Guests: David Gregory, Chuck Todd
TIM RUSSERT, HOST: This is it, Pennsylvania. This Tuesday, the big shootout—Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton. And who is going to win? What does it mean for that battle for the Democratic nomination?
Here to put it all into context and perspective, Chuck Todd, the political director for NBC News; David Gregory, our chief White House correspondent, at 6:00 p.m. right here on MSNBC every night, “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.”
CHUCK TODD, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, NBC NEWS: Thanks, Tim.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, sir.
RUSSERT: Pennsylvania, Mr. Todd. What‘s at stake, what‘s going to happen?
TODD: Well, it‘s the margin of victory that‘s at stake. I mean, it doesn‘t seem like anybody believes that anybody other than Hillary Clinton is going to win. The question is, how much does she win by and how does she win? What is her coalition?
The exit polls are going to be very important in this case, because there‘s going to be a lot of people wondering. This is the first primary post Reverend Wright, post a lot of the so-called electability issues that Barack Obama might be facing.
So how did he do with working class white voters? Did his numbers go up or down in comparison to Ohio? What did—you know, what is his percentage with African-American voters? Did youth turn out, stay at its high levels, or have they been turned off by the last couple of days? It‘s been a very negative campaign.
So I think that how she wins, not just the margin of victory, but what her coalition is, all of those things are going to be taken into account because it‘s all being watched by a bunch of superdelegates. It‘s no longer about voters, right? This is about these superdelegates who are going to pick apart everything here, because both campaigns are going to pick apart everything to try to make their pitch to them.
GREGORY: As you go into this primary though, Hillary Clinton‘s campaign has to be thinking of what might have been. This is arguably the worst period for Barack Obama and his campaign, where he‘s made more mistakes, more gaffes, or had external events affect his campaign in a way that may resonate in the general election. And yet Hillary Clinton has not taken advantage of that period when there has not been a vote.
She‘s had her own difficulties with this Bosnia controversy, with Bill Clinton bringing that up again. And so she‘s had all of this time to run up the numbers. And what‘s happened? Two things.
The numbers have shrunk, the gap has shrunk in Pennsylvania. And her negatives, according to recent polls, are higher, indicating that if she goes on the attack, her negatives go up as well.
So she‘s in a bind. She‘s running out of plays to ultimately make an argument to superdelegates.
RUSSERT: A clear indication of the Clinton campaign concern about these negatives that David talked about, Chuck, she‘s campaigning with her mother and her daughter again, even saying to voters, go door to door and tell them I‘m not as bad as you think I might be.
TODD: Well, it‘s interesting. You know, in one conversation with sort of the new Clinton regime, you know, the post-Mark Penn era, one of the things that, now with Penn out of there, that there is a group of folks saying, you know what? We‘ve got to make Democrats want to root for her again.
There are people rooting when it comes to Hillary Clinton, but it seems to be a bigger group that roots against her. And they‘re trying hard to soften her up. It‘s difficult.
They‘re doing this with her mom, but they‘re also very negative on the air. And at that debate earlier this week she chose every time there was a tough question posed to Obama, and she chose to jump on it as well, almost to reinforce the negative. So I don‘t know how much good she‘s done herself because while, yes, she‘s trying to present her softer in these last few days, it‘s been a pretty rough presentation the last couple of weeks.
GREGORY: Can I just add to something here in this post-Mark Penn era? I‘ve spoken to some people who are now coming back inside the fold of the Clinton world who had been on the margins when Mark Penn was there, and now they‘re reaching out to them and saying, we need you to go out on the road as part of this campaign that they‘re calling “The Hillary Clinton I Know.”
Now, it‘s always a bad time for a campaign at this late date when you‘re trying to tell voters, no, no, this is the real Hillary Clinton. It‘s a problem.
Barack Obama has some of that as well, by the way. In this final stage before Pennsylvania, they‘re going on a bus tour. They‘re acknowledging internally, you know what? Having him up in the big rallies, on the big stages, you know, at forums and events, too detached.
He‘s got a problem being cool and detached. We need to get him into more intimate settings so in the diners he can meet people one-on-one, try to reach out to those white working class voters, particularly older voters in Pennsylvania, and let them feel some of the Obama charm one-on-one and see if we can close that gap a little bit in that group.
TODD: It feels like the Iowa strategy all over. Sort of the way Obama closed in Iowa, very much this way, where they pulled back from the big rallies. They went back to the smaller events, and it looks like how Obama‘s trying to close now.
RUSSERT: But hearing this, there‘s been this debate within the Democratic Party, these primaries are good for us. We‘re holding center stage, John McCain is relegated to the sidelines. Opposite view, this is going on too long. We are now getting very negative, very nasty, and it‘s really hurting and eating at the core of all the support for our party‘s nominee.
TODD: I think it‘s right on that edge right now. I think it‘s sitting there on the edge.
You know, next week John McCain is going on an Appalachia tour, basically, going to places that are very Democratic and very poor, trying to basically make a pitch to suburban white voters, saying, look, you know, he—John McCain is going to be a compassionate conservative. You heard it before, but, look, I‘m actually going to go to some places, moderate myself.
That week goes pretty well for McCain. And I think it‘s a very smart move strategically for them to be doing this. And the feeling out of Pennsylvania is that it‘s a mess on the Democratic side.
You may start seeing more folks starting to tip the other way and say, you know what? This is now on the bad side. You know, it had been—you could make that argument, OK, it was OK, and keeping McCain on the sideline is a good thing. Now you‘re starting to wonder if it is bad.
Howard Dean, by the way, has now come out and saying to superdelegates, hurry up and make a decision. Let‘s hurry up. He‘s now—July seems too far away to him now. All of a sudden he‘d like decisions.
GREGORY: I think, you know, there are some people who say, look, this is how it used to be in primaries. You know, it wouldn‘t be decided until later. But that was not in this 24-hour news cycle where the scrutiny is so intense. And let‘s be honest, you know, ABC got some criticism for the debate, but it was the 21st debate, and there‘s not a lot of room between these two candidates on issues.
And the voters, you know, they may say they want to hear about the issues, but how much attention are they going to pay to the difference on health care insurance and whether one is a mandate and one is not? These become personality issues and debates about electability and capacity and preparedness.
And one of the things that I think Democrats are getting frustrated about -
of course, yet again with the media—is, well, where‘s the scrutiny of John McCain? Well, when you‘re in the middle of a hard-fought Democratic primary battle, there is an ebb and a flow to this. And sure, Barack Obama is getting a lot of scrutiny right now. A lot of it he brought on himself, and that‘s kind of the natural cycle of these things.
RUSSERT: It‘s been a tough six weeks for the Democrats, because the focus has been on the weakness of their potential nominees.
TODD: Yes, there hasn‘t been any talk about their strength. It has been all on weakness.
I heard somebody earlier this week talk about, though, that, you know what? At this point in time in 1992, everybody was talking about the same thing about Bill Clinton—oh boy, that Vietnam stuff, the draft dodging, the womanizing. The Republicans are going to open him up—Bob Kerrey‘s line, open him up like a soft peanut.
But there was a lot of chatter, the same thing, that all of his negatives. And all of a sudden, he became the nominee, Democrats United, and the focus, it turned back on the—what everybody thought that election was going to be about, a change election about the economy.
You do wonder, could that happen again, no matter which one of these two survive out of this? We keep picking at their electability problems. And you can easily make the case that both of them are now equally unelectable.
RUSSERT: In 1992 at this time, Bill Clinton was in third place. George Herbert Walker Bush, the Republican incumbent, second place. And in first, Ross Perot.
TODD: And Willie Brown. The great legend of Democratic politics in California was openly saying, why don‘t we give the Democratic nomination to Perot?
TODD: Let‘s get rid of this Clinton guy.
RUSSERT: Old Willie “Stir It Up” Brown.
We‘re going to take a quick break. We‘ll be right back with more of David Gregory and Chuck Todd after this.
RUSSERT: And we‘re back.
You both brought up the big debate last week.
Chuck Todd, the Clinton people saying you can‘t whine, you can‘t complain. These are only questions from journalists. We never complained, we never whined when we got asked tough—what are you guys laughing at?
GREGORY: Oh, yes. It‘s unbelievable. It‘s unbelievable.
TODD: Look, the fact is, the better point that they were making is the
candidate that whines about a debate was probably the candidate that lost
the debate. In previous debates—and we‘re all aware of it at this table
when the Clinton campaign complained it was a sure sign that they didn‘t like the outcome of the debate. I think this time the Obama campaign is the one complaining, and clearly they don‘t like the outcome.
What‘s not clear though is whether Hillary Clinton got a bump out of this.
Yes, he took a beating. Did she get helped?
It‘s something that David brought up in the last—in the last segment. She—her negatives just—his negatives go up, but so do hers. And the problem is she doesn‘t have—she doesn‘t have any room to give. He still has room to give when it comes to his negatives.
RUSSERT: But isn‘t that the strategy of the Clinton campaign? They had to get Obama off that pedestal...
RUSSERT: ... not to be a different kind of politician, but rather just down in the trenches with her.
RUSSERT: And then say to people, you see? He‘s not any better. Look at this mano a mano. Who do you want to go into the fall?
GREGORY: You know, I think that‘s right. And I think that, you know, she was fortunate in that she didn‘t have to do that all herself, because she has not proven to be that effective at doing it herself.
He did it to himself. He goes to San Francisco and makes remarks about working class voters in Pennsylvania, and he has to answer for that. Jeremiah Wright comes up, he has to answer for that, and then the Clinton team jumps into that.
He did something interestingly tactically over the last few days though, during the debate and then post-debate, was to essentially say, this is the Washington game. See?
You‘ve got these reporters, you‘ve got these journalists who do the “gotcha” questions, and then there‘s Hillary Clinton who‘s right in her element, and twisting the knife. And see, I‘m not about that. So it‘s not only—it‘s an anti-Washington argument, but it‘s an anti-politics argument.
I think there‘s a strength and a weakness there. The strength is part of his appeal to younger voters, to new registrants, are people who don‘t like politics. It‘s not just anti-Washington, they don‘t like politics. And they don‘t think it‘s meaningful.
The downside to that is that he doesn‘t appear very political. And so he doesn‘t really connect with people as much, which is why I think he wants to do some more intimate campaigning, more retail campaigning, because the problem I think ultimately with his analysis about small-town voters in Pennsylvania is there was a cool detachment to him, a cerebral quality and affect to him that doesn‘t make him connect with some of these voters. And I think they recognize he‘s got to turn that around.
RUSSERT: Chuck, you wrote in “First Read,” your blog on MSNBC, about the toughness factor. That some Democrats were concerned that whether or not the questions are fair, you have to show a toughness in responding to them, because in the fall race you‘re going to have to be tough to be a Democratic nominee.
TODD: Right. I mean, look at the difference between how Hillary Clinton - - if she didn‘t like how a debate was going, she said so right then. Hey, you know what? I‘ve noticed—why am I getting asked this question? And it probably didn‘t play well with swing voters, but with here supporters, they said, well, see, she‘s tough.
He—yes, he made this argument, the anti-politics argument, but he made it the next day.
TODD: He didn‘t do a good job at the debate making it. He could have put the pressure on—I had—I remember I read something late last week where somebody said, you know, why didn‘t he say to Charlie Gibson, “How come you don‘t wear a flag pin?” You know, almost as saying this is—are we really going to judge people?
And he tried to make that argument, but, you know, he was so rattled by the questions and seemed upset about them and not comfortable, that he didn‘t make that argument clear. And so, yes, he got off message. And it‘s a fair...
RUSSERT: But you say rattled, but not to have anticipated he was going to be asked about Reverend Wright, or clearly asked about William Ayers, the Weather Underground, he had the response about President Clinton pardoning to—so he had some preparation.
GREGORY: Look, I don‘t think that he‘s a particularly tough campaigner. I don‘t think he likes to join the fight.
TODD: That‘s the appeal.
GREGORY: Well, it‘s a strength and a weakness at the same time. And you can—you can look at exit polling from previous contests and see that.
But, you know, I think you‘re right, Tim. I think he did anticipate—look at his speech on race, for instance. You know, the political thing to have done is, you know, you got clipped by a supporter who‘s getting you in trouble. You know, you disassociate yourself from the supporter.
He took a much more nuanced approached to say, you know what? I‘m not going to do that. I‘ve got a history with this man. You know, leaving one‘s church is not an easy thing when you have a connection, and I believe this guy. And you have to put him in context and understand that.
He was asking a lot of the voters to sort of absorb about Reverend Wright.
That‘s a different kind of political approach than being more combative. And, by the way, I just don‘t think he‘s been that effective in the debates thus far, and he showed it again.
I think he‘s cooler. I think he‘s more cerebral, more analytical. And he doesn‘t get immediately that, hey, I need a real counter punch here.
RUSSERT: The response to the ABC debate with the liberal blogosphere has been extraordinary. Really ratcheting it up. Charlie Gibson went on “World News Tonight,” reported on it the night after the debate. The number of statements on the ABC Web site, tens of thousands.
You‘ve been involved in a lot of NBC/MSNBC debate preparations. What‘s your analysis of what happened that night?
TODD: Well, I think that, you know, they—look, they made a decision. It‘s tough. And I think that—my guess is the ABC guys said to themselves, there are two audiences for this debate. One is Pennsylvania voters, but the other, by the way, is superdelegates, so we better make sure we ask questions at both audiences.
And I think that they went through and they feel like that they asked all those questions. You know, you do wonder if they changed the order a little bit. Kept the same amount of time, but changed the order. They probably wouldn‘t have gotten hit as much.
But I think what‘s interesting about what you brought up is the intensity of Obamanation, I guess to borrow a Red Sox Nation phrase. But they are a devoted group of people beyond which I don‘t think we‘ve seen. Really, we saw a taste of this in ‘04 with Bush and sort of his supporters. But I think what we‘re seeing a taste of, this is just a glimpse of what the Democratic Party fight could like if for some reason Clinton gets the nomination or appears to be on the verge of grabbing the nomination away from Obama.
MoveOn has already pushed—you know, an Obama supporter, they‘re already starting this petition campaign against ABC and other media outlets. You know, all of us are going to get hit by them. This is an intense group of supporters that may not accept a result that isn‘t Obama as the nominee, to a point that they may destroy the Democratic Party.
GREGORY: I‘ve got a slightly different view of this.
One thing is that I think institutionally, journalism is on fire. And from both sides.
People are spending a lot of time attacking us and trying to define our motives. And I‘m not saying that we shouldn‘t be held to account, and there‘s room for criticism in areas, but I think this goes overboard, number one.
Number two, I‘m not quite sure that they approached it to the various audiences here. Look, Obama has been in trouble. He deserves some tough questions and scrutiny.
There have been things that he has said in outside events that are really testing him. He is on the precipice of closing this deal and getting this nomination. He should face some tough questions.
Hillary Clinton has gotten a rough ride at various points because she‘s been losing. She went from this inevitability—to all of a sudden being on the ropes.
The press, as a body, likes to dissect why that‘s happening. You cover winners and losers differently.
He has been ahead. She has been behind. This dynamic could change.
He has all of a sudden fallen behind. Why? Let‘s examine that. Let‘s ask these questions that you are going to be asked down the line—how do you handle these things?
People may not like the content of some of these questions, but how he deals with these questions, how he deals with distraction, with perception, with external events, is every bit of what‘s he‘s going to face when he—if he becomes president of the United States. And I think it‘s illuminating for voters to get a sense of how he handles it.
RUSSERT: Another quick break.
David Gregory, Chuck Todd, the race for the White House. Pennsylvania this Tuesday.
RUSSERT: And we are back.
Was there anything that surprised you that was not asked at the debate the other night?
TODD: Oh, probably the one question that we—I think that, you know, when you look at everything that happened in the last six weeks, five weeks since the last debate, it would have been the Mark Penn. And trade in general, but the Mark Penn situation.
TODD: Probably the one thing. And, you know, look, we‘ve all been there. You run out of time, you run out of opportunities to get those things. But that‘s probably the one question, and no doubt the Clinton people probably happy that ended up on the cutting room floor. We‘ve had a lot of stuff end up on the cutting room floor, so who knows how that happened?
RUSSERT: Your sense, David, if I heard you right, is that frontrunners have—receive a different amount of questioning and a different tone of questioning in these debates.
GREGORY: Well, I think it‘s—yes, I think it changes. But I think the dynamic changes.
You know, frontrunners get a certain amount of scrutiny at various times.
And then—but I think it‘s unique to personalities.
I mean, that Hillary Clinton all of a sudden hit this area where she looked seriously imperiled, I think created a new media narrative of, how did this happen? What was the evolution of her slide here? And so I think that drove a lot.
I think that Obama now as a frontrunner went, look it, all the conversation has been, when is she going to get out, right? And now all of a sudden he‘s been buffeted by his own comments, his own gaffes, external controversies, associations, new questions about electability. And so, right, at this stage of his frontrunnerness, all of a sudden he‘s taking some tough questions. And it‘s time to see how he deals with them.
TODD: You know what‘s interesting? Is all the questions right now about Obama all center around one thing—who is the guy? And I think that—and that seems to be—you like always talking about the question mark over Obama‘s head. I think that question mark that Clinton is trying to introduce and that he himself is introducing—because, by the way, the answers are almost identical now when he‘s asked about these relationships with Rezko, with William Ayers, with Reverend Wright—that they‘re sort of, well, you know, I didn‘t—I wasn‘t associated with the bad things, I just sort of happened to know him and I got to know him this way, and you don‘t know this, or whatever.
It all centers around this idea that there are still some things we think we don‘t know about him. Maybe there‘s not, but that‘s the thing that...
RUSSERT: Remember, think way back to New Hampshire, William Jefferson Clinton, “risky, roll the dice.” This has been an attempt by the Clinton campaign to put that question mark over Obama‘s head. And now it‘s flashing.
There‘s enough things that he has said, that Clinton has said. They want people to take a pause saying, do we really want to go forward with this man as our nominee?
GREGORY: You know, and there‘s issue areas here, too. It‘s not just associations.
Look at his approach to the Middle East, right? There‘s questions about—in the Jewish community about him. And so here Jimmy Carter goes to meet with Hamas, the leader of Hamas, is criticized by the administration. And Obama had to ratchet up his criticism of Carter, meeting with him.
Carter has all but supported him. He‘s not a full-fledged supporter yet, as the campaign likes to point out.
But there are questions about how Obama would approach the Middle East. How would he approach Israel? Would he be more sympathetic to the Palestinians?
These are big questions inside the Jewish community. And you hit it. It is that question mark that leads people to be skeptical and suspicious.
And Jews, for instance, are a reliable part of the Democratic base. Keys in Pennsylvania and in Florida. And if he can‘t capture a large margin of them, if he underperforms in those base groups, it could hurt him.
RUSSERT: And New Jersey.
GREGORY: And New Jersey.
RUSSERT: And yet, in the debate, when Hillary Clinton said the umbrella of deterrence goes beyond Israel, I am stunned that more people aren‘t saying, are you suggesting if Iran attacks Saudi Arabia the United States is going to defend Saudi Arabia? What is that umbrella all about? It‘s received no -- very little commentary and scrutiny.
TODD: Well, I think a few things for that, one was, you know, it‘s the shiny object routine. I always say every time the press is about to actually do some serious policy dissecting of these guys, one of the campaigns holds up a shiny object. And William Ayers was this debate‘s shiny object, right? Everybody thought, William Ayers? And, you know, of course there‘s been multiple stories about the guy already.
But there‘s another thing. I think folks don‘t believe she‘s going to be the nominee, so no sense in going after her on this yet.
But I agree, it was—there was potentially—she was setting policy that she had not set before, and it‘s one of those things I think had this—she had said this three months ago—it could be what we‘re talking about post-debate.
RUSSERT: In a huge way.
The press blinded by a shiny object? Chuck Todd.
RUSSERT: We‘re going to take another break.
Chuck Todd, David Gregory, we‘ll be right back.
Pennsylvania‘s coming up Tuesday—the race for the White House.
RUSSERT: And we‘re back counting down to the Pennsylvania primary on Tuesday, Obama versus Clinton.
I am joined by David Gregory, chief White House correspondent for NBC News, and every 6:00 p.m. on MSNBC, “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.”
Chuck Todd, he‘s the political director for MSNBC and NBC News and CNBC and dot-com, and everything in the world.
Just looking at this race, give people, Chuck, a sense of where we are. Obama‘s ahead by 160 elected delegates. He‘s behind in superdelegates by 24?
TODD: About 22, 23, depending on the day.
RUSSERT: So he has a lead of 140 delegates.
RUSSERT: He has won, he will say, twice as many contests, 28 to 14. And the cumulative popular vote, he‘s ahead by about 700,000 if you add them all up?
RUSSERT: OK. I heard Governor Corzine of New Jersey on the MS—“MORNING JOE” the other day saying, if we have a big victory in Pennsylvania and we win that by several hundred thousand votes, and if you count the popular vote in Florida—not Michigan, because Obama‘s name wasn‘t on the ballot, but Florida, both names were on the ballot—we‘ll be ahead in the popular vote and shouldn‘t the delegates look at that?
TODD: Right. Well, I don‘t know how they get ahead in the popular vote if they only count Florida. And they still would struggle—for instance, they can put everything in now and be behind in the popular vote. Not by much, but they would be behind, if you threw in Florida and Michigan.
But let‘s say—look, we just did the math. In Pennsylvania...
RUSSERT: In Pennsylvania you expect how many people to vote?
TODD: OK. About 1.8 million, two million, approximately.
RUSSERT: She gets 55 percent.
TODD: And he—and then that means she would win by less than 200,000 votes. A 55-45 -- a 10-point victory, she would net less than 200,000 votes in her victory out of that. And that—OK, so then that brings it back to...
RUSSERT: To a half million.
TODD: ... let‘s say a half million. Florida, she won by about 300,000 votes. So she needs to find 200,000 votes somewhere else. Trying to figure out where she‘s going to find it.
North Carolina is likely to be a victory for Obama, potentially big, as big maybe as his loss in Pennsylvania. So he can make that up. Indiana is going to be very close either way, probably in a difference of no more than 20,000 to 30,000 votes in either direction.
But he‘s going to win big in Oregon. And then he‘s going to win in Montana. And he‘s going to win in South Dakota.
RUSSERT: But she‘ll win big in Kentucky and West Virginia.
TODD: No question. But Oregon will probably be about a similar-sized victory for Obama as Kentucky is for her. So everything seems to balance out. North Dakota—excuse me, South Dakota, Montana, together will be approximately the same as West Virginia.
So there—I don‘t see how the movement happens for her. She could win by 15 points in Pennsylvania and still met maybe 250,000.
RUSSERT: OK. One last question on this.
If she wins Pennsylvania, 55-45, 60-40, how many more delegates would she take out of Pennsylvania than Obama?
TODD: She might net nine. It‘s very similar to...
TODD: Yes, nine. Nine. Not 90, not 19. Nine.
RUSSERT: Because of proportional allocation?
TODD: Because of the proportional—and not only that. It‘s not just—there‘s one—my favorite congressional district—the 2nd congressional district in Pennsylvania has nine delegates at stake. This is Chaka Fattah‘s district, an African-American district.
He‘s going to win it big with 80 -- you know 80 percent. Might get 85 percent and get all the delegates. But let‘s say it‘s 80, 75 to 80 that he gets out of that district. He‘ll net five delegates just out of that district.
The Philadelphia media market has half the delegates. That‘s his strongest area. It‘s going to be just like Ohio.
You know, she won Ohio by 10 points. She only netted eight delegates out of the state because of the disproportionate play that delegates are awarded to African-American strongholds.
RUSSERT: Have you ever seen a guy get so excited about such small numbers?
TODD: Can I just tell you, it‘s all coming to an end in six weeks no matter what, so you‘ve got to give me something.
GREGORY: He can‘t add up his grocery bill. That‘s the only problem.
RUSSERT: If it‘s over 10 we‘ve got trouble.
David, hearing this from Chuck, this analysis, how does Hillary Clinton win this nomination?
GREGORY: It‘s very hard. I mean, it has to become about something else. It has to become about, you know, she‘s winning the big states to try to enfranchise voters in Florida and Michigan, and that becomes controversial.
It has to be about something else. And it has to be some kind of qualitative judgment that superdelegates make based on whether he‘s electable or not.
I think the only reason she‘s in the race is to fulfill the strategy that you talked about before, the Bill Clinton, that Obama is too risky, he‘s a question mark. The longer she‘s in, the more opportunity there is for him to make mistakes, for him to get greater scrutiny, and to try—for her to come out ahead in some way.
The problem is, she‘s not even capitalizing there. Her best argument on electability, she also pulls away from it a little bit saying, yes, he can get elected, when asked on the ABC debate the other night.
RUSSERT: Yes, yes, yes.
GREGORY: Yes, yes, yes. Yes, he can.
So, I think it‘s difficult. I think she‘s running out of real estate, and she‘s starting to run out of arguments.
RUSSERT: So, Chuck, if you go into the post-primary caucus period, you have about 350 undecided superdelegates. They each need some of those in order to have the number necessary to be nominated.
Your calculation is Obama needs a third of the undecided. She needs two-thirds.
TODD: A little more than two-thirds, right And about 70 percent.
RUSSERT: So what‘s her best case to those two-thirds of the undecided delegates, make me your nominee?
TODD: Well, the best case at this point is, look, he says he‘s going to expand the map, but there are polls in Colorado showing him behind by double digits. There‘s polls in Virginia showing him behind.
Well, he‘s already losing in Ohio. He‘s already not putting Florida in play. Pennsylvania and Michigan are suddenly precarious. Oh, by the way, New Jersey could be more competitive there.
That‘s the argument she has to make. The problem she‘s got is that, you know, her—the roll of the dice for these superdelegates, they‘re basically—the reason they‘re not with her now is because they decided she was a roll of the dice on electability.
They worried—now while her floor may be 48 percent, it was still that, what if that‘s her ceiling too? And that was the risk, and that the map would be exactly the same, turnout would be down. I think she has to figure out how to make the case that not only can‘t he not win, but, oh, he actually could cost the Democrats House seats in places like Pennsylvania.
You know, the thing that Obama has going for him is that there are a lot of superdelegates out there that are undecided that acknowledge, yes, he might lose. There‘s no question. This Colorado/Virginia thing, I‘m not ready to buy into it the way everybody else is.
But we do know this: African-American turnout is going to be up. Young voter turnout is going to be up. That means three more House seats in Louisiana. That means that maybe they steal a House seat in Mississippi. That means they have better shots at winning some Senate seats in some of these marginal sort of reddish/pink states. And we know we can‘t win those seats with Clinton at the top of the ticket.
So I think that that is sort of the—you know, it‘s funny, the Clinton campaign has been complaining about that. They, for some reason, have lost that argument about him—about party leaders. People may believe she‘s more electable to be president, but nobody believes she‘s the better party leader at the top of the ticket.
RUSSERT: And David, to make the closing argument to those undecided superdelegates, Hillary Clinton has to say, I can beat John McCain. He can‘t—here‘s the polling data. That doesn‘t exist right now.
GREGORY: Doesn‘t exist.
And she said something peculiar the other night in the debate. She said, “I‘ve got baggage and it‘s basically been unpacked and rummaged through.” But...
TODD: Wait, ever hear a candidate say “I‘ve got baggage”?
GREGORY: Right. But she doesn‘t—the logic doesn‘t follow, that, therefore, I‘m somehow in the clear.
Yes, she‘s got baggage. Yes, it‘s—and there may in fact be a ceiling as a result of it.
I mean, her polarization and her divisiveness is well-documented, well-established. He may have areas of him that are a question mark, but I don‘t see that there‘s necessarily an advantage for her in this.
RUSSERT: David Gregory, Chuck Todd, we‘ll be right with politics.
RUSSERT: And we are back—David Gregory, 6:00 p.m., MSNBC, “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE”; Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News.
If you look at this and sort of step back from the day-to-day combat we‘ve all been covering and witnessing, and going back to the Iowa caucuses, January 3rd—it seems like a century ago. But Barack Obama could very well beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination of 2008, something that nobody predicted, or very few people—I couldn‘t find anybody way back then.
You go through and read all those spec pieces, Chuck, in 2006, 2007, it was all Hillary is being coronated, this is going to happen.
How did this happen, that Obama could very well beat Bill and Hillary Clinton?
TODD: Well, I think it all starts with when they started their race. And they—when the Clintons started their race and they made the decision that this was about making her electable in the general—and it was almost as if everything they did in the primaries always was about one eye on the general, always was about fixing—you know, making sure she checked the commander-in-chief box, making sure she was tough, making sure she was strong. And they just ignored what a lot of Democrats had said that were working against her, the warning signs on the personal stuff—trust, honest and trustworthiness, her personal negatives, the fact that people—that she wasn‘t warm to folks.
People just—you know, unlike her husband, people might not have—may have been angry at him, but they always sort of weirdly liked him. Even when they were angry at him, the lovable rogue, there was never that sense about her.
And so they made the decision not to fix the personal characteristics, but instead go for this other direction. And what it led to, is that it led for a lot of Democrats who were uninspired by her to look for something else. And it created this opening that I think that some had warned could be there. In ‘06, I think everybody thought it was going to me Mark Warner. People forget that, by the way, that Mark Warner was the guy that was going to be the...
RUSSERT: Former governor of Virginia.
TODD: Yes, the chief Hillary alternative. He gets out. And within days, Obama goes on your show, on “MEET THE PRESS,” and says, OK, I‘m thinking about. And then the rush was on.
GREGORY: Well, here‘s another way to look at it as well, which is George Bush is what happened. George Bush, and the presidency of George Bush, made Democrats crazy in this country. And the war and the fact that he prevailed again in 2004, despite the fact that there were no WMD and that the Iraq policy was beginning to show real signs of weakness.
The Democratic Party I think felt completely weakened and emasculated by George Bush, Karl Rove and company, the midterm elections, until 2006. And then they started feeling empowered again. And so he has sort of defined what this campaign is about.
You know, you look at the Clinton strategy, it made a lot of sense, which is in running against Republicans where it‘s going to be national security, you‘ve got to have somebody who‘s tough, you‘ve got to have somebody who‘s experienced, who‘s a steady hand. You know, she voted for the war, all of that.
In fact, the presidency of George Bush led so many Americans to think, I‘m against the war, the country‘s off on the war track. And liberals and Democrats in this country want to go completely in the other direction. They‘re not thinking about the steady hand, they‘re thinking about, I want somebody who is completely different than this system, than this guy, than this kind of approach to politics.
That‘s a lot more Barack Obama, it seems, than it‘s Hillary Clinton. At least the way she‘s run her campaign.
TODD: You know, in retrospect, listening to David there, the worst thing that happened to Hillary Clinton was Democrats winning in ‘06. Because it empowered Democrats, what he was just saying, to realize they didn‘t need the Clintons to win.
You know, that was always sort of—I think that they were secretly pushing for a long time—it takes—you know, she even said, “It takes a Clinton to clean up after a Bush.” But the subtle reminder is that, you know what? We‘re the only ones that are really tough enough, that can win in this kind of environment.
Suddenly, Democrats won in ‘06 basically with a bunch of them running against the Clinton mold of politics, right? Because they were—on the issues, like trade. You know, a bunch of Democrats running against trade, running against the sort of—that ‘90s Democratic Party. Even getting former Republicans to finally cross over for the first time that hadn‘t done in the ‘90s.
And you wonder what kind of effect that had on Democrats. And you know, we don‘t need the Clintons anymore. And that may be why she had a harder time of rallying the superdelegates.
I still am stunned—and we should have all caught this on two things about this primary process. One, she only had 200 delegates—superdelegates early on behind her. You know, you would think this is the former—wife of the former president, there are 800, half of them should have owed something to them. And then the fact the caucus process went so badly for her.
Caucuses are made up of activists, people that participate in the Democratic Party for years. And they were rejecting her soundly.
RUSSERT: And now we‘re in a situation, David, however, where Democrats, who two or three months ago were saying, this is such a great year for us, we can‘t lose the White House, we have the economy going south, the war in Iraq, every issue that voters are asked about agree with us. Suddenly, these last couple of weeks, you talk to Democrats and they‘ll say, oh boy. Oh boy.
GREGORY: Right. Well, I do think that‘s natural. I mean, you know, there‘s so much scrutiny. All the negatives are playing out, as we‘ve been talking about over these past few weeks. So it does lead you to say, maybe we‘ve got the wrong horses here. Maybe this isn‘t going to work.
You know, I think it‘s more likely than not the Democratic Party does come together behind the nominee despite how passionate and at times divisive this primary battle and protractive this battle has become. But there‘s no question, you know, this does appear to be a Democratic year. But the Republicans I think were smart to nominate John McCain, because he‘s not your average Republican, and he‘s got a pretty strong brand identity as being a maverick and being anti-politics and anti-Washington. He‘s got a lot of cards to play here.
RUSSERT: Was it a smart calculation, or did they stumble into it?
GREGORY: I think they totally stumbled into it.
GREGORY: I like to think that all Republicans around the country thought, we should just move as one body here.
TODD: But, you know, John McCain, I can‘t think of a single voting group that is ecstatic that John McCain is the nominee. And that, I wonder, does that become a problem in the fall, that there isn‘t one voting group who was like—you know, with young voters and African-Americans, you have—with Obama—you have older women with Clinton.
What is the voting group that sits there and says, our guy? You know, basically...
RUSSERT: But conversely, who does he antagonize? The anti-war base.
TODD: And that‘s really...
RUSSERT: But, on immigration and on campaign finance reform and on global warming, there‘s not that anger towards him that would be towards some of the...
GREGORY: Yes, but Chuck made this point earlier. The left is on fire in this country. And I‘ve seen it from my perch at the White House, that early in the Bush administration they were disorganized and they were dormant. Even about the war.
And then all of a sudden, after ‘04, the left really started to get organized on the Internet and in a grassroots way. And they are active. They are ready to turn out.
But they‘re more than just prepared to turn out. They are really, really revved up. And I don‘t know if we‘re going to see that on the right this time.
TODD: And then that‘s—you wonder if that‘s a problem. But you‘re right. I mean, McCain doesn‘t antagonize anybody, and that‘s why Peggy Noonan had some interesting advice for him.
RUSSERT: Hold it. We‘re going to come back and talk about it.
TODD: All right.
RUSSERT: We‘ll be right back.
RUSSERT: And we are back.
All right, Chuck Todd. Drum roll. Peggy Noonan, “Wall Street Journal” columnist, says to John McCain, you should...
TODD: Pledge to serve only one term.
RUSSERT: One term?
TODD: It would take away the age issue immediately, but it would create that safety net with voters that, you know, if they have some doubts about Obama, that, you know what? Let him season for four years.
Let the Democrats season in general for four years. McCain is a good transitional president.
Now, the problem with that is no president ever wants to be a transitional president. Every president believes they‘re transformational. But, you know, with McCain, with the age thing, it could be a unique way to do it.
RUSSERT: He would be 72...
RUSSERT: ... the oldest person to assume the presidency in a first term.
TODD: And it would be interesting, but how would he announce it? I‘ve thought about this. I remember thinking—there were some rumors that Wesley Clark was thinking about saying, you know, I‘d be only a one-term president, or something like that. And the idea is you say, I‘m going to take the politics out of the presidency.
You know, a lot of times you see first-term presidents, and they immediately have to pander to this interest group and pander to that interest group. You know what? I know—you know, I‘m not going to sit here and pretend that age isn‘t an issue, I‘m just going to do one term. We‘ve got a lot of work to do, but I‘m going to immediately take the politics out of it.
Now, the problem is you also immediately become a lame duck. You have Mitt Romney immediately running for president, and probably 25 other Republicans.
GREGORY: There‘s only two other words to consider, and that‘s ambition.
How many people want the presidency?
RUSSERT: I‘m going to do what‘s right for the country for the next four years.
RUSSERT: And then you bring people in the room and say, all right, let‘s do something on Social Security...
RUSSERT: ... let‘s do something on energy independence. And they all look at him and say, easy for you to say. You‘re not running for reelection.
TODD: Right, yes.
RUSSERT: But it is a novel idea.
TODD: It‘s not a bad idea, and it does create the safety net, again, because of what you have brought up about what Clinton‘s done to Obama—the flashing (ph) question.
RUSSERT: And, if you do well and you make bold decisions, and you have a 70 percent approval rating...
TODD: Why not?
RUSSERT: ... you know, if the people want it...
GREGORY: That was a long time ago.
TODD: Here‘s the thing. It‘s not unlike what the Arnold pledge was. You know, Arnold didn‘t say he wanted to be governor that long.
TODD: He just was going to come in, in the recall. And, you know, he never acted like he was going to run again. And then all of a sudden...
GREGORY: He can do a right of first refusal on the second term.
RUSSERT: David, I want to pick up about the energy you‘re sensing from your reporter‘s perspective on the left. It is interesting. When you talk to some of the McCain folks, they‘re not pollyannish. They see these polls tight now, but they say after Labor Day, and there is one Democratic nominee, every day we‘re going to have to deal with the economy is in trouble, the housing market‘s in trouble, the stock market is uneasy, the war in Iraq goes on into year six. And voters want change.
RUSSERT: Incoming all day long.
GREGORY: This is where politics gets kind of simple. Do you like the war?
Oh, you don‘t. OK.
Do you like the direction the country‘s going? Oh, you don‘t.
Do you like our—the coarsening of our culture and how that‘s going? Oh, you don‘t like that?
How‘s the economy treating you?
And it‘s, are you better off now than you were four, eight years ago? And this is what the Republicans have brought you.
I think it‘s very, very difficult. And the best shot that McCain has is to say, you know, I‘m not really like those guys. I‘m more of a maverick.
But it‘s going to be hard, particularly because it‘s a definition issue. And the left, I think, if the left is more organized and better organized, they have an opportunity to really define the candidate.
It‘s interesting. Even now he‘s getting defined as being so close to Bush on the war and the continuation of the Bush years, when we all know—I was there early on with the level of enmity between the McCain and Bush camps. And whether it was torture or campaign finance reform or climate change, these two guys were completely at odds. But in the final years on Iraq they came closely together, and that may be what voters remember.
TODD: A new ad campaign, it‘s only been running on cable, on the cable news channels, that shows Bush comments about the economy and McCain comments about the economy using the exact same language and starting to create that merge.
RUSSERT: Who‘s running that?
TODD: It‘s a liberal group, one that...
RUSSERT: A 527?
TODD: One of these 527 groups.
RUSSERT: Independent groups.
TODD: Independent groups.
TODD: Yes. Not a lot of money behind it right now, obviously, because it‘s only on the two—on the cable news channels for now. But it gives you a preview of what they‘re going to try and do.
RUSSERT: The McCain strategy has to be, we may have differences on the war, but you can trust me to be a steward and not do anything that would jeopardize our country long term. And on the economy, you know, I‘ve been around here. I can manage it and surround myself with very good people. And by the way, I know you want change, but can you really trust this other party to be in the Oval Office and make the tough decisions?
GREGORY: Well, and also that I, John McCain, am change. Look at my record in Washington. You know, I‘ve been around in Washington a long time, but long at the role I‘ve been playing.
TODD: And I think that‘s the important thing. He has got to not cede change. I think if he cedes change he loses, because change beats—in a change election, change has beaten experience every time, whether it was an unknown former governor from Georgia named Jimmy Carter, or it was some yokel governor from Arkansas in 1992, or it was some untested governor from Texas in 2000. Change beats experience. He‘s got to not cede change.
RUSSERT: To be continued—on to Pennsylvania.
Chuck Todd. David Gregory, 6:00 p.m. MSNBC, Monday through Friday.
TODD: Thanks, Tim.
GREGORY: Thank you.
RUSSERT: And we‘ll see you next weekend.
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