updated 5/12/2008 12:15:30 PM ET 2008-05-12T16:15:30

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson, John Harwood

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  Tonight, Hillary Clinton: the angles and end game. 

Might she end up on Obama‘s short list?  He mentioned that today. 

THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome back to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Glad you‘re along with us.

This is your stop for the fast-paced, the bottom line, and every point in the room tonight. 

We haven‘t assumed the Democratic race is settled, but that won‘t keep us at peeking at the general.  And you know what?  That fight is already on between Obama and McCain.  The fireworks tonight. 

We will also examine Clinton and the race card and this question: Is this how she wants to go out of the race? 

The bedrock of the show, as you know, an all-star panel that comes to play.

And with us tonight, Patrick J. Buchanan, former presidential candidate;

Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America Radio;

Eugene Robinson, “Washington Post” columnist and associate editor.  All three are MSNBC political analysts.

And John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and political writer for “The New York Times.”  John is also co-author of a new book, “Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power.”  You‘ve got to check it out if you love politics. 

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

I‘ll start us off here tonight.

My headline, “Firing Up for the Fall.”  It looks like Obama is starting to treat Clinton the way McCain treated Huckabee—ignore her and move on.  Here he is laying out the case against McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  So there‘s going to be a real difference on the ballot in November.  And that‘s what this election should be all about.  John McCain will stand with Washington‘s tried and I believe failed approaches to the past.  And I intend to stand with the American people on behalf of a new direction. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  So you heard about Obama saying McCain has “lost his bearings” in the campaign after McCain said Obama was the candidate of the terror group Hamas.  Team McCain thought that was a dig at his age, and the candidate is rather touchy about it.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Every issue that the American people want to be an issue and its part of their discussions, it‘s fine with me.  It‘s fine with me. 

Just as the Reverend Wright‘s remarks, I don‘t believe that Senator Obama (AUDIO GAP) his views in any way.  But he has said it‘s a legitimate topic of discussion.  If that‘s what the American people want to discuss, that‘s fine. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  You want to talk about age?  We can talk about Reverend Wright. 

And what about that Hamas issue?  Again, McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Senator Obama shares nothing of the values or goals of Hamas, which is a terrorist organization.  I think that that‘s obvious, and I‘ve certainly never implied anything else.  But it‘s also a fact that a spokesperson from Hamas said that he approves of Senator Obama‘s candidacy.  I think that‘s of interest to the American people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Let‘s just say we‘re not going to sit around and wait to see how civil this general election campaign is going to be.  McCain likes to scrap and Obama now under pressure to counterattack.  It‘s going to roll on.

Gene Robinson, you were writing about race in this campaign on the op-ed page of “The Washington Post” today.

Take me through your headline. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  David, my headline is “Hillary‘s Sin Isn‘t Racism, It‘s Arrogance.”

OK, I pretty much lost it yesterday morning when I read her comments to “USA Today” about how white working class people would vote for her and not Obama.  That‘s her latest argument for why she should be the nominee. 

And so, admittedly, with steam coming out my ears, this is what I wrote:

“Clinton has campaigned as if the Democratic nomination were hers by divine right.  That‘s why she‘s falling short and that‘s why she should be persuaded to quit now, rather than later, before her majestic sense of entitlement splits the party along racial lines.”

What Clinton implies but doesn‘t come out and say is that Obama is black and that white people who are not wealthy are irredeemably racist.  That‘s the gist of what she said, and that‘s an amazing argument for a Democratic candidate to make. 

It‘s an argument without honor in the Democratic Party.  And I don‘t think this is the way she should want to go out of this race. 

GREGORY:  Pat Buchanan, you‘ve got your own headline on this issue tonight. 

What is it?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Gene, Hillary is not arrogant, Gene.  Hillary is right.

What was she saying?  Quite simply, my coalition, rooted in white working class in middle Pennsylvania and Ohio, is a bigger, better coalition than your coalition of MoveOn.org, children, African-Americans and eggheads.  And I‘ve got a better shot at beating John McCain because my coalition is bigger and better than yours. 

Nothing arrogant, nothing racist about that, Gene.  It happens to be true. 

ROBINSON:  Except his coalition has gotten more votes and won more primaries and more states and more delegates, but I guess we‘ll get to that a little bit later, Pat. 

GREGORY:  We will indeed. 

Let‘s keep moving here.

John Harwood, you‘re thinking about John Edwards and what he is and is not saying on the airwaves today. 

JOHN HARWOOD, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, CNBC:  David, my headline is “Strategic Silence.”  If John Edwards was pointing Hillary Clinton toward the exits today, he was doing it gently, suggesting that she could help the Democratic Party this fall by abandoning her campaign. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When I made the decision to get out of the race, you know, and I was accumulating delegates, continued to get, you know, votes, and actually doing reasonably well, but it became pretty clear to me that I was not going to be the nominee.  And I believe that since it looked like I wasn‘t going to win, number one, and number two, because I believe that it was better for the process to end sooner rather than later, that I was not being helpful to our party and to our cause. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARWOOD:  But Edwards‘ advisers say it‘s gentleness with a purpose. 

First of all, his wife Elizabeth Edwards is plainly sympathetic to Hillary Clinton, largely because of her stance on the health care issue. 

Secondly, Edwards believes it would be counterproductive to getting Hillary Clinton out of the race if he appears or others appear to push her out. 

And third, he wants to get back into government and a statesmen-like neutrality.  He believes may help him do that.

GREGORY:  Yes.  And we were talking about the fact that endorsing in this race, if it were for Obama or against Obama, it wouldn‘t make a difference in North Carolina anyway. 

HARWOOD:  Well, clearly, Barack Obama did not need help in North Carolina, and endorsing after the fact probably wouldn‘t win him too many brownie points—David. 

GREGORY:  All right.

Rachel Maddow, you‘ve been looking at the superdelegates all week long. 

Headline tonight?

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”:  “Superdelegate Drizzle.” 

Nobody‘s building the ark just yet.

Very central to the kind of chorus of political comic wisdom.  On Tuesday night and Wednesday, and even carrying on into later in the week, was that there would be a flood of superdelegates and endorsements for Barack Obama that would seal this deal essentially and push Hillary Clinton out of the race. 

While the tide is certainly against her, there hasn‘t been that flood.  We did see—today, we saw a little bit more than a handful of superdelegates moving.  We got I think a net total of seven for Barack Obama today.

Hillary Clinton both lost one aund gained one.  So she ended up zero.  Obviously, it‘s going toward Obama, but not by any of the sort of—the huge tide of numbers that I think people expected earlier in the week. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  It‘s clear to me, Rachel, that superdelegates don‘t want to act in a group just yet, flood this thing.  They can see the end.  And nobody wants to be out there on a limb.  They want all the potential political cover they can get here without really alienating the Clintons. 

MADDOW:  Bingo.  We don‘t know why every single one of them is waiting...

GREGORY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  ... but if they‘ve been waiting this long, they are eager to keep waiting and not have the spotlight fall upon them. 

GREGORY:  All right.

We‘re going to get a little bit later on in the show into what Hillary Clinton may be saying privately to these superdelegates. 

Coming up, a lot more to get to.  She‘s not backing down.  With all the talk even among Democratic Party power players that Hillary Clinton cannot win the nomination, certainly not giving in.  So what‘s the angle?  What‘s she after.

We get into that as THE RACE returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory.

We‘re drawing back the curtains, heading deep inside these campaigns‘ war rooms.  This round, we‘re looking at team Clinton and the much discussed end game.

Back with us, Pat Buchanan, Rachel Maddow, Gene Robinson and John Harwood.

First up, OK, the postmortems on Hillary Clinton‘s campaign keep coming, and now a key Democrat has used the “P” word, “presumptive” nominee, to describe Barack Obama.  That‘s Congressman Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, longtime Clinton ally.

He told “The New Yorker” and said on tape as well what he thinks about Obama‘s standing now.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS:  At this point Barack is the presumptive nominee.  At this point.  Let me just finish this thing.  Hillary can‘t win, but something could happen that could affect that Barack could lose the nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  The Clinton campaign chairman, meanwhile, Terry McAuliffe, painted a more optimistic picture this morning on “Morning Joe,” emphasizing that at the end of all this, neither Clinton nor Obama will have enough pledged delegates to capture the nomination. 

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN:  You need the magic number to win the nomination.  So they get a majority of the pledged delegates.  That‘s not how you win—a wippy do-da day.  I mean, have a party, go nuts.

There‘s one way you become the nominee.  You hit the magic number, that you are the nominee of the Democratic Party.  Until you get it, we have a race going on. 

It‘s great for the party.  People are excited.  Millions of people coming out.  This is as good as it gets.  It‘s excitement, and everybody‘s all revved up, ready to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  All right.  Two quick questions here, Rachel.  You‘re up first.

Rahm Emanuel in the Clinton camp for a long time, a Chicago congressman.  It begins to gel.  The storyline begins to gel and he comes out and says there‘s a presumptive nominee here.

MADDOW:  He says there‘s a presumptive nominee here.  And he essentially defines Hillary Clinton‘s justification for staying in the race at the same time, which is that she is the understudy. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  If Barack Obama loses, then Clinton is there to step in.  I do think on Terry McAuliffe‘s comments, the idea that the magic number is so magical that it transforms overnight into whatever number Barack Obama hasn‘t reached yet is pretty magical in itself. 

GREGORY:  But Pat, there is still a bottom line here, and that is that this a qualitative judgment.  If you don‘t reach the magic number, she is within her rights to say to the superdelegates, you get to make a judgment call, the rules allow for it.

BUCHANAN:  I think Hillary Clinton‘s within her rights to go right on through Puerto Rico.  Then if she‘s behind, suspend her campaign, go to the convention, and get all of the delegates—maybe get Michigan and Florida in there—all of them counted. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  And go right through.  Count them, if necessary, and then graciously, if he wins, concede to him.  And I don‘t see the big problem for the Democratic Party as long as they are not savaging each other on the way. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me just keep moving here.

The fight for superdelegates.  Hillary Clinton met with undecided supers in D.C. this week, trying to see if and when any of them would be willing to come over to her side. 

The campaign told The Politico she has picked up some private commitments from supers who won‘t publicly declare because of those political risks.  Today, Clinton picked up a public endorsement from Pennsylvania Congressman Chris Carney, but Obama‘s rapidly catching up to her in the superdelegate support total. 

She now leads him by less than five.  Clinton has 273.5, while Obama 269, including another Clinton defector he picked up today. 

John Harwood, go inside this here.  What‘s the conversation she‘s having?  You know, give me a sense of whether I can stay in this thing?  You don‘t have to do it publicly, but just give me some private sense? 

HARWOOD:  I‘ve got to tell you, David, I do not believe that there are a lot of superdelegates privately now wanting to be for Hillary Clinton but they‘re intimidated from publicly doing so.  Everybody is gravitating in the same direction. 

Rachel is right, it is a drizzle, it‘s not a flood.  But here‘s what‘s wrong with what Terry McAuliffe was saying.

It is correct that Barack Obama will not have the pledged delegates to get the nomination.  And it‘s correct that some artificial metric like a majority of pledged delegates is not it.  But you‘ve got have to parts.

There‘s the numbers part and there‘s the emotional part, the momentum part. 

That‘s what has gone out for her. 

Yes, he‘s going to need at least 65, 70 superdelegates if a whole lot don‘t move between now and June 3rd, but she doesn‘t have the juice.  Unless she does something dramatic or something dramatic happens to him...

GREGORY:  Yes.

HARWOOD:  ... to get those superdelegates that she needs, it just cannot happen.  And it also cannot happen that they get that Michigan and Florida delegates seated on favorable terms as long as she has got no momentum. 

GREGORY:  And the other question, of course, does she have the money?  The Clinton camp is planning a big fund-raiser in Hollywood on Thursday, but a professional fund-raiser already asking questions about the return on the investment.

Clinton will meet with top fund-raisers next week.  Her national finance co-chairman told the “L.A. Times” the meeting would have to be a reality check. 

To the quote board.

“Let‘s look at the situation as it exists and think about whether there‘s a credible path for the nomination.  If there isn‘t, what is plan B?”

Meanwhile, the Clinton camp is keeping the details of its war chest under wraps.  “The New York Times” reporting Clinton advisers said she was “...  committed to spending more of her own cash on the campaign, if necessary, although they spoke optimistically about a rise in fund-raising if she prevails in Tuesday‘s primary in West Virginia.  The campaign clearly low on cash, although advisers would not say how much money or how little Mrs.  Clinton currently has left.” 

Gene, she‘s spending money in West Virginia.  Again, that vote margin may be the last thing she has left to try to get more funds in. 

ROBINSON:  It‘s true, but I really think this could become a critical issue for the Clinton campaign.  She‘s already put $11.4 million of her own money into this campaign.  And donors do not like to give to campaigns that aren‘t—that have no chance of winning, basically. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  As long as there‘s a perception that there‘s no path for her to win the nomination, she‘s not going to get this flood of money she would like to have.  And I don‘t think West Virginia really solves that problem for her. 

GREGORY:  So Rachel, psychologically, does she put more of her own money in just to get her to May 20, try to go out on a high note? 

MADDOW:  I think it‘s interesting.  When Terry McAuliffe has talked about her putting that money in, that second round of $6.4 million, he talked about it as she was anteing up. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Essentially saying she‘s willing to put that much on the line.  Why can‘t her supporters do the same thing?  Everybody should step up and match her own enthusiasm for the campaign.

They are trying to create some emotional resonance around that, but I think what undercuts it is the fact that both Senator Clinton and former President Clinton have unlimited future earning potential.  And I don‘t think people worry very much about the possibility of them having a lot of debt. 

GREGORY:  All right.

HARWOOD:  Nobody is losing much sleep, David, over whether Bill and Hillary Clinton can pay themselves back over the long run. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Exactly.

HARWOOD:  David, one person who‘s interested in a little debt repayment though is Mark Penn. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  He wants...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Hey, real quick, before I take a break, talking about Bill Clinton, so he‘s still out there on the campaign out in West Virginia taking on a voter who pressed him on why they couldn‘t get health care passed. 

Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  One of the

problems—one of the problems with this whole presidential campaign is

how many things that people have said that are flat untrue.  She worked her

she worked her fingers to the bone.  I worked my fingers to the bone. 

There‘s nobody in America that‘s got more credibility.  And for you or any other person that claims she didn‘t work on it is the craziest thing I ever heard. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Never say die.  They are still going to go out there and make that argument. 

We‘re going to take a break here. 

Coming up, a former presidential speechwriter takes a swipe at Hillary Clinton.  “Cold” “cynical” and “vulgar” just a few of the words she uses in describing the woman she calls a damsel in distress.

“Smart Takes” coming up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Yes, tonight‘s “Smart Takes” is going to be fast takes as well, the most insightful, provocative and interesting.  We find them so you don‘t have to.

Here again, Pat, Rachel, Gene and John. 

The first “Smart Take” tonight, Congressman James Clyburn, Democrat and African-American from South Carolina, was asked about Hillary Clinton‘s interview with “USA Today” in which she claimed a broader coalition and cited hard-working white Americans. 

Listen to what Clyburn told Linda Douglass on her “National Journal” radio program today. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. James CLYBURN (D), SOUTH Carolina:  I don‘t think that carries anymore weight than anyone who will argue that the fact that she only got 8 percent of the African-American vote in North Carolina indicates that she cannot get African-Americans‘ vote in the general election.  It‘s one thing for us to measure these two Democratic candidates against each other.  It is totally something else again for us to measure a Democratic candidate against a Republican candidate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  The point is, Pat Buchanan, how can we make an assumption that white working class Democrats don‘t stay home with the Democratic Party against Republican John McCain? 

BUCHANAN:  Look, we cannot make a complete assumption and know it with absolute truth, but what she is saying is, my coalition is better positioned than his coalition to win a general election against John McCain.  How do you do that without describing his as young, African-American, liberal, MoveOn.org cause (ph) people and describing hers and white, working class, seniors, women, and all—Catholic, ethnic and all of that?

GREGORY:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  She is simply doing what we have all been doing every Tuesday night since forever and describing her coalition, and she‘s being hammered for it. 

GREGORY:  And Pat, you will never spend a Tuesday night again in your life without talking politics. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  But seriously, John, there is also a question that he raises, which is, well, then why don‘t we assume that African-Americans, if she were the nominee, would not necessarily stay home in higher numbers and that she wouldn‘t reach the kind of total that he could? 

HARWOOD:  Exactly right.  First of all, two points.

It is clear that Pat has a new girlfriend, and he‘s defending her

vigorously here. 

MADDOW:  And it‘s not me. 

HARWOOD:  Exactly right.  It‘s Hillary Clinton. 

(LAUGHTER)

HARWOOD:  But secondly, I can understand why African-American politicians and voters would get a little peeved by the tone of a discussion that suggests the only people who count in the election are white voters.  You can no more assume, just as Jim Clyburn said, that African-Americans would not vote for Hillary than you could assume that white, working class Democrats would not vote for Barack Obama in the general.  You simply can‘t say that. 

GREGORY:  All right.  You can‘t do it.

Let me move on to this other “Smart Take.”  This comes from a letter written by Clinton superdelegates to other superdelegates. 

And it reads in part, “Hillary has shown she can win the all-important battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, even while being outspent.  And Hillary has won rural and suburban districts which we, as Democrats, must carry to maintain our edge in Congress.  On the 15 districts rated tossup by the ‘Cook Political Report, Hillary has now won 10 of the 20 districts we picked up in 2006 that had gone for President Bush two years before.”

“Hillary has now won 15.  She is strong in the places we must win to hold and expand our majority.”

Rachel, take it on. 

MADDOW:  I think that it‘s smart to argue that either of the candidates could expand the electoral map and compete in places that Democrats aren‘t expected to be able to compete.  I think that Barack Obama‘s wins in the primary probably give him a better argument on those grounds than Hillary Clinton‘s do, but, I mean, I think that‘s the smart electability argument to be making at this point. 

Still, nobody has proven that primary wins can be extrapolated to general election wins.  But as long as you‘re pulling the wool over people‘s eyes on that, you might as well go with the argument. 

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

Up next, it‘s not official yet, but the Obama/McCain campaigns sure are acting like they are the two who will face off come election time in the fall.  It‘s already getting pretty heated. 

Special “War Room” edition coming up at half past.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Still ahead, another special edition of the war room.  Going inside the ‘08 campaigns.  And now, taking a look at the general election contest.  That‘s next.  But first, a check of your headlines.

CHRISTINA BROWN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I‘m Christina Brown.  Here‘s what‘s happening.  UN officials say aid shipments will resume tomorrow after they received two plane loads of supplies today.  Meantime the White House said Myyanmar has agreed to allow a single U.S. cargo plane carrying relief supplies, more than 60,000 people are now dead or missing after last Saturday‘s cyclone.

Oil prices hit new heights today, climbing above $126 a barrel.  Crude settled at another record closing high of $125.96 a barrel, up $2.27 for the day.  Meanwhile, severe store storms packing tornadoes battered the Mid-Atlantic states today after slamming through the Southeast yesterday.  Dozens of homes were damaged in Stafford, Virginia.  The storms left at least one person dead in North Carolina.  This was the dramatic scene as a tornado hit yesterday in Layton, Alabama.  You can see cars there being picked up and tossed around.  The National Weather service declared this an F-2 tornado with winds topic 40 miles an hour.  Now back to David Gregory.

GREGORY:  Welcome back to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory.  We‘re happy to have you.  The back half now.  We‘re taking a sneak peak at the general election.  Have you noticed?  Apparently, it‘s come to town.  Still with us, Pat Buchanan, former presidential candidate, Rachel Maddow, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air American Radio, Gene Robinson of the “Washington Post”, all three MSNBC political analysts as well as John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and political writer for the “New York Times.”

He‘s also got a new book out now called “Pennsylvania Avenue Profiles and Backroom Power,” don‘t miss it.

First up in the general election contest, so much for civility.  Today, the Obama and McCain campaigns in a pretty spirited back and forth over an issue that started three weeks ago when John McCain said the terrorist group Hamas had endorsed Obama.

Yesterday Obama called it a smear tactic.  To the quote board.  “This is offensive,” he told CNN, “and disappointing.  My policy towards Hamas has been no different from his.  For him to toss out comments like that I think is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination.”

That‘s my emphasis.  McCain advisor Mark Salter fired back with this, the quote board.  “He used the word ‘losing his bearings‘ intentionally.  A not particularly clever way of raising John McCain‘s age as an issue.  This is typical of the Obama style of campaign.  First you demand civility from your opponent and then you attack him.  It is called hypocrisy.”  Well, McCain tried to get the last word today.  Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It‘s very obvious to everyone that Senator Obama shares nothing of the values or goals of Hamas, which is a terrorist organization, but it‘s also a fact that a spokesperson from Hamas said that he approves of Senator Obama‘s candidacy.  I think that‘s of interest to the American people.  And, that is something that needs to be discussed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rachel, what does this little spat tell us?

MADOW:  It tells us the McCain campaign is very, very sensitive on the age issue.  And I have felt for a long time, because they knew it was an issue, they ought to have come out with a better strategy than just trotting out McCain‘s mom as kind of the funny response to these concerns.

I honestly think Obama would have used the term “losing his faculties” or “losing his marbles” if he was really going after him on the age issue.  I also think it was weird that the McCain campaign trotted out Joe Lieberman who said he checked McCain‘s bearings which was maybe the most wince inducing comments of the entire election.

GREGORY:  Pat ..

ROBINSON:  It‘s interesting that McCain says, on the one hand.  Of course he has nothing to do with Hamas, but it‘s interesting to talk about it.  Is this the kind of general election campaign we‘re going to have?  This is a little bit of innuendo here, he‘s not a member of Hamas as far as I know.

BUCHANAN:  There‘s a little innuendo .

GREGORY:  There‘s not just a little, Pat, there‘s a lot of innuendo there.

BUCHANAN:  It really is, what this is about is Broward County, Palm Beach County, Dade County .

GREGORY:  Yeah!

BUCHANAN:  It‘s about the Jewish community along the east coast of Florida that will not vote for a candidate with any association with Hamas.  And that‘s why I think Obama was justified by giving a helmet slap with suggesting he was losing his bearings because I think it was a cheap shot.

JOHN HARWOOD, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  David, to say losing his bearings is an age issue, is preposterous on its face.  He‘s been making the argument for some time that John McCain has popped a few wheels off the straight talk express.  That‘s about sticking to principle, it‘s not about age.

BUCHANAN:  Barack Obama now playing up his Midwestern roots.  The Democratic frontrunner presented a general election friendly picture of himself during an interview with NBC‘s Brian Williams.  Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I was raised by small town folks from Kansas.  With Midwestern values of honesty and hard work and responsibility and so this notion somehow that I‘m some sprout eating Volvo driving person, when of all the candidates remaining in this race, I probably came from the toughest circumstances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  He‘s just a regular Barack, Rachel.

MADDOW:  He‘s a Jell-O mold kind of guy.  This is an argument he‘s going to have to overtly make.  We‘re going to see a lot of photo ops of him on tractors and in diners and him wearing jeans.  We‘re going to see that because they are going to throw the elitist label after him despite the fact that his mom was on food stamps, single parent home and all the rest of that about his biography.

GREGORY:  Pat, can he change the impression at this stage?

BUCHANAN:  Yes, he‘s got to.  And I think he can.  He‘s a very nice guy.  His problem is, I don‘t think it‘s race, I think culturally and socially, what happened with Reverend Wright and the bitter comment moved him out there to San Francisco, University of Chicago, elitist leftist, he clearly know that is and this is designed to move him back to the center.  He has to do it and if he can and come off as a regular guy, I think he wins the election.

GREGORY:  Barack Obama trying to get further away from arugula.  John McCain is trying to get farther away from George Bush.  Watch this from Jon Stewart.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  Will you take the opportunity now to repudiate and denounce President Bush?

Get down!  Get down, sir!

What do you think of that though?

MCCAIN:  There‘s technical difficulties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  McCain struck a very different note today when asked about the newspaper and blog reports claiming in 2000 he did not vote for President Bush.  He denied it saying he did vote for him.  Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I voted, campaigned for, worked as hard as I could for President Bush‘s election in 2000 and 20034.  I voted for President Bush, I think some people think that contributed to the fact he won that election and also in the 2004 election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  We know, Gene, he‘s going on a climate change tour next week, which is a way to distance himself from this White House, from this president.  How is he threading the needle so far?

ROBINSON:  He‘s trying to walk the tight rope basically.  You can‘t very well be the Republican nominee and acknowledge you didn‘t vote for the sitting Republican president.  You‘ve got to be that much of a Republican.  Of course, people know the relationship between John McCain and George W.

Bush has been one of enemies rather than allies for some time.

GREGORY:  Pat, this is paramount.  In November, on the day before Election Day, it‘s going to be do you want more of George Bush, with John McCain.  This is a lot of the election here.

BUCHANAN:  Let me define McCain‘s problem.  He has two things he‘s got to do.  He has to energize the Reagan Republicans who are not fond of him and he‘s got to win the Reagan Democrats on the other side.  He has to say I voted with George Bush all the way to keep the Republicans happy.  On the other hand, this tour is designed to move into the center, if he can crowd out Obama and the get the other guys doing all the other stuff, then he can win the general.

GREGORY:  Let‘s move on.  I want to get to this last point.  Barack Obama trying to get Jewish voters worried about his proposal to sit down with America‘s enemies like Iran and Syria.  Speaking at the celebration of Israel‘s 60th anniversary, Obama assured Jews U.S. support of Israel would remain sacrosanct with him.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I pledge to you that I will do whatever I can and whatever capacity to not only ensure Israel‘s security, but also to ensure that the people of Israel are able to thrive and prosper and build on the enormous promise that was made 60 years ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Obama goes even further on his Web site saying “Israelis can always count on the United States to stand with them against any threat from as close as Gaza or far as Iran and to ensure Israel has the means to defend itself.  Israel has real enemies and we will face them together.”

Look at this new Gallup poll that shows Obama still enjoys wide support of Jewish voters, most of whom make a pretty sizeable chunk of the Democratic Party.  In a match-up against John McCain, Obama gets 61 percent, McCain 32 percent.  But McCain did win the endorsement of Senator Joe Lieberman who of course in 2000 became the first Jewish American ever to be on the presidential ticket.

And we should also point out that 61 percent, John Harwood, lower than what John Kerry got among Jewish voters.  But the key here, John, is he‘s trying to persuade Jewish voters he‘s not even-handed to the point of being unfair toward Israel and Jewish voters.

HARWOOD:  David, it‘s a problem he‘s going to have to work on all campaign long for the reason that Pat Buchanan mentioned.  Some of the upscale support he‘s hoping to get is the Jewish scale.  On the McCain point on “The Daily Show” that was a very clever to use humor to send views to voters.  And last I wanted to ask Pat, did you eat all the sprouts in the green room?  I couldn‘t find any in the fridge.

BUCHANAN:  I put them in my Volvo.

GREGORY:  Before we get to a break here though, on this we question of Israel and Jewish voters, do you think a lot of Jewish voters, Pat, are going to look at the era of this president who was thought to be so pro-Israel as making Israel any safer than a Democratic nominee who might take in the view of some a more even handed approach to the peace process.

BUCHANAN:  I think Barack Obama has a serious problem with Jewish voters.  Reverend Wright thing and the other things that put him out there with the radical left.  In 2006, I think something like 88 percent of Jewish voters voted Democratic.  McCain, because he‘s solid and tough on Iran and all of that, 32 percent of the Jewish vote for a Republican presidential candidate is good news.

GREGORY:  Yeah.  Right, could be important.  We‘re going to take a break here.  Coming up, an Obama-Clinton dream ticket?  Not so says senator and superdelegate Ted Kennedy.  Got some pretty harsh words evaluating that opportunity.  That option for Barack Obama when the race comes back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Take ago step back now on THE RACE, looking at the general election and beyond.  Three big questions of the day, but first a campaign alert right now.  We‘ve been talking about superdelegate totals for the entire hour.  We want to update you now.  NBC News, the political panel has added three more superdelegates to Clinton‘s count.  She has netted three today to Obama‘s seven.  And the box scores continue.

And now to the panel with us, Pat, Rachel, Gene and John Harwood.

First, the Obama veepstakes buzz has begun.  Would he seriously consider adding Hillary Clinton to the ticket?  He seemed to leave the door open to the possibility.  Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Until I‘m the nominee, I don‘t want to speculate on running mates. 

I think she‘d be on anybody‘s list, short list of vice presidential

candidates.  But beyond that, I don‘t want to offer an opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  But the idea is not thought of highly in some influential circles.  Senator Ted Kennedy took a shot at Clinton today saying that Obama should choose a running mate who is quote, “in tune with his appeal to the nobler aspirations of the American people, if we had real leadership as we do with Barack Obama, in the number two spot as well, it would be enormously helpful.”  A little tough.  He did clarify later, he did think she would be a qualified number two, but thought the tenor of the campaign thus far would preclude it.

So the question then, is an Obama-Clinton ticket inconceivable at this point?  Gene would you call it that?

ROBINSON:  I couldn‘t say inconceivable, but I‘ve always thought that‘s it‘s unlikely.  They‘re like chalk and cheese as they would say in Britain.  I can‘t imagine them working together very well.  And I don‘t think it‘s going to be politically necessary for him to add her.  But we‘ll see how this thing plays out.

GREGORY:  That‘s the thing, Rachel.  Does she need him?  It‘s the question we keep coming back to.  Rather, does he need her?

MADDOW:  Right.  I think the vice presidential choices are forward looking, and not backward looking.  If Obama is the nominee he‘s looking at his weaknesses are against McCain and what his strengths are.  If he thinks his biggest weakness against McCain is Democratic women are mad that Hillary Clinton wasn‘t chosen, you could alleviate that concern by putting somebody like Clinton or another woman in the vice presidential slot.  Or you can spend $10 million on attack ads talking about how a McCain Supreme Court will ban abortion.  There‘s a lot of different approaches to these things.  But I think he‘s looking forward.

GREGORY:  Also, Pat, what‘s the best way to heal the coalition politics.  Do you need Hillary Clinton or do you need a white man to get back at white working class men who have alluded you so far?

BUCHANAN:  If I were Barack Obama, I‘d do just what he‘s doing.  Which is wait, keep her in the loop as a potential and see how permanent and irresistible the force is.  These Clinton voters, 50 percent of whom say they will never vote for him.  I think it‘s going to diminish gradually and it may come down to a pretty small number.  But frankly in the last analysis, if it‘s essential and he finds it‘s essential to get the women voters and to get the white males and white women who are seniors to vote for him, I think he might have to do it just like JFK had to take LBJ.

HARWOOD:  A lot of polling has to be done before that decision gets made.

GREGORY:  If Clinton‘s prospects for the nomination have dimmed, McCain and the Republican have been squarely targeting Obama and Obama has followed suit and is directly targeting McCain.  The Democratic Party has yet to really go for the jugular here.  What should be the Dems‘ first play against John McCain?  John, take it on?

HARWOOD:  The Democrats first play is define him more fervently than they have so far Bush‘s third term.  Look at George Bush.  He is at 27 percent in the polls.  I talked to a top Republican in the mid wintertime who said it‘s going to be hard for our party‘s ticket if George Bush is under 40 percent.  He‘s under 30 percent.  You‘ve got to tag John McCain as another incarnation of George Bush.

GREGORY:  Rachel, what are you hearing?

MADDOW:  People are starting to say, anything that people are dissatisfied right now that is tied back to Bush is going to be hung on McCain like you can‘t believe.  Do you like $126 a barrel oil, you‘ll love John McCain.  If you like the first t two wars, you‘ll like the third that he‘s already written the jingle to and it‘s a Beach Boys tune.

I think the war and really the tragic consequences for American voters of the Bush foreign policy so far which McCain really embraces are things he can‘t run away from.

GREGORY:  All right.  Here is the flip side.  John McCain has had some serious time on the sidelines as the Democratic candidates have been running the ball.  But how‘s he been using that time?  There‘s some evidence that he‘s been attempting to get right with the right on issues like the judiciary and gun control.  On the other hand, it‘s not as though he‘s exactly gotten off the Straight Talk Express.  He‘s advanced enough within the party.  This leads us to question number three.  Is McCain using his time to the fullest?  Pat, take it on.

BUCHANAN:  I think the judges thing is good issue for McCain.  He ought to stick with it.  There are two Republican issues, I think now, I would say low taxes and conservative judges, constitutionalists on the Supreme Court which are still winners for the Republican Party on issues.  McCain is going to get it out there.  He‘s trying to seal the right.  I think eventually in the generally though he‘ll be running to the enter and somewhat to the left.

ROBINSON:  I think he ought to be reading an economics textbook.  He said he was going to read Greenspan‘s book.

BUCHANAN:  It‘s the wrong one.

ROBINSON:  He can read that one and read another one, too, but I think I would be boning up on the economy, if I were John McCain and developing something hopeful to say about it.

GREGORY:  I think that‘s a smart point.  How do you protect the right and also run to the center as a Republican who wants independents and wants a greater share of Hispanics, etc?

HARWOOD:  You do the shoring up the right first.  That‘s why he went to the Rose Garden with George Bush right after he locked up the nomination.  But he cannot get attention right now.  The one thing that counts for John McCain is going to show up on those campaign finance reports.  How much money is he taking in for the phase after the Democratic race is over when they engage this summer and the Democrats have a ton of money, is John McCain going to have money to engage them?

GREGORY:  All right.  Got to take a break here.  When we come back, your play date with the panel.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  The remaining moments here are all yours.  Your play date with the panel in the final five minutes is back with us, of course, Pat, Rachel, Gene and John.  First, Rob in Virginia asked this about the money issue.  “Since Hillary Clinton‘s contributions to her campaign are loans, doesn‘t that mean that the last $11 million that she receives from contributors won‘t really go toward the campaign but instead go into her pockets to pay herself back?”

John, how does that work?

HARWOOD:  That‘s exactly right.  Hillary Clinton loaned the campaign that money.  It went straight to television ads.  So any money that goes to retire the debt is going to Bill and Hillary Clinton.  Which as Rachel pointed out is why nobody is losing too much sleep over this.

GREGORY:  Right, right.  And they do have to pay off Mark Penn‘s Bill, which is pretty big.

HARWOOD:  I think there‘s a big outstanding bill for direct mail and other services so Mark Penn has a key rooting interest in this topic.

GREGORY:  OK next up.  Mary Catherine in Vermont asks this.  “Do you think by the time the Clintons do decide to support Obama that it will be too late for him to get the party back together?”

Gene, this is the question that starts to build every day.  And it‘s certainly something the superdelegates think about.

ROBINSON:  Right.  Well, that‘s the big question.  You know, I don‘t think, necessarily, it will be.  It depends on how Hillary Clinton conducts her campaign in the remaining days.  This is the assumption there‘s not a path for her to get the nomination.  If she does it in a way that doesn‘t blow the party apart then she he can bring it back together.  But there are other ways she can do this as well.

GREGORY:  Rachel, how much time does he really need to do it?

MADDOW:  It‘s it‘s really going to be a test of his leadership.  One of the things a president does is not only make decisions about foreign policies and lead the country but they also lead their own party.  Bill Clinton famously in Democratic circles was thought of as a good leader for the country, but not a great leader for the Democratic Party.  One of the things people are looking for in Obama is to lead Democrats in a unified way and I think it‘s a real test for him.

GREGORY:  All right.  Sandra has this to say, “The fact that Hiullary Clinton is not backing out now is showing a negative characteristic.  It is nice to know that no matter what she will fight for what she believes but there is also this think called losing gracefully and if she keeps this up, she will lose quite disgracefully.”

But, Pat, that can be turned around rather quickly, if she wins West Virginia.  If she goes to may 20 and wants to leave on a high note, she could very quickly shore up the negativity and be quite graceful in her exit.

BUCHANAN:  Exactly, that‘s what she‘s going to do.  She‘s going to win West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico.  Bill and Hillary Clinton, because they have a vested interest in being perceived and seen in pulling the party together, and trying to get Barack Obama elected, I think they will go all out and I think these wounds will be healed.  I don‘t think they are all that deep, maybe they‘re personal, I don‘t think they‘re all that deep ideologically, so I think it can be done.  If I had to bet, it will be done.  They will have a unified convention in Denver.

HARWOOD:  And I haven‘t seen anything over the last several days since Tuesday.

GREGORY:  Well, it‘s interesting you point that out.  New ad up in West Virginia, all positive, talking about being for the middle class.  Nothing going after Barack Obama here.  She‘s just trying to shore up her image and work it through to the end.

Ruth in New Jersey writes this, “If the Clintons and the superdelegates think they can take this nomination away from Barack Obama, they are dreaming.  If Obama has a lead of just 10 delegates, he should be the party nominee.  Why, you ask?  Because if they take the nomination away from the democratically selected leader they will forever change the Democratic Party and perhaps the nation.”

I‘m guessing this person is for Obama, Rachel.

It goes to the same point that a lot of the superdelegates are feeling as well.

MADDOW:  I think there‘s a lot of drama about forever changing things that doesn‘t end up bearing out in the political season.  Right now, the Democrats are absolutely going to have a challenge.  John McCain has a big head start.  That‘s a challenge for the new leader of the Democratic Party who will be the nominee.  That‘s all it is.

GREGORY:  And this is politics, nothing is forever.  You can play with our panel every weeknight here on MSNBC.  The e-mail race08@msnbc.com.  Call us, 212-790-2299 thanks very much to a terrific panel and a great week, a momentous week in this race.  And it keeps ongoing.  Finally, tonight, good wishes for the first family.  Tomorrow, the president becomes the father of the bride.  He‘s a pretty emotional guy, I know.  And it will be an emotional day for he and Mrs. Bush.  We wish the family our very best.  Have a peaceful Friday night and happy Mother‘s day.  I‘m David Gregory. 

Good night.

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

END   

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