Guests: Farai Chideya, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Rachel Maddow, Tony Blankley
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, team Obama to wobbly Democrats, don‘t believe the hype about electability, it‘s Clinton that cannot win. Obama is pushing back and is pushing hot button issues in the run-up to May 6 as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.
Welcome to the RACE. I‘m David Gregory. And this is your stop to the fast pace, the bottom line and every point of view in the room. Every day of this race is game day. We are here to wrap it up and tell you what it means.
Coming up in the first couple of minutes you‘ll get your first preview of Keith Olbermann‘s interview with South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn. He talks about this growing right between the Clinton‘s and African Americans. Don‘t miss that.
On the road to the May 6 primaries in North Carolina and Indiana tonight we‘re going to have another special war room edition. We go inside the minds of the superdelegates and have their debate for them. Democratic leaders are saying again today they want the supers to choose in early June to wrap this race up.
The bedrock of this program, as you know, a panel that comes to play with us. With us tonight, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show”, MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow.
Playing for the first time today, MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell. Host of NPR‘s “News and Notes” Farai Chideya and columnist for the “Washington Times” Tony Blankley.
We being as we do every night with everyone‘s take on the most important political story today, the headline. My headline, tonight, as I just mentioned, the Clintons caught in a race storm. In South Carolina, the former president, you‘ll recall, appeared to dismiss Obama‘s success comparing him at that time to Jesse Jackson. This week, he claimed the Obama team was playing the race card against him. Well, now, South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn is striking back and warning of an irreparable breech between African Americans and the Clintons. He speaks to Keith Olbermann tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Here‘s a preview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMES CLYBURN, (D) MAJORITY WHIP: I said Bill Clinton needs to chill out. That was in January. At that point, everybody thought this thing would be over on Super Tuesday in February. And everybody thought at that point, that the nominee or the leading candidate for the nomination would be Hillary Clinton. That‘s certainly what I thought. But even then, I felt the president was saying things that would anger black voters and he should chill out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Clyburn noted during the interview with Keith Olbermann that he does not believe that Hillary Clinton is actually responsible for trying to take down Barack Obama on this issue. Again, more at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Keith Olbermann and Jim Clyburn, don‘t miss it.
On top of all this, Obama was burdened with the electability issue after this week‘s result of Pennsylvania, but isn‘t this is a bigger deal for Hillary Clinton. If she gets the nomination, and if it‘s not based on pledged delegate, can she rely on African American support and if she cannot, how does she win in November? That‘s my headline.
Farai, welcome to the program, your headline tonight.
FARAI CHIDEYA, NPR: Well, John McCain wooing black voters. We‘ve seen him do unprecedented moves this week going down to New Orleans, walking down to the Ninth Ward, really dealing with Hurricane Katrina. And in fact tambasting the bush administration. That was one move. He also went to Selma, talked about John Lewis and his sacrifices. Then on MLK Day, he went to Memphis. So the question in my mind is is he wooing black voters at a time when Senator Clinton is losing them or trying to play moderates and swing voters?
GREGORY: That‘s a question, is he actually playing to more independent voters, white voters even or moderates who want to see him taking a stand and it underlines his own authenticity as a candidate.
CHIDEYA: I think that‘s the case. There are African Americans who want options. Although black folks tend to vote for Democrats, there probably will be some black Republicans who feel like OK, I might not have to cross the party line.
GREGORY: All right, Farai, thanks very much. Lawrence, you‘re up.
Welcome to the program. Your headline tonight.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC ANALYST: My headline is health care reform is dead. We saw that headline before in 1994, the last time it was tempted by the Clintons. But influence Senate Finance Committee members Chuck Schumer, Jay Rockefeller, who is the chairman of the Health Committee on the Finance Committee are saying they will not be able to do health care reforms next year if a Democrat wins the White House. Jay Rockefeller says there is no money to do that. And so if you‘ve been basing your vote out there on the difference, the one sentence difference, between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, on health care, you‘re wasting your vote. Look for something else. Health care reform is going nowhere.
GREGORY: Just because they can‘t do it in the first year doesn‘t mean it won‘t be a big issue past that.
O‘DONNELL: The only time you can do something big is the first year, David, in that first 18 months. If it doesn‘t get done that, as the Clinton presidency showed, it will not get done.
GREGORY: And there would be a price to pay for the Democrats if they can‘t deliver on that now, is that your view?
O‘DONNELL: I don‘t think there is. The public has been through it 40 years. Of Democrats running for president saying I am going to do this, they get elected and never do.
GREGORY: All right. Rachel, what do you have tonight?
RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA: In one 24 hour news cycle, John McCain called Barack Obama a Sunni extremist, a Nicaraguan leftist and an Asian dictator. Talk about throwing the kitchen sink despite John McCain‘s clean campaign pledge. In one 24 hour period. Today, for example, he called Barack Obama the presidential candidate of Hamas, he called Barack Obama, the presidential candidate of Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista guy, and yesterday, in response to White House allegations that North Korea took its technology to Syria, John McCain said that created an expectation that Barack Obama would have to explain himself on wanting to talk to Kim Jong-Il.
That‘s three explosive allegations and correlations there made by John McCain and I found them pretty surprising.
GREGORY: What‘s the smart reaction if you‘re Barack Obama, Rachel?
MADDOW: I think that you make fun of it. I honestly think the best way is to line them out and say you know what? If you think I‘m Hamas and a Sandinista and a North Korean dictator, let‘s argue on those grounds, but I‘m going to talk about policy for the better of the American people.
GREGORY: All right. Tony Blankley, what have you got tonight?
TONY BLANKLEY, “WASHINGTON TIMES”: My headline is that DC-based superdelegates are quietly sticking with Obama. These are the undeclared ones. Now, that‘s what I‘m hearing from friends on the hill. On the other hand, I‘m hearing that some of the state-based superdelegates are worried about what Obama‘s effects might be down ticket. So they are a little queasier while the DC-based ones can‘t imagine turning on the African American candidate and what it means historically for the party. The beginning of a different set of perceptions between the Democratic congressmen who are superdelegates state Democratic Party officials.
GREGORY: A lot to get to as we continue here in the hour. Up next, we‘re going to go inside the war room. New polls out of Indiana. Is Hillary Clinton getting a post Pennsylvania bump? We‘ll examine later on. The superdelegate factor.
What are they waiting for? RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE will be right back.
GREGORY: We‘re back and going into the war room to look at the campaign strategies of all the candidates and what‘s working and what‘s not. Who‘s got the upper hand today. Back with us, Rachael, Lawrence, Farai and Tony.
First up, Clinton closing the gap in Obama, Indiana territory according to the latest polls. Obama and Clinton in a virtual tie, 48 to 47 in a “South Bend Tribune Poll.” Obama leads 41 to 38 in the latest “Indianapolis Star” poll. And this is worth noting. Barack Obama in a head to head matchup against John McCain, he is leading by eight points. Forty-nine to forty-one. Rachel, what do you think of it all?
MADDOW: I think Indiana is going to turn out to be way more surprising than anybody knows. We hadn‘t seen a ton of polling heading into it. Nobody thought Indiana would be important in this point of the race. They thought they would be so late in the game that they would be out of the running. I think Indiana is starting to take shape. They are going to be bowled over by the attention paid to them by these two campaigns in the next two weeks.
GREGORY: Lawrence, you‘ve watched what the Clinton campaign has been saying. They‘re like, look, this the Obama territory here. He‘s big in the media market here in the northeastern part of the state. He is well-known. They are trying to down play their expectations, but she‘s got a similar demographics to Pennsylvania in Indiana that she could capitalize on.
LAWRENCE: Similar demographics to Ohio and Pennsylvania and Hillary Clinton had a big lead in Indiana in the outlying polls a month ago and earlier. This is actually not a good sign for Hillary Clinton because the momentum has gone toward Obama and he‘s the one with the money. You‘re going to have to buy Chicago TV time to advertise in northern Indiana. Very, very expensive. Very tough on the Clinton campaign trying to mount the TV campaign there and have some money left over at the end of Indiana.
GREGORY: Tony Blankley, what about the fact that Obama is outpacing McCain there? We‘re having an electabiliy argument this week. This is a strong sign for him.
BLANKLEY: If that poll is not outrider, if it means something, it‘s amazing. Because Indiana is always just about the first state in the Union on election night they say well, again, Indiana went for the Republican. If this poll means anything, it‘s pretty shocking. I think the two primary polls, one of them are fascinating, one of them the South Bend poll only has five percent undecided, while the Indianapolis has 21 percent. I‘m surprised at the low level of undecided. They must have been really pushing for an answer.
None of the polls in any of the states, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania have had such a small undecided so early. So I‘m a little curious about the poll methodologies.
GREGORY: Next up, a sign that the Clinton camp is tweaking its strategy a little bit. Take a listen to Hillary Clinton on the trail in North Carolina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I‘m starting out behind, I‘m the underdog, but that doesn‘t bother me because I think America is worth fighting for and most people in North Carolina believe that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Farai, what do you make of this? Hillary Clinton wants to be the underdog, now she‘s the gritty street fighter, she‘s the brawler. How does she use this to her advantage in North Carolina where Obama is so heavily favored.
CHIDEYA: You can‘t take a shot of whisky every day, so she‘s decided she‘s going to go populist.
BLANKLEY: Speak for yourself.
CHIDEYA: You know, in this state, 40 percent of the Democratic voters, nearly 40 percent are black. This is a real hail Mary pass for her. So it‘s a good time to try new messages. Because frankly it‘s a long shot.
GREGORY: Lawrence, is there something else there? She has to have a strategy where she narrows the gap. Effectively the Obama strategy in Pennsylvania that didn‘t necessarily pan out in Pennsylvania, he still lost by 10, she wants to close the gap so he can‘t just repeat what she did to him in Pennsylvania.
O‘DONNELL: A lot of delegates up for grabs on May 6 in both Indiana and North Carolina. Hillary has to try to get them in both places. This underdog thing is what worked for her in New Hampshire. Coming the day after she said she‘s the front runner and that she‘s ahead in the popular vote starts to sound a little schizophrenic. But I think she‘s going to stay stronger on this underdog concept especially in North Carolina, where it‘s absolutely true.
GREGORY: Go ahead Tony.
BLANKLEY: She didn‘t say she was the front-runner. She said she had the most popular votes. This is her Rocky strategy which she used pretty effectively in Pennsylvania.
GREGORY: Let‘s talk about the Republicans here. It sure seems like the Straight Talk Express has taken the high road.
Take a listen to John McCain on the morning show condemning an ad put out by a North Carolina GOP group targeting Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This kind of campaigning is unacceptable and I‘ve done everything that I can to repudiate and I‘ll do everything in my power to make sure they stop it. But that kind of leadership is rejected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: The question is, is McCain really calling for a clean campaign or letting his surrogates do the dirty work? And Rachel, you pointed out at the top of the program, wait a minute, he‘s taking off the gloves when it comes to Obama playing something pretty similar out of the Bush playbook in terms of how they argue national security.
MADDOW: Yes, and John McCain realizes that part of the reason the press likes him is and part of his image is that he seems like a political high road kind of guy, but as I mentioned, he‘s also calling Barack Obama the candidate of Hamas.
And there‘s a problem with John McCain saying he‘s doing everything in his power to stop this from happening. As of yesterday, the head of the North Carolina Republican Party said she had not received a call from John McCain about this ad. So he may be saying in national media that he‘s trying to stop this thing, but it doesn‘t seem like he‘s trying to stop it very hard.
BLANKLEY: I don‘t care much for what McCain is doing, running against his own party, I don‘t think it‘s going to pay off in party loyalty.
But on the issue of race, I think he‘s completely sincere. The other area‘s where he‘s gotten tough with Obama are not race related. I think he‘s very sensitive to the race issue and he‘s sincere on this point.
O‘DONNELL: This is the kind of thing—sorry. This is exactly how he scores real points with independents, moderate Democrats and even liberal Democrats who like hearing McCain come out against this kind of thing.
MADDOW: Unless it‘s seen as something fake. Unless it‘s seen as him making a show of caring, but not actually working to shut this stuff down. That could boomerang on him.
GREGORY: Let me move on.
The Obama campaign announced today that a nationwide voter registration drive is said to kick off after the May 6 primaries. Is this a sign that Obama is not worried about the upcoming primary fight? Farai, where do you see him going with this particularly strategy?
CHIDEYA: Well, this strategy, this is an a amazing time for first time voters and new voters and so many of them have been brought to the table with the Obama candidacy. I think the past eight years have shown many voters have been demoralized. You have a situation now where more than three quarters of Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction. So you have people just entering that time of majority, whether that are in high school or college, they are looking for new direction. Obama has gotten very, very high response rates of registration. This is just a natural for him.
O‘DONNELL: Obama has to tactically move to the general election now even though he doesn‘t have the nomination locked up. He cannot tactically wait patiently until he gets that nomination to do national moves.
GREGORY: All right. I have got to get another break in here.
Coming up next, team Clinton hits back as the “New York Times” accuses of taking the low road in the campaign. “Smart Takes” coming up. Don‘t go away.
GREGORY: Time for the smart takes from the blogs, the columns, the interviews. We‘ve combed them all to bring you the smartest, most provocative take on the presidential race.
Still with us, Rachel, Lawrence Farai and Tony. The first smart take tonight, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman tells Senator Obama to select the theatrics of political campaigns.
To the quote board. “I know you find some of the ritualistic aspects of politics silly, if not phony. Your whole candidacy is about authenticity and you want to remain true to what you are or what you have become. But you have to surrender with a smile to the cheesy theatrics of American politics. I know you are cool. Lord knows you are cool. But you have to look like you are enjoying making a fool of yourself from time to time.”
Lawrence, what do you say?
O‘DONNELL: I completely disagree. I think this is a conventional view of what candidates have to do. We have examples of people who did exactly the opposite. I worked for a senator, Senator Moynihan who was a Harvard professor who impressed New York with intelligence and integrity. He got two thirds of the vote.
FDR wasn‘t out there stuffing hot dogs down his mouth all day long. You can impress voters with things other than your fluency in menus.
BLANKLEY: David, I have to say our friend Howard sounds really condescending to the American people.
The fact is that politicians, and I can say having worked for many politicians, the petty perquisites that they appeal to most to the journalists and the prerogatives journalists stand on, to be catered to. So, I think this is sort of an amusing statement by Howard.
GREGORY: All right, the second smart take tonight. Jeff Garin, a top strategist for the Clinton campaign fires back after “The New York Times” accused Clinton of taking the low road in Pennsylvania.
To the quote board. “On the one hand it‘s perfectly decent for Obama that only he has the virtue to bring change to Washington and that Clinton lacks the character and commitment to do so, on the other hand we are somehow hitting below the belt when we say Clinton is the candidate most able to withstand the pressures of the presidency and do what‘s right for the American people while leaving the decision about Obama‘s preparedness to voters. Who made up these rules and who would ever think they are fair?”
Rachel, take it on.
MADDOW: I think the issue here that he is getting out in a bully way is whether or not Democrats have values, not only about what‘s the right way to lead the country. But whether or not Democrats also have values about what‘s the right way to choose the presidency. I think a lot of voters have decided, a lot of Democratic voters have decided that part of what makes them happy to be a Democrat is they don‘t have a Karl Rove or a Lee Atwater on the Democratic side of the isle. I think that the tactics have become a values issue for Democratic voters and I think Garin is sort of missing the point there.
GREGORY: But Farai this assumes these are slash and burn tactics. Which a lot of people don‘t think they are by questioning his preparedness for the office.
CHIDEYA: Well, it‘s not slash and burn, but I cannot tell you how delicate voters are. There are studies that show people are personally, emotionally invested. It‘s almost as if you‘re calling someone‘s mama ugly. People have a very thin skin, some voters have a very thin skink so any attack is a cause for alarm and I couldn‘t vote for the other side possibly. That‘s where the Democratic Party is in real trouble.
BLANKLEY: David, I have never seen an election season where more people have more sensitivities about standard campaigning. It‘s not just on the Democratic side. Whether it‘s McCain constantly apologizing for this or that or other groups saying please retract a statement. I‘ve been in politics 45 years, this is very standard fare. And the American people like good muscular politics.
MADDOW: But I think part of the issue is that Democrats don‘t like the standard fare. That‘s one of the things the Democrats like about their candidates and it‘s one of the things Republicans like about John McCain too. Is that they at least say they are going to be different. They act differently than they say they are going to act, it disappoints voters. I don‘t think it‘s that unusual.
GREGORY: Let me get in here for just a second. Our final smart take tonight, Obama campaign manager doing some defending of his own, David Plouffe telling the “National Journal” that Hillary Clinton is the one who‘s electability is in question.
To the quote board, “She has a got high unfavorable rating. It would be the highest unfavorability rating for any presidential nominee in recent history. Fairly or not, the majority of voters don‘t trust Hillary Clinton. Those two points are related, obviously her unfavorable rating and the sense that voters don‘t find her honest or trustworthy. And I do think she has limited appeal with independent voters.”
Lawrence you see the Obama campaign trying to change this narrative that‘s come out after Pennsylvania.
O‘DONNELL: This is the one number that the Obama campaign is going to rely on in talking to superdelegates. I‘ve long thought it was the most important number in this entire campaign, for two years. Hillary Clinton entered this race with the highest negatives of anyone who ever entered a presidential race. She was at 48 going into Pennsylvania which is astronomically high. Went up over that into 54. I don‘t know how she manages to get that down, but she‘s going to have to in order to go forward.
GREGORY: I have to get another break in here. When we come back, another war room about the superdelgate debate after this.
GREGORY: We‘re back on THE RACE, I‘m David Gregory. Friday edition here and we‘ve taken you inside the war room. Now, we‘re going inside the back room, inside the minds of the super delegates. Still with us, Air America‘s Rachel Maddow, also an MSNBC political analyst, MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell with us as well, NPR‘s Farai Chideya, and syndicated columnist Tony Blankley.
First up, inside the back room; what factors are the super delegates weighing? Elizabeth Drew answers that today on Politico with a list of what Obama leaning congressman are considering. They are one, one, Hillary Clinton is too polarizing and could jeopardize Democrats down ticket if people go to the polls to vote against her. Two, switching votes would alienate the black base, arguably the future of the Democratic party. Third, African-American as voters will make a decisive difference in numerous congressional districts as well.
Lawrence O‘Donnell, take all of that into account. Listen to this as well; this is posted by the “Financial Times.” The Democratic party‘s super delegates, according to Howard Dean, have every right to over turn the popular vote and choose the candidate they believe would be best equipped to defeat John McCain in a general election. That was according to Howard Dean, speaking to the “Financial Times.” That‘s going to cause a bit of a stir.
O‘DONNELL: Well, he‘s absolutely right. They do have this power. That‘s the design. They are all politicians and all politicians exercise their power weighing the political factors. I completely agree with Elizabeth about what they are talking about. I‘ve heard them say exactly those same things, especially the drag on the ticket. That‘s the decision that most super delegates have been making already, who do they want on the top of the ticket, a very dispassionate decision in choosing between these two senators.
BLANKLEY: I think, regarding the congressional races, though, I don‘t agree with Elizabeth. Most of the black votes have been concentrated to make more black districts, so you don‘t have a big black vote in non-black districts. I don‘t that will affect. I think the first point is valid and certainly the second one, which was the topic of my headline earlier in the show. But the third point, I disagree with.
GREGORY: Rachel, real quick, this issue of pushing back and getting into a conversation about Clinton‘s electability issues, her own baggage that she says has been vetted but is still there. She‘s still a polarizing figure. How does team Obama get that in the minds of these super delegates.
MADDOW: They have to take that sentence out of everybody‘s mouth, that sentence that was there since Tuesday, which is, how come he can‘t close the deal. They have started, already, overtly saying, how come Clinton can‘t close the deal. There are so many different ways that you can argue for electability. At this point direct measure of it is which one of them is best at hitting John McCain. The two of them have been very reluctantly going after John McCain, preferring instead to go after each other. If people really are going to decide on the basis of electability, gives them only an impressionistic sense of how electable they might be.
GREGORY: Next up, inside the minds of super delegates—hold on, let me keep moving here. Inside the mind of super delegates and party leader Rahm Emanuel, who told Charlie Rose what he‘s considering when it comes to an endorsement. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: How the loser loses will determine whether the winner can go on to win in November.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: What do you make of that Tony?
BLANKLEY: In a certain sense, it‘s true, of course. You have Reagan in ‘76, who endorsed Ford, but didn‘t campaign for him. You have Kennedy in ‘80, who didn‘t campaign hard for Carter. I think either of these candidates, after they lose, whichever one does, is going to campaign pretty hard. While I agree with Rahm in principle, I don‘t think it‘s going to be an issue this time around.
GREGORY: But, Farai, there really is a question of consolidation here. Depending on how this nomination is settled, does the other hold on to their voters in some way?
CHIDEYA: That is a huge concern. There are large numbers, double digit numbers of Obama who say they won‘t vote for Clinton, Clinton voters who say they won‘t vote for Obama. One thing I haven‘t heard a lot about is if Obama takes the nomination, the person who months ago, we would have thought would have been an ace in the hole for Obama in campaigning was Bill Clinton, President Clinton, because of his relationship with the African-American community. All that Capitol has pretty much burned up.
The last Democratic president, if it is Obama at the top of the ticket, Bill Clinton is not going to be a successful campaigner.
GREGORY: Lawrence take me inside the minds of the super delegates. If you talk to people in the Obama campaign, they say look, the race is over. That‘s the argument that we‘re making to these super delegates, but there‘s a reluctance to pull the trigger, especially in a lot of these districts, especially if they‘re up for reelection. What‘s going on?
O‘DONNELL: There‘s two reasons. Number one, the most powerful person that you can be right now in the Democratic party is an undecided super delegate. The second you decide, you lose your power. Every one that‘s holding back becomes more powerful with every day. The other part is they are watching this new guy, Obama.
They are watching to see if there‘s a trip up. That‘s the remaining question. Is he going to step in something? Is he going to make a mistake? Is he going to throw an interception? That‘s what they are looking for. They are taking their time and watching him and seeing what he‘s capable of.
GREGORY: I think that‘s an important point. Rachel, this is why I think there‘s a danger in Obama trying to coast to victory and not really engage her, because there still are questions about him and his ability to put her away.
MADDOW: There still may be questions, but there‘s also this very opportunity cost of this race going on and on and on. I mean, the kinds of things that Tony was talking about, in terms of divided races hurting the candidate from the divided party in November; that‘s very well established history in this country. I think that the Obama campaign should take the lead from some of the anger you‘re starting to see rise up in the left blog world right now, which is not necessarily that the undecided super delegates have to pick one candidate or the other. It‘s not a partisan uproar. it‘s just anger that they have not yet decided.
I think there‘s a sense among Democratic activists, especially at the grass roots level, that undeclared super delegates are being selfish at this point. They‘re trying to protect their own butts by not getting caught with the wrong endorsement. They need to make their decision.
GREGORY: Let‘s move on here. I want to have a little Friday fun here. The end game conversation; how do you break it to the losing candidate? Here is a glimpse of what that conversation could look like from NBC‘s “West Wing.” Lawrence, this one‘s for you. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to quit, Congressman. We have to unite behind the candidate. Four times as many people will be watching tonight as watched at the Republican convention. We need these last days to put our message before the American people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you either of them can beat Vinnick (ph) in the fall?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who knows. But you step aside for the good of the party, people won‘t forget. The president and I won‘t let them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Lawrence, you had something to do with that script. Tell me how this script gets written in this race, this conversation.
O‘DONNELL: We had the great fictional quality of having party elders in “The West Wing,” real party elders like the great John Spencer in that scene, who could really make a sale. Those people don‘t exist now in the current Democratic party. There‘s not anyone with that kind of convincing power, who can take you aside.
Hillary Clinton, everyone knows, is not going to be convinced by anyone else. She has to make her own decision if it‘s time for her to move out. If it was putting pressure on Obama, if that were the question we were facing every day, there are people who could do that. I think Obama would actually be more susceptible to that pressure. But Hillary isn‘t, and so this is going to come down to her being convinced mathematically that it‘s impossible. That‘s the only way Hillary Clinton is going to step aside.
GREGORY: It‘s former President Clinton who says, it‘s not ours this time. We have to put this off.
BLANKLEY: Yes, look, there‘s nothing the party can offer Hillary. It‘s now or never for her. Of course, she‘s going to stick in until she‘s convinced she‘s got no chance at all. I don‘t blame her.
CHIDEYA: Can I jump in for a second.
GREGORY: Hold on, Rachel first, go.
MADDOW: I‘ll be quick. I promise. I was going to say, I don‘t think either candidate is going to be the one that makes the decision to quit. I think the pressure goes to The undecided supers. They make the decision and then there‘s no conceding by anybody. They‘re just forced out. .
CHIDEYA: It‘s not now or never. When you look at the age of John McCain, Senator Clinton could run again. Whether or not that‘s likely is another question. But now or never, last chance, it‘s not last chance.
O‘DONNELL: There‘s nothing unusual for a candidate as close as Clinton going all the way to the convention. Ronald Reagan did it. Ted Kennedy did it. He was much farther behind Jimmy Carter than Hillary Clinton is. It would not surprise me at all for Hillary Clinton to take the decision on the floor of the convention when the actual roll call of the states is called.
GREGORY: All, coming up next, three big questions, including this:
Clinton and Obama are making their electability arguments to voters and super delegates. Will Obama‘s strength with the independents be his trump card. Then time to look into the future as our panelists predict what‘s next in THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Don‘t go away.
GREGORY: Friday night on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, we have some big questions still ahead of us. Still with us, the panel, Rachel, Lawrence, Farai and Tony. First up, no question that Hillary Clinton is having a pretty good week. She beat Barack Obama by ten points in Pennsylvania, and added 10 million dollars to her war chest. First question today, may have won the week, but does Clinton have a path to the nomination? What is it? Lawrence?
O‘DONNELL: I don‘t think it‘s anything other than Obama making a huge mistake. I just don‘t see mathematically what her root is from here to the nomination. It has to be Obama just completely collapses somehow.
GREGORY: Rachel, it doesn‘t have to be about math. It could be the story. You heard Howard Dean a few minutes ago telling the “Financial Times” the super delegates can overturn this, even if it‘s not about math.
MADDOW: Sure, super delegates can decide on any grounds, whatsoever. They could decide to do anything for any reason. I will say, though, that the big metric, the big positive for Hillary Clinton coming out of Pennsylvania—remember she didn‘t quite get double digits. She got something like 9.3 or 9.4 percent, but she did get 10 million bucks. That was undercut today with the revelation that she had five million more dollars in debt than the campaign was talking about before we got that big metric.
None of the numbers are adding up for her. I think Lawrence is right that it‘s going to have to be a story about Barack Obama.
BLANKLEY: Let me suggest what it could be. It‘s a difficult path, but if Obama under-performs in North Carolina and if Hillary wins Indiana, then I think there are going to be a lot of nervous Democratic super delegates, wondering whether he can get enough white votes to win a general election.
GREGORY: Farai, if this thing keeps going, if she‘s able to keep raising money and keep the contest coming, she has got more time to make the argument, which is ultimately what she‘s got.
CHIDEYA: She has more time to make the argument. Really, I think something that‘s another hail Mary is Florida. If Florida‘s delegates end up being seated, that would give her a huge boost. She‘s actually claiming -- Senator Clinton is actually claiming that she‘s now ahead in the popular vote if you count Michigan and Florida.
CHIDEYA: It seems a dim prospect that all of those votes will count from those two primaries, but certainly that‘s another X factor.
O‘DONNELL: In the meantime, David, she has to figure out a way to get her extraordinarily high negative number down while she‘s conducting a certain amount of negative campaigning. That‘s very unlikely, that you can do both of those at the same time.
GREGORY: It goes to my question about tactics is Barack Obama best served by essentially acting as if he‘s won this thing, riding it out, trying to take on John McCain and not getting into the brawl she wants? She wants to debate every day because she needs it. She needs some opportunity to bloody him up.
MADDOW: The thing that I don‘t understand is why Hillary Clinton is directly lobbying super delegates this week and Barack Obama is not. We all talk about what‘s going to happen in Indiana and what‘s going to happen in North Carolina, on what grounds are super delegates going to make their decision, what‘s going to be influential. Who knows how they are going to decide. Directly lobbying them is the most direct root to their decision. I don‘t know why Barack Obama is not doing it if Clinton is.
BLANKLEY: Look, sitting on a lead is the most dangerous exercise in politics. That‘s what Obama is doing. I think he has to give some positive reasons for Democrats to want to vote for him.
GREGORY: Let me move on here. Electability front and center in the Democrats‘ mind, especially this week. Team Clinton pushing an electoral vote argument, claiming that she would do better than Obama in the fall because she won some of the big states. Team Obama says either Democrat will win the blue states, but only Obama has proven he can win the independent voters and perhaps even some Republicans.
Second question then tonight, independent voters, are they Obama‘s trump card? Lawrence, spell it out.
O‘DONNELL: Absolutely, he‘s done better with them. He will probably continue to do better with them. We already do have some polls showing that no matter which one of them is the nominee, they will probably get pretty much the same vote. One of them isn‘t stronger than the other in the different categories of votes in the Democratic party.
BLANKLEY: There‘s a poll in Massachusetts that shows that Obama and McCain are tied, while Hillary is beating McCain by 15 points. That may be an outlier poll, but that‘s a pretty stunning poll, nonetheless.
GREGORY: Farai, you look at independent voters in states like Colorado. If Obama has a strong advantage there, he‘s more likely to win that state in the fall than Hillary Clinton would against John McCain. It‘s a question of how deep she goes in the Democratic base and how wide he can go in his voter base.
CHIDEYA: Well, again, I really have to say this: first time voters, new voters are the ones that are really going to make the difference this time around. You have got the independent voters and the swing voters, who do lean for Obama, but you have all these people who have never voted before. That‘s the most terrifying thing in the world to politicians, terrifying. You have no idea what they are going to do.
Considering that the Obama campaign is mounting a huge response and voter outreach, we can assume some of them will go for Obama.
GREGORY: Younger independents too, Rachel, that‘s important. The younger independents and how they break could be new territory for Obama, whereas McCain may be counting on them.
MADDOW: Sure. If the race on the Democratic side right now is making an electability argument to the super delegates—I‘m not sure how smart that is, but it seems like that‘s what both candidates are doing, I think Farai is exactly right to talk about the fact that the voter registration drive being announced from the Obama campaign right now—yes, the point of that is to register some new voters. But the point of that is also to remind any super delegates or anybody else out there assessing Obama‘s electability that he‘s bringing all those new folks in. He‘s going to be doing the rallies with 35,000 people or whatever it was in Philadelphia. He‘s going to be exciting new kids to come out and vote.
GREGORY: Finally, John McCain‘s search for a VP rolls on. McCain says he wants to lock up a number two as soon as possible. Third question, during all this down time for McCain, what is he looking for in a running mate? Tony, start us off.
BLANKLEY: I think his instinct is to find someone he likes, who he agrees with. I think his advisers will urge him to ignore what he likes and go with what he needs. I have a hunch he may end up going with what he likes, to his detriment.
GREGORY: Finish the thought.
BLANKLEY: He may make the mistake of declaring early. It‘s the only news that is going to come out of the convention. He ought to wait until convention to announce whatever the decision is.
GREGORY: Lawrence, the question is, does he go for a blue state candidate or does he go for somebody who reinforces national security strength?
O‘DONNELL: No, I don‘t think he needs national security strength reinforced. I think it actually would be a mistake. I think he needs to go to a governor who‘s said virtually nothing about Iraq. People know if they elect John McCain, they are voting for four more years in Iraq. If his vice president is an open book on that, you can leave open the question of how many more years you‘re voting for. I think he needs a governor who can guarantee him a state that he needs, who has no real record on Iraq.
MADDOW: I will say, I think we are ignoring the obvious here, in terms of what McCain is looking for. McCain is looking for someone with very low cholesterol and much later birth date than him. McCain himself has raised the his vice president choice would be very important because of his age. He‘s raised the prospect—he‘s even allowed it to be floated, the prospect of him just serving one term. It‘s about McCain‘s age to a very great extent.
GREGORY: All right, coming up next—Go ahead, Farai.
CHIDEYA: Just quickly, I think he should pick someone from a state that has a diverse population. That also will add to the appeal.
GREGORY: More to come. Coming up next, our panel predictions. Tony Blankley ready to call the Democratic race in North Carolina tonight. Don‘t go away.
GREGORY: Welcome back to THE RACE. Time now for panel predictions. Still with us, Rachel, Lawrence, Farai and Tony. Farai, your prediction tonight?
CHIDEYA: Dems go ultra-populist. When you look ahead at the primaries, you have a lot of states facing hard times. You have Montana, West Virginia, Kentucky, the territory of Puerto Rico. The Democrats are going to have to talk bread and butter. I don‘t think we‘ll hear a lot about the war, more about bread and butter.
GREGORY: You think that‘s a way to distinguish between the two of them, as they go forward?
CHIDEYA: No, it‘s not a way to distinguish, but you‘re not going to hear any more bitter comments, let me tell you that.
GREGORY: Tony, your prediction tonight.
BLANKLEY: I predict that Hillary Clinton in North Carolina will beat the spread and lose by only single digits, in part because of the Republican ad campaign that‘s going to be run against Obama, tying him with Wright. That‘s going to maximize her vote in the 62 percent of the white vote of North Carolina.
GREGORY: You think the spread there is what for him?
BLANKLEY: Right now, it‘s double digit. I think she could end up losing it by maybe seven or eight. It would be a good night for her.
GREGORY: Single digits there and winning Indiana is what she needs to keep going?
BLANKLEY: That‘s what she needs, I think.
GREGORY: Yes. Lawrence, what do you think?
O‘DONNELL: My prediction is Wesley Clark for vice president. As we get closer to the nomination, Wesley Clark is going to go to the top of the short list, no matter who the nominee is. Both of them, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, they both need help on national security. They both need help on military experience in a time of war. Wesley Clark would probably for sure lock up Arkansas for Hillary Clinton and be able to help Barack Obama maybe take Arkansas. They both need exactly that kind of guy on the ticket with them.
GREGORY: What does he have now, Lawrence, that he didn‘t have when he unsuccessfully ran for presidency?
O‘DONNELL: The big advantage is this is going to be a two month campaign for vice president. He couldn‘t run the big campaign. He showed he couldn‘t. I think he‘s learn a lot in the meantime. For Obama, it‘s a great pick because it‘s the unity candidate. Obama will not take Hillary. But if he takes Wesley Clark, her number one supporter, that unifies the two campaigns.
GREGORY: He needs a military figure, you think, more than somebody from the foreign policy establishment?
O‘DONNELL: Clark is the guy who gives you both. As NATO commander, he‘s got enough diplomacy experience, enough what you would consider foreign policy. In a time of war, with John McCain as nominee, a military man as the nominee on the other side, the Democrats need military on their ticket.
MADDOW: Can I just add, Lawrence, do you think Jim Webb meets that criteria too?
O‘DONNELL: No, you can‘t take him out of the Senate. You cannot afford to lose—you will not get that Virginia seat back. You can‘t do that.
GREGORY: Interesting point. Rachel, your prediction.
MADDOW: My prediction tonight is a bit of a Friday night prediction, I will tell you. My prediction is that Barack Obama throws the game in Kokomo. His campaign says that he‘s going to be playing an official campaign event tonight of three-on-three basketball. This, of course, gives him the opportunity to make up for being a bad bowler. I‘m going to predict here that he‘s actually going to throw the game, so as to avoid being seen as too good at basketball, so male voters don‘t feel insecure about him.
GREGORY: He needs to come out strong in a port that he can dominate. Hey, let me ask you, Tony, about North Carolina. We talk about the race and the strategy down there. Barack Obama goes out of his way today to really hit both Hillary Clinton and John McCain on the issue of where has their experience gotten them. We still don‘t have a break on gas prices here. Is that a winner in North Carolina?
BLANKLEY: General, gas prices are a winner for Democrats. I don‘t think it‘s a winner versus Hillary, because she‘s not in the White House. It doesn‘t think that plays one way or the other against her. On experience, I don‘t think he wins points talking about experience. I think that‘s a draw regarding Hillary, and the general election is months away.
O‘DONNELL: President Clinton raised the gas tax by 4.3 cents. You‘ll be hearing a lot about that as this moves along.
GREGORY: Is there anything, Lawrence, to this race other than personality and the idea of who‘s best to beat John McCain?
O‘DONNELL: That‘s about where we are now. There‘s no policy distinctions between these candidates. That‘s why it‘s become about American flag pins and all these other things. They just—There‘s nothing to talk about if you‘re going to talk about the difference between them on issues.
MADDOW: It could be about issues if the media wanted it to be and the candidates wanted it to be. It could be on issues like Iran, for one, where Hillary Clinton has gone way more hawkish than Obama. There‘s a lot of stuff out there if we wanted to talk about that instead of the flag pin stuff.
GREGORY: All right, we‘re going to leave it there. Thanks to the panel. I‘m David Gregory. That does it for THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE for tonight. Thanks for watching. Have a great weekend. We‘re back here Monday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern time. Stay here, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews coming up next. And Keith Olbermann has Jim Clyburn tonight on “COUNTDOWN” at 8:00. Don‘t go away.
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