updated 9/9/2008 1:20:07 PM ET 2008-09-09T17:20:07

Guest: Michael Smerconish, John Harwood, Joe Watkins, Joan Walsh, Stephanie Cutter, Michelle Cottle, David Broder

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  Tonight, McCain and Palin take to the trail and go on the attack, propelled by a big bounce in post-GOP convention polls.  Has the new star of the Republican ticket knocked Obama off his game?  How does he attack her now, and will it include calling in back up from the Clintons? 

We’re breaking down the new game plans in the RACE FOR THE WHITE

HOUSE.

Welcome to THE RACE.  I’m David Gregory.

My headline tonight, “McCain’s Pole Vault.”  John McCain hits 50 percent for the first time in a major national poll, opening a four-point lead over rival Barack Obama.  The new “USA Today”/Gallup poll out today shows McCain leading Obama 50-46 percent among registered voters, still within the margin of error there, but this is a drastic shift from pre-convention poll numbers. 

Just days before the Democrats convened, Obama led 47-53.  Obama’s post-convention bounce widened that gap to 50-43.  And now for the first time, Obama trails McCain by four points. 

But post-convention polls aren’t always predictive of election results.  Analysis shows it does signal the outcome in November only half of the time.  The key number to look at here is the change in voter enthusiasm among Republicans. 

Before the Republican convention, Republicans were less enthusiastic about voting in the election by a margin of 47 percent to 39 percent.  Since the end of McCain’s convention, and the addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket, that number has jumped 21 points.  Republican voters now more enthusiastic by a margin of 60 percent to just 24 percent. 

So let’s bring in Philadelphia radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, also a columnist for “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and “The Daily News” there. 

Michael, a “Washington Post”/ABC News poll has just come out within the hour.  It gives Obama a 47-46 lead.  Obama had a six-point lead just about two weeks ago.  So let’s talk about the convention bounce for McCain. 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, it’s bit of a disparity between the “USA Today”/Gallup survey and that which you’ve just revealed.  I’m not surprised by it. 

The convention went well for the GOP.  Sarah Palin knocked it out of the park.  I think everyone is agreeing on that fact.

When it’s all said and done, David, my hunch is they’re going to be back in the mid-40s.  They’ll be within the margin of error.  And perhaps it won’t be until after one or more of the debates until we know who’s going to break for the finish line. 

But that energy, that mobilization factor that you just identified as something that I am seeing and hearing in terms of telephone calls and e-mails and so forth, the folks in the base are really fired up.  And that’s going to last through Election Day. 

GREGORY:  You know, it’s interesting, Smerc.  I’ve talked to people in the McCain campaign who felt that during the primaries and after the primaries, when it got into the general that it was those Hillary Clinton supporters who were holding up McCain’s numbers.  And that if they have fallen off and gone back to Obama, what has happened in the Republican convention is the Republicans have come home, in large part because of Sarah Palin. 

SMERCONISH:  Right.  It is almost a replay of ‘04 and 2000.  And look, it worked for the Republican Party in those years.  This whole business of the culture war and so forth, those issues that drive the base, are those that they’re relying on yet again. 

GREGORY:  And yet, CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood, also with “The New York Times,” Senator McCain is still battling for the title of the change agent.  His campaign has launched this ad today called “Original Mavericks.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  The original mavericks.  He fights pork barrel  spending. 

She stopped the Bridge to Nowhere. 

He took on the drug industry.  She took on big oil. 

He battled Republicans and reformed Washington.  She battled Republicans and reformed Alaska. 

They’ll make history.  They’ll change Washington.  McCain/Palin, real change. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (voice-over):  I’m John

McCain and I approved this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  In an interview with Keith Olbermann tonight, it airs at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on “COUNTDOWN,” Senator Obama responded to this new ad.  Here’s a clip of that new interview. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, “COUNTDOWN”:  What are Senator McCain and

Governor Palin doing in this new commercial, do you think? 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  They’re not telling

the truth.  You know, I mean, it’s—I think we’ve all gotten accustomed to being able to spin things in politics.  But when you’ve got somebody who was for a project being presented as being against it, then that stretches the bounds of spin into new areas. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  John Harwood, what interests me about this is that the answer to the ad from Obama in that clip that we played focuses on Palin, which shows you that he’s equally as focused on her as he is on John McCain at this stage. 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, the reason

is that Sarah Palin is more vulnerable there.  When you have a young candidate, and you try to spin a narrative about what that candidate is about; it’s inevitably going to be thinner. 

Barack Obama has his own problem to deal with on that score, which is why the McCain people try puncture the idea that he has been this change agent in the U.S. Senate.  John McCain has a more demonstrable record on that front.  And so, you know, this is again what happens when you get relatively thin resume candidates going up against each other. 

GREGORY:  And it’s kind of like the thread on a sweater here with Sarah Palin because it’s a thinner resume.  If they can keep running this line just like ‘04, that she was for it before she was against it, we saw how that played out in 2004 against John Kerry.  It was pretty effective. 

HARWOOD:  No question about it.  And if they can portray the idea that this is a ticket that is faking it, the one thing you didn’t see in that McCain ad was exactly what change they’re talking about.  And this is another vulnerability of the McCain/Palin ticket, because they haven’t—on economic policy, which is the number one issue in the election, they really aren’t running at this stage on anything all that different on the major issues from George W. Bush. 

GREGORY:  Right.  I’m kind of struck that it’s a lot more about reform than it is about change.  Reforming Washington rather than just changing Washington.

HARWOOD:  Which is a process argument. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MSNBC political analyst and former aide to President George H. W.

Bush, Joe Watkins.

Joe, that other (ph) Republican voter enthusiasm has hit an all-time high in this election.  McCain seems to have some pep in his step after the convention.  You can actually hear it on the stump.  Listen to him today in Missouri. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Senator Obama has never stood up to anyone in his party yet.  And that’s what Americans want, is for us to stand up for America.  And that’s what we’ll do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  You get the sense that this is a different candidate after the conventions. 

JOE WATKINS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, clearly he has been energized like the Republican base has been energized.  Sarah Palin gave a great speech at the convention.  And I was right there on the floor of the convention, and you could just feel it all around you. 

I mean, the people that were there were absolutely energized.  I know that people watching on television were also energized not only by what she said, but by how she said it.  And so she is a real asset to John McCain.  It was a great pick on his part to make her his running mate. 

And John McCain knows that, of course, the poll that matters the most is the one that takes place on the second—the first Tuesday in November.  That’s the one he’s watching most closely.  But at the same time, it is great to be in this position. 

GREGORY:  Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com.

Sarah Palin joined John McCain at a rally in Missouri today.  She spoke about change, while at the same time, hitting Obama on Iraq.  Listen to how she put those together. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Now for his

part, our opponent, he still can’t acknowledge the coming victory in Iraq.  And he couldn’t just yesterday.  Even in an interview, he said, he’s for change, but in Iraq change happened. 

And that’s a great thing for America, Senator. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Joan, how effective is that argument against Obama? 

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM:  I don’t know how effective

it’s going to be.  I mean, this is a woman who said last year in an interview she really hadn’t had much time to think about Iraq.  She wasn’t sure what was going on. 

GREGORY:  Right.

WALSH:  She also said that she thought it was a task from God.  But she has definitely—she’s taken to this pit bull attack role so well.  And she does it with a certain kind of charm.  It might get old. 

And it’s clear to me, David, the Obama/Biden campaign does not have a clue.  They don’t have a notion yet what to do with her.  And they are not going to hit her, but then Obama does hit her, which I think somebody has got to criticize her.  She is very vulnerable. 

GREGORY:  Right.

WALSH:  But it shouldn’t be the presidential candidate.  So their strategy seems in disarray.  They were unprepared for this bounce.  And they really have to get back in the game.  It is a bad few days for them. 

GREGORY:  It’s an interesting point, Smerc, that you saw Biden with Tom Brokaw on “MEET THE PRESS” on NBC yesterday, and the point that he was trying to make about her in the debates and all that reflected the fact that they haven’t really found their voice in attacking her, nor have they worked out how much time they should spend on her versus McCain.  At some point, the Palin enthusiasm is going to wane and voters are going to be focused on the top of the ticket, which is where the choice is made. 

SMERCONISH:  I think that Joan’s observation is absolutely correct.  I don’t think that they’ve yet determined how this should handle her.  I don’t know that it’s in Barack Obama’s best interest to be the one who responds to her, because it almost reduces himself to the vice presidential level by engaging her. 

WALSH:  Right.

SMERCONISH:  Nor do I think you necessarily trot out a female to deal with a female.  I mean, oh, we’ve got to go to Hillary because this is Sarah Palin.  I don’t know that that is the effective way to deal with it either. 

WALSH:  Cat fight. 

GREGORY:  Hey, John Harwood—John, when we talk about the narrative of this campaign, the two conventions are over.  What is the campaign argument that is facing one campaign versus another? 

We know after watching Obama in Denver, this was about, who do you trust to bring you change?  Whereas you’re watching McCain, and he wants to make it about reform/change, the process argument.  But it’s still very much about experience as well. 

What do you think the narrative of this campaign is right now? 

HARWOOD:  I think fundamentally, Barack Obama wants to make this a campaign about change in a substantive sense, talk about the Bush economic policies, his diagnosis of why he thinks they haven’t been successful and what he’s going to do about it.  He’s got a long list of things he wants to offer blue collar voters to try to be responsive to that. 

With John McCain, he is casting himself as a fighter and a reformer, and he has legitimate credentials on that.  He was right in that acceptance speech in saying he has got the scars on his back from building up that record.  And he’s trying to make it, therefore, a personal fight.  And part of that personal fight is war hero, part of it is the POW story that was very moving there. 

GREGORY:  Right.

HARWOOD:  He has got to make people recognize his strength, the steel in his spine, and raise doubts about Obama on his readiness to lead.  Even if they say it’s not an experience argument anymore, really it gets to be very personal in the end. 

GREGORY:  We’ve got to take a break here. 

I think it’s striking that we spent a couple of months during the summer with this campaign, from McCain’s point of view, being all about Obama.  After these conventions, during the convention, McCain now wants to talk a lot more about himself and this ticket.  It reflects some newfound confidence, clearly. 

Coming up next, how are the battleground states shaping up?  It’s too close to call.  NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd shows us which states are moving toward McCain or Obama, which ones are still too close to call.

We’ll also look back to 2004 to see where the pickup opportunities are for both of these candidates. 

That’s when RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE returns after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to THE RACE.

The VP picks are shaking up battleground states.  New maps from NBC’s political unit have Pennsylvania moving from tossup to lean Barack Obama.  His VP, Joe Biden, from neighboring Delaware, of course.  And Missouri moving from tossup to lean McCain. 

McCain and Sarah Palin stumped today in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.  It’s a socially conservative suburb of Kansas City.  George Bush won in back it 2004, President Bush.  But centrist Democrat Claire McCaskill picked it off in 2006. 

Now team McCain is hoping to keep Missouri and all of Bush’s 2004 states red, while picking up a couple of states that John Kerry won back in 2004.  But team Obama has some other ideas, obviously. 

Joining me now, the man who tracks all of this.  With his new toy, our political director, Chuck Todd. 

Hey, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Good evening, David. 

GREGORY:  All right.  So let’s start looking at 2004, because I’ve been thinking a lot about that.  If you go back, starting with John Kerry, what he won, what the total number was, and then the Bush map, and then it allows us to look at some of the pick-off opportunities. 

TODD:  Well, here it is.  And this is—I should give a little plug here to our friends at Microsoft.  Microsoft Surface, a very cool touch technology that we can do that’s going to allow us to do a lot of fun things with the electoral map over the next few weeks as we get closer to the election. 

But here is the ‘04 map, as you requested, with the red states, McCain, 286, the blue states, Obama, 252.  Now, there are a few that right away, I think we can sit here and take away from McCain. 

One is Iowa.  Iowa already seems to be in the blue column.  And the other one might be New Mexico. 

But again, look, Obama could win those two states, David, and he is still short the 274.  So already, McCain would be sitting on 274. 

So the next round of targets obviously are very important for Obama and why he is on such offense.  McCain is not playing near the amount of offense as he is defense because, really, all he has to do is defend.  He can lose a couple of states and still have 270. 

GREGORY:  And McCain’s pick-off opportunities, if we look at the Bush map from 2004 -- rather, the Kerry map—he is looking at Michigan and New Hampshire.  Talk about that. 

TODD:  Absolutely.  Michigan and New Hampshire two states in the Frost Belt.  And also, look, we shouldn’t discount Wisconsin.  They’re not pulling out of Wisconsin. 

About a month ago, it looked like they might because Minnesota and Iowa both were looking to be high single digits, double-digit leads for Obama.  Wisconsin thought to be trending the same direction.  But the addition of Governor Palin, there is an evangelical base in that state.  Huckabee was able to do a little bit better in that Republican primary.  So there is an evangelical base to tap into in enthusiasm. 

But Michigan and New Hampshire, obviously, this whole maverick image that this ticket wants to give off, McCain/Palin, should be ready-made for New Hampshire.  New Hampshire likes its quirky politicians.  They don’t want their Republicans to be rank and file Republicans, and they don’t want their Democrats to be rank and file liberals.  They like them to be a little off, a little quirky.  McCain/Palin, you would think, would fit there. 

And then Michigan, you had some racial polarization in and around the Detroit suburb.  Macomb County could very much be a place where the same people you described that are in Missouri today, that they were campaigning with, the same thing that Governor Palin could be appealing to in the suburbs there of Detroit in Macomb County. 

GREGORY:  So let’s talk about a couple of scenarios.  Run a couple of numbers here. 

So let’s say that McCain is working off the Bush map, but he can pick up Michigan and New Hampshire from 2004.  What can he then afford to lose? 

TODD:  Well, let’s see here.  If we can keep—so we give him Michigan and New Hampshire.  See, this is yet another new part of this toy.  Right? 

GREGORY:  Right.

TODD:  And so let’s look at all these other states here which were all

this was the only blue that was left over here of what we have in tossups.  So he is sitting here.  So he is at 300 if he picks off Michigan and New Hampshire. 

So let’s move New Mexico over there.  We’re at 243. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

TODD:  Let throw in Colorado, a state that Obama really wants to do. 

Let’s do Virginia.

Notice where we’re getting here.  That’s a lot of states he can afford to lose.

GREGORY:  Right.

TODD:  Now, if you start moving over Nevada, then suddenly, he can’t afford to lose.  He would lose the election.  It would be at 270. 

So, he could win Michigan, New Hampshire, Iowa, Florida.  But if he lost these five states, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, he would come up short.  So he can’t afford to lose that.  But you know, that’s the map he’s playing with.  If it’s New Hampshire, by the way, David, this is where we get our 269-269 nightmare scenario. 

GREGORY:  Ah, there it is.

TODD:  Or as you and I might call it, full...

GREGORY:  A nightmare for who?  We wouldn’t call it that. 

TODD:  Yes.  I call it full employment scenario for us here at the place for politics. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let’s look at the tossups according to your and the political unit’s analysis of the map.  Show me and our viewers the tossup states as you see it right now. 

TODD:  Well, right now it’s these that we were just playing with right here.  And it’s Michigan, it’s Ohio, it’s Florida, it’s Nevada, it’s Colorado, it’s New Mexico. 

Now, one thing we should do is try to push these where they—if this were the day before the election, this is where we would be putting states.  We would have Wisconsin in the Obama column.  We would have New Mexico in the Obama column.  We would have Michigan in the Obama column. 

We would have Nevada in the McCain column.  And we’d have Florida in the McCain column.

That would leave us four states, sheer tossups: Colorado, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, the four pure tossups that are right now—there are as many polls showing Obama ahead as there are showing McCain ahead.  Both campaigns would sit there and say they are one-and-two-point races. 

And then so what does that leave you with?  Obama sitting at 260, just needing 10. 

GREGORY:  Right.

TODD:  McCain sitting at 232.  He needs to win three of these four. 

Now, look, three of these four were red states.  If he just holds the three of the Bush states, he is there.  He is at 274. 

GREGORY:  Right.

TODD:  Obama is at 264 if he goes and wins New Hampshire.  Obama obviously, if he just pulled off Virginia and lost everything else, there he gets to 273. 

So, the good news for Obama, he has got more paths to 270 than John Kerry ever had.  You know, Kerry really was relying on one state to get there.  By adding Colorado and Virginia to the true battleground, Obama has created a couple more paths. 

GREGORY:  What a lot of people dope know, Chuck, is that after you’re done here, you actually take this on the road with you and you set up on a street corner and you do that little game with the—where is the ball underneath the little shells here? 

TODD:  Where is it now? 

GREGORY:  And if you can pick it, you get $50.

TODD:  Where do we find Colorado?  Whoever can find Nevada wins the electoral college.

GREGORY:  This is really fun for Chuck’s kids. 

OK.  Chuck Todd, thank you very much.

TODD:  All right, David.

GREGORY:  McCain and Obama prepare to make their second appearance together since the start of the race.  What’s bringing them together now? 

That’s on THE RACE’s radar when we come back next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Sarah Palin takes on Washington.  Now Senator Obama takes her on.  He accuses her of flip flopping on the bridge to nowhere.  Why is he picking on a number two?  That’s coming next.  

We’re back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, the back half.  I’m David Gregory.  The Obama campaign is now shifting gears since Sarah Palin’s arrival on the national stage.  Obama stumped in the Michigan today, where he took a swipe at Governor Palin, attacking her position on that bridge to nowhere in Alaska. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  When it came to the bridge to nowhere, she was for it until everybody started raising a fuss about it and she started running for governor, and then suddenly she was against it.  Do you remember that?  For it before you were against it?  You can’t just make stuff up. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  In contrast to the harsher tone of Obama, out on the campaign trail, his wife Michelle loosened up a little bit, striking a pose today on the Ellen Degeneres show. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELLEN DEGENERES, “ELLEN”:  Our next first lady, please welcome Michelle Obama! 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Joining me now, chief of staff to Michelle Obama and senior adviser to the Obama campaign. Stephanie Cutter.  Stephanie also remembers being for it before she was against it, that line very well from the 2004 campaign.  Sorry to bring that up.  Anyway, let me ask you about that more seriously though, in terms of this being used as an attack line, and why it is that the campaign has decided, coming out of the convention, it is necessary to zero in and target Sarah Palin’s views and her record.  Is it not a reflection of the impact she’s had on this race? 

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  We’re not zeroing in on

her.  She and John McCain are traveling around the country as a package. 

They’re trying to make that package to change their strategy to change.  And Barack Obama is right; you can’t just make stuff up.  The facts are that she campaigned on the bridge to nowhere.  She campaigned on it when she was running for governor.  And she only turned against it when it became a political problem for her.  But, you know, she turned against it because she couldn’t get the federal funds to support it. 

It is just not true that she was against the bridge to nowhere.  They’re making that argument to back up their assertion that they’re some sort of mavericks.  It’s true, you just can’t make stuff up.  She has to be held accountable for what she says. 

GREGORY:  There is—in a race where there is the question of experience on both sides of the ticket, when you have somebody who, first of all, is new to the game, into this national campaign, and who has landed with such a splash—it does change dynamic of the campaign.  You’re seeing that in the polling.  How badly has it affected the campaign? 

CUTTER:  Well, you know, there is a reason that they’re no longer campaigning on experience, that they’re trying to campaign on change, because they weren’t moving their polling numbers.  And that’s because the American people want change.  The race has tightened.  We knew it would tighten.  We got a bounce on our convention.  They got a bounce on their convention.  We’re back right where we are started about two weeks ago.  The race is virtually tied. 

This will be a tight race for the last two months of this campaign.  You and I have been in this place before.  We know that this is where things—the rubber meets the road and positions matter, facts matter.  And people are going to take a close look at whether John McCain and Sarah Palin really amount to change.  When you look at their policies and you look at their records—you know, it’s as if John McCain hasn’t been in Washington over the last eight years and he hasn’t been part of the Bush administration’s record of tax cuts for the wealthy, reckless spending, all of those things that have put us in the position where we are now. 

You can’t just claim change and not be held accountable. 

GREGORY:  Let me ask you about outreach to female voters.  Obviously, this was a big part of the campaign with Hillary Clinton during the primaries, also what she can bring to Senator Obama when she is out campaigning for him.  And let me ask you more specifically about Michelle Obama.  She appeared on Ellen’s program today.  She is also doing a program with working women tomorrow.  Is she now the answer for the Obama campaign in terms of outreach to women? 

CUTTER:  No.  Barack Obama is the answer to outreach to women.  You know, people assume that women only respond to women.  That’s not true.  Women are a little bit deeper than that.  They look at the policy positions of the candidates, where that candidate is going to take their lives and impact their lives.  She is a powerful advocate for her husband.  But at the end of the day, women will be making a decision about the candidates at who is at the top of the ticket, and the policies they’re supporting.  Are they going to fight for equal pay for women?  Are they going to fight for tax cuts for middle class families?  Are they going to create an economy that works for everyone, Not just big special interests and the wealthy?  Those are the types of policies that women will respond to. 

Michelle Obama is out there doing the Ellen show and tomorrow she’s holing a round table for working women.  In all of those things, she’s out there talking about her husband.  She is probably his best advocate and can talk about why he’ll be an extraordinary president, like nobody else can. 

GREGORY:  Do you think that Sarah Palin is a feminist? 

CUTTER:  How would you define a feminist? 

GREGORY:  I don’t know.  How would you define it? 

CUTTER:  You asked the question.  I don’t know.  She is against choice, even in the case of incest and rape.  I don’t think that is someone who is supportive of women’s rights.  We haven’t heard where she stands on equal pay, but the person at the top of that ticket is against equal pay for women.  You have to assume she supports that position.  Those aren’t the types of policy that’s average women across the country are supportive of. 

GREGORY:  How do you define—

CUTTER:  If you define a feminist as someone who is supportive of what

women care about, then no, I don’t think she is a feminist.  It all depends

-- 

GREGORY:  Is that because there is a lot of criticism of her that she is not a feminist because of those views, and now you’re invoking average women.  Are those the only issues that average women think about and care about?  Do they all see it one way? 

CUTTER:  No, absolutely not.  Again, it goes back to your—how you define it.  You can’t put women in a silo.  Women care about a lot of different things.  What they most care is what the future of their families is going to be under the next administration.  So whether or not those policy supports families and support building a more prosperous future for those families, that’s what women care about. 

You can’t put them into categories or silos.  Putting a woman on a ticket doesn’t mean all women will vote for you.  It depends on what you stand for. 

GREGORY:  How concerned is the Obama campaign about losing the support of female voters with Palin on the ticket? 

CUTTER:  Not concerned at all.  This is where we thought the race would end up.  It doesn’t matter who is on the McCain ticket, because the McCain ticket doesn’t stand for change.  We knew this would be a very tight race.  This is where the rubber hits the road.  Barack Obama and Joe Biden are out there talking about the issues that matter. 

Let’s not forget that a week ago, there were a number of issues that we didn’t hear about in the Republican convention.  How will they fix the economy?  How are they going to address health care?  All of these issues that all Americans care about, they couldn’t address them.  That’s because they’ve been in Washington for, in John McCain’s case, the last three decades, and he wasn’t exactly an innocent bystander. 

The race is where we thought it would be.  We’re going to keep fighting, not taking anything for granted.  And we’re not just appealing to women.  We’re appealing to all voters.  It goes on from here.   

GREGORY:  Stephanie Cutter, thanks very much, from the Obama campaign. 

Appreciate it very much. 

CUTTER:  Thanks, David. 

GREGORY:  Now, let’s bring in the panel to talk about some of this.  Smerconish, what is interesting to me about the discussion of Sarah Palin and the impact on women voters, you do hear a lot about this, that really a criticism from the left, and from the Obama campaign saying this notion that somehow Palin arrives and she gets women, that’s ridiculous.  When there is identity politics played in all kinds of ways.  We have talked about that in terms of Senator Obama driving up the African-American vote, boosting the African American vote, which has been demonstrably true during the primaries in certain states. 

The question is whether the McCain campaign is not realistically thinking they’re going to get the Hillary Clinton support who might be aligned with Hillary Clinton on issues that would be important, like abortion questions or equal pay, et cetera.  But whether there are more culturally conservative Democrats who would be open to Sarah Palin’s story and outreach. 

SMERCONISH:  I don’t think that she reaches the prototypical Hillary supporter to the extent there is a prototypical Hillary supporter.  I think of her having more appeal to a female version of a Ronald Reagan Democrat.  David, X, the unknown, still is what does she stand for and what does she represent?  All we’re getting are dribs and drabs of information relative to Sarah Palin on the issues.  She made a wonderful presentation.  But she has to go through the media vetting process. 

And just one observation.  The longer that they prevent her from going through that kind of a process, the more I’m seeing Internet fodder get out that maybe fact and it may be fiction.  I think it is in their own best interests that they put her in front of someone like you to question her on a whole variety of issues. 

GREGORY:  Joan? 

WALSH:  Definitely you, David.  I agree with that. 

HARWOOD:  Playing to the host, come on!

WALSH:  I think that there is an interesting thing.  It is cultural.  She looks like someone who is—who is a Wal-Mart mom.  Not merely is going to talk to Wal-Mart moms.  But as my friend John Harwood wrote today, if you really compare the two candidates’ platforms on economic issues, these are not—they’re not kitchen table kinds of programs.  It is the Obama/Biden ticket that has a much more muscular and energetic program for the working class.  But they’re not really talking about it.  They needed to read Harwood today.  Now, I’m playing to both of you.   

HARWOOD:  I’ll take it. 

WALSH:  They she have could—yes.  She could seem to reach those women.  But exactly what is she going to sympathize with them about?  What is she going to offer them for their struggle to hold down two jobs and also afford child care or maybe they don’t want child care, they would like to be home.  What is she going to say?

GREGORY:  I think those are all fair points.  John Harwood, real quick, before the break, I think there is a sense of connection that voters feel to politicians.  This question the we ask in polling all the time, do they understand and share my values?  Do they understand me?  That’s something that Sarah Palin may be able to do very effective. 

By the way, it has nothing to do with her being a woman.  It has to do with her station in life.  She has very young kids.  She is carrying a baby around the campaign trail.  Her story is more unique than a lot of people that we see on the campaign trail. 

HARWOOD:  Speaking for my white guy silo, I would just say that’s definitely true.  Look, people—they look at politicians and they try to recognize something of their own lives.  And Sarah Palin has that going for her.  Although, if you look at the initial polling, it indicates that there has been a fairly polarized reaction to her.  She generated more support initially among men who tend to be more conservative as Sarah Palin is, less so among women.  She is going to draw some of those women swing voters.  There’s no question about it. 

GREGORY:  Got to take a break here.  Got to take a break.  We’ll come back.  Hillary Clinton says she won’t attack Sarah Palin on the stump.  Will that give Palin the space to go after Clinton’s base?  This conversation continues when THE RACE returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Do you know who is still stubborn, holding out?  John McCain.  That’s not change.  That’s more of the same.  On energy policy, what were the Republicans hollering, drill, baby drill—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  You’re looking live at Farmington Hills, Michigan, rather.  Barack Obama on the campaign trail.  We’re covering it live here on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Michigan is a key battleground state.  John McCain wants it in his column after the Democrats won it in 2004.  And Obama is on the campaign trail there. 

We’re talking about the pick of John McCain, Sarah Palin as his running mate.  Clearly, in some ways, a play for some Hillary Clinton supporters as well as helping him make an argument about reform and change, which are under attack by Senator Obama there in Michigan.  But Palin and the New York senator do not share views on a lot of the issues that are particularly important to women.  Will those Clinton loyalists take the bait?  Weighing in tonight, Michelle Cottle, senior editor at “The New Republic.”  Her latest piece is titled “Shattered, 18 Million Cracks and One Crack Pot.”  Lay out the premise of this for me. 

MICHELLE COTTLE, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  Well, basically it is a peace—we heard a lot this year about how Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was a great move for women, and how Sarah Palin has been advertising herself as an opportunity for women to go even farther.  But my thought is that on some level, this has not been a good year for feminism.  We started out with Hillary Clinton running as this kind of strong, empowered, completely, on some level, gender neutral success story that people were championing with experience and strength. 

And once things started going badly, suddenly, they started talking in terms of grievance feminism, and she was a victim of the male dominated system.  The whole race kind of turned wishy washy and ugly.  And then after all this was over, you wind up with Sarah Palin handed to us.  Whatever you think of Sarah Palin’s politics, it is, on some level, a really cynical choice and it smacks of tokenism.  So this is never a good thing when you’re putting forward a candidate who doesn’t have that much experience, and that people are kind of labeling as somebody who was picked just because she was a woman. 

And whatever happens, a lot of tongues are going to be wagging if she doesn’t do very well, that this is what you get when you try to cater to women voters. 

GREGORY:  This is what you wrote in the piece in “The New Republic:” “the rest us,” you wrote, “should be outraged. by a strategy so nakedly founded on the premise that Hillary gals were driven more by identity politics than by any interest in their candidate’s values, ideology, or qualifications.  In team McCain’s eyes, female candidates are pretty much interchangeable and women voters too addlepated to know the difference.  We just want someone with the same reproductive parts as ours.”

Michelle, whether this was an outreach at some level to women voters, this was also an attempt to shake up the race, to bring in somebody so far outside of the main stream of politics, somebody who literally from the other end of the country, who doesn’t have a lot of experience, to try to reenergize the race, which is what she’s done.  Isn’t it a little cynical on your part to simply cast this as a single motivation decision? 

COTTLE:  I’m not casting it as a single motivation decision.  What I’m saying is there is no way she would have been picked if she weren’t a woman, and people are talking about this.  You cannot escape this.  I’m going to ask you this question.  If she weren’t a woman, do you think she would have been picked?  No.  No one does.  She has absolutely no experience.  And one of the reasons that she is energizing is because she is a female candidate.  You hear Republican women out there telling the media, even the dreaded mainstream media, we’re so excited.  It is our turn.  We’re so excited that one of these women is on our ticket and we’re going to make history here. 

So I’m not saying that it is the only thing.  But I’m saying obviously, that was a huge factor in why she was picked.  If she weren’t a woman, she wouldn’t be on the ticket. 

GREGORY:  Joe?

WATKINS:  I think that not all voters vote based on issues.  Certainly for a lot of voters, African-Americans especially, it is really about the candidate and how they feel about the candidate.  Barack Obama support among African Americans is not issues driven.  It is based because they are so proud that an African-American has been nominated for the presidency of the United States and that he is qualified.  Many women, I think, even those who in some cases don’t on agree with Sarah Palin, will support her because they admire her as the chief executive of Alaska. 

COTTLE:  I don’t agree. 

WATKINS:  I think so.  I think many will.  Certainly those who are all about issues will look more carefully at where she stands on a whole host of issues.  For many women, they’ll look and say, here is somebody who is the chief executive of her state, who also manages a family, who is clearly somebody qualified to be vice president of the United States. 

WALSH:  I think—

GREGORY:  Go ahead, Joan.  Real quick, then I have to get a break in. 

WALSH:  It is more cynical even than Michelle says, because he looks like he is a reformer going for women, but he really doubled down on his Christian right base.  That is what this pick is about more than women.  We need to remember that. 

GREGORY:  I think you could debate that point.  Certainly the ability to pick somebody who stood up to people in her own party helps him double down on the issue of being an outsider and being a maverick in the party. 

WALSH:  And we haven’t proven that yet, David, but we need to take a break.  Whether she has really stood up to people in her party. 

GREGORY:  That will be part of the debate.  I think, certainly, it allows him to try make the argument.  He’s making the argument.  He doesn’t have to try to make it.  You can make the argument as to whether it works.  We’ll take a break now.  Coming up next, McCain has a history of bucking his party.  But have we seen his maverick side lately?  Was picking a sign of change or playing to the conservative base, as Joan was just outlining?  THE RACE comes back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, as we look live in

Michigan, Barack Obama during a town hall meeting, live on the campaign trail, during THE RACE here .  One thing is certain, they want a new attitude in Washington and both candidates seem to get it.  That’s what David Broder is saying in his “Washington Post” column.  He joins me now, one-on-one, on the strengths and weaknesses of Senator Obama and McCain in terms of making those changes.  David, good to have you here. 

DAVID BRODER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Glad to be here. 

GREGORY:  Let’s talk after these conventions, the big picture.  What is the state of this race now?   

BRODER:  It is a very close race.  My guess is, David, that it is probably going to stay close.  We may not know at the end of October who is going to win this race. 

GREGORY:  Is it enough that Sarah Palin got into the race that completely changed the dynamic, or is this an area of focus for all of us that’s going to go away and we’ll focus back on the top of the ticket soon? 

BRODER:  It will go back to the top of the ticket and it should, because there will be presidential debates and obviously, the one vice-presidential debate.  But I think the focus will be on McCain and Obama. 

GREGORY:  You wrote in your Sunday column in your Sunday column in the “Washington Post” the following: “Obama has an exceptional mind when it comes to analyzing and then formulating policy.  His methods are reflective and sometimes iconoclastic.  But the results are impressive.  He has outlined approaches to domestic issues that might enlist support across a broad political spectrum.  Still, his skills as a negotiator are largely untested, and he has yet to demonstrate, as McCain has, the backbone to challenge the prevailing interest groups in his own party.”

This is an important observation, particularly since one of the attack lines in this campaign is that John McCain is simply more of the same of the Bush administration and not somebody who stood up to his own party. 

BRODER:  He is not more of the same of the Bush administration, if you’re talking about personality traits or the history of the two men—the two men.  He is basically, an anti-establishment reformer.  And by picking Palin, I think he really emphasized that aspect of his character. 

GREGORY:  Do you think, in the end, this was a choice motivated by reaching women voters?  Or do you think it was an attempt to help him make an outsider change maverick argument. 

BRODER:  I think the latter.  I think it is questionable, in my mind, whether she will have a great deal of appeal to women who previously supported Hillary Clinton.  But she certainly underlines his own anti-establishment credentials. 

GREGORY:  Where does she help him on the map? 

BRODER:  That I don’t think we know yet.  I talked to people in—while we were still in St. Paul from the Ohio delegation, from the North Carolina delegation.  Both those states, the Republican activists were thrilled by her choice.  And those were going—are going to be competitive states.  But I think the real question in my mind is what can she do in some of the smaller states, where she’ll probably be spending a lot of time, New Hampshire, Colorado, states like Nevada, states like that.  And I simply don’t know yet what the reaction will be there. 

GREGORY:  It is interesting to look at history and the choice of running mates and the question of readiness.  To then apply those lessons to the debate we’re having about readiness for Sarah Palin and to Barack Obama, for that matter.  What is history telling us about how to look at these choices? 

BRODER:  Well, there is a threshold that any presidential candidate has to get past to be plausible to people sitting in the Oval Office, making the kinds of decisions that only a president has to make.  But they don’t measure it usually by years in office.  Jimmy Carter was a one-term governor when he was elected president.  And people make judgments in the same way that we do as individuals dealing with other individuals.  They try to figure out what is this person really about?  Can I trust them to do the right thing? 

GREGORY:  We talked earlier in the hour about the battlegrounds, the way the electoral map looks.  You’re a legendary, of course, going door to door in some of these important states and getting a sense of what voters think.  What are your top few battleground states that you think we’re going to be talking a lot about a couple week before election day and on electric night? 

BRODER:  I’ve been back to New Hampshire already.  I’m probably going to Ohio next and Michigan, I think, which is—tends to be more Democratic.  But from everything I’ve heard on both sides, I think Michigan is another really Midwest battleground this year. 

GREGORY:  New Hampshire and Michigan, two states that McCain would definitely like to pick off. 

BRODER:  Right. 

GREGORY:  The legendary David Broder, so happy to have you here. 

Thank you very much.

BRODER:  Glad to be here, David.

GREGORY:  That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE for this Monday.  I’m David Gregory.  Thanks to our great panel and thanks to you for watching.  We’ll see you back here tomorrow night, same time, 6:00 p.m.  Eastern time. 

Before we go, two important programming notes for you.  Remember to watch “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann tonight.  At 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Keith sits down for a one-on-one interview with Senator Barack Obama.  And keep the TV on at 9:00 p.m. Eastern for the premier of “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW,” right here on MSNBC.  I’m David Gregory.  That does it for us tonight.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now.

Content and programming copyright 2008 NBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. 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.

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