premature.  I don‘t think anyone is arguing for a permanent troop presence there, but we have revolutionized Iraq by being there and to turn around now and say, well, we had good intentions, it didn‘t work, let‘s leave and leave the mess to the people in the region to fix, I think it would be a disaster for the United States, for its reputation, for a steadfast ally, and for our position in the world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Here‘s the point, when the heat of the campaign ends, how much pressure will be on a new Democratic president, if that comes to pass?  How much pressure will they face to amend their withdrawal plan if, A, there is more security in Iraq than today?  And B, if General Petraeus says to them, general to president, give me more time or face the consequences?  Something to think about.

Chuck Todd, what‘s your headline tonight? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  It‘s that North Carolina is going to be Hillary Clinton‘s “Achilles Tarheel.” I mean, we need this—

(INAUDIBLE) get serious here in real life, this is not going to be a state that she‘s going to win.  She‘s going to have a hard time winning it and she may have a hard time covering whatever mythical spread she is going to have.  It‘s very tough. 

Both candidates running for governor down there in this primary, on the ballot at the same time as the two Democrat candidates have endorsed Obama.  And one is even paying for advertising to promote the fact that he is endorsing Obama.  I think that tells you how strong the guy is.

GREGORY:  And we‘ve heard a lot of people say, if she can‘t win North Carolina, that could be the end of the race for her.  What about momentum that would come out of a win in Pennsylvania?  Does that change things?

TODD:  It could change things.  It could close the gap a little bit.  And I think that that is sort of the dilemma that she‘s going to face.  She has got to win Pennsylvania by a big enough gap to get some momentum in North Carolina.  But, boy, it is tough. 

You know, North Carolina has got the sort of perfect storm, just like a Virginia: large African-American population, large populations of students, young voters, 11 historically black universities and colleges are in that state.  Throw in this, the large, you know, University of North Carolina system, and throw in the high-educated Research Triangle.  It‘s just the perfect storm of the Barack Obama supporter. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Michelle Bernard, welcome to the program, your headline tonight? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  David, my headline tonight is wake up America, the Democrats are faking you out.  Free trade is here to stay.  In states like Pennsylvania and Ohio and actually frankly throughout the nation where we‘re seeing an economic downturn, one of the things that we are seeing the candidates do is to say to the American public, we‘re going to bring jobs back.  And this is how we‘re going to bring jobs back. 

We‘re going to get rid of NAFTA.  We‘re going to renegotiate NAFTA.  We‘re going to make sure that we don‘t sign a free trade agreement with Colombia.  We‘re going to get rid of free trade.  And this is how we‘re going to get United States workers employed. 

And that‘s just not going to happen.  And what we will see is that come January, regardless of who the next president is, free trade is here to stay.  We will enter into a free trade agreement with Colombia.  If a Democrat happens to be elected in November and takes over the White House in January, that‘s when the Colombian free trade agreement will get signed and business will go on as usual. 

GREGORY:  You know, you never think about free trade tearing families apart, but the reality is in the Clinton family, it does.  Bill Clinton is for a free trade deal with Colombia, and Senator Clinton is not. 

BERNARD:  Well, it actually makes you wonder, what does Bill Clinton and Mark Penn, for that matter, know that Mrs. Clinton and Senator Obama.

GREGORY:  Right.

BERNARD:  . don‘t seem know.  You know, it‘s interesting, many non-partisan economists will tell you that free trade overall is a very good thing for the American public.  It brings in manufacturing jobs.  It helps farmers.  You know, overall, it has nothing but positive impact on our economy. 

Gone are the days of the horse and buggy, free trade is here. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Pat Buchanan, your headline tonight? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  My headline is the U.S. attack on Iran is back on the table, David.  David Petraeus ahs put it there.  He said al-Qods—or the Qods Force in Iran and Hezbollah are behind the mortar rocket attacks on the Green Zone, they were behind the fighting in Basra, that these groups are directed and trained and organized in Iran themselves, that Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, knows about it, promised to stop it, he has not stopped it. 

The key question is why nobody asked General Petraeus, General, when you told the president this, that you‘re being attacked from terrorist base camps in Iran and you asked permission to strike them, what did he say?  Or, did you ask permission? 

GREGORY:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  But I think the logic of his testimony, David, points directly to attacks on Iran or otherwise the president has got to explain why he‘s allowing terrorist base camps to operate, killing Americans, murdering them. 

GREGORY:  It would be a different.

BUCHANAN:  Lieberman said.   

GREGORY:  It would be different than targeting their weapons program.  This would be interference in Iraq.  Do you think the American people would support a tougher stand against Iran in that context? 

BUCHANAN:  Let me tell you who would support it and who would have to.  Hillary Clinton testified—or Hillary Clinton listened to Petraeus‘ testimony where Petraeus agreed with Lieberman, they were murdering hundreds of American soldiers.  She heard Petraeus say that they are behind the attacks in Iraq.  And she herself has voted to declare the Qods Force and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. 

How could she oppose an attack on terrorist organizations killing American soldiers?  I think she will support that attack.

GREGORY:  Let me move on.  NBC News analyst and Democratic Leadership Council Chairman Harold Ford Jr. also with us tonight. 

Harold, good to see you.  Your headline tonight? 

HAROLD FORD JR., NBC ANALYST:  My headline tonight is simple, McCain and Bush are in denial, and Greenspan is right, the country, unfortunately, is in a recession.  We‘ve seen the Congress and the Senate—the Senate over the last few days tried to work the details out on an agreement that would provide some revenue bonds to states to allow taxpayers there and homeowners there to face a little less pressure than they‘re facing.  We‘ve seen some property tax relief directed. 

But I think a bigger package is coming.  I think Republicans in the House and Senate, I‘ve said on this show a few times before, have watched closely.  They watched closely the congressional race in Illinois where Dennis Hastert‘s seat turned Democrat.  And they realize, without a strong, forceful and smart package that‘s directed at homeowners in this country, and even a big one, we face big, big challenges in trying to inject confidence back into this market. 

GREGORY:  And here, the president is talking about more direct relief for the homeowners as this crisis does not go away, it only ratchets up.  All right, a lot more to talk about.  I‘m going to go to a break. 

Coming up, his youth, his inexperience, what do voters think is Barack Obama‘s biggest weakness?  We‘re going to head inside the “War Room” with new numbers there.

Later in the show, your turn to play with the panel.  You can call us at 212-790-2299 or e-mail us, race08@msnbc.com.  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Barack Obama takes on Pennsylvania in a big way.  He‘s pouring money into the Keystone State and putting new ad after new ad on the air there.  Is it working?  When we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back.  Which campaign strategies are working and which are not?  Let‘s head inside the “War Room” to find out.  Back with us, Harold Ford Jr., Chuck Todd, Michelle Bernard, and Pat Buchanan. 

First up tonight, battleground Pennsylvania.  The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Obama as closing the gap there on Senator Clinton.  She‘s still ahead, 50-44 now.  But her head has shrunk from 9 points to just 6 points in the span of one week. 

And look at this, one of the most notable shifts is among women where Clinton is losing ground.  Last week, she dominated, 54 to 37.  Now look at it, Obama has cut into that lead, trailing 41 to 54. 

Chuck Todd, what‘s happening on the ground there? 

TODD:  Well, I think what‘s happening is that Obama‘s resources are starting to take hold.  He has been spending $300,000 a day on television.  He has got a ground game that is probably second to none that Pennsylvania has seen in a long time. 

So I think when you throw that together, he had better be closing the gap.  If the Obama campaign were spending all of this money and they were not seeing movement in polls, they ought to get nervous.  Don‘t forget, he had the six-day bus trip last week.  He had—the fact that he is spending all of this money television. 

So there has been a lot of things happening in the last 10 days. 

Never mind the fact that Hillary Clinton has had nothing but negative news

about her over the last week.  So all of this has come together at a time

that should allow Obama to close.  The question is, can he finish?  He has

we have seen him close in some of these states before.

GREGORY:  Right.  Let‘s talk about the ad wars, after a clean week of positive TV ads between the two camps, more biographical, the mud is starting to fly a little bit.  Just the last 24 hours, the Clinton camp released a new attack ad calling Obama out by name, accusing him of misleading voters in Pennsylvania.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In his TV ads, Barack Obama sounds like he‘ll take on the oil companies. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t take money from oil companies. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What he doesn‘t tell you is that no candidate does, they can‘t.  According to the Annenberg Center‘s factcheck.org, it has been against the law for companies to donate to candidates for 100 years. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  In one of the other ads, we actually saw Obama‘s grandmother, he made those controversial references to her following his race speech last month.  The question is, was it a risky move? 

Pat, you look at the media strategy right now in Pennsylvania, what do you make of it? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I don‘t—I think Chuck Todd is exactly right on why Obama is moving with all this money there.  Mrs. Clinton has had a terrible time of it.  But look, I don‘t know about bringing his grandmother.  I mean, she had been thrown under the bus and described sort of as the Ma Barker, I think, of the social era back then.  And to try to resurrect her, I don‘t think that‘s a wise move, quite frankly, because it simply brings up all of this discussion we‘re doing about the grandmother. 

GREGORY:  Why would he do that, Harold Ford Jr.?  The idea that his grandmother was invoked and she appears in the ad saying that I didn‘t mind him airing some of my views about race, it says something about the conversation he wants to keep having on the race issue and on Reverend Wright. 

FORD:  Well, I think part of Senator Obama‘s biography—or a big part of it, it is the big part of his strength and allure.  I mean, the fact that comes from so many different parts of the world, he represents, in a lot of ways, when we talk about a melting pot of the country. 

But I too would align with what Chuck has said.  If you hadn‘t seen movement in the numbers, there would have to be some concern on the part of the Obama campaign.  Mrs. Clinton though has to be concerned with those numbers closing like that.  Her ad is an admission in many ways that Barack is catching up. 

So anyone that doesn‘t believe those numbers, all you have to do is look at the strategy—the media strategy that the Clinton campaign is pursuing now.  But I would say this, when you have Ed Rendell on your side in Pennsylvania, you can‘t count any campaign out with him on your team.  He is probably the best there is in the business nationally.  Not to discount Bob Casey, but Ed Rendell is the best we have in our party. 

GREGORY:  Let me move on inside the “War Room.” A new Gallup poll highlights a key difference between senators McCain and Obama.  When voters were asked who was the stronger, more decisive leader, McCain beat out Obama 69 to 56.  On the softer side, when it came to the question of who cares about the needs of people like you, Obama topped McCain 66-54. 

As Dick Morris pointed out today: “In an age of terrorism, weakness is a capital crime.” So could this spell some problems for Obama?  You consider the national hangover from the Reverend Wright issue where some of the attacks had to do with questions about whether Obama was un-American by siding with Reverend Wright.  He has talked about negotiations just a recently as yesterday with Iran in terms of dealing with Iraq, and of course, the withdrawal plan from Iraq. 

Michelle Bernard, is this a weakness for Obama? 

BERNARD:  It could be a weakness.  It‘s really going to depend on how he handles it.  The reason that there‘s a difficulty for Senator Obama on this issue is that we‘ll continue to see throughout—through November those pictures—they are very dramatic pictures of Senator McCain when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. 

This man is a war hero.  He is a military strategist.  He is very, very well-respected within both Republican and Democratic circles.  And what Senator Obama does not want to do is to appear too dovish in comparison to Senator McCain, just as Senator McCain does not want to come off as being a warmonger. 

I think what Obama does have on his side is the whole issue of judgment.  And we‘ll have to see what happens. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  David, look, the Republican Party has very, very few cards to play this November.  But the one card they do have is they‘ve got a tough customer, a patriot, a war hero in a time of war.  They will go after Obama as inexperienced, someone who‘s going to embrace these folks, as sort of a 1960s liberal kid who cannot be entrusted with the national security of the United States.  That is the strongest match-up in terms of issues that the Republicans have and they will go right at it. 

GREGORY:  All right.  I have got to take a break here.  With all of the buzz about Condoleezza Rice possibly popping up as John McCain‘s V.P.  choice, what exactly would she bring to the ticket?  Eugene Robinson, friend of the program here, knows.  His “Smart Take” is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) .  

GREGORY:  Welcome back.  It‘s time now for “Smart Takes,” the provocative, the thoughtful, the most informed, we track it down, so you don‘t have to.  Here again, Harold, Chuck, Michelle, and Pat. 

Our first “Smart Take” here, the latest Gallup poll shows the impact education is having on the Democratic race.  Look at these numbers, Clinton wins Democrats with a high school diploma or less, 53 percent support here, 40 percent support Obama.  Obama wins college educated Democrats 59 to 35.  And among Democrats with graduate degrees an even bigger spread, 64 percent for Obama, just 30 percent for Clinton.

Chuck Todd, is there a warning flag there for Obama? 

TODD:  There is a little bit.  We‘ve seen this before, Gore/Bradley, there was the same split.  Clinton/Tsongas in ‘92, similar split.  Mondale/Hart in ‘84, had we been doing good polling like this, I‘m guessing, same split. 

One big difference, Obama gets African-American voters.  And that has been the difference of why he hasn‘t come up short the way Gary Hart came up short, the way Tsongas came up short, and the way Bill Bradley came up short. 

So that combination of liberal elites and African-Americans has proved to be a winning combination in the Democratic primary.  And I think that was the experiment we were all wondering about when we saw Obama jump in. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Our second “Smart Take” tonight has to do with troubles in the Clinton campaign.  Politico‘s Roger Simon says Hillary Clinton‘s biggest mistake was actually back in Iowa, losing there.  “Clinton‘s loss in Iowa was a critical one,” he writes, “because she was no longer inevitable.  She had led Obama into the game.  She had led a candidate with money and a message get off to a running start.  The Clinton campaign had no mid-game strategy.  It was sure after Super Tuesday Obama would be finished, brushed away like a pesky mosquito.  As it turned out, Obama had both a strategy and the money to execute it.  His campaign knew what the race was really about: the acquisition of pledged delegates.”

And, Pat, now, resources, the money starting to play out in states like Pennsylvania. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I disagree to this extent, I think Obama ran a fantastic campaign in Iowa.  You can‘t take it away from him.  And I do agree that she had a bad trip out there in Iowa.  But in my judgment, you know, Obama is winning this thing.  He was rookie of the year sort of coming in, I didn‘t think he would do that well.  He has been a tremendous candidate, David.  You just can‘t take it away from him. 

GREGORY:  Finally tonight, the GOP veepstakes.  Eugene Robinson says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could put some pizzazz on the McCain ticket.  To the quote board.

“Rice would provide three things that McCain could really use:

relative youth, undeniable pizzazz, and a photogenic diversity.  The Republican Party is in danger of presenting a ticket that looks like tintype portrait of yesterday while the Democratic Party shows the nation a YouTube video of tomorrow.”           

He also writes, Michelle, that there‘s an experience factor with Condoleezza Rice that‘s undeniable, even if she‘s tied to the war in Iraq, your take?

BERNARD:  I‘ve got to tell you, I think Condoleezza Rice would be fantastic on the McCain ticket, if that were to happen.  I think millions of Americans will be thrilled.  She actually spoke at an event at the Independent Women‘s Forum two years ago, and she got up and she gave a speech very similar to something that we saw Barack Obama did. 

And she sat up and spoke to a very conservative audience and basically said, who would have ever thought that after being a descendent of slaves that I would become secretary of state of the United States?  She talked very easily about race, about international women‘s rights, about human rights.  I think she would be fantastic and do—really boost the McCain campaign. 

GREGORY:  But, Harold, she‘s a political novice.  What kind of appeal, politically, do you think she might have? 

FORD:  I agree with Michelle whole-heartedly.  It would bring not only an interest and intrigue to the McCain ticket, it would give people whom frankly have found the Republican Party to be, frankly, inconsiderate and insensitive to the needs of regular people.  She has a wonderful story and her rise to prominence politically is something that would help her overcome what limited experience she has in electoral politics. 

As a Democrat, I hope they don‘t choose her.  As an American, I think it would make a very interesting race. 

BUCHANAN:  I think there would be a real problem.

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to take a break here, I just.

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s a real problem, David.  She is identified totally with the foreign policy of the Bush administration, which is a failure, and I think she‘s too far left on social issues, cultural issues.  She would deepen the wedge in the Republican Party. 

GREGORY:  All right.  I have got to get a break in here.  I want to—one note for our viewers, we‘re keeping our eye on the protests in San Francisco that you may have heard about over the Olympic torch relay.  Officials just cancelled the planned closing ceremony at the San Francisco Bay Waterfront.  We‘ll keep an eye on it.  We‘re coming right back.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.   Time now for the three questions.  Still with us, NBC News analyst and chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council Harold Ford Jr, NBC News political director Chuck Todd, MSNBC political analyst and president of the Independent Women‘s Forum Michelle Bernard and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

Our first question tonight; while the Democrats are still duking it out over change and experience, John McCain is looking to the general election.  He‘s facing two very different campaigns depending on whether he will run against Obama or Hillary Clinton.  Our first question tonight: will McCain be Mr. Change or Mr. Experience when it comes to the fall?  Chuck Todd? 

TODD:  If it‘s Obama, he is going to have to be Mr. Experience.  It‘s a place that I think he‘s going to be less comfortable.  He‘d really like to be matched up against Hillary Clinton.  It‘s his natural place to be.  He gets to be the maverick.  He gets to be the change guy.  He gets to be anti-establishment. 

Against Obama, he‘s stuck in the establishment box.  You can almost see him uncomfortable now as he‘s been grappling with being with Obama already, as the campaigns have been engaging.   

FORD:  To add to Chuck, whether it‘s Hillary or Barack—it would be easier against Barack—he‘s got to make himself a bit of a change candidate.  To Pat‘s point a little earlier with Condoleezza Rice, I would agree with some of his analysis there.  One thing Democrats will do is try to frame McCain, obviously, as a third term of Bush.  He will have to differentiate himself and make himself somewhat of a change candidate.  It would be easier, I would agree, against Hillary than Barack. 

GREGORY:  But he wants, Pat Buchanan, to make the experience argument, that Obama is reckless or that he is naive or that he is simply inexperienced.  It‘s essentially the race that Hillary Clinton has been running against Obama, not with much success yet. 

BUCHANAN:  I think that‘s exactly right.  I believe McCain has to be the solid force that‘s going to lead this country through deeply troubled times.  The best news for McCain tonight in the show here is the fact that it‘s those Reagan Democrats, the folks that didn‘t graduate from high school or just graduated from high school, the Democrats who have came over to Republicans on cultural and social issues.  They are Hillary Clinton‘s voters.  McCain can possibly get them. 

As for the liberal elites and the kids, John McCain is not going to get those folks against Barack Obama.  He has them locked up. 

GREGORY:  It‘s a good point, I think, and something the Obama campaign is going to be thinking about.  Next up, the war in Iraq.  In all likelihood, we saw the next commander in chief question the top commander on the ground yesterday.  All three candidates expressed strong opinions about the surge and the future of U.S. involvement.  Our second question today, broad based, what did we learn about how the candidates would handle Iraq as president?  Big picture here Michelle, what‘s the take away? 

BERNARD:  The take away for me, David, really was we didn‘t learn anything about what any of the candidates were going to do.  I think John McCain was, obviously, in my opinion, the most pragmatic about it.  Regardless of what any of these candidates tell you, the bottom line is for whomever is president in January of ‘09, we are going to be in Iraq for a long time.  That‘s the bottom line and it‘s really just political hijinx to be telling the American public that we‘re going to withdrawal troops. 

Whatever we heard from any of the candidates yesterday, we really didn‘t get a clear idea of how they are going to do it and also make sure our nation is secure.  Iraq is a greenhouse for terrorism and nobody is talking about it. 

GREGORY:  Harold, what about the idea that if General Petraeus says to a new Democratic president I have to have more time for troops.  I know you want to set a withdrawal timetable; give me more time.  Don‘t you think it‘s possible to say OK, let‘s amend a little bit what I campaigned on.  The heat of the campaign is over, now it‘s time to lead. 

FORD:  I don‘t think there‘s any doubt.  I think Michelle is right.  Democrats have to find a new narrative on this.  I want to add this though, I think Hillary and Barack touched on a point yesterday that Senator McCain did not.  It was somewhat lost.  The question is this, if the president is going to develop a long term security strategy for Iraq, or a longer term one, he and General Petraeus over the next few months, one that will at least extend beyond President Bush‘s time in the White House; does Congress not have the right—should Congress not have the opportunity to weigh in?  I think that‘s an important question, whether you agree we should stay or not. 

I happen to think we can‘t leave prematurely.  I differ a little bit from McCain.  I differ a little bit from the Democrats.  I agree with Michelle, we‘re going to have to have a presence.  Congress should have a say on this.  I thought Hillary and Barack, particularly Hillary, drove down that a little bit yesterday.  Even in her speech today in Pennsylvania I thought did a good job on that.   

GREGORY:  Pat, you could see a scenario where a Democratic president would say, OK, I will step away from the plan of 60 days to start a withdrawal, but I‘m going to set a deadline.  I will push that back, but I‘m going to set a time table because I think we need that leverage against the Iraqi government. 

BUCHANAN:  I think McCain is lashed to the mast on Iraq.  I think that‘s where he wants to be.  I agree, David, if and when a Democrat is elected, whether it‘s Hillary Clinton or Obama, they are going to start talking about their 16 month withdrawal deadline.  Petraeus will ask for more time if he‘s still commander.  I think the thing is going to be in the lap of the Democratic party.  Frankly, I think the Democrats have to pull out.  The base of their party is too adamant on this issue.  They would tear it apart.

That means to me that the Democrats could be held responsible and accountable, as they were for the loss of China and the loss of Vietnam, for the loss of Iraq.  That‘s what‘s staring down the gun barrel of the Democratic party because of the way Bush and Petraeus have held this thing out and kept it going all the way to January. 

GREGORY:  Chuck Todd is on deck.  Finally, do presidential campaigns foreshadow presidencies?  “The Washington post‘s” Peter Beinart says yes and offers this evidence: to the quote board, “Jimmie Carter ran as a moralistic outsider in ‘76.  He governed that way as well, refusing to compromise.  Reagan campaign‘s campaign looked harsh on paper but warm and fuzzy on TV.  The ‘92 Clinton campaign was like the Clinton administration, brilliant and chaotic, with a penchant for near death experiences, and the 2000 Bush campaign presaged the Bush presidency, disciplined, hierarchical, loyal and ruthless.”

Third question, Chuck, what could the Clinton, McCain and Obama campaigns predict about their presidencies? 

TODD:  Well, I think with McCain, it could have the same near death experiences and the fact that he‘s more comfortable with smaller groups of advisors, almost less folks inside.  With Clinton, I‘ll tell you, do you want this as a measurement or not?  The Obama campaign has been pushing this idea that the fact that they have had a smooth operation proves that he can be a CEO, that he can be a manager.  That fact that she has had a rocky campaign, hasn‘t had a good plan, didn‘t figure out how to deal with the caucuses, all these other problems, shows that maybe she won‘t know how to run the West Wing very well.  Maybe it will be a throw back to the Clinton years in a negative way. 

I don‘t know.  I think sometimes we read too much into this stuff, but you have to say there has to be something to it.  Obviously, good campaigns win.  Campaigns that do shake ups rarely do. 

GREGORY:  Michelle, the bottom line is, what do we know about these people and how they make decisions, how they deal with stress, and how do we judge them based on organizations they have run?  This is the biggest organization they have likely run. 

BERNARD:  It‘s a fabulous question.  The only way that we can really gauge how they will deal with these issues is by what we have watched.  With Senator McCain, his campaign was called for dead.  The media paid absolutely no attention to him last summer.  He resurrected his campaign.  He resurrected himself.  He‘s the presumptive nominee of the Republican party.  So what that tells us is he‘s a go getter.  He is going to keep fighting.  He will fight until the very end.  He‘s not going to give up. 

Obama, he‘s shown us he thinks outside the box.  He‘s able to reach out to Democrats.  He‘s able to reach out to Republicans.  He is good with free market policies on some issues.  No in-fighting, very smooth campaign.  We can expect, I would assume, if he‘s the Democratic nominee. 

For Senator Clinton, we‘ve seen mass defections.  We‘ve seen a lot of problems politically that have really done her campaign some harm, a little bit reminiscent of her husband‘s presidency.  I would assume, based on what we have seen to date, that‘s what we might see if she becomes elected the next president of the United States. 

GREGORY:  It becomes a question, Pat Buchanan, if you look what‘s happened inside Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, Mark Penn, others who left the campaign, tacking back and forth, it‘s not just a distraction.  It starts to matter at some point, in terms of how people perceive the way you run things. 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s right, but I would see a Hillary Clinton presidency and a McCain presidency much as we see their campaigns, which is dealing with reality, making mistakes, making blunders.  I think the real question is, when Barack Obama‘s poetry collides with the pros of the White House and the reality of it, I don‘t think it‘s going to stand the test.  I think he‘s gliding into the presidency sort of above the storms and the other things down there at 5,000 feet, where Hillary is and where McCain is.  I think that‘s going to be the great question; if Barack wins this thing—the idea that you can sit down and talk to these fellows and your personality can change things in the world is frankly preposterous.   

GREGORY:  Harold, final point here on what we‘ve learned about how they‘ve run these campaigns? 

FORD:  We‘ve learned that Barack Obama, who came from nowhere, has put together a campaign that‘s put him on top of the Democratic primary.  We‘ve learned that Hillary Clinton may be the most resilient and toughest candidate we‘ve seen in 20 years in a Democratic primary.  We‘ve learned that John McCain is a survivor and fighter as well. 

I think Pat makes a decent point.  You don‘t glide to the presidency.  You have to win it.  If he‘s the nominee, he will have one fight on his hand against John McCain in the fall.  I think the country will get a true measure of him or Hillary Clinton and an even greater measure of John McCain.

GREGORY:  Going to take a break here.  Coming up, our viewers want to know what our panel thinks of Hillary Clinton calling on President Bush to boycott the Olympic opening ceremonies.  It‘s not too late to have your own play date with the panel.  Call us, 212-790-2299 or e-mail us at RACE08@MSNBC.com.  THE RACE will come right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back now on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Time for you to play with the panel.  Still with us, Harold Ford Jr., Chuck Todd, Michelle Bernard and Pat Buchanan.  Chelsea in California has a question on the issue of boycotting the Olympics.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I had a question to pose on what your panel thought about Hillary Clinton‘s idea to boycott the Olympic games, opening ceremony, not the games itself? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Chuck Todd, what do you think the politics of this is for Clinton, to get out in front on this? 

TODD:  I think it does some good with some labor groups, particularly at a time when big labor is upset at her.  I tell you, it does feels like an odd protest.  I know some other western leaders are thinking about doing this.  The opening ceremonies are about the athletes.  Are you punishing your own country‘s athletes by not going as a commander or as a leader? 

GREGORY:  Moving on, many upset over remarks Army Staff Sergeant David Bellavia made yesterday when he introduced John McCain at a Vets for Freedom rally.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID BELLAVIA, VETS FOR FREEDOM:  Rest assured that men like Senator McCain will be the—the goal and the men that my two young boys will emulate and admire.  You can have your Tiger Woods, we have Senator McCain. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Harold Ford Jr., where are these surrogates coming from and do these campaigns have more responsibility to police them? 

FORD:  Where I come from, when someone says something like that, we just say bless their heart.  He didn‘t mean any harm.  He tried his hardest.  Hopefully, Senator McCain felt good about the intro and got up there and gave a good speech.  Let the young man talk.   

GREGORY:  Michelle, it‘s a real issue.  Chuck wrote about this in First Read today, about the apology being such a staple in this campaign.  In some cases, these are candidates having to apologize for the people who are the warm up band. 

BERNARD:  They are to worry about their surrogates.  I have to tell you, I think this is a very close call.  I know that there are people who feel that this statement sniffs of racism.  I don‘t see it.  As we see more and more African Americans like Barack Obama and like Tiger Woods really be at the top of their game and reach the pinnacles of what we call Horatio Alger and the American success story, we can‘t get upset when you compare somebody or compare one another. 

He didn‘t compare him to some gangster rapper like Suge Night.  I can‘t imagine any golfer who would mind the comparison to Tiger Woods.  Lindsey Graham saved the day yesterday, and I believed said that if Tiger Woods was watching and would play one round of golf with him, he would drop Senator McCain like a hot potato. 

FORD:  I‘m rooting for Tiger this weekend. 

GREGORY:  The Reverend Wright controversy has Marcy asking if presidential candidates can win without a prayer.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I would like to know if it would be possible for an American to get elected to office or the presidency being an atheist? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  I don‘t know, Pat Buchanan.  I think religion is an important part of this country and an important part of how people view their leadership. 

BUCHANAN:  No way would they get elected.  I think there‘s only one member of Congress who officially puts himself down as an atheist.  I think that‘s Pete Stark.  You automatically lose a tremendous slice of the national audience unnecessarily. 

GREGORY:  Chuck, do you agree with that? 

TODD:  I do.  It‘s something like 85 percent of the country, 90 percent believes in god.  We have the words under god on our tender.  It‘s in the Pledge of Allegiance.  I don‘t think the country is there. 

GREGORY:  We‘ve been talking about raising eyebrows on the campaign trail.  Michelle Obama is back on the campaign trail, raising eyebrows again.  Yesterday, she delivered remarks at Winston Salem State University.  In complimenting the mayor on her outfit, she said I‘m a big fan of accessories, I‘m married to one.  One viewer didn‘t think Michelle was so funny; “perhaps Michelle Obama has some great shoes and she likes to eat her foot so much.  Seriously, proving you are a woman does not mean stooping to the ‘Sex and the City‘ level of comparing your husband, who is running for president of the United States, to an accessory.”

I don‘t know, Michelle, I‘m scratching my head a little bit.  What does she mean here?  Maybe I didn‘t get the joke. 

BERNARD:  I have to tell you, I‘m a female and I don‘t get the joke either.  I suspect that comment could be dangerous for her, particularly in the African-American community, where we see African American women being very protective of their men.  I don‘t know that she meant—I‘m sure she didn‘t mean it in a negative way.  She obviously loves her husband.  It‘s questionable.  I have no idea what she was talking about. 

GREGORY:  It‘s always endearing when Michelle Obama or somebody else knocks their spouse down a peg, you know, especially when they are so popular, as both Clinton and Obama are in the Democratic party. 

TODD:  I agree.  Look, I think this one—I think I got it.  Maybe she was saying he‘s arm candy.  I‘m not sure.  Either way, I think it was very light hearted here.  This one seemed like we are getting into politically correctness to the nth degree.  You brought up the apologies.  At some point, a lot of the country is going to yell, stop already.  Can‘t we just have normal conversation. 

GREGORY:  Mike in Missouri thinks we might be past endorsements.  he writes the following, “Richardson‘s endorsement only meant something because of the timing after the Reverend Wright issue and because of his close ties to the Clintons.  What impact, if any, will an Edwards endorsement have on the Democratic race?”

It‘s something that we have talked a lot about, Harold.  Chuck is talking about North Carolina being a potential blowout for Obama.  If Edwards is going to endorse somebody, he should do it before North Carolina. 

FORD:  If he endorses Hillary Clinton, it will have an impact.  I think the caller or writer‘s remarks are partially on, if not largely on.  If he endorses before North Carolina and endorses Hillary Clinton, it will have an impact.  The other side is John Edwards‘ endorsement is he ran for president and made it to the final three.  He talked about change.  He talked about—we all believe he cares and know he cares deeply about the country.  His weighing in would probably have a larger impact than others, certainly have a bigger impact than my friend Governor Richardson. 

GREGORY:  You can play with the panel every night here on MSNBC. 

Email us, Race08@MSNBC.com.  The phone number on your screen, 212-790-2299.  Up next, predictions; Pat sees another war just around the corner.  This is MSNBC, the place for politics.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Finally tonight, prediction time, our panelists‘ chance to pear into their crystal balls, look a little deeper into ‘08 and to tell us what to expect.  Here again, Harold, Chuck, Michelle and Pat.  Chuck, your prediction tonight. 

TODD:  I think we‘re seeing the birth of a new politician.  General David Petraeus, this is a guy that clearly is showing he can perform in front of cameras.  He seems to be auditioning.  We‘ve already heard rumors of Petraeus as a running mate.  I was looking up to see where he has lived.  He was born and raised in New York, spent time in Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina.  It‘s the New York thing I‘m obsessed with.  Petraeus versus Clinton, 2012 for the Senate seat, the next time she‘s up for reelection.

In all seriousness, Petraeus looks like a man running for office some day. 

GREGORY:  You think he wants it?  You think he‘s got it in his gut?

TODD:  Everything—You sort of see it, but you also hear rumblings about it.  This is more real than people realize.  The question is, would he allow himself to be demoted to US senator or does he immediately want to be a commander in chief some day? 

GREGORY:  Pat, what do you see coming? 

BUCHANAN:  I think there‘s now a 50/50 chance that President Bush will order attacks on Iran, specifically on the Quds force camps there, the base camps before November.  I think the reason is that General Petraeus has frankly painted him into a corner by saying these folks are directing,  organizing attacks that are killing Americans.  They are behind the firing into the green zone, which is targeting our diplomats and our soldiers.  I think there‘s a question on the president‘s desk, why sir are you tolerating these attacks by a terrorist organization on our soldiers in Iraq, when you are their commander in chief, who has an obligation to protect them.  I would not be surprised to see it come before November now. 

GREGORY:  Do you think the Iraqi government would stand up and support such a move? 

BUCHANAN:  I think Maliki might do it.  The ball is really in the president‘s court.  Petraeus has said they are killing us out of Iran, sir.  He‘s told the country that. 

GREGORY:  It‘s not just nuclear weapons.  It‘s also direct interference into Iraq.  Harold, what do you see tonight. 

FORD:  I don‘t believe President Bush will attend the opening ceremonies in China.  I think the political pressure, not only here at home, which will be intense, but from our allies around the globe, particularly our European friends, will make it very, very uncomfortable, if not totally painful politically and otherwise for this president to make the trip. 

GREGORY:  Do you think he initiates any diplomacy with China to try to head that off, to get the Chinese to back down, to meet with the Dalai Lama before making such a step? 

FORD:  There would have to be a significant and ground breaking development.  For the Chinese government to engage in talks with the Dalai Lama would be enormous, in and of itself.  If President Bush was able to broker that, of course that would change the prediction.  If things stay as they are, I don‘t see him making the trip.  The pressure would be too intense and too great to do that. 

GREGORY:  We‘ll be watching.  Michelle, what do you see tonight? 

BERNARD:  David, my prediction is that Senator McCain has recovered from his foot in mouth disease.  Yesterday in questioning General Petraeus before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he made a quick slip up that he recovered from pretty quickly, in confusing the Sunni and Shia Muslim sects.  I think that gone are the days when we will see Senator Lieberman whispering over Senator McCain‘s shoulders and explaining to him what a Sunni and a Shia Muslim is and the fact that al Qaeda is Sunni and not Shia.  I think Senator McCain is going to be strong and he‘s going to demonstrate to the American public that he has strong political and moral leadership and will lead us out of Iraq in a way that secures the American interests. 

GREGORY:  Do you think he threaded the needle yesterday, being both skeptical of Petraeus and supportive of the surge? 

BERNARD:  I think he did the absolute best that he could.  I think it was very critical for him to have any kind of support from the American public, that he not be completely pro-Petraeus, pro-the surge, that he ask very difficult questions, which he did.  He did a very good job of demonstrating his support for the surge in Iraq. 

GREGORY:  All right, thanks very much for the panel tonight.  I‘m David Gregory.  That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Thanks for watching.  See you back here at 6:00 eastern tomorrow night.  HARDBALL up next.

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

END   

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