updated 4/16/2008 11:30:26 AM ET 2008-04-16T15:30:26

Guests: Jay Carney, Mike Murphy

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  You are looking live at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, the scene of the HARDBALL “College Tour,” Chris Matthews as you just wrapped up an interview with Senator John McCain.  We‘re going to pick it up from here with the highlights with the panel.

Chris‘ take on the hour and yours as well.  We‘ll read the e-mails and play your voice mails.  RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.

Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, a special edition, post game edition, if you like.  I‘m David Gregory.  This is your stop for the fast pace, the bottom line and every point of the view in the room.  This is the scene back at Villanova University‘s Pavilion where Chris Matthews and Senator John McCain just wrapped up the HARDBALL “College Tour.”

You watched the interview, now to the analysis.  The panel will weigh in on the highlights, Chris will give you his take one on one and we‘re going to cover it all including three big questions coming up a little bit later on THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.

The foundation of the program, as you know, a panel that comes to play.  And with us tonight host of the “Rachel Maddow Show,” on Air America, Rachel Maddow, “Washington Post” columnist and associate editor Eugene Robinson, both MSNBC political analysts.  “Time” magazine‘s Washington bureau chief is here, Jay Carney.  And we are expecting to hear and see Republican strategist Mike Murphy in just a couple of minutes.

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

Today‘s headline, McCain unplugged.  The HARDBALL “College Tour” you have been watching for the past hour here on MSNBC.  We now get the panel to weigh in on some of the highlights and we begin with a question about Barack Obama and his comments as controversial as they were at a San Francisco fund raiser about Pennsylvania rural voters and whether it branded Obama as an elitist.

This is McCain‘s comment.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is Barack Obama an elitist?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  No.  But I do believe that his statements were elitist.  I think the comments about America and small towns in Pennsylvania which I guess would apply to across America, the values and the faith that they have, I think is immutable and unshakable.  I think that the fact that they like to hunt has nothing to do with their economic conditions.  I think that they respect and cherish the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and I think their faith, as I said, is something that goes on in bad times and good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rachel, too good of him to pass up, McCain couldn‘t let it alone, he wanted to put his stamp on this controversy.

MADDOW:  The interesting thing to me about this is that McCain is not choosing to add anything to the Hillary Clinton critique of Barack Obama on this.  That could have just as easily come out of Hillary Clinton‘s mouth and I think a lot of Democrats have been angry at the Clinton campaign because it does sound like she‘s spinning Republican talking points.  That proof is maybe in the pudding there when you hear John McCain, an actual Republican go after Obama on this and add nothing to the critique.

GREGORY:  Jay, what do you say?

JAY CARNEY, “TIME MAGAZINE”:  He altered his answer a little bit, David, when he said that did not believe that Barack Obama himself was an elitist, even though his comments were, yesterday he said he didn‘t know Obama well enough.  I think McCain is trying to have it both ways, he‘s trying to exploit what‘s clearly a gaffe by Senator Obama.  But he also as he said during the interview with Chris on HARDBALL, is pledging to keep on the high road during this campaign.  While a lot of surrogates and others in the Republican Party have been aiming pretty low below the belt against Obama on this, McCain‘s trying to keep it steady.

GREGORY:  The war in Iraq obviously came up as an issue.  Gene Robinson, and Chris asked about this 100 years comment.  How long will U.S.  troops be in Iraq?  This is what McCain said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  After this war is won, then we may or may not—I hope that maybe there‘s a security arrangement such as we have with Kuwait or other countries.  But maybe not.

But Chris, the point is American casualties.  If we would have had a continuous loss of brave young Americans in South Korea after the armistice, I think Americans would have said bring them home.  But as you say, they didn‘t.  So the key to it is American casualties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  An important point.  I found throughout this hour that he was calibrating his responses realizing he had a college audience there and he is in a tough fight for the youth vote on issues like the war, climate change and others.  What did you think of the answer?

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”:  I thought there were two points there in that answer that are really vulnerabilities that the Democrats could go after, which ever Democrat gets nominated will go after in the fall.  The first is he says after the war is won.  And, you know, neither John McCain nor George Bush has I think defined adequately for the American people what winning this war would look like.  What is winning this war?  Who are we fighting against anyhow?  Is it the Shiites?  Is it the Sunnis? 

It‘s a very amorphous concept.

And the other one is positing that we‘ll stay for 100 years if it‘s like Korea and there‘s no casualties, and if there were casualties, well, of course, there would be clamor for him to bring them home.  How does he get from point A to point B?  We‘re very much at point A right now.  There are casualties right now, there‘s chaos, there‘s a huge gap there, a kind of leap of faith, that somehow we‘re supposed to get to this condition of post war Korea after all the unpleasantries and let them invent Hyundai Iraq.  I don‘t know how we get there.

GREGORY:  We don‘t have a definition of what constitutes stability sufficient for troops to withdraw and those troops who stay there to pull back to a safer kind of occupation or security arrangement with the Iraqis.

CARNEY:  I think it‘s a huge problem for Senator McCain because not only is he not able to explain what the conditions are that would allow that moment to arrive, but General David Petraeus couldn‘t do it last week or wouldn‘t do it last week either.  And while a vision for us in relative peace sounds nice as a stabilizing force in the region in the Middle East, if he can‘t, by November, give some kind of time frame for that or some sort of end point where he says, look, if we can‘t get a stable country in Iraq by this point, then we‘re out, I don‘t think Americans are going to want to sign on to a violent conflict for many more years.  And this is hard for McCain to deal with.

MADDOW:  I would just jump in and say, that the Democrats, when the Democrats do have a nominee and they start going after him on this stuff, McCain actually has said very explicitly many times in the past two weeks what he thinks about success in Iraq, it‘s an Iraq that‘s stable, prosperous, democratic, religiously tolerant, at peace with its neighbors, fighting terrorism, not allied with Iran and welcomes international entities.  That doesn‘t apply to have many countries outside of Scandinavia at this point in the world.  He said that‘s what success is.  To talk about what that means that that‘s what we can look to as the date when Americans can come home, I think is going to be incredibly hard for him to defend.

GREGORY:  Let me move on.  It was a student who brought up Obama‘s

reference to a typical white person and turned tables on McCain and asking

him if he considered himself to be a typical white person.

Watch the response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I can‘t comment directly as to how I portray myself.  I do believe that I will present a vision of optimism and strength and the profound belief in conviction that America‘s best days lie ahead of us.

I think Americans, all Americans want a respectful campaign.  They want that and they want it very badly.  And I‘ll conduct that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Gene, what does it tell you about some messages that McCain is sending about the type of campaign he would want to have with Obama and how carefully he‘ll tread on the issue of race.

ROBINSON:  If you recall, right before that sound bite, he complemented Obama on the speech and talked about how important a speech it was and how important it was for the country to have heard it.  It‘s very clear, this is not the first time he‘s done this.  He‘s essentially saying, look, we‘re going to put this race stuff off limits if you and I are running and essentially saying, I‘m not going after this guy on racial grounds.  You know, I would like it to be about healing and reconciliation, which I think is an admirable thing for McCain to say.

GREGORY: One of the things that‘s going to be huge in this campaign, of course, President Bush, Chris asked him right off the bat, differences with President Bush, where do you see him?  This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  How will you be different than President Bush?

MCCAIN:  Well, I think that there‘s many philosophies and views and vision that we share for America.  There are other areas, specific areas in which we are in disagreement.

An area of disagreement?  Climate change, I believe that climate

change is real and I think we have to act.  I have said that for many, many

years

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Jay, it‘s an interesting answer because it‘s an issue that does paint a real red line between the administration.  Climate change is not just about climate change, it‘s also about how you get on with the rest of the world, particularly Europe, and this is an area where Bush butted heads with the international community right away.

CARNEY:  That‘s right and climate change, also don‘t forget plays very well with younger audiences and in particular college audiences so it was a smart answer in that regard.  And it is a clear red line.  Remember, there are fewer red lines between Bush and McCain as there used to be, as Senator McCain tried to secure the nomination for the Republican Party, he embraced President Bush in ways that he hadn‘t always in the past and now I think as he pivots a little more back to the center, a little more back to the maverick John McCain that he had been in the past, we‘ll hear him articulate those dumps quite frequently.  I don‘t think George Bush or anybody in the White House has much of a problem with that because they know that‘s what he has to do to win.

GREGORY:  Real quick, Rachel, are people going to buy that or are they just going to remember being linked on Iraq here at the end of the administration.

MADDOW:  Well, I do think McCain said that - as Jay points out, it‘s a good line for college audiences, a good line for independents.  Not to rush to George Bush‘s defense here, but I‘m not sure that McCain is actually drawing a distinction between him and Bush on that.  Bush hasn‘t said that he doesn‘t believe in global warming, he just hasn‘t done anything about it as president.  He‘s not a denier along the lines of James Inhofe.  McCain has to really talk about what he would do differently than bush, just what he believes, right.

ROBINSON:  He does say he would do something, though.

MADDOW:  He does say he would do something, so does Bush, nothing‘s happened.

CARNEY:  It‘s important to note Senator McCain, not to carry his water here, has introduced legislation with Joe Lieberman that addresses global climate change.  He hasn‘t just talked about it in the past.

GREGORY:  There‘s also a big philosophical debate as to whether you force government to implement actual restrictions in carbon emissions that lead to climate change, big philosophical difference I think with President Bush as we‘ve seen with Europe.

And we want to move on.  We want to know what you think about the McCain interview on HARDBALL.  You can call us, 212-790-2299.  The e-mail, race08@msnbc.com.  RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE will come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Time to head inside the war rooms of the campaigns to see which strategies are working and which are not.  Back with us, Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, Jay Carney and Republican strategist Mike Murphy.  Mike, thanks for being here.  First, in the war room, Barack Obama tells the editorial board of the “Philadelphia Inquirer” that his bitter comment was a good thought that came out bad.  Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The problem actually with this most recent episode is not that I was saying that I was saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else in public.  I have said it in town hall meetings in small towns.  You know, the problem was that I just mangled it, as a wise older woman who was talking to me the other day said, you misspoke, be you didn‘t lie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Mike Murphy, is he helps himself with the explanation of the explanation?

MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think he needs to get a little crisper than what I just saw.  I think Senator Obama‘s problem is it was a classic campaign gaffe, and while the words cling, and some of his construction were, as he says in his retreat there, were unfortunate, but the position he‘s going to be stuck in, particularly after the primary if he is as I believe he will be the nominee, is the idea he was expressing that he believes in, is that appropriate?  Do people in small towns like the Second Amendment rights of having guns and hunting and all that, do they have some of these political opinions, are they interested in their church because of economic reasons?  That‘s the idea he‘s still defending that is his ultimate problem at least in a general election and I don‘t think he‘s done much to fix that at all.

GREGORY:  Rachel, he‘s trying to get into what he meant, get into the substance of the analysis that he was offering.  You think there was a legitimate argument to be made there rather than just the caricature of what he said.  So is he doing better?

MADDOW:  You‘re right.  I do think there‘s a great argument to be made here.  If I were an Obama advisor, I would tell him to pivot forward on this, go on the offense on this point as Mike was saying rather being kind of on the defensive and flatfooted as we just heard him in that tape.

Obama could pivot from this and actually this might be an opportunity for him to turn and make the great aggressive speech on class and how economic values of the working class in America have not been served by Democrats or Republicans.  Give a real John Edwards economic populist speech that talks about class in a tough way the way he has talked about race in a tough way.  This could be actually an opportunity for him to articulate some core Democratic values, some real differences between Democrats and Republicans on economic issues, if he would take it on the offense.  He‘s still on defense and that looks bad.

MURPHY:  That‘s the difference.  Republicans see this as about culture and Democrats always want it to be about class and that‘s the tension here and it‘s going to make for a very interesting general election.

GREGORY:  I got to get another break in here.  We‘re going to hear from Chris Matthews in just a minute, when THE RACE returns, he will join us from Villanova University to break down his exclusive HARDBALL “College Tour” and his interview with John McCain.  What‘s his headline?  We‘re going to find out right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back now on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Your after action analysis on the HARDBALL “College Tour,” with Senator John McCain you can see that by the way at 7:00 Eastern as well.  We‘re joined by Chris Matthews who conducted the interview from HARDBALL.  Chris, the headline for your interview as you see it tonight?

MATTHEWS:  I think there are four depending on how you count it, number one, an easy one is he said that Rom Ridge, the very popular former governor here, you could tell he was popular by the applause, a two term governor of Pennsylvania he said will not be on the ticket because he is pro choice, he says that is a deal breaker for his running mate.  Which I think sets the standard for the country.  That will tell you Rudy Giuliani is not going to be his running mate and any other pro-choice Republican.  I thought that was a headline.

Secondly he said he‘s going to stick it to Barack Obama if he is the Democratic nominee on the issue of federal funding.  He said Barack Obama promised publicly that he would go along with any republican who wanted to agree to limit their spending on federal money.  He‘s going to stick it to him on that.  He also think it‘s interesting that he said he would like to hold a meeting - I pushed him a bit but he said he would like to hold a meeting with the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, and agree, no more sleazy 527 ads.  That they would agree up front to work together to shoot down any swift boating type of ads put on by so called independent groups and he sounded like was confident that in the past he‘s been able to shut these things down and he‘s said so.

Fourth and this is the biggest story that is going to take some reading in the transcript.  I was talking to Andrea Mitchell before hand, and I got her advice on how to get him to really zero in on where is the so-called red line of us attacking Iran with regard to their nuclear program, where would that red line be, would it be weaponization or their capacity, what he called the tipping point, having said he understood through the intelligence he‘s gathered that Iran has passed the tipping point in terms of its ability to develop a nuclear weapon.

It was on the road that seemed to be in the category, the threshold of being a possible preventative attack, not just pre-emptive, they are about to launch and we‘re going to stop them but preventative.  So he sounded very aggressive.  I‘m going to have to study the notes, but I think he was very out front as to when he would strike at Iran if he said they were ready at any point to attack with a nuclear weapon.

GREGORY:  I actually have a point about Iran.  I want to listen to a piece of the sound from that section of the interview and we‘ll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I don‘t think there‘s any doubt about Iranian ambitions in the region.  There‘s been a Persian ambition for a long time.  I don‘t think there is any doubt about the nature of this regime.  It is oppressive and repressive and extremist as you know.

Exercise enormous pressure, diplomatic, trade, financial.  We have to exercise those options long before we consider a military one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  I‘m keying off of that that I detected from Senator McCain a little bit more moderation on the question of using military force and being more out front and saying that‘s not something you wanted to bring up the point about another war in that theater as being so difficult for the United States at this point.

MATTHEWS:  Yeah, he did say that, he wanted to go the diplomatic route, he did want to consult with Congress, but let‘s remember, let‘s not have short memories here.  President Bush did have Dick Gephardt and people like that and Tom Daschle and people like that behind him when he went into war in 2003.  So that‘s not a precedent that he has to establish.  I thought it was interesting that he didn‘t say he was going to go economic and diplomatic and sanctions and whatever else worked.  He was clear he did not want Iran to have the capability to fire at any point in the future a nuclear weapon.

GREGORY:  Just about 30 seconds left here, Chris.

Also striking in a college crowd, he talked about going after the youth vote.  He wants to own this issue of change in the same way that Obama does.  Let‘s listen to that quickly.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I will contest every vote of every young American and that‘s why I was on “The View” that‘s why I did letterman, that‘s why I‘m here.  Is because I have to do—I have to do everything I can to present a vision for these young people‘s future because really that‘s why I‘m running for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Chris, quick take on that in about 10 seconds.

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s very smart coming to Villanova because I think it‘s got a split campus, there‘s some Barack people, there‘s some Hillary people here and there‘s definitely McCain people here.

This is the battleground.  The Catholic vote is another word for the swing vote in Pennsylvania especially.  If he can come in here and do as well as he did today again and again and again from now until November, he‘s got a very good shot at Pennsylvania.

GREGORY:  All right.  Chris Matthews, thanks very much.  You can see the entire interview again at 7:00 Eastern Time.  Coming up, everyone targeting blue collar voters, but are any of the presidential hopefuls telling the crucial voting bloc the truth about our economy?  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Time now for three questions.  And back with us, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Rachel Maddow, “Washington Post” columnist and associate editor Eugene Robinson, both MSNBC political analysts, “Time Magazine” Washington bureau chief Jay Carney, and Republican strategist Mike Murphy. 

First up, John McCain talked up the economy today in Pittsburgh.  He acknowledged change is hard for workers, but argued that open markets are ultimately good for America.  All that, of course, is sharp contrast to what Democrats are saying. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m tired of hearing people tell me about another plant that‘s closed and more jobs that have been shipped over seas. 

CLINTON:  No companies should be allowed to ship your job over seas using your tax dollars to do it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  The “New York Times” David Brooks says this kind of talk is just talk in a column he wrote today; quote, “the forces transforming the American economy are big and hard to control.  If you think your listeners aren‘t sophisticated enough to grasp them, it‘s much easier to blame those perfidious foreigners for all economic woes.  It‘s much more heroic to pretend that by opposing NAFTA,” that‘s the free trade agreement in the Americas, “you can improve the lives of middle class voter.” 

Our first question today: is anyone actually telling the truth to blue collar voters?  Murphy, what do you say?

MURPHY:  I think in politics you get the pejorative truth.  I think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both pandering on this issue.  The fact is we have never had a protectionist policy that‘s ever done any good for the economy.  It‘s been free trade policies, be they Democratic, like Bill Clinton‘s, or Republican, like Ronald Reagans or many presidents that have been good for the economy. 

I think they‘re in a Democratic primary.  They‘re going into these times where there is economic pressure right now during a recession and they‘re going for cheap applause.  That‘s the nature of politics.  But I would predict, based on what we knew from the flap earlier in the year with Barack‘s economic advisor and the fact that when Hillary was in the White House, it was a free trade White House, that this is a smoke and mirror show for the voter.  Sensible minds will take over.

John McCain is being honest.  He is pro-free trade, which is the right policy.  He was the only candidate with the guts to go into a depressed area in Michigan, my home state, and tell auto workers the truth about the global economy.  It cost him politically, but he should get points for telling the truth. 

GREGORY:  Eugene, Obama wants to have it both ways in effect.  He‘s bemoaning the reaction of some of these rural voters in Pennsylvania who cling to this anti-trade sentiment, yet he is there talking about jobs being shipped over seas and globalization really hurting them as well.  He wants it both ways. 

ROBINSON:  Look, if you kind of listen to the fine print of what Barack Obama says, and what Hillary Clinton says for that matter, they do acknowledge that the entire process of globalization is not going to be reversed by either of them as president.  But there is a contrast that they‘re highlighting.  Not all applause is cheap.  I mean, not applause is the result of pandering. 

There is a contradiction in the way the economy has been run the last eight years, that has benefited people at the top of the pay scale, and at the same time that these global forces were adversely impacting people at the middle and at the bottom.  I think they are perfectly justified in pointing that out, even if, as I suspect, neither is going to rush to actively repeal NAFTA. 

GREGORY:  Moving on, John McCain is calling on Barack Obama to condemn former President Jimmy Carter‘s meeting with Hamas.  Today, Carter met with an ex-minister in the Hamas government and laid a wreath at the grave of Yasser Arafat.  Carter also has plans to meet with the leader of the terrorist organization.  Now McCain is taking aim at Obama for not speaking out about Carter‘s meeting with a group bent on destroying Israel. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Senator Obama continues to refuse to condemn and repudiate former President Carter meeting with the leader of Hamas.  Clearly a leader of a terrorist organization, a murderer, is a business of international relations.  You‘ve got to be tough.  You should repudiate President Carter and reprimand him. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  The back drop, of course, is that Obama already faces suspicion within the Jewish community and could impact him, as Jews are an parent part of the Democratic base.  The second question, why won‘t Barack Obama condemn Jimmy Carter‘s meeting with Hamas?  Jay, any thoughts about why he‘s playing it so carefully?

CARNEY:  Two reasons; one, Jimmy Carter is a former Democratic president with some swag still in the Democratic party who supports Barack Obama.  But more importantly, David, remember that one of Barack Obama‘s principal arguments about what he would do as president, in terms of foreign policy, is that he would meet with our enemies.  He would meet with the leaders of Iran and he would meet without precondition. 

So he would have to thread the needle pretty carefully to say that he would meet with some bad guys, but not others.  So I think he‘s likely to keep quiet on this one. 

GREGORY:  Mike, do you think this is a missed opportunity for a guy who‘s already facing some troubles in the Jewish community? 

MURPHY:  Yes, I think it could be a terrific Sister Soldier moment for him and he ought to take it.  I mean, Jimmy Carter plus foreign policy almost always equals Democratic disaster and here we go again.  I wish we had a law now where we could repeal the office of ex-president, because this was an embarrassment today from President Carter and Barack Obama should say it.  

MADDOW:  I just have to jump in here.  I have to say I see this absolutely the opposite way.  First of all, Barack Obama has condemned this decision by Jimmy Carter.  He has said that he does not agree with Carter‘s decision to go meet with the leaders of Hamas.  On the other side of it, he has a lot of ideological cover on this.  People like Colin Powell have been saying that Hamas is more likely to be changed if they are engaged rather than isolated.  It is a very main stream, bipartisan, foreign policy, serious people view that groups like Hamas ought to be engaged and not isolated, as if they are common criminals, but as if they are players on the international stage, who the American public has an interest in changing. 

He does have a lot of ideological cover on this, including from Colin Powell.  I don‘t see this as a slam dunk case, particularly because he‘s already distanced himself. 

GREGORY:  I don‘t think this is really viewed as a main stream view here. 

MADDOW:  You think Colin Powell is a radical on this? 

GREGORY:  I haven‘t heard those comments. 

MADDOW:  Well, OK.  Trust me.  I mean, if Colin Powell was saying that engagement is a smarter move here, then isolation, does that mean that it‘s still a radical position? 

ROBINSON:  The question is how do you engage Hamas?  And do you send Jimmy Carter to do it?  I think that is an open question.  I don‘t think anybody sent him to do it.  It is in keeping with Obama‘s basic philosophy to meet with our enemies without preconditions.  But I think his point is that the president would do that, not necessarily the ex-president, so I think he could go either way on this. 

MURPHY:  And Colin Powell didn‘t endorse anything like this blank love check that Jimmy Carter wants to write. 

MADDOW:  The blank love check?  Really?  Is that what it is? 

MURPHY:  Laying a wreath at the grave of a master terrorist is ridiculous.  He‘s an ex-president?  He doesn‘t carry authority.  All he does is confuse people in the Middle East.  He undercuts American policy.  Engagement is a complicated diplomatic strategy at many, many levels that moves in small increments that rewards good behavior.  This was a ridiculous sloppy thing. 

MADDOW:  Yasser Arafat‘s standing in the Rose Garden with a current American president is somehow less scandalous than Jimmy Carter visiting him after he‘s dead?  You guys are trying to portray this as if it‘s a super clear what‘s main stream and what‘s not.  The blank love check idea, you guys honestly ought to stick closer to the facts, in terms of what we‘re describing here.  It‘s just not that outlandish when you look at the foreign policy consensus on this kind of engagement.  It‘s just not that weird. 

CARNEY:  There is no evidence that anything Jimmy Carter is doing is helpful to the process or to the candidate he supports for president.  As a political matter, it‘s a bad thing for Barack Obama.  It‘s hard to argue that.  But whether or not, as Rachel is saying, it makes sense and that Colin Powell might support it, it‘s bad for Obama. 

MADDOW:  That‘s why Obama has distanced himself from it. 

ROBINSON:  It‘s only good for peace if Jimmy Carter goes with some sort of portfolio and clearly he wasn‘t sent with any sort of portfolio to make any sort of approach to Hamas.  That‘s kind of my problem with it, not the meeting with Hamas per se.  And certainly not, you know, Arafat; he was a major historical figure. 

GREGORY:  Let me go ahead and move on.  Finally from Reverend Wright to what‘s called Bitter Gate.  These two damaging controversies have raised direct questions about Barack Obama‘s electability in the fall.  The third question tonight, what will it take to convince super delegates that Obama‘s problems are real?  Jay, this is going to come up in the debate tomorrow night.  This is the strategy now that Hillary Clinton is pursuing. 

CARNEY:  Well, it is.  He‘s got problems and he‘s exposed a huge weakness in this past week with his comments about small town Pennsylvanians.  And it re-enforces a perception that he‘s urban and urbane, but not particularly well connected to small town America, working class Americans and you can—you know, this is not a deal killer.  And if Hillary Clinton does not win Pennsylvania going away, I think it‘s put to rest for a while.  But it will come back and it will come back fiercely in the fall election. 

GREGORY:  Mike, one of the things that we‘re seeing here that Obama‘s done on the question of race and he‘s trying to do it here on this question of these comments about voters in Pennsylvania is to try to talk beyond the process, to try to stick with his argument, stick with his point and denigrate the controversial aspect of it as the politics as usual.  He‘s had some success in doing that, at least in the primary.  The general election may be a different situation. 

MURPHY:  I agree with that.  I think he‘s having some success now in the Democratic primary, because more people in the Democratic primary agree with him than not.  They agree with the fundamental idea that Democrats have that politics is about class and it drives the Democrats, their intellectual elite, bananas that pour white people vote Republican.  They don‘t get it.  So they need to have these sociological explanations of why this disease inflicts where a plant closes and therefore they like to hunt.

We Republicans, we‘re doing a big happy dance over this because we want that debate in the general election and Barack is giving it to us.  I think the big question for Hillary, excuse me, is will some pragmatic super delegates look at Barack Obama part two, and say, you know, after the college rallies are over, can this guy win?  Or do we have Mike Dukakis here?  That is the beginning of the crack in the Obama armor that will play out in the general election.  I still think he‘s in good shape in the primary, because I don‘t think a lot of people disagree with that thinking. 

GREGORY:  Coming up, we‘re going to hear from you about John McCain‘s sit down with Chris Matthews tonight on the college tour.  You‘re watching RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back.  I have had my turn, now you can have yours.  Let‘s play with the panel.  Still with us Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, Jay Carney and Mike Murphy. 

We‘re going to start tonight with Bruce in Virginia, who has a question about John McCain‘s interview on HARDBALL.  He writes the following: “McCain said that he looks forward to running a respectful, presumably clean campaign, which echoes rhetoric we have already heard from Barack Obama.  Provided these two are the presidential candidates, do we think that either or both of the candidates will strictly adhere to clean campaigns or will they let 527 groups do their dirty work?”

Jay, do you think there‘s anything to this promise that McCain made to meet with the Democratic nominee and say, let‘s make a pact right now.  If there are these 527 that come at us, we‘re going to get up and preempt them by saying we disavow these attacks.  Do you think that can work? 

CARNEY:  I think that he probably said it earnestly and that were that to happen, it would have an impact.  But there is no question and Senator McCain should know this, having been a victim of sort of third party shadowy groups in the past, in his first presidential campaign, that they cannot be controlled by the nominee of either party.  And I think that will be true on the Democratic side. 

So even if they denounce these ads, call for their end, there will still be 527s, and there will still be some sleaze out there to combat. 

GREGORY:  How difficult will it be, Mike Murphy, for McCain to deal with the issue of race?  He was asked tonight during the hour, are you a typical white person?  Would you describe yourself that way?  And he steered totally clear of it.  He talked about a discourse on a higher plain.  Is this a mine field for a Republican candidate? 

MURPHY:  No, I don‘t think it‘s going to be trouble for McCain, because I believe McCain does not have one racist bone in his body and he will not come within a million miles of any kind of race-baiting in the campaign.  I think we actually have two candidates—We have the potential now, and I think the country would reward it, as Senator McCain said, to run a different kind of campaign, to diffuse some of the sharp elbows we have seen in campaigns before. 

I know McCain very well.  I have spent a lot of time with him and I know that‘s the kind of campaign he wants.  The question now is will Barack Obama join him in that kind of campaign.  There‘s been a history of Barack always expressing the right intentions, but not always walking the walk on campaign finance reform and stuff like that.  The current controversy over what kind of funding the general election will have illustrates it.

I think it‘s an open question.  But I give them both—I kind of believe that they both have better than usual politics as usual intentions, so I‘m kind of an optimist about it. 

ROBINSON:  We should point out, though, there is a Democratic National Committee lawsuit against John McCain for not walking the walk on campaign finance either, so there is an issue there.  It‘s also seems to me, frankly, it kind of depends on who‘s ahead and who has an advantage.  And I think you‘ll—there‘s obviously more willingness on the part of McCain, since in most polls, he‘s pretty close, but starts a little bit behind.  And so, it‘s I think in his interest to do whatever he can to disarm the eventually Democratic nomination. 

GREGORY:  I think there is—

ROBINSON:  That‘s the way it will be seen among a lot of Democratic activists. 

GREGORY:  I think there‘s something lager too, which is—you see this among independent voter.  You saw it in the crowd tonight.  I think this is true with voters I have talked to in the Rocky Mountain West, for instance.  People really are tired of partisanship and they don‘t like negativity.  They still may vote based on negative campaigns and negative impulses in campaigns, but I think that appeal to independents is a winning appeal on both sides here, because people are just worn down by it. 

MADDOW:  I do think that.  I think the perfect way to play this politically, the way to get the win-win on this, is to tell voters that you‘re not going to go negative and to take the moral high ground and say you‘re not going to do it, and then either let other people do it for you or just protest after the fact when it happens anyway.  We know that negative campaigning does work.  We know that voters respond to it.  But we also know that we as Americans hate the fact that we respond to it.  So you say you‘re not going to do it and then see how the campaign plays out.   

CARNEY:  I was going to say negative is in the eye of the beholder.  Both campaigns, when we talk about McCain and Obama, are already taking very sharp attacks at each other and this might be construed as negative.  We‘ll see more of that. 

GREGORY:  Moving on to Jan in New York, who writes this: “the American people decide to base their decisions largely on who they can have a beer with, and this year apparently on who can bowl, because, you see, we can‘t have a president smarter than us.  Let‘s ask the American people how would you pick a surgeon to operate on your brain?  You would want the smartest and most skilled.  Right?  Why is this the litmus test for presidents, how much presidents are like your average person?” 

Mike, there is a little bit of a contradiction there, but leadership is also not just defined by your academic credentials or your intellectual rigor. 

MURPHY:  I think everybody has their own kind of matrix of how they size up a candidate.  I think it‘s a combination of what relevant experience people think they have, whether they like them and trust them, and what kind of direction they believe they would lead the country.  We‘ve got a whole campaign to litigate that out, which is why I‘m always a broken record about don‘t believe these early polls.  Wait until later in the campaign, when people have had a chance to size up these candidates and get some information. 

It won‘t come down to bowling, although Nixon was an excellent bowler. 

GREGORY:  You can play with our panel over night here on MSNBC.  E-mail us at RACE08@MSNBC.com, or you can call us, 212-790-2299.  When we come back, the panelists will pony up with their big predictions of the night.  This is MSNBC, the place for politics. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Time to turn up the heat and put the pressure on our panelists to make their predictions.  Still with us, Rachel, Eugene, Jay and Mike.  Mike, what do you see coming tonight? 

MURPHY:  I think Obama is going to lose Pennsylvania but narrowly, but bounce back after that to win North Carolina, where he‘s favored, and Indiana, which is a very close race.  And I think he‘ll then put the nomination away, and he‘ll be the Democratic nominee. 

GREGORY:  Do you think he was smart to say that Indiana is the tie breaker or should he have put it at North Carolina, where he‘s got a better advantage? 

MURPHY:  North Carolina, he couldn‘t have gotten away with that.  I think a week ago, before Cling, he was ready to upset her in Pennsylvania, which I think still could happen but probably won‘t, and put the race away.  Even though she‘s broke and out of dough, this was like a steroid injection to her campaign.  She‘s got something to go operate on.  But I think ultimately it will be Indiana and I think in a narrow victory, he‘s going to win it, and he‘ll be the nominee.  If not, he‘ll just be the nominee later.  It‘s in the interests of the party that this thing end sooner rather than later.  I, being a Republican, hope it goes all the way to the convention. 

GREGORY:  What‘s the dynamic in Indiana that tips it in his favor? 

MURPHY:  I just this cling and bitter thing, while a big deal in the general election, is less of a deal in the primary.  I think he‘s going to do better than expected in Pennsylvania.  I think it‘s going to be single digits, fairly tight.  And I think he may get a perceived—I don‘t think she‘s going to do as well in Pennsylvania, not in delegates, but even in popular vote, as the expectations. 

He‘ll get some momentum into North Carolina.  He‘ll get good pools there.  He‘ll blow her away on paid television, because he has money and she‘s broke.  I think he‘ll muscle his way through Indiana. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, what is your prediction tonight? 

MADDOW:  My prediction tonight is that Cindy McCain‘s recipe-gate will not blow up as a huge story.  On John McCain‘s website, under the about my family section, you could find such red state treats as McCain family Ahi Tuna with Napa Cabbage Slaw.  It turns out that at least a few of the recipes were lifted directly from the foot network and were not official McCain family recipes. 

This is the kind of stupid story that would follow a Democratic candidate around as a Democratic an unauthentic elitist for ever and ever and ever.  With a Republican, these things tend to wipe right off, even if the recipe is falafel with turkey sausage and Ahi tuna with Napa cabbage.  

GREGORY:  And Belgian Endive, or is it Endive. 

MADDOW:  I‘m not an expert, sorry.  We will have to ask Cindy. 

CARNEY:  Don‘t pretend you don‘t know, David. 

GREGORY:  Jay, what do you see tonight?

CARNEY:  My prediction, David, is McCain is about to be blessed by booze.  Next week, John McCain goes on his Forgotten America Tour.  He‘ll be visiting places that politicians these days, national politicians and especially Republicans, don‘t often go, poor rural areas, poor urban areas.  As we saw when he spoke on the anniversary of Martin Luther King‘s assassination at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, he was heckled a little bit and booed as a Republican. 

That will happen again next week.  Why will this be a blessing?  Because next week, the entire political universe will be focused on Pennsylvania and the Democratic race.  McCain‘s only chance of breaking through that lock that the Democrats have on media attention is to stir it up in places where he‘s not expected to be.  I think he‘ll end up having a better week than he might otherwise have. 

GREGORY:  In other words, he gets points for showing up and facing it down and not avoiding it.  It goes to the authenticity argument he‘ll make. 

CARNEY:  It goes to authenticity and it goes to the idea that at least in the early stages of the general election campaign, he plans to run a different kind of campaign than we traditionally see from Republican candidates.  He will get attention for it.  He may not get a lot of votes for it, but it will appeal to independents and others who may not be in the audiences he‘s addressing, but will be watching when they are not watching Pennsylvania. 

GREGORY:  Gene Robinson, what does the future hold? 

ROBINSON:  David, my prediction tonight is really a question.  Senator Clinton, what‘s next?  Arm wrestling in Altuna?  It seems to me, this is the logical next step in this sort of campaign Hillary Clinton is waging just to prove that she is a regular gal, despite the fact that her family has earned 109 million dollars in the last few years, and she used to be first lady.  She‘s a regular gal.  She went hunting when she was a child.  We have seen her drinking shots and beers in a bar in northwestern Indiana. 

So I feel the next step has to be actually challenging Barack Obama to arm wrestling. 

MURPHY:  She might take him. 

GREGORY:  There is a lot of pressure, if she‘s going to win, to boost that victory to show that going after him on this issue really did hurt him and she can turn that into an argument for the super delegates.  Thanks to a great panel.  I‘m David Gregory.  That does for THE RACE tonight.  We‘ll be back here tomorrow 6:00 Eastern time.  Up next, it‘s “HARDBALL” College Tour time, featuring Senator John McCain.  Good night.

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

END   

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