updated 5/9/2008 11:02:18 AM ET 2008-05-09T15:02:18

Guests: Michael Smerconish; Rachel Maddow; Joe Scarborough; Harold Ford Jr, David Gregory

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  Welcome back to THE RACE.  And we still have got one on the Democratic side, believe it or not. 

I‘m David Gregory.  Glad to have you.

Your stop now for the fast-paced, the bottom line, and every point of view in the room tonight.

Obama speaks after his Super Tuesday.  Is the end in sight?

Later, in “Three Questions,” what is it that Hillary Clinton wants if victory is now out of reach?

And tonight your e-mail.

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

And with us tonight, Mike Smerconish, a radio talk show host and columnist for “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and “Daily News”; Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America and an MSNBC political analyst.  “Morning Joe” himself is here, Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC‘s “Morning Joe”; and former congressman Harold Ford Jr., the newly married Harold Ford Jr., chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and an NBC News analyst. 

Welcome all.

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

I will start here, along with Joe.

We‘re going to start by looking at the candidate end game. 

My headline for Obama: “Squeeze Play.”

On Capitol Hill today, Obama worked the undecided superdelegates, looking frankly relieved.  He looks pretty pleased as well on the new cover of “TIME” magazine.  The swagger evident as well during an interview today with Brian Williams. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS:  Are you the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party? 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Not yet.  I will be if Senator Clinton decides not to go on or if we complete these six contests and we are ahead as we are now.  But nothing is certain.  I don‘t want to take it for granted.  Senator Clinton has been written off before and came back. 

WILLIAMS:  Have you had any discussions about declaring that victory on the 20th, after Kentucky and Oregon are decided? 

OBAMA:  That will be an important day.  If at that point we have the majority of pledged delegates, which is possible, then I think we can make a pretty strong claim that, you know, we‘ve got the most runs and it‘s the ninth inning, and we‘ve won. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  The Obama play now—respect and unity, as far as I see it.  He can take comfort in the math and the writing now on the wall, including headquarters. 

His team seems content to let her make the call, doesn‘t want to push her too hard.  His worry is keeping her close enough to get her voters when he needs them. 

Joe, break down Clinton‘s political psychology today. 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “MORNING JOE”:  Well, you know, she was expecting big wins this week.  She thought she would shock the world, she didn‘t. 

So, as is the case with the Clintons, they never die politically, and they never fade away.  So they‘re already planning her next stop, whether it‘s the Senate majority leader, or whether it‘s in 2012.  They know there‘s a next act for Hillary Clinton, but the first thing they have to do is find the golden parachute. 

That‘s why she‘s got to win in West Virginia and that‘s why she‘s still out campaigning tough like she did today.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This is a bit like deja vu all over again.  Some in Washington wanted us to end our campaign, and then I won New Hampshire. 

Then we had huge victories on Super Tuesday.  Then we won Ohio and Texas and Pennsylvania, and I was never supposed to win Indiana. 

Well, I‘m running to be president of all 50 states.  We‘re going to have to run a vigorous, victorious campaign in November.  That‘s why I am building such a strong and broad coalition among the states and among the voters we must have to deliver the White House. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  She is building that strong coalition, David, but she knows it‘s probably not going to help her be president in 2008.  But who knows?  Maybe 2012.

And anybody that says this is cynical needs to ask himself this question—did the Kennedys really want Adlai Stevenson to win in 1956?  No!

GREGORY:  All right.  Let‘s keep it moving.

Rachel, your headline tonight? 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My headline tonight is “Where is That Promised Flood of Superdelegates?”

A big part of the common wisdom after Indiana and North Carolina was that after that—after those finishes that night, we would see a bunch of superdelegates, a bunch of important endorsers come out and either switch from Clinton to Obama or just start declaring themselves for Obama.  We have seen a few, but it‘s essentially happening at the same pace as it was before those contests.  Nothing very much seems to have changed in this race, despite all the proclamations for the contrary on Tuesday night. 

GREGORY:  And we do know that team Obama does want a flood, not a trickle.  They‘re a little bit frustrated that they haven‘t gotten it yet, though they feel like they‘re building toward it. 

OK.  Harold Ford, hit me with your headline tonight. 

HAROLD FORD (D), FMR. CONGRESSMAN:  “Clinton Has a New Metric,” and I think it was talked a little bit about today. 

I thought we may have had...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re going to have to do well in West Virginia.  We predicted we would win it in November.  We‘re going to have to show West Virginians just how we do that.  People are going to have to look Tuesday night and say, Senator Clinton had a good night.  Why is it that Senator Obama lost by such a large margin in West Virginia? 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  What‘s your marker? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think if Senator Obama loses West Virginia 15 points, it‘s a problem for him. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FORD:  The new metric, 15 points by the Clinton team.  Barack has two options here.  One, he‘s probably going to be the nominee.  I don‘t know how you at this state in the game take this from him by any stretch of the imagination.  The most pledged delegates, the most popular vote. 

If he‘s able to have an Indiana night in West Virginia, the question becomes, does Hillary Clinton bow out of the race at that point? 

GREGORY:  Right.  Right.  Right.  But the key is for her to keep a metric out there that he has got to at least want to compete to get.  There‘s no indication he‘d even want to compete to get that.

FORD:  Look, she‘s relieved—he‘s relieved a lot of the pressure on these superdelegates to resolve the outcome of this race, obviously.  If he has an Indiana night in West Virginia, I repeat it, this race is virtually over today, but essentially, as he shared in the Brian Williams interview, has the most runs in the ninth inning, she can‘t catch him, she can‘t get the popular vote win.  Where does she go? 

And at that point, I think Joe‘s point of being a spoiler in some ways and maybe looking forward to 2012 is a far more compelling conversation.  I think he‘s right on spot today, but I think it‘s more accurate if that is the case come next Wednesday morning. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘ll keep it moving. 

Smerconish, your headline tonight? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Hey, David.  “Everybody Has Moved on Except Hillary.” 

I mean, the pundits, the media community, have proclaimed this race to be over.  You go to the Republican National Committee home page today, you see an anti-Obama commercial posted, not a peep that I can see about Senator Clinton. 

John McCain, when he‘s on the stump and he talks about either of the two of them, he talks about Barack Obama.  Even Rush Limbaugh has, you know, “released the superdelegates” to Obama. 

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH:  This thing has eclipsed her and the starting gun has sounded for the general election. 

GREGORY:  But—so what‘s surprising here, Smerc?  I mean, Republicans are sort of looking at this and saying, all right, it‘s time for us to move on and get primed here.

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t think it‘s just the Republicans.  And by the way, aren‘t these the same Republicans that were pumping up Hillary because they wanted to face Hillary?  Look how quick now they‘ve moved to Senator Obama.  Maybe they perceive him to be the Achilles heel. 

GREGORY:  All right.  A lot to get to tonight.  We‘re going to roll on right after this.

Coming up next, fourth quarter with the clock ticking.  Hillary Clinton going back to basics, talking up her appeal with white voters and women.  She talked about it today. 

We‘ll get into that.

Also, your play date with the panel is coming up.  You can call, 212-790-2299, or e-mail us, race08@msnbc.com.

THE RACE comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on THE RACE.  We‘re going inside the War Room now for a look at the Democratic race. 

How can Hillary Clinton stay in and how does Barack Obama get her out? 

Back with us, Michael, Rachel, Joe and Harold. 

First up, what does Obama have to do to end all of this?  One way to get Clinton to get out of the race would be to put her on his ticket. 

NBC‘s Brian Williams asked Obama if he‘s considering just that, inviting her in as a potential number two.  Here‘s what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  As soon as I know that I‘m the nominee, then I‘m going to start making overtures certainly to her as well as everybody else to figure out how we‘re going to bring this part together. 

WILLIAMS:  Would she meet the criteria of a Barack Obama running mate in the eventuality that you would be the nominee? 

OBAMA:  Well, there‘s no doubt that she is qualified to be vice president.  There‘s no doubt that she‘s qualified to be president.  She‘s a very capable, very smart person.  And I think anybody who has been in a political contest with her can tell you that she‘s no pushover. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  I‘m going to give this one to our election night insiders, that‘s Harold and Joe.

Harold, to you first, does Barack Obama need Hillary Clinton on the ticket? 

FORD:  That‘s a decision he‘ll have to make.  I think if you look at the numbers that these two candidates amassed in some of the key battleground states, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Missouri, and you add up those numbers in a Democratic primary, they are staggering numbers. 

Now, if the calculus makes sense, then Barack has to then ask himself a number of questions.  They have to vet her properly, they have to determine whether or not President Clinton, the role he may play in this.  They have to determine if the turning the page argument that they‘ve made throughout the campaign, if she‘s consistent with that. 

But I‘ve got to tell you, there are a lot of Democrats, some older Democrats, women in the party, and even some Jewish voters who are going to want to see Barack address some of the concerns that have been raised.  I think he will have a number of Democrats to take a look at, and she should probably be on that list.  And after listening to him, she clearly is. 

GREGORY:  All right.

Joe, the other part of this is, how does Barack Obama handle himself right now?  How does he get her from the race, push her from the race without appearing to do so? 

SCARBOROUGH:  He just did.  I mean, he‘s masterful right now when he‘s talking about how she‘s intelligent and that she can be president or vice president.  She‘s a great political opponent. 

It just makes too much sense to me for him not to strongly consider Hillary Clinton to be vice president.  You look 1952, you had Dwight Eisenhower.  Was it—yes, ‘52.  Eisenhower decided that he was going to put Earl Warren, then the governor of California, on the Supreme Court, because if he didn‘t, Warren was going to be running against him four years later.  He later said that was the worst mistake he made, but politically it made sense. 

And also, you could also go to 1973, I think it was.  “The Godfather,” Michael Corleone.  Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer. 

GREGORY:  Keep your enemies closer.  I know the movie by heart.

Let me keep it moving.

So, Hillary Clinton now, her rationale, how does she approach all of this?  An interview with “USA Today,” today, Clinton argued her coalition would be stronger than Obama‘s in the fall. 

To the quote board.

“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said.  As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article.  “That found how Senator Obama‘s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”

And at a Women for Hillary fundraiser in D.C. last night, Clinton talked about women being the core of the Democratic Party. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Do you know how difficult it is for women to stand up and say we are the best at anything?  For us to say—to claim our identity and our future, that we deserve to have the highest position in the world, that we are going to be counted? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rachel, bottom line here, Clinton is making a demographic argument, saying that Obama can‘t win.  She‘s still at it.  Why? 

MADDOW:  I think there‘s two different things going on.  I think what you‘re hearing there at the speech to the women‘s fundraiser last night is some of the inspirational gender talk that I‘ve been looking for Clinton to be making for quite some time.  That sort of elevating—being inspirational, elevating the discourse, putting herself in a civil rights context, really, for talking about her victory. 

I think that‘s very different than being the white candidate talking about how the black candidate is having a hard time attracting white voters.  I think that is a very, very blunt argument.  It‘s getting very close to saying that, you know, we‘re a racist country and we‘re not going to vote for a black man, so we ought not nominate one. 

I think those are two very, very different arguments.

GREGORY:  Well, but take both points, Smerc.  They‘re both blunt points. 

On the one hand, she‘s saying, I‘ve got women behind me.  This is a civil rights case.  They may not necessarily come out and support Obama. 

We‘ll see if that‘s actually the case. 

The second point is the electability point.  If her only argument is to superdelegates that he can‘t win, the longer she‘s in it, the better chance she has to win it. 

SMERCONISH:  The second of those first.

She‘s drawing a distinction between being nominated and being elected. 

And I think it‘s the best argument that she has so far.

Ed Koch said similarly today that, you know, this guy cannot win a general election and we all better recognize this right now.  As a matter of fact, David, you know, that was the whole premise of creating superdelegates to begin with, is that if you think you have got a train wreck coming in the fall, you head it off before you get that far. 

I noted that the blogging community today is all, you know, dissecting the words last night that she offered to that female community, but to me, I mean, it‘s like going to a farming group and talking about farming issues.  You play the hand that you‘re dealt, and that‘s all she was doing last night. 

GREGORY:  All right.

Joe, let me move on.  The final War Room item here, and that is Florida and Michigan.

The Clinton team going strong at the idea that there ought to be some resolution.  We‘ve seen overtures from the Obama camp as well, and talk of a resolution in Michigan. 

How does this get done? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, it gets done when Barack Obama and his camp figure out that they can give her Florida and Michigan, and he still wins the nomination.  And that may be happening.

He certainly can be a lot more gracious, and it will help him out if he blows her out from now to the end of the process, and he‘s able to do it again.  And maybe they can work a deal where she gets a certain amount of delegates, like Michigan‘s doing.  He does also. 

GREGORY:  Right.  I mean, because he can afford at this point to give her a split, give her a little bit more? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, yes. 

GREGORY:  He‘s not going to give everything to her, but if they keep waiting, maybe he can.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and he did so well with the popular vote in North Carolina.  It erased her advantage that she got coming out of Pennsylvania.

GREGORY:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  So, even if she adds up the popular vote, she‘s still behind. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Yes, go ahead, Harold.

FORD:  And it‘s in his interests to do it, only because—I agree with everything that Joe has said.  It‘s definitely—it‘s in his interests, because you can‘t alienate the voters in Florida and Michigan...

GREGORY:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  No way.

FORD:  ... going into a general race.  This has to get done, and it will get done soon. 

GREGORY:  I was just going to say—and Joe, button this up here in 10 seconds.  Your state of Florida, he‘s going to have a hard enough time against McCain, and Michigan, too, is a state where McCain can make some noise. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ll tell you what.  If Barack Obama wins the nomination, Florida is such an uphill battle.  They‘re going to need every single vote, and they can‘t keep Florida out of Denver. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to keep rolling on here.

Up next, can Democrats really quit the Clintons?  A “Smart Take” about the party preparing to give up its security blanket—the Clintons‘ security blanket. 

And later on in the show, what does Hillary Clinton hope to gain by staying in the race?  What does she want? 

THE RACE examines right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back now on THE RACE with “Smart Takes.”

Everybody‘s still talking about Hillary Clinton‘s campaign and what comes next for the Democrats. 

Back with us now to take them on, Michael, Joe, Rachel and Harold.

First “Smart Take” tonight, Dick Morris on Clinton‘s end game.

To the quote board.

“She, the consummate realist, must know that she has no practical shot at the nomination herself, but she welcomes the opportunity an ongoing candidacy offers to bash Obama and to drive a wedge between him and the voters he must have to beat McCain.  The question is how long Democratic primary voters and the party leadership let her go on hitting their ultimate nominee.”

“Hillary doesn‘t have to pull out.  She is entitled to run in the remaining states.  But she should curtail her negative campaign and adopt the Huckabee strategy”—talking about Mike Huckabee—“maximize your own vote share but don‘t beat up the party‘s nominee.”

Rachel, is she listening? 

MADDOW:  No, I don‘t think so.  I think that she knows, as I believe, that the thing that cleanses all sins, the thing that wipes away all past wrongdoing in politics, is winning. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Amen.

MADDOW:  I think that she‘s trying to win.  I don‘t think she‘s going to play nice in order to try to get a nicer consolation prize. 

I don‘t think she‘s in this for second, and I don‘t think she‘s in this for vice, and I don‘t think she‘s in this for a cabinet position or for Senate majority leader.  I think she‘s running for president.  And even though everybody says it‘s irrational, the fact that there is some path that she can see to the end I think is what‘s driving her right now. 

GREGORY:  Right.

Hey, Harold, what about this idea, though, the fact that the Clintons may believe in their heart and with their smartest political mind that he cannot win, and that it is their duty, given their position in the Democratic Party, to push this all the way to try to disabuse Democrats of the idea that he can win? 

FORD:  I think they‘re going to support Barack Obama if he‘s the nominee, and they‘re going to get out and aggressively campaign for him.  It looks as if we will be removing that “if” sooner rather than later.

However, as Rachel said very well and Joe knows and I remember well, when you get in a race you don‘t get in a race not to win.  She still sees a path.  And you have to admire her in some ways.  And even if Barack considers her for the VP, you have to admire that kind of tenacity and toughness and resilience.

Now, having said all of that, she realizes that that window is closing.  When Dianne Feinstein stood up this week and said she‘s got to explain to me the path, one of her closest friends, if not her closest ally on the West Coast, that raised serious concerns.  The McGovern defection was important, but it was not as relevant to her as Dianne Feinstein. 

You will notice she has not—Hillary Clinton has not dismissed or belittled Dianne Feinstein‘s comments.  And with Howard Wolfson today labeling or defining a 15-point win in West Virginia as the new metric, they clearly see a very narrow path and they‘re going to go after it. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me move on.

The second “Smart Take” tonight, “New York Times” reporter Adam Nagourney.

“On the end of the Clinton era”—to the quote board—“many in the party worry if the Clintons remain appreciative to the extent to which Mr.  Clinton helped rescue the party after 12 years out of the White House.  The Clintons  are in many ways a security blanket for many in the party.  They may not be easy to quit.  All of this poses a challenge to Mr. Obama as he seeks to move the Clinton wing of the party beyond the Clinton era without offending Mrs. Clinton‘s considerable base of supporters.”

Smerc, take it on.

SMERCONISH:  David, call me naive, but everybody keeps discussing the exit strategy for Hillary.  I‘m thinking about an exit strategy for Bill, because I believe that the hottest commodity on the political landscape when it comes to campaigning is Barack Obama, closely followed by Bill Clinton. 

I know there have been embarrassing moments on the campaign trail thus far, but he is the man.  You need to keep on your team for the general election.  And I think crafting a role for him going forward is high priority number one. 

GREGORY:  Joe, I think it‘s a good point.  Look what he did—he didn‘t win all these counties in North Carolina, but he has got a real role to play in the general election. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And the Clintons aren‘t going anywhere.  They‘re going nowhere.

GREGORY:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  I mean, listen, these senators understand.  They look back to 1980, Teddy Kennedy humiliated by Jimmy Carter in the primary process.  Over the past quarter century, Teddy Kennedy has been—really, he has been the liberal line for the Democratic Party, the most effective senator in the United States Senate over the past quarter century. 

Hillary Clinton has that future.  If she‘s not president four years from now, she‘s probably going to be Senate majority leader.  The Clintons are going to continue to dominate the Democratic Party until they decide they‘re ready to go home. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Joe, do you think that that‘s true regardless of how Clinton behaves right now? 

SCARBOROUGH:  No.  No, I don‘t. 

I definitely think that if they act terribly, if they‘re blamed for Barack Obama losing in 2008, then yes. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  They‘re going to have to act like Ted Kennedy did.  They‘re going to have to make nice at the convention, they‘re going to have to give an inspiring speech, and say go out and vote for the other person and then go home and pray he loses. 

GREGORY:  All right.

FORD:  David, this is...

GREGORY:  Hold on.  Let me—I‘ve got just a few seconds here.  I want to get in this third “Smart Take.”

Won‘t have much time for reaction, but let me get to it from TIME‘s Karen Tumulty.  This is really inside the Clinton operation and the mistakes that were made that Tumulty lines out.

The big thing is that they miscalculated the race and the rules of the race from the start.  This is what she reports: “Clinton picked people for her team primarily for their loyalty to her instead of their mastery of the game.  That became abundantly clear in a strategy session last year.”

“As aides looked over the campaign calendar, chief strategist Mark Penn confidently predicted that an early win in California would put her over the top because she would pick up all the state‘s 370 delegates.  It sounded smart, but as every high school civic student knows, Penn was wrong.  Democrats, unlike the Republicans, apportion their delegates according to vote totals, rather than allowing any state to award them winner take all.”

It caused a bit of controversy within the campaign.

“Three Questions” coming up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Don‘t go anywhere, the RACE is coming right back with “3 Questions” on the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE including this: Hillary Clinton says she will campaign until all the Democratic contests are done.  So what does she have to gain by making Barack Obama play out the remaining six contests?  That is next. 

First, a check of your headlines. 

(NEWSBREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to the RACE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Glad to have you. 

We have “3 Questions,” the bigger picture in the campaign as it still goes on, the fight for the Democratic nomination, but first, a campaign alert tonight. 

Barack Obama has picked up another superdelegate.  State lawmaker Rick

Larsen of Washington.  The superdelegates, drip, drip, drip, that‘s how the

out at the Obama campaign, has been doing it as they try to move inexorably toward this nomination. 

Still with us tonight for “3 Questions,” Michael, Rachel, Joe and Harold.  First up tonight, Hillary Clinton‘s campaign also still rolling on in West Virginia despite Tuesday‘s potentially fatal blow, but today in Charleston, Hillary Clinton told voters she has been backed into a corner before. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON:  This is a little bit like deja vu all of over again.  Some in Washington wanted us to end our campaign, and then I won New Hampshire.  Then we had huge victories on Super Tuesday.  Then we won Ohio and Texas and Pennsylvania, and I was never supposed to win Indiana. 

Well, I‘m running to be president of all 50 states. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  So the first question tonight, what does Clinton gain by forcing Obama to play out the remaining contests?  And Joe, let me start to answer that before I allow you, too, which is she really wants to persuade, not only her supporters but donors and superdelegates that thing is closer than it is. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, it is closer than it is, and also she‘s been very embarrassed.  If she had quit this race a month ago when everybody started writing columns saying she needed to go out, she would be forever damaged in the Democratic Party.  She would be remembered as an Ed Muskie. 

Instead, she‘s fighting it out and if she can win big in West Virginia, if she can win big in Kentucky, if she can go to Denver saying, you know what, I lost this thing, but three years from now, say Barack Obama get 51 percent of the vote, I get 49 percent of the vote, that‘s something that keeps her alive and well and very relevant in future elections. 

So she‘s going to stay in. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  .as long as she can. 

GREGORY:  And Rachel, if she does keep going, she demonstrates what she can do, and as she alluded to earlier in the program and during that interview with the “USA Today,” what she brings to the table here, something significant in terms of her voter base, that Barack Obama needs, so he either needs her or he—you know, directly on the ticket or he needs something that she can deliver to him. 

MADDOW:  Or she needs to be the presidential nominee.  I mean, I. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  I think that essentially she‘s staying in it now just to stay in it.  I feel like right Hillary Clinton is taking on the role of understudy in the Democratic race.  Because she hasn‘t quit, because she is still in it, she is the person who‘s still in the room if something politically fatal befalls Barack Obama. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  I don‘t believe that Hillary Clinton is going to push him off the stage, but I think she believes that if he is pushed, either by his own efforts or by those of the Republicans, she wants to be there to step into his spotlight.  And. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

MADDOW:  .the way you do that is by staying in the race. 

GREGORY:  And question two is related to this.  Even top Clinton adviser acknowledged that her bid is mostly quixotic at this point.  A senior Clinton aide was quoted in “The Washington Post” saying, “It would take a miracle for her to win.” 

So then second question is really a follow-up to the first.  If the nomination is out of reach, then what does she want at this point, if it‘s not simply to be the understudy, Harold? 

FORD:  You know, I don‘t know, we‘d have to ask her exactly, but I think the points that have been made are spot on.  She‘s got to continue to show her credibility, her standing, be it leaving the race with a win in West Virginia, which looks likely today. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

FORD:  Or she wants to position herself to be seriously considered for the number two spot in the ticket. 

I will say this, when you finish with 49 percent of the vote, how you‘re treated by the winner is important as well.  Barack Obama, Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid will have a big challenge, not a big challenge, but will have to treat her with the dignity and respect that she deserves.  And as Barack said early, she has the right to finish this out.  I just hope she doesn‘t get negative or nasty, because that won‘t help Barack and, frankly, doesn‘t help her, because if Rachel is right, she still believes she can win this thing so she‘s got to be positive. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

FORD:  .and carry on. 

GREGORY:  Smerc, take it on. 

SMERCONISH:  I think there‘s a tendency to over analyze any of the decision-making processes of the Clinton.  You know, oh, the Clinton machinations and so forth.  The reality is probably that she‘s got years of blood, sweat and tears invested in this quest for the presidency, and she‘s reluctant to call it a day. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  I mean there is—talk about that moment, Joe.  I want to talk about Bill Clinton in a second.  But talk about a moment where a candidate has to face this choice. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, some of them face it terribly.  I‘ve been—I‘ve actually been in a hotel suite with people running for governorships when all of the votes are in, and the wife‘s saying, don‘t go down and concede.  We‘re still going to win it!  And just quietly you‘re still sitting there going, dude, dude, dude, go, don‘t listen to her. 

But there are other people who are very Machiavellian about it, who understand when they‘re going to lose, and guess what?  Those are the people who survive in politics. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  The Clintons will survive.  They‘re smart enough to know that, yes, maybe a meteor will fall out of the sky and strike Barack Obama on the head, but short of that, they probably not going to win, so they‘ve got to find their golden parachute and not be up. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  .in the suite where everybody is whispering, “It‘s over.” 

MADDOW:  I‘ll just quickly say that, this—the difference between that situation and what‘s happening here is all the votes aren‘t counted, and the rules on the Democratic side are woolly and weird enough that, for me, the analogy here is like they‘re playing ping-pong and they‘re like, let‘s play to 11.  Barack Obama. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  .winced, OK, let‘s play to 15, Obama wins. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Yes, one more. 

MADDOW:  OK, let‘s play to 21, Obama wins. 

GREGORY:  Just one more.  One more. 

MADDOW:  You just keep changing—yes, one—OK, two out of three, three out of five, four out of seven, you just keep changing the rules. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Talking about machinations, let‘s talk about Bill Clinton.  He is no doubt playing a large role.  As Hillary Clinton considers what her next move should be, I‘m not quite sure he‘s saying there “dude, dude” yet, but we‘ll see in this race and beyond. 

In the meantime, the former president is (INAUDIBLE) ahead of the next primary, telling voters in West Virginia his wife can still win the nomination and suggesting Barack Obama can‘t win in November. 

Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  Don‘t believe all this stuff you read in the press.  She can still win this thing if you vote for her big enough.  They‘re going to have to revolve Michigan and Florida, and when they do, she can win the popular vote.  If you want to make absolutely sure we didn‘t go to all this trouble for nothing and we can win in November to turn this country around, she is your best choice.  She won‘t quit on you, so don‘t you quit on her. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  All right, so, Joe, this is essentially the same argument, which is that she stays in it, and something happens to Obama or superdelegates get swayed that maybe they take a second look at her.  What does Bill Clinton want out of all of this at this stage? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Bill Clinton‘s reputation has been terribly tarnished.  You know, he left the White House unpopular.  His wife‘s biggest problem early on was the—were all pardons that actually kept her in the 30s for some time, but she built up her reputation, and as she did, Bill Clinton built his reputation as a senior statesman, not at the Democratic Party, but of the United States of America, beloved across the world. 

And that‘s just been shattered in South Carolina—it‘s not shattered

dinged up very badly.  The better Hillary Clinton does, the stronger his reputation is moving forward, so he‘s fighting for his reputation.  He‘s fight fighting to salvage what he lost in South Carolina and some other states.  And—so that‘s why he wants her to win as much as possible. 

But again, they‘ve got to be very careful moving forward.  They can‘t play the white card. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They can‘t say Barack Obama can‘t win.  They just can‘t keep doing that, or else they‘re going to hurt themselves additionally moving towards Denver. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to keeping moving on here. 

Coming up, a snapshot of the McCain/Obama race if it comes to that.  We‘re going to look ahead to the general election.  Both candidates have promised clean campaigns.  But will they stop outside groups from slinging the mud on their behalf?  We‘re going to go inside a special edition of the war room coming up next. 

And McCain hit a milestone last night, making a record-setting 13th appearance on Jon Stewart‘s “Daily Show” where he admitted he gets a little emotional thinking about the Democratic race. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  You‘re watching the Democrats beat each other over the head.  Are you—what are you—are you on a. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  It‘s terrible, I hate to watch it. 

STEWART:  Oh, it must be very difficult.  You get, what, the hot rocks? 

J. MCCAIN:  My heart goes out to them. 

STEWART:  That‘s still not right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming up next, McCain versus Obama.  It‘s a special war room.  Can they keep their campaigns clean?  And who has the edge with key groups like Jewish voters?  We‘re going to go back to the war room right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on the RACE and a special edition of the war room.  Going to take a look at the general election landscape now, a snapshot if the race is indeed between Obama and presumptive GOP nominee John McCain. 

Back with us, the panel, Michael, Rachel, Joe and Michelle.  The first

no Michelle here tonight.  Wait a second.  Sorry about that, guys. 

That‘s not right. 

The first topic, civility.  Will McCain and Obama stick to their promises about running a campaign without swiftboat attacks and other underhanded tactics?  John McCain‘s wife Cindy sat down with NBC‘s Ann Curry and was stressing the McCain camp‘s intention to stay on the high road. 

Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CINDY MCCAIN, SEN. JOHN MCCAIN‘S WIFE:  I believe we‘re going to see a great debate, which the American public deserves more importantly and none of this negative stuff, though.  You won‘t it come out of our side at all because. 

ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  None of the negative stuff will come out of your side. 

C. MCCAIN:  My husband is absolutely opposed to any negative campaigning at all. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Opposed?  Well, despite claims that his campaign will not go on the attack against Obama, McCain has already hit Obama hard for suggesting the U.S. should talk with our enemies on the subject of Hamas, a sworn enemy of Israel, that now controls the bulk of the Palestinian authority. 

McCain said, quote, “It‘s very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president,” referring to Obama.  Well, today Obama responded with this today, telling CNN, quote, “This is offensive and I think it‘s disappointing because John McCain always says, well, I‘m not going to run that kind of politics, and then to engage in that kind of smear, I think is unfortunate particularly since my policy on Hamas has been no different than his.  I‘ve said it‘s a terrorist organization and we should not negotiate with them unless they recognize Israel, renounce violence, and unless they are willing to abide by previous accords between the Palestinians and the Israelis.” 

“So for him to toss out comments like that, I think, is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination.” 

Smerc, losing his bearings.  Here we go. 

SMERCONISH:  To the extent that there‘s a difference of opinion relative to Hamas between senators McCain and Obama, I‘m unaware of it.  I think that that was clearly a play for votes in the Jewish community which perhaps are going to be up for grabs.  And relative to Cindy McCain‘s comments, David, let me just say this.  The irony is that John McCain has created this McCain/Feingold world in which we live where the uncontrollable element are the 527s. 

So they can say all they want.  They can be as nice as they‘d like to be in the general election, but they cannot control those special interest groups that are out there in the Internet world in which we live. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

SMERCONISH:  It will get nasty. 

GREGORY:  But. 

SMERCONISH:  How much of it comes from the top is to be determined. 

GREGORY:  But the reality here, Harold, is that McCain, even though he‘s not getting so much attention right now, he has experimented with booth sides of this, saying that, you know, you shouldn‘t talk about Reverend Wright, but certainly decrying some of his positions, talking about Hamas, talking about other issues where he‘s trying to go both ways here on Obama. 

FORD:  Look, I‘m sure the Obama campaign is prepared for Senator McCain to make more comments like he made regarding Hamas and Jeremiah Wright and other things.  I‘m certain that they‘re being—they‘re preparing themselves, embracing themselves and even preparing a hope on offensive against those 527s.  It‘s unfortunate politics has reduced itself to this point, but I‘ve got to think the American people are smarter than that. 

And we saw it in the Democratic primary and I think we‘ll see a lot of it here as we move into the general.  Barack‘s challenge will be to frame John McCain as a third term for George Bush.  And if America wants that. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

FORD:  .then they should vote for him.  If he gets out and does it, which he started I though brilliantly after the win in North Carolina, he will enjoy continued success. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Coming up next, a grizzled veteran of the GOP war room, that‘s Karl Rove, former senior advisor to the president, says Barack Obama is the best candidate for Republicans in the current environment.  No, no, what he said was that John McCain is the best candidate for Republicans. 

In today‘s “Wall Street Journal” Rove writes the following: “He is the best candidate Republicans could have picked in this environment.  With the GOP brand low, his appeal to moderates and independents becomes even more crucial.  My analysis of individual state polls shows that today Mr. McCain would win 241 electoral college votes to Obama‘s 217.  With 80 votes in toss-up states where neither candidate has—more than a 3% lead. 

Ironically, Mrs. Clinton now leads Mr. McCain with 251 electoral votes to his 203 with 84 in toss-up states.  This is the first time since Mr.  McCain—she‘s led Mr. McCain since I began tracking state-by-state results in early March.” 

Joe, what do you make of it? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I make that‘s probably the case right now.  That‘s where the divide in the Democratic Party, though.  It‘s going to be very interesting to see if that—if it goes that way in the fall.  Bottom line is this: that Hillary Clinton will—would probably do better in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, but that‘s how it‘s looking right now in May. 

When you have the united Democratic Party, when you look at the economy in October in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, even in Florida. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  .where it‘s going to be hurting, chances are good.  Obama will pick up more votes.  But there‘s just no doubt that right now Hillary Clinton would do better against John McCain if the election were held today, but it‘s not. 

GREGORY:  Where are some of those toss-ups, Smerc? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, I think the toss-ups are the same that they were four years ago. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t—I mean I really believe that if you handed any one of us the map right now and asked us to shade it red and blue, for the majority of the states we could reach accord as to how they would flip and probably five would be in dispute. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Except for the fact that Florida is much redder than it was four years ago.  Ohio tilting more Republican that it should be right now.  Those are the two states right now that Democrats, Obama specifically, will have to focus on if he wins this nomination. 

GREGORY:  And Smerc, what about New Jersey?  What about Pennsylvania for McCain?  Does he play? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, I‘m so glad that you asked because, you know, you remember the consternation on the right relative to Senator McCain was, this guy is too much of a maverick, too much of a middle-of-the-road candidate, and now, ironically, and I do get to say I told you so, he‘s perfectly suited for this general election. 

It is time for the GOP to expand its tent, it‘s a time to loosen up on those social issues.  John McCain can do that unless he gets co-opted by the fringes of the right, and then he becomes a loser. 

MADDOW:  But John McCain right now is giving speeches about pornography, he‘s giving speeches reminding everybody that he‘s going to appoint judges that are probably going to vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade.  I mean. 

SMERCONISH:  A mistake.  Mistake. 

MADDOW:  .you may want him to do that but he‘s absolutely doing. 

SMERCONISH:  Rachel, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  .the opposite of that, and he doesn‘t have a Republican opponent right now. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SMERCONISH:  And it troubles me because I think that‘s a prescription for disaster.  What he should do is stand his maverick ground.  I mean the John McCain that I want to see in the general election is the man who has served in a Senate, and not the one who‘s pandering to some of these groups in the GOP. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But give me one moderate position John McCain has on social issues?  Abortion?  Pro-life.  Guns?  Pro-Second amendment.  Gay marriage?  Against it.  He‘s not a moderate on social issues. 

MADDOW:  The Arizona Republic. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me. 

MADDOW:  Sorry.  Just did an announcement of his Senate votes, talking today, that published today, talking about how he is absolutely a down-the-line, party loyalist in the Senate, essentially. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  He gets a lot of credit for being more maverick, but his votes still line up with it. 

GREGORY:  Let me. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Let me just get one more in here. 

FORD:  Barack and McCain have these big personas.  And they—Barack will be painted as the liberal (INAUDIBLE).  McCain will paint him as a conservative, but their personas are so much bigger.  I was talking to a dear friend today and talking about NASCAR.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the biggest name in NASCAR.  He doesn‘t always win the races, but he‘s got a big persona. 

Both Barack and McCain will have that advantage going to the fall. 

GREGORY:  Let me stick one more in here.  The next topic “Inside the War Room.”  President Bush, does he help or hurt John McCain?  Look at this, a chart from Gallup, the organization, Republican support for the president has plummeted.  Back in ‘02, Mr. Bush enjoyed a 99 percent approval rating among Republicans.  OK, that was a long time ago.  Today, down to just 60 percent. 

Joe, that hurts John McCain, especially if Obama effectively ties him to him. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Again, Rachel I‘m sure—I don‘t dispute what Rachel is saying about his voting record, and he hugs George Bush, and he‘s been a friend of George Bush on a lot of issues. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  He‘s embracing his tax cuts, but like Harold said, it‘s the persona, it‘s the image that he‘s built up over the past. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  .25 years that will separate him from Bush even if reality doesn‘t. 

MADDOW:  The question is whether the image ever gets closer to the record.  We‘ll have to see. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Right. 

FORD:  Yes.  I can tell you, we‘re going to fund that airplane for President Bush to travel with Senator McCain whenever and wherever he. 

GREGORY:  Yes, exactly. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And the hug, the hug. 

GREGORY:  The hug. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We will see the hug all fall. 

GREGORY:  Hey, I remember that hug very well, Joe. 

All right.  Coming up next, it‘s your turn to play with the panel.  You‘re buzzing about what the future holds for Hillary Clinton, your e-mails and your questions right after this.  Don‘t go away. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  All right.  Playdate time with the panel now.  There‘s lots to talk about, and you‘re talking about it. 

Still with us, Michael, Rachel, Joe and Harold. 

Charles in Florida asks this: “Is it possible for former President Clinton to run as her vice president.  If anything should happen to her during office, could he then be president again?  I feel they are up to something to shock the superdelegates into voting for her to steal the nomination away from Senator Obama.” 

Joe?  I don‘t think so. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why do you go to me?  I think Smerconish has the answer to that one. 

SMERCONISH:  Yes.  I don‘t think it passes constitutional muster. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly, does that. 

SMERCONISH:  .if you want a serious answer about it.  But hey, I must say, Joe, and thanks for yielding your time on this, I think a mistake in retrospect, they should have run as a twofer.  And remember when the campaign was first announced there was some angst as to, oh, is this really Bill coming back to the White House?  That‘s the way they should have marketed this campaign in my view. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  I think that would have insulted a lot of Democratic women to say that we can have a woman as long as she brings a man with her.  I think it‘s a lot. 

SMERCONISH:  It‘s a man who was president, Rachel.  I mean.

MADDOW:  A man who. 

SMERCONISH:  .it‘s not just any man. 

MADDOW:  Yes, but if you run—the first time a woman runs, if she‘s running as a spouse, essentially, I think that a lot of women would be turned off by that. 

GREGORY:  Right.  But I mean she had other issue toss deal with, just like Al Gore did, just like John Kerry did, you know, you have to find the right place for Bill Clinton.  And remember how—many months we spent saying who would ultimately be in control?  Would it be her or him?  You know, that was now—that was something that she had to dispel early on. 

Dave in Florida thinks Clinton‘s gunning for VP slot after all.  If you listen closely, he writes, “Clinton was laying the ground work for the general elections.  She is simply hoping that she will be chosen as VP since she can make serious inroads into what she calls swing states.” 

So here‘s a serious question, Harold.  If that is what she wants, if she‘s on the ticket and they don‘t win, does she really think she‘s in a better position then to go after it in four years?  Or does she have the John Edwards problem? 

FORD:  Two things, first.  This is Barack‘s decision, and two, I think she‘s still playing to win.  Now if she‘s on the ticket and they win, she will be the presumptive nominee eight years from now, and if she‘s on the ticket and it‘s unsuccessful, I think she views herself  or anyone running as vice president would view themselves as the presumptive nominee or the frontrunner for the nomination four years from now. 

But I still think she‘s playing to win and trying her hardest, a very narrow path and probably unrealistic path to get there. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  All right.  But that‘s not—But Joe, what I‘m getting at is, I mean, let‘s be realistic about this.  You know, John Edwards thought he had a real shot at this, he didn‘t play beyond Iowa, and he didn‘t even play there that well.  So that‘s what I‘m getting at.  If that‘s the idea you get on the ticket, is it—would she be better served off in the wing somewhere? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think she‘d be better served to be on the ticket. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That being said, though, sometimes when your time passes, your time passes. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  John Kerry found that out early this year. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Edwards found it out later on.  But again, I think Hillary Clinton, again, if this—the last thing you remembered about Hillary Clinton was botching it, losing 12, 13 primaries and caucuses in a row, that would be one thing. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But Hillary Clinton knows this, she—and she‘s told close friends this.  She has—re-branded herself as somebody that comes back, that‘s a fighter, that‘s tenacious, that never gives up, and she knows moving forward that‘s her brand. 

MADDOW:  Yes, that‘s right. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s how she‘ll be remembered. 

MADDOW:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And that‘s something that she can come back four years later and say, you know, one of the things—really quickly she‘s made a lot of believers of a lot of moderates who swore they would never vote for her because she‘s so tough. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

Here‘s as an intriguing idea of Mark in Atlanta thinks, “Just as Clinton may be in the cards, with justices Ginsburg, a Clinton appointee, Stevens and possibly Souter, potentially in line to lead the Supreme Court soon, with an agreement to put Senator Clinton, a widely respected and talented lawyer in her past life, up for a spot on the bench be an incentive for her to drop out.” 

Nothing like life‘s tenure to take your opponent away, Smerc? 

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t know, 1 of 100 to 1 of 9, I mean she‘s qualified.  Yale Law School graduate, but can you imagine the negatives that would run in the general election if word of this were out?  You know, look who Barack Obama is going to put on the Supreme Court of the—the base of the GOP would be out there in line before the polls opened.  I can‘t see it happening. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  I don‘t think she‘s in a position right now of making a list of demands or making a wish list for Barack Obama. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MADDOW:  But if you‘re going to, why wouldn‘t you put this on there? 

It‘s the best. 

GREGORY:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  It‘s the best job in Washington, isn‘t it? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh yes. 

GREGORY:  One of them, one of them. 

FORD:  Why not?  It‘s the best job in Washington. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Thanks.  (INAUDIBLE)  I‘m David Gregory.  That does it for the RACE.  A lot more to talk about in the days, weeks and months to come.  Thanks for watching.  We‘re going to be back here tomorrow night, same time, 6:00 p.m. Eastern only on MSNBC.  “HARDBALL” coming your way next. 

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

END   

Watch Race for the White House each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,