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"THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP" HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: RICH LOWRY, NATIONAL REVIEW; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, SYNDICATED RADIO COMMENTATOR; CLARENCE PAGE, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE TAPED: FRIDAY, AUGUST 1, 2008 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF AUGUST 2-3, 2008

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DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One -- Election? Referendum?

NARRATOR (From McCain political advertisement.) He's the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead? With gas prices soaring, Barack Obama says no to offshore drilling and says he'll raise taxes on electricity. Higher taxes, more foreign oil -- that's the real Obama.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's the real McCain -- attack Obama as a rock star, not a political leader; not an election, but a referendum on Barack.

Question: Obama's biggest asset is personal popularity. Is McCain directing voters to question what they really want in a president, a celebrity or a leader? Rich Lowry. MR. LOWRY: Yes, absolutely. And this is jujitsu, where they're trying to use Obama's strength against him. Rather than dragging him down, they're trying to puff him up, because they think if, instead, here at ground level, with all the rest of us mere mortals, he's up there at 80,000 feet as a worldwide celebrity, it makes him seem remote, aloof, arrogant, and compounds his problems connecting with ordinary working-class voters. So this is a controversial ad, but a very successful one.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's controversial, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: I do. And I think they're going straight at Obama's strength, which is that he actually gets people excited about politics. And they're trying to turn that self-confidence that he has into self-absorption, that there's something wrong with somebody if you can actually get these crowds. I mean, it was almost like a Riefenstahl, Leni Riefenstahl movie from the '40s, when you --

MR. PAGE: "Triumph of the Will."

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, "Triumph of the Will," exactly, as though there's something scary about what's happening. And, you know, I do think that they have found a kernel of truth here, and Obama does come across as somebody who is perhaps too fully confident, you might say. And upon that little kernel of truth, they are building an edifice of lies, really, that make him seem -- can make him seem a pretty scary figure.

MS. CROWLEY: I'll tell you why this ad was so good -- because it was fun, with pop culture references to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. I mean, they were really poking fun at Barack Obama's overexposed hypercelebrity. And there is a point of danger in this for Obama, because he seems to have reached a saturation point; that is, a point of diminishing returns where his hyperpopularity now may actually start to work against him here with the American voters. We're starting to see some of that in the polls.

But the other half of that ad, where the McCain team was pointing directly to two substantive issues; one, taxes, and the second, Barack Obama's opposition to drilling, which now 75 percent of the American people support. And it was interesting to hear Obama's reaction. He reacted instead to sort of "Well, this is a controversial ad," but he didn't respond to the two substantive points raised by that ad.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was there any boomerang effect against Obama from the foreign trip that might be showing now?

MR. PAGE: Not a boomerang effect, but just no bump. He didn't really get a substantial bump out of it as far as Americans are concerned.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, as we'll see later, the polls have actually degenerated. MR. PAGE: Yeah, depending on how you read them. But, yeah, he impressed the world stage, but it didn't have that positive impact on the heartland of America. But he figures there's plenty of time to work on that. But what was interesting to me about this ad is that if you turned off the sound, as one Republican consultant said, it could pass for a pro-Obama ad. It was really quite remarkable. It kind of reminded me of an antiwar movie that ends up with the audience cheering the war.

MR. LOWRY: There's never been a negative ad before in the history of politics with a guy addressing a crowd waving American flags. It's really bizarre. But this is where I think the foreign trip went wrong. All of it was a tremendous success until that Berlin rally, which was a bridge too far, holding a campaign rally on foreign soil. It came across as presumptuous and opened him up to this attack from McCain.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Obama returns fire.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESUMPTIVE DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: (From videotape.) I don't pay attention to John McCain's ads, although I do notice that he doesn't seem to have anything very positive to say about himself, does he? He seems to only be talking about me. You need to ask John McCain what he's for, not just what he's against.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question -- Was it a tactical mistake for Obama to engage McCain in this manner? Did Obama rise to the McCain bait? I ask you, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I think he had to respond. What was he supposed to do, just walk away and act like he's above it? That would just fuel the charges that he is not really engaged and that he thinks he's too good for politics.

But this is a dangerous moment in the campaign, because --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: For Obama.

MS. CLIFT: For Obama, because the frame is beginning to develop. You can see the attacks against him as a sort of self-absorbed individual who cares more about himself than he does about the American people. And I think it is a ludicrous charge. But look what they did to John Kerry in the summer of '04, when they turned a war hero -- they made that a deficit. So I think the campaign -- I think they've got to figure out a way to respond. And one of the ways to respond may be fewer big iconic rallies and more engagement with the voters.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: On that particular language that he just uttered, was any halo effect from Berlin or the trip diminished by the pointedness of what Obama had to say? Did he look as though he was -- has he now given some evidence that he can be needled? MR. PAGE: Well, he can be needled. This is like deja vu all over again, though. We were saying the same kind of thing last year when he seemed to be slipping behind Hillary Clinton. You know, he has his ups and downs. This happens to be a moment where maybe, after all the heavy exposure he has had, I think he's been overexposed too right now. It's "Oh, Obama again.

" You know, the public is fickle that way.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, we're all Obamafied.

MR. PAGE: Yeah, yeah.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Obama rapper advocate Ludacris. Don't hold back, Ludacris.

(Begin audiotaped segment.)

LUDACRIS, RAPPER: (From rap song.) Hillary hated on you, so that b**** is irrelevant. Now Jesse's talkin' slick and apologizing for what? If you said it, then you meant it. How you want it, have a gut. And all you other politicians tryin' to hate on my man. Watch us win majority vote in every state on my man! You can't stop what's about to happen. We about to make history. The first black president is destined and it's meant to be. The threats ain't fazin' us, the nooses or the jokes. Get off your a**, black people. It's time to get out and vote. Make the White House black, and I'm sure that's got 'em terrified. McCain don't belong in any chair unless he's paralyzed. Yeah, I said it, 'cause Bush is mentally handicapped.

(End audiotaped segment.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question -- Ludacris's lyrics are pretty raw. But on McCain, Ludacris's lyrics are these, and I'm wondering whether he's really off the reservation. "McCain don't belong in any chair unless he's paralyzed," unquote.

Now, if these words are intended as a threat against a presidential candidate --

MS. CLIFT: Oh, my. (Laughter.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- John McCain, it's no longer free speech; it's a federal offense. Should the Secret Service treat them as such, namely, a veiled threat against McCain?

MS. CLIFT: No --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And I remind you of George Wallace. MR. PAGE: You talk about off the reservation, John. (Laughs.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: George Wallace was a presidential candidate for the American Independent Party.

MR. PAGE: Right.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was shot, and he remained in a wheelchair for the rest of his governorship of the state of Alabama.

MR. PAGE: Well, I think that's about as ludicrous, pardon my pun, as the idea that the McCain ad is racist because it juxtaposed two blondes with Obama. And a lot of folks believe that too. But no --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really? You think the comparison is fair?

MR. PAGE: No, I don't think it's fair, but a lot of people on the blogosphere and talk radio, even as we speak, are saying that. But, no, you haven't got to go that far --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you were Secret Service and those words --

MR. PAGE: Let me answer your question.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and those words were sent in a letter to McCain, would you --

MR. PAGE: It doesn't fit, John. John, let's not even talk --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- be knocking on Obama's door?

MR. PAGE: Let's not even talk about that. It's not even close to a threat. The statement is entirely different. The fact is, he was never on the reservation. I mean, Obama has said he's got Ludacris on his iPod. I suspect it's been removed now.

MR. LOWRY: (Laughs.)

MR. PAGE: But Ludacris -- I mean, he went over the top when he started making those comments.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Obama never said he had Ludacris on the iPod. He said he had Jay-Z on the iPod, but that was --

MR. PAGE: He's got more than one song on his iPod, John. (Laughs.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: But you don't know what's on the iPod.

MR. PAGE: You have been listening, though, haven't you? No, the fact is, he went over the top with the comments about Hillary and McCain, and that's why Obama had to come out and say something, because --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but it's just a rap song.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean the "B" word to describe sister Hillary?

MR. PAGE: Right, not to mention --

MS. CLIFT: It is just a rap song, just as the New Yorker cover was a cartoon. So you've got to keep these things in perspective. And I don't -- you know, I think Obama and his campaign repudiated the song, and I don't think now we have to hold him accountable for everything Ludacris does, any more than you want to hold --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Before you get in here --

MS. CLIFT: -- John McCain responsible for Phil Gramm.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's go to your point and listen to Obama on Ludacris through his committee chairman.

"This song is not only outrageously offensive to Senator Clinton, Reverend Jackson, Senator McCain and President Bush. It is offensive to all of us who are trying to raise our children with the values we hold dear. While Ludacris is a talented individual, he should be ashamed of these lyrics."

Question -- Why hasn't Barack Obama personally denounced these hateful lyrics? Why is he letting a staffer do his talking for him, putting McCain paralyzed in a chair?

MS. CROWLEY: And actually, he should use this as an opportunity. He should look at this as his Sister Soulja moment, which Bill Clinton used to great effect in the 1992 campaign. You take somebody, you attack what they stand for.

Look, Barack Obama already has the African-American vote, 92 percent of the African-American vote. He can go after these lyrics. He can go after the hip-hop community for attacking, denigrating women and so on, attacking his opponent. He says he's not going to countenance this kind of campaign. He should use this as a great opportunity for him to come out and condemn this stuff. And, in fact, if he uses Ludacris --

MR. PAGE: I bet he will. (Laughs.)

MS. CROWLEY: -- if he uses Ludacris as the bad cop, he can look like the good cop.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think soccer moms are saying, "Hey, playing the saxophone is one thing, but playing Ludacris in the Oval Office is another thing"? (Laughter.) MR. LOWRY: John, he has no connection to the aptly named Ludacris. His spokesman denounced it. I think Monica makes a very shrewd --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who has no connection?

MR. LOWRY: Barack Obama. There's no connection between the two except for maybe his MP3 player.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: He says he knows Ludacris.

MR. LOWRY: Monica makes a very shrewd point about a broader attack on hip-hop culture might play well. But I think the Ludacris thing is --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ludicrous. (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: Right.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question -- Does Obama need enemies when he has friends like Tony Rezko, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers and the Reverend Michael Flager? And now he has this gentleman, Ludacris.

MR. LOWRY: He does. I think Reverend Wright is an entire different category, however.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, you're not going to put Ludacris in that hall of horror, although you do make a point --

MR. LOWRY: Although nice try, John. Good try. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: You do make a point, because --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there's critical mass here somewhere.

MS. CLIFT: Well, that's right, because, again, the Republican frame against him is his associations. And so that's how he --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The company he keeps.

MS. CLIFT: Right, exactly.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, we keep waiting for Barack Obama to produce some normal friends, you know, guys who cut their grass on Saturday, some normal friends who aren't domestic terrorists or crazy rappers.

MR. PAGE: News people don't care about normal friends. MS. CLIFT: Now, that is --

MS. CROWLEY: Well, we haven't seen any of them yet.

MR. PAGE: News people don't care about normal friends.

MS. CLIFT: You want his neighbors?

MR. PAGE: You know, the fact is, you know, he's got -- his brother-in-law is a coach at the University of Oregon. How often do you see him?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you were counseling Obama -- and I presume you are sotto voce --

MR. PAGE: And he never listens to me. But go ahead.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- would you tell him to get in the act and personally denounce Ludacris's lyrics, at least his lyrics? The latest thing we have from Obama on Ludacris --

MR. PAGE: Well, I thought he had. I guess it wasn't --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- is he has good talent, great talent, and that he's a great businessman.

MR. PAGE: I thought he had. I guess it wasn't good enough for Monica, but we'll see. I think you'll hear --

(Cross-talk.)

MR. PAGE: But, you know, what's interesting to me, I mean, Ludacris lampooned Jesse Jackson for his comments in here, but now Ludacris has helped to undo some of the good Jesse Jackson did with that whole episode, because, you know, Jackson showed that he does not have Obama in his hip pocket.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: My view is this. I said before -- I said earlier on this broadcast many months ago that what Obama has to worry about is the smell of being a closet radical. That still obtains, particularly with this.

When we come back, can Obama successfully defang the referendum Republicans are focusing on him?

(Announcements.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two -- Another Obama Moment.

Hubris. In a closed-door meeting this week with Democratic House members, Senator Obama was quoted as saying this, "This is the moment that the world is waiting for. I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions," so reported by Dana Milbank in The Washington Post this week. Question -- Is Obama's description of himself hubristic? Hubris, I guess, could be defined as what -- prideful?

MS. CROWLEY: Prideful, arrogant, narcissistic. I think there is a real perception out there that all of those characteristics apply to Obama, whether it's fair or not. And this is something now he's got to deal with. And you can see it reflected in the poll numbers, where the -- whether there was some unease about Obama before, it was essentially latent. People were excited about him. He was a new face. They wanted to hear about his background. They wanted to hear what he had to say.

Now I think that that unease is becoming active, and you can actually see it in a lot of the elite press corps, whether it's Adam Nagourney of The New York Times, who is complaining that the Obama team attacked one of his pieces --

MR. PAGE: Am I in the elite press corps? I'd like to join the elite press corps. How do I get in? (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: What the press doesn't like is the fact --

MS. CROWLEY: There is some backlash.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's that?

MS. CROWLEY: There is some backlash happening even in the elite press, which has been following him and reporting on him for a long time.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the elite press, which are the only ones who can afford to travel -- (laughter) -- they're frustrated because this is a very tightly disciplined campaign. He doesn't come back and chat with them and play hearts or drink beer or whatever else, and they're not getting the kind of access they would hope.

This is inevitable in modern politics. And I don't think it's reflected in the voters. The public still is fastened on this guy as an agent of change.

MS. CROWLEY: But the point --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to move on. Hold on.

MS. CLIFT: And that quote was taken out of context.

MS. CROWLEY: (Inaudible) -- likeability.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Let me move on.

MS. CROWLEY: If he's perceived as not likable now, it's a real problem for him. MS. CLIFT: I don't think he's perceived as not likable.

MR. PAGE: There is a point to what he said, though. He is a symbol of something different.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. Excuse me. The press may be --

MS. CLIFT: Clarence is right. (Laughs.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: They may be chafing under the polls that say that the press corps is two-thirds behind Obama for president. Okay, Obama's race card.

MR. PAGE: But his coverage has been more negative than McCain's.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Obama warned supporters this week of the kind of attack Bush and McCain might launch next.

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) They're going to try to say that I'm a risky guy. They're going to try to say, "Well, you know, he's got a funny name and he doesn't look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the five dollar bills."

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question -- Is Obama himself playing the race card for the first time in this election?

MR. PAGE: He's said this before. He has said this before.

MS. CLIFT: He's said it a million times.

MR. PAGE: He even said it while he was campaigning for the Senate in Illinois. He didn't have to do it as often. But this is the first time -- he mentioned McCain, though, this time. That's why the McCain campaign responded, because he dropped McCain and the Republicans --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about the face on the dollar bill?

MR. PAGE: Yeah. Well, what face is still on the dollar bill?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he say that before? Did he say that?

MR. PAGE: He said -- yeah, of course he said before that he didn't look like the traditional idea of a president. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, maybe the state of readiness was not there. But right now it looks like he's pulling out the big Howitzer and playing the race card.

MR. LOWRY: Of course he is, John. And Clarence is right; he's done it before. And what he's trying to do is sort of preemptively define any legitimate criticism of him as out of bounds. And the dollar bill thing was very interesting, because it's clearly a reference to race. But then when his campaign realized he strategically stepped in, because he needs to be the post-racial candidate, they tried to draw it back by saying, "No, no, it had nothing to do about race. It had to do with Washington experience." George Washington didn't even serve in the White House in Washington. That had nothing to do with it. That was a ridiculous defense about --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about Obama's central message? Obama's central message is "I'm a unifier."

MR. LOWRY: Correct.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does that ad do, or what does that statement do?

MR. LOWRY: It throws it all away. It makes him seem whiny. It makes him seem like a Jesse Jackson-type figure.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: McCain fires back. Let's hear McCain. "Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."

Question again -- Does Obama's dollar bill race card destroy his image as a unifier who transcends race and transcends gender? Is he now in political quicksand, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: I wouldn't call it political quicksand. But any day that is spent talking about race is not a good day for the candidate who transcends race. And --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we quote you on that?

MS. CLIFT: Well, yeah. But, look, race is a central issue in this campaign, and I don't think that there's political correctness about how you can say it. And the McCain campaign is also playing the race card by immediately suggesting that whenever Barack Obama raises anything --

MS. CROWLEY: Come on.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think John McCain for the moment is identified in the public mind as a racist in any way, shape or form?

MS. CLIFT: No. No. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: No. So it's --

MS. CLIFT: But Barack Obama is also correct when he says this is how they're going to run against him --

MR. PAGE: That's right.

MS. CLIFT: -- as a different kind of candidate.

MR. PAGE: Nobody denies that.

(Cross-talk.)

MS. CLIFT: And different equals risk.

MR. PAGE: It's already happening.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: He knows all about white guilt. He's read Clarence's excellent book. He knows how to tease that right out of --

MR. PAGE: Thanks for the plug, John.

MS. CLIFT: White guilt is not going to elect him. The economy is going to elect him.

MS. CROWLEY: Eleanor's criticism and Obama's response to this is grossly unfair to John McCain. It is a smear on John McCain. McCain --

MS. CLIFT: I didn't smear John McCain, Monica.

MS. CROWLEY: You were saying that this is how the Republicans are coming at Obama -- not once; not a single Republican.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it self-destructive for --

MS. CROWLEY: And, in fact, the McCain campaign and McCain himself has bent over backwards to condemn anything --

(Cross-talk.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it self-destructive for Obama?

MS. CROWLEY: Yes, of course it is. There's going to be a huge backlash on this.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, let's look at the numbers. The race grows much tighter.

In a Gallup tracking poll this week, Obama beat McCain by only one percentage point -- Obama, 45 percent; McCain, 44 percent. In seven battleground states, another poll shows a tight race. Colorado -- McCain, 46; Obama, 44. Minnesota -- Obama, 46; McCain, 44. Michigan -- Obama, 46; McCain, 42. Wisconsin -- Obama, 50; McCain, 39. Florida -- Obama, 46; McCain, 44. Ohio -- Obama, 46; McCain, 44. Pennsylvania -- Obama, 49; McCain, 42.

Question -- Is this going to be a horse race after all? Rich.

MR. LOWRY: Of course it is. And the background to everything we've discussed on this show, John, is a sharper, tougher, more aggressive McCain campaign and more disciplined McCain campaign. They're stopping the ridiculous impromptu interactions with the press where McCain steps on his message every day. They've got him reading notes from a podium at the beginning of his town hall meetings. They know they have to take this to Barack Obama in a traditional block- and-tackle presidential campaign.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: How is McCain's money?

MR. LOWRY: It's okay. He's in the game.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he going to make better use of the Net?

MR. LOWRY: Look, this is the thing. Obama has so much money -- you want to be in the situation. A lot of it's going to be spent and wasted. But McCain has enough to be competitive.

MS. CLIFT: It's a fully negative campaign. It's the only way that John McCain can win. The only way he can win is if he can take down Barack Obama. He can't promote himself because he is seen as more of George W.

MR. LOWRY: He'll have to. He'll have to to win. But taking on Obama is a big part of it.

MS. CLIFT: To tie all these issues together --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here we go.

MS. CLIFT: -- it is ludicrous to suggest Obama has hubris when you see polls where he's one point ahead. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We know. He's an innocent lamb, that Obama.

Let's go.

MS. CROWLEY: Is it going to be a horse race?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a horse race?

MS. CROWLEY: Absolutely.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a horse race?

MR. PAGE: Yeah, it's a horse race. It's like most of our elections since the '60s.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a horse race. It's a horse race. But I think it's cyclical, and I think it could reverse itself and be on Obama in another cycle before the election. And then we'll see what the final cycle will be.

We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction -- Gasoline will not fall below $3 a gallon forever.

MR. LOWRY: False.

MS. CLIFT: True.

MS. CROWLEY: False.

MR. PAGE: True.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: True.

Bye-bye.

END.

CLAUGHLIN: Ludicrous. (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: Right.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question -- Does Obama need enemies when he has friends like Tony Rezko, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers and the Reverend Michael Flager? And now he has this gentleman, Ludacris.

MR. LOWRY: He does. I think Reverend Wright is an entire different category, however.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, you're not going to put Ludacris in that hall of horror, although you do make a point --

MR. LOWRY: Although nice try, John. Good try. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: You do make a point, because --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there's critical mass here somewhere.

MS. CLIFT: Well, that's right, because, again, the Republican frame against him is his associations. And so that's how he --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The company he keeps.

MS. CLIFT: Right, exactly.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, we keep waiting for Barack Obama to produce some normal friends, you know, guys who cut their grass on Saturday, some normal friends who aren't domestic terrorists or crazy rappers.

MR. PAGE: News people don't care about normal friends. MS. CLIFT: Now, that is --

MS. CROWLEY: Well, we haven't seen any of them yet.

MR. PAGE: News people don't care about normal friends.

MS. CLIFT: You want his neighbors?

MR. PAGE: You know, the fact is, you know, he's got -- his brother-in-law is a coach at the University of Oregon. How often do you see him?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you were counseling Obama -- and I presume you are sotto voce --

MR. PAGE: And he never listens to me. But go ahead.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- would you tell him to get in the act and personally denounce Ludacris's lyrics, at least his lyrics? The latest thing we have from Obama on Ludacris --

MR. PAGE: Well, I thought he had. I guess it wasn't --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- is he has good talent, great talent, and that he's a great businessman.

MR. PAGE: I thought he had. I guess it wasn't good enough for Monica, but we'll see. I think you'll hear --

(Cross-talk.)

MR. PAGE: But, you know, what's interesting to me, I mean, Ludacris lampooned Jesse Jackson for his comments in here, but now Ludacris has helped to undo some of the good Jesse Jackson did with that whole episode, because, you know, Jackson showed that he does not have Obama in his hip pocket.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: My view is this. I said before -- I said earlier on this broadcast many months ago that what Obama has to worry about is the smell of being a closet radical. That still obtains, particularly with this.

When we come back, can Obama successfully defang the referendum Republicans are focusing on him?

(Announcements.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two -- Another Obama Moment.

Hubris. In a closed-door meeting this week with Democratic House members, Senator Obama was quoted as saying this, "This is the moment that the world is waiting for. I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions," so reported by Dana Milbank in The Washington Post this week. Question -- Is Obama's description of himself hubristic? Hubris, I guess, could be defined as what -- prideful?

MS. CROWLEY: Prideful, arrogant, narcissistic. I think there is a real perception out there that all of those characteristics apply to Obama, whether it's fair or not. And this is something now he's got to deal with. And you can see it reflected in the poll numbers, where the -- whether there was some unease about Obama before, it was essentially latent. People were excited about him. He was a new face. They wanted to hear about his background. They wanted to hear what he had to say.

Now I think that that unease is becoming active, and you can actually see it in a lot of the elite press corps, whether it's Adam Nagourney of The New York Times, who is complaining that the Obama team attacked one of his pieces --

MR. PAGE: Am I in the elite press corps? I'd like to join the elite press corps. How do I get in? (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: What the press doesn't like is the fact --

MS. CROWLEY: There is some backlash.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's that?

MS. CROWLEY: There is some backlash happening even in the elite press, which has been following him and reporting on him for a long time.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the elite press, which are the only ones who can afford to travel -- (laughter) -- they're frustrated because this is a very tightly disciplined campaign. He doesn't come back and chat with them and play hearts or drink beer or whatever else, and they're not getting the kind of access they would hope.

This is inevitable in modern politics. And I don't think it's reflected in the voters. The public still is fastened on this guy as an agent of change.

MS. CROWLEY: But the point --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to move on. Hold on.

MS. CLIFT: And that quote was taken out of context.

MS. CROWLEY: (Inaudible) -- likeability.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Let me move on.

MS. CROWLEY: If he's perceived as not likable now, it's a real problem for him. MS. CLIFT: I don't think he's perceived as not likable.

MR. PAGE: There is a point to what he said, though. He is a symbol of something different.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. Excuse me. The press may be --

MS. CLIFT: Clarence is right. (Laughs.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: They may be chafing under the polls that say that the press corps is two-thirds behind Obama for president. Okay, Obama's race card.

MR. PAGE: But his coverage has been more negative than McCain's.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Obama warned supporters this week of the kind of attack Bush and McCain might launch next.

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) They're going to try to say that I'm a risky guy. They're going to try to say, "Well, you know, he's got a funny name and he doesn't look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the five dollar bills."

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question -- Is Obama himself playing the race card for the first time in this election?

MR. PAGE: He's said this before. He has said this before.

MS. CLIFT: He's said it a million times.

MR. PAGE: He even said it while he was campaigning for the Senate in Illinois. He didn't have to do it as often. But this is the first time -- he mentioned McCain, though, this time. That's why the McCain campaign responded, because he dropped McCain and the Republicans --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about the face on the dollar bill?

MR. PAGE: Yeah. Well, what face is still on the dollar bill?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he say that before? Did he say that?

MR. PAGE: He said -- yeah, of course he said before that he didn't look like the traditional idea of a president. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, maybe the state of readiness was not there. But right now it looks like he's pulling out the big Howitzer and playing the race card.

MR. LOWRY: Of course he is, John. And Clarence is right; he's done it before. And what he's trying to do is sort of preemptively define any legitimate criticism of him as out of bounds. And the dollar bill thing was very interesting, because it's clearly a reference to race. But then when his campaign realized he strategically stepped in, because he needs to be the post-racial candidate, they tried to draw it back by saying, "No, no, it had nothing to do about race. It had to do with Washington experience." George Washington didn't even serve in the White House in Washington. That had nothing to do with it. That was a ridiculous defense about --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about Obama's central message? Obama's central message is "I'm a unifier."

MR. LOWRY: Correct.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does that ad do, or what does that statement do?

MR. LOWRY: It throws it all away. It makes him seem whiny. It makes him seem like a Jesse Jackson-type figure.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: McCain fires back. Let's hear McCain. "Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."

Question again -- Does Obama's dollar bill race card destroy his image as a unifier who transcends race and transcends gender? Is he now in political quicksand, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: I wouldn't call it political quicksand. But any day that is spent talking about race is not a good day for the candidate who transcends race. And --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we quote you on that?

MS. CLIFT: Well, yeah. But, look, race is a central issue in this campaign, and I don't think that there's political correctness about how you can say it. And the McCain campaign is also playing the race card by immediately suggesting that whenever Barack Obama raises anything --

MS. CROWLEY: Come on.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think John McCain for the moment is identified in the public mind as a racist in any way, shape or form?

MS. CLIFT: No. No. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: No. So it's --

MS. CLIFT: But Barack Obama is also correct when he says this is how they're going to run against him --

MR. PAGE: That's right.

MS. CLIFT: -- as a different kind of candidate.

MR. PAGE: Nobody denies that.

(Cross-talk.)

MS. CLIFT: And different equals risk.

MR. PAGE: It's already happening.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: He knows all about white guilt. He's read Clarence's excellent book. He knows how to tease that right out of --

MR. PAGE: Thanks for the plug, John.

MS. CLIFT: White guilt is not going to elect him. The economy is going to elect him.

MS. CROWLEY: Eleanor's criticism and Obama's response to this is grossly unfair to John McCain. It is a smear on John McCain. McCain --

MS. CLIFT: I didn't smear John McCain, Monica.

MS. CROWLEY: You were saying that this is how the Republicans are coming at Obama -- not once; not a single Republican.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it self-destructive for --

MS. CROWLEY: And, in fact, the McCain campaign and McCain himself has bent over backwards to condemn anything --

(Cross-talk.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it self-destructive for Obama?

MS. CROWLEY: Yes, of course it is. There's going to be a huge backlash on this.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, let's look at the numbers. The race grows much tighter.

In a Gallup tracking poll this week, Obama beat McCain by only one percentage point -- Obama, 45 percent; McCain, 44 percent. In seven battleground states, another poll shows a tight race. Colorado -- McCain, 46; Obama, 44. Minnesota -- Obama, 46; McCain, 44. Michigan -- Obama, 46; McCain, 42. Wisconsin -- Obama, 50; McCain, 39. Florida -- Obama, 46; McCain, 44. Ohio -- Obama, 46; McCain, 44. Pennsylvania -- Obama, 49; McCain, 42.

Question -- Is this going to be a horse race after all? Rich.

MR. LOWRY: Of course it is. And the background to everything we've discussed on this show, John, is a sharper, tougher, more aggressive McCain campaign and more disciplined McCain campaign. They're stopping the ridiculous impromptu interactions with the press where McCain steps on his message every day. They've got him reading notes from a podium at the beginning of his town hall meetings. They know they have to take this to Barack Obama in a traditional block- and-tackle presidential campaign.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: How is McCain's money?

MR. LOWRY: It's okay. He's in the game.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he going to make better use of the Net?

MR. LOWRY: Look, this is the thing. Obama has so much money -- you want to be in the situation. A lot of it's going to be spent and wasted. But McCain has enough to be competitive.

MS. CLIFT: It's a fully negative campaign. It's the only way that John McCain can win. The only way he can win is if he can take down Barack Obama. He can't promote himself because he is seen as more of George W.

MR. LOWRY: He'll have to. He'll have to to win. But taking on Obama is a big part of it.

MS. CLIFT: To tie all these issues together --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here we go.

MS. CLIFT: -- it is ludicrous to suggest Obama has hubris when you see polls where he's one point ahead. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We know. He's an innocent lamb, that Obama.

Let's go.

MS. CROWLEY: Is it going to be a horse race?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a horse race?

MS. CROWLEY: Absolutely.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a horse race?

MR. PAGE: Yeah, it's a horse race. It's like most of our elections since the '60s.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a horse race. It's a horse race. But I think it's cyclical, and I think it could reverse itself and be on Obama in another cycle before the election. And then we'll see what the final cycle will be.

We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction -- Gasoline will not fall below $3 a gallon forever.

MR. LOWRY: False.

MS. CLIFT: True.

MS. CROWLEY: False.

MR. PAGE: True.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: True.

Bye-bye.

END.