This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from April 2, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


QUESTION FROM UNIDENTIFIED INDIVIDUAL: So your point was that if some people think if they elect Barack Obama, that solves all the race issues in this country? Some people would think that we've crossed this divide now.

EMANUEL CLEAVER, (D) MISSOURI REPRESENTATIVE: I think both whites and some blacks would come to that conclusion, yes. And I think there would be great disappointment when they looked and saw some issue of race surfacing. It is like, oh, my goodness, I thought we were past that.


BRIT HUME, HOST: Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, who is a Hillary Clinton backer, saying in an interview basically that which you just heard, plus a couple of other things -- one is that Hillary Clinton probably can't win and that Barack Obama will be the next president, and that as far as oratory goes, he doesn't hear people going around saying, as some have of other candidates, of some have of Obama, that he is articulate.

But even so, he says he may be articulate, but when it comes to oratory, by the standards of the black community, where there have been many greater speakers, that Obama may be considered merely mediocre.

Some thoughts on this and the Democratic race in general from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and Bill Sammon, Senior White House Correspondent of "The Washington Examiner," FOX News contributors all.

The issue of race, one way or another, seems to work its way continually back into this campaign, Fred -- to what in effect in this case?


HUME: Yes.

BARNES: What was wrong with what he said? The things he said were perfectly obvious.

I guess I don't know enough about black orators to know where Obama fits in. I think he's an awfully good speaker, myself, and not only articulate, but eloquent as well at times.

He backs Clinton, but he thinks she's going to lose -- well, she probably will lose. I'd say it's about 80-20 or maybe 90-10 in favor of Obama.

Just because somehow race sneaks into what somebody says, what's wrong with that? Here we have -- what politics has come down to is people being offended and demanding that some other guy apologize. That's ridiculous!

Why are we talking about it? Because he mentioned race? So what! It's a big factor in American life. Why can't he talk about it.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: And it's an extremely big factor in the Democratic primary. Let's fact it -- it's not just that people are talking about it and making comments -- Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have almost split the Democratic primary electorate completely down the middle based on demographics.

This isn't a race about issues or ideology, it's a race about demographics.

What is Barack Obama doing in Pennsylvania, what are the headlines? He is trying to get white male voters because that has been demographic of hers that he hasn't been able to crack.

What's been the biggest problem for him? Reverend Wright and those remarks, which we also now hear a report that he's talking about with super delegates as he tries --

HUME: He would be crazy if he weren't.

LIASSON: Yes, and he's not saying, oh, that Barack Obama, he agrees with that horrible anti-white reverend. He is not saying that. He is saying this is a problem for him, the Republican attack machine is going to use this, and what else might come out about this guy who isn't very well vetted?

BILL SAMMON, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Fred, I think Congressman Cleaver said something that a lot of people would object to. He basically said that -- he basically treated the presidency as some sort of an affirmative action job.

He said that whites are going to vote for Barack Obama regardless of his credentials, regardless of his experience, but because of his skin collar.

He is basically saying that whites can assuage their white guilt by voting for a black man. And I think a lot of whites, aside from the elites in the beltway, don't have any white guilt to assuage; B, think that the presidency is too important to treat it as some sort of a feel good gesture on affirmative action, and I think, C, they're going to say, like any other job, you should be colorblind, the best person should get the job regardless of their skin color.

Cleaver is saying whites are going to vote for Barack Obama because of his skin color. That's ridiculous!

BARNES: I didn't interpret it that way at all.

No, here's what he is saying -- whites are voting for him because one of the reasons is because they think to have a black president would be good for America, America would be better off as a result. That's why their voting for him.

HUME: He is saying, though, and you heard it in the sound byte, Fred, that they would feel then that the issue of race has been put behind us, and that --

BARNES: Liberals will never think that the issue of race is behind us because they're always so race conscious.

But, look, I don't think their motives -- I don't think there's anything wrong with their motives. I disagree with them, but if they think it's great for America to have a black president and that's why they're going to vote for him, well, OK.

HUME: Back at the time of the South Carolina primary, it was thought that the reason that the Clintons campaigned as they did and why Bill Clinton kept mentioning the issue of race, and likened/compared Barack Obama's victory there to that of Jesse Jackson 20 years ago, was to identify Obama as indelibly as possible as a black candidate, believing that would cost him with the electorate.

What about the long-term consequences of Obama, who is seen post- racial, repeatedly being discussed in these terms?

BARNES: I don't think Emanuel Cleaver's hurt him on that. I think Reverend Wright has. But, look, he is a candidate who happens to be black. He can't get around that.

LIASSON: There is a difference between a candidate who happens to be black and a black candidate. And Bill Clinton wanted him to be the black candidate.

BARNES: I think Bill Clinton was being insidious in what he was saying, but I don't think it really worked.

SAMMON: Once Obama gave that speech on race, he went from being the post-racial candidate who's above race, who transcended race, to being the candidate about race. And so it will be that way all the way to the end.

HUME: When we come back, the Democratic presidential toss up, and who should John McCain be hoping to face in November? There are new polls, wait until you see them. We'll be right back.


HUME: Let's look at a couple of maps, these furnished to us by a FOX News contributor and, of course, former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, and they represent the electoral map as it would stand based on the polls today.

This is all based on current polling. The states that would go to McCain against Barack Obama in this first map are represented in red; states headed for Obama represented in blue; and the ones in yellow or white, depending on how you see it, are the tossup states.

The totals that this map represents shows that McCain, if the election were held today against Obama, would get 241 electoral votes, Obama 205, 105 would be a tossup.

Against Senator Clinton, this based again on current polling, a different map, McCain/Clinton -- if we could see it, please -- the electoral college there, same deal, blue for Hillary, red for John McCain, other states that you see in yellow is a tossup -- 262 McCain, 166 Clinton, 110 a tossup.

Now, folks, this is interesting, because it is kind of counterintuitive. This is a year in which the economy is down, the president is unpopular, and it has been described by some, including our own Bob Beckel, a dyed in the wool Democrat, as the best atmosphere for a Democrat to be elected president in modern times.

But current polling suggests that if the election were held today, McCain would win. What does this say?

LIASSON: It says that the Democrats have been involved in an ugly bitter race, and we have been hearing a lot about it. And McCain has stood on the sidelines happily and watched his approval rating go up 11 points in recent months. He is now at like 67 percent.

He has been traveling abroad. He looks like a president. He hasn't been fighting anybody, and those two --

HUME: He has been fighting them some, and they have been attacking him.

LIASSON: That's good for him, but he hasn't been fighting another Republican. And I do think this is a snapshot of the moment.

What is interesting about these maps is they are really different races depending on who the Democrat is. North Carolina as a tossup state if Obama wins? When has North Carolina been a tossup state -- if Obama is the nominee. With Clinton as the nominee, the tossup states are more what you would expect -- Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania.

But it shows you the big difference between the generic Democratic advantage, which is huge this year, and the specifics, when you plug in those specific candidates, state by state, how incredible close it is.

SAMMON: I agree it's a snapshot and it can change and it will change. But I do think that Republicans are feeling for the very first time that McCain might be able to win this thing. There is a lot of sort of depression among the Republicans several months ago.

And, by the way, I now think there is the recognition that McCain, in hindsight, may have been the guy most likely and most able to beat the Democrats because the very deficiencies that he had in the primaries -- that is to say, the fact that he wasn't sufficiently conservative, are virtues in the general, because it makes him more moderate, and that's why he's winning more independent voters than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

I also think that the previous conventional wisdom was that Republicans wanted him to run against Hillary. Now they're starting to think maybe he could beat Barack Obama. He has been softened up by this Reverend Wright thing. Maybe he is almost as beatable as Hillary.

So things are really looking up for Republicans.

BARNES: Brit -- two words -- "McCain," "surge." It has been a huge surge for McCain, and it is partly because of the Democrats, but it's partly because people are recognizing some of the things about McCain as a candidate.

You know, I mean, the country lass moved a little to the left. I think we're still a center-right country, but it's a little more center and a little less right than it was, say, four years ago when Bush was running for reelection.

And McCain is, as Bill says, the perfect candidate, and Republicans are beginning to recognize that.

Who did they lose in 2006, the Republicans? They lost independents. Who was the one Republican who is attractive to independent voters? It's John McCain. So he goes right at the voters that Democrats got in 2006, and he has a good chance of bringing them back in 2008.

Look, Karl Rove, has been conservative in putting this map together. I mean, this is not some --

HUME: You mean --

BARNES: This is not some Pollyanna-ish map by some pro- Republican guy. There are states like Michigan and Pennsylvania which he has as tossup states against Obama. There are an awful lot of people that think Obama cannot in a general election win either one of those states.

HUME: Really?

BARNES: Yes, because they are Reagan Democrats.

LIASSON: Too many white, working class voters.

SAMMON: What's interesting is that states that were on the bubble like Virginia have slipped over to McCain territory, and states that were Obama's, like Wisconsin and New Hampshire, have moved into the bubble and closer to McCain.

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