Guest: Joe Mathieu, Michelle Bernard
DAVID GREGORY, HOST: Tonight: the bitter pill for Barack Obama. His take on why small-town Pennsylvanians love God and guns has given Hillary Clinton new ammunition and raised new questions. Is he a modern-day Michael Dukakis? The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.
Welcome to THE RACE, your stop for the fast pace, the bottom line and every point of view in the room.
At half past the hour, the big questions about Obama‘s politics and bitterness, has this created a general election problem for him? “Smart Takes” takes on this controversy later and your takes as well.
The bedrock of the program, as you know by now, a panel that always comes to play.
And with us tonight, MSNBC political analyst and host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Rachel Maddow, program director of XM Radio‘s “POTUS 08,” Joe Mathieu, MSNBC‘s political analyst and the president of the Independent Women‘s Forum, Michelle Bernard, and “Morning Joe” himself, the host of MSNBC‘s “MORNING JOE, Joe Scarborough.
We begin, as we do every night, with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day, the headlines.
The headlines tonight dominated by Senator Obama‘s sociological analysis of Pennsylvania voters. He spoke last week at a San Francisco fund-raiser and was asked whether he can appeal to blue-collar voters. This is what he actually said. Watch.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing‘s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not. And it‘s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren‘t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
GREGORY: Obama‘s explanation for his explanation? Clumsiness. He later showed some defensiveness, as if to say he wasn‘t trying to demean anyone, and later aggressiveness, as in Hillary Clinton is feigning outrage to score politically.
Senator Clinton, it is true, has embraced this gaffe. She argues she‘s worried about the party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Democratic Party, to be very blunt about it, has been viewed as a party that didn‘t understand and respect the values and the way of life of so many of our fellow Americans.
We had two very good men and men of faith run for president in 2000 and 2004. But large segments of the electorate concluded that they did not really understand or relate to or frankly respect their ways of life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: This debate is on.
Joe Scarborough, what is your headline on the big headline today?
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “MORNING JOE”: That this elitist tag is going to stay with Barack Obama through the fall campaign.
If he wins the Democratic primary—and that certainly looks like right now he‘s the front-runner to do that—he‘s going to be hearing from this time and time again. And as Hillary Clinton suggested in that forum last night, Republicans are going to do what they have done to Al Gore, or, as they called him, Albert Gore Jr., or John Kerry, John Forbes Kerry, as they called him, what they did to Michael Dukakis.
SCARBOROUGH: They‘re going to turn their negative, which is the party of the rich, into a positive by talking about the elitism on the Democratic side, and they‘re going to keep hammering it home.
GREGORY: You talk about tactics, though. What does this tell us about what he actually believes?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I—actually, I have talked to so many Republicans that say, I knew this is how they talked about us behind closed doors in San Francisco and Manhattan.
It‘s what you say when other people aren‘t watching, when you don‘t think other people are watching or listening. This really does play into what people have thought liberal elitists have thought about them, that they‘re dumb, that they believe in God or guns or they‘re anti-immigrant or they‘re bigots and they‘re bitter.
So, I think that‘s the most devastating part of this. If he had said this in a campaign forum in Pennsylvania, it wouldn‘t be as damaging as the fact that he said this in a private behind-the-scenes fund-raiser in San Francisco.
All right, Rachel Maddow, your take on all this?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: My take on all this is that John McCain is sitting back watching all this, saying, pass the popcorn.
There‘s no greater political beneficiary of this fight than John McCain. It‘s an ancient political blessing to have political opponents who ignore you and who tear down each other.
Right now, the Democratic race, it could—it could be hard for John McCain. The race could be right now about who could best articulate a set of Democratic values and an antidote to Bush Republicanism that‘s a real different vision for the future.
But instead it‘s about who‘s Annie Oakley and who‘s an elitist. This is—this is great news for John McCain.
GREGORY: John McCain didn‘t say that Obama was an elitist today, but he certainly said that they were elitist comments. He wants to hang back just a little bit here for now?
MADDOW: It sounds like he‘s—he‘s letting the media and, frankly, Hillary Clinton do his work for him on this one.
MADDOW: It should be noted, the context of this.
Barack Obama was not saying that these are dumb values or bad values to have. He was saying that these are the values that people vote when they don‘t have a reason to vote their economic values. When they don‘t think that Washington can help them meet their economic goals, they ignore their economic interests when they vote and they instead vote this other stuff. It‘s a cogent political point.
GREGORY: Let me just go around the horn here real quick.
Joe Mathieu, your take, your headline on this story today?
JOE MATHIEU, XM RADIO PROGRAM DIRECTOR: David my headline is, did Barack Obama just call half the country racist?
I have been curious to hear the coverage over the past couple of days. Everyone‘s zeroing in on the comments about religion and guns. But there was more to that statement. He suggested that these bitter folks apparently who live in small towns across the country cling to religion, they cling to guns, and they also cling to antipathy to people who aren‘t like them or anti-immigration sentiment.
Now, whether or not he meant it that way, whether or not he meant to say that people in small-town America are racist unfortunately doesn‘t really matter in this case. This is all a game of perception right now. And if folks do believe that he was suggesting that people in these towns are racist, it could be a real problem in states like Pennsylvania.
MATHIEU: This is the exact demographic that Barack Obama needs to win the state of Pennsylvania. Whether or not he offended them, we will find out over the next couple of days when more polling data comes in.
But I can assure you that this is going to remain in the forefront of this conversation ahead of the primary.
GREGORY: I will get to Michelle in just a second.
Joe, you had another comment?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, actually, my comment was one that Joe just made.
You expect the Republicans to focus on God and guns, but also focus on the fact that Barack Obama believes small-town America is bigoted. He said antipathy towards people who aren‘t like you. And then he went on and he also talked about anti-immigration feelings.
The are the sort of things again—that is an elitist, looking down
your nose at people, suggesting, as Joe said, that they‘re bigots. Expect
to hear that this fall an awful lot from John McCain
GREGORY: Michelle Bernard, your headline tonight?
MICHELLE BERNARD, PRESIDENT & CEO, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S FORUM: David, my headline is that Hillary the hunter plays with real guns.
It‘s interesting. We have seen Hillary Clinton actually be able to paint herself as a candidate that‘s just like real America. And one of the ways she started doing that this weekend was talking about the fact that she grew up in Scranton and that her father taught her how to shoot back in a lake by a home that her grandfather purchased—or that her grandfather built in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
And it‘s kind of got me sort of scratching my head, because it‘s amazing. Both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama come from Ivy League backgrounds.
BERNARD: Senator Clinton was the person who received 21-gun salutes. She and her husband have made $109 million in the last eight years. But, somehow, she‘s been very good at portraying herself as the person who understands the plight of the common man and of Middle America.
GREGORY: Before we have any comment about that, I want to hear that exchange, that sound bite exchange, on this whole issue of gun culture. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: My dad took me up behind the cottage that my grandfather built on a little lake called Lake Winola outside of Scranton and taught me how to shoot when I was a little girl.
OBAMA: She‘s talking like she‘s Annie Oakley.
Hillary Clinton‘s out there, you know, like she‘s out in the duck blind every Sunday. She‘s packing a six-shooter.
OBAMA: Come on. She knows better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Does he diffuse it, Rachel, with that kind of joke? Has she played her hand too far on this one?
MADDOW: Hillary Clinton really is doing exactly what Michelle said, which is that she‘s trying to play herself as a candidate who understands the common person and in this case who‘s more likely to protect gun rights.
Frankly, I‘m an awesome shot. When I go to the shooting range, I blow people away, metaphorically speaking. But I wouldn‘t trust me with gun rights. I‘m way to the left on that issue. And your personal skill at the matter doesn‘t really say anything about your political take on it. Her record on gun control in the ‘90s says a lot more about what she‘s going to do about the Second Amendment than the fact that she knows how to fire a pistol.
GREGORY: More on this ahead. I got to get a break in here. More on this in “Smart Takes” and also in our three questions.
But still ahead right here, what did Obama‘s comments about small— town America tell us about what he really thinks?
And later on in the program, Hillary Clinton threw back a shot and had a beer in Pennsylvania over the weekend. Will voters say cheers? Tell us what do you think about all of this? Call us, 212-790-2299. The e-mail, race08@MSNBC.com.
THE RACE comes right back.
GREGORY: Bill Richardson dishes on the different approaches used by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama when they were courting him for his endorsement.
We‘re going to find out who was smoother—when THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE comes right back.
GREGORY: We are back.
It‘s time for our “Strategy Session,” when we head inside the war rooms of these campaigns to see what‘s working and what isn‘t.
Back with us, Rachel Maddow, Joe Mathieu, Michelle Bernard, and Joe Scarborough.
First, in the war room, Judas speaks. Bill Richardson tells “GQ” magazine he was on the verge of endorsing Hillary Clinton, but what happened behind the scenes ultimately made him back Barack Obama. The main reason? Obama wasn‘t afraid to pick up the phone himself. Richardson says Obama always called him personally, while Bill Clinton or surrogates always called on Senator Clinton‘s behalf.
And when Obama did call, Richardson says, he liked what he had to say.
To the quote board. Obama says: “Hey, man, I know this is tough for you. I understand loyalty. But you know what he said that I liked? He said, but this is about the country. This is about the future.”
Richardson says that was in contrast to the Clintons. “Hillary and Bill were always very proper. The discussions were more tactical. You know, if you endorse us now, maybe we win Texas, because you‘re Hispanic.”
Joe, it says something about the tactics behind the scenes here and courting these superdelegates. Pretty interesting.
SCARBOROUGH: Pretty interesting. If that in fact is a window into how the Clintons operate vs. Obama, obviously, it certainly puts Barack Obama in a more positive light.
Certainly, I like Bill Richardson an awful lot, but the fact that he‘s already endorsed Barack Obama makes you look at it and wonder if he‘s trying to help Obama out a bit.
The fact is, though, the one thing you do learn in politics very early on is, you can have surrogates. You can have other people call for you, but when you want to close that deal, you have got to pick up the phone and make the request yourself or go knock on somebody‘s door and shake their hands themselves. That‘s how you close them. If Bill Clinton is making these calls instead of Hillary, that makes a big difference.
GREGORY: There‘s also an aspect to this, Joe Mathieu, that there was an expectation on the part of the Clintons for him to stay within the fold. They seem genuinely surprised if anybody breaks ranks from the Clinton machine.
MATHIEU: Indeed. Loyalty is clearly a very big issue for the Clintons. This is something that Bill Richardson spoke to directly.
But I got a real kick out of him referring to the persuasive powers of Bill Clinton. He said he almost endorsed Hillary until he came to his senses, apparently, after this meeting when they got together to watch the Super Bowl.
And it just makes me think of hanging around with the wrong kid in school or something, these persuasive powers. What might he make me do behind closed doors? Maybe it was something in the nachos. I‘m not sure.
GREGORY: All right. Next up in the war room: Who would John McCain prefer to face in the fall?
Today, McCain brushed off reports that he would rather face Senator Clinton in the general election, saying, “I can look you in the eye and say I have not had those discussions”—in other words, about who you would rather face—“but now, naturally, because we‘re all political junkies, there‘s been discussions amongst these guys, well, you would do better here or worse there, or they look at different states.”
Michelle, if you‘re inside those conversations, what do you think is really being said about who McCain would rather face?
BERNARD: If I‘m inside of those conversations, I‘m saying that Senator McCain would absolutely prefer to run against Hillary Clinton, mostly because we have seen up to date that this Republican Party, this election cycle, is still very fractured. The troops are sort of rallying around Senator McCain, but there are a lot of conservatives who still do not feel that Senator McCain is their candidate.
And no one can galvanize every aspect of the Republican Party better than Hillary Rodham Clinton. Remember that vast right-wing conspiracy we heard about? Well, if there ever was one, it will come back together if she is the Democratic nominee.
Rachel, unless Barack Obama has what some critics said this kind of channeling Michael Dukakis moment, if this builds and he really does implode, maybe that‘s one thing, if he‘s a general election candidate, and he gets the nomination.
But I think John McCain would want to be the change candidate in a change year. He has got a better opportunity to be the change candidate against Hillary Clinton.
MADDOW: I think that Chuck Todd‘s analysis on this and your take on it right there, David, are spot on.
I think that John McCain has two choices about what kind of John McCain he can be in this campaign. He can be John McCain, the agent of change, the maverick, which is the character he gets to play if he‘s running against Hillary Clinton.
And if he‘s running against Barack Obama, he knows that he can‘t really compete on change grounds with Barack Obama. So, he has to run as the conservative. I think he would much rather run on the maverick side of things because of the bump he gets from the press on that.
GREGORY: Joe Scarborough, go ahead.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes. I was just going to say, that‘s certainly what everybody thought up until the past couple weeks.
Now, when I talk to Republicans quietly, they think that Barack Obama may be the guy who may be easier to beat. Again, you keep bringing up Michael Dukakis. It‘s like he‘s channeling Michael Dukakis, when you have Reverend Wright, and then you have Barack Obama fumbling that, talking about typical white people after calling his grandmother—suggesting she‘s a racist.
And now you have this. All of these things start adding up. And after a while, it looks like this guy may not yet be ready for prime time. And he sure would be an easy guy to pin as an elitist. And, again, that‘s how Republicans win in the fall.
MADDOW: Joe, if we could time travel and put Mike Dukakis up against Bob Dole, who would win?
SCARBOROUGH: Bob Dole.
SCARBOROUGH: Bob Dole—we would put Mike Dukakis in a helmet, and it would be all over.
MADDOW: In a year like this even, do you think?
SCARBOROUGH: That is the one thing. This should be such a huge Democratic year.
But you know what? This is what I have been saying night after night. We still have four months until Denver. How many more gaffes like this is Barack Obama going to make?
GREGORY: All right. I have got to take a break here.
Coming up, the three big problems Senator Obama may face in the fall. And what exactly would a Hillary Clinton presidency look like? Here‘s a hint. Take a look at the first Clinton presidency and you will get a pretty good idea. That‘s all from “Smart Takes.”
And it‘s coming up next here on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.
GREGORY: “Smart Take” time.
THE RACE rolls on. We have tracked down the most provocative, the most insightful, the most interesting, so you don‘t have to.
It‘s time for today‘s “Smart Takes.”
And here again, Rachel, Joe Mathieu, Michelle, and Joe Scarborough.
Our first “Smart Take” tonight: “The New York Times”‘ Bill Kristol says Obama‘s mask came off when he talked about Pennsylvanians being—quote—“bitter.”
To the quote board: “What does this mean for Obama‘s presidential prospects? He‘s disdainful of small-town America, one might say, of bourgeois America. He‘s usually good at disguising this. But, in San Francisco, the mask slipped. And it‘s not so easy to get elected by a citizenry you patronize. And what are the grounds for his supercilious disdain? If he were a war hero, if he had a career of remarkable civic achievement or public service, then he could perhaps be excused as an unattractive but in a sense understandable hauteur. But what has Barack Obama accomplished that entitles him to look down on his fellow Americans?”
Joe Scarborough, it‘s an authenticity question. Has he been hiding his real views, like this? Do you compare it as well to questions that came up about him surrounding Jeremiah Wright, Reverend Wright?
The thing is, I have been talking about strategy thus far for Hillary Clinton and the Republicans. I‘m not going to second-guess Barack Obama. You know how tired these candidates are? And when you go into a fund-raiser in San Francisco, and you‘re exhausted, and you‘re trying to explain why you‘re losing in Ohio, and among working-class voters, maybe you just pull out the first thing that—that comes, you know, comes to mind.
So, I think...
GREGORY: But this didn‘t seem very improvisational here. I mean, this seemed like something that he was thinking about as political analysis, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes. But he was trying to explain to people whose money he wanted why he wasn‘t winning.
SCARBOROUGH: And we have all—politicians have all tap-danced in private meeting groups.
I mean, thank God somebody didn‘t have me on saying, Scarborough, why didn‘t you win among such and such? Ah, hell, they‘re crazy. You can‘t account for those people. They‘re crazy.
SCARBOROUGH: And then everybody laughs, and they write you the check, and you get out, and you‘re like, I got to get back to the hotel and sleep.
SCARBOROUGH: What I‘m saying is, yes, this is a bad, bad technical mistake, but I wouldn‘t second—I wouldn‘t dare suggest I could peer into this man‘s soul and suggest that some mask has fallen off him. I‘m not willing to do that.
GREGORY: All right, our second “Smart Take” tonight: “Politico”‘s Mike Allen looks at a dozen reasons why bitter is bad for Obama, including these.
To the quote board: “It provides a handy excuse for people who were looking for a reason not to vote for Obama, but don‘t want to think of themselves as bigoted. It plays directly into an already-established narrative about his candidacy. Clinton supporters have been arguing that Obama has limited appeal beyond upscale Democrats, the so-called latte liberals. You can‘t win red states if people there don‘t like you. It undermines Democratic congressional candidates who had thought that Obama would make a stronger top for the ticket than Clinton. Already, Republican House candidates are challenging their Democratic opponents to renounce or embrace Obama‘s remarks.”
Rachel, I think the idea of the narrative here, that this is essentially what the Clinton folks have been arguing, that he‘s got limited appeal and he can‘t cross over here; is that your take?
MADDOW: I don‘t think that‘s the take.
I actually think that a much bigger deal is being made of this story by the media than most voters will make of it. Of course, if the media keeps making a huge deal out of it, then voters will respond.
Ultimately, though, you have got three senators running against each other. Two of them are fixtures in Washington. One of them is an outsider. It‘s John Sidney McCain III vs. Hillary “$109 million” Rodham Clinton.
MADDOW: And they‘re going to try to portray Mr. Single Mom as the elitist here.
The elitist tag is going to be thrown at any Democrat in any race any time for the rest of this century. And I just don‘t think that we should expect that it will stick to Obama worse than it would stick to somebody else.
GREGORY: I don‘t know. The problem with these sorts of moments is that when they reinforce narratives about candidates or stereotypes about candidates, it can be very hard to break. And we have seen Hillary Clinton go through this. And she has taken her lumps on this Bosnia story, because people argue it reinforces her trustworthiness, her authenticity.
MADDOW: But that‘s why the media is as much a part of this story as the story itself, because the media has decided that this is an appropriate mien to stick on Barack Obama. And a lot of the other miens that get discarded here are just as supported by the facts. This is the media.
All right, we have got to take a break here.
Coming up next, campaign news breaking tonight: The Clinton campaign has just released a new ad attacking Obama‘s bitterness gaffe. Gee, I wonder how they put that together so quickly? We‘re going to show it to you—when we come right back.
GREGORY: Welcome back to THE RACE. I‘m David Gregory. Still with us tonight, MSNBC political analyst and host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Rachel Maddow, program director of XM Radio‘s “POTUS ‘08,” Joe Mathieu, MSNBC political analyst and president of the Independent Women‘s Forum, Michelle Bernard, and Morning Joe himself, host of MSNBC‘s “MORNING JOE, Joe Scarborough.
Before we get to three questions tonight, some breaking campaign news; a new ad out tonight from the Clinton campaign trying to capitalize on Obama‘s bitterness gaff. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I‘m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama said that people in small towns cling to guns or religion as a way to explain their frustrations.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was insulted by Barack Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just shows you how out of touch Barack Obama is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m not clinging to my faith out of frustration and bitterness. I find that my faith is very uplifting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The good people of Pennsylvania deserve a lot better than what Barack Obama said.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hillary does understand the citizens of Pennsylvania better.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hillary Clinton has been fighting for people like us her whole life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: It‘s interesting, the ad wars are underway. Senator Bob Casey Jr. has endorsed Obama, put out an ad saying that Obama understands that Pennsylvanians are hurting. So now it‘s a question of authenticity and who really feels your pain, ultimately before this Pennsylvania primary. Now the three questions, and that‘s what we‘re going to get into.
Today, we‘re doing some a little bit different. Our three questions come courtesy of “Politico” and their reporting on what the Clintons wish they could tell Democratic voters. To the quote board, “Rip off the duct tape and here is what the Clintons would say, Obama has serious problems with Jewish voters; good bye Florida. Working class white; goodbye Ohio. And Hispanics; good bye New Mexico.
We‘re going to look at each of these arguments about Obama‘s appeal. First up, Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama 60 to 40 percent among working class Democrats in the Ohio primary. Now Obama is under fire for saying voters in Pennsylvania, which has similar demographics to Ohio, are bitter. Our first question in today, how big is Obama‘s problem with white collar voters? Joe Mathieu?
MATHIEU: I think it‘s a significant problem. If we‘re talking about blue collar white voters, which I think is the question here. And it reminds me really of Ohio. Think of how many people in that state actually believe that Barack Obama was a Muslim? This is before any of the bitter remarks that we‘re talking about from over the weekend. These chain e-mails that go out, people asking, well, is he a Muslim? We saw the picture on the Drudge Report of him in the traditional African dress. I have heard even more outlandish things, that he was friends with one of the 9/11 conspirators.
It goes on and on from there. Like I said earlier in the show, it doesn‘t matter if it‘s true, it‘s all about perception.
GREGORY: Joe Scarborough, here is a take, some analysis on what Obama has done on some of these sticky political things. You go back to Reverend Wright, he gave a speech where he didn‘t throw the guy under the bus. He tried to put his comments in context. And asked for a certain level of understanding about black frustration in America. In this case, he didn‘t make a very political statement here. What he did was offer more analysis on what may be motivating particular voters.
Can he get past that? Can he persuade working class voters, blue collar voters, that he really doesn‘t mean any harm in that or are they going to take a narrow view of him?
SCARBOROUGH: I don‘t want to say they‘re going to take a narrow view of it. But he certainly could have been more aggressive getting out front, explaining what was going on with Reverend Wright. He took a more cerebral tone when he needed to lean forward, when he needed to talk about if he wasn‘t going to throw Reverend Wright under the bus completely, he needed talk more passionately about his faith. And this was the man that brought him to Jesus Christ.
He needed to speak with his heart. The same thing here, he needed to lead with his heart and not his head. He‘s seemingly a bit too cerebral here in these explanations and that could get him in big trouble.
GREGORY: Michelle Bernard, cerebral could be a real critique against him. On cultural issues, sizing up culture is where Democrats seem to get into a lot of problems.
BERNARD: I‘ve got to tell you, the thing that I find fascinating about this entire argument with regard to Barack Obama is here is a black man who early on people kept saying, will we ever have a viable black candidate? Well, we do. His mother was white. He was abandoned by his black father. His mother is from Kansas.
This is truly the person who has pulled himself up from his boot straps, you know went to Occidental College, ended up going to Harvard Law School, is now our first viable black candidate running for president. And oh my god, all of a sudden people are saying, he‘s too elitist; will white working class voters vote for him. And I think what he have seen is that his statements over the weekend were unfortunate because people can read something negative into what he said, but in every state that Barack Obama goes into, when people start to talk with him and meet him and shake his hand, something happens and we see that the margins of difference between he and Senator Clinton get smaller and smaller.
They might not get any more narrow between now and next week‘s primary, but I do think that this could be—end up being much ado about nothing.
MADDOW: Can I say briefly that to a certain extent I think we‘re commenting on the caricature of his comments. If you look at what he said, what he said was not that these values of small town America and rural America and working class white America are the product of economic hardships. He‘s saying that those folks in America do not believe they‘re going to get any economic help from Washington and so they don‘t vote their economic interests when they vote. They instead vote these other things.
We‘re not actually taking that on as a political issue and debating whether or not that‘s right or wrong. We‘re debating the damage of the caricature of his comments. It‘s become this meta-narrative about how he‘s been described, rather than actually taking on the meet of what he argued. I think it‘s pretty unfair.
SCARBOROUGH: If you take on the meat of what he argues, it‘s even worse because he connects religion and guns to bigotry and anti-immigrant feelings. I don‘t know how Barack Obama really wants us to parse these words right now. If I can say one other things really quickly, the more people know Barack Obama, the more they like him? I‘m not so sure. He outspent Hillary Clinton four to one in Ohio and Texas and lost. He‘s outspending her four or five to one in Pennsylvania and chances are good the polls are going to break Hillary‘s way at the end.
MADDOW: He‘s not connecting religion and guns and bigotry. He‘s giving a list of things on which people vote on their economic interest. They go from things that I think he has spoken very positively of, on faith, to and bigotry and antipathy to people who are different than yourself. He just gives a list of things that aren‘t your economic interests. The whole context of the remarks is being ignored and we‘re talking instead about how his political opponents are attacking him for some things that they—
BERNARD: Can it also be argued, though, that maybe Senator Clinton actually, in a sort of backhanded way, actually agreed with what he said? If you go back and you look at some of the advertisements that she had out for her campaign in Ohio and the comments about Geraldine Ferraro, they were playing on those sentiments, kind of like, hey, don‘t like this guy, don‘t vote for this, quote, unquote, affirmative action presidential candidate. He‘s the reason why you don‘t have jobs.
In a certain way, she hasn‘t come out and said it, but her advertisements were actually getting at the same sentiment.
GREGORY: Can I make another point here, because I think this goes to something that Joe was saying earlier, Rachel, and that is you can debate the substance of what he said, but for a politician to be authentic and to be well received by voters, you have to be reflecting sentiment in a way that people trust you and have faith in you to be able to reflect that sentiment.
Isn‘t the problem here that he doesn‘t necessarily have that reservoir of trust in this particular voting group to say, I know what you‘re about. He hasn‘t walked in their footsteps. Can he really speak with such authority about what motivates them, their voting patterns, their sentiment?
MADDOW: The reservoir of good will and the reservoir of experience here is not necessarily with the voters that he‘s being accused of caricaturing. The reservoir of good will that‘s relevant here is with the media. When John McCain makes a gaff, the explanation that we hear about why it doesn‘t turn into a big story is because reporters understand him and they know that he didn‘t really mean it.
OK, well Barack Obama doesn‘t apparently have that, because what‘s happened here is he has said something that actually we‘re not discussing on its merits, and we‘re instead taking the caricature of it by his political opponents and talking about how much damage that caricature is going to do. You couldn‘t be more unfair and actually --
GREGORY: Right now, you are discussing it on its merits, which is why I‘m letting you keep talking because it‘s a fair point. Go ahead, Joe.
MATHIEU: The fact of the matter is, if he had only spoken to the bitterness angle with regard to small town Americans, we probably wouldn‘t be having this discussion right now. Small town Americans are bitter. I come from a town in the Northeast, a blue collar town that saw manufacturing jobs go away. People are bitter. People are angry about what‘s happening in Washington right now.
It‘s that connection, the way the list of words went here, clinging to religion, clinging to guns, clinging to antipathy against people from other places, people who don‘t look like them, that‘s where I think the problem comes in here.
GREGORY: Scarborough, go ahead.
SCARBOROUGH: I was going to say, Rachel continues to blame the media for this. This isn‘t about the media, who by the way, I think has bent over backwards and been helpful to Barack Obama more often than not. This is about words on its surface that re-enforces negative stereotypes about Barack Obama and the Democratic party as a whole. Republicans feed off of this. The second I saw these words come across my Blackberry on Friday night, I thought, good lord, this is going to blow up and be terrible, because it re-enforces everything Republicans have been saying about left wing elites since Adlai Stevenson ran for president in 1972.
MADDOW: But Joe, do you think that voters, when they don‘t think they‘re going to get any economic help from Washington, instead vote other issues and will vote against their economic interests?
SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it? Democrats lose because blue collar voters vote against their economic interests time and time again. And they lose on these very issues. But take, for instance—I mean my gosh, you can take the last campaign with John Kerry or Al Gore or even when we got elected in 1994, Republicans got elected to Congress again because they won something like 75 percent of voters who made 40,000 dollars or less. Those people, after two years of Bill and Hillary Clinton and nationalized health care and taxes increase, and gays in the military, and gun control, they didn‘t give a damn what our economic package was. They wanted somebody that connected with them on a gut level.
Barack Obama hasn‘t yet figured out how to connect with people on a gut level, whether he‘s at a bowling alley or at a San Francisco fund-raiser.
GREGORY: Let me just jump in here for just a second. I would let this go, because it‘s very interesting. I want to continue. We have got two other questions that is still around this issue, talking about Hispanic voters, Jewish voters as well. I‘m going to try to get to some of your e-mail, but this is good conversation. We‘ll continue with this when we come back on THE RACE. Don‘t go away.
GREGORY: Back with two more questions for Barack Obama. Jewish voters make up a small but very important constituency for Democratic candidates. Just three percent of American voters are Jewish and in 2004, nearly 75 percent of them voted Democratic. But Barack Obama has run into some problems with Jewish voters, notably for saying he would hold direct talks with Iran, even though Iran‘s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said he wants to, quote, wipe Israel off the map.
Now Former President Jimmy Carter, who has all but endorsed Obama, plans to meet with leaders of Hamas, the terrorist organization bent on destroying Israel. So our second question tonight, how important is Obama‘s problem with Jewish voters? Rachel, I asked you to consider this initially, particularly because he has got to perform at average levels for Democrats among groups like Jews. Can he do it?
MADDOW: Absolutely. This race is going to be tight no matter what. Nobody, I think, can seriously predict from this point out with any competence that this is going to be a blowout and you can take any Republican or Democratic constituency for granted. The fight is going to be over the voters in the middle, not the reliable voters on either side.
I do think it matters that Barack Obama has said that he doesn‘t agree with Jimmy Carter‘s decision and that he‘s not in favor of Carter meeting with Hamas. But certainly there‘s cases being made against Obama and Jewish voters, and he‘s going to have some ground to make up there, big time.
GREGORY: I don‘t know, Joe Scarborough, I think he‘s potentially missing an opportunity here. If you‘ve got a problem with Jewish voters, who think you might be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, for instance, not strong enough behind Israel, when you have a former president who has all but endorsed you planning to meet with Hamas. You may want to seize that and say, you know what, he‘s the former president, but I think that‘s dead wrong and he shouldn‘t do it, and he won‘t be at the convention if he does?
Do you think he needs to take a stand like that, particularly for Jews in the state of Florida?
SCARBOROUGH: Yes, David, you sound like a great political consultant here. Once again, I think you have Barack Obama being too cerebral for his own good. You‘re exactly right. Now is an opportunity for Barack Obama to link up with Jewish voters who don‘t trust him. A lot of Jewish voters don‘t trust him. That‘s one part of his problem.
The second part of his problem is George W. Bush lost a lot of Jewish voters for cultural reasons. They were scared of him because they thought he was a religious right wing fanatic. John McCain is not going to have that problem this fall. He‘s very pro-Israel. Barack Obama‘s loyalty to Israel has been questioned because he wants to hold direct talks with Iran.
And David, as you know, there just aren‘t a lot of issues more important to APAC and the American Jewish communities than issues like Iran, and whether you‘re going to confront Iran or not.
MADDOW: Joe, do you really think that the John Hagee and Rod Parsley endorsements don‘t have an effect on Jewish voters, looking at John McCain? Talked by the whacked out fringe of the right wing religious—the religious right. John Hagee makes a plausible case that the Jews need to be raptured in order for him to get what he wants as a Christian. And John McCain‘s is shoulder to shoulder with him.
SCARBOROUGH: I understand your point. Again, here‘s the issue that Barack Obama has facing him: unlike Hillary Clinton and John McCain, Barack Obama is not yet defined. Jewish voters have had a chance to look at John McCain for decades. And yes, there‘s an endorsement by Hagee and some other people that may cause brief concern, but they know John McCain. They know how he‘s voted. They know that he‘s been a loyal supporter of Israel. They don‘t know how Barack Obama is going to be, but they have heard he‘s talking about direct talks with a man who said he wants to wipe Iran off the face of the Earth.
Jewish voters will be a problem moving forward for Obama.
GREGORY: Let‘s look at another sub group. Michelle, I‘m going to come to you on this. Finally, Hillary Clinton has had the edge when it comes to Hispanic voters in the Democratic party. If you look at California and Texas, Clinton the Latino vote by a two to one margin over Barack Obama. “Politico” says Hispanic support is key for the Democrats in November.
To the quote board, “A Democratic nominee needs big margins with Hispanics to win states like New Mexico, California, Colorado and Arizona, though that could be tough against McCain. In the fall, Obama would be running against a Republican with a record on immigration that will resonate with Hispanics.”
Michelle, respond to that and then you had another point?
BERNARD: The point I was going to make actually fits in very nicely with this, which is that one of the things I think we are seeing that could be a huge mistake, with regard to the Democratic primaries, is that people look at all these different voting blocs as monolithic voting blocs. That‘s not necessarily the case. Earlier on, people said that white people, in general would not vote for Barack Obama. Then we started parsing down, in terms of identity politics, in terms of white collar workers versus blue collar voters.
People said, women wouldn‘t vote for Barack Obama. Women are voting for Barack Obama. We have heard young people wouldn‘t go out. So, I think that we need to be very careful of that.
GREGORY: Michelle, this is about electoral map and competition. The argument is whether McCain would have a stake to get a lot of these Jewish voters because of his support for Israel, if there are questions about Barack Obama. I think the same thing is being brought up to Hispanic voters. McCain has an appeal to Hispanic voters, based on his views of immigration. Could he poach some of these voters in the Democratic base, I think is the real question.
BERNARD: I think there certainly has to be a lot said about Bill Richardson‘s endorsement, to the extent that endorsements by other candidates help. I think that Barack Obama—that image of Senator Obama and Bill Richardson standing up together on the podium, when Richardson endorsed him, really helps Obama. To the extent that endorsements help, that might actually help him with regard to the Hispanic vote.
GREGORY: Joe Mathieu, quick comment, I want to let you get in here.
MATHIEU: I certainly agree with that. In the case of Jewish voters, yes, you have to have them. One word, Florida. You have to win the state of Florida to pull this off in the general election. With regard to Hispanic voters, I do agree, he has got one ace in the hole. Governor Bill Richardson will come in handy in states like Texas, New Mexico and California.
GREGORY: We‘re going to take a break here. We‘ll have e-mail tomorrow night. A lot of you have been writing and calling about this issue with Obama‘s comments. We‘ll have more of that tomorrow. I wanted to let this discussion play out. Coming up, prediction time. Everybody looking ahead to Wednesday‘s Democratic debate, at least a couple of us. Don‘t go away.
GREGORY: Welcome back, time to crank up the pressure and turn to our panelists for their predictions tonight. Still with us, Rachel, Joe, Michelle and Joe. Joe Mathieu, your prediction tonight?
MATHIEU: Expect an uber-ugly smack down on Wednesday night. The Democratic presidential candidate‘s debate may be the last opportunity for Senator Clinton to really dig in on these bitter remarks that we have been talking about for the last hour on this program, ahead of the Pennsylvania primary, just a little more than a week from now.
But I will tell you that Senator Clinton has to be careful not to overdo it. She‘s pulling this whole machine Kelly routine now, firing off rounds in the backyard in Scranton. That‘s fine at the moment. But if she keeps pushing this particular angle, there is great potential for backlash. The Clintons do not have a great association with gun use or gun control, as far as most Americans are concerned, and she‘s not really in a better position to relate to small town Americans than Barack Obama is.
We learned a couple of weeks ago she‘s got about 100 millions dollars in the bank with her husband, and she‘s been living in a bubble of a politician for the last 20 or 30 years, as the wife of a governor, first lady, as senator, and now as a candidate. So the potential for backlash there could be great.
GREGORY: She also has the issue of having campaigned—Whether she was fully behind free trade deals in her husband‘s administration, she did campaign for NAFTA and trade status for China when she was part of the Clinton administration.
Joe Scarborough, what do you see coming tonight?
SCARBOROUGH: David, I can tell you these bitter comments will follow Barack Obama to the bitter end of his campaign, whether it ends in Denver or whether it ends in the fall against John McCain. I suspect, as Joe suggested, that Hillary Clinton may not be able to exploit this quite as much as Republicans will in the fall. Expect to be hearing these comments time and time again through the World Series, into November right before the election.
GREGORY: Does he go after Hillary Clinton in the debate or does he just take time to explain himself and try to diffuse this.
SCARBOROUGH: I think he‘s trying to explain himself and diffuse it. If Hillary pushes too hard, he‘ll poke her and laugh, do what he did with the Annie Oakley line. For the most part, he wants to keep his head low and keep moving. They think they have more to lose than gain by continuing to battle this one out.
GREGORY: Michelle, what do you see tonight?
BERNARD: David, my prediction is that the bitter battle will not be Barack Obama‘s Kryptonite. I think he has weathered a lot of storms. He has done a phenomenal job campaigning. No one ever expected him to get where he is today. If he could weather Reverend Wright, which he has done by giving that phenomenal speech that he gave on race relations here in the United States, which has really led to a national discussion about race, I think he can most definitely weather this storm.
And quite frankly, if Hillary Clinton could weather sort of mis-remembering whether or not she was under sniper fire in Bosnia, he can weather this storm.
GREGORY: And he has been successful as far as we can tell right now, trying to talk over, be above the fray and reach voters directly and say this is old time politics here that‘s taking hold.
BERNARD: Absolutely, and I think that is something that will continue to resonate for the voters, particularly in Pennsylvania.
GREGORY: Rachel Maddow, your prediction tonight?
MADDOW: My prediction tonight is that John McCain doubles his fund raising haul. I think looking ahead to the April fund raising, I think it‘s going to be a huge month for John McCain, as the Democrats tear each other down. John McCain is quietly getting not only Mitt Romney to raise money for him. He‘s getting Mike Huckabee to raise money for him too. He actually sent out a campaign e-mail asking some of his donors to help Rudy Giuliani out with some of his campaign debt. That shows a level of confidence about his increased fund raising potential that I think we wouldn‘t have expected six months ago. I think it‘s going to be a huge month for him.
GREGORY: Does that reflect the fact that they feel a little bit worried that they have not spend enough time building up his own profile or preparing for the onslaught by Democrats?
MADDOW: At this point, he doesn‘t have to campaign. At this pint, Republicans are smelling victory as they see the Democrats have no sign of ending and as the Democratic candidates continue to tear each other down. I think the smell of victory is very much like the smell of cash to big money Republican donors. And he‘s going to start hauling it?
SCARBOROUGH: I don‘t smell victory for Republicans. Big Democratic year.
GREGORY: But I do think Joe—I think they‘re sensing more opportunity, maybe additional openings here with what‘s happening on the Democratic side.
SCARBOROUGH: There‘s no doubt. Republicans were scared of Barack Obama two weeks ago. They‘re not now.
GREGORY: We‘ve got to go. I‘m David Gregory. We‘ll be back here tomorrow night, 6:00 Eastern. “HARDBALL” coming up now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.