updated 1/15/2008 6:41:12 PM ET 2008-01-15T23:41:12

Guests: BET founder Robert Johnson denies criticizing Senator Obama over drug use.  Then, Senator McCain is leading the national polls.

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tomorrow would have been Martin Luther King‘s 79th birthday.  And in commemoration of that fact, the Democratic presidential frontrunners are sniping at one another over the issue of race. 

Welcome to the show.  Live from Burbank, California. 

The latest salvo in this war over identity, BET founder and prominent Clinton supporter Robert Johnson went after Barack Obama this weekend making not-so-veiled references to Obama‘s youthful drug use.  Johnson for his part denies he meant any such thing.  We will play you the clip in just a minute and let you decide if Johnson could have been referring to anything else. 

Either way the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has reached new levels of nastiness.  We will tell you what it all means. 

Meanwhile, is Mac really back?  The Michigan primary is tomorrow and two new polls show Senator John McCain moving into the lead among Republicans nationally.  But can McCain seal the deal in the state of Michigan? 

And they used to be bitter rivals but Newt Gingrich now has some very nice, almost fawning things to say about Hillary Clinton.  Yes, it‘s the same Newt Gingrich who flirted with the presidential run this year and warned of dire consequences of a second Clinton presidency.  We will tell you exactly what he had to say about Hillary Clinton. 

But we begin with the battle over race that has now divided the Democratic Party and we are joined by the Democratic congressman from the state of Maryland and Obama supporter, Elijah Cummings. 

Congressman, thanks for coming on. 

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND, OBAMA SUPPORTER:  Good being with you, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  You are quoted in “The New York Times” today on the question of whether or not Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Clinton campaign are using race intentionally as a way of hurting Barack Obama.  And here‘s what you say: “I don‘t want to believe that but I‘ve got to tell you I‘m wondering.  I don‘t want to believe it is true. 

And yet you‘re left with the impression reading those remarks that you suspect it may be true. 

CUMMINGS:  I‘m not sure what is going on.  But one thing I do know is that I expected this to be a one-day story and it seems to have gone on.  But I got to tell you, this is a situation that I think—I have a tremendous amount of respect for President Clinton and Mrs.—Senator Clinton.  But if she felt any kind of uneasiness about the statement, most of us would just simply say, look, you know, I apologize.  I don‘t think I said that properly, and move on.  So I—you know, I don‘t know what this is about. 

CARLSON:  But—one, I‘m a little confused.  I—if you believe there was even a possibility that the Clinton campaign could be doing something so low as to inject race into this campaign, how could you have respect for the Clintons? 

CUMMINGS:  Well, again, I don‘t know that to be true.  But one thing I do know is that Barack Obama is running a campaign where he is not going to get caught up in that.  He—what he has made very clear is that he‘s presenting an economic package because we‘ve got a primary—a caucus coming up right now on Saturday in Nevada.  And we‘ve got to make sure that people know exactly what the candidates are all about and I—I‘m really believe that—I think instead of the press concentrating so much on the negative side with regard to race, we ought to look at the more optimistic side. 

And that is this in Iowa and in New Hampshire, voters came out and on the Democratic side they had an opportunity and the people that they came out and voted most for was Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

CUMMINGS:  .and then look at Iowa.  They—again, the top three folks included an African-American and a woman.  And I think that says a lot for our country. 

CARLSON:  What yet. 

CUMMINGS:  And I think that‘s the direction that we need to be going in. 

CARLSON:  OK.  Yet, with respect to—my strong impression is it‘s not the press driving the story.  The press seems, from my point of view, to have been caught almost off guard by this story.  It‘s being driven by surrogates for the candidates. 

Here‘s Geraldine Ferraro, a stand-in—a strong supporter anyway of Mrs. Clinton, quoted again in “The New York Times,” quote, “The Obama campaign is appealing to their base and their base is the African-American community.”  She‘s basically saying that the Obama people, I guess that would include you, are whipping the base into a frenzy with these cries of racism. 

I‘m not sure whether that‘s just nasty. 

CUMMINGS:  I can tell you.  Let me be very clear. 

CARLSON:  .if it‘s patronizing, too.  What do you make of that? 

CUMMINGS:  No, I don‘t know what that‘s about.  But I can tell you one thing.  Our position has been—let‘s go forward with this campaign and if Mrs. Clinton wants to talk about—Senator Clinton wants to talk about race, she can do that.  But Barack Obama, keep in mind, Tucker, went into New Hampshire and got 105,000 votes.  And he didn‘t go in there talking about race. 

CARLSON:  That‘s right. 

CUMMINGS:  He talked about there being a better America and that‘s being the best that we can be.  And he is a listener. 

CARLSON:  Exactly.  Maybe that‘s why he did so well.  Exactly. 

CUMMINGS:  And—that‘s right.  And so—and let me say this, that when we—when our committee in here, in Maryland meets every three or four Saturdays, what we find is that there is a wide cross section of Marylanders, 70 percent of whom are white and maybe 30 percent African-American, but they all are gathered around not around Barack Obama because he is an African-American man, but because they believe in him. 

And as a white gentleman said to me a few days ago, he said. “I believe in him because he is a coach.  And I believe that he believes in the dream of America being the best that it can be.”  We are going to forge ahead.  You all, the press, can spend all the time they want trying to make a big deal out of race.  But (INAUDIBLE). 

CARLSON:  But again—hold on, Congressman.  Hold on. 

CUMMINGS:  Yes.  Sure, I‘ll hold on. 

CARLSON:  That‘s disingenuous.  It‘s not. 

CUMMINGS:  OK.  Well. 

CARLSON:  You have Bill Clinton, the former—hold on.  This is not the press.  This is Bill Clinton himself saying there‘s, quote, “a double standard with the Obama people.”  He went on to say—by the way, that‘s rhetoric often used to attack affirmative action—double standard.  Clinton said that.  Then he goes on to says, quote, “it was overtly racist of the Obama campaign to refer to Mrs. Clinton as Democrat from Punjab in a semi-humorous piece of campaign literature several months ago.  He‘s calling the Obama campaign, quote, “overtly racist.”  That‘s not the press making that up. 

CUMMINGS:  Well. 

CARLSON:  That‘s your Democratic president. 

CUMMINGS:  Let me say this.  If President Clinton said that, that‘s fine.  But again, I mean, if he wants to say that, let him say it.  But we are running for the presidency of the United States of America.  This is what it‘s all about.  We‘ve got people that are not so concerned about what President Clinton says.  They are more concerned about what the next president of the United States Obama says.  They want to make sure that he is dealing with issues such as the economic situation, housing, gas prices, things of that nature.  How‘s he going to deal with this war? 

And so those are the things that Americans are most concerned about and I admire Barack Obama for standing up and saying, “Look, I‘m not going to get caught up in that.  I‘m going to go forward.” 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

CUMMINGS:  .”because the people want me to make sure that I lay out my vision and make sure I do what I have to do to lift them up.”  And that‘s what this is all about. 

CARLSON:  Let me ask you. 

CUMMINGS:  And Obama—by the way. 

CARLSON:  A question. 

CUMMINGS:  Sure, Tucker.  Go ahead. 

CARLSON:  Once—you‘ve been around a long time, Congressman. 

CUMMINGS:  Yes, I have. 

CARLSON:  Are you—yes, you have.  Are you surprised that—did you think your party was kind of beyond this now?  It is 2008.  Having arguments about what color people are?  I mean, is this coming as a shock to you?  And it‘s not just the press.  This is happening without our complicity.  It‘s going on.  Does it shock you? 

CUMMINGS:  Nothing shocks me.  Nothing.  But I can tell you this.  The thing that makes me feel very, very happy is that we have a woman and an African-American who are vying for the presidency of the United States of America.  To me that‘s one of the greatest statements that could ever be made and they are serious candidates.  And I think that we‘ll go into this debate tomorrow and we‘ll go forward and we will see who the Americans decide—American people decide to make their president. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

CUMMINGS:  As simple as that. 

CARLSON:  Elijah Cummings of Maryland.  Congressman, I appreciate your coming on, Congressman.  Thanks very much. 

CUMMINGS:  I appreciate you, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Thank you. 

Hillary Clinton once accused a vast right-wing conspiracy of being out to get her.  Does she believe that threat still exists?  We‘ll tell you. 

Plus tomorrow is voting day in the state of Michigan.  And it‘s a tight race between John McCain and Mitt Romney.  It‘s a must-win for both candidates.  But only one actually will win.  Who‘s it going to be? 

You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Yes, Hillary Clinton is a woman indeed.  Barack Obama is black.  But are those their primary qualifications for the White House?  You might think so.  Listen to people debate about it this week.  More on that story in just a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Among the top Democrats running for president the race is on literally.  Up until now not a whole lot has been said about the race and gender of the candidates running.  But that has changed dramatically in the last week, at least on the Democratic side where a battle has broken out as it so often does over identity. 

Joining me now Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and online columnist Bob Franken. 

Welcome to you, both. 

I want to show you what you may have already seen today.  But I can‘t resist playing it once more.  This is Bob Johnson, Robert Johnson, the founder and former owner of BET television, on the road for Hillary Clinton talking about Barack Obama.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT JOHNSON, BET CABLE TV NETWORK FOUNDER:  As an African-American, I am, frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won‘t say what he was doing but he said it in his book. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Look, I mean, there‘s absolutely no question, Bob, as far as I‘m concerned what he was referring to.  He was referring to drugs.  But just for the sake of the record, he only put up his impossible believe explanation from Bob Johnson, quote, “clarification, my comments were referring to Barack Obama‘s time spent as a community organizer and nothing else.  Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect.” 

Actually, it‘s simply an insult to our intelligence. 

Here‘s my question: he goes up and attacks Obama over drug use.  Mrs.  Clinton stands there and says nothing.  Why?  Why should the Clintons disassociate themselves from what he said as they did from what Billy Shaheen said in New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago? 

BOB FRANKEN, ONLINE COLUMNIST:  Because we‘re talking now about a different situation.  The last time we were running into two (INAUDIBLE) states, it was less of an issue.  Now you have an issue in South Carolina and then the other states where this is coming up where the candidate has to sort of have it both ways if she possibly can.  You know, it‘s interesting.  The Republicans really have this easy.  I mean nobody is going to get upset if somebody says something bad about white guys. 

CARLSON:  Well, that‘s, in fact, that—that‘s kind of required in modern America.  Everybody hates white guys.  Come on, you know that. 

FRANKEN:  That‘s right. 

CARLSON:  What do you make of this, Peter?  I mean how ugly—how surprisingly ugly is this?  You got Bill Clinton coming out today calling the Obama campaign overtly racist.  I mean, did you expect it to get this low?  Or is that just sort of assumed (INAUDIBLE). 

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I‘ll tell you, Tucker, we are in the food phase of this campaign.  Three weeks and we are going to decide on over half the delegates.  And my sense of this right now is that people are saying things that they are going to be taking back pretty darned fast.  And, you know, one of the things about race and about gender and about some of these issues is that it is like striking a match in a room where you‘re surrounded by gas fumes here. 

And I think everybody has got to sort of stop and I think the press, to be perfectly blunt, you know, they like this stuff.  This is—this gets blown up.  This is a big issue.  So they like to cover it and make a little more of it than it is.  But I think it means have you to be as a candidate and as a surrogate super sensitive about what you say and how you say it. 

CARLSON:  But the Clintons are not being super sensitive and it seems to me, Bob, the head here is indirectly or directly Clintons are using race as a wedge issue in a campaign against a black man.  That‘s the headline.  I find that shocking.  I‘m not a big defender of the Clintons.  I‘m not saying they‘re racist.  I don‘t believe they are.  They are using race.  And I must say even I‘m surprised by that. 

FRANKEN:  Well, you know, what would even be more shocking if we found out that it was inadvertent for Hillary Clinton to not know that talking about the possibility of that it took a white man to help the black people out of their oppression, that is something that is inherently a very sensitive issue.  So if she did it by accident, you have to question her political skills. 

FENN:  I—look, I think first of all. 

CARLSON:  But you got to—I mean, Peter, this is your party.  Do you look here and say my—I mean that is the one thing I will defend Hillary Clinton on. 

FRANKEN:  Right. 

CARLSON:  She‘s saying nice things about Martin Luther King.  She says one thing that‘s worded kind of imprecisely and the language that—fascist jumped down her throat like she‘s Bull Connor.  I mean do you want to be in a party where you can just kind of make a verbal error without it being called a racist? 

FENN:  Listen, I think the Republicans are loving every minute of this, to be perfectly frank.  I think Bob is.  But. 

CARLSON:  But what do you think?  You‘re a Democrat. 

FENN:  Here, let me—no, let me say this.  Let me say this.  This is very important.  What—the point she was trying to make was how critical it is to have the right person in that office of the president of the United States.  Now when—you know, the other people have forgotten about Lyndon Johnson is, if you read Robert Caro‘s book, “Master of the Senate, “ you find that this guy orchestrated throughout the late ‘50s a very strong civil rights platform. 

1957.  He got—and it wasn‘t the be-all-end-all but he got the Civil Rights Act of 1957passed.  This guy was no slouch.  But the guy—the folks that moved it, the reason that this happened in ‘64 and ‘65 was because of men like Martin Luther King, men and women.  And Hillary made that very clear.  And I think—you know, I think to criticize her to somehow say it‘s all about white guys doing this is, to be honest with you, crap.  That‘s not what she was saying. 

CARLSON:  Not, but take three steps back.  Take three steps back.  I agree with you.  But have you ever seen a larger collection of overly sanctimonious, pious, uptight weenies as there are on the Democratic side?  Everybody‘s got a sacred cow.  You say one wrong thing and it‘s like, ooh. 

You know what I mean? 

FENN:  I know. 

CARLSON:  You‘re not being—you‘re not kowtowing sufficiently to my idol.  And it‘s repulsive.  What do you make of this, Bob? 

FRANKEN:  But Tucker. 

CARLSON:  You‘ve got Bill Clinton saying in a radio interview today, I‘m quoting now, “I‘ve had before me a list of 80 attacks on Hillary that are quite personal by Senator Obama.” 

Now, he may have such a list but the idea that the Clinton campaign is compiling such a list bespeaks the sort of paranoia that I think is kind of telling.  Are they in meltdown? 

FRANKEN:  Can I add another bit of crap here to use? 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

FENN:  Thanks a lot. 

FRANKEN:  First of all, we have to understand that issues of race and gender are very, very sensitive issues.  And the one problem that the Democrats have, even though they may celebrate the fact that you have an African-American candidate and a female candidate, is that everything has to be handled on tiptoe when it comes to those issues.  That‘s all there is to it. 

CARLSON:  It‘s ridiculous. 

FRANKEN: And for people to be careless about that is going to be certain trouble. 

CARLSON:  Well, I‘ll tell you the real problem.  And NBC—the political desk made it clear in their note this morning.  I thought it was very smart.  The two most reliable constituencies in the Democratic Party, black voters and women, and at the end of this process, one of those groups is going to be really mad because their guy won‘t have been chosen. 

We‘ll be right back.  We‘re going to take a quick break. 

Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich have had a pretty rough relationship over the years of course.  Apparently the ice there is melting.  We‘ll show the evidence. 

Plus Mike Huckabee‘s popularity may have outstripped his ability to run a professional campaign.  We‘ll tell you about a surprising new hire on team Huckabee. 

We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  He praises Hillary Clinton for having, quote, “the courage to learn.”  He says she‘s got integrity and that she‘s, quote, “open.”  More mush from a campaign surrogate?  Nope.  Those words come from none other than former Republican speaker of the house Newt Gingrich. 

The question is: is the praise sincere?  Or is it part of the Republican effort to ensure that Hillary is the Democratic nominee? 

Back with us, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and online columnist Bob Franken. 

Good to see you both.  Before we go to that, I just—I cannot resist putting up on the screen a brand-new quote from Michelle Obama, which, I think, is interesting for a bunch of different reasons.  And she—this is apparently in a speech to a predominantly black audience.  She said this recently, quote, “We had a miraculous victory in Iowa.  Ain‘t no black people in Iowa.  Something big, something new is happening.  Let‘s build a future we all know is possible.  Let‘s show our kids America is ready for Barack Obama right now.” 

What‘s striking to me about this, Peter, I think what she‘s trying to do is in this quote, if I understand it correctly, is to reassure the black audience that Obama can get the votes of people who aren‘t black.  I think that‘s what the campaign says she‘s trying to say. 

I don‘t believe that Barack Obama‘s core constituency is black voters, actually.  I think it‘s probably under 40 white liberals.  That‘s who likes Obama primarily. 

Is that your understanding? 

FENN:  Yes.  And those that make over $100,000 a year. 

CARLSON:  Right.  Exactly. 

FENN:  You know, I think this is sort of interesting because—and that‘s why I said before that I thought people would be taking back a lot of things that they said.  If this campaign is based upon race, he will lose and he knows that. He has not done that.  I mean, I think that there was very little discussion about race which was healthy until just recently. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

FENN:  And Bob was right, you know, as you head into states, where—where African-American votes are key, then things change a little bit.  But I think everybody‘s rhetoric has to pull this back in, as I said, because it‘s—it can be dangerous. 

CARLSON:  It‘s a pretty shocking development.  And the more we talk about race in relation to this presidential election the more it hurts Obama, and I think other people know that.  I want to. 

FRANKEN:  Well, that could be, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  I think that‘s right. 

FRANKEN:  Yes, but when you have this Harvard graduate using an expression like “ain‘t no,” I got to question the sincerity of it a little bit.  I think that she might be accused of pandering just a tiny bit here. 

CARLSON:  Well, it‘s—there are many layers here that we don‘t have the time or maybe the bravery to delve into. 

But I want to get to Newt Gingrich.  I want to play you both a sound bite from a podcast, the former speaker‘s podcast, you may not have known that.  And here‘s what he had to say about Hillary Clinton.  Listen. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Starting on Saturday night, she fought back with greater and greater intensity and she opened herself up.  She talked as a person without all the protection, without all the discipline, and she became more and more appealing.  So it‘s important to remember that candidates learn in the process of a campaign and that the courage to learn is a very important part of this. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Do you hear that, Peter?  According to Newt Gingrich, Hillary has the courage to learn.  I don‘t know if he‘s reading a script from “Oprah” or those are his own.  What do you make of that? 

FENN:  Really, I mean, I think that the Hillary Clinton people are

terrified to have Newt Gingrich in their corner.  Is this going to help him

help her in the primaries?  Holy smoke.  But, you know, it is interesting.  He feels the freedom to say whatever the heck he wants.  He praised her for a 35-year record.  He worked with her, as you know, later on—after he left the House on health care legislation.  I mean, he is kind of a free spirit out there now.  And he says whatever the heck he wants to say. 

CARLSON:  I guess. 

FENN:  (INAUDIBLE). 

CARLSON:  It‘s just hard to imagine, Bob, wanting to say this, that she—I mean, this is almost like a perfect campaign talking point.  She reveals who she really is.  She tore off the mask and showed us the real Hillary.  I mean it‘s so preposterous.  I don‘t know. 

FRANKEN:  Well, well. 

CARLSON:  Do you think this is really his voice?  Or is this an impersonator aping Newt Gingrich? 

FRANKEN:  Look, you have to believe a man who has hair like that.  I mean I know that.  Beyond that, beyond that, it‘s almost sounds like he and Karl Rove have decided to start a Democratic political consultant office.  I‘m not quite sure what this means but if you recall, for a long time, everybody was promoting Hillary Clinton and the feeling was that they were trying to make her the candidate.  Maybe they‘re a little nervous now because Obama was going to be the candidate instead. 

FENN:  You know, I‘m absolutely terrified, Bob. 

CARLSON:  If that‘s the case they‘re fools. 

FENN:  Well, I‘m absolutely terrified, Bob.  When I agree with most of Karl Rove‘s column in “The Wall Street Journal” and agree with Newt Gingrich, I kind of wonder what is going on.  Is this “Alice in Wonderland” here?  Is everything turned upside down? 

CARLSON:  No, no.  We have a word for that, we have a word for that, Peter.  It‘s called personal growth. 

We‘ll be right back. 

John McCain, Mitt Romney.  They are locked in a tight battle in the state of Michigan.  Some polls give McCain the edge, others have Romney in the lead. 

Will Romney finally get the gold?  Or is it over for him if he loses tomorrow? 

Plus, Mike Huckabee spoke from the pulpit this weekend, not as a politician, but as a preacher.  In fact, he didn‘t even mention the election.  His Democratic counterparts have followed his lead and use Sunday as a day of worship and rest rather than campaigning? 

You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  It is the day before Michigan‘s Republican primary.  Not surprisingly, there is no shortage of polls.  The latest numbers show a tight race between John McCain and Mitt Romney, with McCain leading ever so slightly.  Can McCain take advantage of his momentum from his win in New Hampshire last week and win Michigan, too, the state he won eight years ago but also the state where Romney‘s father was once governor? 

Back to tell us, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and online columnist Bob Franken.  Welcome back. 

Let me throw some numbers up here.  This is the new Reuters/C-Span/Zogby poll on Michigan.  It has McCain at 27, Romney at 24, Huckabee at 15 percent, Ron Paul, our beloved Ron Paul, at eight.  Pretty tight race. 

Let‘s break it out a little bit.  This is the same poll of independent voters in that state.  Of course, they can vote in Michigan.  McCain 33, Romney 18 percent, Huckabee 12.  We are seeing, aren‘t we Bob, the same trend we saw eight years ago where McCain runs very, very well with independents, moderate Democrats, and some Republicans.  But really, you know, his base is the center.

FRANKEN:  His base is—his base is probably somewhat different from what it was the last time around, but if he does win in Michigan, he will have Mike Huckabee to thank, because Huckabee is being very effective at taking out Mitt Romney.  He has been able to picture Mitt Romney as the representative of the ruling class in a state that has more than seven percent unemployment. 

Meanwhile, Romney had to be in the position of defending the ruling class.  So McCain, I think, is going to be the benefactor of Huckabee‘s campaigning. 

CARLSON:  Interesting.  I wonder, though, Peter, if you are looking at the race and trying to figure out who really is the Republican front-runner, I mean—after all is said and done, who is the guy?  Who are they going to nominate?  You have to think that McCain‘s testing ground is not Michigan, where there is an open primary and independents can weigh in.  But it really has to be South Carolina.  I mean, that‘s as important as it was in 2000.

FENN:  I think it is very important, Tucker.  There‘s no question about that.  If he goes on to win Michigan and South Carolina, and then goes into Florida against Rudy Giuliani, who is sinking like a stone, you know, there‘s trouble.  What Rudy hopes for is some kind of total complete disarray in the Republican party. 

But it is tough—look, Michigan is a must-win state for Romney.  He announced his candidacy there at the Ford Museum.  He was born there.  He spent the first 18 years of his life there.  They are going around now with great big posters from 1968 of his father‘s candidacy for president of the United States. 

You know, the question really—Bob has it right.  The question is, you know, where—are there enough independents to put McCain over the top.  And also, the ruling class situation is striking, because one would argue that the bulk of a lot of those conservative Republicans in Michigan, they are the ruling class.  They might go—

CARLSON:  They are not—I mean, I would—I would say it‘s governor‘s responsibility for the state of their economy.  Let me shift to Mitt Romney—rather, to Mike Huckabee.  I think he is running an interesting campaign.  I think he‘s a smart guy.  I think he is running the kind of campaign we are going to be thinking about and reading about for the next number of years, as we figure it out. 

But there‘s no question that campaign is growing so fast they are making decisions that are maybe ill-advised.  Among them, hiring a guy called Jim Pinkerton, who is not a very well known columnist, I believe, at “Newsday.”  He has come on as some sort of policy adviser to Huckabee.  Pinkerton in Washington is considered a joke, frankly. 

Let me give you a clip on the screen from a Pinkerton column that gives you a sense what the Huckabee people will be dealing with when once people start reading Jim Pinkerton.  This is from 1995.  It‘s a column on Iraq and what we ought to do there; “when will the anti-American violence in Iraq end?  It will end when we unleash the Shia Arab Muslims and Kurds to finish the job all the way to the bloody extreme.  We‘re not ready for such unleashing yet, but we‘re getting close.”

I will be interested to see how exactly Mike Huckabee responds to that when it comes up.  Is it your sense, Bob, that he has the campaign to sustain his own popularity onward?   

FRANKEN:  Let us not forget this is the same Mike Huckabee who got the endorsement of the Minutemen people who are protecting the borders, try to protect the borders.  He is not adverse to having some groups that are considered fairly extreme and individuals who are considered fairly extreme as supporters.  What he is able to do is come out with what some people think is a facade of self-deprecating humor, and is able to soften all of this kind of thing. 

I‘m not quite sure that Pinkerton and what Pinkerton had to say is really going to stick to Mike Huckabee. 

CARLSON:  You can at least have smart people.  Pinkerton is a laughing stock.  It‘s just depressing.  I was impressed, though, very much by, Peter, Huckabee‘s decision not to get political in church yesterday.  All these different candidates go to South Carolina and Nevada and preach these kind of political sermons, which, by the way, I believe is illegal.  And Huckabee decides not to. 

By contrast, I want you to take a look at something that Barack Obama said in church on Sunday.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We are on the brink, on the cusp of doing something important.  We could make history, not, by the way, just—I know everybody is focused on racial history.  That‘s not what I‘m talking about.  We could make history by being the first time in a very long time where a grass roots movement of people of all colors, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, rose up and went up against the princes, the powers of principalities, and actually won a presidency. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Why should you have a tax exemption, Peter, if you are campaigning in a church?  Why should that church not pay taxes?  I have to pay taxes. 

FENN:  Speaking in a church.  I see.  So it was fine for Pat Robertson

--

CARLSON:  No, campaigning in a church.  No, it is wrong.  I‘m asking not about Pat Robertson.  It was wrong when anybody brings politics into a church. 

FENN:  Look, I—I have a fundamental agreement with you on that on a basic principle here.  But, unfortunately, what we have is a situation where you have voter guides put under people‘s wind shields, where have you the Pat Robertsons and the Jerry Falwells of the world who turned churches into political machines.  So, you know—

CARLSON:  You know what, you know the truth.  Hold on.  You know the truth. which is that many clack churches are basically political organizations.  And no one wants to say that, but you know full well it is true.  To look in that camera and tell me it‘s not true, because you know it is.  Yet, nobody says anything about it.  I just think it is immoral to use a church for politics. 

(CROSS TALK)

FENN:  This is the question.  I agree with that, tucker.  The thing that I think a lot of times happens is folks use it for social change.  You know, and that is very important.  Because there are—you know, if you are going to feed the unfed, if you are going to help the poor, if you are going out there, then you do it through a church.  And so, you know, a lot of that comes very strongly from black churches in this country and white churches. 

But the point being that churches should not be agents in a political campaign and that I think is—you know if that happens, they should lose their tax exempt status.

CARLSON:  At the Pentecostal Temple Church of God, where Obama was on Sunday in Southern Nevada, Pastor Leon Smith of that church said this; “if you can‘t support your own”—he said to the congregation, mostly black—

“you are never going to get anywhere.” 

He was saying vote for Barack Obama.  Man, I hope he loses his tax exemption.  Can you take a look, Bob, at the new Hillary Clinton ad that she has just unveiled.  I will be interested to know what you think about this.  Here it is, Hillary Clinton‘s new spot. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  In this troubled economy, how can so many millions of people simply not be heard?  Well, I hear you.  You are asking for health care that covers everyone, protection from losing your home.  You would like to fill your tank without draining your wallet and give your kids the future they deserve. 

If I‘m your president, I will bring more than my 35 years of experience to the White House.  I will bring your voice.  I‘m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  I bet cut this ad in the last three days in response to, you know, the news about the economy going south.  It is pretty nimble.  What do you think of that?  Is that an effective ad? 

FRANKEN:  I don‘t know.  Three days isn‘t very nimble in the world of politics.  Ask Peter. 

CARLSON:  You are right. 

FENN:  Three hours. 

FRANKEN::  But, it is certainly does indicate how important the economy has gotten.  And it is really kind of nerve-racking that it has.  You even have Democrats promising to cooperate with President Bush to come up with maybe temporary tax cuts.  That‘s astounding. 

So I think that all she‘s trying to do is to at least stay up with an issue.  Anybody who ignores the economy right now has no business running for president. 

CARLSON:  Protection from losing your home, Peter; can a politician really say that if you don‘t pay your mortgage, you are not going to lose your home?  I mean, is that a promise to any politician can or should make? 

FENN:  Listen, I think, Tucker, this situation is so bad out there—and you and I talked about it the other day.  I have 121 pages from the “Detroit Free Press” of foreclosures; one out of every 33 homes in the Detroit area is being foreclosed upon.  A lot of it because of predatory lending, a lot of it because of bad mistakes by people. 

At this point, you want to try to solve that problem and most of the candidates have plans to do that.  The president has a plan to do that.  You know, this is catching up to the politicians.  As usual, the public is ahead of this.  They are angry about this.  They are concerned about it.  Politicians were quiet. 

Now the economy is huge.  It‘s as bad as it was in 1991-1992, in terms of the polls. 

FRANKEN:  Tucker, you know how you can describe that ad?  That is the Hillary Clinton, I can feel your pain ad.  It really is. 

CARLSON:  No doubt about it.  Some people buy it, I guess.  Not me. 

Thanks, Bob.  Peter, I appreciate it.  Both of you, thank you. 

He is leading the pack in both national polling and in some polls in Michigan.  What does John McCain have to do to seal the deal there?  Legendary Republican strategist Roger Stone joins us in a moment. 

Plus, no you are not looking at photographers trying to get a shot of the president or any one of the presidential hopefuls or even French President Sarkozy with his girlfriend, or is it his wife?  Stick around for the embarrassing answer to whom these photographers are chasing.  We‘ll be right back.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  He‘s the son of a popular governor, but Senator John McCain is fresh off a win in New Hampshire.  McCain versus Romney.  With the focus shifting to the economy, can McCain pull off another victory in Michigan?  Well, he and Romney are trading barbs over who is best suited to create jobs there.  But the headline should read the state Romney must win.  Will he?

Joining me now, the legendary Republican strategist Roger Stone. 

Welcome.  Who is going to win? 

ROGER STONE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Tucker, well, it is going to depend who else votes on primary day.  I mean, Tucker in 1972, I worked on a secret operation by the Nixon White House in the Michigan Republican party to have Republicans invade the Democratic primary to vote for George Wallace.  One-third of the people voting in the Democratic primary were, in fact, Republicans. 

The way Michigan law is set up so that Democrats and independents can vote in the Republican primary is both the prescription for mischief.  In fact, “The Daily Kos,” the liberal blog, is urging liberals to vote for Mitt Romney.  So, I see turbulent waters ahead. 

CARLSON:  What‘s the idea—not that anyone can fathom the deep motives of the “Daily Kos,” but what would be the motive in having liberals vote for the most conservative guy running? 

STONE:  Roil the Republican party, rent the Republican party between their establishment, Republican wings, punish us the way Republicans did by voting for Jesse Jackson in the 1988 primaries.  Go check.  Jesse carried every Republican precinct.  And he won the political primary there, the Democratic primary, in 1988, based very much on political mischief. 

So if this is close, look out for mischief on behalf of Mitt Romney.  The good news here is that reform-minded independents, as they did eight years ago, can strongly support John McCain and I think they will.  I think McCain‘s pull this out very narrowly.  That‘s my prediction. 

CARLSON:  Is it your sense that Democrats perceive McCain as the biggest threat in November? 

STONE:  There‘s no question about that because of his obvious cross-over appeal.  I mean, he can—if you are looking for somebody that‘s bucked the establishment, if you are looking for somebody who is really hacked off the Washington special interests, John McCain is your man.  If you want to call him Washington, you are not going get away with that.  This guy is a genuine maverick.  That‘s precisely why he is a strong general election candidate. 

(CROSS TALK)

CARLSON:  He is a conservative.  I absolutely agree with that.  And I didn‘t meaning to suggest that Romney was more conservative than McCain because, in fact, in some ways Romney is less conservative than McCain.  I mean that his—the general idea is that he‘s running to the right of McCain.  If you were McCain, wouldn‘t you use that perception in your campaign?  Wouldn‘t you say, I‘m the one Democrats fear most? 

STONE:  Well, yes, but I think will is a better way to get those independent.  You notice John McCain‘s one candidate consistently talking about climate change, which among independent voters and the kind of reform-minded independents who like John McCain, is a very strong issue. 

He was also very out front on mortgage relief.  I mean, there is a reason for this and it helped pull a lot of independents over in New Hampshire, those independents that the Democrats weren‘t going to show up.  All the pundits said well, McCain won‘t win New Hampshire because his independents appeal has disappeared.  That turned out not to be true. 

CARLSON:  Interesting.  Roger Stone, you have never come on the show where you didn‘t say something I had never thought of before.  Thank you.  I really appreciate it. 

STONE:  Watch out for liberals voting for Mitt Romney.  You can go online and see, they are definitely going to try to pull this little dirty trick.  In a close race, it can matter. 

CARLSON:  Liberals for Mitt Romney.  I can see the t-shirts.  Thanks, Roger.

STONE:  Tucker.

CARLSON:  You might be wondering why the president of the United States is holding a falcon.  He is wondering, too.  Willie Geist returns to explain the latest in a series of strange presidential photo ops, all in the Middle East.  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  Bill Wolff is usually on at this time.  He‘s sick on his couch right now.  So we called in one of our old friends, one of my favorite people.  He‘s back today, Willie Geist. 

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Thanks, Tucker.  Yes, that sissy made me come in again today, that Bill Wolff.  Unbelievable.  I have to tell you, Tucker, watching your show I learned something important.  The title for my upcoming memoir, “The Courage to Learn,” with a forward by Newt Gingrich.  Did he actually say that? 

CARLSON:  Not only did he say that.  He said it on his podcast. 

GEIST:  Yes, I love that. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t know what to say.  I haven‘t processed it yet.  I haven‘t processed it yet.  Talk to me tomorrow about it. 

GEIST:  I like catch phrases that mean nothing.  Those are my favorite.  So good.  Tucker, one of the many things I admire about you is that you will drop absolutely everything instantly to chase a story.  So when the news broke today that Britney Spears was due in a Los Angeles court room, you found a way to get there on the ground in L.A.  And good for you. 

You were there, but somehow Britney herself couldn‘t quite make it this morning.  A judge called today‘s emergency hearing after Britney was dragged out of her home and taken to the hospital on a stretcher a couple of weeks ago after fighting with Kevin Federline‘s representatives over custody of their children.  Her visitation rights to her two sons were suspended after the bizarre incident. 

Well, K-Fed showed up in a crisp suit and Mohawk haircut this morning.  But Britney was nowhere to be seen.  She did show up this afternoon at the L.A. County courthouse, popped her head out of the car, yelled at the photographers, then got back in and turned right around.  Late reports now suggest that she may return to the courthouse after having some lunch. 

Good rule of thumb here, Tucker, never show up four hours late for court to lose custody of your children on an empty stomach.  More late breaking news, Tucker, from TMZ.com.  They say she has just stopped at the Little Brown Church in Studio City.  That‘s the church where Ronald and Nancy Reagan were married some 55 years ago.  So a little piece of history for Britney Spears today. 

CARLSON:  Is that true?  I‘m very—that‘s not far are from Burbank where I‘m right now.  When I get off the air, I am going to hop in my car and speed over to Studio City and see what I can see.

GEIST:  Join the frenzy. 

CARLSON:  Such is my commitment to journalism, exactly.

GEIST:  You say no politics in church.  I say no Britney in church from now on.  That‘s just my two cents.  Today‘s impressive Britney Spears spectacle was a important and reassuring reminder that, yes, Hollywood can still put on an embarrassingly excessive show.  You wouldn‘t have known it last night at the presentation of the Golden Globe Awards.  Thanks to the writers strike, we got a press conference at the Beverly Hilton Hotel instead of the usual star-studded awards ceremony. 

It appeared that members of the hotel staff and registered guests were just stepping up to the podium and announcing the winners.  Tina Fay won for best actress in a comedy for “30 Rock,” but the awards rendered themselves legitimate when Alec Baldwin, and long before that, when Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” were not even nominated. 

Tucker, how can you have an awards show—how can you have a self-respecting awards show that does not recognize “Curb Your Enthusiasm?”  That‘s a disgrace. 

CARLSON:  It suggests that the people who chose the awards don‘t understand that show, which should not be surprising.  Isn‘t it like the Foreign Press Association, who are they? 

GEIST:  That‘s a good question.  I looked and I couldn‘t find out.  I saw an interesting quote from a reporter who covers Hollywood.  This was the spin last night; you know, finally this year, it was just about the awards, without all the trappings and the glitz and the glamour.  No, no, no, the only reason you exist is for the glitz and glamour.  We don‘t care about the awards.  They sort of missed the point on that one. 

CARLSON:  I know, but my friend Billy Bush was one of the hosts and I‘m on his side. 

GEIST:  I saw that.  I‘m always on his side too.  I know we are supposed to be paying attention to the peace process during President Bush‘s current tour of the Middle East.  But since there is an outside chance that he may not sort out those little difference this week, I have been focused on the series of strange photo-ops the president has been forced into over there. 

Yesterday, he visited a falcon farm owned by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.  He really have to be a billionaire oil Sheik to pull off owning a falcon farm, don‘t you?  The crown prince showed off his prize birds and convinced President Bush to hold one himself. 

I have to say, Tucker, I don‘t know.  He handled himself pretty well with a falcon there.  A day before that, the president arrived in Bahrain and received a commemorative sword from the king of that country.  As Bush unsheathed his weapon, he received a traditional greeting that could just as easily have been mistaken for an angry sword wielding mob.  As the Secret Service inched closer to the president, it became clear it was just a Bahrainian way of saying, hello, friend. 

Now, those events were both wonderfully uncomfortable, but they still have nothing on the reception President Bush got in Israel last week. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEIST:  Tucker, do you think President Bush is going to have a little sit-down meeting with his advanced team staff before the next trip after this series of events?  You have a little girl singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” handing me a rose.  He has to sit through that whole song.  Then you have some guy making me hold a falcon.  Was someone going to warn me about any of these?  That‘s what he has to be asking himself? 

CARLSON:  I like confident children but not too confident.  As for the falcon, I know alcohol is verboten in the Gulf.  But why do all those Sheiks always look so hung over?  They‘ve always got a 5:00 shadow and the heavy lids. 

GEIST:  Yes, yes, dark circles under the eyes as they show you their falcon farm.   

CARLSON:  Hitting the malt liquor really hard. 

GEIST:  I need a falcon farm, by the way. 

CARLSON:  Willie Geist, thank you. 

GEIST: All right, Tucker.  Chase that Britney story. 

CARLSON:  I‘m going to get it right now.  You can watch Willie every morning on “MORNING JOE.”  You should.  It is worth it.  You can also check out his ZeitGeist video blog at ZeitGeist.MSNBC.com. 

Quick programming not, be sure to tune in tomorrow night, 9:00 pm Eastern, on MSNBC for the Democratic debate in Nevada, moderated by Brian Williams and Tim Russert.

That does it for us.  Thanks for watching.  Up next, Chris.  Have a great night.

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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