Guests: Pat Buchanan, John Harwood, Joan Walsh, Noah Oppenheim
DAVID GREGORY, HOST: Tonight, beyond unity. There are still cracks in this budding relationship between Clinton and Obama. Will money solve the problem, as THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.
Welcome to THE RACE. I‘m David Gregory. Happy to have you here, your stop for the fast-paced, the bottom line and every point of view in the room.
Tonight, Unity, New Hampshire, was the place. Unity was the message. So is it real or forced between Senators Obama and Clinton?
And then there is the matter with Bill. Why that‘s the most complicated part of this reconciliation in some of our reporting here tonight.
On “Three Questions” tonight, what is McCain‘s path to victory?
We‘re going to go inside the War Room as well. We examine just how this general election is shaping up as we gear up for the July 4th break.
The bedrock of our program, as you know, a panel that always comes to play.
With us tonight, Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst and author of “Churchill, Hitler and The Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World”; Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of salon.com.; John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and political writer for “The New York Times”; and Noah Oppenheim, co-author of “The Intellectual Devotional” series and a former senior producer of the “Today” program here on NBC.
Mr. Oppenheim out in California tonight. Get a good look at him out there.
OK. We begin as we do every night, with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day. It is “The Headline.”
I‘ll get us started here tonight.
My headline, “We are Family.”
It was a striking visual today. You‘ve got to see these pictures. Two political warriors staging a unity event in New Hampshire, the state where she won, staving off a quick defeat on the way to a long, protracted fight. And watch them as they giggle together, put a hand on the back, whisper in each other‘s ear.
This is a political courtship. It is not yet complete. But today, Senator Clinton uttered the most important words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We may have started on separate paths, but today, our paths have merged. Today, our hearts are set on the same destination for America. Today, we are coming together for the same goal, to elect Barack Obama as the next president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Again, just a stunning image for those of us who were covering this in the snows of New Hampshire and Iowa to see her utter those words. Well, Obama advisors say the senator hoped to speak directly to Clinton supporters today by acknowledging in part her complaint about sexism in the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, I don‘t pretend that one election can erase the past biases and outdated attitudes that we‘re still wrestling to overcome. I know that there have been times over the last 16 months when those biases have emerged, and Senator Clinton has always brushed them off, dealt with them with her usual grace and aplomb.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: A reference to Jay-Z there as well.
All right. Well, today demonstrated that choreography matters in politics.
This was a strong event.
But Pat Buchanan, this courtship is not over. Your headline on this as a political event today?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: “Eat Your Heart Out Republicans.”
Barack has courted in one, Hillary in three weeks. Meanwhile, the Republican right wing is slamming down the phone every time Johnny calls up and asks for a date. The Republicans better get their act together or they‘re going to be gone from this city.
GREGORY: But it‘s not as much Kumbaya as it looks like, Pat. There‘s a lot behind this event today. As I said at the outset, a lot of cracks in this relationship. Still, you think it makes for good theater?
BUCHANAN: It‘s Kumbaya compared to what the Republicans, evangelicals and John McCain have been doing for four months.
GREGORY: Yes. Yes. All right. Difficult circumstances. We‘ll get more on this.
John Harwood, your headline on this political event today?
JOHN HARWOOD, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, CNBC: David, aside from, welcome to Noah, it‘s great to have you on the show...
HARWOOD: ... it‘s “United in Sorrow.”
There‘s a rising chorus of complaints from Republicans about Barack Obama that he‘s just another politician, not an idealist. Well, guess what? That‘s not why they are really upset.
We already knew he was a politician. What has him crying real tears is that he appears to be a good politician. Perhaps more competitive than Al Gore, John Kerry and Mike Dukakis before him. He‘s tacked to the center on economics, national security and social policy. And today‘s successful event shows that he may be able to keep his party united in the process—
GREGORY: And you know, John, I picked something else out. While you were on MSNBC today, looking again, if we have some of those pictures of them coming out together, he was kind of hunched over with his arm around her, whispering in her ear, being deferential. There was just a courtship that was going on there physically in their body language that you hadn‘t seen from him before with her.
HARWOOD: Exactly. You forgot the color coordination, too, between his tie and her outfit.
GREGORY: Yes, of course.
HARWOOD: This was a very, very tactile event. There was a lot of emotion.
She used the language in the bite you played of “Our hearts are united.”
HARWOOD: That‘s something that‘s important for those angry and upset followers of Hillary Clinton who need to be coaxed along. A lot of it is about hurt feelings. Very, very effective today.
GREGORY: All right.
Noah, you‘ve got some advice in your headline tonight for McCain as he‘s watching all of this.
NOAH OPPENHEIM, FMR. SR. PRODUCER, “TODAY”: Yes. My headline is “McCain Should Pick Bono as his Veep.”
McCain desperately needs to capture a little of that rock star magic, because you looked at the event today and you saw two people who are just stars. You know, you mentioned that—you described it as theater. Much like theater in politics. In order to succeed, you need a little star power.
And Barack Obama is a star. He‘s charismatic. He‘s the first African-American candidate for president.
You know, Hillary Clinton, she‘s a former first lady, she‘s a star, she‘s a worldwide celebrity. And then, plus, you add on the narrative of these two formal rivals coming together and it‘s just simply overwhelmingly compelling.
GREGORY: But can you imagine—and Bill Clinton, we‘ll talk about this, he was not on the stage there. Is it possible for Bill Clinton to get up on that stage and watch and sit back as Obama is there and the crowd screams “Obama,” as they did today, which created kind of an awkward moment?
OPPENHEIM: I think it‘s certainly possible for him to sit on the stage and watch. The question is what he says as he walks off the stage on the rope line.
You know, listen, I think he has a lot to lose here, because if it looks like he‘s not throwing his full weight behind this Obama candidacy, the damage to his legacy is incalculable. So I think he knows that. He does what‘s in his best interest, and I think he‘ll come to that realization pretty quickly.
GREGORY: All right.
Joan Walsh, that sets you up perfectly. Your headline on this event tonight has to do with the former president. What is it?
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: Yes, David. Everybody has one last question about unity. Where was Bill?
You know, Bill Clinton is in London, he‘s celebrating Nelson Mandela‘s 90th birthday. I‘m sure they‘re having a great time.
And a lot of people thought he really should have been on stage with his wife today and Barack Obama. But I completely disagree. And I think it‘s time for us to leave Bill Clinton alone, just like Britney. You know, there‘s a lot of talk about the damage he did to her campaign, right? Many in politic remarks.
He left no camera behind on the campaign trail. He was always making news.
GREGORY: But here‘s the thing, Joan. The supporters of Hillary Clinton are telling Barack Obama, you can‘t leave him alone. You have got to appeal to him. You have got to reconcile his feelings with yours, yours with his. You need him in this campaign, you need him if you become president.
WALSH: I agree. I think that‘s true. I don‘t think they needed him today.
I think—you know, we all hear the same things, the president may be sulking, he‘s very upset about being called a racist by certain Obama supporters. He‘s not happy. And he‘s the one who‘s most upset about her loss.
So I think he deserves some time to get over his hurt feelings. Frankly, she deserves some time with Barack Obama in the spotlight. These two exciting new leaders...
HARWOOD: David, I think we saw the damage to the legacy that Noah talked about when Joan just compared Bill Clinton to Britney.
GREGORY: All right. I‘m going to take a break here.
A lot more. We‘re going to go inside the War Room, talk about just how bad the blood is between team Obama and team Clinton. A lot to get to there.
Plus, your play date with the panel is coming up later on. Call us, 212-790-2299, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE on MSNBC.
GREGORY: We‘re inside the War Room, the unity war room between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Yes, they teamed up today, joining forces, uniting. Whatever you want to call it, the obvious question is still, how does team Obama manage the Clintons?
Back with us, Pat Buchanan, Joan Walsh, John Harwood and Noah Oppenheim.
Topic number one, the big question: How bad, John Harwood, is the blood now between these two camps, particularly amidst all of Clinton‘s supporters?
HARWOOD: I don‘t think it‘s all that bad. You know, there are really bloody political fights. We saw one in 1968 when you had a Democratic Party torn apart by Vietnam, and a real conflict over fundamental policy issues.
This is all persona.. It‘s not, David, a fundamental conflict over policy at all. And so the Hillary Clinton supporters, they‘re some hard-liners, like the, you know, Japanese soldiers who never gave up after World War II. But that‘s a small number. Hillary Clinton has got a bigger megaphone, and I think that she really began in a very graceful way today, as she did a couple of weeks ago when she got out of the race to try to begin to knit these two factions together.
GREGORY: True enough. But Joan Walsh, my reporting tells me that there are a core group of Hillary Clinton supporters, fund-raisers, people who were there, here in Washington last night at that fund-raiser, at that event, who feel that Obama principally has to do more to acknowledge what they feel and what Hillary Clinton feels was sexism in this campaign. They are angry at Barack Obama and his campaign. They‘re angry at the news media, that he‘s really got to reflect that and acknowledge that to a greater extent.
WALSH: I‘m hearing that too, David. I mean, you know, I‘m not going to name her, but I can think of at least one of her biggest, biggest donors—
I‘ve been to her house for Clinton events—who did not even go to Washington. And some of the people who were there, you know, definitely had discussions about, would they bring checks? And some of them did not bring checks.
So, there‘s still a certain amount of upset. There‘s also—it‘s interesting. People that I talked to were happy with his remarks. I heard some people said he was aloof.
WALSH: But one thing that somebody said to me was, he talked about how his grandmother told him that he didn‘t—she didn‘t think Hillary was getting a fair shake. And it occurred to a couple of women, wow, maybe it would have been nice for him to say something during the campaign...
GREGORY: Something about that.
WALSH: ... when she was being hit so hard.
GREGORY: All right. Here‘s the big question, Noah. What about Bill?
One of the things that I‘ve heard today from the Clinton camp is that Obama has got to retire the debt for Hillary Clinton, her campaign debt, take a strong step by giving a mass e-mail out to all of his supporters to try to get money in before Bill Clinton is really going to step forward and do business with him.
Pretty hard line.
OPPENHEIM: Yes, that is a pretty hard line. And I think—you know, I think it‘s a tightrope for Bill Clinton to walk, because if it seems like he‘s extorting Obama and Obama‘s fund-raisers for money before he steps up to the plate and, you know, supports his candidacy, I think that that starts to become risky territory for Bill Clinton to be in.
That negotiation going on behind the scenes trying to work out how the debt is going to be handled, Obama and his wife Michelle wrote checks out last night.
OPPENHEIM: You know, a symbolic gesture. I think that‘s going to get resolved probably quicker than people think. And I don‘t think really Bill Clinton can afford to play hardball with that for too long.
GREGORY: Pat, what do you say?
BUCHANAN: I‘m inclined to agree. I think Bill Clinton, look, he‘s got his legacy on the line. But it‘s really the obligation of Obama. He‘s got this nomination locked up.
BUCHANAN: He‘s the guy that ought to be moving out forward to reconcile this. And let me say this: I agree with John. Look, this is nothing compared to the Goldwater/Rockefeller fight of ‘64 in our party, or the Ford/Reagan fight. In ‘76, they were spitting at each other all the way down to the convention.
This is a tremendous gain for Obama in three weeks.
HARWOOD: And David, I think we‘ve got to acknowledge one other thing about the sexism complaints.
HARWOOD: Yes, there maybe have been sexism that held Hillary Clinton back in the campaign, but that‘s not Barack Obama‘s fault.
HARWOOD: Barack Obama was not running a sexist campaign. That‘s, you know, a fact of life that Hillary Clinton was pushing back against very successfully. Maybe didn‘t get the job entirely done, but I don‘t think that‘s Barack Obama‘s fault.
GREGORY: Yes, fair point, but there‘s a view within the Clinton world that it was incumbent on Obama to speak out on this, take a stand about it.
HARWOOD: He did today.
GREGORY: Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi...
GREGORY: ... there was basically a big...
WALSH: A list of shame.
GREGORY: ... intra-party breakdown here.
WALSH: There‘s a list of shame of people who could have come out during the campaign while it was happening...
HARWOOD: Oh, come on.
WALSH: ... and held their tongues. No, John, we‘re talking about, you know, the hard core people. What are they upset about? That is one of them. And less Barack, frankly, than Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean. That, people feel, was really unconscionable.
HARWOOD: Nancy Pelosi is the villain on sexist grounds in the campaign?
WALSH: Yes. A lot of women...
HARWOOD: Come on.
WALSH: A lot of women wanted her to say something sooner about the way Hillary was being treated when she came out...
GREGORY: All right, let me—let me move on...
GREGORY: ... beyond this point to the question of what Hillary Clinton is going to do now. Is she right for the VP? What‘s her role in the actual on the campaign trail? This is what she talked about today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I was honored to be in this race with Barack, and I am proud that we had a spirited dialogue. That was the nicest way I could think of phrasing it. But it was spirited because we both care so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Clearly, Noah, she‘s got a voice in this campaign. But when you see those two together, do you think of running mates?
OPPENHEIM: You know, look, as I said before, it‘s a compelling picture.
I‘m not sure that he really needs her.
OPPENHEIM: I don‘t buy the argument that these people who are upset that he didn‘t do enough to combat sexism are going to vote for McCain or stay at home. I mean, you look back at this past week, where you saw the importance of the Supreme Court in shaping the contours of American life, and I don‘t believe somebody who cares about sexism is going to not vote for Barack Obama and vote for John McCain, or stay home because, you know...
WALSH: But it‘s not just women.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.
OPPENHEIM: ... they are bitter about it.
WALSH: It‘s not just women though. I mean, I think she does help him. She could help with Catholics, she could help him with Latinos. She could help him with seniors.
I‘m not convinced that this is the ticket, David. I thought a couple things today.
I thought they looked great together. They had a kind of chemistry. I don‘t want to sound sexist there, but, you know, they did. They felt very comfortable together.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn‘t.
WALSH: And that is—that‘s hugely important. So, today, I think that idea did take a step forward with some of us.
GREGORY: Pat, the information that I‘m getting out of both sides here is that the notion of being running mates is just no longer in the cards. There‘s not a lot of enthusiasm within the Obama ranks about this. And I think even the Clinton people realize, this is just not going to happen. She‘s going to carve out a different role.
So what‘s that role going to be going forward?
BUCHANAN: Well, first, the point that was made earlier, John made it again. This was the fact that Barack Obama is a terrific politician. Yes, does he move his position to the center when he has to? Yes. Nothing wrong with that.
He will not consider Hillary Rodham Clinton for vice president, in my view, unless he has to. If something happened and he goes into his convention eight points or six points down, and she could bring all the women back to him, I think he‘ll take a look at it.
But I think she‘s got a tremendous role for herself. She sees herself as the leader of one half of this party, the leader of American women inside the Democratic coalition. And I think she wants to maintain that.
And that means getting along with her boss now, Barack Obama, if he‘s president, and playing that role in the United States Senate if she doesn‘t get VP. She‘s handling it, I think, extremely well given the fact her heart has been broken and her dream died about three weeks ago.
GREGORY: Noah, another point about Bill Clinton that I think is interesting, which is if people are telling Barack Obama, look, you‘re going to need him strategically in the campaign, but if you‘re elected president, that‘s when you really need a former president, and this former president. If you look around the landscape, George W. Bush and his father, President Bush, Jimmy Carter, these are not going to be your closest advisers among the former presidents.
GREGORY: This is the guy he‘s going to need.
WALSH: Great point.
OPPENHEIM: Yes, absolutely. He‘s going to need to turn to him, you know, in terms of diplomacy being such a big aspect of what Barack Obama is promising. You know, nobody is larger on the world stage than Bill Clinton. Nobody has more good will overseas than Bill Clinton. Obviously he‘d be a tremendous asset to a Democratic president like Barack Obama.
HARWOOD: Barack Obama might have more.
OPPENHEIM: Well, he‘s getting more. I mean, you know, that‘s the flip side of this...
WALSH: He‘s getting there.
BUCHANAN: You ain‘t going to get that guy on a short leash, I‘ll tell you.
WALSH: There is that.
BUCHANAN: Watch Bill giving him a lot of assignments.
GREGORY: All right. We‘re going to take a break here. We‘re going to come back with our mini version of veepstakes. We like to look at each one each night.
Tonight, the Democratic side. Going to look at Joe Biden. Is he emerging as more of a favorite for Barack Obama?
This is RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE on MSNBC. We‘re back after the break?
GREGORY: We are back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I‘m David Gregory.
Time now to vet the veeps.
On the block today, the senator from Delaware, the Democrat Joe Biden. He, of course, part of that expansive field of candidates running in this race early on.
And back with us, Pat, Joan, John and Noah.
OK. Quick facts about Biden.
From Delaware, 65. He‘s Catholic. Six Senate terms, he chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, two-time presidential candidate. Proposes a federalist solution for Iraq, wants to break it up into autonomous areas.
Noah, assess. There‘s been a growing chorus of people saying that this is the area that Obama needs the help with. Is Biden the guy?
OPPENHEIM: I‘ve heard that chorus and I just—I don‘t know. I just—
I‘m not sure I see it.
I think Joe Biden is obviously a very impressive public servant, but he‘s a consummate Washington insider. He‘s a guy who‘s known for his gaffes.
I mean, this is the guy who entered the presidential race remarking that Barack Obama was the first African-American mainstream candidate who was “bright, articulate and clean.” The guy—you know, loose lips sink ships. They also sink campaigns. And to have a vice presidential candidate who is known for going off script, it could be quite a gamble on Obama‘s part.
WALSH: Well, I thought he did a very good job during the rest of the campaign, Noah. We had some great debates where he limited himself to one or two words and showed us that he had restraint.
This idea is growing on me. I think that he adds—the foreign policy stuff is really important. He‘s also Catholic. He also was born in Pennsylvania. And being the Delaware connection, you k now, gives him a reach in that area.
So I think he‘s going to be somebody who‘s taken very seriously.
GREGORY: Pat, we know that if he disagrees with Barack Obama on a policy, in an area of policy, he‘s going to say so inside the Oval Office.
BUCHANAN: Yes, in a very, very longwinded speech, too.
BUCHANAN: Look, at least we won‘t have him interrogating Supreme Court justices.
But look, I think what he brings is, he does bring sort of gray hairs, and he brings stability. And he brings experience and knowledge. But it‘s an unexiting choice for Barack Obama, I think.
And so I don‘t—in Delaware, it‘s a cautious choice. And I think maybe too cautious, frankly. And if I had to bet, I would say no. I would be more likely to see him, I think, as maybe as secretary of state.
HARWOOD: David, I don‘t think—I don‘t think Barack Obama needs to take any risks in his choice given all the advantages he has.
HARWOOD: Noah‘s objection is the right one, the potential for a mistake. But there are a lot of advantages to him, including the fact that he very much is able to relate to average people. With the Republican ticket talking about elitist Barack Obama, Joe Biden is an answer to that.
OPPENHEIM: Yes, I think...
GREGORY: I‘m going to take—I‘ve got to take a break here.
When we come back, the state of the race in our special War Room, the back half.
Don‘t go away.
GREGORY: Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I‘m David Gregory. Happy to have you for the back half here. Time for today‘s second war room, special edition. We are stepping back and looking at the race from affair. Who has the momentum? Who‘s delivering the stronger message? Who has the enthusiasm behind them in their respective bases?
Back with us, Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst and author of “Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War, How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World,” Joan Walsh, editor and chief of Salon.com, John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for cNBC and political writer for the “New York Times,” and Noah Oppenheim, co-author of the “Intellectual Devotional Series,” former senior producer of the Today program here on NBC.
Topic number one, momentum. New polls out tonight, the latest look at how they are faring head to head. Let‘s go through them. The head to head match up, a couple of them this week had a big lead for Obama, double digits. Now back to reality, 43-38, according to the latest from “Time Magazine.” Again, a much tighter spread there. Undecided lean toward which direction, McCain 30 percent, Obama 20 percent. A lot of fluidity here, 28 percent say they can still change their minds in the four months left before November.
How about independents? This is interesting. Obama 44 percent to McCain 43 percent. Among women it is Obama 45 and McCain 39. Team Obama says they‘re going to have an historic gender gap there. John Harwood, you‘ve looked at as many polls as anybody. Start off with the head to head. What does it tell you?
HARWOOD: I think the way political professionals do this, David, is to average the polls together. What we‘ve seen in the several weeks since Hillary Clinton got out of the race is that Barack Obama‘s lead has gone from single digits, one, two, three points, to outside the margin of error. We‘re now talking about six points or more. I don‘t think anybody in the Democratic party really thinks he‘s up by 15 points. So they can set some of those polls to the side.
But look, he‘s building a lead. Democrats are feeling favorable about where they are, in particular because the Democrats have an advantage in party identification of ten points or more. More and more people are considering themselves Democrat and they are voting Democrat.
GREGORY: Talk about that Pat Buchanan, because what‘s interests me about that is that, of course, party ID for Republicans is very low right now. You just had a Democratic nominee finally crowned after a protracted fight. John McCain has not been in the news very much at all. He‘s been fighting for attention. He doesn‘t have a running mate yet. You have a very unpopular president. So all of those things are creating this sense of malaise among Republicans. That number is bound to go up. Party ID number is bound to go up.
BUCHANAN: Well, I think that‘s right. I think McCain—I am surprised that Obama is not further ahead than he is. Clearly, he is moving from the low single digits to the mid-single digits. He is beginning to close the sale. That thing today I think will help him. He is slowly pulling away. What you see with McCain is someone who seems static. He‘s done well in some back and forth exchanges with Obama, but he doesn‘t seem to be rallying the base.
The good news for Republicans is this: thus far, Barack Obama is running pretty far behind the Democratic identification, which means there‘s an awful lot of skepticism and concern about him out there. The Republicans have to work that vein if they are going to beat him.
GREGORY: Let‘s move on to the message discussion here and show you the latest ad from John McCain. He‘s talking about energy, but it‘s not just about gas. It‘s about something bigger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American technology protected the world. We went to the moon, not because it was easy, but because it was hard. John McCain will call America to our next national purpose, energy security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Noah, this is the message for John McCain. He wants to make energy a national security issue, not just an energy security issue. He‘s also coming off like an activist over the past several weeks. Even if you think he‘s got nothing more than gimmicks, or you‘re against exploration as a voter, this is a guy who is out there trying to own this issue. He‘s trying to paint Barack Obama into the corner, because he‘s against what he‘s proposing. How‘s it working?
OPPENHEIM: I love this message from John McCain. I love the ad. I love the message. I think that John McCain, right now, if you were going to look around, if you were a voter paying five dollars a gallon for gas, and you wanted to look around and say, who‘s offering me a solution to that, even if you disagree with that solution, John McCain has been out ahead in terms of promising concrete steps to bring down the price of gasoline and to help average Americans who are hurting because of it.
Even if you think offshore drilling is an environmental crime, at least it‘s something concrete that John McCain is suggesting. Even if you think offering a 300 million dollar prize for somebody who comes up with new clean energy technology is kind of a cockamamy (ph) gimmick, at least it‘s something concrete. All I know right now is that Barack Obama thinks suspending the gas tax is a bad idea. He thinks drilling is a bad idea. What is it he is going to do? I don‘t think his message on that front is getting through.
GREGORY: Joan, take it on. Is he losing the message war, Obama?
WALSH: I think his message has not been getting through. I think McCain does look activist on this. I think the doctor no, the Mr. No ad was also very helpful. On the other hand, Democrats are starting to say that McCain‘s energy plan looks a lot like the Cheney energy task force, with all the supposedly clean coal and the nuclear plants that will never get built. They are too expensive. So—
GREGORY: That‘s not really fair. If you look at that objectively, there‘s certainly elements of exploration that would be in line with Cheney-Bush, but he‘s broken significantly from Bush when it comes to climate change and even investments in alternative sources.
WALSH: Yes, cap and trade, he‘s better, although he‘s not sure it should be mandatory. Cap and trade is, by definition, mandatory. He‘s had some flubs in the last couple weeks. I think everybody knows, and we talked about this before, that none of what he‘s doing, or Obama for that matter, can make a short term difference.
GREGORY: Pat, who is owning the economic message? If the economy is driving the campaign, who owns the economy message?
BUCHANAN: I don‘t know who owns it. But I do know this, McCain is moving to the tax issue and the economy issue. He got a break with the death penalty thing in Louisiana from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court issues is a good issue for Republicans. Guns is a good issue for Republicans. There‘s of—Energy security, when you talk security, that‘s McCain. McCain has been dealt pretty good cards these last ten days on the issues. He hasn‘t made a move yet, but I think, on the issues, if you had to say who‘s been winning the battle the last two weeks, I think McCain has been doing very well.
GREGORY: John Harwood, third area, general enthusiasm from your base.
Is this even a close contest? Is Obama winning this hands down?
HARWOOD: No, it‘s a blowout. Look, that‘s a big problem for John McCain. Think about the strategic challenge he faces, trying to get his base, which is smaller, activated, while reaching out to the middle. On your question earlier to Pat, Barack Obama owns the economic issue because people associate the state of the economy with the incumbent administration. That‘s advantage Barack Obama. However, John McCain has done a very good job of trying to take control of the energy issue and drive it in the way that Noah has said in the last few days.
GREGORY: We‘re talking about voter enthusiasm. Some reporting out of the “L.A. Times” today about McCain in Ohio meeting with social conservatives. He told these conservative leaders in Ohio that he is interested in learning more about their opposition to embryonic stem cell research, something he supports. He didn‘t give up that ground, but he said he wants to hear more about it. He would considered an anti-abortion running mate choice. That‘s a significant concession. He endorsed a ballot measure in California to ban gay marriage.
This weekend, he‘s meeting with Franklin Graham. So he‘s taking some of these steps, Noah, to get the right, to get the activists, to get the base out there working for him in an important way.
OPPENHEIM: Absolutely, but this has been McCain‘s big dilemma from the beginning of this primary season. How do you maintain your maverick image? How do you retain the support of independents, and at the same time get conservative Republicans to rally behind you? It‘s a splitting the baby kind of quandary.
WALSH: If McCain—
BUCHANAN: He should have done—
GREGORY: Hold on. Go ahead, Pat.
BUCHANAN: He should have gone and rallied the base first when Barack Obama and Hillary are running, go out, talk to them, bring them aboard, bring the Evangelicals and the conservatives, talk to them, give them what they need, and then run to the center for the general election. He shouldn‘t be doing this now.
WALSH: If McCain loses, this is why, because he still has to go out to the base. Then he‘s going to say that he wants women. He wants Hillary Clinton‘s women. But he has to talk against abortion. He‘s got to sound like he‘s at least listening to the anti-stem cell research people. That‘s going to hurt him with women. That‘s going to hurt him with independents. It‘s this split right now.
GREGORY: John Harwood, they would tell you within the Obama campaign that the number of independents has actually shrunk in this country. Many of them are more staunchly behind Democrats.
GREGORY: The pool of independents are really Republicans. That‘s where the fight is between McCain and Obama.
HARWOOD: Yes, and the Democratic advantage in party ID has actually persisted quite a while wince the 2006 election and actually before that election. So I‘m not so sure that party ID advantage is going to narrow. It reduces the premium on Democrats to get independents, because their pie is so much bigger.
WALSH: But McCain needs them.
GREGORY: Noah, quit point here, which is, if you really pull back here, McCain is asserting himself as the underdog in this race. He‘s starting to buy in that narrative. That‘s how he campaigns best. Is Obama risking being over-confident, skating a little, being a little bit complacent?
OPPENHEIM: That was the charge against him through a good stretch of the primaries. He would put together a string of victories, and then he would coast. Hillary would come back at him. That‘s going to be a danger for Obama throughout the campaign.
Listen, John McCain is going to win if he‘s able to portray himself as a gritty, reforming maverick. That‘s what made him popular in 2000. It‘s what put him on the national stage, the guy who tackled his own party on campaign finance. He stepped out in front on immigration reform. If he portrays himself as this gritty, under dog fighter, who is fighting for the interests of the country and for people against Obama, who is just sort of another typical liberal pol, then that‘s his only hope. That‘s his winning message.
GREGORY: Buchanan, he needs the pitch forks you have in the back of your pick-up. That‘s what he needs.
BUCHANAN: He should have the pitch fork brigades behind him by now.
GREGORY: We‘re going to take a break here and come back. The debate continues. Three questions tonight, how can McCain win in November? What‘s his path? We‘ll talk about it when RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE returns.
GREGORY: We‘re back on THE RACE. Time for the big picture here, three questions driving the campaign, all focused on how John McCain can edge out Barack Obama in November. Back with us, the panel, Pat Buchanan, Joan Walsh, John Harwood and Noah Oppenheim.
First question, out of the box here, how can John McCain convince voters that Barack Obama lacks substance? John Harwood, the idea for this question here—you‘ve seen the flip on campaign finance reform and on other issues. It‘s a way for McCain to say, this guy is nothing more than an empty vessel.
HARWOOD: I think, David, it‘s got to be change versus risk. He has to persuade people that this relatively young man who Americans don‘t know very well—they have seen John McCain for years on national stage. It‘s simply too big a risk to take at a time when the economy is shaky and the war is still with us. It‘s not an easy argument to make, but it may be the best one he has got.
GREGORY: But Joan, it has some resonance. If you talk about the issue of who best can reach across the aisle and reform Washington? Who can change Washington? Barack Obama does not have a record of doing that, of stepping up to the orthodoxy of his party.
WALSH: Look, John McCain has, that‘s true, but he‘s now against the McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill. He‘s against McCain/Feingold. He wants it changed. Some of his record really isn‘t that impressive. He doesn‘t even believe in it anymore. And I think it‘s a little bit unfair to Obama, because Obama has—he‘s worked with Lugar nuke issues. He has worked with Colburn on ethics. He‘s worked with Brownback on Darfur.
The real issue for Obama, he does reach across the aisle. Was that Pat laughing at me?
OPPENHEIM: I do think it‘s funny. I think it‘s funny because I love when everybody brings that up as an example of Obama‘s bipartisanship. We‘re talking about loose nukes. How is that any kind of courageous stance?
WALSH: Right, but he made a relationship with this guy. Look, I‘m not saying it‘s expansive. What you really boil it down to, it‘s not that he‘s partisan or not. It‘s that he hasn‘t been around very long to have those expansive relationships with a lot of Republicans and Democrats. On the other hand --
HARWOOD: He‘s been running for president in the Democratic primary throughout the time he‘s been in the Senate.
OPPENHEIM: I don‘t think he wants to highlight the fact that he hasn‘t been around long enough to do those things.
WALSH: He doesn‘t—
GREGORY: Here it is, question number two, which is related to this in some way, which is how does McCain convince voters that Obama will not keep them safe? This is another key threshold, Pat, that the Obama team understands. They have to pass. They don‘t have to win. They have to be acceptable in their view. They are not going to out commander in chief John McCain. They have to make Obama acceptable. How does McCain do it?
BUCHANAN: I think McCain‘s people have to paint Obama as a McGovern Democrat, a liberal Democrat who really is too forthcoming with the enemies of this country. It‘s a dangerous world and the kid just doesn‘t get it. Let me add, David, one problem Obama seems to be developing. It is this cockiness, this diffidence, this sort of ultra cool thing. McCain can put this into a framework of, if you will, Rocky getting beat up by Apollo Creed (ph), and everybody rooting for the underdog.
I think Barack Obama has to watch that. He has a real tendency, like when he backhanded Hillary in that New Hampshire debate, saying, you‘re popular enough. I think he‘s got a problem with that.
GREGORY: John Harwood, how does he take on the issue of national security? This all goes to the experience question, which is can you really trust this guy? If there‘s a crisis, you walk into the Oval Office, you picture Obama in the Oval Office. Is he going to make the right call?
HARWOOD: That‘s the argument. Of course, Republicans, without saying so too loudly, can point to the fact that we haven‘t been hit again since 9/11. But look at what Barack Obama and the other Democrats have done on that terror surveillance bill. They made a deal. They caved on the immunity for phone companies. Obama got kicked in the teeth a little bit by the left and loved it, because that told the American people he‘s not out on the far left. He‘s may be more in line with what mainstream voters want, maybe a little bit more reassuring.
GREGORY: Maybe the biggest example yet of him really taking on the left, standing up to his own party on an issue that became so divisive.
HARWOOD: Aside from his embrace of the Second Amendment, which is something that‘s also useful for the same reason.
GREGORY: Right, exactly. Third question tonight, how can McCain convince voters that he‘s different enough from President Bush? Noah, has he staked out enough ground on the environment to over-shadow the fact that he‘s still very close to Bush on the war by supporting the surge?
OPPENHEIM: To me, this is the toughest mountain to climb for John McCain. If you looked at his record prior to when he started running for president, you would have said this would have been easy for him. Since he started to run and since he has had to court that conservative base, it‘s becoming a lot trickier for him. You know, Hillary Clinton, today, at the unity event, repeated the line again, John McCain and George Bush are two sides of the same coin. It‘s not change. That‘s sort of the silver bullet for Democrats.
And for John McCain to both stake out differences from George Bush and, at the same time, keep his base rallied and motivated, that‘s going to be a really difficult thing to do.
GREGORY: Pat, do you think that McCain gets credit for standing up to Bush on troop levels? Does he get credit for standing up to Bush over Rumsfeld and criticizing implementation of the strategy for the war? Or is he only locked in with him on supporting the surge?
BUCHANAN: I think McCain does have an independent identity. People do not say he‘s George W. Bush. His problem is, for example, when he goes down to New Orleans and trashes Bush on Katrina, a lot of conservatives are saying, what are you piling up on the guy. Everybody is beating up on him. You‘ve got to remember, Bush has 28 percent to 30 percent of the country. That‘s probably 65 percent of Republicans and conservatives. I don‘t know that folks like him doing that. He‘s got a very, very tricky thing to maneuver.
HARWOOD: I don‘t think Pat liked it too much when he went to Canada and talked about free trade, either.
GREGORY: We‘re going to take a break here. In our remaining moments, your play date with the panel, your calls, your e-mail. Our remaining moments here on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Don‘t go away.
GREGORY: On this Friday night, your play date with the panel. We‘re going to get right to it here. Our panel is back with us tonight, Pat, Joan, John and Noah. Avi in New York writes the following, “there is constant mention of John McCain‘s advantage in the case of a new terror attack by playing the scare tactic card, but it seems like Barack Obama could rather easily refute that by playing the you guys have tried and failed card. Would that work?”
Noah, this has been a tactic from Obama. He‘s going right at McCain on the national security debate. He wants to take him on.
OPPENHEIM: He does, but if you look under the hood of those new “Time Magazine” poll numbers, McCain still enjoys a sizable advantage when it comes to all the issues related to national security, whether it‘s terrorism or even handling Iraq. Even if people disagree with the substance of McCain‘s Iraq policy, they do still seem to think he‘d be better equipped to handle it. I think if Obama does go after McCain on the you tried and failed, McCain‘s best counter argument is what do you mean we failed? It‘s been how many years since 9/11 without a single additional terror attack. That‘s a pretty compelling counter argument. Something is working.
HARWOOD: David, Noah‘s exactly right. That‘s why what Charlie Black said the other day was merely the same truth that Democrats will say privately. But it was impolitic for Charlie to say it.
GREGORY: Pat, it‘s what Karl Rove used to say in 2004; if the debate is terrorism, Bush wins. Now, in this case, if the debate is Iraq, not necessarily the case for John McCain, but it might be. If the debate is terrorism, it‘s still probably advantage Republican.
BUCHANAN: Sure. If there‘s another terrorist attack, lord forbid, and Barack Obama came out and said that just shows you guys failed. That would be preposterous. That would backfire on him. What you do on that—it‘s immediate time of unity. We have to rally behind the president, find out what happened here. To immediately respond by saying, ha, this shows you failed suggests something almost un-American. I think this message is not a good one for Obama that that fellow is recommending.
WALSH: He would never do that, but voters would start to wonder.
There would be questions about that if there were another attack.
GREGORY: All right, timing being the question there. Megan in New York writes this, “it occurred to me that the attacks from McCain on Obama as just another politician actually have an upside. For people who feel they don‘t know Obama well enough and fear him as an exotic entity, the fact that he is portrayed as something familiar to him, another Washington politician, can have, subliminally, at least a reassuring affect.”
I‘d turn that on its head, Joan, and say, no, if that‘s the sentiment, then that‘s to McCain‘s benefit.
WALSH: I agree. I think that‘s a very optimistic way of looking at something. I think that‘s great that that viewer thinks that. But I think the more Obama—this is, I think, one of McCain‘s only ways in. The more Obama can be slapped as just another politician, the more he loses that surge of enthusiasm that he has --
BUCHANAN: David, David, I disagree 100 percent for this reason: the danger to Obama is that he‘s going to be painted as Reverend Wright‘s boy, this radical liberal out there.
BUCHANAN: The very fact he comes in and says, there‘s an individual right to own guns and the fact that he comes back to the center on some of these issues shows that he‘s a guy in the mainstream of America. That‘s what he wants to get. If he gets there, I think he wins.
WALSH: I think he tunes out a lot of people that he has turned on.
BUCHANAN: You can be tuned out. That‘s not problem for him. He has to tune some folks in.
WALSH: I get to vote too, Pat.
GREGORY: Let me get one more in here. JB in Louisiana writes this, “in my opinion, Bill and Hillary Clinton do not really want Barack Obama to win in November. That said, do you think that Hillary Clinton is playing the good cop to keep her viability for 2012, while Bill is playing the bad cop to prevent some of their supporters from going over to Obama?”
Noah, take it on.
OPPENHEIM: I have to say it again, I think it‘s one of these things where there‘s unlimited downside for the Clintons if there‘s any perception that they aren‘t fully behind this thing. I mean, fair or unfair, Bill Clinton got slapped with the racist label during this campaign. He‘s the first viable African-American for president. He has to seem like he‘s working even harder for Obama than he did for himself. I think his own self-interest will motivate him to do that.
HARWOOD: By the way, that label was unfair. Bill Clinton is not a racist.
GREGORY: That is going to be the last word. To be continued, as the skies darken behind John Harwood‘s head here in Washington, DC. Thanks very much for a great panel tonight. That‘s going to do it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. We‘ll see you back here Monday, 6:00 pm Eastern time. Have a great weekend and a peaceful Friday night. I‘m David Gregory.
“HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now.
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