updated 10/1/2007 12:00:42 PM ET 2007-10-01T16:00:42

Guests: Charlie Black, Anne Kornblut, Hilary Rosen, Michael Benjamin

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says he was embarrassed for his party after none of the top four GOP contenders showed up at the all-American presidential forum, televised on PBS and held to address issues important to black and Latino voters. 

Welcome to the show.  Senator Sam Brownback, meanwhile, called the absences of Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani a disgrace.  The majority of view on stage last night in Baltimore was that the Republican Party must expand its base by reaching out to traditionally Democratic voting blocks like blacks and Latinos. 

The roster of no-shows also raises pragmatic political questions.  There is no clear front-runner in the Republican side and both Romney and McCain could use a jump-star at this point.  Did they miss an opportunity in Baltimore for some badly-needed positive publicity?

Senator McCain‘s latest efforts to re-energize his run for the White House began today with a media surge.  An article in “USA Today” addressed his standing in the polls and quoted his campaign‘s undying faith in his chances.

At the same time, a new television spot highlights the senator‘s military service.  That of course includes the remarkable bravery and toughness that carried him through five and a half years in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war. 

Can McCain rise again in the unsettled Republican field or are we watching his last gasp?  McCain adviser Charlie Black joins us in just a second.

We‘ll also look at the troubles in the Democratic field.  John Edwards accepts public financing for his campaign.  He says he‘s doing it because it‘s because it‘s the right thing to do.  What does it say about the state of his organization and its hopes for success?  Is it over for John Edwards?

And Barack Obama finally took a swipe at Hillary Clinton during a New York rally.  But does baseball allegiance constitute a genuine campaign issue?

Finally, the cupcake is under attack.  With the snack food police looking to restrict consumption of one of life‘s great pleasures, a New York City politician lays it on the line to keep cupcakes legal.  He joins us live in this hour.

We begin with Senator John McCain, one-time heir apparent to the Republican nomination to president.  Joining me now is senior adviser to the McCain campaign, Charlie Black.  Charlie, thanks for coming on. 

CHARLIE BLACK, SENIOR ADVISER, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN:  Tucker, it‘s always a pleasure, good to see you. 

CARLSON:  What is the scenario for victory for McCain, the specific scenario? How does he win?

BLACK:  We have a wide-open race on the Republican side, at least four contenders who have a chance.  Senator McCain now has the momentum among the four, is moving ahead in the polls. 

You see headlines about surges and getting momentum back and that‘s all true.  I think you‘re going to have a very close race in the early states in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan.  And he has a good a chance as anyone else. 

But the scenario is that when people focus on who is the most experienced and best prepared to be commander in chief at a time when we face a worldwide war against radical Islamic extremism, they are going to focus on John McCain as uniquely qualified.

CARLSON:  I think that‘s a completely compelling argument.  I buy that argument and have always bought that argument.  What I don‘t understand is how exactly it plays out. 

So the plan last time seven years ago in 2000 was to kind of ignore Iowa, make a stand in New Hampshire using independence and conservative Democrats, he won by 19 points.  I don‘t think Independents and Democrats are going to voting for McCain this year.  Do you?

BLACK:  Well, I don‘t know.  It‘s a little early to tell.  Those independents who vote in Republican primaries tend to be more conservative. 

In New Hampshire, the latest poll that came out, University of New Hampshire poll that showed Senator McCain surging, gaining six points and getting up into the same area as Giuliani and Romney.

In that poll, McCain was drawing equally from conservatives, moderates and independents.  So yes, he still has the appeal.

CARLSON:  So that‘s the place, though, New Hampshire?

BLACK:  Well, I think New Hampshire may be his best state because he won there by a huge margin. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

BLACK:  Eight years ago.  But we‘re going to be competitive in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, and at least in those early states, I think he‘ll have a good chance. 

CARLSON:  Why would an Independent in New Hampshire vote for the most pro-war guy?

BLACK:  Well, if you look at the profile of those independents in New Hampshire, some of them support the war.  Some of them support the president, support the Petraeus strategy. 

CARLSON:  Really? What percentage, I wonder, do you think of independents of New Hampshire support the war?

BLACK:  Well, the other day in this poll, it might have been a small sample, but it looked 65 percent were anti-war and 35 percent were pro-war.

But again, they won‘t vote in the Republican Party unless they are right of center on the spectrum.  And as they focus on who can best lead the country, who‘s best prepared to be commander in chief, John McCain is known to people in New Hampshire, and they will refocus on him. 

CARLSON:  It seems to me that McCain has always had problems with conservatives.  They think he‘s secretly liberal or not even so secretly liberal. 

BLACK:  Well, some inside the Beltway.

CARLSON:  Yes, but it‘s true.  There is a consensus in Washington, I think you will concede among conservatives, that McCain is somehow not one of them.  Does he need to change that?  Does he care?  Does he want to change that perception?

BLACK:  Conservative voters are a different matter.  John McCain has a great appeal to conservative voters, again, because of his doing the right thing on Iraq, wanting to support Petraeus, support the surge, finish Iraq with victory. 

John McCain has been the leader in the whole Congress for the last 20 years on cutting spending, ending pork barrel spending, ending earmarks.  He‘s down the line on the social issues on the conservative side.  So a few inside the Beltway leaders might not like his position on a handful of other issues, but I don‘t think they dictate to rank and file conservatives outside the Beltway.

CARLSON:  I think you‘re right to some extent, especially now since the party has collapsed basically.  But he lost as far as I remember.  He lost McCain did, Republicans in New Hampshire. 

BLACK:  Actually, he carried the Republicans, but not by nearly as much as he carried the Independents.  There were some states where then-Governor Bush defeated McCain among the Republicans and McCain won the Independents.

But look, George Bush ran to McCain‘s right in 2000.  I think the focus of the issues this time is going to be who‘s best prepared to lead the war on terror?

Who is best prepared to make significant changes in the way the federal budget operates to cut spending, and who will have the guts and political courage to do what‘s right regardless of the political consequences? He stands alone in this field in that regard. 

CARLSON:  Who does he have the most contempt for, would you say, of the Republican candidates running against him?

BLACK:  You know, he doesn‘t have contempt for anyone. 

CARLSON:  Oh, come on, John McCain doesn‘t have contempt?

BLACK:  We don‘t talk about that.  But he‘s actually pretty good friends with some of the other candidates.  But he‘s trying now to run a positive campaign. 

The surge he‘s accomplished in September has been focusing on who he is, where he stands, what he would do as president, and not talking about or criticizing the other candidates.  I think you will see us continue to do that, to tell our own story. 

CARLSON:  Why didn‘t he go to the debate last night in Baltimore?

BLACK:  You know, that‘s a good question.  Let‘s put it in context. 

These Republican candidates get 10, 12, sometimes 15 invitations a month for debates or joint appearances. 

Now to do a debate by the time you spend a few hours preparing or rehearsing, travel to the debate, travel back, it‘s about a two-day endeavor.  So you cannot accept all of these invitations.  That‘s why you see them doing one or two debates a month and not all 10, 12 or 15. 

CARLSON:  But the Baltimore is like walking distance from his office?

BLACK:  Very few of these candidates are spending time in Washington. 

The point is, where do you see them debate? You see them in the early primary states and addressing audiences heavily populated by Republicans. 

They are trying to win the Republican nomination.  So this might not have been as high a priority if you‘re in a hot contest to address Republicans voters and try to win the nomination. 

That said, we‘re going to have a nine-month general election and the eventual nominee will spend plenty of time addressing the African-American community, Latino community and all the of the minority communities. 

CARLSON:  Of course I understand the strategy.  These are not your voters anyway, so why waste your time appealing to them in the primaries?

BLACK:  They might be our voters in the general election.  We have nine months—

CARLSON:  That is a rational point of view.  However, doesn‘t it make it more difficult to appeal to those voters in the general once you have gained this reputation for not caring during the primary?

BLACK:  That is nonsense.  It is a one-time event.  If you go out two weeks from now and poll African-American voters in the country to see if they know about the Tavis Smiley debate, 90 percent of them won‘t know what you‘re talking about.

CARLSON:  You think Tavis Smiley is going to stop talking about it some time this century?  I doubt it.

BLACK:  Well, he certainly is going to have to come up with some other subject between now and November of ‘08.  But we will campaign in the African-American community and Latino community and the Asian-American community and the right Republican nominee will have a good chance to gain a share. 

CARLSON:  Pacific Islander community?

BLACK:  Yes, indeed.  I think that qualifies as Asian-American community. 

CARLSON:  All right.  Just checking, Charlie Black, thank you very much.

BLACK:  Thanks a lot, Tucker.

CARLSON:  I appreciate it.

Many people thought John McCain was down for the count.  They thought wrong.  McCain is not going down without a serious fight.  Can he win the nomination? More on that in a minute, plus his new ad.

And then Hillary Clinton says every baby born in this country ought to get five grand from Uncle Sam.  Remember, we‘re from the government and we‘re here to help you.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  John McCain‘s campaign may not be dead after all.  McCain has made a new media buy with ads up and running in New Hampshire, and he‘s showing some life in some polls as well.  Will we see more signs of rebirth when third quarter fund-raising totals come in?

Joining us now, Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hilary Rosen and the “Washington Post‘s” own Anne Kornblut. Welcome to you both.

Here‘s the new spot that I believe was put together by the president‘s former ad maker Mark McKinnon.  This is from John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How old are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thirty-one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What is your rank in the army?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Lieutenant commander in the navy. 

(INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And your officer number.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  64787.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Amazing.  Can you believe that footage was shot by an East German film crew in 1967 when he was shot down. 

I don‘t think - I am just trying to remember this, Anne, having covered that campaign in 2000 -- I have seen that footage before.  I think it was in a biographical movie they made.  I don‘t think they ever put that in an ad last time. 

ANNE KORNBLUT, THE WASHINGTON POST:  That‘s exactly right.  That‘s my recollection, too.  When we saw that footage of him, a lot was made of what a dashing young man he was.

CARLSON:  The cigarette—he couldn‘t make it up.  It‘s too great. 

KORNBLUT:  And it still resembles him, but he‘s that dashing young soldier.

But what‘s so amazing about this now is that it seems fresh again.  We have not seen it in seven years.  It comes back.  It seems fresh.  It‘s the old John McCain story and this time he‘s the only veteran in the race.  He‘s the only one who served combat.  So it actually might even be more powerful than it was in 2000. 

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, it‘s also fresh because I think John McCain has historically had some reluctance about exploiting this prison experience in this campaign. 

And the fact that he is now so on the line for his position on the Iraq war, this brings home a level of credibility for him that nobody else there has. 

CARLSON:  Mitt Romney shot skeet once and that makes him a lifelong hunter.  I mean, why not - if you‘ve got it, why not use it?

ROSEN:  And I think it‘s sincere on McCain‘s part.  I think he really wants - he absolutely believes he is the one best prepared militarily for this job and so I think he‘s prepared to use it now in a way that maybe he wasn‘t prepared to use it before. 

CARLSON:  Is this real, Anne?  Your analysis of the polls we have - you saw Charlie Black describe as a surge of sorts for McCain - is it?

KORNBLUT:  Well, I will say we all sort of expected this moment.  It seems to me that it‘s playing out to script that we said, he will dwindle and then he‘ll probably come back at some point.  I always thought that the death nulls were too quick for McCain. 

ROSEN:  There were a lot of death nulls.

KORNBLUT: There were a lot and we do them always.  But I do think it‘s also real.  I think that having declared him dead, he could have then died and people could have stopped giving to his campaign and everyone could have quit.  He didn‘t.  He‘s here and we‘re seeing it happen.

ROSEN:  Also, let‘s look at where they‘re surging, if that‘s a surge, which is New Hampshire.  That‘s where he‘s done well before and its also a state that has been completely dissatisfied with all the other candidates, that nobody else has been moving around in the polls in New Hampshire.

CARLSON:  Do you think—and I just asked Charlie Black this question

your opinion, will independents vote for John McCain, the most pro-war -

perceived to be the most pro-war guy in the lot?

ROSEN:  Not in a general election.  In a Republican primary, if they would like to play, and I think there‘s some question about whether Independents will even bother playing in a Republican primary. 

CARLSON:  That‘s the question. 

ROSEN:  And there‘s really no evidence that says that they will.  In fact, I think they are saying now about a third of independents are saying they even intend to vote in the Republican primary compared to those others.

CARLSON:  Is there research on the drama Hillary/Obama - you‘re going to vote the Republican, if you‘re an Independent?

KORNBLUT:  Well I mean, in New Hampshire, it‘s a different scenario altogether because in New Hampshire, as we saw in 2000, you can vote in either primary, whichever party you are. 

So I think what we‘re going to see is a tussle between Obama and McCain for the same voters, because they can go vote for either party.  So I think it‘s a question - obviously we don‘t even need to worry about the general election now and in other states, we will be dividing up the third that won‘t even be voting at all.  But in New Hampshire, I think it‘s an open question at this point, whether he is going to be able to get that.

CARLSON:  Well, if elected, Hillary Clinton wants to give every newborn child in this country five grand—four million babies are born in the U.S. every year.  That‘s an awful lot of baby dough, about $20 billion worth.  We will tell you more in a minute.

Plus, John Edwards will accept public funding for his presidential campaign.  He‘s got millions of his own in the bank.  He can spend that on his campaign, but he‘s not.  He‘s doing public financing.  Why? We will tell you in a minute.  We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Senator Hillary Clinton wants every new baby born in this country to get a $5,000 baby bond from the federal government.  About four million babies are born each year in this country, so that comes out to about $20 billion.  Senator Clinton did not hint at where that money might come from.

Joining us to assess the idea, Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hilary Rosen and the “Washington Post‘s” Anne Kornblut.

$20 billion.  Now, where stop here, Hillary, is my question.  There are a lot of things—baby needs new shoes, know what I mean? I want the government away from my kids, that‘s kind of my bottom line feeling, but I want to know what you think. 

ROSEN:  The Clinton campaign has officially said this is not an official proposal, this is just an idea that she floated.

CARLSON:  Oh.  Well, I‘m sorry to interrupt you, let‘s just put her sound byte on the screen.  Let‘s hear it from Hillary Clinton and we‘ll just move from there.  Just to make sure we know what she‘s talking about.  This is Hillary Clinton on the subject. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I like the idea of giving every baby born in America a $5,000 account that will grow over time so when that young person turns 18, if they have finished high school, they will be able to access it to go to college.  Or maybe they will be able to put that down payment on their first home. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROSEN:  Yeah, that‘s going to be hard to back away from. 

CARLSON:  Just wanted to put it out there. 

ROSEN:  But it‘s worth noting that $20 billion is like half a month‘s spending on the war in Iraq. 

CARLSON:  It is.  It is. 

ROSEN:  It is not a massive give-away.  And probably less than one-tenth of what the fraud contracts are. 

CARLSON:  I suspect there will be some fraud with this too ,but I‘ve got four kids and I‘m not poor.  Should I get $20,000 for my kids from the federal government?  Why would we do that?

KORNBLUT:  So you‘re OK with it as long as it‘s retroactive?

CARLSON:  No, I‘m merely saying - when you say every child, why should

should we give it to rich people, too?

KORNBLUT:  Well the idea - you have to remember, she did not invent this today.  This goes back to when President Bush talked about or even before President Bush talked about Social Security private accounts. 

The idea was, well, if we‘re going to do that, why don‘t we give every newborn a certain amount of money that we can set aside tax free or taxable upon when you withdraw the money and let it accrue over time?

CARLSON:  That would change social security.  Then that would form the basis of your retirement.

KORNBLUT:  And she was today responding—which you just played was her responding to a clip about the question about Social Security.  It‘s not in a vacuum. 

CARLSON:  But she said you can use that money for your first home or for college.  That‘s not retirement money. 

KORNBLUT:  Oh, no. 

CARLSON:  She‘s not planning on changing social security.  She wants the Stalinist status quo, right?

ROSEN:  It‘s an interesting idea to talk about.  We give away much more than that in tax credits. 

CARLSON:  Absolutely. 

ROSEN:  For people‘s first homes, we give away much more than that in education deductions.  So there‘s nothing wrong with thinking about doing it as an up-front that people control, as opposed to doing it on the back end. 

CARLSON:  Let‘s say you lived in Tegucigalpa.

ROSEN:  By the way, the more you make, the more we are actually giving you.

CARLSON:  Why wouldn‘t the entire population of Guatemala move here tomorrow for that?  I mean, I‘m serious.  Wouldn‘t this be the greatest possible incentive?  All you need to do is be born here.  You already get automatic citizen and free health care, in effect.  Now you get $5,000.  Why wouldn‘t the whole world come here?  Wouldn‘t that be kind of a problem immigration wise?

ROSEN:  Not exactly going to take care of you and your family. 

CARLSON:  No, it‘s not but $5,000, if you‘re working on a coffee fink on the mountains of Guatemala, it sounds pretty good, doesn‘t it?

KORNBLUT:  But what you‘re saying is the reason why the minute she said this, it led the Drudge Report all day.  It sort of took on a life of its own because it does sound very—you didn‘t notice?

CARLSON:  I haven‘t read - I was traveling so I didn‘t read any response to it.  That was just the first thing that popped into my mind. 

KORNBLUT:  The minute she said it, it mushroomed on the Internet.  We all heard about it.  And this was not a speech that had been highly publicized in advance.  We all heard about it within minutes, but I think that‘s the reason why.

Look, like Hillary said, it‘s a great idea to talk about.  I‘m not sure that the details have been obviously hammered out, because they haven‘t proposed it formally.  But it‘s one of those controversial ideas we‘re going to hear about.

CARLSON:  Well the one thing I think is cool is I like it when politicians think new thoughts.  I kind of like that about Newt Gingrich, far-out thoughts. 

ROSEN:  But yet we‘ll punish them and ridicule them. 

CARLSON:  You‘re absolutely right.  And the one thing that bothers me

I‘m responsible for that as well.  I like when people think big.  What bothers me is this is kind of basically socialism.  That‘s kind of what socialism is.  And we already suspect that she believes in basic tenets of socialism.  This does not reassure us. 

ROSEN:  You know, there are so many give-aways that our government does for the privileged and sometimes not-so not-so-privileged. 

CARLSON:  And we never eliminate a single one.  They are all totally so vital. 

ROSEN:  And I don‘t hear you ever call on them.

CARLSON:  I hate all of them.  I want to get rid of the sugar subsidies!

ROSEN:  A massive corporate tax deduction as socialists.

CARLSON:  I would get rid of all farm subsidies this afternoon if I could.  I hate them.  I don‘t care if they help rich or poor.  I think they are wrong so you know what I mean?

ROSEN:  Tucker‘s consistent.  We‘ll just have to hold everybody else to that.

CARLSON:  Nobody agrees with me.  And I suspect half of the people watching this show said, you‘re a crank, click! Off to Judge Judy.  But I believe it. 

All right, we‘ll be right back.  What‘s in a number? Coming up, we will answer that question.  Not a whole lot if you‘re on team Romney, where they‘re saying not only do they not care about the poll numbers, but they don‘t expect to do well in them either.  The two may be related.

Plus, Barack Obama paid a visit to New York City last night, taking a dig at Hillary Clinton‘s indecisiveness when it comes to choosing a ball club to root for.  We‘ve got details coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  John Edwards‘ personal wealth has offered plenty of grist for his critics mill during his run for the Democratic nomination, but apparently, it has not helped his own campaign very much.  Late Thursday, Edwards announced that he will accept federal matching funds.  That means his operation will receive a wind fall of as much as 10 million dollars.  That‘s the good part. 

Here‘s the downside.  His spending in key primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire will be severely limited and he will he not be allowed to contribute his own money to the campaign.  Rivals say this move means his campaign desperately needs money.  Edwards says the move is a challenge to his rivals to make this campaign, brace yourselves, about ideas, not dollars. 

Back to analyze it, Democratic strategist, MSNBC political analyst Hillary Rosen and the “Washington Post‘s” very own Ann Kornblut, veteran of like nine different national newspapers.  Welcome to you both.  Left the “New York Times” for the “Washington Post,” didn‘t you?  Amazing, very few have done that. 

John—this is all about principle.  I‘ve got a press release from John Edwards—

ROSEN:  He has run out of ideas and he needed a new one. 

CARLSON:  He‘s taking federal matching funds.

ROSEN:  And it just happened to coincide—

CARLSON:  You know why it is?  John Edwards has decided to play by the rules, Hillary, the rules. 

ROSEN:  Everybody is playing by the rules. 

CARLSON:  That is—Actually, I‘m a little bit offended by that. 

ROSEN:  It is actually offensive, because it implies, obviously, that Obama and Clinton are not, which, of course, they are.  But I—if he had started out this way, maybe you would have had some concept that this would be a good idea.  But I think this just makes him look weak.  Now, it may not matter, because he has an entirely Iowa strategy.  I frankly was surprised about this.  Because if he succeeds with his Iowa strategy, money will come in. 

And so I feel like he didn‘t really need to do this. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

ROSEN:  And that‘s why it‘s a puzzle for me. 

CARLSON:  It does seem a little bit weird.  You correct me, Anne, since you‘re covering the campaign.  Was this something he was talking about all of the campaign, how all the candidates ought to take public money? 

KORNBLUT:  Well, they all have said theoretically we should all be taking public money. 

CARLSON:  Did they know he would do this? 

KORNBLUT:  They all said in the future, once we all triumphed in this campaign. 

CARLSON:  Once we‘re all president. 

KORNBLUT:  Once we have all succeed, then we should change the position.  No, this came as a surprise.  Why it happened late on a Thursday at the end of September, as Hillary said, a couple of days before the quarter was over.  In particular, I thought it was curious he would do it a few days before the quarter is over.  There are still a few days left in this quarter when people give money.  Instead, he basically said no, I will not make it.  We are going to go this other route.  And, of course, for moral reasons it suddenly emerged on a Thursday, late afternoon. 

No, this was not something expected.  It was a surprise, and frankly, I talked to a lot of people in Iowa over the last couple of days who were surprised.  To them it was a signal that he was perhaps in worse shape than they had anticipated. 

CARLSON:  It‘s pretty bad shape.  This is an adult campaign with more money raised than any time in American history for a political race.  Clinton and Obama are just boheamoths money wise.  He can‘t get the nomination with public funds, can he? 

ROSEN:  It‘s extremely hard to do.  And from a party perspective—

Democrats, we are sitting here saying, well, now you have hampered us from the time that somebody is a clear nominee, which will be mid-February, until the convention, because you‘re not going to have any money to spend to take the hits from the Republicans.  Your party—if he were to become the nominee, the party would have to take on the burden and the candidate would not be able to spend the extra money. 

So he‘s not just made a decision for himself.  He‘s kind of bound everybody in the party to this decision. 

CARLSON:  If he becomes the nominee. 

ROSEN:  Right. 

CARLSON:  Since he and Obama are splitting the anti-Hillary vote—that‘s basically what it‘s about.  It‘s Hillary and everybody else.  They are cleaving it in half.  Why doesn‘t Edwards just pack it in, concede defeat now, endorse Obama and crush Hillary? 

KORNBLUT:  How many times have you thought that to yourself in past campaigns?  Why didn‘t Nader just say, I‘m not going to run?  Nobody sets their own ambition aside to defeat somebody else.  I actually am not sure they are splitting a sheer anti-Hillary—

CARLSON:  You don‘t? 

KORNBLUT:  No.  I think when you look at the numbers and when you talk to people in Iowa and New Hampshire, there are a lot of people saying, huh, I like Hillary.  I like Obama.  They are making decisions based on factors that I don‘t think we anticipated. 

CARLSON:  Edwards got out—let‘s just say—and I suspect Edwards is going all the way.  I don‘t think Edwards is getting out, is my impression.  I don‘t think he consultants want to.  I don‘t think he will.  If he were to do that, do you think Obama would be the clear beneficiary of his support? 

KORNBLUT:  I don‘t think necessarily, no.  On certain policies, he is close to Obama.  On others he‘s close to Hillary.  I would not be surprised to see it split evenly, in fact. 

ROSEN: A lot of people associated with the Edwards campaign and Edwards‘ fund-raising effort, such as it is, were veterans of past Democratic party campaigns and the Kerry campaign.  So they may be much more comfortable going with the experience of Hillary Clinton than with an insurgency of Barack Obama.  So I don‘t think it‘s a given at all. 

CARLSON:  Do you think the debate last night, Tavis Smiley‘s (ph) debate on PBS at Morgan State in Baltimore, was attended mostly by Republicans who are not thought of as having a great chance to win the nomination, including Mike Huckabee, serious people, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, crossing myself, as I say his name. 

Are they going to get black support for going to that debate?  The idea is you can‘t get support from minority voters unless you go and talk about the issues they apparently are concerned with.  Do you think Mike Huckabee is going to get a lot of black votes? 

KORNBLUT:  In Iowa, in New Hampshire?  What election are you -- 

CARLSON:  South Carolina. 

ROSEN:  South Carolina and Nevada because of the Latino vote.  But I don‘t really think that‘s the point.  The point that‘s being made, and it‘s a good point, Republicans keep saying we are not interested in identity politics or constituency politics.  But yet they kow-tow to every evangelical or right wing debate or effort—

CARLSON:  But there‘s—I‘m not defending Republicans.  Hold on, there‘s an important distinction.  Wait.  If you—there‘s a difference between identifying with a group that is based on an idea or choice or preference, and identifying with a group that is based on an immutable characteristic. 

In other words, we agree it‘s wrong to discriminate on race, right?  But we don‘t agree it‘s wrong to discriminate on the basis choice.  If you‘re a satanist, I can dislike you.  If you‘re black, I can‘t. 

ROSEN:  What we do know is that over the course of the last four presidential elections, the share of the African American vote to Republicans has gone down and down.  It was not nearly so dramatically bad with Ronald Reagan, and much higher, obviously, with Richard Nixon.  So they are just guaranteeing themselves an isolationist strategy. 

I think, frankly, it just reinforces this notion that George Bush started, and happened so dramatically after Katrina, that there are two halves in this country.  And why, if you want to lead this country, would you want to be that way? 

CARLSON:  This is a conversation that has been taking place literally since 1865.  It‘s not something George W. Bush, you know, came up with or is responsible for. 

ROSEN:  But has tried to pay lip service to and has not—

CARLSON:  I don‘t know.  You know what, it‘s like there are enough things you can criticize Bush about.  I don‘t think he‘s a racist. 

ROSEN:  The Democrats are going to be the beneficiaries.  And it‘s wrong for the Republicans not to pay attention. 

CARLSON:  Do you get any hint that among black voters there is any receptiveness or receptivity, any willingness to look at conservative ideas or Republicans. 

KORNBLUT:  I would have said maybe in 2004, not anymore.  After Katrina, Hillary is right.  We saw a really aggressive effort by the previous RNC chairman, Ken Mehlman, to go out and try and make this a real fight.  And he—I went to a forum that he helped sponsor at Howard years ago, where he said to the crowd, you should not be taken for granted by the Democratic party. 

I think that moment passed.  Certainly after Katrina in the last election, we have seen a complete retreat and this debate has just confirmed that.

CARLSON:  They have spun Katrina so much.  The black Democratic mayor of New Orleans hides under the bed, abdicates his authority.  The police department loots Wal-Mart and somehow it‘s 100 percent the Republicans‘ fault.  I think it is the Republicans‘ fault to some extent.  But let‘s be real?  You know what I mean.  It‘s a lot of mythology. 

Mitt Romney, internal memo down-playing the importance of poll numbers, always a bad sign.  We have been operating on the assumption that Mitt Romney has a really good shot at becoming the Republican nominee.  Do you still think that‘s true? 

ROSEN:  I liken Mitt Romney to the Kerry strategy, which is—where was John Kerry prior to Iowa?  He was hanging down around where Mitt Romney‘s numbers are.  Yet he was well organized and well positioned and well funded to take advantage of the front-runners falling off.  I think that‘s Mitt Romney.  He has got the money.  He‘s got the organization.  He‘s got, you know, a tremendously loyal following.  I think he‘s poised if somebody else screws up. 

CARLSON:  He‘s waiting for Giuliani, for the toast to pop, as we say.  So Obama goes down to Washington Square Park, a place where it used to be crowded with dope salesman, basically, until Rudy Giuliani showed up.  Apparently none there now.  And attacks Hillary on her baseball preference. 

KORNBLUT:  Attack is an awfully—everybody keeps saying this campaign has gone negative. 

CARLSON:  No, it wasn‘t.  My point is it wasn‘t.  I completely agree with you.  It was not an attack.  Where are the attacks? 

(CROSS TALK)  

CARLSON:  When is he going to give it to us? 

KORNBLUT:  I don‘t know.  I think it was a fair point for him to raise.  You‘re all sitting there watching the debate and thinking, oh, gosh, is she going to have an answer for which baseball team she—this can‘t be that difficult.  In the end, she had two answers.  It was the diplomatically smart way to go about it.  He did pursue it yesterday. 

I don‘t know.  We have not seen any suggestion from the Obama campaign they are ready to go after her in a hard way.  That‘s not what he ever said the campaign was going to be about. 

And it‘s early.  I mean, we don‘t think it‘s early.  We have been doing this now for over two years.  But for them, they still think they have a couple more months until they have to step it up.  I would expect that to be as rough as he gets. 

ROSEN:  Remember, that‘s John Edwards‘ job in this campaign.  As far as Barack Obama is concerned, as long as John Edwards is beating up Hillary Clinton, he doesn‘t need to do anything. 

CARLSON:  Let me correct it, it‘s actually Elizabeth Edwards‘ job.  She‘s the one who attacks Hillary Clinton now.  All Democrats and a lot of Republicans are in agreement that we need to provide more health care for children.  And we need to provide it at no costs to ourselves, but instead bill smokers for it.  There‘s an interesting philosophical situation here.  We all hate smokers.  We all think smokers ought to be executed and or at least exiled to an island somewhere.

And yet we want to profit from their sin.  If this new bill would both increase the revenue for children‘s health care and eliminate smoking, aren‘t those kind of counter-productive goals?  Aren‘t those goals at odds with each other? 

ROSEN:  Democrats wanted to reauthorize this children‘s health care program, and there is a revenue neutral requirement in the budget.  The administration did not ask for the money.  They wanted to keep the program as it was, and not help the numbers of children that needed to be helped. 

CARLSON:  So taxing poor unhealthy people. 

ROSEN:  So essentially they had a choice, which was a cigarette tax or nothing, because the White House was not going to reallocate a budget. 

CARLSON:  But Democrats are always talking about addiction and we need to treat these things as addiction, have compassion for addicts.  Cigarette addicts are the most encourigable addicts of all.  And that‘s true.  Everyone who has done it know.  They are a lot poorer than the national average and they are a lot sicker, and we are punishing them.  Why the hell would we do that?  That doesn‘t seem compassionate to me at all. 

ROSEN:  It‘s a disincentive to smoke. 

CARLSON:  A lot of people can‘t quit.  Would you do the same to heroin addicts?  First of all, we‘re implicated in their sin and in their suffering.

ROSEN:  Heroin is illegal.

KORNBLUT:  Tax heroin, that‘s a good idea. 

CARLSON:  We wouldn‘t.  We don‘t want to be in the heroin business because it‘s wrong and we don‘t want to make it harder for junkies. 

KORNBLUT:  Maybe this is why we saw in the debate the other night, Clinton and Obama, even though Hillary Clinton happily banned smoking from the entire premises of the White House—and the Clinton administration saying she would not support a national ban.  Maybe this is her effort to fund children‘s health care. 

CARLSON:  But you can‘t—

(CROSS TALK)

ROSEN:  The Democrats would much rather have taken the money to pay for the children‘s health insurance program from the 20 billion dollars a week that we are spending in Iraq.  They would much rather do that. 

CARLSON:  We‘re going to tax the tobacco chewers for the five grand per child Hillary idea, too great.  Thank you very much, Hillary and Anne, I appreciate it. 

It‘s hard to believe, but the cup-cake may soon be a thing of the past in schools across the country.  They want to ban them in an effort to combat childhood obesity.  Up next, we talk to one lawmaker, an American folk hero fighting to save cup-cakes from extinction. 

And then he fought off aliens on the big screen in “War of The Worlds.”  Now Tom Cruise is gearing up for an inter-galactic battle in real life.  Willie Geist, of course, reveals his out-of-this-world plan.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Well, it‘s good to know school administrators and Parent/Teacher Associations are staying up late to protect your children, protect them from predators, weapons and most recently cup-cakes.  Apparently cup-cakes are now being banned from elementary school birthday parties across this nation.  But one New York lawmaker is taking a stand.  He‘s out to save the cup-cake. 

Joining us now U.S. state assemblyman and folk hero, Michael Benjamin. 

Mr. Benjamin, thanks for coming on.

MICHAEL BENJAMIN, NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLYMAN:  Tucker, thank you. 

CARLSON:  You know what, I‘m not going to do an objective interview.  I‘m not going to pretend I don‘t have an opinion.  I‘m not going to pretend I don‘t admire you.  I am just going to say, point blank, thank you for what you‘re doing for the cup-cake.  Tell us why it‘s gotten to this. 

BENJAMIN:  It‘s really gotten out of hand, really silly.  We want to be sure our children have good, proper nutrition.  But to ban the cup-cake from Kindergarten, first grade and second grade birthday parties absolutely makes no sense.  And, as I call them, the Muffin Mullahs have gone too far. 

CARLSON:  The Muffin Mullahs.  Who are they?  Let‘s name names here. 

Who is the Mullah Omar of this movement? 

BENJAMIN:  It is various school principles, school district presidents, heads of school districts.  And sometimes in our own city, Mayor Bloomberg, with his fight against transfats and other things.  I think it‘s about personal responsibility.  If a parent wants their child to have a simple cup-cake birthday party, let them have it. 

The real problem I think is how do schools help children make the proper nutritional choices?  And how the parent is taking responsibility as a parent to feed their children correctly.  A lot of times children will go home and sit in front of a TV set, stuff their face with all kinds of sweet snacks, and do no exercise or they play game box or the Game Boy, and that‘s the problem.  It‘s not the cup-cake. 

CARLSON:  If government is willing to intervene in what our children eat at school, why wouldn‘t we just have some kind of federal police force, a monitoring system to make sure they are eating healthy at home, and maybe execute people who weren‘t going along with it? 

BENJAMIN:  We wouldn‘t want to go that far.  But the federal government has some nutrition guidelines.  Some states don‘t care for them because it is kind of lax, kind of week.  So in New York and New Jersey we have stronger school nutrition guidelines.  In this past year in the assembly I co-sponsored a bill, which the governor signed into law, which would make healthier school choices for children that come to nutritional needs, banning sodas, sweet snacks, salty snacks, potato chips, and replace them with milk, with yogurt, with fruit and nut. 

Those kinds of thing help children to do well in school.  But to ban the cup-cake, you‘re making the cup-cake the enemy, public enemy number one, when the actuality is children are not exercising.  Parents aren‘t taking them to see doctors.  Parents have to take responsibility for their children‘s health. 

CARLSON:  I want to get something straight for the record, for the sake of our viewers watching this segment, on Youtube or live; you are not taking any money now or in the past from the cup-cake lobby? 

BENJAMIN:  No, I‘m not.  I don‘t even have a cup-cake manufacturer in my assembly district.  Thank you for asking and clarifying. 

CARLSON:  I just want to be absolutely sure.  So you‘re taking this fight to America on behalf of the cup-cake of your own free will. 

BENJAMIN:  Of my own free will.  And the fact it‘s about giving parents the opportunity.  And to give children, like ourselves when we were growing up, had the opportunity to enjoy a cup-cake birthday party with our friends.  It‘s about giving children good memories and not stealing their childhood from them in the name of going over when it comes to trying to improve one‘s health. 

But I think parents have to take responsibility for what they feed their children at home and make sure they get exercise. 

CARLSON:  Well, I hope you challenge Schumer for that Senate seat in New York next time it‘s up.  Mr. Benjamin, thanks a lot.  I appreciate you coming on. 

BENJAMIN:  Thank you. 

CARLSON:  Attention travelers, It‘s safe to travel through Minneapolis again.  They are remodeling the airport John to make them Larry Craig proof.  Willie Geist said the toe-tapping, wide stance details when we come back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  If you‘re like me, you spend all day reading news stories, wondering, what does this mean?  Wonder no more.  Here to explain from headquarters is Willie Geist. 

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Tucker, I‘m here to put some perspective on.  And I‘m also here to tell you that Kinky Friedman was in this very seat yesterday.  Look what he left behind.  Three cigars for you, my friend.  A couple Kinky Christos and one of The Governor.  So I will be sending those to you down in DC.

CARLSON:  I will be up next week.  Hold them, thanks. 

GEIST:  Tucker, we were the only guys at NBC Universal who were not at this Bruce Springsteen thing today on “The Today Show.”  He started playing 7:00 in the morning, apparently played straight through.  Usually you have a band and they play a couple songs.  The guy played like a two and a half hour concert on “The Today Show.”  Tim Russert was rocking in the front row.  All of our bosses were there. 

We suckers were back here working.  Looked like a good time. 

CARLSON:  That looks like the guy from “The Sopranos” in the front row. 

GEIST:  It sure is.  Well, he was the guy from Springsteen and the E Street Band before he was—

CARLSON:  No, he is the guy from “The Sopranos.”

GEIST:  Well, either way we missed it.  Let‘s get right to the news, Tucker.  We begin with our favorite news, the kind that probably isn‘t true.  “Star Magazine” reports—see what I mean—that Tom Cruise is building a 10 million dollar bunker under his estate in Tullyride (ph) Colorado.  Apparently Scientologists believe an evil intergalactic ruler will attack Earth some day.  The underground bunker would save Cruise and his family from these space invaders.

The “Star Magazine” report says the bunker will have an air purifying system that will allow the Cruises to live underground for several years in the event of an attack.  Let me get this straight, Tucker.  We can get Tom Cruise locked underground for several years?  How do we start this attack and how soon can we do it? 

CARLSON:  We can stage a War of the Worlds, Orson Wells type thing.

GEIST:  Very appropriate for Tom Cruise, wouldn‘t it?  That would be a fun story if it were true.  Not that—I don‘t mean to impugn the integrity of “Star Magazine.” 

CARLSON:  It probably isn‘t.  Plus, Tom Cruise is one of those guys who has been attacked so much, he‘s almost crossing my personal threshold where I defend him. 

GEIST:  Really? 

CARLSON:  It‘s getting close. 

GEIST:  He‘s entering the Britney Spears zone for you. 

CARLSON:  Almost. 

GEIST:  Getting close.  We will keep an eye on that story and tell you when it‘s not true for sure.  Tucker, don‘t you just hate when you get caught in the long bathroom line at a football stadium and you miss some of the action on the field?  That‘s especially frustrating when you‘re playing in the game.  Boise State University wide receiver Vinny Peretta (ph) just could not hold it during last night‘s game against Southern Mississippi.  He ran from the sidelines and actually got in line to use the Port-o-Johns just off the field. 

The fans eventually got wise and let him cut the line so he could get back to the game.  Fred took care of his business quickly and gave out some high-fives without watching his hands, should be noted.  Tucker, I played football.  I can tell you, there‘s a lot to get through to get to the bathroom.  There‘s a lot of equipment going on.  It takes a long time.  So he really must have had to go. 

CARLSON:  That‘s impressive. 

GEIST:  It is.  And they won the game handily.  It all worked out in the end.  Speaking of Idaho and rest rooms, Senator Larry Craig‘s arrest in a men‘s room at the Minneapolis Airport has sparked a planned bathroom remodeling to prevent toe tapping and hand signals in the future.  Airport officials will put in new stall dividers that fall just two to three inches above the floor so that there will be no further funny business between the toilets. 

Two specific men‘s rooms where public sex reportedly has been the biggest problems will get the makeovers at a cost of 25,000 dollars.  The Larry Craig Memorial Rest Room is one of those two.  Officials say it would cost one million dollars to make all of the airport bathrooms Larry Craig proof. 

They are going to continue to monitor the situation.  If it gets bad enough, they might have to pour in the million bucks to fix all the bathrooms so people don‘t slide toes underneath, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  See, we are paying the price, Willie. 

GEIST:  Isn‘t that always how it ends up? 

CARLSON:  It really is.  He enjoys himself and we pick up the tab. 

GEIST:  I‘m not sure how much he enjoyed himself. 

CARLSON:  Good point. 

GEIST:  They are changing the bathroom.  Finally, Tucker, time for our human of the week.  Our winner has not been human very long.  But she‘s already an international star.  It‘s Nadia, the 17-pound baby born in Siberia.  Nadia is the 12th child in her family.  Her mother says the family was, quote, simply in shock and that the baby‘s father was speechless when he saw Nadia.  One group that was not impressed, you guessed it, the Guinness Book of Records.  That holier than thou outfit points to a 22-pound baby born in Italy in 1955 as the largest baby ever. 

Thanks for raining on the party once again, Guinness Book of Records. 

CARLSON:  You have been on a jihad against them for about two and a half years now, Willie.  Almost three years. 

GEIST:  It doesn‘t stop here.  It doesn‘t stop here.  Why can‘t I enjoy a moment without Guinness all of a sudden coming along and sweeping my feet out from under me?  I‘m not going to take it anymore. 

CARLSON:  You‘re hatred amuses me. 

GEIST:  Thank you.  I‘m glad.

CARLSON:  Thanks, Willie.  Thank you for watching.  That does it for us and for this week.  See you Monday.  Have a great weekend.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 NBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon NBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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