updated 6/6/2008 11:39:15 AM ET 2008-06-06T15:39:15

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Michelle Bernard, Michael Smerconish, Richard Wolffe

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, how did Clinton lose?  And now that her exit is imminent, can it still be considered graceful 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 we examine where Clinton went wrong and is the new conventional wisdom right that she is out of the running for Obama‘s number two slot? 

And three questions tonight.  Can Obama look beyond Hillary Clinton for V.P.?  And if he does, where should he look? 

“Inside the War Room” tonight, the map.  Where Obama sees blue and McCain sees red, it may look a lot different this year. 

The bedrock of the program, as you know, a panel that always comes to play.  And with us tonight, Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women‘s Voice.  Richard Wolffe, Newsweek‘s senior White House correspondent who has been covering Obama full-time.  Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America.  All three are MSNBC political analysts.  And Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philadelphia and columnist for both The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News.

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.  Tonight on “Headlines,” what is your “Headline” for Clinton‘s political obituary?  Mine, “climate change.” 

Here are the one-time warriors sizing each other up behind the scenes just yesterday at AIPAC in Washington.  This picture by TIME magazine.  Team Clinton, it seemed, had it exactly right at the start, attack Obama‘s inexperience, offer Senator Clinton as an incumbent, one-time first lady, experienced senator, a candidate you can trust to have the judgment to run the country.  It was former President Bill Clinton who framed the argument most directly. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLIE ROSE, HOST, “CHARLIE ROSE”:  You want to say to the voters, if they are prepared to choose someone with less experience, but perhaps other qualities, and as you‘ve said, you have to do politics and intellect, then they‘re rolling the dice, is what you‘re saying? 

BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well...

ROSE:  They are rolling the dice about America if they don‘t choose...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  What the Clinton team missed, however, was how completely this campaign climate would be dominated by the desire for change, fundamental change in Washington, our hyper-partisanship and this country‘s position in the world.  It‘s ironic that the first female candidate for president would forfeit her claim to the change mantle. 

But by running as the inevitable frontrunner, the candidate with the wisdom and the experience to lead, Mrs. Clinton, became in effect the establishment, a fixture of what so many Democratic voters wanted to move beyond.  There was that vote for the war, by the way, that she couldn‘t explain away.

But it was close.  Remember, it was close, which is why that early positioning appeared to matter all the more.  Rachel, what‘s your “Headline” on her political obituary? 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I‘m sort of taking one of your aspects there, of your climate change “Headline” and running with it, David.  My “Headline” is “wrong right turn.”

Senator Clinton made a decision early on that she was going to tack right, essentially, tack right-wing on national security issues.  And we saw that in her refusal to back down, as you mentioned, from her vote to authorize the war.  We saw that in her threat to obliterate Iran.  We saw that in her attacking Barack Obama for his stance on diplomacy with America‘s enemies. 

That didn‘t work on Democratic voters.  Democratic voters, it has long been said, have long been willing to hear incredibly hawkish, incredibly sort of “Republican lite” rhetoric from their candidates.  That seems to be changing this year as well with Obama essentially running as a national security Democrat who sounds very different than Senator Clinton and the Democratic establishment and the foreign policy consensus establishment on these big issues. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Michelle Bernard, you‘re looking back to South Carolina and you see a “Headline” there. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Absolutely, David.  My “Headline” tonight is “time of death: South Carolina.” And what I mean by that is that the Clintons believed Toni Morrison when she said that Bill Clinton was the first African-American president. 

And what happened was they neglected the black vote.  And when Senator Clinton lost South Carolina, she was so absolutely raw that they didn‘t see it coming when Bill Clinton sort of wrote off the black vote and said, that‘s no big deal, Jesse Jackson won South Carolina, that was the beginning of the end for the Clintons and their whole on the African-American voter population in this nation. 

If you remember, prior to Iowa, Senator Clinton had the black vote locked up.  So this was not a death, this was a suicide.  They lost the black vote, and when they lost that voting bloc, that basically was the death knell to her campaign. 

GREGORY:  Right, it didn‘t hurt them in some of the bigger states, but it would hurt them overall. 

Smerc, your take on all of this.  Her “Headline” for the political obituary. 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  In a word, leapfrog, David, as in that game that many of us used to play when we were kids.  And what I mean to say is that perhaps the die was cast back in the day when all of the states were jumping over each other in an effort to move forward their primary deadlines. 

Now listen, remember, that was a time when the Clinton campaign looked as if it was invincible.  And of course now we know that it was not.  In the end, this cost them the full attribution of both Michigan and Florida. 

And what I‘m wondering tonight is perhaps when in a position of strength, the Clinton campaign could have asserted itself more to broker some kind of an accord to keep all those votes in her category. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Richard Wolffe, my friend, Ri-chahd (ph), what do you see tonight? 

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, David, she dismissed Sea Biscuit.  You know, it‘s one thing to ignore Obama as a sort of pesky challenger when he wasn‘t doing anything in 2006, but by 2007 he was a guy who was raising millions of dollars, getting tens of thousands of people to his event. 

And they should have recognized at that point he was a thoroughbred, he was ready for a very long race.  They didn‘t plan for the long race, they didn‘t take him seriously early enough. 

GREGORY:  Why not?  If you can nail it down to one reason, why not? 

WOLFFE:  Well, it comes back to this inevitably argument.  They believed that there was no one who could touch them and if they projected enough force and strength, remember how long they stuck with the strength argument, then everything else would collapse.  And again, they didn‘t realize they had a strong contender running on the rails. 

GREGORY:  You know, it‘s interesting, you read some of the accounts here.  Barack Obama believed in a strategy that appeared shaky early on, but he stayed faithful to it.  Hillary Clinton did as well, it just proved to be the wrong strategy.  Focused on inevitably, focused on her experience.  It did seem to make a lot of sense at the time. 

WOLFFE:  You know, I don‘t know that they started out in the right way.  Because here her strength was always clear.  They were boxed in, I think, by some of their own ideas of what a woman candidate needed to do. 

GREGORY:  Yes, good point. 

WOLFFE:  And their insistence on strength as opposed to saying this is the person—remember how they used to say that she‘s the most famous person you never knew.  Well, the truth is, it took us until we got to New Hampshire to find out who she really was. 

GREGORY:  And people didn‘t want to know a lot more about her, they wanted to know a lot more about Barack Obama.  And then he was able to fill all of that in. 

OK.  A lot to get to tonight.  We‘re going to take a break here, come back and look in Obama‘s “War Room” tonight.  He‘s talking in Virginia, heading out on the campaign trail.  A lot going on here as he proceeds down the path.  Does he do it without Hillary Clinton in his sights as a number two? 

Later, your play date with the panel.  Call us, 212-790-2299, or you can e-mail us at race08@msnbc.com.  RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back on the RACE and going inside Barack Obama‘s “War Room” tonight.  Back with us, Michelle Bernard, Richard Wolffe, Rachel Maddow, and Michael Smerconish, looking at tactics, strategy, money, and more. 

First up, a big financial advantage for Barack Obama that‘s going to play itself out here as we get into the general election.  Look at some of these figures in terms of what he has raised, $272 million through April, reaching out to Clinton fundraisers, raised $200 million for Clinton. 

If each donor—this was the Politico that looked at this, if each donor were to give $250, pretty modest, to Barack Obama, Obama could bank $375 million, $186 million a month, $47 million per week.  If he could tap into all those donors, 1.5 million donors, he could raise $2.3 billion. 

All right.  That‘s a little bit hypothetical.  Now compare that to his opponent, John McCain.  We go to full screen here.  You look at where McCain is.  From September to November 4th, McCain will have about $85 million to spend since he has decided to take taxpayer money to help finance his campaign activities. 

The Republican National Committee, which is charged with closing the gap between McCain and Obama, has $40 million in cash.  Obama raised almost as much, $31 million, from just his small donors in the month of February.  His total for the month, $57 million, exceeded the RNC‘s cash balance.  All of that from politico.com. 

Richard, what is the financial advantage mean here as we‘re getting started in the general election? 

WOLFFE:  Well, I just came off Obama‘s plane and we asked him about it again in terms of the public spending limits for the general election, which he had said he would abide by before and has now hedged on so much that it‘s actually pretty clear he‘s not going to accept that. 

Because what he sees and as he explained it again on the plane was that it would be unilateral disarmament.  He fully expects the Republicans, either through 527s or through the RNC, which actually has an advantage over the DNC, they will be spending money against him no matter what. 

And in fact, a lot of the Democratic cash is going through his campaign.  He wants to channel that himself.  And actually, they‘re pretty happy that for once in a recent Democratic election there will be some coordination to these efforts. 

So the message and the tone of those ads are going to be the same. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  Smerc, what does the other side do here about it? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, the key for Obama, by the way, is early money.  Because ultimately, there‘s going to be so much free media in this election that late in the game it may not have the impact that it will early on. 

David, what this does for Senator Obama, it allows him to introduce himself, to define himself before he‘s defined come the fall by those 527s.  Remember, he has got to now go reintroduce himself to the remainder of the nation, not just the Democrats. 

GREGORY:  Right.  And as some have pointed out, a primary strategy is not a general election strategy.  We‘ll get to more on that.  Point number two here “Inside the War Room,” the Oprah Winfrey effect.  This is what Oprah Winfrey is quoted as saying now that Obama has clinched the nomination. “I‘m euphoric,” she says, “I‘ve been doing the happy dance all day, I‘m so proud of Barack and Michelle and what this means for all of us, the possibilities for our country.  And if he wants me to, I‘m ready to go door to door.” 

My question, Michelle, is inside Obama‘s “War Room,” have they needed more of Oprah before now, and now that he has got her, what can she do to bring in some of these women who are supporting Hillary Clinton? 

BERNARD:  Well, you know, it was a slippery slope with the Obamas and Oprah Winfrey, simply because after she came out and she endorsed him, what we started to hear from a lot of people in public life was, is Oprah Winfrey going to do for Barack Obama what she has done for every author who has ever appeared on her show or been a part of Oprah Winfrey‘s book club? 

And he needed to win the Democratic nomination on his own.  Now that being said, he has got the numbers, he‘s the presumptive Democratic nominee, and should he decide not to select Hillary Clinton as his vice president, he‘s going to need Oprah Winfrey‘s clout to really help him with older white women who feel very discouraged by this—by what has happened, and who really—they don‘t like Barack Obama, they feel angry.

And Oprah Winfrey, a lot of these women really revere her and I think that she can help bring those voters to Obama‘s side.  Maybe, more importantly, better than Hillary Clinton could do so as vice president. 

GREGORY:  Barack Obama has been speaking out.  He sat down with NBC News‘ Brian Williams, anchor, of course, managing editor of “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS,” and talked about what he thinks is coming his way and what he‘s preparing for.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  So far, at least, what we‘ve been seeing from the Republicans is the attempt to paint me as a very risky choice as president, partly around national security, but partly around cultural issues and, you know, he has got a funny name and we don‘t know where he‘s coming from, you know, he may be, you know, not sufficiently patriotic.  I think that‘s going to be the race they run. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  All right.  Rachel, he may understand the problem, what‘s his solution? 

MADDOW:  I think the solution is that he has got to define himself.  As we‘ve been talking about.  I mean, that‘s why the financial advantage is so important, because Barack Obama, the great weakness that he has is that he is relatively unknown.  That allows people to project their hopes onto him.  And allows people to project their sort of what they want to see from their country inspirationally onto him. 

But the Republicans will absolutely try to project the nation‘s fears onto him and try to make him seem scary.  I think that‘s the one thing we can expect for sure from the McCain campaign.  More than McCain trying to run as the change candidate or any of the other things that have floated, the thing they‘re always going to come back to is Barack Obama is scary and new. 

So he has got to spend a ton of money making himself not seem so scary and not seem so unknowable. 

GREGORY:  And it‘s also the independent voters, Smerc, we know from Peter Hart doing focus groups that there are just a lot of questions about Obama now.  It seems improbable, but for so many voters out there, they don‘t feel like they really get who he is. 

SMERCONISH:  I think there are a lot of cheap shots that have been thrown his way.  I give John McCain more credit.  I hope that he won‘t be a part of any of this.  But remember that knucklehead who introduced Barack Obama‘s name by using his middle name.  What was that all designed to do?  To reinforce an urban legend as to his religion. 

He has got to confront that sort of thing head-on anytime it‘s raised.  That‘s the answer to the question.

GREGORY:  All right.  Richard, you‘re on deck here.  I want to move on to this point in the “War Room,” which is, is Barack Obama moving at all toward the center?  He gave a very important speech at AIPAC here, the pro-Israel lobby, where he talked about Iran.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Let there be no doubt, I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally, Israel. 

Sometimes there are no alternatives to confrontation.  But that only makes diplomacy more important.  If we must use military force, we are more likely to succeed and will have far greater support at home and abroad if we have exhausted our diplomatic efforts. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  I got from this speech, Richard, a subtle shift—maybe not so subtle in some places, to say we‘re in general election mode now.  This is a key constituency here, not just because they‘re Jewish voters, but because they may be a window into other voters who have concerns about this area.  Is he tacking to the center a bit on national security? 

WOLFFE:  Yes.  I‘m not sure if you can call it the center, but he is certainly making it—that was the most hawkish speech I have heard him deliver in the entire campaign.  Now, is that targeted towards Jewish voters in Florida?  I think in part.  It is also to do with the patriotism question, the military service issues.  Is he ready to be commander-in-chief? 

Actually, I mean, the shots are fairly subtle here.  This guy was never a pacifist.  I mean, he got lampooned for saying that he wanted to go target al Qaeda in Pakistan if the Pakistani government wasn‘t going to do so.  And everyone said, well, where did that come from? 

So he has never been some kind of purely anti-war candidate, but he does have to go out and say where he is prepared to use force.  And especially emphatic was his expression that he would do everything in his power to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  He repeated that three times. 

GREGORY:  Absolutely.  OK.  We‘re going to take a break here and we‘re going to come back with “Smart Takes” tonight.  Rich Lowry, National Review, on Obama‘s nontraditional liberal campaign, you‘re going to want to see this when the RACE comes back.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back with “Smart Takes” tonight.  The argumentative pieces, the provocative, the insightful.  Something to make you think tonight.  And here to go over it all, our panel, Michelle, Richard, Rachel, and Michael. 

“Smart Take” number one, it‘s about Barack Obama.  A lot of great press for him today since he has clinched the nomination.  He has run an incredible primary campaign.  But there are some detractors who think he has kind of limped across the finish line.  To the quote board, David Broder of The Washington Post writes this: “But for all of those achievements, and all of the advantages, Obama limped into the nomination as a vulnerable and somewhat diminished politician. 

“After winning 11 primaries and caucuses in a row, his magic touch seemed to depart him.  Obama still has great gifts and substantial assets, so the first imperative at this point is to stop retreating and regain the initiative, starting with a clear assertion of his absolute right to choose his own running mate and not be pressured into a decision by the Clintons or their friends.” 

Rachel, take it on. 

MADDOW:  I think that Obama did have a weak finish in the primaries, but I feel like he‘s getting a pretty big bounce out of clinching the nomination.  Certainly it makes him look weak if it looks like he‘s being pressured into a vice presidential choice from Hillary Clinton or from anybody else. 

It‘s also true that Hillary Clinton finished remarkably close to him.  So I think you can make this case that he needs to get on the initiative and start looking good, but I think his AIPAC speech was kind of hitting it out of the park. 

Yes, Richard‘s right that it sounded hawkish, but I think it was also a very bold stance to take.  I think the fact that he went right to Appalachia on his first full day on the trail campaigning is also a bold stance.  I don‘t see him on the defense anymore, and I think he‘s benefiting from this now (ph). 

GREGORY:  Richard, do you think that they have a need—a sense in the campaign that they do need to take some initiative? 

WOLFFE:  Yes—well, frankly they‘re exhausted and they want to take a rest right now.  But do they need to move quickly on McCain?  Yes.  And actually they‘re enjoying it much more.  This is candidate who has actually been energized by drawing the big contrast, talking about some of these more substantive things about the war, the economy as opposed to, you know, who can reach certain slices of the electorate better?  So he‘s energized by this. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let‘s go to “Smart Take” number two.  This is Rich Lowry from the National Review Online.  He‘s also talking about Obama, to the quote board: “Obama represents a rejection of triangulating Clintonism.  He had no Sister Souljah moment during the primaries.  Indeed, he initially embraced his Sister Souljah in the form of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, introduced to the public in videotaped anti-American rants.

“Nor did Obama make any creative policy departures, like Clinton‘s advocacy of welfare reform in 1992.  Obama is the fullest flowering of liberal orthodoxy since George McGovern, and yet”...

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  “And yet”—let him finish here, Rachel. “And yet his candidacy might not be electoral suicide.  He has formidable gifts as a politician, he‘s eloquent, winsome, a quick study.  He confronts a Republican Party beset by intellectual exhaustion, congressional scandal, and an unpopular incumbent president teeters on the verge of a Watergate-style meltdown, so Democrats contemplate the delicious prospect of having their purity and victory too.”

That is a lot said, Michelle? 

BERNARD:  I think what he‘s saying is, you know what, Obama might actually win this thing.  He‘s not perfect, he‘s too liberal.  He‘s this, he‘s that, but I think that many Republicans are sitting back and they‘re remembering Peggy Noonan when she said, Republicans know something that Democrats don‘t know.  Barack Obama is not Bambi, he‘s bullet-proof.  And I think that that‘s really the sentiment expressed in this despite all of the problems that he sees with an Obama candidacy. 

MADDOW:  Do you mind if I explain my laugh?

GREGORY:  Yes, Rachel, purity and victory as well, what do you say?

MADDOW:  I think if this was a pure liberal candidacy, we‘d be talking about single-payer health care, we‘d be talking about prosecuting members of the current administration for war crimes, we‘d be talking about abolishing the death penalty.  I mean, I could dream up a liberal candidacy for you.  I would have to dream it, though, because Barack Obama is not that guy.  I love the caricature, but it‘s so far from the truth. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Smerc, take 10 seconds, I‘ve got to take a break.

SMERCONISH:  It‘s not an analogous situation to 1972, and he didn‘t embrace Sister Souljah, he defined himself in contrast to Jeremiah Wright when that scandal broke. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to take a break here.  Obama veepstakes coming up next.  Jim Webb and Barack Obama together at an event right now in Virginia.  Does that portend something ahead?  We‘re going to look at veepstakes without Hillary Clinton in the mix.  Which direction does he go?  We‘re coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

(NEWSBREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Happy to have you here.  Time now for the three biggest questions of the ‘08 race.  Still with us, Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women‘s Voice, Richard Wolffe, “Newsweek‘s” senior White House correspondent, who now covers Obama, Rachel Maddow, host of “the Rachel Maddow Show” on air America, all three MSNBC political analysts, and Smerconish is here as well, Michael Smerconish, talk show host on WPHT in Philly and columnist for both the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and the “Philadelphia Daily News.”

OK, first question tonight, it‘s all about VP stakes for Barack Obama looking beyond Hillary Clinton.  So, what does Barack Obama need?  That is the first question.  Richard, take it on? 

WOLFFE:  Don‘t you love the parlor game.  Look, what he needs here is something to address what he identified himself as what the Republicans are going to go after, which is patriotism, and to a degree, because of John McCain, military service.  And so I think someone with a military background is really what he‘s looking for here. 

Now, if you talk to people inside the campaign, they say what is really important is someone he gets on with.  So we can‘t discount the personal side of this.  But just as a profile, I don‘t think it‘s geographic, gender, or race.  I think it‘s the military national element to it that is going to be a challenge for him, given how people are going to spend money against him. 

GREGORY:  And Richard, there‘s going to be a song and dance about Hillary Clinton being on the short list and all the rest.  What‘s the inside track?  The bottom line here, is she in or out? 

WOLFFE:  First of all, he doesn‘t need to make his decision right now.  He‘s going to spend a lot of time doing that.  And it‘s hard to project out from here to middle of August, maybe early August, when he‘s going to have to make that decision.  Does Hillary‘s constituency come home?  Are they, by early August, with him because the debate against John McCain is already defined over issues like abortion and health care and everything else, and that‘s not easy to predict right now. 

GREGORY:  He can let it marinade a little bit.  Rachel, what does he need?   

MADDOW:  I think he needs somebody who is not a senator, like he is.  I think he needs somebody who is not an unknown, like he is.  I think he needs somebody who will not anger Democratic woman, who are perhaps susceptible to that at this point, given what happened with Senator Clinton‘s campaign.  And he needs somebody who doesn‘t undercut his message of being a new era in American politics. 

But I think the angering Democratic women consideration probably counts out somebody like Jim Webb, who has a very troubled record in terms of gender issues.  He‘s apologized for a lot of it, but women are not going to forget that.  And I think that needing to find somebody outside the Senate puts a lot of governors and former governors in contention.  He may be thinking about race and region, but I‘m sort of with Richard on this, that I think it may be a personal match more than a demographic match. 

GREGORY:  Smerc, what do you think?

SMERCONISH:  I think he needs, to quote the Grateful Dead, a touch of gray, or at minimum a receding hairline.  I think what he lacks is experience in comparison to McCain.  He‘s going to be portrayed as a junior senator, a three term state senator.  You‘ve heard all this before.  I think he needs someone who‘s got more bona fides in Washington, even though it is a change cycle. 

GREGORY:  The second question has to do with the idea, all of this, can he move beyond Hillary Clinton?  What are his VP stakes like beyond Hillary Clinton?  I think Richard makes a good point, which is he can let this marinade a little bit, see if her voters come home.  The second question is provocative in this sense; can he pick a woman to be his running mate who is not Hillary Clinton?  Michelle, does that get him into hot water? 

BERNARD:  David, it‘s dicey water.  If he has the summer to sort of let this marinade, as Richard was saying a little while ago, maybe.  The problem is that there could be a pretty formidable backlash because I would expect a lot of Senator Clinton‘s most ardent female supporters to say, if you picked a woman, why wasn‘t it Hillary Clinton?  And they would go through the long list of reasons why they felt she was the most qualified VP candidate, woman or not, to be on his ticket. 

I think Kathleen Sebelius would be a very good choice, Claire McCaskill as well.  But the problem is will there be any backlash from people who say, why not Hillary? 

GREGORY:  This is a parlor game, Richard, but this aspect of it is real, in the sense that there‘s a big voting bloc he wants to appeal to.  And in effect, if he leapfrogs over Hillary Clinton, there‘s a lot of those voters who say, no, no, this was our candidate; this was our female candidate, if you‘re going to make history. 

WOLFFE:  Right.  And it‘s also real, because as he pointed out on the plane, this is the biggest decision he‘s got to make during this whole campaign.  People will look at it for a sign of leadership, for who he is, and how he brings people together.  Whether it‘s his party or what he wants to do in terms of bringing the country together.  So, you know, he does have problems with especially white women voters, not with women generally, in fact, because, in fact, he‘s slightly ahead of McCain among women voters.  But white women voters, he‘s got some work to do. 

The question is: is that process going to happen come what may, just because of the contrast with McCain?  Look, there are women candidates out there for VP that he likes.  He does like Claire McCaskill on a personal level.  They‘re very impressed inside the Obama campaign with Governor Sebelius.  But the vetting process hasn‘t begun and again, what do the polls look like in August?  What does he feel he needs?

GREGORY:  It‘s interesting, Rachel—this is a larger point, before we get to question number three.  He is now responsible as a diplomat and as the standard bearer of the party, he, uniquely, is responsible for closing the book on the Clinton era. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  Now, he can close it or he can keep it open by putting her on the ticket.  But if he closes it, the way he closes this era is a very delicate process. 

MADDOW:  And are there figures in the process who bridge the Clinton era into the current status and into the Obama future of the Democratic party?  That‘s the question.  I have to say, just anecdotally in my personal life, I get sort of 50/50 hate mail.  People saying I‘m pro-Obama or pro-Hillary.  I get it in equal measure.  So I figure I‘m doing a good job being neutral in the primary process. 

But I don‘t feel from women in particular who are Hillary supporters that they want it to be Hillary or no other woman.  It‘s not what I‘m hearing in terms of my radio—my radio life.  It‘s also not hearing from my family and friends who are Hillary supporters.  What I‘m hearing is we think that Hillary was the best chance we‘re going to have in a generation, and if it‘s not going to be Hillary, we don‘t see any other women who might make it happen.  That‘s why we want it to be Hillary.

I‘m not sure that means that women will say, how dare you pick a woman other than Hillary.  I understand the argument, it just doesn‘t feel right to me. 

GREGORY:  Let me move on to number three, because this is interesting, this is our idea of the starting five, the top Obama VP contenders.  The starting five of who could be on a short list for him.  Let‘s put them up there and talking about them.  You‘ve got former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, obviously, southern appeal, national security credentials.  Senator Jim Webb in Virginia; Obama‘s talking about him right now in event in Virginia.  Governor Ted Strickland, Ohio; We know the story there, Obama didn‘t win there.  Governor Bill Richardson, New Mexico, Hispanic, national security credentials, also a state he would like to pick up, Obama would.  And Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who we talked about.

All right, Richard, you start off here; out of that mix, who percolates to the top for you?

WOLFFE:  Well, Webb clearly does have the national security chops that I was talking about.  Yes, there is this issue about his writings.  There‘s also a question about temperament.  The no-drama aspect to the Obama campaign has been very successful for him, and Webb has a fiery spirit to him.  So that‘s going to be an issue there.  The personal issue about can he get on with him, does he fit into the team. 

So of those, if you look at the national security side of things, I think Sam Nunn, who was mentioned to me very early on, is a real contender.  And especially because he can go toe to with John McCain.  That‘s something you want your VP candidate, especially if you have a candidate who likes to portray himself as being above the fray.   

GREGORY:  It‘s interesting, Jimmy Carter, Michelle, was talking about Sam Nunn as a candidate, obviously, from Georgia.  He‘s a southern, white male in a state that he could put into play if Obama could bring out African-American voters in Georgia in really large numbers, and you do an important pickup there.  But more to the point of how they govern together, this is somebody who gives him some of that gray hair, some of that Washington wisdom.  He‘s been on the parent company of this network, General Electric—he‘s been on the board for some time now.  So he‘s got a lot of experience that he brings to bear. 

BERNARD:  Absolutely.  I think Sam Nunn has probably got to be at the top of the list of people that the Obama campaign is considering for all of the reasons that you just gave.  You know, he is—he is also someone that I think the Obama campaign could trust to be a vice president, meaning he‘s not someone who‘s going to come in and try to commandeer an Obama administration, should he be elected president of the United States. 

Also, coming from the south, one of the things that we‘ve talked on this program many times is that should Obama actually become the Democratic nominee, there is a chance here that he could actually change the way the electoral map looks in the south.  We know that they‘ve got—I think the Obama researchers have found that there are a half a million unregistered African-American voters in Georgia alone.  You combine that with a Sam Nunn on the ticket and it could possibly be a winning ticket for Obama. 

GREGORY:  Real quickly, Smerc, Ted Strickland in Ohio, not a great personal rapport there.  He endorsed Hillary Clinton, but we‘re talking about Ohio. 

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t think he‘s the national player that‘s necessary.  I think that Richardson is a great pick, a bit risky in some folk‘s view.  He solidifies that Hispanic base.  Those are critical states in the southwest that Barack Obama could capture.  But some say it‘s too risky to have the first African-American, the first Hispanic vice president on the ticket.  I think Richardson would be strong. 

GREGORY:  We‘re going to take a break and come back.  A special edition of the war room.  We‘ll look at the electoral map for the fall.  Where do they see red, where do they see blue.  Is it different than 2004?  These two men think it is.  We‘ll come back and talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back for a special edition of the war room tonight, taking a look at the fall and the electoral map.  Who sees red, who sees blue and where?  Back with us, Michelle Bernard, Richard Wolffe, Rachel Maddow, and Michael Smerconish. 

First up, this is based on the reporting of the “Los Angeles Times” today, as they break down some of the states that matter most.  To the quote board; “Obama is running in a climate that strongly favors Democrats.  Advisers say he‘s well placed to expand the map of the Democratic states to Colorado and Virginia, a pair of bush states, now more friendly to his party and might even add such GOP strongholds as Georgia.” 

Rachel, we talked about Georgia.  Again, the potential for Sam Nunn.  Explain the dynamic in Virginia and Colorado. 

MADDOW:  In Virginia and Colorado, Northern Virginia is becoming increasingly politically dominant in that state.  That‘s been the political base for Democratic rising stars like Jim Webb, like Tim Kaine, like Mark Warner.  And as the population in northern Virginia increases, and its political dominance increases, it just becomes a purple environment.  It actually becomes a blue on top of red environment.  The state is still pretty split, it‘s just that the north is becoming impressive. 

In Colorado, we‘re again just looking at the Democratic—the Democratic machine in Colorado making incredible strides, and making them very quickly.  It‘s one of those places where a small amount of investment from the national Democratic party played big, big rewards in Colorado.  They fielded good candidates.  They‘ve reaped those rewards and they have seen that state shift very quickly, as has New Hampshire, interestingly.  New Hampshire and Colorado both in that same boat. 

GREGORY:  You talked to the governor of Colorado, Smerc, and he‘ll tell you, Bill Ridder, that where he thinks Republicans have gotten in trouble—he‘s a conservative Democrat—is on the issue of culture, gays, guns, et cetera.  That‘s where Republicans have sort of overplayed their hand and voters are rejecting it. 

SMERCONISH:  That is not the year for that Rovian strategy of talking Ten Commandments or talking about an opposition to same-sex relationships.  If the GOP plays that card, they will lose because it will alienate suburbanites who tend to be moderates, like in my home state of Pennsylvania.  This is the year for John McCain to talk about his maverick status and to moderate on those social issues and not go to the push button base. 

GREGORY:  Right, because he‘s got some potential in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.  We‘ll get into that in a second.  Let‘s go back to the quote board.  We‘re talking about Georgia and Virginia.  Here‘s the analysis of the “Los Angeles Times” on that; “about 700,000 African Americans who are eligible to vote are not registered.  Obama has the money and volunteer force to sign them up.”  That‘s according to Steve Hildebrand, his deputy campaign manager.  He‘s the one who handled all of the grass roots efforts in the early states.

Richard, this is an important point.  It‘s not discussed a lot, the ability to turn out African-Americans in some of these states that could make an actual difference. 

WOLFFE:  Yes.  The only thing I would sort of add to this is North Carolina.  The campaign would put North Carolina as one of those southern states above somewhere like Georgia, because of the growth there, the rapid growth there, the high-tech industries there, and also, again, the African-American vote.  But look at how they‘re already moving.  Well before they clinch the nomination, they rolled out a voter registration plan across all the states.  Who‘s the guy they just put into the DNC today?  Paul Queues (ph), who was their Iowa ground guy.  I mean, he is really going to focus not on raising money, not on the message side of it, but on what the DNC can do to get that ground game working, voter registration and turnout. 

Now, that field operation something that campaigns often overlook because it takes a lot of time and effort, but it‘s a very important signal that they‘re doing that and on the first day of moving into the DNC. 

GREGORY:  It‘s interesting.  Let‘s go back to the “L.A. Times” piece.  This is something that‘s a little bit more focused on McCain.  We‘ll go back to the quote board on this.  Talking about President Bush here, “who drew 45 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, carried the three states.  McCain hopes that his support for legalizing many undocumented immigrants and the political price he paid for it within his party will keep him competitive with Latinos.  Also comforting to McCain, Latinos have sided with Clinton over Obama in Democratic contests, most recently on Sunday in the Puerto Rico primary.”  Michelle? 

BERNARD:  This is—you know, the Hispanic vote is going to be a vote that both McCain and Obama are going to really have to go after, roll up their sleeves and get to know this community.  I think that with regard to Latinos, because of what we saw happen in the Democratic race, that John McCain might have a slight edge here.  But that being said, they‘ve both got to roll up their sleeves, introduce themselves to the community, and really explain to Hispanics why a McCain administration or an Obama administration is going to be helpful to the Hispanic community. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, we‘re talking about the southwest there.  Arizona, obviously, would be tough.  New Mexico, Nevada, which were Bush states—Richard, I‘m right about that, right?  New Mexico and Nevada in ‘04? 

WOLFFE:  Yes, that‘s right. 

GREGORY:  So those are potential pickups there.  But this is the battleground here.  Does McCain have sway among Hispanics who remember his position and the break with his party on immigration to really go toe to toe with Obama, who, by the way, had some difficulty, certainly against Clinton, in that voting group. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  I mean, this is one of the thorniest and most fascinating issues, I think, that we‘re going to be looking at as the campaign progresses.  Because what does McCain say about immigration?  Does he highlight the fact that he broke with Bush on this, that he did the immigration bill with Ted Kennedy?  He did then say, of course, that he would vote against his own bill and that his mind was changed by Republican angry on that subject. 

If he goes out and really tries to court the Latino vote, saying I‘m a friend to the immigrant, he may be facing a Republican insurgency on that issue, because there‘s so much heat on that issue on the anti-immigration side among Republicans.  I have no idea what he‘s going to say about immigration, but it‘s going to be fascinating to watch. 

GREGORY:  Let me move on to the rust belt.  This is back to this piece that we‘re talking about here.  Let‘s go back to the quote board; “in the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries, Obama won scant support from white, blue collar voters, a key block of the rust belt.  History suggests that they will lean towards McCain.  In 2004, white voters with no college degree voted for Bush over Kerry by 23 percentage points.  Obama cannot afford to lose them by such a large margin.”

Michelle, you take note of where Obama has started his tour in the last couple of days.  He‘s in Appalachia.  He‘s trying to target some of those voters in those states. 

BERNARD:  Absolutely.  He‘s doing what we‘ve heard Harold Ford say time and time again, get in, meet every single one of these voters.  What we have seen, I think, throughout the history of the Obama campaign is that when he goes in and he gives people a chance to get to know him, he does better.  There are absolutely people who are just never going to vote for Barack Obama.  So his challenge is to narrow that gap as much as possible and pick up votes outside of—outside of this base. 

WOLFFE:  David, you know, he‘s actually doing better among white working class voters than either Kerry or Gore.  If you look at where he stands in the polls right now, he‘s down about 10 or 12 points.  He‘s never going to win those voters over completely.  But if he can keep it down to that kind of margin, he‘s in a good position. 

GREGORY:  Number five, real quick, in the Midwest and elsewhere, Obama and McCain faces a highly competitive campaign for independents, notably in Minnesota and Wisconsin, states that Kerry won by narrow margins.  Smerc, what do you think the key is there for independents? 

SMERCONISH:  I think this is why John McCain, when he delivered his remarks a few nights ago, had a green background.  I think this is recognition on his part that something like global warming is the sort of issue that he needs to stress. 

GREGORY:  It‘s true.  We‘ll take a break and come back.  Your play date with the panel coming up in our remaining moments on THE RACE.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re back in our remaining moments.  I‘m just playing with things on the set.  It is your time to play with the panel.  Back with us, Michelle, Richard, Rachel, and Michael.  Tom in Florida writes this: “Is anyone giving thought to what affect a Democratic hat trick might mean to middle class Americans.  The Dems already control the legislative branch.  They may well win the presidency, giving them the Executive Branch.  The president may have an opportunity to appoint a justice or two in the next two or three years, giving them, in effect, control over the judicial branch as well.  Am I the only one getting the willies over this thought?”

Presumably a Republican, Smerc, but not even—I guess you could argue that early on in Bush‘s term, he did not have control over a Republican Congress, but even when he did, it was not necessarily a slam dunk.  Social Security comes to mind. 

SMERCONISH:  I think it‘s the sort of argument that will be made, maybe by those in the talk radio world in particular, who would say, this thing really is a post-Watergate kind of a landslide potential.  And I think this is a legitimate issue this guy raises. 

GREGORY:  It is an interesting question, Richard, which is do people, if they really want to—do voters want to get past partisanship enough that they want to do away with the idea of divided government.  We do have divided government right now, but we had that period after Bush‘s re-election where we do not.  Is divided government something voters still want? 

WOLFFE:  You don‘t have to be too much of a polling expert to figure out that people want to get things done.  That‘s an important thing.  When Congress is doing nothing, as it is pretty much now, then people get frustrated when there are big challenges.  I would have thought the idea, the threat of having one party in control of all three branches only comes after the event.  That party has to over reach somehow or the president, as we‘ve seen recently, has to have an uneven performance. 

GREGORY:  All right.  John in Alaska writes this; “it appears that urban voter turnout will be more important than ever to the Democrats in this election cycle.  What, if anything, can Barack Obama do at this point to help ensure against voting difficulties, mishaps, and excruciatingly long lines in these voting hot spots.” 

Rachel, do you think this is going to be a big issue? 

MADDOW:  I do think this is going to be a big issue.  This is one of those issues that I worry about a lot between elections.  And it seems like nothing ever gets done.  Having watched the HBO movie “Recount” and thinking about what happened in 2000, even what happened in Ohio in 2004, not a lot of progress has been made in terms of addressing the concerns, the real concerns that are out there whether we‘ve got a Banana Republic third world rate election system, just in terms of the mechanics of our elections system, not to even mention the potential for shenanigans. 

I think a lot of work needs to have already been done that hasn‘t been done.  If there are going to be problems, there are going to be problems.  But with that big voter registration effort that Obama is pushing for, he could be looking at bringing in something like one million volunteers to his campaign.  If a lot of them end up poll watchers, maybe that will help. 

GREGORY:  You weren‘t about to say McGovern, were you? 

MADDOW:  No. 

GREGORY:  You were about to say McCain. 

MADDOW:  Rich Lowry was possessing me. 

BERNARD:  Can I add one thing? 

GREGORY:  Go ahead, Michelle. 

BERNARD:  What I was going to say is that it‘s not necessarily incumbent upon Obama to do something about this, but I wanted to add, in addition to that, is that if you look at what‘s happening with black radio—I was watching it during the primaries, particularly when we had the Potomac Primary here in our area.  And black radio stations throughout the nation were all over, particular shows like the Tom Joiner Show—they had people out watching the polls, calling into the radio station, sending in e-mails to Afro-Centric Web sites.  And I think at least within the African-American community, you can see people are going to be watching this election very, very closely. 

GREGORY:  I‘ve got a final email, Al in Pennsylvania; “is Hillary Clinton dipping into her Senate campaign finances to supply the party needs for this Saturday.  If she is in debt, how does she get financing for it?”  Smerc, it‘s a good question.  This whole idea of either the Obama campaign pays for the bill, or she keeps raising money, because she only suspends to pay for the bills. 

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t think he can cut her a check.  I think what he‘s got to do is turn loose some of his supporters and encourage them to write money for her.  I think the legality is such that it‘s not as if the Obama checkbook can be given to her benefit. 

GREGORY:  Are you sure?  I thought he gave her his Starbucks card.  It doesn‘t work like that?  We‘ve got to leave it there.  Thanks to a great panel.  Thanks very much.  You can play with them each night here on MSNBC.  That‘s going to do it for us tonight.  We‘ll be back tomorrow night at 6:00 Eastern time.  Don‘t go away on MSNBC, because “HARDBALL” is up next.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2008 NBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2008 Voxant, Inc.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon NBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Watch Race for the White House each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,