updated 12/14/2007 10:44:07 AM ET 2007-12-14T15:44:07

Guests: Bill Press, Elizabeth Edwards, Adam Smith

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And I‘m Norah O‘Donnell in for Tucker. 

And another black eye for America‘s national pastime today with the long awaited report on the abuse of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs that has really hurt baseball today.  We have heard from Bud Selig.  We have a heard Mr. Mitchell who headed the report.  And now we‘re going to go live to New York City.  The Major League Baseball Players Association is having a press conference there.  This is Doug Fehr, the executive director.  Let‘s listen. 

DONALD FEHR, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYERS ASSOC.:  .Selig when he named former Senator George Mitchell to conduct it.  As I think all of you know, that decision was made unilaterally without any prior consultation or agreement with the union.  We made plain to the commissioner at that time that his making of a unilateral decision in this way left us no choice but to represent our members in this inquiry as any union is, by law, obligated to do when there are potential disciplinary consequences which could arise. 

We did represent our members.  And we make no apologies for doing so.  We advised them of their rights under the collective bargaining agreement and under federal labor law.  But given the ongoing federal and state criminal investigations, I think most of you are familiar with, and with which Senator Mitchell had open relationships and are discussed in his report, it will not surprised you that we urged players also to seek their own separate, individual counsel.  While we did give advice to players, we‘re certainly obligated to do that and we would have neglected our representational responsibilities if we failed to do so—excuse me, failed to do so. 

The ultimate decisions were always made by the individual players.  We did not hesitate to point out to Senator Mitchell or to representatives of the commissioner‘s office any investigative measures that we viewed as unfair or unlawful.  And I think given all of this, that‘s why—probably why Senator Mitchell referred to our actions today as largely understandable. 

We did request a meaningful opportunity to review this report, which, as you know, is quite long and detailed prior to today.  That was done at least in part in an effort to give us an opportunity to be in a position to respond to questions from you.  But that request was denied both by Senator Mitchell and by the commissioner‘s office.  Accordingly, we haven‘t had an opportunity to review and study the report in any detail whatsoever.  So for now, we can only say the following. 

Many players are named.  Their reputations have been adversely affected, probably forever.  Even if it turns out down the road that they should not have been, in my view, anyone interested in fairly assessing the allegations against the players should consider the nature of the evidence presented, the reliability of the source, and the absence of procedural safeguards individuals who may be accused of wrong-doing should be afforded. 

Senator Mitchell‘s suggestion that players should not be disciplined is certainly welcome.  However, our job is to make certain that should any player be disciplined, he will have a right to a hearing and to the full panoply of due process protections that our agreements contemplate, and to have our representation in that process as he is entitled to have. 

Last, Senator Mitchell made certain recommendations for changes or modifications in the program.  We will, of course, review and consider what he has to say.  And in the past, as you know with—from my comments in the first part of this statement, we have demonstrated a willingness to continue to improve the program in it—in it of itself allows for midterm modifications. 

But I would ask everything to remember that a strong collective bargaining agreement does have certain components to it.  And one of those is a mutual respect for agreements that have been reached.  Given that and remembering that I have not had an opportunity to do any meaningful review of the report, I‘ll try and answer a few questions, if I can.  Sir? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doug, my question for you is the labor and legal world may be welcome news of any disciplinary action and maybe it‘s understandable in the legal world that they feel good about that.  But I think a lot of baseball fans and (INAUDIBLE) the use of steroids (INAUDIBLE) baseball players.  Don‘t you feel you have a moral obligation to have told the players to cooperate with Senator Mitchell‘s investigation? 

FEHR:  It‘s a fairly involved question.  Let me try and answer it this way.  You have an investigation.  It has certain disciplinary consequences.  There are ongoing criminal investigations.  Anything said to Senator Mitchell is not privileged.  It can be used in any of those investigations.  All of the individuals, I believe, at least a vast majority of them, were represented by their own counsel.  And they had to make individual decisions based upon the advice of that counsel.  I‘m fairly confident that most lawyers would say that in such circumstances, you have to rely on the advice that you are given. 

Had the investigation been conducted differently, I don‘t know what the result would have been.  But it was conducted in the way that it was.  Yes, Al? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The report says that you.

O‘DONNELL:  And we have just been listening to Don Fehr, he‘s the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association essentially responding today to the stunning Mitchell report that essentially says that more than 80 Major League players used steroids, human growth hormones and another performance-enhancing drugs. 

In fact, what George Mitchell said today is that each of the 30 clubs has had players who had been involved with such substances at some time in their careers.  Let‘s bring in Bill Wolff, vice president of MSNBC. 

Bill, your reaction. 

BILL WOLFF, VICE PRESIDENT, MSNBC:  My reaction is—to Don Fehr, my reaction is you just saw what we should have expected, which is his claim is that his guys, the players, are innocent until proven guilty and essentially what the Mitchell report has done is accuse those 80 players of having taken steroids, human growth hormones and other performance-enhancing drugs.  He‘s saying let there be due process before we judge these guys. 

Overall, I‘ve been thinking about this all day.  I think this is tantamount to if a senior, an elder, a respected, a neutral person like, say, Sandra Day O‘Connor, were assigned to investigate the U.S. Congress for two years and she came back and her commission had studied it and she said, “Well, there are a number of important politicians, senators and Congress people, some of whom are prominent and well-known, who are corrupt.  And that is my report.  They are these people and I am saying I have evidence that—I don‘t have any confessions, but the evidence says they are corrupt.” 

I think this is analogous to that, which is to say it‘s not that surprising.  I think we all operate under the assumption that this was going on.  It is a sad day.  It will call for a clean-up of the thing, but it will not prevent people from participating in baseball, being fans, just as such a hypothetical report from someone like Sandra Day O‘Connor would not really keep people from participating in American politics. 

So, in other words, my reaction overall today is it‘s not surprising.  It is a sad day.  But it is not a fatal day for baseball.  There will be a call for a clean-up.  A clean-up will take place.  It will not be 100 percent effective.  But it will be effective to some degree.  And the game will go on.  That would be my reaction. 

O‘DONNELL:  A black eye, but not a knock-out punch. 

WOLFF:  I don‘t think so. 

O‘DONNELL:  But certainly embarrassing for the state of baseball. 

WOLFF:  Yes. 

O‘DONNELL:  .America‘s, of course, national pastime. 

Bill Wolff, vice president of MSNBC, thank you very much. 

WOLFF:  My pleasure. 

O‘DONNELL:  And coming up, we‘re going to talk about politics because three weeks from today, Iowa votes.  And of course, it is a statistical tie there in Iowa between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards.  And there is a big headline today.  That‘s right.  Hillary Clinton has accepted the resignation of a national co-chair after he raised questions about Barack Obama‘s past drug use.  We‘ll have more on that after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Tonight, did a clear winner emerge from today‘s Democratic debate in Iowa?  When we come back, we‘ll break it down with our panel of experts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Exactly three weeks from today, Iowa votes.  And today the Democrats held their final debate before their Iowa caucuses on January 3rd

Did today‘s debate shake up the race?  Well, tonight we will discuss who gained advantage and who lost ground.  Tonight, we‘ll talk to Elizabeth Edwards from Iowa who says her husband has the support of the most tried and true caucus-goers. 

Plus, our wise men Pat Buchanan and Bill Press and representatives from the Clinton and Obama campaigns will weigh in. 

But first to today‘s big headline.  Senator Clinton has accepted the resignation of a national co-chairman for her campaign, Bill Shaheen.  Just yesterday, he suggested voters should ask Barack Obama if he was ever a drug dealer.  Obama has admitted past drug use, but called this move by the Clinton campaign a sign of desperation. 

Senator Clinton was forced to apologize to Obama and now one of her top advisers is out the door.  How big of an embarrassment is this?  Well, let‘s bring in our panel. 

MSNBC political analyst and former presidential candidate and also all-around good guy, Pat Buchanan, and nationally syndicated radio talk show host and all around great guy, Bill Press.  Welcome to you both. 

BILL PRESS, NATIONALLY SYNDICATED RADIO HOST:  Hi, Norah. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I notice you broke out laughing when you said that, Norah. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes. 

This was a big story certainly today.  That a national co-chairman of the Clinton campaign raised questions about Barack Obama‘s past drug use.  Late tonight, we received word that he has stepped down. 

Pat Buchanan, the impact. 

BUCHANAN:  He is the husband of the governor of New Hampshire who is one of the closest friends of. 

O‘DONNELL:  Former governor. 

BUCHANAN:  .Hillary Rodham—yes.  Of Hillary Rodham Clinton.  And he went out there.  It wasn‘t simply that he said that the Republicans are going to ask about his use of drugs.  But his buying of drugs and whether he sold drugs.  Now nobody has suggested anywhere that Barack Obama was a drug dealer.  And that‘s exactly what he suggested.  He put it right out there in the “Washington Post” by saying, “Well, Republicans will ask about this.”  Nobody has asked about it.  It was a genuine dirty trick. 

And I don‘t know if there‘s any truth to this, but everybody in the Democratic Party is out there now probably saying, even though he‘s been fired and rightly so, my goodness.  Do they have something on Obama that could blow up in his face and the general election and are we taking a risk in nominating him?  And that was exactly the objective of Shaheen. 

O‘DONNELL:  The Obama campaign responded by said this is an act of desperation.  Senator Clinton‘s campaign quickly reacted as well and distanced themselves from these comments.  They said they were not condoned, that they did not approve of them.  Senator Clinton apologized to Senator Obama. 

But this was a big issue on “HARDBALL” tonight.  And Mark Penn, who is Senator Clinton‘s chief strategist, was on “HARDBALL” and he once again brought up cocaine twice.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MSNBC “HARDBALL”)

MARK PENN, CLINTON CHIEF STRATEGIST:  Well, I think we‘ve made clear that the—the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising and I think that‘s been made clear.  I think this kindergarten thing was a joke after Senator.

JOE TRIPPI, ADVISER TO JOHN EDWARDS:  I think you just said it again. 

You just said it again. 

PENN:  This kindergarten thing after this—what the senator did. 

TRIPPI:  Unbelievable.  They just literally.

PENN:  Excuse me.  Excuse me. 

TRIPPI:  No, no.  Excuse me.  This guy has been (INAUDIBLE) around as he just said cocaine again.  It‘s like. 

PENN:  I think you‘re saying cocaine. 

TRIPPI:  No, no.  This is quite—no, no.  You just did and I think there‘s something wrong. 

PENN:  I don‘t know.  I think you‘re saying that.  I don‘t know why you‘re saying that. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HARDBALL ANCHOR:  OK.  Joe Trippi‘s turn. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  That, of course, is Bill Trippi who is with - Joe Trippi rather, who is with the Edwards campaign. 

PRESS:  Joe Trippi, right. 

O‘DONNELL:  And Axelrod who‘s with the Obama campaign.  Mark Penn, the chief strategist, on his own brought up cocaine.  What does that tell you, Bill? 

PRESS:  It tell me that the wheels are coming off the Clinton wagon in a bad way.  And in New Hampshire, I think this is directly related, as I see it, and I‘m not endorsing anybody, it‘s directly to the fact that the edge that she had in New Hampshire, which was going to be the Clinton firewall in case she lost Obama to Iowa, is now disappearing and they‘re panicking in the Clinton camp. 

O‘DONNELL:  So that‘s why. 

PRESS:  I can‘t believe that Bill Shehaan goes out and says—plants this and tries to get a reporter to run with this story without somebody knowing that he‘s doing it. 

O‘DONNELL:  The Clinton campaign has said in no way was this sanctioned or planned, that Bill Shaheen would be able to say this. 

Pat, you‘ve been involved in presidential campaigns. 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t believe it. 

O‘DONNELL:  Why not? 

BUCHANAN:  Look, this is an experienced man.  His wife has been governor of New Hampshire.  He‘s an able fellow.  And to go to the “Washington Post” and say, ask about selling drugs.  You would have to think—nobody thinks that up.  Somebody fed that to him.  I don‘t know where it came from.  But you use the term even in the open, drug dealer.  That is a killer. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  .if you‘re associated with Obama.  And frankly, has Obama frankly denied it and the very fact that he hadn‘t denied all of this stuff, leaves this thing hanging out there.  So they have really hurt him.  They‘ve hurt themselves as they‘ve hurt him. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well how much—but how much has Senator Obama perhaps protected himself by admitting a long time ago, I remember, and then—what he wrote about it in his book, he talked about it, I remember, in an interview with Tom Brokaw during the conventions in 2004, that he‘s admitted trying drugs in the past as a young man. 

PRESS:  Look, if I can use the Joe Biden word, I think Joe—I think Barack Obama is clean on this score in the sense that in his book early on when he talks, he admitted as a teenager he tried this stuff and he has moved on.  He has dealt with it.  I thought very, very. 

O‘DONNELL:  He‘s brought it up in front of students and said, “Yes, I did it.  Don‘t do it.  It‘s bad.” 

PRESS:  Yes, exactly.  But I have to say for Mark Penn, himself, the campaign manager, to keep this issue alive on “HARDBALL” tonight is highly irresponsible. 

O‘DONNELL:  We‘re going to talk more about this.  And I just want to get to—coming up because we‘ve got more politics.  And we‘ve been talking about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  But you know John Edwards is also running a close race in Iowa. 

PRESS:  Yes. 

O‘DONNELL:  He‘s, in fact, statistically tied with Clinton and Obama. 

Can he pull off a win and save his presidential bid?  We‘re going to talk

to Elizabeth Edwards, who also weighs in on this talk about past drug use

by Barack Obama. 

Plus, John McCain, the maverick, is trailing in the polls among Republicans.  But what if he ran as an independent with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as his running mate? 

You‘re watching MSNBC, your place for politics. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  The talk of the 2008 presidential race in the last few days has been the Hillary Clinton campaign and much of the news has been unflattering.  From her dwindling lead over Barack Obama to the reported displeasure of Bill Clinton to yesterday‘s ostensibly dirty politicking against Barack Obama in New Hampshire. 

Well, here to discuss all of the news and her performance in this afternoon‘s debate is Clinton supporter, Democratic senator from New Jersey, Bob Menendez. 

Senator, thank you so much for joining us. 

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), HILLARY CLINTON SUPPORTER:  Good to be with you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let me ask you, first of all, I‘m sure you‘re aware of sort of what‘s the big headline today, which is that Senator Clinton has accepted the resignation of a national co-chair, that is Bill Shaheen in New Hampshire.  When you heard about that, how out of line did you think it was for him to start bringing up Senator Obama‘s past drug use? 

MENENDEZ:  Well, it was totally out of line and that‘s why he resigned and that‘s why Hillary personally apologized to senator Obama as they were both leaving to Iowa on the tarmac today from Washington.  And she made it very clear that such negativity and such politics does not have any role in her campaign whatsoever.  And I think it was a very appropriate for her to say that to him and that‘s the way she acts and I wouldn‘t have expected anything less. 

O‘DONNELL:  Is the Clinton campaign in turmoil? 

MENENDEZ:  No.  I think the Clinton campaign—you know, today we saw a—six great Democrats but we only saw one president on that stage and that was Hillary Clinton.  I think she gave Iowans and Americans a very clear vision of where she can take the country as president of the United States. 

She was very clear and precise and crisp on health care and how we insure that every American in this country ultimately has health care that they can afford, how we do a dramatic change on education so that our children can get a world-class education.  How we take different leadership in the world and have the world as allies versus largely as adversaries at this point in time. 

And so quite on the contrary.  I think she showed Iowans why, you know, they should vote for her.  And I think. 

O‘DONNELL:  Did you. 

MENENDEZ:  .with her campaigns throughout the state of Iowa, she‘s going to do very well and people will come to the caucuses and be supportive. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Clinton has put out a new campaign ad featuring her mother, Dorothy Rodham.  I want to play a little bit of that ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD)

DOROTHY RODHAM, HILLARY‘S MOTHER:  What I would like people to know about Hillary is what a good person she is.  She never was envious of anybody.  She was helpful.  And she‘s continued that with her adult life, with helping other women.  She has empathy for other people‘s unfortunate circumstances.  I‘ve always admired that because it isn‘t always true of people.  And I think that she ought to be elected even it if she weren‘t my daughter. 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), 2008 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  I‘m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Well, we know Dorothy Rodham is a very powerful woman in her own right and certainly brought up Senator Clinton, who is a strong woman.  Some people have looked at this ad, however, and said that this is a sign, however, that Hillary Clinton is using her mother to help soften her image because she‘s having trouble in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Your response? 

MENENDEZ:  I think she has her mother as a testimony to the person that Hillary is, a person I‘ve seen in the United States Senate, the person I worked with in the House of Representatives as the first lady, someone who cares passionately about the people of this country and of her home state of New York, and how she‘s been an advocate for children.  You know, we debate the children‘s health insurance program.  Well, it was Hillary who was at the very outset of creating that as a possible opportunity for six million children today to have health care. 

So I think it‘s—you know, it‘s interesting when one gets to use their mom.  I only wish that my mom, who has Alzheimer‘s, was healthy.  I would have liked to be one of my testimonials.  I think she would have given me a good one as did Hillary‘s mom. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Well, Senator Menendez, a Clinton supporter, thanks so much for your time.  We appreciate it. 

MENENDEZ:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  And we‘ve been talking about it.  You know, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama locked in an increasingly nasty political fight, John Edwards has maintained a statistical tie for first in Iowa.  Could he be benefiting from this Clinton/Obama dustup? 

Well, we‘re going to ask Elizabeth Edwards, his wife. 

Plus, Mitt Romney has spent millions of dollars campaigning in Iowa.  But now his double-digit lead is gone.  He‘s trailing Mike Huckabee.  Wait until you hear what Mitt Romney is saying about Mike Huckabee today. 

This is MSNBC. 

(NEWS BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may dominate media coverage of the race for the 2008 nomination, but former Senator John Edwards remains very much in the mix in Iowa.  Many watching the debates said he had a very strong showing today, because he talked about jobs, specifically referencing the Maytag Plant that‘s closed in Iowa, and cost a lot of people jobs there. 

Earlier I spoke with his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, about his performance and also about his prospects at the January 3rd debate.  I began by asking her what is the state of play right now in Iowa? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, JOHN EDWARDS‘ WIFE:  This is obviously a really close race.  And that‘s good for the country, because it means that Iowa voters are going to be taking a really close look at the candidates and making a decision based on what they get to see that the rest of the country doesn‘t.  They get to see these candidates up close.  They get to take their measure.  They‘re a sieve, really, for the rest of us, because they get to decide, did that person really answer my questions?  Do I trust them when I listen to them speak? 

It‘s an important process and a close race makes it, I think—the process even more intense and more valuable. 

O‘DONNELL:  You know, it‘s probably hard to believe that three weeks from today they‘re finally going to vote.  You and your husband have been out there for more than two years campaigning in Iowa.  The latest poll, as you know, shows it‘s pretty much a dead heat between Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, and your husband, former Senator Edwards.  How does he defeat Clinton and Obama? 

EDWARDS:  Well, you know, it‘s really not a question—this is the kind of race you really have to keep blinders on.  And you see what happens when candidates don‘t keep blinders on.  You know, they get distracted by what somebody else is doing or saying or something they want to say about them, instead of staying on what—why it is they think they should be president.  Why they should be the nominee in the fight against—if you look at the polls today, you‘d say against Mike Huckabee. 

Who do you want to be the fighter in that fight?  You need to be able to make that case to the American people.  If you‘ve got your eye on the other guy, you can‘t do it.  So this is not about defeating anybody else.  This is about making the sale to the caucus voters in Iowa and the voters in subsequent states, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and states coming on February 5th that John is, in fact, the candidate who is ready for the fight, That He understands what this race is about, what‘s at stake, and that he is willing to take on not just the Republicans, but after the election, the entrenched interests that are stopping us, frankly, from getting to the place that we need to get as a country. 

It‘s not that the will of the people isn‘t there.  It‘s that we just haven‘t had the leadership to fight the fight that needs to be fought. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Edwards got very good reviews after today‘s debate.  “USA Today” pointed out that Edwards‘ Iowa campaign has a lot of support from the veteran caucus-goers.  That‘s certainly in your favor.  But even if you were to win Iowa, let‘s look at the polls in New Hampshire.  They still show you down 15 points, essentially, behind Clinton.  I mean, if you win Iowa, is it possible that it might be over there, that it won‘t be enough to boost you in New Hampshire, where it looks like it‘s essentially between Senator Clinton and Obama there? 

EDWARDS:  You know, my recollection is—and it‘s not that I pay attention to polls that much.  But having been asked questions like this, I‘ve studied a little to know. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes. 

EDWARDS:  Senator Kerry was down by 18 in the—in the days before the Iowa caucuses, won the Iowa caucuses, went on to win New Hampshire.  I think that there are a lot of people in these early states who continue to look and pay attention, frankly, to what other voters have decided.  Maybe a little less attention to you all and a little more attention to what the voters have to say. 

O‘DONNELL:  What do you think of Senator Clinton‘s co-chairman in New Hampshire, Bill Shaheen, suggesting that Republicans will bring up Senator Obama‘s past drug use if he is the nominee? 

EDWARDS:  I thought that was an inappropriate thing to say.  It is perfectly obvious to everybody that the—that the way that—you know, since Lee Atwater, the way that the Republicans have run campaigns has been -- has really been to the down and dirty politics.  And I think it doesn‘t matter who the Democrats nominate.  We‘re going to see down and dirty politics from the Republicans in all likelihood. 

The important thing is not whether we can expect that fight to happen, but what we can expect from the candidate.  Can we expect a candidate who can both take a punch and give a punch?  That‘s going to be the most important test. 

O‘DONNELL:  But the fact that this is a Democrat bringing this up against another Democrat, what do you think of that? 

EDWARDS:  I think that Billy Shaheen probably regrets his words and I certainly—if he does regret them, I concur with that. 

O‘DONNELL:  He has said that he regrets it, and we‘ve heard that Senator Clinton has apologized to Senator Obama.  Let me ask you about what‘s happened in these last two weeks, because it‘s been an interesting week, in part because Senator Obama captured a lot of attention because Oprah Winfrey campaigned with him, as you know, there in Iowa, in New Hampshire and South Carolina.  Do you think Oprah makes a difference? 

EDWARDS:  I think that anybody who brings somebody—brings somebody in to the room to talk to you and listen to you makes a difference.  And she can bring a lot of people into the room and that makes a difference.  The candidate themselves has to be the one to make the sale.  And, you know, if—I hate to think that there‘s somebody that would vote for John because of somebody who supports him who might have shown up to—to indicate support.  He‘s had a number of those people. 

But the sale has got to be made by the candidate because they—the voter has to believe that you have the policies that address their problems, that you share their values and because, you know, Democratic voters after—after this many years of Bush are very pragmatic, that you‘re the person that can actually win the race.  I think on all of those categories, John can make the sale better than anybody else, no matter who is introducing him. 

O‘DONNELL:  But you acknowledge she might make a little bit of a difference? 

EDWARDS:  She brings more people into the room, which means more people get a chance to hear him.  I think that that‘s the value.  And I don‘t want to discount that value at all.  But it only matters if you make the sale in the end.  And that‘s where—you know, that‘s the place where I think, you know, John holds the winning hand. 

O‘DONNELL:  Finally, Mrs. Edwards, you have talked a great deal about fighting cancer through this campaign.  How are you feeling?  Do you have a lot of energy?  Is it tough being out there, sort of, campaigning, especially when it‘s really cold outside? 

EDWARDS:  Yes.  Actually, this feels really crisp and wonderful to me.  So I‘ve got my house decorated for Christmas, but it‘s 80 degrees in North Carolina, or it was yesterday.  So this is—this is really—helps me get in the spirit.  A little later on, the kids and John and I are going sledding.  It will be one of the first instances where the cancer is actually going to get in the way.  I‘m not supposed to do things that would break a bone. 

So campaigning has not been inhibited.  Sledding will be inhibited by cancer. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, be safe out there sledding with the kids.  Mrs.

Edwards, good to see you. 

EDWARDS:  I‘ll be waving to them, Norah. 

O‘DONNELL:  Very well.  Take care. 

EDWARDS:  Nice to be with you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  And Barack Obama has been gaining steam in Iowa and across the nation, in part with the help of Oprah Winfrey.  What about today‘s debate?  Did he help or hurt himself?  You‘re watching MSNBC, your place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Barack Obama is surging in Iowa.  He‘s in a virtual tie atop the most recent New Hampshire surveys and his standing in the most recent national polls has risen over the last two months.  His main message?  He‘s a change agent, an issue he was challenged on in today‘s final Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How will you rely on so many Clinton advisers and still deliver the kind of break from the past that you‘re promising voters? 

OBAMA:  Well, you know, I am—

CLINTON:  I want to hear that. 

OBAMA:  Well, Hillary, I‘m looking forward to you advising me as well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Wow.  Well, joining me now is Barack Obama supporter, Democratic Congressman from Washington Adam Smith.  Adam—Congressman, I should say, I‘m sure you enjoyed that moment in the debate. 

REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON:  Yes, it was a good comment by Senator Obama. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let me ask you about what is the big headline today.  And that is that Senator Clinton has been forced to essentially to accept the resignation of a national co-chair of her campaign.  As you know, Bill Shaheen raised this issue yesterday, essentially saying voters may in the future want to know if Barack Obama was a drug dealer, essentially.  Your reaction? 

SMITH:  I think it‘s very unfortunate.  I listened to Elizabeth Edwards‘ comments earlier and I completely agree her.  It‘s an inappropriate attack in a campaign.  As she said, we all know, no matter who the Democratic nominee is, the Republicans are going to engage in the character assassination that they always do on our nominee, and they‘re going to do it from every conceivable angle.  We shouldn‘t be doing it to each other.  We should all be prepared to get behind whoever the nominee is, and talk about the issues, not engage in these kinds of attacks. 

So I think it was unfortunate and not something that has a place in the Democratic primaries. 

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, let me ask you from a strategic place—and even though the Obama campaign has denounced this as desperate, Senator Clinton has distance herself from this, has personally apologized to Senator Obama; do you think with it out there again, though, it hurts to some degree? 

SMITH:  No, I don‘t.  I think the biggest thing that voters are looking for in this election, and one of the things that I think Senator Obama is so strong on, is they‘re looking for people who are authentic, people who are not poll-tested and pre-planned and message-tested, people that just tell you who they are, what they‘ve been through in their lives, how those experiences have shaped them, and how they‘ve learned from them.  And Senator Obama did that in that memoir, and he‘s done that since that. 

We‘ve all done things in our past that we regret.  That doesn‘t shock anybody.  But to be honest about it, to learn from it and move forward?  I don‘t think it will hurt him at all. 

O‘DONNELL:  What do you think when analyzing Senator Clinton‘s campaign in the past two weeks? 

SMITH:  I think it‘s clear that they‘ve gone into a fairly intense check on Senator Obama‘s background.  They went all the way back to his Kindergarten days, for instance.  I don‘t think that‘s appropriate.  I don‘t know if this is coming from Senator Clinton or not. 

O‘DONNELL:  Mark Penn told Chris Matthews today that was a joke. 

SMITH:  OK, it didn‘t come off like a joke, so I don‘t know.  It seems like they have been digging into his past in a whole lot of different areas.  I think, more than anything, that distracted the focus from whatever Senator Clinton‘s message might be.  Not to give advice to rival campaigns, but she should to get back on message and back on her issues and not worry about everything in Senator Obama‘s background. 

O‘DONNELL:  When you look at Iowa and New Hampshire, and in your discussions with Senator Obama, does he have to win Iowa or at least come in a very close second, in order to have any momentum to continue on in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, et cetera? 

SMITH:  Well, let me say first of all, we‘re very confident in Iowa.  He‘s had an outstanding team on the ground there for a long time.  He‘s building support.  He‘s ticking up in the polls.  That‘s always been a matter of getting to the point where voters are starting paying attention.  We‘ve been talking about this for a year, I guess.  But now is when voters really start to pay attention.  They‘re doing that in Iowa.  They‘re doing that in New Hampshire and South Carolina.  And Senator Obama is ticking upward everywhere where the election is getting closer. 

But no, ultimately I don‘t think he has to win or even have a close second.  He has a very strong national organization.  He has—gosh, I‘ve lost track of how many donors he has.  I think it‘s well over 200,000.  He has a broad base of support.  And he‘s in a position to compete at least straight through February 5th no matter what happens because of that broad base of support. 

But again, we are confident that things are going to go well in Iowa. 

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Adam Smith from Washington State, thanks so much for joining us.  Good to see you. 

SMITH:  Thanks for the chance. 

O‘DONNELL:  And people are starting to take a closer look at Mike Huckabee now that he‘s a front-runner for the Republican nomination.  But could some of his words and his record as governor of Arkansas come back to haunt him?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is the rising star among Republican presidential candidates.  And as a result, he now faces much sharper scrutiny of his record.  Today‘s questions, what are Huckabee‘s views on women‘s rights?  Well, in 1998, he endorsed the Southern Baptist definition of marriage, which that states that, quote, a wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband. 

How will Mike Huckabee‘s extremely traditional view of women and marriage play with the electorate?  Here to analyze that is two men, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and nationally syndicated radio show host Bill Press.  And, Pat, I know you certainly don‘t believe that a wife should submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  He‘ll do just find with that in Iowa.  He‘s got no problem at all there. 

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  It‘s not going to hurt him among evangelicals in Iowa and he is a southern Baptist minister.  But, man, he‘s looking more and more like the guy that Democrats want to run against in the general election in 2008.  If you don‘t think this will hurt him in the general election, ask Rick Santorum. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, Mitt Romney is already running what he calls contrast ads in Iowa on the issue of immigration.  And today, Mitt Romney went after Mike Huckabee on Huckabee‘s record as governor when it comes to clemencies and pardons.  He pardoned more criminals than his past three predecessors combined.  You can make that argument, soft on crime.  Does it play? 

BUCHANAN:  That will really play.  Now, he‘s—he pardoned, I heard

Romney say, pardoned or commuted the sentences of 1,000 criminals,

including 12 murderers.  And this one character went out and committed two

savage rape/murders and Huckabee reportedly intervened personally with the

parole board on that.  That‘s a real problem.  What Romney has not done yet

he‘s mentioned it.  He‘s not gone with the attack ad on that.  I think Romney is fearful that he gets into the Gephardt/Dean thing with Romney and they hurt both of themselves, and he doesn‘t come back with it. 

But if he goes for that—he may go for it, because I think Romney almost does have to win in Iowa to win New Hampshire. 

O‘DONNELL:  Right, because he—because he has staked so much on Iowa by spending so much time there, so much money there. 

PRESS:  So much more time and so much more money than Huckabee.  But I agree with Pat.  I think this is a very serious issue.  The number I saw said that Huckabee himself had pardoned when he was governor more people than the governors of the six surrounding states of Arkansas.  This is not something, you know, necessarily a good issue for a Republican in a Republican primary. 

Listen, Norah, I think the Hucka-Boom is turning into the Hucka-Bust pretty fast. 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think it‘s there yet.  He‘s still got momentum out there. 

PRESS:  Yes, but every day—

BUCHANAN:  It‘s 34 to 20 or something like that.  Look, we‘re almost up on Christmas.  You hit Christmas, you hit New Years, you hear the Bowl Games, and it‘s there.  So, I think, you can sort of freeze the linebackers around the 23rd of December and not be able to move.  

PRESS:  The question is, could he go anywhere after Iowa?  Does he have any legs at all after Iowa? 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s running almost first in South Carolina.  If he ones Iowa, he can lose New Hampshire and come back in South Carolina, which makes it a real problem for Mitt Romney. 

O‘DONNELL:  Before Mike Huckabee, the previous quick star, if you will, on the stage was Fred Thompson, of course.  And he came out when he announced and he quickly shot to the top of the polls.  He‘s now fallen back down in the polls.  I want to play a little bit of how he played in yesterday‘s debate.  Take a listen. 

Now in part because in this debate, some people said that the moderator was a little stern with the—with some of the Republicans, asking them to raise their hands.  And many people may recall that Fred Thompson didn‘t want to have to do that.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘d like to see a show of hands.  How many of you believe global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity? 

FRED THOMPSON ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m not doing that.  I‘m not doing hand shows today. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No hand shows?

THOMPSON:  No hand shows. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And so does that mean—is that yes or no for you?  Do you believe that global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity? 

THOMPSON:  Do you want to give me a minute to answer that. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, I don‘t. 

THOMPSON:  Well, then I‘m not going to answer it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  You guys are—

PRESS:  Nurse Ratchet, I mean, she‘s saying, come on, jump through the hoop.  Good for him is right. 

O‘DONNELL:  That was one of the few moments from the debate where we heard clapping from the audience.  We didn‘t know if anybody was in the audience and people seemed to respond to that moment by Fred Thompson. 

O‘DONNELL:  I don‘t know what you saw today.  Hillary did—she spoke up today and asked the moderator—she said, would you like a show of hands on how many of us believe in global warming, which was very funny. 

O‘DONNELL:  Very funny.  Interesting, the way Thompson handled himself in this final Republican debate that aired here on MSNBC yesterday impressed David Yepsen of the “Des Moines Register,” who is the wise man with that paper out there.  Here‘s what he said, quote, “it was Thompson, the former Tennessee senator, who was specific, good humor, and exuded an executive persona.  Had Thompson performed this well earlier in the campaign and had his campaign started earlier, he might be doing better than fourth or fifth in the polls today.” 

Well, Thompson says he‘s not going to campaign in New Hampshire anymore.  He‘s spending from now to the caucuses in Iowa.  Does he have a shot of turning things around? 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s a very smart decision.  Look, he‘s fading everywhere. 

And he‘s either going to win in Iowa or win Iowa or it‘s all over for him.  So he‘s putting all his effort in there.  He‘s campaigning, Norah—a lot of people do well when they realize, look, we‘re not going to win this thing.  You‘re relaxed.  Let‘s be ourselves and go all out.  That‘s the way he behaved.  I ain‘t raising any hand for anybody.  That‘s really attractive and appealing.  He‘s an attractive guy.

If Romney and Huckabee get into this battle royal, the Gephardt/Dean thing, I think he sees himself as coming in a strong third.  I think he could.  If he gets beat badly, my guess is he will endorse his old buddy, John McCain in New Hampshire, where McCain is running strong.  If Huckabee wins Iowa and Thompson endorses McCain, I think McCain could win New Hampshire. 

PRESS:  I‘ve got to tell you, I think it‘s too little, too late for Fred.  For one thing, OK, he‘s in Iowa full-time.  He‘s got the holidays coming up.  You‘re going to lose three or four days because of the that.  You just have to.  And secondly, his schedule is like one event a day.  Maybe, if they really push him and he remembers to set his alarm clock, two events a day.  You don‘t get over the finish line that way. 

O‘DONNELL:  What about the argument—and we‘ve seen this in our polling, as well as other polls—that we have a Republican electorate that‘s pretty much dissatisfied with all of the candidates.  They‘re looking for that great candidate.  So they‘re still searching.  There‘s still probably a lot of undecided voters out there. 

BUCHANAN:  Probably, but they‘re getting more and more decided in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina.  The truth is, Norah, I think the first three or four, these small states, are going to decide it, or Florida.  And then it‘s all over.  I mean, the Republicans are going to have to accept what those states decide.  And somebody can run the table. 

O‘DONNELL:  I just want to get in quickly, John McCain praised New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in yesterday‘s debate.  It raised some questions today, could they end up being running mates?  Could McCain run as an independent? 

PRESS:  I think that—I think we have to stop this speculation about Al Gore and Michael Bloomberg and I don‘t know who else, Jeb Bush.  I mean, what we got—what you got is what you see.  We‘ve got to—

O‘DONNELL:  McCain has said for years—he‘s been asked if he‘s going to run as an independent.  He said I‘m a Republican, tried and true. 

BUCHANAN:  -- treason against the Republican party.  He wouldn‘t—I don‘t think he would ever do it, and he‘d really damage himself, and he wouldn‘t win and the Republicans would lose the election. 

O‘DONNELL:  He could have done it in 2000, and he did not because he said, I‘m a Republican.  I‘ll stay a Republican.  He‘s not going to do it now. 

O‘DONNELL:  Bill Press, Pat Buchanan. 

PRESS:  Wise men.

O‘DONNELL:  Wise men.  All right, thanks for joining us.  That was a lot of fun.  We appreciate it.  Big news day today. 

PRESS:  Yes. 

O‘DONNELL:  And that does it for us.  Thanks so much for watching.  Tucker will be back here tomorrow night and I‘ll see you tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. on MSNBC.  Up next, you‘re going to want to watch this edition of “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  It‘s hot.

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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