updated 1/16/2008 12:51:15 PM ET 2008-01-16T17:51:15

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  In Las Vegas where the latest Democratic debate at the Cashman Center there is over.  I’m Keith Olbermann at MSNBC headquarters in New York, back to Las Vegas and my colleague Chris Matthews in a moment.  We’ll spend the next hour analyzing both the debate and the Republican primary in Michigan.  As you see, Senator Obama in those indescribably delicious moments after an event of such of length and such intensity.  As a two-hour debate now among just those three Democratic candidates ends.  Senator Clinton as she’s one of candidates after one of debates shaking hands with supporters and friends and members of the campaign in the front row and it is a great relief for all involved when one of these things simply comes to an end.  Obviously, a very substantial and substantive conversation tonight after a very little in the way of personal invective being described early on, despite perhaps efforts or recognitions that those issues were on the table.  None of those things came into play.  In addition to the discussion of what happened and what was said at the Democratic debate in Las Vegas, we’re also going to be spending a lot of time tonight talking about what happened far away from this scene in Michigan where NBC News has projected that when all the votes are in, former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, himself the son of a three-term governor of Wolverine State, will have won that primary, his first after the Iowa caucus victory for Governor Huckabee and the New Hampshire win from Senator McCain.  They will follow him in the Michigan polling based on our exit polls and the early returns, McCain second and Huckabee third.  We’ve even had a bona fide voting machine malfunction in Michigan where 20 counties were not able to initially report the uncommitted ballots in the Democratic unauthorized if you will primarily, due to a computer programming error.  All that in depths over the next hour.

First: Back to Las Vegas at Cashman Center and the Democrats.  And Chris Matthews and if anybody was looking for personal flair-ups, sorry, even on who would be the best president in dealing with counter-terror efforts at the opening bell, but Chris, if you wanted to see three Democrats getting urgent and animated about the economy and Iraq, this was your night.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL, HOST:  Well, Keith, it was kind of a business round table.  They were sitting at that round table all rather convivial, chummy even, of course with Brian and Tim.  And what I was struck by was Hillary Clinton’s dramatic power play tonight, make of it what you will, but it was a power play.  She’s skipped past Las Vegas where this event was held tonight, all the way to Denver, Colorado, and basically acted as if, and I think this was a power move, and a smart one perhaps, we can talk about it for the next two hours.  And behaved tonight and spoke tonight in addressing the problems she sees of the presidency today, George Bush’s shortcomings in terms of, well, pathetic behavior, cronyism, incompetence.  She laid it into him, she’s lace into him, she behaved as if she had won the Democratic nomination already.  That those two partners with her tonight were her adjutants, her allies already.  She has won it.  She was so strong tonight in skipping past the intramurals to the varsity.  She’s playing on the varsity team tonight.  That’s the way I saw it.  Keith?

OLBERMANN:  Don’t you think though that to some degree when the discussion was about Iraq and it was a campaign on campaign questioning there which I think we may want to see more of, candidate on candidate questioning seemed to go over very well.  But by taking that tone, to some degree, did she not take Barack Obama and John Edwards with her?  I mean, I think your point is well taken, that she seemed to be already acting as she would as certainly as the nominee if not the president, but by, as you said, talking to her partners there, was she not in fact elevating them to the point of partners, did she not take them with her up that slope?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it was almost like the scene in “West wing” where Jimmy Smiths recruits Alan Alda to be his secretary of state after beating in the election.  I thought that was dramatic.  They didn’t offered they rejoin to her as you pointed out, they offered modest, modest nuances of difference with her on the primary issue that they all began this campaign with, which is Hillary Clinton’s centrism on Iraq and of course Barack Obama and John Edwards radical opposition to the policy of Bush.  Now, they seem very hard to tell apart.  And again, I go back to this, her attack on the president was so dramatic, so powerful, referring to his pathetic effort to try to jawbone the prices down by the Middle East oil potentates made the president look small tonight.  She was running as his stronger successor I might put it tonight.  It was powerful stuff and I wonder if these guys were ready for it.  I don’t think they were to take her on tonight.  I thought it was a strong performance tonight.  It’s something else to watch.  The round table I think worked against the kind of debate we’re used to seeing when people are standing at lecterns, confronting each other with an adversarial stance.  Sitting around the table made it a bit chummy.  I’m not sure that’s what we want.

OLBERMANN:  But as we bring in Tim Russert, host of MEET THE PRESS, and participants in tonight’s debate and of course NBC News Washington bureau chief.  Tim, that format, it may have tamped down some of the sparks but the discussion about Iraq seemed to be as nuanced and in some respects as subtle and as detailed as any we may have heard about the subject by any group in a couple of years.  Do you think that was A, the case, and B, aided by the geographical setting of everybody at the table?

TIM RUSSERT, MEET THE PRESS, HOST:  I think you’re exactly right, Keith.  You know, these candidates make tactical decisions for a reason.  In some of the debates, they wanted to engage each other.  The last four days, we saw Senator Obama and Senator Clinton engaging each other, sometimes in bitter words.  Tonight, they wanted to ramp down considerably the discussion of race.  They thought it was hurting each of them.  But they did find, and were able coalesce on this issue of Iraq.  I thought the three Democratic candidates tonight have come to a simple conclusion, that because of the economy, and the situation we’re now finding ourselves in in terms of a recession, and this situation in Iraq, they believe that this nomination is priceless.  That the Democrat is going to win the election.  That’s what they’re thinking right now.  And I think that really did modulate their behavior in this debate.  On Iraq specifically, you heard all three of those candidates say, they are going to get all troops out of Iraq within a year of taking office other than those necessary to guard the embassy.  In September, I asked if they would make a pledge to withdraw all troops by the end of their first term.  None of them would say it.  And they tried to today’s say, well, what we were talking about is a small reserve force.  I thought the emphasis was much different tonight and we’re going to see I believe in this whole campaign a very pronounced difference on Iraq.  The Republicans say, stay and listen to General Petraeus and the Democrats say, get out most troops within a year.  That makes for a big difference on a big issue in a big campaign.

MATTHEWS:  The big issue of change that shift that tectonic shift by Barack Obama and by Edwards to accept the coalescing position with Hillary Clinton, I think concedes a major edge she’s had in this campaign.  In fact, from the beginning, Obama has been seen by the kids on the campus as the anti-war candidate.  If he accepts basically, parody with Hillary Clinton in terms of the schedule of getting our troops out, it seems to me he’s yielded his strongest ace in the hole, which is I’ll get you out.  Hillary is a centrist, that’s my thinking.  I think it’s going to bubble a bit but if this is the end of their over Iraq, it’s a big victory for Hillary because now she can trump everybody on economic performance during the 1990s, that’s the Clinton record that she can run on which is unassailable in terms of bouncing the budget, economic growth, stock performance, the value to dollar, everything she can now run on.  What has Obama gone to run on against her now?  I don’t see a trade here, I see a loss for Obama.  Keith?

OLBERMANN:  Tim, the—to that point, when she was asked—when she asked her question, when we tried that experiment, which seemed to work with great dividends, was that as good in your opinion a political thrust as anybody has tried certainly in the debating season to ask a fellow sitting senator who co-sponsor legislation that would essentially make sure that this president’s hands are tied in terms of tying us long-term into Iraq after his incumbency is over?

RUSSERT:  There is no other choice but to say yes, I’ll join with you.  Yes, very clever, very shrewd, I think very effective.  I thought Senator Edwards’ question trying to draw out Senator Obama and Senator Clinton on the contributions and such, Senator Obama wishes he had a more complete question he told us after the debate.  But Keith, I want to underscore, think these candidates understood how important tone is right now.  And they thought going into Nevada and going in to South Carolina and going into Super Tuesday, they can have differences on the issues, yucca mountain for example, Senator Clinton pointed, bankruptcy, Senator Obama pointed out, but the harsh rhetoric that had transpired over last four days they thought was detrimental to both of them and they made a conscious decision tonight to go out there and be civil to one another and really try to get over the issue of race and onto more substantive issues.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Tim Russert, for joining us.  I’m joined right now by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and NBC News political director, Chuck Todd.  Andrea, we’ve had something of a round table of ourselves here in the last couple minutes.  My consensus, I’ve thrown into the group was I think Hillary Clinton pulled a very successful, I’ll say this, power play tonight of really transporting herself further to the Denver Convention and acting as if she were the nominee of the party, taking on George Bush in a very personal way.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  The strategy was clearly to run against Bush and by doing that she becomes the presumptive leader among these people.  She was very forceful and I think very effective, not in a strident way when she talked about the urgency of the mortgage crisis.  Because she had detailed information, she had passion about it, but it wasn’t a grading thing.  It was a really strong forceful presentation.  I thought that was very successful.  And you can see what they think they were playing to in terms of the local Nevada audience.  They were dealing with Yucca Mountain.  Now that doesn’t mean anything to people around the country, but boy, it is a big deal here.   This is the email that they sent from their campaign within seconds of the debate being over which is that she was against Yucca Mountain and that John Edwards voted for it twice and voted to override Bill Clinton’s veto of storing nuclear waste here in Nevada.  A huge issue here, a big issue –

MATTHEWS:  I thought she’s multi-task here Chuck because she basically declares victory nationally but wages in the intramural fight out here in Nevada on the same time.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  I mean, that’s why I’m not completely buying your premise that she dominated this on some sort of bigger plan.  I think she came here with one plan and that was to win Nevada.  I think the only time she drew contrast with her opponents was on Nevada. And I think that that was - she had a Nevada plan and any idea she was thinking about skipping Nevada I think is out the window.

MATTHEWS:  No, I mean to say that she addressed herself to the country tonight and to Nevada as if she were the leader of the party.

TODD:  Well, I think that was because of this tone change.  I think the last 72 hours is what you got all of them decided to come in here and tone it down.  Now, I think they all had three different plans.  I think Obama was trying to look presidential.  He was trying to look like he could do the job.

MATTHEWS:  Did it work?

TODD:  You know, he fumbled around a little bit, but I do think the fact that it was a civil discussion plays to him to his favor.  He is always going to look like the bigger guy if it’s a civil conversation because that’s been his deal.  I think Clinton has to feel great about how she made Nevada points.  Don’t forget, this thing was seen in our NBC affiliate in Nevada and then Edwards was the hey, guys, I’m still relevant.  And by the way, Edwards, I thought he did a really good job tonight.  I thought he, we talked about the fierce urgency of facts right that Clinton brought out.  He was the heart, the gut candidate tonight.

MITCHELL:  And he got he wanted.  He got to be sitting down, the three of them.

TODD:  Absolutely.

MITCHELL:  Also, they spare the racism which –

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) Thank you.  Andrea and Chuck will be sticking with us throughout the next couple of hours.  Let’s go back to New York and to Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right, Chris, and joining me in here in New York, a great pleasure to be joined by NBC’s chief White House correspondent, David Gregory.  This really was, I think we expected to some degree, even though that truce had been declared and to what degree it was necessary after this dust up over race and on that degree that was a real issue and that was a media exaggeration, we expected it to really come in and to at some point be difficult, unpleasant and they would have none of it, the candidates would have none of it tonight.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  It’s really the case, how striking it is, the tonal change in the last few days that you saw Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton going after each other on the race issue over the past several days.  That was tamped down immediately.  Think back just days ago to that last debate and how much more passionate, how much more bitter and pointed it was on the issue who could bring real change.  You heard Hillary Clinton raising her voice more during that past debate.  This was more of a discussion between the three of them.  It got rather dense at times.  As Chris said, kind of a business round table, because the economy is now emerging as a major issue that they have to contend with.  I did think it was striking though, if Hillary Clinton can be successful (INAUDIBLE), she wants voters to be concentrating on this experience question with Barack Obama.  He may be exciting and make you feel good, but is it all sound and fury?  She brought up this issue of al Qaeda testing Gordon Brown in Great Britain, driving point that point home that you got to be ready on day one.  Who’s ready on day one?  That sort of what do you want to leave people thinking about as this process moves forward.

OLBERMANN:  That’s what she wants we will think about.  But even in that context, and some of us were highly critical of her and that was the tone of Brian’s question, which was does this not sound like the kind of politics in the milder form that you have so eloquently criticized that so many Democrats have criticized done by the Bush administration and by Republicans for—well, really since 9/11 itself.  Even her answer about that had been dialed back considerably.  And the question becomes, is this an issue of the three of them saying there are venues in which we can hit each over the head with big rubber mallets, and make as much of an impact as we can, as much sound as we can, and there are ones that we can’t?  Or is it something more substantial?  Is it listening to the idea that this was they’ve gone too far, that they were perhaps risking a schism in the Democratic Party in what is to them a crucial election?

GREGORY:  I think that’s right.  There was a desire here for peace in the house you know, of the Democratic Party, trying to refocus the energy against George W. Bush.  And in a subtle way, you have both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton particularly trying to reach out to those group who they haven’t pulled aside yet.  Barack Obama doing well with young people, with men.  Hillary Clinton capitalizing on support of women.  But trying to reach some crossover constituencies back over to their side focusing on the idea that Democrats, particularly with an economy in greater distress, are poised to do well to win this election.  They don’t want to turn aspects of their constituency off.  They need them and more like independent voters when they square off ultimately against the Republicans.

OLBERMANN:  There’s going to be only one standing in November and the other two have better be in support and they’re all better look clean and they all better not have let large cramps on the tables for the Republicans to throw up the one standing.  You mentioned the economy and if there’s one state in which the economy is crucial today and has been an issue today more than any other, right now it’s in Michigan.  The Michigan primary for the Democrats was essentially invalid.  It had been described by some quarters as a beauty contest, that there wasn’t really even that degree of pageantry to it.  The Republicans however were another matter all together.  And again, we don’t have the final vote in, but from very early on, this has been Mitt Romney’s race, a man whose father George was a three-term governor there and ran for the Senate from Michigan and ran for the presidency from Michigan, is projected by NBC News and this number has held up almost exactly those percentages since the last poll closed at 9:00 o’clock eastern time -- 39, 30, 16, Romney, McCain, Huckabee.  It’s been that way all the way through and on what may have been a low turnout day, relatively low turnout day, it’s been Romney’s from the beginning.  NBC’s Ron Allen is at the Romney campaign headquarters in Michigan and he joins us tonight.  Ron, good evening.

RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS – ROMNEY HQ:  Good evening, Keith.  Well, yes, they finally got the gold and there’s no talk tonight about silver medals which we were hearing after New Hampshire and Iowa, disappointing finishes for Mitt Romney.  But tonight, yes, there was a real party here, they’re packing up, but there was a real celebration, I think a real feeling of relief and a feeling that maybe this is the new beginning that this campaign was looking for.  This was a big one for them because it was on their home turf.  Romney really made the point that he was the native son here, that his father was governor as you pointed and that he was the one who could bring back the good times that the auto industry in particular has been so desperately looking for.  He ran as an outsider saying he could fix Washington, the Washington is broken and kept using that mantra.  We’ve been hearing so much during this campaign about change.  Here’s some what he had to say to his supporters not long ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Tonight is a victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism.  Now, tonight we are celebrating here in Michigan.  I’ve got to tell you that.  But guess what they’re doing in Washington?  They’re worrying.  Because they realize the lobbyists and the politicians realize that America now understands that Washington is broken and we’re going to do something about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN:  That’s what you’re going to be hearing from now on out.  When you hear the word Washington, it means John McCain, his chief rival here who came in second apparently.  Going on to South Carolina and here in Michigan, that’s what you’ve been hearing how John McCain is the past and how Mitt Romney is the future.  The fix it guy, the businessman, the guy who is the optimist who can fix the problem that Washington had shied away from.  So get ready, he’s going to finish, he says, this is a 50-state race, onto South Carolina.  Keith?

OLBERMANN:  Ron, before we go to McCain headquarters and Kelly O’Donnell, I got one question, a strategical one, given that this is the victory that Romney wanted, some say needed to stand the campaign, he made the decision not to do interviews tonight and I’m perplexed by it.  was there any explanation from the campaign why he did not take advantage of this opportunity for every dime it was worth?

ALLEN:  No, I don’t.  It’s late here tonight, I don’t know.  I think he’s going to be on THE TODAY SHOW tomorrow morning, maybe some of other programs as well.  Some of his surrogates are here, happy to talk to you about anything you want, Keith.  Believe me.  They’re very happy.  I think you know, one factor I think he’s pretty beat down and he’s pretty exhausted.  We’re getting on a plane tomorrow morning at about 7:00 am, 7:30 in the morning, flying down to South Carolina I think for a day or so.  His wife is flying out to Nevada.  He’s going to be out there the day after that.  It’s a busy schedule because again, there are two races coming up Saturday.  They think that hopefully they’ll do well in South Carolina.  They’re actually doing well there sometime ago and Nevada they hope to do well there as well.  But then, they look for some time off because again, they’re in this for a long haul, they keep saying.

OLBERMANN:  Ron Allen at Southfield, Michigan, Romney headquarters in Michigan, great thanks, Ron.  As we’ve said, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell is in South Carolina where the McCain campaign had already moved in anticipation of all that business, McCain in second place by our projections and by all the numbers that are in at 88 percent of the vote in Michigan.  Kelly, good evening.

KELLY O’DONNELL, NBC NEWS – MCCAIN HQ:  Good evening, Keith.  This is what a second place headquarters looks like after hours.  You can hear a pin drop.  It was hours ago that John McCain spoke to supporters and there was a big crowd here, but now we’re just left with some of the guys who were striking the set and calling it a night.  John McCain was enthusiastic even in defeat because his senior advisors really believe that voters will view the Romney win in Michigan as being a part of his long-time family connection to that state.  They believe that it will not really slow McCain’s momentum coming off that New Hampshire win.  Certainly a win would have been better but that’s how they’re gauging it now.  To give you a feel what it was like in the room when John McCain was here, let’s listen to what he had to say to his supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, my friends, thank you all.  Thank you all, my friends.  For a minute there in New Hampshire, I thought this campaign might be getting easier.  But you know what?  We’ve gotten pretty good at doing things the hard way too, and I think we’ve shown we don’t mind a fight.  We don’t mind a fight and we’re in it.  Now it’s your turn, South Carolina.  We’re going to fight for your votes.  We’re going to win this primary and the nomination of our party and we’re going to be proud of the way we do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL:  And so, John McCain got a head start by coming to South Carolina today so that he could hit the ground running here.  Over the next few days, they will really try to emphasize his national security credentials.  And part of the reason they believe that will be a selling, winning argument in this state is because so many people who live here have ties to the military—retired military, members of the National Guard, active duty and so forth.  So, they believe that his long history as someone who supports veterans concerns and has experience in these national security issues well work here.  John McCain is also feeling that what happened in Michigan just slowed him down a bit but it’s not really an impediment to going on to the February 5th date and what’s to come.  So, of course, they would have preferred a different outcome tonight, but the way they’re looking at it, it’s on to the next one here in South Carolina and we’ll be tracking along with him starting early in the morning as well.  Keith?

OLBERMANN:  Huckabee has Chuck Norris; Edwards have Mike the plumber (ph), John McCain has Joe Lieberman standing beside him as he discussed his second place in Michigan.  All right.  Kelly O’Donnell at Charleston, South Carolina at McCain headquarters, great thanks, Kelly.  When we return, the strategist from the big three Democratic candidates and more from Chris in Las Vegas.  You’re watching MSNBC’s coverage of the Democratic debates and the Michigan Republican primary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Senator Obama and I agree completely that neither race nor gender should be part of this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to MSNBC’s continuing coverage of the Michigan primary.  By the way, where must-win Mitt Romney won by 90 points to over John McCain and of course the Democratic debate was held right in this building here in Las Vegas earlier tonight.  Joe Trippi is senior advisor of the Edwards campaign; David Axelrod, a senior strategist for the Obama campaign and former secretary of transportation, Rodney Slater with the Clinton campaign.  I want to go to Secretary Slater who’s in Washington.  We had at you on before as a surrogate, let me ask you, what was this about Hillary Clinton’s strategy tonight?  It looked like a powerful power play to be redundant. She spoke as if she had won the nomination.  She addressed her comments and criticisms to the president himself.

RODNEY SLATER, CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISOR:  Well, she spoke with confidence because she spoke based on her own experience and the strengths that she brings, not only to the campaign but the strength and experience that she wants to bring to the Oval Office.  She did talk about some of the challenges that our country faces at this point in time.  What the president is doing, but what she would do as president.  And so I thought she handled those issues quite well.  She also mixed it up with the candidates at the table with her tonight.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Secretary, Mr. Secretary, she referred to the president’s pathetic efforts to try to get off right there, she referred to cronyism in the White House, in terms of handling Katrina, she referred to incompetence.  These are ad (INAUDIBLE) nuances by her against the president of the United States.  Just tell me what the strategy is behind that direct approach, going over the heads of the other candidates and saying I’m the leader of the Democratic Party and I’m taking on Bush.

SLATER:  She knows that the primaries are very, very important.  She was speaking to the citizens here tonight in the audience and also here in Nevada.  She’s got South Carolina coming up.  But she was also talking to the American people.  She knows that we have a campaign to win, first a primary and then on to the general election and she’s not taking anything for granted.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to David.  I felt she was acting like the nominee already.  What did you make of it?

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SR. STRATEGIST:  I don’t know if she was.  I think that would be way premature.  I thought that—I heard you speaking earlier about Iraq.  I thought the most interesting part of the night in many was the last segment in which the politics of fear came up and she invoked the specter of a terrorist attack and said you know, Gordon Brown had to deal with this, and the next president will and these terrorists were trained in northwest Pakistan.

MATTHEWS:  What’s wrong with that?

AXELROD:  Well, the fact of the matter is and I think Obama nailed it exactly the reason that there are terrorist camps in northwest Pakistan is because we got diverted to Iraq and he said and he’ s right.  We were clouded by the politics of fear and made a terrible choice to go into Iraq and that’s why we have to deal to terrorists in there (ph).

MATTHEWS:  Is he still running his campaign on the fact that Hillary Clinton authorized the war in Iraq?

AXELROD:  I think he’s doing his campaign on the theory that we have to come together as a country push back and be honest with the American people about the challenges that we face.  Certainly the judgment on Iraq is one element of it.  Chris, it’s not the entire element of it.  She did talk...

MATTHEWS:  But the kids on the campuses today that back your candidate and back Senator Edwards, to some extent, are very anti-Iraq war.  Is that far?

AXELROD:  I think a lot of people are very anti-Iraq war, if you look at the polls.  I would imagine most of the American people are.

JOE TRIPPI, SENIOR EDWARDS CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  But they’re also—they’re also against the politics of fear that—that you see that—the Bush administration using and that she tries to invoke at times. 

I think what happened tonight, though...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think she’s the same as the president in that regard? 

TRIPPI:  No, I think it just happens to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You said she tries to invoke the politics of fear, like the president. 

TRIPPI:  I think that you see that campaign tries to go that path at some time—point. 

What I think happened, tonight, though...

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Secretary, do you want to respond to that?  Because they...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  My friend Joe Trippi says that Senator Clinton is using the politics of fear. 

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER:  No, no, I would disagree.  I think she was speaking of a fact, something that occurred.  And she talked about...

TRIPPI:  No, no, that’s not what...

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER:  ... an enemy that is formidable, but she spoke of a fact, something that occurred, and she noticed that the prime minister was ready to deal with that, and that we have to be ready to deal on day one, if something happens to us. 

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER:  But I don’t think she was playing a fear card. 

TRIPPI:  The fact is, any of the three of us are committed to keeping this country safe, and that way she invoked it, it just wasn’t necessary. 

I think what happened tonight, though, was, what America found out was, there are three candidates running for president on the Democratic side, not two, that one candidate is the only one—John Edwards is the only one who hasn’t taken PAC money or special interest PAC money or money from Washington lobbyists, that—and is the one candidate who has a real plan to get us out of—get all combat troops out of Iraq, and whose fight for the middle class is personal. 

And that’s what I think is what really happened tonight. 

AXELROD:  Joe, that’s not true that he’s not the only candidate who hasn’t taken PAC and lobbyist money.  He even acknowledged that Obama hasn’t taken PAC and lobbyist money in this campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  ... though, in his career. 

AXELROD:  Oh, I see.  We were talking about this campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD:  Well, there was talk about the economy, though.  And I thought that was interesting, because I think Obama made an important point on why we have a housing crisis in this country and the lack of oversight that we saw from Washington in this administration, which is another reflection of special interest influence there. 

And Senator Clinton didn’t note that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is a strange conversation. 

Secretary Slater, you work for Patton Boggs, a major lobbying firm headed up by Tommy Boggs.  Are you a lobbyist as well?  I mean, I don’t understand these conversations about lobbyists. 

Mitt Romney’s father became the head of American Motors because of his success as a lobbyist for the American motor industry, the car industry.  Why is everybody disowning their lobbyist connections all of a sudden, when you guys have grown up around lobbyist? 

You, sir, Mr. Secretary, aren’t you a lobbyist for Patton Boggs & Blow? 

SLATER:  Well, I’m an attorney at Patton Boggs.  And we do some lobbying, but we’re a full-service law firm.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, yourself, are you a legislative person?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, why are we arguing about who is a lobbyist...

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER:  No, no, no, Chris.

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD:  It’s important, Chris. 

SLATER:  Let me just make—no, no, no, Chris, let me make a point. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

SLATER:  And that is, during the Clinton administration years ago, there were lobbyists around, but we still had the longest economic expansion in the nation’s history. 

We created 23 million new jobs.  You can deal in that environment with the right kind of vision, the right kind of fortitude.  And that’s what Senator Clinton will bring to bear as president of the United States, experience, energy.

TRIPPI:  Not anymore, my friend.  Not anymore, my friend.

SLATER:  Oh, yes, you can.

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  You can’t deal in that environment.

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER:  Those are issues to be dealt with.

AXELROD:  Mr. Secretary, there’s a reason why there was no oversight over the banks and financial institutions.  It has to do with $180 million in spending by lobbyists on campaign contributions.  That’s a big problem. If we don’t deal with that, we’re not getting solve these problems.

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER:  But we’re talking about the problems in this administration. 

But we’re talking about the problems in this administration. 

TRIPPI:  Right, we’re talking about the problems

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER:  And I’m talking about a candidate who wants to be president who will bring an openness, a transparency to the White House, and who will bring real leadership to the challenges we face as a nation. 

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD:  You must be endorsing Senator Obama. 

TRIPPI:  No, let’s talk about the fact that three of the four top..

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER:  No, I’m endorsing Senator Clinton. 

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  ... top contributors to Hillary Clinton—to Hillary Clinton are the very banks, like Citigroup, that are responsible for a lot of the subprime that is going on right now.

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER:  Let’s talk about the historic nature of the debate tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SLATER:  Chris, let’s talk about the historic nature of the debate tonight. 

We’re talking about a debate that occurred on the 79th anniversary of Dr. King’s birth.  And we’re talking about a woman.  We’re talking about an African-American.  We’re talking about Senator Edwards, with his background and experience. 

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER:  We’re talking about something quite historic.  And we’re talking and leaders who will take our nation forward. 

And we’re talking about, in Senator Clinton’s case...

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

SLATER:  ... someone who is ready to do the job on day one. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Secretary, I want to make this clear.  I didn’t mean to say you were a lobbyist.  I don’t know whether you are.  If you’re not a lobbyist, just tell me so, and I won’t allow that to lie in the air there. 

SLATER:  No, no, I have done some lobbying, but I’m also an attorney. 

And we have a full-service law firm. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I understand.

SLATER:  We handle any number of legal matters. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand.  I know how Patton—it’s a major firm.

SLATER:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, sir, former Secretary Rodney Slater.... 

SLATER:  Oh, it is.

MATTHEWS:  ... who is here for the Clinton administration. 

What’s wrong?  Oh, I accept that—I accept the applause for your own firm. 

Anyway, thank you, David Axelrod.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And thank you, Rodney Slater.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We will have much more from Las Vegas.

And up next, we will hear from the Romney campaign. 

Mitt Romney, of course, the big winner, won by nine points tonight in Michigan. 

You’re watching MSNBC’s coverage of the Democratic debate and the Michigan primary. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The tragedy in New York was a trauma to the country that it is going to take a long time for us to work out.

And Senator Clinton did good work in terms of helping the city recover.  But I have to say that when Senator Clinton uses the specter of a terrorist attack with a new prime minister during a campaign, I think that is part and parcel with what we have seen, the use of the fear of terrorism in scoring political points.  And I think that’s a mistake. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you with MSNBC’s continuing coverage of the Democratic debate and the Michigan Republican primary. 

The results in Michigan have been steady since the last poll closed at 9:00 Eastern time, Mitt Romney the projected winner.  That will be factually based in just a few moments.

The former Massachusetts governor, with 94 percent of the vote in, at 39 percent, to John McCain’s 30 percent, second-place positioning, after he had won at New Hampshire, and Mike Huckabee, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, in a rather distant third place at 16 percent.

In the virtually uncontested Michigan Democratic presidential primary, NBC News projects that Hillary Clinton will receive the most votes, but uncommitted received a significant portion of that vote.  Now, that’s not an authorized primary as such.  It doesn’t actually count on your primary scoreboard, if you’re indeed—well, you know the rest of that joke.

More now on why Mitt Romney won tonight in Michigan. 

NBC’s Norah O’Donnell is tracking our exit polling—Norah.

NORAH O’DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  All right, Keith.

And you’re right.  This was a big win for Mitt Romney.  And there are some really interesting reasons why the vote broke his way.  When you take a look inside the exit polls, you see that a major reason is that those considered traditional Republicans turned out in big numbers, while independents and Democrats were just not the factor that they had been for John McCain in New Hampshire or, quite frankly, what they were eight years ago in Michigan, when McCain beat George W. Bush.  So, that was a big deal.

And there was also a big favorite son factor.  Mitt Romney benefited from his roots in the state where he was born, where his father was governor and chairman of American Motors; 41 percent described his family ties to Michigan as at least somewhat important in their vote.  He won them by a huge margin, with more than 50 percent of the vote. 

Also in Michigan, values mattered.  And we can see that in tonight’s figures; 44 percent of Republicans in this primary felt the most important quality was to have a candidate who shared their values.  Those voters broke for Romney.  Mike Huckabee came in second, and John McCain a distant third. 

And there was also the question of religion.  Over half the voters said it was important that their candidate share their religious views.  And, here, practicing Mormon Mitt Romney picked up a third of the voters.  In fact, Mitt Romney got as many evangelical voters and former Baptist Minister Mike Huckabee. 

So, Romney’s ability to win his share of votes among that group was—was really critical to his victory tonight—Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Norah O’Donnell with the exit polls and the numbers inside the numbers. 

Kevin Madden is the national press secretary for the Romney campaign.  He has been good enough to join us from Romney’s Michigan victory party in Southfield.

It’s a little quiet for a party, but I imagine it is a party that continues internally. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Congratulations to you and your candidate, sir. 

Is it fair to say at this point...

KEVIN MADDEN, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY:  Thank you,

Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  ... you needed this one? 

MADDEN:  Well, we felt that this was an important part of our campaign if we were to go on and make the case that Governor Romney is the one candidate who can compete across all of these early primary states. 

You know, a very strong finish in Iowa and a very strong finish in New Hampshire, along with a win in Wyoming, and coupled with a win here in Michigan, shows that Governor Romney is the full-spectrum candidate in the Republican Party, and he’s the best one to unite us behind a message of reform, and someone who can bring together all of the coalitions of economic conservatives, social conservatives and national security conservatives and win in November. 

OLBERMANN:  Did those numbers that Norah O’Donnell just cited in the exit polls give you more material with which to work?  Was it to your advantage that was—not necessarily in terms of the outcome, but in terms of the pedigree of the vote, was it to your advantage to be able to say, hey, this was a Republican vote, choosing among Republicans; this was not decided, as it was in 2000, by a huge independent group? 

MADDEN:  I would agree with that, Keith. 

I think what it shows is that, among Republican voters who really care about having a candidate that can appeal across all of these important issues—

Republicans feel very strongly that we have to be the issue-based party in order to win in November.  We have to be a party that can speak very strongly on economic issues, that can be a party that can speak very strongly on issues related to strengthening the American family, and can be the party that can make the most compelling case that, on national security issues, that we have the strongest posture. 

Therefore, when we go against the Democrats, we can make a stronger case to the American—to the American people, based on appealing to Republicans, conservative and like-minded Democrats, that we’re the right party. 

And Governor Romney seems to have made the case, based on what Norah was talking about with the exit polls, that he’s the best candidate to bring together all those coalitions and that he’s the one that can unite Republicans behind a nominee like Mitt Romney, that he can unite them behind him in order to win in November. 

And that, I think, is a critical choice that Republicans are making right now.  They’re looking for a candidate who can bring everybody together.  And that seems to be Mitt Romney. 

And, also, I would make the point that a lot of these voters are making their decision based on who is going to lead us into the next 20 years.  This is not an election about the past 20 years.  And Governor Romney has been the one candidate—and we saw it here in Michigan—who talked about his specific vision for the economy, his specific vision for moving America forward. 

OLBERMANN:  Not to dismiss Wyoming, but, if we in fact dismiss Wyoming from the list of the—the major outcomes...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  ... so far in the Republican primary, three candidates with one victory apiece. 

Who has the momentum in this campaign?  Who has the—who is in front going into South Carolina? 

MADDEN:  Well, you know, I think the front-runner status doesn’t do you anything right now, because there’s still a long way to go, Keith, and we have to earn the nomination.  And there are many more contests to be held. 

But I think what I would point out, to the relative strength of Governor Romney’s candidacy, is the fact that, of all these Republicans that have voted so far in these early primary—all these—in these early primary contests, Governor Romney is the leading vote-getter.  He seems to be bringing together, if you look at the breakdown of Republicans that are voting, he’s bringing together folks on economic, social issues, as well as national security issues. 

So, I, of course—since Governor Romney won Wyoming, I, of course, am not going to dismiss the good Republican voters of Wyoming.  But I would also make the case that the other candidates seem to be limited in their geographic appeal, as well as their appeal on issues, whereas Governor Romney has had a first—he has had a first-place finish here, a first-place finish in Wyoming, and two very close and strong top-two finishes in the other early primary states, where the winners there have had fourth-place finishes in another state and third-place finishes in the other, and haven’t been able to broaden their appeal, whereas Governor Romney has. 

OLBERMANN:  You will see a lot in South Carolina about what that all means. 

Kevin Madden, the national press secretary for the Romney campaign, congratulations again.  And great thanks for your time tonight. 

MADDEN:  Thank you, Keith.  Great to be with you. 

OLBERMANN:  All right. 

Now, back here in the studios in New York with—with David Gregory. 

And, obviously, there were all sorts of national concerns in this and there were all sorts of Republican concerns and issues of who’s going to be the best electable candidate. 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  We even had this—this interesting score among evangelicals. 

But this was, as we phrased it before, the stupid economy, was it not? 

GREGORY:  It was.

And Mitt Romney, in the estimation of a lot of Republicans, played this exactly right.  Don’t forget, Michigan has actually experienced a recession last year, highest unemployment in the country.  They’re going through this, so it’s kind of a leading indicator what the rest of the campaign is going to be about.  That’s why they wanted this primary to be moved up on the calendar.

Mitt Romney was spending the—the latter part of his campaign saying, look, in the first 100 days, I’m going to have a special summit for the auto industry.  We’re going to focus on what we can do to restore these lost jobs. 

John McCain was saying, these jobs are never coming back.  A lot of Republicans there felt, look, we don’t want to be reminded of that.  We want somebody who is really going to focus on our issues.

So, kind of a narrow focus.  He might be accused of pandering to Michigan Republican voters, but it appeared to work, overriding, number-one issue down there. 

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory, one other question here about this. 

Does this—every time we see a point go up on the various scoreboards with somebody’s name, a win goes up.

GREGORY:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  And this crazy double-elimination tournament, or whatever it is we’re seeing, a McCain win, a Huckabee win, now a Romney win, plus Wyoming again. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  We’re going to hear from Wyoming about this.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  But Rudy Giuliani finished sixth? 

GREGORY:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  Rudy Giuliani was just—was competing with uncommitted? 

Does that now—no matter what happens in Florida, does that now look like a horrible mistake, because you’re not up on the scoreboard after three full races? 

GREGORY:  Well, let’s start with that. 

Chaos theory is what Rudy Giuliani wants. 

OLBERMANN:  Right. 

GREGORY:  He likes the fact that now we have got three main contests, three different winners.  That helps Rudy Giuliani, if he can convert on this strategy. 

There’s a lot of confusion.  There’s a lot of “Can he?” questions.  Can Mitt Romney win out of his native soil in Michigan?  Can he compete in the South?  Can John McCain win Republicans, not just independents?  Can Mike Huckabee do more than carry evangelical voters as he goes down into the South?  Can Fred Thompson do anything?  Can he actually launch a campaign in the South?  Can Rudy Giuliani make a February 5 strategy work? 

That’s where the Republicans are right now. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, don’t forget Mr. Thompson’s line in the sand in South Carolina. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  We will see exactly what that lines says.

David will be with us throughout the rest of our coverage here in the aftermath of the debate and the Michigan primary. 

My colleague Chris Matthews continues from Las Vegas, where the Democrats talked and talked tonight.

And with us in Washington, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, and, here in New York, Air America Radio’s Rachel Maddow. 

Let me start, Pat and Rachel, with this question to you.  It’s kind of a devil’s-advocate position for me.

But, Pat, you can run with this.

And, then, Rachel, please respond. 

We look at the Democratic field after a debate like that and say, OK, John Edwards made a good showing tonight.  Whether or not he’s ahead is not particularly germane to this one point.  He’s out there, looks like a good candidate.  Obama is out there, looks like a good candidate.  Hillary Clinton is out there, looks like a candidate. 

Many positionings of the Republicans say, all right, you have had three major primaries, Pat, three major—or two primaries and a caucus—and three different winners.  So, it’s chaos theory.  Why is it that those three Republicans don’t carry the same stature, seemingly, at least in that construct, that the three Democrats do? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, the three Democrats out there in Iowa, they got, together, about two-and-a-half times the number votes the Republicans got. 

And the Republicans, quite frankly, do not look like the dominant party this year.  There’s no doubt about it.  It’s much more exciting, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama.  And I would say the Democrats are favored, Keith, no question about it. 

But I do think this.  The Democrats had a horrible week with these attacks on one another over the race issue, drugs, et cetera.  And they all backed off.  Also, you noticed Edwards and Obama backed off from the pile-on in New Hampshire.  And Hillary resumed the regal queen role, as Chris Matthews has been talking.

So, I think, look, Hillary Rodham Clinton is the favorite for the nomination now and probably the favorite for the presidency, but I do think the Republicans have, at least in Romney, who can be a national candidate, a potential to win this—win this election. 

RACHEL MADDOW, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  You know, it’s funny.  A lot of Democrats, at least anecdotally and in the blog world and in talk radio, were really rooting for Romney to win in Michigan, because they wanted him to stay in the race. 

I think there’s a sense, particularly among activist-oriented Democrats, that Romney would be a real easy mark, that there’s—he doesn’t have much of a chance of getting to the general, and, if he did, he would be easy to pick off.

And, so, Democrats were hoping for Romney to stay in the race, because he’s got so much money.  And, as long as he’s in the race, you can be assured that there will be a lot of negative ads out there. 

When you add up all of the Republican candidates right now for president, they, combined, have less—they have something like $8 million less cash on hand than just Hillary Clinton has.  The Republicans can’t raise any money.  They can’t get anybody to turn out for their elections.  There’s so much more excitement on the Democratic side right now, it does look very lopsided heading into the general. 

BUCHANAN:  But, look, I agree with that.

But I will say this.  Obama has moved too far to the left.  He’s got vulnerabilities.  I mean, if the Republicans can’t beat him, that really ought to pack it in.  Hillary Rodham Clinton, we all know her problems.  And she is yesterday. 

Now, let’s take Romney and even Huckabee.  At least they are fresh.  They are new.  They are different.  Once you get into a campaign, it’s going to be—each party is going to walk in with about 42 percent, 43 percent of the vote.  And the battle is going to be for the rest of that. 

Now, I agree the Democrats are favored.  But, if the Republicans can’t beat Hillary Rodham Clinton, then, frankly, they deserve to be lose. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Bush will be gone, frankly.  After August, he’s gone.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  I think you’re—I think you’re misreading how Obama comes across.

I think the reason that Obama is surprising people is because, whatever his policies—list of policies are that he supports, he comes across as a really moderate guy.  And, even when we got into some of the nitty-gritty domestic policy stuff today, he doesn’t come across to people as a lefty.  He’s going to appeal to independents in the same way that John McCain does.  I don’t think Obama is vulnerable on the—from his left flank. 

BUCHANAN:  Rachel—but, look, he doesn’t come across as a lefty, Rachel, because, to you, he’s not a lefty.  He’s not a lefty to you, Rachel.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, let me get—Pat, let me...

BUCHANAN:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  All right.  Let me try to get between the two of you, which is rather easy, actually, politically. 

Rachel, I think you’re dead right about how the people on the Democratic side are probably most worried about McCain as an adversary, because he does have that appeal in the suburbs and among moderate, well, pro-choice people, even though he is pro-life.  He seems to have that sort of maverick’s edge. 

I do not know how Romney, however, is able to win in the South, Pat.  I mean, he can win in Romney country, if you will, Michigan.  But how does he go down South, as an LDS guy, as a man with really no evangelical connection?  How does he go into the Bible Belt, where the Republican seems to be based now?  How does he do it?

BUCHANAN:  OK, here’s how it goes, Chris. 

Look, Romney has won.  He gets a bye in South Carolina.  He’s going to win Nevada.  And you’re going to hear Nevada described...

MATTHEWS:  Who’s giving him the bye?  You gave it to him? 

BUCHANAN:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You gave it to him?  Who gave it to him?

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Look, just the way that—you know, just the way that Huckabee got a bye...

MATTHEWS:  Well, where do we get these byes?  Where is this NCAA thing going on out here, where you get byes?

BUCHANAN:  Chris, this is analysis.  Let me tell you what’s going to happen. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Fred Thompson...

MATTHEWS:  Analysis?  You’re giving him a bye because you know he can’t win in Bible country.  That’s your bye—that’s your bye situation. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Listen, Chris, you have not been—you were not right in New Hampshire.  Let me talk about South Carolina, all right? 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Fred Thompson has got to win.

MATTHEWS:  Nobody was, Pat.  And neither were you, buddy. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Fred Thompson has got to win in South Carolina, or he’s gone.

MATTHEWS: 

BUCHANAN:  If Huckabee loses South Carolina, I think Huckabee is in real trouble. 

This will be a McCain-Romney race. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BUCHANAN:  I think McCain doesn’t have to win in South Carolina, but I do think Huckabee and Thompson do. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  Is that mistaken? 

MATTHEWS:  No, I just think it’s interesting that the Republican Party apparently believes in rationing now...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... because you’re giving each candidate a victory. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I thought you guys were against rationing. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Rachel, this is an interesting approach to marketing.  Give each candidate a victory, and, at the end of it all, Rudy Giuliani stays in the race because he gets to win, maybe, Florida.

Pat, maybe he has even Steven with all four other guys.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Rudy’s got to win in Florida.  We all agree on that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  That’s why I say, Romney doesn’t have to win those.  He’s going to be out there on February 5 regardless. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BUCHANAN:  He’s already in the finals. 

MADDOW:  Each of these guys...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  ... could win, they could each be the head of the state Republican Party in these states tonight.

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Rachel, before you agree with Pat on something...

MADDOW:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... I never said that Hillary was regal tonight.  I said she was commanding.  I said she acted in a very strong way, as a power player.

BUCHANAN:  You said she was queenly, didn’t you?

MATTHEWS:  I did not—Pat, you have got that in your head. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I said she was a power player tonight. 

MADDOW:  Power player.

MATTHEWS:  She showed a commanding ability to go beyond Las Vegas, where she is now, and go right to Denver at the convention, and offer herself up as the main challenger to the Bush legacy. 

BUCHANAN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  She did it very effectively tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pat, I don’t need you as my translator, thank God. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Well, she—she—she returned to her role as running as the presidential candidate...

MADDOW:  That’s exactly—I...

BUCHANAN:  ... which she had before New Hampshire. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  She returned to it.

MADDOW:  Listen, if all...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But, in our republican form of government, that’s not called the queen. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, Rachel Maddow are staying with us. 

MADDOW:  All right. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  When Keith and I return, much more from Las Vegas. 

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here we are high above the spin room here out in Las Vegas.  We’re out here at the spin room. 

Welcome back to MSNBC’s live coverage of the Michigan primary and also the big Democratic debate that was held out here in Los Angeles (sic).

I’m here with my colleagues Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd. 

You know, let’s talk—let’s talk Michigan.  It’s a little more fun for a couple minutes now. 

It does seem like the Republican Party is in total chaos.  My phrases, by the way—you know how you would grow up and the Bible was Saint Paul on the road to Damascus?  I think it’s Damascus on the road to Saint Paul. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think it’s complete chaos until they get to their convention in Saint Paul right now. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, and,

in fact, what Romney has done is really dealt a blow to John McCain, because John McCain now goes into South Carolina, where there are these nasty mailers already, replicating what happened to him in 2000, going after him in South Carolina.

And, unless he can appeal to the military, the veterans in South Carolina, he’s got a lot of Christian fundamentals—fundamentalists and conservatives in South Carolina who are going to go after him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We’re in Vegas.  You have got to think betting odds.  I’m going to check the international betting odds late tonight and see what happens to them.  They must be completely screwed up.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  All over the map.

MATTHEWS:  Who could bet on anybody right now, except as a—as a—as a long shot? 

TODD:  By the way, I am just stunned, by the way, that we had both a primary and a debate on the same night.  What a fun political junkie night, so, just, you know, plug, plug, plug.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let’s talk about Republicans. 

If you had to figure out who was in good shape now, is Rudy still a contender, even though he hasn’t won anything or done anything yet? 

TODD:  Look, I think he’s still a contender.

But, if you were going the odds, all of a sudden, you have got to, like:  Well, shoot, maybe Mitt Romney can do this.  Maybe he can...

MITCHELL:  He’s got the money.

TODD:  Maybe he can limp away, because he’s the only one that can keep funding a primary campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Can anybody can anywhere near 50 percent of the delegates by the end of the season?

TODD:  Not right now, because...

MITCHELL:  No.

TODD:  ... there’s no incentive to get out. 

MITCHELL:  This thing is going to keep going and going.

MATTHEWS:  Can anybody get 40 percent of the delegates, the way it’s going now? 

MITCHELL:  I don’t think so.

TODD:  Here is one I’m waiting for …

MITCHELL:  Here you have South Carolina which could divide any of them.

TODD:  You realize the winner now could win South Carolina with less than 30 percent.

MATTTHEWS:  In my lifetime, Andrea and you and I are about the same—we have never seen a political party find itself unable to find a nominee.  That’s what is going on here.  They don’t have a nominee.  It’s a dramatic development.  None of the above is winning.

It’s unbelievable.  Anyway, thank you, Andrea, Chuck.

TODD:  We’re two months away from some new draft Republican campaign.

MATTHEWS:  I wonder if the door is not open to more candidates.

Andrea, Chuck, we’ll be right back with both of them.  And there I guess – Chris—Keith and I will be back with continuing coverage – I’m already here—of the Democratic debate tonight, which is still continuing here and of course the Michigan results which shows Mitt—must-win Mitt Romney winning by nine points over John McCain.  We’ll be right back.

OLBERMANN:  In Las Vegas tonight, three candidates.  Heading out of Michigan tonight, three winners in the three big contests so far in the Republican presidential nomination.

NBC News declares Mitt Romney is the projected winner in tonight’s Michigan primary.  Ninety-five percent of the actual voting is already in, confirming that projection.  John McCain will come in a somewhat distant second.  And Mike Huckabee, the winner at Iowa, will come in a very distant third.  Now that he’s won, Governor Romney planning to apparently fix Washington actually from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Is Washington, DC broken?

CROWD:  Yes!

ROMNEY:  Can it be fixed?

CROWD:  Yes!

ROMNEY:  Are we the team that’s going to get the job done?

CROWD:  Yes!

ROMNEY:  All right.  Let’s take this campaign to South Carolina and Nevada and Florida and all over the country and let’s take it all the way to the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator McCain’s concession speech meanwhile took him briefly south of the border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTILA CANDIDATE:  I congratulate Governor Romney on his victory tonight.  He and his campaign worked hard and effectively to make sure that Mexican—that Michigan voters welcomed their native son with their support.  Michigan voters were good to the native son and I understand that and support their decision.  You’ve won the round and earned your celebration tonight and I salute Governor Romney and his team and I offer my genuine good wishes for the night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Was that a slip or a reminder that Mitt Romney’s grandfather was born in Mexico?

At the same time, 1,700 miles away the three leading candidate for the Democratic nomination facing off in Las Vegas, what might have been the most polite prizefight that city has ever seen.  Senator Obama in the wake of an interview with the editorial board of a Reno newspaper tonight answering a question about his own pros and cons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My greatest strength I think is the ability to bring people together.  From different perspectives, to get them to recognize what they have in common and to move people in a different direction.

And as I indicated before, my greatest weakness I think is when it comes to—I’ll give you a very good example.  I asked my staff to never hand me paper until two seconds before I need it because I will lose it.  You know, and my desk in my office doesn’t look good.  I’ve got to have somebody around me keeping track of that stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The aptly described college application question.  If Senator Obama’s remarks struck you slightly as shades of George W. Bush circa 2000.  It seemed to have and struck Senator Clinton in the same fashion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I respect what Barack said about setting the vision, setting the tone, bringing people together, but I think you have to be able to manage and run the bureaucracy.  You’ve got to pick good people certainly but you have to hold them accountable every single day.  We’ve seen the results of a president who frankly failed at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Four minutes past midnight Eastern here on the East Coast and in most of Michigan, four minutes past 9:00 p.m. in Las Vegas as we continue our post debate, post primary coverage here on MSNBC.  I’m Keith Olbermann.

My colleague Chris Matthews is in Las Vegas tonight.  And in Washington for us tonight, “Newsweek’s” Howard Fineman and “The Washington Post’s” Jonathan Capehart.

Gentlemen, we will start with you.

Howard, it has been pointed out from almost the beginning of this event that it seemed like the Democrats dialed this back after this last week of sturm und drang.  Were they doing it because they had gone too as far or because the environment did not befit any kind of fighting?

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  They all behaved like they had been called into the principal’s office and they were testifying no, we weren’t fighting in the hall.

Well, a few things.  As Tim Russert said long ago, they know this nomination is worth winning and they don’t want to tarnish it and divide the party.  Also, the set-up of the debate with everybody close together at the table and I also think Obama—they all realized a nasty race discussion is not going to do them any good in the long run.

Obama might win some points early on, but in the long run he doesn’t want to win the nomination that way.  His whole candidacy is based on something larger than that.  And Hillary certainly doesn’t want to either.  So that’s why they were on such good behavior.

I should say by the way I thought John Edwards did very well tonight.  If things go according to the way this campaign has gone so far in both parties, Edwards is probably going to win Nevada.  That would only be fair given the way everything has gone so far.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan, it seemed as if the times that the Democrats got the most excited tonight were over the policy wonk issues, over the nuances about Iraq.  And I don’t mean to say excited in a negative sense, but over that and the economy.  There was a lot of—once the personal issues were buried after many minutes of trying, the substance seemed to shined through.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, “WASHINGTON POST”:  In this debate, what you got I would argue that the candidates hit the reset button.  I really feel like we’ve gone back to the Democratic debate and the tone and the demeanor as it was pre-October 30th.  That was when there was the MSNBC debate in Philadelphia where Senator Clinton began her slide with that illegal immigration question.  And what we’re seeing now with all this sort of “Kumbaya” that was going on around the table, the candidates now focusing on the issues.

If you noticed, every time Senator Clinton answered a question, it was, I have a plan for the economy.  I have a plan for Iraq.  I have a plan for mortgages.  They all did.  And it was great, personally I think it was great to see the candidates go back to talking about substance and issues and I agree with Tim and I agree with Howard that it seemed to me that they realized and figured out, you know, they’re going to become president of the United States.  It’s in their head.  It’s in the air.

FINEMAN:  Spoken like a true editorial page writer, by the way.

MATTHEWS:  Well, before “Kumbaya” becomes the theme here, I want to ask Howard why on god’s earth were the two candidates who are not doing so well right at this moment and it changes moment to moment, Barack Obama and John Edwards, why would they agree to a cease-fire, as you pointed out a status quo ante, Philadelphia, why would you accept going back to the period which Hillary owned this nomination, Howard Fineman?

FINEMAN:  Well, part of the problem is that if Obama and Edwards both do that, it redounds to Hillary’s benefit.  That’s what happened in New Hampshire.

MATTHEWS:  Right, right, bull’s-eye, 99 percent of the truth.  But why are they doing it?

FINEMAN:  They can’t both do it.  What they’d like to happen, Obama and Edwards would both like the other guy be the one attacking Hillary.  And because they both shied away from it tonight, Hillary could into those beautiful maneuvers she did, including getting Obama to co-sponsor a piece of legislation.  That was a brilliant little tactical maneuver.

Hillary won this on debating points tonight and tactical maneuvers.  What saves Obama is he’s such a likable guy.  That even when he’s admitting he can’t manage his way out of a paper back while running for the president of United States, everybody likes him.  I mean, it’s just remarkable.  It’s just amazing.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Jonathan.  It seems to me if they’re playing Alphonse and Gaston, neither one is going to go through the door.

CAPEHART:  Chris, I think it’s—they had no choice but to dial it back.  I think that the last 72 hours were a really dangerous period for the party and I would argue that even—just before Iowa is when things really got nasty.  And, you know, we’re used to Democrats forming their own circular firing squad and shooting until everyone is completely mutilated.

And it’s fantastic I think and it’s amazing to me that you can get these three people, three very strong personalities and individuals to come together and say, you know what?  Let’s just be nice.

FINEMAN:  They could have gone after them on a lot of other things besides race, but as I said, both Obama and Edwards reluctant to do it at the same time.

OLBERMANN:  But to that point, Howard, at the end of this debate with about 10 minutes to go, Brian Williams gave Barack Obama, opened the door for him to go after Hillary Clinton on an issue that has been hugely important and hugely felt personally by most Democrats, most people who have been critical of the administration, this whole question of reading the quote back to her before the vote in New Hampshire about the so-called Gordon Brown question, the implication several lengths removed, but the issue nonetheless that kind of milder Democratic version of the same language that was used by so many Republicans since 9/11 and particularly in the campaigns of 2004 and 2006.

Why when this issue of, this hint maybe Obama would not be as ready as Clinton would be to handle a sudden terrorist attack after the inaugural next January, why was Senator Obama’s response, I understand why his responses were controlled and statesmanlike on these personal issues, but why was he somewhat controlled?  Why didn’t he run right through that door that was opened for him?

FINEMAN:  He was sort of tiptoeing halfway through the door and he said boy, it’s almost the end of the debate, I can really hit her before it’s over and I think he wanted to do that, yet he had in mind Axelrod all the other guys saying don’t go after her too hard.  Be careful, you’re at close range.  You’ve had all these other problems.

I think that’s a big vulnerability that Clinton has.  She can be accused of trying to play the fear card and I think Obama was afraid to do it too frontally.  It’s hard to do it in those circumstances.  I’m sure you’re going to hear it on the campaign trail over the next few days.

OLBERMANN:  But, Jonathan, why if a candidate says they’re sitting next to you or a million miles away, if somebody says to you, my implication here that was in this statement that you would not be ready to deal with this but I would on such a vital issue, you have two options.  One is to refute that and refute it strongly and the other one is just to say never mind what you’re saying, this is not the way we should be doing business as Democrats.  Why didn’t Barack Obama take that opportunity when it was presented to him?

CAPEHART:  Hopefully somebody will be able to ask him that question tomorrow.  I think that, again, it’s about this is pre-October 30th.  Remember, before that debate everyone was saying Barack Obama has to finally start taking it to Hillary Clinton, he has to start finally addressing her directly, really digging in and attacking her.  And he didn’t do it.

And what we see and Howard’s response just now reminded me of that, that he decided to pull the punch.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman, Jonathan Capehart, thanks.  Stand by with us.  Let’s turn now to the other big political stories, the twins that we’re covering tonight.  That was of course the debate in Las Vegas among the Democrats.  Now for the Republicans, the Michigan primary.  Let’s turn now MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell who has some new numbers about our exit polling about the Democratic contest in Michigan.  And who the uncommitted voters there really wanted to vote for.  This is dicey material, Norah.  Walk us through it.

NORAH O’DONNELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  This is really material for political junkies.  As you know, there was this virtually uncontested Democratic primary in Michigan.  But there are some fascinating numbers there.  Hillary Clinton, of course, received the most votes.  We know that.  She was the only major candidate on the ballot.  And remember, this was a contest where no delegates were awarded.

In the last week, however, this is interesting, there was this big push for Democrats to cast a protest ballot for uncommitted.  So instead of Hillary Clinton, you could vote uncommitted.  A lot of different groups involving Congressman John Conyers Jr. began actually running radio commercials to urge on that uncommitted vote.  Others were actually campaigning door to door, believe it or not, on the phone, at rallies spread thing message and it did create this sizable uncommitted vote.

People went out in half a foot of snow to vote uncommitted today in the Democratic primary.  In fact, 40 percent of those who came out to vote cast ballots for uncommitted.  What’s interesting is that someone other than Hillary Clinton.

So we asked the question where might that vote have gone if all of those major Democratic candidates were on the ballot.  Take a look at this.  Our exit poll shows if they could have voted for a full slate of candidates, 73 percent, almost three quarters would have voted for Barack Obama followed by just 17 percent for John Edwards.  Another interesting thing we found, there was also a gender split in Michigan.  A repeat essentially of what we saw in New Hampshire.  Women picked Hillary Clinton over the uncommitted choice by a margin of 60 to 36 percent.  Even with no one opposing Hillary Clinton, remember, there was that uncommitted line, she was only able to get 50 percent of the male vote.

The rest chose up committed.

And we point out those numbers.  It is sort of insider baseball, Keith, because we have a lot more primaries to go and the gender split that exist since New Hampshire is very significant.  If Barack Obama wants to win in these future primaries, he’s going to have to improve his standing beyond younger women voters, because Hillary Clinton is winning those older women voters and that’s what will help her win these future primaries.

Keith?

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell with the exit polls.  Thanks, Norah.

I would like to bring David Gregory in on this, MSNBC’s White House correspondent.  He’s been with me in New York here throughout the evening.

Back to this issue of the uncommitted.  This protest uncommitted vote.  There’s one part that is easily understood.  The Clinton voters voted for Clinton.  The uncommitteds who came out who said they would vote for Clinton, amounting to three percent, that’s pretty explicable.  They had the chance to do so because Obama and Edwards were not on the ball lat.  Is the interpretation there that Obama would have been able to fair well against Hillary Clinton in a Michigan primary, a full fledged high octane Michigan primary?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  I think that’s the take away, you had a big uncommitted vote.  Hillary Clinton hadn’t closed the deal.  There was still room for people to make an alternative choice and our numbers indicate they would have broken sizably for Barack Obama.

It would have been interesting, too, in a state that had a wider cross section ethnically, racially than the states we’ve seen so far in Iowa and New Hampshire to test strength for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton respectably.  What Norah mentioned too, strength among male voters, very important for Barack Obama as well who is trying to demonstrate his own electability beyond the Democratic base, someone he was able to do to some extent in New Hampshire as an argument for some of these other primary voters yet to come, particularly on February 5.

OLBERMANN:  Chris, what—why are we interpreting what happened in Michigan for the Democrats?  I thought the agreement was nothing happened.  It was if that was a rain-out in the third inning.

MATTHEWS:  I know, and it’s what we’re going to be doing in Florida apparently.  These decisions by the Democratic National Committee have the power to keep these candidates out of these races but not to stop the voters from voting.  And obviously they’ve found their own odd ways of sending signals.

I was impressed by what Norah said about the men voting 50/50 on Hillary with no opposition, which raises that old question, how high is her ceiling politically if certain people just won’t even give her a break?  And if they won’t give her a break against nobody, that’s a pretty harsh judgment.

OLBERMANN:  I’m fascinated.  Is that—is that what happened or is it -

or is it a protest to the fact to some degree that the Michigan Democratic Party essentially took a voice away from all of its members there?

MATTHEWS:  I know I heard a lot of that conversation today with the Democrats on C-SPAN with the Democratic Party chair there.  A lot of people felt they were taken out of the action.  Again, it’s the whole problem of these staggered primaries.  People that vote like I’m from Pennsylvania, I have to tell you way back they never get involved in any of these fights.  They get to vote like April every year.  For years California was stuck in June.  A lot of state party chairs just said look, let’s get in the action, so they moved it up in violation of party rules.  It’s a lot like Robert Moses, by the way, the World’s Fair, remember that back in the ‘60s where he had a World’s Fair he wasn’t supposed to have, and everybody went and had the time of their life even though it wasn’t an official World’s Fair.  I loved it actually.

But the people always like it.  But when it’s declared unuseful as a delegate selecting nomination, they get offended.  Here’s my prediction.  Come the conventions in St. Paul by the Republicans and come the Democratic conventions in Denver, all these delegate also be validated.  In the end, nobody is going to say these states don’t have a say for the simple reason they want these states to feel part of the national campaign in the fall.  So Keith, it’s all nominal I think in the end.

OLBERMANN:  Belgian waffles and monorails not being discussed here.

David Gregory is still with us here in New York.  We’ll get back to him.

When Chris and I return after this break, we’re going to be hearing from Andrea Mitchell and political director Chuck Todd in Las Vegas and more from the Republican candidates tonight in the primary that did count.  You’re watching MSNBC’s continuing coverage of the Democratic debate and the Michigan Republican primary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It’s not only George Bush.  The Republican candidates running for the presidency are saying things that are very much in line with President Bush.  You know, Senator McCain said the other day that we might have troops there for a hundred years, Barack.  They have an entirely different view than we do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  President Bush is over in the gulf now, begging the Saudis and others to drop the price of oil.  How pathetic.  We should have an energy policy right now putting people to work in green collar jobs as a way to stave off the recession, moving us toward energy independence.  All of that and more is waiting for our next president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Much safer.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to MSNBC’s continuing coverage tonight.  We had two big events in Michigan where Mitt Romney won a handy victory of a nine point spread over McCain.  Forcing McCain a back a bit and Romney out into the front forces of the Republican Party.

I’m here in Las Vegas and there’s a lot going on this week here.  The

big debate anchored by our colleagues Brian and Tim is really about what is

happening here Saturday.  I want you to, Chuck, and I want you Andrew to talk

about the importance of these caucuses out here.  Caucuses are always

complicated.  They’re going to have them in casinos …

TODD:  The Bellagio.

MATTHEWS:  The croupiers, the pit bosses, whatever.

TODD:  Precinct Oceans 13.

MATTHEWS:  Julie Rizzo (ph) is coming out.  These characters.

TODD:  I still don’t believe people vote in Nevada.  The politics are tribal.  There’s all these groups that control everything.  I don’t know if voters are going to show up.  I had one cab driver say, yeah, I’m going to go vote and mark explained you’re going to have to stay there for a while.  And he goes, really?  And it was a total confusing thing.

MATTHEWWS:  I had a driver last night, we all talked to our drivers.  The guy said, I’m a huge Barack fan.  Are you going to vote?  No, I’m too busy.  It’s America, right?

MITCHELL:  And the bosses in the casinos have said, what are you mean these people are going to sitting there for an hour or two?  The workers have endorsed Barack Obama.  Their bosses are not going to let them get locked up in a room and caucus even at these casino locations.

TODD:  Here’s what is fun about Nevada.  It’s like our New Hampshire night, except we know it in advance.  Nobody knows who is going to win.  The Clinton people, they think they have a good organization out here Harry Reid.  The Obama people, Culinary, think they can win or lose in a blowout.

MATTHEWS:  Do the coolers get to vote, the guys they send out to tables to kill everybody’s votes.  If the coolers are all voting then you can go make some money, right?

TODD:  You got to follow those guys around.

MATTHEWS:  Keith, you know everything about sports.  Are there in fact coolers, guys that are paid to have people lose at the gaming tables?

OLBERMANN:  It’s not exactly sports.  It’s more about gambling.  If you

want to ask about the …

TODD:  Whoa, whoa, gaming out here.  You are not allowed to use the word gambling.  It’s gaming.

OLBERMANN:  That’s right, and there are no over unders either.  I had one question for both Andrea and Chuck that something each of them raised in the last hour about the Republicans.  These are just sort of muttered things as one of these segments ended and I thought might be the most fascinating thing about the Republicans all night.  Andrea, you threw out Mike Bloomberg’s name and chuck, you mentioned the need for a draft at some point.  Were you just muttering that under your breath or did you want to go further on that?

MATTHEWS:  Well, in fact there was a draft Bloomberg news conference today by Gerald Rapshune (ph) who worked for Jimmy Carter and Bailey (ph) from “National Journal.”  And you know, if there are not clear-cut nominees in either party, and if there is a sort of polarizing sense among the people who are leading the way in these parties, I think Mike Bloomberg really wants to run and there’s certainly a lot of pressure on him to run and God knows he’s got the money.

TODD:  And Keith, the other thing you have to remember, third party candidacies get off the ground when one of the two major parties has huge problems.  In ‘92, people forget Bill Clinton was not seen as an electable Democrat in about April or May and that’s when Ross Perot rose up.  If the Republicans are in this craziness and it looks like they can’t seem to rally around a nominee, the businessman Republican might say, maybe we will just throw our lot in with Bloomberg.  Because either we throw our lot in with him or we hope he gets in any way and he somehow siphons votes from the Democrats because he gets the liberal white wine elite intellectual folks to vote for him and maybe makes it a little easier for the Republican to win.

So there’s that.  And the other point you were pointing out, I think at some point, you know, Haley Barbour, JEB Bush, Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina one of these guys is going to look around at this field and say, wait a minute, why not me?

MATTHEWS:  You know this country’s problem?  We have a Bush running against a Clinton.  That’ll solve everything.

MITCHELL:  Sitting back with a book about change, it was on the “Today Show” was Newt Gingrich who wanted to run, thought that it had passed him by and there are a number of players like that in the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS:  The thing about Newt, he’s like Charles DeGaulle.  He waits for France to fall, be on its knees and beg him to come back.  America, please God, never be in that shape.

Andrea and Chuck ….

TODD:  Is the republican nomination worth having?  That may be why some

of these guys …

MATTHEWS:  To be the nominee of a major party, everything is a bet. 

You don’t know.  Thank you, Andrea and Chuck.  They will be staying with us.

In fact, I don’t thank you if they stay with you.  More from Las Vegas and from the Michigan primary.  Keith and I will return after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS HOST:  Do you believe this is a deliberate attempt to marginalize you as the black candidate?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  No.  As I said, I think if you look not just at this campaign but at my history, my belief is that race is a factor in our society.  But I think what happened in Iowa is a testimony to the fact that the American public is willing to judge people on the basis of who can best deliver the kinds of changes that they’re so looking for and that’s the kind of movement we want to build across the country and that I think is the legacy of Dr. King that we need to build on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you with MSNBC’s continuing coverage on a night of two huge political stories, the Democratic debate in Las Vegas and the mostly Republican primary in Michigan.  Let’s check in with Craig Crawford of MSNBC and cqpolitics.com, who is in Orlando, already in anticipation of I guess Florida.  Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, CQPOLITICS.COM:  Yeah, we’ve waiting for them to come down here to Florida to duke it out.  This could be a turning point before Super Tuesday or Tsunami Tuesday.

OLBERMANN:  When do we get a turning point?  All we have with the Republicans is, the analogy was used before that we’re giving tournament advances or whatever.  Maybe it’s that reality show term, indemnifications, is that where we are with the Republicans?

CRAWFORD:  Yeah, and who knows, the ultimate political junkies dream, Keith, the brokered convention.  We probably took a step toward that today with yet a third winner.  Maybe in South Carolina Saturday.  You get another one, who knows, Rudy Giuliani wins here in Florida.  You go into Super Tuesday, Tsunami Tuesday with as many as four front-runners.  I’m starting to look at the rest of the calendar now.  We’re looking down the road to Pennsylvania, into the spring maybe be the decisive state.  We just keep moving the bar.

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory remains with us here in New York.  We’ve talked about this and tried to figure out is Stratego the correct analogy here for the Republican game, is it something like the U.S. Open tennis tournament there some double elimination field hockey tournament somewhere?  What is it and how did it change relative to South Carolina based on the Mitt Romney victory in Michigan tonight?

GREGORY:  You can really start analyzing it in South Carolina.  In some ways, Huckabee – rather McCain benefits from the fact that Romney continues on and goes to South Carolina.  You see Huckabee and Romney fighting it out for those most conservative evangelical voters in the most northern part of South Carolina.  It is McCain trying to show up the military support with his strong stance on the surge in Iraq.  Does he benefit there?  He’s got more institutional support than before.

Enter Fred Thompson, who had a good debate down there, often thought to have some strength in the south, particularly South Carolina.  So Thompson, Huckabee and Romney all trying to go for those conservatives, more social conservatives.  There’s McCain who stands on the outside of that.  Strong national security credentials.  Does he benefit from that?

And then the outlier for all of that is then what Craig is talking about, Florida and February 5th and the Giuliani strategy.

OLBERMANN:  Focusing on South Carolina, Craig, to the point of the two guys that have nothing an d at least one of them is hoping for South Carolina, Fred Thompson.  Do Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani have any lower status than Romney and Huckabee and McCain if they haven’t won anything?  Are the wins—the wins are clearly not decisive, but how much do they give those guys a leg up over the two seeming contenders who don’t have anything yet?

CRAWFORD:  David is so right.  Thompson did have a good debate.  A lot of talk and buzz about him in South Carolina.  You would think as he likes to say, he talks funny like they do.  So maybe that will appeal there.  And Giuliani, I’ve been watching him campaign.  He spends all his time down here now.

And he’s got an argument he’s going to make against these guys that just might work and it’s on taxes.  He’s going to come after Romney for raising taxes in Massachusetts.  He’s going to come after McCain for voting against President Bush’s tax cuts.  He’s going to come after Huckabee on his tax increases in Arkansas.

He is already doing ads on this stuff.  Florida is receptive to that and that is the argument, that is the issue where Giuliani is going to try to make his comeback.  Everybody has gotten a comeback in this race.  McCain went to the hinterlands and came back.  Hillary did.  I think maybe, who knows, Giuliani might just get his comeback right here in Florida.

GREGORY:  One more thing, Keith.  The economy and George W. Bush, do these Republicans have to take a stand against this president on his economic policy at a time when the country is going in a negative direction, is facing a recession and this is going to be a big issue in the fall, how do they deal with it now?

OLBERMANN:  What did Kevin Madden say, Mitt Romney’s press secretary when we talked to him about an hour and a half ago.  But this is not about the last 20 years, it’s about the next 20 years.  It’s not just trying to separate yourself from the current Republican incumbent president, it’s trying to pretend he didn’t happen in terms of your campaign.

GREGORY:  And you’ve got Mitt Romney, who has got the PowerPoint presentation, a lot of economic background.  And Mike Huckabee, who is running more like an economic populist.  Those are the two visions down in South Carolina.

CRAWFORD:  Just one more Keith.  Before everybody gets carried away about this potential chaos in the Republican Party being bad for them, there’s a counterargument that it could even be good.  I mean, as they go through the spring and have an exciting race, it energizes their party faithful, Democrats may look pretty boring.  They may settle on a nominee and everyone gets tired of them.  So there’s always a possibility.  This isn’t so bad for Republicans to have a real competition for their nomination.

OLBERMANN:  Craig Crawford, already anticipating that dramatic brokered convention and whether or not ...

CRAWFORD:  I’ve always wanted the primaries to follow the golf tour. 

That’s how I think it should go.  It’s better weather wise.

OLBERMANN:  And to see whether or not William Jennings Bryan will throw his support to Woodrow Wilson or Champ Clark.  When we return, Pat Buchanan versus Rachel Maddow on the issues tonight on both the Republican Party in Michigan and the Democratic debate in Las Vegas.  Stay with us, please.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  There’s no doubt that when we have a nominee, we’re going to have a totally unified Democratic Party.  The issue for the voters here in Nevada, South Carolina, and all of the states to come is who is ready on day one to walk into that Oval Office, knowing the problems that are going to be there, waiting for our next president, a war to end in Iraq, a war to resolve in Afghanistan, an economy that I believe is slipping toward a recession.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Democrats’ debate tonight was largely politic and not in the sense of the politeness of the possibilities between all the candidates.  But there was one moment toward the end that might yet haunt Senator Clinton or possibly even Senator Obama.

Our own Brian Williams toward the end of the debate reminding viewers that she had commented on al Qaeda attacks in Britain right after the new prime minister, Mr. Brown, had taken office and then said “so let’s not forget you’re hiring a president not just to do what a candidate says he or she wants to do in an election, but you’re hiring a president to be there when the chips are down” putting Senator Clinton in a position to have to defend herself against some charges of fear mongering a la Karl Rove.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  What I said is what you quoted and I’m not going to characterize it, but it is the fact.  You know, the fact is that we face a very dangerous adversary and to forget that or brush it aside I think is a mistake.

OBAMA:  When Senator Clinton uses the specter of a terrorist attack with a new prime minister during a campaign, I think that is part and parcel with what we’ve seen, the use of the fear of terrorism.  In scoring political points and I think that’s a mistake.

CLINTON:  I think that there’s a difference between what President Bush has done, which has frankly used fear as a political weapon, and a recognition and a very calm and deliberate way, that yes, we have real enemies and we better be ready to meet them on day one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Chris Matthews continues to join us from Las Vegas and for the moment now we’re joined again by MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and Air America radio’s Rachel Maddow.  We’ve discussed this on camera and off, Rachel, that whole topic of what Senator Clinton said before the vote in New Hampshire is the bull in the china shop for me and the red flag to the bull and every other kind of bull we could mention.

Was that a finessed version of an already very finessed answer which she can remind people that, yes maybe I’m better prepared than anybody else while denying that that was anything in the same league, let alone the same ballpark as a Republican treatment of the Democrats will let you die and only the Republicans can save you in the event of terrorism?

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA:  She’s accepting the Republican Rovian Bush frame work the way you decide political questions is scaring people and see what happens and what they do when they’re afraid.  And she’s answering that question.  She’s carrying on that framing by putting that dynamic into the race.  Barack Obama is calling her on it.

I think that was the hottest moment of the entire debate today.  Just in terms of their being pure friction between the candidates on it.  And rightfully so.  She absolutely sounds like a republican when she goes down that line and says she’s doing it in a different way than George W. Bush.

But Obama, I think, is winning big points both stylistically and substantially by continuing to call her on that.  Even when he’s giving his own speech, and she’s not there in person, in his own speech, which I’ve seen him give in person, he’s going back to that again and again and saying you don’t want somebody that is going to politicize fear this way.

OLBERMANN:  Pat, is he doing it loudly enough?  Is he not, as we discussed earlier, somewhat pulling that punch, did he not pull his punch tonight?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think he did pull his punch and this doesn’t—I’m not over there—I think this is over there in left field to be honest.  I think Hillary Rodham Clinton, her position the way she stated tonight is very much her feet are planted in center field here in the sense that she’s saying look, you want to have somebody that’s ready and prepared because you can have an act of terrorism.  We know that, we live in a dangerous world.

I think the vast majority of Americans would nod in agreement with that.  I don’t see that as in the same league as playing a fear card right up there hours or days before an election at all.

MADDOW:  Pat, I did see one real difference between Obama and Edwards and Clinton in this debate.  And Democrats seem to like them all, they have a lot of similar policies, they’re all calling for change, OK.  But Hillary Clinton is saying that the thing that needs to be changed is Bush needs to be out of the White House and a Democrat needs to be back in there.  John Edwards is saying what needs to change is that the moneyed interests and the lobbyists need to be taken out of the political game.  Barack Obama is saying what needs to change is he needs to be president because he’s a personally unifying character.  They all want change but saying something different needs to be changed.

So Democrats are being asked whether they believe in party, in which case they should vote for Clinton, in power, in which case they should vote for Edwards, or whether they believe in personality, in which case they should vote for Obama.  Those are all very different appeals even if they are all saying the same thing.

If Clinton’s position there is the centrist moderate or maybe the ring right wing position or even the right wing position among those, I don’t think it stands her well in the general election.  I don’t think it stands her well in winning the Democratic primary.

BUCHANAN:  I think what she did is he moved very much into an aggressive mode up there in New Hampshire because she was under duress and in real danger of losing this nomination.

You clearly saw tonight a woman in command, a candidate in command and she moved back in the presidential mode going after George W. Bush, because that’s very effective with all Democrats.

And, again, it is the—and you saw Edwards and Obama basically fall into line as her adjutants and they sat there in a chummy setting.  And I think in that sense she won it.

MADDOW:  I don’t think they fell into line, though, Pat.  Don’t you think that Edwards in particular landed some blows against her with the lobbyist stuff, the special interest stuff.  He’s coming after her with populist punches here that I think would resonate with you.

BUCHANAN:  I agree with some of the things he’s saying but he’s been

doing that again and again and lost ground between Iowa and New Hampshire.  I

think he’s going to be in a burial ground in South Carolina.  He is not going

to win this thing.  The opposition is Obama to Hillary and I think—you got

to say because she did not lose it tonight, she won it.  They didn’t score any

points I saw.  Look, you can’t let her …

MADDOW:  She’s positioning herself as the general election candidate, but that may not be the best place to be at for the primaries.

MATTHEWS:  That’s the question I want to put to both of you in order, first of all, Rachel and Pat.  If you had to choose—if you think the American people—ask yourself, what do the American people want come November?  Do they want a candidate of deliverance, of substantial change in terms of all the ruts we’re in, Iraq, going to war with Iran, the difficulty of illegal immigration and solving that problem, the problem of not really having a climate change program, the problem of entitlements, all the things we’re stuck in a rut, do they want deliverance from that rut or want something safe in the middle of the road, Rachel, first, what do they want?

MADDOW:  The fact that you’re hearing change as the articulated message on both sides of the partisan aisle mean that people don’t want somebody who is good at running the existing system, they want somebody who is going to break the system.  Now who’s the best candidate at making the case they’re the guy or gal to do that?  I’m not sure we’ve seen that yet.  But I don’t think they want somebody that’s just good at running the same old system.

BUCHANAN:  Chris, I think they do want …

MATTHEWS:  You think they want the middle of the road?

BUCHANAN:  I think they want freshness, they want to be rid of

Washington.  They don’t like what they see of Pelosi or Reid, Bush or Cheney,

they want someone outside of Washington.  Hillary’s problem is she is a

centrist in the Democratic Party, but as you talked tonight, Chris, 50 percent

of the men voted for uncommitted for heaven’s sake.  With Obama, I think

Clinton’s senior was right, that is a roll of the dice.  I’m telling you, you

put that guy in a general election against Republicans and they will tear him

to pieces.  And so I do think …

MADDOW:  For a theoretical Republican, that’s true.  But which of the Republican candidates would tear Obama to pieces?  It looks like Godzilla and Bambi at this point and the Republicans are Bambi.  They don’t have a candidate, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  What you would do is …

MATTHEWS:  Pat …

BUCHANAN:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  You’ve lived in Washington your whole life.  Your whole life.  You’ve never chosen to leave.  And yet you seem to be infatuated, enamored with these mythical candidate whose come from outside Washington.  We’ve been electing candidates from outside Washington since Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, everybody comes from outside Washington.  Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush.  Why is that somehow seen as the man on the white horse, that this salvation from the outskirts of the city, where do you get this romance from?

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, I’m an analyst here.  You listed everyone from

outside Washington who won.  If you want …

MATTHEWS:  Why do you believe in this outside guy?

BUCHANAN:  The one guy I do believe in was Ronald Reagan from outside and it worked.  He won the Cold War.  But this year, an outside Washington candidate has a far better chance than a Washington insider, Chris.  You’ve been in politics long enough to know that yourself.

MADDOW:  I think a Washington outsider at this point, it could be Ronald Reagan, it could be George Bush, it could be Bill Clinton, anybody.  It could be anybody from history.

Chris is right in picking those guys out.  The question is not whether or not somebody has been in Washington but whether they’re going to break Washington when they get there.  How radical they are.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks …

MATTHEWS:  And the reason I’m driven to this—When I saw Mitt Romney out there in Michigan tonight, railing against Washington like he’s some Festus Haggis (ph) frontiersman, I thought this is the most establishment guy in the world railing against the establishmentarianism.

MADDOW:  You voted for my dad.

BUCHANAN:  The country doesn’t know that, Chris.  To the country, he’s going to be brand-new.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

OLBERMANN:  And as we close out this segment.  I get the last word out of these four people.  How about that?

MATTHEWS:  Good work.

OLBERMANN:  If you’re going to think that a theoretical Republican is going to cut through Barack Obama, a theoretical Democrat is going to make sure everybody knows that Mitt Romney calling for change and being an outsider is a second generation politician and his father and mother both ran for the Senate.  Thank you, Rachel Maddow, thank you Pat Buchanan.

MATTHEWS:  His father was a lobbyist.

OLBERMANN:  That’s right.  That again.

Mitt Romney’s victory tonight means there’s really no true Republican front runner.  When we return, we’ll look at how that race is going, where it might be headed and the one on the Democratic side where they may not be a clear front-runner at this moment either.  This is MSNBC’s coverage of the Democratic debate and the Michigan Republican primary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to MSNBC’s continuing coverage of what’s happening today.  I’m here in Las Vegas with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd.  We’ll do the Las Vegas debate tonight going toward the Las Vegas—I mean the Denver—I’m sorry, the Nevada, it’s getting late, the Nevada caucuses this Friday, this Saturday actually for the Democrats.  Now how does it stand right now?

MITCHELL:  Barack Obama has huge advantages with labor, but Hillary Clinton did herself a whole lot of good tonight.  She did local issues, she did national issues, she took on George Bush, and she talked about foreclosures.

MATTHEWS:  Chuck?

TODD:  I agree.  I think we’ve found out that Hillary Clinton is

contesting Nevada.  She can’t really contest South Carolina unless she …

MATTHEWS:  With the Yucca Mountain.

TODD:  She’s going to get the local headline and that matters and she’s

going to have proven that …

MATTHEWS:  She had a big night.

TODD:  Obama, too much on nukes.  He was way pro nuke.

MITCHELL:  And John Edwards is still a player.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s talk about Michigan and the Republicans.  I’m just going down a list.  Romney won tonight by nine points, he really beat John McCain coming off his big victory last week in New Hampshire.  If you look at the remaining five Republican candidates who are really out there campaigning, Mitt Romney, who won tonight, John McCain, who won last week, Huckabee, who won the week before that, Thompson who may well win at the end of this week, and Giuliani who promises to win in a couple of weeks, I hear, who’s ahead?

MITCHELL:  John McCain, sadly for him, has only won New Hampshire and he’s not yet proven he can be a national candidate with conservative Republicans in this party.

TODD:  He’s in a must-win in South Carolina.  If he doesn’t win in

South Carolina, and all the old baggage of this guy can’t win over Republicans

comes back.  Mitt Romney is ahead in delegates, he is the only one that has got

money left.  He could be the last man …

MATTHEWS:  What about the Rudy Giuliani theory is he merely has to wait.  This rope a dope thing.  Could it work?

TODD:  It’s already not worked in this respect.  He’s already lost his national poll lead which means all those leads he had in February have all evaporated.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s go back to Keith Olbermann in New York.

OLBERMANN:  All right, Chris.  Thank you to Andrea Mitchell and to Chuck Todd and David Gregory who has been with me here in New York.

One final Vegas note, the fourth place finisher, among the Republicans in Michigan, Ron Paul, his supporters are going to sponsor a fight, the Roy Jones-Felix Trinidad fight Saturday.  Same time as the Nevada caucuses.

There you go.  Chris, we’ll see you tomorrow night on HARDBALL.  I’ll see you on COUNTDOWN.  For Chris Matthews in Las Vegas, I’m Keith Olbermann in MSNBC headquarters.  Thanks for being with you.  Good night.

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