updated 6/17/2008 10:47:20 AM ET 2008-06-17T14:47:20

Guest: Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, Susan Molinari, John Harwood, Michael Smerconish

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Tonight, the last remaining big fish in the Democratic Party gets reeled in as Al Gore finally endorses Barack Obama in Detroit this evening. 

Also, the president promotes another Bush for president, as THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.

Welcome to THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m Rachel Maddow, in for David Gregory.  David will be back tomorrow night and I‘ll return to my usual spot in the hot seat. 

We‘re happy to have you here, your stop for the fast-paced, the bottom line, and every point in the room. 

Before we get started tonight, let me just say briefly that I am honored to be working alongside the folks here at NBC and MSNBC who have done such an incredible job in the past few days under such trying circumstances.  The deep, deep affection with which Tim Russert is and was regarded here is inspiring and humbling, and it is in that spirit that we carry on with tonight‘s news and tonight‘s show. 

Tonight, inside the War Room, Clinton and Gore.  The two biggest brand names in Democratic politics other than Obama get linked into the Democratic nominee‘s campaign.  Al Gore endorses Obama tonight in Detroit.  And Senator Clinton‘s former campaign manager signs on with campaign Obama and gets a fascinating job title. 

The current president makes a debut appearance on “Smart Takes” tonight with his argument about why the country might want to consider another Bush for a turn in the Oval Office. 

And in “Three Questions,” will the country‘s most populous state legalizing same-sex marriage, effective today, put that wedge issue back into presidential politics? 

The bedrock of our program is a panel that always comes to play. 

With us tonight, Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor for “The Washington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst; Susan Molinari, Republican strategist and former New York congresswoman; John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and political writer for “The New York Times”; 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, “The Headline.”

I‘ll start with my headline tonight.  Briefly, it is, “Gore Makes it Official.” 

In Detroit tonight, the last remaining big fish, brand name, choose your own aggrandizing metaphor here, Democrat finally endorsing Barack Obama.  Former Vice President Al Gore will make a joint appearance with Senator Obama in Michigan tonight to bestow upon him the Gore political blessing. 

This isn‘t exactly a surprise development, but it does tie up the last loose ends for Obama in terms of winning the explicit support of the Democratic powers that be.  There are questions to be asked, however, about the details. 

Gore took his time with this endorsement, waiting until almost two weeks after Obama clinched the nomination, before he made his move.  And is the setting for tonight‘s endorsement, in Detroit, the Motor City, a sign that Gore‘s support is tied to a specific agenda on energy or on emission? 

Gore endorses the Democratic nominee.  Dog bites man, essentially.  But Gore is a big dog, and this could turn out to be a very interesting bite. 

Gene Robinson, your headline tonight is also a take on the Gore endorsement, and then some. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, Rachel.  My headline tonight is “Obama Posts the ‘Keep Out‘ Sign for the Clintons to See.”

It struck me that on the same day we learn of a Gore endorsement—and remember that Gore and the Clintons didn‘t really end on such buddy, buddy terms—we also learned that Patti Solis Doyle, who ran Hillary Clinton‘s campaign until she was essentially fired for botching Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, will be joining the Obama campaign—get this—as chief of staff for the yet unnamed vice presidential candidate. 

Now—so I‘m trying to imagine.  A little awkwardness there in the event that, say, Obama might choose Hillary Clinton.  I don‘t know how that would work out.  So maybe these two events together are a not so subtle signal. 

MADDOW:  And, of course, there‘s also the awkwardness that the vice presidential nominee might want to pick their own chief of staff.  But there you have it.  Thanks, Gene.

ROBINSON:  Well, they might. 

MADDOW:  They might.

John Harwood, you‘re taking a look at Obama‘s map tonight.  What are you seeing? 

JOHN HARWOOD, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, CNBC:  My headline, Rachel, is “Look West, Young Man.”

Barack Obama might struggle with blue collar voters in Midwestern States such as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  But he‘s looking to expand the electoral playing field, and he‘ll have enough money to do.  Maybe even using national broadcast advertising which seemed outdated as candidates in 2000 and 2004 mainly focused on the same small battleground list of around 15 States.

Virginia is one prime suspect, but there are more targets of opportunity elsewhere.  If “Florida, Florida, Florida” was his famous line eight years ago, our colleague Tim Russert was looking westward this time -Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico. 

MADDOW:  You can just hear him saying it.  Thanks, John.

Susan, your headline today looks at McCain‘s strategy against Obama? 

SUSAN MOLINARI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  That‘s right.  And my headline today is “Mac‘s on the Right Track: Record Beats Rhetoric.”

Learning from Hillary Clinton‘s mistakes instead of targeting Barack Obama‘s overall lack of experience, what John McCain is doing is he‘s getting down to specifics, in which case it reveals that Obama‘s rhetoric isn‘t matching his record.  His words today—Senator Obama‘s words today on global competitiveness—doesn‘t really match his record on being against every free trade agreement that‘s before the United States Congress these days, and him wanting to undo NAFTA and CAFTA. 

The McCain campaign is wasting no time in getting to Michigan and reminding him of the rhetoric behind the record of the reality of what Barack Obama is really standing for. 

MADDOW:  Also bringing the substance to the fore.  Thank you, Susan. 

Michael Smerconish, your headline has a Father‘s Day hook to it. 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Rachel, “Father Knows Best.” 

Barack Obama made a Father‘s Day speech yesterday at a Chicago church regarding fatherhood and the need for fathers to be responsible for their children.  He said any fool can have a child.  That doesn‘t make you a dad.

Here‘s the question that I would float.  As you watch this piece of video, ask yourself, who was the intended audience? 

Roll it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If we‘re honest with ourselves, we‘ll admit that too many fathers are also missing.  Too many fathers are MIA, missing from too many lives and too many homes. 

They have abandoned their responsibilities, they are acting like boys instead of men.  You and I know this is true everywhere, but nowhere is it more true than in the African-American community. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  And the conventional wisdom is that that was a pitch for votes in the African-American community.  I don‘t buy it.  I think that it was that and then some.  I think it was a bid to firm up some support among working class white males, and I‘ll explain later. 

MADDOW:  We‘re going to be getting into that and much more coming up on the show. 

Thanks, everyone, for your headlines.

Barack Obama, as you just saw, delivered a barn-burner of a speech on father responsibility yesterday in a predominantly African-American church.  Smerconish says that the intended audience there was much wider than who was in the pews yesterday. 

What is the Father‘s Day message that Obama is trying to send?  And will this ultimately be seen as his second big speech on race? 

THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Welcome back to THE RACE.

Time for us to head inside the deep, dark, mysterious War Room to take a look at which political tactics are working and which aren‘t. 

Back with us, Eugene Robinson, Susan Molinari, John Harwood and Michael Smerconish.

OK, first up, the Obama campaign unveils a new list of hires today.  The big name sure to get tongues wagging is former Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, who will join the campaign as chief of staff to the vice presidential nominee.  Of course, there isn‘t one of those yet.

Doyle was forced out of the Clinton campaign after Super Tuesday in February.  Clinton loyalists today are saying this is a sign that Clinton will not be Obama‘s vice presidential choice. 

John Harwood, what do you think?

HARWOOD:  Well, I don‘t think she was going to be the vice presidential choice anyway, but the fact that she would be the chief of staff after what happened I think is a very good indication of that.  Smart hire, though, because the Obama campaign is pulling together all factions of the party.

Look at others on that list—Jen O‘Malley Dillon, who was John Edwards Iowa campaign manager.  She‘s a very skilled operative.  She‘s going to handle the battleground states. 

So they‘re really taking all the strands together, trying to weave them together, because you really have to staff up to build a big organization for the fall. 

MADDOW:  Next up, Obama kicked off week two of his economy tour in Flint, Michigan, today.  He‘s stumped on jobs and the global economy, while McCain resurrected “bittergate” from his campaign headquarters in Virginia. 

Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I won‘t tell them that in small towns across America and in Pennsylvania, that they are bitter or angry about their economic conditions, so therefore they embrace religion and the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.  I will never do that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Michael, McCain is banking on the “elitist” tag still hurting Obama.  Do you think Obama has inoculated himself at all against this, or does this attack still hurt him? 

SMERCONISH:  I think that I can understand John McCain coming into my state as he did recently and reminding voters here of those comments.  It surprises me that he would be out on the stump from a national platform and still relying on that issue. 

Also, I see significance in Obama going to Michigan at a time when his campaign manager is saying, you know, we don‘t necessarily need Florida and Ohio.  And Rachel, I say, well, if they don‘t think they need Ohio, do they think they need Pennsylvania?  Because certainly they can‘t lose all three.

MADDOW:  Yes, suspicious silence on Pennsylvania today and all of that electoral map lying around.

SMERCONISH:  Right.

MADDOW:  Moving on, after weeks of McCain hammering Obama for not visiting Iraq recently, Obama told reporters today that he will visit Iraq and Afghanistan before the election.  He took time today to describe the lack of a “mission accomplished” in Afghanistan. 

Check this out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It is also a great concern that the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate.  We saw some of the signs of that this weekend, where you have a prison breakout of hundreds.  You‘re continuing to see al Qaeda and the Taliban strengthen themselves.  That has to be part of the overall strategic equation as well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Gene, Both McCain and Obama have shown enthusiasm for campaigning on national security.  We‘ve talked about that a lot on this show.  Do you think there will be a big divide between them about what to do in Afghanistan, or is this one of those elusive post-partisan issues that both of these candidates like to speechify about so much? 

ROBINSON:  I think they fundamentally agree on what to do about Afghanistan.  Obama will argue that you can‘t do the right thing in Afghanistan until you start to disengage from Iraq.  McCain will argue, yes, you can. 

So—but I think it will be more an argument about how you do it than fundamentally what you do there.  They agree that things could be going better and that the United States is in danger there.  And so I think that‘s the way the argument will go.  I think it‘s no surprise at all that Obama is going to make this trip. 

MADDOW:  Susan...

HARWOOD:  Well, Rachel, it is an opportunity for Obama to try to out-tough McCain, if you will, to say, because of the distraction and the resources going into Iraq, you can‘t do as much in Afghanistan as I would do.  Don‘t know exactly how that‘s going to play out, but I suspect that Barack Obama is going to pick and choose and look for areas on national security where he can go, in effect, to the right of John McCain to try to inoculate himself against the broader argument. 

MOLINARI:  And I think what you‘re also going to see...

MADDOW:  Susan, let me just ask you...

MOLINARI:  OK.

MADDOW:  Do you see a partisan split on this issue?  Do you see that Obama and McCain will be able to make sort of electoral hay out of Afghanistan?

MOLINARI:  I think—no, I don‘t think there is going to be a huge difference in terms of what to do for Afghanistan.  I think the danger for Senator McCain right now is that the photos for Barack Obama going to Iraq and Afghanistan with our troops I think are going to be really overwhelming and compelling on behalf of Senator Obama when one can anticipate that the troops are going to be very excited to see him there. 

And I think he‘s going to look very commander in chief in the field.  And I think that‘s going to be something that was perceived as a weakness in him that he‘s going to be able to shore up on this trip. 

HARWOOD:  As long as he keeps the helmet off. 

MOLINARI:  That‘s right.

MADDOW:  As long as he doesn‘t ride a bike with a big fender through the sands of Afghanistan.

Finally, one last item in the War Room here.  Obama takes on fatherhood issues in the African-American community in a Father‘s Day speech yesterday in Chicago.  Listen to a little bit of this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Too many fathers are MIA.  Too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes.  They have abandoned their responsibilities.  They are acting like boys instead of men.  And the foundations of our families have suffered because of it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Michael, we are hearing echoes there, of course, of Bill Cosby, famously.  You said at the top of the show that you think his audience here was beyond that church and the beyond the African-American community. 

Who do you think Obama is talking to here? 

SMERCONISH:  I think that he was speaking to conservative white males with those remarks.  I mean, he said, Rachel, many of the things that, first of all, John McCain, had he delivered those remarks, would probably be criticized in certain quarters.  But Senator Obama could deliver those remarks, did deliver those remarks.  And frankly, they remind me a lot of the callers that I receive on talk radio, you know, from conservative white guys.

And I think that that was an outreach.  It‘s a great issue.  It‘s a tremendous speech.  And I‘m so glad he delivered it.  I encourage people to read the transcript.

MOLINARI:  Well, and I‘d also like to point out I think one of the other...

ROBINSON:  And one thing though, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Let‘s let Susan jump in, and then, Gene, a quick comment from you before we go. 

MOLINARI:  Just very quick, it wasn‘t at Trinity Lutheran.  It was at another church, it was at a conservative church with another preacher.  And I think that really helps Barack Obama change the subject a little bit from what was probably one of his sorest points moving forward. 

MADDOW:  Gene, last thought here?

ROBINSON:  I just need to point out one thing.  He said all this before.  He said it last year. 

I wrote a column about it last year, essentially the same remarks.  So this is not a new theme for Barack Obama. 

Now, is he, in terms of politics, is he happy that conservative white guys might be listening this time?  I think he is. 

MADDOW:  Do you think, Gene, that it‘s getting more attention now simply because he‘s the nominee, or because people are more surprised by his take on it now? 

ROBINSON:  I think people just—you know, he wasn‘t the nominee of the party the last time.  But this has been a fairly consistent theme for him.  He said it in my hometown months and months ago before we even got to Iowa. 

HARWOOD:  Rachel, everything old gets new again in a general election.

MADDOW:  Sure. We‘re constantly surprised by things we‘ve heard before, absolutely.  All right.  Coming up next, “Smart Takes.” Like father, like sons?  Could we see another Bush in the White House?  Mr. President says maybe.  Really?  Really. 

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We‘re back with THE RACE, bringing you today‘s “Smart Takes” the most interesting, the most provocative, the sharpest insights into the ‘08 race.

Here again, Eugene, Susan, John and Michael. 

Our first “Smart Take,” Frank Rich of “The New York Times” says the idea that disaffected female Hillary Clinton supporters will turn to McCain in November is nonsense.  Here‘s a quote from Rich‘s most recent column.

“The McCain campaign apparently believes that women are easy marks for its latent feminist cross-dressing.  A reality check suggests that most women can instantly identify any man who‘s hitting on them for selfish ends.  The notion that all female Clinton supporters became angry white women once their candidate lost to the hysterical extreme or even lifelong Democrats but desert their own party unmasked is itself a sexist stereotype.”

Michael Smerconish, what do you think about Frank Rich‘s take on that? 

SMERCONISH:  It sounds like an SAT question, and I never did well on those. 

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH:  I can‘t buy into his tone, but I will buy into his conclusion, which is that the Democratic Party is not in disarray.  The Republicans have some difficulties.  And that that primary process—and Rachel, I‘ve said this consistently—benefited the Ds. 

They have been the party of excitement for a long, long time.  John McCain has been out of sight, out of mind, and that has not boded well for him. 

MADDOW:  Our next “Smart Take,” Republican veep stakes.

The New Republic‘s David Frum says John McCain should pick Rudy Giuliani. 

He says, “Giuliani shares the vision of a practical, reforming, war-winning Republican party that inspires John McCain, plus the stronger-than-usual grounds for hoping that he might be the rare candidate who can make a difference in an essential state.  In this case, New Jersey.” 

Susan, do you think Giuliani is the perfect guy to reinforce McCain‘s basic image? 

MOLINARI:  Well, I certainly do, but you know, I‘m a big Rudy-phile.  I mean, I think the one thing that Rudy Giuliani is able to bring to a McCain ticket is to put not only states like New Jersey in play, but, look, we saw from the primaries he would make them have to spend a lot more time and energy in states like California. 

So, I mean, if you are just looking at a purely electoral map scheme, Rudy wouldn‘t be a bad choice.

MADDOW:  John.

HARWOOD:  Susan, how are all of those conservative Christians going to feel about that?

MOLINARI:  You know what?  No matter who the conservative Christians, I mean, when we talk about people like, you know, Joe Lieberman and some others that might bring some additional excitement to the ticket, I guess I would hope they would look at who John McCain is and what the alternative is, and still decide that they need to get out there and vote. 

MADDOW:  John, do you think Giuliani really could put some more states in play? 

HARWOOD:  Yes, I think he could put some in play and he could take some out of play, too.  I think there‘s both sides of this.  And it just shows what a difficult box that John McCain is.

He‘s got a shrunken party which he has to unite and mobilize.  But because the party‘s shrunken, he‘s also got to reach out to people in the middle of the spectrum. 

So, there are a lot of reasons why you could make the argument for Rudy Giuliani.  But there are a lot of reasons why—you look at a place like Virginia, or states in the border South, where maybe Democrats want to take a run, depending on who their vice presidential choice is.  If you start depressing conservative turnout because you put a pro-choice Republican running mate on John McCain‘s ticket, exacerbating their already -- their existing distrust for John McCain, that‘s a problem. 

MADDOW:  Up next, John McCain‘s campaign gets caught not vetting an organizer of an event the senator was planning on attending.  Wait until you hear what the supporter once said.  And it is nothing a simple Google search couldn‘t turn up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MADDOW:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  We‘re happy to have you with us.  I‘m Rachel Maddow, in for David Gregory.  He‘ll be back tomorrow night and so will I, in my usual spot, as part of our all star panel.  Now, it‘s time to head back inside the war room.  Still with us, Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor for the “Washington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst, Susan Molinari, Republican strategist and former New York congresswoman, John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and political writer for the “New York Times,” and Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philadelphia, and columnist for both the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and the “Philadelphia Daily News.”

All right, first up, Michelle Obama gets her own war room.  She sits down with the women of “The View” on Wednesday.  Today, the campaign hired former Kerry communications director Stephanie Cutter as chief of staff to Michelle Obama, a clear sign the Obama camp is bracing themselves for a GOP attack.  Is Michelle Obama fair game?  Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has responded to that question with a resounding no.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  The hottest ring in hell is reserved to those in politics who attack their opponent‘s families.  If there are some Republican strategists who think that‘s the way to win the election, I think they‘re wrong. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Susan Molinari, do you think Michelle Obama should be seen as fair game in this campaign? 

MOLINARI:  I think you have to be careful.  Michelle Obama doesn‘t fit into the same category as Howard Dean‘s wife did, for example.  Michelle Obama has put herself out there.  She‘s going to be giving political speeches on behalf of her husband.  What she says is fair game, if not who she is.  Let‘s face it, didn‘t exactly hurt a wife of a president from Arkansas to get out in the circle and was roundly criticized by Republicans.  Yet, she almost became president.  So, if we keep it in perspective and you stay on policy, it‘s a fair game. 

MADDOW:  Mr. Smerconish, is there a line here though?  Is there a line that the McCain camp needs to worry about, in terms of looking like they are beating up on the candidate‘s family, looking like they‘re beating up on a woman who‘s not actually on the ticket? 

SMERCONISH:  I like the way Susan articulated it.  I would say the more substantive role a first lady plays on the campaign trail, the more she opens herself up to criticism on substance alone.  But Rachel, I wrote about this today in one of my columns, the Internet Swift Boating of the Obamas is underway.  Really, there‘s not a day that goes by, today, without me getting something in my in bin linking them to something nefarious.  I don‘t believe any of it comes from the McCain campaign.

My point is that there are forces at work out there, evil forces that just can‘t be reigned in and need to be confronted. 

HARWOOD:  Stephanie Cutter is a big gun for the Obama campaign.  To hire the communications director for the previous nominee to work for the nominee‘s spouse in the next campaign, that shows you how seriously they take it. 

Rachel, I have to ask Susan one question, as a very smart politician, on that George and Jeb thing before.  Is it smart thing for Jeb Bush to accept that that endorsement from his brother or repudiate it?  

MOLINARI:  That‘s an unfair question, John Harwood.

MADDOW:  We could sort of game out in puppet theater a Thanksgiving at the Bushes after he did that.  That might be fun.  Our next story here, a new NARAL poll released today showed that choice is the top issue moving pro-choice independent and Republican women toward Obama in the fall.  According to this poll, once respondents balanced each candidate‘s views on choice, Obama gained six points, expanding his lead over McCain from two to 13 points. 

Breaking it down further, Obama gained 13 points among pro-choice Republican women, while McCain loses nine.  Is this a big problem for McCain?  Does this mean he should take on a vice presidential nominee with more socially liberal credentials, specifically on the issue of abortion?  Gene, what do you think?

ROBINSON:  Number one, I don‘t think he will.  McCain has point-blank ruled that out, saying that his vice presidential nominee needs to be pro-life.  But, in terms of the poll and what it finds, I say yes, that was going to happen.  I think we all knew that once people focused on that issue and on McCain‘s views and his record, that voters were going to shift, women in particular, but men as well, who care about the choice issue, were going to start shifting. 

MADDOW:  I was going to say, there‘s a little bit of a push back from the McCain campaign on this issue today.  They had Carly Fiorina speaking today, talking about how women don‘t just vote on choice.  Even among health care issues, choice is not the only one on which women are devoting, and that McCain has a lot to offer women voters who are looking at other health care issues.  Do you think women voters are being caricatured as caring mostly about choice and that McCain has a wider field to play here? 

HARWOOD:  I think Fiorina makes a very good point.  Look, when‘s the last time you heard an activist political group take a poll and come out and say, it‘s better for the candidate to talk about our issue less?  They don‘t do it.  No, it‘s more.  Everybody can come up with numbers saying you‘re going to win the election by 20 points if you talk about our issue all the time. 

MADDOW:  Exactly.  Good point.  Finally, the McCain camp canceled a fund-raiser after discovering that the planned host for that fund raiser had made offensive remarks about his former gubernatorial rival.  McCain fundraiser Clayton Williams said in 1990 he would campaign against his rival Anne Richards the way he would handle a cow at the ranch, quote, head her and hoof her and drag her through the dirt “ 

He has also made some infamous comments about rape and how women should endure that particular trial.  The McCain camp canceled the event on Friday, releasing this statement, quote, these were obviously incredibly offensive remarks that the campaign was unaware of at the time it was scheduled.  It‘s positive that he did apologize at the time, but the comments are nonetheless offensive.” 

It seems that the McCain campaign has a problem with its supporters and staffers that is endemic to the campaign itself, possibly.  Why does it have such a problematic vetting process this late into the campaign?  Smerconish, what do you think?  

SMERCONISH:  I think they need to buy a modem.  I don‘t hold John McCain responsible for this.  He did the right thing.  He very quickly cut this thing loose.  I‘m used to the situation where somebody who shows up low level on the committee at 1,000 dollar level.  This guy was writing a big check.  It‘s inexcusable from a staff perspective. 

MADDOW:  Does this indicate, Susan, some sort of lack of mechanical skill in terms of running the campaign, preventing the candidate from becoming embarrassed by avoidable mistakes like this? 

MOLINARI:  Rachel, I would like to say this is a very difficult show to be a Republican strategist on right now. 

MADDOW:  I try always to be fair.

MOLINARI:  No, but the topic.  Of course, it‘s a terribly stupid, dumb mistake that the campaign made.  Those of us who have been in this town and followed politics remember what Clayton Williams said about rape.  And it never should have gotten this far.  This never should have been a story.  Thank goodness they dealt with it.  It never should have gotten to this level.  I hope they learned from this mistake. 

HARWOOD:  I can tell you, Rachel, there‘s a lot of Republican women who want to go down to Texas and hoof Clayton Williams and tie him up and put him over in the corner somewhere. 

MOLINARI:  Well said, John Harwood, well said. 

MADDOW:  John, are you surprised that we‘re seeing gaffes like this?  We‘ve seeing advanced crew errors?  We‘re seeing failure to vet these folks.  Is this a surprise, given that he does have adults running his campaign.  It‘s a mature organization at this point. 

HARWOOD:  I think it‘s a couple of things.  I think, honestly, some of these campaigns don‘t know whether people are going to notice some of these things.  They want the money.  They want to have a successful fund raiser.  Clayton Williams is somebody who is important financially.  I think, to some degree—the idea that they didn‘t know or couldn‘t find out those statements, come on.  The guy was running for statewide office.  But I think standards are shifting a little bit.  There‘s more scrutiny on past statements.  In some cases, they may be trying to slip things under the radar. 

MADDOW:  Gene Robinson, just one last point on this, do you think McCain may be in trouble down the road on this, because he‘s not returning the bundled money that Williams contributed?  Or do you think canceling the fund raiser kind of prunes this as an issue for McCain?

ROBINSON:  Given the record, the McCain campaign probably figures that nobody will find that out.  Clearly, the Democrats plan should be to keep them from ever learning about Google and the fact that you can find this stuff out very easily. 

HARWOOD:  The Google.

ROBINSON:  I think he‘s going to have continued problems.  He‘s going to have continued problems.  You know, this issue of political correctness, if you want to call it that, of what people said and how they said it, if he wants to appeal to independents and Democrats, he‘s going to have to pay more attention to it. 

HARWOOD:  Let‘s be honest, Barack Obama is going to seek and get the support of a lot of people who have also said controversial things.  The question is, at what—how deep the people go into pulling out those statements and using them to embarrass Obama and forcing him to back out of things?

MADDOW:  At what level does a person need to be associated with the campaign before it‘s accepted that they will be vetted and the Googled, as you say. 

All right, coming up in just a few hours, Al Gore will officially throw his support behind Barack Obama.  How can his endorsement help the junior senator in his bid for the presidency?  Should we be worried about the timing? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We‘re back and turning our attention now to today‘s three biggest questions coming out of the ‘08 race.  Still with us, Eugene Robinson, Susan Molinari, John Harwood and Michael Smerconish. 

First up, Al Gore will endorse Barack Obama tonight at 8:30 eastern in Detroit.  You can watch it live here on MSNBC, the place for politics.  Our first question today, how will Gore‘s endorsement help Obama?  Michael, do you think this is just a dog bites man Democratic endorsement story or could this actually be consequential for the campaign?

SMERCONISH:  It‘s not as significant as if it had happened a month ago.  In retrospect, Senator Obama did not need Al Gore‘s blessing.  But what occurs to me, Rachel, is that in certain quarters Al Gore—on the right, in certain quarters, he‘s demonized for his position vis a vis climate change.  John McCain has bought into that position.  It‘s difficult for the GOP to go after Al Gore, where the standard bearer of its party is embracing that key point. 

MADDOW:  Gene, do you think there‘s a potential subliminal message or a light undercutting of the endorsement that it is coming at the safest possible time, two weeks after Obama wrapped up the nomination?  Is that a damning with feint praise signal from Gore?

ROBINSON:  I think not necessarily.  If he wasn‘t going to endorse while there was still a contest, at this point, it doesn‘t make a huge difference politically.  But, Michael is on to something in terms of climate change.  If Gore distinguishes between McCain‘s position on climate change and Obama‘s and throws his movement weight behind Obama on that issue, that could help Obama. 

MOLINARI:  It could help John McCain on the right, too.  A lot of conservatives are very upset with John McCain‘s position on global change.  If Al Gore gets out there and articulates some issues, I think it could actually help him with some Republican conservatives. 

MADDOW:  You think that if Al Gore essentially puts a wedge between Obama and McCain on this, McCain ends up more right with conservatives on this? 

MOLINARI:  I think so.

MADDOW:  John, what‘s your take on that? 

HARWOOD:  Rachel, I think that if Al Gore makes a distinction between John McCain on climate change, though McCain Is for these carbon caps and Barack Obama‘s, he might help John McCain in the center of the electorate because he would make McCain look like a more reasonable version.  Gore is certainly recognized as a zealot on this issue.  But, in the main, in answer to your original question, woof woof, dog bites man. 

MADDOW:  The most important logistical detail about this endorsement may end up being where it takes place, the fact that it‘s in Detroit.  That may be the big signal here and not so much the timing.  I‘m very much looking forward to watching that tonight at 8:30 eastern. 

Next up, in just about 90 minutes, California will become the second state in the nation where same-sex marriage legal.  Today in Virginia, John McCain was asked if same sex marriage would become, quote, a point of contention in the presidential campaign.  Here‘s what McCain said in response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which clearly indicated the unique status of marriage between a man and a woman.  I will continue to support that.  I will continue to have my position.  That‘s that marriage is an institution.  It should be unique to a relationship between marriage between man and woman. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Susan Molinari, continuing in your Republican strategist role here today, do you think that John McCain will make gay marriage an issue in the election, and do you think he would be smart to do that? 

MOLINARI:  I don‘t know that John McCain‘s going to make this as big an issue as it has been in the past.  Clearly, it‘s going to come up.  I can guarantee you that every debate or every town hall meeting that takes place between Senator Obama and Senator McCain, this is going to be a question that comes up.  I think it‘s an important indicator of where presidential candidates stand. 

I don‘t think there‘s a way to avoid it, but I don‘t see John McCain as leading with the same tone that has sometimes captured the debate in the past. 

MADDOW:  Of course, the awkward thing about this coming up in all the debates is that Barack Obama is not pro-gay marriage.  He certainly has a different take on gay rights, generally speaking.  John Kerry, John McCain, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Bush, they are all against gay marriage, which means that people in favor of gay rights don‘t have much room to run in terms of national politics. 

MOLINARI:  I think that‘s right.  I think it‘s going to be a very fine line that‘s going to be debated, obviously. 

MADDOW:  Gene, do you want to weigh in on this?  Do you think that you see McCain making any hay out of this?

ROBINSON:  Well, I‘m not sure where he can really gain on this issue.  Overall, it perhaps sets cultural tone and raises questions in some voters‘ mind.  As you said, his position isn‘t that different from Obama‘s.  In California, where the gay marriage issue is the hottest, John McCain is not going to win California.  So it‘s not going to bring voters out to the polls on that issue. 

MADDOW:  Finally, last question here; is Barack Obama running to the right?  Michael, you have been so smart on this issue for so many months.  Today, in Flint, Michigan, a Democratic strong hold that has been hard hit with the loss of auto industry jobs, Obama said Americans must embrace the new globalized economy.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  There are some who believe that we must try to turn back the clock on this new world, that the only chance to maintain our living standards is to build a fortress around America, to stop trading with other countries, to shut down immigration, rely on old industries. 

Not only is it impossible to turn back the tide of globalization, but efforts to do so can actually make us worse off. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  This comes as labor leaders are criticizing Obama‘s new economic policy director, Jason Furman, as more pro-Wall Street than pro-labor.  Furman‘s a protege of former Clinton Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin.  Add to that Obama‘s tough talk about fatherly responsibility at an influential African American church yesterday, and his recent closed door meeting with Evangelical leaders. 

Our third question today, Michael, is Obama tacking to the right? 

SMERCONISH:  I think that he might be.  I would add something else to that list.  I interviewed John McCain in an interview that aired this morning.  I grilled him for ten minutes on Pakistan.  I would offer to you that there are significant differences between the two of them on that issue, and that Senator Obama has a more right-ward leaning position than Senator McCain, in terms of how to deal with the Pakistanis. 

I think there‘s evidence of the fact that he‘s trying to break out from the mold of being some doctrinaire liberal. 

MADDOW:  We may see the caricature and the facts come clashing together sometime soon.  John Harwood, do you think Obama is tacking right now? 

HARWOOD:  Check your calendar, Rachel.  Those primaries, that‘s a winter/spring kind of thing.  Summer/fall, that‘s the general election.  That‘s exactly what‘s going on. 

MADDOW:  Well, it could very well be as simple as that.  When we come back, your chance to play with the panel.  We‘ll be right back here on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSErMD+BO_rMDNM_.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We‘re back and turning the show over to you now.  It‘s time for you to play with the panel.  Back with us, Eugene, Susan, John and Michael.  First up, we have an e-mail from Betty.  Betty writes, “Al Gore is going to endorse Barack Obama.  We all know that Obama lines up endorsements whenever he‘s in trouble.  There‘s a clear pattern that when the news is bad, Obama cleverly pulls out a timely endorsement.”

Susan, do you think this is a Machiavellian timing experience? 

MOLINARI:  I do think they have been very smart in lining up the endorsements and saving them for whenever they need to and whenever Senator Clinton was about to make news.  But I guess I got nothing. 

MADDOW:  Gene, do you—Gene, do you have any inside take on some bad news coming down the pike that Obama is trying to head off with the Gore event tonight? 

ROBINSON:  No, I don‘t.  I guess I contest the contention that it‘s a timely endorsement.  I think a timely endorsement would have been when it really would have helped him against Clinton. 

MADDOW:  I have to say, my sense is here that they are not reacting to news, but they are trying to make news.  This is going to be a big energy speech night.  It remains to be seen.  John, do you have any anticipation of the timing going south here, the timing being important here? 

HARWOOD:  Maybe it was because they were worried the Clayton William story was going to break.  Wait, that‘s a McCain bad story.  That‘s not Obama. 

MADDOW:  Let‘s go to Steve in Wisconsin, who writes this, “the gist of the Republican attacks on Michelle Obama seems to be to scare voters away from her because she is far more out spoken and opinionated than the typical first lady.  This would be an opportune time for Hillary Clinton to rally her female supporters to step up and stand by Michelle in defense of these sexist attacks.” 

What do you think, Michael? 

SMERCONISH:  I think she misspoke.  I‘m still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt in saying that she misspoke with that statement that we all remember about her saying for the first time in her life, she‘s proud of her country.  I thought she meant to say, I‘ve never been more proud of my country than I am today, given what‘s happening relative to the nomination of my husband.  You can rest assured, every single thing she says from now to November is going to get sliced and diced. 

As I point out, there‘s an Internet whisper campaign unlike anything that I‘ve seen before about any candidate.  And the Obama campaign came forward, launched this website a week ago and said we‘re—just like Snopes does—I‘m sure we‘ve all been to Snopes.com.  We‘re going to confront every one of these things and I think that‘s wise. 

HARWOOD:  Rachel, I think that viewer has a very smart point.  They are obviously going for heavy ammunition to defend Michelle Obama.  What better heavy ammunition than Hillary Clinton, based on some the things that she went through.  I think it‘s a very perceptive point. 

MADDOW:  John, do you think there‘s a very specific gender dynamic at play in the Michelle Obama story line, in the Michelle Obama potential attacks? 

HARWOOD:  No. 

MADDOW:  Can the Obama campaign treat this like they treat all the other smears that they have confronted? 

HARWOOD:  Honestly, I think there‘s a bit more racial story line with Michelle Obama than there is a gender story line.  Both can be conflated.  When you are talking about defending the spouse of the nominee, you can use all sorts of arguments to do that.  Clearly, there are people who don‘t like Michelle Obama for all different sorts of reasons.  You need all hands on deck there. 

MADDOW:  I think it also remains to be seen whether or not she is able to rally women, or anybody else, to her defense in sort of a defend Michelle Obama phenomenon, like we saw with Hillary Clinton.  That remains to be seen as well. 

Our next story, Caleb in Missouri asks, “Do you think it‘s more important for Barack Obama to pick a vice president who has a chance of being able to get elected in eight years or someone with the credentials, such as a general, to help him sort out the problems that he will face over the next eight years?”

Susan, what do you think? 

MOLINARI:  I think Barack Obama has to pick somebody that‘s going to help get him elected.  I think it‘s pretty clear, at least as it stands right now, that the big gap in his CV is dealing with foreign leaders, and how he says he‘s going to do it, how he‘s going to deal as commander in chief in his over all position on being able to mount a strong defense in the face of terrorism.  I do think if he‘s got one challenge in picking vice president, I think it‘s to try and close that loophole in his biography. 

HARWOOD:  Susan, as the best practicing politician on this panel, a serious question; some people think that if you go to shore up a weakness, you accentuate the weakness.  Others think you actually do need to go straight at it.  Who has the high side of the argument? 

MOLINARI:  I have the tendency to think that if you can sure up that weakness, then you make people feel better.  If, in fact, the unfortunate happens and something happens to the United States or happens anywhere else in the world, or we get a video tape, as has happened in past elections right before, that you have a confidence there are people around.  Look, George Bush did it with Dick Cheney.  We all thought that was a really smart idea at the time.  It worked for the election. 

MADDOW:  There is that risk that by making a choice like that, you are essentially telegraphing that you feel like you need to compensate in that regard. 

One last point.  Tina from New Jersey has this question, “if you were incapable of handling your own finances, who would you trust to do it for you, Barack Obama or John McCain?” 

Michael Smerconish? 

SMERCONISH:  My wife would tell you that I am incapable of handling my own finances.  I think there‘s a lesson in this.  I really do believe the way in which you operate your campaign is indicative of your management style.  I leave it to the viewers to determine which of the two of them has the better management style.

MADDOW:  That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m Rachel Maddow.  Thank you for watching.  Thanks to a great panel tonight.  David Gregory will be back here tomorrow night, same time, 6:00 pm Eastern, on MSNBC.

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

END   

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