updated 6/3/2008 10:49:52 AM ET 2008-06-03T14:49:52

Guests: John Harwood, Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, Todd Purdum

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, Clinton‘s big finish.  She appears close to getting out, but how will she do it and will party unity still be possible, as 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 pace, the bottom line and every point of view in the room.

Tonight, the late breaking news, House Majority Whip and South Carolina Democrat Jim Clyburn will endorse Barack Obama.  Not a big surprise.  He has been sharply critical of the Clinton campaign, specifically Bill Clinton in recent weeks.

We will, tonight, go inside the war rooms of these campaigns to examine what is the final chapter of the Democratic primary fight and later, the stunning pledge John McCain almost made.  In three questions tonight, we turn to Bill Clinton‘s impact on the campaign and the questions raced about the post presidential years in a provocative new piece by Todd Purdum in “Vanity Fair.”

The bedrock of this program, a panel that always comes to play.  With us tonight, did I mention Todd Purdum of “Vanity Fair”, national editor?  He is here tonight for the first time.

Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” in Air America.  Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor of “The Washington Post,” both MSNBC political analysts and John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC, political writer for “The New York Times” also with us tonight.

We begin tonight with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day, it‘s the headlines.  I‘ll get us started here tonight.  My headline, Clinton‘s graceful exit.  On the eve of the final primary voting in this election cycle, Senator Clinton is down to her final arguments for the nomination that boil down to the electability.

By the numbers that elect nominees Senator Clinton has all but lost.  That‘s why she relies on the popular vote.  She enjoys a lead if you count Puerto Rico, which doesn‘t participate in the general election and when you count Michigan where Obama wasn‘t on the ballot and Mrs. Clinton herself said last fall that the results would not matter.  Nevertheless, the argument.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NY:  More people across the country have voted for our campaign, more people voted for us than any candidate in the history of presidential primaries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  As for the superdelegates, remember, it‘s not over until it‘s over.  Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  One thing about superdelegate is that they can change their mind.  With us, in the front of the cabin is a superdelegate who went from me to Senator Obama and now he‘s back with me in the course of a matter of weeks.

And this has been such an intense process, I don‘t think there‘s been a lot of time for reflection of the sort that I‘m advocating.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  There is news tonight, Andrea Mitchell reporting the Clinton advance teams have said they will not be need after tomorrow night.  That‘s the word they are getting.  So you sense that finality in the air.

Tomorrow night, Senator Clinton is expected to give a big speech, perhaps her final as a candidate.  So to what ends will she use it?  I love guessing, given a weekend demonstrating there‘s plenty of fight left in the former first lady and some resentment about how she has been treated in this campaign, something she has told reporters she would address at another time.

The focus on her final move should not however, detract attention from Obama‘s.  Even if he does officially go over the top tomorrow, this final stretch of the campaign has exposed vulnerabilities he must face seriously as he transitions into general election mode.  He said today he expects Senator Clinton to help him in November, it‘s in what capacity that will keep us guessing further.  They talked about it last night, watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I emphasized to her what an extraordinary race she‘s run and said that there aren‘t too many people who understand exactly how hard she‘s been working.  I‘m one of them.  Because she and I have been on this same journey together.  And told her once the dust settles, I was looking forward to meeting with her at a time and place of her choosing.  And so we still have got two more contests to go and I‘m sure there will be further conversations after Tuesday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  A lot o chew on tonight.  Gene Robinson, you‘re taking a look at Jim Clyburn.  Hot off the presses here, an endorsement that a lot of people thought was coming.

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Yeah, David, my headline tonight is Clyburn to endorse Obama.  Jim Clyburn, the House majority whip, a congressman from South Carolina, my home state told the Associated Press this afternoon just within the past hour that tomorrow he intended to endorse Barack Obama, that he‘s contacting superdelegates encouraging them to support Obama.  This is significant because he‘s the highest ranking African American member of the House.  Also because he‘s the third ranking member of the House, period.  This is the House leadership, perhaps, beginning to fall in line behind the Obama candidacy.

GREGORY:  There‘s a lot of questions about just what Obama has up his sleeves in terms of other superdelegates in the next few days.  John Harwood, you‘re looking back here with your headline of what everything meant over the weekend for the party.  What is it?

JOHN HARWOOD, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  David, my headline is not her party.  Hillary Clinton demanded that the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committees award her all of those disputed Michigan and Florida delegates.  It didn‘t happen.  And what you would expect for her to ask for that, by the way, because Bill and Hillary Clinton have dominated Democratic politics for most of the last generation.

But it didn‘t happen which tells you that those leaders recognize that Barack Obama is on top now and it‘s time to turn the page and it looks like Hillary Clinton is running out of options.

GREGORY:  All right, Todd Purdum, tonight, welcome.  Your focus tonight on Bill Clinton, as is the focus of your piece which we‘ll discuss later.

TODD PURDUM, “VANITY FAIR”:  David, my headline is has the last dog died?  Bill Clinton famously promised to keep fighting for the voters of New Hampshire in 1992 until that happened and maybe it has.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, HILLARY‘S HUSBAND:  I want to say, also, that this may be the last day I‘m ever involved in a campaign of this kind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PURDUM:  You know, David, throughout the campaign, the president has drawn some controversy by his frequent use of the first person pronoun, it‘s often about him even when he is nominally campaigning for his wife.  In way, today, he closed out the campaign that way.  He stole a little of her march by taking the occasion to perhaps pronounce the campaign over for him today, if not for her.

GREGORY:  All right, more to come on all of this tonight with the former president.  Todd, thanks very much.

Rachel, you have your focus tonight on John McCain speaking at AIPAC today here in DC.

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA:  That‘s right.  I have the general election headline today.  And I think McCain may have goofed on Iran.  Senator McCain addressed AIPAC, as you said, the hawkish pro-Israel lobby in Washington today.

I think we‘ve got a quick clip from the speech here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if it were some sudden inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought of before.

We should privatize the sanctions against Iran by launching a worldwide divestment campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL:  After mocking Obama‘s proposed talks with Iran as you heard there, mocking is a tried and failed policy of the past, McCain went on to propose his big new idea on Iran of his own, this worldwide divestment campaign to hit Iran economically.

Now Obama has got his own AIPAC speech planned for Wednesday.  You can expect a major counterpunch from Obama because it was Obama who proposed divestment last year in a bill with Sam Brownback, a bipartisan effort that John McCain did not support.  Watch for some furious back and forth this week as both candidates look for high political ground with Jewish voters.

GREGORY:  All right.  A lot to get to here as we continue.  We‘ll take a break.

Coming up, Hillary Clinton still insisting that she‘s winning the popular vote.  Are the voters listening?  We‘ll go inside her war room when we come back on THE RACE right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back with THE RACE heading inside the Clinton war room tonight.  Sounding the message that the campaign is very much alive and vows for a fight to the finish.

But we‘re also noting some reporting from my colleague Andrea Mitchell indicating that advance teams were told not to plan on anything beyond tomorrow night.  So we‘re breaking down the end game strategies including what could be her boldest move yet.

Back with us, today, Todd Purdum, Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson and John Harwood.

First up, Clinton has got her own magic number, 17 million.  The Clinton camp now asserting more people voted for her than any other candidate in the history of the presidential primaries.  And according to NBC News‘ count, she indeed leads Obama in the popular vote.  The campaign playing up this argument in a new ad now hitting the air waves in Montana and South Dakota.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Seventeen million Americans have voted for Hillary Clinton, more than for any primary candidate in history.  Some say there isn‘t a single reason for Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee.  They are right.  There are over 17 million of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Clinton‘s endgame argument is about what she accomplished in this campaign.  The swing states, emphasizing Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Now, the popular vote, are superdelegates paying attention or in their minds is all of this already over?  John Harwood, what do you say?

HARWOOD:  Already over.  The time for her to make that case was before now.  We‘ve seen, Gene Robinson was just talking about Jim Clyburn coming out tomorrow.  The floodgates are beginning to open.  We don‘t know if Barack Obama is going to get there by Tuesday night, but this thing is cooked.  And all the signs are out there that everybody is ready to move on.

GREGORY:  Todd Purdum, there is a reality check for Barack Obama as he comes through this period.  There should be people giving him pause at the way the end of this stretch has gone for him.

PURDUM:  Yeah but he can make an argument that he has basically just as many votes if not more popular votes than she does.  Because she can only claim the lead if she counts Michigan where his name wasn‘t even on the ballot.  And she doesn‘t count caucus states which don‘t report the popular vote.  So he also has gotten more votes than any Democratic primary candidate in history.  And the truth is what‘s uncomfortable is what was uncomfortable in 2000.  It is basically a tie.  And our system is not very well set up for resolving what amounts to a tie.

GREGORY:  What do we make of the fact that it‘s so close, Rachel?  There has been a tendency to look at the chasm among the pledged delegates and say, no, he‘s had a comfortable lead, but you do look at this and say this has been a tough contest.

MADDOW:  It has been tough.  I think the popular vote, Todd is exactly right, is a total canard.  The idea that you don‘t count Guam but you do count Michigan and Puerto Rico.  There isn‘t a popular vote in the Democratic tally.  But there is a delegate vote.

And even in that front, as John Harwood wrote about today in “The New York Times,” we‘re talking about it 45 percent of the delegates versus 49 percent of the delegates.  It has been very, very, very close.  The question is whether or not the second place finisher is going to stand down.  It feels like it, but we still haven‘t seen it.

GREGORY:  All right.  Next up, Clinton‘s prodigal superdelegate.  The camp is now using the case of a superdelegate who briefly left her for a short affair with Obama only to make it back to Clinton in a final push for support.  She‘s now stressing that it‘s never too late for superdelegates to change their mind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON:  One thing about superdelegate is that they can change their mind.  With us, in the front of the cabin who went from me to Senator Obama back to me in the course of a matter of weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  So taking a look at where the candidates stand, according to our superdelegate score card, you have Obama with 332, Clinton 295.  That is a net of 35 delegates for her since Tuesday compared to Obama at 162.

It seems Clinton is not only going after uncommitted superdelegates, but now Obama‘s committed superdelegates.  Could this be one of her boldest power play yet?  I guess Gene, it is certainly bold.  What‘s the argument?  Harold Ickes has been on the phone all day with superdelegates on the Hill saying don‘t defect just yet.  What‘s the argument?

ROBINSON:  The argument that superdelegates can change their minds, yes, that‘s true.  They don‘t actually vote until the convention.  So of course they can change their minds as many times as they want.

The problem for the Clinton campaign is that the tendency has been for them to change from Clinton to Obama and not the other direction.  So, I don‘t think this—this may be bold, but I don‘t think you can really call it a power play.  Because it doesn‘t seem to have much traction right now.

GREGORY:  Todd, what do you think is in her mind the day before this is over.  Because it‘s her, it‘s the former president, it‘s a close group of advisors, who are still, from what I can tell from talking to people close to her over the weekend, still really into this fight and still pretty angry about how it‘s all turned out.

PURDUM:  I think that‘s all true, David.  And obviously I‘m not a mind reader, but if I had to guess, based on what I know about her and what I know about the situation, in the back of her mind is thought it isn‘t over until the first ballot in Denver and whoever wins it if they can win on the first ballot.

And by saying superdelegates can change their mind, that‘s a reminder to them that if she wants to have her name put in nomination on the first ballot so she can show how much strength she amassed during the campaign and have a moment of pride, that‘s potentially a situation in which all bets could be off in Denver.  I don‘t think it‘s very likely but it‘s potentially true.

HARWOOD:  David, I‘ve got to tell you, I‘m not a mind reader either, but from my reporting, when I talk to Clinton people, they say she‘s realistic about her situation and doesn‘t intend to be an obstructionist.  So she hasn‘t given a signal about what she‘s going to do but I don‘t think the feeling that we‘re getting from the Clinton campaign is one they are trying, very boldly to bowl over those superdelegates or to stop Barack Obama at this point.

GREGORY:  It raises this point, then.  Clinton‘s plan B at the Rules and Bylaws Committee on Saturday, long time Clinton aide Harold Ickes fumed at the committee‘s compromise to seating delegates from Michigan and Florida.  It was a quote, “motion to hijack voters won by Hillary Clinton.”  Later suggesting that Clinton‘s fight for the nomination could extend beyond tomorrow.  Listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAROLD ICKES, CLINTON SUPPORTER:  Mrs. Clinton has instructed me to reserve her rights to take this to the Credentials Committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  So, you do, Rachel, have some conflicting signals.  You get that kind of last stand, yet I talked to people over the weekend after all of that that said, look, this is all being set up for a graceful exit in the next few days.

MADDOW:  Doesn‘t it feel like there‘s incredibly strong signals in both directions?  As we heard in Todd‘s headline at the top of the show we heard Bill Clinton saying this might be the last day on the campaign trail.  We‘re hearing Andrea Mitchell being told advance teams are being told not to plan past tomorrow.

But Senator Clinton is saying superdelegates aren‘t anybody‘s until the convention, essentially, that‘s a very bold move.  Harold Ickes refused to tell Tim Russert on Sunday morning that she would congratulate Senator Obama if he hit 2118.  Maybe that campaign is splitting into hard-liners and softliners on this.  Or maybe they haven‘t really made up their mind, but I felt like the note from her on superdelegates and what we have heard from Ickes has been incredibly alarming for Democrats who were hoping it was going to end soon.

ROBINSON:  The biggest indicator, or most important is the number of Clinton supporters on the Rules Committee who did not in fact support the Ickes position and went along with the compromise on Saturday.  I think that tells you a lot about where we‘re headed.

GREGORY:  It does.  We‘re going to take another break.

“Smart Takes” up next and a question about whether Barack Obama has some real problems with independent voters.  We‘re going to come right back with that right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory.  We‘ve combed through them all, the newspapers, magazines, the Internet and found the smartest takes out there, so you don‘t have to.  Here again, Todd, Rachel, Gene and John.

First smart take, “The New York Times‘” David Brooks talking to John Harwood today on MSNBC today says Obama still has an image problem with many independent voters, listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID BROOKS, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Obama‘s problem is he doesn‘t seem like a guy who can go into an Applebee‘s salad bar and people think he fits in naturally there.  He has to change to be more like that Applebee‘s guy and as he‘s done that he‘s become much more transactional.  Much more, I‘m going to deliver this and this and this to you on policy.

I‘ve been speaking to Obama campaign people in the last few days.  I think they are a little too complacent about the fall election.  I think they don‘t quite realize they‘re going to have to do a few big changes to get his identity more in tune with independent voters who right now see Barack Obama as Jeremiah Wright‘s guy and sort of a question mark.  An attractive question mark.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  I think it‘s a very interesting point, Todd.  And something that the Obama campaign needs to start contending with soon, what do you say?

PURDUM:  I think it‘s an excellent point but I think Barack Obama‘s biggest strengths when he ran for the Senate in Illinois was how well he was able to campaign downstate.  Let‘s not forget, his grandparents are as corny as Kansas in August.  They are his mother‘s parents from Kansas.  He talks ability growing up eating not only sashimi in Hawaii but Jello salad with grape halves which I can tell as a son of the Midwest is a quintessentially kind of Midwestern dish.

So if he could let that side of himself out and loosen up a little bit, eat a few donuts and hot dogs and not worry about his diet, it may sound trivial.  I think that kind of stuff is stylistically important and I think he has the ability to do it and he certainly has the potential to do it, if he just pays attention.

GREGORY:  I knew we‘d get an allusion to Broadway before long. 

Thanks, Todd.  Gene, your take on that?

ROBINSON:  He‘s not an Applebee‘s guy?  Is he an Olive Garden guy?  I tend to take it more seriously when it‘s delivered by people who actually eat at Applebee‘s more than once in a decade.

GREGORY:  You don‘t?

Our second smart take here also very interesting.  Four more years and the “Wall Street Journal” Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh say don‘t expect a change from President Bush‘s foreign policy regardless of who wins in November.  Quote.  “Want more George W. Bush foreign policy?  Elect John McCain or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.  None of the major candidates has disavowed the war on terror.  Each has called Mr. Bush tactically deficient but the debate over the war on terror is how where and when.  The candidates have argued where they would do a better job of finding it.  Administrations bequeath foreign policies to their success that are then tweaked but rarely transformed.  The seeds of Ronald Reagan‘s Cold War strategy were sown in the defense buildup of the later Jimmy Carter years.  President Bush‘s purported obsession with Baghdad began in the hawkish statecraft of Vice President Al Gore.  In 1998 Bill Clinton made regime change official U.S. policy in Iraq.  In 2003 Mr. Bush made it a reality.”

Rachel, take it on.

MADDOW:  I think this is a fascinating take and interesting and I think both liberals and conservatives find something to identify with in that.  Honestly, I think that when Bush ---- Obama and Clinton, that was not a Freudian slip, when Obama and Clinton talk about the foreign policy aims, they do both sound relatively hawkish and they are not questioning the idea of a war on terror and they are talking about al Qaeda in many of the same ways and the threat of al Qaeda and the threat of terrorism in many of the same ways Republicans talk about it.

I think the difference, the real substantive difference that my be different after four years of a Democratic president, versus a Republican is the situation with Iran, whether or not military hostilities will be something we move towards with Iran and how many troops are left in Iraq.  Those will be substantial differences even if the war on terror is still on in both cases.

GREGORY:  I have to take a break here but I do think that that is very interesting.  I have often said it‘s chapter two on the war on terror in terms of really defining the war that will be transformative.  We‘re going to come back.  Talk about Todd Purdum‘s piece in “Vanity Fair” on Bill Clinton.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Happy to have you here.  We have a special edition of three questions tonight, focusing on the entire round on our own panelist Todd Purdum‘s article on Bill Clinton, “the Comeback Id.”  It‘s in Vanity Fair.  The article has generated a lot of buzz, that even Bill Clinton himself issued a pretty scathing, almost 2,500 word response to the article.  Let‘s get right at it to see what all the buzz is about. 

Still with us, for the first time, Todd Purdum, “Vanity Fair‘s” national editor, Rachel Maddow, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor at the “Washington Post,” both MSNBC political analysts.  Also here, John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and political writer for the “New York Times.” 

When Bill Clinton left the White House, he told a long time aide, I‘ve always been a guy who could bloom where I was planted.  Since then, he has published two best sellers, campaigned for Senator John Kerry‘s unsuccessful presidential bid in 2004 and for the Democrats, a successful mid-term campaign in 2006, and most notably, launched the Clinton foundation. 

But Clinton‘s philanthropic work, perhaps like Clinton himself, has been somewhat tarnished under the microscope of the 2008 campaign.  This is from the Purdum piece, quote, “It‘s beyond dispute that Clinton‘s foundation has done worthy work around the world, shining the singular power of a presidential spot light on the good work of others and raising millions of dollars for practical programs in places much of the world‘s power establishment never even bothers with.  It is also beyond dispute that Clinton has blended the altruistic efforts of his philanthropy with the private business interests of some of his biggest donors in ways that are surprisingly sloppy, if not unseemly for any former president.”

Our first question then tonight, has Bill Clinton‘s post presidency been a success or failure?  Todd, the first question to you, before you address that, Bill Clinton had a pretty scathing response to this article.  There‘s even some reports that he‘s gone after you personally a little bit with regard to this piece.  Your response to the response? 

PURDUM:  In the response, the Clinton office did not complain about a single factual error in a piece of nearly 10,000 words.  They spent about 2,500 words kicking up a dust cloud of objections.  But they didn‘t really quarrel with any of the facts.  I think the article speaks for itself.  As to whether his post presidency has been a success, in many ways, it has been a resounding success, just as in many ways, his presidency was a resounding success. 

In other ways, it‘s been less successful and somewhat sloppy and pretty disappointing to a lot of people including his own aides and former aides, who were the people I talked to for my story. 

GREGORY:  John, what do you say?

HARWOOD:  I think on balance, Bill Clinton‘s post presidency has to be deemed a success.  I want to thank Todd, first of all, Bill Clinton was plenty mad for the coverage of this campaign.  Todd has now guaranteed that the focus is going to be on him when Mount Vesuvius erupts. 

Look, I think Bill Clinton has been a mixed bag.  He‘s helped Hillary Clinton in his campaign by the record that he accumulated over eight years.  That‘s why she‘s a competitive candidate, is that that Clinton legacy is pretty powerful.  The Clinton brand is pretty powerful in the party.  There‘s no question, he‘s been way up and down during the course of this campaign, done some things that hurt her pretty badly and may have hurt his ability to do good in the rest of the world. 

GREGORY:  I guess part of the question—the intent behind the question, Gene, is to say are the initial years of a post presidency the most definitive? 

ROBINSON:  I think, in a way, they are.  I think this kind of defines his post presidency.  He starts the Clinton Foundation, which unquestionably has done a lot of good work around the world.  Yet, he doesn‘t disclose the names of the donors to the foundation.  We don‘t know who‘s giving all the money and we have to try to ferret out whether there are business interests involved with foundation donors.  What about library donors.  There‘s a question of exactly how everything is entangled. 

GREGORY:  All right, next, Bill Clinton recently told voters his latest role as chief surrogate for his wife‘s campaign has been one of the greatest honors of his life.  But as one former Clinton aide, now Obama supporter, put it, as reported by Todd in his piece, Bill Clinton has always been Gladys Knight and not a pimp.  Controversy surrounding the president has stolen the spot light more than a few times.  Todd, you say, that‘s what inspired you to write this piece; “as Clinton moved with seeming abandon to stain his wife‘s presidential campaign in the name of saving it, as disclosures about his dubious associates piled up, as his refusal to disclose the names of donors to his presidential library and foundation, and his and his wife‘s reluctance to release their income tax returns created crippling and completely avoidable distractions for Hillary Clinton‘s own long suffering ambition, I found myself asking again and again, what is the matter with him?”

Did you come up with an answer to that, Todd? 

PURDUM:  I think when I went to talk to people who worked for him, they were asking the same questions.  There‘s no doubt that Bill Clinton was one of the most effective, most talented politicians of the last half of the 20th century, and among Democrats, of the whole 20th century.  I think part of it is it‘s a lot harder to be a good advocate for somebody else, some times, then it is to be for yourself.  It‘s harder to watch someone you love to take a punch than it is to take a punch yourself.  I think he had a lot of built up frustration about the way he felt he was treated in Washington during his presidency, the way the press had treated him, the way Ken Starr treated him. 

Let‘s face it, Ken Starr was pretty ridiculous in some of the things he did.  So I think a lot of that carried over.  And because so much of his post-presidential work had been fundamentally for philanthropic causes that were apolitical, that were not going to create controversy—he was addressing people who were happy to have him talk to them and often paying him quite a lot to hear what he had to say.  It‘s a little different when you have to go out on the campaign trail and take the cuts and thrust.  I think he was sick of it. 

GREGORY:  Asset or liability, Rachel?  That‘s the big question here, for her campaign.

MADDOW:  I think Todd‘s argument is sort of beautifully narrative.  I follow along and it makes sense and I get the point of it, but I don‘t see some of it reflected in reality, in the sense that I do not see that the donors to the Clinton foundation, or the tax returns question.—I don‘t see them as being huge liabilities for Clinton is this campaign.  If she had been winning at this point, and we were looking ahead to those potentially hurting her in the general election, and those things were maybe still alive, yes.  It doesn‘t feel like those were the things that tripped her up. 

It feels like Bill was a distraction, sometimes a help, sometimes a hurt.  A lot of times, he was the lightning rod for the criticism instead of her.  On balance, I‘m not sure he stained her chances here.  I‘m not sure that he did affect this in a negative way. 

(CROSS TALK)

GREGORY:  Let me just—we can address that.  Let me get to number three out there as well.  How does Bill Clinton see his impact on his wife‘s presidential campaign and his own legacy?  Again from Todd‘s piece, “he has told friends that he is not worried that his aggressive performance this year has done lasting damage to his reputation.  Some of them are not so sure.  Whatever the future holds for Hillary Clinton, her husband is not fading away.  He will remain a presence, a force to be reckoned with as long as he draws breath.”

We want to look at the impact on his wife‘s immediate future.  Our third question, today, does Bill Clinton make it impossible for Hillary Clinton to get the VP nod?  It‘s an extension of question number two.  Gene, take it on. 

ROBINSON:  What‘s been the impact on Bill Clinton‘s reputation and legacy?  I can tell you, just from people I talk to among African-Americans, for example, after what he said in South Carolina and the way he comported himself throughout the campaign, his reputation has definitely been changed.  There‘s no doubt in my mind.  People see him in a different light from the way they saw him a year ago, say. 

So, if he intends to rectify that or kind of get back in everybody‘s good graces, he has work to do.  On the other hand, he probably did get some votes, a lot of votes for Hilly Clinton in small towns, in many states around the country.  He was a huge draw.  Places that had never seen a former president before, especially not one with the political talents of Bill Clinton. 

GREGORY:  You know, John, the question—you can list a lot of his liabilities, but without Bill Clinton‘s name ID, his prominence in the Democratic party and the establishment support he could throw to his wife, would she have even had a foundation to run on? 

HARWOOD:  Absolutely not.  No, Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, the predicate for Hillary Clinton‘s campaign was the successful presidency of Bill Clinton.  By the way, David, I think that Todd‘s source is off on that Gladys Knight and Pimps thing.  The question is, Can he be one of the Miracles to her Smokey Robinson over the next three days?  Miracle is what she needs. 

On the vice president thing, that‘s not happening.  It‘s not happening in large part because Bill Clinton is such a huge presence.  How would a presidential nominee who has a running mate who is married to a former president, how do you incorporate all that ego, all that‘s present?  It‘s very difficult and I think that‘s why Barack Obama is going to look somewhere else. 

GREGORY:  Todd, quickly, as you write in your piece, his presence will still be felt.  How? 

PURDUM:  I think no one should ever count him out.  Look how he left the White House, in a blaze of controversy over his pardons of Mark Rich and other people.  He built his way back through his work in the foundation and his good work around the world.  He has told people, he thinks he can build his way back from this, and he may be able to.  People in American politics, and people in our business who have ever tried to count out Bill Clinton, have done so at their peril.  He‘s an extraordinary guy.  His aides used to call him Secretariat.   

GREGORY:  OK, we‘re going to take a break here. 

Would John McCain have better served himself and his campaign if he pledged to voters that he would serve only one term?  You‘ve heard Rachel talk about that before.  We‘ll get an answer when THE RACE heads deep inside the McCain war room.  The mini me edition of the McCain war room.  It‘s a little shorter tonight, but we‘re going to get to it nonetheless, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back and heading inside Barack Obama‘s war room tonight.  On the eve of Montana, South Dakota, Barack Obama says that he‘s fired up and ready to go.  As I said on clinching the nomination in just a matter of hours.  While he launches at McCain from the trail, what exactly does he have in store for Senator Clinton.  Back with us, Todd Purdum, Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson and John Harwood. 

First up, Obama‘s final baggage drop.  He distanced himself from Trinity Church Saturday in a tactical decision to split from a source of constant controversy dogging him on the trail.  Was it enough to break the dam of remaining uncommitted super delegates?  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  This is not a decision I come to lightly and, frankly, it‘s one that I make with some sadness.  Trinity was where I found Jesus Christ, where we were married, where our children were baptized. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  So, Obama officially leaving the church where his children were baptized and he was married.  Talking about the timing, should he have made the split earlier?  Is the damage already done?  John, Harwood, what do you say? 

HARWOOD:  I think that if you‘re talking about as a political matter, the only way he would have made the damage much worse is if he quit ten years ago.  If you‘re talking about whether he quit now or a month ago or six weeks ago, I don‘t think that makes a difference.  We‘ve still got five months to go until the general election.  He‘s going to have a lot of opportunity to make some distance.  As long as those Youtube videos are out there from Father Pfleger and Jeremiah Wright, he‘s going to have to answer the question. 

GREGORY:  Something, Gene, that David Brooks said to John earlier today on MSNBC, the idea that, who is Barack Obama?  Is he still Reverend Wright‘s guy?  Is he somebody else?  There‘s still 20 years of an association there that Barack Obama has to deal with in some way. 

ROBINSON:  He will have to answer questions about it.  I think the cold eyed decision would have been to leave the church when the Jeremiah Wright thing first came up.  I think—this is just me interpreting.  I‘m not sure of this.  It seems to me that this was kind of an attempt by Obama to be who is, a guy who cared about people in his congregation, who care about the institution, who must have realized that it was politically advantageous to distance himself before now, but who was reluctant to take the step until it became clear that he had to do that. 

You know, does that succession of steps make things worse for him than they otherwise would have been?  Maybe a little worse, but as John said, if he left ten years ago, we wouldn‘t be talking about it.  As it is now, we‘re going to talk about it.

GREGORY:  I wonder, Todd, whether Father Pfleger, who‘s remarks were all over the place last week, was the straw here because it was somebody else than Reverend Wright, but it still raised questions about the community that Barack Obama was a part of for so long. 

PURDUM:  I think you‘re right, David.  The truth is, in the Christian community, most people are not supposed to make fun of their neighbors.  They‘re supposed to love their neighbors and their supposed to turn the other cheek and they‘re supposed be gracious.  I think, in some ways, that particular talk violated some of the most basic principals of human manners, leave aside whatever political content it had.  I think that‘s really a breaking point that almost anybody can understand.  It‘s true, he would have had to answer questions about it constantly. 

MADDOW:  David, briefly, I think what was different about the Father Pfleger story was he was somebody who Barack Obama had no association with other than through Trinity.  It‘s one thing to be taken on for your pastor.  It‘s another thing to realize that everybody who steps over the threshold into Trinity United Church is now going to be a political liability for you.  I can see that politically as the straw that broke the camel‘s back.  

GREGORY:  Now that Obama‘s dropped what may have been his heaviest baggage, we‘ll see the impact of him doing that.  How does he achieve the movie ending moment in a flood of super delegate support?  David Axelrod, his chief strategist, says it is coming soon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST:  I think there‘s a great deal of respect for both these candidates, among some, and they don‘t want to have to choose before they have to.  They want to wait for the end of the process to make their decision.  I think that you‘ll see people very quickly making a decision now that the primary season is over. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Looking at the delegate score card, Obama, as we reported, just picked up another super delegate, Washington DNC Member David McDonald, which means he is now 39.5 delegates away from reaching the new magic number of 2,118.  Despite the shoe in status, he‘s still lost of the contests since March.  This is not exactly a sprint across the finish line.  What does he have to do to achieve this movie quality ending?  What do you say, John?

HARWOOD:  He‘s not going to get the movie quality ending, in terms of sinking the buzzer beater at the end of the game.  He‘s been losing a lot of primaries.  We do have to remember that in past Democratic campaigns, the losing candidate sometimes has came on strong in the end.  Ted Kennedy won some primaries late against Jimmy Carter.  Ronald Reagan won some late against Gerald Ford.  That doesn‘t always mean that you‘re going to be weak in the fall.  Jimmy Carter did turn out to be quite weak. 

I think David Axelrod is exactly right.  Once the polls close on Tuesday night, it‘s going to be very, very difficult for those 150 or so remaining uncommitted super delegates to tell the campaigns, I‘m sorry, we‘re still thinking about it. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, you get the sense, knowing Tom Daschle, who‘s been running the super delegate mission for the Obama campaign—today, Jim Clyburn comes out.  They have had a knack for key moments being when they some key endorsements out there.  I think about John Edwards as well.  So tomorrow closing time could be an important one. 

MADDOW:  It could be.  Although, again, we‘re still waiting for the flood.  This is the most anticipated flood in political history.  We keep saying they‘re going to come out in great numbers and it doesn‘t happen.  If there is ever going to be a flood, it‘s going to be after Tuesday‘s results come in.  We will have to see. 

It‘s important to know that the Clinton campaign is directly telling super delegates, do not come out; do not decide.  They are not saying, after Tuesday, you can do whatever you want.  They‘re saying, don‘t decide and we consider those of you who have declared for Obama to be fair game.  We are still trying to get you on our side.  The Clinton campaign is playing a totally different game with these guys than the Obama campaign is. 

GREGORY:  I have to take a break, but the question in my mind is does she want to get out in front of the super delegates or only come out after they have came forward.  By the math, it‘s really done.  That will be interesting. 

When we come back, John McCain and his one term plan for the presidency.  Why did he change his mind about it?  A quick note, NBC News political director Chuck Todd will be hosting a live web chat Wednesday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. eastern time.  Post your questions any time between now and then at ChuckTodd.Newsvine.com.  There he is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Tomorrow is another Super Tuesday.  Today‘s big Monday and we‘re going with it with a special third edition of the war room.  This time, we‘re taking a close look at John McCain.  Still with us, Todd, Rachel, Gene and John. 

Let‘s get right to it.  The Atlantic.com‘s Marc Ambinder broke a little news today on John McCain‘s early plans for his presidency, reporting the following, quote, “when he formally announced his presidential candidacy last year, Senator John McCain was inches away from making an unprecedented pledge if he were elected.  He would serve only one term as president.  It could have been an earth shifting moment for the campaign and the primary.  At the time, McCain‘s fund raising pace was falling well short of its target and Republicans were not treating McCain as the front runner.  The idea to serve on term has long been discussed among top advisers and McCain was on board.” 

Todd, ultimately, as Ambinder reports, and Mark Salter is quoted as saying, he didn‘t sign off on it at the time that he actually announced his candidacy so he elected not to do it.  What do you think the calculation was all about? 

PURDUM:  About not doing it? 

GREGORY:  Well the calculation for it, and then ultimately against it.

PURDUM:  I think the calculation for it is to make him a figure above politics, above ambition, to say, I‘ll take one shot at four years.  That will stop me from having to run for reelection the minute I get into office.  It will make me free as a bird to follow my conscience and be above politics in some way. 

The reason not to do it is because it ties your hands and makes you a lame duck the minute you take the oath of office. 

HARWOOD:  David, It makes you above politics in a very weak way, just like a former president, which is in fact what you would be on the way to doing as soon as you took the oath of office.  This shows John McCain had good judgment to step away from that idea.  He turned out not to need it to get the nomination. 

ROBINSON:  Besides, David, his mother is 96 years old and still vigorous and active.  It‘s not as if he expected to be at his dotage in four years. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, on the other side of this, it would have been a powerful statement to have made.  Yes, you fight the lame duck status when you come in for only one term, but it would have given him enormous latitude, if he could be elected as a one time president. 

MADDOW:  Sure, it would give him two big benefits.  As Todd said, it would give him that political advantage, which we‘ve seen resonate so intensely in the response to Scott McClellan‘s book, this idea of the permanent campaign being a toxic part of the Washington culture and of what‘s wrong with the way White House‘s work.  To take that away—Yes, it makes you a lame duck, but it also gives you a political advantage. 

As Gene is hinting at, it would take away the fact that people are thinking about him being 80 at the end of his time in office, which is what he would be at the end of a second term.  It does have some real concrete political advantages to it.  I think that he was hinting at it with that 2013 ad that he put out a couple weeks ago.  If he had stepped away from it permanently, I guess we know that‘s off the table. 

GREGORY:  John, the question for McCain is how much of his maverick status, how much of his political outsider status can he preserve as the standard bearer of the party?  You always look at him and then at times, you think, it‘s an uncomfortable fit. 

HARWOOD:  You‘re going to see a lot more of that maverick status beginning tomorrow night, David, when he gives that speech on Tuesday night in Louisiana, even more forcefully distance himself from President Bush.  We‘re going to see some of that John McCain we saw in 2000.  The only way he can stay alive in this race—the one other thing about serving only one term, think about the Democratic majorities that he‘s likely to face in Congress if he is elected.  They will be bigger than they are right now, if you look at the current situation and what the polls are telling us.  It would be an awfully tough situation for a lame duck president to go in with stronger Democratic majorities.   

GREGORY:  Yet, Gene, on “Meet The Press” yesterday, Tim Russert confronted Tom Daschle with a quote of his, indicating that he had talked to him back in 2001 about joining the Democratic caucus as an independent.  How does that affect the race? 

ROBINSON:  Well, I don‘t think it affects it much.  John McCain is de facto the head of the Republican party right now.  That‘s what he‘s going to be.  I think it‘s better for him—this whole thing about the permanent campaign; the rest of Washington is still going to be engaged in the permanent campaign.  For the president to try to withdrawal from that is not smart politically. 

GREGORY:  We have to end it here.  Thanks again to a great panel.  That does it for THE RACE For tonight.  I‘m David Gregory.  Thanks very much for watching.  Stay right here.  HARDBALL with Chris Matthews is coming up right now.  We‘ll see you from New York tomorrow night.

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

END   

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