updated 12/27/2007 10:28:40 AM ET 2007-12-27T15:28:40

Guests: A.B. Stoddard, Peter Fenn, Jerry Triplett

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Eight days until the Iowa caucuses and the race for president is wide open. 

Hello, everybody.  I‘m David Shuster in for Tucker Carlson. 

In a modern era, there has never been a presidential nomination campaign like the one that has now entered the homestretch in Iowa.  On the Democratic side tonight it‘s a nail-biting three-way race between Edwards, Obama, and Clinton with each candidate convinced that a win will bring a huge bounce in the primary states that follow.  And on the Republican side in Iowa tonight, it‘s Huckabee versus Romney, with Huckabee possibly keeping hopes alive for Giuliani, Thompson, and the now surging John McCain. 

Tonight we will take you to Iowa for live reports and highlights on the frenzy that brought the incredible campaign today.  We will also take you behind the scenes.  Mike Huckabee went pheasant hunting today and brandished a shotgun as he spoke to reporters about Mitt Romney‘s negative attacks. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  If people understand—if it‘s coming from opponents, it really lacks credibility because if it‘s an opponent‘s sort of desperate interest to try to throw last-minute things. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Huckabee is not the only one firing back at Mitt Romney.  A fight between Romney and John McCain boiled over today as well. 

Meanwhile, supporters of Hillary Clinton have sent out another mailer attacking Barack Obama and like an earlier mailer, the Clinton supporters used John Edwards to make it appear the attack is coming from him.  The deceptive and brutal tactics come in the midst of what has already been a memorable week. 

Chris Dodd got the Christmas day photo op by taking his family and campaign staff ice skating.  The Obama campaign, meanwhile, got a boost going into the break with this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (Singing) God bless Barack Obama.  He is a fellow we all love. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  That man has also been singing for the Republicans.  Tonight you will meet him. 

And later, the story behind the weird campaign video that has become an Internet sensation. 

And if jib jam has a lock on cleverness, Mike Gravel has a lock on weirdness.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Listen.  Listen.  Listen.  It is.  Look.  It‘s Santi Claus. 

MIKE GRAVEL (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  Well, look a little closer.  It‘s not Santa clause. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, hell, it‘s Mike Gravel. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (Singing) It‘s Christmas time with Mike Gravel. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  What is the story behind that video?  We‘ll tell you later on in the show.  We‘ve got all of that and more tonight. 

But we begin this hour in Iowa where late this afternoon Hillary Clinton was joined by her husband, daughter Chelsea, and former governor of Iowa Tom Vilsack as the Clinton campaign kicked off a final campaign blitz. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  This is the very first day in the first event of what we‘re calling big challenges, real solutions.  That‘s our—that‘s our theme.  That‘s what we believe this election is about. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Athena Jones of NBC News and “The National Journal” has been covering the Clinton campaign for us, and she joins us live by phone from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. 

Athena, Bill Clinton has a tendency to freelance and drive Hillary staffers nuts.  How did things play out today? 

ATHENA JONES:  NBC NEWS/NATIONAL JOURNAL REPORTER:  Well, today he seemed very much on message, which is a message that they started a few days before Christmas, continued, you know, over the weekend before that, and it‘s a message combining the ideas of Hillary offering change as well as experience and, of course, bringing Chelsea out reminds us that they still want to sort of soften Hillary‘s softer side. 

So with the combination of messages today‘s and one of the big points he made and that she also made was that this whole idea of big challenges and how America has faced daunting challenges, economic uncertainty, it is time of opportunity.  We really need a presidential—you know, as from day one that can handle the big challenges in the world.  So that was really their point today. 

SHUSTER:  Athena, there was a mailer or, I guess, a pledge card that the Clinton campaign put out telling their supporters that just supporting Hillary Clinton is not enough, that they need people to go out and caucus for Hillary Clinton.  Is that at all—can that be read as part of the nervousness by the Clinton campaign? 

JONES:  Well, actually, I think it is quite interesting, because it certainly seems that somewhat—not so optimistic sort of way to approach it.  It‘s kind of like let‘s put fear in our supporters, which I think is an interesting choice.  Of course, the Clinton campaign themselves would never admit to any sort of nervousness, but I do think that that message in the way that portrayed in that mailer is interesting. 

SHUSTER:  Athena Jones, covering the Clinton campaign.  Thanks, Athena, we appreciate it. 

JONES:  Thanks, Dave. 

SHUSTER:  This was also a big day for Barack Obama‘s campaign.  Obama is making his final Iowa push in the wake of yet another mailer attacking his position on health care.  The mailer sent to thousands of Iowa caucus goers has quotes from John Edwards, but this mailer was sent out by a union backing Hillary Clinton. 

Aswini Anburajan is covering the Obama campaign for us.  She joins us

by phone from Iowa. 

And Aswini, what is the Obama team‘s reaction to the mailer and what‘s the Obama campaign message now down the stretch? 

ASWINI ANBURAJAN, NBC NEWS/NATIONAL JOURNAL REPORTER:  The Obama campaign spent the weekend, the three days leading up to Christmas hitting back on John Edwards about this mailer.  They said that he—Obama said that John Edwards wasn‘t walking the walk when it came to pushing back against the special interests, and really sided and sided openly on the stump in Edwards country saying that if he—if he really is against 527s, if he is against special interests, then he should be asking those people to stop, you know, even though the Edwards campaign does say that they have no influence over, and he repeated that message again today, David. 

He has said that if you need to talk the talk when it comes to campaigning, that people can say one thing on the stump, but if their record hasn‘t proven that before, then you can‘t trust them to fight against the special interests or not be secretive when they‘re back in office. 

SHUSTER:  Aswini Anburajan, covering the Obama campaign.  Aswini, thank you very much.  We appreciate it. 

John Edwards was not in Iowa today.  He was focused on New Hampshire where Edwards hopes to be competitive if he can get the rocket fuel that an Iowa victory would provide. 

In the Republican race Mitt Romney has spent millions to run countless television and radio ads in Iowa, but polls show Romney slightly behind Mike Huckabee.  So Romney has been trying to attack Huckabee‘s position on illegal immigration and tax policy. 

Erin McPike is covering the Romney campaign, and she joins us by phone from a Romney town hall in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and, Erin, Romney has also been attacking John McCain who appears to be gaining ground in New Hampshire.  Did the Romney attacks continue today? 

ERIN MCPIKE, NBC NEWS/NATIONAL JOURNAL:  They did, slightly.  Today was sort of just a post-Christmas retail day.  He actually canceled an event this morning in order to, as he told us today, film a positive campaign ad.  But his closing message to New Hampshire and Iowa voters, he did mention John McCain slightly, but the Romney‘s campaign message now is, well, McCain and Giuliani has just really swapped places in the polls in New Hampshire. 

It‘s not necessarily that John McCain is moving up and Mitt Romney‘s losing support.  It‘s just that John McCain and Giuliani has flipped.  So his support, he is saying, is fine, but clearly they‘re nervous about it because they added tomorrow as another day in New Hampshire. 

SHUSTER:  So, in other words, they‘re trying to bolster their campaign in New Hampshire perhaps because they see the polls that show John McCain now within striking distance, and they feel they need to do some more work in New Hampshire, is that right? 

MCPIKE:  Absolutely. 

SHUSTER:  Erin McPike covering the Romney campaign.  Erin, thank you. 

We appreciate it. 

MCPIKE:  Thank you. 

SHUSTER:  Mike Huckabee was back on the campaign trail today and was carrying a gun, literally.  He went pheasant hunting, as you saw. 

NBC‘s Carrie Dann was there and has been our lead reporter covering the Iowa caucuses.  Carrie joins us by phone from Muscatine, Iowa. 

Carrie, the Huckabee campaign has been quirky, to say the least.  The outfit that Huckabee was wearing today wasn‘t exactly flattering, but I gather he didn‘t kill small animals today just for the sport of it. 

CARRIE DANN, NBC NEWS/NATIONAL JOURNAL REPORTER:  Well, today, David, was really about image making for Mike Huckabee.  Now he said that he‘s been a long-time hunter.  He emphasized today he‘s done this, you know, his whole life.  He did it as a kid.  He likes to hunt ducks and deer when he is at home in Arkansas.  But he‘s definitely trying to emphasize both his record on gun rights and as well, you know, Mitt Romney is taking him on in Iowa saying that he‘s not tough on crime and that he doesn‘t know enough about foreign policy.  What better way to try to counteract that than showing up in an orange vest and a gun on the snowy fields of Iowa. 

SHUSTER:  Carrie, you have been covering Iowa for several months.  What changes have you seen over the last few days over the last week with Mike Huckabee given the sudden support he has, the money that‘s coming in, the organization he is trying to build? 

DANN:  Well, Huckabee‘s organization, before the boom that he‘s shown, that so much support, his organization here was notoriously a little bit fly by night.  He has a small—a small shop.  His press shop had a little bit of trouble sometimes getting their act together for reporters and now you‘ve seen a really pronounced set of new agenda, new organization.  They‘re trying really hard to control the amount of media coverage. 

There‘s so much media coverage now, whereas before it was very easy to get access to the governor.  Now it‘s a little bit tougher.  There‘s a lot more national press there, and they‘re definitely making a much more concerted effort to keep Mike Huckabee disciplined, well informed, and knowing what he‘s doing going into these really tense days leading up to Iowa. 

SHUSTER:  And Carrie, I gather that despite the sort of change, keeping the media at bay, that Huckabee is still showing his signature sense of humor, even when he‘s hunting pheasants.  Tell us about some of the quips and what he said to the press today. 

DANN:  Well, I mean, this trip was definitely ripe with metaphors.  As a candidate out there trying to take down these pheasants, he had a good deal of fun and the press had lots of questions for him to try to create metaphors between the pheasants—between his feathered friends and his GOP rivals. 

The press asked him if he was naming the pheasants that he was shooting after his rival candidates, like Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney.  He says absolutely.  He pointed to the carcasses of the pheasants afterwards and he said, these are Iowa caucus goers that decided that they weren‘t going to vote for me.  The one that got away, we let that one—that one had a Mike Huckabee sticker on, so we didn‘t shoot them down. 

SHUSTER:  OK.  Carrie Dann covering the Huckabee campaign.  Thank you very much and thanks to all of our embeds who are covering the campaigns for us in Iowa and also in New Hampshire. 

Coming up, Mitt Romney‘s effort against Huckabee and McCain, is it smart politics, or as Mike Huckabee says, a sign of desperation?  Our experts will weigh in. 

And later, the video sensations, whether it‘s Mike Gravel dressed as Santa or jib-jab year in rear view, we will have more of them for you. 

You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Just when you think Mike Gravel is at the highest possible peak of weirdness, he goes a little bit further.  And Mike Huckabee is taking aim at Mitt Romney, literally.  We‘ve got the rundown on the Republican as they race to the Iowa finish line.  It‘s all coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  We‘re seven days away.  I‘d love for you to fill out one of these cards.  I want your support.  If you won‘t support me, then I want to be your second choice.  But go to the caucus. 

CLINTON:  We know that the next president will face a daunting agenda, and that‘s what we know about.  There will be problems that you and I if we tried to list the 100 other problems we were imagining, we wouldn‘t put on the list because the job itself is unpredictable. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  That was Hillary Clinton today in Iowa trying to frame this as far as the voters and trying to get them to focus on who would be the best president and before her Barack Obama today in Mason City, Iowa, making a play in case any of those precincts have less than 15 percent and under Iowa caucus rules, they would—those candidates would get to make a second choice, possibly him. 

Joining us now is A.B. STODDARD, the associate editor of “The Hill” newspaper, and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. 

And A.B., I want to start with you.  The way Hillary is trying to frame this now, asking voters to think who would be the best president, is that her smartest play?  Does she have any other choice? 

A.B. STODDARD, “THE HILL” ASSOCIATE EDITOR:  It is absolutely her smartest play.  She‘s returning to her best message, which is readiness and strength and she abandoned it for six weeks while she and her husband flailed around and made stumble after stumble, attacking Barack Obama, going on a likability tour, getting into all sorts of political trouble, basically, and it showed up in the polls. 

This is her best message.  Time to pick a president.  Back to the inevitability message.  I am the person who can handle it on day one.  I think it‘s—I think it‘s her best hope, and I actually think it‘s going to work. 

SHUSTER:  And Peter, Barack Obama, at his event today, had one line saying if they‘ve been secretive in the past, and they will be secretive as president.  His campaign confirmed that but that was, of course, a shot at Hillary Clinton referring to her health care debacle. 

Is that such a smart move for Barack Obama now down the stretch? 

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  You know, I think at the end of these campaigns everybody starts throwing the elbows a little bit, but probably not as smart a situation for Barack right now.  I think the one that he‘s going to get more votes off is probably Edwards right now, so if he is going to do anything, it might be to go after Edwards. 

But, you know, I think Hillary‘s approach right now is the smart approach.  Folks do understand what kind of an administration was there for eight years.  They want that eight years back instead of the last eight years.  She‘s playing off of that very, very heavily. 

SHUSTER:  I want to take you to a poll.  This is essentially a summary poll, some RealClearPolitics and they take a number of polls and aggregate them. 

In Iowa, the poll numbers read as follows: Clinton 29, Obama 27, Edwards 24.  That is a slight edge for Hillary Clinton.  In New Hampshire Obama has been gaining.  Again, this is New Hampshire where the primary is January 8th.  Clinton 32, Obama 29, Edwards 16. 

What are the images, Peter, that, again, we saw today?  There was Hillary Clinton with Bill Clinton, with Chelsea, with former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.  That whole sort of imagery, the nostalgia for the Clinton years that, I think, you were referring to, how important is that down the stretch as far as trying to close the deal to get people to go to the Iowa caucuses? 

FENN:  I think what you want to have go out to these caucus goers is this sense that they will bring about the change that this country so desperately needs and that Democrats are desperately want.  And the notion is, I think, that when you have a strong, tough, you know, ready to go from day one administration, they‘ll make the needed changes to get the job done.  So what they‘re obviously trying to do is take the Obama message and the Clinton message and merge the two. 

SHUSTER:  And A.B., I want to ask you about the Obama-Edwards fight that Peter referred to, and that is, John Edwards has been saying you can‘t have somebody who is planning to negotiate with the pharmaceuticals, with Medicare, as far as trying to get universal health care.  You need to fight. 

Barack Obama has been joining that in saying, no, you need somebody who can negotiate, who can reach a deal.  Who is winning that argument—fight versus negotiate?  Who‘s winning that among the Democrats? 

STODDARD:  I don‘t see—I just don‘t think that that penetrates.  I think you have a pool of diehard John Edwards supporters who are going to caucus for him.  I don‘t think he‘s going to take number one.  I think his campaign will be over with.  You have Barack Obama supporters that are inspired by the Barack Obama candidacy for so many reasons.  I don‘t think they make the distinction on who‘s tougher on lobbyists or better to negotiate with them when they get to the White House. 

SHUSTER:  A.B. Stoddard and Peter Fenn, staying with us. 

Coming up, the presidential candidates got a humorous and melodious reminder this week that the Iowa caucuses are not about them.  They‘re about residents of the Hawkeye state. 

Later, you will meet the 73-year-old man who serenaded Barack Obama and previously sang for Mitt Romney. 

But just ahead, Mitt Romney‘s attacks haven‘t been music to the ears of Mike Huckabee and John McCain.  But then again, is Romney finally on to something that may work? 

You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Welcome back.  In Iowa it‘s been hard to miss the attack ads Mitt Romney has been running about Mike Huckabee.  Here‘s part of a Romney ad followed by remarks today from Huckabee. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Romney got tough on drugs like meth.  He never pardoned a single criminal, and Mike Huckabee, he granted 1,033 pardons and commutations, including 12 convicted murderers.  Huckabee granted more clemencies than the previous three governors combined. 

HUCKABEE:  If people understand, if it‘s coming from opponents, it really looks credibility because it‘s an opponent‘s sort of desperate interest to try to throw last-minute things. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

It is always hard to make these soft-on-crime charge stick when your target, in this case, Huckabee, happily brandishes a shotgun and shows off that he regularly kills small, defenseless animals. 

Back with us are associate editor of “The Hill” A.B. Stoddard and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. 

Peter, what do you make of Huckabee there essentially responding to Romney‘s attacks and him being soft on crime and going out there giving this photo op where he killed some birds? 

FENN:  Well, you know, it seemed to work for John Kerry.  Remember he went out and went hunting out there.  He won Iowa.  But no, actually I think the problem Huckabee has is he doesn‘t have any money to respond to these ads, and actually the ads are pretty clever ads in that they start off agreeing—showing where we they agree with each other. 

But I think the thing right now is Huckabee is expected to win Iowa.  If he does not, if Romney comes back and wins Iowa, you know, Huckabee will have a lot more time for hunt. 

SHUSTER:  A.B., did you find anything weird or kind of buffoonish about Mike Huckabee in that outfit that he was wearing?  I mean, granted, I‘m not a hunter.  It just strikes me as bizarre to begin with.  But I always thought the rule was you don‘t put presidential candidates in silly looking hats. 

STODDARD:  I think it‘s a good rule, and he should have stuck to it.  He said something macho about—he held up a bird and said, “See what happens when you get in my way.”  It‘s just—it‘s really painful.  The thing is that—Peter is right.  I mean, the Mitt Romney ads against Huckabee are effective.  The immigration one was very effective.  It wasn‘t an attack.  It was a contrast.  And I think that, you know, given—there‘s not a lot of time left, and I do think his home-school army has mobilized and he has a very good shot at taking Mitt Romney out of playing Iowa. 

If he doesn‘t, though, Peter is also right.  I think it‘s going to be hard for him without the resources and with all of the bad press.  I mean, I really think that the clemency stuff combined with a lot of the comments around that issue—I don‘t know if people always buy that.  When you read, you know, from victims‘ families who say he loves the sinner, you know, more than—he didn‘t talk to us.  I think these things are actually piling up for Mike Huckabee and I think that given—I don‘t know what‘s going to happen in Iowa next week for him, but unless he has a great win that‘s propelled very quickly, I think he might have peaked. 

SHUSTER:  Well, let‘s look at the latest polling.  This, again, from RealClearPolitics, and this is of Iowa, the Republicans.  Huckabee at 29 percent, Mitt Romney 26 percent, John McCain 10 percent, Fred Thompson 9, Rudy Giuliani 9. 

And then when you switched over to New Hampshire, and this is, of course, where Huckabee is hoping for a huge bounce out of Iowa, Romney 30,  McCain 26, Giuliani 14, Huckabee 10, Paul 7, Thompson 4. 

A.B., if Huckabee were to get a devastatingly clear victory in Iowa, how many points do you think reasonably he could expect to pick up in a place like New Hampshire? 

STODDARD:  I just don‘t know because I don‘t think anyone should ever predict New Hampshirites are they‘re going to do.  They are very free thinking.  They have different ideas.  They‘re not—about everything, particularly about tax cuts, which Mike Huckabee is considered weak on.  To the very conservative voters in the Republican Party, I think he is going to have a problem being with some of his sort of aggressively religious statements. 

I don‘t know.  I really—I think he‘d get a bounce.  I don‘t think it‘s as big as he is hoping for. 

SHUSTER:  But Peter, my sense is that given the millions that Mitt Romney has spent on Iowa, if Romney loses and he loses convincingly, that is a huge shot for whoever has defeated him. 

FENN:  Absolutely, David.  Absolutely.  No question about it.  And it will propel a little bit Huckabee, but A.B. is right.  Look, you don‘t have the evangelical vote in New Hampshire as you have it in Iowa.  You have a lot of the memories of John McCain.  They like John McCain.  So he‘s fairly strong there.  I mean I think he gets a boost, no question, but his big boost would have to come by winning South Carolina and winning Florida. 

I mean he‘d really have to catch on, and, you know, what‘s happening now is the power on the microscope is getting turned up on all these candidates that people don‘t know, and, you know, the Republicans are quite dissatisfied with their class of candidates right now because the negatives are coming out, and so it‘s hard. 

SHUSTER:  And there‘s nobody who‘d like the microscope turned on other people as much as it‘s been on him as Rudy Giuliani.  And we‘ll talk about that coming up with Peter Fenn and A.B. Stoddard. 

And again, coming up, Rudy Giuliani spent today in Florida, but memories are fading fast of what his race for presidency was a day at the beach.  We‘ll talk about Giuliani‘s latest challenges just ahead. 

And who says Mike Gravel hasn‘t contributed anything to this campaign?  The latest Mike Gravel video is one you will never forget.  We will have it for you just ahead. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Still to come, Ron Paul is apparently not content just taking on the current batch of Republican rivals.  He‘s reaching back to 1800s for another target—Abraham Lincoln.  Mr. Paul calling the American civil war a mistake.  And from the 19th century to the wonders of the modern age, the JibJab year-end political video you don‘t want to miss.  We‘ll get to that in just a moment. 

But first, here‘s a look at your headlines. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  Welcome back, everybody.  The Iowa caucuses are going to happen on Thursday night, January the 3rd.  But Iowa caucus goers who recently received a flyer from Hillary Clinton may have reason to be confused.  The Clinton campaign on the flyer stated that the date of the Iowa caucuses is January the 14th.  Oops. 

Here again are associate editor of “The Hill” A.B. Stoddard and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. 

A.B., Peter, you guys, if you were going to be out to Iowa would go there before the 14th, right? 

FENN:  Probably so, yes, yes.  As they say, stuff happens.  I remember my first presidential campaign, I had a great idea for a bike-a-thon with my candidate, and I put there was going to be on Saturday at 10:00 a.m., and the location.  The trouble was I didn‘t put the date on it.  So I think a staff member is probably kind of shaking his head.  That was the old Iowa caucus date. 

SHUSTER:  A.B., I want to go to something we were just talking about in the—before the previous break, and that is the sort of Mitt Romney and the battle between Huckabee.  Mitt Romney has also been having this incredible fight with John McCain in recent days just before Christmas.  Mitt Romney was suggesting that John McCain had failed Ronald Reagan 101 by voting twice against Bush tax cuts.  McCain‘s campaign spokesman responded with welcome to Mitt Romney‘s bizarro world and whichever one is guilty of his sins. 

And then today in New Hampshire there was Mitt Romney suggesting that John McCain and others had ignored Iowa.  And this time there was a statement put out by John McCain from the candidate himself.  It says, from McCain, “I know something about tailspins, and it‘s pretty clear that Mitt Romney is in one.  It‘s disappointing that he would launch desperate, flailing and false attacks in an attempt to maintain relevance.  As the union leaders said today, New Hampshire voters just aren‘t buying his act, and these latest attacks won‘t help him.”

What do you make of this? 

STODDARD:  It really is—it‘s bad for Mitt Romney because he is not taking enough of sort of a high road as he has in Iowa with Huckabee on these issue ads.  With McCain, McCain is resurging in New Hampshire.  This must be very irritating to Mitt Romney who finds his early state strategy sinking into the floor. 

But the problem for Mitt Romney is he has to tread very lightly.  His support, according to the polls in New Hampshire, is soft.  McCain‘s support is very firm.  People are very loyal, and the ones who have come back to him are back with him.  And he‘s picking up undecided voters.  Mitt Romney is known as a flip-flopper, and John McCain in debates in the past has not been, you know, he‘s happy to point this out. 

I really think that taking John McCain on in an aggressive way at this point is probably going to be more damaging to Mitt Romney than helpful. 

SHUSTER:  And Peter, given that McCain is essentially a New Hampshire guy from 2000 when he beat Bush by double digits, there was a certain sort of magic that McCain has in the Granite State.  Is there a big problem for Romney if he finishes, essentially, both Iowa and New Hampshire because he won‘t have time to make too many adjustments, if he‘s coming across as mean or mean-spirited? 

FENN:  Right.  I think that‘s a problem.  I‘d concentrate on Iowa right now and try to win that one because it‘s a double whammy for him if he gets beaten in both states.  His campaign will be in the tailspin if that happens. 

And, you know, the point that A.B. makes is right.  I mean, basically, you have 42 percent of the New Hampshire voters who are independents, and, you know, those are McCain type people, a lot of them, and Romney doesn‘t need to antagonize those folks right now.  If I were him, I‘d be concentrating my fire at Huckabee and trying to win that Iowa caucus. 

SHUSTER:  Some of the independents that Rudy Giuliani was hoping to get, of course, were in Iowa, but today as Rudy Giuliani was in Florida trying to, I guess, protect his sort of late inning strategy, as he calls it, there was a big story in “The Des Moines Register,” the most influential paper in Iowa, that talked about Rudy Giuliani and said his shifting stance leaves some voters confused about his political philosophy. 

Giuliani has previously said that he‘s no alter boy, that he‘s had sometimes a rough personality, but is it essentially done now for Giuliani in Iowa?  Peter? 

FENN:  Oh, I think it‘s pretty well done for him in Iowa.  It may be done anywhere else, unless they all self-destruct.  His negatives, David, have risen nationally.  They‘ve doubled.  They exceed his positives now.  And that‘s absolutely extraordinary for someone who started off as the rock star as the leading candidate. 

I mean, Chip Carter once said of Ted Kennedy in 1980 when he was announcing for president that he peaks the day he announces.  One can say the same thing about Rudy Giuliani in this race.  He may have peaked the day he announced. 

SHUSTER:  And the one guy who could, I suppose, be a spoiler on all of this, although not necessarily in Iowa but in New Hampshire, is Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican, the one place Republicans can go if they are against the war. 

A.B., I want to get your reaction to a sort of a strange remark that Ron Paul made on “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert this Sunday, when he was asked by Tim about some strange comments that Ron Paul has made about Abraham Lincoln.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

TIM RUSSERT, “MEET THE PRESS” HOST:  I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln.  According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war.  There were better ways of getting rid of slavery. 

REP. RON PAUL ®, TEXAS:  Absolutely.  600,000 Americans died in a senseless civil war?  No.  It shouldn‘t have gone to war.  He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original republic.  Every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war.  I mean that doesn‘t sound too radical to me.  That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  A.B., what on earth is he talking about? 

STODDARD:  Well, I think going after honest Abe is probably not the best track for Ron Paul.  But the thing is, we‘re going to miss Ron Paul, and I am looking forward to Ron Paul‘s next presidential campaign.  Ron Paul has been a huge factor, and as I was thinking about this the last couple of days, I stumbled upon a full page ad, I believe it was in the “New York Times,” that was taken out by Ron Paul supporters, and all of a sudden I thought Ron Paul supporters are going to storm the convention. 

I mean maybe he‘s actually not going away.  No matter what he says, he grows more popular, and it doesn‘t matter every matter how strange he sounds. 

FENN:  He could be libertarian, A.B.  He could be running as a libertarian.  Everybody would love that, right? 

STODDARD:  That‘s right. 

SHUSTER:  But you know, seriously, the sad thing, I think, in all this is Ron Paul does speak for a lot of not all of the Republicans, not even most Republicans, but I‘d say there‘s 10 to 15 percent of the Republican Party that agrees with Ron Paul on key issues, on whether it‘s taxes. 

STODDARD:  Yes, he does.  Yes, he does. 

SHUSTER:  .on whether it‘s against the Iraq war.  And he totally, totally discredits himself when he makes these. 

STODDARD:  Yes. 

SHUSTER:  .totally bizarre comments about Abraham Lincoln.  It just doesn‘t make any sense and I think the losers in all this are the people who have held up Ron Paul as somebody who speaks for them. 

STODDARD:  It‘s true.  I mean, he is a man of principle and his supporters who are standing behind him—most of the time Ron Paul speaks well for himself, but it‘s true.  When he diverges like this, it‘s rather strange.  He‘s also said things, and I continue to quote this.  He said back in October to “The Concorde Monitor,” “People ask me to come to all these states and visit and they‘re so excited, but I‘m just too lazy.” 

SHUSTER:  Well, Peter, do you know of any historian who agrees with Ron Paul that there was something else our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, could have done to keep the union together other than going to war in the civil war? 

FENN:  Right.  No, I mean, that war was about a lot of things.  Obviously, slavery was very important part of it, but it wasn‘t—I mean, he was talking about how you could buy off the slave owners and write checks for them, and that would have been cheaper.  This is revisionism of the first order, and, look, he‘s running for president now, not in 1860.  So I think he‘s—it also shows a little unbalance there. 

But, you know, when you look at some of his issue positions, and I find him to be kind of a kick, too, but I‘m not for abolishing the Department of Education.  I don‘t think most people are.  Abolishing the IRS, Tim got him on that.  You know, there‘s no money.  You know, he has no tax system to run the government.  You know, I think—I think Ron Paul, as they say, is really strong.  Folks are writing checks for him, who will go to the well and go to the mat for him, but in the long run this guy is not going to be president of the United States. 

SHUSTER:  Well, but for all of you who are Ron Paul supporters who want to see if this was just some sort of mistake or made in the heat of the moment, we‘re going to have him on this very show tomorrow night and give him an opportunity to clarify exactly what he meant to say about Abraham Lincoln. 

I want to get back to another issue, though.  As irritated as the Ron Paul supporters may be with him when he makes mistakes like that, apparently the John Edwards campaign, A.B., has a notorious problem now of always running late, consistently keeping audiences waiting for 45 minutes. 

What is that saying?  Can you read anything into a campaign organization when the candidate can‘t get there on time? 

STODDARD:  I mean, I think it says a lot about the organization.  I don‘t know if you‘re a diehard John Edwards fan.  He has been living in a state, never closed his headquarters in 2004.  He‘s been there for years.  He‘s very passionate and committed, and I think his supporters believe that.  I think if they showed up to an event and left out in the cold, they‘ll probably go home early, they‘re probably frustrated.  Does that mean they‘re going to change their vote?  I don‘t know. 

But if you look at the staff who should be telling him this is not going to work, it must stop, we have to have more discipline.  This is not acceptable.  If you look at the staff, you wonder how great is the ground game?  How great is their operation if they cannot get him there on time?  And he is consistently late, up to an hour and 15 minutes. 

SHUSTER:  Well, one thing that is great is this video that has been made about Mike Gravel.  We‘ve been teasing it for the entire show, so we‘re going to play it for you now.  I don‘t know how these people come out of the woodwork to support Mike Gravel, but watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Listen.  Listen.  It is him.  Look.  It‘s Santa Claus. 

GRAVEL:  Well, look a little closer.  It‘s not Santa Claus.  It‘s me. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, hell.  It‘s Mike Gravel. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (Singing) It‘s Christmastime with Mike Gravel.  Hear choirs sing and ring their bells.  Is that a reindeer who‘s up on the roof?  What could it be, do tell.  No, it‘s Christmastime with Mike Gravel. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  A.B. and Peter, we do have Mike Gravel to thank for at least some things in this campaign, right? 

FENN:  And the thing is the ad gets worse, so—and, listen, everybody thought that he would say some crazy things, and he did in that ad so. 

SHUSTER:  A.B., you get to comment on this next video.  This is from our friends at JibJab.  They put together a year in review at the end of the year.  This is part of their clip wrapping up some of the big news stories of the year.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JIBJAB.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP:  (Singing) In 2007. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (Singing) Barry got indicted, Malibu ignited. 

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) In 2007. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (Singing) Humans went insane, they built a big ass plane. 

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing)  Bob quit, Rove rapped, O.J. took his crap back.  Pakistan, Al-Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, beauty queen, beef recall, senators in bathroom stalls.  There‘s trouble everywhere worldwide.  But let‘s look on the brighter side.  Facebook, Red Sox, Halo 3 for Xbox, awesome gaming on the Wii, Marty won one finally.  Another babe for Ang and Brad, so much good among the bad, Knut the cub, safe at home, Steve Jobs invented iPhone!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  So A.B., they did end on a positive note, if you‘re following Brad and Angelina. 

STODDARD:  You know, I don‘t know if I‘m getting old, but when I see these things and I can‘t—there are so many things from 2007 that I have forgotten about, it‘s sort of disturbing.  I like the picture of Larry Craig in the bathroom stall.  That was great. 

But I‘m going back to Mike Gravel, I want to give him credit, comparing the JibJab video.  The Mike Gravel video was very funny.  At the end, there was a part you didn‘t play.  The two guys say to each other, well, that was really too weird, and next year we‘re going to hang out - we‘re going to spend Christmas with Duncan Hunter.  We also love about Mike Gravel is that the guy knows he is—this is his last moment in the spotlight.  He wants to be remembered.  But at least he laughs at himself. 

SHUSTER:  Well, A.B. Stoddard, Peter Fenn, he will be remembered and we will remember you for all of your work in 2007.  Happy holidays to both of you. 

STODDARD:  Thank you. 

SHUSTER:  A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of “The Hill” newspaper, and Peter Fenn, Democratic strategist.  Thank you both. 

FENN:  Thanks, David. 

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Peter.  Thanks, A.B. 

This week, when there was an entertaining reminder that Iowa caucus goers are an unusual breed.  Coming up you‘ll meet the man who has serenaded a few of the candidates. 

And one of the very baddest starlets in Hollywood gets a lesson about starting romantic relationships with extreme sports athletes, and we have facilities train wreck correspondent Bill Wolf as a cautionary tale. 

This is MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  It‘s a sight not usually seen, or maybe I should say heard on the campaign trail.  A voter bursting into song, serenading Barack Obama in an Iowa town (INAUDIBLE).  Obama called it the highlight of his day.  The 73-year-old song bird, Jerry Triplett, joins us next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRY TRIPLETT, SERENADED BARACK OBAMA:  God bless Barack Obama.  He‘s a fellow we all love.  Stand beside him and guide him throughout the night with the light from above.  From his county of (INAUDIBLE). 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  And that was Jerry Triplett of Winterset, Iowa, flattering the Obama campaign, amusing fellow caucus goers and reminding everybody that political passions in the Hawkeye State are often expressed in unusual ways. 

Jerry Triplett joins us now from Des Moines. 

Mr. Triplett, so you are an Obama guy, I assume? 

TRIPLETT:  Yes.  I‘ll probably caucus for Obama.  However, my wife will caucus for Mr. John Edwards. 

SHUSTER:  Now I got to ask you, why then, if it‘s a Democratic family, why were you singing for Mitt Romney?  Who was that all about other than just trying to show off your voice? 

TRIPLETT:  That—that‘s a misnomer.  That did not happen. 

SHUSTER:  It did not happen. 

TRIPLETT:  That did not happen.  I can assure you that did not happen. 

SHUSTER:  All right.  Let‘s the record reflect to everybody out there in Iowa that Jerry Triplett from Winterset, Iowa, he did not sing for Mitt Romney. 

TRIPLETT:  Yes. 

SHUSTER:  Now that we have that clarified.  Jerry, you got a great voice. 

TRIPLETT:  Well, thank you. 

SHUSTER:  Would your wife consider singing for John Edwards if she had such a good voice? 

TRIPLETT:  I think she could handle that, yes. 

SHUSTER:  Jerry, tell us a little bit about these events.  What was it about the Obama event, what was going through your mind when you decided, “You know what? I‘m going to sing a song for him?” 

TRIPLETT:  Well, it was sort of spur of the moment.  I had thought about the lyrics to the song.  And of course, “God Bless America” was written by Irving Berlin way back in ‘36, and he thought it was not a good song, and he threw it in a desk drawer for a year.  Then he pulled it out and gave it to a singer named Kate Smith, and she made that song famous. 

I simply have taken the tune and put some different lyrics to it, and I have been doing this for about 17 years.  I think I started out at one of my daughter‘s wedding receptions where it was kind of a fun thing to do, and since then I have done this for a number of people around Winterset and central Iowa.  And I have also been bipartisan with this because one of my very best friends in Winterset, a man named Robert Collinberg(ph), is also a very staunch Republican. 

SHUSTER:  Well, Jerry, we have to run, but real quickly. 

TRIPLETT:  OK. 

SHUSTER:  .would you sing for MSNBC?  Would you sing the theme song when we come out to Iowa next week if we ask you? 

TRIPLETT:  I sure will. 

SHUSTER:  OK.  Jerry, you are a very polite man.  I understand you were thanking us for the car ride to Des Moines.  Thank you so much.  I think you represent all that is fun and good about Iowa politics and the passions that everybody there has in your state.  Thank you so much.  We look forward to seeing you next week. 

TRIPLETT:  Thank you for having me. 

SHUSTER:  Jerry Triplett from Des Moines, Iowa.  It‘s only a matter of time before robots replace humans and (INAUDIBLE) Bill Wolff is next with the details on the latest reason to worry about our mechanized competition. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  There was only one person more polite on MSNBC than that guy, Jerry Triplett, and that is our own Bill Wolff.  Bill? 

BILL WOLFF, MSNBC VICE PRESIDENT FOR PRIMETIME:  Well, I‘m flattered. 

Sort of a casual. 

SHUSTER:  Yes. 

WOLFF:  .so just kicking back on the news set. 

SHUSTER:  Yes.  Just having some fun. 

WOLFF:  Thank God I wore hard shoes today.  I would be exposed. 

David, I have breaking robot news tonight from Japan, and it‘s not good for human beings.  Having mastered the previously uniquely human skills of vacuuming, labeling, Martini mixing and doing math, robots can now solve Rubik‘s cube.  Kawasaki Heavy Industries has developed a machine which can line up the colors of the iconic time waster of your in about three minutes.  Now this scientific advance leaves humans with disco dancing and bell bottom jeans and CD radio operation as the only remnants of the Carter administration that we can still do better than machines. 

Dark days, David Shuster. 

SHUSTER:  Why do I feel that most machines are going to be taking over here to try to improve efficiency? 

WOLFF:  Believe me.  My only question is will a robot wear a blue sock with a blue suit?  We still got that.  We‘re still fashion forward, David. 

I have breaking Lindsay Lohan news for you.  I know you‘ve been waiting for it all day.  It‘s gossip news from England, of course.  After spilling the beans about his relationship with Ms. Lohan to Britain‘s “News of the World” super classy rehab hookup guy Riley Giles sold his personal stash of candid photos of the one-time starlet.  Now the photos, which aren‘t that great, by the way, are all over the Interwebs. 

In his interview with “News of the World,” which is the paper of record for the entire United Kingdom, David, Giles said that Lindsay Lohan replaced her addiction to drugs with an addiction to sex and that she‘s now replaced that habit with an insatiable appetite for shopping, getting her hair done, and having tan sprayed on. 

It‘s a lesson for all of us, David.  For all of the viewers, when the wheels fall off, your Hollywood career, because of your addictive personality, your (INAUDIBLE) parents, maybe they‘re money grubbers, do not let the street loser in rehab be your first boyfriend.  Ever. 

SHUSTER:  I‘m glad she‘s addicted to shopping as opposed to those other pursuits. 

WOLFF:  Listen, everything in moderation, I always say.  Everything.  But in moderation.  Now, they haven‘t done much to change the Bush administration policy, David.  You know.  And they haven‘t done as much about his presidential appointments or anything else, really, and you know what I‘m talking about.  I‘m talking about the United States Congress. 

But the Senate appears to have won an important victory tonight for football fans.  After Senators Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy threatened the NFL‘s anti-trust exemption, Senator John Kerry threatened hearings of the Commerce Committee to investigate the NFL Network.  That‘s pro football‘s cable television concern.  It all stemmed from the fact that the NFL Network games only reach about 40 percent of those homes blessed with a cable box. 

Now the big game between the Patriots and Giants this Saturday night was to have been on the NFL Network only.  But late this afternoon when the league announced that the game will be simulcast on the NFL Network, CBS and, best of all, NBC.  That is Saturday night at primetime, Patriots and Giants.  It will be a perfect season on the line for the Patriots.  Big game for the Giants.  And you can see it on NBC, and also the NFL Network and CBS.  But it will be much better on NBC. 

SHUSTER:  You did say it‘s going to be on NBC, right? 

WOLFF:  I believe the game is now going to be on NBC and other network.  But it doesn‘t matter as much because NBC, the peacock network, can you believe, this. 

SHUSTER:  We work for NBC, right?  Sort of? 

WOLFF:  Lately.  You know, last I checked.  I do still work. 

SHUSTER:  Bill Wolff, man, you‘re the best.  Thank you very much. 

WOLFF:  My pleasure. 

SHUSTER:  It‘s a pleasure for us.  Thanks for watching.  We‘ll see you back here tomorrow with that Ron Paul interview and some of the closing ads of this Iowa campaign.  Up next “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS.”

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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