updated 5/1/2008 12:41:29 PM ET 2008-05-01T16:41:29

Guests: Michelle Bernard, Pat Buchanan, Ed Schultz, Richard Wolffe>

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  We assess the fallout as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.

Good evening, everybody, and welcome to THE RACE. 

I‘m David Gregory.  This is your stop for the fast-paced, the bottom line, and every point of view in the room.  Every day of this race is game day, and we are here to wrap it up and tell you what it all means. 

Tonight for the hour, more on the political fallout from Reverend Wright.  Will it impact the superdelegate race?  Those new totals coming up in just a few minutes. 

New NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” polling tonight examines the Wright fallout.  That‘s at half past the hour tonight. 

The bedrock of the program, as you know, a panel that comes to play.  And with us tonight, president of the Independent Women‘s Voice, Michelle Bernard; former presidential candidate himself, Pat Buchanan—both MSNBC political analysts—host of nationally-syndicated “Ed Schultz Show,” Ed Schultz himself; and “Newsweek senior White House correspondent who now covers the Obama campaign full time, Richard Wolffe, also an MSNBC political analyst. 

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

My headline tonight, the Wright test.  Senator Obama on the trail today in North Carolina, trying to get back to his campaign agenda, but the pastor problem follows him.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  What he said over the last few days and, you know, in some of the sermons that had been exerted we‘re unacceptable, and weren‘t things that, you know, we believed in or cared about.  Or cared to believe in. 

And so, I—you know, I made a statement yesterday that was hard to make, but it was what I believed.  And, you know, what we want to do now though is to make sure that this doesn‘t continue to be a perpetual distraction. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Perpetual distraction.  Senator and Michelle Obama sat down with Meredith Vieira for an exclusive interview to air tomorrow on “Today.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEREDITH VIEIRA, “TODAY”:  Michelle, do you feel that Reverend Wright betrayed your husband? 

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA‘S WIFE:  You know, I think Barack has spoken so clearly and eloquently about this. 

VIEIRA:  But do you personally feel that the reverend betrayed your husband?

M. OBAMA:  I believe that—you know what I think, Meredith?  We have got to move forward.  You know, this conversation doesn‘t help my kids.  It doesn‘t help kids out there who are looking for us to make decisions and choices about how we‘re going to better fund education. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Is this more than a distraction?  The question for Obama‘s judgment.  Why did it take him this long to respond this strongly to Wright?  What does it say about this 20-year relationship they have that it has come to this.  And is there a credibility gap on both sides when Reverend Wright accuses Obama of political posturing? 

A lot more on this ahead.  That‘s my headline. 

Richard, your take on this tonight? 

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, my headline is Obama turns the page, but he needs a new script.  Look, he‘s getting on to the pocketbook issues of the economy today, talking with working families here in Indianapolis.  It‘s the right issue for him, but he still hasn‘t found the right story line. 

He needs to recast himself as the scrappy underdog, the guy who took on the odds, is taking on the big Washington establishment of two senators.  And that‘s how he fights for the working guy.  Right now, he‘s approaching these things as issues, as policies, and not on a personal level.  He needs to connect his story with these voters.  He‘s finding it hard to connect with. 

GREGORY:  Real quick, Richard, do they think they‘ve turned a corner on this story? 

WOLFFE:  Oh, they are in wait and see mode here.  You know, the first polling is just coming through, and it doesn‘t really include what happened yesterday, his sort of comeback moment with that press conference. 

Look, they‘re seeing that voters still want to talk about other issues.  Yes, the Wright issue came up today with one question, but most of the stuff he‘s hearing right now is about the economy and about Iraq. 

GREGORY:  All right.  A lot more to get to.

Pat Buchanan, your headline tonight? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Barack has a big, big credibility problem.  It is simply not believable that this man has been an intimate friend and associate and pastor for 20 years and he is shocked, shocked to hear that Reverend Wright holds these wacky views about America, the Jewish community, and all the rest of it.  Not believable. 

GREGORY:  How big of a problem does it become for him as this goes on? 

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s a serious and enduring problem.  And it‘s cast a real cloud of doubt about the character of Barack Obama as he continues to insist, I really didn‘t know what this fella felt.  I believed in all the rest of it.  It‘s a little bit like the piano player saying I had no idea what the girls were doing upstairs. 

GREGORY:  Michelle Bernard, what do you see in all this? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, PRESIDENT, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S VOICE:  David, my headline is that black parishioners will call Jeremiah Judas and they will back Barack, particularly as we approach the primaries in North Carolina and Indiana in the next five or six days. 

Whether we are talking about people talking—African-Americans at least talking in the beauty shops, the barber shops, or at the water cooler, even for those people who actually maybe even agree with some of the things that Jeremiah Wright said, what you are seeing in the African-American community is a belief that for the first time in our nation‘s history, we actually have our first viable black candidate.

Barack Obama was elegant.  He did not throw Jeremiah Wright under the

bus when he gave his speech on race relations in Philadelphia.  Yesterday -

and people seem to be incensed, at least by the e-mails and the phone calls that I‘m receiving on the issue, there‘s a sense of anger, really, at the fact that Jeremiah Wright decided to display the speeches and sort of statements that he made over the last few days rather than just waiting until January after all this is done. 

GREGORY:  All right.

Ed Schultz, your headline. 

ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  David, my headline is the defeated Clinton camp hesitates to pounce on this.  Where are the surrogates?

As Pat Buchanan talked about the credibility problem, you can make the case that Barack Obama has done a 180 on his reverend.  So where is the Clinton camp on this?  Why aren‘t they pouncing on this and attacking on this issue?  I think...

GREGORY:  What‘s your take—you think they think there‘s a danger there? 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  They don‘t want to say too many bad things about Barack Obama.

GREGORY:  Right.  They think there‘s a danger here in getting involved in this.

SCHULTZ:  Absolutely, no question about it.  I think the Clinton surrogates are starting to pull back a little bit and they‘re not as attacking as they used to be.  And this is a perfect opportunity for them to go after his credibility.  I think they‘re showing a defeatist attitude.

GREGORY:  All right.  A lot more on this coming up. 

Quick programming note.  Coming up at the half hour, we‘re going to get our first look at the new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll and dissect the numbers to see just how much the controversial Reverend Wright is affecting voters‘ views of Barack Obama.  That‘s going to be key.

Stick around for that.

Coming up, Barack Obama then, versus Barack Obama now.  His change in tune and tone on his controversial pastor who presided over his marriage and baptized his children. 

More after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on THE RACE.  Going inside the war room here.

The idea, how are these campaigns dealing with strategy and tactics, outside events, big controversies?

Back with us, Michelle Bernard, Pat Buchanan, Ed Schultz and Richard Wolffe.

We go inside the Obama war room to look at Reverend Wright and the controversy surrounding this campaign, the evolution of Obama‘s reaction to the Wright controversy.

Take a look at how he responded over the course of a month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. OBAMA:  I have to confess that those are not statements that I ever heard when I was sitting in the pews at this church.

Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church?  Yes.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.  I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Now a firm break.  Obama even revealing yesterday that his relationship with Wright has changed. 

Take a look and a listen to Obama‘s tone now. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. OBAMA:  When he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, they offend me.  They rightly offend all Americans.  And they should be denounced.  And that‘s what I‘m doing very clearly and unequivocally here today. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Pat Buchanan, what do you see?  What‘s the difference? 

BUCHANAN:  I can‘t understand why he didn‘t denounce Reverend Wright in Philadelphia in more emphatic terms than yesterday, when he did, because all Reverend Wright has done is repeat statements he has made before about AIDS and Minister Farrakhan and all the rest.  So I think Barack, yesterday, finally caught up with the power curve, but he‘s lost a lot of time.  I think he‘s been damaged by this, and we won‘t find out until the returns come in from Indiana just how much. 

GREGORY:  Richard, we know in covering campaigns that sometimes they‘re slow to react.  They don‘t fully get how big a reaction a story is going to get.  This was classic case here with Obama.  His first reaction on Monday out of the Press Club speech was to do a press avail by the—on the tarmac there.  They saw the full breadth of this thing and realized they had a problem.

WOLFFE:  Yes, absolutely.  And you can fault them for a 24-hour delay, but honestly, I don‘t think it‘s fair to say that, as Pat has, that it‘s the same situation they faced with the clips, the snippets from the DVDs, as what we saw at the Press Club and over the last several days. 

You know, there is—as Obama said, he was willing to give his pastor the benefit of the doubt based on those clips, thinking it had been taken out of context.  But when you see this full performance, it‘s not just about the subject matter.  It‘s the manner, it‘s the hostility, it‘s the whole approach to race in America that is so at odds with what Obama stands for. 

And yes, there‘s a political issue there.  There‘s a political issue there, but it‘s only when you see the full performance at the Press Club and the way he reacted to it, that I think they saw what the train wreck really was. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Before I move on, Pat, go. 

BUCHANAN:  But look, we do see the man in full in the last four days.  But can anyone tell me he has not been that same man for the 20 years that Barack Obama has known him and seen him and been an intimate friend?  I mean, did he just emerge from the closet as this character we saw in the last four days? 

WOLFFE:  David, let me just jump in.

GREGORY:  Yes, go ahead.

WOLFFE:  I mean, an intimate friend?  What do you call an intimate friendship here?  Both Obama and the pastor says that he was not the spiritual mentor or the spiritual adviser. 

And secondly, what he said on Bill Moyers is not the same as he was at the Press Club.  Those were two different people. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me—we‘re going to have a lot more of this.  Let me move on though to talk a little bit about Obama‘s goal now.  He wants to put Reverend Wright and his controversy to bed and get back on message. 

He held a town hall meeting with his wife Michelle in Indiana today while he answered questions on education.  Michelle emphasized his Washington outsider experience.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA:  I bring up his community organizing background everywhere I go, because people ask me, is he really experienced?  He doesn‘t have Washington inside experience, but this is a guy who has built his whole career off of the notion of organizing people from the ground up.  Let‘s not elect somebody who has been there and hasn‘t done it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Ed Schultz, what are the political touch points?  You see Hillary Clinton out there in Indiana today.  She‘s talking about gas prices, doing a ride-a-long with a guy and pumping gas for him in his pickup truck.  John McCain is talking about a gas tax holiday for people.  And here‘s Obama trying to get back to the idea of, hey, I‘m change, I am not a Washington insider. 

How does he get back to that? 

SCHULTZ:  Well, I think, David, this whole story with Reverend Wright may force Barack Obama to be very aggressive on Hillary Clinton, maybe to the point where he really may be going out of bounds of what his campaign initially wanted to do.  He has got to change the subject. 

And the best way for him to change the subject is to go after the revolving positions that Hillary Clinton had on Iraq, on gas prices.  Is she really going to be able to pass the windfall profits tax?  I mean, that‘s a bridge too far with the climate of Washington right now.  And she‘s also had a revolving position on immigration. 

Obama has to go on the attack, he has to change the subject.  And this might be a time where he might have to make a decision to go negative in his campaign. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about what we‘re fighting over here.  And that is, let‘s look at the numbers in Indiana. 

That‘s going to be the big contest here coming up in less than a week.  You look at the latest poll numbers inside the Hoosier State, according to the latest “Indianapolis Star” poll, Obama leads 41-38.  Twenty-one percent of voters undecided. 

You take a look at the latest Howey-Gauge Poll, Obama up by just two. 

Clinton trailing 47-45 -- Michelle. 

BERNARD:  David, I‘ve got to tell you, those numbers, if I‘m sitting in the Barack Obama campaign headquarters in Illinois, I would be feeling that those numbers are entirely too close for comfort.  Whether you‘re talking about an 8 percent -- 8 percentage margin of undecideds, or 21 percent, it‘s entirely too close. 

There was an article written in “The Washington Post” sometime in the last week where they interviewed voters in Indiana.  And voters are saying, well, what does he mean by change?  I like things the way they are.  And now they‘re going to be questioning, I believe, whether it is fair or not, they‘re going to be saying, does Reverend Wright represent change? 

He has got a problem in Indiana, even though it‘s close to Illinois.  He has got a problem there.  He‘s going to have to work very hard to overcome the damage done by Reverend Wright for white voters who have no idea what the black church means. 

BUCHANAN:  David?

GREGORY:  Yes, go ahead, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  The 21 percent are speaking with forked tongue.  There aren‘t 21 percent undecided, in my judgment, in Indiana at this point.  About five days before an election, that‘s an unheard of figure.  Bad news for Barack Obama. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let‘s go to the superdelegates. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Hang on just one second here.

If you look at the real audience here for all of this, the Reverend Wright controversy and everything else, it‘s the superdelegates.  A recap of where the candidates stand in the superdelegate race, taking a look at today‘s score card. 

Obama picks up three superdelegates while Clinton picks up two.  Ten superdelegates for Obama and six for Clinton since Pennsylvania.  The grand total: 268 for Clinton and 247 for Obama.

Quickly to Richard Wolffe, they‘ve got to be looking at this inside and saying, we can weather this storm.  This is the count that matters. 

WOLFFE:  Yes.  And, you know, a bit like Pat says, there aren‘t really that many undecided voters, there aren‘t that many uncommitted superdelegates.  There are undeclared superdelegates.

GREGORY:  Right.

WOLFFE:  And so far, the pattern has been Clinton saying hold off, hold off.  But really, at least members of Congress who are uncommitted have pretty much decided. 

GREGORY:  Ed, you want a quick comment here before the break? 

SCHULTZ:  Well, I just think that 21 percent, as far as we‘ve gone in this process, I don‘t think there‘s that many people out there who don‘t have an opinion right now. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Right.

SCHULTZ:  This is a high number.  I think that‘s a positive number for Barack Obama that he can still salvage this thing in Indiana.  And if he loses, it probably won‘t be by very much. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Got to get a break in here.

Coming up, “Smart Takes.”  Barack Obama delivered his strongest criticism yet of the controversial Reverend Wright yesterday, but did he wait too long?  And will that cause voters to question his judgment?

RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE will be right back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to THE RACE.

The provocative, the insightful, the thoughtful—“Smart Takes,” we find them so you don‘t have to.  And here again, Michelle, Pat, Ed and Richard.

Going to go quickly around the horn on this. 

Today‘s “Smart Takes” are all about the Wright fallout. 

First out, “The Washington Post” editorial page says Wright has dug a deep political hole for Obama.  “Did Mr. Obama climb out of that hole yesterday?  It seems to us that the whole sorry episode raises legitimate questions about his judgment.”

“Given the long and close relationship between Mr. Obama and the Reverend Wright, voters will ask how could Mr. Obama been surprised by the Reverend Wright‘s views?  How could he not have seen this coming.  At a media availability at an airport Monday afternoon, he displayed none of the anger and sorrow that etched his face in North Carolina one day later.”

Ed Schultz, take it on. 

SCHULTZ:  Well, when you are on the campaign trail, you don‘t watch the networks 24/7.  So I‘m going to cut Barack Obama some slack here.

He‘s out there on the campaign trail, he‘s meeting people, he‘s talking to Americans, he‘s listening to their needs and where the country ought to go.  And somebody hits him with a question on the tarmac about Reverend Wright without even seeing the total context of what was being said.  Then he went back and checked it out and said, holy smokes, we have got a problem here. 

There‘s no question he‘s off the Christmas card list and out of the family.  I just really believe, David, that Barack Obama is going to have to change the subject, and he may have to go negative because of this.  He‘s got to get this out of here.

And the media is not going to give up on the story because there‘s a perceived discrepancy between Barack said before and what he‘s saying right now.  And the culture of the media won‘t let it go.

GREGORY:  All right.  Second “Smart Take” here.

“The New York Times” Maureen Dowd says that Reverend Wright lit Obama‘s slow-burning fuse.  To the quote board.

“Barack Obama has spent his life in campaign trying not to be the angry black man.  On Tuesday, the sort of angry black man appeared, reluctantly spurred into action by the really angry black man.  Obama‘s anger and unused muscle had to be stoked by his advisers, who pressed him with drooping poll numbers and the video of Wright at the National Press Club.  But in the end, it was Wright showing disrespect by implying that Obama was a phony.”

“That sparked the candidate‘s slow-burning temper for some.  Obama

didn‘t offer enough outrage.  Said one Hillary Democrat, ‘He‘s more

passionate about basketball.‘”

You‘d expect them to say that.

Pat Buchanan, it is still a question of toughness here.  In some ways, it was Reverend Wright who called Obama out by going to the Press Club and saying, I am what I am and I‘ll stand by it, in essence asking, what are you? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, exactly.  I mean, if Maureen Dowd thinks Barack Obama there was something of an angry black man, she has not really seen an angry brother, I‘ll tell you. 

Reverend Wright was much more in that mode.  And again, it appeared to me, and “The Washington Post” was right, Obama here seems to be, this is political, and he seems to be—it‘s somewhat contrived—the anger, rage, all the rest of it.  It doesn‘t seem genuine, authentic, like somebody who‘s just been really stung, especially with a 24-hour delay. 

I think The Post is right.  There‘s a problem of credibility and judgment still, but if he wins Indiana, if Barack wins Indiana, or he splits and wins North Carolina well, I think this will go somewhat away and he‘ll be still on track for that nomination. 

BERNARD:  David, can I...

GREGORY:  Yes.  All right.  Our final—yes, go ahead, Michelle.

BERNARD:  David, as an African-American, I‘ve got to say nothing about this, because the bottom line is Maureen Dowd and these other pundits do not know what it feels like to step into the shoes of an African-American.  I don‘t know what it is to step into the shoes of a black man, but if Barack Obama was over the top yesterday, the press today would be saying that Barack Obama is just as crazy as Jeremiah Wright. 

It is a very fine balancing act that he has to play.  He cannot look like Jeremiah Wright, he cannot look like Jesse Jackson, he cannot look like Al Sharpton.  And I think that the speech and the temperament and the tone of what he said yesterday was dead on.  There was pain in his face, and I think most Americans can see that. 

SCHULTZ:  David, I thought his sincerity was terrific.

GREGORY:  All right.  Quick comment, Richard.  About 20 seconds before I take a break.

WOLFFE:  Well, I was there.  I thought the emotion was real.  And it‘s not about appearances, it‘s about who he is.  I don‘t think he could pretend to be a sort of Jeremiah Wright figure, and I‘m still trying to get my hands around Pat Buchanan as the angry brother correspondent. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  Up next, you‘ll get the first look at just how the controversial Reverend Wright is affecting voters‘ opinions of Barack Obama.  We‘re going to take you inside the just-released NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll.  You‘re going to see the fallout.

These are brand new numbers.  They‘re coming up at the bottom of that hour.

Don‘t touch that dial.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory.  We‘re talking about the Reverend Wright fallout here for the Obama campaign.  We‘re bringing you a special second edition of the war room.  We‘re going to break down the new results from the just released NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll.  This is new.  Stick with us right here, a development coming your way right now. 

Back with us, president of the Independent Women‘s Voice, Michelle Bernard, former presidential candidate himself, Pat Buchanan, both MSNBC political analysts, host of the nationally syndicated “Ed Schultz Show,” Ed Schultz is here, and “Newsweek‘s” senior White House correspondent, who now covers the Obama campaign full time, Richard Wolffe, also an MSNBC political analyst. 

Brand-new numbers from our NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll.  First up, and I want everybody to take a whack at this, what are the major concerns for voters?  Check it out here; 34 percent found Obama‘s bitter comments and the perception that he is out of touch to be a major concern;

32 percent, lower now, said Obama‘s friendship with Wright and Bill Ayers, the former weather man from the Vietnam War era, was a major concern, 34 to 32. 

Now, more people found McCain, Senator McCain‘s alignment with Bush, 43 percent, more of a concern than Obama‘s bitter comments or his association with Reverend Wright.  Pat, this polling doesn‘t reflect the flair over the last couple days, but this does says something about voter attitude maybe not being in synch with what we‘re talking act. 

BUCHANAN:  If Bush is less popular than Reverend Wright, the Republicans are in real trouble.  I think what this does is—in terms of the acuteness of the thing, the Bush-McCain Republican connection and the possibility we‘re talking about a Bush third term is the albatross around the Republicans‘ neck.  There‘s no doubt about it. 

This is a pretty high figure, I think, for Barack Obama with Reverend Wright and Mr Ayers.  That‘s the theme the Republicans are going to hit, just like the Democrats are going to go after the Bush third term.  You‘ve got the campaign in those figures. 

GREGORY:  Richard, if you‘re inside the Obama camp, do they look at these numbers and say by renouncing him now, by making this clean break, we may take some of the hits about our timing and all of that, but this is the clean break we have been looking for to turn off the spigot? 

WOLFFE:  Absolutely.  Look, go figure.  The American public cares more about the war and the economy going down the tubes than about this guys relationships with his preacher.  As important as they are—look, I think this story, the Wright story is important to see how a candidate performs under stress and in a crisis.  But in the end, people are going to decide their votes on the war and the economy and the Bush legacy.  That‘s what this election is hinging on.  That‘s why 80 percent of the country says it‘s on the wrong track.  It‘s not because of Reverend Wright. 

GREGORY:  I want to move on.  But, Michelle, real quick, if you add those two numbers together, concern about the bitter comments, concern association with Reverend Wright, it is down to a question of who is this guy, really? 

BERNARD:  It is obviously a significant issue for Barack Obama, but I do believe firmly, in the very end, and as the Democratic nominating process goes on, we‘re going to find the American public consumed with pocket book issues more than anything else.  American women, in particular, women voters, 50 percent or more really are the people who go out and vote, are concerned about gasoline prices, educating their children, their children being able to purchase a new home, live in a neighborhood where maybe they can be a stay at home mom and take care of their kids and not worry about what school district they live in.  I think that‘s what we‘re going to see the American voters concentrate on and forget about Reverend Wright. 

GREGORY:  We‘re still on this new poll from NBC News/”Wall Street Journal.”  Next up, the national head to head match up.  Obama is on top, 46-43.  Our previous polling, going back several weeks, was dead even.  Obama has a slight edge there.  After Pennsylvania and all of that, Ed Schultz, strong plus for Obama here? 

SCHULTZ:  It is a strong plus.  That indicates that maybe the Reverend Wright thing isn‘t hurting him that much.  David, I think the one thing that Obama has to do is motivate his surrogates to knock down those two big numbers you just talked about, the 34 and the 32 percent.  He‘s got to get senators out on the stump really putting their credibility on the line for him.  They have to be visible.  They have to be vocal.  And they have to be very aggressive to turn that number around. 

It‘s a high number, but it‘s also the perfect opening for the Clinton camp to go after Obama on his credibility.  I don‘t know why they aren‘t doing it. 

GREGORY:  Go ahead Pat.

WOLFFE:  I think Richard is right.  The whole country wants a dramatic turn in foreign and economic policy.  That makes it imperative for the Republicans to make Barack Obama the issue and to make the question of the campaign—change it to, even if you don‘t like where we‘re going, do you want to entrust the republic to this guy?  That‘s the Republican campaign in the fall. 

GREGORY:  Let me ask you this, next up, asked do you prefer a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, among Democratic voters who responded, 45 percent said they strongly prefer a Democrat, six percent do not have a strong preference.  Among Republicans polled, 25 percent said they strongly want a Republican, compared to eight percent who say they don‘t have a strong preference. 

Again, Pat Buchanan, it speaks to the issue of voter identity in this race here. 

BUCHANAN:  Not only that, it speaks to the truth that we have a demoralized and somewhat divided party of Republicans, who are not terribly enthusiastic about their candidate, and who feel a lot of blunders have been made under President Bush.  The one thing, frankly, again, that can bring them together is the hope to retain power, and secondly, fear of what the opposition offers the country.  They‘re going down that road.  It‘s the only road they can go down.  It‘s the only lane down there to the end zone. 

GREGORY:  But you look at this, the national head to head match up against John McCain, Obama leads McCain 46 to 43.  In a national match up with Clinton, McCain trails by one.  It‘s Clinton 45, McCain 44.  Richard, it is striking, despite the fact that so many Americans, based on this poll, want to see a Democrat rather than a Republican in office, McCain is holding steady there on these head to head match ups. 

WOLFFE:  These numbers are really astonishing, given all we have been through.  They really haven‘t changed a whole lot.  Obama‘s numbers are holding up.  I‘m still astonished by that, given the coverage he‘s had and his big defeat in Pennsylvania.  Yes, McCain‘s numbers have been pretty good.  He‘s the one Republican who can say, I have some distance with Bush. 

In the end, Pat is right, the Republicans have one channel here, which is to raise the question about Obama and they would do the same about Clinton too.  Who are these people and should they be in the Oval Office? 

GREGORY:  Ed Schultz, the question mark idea—Hillary Clinton is right when she said she‘s been vetted.  It doesn‘t help her problems any, but it‘s that idea of the unknown that you see both the Clinton campaign and potentially Republicans running against Obama in a way they think may be more effective. 

SCHULTZ:  Well, now I think it‘s time to talk about who do the people like?  You have a high negative with Hillary Clinton and you have a high favorable for Barack Obama.  The likability of the candidate is going to come into play here.  The fact that there is a big center, a lot of Americans who are still undecided as to which candidate they are going to go to, and that‘s why nobody is breaking out over 50 percent anywhere.  So, we‘re so far away from the finish line here, there‘s going to be a lot of, quote, Reverend Wright stories out there, I think, that are going to play into this thing. 

McCain is still for the Bush tax cuts.  He‘s still for Iraq.  And he still doesn‘t know where he stands on immigration.  There‘s a lot of material to go after McCain.  He needs this fight to continue.

GREGORY:  Let‘s get one other number in here.  Michelle, you‘re on deck here.  We‘re talking about values.  When it comes to which candidate shares your value, Clinton now leading 46-45, when just last month, she was behind 43 to 50 percent.  Obama is suffering a five point drop, from 50 to 45, on whether the candidate shares your values.  What do you make of it? 

BERNARD:  I do think a small part of it is the Reverend Wright issue.  But I have to give it to Senator Clinton and her campaign.  In the last month, her campaign was brilliant.  We didn‘t hear about Senator Clinton going to Wellesley.  We didn‘t hear about her going to Yale for law school.  We saw Hillary Clinton as the daughter of Scranton, Pennsylvania, as Rocky Balboa, with this populist message of I‘m Robin Hood or Robin Hood-esque;

I‘m going to steal from the rich and give to the poor.  I think that‘s why we have seen the turn around in the numbers.

Barack Obama has been on the defense.  He has to get back on his game and turn those numbers around.  I think it‘s doable for his campaign. 

GREGORY:  We have to get another break in here.  Coming up next, Reverend Wright has been on the radar for over a year.  Why is it the Obama campaign wasn‘t more proactive in addressing the controversy?  Later, your turn to play with the panel.  Call us, 212-790-2299 or email us, RACE08@MSNBC.com.  THE RACE comes back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on THE RACE.  It‘s time for us to ask three big questions around the Obama and Wright controversy.  Still with us, Michelle Bernard, Pat Buchanan, Ed Schultz, and Richard Wolffe.   

First up, Barack Obama says he entered this race as a relative unknown, free from the already formed opinions many voters have about rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain.  Now, his former pastor‘s stated beliefs are all over Youtube, the news, and the Internet.  Obama has rebuked Reverend Wright‘s comments, renounced them and repeatedly said he never personally witnessed any of Wrights incendiary sermons. 

Do voters know Obama well enough to take his word on Wright?  Our first question, who do voters know better, Obama or Reverend Wright?  Richard, the premise of this question as I came up with it was we have seen Barack Obama in the public eye for long enough; do voters trust that they know him better than they know his now very controversial former pastor? 

WOLFFE:  Yes, easy one.  He wrote two books, for heaven‘s sake.  He‘s written a book about his absent father and his racial identity and a long essay on modern politics.  And we‘ve seen him through 21 debates and all these contests.  I think people have a good sense of who he is.  There are question marks about—All the things that are attractive about him are also the ones that raise questions about where his identity and loyalty really lie.  What else is out there that we don‘t know.

By the way, you said Hillary Clinton has been fully vetted.  There‘s a lot about the post White House years we don‘t know about them.  If she were the likely nominee, we‘d be hearing questions about that too. 

GREGORY:  What I was saying is she made the argument that her past has been fully vetted.  I‘m not saying that that dissipates—it‘s a problem.  It‘s a point I was trying to make. 

Pat, do you agree that there aren‘t any more questions about Obama, particularly on this issue and his relationship?

BUCHANAN:  I think there are questions.  Look, there‘s no doubt Reverend Wright is a no pale pastels kind of guy.  We know what you get there.  Barack Obama had a fantastic image coming through Iowa, a transitional candidate, someone who reached out to both races.  Now, what‘s over him is not so much—it‘s a question mark.  They are saying do we really know this guy?  How could he have been there 20 years?  He‘s a smart guy, how could he not know that he‘s dealing with the crazy uncle who just came back from the Klan rally? 

This is the question mark that sits over Obama and the fact that he doesn‘t share our values—that poll you showed dropping a bit on him—I think that reflects also his bitter comment.  Pennsylvania is clinging to their guns and bibles and bigotries.  I think these are the things that are hurting Obama.  Over him is a question mark.  There‘s no question mark over Reverend Wright. 

BERNARD:  David, just quickly, I read somewhere a commentator said Hillary Clinton was born in Illinois and Barack Obama in a manger.  Now, what we have realized is he‘s not Jesus.  He was not born in a manger.  This might be a good thing for him.  People will finally look at him as a man who has the same problems that the rest of us have, and he will be able to turn away from this and start focusing on the policy issues that matter most to this country. 

GREGORY:  I have a follow up related to that.  I want to ask the second question.  It‘s closely related.  The evolution of a political fire storm; Reverend Wright has been a potential problem for Barack Obama for more than a year, since February 10, 2007, when the Obama campaign disinvited him from giving the invocation at Obama‘s presidential announcement.  Last month, clips from Wright‘s sermons hit the national news and immediately generated millions of views on Youtube.  This week, Wright came back with a vengeance.  It seemed like the Obama camp was blind-sided.  Obama didn‘t denounce his former pastor until 24-hours after Wright appeared at the National Press Club.  

Second question for today, why didn‘t the Obama team see this coming?  Ed Schultz, in fact, didn‘t they see it coming?  It‘s something that they‘ve been wrestling with for some time now? 

SCHULTZ:  I think Barack Obama clearly misjudged how aggressive Reverend Wright was going to be.  I think the misjudgment goes to show Barack Obama doesn‘t know Reverend Wright the way everyone says he does.  No has really asked the question, Barack, how often did you really go to church?  Did you go once a month or twice every quarter?  How often did you go?  Did you go every Sunday? 

I think the American people are going to trust Barack Obama.  I think there‘s a real hunger for change out there.  I think if there‘s going to be a dip in the polls, it‘s going to happen within the next 72 hours and I think he‘ll weather the storm.  He‘s run a 15 month campaign wire to wire, almost flawless, brought so many new young people into the process.  I don‘t know if they care about Reverend Wright. 

GREGORY:  Pat Buchanan, go ahead.

BUCHANAN:  Let me say that I think Ed Schultz may be dead on to something.  One explanation that would make sense is if Barack Obama is a guy that said yes, I go to that church; it‘s my community church, and he‘s the guy that never went to church.  It explains why he‘s stunned and everything like that.  It‘s the most credible explanation.  It seems like Barack maybe exaggerated his religiosity, and it‘s coming back to bite him. 

GREGORY:  Richard, we know that Barack Obama has said it was Reverend Wright who introduced him to his faith.

WOLFF:  Look, I think this has been the biggest misjudgment of all.  You can argument about did they respond to it late; should he have known about this kind of thing.  Their biggest mistake was this was a known unknown, to use Donald Rumsfeld‘s phrase.  This was a piece of his life, an important piece of his life that we knew nothing about.  Never mind about Reverend Wright himself, but about Trinity, about the community, about all the things that attracted him to them in the first place.  There was nothing there.  It was a blank sheet until we saw the greatest hits or greatest rants of Reverend Wright. 

You cannot leave that kind of hole in the middle of a campaign in the middle of this guy‘s life story and expect it to stay a vacuum. 

GREGORY:  Richard, you know what this reminds me of, as you make that point, is what President Bush dealt with at the end of his campaign, when the issue came out about a DUI arrest.  It was something that they tried not to talk about it.  They didn‘t feel like it had to be in the public domain.  It came up and bit him in a very, very serious way.  This is something they knew about.  They knew about Reverend Wright and some of the difficulties and tried to manage it, in some way, or not deal with it head one, try to finesse it.  That hasn‘t worked.

Finally, Senator Obama was asked about the fallout from the reappearance of Reverend Wright.  Here is what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Obviously, we have elections in four or five days.  So, we‘ll find out what impact it has. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  We‘ll find out.  Will next Tuesday‘s primaries gauge the damage?  We will see it in the super delegate movement either towards or away for Obama. 

The third question, how should we measure the political fallout of Reverend Wright?  Where might it hurt, Michelle?

BERNARD:  If you listen to Senator Clinton, I would assume that what she‘s going to say, if she wins Indiana—and I think she‘s feeling she‘s going to win the popular vote in Indiana—she‘s going to play the game of psychology that we‘ve been saying she prefers, completely ignore the math, play on psychology and start having really a large segment of the American population begin to say, is Obama really our man?  Can he beat John McCain in November. 

Regardless of the mathematical uncertainty of what‘s going to happen with super delegates, I think she‘s got a good argument, because people are actually listening to her. 

GREGORY:  Richard, quick thought? 

WOLFFE:  The problem is about that argument, as we have just seen from the new NBC poll, Obama‘s numbers are holding up next to McCain after all of this fire storm.  That‘s the problem with the electability argument. 

GREGORY:  All right, we‘re going to take a break here.  Coming up, your play date with the panel.  A lot of you still have a lot to say about the Reverend Wright controversy.  RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  You waited long enough.  Now it‘s your time to play with the panel.  Still with us, Michelle, Pat, Ed and Richard.  Before we get to that, we have a bunch of e-mails tonight.  We talked about the reaction from the Hillary camp.  Hillary Clinton appeared with Bill O‘Reilly and was asked about Reverend Wright.  Let‘s watch the clip. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Can you believe this Reverend Wright guy?  Can you believe this guy.  What do you think? 

CLINTON:  I‘m going to leave it up to voters to decide. 

O‘REILLY:  What do you think as an American?  You‘re an American

CLINTON:  What I said when I was asked directly is that I would not have stayed in that church. 

O‘REILLY:  No, no, no, you‘re an American citizen.  I‘m an American citizen.  He‘s an American citizen, Reverend Wright.  What do you think when you hear a fellow American citizen say that stuff about America?  What do you think?

CLINTON:  I take offense at it.  I think it‘s offensive and outrageous.  I‘m going to express my opinion.  Others can express theirs.  It‘s part of an atmosphere we‘re in today. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Pat Buchanan, you talk about Hillary Clinton as the brawler.  She‘s been scrappy in Pennsylvania and beyond.  She‘s taking a pretty hands off approach there. 

BUCHANAN:  Doing the right thing and the smart thing.  Others can go after Reverend Wright.  Ultimately, if she‘s going to win this thing, she wants Reverend Wright supporters.  You don‘t pile on Reverend Wright when other folks are doing the job for you. 

GREGORY:  Ed, what do you think? 

SCHULTZ:  I think you do pile on the 180.  I think you can make the case that Barack Obama may have made his first big mistake.  I think her surrogates are missing an opening here.  By the way, I don‘t watch O‘Reilly, so I can‘t comment any more on it.   

BERNARD:  David, can I say something, this is coming one week after we have Representative Jim Clyburn doing an interview with the “New York Times” and saying that the damage that has been done by Bill Clinton during this election season basically equals irreparable damage between the Clinton campaign and the African-American community. 

I have to agree with Pat on this.  Hillary Clinton is spot on, in terms of her demeanor and what she said with Bill O‘Reilly on that interview with Fox.  She cannot afford to do anymore damage because, if she is the nominee, she cannot be the next president of the United States without the African-American vote. 

GREGORY:  Smart point.  Let‘s go to our emails now.  First up is Jan in Indiana; she writes this: “Obama has always been too little, too late on Wright, to the point where it sounds less like I‘m sorry and more like I‘m sorry I got caught in all of this.” 

Let‘s move on to another email, Teri in Maryland, who writes the following: “Now that Barack Obama has categorically separated himself from Reverend Wright, when can we expect John McCain to reject and denounce Pastor Hagee?  If some people can‘t see that there is a blatant double standard going on here, I‘m afraid that America will never be able to bridge the racial divide that still haunts our country.”

Richard Wolffe, that‘s Pastor Hagee, who has endorsed John McCain and has been very critical of the Catholic Church and has been called out on that. 

WOLFFE:  Absolutely.  We‘ve all heard evangelical ministers, white ministers condemn America and damn America for abortions.  So, yes, I don‘t think there‘s an equal balance of criticism and focus here.  In some ways, John McCain is getting a free ride.  But of course, that doesn‘t take away from the offensive nature and the outrageousness of what Reverend Wright said.  At some point, that scrutiny will come. 

GREGORY:  Pat, do you think it‘s a matter of focus here before that scrutiny comes or is there something specific about the Reverend Wright issue? 

BUCHANAN:  Reverend Hagee has not just been critical of the Catholic Church.  He‘s been utterly contemptuous of the Catholic church and very hateful towards is.  McCain is getting something of a free ride.  He condemned the statements of Reverend Hagee, but didn‘t repudiate him.  You ought to check behind this; Reverend Hagee is an enormously popular figure in the Jewish community.  He goes to the APAC conferences.  I think Mr.  Lieberman knows him.  McCain is playing a very fine line.  Frankly, they‘re right, he‘s getting away with it. 

GREGORY:  Next up.  Connie in Pennsylvania emails the following: “if it took Barack Obama 20 years and a replay of footage of the NAACP and press club speeches to realize the kind of person Wright really is, but it only took the majority of Americans to see the kind of person Wright really is from a 30 second sound bite, what does it say about Barack Obama‘s judgment of lack of judgment?”  Ed Schultz?

SCHULTZ:  Well, I think his judgment on the war is something he‘s going to have to talk about to get people off this subject.  We had 49 men and women in American uniform lose their lives in Iraq this month.  He needs to talk about that and how he‘s going to end the war.  When it came down to the big judgment on the war, he was against it all along.  I think that‘s material for him to have to change the subject.

I just don‘t think this Reverend Wright story, with new people to the fold, is going to make a difference. 

GREGORY:  All right, I have to leave it there.  Thanks to a great panel.  I‘m David Gregory.  That‘s RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE for tonight.  Thanks for watching.  We‘re back here tomorrow 6:00 Eastern.

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

END   

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