updated 5/22/2008 11:22:30 AM ET 2008-05-22T15:22:30

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Tony Blankley, Jay Carney, Eugene Robinson

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  Tonight, the dating game.  John McCain meets with two popular governors and a former rival as the veep stakes kicks into high gear and THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Happy to have you here, your stop for the fast-paced, the bottom line, every point of view in the room.

We keep wanting to tell you that the fight for the Democratic nomination is over, but it‘s never going to be over.  Well, at least not before June 3rd.

So sit back and enjoy it.

Tonight, inside the war rooms we‘re going to go to exam some Clinton end game scenarios.  We‘re also going to look under the hood to learn more about Obama‘s troubles with working class white voters.  Is this only about geography?

The bedrock of this program, as you know, a panel that comes to play.  And with us tonight, Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, and an MSNBC political analyst; Jay Carney, Washington bureau chief for “TIME” magazine; syndicated columnist Tony Blankley; and Gene Robinson, columnist and associate editor of “The Washington Post,” also an MSNBC political analyst. 

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

I‘ll get us started here tonight.

My headline, “McCain Looking After Number Two.”  Fighting for attention amid a suffocating Democratic contest, McCain has jump-started his VP search, allowing us to think outside alongside him. 

McCain sources say the Arizona senator will meet at his home at the end of the week with former rival Mitt Romney, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Florida Governor Charlie Crist. 

Later on in the program, “Three Questions.”  We will analyze each one of those choices and play the odds here. 

Florida is where the Democrats campaigned today, meantime.  Obama went right back after McCain, responding to McCain‘s charge that he, Obama, lacks foreign policy judgment because he wants to sit down and speak directly to Iran. 

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  He has been spending the last week describing his foreign policy by explaining who he won‘t talk to.  I mean, that‘s his whole foreign policy—I won‘t talk to that guy, and I won‘t talk to that guy, and I won‘t talk to that guy.  What kind of—that‘s your foreign policy?  He basically wants to perpetuate the same errors that George Bush has made for the last eight years that have cost us so dearly in blood and treasure and has not made us more safe. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Senator Clinton, meanwhile, is making her bid for the popular vote supremacy by arguing that Florida and Michigan votes should count. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Now, I‘ve heard some say that counting Florida and Michigan would be changing the rules.  I say that not counting Florida and Michigan is changing a central governing rule of this country. 

I remember very well back in 2000 there were those who argued that people‘s votes should be discounted over technicalities.  For the people of Florida who voted in this primary, the notion of discounting their votes sounds way too much the same. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Yes, you have two candidates saying very different things, not really engaging one another. 

Rachel Maddow, you‘re in a Florida and Michigan state of mind tonight. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I am indeed.  My headline tonight is “The Democrats‘ White House Chances are Now on a 10 Day Suicide Watch.”

If the Florida and Michigan question gets before the DNC committee process starting 10 days from now, what that will mean is that process starts and it might not end until the convention.  That ruling can be appealed.  It eventually goes up to the credentials committee.  The credentials committee gets seated for the convention. 

If that process starts on May 31st, I think it is likely that the contest over the process by which we nominate a Democratic presidential contender goes until the convention.  And I think that means that Obama has got to try to get at least I think 90 superdelegates to move over to him in the next 10 days if the Florida and Michigan delegates are to become a moot issue. 

GREGORY:  Right.  It‘s going to be a lot to debate there. 

Gene Robinson, you‘re thinking about the results from last night. 

What‘s your headline? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, David.  My headline is that “Obama‘s Problem With White Voters Isn‘t All About Race.”

You know, there were some alarming findings from the exit polling in Kentucky last night.  Take a look at the graphic.

Two out of 10 white voters—or voters in Kentucky—said race was an important factor in the way they decided to vote.  Now, you add to that the fact that nearly a third of white voters said they would defect to John McCain in the fall if Obama were the nominee, and you can conclude that Obama has a big race problem there. 

But then if you look at the historical record, in 2004, about the same number, about a third of white Democrats indeed did defect to George W.  Bush from John Kerry, rather than support John Kerry. 

GREGORY:  Right.

ROBINSON:  And if you look at the results out in Oregon, you see that Obama did quite well with working class white voters.  So it might be geographical, but it‘s not all about race. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to go under the hood on this issue coming in our next segment.

Jay Carney, you‘re thinking about the general election and the line of attack against McCain by Obama. 

JAY CARNEY, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “TIME”:  That‘s right, David.  My headline is, “Is Obama Waging the Wrong Battle with John McCain?”

The skirmish over Iran and whether or not it‘s appropriate to speak with the leaders of rogue regimes continues day after day, in part because both candidates, McCain and Obama, keep sounding off on it. 

Here was Obama today.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We can restore offensive diplomacy to our foreign policy.  I will meet not just with our friends, but also with our enemies. 

John McCain—John McCain doesn‘t like this.  John McCain says this is naive.  I am happy to have a debate with John McCain about the Bush/McCain foreign policy, because their foreign policy has not worked.  And we can‘t keep on doing the same thing over and over again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARNEY:  Well now, David, here‘s the question.  Obviously, any time Barack Obama can make this statement, call it the Bush/McCain foreign policy, that‘s an effective hit because President Bush is so unpopular.  But this is really not a debate I think he‘s likely to want to have, because if John McCain has one strength, it‘s certainly not the economy, it‘s not health care, two major issues.

GREGORY:  Yes.

CARNEY:  It‘s foreign policy and his national security experience.  So I think the McCain people aren‘t joking when they say if we‘re going to have a debate about foreign policy instead of these other issues, we‘re happy to have it. 

GREGORY:  Right.

CARNEY:  And I‘m not sure Barack Obama is doing the right thing here in terms of strategy by perpetuating this debate. 

GREGORY:  Right.  It‘s like Bush/Rove said in ‘04.  If the debate is national security, Bush wins.  That‘s what happened.

Tony Blankley, you have got your eye on Obama as well.  What‘s your headline tonight? 

TONY BLANKLEY, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Yes, my headline is, “The Beginning of the Obama Gaffe Watch.”

In the last week, starting this week, he said that Iran is a big threat and it‘s not a threat.  He confused the language spoken in Afghanistan.  And he talked about 57 states that he‘s visited so far.

Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and others are beginning to watch the gaffe as he goes off teleprompter. 

GREGORY:  OK.  We‘re going to keep our eye on that as well. 

We‘re going to keep going here after this break.

Coming up, Mr. Obama, Barack Obama, sure is Mr. Nice Guy when it comes to talking about Hillary Clinton.  He‘s trying to make nice here.  What‘s behind all of that?

We‘re going to go inside the War Room. 

And a little bit later on, your play date with the panel.

We‘re coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on THE RACE and heading inside the War Room now, looking specifically inside Obama‘s war room.

Still with us, Rachel Maddow, Jay Carney, Tony Blankley and Eugene Robinson.

OK.  First up tonight, Obama‘s problem with working class white voters, is it over?

He won handily in Oregon, a 90 percent white state, 59-41 percent.  But he still lost by 35 points, 30-65 in Kentucky, also a predominantly white state.

And looking back at his performance in West Virginia, another Appalachian state and about 95 percent white, he lost 67-26.  So, what does this tell us?  It this geography?  Is it something else?

Gene, pick up on your analysis from your headline on this. 

ROBINSON:  Well, it seems to me it must have something to do with geography.  It tends to happen in this Appalachian region.

I suspect it also is cultural, in a sense.  And I don‘t discount the fact that race may be playing a roll as well.  But he is not connecting with people in—particularly in this region, with white voters particularly in this region who don‘t make over $50,000, say. 

GREGORY:  Right.

ROBINSON:  And, you know, I don‘t think it‘s just a matter of drinking more shots and beers.  It might be a matter of spending more time there and making more of an effort.  It might not happen.  It didn‘t happen for John Kerry, as we heard earlier. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  You know—I mean, Jay Carney, how much of this is anti-Obama, how much of is this is pro-Clinton?  In other words, the Clinton name, the Clinton brand, in Appalachia goes a long way, doesn‘t it? 

CARNEY:  Well, it does, but the Clinton brand goes a long way generally in Democratic circles.  That was one of the reasons why she was a front-runner. 

I think it‘s demographic, and race is part of the demographics here. 

And it is an element.  There‘s no question. 

But what I think it has to do with is Clinton has successfully appealed more directly to people who are hurting, with lower incomes, who don‘t particularly—I mean, they like it when Obama talks about changing the system, but they‘re skeptical, because they don‘t believe the system can be fixed. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

CARNEY:  They are much more interested in concrete things that a candidate might be offering to them directly to help them with their problems.  And I think for those people who are on—you know, marginalized by a downturn in the economy, Clinton‘s message has been more resonant. 

GREGORY:  Right.

CARNEY:  And Obama has had a difficult time in speaking to those concerns.

GREGORY:  All right.  Rachel, let‘s talk about the race factor. 

Two in 10 voters in Kentucky said race was an important factor in deciding their vote.  And I think 81 percent of those went for Clinton.  In Oregon, by contrast, Obama made major inroads with white voters, winning the majority of white voters under 59, losing only among white voters who were 60 and over. 

So again, where does that leave this argument, this analysis? 

MADDOW:  Well, I think it means that we need to distinguish between the race factor and the racism factor.  They are two different things.  And I think it often gets kind of lumped under the shorthand of “the white vote.”

GREGORY:  Right.

MADDOW:  Where, you know, it makes a difference whether—I mean, to have one in five Democratic primary voters admit that they based their vote in part on the race of the candidate they were voting for, that means... 

GREGORY:  Yes, it‘s not a good thing. 

MADDOW:  It‘s not a good thing. 

GREGORY:  It‘s not a good thing, no.

MADDOW:  It means that you‘re talking about racism.  It‘s not just talking about white people specifically.

GREGORY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  And that does bring in all the sorts of cultural factors that Gene‘s talking about, regional differences in racism.  And it means we need to get more specific when we talk about these Democratic factors. 

GREGORY:  But Tony—the other aspect of this, Tony, is we know that Republicans have an advantage with this group of voters.  We know that from the last two election cycles.  So why this specific attention to Obama as if it‘s only an issue of race? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, it‘s not only.  But I think we‘re being a little euphemistic to talk about geography.  It‘s not just Appalachians or Cascades or Poconos Mountains.  It‘s not a mountain problem. 

It‘s obviously, I think, resistance for a lot of voters when people are demographically different to them.  And it‘s a challenge for the candidate who‘s demographically different to ameliorate that, say, I‘m really under the skin just like you.  And so far, Obama has gone the other way, with the San Francisco statement, some of his affiliations, some of his wife‘s statements, are sending signals that reinforce the resistance. 

So I think he‘s got five and a half months to break down that resistance.  It‘s not racism, but there is clearly some consciousness.  And there‘s consciousness on the black vote side as well.

GREGORY:  All right.

BLANKLEY:  Hillary should be getting more than 5 percent of the black vote. 

MADDOW:  David, I would just say, a really important point in the way you phrased that question though.  It‘s not just a current problem of the Democratic Party or this candidate.

GREGORY:  Right.

MADDOW:  It has been since 1964 that the Democrats won a majority of the working class white vote.  This is not a—this is not a Barack Obama problem for Democrats. 

GREGORY:  All right.

Finally, Barack Obama‘s appeal to Hillary Clinton‘s most ardent female supporters.  He seemed to acknowledge that Clinton has faced some sexism in the course of her campaign among voters, while praising her for making history during his victory speech last night.

Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  No matter how this primary ends, Senator Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed America in the which my daughters and your daughters will come of age. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  But will her voters take the extended olive branch, or will they agree with the views of the comedienne Joy Behar on “The View”?  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOY BEHAR, “THE VIEW”:  You say a man took it away from a woman, and then they yelled at her for complaining about it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rachel, where do you think women who support Hillary Clinton are on all this? 

MADDOW:  I think right now the fact that Hillary Clinton and her surrogates are talking so overtly about there being a sexism problem, which explains why she didn‘t get the nomination, is a huge turn in this race.  She was not making that argument so overtly before. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  She really is making it now.  It‘s going to be very hard to make that argument simultaneously that sexism is keeping her from getting the nomination.  But she‘s still a good bet to win the general because the sexism problem will evaporate at that point. 

GREGORY:  Right.

MADDOW:  It‘s a very complicated tactic for her.

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to take a break here. 

Coming up next, “Smart Takes,” and real good ones tonight.  Hillary Clinton a Supreme Court justice?  Could that me the move that would save the Democratic Party from itself? 

We‘ll talk about it after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back and bringing today‘s “Smart Takes,” the most provocative, most thoughtful, most insightful.  We find them so you don‘t have to. 

And here again, Rachel, Jay, Tony and Gene.

The first “Smart Take” tonight, Ruth Marcus looks at the legacy of Clinton‘s campaign for women. 

To the quote board.

“Clinton‘s was not a perfect candidacy.  Part of this stems from a fact outside Clinton‘s control, that her route to power was derivative—the Adam‘s rib outgrowth of her husband‘s career.  Hillary Clinton has been elected to the Senate twice in her own right, but the fact that her road to the White House involved standing by her man, no matter how badly he behaved, made her a flawed vessel for the feminist cause.”

“If not 2008, then when?  If not Clinton, then who?  There are no obvious answers.  Then again, four years ago, Obama was an unknown state senator and almost no one imagined that an African-American could win the presidency in 2008.”

Gene, take it on. 

ROBINSON:  Well, I guess I agree that Hillary Clinton was flawed as a vessel for the hopes of the feminist movement, but I actually think she was a pretty terrific candidate.  She got better as the race went on.  I think what happened to her campaign was she ran into a better organized, better financed campaign, with a more charismatic candidate. 

GREGORY:  Right.

BLANKLEY:  David, I think that she ran a terrible campaign strategically.  She was a terrible candidate until about two months ago.  And operationally, they were incompetent.  They weren‘t even competing in the month of February for all the caucus delegates. 

GREGORY:  All right.  But aside from that...

BLANKLEY:  She didn‘t lose because...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Yes, but aside from that, Rachel, was some of this analysis that Tony is offering, was it about gender?  Was it sexism?  Was that the nature of the criticism?

MADDOW:  Hillary Clinton is saying that now.  She was not making that case before. 

I feel like it‘s really hard to quantify whether or not sexism is the thing that‘s keeping her down.  Certainly, I keep having conversations with people—it seems like more and more frequently now that her campaign is raising them—about whether or not certain things that happened in the campaign, either in the media coverage or between her and Barack Obama, were sexist. 

A lot of them are subject to interpretation.  I don‘t think there is a way to quantify this.

But you know what?  It has been 24 years since there was a woman at the top of a ticket for a major party.  It was Geraldine Ferraro back in 1984.  And a lot of women, including me, are wondering, if it‘s not going to be Clinton this year, do we have to wait another 24 years?  This glass ceiling is—she‘s exactly right, it is a very, very hard glass ceiling that women are not making progress against. 

GREGORY:  Let me move on here with the second “Smart Take” tonight. 

The New Republic‘s John Judis says Clinton never stood a chance against her real opponent in this race, and that‘s history. 

To the quote board.

“Ex-heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson once said about Muhammad Ali, ‘I was just a fighter, but he was history.‘  Obama, too, was and is history.  The first viable African-American presidential candidate raises the deepest and oldest and most bitter conflict in American history.  And if some voters didn‘t appreciate the potential breakthrough that Obama‘s candidacy represented, many in the Democratic primaries and caucuses did.  “As Clinton began treated Obama as just another politician,  they recoiled and threw their support to him.”

Jay, what do you think? 

CARNEY:  Well, I think John Judis is very smart.  And I think part of this I agree with.  But the last bit I don‘t.

I don‘t think that Clinton should have not treated Obama as just another candidate, just another politician, because that in the essence is what he was.  I mean, she couldn‘t, you know, treat him with kid gloves and sort of anoint him, along with other anointers, that just because he‘s this historic—he‘s running this historic campaign, that he should therefore, you know, waltz into the nomination.  I disagree with that.

I think race was a factor that helped Obama get to where he is, on the verge of winning the nomination.  But he also—I mean, it‘s how he comported himself, it‘s how they ran their campaign.  It was the incredible wisdom of pushing of the organizational steps they took, of pushing hard to win Iowa. 

I think there were a lot of traditional political factors involved in how he sewed this thing up. 

GREGORY:  But Tony—go ahead, Gene. 

ROBINSON:  I was going to say, inside the Clinton campaign, strategists now believe that in fact their mistake was not being tougher with Obama early in the campaign.  In a sense, they allowed his campaign to become history.  It wasn‘t history when it started.

GREGORY:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  He was a freshman senator who was an African-American, but no one imagined he would actually beat Hillary Clinton. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  Yes.

CARNEY:  I mean, keep in mind, his campaign, he was “O‘bambi” for a while.  Remember?  It was --- people were mocking his campaign not that long ago. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Let me move on.  I want to get the third “Smart Take” in. 

Hillary Clinton for Supreme Court justice?  James Andrew Miller says that would be the best way to unify the Democratic Party in the fall.

To the quote board.

“If Obama were to promise Clinton the first court vacancy, her supporters would actually have a stronger incentive to support him for president than they would if she were going to be vice president.  Given the Supreme Court‘s delicate liberal/conservative balance, she would play a major role in charting the country‘s future.  There is no guarantee that a Clinton vice presidency would achieve such importance.”

Tony Blankley, take it on. 

BLANKLEY:  I think that would be good for the Republicans, because if anything would marshal conservative votes at a time when we don‘t have a conservative as our standard bearer, it would be the thought of Hillary on the Supreme Court for life. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

BLANKLEY:  I think that their left is already energized.  So I don‘t know what that brings. 

GREGORY:  Well, it‘s also the nature, Rachel, of a politically ambitious couple that the Clintons are.  And if she has any desires to run, you know, for Obama to say, I have an idea?  How about I put you on the court for life so you‘re... 

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  How about I lock you into a black robe that you can‘t get out of until you‘re ready to retire, yes. 

GREGORY:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  You could offer Hillary Clinton the vice presidency, a Supreme Court justiceship and every seat on the cabinet and a pony.  She‘s not going to take all of them put together or any of them individually. 

She‘s not looking for a consolation prize.  She wants to be president.  And she‘s willing to take it to the convention if that‘s where she has to win it.

GREGORY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  I don‘t know how many times she has to say it before we start believing her. 

GREGORY:  Right.

Hey, nobody said anything about a pony.  I think that changes everything. 

MADDOW:  I do too.

GREGORY:  Coming up next, Hillary Clinton won‘t give up on Florida and Michigan.  She‘s convinced those votes will in fact count and should count.

Good move, or should she move on?  We‘re going to break down the strategy of some of her end game scenarios when THE RACE returns right after this break. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Still ahead, we‘re going inside Hillary Clinton‘s war room.  She saying sexism is overshadowing the election. Is it time to come out and say it publicly? That‘s coming up next.  First, a check of you headlines.

(NEWSBREAK) 

GREGORY:   Welcome back to THE RACE. I‘m David Gregory. The back half now; happy to have you along.  We‘ll take you inside Hillary Clinton‘s war room, special second edition.  Counting down the options she has left in this campaign.

Back with us, Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America and MSNBC, political analyst Jay Carney, Washington bureau chief for “Time” magazine, syndicated columnist Tony Blankley, Gene Robinson, columnist and associate editor of “The Washington Post”, also an MSNBC political analyst.

Now, let‘s count down the options that Hillary Clinton has left.  Option one, fight for Florida and Michigan and don‘t back down. She charged up a crowd in Boca today saying every count needs to be counted, even invoking the 2000 recount. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘ve heard some say that counting Florida and Michigan would be changing the rules. I say that not counting Florida and Michigan is changing a central governing rule of this country. The lesson of 2000, here in Florida, is crystal clear. If any votes aren‘t counted, the will of the people isn‘t realized, and our democracy is diminished.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

GREGORY:   Her campaign now preparing for a critical meeting the DNC to work out a compromise on seating delegates from both those states. Does she go for broke at the May 31 meeting?

Jay Carney, what‘s behind their pursuit here of seating these delegates?

CARNEY:  Well the pursuit, David, made sense when it was still plausible that she could prevail. But she can‘t. I think it just takes great chutzpah to keep pushing this argument.  I mean, should the informal elections, where people in classrooms raise their hands, you know, for different candidates, should those count too? Or are they being disenfranchised? 

When the voters in Florida and Michigan went to the polls, they knew their primaries weren‘t going to count. That‘s what they were told. It was in the paper, it was on the news.

GREGORY:   Right.

CARNEY:  And that was the choice that the party leadership in their states made.  Now, they have to reconcile. They have to figure this out.  There has to be a way those delegations are seated at the convention because they‘re important states. But it won‘t be a way that suddenly tilts the election to Hillary. It‘s just not going to happen.

(CROSS TALK) 

GREGORY:   That‘s a point.  But, Rachel, it also appears Barack Obama

Barack Obama make some accommodation here that tilts it in her favor without hurting you, you can be magnanimous here, right?

MADDOW:  Well, yeah.  I think you have to look at—Jay is right that it doesn‘t make sense for her to be fighting for Florida and Michigan, on its surface. In terms of whether or not it‘s going to make a difference at the convention.  The reason this makes sense, the way this is most simply explained, is to look at the fact that this process—this DNC committee process—if they push it all the way, it doesn‘t get a final resolution until the credentials committee is seated in Denver, in August.

GREGORY:   Right.

MADDOW:  The only reason to push for Florida and Michigan is because this gives the Democratic contest no final finish line, in terms of the number of delegates you need to clinch the nomination. It keeps her in the race ‘til the convention. That‘s the only way that she sees that she can win. If she can win, this is central to her process of staying in the race and central to her hope. 

GREGORY:   Tony, quick comment before I move on.

BLANKLEY:  She‘s right.  Look, Hillary is only to become president if she gets this nomination.  Obama is not foolish enough to put her on the ticket. So she might as well stick it out, and fight to the convention, because it‘s all over otherwise for her.

GREGORY:   All right.  Option two:  broker a deal with the superdelegates.  Looking at today‘s superdelegate score card. Obama took home two supers today, from Mississippi and Connecticut. While Clinton took one superdelegate from Ohio. She now trails him by 25 in the total superdelegate count.

What‘s the argument that she takes to them, at this point, and does she push for a back room deal?

And I guess, Gene, I guess the question on this is if you have a group of superdelegates—about 20 of them—who actually might be instrumental in deciding this thing, do they become the powerbrokers in this race?  Who say, you know what, the way we cut a deal here is that she has to be on the ticket, Senator Obama?

ROBINSON:  I guess that‘s a possibility, but I think, at this point, the fact that more superdelegates haven‘t committed—or there‘s still some who haven‘t committed—may begin to work against Hillary Clinton.  Because my sense is that if the Clinton campaign does not play nice at the May 31 meeting, you could see superdelegates in some numbers going over to the Obama camp.

GREGORY:   Yeah.

ROBINSON:  And essentially saying—I mean, it‘s kind of a threat held over the campaign‘s head—that if you want to try to play hardball, others can play hardball, too.

GREGORY:   Jay, the theory about brokers, superdelegates acting as brokers, what do you say? Jay, go ahead.

CARNEY:  You asked me?  Sorry.

GREGORY:   Yes.

CARNEY:  I don‘t think it‘s going to happen. I think that most superdelegates, that while they have not announced or those who have not announced have made up their minds, I think the trend is heavily in Senator Obama‘s direction. The fact that he‘s now opened up a lead in national polls—which are actually meaningless. They do have a psychological fact, that they reassure delegates who might be worried about Senator Obama‘s general election prospects.

So, I think this thing is over, and I think it‘s all about negotiating a graceful exit for her. Maybe some sort of accommodation to her that does not include, I don‘t think, the running mate position. But I don‘t think it‘s about her winning the race.

GREGORY:   All right. Moving on to option three. Rattle the feminist cage:  Hillary Clinton defiantly declared last night that despite calls to get out, she refuses to do so. And will not be pushed around. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

CLINTON:  I‘m going to keep making our case, until we have a nominee, whoever she may be.

(APPLAUSE, CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)  

GREGORY:   That followed up with an interview in “The Washington Post”, Clinton said that according to polls, she has seen, people would be more reluctant to vote for a woman than an African-American. Is this a sign that she‘s going more public with the idea of sexism now?  And the idea, Rachel, that she wants to end this race on her terms and not be pushed out in some way. Recognizing—at least she feels—that a lot of her supporters may feel that and she‘ll be pushed out?

MADDOW:  Yeah, I mean, I‘m a feminist and I have felt for a long time like Hillary Clinton could have seized some of the sort of inspirational ground in this campaign, the sort of feel good factor, by talking about her gender; by talking about the historic nature of her candidacy. 

But there‘s a real difference between that idea and what she‘s doing now. It‘s inspirational. It‘s a feel-good factor to talk about how somebody who‘s fundamentally different than the 43 guys who have held this job before, could have it this year. That‘s the kind of approach that Barack Obama has taken.  It‘s fundamentally different to talk in that hopeful way about what a great country this is, that we can cross this barrier, than it is to complain about what is holding you back.

(CROSS TALK) 

MADDOW:  I do think she runs into a strategic problem with it as well, trying to say that she can win the general, if she‘s saying that sexism is the reason she didn‘t win the primary.

GREGORY:   Go ahead, Gene.

ROBINSON:  I‘m wondering what polls she‘s seeing, too. Because as I recall the polling on the subject, people say they would be willing to vote for an African-American; they‘d be willing to vote for a woman, in roughly equal percentages. Now, whether they really would or not is unclear. I think they had more problems with the candidate of John McCain‘s age or Mitt Romney‘s religion than they did of Hillary Clinton‘s gender or Barack Obama‘s race.

(CROSS TALK) 

GREGORY:   Let me just get to number four here, option number four.  Calculate a long term plan. If her options are running out for an ‘08 run, what‘s plan B? It is it the White House in 2012?  And Jay Carney, is this about position now for Hillary Clinton, for her political prospects down the road.

CARNEY:  I think anything could happen. Lightning could strike.  Hillary Clinton is very aware that the Democratic Party does not reward losers. Usually, that if you lose a race, you‘re not really welcome back to run again. Just ask John Kerry—or Michael Dukakis.

But, you know, I think it‘s about negotiating some sort of deal, where whether it‘s possible Senate majority leader, governor of New York. I don‘t think Supreme Court position is in the offing. If it is, I would love to cover that confirmation battle. I think it‘s about a graceful exit.

MADDOW:  And a pony; a graceful exit and a pony.

CARNEY:  And a pony.

GREGORY:   Right, right, right, and a pony.

Quickly, your thought on this, Tony.

BLANKLEY:  Yeah, look, I think we over state it when we they have some grand strategy.  I think they‘re running on fumes. They are moving with momentum. They are going to just keep moving forward ‘til they draw.

GREGORY:   All right. We‘re going to take another break here. Coming up, as the presumptive Republican nominee it‘s time for John McCain to seriously start thinking about his running mate. His campaign won‘t give names. We have the scoop on who he might have in mind at this point.

And coming up in a few minutes, your “Play Date” with the panel, you can call us. Call us at 212-790-2299 or e-mail at www.race08@msnbc.com.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

GREGORY:   We‘re back now with THE RACE.  Time to ask the three big questions.  All three focus on John McCain‘s quest for a running mate.  And still with us Rachel Maddow, Jay Carney, Tony Blankley and Gene Robinson. 

OK.  Let‘s talk beefsteaks now.  NBC News confirmed McCain will meet with three governors over the weekend. Charlie Crist, of Florida, Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

We want to look at each one and what each one would bring to McCain‘s campaign.  First up Governor Charlie Crist, popular moderate leader of a key swing state.  He won there in ‘06, a political year that vastly favored the Democrats.  And Crist‘s endorsement of McCain likely helped him edge out Mitt Romney in that Florida primary.

That first question, what would Governor Crist bring to McCain‘s ticket?  Tony, let‘s start with you.

BLANKLEY:  I don‘t think he brings much. I think if McCain can‘t carry Florida on his own, then he‘s not going to carry, he needs to carry something else. I doubt—excuse me—I don‘t think he brings much to the ticket. He‘s a very attractive guy, very popular in Florida. But I think this is such a weird election season that McCain needs to do something different.  Maybe go with someone like a governor ridge or even a Lieberman, rather than trying to do a sort of classic kind of like carry-a-state deal.

GREGORY:   Yes, Jay, do you see it that way? I mean, he is young, moderate, reinforces McCain, to some degree, and again helps him make a big play for a state that he‘d like to keep in the Republican column.  But a lot of people think Florida is tending pretty Republican anyway.

CARNEY:  I agree with Tony. I don‘t think—he‘s enormously popular in Florida—but I don‘t think that McCain—he has other more desperate needs. It‘s not a surprise. It‘s clear he‘s looking outside of Washington.  His running mate will be a governor or former governor. I think that‘s safe to say.  I‘m surprised Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota is not on this list, maybe he had holiday plans, couldn‘t make it out to Arizona. I think, you know, McCain has to get—the youth thing is important, but he doesn‘t want to go too young. That‘s why I think maybe Jindal‘s maybe a problem.  We‘ll talk about that. He‘s awfully—but he does have to get—I think he does have to get a governor, somebody who is not sort of part of the old Washington problem that a lot of people perceive.

GREGORY:   Yes, Rachel, we‘ll got through the other names, but just let‘s step back for a second.  As you look at this kind of objectively, what do you think John McCain needs to be most effective?

MADDOW:  Well, the obvious is that he needs somebody who‘s young and vigorous; he needs somebody who‘s not going to show him up, who is not going to be a preferred choice. Somebody who‘s not going to overshadow him in a sense. That maybe part of the risk with Mitt Romney, if Mitt Romney continues to enjoy some support among Republican voters, and still pulling in votes in races even he‘s now long out of the race at this point. 

I think he‘s got some classic considerations here.  He‘s got to balance out the fact that he‘s been in Washington so long, as Jay rightly points out. The age thing—and I think he needs to still be the star.

GREGORY:   Let‘s talk about next up, Governor Bobbie Jindal of Louisiana, who won a special election this past November. Only 36 years old, America‘s youngest governor. And the first Indian-American governor in U.S. history; the first non-white governor in Louisiana since Reconstruction. A recent poll showed Jindal with a 77 percent approval rating in a state that is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Second, question, what would Governor Jindal bring to McCain‘s ticket?

You know, Gene, what‘s interesting about this potential choice, beyond his youth is that McCain made a point of going down to Louisiana, the Forgotten Places Tour, to try to highlight places that a lot of Republicans don‘t go, and campaign vigorously, to say, “Look, I am a different kind of Republican.” This way, it might reinforce that with a guy like Bobby Jindal on the ticket. What‘s your take?

ROBINSON:  Well, doing a photo op is one thing. Picking Bobby Jindal is another thing.  I mean—look, he‘s an amazing guy. He would bring to the ticket diversity. He would bring a ferocious set of brains. He‘s really, really smart and I think has a bright future in politics. But he is awfully young. I think it takes—you know, McCain needs somebody younger and vigorous, but he also needs somebody who—to quote Hillary Clinton—could become, is ready to be president on day one. Part of the reassuring that McCain has to do is if anything were to happen to him while he‘s in office—

GREGORY:   Yeah, sure.

ROBINSON:  The vice president would be ready to take over. Bobby Jindal is very young.  He looks younger.  He‘s—you know, he makes Barack Obama look like some sort of—you know, some 36-year Senate veteran compared to him.

GREGORY:   Tony, do you see it that way?  Or is this kind of bold choice that you think McCain needs?

BLANKLEY:  No. No, this would be a quirky choice.  Not a bold choice.

I think McCain needs to play to his strength. He‘s as the experienced man.  He‘s the experience ticket.  Like Clinton picked Gore, similar kind of a person to emphasize his strength.

GREGORY:  Bobby Jindal?

BLANKLEY:  Jindal‘s a remarkable guy. He‘s very smart. And in the future he may well be a presidential candidate. But I think, this time out, it would be a mistake for McCain to go with him.

GREGORY:   So real quick, Jay, what message does he send? If McCain is not looking at Jindal as really somebody who is on the short list, what message does he send in having out to the ranch at this time? 

BLANKLEY:  There‘s a long history—

(CROSS TALK) 

GREGORY:  This is for Jay, sorry.

BLANKLEY:  There‘s a long history in vice presidential picking to talk to a lot of people, give a lot of credit to people just by meeting with them. I assume that‘s part of this.

GREGORY:  All right, Jay, quickly.

CARNEY:  I agree. I would agree with Tony on that. I also say, it was something Tony mentioned before, about the possibility of a Governor Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania. I don‘t think that‘s on the table. I pretty sure McCain made it explicit that he will not pick somebody who is not sort of a aggressively anti-abortion, pro-life. I think that McCain has still enough—you know there is enough concern among social conservatives about McCain and whether or not he will be true to their causes, that he cannot risk alienating them by picking someone who is not very firm on abortion.

GREGORY:   All right, finally, let‘s look at Mitt Romney. Republican primary made him a household name, he won election as governor in a deep blue state, Massachusetts; has strong ties to Michigan, where his father was governor. Romney is a self-made millionaire and former CEO. After he lost the GOP primary, he hit the trail for John McCain.

Third question, then, what would Mitt Romney bring to McCain‘s ticket?

You know, Rachel, we talked about this before. The idea that this is a guy that not only youthful, potential future of the party, but he could really help shore up whatever liability, weakness, McCain got on the economy.

MADDOW:  Yes, although, there does seem to be some leftover—you get this sense of antipathy between them.  You don‘t—you never got the sense during the campaign that John McCain liked Mitt Romney all that much.

GREGORY:   Right, right.

MADDOW:  I don‘t know if those sort of personal considerations matter all that much.  I mean, it does have—the problem with Jindal is that Jindal then looks like McCain‘s grandson instead of looking like his son, in terms of age. Romney is more appropriate in terms of the age balance and I think the experience balance, also, the-outside-of-Washington balance.

Honestly, I think for both parties, it‘s a challenge to believe that the candidate is going to look back at the people he bested in the primary and see somebody who is going to help  him a lot moving forward.

(CROSS TALK) 

MADDOW:  I don‘t necessarily expect the choice to be from among the primary losers.

GREGORY:   Tony, when I look at Mitt Romney, I see somebody who‘s potentially a very good administrator in a McCain administration; somebody who helps him really govern and shores up that weakness in McCain, whereas McCain is principled and has values and has a real sense of direction and leadership for the administration.

BLANKLEY:  I think McCain has got to put everything in getting someone who will help him get a elected.

GREGORY:   Yes.

BLANKLEY:  You know, worry about governing if he‘s lucky enough to get elected.  Romney‘s problem is that he‘s seen as inauthentic and that‘s inconsistent with the theme of McCain, which is the straight shooter.  And also, his Mormonism isn‘t going to help him amongst conservatives, unfortunately. 

GREGORY:   Right.

TONY:  So, I don‘t see him as an asset.

GREGORY:   All right.  Well, those are the first three. We‘re anxious to find out who else is on the short list. So we can think outside the box and out loud with Senator McCain.

We‘re going to take a break here.  Coming next, your phone lines ringing off the hook, in-box overflowing. Your “Play Date” with the panel is coming your way right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

GREGORY:   Back now for your “Play Date” with the panel and the gang is all here. We‘re going to go right to our first e-mail, Dan from Virginia writes in with this question:

“In light of Hillary Clinton‘s assertion that she has a broader base of support for a general election, who would win a three-way race between Clinton, Obama, and McCain?”

What are we looking at here, that she has a broader base of support? 

I don‘t know, Rachel, what do you say?

MADDOW:  I think John McCain answered that on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend when he said he would be delight to run against them both and have them both on the ticket. John McCain would definitely win a three-way race. Sure it would be fun to try to force that, wouldn‘t it? 

GREGORY:   Mike from Illinois writes this:  “There‘s a lot of talk about a Obama/Clinton ticket.  Should this happen how many independent and or Democratic voters would stay home or vote Republican?  I am an independent and an Obama supporter, however, I would vote for McCain, because at that point Obama‘s talk of change becomes mere rhetoric.”

You know, Jay, I really think that‘s the strongest argument against putting her on the ticket; which is, you can‘t run on the promise of turning the page, then go back to the previous chapter to pick your running mate.

CARNEY:  I think that‘s right. There is another reason which is despite his problems with Hillary and the fact that she‘s picked up a lot of that lower-income, white support, she‘s still a nationally divisive figure, a candidate that could drive Republican turnout. There‘s are a lot of downsides to putting her on the ticket and I think they outweigh the upside.

GREGORY:   Yeah, Tony, comment on that?

BLANKLEY:  Yes, look, to the extent that he is going to lose some of that white vote for racial, or other cultural reasons, I don‘t think she delivers that. She may get it as opposed to him, but he‘s the top of the ticket, and if there‘s resistance, people tend to vote the top of the ticket. So, I don‘t think she brings the votes that she‘s actually getting now.

GREGORY:   All right, Cheryl from Texas has bone pick.

“I understand that Florida and Michigan want to be seated, but what kind of lesson are we teaching our children?  As parents we explain to our children there are rules and when you break the rules there are consequences.  Now, after understanding the rules in advance, we have one senator who wants to change the rules in midstream.  Shouldn‘t the president of the United States be a role model?  How can Senator Clinton expect to run this country and be trusted if she can‘t even abide by the rules set for by the Democratic Party?”

I don‘t. I tell me daughter, these are the rules and she says, no, I‘m not going to listen. So, there is some of that going on here, as well Rachel. In terms of yeah, these were the rules, these were technicalities, is what Hillary Clinton said today.  It shouldn‘t mean that these voters don‘t get their voices heard in any sense.

MADDOW:  I mean, you can take a strategic lesson or you can an ethical. The ethical lesson is, obviously, follow the rules and don‘t change them after the game is started.

The strategic lesson is, fight, fight, fight, never give up. Fight and never give up, always find a strategic advantage.  I mean, Hillary Clinton is teaching Democrats right now, if she‘s teaching them nothing else, she‘s teaching them how to never give up, fight for every vote, and refuse to go away even when everybody tells you to. That‘s probably a lesson that Democrats need to hear. They probably not want to learn it during the primaries, however. 

ROBINSON:  She‘s also teaching a kind of math, David, that escapes me.

GREGORY:   Yeah.

ROBINSON:  I think it this were a school, No Child Left Behind would have shut it down long ago.

GREGORY:   Let‘s just make this argument in her favor. Which is, if the best argument she has left is, what is the best argument that I can put forward for superdelegates to make a subjective vote in my favor to give me the nomination, it would be nice to have some math to pin it on, even if it‘s not the math that matters.  Going for the popular vote it does make some sense.

(CROSS TALK) 

ROBINSON:  You go with what you have. If that‘s all she has, of course, you go with it. But the popular vote as a metric really doesn‘t hold much water.

BLANKLEY:  Ultimately, the only rule in a convention is who has the most votes on the floor of the convention, in a vote. That‘s the only rule that matters. Because you can overrule everything else and over the centuries both parties have gone and overruled rules because they got the votes on the floor.  She‘s not really breaking the rules.

MADDOW:  She just needs to tell superdelegates to sit tight, wait till the convention.  She essentially buys herself three months of overtime, in the campaign, if the decision isn‘t going to be made until then.  Anything can happen in overtime.

GREGORY:   It is interesting, Jay, you know, when we covered the Bush campaign in 2000, and you remember, that everybody said, well, Gore won the popular vote. And he said, yeah, it didn‘t matter. Now, it‘s just kind of ironic, all these things come around.  Now, it‘s Obama‘s people saying the popular vote doesn‘t matter. It just doesn‘t matter.

CARNEY:  Yeah, well, and now HBO has this “Recount” movie, where there‘s a lot of deja vu going on right now.  And Hillary talking about—reminding Florida about what happened in 2000.

GREGORY:   Yeah, all right.  Thanks to a great panel. That‘s going to do it for us. We‘ll see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Have a good night.  Stay tuned, right here on MSNBC, “Hardball” coming your way.

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

END   

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