updated 5/13/2008 11:34:58 AM ET 2008-05-13T15:34:58

Guests: Jay DeDapper, Michael Smerconish, Rachel Maddow, Pat Buchanan

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  Welcome to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Glad you are here.  Your stop for the fast-paced, the bottom line, and every point of view in the room.

Tonight, inside the war rooms we go to examine a Clinton exit strategy and the emerging Obama/McCain general election strategy. 

The big picture in Three Questions tonight.

And we ask which red state Obama might turn blue. 

Plus, your e-mail.

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

And with us tonight, and playing for the first time, Jay DeDapper, political reporter for WNBC in New York; Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philadelphia, and columnist for both “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and “The Daily News”; Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, and an MSNBC political analyst; Pat Buchanan, a former presidential candidate and MSNBC political analyst as well. 

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

I‘ll get us started here tonight with my headline. 

“Game Changer.”  Obama and Clinton are no longer fighting the same fight.  On primary eve in West Virginia, Senator Clinton invoked John Kennedy to argue that West Virginia is a bellwether.   

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Equally as important, he had West Virginia behind him because it‘s a fact that Democrats don‘t get elected president unless West Virginia votes for you.  And...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Trailing far behind in the state is Barack Obama, who today had his eye on the general election as he talked about patriotism and the need to improve care of wounded veterans returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We must never forget that honoring the service and upholding these ideals requires more than saluting our veterans as they march by on Veterans Day or Memorial Day.  It requires marching with them for the care and benefits they have earned. 

It‘s now our task to live so that America will be proud of us.  That is the true test of our patriotism.  The test that all of us must meet in the days and years to come.  I have no doubt that this nation is up to the challenge. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Patriotism, one of those topics you might hear from Barack Obama again as his campaign rolls on. 

So those are the arguments.  Well, what about the math?

Big news tonight there.  Obama is now ahead among the supers. 

Let‘s go to the score board. 

Today, Obama overcame Clinton in NBC‘s overall and superdelegate counts.  Here‘s how it breaks down. 

He has now got 279 superdelegates to her 276 .5.  You see the pledged delegate total, 1,590 to 1,426.  Overall then, Obama up 1,869 to 1,702.5. 

Obama‘s play now, then, uneventuality.  On primary day in West Virginia, where will he be?  He‘ll be in Missouri. 

That‘s my headline. 

Pat Buchanan, what‘s yours tonight? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  “Mountain Mama Rolls,” slaughtering the Cumberland gap.  Hillary is going to beat Obama so badly in West Virginia, that Obama will write the state off in November and put his focus instead on Virginia, a state twice as large which is moving in his direction, because northern Virginia is seceding from the confederacy, whereas it looks like West Virginia is rejoining it. 

GREGORY:  Is it a question of margin there, Pat?  That it‘s just going to get blown out so badly, he can‘t make a play, he can‘t make an argument to say, they‘ll come home for me, they‘ll still be Democrats in November? 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s not only margin.  These folks are values voters.  And they don‘t mess with Obama. 

They have got the lowest, I think in terms of education, of those graduating from college and the lowest median income for families almost in the nation.  First or second lowest.  Those are the type of voters who have really moved toward the Republican Party, have moved toward Hillary.  And Barack, it‘s too high a mountain for him to climb.  He ought to focus on Virginia where he did well and where I think he can possibly win. 

GREGORY:  Right.  All right.  More on that coming up a little bit later on.

Rachel Maddow, your headline tonight? 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My headline tonight is “Eve of Destruction.” 

As Pat rightly points out, it‘s probably going to be a blowout for Barack Obama in West Virginia tomorrow, or rather a blowout against him, while Hillary Clinton is not moving for the exits.  Despite all the political common wisdom, all the pundits that she‘s got to be on her way there, she‘s not giving up. 

She‘s going to have a very big win tomorrow in West Virginia.  And that is actually going to appear to be a little embarrassing for Barack Obama, to get blown out by what could be a 30-or-40-point margin . 

The Obama campaign has so far not been pushing Hillary to leave the race.  But I do think those results tomorrow are going to add some fury to elements in the Democratic Party outside the Obama campaign calling for her to leave. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  The interesting thing, they will be together tomorrow in New York, Rachel, to hear what that acceptance speech from Hillary Clinton will be like tomorrow night. 

MADDOW:  Right.  That‘s exactly right.  Will it be about the general election?  Will it be about John McCain, which is what she‘s been talking about for a few days?

GREGORY:  Right.

MADDOW:  Or will it be about the Democratic Party and the need for unity?  That will be a very interesting thing to watch. 

GREGORY:  All right.

Jay DeDapper, J.D., you‘re looking at the unity ticket tonight.  What have you got? 

JAY DEDAPPER, POLITICAL REPORTER, WNBC:  “Mountain Mama Eve of Destruction” song lyrics.  I don‘t have a song lyric for you, but we‘ve got the unity ticket.  It‘s a bad bargain for Barack Obama, and here‘s why. 

He doesn‘t get one, he gets two.  He gets a vice president, Hillary Clinton, and he gets a co-vice president, Bill Clinton. 

Now, what president in their right mind starting off in a new term is going to want the two of them behind him?  He‘s going to be looking over his shoulders wondering, are they doing me good or are they doing me harm?  And who are they really working for?

GREGORY:  Yes.

DEDAPPER:  That‘s why it‘s a bad, bad bargain for Barack Obama to consider this.  There‘s another thing.  She‘s not going to take a post in the cabinet because she‘s never going to be offered it for the same reason.  He doesn‘t want her behind him where he can‘t keep on eye on her. 

GREGORY:  Yes, right.  And she could maybe have a lot more impact if she‘s in the Senate, which we‘ll get into in a moment as well.

Smerc, hit me with your headline tonight. 

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

What‘s red and blue and green all over?  Today it‘s John McCain, out on the stump, courting votes from moderates, from Independents, and don‘t forget Evangelical Christians, by talking about global warming.  Give a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great.  The most relevant question now is whether our own government is equal to the challenge.  I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bares.  I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Catch the reference, of course, to those eight long years. 

GREGORY:  Right.

SMERCONISH:  He‘s making, you know, reference to the sitting president.  This was John McCain the maverick trying to extend a couple of olive branches in quarters where he‘s not supposed to win. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  It‘s interesting, talking about the environment in a way that Republicans don‘t.  Talking about the environment in a way Republicans don‘t in Oregon, which he‘d like to put in the battleground column.

SMERCONISH:  No doubt about it.  And I think that as I say, it‘s being interpreted as a pitch for the moderates and the Independents. 

GREGORY:  Right.

SMERCONISH:  But keep your eye on the Evangelical Christians, David, because that‘s a community that has moved in this direction on that particular issue. 

GREGORY:  Yes, absolutely. 

All right.  A lot more to go as we roll on here. 

Coming up next, what, if anything, would make Hillary Clinton get out of the race?  We‘re going to examine one possible deal. 

And there‘s still talk about the dream ticket that Jay brought up.  Is it just hype?

A little later on, of course, your play date with the panel.  Call us, 212-790-2299, or the e-mail, race08@msnbc.com

We‘re coming right back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on THE RACE and going inside the War Room now.

The Democratic race still rolling on.  Hillary Clinton‘s campaigning hard in West Virginia, as we talked about, even as Barack Obama pulls ahead of her in the superdelegate count.  And the question that is yet to be answered is, what is the end game? 

Back with us, Jay, Michael, Rachel and Pat. 

First up, exit strategy.  What will it take for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the Democratic race?  Time‘s Mark Halperin on Time.com‘s “The Page,” suggested a deal could look a little something like this...

“Clinton agrees to leave the race in return for help paying off her campaign debt”—up to about $20 million, by the way—“a key role in the convention, and a guarantee that she becomes the lead Senate sponsor of the health care reform bill under a President Obama.”

Jay DeDapper, what do you make of that? 

DEDAPPER:  None of that would be a big surprise, David, because in the past, for instance, back at Carter/Kennedy, Kennedy asked Carter in terms of getting his support, well, help me pay off the debt.  It didn‘t end up happening, but he got that agreement from Carter in order to give him his support. 

The idea of a big roll at the convention always happens with whoever finishes second, or even third.

GREGORY:  Right.

DEDAPPER:  John Edwards will have a big roll at the convention. 

So I think there‘s probably some truth in that, whether they are at that level.  I certainly haven‘t heard that they are at the level of discussing that yet. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

Rachel, I don‘t know, all of those things taken together seem like she could probably extract that with very little pain in the negotiations.  It seemed a little small, maybe. 

MADDOW:  Yes, I think it‘s kind of a creative list.  But it‘s hard to imagine what of those things she couldn‘t obtain for herself just as a marquee-named senator.

GREGORY:  Right.

MADDOW:  You know what I mean?  She doesn‘t necessarily need to be holding anybody over a barrel in order to extract those things from the Democratic powers that be. 

If the Barack Obama campaign cares about the timing of her exit from the race, then maybe she will be in a position to demand something.  But they haven‘t shown that they care much about that at all.  So she may not be in a position to ask.  That may change if she decides to press it all the way to the convention, however. 

GREGORY:  All right.

Next up, is Obama now the inevitable Democratic nominee?  We‘re talking like he is.

Today, he moved ahead of Clinton in the superdelegate count, the only metric where she had held an advantage up until now.  Again, Obama, 279 in the superdelegate total to Clinton‘s 276.5.  And since their split victories in North Carolina and Indiana, he has picked up more than 20, while she‘s had a net gain of less than 2.

Former candidate John Edwards—just talked about it—said yesterday Clinton is in a very tough place at this point.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  She can no longer make a compelling case for the math.  The math is very, very hard for her. 

She has to be careful about going forward.  As she makes the case for herself, which she‘s completely entitled to do, she has to be really careful that she‘s not damaging our prospects, the Democratic Party and our cause, for the fall. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Hey, Pat, you know what‘s interesting?  Even though these superdelegates want political cover, they don‘t want to decide this race, there seems to be this gathering momentum, and the party is starting to speak with one voice to say, this is over, she should find her way out. 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, but Hillary‘s not going to do it.  And I don‘t think she ought to follow the advice of Senator Edwards. 

The thing for her to do is show real strength going forward.  If she wins West Virginia by 20, 25 points, wins Kentucky, gets all those votes in Puerto Rico, and suspends her campaign and moves on to the convention, she comes in with about three aces into the convention. 

GREGORY:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  Her negotiations position is far stronger.  Ignore these people.

Obviously, you don‘t do anything to attack Obama now, but ignore these people and walk in with a strong hand, and pay no attention to folks who tell you to drop out.  That‘s the best advice to Hillary.

GREGORY:  All right.

Smerc, you‘re on—you‘re on deck here, Smerc. 

Next up, the so-called Democratic dream ticket.  Obama gave another artful dodge when asked if he planned to ask Hillary Clinton be his VP recently.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  But it would be presumptuous of me at this point, when she is still actively running, when she‘s highly favored to win the next—two of the next three contests, for me to somehow suggest that she should be my running mate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe did a dodge of his own today with MSNBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell.

Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC:  Why then wouldn‘t Obama pick her as his vice president?  Why wouldn‘t she be at the top of the list? 

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN:  She might be, but I‘d say it‘s premature.  We both believe we‘ll be the nominee.  So I think...

O‘DONNELL:  What would she bring to the ticket? 

MCAULIFFE:  What would Hillary—at the top or in second or...

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  Vice president, yes. 

MCAULIFFE:  Yes.  Well, let‘s say as president. 

Look at what she has put together.  Look at the coalition of people that she‘s brought out to support her.  She wins in the key target states. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Smerc, that‘s really the argument, right, for this unity ticket, is that he needs her, that he can‘t win without her? 

SMERCONISH:  Yes, but what do you do if you win with her?  I mean, I have respect for her bona fides.  She has really proven to be a fighter out on the stump.  And I have always said that Bill Clinton is still par excellence among all of them. 

But what do you do the day after you‘re elected?  You‘re going to continually be looking over your shoulder.  I cannot see Barack Obama in any circumstances taking—and it‘s plural—the Clintons as running mates. 

BUCHANAN:  David, I can see it.

GREGORY:  Go ahead, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  And the circumstances would be this—you‘re walking to the convention, Barack Obama finds himself seven or eight points behind, behind in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Florida.  And he looks at what she can bring. 

If she can bring the presidency, you take her, just like JFK took LBJ when he didn‘t want to. 

DEDAPPER:  But Pat, there‘s a critical difference between the campaign, where she can bring things to the table, and then trying to govern as the president, when he‘s... 

BUCHANAN:  Well, if you‘re not president, you can‘t govern.  You‘ve got to get there first.

DEDAPPER:  But once you get there, you can‘t win if you‘ve got them behind you.  That‘s the calculation, that he‘s got...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You can send the vice president back up to the Senate where they were before the Nixon days.  He didn‘t used to have an office in EOB or the White House. 

GREGORY:  All right.

DEDAPPER:  These two would be the most powerful vice presidents save -

probably exceeding Dick Cheney. 

GREGORY:  Jay, let me move on here.

Finally, in just about 30 minutes, Hillary Clinton will join West Virginia‘s governor for an old-fashioned Democratic rally, as it‘s being billed.  Clinton is expected to win big in the wild and wonderful state.  A new Suffolk University poll has Clinton leading Obama 60-24, the kind of numbers that she has been looking for in the last couple of contests. 

Rachel, does West Virginia matter? 

MADDOW:  I think West Virginia does matter.  I think a lot of people are saying right now, you know, kind of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil about what happens tomorrow. But if it is going to be a 30-or-40-point margin, that is not going to be a good day for Barack Obama, and it‘s probably not going to lead to a great day of confident media coverage, a great week of confident media coverage for him heading into Kentucky, when he‘s expected to lose again.

I think that it matters for Barack Obama that Clinton is still in the race at this point.  I am surprised that he continues to try to not push her out.  And I think that may change after tomorrow, after what‘s not going to be a great day for him in the press. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  Well, he has really got to be getting to May 20th to get a big score in Oregon and deny her what she‘s got, West Virginia, and it looks like Kentucky, coming up as well. 

I‘ve got to take...

MADDOW:  He would be so much better off if the calendar had Kentucky and West Virginia both tomorrow and Oregon on its own.  But that Oregon victory is going to be overshadowed by that Kentucky loss.

GREGORY:  Absolutely right.  All right. 

Going to get another break in here. 

Coming up in “Smart Takes”—that‘s up next—are the Clintons campaigning like it‘s 1998 all over when they were facing another big challenge? 

We‘re going to assess the impact her husband‘s impeachment is having on Hillary Clinton‘s campaign.

Plus, why Clinton dropping out now might be the worst thing that could happen to Barack Obama.

It‘s all in “Smart Takes” and it‘s coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  You‘re back on THE RACE.

And time now for “Smart Takes.”

We have combed the papers, the magazines, the Web to bring you the most provocative takes of the presidential campaign. 

Here again, Jay, Michael, Rachel and Pat.

The first of our takes tonight, The New Republic‘s Michael Crowley writes that he Clintons have run this campaign the way they took on their opponents during the impeachment scandal.  Now the suggestion is that Obama has abused the system.

To the quote board.

“One gets the overall impression,” he writes, “that the Clintons feel Obama shouldn‘t be here in the first place.  That this young man‘s very claim to power is itself questionable.  The Clintons may be victims of their own sense of victimhood.  The vileness of the Clintons‘ past enemies seems to have convinced them that their enemies always are by definition in the wrong, that Obama‘s candidacy is almost like an another illegitimate attempt to steal a White House that in some sense belongs to them.” 

Smerc, take it on.

SMERCONISH:  I agree with it to the extent that I understand it.  And it‘s reminiscent of when Bill Clinton out on the stump used the description “fairy tale.” 

I never believed, David, that he was limited in the context of only talking about Senator Obama vis-a-vis Iraq.  I thought it was more Bill Clinton saying, you know, are you joking?  This whole thing is a fairy tale, he‘s a three-term state senator from Illinois.  Where did he come from?  This ought to be ours. 

GREGORY:  Right.

Well, there‘s a sense, Jay—and you‘ve covered the Clintons now as she‘s been senator in New York—that really sort of hobbled them strategically as kind of an indignation about the fact that he was doing well.  That, who is this guy to even challenge us in the first place?  Maybe it got their eye off the ball. 

DEDAPPER:  She had this air of inevitability actually in her first Senate race when she first came in here in 2000. 

GREGORY:  Right.

DEDAPPER:  And has always had that air of inevitability, which is perhaps product of the success they had in the White House, the electoral and campaigning seasons.  I think that is part of the problem.  I don‘t know if the total analysis is right, but I think that is part of the problem, is they did have a sense and she had a sense that it was hers and she deserved it somehow. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Just briefly, I just don‘t see it this way at all.  I get the sense that they don‘t like Barack Obama as a candidate because they think that he would lose the general election and she would win it.  And maybe there‘s some wounded psyche pathology behind it too, but I just sense—I just see they‘re fighting hard because they think that Clinton would be better than Obama.  That‘s—I don‘t see the pathology.

BUCHANAN:  David?

GREGORY:  Let me just move on here real quick and point out, as you well know, Rachel, we are all about wounded pathologies on this program. 

MADDOW:  I specialize in it.

GREGORY:  Our second “Smart Take” tonight, “L.A. Times” reporters Don Frederick and Andrew Mallen (ph) say Hillary Clinton dropping out now would be the worst thing that could happen to Barack Obama.

To the quote board.

“With her name still on the ballot, she would be very likely to win in West Virginia anyway, and maybe Kentucky, too, given the demographics in both places.  And possibly Puerto Rico as well.  How would that look if at the end of the Democratic race, the winning candidate with clearly the most delegates and popular votes went down in defeat against a candidate who isn‘t in the contest anymore?”

Pat?

BUCHANAN:  Yes, you get beat three straight times by a political corpse, and you have got problems. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  Well, it‘s kind of like—you know, even in Pennsylvania, McCain had locked this thing up, and...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  He‘s losing 25 percent, exactly...

GREGORY:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  ... in all those things.

Listen, I generally believe all these primaries are of enormous benefit for the Democratic Party.  They are toughening up Barack Obama, exposing his problems. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  They are getting out enormous numbers of voters.  In North Carolina and Indiana, the total Democratic vote in the primaries exceeded Kerry‘s vote in the general.  That is good news for that party. 

GREGORY:  Right.  And I think part of the argument is, look, if nobody is going to hit that magic number of 2,025, why not, you know, give these states additional primaries and keep it alive...

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

GREGORY:  ... whether it‘s for negotiations or another reason? 

The third “Smart Take” tonight, Politico‘s Kenneth Vogel says there is a motivational shift afoot in Hillary Nation right now.

To the quote board.

“The legions of Hillary Rodham Clinton backers still investing their cash, energy and emotion into her faltering bid for the Democratic presidential nomination seemed driven not by the reasonable expectation that she can beat Barack Obama, but by the emotional desire to see her through to the end of voting and stick it to those who have already written her off.”

Smerc, what is the motivation?  I mean, is it in part racism, is it delusion?  What is it? 

SMERCONISH:  David, I had one of those “Operation Chaos” folks call my radio show at the end of last week in Philly.  And this was a woman who said to me, you know, I enlisted in Operation Chaos, I tried to vote for Hillary in an effort to elect the weaker of the Democrat.  And you know what?  If she comes out as the nominee, I‘m sticking around and I‘m supporting her in the fall. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

SMERCONISH:  Because she‘s gotten off the canvas so damn many times now, she‘s earned my respect.  I think there‘s a lot of that going on. 

BUCHANAN:  David?

GREGORY:  All right.  I‘ve got to get another break in here real quick, guys. 

Coming up, we‘re going to go back inside the War Room with a different focus now.  We‘ll look how McCain and Obama are now preparing for battle in the general election.  That‘s where we‘ll be for the back half when RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

GREGORY:  Time now for the back half on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Glad to have you along.  We‘re back inside the war room for a look at how Barack Obama and John McCain are gearing up for the general election.  Back with us, WNBC political reporter J.D. Dapper, radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, Air America‘s Rachel Maddow, an MSNBC political analyst, and MSNBC political Pat Buchanan. 

First up, Barack Obama is getting ready to rumble with John McCain.  Look at “Newsweek,” on the stands now, new edition.  It looks at how Team Obama is preparing for war in the fall.  In the piece, an anonymous McCain adviser says the 2008 mud slinging will be even worse than that in 2004.  Remember the Swift Boats?  “It‘s going to be swift boat times five on both sides.  The candidates will both do their best to publicly mute it.  But in a close race, I don‘t see how to shut that down.”

Campaigning in Oregon, Obama already seemed to be gunning for McCain, telling a crowd McCain‘s free ride during the Democratic primary is about to end. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  John McCain has been getting a free pass.  For the last two months, he‘s been able to just go on various tours and make assertions that I think are questionable.  It‘s important that we, as Democrats, both myself and Senator Clinton, remind our constituencies that that‘s the ultimate price, winning in November.  That‘s what I‘m going to focus on. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rachel, we‘re talking tactics here.  How is Barack Obama, who‘s had a reputation for not hitting back strongly enough, going to take on the Republicans in the fall. 

MADDOW:  It‘s interesting, because both McCain and Obama are pledging that they will not sling that mud themselves, although they are now both hedging, particularly on the McCain side—hedging as to much the candidate will intervene in it‘s outside groups who are slinging that mud.  I do agree that this is probably going to be a nasty campaign, just because campaigning in America for big national offices is nasty now. 

Also, Barack Obama needs to contend with the fact that the press has been willing to be really harsh on him during this primary campaign.  The press does have a historical love affair with John McCain.  That can‘t just be something you complain about.  You have to have a strategy to combat it. 

GREGORY:  Is it as simple as that?  Is there more too it?  It‘s not just about the press.  Yes, John McCain hasn‘t gotten a lot of scrutiny right now because we‘ve had an historic Democratic race to contend with, but does that necessarily hold up, as we go along? 

DAPPER:  I would say that John McCain, if he‘s had a free pass, nobody has seen it.  All the air has been sucked out of the room by the Democrats.  If anything, John McCain hasn‘t got much attention, which is this whole argument that maybe all this time that the Democratic race has gone on has actually benefited Democrats and not McCain.  But to that point, I think that McCain, in this case, and Obama are going to go at it hard with each other.  But those secondary groups that we have seen in other elections are going to play a really nasty role, and they are not going to be able to control them.  There‘s too much passion.  There‘s too much anger.  There‘s too much at stake, as both candidates say, in this election. 

GREGORY:  All right, moving on.  Next up, John McCain goes green.  We talked about this in headlines tonight.  On a climate change tour now—he‘s doing a lot of tours.  He looks for distance from Bush and tries to reach out to independent voters.  He was in Oregon today.  That‘s important.  Here‘s what he said today about the Bush administration turning its back, in his view, on the Kyoto global warming treaty. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears.  I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges.  I will not accept the same dead end, failed diplomacy that claimed Kyoto.  The United States will lead and will lead with a different approach; an approach that speaks to the interest and obligation of every nation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Pat Buchanan, his policy is already getting a hard look.  One of the headlines, where there‘s agreement, is that he‘s calling for a pretty deep cut in emissions that certainly keeps pace or exceeds what the Democrats have talked about, those running the campaign.   

BUCHANAN:  I‘m not sure what advised him on the left, but I do know advised him a lot of suspicion and mockery on the right wing of the Republican party.  Many of us believe a lot of this global warming is a giant scam to transform wealth and power from individuals and companies over to governments and international civil servants.  I do agree with this: they have to take down Barack Obama.  Eighty one percent of the country thinks we are on the wrong course.  They have to make the change agent unacceptable.  That‘s why these Swift Boat ads, by the end of this election, will look like public service announcements. 

GREGORY:  Next up, Obama is now courting the Jewish vote, which is important in battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, of course.  He made news today during an interview with the “Atlantic‘s” Jeffrey Goldberg, who asked him why he thinks the terror group Hamas would express support for his candidacy.  Obama‘s answer, quote, “it‘s conceivable that there are those in the Arab world who say to themselves; this is a guy who spent some time in the Muslim world, has a middle name of Hussein and appears more worldly and has called for talks with people, and so he‘s not going to be engaging in the same sort of cowboy diplomacy as George Bush.  And that‘s something they‘re hopeful about.  I think that‘s perfectly legitimate as a perception, as long as they are not confused about my unyielding support for Israel‘s security.” 

Smerc, this was a more detailed answer on this particular topic than he‘s ever given. 

SMERCONISH:  There‘s an opinion piece in today‘s “New York Times” by a fellow named Edward Luckwack (ph) that I recommend on this issue.  Here‘s the irony; he points out that Barack Obama was born to a father who‘s religion at birth was Muslim.  I‘m not buying into any of that Internet spin, believe me.  He says, Barack Obama then selected Christianity.  That‘s not going to sit well in the Muslim community.  It‘s the equivalent of apostasy.

So, while folks may at home have a problem in the Jewish community with Barack Obama, he‘s not winning any friendships overseas and people need to know that. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, there‘s another aspect of this, and that is, for those who question Barack Obama on his support for Israel, if the model is George W. Bush, whose support was plenty stalwart for Israel, there‘s a big debate within Israel and in the Jewish community in America about whether that stalwart support has necessarily made Israel safer. 

MADDOW:  Right, and if we‘re talking about the Jewish vote here, Jews‘ support for Israel is not blind support.  I do think that people think strategically about whether or not, for example, threatening war against Iran is necessarily good news for supporters of Israel.  I think this is a very nuanced issue.  Honestly, hearing that explanation from Barack Obama, I think that‘s the kind of thing you want people to say about you on the Hamas issue.  I‘m not sure, as a candidate, you want to be the one putting all that nuance out there yourself.  I think you need to come out with a very strong anti-Hamas statement and let other people explain the statement of support. 

BUCHANAN:  Make no mistake, Obama‘s got a real problem with the Jewish community.  This Hamas thing is being pushed for that reason.  What are we talking about, Brower, Dade and Palm Beach County. 

MADDOW:  I love pat—I love you talking about winning the Jewish vote in Palm Beach County. 

BUCHANAN:  I did very well down there. 

MADDOW:  You did spectacularly well there.  Like, really—

GREGORY:  Let me move on.

BUCHANAN:  Condos are my home.

GREGORY:  Next up, Obama and McCain campaigning together.  The idea, under review in both camps, is to have the candidates debate each other without a moderator at town hall meetings.  Wait a minute, where‘s the moderator?  It‘s an old school idea that Obama seems to like.  Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I think it‘s a great idea.  Obviously, we would have to think through the logistics on this.  To the extent that I—should I be the nominee, if I have the opportunity to debate substantive issues before the voters with John McCain, that‘s something I‘m going to welcome. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  A town hall meeting is McCain‘s best forum.  Is that what Barack Obama wants to step into? 

DAPPER:  Barack Obama‘s saying, as he would say, as anybody would say, hey, that‘s a great idea.  I‘ll consider that.  Whether that‘s something he wants to jump into—I think he‘s stepping into a trap there.  You‘re right.  John McCain‘s best forum is getting out there in the town hall, walking around with the mic.  Barack Obama is not bad, but he‘s better with a moderator in place, kind of a court room argument, if you will.  I think this will probably turn into a standard debate once this works its way out. 

GREGORY:  I don‘t know, Rachel, I think this could play for Barack Obama, as well.  This is a new kind of politics in a campaign. 

MADDOW:  There‘s a couple things.  I‘m so ambivalent about this, because, on one hand, I feel like we really see energy from Barack Obama when the debate is about policy and it‘s not about the scurrilous, you know, John McCain has a black baby, are you wearing a flag pin stuff.  He gets energized about policy.  This sort of debate without a moderator would be more likely to be about policy. 

The civics geek in me wants so badly for him to say yes to this.  It would be so much fun to watch if you get misty about the Commerce Clause, like I do.  I know, intellectually, that it is a trap and that it‘s probably a bad strategic move for him. 

GREGORY:  We‘ll see.  Coming up—go to take a break here.  Swing state strategy; can Obama turn a red state blue?  I think there‘s a song in there.  We‘re going to look at the state in play.  Plus, top Democrats from Nancy Pelosi to Ted Kennedy have down-played the idea of a dream ticket.  What about rank and file Democrats?  Want them both?  Will they understand if the winner says no way?  Three questions, the bigger picture on the race, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with three big questions about the race.  Still with us, Jay, Michael, Rachel and Pat.  First up, looking at the map of the road we have traveled, how did we get here?  The politic unit points out in First Read that one of the keys in Obama‘s victory was due to a major geographic advantage.  He won the states bordering his home state of Illinois.  For example, his close win in Missouri on Super Tuesday put the focus on the delegate fight rather than total states won. 

Question number one, is geography Obama‘s best subject?  Pat, take it on?  Not only where we‘ve been, but as you look ahead.

BUCHANAN:  I think Obama‘s best hope of picking up red states lie—one of them is in Missouri.  I think he could do well in Ohio, which is key and crucial.  If he put Strickland on the ticket, I think he wins it.  I think he looks good in Iowa.  He better take a look, however, at the polls, when you take those four states out west, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico—of course, Arizona is gone.  He better take a look at how well he can do with the Hispanic vote out there before he puts a lot of resources in it. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, take on the idea that being from Illinois, the geography, the media markets, that he played well regionally? 

MADDOW:  It‘s interesting.  First, the side issue is that Hillary Clinton really is from Illinois.  That‘s where she was born.  There‘s a little bit of irony there.  I do think that strategically it‘s a good sign for a candidate when the way their hometown media covers them has a positive affect on voters. 

You contrast that, for example, with the Arizona media.  As Pat says, Arizona is not up for grabs.  It‘s going to go for McCain.  You look at how critical the Arizona media is of John McCain, contrast it with how positive the Illinois media is about Obama, and it ends up creating an interesting dynamic for extrapolating that to the national media market and how much people like them the more they get covered.   

GREGORY:  Smerc, I would make an additional point, which is this: the more you get to know Barack Obama, as they have known him there, perhaps voters warm to him.  If one of the big knocks against him is that there‘s a question mark over his head, you don‘t know enough about him, in the Midwest, where people did have a better sense of him, he did better. 

SMERCONISH:  As I look back at this, more than a year of intense campaigning, I‘m hard pressed to come up with a faux pas that she‘s made.  She‘s really run a decent campaign.  I think she deserves credit for that.  I wonder, if after two terms of the Clintons and two terms of the Bush years and those terrible approval numbers, maybe she‘s been victimized by such terrible standing by whoever was in the White House that there was no way for her to get ahead of the curve.  In other words, it was timing, more than geography, and there was no message that she could have articulated which would have overcome that. 

DAPPER:  Having no plan after Super Tuesday was a death knell. 

GREGORY:  Would be seen as a pretty big error.  Jay, stay on this.  Next up, a unity ticket.  While many insiders in Washington have not been shy in expressing their opinion that Barack Obama should not choose Hillary Clinton as a running mate, the rest of the country likes both of them and may very well be thinking why can‘t we have it both ways?  Question number two, do rank and file Democrats expect a unity ticket.  It goes to the point, whether it‘s a good idea or a bad idea, you talked about this tonight, is whether supporters of one or the other, namely supporters of Hillary Clinton, would be turned off if he doesn‘t keep her in the game. 

DAPPER:  I think there‘s a question of expect versus want.  Do they expect it?  Perhaps not.  Do they want it?  Absolutely.  It‘s not just voters of one or the other.  A lot of the independents seem to want this same thing too in some of the polling numbers.  I think there‘s a desire for it.  It‘s just the practicality of it at the end of the day.  I have real questions about whether Barack Obama will do that. 

BUCHANAN:  The turn out has been so enormous for both Hillary and Barack Obama, new voters coming in, energy and enthusiasm; Hillary‘s people are going to be let down.  If I was Barack, I would tell him, do not rule this out until we get to the convention.  I think there‘s a real possibility, if you put the two together, the country wants change so bad, you have that enormous party now, far larger than the Republican party; I think it could win. 

GREGORY:  But if you string it along, Rachel, and then you don‘t choose her, is there a bigger price to be paid.  You also lose the opportunity to choose somebody more quickly and to begin the healing more quickly, since he‘s lost more time than certainly McCain has in becoming the presumptive nominee?  He has to wait several more weeks yet. 

MADDOW:  I think that Obama probably makes the vice presidential selection, at least in his own head or within the nucleus of his campaign, long before he uses it, the same way that he‘s dribbled out super delegates who were already pledged to him, when he needed them strategically.  I think, like many campaigns in the past have done, they will make the vice presidential announcement when they need a balance.  At that point, Hillary Clinton will be one of the people they consider.  I think if you‘re the guy who won the primaries, you don‘t necessarily look back at the field of people who didn‘t do as well as you in the primaries and search there for how to move forward.  I think he‘s going to be looking at a very broad lens of people. 

GREGORY:  Let me move on.  Final point here, we explore the general election landscape.  Pat got into this just a minute ago.  The “New York Times” has just identified its battleground map in an Obama/McCain general election with some very interesting results.  Take a look; the states they identify as the main swing states are Washington State, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia and Florida. 

There‘s no question that both Obama and McCain will do their best to put these states in play.  Where does Obama stand the best chance?  We want to look at this, night in and night out, look at it from both sides.  Tonight, the question—this brings us to number three—where can Obama turn a red state blue?  Smerc, take that on.

SMERCONISH:  I‘d say turn south.  I heard Pat‘s observation about Missouri and I agree with that.  But I‘d look at the Carolina‘s.  I‘d maybe even look at Georgia.  That African-American support he‘s drawing, which really has been monolithic, 90, 91, 92 percent of the votes.  Those states that have a heavy concentration of a minority populous and in the aftermath of how well he ran in North Carolina against Senator Clinton just the other night; I‘d take a look at those states. 

GREGORY:  It‘s interesting, Rachel, if you talk about a state like Colorado—we talked some about Virginia.  In Colorado, how does Obama pull that off?  Is it independent voters?  Is it disaffected Republicans?  Who is his base out there? 

MADDOW:  The interesting thing about Colorado is that Colorado Democrats have been so energized in the past few years because they have internally turned that state blue, after having been a very Republican dominated state for a long time.  There‘s already a very big activist base, a state-focused excited Democratic party there.  And I actually think that this is where Howard Dean‘s 50 state strategy of putting Democratic party organizers in every state in the Union may be important.  It‘s not the same battleground as it was in previous elections.  You can‘t tap into the old machine.  You‘re going to need new, enthusiastic activists and Dean‘s strategy may really pay off for an Obama campaign. 

GREGORY:  It‘s interesting, Pat, I‘ve talked to Governor Ridder out there in Colorado, who says one of the things the Republican party has suffered from is a values debate.  That‘s where they have gone wrong.  That‘s where there have been Democratic pick ups there. 

BUCHANAN:  They are.  Colorado is trending the other way.  The Democrats ought to be worried.  If Pennsylvania and Michigan, for heaven‘s sake, are back in play, especially Pennsylvania—I mean, that‘s almost a given in the Kerry-Gore type races against Bush.  The Democrats have real problems.  That‘s Barack‘s problem; can he nail down that base?  If I had to bet on one of them in the south, it would be Virginia. 

GREGORY:  You know, ten seconds, you look at Ohio, that‘s a state where Barack Obama may have trouble.  He needs a pick up elsewhere if that‘s not a state he can pick up and turn around this year. 

DAPPER:  Ohio has a huge amount of delegates.  It‘s not a little state.  It‘s not like an Iowa is going to correct Ohio.  If he loses Ohio, he‘s got to pick up a lot of swing states. 

GREGORY:  We‘re going to take another break here.  Coming up, I‘m done.  It‘s your turn to play with the panel.  Emails, including this; is Hillary Clinton considering a run on a third party ticket?  OK, I don‘t think so.  Several of you have asked us about this.  We‘re going to put it to the panel. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back, time to play with the panel.  Still with us, Jay, Michael, Rachel and Pat.  I should point out at the beginning, a lot of people—at least several people have asked about whether Hillary Clinton might run as an independent.  Pat, do you think there‘s any chance of that? 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s a land from which no traveler ever returns.  Been there, done that.  No. 

GREGORY:  All right, we‘re also getting a lot of email about those remarks Hillary Clinton made to “USA Today” about hard working white Americans supporting her.  Patty in Atlanta says her comments are being distorted; “Clinton‘s comments about hard working white voters supporting her does not exclude the hard working black voters supporting Obama.  Not that blacks aren‘t hard working, but that the hard working black vote is for Obama overwhelmingly.” 

Judy in West Virginia says there‘s a double standard; “if Senator Obama had to repudiate and correct his bitter and cling to comments, why is Senator Clinton not doing the same with her hard working white American voters comments?  Seems to be a bit of an imbalance there.” 

Smerc, you notice that she‘s not saying that again and again, but she‘s also not under the same sort of scrutiny. 

SMERCONISH:  I think that what she said, she said in a clumsy fashion.  I don‘t think it was said with any racial animus.  In my view—you know I‘m at least consistent and maybe wrong on this, David—is that folks are far too sensitive and we need to get over it.  The world is a better place when we air these sort of grievances in a gentlemanly or gentle-womanly fashion.  To keep them bottled up is a mistake. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, do you think it was just clumsy, that there wasn‘t a point being made there? 

MADDOW:  I think the point that was being made there is a pretty nasty one.  I think she‘s essentially saying, I‘m not racist.  I would never say the Democrats shouldn‘t pick a nominee on the basis of his race.  But we are a racist country and therefore, the Democrats shouldn‘t nominate a black man, because this country is never going to get across racial barriers and elect a black man. 

I think that‘s the point, as I heard it.  I think were she the front-runner, she‘d be apologizing left, right and center for this.  I think she got away with hit because she‘s not getting much attention that isn‘t about whether or not she‘s about to get out of the race. 

SMERCONISH:  Nowhere in what she said can I discern what Rachel has just offered, respectfully.  I just don‘t see it. 

MADDOW:  That‘s exactly how I read it.  I think a lot of people—

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t see it at all.  I don‘t know how you—she‘s describing her coalition and his coalition.  She says mine is stronger in the general election.  She‘s dead right. 

MADDOW:  She‘s saying white people will vote for me, I‘m white.  White people won‘t vote for him.  He‘s black.  Therefore we shouldn‘t nominate a black guy.  That‘s what it comes down to. 

BUCHANAN:  She‘s giving you the reasons why she‘s going to win by 40 points in West Virginia, for heaven‘s sake. 

MADDOW:  She‘s saying the black man can‘t win the white vote.  For the Democrat to be making the case that that‘s why the Democratic party shouldn‘t nominate a black guy, that‘s controversial.  It may not be to you, but for most of America, I think it is. 

GREGORY:  Let me move on.  Grif from Georgia has a question about the Democrats and race; “since race seems to be a legitimate issue, then why isn‘t it legitimate to ask why can‘t Hillary Clinton get more of the African American vote, a vote she will need in November, should she be the nominee?  Why is the onus on Obama to receive the white vote and not equally on her to receive the black vote?” 

Jay, I think the dynamic has changed in the race and we can certainly argue that, but as this was all playing out, it was a big question as to whether or not African-Americans, if she were to become the nominee, would actually come out and vote for her, particularly if it were the super delegates who were to overturn this and give it to her. 

DAPPER:  I think the question—they are accurate in asking the question now, but I don‘t think it‘s necessarily accurate earlier in this race.  We did ask Hillary Clinton.  There was an onus on Hillary Clinton about capturing the women‘s vote, for instance, coming in Wisconsin.  She didn‘t do well among white working class voters or women voters.  I think there has been those question.  I think the questions have tended to diminish, as Rachel pointed out a second ago, as pretty much all of the focus on Hillary Clinton has been, are you getting out?  When are you getting out? 

GREGORY:  Right.  Pat in Columbus, Ohio wants to know if Clinton‘s tenacity would hurt her presidency; “Hillary Clinton has shown enormous resolve in the race for the White House.  Would her do or die attitude make it difficult for her to withdraw from future international conflicts where continued U.S. involvement is unwise and counter-productive?”

Pat Buchanan, this is an interesting question if you go longer.  What does it say, if you look at their campaigning style, about the kind of president they would be?  Take about 15 seconds to answer it in a really thoughtful way? 

BUCHANAN:  I think, look, Hillary would be really tough, very aggressive.  She‘d be a real commander in chief style, almost a general type.  I think Barack Obama will be very cool, like a Jack Kennedy, quite frankly.  He‘ll be reasoned.  He‘ll bring in his advisers.  I think he knows what he doesn‘t know and I think that‘s a good sign. 

GREGORY:  All right, go to go.  Thanks for the panel.  We‘re in New York tomorrow for our special election coverage.  “HARDBALL” coming up now.

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

END   

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