updated 5/23/2008 11:14:44 AM ET 2008-05-23T15:14:44

Guests: Susan Molinari, Rachel Maddow, Michelle Bernard, Jeffrey Goldberg

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  Tonight, with the start of the summer travel season upon us, John McCain is trying to leave all his political baggage at home. 

THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

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

Tonight, Jewish appeal.  Barack Obama is talking about how much his first name resembles the Hebrew “Baruch” or blessed, at a time when Senator McCain is reaching out to Jews by rejecting the endorsement of an Evangelical pastor who suggested Adolf Hitler was fulfilling God‘s will. 

We‘ll have it all covered.

Later in “Three Questions,” with word coming out that Obama has officially launched a search for his number two, how does Hillary Clinton get herself on the ticket, assuming that‘s what she wants? 

The foundation of our program, a panel that always comes to play. 

And with us tonight, Susan Molinari, Republican strategist and former New York congresswoman; Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America and an MSNBC political analyst.  Michelle Bernard is here, president of the Independent Women‘s Voice, also an MSNBC political analyst. 

And for the first time, Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for “The Atlantic” and author of “Prisoners,” a story of friendship and terror, a fascinating book about his experience as a prison guard in the Israeli army.  Jeffrey also interviewed Obama recently about his standing with the Jewish community, an interview that Obama himself referenced today.

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

And I‘ll get us started here tonight.  My headline, “McCain Ditches His Baggage Before Memorial Day.”

Up front, after weeks of questions about his association with the Evangelical pastor John Hagee, today McCain rejected Hagee‘s endorsement over comments that he once made suggesting that Hitler was fulfilling God‘s will by helping shepherd Jews from Europe to Israel. 

Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PASTOR JOHN HAGEE:  “Behold, I will send for many fishers.  And after will I send for many hunters, and they the hunters shall hunt them.”  That will be the Jews.  “From every mountain and from every hill and from out of the holes of the rocks.”

If that doesn‘t describe what Hitler did in the Holocaust, you can‘t see that, and that will be offensive to some people.  Well, dear heart, be offended. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Again, there have been questions about Hagee‘s comments before about Catholics and others.  McCain stuck by him, but no longer. 

In rejecting the endorsement, McCain condemned these remarks, but he also took pains to argue that his pastor problem was unlike Barack Obama‘s.

To the full screen.

“Obviously,” McCain says, “I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them.  I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee‘s endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well.  I have said I do not believe Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright‘s”—meaning Jeremiah Wright‘s—“extreme views, but let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual advisor, and I did not attend his church for 20 years.  I have denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today.”

All of this as the presumptive Republican nominee is preparing to release eight years of medical records tomorrow, and preparing a Sedona, Arizona, summit focused on his VP search over the weekend, to, some have suggested, divert attention from scrutiny over lobbyists in his campaign.

So, McCain is clearly in the spotlight now, and is attempting to position himself for the official start of the general election. 

Will it work?  We‘ll talk about it as we roll on here. 

Michelle Bernard, you‘re thinking about McCain and the issue of military affairs tonight.  What is it? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Absolutely, David.  My headline is that John McCain is going to run this campaign on his own terms. 

Today was an absolutely incredible day.  Talk about the pivot to the general election.

Senator Obama came out today, he attacked Senator McCain in very, very strident terms on what is being billed the 21st century G.I. bill, basically claiming almost that Senator McCain is almost being unpatriotic in not supporting this bill introduced in the House by Jim Webb.  McCain came back, and boy did he come back strong.  Let me read you the response from Senator McCain.

He said, “Let me say first in response to Senator Obama, running for president is different than serving as president.  The office comes with responsibilities so serious, that the occupants can‘t always take the politically easy route without hurt the country he is sworn to defend.  Unlike Senator Obama, my admiration, respect and deep gratitude for America‘s veterans is something more than a convenient campaign pledge.  I think I have earned the right to make that claim.”

It was very serious business.  They had so much back and forth today, I can‘t even begin to describe what it was like.  But if this is the tone and tenor of the general campaign, sit back, gird your loins, because it‘s coming down the pike and it‘s going to be very strong. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  Buckle up.  I had the same reaction. 

All right.  Rachel, you‘re thinking about Hillary Clinton and how far she‘s going to go in this race. 

What‘s your headline?

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My headline today is that “Hillary Clinton‘s Route to Denver Goes Through Florida and Michigan.”

Essentially, I think that the Clinton campaign has now unveiled their end game, and their end game is that they need to get Hillary Clinton to the convention.  And they plan to do it by keeping the Florida and Michigan dispute alive as long as possible. 

They‘ve pivoted sharply just from last week.  Last week they said it would be fine to seat half the delegates form Michigan and Florida.  As of today, all of them must be seated or the issue is not settled.  The point is not to settle the issue, but to keep it unsettled as long as possible, preferably all the way to Denver, so she gets to the convention. 

GREGORY:  All right.

And Jeffrey, you‘re thinking about Obama and the Jews, something that we‘ll talk about throughout the hour.  What‘s your headline? 

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, “THE ATLANTIC”:  Well, my headline, David, is that the route to the White House for Barack Obama might run not only through Florida, but through several largely Jewish retirement communities in Palm Beach County. 

We saw him today, he‘s been there for the last couple hours talking to a Jewish audience.  And as he did with me a couple of weeks ago in an interview, he was stressing the commonalties he has with the Jewish community.  And why don‘t we take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My father was from Kenya, and “Barack” actually, interestingly enough, means the same as Baruch.  It means one who‘s blessed.  Because...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  And the reason—the reason that that‘s interesting is it‘s the same Semitic root. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GOLDBERG:  Well, the interesting thing here, David, is that I think in the next week we‘re going to discover that Barack Obama finds out that “Obama” has a meaning in Hebrew that we didn‘t know previously. 

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG:  The larger point—we‘ll figure that one out as time goes on.  McCain also might have a Hebrew meaning.  We don‘t know. 

The interesting thing is that—is how this story is larger than just a story within the Jewish community, Jewish qualms about Obama and terrorism.  I think one of the Republican strategies is obviously talk about Hamas, talk about Hezbollah, which are concerns for the Jewish community, but the rest of American understands that these groups are not such nice groups.  And I think as time goes on, you‘re going to hear them use those words again and again and associate them with Obama. 

GREGORY:  OK.  More on this ahead. 

Susan, welcome back.  Your headline tonight? 

SUSAN MOLINARI ®, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Thank you.

My headline tonight is “Attention Superdelegates: Women Don‘t Heart Barack Obama Yet.”

When you look at what‘s going on right now in some of the polling that‘s taking place in key states, it‘s clear that Senator Clinton is not only ahead of Barack Obama in some key states, but she‘s ahead of Barack Obama because of the women‘s vote.  This is something that‘s continuing to grow, that she is going to play to the convention. 

She‘s got people like Women Count, who are taking out full-page ads, saying things like, “Not so fast.  Hillary is our voice and she‘s speaking for all of us.”  It‘s going to be the women‘s vote that‘s going to continue to trend toward Senator Clinton, unless Barack Obama can figure out what to do with them.  And then the superdelegates have to figure out what to do with both of them. 

GREGORY:  All right.  A busy “Headline” segment tonight.  We‘re going to come right back after this break and get into the War Room, taking a look at John McCain‘s strategy session, what he‘s thinking about as he goes into this summit with potential VP picks. 

That‘s coming up as THE RACE comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re going inside the War Room now with these campaigns, focusing on John McCain first.  And a lot to get to here.  It‘s time for us to go deep inside the war room, look at how McCain is positioning himself.

And back with us, Susan Molinari, Rachel Maddow, Michelle Bernard and Jeffrey Goldberg.

So, kicking off the War Room, as I pointed out in my headline, John McCain is cleaning house.  He formally rejected Pastor John Hagee‘s endorsement today after the Texas pastor suggested in a 1990 sermon that the Holocaust was an act of God.  Tomorrow, he releases 400 pages of medical records, and he‘s purging the campaign of aides with lobbyist ties, even as there are some concerns being raised about Charlie Black, a longtime lobbyist in Washington with close ties now to the McCain campaign. 

So, he hasn‘t completely scrubbed down the campaign of scrutiny.  The question is, will his post-spring, pre-summer cleaning be enough to fend off the heaviest of the attacks in the general? 

Susan, how do you see the positioning here this week between the VP search being under way and that being leaked out, getting the medical records out there at a time right before Memorial Day?

MOLINARI:  Well, I think what Senator McCain is doing is acting like a presidential candidate, and I think he‘s doing things that other campaigns should be doing. 

For example, Senator McCain is distancing himself and cutting all ties to Reverend Hagee.  On the same front, we have Senator Tom Harkin who stands up and says that John McCain may be unfit to be president because of his military background.  And you don‘t hear Democrats saying a word about it.

You see scrutiny over every lobbyist that makes a phone call and works for John McCain, yet no scrutiny with regard to what‘s going on for Barack Obama.  So I think what you see is Senator McCain standing up and acting like a presidential contender and the others right now still fighting it out and not really functioning on the same level in terms of taking responsibility. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, do you see it a different way?  Is this—I mean, is this good positioning, or is this damage control?

MADDOW:  I see this as sort of masterful communication strategy.  You don‘t get a Memorial Day all that often, a Memorial Day Weekend.  The Friday before Memorial Day Weekend is the perfect time to bury stuff in terms of the news. 

And so, yes, we‘re seeing those medical records come out tomorrow.  He‘s been promising those for months and months and months.  Putting them out Friday before Memorial Day Weekend is a sure way to make sure they sink.  The vice presidential story, I think both for Barack Obama and for John McCain, is a way to try to take the air out of other stories in the political news cycle so that that is what gets discussed rather than some of the other details that may be less comfortable than that. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

And you know, Jeff, what‘s interesting to me about this Reverend Hagee story is these questions have been out there for a long time, but it‘s only when it bumped into his potential to court Jewish voters that McCain said, OK, you know, this is enough.  I‘m not suggesting that he didn‘t just find his remarks totally heinous in this regard, but this is a real tactical decision, too, in terms of the kind of damage he could do. 

GOLDBERG:  Well, it‘s a very interesting case.  And one of the interesting permutations here that people aren‘t talking about is that Reverend Hagee is actually very popular in certain quarters of the Jewish community.  He is probably the most famous and most committed of the so-called Christian Zionists. 

So that has—that has a little bit of a backspin for McCain as well.  It might upset some of his Orthodox Jewish supporters who are the most likely people in the Jewish community to support McCain in the first place. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me talk about medical history here, Michelle.

The McCain camp set to release 400 pages of medical records tomorrow.  As we know, his history of ailments include malignant melanoma, arthritis in his shoulder and knee, limited mobility in his shoulders because of his captivity during the Vietnam War.  And while age has been a concern to some voters, McCain laughed it off on “The Ellen Show” today. 

Listen to how he handled it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  One of the most important -- one of the most important qualities in the next president of the United States is to be very, very, very old. 

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST:  And you have a sense of humor about that.  And do you think that people—because people are concerned about your age and your health, and do you think they are legitimate concerns?  Or how do you feel? 

MCCAIN:  Well, I think I have to show in campaigning and in ideas and vision and, frankly, a sense of humor. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Michelle, I think there‘s a difference between questions about his age and questions about his history with cancer, frankly, as difficult as it is.  I mean, I think a lot of voters want to know, is this potential president, commander in chief, someone who is going to be healthy enough while he‘s in office with a history of cancer like this.  So many voters obviously thinking about Senator Ted Kennedy right now as well with his brain tumor. 

BERNARD:  You‘re absolutely correct, David.  You know, he has really taken the air out of the age issue I think in a very good way, but the health issues will arise. 

People—you know, people want to know if they vote for him, will the next commander in chief be around for the next four years.  It‘s a very serious concern. 

I think that releasing the records over Memorial Day Weekend also takes a little bit of the air out of it, at least until we know who the Democratic general nominee is going to be.  But once we know who that person is, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are, from what we can tell, very healthy, much younger than Senator McCain.  And that issue will arise again when we really are into—in the midst of a general election campaign. 

GREGORY:  And let‘s say something else tactically here, which is that any campaign wants to make any course correction that it feels is necessary as early as possible.  John McCain understands that he has got a problem with George Bush on his flank here.  He gets that endorsement done early, he goes to the White House early.  He‘ll use him tactically down the line, but to the extent that Bush is a liability, he keeps some distance from him later when it will matter more than right now. 

I want to move on to something else, and that‘s Barack Obama‘s big challenges now.  We hear today that he‘s officially begin a search for number two. 

TheAtlantic.com‘s Marc Ambinder outlines the quiet process that is already under way.  And here‘s the short list.

Tim Johnson, by the way, is leading the search, as he did for Walter Mondale and John Kerry.  So here are some of the names.

You see them: Clinton; Webb;  Daschle, who‘s been helpful to Obama in whipping up the superdelegates; Governor Richardson; John Edwards; Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican; Kansas Senator Kathleen Sebelius; former presidential rival Senator Joe Biden; among others.

It really has become a nursery rhyme.  These candidates can‘t be too old, they can‘t be too young, they can‘t be too establishment.

But so what do you do, Rachel?  How do you look at this list and say these are some of the standouts? 

MADDOW:  I think you look at this list and then you keep looking at it for a very long time.  The vice presidential choice is essentially one of those stories that you can trot out whenever you want, and you can be sure it will eclipse smaller stories in the news cycle. 

And we don‘t expect him to decide for a long time.  We don‘t expect him to decide for months. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  And we expect him to decide in a forward-thinking way.  This is the most fun thing to talk about in politics.  They know it is, and so they‘re using it to get us to talk about this instead of other stuff.  But I‘m happy to do it.  It‘s fun. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

Susan, be counterintuitive.  Of that list so far, who stands out to you as the best choice for Barack Obama? 

MOLINARI:  You know, I think Barack Obama has got a problem, and he doesn‘t have many of them in this campaign.  But I think he‘s got a problem in that he needs—if Senator Clinton carries this up to the convention and then decides she doesn‘t have the votes, he becomes the party nominee, he has a very short window to get that women‘s vote in gear. 

But he also has that major gap in his CB (ph), and that‘s military/foreign affairs experience.  That issue is not going to go away.

GREGORY:  Right.

MOLINARI:  Nobody solves those two predicaments, with the possible exception right now in terms of credibility, if you will, testicular fortitude, as it was defined by some labor leaders, as Senator Hillary Clinton.  I just think at some point it comes back down to her. 

GREGORY:  Yes...

BERNARD:  David, I was just going to...

GREGORY:  Yes.  Go ahead, real quick, Michelle, before I break. 

BERNARD:  I was just going to add to that, he‘s in a very—Senator Obama is in a difficult position, because if he does not pick Senator Clinton, for example, and he goes with Governor Sebelius, people will say, if you put a woman on the ticket, why wasn‘t it Hillary Clinton? 

MOLINARI:  Right.

BERNARD:  So this is a very slippery slope for him.  It‘s going to be a hard decision to make.  And conventional wisdom says that he does not want Hillary Clinton on that ticket, that she brings Bill along with her.  So, you know, the question is, what to do? 

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

Coming up next, “Smart Takes.”

Historically speaking, maybe Barack Obama‘s willingness to talk to our enemies isn‘t such a smart idea after all.

We‘ll take a look when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on THE RACE with “Smart Takes,” the smartest, most provocative, and today the most historical pieces out there.  And this focuses on Obama‘s foreign policy.

Here again, Susan, Rachel, Michelle, and Jeffrey. 

OK.  First up—I just want to preface this by saying, you know, Rachel, you like to say on the show that we like to examine wounded pathology. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  But, you know, this is actually pretty interesting.  I think we are getting into some solid history here, and we‘re going to talk about it a little bit.  I remember that phrase.

OK.  In defending direct diplomacy with enemy states like Iran, Barack Obama has invoked JFK‘s meeting with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, and Richard Nixon‘s meeting with Chinese communist leader Mao Tse-tung. 

Today, Obama is getting some history lessons in the editorial pages in “The New York Times.”  Nathan Thrall and Jesse James Wilkins point out that Kennedy met with the Soviet leader over the warnings of his senior advisers, and quickly regretted it. 

To the quote board.

“Kennedy embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June of ‘61, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the Cold War and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis in the nuclear age.  Kennedy‘s assessment of his own performance was no less severe.”

“Only a few minutes after parting with Khrushchev, Kennedy, a World

War II veteran, told ‘The New York Times‘ that, ‘The summit meeting had

been the roughest thing in my life.‘  Kennedy went on, ‘He just beat the

hell out of me.  I‘ve got a terrible problem if he thinks I‘m inexperienced

and have no guts.  Until we remove those ideas, we won‘t get anywhere with

him.‘”

Jeffrey, interesting historical take here.  Does it have application to the diplomacy that Obama is talking about? 

GOLDBERG:  It absolutely does.  It‘s uncanny in a way. 

You know, the interesting thing about Obama is that he‘s become more calibrated on this question as time has gone on.  At first it was talk to Iran, talk to these other countries without preconditions.  Now he‘s talking about certain conditions. 

And the truth of the matter is, the truth has always been and will be, certainly if he gets to the White House, is that his diplomats and his advisers won‘t allow a meeting between, let‘s say, Obama and Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, unless the conditions are absolutely right for it.  No one wants to see an American president walk in and become humiliated by a tin-pot dictator. 

GREGORY:  This is related.  I want to get the second “Smart Take” up there.  We‘ll get a couple of comments. 

Wall Street Journal‘s Karl Rove, former adviser to President Bush, points out that Richard Nixon‘s breakthrough meeting with China‘s Mao Tse-tung was not offered up front, but after two years of secret meetings of backdoor diplomacy.  And adds, “The Chinese did not change because of a presidential visit.  Henry Kissinger writes that China was induced to rejoin the community of nations less by the prospect of dialogue of the United States than by fear of being attacked by its ostensible ally, the Soviet Union.”

“Change came because the U.S. convinced Beijing it was in its interest to change.  Then the president visited.”

Rachel, take it on.

MADDOW:  I think what‘s interesting here is we‘re getting right at what Jeffrey is talking about, and that is how we‘re hearing more calibration from Obama about this policy.  He‘s saying, I wouldn‘t meet with people—I wouldn‘t set preconditions, but there have been to be preparations. 

What is the differences between preconditions and preparations?  Those worlds are essentially indistinguishable in normal talk.  But what he means is, yes, be assured that I‘m going to do the groundwork. 

What Obama‘s really proposing is not very radical.  It‘s the same thing that Bob Gates, the secretary of defense, proposed.  It‘s the same thing that Petraeus proposed toward Iran today in the Senate.  He‘s just saying use all the parts of the U.S. government when we engage with people with whom we have disagreements. 

GREGORY:  Right.

All right.  Got to get another break in here.

When we come back for the back half we‘re going to get into “Three Questions,” talk about Hillary Clinton.  Assuming she wants on the ticket, how does she get there?  What would it mean for her and what would it mean for Obama?

THE RACE comes back right after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I‘m David Gregory.  Happy to have you.  It‘s time to take a stab at the day‘s three big questions in the ‘08 race.  Still with us, Susan Molinari, a Republican strategist and former New York Congresswoman, of course, Rachel Maddow, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, and MSNBC political analyst, Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women‘s Voice, also an MSNBC political analyst, and our first-timer tonight, my friend Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for “The Atlantic” and author of “Prisoners, a Story of Friendship and Terror.”

First up, the dream that won‘t die; Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have mostly demurred when asked about running together, since neither one has won the nomination yet.  Now, Bill Clinton said he‘s given the green ticket some serious traction.  Karen Tumulty of “Time Magazine” reports this—to the quote board—“In Bill Clinton‘s view, she has earned nothing short of an offer to be Obama‘s running mate, according to some who are close to former President Bill Clinton and he is pushing real hard for this to happen, says a friend.”

So first question—how does Hillary Clinton get on Obama‘s ticket? 

Susan, how does she do it? 

MOLINARI:  I think she does what she continues to do what she‘s doing now, which is putting pressure on Barack Obama to be the viable candidate.  At the end of the day, no matter what comes out of the rules committee, or what the super delegates do, if they need Florida, if they need Michigan, if they need some of these states that Senator Clinton is leading in, there is going to be a real push and Barack Obama will have to have a great explanation for why not. 

Let me add something else to the mix, what does Obama do if Senator John McCain decides to really pull a big upset and pick someone like a (INAUDIBLE) to be his running mate?  He‘s really then in a corner and has to make some very serious decisions about his running mate. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, we don‘t know exactly what Hillary Clinton wants at this point, but we do know that some of the things she‘s doing sounds and seems like a negotiation.  For instance, your headline—going to the convention for Michigan and Florida?  That seems like a bargaining chip. 

MADDOW:  I think if you want to be given the vice presidency, you don‘t take it, you have to be given it in.  In that sense, you don‘t necessarily try to make the presidential contender‘s life more miserable and his chance at winning the general more difficult.  If you take it to the convention, I think Barack Obama almost has insurmountable odds against John McCain just because of the strategy.  I think it‘s a bad strategy on Hillary Clinton‘s part if she‘s trying to get the vice presidency. 

I don‘t think she‘s trying to get the vice presidency.  I still think she‘s going for the number one spot on the ticket.  And in response to Congresswoman Molinari, I don‘t think getting the women‘s vote will be that much of a challenge for Barack Obama, because John McCain is going to be the Republican opponent.  Even if he does put a woman in his vice presidential slot, honestly what you need to be able to say is John McCain wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and Justice Stevens is 400 years old. 

MOLINARI:  I think you have to talk about the fact that Barack Obama didn‘t—was part of a campaign that dismissed Senator Clinton—

MADDOW  That beat Senator Clinton. 

MOLINARI: --that has a tendency to call female reporters sweetie, and I think you have issues there. 

GREGORY:  I think sweetie versus Roe v. Wade, Roe v. Wade is going to be a more powerful argument.

BERNARD:  But it‘s not just Roe v. Wade.  We have to remember that in 2004, Democratic and Republican women put George Bush back in office and it had nothing to do with Roe v. Wade.  It was national security, terrorism, and on that issue, John McCain may have a leg up over Senator Obama. 

MADDOW:  Now with the Alito and Roberts court, we‘re in a different situation. 

GREGORY:  That gender gap has shrunk.  He doesn‘t have the security moms the way he did at that point.  Let me move on to the issue, Jeffrey, what does Hillary Clinton want?  Some believe she would be happy as Obama‘s VP.  If he won, she would still make history as the first woman ever elected to the White House in the number two slot.  Other see cynical motives that she doesn‘t think Obama could win.  That could be heartfelt, not just cynical, that she actually believes that, and is already preparing to run in 2012.  Others speculate that her future could include Senate majority leader, a run for New York governor, even Supreme Court justice. 

Second question, what would getting on Obama‘s ticket do for Hillary Clinton for any of those scenarios? 

GOLDBERG:  Well, the interesting one, I keep thinking about this, is the Supreme Court nomination.  I think that would be Obama‘s dream right now is to be able to get her onto the Supreme Court.  It takes her out of, well, his hair. 

MADDOW:  Forever. 

GOLDBERG:  Forever.  You know, what did Mario Cuomo call it?  A tomb. 

So there‘s that.  You know, one of the interesting things about this

Hillary/Obama ticket or Obama/Hillary ticket that‘s so interesting that

people aren‘t talking about is what she brings to Obama.  People talk about

we just heard it tonight, testicular fortitude, which by the way, I‘m amazed we‘re allowed to say that on your show.  So I wanted to say it again. 

But what we have to remember in the general election is Hillary Clinton has not actually been in the Army.  She‘s on the Armed Services Committee, which is not exactly the same thing.  So I‘m not sure—this is a interesting question to me at this moment, which is I‘m not sure she brings the toughness that some people think she would bring to Obama if she were the number two.  

GREGORY:  The obvious question, Rachel, quickly, if she‘s on the ticket and they don‘t win, what impact does that have on all those other potential jobs she could get if she was associated with Obama and they did not prevail? 

MADDOW:  Democrats don‘t like to nominate losers to be president against.  Democrats don‘t tend to go back to people who haven‘t won the nominating contest, but it‘s unclear whether or not we go back to losers in presidential contests and make them cabinet members or Supreme Court Justices.  I think at this point Obama and Clinton, neither of them is thinking about consolation prizes.  They are both locked in battle to win that number one slot. 

GREGORY:  I think the Clinton world is a big world.  You may be right about her.  It doesn‘t mean there aren‘t other forces in the campaign who aren‘t actively working on all this.  Related to this, let me get to the final point; we just talked about what the dream ticket might do for Clinton, might not do for her.  Let‘s look at the other side, which is Obama has staked his campaign on the idea of change and turning the page on the Washington establishment, including the Clintons.  But Clinton has won 49 percent of the Democratic primary vote.  New polls out today show her, not Obama, beating McCain in Ohio, in Florida, fueled by significant support from women, also doing well among working-class voters. 

So third question, what does Hillary Clinton on the ticket do for Obama, Michelle? 

BERNARD:  David, I honestly don‘t believe that Hillary Clinton being on the ticket does anything for Senator Obama.  Here‘s the reason: the women who support Senator Clinton are absolutely, 100 percent dedicated to her.  And her being vice president I don‘t believe is a consolation prize that any of them are interested in.  The women‘s vote is not necessarily going to follow.  We‘ve also talked about white working-class voters, Appalachian workers, whatever we‘ve been calling them most of this week. 

GREGORY:  Hard-working. 

BERNARD:  Hard-working, white voters, those voters whether Senator Clinton is on the ticket or not, they‘re not going to vote for Barack Obama.  If they don‘t like him, they aren‘t going to vote for him just because she‘s on the ticket.  He has to do a lot of work on his own that has nothing to do with Senator Clinton to get those people on his side.  I don‘t know what she brings to it other than bringing Bill Clinton. 

GREGORY:  I guess I come back full circle to this, Susan, which I find it hard to believe that even strong supporters of Hillary Clinton are not over some period of time going to stay in the Democratic party and stay with Barack Obama.  It‘s not as if they‘re not together on the issues.  Even if they—you‘re right, there could be a reservoir of feeling that somehow he‘s been sexist in this campaign.  I can‘t believe that‘s a huge number. 

MOLINARI:  What we know right now, based on the states that you just mentioned, is that a third of the women—a third of the voters who are for Senator Clinton said they would vote for Senator McCain. 

GREGORY:  But we‘re in the heat of the battle. 

MOLINARI:  That‘s true, but I‘m not sure if I‘m Barack Obama, I want to actually roll the dice and take that risk. 

GREGORY:  Jeffrey, comment? 

GOLDBERG:  You know, it‘s interesting to me, because what it all comes down to is most people don‘t vote based on the vice president anyway.  I have a hard time believing that Democratic women aren‘t going to vote for Barack Obama because they‘re angry at him about the woman issue.  If they‘re Democrats, they‘re going to vote for the Democrat.

MADDOW:  I would say too, it can‘t be a position of strength to have two senators on the ticket.  We‘re definitely going to elect a senator president this time, for the first time since 1960.  But having a second senator on the ticket, on either the Republican side or the Democratic side, probably will not be seen as an asset. 

GREGORY:  It‘s good point, because Obama does want to make some hay against McCain as quintessential Washington insider.  I‘m going to take another break here.  Barack Obama in Florida today courting the Jewish vote, as we‘ve been talking about.  It‘s a voting bloc he‘s having trouble secure.  His association with Reverend Wright and his openness in terms of talking with enemies like Iran has not helped. 

When we come back, we‘ll break down a speech he gave to a Jewish congregation less than an hour ago.  We‘re coming right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back on THE RACE.  Special edition special edition of inside the war room.  We‘re going to focus on Barack Obama‘s attempts to appeal to Jewish voters.  He went down to Boca Raton today and spoke to a Jewish congregation there about his relationship with the Jewish community.  It is a weak spot for him.  We‘re pack with Susan Molinari, Rachel Maddow,  Michelle Bernard and Jeffrey Goldberg. 

He clarified his stance on meeting with Iran.  He tried to take on some of the rumor mongering that‘s going on within the Jewish community about whether he‘s a Muslim, whether he sits down with terrorists, whether he‘s appropriately pro-Israel, whether because his name is Barack Hussein Obama, he somehow can‘t be trusted by Jews.  He tried to take all of this on.  We‘re going to have some sound from this, but Jeffrey Goldberg, you interviewed Barack Obama.  You know a lot about these issues.  Give me the overall sense of where he stands with the Jewish community, and his out reach effort from where you sit. 

GOLDBERG:  Look, the first point to make is that with all his problems in the Jewish community, he‘s still at 60 or 65 percent popularity in the Jewish community, which is mostly Democratic.  So we talk all about Barack Obama‘s problems in the white community.  Among white subgroups, he‘s very popular with Jews.  That said, the older the person gets—this is why he‘s focused on Florida—the more suspicion there is about him.  A, because he‘s new, B, because of his name, C, because he doesn‘t have a track record on the Middle East. 

These are some of the things we talked about.  He‘s become quite eloquent and quite forceful on these questions.  And the truth is that rhetorically there‘s not much difference between where he stands on questions related to Israel and where John McCain stands on questions related to Israel. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about Iran in particular.  This really has everybody buzzing.  Again today he was asked point-blank about wanting to meet with Iran.  I‘m going to get to this bite in a second.  His point was that I have to have direct engagement with the Iranians, because I don‘t think the strategy of not talking to the Iranians has worked under George W. Bush.  This is what he had to say. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  What I would say to any Iranian leader is stand down on your nuclear weapons, stop funding terrorism, stop threatening Israel.  If you change your behavior, then there are things we can do to help you strengthen your economy and improve prospects for your people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Susan, comment? 

MOLINARI:  Well, look, I think Barack Obama‘s main problem I think

with the Jewish community mass nothing to do with his name or in any notion

of the anti-Semitism.  I think it has to do with—I just came back with

my family from Israel.  We were there for ten days.  During that ten days

there had to be two or three different tapes that were released from

leaders saying they were going to try to annihilate the friends of Israel

or whatever.  So Israel and the state of Israel, and the future of Israel -

what Jewish voters and American voters want is a leader, a commander in chief who will react swiftly, who will in some cases move more quickly than I think Barack Obama has given the impression of defending the United States again terrorism and defending Israel against its enemies. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, there‘s a question mark over Barack Obama‘s head that he acknowledges.  Hillary Clinton has made that argument, just in terms of his experience generally.  In the Jewish community, we know, associations with Reverend Farrakhan, who he has condemned, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright and his church‘s attacks against Israel and positions with regard to Syria and Hamas and so forth.  Those are associations that create a question mark. 

MADDOW:  I think also he‘s not as well known as any of the other people in this race.  I think what is interesting tactically about Barack Obama is the way he‘s responded to that is by trying to move the question mark from his head to put it over John McCain.  As you rightfully pointed out, he‘s tried to said, listen, the Israel situation needs to be evaluated in terms of how well George Bush‘s foreign policy has treated Israel‘s security.  If you‘re worried about the strength of Iran, look at what the invasion of Iraq has done to the strength of Iran.  Look at what not talking to Iran has done to their nuclear prospects. 

He‘s tried to say, listen, the Republican monopoly on national security issues should be questioned.  And John McCain, having an association with John Hagee, who is saying that Adolf Hitler was doing god‘s work in the Holocaust, is adding to that ability of Barack Obama to move that question mark to the John McCain column. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s listen to Obama engaging on this question of negotiating with Hamas and Hezbollah.  He talked about it today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We must not negotiate with a terrorist group that‘s intent on Israel‘s discussion.  We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terror, recognize Israel‘s right to exits, and abide by past agreements.  That is what I‘ve said throughout this campaign.  I know there‘s a lot of rumor mongering going around.  People have been getting e-mails nonstop.  I have said throughout this campaign that we should not negotiate with Hamas or Hezbollah, and that‘s why I reject the attempts by some of my opponents in this campaign to distort my position.  They are counting on fear. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Jeff Goldberg, you made a point when we are talking earlier about the fact that McCain has an advantage on these issues as well, and that is Joe Lieberman, a close friend, an Orthodox Jew, probably the most famous Jewish politician in the country. 

GOLDBERG:  He can speak in shorthand.  He says, you worried about me on Israel?  Here‘s my answer, Joe Lieberman.  Barack Obama has a lot of Jewish supporters, Jewish politicians.  They‘re not as famous.  One of the problems he has is that most Jewish senators, Chuck Schumer most notably, have not been free to come to his defense yet.  Schumer, of course, is a supporter of Hillary Clinton.  But when he‘s unleashed and when people like Chuck Schumer are unleashed on Barack Obama‘s behalf, maybe you‘ll see some sort of slowing down of this rumor mill. 

GREGORY:  Michelle, I want you to pay attention to this in particular.  I want to—he‘s talking about a special relationship that he thinks should be restored between blacks and Jews in this country, blacks and Jews two communities who sued together and worked so hard during the civil rights struggle.  Listen to him on this point. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I know I might not be standing here were it not for the historical bond between the Jewish community and the African-American community here in this country in pursuit of justice during the Civil Rights Movement.  I truly believe, just as all those Jewish Americans who boarded the bus and went down south and marched for justice, that justice is at the heart of the Jewish journey. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  So where, you know—there is an opportunity here for Obama that McCain does not have, Michelle, and that‘s to talk about restoration between two communities? 

BERNARD:  Absolutely.  The historic bond between African Americans and the Jewish community, you know, was—it‘s more than symbolism.  Barack Obama, in that statement that you just played, really sort of hearkens back on something that has happened in our nation‘s past history.  John McCain cannot actually invoke that with Senator McCain.  It brings back fond memories about a relationship between two communities.  And it also reinforces Barack Obama‘s claim, which is supported by the fact that he is where he is today, about the very historic nature of his campaign, where he has gone.  And he‘s sort of making the symbolic gesture, let‘s hold hands, let‘s walk down this journey, let‘s realize the goals of the Civil Rights Movement together, and it‘s a very powerful symbolic gesture. 

GREGORY:  I will say today, what was interesting about watching this event is that it was a town hall that was clearly not highly choreographed.  They were real questions.  They were real challenges to Obama and real concerns and skepticism that was raised.  It was interesting to see that back and forth.  We‘ll see what the impact is.  When we come back, your play date with the panel.  Don‘t go away. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Our remaining moments now, your play date with the panel.  We‘re back with everybody.  You know who they are.  We‘re going to start by playing a clip of John McCain, who was on the “Ellen” program today, talking about the issue of same-sex marriage.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELLEN DEGENERES, “ELLEN”:  Let‘s talk about the big elephant in the room.  So, by the way, I was planning on having a ceremony anyway this summer, even though it wasn‘t legal, but I feel that at least I get to celebrate my love.  Then it just so happens that I legally now can get married, like everyone should. 

MCCAIN:  I‘ve heard you articulate that position in a very eloquent fashion.  We just have a disagreement, and I along with many, many others wish you every happiness. 

DEGENERES:  Thank you.  So you‘ll walk me down the aisle?  Is that what you‘re saying? 

MCCAIN:  Touche. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  You know, Susan, we didn‘t get all of that exchange, and Ellen DeGeneres had an exchange with him, defending the merits of same sex marriage in a very personal way.  First of all, good for her for having a platform where all the candidates can talk, I think, in a pretty real way.  What did you think of that moment and how he came off? 

MOLINARI:  I think John McCain came off as not a hateful person.  I

think he came off as most Americans do, and quite frankly, as far as I know

and I will stand corrected in this—he has the same position on this as the two other candidates, Barack Obama and Senator Clinton, in terms of wanting civil unions, but not marriage.  I think it takes that issue away.  How you deal with this issue, as I think with so many of these social issues—if you deal with it with tolerance, with respect and understanding, I think politically we survive as a nation and I think politically you survive as a candidate. 

Unfortunately, sometimes Republicans do not do that, and I think John McCain showed Republicans the way to treat these disagreements with a little more respect. 

MADDOW:  I should note that he actually against civil unions.  He is not in favor of civil unions, and there‘s a real difference with Obama and Clinton on this, in that he has said he would support a constitutional amendment in his home state of Arizona to ban it.  So he‘s a lot farther to the right on gay marriage. 

MOLINARI:  But he is for partnership benefits? 

MADDOW:  He says you can enter into a legal contract, if you want, but he‘s against civil unions.  That‘s a pretty extreme position. 

GREGORY:  Let me get some comments from people that have been emailing us.  Pamela from Washington writes this, “Hillary Clinton keeps making the argument that the popular vote is the valid metric, that if Florida and Michigan are not seated, many voters will be disenfranchised.  Yet, by only counting the popular vote and ignoring delegates, she is, in fact, disenfranchising the millions of voters in the five caucus states which don‘t count the individual votes.”  Michelle?

BERNARD:  This is a very slippery slope for Senator Clinton.  As we have seen, what happened, unfortunately for Senator Clinton, is she didn‘t really have a campaign strategy after Super Tuesday.  No one in her camp thought that Barack Obama was going to win Iowa the way that he did.  So the goal posts continue to shift.  This lady makes a very, very valid and important argument here, because by saying that she wants to take care of Michigan and Florida, it‘s very similar to the arguments that we‘ve heard earlier in the campaign, where I‘ve won the big states.  He‘s only won the small states.  That says to the people in the small states, don‘t we count also?  It‘s a valid argument and one that I‘m sure we‘ll hear lots of voters discuss in the future. 

GREGORY:  Ty from Indiana has this to say about John McCain: “How dare John McCain call Barack Obama an elitist when his wife is appearing in “Vogue” at her California seaside home.  Last time I checked, the Obama‘s only have one home.  Plus, have you ever watched Cindy McCain walk through crowds of people with her husband?  She never shakes anyone‘s hands, nor gets close to the crowds.  Michelle Obama hugs and shakes hands with everyone.  Who is the elitist?  Not the Obamas.”

I‘m not quite sure that‘s fair to Cindy McCain in terms of not shaking people‘s hands at events.  I‘ve seen her do that.  But it does raise an interesting question, and a big question, Jeffrey—I have 30 seconds, so take all the time you want to answer it, which is how do we define elitism, anyway? 

GOLDBERG:  Wind surfing, I think. 

GREGORY:  Thank you very much. 

MADDOW:  Nine homes and 100 million dollars, but wind surfing—

GOLDBERG:  I think 100 million dollars qualifies you as an elitist. 

Wind surfing does. 

GREGORY:  OK, that‘s it.  Thanks to a great panel.  It‘s been a lot of fun and very informative.  We‘re back tomorrow night.  “HARDBALL” is next.

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

END   

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