updated 6/24/2008 1:09:45 PM ET 2008-06-24T17:09:45

Guest: Rachel Maddow, Harold Ford, Jr., Stephen Hayes, Michael Smerconish

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  Tonight, the politics of terror.  Does McCain benefit if America is hit again before November?  His senior adviser says yes.

The context and the damage control, as THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.

Welcome back to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory. 

Happy to have you here, your stop for the fast-paced, the bottom line and every point of view in the room. 

Tonight, new poll numbers have Obama with a big lead over McCain and Democrats with a huge advantage going into November.  We‘ll break it down for you. 

How team Obama is positioning itself for the fall, the strengths and the weaknesses.  We‘ll do the same for McCain tomorrow.

A mini veepstakes here tonight.  Is McCain considering a woman for the ticket? 

And “Three Questions,” big picture, advice for Obama and McCain.  What they should say on Iraq, on energy and to Hillary Clinton supporters.  Obama and Clinton campaign Friday together for the first time in New Hampshire.

The bedrock of this program, as you know, a panel that always comes to play. 

And with us tonight, Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philly, and columnist for both “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and “The Philadelphia Daily News”; Harold Ford, Jr., chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and NBC News analyst; Stephen Hayes, senior writer with “The Weekly Standard”; and Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, and an MSNBC political analyst. 

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

I‘ll get us started here tonight.  My headline, “On to Unity.”

Senators Obama and Clinton announced today their first joint campaign appearance this Friday.  Where?  New Hampshire, site of Clinton‘s stunning primary victory. 

They will appear at a rally in the western New Hampshire town of Unity.  Yes, Unity.  That‘s where each candidate won 107 votes in the primary.  Split it even.  So the choreography is obviously very nice, but now the hard part.

How will these warriors actually come together?  And for Obama, the million dollar question, are her supporters now prepared to forgive and line up behind him? 

He spoke of Senator Clinton today at a working women‘s rally in New Mexico.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Standing here today, I know that we have drawn closer to this America because of extraordinary women, women like the lieutenant governor and your first lady, the extraordinary woman who I shared a stage with so many times throughout this campaign, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.  In the months and years ahead, I look forward to working with her and to women all across the country to make progress on the issues that matter to American women and to all American families. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  The other question that arises as we look ahead to that joint appearance, where‘s Bill? 

The former president endorsed Obama‘s energy proposals today, but will there be peace between those two?  Obama‘s team says indeed they will consult, but it‘s unclear, just as it was tricky back in 2000 and 2004, how Mr. Clinton will be used. 

Rachel, on to your headline.  It looks like somebody in the McCain camp said something they wish they hadn‘t said. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  That‘s right, David.  My headline tonight is “Straight Talk on Terror.”  I think mostly proving that I‘m not a very imaginative headline writer, but this is a hot story. 

John McCain‘s chief strategist, Charlie Black, apologized today after “Fortune” magazine published these comments from him: “The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an unfortunate event,” says Black, “but his knowledge and ability to talk about it emphasized that this is the guy who‘s ready to be commander in chief, and it helped us, as would,” Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, “another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.  Certainly it would be a big advantage to him,” says Black.

Now, Charlie Black is apologizing for that statement, because obviously of the repellant implication that the McCain campaign would see a political upside to a terrorist attack.  But the bigger question here is not about the gaffe, the misstatement by Black.  The bigger question here, at least to me, is whether or not the underlying political point he is making there is still true. 

Obama is campaigning like national security is his bread and butter.  What remains to be seen, I think, is whether Charlie Black and the McCain campaign generally are underestimating or misunderstanding a new politics around security in this country. 

GREGORY:  Yes, that‘s the real question, whether there is a new debate, a state of security politics in this country. 

Stephen, you have taken a look at this as well for your headline. 

What‘s your take on it? 

STEPHEN HAYES, SR. WRITER, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  My headline, David, is, “I Didn‘t Mean to Say It, But I Meant What I Said.”

I think the McCain campaign does believe that they would benefit from a terrorist attack.  That‘s a far different thing from wishing that there were another terrorist attack, as someone on the previous show mentioned and as John Kerry‘s e-mail criticism of John McCain would seem to suggest.  But certainly Rachel is right.  This is something we‘re going to hear a lot more of in the coming days. 

GREGORY:  And we‘re going to talk in our next segment about whether this is a true statement.  And we should say for context here, it has long been felt, and I think Charlie Black made this point in his apology, saying that if the issue is national security, it‘s better for McCain.  He appears to have boiled that down to a terror attack would certainly help McCain. 

The same was true in 2004.  Karl Rove used to say to President Bush, if the debate is war on terror, then Bush wins.  These are the realities of how the campaign is debated and how these issues are debated within the campaign. 

We‘ll talk more about this tactically inside the War Room when we get there. 

Smerc, you‘re focused on the energy debate, which is not going away. 

Your headline? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  David, my headline is, “Start Me Up.” 

Today in Fresno, John McCain delivered a speech on energy security in which he proposed a big cash prize for whomever could develop a battery package that would surpass electric cars and hybrids.  He invoked the names of some well-known American inventors and tried to appeal to an American sense of creativity and resolve. 

Let‘s give a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I further propose we inspire the ingenuity and resolve of the American people by offering a $300 million prize for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leap frog the commercially-available plug-in hybrids or electric cars.  That‘s $1 for every man, woman and child in the U.S.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  So now the question becomes, are American voters going to see this as an embrace of a challenge, the American spirit, or as somewhat of a gimmick?  That‘s the open question tonight, David. 

GREGORY:  One thing is true, that whether it‘s gimmicky, whether it‘s long term, whether drilling doesn‘t do anything to really solve the problem, McCain is trying to position himself as the guy who gets it and who is working on it, and who‘s feeling the pain of voters who are going to be going to the pump in November and the voting polls, and saying we‘ve got a real problem on our hands. 

SMERCONISH:  No doubt about it.  But you know, it was a substantive speech that dealt with a whole host of factors.  This is the only thing the nation has focused on so far, or at least those of us who are somewhat in the media. 

GREGORY:  OK.

Harold Ford, tonight you‘re focused on Obama‘s reintroduction to the country.  This is the time to get reengineered, really, to recalibrate the campaign for the fall.  What‘s your headline? 

HAROLD FORD, JR., NBC NEWS ANALYST:  My headline is “Obama to McCain in 527s: I Will Define Me.”

Two consequences of the enormous fund-raising success that the candidate has had up to this point and what he projects going forward.  He will be able to, very early on, in states in which Republicans have enjoyed an advantage in previous presidential races, get out first, fast and in a very aggressive way and lay the tone, set the tone and lay the groundwork for who he is, how and what he‘s accomplished in politics.  And more importantly, give voters a real sense of who he and his family really are. 

He will have a little bit of an uphill battle in some ways as some of these bloggers and Internet campaigns are on their way suggesting that he‘s a Muslim and suggesting hey may be a radical Muslim.  He was given great help from the great mayor of New York, superb comments down in Florida, where he demonstrated and shared with a large Jewish groups that these rumors are just that, rumors,  They‘re false and they‘re awful.

But the money gives him an advantage.  And if he can use it as he suggested, he will find himself in a stronger position as we head into the late summer and fall.

GREGORY:  But Harold, you bring up the 527s.  They are not the factor that they were even in 2004 at this stage of the campaign. 

FORD:  Well, at this stage in the campaign , you may be right.  But we have four and a half months out, and I have a funny, funny feeling they will find their way back into this campaign.  Senator Obama, starting early with the resources, will aid himself and his campaign. 

GREGORY:  All right.

There‘s been some criticism that‘s been leveled at Obama, whether that is a rationale for getting out of the public financing system will backfire against him.  More on that to be continued.

We‘re going to come back, take a break, go inside the War Room.  More on the politics of terror.  Whom does it benefit in this campaign?  The McCain campaign talking about it today, dealing with some of the damage control as well, having to apologize for comments made by a senior adviser. 

We‘ll do that when we come back. 

Also, later in the program, your turn to play with the panel.  Send us your e-mail, race08@msnbc.com, or you can call us at 212-790-2299. 

THE RACE will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back inside the War Room looking at the tactics, the strategy, the poll numbers, everything that these campaigns are working on as they prepare for the fall. 

Back with us, a panel tonight of the best: Michael Smerconish, Harold Ford, Jr., Stephen Hayes and Rachel Maddow. 

OK.  Topic number one, the politics of fear.  We talked about it in “The Headline.

This is what Charlie Black, senior adviser to Senator McCain, talked about. 

The original quote was this: “The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an unfortunate event,” says Black.  This is the reporting from “Fortune” magazine.  “But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized this is the guy who‘s ready to be commander in chief.”  He‘s talking about McCain there.

“And it helped us, as would,” Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue,” another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.”  “Fortune” quoting Black saying, “Certainly it would be a big advantage to him,” meaning Senator McCain, says Black.

Later, Black said he deeply regretted the remarks and what he was saying is that national security has always been a strength for Senator McCain, that he is has put it in his career above all else in his considerations.

Senator McCain was asked about this when he met reporters today.  This is what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I cannot imagine why he would say it.  It‘s not true. 

It‘s—I‘ve worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America.  As to the security of this nation, I cannot imagine it, and so if he said that—and I do not know the context—I strenuously disagree. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  So, Rachel, let me take this on in this way, which is, something like this happened, it‘s inartfully phrased, there‘s a quick apology.  It does not take away the substance of the argument that history tells us is a real argument. 

We know that John Kerry said Osama bin Laden‘s appearance on video in 2004, you could measurably show, hurt him in the polls.  Why would that not be the case here, should something happen, god forbid on this front, late in the campaign? 

MADDOW:  Well, I think as you summarized before the break really well, David, I think that it‘s absolutely been political common wisdom that has been—sort of received political truth that Republicans do benefit when we‘re talking about terrorism.  Republicans benefit when we‘re talking about national security issues. 

I just think that the Barack Obama campaign thinks that they have turned the page on that.  The Obama campaign is now saying, you know what?  That may have been the case before, it is not the case now.

Obama gave a speech last week in which he said explicitly George Bush and John McCain are weak on terrorism.  We are less safe because of their policies.  We can keep doing what they have done, which is had disastrous national security implications, or we can turn the page. 

He‘s as aggressive as I have ever heard a Democrat be on this issue because he feels like it‘s his strength.  And so I don‘t actually think that what Charlie Black said was something that would be an unusual thing to hear in Washington if he wasn‘t coming from somebody in the campaign.  I just think the Obama campaign questions the truth of it now. 

GREGORY:  Stephen Hayes, in this case you have a potential weakness for Obama that might actually—a potential weakness.  I‘m not saying it is a weakness, but it‘s a potential weakness for him on foreign affairs and national security that may drive a decision for a running mate. 

Does he not think toward the potential of some kind of national security issue?  By the way, it‘s not just the issue of a terror attack.  What if Israel were to launch an attack against Iran?  What if the administration were to initiate an attack against Iran, or something were to flare up in Iraq? 

All of these may go to the national security question between Obama and McCain.  That might even impact the choice that Obama makes for a running mate to prepare for such an eventuality in October.

Bottom line question is, is Rachel right?  Have the politics of national security changed appreciably that this conventional wisdom is wrong? 

HAYES:  You know, I‘m not sure the politics have changed that much, although I definitely agree with Rachel‘s assessment that the Obama campaign thinks they have changed. 

You know, we talked—I talked to Robert Gibbs, Obama‘s communications director, on Thursday morning, and we were in a discussion with a couple of other reporters about this very subject.  And he said, look, we were happy to talk foreign policy and national security this week, we‘ll be happy to talk about it every week until the election.  So I think that their attitude is what has really changed. 

SMERCONISH:  Hey, David, can I quickly get in on this? 

GREGORY:  Yes.  Go ahead, Smerc.

SMERCONISH:  If you take a look at the “USA Today”/Gallup survey, which shows Barack Obama up by six, and then it‘s broken down issue by issue, the only subcategory where John McCain kicks some butt is on terrorism, 52 to 33 percent.

So, I recognize what Rachel is saying.  I think the Obama campaign has a good argument to make.  But so far, it hasn‘t resonated with voters.

GREGORY:  Harold, how does it resonate by the fall, and what does the Obama team do to put him in a position to be able to respond more effectively than the last Democratic standard bearer, John Kerry, did, a Vietnam veteran, after all, when it came to late in the campaign?  He was able to be out-defined in a way by President Bush‘s “who‘s tougher on this question?”

FORD:  Two things.  I think Smerc nails it that you look inside these numbers and McCain sees an advantage.

The more we‘re even talking about security in any capacity, I think he thinks—McCain believes it (INAUDIBLE) his benefit.  If you‘re Senator Obama, trips to Israel and Iraq in the near future, which I know is—those plans are under way, where you come back and you begin to lay out more fully and more comprehensively how you would approach Iraq first day as president, to give the American people even greater confidence that you‘re not only ready to confront it, but ready to continue to beat back al Qaeda and keep America‘s interests strong and safe in that region.

GREGORY:  All right.  I‘ve got to get to a break here.  We‘re going to come back and do a mini version of veepstakes tonight, look at a couple of choices on each side, do some of our own vetting.

Obama‘s V.P., Biden says he‘ll say yes.  We‘re going to look at the prospect of women on the Republican side when THE RACE comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back here on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, doing something we‘ll do a lot here, which is a mini veepstakes edition.  A lot of focus on who these potential running mates will be.  We want to look at this day in and day out by looking at just a few of the choices.

And back with us, of course, Michael, Harold, Stephen and Rachel. 

OK.  You heard Joe Biden, Senator Biden.  He was in the race once, bowed out on the Democratic side.  He was on “MEET THE PRESS” Sunday with Brian Williams and was asked about whether he‘d take the job. 

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  I‘m being straight with you.  If asked, I will do it.  I‘ve made it clear, I do not want to be asked. 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Do not want to be asked, but if asked the answer of course would be yes. 

BIDEN:  Of course it would, because the president—if the presidential nominee thought I could help him win, I‘m going to say to the first African-American candidate about to make history in the world that no, I will not help you out like you want me to?  Of course I‘ll say yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  All right, Harold.  Break it down for me, the pluses and the negatives of Biden on the ticket. 

FORD:  Foreign policy experience, gray hair.  He‘s my friend, he‘s one of my good friend‘s dads.  I hope he doesn‘t take it the wrong way.

He brings an understanding of Washington, how it works, how to make it work, and all of the players.  And he brings a state that Barack won. 

I think he‘s well respected in foreign policy, national security circles in the party.  And can you imagine the contrast between what George Bush had in Dick Cheney and what Barack Obama would have in a Joe Biden? 

GREGORY:  Well...

FORD:  It would be big and positive.

GREGORY:  Rachel, what are the downsides here?  Is he somebody who—you know, you‘ve seen criticisms that he talks too much, maybe a little bit too unwieldy.  Certainly an insider.  And that may be one of the tradeoffs if you want somebody who‘s got that kind of foreign policy experience. 

MADDOW:  I have to say that I will tell you what the downsides are, but I do find it incredibly refreshing that he‘s like, yes, I‘d do it.  It‘s so against the rules and the etiquette that I find it very charming. 

But that said, he‘s a senator.  And we‘ve never had—we haven‘t had a senator since 1960.  Either of our nominees is going to be the first senator in 48 years, but having a second senator on the ticket is probably not a brilliant move. 

It also somewhat cuts against the grain of Obama‘s overall message, which is I‘m the new guy. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  That I represent—I‘m not from Washington, I‘m not of Washington.  And while I can sort of conquer Washington, I don‘t come from here.  And it would go against that grain.

GREGORY:  All right.

Let me talk, Smerc, about the Republican side and a few of the choices that McCain looks to be considering if he wants to pick a woman: Kay Bailey Hutchison, senator, of course, of Texas; Carly Fiorina, who‘s been a major surrogate for him on the economy, formerly of HP; and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. 

Out of those three, who do you like, if anybody? 

SMERCONISH:  None of the three.  I think that none of the three brings to McCain‘s ticket what he needs. 

Governor Hutchison, not a fireball out on the campaign trail.  And also, I think the fact that she‘s from Texas and is perceived of being a friend of big oil, not the right year for that. 

Carly Fiorina, untested.  I mean, there‘s a vetting process to be a spokesperson on television in the context of a campaign.  There‘s a whole other situation when one is—I mean, what would she know about al Qaeda, by way of example? 

Governor Palin, I respect the fact that she walks the talk. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

SMERCONISH:  In other words, relative to that pro-life issue.  But, man, she is really pro-life, and I don‘t think that‘s how you appeal to women in the center of this country. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Got to take a break here...

SMERCONISH:  So each of the three...

GREGORY:  ... come back.

More of the War Room.  Obama, the campaign. 

Coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Time now for the back half.  We‘re happy you‘re here.  Today‘s third installation of the war room; we‘re heading back into Obama‘s war room.  How is he gearing up for the general election in November? 

Back with us, Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philly and a columnist for both the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and the “Philadelphia Daily News,” Harold Ford Jr., chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, also an NBC News analyst, Steven Hayes, senior writer with the “Weekly Standard,” and Rachel Maddow, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America and an MSNBC political analyst. 

OK, topic number one, Obama‘s TV ad plans and his ground game.  This is a key thing to focus on, even if it doesn‘t have to do with polls or other things as we get into the fall.  This is how the “New York Times” is reporting it; “future commercials could run on big national show cases like the Olympics in August and smaller cable networks like MTV and Black Entertainment Television that appeal to specific demographic and interest groups.  He‘s also dispatching paid staff members to all states, an unusual move by the standards of modern presidential campaigns.  Aides and advisers to Mr. Obama said they did not believe he necessarily had a serious chance of winning in many of the traditionally Republican states, saying he could at least draw Mr. McCain into spending time and money in those places, while swelling Democratic enrollment and supporting other Democrats on the ballot.”

Steve Hayes, I‘ve talked to some Democratic strategists who say there‘s the potential here for Obama to be on the air with positive biographical ads all over the country, while at the same time going negative in specific battleground states against McCain.  That‘s a carpet bombing effort, really could be overwhelming against McCain and company. 

HAYES:  I think this is huge.  Last week, when he opted out of public financing, there was a lot of talk about anticipated attacks from 527 and things of that nature.  This is the reason Barack Obama is not going to subjection himself to the public finance limit.  He‘s going to be able to do something that‘s so important for somebody who‘s a relative new comer to national politics, and that is define himself.  He can spend a ton of money in places where John McCain is not going to be up for potentially months to tell people who he is. 

I think his latest talks about him, talks about his heartland values, it‘s a tremendously effective ad.  It‘s not entirely accurate, all of it.  But it‘s a tremendously effective ad that I think is likely to appeal to exactly the kind of voters he‘s going to want to poach from John McCain, these independents and moderates. 

GREGORY:  Harold Ford, something we‘re not talking a lot about is the specter of an either Ron Paul or specifically Bob Barr.  In a state like his home state of Georgia, could he get as much as six percent of the vote, where Obama could make some real in roads there, boosting African-American turn out, perhaps picking somebody like a Sam Nunn for the ticket.  Can he play in those states and have ads on the air in a real way. 

FORD:  When I think of Bob Barr, who I served with in the Congress, being from Georgia, I can think of a Ralph Nader impact in Florida.  The same kind of impact could be had in Georgia, a Ron Paul in Texas.  It‘s obvious what the math says.  I take issue with one thing that Steven said.  I agree with him wholeheartedly across the board.  But we all know that TV ads aren‘t together always true.  I happen to think a lot of what Barack said in those ads resonates.  The reality is, if he‘s able to flood and frankly overwhelm ad space with positive ads about him between now and the end of the summer, that will impact his chances of winning in some of these tough states, but will certainly help some of those down ballot candidates. 

GREGORY:  Let me talk about the negative attacks, and how Barack Obama is trying to position himself to deal with them.  He talked to a crowd on Friday night, a fund raiser, I believe—he talked to some supporters and talked about some of the criticism that will come his way.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We know what kind of campaign they‘re going to try run.  They‘re going to try to make you afraid of me.  They‘re going to say, you know what, he‘s young, inexperienced and he‘s got a funny name.  Did I mention he‘s black?  He‘s got a feisty wife. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  I just want to repeat that so everybody can hear it.  It might have been a little tough.  He‘s talking about what‘s coming his way, they‘re going to say about me he‘s young and inexperienced. He‘s got a funny name.  Did I mention he‘s black.  He‘s got a feisty wife.  He‘s really trying to meet some of the things that are out there head on.  How does it play?

MADDOW:  We heard how it played right there in that room.  That was obviously a partisan pro-Obama room.  He says feisty wife and the crowd goes nuts.  This is the untold story so far about the Michelle Obama factor.  Sure, she‘s been staffed up with this really high level chief of staff, Stephanie Cutter, who was communications director for John Kerry.  They have the Fight The Smear website going on.  There‘s a lot of talk about what‘s going to happen there. 

Obama is going to try to turn a lot of this stuff to his advantage.  That‘s the political strategy underlining the case to his supporters that he had to reject public financing, because of the attacks that are going to come from him from outside the John McCain campaign.  A lot of this is positioning yourself as the underdog, the guy who is fighting the good fight when the bad fight is being fought against you.  A lot of this is looking to define yourself in a heroic way. 

GREGORY:  Smerc, it‘s also an opportunity for Obama to say to people what is serious in their minds, which is these are some things they may be lurking in your decision making process that I have to cross a threshold on.  And maybe by talking about it, we can work this out.  Is that how you think he approaches it? 

SMERCONISH:  I do.  I think that humor is a disarming agent that he is using very effectively.  I think this is an insulation effort.  It‘s intended, David, so that the next time you hear you‘ve got mail, and it‘s some scurrilous attack against Barack Obama, you read it and say I‘ve heard this before; he explained it and you move on. 

GREGORY:  Let me talk about another potential criticism coming his way, that he‘s trying to deal with, this idea of the just another politician label.  David Broder wrote about it on the op ed page of the “Washington Post” yesterday, the fact that Obama has moved away from campaign finance and has not reached an agreement with the McCain campaign on these town hall, this is what Broder writes; “but it‘s also the case that the multiple joint town meetings McCain proposed would be a real service to the public and that suspending the dollar chase for the duration of the campaign, as McCain but not Obama will do, will be a major step towards establishing the credibility of the election process.  By refusing to join McCain in these initiatives in order to protect his own interests, Obama raises an important question; has he built sufficient trust so that his motives will be accepted by the voters who are only now starting to figure out what makes him tick?”

Harold Ford Jr., is the risk for Obama that he looks like a conventional politician as he gets into this general election campaign? 

FORD:  He‘s got to be mindful of that, as does the other candidate.  But I think Broder touches on something very important here.  Barack probably has a higher threshold and a higher standard, Senator Obama does, because what he‘s accomplished and what he brings to this campaign.  I think that campaign, the Obama campaign, has to think very seriously about which and when they accept town halls and debates and certainly can‘t be seen as dodging John McCain, who many believe is inferior to Barack when it comes to laying out and articulating clearly and forcefully his views and vision for the future. 

Overall, I have to say, Barack Obama‘s presence, his person, his message alone is something so different and unconventional that he has a leg up already.  He has to be careful and pay attention going forward. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about where he has to be careful.  Steve Hayes, the reality is that there‘s a view inside the Obama campaign that a little more conventionality is good at this point, that sticking with the brand, while ultimately successful against Hillary Clinton, was a long, drawn out affair, that they want to draw blood earlier.  If you think about Obama and his level of attacks that he‘s willing to take on some risk in going after McCain on national security, for instance, with the idea that let‘s take this on, let‘s take it on now, let‘s try to end it now, as a matter of speaking. 

HAYES:  I think there‘s a risk.  Harold is right.  There‘s a risk in him looking too conventional.  But I don‘t think David Broder is right that campaign finance reform is the issue that jeopardizes him.  It‘s been funny to observe this back and forth in the political press over the weekend after this announcement came.  I just don‘t think the country is paying attention.  I don‘t think people are staying up at night and saying, oh my gosh, Barack Obama flip flopped on flip-flopped on public financing.  What are we going to do?  It‘s just not a big issue. 

GREGORY:  All right, I agree with that.  But Rachel, the issue is, does he look more like what we expect out of Washington?  Is he running a more conventional campaign?  David Brooks wrote about that on Friday, the idea that hey, he flip-flopped on a position.  Maybe he‘s a tough Chicago pol.  That plays for him and against him at the same time. 

MADDOW:  To the extent that people are paying attention to process, yes.  But I think that you can‘t be the unconventional outsider who is surfing a wave of hundreds of millions of dollars.  You can‘t be the pure outsider guy when you‘re running as big a campaign as he is running.  Yes, maybe he is drawing those 1.5 million individual donors.  There are some different ways he‘s done it.  But really, it‘s going to be a big, conventional, carpet bombing ad campaign.  It‘s hard to look pure when you‘re doing that. 

I think to the extent that he can defeat the O-Bambi stereo type, and look like he can actually throw some elbows, is probably going to help him more than it hurts him. 

GREGORY:  I have to get a break in.  We‘ll come back and go to three questions, the talking points edition, what the candidates should really be saying on the trail, not our advice, but from some others when we come back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘ve been talking all hour about this politics of terror and the statement by Charlie Black today from the McCain campaign.  The Obama team responded with this from spokesman Bill Burton—this is his quote, “the fact that John McCain‘s top advisors says that a terrorist attack on American soil would be a big political advantage for their political campaign is a complete disgrace, and is exactly the kind of politics that needs to change.”  That from Bill Burton of the Obama campaign. 

Charlie Black was quoted in “Fortune Magazine” saying that a terror attack would benefit McCain.  He apologized for that later in the day, suggesting that what he meant to say was that national security is always an advantage, in his estimation, for the Arizona senator. 

We move on to three questions this block.  We‘re back on THE RACE and turning our attention to the three big questions.  Still with us, Michael Smerconish, Harold Ford Jr., Steven Hayes and Rachel Maddow. 

First up tonight, the issue of Iraq.  What should Obama be saying on the war, at this particular stage, with violence down in Iraq, with McCain saying the surge is indisputably working.  Of course, the violence is down.  Fareed Zakaria of “Newsweek” and the “Washington Post,” sketches this out as a potential speech Obama could give, a portion of it, “my objective,” he could say, “remains to end American combat involvement in Iraq and to do so expeditiously.  At some point, we are going to have to take off the training wheels in Iraq.  I believe we must have a serious plan that defines when the point is reached.  If we define success as an Iraq that looks like France or Holland, then we will have stay indefinitely, continue spending 10 billion dollars a month, and keep 140,000 troops in combat.  That is neither acceptable nor sustainable.  We will have to accept as success a muddy middle ground.” 

Steve Hayes, this is not something Obama has said this explicitly, though we know he would like to withdrawal troops at a certain rate.  He said we should be as careful getting out as the U.S. was not careful getting in.  Your thoughts on this? 

HAYES:  I thought it was a very smart column by Fareed Zakaria.  I think John McCain would love it if Barack Obama said we want an Iraq that looks like France.  I‘m not sure Barack Obama will ever say something like that.  It was a smart column.  Frankly, I‘m a surprised, as we discussed last week—I‘m a little surprised that Obama hasn‘t done this yet.  He‘s made hints to it and he‘s fainted toward it.  I think ultimately what Obama is going to want to do is talk more about the judgment that went into going into war in the first place.  John McCain is going to try to shift the debate to talk about the judgment that went into shifting strategy and to championing the surge.  And Barack Obama has yet to really embrace the fact, and I do think it‘s a fact, that the surge has done well. 

GREGORY:  To that end, Senator McCain said this, today and we‘ll get some reaction to it—he was talking about—he took a question from somebody opposed to the war in a town hall meeting.  Let‘s watch McCain today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I‘d be glad to go over weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein and reasons why we went into the conflict and the failed intelligence.  We are where we are and what‘s the best way forward?  That‘s where, frankly, Senator Obama and I have a serious disagreement.  He wanted to withdrawal all of our troops long ago.  I didn‘t think that was the right strategy.  He said that the surge would fail.  He still fails to acknowledge that the surge has succeeded. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Smerc, is that something Obama should do at this stage, acknowledge that? 

SMERCONISH:  I think that he should and not because John McCain says so.  I take a look at that Brookings Institution data that comes out on roughly a quarterly basis in the “New York Times,” and it came out on Sunday, quantitative analysis on about a dozen different measures.  There‘s just no dispute as to the fact that things have gotten a heck of a lot better in Iraq.  I don‘t think Barack Obama hurts his credibility by acknowledging that. 

MADDOW:  We should point out that the point of the surge was political reconciliation.  So lots of other metrics saying lots of other things is interesting, but it wasn‘t the point of the surge. 

GREGORY:  It‘s also the question of the cost to maintain what‘s improvement, but not as far down the road as we would like to be.  What is that cost to the American people?  That‘s going to be a big subject of the debate, as we go forward. 

MADDOW:  That‘s why I think Obama isn‘t always bringing it back to why we went into Iraq in the first place.  He‘s saying now, the issue we have to decide is indefinite commitment or not.  John McCain wants an indefinite commitment; I don‘t want that.  That‘s not going back to the beginning.  That‘s from here forward. 

GREGORY:  Let me move on to the question of energy.  This from Thomas Friedman over the weekend; this is a speech that he recommended that the president could give, but I think also talking about McCain and Obama—this from Thomas Friedman about what they could say, “oil is poisoning our climate and our geo-politics and here is how we‘re going to break our addiction: we‘re going to set a floor of 4.50 a gallon for gasoline and 100 dollars a barrel for oil.  That floor price is going to trigger massive investments in renewable energy, particularly wind, solar panels and solar thermal.  And we‘re also going to go on a crash program to dramatically increase energy efficiency, to drive conservation to a whole new level and to build more nuclear power.  I want every Democrat and every Republican to join me in this endeavor.” 

Harold, is that a speech you can see Obama and/or McCain giving? 

FORD:  They both should give it.  It‘s a brilliant set of advice.  The only challenge with it is that most Americans can‘t connect the dots between the notion and the abstract; we‘ll get there one day, with the reality of what they are paying at the pump.  I think it would be very difficult for somebody to say, we want 100 dollars a barrel oil and 4.50 gasoline, while government figures it out.  If you link it to what‘s happening in Detroit and say, your tax dollars are going to help develop a new a line of cars from GM, from Ford, from Chrysler, that will enable Americans to work, that will decrease our dependence on over seas, I think Americans may follow suit. 

Also, in that same article, Friedman indicated that one of the reasons he supports drilling, at least in the short term, here in America, is that he believes, for geo-political reasons, we ought to extract as much oil from our own wells, more so than wells in the Middle East.  He‘s about three quarters there.  Politically, it‘s hard to argue.  I can tell you, as someone being in politics, you can‘t run home to Tennessee and say, we‘re going to cap gas or put a base at 4.50 a gallon, vote for me.  You won‘t win. 

GREGORY:  Right, and talking about wind and solar panels is difficult when it‘s still at the investment stage, to create a market for it in America.  Let me move on—

FORD:  The other thing he said in that piece was you have to expand that tax credit and make it permanent, which is what we should do. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Smerc talked about the fact that McCain was talking about some tax incentives on a new battery as well.  So this will go on. 

Final point here is the question of what should Obama and McCain be saying to those Clinton supporters?  We‘ll get through this quickly.  This is the advice from columnist Ellen Goodman.  This is a speech she proposed Obama could give: “I will promise that in an Obama administration, helping to bail out families will be more important than bailing out Bear Sterns.  Child care will be not an afterthought, but as basic as school.  An Obama administration will trust American women to make their own moral and medical decisions about child bearing.  We will have women as decision makers at every table and every level.  I don‘t make these promises because they fit on the platter of women‘s issues.  This is I know from the dreams of my mother and the dreams of my daughter.  Most men share these concerns and I am one of them.”

Rachel, take 30 questions and respond to that.  I‘m sorry, 30 seconds. 

If you have 30 questions, in that amount of time, you could do it. 

MADDOW:  I think that Obama has all but given that speech.  I think that Ellen Goodman put it in a smart, well written way.  I think that Obama isn‘t far from that in terms of what he is promising.  I wouldn‘t be surprised to hear a lot of that come from McCain too though, as he woos women voters. 

GREGORY:  OK, we‘re going to take a break here, come back.  Your play date with the panel straight ahead right after this.  THE RACE comes back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  In our remaining moments, it‘s you who gets to play with the panel.  Back with us, team of All-Stars tonight, Michael Smerconish, Harold Ford Jr, Steven Hayes and Rachel Maddow.  OK, Virginia from New York writes this, “can someone please explain the difference between a flip flop and a change in point of view due perhaps to maturity or the need to adapt to current international or economic situations?” 

Harold, you might always—as we honor Tim Russert, this is one of the things we talked about in the last couple weeks that he felt so strongly about, that it was OK for politicians to come on and say I changed my mind about this.  What‘s the difference?

FORD:  When you have stated throughout your political career a position, you change it and you don‘t state, hey, I changed my mind because of these things, it‘s a flip-flop.  I think the writer makes a salient point though; people want politicians who grow and who are mature and who can adjust to what‘s happening, not only in America, but around the globe. 

HAYES:  I don‘t think it‘s that complicated.  I think a flip-flop is when your opponent does it; a change is when you do it. 

FORD:  That was a good one, Hayes. 

MADDOW:  When there‘s no explanation other than political expediency.  So, yes, the price of oil changed, so therefore my feelings about drilling changed.  Fine, if you want to make that argument.  But going from one week being in favor of something, no material change but the politics changes, and then you‘re the opposite, that‘s a flip-flop.  It just depends on how ugly it looks when you get all the explanatory details in there. 

GREGORY:  All right, Robert in California writes this, “Republicans are not giving money to support John McCain, fearing this is a change year, with little likelihood of keeping the White House.  Is it probable that the party strategy is to put huge amounts of money behind local Senate and House races, in order to prevent a complete sweep in November?  Shouldn‘t Democrats be focusing on these local races, rather than falling for the misdirection of many of the Republican pundits‘ current talking points?”

I don‘t know, Smerc, what do you think? 

SMERCONISH:  I think it assumes too much logic on the part of the GOP that we‘re going to give to the House candidates.  It‘s going to be a tough year, everybody agrees on that.  By the way, David, the factor of this money is not all TV focused.  It‘s getting out those African-American newly registered voters, that‘s what I think the real key is for Barack Obama having a deep war chest.   

GREGORY:  Yes, it‘s interesting, Chuck Todd and I, our political director, talked about the fact that in Michigan, why has Obama gotten some of his big endorsements there, whether it‘s John Edwards or Al Gore?  Because he‘s trying to create a local operation that he didn‘t have, given the fact that he did not compete there during the primaries.  That local organization, operatives, volunteers and all the infrastructure necessary to put a ground game together is huge.  You know that as well as anybody, Harold? 

SMERCONISH:  Street money, that‘s what it‘s called. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  Harold, do you have a comment on that? 

FORD:  I agree with Smerc.  There‘s an effort here on the ground, on TV.  The bottom line is when you‘re able to raise a quarter of a billion dollars to 300 million dollars, you can do a lot of things.  He‘ll be able to help down state candidates at the local, state level, federal level and ultimately himself, that being Obama. 

GREGORY:  Don in California writes this; “Senator Obama should think in terms of four terms, not expediency, in selecting his running mate.  The VP, after all, is next in line for the presidency and is likely to be elected president if Obama is successful.”

All right, Rachel, how does he do that?  Is that realistic to expect of someone trying to win the White House just for him? 

MADDOW:  What do you do?  You think, I‘m really going to like you in 16 years.  It‘s one thing if you‘re getting married.  It‘s another thing if you‘re picking someone to run with in an election you don‘t know whether you‘re going to win.  It‘s hard to think to term number two, let alone term number four. 

GREGORY:  It‘s important.  I mean, Steve, when we think of Dick Cheney, the way he was originally thought of as being with Bush, was very much about how they would govern together, not so much about whether he could pick up Wyoming for him. 

HAYES:  Yes, look, I think there‘s actually an analog here.  I think Barack Obama comes; he is relatively inexperienced.  He‘s young.  He‘s vibrant.  He‘s got a big personality.  One area where he lacks is experience, particularly on national security and foreign policy.  I would be surprised if he didn‘t go in that direction. 

GREGORY:  To be continued I‘m going to leave it there.  Thanks to the panel.  That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE for tonight.  A great thanks to our panel.  This quick note, be sure to go to Veepstakes.MSNBC.com and play the Veepstakes.  NBC political director Chuck Todd and I handicap the match ups and you get to make your picks.  Who will be the number two on the tickets?  You be the pundit.  After you cast your vote, come back often to see how it‘s all playing out.  We‘ll be updating this as weeks go by.

That‘s THE RACE for tonight.  Stay tuned, “HARDBALL” coming up next. 

Don‘t go away.

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

END   

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