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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Senator Obama's Small Town Remarks Largely Criticized

Aired April 11, 2008 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.
Tonight, uproar and fury after stunning remark by Senator Obama. Senator Obama blasts small town America in front of wealthy donors. Obama's remarks could shake the entire presidential campaign. We'll have complete coverage.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Friday, April 11. Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.

Outrage tonight after Senator Obama blasts small-town America. The remarks could seriously damage Senator Obama's presidential campaign. Obama made the remarks in front of wealthy donors at a fund-raiser in San Francisco last Sunday. The news was first reported by the "Huffington Post" Web site. The "Huffington Post" provided an audio tape of what Obama said.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been done now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And it fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration and each successive administration has said that these communities are going to regenerate but they have not.

And it's not surprising that then they get bitter, they cling to their guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Now Senators Clinton and McCain immediately pounced on Obama's comments. They criticized Obama for being insensitive and out of touch. The Obama campaign tried to limit the political damage as soon as this news broke.

Obama's campaign said, "No one from our office was there. We don't have a campaign recording. We are neither confirming nor refuting." We will have extensive coverage tonight from the campaign trail and from the finest strategists. We begin with an exclusive interview with "Huffington Post"'s Mayhill Fowler who broke this story.

Mayhill, thanks for joining us on the phone.

MAYHILL FOWLER, BLOGGER: You're very welcome.

PILGRIM: Mayhill, please set the scene for us. What kind of a crowd was assembled here, first of all to set the scene, the context of these remarks.

FOWLER: This is a fundraiser, the fourth in the day. This last Sunday in San Francisco and Marin and the South Bay in California. And it was at a house in Pacific Heights. There were maybe 350 to 400 people there. Quite a crush. Quite a crowd. These were people that had maxed out their donations to Senator Obama and among that group is myself.

PILGRIM: How would you characterize them, prosperous, middle class, wealthy, what category?

FOWLER: That's a very good question. You shouldn't have the impression these were very wealthy donors. These were mostly middle class and upper middle class who, I'm guessing, like myself, had slowly given money over time to Senator Obama until they reached the $2,300 cap.

There was the wife of an army surgeon. There were Safeway grocery store union workers. There were professors, there were house wives, it was quite a cross-section of prosperous California.

PILGRIM: And they had maxed out their $2,300 donations.

Mayhill, you told me in a previous conversation on the telephone, you always record what you report. So you had a tape recorder going at the time. Tell us how that played out, how you had this tape recorder going. What you noticed as he was making remarks.

FOWLER: I cover the campaign for Off the Bus, for the "Huffington Post." I'm a citizen journalist. I've been covering the campaign since last June, intensely since September. I had just been in Pennsylvania following the Obama bus tour from west to east across the state. So I would say his frame of mind was the same as in Pennsylvania, calm, relaxed, very upbeat, full of confidence.

PILGRIM: The remarks we quoted at the top, when you heard those remarks, what was your reaction and the reaction of those attending the event?

FOWLER: Two different reactions. First of all I should say it's not the first fundraiser I've been to. Most of the ones I go to I don't write up. I don't think they're probative of anything. I wasn't expecting this one to be probative.

Therefore I was quite surprised when he waxed at length and eloquently on a number of topics. And the first thing that caught my attention was ruminating about possible choices for a running mate should he be a nominee. I was also struck by what he said about Pennsylvanians particular since I had just been in Pennsylvania meeting the same people that he was talking about.

But I would say most people there, I can't speak for all of them, but most of the people there don't follow the campaign at enough of a detail or at length to have been struck by his having saying things that he hadn't said before.

PILGRIM: Mayhill, you wrote in your blog that these comments you felt reinforced negative stereotypes. When you wrote this blog, how much time between the event and when you wrote it. How much did you consider what you were going to write in the blog and did you realize you might generate--

FOWLER: I gave it a great deal of thought. Sunday night I went home and right away I wrote the piece right way about choosing the running mate. That appeared on "Huffington Post" on Monday.

I was not initially going to write about Senator Obama's remarks about Pennsylvanians. Because, frankly, I didn't want to bring down the campaign. I gave it more thought and I decided that the remarks bothered me enough that I wanted to write them up.

PILGRIM: Mayhill Fowler, of "Huffington Post," thank you so much for joining us and describing your recording of these remarks at the event in San Francisco. Thank you, Mayhill.

FOWLER: You're very welcome.

PILGRIM: Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, joins us now from Terra Haute, Indiana.

Candy, what is the Clinton campaign saying about the Obama remarks.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me start with just one thing. The Obama campaign put out a statement about this directed mostly at John McCain who as you know said this proves Obama is out of touch. And listen, said if John McCain wants to talk about who is out of touch, talk about the tax cuts he supports for rich people. They tried to explain these remarks by saying the senator has long said that people are angry at their government for not delivering on promises particularly on politicians.

To with the problems of the people. The campaign was all over the blog really before it hit mainstream media. They were pushing it to reports, showing it to reporters. And at a Pennsylvania economic round table, Hillary Clinton took her shot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I saw in the media it's being reported that my opponent said that the people of Pennsylvania who faced hard times are bitter. Well, that's not my experience. As I travel around Pennsylvania, I meet people that are resilient, who are optimistic, who are positive, who are rolling you have their sleeves. They're working hard every day for a better future for themselves and their children.

Pennsylvanians don't need a president that looks down on them. They need a president that stands up for them, fights for them, works hard for your futures, jobs, your families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: On a purely political basis, Kitty, it's probably helpful to remind the audience that the particular remarks he was talking about Pennsylvanians and the Pennsylvania primary is the next one up. And that's the 22nd of this month and it comes at a pretty critical time -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right. Thank you very much Candy.

Let's turn to Bill Schneider, our political analyst.

Bill, your reaction to these remarks this evening?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's certainly true that a lot of voters are angry and bitter over the war, over trade, over the economy. But he got into trouble for one precise reason, and that is because he said that people turn to religion and guns, by which I assume he means thinks like hunting, and that they criticize trade and illegal immigration because they are bitter and frustrated with their lives. Now that's a causal assertion, religion, guns, and criticism of trade and illegal immigration because they are bitter and frustrated with their lives.

A lot of voters are going to find that statement untrue and insulting to their values and condescending. So I think to be fair we have to hear a fuller explanation from Senator Obama of what he meant. Maybe an explanation and maybe an apology would be in order.

But we need to hear more about what was his intention in making that causal statement.

PILGRIM: Bill, we heard Mayhill Fowler remark that when she heard it she was particularly struck by it.

We do have the Obama campaign statement in response to the McCain and Clinton campaign attacks on Senator Obama.

Let me read Senator Obama's campaign statement: "Senator Obama has said many times in this campaign that Americans are understandably upset with their leaders in Washington for saying anything to win elections while failing to stand up for the special interests and fight for an economic agenda that will bring jobs and opportunity back to struggling communities. If John McCain wants a debate about who is out of touch with the American people, we can start by talking about the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans that he once said offended his conscience but now he wants to make permanent."

That was the Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor who gave us that statement now -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, that doesn't quite answer the question. It really changes the subject. Because he has to explain what he meant by the assertion that people's bitterness and frustration are causing them to turn to religion. And anti-trade sentiment and criticism of illegal immigrants. As I said, a lot of people are going to find that condescending and insulting.

And I think he needs a fuller explanation of what he intended to say by that statement. I think the woman who was there said she was bothered by it, some people in the room were bothered by it a lot of voters will be bothered by it. It requires a fuller explanation than that.

PILGRIM: It certainly does. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Let's turn to my panel in these studios. Our best political minds of Gloria Borger, Errol Louis.

Gloria you have followed these campaigns from the beginning. What's your reaction to the event? It's quite startling.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I have two reactions. One is that you're in the middle of a very closely contested fight in the state of Pennsylvania. The voters who are probably going to determine the jut come are perhaps the voters Barack Obama was talking about. I think that's where the concern is.

I think it's clear Hillary Clinton didn't raise the other issues. She didn't raise the other issues that Bill Schneider was talking about. She raised the issue of saying I don't see bitter voters out there. Bitter is an artful way of probably saying angry voters. Which is what he probably what Obama meant.

I don't want to say what Barack Obama meant. There are angry voters all over the country. We all know that. Those of us who are covering politics.

So I agree with my colleague, Bill Schneider that you need a fuller explanation here and this is a presidential campaign and both Hillary Clinton and John McCain have a common enemy right now. And that's Barack Obama.

PILGRIM: Words are being parsed very, very carefully. This is quite a statement. Errol, your thoughts on this?

ERROL LOUIS, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": I think this is a problem Barack Obama should have anticipated and could have easily avoided which is he's walking on a tight rope every time he goes and speaks. Every place I've seen him campaign, in every state, he does something that politicians don't usually do, which is to ask people to be better than they are.

And to sort of delve into it and to say for this nation to work we all have to be better, we have to be more understanding, we have to be more generous, we have to be a little less narrow minded. It's very different from what politicians normally do.

He runs the risk, when he does something like this, what I would be curious to see is whether or not he been giving some version of that same speech in Easton, Pennsylvania, and in Pittsburgh and in the areas that are struggling.

On the facts, today it was reported that 250 jobs, the York Candy Company are moving from York to Mexico. I dare say there's a touch of bitterness there. The candidate who tries to sort of speak to that bitterness is running a risk. It led in this case to a big stumble.

PILGRIM: We have Jonathan Martin in Washington.

Jonathan, your thoughts on this statement.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM: Well, it's a major problem for Obama. Potentially here in this Pennsylvania primary 10 days way. Especially if he does capture the Democratic nomination and becomes their nominee this fall, for this reason the Republican Party now has key evidence of him offering elitist comments. They will play this tape over and over again.

Look, if Lee Atwater and Karl Rove and Bill Clinton were told at Pacific Heights fundraiser in San Francisco Obama talked about religion and guns in that way, they would be liking their chops. It's almost a dream come true in a lot of ways. So the Obama folks are going to have to offer a better explanation certainly. That one sentence could well haunt Barack Obama.

PILGRIM: We're just before an important contest in the election. We do have to Pennsylvania poll of poll numbers. To show the viewers how very tight this is. This is likely Democratic primary voters for the nominee, Clinton, 46 percent, Obama, 42 percent. And twelve percent undecided.

Gloria, 12 percent undecided and an incident like this, in advance of such an important voting, what is your view?

BORGER: I think anything that happens late in a political campaign has a great deal of impact. Particularly in one that's getting closer and closer. I think if you're inclined to vote against Barack Obama, this may give you a reason to vote for Hillary Clinton.

If you're inclined to support Obama but you're not sure, I don't know if it's going to change your mind one way or another. If you're truly undecided and don't support either one of them, this could tip the scale.

PILGRIM: Jonathan, your thoughts on how close the race is?

MARTIN: It's very, very competitive. Especially in a place like Pennsylvania where Obama had made some progress this could really hurt him in rural parts of that state. But look beyond that. Also places like Indiana, which is a key state coming up in May. Perhaps some rural parts of North Carolina. But again, this ultimately could be a problem in the fall for Obama in the general election. Look at the past two cycles, Kitty, Al Gore and John Kerry. What did Republicans use against them more than anything else? The fact they were elitists and were out of touch with average Americans. This is going to be the same thing all over again, probably.

PILGRIM: All right, Jonathan Martin, Errol Louis, Gloria Borger. We'll be right back in just a moment.

We'll have much more on Senator Obama's stunning comments on small town America. We will have extensive coverage.

More reaction from the candidates and the very best political analysts. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: More now on the outrage about Senator Obama's remarks on small town America. Suzanne Malveaux is with the Clinton campaign with Philadelphia joins me now.

Suzanne, how is this Clinton campaign responding to Obama's comments tonight?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, it's not surprising that the Clinton campaign is really seizing on these remarks, on this controversy. It plays really into the main message Clinton has been trying to portray to the voters, she is the one that gets where they're coming from. Their problems. That she has the solutions Obama does not.

We've seen her really play up that she has roots in Scranton. She talks about her grandfather who works in the mad. There's even an ad here in Pennsylvania saying she grew up on pinochle and the American dream. What we're seeing here is Senator Clinton is fiercely fighting for this state.

She wants to keep her lead. It is a lead that is narrowing here. That lead really dependent on two groups, the older voters, who have been very reliable and also those working class people, people who are worried about losing their jobs. They are upset about the high gas prices. Those types of people.

And you're seeing both of these candidates are now fiercely trying to compete to cut into the other person's base. You've got Senator Clinton here in Philadelphia, a place where Barack Obama has a two-digit lead over her trying to cut into his base, those in Philadelphia. And she's talking about an issue that means a lot to them, and that's fighting crime.

That's why we see Barack Obama bowling and going out for beers, meeting voters in some of these rural areas in Pennsylvania. He's also trying to cut into her base. If they can do that then that really will determine what the spread between these candidates in that really critical primary in Pennsylvania -- Kitty. PILGRIM: I was very much struck in a speech that Hillary Clinton made just a little this earlier this evening in which she addressed the Obama remarks. But also the tone was enormously upbeat. She was talking about rolling up sleeves, the best years are yet to come.

Was this a departure from her normal speech or was this billed to actually make a large contrast with the comment that voters may be bitter?

MALVEAUX: Really, the only thing that was different was she added the line that you have been playing in these reports said that some of the voters were bitter. And that she made the contrast that she was optimistic and positive about these things. In the same speech she said she was mad to hear about the economic conditions, the hardship some of the voters were going there.

Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: When I think about the problems that the economy is causing for hardworking Pennsylvanians, it makes me mad. We had an economy that was working for people 10 years ago. And I know -- I know it can work again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So, Kitty, you really have this fierce debate going on online right now, read it on the blogs, some people say maybe there's not a big difference between people saying people are bitter and expressing anger like Senator Clinton did. The Clinton camp doesn't agree with that perspective but it certainly is something that is being debated -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Suzanne Malveaux. Thanks, Suzanne.

A spokesman for Senator McCain responded to Senator Obama's comments today. And we would like to read you that: "This is a remarkable statement and extremely revealing. It shows an elitism and condescension towards hard-working Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking. It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with the average Americans."

And that from the McCain campaign this evening.

Joining us again is Errol Louis, a CNN contributor and columnist with the "New York Daily News" and we're also joined by Roland Martin, CNN contributor and radio talk show host.

Gentlemen, thanks for being with us.

Roland, let me start with you. First of all, your initial reaction to Senator Obama's comments in California.

ROLAND MARTIN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Wow. Politically dumb because he actually told the truth. At some point we have to accept the reality that there are people in America now who are angry and are bitter. And we do blame other folks for certain things.

Kitty, I read a column years ago by the late great Molly Ivins, and it was when the people in California were going after illegal immigrants saying they were the cause of all of California problems. Molly Ivins said that's not the problem, the problem is the military bases shut down all across the state, the problem is the various tax codes, how you change those.

What happened to America is we don't want to be honest. Remember John McCain went to Michigan, Kitty, what did he tell the people there? You're not going to get the jobs back. They said, oh my goodness. Mitt Romney came in, he said, we're going to get the jobs back. They gave the vote to Mitt Romney. He won Michigan. The jobs are not coming back; they're not.

We have to change the course of the economy because manufacturing jobs are not going to return because the American people want lower and lower prices. And they are not going to sit there with companies paying the high-dollar wages. We have to change our economy. The jobs are not coming back.

PILGRIM: Roland let me just ask you a follow up.

It seems that all these are legitimate issues. And I grant you that. However, the statement can be taken in a different context and be seen to see as a difference between a dividing a divisive comment in the course of this campaign.

Do you see how it could be interpreted like that?

MARTIN: Of course.

PILGRIM: How much of a problem will it be for the Obama campaign?

MARTIN: Of course it can be taken that way. You can take any comment and say it's divisive, you can say it's positive. Or you can simply say, you know what? It's the truth. Sometimes, the truth does hurt.

Look, I'm in Houston, Texas right now. I am speaking at a regional conference tomorrow, the National Association of Black Journalists. And in our industry, low morale, newspaper jobs being cut, we don't know what we're going to do.

You know what? Our industry is changing. And somebody has to say either we are going to confront the reality that we are bitter or we can say how can we change where we're going? Let's not blame anybody else. We have to deal with that.

So maybe what Obama has to do is not what Bill Schneider said. I wouldn't apologize. I would come out and say, you know what, there are bitter people, there are people who are blaming immigrants. There are people who are blaming trade policies.

We have to come to the reality that in many of these small towns and inner cities, the jobs are not coming back. So how are we going to reengineer these communities? How are we somehow going to create different types of jobs? Because the jobs of 25 years ago are not here in 2008.

PILGRIM: Roland, you make very fair points about the economy.

Errol, let's go back to the statement, though. And I'd like to ask you -- how do you think the Obama campaign should handle this? Bill Schneider suggested perhaps an apology. Do you think this will have legs in terms of generating comment?

LOUIS: I'm dying to see if it's going to have legs. The only way to really be sure is to see is what he says on his next campaign swing through Pennsylvania and how it's received. The next time he goes to a small town and brings up presumably something related to this, either an apology or a continuation or standing his ground as Roland suggests, let's see what people think.

Listen, the Jeremiah Wright controversy that everybody thought was going to sink his campaign, weeks later he has a double digit -- his biggest lead over Hillary Clinton nationally of the entire campaign. I think the awfulness of the setting is the thing that strikes me is the thing he needs to get away from.

It's one thing to tell a hard truth to people in the middle of their misery. It's another thing to be sitting with those latte sipping -- latte drinkers out there in San Francisco and that's going to be a very, very tough nut to crack.

PILGRIM: The venue is important. To put this phrase in context.

And we did have the benefit of speaking with the blogger who witnessed the event. We will be back with more discussion on this.

Let's take a moment for tonight's poll. We're asking you: Do you believe that Senator Barack Obama's comments reveal an elitist attitude toward every hard working American?

Cast your vote at loudobbs.com and we'll bring you the results a little bit later in the broadcast.

Coming up, it could be a critical moment for the presidential campaign. Senator Obama slams small town Americans, calling them bitter, frustrated. We'll have extensive coverage. We'll hear from the nation's leading political analysts so stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: We're back with the very important controversy with the Obama campaign. We have reaction from the Clinton campaign and the McCain campaign. We are joined again by Roland Martin and Errol Louis for comment on that.

I would particularly like to turn to you, Errol, and ask you, in terms of reaction, we've had a strong reaction from the Clinton campaign. Is there a way that you can overreact to this, if you're fighting or with numbers this tight, or do you think that it's very important to make your -- your statement known?

LOUIS: There -- it is possible to overreact. It's also possible to expose some vulnerabilities. One of the key points in one of their prior debates came when Tim Russert, who was a Buffalo native, pointed out in the middle of the debate that Hillary Clinton, when running for Senator of New York, promised 200,000 jobs in upstate New York right near the Pennsylvania border. Very similar kind of an economy, similar de-industrialization problem.

She promised 200,000 jobs, and yes, eight years later -- six years later, rather, there was a net loss of 30,000 jobs. Now I don't know if anyone wants to go there and find out whether or not people are bitter up there.

But I think the problem is there is a serious, serious problem. There is a depopulation of some of these areas. There are places that are hurting so badly that they've reached the 19th century definition of frontier: one person, you know, per square mile. People are really just fleeing these areas. So it's a real, real serious problem.

I think Hillary Clinton would do well to do it in sort of a muted fashion, just the way we heard her do it. Saying, like, "Listen, I don't know what this guy is doing, talking about misery and problems and all that stuff. I see bright days ahead. I'm your candidate."

PILGRIM: Well, it's very interesting the tone that turned up in the speech just moments before this broadcast began. She gave a very upbeat speech. She declared her deep roots to Pennsylvania, going back successive generations. And she really had a very upbeat speech about the future of the American worker. It was a very sharp contrast to this tone of bitterness.

Roland, is it going to divide out into those who are bitter and those who are not? Those who see the future and those who see the past?

MARTIN: Look, the way this story is going to turn is all based upon exactly the people like me and Errol and others who are going to spin it. So talk radio, the folks on television, how do we somehow move it and shift it? That's what it's going to boil down to.

Sure, people are going to take it. Folks are going to take it much different ways, as Errol said earlier. How does Obama respond to it? But you know what? When John McCain talks about -- how amazed, shocking or amazing or whatever he said, you know what really came to mind for me? Is that small-town America has beared (sic) the brunt of the soldiers being killed in Iraq. You know? And so you look at the costs of that, as well. Soldiers coming back.

I mean, McCain gave a speech two weeks ago, talking about housing. Pretty much saying, hey, America, you're on your own. He figured out this week, I might want to say that yes, we have a housing crisis. So they have to be very careful how they move it.

So he likely will suffer from the comment. But if he comes out and says, look, I'm going to confront it and speak to you honestly and truthfully, talking like it's a result (ph), it may have a different effect, as opposed to somehow thinking these walls are going to fall down.

PILGRIM: You know, Errol, I just would like, for the benefit of our viewers, to revisit the remark that Senator Obama made so that we can put this discussion in context for anyone who may have joined us late.

So let's put up Senator Obama's comment. And here's the statement that he said.

"Senator Obama has said many times in this campaign that Americans are understandably upset with their leaders in Washington for saying anything to win elections while failing to stand up to the special interests and fight for an economic agenda that will bring jobs and opportunity back to struggling communities. And if John McCain wants a debate about who's out of touch with the American people, we can start by talking about the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans that he once said offended his conscience but now wants to make permanent."

Now, Senator Clinton's campaign denounced, basically, the remarks that Senator Obama said earlier about bitterness. Let's listen to what Senator Clinton's campaign had to say about those remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I saw it in the media. It's being reported that my opponent said that the people of Pennsylvania, who faced hard times are bitter. Well, that's not my experience.

As I travel around Pennsylvania, I meet people that are resilient, who are optimistic, who are positive, who are rolling up their sleeves. They're working hard every day for a better future for themselves and their children.

Pennsylvanians don't need a president who looks down on them. They need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them, who works hard for your futures, your jobs, your families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: What strikes me about that remark, Roland, is that Senator Clinton is using this as an occasion to talk about being presidential. Did Senator Obama do himself a disservice in this remark in not coming up with a solution in siding with the problem instead of the solution?

MARTIN: Well, first of all, we don't have -- do we have the full tape of what he said after that, as well? Or do we just have that?

PILGRIM: We have -- we have the full tape, the context. We do have it, yes.

MARTIN: Right. So the point is, if any solutions were indeed offered. First of all, Senator Clinton's response was a very smart response in terms of what she spoke to, in terms of rolling your sleeves up. So very strong there. Look, it was a politically dumb comment to make. I mean, sometimes in politics, you can be too honest. Because again, we don't want to take it.

Margaret Carlson has got a great column today talking about John McCain and the war, in that people see how it's going and what happened. She said what Americans like to believe that six more months we might make it work. And she said, you know, so it may work in his favor like that. That's what happens.

So you don't want to make statements that could somehow cause damage. You do want to do what Senator Clinton did, stay positive as opposed to -- where people are.

So we don't have the effect yet. Again, as Errol said, how does he respond to it? How does he come back? I wouldn't apologize. I would not come out and say, oh, I'm sorry I said it.

I would say, yes, I did say it, and I've met people who are bitter. I've met people who are blaming -- who are blaming illegal immigration, who are blaming trade policy. But that's not going to get jobs back. Changing the economy is going to get them back. So how he responds in the next 24, 48 hours.

PILGRIM: Errol, I need to ask you the same question. This issue of being presidential, this quick turn on the Clinton campaign was very deft, I have to say. Where do you think the candidates stand?

LOUIS: It's one thing -- I think she did get it right. I mean, she's showing her skills. You could sort of step back and try and be super presidential and say, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." You know, hope and opportunity are right around the corner.

I don't know if anybody can pull that off these days. But I do think that we'll have to look at the polls and really sort of hear from the voters. You know, if the notion is voters sort of reach the conclusion, well, not only are we not bitter and resentful, but we're going to have a torch light, a pitch fork parade, you know, and throw this guy out, you know, at the polls in order to prove how unresentful we are, that just doesn't even sound right.

You know, so I think we've going to have to sort of find out what's going on in the small towns. I'd be very curious as to whether or not he derived this point of view from talking to people one on one, if he's looked at polls, if he's just sort of drawing some conclusions based on his own history, working with the industrialized, struggling steelworkers in Chicago. He's got a lot to explain.

PILGRIM: There will be further explanations, I'm sure.

Roland Martin, Errol Louis, thank you very much for joining us this evening.

MARTIN: Thanks, Kitty. PILGRIM: We'll have much more coming up on Senator Obama's political attack on small-town America. We'll have a report from the campaign trail. Also our panel of political analysts will be back to assess the political impact.

So stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: More now on the controversy over Senator Obama's criticism of small-town America.

Let's first listen to some of what he said.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OBAMA: It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti- immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Joining me for the very latest is our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. And Candy joins us from Taraho, Indiana.

Candy, what is the Obama campaign saying about this controversy tonight, or not saying?

CROWLEY: Well, one of the first things they did was put out the full transcript to show reporters what he was talking about that led up to this.

The second thing they've done is they've put out a press release saying, listen, if John McCain wants to talk about who's out of touch with America, let's talk about the tax cuts that he gave the rich. Let's talk about those sorts of things. (AUDIO GAP)

Here is they didn't really take on Hillary Clinton about this; they took on John McCain, which is the campaign's way of kind of pushing this forward, sort of making this a Clinton -- I'm sorry, making this a McCain-Obama fight. But that's what they've done so far.

Now I suspect, A, that Barack Obama is going to have to come out and talk about it and put it in context or whatever it is they say they want to do. And I suspect there will be more. But so far, we've had a statement, pushing back McCain and Clinton, and they've put out the full transcript from that fundraiser.

PILGRIM: Candy, this occurred on Sunday. We spoke to the author of the blog who reported this. She said sat on this information for a couple of days, just put it out. Was there any indication that there was any kind of worry about this, or is this just a complete surprise to the campaign? CROWLEY: I think it's a complete surprise to the campaign. I don't get the sense, when we started calling over there, that they immediately knew what we were talking about. They said, "Look, we didn't have a tape recorder going. We don't know. We can neither -- you know, what you've reported, you know, we can't refute it, but we can't confirm it."

But they, when it showed up on the blog, the audiotape, they put out a transcript pretty quickly. So yes, I think it did surprise them. I just -- again, I wonder in this day and age why anybody thinks that, in a room full of people, somebody is not running a tape recorder. So obviously, somebody was.

So you know, I do think they were surprised, which is the bottom line answer to your question, Kitty.

PILGRIM: Right. Thanks very much, Candy Crowley.

Let's turn back to the poll. And it's a very interesting poll tonight: Do you believe that Senator Barack Obama comments reveal his elitist attitude toward every hard-working Americans?

Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. And we'll bring you the results a little bit later in the broadcast.

Also coming up, much more on Senator Obama's political attack on small-town America. Three of the nation's leading political analysts will join me here, so stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Joining me now are three of the sharpest political minds in the country. We have Republican strategist and former campaign manager for Mike Huckabee, Ed Rollins; Democratic strategist, superdelegate supporting Hillary Clinton, Robert Zimmerman; Pulitzer- Prize winning columnist for the "New York Daily News,"

Michael Goodwin. And all three are LOU DOBBS TONIGHT contributors. We'd like to say that.

Thanks for being with us.

Robert, I'd like to start with you. And I would also like to say that we did invite on several of the super delegates for Obama. So they had opportunity. They had invitations to appear on this broadcast.

But Senator Clinton's speech this afternoon seems almost a direct rebuttal to the remark. How do you think that this is playing out in the forum of -- of the airwaves at this moment?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's really, in many ways, a very turning-point issue. And let me point out that, even though I'm supporting Hillary Clinton, I have also praised Barack Obama and defended him for many unfair attacks on this program. This is a different situation, because now we're talking about an issue that really will become a question of character and judgment. And the debate will be whether he has the leadership to unite this country and lead it forward and how the response to this controversy will be part of it.

The other issue that's going to impact Democrats is the issue of whether he can be elected? And the electability question. We saw in the most recent AP/IPSOS poll. He dropped ten points and is running even with John McCain in the wake of the Reverend Wright controversy, that poll out today.

Clearly, this issue also may further the divide that exists in the Democratic Party between working people -- middle income working people who are voting for Hillary Clinton, and older women, and John McCain supporters.

PILGRIM: I'd like to just replay that Obama comment, because my next question is really based on the substance of what he said. Can we just play that one again?

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OBAMA: It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti- immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Now, he was talking about Pennsylvania, working-class Pennsylvania, small-town America. But he did it in a venue in California that was extremely wealthy. The donors had maxed out their maximum contributions.

Michael, what do you think about the juxtaposition of what he said and where he said it and how much damage this might do to the Obama campaign?

MICHAEL GOODWIN, COLUMNISTS, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, I happen to come from one of those small towns in Pennsylvania. And I mean, I know what people there feel about religion and guns and immigrants.

And it's not about just hating other people. I mean, they don't embrace religion out of hate. They don't hunt or use their guns for target practice out of hate.

So I think there's -- it's not just an elitism. It de- legitimizes the way people live, the way they choose to live in America.

This is -- this is like Wright, you know, on steroids. I mean, this is, I think, a disaster of Obama. I don't see how he can explain it. He'll have to apologize and hope that mercy gets him through this. PILGRIM: You know, we -- we spoke to Mayhill Fowler, the reporter for the "Huffington Post" who recorded this comment. She says she recorded it -- recorded it on a small hand-held recorder. She always records everything that she -- and she actually sat on this recording and this report for a day or two while she considered.

Let's listen to what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FOWLER: I was struck by what he had to say about Pennsylvania, particularly since I had just been in Pennsylvania, meeting some of the same people that he was talking about. But I would say most of the people there -- of course, I can't speak for all of them -- but most of the people there don't follow the campaign at enough of a detail or length to have been struck by his saying things he normally hadn't said before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: She wrote quite scathingly in her blog about it. She says it reinforced negative stereotypes. She's also, just to give you some back on this -- I spoke to her at length before the show and then during the broadcast.

And she's been following the Obama campaign extensively since the fall. She's been through California, Iowa, Nevada, Texas, Pennsylvania, and she's going on to North Carolina. She has followed every comment. And she did remark that it struck her as a very striking comment.

And Ed, your thoughts on this?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, someone on the campaign should have been there. When I was Mike Huckabee's chairman, I sat and listened for four months to every single speech. I was with him everywhere he spoke. I'd have my political antenna up. And anyone with political antenna should have realized this was a very insensitive statement.

Sometimes you make mistakes in the course of the campaign, but I think more than a mistake. This is a value statement. This is what he believes. These people -- he asked for the benefit of the doubt on his own religious and Reverend Wright a few weeks ago. But to basically say to people that they cling to religion because their life isn't very good. Or they like hunting and guns, which is very important to many Americans here, it was a very condescending statement.

And I think, to a certain extent, one of the problems Barack Obama has is he's not well known in this country. He's not someone with a long record. He's someone who obviously gives a great speech. He's excited a lot of young people. But people now want to know more about him. He may be the president of the United States, and they want to know what his value system is. And the combination of Reverend Wright, who obviously is his religious mentor, and these kinds of comments make people step back and say, "Who is this guy? And what does he really think?"

There's a lot of people who share the values of those small towns in Pennsylvania and Indiana and other places across this country. And it's not about the steel mills having left 25 years ago; it's about we get up every day. We go to work. This is what's very important with us.

PILGRIM: We're going to take a quick break, and we'll be right back. We'll have more on Senator Obama's small town slam from our political panel.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Joining me again, LOU DOBBS contributors Ed Rollins, Robert Zimmerman and Michael Goodwin.

You know, I'd like to just focus on the Pennsylvania campaign right now. Let's take a look at the poll numbers. They're very, very close now. This could not come at a more critical time in the campaign of all these candidates. We have Clinton at 46 percent, Obama at 42 percent. And as we would like to point out, 12 percent unsure.

Ed, is this a watershed moment in the campaign? Not just in Pennsylvania.

ROLLINS: This is -- well, first of all, Pennsylvania is the watershed right today. And it's very critical. It's a state with great values and it's an ultimate swing state. I think the key thing here is Democrats have to decide does this guy have the judgment or the ability or the experience to be a viable candidate for president? And something like this certainly knocks him off message.

PILGRIM: On a scale of one to ten, how damaging is this?

ROLLINS: It's a ten.

PILGRIM: OK. Michael?

GOODWIN: I think the only hesitancy I have with agreeing with Ed that it's a 10 has to do wit the fact that that the Clintons have been running a terrible campaign lately themselves. So this may be a thing about sort of like a bad football game. Whoever, you know, doesn't make the last mistake wins the games.

So the Clintons have to have run a better campaign. They have to. I would send Bill Clinton maybe to Alaska for a few weeks and try to get through Pennsylvania. And if she can do that with big numbers, she's -- you know, she's really got the momentum back.

PILGRIM: Very nimble, though, today, in reaction to this. GOODWIN: She doesn't have to say much. I mean, this thing says it for itself. We're saying it, you know, in effect for her.

PILGRIM: Robert?

ZIMMERMAN: The poll itself is meaningless. We've seen, repeatedly, polls -- polls show the rice tightening in the weekend the results change dramatically and open up towards one or the other. So I wouldn't put a focus on the polls.

The real issue here is that people are now going to take a second look at Barack Obama. Both Democrats are going to and the general election, the general electorate at large is going to take a second look at him. He has to either, certainly, apologize for his comments but demonstrate that he can rise above this very divisive rhetoric that speaks to a character question.

PILGRIM: So you're thinking that he has to come up very, very quickly. And also, Robert, I'd like you to give me your assessment on this. Scale of one to 10, how damaging is this for the Obama campaign?

ZIMMERMAN: An 11. Because this point -- this raises questions about whether he can truly unite the country, as he pledges to, and whether he really believes that we're one America.

ROLLINS: Or does he really understand America? I think that's the real question. Does he really understand small-time America?

GOODWIN: I think the religion thing is to me the key here. I mean, you cannot denigrate religion in that way.

PILGRIM: We understand that he's going to address this directly in a speech in Indiana this evening. So we will get a rapid response from this.

Gentlemen, we have to hold it there. Ed Rollins, Michael Goodwin, Robert Zimmerman, thank you. And we'll be back with much more in just a moment. So stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Here's the results now of tonight's poll -- 54 percent of you do not believe that Senator Barack Obama's comments reveal his elitist attitude toward every hard-working American, 46 percent of you do.

Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us tomorrow.

For all of us here, good night from New York.

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