updated 8/11/2008 11:48:27 AM ET 2008-08-11T15:48:27

Guest: Rachel Maddow, Tony Blankley, Eugene Robinson, Joan Walsh, Michelle Bernard, Kiki McLean

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Tonight, maverickness suddenly at center stage as John McCain cites Democrats‘ past praise for him to argue that he‘s not like President Bush.  Democrats say no way, not so fast.

High drama and fast-moving politics today, as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.

Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m Rachel Maddow.  I‘m in for David Gregory tonight, who‘s on with Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.”

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

Tonight, we don‘t yet know if this will be a blessing or a curse for John McCain, but for the first time since he and Barack Obama have been running against each other for the presidency, the focus seems to be squarely on McCain rather than on Obama.  The issue, McCain‘s maverick status. 

We‘ll get into all of that shortly with all the rapid-fire, quick response, screaming guitar political ads a person can safely handle in one day.  This economy may be a tough one, but today was a good day to be in the political ad-making business. 

Also, a joint statement from Obama and Hillary Clinton, pledging unity at the Democratic convention amid reports and a new YouTube video suggesting anything but. 

The bedrock of our program is a panel that always comes ready to roll, ready to mix it up. 

With us tonight, Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor for “The Washington Post,” and an MSNBC political analyst; Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com; Tony Blankley, columnist for “The Washington Times”; and Michelle Bernard, president of The Independent Women‘s Voice, also an MSNBC political analyst. 

Welcome to you all. 

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

Tony Blankley, will you get us started tonight?  You‘ve got a headline on McCain‘s latest move? 

TONY BLANKLEY, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”:  Yes.  My headline tonight is, “McCain Throws Hillary‘s Words at Obama.”  Take a listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D), FMR. U.S. SENATOR:  He can work with Democrats on key issues, whether it‘s campaign finance reform or tobacco policy.  He‘s worked with us. 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  John McCain is a personal friend, a great friend, and I would be honored to run with or against John McCain. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  And I have enormous respect for him.  He is a courageous, patriotic American who stands up for what he believes. 

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN:  I admire Senator McCain greatly, and he‘s one of the people we model our campaign on because he is very direct, very blunt, and nobody has to guess at what he‘s thinking. 

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN:  I love John McCain.  He‘s a great guy. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Since coming to Washington, I believe that the right approach begins with the proposal put forward by Senator Lieberman and Senator McCain. 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House, and Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLANKLEY:  Yes, this is an ad that I think Republicans are going to enjoy more than they‘re justified, and Democrats are going to like less than they‘re justified.  It feels terrible.  It probably won‘t make a lot of difference. 

The one piece of it that is pretty interesting to see, it was Hillary‘s actual almost endorsement of McCain.  That‘s like a step over the line.  Usually, saying rude things about your primary opponent is pretty typical.  Actually, almost endorsing the general election opponent, I think, rubs it a little raw for a lot of Democrats. 

MADDOW:  OK.

Joan Walsh, you take this on as well.  What‘s your headline tonight? 

JOANN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM:  Hi, Rachel.  My headline tonight is, “John McCain, Maverick No More.”  That ad that Tony loves has already been refuted by the DNC, and it‘s pretty effective.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN:  It‘s stylistically and substantively—there‘s no daylight between George Bush and John McCain.  They are joined at the hip. 

KERRY:  John McCain has changed in profound and fundamental ways that I find personally really surprising and frankly upsetting.  He is not the John McCain as the senator who defined himself as a “maverick,” though questionable.  This is a different John McCain. 

DASCHLE:  On Iraq, on the economy, on tax policy, on domestic policy, across the board, he is espousing the Bush policies.  He‘s changed a lot since 2001. 

CLINTON:  But in the end, after eight devastating years under President Bush, Senator McCain is simply offering four years more. 

DEAN:  You know, the John McCain of 2000 wouldn‘t vote for this John McCain.  We‘ve got—we don‘t need another four years of George Bush.  What he‘s proposing is four more years of George Bush‘s economic policy. 

It‘s ridiculous, and it‘s unfair to the American people. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s been my honor to welcome my friend John McCain as the nominee of the Republican Party. 

I wish you all the best.  I‘m proud to be your friend. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, Joan, you think that that is an effective rebuttal to the McCain ad? 

WALSH:  I do, Rachel, because, you know, John McCain had to reach back into the political olden days to come up with some of those quotes by Democrats.  Except for Hillary—I‘ll be fair and give him that.  I wouldn‘t call it an endorsement the way Tony did, but we all knew when we heard those words that we would hear them again in a John McCain ad. 

So I think this ad, you know, took lemons, made lemonade, and is a much more effective ad because it‘s based on the truth and how people—

Democrats really feel about the new, not improved John McCain. 

MADDOW:  We‘re going to get into this a little bit more in the “War Room” tonight, so stay tuned for that.

Michelle Bernard, your headline tonight focuses on Senator Clinton? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Absolutely, Rachel.  My headline tonight is, “Senator Clinton Takes a Bow, Followed by an Encore.”

Just when we thought that Senator Clinton had actually stopped campaigning for the presidency of the United States, she‘s back.  Let‘s take a look at this clip. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I happen to believe that we will come out stronger if people feel that their voices were heard.  And I think that is a very big part of how we actually come out unified.  Because I know, from just what I‘m hearing, that there‘s an incredible pent-up desire, and I think that people want to feel like, OK, it‘s a catharsis, we‘re here, we did it, and then everybody get behind Senator Obama. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD:  So basically, what we‘re looking at is that, at least from Senator Clinton‘s point of view, women need a cathartic experience before they can actually figure out who to vote for the most important office in the land.  I think a lot of women are probably scratching their heads when they look at this tonight, and they‘re thinking, I don‘t need a cathartic experience to figure out whether I‘m going to vote for Senator Obama or John McCain.  But that‘s what we‘ve heard, and she‘s back. 

MADDOW:  All right, Michelle. 

Gene Robinson, your headline tonight takes a look at Obama‘s latest effort. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, Rachel.  My headline is, “Obama Hits Back, Too Softly for Some Democrats.”

Rachel, as you know, some Democrats have been worried that, since Obama got back from his trip, John McCain has been on the offensive, hitting him with the attack ads, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and they‘ve asked why didn‘t he hit back?  This is part of a concern that Democrats have about how they fight Republicans and these Americans. 

We had a story in “The Washington Post” today, and this is what Tad Devine, one of the Democrats who was willing to put his name to his quote, had to say about it.  He said, “Democrats are worried.  We‘ve been through two very tough elections at the national level, and it‘s very easy to lose confidence.”

Well, I think that in the last few days, Democrats have gotten some of that confidence back with the way that Obama came back and mocked McCain‘s mocking of him over the tire gauges with some humor and some sharpness.  And there‘s a feeling that finally he‘s punching, and perhaps punching effectively. 

MADDOW:  My headline tonight, Gene, is also on Obama tactics.  My headline is, “Gas, Gas Goes Gold for Go-bama,” just because I really wanted to keep the alliteration up there.

Yesterday, the Obama campaign released a statement saying they would be running campaign ads on Gas Station TV, those really loud TV screens on gas pumps in more than 400 cities across the country.  Just hours later, the company said they would not be running Obama‘s ads and that the ads had never been approved by Gas Station TV execs. 

At that point, what the Obama campaign had on its hands was a gaffe.  But they turned it around.

The campaign shot back with another statement that accused the company of refusing to run ads that are damaging to oil companies.  Check this out.

“Once again, the oil companies and their friends are standing with Senator McCain, the candidate for president who is proposing to offer them a $4 billion tax cut.  It looks like gas station TV doesn‘t want the American people to know about Senator Obama‘s plan to offer working families a $1,000 energy rebate that would be funded by a tax on oil company profits.  The oil companies have taken sides in this race, and they are standing with John McCain because they know he‘s been in Washington for 26 years and can be counted on to pursue for another four years of the Bush energy policy that has made them billions of dollars.”

The Obama campaign also released e-mail correspondence that they say proves that Gas Station TV had, in fact, approved the Obama ad before changing their minds.  Senator Obama‘s campaign has been mostly playing defense since he got back from his big trip abroad, as Gene was saying.  This is an example of how we can get off the defensive, how an aggressive campaign can turn any opportunity, even a big, awkward gaffe about TV on gas pumps into a chance to score some points on the other guy.

So that‘s my headline tonight.

Coming up next on THE RACE, Clinton/Obama drama.  Is it just a figment of the media‘s overactive imagination?  Did we imagine Bill Clinton saying this...? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You could argue that no one‘s ever ready to be president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  OK, good.  I didn‘t just make that up. 

Next, we‘ll speak with a key Hillary Clinton supporter about plans for the Denver convention and beyond. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Welcome back to THE RACE.

It looks like behind the scenes, Hillary Clinton may not be ruling out putting her name up for a vote in Denver, telling supporters she is looking for a strategy for her delegates to be heard and respected at the convention. 

Is it possible for Clinton and her supporters to feel heard and respected in Denver without stealing the spotlight from the nominee?  Is the Clinton/Obama drama dying down, or is it really just heating up? 

Joining me now to go one-on-one is Kiki McLean, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton.  Kiki, thank you so much for joining us.

KIKI MCLEAN, FMR. SR. ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON:  Oh, I‘m glad to be here with you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  So what does being heard and being respected look like at a convention? 

MCLEAN:  Well, listen, I think you asked a question in the introduction which is, is there drama or is it dying down?  And I would say we are in the doldrums of August.  There is no drama. 

Senator Obama and Senator Clinton‘s world issued a joint statement yesterday, you know, saying they‘re going to be working to have a great unified convention and one that‘s unified behind Barack Obama.  I think maybe some of this speculation has to do with the boredom of August. 

MADDOW:  Well, but part of the reason they had to put out a joint statement, Kiki, is because what Hillary said to supporters at a California fund-raiser this week, which has now ended up on YouTube. 

Check out this little clip. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON:  I know from just what I‘m hearing that there‘s this incredible pent-up...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

H. CLINTON:  ... desire.  And I think that people want to feel like, OK, it‘s a catharsis.  We‘re here, we did it, and then everybody get behind Senator Obama.  I mean, that is, you know... 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It doesn‘t work that way. 

H. CLINTON:  That is what most people believe is the best way to go. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So either—go ahead.  Go ahead with your reaction. 

MCLEAN:  I was just going to say, I mean, look, this is very simple.  I think the statement last night said it to the point, which is Senator Obama is going to make sure that this is a convention where we‘re unified, we‘re moving forward as a party.  People are going to be heard.  That‘s what a convention is about. 

That‘s why there are caucuses.  People voice their opinions.  There‘s work on our platform. 

This is just not as dramatic as I think maybe some folks would like to make it out to be.  I think that Senator Clinton and Senator Obama are doing great together.  She‘s for him.  She‘s campaigning for him in Nevada tomorrow. 

She‘s got trips planned on the road later this month.  They‘re both helping one another raise money, retire debts.  This is moving along just as it should, as we bring our party together for Denver. 

MADDOW:  But strategically speaking, if there is going to be a sort of show of force of some kind in Denver, either by Senator Clinton and her campaign within the convention hall, or by Senator Clinton‘s supporters on the streets of Denver—as we know, there are lots of events planned—what needs to be the character of those events so that those aren‘t solidifying dissent among Clinton supporters against Senator Obama, and they are instead moving that support to Obama? 

MCLEAN:  I think that what Senator Clinton and Senator Obama said last night in their statement is what‘s right, which is she‘s working with Senator Obama.  He‘s going to have a convention.  He is the nominee.  He‘s going to host a convention that‘s really about bringing everybody together, moving into the general election. 

I think the work that she‘s done, that many supporters—I‘m a supporter of Senator Obama‘s—are demonstrations that were moving forward that‘s great for our party.  We have a terrific opportunity this fall. 

There are definitely folks who have been through the bruises of a primary, which happens every year, not just this year.  This one went a little bit longer, not a whole lot longer, but somewhat longer than others.  And so the fact of the matter is, we‘re Democrats who are coming together.  And that‘s what we‘re going to do, is we‘re going to work with the nominee and have a great convention in Denver. 

MADDOW:  Kiki, you are being admirably consistent, and I credit you for that.  But... 

MCLEAN:  No, listen, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  ... I have to ask you about the things going on in the news though that seem to contradict the message that you‘re giving us very clearly.

I mean, if it‘s really all in the name of party unity, like Senator Clinton said, like you‘re articulating here, what do you make of Bill Clinton‘s, I mean, tepid, to say the least, endorsement of Obama this week?  We‘ve got a little clip here to play for you.  Watch this. 

MCLEAN:  Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is he ready to be president? 

W. CLINTON:  You could argue that no one‘s ever ready to be president.  I mean, I certainly learned a lot about the job in the first year. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You think he‘s completely qualified to be president? 

W. CLINTON:  The Constitution sets the 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)

MADDOW:  That‘s roughly saying, he‘s not a ham sandwich.  You know? 

Like, he‘s not the other guy.  That‘s as tepid as it gets. 

MCLEAN:  President Clinton was very specific when he said, “I think he should win, and I think he will win.”  You know, we love to do a lot of analysis on one very single moment in time. 

President Clinton is for him, and I think that President Clinton probably has a unique view on the presidency.  He would probably answer that question in any election year differently than any of us would, the same way President Carter might answer it differently, because they have a unique experience with the office. 

And what you and I and how we talk about it, versus how he talks about it.  So we can spend days dissecting that, or we can recognize the fact that he said that Barack Obama should be president and he believes he will be president.  And that‘s great news. 

MADDOW:  Kiki, thank you for taking the time to join us today.  We really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about this.

MCLEAN:  Glad to be with you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thank you. 

All right.  Coming up next, President Bush makes an appearance on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, on this program, and it is not in someone‘s attack ad. 

Shocking, I know. 

What‘s on THE RACE‘S radar when we come back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We‘re back with a look at what else is on THE RACE‘S radar today. 

First, the kind of milestone you hope will never be reached has been reached in Afghanistan.  “The New York Times” reports today that we‘ve reached the 500 mark for U.S. troops killed in the Afghanistan War.  That milestone was reached, in fact, in late July, but it wasn‘t immediately apparent, in part because NATO doesn‘t release the nationalities of troops killed or wounded in Afghanistan. 

The U.S. has more troops there now than at any time since the start of the war, 36,000 Americans.  Until recently, many troops and vets called Afghanistan “Forgot-a-stan,” the forgotten war.  But this presidential campaign and increased violence in Afghanistan has that forgotten war back front and center for the American people. 

Also, the image of the U.S. around the world has been a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail this year.  Overnight, the current president arrived in Beijing for the Olympic games.  But not before slapping China on human rights. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings.  So America stands in firm opposition to China‘s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists.  We speak out for a free press and freedom of assembly and labor rights. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  While President Bush was criticizing China from a podium in Bangkok, First Lady Laura Bush was at a Burmese refugee camp, speaking out against the military junta in that country. 

And tomorrow, they U.S. will make a powerful, symbolic statement when American sprinter Lopez Lomong, one of the lost boys of Sudan, a Sudanese refugee, carries the American flag at the opening ceremonies.  China, of course, is the largest supplier of weapons to the rogue regime in Sudan and a major investor in its oil industry. 

Tony, Bush out there in Beijing on the global stage representing the U.S. with all these dramatic, moral and diplomatic stakes, do you think that Americans project forward at a time like this and ask ourselves who we would rather imagine in Bush‘s chair as president at the next Olympics?

BLANKLEY:  Well, look, I don‘t know what the people think about who they want as president, but any American president in this situation has a very delicate line to walk.  You have to comment on the very bad human rights abuses and religious right abuses that occur in China. 

On the other hand, nobody wants to just give China the back of their hand because China‘s that important in the world.  And so he‘s made his statements before he got to China, which I think was probably the right way to do it. 

Obama, if he‘s president, may find himself in a similar situation some years from now.  And it‘s always a difficult line to walk.  If anything, I think maybe he should have been a little stronger on his criticism, earlier and more consistently, even though once he got to China proper, he had to keep his mouth shut on that topic, I think. 

MADDOW:  This is one of those times when you realize that subtlety and maturity are a lot of what you‘re looking for in terms of the diplomatic touch on things like this, absolutely.  It doesn‘t indicate that one candidate is yours or the other, but it means that this stuff is important. 

All right.  Coming up, what Hillary Clinton told her supporters that stirred up all the controversy.  We‘re going to play the clip and get the panel‘s reaction.  Is it as bad as everyone‘s making it out to be? 

We‘re going to go “Inside the War Room” next here on RACE FOR THE

WHITE HOUSE. 

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MADDOW:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Have you noticed something a little different about today‘s show?  I mean, other than the obvious, not David Gregory.  On today‘s show, there‘s a two syllable word you‘re hearing a lot more of than usual.  It‘s a proper noun rarely uttered in discussions of 2008 presidential politics.  It‘s the word McCain.  For the first time, the attention in the campaign is now turning away from Barack Obama and toward John McCain, after a series of four ads, all on the subject of John McCain‘s so-called maverick status.  Is that a brand that is too tough for Obama to tarnish?  We will take it on. 

But first, back with us, Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor for the “Washington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst, Joan Walsh, editor in chief of Salon.com, Tony Blankley, columnist for the “Washington Times,” and Michelle Bernard, president of Independent Women‘s Voice, also an MSNBC political analyst. 

OK, everybody, first up, John McCain‘s contested maverick status.  His campaign releasing this web ad today, which actually features prominent Democrats praising McCain.  Check this out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D), SOUTH DAKOTA:  He can work with Democrats on key issues.  Whether it‘s campaign finance reform or tobacco policy, he‘s worked with us. 

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  John McCain is a personal friend, a great friend, and I would be honored would run with or against John McCain. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  I have enormous respect for him. 

He is a courageous, patriotic American who stands up for what he believes. 

HOWARD DEAN, CHAIRMAN DNC:  I admire Senator McCain greatly, and he‘s one of the people we model our campaign on because he‘s very direct, very blunt, and nobody has to guess at what he‘s thinking. 

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN:  I love John McCain.  He‘s a great guy. 

OBAMA:  Since coming to Washington, I‘ve believed that the right approach begins with the proposal put forward by Senator Lieberman and Senator McCain. 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House, and Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Ouch.  The DNC wasted no time responding to the web ad.  They fired off this rebuttal, which is called Maverick No More. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN:  Stylistically and substantively, there‘s no daylight between George Bush and John McCain.  They are joined at the hip. 

KERRY:  John McCain has changed in profound and fundamental ways that I find personally, really surprising and, frankly, upsetting.  He is not the John McCain as the senator who defined himself, quote, as a maverick, though questionable.  This is a different John McCain. 

DASCHLE:  On Iraq, on the economy, on tax policy, on domestic policy, across the board he is espousing the Bush policies.  He‘s changed a lot since 2001. 

CLINTON:  But in the end, after eight devastating years under President Bush, Senator McCain is simply offering four years more. 

DEAN:  You know, the John McCain of 2000 wouldn‘t vote for this John McCain.  We don‘t need another four years of George Bush.  What he‘s proposing is four more years of George Bush‘s economic policy.  It‘s ridiculous, and it‘s unfair to the American people. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s been my honor to welcome my friend, John McCain, as the nominee of the Republican party.  I wish you all the best.  I‘m proud to be your friend. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Michelle Bernard, do you think that you are playing with fire when you invite your political opponents to give their views on you? 

BERNARD:  I got to tell you, I‘m looking at the two ads, and I‘m thinking what a difference four years makes.  This is definitely playing with political fire.  With the first ad, we always knew that Senator Clinton‘s words were going to come back to haunt Barack Obama.  I think during that part of the election cycle, a lot of us were thinking, Senator Clinton is the gift that just keeps on giving to the McCain camp, as he prepared to pivot towards the general election campaign. 

Both of the ads are effective.  They‘re funny.  They‘re humorous.  I don‘t know, in the long run, if they‘re going to have any impact on how people decide who they‘re going to vote for.  The Obama camp, I think, in that last ad, really tried to do a good job in tying Senator McCain to President Bush.  But in the long run, I just don‘t know if it‘s going to have an impact on how voters think or what voters do on November 4th

MADDOW:  Gene, let me just ask you quickly, what about this idea that Democrats are pushing now that the John McCain of 2008 is not the same as maverick John McCain.  He‘s a new John McCain, a worse John McCain, and even if you like the old guy, you shouldn‘t like John McCain in his current incarnation.  What do you make of that argument? 

ROBINSON:  Well, that seems to me to be a fairly promising argument, fairly easy for the Democrats to make, because you can just contrast the positions that the John McCain of old took and the positions that the John McCain of today takes, you know, the one who has pledged fealty to the White House in a way that the old John McCain never would.  So, you know, I think that‘s a fairly promising argument for the Democrats.

But I think you made the main point, Rachel, which is they‘re talking about John McCain.  It‘s not all about Barack Obama.  Is he good?  Is he bad?  Is he this?  Is he that?  You know, it‘s a fundamental shift, I think, when people are asking those questions about John McCain, and it takes some of the pressure off of Obama and puts some of the scrutiny on McCain. 

MADDOW:  Tony, do you want to make a quick comment here? 

BLANKLEY:  Quick point.  I have a different view on these ads.  I think for people over 40 or 45, the McCain brand is so indelible as the gadfly that whatever he or the Democrats say won‘t make much difference.  For people who, you know, under 35, maybe some advertising, if the Democrats want to spend millions of dollars, they might be able to move it a bit.  I think this is going to be more age specific because he had such a strong brand for people who remember him over the last 20 years. 

MADDOW:  OK, next up, a leaked memo from the McCain campaign reveals a strategy to paint Obama as a job-killing machine.  This is according to a memo that was obtained by the Huffington Post; quote, “the McCain campaign will paint Obama as being aligned with trial lawyers and unions, card check, trade, education reform, and push the frame that he raises taxes and will kill jobs.” 

That could be a tricky strategy for John McCain because his own adviser, former lobbyist Rick Davis, is loosely tied to a proposed closure of the DHL shipping site in Wilmington, Ohio, that‘s made multiple appearances now on McCain‘s campaign trail.  As many as 8,000 jobs would be lost by this planned closure.  McCain tried to assuage DHL employees‘ fears in Wilmington, Ohio today by promising Congressional hearings and an investigation led by the Justice Department.  But McCain did admit, quote, I can‘t assure you that this train wreck isn‘t going to happen, but I will do everything in my power to see that we avert it.”

Joan, on the overall issue of jobs and the economy and who would be a better steward, who do you think is doing a better job communicating on that issue right now?  Who‘s got the message that‘s resonating the most? 

WALSH:  I think it has been Barack Obama.  I think that McCain was way behind on the economy, and his decision was, like everything else in his campaign, to try to scare people about Barack Obama.  So McCain tries to take his own lack of comfort and lack of real policy to help people on the economy, put that aside; let‘s really focus on this guy and say he wants to raise your taxes.  He‘s going to kill jobs by raising taxes. 

I‘m not sure it‘s going to work.  I saw Obama give an interview this afternoon.  I think it was on his campaign trail.  He got hit with some hard questions about the windfall profits tax, but I thought he handled it in such a common-sensical way and really said, look, we‘re going to do this in an intelligent way.  We‘re not bashing the oil companies, but we really have a crisis here.  And I think it‘s more important that we get the oil companies to participate and to cough up some taxes so we can give rebates to the waitresses—and there are a lot more waitresses than oil barons—who need help driving to their jobs. 

So I think he breaks it down in a common-sensical way, and he‘s not a demagogue.  He‘s not talking about rich people.  I don‘t think he‘s doing it in an unfair way. 

MADDOW:  It‘s interesting to see on the gas tax roll back that both campaigns—not on the roll back, but on the windfall profits tax—both campaigns think that‘s a winning issue for them.  The McCain campaign thinks they can demagogue Obama for being a tax raiser on that.  And Obama thinks he can win some populous economic points on that.  Tony, quick point here. 

BLANKLEY:  Rachel, to say that Obama is not—he talked about the tyranny of big oil only a month or two ago.  Now to say that he‘s not going to play the card against big oil and speak responsibly, you pull up the old quote.  I don‘t think either of the candidates really have a good solid message on the economy.  I think Obama is behind the curve on the oil issue. 

MADDOW:  I‘ve got—I want to move on to this next point because I think this is probably the single most surprising thing we‘re going to cover the whole night.  In polling now, McCain‘s supposed Achilles heel may not be causing as much of a limp as expected.  The latest “Time Magazine” poll shows McCain winning over 20 percent of likely voters who disapprove of Bush. 

But get this, he‘s not doing as well as the out-going president did among white voters in 2004.  Right now McCain leads among white voters 47-40.  That‘s a seven-point lead.  Compare that to Bush beating Kerry among white voters by 17 points.  Also, according to the latest NBC News polling data that we pulled up this afternoon, the numbers are even worse for McCain among white men.  McCain leads Obama among white men by 19 points.  Bush v. Kerry among white men in 2004, 22 points. 

Michelle Bernard, why do you think that John McCain is, comparatively speaking, under-performing among white voters and among white men in particular, when compared with George Bush. 

BERNARD:  Traditionally, if you look at Republican party politics—and we know for the most part, Republicans vote for Republicans—we have seen this entire very long election cycle that the Republican party is disaffected, is not unified, and John McCain is not everybody‘s cup of tea.  Senator McCain has done the best among independents and among Reagan Democrats.  If you look at just that demographic, that‘s really the battleground in this election. 

He and Senator Obama are going after the same voters within the Republican party.  And I think within the Republican part—there‘s probably more white males in the Republican party than white females—

Senator McCain is doing worse than George Bush because people simply aren‘t happy with him.  He needs to continue to build that base, strengthen it, and go after independents and Reagan Democrats if he‘s going to beat Senator Obama this election cycle. 

MADDOW:  We‘re not in unity anymore.  Clinton-Obama drama, a big issue for the campaign for yet another day today.  She told supporters today she‘ll do all she can to help Obama win in the fall.  But what can she do in Denver, 18 days from now, to keep that promise?  We‘re going to be asking that on three questions, which is coming up next her on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  And we‘re back with three key questions on the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Still with us, Gene, Joan, Tony and Michelle.  First up, Barack Obama responds to a new Pew Poll showing 48 percent of people believe they‘re hearing too much about Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I think that the majority of people have been fed a constant stream of political chatter.  And I‘m sure that having a couple weeks off and enjoying the Olympics is probably what the doctor ordered for everybody. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  But It‘s not just the media that‘s talking a lot about Barack Obama.  He‘s pretty popular in McCain land.  The “Boston Globe” reports that Obama is the most frequently used word on McCain‘s campaign blog.  This cool graphic shows proportionally how often words appear on each of the campaign‘s blogs.  In fact, the word Obama appears more on McCain‘s blog than it does on Obama‘s blog.  As common wisdom says, if the election is a referendum on Obama, Obama has a worse chance of winning than if the election is a referendum on McCain, and by extension, George W. Bush. 

So our first question, can Obama get the country interested in John McCain?  Tony, what do you think? 

BLANKLEY:  I think it‘s pretty difficult for anyone to get the country interested in John McCain. 

MADDOW:  Oh, boy. 

BLANKLEY:  I just can‘t help but believe that Obama is the more interesting figure, and the country is going to stare at him until November.  I don‘t know what they‘re going to decide.  McCain is a known commodity, and he can help guide the campaign‘s focus a little bit on issues.  But I think that, basically, it is going to be on Obama, up or down. 

MADDOW:  Gene, do you agree that there‘s really nothing that Obama can do to get the country talking about McCain.  You said earlier—and I tend to agree—that we are talking about McCain somehow now.  It maybe by McCain‘s own doing.  It may be by Obama‘s doing. 

ROBINSON:  Listen, maybe we don‘t get to a sort of one to one correspondence.  In the word cloud maybe McCain doesn‘t get as big as Obama, but at least that we would talk about McCain some, and his qualifications and what he plans to do with the country, what he plans to do in Iraq, what he plans to do on the economy, and ask him some of those tough questions rather than just say, oh, we all know John McCain.  He‘s a known quantity. 

Well, I‘m not sure.  The problems we have today are not known quantities.  We don‘t necessarily know what he would do to fix some of them.  So let‘s ask him, and let‘s challenge him on that. 

MADDOW:  Up next, Hillary Clinton supporters are heading to Denver with high hopes, audacious hopes maybe, to get her delegates heard at the Democratic Convention, raising the prospect of having her name placed in the domination in Denver.  During an online chat today about her potential convention role, Clinton said, quote, no decisions have been made yet.  But she repeated again that she‘s committed to helping elect Barack Obama. 

So our second question today: what‘s the best thing that Hillary Clinton could do in Denver to help Obama‘s chances?  Joan, what do you think? 

WALSH:  You know, Rachel, that‘s a great question.  And I think—I really don‘t—I‘ve done a little bit of reporting on this.  I‘m not sure I know the answer.  I really don‘t, though, expect her to place her name in nomination.  I think there‘s a fear that it‘s too divisive.  She does have supporters who would really like the super delegates to change their minds and topple Obama, and that‘s not going to happen.  So I don‘t think she wants to take that chance.  It‘s possible—she‘s holding out the possibility.  I don‘t expect it. 

I think she‘s been grappling with something, and she doesn‘t get credit for this.  People who don‘t like her think that she‘s just trying to draw out her moment in the sun.  But I think ever since June, she‘s been really struggling.  And I have talked directly to some top people in her campaign.  She didn‘t really anticipate the kind of wildfire that erupted around her candidacy, around the sexism charges.  And she knows that she‘s got some pretty outraged and out there supporters.  So I think she spent a lot of time in the last two months, without necessarily a lot of conclusions, to try to figure out a way to make those people feel respected and heard.  And that‘s what you heard her saying. 

Whether that needs to be with a roll call vote, you know, it‘s probably too risky.  There‘s going to be a parade, I hear.  You know, that could be nice.  There‘s a great Emily‘s List luncheon that day, that Tuesday, with both Hillary and Michelle Obama, which will be terrific.  So I‘m expecting her to look for a way to bring those supporters, as many as possible, in for a safe landing.  And it‘s not obvious what the answer is. 

(CROSS TALK)

MADDOW:  Quick point from you, Michelle, and then we‘re going to probably hit the commercial here. 

BERNARD:  One of the things she can do to help is get Bill to stay home.  That will help a lot.  Keep him on the reservation.  She can do that if he‘s at home. 

WALSH:  I don‘t agree, but we can come back to that later. 

MADDOW:  Tony, quick point. 

BLANKLEY:  There‘s a big political fact.  Both Obama and Hillary have failed in two months to negotiate the obvious closure, and now they‘re only less than a month away from their convention.  This is sloppy negotiating on both sides. 

WALSH:  It is.  It‘s disturbing. 

MADDOW:  Up next, it‘s your turn to play with the panel.  THE RACE returns right after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We‘re back with play with the panel and some other amusing campaign stuff to talk about.  Back with us, Gene, Joan, Tony and Michelle. 

First, Karl Rove offers campaign strategy advice to McCain on energy.  In the “Wall Street Journal” today Rove writes, “in the coming weeks, he needs to lay out a bold domestic reform program.  He gave a taste on energy, but with a few missteps.  He should appear in front of manufacturing plants where jobs depend on affordable energy, small businesses affected by fuel prices, and farms hurt by sky rocketing fertilizer costs, and not in front of oil rigs.”

None too subtle advice from Karl Rove there.  Also today, all aboard the Straight Paced Express.  I find this incredible; the crack team at McCain HG has made a lucrative offer to supporters: cut and paste pro-McCain comments from the campaign website onto another websites as if they‘re your own, and you could earn points, redeemable for an autographed McCain book or a good seat at a campaign event, or even a ride on McCain‘s bus.  McCainiacs are invited to spread the word by, quote, “selecting from the numerous web, blog, and news sites listed here, going there, and making your opinions supporting John McCain known.  Once you‘ve commented on a post, video or news story, report the details of your comment by clicking the button below.  After your comments are verified, you‘ll be awarded points through the McCain online action center.” 

“The Washington Post” points out this kind of incentive based, astro-turf political evangelizing has a long, weird track record.  Chinese dissidents say, for example, that the Chinese government has paid its citizens to write pro-China comments on blogs and in chat rooms.  No word on whether McCain‘s web team also has plans to smash the gang of four. 

All right, turning now to some of our viewer e-mails.  Kayla in

Missouri has a veep stakes question—Gene, you‘re on deck for this one:   “is it safe for Obama to pick someone who is not well-known like Tim Kaine, since people‘s biggest worry about Obama is that they don‘t know very much about him?”  What do you think? 

ROBINSON:  Well, I don‘t think that would be the biggest problem with Kaine.  The question—look, I think Obama would be better off picking somebody who is better known.  I think there are some vulnerabilities that he could use the pick to shore up, pick somebody with some gray hair or somebody with some foreign policy experience.  You know, somebody like Tim Kaine, I think, you got these two young guys, neither of whom is all that well-known.  I wonder if that wouldn‘t just give more fuel to that fire or to—or more ammunition to the McCain campaign. 

MADDOW:  Tony, who counts as a name brand Democrat other than Hillary Clinton?  Who is super well-known on the Democratic side other than her? 

BLANKLEY:  I don‘t think it matters a lot.  I guess Biden or Dodd or somebody.  I really think that people vote for the top of the ticket, no matter what people say.  And unless you pick some complete loser from the bottom of the ticket, it probably doesn‘t make a whole lot of difference. 

MADDOW:  Fair enough and bluntly put, which makes us love you all the more, Tony.  Kimberly in Florida has a question about McCain‘s stop at a biker‘s rally this week: “why is it that John McCain can speak at an event like the Sturgis Bike Rally, which is full of violence, drugs, debauchery, female exploitation, et cetera?  If it had been Obama to speak at a similar event, do you think this would be front page news?  If so, why?”

Michelle, want to take that on? 

BERNARD:  I don‘t even know what to say about that.  I would imagine if Senator Obama had decided to go to something like that, it would be front page news.  I had not heard of this before.  I can‘t imagine what Senator McCain was doing there.  I guess there‘s something to be said for the fact that bikers who engage in debauchery, they vote also. 

MADDOW:  You don‘t want to alienate your biker constituents, Michelle. 

BERNARD:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Finally, our listeners and our viewers have a lot to say about the Clinton/Obama drama.  Bev in Florida writes, “President and Senator Clinton are having a difficult time adjusting to the fact that they are no longer the first family of the Democratic party.  Their legacies are no longer going to be based on his and her presidencies, but on how they helped to elect our country‘s first black president.  Do you agree?”  Joan, briefly.

WALSH:  I think that will be part of their legacy, I absolutely do.  But I think people are being a little bit too hard on the Clintons.  To go back to what Michelle said before, I think the party would be crazy not to make a small space for President Clinton at the convention in Denver.  He was a two-term popular Democrat. 

MADDOW:  That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m Rachel Maddow.  Thank you for being here with us.  David will be back tomorrow night, same time, 6:00 pm Eastern, on MSNBC.

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

END   

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