updated 1/25/2008 11:33:41 AM ET 2008-01-25T16:33:41

Guests: Arianna Huffington, Howard Fineman, Chuck Todd

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

And: The campaign continues to spiral downward: Bill Clinton‘s former Labor secretary slams him on a blog for slamming Senator Obama.  Senator Obama‘s campaign helpfully sends the link to the blog to reporters.

And on the radio before the South Carolina primary—all the hits, all the time, all the same.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (voice over):  The Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years.

VOICE OVER:  Really?  Aren‘t those the ideas that got us into the economic mess we‘re in today?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Clinton campaign today pulls that commercial just as the Obama campaign introduces its own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OVER:  It‘s what‘s wrong with politics today.  Hillary Clinton will say anything to get elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And then they pull that one.  One person‘s campaigning is another person‘s bickering is another person‘s truth squad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  And what you termed as bickering, from my perspective is simply making sure that people making false assertions about our record, and we answer them, period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe: On South Carolina and new national polling showing Obama still second, but now within single digits.  Arianna Huffington: On election polling showing Clinton would beat McCain but Obama would lose to him by a point.  Craig Crawford: On where the rancor and the name calling might force the seemingly impossible - a Clinton-Obama ticket. 

And then there will be four: Denis Kucinich will be dropping out he says, tomorrow.

Republican rancor:  No less.  Just less of a surprise.  An hour out from their last debate here on MSNBC before the critical hurdle of Florida hits.  Giuliani now third there in two polls, albeit with two polls with huge Keith numbers.

Back in the democracy in peril ranch:  FISA fight fosters  filibusters?

And: The homeless vets denier calls David Letterman dishonest—and gets smoked by his own guest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, TV HOST:  You Colonel are going to drag those people—drag them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE GUEST:  I‘m going do it against their will.

O‘REILLY:  Right now - into a rehab facility.  Are you willing to do that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE GUEST:  No. no -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

O‘REILLY (voice over):  I cannot be serious.

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening.  This is Thursday, January 24th, 285 days until the 2008 presidential election.  Nobody in either campaign actually said this today, but if you listen carefully, you can almost hear it.  The settlement of the radio problem, which is now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all campaigners may find peace.  This morning, I had another talk with the other campaign chairman.  And here‘s the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine.  Some of you perhaps have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you.  I believe it is peace for our time.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN:  The great truce of South Carolina.  The Obama campaign is dropping a new radio commercial blasting Clinton right after the Clinton campaign dropped a new radio commercial blasting Obama.  Senator Clinton‘s ad replaced by one featuring the former president, more on that on the moment.  She was back on the campaign trail in South Carolina this morning, two days before the polls opened in that state‘s Democratic primary.  Mrs. Clinton‘s speech devoted mostly at the economy, her tax and largely at the current president, Mr. Bush.  But all day yesterday, her campaign is airing the radio ad in South Carolina to attack her rival, Senator Obama for his recent comments about the Republican Party.  Senator Obama spokesman dismissing that ad as, quote, “Negative, dishonest attack” and by this morning, the Obama campaign was running its own attack ad in response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m Barack Obama, a candidate for president and I approve this message.

VOICE OVER:  It‘s what‘s wrong with politics today.  Hillary Clinton will say anything to get elected.  Now she‘s making false attacks on Barack Obama.  The “Washington Post” says, Clinton isn‘t telling the truth.  Obama did not say that he liked the ideas of Republicans.  In fact, Obama‘s the led a fight to raise the minimum wage, closed corporate tax loopholes and cut taxes for the middle class.  But it was Hillary Clinton in an interview with Tom Brokaw who quote, “Paid tribute to Ronald Reagan‘s economic and foreign policy.”  She championed NAFTA, even though it has cost South Carolina thousands of jobs.  And worst of all, it was Hillary Clinton who voted for George Bush‘s war in Iraq.  Hillary Clinton, she‘ll say anything and change nothing.  It‘s time to turn the page.  Paid for by Obama for America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  At a news conference this morning, Senator Obama defending his attack ad saying that far from being an attack ad, it is in fact, the defense ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  One principle that I think, you know, we want to firmly establish is—if people are making false assertions about my record, we will answer them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  By tomorrow morning, there will be another Clinton ad, to which Senator Obama might want to answer, having announced its plans to pull one radio commercial; the Clinton campaign launching another in which former President Clinton makes a direct appeal to African-American voters.  This morning, Senator Obama was addressing how he feels about Mr. Clinton‘s presence on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Let me sort of dispose of the whole issue of President Clinton.  I have said this repeatedly, that he has entirely justified in wanting to promote his wife‘s candidacy.  I have no problem with that whatsoever.  Now if—he can be as vigorous an advocate on behalf of her as he would like.  The only thing I have been concerned about is when he makes misstatements about my records.  That‘s what I‘m seeking to correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama also seeking to correct the implications outline in Senator Clinton‘s memo of suggestive talking points for her surrogates today that the Illinois Democrat had abandoned his promise of a positive campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  My tone has not changed with respect to where I want to take the country.  But I‘ve always asserted that, you know, we‘re not going allow my record to be distorted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Finally: Senator Obama dismissing the suggestion that the bitterness of the primary will leave the Democrats damaged for the general election fights still to come.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I am confident that the entire Democratic Party will rally around the eventual nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to bring in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent from “Newsweek” magazine, joining us tonight from Charleston, South Carolina.  Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Before we address the impact of all of the campaigning and what you might describe as negative campaigning.  Let me show you the latest MSNBC/Mason-Dixon poll out tonight on the race in South Carolina.  Senator Obama at 38 percent.  Senator Clinton at 30 percent.  Senator Edwards at 19 percent.  The Keith number, the undecideds plus the margin of error, pretty big at 18 percent.  Broken down racially - white voters - Obama, 10 percent; Clinton, 36 percent; Edwards 40 percent and the variable there, 19 percent.  Senator Obama drop 10 points among white voters in the past week since the previous poll was taken.  In light of those numbers, is it hard to argue that the negative campaigning, especially the stuff that is touched on or hinted at or danced around the issue of race, is it to tough to argue it has not had an effect on the contest in South Carolina?

WOLFFE:  It is hard to argue and of course, this is precisely what Obama always wanted to avoid.  But you can‘t put this back in the box once it‘s escaped.  And just overall in those numbers, you know, there‘s a lot of expectations game playing that‘s going on.  An eight-point race is a pretty close race when you look at the margin of error.  So, anyone building this up as a blowout or sure-fire win for Obama needs to take a deep breath and look at those numbers a bit more closely.

OLBERMANN:  The South Carolina congressman, Jim Clyburn, house whip, neutral figure in the primary, if not something of a referee stepped back in again today.  He told the “Huffington Post” that the former president‘s campaign tactics might be doing long-term damage to his own reputation, never his wife‘s.  But if anything the president‘s profile in this campaign is being raised even higher today with the latest radio ad and with more campaigning.  Is there a perception that there‘s something amiss here in the Clinton campaign?

WOLFFE:  Well, I‘ve heard those comments from other folks in the party.  A lot of them don‘t want to have their name out in the public.  Clyburn is actually pretty reticent about most of his comments on this race and he has not formally taken a position.  But those comments are pretty widespread.  The fears that this tactic may be effective in the short term but deeply damaging to the Democratic Party in the long term.  And also damaging, I think the concern is to the Clinton brand—former President Clinton.  And I was speaking to some people today who said, listen, we like what he‘s done on the Clinton Global Initiative.  We like how he‘s a unifying voice for the party.  But everything he‘s done in this campaign, while understandable, is actually damaging to his stature as a sort of an elder statesman of the party.

OLBERMANN:  This was supposed to be the Democratic primary season that inspired the party, united the party, to take back the White House, to bring voters to the process who might have been turned off by politics as usual in the extreme as we‘ve seen over the last eight years.  It might bring in young voters for whom apathy has been the norm.  How do Democrats get that back?  Talk of confidence that the party‘s going to rally around the nominee eventually.  Will that be enough or is there real damage inflict?

WOLFFE:  You know, I would love to say that everything is going be hunky dory at the end of this.  But you look at the kind of passion on both sides and I‘d just spend the day with Obama here in South Carolina.  The enthusiasm for him among African-Americans in South Carolina is—is just incredible.  And it‘s hard to see how those people are going to get that excited if he loses here.  No matter who the nominee is.  On the other side, you can see the same among especially women voters, also Latinos in Nevada.  This is the kind of identity politics that is going to be very hard to patch up once this is over.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, Richard, Dennis Kucinich told the Cleveland “Plain Dealer” editorial board this afternoon that he plans to pull out of the race tomorrow.  Is there an explanation for the timing?  Was there a final straw?  And while his supporters were not voluminous, they were intense.  Where do they go?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think he‘s already pledged the support pretty much for Obama as the anti-war candidate, the guy who opposed the war from the get-go.  But look, it‘s always about money.  People always pull out because they run out of money.  I don‘t know the exact reasons for Kucinich‘s decision right now.  But I‘d be surprised if he didn‘t run out of money actually several weeks ago or months ago.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek” in Charleston tonight.  Of course, great thanks, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If you think things might be bad between Senators Clinton and Obama now, try imagining them on the same ticket.  Then, try imagining things so fractious that the only way out for the Democrats is having them on the same ticket.  This construction posited today, by our own Craig Crawford, also of course a columnist for CQPolitics.com.  Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hello there.  Nothing like an intervention.  That‘s what we need here.  An intervention.

OLBERMANN:  That is the parallel here.  This is Clinton for president, Obama for vice president.  How on earth would we get from where we are today to there?

CRAWFORD:  Or the other way around.  We shouldn‘t discount that possibility.  Obama, Clinton.  I‘m just arguing that they are getting so bitter, they‘re going to be forced to run together to keep the party‘s chances alive for the White House if they‘re not careful, whether they like it or not.  You know, the history in politics, civilians have a hard time seeing this, but politicians overcome these things in the end if political expediency requires it.  It‘s one reason we saw John Kennedy pick Lyndon Johnson for a running mate even though in their primary campaign, there were charges of Nazism, bribery, addiction to drugs, all kind of things going back and forth and they overcame it.

OLBERMANN:  Right. Until H. W. Bush of course with his famous voodoo economics so wind up being Ronald Reagan‘s vice president.

CRAWFORD:  Yes and George Bush agreed to switch his position on abortion to the pro-life in order to join the ticket.  And that‘s another about Obama and Clinton.  They are together on the issues.  There‘s no difference between—there‘s no daylight between them on the issues - on the big issues really and it‘s just this personal stuff.

OLBERMANN:  But would there be something that would compel Senator Obama to say, yes, he‘s a young man, certainly in terms of politics, he‘s a very young man.  Might both he and a bruised ego be better served to wait eight years or four years for the Democrats to lose in November?

CRAWFORD:  Yes, that‘s a possibility.  My experience in watching for these politicians, though, if there‘s a way to keep—keep the momentum going, keep the crowds coming, they tend to like to do that.  That‘s one reason Lyndon Johnson, even though he was one of the most powerful people on the Capitol Hill, he said, you know, boys, once I show you the green valleys of the White House, you can‘t pass it up.  I mean, anything that even gets you close - that close to the presidency is very tempting.  I think it is maybe a long shot but I‘m just arguing that Democrats might really have no choice down the road if these two cannot patch it up.  I don‘t think even Dr. Phil can fix this one.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, well, rationale on the other way, with an Obama presidency and Hillary Clinton running for vice president, A, would he need her as much as she would appear to need him?  And why would she go along with being vice president?

CRAWFORD:  He certainly seems to think not.  He said in an interview with Christian Broadcast Network that his voters would not go to her, but hers would come to him.  So, he seems to be arguing that he would not need her, has a lot of confidence in his appeal there.  And I—I do think, though, that the Clintons—there‘s one thing, watching the Clintons, and just for a moment, assuming that she got the nomination, as I watched them, Keith, running the risk—as Richard Wolffe pointed out—of losing a lot of the black vote in November, with running such a tough campaign against Obama, it makes me think in the back of their minds they are considering that option.  Because I think the way this is going, and if it goes much further, they reach a point of no return where the only way to keep those voters in the Democratic camp in November would be to pick Obama.  So, I really thought they would pull back at this point to tell you the truth.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

CRAWFORD:  Now that I see them keep pushing, keep pushing, you know, harassing him and aggravating that base of voters in the party, makes me think that they know that option is down the road that quick fix to this problem.

OLBERMANN:  Well, and one thing, just to be fair before we go.  Obama

did said - because the quote stuck in my mind, Senator Obama said, some of

the supporters wouldn‘t support her.  Not being an implication being a

large number or even a majority but -

CRAWFORD:  Or that he wouldn‘t.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, exactly.

CRAWFORD:  (INAUDIBLE) that‘s a possibility that he wouldn‘t.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t think he came out—he didn‘t say he wouldn‘t,

but he didn‘t come out and say I‘m going to make them support her because

she‘s the Democrat and the Democrat would be better for my constituency

than a Republican but the last -

CRAWFORD:  And I think that‘s one reason he added that point today.  He said, you know, with any nominee he will support.  So, I think he understood that he needed to add that.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Craig Crawford of MSNBC and CQPolitics.com.  If it happens that way, we will come back and mark this day, January 24, as the day Craig was officially anointed as a prophet.  Thanks, Craig.

CRAWFORD:  Even a broken clock is right twice a day, right?

OLBERMANN:  I know it.  I‘m the clock most of the time myself.  We‘re just two days away for the next big contest to the Democrats in South Carolina.  Please join me and David Gregory this Saturday beginning at 6:00 eastern for complete coverage of the results and what it all means as we look ahead to Super Tuesday and looking ahead, just a week.  We‘re pleased to be announcing something special tonight, following the last Democratic debate before Super Tuesday, next Thursday January 31st in Los Angeles, I will bring you COUNTDOWN special post debate coverage right here on MSNBC.  Yes, I know we‘re not televising the debate.  Big whoop (ph), you want to fight about it?  Watch it there, understand it here.

The Republicans who will debate in Boca Raton here on MSNBC at the top of the hour have some daunting stats to face.  New polling tonight suggesting a gap of the presidential race between the two parties is 17 points except it‘s not a generic Republican but one of them in particular.  Yet the Democrats are facing in the face of the FISA dispute.  The latest on the efforts put some restraints on the government eavesdropping on you.  It might include filibusters.  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  New polling out tonight suggesting that if the presidential election were held tomorrow, a lot of people would be disenfranchised.  All right, sorry.  The polling says, the generic Democrat leads the generic Republican by 17 points except if that generic Republican is replace bid a particular Republican.  And later: Bill O. versus Bill D.  The Catholic League honcho acting like a Muslim rioter having been shown the Scandinavian cartoon of the prophet.  One of the Worst Persons contest here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  John Edwards‘s claimed that John McCain is a Republican to beat in a national election starting to seem true even if, in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Edwards himself does not appear to be equating the polls in the position to be the one to beat him.  The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg News poll showing Clinton with the nine-point lead nationally, 42 percent to Obama‘s 33percent, Edwards trailing at 11.  The Keith number again, undecided plus margin of error is 16.  But in a general election with Clinton and Obama pitted against the four leading Republican, Clinton knocks off Romney 50 to 39, with that margin of error plus undecideds at 10; handily, she beats both Giuliani 53 to 37, warning margin nine percent and Huckabee, 51 percent to 38 percent.  Then, maybe not figuring, that is 10 percent.  Only McCain proving a contender in this poll but Hillary Clinton still leads him 46 to 42 with the KN at 11.  That would even be a statistical tie.

Against Barack Obama, Republican candidates fair slightly better but only because the number of undecided voters are so much higher.  Romney trailing 35 percent to Obama‘s 46, the K number, 16.  Giuliani behind 32 to Obama‘s 49 percent.  More than the K number of 15.  Huckabee, 37 percent to Obama‘s 47 percent.  K number, 14.  Only McCain technically beats Obama 42 percent to 41 percent with a K number of 16 percent.  That victory is statistically meaningless.  The latest NBC News /Wall Street Journal poll marking a starker for a bigger problem for the Democrats and especially the big name the anti-McCain Republicans when it comes to John McCain.  Asked generally whether they will pick a Democrat or Republican for the White House in 2009, voters definitely chose a Democrat, 51 percent to 34 percent, our margin there, 15 percent.  But asked about specific match-ups in this poll, Hillary Clinton losses to John McCain, 44 to 46, the K number 10 percent.  Obama ties him, 42-42, the K number, 10 percent.

We‘re joined by the founder of Huffingtonpost.com and author of “On Becoming Fearless,” Arianna Huffington.  Arianna, thanks for your time tonight.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What if anything to those poll results signify, or the changes in them signify for the Democratic presidential candidate whoever that might be in November?  Is McCain really the only hurdle before the White House?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, first of all, Keith, they signify variedly (ph) for the following reason, not just because of the Keith number, the number of undecideds, as the fact that we don‘t know who the (INAUDIBLE) is going to be.  The fact that there‘s so much volatility, I mean, about 30 percent of Republicans who say, they could change their minds and about 2/3 of Democrats who could say that they could change their minds.  So, this really confirms the point that we‘re making today at the Huffingtonpost as we‘re launching a new feature that we‘re calling polls-strology.  We are going to be presenting polls together with horoscopes because we all, we have this guilty pleasure.  We want to know what the latest polling results are.  We also - many of us read the horoscope.  So I went and read your horoscope.  You‘re an Aquarius, your birthday is on Sunday, happy birthday.  And I want you to know very quickly that this is a good idea for you today to keep an eye on anyone you‘re working with, anyone you‘re doing business with, could just be a lesson in skepticism or it could save you some trouble.  So, the same predicted value that you give to your horoscope, you should give to most of these polls.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, except that forecast—the astrological forecast for me is true every day of the week for the people I work with.  OK.  Poll-strology.  I have the Keith number, you have poll-strology.  We‘ll call that one a tie.  All right.  Clearly, the national polls have now had, whatever real relevance they have, they don‘t have much predictive value in local races like Iowa and now, South Carolina.  But when you do face something like Super Tuesday with 22 different states voting, do these numbers give us any indication whatsoever about what to expect on February 5th?  Do the candidates believe in them?

HUFFINGTON:  The only indication it gives us which is some people achieve anecdotally we knew is that McCain is the strongest Republican.  But then of course, that changes if the Democrat takes him on in the war.  Because as we see now, every day, despite (INAUDIBLE) pretend that the surge is working, things are coming out of Iraq that shows that there‘s absolutely no resolution to the crisis there.  And since McCain is the candidate most identified with the surge, a Democrat that has a very clear against the war could actually be in a strong position in November.

OLBERMANN:  McCain already has an ad out based on references to him in the Democratic debate from Monday.  Is he a bigger threat to Democratic presidency in the fall than is the current strife between Clinton and Obama to Democrats or even independents who are tonight saying, I never vote for her or I never vote for him?  Are they more damaging to whoever the Democratic nominee is?

HUFFINGTON:  You know what, Keith, in the end, I don‘t believe that.  I think right now it‘s a very intense period, that come November, Democrats -- we want a Democrat in the White House.  We‘ll be longing for that.  And that‘s one of the reasons why many Democrats are concerned about Hillary Clinton.  Because, you know, she‘s a more polarizing figure.  People are worried about the dynastic element.  They are worried about Bill Clinton out there losing his temper on a daily basis and saying things within the campaign is to complain.  But one of the reasons is not really a dislike of Hillary at all.  It‘s just the fact that people want to be sure this time they get the White House.

OLBERMANN:  Is anybody portraying - by the way yet ready to portray McCain as Bob Dole updated version 2008?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, absolutely.  I‘m sure that‘s going to happen and one of the reasons I understand that his wife is campaigning with him all the time is because she kind of balance this.  The old age factor.  She looks beautiful, young, always elegant and that‘s an important visual for the campaign that is worrying about his age.

OLBERMANN:  His wife versus her husband.  Arianna Huffington of the Huffingtonpost, great thanks.  And thanks for the horoscope.

HUFFINGTON:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  More tonight on the unexpected news that the Loch Ness Monster has been purchased by Sony and moved to Tokyo.

And: David Letterman has invited the Frank Burns of news on to his show for the last time after what he said that about Letterman.  Details ahead.

But first: The headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 other scandals - Bushed.

Number three: The budget-gate.  Not only is the president spending us into the ground and putting our friends and relatives into the ground in Iraq, but he‘s new budget will not include more than about half of the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan for the fiscal year beginning this September 30th.  So, the war and the bill for the war will be the next guy‘s problem.

Number two:  Waterboarding-gate.  While Attorney General Mukasey muses over whether or not waterboarding is torture and whether or not the CIA committed crimes by destroying its tapes of agents waterboarding prisoners, guess who Mr. Bush just nominated to be assistant attorney general?  Stephen J. Bradbury who wrote two secret documents insisting that harsh interrogation was legal.  So, Mukasey will prosecute what Mukasey‘s assistant advocated.  Sure he will.

And number two: 935-gate.  If you remember that‘s the number of lies about Iraq documented by the Center for Public Integrity in its report yesterday, told by the administration between 9/11 and 2003.  Press Secretary Dana Perino has scoffed at this study today.  It is so flawed because as you remember, we were part of a broad coalition of countries that deposed the dictator based on a collective understanding of the intelligence.

Intelligence—you felons made up!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The anniversary stories at this point in the show are usually convoluted things, not tonight.  It‘s John Belushi‘s birthday.  He would have been 59 years old.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Japan.  Yesterday it was Big Foot on Mars.  Today, the Loch Ness Monster in Tokyo Bay.  Run for your happy wish safety.  This footage comes from a Japanese news report.  The beast is part of a promotion surrounding the Japanese release of the film, “The Water Horse,” using intricate lighting and water spraying technology, promoters not only created this 45-foot-tall hologram but also created a new way to terrorize the good people of Tokyo with monsters whom they can applaud for being high-tech monsters.

How about terrorizing people with feet.  Remaining in Tokyo, people too self-conscious to observe the Japanese custom of removing shoes at homes and restaurants.  It‘s new minty footwear a mint scented insert designed to mask that funky foot odor of the people who find it too difficult to wash.  The insert contains a mint scented sponge that emits a pleasant aroma each time you take a step.  It costs $28, it‘s supposed to work up to six months and you don‘t want to hold that too close to your face, madam.

Thank you.

Defending your right to have your life spied on by this man.  The Senate folds as the first part of the FISA renewal fight begins.  Filibusters may be next.  St. Rudy of 9/11.  St. Rudy of 9/11 does not appear to be next.  Now third in two polls in Florida, is tonight‘s Republican debate do or die?

These stories ahead but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three “Best Persons of the World.”  All dumb criminals edition.

Number three, best low-ball bid.  Robert Macklin of Independence, Missouri accused of conspiracy to commit first degree murder tried to hire a hit man to kill a woman who he thought stood between him and another man.  Not only was the hit man an undercover officer, but Mr. Macklin allegedly offered to play $5 and 90 capsules of OxyContin.

Number two, best bringing of a cliche to life.  Kelvin Ethelburt Roberts of Cherryville, North Carolina tried to hold up a convenience store there at gunpoint.  Dropped his weapon in the process.  And shot himself in the foot.  Hence the phrase.

The number one best low-key getaway.  Ms. Channele Monae Gaskin of Sandy Springs, Georgia.  She allegedly held up a bank there, the dye pack went off painted her orange.  She got rid of the orange clothing, her face was still orange.  That is when she headed for getaway vehicle, a city bus.  She went and stood at a bus stop, all orange and everything.  You may laugh, but when police asked her why she chose to do that, she said after she robbed a bank in Dekalb County, last Tuesday, she escaped with the loot on the city bus there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The delayed showdown over immunity for telecommunications companies accused of helping President Bush wiretap you flared up again today leading to the prospect of classic all night filibusters in the Senate.

In our third story tonight, the real issue, Mr. Bush‘s intention to stop the telecom lawsuits from revealing exactly what his administration was doing in the dark before his warrantless and therefore extra-constitutional wiretaps were revealed.  Mr. Bush has said immunity is so important he will veto the extension of the warranted wiretapping law which expires next week while warning that without the extension, America will instantly die or words to that effect.  It seems like the latter would preclude the vet veto, but what do I know.

The Senate today supported immunity for the telecoms with several Democrats contributed to a 60-vote majority.  Senators Clinton and Obama not voting today though they both say they oppose the immunity.  Senator Chris Dodd who took a break from his now ended presidential campaign to return to Washington last month to oppose the immunity to carry out the filibuster threat with or without help of those still trying to win the job of protecting the Constitution.

Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analysts Howard Fineman, also of course chief correspondent for “Newsweek.”  Howard, great thanks for your time tonight.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  How if at all is this fight any different from that standoff last month?

FINEMAN:  Well, it isn‘t.  It‘s all about politics.  I mean, I‘m down here in Florida for the Republican debate on MSNBC.  And what‘s going on in the senate is an extension of presidential politics, essentially.  The Republicans feel that this is the one issue they have.  Not the eavesdropping part of it.  But the national defense part of it.

And they‘ve engineered this in the view of the Democrats so that all of the business taking place on Monday with the Democrats worrying about taking that immunity thing out of the bill will be the lead-up to the president‘s State of the Union address on Monday night.  That‘s how they see it.  And I think they‘re right.

OLBERMANN:  Even if Mr. Dodd loses, the House did not approve immunity.  The two chambers tried to reconcile their bills, will the House give in or how is that going to play?

FINEMAN:  It‘s not clear.  I was talking to my Hill sources just now.  And they say if it gets to that, and it may, it will be a very long and very contentious conference between the House and the Senate.  And nobody knows how it will come out.  But I can tell you that the Republicans down here and the ones who are going to be out there debating all are convinced that the one issue that the Republicans have for sure, the only one, perhaps, that is their strong suit in the upcoming election is their efforts to continue painting the Democrats as weak on defense.  And however little sense it might make, they‘re going to keep trying.

OLBERMANN:  Dodd said something relative to the telecoms that said right on point last month.  Let me read this in full, “When one company gave the NSA a secret eavesdropping room at its own corporate headquarters, it was simply doing its patriotic duty.  The president asked, the telecoms answered.  Shouldn‘t that be an easy case to prove, Mr. President?  The corporations only need to show a judge the authority and the assurances they were given and they will be in and out of court in five minutes.  If the telecoms are as defensible as the president says, why doesn‘t the president let them defend themselves, if the case is so easy to make, why doesn‘t he let them make it?  Why is he standing in the way?”

Indeed, Howard, why?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think that question answers itself.  There are things that the White House and the administration was doing that will probably raise the hair of any judge in America if he sees them.  And you can‘t necessarily do all of that in camera, meaning in private.  And the administration doesn‘t want that laid out on the record.  Chris Dodd is absolutely right on the law, but this administration is not going to allow them to do if it they can possibly get away with it and intimidate the Senate on that point.

OLBERMANN:  Does the White House get a bill by the February 1 expiration date ultimately.  If not, will America survive until February 2?  By statute, don‘t the international eavesdropping provisions, the powers survive the expiration by a year?

FINEMAN:  Yes, they do.  And as a matter of fact, any ongoing operation can continue.  The administration can go into that secret FISA court to get permission which is the way it should operate.  But they don‘t like doing it that way.  No, the world won‘t blow up.  The other thing that‘s happening is I think the Democrats are going to try to counter by offering a quick extension, a 30-day extension of the bill—of the law, and try to make the Republicans vote against that.  We have high politics going on here.  It‘s every bit as much part of the presidential campaign as what‘s going on down here.

OLBERMANN:  Fascinating.  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC from Boca Raton.  Great thanks, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We‘re sure you‘re going to hear these exact points raise in that exact fashion.  In tonight‘s Republican debate atop the hour on MSNBC.  Is it McCain versus Romney?  What was the name of the guy from New York who was running?  And a Fix Noise showdown and worse.  And Neil Cavuto upsets the favored Frank Burns of news?  Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As his parents fly to New York and funeral arrangements are finalized, there are new details tonight on what exactly happened when Heath Ledger was found dead in his apartment Tuesday afternoon.  That begins our 80 seconds of celebrity news tonight.

Before he called 911, the masseuse who found the body spent nine minutes making three separate phone calls to Mary Kate Olsen whose number was preprogrammed to ledger‘s phone.  She then called the actress again after the paramedics arrived.  “People” magazine reporting tonight that Ledger and Ms. Olsen had been dating casually for the last three months.  Ledger was most recently busy in London filming the “Imaginarium of Dr.  Parnassus.”  A British newspaper releasing cell phone video of him shooting the film.  He was the one in white.  It was tapped on the 19th of this month.

If “Star” magazine Jamie Lynn Spears has given her mother yet another chance to prove she is a good mother.  The pregnant 16 year old Spears will give her baby to Mama Spears according to the magazine.  This, says a source, comes after much personal soul searching and Lynn Spears is all for it, reportedly, believing that her daughter should be allowed to grow up like a normal teenager and pursue her career, a policy that‘s worked great so far.

Republicans are minutes away from the last pre-Florida debate.  The last pre-view is next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s “Worst Persons” in the world.  The bronze tonight to Bill O. again accusing others of exploiting homeless veterans as he was on the air exploiting homeless veterans himself.  And he called David Letterman a dishonest talk show host and he got mad of his guests including that dubious ex-colonel, David Hunt, when they did not join him in bashing Letterman or John Edwards but instead, they tried to focus on getting the homeless vet what they need. 

“It‘s not what we‘re talking about, we‘re talking about a cynical

politician and you‘re both dodging this question.  You don‘t want to bash

Edwards, don‘t bash him.   I‘m talking about a cynical politician and a

dishonest talk show host.  Teaming up, I‘m telling the truth here, colonel,

you know me, and I‘m telling the truth.”  Bill O., you left out, don‘t tase

me, bro!  Don‘t tase me

The runner up, William Donahue, the self-proclaimed president of the Catholic League, who is in fact doing for Catholicism exactly what the Spanish Inquisition did for Catholicism.  An ESPN sportscaster got drunk at a roast for two other ESPN sportscasters and in a misguided attempt to emulate every other obscenity roast swore at and about Notre Dame University and its iconic touchdown Jesus.  The network suspended the sportscaster for a week and she fully responsibly apologized.

Not enough for this Donahue.  He claims she, quote, attacked Jesus Christ.  Demanded ESPN “deal with this issue or soon face Christian‘s sure to demand accountability.”

Mr. Donahue, you do realize you sound like the Muslims who rioted over the Mohammed cartoons, right?

But our winner, Neil Cavuto of Fixed News rhetorically asking why the mainstream media which usually can‘t wait to rip apart a republican candidate is not ripping John McCain apart.  Well, sir, thanks for the blessing.  This means you agree when I came on right after John McCain sleep walked through his victory speech in New Hampshire and I said he was sleep walking, I was not ripping him apart and whenever Senator McCain shovels that nonsense about the surge working and I call it nonsense, that‘s not ripping him apart either.  Good to see we see eye-to-eye.  I‘ll keep it going.

Neil Cavuto of Fox Noise—tonight‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re just minutes away from the Republican presidential candidates debate at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, moderated by our own Brian Williams and joined tonight by Tim Russert.  It is the last face-off before Florida‘s primary five days from now.  And if one of the contenders set up Florida as a do or die state on purpose and to his apparent detriment, all of them may find their candidacies grasping for victory there.

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the Sunshine State showdown.  The starkest of realities having beset the man who expected Florida to be his fire wall.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, once the leader in national polls of republican voters, no more.  At once leader in Republican voters in Florida, but according to the two most recent polls, not now.  In the Mason Dixon survey taken for MSNBC on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, Mr. Giuliani ranks a distant third, though it should be noted, that modestly named Keith number, undecideds plus the margin of error is high enough to render the predictions of the polls meaningless, 15 percent.

Former Massachusetts Governor Romney, Senator McCain in a statistical tie for the lead given just the margin of error.

Another poll places Giuliani in a tie for third, along with former Arkansas Governor Huckabee.  Senator McCain and Mr. Romney again in a statistical tie in that survey meaning that the candidate with a tentative grasp on frontrunner status, Senator McCain my find himself tonight more than ever doing battle with the candidate who may still have the resources and the standing to upend that, Governor Romney.

Let‘s turn to NBC News political director Chuck Todd who is at the debate for us.  Chuck, good evening.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Good evening, sir.

OLBERMANN:  With what has happened to Rudy Giuliani, “The New York Times” today noting that as he campaigns heavily in Florida, his numbers have actually dropped almost proportionately.  What does he need to do?  What can he possibly do in tonight‘s debate?

TODD:  Well, the question is—will he do something?  I mean, and the reason I asked that question, there‘s a lot of chatter particularly among the campaigns of McCain and Romney who are wondering, what will Rudy do tonight?  Will he be aggressive?  Will he go down in a blaze of glory?  Will he sit there and say yes, I might be on all of the polls and the fact that the private tracking polls all are showing the same thing.  This order of McCain and Romney duking it out in first and ruddy duking it out for third with Huckabee.  Will he do anything?  Will he go after McCain?  Will he go after Romney?  Will he try to make an aggressive last stand, or, Keith, will he try to protect his legacy and go down—go out softly.  Go out and make sure that he‘s still got his 9/11 legacy intact, that he can still give speeches after he‘s done with this campaign, that he doesn‘t end up going down ugly.

OLBERMANN:  Millions of dollars at stake to say nothing of possible presidential aspirations.  That always is a potent combination right there.  But it is seen from the start when they‘ve interacted that Senator McCain is not very fond of Governor Romney.  “The New York Times” has noted as we watched them all come out on stage that Governor Romney is the most disliked republican contender, this is their contention, among the other candidates and their staffs.  But Romney has money, McCain has momentum.  Far right radio is trying to dismiss McCain.  As we think about what Giuliani might do tonight, are we missing the head line here?  Could this be a duel between McCain and Romney coming to full boil this evening?

TODD:  It‘s interesting.  We got sidetracked by all of us, realizing it was Giuliani‘s last stand.  When frankly all of a sudden what we thought nine months ago was going be the duel for the Republican nomination, McCain-Romney.  We got distracted in between with Fred Thompson, Giuliani, with McCain‘s supposed downfall, all the sudden back to McCain versus Romney.  And what makes Florida intriguing is only registered Republicans can participate in this primary.  There are no independents that can provide the margin of victory for John McCain as it did in South Carolina and as it did for him in New Hampshire.

Remember, he lost Republicans to Mike Huckabee by a point in South Carolina.  This is what the Romney folks see.  And the Romney folks realize, if they can‘t beat McCain here, they‘re not going stop him on February 5.  So if they can beat him here, all of a sudden, the money advantage that Romney has, I said before, all he has to do is get up in the morning and look the mirror and ask if he still wants to give money to the campaign, suddenly that money advantage becomes a big deal on February 5 if he wins Florida.

OLBERMANN:  So, Chuck, that closure quality here in Florida.  Does that place these candidates in a bit of a bind?  They, McCain and Giuliani in particular have to play the republicans tonight.  But they can‘t dismiss a national audience with Super Tuesday looming?

TODD:  It‘s true.  But I think this is all about Florida, Florida, Florida tonight.  I guess what I‘m wondering is who—will anybody on that stage help Romney?  Well, if you believe that “New York Times” story today, the short answer is no.

But who on that stage is going to help John McCain?  Will Mike Huckabee decide to be the John McCain surrogate and go after Romney.  We saw a pile-on Mitt Romney debate before.  It wouldn‘t shock me if we saw another one tonight.  The Romney people are prepared for it.  That Mason-Dixon poll shows them ahead.  Other tracking polls show him ahead.  Actually more polls that I know about have Romney ahead right now in Florida than have McCain.

OLBERMANN:  About McCain this has been so pronounced apparently that one of the right wing radio hosts has complained about right wing radio hosts gaining up against John McCain especially but also Mike Huckabee trying to brand them phony conservatives and marginalize them and try to stop McCain.  What is going on with the large portion of the Republican Party, certainly its loudest portion, and John McCain?

TODD:  Look, they‘ve never—there‘s never been a lot of—look, when it comes to a bunch of issues, judges, immigration, campaign reform, taxes, John McCain has consistently challenged the Republican Party on some of those stances.  And that has truly offended the talk radio wing of the party.  Which, you know, is a significant portion of this electorate.  It‘s not a small—yes, it‘s loud, but they there are also—a lot of votes with this.  Fred Thompson—look, talk radio, the talk radio portion of the electorate that launched Fred Thompson‘s candidacy.  So it is a good 15 to 20 percent of the party and McCain can‘t afford to alienate it and Romney is trying to win them over.

OLBERMANN:  Chuck Todd, political director of NBC News.  Thank you, Chuck.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,730th day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Next, the GOP debate from Boca Raton, Florida moderated by Brian Williams and Tim Russert.

From here, good night and good luck. 

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

END   

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