updated 8/27/2008 11:37:32 AM ET 2008-08-27T15:37:32

Guest: Norah O‘Donnell, Nicole Wallace, Richard Wolffe, Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, Michael Smerconish, Valerie Jarrett

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  One nation is tonight‘s theme at the Democratic National Convention, but can Barack Obama keep Hillary Clinton supporters from dividing the union? 

We are in historic Union Station in downtown Denver as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE goes mile high. 

Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, live from the Democratic National Convention in Denver. 

I am David Gregory.

It‘s been a beautiful day here in Denver with temperatures in the 80s, but storms are in the forecast. 

We are in the Wild West, and that is our first headline tonight.  Spectacular footage of four twisters that touched down in the Denver area last night, all within half an hour of each other.  Was it an omen for the start of the convention that Obama now needs to gain his campaign momentum? 

Rachel Maddow, Air America radio host and soon to be the host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” beginning September 8th, right here on MSNBC.

Do you think we‘re going to see Obama get a convention bounce? 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think that a convention bounce of some kind is guaranteed.  The question is whether Obama will change the overall trajectory of the race.  Getting a temporary boost Labor Day doesn‘t mean anything come November.  The question is whether he‘s going to define himself in a way that connects with the American people and puts him back up in the polls like he used to be. 

GREGORY:  And it is striking.  There is anxiety in the Democratic Party about his campaign at this stage. 

MADDOW:  There is anxiety in the Democratic Party not about the way that Obama has defined himself.  There have been some—there‘s been some discontent with his vote, say, on the FISA bill and other things on which he has not stayed true to a liberal line on things.  But really, the thing that even hard-core liberals are upset with Obama about is not hitting John McCain hard enough.  It is hard to make your own convention about hitting your opponent.

GREGORY:  And one of the things I‘ve gotten from talking to Obama advisors is that the contrast will be clear.  They think they‘ve learned the mistake that John Kerry made, they feel, by not hitting President Bush hard enough back in 2004. 

MADDOW:  Yes.

GREGORY:  Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host, columnist for “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and “The Daily News.”

Here are some of the recent bounce numbers for the past Democratic candidates.  We talk about John Kerry, less than five percent.  Al Gore with slightly more than 10 percent.  They both lost.  Bill Clinton was up more than 20 percent his time around. 

Where do you think Obama falls out of here?  The McCain campaign has already said, oh, yes, you‘ve got to expect a 15-point bounce. 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I don‘t know how he comes out of INVESCO Field at Mile High Stadium in front of 70,000 screaming fans without a significant bump.  But I agree with Rachel that it will be short lived. 

And I anticipate that next Friday, John McCain announces his VP selection, or probably does it soon thereafter, trying to thwart that bounce.  So he gets a significant bump, but a bump that doesn‘t last because then it‘s GOP time. 

GREGORY:  All right.

Headline number two, “The Hill/Bill Effect.”  Hillary Clinton says she will ask her delegates to be released to Obama, but some say they will vote for Hillary Clinton anyway. 

A new “USA Today”/Gallup poll says 30 percent of Clinton supporters will not vote for Obama.  Some of their anger now fueled by the belief that Obama did not properly consider her for the number two spot. 

Norah O‘Donnell, chief Washington correspondent and MSNBC host, how significant is this Clinton/Obama drama going to be? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  We might be overplaying it to some degree, but the numbers suggest that there are a large number of Hillary supporters who don‘t yet want to vote for Barack Obama.  That‘s why the stakes are so huge in this convention.  His own advisers acknowledge it.

He‘s got to reintroduce himself not only to the American public, but to the Democratic Party.  He‘s only pulling about 80 percent among Democrats overall.  If he can bump that up 10 percent, he will increase his numbers in the national poll numbers as well.  He‘s got to do that here.  That‘s why Michelle Obama, too, talking about his biography, that‘s what I think is so important. 

GREGORY:  Senior Obama advisers say this is overplayed, that they are at the highest levels in touch with Hillary Clinton, with Bill Clinton.  They are on board.  They‘re dealing with a core group of supporters that this campaign does not want to alienate.  But this is also a core group of supporters who wanted Hillary Clinton either on the ticket or to be the nominee that wants to come here and make a statement. 

O‘DONNELL:  And that‘s why it‘s really important what Hillary Clinton says in her speech tomorrow night, and what Bill Clinton says.  But some of the reporting that our colleagues at Politico.com have said is that there‘s already wrangling about Bill Clinton, doesn‘t agree with Barack Obama‘s campaign wants his speech to be. 

Wednesday night is about national security.  Bill Clinton wants to talk about the economy and the successes he‘s had on the economy when he was president.  So there‘s already sort of some wrangling about that.

And will Hillary Clinton stick around to Thursday night when Barack Obama speaks at INVESCO Field? 

GREGORY:  Right.  So there is the question as well, the former president Bill Clinton has seeming bitterness over Senator Clinton‘s defeat and his refusal to go all the way in endorsing Obama. 

Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor for “The Washington Post” rounds out our dream team panel today. 

Gene, what are you expecting from Bill Clinton later in the week?  And will he give Obama the kind of big embrace publicly the Obama campaign needs? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You know, I think he will, actually.  I mean, Bill Clinton is a great politician.  He spent his life in the Democratic Party.

I‘ve never bought the idea that he somehow would want Obama to lose this election.  And I think he‘ll go out and do whatever he can for Obama to win it.  And I think if there‘s one thing the Democrats could achieve this week, it‘s to kind of snap out of it.  Stop all the fretting and the moping around.  I mean, the last time a Democrat cruised to easy victory, a non-incumbent Democrat cruised to easy victory for the presidency, probably Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. 

It‘s never easy.

GREGORY:  But it‘s interesting, Gene, that this is very similar to what happened in 2000 between George W. Bush and John McCain.  The Bush campaign needed people, and then the Bush White House needed top people who were going to manage the McCain account, keep them in the tent.  And that‘s what Obama‘s camp has to do as well. 

ROBINSON:  Right, they do have to keep the Clinton people in the tent. 

I think they have made an effort to do that.  And, you know, we‘ll see as

the week goes on whether we see the sort of reconciliation we‘d like to see

or they would like to see, rather, or not.  But the bottom line is, still, if you look at the fundamentals, Democrats are in pretty good shape this year and I think ought to come out of this convention feeling good about their chances. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We keep moving.

Headline number three tonight: “The Obama Message.” 

That‘s key.  The message here is the man. 

He needs to tell voters who he is this week.  And that story will begin to be told tonight by wife Michelle.  Barack Obama is said to be more private, more cerebral than emotional, according to his aides.  He needs to bring in the emotion. 

I spoke with key Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, very close to the Obamas.  Here‘s what she told me about the message Obama will be delivering.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALERIE JARRETT, OBAMA ADVISER:  Barack is a relative new coming to the national stage.  And so the burden is on us to help people get to know him.  And so the stakes are high and we are very confident that as the American people listen to our convention over the course of the next few days, that the story will be solidly clear. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  We‘ll have more of my interview with Valerie Jarrett coming up a little bit later. 

Rachel, isn‘t Obama being a relative newcomer exactly what the McCain campaign has been seizing on and attacking him for? 

MADDOW:  Well, they‘ve been attacking him specifically for being popular.  I mean, they‘ve been attacking him for being a celebrity, as if he has more style than substance. 

I think that a lot of the reason that they wanted to introduce Biden immediately before this convention week is to make it clear that Obama and Biden are the package deal.  That Obama is the change agent, that he is the outsider, that he is the new guy.  And Biden is the guy who can get it done. 

Biden is the guy who understands Washington, who is familiar to Americans.  And the two of them together are the right mix that America needs to move on. 

GREGORY:  We are going to hear, Norah, from both Michelle Obama and Barack Obama, who we‘ll hear from as well tonight. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.

GREGORY:  A little more about who he is as a father, a man.  This is an area that‘s somewhat difficult for him.  Even his top people will say he holds back a little bit.  And he‘s got to give a little bit more, it seems, for people to have that comfort level with him.  It may not be the case for his tried and true supporters who are showing up to these rallies.  It‘s those Independent voters they are trying to reach. 

O‘DONNELL:  This is the connection that they are looking for, the connection to those blue collar Reagan Democrats that still perhaps don‘t totally trust Obama.  Do they like his story?  Do they believe he‘s a patriot, quite frankly, as some of the pollsters like Dan Greenberg (ph) have done some work trying to figure it out? 

Obama --  Michelle Obama, the video that will introduce her that her mother narrates tonight is called “South  Side Girl.”  She said, I didn‘t grow up with silver spoons. 

I mean, they are really trying to paint this picture as the quintessential American story, is what they are talking about.  That they are just like the many people who are struggling across America. 

GREGORY:  Well, and that‘s the point, Gene Robinson, is that they want to get across the idea, what they believe, that they are the average American family, that they have a lot more in common than people might otherwise think.  Some of this is the fact that McCain is attacking them as celebrities, elitists, somehow out of touch.  But you are seeing the layers being peeled away, where Obama said in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, yesterday, you‘re going to find, you know, that I‘m just like you.

ROBINSON:  Well, exactly.  It is a quintessentially American story, Barack Obama‘s story, as well as Michelle Obama‘s story.  Hers perhaps a bit more familiar than his.  But they‘re both up by your bootstrap stories of success and the American dream.  And frankly, John McCain gave them a huge gift last week with the gaffe of forgetting how many houses he owns, which is not a typical American story. 

GREGORY:  One quick question before I go to break, Smerc.  That is, the choice of Biden.  Is that change you can believe in?  Is he going to be able to win that argument, that Biden represents change? 

SMERCONISH:  I said consistently that what he needed—on your program—he needed a receding hairline and he needed some bone fides relative to foreign policy.  He got both with Joe Biden and made great inroads in my home state of Pennsylvania. 

It‘s a smart pick. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to take a break here. 

More on THE RACE coming up. 

Coming up, my interview with longtime Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett. 

And later, the response from the McCain campaign live here at Union Station in Denver. 

RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE will return right after this on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, coming to you live from the Democratic National Convention in beautiful downtown Denver, Colorado. 

Tonight, the big headliner is Michelle Obama.  She will speak to this convention, will kick it off in prime time.  She will try to assuage those concerns that voters have about her husband, Barack Obama, try to answer some questions, fill in some of those blanks. 

Recently, I sat down with Valerie Jarrett, a confidant of the Obamas, and talked about whether the issues of race was still a factor in this campaign. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  In his book, he writes, “When people who don‘t know me well, black or white, discover my background, I see the split-second adjustment they have to make.  They no longer know who I am.  Privately, they guess, at my troubled heart, I suppose, the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds.”

As we focus on who Obama is, who Barack Obama is, does he still feel trapped? 

JARRETT:  No, I think he‘s worked through a lot of that.  I think what he was reflecting is how people may see him. 

GREGORY:  Right.

JARRETT:  He doesn‘t fit neatly into a box.  And I think, so, part of the curiosity and the interest in him is this is a person who has walked through a lot of worlds, who‘s had adversity.  You know, a mom who had him when she was 18, who was on food stamps for a period of time. 

He has struggled, and yet he‘s endured.  And he has this core passion and work ethic and spirit that I think is a wonderful role model.  There‘s so many children who, when they learn about this life of Barack Obama‘s, when the kids learn about him, won‘t they say, I can do it, I can be anything because, look, Barack Obama, look how far he‘s come? 

And so it is a life that‘s unusual.  But in a way, it‘s also the American dream.  Isn‘t this what we all wanted, is somebody who grew up with modest means, who worked hard, managed to go to the best schools, and then instead of deciding to take a life on Wall Street, what did he do?  He committed his professional career to public service. 

So he embodies the American dream.  And to know him and to understand this journey that he has been on I think will give people this keen sense of appreciation for what an extraordinary leader he will be. 

GREGORY:  Is it also an obstacle though for voters who don‘t know have a keen sense of who he was, who may feel the same ambivalence about him and where he comes from that he expressed feeling about himself? 

JARRETT:  Well, perhaps when you read those words in his book, you get a sense of how he will explain himself to the American people, because he had this struggle within his own heart as to who he really was.  And I think he worked it out in the course of a troubled adolescence that he tells the story about so often, and that I think so many American people can resonate.  That, you know, a lot of adolescents struggle with who they are. 

His was particularly challenging because of his background.  But I think the message is he persevered. 

He has a really good sense of self now.  And as a result of this diverse background, that‘s part of I think the magic of why he‘s connecting with so many people. 

Our country is diverse.  There are many different American stories.  We have a wide range of religions, of race, geography, income.  And Barack has managed to walk in many of those circles.  Who better than Barack Obama to touch everybody individually? 

When he gave his speech back in 2004, part of why it resonated so beautifully across America is that everybody can relate to a piece of that speech.  And I think because he‘s had this diverse background, that‘s what makes people connect.  That doesn‘t make people shy away, I think it‘s what makes people connect. 

GREGORY:  You were the one who said to him after the Reverend Wright scandal broke, the controversy about his comments, you‘ve got to give a speech about race.  He gave that speech in Philadelphia. 

Do you think this matter is settled or do you think he needs to make another speech, he needs to address this further? 

JARRETT:  Well, when you say this matter, I think race is still an issue in our country.  I think that the way Barack described our challenge was poignant and beautiful.  And it was, I think, the best speech on race, if not one of the best speeches I‘ve ever heard.  And what it really did was lay out the journey ahead. 

No, the problem isn‘t solved.  But what he said is that we have a choice. 

We can continue to basically harbor in our wounds of the past, many of those which are justifiable, some of which are not.  Or we can try to come together as a country and heal, and have a conversation that‘s a safe conversation about race, where we can share openly how we feel, and to use that openness and transparency of dialogue as a way of healing and coming together. 

So we do still have a ways to go, obviously.  And I think that his leadership is one which will help heal that wound. 

GREGORY:  But as a matter within the campaign, certainly the matter of race is not settled.  We know that in this country. 

The way that he‘s perceived, the way he‘s viewed, questions about his own views, connections to Reverend Wright and otherwise, is that a matter that you think still creates more questions than answers for voters? 

JARRETT:  No, but I think we‘ll see—no, I don‘t.  I think that he has been very clear and open with the American people.  I think that speech was a very sound way of explaining where he is on this issue.  I have faith in the American people that, when it comes time to deciding who is going to be their president, race is not going to be the issue that wins the day. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  We‘re here with some rapid response with Rachel Maddow and Gene Robinson.

Gene, do you agree, at the end of this race is not the issue that wins the day? 

ROBINSON:  I agree that it‘s not the primary issue that wins the day.  At least I hope it is (ph).  But I think there are much bigger issues that people need to focus on right now. 

GREGORY:  But the question that I asked Valerie Jarrett, that I still think is interesting, is, to the extent that Barack Obama struggled with his own American story, his mixed racial background, is he ahead of where a lot of American voters are who are still trying to work out in their own minds what his American story is? 

ROBINSON:  You know, I think he‘s right where a lot of American voters are.  A lot of people have struggled with their identity.  And I guess—you know, I think if I were Barack Obama, I‘d say, gee, how many times do I have to tell the story?  He wrote an autobiography, he wrote another book that‘s autobiographical.  And again, this week we‘re going to hear the story again. 

Again, I guess repetition gets the message through.  But it‘s a very American story, at least in my view.

GREGORY:  It‘s interesting that you talk, Rachel, about what makes people comfortable with Barack Obama, what does he have to do in terms of telling his story.  It‘s not just filling in the blanks of who he is, but it‘s dealing with voters who have some comfort level question with him.  And maybe that‘s about race, maybe it‘s about his background, what he has described as an exotic background. 

So do you agree with Valerie Jarrett that this is a settled matter? 

MADDOW:  I don‘t think it‘s a settled matter in terms of the way that America thinks of itself and the way that American thinks of him as fitting into it.  And when we kind of think of the characters that make up the American dream as if they are characters in fiction, you know what I mean, those archetypes that we‘re all OK with and that we all understand, and up by the bootstraps is one of them.  And he does fit that archetype to a certain extent, but not to others because of the international component to his background, because of having grown up in a different places. 

It is learning.  He needs to communicate to the American people that his story may not be an archetypal American story, but it is an only-America story to be proud of that Americans should revel in and not wonder at. 

GREGORY:  And I think that‘s the primary message tonight, that we talked about that there is a commonality.  That, in other words, their story, as complicated as it may have been for him to work out in his own mind, that his story is the classic American story.  That‘s the message. 

ROBINSON:  It is.  And for a nation of immigrants to have some sort of huge issue with someone who had lived overseas for part of his childhood, for example, seems a bit ironic. 

I was informed this morning and someone referred to Obama as having been born overseas.  Well, actually, that was John McCain. 

MADDOW:  John McCain.

ROBINSON:  He was the one who was born overseas.  Obama was born on American soil.

And now, does race make that easier for people to forget somehow?  I think maybe it does.  Maybe it does.

GREGORY:  OK.  All right.  Thanks to both of you. 

We‘ll have more from Valerie Jarrett as the day plays on and as the week plays on. 

Coming up next, what else is on THE RACE‘s radar tonight?  Obama on the campaign trail in the battlegrounds, talking about the issue of Iran. 

More on that when THE RACE returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  It is a hot day here in Denver.  With polls showing the race in a dead heat, the McCain campaign is not sweating out the convention on the sidelines.  We‘re going to hear about their strategy for this week, as RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE checks in on the McCain campaign. 

Hillary Clinton is the unlikely and unhappy star of a new GOP ad. 

We‘ll show you the commercial and the senator‘s retort in just a moment.  But first, senior McCain adviser Nicole Wallace will be joining me in a just minute to talk about the strategy they have afoot at this convention.  First, back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, I‘m joined by two of our panel members here, Rachel Maddow, Michael Smerconish. 

Talk a little about this McCain strategy, Smerc, particularly as they have attacked the first pillar of this convention, and that is the choice of Joe Biden. 

SMERCONISH:  When the commercial first aired, the Britney spears commercial, I remember being on your program and dismissing it as sophomoric.  I underestimated the impact of that commercial.  I think many of us did.  The real gist of that hit peace is it‘s to say it‘s all hat and no cattle.  What Barack Obama has got to do this week is talk substance to the point of ad nauseum, almost to the point of boredom.  The pomp and circumstance is going to be in the stadium with 70,000 people come Thursday night.  He cannot set himself up for what the McCain charge will be, which is it‘s all pomp and circumstance.  That‘s what I believe they are going to try and do. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, what is McCain‘s role in this convention? 

MADDOW:  McCain‘s role in the convention, from the McCain campaign‘s perspective—I‘m sure we‘ll hear from the McCain campaign itself in just a moment about that.  But it‘s the great fun role of the jokester and trickster, which is to sow dissent in your opponent‘s camp and to exploit any divisions that you can, and hope that the divided character of your opponent will be the key to your own victory. 

GREGORY:  Speaking of the McCain campaign, here is Nicole Wallace, senior adviser to Senator McCain, who is here at this convention.  We have a lot of Barack Obama supporters here following this.  Nicole, welcome.  Good to see you. 

NICOLE WALLACE, MCCAIN ADVISER:  First time I‘ve been booed all day.

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about the strategy here for the McCain campaign at this convention.  One of the things we have seen play out is the response to the selection of Joe Biden.  A couple ads, one from the party, one from the McCain campaign.  Let‘s watch that and then see Hillary Clinton‘s response to it.  Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She won millions of votes, but isn‘t on his ticket.  Why?  For speaking the truth on his plans. 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  You never hear the specifics. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  On the Rezko scandal -- 

CLINTON:  We don‘t have a lot of answers about Senator Obama. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  On his attacks. 

CLINTON:  Senator Obama‘s campaign has become increasingly negative. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The truth hurt and Obama didn‘t like it. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m John McCain and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  That is the ad.  Hillary Clinton, campaigning today, had a response to it.  Let‘s play that. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Now, I understand that the McCain campaign is running ads trying to divide us.  Let me state what I think about their tactics and these ads: I‘m Hillary Clinton and I do not approve that message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Is she foiling the effort to reach the Clinton supporters and get them into the McCain camp? 

WALLACE:  No, she‘s doing what she needs to do.  I think she means what she says.  I‘m sure the Democrats will emerge from this week with a united convention.  I think the open question is, will they come together in Ohio?  Will they come together in Michigan?  Will they come together in Pennsylvania?  That‘s where we‘re out fighting, fighting for their votes.  We‘re fighting for former Hillary Clinton supporters.  At least some of them supported her because they felt like she was the most qualified and the most ready to lead.  Those are the votes we are fighting for.  We know it‘s a tough fight.  So that‘s why we‘re—

GREGORY:  Isn‘t is particularly difficult because you have a lot of these Hillary Clinton supporters who still support her, wanted her on the ticket, wanted to see a woman as president, felt that she was treated well in the course of the campaign, who have a lot of issues like the abortion questions, like judges, who will be forefront on their mind?  What makes you think those are voters who would go to John McCain, given his views on abortion, on judges? 

WALLACE:  Will all you point, it‘s surprising that so many of them are supporting John McCain.  We cherish them.  We thank them.  We appreciate them.  We‘ve fought hard for them and will continue to fight hard for them.  You know, I think as we go into the final 70 days, that‘s where the real fight will be.  The real fight will be for the hearts and minds of people who were looking for someone who was ready to lead from day one. 

GREGORY:  You really think they are up for grabs? 

WALLACE:  I do.  I think the Obama campaign does to.  Listen, be careful.  Be careful in taking those voters for granted.  This is—if the Democrats lose, this will be why. 

GREGORY:  Why?  Because they are taking them for granted. 

WALLACE:  Taking the former supporters of Hillary Clinton and any other independents in this country for granted.  I think this campaign has been the reemergence of the middle.  I think that‘s really helping.  It‘s great for your business because people in the middle are a lot more interesting to talk about than the right or the left of either party.  But I think the right and the left are basically satisfied by their choices.  And there‘s going to be this struggle, a lot of attention paid to trying to woo over the independents.  This has been the bread and butter of John McCain‘s support over the course of his career.  We‘re going to—we have a lot of work to do. 

We‘re shocked that the polls are as close as they are, absolutely shocked that in this climate, we are still in it.  But we‘re neck and neck.  We‘re thrilled about that.  We‘re out fighting for every vote we can get. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about the selection of Joe Biden.  There has to be a view in the McCain campaign that this was a good choice for Obama.

WALLACE:  Biden is a great man, an accomplished senator, a person of integrity.  I think picking him was like hanging a neon sign above Barack Obama‘s head, saying I‘m not ready.  I think—

GREGORY:  Obviously, spirited crowd here with a point of view. 

WALLACE:  I‘m going to cancel any focus groups we had scheduled, because I think their reaction is better than any group we could put together.  

GREGORY:  The issue of Biden on the ticket and whether this hurts Obama‘s message of change.  You guys have not highlighted this, yet, but it is a reality that here are two sitting U.S. senators who are running a campaign of change against the Republicans. 

WALLACE:  I think you have to give Obama credit.  He picked the person he needed.  I don‘t know if he was up 15, like he was two months ago, if this would have been his selection.  He may have chosen someone who could have highlighted his message of change.  Not an expert in Democratic VP pick, but I think he picked the person that he thought could help him with his most perilous deficiency in the views of those independent voters we were talking about. 

GREGORY:  Assuming that Obama is successful in this convention, and that he seizes a large audience to make a case for himself, to tell voters who he is, to define John McCain in a way that John Kerry did not successfully do in the reelection of 2004, and to assert in voters‘ minds a greater level of comfort about him as president, what does John McCain do to blunt that effect coming out of here? 

WALLACE:  I think you have to assume that the Democrats are going to have a great week.  I think tonight will be very moving to see the tribute to Ted Kennedy.  I think that Hillary and Bill will do their job.  They‘ll try to bring the party together.  But I think what we‘ll do this week and next week is fight for the hearts and minds of voters from coast to coast in these battleground states.  They are going to decide this election.  I think they are still deeply concerned that Barack Obama doesn‘t have the experience or the judgment to be commander in chief. 

This is the first Democratic convention that I have ever been to where the message centers around a negative attack on the opponent.  It‘s historic and maybe it will work.  What do I know?  But our convention will focus on John McCain‘s record of leadership and his record of -- 

GREGORY:  You say it‘s negative.  You have spent and done successfully over the past couple of months, turning this campaign away from John McCain and making it a referendum on Barack Obama.  So the notion that you guys have not laid down a negative campaign marker seems untrue.  

WALLACE:  Your fans here like you, David.

GREGORY:  What about the question? 

WALLACE:  I didn‘t hear the question. 

GREGORY:  The question is the notion that the McCain campaign has not run an attack campaign against Obama to make it all about Obama seems to be plain as day.  It‘s not Obama who is—

WALLACE:  This campaign is obviously about both of them.  If you came out on the road, and I wish you would—I wish you all would come out on the road.  You‘d see that John McCain travels the country and talks to every day voters in town hall meetings about the economy, about his vision for creating energy independence in America the first time in our history.  He talks about keeping the country safe.  He talks about bringing jobs back. 

I think if you just watch our ads, if you just watch his ads, you only see a glimmer of what‘s happening in this campaign.  You really have to come out and hear the unscripted discussions happening between John McCain and the voters. 

GREGORY:  One other question, not to rile up this crowd—one of the questions is—

WALLACE:  You‘re going to get an agent to walk me out? 

GREGORY:  The prospect of Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West, an area that John McCain would have a natural affinity for and support in, particularly with independent voters in this state; how competitive is this state right now for your campaign? 

WALLACE:  Very competitive.  We are the underdog in every battleground state.  We are fighting tooth and nail for every vote we can get.  I think we will remain the underdog.  We expect the Obama ticket to get a 15 point bounce out of this election.  We expect to be way behind again by the end of the week.  They got a head of steam with their VP announcement, with their convention.  We‘ll be working our tails off, if I survive this mob on the way out. 

GREGORY:  No.  Nicole Wallace of the McCain campaign.  Nicole, thanks very much.  We‘ll see you again this week.  Appreciate it very much. 

Coming next, it is Michelle Obama‘s big night.  Richard Wolffe joins us with his reporting from the floor in our daily debrief.  That‘s coming up next.  We‘ll take you live inside the Pepsi Center and the convention floor, where the delegates are beginning to file in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE live from the Democratic National Convention here in Denver.  It is time for the daily debrief.  We‘re talking about the headliner tonight, Michelle Obama, who will speak about her husband‘s biography.  “Newsweek‘s” Richard Wolffe is on the convention floor now and joins us with a preview of Michelle Obama‘s speech.  Richard, what is the latest?  This is the big moment that they have been building up to.  What are we going to hear from Michelle? 

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  A couple things.  First of all, they are very excited about a video that will be introducing Michelle Obama my her mother, Marry-Anne, who, I heard, actually took a lot of convincing to do this video.  It‘s supposed to be quite emotional and personal.  Remember, this is about two people she‘s introducing.  She has to, first of all, reintroduce herself after months and months of sustained attacks from conservative echo chamber folks.  Secondly, she‘s going to be testifying to her husband, talking about her family, her kids, the family values, the American values.  Remember, the biggest hit against Michelle Obama has been the supposed question marks over her attachment to the country. 

GREGORY:  Richard, as you know, in this biography—I heard from an Obama adviser today who said it‘s time for both Michelle and Barack Obama to use this convention to show their true colors.  But it‘s not about rallying the party faithful.  This is about the audience they are reaching, swing voters, independent voters, who may have soured on George Bush, but are not yet sold on Barack Obama.  How does that message reach them tonight? 

WOLFFE:  This is about answering questions.  Remember, one of the current themes, the repetitive themes in all the Republican ads are questions: is he ready?  Who is he?  Do you really know him?  A lot of this convention, especially in this early day, is really looking to answer those questions, who are they, what kind of family are they.  People respond very positively to the images, which the campaign has used extensively, of a young family. 

So talking about her family values, Michelle Obama as she grew up on the south side of Chicago, her boot strap story, how she got to the Ivy League university that she went to.  And then, of course, how they‘re raising their kids.  They think if they can connection as people, they will go a long way to answering those questions that voters have and, of course, their opponents are raising persistently.  

GREGORY:  Richard, I spoke to somebody today who said this is not necessarily what Michelle Obama loves to do, the political end of this, the political commercial that is a convention, but she understands it‘s important. 

WOLFFE:  You know, I think at the start of this process, it‘s safe to say that she hasn‘t done campaigning.  She hadn‘t been involved in her husband‘s campaigns.  In fact, as she told me several times, she thought there was a big difference between government service and politics, that somehow politics and campaigning were the messy, trivial, superficial end of what she really believes in, which was public service. 

I think you have seen through the course of these 18 months someone who has thrown herself into this.  If nothing else, what Michelle Obama is is a deeply competitive person.  She wants to win this, perhaps even more badly than her husband.  So there‘s nothing reluctant about what she‘s doing today. 

GREGORY:  Richard Wolffe on the convention floor for us from “Newsweek” magazine and MSNBC.  Richard, thanks very much.  See you later. 

Turning to too close to call.  We‘re looking at the great state of Colorado.  Colorado is one of ten state that NBC News has determined is still up for grabs in this race.  Colorado‘s nine electoral votes are one of team Obama‘s targets in the Mountain West.  The last Democrat to win Colorado was Bill Clinton in 1992, but the state has changed a lot since then.  It has gotten bigger, for one thing, with a 30 percent population boom since 1990.  And Colorado has gotten bluer.  In just the past four years, Democrats have captured the governor‘s mansion and taken control of the state house. 

Joining me live from the Pepsi Center, our political director Chuck Todd.  Chuck, I know when we talk about the speech on Thursday that Barack Obama gives, sure, he‘s reaching the whole country, but he‘s going to have 80,000 people who are there.  This is a retail politics event.  They are intending to make it a huge voter registration effort as well. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  It‘s a big organizational effort.  In fact, it‘s going to start early that afternoon, David, with all these folks coming into the stadium.  They are going to be asked to do things, potentially text message folks in the state of Colorado, but also in some of these neighboring battleground states.  You‘re right, this is a big event that is focussed on Colorado, gearing up folks in Colorado, getting boots on the ground, trying to register votes. 

They think they can change the electorate, change the shape of this state.  You‘ve seen it.  You can elect a govern and not necessarily translate that on the presidential level.  Obama is trying to do that.  They‘re trying to register new voters.  We‘ll see.  It‘s definitely, I think, one of the four closest states in the country, David.  We have ten toss ups, but there are really four you can‘t push in either direction. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk more about Colorado.  An adviser with Obama told me today that there are on the order of about 50,000 voters, in terms of new voters they‘ve registered ahead of where the Democrats were here in 2004.  That‘s primarily in Denver and Boulder.  Those will be his real strong area‘s.  There‘s Jefferson County, which is in the foothills here of the Rockies, which is important.  Also Pueblo and Colorado Springs; advisers saying that‘s an area where Obama has got to out-perform where John Kerry was in 2004.  We know that among the areas in Colorado Springs, among the key demographics, Evangelical voters. 

TODD:  I think Pueblo is a bigger deal, frankly, and also some of these northern exurbs.  Colorado is a classic exurb state, where Bush did very well.  It‘s the counties that are 20 or 30 miles outside the metropolitan area.  You know, this state is really dominated by one media market.  It is Denver and it is growing as a sort of mega-opolis.  The Denver media market reaches Ft. Collins, which is a good 40, 50 miles north here, almost closer to the Wyoming border.  That area is growing big.  It has become less conservative.  It used to be a conservative enclave.  It used to be the place where that congressional district elected conservative members in Congress, who, in turn, became conservative members of the United States Senate. 

We‘re not seeing that anymore.  It‘s becoming a battleground district up there.  That‘s a big part of the growth.  Pueblo—going down south into Pueblo, David, is where there‘s a big Hispanic population.  Hispanics are one that they‘d like to register voters.  Obviously, Obama has connected with the Hispanic community during the primaries.  The numbers look good, but in order to have some success in Colorado, they need to up the registration total.  So I would definitely look at Pueblo.

Look, I think Colorado Springs is not a lost cause.  He‘s just got to hold the number there.  For Obama, this is about over-performing.  You brought up Jefferson County.  That‘s Golden, Colorado, Arrapaho (ph) and then down there in Pueblo, upping the Hispanic turnout, not just their percentages. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Chuck Todd, our political director on the convention floor, at least hovering high above.  Chuck, we‘ll talk to you a lot this week.  Thanks, very much. 

Coming up next, our must see moments as the Democratic convention kicks off.  THE RACE live from Denver comes back right after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  We‘ve had our eyes glued to the convention coverage all day, talking about must see moments and our dream team still with us tonight, Gene, Norah, Rachel and Smerc.  First, McCain campaign adviser Carly Fiorina sat down with NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell today, revealing that she had met with Hillary Clinton supporters, including her brother.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  There were reports actually that in Pennsylvania you met with Hillary Clinton‘s brother.  Is that correct? 

CARLY FIORINA, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN ADVISOR:  I had a meeting in Pennsylvania with Democratic activists who had been supporters of Hillary Clinton.  Her brother was there, but he was not the only one there. 

MITCHELL:  Is he supporting McCain? 

FIORINA:  Many of them left committed to support him.  Some of them left considering their options. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Gene, this is where I remain a little bit skeptical.  You heard Nicole Wallace earlier talking about these voters, these Hillary Clinton voters being up for grabs.  How many are there really who are up for grabs? 

ROBINSON:  It‘s a good question.  You look at polls and you see actually Obama is doing quite well among women, and he‘s actually better than John Kerry among working class white voters.  Any way you slice it, you do wonder, what‘s the total universe of these voters who are supposedly so unreconciled, who will never vote for Obama and who actually might vote for McCain. 

GREGORY:  Yet, Smerc, talk about Pennsylvania, more culturally conservative, working class voters.  Those were hers in Pennsylvania.  We talk about Joe Biden‘s potential appeal.  Senator Casey in Pennsylvania was not able to help Barack Obama deliver those voters.  Can Biden do it? 

SMERCONISH:  I think Joe Biden was selected specifically to address that part of the electorate that you‘re now identifying as the Hillary electorate.  He‘s regarded as Pennsylvania‘s third United States senator, well known in my particular media market.  This is a guy who I think was selected for a variety of reasons, but on the top of that list, to play to this voter. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about other moments to watch for as we get ready to go into our prime time coverage tonight here on MSNBC.  By the way, just coming up at the top of the hour, Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and our team will be here reporting on the night‘s events.  Let‘s talk first, Norah O‘Donnell, about Ted Kennedy.  A big moment for him.  He‘s in Denver.  What can you say about what we‘ll see tonight?

O‘DONNELL:  Ted Kennedy, of course, battling brain cancer.  He is here, by surprise.  We do not know if he will speak tonight.  He‘s been at ten Democratic conventions, dating since 1960.  He‘s spoken at eight of them.  The one he didn‘t attend was 1968, which was three months after his brother Robert was assassinated.  There is probably than Barack Obama than Ted Kennedy.  He‘s one of the great speech makers in the Democratic party.  I think this will be a very emotional night tonight.  The tribute is supposed to be very emotional.  Caroline Kennedy, of course, will be introducing this video that has been put together. 

GREGORY:  We know, Rachel, the impact of Ted Kennedy in the party.  The moment that he had on the Senate floor when he came back to cast a vote in that Medicare legislation; this house is going to go nuts if they see him. 

MADDOW:  It‘s going to go nuts.  You know what, if this was a bipartisan convention, a bipartisan convention would go nuts.  He has respect that you saw demonstrated on that Senate floor because of what he means to American politics, even more than just what he means to the Democratic party.  We‘re going to see that video tribute to him tonight done by Ken Burns, which is going to be incredibly moving.  I think Americans love first ladies and perspective first ladies and a lot of people are going to be tuning in to see Michelle Obama.  I think tonight is going to be an awesome night, in terms of just the emotional pull of what we see. 

GREGORY:  I want to talk a little bit more about Michelle.  But Gene, do you think that the Kennedy legacy of capable, in some respects, of calming everybody‘s nerves down around here.  To say, look, I know we may be a little bit anxious about his candidacy right now.  Calm down, we‘re behind him.  We‘re going to be OK. 

ROBINSON:  It may be able to do that, because the Kennedys are the Democratic party in some important way, I think.  Now, to be truthful, he didn‘t deliver Massachusetts to Barack Obama.  But, in terms of the history, the legacy, the spirit and the essence of the Democratic party, I think Ted Kennedy‘s assurance will be moving and reassuring. 

O‘DONNELL:  Remember that Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama right after South Carolina, right before Super Tuesday on February 5.  That gave him a lot of the momentum heading in to Super Tuesday, where he ended up getting more delegates than Hillary Clinton.  That really marked a turning point in this campaign.  We all witnessed it together. 

MADDOW:  Remember that if there‘s any worries about the effect on Clinton supporters of the Biden choice, Caroline Kennedy was Barack Obama‘s VP vetter.  If you want to bring this full circle, there it goes. 

GREGORY:  Here‘s my question about, in our remaining moment, the threshold test for Michelle Obama tonight.  Smerc, you hear about this all the time on your radio program.  To know Barack Obama is to be comfortable with what?  These voters in states like Pennsylvania need to be reassured about what aspect of him?  About 20 second.

SMERCONISH:  His core values, his and hers.  Tonight is a night to soften her.  Tonight is a night to talk about the American dream and the way in which both of them are the embodiment. 

GREGORY:  OK, thanks to a great panel.  That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE tonight.  I‘m David Gregory.  We‘ll see you back here live from Denver tomorrow night.  Stay tuned right here, because I‘ll be joining Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews for MSNBC‘s special convention coverage.  It starts right now.

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

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