updated 1/4/2008 12:35:22 PM ET 2008-01-04T17:35:22

Guests: Charlie Black, Ann Lewis, David Axelrod, Chris Kofinis

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC ANCHOR:  It has come.  The day has arrived.  The Iowa caucuses tonight; the first contest in the 2008 presidential election.  We‘ll bring you all the latest on the outcome of those caucuses in just a minute.  We‘re joining you live from the Derry Opera House in Derry, New Hampshire.  About eight feet above my head right now, John McCain is standing, speaking before a group of supporters.  His plane just in from Iowa, preparing for the New Hampshire primary this coming Tuesday. 

We are joined now—we‘re seeing the pictures right there of John McCain.  We‘re joined now by a long and steadfast supporter of the John McCain presidential campaign, Charlie Black.  Charlie, welcome.   

CHARLIE BLACK, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Thank you, Tucker. 

Good to see you in New Hampshire. 

CARLSON:  How are you going to do in Iowa tonight, and does it matter? 

BLACK:  I don‘t know.  We‘re probably not going to do that well.  Five Republican campaigns have spent a lot more money in Iowa than we did.  Senator McCain campaigned there some, but we never did advertising or much direct mail or that kind of thing.  I think his national momentum is showing up there a little bit, but it doesn‘t matter.  New Hampshire is the McCain state, the first place he should be expected to do well. 

CARLSON:  So the theory is that the Democratic race matters to you, because if there is a real contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton coming out of tonight—if, say, Obama wins, he‘s still in it, that independents and moderate Democrats in this state will be engaged in that race and not weigh in on the Republican side and vote for McCain?  Is that accurate?

BLACK:  That‘s what you hear from some of the experts.  But if you look at the polling data, including NBC‘s polling, McCain seems to be drawing equally from conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans and independents.  So he may well win among Republicans and also win among independents, and it wouldn‘t matter how many of them --  

CARLSON:  That‘s my next question.  He won by 19 points eight years ago, but he didn‘t do well among conservatives in this state. 

BLACK:  Well, he probably didn‘t win the conservatives, but Republicans overall he won by eight points.  He won the independents who voted in the Republican primary three to one, hence the 19-point win.  But we don‘t need to win by 19 points.  One will be plenty.  Senator McCain did predict about an hour ago that he would win New Hampshire. 

CARLSON:  He famously alienated some professional conservatives in Washington hostile to John McCain.  Has he done something to win them back?  How do you account for the McCain resurgence among Republicans now? 

BLACK:  You and I have a lot of friends that are conservatives in Washington.  Some of them are for McCain.  But they don‘t matter.  What matters is voters in New Hampshire, caucus-goers in Iowa, but especially primary voters in New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina.  John McCain has come back to New Hampshire.  He‘s revved up the Straight Talk Express.  He is Mr. Straight Talk.  He goes around these town meetings, answers every question on any issue.  That‘s what people in New Hampshire like, the fact that he‘s authentic, that he‘s a straight talker.  He‘ll tell them the truth, even if he disagrees with them.

And in this election, they‘re particularly fond of his national security credentials at a time that we face a dangerous world. 

CARLSON:  So over the past year and a half, McCain went from the presumptive front-runner on the Republican side to really this object of almost pity from Republicans.  And you, the entire time, said McCain is going to win.  What was the point at which your prediction really appeared to be coming true?  When did his traction become obvious to you? 

BLACK:  Well, really it started in early September when we had a major debate here in New Hampshire and McCain won the debate, and all of the commentators said he won the debate.  And then we began to show movement.  We began to show enthusiasm among our organizations around the country. 

But we‘re not there yet.  John McCain clearly has the momentum in New Hampshire, as well as some nationally.  We have a job to finish here in New Hampshire between now and Tuesday.  But I do think he will win.  If he wins New Hampshire, then he‘ll be the favorite in Michigan and South Carolina and we‘ll be on our way. 

CARLSON:  You want to sum up your new South Carolina plan for me? 

BLACK:  Well, the South Carolina plan is he has a lot better organization than he did there eight years ago.  Many of the elected Republicans in the state, including Senator Lindsey Graham, Attorney General Henry McMaster, who were people who might have not have been for him last time, are for him.  More importantly, he‘s organized the veterans, military veterans in the state.  Most of them supported him last time, but they weren‘t well-organized.  They‘re very well-organized this time. 

So you don‘t know who your principle competitor will be in South Carolina.  There will be a filtering effect from Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan.  We‘re well-positioned to win South Carolina against any of the others. 

CARLSON:  Charlie Black, thanks very much.  Congratulations on how far you‘ve come, amazing. 

BLACK:  Thank you. 

CARLSON:  We‘ll be with the McCain campaign through the New Hampshire primary and possibly beyond that.  We‘ll be bringing you details into the near future. 

Having begun the race for the Democratic nomination as the presumptive choice of Democrats, Senator Hillary Clinton has found herself in a tooth and nail political battle for the last three months, with both Barack Obama and John Edwards in the top spot in the state of Iowa.  Here to give us a sense of Mrs. Clinton‘s view of tonight‘s event is the senior adviser to the Clinton campaign, Ann Lewis.  Ann, thanks for coming on. 

ANN LEWIS, SENIOR CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  It‘s my pleasure. 

CARLSON:  So, if Senator Clinton loses tonight and loses New Hampshire, can you lose the first two contests this year and keep going? 

LEWIS:  You know what?  Hillary Clinton is going to do very well tonight.  I think that‘s what she needs to do.  She came into a state—she came into Iowa In January 2007; she hadn‘t even set foot in that state for several years.  She‘s been working, going around the state, getting very good crowds, seeing a lot of people. 

I‘ve listened for the last three days as our callers have gone through our committed supporters, our precinct captains, and I will tell you, they are there.  They‘re enthusiastic.  They‘re staying with Hillary.  I‘m very confident that she‘s going to do well tonight.  We‘ll have a good night. 

CARLSON:  Looking back on the last couple of months, do you think it was a mistake to not only go negative on Barack Obama, but to announce that you were going negative?  Senator Clinton announced that now the fun part starts, she said, and she called into question his character.  You dug up the damning information about his years in Kindergarten, et cetera, et cetera.  You took heat for that.  Was that a wise decision in retrospect? 

LEWIS:  I think every time you can say to people, this is an important decision, you‘re choosing the next president; we want you to have a lot of information; that‘s something that‘s going to happen in the course of a presidential campaign.  But I think you are right, Tucker, that we also have to give out a lot more positive information about who Hillary Clinton is and what kind of president she‘ll be.  That‘s what our emphasis has been.  You know what?  That‘s what the people of Iowa told us they want to hear. 

They want to know what kind of president will you be?  What are you going to do?  What are you going to do about health care?  What are you going to do for my family?  And so, that‘s what Hillary Clinton has been talking about.  I wish you could be out on the trail with her here in Iowa, because that‘s what you‘d here. 

CARLSON:  I was out with her yesterday.  I guess, that was part of what I was struck by.  Part of the message of the Clinton campaign appears to be Hillary Clinton has been this major figure in public life for all of these decades.  She essentially ran the country during the 1990s.  And yet, at the same time, though she was running the country and meeting with all of these foreign leaders, 82 of them, you still don‘t know who she is.  How could that be?  How could she be at the center of American life and yet, we don‘t know who she is?

LEWIS:  What we want people to know is that Hillary Clinton has been fighting to make change, working to make change happen for 35 years.  But in a variety of ways, including before she ever came into public life, she was an advocate for children and families.  That was her first assignment.  When she gets out of law school, she doesn‘t go work for a big law firm. 

She goes to work for the Children‘s Defense Fund. 

When she was first lady, she worked to get children‘s health insurance for six million children.  You know what?  Not a lot of people knew that Hillary Clinton worked so hard to get the children‘s health insurance program passed.  Not a lot of people knew that Hillary got the legislation passed to make sure that children‘s medicine was safe.  So what we found is that while a lot of people knew her name, they didn‘t always know her record. 

What I like to say is, if you want to know what she‘ll do, look at what she‘s done.  If you want to know what kind of president she‘ll be, you want to know what kind of change she‘s going to make, look at the change she‘s already made, and that‘s the information we‘re getting out. 

CARLSON:  I think that‘s an entirely fair point.  Why not then release all the papers pertaining to her role in government in the 1990s?  And release them, like, how about right about now?  Right now? 

LEWIS:  As I—

CARLSON:  Is the campaign—

LEWIS:  As I understand the rules, one, those papers are controlled by the National Archive, and two, they are being released.  So Tucker, if you want to know why people don‘t what Hillary‘s done, I think they‘ve just seen a good example.  We have a chance to talk about what she‘s done for children and families.  You‘re going to try to find an old controversy and bring it up again.  I can‘t change the questions you ask, but I can remind you that, in a way, you‘re answering your own question.  I‘d much rather be talking about the work that Hillary has done. 

CARLSON:  Oh, I know.  Hold on, hold on.  No, no, Ann, you‘re saying -

LEWIS:  I don‘t get to ask the questions.  Only you do. 

CARLSON:  Take a look at what she‘s done. 

LEWIS:  That‘s right. 

CARLSON:  I would love to know what she‘s done.  Why don‘t you release the papers and show me what she‘s done.  And yet—

LEWIS:  And my response is that—

CARLSON:  She hasn‘t gotten up there and demanded their release.  Why not? 

LEWIS:  Tens of thousands of pages have been released.  I‘m not sure that you‘ve looked through them all.  But I will tell you that getting up and demanding that something be done when it‘s controlled by the National Archives tends not to be a very useful exercise.  We do have rules and procedures.  The Clintons have directed that those papers be released.  They‘re in the process of being released. 

CARLSON:  OK.  I wonder—I want to ask you a policy question here.  Barack Obama is running an ad on the radio in Iowa.  I know you‘ve heard it.  He attacks Hillary Clinton for coming out for mandatory health insurance, forcing people with law to buy health insurance.  Let me just ask you, why should people be forced by the federal government against their will to buy health insurance? 

LEWIS:  First, because if you want to keep health insurance down, you want the largest possible number of people in the pool.  That‘s the way insurance works.  But second, nobody will be forced to do what they can‘t afford, because, in fact, Hillary‘s plan includes subsidies and tax credits, so that if you can‘t afford the cost of health insurance, you‘re going to get a subsidy to help you.  You‘re going to get a tax credit to be sure you can. 

The cost of health care will never exceed a certain percentage of anyone‘s income.  So Hillary‘s plan very clearly looks at this issue and makes sure that insurance will be affordable.  That‘s important. 

Second, I‘m a little puzzled by that attack because, as I understood Senator Obama‘s plan, it is mandatory in his plan for children.  So he does, in fact, have the same requirement for families with children.  That‘s the same principle.  What we‘re saying here, we‘ve got to make it accessible, make it available and make it affordable.  That‘s an important part of the plan. 

CARLSON:  OK, Ann Lewis from Iowa, good luck tonight and thanks for joining us. 

LEWIS:  Thank you. 

CARLSON:  Well, the expert consensus appears to be that the key to Barack Obama‘s fate is voter turn out tonight.  The Illinois senator spent the day urgently marshalling his caucus supporters.  We‘ll get the latest from his camp from David Axelrod.  This is MSNBC, the place for politics, joining you live from New Hampshire.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Well, the broader the turn-out, the better the results will be for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.  Since New Years, he‘s received the quasi-endorsements of rivals Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson.  So what does the Obama campaign expect from Iowa tonight?  Joining us now, senior adviser to Barack Obama‘s campaign, David Axelrod.  Thanks for coming on, David. 

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Good to be here, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  So I—you all are not hiding your light under a bushel.  The message from the Obama campaign appears to be, we‘re going to win.  It looks like you might, but what if you don‘t?  Have you raised the expectations too high? 

AXELROD:  Well, look, we have—we have said consistently that we expect to do very well here.  We have not talked about win, place or show.  We‘re going to be right in the mix.  We‘re going to be very competitive.  There‘s enormous enthusiasm across the state.  We‘re optimistic about what going to happen tonight.  Tucker, I think, at the end of the night, no one is going to say the Obama campaign didn‘t live up to expectations.  I think we‘re going to have a good, strong showing and bring all kinds of people into this process across the state. 

CARLSON:  Boy, it seems to me, as an observer, it‘s such a gamble to be that confident that you all must have information the rest of us don‘t.  I mean, you‘re—are you doing tracking at night that tells you that you guys are going to win? 

AXELROD:  Look, as I said, I‘m not predicting anything, Tucker, other than that we‘re going to have a strong showing tonight.  And the reason is that all across the state, there‘s a real mood for change.  And, you know, the other candidates have embraced that.  That‘s good.  But people are going to look at who the most authentic exponent of change is.  I think that‘s the candidate that‘s going to do well.

Look, I can‘t lie to you, I‘m encouraged by the enthusiasm that I see.  I was in the headquarters all day.  It was an extraordinary thing.  I think we‘ve got as good an organization as there‘s ever been in this state.  So, you know, we‘re serene because we‘ve done everything we can do and all of the signs are good.  But whatever happens, we‘re going to come out of here strong.  We‘re tied in New Hampshire, tied in South Carolina.  There‘s a mood for change in this country.  And I don‘t think people are going to be denied. 

CARLSON:  No, the enthusiasm is remarkable.  I agree.  I was at an Obama rally last night after 10:00 pm on a very cold night in Iowa, and it was packed.  I was struck by, though, the candidate‘s unwillingness or maybe inability to speak in short, declarative sentences.  Have you noticed that?  You talk to him every day.  You‘re with him.  You‘re his key adviser.  Can he speak in simple sentences with short syllabic words? 

AXELROD:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  Let me ask you a specific question.  I actually thought of you last night.  He used the phrase last night that he often uses, “the fierce urgency of now.”  Now, I don‘t smoke marijuana anymore so maybe I‘m missing it.  What does that mean?  What is the fierce urgency of now? 

AXELROD:  I think there‘s a real sense across this country, Tucker, that we are in a really defining moment, that we—between the war, economic issues that we face here, global warming, the growing health care crisis that people are feeling, people who have insurance and people who don‘t—there are so many issues facing us.  And I think there‘s a real sense that we‘re at a tipping point here and that we can—that the decisions we make in the next four to eight years are going to really impact on the kind of century this is going to be for America, and that we need leadership that‘s going to be bold and challenge people to understand what the problems are and what the solutions are. 

And I think that‘s one of the appeals of his candidacy.  This is no ordinarily election.  That‘s one of the reasons the turn-out is going to be very high here in Iowa tonight.  People recognize this is a serious time.  And we—we need to—we need to have a president that‘s going to lead us forward. 

CARLSON:  I just want to give you quickly a chance to respond to something that Ann Lewis from the Clinton campaign said just a minute ago.  I referred to the ad you‘re running attacking Hillary Clinton for making health insurance mandatory for Americans.  She responded by saying, in the Obama plan, health insurance would be mandatory for Americans with children, and so it‘s essentially the same principle.  There‘s not as much difference between the two plans as you pretend. 

How do you respond to that? 

AXELROD:  First of all, we‘re not pretending there‘s that much of a difference between our two plans.  There‘s one difference; our plan mandates that every child be insured, that every parent has to insure their child, because children can‘t make those decisions for themselves.  What we‘ve said is the problem with adults isn‘t that they aren‘t being ordered to get health insurance.  It‘s that they can‘t afford it.  So, our thrust should be to reduce the cost of health insurance so that those who want it can get it.  And that‘s what the Obama plan would do. 

But there are a lot of points in common between the two programs.  Remember, it‘s the Clinton campaign and their supporters who have run a million dollars of negative ads in this state, attacking Senator Obama on health care.  The ad you referred to was merely a response to the ads that they‘ve run.  It‘s odd that Ann, who is a friend, would sit here and say there aren‘t big differences between the plans when they‘ve run a million dollars telling the people of Iowa there are big differences. 

CARLSON:  David Axelrod of the Obama campaign, congratulations on what may be shaping up to be a very good night for you all.  I appreciate you coming on. 

AXELROD:  Thanks, Tucker.  Thank you for having me. 

CARLSON:  John Edwards has practically lived in Iowa for more than a year.  Of all of the top tier candidates, he may have the most to lose tonight.  In a moment, we‘ll hear from the John Edwards campaign for a final gut check before the caucus begins.  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  John Edwards could finish anywhere from first to third among the Democrats in Iowa tonight.  Where does his campaign go from here in any of those three possibilities?  Joining us now, John Edwards‘ communications director Chris Kofinis.  Chris, welcome. 

CHRIS KOFINIS, EDWARDS‘ COMMUNICATIONS DIR:  Thank you, Tucker.  How are you doing? 

CARLSON:  I‘m doing great.  And better after I read the “Wall Street Journal” this morning, which raised a question that‘s been nagging at me for months now.  I hear John Edwards get up there and attack the special interests in Washington who got this country in a choke-hold, strangling the middle class for profit.  And the Journal points out this morning, wait a second, many of the backers of the John Edwards for President campaign are, in fact, themselves a special interests.  They‘re called trial lawyers.  They‘re some of the richest people in this country, some worth billions. 

Why won‘t your candidate admit he‘s backed by the special interests? 

KOFINIS:  There is a very big difference between attorneys who are fighting for justice, as John Edwards has done and so many other attorneys across the country do for families and others who go up against corporations.  This is the reality that, you know, without good attorneys giving justice to people, you know, corporations, because of corporate greed and indifference—these folks would be crushed. 

So I think there‘s a fundamental difference between attorneys fighting for justice for their clients and corporations and their lobbyists that have stopped fundamental change in Washington, whether it‘s universal health care, whether it‘s the reform to help address global warming, whether it‘s increasing the minimum wage.  The various issues that could strengthen the middle class.  There is a big difference between lobbyists who get paid to stop legislation and change, and attorneys who fight for their clients for justice against big corporations, who are basically trying to, in many respects, exploit—

CARLSON:  Wait a second.  Wait, wait, wait.  I‘m just laughing because those same freedom-fighters, as you‘re describing them, the trial lawyers, are fighting to stop change, too.  They want to keep caps from being enacted by Congress so they can continue to make more and more money.  They‘re fighting change too.  They‘re fighting for the status quo.  They‘re a lobby, aren‘t they? 

KOFINIS:  No, not even close.  The reality is there‘s a fundamental difference.  I think sometimes this is missed by people.  Lobbyists have a special legislative role to lobby on behalf of their clients.  The reality of the legislative process in Washington, and why the system is broken, what John Edwards has been fighting for this entire campaign, the type of change that John Edwards has been talking about, standing up and strengthening the middle class.  And who‘s been standing in that way are lobbyists in Washington, corporate forces and corporate greed. 

This is why you need a nominee for the Democratic party and a president who is going to fight for the kind of change this country needs.  There‘s a big difference—anyone who thinks, for instance, that you can sit down and negotiate with lobbyists and sit down and negotiate with corporations, and you‘re going to improve the lives of millions and millions of the American families, well, why hasn‘t it happened?  If you think you can cut deals and improve the lives of millions and millions of American families, well, then why hasn‘t it happened? 

You need a fighter in the White House who‘s going to stand up and fight every single day with everything he has to improve the lives of the middle class in this country.  That is what the general message and the whole philosophy of John Edwards has been.  It‘s why he‘s in this campaign and why we‘re in a great position tonight, I think, to do very well and also to move on. 

CARLSON:  Listening to you, I‘m struck by how much of the Edwards campaign rhetoric Hillary Clinton has stolen over the past couple of months.  It must drive you crazy.  She said almost exactly what you‘re saying now.  She said it yesterday at an event I watched her at in Iowa.  How are you going to do tonight? 

KOFINIS:  Yes, I think—the answer—let me address the first part, first; I mean, the funny part about it is, when it comes to, you know, the John Edwards message, the notion of fighting for the middle class has been not only core to John Edwards‘ life, but has been, obviously, a central point of our message and his focus, passing universal health care, fighting to increase the minimum wage, et cetera.  And so it‘s—you know, it‘s not surprising that, you know, both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton have realized what this country needs is real fundamental change.  The problem is that neither one of them can deliver it. 

Senator Obama wants to think that you can cut deals and you can sit down at a table and negotiate with folks that aren‘t going to negotiate, who are going to exploit you every chance they get.  And Senator Clinton wants to be able to sit down and cut deals even before there‘s a negotiation.  I mean—so the notion that you‘re going to achieve fundamental change in this country, the type that‘s going to improve the lives of the middle class, you need a fighter in the White House. 

And so, in terms of how we‘re going to do tonight, listen, I think we‘ve gone up against two candidates that each has raised 100 million dollars.  The reason why John Edwards is so competitive, and why you basically have, by every poll, a statistical dead heat—it‘s going to be interesting to see what happens tonight—is because the message of fighting for the middle class, the message of real change in this country that John Edwards has been talking about every single day over the last year has really resonated. 

We‘ve proved that what matters more is message, not money.  I think that‘s why we‘re in a great spot tonight. 

CARLSON:  It‘s everybody‘s message now.  We‘ll find out.  Chris Kofinis, one of the smartest men in politics.  Good luck tonight.  I appreciate it. 

KOFINIS:  Thank you, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Well, there‘s the race for first and the race for third among Republicans in Iowa tonight.  What happens if Fred Thompson finishes respectably?  And what happens if he doesn‘t?  You‘re watching MSNBC live from New Hampshire.  We‘ve got the answers coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Still to come, Fred Thompson is aiming for third in Iowa tonight, but what if that doesn‘t happen?  Will Iowa be the end of the road for Fred Thompson?  We‘ll tell you in a minute.  But first, here‘s a look at your headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

CARLSON:  “The Politico” reported this morning that former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson likely will drop out of the race for the Republican nomination before Tuesday‘s New Hampshire primary if he finishes poorly tonight in Iowa.  That Web site also reports that Thompson would likely endorse his friend John McCain for president.  Joining us now is one of the men that reported on Fred Thompson today.  He is the senior political reporter for “The Politico,” he is Jonathan Martin.  Breaker of many scoops.  Jonathan, is this something—I mean, are we—when is this going to happen?  When was this decided?

JONATHAN MARTIN, “POLITICO” SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER:  Well, I think this all depends on what exactly happened to night.  Mike Dowell (ph) and I reported that if Fred Thompson does finish poorly tonight, poorly of course is subjective, but if he finishes poorly tonight, likely to get out of the race.  Now, Thompson himself, Tucker, has taken the very unusual step of raising expectations in the past few days.  This of course is a time when all of the candidates are trying to lower expectations.  Thompson on two occasions has actually said he‘d like to finish in second place, which almost everybody here recognizes is a virtual impossibility.

So if Thompson comes in fourth place behind McCain, it‘s almost a—a lock that he‘ll get out of the race.  Third place, it depends on what kind of a third it is.  A distant third, very, very different than a closer third.

So I think his campaign, all of us, will be watching closely to see how he finishes tonight and that‘s going to dictate exactly what his plans are.

CARLSON:  At this point, once you announce before the contest has even been held that you‘re dropping out after it if you do poorly, you kind of short-circuit your chances for success, don‘t you?

MARTIN:  Well, obviously Thompson himself today said some things about his intentions.  Of course, when he was asked by Tim Russert earlier today what he was going to do and whether or not he would, in fact, go to New Hampshire regardless of what happens in Iowa, he basically dodged the question.  Saying that there was some—some folks were going to have to take a hard look at the results here tonight.

He was planning on doing well, he said.  But people would have to take a hard look at what happens here in Iowa.  So it‘s—you know, it‘s tough in this business divining what folks‘ intentions are, but when candidates say things like that, when they raise expectations a week ahead of the caucuses and you talk to folks in and around his campaign and they tell you certain things, it‘s pretty obvious what‘s going to happen, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Does he bring with him a constituency?  Were Thompson to get out say tomorrow or the next day and throw his support to McCain, what would McCain be getting?

MARTIN:  Well, I think in New Hampshire, it doesn‘t help McCain all that much.  Thompson has got really nothing going on out there.  Where it could be helpful for McCain is South Carolina.  Look, for a long time, Thompson has rested his candidacy on a southern strategy.  Doing well in South Carolina and Florida, sort of a native son plan of attack.  So Thompson does have support in South Carolina.  That‘s been in polls one of his best states.  He could be helpful there to McCain.  That‘s not until January 19th.

So that‘s where he really could be an asset.  As far as New Hampshire goes, not much doing.

CARLSON:  Jonathan Martin of “The Politico”, as I said, many scoops.

MARTIN:  Thanks, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Thanks Jonathan.  Appreciate it.

MARTIN:  You‘re a good man.

CARLSON:  Well, the man event tonight of course is the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  The question, what if Obama as forecasted by some polls, beats Hillary Clinton?  The long-time front-runner in the first contest of the ‘08 presidential election.  Here to look ahead, Chris Matthews of HARDBALL.  Chris, how badly does that hurt?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Well, it seems to me if Hillary goes down tonight, maybe taking second or third even in Iowa, putting her in a very bad position to actually win the nomination at this point.  And if Romney has a bad night, although I think he can still win, it‘s like the public is saying no to slick, no to the elite.  We‘re going to try something more genuine, perhaps in the form of Huckabee and the form of John McCain ultimately.  And in the form of Obama.  They don‘t want the slick politician.  My sense is this country is very anti-politician right now.  They don‘t like the—the characters that get elected year after year after year.  They‘re looking for something a little more genuine.

CARLSON:  This is almost—on the Democratic side, it‘s like a rebellion against the party itself.  I mean, this is the party of the Clintons right now.  They run the apparatus of the Democratic Party.

MATTHEWS:  It could be that.  If—if Obama wins tonight, he‘s running—he wins against the go to meeting Democrats, the kind of people that show up at meetings year after year after year.  The Ann Lewises, the Anne Wexlers, the Lynn Cutlers, the people that have always been active in the Democratic Party, the Hillary Clintons.  The people you meet if you go to a Democratic fund-raiser.  The people you meet at a Democratic task force.  They‘re always there.  They‘re the same people.  If they vote against them and they vote for someone like Barack Obama, it will be like one of those student council elections back in college where the people that run every year finally get beaten.  By the way, Bill Clinton was one of those who finally got beaten in his junior year when he ran for student council president.  People are tired of the same people running all the time.

I do think this country is in a change mode.  “The Wall Street

Journal” had it yesterday pretty well, based on our NBC poll, this is the -

probably the strongest time in 15 years that people just want something different.  They don‘t like the way the country is headed.  They don‘t like be stuck in the war, stuck on health care, stuck on energy, stuck on climate change.  Stuck on entitlements.  Every time we have a debate, as you know, Tucker, every time we debate something in this country, nothing gets done.  This idea of hands across the board and work with each other, that doesn‘t work either.  That just creates a 50/50 deadlock.

People want somebody to deliver them from the rut we‘re in right now.  And I include in that rut war in Iraq.  Which we are stuck in.  Talk about a calm lower level of casualties.  The fact is, our guys keep getting killed over there and they‘re stuck over there.  And if the public doesn‘t feel that, I‘d be surprised.

CARLSON:  As Margaret Carlson pointed out this morning in a piece for Bloomberg, the Clintons—I mean, the one thing we know about them, they‘re unkillable.  So do you really—let‘s just be completely real here.  Hillary loses Iowa.  She goes on five days later to lose New Hampshire.  She‘s not going to quit at that point.

MATTHEWS:  No.  She‘s not going to quit.

CARLSON:  She‘s still going to win, right?

MATTHEWS:  You‘re dead right.  She will retreat to the meeting Democrats, the go-to-meeting Democrats.  I thought it was fascinating at the brochure we had on the show the other night.  I think Howard Fineman showed up with it.  It was Hillary‘s last brochure in Iowa, the hand-out.  And on the cover it was very glossy.  It has a nice picture of her.  And on it, it says what are you?  And the first title was African American.  You‘re supposed to check that and then send it back and they‘ll send you a bunch of gas about being an African American.  The second, are you handicapped?  They look upon people as pieces of the Democratic interest group mosaic.  That‘s how the Clinton people look at Democrats.  You‘ve got to be in some little slot we can put you in.  Some pigeonhole.

This is Walter Mondale Democratic Party politics.  It always ends up producing about 43 percent of the vote and you lose generally.  Except Clinton won with 43 percent back in ‘92.

CARLSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  If all you are is your interest groups, you‘re going to lose the election and you should, I think lose the election.  So I think Barack Obama is coming along and saying, no.  I‘ve got something for Republicans, for independents, for people that just want a better country that have no particular stake in this except their general stake as Americans.  He‘s appealing to us on the biggest possible level.  He‘s not saying if you do this, I‘ll do this for you.  Hillary can‘t resist giving a speech with a laundry list of things he‘s going to do for the little people.  And I‘m telling you that sometimes works, and it may work as you suggest in a couple of weeks.  But tonight, I think the idealist has got the game tonight.  I think he‘s got game, as they say in the sandlots.

CARLSON:  I agree with you.

MATTHEWS:  And if he wins the message is the idealistic wing of the Democratic Party, the Gene McCarthy wing, the Howard Dean wing, are still alive.

CARLSON:  And it will be interesting how the statist wing of the party responds to that.

MATTHEWS:  They‘ll respond with interests and pay-offs to the people that get them back in line.  You know how it works.  It‘ll work the same way it has always worked.  Get them back to their interests.  Yeah.

CARLSON:  Amen.

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took a powder on caucus-eve, leaving Iowa for Burbank, California for an appearance on the “Tonight Show.”  How did his late-night appearance play with voters back in the state he‘s running in tonight?  We‘ll tell you in a minute.  Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  When you break it down, the Democratic race could go any of six ways among Clinton, Obama and Edwards.  What‘s at stake for each one?  Where do they each go from here depending upon what happens a few hours from now in Iowa?  Here to tell us, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and Democratic strategist, famed campaign man, Peter Fenn.  Welcome to you both.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Thank you, Tucker.

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Thank you.

CARLSON:  Was it wise for Mike Huckabee, I mean, he is—it‘s still -

it trips on the tongue but it‘s true.  He‘s the front-runner now on the Republican side.  Was it wise for him to jet off to Burbank on the eve of the caucuses, do you think?

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think it was wise.  If I were he I would have been going around the state hitting the five or six biggest cities.  But look it looks like it hasn‘t hurt him in the least.  According to the polls we‘re seeing, Tucker, he‘s four or seven points ahead.  I think Romney has a fine organization, but folks seem to be sort of giving this race tonight to Mike Huckabee.  So—but if you ask me, I‘d say no.  I wouldn‘t have taken a risk like that.

FENN:  I agree with that, Tucker.

CARLSON:  As a group, Peter, do you think we‘re understating the

effect on Romney?  The conventional view is he‘s got the money.  He‘s got -

he‘s been around, he‘s got this amazing organization and a bunch of different important states.  He can absorb a loss to Mike Huckabee.  I think if you stand back and say Mike who from where?  Former governor of Arkansas beats Mitt Romney?  I think it‘s devastating to Romney.

FENN:  I think it‘s tough for Romney.  You know, it‘s a none of the above kind of situation.  But I‘ll tell you one thing that‘s interesting about this, Tucker.  Is that I think Huckabee decided to go national with this move to go on Leno.  And I think the other thing that he‘s decided is that he‘s throwing it all to the wind.  He‘s going to do positive.  He‘s going to run a different kind of campaign.

Most of my experience with people like that, when they go from the limelight into the spotlight, they begin to fail.  I think this is going to happen to Huckabee.  I think he‘s going to slip.  And by the way, you know, everybody is predicting a win for Huckabee tonight.  I went the other way.  You know, kind of—I think that—I think actually Romney may squeak by him tonight.

BUCHANAN:  Tucker, I think you‘re right to this extent.  I think—I think that Romney—I mean, we all talk about Romney got to two-state strategy.  If he loses Iowa, he‘s got to win New Hampshire.  I think if he loses Iowa, I think he‘s in desperate straits in New Hampshire.  This could be the make or break state for Mitt Romney.  But it also could be the make or break state for Huckabee.  If he loses if, I think the souffle collapses, if you will.  And I don‘t know if he then comes back after losing in Iowa and New Hampshire.  In Michigan, if he then comes back and wins in South Carolina.  So this could be make or break for both these men.

FENN:  And the untold story might be tonight, too .

CARLSON:  We act as if—don‘t think you—we act as if each state is its own contest immune from any of the other contests.  Like all of the other voters in South Carolina somehow aren‘t watching what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire.  It‘s a domino effect.

FENN:  Absolutely, Tucker.  And the other part of the domino might be that if John McCain does better in Iowa tonight than people expect, you know, surpasses Fred Thompson, gets into the mid-teens, then that—that does play into New Hampshire.  Plays into South Carolina.  Plays right straight out.  So, you know, looking at these things in a vacuum is a big mistake.

CARLSON:  Where do you think, Pat, where do you think Edwards is tonight if he loses?  If he comes in second or third to Obama and Hillary?  Can he credibly take his campaign forward?

BUCHANAN:  Look, the man has put, some people say four years in out there.  It‘s his best state.  He‘s given it his best shot.  He doesn‘t have the huge resources everyone else does.  I think if he does not win Iowa, I don‘t see how Edwards goes forward.  Frankly, Tucker, you know, this may be a hard thing to say.  I don‘t see how Edwards wins the nomination when he‘s up against two people like Obama and Hillary.

I mean, they‘ve raised each of them $100 million.  They‘ve got enormous bases in the country.  Hillary is at 53 percent or something nationally.  I think—I think Edwards is gone for sure.  If he doesn‘t win tonight.

CARLSON:  And when do you think that will - I mean, Peter, do you agree with that?  Timing is important.  I just don‘t believe many Edwards supporters are going to turn on a dime and vote for Hillary Clinton.  I think they‘re going to throw their support to whom ever is left.  That‘s almost certain to be Barack Obama.  So the question is, if Edwards gets out, when?  If it does, will it be in time to help Obama or not?

FENN:  I think that‘s a very good question, Tucker.  I totally agree with that.  I think if Edwards does not win tonight, he‘s done.  I think even if he wins tonight, he‘s in deep trouble.  Because the spotlight is going to be turned on him.  I think that what will happen is that they‘ll wait until New Hampshire.  I think nobody—unless Fred Thompson decides, for example, decides he wants to endorse McCain before New Hampshire.  On the Democratic side, I don‘t see any reason folks shouldn‘t play this thing out through New Hampshire.  But shortly after that—the other thing that I also—the other point I want to make, I think the press, the pundits, the people are going to saying, OK, now wait a minute.  We‘re doing Iowa, New Hampshire, we‘ve got South Carolina.  You know, folks?  Maybe we ought to take a breath here in January and look at February 5th.  I mean, 22 states, half the delegates.  Are you telling these people they don‘t matter?

BUCHANAN:  They‘re going to be a half dozen hearses coming out of Des Moines tonight.  That‘s the problem, my friend.

CARLSON:  Yes, there are.

BUCHANAN:  Look, an interesting question, I think Peter might give us an answer to this.  Take the votes for Dodd, Biden, Richardson, Kucinich.  We know where they‘re going.  If those folks fade in Iowa, A, they‘ve each got a card to play if they want to go for one of the—Hillary or Obama.  And, B, where do their votes go?  It would seem to be natural to me that if they‘re not with Hillary by now, it‘s sort of we don‘t want Hillary.  We‘re looking for somebody else.

CARLSON:  That‘s right.

BUCHANAN:  And it would seem that the votes would naturally gravitate when they‘re released, if you will, sort of released delegates, to Obama, the challenger.

FENN:  I think .

CARLSON:  I agree with that completely.  If you‘re a Democrat and you‘re not voting for Hillary Clinton right now, it‘s pretty unlikely that you‘re going to want to vote for her in the next three weeks.

FENN:  Wait a second.  Let me make this point.  All of us have been in presidential campaigns.  Pat more prominently than the rest of us.

BUCHANAN:  I‘ve been in the hearse.

FENN:  You‘ve been in the hearse.  But your supporters are so into your campaign.  They are so—it takes some time for them to sort through this stuff.  Those folks that are going door-to-door, they‘re sleeping on the floor.  They‘re eating terrible food, you know?  And the folks who even vote for you.  That‘s why I say, this may take time in January to play out.

CARLSON:  All right.  Well, I—I hope you‘re right.  I like to—I think America deserves time to ruminate over the results.  We‘ll be right back.  We‘re minutes from those results.  Minutes from the start of the Iowa caucuses.  The outcome remains amazingly a mystery, even at this hour.  But we‘ll tell you what we do know coming up.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  We‘re coming to you from the Dairy Opera House in Dairy, New Hampshire.  I‘m sitting below the feet of John McCain, standing right above me.  Just arrived from Iowa.  He‘s here in New Hampshire.  Getting ready for the New Hampshire primaries this coming Tuesday.  For the first time in a long time, his campaign looks viable.  Back from the dead.  John McCain is on the scene here to assess his chances.  We are joined once again by famed Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and by MSNBC political analyst and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.  Pat, you think McCain has got a real shot?

BUCHANAN:  I really do.  McCain is the one individual tonight who does not have to perform.  I mean, if he comes in third, people will say he did fine.  If he comes in fourth, I don‘t think it makes any difference.  His big night, Tucker, is five days from now in New Hampshire, which he does have to win.  And if he wins it, I think he‘s in the finals.

CARLSON:  You‘ve got to think—skip ahead in your mind, Peter.  Let‘s say McCain, and you‘ve still got to consider him a long shot.  He‘s been out for at least in popular opinion for a long time.  Let‘s say he does get the republican nomination.  Tell me again exactly how Hillary Clinton is going to beat John McCain by claiming she‘s a better person than John McCain, that she has more experience than John McCain?  That she‘s done more than John McCain?  What is her rationale against John McCain again?  Remind me.

FENN:  It‘s the “C” word.  Change.  I think that—you know, any Democrat that comes out of this month in—whether it‘s Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, the big states on February 5th, that this change message is moving, Tucker.  And I think it‘s very difficult for the Republicans after seven years of George Bush, a terrible war, an economy that‘s in trouble to make that argument.  And John McCain will try, but I think it will be the Democrats‘ word, “change.”

CARLSON:  I wonder, Pat, do you agree with that?  Is McCain going to be tied to the record of the president?  You know, he had publicly not with him for years.  Is it going to be easier for McCain to distance himself from Bush or no?

BUCHANAN:  I think McCain clearly has an identity that‘s separate from President Bush.  It‘s been dramatically separate at times.  I think where the Democrats would have the advantage is in the—in the issues.  The economy doesn‘t look like it‘s doing very well.  McCain does not have the Republican Party united behind him on immigration.  There‘s an awful lot of problems McCain has.  But I agree with you, I think Hillary Clinton can be beaten.  I think Barack Obama can be beaten.  I wouldn‘t bet it‘s going to happen, but I think they can both be beaten.

CARLSON:  And you think McCain is the strongest guy to do it on the Republican side?

BUCHANAN:  You know, McCain would certainly be one of the strongest guys to do it.  I think Romney could do it as well.  I think it might be tougher for Mike Huckabee because I think they‘d portray him as someone who‘s basically a regional Baptist preacher.

FENN:  One issue, Tucker that‘s interesting .

CARLSON:  All right.  Pat and Peter, I‘m sorry, we‘re out of time.  We‘ve got to go to the caucuses.  Peter Fenn, Pat Buchanan, thanks for joining us.  Thank you for joining us.  We‘ll be back later tonight.

In the meantime, we‘re going to go down to HARDBALL and Chris Matthews.

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

END   

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