updated 8/29/2008 2:57:47 PM ET 2008-08-29T18:57:47

Guests: Norah O‘Donnell, Rachel Maddow, David Gregory; Kathleen Sebelius, Bob Casey, Eugene Robinson, Michael Smerconish, Martin Luther King III, Rev. Al Sharpton, Jay Carney

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  You are looking live at a picture of Invesco Field, now a stadium of dreams for Barack Obama.  And more than 75,000 supporters are already taking to the podium there.  It is an acceptance speech tonight with symbolic roots, 45 years no the day after Martin Luther King Jr.‘s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington and bearing similarities to John Kennedy‘s “New Frontier” address at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in July of 1960. 

We are at Union Station in downtown Denver, as the race for the White House reaches an election milestone. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GREGORY:  Welcome to the program.  I‘m David Gregory, on a much-anticipated final day of this Democratic National Convention. 

The big headline tonight, of course, Obama‘s big night. 

Rachel Maddow, Air America host and soon to be the host of “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” here on MSNBC.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Basic question, big night, what‘s on the top of the to-do list for Obama? 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Three things, economic security, national security, inspiration. 

He cannot be cowed from being inspiring and moving because the Republicans have been pre-mocking him for that.  He needs to go with what has got him this far. 

GREGORY:  Is this a speech that is as much about himself and tying everything together about not just a contrast with McCain, but saying to people, I‘m OK?

MADDOW:  I think “I‘m OK” has kind of been done.  “I‘m OK” has been the last three days, setting him up on this stage. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MADDOW:  I—every politician who I have spoken to in the last few days—and I have spoken to more politicians in the last three days than in my whole previous life combined.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  But what I keep hearing from Democrats, in terms of strategy, is, we need the contrast.  Down-ticket races, for governor‘s races, and for the presidency, we need the contrast.  People need to know what‘s at stake.  A lot of the votes for Obama are going to be votes against McCain.  And they need to go for those votes. 

GREGORY:  Well, let‘s talk about the setting, because it‘s an issue tonight. 

Take a look at what Peggy Noonan had to say in today‘s “Wall Street Journal.”

She writes—quote—“It has every possibility of looking like a Nuremberg rally.  It has too many variables to guarantee a good TV picture, the set, the Athenian columns, looks hokey.  Big crowds can get in the way of subtle oratory.  Speeches are delicate.  They‘re words in the air.  And when you‘ve got a ceiling the words can sort of go up to that ceiling and come back down again.  But words said into an open air stadium can just get lost in the echoes, misheard phrases.”

Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host, columnist for “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and “Daily News,” is it a fair criticism?  Can the Republicans make something of the setting here?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, I think that she raises concerns, but if the first three days are any indication of the way in which tonight will play itself out, this has been very carefully choreographed and scripted.  And there‘s been no faux pas so far. 

What I think he needs to do tonight—and many don‘t agree with this, but I think he needs to tell the story again, because, David, many in the country for the first time are paying attention.  Tell the story, meaning about his own background, his own upbringing, because it is an American story.

If his ethnicity and background were Eastern European, it would be embraced by all as the embodiment of the American dream.  And then bring the substance, to the point of ad nauseam, so that no one can criticize this as there being no “there” there. 

GREGORY:  It‘s interesting.  We talk about the backdrop for all of this.  He‘s already had some large-scale productions before.  He spoke in Berlin back in July as part of this tour around the world, including in the Middle East.  And his speech was memorable there as well.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  People of the world, look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  His European tour did not give him that much of a bounce in the polls as much as he anticipated, Norah O‘Donnell, MSNBC host.  Will tonight‘s speech have a different result, do you think? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  I think it will. 

I think that he—his advisers have said today they want to be more workmanlike is the word they are using, that he will try to better connect with middle-class Americans who are still hurting because of the economy, and explain better to them what he plans to do.

However, the Republicans, they are already launching their prebuttal, I think is the word that you used, saying that this is the Greek column, the temple of doom, they have called it. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  Make him look more like a deity.

GREGORY:  Well, and what‘s interesting about that is that there is an attempt to get away from the oratory. 

This has really got to be about words, I think, for Barack Obama tonight.  And it is about why he wants to be president, what kind of president he will make, and why it‘s different from the future that John McCain is promising you.  So, there‘s—in some ways, the setting could detract from all of that. 

We know he can give a great speech.  And I have a feeling, with all the concerns, they have demonstrated they can probably put it all together. 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s right. 

And, you know, the economy is the number-one issue.  And, yet, I have heard someone point this out to me.  If you ask many of the delegates here, what is Barack Obama‘s economic message, many people have trouble explaining it, repeating it.  They don‘t believe they have heard that enough from Barack Obama, although we all know all about it because we follow him so closely. 

GREGORY:  One of the things we‘re going to do, by the way, throughout the hour is show you some of the live pictures from Invesco Field, where the buildup is tremendous, which is just how they want it. 

There‘s Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who is speaking to the attention of the crowd.  I was out there actually starting at 2:00 this morning, local time, to see the entire setup there.  And, there, you see the—the Parthenon that they have erected there for the backdrop. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  But they basically have got the convention floor transported from the Pepsi Center to Invesco Field. 

So, it‘s quite interesting.  And we will be showing you some of what‘s happening there. 

Talking about some of these other big venues in political history, back in July of 1960, John Kennedy delivered his “New Frontier” speech at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

And, in today‘s “New York Times,” Patrick Healy cites how it reassured voters about Kennedy‘s Roman Catholicism.  This is part of what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I hope that no American, considering the really critical issues facing this country, will waste his franchise and throw away his vote by voting either for me or against me because of my religious affiliation.  It is not relevant. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Gene Robinson, columnist and associate editor for “The Washington Post,” rounds out our dream team panel here. 

Do you think, Gene, that Barack Obama has to make a similar point, to say, let‘s not make this about race; let‘s now get to issues; let‘s get to what kind of president I would be? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: 

No, we don‘t talk about race like that.  We don‘t say it in those terms. 

And I think Barack Obama has already gone out of his way to indicate he doesn‘t want to make race the issue of this campaign.  There are other issues that he cares about.  So, no, I don‘t think he has to make a Kennedy-like statement about race the way Kennedy did about religion. 

I think he‘s got to do what he has done throughout the campaign.  I think he has to move that room.  What a big room to have to move.

GREGORY:  Right.  Right. 

ROBINSON:  But I think—I think he has to do that. 

And, remember, as Smerc said, a lot of people have really not tuned into that kind of magical Obama speech that he can give at times.  So, we have all heard it.  Not everybody has heard it.  I would look for him to give at least part of that speech again tonight. 

GREGORY:  You know, early on, one of Obama‘s senior advisers said, this is about inching up the presidential scale, that people have to look at him and say, yes, I can see him in the role.  I can see him in the office. 

Bill Clinton, it seems to me, former President Clinton, was a really

important part of that piece, as a former president, with a unique

perspective, to say, I have been there, I have been around the world, I can

I can afford him my imprimatur and say that he can do the job. 

This is how he actually—the former president—addressed Obama‘s experience as an issue that the Republican have attacked in negative ads.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be commander in chief. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON:  Sound familiar? 

AUDIENCE:  Yes!

CLINTON:  It didn‘t work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history.  And it will not work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rachel, what does Barack Obama do to follow up on that?  Because his words have got to be more important even than President Clinton‘s in talking directly to voters about this issue. 

MADDOW:  He has got to talk to voters in a way that proves that he is not inexperienced, in a way that proves that he is ready. 

It‘s the kind of thing that you can‘t necessarily argue against for yourself.  When Bill Clinton says, listen, in my eight years as president and everything that I have done since, I have learned that (INAUDIBLE) I see that Barack Obama is the guy for this job.  That endorsement from the last Democrat to hold this job is an important endorsement.  But Obama needs to sell it, rather than tell it. 

GREGORY:  Well, you notice, what we got from Joe Biden tonight—last night, rather, the—the—hold that thought for just a minute.  I will hold my own.

We‘re going to go out to Invesco Field, where they‘re beginning the Pledge of Allegiance, the festivities for tonight.  Let‘s watch.

(PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Delegates and guests, please welcome Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson to single the national anthem. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(NATIONAL ANTHEM)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming next on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, a continued preview

tonight of the speech by Barack Obama.  I will be joined by Senator Casey -

excuse me—Senator Casey from Pennsylvania, as well as Governor Sebelius—right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  The choice in this election is clear.  These times require more than a good soldier.  They require a wise leader. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  That was Joe Biden accepting the vice presidential nomination for the Democratic ticket, with a slew of attacks aimed at John McCain.

Before Senator Obama announced Biden as his running mate, a major contender on Obama‘s V.P. short list was Democratic Governor of Kansas Kathleen Sebelius.  She joins us now, along with Senator Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania.

Thank you both for being here.  We‘re waiting for Governor Sebelius.

Governor Casey, let‘s talk about Senator Biden‘s speech, because what he did at his heart was to make a central argument in this campaign, which is that it‘s not about experience; it‘s about judgment.  That‘s the contrast between Obama and Senator McCain. 

How does Obama amplify on that theme tonight? 

SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Well, I think his own record, as well as the way he‘s conducted himself in this campaign, I think fortifies that argument about judgment. 

But I also think that one of the reasons why some of these national polls are close right now is I think a lot of the American people don‘t know John McCain‘s real voting record, voting with the president, President Bush, over 90 percent of the time, supporting the veto of children‘s health insurance, privatization of Social Security.

And I think, on foreign policy, as we saw last night, when you make the case against him on foreign policy, he had some vulnerability there. 

I think that that is still yet to play out, but I think we have two months of an argument to make sure that people know the real McCain record, as well as to fortify Senator Obama‘s argument. 

GREGORY:  But as a political matter, you see the polling.  He‘s got a lot of ground to make up, Senator Obama does, on this question of commander-in-chief and can people trust him in a crisis.  Senator McCain still has a tremendous advantage there.  Has this convention done anything to really cut into that? 

CASEY:  Oh, I think it has.  I think that Senator Obama will have an opportunity tonight himself, but I think President Clinton‘s speech did that.  President Clinton was a very effective commander in chief at a time when most people associated domestic issues with him, but he was a very strong commander in chief.  That gives a lot of authority, as well as Senator Biden‘s speech did it, as well. 

But it‘s a process.  It won‘t happen in one convention.  Most of the important work will be done after the convention. 

GREGORY:  The McCain campaign has already seized on the speeches of the Clintons to say, “Where and when was this change of heart?” It was Bill Clinton who had to in his speech try to walk back his harshest criticism of Obama, in which he said he was not ready to be president, that it was too risky.  Where did the change occur? 

CASEY:  Well, I think—look, I have been in a lot of tough primaries in our state.  They‘re nothing like a presidential campaign.  But I think there are lot of things—politics is rough.  Democrats are good at fighting.

But I think you‘ve seen in the last couple of days a real coalescing, a real consensus around Barack Obama.  Both President Clinton and Senator Clinton did that, and I think tonight we have another opportunity to hear from Senator Obama. 

GREGORY:  We‘re watching, as you and I talk, the live picture from Invesco Field, which is the new convention floor, actually, in preparation for tonight‘s speech.  So we‘ll see the proceedings play out here on our air even as we talk. 

Let‘s talk about Obama the man.  One of the other things with Senator Biden‘s speech, it seemed to me, tried to argue is that this is a presidential ticket that‘s pretty down-to-Earth.  Joe Biden, a product of Scranton, Pennsylvania, is a regular guy. 

Fair or not, Barack Obama is not necessarily seen as a regular guy, even though a big part of this convention was to try to convey the idea that he is. 

You know that‘s an issue in your state.  What does Obama do coming out of this convention to make people more comfortable with him? 

CASEY:  Well, I think you articulated the truth accurately when you said he‘s not seen as one.  I think he actually is a regular guy.  People who have spent time with him, as I did on the road, and people who met him in Pennsylvania, even though he was not successful in the primary, people that met him at Sharky‘s Bar in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, people that met him on the road talking about sports, talking about life.

And I think Michelle Obama‘s speech the other night conveyed the man himself as a father.  One of the best images of her speech that I could relate to as a father of daughters was him driving home from the hospital when his daughter was born and the insecurity that you feel as a parent. 

This is—this is a man of tremendous character, and deep faith, and real integrity.  But he‘s also someone who can carry on a conversation about any topic.  More and more people in Pennsylvania are seeing that.  We‘ve got to do—we‘ve got to leave more opportunities in the next couple of months—the two next two months to see that in Pennsylvania. 

GREGORY:  How tight is Pennsylvania going to be down the stretch, do you think?

CASEY:  Well, I think it‘ll be a tough race.  In our state, no Democrat has gotten more than 51 percent in 50 years, other than Lyndon Johnson.  I think Barack Obama can win Pennsylvania and get more than 51 percent. 

GREGORY:  In the western part of the state, how much better does he have to do, say, from four years ago to keep it comfortable for him? 

CASEY:  We have to bring those numbers up.  I think the primary is apples and oranges, but I think we need to work hard there.  And I think even four years ago John Kerry was able to win our state, but the western Pennsylvania numbers were low.  We‘ve got to bring those up.

Part of it is getting to know Senator Obama the person more than the politics and also the McCain record. 

GREGORY:  Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania...

CASEY:  Thank you, David. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  ... you throughout this convention.  Thanks very much.

CASEY:  Great to be with you.

GREGORY:  We‘re going to take a break now.

When we come back:  McCain congratulates Obama in a new national television ad.  We‘re going to show it to you next.

And tonight is the night for Barack Obama, as we have been talking about. 

We go back live now to Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium, where Obama will officially accept the Democratic nomination in just a few hours from now.  The speeches are already starting. 

We come right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back now live from Union Station in Denver with a look at what else is on the RACE‘s radar tonight, the last night of the Democratic National Convention. 

First up, a sharp shift in tone from the McCain campaign as it launches a brand-new ad airing in battleground states tonight.  It‘s called “Convention Night Watch.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Obama, this is truly a good day for America. 

You know, too often, the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed.  So, I wanted to stop and say, congratulations.  How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day. 

Tomorrow, we will be back at it.  But, tonight, Senator, a job well done. 

I‘m John McCain, and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rachel Maddow, there‘s not a lot to be too cynical about that.  It‘s certainly a night to sort of step back and say, as a presidential opponent here, he really can‘t compete with Barack Obama, with the stage and the platform he‘s got tonight. 

MADDOW:  And just to recognize, in a nonpartisan, not even election-related way, this is a historic day for America. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MADDOW:  We have never before had an acceptance speech from an African-American nominee.  It is a huge deal.  It is a really nice gesture from the McCain campaign.  I hope that Obama returns the favor, even though the same historic element won‘t be there. 

It should be noted, just to be totally, I guess, comprehensive about this, that McCain is also today running ads in some swing states, saying Barack Obama shouldn‘t be asking how many houses I have, because I was a POW. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MADDOW:  So, it‘s not like he‘s taken down all of the rest of his ads.

GREGORY:  Well, he still wants to be in the conversation. 

The other element to this is that, for a fight in the campaign about independent voters, we talk about the issue of race hurting Barack Obama.  There‘s also an argument that it could help him down the line, as well, for some independent voters, perhaps even Republicans, who say, if this is a close race, wouldn‘t it be terrific, what would it say about America to have an African-American president, that that may—you know, that might be a positive for him as well. 

MADDOW:  And like with so many issues with race, there‘s no real way to argue around that. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MADDOW:  If the McCain campaign does research and finds out that a lot of independents are going to vote for Obama for that reason, how do you try to talk them out of that? 

In the same reason—in the same way that a lot of Americans may want to vote for John McCain because of his POW status, you can‘t talk them out of that either. 

GREGORY:  All right, we‘re looking at live pictures from Invesco Field. 

The countdown is on.  In less than four hours, Senator Obama will officially accept the Democratic nomination in front of an expected 75,000 people at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver. 

Our coverage continues right after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  You‘re looking live at Invesco Field, at Mile High Stadium, here in Denver, where Barack Obama will accept the Democratic nomination officially in less than four hours.  Forty five years later, the hopes of the civil rights movement come full circle, as Barack Obama makes history tonight.  He will take center stage as the first African-American Democratic presidential nominee, the first African-American nominee of any major party, speaking on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington. 

Joining me now, Martin Luther King III, and sir, I‘m very pleased to have you. 

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, SON OF DR. KING:  Thank you for the opportunity.  Honored to be here. 

GREGORY:  There is so much to think about today, but the most obvious question is, what you think Martin Luther King Jr. would be thinking about if he were to watch all of this unfold today if he were here? 

KING:  Certainly, he would be very pleased and proud of what the Democratic party and our nation is on the brink of doing.  I would have to also say, I feel that he and my mother are looking down on us today with a great big smile on their faces. 

GREGORY:  Last night, on the convention floor, I spoke to Georgia Representative John Lewis, as the last man alive who spoke 45 years ago.  This is what he told me last night about his decision to switch his support from the Clintons to Senator Obama.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA:  Along the way, I saw something happening.  I had what we call an executive session with myself.  And I said what Barack Obama is doing is akin to the movement, what we were fighting for, struggling for.  And I said to myself, I want to be on the right side of history.  And I made the decision to change and commit to Barack Obama. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  At what point in this campaign did you experience a similar moment, where you thought this might be possible? 

KING:  I would have to say that right after the Iowa primary, I felt very strong—Iowa caucuses, I should say, about the candidacy of Barack Obama and what he represented.  Certainly, later on, in South Carolina and ultimately when he got to Georgia, I was strongly supportive of his candidacy. 

GREGORY:  But there was a tipping point there at a time when Barack Obama has studiously avoided making race a centerpiece of his campaign at all.  The term is thrown around about it being a post-racial political candidate.  Is that something that‘s been gratifying to you?

KING:  Well, certainly, we as a society have to find constructive ways to move away from race.  Race and racism is still very real in our nation.  We know that because as soon as Senator Obama announced that he was running, because of threats, he had to get a Secret Service detail.  But you don‘t focus on what is not.  You focus on what can be become.  And I think that‘s what he‘s doing. 

And number one, running for president of the United States, he has to represent all of the people.  And I think he‘s going to do an incredible job. 

GREGORY:  You know, Senator Clinton and her supporters have made the point during the course of this convention that there may be cracks now in the glass ceiling, given all the support that she in the course of the primaries, but it wasn‘t enough for her to achieve to nomination.  What level of fear do you have that for all of Barack Obama‘s success, the country, the electorate is not prepared to put an African-American in the White House? 

KING:  Well, that is always something we have to consider, but I do believe that, firs of all, Senator Obama has galvanized and mobilized young people like no one else ever in the history our nation.  If that vote, that electorate turns out, I believe Senator Obama will be the next president.  I also think Senator Biden will help Senator Obama with the blue collar workers, white workers in America. 

I think when you look at what has happened in the past, people have no choice, they have got to look at supporting the candidate of change. 

GREGORY:  All right, Martin Luther King III from Invesco Field today,  thank you very much for joining us.  We‘re quite pleased to have you here tonight. 

And still with me here at our location is Rachel Maddow.  It‘s interesting that he brought up the point about Joe Biden.  Can he help him with some of the working class voters that have eluded him in the primaries?  We have talked about it before on the show that for any Democratic nominee, white working class voters are a problem.  They were a problem for John Kerry.  George Bush got a higher number of those voters.  There is still a question about how much Joe Biden can do in this area. 

MADDOW:  And the unspoken thing in the discussion about Obama and white working class voters is whether or not racism is associated with class.  I think, whether or not people who are of a lower socio-economic class are more likely to be motivated by racial prejudice.  I don‘t think there‘s much evidence of that, but I think it is sort of the caricatured way we think about racism in this country. 

The polls have really bounced up for Obama among a lot of the groups that Senator Clinton bested him among during the primaries.  And I‘m not sure that the working class issue and the working class white issue is going to make much different for an Obama candidacy than for any other Democrat. 

GREGORY:  Will race be a factor in a way that will be difficult to even talk about.  In other words, that feeling of otherness, that Barack Obama is somehow other.  It could be an issue of whether people think he‘s elitist or that he‘s too liberal.  Or it might just be something that people can‘t quite articulate, but they just don‘t feel the comfort level with him.

MADDOW:  Mapped on to all these other things.  Possibly.  The Democratic party has had a lot of trail blazers.  I think it was 1928, the first Catholic they put on the ticket, on the national ticket for the presidential campaign.  It was Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman.  The first Jew with Lieberman.  And now the first African-American.  The Democratic party has consistently put forward people who they didn‘t know if the American people were going to be comfortable with or not.  All those other pioneers lost.  And Barack Obama will be a trail blazer in more than one way. 

GREGORY:  And we continue to look at the crowds gathering on what is really the new convention floor of Invesco Field.  It goes back to one of the things that Barack Obama, it seems, has to do tonight, which is to spend as much time talking about defining McCain, defining the choice in this election, to create the contrast, rather than just reflecting on himself.  There can be too much focus on who is Barack Obama and a little bit too much of the cult of personality.  He‘s got to get to the words.  He‘s got to get to the contrast. 

MADDOW:  Yes, he‘s got to talk about the stakes in this election and what he represents, what Democrats represent as opposed to John McCain.  I think he can get away tonight without hitting John McCain too personally, if he does an indictment of Republican politics and identifies McCain as the symbol of that. 

GREGORY:  Rachel Maddow stays with us.  Thanks very much, Rachel.  We‘ll come back, take a break, talk to the Reverend Al Sharpton, who is here, about this historic event.  Invesco Field, the crowds gathering; upwards of 70,000 people expected tonight at Invesco Field, where Barack Obama will officially accepts his party‘s nomination.  It is the culmination of a week of choreography for the Democrats.  We‘re back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Our coverage continues here.  RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE at Invesco Field, where Barack Obama will accept his party‘s nomination just hours from now.  The countdown is on.  The convention has moved there and the crowd is filing in at Mile High Stadium.  Upwards of 75,000 people expected.  Joining us now, with observations on the historical significance of this night, the Reverend Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network.  Norah O‘Donnell and Eugene Robinson of the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE panel are also with us, as well. 

Reverend Sharpton, I spoke with John Lewis last night, who said that what this nomination represents is the down payment on the fulfillment of Martin Luther King‘s dream.  How would you describe it? 

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK:  I think that‘s an appropriate expression that Congressman Lewis said.  This morning, we had the big official breakfast commemorating the march and Martin Luther King III and some of us that were too young to be of the march, that are in this generation, as civil rights activists; we said to Martin‘s father, we didn‘t know the dream, but we know the dream.  The dream is having a fair and open society equal for everyone. 

But tonight shows that the one line in King‘s speech where he said that he dreamed of the day that we would be judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin, in the Democratic party, that has been proven to be true.  It doesn‘t mean that we still don‘t issues, and some of U.S. in the civil rights community of this generation will fight that.  But I think Senator Obama‘s nomination has shown the tremendous progress.  And America ought to be proud tonight, no matter what party you‘re a member of. 

GREGORY:  As we continue here, I just want to reference for our audience all this noise behind us.  It‘s one of the downsides of being outside in beautiful downtown Denver.  You get some protesters with their own message. 

SHARPTON:  As a protester myself, I don‘t begrudge them. 

GREGORY:  OK, but it‘s not relevant to our discussion.  Barack Obama has not made race a centerpiece of this campaign.  And, in fact, there were questions, if you talk to Obama‘s advisers, that come up in focus groups, lingering doubts about who will Obama surround himself with.  And frankly, there are questions about whether the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, will those be the influences on this campaign or something else?  Do you begrudge him the fact that he‘s taken a different path in this come campaign?   

SHARPTON:  Not at all.  I think those in the media that have been a little lazy—Ed Brook, that was elected while Martin Luther King Jr. was still alive, didn‘t make race the subject, was elected to the U.S. Senate in ‘67.  Doug Wilder a generation later.  So what Obama has done is what a line of blacks who have entered mainstream political have done.  At the same time, they have respected those of us that fight the issues.  But that‘s just not what they do. 

He and I have enjoyed an open dialogue.  He has come and spoken at my conventions.  But he says I‘m not a civil rights leader.  That‘s what you do.  I‘m a mainstream politician.  Just as King and that generation related to a Brooks or a Jackson and a Wilder, we do that with Obama.  I don‘t begrudge him.  We fight so that Obama can happen or a Dick Parsons can happen in the courtroom. 

GREGORY:  And yet, do you have a certain level of expectation as a civil rights leader on him as a mainstream political figure?  And as we do this, you see the chairman of the Democratic party, Howard Dean, addressing the convention.  Do you have certain expectations of Barack Obama that are different? 

SHARPTON:  I would have the same expectations that I would have of John Kerry when I supported him, or Al Gore when I supported him.  And we will hold him just as accountable.  I think that we want him to have the same opportunities.  David Patterson, who‘s the governor of New York, who is black, we grew up together.  I told him I disagreed with him on the budget.  Just because he‘s black doesn‘t mean we won‘t hold him accountable.  We should not expect more from him, but America should not expect less from him. 

We fight for an open society, where even in that society, we have the right to disagree with him.  But he should not be limited. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s talk about political tactics and reality.  AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka told Colorado‘s delegation today that he believes race could hinder Obama.  He said this: “there are a lot of white voters out there, some of them union members, who think that he‘s the wrong race.  As Democrats who can‘t tap dance around the fact that there are some faces out there that just like that woman.  They‘re scared to death.  They want change.  They need change.  But they just can‘t get past the notion that voting for a black man named Barack Obama is the only way to do that.” 

How big of an obstacle is this? 

SHARPTON:  I think it‘s not the obstacle it once was.  There was a time.  We got past it with congressional races.  We then got a whole slew of black mayors.  When I was growing up, black mayors were common, then they got statewide.  Now we have two black governors.  I think we are ready to break that national glass ceiling.  There may be some, but I don‘t think they‘re nearly as many as there were.  And I think most Americans are moving now to say, we need real change and we‘re not concerned about the color of the person who may be the change agent.  I think that‘s the hopefulness this campaign has shown us. 

GREGORY:  We‘re watching Howard Dean address the Democratic faithful at Invesco Field, where Barack Obama will accept the nomination tonight.  Talk about the speech; what does Barack Obama have to say tonight?  What‘s his political test?

SHARPTON:  I think that he must give us some level of policy, a breakdown on what is the contrast between his vision of America and the Republican opponent.  And then I think he must inspire us to go out and do what has to be done to win.  We also—one of the things I said this morning that civil rights leaders must do, we must put focus on protecting the vote.  We cannot have a problem like we had in Florida in 2000 or in Ohio in 2004.  So at the same time we galvanize new voters, we must make sure the rolls don‘t have mysterious omissions of people that have been voting. 

We‘re going to do, many of us, myself, Martin King, the Urban League head, we‘re going to be doing bus tours in Florida and Ohio with a Not This Time Campaign, saying we want to check the polls.  We want to check the rolls.  And we want to make sure the vote is protected.  There‘s a lot of work to do and he must inspire us to go out and do the work, not just having, as you said, a well choreographed week.  We now have to have a real mobilization from the bottom up for this campaign. 

GREGORY:  Reverend Sharpton, thanks very much.

SHARPTON:  Thank you.

GREGORY:  RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE continues.  We‘ll take a break.  We join the events at Invesco Field and continue our coverage here on MSNBC, the place for politics.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back.  Our coverage continues here from downtown Denver, historic Union Station.  We want to show you what‘s happening at Invesco Field, just a couple of miles away.  That is where Barack Obama will accept the nomination of his party later today.  You see the elaborate structure that‘s been erected behind him, the opinion columns as they have been described, the crowd filing. 

It‘s interesting, the convention floor has effectively been transferred from the Pepsi Center to Invesco Field.  Congressman John Lewis, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, will address this crowd that is building over there, in a few moments.  We‘ll bring that to you live as he presents a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on this, the 45th anniversary of his historic, iconic speech, the “I Have a Dream Speech” from Washington, D.C.. 

Jay Carney from “Time Magazine,” the bureau chief in Washington for “Time Magazine” is in the middle of this at Invesco Field.  Jay, it‘s shaping up to be quite a party there? 

JAY CARNEY, “TIME MAGAZINE”:  I‘ll tell you, I feel like dancing, David.  It‘s loud.  It‘s a huge crowd.  It‘s hot.  People seem to be having a good time. 

GREGORY:  More substantively, John McCain as he prepares to perhaps announce his vice presidential pick tomorrow—and we might even get word of that name before the night is done here—he‘s got a new ad that‘s running in some of the battleground states.  He would like to be part of the convention, wants to be part of the conversation, but the substance of that ad is to congratulate Barack Obama.  There‘s really no competing, is there, politically with the kind of night that‘s shaping up? 

CARNEY:  No, it‘s probably a smart thing for Senator McCain to do.  You know, he‘s had a series of attack ads against Barack Obama.  He‘s gotten some criticism for that, even as he has closed the polls with Senator Obama.  So it reminds people that this is a race of two people and not just one, even though tonight is Senator Obama‘s night.  It‘s probably a smart move. 

GREGORY:  Jay, as we anticipate the remarks from Senator Obama tonight, in your judgment, what‘s the political test for him? 

CARNEY:  You know, the expectations for Senator Obama are so huge.  He gave a blockbuster speech, one of the best convention speeches I‘m sure you and I have ever heard four years ago.  He‘s given a series of remarkable speeches throughout this campaign, the speech on race in Philadelphia, the acceptance—you know, the victory speech after Iowa, the concession speech after New Hampshire.  The expectations are he‘s got to hit this thing right out of the park.  I think that‘s hard. 

And he also, as you can see behind me and you have shown your viewers, they have created this stage set that will only reinforce that notion that Barack Obama is a superstar, a rock star, a celebrity, with the Greek temple behind him.  It‘s no longer a question of whether he‘s the messiah, maybe he‘s Zeus.  These are creating tremendous expectations. 

Now, Obama‘s pretty good at giving a speech.  I wouldn‘t bet against him.  But it‘s a tall mountain to climb. 

GREGORY:  You know, the notion that he‘s going to rally the party faithful, I think, we can take as a given at this point.  And there will be soaring oratory and a lot of inspiration.  But don‘t you think it‘s important that people walk away who are watching on television and the voters that he‘s trying to reach, that they walk away with a clear sense of the contrast what an Obama presidency would mean as compared to a McCain presidency, to really amplify on the themes of a rather under-rated speech here by Governor Mark Warner, which is to paint the contrast, a campaign about the future versus the past. 

CARNEY:  Exactly.  Americans know that he is about change.  He represents change.  He symbolizes change.  And he‘s got a compelling change motif.  Now he has to explain what does that mean?  What does that mean concretely to me in America, to people who are struggling in this economy?  What does it mean for soldiers overseas in Iraq?  I think he needs to be—not give a laundry list of detailed policy ideas, but to be very concrete about what change we can believe in means, because I think the overall, the gauzy message has gotten through.  People know that.  Now they want more details. 

GREGORY:  John McCain has to follow all of this, Jay.  And we talked a minute ago about how difficult it is to compete with something on this order.  He can‘t do that.  What he can try to do is get the news media to focus elsewhere.  And if we get news about his choice of a running mate, he can do that by Sunday.  That person could appear on the Sunday programs.  And by Monday, his own convention begins.  What does he have to do to stop some of the momentum that the Biden—the Obama-Biden ticket takes out of here? 

CARNEY:  He‘s got a great advantage in this unusual year, where his convention follows immediately upon the Democratic Convention.  There‘s not a lot of time for people to—the after glow of the Democratic convention to last for weeks for Senator Obama.  But what I think John McCain‘s task is, he has to prove to Americans that he isn‘t what the Democrats say he is, that he isn‘t just more of the same, that he isn‘t going to be an extension—his will not be an extension of the Bush administration. 

He has to also, because I think his image as somebody who‘s above politics, who‘s bipartisan, has eroded a bit, as he has engaged in some traditional attack mode campaigning.  I think he has to remind people about what is it about John McCain that‘s exceptional, not just his biography, not just the fact that he was a POW for five years, but what he‘s done in Washington. 

GREGORY:  Jay Carney from “Time Magazine,” thank you very much.  Our special convention coverage will continue here at the top of the hour with Chris and Keith.  I‘m David Gregory for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Stay with MSNBC.  It‘s the place for politics.  History will be made tonight in Denver.  And it will all play out here on MSNBC. 

LEWIS:  On this day 45 years ago, a son of America, a citizen of the world, a peaceful warrior, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, “I Have a Dream Today,” a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  He recalled that when the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they issued a call for justice.  And they founded in our democracy on a mandate for freedom, equality and human dignity. 

I was there that day when Dr. King‘s delivered his historic speech before an audience of more than 250,000.  I am the last remaining speaker from the March on Washington.  And I was there when Dr. King urged this country to lay down the burdens of segregation and racial discrimination, and move towards the creation of a more perfect union. 

On that day, his words and his example inspired an entire generation of the young and old, the rich and poor, people of all faith, races, culture and background to believe—he told us to believe that we had the power.  We had the ability.  We had the capacity to make the dream a reality. 

Tonight, we gather here in this magnificent stadium in Denver because we still have a dream.  We still have a dream.

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

END   

Transcription Copyright 2008 ASC LLC  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is

granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not

reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or

internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall

user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may

infringe upon NBC and ASC LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or

interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of

litigation.>

Watch Race for the White House each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,