'Race for the White House with David Gregory' for March 20

Guest: Dee Dee Myers, Ron Brownstein

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  I’m David Gregory.  Tonight, the tough question,

even on a bad week for Obama, how can Hillary Clinton win?  The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, still in premier week.  Glad to have you.  This is where you come for the fast pace, the bottom line, and every point of view in the room, smart, fast and fun, we hope.  The foundation of this show, the panel that comes to play. 

Joining us for the first time tonight, former White House press secretary for Bill Clinton Dee Dee Myers, also the author of the new book “Why Women Should Rule the World,”  “The Washington Post’s” Gene Robinson, also an MSNBC political analyst, and also playing tonight for the first time, political director for Atlantic media, Ron Brownstein.  And back with us, the host of “Morning Joe,” Joe Scarborough. 

We begin, as we do every night, with everyone’s take on the most important political story of the day.  It’s “The Headlines.” 

Joe Scarborough, what have you got tonight? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, “MORNING JOE” HOST:  Well, I’ll tell you what, this may not be the top headline in the rest of the world, but as far as the political world, there’s no doubt people are talking the most about a story that has broken on “Huffington Post” and also ABC News’s Jake Tapper put up also on his site the fact that Barack Obama is still walking through this minefield that we’ve been talking to regarding race over the past couple of days. 

And an interview that he made in Philadelphia is now being linked to “Huffington Post” and ABC and in it he talks about his grandmother and, remember, of course, in his speech a couple of days ago, he had said that his grandmother said things that he felt were racially insensitive and things that made him cringe.  Well, today, according to the “Huffington Post” link, he’s now saying that what she did was just typical of white people. 

Let’s take a listen, if we have that sound. 


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Now the point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity, she doesn’t.  But she is a typical white person, who, you know, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn’t know, you know, there’s a reaction that’s been bred into our experiences that don’t go away and that sometimes come out in the wrong way. 


SCARBOROUGH:  And that just came out in the wrong way.  We, I think most of us believe Barack Obama has a good heart, a great mind, he’s a guy that wants to unite America, but when he talks about, quote, “typical white people”.. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  .it goes back to those independents.  Let me show you a poll, also, very quickly, David, that underlines the problem that he’s having since race has become the focal point of this campaign.  Among independents a month ago, he was well ahead of John McCain, leading among independents 46 percent to 36 percent.  That has switched, an almost 20 percentage turnaround. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now McCain has 46 percent to 38 percent.  This is only going to make matters worse. 

GREGORY:  All right.  All right, Joe.  A lot to chew on.  We’re going to keep getting to it. 

Dee Dee Myers, welcome.  Great to have you.  What’s your headline tonight? 

DEE DEE MYERS, FMR. CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  My headline is that Democratic superdelegates are hiding under their covers at this point.  I think for much of this campaign, Democratic insiders have believed that this process would sort itself out, that if we just kept going through primary to primary, that eventually a clear frontrunner would emerge and that that person would become the consensus candidate and that the superdelegates would, in many ways, break that way. 

But every day seems to bring more complications, not fewer.  We now see Senator Clinton has some momentum.  Polls among—between her and Senator Obama nationally are closing.  She’s showing some strength against Senator McCain. 

GREGORY:  But Dee Dee, is it—the momentum may be there, but is not just wishful thinking on the part of the Clinton campaign that there’s actually this anxiety among the superdelegates?  Where’s the evidence? 

MYERS:  Well, talk to them, David.  I mean, if you talk to them, there’s a lot of anxiety.  What should be the basis of their vote?  How should they choose, if, for example, Senator Obama has more pledged delegates, but Senator Clinton has more votes, or if polls show that Senator Clinton is, in fact, the stronger candidate against Senator McCain in the general election? 

I think things have gotten—and then we still have the unresolved situations in Michigan and Florida that will leave a lot of questions both about how those should be resolved and if they’re not, how does the Democratic Party keep everybody inside the tent?  So I think, you know, again, it becomes more complicated, the outcome becomes more fuzzy and superdelegates. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MYERS:  .are more nervous than ever. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Gene Robinson, what have you got tonight? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My headline is that the Democrats should remind themselves that they’re supposed to be running against John McCain, and not giving everybody reasons to vote for John McCain.  But Bill Clinton in recent comments gave what amounted to a campaign ad for John McCain, talking about what a great American he was.  And Barack Obama said recently that, you know, we can’t fight this on experience because if we fight it on experience, John McCain wins.  Well, it’s. 

GREGORY:  What is this about?  Is this about the Clintons building up John McCain right now to make a taller mountain to climb for Barack Obama? 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, they’ve done that before.  I mean, Hillary Clinton, remember, said essentially John McCain is better to answer that phone at 3:00 a.m. than Barack Obama is.  You know, I just think this is essentially a wrong tactic.  And it’s going to come back and hurt them in the fall if they’ve provided all the b roll for a bunch of Republican ads. 

MYERS:  But she. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Ron Brownstein, welcome.  What’s your headline tonight? 

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA POLICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, my headline is picking up on what Dee Dee said.  Michigan state Senate adjourned today for a two-week recess having reached an impasse over whether to reschedule a vote in June.  The Barack Obama forces have opposed a revote both in Michigan and Florida.  This is a tactical victory for them in terms of the primary, but it is real—as we would say in this network—hardball politics and they are playing—they could be playing with fire in terms of the general election and leaving some very bruised feeling among Democrats in Michigan and Florida if neither are allowed to revote, in part because of their resistance to it in both states. 

GREGORY:  But it was something that Barack Obama had to do right now.  If this was the linchpin for Hillary Clinton’s momentum, did he have to take this step right now? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, tactically, it’s a clear victory for him because without these two states coming back into the mix, it’s very hard for her to get ahead of him, even in the popular vote.  The Clinton campaign, I think, acknowledges they’re not going to catch him among the pledged delegates.  They were hoping that if they could get ahead in the popular vote, they could at least muddy the issue of what it meant for superdelegates to follow the will of the people. 

Now 700,000 votes down, it will be very hard without these two states coming into the mix for her to catch him.  So in that sense clearly a tactical success.  The longer-term implications, though, of bruised feelings within the state are something that we’ll have to keep an eye on as this moves towards the general election if he is the nominee. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But the Clintons are going to count Florida.  They may not be able to count Michigan, but they don’t really care what Howard Dean and the DNC says.  They’re going to count that 300,000-vote victory for them. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Joe, they don’t get this—they don’t get to make the decision, right?  It’s really in the mind of the audience. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, it is in the mind of the audience. 

BROWNSTEIN:  And the superdelegates and so forth. 


BROWNSTEIN:  .will get to decide what they count in terms of who won the popular vote. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I’m saying they get to argue it, though, and they will use that argument. 

GREGORY:  Right. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Expect the Clintons to use everything. 

BROWNSTEIN:  It would be much more ambiguous if they could have an actual vote they could point to. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We’re going to take a break here.  Coming up next, the McCain staffer was suspended for helping circulate a Web video about Barack Obama and his pastor, Jeremiah Wright.  Is it a preview on what Obama could face in a general election?  We go “Inside the War Room” next. 

And we know you have a lot to say about the election.  Call us 212-790-2299.  E-mail, Race08@MSNBC.com.  You get a chance to play with the panel, coming up on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. 


GREGORY:  Trading blows.  Obama hits Clinton on NAFTA as McCain hits Obama on Iraq.  Plus, Chuck Hagel says now is the time for a third-party candidate.  Is he right? 

“Inside the War Room” next. 


GREGORY:  We’re back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Time to go “Inside the War Room” where we pulled back the curtains in the presidential campaign and take you inside a closer look at their strategies. 

Back with us, Dee Dee, Gene, Ron and Joe.  First up, a look behind the scenes at how people outside of the political campaigns are inserting themselves into this race.  This is part of an Internet video calling in to question Barack Obama’s patriotism. 

Watch this. 


OBAMA:  He’s like an uncle. 

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT JR., TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST:  America’s chickens coming home to roost. 


GREGORY:  This is some ugly stuff.  The McCain aide who circulated the video but didn’t produce it was suspended this afternoon. 

Gene Robinson, this is viral.  This is out there.  A lot of people are watching this on YouTube.  Is this the kind of thing that Obama might be facing in the fall? 

ROBINSON:  Of course.  You know, and as you said, it’s viral.  You

know, there’s no antibiotic that’s going to work on it.  There’s no way to

there’s really no way to stop what people can do with, you know, video editing software that comes with your Mac and, you know, easy access and an Internet account that gets you to YouTube. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

ROBINSON:  .and you post the video.  You’ve got it out there. 

GREGORY:  But the point is, Dee Dee, as Joe just said a minute ago, this is the conversation that Barack Obama might be starting by making the kind of speech he did the other day, by talking about his grandmother, by talking about Reverend Wright, he’s going to be in this mode of having to talk about this, no? 

MYERS:  Right.  Well, I think he—if he’s going to change the conversation and change the context in which some of this stuff is seen, he does have to keep the conversation going.  And that’s really a really difficult challenge for him.  Because as soon as he gave the speech, he pivoted back, gave a speech yesterday about Iraq and another speech connecting the economy in Iraq today.  A very good speech, by the way, going after John McCain.  But if he’s going to, again, have some of the other comments that he’s made that have become, you know, pivotal to his campaign, he has to bring the country along with him.  And there’s no way for him to do that if he’s not part of the discussion. 

GREGORY:  Joe, go. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, the thing is, there’s a big difference between Barack Obama starting an honest discussion on race and a hate video like that which was just packed with lies.  It was—it suggested that Barack Obama didn’t love America because he doesn’t put his hand over the heart.  We first heard in the e-mail that was sent around that was a lie, a viral lie, that it was a pledge of allegiance, then we find out that it was, you know, something quite difference, it was the national anthem. 

There’s a huge difference between having a good conversation. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But there’s no doubt these sort of viral lies that go around are going to hurt him. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  .if people are not aggressively cutting it off at the knees. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Next up, team Obama takes a swipe at Hillary Clinton and her support or is it lack of support of NAFTA on their daily conference call. 



ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Just a month ago, she told Ohio and the rest of America that she’d been a critic from the beginning.  How is that even possible, Senator Clinton?  Just a month ago she said, as a member of the administration she didn’t have any position on NAFTA.  How is that even a true statement, Senator Clinton?  If this is how you treat the public and the truth when you run for office, how will you treat the truth as president of the United States? 


GREGORY:  This has to do, Ron Brownstein, with some of the logs that were released from the first lady’s schedule.  What do you make of it? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Do you think the Democrats are thinking of three months of this as what ahead?  No surprise that that John McCain is moving back ahead in a head-to-head polls. 

Look, Hillary Clinton was a member of the administration, she helped sell NAFTA as a member of the administration.  There are veterans of the Clinton administration, David Gergen, George Stephanopoulos, among others, that say privately that she was a skeptical of the treaty in part because it interfered with health care.  She didn’t want a big fight with AFL-CIO when she was trying to pass that. 

The larger point here is that both of these Democrats are steering by the rear-view mirror.  I mean they’re falling over each other to be more protectionist at a time when their constituency really increasingly include voters who benefit from our ties to the global economy.  And they providing openings for John McCain in the general election. 

GREGORY:  And you know, Dee Dee, the first thing that came to my mind is, come on, what is she going to do?  She’s the first lady of the United States, this is her husband’s free trade act, of course, she’s going to be out there selling it. 

MYERS:  Right.  And she did express—I was there, too, and she did express reservations about it, as she said, and then, once the president made the decision, she got on the team and tried to sell it.  And I also think, what’s wrong with saying, we put this agreement in place, we knew it had some downsides.  As we’ve gone on, we’ve seen more evidence of what those downsides are, so let’s make some changes.  Why do we punish her? 

SCARBOROUGH:  But you can’t have it both ways. 

ROBINSON:  The point is that there’s a vulnerability there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You take the good with the bad, though.  If she wants to take the good from the eight years that Clinton was in the White House, she’s got to take the bad, too. 

MYERS:  Right.  Well, I wish people would give her credit for some of the good.  I mean, I’ve been hearing how she hasn’t done a darn thing as first lady a lot more than I’ve heard credit. 

ROBINSON:  I think she takes that credit, though, Dee Dee. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, but it is, I mean. 

ROBINSON:  And you know, I think that there’s a vulnerability and they’re just really going after each other.  The only thing missing from that conference call was shame on you, Hillary Clinton. 

MYERS:  Yes. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.  But let’s keep in mind that even with all of the NAFTA bashing in Ohio from Obama and the questioning of where Clinton was, and that she still did win 70 percent of white voters without a college education in the state, presumably the principal target for that message.  She’s winning over two to one among those voters in Pennsylvania. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  There’s really not much evidence yet that this line of attack is paying many dividends in terms of the voters it’s meant to reach. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We’re “Inside the War Room.”  And finally, former Republican presidential hopeful, Senator Chuck Hagel and his booking with “America: Our Next Chapter,” out next week, raises the hopes of those voters holding their breath for third party candidate. 

Quote, “In the current impasse, an independent candidate for the presidency or a bipartisan unity ticket could be appealing to Americans.”

Joe Scarborough, which American? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I don’t know, but if Chuck Hagel’s the third way, I’m comfortable with a two-party system. 

GREGORY:  Is it—but Ron Brownstein, is there something he’s speaking to? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes, well, look, I think, in the abstract, a bipartisan unity ticket would have appeal to certain class of voters, but if you had a race with McCain and Obama, both of whom are running on unity messages themselves and both of whom have displayed a clear appeal to independents so far in this race, it’s hard to believe that there’s much space left in that environment for someone else to try to also be the more uniting candidate than either of them. 

GREGORY:  Right.  And that’s a problem for me, Dee Dee Myers, is you have two candidates who can appeal across party lines, reach out to independents.  You have to imagine some kind of scorched earth scenario on the Democratic side where somebody does have to come and pick up the pieces. 

MYERS:  Well, but the rules are so convoluted and stacked against any third party candidate, particularly coming in this late.  Unless that person is out there plugging into some unaddressed issue, as Ross Perot did in 1991, 1992, when he was talking about balancing the budget.  There doesn’t seem to be a great hunger for some issue that’s not being addressed, and so I don’t see a big opening for a third party candidate, particularly, again, given how stacked the deck is against a third party. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MYERS:  .candidate trying to get on the ballot and do all the things that you need to do. 

GREGORY:  All right.  I got to get in here.  We’re going to take another break. 

Coming up, Hillary Clinton breaks ahead of Barack Obama in a new poll for the first time since Super Tuesday.  And one columnist’s “Smart Take” on how Hillary Clinton weathered the storms during her first lady days and how it’s impact in her case for being elected.  That’s coming up. 


GREGORY:  Welcome back.  We’ve combed the newspapers, blogs, and columns, dissected the polls.  And now it’s time for us to bring you the “Smart Takes.” 

Still with us, Dee Dee, Gene, Ron and Joe. 

Our first “Smart Take,” new polling of Democratic voters, the latest Gallup poll has Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama by seven points, 49 to 42.  First time Clinton has held a statistically significant lead since just after the Super Tuesday primaries in early February. 

Ron Brownstein, what’s going on? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, sure, it’s—I’m sure it’s related at least in part to the controversy over Reverend Wright.  We’ll have to see whether it sustains.  But really, you know, this is what the Clinton campaign, their kind of one hope in this very difficult hand their playing, is that over time, as this race goes on, even if Obama leads in the pledge delegates, that perhaps she regains a lead and these polls also run stronger against John McCain and thus can make an argument to the superdelegates at the end that she is a better bet. 

GREGORY:  Joe Scarborough, is this just Obama off-message? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, it is.  For the most part.  And I’ll tell you, if you look at another poll that came out and you go inside the numbers with independents that we talked about earlier, Barack Obama is not only starting to bleed Democratic votes, but you look at the independent votes.  Those voters who a lot of us believed that he was going to be able to take from John McCain, they are now breaking John McCain’s way and going away from Barack Obama. 

Now that’s not really great news for John McCain, because it’s so early, but it is great news for the Clintons, who, again, will take every argument that they can take to the superdelegates in Denver. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So just this is not the great independent hope, at least right now, because of this latest. 

BROWNSTEIN:  But there is a long way to go, Joe.  And it will change many times between now and any event that actually has consequences. 


MYERS:  It seems like the best bet for any of the candidates is just to stay out of the news. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No, I’m just going to say to Ron’s point, I’m sorry, I was going to say, you say that, you don’t know that.  If the narrative continues the way it’s been over the past week or two and if he doesn’t get the race issue behind him, he’s going to keep losing those voters that you were talking about, Hillary Clinton winning and overwhelmingly in Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  And those might work in class voters. 

GREGORY:  Next up on our “Smart Takes,” the “New York Times’” Nicholas Kristof weighs in on the impact of Obama’s connection to the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright. 

He writes this, “Much of the times blacks have a pretty good sense of what whites think, but whites are oblivious to common black perspectives.  What’s happening, I think, is that the Obama campaign has led many white Americans to listen in for the first time to some of the black conversation and they are thunder struck.” 

Gene Robinson, do they want to have this conversation? 

ROBINSON:  Oh, you typical white people.  Just kidding, Joe.  Just kidding.  It’s. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What?  Am I the only white guy in the panel, Gene? 

ROBINSON:  You brought it up earlier.  So that sense. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, no, a conversation about race.  I’m sorry.  I’ll be quiet. 

MYERS:  There’s never been one white guy, Joe. 

ROBINSON:  It’s a—it is—it’s a glimpse behind the curtain in a certain way.  You know, everybody says, Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in—of the week.  And it certainly is.  That column was interesting, though, because Kristof did get at something.  You know, the question was asked, well, what was Obama doing in that church for 20 years?  Well, the answer is that, Reverend Wright wasn’t always losing these screeds about America and about politics and about the Middle East. 

You know, he was also doing kind of self-empowerment, self-help, lots of community-oriented preaching and work that, you know, has not been mentioned, except in a few places, including that column. 

MYERS:  You know, I was struck by, in Nick Kristof’s column today, was a brief passage where he said, quoted a white reverend of some denomination who attended Reverend Wright’s church in Chicago and said that neither he nor any other white person he knew that went in there ever felt anything other than totally welcome.  And I don’t think most African-Americans in this country could necessarily expect the same reaction in every predominantly white church.  I thought it was a real tribute to the other side of Reverend Wright. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, I’ll tell you what, though.  I was struck by the fact that I’ve had African-American preachers on my morning show that say this is not the type of talk that you usually hear in African-American churches.  And yesterday he accused peoples like Nick Kristof with his point of view of being white liberal racist to suggest that this is what you hear in most African-American churches, because it’s not. 

ROBINSON:  No, but that’s not the suggestion, Joe, that the black—that the African-American church is monolithic.  Of course, it isn’t.  You know, the church I grew up in, you know, a Methodist church in Orangeburg, South Carolina, was a really sedate church. 


ROBINSON:  The preacher who baptized me was very active in the NAACP.  But, you know, in terms of the sermons, there was very little hellfire and brimstone, much less politics. 

GREGORY:  I got to. 

ROBINSON:  But it’s different in some other churches. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I got this report. 

GREGORY:  I got to get in here.  Up next—I got to get in here.  Today’s news of no revote in Michigan is a blow to Hillary Clinton, but she may still have a path to winning the nomination.  Here’s a hint.  It runs through Pennsylvania. 

Plus McCain, the mensch.  76 percent of Jewish voters voted Democratic in 2004.  Could McCain pull some of that support away in ‘08?  We’re coming right back. 



GREGORY:  We’re back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, in our premier week.  Glad to have you here.  We’re back with the panel, former White House press secretary for President Dee Dee Myers, the “Washington Post’s” Eugene Robinson, Atlantic Media political director Ron Brownstein, and “MORNING JOE” himself, the host, Joe Scarborough. 

And now the part of the show where our panel takes up three questions.  Question number one was inspired by a grim picture that the “New York Times” painted today for Hillary Clinton.  Her advisers reportedly believe that Clinton needs three breaks in order to rest the nomination out of Obama’s hands.  They are, number one, she has to defeat Mr. Obama soundly in Pennsylvania next month to buttress her argument that she holds an advantage in those big general election states. 

Two, she needs to lead in the total popular vote after the primaries end in June.  And Senator Clinton is looking for some development to shake confidence in Mr. Obama so that super delegates will come her way.

My first question, how can Hillary Clinton still win?  Ron Brownstein? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Those are the ways, but that’s like saying, how do you become a millionaire.  You start with a million dollars and then you invest it.  The problem is, no matter—under any circumstance, from the Clinton campaign’s analysis all the way out, Obama seems almost certain to end this with more pledged delegates, and that would mean super delegates would have to overturn that verdict.  She would have to get them two to one in all likelihood, at least, if not more. 

And that would cause enormous turmoil in the Democratic party.  And you would need a pretty overwhelming reason to do that.  Whether Clinton can provide that in the months ahead by polling in the general election, by winning not only Pennsylvania, which amounts to holding serve, because demographically, it’s a state that she should win, but also by winning some of the states that perhaps Obama would be favored to win, North Carolina, maybe Oregon. 

All of it still leads you to the end point, where the super delegates would have to overturn a pledged delegate lead, and that would be something no one is going to do lightly, given the likelihood of the intense reaction it would inspire. 

One last point, Barack Obama, if he leads in popular vote at the end of this, will have won more primary votes than any Democratic nominee in history, because Hillary Clinton will have too.  And I think super delegates are going to have to think long and hard about overturning that.  Not that it can’t happen, but just to give a sense of the magnitude of what would be involving in reversing that kind of -- 

GREGORY:  That’s the problem.  Dee Dee Myers, there’s momentum and then there’s math.  The math keeps getting in the way. 

MYERS:  The math is very difficult for her, no question about it, and in some questions getting more tricky by the day.  The answer is, there still is a path, although a narrow one.  If she wins Pennsylvania, and she will likely win that, people will look and say, was her margin increasing among demographic groups that Democrats need to hang on to?  Did she win by a bigger margin than the margin she was ahead by a couple of weeks ago? 

Number two, how does Senator Obama navigate his way through the current situation that he’s in?  Does race become a bigger issue in the campaign or a lesser issue in the campaign?  And three, how do we resolve these questions about Michigan and Florida.  She won Florida by a couple hundred thousand votes.  That chips away at Senator Obama’s lead in the vote total. 

If she has momentum, a better rationale, in her view of how she can win a general election, and his support seems to be contracting, then the super delegates get back in bed and pull the covers up over their head and hope the whole thing goes away. 

GREGORY:  Question number two; Obama’s support among Jews may be vulnerable given comments like this from his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  Listen.


WRIGHT:  We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done over seas is now brought right back into our own front yards.  American’s chickens are coming home to roost. 


GREGORY:  We know that Jewish support is heavily courted.  Jews a big part of the Democratic base.  But look at John McCain, his trip over there, not only visiting the Kotel—the Hebrew for the Western Wall—also (INAUDIBLE), which was being hit by the missiles, talking about making Israeli/Palestinian peace a priority. 

We know that if you look at the numbers, Republicans have suffered in the Jewish vote back in 2000 and in 2004.  Is McCain hoping now for a weak spot that Obama may have among Jewish voters and trying to capitalize right now.  Gene Robinson? 

ROBINSON:  I think there is a danger there.  I think Obama has to make clear what his stated position is, which is support of Israel and support of a peace process similar to the more or less standard position on the Middle East, clear that he doesn’t endorse these kind of comments by Reverend Wright. 

And one should note that there are some influential Jewish groups and individuals who have been working through the Internet and other venues, you know, to emphasize those things and to kind of counter-act any impression that would form that Obama is anti-Israel. 

GREGORY:  You know, Joe, I was struck by something, George Bush back in 1998 visited Israel, did the helicopter tour with Sharon, but this was different.  Not only was McCain going to the Kotel, but he was also going to where the missiles were landing and saying, I’m sorry this happened to you.  We’ll try to see to it that it doesn’t happen anymore.  This was full-throated support. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it.  And John McCain, if you look at his policy through the years, he’s been a full-throated pro-Israel neo-con.  If you look at one of the issues that matters the most to Israel and matters the most to Jewish supporters of Israel in America, and it is Iran.  Israel sees their very existence threatened by Iran and it’s John McCain who has been most aggressively anti-Iran, saying a lot of things that have made a lot of diplomats very uneasy. 

Make no mistake about it, that will help John McCain with the Jewish vote in America.  That being said though, my gosh, there haven’t been many presidents that have been more blindly pro-Israel than George W. Bush, and he didn’t do that well with the Jewish vote in 2000 and 2004. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Let me get in the third question and I’ll come to you, Ron Brownstein.  The controversy swirling around Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  Clinton supporter Lanny Davis begs this question of America; “If a white minister preached sermons to his congregation and had used the N-word and used rhetoric and words similar to the members of the KKK, would you support a Democratic presidential candidate who decided to continue to be a member of that congregation?” 

My question to you is, Ron, should Americans accept anything less than an outright rejection of Reverend Wright? 

BROWNSTEIN:  None of us here are going to 300 million Americans what they should or should not accept.  I would say that if you look at what Obama did this week, although it’s clear that a single speech is not going to resolve this problem and it is going to be an issue with many voters, especially because he is still unformed clay to them.  They don’t really have that strong an impression of him. 

In many ways, his speech was reminder of his political skills and what his supporters like about him, because he did not take the easy way out of simply condemning this language, although he did.  He also tried to explain what it was in the experience of African-Americans of that generation that would lead someone to have some of those views.  He tried to enlarge the conversation in a way that was not necessarily the easiest thing to do. 

While this problem is not going away, and look how many times we’ve shown clips of it just in this last hour—


BROWNSTEIN:  It is a reminder that Obama is a politician that has certain skills about reframing issues and trying to change the dialogue in a way that a lot of Americans will also find attractive and have found attractive in the primaries. 

GREGORY:  Gene, you agree? 

ROBINSON:  I agree with that.  Also, what I disagree with—Lanny’s a friend of mine—but you can’t compare Reverend Wright’s sermons to the KKK.  I’m sorry, the KKK, they backed up their words with cross-burnings and lynchings and a reign of terror for many years.  That’s not a direct comparison.  You don’t have to endorse anything Reverend Wright said to see the difference. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Coming up next—quickly, Dee Dee, go ahead. 

MYERS:  I do think that Senator Obama has a lot of work to do in the Jewish community between now and the end of the primary season, and if he’s the nominee in the general election.  It’s possible to make progress, but he has a lot of work to do. 

GREGORY:  All right, coming up next, a new controversy that we’ve been talking about for Barack Obama involving race and his grand mother.  Listen.


OBAMA:  The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity, she doesn’t. But she is a typical white person who if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn’t know, there’s a reaction that’s been bred into our experiences that don’t go away and that sometimes come out in the wrong way. 


GREGORY:  We’re going to hear some of your reactions coming up next. 


GREGORY:  Welcome back.  We’re getting a lot of e-mail about our headline at the top of the show, comments Barack Obama about his grandmother and race.  Our panel is here to weigh in on your comments.  Dee Dee Myers, Eugene Robinson, Ron Brownstein, and Joe Scarborough. 

Nester emails this, “what those ultra-liberals should be thinking about is how the Republicans are going to use this fiasco to their advantage.  An ad with the ‘god damn America’ snippet and a photo of Obama Wright is more than enough to bury Obama completely in the fall.” 

Dee Dee, is that going to happen? 

MYERS:  I think, look, a lot of Democrats, including the Obama campaign, are worried about that, and that’s why Senator Obama gave the speech he did this week.  It’s why he needs to have an on-going conversation and try to change the context in which people see those remarks and hear those remarks and interpret things like what he said today about his grandmother.  We’ve stumbled on to this and it’s a very live and difficult issues for Americans, black and white. 

GREGORY:  You just brought that up.  Barry in Texas e-mails this;

“Saying his grandmother is like the typical white person means he is now done.”  Maybe a little bit of a hyperbole, Gene, but does he have some explaining to do? 

ROBINSON:  He does have some explaining to do about that.  A typical white person was, at best, an infelicitous comment, at worst just kind of bone-headed.  I think he should do some clarifying on that, because it certainly didn’t come out the way one hopes it was meant to come out. 

GREGORY:  Joe, is it the issue—

Joe, isn’t the issue here that it’s not just content, it’s that he still has to have this conversation.  He’s going to have to be in this mode just as he was the other day.  You can think it was a great speech, but he was in the mode of having to explain black anger, bitter in the black community.  It’s legitimate, but a risky conversation to be having. 

SCARBOROUGH:  David, you hit the nail on the head.  As long as everybody is talking about race, Barack Obama loses.  He is not to be the Dr. Phil in chief.  He wants to be the commander in chief.  And the greatness of Barack Obama was, up until this point, he transcended race.  Let me say this; people have been saying his candidacy is in danger or it’s over.  That’s crazy. 

This is like airplane crash.  Airplanes don’t crash for one reason.  Ten things have to go wrong.  If Obama has three or four or five or six more issues like the grandmother statement, he’s in trouble.  But if he has one or two issues and he can get beyond race, then it’s fine.  It will be a springtime shower. 

GREGORY:  Hey, Ron, I play devil’s advocate on that too, which is that he can have this conversation on race and maybe win with it. 

BROWNSTEIN:  A couple things.  First of all, so many of the issues, and I put them in quotes, that we’re discussing today, really behind them is the same over-riding question; is this going to be ultimately an election about manufactured and somewhat secondary disputes between the candidates, things that they said, or is it going to be an election about big issues at a time when I think the country is ready for an election about big issues. 

If I had to bet today, in the end, things about how to proceed in Iraq, what to do about 47 million Americans without health insurance, and how to deal with the economic situation are going to loom larger. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Ron, I know you’re a—

BROWNSTEIN:  I agree with Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I’m sorry, Ron. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Joe, I was going to I agree with you that ultimately Barack Obama’s promise to the electorate is that he can transcend many differences, including race.  And to the extent he gets drawn back into the same conversation, it is a problem for him.  But I do not believe, in the end, what we find fodder with every day is ultimately going to be what voters find most compelling. 


SCARBOROUGH:  That’s a mistake Democrats—I’m not saying you’re a Democrat.  That’s the mistake Democrats make every year, every four years.  John Kerry made it in 2004 with Swift Vets.  The mistake was made with Willie Horton ads.  There’s a small section of the society that elects people and these highly symbolic issues matter just as much as health insurance or Iraq. 

And so when Democrats say it doesn’t matter, this is just for talk radio, they miss the bigger point. 

GREGORY:  Let me—


BROWNSTEIN:  I agree there’s an impact, but, look, John Kerry lost for bigger reasons than the Swift Boat veterans. 

GREGORY:  We’ll get into that later.  I want to insert this; Raphael in Texas believes the controversy over Wright is unfair.  “If Clinton receives the bashing that Obama took within this past three weeks, will she be close to Obama on the national match up?  Give Obama some respect.”  Dee Dee, comment? 

MYERS:  Yes, I have tremendous respect for senator Obama.  This is the first time, though, he’s really been in the barrel, having had a sustained period of bad press, beginning really with the losses of Texas and Ohio.  I think we have yet to see how he withstands all this, how he weathers it, both as a candidate and how his campaign adjusts and moves forward.  I think Senator Clinton has had plenty of bashing.  I don’t think this is anything new to her. 

GREGORY:  Even Republicans tell us that you agree with Julia in New York, who says this. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would just like to thank Hillary Clinton.  I’m a registered Republican hear in Duchess County.  As we entered this presidential race, I didn’t think we had a chance, but I can see that we’re probably going to win, now.  Hillary has done everything possible to hurt Obama and also, even if she did pull it out, she also hurt herself.  So thank you, Hillary.  It’s our pleasure. 


GREGORY:  Gene, that could be Karl Rove saying that, you never know. 

ROBINSON:  It could be.  Look at the position that two Democratic candidates are in, though.  They’ve got to win the nomination.  So that involves a certain amount of going after each other.  It could get rougher than it’s been to this point.  And in the end, that could help John McCain. 

MYERS:  You know, the biggest issue that Senator Obama has faced has nothing to do with Senator Clinton.  The Jeremiah Wright issue was not brought up by the Clinton campaign and yet there it is. 

ROBINSON:  Did anything think we were going to get through this whole campaign without talking about race?  I didn’t.  Does anybody think we’re going to get through this whole campaign without talking about gender or talking about the history of the Clintons?  I don’t. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It’s better for Obama that we’re having this talk about race in March than in September. 

ROBINSON:  Yes, I agree. 

GREGORY:  You can play with the panel every weeknight here on MSNBC. 

BROWNSTEIN:  -- talk about on this campaign. 

GREGORY:  You can play with the panel every week night here on MSNBC. 

E-mail us, Race08@MSNBC.com.  Call us at 212-790-2299. 

Coming up next, our panel makes their predictions.  Vice President Cheney says he won’t be blown off course by opinion polls that show the war is unpopular.  Will there be a blow back for John McCain’s presidential bid?  Don’t go away.  This is RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE on MSNBC.


GREGORY:  Back now with panel predictions.  We’re with Dee Dee, Gene, Ron and Joe.  Gene, hit me tonight. 

ROBINSON:  Well, my prediction is that Dick Cheney is not going to win this week’s White House customer service award.  And here’s why—


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The surge has worked.  That’s been a major success. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Two thirds of Americans say it’s not worth fighting. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So?  You don’t care what the American people think? 

CHENEY:  No.  I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls. 


GREGORY:  That is amazing.  Sometimes politicians really tell you what they think. 

ROBINSON:  So?  That’s breathtaking. 

GREGORY:  All right, Joe, what have you got? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Tomorrow’s going to be a rough day for Barack Obama. 

You’re going to have a lot of the morning shows, I’m sure, on the networks and see a lot of newspapers talking about this grandmother comment.  As Gene said earlier, it was awkward, bone-headed.  But I think he’ll get around it.  My prediction is not about tomorrow.  My prediction is about next week.  I think by next week, there’ll be a new narrative and the media will be following it, and Barack Obama will be able to get some traction again.  But it’s going to be a rough two or three days. 

GREGORY:  You think it’s going to move beyond race? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think the campaign narrative will move beyond race.  I think we’ll be talking about something else next week. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Ron Brownstein, what have you got? 

BROWNSTEIN:  John McCain was in London today talking to Gordon Brown, the prime minister of Britain, about climate change.  Two days ago, he was in the “Financial Times” endorsing a successor to the Kyoto Treaty, with mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  You’re going to hear more of this kind of talk, emphasizing this issue more from John McCain.  At a time when Democrats are trying to tie him to President Bush, it is a high-profile way for him to underscore his differences with President Bush on this and subsequently on other issues. 

GREGORY:  Ron, I also think tactically about this.  A lot has been made about the Rocky Mountain west being a real area of potential for the Democrats.  But with this kind of position, there’s a lot of environmentalists, a lot of Republicans who care about the environment in the Rocky Mountain west, who hear what he’s saying and think, I like it. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Not only on the Rocky Mountain west, the West Coast, Oregon, Washington and even more distantly, California.  Three states that have already endorsed mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  Those are states the McCain camp wants to target, and also parts of the northeast.  This gives him something to talk about to some voters, many independent voters who have been very cool to Republicans in the last couple cycles. 

GREGORY:  Joe, does it hurt him at all with Republicans. 

BROWNSTEIN:  No, I don’t think so.  I think most Republicans realize that this debate is over.  Every time I say that, I get a lot of e-mails from Republicans who are angry.  But, no, the debate’s over.  And John McCain’s side has won.  All they can do is help him in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, swing states. 

GREGORY:  Dee Dee, what should we be expecting? 

MYERS:  Well, Senator Obama will have to deal with the race issue, if not every day, every week virtually for the rest of this campaign.  It will be his cross to bear.  He needs to continue the broader context of a racial conversation if he’s going to put this behind him.  But it’s here.  It’s raised its head, and it’s here to stay. 

GREGORY:  And you think that super delegates look at that and say what?  Either they don’t like the content or they don’t like the prospect of him having to have this cross to bear all the way through November? 

MYERS:  I think it may factor in, depending on how things go, depending on the results that we see in states like Pennsylvania.  Is this costing him support in constituency groups that Democrats need to hold on to?  That’s one consideration.

But beyond that, beyond the Democratic super delegates, there is the question that this is just something he’s going to have to deal with.  And a lot of things that he says that seem innocent enough will be heard in a different context now.  That’s just something that he and his campaign will have to deal with.  He has shown himself quite adept at changing the conversation and calling us to our better natures.  But the burden is on him. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That’s the opposite of what I said.  We’re going different directions.  The reason why I made my prediction that we’re moving on next week is because Americans like to talk about how they like to talk about race, how we need an honest discussion on race.  They don’t.  They don’t like talking about race.  And by next week, they’re going to be telling people, move on; I don’t want to talk about this anymore. 

BROWNSTEIN:  There are a lot of other things going on. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  At some point, people are going to figure out—yes, that the economy’s in trouble and that Iraq can be—

MYERS:  And this will continue to be the subtext of this campaign in many ways, regardless of whether people want to talk about it publicly. 

GREGORY:  And we’re going to have to leave it there.  Thanks to a great panel.  I’m David Gregory.  That does it for the race tonight.  Thanks for watching.  We’re going to see you tomorrow, same time, 6:00 p.m.

Eastern on MSNBC.  It’s the place for politics.  Stay right here. 

“HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews coming at you right now.

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