updated 7/28/2008 10:29:37 AM ET 2008-07-28T14:29:37

Guests: Andrea Mitchell,  Eugene Robinson, Rachel Maddow, John Harwood, Reihan Salam

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  This weekend marks 100 days until Election Day.  So what tops the candidates to-do list now?

The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.

Welcome back to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory, for a Friday. 

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

Tonight, bonjour, Barack.  Obama winds up his overseas tour in Paris during a chummy meeting with President Sarkozy. 

Has this week‘s tour defined the race for both candidates?  Does McCain have a big play in him before his convention?

Veepstakes tonight, and the focus on timing now.  Is Senator McCain preparing to pull the trigger early in hopes that he can change the narrative in this race? 

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

And with us tonight, Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor of “The Washington Post,” and an MSNBC political analyst; Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, also an MSNBC political analyst.  She and I have been on both ends of the clock today.  John Harwood, CNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent and political writer for “The New York Times”; and Reihan Salam, associate editor at “The Atlantic,” and the author of the terrific new book, “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.”

We begin, as we do every night, with the most important headline and political story of the day.  That is, “The Headline.”

And for tonight‘s headline, we turn to NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell.  She‘s been traveling to the Middle East and to Europe and beyond with Barack Obama.  She‘s in London tonight. 

Andrea, good evening to you.  Thanks for being here. 

Let‘s set the stage here today.  Obama in Paris with Sarkozy, looking like he‘s on a presidential tour.  This was an exchange from their press conference.

Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t know whether people are aware that when President Sarkozy went to Washington, he wasn‘t yet elected asp president.  He met with only two United States senators.  That was me and John McCain. 

When he came as president now, to speak, he was treated like a rock star.  Everybody loved him.  And I think it was after that that everybody decide to call French fries “French fries” again in the cafeteria. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Andrea, the headline over there today as you saw it? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  “I Come Here as a Candidate, Not as a President.”  But boy, they sure made him look like a president. 

GREGORY:  And that really was—I mean, that‘s the case for a lot of the trip.  But talk about that in terms of today, because the McCain campaign tried to make that a bit of an issue as well, that he would presume, as a senator, as a candidate, to appear as if he is on his first trip as president with a foreign head of state, with a French president, no less—can you imagine Senator Kerry having done that—and taking questions? 

MITCHELL:  Well, you‘ve got to say that the French made this possible for him.  If Sarkozy did not want to have a joint news conference with a visiting candidate, which was really dissing John McCain and George W.  Bush, he wouldn‘t have done it.  He clearly wanted to set himself up. 

He was looking for the play as well for himself.  He‘s not going to have a press conference with Gordon Brown here in London tomorrow morning.  He did not with Angela Merkel in Berlin.

So, they observed the norms, which is that a visiting candidate does not get a presidential press conference with a head of state.  It was really rather extraordinary. 

And throughout this trip, all of the images were designed to make Barack Obama look like a head of state, look like a head of president, whether he was in Berlin, whether he was visiting the troops, or in Israel in the West Bank.  All of those moments were presidential. 

And that is clearly what they wanted to do, to get people used to the idea, get the voters used to the idea that this man could be a head of state, could be a president. 

GREGORY:  Well, and that‘s what‘s interesting.  There‘s the poetry and the prose of campaigning, and even governing.  This was a trip a lot more about poetry than prose. 

If he went over there to challenge the idea that he lacked foreign affairs and national security credentials, how far along did he go to quieting that concern? 

MITCHELL:  He certainly was adept in Israel and the West Bank.  He sort of circumnavigated all of that, you know, troubled diplomacy by, frankly, spending very little time with the Palestinians and meeting with all of the factions in Israel.

By focusing on Iran, which certainly pleased not only the Israelis, but focusing on the diplomacy of Iran very seriously today with Sarkozy, he managed to elevate his role and his attention paid to something that is coming to a head.  So he catered to the Europeans, he catered to the Israelis, he touched base with everyone he needed to touch base with.  And he was also seen with the troops, and seen with the troops, of course, in ways that were completely benign and neutral, if not, you know, altogether positive. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Let‘s continue with...

MITCHELL:  The only—yes, go ahead. 

GREGORY:  Go ahead.  Finish your thought.  No, you finish your thought. 

There‘s a satellite delay here with you in London.

MITCHELL:  I was just going to say, the only thing with the troops is that there was a clear disagreement, which we reported, with General Petraeus.  And Obama, to his credit, didn‘t try to, you know, cover that up.  They disagree about the surge, they disagree about withdrawal.  And that does set up John McCain, who saw an opening and jumped into it today. 

GREGORY:  I mean, that was the substantive debate of the trip, which is that Barack Obama made the decision that, I‘m not going to back off opposition to the surge, despite the fact that he acknowledged that there was some benefit to the surge. 

MITCHELL:  Right.  Well, he cast it in a different light. 

He says the surge worked, but only so far.  That it was the surge, the combination of the surge, the fact that the Maliki government was willing to clean out the Shiite militias, and the decision by the Sunni elders, the tribesmen, to go after al Qaeda.  So, he thinks—says it was three things, not just the surge. 

And he said that if he had to do it all over again, he would vote against the surge tomorrow.  That is, of course, what set off McCain and gave him his talking points.  And I think he found his voice on this subject today in the speech in Denver. 

GREGORY:  Final point.  In a very well-choreographed trip overseas, as you said and reported last night and this morning, a discordant note was the idea of visiting the troops in Germany, at Landstuhl, and that was not done.  He scrapped plans to do that.  There‘s been some back and forth between the Obama and McCain campaigns. 

Who‘s trying to create an issue here, and what‘s it all about? 

MITCHELL:  Well, the Obama campaign, I think, probably didn‘t realize that scheduling this trip, this visit to the troops, the injured troops, at the end of the political leg of the trip was going to be jarring, and that the military had been so concerned all along when I was in Iraq and when we saw them in Afghanistan, so concerned that there not be any crossing of the lines.  So, on that earlier part of the trip, he went as a congressional delegation, without any of his campaign staff, and there were no pictures.  In fact, they wouldn‘t even acknowledge that he had visited the injured troops in the Green Zone.  I found out about it, and they were reluctant to confirm it.

No photographers, no Pentagon, or any other kind of photography.  So by tacking this on now, it was a real—you know, alarm bells went off in the Pentagon. 

The Pentagon advised that it was not going to happen, that it was not well advised, that he couldn‘t take any of his staff with him.  And they backed off and canceled it. 

But the spinning, my lord.  The Republicans immediately jumped, and the Obama people were furious with what they felt was Pentagon leaks to the Republican National Committee, making them look really bad. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to leave it there. 

Andrea Mitchell, thanks for everything this week.  From London tonight. 

MITCHELL:  Sure thing. 

GREGORY:  Coming up next, was this a game-changing week in the ‘08 race?  We‘re going to look at what Obama accomplished with his trip, his foray overseas.  Plus, McCain‘s harsh words for him today in Denver.  That criticism on the policy kept us as well. 

Later on, your play date with the panel and thoughts on Obama‘s trip.  Tell us.  Call us, 212-790-2299, or e-mail us at race08@msnbc.com. 

THE RACE comes right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back now on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, going “Inside the War Room” and Obama‘s trip overseas, in the Middle East, Europe.

The question tonight: How did the week define the race for both candidates? 

What were the key moments?

Joining us now, the panel: Eugene Robinson, Rachel Maddow, John Harwood and Reihan Salam.

First up, key moment number one, Iraq.  Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki supports Obama‘s timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal by 2010.  Here‘s Obama earlier this week stressing the consensus at a press conference in Jordan.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I welcome the growing consensus in the United States and Iraq for a timeline.  My view, based on the advice of military experts, is that we can redeploy safely in 16 months so that our combat brigades are out of Iraq in 2010. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rachel, how on this issue has this defined the race? 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  This has defined the race because it‘s put Barack Obama in the center of this debate, and it‘s put John McCain on the outside of the debate for the first time really since the beginning of the Iraq war in terms of American politics.  And he‘s now struggling to try to get his way back in.  John McCain is not used to being an outsider on the Iraq issue, and he now seems like one because of this. 

I think the most striking thing about this was that the Iraqi government chose essentially to wait until Obama was on the ground in Iraq before they...

GREGORY:  Right.

MADDOW:  ... before they confirmed this, seeming to try to deliberately do Barack Obama a favor.  I thought that was some spectacular political timing. 

GREGORY:  And Reihan, again, this puts this debate—he went over there to deal with the debate about Iraq, about his national security credentials, generally.  This really hastened the debate about who best can manage the war going forward. 

REIHAN SALAM, “THE ATLANTIC”:  Yes, look, Barack Obama is not going to appreciate this if he ever is elected president, and here‘s why.  Nuri al-Maliki is looking to the longer game, what happens if Barack Obama does become president?  And what he‘s trying to do is drive a wedge between Barack Obama and Barack Obama‘s Democratic constituents.

That is, he‘s trying to get a lifeline for American support of Iraq in a longer-term war.  And I think that‘s going to be very, very problematic, very tricky when Barack Obama has to decide between his allies in the Middle East and his allies at home. 

GREGORY:  All right.

Moment number two tonight, the debate over the surge. 

Obama facing tough questions this week on whether  he would have supported the surge in hindsight.  Here‘s how he answered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  With respect to the surge, you know, we don‘t know what would have happened if the plan that I put forward in January, 2007, to put more pressure on the Iraqis to arrive at a political reconciliation, to begin a phased withdrawal, what would have happened had we pursued that strategy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Back home, McCain has hammered Obama for his stance on the surge. 

Just today, he fired off this attack during a speech in Denver...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  From the early days of this war, I feared the administration was pursuing a mistake in strategy, and I said so.  I went to Iraq many times and heard all the phony explanations about how we were winning. 

I knew we were failing.  And I told that to an administration that didn‘t want to hear it.  I pushed for the new strategy that has now succeeded before most people even admitted there was a problem. 

Fortunately, Senator Obama failed, not our military.  We rejected the audacity of hopelessness, and we were right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  John Harwood, has McCain effectively defined this issue, used this issue this week to define the race and the debate in the race that will follow? 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  No, but I think each side has got some advantageous points to make.  Barack Obama is looking good in terms of what the Maliki government‘s done for him, but, you know, his argument about the—yes, we might have had the same result even if we took troops out when I was talking about it, that seems pretty thin when you look at these events on the ground and where we are right now, and how Maliki is saying because the surge succeeded, that‘s why troops should go home. 

The challenge for McCain is to try to get on the others die of the we‘re winning argument, embrace the idea that we‘re winning, and figure out how he can talk about how troops can come home so he doesn‘t seem to the American people to be the one who‘s resisting bringing troops out, because in principle, he‘s accepted the idea that they should, just at a slower pace than Obama. 

GREGORY:  Here‘s another moment, number three this week.  Obama‘s speech in Berlin drawing 200,000 to Berlin‘s Victory Column.  The speech creating a defining moment in Obama‘s tone, putting a different face on U.S. foreign policy before the world. 

Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Europe cannot turn inward.  America has no better partner than Europe.  Now—now is the time to build new bridges across the globe as strong as the one that binds us across the Atlantic.  Now is the time to join together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Gene, what is interesting about this, here is a candidate for president, after the Bush years, going to Berlin, where Bush would never dream of going, thinking he could reach 200,000 people who would be supportive of him, saying Europe matters, our alliance matters, and telling Americans back home, this is the face of my foreign policy. 

It is a big difference.  This does represent change. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It is a big difference.  And, you know, essentially, Obama was speaking to the Germans within the context of American leadership, telling Europeans that they need to stay involved in Afghanistan and they have a role to play in Iraq and so forth. 

You know, it wasn‘t as if he were kind of saying, we‘re withdrawing, we‘re not going to exercise the kind of leadership we have been exercising.  He was saying, we‘re going to present a different face to the world. 

I think there are a lot of people in the United States who were concerned about the U.S. image abroad, the way we are seen, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo.  I mean, these are the watchwords that a lot of people think of when they think about the United States these days.  And to that extent, I think it will find some resonance here among voters. 

GREGORY:  All right.  But Rachel, how does this week then, as we look at this trip, define this race for both candidates?  Is this a turning point?  Was this the issue that he had to confront, national security?  Does he get a bounce out of this?  Does he get a build a bigger lead over McCain? 

How is the race defined?

MADDOW:  David, when we had an e-mailer to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE earlier this week who said that Barack Obama is taking a classic war strategy of taking out his opponent‘s strongest suit first, sort of taking out the air defenses so he can rule the skies, I think that e-mailer was exactly right.  I think that we have seen Barack Obama solidify his standing on national security and foreign policy issues, and now his challenge is that he has to come home and bring it home to the election on the economy. 

He‘s essentially neutralized John McCain‘s advantage on foreign policy and national security issues, or at least gotten as close as he‘s ever going to get to on that.  We have now got to see him pivot and make that natural advantage that Democrats have with voters on the economy, accrue more to himself. 

GREGORY:  Right.

But Reihan, do you see it that way, or do you think he‘s actually opened a line of debate and a vulnerability for McCain to now argue on the issue of judgment?  I mean, he went over there, he created the tone, he got the pictures.  But did he create a new debate about his foreign policy judgment?

SALAM:  We have one big new data point out of his trip, which is that Europeans really, really like Barack Obama.  What we don‘t know, if anything, about his judgment.  And I think that now what John McCain needs to do is own the change in our strategy. 

There was a new Rasmussen poll that says that 51 to 36 percent of Americans believe that we‘re winning the war on terrorism.  Last year, it was 36 to 36.  That‘s a big change in the landscape, and McCain needs to own that change. 

And I think that‘s what he‘s trying to do.  He‘s laying the groundwork for that.  So I think that he‘s going to be able to come back on this issue. 

GREGORY:  All right.

We‘re going to take a break here.

Coming up next, Euro Disney.  One columnist thinks Obama‘s Berlin speech is more suited to the House of Mouse than the White House.  That‘s next on “Smart Takes.”

And later on, could Hillary Clinton help Obama with Republican voters?  A new poll looks at the impact of that so-called dream ticket. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back now on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with a couple of “Smart Takes.”  Getting some quick comments here to some provocative writing out there today on the ‘08 race. 

And here again, our panel: Eugene, Rachel, John and Reihan. 

First up tonight, The New York Times‘ David Brooks gives a “tastes great, less filling” review to Obama‘s speech, saying it looked good, but it lacked substance. 

To the quote board.

“Obama‘s tone was serious, but he pulled out his ‘this is our moment‘ rhetoric and offered visions of a world transformed.  Obama‘s speeches almost always have the same narrative ark: some problem threatens, the odds are against the forces of righteousness.  But then people of good faith United and walls come tumbling down.”

“Obama used the word ‘wall‘ 15 times in the Berlin speech, and in 11 of those cases, he was talking about walls coming down.  Obama has benefited from a week of good images, but substantively, optimism without reality is an eloquence just Disney.”

Gene, take it on. 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, I don‘t know if David Brooks has a dog or not, but if I were—I‘d hate to be his dog this morning.  I think I would have gotten kicked.  He clearly was not in a great mood, put in a great mood by the speech. 

And to a certain extent, I do understand it, because I also found the speech to be mostly lacking in substance.  There wasn‘t—you know, we all join hands and make a better world. 

I think—but then again, he‘s a candidate, he‘s not the president of the United States.  He couldn‘t very well go there and propose sweeping new policies to reshape the transatlantic relationship.  That would have been inappropriate. 

So, you know, you‘re there at the Victory Column, you‘ve got 200,000 people there.  So, tell them pretty things.  You know, I don‘t know what else one would have done in those circumstances. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Right.  Well, there‘s another layer to this, which is the substantive.

In our second “Smart Take,” The Washington Post‘s Charles Krauthammer writes that Obama has won the Iraq primary, but says Maliki‘s support shouldn‘t come as a surprise.

To the quote board.   “Any Iraqi leader would prefer a more pliant American negotiator”— suggesting in this case that Obama would be that—“because all countries we‘ve seen this in Germany, Japan, and South Korea—want to maximize their own sovereign freedom of action while still retaining American protection.  It is no mystery who would be the more pliant U.S.  negotiator.”

“The Democrats have long been protesting the Bush administration‘s hard bargaining for strategic assets in post-war Iraq.  Maliki knows the Democrats are so sick of this war, so politically and psychologically committed to its liquidation, so intend on doing nothing to vindicate Bush‘s war, that they simply want out with the least continued American involvement.”

In other words, surrender.

Take it on, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  I‘m just trying to figure out what hard bargaining the Bush administration has done that Democrats have objected to.  I feel like what Democrats have objected to is U.S. troops being electrocuted in showers, poorly wired by overpaid and under—and under-overseeing contractors. 

I mean, what hard bargaining for post-war strategic assets is he talking about?  The no-bid oil contracts for western oil companies before Iraq has a plan to distribute its oil revenues?  I just think he‘s completely out in left field on this one. 

GREGORY:  All right.

We‘re going to take a break here, come back, talk about veepstakes.

The back half on THE RACE after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, the back half.  Happy to have you with us.  With the clock ticking, everyone‘s waiting for John McCain and Barack Obama‘s next big move.  That‘s the announcement of their running mates.  We‘ve got the Olympics coming up, conventions looming.  A lot of strategizing now about the timing of these announcements, as well as who they are going to choose, who‘s going to go first, who gets picked and all of the effect of it all. 

Still with us, Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor at the “Washington Post,” also an MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, also an MSNBC political analyst;

John Harwood is here, cNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent and a political writer for the “New York Times,” and Reihan Salam, associate editor at “The Atlantic,” and the author of “Grand New Party, How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.”

Veep stakes here.  First up, the McCain VP buzz is at a fever pitch, with both the “Washington Post” and the AP reporting that McCain will likely make his choice in the next couple of weeks, before the Olympics.  Yesterday, McCain told NBC‘s Kelly O‘Donnell he wants to do it as quickly as he can. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  The best thing is for me to reach a decision as soon as possible, because then that‘s off the agenda for me, and it helps me concentrate on other things.  The timing of the announcement is something, frankly, that I haven‘t thought that much about.  I also think it‘s very important that it be my own decision, and not impacted by whether—who‘s convention or who‘s first or last.  I don‘t want to be diverted by that. 

I‘ve seen other candidates say I‘m going to make this decision well ahead of time, and they‘ve made it literally the night before.  It‘s hard for me to predict. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  The post says McCain‘s top contenders are Mitt Romney, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge and former budget director Rob Portman, who joined McCain on the Straight Talk Express yesterday.  John Harwood, my reporting out of the McCain campaign today indicates a couple of things.  One is he has not made up his mind.  Number two, he is most likely to hold this off until later in August, coming out of that Democratic convention.  What does your reporting tell you? 

HARWOOD:  What I hear—first of all, David, I think we can all be in a good mood now that Melissa has told us we can have home grown Jalapenos. 

GREGORY:  I thought the same thing.  I thought the same thing. 

HARWOOD:  Look, as for McCain, McCain‘s exactly right.  I‘ve heard the same thing from politicians who I was talking to today about McCain‘s choice, which is people always say that they are going to do it early because it sounds good and it‘s unconventional and it gets a head start.  You can start raising money early.  Because of the inertia of the calendar, because of the way political events fall, to do it later rather than earlier. 

I think there are people who are talking about this who don‘t actually know.  My guess would be like yours, that it would be after the Democratic convention, in the gap of just a few days between the Democratic and Republican convention.  I‘d watch Tom Ridge.  I think Tom Ridge is the risky choice for John McCain, because he‘s pro-choice and that would have the potential for making a difficult convention.  It would help put Pennsylvania in play and it would be a bold move by John McCain. 

GREGORY:  Reihan, if you consider these choices as a dynamic changer in the race, what‘s McCain want to do to change the dynamic?  How does that influence the choice? 

SALAM:  Got it.  What McCain needs to do is build on his weird momentum in states like Michigan and Ohio, these blue color industrial states.  While Obama is getting all the attention and running a near flawless campaign, somehow he‘s closing the gap in these places.  One of the places he‘s closing the gap is Minnesota.  That‘s one reason why Tim Pawlenty is looking better and better. 

I agree with John Harwood that Tom Ridge would be a really interesting pick.  Pennsylvania is a state that doesn‘t play to Obama‘s strengths.  If a Republican could make a play there, suddenly the race looks totally, totally different. 

GREGORY:  What about the qualities here.  How does a VP contender go from the short list to the actual ticket?  Madison Powers on CQ Politics says the VP vetting game isn‘t about helping the ticket.  It‘s about avoiding evil.  He lists these four criteria for choosing a VP: number one, the VP must share the party‘s position on abortions, something that John just mentioned, to avoid a mutiny by the party faithful; number two, if the VP is a senator, make sure he can be replaced by someone in the same party and don‘t be too quick to steal someone who has won a seat in hostile territory; number three is do no harm, that principal, the VP can‘t embarrass the can‘t and he or she can‘t outshine him either; finally, pick someone who can help you.  Powers says that‘s just optional now. 

So if we look at some of Obama‘s top choices, Tim Kaine from Virginia, Evan Bayh, Hillary Clinton, Kathleen Sebelius from Kansas and Joe Biden; what about those criteria, Rachel?

MADDOW:  I think Obama‘s trying to make himself seem like a more comforting presence in the living room of Americans watching TV about politics, I think that only Biden and Clinton really help him in that regard.  I think Kathleen Sebelius would need as much of an introduction to the country or more as Barack Obama did at the start of this campaign.  I think that Tim Kaine, similarly, would have the same issue.  Evan Bayh, I think, it‘s hard to believe he‘s even on the short list, given that he was on the Committee to Liberate Iraq with John McCain.  Talk about undercutting your main message.  I‘m not a believer in the prospects for Bayh. 

The others ones, we don‘t know whether Barack Obama physically and personally—not physically, but personally enjoys being around these people, whether or not he‘s going to look forward to governing with one of these people as vice president.  The vice presidential office is very powerful after Gore and Cheney and he has to find someone who he looks forward to the idea of running the country with. 

GREGORY:  Let me ask you, Gene, the question of if Obama has made the decision, you know, all this conventional wisdom is wrong; I don‘t need somebody to shore up my strength—shore up weaknesses, rather.  I can deal with that myself.  If that‘s not an overriding concern for him, then what influences his decision? 

ROBINSON:  What he wants to do as president.  If, say, he wants to be a foreign policy president, then if he doesn‘t care about shoring up weaknesses, he could get somebody who was particularly strong on domestic policy, and who could run his health care program or health care fix for him.  But, you know, I tend to think that he might just go with somebody like Joe Biden, somebody who is more familiar, who has the foreign policy credentials.  Everybody knows Joe Biden.  He is vetted.  His mouth gets him in trouble occasionally, but not recently.  That‘s a possibility. 

HARWOOD:  It happens to us, too. 

GREGORY:  I can see a Republican attack on Obama, saying this guy‘s so arrogant that he‘s decided he doesn‘t need a number two.  He‘s just going to handle it himself. 

MADDOW:  I think the dark horse for Obama is going to be Warren Buffet.  I think we should start putting Warren Buffet on the short list.

(CROSS TALK)

MADDOW:  He could personally be the next trust fund. 

GREGORY:  One more point, a new poll may show the power of an Obama-Clinton ticket.  We don‘t talk about it that much anymore, because it doesn‘t seem as likely, but look at this Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll, has Obama with a slight lead over McCain, 41 to 40 percent.  Look what happens when VP‘s are added.  Voters were asked about an Obama-Clinton versus a McCain-Romney ticket.  Obama-Clinton gets 48 percent; McCain-Romney gets just 39 percent.  The poll shows Clinton actually helps Obama with Republicans and independent voters.  With Clinton on the ticket and Romney on McCain‘s, Obama‘s support jumps 11 points among Democrats, four points among Republicans, and four points among independents. 

Again, John Harwood, we talked about this through the primaries.  If you look at Colorado, white men, older voters, working class voters, this is what McCain—these are the voting groups McCain is going to be going after. 

HARWOOD:  Hillary Clinton has got a great brand name in American politics, there‘s no question.  What I have to wonder about, David, is whether those polls that suggest that benefit to Barack Obama would hold up over time, or whether, in fact, they would help John McCain galvanize the Republican base, turnouts conservatives, those Clinton haters out there.  That‘s one of the questions.  The Clinton people are making the argument that it‘s plain from how well she did in the primaries that she‘s the one with independent drawing power, unlike those other VP candidates that Rachel was talking about.  But I do wonder whether she would also be a lightning rod for conservatives and help John McCain do what he can‘t do on his own, which is inspire conservatives to turn out. 

GREGORY:  And get Republicans out of their doldrums, in that sense of we‘re in a real tight spot in this race.  We‘re going to take a break here.  Coming up next, we‘re going to go inside the war room again, a special edition tonight, letting our panel take the reins.  We‘re making a list for Obama and McCain; what do they have to do before their convention, in the final 100 days before the election.  What‘s on those to do lists?  We‘ll get into it right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back now on THE RACE, special edition of the war room, 100 days until the election.  After a defining week for both campaigns, with Obama dominating headlines over seas, McCain trying to play catch up with the news cycle, what should be on the candidates‘ to do list before voters head to the polls?  Back with us, Eugene Robinson, Rachel Maddow, John Harwood and Reihan Salam. 

Reihan, what‘s on that to do list for McCain and Obama, as you look at it?  

SALAM:  John McCain needs to find a way to communicate directly with the public.  To do that, he needs to communicate through new media.  He needs to have a video on Youtube every single day, where he‘s giving his standard straight talk to his voters.  The media is simply not as favorable to him as it once was.  He needs to get that direct visceral connection.

Now, Obama needs to talk about victory.  Obama needs to get away from this image that he‘s some kind of peacenek and he wants to demonstrate that he wants to win the war on terrorism, and that he‘s not going to shy away from using terms like winning and victory, victory, victory, victory. 

GREGORY:  Can he combine the new face on public diplomacy with the idea of winning and a hard edge, and, frankly, being aggressive in foreign policy? 

SALAM:  Absolutely.  Look at what happened in Germany.  He actually said, hey, we need more German troop in Afghanistan.  That‘s never going to happen.  That crowd doesn‘t want that to happen.  Yet, they cheered nonetheless.  He doesn‘t need to worry about that for right now.  Right now, he needs to worry about Ohio and Michigan. 

GREGORY:  Gene, you were snickering.  You think that‘s unrealistic? 

ROBINSON:  No, I don‘t think that is unrealistic.  I think that‘s probably a smart take.  I think Obama has been tip-toeing toward a more muscular use of language to talk about foreign policy and the war on terror. 

GREGORY:  We‘ll come back to you, Gene.  John Harwood, you‘re up. 

What‘s on the to do list? 

HARWOOD:  For John McCain, when I talk to Republican strategists, they say, and certainly the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll showed it this week, this is an election where the fulcrum is Barack Obama and people‘s judgment of him.  John McCain needs to have an aggressive argument in paid advertising, trying to cast doubt on his ability to be commander in chief.  That remains an advantage for McCain, even after this trip.  Barack Obama is trying to narrow that gap. 

If you‘re Barack Obama, reassurance is the order of the day.  He needs to pick a vice presidential candidate that will persuade those older, white working class voters that it‘s safe to vote for Barack Obama for president.  That‘s why the argument moves to people like, as Gene was mentioning earlier, Joe Biden, Evan Bayh, perhaps Jack Reed as well.   

GREGORY:  How does—but John, how does McCain make the argument, which I think is what you‘re talking about—he‘s trying to do it on the surge—in a way that‘s different than Hillary Clinton tried?  She was unsuccessful with the idea that he was risky, that you couldn‘t trust him or he didn‘t have the right judgment. 

HARWOOD:  That was in a Democratic primary.  It‘s a whole different argument when you move out to a general election.  I think that‘s where John McCain can make the argument.  It‘s not just about judgment, it‘s about protection.  There‘s something visceral about this choice.  People can see John McCain as a tough guy, as somebody whose got steel in his spine.  He has to raise some doubts about Barack Obama on that score. 

GREGORY:  Reassurance is interesting, because it‘s not particular to, say, foreign affairs or national security.  It‘s reassurance across the board, someone who back stops Barack Obama, who you can see being president, but you can backing him up, helping his judgment in the White House. 

HARWOOD:  There‘s two sides of the change argument.  There‘s the affirmative side, which says I‘m going to be a different kind of president from George W. Bush.  But Barack Obama also has to persuade people that the change for them to embrace an African-American president, someone who‘s young, who doesn‘t have all that much experience, and who is not going to take the country on a wrong turn, that‘s what he has to do.  He‘s got get over that hurdle.  If he can do it, there‘s a big reward for him electorally, because so many of the underlying conditions favor the Democrats. 

GREGORY:  Gene, you‘re up. 

ROBINSON:  John McCain, I think, could use a few more Dalai Lama moments, a few more moments that show a more human side, a more modern sensibility.  He doesn‘t have to go totally new age on us, but he‘s not connecting with that part of America.  And, I think that would—so maybe he could go visit the Dalai Lama and get some good pictures out of that. 

Barack Obama needs to develop his elevator speech on the economy.  You know, you write a book and you‘re supposed to come up with the description of your book that you can give in the course of one elevator ride.  What Obama has not yet done, I think, is his elevator speech about how you fix the economy, and how we move forward from this bad economic situation we have now. 

I think with this trip, he‘s checked the box on national security.  He didn‘t have to equal John McCain there.  He had to reach a threshold and I think—I anticipate that polls may begin to show that he‘s reached that threshold.  Neither one of them nailed has the economy yet.  That‘s going to be the number one concern of voters, I think, in the fall. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, your to do list? 

GREGORY:  I‘m very much aligned with Gene on what Obama needs to do.  I just think Obama needs to talk about the economy every single day for the next 100 days or 102 days, whatever it is now.  He‘s met the threshold or at least for now seems to have met that threshold without bearing any significant wounds from John McCain hitting him on national security, foreign policy and experience.  So, he needs to start building up his upside, which is the Democratic advantage of economic issues. 

As for McCain, I‘m kind of torn.  On the one hand, part of me wants John McCain to build on his strengths to, have him regain that year 2000 maverick image and start picking some issues on which he can safely break with his party so he looks like a straight shooter, so the maverick moniker doesn‘t start sounding like a punch line.  Part of me wants to see that from John McCain.  Part of me wants to see John McCain wrestle a bear or do some great act of physical vitality to settle any doubts that he might be too old for this campaign, that he might not be physically up to it. 

GREGORY:  Reihan, does McCain still have a play here to make a big play about his own biography, something that is a large image of him that reinforces who he is, his vision of America and a vision for America going forward?  Does he have that play in him? 

SALAM:  It‘s very straight forward.  It‘s about this not being about John McCain‘s ambition.  He‘s not a guy who has wanted to be president for decades.  He‘s not a guy who carefully settled on a political career.  It‘s something that came to him after a long career of service to the United States.  I think that‘s something he needs to really emphasize.  So I think that‘s going to be a very effective biographical play. 

Also, wrestling a bear, that‘s my caveat to that. 

HARWOOD:  David, I want to disagree with Gene in this respect.  I don‘t think you just check the box on national security.  We have to remember we have three more months to go in this campaign.  This is one week.  The voters are not absorbing this trip in the same way those of us in the press who are covering it every day are.  You look at these polls where Barack Obama has not expanded his lead—it might happen later on, maybe it‘s a little bit too early, but I think Democrats have to watch with some wariness the fact that when everything is going right for Barack Obama right now, he‘s still only up three or four points in the national polls.  In some of those battleground states, John McCain seems to be getting closer.  

GREGORY:  Is there any real explanation for that, John? 

HARWOOD:  I think the explanation is that voters aren‘t processing it like we are.  They are not looking at John McCain‘s flubs and saying, oh, what a loser he is, or Barack Obama‘s speech and saying how fabulous.  Now, I‘m ready to vote for him. 

GREGORY:  I think it‘s outrageous that you suggest that voters do not process this election in war room segments the way we do.  We‘ll take a break and get your thoughts, after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back on THE RACE.  Final moments here, your play date with the panel.  And back with us, of course, the panel tonight, Gene, Rachel, John and Reihan.  A lot of you wrote about what you were moved by, the pictures, the speech, Obama overseas.  Jackie in California says this, “the last time a country gave a warm welcome to a US president was when Bill Clinton was president.  Americans should be proud of the way Obama was received and how well he spoke.”

Some of you, however, were not as impressed.  This e-mail from Susan, “why is trying to woo Europe to this campaign.  I‘m having trouble budgeting for extra gas and this person is campaigning in Europe.  Give me McCain‘s German restaurant back home here any day.” 

How about Judy?  Judy writes, “Obama is the only person with a bigger ego than Bush.  All we from him is self-adulation.  Maybe since he is so popular in Germany, he could go run their country.”  Reihan?

SALAM:  Oh, boy.  I think that if we had a constitutional monarchy in the United States, I would absolutely vote for Barack Obama to be our king so he could genuflect and he could have a retinue of people carrying his enormous cape.  I think that would be fantastic.  Unfortunately, our president does a lot of things other than giving speeches abroad and opening hospitals and that kind of thing.  That‘s my only hesitation about Barack Obama, the fact that he won‘t be a constitutional monarch. 

GREGORY:  Go ahead.

MADDOW:  Where‘s the allegation come from that he‘s self-adulating?  Because he gave a speech and a lot of people cheered?  If you listen to the speech, he doesn‘t get up there and talk about what an amazing person he is.  He talks about how much he loves the country and how much he loves American values.  I think you can mock the fact that people like him, but I‘m not sure you can ascribe him any fault for that. 

GREGORY:  Let me turn it around on you, Rachel.  Where does that sense of aloofness or arrogance come from in his campaign?  It is there. 

MADDOW:  I think it comes from resentment and jealousy from other politicians and people in the media who haven‘t seen other people get this.  I think John Kennedy was accused of the same thing, oh, people like him, therefore he must be a jerk.  I don‘t know, maybe people like him because he‘s a good politician. 

SALAM:  Actually, that allegation comes from a lot of people who have known Barack Obama for a long, long time, longer than either of us, certainly.  I think that‘s not totally crazy.  Again, he also has a lot of great qualities too.  I definitely want him to be in our public life, not necessarily as president.  

MADDOW:  I know people who have known him who don‘t say that at all.  Right now, Condoleezza Rice is in Aukland, New Zealand and some student group has put out a 5,000 dollar reward for anyone who tries to citizen arrest her for war crimes.  It‘s nice to see a lot crowd of foreigners not chasing one of our leaders, but actually waving the American flag.  I don‘t know, that makes me feel good.  It doesn‘t make me resent the guy. 

SALAM:  You make a compelling point.

GREGORY:  We should not dismiss the possibility that at some point, a politician will stand up and say, I want to focus my remarks on why I am so wonderful. 

HARWOOD:  It will happen. 

ROBINSON:  How many presidential candidates have you known who had itty bitty tiny egos?  I don‘t know very many.

GREGORY:  I do love how people get into this conversation that he‘s not like every other politician, that Obama is somehow different, that he doesn‘t have an ego and that he doesn‘t really want to be president.  You have to be a unique person to want to be president. 

Let me get this in.  An undecided voter weighs in on Obama‘s speech;

Kathleen in Florida says this, “based on the speech I watched in Berlin, Obama doesn‘t need a foreign policy.  He is a foreign policy.  I am one of those white, female, middle class Americans that wanted Hillary and am very undecided about Obama.  I still remain hesitant, but he is a true diplomat.  What a refreshing change.”

That was a pretty good way, John, to sum up what Obama was after overseas. 

HARWOOD:  The writer is exactly right.  He is a foreign policy to this extent: the day that he takes the oath of office, that presents a much different picture than the rest of the world has ever seen in the United States, that the United States has ever seen of itself, for that matter as well.  That‘s very important and consequential.  I do think, on this question about the trip, what I was hearing from Republicans today was that Barack Obama turned the dial one click too far with that big speech in Berlin and he could end up paying a price with voters back home saying, hey, wait a minute, why is he courting them so assiduously. 

GREGORY:  Got to leave it there.  Thanks to the panel.  Obama on with Tom Brokaw on “Meet the Press.”  Have a good night, a peaceful Friday night.

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

END   

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