updated 5/8/2008 11:01:05 AM ET 2008-05-08T15:01:05

Guests: Rachel Maddow; Eugene Robinson, Michael Smerconish; John Harwood

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  Welcome to THE RACE, everybody.  I‘m David Gregory.

You found it, the fast-paced, the bottom line, every point of view in the room tonight.  The “Now what?” edition of the program.

After headlines, we go inside the War Room to examine the road ahead.

At half past, the road traveled.  What happened last night?  We go inside the numbers and break down the strategies to determine what worked and what did not.

The bigger picture tonight is in three questions, including this: is Hillary Clinton indispensable to Senator Obama?

The bedrock of the program, as you know, a panel that comes to play.

And with us tonight, Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor for “The Washington Post,” also an MSNBC political analyst.  Rachel Maddow is here, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, also an MSNBC political analyst.  Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philadelphia and a columnist for “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and “The Daily News.”  John Harrowed also here, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and political writer for “The New York Times.” 

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

I‘ll get us started here tonight. 

My headline, this may not be the end, but we can see it form here.  Senator Obama is not out of the woods as a candidate.  He has weaknesses that should give Democrats pause, but he is closing this race down. 

Hillary Clinton is running out of time, real estate and arguments to keep superdelegates on the sidelines.  Today, she signaled that she has not played her final hand. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m staying in the race until there‘s a nominee.  And I obviously am going to work as hard as I can to become that nominee.  That is what I‘ve done, that‘s what I‘m continuing to do. 

I believe that I‘m the stronger candidate against Senator McCain, and I believe I would be the best president among the three of us running.  So we will continue to contest these elections and move forward. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  She will move forward until she is stopped, which means the superdelegate vote will play an increasingly important role. 

Today, she suffered a loss of public support from party elder George McGovern, who is now backing Obama and edging her to drop out of the race.  But Senator Clinton did pick up the superdelegate support of Representative Heath Shuler, whose district she carried last night. 

Overall, it‘s proven to be a much better day for Barack Obama who has netted a gain of four new superdelegates.  Remember, this is the strategy here.  They are former Clinton supporter and Virginia State Representative Jennifer McClellan, North Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jerry Meek, and North Carolina DNC member Jeanette Council, as well as California DNC member Inola Henry. 

Again, this brings us to our final delegate scoreboard showing Obama ahead of Clinton by more than 152 pledged delegates.  This being the total delegate total at this point.  You see the overall delegate scoreboard. 

Mike Smerconish, tonight your headline is what?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Hey, David.

As Howard Cosell perhaps would have said, TKO in round 50.  And by that, I mean Senator Obama did not score a knockout, but he came pretty darn close.  I think it was a technical knockout.  And from this time forward, Senator Clinton, much like a fighter at the end of the line, has got to determine how best to shut it all down with dignity and keeping her reputation in tact. 

I think it‘s over. 

GREGORY:  You think it‘s argument now, it‘s certainly not math? 

SMERCONISH:  I believe it‘s a math argument that says there‘s no way she can win it, but for the seating of Michigan and Florida.  That would be to win ugly, to guarantee defeat in the fall.  It‘s over. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  All right. 

Rachel, what do you see tonight?

RACHEL MADDOW, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  My headline tonight is “Refusing to Die.”  I thought about making it “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” but then I thought there might be copyright issues. 

(LAUGHTER)

Defying common wisdom, Hillary Clinton says she is staying in this race.  She is campaigning in West Virginia today, she is campaigning in South Dakota and in Oregon tomorrow.  She is holding fund-raisers, she is being defiant. 

Hillary Clinton, doing that, puts Barack Obama in a spot.  He so far is not trying to push her out, but how long can he maintain that position on the high road as long as she refuses to leave the race? 

GREGORY:  Yes.  The question on engagements is going to be a big one that we take on tonight.  How do they go after each other here in the upcoming weeks? 

Gene Robinson, hit me with your headline tonight. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  “Clinton‘s Hand.”

It was revealed today that Hillary Clinton recently lent her campaign $6.4 million of her own money.  This follows an earlier loan of $5 million. 

Listen, I don‘t care if your family made $20 million last year, as the Clintons did -- $11.4 million is a lot of money with no guarantee of ever getting it back.  You know, I was thinking of this as a metaphorical poker game between Clinton and Obama, but now I‘m thinking of it as a real poker game, except that Obama gets to play with other people‘s money. 

GREGORY:  Yes, I mean, that‘s the point, whether Hillary Clinton supporters are going to feel any sense of momentum to want to keep honing up. 

ROBINSON:  Yes.  I mean, who‘s going to put a whole lot of money into this campaign at this point? 

Now, the last time she made the big $5 million loan, she did kind of get a sympathy flood of money coming in, so—but I can‘t imagine you would put that much money on the table in the hopes that you‘d get another such influx. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

John Harwood, a lot to digest here.  What‘s your take on it? 

JOHN HARWOOD,: CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, CNBC:  My headline, David, is “Gas Tax Goes Populism Goes Pop Like a Pop Gun.”

Hillary Clinton fought with that federal gas tax holiday.  She had an issue to build on Obama‘s struggles with Jeremiah Wright.  The polls seem to indicate she was building a lead with that, but the final results showed Barack Obama successfully push back with his argument that it was a phony gimmick.  Exit polls showed, David, he actually gained ground among white women and white working class voters. 

GREGORY:  If the issue had gone on, if we didn‘t vote yesterday, do you think he was building any more traction on this issue? 

HARWOOD:  I think you‘ve got to conclude—you know, it‘s always difficult to separate out any particular issue and its effect on the vote, but I think you have to conclude from the end game of that race, when she escalated the volume on that issue and he came back in the end from polls showing he was up, she was up five points, and he has a photo finish, he won the end of the argument. 

GREGORY:  All right.  A lot more to come here.  We‘re just getting started.

Up next, rules of engagement.  Hillary Clinton vows to fight on, but can she take on Obama without damaging his chances in November? 

We go inside the War Room for a look at the road ahead in this Democratic race.

Later in the show, your turn to play with the panel.  You‘ve had a lot to look at and think about.  Call us: 212-790-2299, or e-mail us at race08@msnbc.com

THE RACE comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on THE RACE.  Time to go inside the War Room.

Both Obama and Clinton staring down the road ahead.  What are the biggest challenges that they are facing?  Where do they go from here?

Still with us, Gene, Rachel, Michael and John.

First up, inside the War Room.

Clinton‘s cash full.  The latest word from the campaign is that Clinton loaned herself $6.4 million in the past month.  The last time she announced that she had loaned herself money, that led to a flood of donations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  We can only keep winning if we‘re able to keep competing against an opponent who does outspend us massively.  So I hope you will go to hillaryclinton.com and support our campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  There was urgency in all of that.  A breakdown of Clinton‘s loans to her campaign.

On April 11th, she gave $5 million.  Another $1 million on May 1st

Nearly $500,000 on May 5th.

And her fundraising chair, Terry McAuliffe, is showing no signs of slowing down now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CLINTON FUNDRAISING CHAIR:  The money, first of all, (INAUDIBLE).  We have six contests to go.  Luckily, we don‘t have those huge, gigantic media markets.

We‘ll have the resources to go on and compete in the remaining six states.  It‘s all about—listen, millions of people have yet to vote.  Let‘s let them vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  John Harwood, she can keep up spending for now, but how big of an impact is the money going to have?

HARWOOD:  Big, but not as big as the political impact.  And the general feeling, that the air is going out of the balloon.

GREGORY:  Right.

HARWOOD:  You know, once she got on a roll, appeared to, in the combination of Jeremiah Wright and Obama‘s sort of difficulty dealing with that issue, the gas tax, people said, hey, wait a minute, she‘s got a populist issue with some real traction to it.  She gets close in North Carolina, she gets ahead in Indiana, and all of a sudden all that falls back on election day.  He shows more resilience than people expected.

GREGORY:  Right.

HARWOOD:  The Obama team exhaled.  Other Democratic politicians say, OK, we‘ve got a nominee now.  And that‘s changed the entire atmosphere of the race even though she did win Indiana.  What people said she needed to do is survive.

GREGORY:  Yes.  Gene, real quick, if there‘s a talk of an exit strategy in the air, what are you giving money to? 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, I think one element of any sort of negotiated settlement with the Obama camp would have to be, how do we retire this campaign debt?  And the vibe I‘m getting from the Obama camp today is that, you know, yes, they would love to be rid of her, but they don‘t seem to be—they‘re not scrambling to grab for their checkbook at this point. 

GREGORY:  Right.  They don‘t want to be the ones to actually push her.  They want to have her help arrive at that decision.  They want her help down the road. 

Moving on, superdelegates...

ROBINSON:  They don‘t want to make it that easy either. 

GREGORY:  Yes, exactly.

Superdelegates, that‘s key here in terms of where this race goes from here.  So what are Clinton‘s talking points to the superdelegates?  Can she win the popular vote?  That‘s going to be one of those big topics. 

But last night, she may have put a major dent in that argument.  Take a look at the latest numbers.

Clinton now trails Obama by a little over 714,000 in the nationwide popular vote and loses to him 17 to 31 in contests won.  Even if she picks up votes from Florida and Michigan, Obama‘s expected win in Oregon would virtually erase any gain for her there. 

So, what should Clinton be saying to the superdelegates today?  Why would they be holding out for her, Mike? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, I think “The Washington Post,” there was a quote this morning from an unnamed Clinton adviser that sums up the state of affairs.  It said that the situation is becoming one where she can‘t be nominated and he can‘t be elected.  And I think that what she‘s got to do is focus on the latter half of that and talk to those superdelegates about how poorly this bodes for a fall election given his standing among white working class Democrats.

I don‘t know that it‘s a saleable argument.  I think it‘s the only one she‘s got. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

Rachel, we know that she‘s talking with them today, Hillary Clinton is.  She‘s in there trying to get those undeclared superdelegates to come over to her side.  She also has got to worry about losing those that she‘s already gotten. 

MADDOW:  Yes, I think that‘s right.  And I think the popular vote argument is kind of to the process here what the gas tax proposal is to energy policy.

It‘s one of these great populist-sounding things that really falls apart when you look at it.  I mean, this is not the way the Democrats pick their nominees. 

If I were Hillary Clinton‘s campaign right now, or if I were Senator Clinton herself, what I would be saying to the superdelegates right now is wait.  Please don‘t jump right now.  I can‘t tell you today to jump for me.  If you haven‘t jumped for me already, obviously there‘s a reason why you‘re not. 

Just wait.  Let‘s let this ride out.  You don‘t need to decide now.  Decide as late as possible.  You‘ll be grateful for not being seen to stick your head up above the others and get too much attention here. 

Just wait.  That‘s her only strategy right now. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Smart point.

HARWOOD:  David, you know what? 

GREGORY:  Go ahead, John.

HARWOOD:  As long as Barack Obama is struggling, then all these arguments about the popular vote—you know, a week ago, other Democratic superdelegates were saying, hmm, think about that.  In the wake of what happened last night, they are like yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

GREGORY:  Right.  It gets off the table.

All right.  Next up, how are both camps going to engage each other?  How are they going to debate each other following their prospective wins last night?

Obama is now focusing on McCain, talking past Hillary Clinton.  I thought he gave something of an acceptance speech for the nomination last night. 

Listen to him from last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We can‘t afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush‘s third term.  We need change in America. 

While I honor John McCain‘s service to his country, his ideas for America are out of touch with these core values.  His plan to win in November appears to come from the very same playbook that his side has used time after time in election after election. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Meanwhile, Clinton today back on the trail.  She‘s not on the attack.  There‘s a new tone.

Gene, a sign that she‘s scaling some of the negative attacks at this point.  They‘re going to engage each other a little bit differently now.

ROBINSON:  I do believe so.  I believe Hillary Clinton understands, and certainly Bill Clinton understands, that for her to do these sort of all-out, bring-him-down attacks that she was doing a few weeks ago would severely damage her standing in the party and would be counterproductive in terms of her effort to win the nomination. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

ROBINSON:  So I think it will be a more substantive debate.

GREGORY:  All right.

Smerc, you‘re up on deck on this one.

We can look at the upcoming contests here.  That‘s another big factor in the road ahead. 

Look at them here—West Virginia, primary next week on May 13th

Kentucky and Oregon go to the polls on May 20th.  Puerto Rico votes June 1. 

Both Montana and South Dakota weigh in June 3rd.

Clinton already ramping up expectations for a win in West Virginia today.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  West Virginia is one of those so-called swing states.  Democrats need to win it in the fall.  I want to start by winning it in the spring. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  The Obama campaign, according to Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman, says they are wrapping this primary process up by May 20th.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  They think that their D-Day is May 20th, when at the end of the Oregon and Kentucky primaries, they will have a majority of the pledged delegates.  And they think that‘s what they need to in turn go to the remaining superdelegates who are undecided and say, look, let‘s close this thing out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Smerc, you look at the calendar, anything important there? 

SMERCONISH:  To the extent there‘s any certainty in this—and I know that‘s a dangerous word when we‘re surveying the landscape—it would seem to be Oregon for Senator Obama. 

She doesn‘t need to win those other states, she needs to win them by close to 70 percent of the vote.  That‘s according to all the number-crunchers who‘ve looked at this.

GREGORY:  Yes.

SMERCONISH:  I just don‘t see the scenario for her.  She‘s got to get out with dignity.  That‘s what I think she‘s got to focus on.

GREGORY:  All right.  So really nothing that changes the dynamic in the contests that come up on the calendar. 

SMERCONISH:  Unless there‘s another Reverend Wright, no. 

GREGORY:  Waiting in the wings.

All right.  Got to take another break here.  Coming up, “Smart Takes.”

And later in Three Questions, Barack Obama faced a lot of tough headlines about the Wright controversy leading to Indiana and North Carolina.  So why couldn‘t Hillary Clinton deliver a knockout blow? 

THE RACE returns right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to THE RACE.

“Smart Takes” today.  It‘s all about the post game, what everybody‘s talking about today. 

The panel is back—Gene, Rachel, Michael and John to take it all on. 

Our first “Smart Take” tonight, Politico‘s Roger Simon says Senator Clinton doesn‘t have to drop out of the race, but how she campaigns in the next few weeks could determine her political future. 

To the quote board.

“Clinton must continue to look scrappy and resolute in the weeks ahead and not sad or pathetic.  There is a lot at stake for her that goes beyond the Democratic convention.  Even if she does not run for president in 2012, she‘s up for reelection to the Senate that year, or she could run for governor of New York in 2010.  Or she might want to become majority leader of the Senate.”

“She has options, but only if she manages her end game carefully.  If she becomes known as the candidate who is willing to destroy her party in order to gain the nomination, she is likely to lose not just the nomination, but also her political future.”

She‘s challenging—Roger Simon was challenging you last night, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  That‘s exactly right.  I have never bought this speculation on what politicians tuck away in terms of political capital to be expended at some point in the distant future. 

I remember when John Kerry conceded in 2004.  You heard the same kind of take on it—oh, well, he‘s trying to do this gracefully to set himself up for 2008. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  It‘s just pure...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  Yes, it really worked for him.  Sure.

It‘s just—it‘s fantasy for a story that is otherwise unknowable, which is what goes on inside a candidate‘s head.  We don‘t know what Hillary Clinton is thinking, we don‘t know what she‘s planning.  We don‘t even know what‘s more important to her as she makes this decision.  And so we come up with these fabulous storylines about how they think about the overall arc of their career and it‘s just made up. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me go on to the second “Smart Take.”  Let me just move on here. 

Tom DeFrank of “The New York Daily News” on what Obama now faces.  Obama did manage to pull in many white voters, but still encountered ugly sentiments from a man who refused to shake his hand at a diner in Greenwood, Indiana. 

“I can‘t stand him,” the man said.  “He‘s a Muslim.  He‘s not even pro-American as far as I‘m concerned.”

“Such feelings leave Clinton and the Democratic Party in a tough spot.  With the largest number of remaining delegates now being party insiders, they have to decide if Obama can overcome enough of that antipathy, essentially deciding if enough working class whites will back away from the candidate, whether because of false Muslim rumors, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright flap or old-fashioned racism.”

Gene, take it on. 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, imagine we get to the point where party insiders think that, gee, there‘s a substantial bloc, a dangerously large bloc of voters who will not vote for Barack Obama because of racism, because he‘s black.  Do they then deny him the nomination? 

There‘s a kind of moral position here that I think the Democratic Party kind of has to take, that it‘s not acceptable to keep Barack Obama from getting the nomination just because we think there are racists out there who will act on their racist views. 

GREGORY:  Yes, but John...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  It‘s ultimately an electability argument, isn‘t it? 

HARWOOD:  Yes, it‘s an electability argument.  But look, everybody running for president has got an electability problem.  And there‘s no particular reason to think Barack Obama‘s are that much worse than anybody else in the race. 

The one thing I think we can say that goes to Roger‘s point is—and Rachel talked about it as well—it‘s not within Hillary Clinton‘s control to win this nomination right now.  Her chances are not zero in the same way that a football team can score touchdowns and get on-side kicks and keep scoring touchdowns, you know, three times in the last two minutes.

GREGORY:  Yes.

HARWOOD:  But what she has to have happen is some catastrophic failure, some discovery that Tony Rezko and Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama had a secret, you know, gun running operation involving, you know, a bunch of Muslims who met in a basement, or something like that. 

You would have to have something catastrophic happen to him.  And, you know, stuff happens in politics, it‘s just not very likely. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

Finally, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter argues that Obama‘s opposition to this gas tax holiday idea actually paid off and helped him rebound from Wright. 

To the quote board.

“His press conference denouncing Wright didn‘t end the issue for good, but it did put enough distance between Obama and Wright to help neutralize the damage.  More important, Obama‘s decision to push back on the gas tax actually worked.  Refusing to pander reminded his base among college-educated voters of the reasons they liked him in the first place.  It also helped Obama recover his rhythm.”

“After watching him sink some baskets on Sunday, I had a few words

with him.  ‘I really feel good about the gas tax position,‘ he said.  ‘We

had veered into the conventional and now we‘re back.  This was a huge

gamble and it paid off.‘”

Smerc, what do you say? 

SMERCONISH:  I saw the exit surveys in both states.  And they suggest that on the economy, the voters split evenly.  And I think it supports the view that this was a good issue for him. 

I think Americans recognize it‘s all about energy independence today.  And the candidate who‘s going to score points will be the one who puts us on that path.

It‘s not a game of nickels and dimes.  And I think this was viewed as a gimmick and he was right to say what he said. 

GREGORY:  But Rachel, let me—I think there‘s something in just a couple of seconds here—in Obama world, it‘s authenticity that matters.  And there is a kind of anti-politics vibe, as we‘ve talked about.  He got back to that core message, sort of calling her out and saying pandering‘s not going to work. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  I don‘t know that it was so much anti-politics, but it‘s a great blessing when you‘re one of two Democratic potential nominees to have the other Democrat side with the Republican on a policy position, because then you get to be a “They‘re the old Washington guys.  I‘m the new thinking person.”

That‘s a real blessing in politics. 

GREGORY:  Right.  All right.

Got to get another break in here.

Coming up, we took you through the road ahead.  Now we‘re going inside the War Room to evaluate the road just traveled. 

Where did Clinton and Obama improve?  And what are the warning signs?

We‘re breaking down the exit poll numbers coming up.

And in Three Questions, Obama won big in North Carolina, but was he given too much credit last night?

THE RACE rolls on after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory.  This is the back half; second edition of the war room coming your way right now.  We took you through the candidates‘ road ahead, now the road just traveled.  Where did they improve?  Where did they fall behind?  What‘s inside the numbers of what happened last night?  Are there warning signs? 

Back with us, the “Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson, an MSNBC political analyst, Air America‘s Rachel Maddow, also an MSNBC political analyst, radio talk show host Michael Smerconish and John Harwood of cNBC and the “New York Times.” 

First up, what went well for Obama last night?  In the battle over the gas tax holiday, Obama won a decisive victory on this front over Clinton in North Carolina.  According to exit polling there, among voters who said the economy was the most important, 53 percent voted for Obama, 45 for Clinton.  But he came up short in Indiana, where voters were asked the same question.  It was Clinton beating him there, 52 to 48.  Do we think Obama was closing in on Clinton in this gas tax argument in Indiana?  What was the difference here?  Obviously, a big spread, John Harwood, in North Carolina, much tighter in Indiana. 

HARWOOD:  I think the key there is to look at Indiana and compare it to what happened in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  If you look on that question of the economy, Hillary Clinton went backwards among economy voters.  She got 59 percent of them, according to the exits, in Pennsylvania a couple weeks ago, 51 percent yesterday.  The same thing happened with white women, same thing happened with union voters.  Not dramatic declines, but a slight pull back for Hillary Clinton at a time when she was trying to press this argument.  It didn‘t work. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Smerc, was it too much narrow casting on this?  Too much of a narrow appeal? 

SMERCONISH:  I think that she took a risk by making the play on the gas tax issue.  It didn‘t bode well for her in either state.  This is what I was making reference to before the break.  Even in the best case scenario, which is in Indiana, what was the margin, a couple points.  It didn‘t do anything for her. 

HARWOOD:  Indiana voters take their cues from the elite opinion.  WE provided it and they responded.   

GREGORY:  Moving on, the Rev. Wright factor.  The good news for Obama is that 72 percent of those who said the Reverend Wright issue is not important ended up voting for Obama.  Makes sense.  On the flip side, those who said it was an important issue voted for Clinton in big numbers, 71 percent according to exit polls in Indiana.  If they voted for her on this issue, it means it hurt her, right, Gene?  It hurt him, rather. 

ROBINSON:  It hurt him.  Yes, I guess that‘s kind of what you would expect.  If people who thought it was all that big deal tended to vote for her.  What he has to do is convince more people that it wasn‘t that big a deal going forward.  Maybe the way to do that is to let it lie for awhile. 

GREGORY:  Yes, but Rachel, we know that it was a big deal on the minds of voters.  Something like 50 percent of voters in Indiana saying this was something that influenced their vote.  We don‘t know from that number whether it was positive or negative. 

MADDOW:  Right, all we know is that they thought it was important.  We certainly heard some super delegates come out and say that part of the reason they endorsed Obama is they liked the way that he handled the Reverend Wright issue. 

The thing that can‘t be over-stated is how dominant the Reverend Wright issue was in the media.  Project Excellence in Journalism put out a study yesterday that said the Reverend Wright issue got 42 percent of the campaign coverage.  Everything related to Hillary Clinton got 41 percent of the coverage.  You can‘t get more blanket than the coverage was on Reverend Wright.  He still got within, what, 21,000 votes of winning in Indiana and won that big margin in North Carolina. 

GREGORY:  Smerc, here‘s my point on this: the Reverend Wright issue, if it‘s an issue in the fall, is probably not going to get worse right now.  He has stanched the bleeding for it right now.  This was where he was being undone by all this, in this period.  So you ask, what does she have to show for it. 

SMERCONISH:  David, Republicans raise this issue to their detriment.  You know what image I have in my mind?  It‘s the image of Bill O‘Reilly sitting there with Senator Clinton and saying to her, I feel sorry for Barack Obama.  Don‘t you feel sorry?  He‘s got a loony pastor getting him in trouble.  I think there are a lot of folks who are looking at this and saying, enough already.  Give the guy break. 

GREGORY:  I‘m sure Hillary Clinton was among them, thinking the night before the vote; gosh darn it, I just feel sorry for the guy.  Moving on, the demographic breakdown, numbers from the war rooms that they are pouring over right now.  For Obama, area‘s where he‘s comfortably ahead, the black vote; he took home a whopping 91 percent to Clinton‘s seven percent in North Carolina. 

HARWOOD:  I‘d say that‘s comfortable.

GREGORY:  Pretty comfortable.  Similar numbers reflected in Indiana.  By the way, the black vote about 33, 34 percent in North Carolina, about what people thought it would be, slightly down from South Carolina, but still very large numbers.  Obama made major inroads among Catholic voters.  He came within a few points of Clinton in North Carolina.  Look at this, in Indiana, he cut into her lead, trailing her 39 to 61 percent.  This is the Catholic vote, compared to the wide margin she had in Pennsylvania.  That‘s a plus side for him.

Area‘s of improvement, he came up short among white, older voters.  Clinton winning 72 to 28 among this group in Indiana.  He‘s still behind with white women, losing 33-65 percent among white women in North Carolina and 39 to 61 in Indiana.  What do you make of it, John? 

HARWOOD:  I think that he made progress among white women from Pennsylvania to Indiana.  Some of that may be because it‘s a next door state.  A lot of people have seen him in the Chicago media market.  I think the Indiana results bode fairly well for Barack Obama.  Look, he does have a problem in this primary running against Hillary Clinton getting those white working class votes.  Does that mean he can‘t get them in the general election?  Not necessarily.  It‘s certainly not something that would encourage you to think he would be strong in that group, but it‘s a whole different ball game when we get in the general. 

John McCain is going to take some votes at the bottom of the income scale away from him, but Barack Obama is going to take some at the top of the income scale from John McCain. 

GREGORY:  Here‘s some important numbers two: bitterness and division among Democratic voters.  You can see it clearly in the exit polls.  Of those who said they were Clinton supporters and who were asked who they would vote for if Obama was on the ballot, look at this, 31 percent said they would vote for McCain, 16 percent said they would stay home.  Of those who said they were Obama supporters and asked if they could vote Clinton in November, 19 percent said they would vote for McCain and 18 percent say they would stay home. 

Clearly, Obama supporters are more forgiving than Clinton supporters here.  It‘s a major sign that the party is going to have some major healing to do as we move through the spring and fall.  Gene?

ROBINSON:  Yes, I always discount those numbers.  I don‘t think they will be nearly that high when push comes to shove.  The question is, are they five percent, seven percent?  Whatever it is, it‘s not going to be good for the Democratic nominee.  That‘s where the whole healing process thing comes in. 

(CROSS TALK)

HARWOOD:  David, those are the least credible numbers of the whole exit polls.  Asking somebody what they are going to do six months from now about an election that hasn‘t taken shape yet, I wouldn‘t put much stock in that at all. 

GREGORY:  I take your point.  Rachel, I think a factor here is for super delegates.  They‘re the ones who are looking at the here and now and saying, is this not an impetus—we have to get everybody back together here. 

MADDOW:  The super delegates are absolutely the audience for those exit poll numbers right now.  I was cutting tape from Barack Obama‘s speech last night to play on my radio show today.  There was that nice inspirational passage where he said—where he was talking about this fact how divided the primary has been.  Then I realized, when I actually listened to what he said, that all he said was, they say we are so divided.  They say our supporters whole support and they‘ll defect to John McCain.  His whole rebuttal to that was, I don‘t believe it.  That‘s not a very good strategy for defeating it, just saying you don‘t believe it‘s going to happen. 

Democratic voters are saying they are mad and they are divided.  We can choose not to believe it, but it would be great to hear a strategy for unifying the party that didn‘t involve just who the V.P. is going to be.  It would be great to hear a strategy that was more copacetic than just saying, I disbelieve that this is true. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to take another break here.  Coming up next, three questions, including this: Obama came off some of the toughest weeks of his campaign.  So why couldn‘t Hillary Clinton capitalize on that and get a bigger victory last night?  Plus, is Hillary Clinton indispensable to the Democrat‘s chances in November?  We‘re talking dream, unity ticket here.  Is it time for her and Barack Obama to play let‘s make a deal on all kinds of issues?  We‘re coming right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Time for three questions about THE RACE.  Team Clinton was hoping for a game changer on May 6th.  Tonight, the game goes on, but with the odds increasingly in Obama‘s favor.  We‘re going to look at what happened to Clinton and Obama and where this race goes next?  Still with us, Gene, Rachel, Michael and John. 

First up, a reversal of fortunes for the Democrats; Barack Obama faced arguably the toughest weeks of his campaign heading into Indiana and North Carolina, making team Clinton so confident about a possible two state victory that they moved millions of dollars and key resources into the Tar Heel State.  But Hillary Clinton failed to capitalize on Obama‘s weakened position.  This on “MORNING JOE,” Tim Russert suggested Clinton‘s biggest mistake was letting the race go this long. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, “MEET THE PRESS”:  There are some people in the Clinton campaign who had conversations and they say that it was their political malpractice, in terms of the way the campaign was run, in terms of ignoring the caucus state.  She had found her voice in the last couple of weeks on the campaign trail.  If you looked at her presence on the stage then as opposed to way back in the beginning of the campaign, it‘s a different kind of candidate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Yes, first question then: where did the Clinton campaign go wrong?  We‘ll go around the horn.  John, take it on. 

HARWOOD:  They had to run against Barack Obama, who is an exceptionally charismatic, gifted, young politician, who allowed Democrats to make the argument—allows Democrats to say we‘re moving into the future rather than the past.  I think they made mistakes in not contesting those caucus states.  Fundamentally, her problem was Barack Obama rather than Hillary Clinton. 

GREGORY:  Smerconish, take it on. 

SMERCONISH:  One wonders why they concentrated so much, in terms of resources, in North Carolina, given the margin.  When I say resources, I mean money, I mean her time, and I mean his time, meaning President Clinton.  so you ask yourself, did they have some internal number that in the end it broke towards Senator Obama?  Apparently not because “New York Times‘” exit survey suggest that among those who voted in the last three days, 48 percent for her, 49 percent for him, so no blood drawn. 

I‘m left wondering, why didn‘t they cut their losses and concentrate more on Indiana and try and expand that margin? 

GREGORY:  Gene? 

ROBINSON:  I agree with Michael.  I think they perhaps should have concentrated on Indiana.  I think the gas tax issue actually hurt her.  It seemed at the time like it was a winning political issue because it was pandering.  It was classic pandering and that often works.  But I think it reinforced Obama‘s argument that this is the same old Washington politics.  Just look at Hillary Clinton, there she goes again, promising something that will never happen, that‘s a bad idea anyhow.  I think that was a mistake. 

HARWOOD:  Affirmation David that that argument can succeed with voters, that‘s a big deal for Barack Obama. 

GREGORY:  Right, absolutely.  Rachel, the bigger picture though is this question of how Hillary Clinton was presented to the electorate all along, as an inevitable candidate who could not be stopped, and now she‘s on the verge of being stopped. 

MADDOW:  I prefer to do the autopsy once the patient is already dead. 

In this case, I have a little bit of a contrary view here.  I think that

Hillary Clinton is in this until hell freezes over.  I don‘t think she‘s

done yet.  I think the thing that she‘s done right is tenacity.  I think

the thing she has done wrong—I‘m probably with John Harwood on this one

I think the thing she did wrong was end up in an election against Barack Obama, in what, by all appearances, seems to be Barack Obama‘s year. 

But she‘s not done yet.  Simply the fact that she‘s still in the race says a lot about her as a candidate right now. 

GREGORY:  Up next, on the flip side of all this, Obama came out of May 6th looking stronger than ever.  He battled back from Reverend Wright, elitism, allegations and dooms-daying prediction, trouncing Clinton by 14 points in North Carolina and losing Indiana by just two points.  Second question, what does Obama‘s breakthrough here?  And is he getting a little too much credit for last night‘s split decision.  By this I mean, John Harwood, it doesn‘t take away the fact that this campaign has really stumbled and that there are real stumbling blocks for him as he looks forward to the fall. 

HARWOOD:  That‘s exactly right.  But what happened here—we‘ve been on a path for some time, ever since February, of Barack Obama slowing marching to the nomination.  The only question is does that accelerate or does something change in the race that allows Hillary Clinton to change the calculation of the super delegates?  We thought there was a moment before this election where she might have that chance, with Jeremiah Wright, the gas tax, the difficulty he had.  He looked tired on the campaign trail.  His message appeared to be a little bit out of gas. 

Guess what?  He had a little more oomph, a little more resilience than we thought.  That‘s why this is so disappointing for her, and it‘s why the super delegates are going to start to flood his way. 

GREGORY:  I take your point on that.  But, Gene, let‘s look at something else.  If Hillary Clinton is to be faulted for not having a post-February 5th strategy, is not Barack Obama to be faulted for not having a strategy post that string of victories that could effectively put him away.  Why wasn‘t he able to drive a policy area to really own the debate?  How is it that he got into a position he was fighting it out so closely so far along? 

ROBINSON:  That‘s a great question.  How many weeks in a row did we say, why can‘t Barack Obama close a deal?  Now, of course, we‘re saying why couldn‘t Hillary Clinton close the deal last night?  I think Obama allowed himself to be put on the defensive for weeks.  He was really embattled with the Reverend Wright issue.  I think the turning point was not so much dealing with Reverend Wright issue by cutting the guy off, but, again, the gas tax issue.  It was as if he reanimated.  It was something that he really, passionately believed in.  It was right in his wheelhouse.  It was consistent with what he has been arguing all along. 

He seemed like the old Barack Obama, as opposed to the kind of floundering Barack Obama that we saw for several weeks. 

GREGORY:  All right, I want to leave some time for this last question.  Team Clinton spent much of the day explaining why they are pushing on, when the numbers suggest she has almost no chance of winning the nomination.  Today in West Virginia, Clinton herself made the case that her base, not Obama‘s, will decide the election in the fall.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Come the fall election, I think that African-American voters, which are a very important part of the base of the Democratic party, will support the nominee. 

What we have not been able to count on in the last elections are the voters I‘m getting.  You know, women, particularly, lower income women didn‘t vote for John Kerry.  Hispanics didn‘t come out for Senator Kerry in the numbers that people hoped for.  Working people are a part of the base that we lost that we‘re trying to win back. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Will African-Americans come out for her would be a good follow up there.  Mark Ambider of the “Atlantic.com” says Clinton is counting on a big victory in West Virginia and Kentucky to prove that she‘s indispensable to Obama and the party.  But he says there‘s no appetite for any talk of a dream ticket in Obama‘s campaign.  Third question then: if it‘s not a unity ticket, what would a negotiated solution look like?  And is Clinton really indispensable to Obama?  Smerc, what do you think?

SMERCONISH:  I think this is part of that mantra that I mentioned earlier in the program, of the Clinton campaign, where they say, perhaps she can‘t be nominated, but heck, he can‘t be elected.  I don‘t know that she‘s indispensable.  I do believe that those Reagan Democrats, to a large extent, are indispensable to him and they need to be brought into the fold. 

GREGORY:  John Harwood, last night, Tim Russert made a point where the race goes on.  She tries to roll up big victories, Kentucky and West Virginia, and then effectively says to the Obama campaign, OK, you‘ve seen what I can do.  Now, let‘s talk turkey here.  Whether she wants to be on his ticket or it‘s something else.  I don‘t know what the something else would be.  It would seem that being on the ticket would be the big play there. 

HARWOOD:  I think Mark Ambider is right.  There‘s very little appetite within the Obama campaign for that to happen.  I‘m not sure she has the leverage right now to try to make that happen.  If she had won Indiana by seven or eight points and lost North Carolina by seven or eight, she would have a little more juice for that argument, the ability to sort of fight this on and make it a war of attrition to the end. 

What changed last night was that Barack Obama got a little bit more than that, more than a split decision.  He was very close to actually knocking her out, didn‘t quite do it.  He still hasn‘t achieved that knock out blow.  But I‘m not sure she has the juice to force a dream ticket, even if she wants to be on that ticket, because Barack Obama does not want it. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, ten seconds?  Does he need her? 

MADDOW:  No, I think this isn‘t rocket science.  I think both McCain and Obama know they need Reagan Democrats.  Obama may decide Hillary Clinton is his best way to get them, but he might decide somebody else is too. 

GREGORY:  Another break in here.  Coming up, your turn to get into the post game on THE RACE.  We‘ll read your e-mails.  Your play date with the panel is coming up next.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  A few minutes left here.  Your turn to play with the panel.  Still with us, Gene, Rachel, Michael and John.  All right, first up, Clarence in North Carolina has an idea how on to heal the Democratic party:

“if Senator Obama is the nominee, there is one person who will be able to aide in a speedy repair of hurt female feelings and that is Oprah.” 

Rachel, where was Oprah don‘t the stretch?  I was wondering about that.  She could have done a lot of good in Indiana. 

MADDOW:  I think she‘s busy.  I think she has a lot going on. 

GREGORY:  She‘s interviewing Tom Cruise. 

MADDOW:  I think that, honestly, if there was an Oprah who wasn‘t known to be an Obama supporter, somebody who is that influential among American women, then it wouldn‘t look like a political calculation.  It might make a big difference.  The most important woman for repairing hurt female feelings if Barack Obama is the nominee, the most important woman in America is going to be Senator Clinton herself. 

GREGORY:  Yes, and you have to take her word that she‘s going to be out there fighting the fight for him.  We don‘t know whether she‘s going to be detracting from him in other ways. 

MADDOW:  Or whether that happens in August or whether that happens in June. 

GREGORY:  Yes, right.  Jennifer in Wilmington, North Carolina has her own smart take and she writes this: “David, I hope I might be able to add some on the ground insight on Obama‘s victory in North Carolina yesterday.  More than one blue collar white man told a canvasser that they had been ready to vote for Clinton up until a few days ago when they decided that the gas tax holiday was a gimmick and switched their vote to Obama.  My suspicion is that, given a few more days, Indiana might have slipped completely away from her.”

I‘m kind of intrigued by this idea.  Chuck Todd has raised this, John, as well, that given more time, he might have further eroded support on the gas tax issue.  Where do you think that comes from? 

HARWOOD:  I think it comes from the idea that Barack Obama, as Gene said, found his footing at the end of the campaign.  He was reinvigorated.  He was off Wright and he was on to this high minded argument that reminded people, especially college educated voters, but some others as well, clearly, some of these working class voters, of why he was inspiring, why he might be different, why he would be the change candidate. 

The more time he has to campaign in that mode, the better off he is. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  Vanessa in New York writes this: “I‘m one of the many Clinton supporters who won‘t vote for Obama if he is the nominee.  I‘d be tempted to vote for McCain if not for the judges issue.  People don‘t get that the reason so many Clinton supporters won‘t vote for Obama is because they don‘t think he‘s ready to be president.  The—this is a typo here—

“the stress of the presidency requires fortitude and I think Obama is lacking on that front.”

You know, Smerc, this gets to something that I think is important, which is—and we‘re not talking about it a lot.  But McCain, one of the reasons why he‘s an effective candidate for the Republicans is that he does have this crossover appeal to more conservative Democrats or to independent voters. 

SMERCONISH:  If he maintains his maverick status.  My concern is one, as a Republican for John McCain, to start allowing his actions to be dictated by the extremes of the Republican party.  If he airs on the side of placated the folks on the fringes, he‘s a loser.  What got him this far is that maverick streak and he needs to maintain it. 

HARWOOD:  Ready to be president is a big deal for Barack Obama.  That is a hurdle he needs to overcome.

ROBINSON:  However, fortitude, I think if you defeat Bill and Hillary Clinton, you got a bit of fortitude. 

MADDOW:  Also, John McCain, this may hurt him on the age issue.  Yes, he‘s shown himself to have incredible stamina, but he‘s also going to be 72. 

HARWOOD:  He was ready to be president 20 years ago?

MADDOW:  Say that again? 

HARWOOD:  He was ready to be president 20 years ago? 

MADDOW:  If we can go back in time and have a new electorate that doesn‘t --  

GREGORY:  Real quick, John, this is one of those questions that Barack Obama still faces, which is how much mettle does he really have?  Yes, taking on the Clintons, that‘s important, but the tenor, the tone of the race could certainly change by the fall, and he‘s got to show he can really take a punch and deliver a punch. 

HARWOOD:  I think that‘s a fair point.  It is the case that he did not win the Indiana primary last night.  Again, she fell short.  She was disappointed by what happened last night.  But he did not close the deal in a definitive way.  It looks like it‘s going to happen anyway, but I think that‘s a caution flag.  He has to show out on the campaign trail he can really bring it. 

ROBINSON:  To point out one other thing, David, the viewer writes “if not for the judges issue.”  I think a lot of voters, a lot of Democrats are like that.  There is an issue that they care about. 

MADDOW:  That‘s right. 

GREGORY:  Thanks to a great panel.  Big night, a lot to talk about, and a lot more ahead.  This race rolls on.  We like it that way.  I‘m David Gregory.  We‘ll see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00.  “HARDBALL” is next.

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

END   

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