Guest: Richard Wolffe, Gene Robinson, Suzanne Molinari, Jay Carney
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, Democratic unity. Senator Obama prepares to campaign with Hillary Clinton. And insists he was not put off by President Clinton‘s tepid promise to back him. Obama says he wants the former president involved as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.
Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I‘m David Gregory. Happy to have you here. Your stop for the fast pace, the bottom line and every point of view in the room.
Tonight, inside the war room we go, we examine the Democratic unity dance from all angles including helping Obama‘s promise to help Mrs. Clinton pay off her campaign debt. How did the candidates fare at a focus grouping conducted by NBC News pollster Peter Hart in Pennsylvania recently.
And Obama unplugged. What‘s on his iPod? The new “Rolling Stone” cover story on Obama. The bedrock of the program, the panel that comes to play. With us tonight Richard Wolffe, “Newsweek” senior White House correspondent and now covers Obama full time.
Gene Robinson, columnist and associate editor of the “Washington Post.” Both Richard and Eugene are MSNBC political analysts. Suzanne Molinari is here, Republican strategist and former New York congresswoman and Jay Carney, “Time Magazine‘s” Washington bureau chief. We begin with your take on the most important political story of the day, the headline. Jay, I‘m going to start with you tonight, looking at Obama‘s big picture battle plan here as they look at this electoral map. What did you learn today?
JAY CARNEY, “TIME MAGAZINE”: Today, in a sign of their confidence, David Plouffe, the campaign manager for Barack Obama had a briefing with reporters, in which the headline was Obama‘s strategic offensive. And basically it was a PowerPoint presentation, part of it is here, it laid out an aggressive and highly unusual approach to campaigning in the general election. Primarily, they are fighting and focusing on a handful of battleground states and then a lot of state that is went to George W. Bush in 2004. The polls have been moving in their direction. National polls which don‘t matter that much generally have but also the state polls, that matter so much. We talked a little bit last night. Ohio and Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, other states that John McCain talked about wanting to try to steal from the Democrats, like Pennsylvania. Are beginning to look like they may be very hard gets. I think the impact for the media today, was about saying, we are so confident about our ability to what David Plouffe called, adjust the electorate. Rack up huge new numbers of African American registered voters and young voters. They can literally change the electorate under our feet and put into play states that haven‘t been for a long time.
GREGORY: More on this coming up later. Richard Wolffe, you‘re looking at the unity dance between Obama and Clinton and some of the arrangements that attach to that.
RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”: My headline is show me the money. Everyone is talking about money. These two people need each other politically. They all want Democrats to win. That‘s great but really what they need right now is cold, hard cash. Obama is looking to Clinton‘s donors. He‘s raising primary dollars now. Clinton has a debt to pay off. But most of all it comes down to the dollars Obama needs to pull ahead before the conventions. What more evidence can you get than going to the Clinton ATM yesterday and went to Hollywood to raise money.
GREGORY: What‘s it mean he‘s going to help her retire her debt? Why does he need to do that before he really gets to some of her donors for herself?
WOLFFE: It‘s part of the same thing. To pull them in. To get them to open up their war chest and open up their rolodex‘s. He needs to show good faith, he needs to say to them I‘m with Hillary, I‘m supporting her. Come over here, the race is right now and we need the cash to pull ahead.
GREGORY: Gene, you‘re looking at the Clinton-Obama dynamic. It is still full of drama, like it was in the primary. A lot of focus on Bill Clinton. What‘s your headline?
EUGENE ROBINSON. “WASHINGTON POST”: My headline tonight David is Hillary is in warm embrace, but Bill is not ready for a hug. As you know, Hillary Clinton is back at work on Capitol Hill. She‘s meeting with Democratic colleagues on the Hill, got a warm reception and she‘s ready to go to work for Barack Obama, the party‘s nominee and campaign with him on Friday in Unity, New Hampshire.
But Bill Clinton‘s endorsement of Obama was so tepid that Hillary Clinton had to clarify by saying that Bill actually does support Obama and it created such a little ministir that Obama himself had to clarify that he, too, believes that Bill Clinton supports him. So, let‘s listen to what Obama had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It‘s understandable that the former president wouldn‘t want to up stage what is going to be, I think, a terrific unity event over the next day and a half. Do I want Bill Clinton campaigning for the ticket leading into November? The answer is absolutely, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBINSON: Just as you said, David. It‘s drama. This drama I think will soon be over. There‘s no way Bill Clinton is going to sit out this election and to preserve his legacy and his status in the party, I think you‘re going to see him, the comeback kid campaign vigorously for Barack Obama in the fall. Meanwhile, they have to kind of do this dance.
GREGORY: All right. Susan, meantime you‘re looking at the Republican side of this. This is an important time for John McCain to try to recalibrate the campaign as it goes to the general election, but to really get a sense of whatever bounce there is Obama is getting. How is he fairing.
SUSAN MOLINARI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: My headline is hype alert, the underdog is poised to bite back. Every time you turn on the TV or read the papers, we have the spin coming from some of the media. Obama got the big bounce. Senator Clinton is with him. The party is unified, this race is over. The numbers actually start to show, some numbers, a little bit of a different story. Look at the Gallup Daily tracking numbers that have them tied, 45 to 45. This isn‘t too shabby for an underdog fighting a just nominated candidate who spent $75 million talking to the American people. There‘s another number that should encourage McCain supporters even more than that.
This is the “L.A. Times” Bloomberg polls that show McCain is winning in independent voters. He‘s beating Barack Obama by 44 percent to 36 percent margin. And let‘s not forget, it may be the independent that is decide this election.
GREGORY: Right. You‘ve been out there campaigning. You‘ve got a history of this. Those independents I‘ve always thought are basically loose Republican who don‘t want to be labeled Republicans at a particular time, but most likely vote for a Republican. Are these Republicans who are coming home to McCain because he‘s known as the maverick?
MOLINARI: You know what, David? I think that‘s an excellent analysis and I think that may be what‘s happening. Nevertheless, they are the numbers that are very often good predictors of who the next president of the United States is. This race is not over yet.
GREGORY: All right, a lot to talk about here. As we move forward, we are going to come back, we‘ll go inside the unity war room between Obama and Clinton. Try to break down where they are coming together, what role will each play. Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton will play. More from what Barack Obama said in the last couple of hours in terms of what role he would like Bill Clinton to play. Later on with the program, your playdate with the panel, call us at 212-790-2299 or send us an e-mail us at email@example.com with your thoughts.
THE RACE comes right back.
GREGORY: We are back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. We are back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Inside the “War Room” now, looking at the unity dance between these two candidates, Barack Obama, now the nominee and Hillary Clinton, one time candidate. The drama is still there just like they were the candidates all along.
Back with us, Richard Wolffe, Eugene Robinson, Susan Molinari and Jay Carney. The panel is back with us. OK, unity is the message now. Barack Obama talking late today about the role he sees for Hillary Clinton.
Here is what he told reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: She can be an extraordinarily effective surrogate for me and the values and ideals we share as Democrats. I think we can send Senator Clinton anywhere and she‘ll be effective. Obviously, will be constrained by her schedule, but I‘m looking forward to campaigning vigorously with her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Hillary Clinton also on the record today talking about the role she can play. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NY: I am 100% committed, doing everything I can to make sure Senator Obama is sworn in as the next president of the United States. I‘m excited about getting back to work in Congress and campaigning with Senator Obama on Friday. The well named Unity, New Hampshire. Going forth, with a strong message, not only of party unity, but of a mission to take back our government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Richard, you cover Obama. How is this shaping up? This unity event and the use of Hillary Clinton at this stage.
WOLFFE: She‘ll have these clanky campaign events that draw their message from a town‘s name. I remember back in December when Obama was trying to deliver a message in Iowa about candidates that like to have it both ways. He delivered it in a place called Clinton, Iowa. This isn‘t very subtle. But moving beyond that, he has a way to go. He‘s done a good job of pulling in Clinton supporters. The most recent “Newsweek” poll showed about a month ago, about 30 percent of Clinton supporters said they were going to McCain. Now, it‘s down to 18 percent. He can still have some lift in his polls if he pulls those Clinton supporters over to his side.
GREGORY: The question, Susan, you said on this program before, he‘s got to speak to her supporters, he‘s got to speak to women, he‘s got to speak about gender, the issues she cares about. How they might have felt about her treatment during the campaign. Is that still the case? Is that what they are being set up to do?
Or is her presence enough to signal, hey, it‘s time to go home.
MOLINARI: Look, her presence certainly helps. But it is not enough. He has is goign to have to carry the load in terms of recommunicating and redirecting his message to her voters. Who is Barack Obama and what does he stand for with regard to the women vote?
Surrogates play somewhat of an important role. Even Senator Clinton.
Women know who Senator Clinton is, they don‘t know who Barack Obama is.
Let me say I do think it‘s important she get out early and fast for him. Because it takes away a little of what Republicans I‘m sure are going to do to which is quote Senator Clinton and her appraisal of Barack Obama during the primaries.
MOLINARI: Being naive, being inexperienced. Not ready to answer the phone at 2:00 in the morning. It makes it a little bit harder. We‘ll still use it but it will make it a little bit harder.
GREGORY: Let‘s talk about Bill here and his tepid support. He said through a statement yesterday, he‘s going to back Obama and do whatever he‘s asked to do. Obama was asked about that this afternoon and did he feel that was only a tepid endorsement. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Do I want Bill Clinton campaigning for the ticket leading into November? The answer is absolutely, yes. I want him involved. He is a brilliant politician. He was an outstanding president. I want his help, not only in campaigning, but also in governing. And I‘m confident I‘ll get that help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Jay, here‘s what struck me about that. Campaigning and governing. Maybe this is a distinction without a difference. Seems to me he‘s going to appeal to Bill Clinton for what he is. An elder statesman of the Democratic Party. Going to recognize the real Clinton that matters now is Hillary Clinton, not Bill Clinton except for big picture advice.
How do you read that particular statmenet?
CARNEY: Well, certainly, one way I read it is that for now, as far as Bill Clinton is concerned, all the love is on one side. Senator Obama is both toward Hillary Clinton where it is being reciprocated and toward Bill Clinton where so far it has not in being effusive in his praise of both of them.
I think the distinction you make is correct. If Obama is about newness and change, Senator Clinton, while she is a Clinton, is certainly a newer, fresher face. She‘s a woman, she almost won the nomination. I think as a campaign surrogate, she‘s probably slightly more effective. Although Bill Clinton is clearly useful especially in certain areas.
GREGORY: But, Gene, even Obama said today, she was the one engaged with me in a struggle. It was not Bill Clinton. There‘s no love lost on that side either for Bill Clinton. He‘s foe cussed on what she can do and what she can bring to him by way of strengths.
ROBINSON: There‘s no love lost, I think we can confidently say that. There are things Bill Clinton can do for Barack Obama and for his candidacy. You know, he is still a great politician and I think he will ultimately do it. It requires Bill Clinton to do something that‘s difficult for him to do, which is to say, this new guy has new ideas that by implication are better than mine. In other words, it‘s turning a page. That it‘s difficult for him to turn.
GREGORY: Speaking of that, let me get to this, Marc Ambinder, atlantic.com, blogger. Does a great reported blog on that site. Talks about why Bill Clinton is miffed at Obama.
Let‘s put it on our screen for our viewers to see as I read through it. “A Democrat who has spoken directly to Clinton about his feelings says that the former president remains ‘miffed‘ for two reasons. One is that he feels the Obama candidacy was essentially an anti-Clinton candidacy, that Obama ran against Clinton‘s presidential record at times, implying it was time-worn, divisive and damaging to the party while adopting policy positions that seemed to flow directly from the Clinton oeuvre. Two, Clinton is convinced the Obama campaign went out of its way to portray the former president as racist. Clinton wants a private meeting with Obama to sort these things out. He has reconciled himself to the reality of Obama‘s nomination and does not want to sit on the sidelines.”
Richard. Is such a meeting going to happen? Is it necessary?
WOLFFE: Yeah. It is, absolutely. He doesn‘t sound like he has really reconciled himself to having lost if he‘s that miffed. You right to pick up earlier Obama‘s comments about governing. In the end both of these people need each other not so much for the campaigning. Remember Bill Clinton wasn‘t such a huge draw on the campaign trail toward the end of the primary phase. He may be able to make money. In the White House, Clinton still wants to be part of the exclusive club of former presidents. And Obama will want to use, want to deploy him for various things around the country and around the world. Just as he did with former President Bush after the tsunami. There is a role there and it‘s important. He doesn‘t want him out there brooding about the whole primary phase. He has got to neutralize that. But I think his role really comes after the general election.
GREGORY: Guys. Got to get a break in here. We‘re going to come back to our mini veepstakes where we vet a veep each time on our program.
A couple to chew over on the Democratic side, Chet Edwards and Jim Webb. Chet Edwards brought up by Nancy Pelosi today, the House speaker. We‘re going to get into that when we come back. Only on RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE.
GREGORY: We‘re back on THE RACE. Each night, we vet the veeps. We look at some of these candidates that are all the rage, all the buzz as we move forward. Today, we‘re vetting two Democrats whose names are out there. Texas Congressman Chet Edwards and Virginia Senator Jim Webb.
Here again the panel is back with us. Richard, Eugene, Susan and Jay. First up, Obama/Edwards. Not John Edwards, Texas Congressman Chet Edwards. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi floated his name to “Newsweek” last week. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: I do think in the list of considerations, there should be somebody in the House of Representatives. And Chet Edwards is someone many of us think would be a good person to have in the mix.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: That‘s Tammy Hadeded (ph). She‘s on the scene doing the reporting. Here‘s the breakdown on Chet Edwards. He‘s 56 years old. Serving ninth term in President Bush‘s district. Chairs the Armed Services Subcommittee. Supports drilling in ANWR in Alaska. Supports a ban on same sex marriage and studied economics under Phil Gramm.
Jay Carney, assess. Blue dog is back in this edition.
CARNEY: Well, I think somebody who would appeal to centrists make sense, somebody with national security makes sense. Chet Edwards, not a lot of sense. You‘re not going to get Texas, if you‘re Barack Obama. You have a problem with the drilling in ANWR. And studied economics under Phil Gramm and Phil Gramm is the principal economics advisor for John McCain. I think Nancy Pelosi is doing what she said she was doing, giving a little promotion to House Democrats. I would be surprised if Chet Edwards were anywhere near the top of the list.
Let‘s go to Jim Webb who I think is a very interesting prospect and a very interesting voice in the Democratic Party. He‘s 62 years old. A U.S. Marine combat veteran. Two Purple Hearts from Vietnam. Former Navy secretary under Reagan. Obviously an outspoken advocate for troops withdrawal and a critic of the way the war was handled. Popular with the net roots out there, with a lot of liberals who are on the Internet. Richard, assess in terms of strengths and weaknesses and what he can do for Obama.
WOLFFE: I think he is pretty much on the short list. People are taking a serious look at him. He fits a lot of things for o bomb ma, especially the idea of identity. That is going to be a challenge for Obama not only now but through the general election, whether it‘s about the patriotism issue or about military service, those questions will crop up time and again. And Webb answers that.
On the other hand, personal qualities are important to Obama. Jim Webb is not known as a team player and Obama is a preemptive - his most prominent issue is about no drama. Webb comes with a lot of drama.
GREGORY: Susan, how do you look at it from the other side?
MOLINARI: I think he‘s a brilliant choice, actually. Not knowing him as well as Richard. Look, he puts Virginia not only in play, but could probably lock it down. He‘s very, very popular here in Virginia. He has the Reagan credentials to get a lot of the Reagan Democrats to take a look at Barack Obama. Obama has got to make the sale but certainly somebody like Jim Webb could help him and here is somebody, what a unique combination, military background, he is against the way the war has been implemented. I think it‘s a good choice.
GREGORY: Gene, the issue of whether people feel Obama is one of us, whether he connects. In some ways, a guy like Webb could help him do that inasmuch as a number two can help the guy at the top of the ticket do that.
ROBINSON: He absolutely could help him do that and Jim Webb is a fascinating guy. He‘s really smart. He‘s great with the language. He‘s such a good writer. He has this kind of good old boy quality about him that will appeal to a lot of people. But, he has an unfortunate tendency to say what‘s on his mind at any given moment. And that doesn‘t always work out in politics.
GREGORY: That‘s what he love. That‘s what we‘re looking for in the press.
ROBINSON: We love him.
GREGORY: Just say what you mean. We‘re here for you. We‘re going to take a break, go back inside the “War Room” when we get back.
GREGORY: Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I‘m David Gregory. Time for the back half. Glad to have you here. We‘re going to back inside the war room, talk about the map, the electoral map, and some new polling as well. With us, Richard Wolffe, “Newsweek” senior White House correspondent—he now covers Obama full time—Gene Robinson, columnist and associate editor at the “Washington Post.” Both Richard and Gene are MSNBC political analyst. Susan Molinari is here, Republican strategist and former New York congresswoman, and Jay Carney, “Time Magazine‘s” Washington bureau chief.
First up, topic number one, Obama‘s map, making a play for 14 states that President Bush won back in 2004. We‘ll put it on the screen so you can look at it. Go through these states, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Georgia and Alaska, Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio, Nevada. Richard, pick apart this map a little bit. How much of this is real? How much of it is an attempt, with a big financial advantage, to draw McCain into a fight where McCain is still favored?
WOLFFE: There‘s some of that. But look at these state by state polls. When you see that Georgia is tight or Alaska is tight—some of these places are eye popping states. North Dakota is on the map? It‘s going to be hard enough for him to be really competitive in Missouri and Indiana. But if this map is even vaguely realistic for them—and yes, there‘s something of drawing the enemy in here. It‘s like the Soviet arms race. You just try and grind them down, grind their money down. But if this map is even vaguely real, then he needs to pick up just one or two in one or two of these places and hold the Kerry states, and he‘s there at 270 electoral college votes.
GREGORY: Susan, make a case for Colorado from the Republican point of view, where the fire wall is. One of the things we know, you have in Bill Ritter a Democratic governor now, who‘s made the argument that where Republicans have gone wrong are on social issues, god and gays, as he would put it. That‘s where they have gotten in trouble in a state like Colorado, where you‘ve got a lot of independent voters and a lot of Republicans who are just, frankly, upset with how the Bush administration has conducted the war. So what‘s the case for McCain holding that ground against Obama?
MOLINARI: First, let me just say, I think it‘s smart that Barack Obama is doing this. Since he changed his position and opted out of campaign finance, he‘s got a lot of money to just spend in these early states. It‘s smart to go in and define himself and then take the temperature. But in places like Colorado, I guess I would challenge and say that I think today is a perfect example of how Senator McCain can start to turn this thing around, based on an analysis that you may or may not accept as to why Republicans aren‘t doing well.
Today, Senator McCain took it the American people in terms of how to deal with energy and put together a five or six point proposal on what he would do, all solutions to solving our energy dependence and some of the problems in our economy, all that Barack Obama has said no to. I think that Senator McCain is taking this to a different level than some Republicans have in the past and is really starting to go through national security, but also some pocketbook issues and offering some concrete results. I think that‘s where you see the maverick in John McCain come back out. That‘s why you just don‘t know what this election is going to look like in a month or two.
GREGORY: Let me move on to the question of whether Republicans are going to stick by George Bush or are they going to stick by McCain? Here is Oregon Republican Gordon Smith with a new campaign ad, highlighting praise from Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who says Gordon Smith helped lead the fight for better gas mileage and a cleaner environment? Barack Obama. He joined with Gordon and broke through a 20 year deadlock to pass new laws which increase gas mileage for automobiles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Maybe it has to do with that rally out in Portland a few weeks ago for Obama. What does this tell you about how the race is shaping up?
CARNEY: Well, it tells you that Gordon Smith is feeling vulnerable in his home state of Oregon that is looking very blue, and bluer by the week. Almost a sure thing now for Barack Obama. The double drag of George W. Bush and the Republican party, and the excitement in Oregon for Obama—that‘s a triple drag. Republicans like Smith are going to be desperately portraying themselves as independents and not Republicans.
GREGORY: Yes, what‘s the reaction to that inside the Obama campaign, especially, Richard, since what he‘s highlighting there is his ability to work across the aisle, which is certainly a narrative the Obama team would like to have perpetuated by none other than a Republican.
WOLFFE: Well, I think they‘re flattered. But also, there‘s some shock here. I mean, they didn‘t think that you‘d have serious figures like a senator trying to campaign on their coat tails. They are encouraged by this kind of thing. But it‘s kind of easy for his own opponents out there to show that this may be a little bit fake.
GREGORY: Let‘s move on to get to a point that Susan was making about energy and McCain. From the “L.A. Times”/Bloomberg poll on oil drilling, look at the numbers among registered voters. Drilling should be allowed, 55 percent, be allowed even if damage results, 13 percent, not be allowed, 24; 55 to 24 percent. It is a signal, Gene, I think, that one of the things McCain is doing, and we‘ll see how it turns out, he‘s activist in the short term and talks about the long term as well. He wants to be an idea guy on dealing with high gas prices and the energy debate and make an impression with voters, even if some of this may come across as gimmicky.
ROBINSON: Yes, I think the advantage that McCain has on this issue, in particular, is his position is do something now. Let‘s drill for more oil, even though this would have no absolutely impact on gas prices in any reasonable time frame. None the less, people seeing gas prices as they are, want government to do something. I think Obama is going to have to continue responding and trying to get his message across on this issue or else he will lose ground to McCain on the oil question.
GREGORY: One of the things that Obama talked about again today, Richard, is that he does have a short term proposal, which is another stimulus package to deal with high gas prices. It doesn‘t get a lot of traction, a lot of discussion right now. That‘s significant. That‘s a two for, dealing with the economy and dealing with the immediate crunch of energy prices. It‘s something Obama wants to do.
WOLFFE: Right. He‘s got another tactical position, which is to call the gas tax holiday a gimmick and portray McCain as some sort of conventional, superficial politician. But, there is a vulnerability here, and there is a prize out there for the politician that can credibly come and say they can do something about gas prices, whether through the financial markets and regulatory measures and speculators, or through these longer term issues. I have no doubt the national polls look good on this drilling question. Again, states that matter, look at Florida, look at where this is playing, and you‘ve got to sort of scratch your head and say, what is the McCain play book there.
GREGORY: Susan, let me ask you a quick political question; if McCain has chartered out this ground on climate change and a way to reach independent voters, maybe even reach some Democrats, big issue obviously for Europeans and others on the world stage, does he dilute the strength of that message by then talking about drilling and getting into what some may see is more of an ideological debate about oil prices and supply and demand issues?
MOLINARI: I think it‘s a tight rope that he has to walk, but he‘s established himself as the Republican that cares about the environment and has been out there on cap and trade for a long time. If there‘s a green Republican candidate, John McCain is it. On the other hand, I think that there is that opportunity, from a political standpoint, that the McCain campaign is calling Barack Obama Dr. No. He‘s no to everything that can help deal with energy crisis. This is a point that Senator Clinton kind of went after Senator Obama on too. Remember, she was for the gas tax holiday.
So, I think it‘s a little bit of gamble, but I think it‘s one worth taking. I think it helps build that coalition. Look, the real greeners aren‘t going to go with Senator McCain anyway. They are always going to go Democrat. This is a nice way and try to pick up some numbers.
GREGORY: All right, we have to take a break here. We are going to come back, take a look at a new focus group that was done by our pollster, Peter Hart. One of the questions coming out of it is where are Republicans? Are there the Obamacans that he talks about? Are they out there? What are they thinking? We‘ll get into it in our three questions segment right after this.
GREGORY: We‘re back on RACE FOR THE WHITE. Time to play the question game, where we bring you the day‘s three biggest questions of the ‘08 race. Today‘s questions come out of a focus group conducted in Yorktown, Pennsylvania. We‘re tapping into the analysis of NBC News pollster Peter Hart for a little bit of help. Still with us here, Richard Wolffe, Eugene Robinson, Susan Molinari and Jay Carney.
First question, will Clinton supporters come home to Obama? This is what Hart had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER HART, POLLSTER: I don‘t think they need to wait for Unity, New Hampshire. They are already there. What they saw, look, they are unhappy with the way things are going. They look at the economy. They are living paycheck to paycheck. What was fascinating is, of all the things they talked about Obama, it was the narrative of being raised by a single mother. They could identify with that. They saw that as an important set of values. It helped him an awful lot.
So they have moved. For Barack Obama, this is a good news set of results.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Peter appearing with Andrea Mitchell earlier today on MSNBC. Richard, it seems to me that what‘s probably most heartening to the Obama team about this is the story of his mother, his biography is something that they are trying to reintroduce to a broader electorate now, beyond just Democratic voters, and to have it take root with a group like this in Pennsylvania is probably heartening at this stage.
WOLFFE: Yes, I think it‘s heartening, but they still do have work to do. There‘s a reason why they have spent the last three weeks talking about the economy. They learned certain things from the Clinton campaign. But yes, his story is in a important piece of this, his personal story, and how that connects to the regular struggles of voters across the country, especially on pocketbook issues. I would say, look, all the participation we saw in the primaries, they were still really core Democrats who were involved. The swing voters, people who weren‘t participating, they still have to reach those people, whether it‘s through bio ads or anything else going on in this campaign. He still has to tell his story.
GREGORY: Susan, do you think, if the Obama campaign is predicting, as it is, historic turn out and support from women, are they counting on that support a little bit prematurely here?
MOLINARI: It‘s hard to say. I think it‘s premature for anybody to count on anybody‘s vote, other than your hardcore base vote, at this point in time. The election has really just started. Let‘s face it, most Americans, other than the massive amounts watching this show, haven‘t really focussed in on what the two candidates stand for and who they are. They are just getting into the biographies, particularly of Senator Obama.
I think it is early. We are going to start and continue to talk about things like the economy and energy independence and so many other issues, keeping this country safe. It depends on the direction of the war in Iraq by the time we get to November. I think there‘s still a lot of unknowns. No doubt, this is good news for Senator Obama.
GREGORY: Second question here, are there really Obamacans, the Republicans who support Obama? Andrea asked Peter Hart about that earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HART: Two women, both of whom were Republicans and voted for George W. Bush the last two times out, one has already switched over to Obama. The other is in the undecided category. Why? The war for the one woman and the other woman is the problems are too big, the economy is too big. I used to be a values voter. You can no longer be a values voter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: This is Peter Hart talking about results from a York, Pennsylvania focus group. Gene, what do you make of those responses?
ROBINSON: Well, I think, again, it‘s heartening for Senator Obama. By the same token, voters tend to come home, self-identify. Republicans don‘t switch all the way over to the Democratic side all that easily. I think Senator Obama, obviously, has a lot of centrist and independent appeal. Again, I think it‘s early to decide that there is really a big cohort of Obamacans who are going to decide the election for him.
GREGORY: Jay, we know—you gleam from that answer, as related by Peter Hart, from somebody in the focus group, the economy and that the problems are just too big. This ultimately gets to a right track, wrong track sense in question. People feeling like the country is in a kind of malaise right now. How does that play? You certainly, if you‘re a voter, could look at John McCain and see a lot of reassurance from him, as well as Obama.
CARNEY: You could except right track, wrong track historically affects the incumbent party in the White House. If the right track number is down and the wrong track number is way up, as it is now, that‘s bad for the Republicans. The Republicans hold the White House and that hurts John McCain. One thing I say about those possible Obamacans and those Republicans is that most of the people who might go gravitate to Obama will be, by the time election comes, self-identified independents.
The Republican problem is not that Republicans are going to Obama. It‘s that Republicans are leaving the Republican party and no longer identifying as Republican. The split between self identifying party membership has been growing dramatically. I think that‘s the big problem.
GREGORY: What about—Susan, I‘m asking you to speculate here a little bit broadly. The security moms of 2004 who voted for George Bush and Dick Cheney, who may have felt reassurance, who may have wanted to feel a sense of protection and concern about another terror strike; do they still exist in the same way? Do they seek and find that reassurance from John McCain?
MOLINARI: I think they do still exist. I think, unfortunately, that issue is always going to exist from us. I think they do get assurance from John McCain. The question is, by the end of this campaign, will they get it from Senator Barack Obama equally. That‘s, I think, still yet to be told, in terms of where Senator Obama, now that he‘s making the shift from the Democratic primary into the general election, how he positions himself and his potential running mate as being strong on national security, able to be commander in chief, all those things that he came out of the primary a little weak at.
You know what, I didn‘t hear Peter ask any questions about potential McCain-ocrats. There‘s a little bit of a one sided poll results that we‘re looking at right now. I think there might be some Democrats that, by the end of this election, may in fact support John McCain.
GREGORY: Fair point. We just made some selections in terms of this discussion here.
MOLINARI: It‘s just my role here.
GREGORY: Third question, what is the initial impression from both these candidates? This is one of the questions that came up in the focus group. This is how Peter Hart responded earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HART: Number one, they respect the service of Senator McCain. They see him as experienced. They think he knows the military. They also mentioned he was old. That was a countervailing force.
At the same time, they still need to know more about Barack Obama. They need to know more about his economic plans, his health care plans. So, there‘s a long way to seal the deal, if I can put it that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Ultimately, Gene, this speaks to a kind of threshold question for Obama. Not only do people want to know more about him, but they want to reach that point of some threshold of reassurance. A lot of people probably already have it about John McCain. They just may disagree with him, but that sense of being assured by him that they know who the guy is.
ROBINSON: I think this finding kind of confirms what we thought. I think Susan is absolutely right that people want to be reassured that Barack Obama can be a capable and commanding commander in chief, that he will keep the nation safe. And also, the other side of the coin, is it‘s the same that the recent “Washington Post” poll found; John McCain‘s age is a potential issue and it‘s something that voters are paying attention to.
GREGORY: Richard, you made the observation earlier, this is a key part of this general election campaign right now, for McCain to do some real defining of Obama in this period of time before people are better acquainted with him.
WOLFFE: Yes, I think this is the critical period for McCain. In some ways, he has wasted some time already. He had that opportunity to do a lot of things while Obama was occupied with Clinton. But he‘s still has a period here where he can try to identify the opponent. There is a danger there for Obama, which is that he has to be respectful. People want respect for McCain.
GREGORY: All right, we‘re going to take a break here, come back. Our final segment, your play date with the panel. Also going to talk about Obama on “Rolling Stone” and what‘s on the iPod, his views about popular culture and what he wants to do in his first term.
GREGORY: We‘re back in our remaining moments. Time to play with the panel. The panel is still here. Tonight, we‘re talking about Obama unplugged. He‘s on the cover of “Rolling Stone Magazine.” No print, just Obama. It‘s his second time on the cover. Interesting interview, some substance and some style as well. This is how the “New York Times” blog reported response from Obama in terms of some of his tastes, what‘s on his iPod. We‘ll put it on the screen for you to see. “His musical tastes are pretty mainstream, says the times. His reading list is a little dark. In an interview with “Rolling Stone Magazine,” to be published on Wednesday, Mr. Obama revealed that his iPod was filled with dozens of selections from top to bottom, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Jay-Z and Yo Yo Ma. Joining perhaps every other Democratic politician alive, he also confessed a deep love of Bruce Springsteen. When asked what books had most inspired, Mr. Obama named the tragedies of William Shakespeare, and Hemingway‘s novel of the Spanish civil war, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” incidentally a favorite from Senator John McCain, who is known to quote it at random.”
Jay, what do we learn here?
CARNEY: Well, we learned what Obama is trying to convey, which is that he‘s a regular guy. His musical tastes are very mainstream. I disagree with the notion that Shakespeare and Hemingway are a little dark as favorite authors. We‘re talking Kafka or anything. This is also fairly mainstream. I think the point is that Barack Obama, just like that big ad buy he put out, his first national general election campaign ad buy, was all about sending the signal that he‘s not exotic, he‘s not foreign, he‘s red, white and blue American.
GREGORY: It‘s also interesting, Richard, he talked about the role of popular culture and like some of the artists he likes, everybody from Jay-Z to somebody else, Springsteen even, how these artists have different phases over time and the role of popular culture in our overall culture and the message that it sends. He had a pretty nuanced view, all to sort of underscore the point that he‘s hip and explains why he‘s courting so many young voters.
WOLFFE: Yes, look, that‘s what “Rolling Stone” is all about. But I have to say two things: first of all, I hope nobody asks me what‘s on my iPod, because this is embarrassing. Secondly, what leaps out to me, Bob Dylan. This is a guy who ran against the 1960‘s and it‘s time to turn the page, and he‘s listening to Bob Dylan. Come on.
GREGORY: That‘s a great point. Obama has not turned the page. He‘s still listening to Bob Dylan.
ROBINSON: You don‘t need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing.
CARNEY: Dylan endorsed him, that‘s why.
GREGORY: Exactly. Here‘s an audio clip—this is a substantive question about what he wanted to achieve in his first term, and if he didn‘t, that it would be considered basically a negative mark. Here‘s an audio clip of Obama responding to that question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If I haven‘t gotten combat troops out of Iraq, passed universal health care and created a new energy policy that speaks to our dependence on foreign oil and deals seriously with global warming, then I think we‘ve missed the boat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: And, Gene, he wants to discover if there‘s life on Mars.
The bar is pretty high here for that first term, right?
ROBINSON: It would be nice if he had some real goal in mind. I think that‘s going to keep him awfully busy. He ought to get started now. If he gets all that done, what‘s he going to have left for his second term? Life on Mars, I guess.
GREGORY: Richard, take 20 seconds here, a serious point in terms of sketching out his initial priority. Do you think that those are issues that he takes on at the same time, right out of the gate?
WOLFFE: I think they realize they have a really short window to at least start some of these things. They have to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. They have to hand over global warming portfolio to Al gore and start the ball on health care. I think he will start all of those things. Whether he can finish them? Who knows.
GREGORY: Don‘t forget, the mid terms are coming in 2010. Real quick, Susan?
MOLINARI: Let‘s face it. This was another campaign speech. Whether he actually attempts to do this when he gets in office is a whole other thing. This is what he wants to set as the three things he‘s going to talk about in this campaign.
GREGORY: We have to go. We‘ll see you tomorrow. Thank you.
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