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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: MORT ZUCKERMAN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, SYNDICATED RADIO COMMENTATOR; CLARENCE PAGE, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE TAPED: FRIDAY, APRIL 18, 2008 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF APRIL 19-20, 2008

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Will the Real Barack Obama Please Stand Up?

The two Democratic rivals faced off this week on the threshold of next Tuesday's critical primary -- Pennsylvania -- which Hillary must win. The debate focused less on knowledge and more on virtue, the two constituent ingredients of leadership.

Senator Barack Obama was first asked about a comment he made in San Francisco about 15 days. Obama said that when economic despair strikes, small-town Americans, in order to compensate, will cling to guns, to God, and to distrust of outsiders. Here's Obama on an audio track almost three weeks ago in San Francisco.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL, Democratic presidential candidate): (From audio tape.) They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment, as a way of explaining their frustrations.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here's Obama's gloss this week on his own earlier words.

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) So the point I was making was that when people feel like Washington's not listening to them, when they're promised year after year, decade after decade, that their economic situation is going to change and it doesn't, then politically they end up focusing on those things that are constant, like religion.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: The foundation of Barack Obama's political candidacy is his claim to be a unifier. He brings about unity. Is that claim undermined by these remarks? Mort Zuckerman.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, it certainly wasn't helped by them, because these remarks clearly, I think, did indicate a kind of class separation of somebody who I think did not understand what religion and other beliefs meant to people. And I don't think his explanation was good enough either. It's not because of what was going on in Washington. He's still running against Washington, which is a good political move.

But this, I think, was just a sort of attitudinal expression of his, and he was going to be attacked for it. He was attacked for it. I think he basically has gotten by it. But I think it does reflect the problem that he has, which is that, to some extent, he appeals to the people who drink wine and not to the people who drink beer.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that verified by the fact that it was given in San Francisco and it was a small audience and he felt he was off the record? Does that have anything to do with it?

MS. CLIFT: I really don't think there's anything subversive here. And, first of all, to say that he doesn't understand people who come to religion -- he wrote his whole first memoir about his coming to God and coming to Jesus. He is a religious man.

He was asked at this fund-raiser -- it happened to be in San Francisco -- whether he could win white working-class voters because he was black. And he basically said that these voters have a lot of other grievances much more salient than race, and he pointed out that their jobs are gone. He used the word "bitter." He used the words "angry" and "frustrated" also. And he said the politicians have failed them repeatedly and that they then are vulnerable to wedge issues. And the wedge issues, we're all familiar with -- God, gays and guns. That's what he was saying. And Hillary Clinton knows perfectly well that's what he was saying. It's been the subject of Democratic study for years, going back to the Reagan Democrats in Macomb County, Michigan. It was the focus of a best-selling book, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" It's hardly a new line of argument. He is empathetic with these voters. It's not criticizing them.

MS. CROWLEY: But here is his problem. This is the core of his problem. He has been running as the transcendent, post-racial hope guy who's running on unity and change. And what these comments pointed to -- it's very jarring for voters who had one image of him as that, then to hear comments like this come out of him.

And the problem is that it makes him look like a conventional politician, in addition to being an orthodox liberal. That is a problem for Barack Obama, because he has been trying to position himself as above all of that. So when comments like this come out from a very elite, wealthy group in San Francisco, it makes people think that the image that he's put out there is wholly different from who he is and who he would be as president.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's kind of an effective disdain for gun-clutching, Bible-toting, anti-immigration, anti-trade Pennsylvanians? Is that what he sounds like?

MR. PAGE: Well, not deliberately. But these words, the way he phrased it, can be construed that way. And that's the way his political opponents --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he's that way? Do you think he's a snob?

MR. PAGE: No, I believe his speech from 2004, when he said "We worship an awesome God" in the red states and the blue states, I think that is the real Barack Obama. He was speaking off the record, he thought. I think he knows now, in this age of YouTube --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he contrive it for the audience? Did he contrive it for the audience?

MR. PAGE: He was speaking casually. You could tell from his tone he was speaking casually with the audience there. So he was actually trying to help people to understand why folks in middle America might seem so different from the more liberal audience he was talking to there in San Francisco. The irony is that it has been turned around and construed as something that was supposed to be divisive. And I don't think that was his intent.

MS. CLIFT: Right. And everybody --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that his upbringing is privileged? MR. PAGE: Hardly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He went to a school in Hawaii, you know, that tropical climate. It was a very private school.

MR. PAGE: He writes about that in his book.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He went to Columbia. He went to Harvard. Does he sound like he's a product of privileged upbringing?

MR. PAGE: I don't think he sounds that way at all. He wasn't from a privileged upbringing. It was a working-class upbringing. Read his books, especially the first one, John. He actually chastised one of his friends when he was back in middle school who was complaining -- this was a black friend complaining about racism.

He said, "Look, you're in this wonderful place here where you've got all kinds of races around here. This is Hawaii, for Pete's sake. What are you complaining about?" I mean, he has never been the kind who viewed himself as a victim as far as --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he looks like a prince regent?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, he is a great American story, okay? Wherever he came from, he has done extraordinarily well in this country. This is the story of America, of somebody who, through his own talents, has taken himself from wherever he was to wherever he is now. It's not that he had a privileged upbringing. I think that's all it is.

MS. CROWLEY: But it's not --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's true of the Clintons as well, I might add. It's certainly true of Bill Clinton.

MS. CROWLEY: On this point, it's not the elitism per se. It's about relatability to the voters that you are talking about. He has sold himself so well. He's been this electric presence out there for so long on the campaign trail. All of a sudden something like this comes out and the voters that he's been trying to appeal to, by bowling in Pennsylvania and so on, have to think, "Well, wait a minute."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does he act like a black Kennedy?

MS. CROWLEY: A black Kennedy?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A black Kennedy -- JFK.

MR. PAGE: How do you mean that, John?

MS. CROWLEY: Well, he's been running on that image the whole time -- charismatic, young guy.

MS. CLIFT: Look, he's still --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Privileged class, Eleanor -- privileged. MS. CLIFT: He inspires people. He inspires people, in large part, because of his story -- son of a single mother, mother who was on food stamps, raised by grandparents, absent father.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Columbia. Harvard.

MS. CLIFT: Well, yeah, but he didn't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Hillary --

MS. CLIFT: He didn't get there because he was somebody's legacy. He got there on his own, on his own grades.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's hear from another American. Hillary draws on her own heritage.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY, Democratic presidential candidate): (From videotape.) I am the granddaughter of a factory worker from Scranton who went to work in the Scranton lace mills when he was 11 years old; worked his entire life there, mostly six-day weeks. I don't believe that my grandfather or my father or the many people whom I have had the privilege of knowing and meeting across Pennsylvania over many years cling to religion when Washington is not listening to them. I think that is a fundamental sort of misunderstanding of the role of religion and faith in times that are good and times that are bad. I can see why people would be taken aback and offended by the remarks.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Did Hillary hit this one right out of the ball park, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: She is hammering away. She knows perfectly well that Barack Obama was not trying to insult anyone. And if you go back and look at the rhetoric of her husband in 1992, he made many of the same points. The Democrats had lost working-class people because they weren't able to relate to them on economic issues and they weren't voting their economic interests and they were clinging to these other issues.

There is no evidence in the polls yet that there is a backlash among white working-class voters. And, in fact, Hillary's negatives are the ones that have gone up. She may have nicked him, but she has really cut herself with this approach.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, she's really maximized it, too, because the day after the story broke, she was seen in Indiana, who holds a primary the following week after Pennsylvania, downing shots of Crown Royal and looking like one of the guys. Look, she and her husband have made $110 million over the last six years, so she has some resources too.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Didn't she hit this right out of the ball park, out of the stadium, over the bleachers, into the street? MS. CROWLEY: Obama's comments were softball for her.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Scranton, Scranton, her grandparents growing up in Scranton.

MS. CROWLEY: Of course. And she put together a great political ad to maximize that. The question is not about the elitism per se. It's about relatability. And that's what Hillary is trying to maximize.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, in the kitchen with Hillary.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pick it up from here. Okay, in the kitchen with Hillary.

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) I recall when, back in 1992, when she made a statement about "What do you expect? Should I be at home baking cookies?" And people attacked her for being elitist and this and that. And I remember watching that on TV and saying, "Well, that's not who she is. That's not what she believes. That's not what she meant." And I'm sure that's how she felt as well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he out-Hillarying Hillary here?

MR. PAGE: I thought he did.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Talking about baking cookies in the kitchen 15 years ago, comparing that to what he said in Pennsylvania?

MR. PAGE: It's a good comparison, because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The disdain for --

MR. PAGE: It's a good comparison. The point he's making is that during a campaign these are the kind of episodes that make headlines and cause a lot of talk, but it doesn't have to be that damaging, because -- and he also came off here as a guy who was trying to show himself as being understanding. "Hey, this kind of thing happens; it happened to Hillary." And he reminded everybody of the elitism charge.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know what he's doing.

MR. PAGE: Yeah, exactly right. I thought it was very clever, because, you know, elitism isn't about your income. It's about how you relate to ordinary folks. And I think, over time, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton showed that they could be popular with ordinary folks. And Barack Obama is saying --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Michelle to the rescue. Barack's wife, Michelle, has been standing up for her husband after his, quote-unquote, "mangled" statement about small-town Americans. It started with a soft touch.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

STEPHEN COLBERT (host, "The Colbert Report"): How many silver spoons in your mouth?

MICHELLE OBAMA (wife of Sen. Obama): We had four spoons.

MR. COLBERT: Oh, but there were spoons.

MS. OBAMA: There were spoons, four spoon, yes.

MR. COLBERT: Okay. So that tag still sticks. (Laughter.)

MS. OBAMA: And then my father got a raise at the plant, and we had five spoons.

(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Michelle more of a plus or a minus to Barack's candidacy? What do you think?

MR. PAGE: Oh, thank you for that softball, John. (Laughs.) Obvious plus. I mean, she handled it the way you're supposed to handle it -- with humor. You know, these are folks who are living the American dream.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, in that episode she was terrific.

MR. PAGE: Yeah, yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She's terrific. She looked great and she was perfect in that setting. But do you think that they're a little worried about her, because she appears to have that chip on the shoulder?

MR. PAGE: There's no chip on the shoulder, John. She's great at disarming and charming audiences. You know, if you pull stuff out of context, you can make somebody sound like anything.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You saw her on Larry King for an hour?

MR. PAGE: Oh, yeah. And I've seen her in person working crowds and all. But, you know, what really gets me is there's this irony. You know, Americans have this funny way of looking up for somebody to look down on. (Laughs.) I mean, here we've got people who came from humble backgrounds, who worked their way up, good education, et cetera. And now, all of a sudden, they're being accused of elitism for being successful.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't overlook the evolution that's taken place, however.

MR. PAGE: On whose part?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In the whole cultural-racist dimension of our society.

MR. PAGE: And isn't it wonderful?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is wonderful.

MR. PAGE: That's right. That's right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, I don't want you to revert back to a period that we've already gone past. MR. PAGE: Well, I don't want America to revert back either. That's what I'm afraid is happening with this kind of divisive language about people who are trying to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Maybe Barack and --

MS. CLIFT: There's an edginess --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- she are trading off that.

MS. CLIFT: There's an edginess --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: There's something about American politics --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor speak.

MS. CLIFT: There's an edginess to her. And I think her statement that she was proud of America for the first time as an adult will be taken up by the Republicans in the fall. What we are seeing is the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is she over that? Is she over it?

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. What we are seeing is the auditioning of the Republican assault against Obama as "not quite like us," not quite American enough. And all she needs to do is say, "I am prouder than ever of being an American." She could put that to rest. She's smart. She's the modern-day Abigail Adams, and she's very much --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of Abigail?

MS. CLIFT: -- (inaudible) -- to her husband.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I loved Abigail Adams, actually. (Laughter.) I knew her --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Your daughter is Abigail.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: My Abigail is spectacular.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Abigail Adams -- actually, I dated her before she met John. (Laughter.) There's one thing here --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I dated her mother. (Laughter.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, there's one thing about American politics. It's a cliche, right? You vote the man and not the party. There's something about, particularly when you have two candidates who ideologically are quite close. You make a judgment about the people. And that's one of the things which our campaigns serve very well and what television really does very well. You get a sense of who the people are.

And I think this is all a part of trying to get a sense of -- that's why I did not object myself in the debate, the ABC debate, why they asked these kind of personal questions. It's perfectly appropriate to do that. You want to get that sense of how they will react.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, the rap against Gibson and Stephanopoulos is so rotten.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, I don't agree with that at all.

MS. CROWLEY: The questions --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, it says that Obama -- you know, Obama has a way of turning what is -- first of all, he kind of admits that he lost the debate, and we'll get into that in a minute. But --

MS. CROWLEY: You were asking about Michelle Obama, and I think she's dynamite. But dynamite can go either way. She can be spectacular, and she's had some great moments on the campaign trail. She's attractive. She's smart. But dynamite can also go the other way and blow up a campaign. And she has the potential to be Teresa Heinz 2.0 in that she wanders off the reservation. She's very outspoken. And she has the potential to blow up his campaign with one sentence. They've got to watch her carefully.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Hillary's fabulism.

SEN. CLINTON: (From videotape.) I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hillary so described her trip to the city of Tuzla in Bosnia. But her account was factually incorrect. She addressed the issue on Thursday night.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC News): About six in 10 voters that we talked to say they don't believe you're honest and trustworthy. A lot of them raise this honesty issue and your comments about being under sniper fire in Bosnia.

SEN. CLINTON: I just said some things that weren't in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I had written about in my book. And, you know, I'm embarrassed by it. I have apologized for it. I've said it was a mistake. And it is, I hope, something that you can look over, because clearly I am proud that I went to Bosnia. It was a war zone. (End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I looked over the book pages. This is her book, "Living History," Hillary Rodham Clinton. And on page 342 and 343, it looks like an accurate account. I think that the pilot of the plane has since said that he doesn't recall Hillary going to the cockpit -- remember that? -- with Chelsea for extra protection, because people are not allowed in the cockpit. But I would support the other things that are there, as I think everybody has who's read it.

MS. CLIFT: John, the notion that you would send a first lady and an adolescent daughter into a war zone, where you really thought they were in serious danger, just doesn't pass the straight-face test. It wouldn't happen. And she got --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you read the book?

MS. CLIFT: I have. And she got in trouble when she tried to make her first-lady experience really relevant for the campaign. And then she gets into inflating it. She would have been much better off sticking to her Senate experience, which is substantial --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it was a war zone, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: -- and far more substantial than Barack Obama's.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I was over there.

There was a war zone. The troops were combat-ready. They were dressed in full combat gear. So I think she embellished the story --

MS. CLIFT: That's what they wear.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- but they all embellish stories. I thought she almost went overboard in the debate, where she admitted as much as she admitted. It was not a direct lie; there were facts there that were still true.

MS. CLIFT: You ought to hit the campaign trail with Bill Clinton, because he has his own version of what happened as well. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if you want to continue to demonize her, you can.

MS. CLIFT: No, I'm not demonizing her, but she --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're obsessed by Obama.

MS. CLIFT: No, she said that she was mistaken in what she said. So why disagree with her?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Look, I live in Washington. I see the way people are demonized here in Washington. I agree with Obama.

MS. CROWLEY: But you're missing the whole point. The point of the whole story was that it reinforced the image of the Clintons as pathological liars. That was the point of why the story blew up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Personally, whom do you trust more, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: If you're asking me, I have to say it's a close tie. There isn't one --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Come on, now, Mort, play the game.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I would say that Hillary is about a nose ahead of Obama. MS. CLIFT: Hillary is a better person and she's better on every front than her campaign has presented her. But if you look at the polls, six in 10 --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who do you trust the more?

MS. CLIFT: Six in 10 Americans do not trust her. Obama is much higher on the trustworthy scale. His hurdle is experience. That's his threshold to get over.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: People don't look for politicians they trust. They look for politicians that have competence.

MS. CLIFT: No, they look for trust, John. They do.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They don't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're interested in one thing, and that's --

MS. CLIFT: It's not entirely fair that Hillary Clinton has this -- a lot of it is the baggage that's left over --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who do you trust the more?

MS. CLIFT: I would trust both of them with the country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Equally? Equally?

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MS. CROWLEY: And I would trust neither. (Laughter.) I think they both --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Come on, now.

MS. CROWLEY: -- have serious trust problems in different ways. If you were to press me, I would say personally I trust Barack Obama more. But with the levers of government, I would probably trust Hillary Clinton more.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The only thing you want to trust a politician about is if you sell out, remain bought.

MR. PAGE: (Laughs.) You sound like you're from Chicago, John.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: What is that great line? "No matter how cynical you are, it's difficult to keep up." That's a very cynical comment. (Laughter.)

MR. PAGE: Especially in Washington. But I trust both of them -- and John McCain, as far as that's concerned.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah. MR. PAGE: But the problem for Hillary right now is that her fabulism here with Kosovo made it so that when she told her story about her grandfather teaching her how to shoot, I had a hard time believing it, because I had just heard her embellish her story about Kosovo.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Debat Deux.

Hillary says that having been in the political limelight for so long, her closet has been fully inspected.

SEN. CLINTON: (From videotape.) I've been in this arena for a long time. I have a lot of baggage, and everybody has rummaged through it for years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Hillary right? And does that rummaging give her a strategic advantage over Obama? I ask you, Monica.

MS. CROWLEY: Her argument is basically, "Look, I know that Bill and I have some issues. We've got our scandals, and we will still have our scandals, but our scandals are predictable. You know what they're going to be. You might get a sex scandal, maybe some conflict of interest, maybe some financial shenanigans, but they're predictable. With this other guy, he is an unknown quantity and you have no idea what's going to blow up in your faces."

MR. PAGE: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How negative is that in a political campaign?

MS. CROWLEY: How negative -- for him?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When you don't know -- when there's no definite --

MS. CROWLEY: I think that there's some great force to her argument, especially to the super-delegates, that you have no idea what you're buying with this guy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Especially when you're picking the number one person in the world.

MS. CROWLEY: The Jeremiah Wright stuff came out of nowhere. You've got the Tony Rezko trial. She is saying, "Look, at least with us you have a known quantity. With him you don't know."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Obama says Hillary cannot win.

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) By Senator Clinton's own vetting standards, I don't think she would make it, since President Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentences of two members of the Weather Underground. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Obama says that despite his loose ties to William Ayers, a former member of the anarchist group the Weather Underground, Hillary has ties also to her husband. In 2001, President Bill Clinton pardoned ex-members of that same group.

Question: Is Obama right? I ask you, Clarence.

MR. PAGE: Well, he was saying by her own standards she wouldn't make it, meaning the standards she was holding Obama to. But Obama doesn't agree with that standard.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the standard?

MR. PAGE: And this was in the context of the association with Bill Ayers from the Weather Underground, pointing out that Bill Clinton had pardoned two Weather Underground members. So does that disqualify him? Obama says no. He's not saying --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what's the parallel between giving a pardon and fraternizing or socializing or being in the company of --

MR. PAGE: He hasn't socialized. We don't know he's socialized. We know he was on the same board, the Woods Foundation there in Chicago, a very reputable group. Bill Ayers has been a model citizen for over 20 years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, but what is an official pardon?

MS. CLIFT: What is an official pardon?

MR. PAGE: An official pardon of the Weather Underground. If the Weather Underground is that bad --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two women. Two women.

MR. PAGE: Well, the point is, Obama is saying that this is not a serious offense.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How important is this?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't think it's very important.

MS. CLIFT: No.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I do, by the way, disagree that we all know what we could expect from Hillary. I have to say, I didn't expect that she would run this kind of a campaign, and I didn't expect that she would tell a story so obviously provable to be false as what she described on Bosnia.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She embellished something that happened in real life.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. This is under the category "If I told you a thousand million times, don't exaggerate." She did exaggerate beyond the point of exaggeration. This doesn't pass that particular test.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, the --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- sniper fire.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. I mean, she -- look, it's not the end of the world. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think politicians --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It triggered a whole series of things. The problem with the Clinton campaign is that it's reminded people of what they didn't like about the Clintons, not what they did.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Multiple-choice exit question. Which of the Obama liabilities is most damaging -- Reverend Wright's hate America diatribe, Rezko's sleaze, Obama's anti-gun policy, Obama's disdain, if that's the right word, for small-town America? Mort Zuckerman.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think it was the 21-year affiliation with the Reverend Wright and not doing -- the judgment that went into that. If you had somebody who was in a church, a white candidate in a church where they were espousing something from the Ku Klux Klan and then you made him your spiritual adviser, it would create a fire storm.

MR. PAGE: No comparison.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Maybe not for you, but --

MS. CLIFT: All of these issues that have so captivated the press have made zero impact on the voters. And I think Barack Obama, if he weathers all of this in the Democratic primaries -- and the Republicans can haul it all out in November and it's going to feel a lot like old news, which is why you got the negative reaction to the debate the other night. Raking over these issues as though there's some mega-answer that's going to settle it -- you know, you could ask their aides, "How are you going to handle this tactically and politically?"

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, people vote on the --

MS. CLIFT: There are no answers to this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The dominant way people vote is on the basis of their perceived character. And those questions that were put by the two hosts of that show, of that debate, were right on the money.

MS. CLIFT: They were "gotcha" questions and they were innuendo drawn from --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, please.

MS. CLIFT: -- character associations.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You saw the way that Stephanopoulos brought up the embarrassing episode at the Tuzla airport.

MS. CROWLEY: They were perfectly legitimate questions, and here's why. Eleanor may be right that it's having zero effect on the Democratic primary voters. But when we expand it out to the general election voters, he is going to have a serious problem on all of those issues, because, look, we don't know -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.

MS. CROWLEY: -- that much about him. So the only gauge we have is by his associations -- Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers.

MR. PAGE: I think the anti-gun sentiments, if that's a correct characterization, are the most damaging, because we can see numerically how it hurt Al Gore in losing West Virginia. And they're a very well-organized force, and if they don't like you, they can --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is it's the whole package functioning as a unit that's creating, I think, a little bit of let's wait and see more and hear more.

Issue Three: Thirty-Five Percent Left.

HOWARD DEAN (Democratic National Committee chairman): (From videotape.) There's about 65, roughly, percent of the super-delegates who have voted. There's about 320-some-odd left to vote. I need them to say who they're for, starting now. They really do need to do that. We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time. We've got to know who our nominee is. And there's no reason not to know after the last primary on June 3rd.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Howard Dean right? Do the Democrats really need to reach a deadline by June 3rd? Monica Crowley.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, for the Democrats, of course they need to have the thing wrapped up sooner rather than later so they can focus on running against John McCain. But from a Republican standpoint, I say Hillary should go all the way to Denver. Keep going.

MR. PAGE: And she's ready too, I think. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that's unrealistic, June the 3rd?

MR. PAGE: I think June 3rd is unrealistic, but shortly after that. June 3rd is the last primary, and after that the only excuse super-delegates have is that they want to be wooed. Everybody loves to be wooed. But they're really -- Monica's right. They've got to get their battle with McCain together.

MS. CLIFT: I actually think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Since you're so declarative about all this, who's going to win the Pennsylvania primary?

MR. PAGE: I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clinton or Obama? MR. PAGE: I give it to Hillary Clinton if Obama's not nine points ahead in the polls.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Out of time. Bye-bye.



END.
u think of Abigail?

MS. CLIFT: -- (inaudible) -- to her husband.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I loved Abigail Adams, actually. (Laughter.) I knew her --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Your daughter is Abigail.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: My Abigail is spectacular.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Abigail Adams -- actually, I dated her before she met John. (Laughter.) There's one thing here --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I dated her mother. (Laughter.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, there's one thing about American politics. It's a cliche, right? You vote the man and not the party. There's something about, particularly when you have two candidates who ideologically are quite close. You make a judgment about the people. And that's one of the things which our campaigns serve very well and what television really does very well. You get a sense of who the people are.

And I think this is all a part of trying to get a sense of -- that's why I did not object myself in the debate, the ABC debate, why they asked these kind of personal questions. It's perfectly appropriate to do that. You want to get that sense of how they will react.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, the rap against Gibson and Stephanopoulos is so rotten.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, I don't agree with that at all.

MS. CROWLEY: The questions --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, it says that Obama -- you know, Obama has a way of turning what is -- first of all, he kind of admits that he lost the debate, and we'll get into that in a minute. But --

MS. CROWLEY: You were asking about Michelle Obama, and I think she's dynamite. But dynamite can go either way. She can be spectacular, and she's had some great moments on the campaign trail. She's attractive. She's smart. But dynamite can also go the other way and blow up a campaign. And she has the potential to be Teresa Heinz 2.0 in that she wanders off the reservation. She's very outspoken. And she has the potential to blow up his campaign with one sentence. They've got to watch her carefully.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Hillary's fabulism.

SEN. CLINTON: (From videotape.) I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hillary so described her trip to the city of Tuzla in Bosnia. But her account was factually incorrect. She addressed the issue on Thursday night.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC News): About six in 10 voters that we talked to say they don't believe you're honest and trustworthy. A lot of them raise this honesty issue and your comments about being under sniper fire in Bosnia.

SEN. CLINTON: I just said some things that weren't in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I had written about in my book. And, you know, I'm embarrassed by it. I have apologized for it. I've said it was a mistake. And it is, I hope, something that you can look over, because clearly I am proud that I went to Bosnia. It was a war zone. (End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I looked over the book pages. This is her book, "Living History," Hillary Rodham Clinton. And on page 342 and 343, it looks like an accurate account. I think that the pilot of the plane has since said that he doesn't recall Hillary going to the cockpit -- remember that? -- with Chelsea for extra protection, because people are not allowed in the cockpit. But I would support the other things that are there, as I think everybody has who's read it.

MS. CLIFT: John, the notion that you would send a first lady and an adolescent daughter into a war zone, where you really thought they were in serious danger, just doesn't pass the straight-face test. It wouldn't happen. And she got --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you read the book?

MS. CLIFT: I have. And she got in trouble when she tried to make her first-lady experience really relevant for the campaign. And then she gets into inflating it. She would have been much better off sticking to her Senate experience, which is substantial --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it was a war zone, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: -- and far more substantial than Barack Obama's.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I was over there.

There was a war zone. The troops were combat-ready. They were dressed in full combat gear. So I think she embellished the story --

MS. CLIFT: That's what they wear.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- but they all embellish stories. I thought she almost went overboard in the debate, where she admitted as much as she admitted. It was not a direct lie; there were facts there that were still true.

MS. CLIFT: You ought to hit the campaign trail with Bill Clinton, because he has his own version of what happened as well. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if you want to continue to demonize her, you can.

MS. CLIFT: No, I'm not demonizing her, but she --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're obsessed by Obama.

MS. CLIFT: No, she said that she was mistaken in what she said. So why disagree with her?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Look, I live in Washington. I see the way people are demonized here in Washington. I agree with Obama.

MS. CROWLEY: But you're missing the whole point. The point of the whole story was that it reinforced the image of the Clintons as pathological liars. That was the point of why the story blew up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Personally, whom do you trust more, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: If you're asking me, I have to say it's a close tie. There isn't one --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Come on, now, Mort, play the game.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I would say that Hillary is about a nose ahead of Obama. MS. CLIFT: Hillary is a better person and she's better on every front than her campaign has presented her. But if you look at the polls, six in 10 --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who do you trust the more?

MS. CLIFT: Six in 10 Americans do not trust her. Obama is much higher on the trustworthy scale. His hurdle is experience. That's his threshold to get over.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: People don't look for politicians they trust. They look for politicians that have competence.

MS. CLIFT: No, they look for trust, John. They do.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They don't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're interested in one thing, and that's --

MS. CLIFT: It's not entirely fair that Hillary Clinton has this -- a lot of it is the baggage that's left over --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who do you trust the more?

MS. CLIFT: I would trust both of them with the country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Equally? Equally?

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MS. CROWLEY: And I would trust neither. (Laughter.) I think they both --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Come on, now.

MS. CROWLEY: -- have serious trust problems in different ways. If you were to press me, I would say personally I trust Barack Obama more. But with the levers of government, I would probably trust Hillary Clinton more.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The only thing you want to trust a politician about is if you sell out, remain bought.

MR. PAGE: (Laughs.) You sound like you're from Chicago, John.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: What is that great line? "No matter how cynical you are, it's difficult to keep up." That's a very cynical comment. (Laughter.)

MR. PAGE: Especially in Washington. But I trust both of them -- and John McCain, as far as that's concerned.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah. MR. PAGE: But the problem for Hillary right now is that her fabulism here with Kosovo made it so that when she told her story about her grandfather teaching her how to shoot, I had a hard time believing it, because I had just heard her embellish her story about Kosovo.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Debat Deux.

Hillary says that having been in the political limelight for so long, her closet has been fully inspected.

SEN. CLINTON: (From videotape.) I've been in this arena for a long time. I have a lot of baggage, and everybody has rummaged through it for years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Hillary right? And does that rummaging give her a strategic advantage over Obama? I ask you, Monica.

MS. CROWLEY: Her argument is basically, "Look, I know that Bill and I have some issues. We've got our scandals, and we will still have our scandals, but our scandals are predictable. You know what they're going to be. You might get a sex scandal, maybe some conflict of interest, maybe some financial shenanigans, but they're predictable. With this other guy, he is an unknown quantity and you have no idea what's going to blow up in your faces."

MR. PAGE: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How negative is that in a political campaign?

MS. CROWLEY: How negative -- for him?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When you don't know -- when there's no definite --

MS. CROWLEY: I think that there's some great force to her argument, especially to the super-delegates, that you have no idea what you're buying with this guy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Especially when you're picking the number one person in the world.

MS. CROWLEY: The Jeremiah Wright stuff came out of nowhere. You've got the Tony Rezko trial. She is saying, "Look, at least with us you have a known quantity. With him you don't know."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Obama says Hillary cannot win.

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) By Senator Clinton's own vetting standards, I don't think she would make it, since President Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentences of two members of the Weather Underground. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Obama says that despite his loose ties to William Ayers, a former member of the anarchist group the Weather Underground, Hillary has ties also to her husband. In 2001, President Bill Clinton pardoned ex-members of that same group.

Question: Is Obama right? I ask you, Clarence.

MR. PAGE: Well, he was saying by her own standards she wouldn't make it, meaning the standards she was holding Obama to. But Obama doesn't agree with that standard.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the standard?

MR. PAGE: And this was in the context of the association with Bill Ayers from the Weather Underground, pointing out that Bill Clinton had pardoned two Weather Underground members. So does that disqualify him? Obama says no. He's not saying --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what's the parallel between giving a pardon and fraternizing or socializing or being in the company of --

MR. PAGE: He hasn't socialized. We don't know he's socialized. We know he was on the same board, the Woods Foundation there in Chicago, a very reputable group. Bill Ayers has been a model citizen for over 20 years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, but what is an official pardon?

MS. CLIFT: What is an official pardon?

MR. PAGE: An official pardon of the Weather Underground. If the Weather Underground is that bad --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two women. Two women.

MR. PAGE: Well, the point is, Obama is saying that this is not a serious offense.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How important is this?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't think it's very important.

MS. CLIFT: No.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I do, by the way, disagree that we all know what we could expect from Hillary. I have to say, I didn't expect that she would run this kind of a campaign, and I didn't expect that she would tell a story so obviously provable to be false as what she described on Bosnia.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She embellished something that happened in real life.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. This is under the category "If I told you a thousand million times, don't exaggerate." She did exaggerate beyond the point of exaggeration. This doesn't pass that particular test.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, the --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- sniper fire.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. I mean, she -- look, it's not the end of the world. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think politicians --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It triggered a whole series of things. The problem with the Clinton campaign is that it's reminded people of what they didn't like about the Clintons, not what they did.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Multiple-choice exit question. Which of the Obama liabilities is most damaging -- Reverend Wright's hate America diatribe, Rezko's sleaze, Obama's anti-gun policy, Obama's disdain, if that's the right word, for small-town America? Mort Zuckerman.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think it was the 21-year affiliation with the Reverend Wright and not doing -- the judgment that went into that. If you had somebody who was in a church, a white candidate in a church where they were espousing something from the Ku Klux Klan and then you made him your spiritual adviser, it would create a fire storm.

MR. PAGE: No comparison.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Maybe not for you, but --

MS. CLIFT: All of these issues that have so captivated the press have made zero impact on the voters. And I think Barack Obama, if he weathers all of this in the Democratic primaries -- and the Republicans can haul it all out in November and it's going to feel a lot like old news, which is why you got the negative reaction to the debate the other night. Raking over these issues as though there's some mega-answer that's going to settle it -- you know, you could ask their aides, "How are you going to handle this tactically and politically?"

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, people vote on the --

MS. CLIFT: There are no answers to this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The dominant way people vote is on the basis of their perceived character. And those questions that were put by the two hosts of that show, of that debate, were right on the money.

MS. CLIFT: They were "gotcha" questions and they were innuendo drawn from --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, please.

MS. CLIFT: -- character associations.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You saw the way that Stephanopoulos brought up the embarrassing episode at the Tuzla airport.

MS. CROWLEY: They were perfectly legitimate questions, and here's why. Eleanor may be right that it's having zero effect on the Democratic primary voters. But when we expand it out to the general election voters, he is going to have a serious problem on all of those issues, because, look, we don't know -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.

MS. CROWLEY: -- that much about him. So the only gauge we have is by his associations -- Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers.

MR. PAGE: I think the anti-gun sentiments, if that's a correct characterization, are the most damaging, because we can see numerically how it hurt Al Gore in losing West Virginia. And they're a very well-organized force, and if they don't like you, they can --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is it's the whole package functioning as a unit that's creating, I think, a little bit of let's wait and see more and hear more.

Issue Three: Thirty-Five Percent Left.

HOWARD DEAN (Democratic National Committee chairman): (From videotape.) There's about 65, roughly, percent of the super-delegates who have voted. There's about 320-some-odd left to vote. I need them to say who they're for, starting now. They really do need to do that. We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time. We've got to know who our nominee is. And there's no reason not to know after the last primary on June 3rd.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Howard Dean right? Do the Democrats really need to reach a deadline by June 3rd? Monica Crowley.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, for the Democrats, of course they need to have the thing wrapped up sooner rather than later so they can focus on running against John McCain. But from a Republican standpoint, I say Hillary should go all the way to Denver. Keep going.

MR. PAGE: And she's ready too, I think. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that's unrealistic, June the 3rd?

MR. PAGE: I think June 3rd is unrealistic, but shortly after that. June 3rd is the last primary, and after that the only excuse super-delegates have is that they want to be wooed. Everybody loves to be wooed. But they're really -- Monica's right. They've got to get their battle with McCain together.

MS. CLIFT: I actually think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Since you're so declarative about all this, who's going to win the Pennsylvania primary?

MR. PAGE: I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clinton or Obama? MR. PAGE: I give it to Hillary Clinton if Obama's not nine points ahead in the polls.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Out of time. Bye-bye.



END.