updated 6/10/2008 11:05:34 AM ET 2008-06-10T15:05:34

Guest: John Harwood, Jonathan Prince, Michael Smerconish, Rachel Maddow

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  Tonight, mark the calendar.  This is where it begins.  Two candidates, Obama and McCain.  The issues: the economy, war, personal appeal.

It is an all-out sprint to November.  We have a new animation for our show as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory. 

It‘s only Senator Clinton that is missing from that animation.  She is out of the race, and we‘re moving on.

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

Tonight, it is all about the economy.  It is the debate Americans want these candidates have to have as high anxiety over gas prices, home prices and jobs only grows. 

Inside the War Room tonight, why Obama is taking a stand in North Carolina.  And McCain‘s path to victory.

Also tonight, Senator Clinton is out.  So is there still an alliance to be formed with Obama?  And what about Bill? 

The bedrock of our show, a panel that always comes to play.  Joining us for the first time tonight, Democratic strategist Jonathan Prince.  He served as deputy campaign manager for John Edwards and is an advisor—was an advisor, rather, in the Clinton White House. 

John Harwood of CNBC and “The New York Times,” also the author of the new book “Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power,” very favorably reviewed in “The New York Times,” we hasten to point out.

Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host and columnist for “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and “The Philadelphia Daily News.”  And Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America and MSNBC political analyst. 

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

My headline tonight, “Off and Running.”  We have been hinting at it, beginning to analyze it, but today marks the day when the candidates decided to really mix it up.  This race is going to be intense from the start.  You can already tell by the debate about national security.  Well, today was all about the economy.

Obama taking aim at McCain, saying he is a Bush clone by the numbers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  They know that I have been a strong fiscal conservative, and they know I understand the challenges that they face.  They need a little break from their gasoline taxes, and they know that we have got to get spending under control and we‘ve got to become independent of foreign oil.  Senator Obama says that I‘m running for Bush‘s third term.  It seems he‘s running for Jimmy Carter‘s second. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  That was McCain‘s response to the fact that Obama came after him talking about him being a Bush clone.  That was McCain‘s argument for why he thinks he is the best one to move forward. 

Here‘s Obama talking today in North Carolina. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  For all of his talk about independence, the centerpiece of John McCain‘s economic plan amounts to a full-throated endorsement of George Bush‘s policies. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Our political director, Chuck Todd, says both candidates really need to work to find their voice on the economy.  We were on “MEET THE PRESS” yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Both of them got their nominations because of their stances in national security.  OK? 

Barack Obama would be nothing without Iraq.  He would not be the nominee of the Democratic Party.  John McCain would not be the nominee of the Republican Party without Iraq.  And now these two guys want to—both of them want to have this national security debate, and the country is begging them to have a debate about the economy. 

The first candidate that figures out how to talk to working class voters about the economy and feel their pain is going to be the one that eventually wins this election.  And neither one of them are good at it yet. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  If you want to find your voice on the economy, you sit down with John Harwood.

What‘s your headline from interviewing Senator Obama about the economy this afternoon, John? 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  David, aside from “Welcome to Jonathan Prince,” my headline is “General Election Time.”

Barack Obama attacked John McCain as out of touch on the economy today, but he also kept one eye on the political center.  He called himself a free trader and a free market guy.  And in an interview for our CNBC special on the candidates and the economy to air tomorrow night, he said he might be willing to defer some of his proposed tax increases if he decides they will hurt the economy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  ... I believe in, as a manager of the economy, is you should base your decisions on facts and not ideologies.  And so even if I‘m predisposed to a certain set of policies, I‘m going to want to see what‘s going on at the moment and ask a wide range of viewpoints from different...

HARWOOD:  So you could see the possibly of deferring some of those? 

OBAMA:  Some of those you could possibly defer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARWOOD:  And David, his idea there is to try to prevent John McCain from hanging that tax and spend label on him. 

GREGORY:  Interesting.  Going to be a lot there to talk about.

Smerc, you‘re also thinking about Obama and the economy and whether he‘s found his voice.  He gave a speech in North Carolina, as we said, today.  What‘s your take? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  David, “Running on Empty” is my headline.  And I‘m not channeling Jackson Browne.

With gas prices at $4 per gallon, and conceivably higher by November, that‘s going to be the key issue.  And economics and gas prices not the strong suit of either of these candidates.  What that says to me is that the criteria for a VP, that‘s now become the number one issue.  They‘ve got to have someone with sound economic skills. 

GREGORY:  Yes, all right.  Good point. 

Rachel, you‘re also thinking about the economy, but how it applies to the electoral map.  Your headline? 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  That‘s right, David.  My headline tonight is “Will Red State Obama Make Liberals See Red?”

Senator Obama, as we‘ve been talking about, he set off on a 17-day campaign tour focused on the economy.  Kicked off that tour in the deep red states of North Carolina, and then on to Missouri. 

Here he is today briefly speaking in North Carolina. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  This is not an argument between left or right, liberal or conservative.  It‘s not liberal or conservative to say that we have tried it their way for eight long years, and it has failed.  It is time to try something new.  It is time for a change. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Traditionally, Democratic voters have given their candidates a lot of leeway when the candidates take a centrist tone to try to win in the red states, but tarring liberal and left with the same brush that‘s conservative and right is the same kind of Clintonian triangulation that Obama has criticized during the primaries, and that stuff drives liberals and Democratic activists nuts. 

So, my question is, is he going to pay a political price for rattling liberals‘ cages this way, or is he trying to draw fire from liberals in order to seem like more of a moderate?   Time will tell.  I think you should watch the influential bloggers on the left for the first indications of a verdict on this. 

GREGORY:  I think this is going to be a fascinating debate to move forward and watch to see whether he does tack (ph) toward the center as he goes up against McCain.  It‘s one of the things that will make the general election so interesting. 

MADDOW:  Right.

GREGORY:  Jonathan Prince, welcome to the program.  Your headline tonight about Hillary Clinton‘s big weekend?

JONATHAN PRINCE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  “It‘s the Vision, Not Division, Stupid,” with a nod to the 1990 Clinton war room. 

You know, with all this frettiness going on in Washington about will the party come together and whatnot, I think what‘s really lost on folks is there is massive agreement amongst, you know, those—whoever it is, 36 million people who supported the Clinton campaign and the Obama campaign.  Massive agreement, generally speaking, between Hillary, between Barack, and all the other Democrats who ran for president.

Contrast that with John McCain, and you have got, you know, Democrats who are for universal health care, the McCain, fend for yourself care plan.  Ending the war in Iraq versus end this war in Iraq.

This party is going to come together.  Look at—and no one gets that better than Hillary Clinton.  Look at what she said on Saturday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  We all know this has been a tough fight, but the Democratic Party is a family.  And now it‘s time to restore the ties that bind us together, and to come together around the ideals we share, the values we cherish and the country we love.  We may have started on separate journeys, but today our paths have merged. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRINCE:  So here‘s one more prediction for you, David.  When the tale of this election is told in November, nobody will out-campaign Barack Obama more than Hillary Clinton.  I mean, I‘m sorry, no one will campaign more for Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘ll wait and see.  We‘ll talk about it a little bit later, about just how they go about doing that.

We‘re going to take a break here, come back, go inside the War Room, and take a look at the veep stakes for Barack Obama.  Who‘s he leaning toward?  He‘s got his team up on Capitol Hill today. 

A little bit later on, your play date with the panel.  You can call us, 212-790-2299, race08@msnbc.com is the e-mail address. 

Don‘t go away. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back now with our general election War Room, looking at strategy, tactics behind these campaigns.  We‘re going to kick it off today.

And back with us, Jonathan, John, Michael and Rachel.

Number one, battleground North Carolina.  Demographic breakdown in just a moment.  But first, you saw today that Barack Obama was down in North Carolina talking about the economy.  Here‘s the pitch he made. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Ask any family in North Carolina, a family like Pamela‘s, who sit around their kitchen table tonight and wonder whether next week‘s paycheck will be enough to cover next month‘s bills. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Look at the demographic breakdown here in terms of why this is a state that the Obama team has its eye on.  Twenty-two percent, black population; higher education, 45 percent; higher median income than the U.S. average.

Jonathan Prince, you know this state well having worked for John Edwards.  Why do you think it‘s a good shot for Barack Obama? 

PRINCE:  Well, you know, North Carolina historically has been a state that is very tough for Democrats to put over the top in general elections, but not one that‘s been completely off the map, like South Carolina, Alaska, places like that.  I actually, you know, a million years ago was in charge of targeting for the 1992 Clinton campaign.  And North Carolina was the only targeted state that we in fact we lost, but we came close.  You change the math just a little by the demographics that you just put on the board and, you know, the kind of turnout that Barack Obama has been able to get with African-Americans who are excited about his candidacy, he has a real reason to expect that he could put this over the top and, you know, change the map by changing the math. 

GREGORY:  Harwood, we know that...

HARWOOD:  David, I‘ve got to say...

GREGORY:  ... voter registration will be a key part of this.  And he can create new Democrats among African-Americans in the same way that the Republicans did in ‘04.

HARWOOD:  He can, but look, I‘ve got to say, unless Jonathan‘s old boss, John Edwards, is on the ticket, I think it‘s a pretty heavy lift for Democrats to carry North Carolina.  Much better shot in a state like Virginia, where he can benefit both from the growth in the northern Virginia suburban population and that heavy African-American turnout. 

North Carolina I think is going to remain on the periphery of Democratic targets.  Barack Obama spending some time there now.  I‘d be surprised if he‘s spending the same amount of time there in October. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me move on to—let me just move on to topic number two.  We‘re talking about the Obama veep stakes today.

His team: Jim Johnson, Caroline Kennedy, Eric Holder, were on Capitol Hill.  They‘re doing the rounds, meeting with Democratic officials and lawmakers to get their thoughts, including Nancy Pelosi, who they think he ought to pick. 

This is what Peggy Noonan writes in “The Wall Street Journal” today, and it‘s interesting.

“Obama doesn‘t need Hillary, he needs a boring white man.  Because he‘s an interesting black man.  He needs a sober, experienced, older establishment player who will be respected by the press, the first responders of the political game.”

“They‘ll set the tone in which the choice is celebrated, or not.  He needs someone like Sam Nunn.  Or, actually, Sam Nunn.”

“He could throw a wild pass at Jim Webb because he‘s a real guy—southern, semi-working-class persona, and a Scots-Irish grit and chippiness.  He is from important Virginia, has Vietnam boots and is a moderate.”

Rachel, what do you say? 

MADDOW:  Well, Sam Nunn is complicated, because on the one hand, he does underscore one of Obama‘s national security credentials, which was the work on loose nuke stuff.  He‘s been a great leader in that, particularly in his post-congressional career.

On the other hand, he really cuts against Obama‘s grain.  If you squint at Sam Nunn, he looks a little bit like Dick Cheney.  It is hard to imagine the Sam Nunn candidacy after eight years of an Obama candidacy. 

GREGORY:  But Smerc, I will say this, I think the idea that he needs an establishment figure, somebody with some gray hair, you‘ve said it before, who can give him—he can be changed.  Obama‘s got the change part, he‘s got the enthusiasm part.  It‘s a little bit of the government part and erasing doubts that he needs. 

SMERCONISH:  I think I said last week he need as receding hairline.  But this week I‘m going to add to that.  It‘s got to be someone with some economic credentials. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

SMERCONISH:  I mean, all of a sudden I‘m saying, you know, Bloomberg doesn‘t look so preposterous at this stage.  And for the Rs, Romney‘s stock mush have just gone up. 

GREGORY:  Right, exactly.

All right.  Number three here, topic number three inside the War Room, does McCain have a problem with evangelical voters here?  

Robert Novak writing in “The Washington Post” today indicates that he

just might.  We go to the quote board here, and this is Novak writing

“After supporting Jimmy Carter in 1976, Christian conservatives switched to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and since then have been indispensable to Republican presidential candidates Dobson”—talking about James Dobson—

“and Hagee, not merely inside-the-beltway interest group chairmen or think tank types, managers, command substantial followings.”

“‘I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances,‘ Dobson said in 2007, adding, ‘I pray that we won‘t get stuck with him.‘  After McCain clinched the nomination, however, Dobson privately invited him to focus on the family headquarters in Colorado Springs.  When members of the Family Policy Council gathered there May 9 for an annual conference, word spread that McCain‘s campaign staff had rebuffed Dobson.”

So, John Harwood, is the enthusiasm gap for John McCain with voters like evangelicals, and does it matter? 

HARWOOD:  Of course it matters.  He has got problems on all sides, David.  And this is the challenge for John McCain‘s team.

The Republican base is smaller.  Enthusiasm for him is less.  But he‘s got to fight with Barack Obama out in the center. 

Interesting the way Dobson has gravitated toward the power now that McCain has won the nomination, but John McCain has got to reach in both directions at the same time.  Not easy to do. 

GREGORY:  Jonathan, how do the Democrats try to take advantage of this?  What they‘ve got right now is enthusiasm, but they also have some groups in Appalachia and elsewhere, white working class voters, who could be up for grabs in a way that they were not before. 

PRINCE:  Well, I think that there‘s a couple of things to think about.  First of all, it‘s true that the evangelical community is motivated by lots of things.  And among the things that they are motivated by is a real compassion for those folks who are less fortunate.  And you see a lot of that in the kind of progressive faith movement, you know, on—folks like Jim Walsh (ph) and whatnot. 

So, I think as Barack gets out there, as he‘s started doing now, really articulating a detailed, progressive message of change and empowerment for folks who are less fortunate, that drives an opening to a group of voters that really have distrusted John McCain for a long time.  The other thing it does, by the way, is just bring into sharp relief the kind of flip-flopping of John McCain over the course of this campaign.  The evangelical community distrusts him because of his past record as a maverick.  Of course, now he‘s kind of disposed of his inner maverick and brought to life his inner Bush. 

So it gives us a little opportunity there, too.

GREGORY:  All right.  That‘s the debate that they‘ll be pushing back on, the McCain folks.

We‘re going to take a break here, come back with “Smart Takes.”  It‘s inside the postmortem of Hillary Clinton‘s campaign.  Some interesting thoughts as reported by “The New York Times” and what was going on inside the campaign. 

We‘ll have it for you when THE RACE comes back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  “Smart Takes” tonight, all about the postmortem of Hillary Clinton‘s campaign in a “New York Times” piece over the weekend that details the long road to a Clinton exit.  We‘re going to take a few pieces of it here and talk about it with our panel. 

First up, the issue that Hillary Clinton did not lobby superdelegates leading up until Pennsylvania until about March.  This is how “The New York Times” reported it.  We‘ll put it on the screen. 

“Unlike her opponents, Mrs. Clinton refused to make solicitation calls to donors and had to be talked into calling the party officials known as superdelegates.  By April, Mrs. Clinton was too far behind to catch up to Mr. Obama among delegates selected by primaries and caucuses, so she hoped to persuade the superdelegates that she would be the stronger candidate in the fall.  Only then did she agree to start calling superdelegates personally, something Mr. Obama had been doing for months.”

John Harwood, what do you see is the significance of that? 

HARWOOD:  You know, I think there are a lot of theories rolling around, David, about exactly what went wrong for Hillary Clinton.  Was it the way they spent their money?  Was it the fact that they avoided the caucuses?  Was it Mark Penn‘s advice to have her run as the candidate of inevitability, that sort of thing?

I think everybody is trying to cover themselves.  I would be surprised if at the end of the day, we‘ll look back in history and say she lost to Barack Obama because she was unwilling to call superdelegates.  I think this was really about the appeal of Barack Obama and the fact that that one crucial stretch in February, he was able to build a delegate lead, especially in those caucus states, that she could never make up. 

GREGORY:  This next one is kind of delicious.  It talks about the rivalry between the two Clintons, and this is how The Times reported here. 

“On election night, it was Mr. Clinton, the former president, who grew playfully competitive with his wife over who had done more events or had more impact.  Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania said Mrs. Clinton was superstitious and rarely watched election night coverage, but in the hotel suite, Mr. Rendell showed her husband county-by-county returns.”

“The president wanted to know exactly what the returns were in the places he had been and where Hillary had not been.  Mr. Rendell said he kept showing Hillary and she would laugh.”

Smerc, a little competition here, but it also underscores where in fact her husband was very effective.  It‘s something that Obama might want to pay attention to as well. 

SMERCONISH:  I think not only does it point out where he was effective, but it raises a larger question of whether he was properly utilized.  And I still maintain that he was improperly utilized, that he was pushed off to the B media markets.  And he should have maintained a presence on the central stage. 

The reality, as The Times pointed out, is where he appeared in Pennsylvania in those counties, she ran very well. 

GREGORY:  You know, Jonathan, as you were up against the Clintons at one point, what was the view outside of her campaign about Bill Clinton? 

PRINCE:  You know, look, he‘s obviously a guy who‘s got a penchant to speak his mind.  And every once in a while, that kind of certainly caused some heads to turn. 

He‘s also a very formidable campaigner, who‘s clearly adept at getting out there and delivering a message for his wife.  But sure, there were definitely times where, you know, we all had a chuckle at some of the things that kind of got her off her game plan. 

GREGORY:  Yes, diplomatically put.

Mark Penn talking act what went wrong.  He talks about the money. 

Rachel, you‘re an deck. 

Go ahead, Rachel. 

All right.  We‘re going to take a break here.  We‘re going to come back at the half hour for the back...

HARWOOD:  David...

GREGORY:  Hold on.  Got to take a break, John.  Got to come back at the half hour.  And we‘ll have our second War Room here talking about McCain‘s path to victory the way he lays it out. 

We‘re coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory, happy to have you.  Somebody stopped me today and said, are you guys going to get a break now?  We said, no way.  It‘s on to the general election.  It‘s hot and heavy and we‘re getting started tonight.  Now, inside McCain‘s war room; the McCain camp posted a power point breakdown today of their ‘08 general election strategy, narrated by campaign manager Rick Davis.  He sees a clear path for victory according to the campaign‘s numbers. 

Back with us, Democratic strategist Jonathan Prince, John Harwood of CNBC and the “New York Times,” radio talk show host Michael Smerconish and Air America and MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow. 

OK, McCain advantage number one has to do with his favorability rating.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK DAVIS, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  John McCain may be one of the most resilient candidates in modern history.  His image ratings far surpass those of Barack Obama.  His favorability ratings are the highest for any official running for office today.  This is a huge advantage for us going into the general election. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Smerc, it is a huge advantage because he has a story and a name ID that, frankly, at this point, is bigger than what the opposition hopes will be toxic for him, which is a tie to George Bush. 

SMERCONISH:  It‘s a remarkable story.  I think we take for granted that most Americans know it.  I‘m not so sure that‘s the case.  I think the McCain campaign has figured that out, and I note that they‘re now running some ads that introduce this candidate.  At the starting gate, He‘s at a pretty good position. 

GREGORY:  Jonathan, how do you see it?

PRINCE:  I think it‘s certainly an advantage at the moment.  The question is, is it going to last?  I don‘t think it‘s going to last.  I think it‘s an advantage that‘s built up on this brand of John McCain‘s as real maverick.  There was a period of time in 2000, particularly when he started running for president 2000 through two years ago or so, when he started running for president again, when he really was. 

Now, in the pursuit of his presidential ambition, he‘s abandoned so many of those positions.  Whether it‘s on global warming, where he‘s now for a four billion dollar tax give away to the top five oil companies or his health care plan—talk about a radical health care plan.  His health care plan is just throw every man, woman and child into the marketplace and let them fend for themselves.

When folks find out that he‘s abandoning all those positions and that the maverick has really become a toe the line, hard core Republican, I think those advantages are going to drop like a rock. 

GREGORY:  Let me move on to number two.  They are tied nationally, Obama and McCain, in these national polls, as described by Rick Davis. 

All right, we don‘t have that.  What it indicates is that voters believe McCain‘s ideology—this is Davis in the presentation saying, it‘s close to their own.  It shows how there‘s a positive view of him and that the Gallup polls they have conducted since March, when McCain showed up—sowed up the Republican nomination, demonstrates the race is very, very close.  What do we make of that John Harwood? 

HARWOOD:  Look, John McCain does have big advantages in the election.  He has a, as Rick Davis said, terrific personal image.  I disagree with Jonathan Prince.  I don‘t think that‘s going to wash away quite so easily in the general election campaign.  He also has an ideological advantage in the country.  There are more conservatives in this country than there are liberals. 

He also has an awful lot of problems and Barack Obama has a very auspicious map, in terms of looking for places to expand John Kerry‘s coalition.  The Democratic brand is flying pretty high and George Bush is a big fat target.  Even though John McCain I think is an authentic maverick, Barack Obama is going to make some mileage out of tying Bush to McCain. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, you‘re on deck here.  The debate about ideology, and this is where Rick Davis says there‘s also an advantage for McCain.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVIS:  As you can see, the daily tracking poll Gallup has been conducting since March, when John McCain sewed up the Republican nomination, demonstrates the race has been close.  The bottom graph shows that John McCain has been leading, even during the latest contentious -- 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Move on to the next one here that I was referring to about ideology.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVIS:  Voters believe John McCain‘s ideology is close to their own.  This chart, in red, shows how people view their own ideology.  The blue line shows how they view John McCain and how they view Barack Obama‘s ideology.  As you can see, the line that represents voters views of McCain‘s ideology is a close parallel to their own.  They overlap.

They overwhelmingly view Obama, however, as a liberal, far outside the limits of their own ideological perspective. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rachel, that was very professorial, I have to say.  Take it on. 

MADDOW:  It is.  It‘s kind of like Power Point grad school level.  Actually, I think it‘s good to have those two pieces of tape together and those two graphs together, because what they show is the huge opportunity cost that Democrats have of having their primary go so late.  Maybe there were a lot of advantages to that.  Maybe that was something that did strengthen Democratic organization and energy and all of those things.  But what it did was it gave Democrats a reverse head start.  It set them back in terms of trying to redefine John McCain. 

John McCain has been running even with the Democrats, even when he‘s not getting as much attention as them.  He has been able to spend his time defining Barack Obama and not having to deal with the Democrats defining him.  He benefits from a 26 year career in Washington, developing a very good relationship with the press.  And Democrats need as much time as possible to undo that.  They have lost months of that opportunity with their long primary campaign. 

GREGORY:  Smerc, there‘s another point that Davis makes.  We won‘t show the sound byte.  He talks about independents being a virtual tie at this point between McCain and Obama.  There‘s a real opportunity for both of them here in a way we haven‘t seen in past cycles.  What does it mean? 

SMERCONISH:  It means that if he can convince America that, indeed, he‘s the maverick and he‘s not retreated in the direction of the Bush White House, he can win those votes.  My one observation as to where we stand today is that I would have expected Senator Obama to have more of a bump, much like you would see coming out of one of the party conventions in the summer.  Maybe it‘s just too soon to detect that, but where is that gain? 

GREGORY:  The question, Jonathan, on ID has to do with—Peter Heart, we referred to it here on the program before, did a focus group with independent voters who had a lot of questions about Obama.  It seems to me that one of his tasks as the general election gets started, he has to not only educate, define himself, but he‘s got to reassure and erase doubts.  That‘s the residue that comes out of a campaign that may be more bruising than a general election campaign, but certainly not on the issues. 

PRINCE:  There‘s no question, but that‘s what campaigns are about.  They are about definition.  John Harwood said earlier—look, I don‘t think John McCain‘s advantages are just going to wash away and evaporate over night.  That‘s the whole point about definition.  But the fact that exist dispute the brand of maverick that he‘s built up.  If the Obama campaign does both of those things, defines themselves and also uses the information they have to define John McCain as a person who has for political advantage changed so many of his positions, then they are going to have the right message to win this campaign.  I think that‘s something, given the facts, that they can do. 

You‘re right, it‘s all about definitions.  It‘s about definition of yourself and definition of your opponent. 

GREGORY:  John Harwood, take this on; this is the final point that we‘ve chosen that Davis makes in this Power Point presentation.  It has to do with the electoral map.  He‘s talking about California.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVIS:  Let‘s talk about California; 23 percent of the registered voters declined to state a party, independent, non-aligns.  This is a group of voters where John McCain has a unique appeal, where we can make inroads into this historically Democratic state.  Watch California closely. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  You and I remember back in 2000.  I remember specifically being in California at “The Tonight Show” with then Governor Bush, who said Gregory, you watch, we‘re going to win California.  I said really?  Of course, it turned out to be a bum poll.  They didn‘t win it.  They didn‘t even come close in 2000.  Do you believe McCain here? 

HARWOOD:  Absolutely not.  I think Rick is either dreaming or trying to pump up his troops or something.  Barack Obama is just wishing, hoping, praying that John McCain invests a bunch of resources in California.  That‘s likely to be a black hole for the Republican ticket. 

GREGORY:  Yes, it‘s still a disorganized party in California for the Republicans.  I guess the idea that this is a state that Hillary Clinton won.  There‘s Latinos there that have not been demonstrated as a strength for Obama.  Still, looks to be a very tough state for the Republicans.

We‘re going to take a break here.  We‘re going to come back on the other side.  Three questions tonight; it‘s the fence mending edition between Obama and Clinton world, both of them, by the way, both Mrs.  Clinton and former President Clinton.  We‘ll come back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Time now for three questions, the mending fencing edition, looking at how Obama and the Clintons come together to unify their party and what role the Clintons will play in the Obama campaign.  Still with us, Jonathan, John, Michael, and Rachel. 

First question tonight, what do Obama and Clinton have to do to make their alliance work?  Jonathan Prince, I‘m not talking about being on the ticket per say, but even short of that, what do they do? 

PRINCE:  Get out there, campaign together, have fun together, show the country what they agree about, which is just about everything, and make clear what the stakes are.  That‘s really what it is, get out there and have fun together.  Nothing will do more to show her supporters, his supporters that this party is ready to get moving, ready to take on John McCain and ready to get the country going in a different direction. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, even more theatrically, what can they do early on to demonstrate that they are united, since a lot of us in the press will question that, and a lot of voters too. 

MADDOW:  I agree with Jonathan here.  I think that having fun together, while it sounds esoteric and kind of fuzzy, is probably exactly the right thing to do.  I think what Democrats are looking for, particularly Democrats who are not happy about the outcome of the primaries, they are looking to see if Obama and Clinton are on the same team.  They are looking to see if there is personal rapport between them, if they seem to like each other, if Hillary Clinton just did the right political thing by endorsing him, or if she really, enthusiastically supports him, believes in him and enjoys his company. 

I think they do have to show themselves to be hanging out.  I think the more concrete thing they can do is that probably the Obama campaign is going to have to bring on some loyal Clinton advisers to show that this is unified front and nobody‘s going to be working at cross purposes. 

GREGORY:  Smerc, on the Page website today, Time.com, Mark Halperin‘s page, talked about they could do the top ten list on “Late Night With David Letterman” or something, or she could appear in a campaign ad for him.  Is any of that in the offing?  Does it have to be predicated by a real series of meetings between the two of them on substance where they start to work together? 

SMERCONISH:  Two things, bowling and shots.  You put the two of those together -- 

GREGORY:  That‘s it.  Smerc always comes back to Pennsylvania. 

SMERCONISH:  It‘s a nationwide thing.  It has nothing to do with Pennsylvania. 

GREGORY:  That‘s true. 

PRINCE:  Shots while bowling?

SMERCONISH:  Why not. 

MADDOW:  Beer pong. 

HARWOOD:  Basketball. 

GREGORY:  That‘s right.  All right, both good points.  Second question this is interesting—how do Obama and Bill Clinton mend the fences now?  Rachel, what‘s striking about this is that there has been some reporting out of Clinton world that it‘s Bill Clinton—and he says this himself—who feels more bruised feelings about Barack Obama, whether he feels they played the race card on him, which is something that he has said publicly in the run up to one of the primaries, and the fact that he thinks a lot of Obama‘s message is a kind of renunciation of the Clinton years and what the former president believes were accomplished during that time.  Is that going to be a more difficult relationship to mend? 

MADDOW:  Yes.  I think so, and I‘m not sure that this is a mendable relationship.  It depends on whether or not Barack Obama is going to run as a clean break from the entire past, including Clinton era, or just running as a clean break from the Bush era.  If he is going to run away from Bill Clinton—and I thought before he was signaling that more than I hear that now—if he is going to run away from the Clinton legacy, then he‘s not going to be able to mend that bridge with Bill Clinton and he probably shouldn‘t for both of their sakes. 

GREGORY:  Yes, it‘s interesting.  John Harwood, a point that you made in talking about taxes, in your interview with Obama, but the issue of free trade—there‘s been some signals out of the Obama world, at least some advisers he‘s picked up, who are more free traders but they would like some modifications made to protect workers.  That may be a little of a migration on that issue for him and gets him a little bit closer to Bill Clinton‘s views on trade. 

HARWOOD:  I think Barack Obama, to be competitive and credible in a general election anyway, was going to have to start accenting the free trade part of his message.  He‘s had both messages.  He did that today.  He reiterated he‘s a free trader.  In terms of Bill Clinton, I think the fundamental thing that‘s going to be important to the health of that relationship and the Democratic ticket is how the vice presidential selection is handled.  By all accounts, that‘s something that Bill Clinton thinks his wife has earned.  He‘s been lobbying for it.  He is the one—since Barack Obama plainly is not inclined to pick Hillary Clinton, he‘s the one who is going to have to lower the temperature on that.  That‘s going to take a lot of diplomacy. 

GREGORY:  Jonathan, the question is whether Bill Clinton withholds any of his enthusiasm for Obama if that negotiation does go well. Can he stay out of it? 

PRINCE:  Look, I think John is right.  He certainly has a lot invested in this.  He clearly takes it all pretty personally.  He‘s a politician who always kind of takes things personally, in the sense that he gets emotionally invested in these things.  So I think, at the end of the day, he has to recognize that this has to be Barack‘s choice.  Barack is also going to have to make it clear that he has—I think he‘s been doing that respect for the Clintons.  Only a handful of Democrats who have been elected to the White House twice in the last 100 years or so.  I think there‘s work to do on both sides. 

GREGORY:  John Harwood, if Obama had to decide today, OK, this is where I need Bill Clinton, in terms of my general election campaign, how does he deploy him and how would it be different from Kerry and Gore before him? 

HARWOOD:  Barack Obama doesn‘t have the complication that Bill Clinton presented for Al Gore, which was coming right on the heels of impeachment.  Al Gore had to distance himself from all the cultural baggage there.  I don‘t think that‘s as much of an issue now.  I think if Bill Clinton gets his head in the right play, gets over that personal slight that Jonathan Prince was just talking about, he can still be a tremendous asset for Barack Obama in the border south and rural areas in the Midwest. 

GREGORY:  Third question tonight, what Clinton idea, Hillary Clinton idea, does Obama run with in the general election?  Rachel, does something come to mind for you? 

MADDOW:  Health care, health care, health care.  The one thing that surprised me in the Saturday speech from Senator Clinton was when she brought up explicitly Bill and Bill‘s legacy.  I think she was signaling, you know what, don‘t run against Bill; don‘t run against Bill‘s legacy.  She pivoted right from that into talking about health care.  She didn‘t criticize Barack Obama in that speech, but she did go back to the universal health care, no exceptions, no excuses.  That is an implied policy slight against Obama, in terms of their differences.  I think if he prioritizes health care and picks up some of her ideas, he‘ll go a long way towards bringing her back into the fold. 

GREGORY:  It‘s interesting, Jonathan, in any role she plays, as a vice president, if she returns to the Senate, she could be his go to person when it comes to health care. 

PRINCE:  I think that‘s exactly right and I think Rachel is dead on.  I think if you‘re looking for tea leaves, you see that Barack has said he‘s going to be working with Elizabeth Edwards on health care.  Not that it matters much at this point, but the Clinton health care plan was very similar to the Edwards health care plan, which we announced in February of 2007.  But I think it‘s quite interesting, in light of this, that he‘s now said he‘s working with Elizabeth. 

HARWOOD:  He‘s still running his candidate.

PRINCE:  I‘m not running our candidate.  I‘m running our health care plan. 

GREGORY:  Quick comment, Smerc, what idea would he run with? 

SMERCONISH:  I see nothing beyond health care.  Through the whole primary process, what were they distinguished other than that issue?  It was really a character issue and their personal qualifications, more than any issue oriented aspect. 

GREGORY:  Yet, so it really does come down to the health care debate.  We‘re going to take another break here, come back with our remaining moments, try to play a little with the panel.  Also, some news to talk about about Scott McClellan, former White House press secretary.  He‘s going to be making a few more appearances here in Washington, and one that may be relevant to the ‘08 Fall Election. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back.  Your play date with the panel, also some breaking news tonight.  We‘re back with Jonathan, John, Michael and Rachel.  Scott McClellan, former White House press secretary, who wrote “What Happened,” his memoir inside the Bush White House, pretty critical, will testify before the House Judiciary Committee June 20.  He will no doubt be asked questions about his role in the CIA leak case and what other people were doing. 

John Harwood, it‘s a sign not only that a Democratic Congress can still make noise about an issue to take on the president, but they can also make noise about an issue to make it a campaign issue.  Right?

HARWOOD:  No question about it.  Scott McClellan has opened the door for Democrats to resume this discussion, which had been pretty well played out once Scooter Libby got pardoned and Karl Rove did not get indicted.  This is a way that Scott McClellan is the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats. 

GREGORY:  But Rachel, the issue here is that this has been a matter that was investigated and litigated.  But there are other questions to be asked, specifically about the president‘s role in all of this, and a little bit more light shed on what happened internally. 

MADDOW:  Sure, after it was litigated, you had members of the jury say, we didn‘t feel like we should be talking about Scooter Libby.  We felt like we ought to be talking about Karl Rove.  Certainly, Scott McClellan‘s book drove things back in that direction in a very explicit way.  If there‘s still a story to tell about it, and I‘m one of the people who believes there is, Scott McClellan is probably the best person to tell it. 

GREGORY:  Smerconish, certainly McClellan and others could release their Grand Jury testimony, if they agreed to do that, is my understanding.  Even if he were to only do, it would still get more of some of the facts of the questions out into the public domain.  Does it have an impact beyond people looking back at the justice or injustice of the issue? 

SMERCONISH:  I can‘t imagine there would be new ground broken, relative to his Grand Jury testimony or his appearance in front of the Congress.  Here‘s the value: there‘s some heft that comes with the image of him sitting on Capitol Hill and raising his right hand to begin testifying, in comparison to doing the talk show circuit, with no disrespect to the talk show circuit.  But that becomes fodder for campaign commercials. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  I want to get to a couple voice mails here.  This is somebody who called in with an interesting idea for Obama.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I believe that the Democrats have an ace up their sleeves when it comes to winning Florida in the general election.  That ace is Al Gore.  I think Senator Obama needs Al Gore campaigning in that state, specifically to remind Floridians over and over about what happened in 2000.  I think he needs the stress that finally their time has come, their time for redemption. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Nick could be a panelist on the program.  Harwood, it‘s an interesting point about A, where has Al Gore been, and I suppose more importantly, where would he be now? 

HARWOOD:  You know, I don‘t think Al Gore is going to have a big effect on the 2008 vote.  Barack Obama, if he is going to carry Florida, has to do it on his own, not with surrogates.  When you look at the numbers right now, it‘s advantage John McCain. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, do you see any impact here? 

MADDOW:  I think that if Al Gore cares about the things he seems like he cares about post White House, he probably will campaign enthusiastically for Barack Obama.  He would make more traction in Florida if Obama was making a big political deal out of election protection, out of election integrity.  He‘s not taking that on as a big policy and political issue.  I don‘t exactly know why.  But if he was campaigning on that, maybe Gore could get a lot of traction with it in Florida. 

GREGORY:  Jonathan, what do you say, who is a bigger deal at the convention, Al Gore or Bill Clinton?

PRINCE:  I think Bill Clinton is probably the bigger deal because of all the drama associated with the Clinton campaign running against the Obama campaign.  I think that probably makes it a bigger deal.  Gore, the way you have it listed on the show run down, says Obama-Gore.  Want to ad a little steroids to VP stakes, maybe Al Gore is up for another run, not that I really think that, but—

HARWOOD:  I don‘t think so. 

GREGORY:  Interesting idea. 

PRINCE:  It would be fascinating. 

GREGORY:  It indeed would.  We‘ve got a few seconds here.  We‘ve seen what is now the new craze on the campaign trail.  It‘s how we greet one another.  It started with the Obamas.  This is today in North Carolina.  There‘s a fist pump.  This began when he clinched last Tuesday, Senator Obama and Michelle Obama doing their fist pump as well.  This is going to be the new vogue on the campaign trail.  I want to say, I‘ve been doing that with my son, who is five, for over a year.  We are on top of it.

We‘ll see you back here tomorrow night.  Thanks.

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

END   

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