Guest: John Harwood, Rachel Maddow; Pat Buchanan; Reihan Salam, Rudy Giuliani
DAVID GREGORY, HOST: Tonight, too close to call. A new look at our electoral map. Obama has an edge, but will it come down to the big four battlegrounds?
As the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.
And welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. 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, the shadow returns. Is the drama with the Clintons the shadow over Obama‘s campaign that he just can‘t escape?
And brand new national numbers just released by “TIME” magazine. Obama ahead of McCain 46-41. Obama now gaining among women, who favor him over McCain 49-39 percent.
And later, defending the maverick tonight. Is McCain the same man he was when he first ran for president in 2000? I go one-on-one tonight with Rudy Giuliani.
Also tonight, Chuck Todd is here with his new analysis of the electoral map. We‘ll show you where it is too close to call.
The bedrock of the program, as you know, a panel that always comes to play.
And with us tonight, Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America and an MSNBC political analyst. John Harwood‘s here, CNBC Chief Washington correspondent and a political writer for “The New York Times”. Pat Buchanan, a former presidential candidate and an MSNBC political analyst. And Reihan Salam, associate editor for “The Atlantic,” and author of “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.”
We begin as we do every night, with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day. It is “The Headline.”
I‘ll get us started here tonight. My headline, “The Shadow Returns.”
That‘s what George Bush used to say about Bill Clinton when his presence was felt in the Gore campaign back in 2000. The point was that Gore was in many ways saddled with Clinton at a time when he wanted to prove that he was his own guy, unencumbered by the Lewinsky scandal.
Well, now Obama faces a similar problem, the way I see it. After the Unity, New Hampshire, event with Senator Clinton, Obama has yet to demonstrate that he‘s put the finishing touches on this drama with the Clintons. Today, “The Rocky Mountain News” reports that women‘s groups will stage a “Hooray for Hillary” rally in Denver during the Democratic convention in an effort to get her name placed into nomination.
Recent polling shows that Obama is splitting essentially the women‘s vote with McCain. Where is the gender gap that should favor him?
Today, Mrs. Clinton also took to the op-ed pages of “The Wall Street Journal,” taking a stand about government contracts that appeared far removed from the talking points of the Obama campaign this week, a campaign she is has pledged to help. The backdrop for all this, of course, Clinton‘s bitterness over the primary loss. That‘s both of them.
My reporting indicates that a commitment from Obama was necessary to help Senator Clinton retire her debt before Bill Clinton would even meet with Barack Obama. This week, another flash of no love lost. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATE SNOW, ABC NEWS: Is he ready to be president?
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You could argue that no one is ever ready to be president. I mean, I certainly learned a lot about the job in the first year.
SNOW: Do you think he‘s completely qualified to be president?
CLINTON: The Constitution sets qualifications for the president, and then the people decide who they think would be the better president. I think we have two choices. I think he should win, and I think he will win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: As tepid endorsements go, that has got to be pretty high up there. Is there any other evidence that Obama needs that he cannot afford to have Senator Clinton on the ticket? That‘s my take. Pat Buchanan, based on the polls, you‘ve got some advice for Obama in your headline tonight. A different view. What is it?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I sure do. My headline is:
“No Vanilla, Go With Hillary.”
For heaven sakes, the Zogby Poll shows Obama is losing support among white working class folks, among women, among seniors, among Catholics. These are the big battalions Hillary lead to victory over Obama in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky.
Obama is bleeding the Hillary Clintons to McCain right now. Stop horsing around with white bread vanilla types like Kaine and Bayh and go with the—and go with the gal that won 18 million votes. Finally, like Paris Hilton, Hillary is hot.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, as a white-bred vanilla guy, I resent that.
GREGORY: Yes, right. Exactly.
Hey, but Pat, wait a minute. But how about some of the points that I was making in my own headline? If you‘re Barack Obama, you can‘t have that kind of drag on your candidacy, on your campaign, let alone if you‘re president of the United States, when you‘ve got a former president talking that way about your prospects right now, can you?
BUCHANAN: You have got to win the presidency of the United States first. There‘s lots of candidates. Reagan in picking Bush, Kennedy in picking LBJ, they didn‘t like, they didn‘t want the fellow. But the first thing you have got to do is get to the White House before you‘ve got a problem with the spouse of the vice president.
I think Hillary is the best choice now. I think these other folks, Bayh and Kaine, they are good guys, but I‘ll tell you, they are bland. And it‘s a bunt. It‘s not going for the wall.
GREGORY: All right.
Reihan, your headline tonight taking a look at McCain‘s latest attack, his new ad, and how Obama may be handling it. Your headline tonight?
REIHAN SALAM, AUTHOR, “GRAND NEW PARTY”: “I‘ve Got You Under My Skin.”
That‘s what McCain is doing to Obama. He‘s staking him out. Obama‘s great strength is his tremendous charisma, and McCain is turning that into a liability. Check out this latest hard-hitting ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: Obama! Obama! Obama!
NARRATOR: Is the biggest celebrity in the world ready to help your family? The real Obama promising higher taxes, more government spending. So, fewer jobs.
Renewable energy to transform our economy, create jobs and energy independence, that‘s John McCain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SALAM: For all the reasons Pat mentioned just now, Obama‘s weakness with white working class voters, Barack Obama can‘t just laugh that kind of thing off. He needs to respond and needs to respond forcefully. And that‘s what he‘s done.
He‘s called it a dishonest attack, and he‘s talking about how he needs
to retire these old policies and bring new energy to America, a direct
reference to McCain‘s age, which is pretty harsh stuff. I think that
McCain needs to now put meat on the bone. He needs to talk about new tax plans that are going to really deliver for working class Americans. And I think you‘re going to see that in the next few weeks.
GREGORY: I thought when McCain said, is he going to help your family, I mean, helping you family, that means, like, taking the kids to camp or something, or help to baby-sit. I mean, I thought that was the kind of help that was on the way.
John Harwood, your headline? You‘ve got some reporting tonight on what the Obama camp has in store for McCain coming up. What is it?
HARWOOD: David, my headline is “Buckle Your Chin Strap (ph).”
Now, Pat Buchanan keeps mixing around from martial metaphors to baseball metaphors. I‘m going to football.
Pat is welcoming Barack Obama to the NFL. And Obama seemed to be warming up this week.
He responded in kind to John McCain‘s energy chop block. The Democratic National Committee announced today they will try to clothes-line McCain with this ad campaign, P.R. campaign, linking his energy policies to ExxonMobil. But guess what? This is only the preseason.
Rougher stuff is going to come this fall from the Democratic National Committee, a $120 million independent expenditure ad campaign. And you can bet Republican National Committee counterparts are ready for some football themselves, even if they‘ve got a less expensive game.
GREGORY: And it‘s interesting. Thanks very much, John.
Rachel, tonight your focus on Iraq, the news out of Iraq that‘s got to have a lot of people saying not only to get back into the debate of why we went there, but they have how much money again?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. My headline tonight, David, is, “It‘s Not Just Our Economy, Stupid.”
Our government has just estimated that, thanks to astronomical oil prices, the Iraqi government could run a budget surplus of tens of billions of dollars this year. Even though we keep telling ourselves that Iraq is receding as a political issue, it just keeps roaring back.
Give me the politician who gets to explain to angry Americans that we not only have Iraq‘s budget surplus every time we buy gas, but we‘re also going to spend billions more there every week, keeping our troops there for the foreseeable future. Americans are fast becoming experts on oil and the oil economy in this election cycle.
We paid $1.50 for gas the week we invaded Iraq. I paid $4.58 when I filled up on Monday.
The candidate and the party who gets that America‘s future has to be loosed (ph) from oil and the oil companies, that‘s going to be the candidate who‘s the leader Americans have been looking for.
GREGORY: All right. Iraq, still out there with a new book. And now this news as well. Thanks very much. More on this ahead.
Coming next, McCain supporter Rudy Giuliani joins us with his thoughts about the race and why this is still a single-digit game in the polls.
Later on, it‘s your turn to play with the panel. Call us: 212-790-2299, or the e-mail address on your screen, email@example.com.
THE RACE will come right back.
GREGORY: Back now on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, going one-on-one tonight with Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, of course, and a supporter of John McCain, Senator McCain, a former presidential candidate himself.
Mayor Giuliani, good to see you. Thanks for being here.
RUDY GIULIANI ®, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nice to see you.
GREGORY: Let me ask you about this race. This is still a single-digit race. Barack Obama has maintained a lead. And yet he still remains his poll numbers still remain in the 40s.
So a couple questions. Why do you think that Obama is not doing better, and why don‘t you think he hit the 50 percent mark?
GIULIANI: Well, I think he‘s not doing better because I think there‘s a major question about him that the American people are going to have to answer. And that is his experience.
I mean, he just doesn‘t have the kind of experience we usually expect in a presidential candidate. Probably the least experience in the last 100 years.
And when you look at the serious questions that face us, whether it‘s energy or the economy, or the war on terror, I think John McCain‘s experience ends up being something that will win the race for him. The idea that we‘re going to—forget Republican, Democrat, all the liberal, conservative stuff. We need a person there who has been tested before and we know can handle these things, and who gives real answers to things.
I think Senator Obama is now getting stuck with the idea that he doesn‘t really answer things, he doesn‘t really have policies. He just has like general thoughts. John is quite specific about what he‘ll do, and we know it from his record.
GREGORY: Well, what‘s an example of Obama not answering?
GIULIANI: Energy. Energy, John McCain is real clear. He will support all of the above, which is what my policy was.
There are these alternative that have to be supported. They include drilling, they include nuclear power, they include solar and wind. Obama has virtually ruled out nuclear power, he‘s ruled out drilling. There‘s not much left except the usual old-fashioned special interest answer.
GREGORY: When Senator McCain talks about the energy crisis in this country, this has been a crisis that Republicans have failed effectively to find an answer to in all the time that George Bush has been president.
GIULIANI: But this isn‘t about Republicans and Democrats. It‘s about who is the person that‘s going to be the president of the United States.
John McCain has been in favor, for example, of cap and trade I think before Barack Obama was even in the state legislature. So John has a long history here of supporting the things that he‘s talking about now.
Senator Obama‘s record in the state legislature at that time was voted present more often than just about anybody else. It‘s the difference between a man who has taken positions, I think usually correct, but sometimes even wrong, but willing to take positions, and a person who doesn‘t seem to be able to do it. And this—and given the lack of experience that Senator Obama has, when you add to it the fact that he doesn‘t take positions, I think the American people are concerned.
GREGORY: Let me ask you a question that was actually brought up during the primary. Former President Clinton said a vote for Obama would be a roll of the dice. And I remember asking Senator Clinton, and not really getting an answer to this question, what is the specific harm, what is the particular risk of Obama as president?
What would you say it is?
GIULIANI: I would say the risk is that this country will be a country that‘s adrift. And then I think the area‘s where he has been specific will be very damaging. A big increase in taxes right now, even if you want to label it a tax on the rich, is a tax on the economy. We have countries in this world that are lowering taxes. America has the second highest corporate tax rate.
I think if Senator Obama were to be elected, it would be a major, major impact on our economy, and a really damaging one.
GREGORY: You think the country would be adrift, though? That‘s the risk of Obama as president?
GIULIANI: I think the instincts that he has shown—and I think Hillary Clinton probably explained this best during the debates—the instincts that he shows are not the instincts of a leader, of a person who takes charge, a person who makes decisions, that mistake that he made about saying he would negotiate with even dictators and tyrants without preconditions. An experienced person and a person with the instincts of negotiation never would have said that.
GREGORY: Let‘s talk about taxes and let‘s talk about the fact that Senator McCain is offering himself to the country in his ads, for instance, a recent ad, as the original maverick. He‘s the guy who stands up to power, that he would stand up to George Bush.
But you raised the issue of tax cuts just a minute ago. As recently as 2004, John McCain had a very different position. And this is what he said on “MEET THE PRESS.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportional amount that went to the wealthiest Americans. I would clearly support not extending those tax cuts in order to help address the deficit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: But here‘s the point. Critics would say, the maverick who was John McCain back in 2000, maybe even 2004, that‘s not the John McCain of today, he switched his position on tax increases and tax cuts.
GIULIANI: John is still in a different place on cap and trade than the Republican Party. He was in a different place on Iraq.
He was criticizing the administration‘s policy on Iraq two, three and four years ago. It turns out he was absolutely right with the surge policy that the president adopted.
I think on this tax issue, John realizes that this is not the time to be raising taxes, when the economy is in the situation that it‘s in. And then competitively it‘s not the time to do it, when just about all of Europe has lower corporate tax rates than we do and we‘re competing for business. I think Senator McCain (sic) displays his inexperience when he talks about raising taxes.
GREGORY: But John McCain, as recently as 2004, opposed the Bush tax cut. He changed that position. Talked about servicing the deficit. The deficit has ballooned since then. He is now in sync with George Bush on the issue of tax cuts, and he‘s using that as a hammer against Obama, when he‘s where Obama was effectively four years ago.
GIULIANI: I think given the realities of our economy, John McCain is correct in saying that we shouldn‘t be raising taxes right now. But when you look at John McCain‘s overall record, including his whole position on energy, climate change, John McCain has always taken the position that he thought was right, even when it put them at odds with the administration.
GREGORY: But whether it‘s the war, whether it‘s taxes, is he too close to George Bush to earn the “maverick” label today as he did in 2000?
GIULIANI: If you ask Republicans, that was one of the major concerns with John, that he was too independent. I don‘t think you can use it against him.
I mean, the fact is, John has been an independent person making his own decisions about things. Where he agrees with President Bush, he‘s there 100 percent. But where he disagrees, as he did on the war, he was a major critic until they actually changed positions and we went with the surge.
GREGORY: But let‘s talk about that. Obviously, Senator McCain did express concerns about the implementation of the war. He backed the war.
Is it a mistake politically for him to spend so much time debating the wisdom or the success of the surge when so many Americans are still asking questions about why we went to war in Iraq in the first place? That‘s the decision that remains unpopular.
GIULIANI: I think what it displays about John McCain, whether you agree with him or not on the war on the surge—and I do. I mean, we‘re pretty much in the same position on that—I think it displays the fact that he can take a position.
I think Senator Obama has much more trouble doing that. And, of course, he has no background, he has no leadership background.
So the issue right now is the economy and it‘s energy. But I think you get that same—you see that same difference.
John McCain is willing to say, these are my positions on energy: I‘m in favor of opening up offshore drilling, I‘m in favor of 45 nuclear power plants, I‘m in favor of supporting solar and wind. And instead, with Senator Obama, you get no, no, maybe, possibly, we‘ll see. I mean, there‘s a big difference. And I think America is looking for leadership.
GREGORY: Let me ask you about VP candidates.
Romney has been mentioned, Governor Romney, as somebody who should be on top of that short list for some of his positions, particularly on the economy, his expertise on the economy. You saw that up close. You saw these two go at each other.
Is that a good choice for McCain?
GIULIANI: I think John has to make his own choice. And I think John will make his own choice. And I don‘t think any of us should be discussing.
There are a lot of Republicans that would be very good. Governor Romney would be very good. There are other Republicans that would be terrific choices. There are others that would be terrific choices.
John has got to pick the one that he thinks, first of all, could be president if, God forbid, something happens, and you always have to think about that. And second, who can help you politically. It has to be in that order.
GREGORY: We know that in some of the advertisements, Senator McCain has been relying on images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. And Paris Hilton—maybe you‘ve seen this—has come out with a response of her own. And I actually think we have a portion of that to let you listen to.
See if we can listen to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: He‘s the oldest celebrity in the world, like super old. Old enough to remember when dancing was a sin and beer was served in a bucket. Is he ready to lead?
PARIS HILTON, SOCIALITE: Hey, America, I‘m Paris Hilton, and I‘m a celebrity, too. Only I‘m not from the olden days and I‘m not promising change like that other guy. I‘m just hot.
But then that wrinkly white-haired guy used me in his campaign ad, which I guess means I‘m running for president. So thanks for the endorsement, white-haired dude. And I want American to know that I‘m, like, totally ready to lead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Was it a smart idea for McCain to pick a fight with Paris Hilton?
GIULIANI: I think that she was very diplomatic about—kind of like if anything, I think she‘s supporting John McCain.
GREGORY: Paris Hilton supporting McCain?
GIULIANI: She didn‘t indicate we have to open up drilling. So, you know, I think you have to have some fun. This campaign has been, as we discussed earlier, too long. And I think John doing that was fun, and I think her commercial was a lot of fun.
GREGORY: All right. Mayor Giuliani, thank you very much. Good luck to your Yankees here in the second half.
We‘ll be back in a moment.
GREGORY: Back now with a look at what‘s on the race‘s radar today.
Big news from the terror front today. A U.S. military tribunal convicted Osama bin Laden‘s former driver, Salim Hamdan, of supporting terrorism in the first war crimes trial at Guantanamo Bay.
In statements, both candidates praised the conviction, but took the opportunity to score some political points as well.
From the McCain campaign: “Unlike Senator Obama, who favors giving al Qaeda terrorists direct access to U.S. civilian courts to contest their detention, I recognize that we cannot treat dangerous terrorists captured on the battlefield as we would common criminals.”
And from team Obama tonight: “While it is important to convict anyone who provides material support for terrorism, it is long past time to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and the terrorists who murdered nearly 3,000 Americans.”
And on the vice president radar, VPs were on the move today. Obama campaigned with Senator Evan Bayh in Elkhart, Indiana. Governor Tim Kaine will join Michelle Obama at a fund-raiser in Virginia tonight, while Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius helps raise money for Obama in Michigan.
And over on the GOP side, Tim Pawlenty spoke at the GOPAC summit in northern Virginia, where he praised Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY ®, MINNESOTA: People want to follow hopeful, optimistic, civil, decent leaders. They don‘t want to follow some, you know, negative, scornful person.
So, you know, say what you will about Barack Obama—and I say a lot of negative things about him—and we need leaders. And John McCain is positive as well. People gravitate when you have got something positive to say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: And coming up next here, NBC released its new battleground maps today. NBC News political director Chuck Todd will be here to show us which states have changed over for the summer and which ones are still “Too Close to Call.” That‘s the name of our segment, coming up next.
GREGORY: We are back on a Wednesday on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I‘m David Gregory, nice to have you here. It‘s time now for our segment, too close to call. NBC News has released some brand new battleground maps for us to dig into. They reveal shifts in some key state in favor of Obama, leave at least four important battlegrounds as too close to call. NBC News political director Chuck Todd joins me now. Hey, Chuck, a lot to go through here tonight.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You got it, David. Sure is.
GREGORY: Let‘s talk about the battleground map over all. Let our viewers see it on the screen and then go to the actual numbers here. You take me through where the advantage is right now.
TODD: Look at it and you see that right now Barack Obama has—if you count up all the states that are either likely to be his or leaning in his direction, he‘s sitting at 217 electoral votes. Do the same with John McCain, take all those pink and red states, and you get 189. That leaves ten there as toss-ups. They are really sprinkled throughout. There‘s a cluster in the rust belt there, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, a couple scattering in the south and then those three in the west. That seems to be where the playing field is.
The most interesting thing about our map, David, is how the agricultural Midwest, what I call the region of Illinois at this point, really is moving away—moving out of the battleground. It‘s not going to become a central front the way we have seen it be a central front the last three or four presidential elections.
GREGORY: That‘s really the story, right, in terms of where this advantage has materialized for Obama. It‘s in states like Iowa, correct?
TODD: It‘s not just Iowa. Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, three states that six month ago Republicans would continuously talk about. It‘s the fact that you have Missouri and Indiana—Missouri at a toss-up, Indiana, frankly, teetering on the edge between lean McCain and toss up. Those states shouldn‘t even be this close right now. Again, it goes to what I call the region of Illinois. Every single state, except Kentucky, that touches Illinois, Obama is over-performing in.
GREGORY: First, let‘s go back to that toss up map, if we could put that up there without the actual numbers, just so people can see the actual map. We go through the toss ups as of today, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
TODD: What‘s interesting here, David, is we had a little bit of fun and we said OK, if this were October 26th, instead of August 6th, of these ten, could we push them even more? Which ones are slightly tilting? When you push it more, you move New Mexico, Michigan, Pennsylvania into the Obama category. You move Nevada, Missouri, Florida in to McCain. All of a sudden, you come up with 260 to 232, with four pure toss-ups.
GREGORY: Before you get to the four pure toss ups, talk about what‘s the difference. In other words, you look at the toss-up‘s today—I just listed them—and then if you push that map, what changes. Why do you push those out. Let‘s put the numbers up again. I want to make sure we‘re clear on this. If we push this to October 26th, we see that the overall numbers changed. You only have 46 toss ups. Why?
TODD: What it is is some of these states, you know, they don‘t match the ground game that Obama is trying to put together, whether it‘s in Florida. It‘s going to take a little bit of wind at his back to overtake Florida. Ditto with Missouri. These are states that want to still be Republican. Nevada, same way. Then you go to those other ones, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Michigan, these are states that really want to be Democratic states, and for some reason McCain is doing better or the Republican candidate is doing better.
But they are states where neither candidate has more than a five point lead. So, right now, when you only have about a five point lead, it‘s a toss up. On October 26th, if you have a five point lead, David, it‘s in the bank.
GREGORY: Right. All right, now let‘s talk about the final battlegrounds, where it‘s too close to call, and we‘re talking about the big four. Which are they?
TODD: It‘s Colorado. It‘s Virginia. It‘s Ohio. It‘s New Hampshire. When you look at all four of those, three of them are states that were carried by President Bush in 2004. New Hampshire is a state that he carried in 2000. So these are states that Bush carried all four of them in 2000. Now, obviously, Democrats feel as if there‘s a wind at their back in Colorado. In Virginia, it‘s a place where Obama is trying to change the electorate, trying to do what he did in Iowa, where he said, look, I can‘t win it by the old rules, but if I register more African-Americans, if I register more young voters, new voters in that state, I can change things.
Ohio is Ohio. There‘s no other way to put it. It will move in the direction of the national climate. Then there‘s New Hampshire, which has a combination of a couple quirky things. One, McCain over-performs there. It‘s been the place he won the primary twice, once in 2000, once in 2008. Then there‘s a little bit of hesitance on the message of Obama. It has to do with Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, a very similar message when he ran for governor in 2006 of hope, of saying we can come together, this is the type of change. He‘s struggled a little bit. I think that has spilled over a bit in New Hampshire. Because Obama‘s message sounds so similar to Patrick, he just doesn‘t have the same resonance there that he has had in other states.
GREGORY: When are we going to see the fruits of some of the efforts on the part of the Obama campaign to register new voters, whether it‘s African-Americans, whether it‘s young voters? In these big four states, when might we start to notice a real impact?
TODD: It‘s interesting. I think, early on, we‘ll have an idea when we see some voter registration numbers coming out of Virginia. It‘s going to be harder to know in Virginia, for sure, because they don‘t register by party. Anecdotally, when you talk to both parties that are keeping track of their voter files, they can‘t believe the number of registrations coming in in Virginia. The other state that is popping very big right now for Obama is Ohio. This was a state that the assumption was they have maxed out on what you can register, that there just are only so many voters in that state. You can‘t keep registering another 100,000 new voters. Yet, they are finding bigger buckets of new voters than they ever thought.
So that‘s how you end up finding out. It‘s hard to tell right now, but we‘ll have little clues. We‘ll have the voter registration numbers when the secretary of state reports sometime after Labor Day. We‘ll have absentee ballot requests. Will they go up as high as we expect them to go? I think that‘s when we‘re going to be able to tell that, you know what, there‘s something happening out there.
GREGORY: Final point about independent voters in a state like Colorado, one of the big four there that we talk about, independent registration has sky-rocketed. Are independents simply disaffected Republicans?
TODD: The growing number of them are. They are acting like basically these moderate Republicans. They might be non-social conservatives in Virginia. In Colorado, you might call them Libertarian Republicans, that western feel, where they really—they don‘t want to talk about gay marriage. They don‘t want to talk about abortion. That‘s usually the one thing they have in common. But they are upset, and so they are identifying as independents. Sometimes they are registering as that, because they want to participate in the Democratic primary.
But you have those Democratic leaning independents that have decided to become Democrats. So just a word of warning when you see these numbers among independents, they are actually a lot more former Republicans sitting in that independent camp right now than there were four years ago. So the good news for McCain is he‘s going to always probably narrowly win independents. The bad news is he needs to win it big, because there are a lot of former Democratic leaning independents that are now acting like partisan Democrats and Obama has them in his camp already.
GREGORY: All right, Chuck Todd tonight, by the numbers and the electoral map, thanks very much. Coming up next, the panel returns. We‘ll go inside the war room for a look at some possible election scenarios. Why energy could be a winning issue for McCain and why Iraq may not be one for Obama. We get to that with the panel when THE RACE returns.
GREGORY: Back now on THE RACE, going deep inside the war room. Focusing now on a piece by John Ibidson (ph) of the Canadian newspaper “the Globe and Mail,” who breaks down four reasons why the White House is still very much up for grabs and still anyone‘s game. We‘ll take you through his four scenarios. Back with us, the panel tonight, Rachel, John, Pat and Reihan.
Scenario one, Ibidson writes Obama will win because it‘s 1980. As wiser minds have observed, Ronald Reagan remained essentially tied with Jimmy Carter through most of the 1980 election. Mr. Carter was unpopular, but voters weren‘t sure Mr. Reagan was fit to govern. Only after his deft performance during the presidential debate did opinions shift. The Gipper took it in a landslide.
Are we doing the same time warp again if Obama has a strong performance at the convention and the debates? Pat, what do you say?
BUCHANAN: I would say yes and no, in this sense: clearly, this race is about Obama and if he performs well in the debates, he probably rolls on to victory. You have to remember, David, Reagan/Carter debate was very, very close to the election. When it tumbled toward Reagan, there was no chance to turn it around. Our debates now take place very, very early, relatively. I think you have weeks of attack ads you can dump on a candidate after you lose a debate. So partly true.
GREGORY: Rachel, how do you see that aspect of it. Yes, we will have a number of debates here that will pretty get late into the season. But there‘s that important question about acceptability for Obama, that issue of connection with voters that may take until later in the campaign.
MADDOW: Again, I think that if that‘s the question on which the election is turning, then Obama is in a bad position and probably won‘t win. If it‘s all about what we think of Obama as a person and whether we want to hang out with him and whether we identify with him, that‘s an election that he loses. Frankly, the election that he wins is an election about whether the American people really want to elect John McCain, and whether or not they see John McCain as a continuation of George Bush and the last eight years of Republican rule.
Obama still has to work on the overall framing of the election to make it not about him, to make it about the other guy, to make it a referendum on what we‘ve all been through. He‘s tried to do that this week very consistently. We‘ll have to see if it holds true through the convention.
GREGORY: Scenario goes to McCain. Ibidson writes that McCain will win because of Michigan and Pennsylvania. He writes this, “Mr. Obama currently leads Mr. McCain in Pennsylvania by high single digits, while the latest Michigan poll has him ahead by only three percentage points, thanks to white, blue collar resistance to his campaign. Sadly, Mr. Obama‘s race could also be a factor among these voters. If Mr. Obama loses Michigan, he will need to take Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina from the Republicans to win. If he loses both Michigan and Pennsylvania, then he‘s probably toast.”
SALAM: I think that‘s a very intriguing scenario. I think that‘s a scenario that the McCain campaign has to be looking at very, very closely. At the same time, I think it‘s going to be tougher to pull it off right now, unless McCain gets a more credible economic message. I think that that‘s something that has been dogging the McCain for a long time, because, frankly, that‘s not a set of issues that McCain is comfortable with. I think it‘s an area where Obama is trying to right the ship, by actually trying to neutralize some Republican advantages on the drilling question. A new energy for America is the new Obama theme. I think that‘s very smart and I think that‘s going to resonate with those voters to some extent.
So McCain really needs to get back to brass tacks, and figure out how to connect with those blue collar working class voters. Go from beyond their cultural comfort with him, go to I understand where you are coming from and here are policy that are going to work for you guys.
GREGORY: John, is Pennsylvania really that close for McCain to pick it off?
HARWOOD: Look, we‘re talking about a scenario involving Barack Obama losing two states where he‘s now winning. Yes, he could lose those states. If he loses Michigan and Pennsylvania, the writer is right, he probably is toast. But if you look at the situation right now, he has an advantage in Pennsylvania. He also has good opportunities, as Chuck was explaining, to pick up states that George Bush carried, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio, as well, by the way.
I think we overlook the fact that Barack Obama also has a slight edge in Ohio. It‘s very close, but Barack Obama has done much better than some people had expected there.
GREGORY: Again, it‘s a question in a state like Ohio, can he get beyond some of the culturally conservative aspects of the state and focus in like a laser boom on the message on the economy, which is where he really wants to win in a state like Ohio and Michigan.
HARWOOD: Yes, David, it could also influence his choice of a running mate. If he picks Evan Bayh of Indiana, the king of vanilla, in Pat‘s terms, that could help him throughout that region.
BUCHANAN: David, what was the hot issue in Ohio between Hillary and Obama? It was NAFTA. The problem with John McCain is Ohioans are worried about outsourcing jobs and mass immigration. These are hot, populist issues. He could win Ohio on that, maybe Michigan, maybe Pennsylvania. But he‘s running away from those issues. So it looks very tough. Michigan and Pennsylvania look very, very tough.
MADDOW: Pat, if a voter is energized on the issue of immigration right now, who are they going to run to the polls to vote for or against?
BUCHANAN: Probably Bob Barr.
GREGORY: Was that a set up between you two? Move on to scenario number three—
BUCHANAN: He‘s probably no good on that either.
GREGORY: If Obama wins because of the youth black vote, this is how it‘s written; “pollsters and pundits underestimate the electoral shift that is underway. The turnout of both young and African American voters is traditionally less than their actual percentage of the population. But both groups are powerfully committed to Mr. Obama. If they show up November 4th, the Republicans are doomed.”
That gets to a question, Reihan—this is why I asked the question of Chuck, when are we going to see some of the fruits of these voter registration efforts in states like Georgia, for instance, where they want the number of African-American voters to be much higher, or in North Carolina. That‘s where Obama has really got to tap all this enthusiasm among young people and his African-Americans base as well.
SALAM: I think it‘s going to happen very, very soon, sooner than Republicans really appreciate. I also think that there‘s a possibility that Obama won‘t necessarily win these states outright, but at the ground level, in Congressional races, it‘s going to make a big difference. There‘s going to be some big surprises, because the key thing is for Democrats to get to 40 in places where they never could have gotten to 40 before. Once they do that, they can build on that.
So I think that this is a very, very big deal. Ibidson is right to point out the possibility of a big surge in black turnout and youth turnout.
GREGORY: Finally, McCain will win because of Iraq and energy. Conventional wisdom holds that Obama should win the Iraq war issue, because he was against it from the very start. But Ibidson argues that since, quote, “the situation in that country appears to be getting remarkably better, voters may worry that a Democratic president would squander these hard won gains through a precipitous withdrawal. To combat rising fuel costs, Mr. McCain‘s prescription of increased off shore drilling and a greater reliance on nuclear power strikes many voters as more pragmatic than Mr. Obama‘s dreams of windmills and fuel cells. Combined, a conservative electorate could decide that experience does, indeed, trump what one observer has called Mr. Obama‘s glittering generalities.”
John, it‘s interesting. I‘ve been doing research on independent voters for a piece that I‘m working on. And we see in the polling that this energy issue is a top issue for independent voters, who are clearly attracted to the idea of more pragmatic steps, rather than some of the other alternative energy ideas that require deal of investment. For a lot of voters, it‘s simply out of reach financially.
HARWOOD: Look, I think the energy issue has been working for John McCain. He‘s used it effectively. He‘s put Barack Obama on the defensive. But I have to say, I think when you look at the big picture, the glittering generality of change is going to be more powerful than any individual issue. On Iraq, I still think that nets out for Barack Obama, even though it‘s less of a problem than it was because of the success of the surge. But the American people are very, very tired of this war.
McCain pollsters know that it‘s very, very difficult for him to win an about staying the course Iraq, because people are very tired of it.
GREGORY: That‘s the issue, Pat. What McCain is asking of voters is a lot. He expects voters to know that he was opposed to Rumsfeld, wanted more troops, but still voted for the war, but then backed the surge, when other people didn‘t, and then was vindicated on that. A lot of Americans want to know why we went in the first place. That was the question I posed to Giuliani.
BUCHANAN: Sure they do, but they‘re up to date now. A lot of people are against the war. But I‘ll say this, the surge that Barack opposed is going to help Obama in the general election because people now say, if the war is ending, then maybe Barack‘s position, bringing home in 16 months, maybe that‘s the right position. I don‘t think the Iraq issue is going to help McCain. I do think he‘s done excellently on drilling offshore, on the issue that he is much more hardcore, concrete, believable. Whereas you do have these glittering generalities with Obama.
GREGORY: We do have new numbers on the “Time Poll” that‘s out just tonight. These are new poll numbers we‘ll put on the screen. On the issue of Iraq, McCain still has the advantage, 51 percent to 36 percent, whom do you trust to manage the Iraq war? Rachel, quick comment on that?
MADDOW: If we‘re going to manage the Iraq war for another 100 years, maybe you want the guy who‘s idea that is. If you want to come home, you probably want Obama.
GREGORY: All right, we‘re going to take a break here. Coming up next, your play date with the panel, and Paris Hilton for president. She‘s got a new ad out where she solves the energy crisis and picks her VP. It‘s true. It‘s actually a new ad. She was on it, very fast, right after this.
GREGORY: Playing with the panel now. Back with us, the panel tonight, Rachel, John, Pat and Reihan. A couple of e-mails here; first is from Rose in Nebraska. She writes this: “I don‘t have a lot in common with Barack Obama. Nor do I have a lot in common with John McCain. Frankly, I don‘t care. I don‘t care what they eat or wear either. I want somebody who takes the problems this country is facing seriously, proposes solutions, and, more than ever, I want someone who can speak without embarrassing our country. I don‘t want to have a beer with someone. I want a leader. PS, I‘m a white middle class, middle aged woman who bowls once in a while.”
Thank you very much, Rose.
Next, Brian in New Jersey writes this about the news of Iraq‘s budget surplus today: “our economy is in shambles. We‘re spending 10 billion dollars a month in Iraq and paying four dollars a gallon for gas. Meanwhile, Iraq is announcing a budget surplus of around 80 billion dollars. How can anyone justify staying in Iraq or continuing the policies of this administration? Next thing you know, Prime Minister Maliki is going to get up and say, save Social Security first.” Then we‘re really going to have a huge debate.
OK, finally, Paris Hilton made an unwitting cameo in John McCain‘s recent celeb ad. Now the hotel heiress, reality TV star, parolee, has put together her own response ad. This is very detailed. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exclusive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He‘s the oldest celebrity in the world, like super old. Old enough to remember when dancing was a sin and beer was served in a bucket. But is he ready to lead?
PARIS HILTON, CELEBRITY: Hey, America, I‘m Paris Hilton and I‘m a celebrity, too. Only, I‘m not from the olden days and I‘m not promising change like that other guy. I‘m just hot. But then that wrinkly white haired guy used me in his campaign ad, which I guess means I‘m running for president. So thanks for the endorsement, white haired dude.
I want America to know that I‘m, like, totally ready to lead. Now I want to present my energy policy for America, just as soon as I finish reading this article on where I can fly to get the best tan. Oh, Maui. Enough said.
OK, so here‘s my energy policy. Barack wants to focus on new technologies to cut foreign oil dependency, and McCain wants offshore drilling. Why don‘t we do a hybrid of both candidates‘ ideas. We could do limited offshore drilling, with strict environmental oversight, while creating tax incentives to get Detroit making hybrid and electric cars. That way, the offshore drilling carries us until the new technologies kick in, which will then create new jobs and energy independence. Energy crisis solved.
I‘ll see you at the debates, (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Now, if you‘ll excuse me, I have to go pick out a vice president. I‘m thinking Rihanna. I‘ll see you at the White House. Oh, and I might paint it pink. I hope that‘s cool with you guys. Bye.
I‘m Paris Hilton and I approve this message. I think it‘s totally hot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Rachel, I think you‘ll agree the most shocking part of that ad is why—I grew up in California. Why is it that people who live in California want to go vacation in Hawaii? That‘s the thing I have never understood. That‘s what really leapt out at me about that ad. This is what it‘s come to.
MADDOW: I want a presidential candidate who calls the whole country you guys. I love that. That works for me.
GREGORY: Here‘s the question, John Harwood, this is what I asked Giuliani earlier; do you think McCain, after all this, wanted to pick a fight with Paris Hilton when thing is going to be seen on Youtube four billion times.
HARWOOD: I think he‘s enjoying the little back and forth. He‘s getting a moment in the spotlight here. By the way, I think she‘s pretty smart. I didn‘t know beer used to be served in a bucket.
GREGORY: All right, we‘re going to leave it there. Everybody can think about Paris Hilton and her platform for the presidency. You can play with the panel every weeknight here on MSNBC. The e-mail address RACE08@MSNBC.com. That does it for THE RACE for tonight. We‘ll see you back here tomorrow night, 6:00 pm Eastern time. Rachel will be here for me. Have a good night. “HARDBALL” up next.
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