updated 6/6/2008 11:34:10 AM ET 2008-06-06T15:34:10

Guests: John Harwood, Rachel Maddow, Michael Smerconish

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, Obama makes history, but he‘s still sharing the headlines with Hillary Clinton.  Are they both off to the general election campaign to fight John McCain 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.  What does Hillary Clinton want and does Barack Obama feel that he has to give?  Mrs. Clinton did get Obama‘s back today on the subject of Israel, we‘ll have the latest on that. 

And “Inside the War Room” tonight, if you‘re John McCain‘s image maker, what do you do against this phenom Obama?  Plus, tonight, your e-mail, the bedrock of the program.  As you know, a panel that always comes to play with us. 

Tonight: Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philadelphia, and columnist for both The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News.  John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and political writer for The New York Times.  And Jay Carney, TIME magazine‘s Washington bureau chief. 

We begin as we do every night 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,” winning isn‘t everything, apparently.  Barack Obama has made history as the first African-American candidate to clinch a major party‘s nomination. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Tonight, I can stand here and say that I will be the democratic nominee for the president of the United States of America. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  But, enough about that.  Let‘s focus on the Clintons.  What does she want?  What is she entitled to demand of team Obama?  The biggest question of all, of course, for Obama to answer, can he win without her?  You know, on Broadway, what matters is top billing.  Obama has got that.  But through his handling of Senator Clinton, he will demonstrate whether this is for once and for all his Democratic Party now. 

And today Obama launched a V.P. search team.  On it, Caroline Kennedy, former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, and Washington insider and former CEO of Fannie Mae, Jim Johnson.  Mrs. Clinton, for all the machinations and calculations on her side, did offer this olive branch today during a speech to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC today.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It has been an honor to contest these primaries with him.  It is an honor to call him my friend.  And let me be very clear, I know that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  She is vouching for him, even as she is not bowing out of the race.  John Harwood, your headline on all of this tonight.  Big night for Obama, but a surprise as well. 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  David, my “Headline” is unwelcome surprise.  Barack Obama‘s history-making campaign did not expect Hillary Clinton to concede the race last night, which of course, in her speech was her chance to acknowledge all the ways in which she had made history. 

But what nobody expected was the explosion of speculation about her as a potential vice presidential for Barack Obama.  It‘s unwelcome because Barack Obama does not want to pick her.  But as long as her supporters keep that idea alive, he‘s going to have difficulty unifying the Democratic Party and turning full attention to John McCain in the fall campaign. 

GREGORY:  And, John, you think it‘s a done deal.  You think in his mind he knows for sure, I don‘t want her? 

HARWOOD:  I do.  I think that could change depending on how much pressure is applied.  But I think it‘s pretty clear that neither Barack Obama nor his team would like to run with Hillary Clinton because it would muddy his message of change and a new politics. 

GREGORY:  Diplomatic process for sure is under way.  All right.  Smerc, you think everybody should just take a breath here, that‘s what the candidates are doing.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Yes.  Let them catch their breath.  I mean, as we sit here and speculate as to whether she is interested in that job and whether he will take that, and of course, you pointed out that they named that three-person committee today.  It‘s a reminder to me at least that perhaps we often ascribe to them determinations that have yet to be made. 

Maybe, just maybe, she has got no idea whether she wants to be his vice president.  Perhaps he has no clue as to whether it‘s in his best interest to take her.  I say it has been a long and exhaustive process.  Let each of them catch their breath.  I don‘t expect an immediate resolution of this. 

GREGORY:  Do you think it‘s appropriate then for her to take a little time here, let this sink in, think about it in terms of her supporters and let that leverage that she has sink in a little bit over on team Obama‘s side? 

SMERCONISH:  David, I say, give her her just due.  I must say I‘m taken aback by the harsh treatment that I see her being offered in the media, throughout the country today. 

GREGORY:  You sound like John McCain. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s a reason for that!    

SMERCONISH:  She ran a hell of a race.  And you look at the map of the country and how well she did in so many areas and split at least the popular vote.  Let‘s let her catch her breath and enjoy for another couple of days. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Smerc, arguing for Clinton.  Jay Carney, your focus on John McCain last night and how he really tried to steal the show on a big Democratic night last night.  How did he do? 

JAY CARNEY, TIME WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Well, David, my headline is that McCain has the right message, but I‘m not sure he can deliver it.  If you saw the speech last night, it was a painful experience.  But if you read it, it was pretty good.  On paper, McCain‘s argument was strong. 

His problem is that he cannot deliver a speech very well, especially in comparison with Barack Obama.  It‘s a disastrous apples-to-apples comparison for him.  But his argument, basically that I am not George Bush, I have a history of bucking my own party, and Barack Obama is somebody you don‘t know and who doesn‘t particularly have a history of bucking his party or forging bipartisan consensus, I think that‘s the message that John McCain has to take to independent voters.  His problem.

GREGORY:  All right.  But, Jay, what was different about—we know this change versus experience argument, which is something that Hillary Clinton tried, it didn‘t work.  What did he do last night that was a little bit of a turn on that? 

CARNEY:  Well, this was not change versus experience.  They decided that experience and leadership won‘t work because it‘s obvious in terms of his age and what his life biography is about.  They took old change versus new change.  Old change versus real change.  That‘s what they are pitching. 

And they are pitching it based on the fact that he has actually done things.  But he cannot compete with Barack Obama in speech-making.  So what he wants to do, as we saw from this offer to have both Obama and McCain go and do town hall meetings across the country, is he wants to pull Obama into territory where McCain is at least more effective and might be able to go head-to-head with him. 

GREGORY:  And we‘ll get more on that “Inside the War Room” as we talk about some the tactics as get into the general election.  All right.  Rachel Maddow is here as well, focusing on big speech-making down at AIPAC again today here in Washington, the pro-Israel lobby. 

Your “Headline” tonight, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My headline tonight, David, is that Barack Obama appears to be running on GOP turf.  Common wisdom for a long time has been that national security and war and foreign policy are where Republicans like to be and that Democratic candidates, especially at the national stage, have been advised to sort of change the subject.

Barack Obama is turning that on its head.  Listen to some of what he said this morning at AIPAC. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Just as we are clear-eyed about the threat, we must be clear about the failure of today‘s policy.  We knew in 2002 that Iran supported terrorism.  We knew Iran had an illicit nuclear program.  We knew Iran posed a grave threat to Israel.  But instead of pursuing a strategy to address this threat, we ignored it and instead invaded and occupied Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  This seems to be where Barack Obama feels most comfortably politically.  And that is maybe changing the Democratic game plan on issues of national security.  What I‘m going to be watching for is to see if some of the down-ticket Democrats around the country pick up the national security line that Obama is leading with, and they start running with it as well. 

GREGORY:  It‘s interesting, the point about Hillary Clinton backing him up today and his speech to AIPAC today trying to reach Jewish voters, but it‘s about more than that.  They do believe that this is a window into other voters as well.  If they can get Jews on board, they think that other voters who have concerns about his foreign policy, his lack of experience, this whole question about whether he is somehow soft in diplomacy, that he can turn them around as well. 

MADDOW:  It‘s a sort of muscular, but not hawkish position.  It‘s new for Democrats. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Not too hawkish.  But he sound a little bit like George Bush in some areas.  He talked about, you know, we would do anything to confront Iran, to keep it from getting a nuclear weapon.  It sounded a little bit like Bush there.  He may be tacking a little bit to the center.  We‘ll get into it in more detail as we go forward.  Going to take a break here. 

Coming up, what is weighing more heavily now on Hillary Clinton‘s mind, the V.P. slot in November or another try for the White House in 2012?  We‘ll talk about it when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)                

GREGORY:  Back in Hillary Clinton‘s war room tonight, she may still be in the picture.  She hasn‘t gotten out of the race yet.  And the question is, what does Hillary Clinton want?  For more on that, we go back to our panel: Michael Smerconish, John Harwood, Rachel Maddow, and Jay Carney. 

First up, Hillary Clinton may be “open to the idea of the idea of V.P.,” but does she want it?  Last night she again put forth her main argument for a spot in the White House.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Even when the pundits and naysayers proclaimed week after week that this race was over, you kept on voting. 

You have voted because you wanted to take back the White House.  And because of you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON:  . we won, together, the swing states necessary to get to 270 electoral votes. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Yes, all of this a reminder of all that she has accomplished on the trail, the votes, the swing states, despite everyone who counted her out, really, is all of that about the V.P. slot?  My colleague and boss Tim Russert says she could have something else in mind. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, NBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  She wants maximum political leverage.  She‘s positioning herself maybe perhaps to try to be on the ticket.  Certainly if things don‘t work out for Barack Obama, to run in 2012 with an “I told you so,” to have influence in the party at the convention, all of that and perhaps more. 

GREGORY:  Is this all really about respect for Senator Clinton, for her voters?  Is she making the argument that as a bargaining chip, not to Obama for a V.P. slot, but—or the Democratic Party to ultimately respect her? 

Jay, what do you say? 

CARNEY:  You know, I think that very few people actually know what Hillary wants.  And it‘s possible, as was said before, that she may not yet know.  I think the race is over and she knows that.  I expect that she will be endorsing Barack Obama in the next several days. 

The V.P. slot is very much on the table.  I think it‘s very well established that Bill Clinton would like to see that happen.  I think Hillary Clinton may be a little more ambivalent.  But there are some obvious advantages to that.  She‘ll be a major player.  She‘ll be able, from that position, to be involved in the accomplishment of universal health care reform, which is what Barack Obama mentioned last night in his speech.  So I think the interest in V.P. is probably pretty real. 

GREGORY:  All right.  But even if Clinton doesn‘t want the V.P. slot, her supporters certainly do.  Clinton loyalist Lanny Davis played to the Clinton white female fan base by launching a V.P. position drive last night on the Web site womenforfairpolitics.com. 

Even John McCain made a clear play for Clinton‘s female support last night while intentionally striking a sensitive chord.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Clinton has earned great respect for her tenacity and courage.  The media often overlooked how compassionately she spoke to the concerns and dreams of millions of Americans.  And she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rachel Maddow, two things going on there.  You have got John McCain making a pitch for Hillary Clinton‘s disaffected supporters, but you also have her supporters really fueling this argument that we deserve respect, you know, shouldn‘t just fold into the Obama tent here.  We should be viewed independently as a bloc that he has to come to us. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  And I think that Senator Clinton, what we‘re seeing right now, (INAUDIBLE) why there isn‘t a real obvious explanation for what she‘s doing is, I think that she has got competing political instincts here.  If you want to be a vice president, on the one hand, you have got to think about your leverage, and the other thing you‘ve got think about making yourself an attractive pick to the presidential nominee. 

In order to push leverage, you have got to talk about how many voters you have, how many people that you have moved in this primary, how many people you could potentially bring with you.  That happens to undercuts the case that Barack Obama is the legitimate nominee of the Democratic Party.  And that makes it very hard for her to make herself an attractive candidate to him, as somebody who will help him get elected. 

I think she has got competing political instincts here, both of which make sense, and neither of which, when you combine them, give her a clear way forward.  That‘s why we‘re seeing such a strategic mess here. 

GREGORY:  You know, Smerc, it‘s interesting, Jimmy Carter, former president out today saying this is a terrible idea to have her on the ticket.  They would reinforce each other‘s negatives, don‘t do it, he says. 

SMERCONISH:  Well, respectfully—or maybe not so respectfully, I just don‘t think he has got the clout.  I really don‘t think that Jimmy Carter is swaying opinion on that issue.  Look, David, there‘s one thing we know for sure with all of this speculation.  We know she wants to be president of the United States.  That‘s a certainty. 

Beyond that, you‘ve got all of these indications now.  Lanny Davis, an awfully smart guy, he can say he‘s independent of the Clintons with this petition, but there‘s just no way I think he would put it online running the risk that he gets a call from her saying, take that down. 

That, the comment to the New York Democrats, all of these factors suggest, she wants in on this. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Harwood, you‘re on deck.  Moving on, the Clinton camp says it needs breathing room before making its next move.  In her speech last night, Hillary Clinton did keep everybody guessing.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Now the question is, where do we go from here?  And given how far we‘ve come.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON:  . and where we need to go as a party, it‘s a question I don‘t take lightly.  This has been a long campaign and I will be making no decisions tonight. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  But the clock is ticking, pressure is building from party leaders to get the general election under way with just two candidates.  Democratic leadership committee Chairman Harold Ford, a guest here often, says Clinton is, in fact, running out of time. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAROLD FORD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Barack Obama is the nominee of the Democratic Party.  Hillary Clinton has not conceded that point.  She has 24 hours, I think, to concede that point. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  And what happens to her if she doesn‘t? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Would you give her an ultimatum, in 24 hours?  What would you do if she doesn‘t?

FORD:  No.  No, no.  No, no.  Without beginning to cause damage to the party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)     

GREGORY:  Is there a potential for damage, John Harwood? 

HARWOOD:  I hope Harold is not sitting there watching his watch because what I‘m hearing from Clinton people is that this is not going to happen, the concession is not likely to happen until early next week, not tomorrow or Friday. 

Look, I think that Hillary Clinton has got a complicated situation.  Part of it is personal ambition.  I think she would like to be vice president, I think Bill Clinton would like her to have that job, thinks she has earned it, probably trying to do something to make that happen. 

But I think there‘s also part of it that is less about personal ambition that has to do with her different conception than the Obama people have of how to bring the party together.  I think she genuinely believes that she needs her people brought along and that this process of working through the consultation, having her people vent the idea of her being on the ticket and dealing with that, processing that is a way to bring them along.  And that ultimately she is going to bring the party together. 

By the way, David, I was wondering whether you and Carney had your feelings hurt being among those pundits getting booed in New York last night when Hillary Clinton mentioned it? 

GREGORY:  Hey, it wasn‘t me, it wasn‘t me, it was you guys. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to take a break here.  Coming up next, “Smart Takes.” One of Hillary Clinton‘s most ardent supporters already backing Obama.  She says that Senator Clinton let her down last night, that she is not mincing her words.  You‘ll hear them when we come back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back on the RACE with “Smart Takes” tonight.  The analytical, the provocative, the argumentative, but something that makes you think, we hope.  Here again to pore over them all, with us, Michael, John, Rachel, and Jay. 

First “Smart Take” tonight, The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd says Hillary Clinton won‘t stop until she‘s president.  To the quote board:

“Clintonologists know that Senator Clinton is up to something, but they are not sure what.  Theory number one is that it‘s the Cassandra ‘I told you so‘ gambit.  She believes intensely that he is too black, too weak, too elitist to beat her pal John McCain. 

“But she has to pretend that she‘ll do whatever it takes, even accept the V.P. job, a job she has already had and doesn‘t want again, so that nobody will blame her when he loses on November 4th.  Then she can power on to 2012.

“Theory number two is that it‘s a ‘bad stuff happens‘ maneuver, exemplified in the gaffe about the RFK assassination, that she figures that at least if she moves a few blocks from Embassy Row to the Naval Observatory, she‘ll be a heartbeat away from the job that she has always wanted.”

GREGORY:  Rachel, take it on. 

MADDOW:  I think that—I mean, nobody has been more enthusiastic about the idea that Senator Clinton is in this until the end, in this to win it, than I have.  That said.

HARWOOD:  I‘ve noticed. 

MADDOW:  Yes, I know, I have been pushing this, you know, kind of sort of to my career peril at points.  But I don‘t actually identify with either of Maureen Dowd‘s take on it.  I honestly believe that Senator Clinton, if she does not get out—I mean, maybe she will get out in the next 24-72 hours or something, but if she doesn‘t and she decides to stick it out and make some argument about Michigan or some reason to stay in until the convention, I think it‘s because she thinks that gives her a chance to win. 

And yes, there is a problem in that she is reducing Barack Obama‘s chances of winning in the fall.  But if she thinks his chances of winning in the fall are zero anyway, she thinks she‘s doing Democrats a favor by keeping her hand in. 

GREGORY:  All right.  But, Jay, what about this idea that she wants to stay close to this process, stay close to Barack Obama, if she‘s the number two, and he wins, she‘s with him, she has a chance to then continue and run after him?  If he loses, she can power on to 2012?  But also, if she wins, there‘s a sense in the Clintons that do—don‘t they want to be a part of something that‘s historic? 

CARNEY:  Well, I think that‘s true.  I mean, one thought that‘s out there is that for Bill Clinton and his era not to be totally eclipsed by a Barack Obama victory this fall, she needs to be on this ticket.  The Clinton name has to be part of this movement.  So that could be what is at work as well.

GREGORY:  All right.  Second “Smart Take” tonight, Hilary Rosen, longtime Clinton supporter, says: “As hard and painful as it might have been, Hillary Clinton should have conceded, congratulated, endorsed, and committed to Obama last night.  The next 48 hours and (ph) now (ph) as important to the future reputation of Hillary Clinton as the last year-and-a-half have been.

“She had a chance to surprise her party and the nation after the daylong denials about expecting any concession, and sent Obama off on the campaign trail of the general election with the best possible platform.  Instead, she left her supporters empty, Obama‘s angry, and party leaders trashing her.

“She said she was stepping back to think about her options.  She is waiting to figure out how she would use her 18 million voters, but not my vote.  I enthusiastically support Barack Obama‘s campaign because I am not a bargaining chip, I am a Democrat.”

Smerc, take it on. 

SMERCONISH:  After a 16-month campaign, tooth and nail, one in which Senator Clinton arguably wins the popular vote, I think that Hilary Rosen asks too much of her to fold her tent on national television last night. 

And, David, pardon me for this, but tomorrow is 40-year anniversary of RFK‘s assassination.  And I thought that Maureen Dowd‘s reference was offensive, as offensive as when Senator Clinton first made that stumble for which she apologized. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, is there any reason to believe that women who support Senator Clinton are not inclined to support Barack Obama unless they get that kind of go-ahead from Senator Clinton? 

MADDOW:  I think that if we‘re talking about respect for those 18 million voters, it‘s not very respectful to think that they are all like trained dogs who only go when Clinton tells them when to go.  I don‘t think that voters work that way. 

If you‘re talking about a small slice of radicalized people, sure, but 18 million, no, they don‘t move that way. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We have got to take a break here.  Coming up next, John McCain‘s biggest challenge in facing Barack Obama in the general election could be just that, facing Obama.  But he has got some ideas on how to deal with that, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, I‘m David Gregory.  Happy to have you here.  We‘re going to go inside the war room, now focused on the general election, Obama, McCain and Hillary Clinton, apparently.  Michael Smerconish is with us, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philly, columnist for both the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and the “Philadelphia Daily News.”  John Harwood is here, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and politic writer for the “New York Times.”  Rachel Maddow also here, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America and an MSNBC political analyst.  Also here, Jay Carney, “Time Magazine‘s” Washington bureau chief.  Welcome, all. 

First up, McCain takes on Obama‘s centerpiece message of change we can believe in by casting Obama as the wrong kind of change for America.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  This is indeed a change election.  No matter who wins this election, the direction of this country is going to change dramatically.  But the choice is between the right change and the wrong change, between going forward and going backward. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  A couple of questions on this.  John Harwood, first off, McCain cannot give up this change mantle, right?  He cannot cede that ground to Barack Obama, too dangerous for this general election. 

HARWOOD:  He‘s got to try.  Look, it‘s awfully tough.  Barack Obama has a relatively simple message.  He says, this is a change election; I‘m the change candidate.  John McCain has to say, he‘s talking about bad ideas and dangerous ideas.  But I‘m for change too, because I‘m not like George Bush.  His problem is that the ordinary voter, swing voters out there say, aren‘t you the Republican and aren‘t you for Bush‘s war and weren‘t you for Bush‘s tax cuts?  Click.  That‘s what he‘s got to push against. 

GREGORY:  He‘s also up against an African-American candidate for the Democratic party who walks into a room and there‘s a neon sign that says I‘m change.  We‘ve never seen this before. 

CARNEY:  You have a 72-year-old, white male Republican who has the most unpopular president, incumbent Republican, in the history of polling.  That‘s a heck of albatross.  Versus a youthful, multi-ethnic charm infused, walking talking embodiment of change.  His argument that—McCain is substantively, I can be about change and Barack Obama is a fraud.  That‘s a hard argument to make. 

GREGORY:  If you are John McCain‘s image maker, what do you do against Barack Obama?  You try to paint him as not the mainstream.  You try to paint him as liberal.  That‘s classic in a Republican playbook and it works.  What else do you have to do to step it up against a guy who is clearly a phenom? 

SMERCONISH:  I would take change out of the stump speech.  I think that‘s a stone cold loser.  I got to tell you, Jay said something earlier, you look at that McCain speech last night, it was like a wake, compared to either of the Democratic events.  I don‘t know how you put oomph back in that equation. I think the best argument that he has is to say one presidential cycle ago, this is a guy who was in the Illinois State Senate.  Inexperience is the ticket for John McCain. 

HARWOOD:  One thing they might need to do is try to figure out if they can build a crowd for this guy.  You‘ve got Barack Obama filling these huge arenas and John McCain has small little crowds that look pretty anemic by comparison. 

GREGORY:  You remember the HARDBALL tours, all the HARDBALL college tours he‘s done on this network.  He knows how to build a crowd and he knows how to interact with a crowd. 

HARWOOD:  You would think. 

GREGORY:  He certainly wants to do it.  Next up, McCain itching to take on Obama‘s chief line of attack, the accusation that he‘s a third Bush term.  This is how McCain dealt with this last night, a counter-punch.  Watch.   

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  You‘ll hear from my opponents campaign in every speech, in every interview, every press release, that I‘m running for President Bush‘s third term.  Why does Senator Obama believe it‘s so important to repeat that idea over and over again?  He knows it‘s very difficult to get Americans to believe something they know is false. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Yes, Rachel, here is the issue; we talked about this last night in the coverage.  How is it that McCain can not fight his way out of this label about being too close to George Bush when his history shows he bucked George Bush a lot since 2000 since he ran up against him. 

MADDOW:  It‘s a trap either way for him.  I do not envy his talking points development team on this subject because he‘s in trouble on the left and he‘s in trouble on the right.  When he says these are the things on which I broke with George Bush, he has to say, I was initially against Bush‘s tax cuts.  I was for campaign finance reform.  I was the immigration guy with Ted Kennedy.  All of a sudden, Republicans are saying, this is supposed to be good? 

Then if he tries to attract independents on that or cross over Democrats, then he has to explain why he has changed his position on the tax cuts, why he says he would vote against his own campaign finance rules, why he says he would vote against his own immigration legislation.  He can‘t win with left or right.  He can only win if people don‘t pay attention to the details.  That makes it a tough peg to hang his campaign on.  

GREGORY:  We‘re also in the war room here.  We‘re talking about what Barack Obama is doing next.  He‘s getting out on the campaign trail, making a play for those white working class workers, announcing today campaign stops throughout Virginia‘s Appalachian region next week.  Remember, Obama won the Virginia primary handily, but he lost the Appalachian counties.  He got trounced by Clinton in demographically similar states, like Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania as well.  What‘s it show here, John?  He‘s getting right after these voters. 

HARWOOD:  He‘s got to establish the economy as an issue he owns.  We have 80 percent of the American people believing the economy is in a recession.  John McCain‘s going to come hard at him as a tax increaser.  That‘s a position that‘s got a lot less oomph than it used to have.  Barack Obama has to do a lot better than he‘s done so far convincing people he‘s not some airy fairy reformer type guy, that he‘s got a bread and butter message that‘s going to make their lives different. 

GREGORY:  The economy is what matters, right?  This may be an area the Clinton‘s have an advantage, but if they are out the picture, this is the Democrats‘ opportunity to seize it. 

SMERCONISH:  It is.  I think I have a better idea.  We broke for news at the midway point of this hour.  What did we see?  Ayman al Zawahiri with yet another statement.  If I were advising Senator Obama, I would say go after them on the failures of the war on terror.  We‘re approaching the 7th year anniversary of September 11th, and bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri are alive in Pakistan.  Nobody is even looking for them. 

GREGORY:  There‘s a big debate about whether al Qaeda is as strong as it used to be.  One last point here, in terms of tactics inside the war room, McCain today sends out another invitation to Obama.  This time it‘s not on a joint trip to Iraq, but a series of debates.  Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  This morning I sent Senator Obama a letter inviting him to join me in town hall meetings around the country.  No process questions from reporters, no spin rooms, just two Americans running for the highest office in the greatest nation on Earth, responding to the concerns of the people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Not having reporters involved, always a bad idea.  This is how the campaign manager for Obama responded: “the idea of joint town halls is appealing.  We would recommend a format that is less structured and lengthier than the McCain campaign suggests, one that more closely resembles the historic debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.  But, having just secured our party‘s nomination, this is one of the many items we‘ll be addressing in the coming days.”

It‘s on the list.  Here‘s what‘s interesting, Jay: they do get it.  The McCain camp gets it.  That‘s his strength.  Let‘s do town halls.  He can be spontaneous.  He can counter punch in that kind of setting.  You‘re already getting from Obama, first of all, a debate over the debates, and we‘re not even talking about the debates.  He likes the podium.  He likes the Lincoln/Douglas debate, Obama does. 

CARNEY:  I think the Obama campaign by initially sounding so favorable to this idea, not just today but previously, will have to accept this in some form.  There will be some joint appearances, I believe, featuring McCain and Obama together.  I think the Obama campaign will succeed in tweaking the structure a little bit to their advantage.  This is an opportunity for McCain to overcome that disadvantage he has in their speech making abilities, and maybe score a few points off Obama on the experience question. 

HARWOOD:  David, we have to say it‘s a great thing for the American people that both of these campaigns think they can be helped by this.  Everybody ought to be applauding. 

GREGORY:  That‘s right.  Breaking some of the mold, what‘s wrong with it? 

Coming up, we‘ll take a break here.  If Barack Obama doesn‘t choose Hillary Clinton to be his running mate, what role remains for her in this campaign?  Later in the show, your play date with the panel.  Call us at 212-790-2299, or send an e-mail at Race08@MSNBC.com.  We‘re coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  So many questions here on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  We‘re pitching today‘s three biggest questions coming out of the Barack Obama campaign triumph over Hillary Clinton, although she has not conceded.  Still with us, Michael Smerconish, John Harwood, Rachel Maddow and Jay Carney.   

First up, Hillary Clinton told supporters on a conference call yesterday that she is open to being Obama‘s VP.  Today, her top surrogates made their case on MSNBC. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISOR:  If you put Hillary and Barack together, it‘s unstoppable.  I think we would have the White House for 16 years.  I think it‘s unbeatable.

GOV ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  If they can work out a frame work that would satisfy both of them, I think it might work.  It‘s certainly a powerful ticket. 

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK:  When you find two warriors in a historic campaign and they split the votes, the 36 million votes, right down the middle, common sense should dictate what she brings to the ticket.  We‘re going to win this election with either one of them.  Now, hopefully, we can win it with both of them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Clinton financial backers also pushing the VP line.  The AP reports today that Clinton‘s national finance chair says the dream ticket could be a financial power house, raising up to 250 million dollars to compete against John McCain in the general.  Meanwhile, Obama and his supporters have remained mum. 

First question tonight, how does Obama put Clinton on his ticket without looking like he was pressured into doing it?  Jay, this is the diplomacy. 

CARNEY:  Well, it‘s diplomacy or you simply spend a lot of time asking your surrogates to go out and make the case that she brings concrete advantages.  You can make that case, whether it‘s through the Appalachia swathe of the country, where he lost so horribly to Clinton, more importantly, it‘s the outreach to white women voters, which is a key constituency in any presidential election, Democrats in particular. 

I think there‘s an argument to be made for the plus side of why she should be on the ticket.  There are down sides too, and we all know them.  One of them, of course, is the former president.  If this were to happen, the Obama campaign would insist that they get to say if and how Bill Clinton is used. 

GREGORY:  We‘ll get to that in question number three. 

HARWOOD:  Chances of making that stick. 

GREGORY:  Right.  But Rachel, there‘s still this issue of who‘s in control.  Does Hillary Clinton get herself on the ticket because she demands that right?  She feels entitled to it, based on her performance.  Is this a call—obviously, it‘s a call that Obama gets to make, but does he feel he doesn‘t have a choice?  How does he avoid that?

MADDOW:  That‘s exactly the right question.  Even without the current dynamics, the consideration of Hillary Clinton as vice president is, essentially, you have to make the case of what he needs is another senator who has a great potential to upstage him in the media and who undercuts his message of change and that he represents a new era in American politics. 

You have to start from there.  You add this current dynamic, that because of all this public pressure from the Clinton campaign and their surrogates, it would make him look like he‘s capitulating to her to bring her on.  I think it‘s almost an insurmountable case. 

The fact that Barack Obama went to Appalachia today, I think, is a political rebuke to people who would argue that in order to win Appalachia, in order to win those types of voters, you have to have Hillary Clinton on the ticket.  Obama is there tomorrow trying to win them on his own.  I think that‘s a message. 

HARWOOD:  Rachel, he‘s been there before and it didn‘t exactly work in the primaries. 

MADDOW:  He‘s going back without her to say, I can do it on my own. 

GREGORY:  Let me raise this, which is the other argument; whether or not Hillary Clinton ends up on Obama‘s ticket, should she be there?  She could certainly be a powerful ambassador for Obama to her base, older women, working class voters, Latinos, Jewish voters in key swing states.  The second question is how does Obama use Hillary Clinton in the campaign?  But more to the point, what is the case for her being on the ticket, John Harwood?  And aren‘t the upsides worth the hit he will take for undermining his own political brand? 

HARWOOD:  That‘s a calculation the Obama campaign is going to make.  I think the way they weigh the pluses and minuses right now is that it would be more of a negative, both getting Bill Clinton as part of the package and undercutting your own message.  Her strengths are pretty obvious.  The Clinton brand is a great brand, in terms of standing for peace and prosperity, a successful presidency, if you set aside his personal problems. 

I think it‘s going to be a tough thing for the Obama campaign to accept the negatives, accept the idea that you‘re asking swing voters to swallow an awful lot change.  I think it‘s going to be hard.  I think Rachel has nailed it.  I think it‘s difficult for him to make that choice. 

GREGORY:  Pick it up from there, Smerc.  I talked to people—this is a few months ago—inside the Clinton world who said, look, the idea of having a black man and woman on the ticket is simply too much shock for the electoral system. 

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t think so.  I think we all have a tendency to over-analyze this situation.  Charlie Rangel made great sense to me.  The fact of the matter is they split the country down the middle.  If one takes a look at that electoral map, where he ran well and carried states, and she ran well and carried states, it seems superficially like a no brainer.  I recognize there‘s more to it, but it seems like it‘s destiny. 

MADDOW:  It doesn‘t feel like they split the country down the middle. 

It seems like they split the Democratic primary electorate down the middle.  The question is, which one of them can go beyond that, take some John McCain voters.  I‘m not sure that the other person who did well in the primaries is the obvious choice to get those.   

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t know they need to take John McCain voters.  I think they need to keep folks in the tent who supported either of the two of them.  I can‘t imagine a person in the end who was for Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, who abandons one or the other because of the way this unfolds. 

GREGORY:  Let me set up question number three with a little campaign alert.  We know Senator Obama has done an interview with NBC News‘ Brian Williams, anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” about the role he would want Bill Clinton to play in the campaign.  The entire interview will be on our website later tonight on the Nightly page.  Here is what Obama said about the former president: “My strong feeling is that moving forward, I‘m going to need Bill Clinton involved in this process.”  This is Obama talking.  “He still is a transcendent political figure in this country and I want him involved.”  This is Obama talking about Bill Clinton.  “I‘ll be looking for his council and for advice.  The guy campaigned hard.  He‘s a very affective advocate.  So We love to be campaigning on behalf of Democrats—him campaigning on behalf of Democrats generally in November.”

Third question today; how does Obama handle Bill Clinton in this campaign.  Jay, I want to be at that table when they sit down and say this is what your husband can and cannot do.  Remember, they announced last night, Tim Russert, that he was going back to Harlem.  He was going back to working on his foundation. 

CARNEY:  I think he has to say that.  Look, they need Bill Clinton.  I think Barack Obama is correct.  He‘s still very popular among Democrats.  He does represents, as John said, a period of peace and prosperity as president.  I think you have to have a stomach for risk when you take Bill Clinton into your fold, whether as the spouse of your running mate or simply as an ambassador out there campaigning for you.  They will insist, and cross their fingers that they get it—they will insist on some control of what he does and says. 

HARWOOD:  It‘s awfully hard to control a former president and tell him where he can go.  He‘s got his own Secret Service.  He‘s got his own ability to get around the country.  I think it‘s going to be difficult. 

GREGORY:  Isn‘t more complicated than even that, John?  Isn‘t the issue, if you go back to 2000 with Al Gore and ‘40 with Kerry, that it—and what Mrs. Clinton dealt with herself, and this is her husband after all; how to deploy him is what‘s so difficult for these standard bearers to navigate. 

HARWOOD:  Yes, it‘s how to deploy him.  It‘s the mix of pluses and minuses he brings.  I think that‘s why Smerc is trying to get Hillary Clinton on the ticket.  I see a little John McCain strategy going here. 

SMERCONISH:  Not at all.  Look, I think the problem of the Clinton campaign with regard to the president is that they try to put him in short pants.  You just can‘t do that.  I would let Bill be Bill.  I recognize there are some down sides.  Here‘s the bottom line, I think in trying to send him to secondary markets, all you do is build a level of frustration with him. 

Let him get out there and be in the big markets and bring the assets that he has with campaigners.  He‘s par excellence in that category. 

MADDOW:  That makes sense if you‘re trying to run as Hillary Clinton for president.  If you‘re trying to run as Barack Obama, you‘re trying to say, I am the new era in American politics.  John McCain is the past.  I am not the past.  I am the future.  There is nothing to remind people of the past like dragging Bill Clinton around with you.   

GREGORY:  I have to get a break in here.  We‘re going to come back.  We‘ll continue with this.  You get involved, your play day with the panel coming up on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, right after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  In our remaining moments, it‘s your turn to play with the panel.  Back with us, Michael, John, Rachel and Jay.  Mudcat in New York writes the following, “no matter how you slice it, spin it or dice it, Americans vote for the president, not the vice president.  How many individuals have been selected as vice presidential candidates based on the false premise that they could help a presidential candidate win a state or a constituency?”

John? 

HARWOOD:  I don‘t agree with Mudcat.  Look, I think that vice presidential candidates; it‘s hard to be very concrete about what they deliver.  I think vice presidential candidate can enhance or detract from the message of the candidate.  I think Al Gore deepened Bill Clinton‘s message as new southern, moderate Democrats in the 1992 election.  I think Dick Cheney was a source for some swing voters of reassurance about George W. Bush.  They may not feel that way now, but I think some of them did feel that way in 2000. 

GREGORY:  Reinforcement, but can they pick up states for you? 

CARNEY:  Let me say, David, that I think, in addition, I think Al Gore helped secure Tennessee for Clinton, who might not have won it in ‘92 or ‘96.  It‘s an important decision because of what it says about the presidential nominee.  It‘s the first big decision a presidential nominee makes.  If you make a bad choice, like then Vice President George H.W. Bush made in Dan Quayle, it can have a negative impact.  I think it definitely hurt Bush when he picked Quayle, although it didn‘t prevent him from winning the White House. 

GREGORY:  What‘s interesting about Hillary Clinton in this contest, Rachel, Howard Fineman suggested this today in his reporting, that this is a big diplomatic test for Barack Obama.  He talked about tough, hard edged diplomacy on the international stage.  He has to do it right here in the campaign world too. 

MADDOW:  That‘s right.  I think I‘ve been reflecting on John Harwood‘s point from earlier in the hour, when John said that part of Clinton‘s calculus here is figuring out how to bring her supporters along.  The process is important.  You don‘t rush this in part because you want to make sure that you bring your constituency with you and you don‘t leave them behind after having angered them.  It‘s all delicate and very strategic here.  Obama needs to look like he‘s not getting pushed around.  But he also needs to look like he‘s doing the right thing. 

GREGORY:  Karen from Florida writes in wondering this, “why is Hillary Clinton‘s website still looking for contributions?  She asks for your comments, but the only way to leave them is to contribute.  Why would that be the case?”  Smerc—

MADDOW:  I have pay Mark Penn. 

GREGORY:  There‘s still bills to pay, right, Smerc? 

SMERCONISH:  Yes, she has a big debt.  That‘s what she is looking for.  She was very delicate in the way she worded that last night.  I noticed that she said, come to our website and offer me your thoughts, and I think her verbiage was and your support if you‘re so inclined.  I think we all understood that was the passing of the hat. 

GREGORY:  Chris in Illinois pitches this idea, “how would the Democratic party and the Democrats who supported Clinton if Barack Obama chose a Republican like Senator Chuck Hagel to be his vice president?  Would it seem like he‘s disrespecting Hillary Clinton and other Democratic runners up, or will it truly be seen as an attempt to place the country before the party?”

I‘ve heard this brought up, Harwood, in the context of Mike Bloomberg, particularly, or a Hagel.  I think a guy like Hagel could be tough for Democrats, but Mike Bloomberg certainly attractive, certainly would make a statement. 

HARWOOD:  Yes, there‘s a possibility of doing that.  I do think picking an independent from the state of New York might be a step too far for Barack Obama.  Remember, fundamentally, these are partisan elections.  Barack Obama is going to try to reach across the isle, so is John McCain.  When you say to your party, I have to go outside my party to pick your vice president, that‘s tough for a nominee to do. 

GREGORY:  Yes, it is difficult.  Jay, he has the challenge of being called on by Republicans to stand-up to his own party. 

CARNEY:  Well, he does.  I think that it would probably be smart, in the Bill Clinton mode, to demonstrate in some way that he‘s willing to do that on some high profile issue, whether it‘s education or some other domestic policy issue.  I think that would be smart.

GREGORY:  Thanks to a great panel tonight.  Lot of news to cover and more ahead.  That does in on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Thanks for watching.  We‘ll see you back here tomorrow night 6:00 Eastern time.  Hang in there on MSNBC; Chris Matthews and HARDBALL are coming up next.

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

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