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updated 8/12/2007 1:18:35 PM ET 2007-08-12T17:18:35

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  Our issues this Sunday:  the future of the Democratic Party.  On a week when the Democratic presidential field courted key elements of the liberal base, there is an intensifying debate within the party about the strategy for success in ‘08.  Liberal vs. centrist—whose voice will dominate on issues like the war in Iraq, terrorism, health care, trade and more?  With us, representing the centrists, the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr., and for the liberal wing, one of the most outspoken and influential voices in the blogosphere, founder and publisher of the Daily Kos Web site Markos Moulitsas.

Then in our political roundtable, the Republicans.  Mitt Romney wins yesterday’s Republican Iowa straw poll.  But will it matter given the other leading contenders didn’t participate?  And save the date, but which one?  The 2008 presidential primary calendar could actually start in 2007.  Who benefits from the changing political calendar?  Insights and analysis from Bloomberg news columnist and Washington editor of The Week magazine Margaret Carlson, assistant managing editor of Time magazine Michael Duffy, NBC News political director Chuck Todd, and National Review’s White House correspondent Byron York.

But first, the debate within the Democratic Party.  We are joined now by former Congressman Harold Ford of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and Markos Moulitsas, the founder and publisher of the Daily Kos Web site.

Welcome, both of you.  This has been a debate you’ve been having all week in print and online.  The first time you two have been together to talk these issues through.  And let’s get right into it.

Congressman Ford, you issued a kind of warning this week when you took this issue on, writing about it in The Washington Post.  We’ll put it on our screen for our viewers to see.  You wrote the following:  “With President Bush and the Republican Party on the rocks, many Democrats think the 2008 election will be, to borrow a favorite GOP phrase, a cakewalk.  Some liberals are so confident about Democratic prospects that they contend the centrism that vaulted Democrats to victory in the 1990s no longer matters.

“Some on the left would love to pretend that groups such as the Democratic Leadership Council, the party’s leading centrist voice, aren’t needed anymore.

“But for Democrats, taking the center for granted next year would be a greater mistake than ever before.  George W. Bush is handing us Democrats our Hoover moment.  Independents, swing voters and even some Republicans who haven’t voted our way in more than a decade are willing to hear us out.” Don’t abandon the center.

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR. (D-TN):  For us to win and do well, it will take a merging of both factions, every part of the party.  Let me first congratulate Markos, not only on what he’s done to give voice and give rise to a series of not only grievances but a series of ideas from all members of our party.  In a lot of ways, the rise of talk radio in the last several years, the last decade or so, has left Democrats wanting to be heard and left Democrats wanting to organize a message.  He deserves applause not only for mobilizing and intensifying support for things that we care about, and I dare say many members in the mainstream political spectrum care deeply about.  The DLC deserves some credit for that.  I’d probably say the MVP, though, in the whole thing has been George Bush, the Republican Congress, and the mismanagement of this war and so many other missteps they have made that have worked to not only bring Democrats together, but it’s worked to even give Democrats a fair hearing amongst a broader cross section of America.

MR. GREGORY:  But your purpose...

REP. FORD:  The purpose...

MR. GREGORY:  Yes.

REP. FORD:  The purpose of this piece is to say let us not get caught up in taking credit, too much credit.  Let us not get caught up in, in, in, in, in claiming that we are or they are or another group is more responsible.  What we should be serious about, I think, is merging factions, organizing our platform around a clear energy...

MR. GREGORY:  But, Congressman, you’re issuing more of a warning, saying, ‘Don’t lurch to the left.’

REP. FORD:  Well, that, that, that is.  And the reality is, in national elections, I believe to win you have to cross three hurdles.  First, you have to demonstrate your strength and trustworthiness on national security.  You have to demonstrate that your values are squarely in the mainstream of America.  And, three, you have to demonstrate as a Democrat that you can be trusted on taxes, economic and fiscal policy.  If we do those things, I believe we better improve our chances of winning.  If we don’t, I think we run the risk of being so excited and enthusiastic that we miss an opportunity, an historic moment, to not only build a majority but to gain a chance to govern. What we’re really asking the American people to do in 2008 is to trust us, to invest in us with the power to govern and lead this country.

MR. GREGORY:  A rebuttal from Markos this week where else but on the Daily Kos Web site.  And you wrote the following:  “The DLC,” Democratic Leadership Council, “doesn’t want a victorious Democratic Party unless such victories happen using their formula.  We’ve been there, done that, and it simply didn’t work.  We as a movement,” meaning the Net roots movement, “sprung from those failures.  We helped build this majority,” the majority in Congress.  “Not the DLC’s 350 or so members.  This is not longer their party.  And as such, we can look forward to finally being truly competitive for years to come.”

Markos, when you say that their approach simply didn’t work, what didn’t work?

MR. MARKOS MOULITSAS:  Well, we’ve had 20 years of Democrats arguing that we can’t show passion, that we can’t really stand strong for being Democrats, that we must blur the distinctions.  There’s been a line of argument that the DLC’s been pushing for many, many years that this is a conservative country, and as such, if we force people to choose between Democrats and Republicans, we’re going to lose these elections.  And, and for many years this was sort of the conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C., and in the consulting class here in, in, in the Democratic Party.  So what we did, though, in, in 2002, we started organizing.  We looked at, essentially, what was a track record of failure for the Democratic Party.  The Republicans were in ascendancy.  They had the trifecta in government.  And we said, “You know what?  Things aren’t working.  We need a new approach.” And what we did is we started organizing. We started pushing Democrats to be proud to be Democrats.  This had nothing to do with being centrist or liberal or conservative.  It had to do with standing tall for core progressive principles.  In fact, one of the first people we, we supported was Stephanie Herseth in South Dakota, who is now a Blue Dog.  Ben Chandler in, in, in Kentucky.  So we, we work with, with politicians that really fit the people in their states and in their districts, and help them sort of get over this hump...

MR. GREGORY:  But you call yourself a liberal partisan.

MR. MOULITSAS:  Oh, I’m very much a partisan, absolutely.  But, you know, one of my first allies...

MR. GREGORY:  Who represents the liberal wing of the party.

MR. MOULITSAS:  Not necessarily.  What we’re doing...

MR. GREGORY:  But you call yourself a liberal partisan.

MR. MOULITSAS:  Because—you’re, you’re trying to make it about me, and here’s the difference is that this isn’t about me.  I run a site and I’m part of a movement that has hundreds of thousands to millions of committed activists working on behalf of their candidates.  Now, if they’re in Kentucky, they’re going to be working for Ben Chandler, because that’s who they have.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. MOULITSAS:  So it doesn’t matter who I think is liberal enough or conservative enough.  I don’t make those value judgments.  I don’t—I’m not there—arrogant to think that I should be making those decisions.

MR. GREGORY:  For, for both, for both of you, if you could advise the party’s nominee to say top three issues, and these are what your positions should be, what would they be?

MR. MOULITSAS:  Well, you know, you’re starting talking about issues.  What I want that candidate to do is to not be afraid to talk about who they are, to be authentic and to tell us who they are so that we can actually make a decision.  And not me.  I’m not going to make this decision.  It’s not my job to decide who the nominee’s going to be.  I want these candidates to speak to regular Americans.  And for too long they’ve been speaking to the pundits, they’ve been speaking to shows like this one.  They haven’t been really communicating to the base because they had to go through this media filter and this political filter, and now we’re destroying those filters.  We’re saying go straight to the people, talk to them, make your case.

MR. GREGORY:  Congressman...

REP. FORD:  (Unintelligible)...one...

MR. GREGORY:  ...top, top three...

REP. FORD:  I hope we can merge all the factions in our party to organize around a clean energy future, developing not only a plan to win and improve our chances of, of instilling stability in the Middle East, but to find ways to, to attract and—new energy, and for lack of a better word, and new investments to find new energy sources for the future.  Two, to fight the growing inequality.  I give, I give them credit also for highlighting and bringing attention to the fact that there’s a growing gap between people who have and people who don’t and, more importantly, people who want.  And the Democratic Party’s longtime tradition has been to address those issues.  And finally, we’ve got to find ways to address the health care and education challenge in this country.  The next president of the United States, he or she will have the challenge of uniting the country around a common agenda and then working his or her heart out, not only to build support here, but to hap—to help re-establish a marker about this great country around the globe.

MR. GREGORY:  For...

REP. FORD:  And it will take both sides...

MR. GREGORY:  For, for either of you.

REP. FORD:  ...to do this, in addition to independents and Republicans...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

REP. FORD:  ...which is why I think—I don’t mean to cut you off—but which is why I believe it’s so important that we not lose sight of the fact that this is a moment that the country’s waiting to hear where Democrats stand on these big, important issues going forward.

MR. GREGORY:  For either of you, is fighting and winning the war on terror in the top three priorities?

REP. FORD:  Oh absolutely.

MR. MOULITSAS:  Well, there’s just no doubt about that.  I mean, there’s a real disagreement about how to best do that obviously.  I mean, this all sounds great and, and, and wonderful, and obviously we can all get to—you know, we can all come around inequalities and opportunity and, and energy independence and that sort of thing.  The problem we have, though, is we’ve, we’ve had a, a, an organization that, one, has, has been on the wrong side of a lot of ideas.  We’re talking John Breaux, Senator John Breaux, who’s an architect of George Bush’s tax cuts, which have led our nation to record deficits, record debt, and a crumbling infrastructure, as we’ve seen in Katrina and as we’ve seen in, in Minnesota.  I mean, crazy thing, but the American people want their bridges to stay in one piece.  So we, we have a situation like that.

On Social Security...

REP. FORD:  You can’t blame the—Markos, I got great respect for you, but I’m not going to let you get away with blaming the Democratic Leadership Council or anything that we support, sir, for, for anything...

MR. MOULITSAS:  Senator John Breaux, who was the chairman of the DLC...

REP. FORD:  Right.

MR. MOULITSAS:  ...was the chief architect.  This is something you put...

REP. FORD:  But not of crumbling—not of crumbling infrastructure.

MR. MOULITSAS:  Well, what do you think, you’re going to cut taxes and not pay for the priorities in our nation.  I mean, obviously, there has to be a way to pay for these things.  And to come out and say, “Well we’re going to cut taxes, and we’re going to let these deficits run up, and we’re going to let our infrastructure crumble,” clearly it’s the wrong way to go.

On health care, on the war in Iraq, which you still refuse to say is a big mistake.

REP. FORD:  It’s, it’s...

MR. MOULITSAS:  You, you were on just on Fox News.  So, clearly, we have a situation where you have an organization that’s been on the wrong side of the issues and has failed to really build a movement, has failed to really draw popular support.  And it’s telling that five years ago, when I first came on the scene, I used to attack many organizations—organized labor.  I used to attack a lot of the issue groups and—because I saw them all as part of this failed Democratic Party establishment.  We were losing elections.  At YearlyKos, we had all these organizations at the same table—labor, the issue groups.  The one organization that was still missing was the DLC.  That’s the one organization that refuses to acknowledge...(unintelligible)...with me.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me just—before I let you respond...

REP. FORD:  Sure.

MR. GREGORY:  ...I want to set this up this way, because this, I think, goes to Markos’ point.  If you look at where the party is today and where the Democratic field is spending a lot of its energy, this is how McClatchy Newspapers reported it this year.  “The Democratic Party is growing more liberal.  It’s more antiwar than at any time since 1972.  Support is growing for such traditionally liberal values as using the federal government to help the poor.  And 40 percent of Democrats now call themselves liberal, the highest in more than three decades.”

This, this past week from the online newsletter the Hotline about what the Democratic field has been up to, calling it Leftward Ho.  “First,” it said, “if you want a spot-on gauge of Dems’ ‘08 confidence, check out the crowds before whom they are pandering, er, appearing.  Just this week, it’s antiwar bloggers, labor (for the 3rd time) and gay-rights activists.  Last month, they answered questions posed by Planned Parenthood, the NAACP and a snowman,” referring to the YouTube debates.

Congressman, does this not tell you that, in fact, maybe the left wing of the party is the new center?

REP. FORD:  No.  What it suggests is that we need each side of this party and every side of this party to be a part of helping to win.  Let, let me just step back just to respond to one or two things my friend said.

The DLC—there are a lot of things we have in common, which, which...

MR. MOULITSAS:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

REP. FORD:  ...you may not know, we may not know.  This organization started out really as a, a—still remains a reform movement.  We have been anti-establishment.  We took on big money in politics long before I got the—long before I got in politics.  I was 15 years old.  We took on lobbying reform long before it was popular to do.  We took on corporate subsidies and even huge farm subsidies when it was unpopular to do.  As you look forward today and you look at some of the accomplishments, remember, the last president—Democratic president to win two terms was Bill Clinton.  Whether we like him or not, when you’re liberal or conservative, you have to agree that balancing the budget, producing surpluses, the biggest land set aside since Teddy Roosevelt, reductions in abortion, reductions in crime, increases in child enforcement, increases in trade enforcement actions.  It’s hard to deny, when 43 million more Americans have health insurance, more kids are in college, that’s a legacy that I think we can all not only be proud of as liberal, conservative, whatever the case, but Americans can be proud of.  And finally, I think going forward we’re not going to win if you and I are arguing against one another.  The truth of the matter is our challenge and our challenger are those who want to move the country backwards, who want to rescind some of the great investments we’ve made in this country toward making America stronger, brighter and more whole.  I happen to think that blaming John Breaux, the DLC, for crumbling bridges or even this war is unfair.  Had America and had the Congress known what we know today about Iraq, there’s no way I would’ve voted for it or anyone.  The truth of the matter is we face a different moment now in how we move the country forward with regard to this war.  And my clear energy point, David, is about fighting terrorism.  I think it has to be a central part and a nucleus of not only taking on terrorists anywhere on the globe where they may pose a threat to us, improving and strengthening—and Markos is a veteran, and I applaud him for that—strengthening our military and respecting our military differently, but we’ve got to find ways to re-establish our marker in the world.

MR. GREGORY:  Let, let, let me pick up on this—the war on terror, particularly the, the war in Iraq, which a lot of people believe is, is a distinct—there’s a distinction between the two.  So let me focus on Iraq because you talked about the DLC not apologizing for support of the war, and yet, there is division within the Democratic Party on that particular point.

REP. FORD:  Even the Republican Party.

MR. GREGORY:  And the Republican Party.  The Washington Post reported it this way, “According to a ...  Washington Post-ABC News poll ...  even among Democrats, there is no consensus about the timing of any troop withdrawal. While three-quarters want to decrease the number of troops in Iraq, only a third advocate a complete, immediate withdrawal.” Another issue important to the base and, and, by extension, the Net roots has to do with gay marriage. This is a Pew poll in January of this year.  Look at the division allowing legal gay marriage, among Democrats, 49 percent in favor, 43 percent oppose.

Markos, does that make the point to you or at least raise the argument that some of what you’re arguing is not in the mainstream of the Democratic Party?

MR. MOULITSAS:  Absolutely not.  I mean...

MR. GREGORY:  There’s more division.

MR. MOULITSAS:  ...on the, on the Iraq issue, this is semantics.  Whether we get out in three months, six months or a year, there is a strong consensus, almost universal in our party, and vast majorities among the American public that people want out.  People want this war to end.  They want our troops home.

MR. GREGORY:  Right, but, but, but...

MR. MOULITSAS:  They want to bring our troops home to be with their families.

MR. GREGORY:  But how you get out is not just semantics, it’s a very important point.

MR. MOULITSAS:  Of course it’s—well, when you ask a poll question, though, and you say, “Do you want to get out immediately or do you want to get out in six months or a year?” We’re talking semantics.  The bottom line is that the vast majority...

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah, but doesn’t that speak to the issue of, of how you form an exit strategy?

MR. MOULITSAS:  Not, not at all.  Because we’re not going to get out while we have George Bush as president.  I mean, so if we say we want to be out in three months, clearly we could be out yesterday, I’d want to be out yesterday. I also understand, as a veteran who worked in logistics, that you can’t pull out 150,000 troops overnight or even in three months.  So, yes, there’s an ideal situation, which is let’s get them out as quickly as possible, so that the poll questions in that regard I think are very much moving in semantics. But I do agree with Harold the, that we, we do need to work together, and I hope you’ll be at next year’s YearlyKos conference...

REP. FORD:  I hope you’ll come to ours, too.

MR. MOULITSAS:  ...nicknamed—it’s going to be called Net Roots Nation, but, but what we need...

MR. GREGORY:  Would either of you go...

MR. MOULITSAS:  Yeah.

REP. FORD:  I would go.

MR. GREGORY:  ...to each other’s conventions?

MR. MOULITSAS:  I would, I would go.

REP. FORD:  I—I’d—I’ll make clear that I will be there next year.

MR. MOULITSAS:  But, ultimately, I—if it was up to me, I would be sitting here right next to—talking to Senator Harold Ford and we had...

REP. FORD:  Appreciate that.

MR. MOULITSAS:  ...we had 10 Senate races and one was run sort of on the DLC platform of blurring distinctions and, and not really proudly standing for Democrats.  And I hope that the DLC moves forward, being proud of being Democrats.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. MOULITSAS:  It doesn’t have anything to do

REP. FORD:  But...

MR. GREGORY:  But—right.

MR. MOULITSAS:  ...with being conservative or liberal, being proud to be Democrats...

REP. FORD:  But, Markos, let, let me say...

MR. GREGORY:  But does it trouble you, congressman...

MR. MOULITSAS:  ...and, and we won.

MR. GREGORY:  ...that none of the Democrats running for president came to your convention this year?

REP. FORD:  Naturally, we wanted them all there, but primaries on both sides. Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson looked like raging conservatives.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

REP. FORD:  They didn’t look that way when Mitt Romney was governor and Fred Thompson was Senator.

MR. GREGORY:  In other words, you think they’re going to come back to the center.

REP. FORD:  They’ll all be there next year.  But let me, let me just—the DLC, balancing budgets, trading surpluses, reducing welfare, reducing crime, introducing the earned income tax credit, raising the bottom 20 percent income 24 percent.

MR. MOULITSAS:  You’re, you’re taking, you’re taking credit for everything that, that, that President Clinton did.

REP. FORD:  No, but, but, Markos, but you’re blaming—no, no, but you’re blaming me for John Breaux.  It’s not fair.

MR. MOULITSAS:  And—right.

REP. FORD:  Bill Clinton...

MR. MOULITSAS:  And you’re taking credit for everything Clinton did and...

REP. FORD:  But he was chairman of the DLC, Markos.

MR. MOULITSAS:  And ultimately, think about this.  You talk about a feeling...

REP. FORD:  But you can’t have it both ways, sir.

MR. MOULITSAS:  ...of the American...

REP. FORD:  I have great respect, but you can’t have it both ways.

MR. MOULITSAS:  No, no, no.  You’re talking about bringing the, you know, appealing to the vast majority of the American public.  Bill Clinton never one with 50 percent plus one of the votes.

REP. FORD:  But he was president twice.  I’ll take his record any day of the week.

MR. MOULITSAS:  The most, the most talented—the most talented politician of our era, incredible political talent, wasn’t able to beat—to win 50 percent of the American vote.  Now, last year in 2006, running as strong unapologetic muscular Democrats, Democrats brought in 56 percent of the vote.  We are appealing to the mainstream.  We brought in independents in droves, and it wasn’t just George Bush.

REP. FORD:  Right.

MR. MOULITSAS:  George Bush gave us an opening.

REP. FORD:  I would agree.

MR. MOULITSAS:  But if it was George Bush, if it was only George Bush, you would be senator today.

MR. GREGORY:  But let me just...

REP. FORD:  But Jon Tester—Jon Tester, Claire McCaskill, Jim Webb...

MR. MOULITSAS:  Jon Tester, we beat in a primary.  We beat...

REP. FORD:  Let me finish.  Let me finish.  Let me, let me...

MR. MOULITSAS:  ...a GOP-backed primary candidate.

REP. FORD:  But, but, but, Markos, Markos, he ran to the right of the DLC and...(unintelligible)...on several issues.  He ran to the left on other issues.

MR. MOULITSAS:  On what issues?

REP. FORD:  On guns, on gay marriage.

MR. MOULITSAS:  That’s not to the left.  I’m not a pro-gun Democrat.

REP. FORD:  On guns, on gay marriage.  There are a number of issues on cultural issues.  Jim Webb the same way.  My only point is this.  There’s no need for us to argue.  Those guys won, and we should be proud.  I think...

MR. MOULITSAS:  Because they were proud Democrats.

REP. FORD:  And I’m one, too.  There’s no need to question my allegiance.  I want to do nothing more than ensure that progressive causes and interests are advanced.  I want nothing more, and I, I know you do as well, want Democrats to win.  We do nothing but help Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani when we argue essentially over semantics.

MR. MOULITSAS:  So will you go on—will you stop going on Fox News and attacking Harry Reid for abandoning...

REP. FORD:  No, but, but...

MR. MOULITSAS:  ...the troops...

REP. FORD:  I’m, I’m not...

MR. MOULITSAS:  ...betraying the troops?

REP. FORD:  I...

MR. MOULITSAS:  You just said that a couple days ago.

REP. FORD:  But, but, Markos, in all fairness, your site has posted awful things about Jewish-Americans.  Your site...

MR. MOULITSAS:  That’s not true.

REP. FORD:  ...has offered...

MR. MOULITSAS:  It’s not allowed.

REP. FORD:  You—now you have a site up about...

MR. MOULITSAS:  It’s not allowed.

REP. FORD:  ...something about Cindy Sheehan, she uses it as a—she has a heavy presence there in talking about her run against...

MR. MOULITSAS:  It’s called democracy.  If you don’t like regular people—hundreds of thousands of people...

REP. FORD:  No, no, I love it.  But you can’t be critical of us.

MR. MOULITSAS:  ...talking, you’re going to have—you’re going to have...

REP. FORD:  ...of us.

MR. MOULITSAS:  Of course.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me—let me insert...

MR. MOULITSAS:  Because I don’t control hundreds of thousands of voices.  You and your organization have a few dozen people.  You can control that message. And you don’t need to attack Democrats.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me insert here and conclude by asking you about Hillary Clinton.  Because it’s quite striking what you have written about her in the past going back to last year.  This is what you wrote in, in The Washington Post about her:  “Hillary Clinton is part of a failed Democratic Party establishment.” Referring in part to her husband’s leadership as well.  “She epitomizes the ‘insider’ label of the early crowd of 2008 Democratic contenders.

“Senator Clinton shows no proclivity for real leadership as a lawmaker. Afraid to offend, she has limited her policy proposals to minor, symbolic issues.  She doesn’t have a single memorable policy or legislative accomplishment to her name.  Meanwhile, she remains behind the curve or downright incoherent on pressing issues such as the war in Iraq.  The last thing we need is yet another Democrat afraid to stand on principle.  Her advisers have stripped what personality she has, hiding it from the public. What remains is a heartless, passionless machine.

“Today we regard Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as anything but inevitable.  Her obstacles are big, and from this vantage point, possibly insurmountable.” She appeared before the YearlyKos convention this year, just last week, and she had this to say.  Let’s watch.

(Videotape, August 4, 2007)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY):  I’m aware that, you know, not everybody says nice things about me.  But—yeah, I know, it’s a burden I have to bear.  But let me start by saying something, perhaps, a little unexpected, and that is thank you.  Thank you for caring so much and being so involved in helping us create a modern, progressive movement in America.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  You did a straw poll on the Daily Kos Web site that had her losing to Edwards and Obama.  She is, according to national polls, a going away front-runner at this point just in, in the national polls.  Have you changed your opinion of her?

MR. MOULITSAS:  Well, I think, clearly—I mean, let me start off by saying, you know, she’s one of the warmest politicians I’ve ever met—I’ve said this, I’ve written about this—in person.  And for some reason when you see her in these public—in debates, you know, she comes across as colder.  And I, I’ve never been able to understand why that is.  You know, I am afraid that her advisers are really hiding the, the human being behind, you know, behind that suit.  Because she’s an incredible human being, very accomplished.

They’re, they’re making strides.  Yes, absolutely.  I think they’re realizing that this isn’t a movement—we’re talking hundreds of thousands of millions of people.  This isn’t something you just toss aside or dismiss.  And she’s making great strides in giving this community proper respect.  Again, it’s not about me.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. MOULITSAS:  You know, I could care less whether I like her or not.  She doesn’t care if I like her or not.  But what I’ve done is create a forum where she can go talk to directly to these people.  And she was at 9 percent in the last poll.  Nine percent of a million people on the Daily Kos is still about 90,000 committed, hard-core activists working on her behalf.  I think any candidate would kill for that kind of support.

MR. GREGORY:  Congressman, final point here.  Is your primary message that compromise is going to be inevitable if Democrats want to win the White House?

REP. FORD:  Merging of factions and recognizing that our agendas are far more in common than there may be in variance.  The reality is our real challenge is developing a coherent, cogent platform that a majority of Americans can rally around that will not only give us a political victory, but will give us a chance to do something that George Bush and up to, up to a year ago most Republicans weren’t able to do in the House and Senate, which is to govern and govern effectively.  If we cross the three hurdles of national security, values and an ability to manage people’s money through taxes and fiscal discipline properly and in a smart way, we will not only advance the progressive cause, but we will give an opportunity to bring to life and to bring to fruition so many of the things that Markos and I care deeply about. And I dare say the millions of people on his Web—that, that follow Daily Kos, and there’re millions of people that subscribe to him and what he does, and I dare say there’re millions that subscribe to the DLC, and more importantly the country.  That’s what this is about.  And that’s what we’re about.

MR. GREGORY:  Quickly, your final thought.

MR. MOULITSAS:  Yeah, no.  I mean, I’m, I’m looking forward to hopefully merging factions.  Everybody else in the party coalition has come together. You’re the lone holdout.  I hope that’s not the case next year.

REP. FORD:  We’ll be there, and I hope you are as well.

Thank you.

MR. MOULITSAS:  Thanks.

REP. FORD:  Good meeting.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Harold Ford, Markos Moulitsas.  A good handshake. Thank you very much.  The debate will continue.

And coming next, results from the Iowa straw poll and making sense of the changing presidential primary calendar.  It’s all fodder for our roundtable this morning:  Margaret Carlson, Michael Duffy, Chuck Todd and Byron York. It’s all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. GREGORY:  The race for the White House 2008 with our MEET THE PRESS roundtable right after this brief station break.

(Announcements)

MR. GREGORY:  And welcome to all you.  Let’s go directly to Des Moines, Iowa, where Byron York of the National Review witnessed yesterday’s straw poll in person.

Byron, the results, we’ll put them up on the, the screen.  As expected, Mitt Romney comes out on top at 32 percent, but Mike Huckabee is a big story there coming in second at 18 percent; Sam Brownback, 15 percent; Tom Tancredo at 14 percent.  What does it mean?

MR. BYRON YORK:  Well, I think, first of all for Romney, he was the front-runner going in, he’s the front-runner coming out.  He won, and he can—he can be happy about that.  So it solidifies his image.  But it also kind of solidifies his image as a guy who’s paying tons of money to stay where it is.  And it allows people like Huckabee, who was kind of a surprise second place finisher, to just attack him over and over again as a big money guy who’s trying to buy votes, the candidate of Wall Street, not Main Street, a guy who wants to sell you the box and not the cereal.  I mean, he’s taken a lot of hits here.  So he does come out ahead.  As far as Huckabee is concerned, you know, it was a really, really big win for him.  He was worried that he’s raised so little money that if he finished way down in the pack he might not be able to stay in the race.  And his, his oratorical skills, he’s a former preacher, very strong.  He’s the kind of guy that you listen to him speak on a few occasions and you wonder why he isn’t higher up in the race. So he—he’s made a huge step forward.

MR. GREGORY:  Chuck Todd, if you look at the voter turnout as well, down significantly from 2000 when George W. Bush won.  Is that a bad sign for Republicans?

MR. CHUCK TODD:  Let’s—I don’t want to go—make too much of it because they had a couple things.  First time, I think, this time they actually asked for Iowa IDs.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. TODD:  They didn’t ask for that before.  Used to be you could just bus in people.  No doubt Steve Forbes and George W. Bush might have bused in a few folks back in ‘99.  And then, but the other thing is when you have three major contenders not participating.  Last time there was only one major contender not participating.  So I think you had some of that.

Look, I go back, the Romney is win is significant, but it would only have been an interesting story had he not done well.  The Huckabee story is amazing for a couple of reasons.  He didn’t buy a single bus.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. TODD:  You know, this straw poll is known for renting buses.  Sam Brownback rented a whole bunch of buses, Tancredo, obviously Romney did.  The other thing is Huckabee actually had a negative ad run against him for this last week.  The Club for Growth went after him.  So here—here’s somebody who only—didn’t have any paid media up himself, had a negative ad criticizing him, and he finished second.  It’s a big deal.  I think at this point it’s like, who finished first and second, everybody else is now definitely second tier.  Huckabee may start inching up and saying, “Hey, I belong in this first tier.”

MR. GREGORY:  Well, let’s look at some of the polling out of Iowa and also nationally for the Republicans.  University of Iowa poll has Romney on top, there’s Giuliani at 11 percent, Fred Thompson—not officially in the race—at 7 percent, and down it goes with John McCain only at 3 percent in Iowa.  You look at the national picture, a little bit different.  Giuliani is on top at 29 percent, Fred Thompson—again, not announced yet—at 22, there’s McCain, and Romney down at 12 percent.

And, Michael Duffy, one question for Mitt Romney here is did he win by enough to, to put the questions about his flip-flip—what a lot of people are calling it—on abortion, did he put those questions behind him now in a state where that’s going to matter in Iowa?

MR. MICHAEL DUFFY:  Well, no, not completely.  He, he won, and he was supposed to win and that’s good.  He’s now ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire. This straw poll, what it probably means, he’ll be ahead in Iowa by a little bit more over the next couple of days.  But the others will eventually come after him, or continue to, on these issues, and I think the Republicans are going to go at each other like a free-for-all on all their flip-flops.  There are no real perfect Republican candidates.  They all have issues about consistency, particularly on the social conservative issues.  And so eventually we’re going to have a giant, you know, rumble about who, who had the greatest flip-flops, and so Romney’s not out of it and neither is anyone else on that score.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.  Margaret.

MS. MARGARET CARLSON:  Yeah, Romney’s—Romney, since he was buying the Iowa straw poll, had to win it big, and then I think he won it big enough.  His tactical error was to say early on that he was going to spend what it would take and scaring out the others so it doesn’t have as much meaning as it would if the other major candidates had been in.

MR. GREGORY:  Hm.

MS. CARLSON:  But even though the Iowa straw poll is entirely irrational, it’s completely welcome because it lets you know that the person who was winning the, the debates, for people who were watching them, was Governor Mike Huckabee.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MS. CARLSON:  And he got more votes than he bought tickets, which is a rare thing in Iowa.  You usually get what you pay for.  Huckabee got more than that.

MR. GREGORY:  And, and, Byron York, talk a little bit about he dynamic now on, on the Republican side of things in these early states because what Mitt Romney would like to do, has been written about today, is create a, a, a dynamic between himself and Rudolph Giuliani where he’s a conservative and Giuliani’s running as more of a moderate.  How does that play out in terms of early stage strategy?

MR. YORK:  Well, you know, on, on the abortion issue, as Margaret said, Romney is fighting from his right.  I mean, there are a lot of radio talk show hosts here in Iowa who are really pushing hard on him, talking about his change of heart over abortion—change of position, you know, which happened in late 2004.  It’s a very, very recent one.  So it’s not just him against the, the pro-choice Giuliani.  He actually has to secure his right flank on this and, and, you know, he, he has not gotten over the flip-flopper image by, by far.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. YORK:  He’s—you know, in, in New Hampshire, of course, he is the next door former governor.  He is running very strong.  In South Carolina it’s quite different.  Giuliani, who people thought really couldn’t make it in South Carolina polling very, very well, and that’s a state where you see Fred Thompson, still undeclared, doing really, really well.  So, you know, Romney would sort of, with this crazy new schedule that we have, would kind of like to run the table early, but that—you know, I just don’t think that’s going to be possible.

MR. GREGORY:  Do you think Giuliani, Chuck Todd, will stop him?

MR. TODD:  Well, we’ll see.  I think that, you know, Giuliani has set himself quite well, I think, in these early states.  They are going to compete in the early states.  You know, they’re—I think they—there are other folks who are saying, “Oh no, no, no, they’re not,” and, and some of the New York media’s almost pushing this idea, “Oh no, Giuliani’s focused on Florida.” But Giuliani’s set himself up as where long as he finishes second in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, then makes South Carolina, I do think South Carolina is the showdown state.  If this, this is Romney and Giuliani, and I’m sort of leaning that that is where this thing is headed.  Maybe we’ll see what Fred Thompson does, but if this thing ends up being Romney vs. Giuliani, neither one of them fits South Carolina, so that will be the showdown state.

MR. GREGORY:  We, we talk about looking at the national polls and, and the Iowa polling, and you see John McCain way down the line.  It was interesting this week during an interview with Matt Lauer on the “Today” program, and he was asked a series of short questions that were in keeping with his new book called “Hard Call.” Let’s watch that.

(Videotape from “Today” show)

MR. MATT LAUER:  If you were asked tomorrow to take...

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ):  Mm-hmm.

MR. LAUER:  ..on the job of rewriting the baseball record book, would you put an asterisk next to Barry Bonds’ home run record?

SEN. McCAIN:  As a baseball fan, yes.

MR. LAUER:  Tainted record.

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, I—I’d—it’s, it’s sort of inappropriate for me, but in my personal opinion as a life-long baseball fan, an asterisk.

MR. LAUER:  All right, hard call.  If you were out of politics tomorrow and you bought a radio station, would you put Don Imus back on the air?

SEN. McCAIN:  I’d, I’d give him a chance.  I believe in redemption.  I believe that people make mistakes in life, and I think—I believe in redemption.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Michael Duffy, I think what struck a lot of people is he actually answered the questions and just went right at—is that—is that some of the straight talk express—the straight-talking John McCain that may have been missing from his campaign before now?

MR. DUFFY:  Well, that’s not a hard call, yeah, that’s exactly what’s been missing.  And, you know, it’s hard to find a lot of smart money right now, David, that says McCain will come back from where he is.  He’s, he’s having trouble raising money, his performance in some of the recent forums and debates has been a little listless, and he’s heading towards single digits. And it’s hard, particularly in the Republican primaries, to reverse that.  But this isn’t—this Republican field is so—has its own flaws and is, is weak enough and is unusual enough because it tends to be—it looks a little more centrist than it typically has been.  It’s, it’s, it’s not impossible that he couldn’t find some moment, lighting could strike if not—if not strike McCain, it could strike the others and maybe strike them dead, you know, that, that McCain, my instincts says he doesn’t come back but it is possible he does. This field is weak enough that perhaps even Judge Crater could come back again.

MR. GREGORY:  But, Margaret, do you see it way?

MS. CARLSON:  You know, his, his talent is to be a kind of comeback guy,

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MS. CARLSON:  ...a maverick, an outsider.  So...

MR. GREGORY:  An underdog.

MS. CARLSON:  An underdog.  So he could fight his way back and find who he was.  But he did lose independents, which is who he needs, especially in New Hampshire.  It’s, it’s his bread and butter, and with the walk in the Baghdad market and, and, and the visit to Jerry Falwell, I think he’s lost that to people even like Giuliani who, by the way, made a huge mistake this week saying that he spent more time at Ground Zero than the 9/11 rescue workers, and it, it, it made me see that Giuliani now believes his own rhetoric, that he, he practically, you know, maybe there was a third tower he kept from falling.  That’s how much he’s made 9/11 part of his campaign.

MR. GREGORY:  The, the other factor here, here, of course, is Fred Thompson, who’s not even officially in the race.  And, Byron, you have a cover story for the National Review on Fred Thompson, and this is how you reported a portion of it.  “Altogether, there’s no doubt that Thompson is a solid conservative who would govern as one.  But it’s hard to claim that his positions are terribly different from those of the other conservatives running for the Republican presidential nomination.  Instead, what Thompson is betting on is that he will be a more effective leader than the other guys and that he will be more able to convince ordinary Americans to support his initiatives.  But first he has to convince them to vote for him.” First, he has to get into the race, officially, I guess.  But where, where, where is he distinguishing himself, or where can he distinguish himself?

MR. YORK:  Well, you know, it’s going to be on the issue of leadership.  It’s well-known that when he was in the Senate he wasn’t overly fond of being in the Senate.  And when I asked him to tell me his two or three top accomplishments in the Senate, the first thing he said was, “You mean, besides leaving the Senate?” You know, when you go and hear him talk to donors and to groups, he’ll talk a lot about entitlement reform, about reforming Social Security.  And I said, “Well, you know, George Bush tried that at, at perhaps the strongest point in his presidency.  He’d just been re-elected, he had 55 votes in the Senate and he failed.  So what—you know, makes you think you could do it?” And he said, “Well, that’s where leadership comes in.” So I think he plans to project an image of a, a strong Reaganite Republican leader and not as just another senator running for president.

MR. GREGORY:  But it is difficult, Chuck Todd.  I mean, the, the president had a Republican majority and just come, come off a very strong re-election bid, and Social Security went nowhere largely because of, of the feelings within his own party.

MR. TODD:  It is.  I think what’s fascinating about Thompson is that he is trying to be the Bush Republican.  You know, none of these guys ever—Romney’s trying to say how he’s different from Bush.  Giuliani is trying to show sort of how he’s different from Bush.  Thompson is basically saying, well—and maybe this is the bet they’re making, “Hey, you know what, Bush is still popular with 65, 70 percent of the Republican Party.” Somebody’s got to actually got be the Bush Republican in this race, and Thompson—the more I watch him, the more, the more things he says, he strikes me as that he’s basically saying, “Look, I’m the guy that’s going to be most like George W. Bush compared to these three.”

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  You...

MR. TODD:  And at the end of the day you might actually want that.

MR. GREGORY:  But you don’t hear a lot about George W. Bush in the campaign at this point.  Ron Brownstein wrote in the Los Angeles Times last month about the Bush undertow, as he called it.  This is what he wrote:  “There’s no guarantee that history will repeat itself.  But the weight of experience suggests that Republicans in Congress and in the presidential race are vastly underestimating the challenge of escaping the undertow Bush is creating.  If he cannot recover at least somewhat, or if the party does not separate itself from him more effectively - or both - the GOP may be dragged under.

“Unpopular departing presidents, though, have consistently undercut their party in the next election.  Democrats lost the White House in 1952 and 1968 after Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson saw their approval ratings plummet below 50 percent.”

Mike, that’s going to be hard for a Republican to say, “I can be George W. Bush, just more effective”?

MR. DUFFY:  I think down below all these candidates, the Republican Party has a sense of deep despair about their situation strategically.  You don’t have to probe it too deeply to find it.  Even Thompson’s support, which is, though, for a man who hasn’t gotten into the race, is holding nationally at about 20 percent, some measure of that.  I would bet most of it is a measure of the dissatisfaction with the Republican field.  Thompson hasn’t gotten in yet, he’s sort of a hologram of a candidate, not a candidate yet.  People say he’s conservative, but we haven’t really seen him.  So I think that’s—even, even his candidacy represents the unhappiness with the field.  We’ll see how—whether he can, you know, capture it and make something of it when he—if he gets in.  But there’s no question that this is a party that is—as, as, as I think Huckabee said, is in crisis.

MR. GREGORY:  Go ahead.

MS. CARLSON:  You know, with—Chuck is right.  They aren’t mentioning—the Republican candidates are not mentioning Bush, but they’re not exactly pulling away either.  I mean, 75 percent of Republicans still support Bush-Cheney when you, when you ask that question in polls.  And you wonder who they are, but they’re there.  And so you’re not going to see a huge break, I don’t think, with, with Bush during the primary.  And you talk about the pro-lifers in Iowa being suspicious of Romney.  I think it’s because they’re actually waiting for Senator Thompson to actually get in, who has better credentials, except for representing that pro-choice group, than Romney does.  There’s the—there’s this holding of breath, there’s this suspension...

MR. DUFFY:  Waiting.

MS. CARLSON:  ...waiting, waiting, waiting for Senator Thompson to get in.

MR. GREGORY:  Byron York, do you think that Mitt Romney is campaigning as effectively as he could be?  Is he presenting the real Mitt Romney in the sense of what his experience really suggests when it comes to being a problem solver, being an effective business person, turning around the Salt Lake City Olympics?  Or is he spending more time trying to position himself to, to court the right wing of the party?

MR. YORK:  Yeah, well, there, there—there’s two things.  One, he really is positioning himself as the, as the candidate of change.  I mean, yesterday he said several times, “What we need now is change.  Change begins here in Iowa. And need—we need a government in Washington that can get things done.” And he’s talking about George W. Bush there, there’s no doubt about it, even though he does praise George for keeping the United States safe since September 11th.  But as far as campaigning correctly, you, you know, there was one instance here in Iowa when he showed a little of his personal self.  He was on with a—one of these radio talk show hosts who was very, very critical of him over the issue of abortion and on the Mormon church.  And he really got kind of feisty.  And the camera kept going during the break in the radio show, and he really began pushing back at people who, you know, who felt that, you know, he didn’t in some ways let his religion play...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. YORK:  ...his religious principles play enough of a role in his candidacy.  So, you know, once you see the real Mitt Romney, I think people find it a little more attractive than, than the packaged candidate.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Let, let me move on to the Democrats and take a look at some numbers.  First from the Iowa Democratic caucus, the University of Iowa poll has Hillary Clinton on, on top at 27 percent.  But when you look at the more hard-core voters, most likely voters, it is John Edwards who has an edge, and Barack Obama still in it.  John Edwards, of course, has put in a lot of time there as well.  And yet you look at the national picture, it is a different story as Hillary Clinton continues to build on her lead, 44 percent, according to CNN/Opinion Research, Obama at 24 percent, and Edwards at 16.

Margaret Carlson, you moderated a forum with gays and lesbians in Los Angeles this week.  And it was an example of the Democratic candidates walking a fine line on some issues like “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military and same-sex marriage.  John Edwards speaking at that forum, let’s listen to a portion of it.

(Videotape)

FMR. SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC):  And by the way, don’t—just as an aside, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is not just wrong now, it was wrong when it began. It’s been wrong the entire time.  As is true with DOMA.  Exactly the same thing’s true with DOMA.  All I can tell you is where I am today.  That’s the best I can do.  You deserve to know that from me.  Today, I believe in all these other things, but I, I do not support same-sex marriage.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  DOMA, by the way, the Defense of Marriage Act signed by President Clinton, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Apropos of our discussion earlier with Markos Moulitsas and, and Harold Ford, some of the, the groups that are appearing before the Democratic field, is it a sign that the base of the party is taking over more of the mainstream of the party?

MS. CARLSON:  Well, you know, the labor and the Human Rights Campaign forums and debates this week suggest to me that the Democratic base is really the middle American base now.  And if you look at polls on how people feel about things, it’s true.  The, the fight that was had last time over gays, I don’t think we’re going to have that this time.  I don’t think Bush saying there’s going to be an amendment to discriminate against gays...

MR. GREGORY:  To the constitution, yeah.

MS. CARLSON:  ...I don’t, I don’t think that’s going to come up with quite that passion this time around.  And on the labor thing, the, the Democrats sounded, you know, like they would work your second shift, they wanted the labor vote so badly.  And Mrs.  Clinton said, you know, “I’m your girl.” But as the middle class feels in trouble, the labor position becomes a majority position.  And the person who won that debate was the steel worker who stood up and said, “I worked for 36 years and every morning I sit across from my wife, and I say—to the steel company—why don’t have I health care and why don’t I have a pension?” They’re bewildered by what happened.

MR. DUFFY:  I think, I think what’s interesting about the, the labor debate is less the issues so much is the fact that it finally gives the Democrats a forum to talk about the economy.  They’ve been talking about the Iraq war so much, where they really are divided between Markos’ group and a group like Harold Ford’s about what to do and where to go and how we got here, that when they get to talk about economics, they actually get to talk about things that they’re much more inclined to be in line about—corporate taxes, jobs going overseas, the availability of health care.  It’s actually a point of common ground for the Democratic Party given their divisions on other fronts, particularly the war.

MR. GREGORY:  It is interesting, Chuck, when Margaret mentions the “I’m your girl” comment by Hillary Clinton, what she was talking about is “I’ve got the experience going up against the Republicans, against the right wing.” Experience, again, the major thread here.  “I can win.” There’s a lot of pragmatism coming in to these conversations now.

MR. TODD:  A little bit.  And, you know, pragmatism ruled the day in 2004. And that’s how John Kerry ended up beating Howard Dean.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. TODD:  They just picked the wrong electable Democrat, arguably.  But I think what’s interesting about all these forums is how much they are helping Hillary Clinton in this respect.  She was not seen as the—inside the Democrat Party as a rank and file liberal, as somebody who was, you know, there was almost so much of her husband’s reputation rubbing off on her.  “She’s a triangulator, she’s this, she’s...”—but just by simply showing up to these things.  Yeah, what I found interesting about your forum, Margaret, is that she actually had some of the same positions as Bill Richardson.  Same sort of, but she, A, wasn’t uncomfortable.  She actually said, “Geez,” you know, “if it wasn’t for DOMA, the constitutional amendment to, to restrict gay marriage would’ve passed.” It was, it was an amazing Bill Clintonesque statement by her.

MS. CARLSON:  Right.  Yes.  Hillary did it.  Yes.

MR. TODD:  She defended DOMA in front of that crowd and got cheers.

MS. CARLSON:  Yeah.

MR. TODD:  It’s—it’s allowing her to look like she wants to be a liberal...

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. TODD:  ...but then not act like a liberal at the same time.  It’s an interesting—and it’s simply because there are so many of these forums...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. TODD:  And she’s going to these...

MR. GREGORY:  Byron, the big debate between Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama has been on the experience question, particularly when it comes to foreign policy and a debate about the use of nuclear weapons in the war on terror.  This is what she had to say in, in response to Senator Obama talking about the, the nuclear question when going after terrorists in Pakistan.  This was a couple of weeks ago.

(Videotape, August 2, 2007)

SEN. CLINTON:  I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  And yet, on this same question, she was asked in, in a different context and had, it seems, a different answer.  This is how The New York Times reported it last week.  “Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has criticized Senator Barack Obama for saying he would rule out using nuclear weapons to root out terrorists in Afghanistan or Pakistan, made a similar comment regarding Iran last year, before she became a presidential candidate.

‘I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table,’ Mrs.  Clinton told Bloomberg Television in an interview in April 2006, responding to a question about how the Bush administration should try to prevent Iran from building up its nuclear program.” Is there any inconsistency there?

MR. YORK:  Oh, yeah, I think there was, actually.  And I think she, she lost the advantage, I think, that she had gained at the Democratic debate in Charleston when they, when they clashed over meeting with leaders of rogue states.  I thought her, her answer was pretty superior to Obama’s.  And then, you know, then Obama comes out, and he’s basically, you know, he’s basically saying, “We’re going to go after the bad guys wherever they are.  And if we have actionable intelligence, we’re going to act,” which is what everybody kind of agrees with.  And I think she took it a little too far in criticizing what he said about nuclear weapons, maybe forgot that she had said the same thing earlier.

MR. GREGORY:  Anybody—another comment on how this plays out?

MS. CARLSON:  I, I, I think these two candidates have to gin up differences. This is like a notch above the David Geffen fight.  So Hillary, you know, took nuclear weapons off the table before she put them back on the table, and the—her, her, her quest to find him naive and irresponsible lost out as a result of that.

MR. DUFFY:  I also think that they want to have this debate about foreign policy, but—because they both think they have—they can expand their, their support, Obama on the left, Hillary in the middle.  I’m just not clear that that’s—that they can sustain it for six months.  It looked like it was off to a good start, but...

MR. GREGORY:  Michael Duffy, I want to mention your book, “The Preacher and the Presidents:  Billy Graham in the White House.” And what’s interesting about this book, in part, talking about Hillary Clinton and, and some of the way that she’s positioning herself, he speaks very highly of her.

MR. DUFFY:  Yes.  They’ve been friends for about 18 years, and the book makes clear that during the Monica Lewinsky scandal that she sought his help in trying to understand—try to get to forgiveness for her husband.  In fact, they, they both did.  And he says about Hillary Clinton essentially what you often hear from people who know a presidential candidate personally, which is that in person they’re really nice and warm and sweet and gentle, and you just don’t get to see that...

MS. CARLSON:  They all are.

MR. DUFFY:  ...on television.

MR. GREGORY:  Right, right.

MR. DUFFY:  Which is true of—I think that’s true of everyone on television.

MS. CARLSON:  Yes.  Right.  You’re, you’re obviously a great guy, Mike.

MR. TODD:  You’re much nicer off air...

MR. GREGORY:  I, I, I want to conclude here with the—in Chuck Todd, we have a living, breathing Day-Timer.  So when we go to him on all these, these calendar questions—and the primary calendar is getting confusing.  Let’s put it up on the screen and look at where we are at this point for 2008.  South Carolina GOP primary, now February 2nd—was February 2nd, moving to January 19th.  The South Carolina—that’s the GOP primary.  New Hampshire primary, January 22nd to no later than January 12th is, is the thought.  And the Iowa caucus is January 14th.  Maybe does it move to December ‘07 or early January 2008?  Chuck, what’s going on?

MR. TODD:  Well, it looks like the, the Iowans are pretty determined to make sure it’s 2008.  I think the most important thing is New Hampshire.  The New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who controls this entire process, because he has the power to set the New Hampshire primary at any moment in time.  And don’t forget, all the presidential candidates have invested already millions of dollars on—the front-runners on both sides—in making sure—in assuming that Iowa and New Hampshire are first.  So that is what’s going to happen.  They are going to be first and second.  I think you’re going to see Gardner hit this Saturday or Thursday primary.  You know, they changed the law two months ago to give Gardner the power of not just putting it on a Tuesday, but to put it on any day of the week.  So I think we’re likely to see a Saturday event.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. TODD:  I think some think it’s good.  And either a Saturday caucus or a Monday caucus before.

MR. GREGORY:  And the bottom line, we could have this wrapped up pretty early next year.

MR. TODD:  We, we are.  But it’s still—you know, all this upheaval, it’s still going to be Iowa first...

MS. CARLSON:  We could have a Christmas—we could have a Christmas caucus.

MR. TODD:  No we’re not—it’s still going to be Iowa first, New Hampshire second, and then...

MR. GREGORY:  All right, we will leave it there.  Thanks to all of you. We’ll be right back.

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MR. GREGORY:  Start your day tomorrow on “Today” with Matt and Meredith, and the “NBC Nightly News” with Brian Williams.  That’s all for today.  We’ll be back next week.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

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