updated 1/28/2008 12:52:32 PM ET 2008-01-28T17:52:32

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

Undecided and margin of error at 10 percent: John Edwards up 6 points in three days to a close third.  Hillary Clinton gets the endorsement of the “New York Times.”  Barack Obama turns the hardball with the big boys of the campaign into “this is good practice for me, so you know when I take on those Republicans I‘ll be accustom to it.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m the Obama Republican in the crowd.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And tonight, they‘ve been listening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In the eve of the South Carolina Democratic primary,

the day after the Florida Republican debate, also known as the restore

Hillary Clinton‘s somewhat tarnished chops debate

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Clinton.

RUDY GIULIANI, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton.

ROMNEY:  In general, Hillary Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  South Carolinians will decide nothing.  Nor Californians, Georgians, New Yorkers nor anybody else voting on Super Tuesday.  They‘ve done the math.  Neither party‘s campaign can be clinched before the middle of next month, in part because of the superdelegates.  OK.  What the hell are the superdelegates?  What was John McCain saying last night?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I know of no military leader including General Petraeus

who says we can sustain our effort in Iraq so, Iran -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Army Chief of Staff Casey to the Brooking Institutions in December we‘re deploying at unsustainable rates, we can‘t sustain that.

Economic stimulus package:  I got your economic stimulus package right here.  Britney Spears contributes $120 million to our economy.  Not even counting home sales by people who suddenly realize they live too close to her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR:  I‘m like running on with the baseball bat my (INAUDIBLE) like. And it‘s you know, Britney Spears‘ house is like 300 yards from mine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And: Bushed.  You‘re not going to believe who the new attorney general has hung a picture of in his new office.  George Orwell.  Yes, the 1984 guy.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening, this is Friday, January 25th, 284 days until the 2008 presidential election.  One day until the South Carolina Democratic primary.  And the two candidate showdown may have indeed moves (ph) back into a three-horse race.  Supporters of John Edwards have been disappointed before Nevada collapse from what the campaign considered a three-way dead heat into Edwards getting 4 percent.  But in our number saturated fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: And late polling in South Carolina, Senator Edwards up 40 percent in the last four days to a close third.  Senator Obama down 10 percent with Senator Clinton holding steady somewhere in-between them.  Just when most if not all have written off South Carolina on Edwards and out of the narrative for tomorrow‘s primary in the Palmetto State comes more proof that predictions are all but meaningless, at least this season, the final tracking poll released by Zogby for Reuters and C-Span today, showing a huge jump in South Carolina for the former senator.  From the bottom up, Edwards 21 percent; Clinton 25 percent, Obama 38 percent.  The Keith number of not sure in this survey, plus margin of error, 10.4 percent.  Pollster John Zogby posing the question quote, “Can Edwards pass Clinton by Saturday‘s vote, perhaps bumping her from a second place finish?”  Perhaps that is why she has returned to the state to campaign.  Campaign in South Carolina being exactly what Senator Clinton did today beginning with a townhall-style meeting in Columbia, in which she focused not on how U.S. troops got into Iraq, but how she would go about bringing them home as president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And of course, we know that we must restore American leadership and moral authority in the world.  And that begins by ending the war in Iraq and bringing our troops home as quickly and responsibly as we possibly can.  So, what I have said is upon becoming president, I will ask the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff and my security advisers to give me a plan so we can start withdrawing troops within 60 days.  I think we can do it and I think we can do it the right way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The editorial board of the “New York Times” saying, it‘s willing to overlook Senator Clinton‘s support for the invasion precisely because of her stance on how to bring them home, giving her that paper‘s endorsement.  Quoting from it, “We oppose President Bush‘s decision to invade Iraq and we disagree with Mrs. Clinton‘s vote for a resolution in the use of force.  That‘s not the issue now.  It is how the war will be ended.  Mrs. Clinton seems not only more aware than Obama of the consequences of withdrawal but is already thinking through the diplomatic and military steps that will be required to contain Iraq‘s chaos after American troops leave.”  The “Times” editorial board saying of Senator Obama meantime, quote, “We need more specifics to go with his amorphous promise of a new governing majority, a clear sense of how he would govern.”  That senator sharing some of the specifics to a round table of female voters in Columbia, South Carolina, among them, a self-professed Obama Republican on The Late Show With David Letterman broadcast early this morning, Senator Obama sharing his came top ten campaign promises.  In the interest of time, we hear now the top five.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, TV HOST:  Number five.

OBAMA:  I‘ll rename the 10th month of the year “Barack tober.”

LETTERMAN:  Barack tober, how about that?  Number four.

OBAMA:  I won‘t let Apple release the new and improved Ipod the day after you bought the previous model.

LETTERMAN:  Number three.

OBAMA:  I‘ll find money in the budget to buy Letterman a decent hairpiece.

LETTERMAN:  Thank you.  Thank you, senator.  Number two.

OBAMA:  Pronounce the word nuclear, nuclear.

LETTERMAN:  How about that?  There‘s a breakthrough.  The number one Barack Obama campaign promise.

OBAMA:  Three words.  Vice President Oprah.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  On that note, let‘s bring in our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post” and author of the book, “Homopoliticos”.  Dana, good evening.  Welcome.

DANA MILBANK, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve seen John Edwards leap and fall back.  It happened in Nevada with almost tragic consequences for him.  What is happening in South Carolina?  Is it regional, is it backlash to the Clinton/Obama clash and can he finish second?

MILBANK:  Well, I think when history looks at this moment, they will say that he began to surge on Wednesday night when he appeared on this show.  It shows why the Keith numbers are going down as the Edwards goes up.  So, if you want to be a cynic and look at it, maybe a South Carolina voters are saying, maybe we like the white guy after all.  But to look at it in a more benign way, he has put out an ad saying, enough of this trash that Clinton and Obama are talking.  How about a favorable alternative?  So, they may in fact be rebelling against this nastiness.

OLBERMANN:  And what happens if the rebellion goes to the extreme of having him finish second, what does it do to A, to Senator Clinton but also to Senator Obama?

MILBANK:  First of all, it‘s still is seen as extremely unlikely.  It would be an earthquake beyond the sort of thing that we saw in Iowa or New Hampshire.  It could be absolutely devastating to Clinton and completely transform the race because of the expectation, they are just extraordinarily against.

OLBERMANN:  And the expectations regarding Obama in South Carolina, is there anyway at this point that he can win by winning in?

MILBANK:  Well, that‘s the problem now that he‘s so far - expected to be so far out in front.  And if he does win, it could be something of apparent (ph) victory if the Clintons have succeeded in sort of peeling off the white voters to her turn leaving Obama with the black voters that would make him appear as a black candidate, the Jessie Jackson, incapable of going forward.  He needs to win and he needs to win a decent number of the white votes.

OLBERMANN:  The other string thing that sort of separate from South Carolina.  The Senator Clinton issued a statement tonight calling for the delegates from those decertified primaries in Michigan and the one to come in Florida to be fully-seated, to be recertified or undecertified by the Democratic Party.  In doing that, did she kind of say, this is not going to be over for a considerable period of time?

MILBANK:  Well, she also did a rather Clintonian thing and saying, I‘m going change rules after the fact and reinvent things to her like.  You know, we‘re only going to look at the Nielsen Ratings on those nights that you‘d beat O‘Reilly were only going to count the score with (INAUDIBLE) next year.  It‘s equivalent to that.  And it‘s of course, being seen as absurd.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘d never do something like you just suggested. 

(INAUDIBLE) We wouldn‘t have to do it that often.  I‘m sorry.  Inside joke.  Senator Clinton and Iraq and the “New York Times” endorsement, if she can overcome with them, the seemingly insurmountable problem of she was behind the war, it‘s beginnings, at least in terms of an option, then, we can knew answer (ph) that to what it actually meant.  If she can overcome that sense that she was for the invasion, was her position of that, is there something she cannot overcome in terms of the general election or even the rest of the nominating process?

MILBANK:  Well, the real question with the “New York Times” editorial is will John McCain be able to overcome the “New York Times” endorsement which could easily sink him throughout the country with Republicans.  Hillary Clinton has overcome a lot.  She‘s leaving an awful lot of carnage and wreckage behind her.  This is the definition of winning ugly, the whole Rezco business that she was embarrassed about on THE TODAY SHOW this morning, the constant racial inferences.  So, it is quite possible, she‘ll lose by winning.

OLBERMANN:  Is there an Obama apparent victory possible?

MILBANK:  if he‘s getting 80 percent of the black vote and 20 percent of the white he‘s got a problem.

OLBERMANN:  What a mess?  As well as no John Edwards apparent victory.  Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the “Washington Post” and “Homopoliticos” and continued good luck with that, sir.

MILBANK:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And thanks for coming in.

There is also the question of how eventual the eventual Democratic nominee and how that person might fair in the general election.  Taking back the White House once thought to be a very pretty sure thing for the Democratic Party after eight long years of George.  Latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll however throwing that into question, too if Senator McCain is that Republican nominee.   In the proverbial head-to-head national match between Senators McCain and Obama, they‘re both at 42, the Keith number of it depends and not sure plus margin of error 13.1.  If the nominee is Senator Clinton, it gets worst, McCain, 46 percent, Clinton - 44, Keith number - 9.1.  Let‘s turn at this point to our own Craig Crawford also a columnist of CQPolitics.com.  Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi.  Keith number surging again.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m beginning to regret that by the way.  How much is how you‘ll do in November actually going to effect how they are going to vote tomorrow?

CRAWFORD:  Some voters do think tactically or strategically in that way.  Yes, I‘ve noticed over the years of 30 years of still covering presidential campaigns, voters more and more do think that way.  There was a time we would never consider they would do that but particularly in the states, they get all this attention, and think about it so much and see the candidates so much, they really do go to the polls and think about that.  Democrats have been deluding themselves for some time I think in the believing that in choosing a nominee, they‘re picking the next president.  I think many of them beginning to realize there‘s this little thing called the general election that comes after that.

OLBERMANN:  John Edwards has been saying all weeks ever since Monday at the debate, I‘m the guy who can beat john McCain, I‘m the only guy that can beat John McCain.  Has meat been added to those bones this week?

CRAWFORD:  You know, that meat has always been there, Keith.  I think a lot of us, we are so bedazzled by the Obama/Clinton rivalry, who have always focus as much as we should have.  However, he made the case long and strong and hard in Iowa and at the end of the day he did came a narrow second but he didn‘t win it like so many thought he would.  I think he‘s trying to recover from that ever since.  You know, John Edwards works so hard.  He doesn‘t go away.  He just keeps coming back for more.  He wins most of the debate.  And he‘s just not going to leave the stage until he‘s good and ready.  And I think voters want to keep him there and this is his home state in South Carolina and we‘ve seen a lot of the races kind of a last end phenomenon that sets in when these candidates are almost down for the count and voters just can‘t bear to be the state that finally knocks them out of the race.  So, there‘s a little rally sometimes folks in the third place tier.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, evidently, they didn‘t feel that way in Nevada.

CRAWFORD:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  But the Obama/Clinton warfare of the last week, did it hurt the perception about each of them in terms of electability?  Did people say, one real tangible side effect or after effect of this battle.  Whoever you think is at fault, do you think one side is been completely wrong and the other ones the victim, however you perceive it, is the real issue here that Democrats are saying look at the weapons we have left on the field for the Republicans to use against A, Senator Clinton or B, Senator Obama?

CRAWFORD:  This is the problem you have with you get this kind of bashing going on, all these clips are going to be used in the general election, whoever the nominee from these debates and everything else.  Maybe the Republicans were wise in giving us up really boring debate last night.  But one thing I‘d say about that scenario that you mention, for Senator Clinton, I don‘t think she would mind to see this Edwards surge, she‘d probably would rather him not beat her, and come in second, if votes he‘s getting, he‘s taking away from Obama which is sort of looks like, that‘s not something she‘d mind.  The more narrow Obama‘s victory, the better, so long that she comes in second, that comes at the sacrifice of Edwards coming a little closer to her.

OBLERMANN:  And finally, do you have an 20-second explanation to what this is with John McCain and this head to head match ups considering he never rated after late spring in the Republican polls?

CRAWFORD:  I think the war is looking better to enough Republican moderates and maybe even some moderate Democrats and independents.  You know, people are optimistic, Americans are naturally optimistic.  They want to believe this thing is going to work well and it doesn‘t take much empirical evidence to feed that natural optimism and I think that‘s part of it for McCain.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s 20 seconds well spent.  Craig Crawford of MSNBC and CQPolitics.com.  Thank you, Craig.

CRAWFORD:  Good night.

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory joins me tomorrow night for our coverage of the Democratic primary in South Carolina.  We will check in with you at 6:00 p.m. eastern on MSNBC.  On a COUNTDOWN special to put your viewing calendars.  This is long term, this is all the way to the end next week, the last Democratic debate before Super Tuesday is Thursday, the 31st, a week from yesterday.  A live special edition of COUNTDOWN at 10:00 eastern to make sense of the critical face-off.

So, here‘s the math done by the Associated Press.  If Obama wins tomorrow and then, win each state on Super Tuesday, he can‘t clinch the nomination.  If Clinton wins tomorrow, and then, she wins each state on Super Tuesday, she can‘t clinch the nomination.  And it‘s all the fault of superdelegates.  And the day after the whacked up Republican lies about Iraq are still flying so thick in the air you can catch them with your bare hands.  Mr. Huckabee‘s Easter eggs of mass destruction and the rest.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If it is make or break for Barack Obama in South Carolina tomorrow, how is it possible that the math insist even Super Tuesday will not result in anybody clinching the Democratic nomination.  The research and the issue of the superdelegates.

And later in Worst Persons:  Bill O‘s pleads for an apology for David Letterman, but the unsung FOX noisier might still the thunder from him by revealing he does not know why Abraham Lincoln stopped being president.  All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton has confirmed that she will try to get delegates pledged to here as result of decertified Michigan and Florida Democratic primaries certified.  You know why that‘s happening now?  Because earlier, none of the candidates really thought it would come down to delegates not to delegates rather but to primary victories.  But now on our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The math has been done.  “Super Duper Tsunami Tuesday” will not and cannot decide the nomination of either party.  The 22 states holding elections on Super Tuesday bring a combine total of 1,681 delegates plus a further 386 superdelegates.  Superdelegates.  You know, the thing everybody understands, but nobody can define in 12 words or less, extemporaneously.  There‘s 797 of them up for grabs across the country discounting Michigan and Florida who have their delegates strip by the party except Senator Clinton wants them back now.  None of them are picked by primaries.  None of them have to support the same candidate as their state.  None of them have to keep their promises to a candidate until they actually vote at the convention.   Right now, Senator Obama is actually in the lead with elected delegates 38 to Senator Clinton‘s 36.  But when you factor in the superdelegates, who are already publicly been pledge to a candidate, depending on which news organization is doing the asking.  Clinton has 236 or 218 or 210.  Obama trails with 136, 127, 154.  We‘re joined now by our own David Shuster who‘s in Columbia, South Carolina ahead of tomorrow‘s primary.  David, thanks, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC - COLUMBIA, SC:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So, if there are 797 superdelegates, candidate needs 2025 votes at the convention that means 39 percent of the delegates that the candidate would need to win could not be chosen at the voting booth, could instead be the superdelegates given how tight the race for the voted delegates is, could the whole nomination come down to those superdelegates and would they be effectively in the position to override the primary vote?

SHUSTER:  They absolutely could, Keith especially when you think about in the Democratic primary, the regular voting delegates are awarded by proportional representation.  So, essentially, as long as you have three candidates taking who are each taking maybe, 30 max, 35 or 40 percent, if this thing just keeps going.  And as you pointed out the superdelegates, they‘re supposed to sort of stay uncommitted, but every time you see a high profile, say governor, a member of Congress endorse one candidate or another, that‘s a superdelegate and those essentially could be the power brokers who decide this if this keeps going on.

OLBERMANN:  So, the nominee used to be chosen, used to be bargained for in the proverbial smoke filled room in the back room at the conventions, then, came the rise of the primaries and democracy and the primary process.  And the superdelegates are there to make sure the party bosses can still decide who the nominee is just like it was still in 1912?

SHUSTER:  Or just like the 1960s.  Essentially, what happen is in the early 1970s, the Democratic Party said, you know what?  Let‘s take the power out of the hands of say, the daily family and give it back to the grass roots activists.  They did that and the funny thing happened in 1972, the Democrats nominated, George McGovern, an anti-Vietnam war liberal who then got trounced in the general elections when the Democratic Party establishment figures say, wait a second, let‘s essentially add a safety valve here, let‘s put some of the establishment figures back into this in case our party voters do something radical, that we can pull them back and essentially that‘s why the system has been in place ever since that.

OLBERMANN:  So, the idea of, as you suggested that whenever we see a sort of name endorsement of one of the principals, there‘s nothing binding about that whatsoever?  There‘s nothing binding about the superdelegate process whatsoever, either?

SHUSTER:  Well, not, no, Keith, what happens is the superdelegates, you‘re talking are members of Congress, you‘re talking governors, former presidents, President Clinton, Jimmy Carter, former Democratic vice presidents, so, you‘re talking about Mondale and Gore, even numbers of the Democratic National Committee appointed by Howard Dean.  Technically, they‘re neutral.  They usually go with how their states go.  But there‘s nothing controlling that.  So, for example, if Barack Obama were to win New York state, even though Bill Clinton essentially lives in New York with his wife, he is still committed of course to Hillary Clinton.  So, there‘s really nothing forcing these superdelegates to go the direction their state goes and that‘s why, these endorsements are so important because the endorsements reflect the superdelegates.  And again, it‘s a huge battle, not just for the publicity of the sake of these endorsements, but also, because the superdelegates at 40 percent of what you need to get the nomination.  It can play a huge roll especially if this thing goes on for awhile.

OLBERMANN:  It makes you feel nostalgic for the smoke-filled room.  David Shuster of MSNBC in South Carolina tonight.  We‘ll talk to you tomorrow.  Great thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  Thanks Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Highlights from THE TODAY SHOW.  Willard Scott looks great.

And the history quick quiz in Worst Persons, Brett Baier of Fix News, you‘re a contestant.

Why did Abraham Lincoln stop being president of the U.S.?  You don‘t know?  Worst is ahead.

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

Number three: Perpetuity-gate.  The president‘s plan to sign a long term military treaty with the Iraqi government without letting Congress see it let alone vote on it.  It would indeed be unprecedented in American history, say historians and it is the definition of, quote, “Arrogance.”  That‘s not me saying the arrogant part.  That‘s Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher.  It‘s not exactly a Leftist.

Number two: Crony -gate.  Paul Wolfowitz who should have been scripted as national diplomatic credentials after his uncunningly terrible predictions about Iraq but instead went on to the World Bank and he humiliated himself and our country.  He‘s gotten another job.  He‘ll be chairman of the International Advisory Board who reports to the Secretary of State.  Is he a vampire?

And number one: 1984-gate.  I swear you‘re taking this up.  Attorney General Michael Mukasey reveals today, he has two portraits hanging in his new office.  One of former supreme court justice and Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson.  The other of Eric Michael Blair, pen name, George Orwell, the author of 1984.  Is Orwell-Rove portrait combo would have been better?  Now, says Mr. Mukasey, the attorney general, the attorney general of the United States who keeps a freaking picture of George “Freaking” Orwell on his office wall.  And he swears it‘s not because he admires the history-revising, corner-cutting, terror-manipulating government which Orwell created.  He says the portrait hangs there because he likes the clarity of Orwell‘s writing.  Mr. Mukasey adds, he adores Pamela Anderson‘s penmanship.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1945, the best known and most profitable franchise in professional sports, the New York Yankees at Yankees Stadium were purchased from the estate of their late owner Jake Rupert for $2,800,000.  $2,800,000 with this season allows you to purchase 138 season tickets at Yankees Stadium.  Let‘s play Oddball.

Bitter?  I‘m not bitter.  We begin out on Rockefeller Plaza where earlier today on the “Today” show an amazing play of endurance and shrinkage this guy sat submerged in a tub of ice for 40 minutes.  This Wim Hoff.  The other Hoff.  A Dutch national who uses a meditation technique called inner fire to raise and lower his body temperature in extreme conditions.

Remember, that last year it was Hoff who attempted and failed to climb Mt.

Everest while wearing on a pair of shorts.

This morning‘s feat was a success.  After 40 minutes the Plexiglas was lifted, the ice man emerged a deep shade of pink but otherwise unaffected and the ice was then returned for use in the NBC concert (ph).

Finally to the Internets, and video just now making the rounds of the cattle drive that took place outside the unveiling of the 2009 Dodge Ram at the North American International Auto Show.  A good clean family friendly drive.  Until, zookeeper, zookeeper, these two cows are killing each other.  Yes, love was definitely in the air.  Shut it down.

The surge.  The Army chief of staff called unsustainable John McCain says nobody says it‘s unsustainable.  WMD that didn‘t exist, Mike Huckabee says they were hidden like Easter eggs.

And mock Britney Spears all you want.  Apparently she‘s worth $140 million to the U.S. economy.  Joe McHale joins us.

These stories ahead but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three “Best Persons in the World.”

Number best invention.  Drs. Abdul Ennaceur, Paul Chazot and Gordon Dougal of Sunderland and Durham Universities in England.  They think they are weeks away from testing a helmet that may reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer‘s by bathing the brain in infrared light, stimulating the growth of brain cells.  The only catch, you will spend the rest of your life talking like Marvin the Martian.  Space modulator.

Number two, best spying, Russell Bird of Herefordshire in England captured this photo of a hundred sheep on a farm forming a perfect a circle for about 10 minutes.  Clearly, they got that idea from Harold.  He is that most dangerous of creatures, a clever sheep.  He has realized that a sheep‘s life consists of standing around for a few months and then being eaten.  And that‘s a depressing prospect for an ambitious sheep.

Number one, best unnecessary revenge.  When Marie Lupe Cooley of Jacksonville saw a help wanted ad in her local paper describing her job and listing her architect boss‘ home phone number she wigged out.  She went to the office, she erased everything in the computer system for the last seven years.  She did $2.5 million.  Only one problem, the want ad had not been placed by her boss, but the boss‘ wife who wanted someone just like Ms.  Cooley to work at her company.  Oops.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was supposedly presented this way to Ted Koppel.  Imagine making “Nightline” so vital, so necessary, so permanent, that it continues for years.  Decades continues as your newscast even after you‘ve stopped doing it.

Now merely swap out newscast for war and you have Mr. Bush and Iraq and the candidates at a Republican debate last night.  A debate that at times seems to have been patched together with soundbites from March of 2003.  Full of guarantees about weapons of mass destruction, the joyous endlessness of troop escalation and the general bloodlust of the GOP.

Our third story tonight, while is not unheard of for presidential candidates of any stripe to lie about what they will do next.  Last night‘s defenses of the Iraq War included a remarkably large quantity of lies about what already happened before.  The Republican candidates last night fell over themselves and the truth to praise the war and continue deployment there.  Despite the benefit to Iran, despite Iraq‘s failure to reconcile politically, despite the loss of life, despite the toll on the U.S.  military.  A toll raised in one question submitted last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You have stated you would leave troops in Iraq for an indefinite period.  How will you do this both militarily and economically.  Please no generalities.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I know of no military leader including General Petraeus who says we can‘t sustain ourselves in Iraq.  So you‘re wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  General Petraeus one year ago quote, “The Army is stretched and straining.  Army chief of staff General George Casey last month, quote, “We‘re deploying at unsustainable rates.”

So you‘re wrong senator.  Of course there is plenty of wrong to go around. 

Here is Willard Mitt Romney last night perpetrating that al Qaeda lie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It is simply unthinkable that the Democrats would have said at that debate what‘s more important that we get out or that win.  With their answer they wouldn‘t answer directly.  With each of their answer, it was clear getting out was their objective.  Just get out as fast as you can regardless of the consequences.  And that‘s simply wrong.  We cannot turn Iraq over to al Qaeda and have al Qaeda have a safe haven for which they can recruit people to carry out bombings and attack this country and our friends around the world.  It‘s unthinkable.

And that‘s why I will not walk away from Iraq until we have been successful and finish that job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You have finished the job.  Saddam is gone.  Also the real al Qaeda has a real safe haven right now, it‘s called Pakistan and al Qaeda in Iraq cannot win in Iraq.  Vastly outnumbered as it is by both Sunni and Shia who hate them.  It was foreign policy neophyte Mike Huckabee who dredged up the original lie when he failed to realize what would be the greatest indictment of the president‘s war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We owe him our thanks that he had the courage to recognize there was a potential of weapons of mass destruction and rather than wait until we had an attack, he went and made sure it wasn‘t going to happen from Saddam Hussein.  Now everybody can look back and can say we didn‘t find the weapons.  That doesn‘t mean they weren‘t there.  Just because you didn‘t find every Easter egg doesn‘t mean it wasn‘t planted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Damn, we didn‘t find every Easter egg.

A, the FBI who interrogated Saddam Hussein said the tyrant kept his lack of WMD a secret thinking the U.S. would not invade.  And B, if Huckabee were right and there were WMD, that would mean they are in the hands of terrorists thanks to President Bush.

With us for more post game fun is Sam Seder, the host of Air America‘s Radio Seder on Sundays.  Sam, thanks for coming in.

SAM SEDER, AIR AMERICA:  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  Can we pre-impeach somebody?

SEDER:  I tell you.  I‘m willing to bet I know what‘s going to be the first ad of the general election.  It‘s going to involve one of those clips.  It was pretty astonishing.

OLBERMANN:  Was Huckabee the craziest of them last night?

SEDER:  The Easter egg comment was a little bit strange.  That must be one heck of an Easter egg hunt when they have all those CIA weapons inspectors and 150,000 troops and somehow, they can‘t locate those Easter eggs.

It‘s just bizarre.

OLBERMANN:  Of all the imagery to come up with, the thing that trivializes the whole process, could you think of a worse analogy?

SEDER:  I think he‘s trying to signal to us that his fantasies about Iraq are similar to those of a child in regards to the Easter Bunny.  That‘s the only thing I can imagine.

OLBERMANN:  How much of this do you suppose last night, because it just seemed to be so over the top, even for Republicans which is really saying something even on this topic.  How much of this might have been for the nomination process to fire up the proverbial base.  Would they really trot any of this out for the general election?

SEDER:  That‘s the amazing thing.  That occurred to me.  Can you imagine John McCain sitting next to a congressman on the brink of losing his job and the question is raised would you do this all over again?  You now know there‘s no weapons of mass destruction.  There is no threat to this country, killing 300 to 600,000 people.  Four thousand American lives.  Trillions and trillions of dollars and you want to do it again.  You‘re going to see the congressman just slink off somewhere.

OLBERMANN:  It will be preceded by “My dear friends” and everything will be OK.

To whatever degree the bloodlust is genuine, why consistently aim it at Iraq.  Is it you don‘t want to change the story line to a reconstituted al Qaeda is, which is on that Afghan-Pakistan border?

SEDER:  I don‘t know.  I think it‘s a function of how narrow the Republican base has become.

We have got 25 percent of the Republican Party that is just - and basically of the nation—that‘s basically just holding on bare knuckled to this notion that what we did was not a horrible, horrible mistake.  And it was.  It boggles the imagination.

OLBERMANN:  Now, jumping to President Bush, we mentioned this earlier that he is heading into talks with Iraq to get a treaty.  He‘s not going to call it a treaty because he doesn‘t then have to run it past Congress, at least he thinks.  Why is he going to circumvent the Senate?  Why not go for the treaty?  It‘s not like the Senate gives him a lot of a fight on anything?

SEDER:  I guess the point is that he feels that if you can really break the Constitution, I mean if you can really slaughter this thing, why not just go for it.  He‘s basically swinging for the fences on this one.  He figures no one is going to say anything.  He‘s going to go down in the history books.

OLBERMANN:  I never thought of it this way.  He‘s playing for another member of the family later down the line to be president to make it a complete monarchy later on in the year 2020 or so.

SEDER:  If you go for the superlative, you go for the superlative, I think in that situation.

OLBERMANN:  Sam Seder of Air America thanks for coming in, Sam.  Have a good weekend.

The absolute worst wrong kind of hot streak in Vegas.  Nobody hurt, thousands frightened, thousands more transfixed.  And it‘s hard to believe you can get a job delivering newspapers, let alone covering the White House on TV without knowing how and why Abraham Lincoln stopped being the president of the United States.  But this guy has.

And for who else?  Fox Noise.  His remarkable story ahead on “Worst Persons.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The fire at a Las Vegas casino is out with no reports of major injuries.  Leading our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, “Keeping Tabs” the three alarm blaze happened about 11:00 a.m. on the roof of the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino.  All guests and employees were quickly and efficiently evacuated from the 32 story building in a great job.  The Las Vegas Strip was closed down.  The emergency response took about two hours to put out the blaze.  Firefighters forced to hand carry hoses up the stairs since the fire could not be reached by ladders.  A team of welders has been working on the roof of the resort reportedly according to a Clark County spokeswoman.  Although the cause of the fire has not determined.

And Heath Ledger‘s family has now put words to their heartbreak.  Remembering him as quote, “The most amazing old soul in a young man‘s body.”

Ledger‘s family posted a death notice in the “West Australian Newspaper” before departing Perth, Australia for New York.  Ledger‘s body was in a Manhattan funeral home for private viewing today before police escorted his casket to the airport.  Still no official cause of death.  The family reportedly plans on a funeral service in L.A. though they have not confirmed details.  Burial expected to be back home in Perth.

The bad news is, it‘s another Britney Spears story.  The good news is she might overt the recession.  That‘s ahead.

But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s “Worst Persons in the World.”

The bronze to Henry Weehagen (ph), the police chief of North Braddock, Pennsylvania.  Sean Hicks of that city has sued saying Chief Weehagen‘s officers tasered him.  They say that responding to a silent alarm they found him in a prone position in his couch in his home in the middle of the night.  They couldn‘t tell if he was armed and he didn‘t respond to their, quote, reasonable commands so they tasered him.  Mr. Hicks says that‘s because it was his house on his couch and he was asleep.  He says he then told him that so they tasered him again and took him to the police station even though he told them he had been burned by the tasering and needed a doctor.

The police chief Mr. Weehagen enters into this thusly saying “Our police didn‘t just go to the scene and tase somebody.”  Adding, “Tasers are the best thing going.  I‘d rather be hit by one than a .40 caliber.”  Are you volunteering?

The runner up, Bill-O now whining he deserves an apology because David Letterman pointed out that, quote, “He doesn‘t really care about telling the truth,” asking a guest, begging a guest, pleading a guest, quote, “All right, Bernie, now does Letterman owe it to his audience, too when he sides with a guy like Edwards and calls me a liar and I don‘t know what I‘m talking about in all that.  Does Letterman owe it to his audience to go on the next night and say, gee, I was really unfair to Bill O‘Reilly.”

Does he owe it?  No, you‘re a craphead.  If you wanted fair treatment, you should have been fair to other people at some point in your life.  You want fair now?  Repent.

But our winner, Bret Baier of Fixed News.  Documentary on the presidency, George Bush, fighting to the finish.  It‘s a pander job.  Big whoop.  We‘re used to it.

But get this part, Mr. Baier says of his discussions with President Bush, “We talked a lot about President Lincoln and there‘s going to be a lot of people that watch saying is he trying to equate himself to Lincoln.  I tell you what.  He thinks about Lincoln and the tough times he had during the Civil War.  Six hundred thousand dead.  The country essentially hated him when he was leaving office.”

Bret, you realize Abraham Lincoln didn‘t exactly leave office.  He was reelected, even in the middle of the Civil War, even with the horrifying number of dead, and then after he won the Civil War, he got shot.  I mean it was in all the papers.  When he was leaving office.  I‘m just assuming this was Bret Baier‘s mistake, not the president‘s.  If it‘s the president‘s, we all need to move.  Bret Baier, Fox Noise, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

Leaves office.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Forget tax cuts, housing incentives, fiscal responsibility, all you need to fix the economy is Britney Spears.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN.  “Portfolio” magazine doing the math.  And figuring out that she alone creates millions of dollars of revenue in our economy.  She made $450 million for her company for the music, 150 more on tours, even put her perfume in the $100 million range.  The amount such packaging rakes in every year is 30 to $40 million.  Then there is the paparazzi and the media.  Paparazzi can charge anywhere from $250 to $100,000 per pictures.  Ex Seventeen even estimates that she provides 30 percent of that company‘s revenue.

The media who buy those photos rake it in too.  Just between January of ‘06 and July ‘07 readers bought $360 million worth of magazines with Britney Spears on the cover.

Average annual take, I didn‘t step on it that time, $75 million for the mags, $4 million for the papes, even her ex is raking it in.  K-Fed gets $35,000 in spousal support and is charging about the same to any nightclubs that want to book him.  Annual average, a cool million.

Portfolio estimating the volume and value of the Britney Spears economy at $110 to 120 million.  Multiply that by a million clones and you‘ve solved the national debt.  Though there is at least one American taxpayer who might have a problem with multiple versions of La Spears, George Clooney thanks to the rude shock he got the night Britney Spears refused to hand over the kids and ended up in the hospital.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR:  I came home at 10:00 and there‘s all these helicopters over my house and lights.  I went upstairs and came out in a robe.  I see all this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) going on.  I ran around out with a baseball bat in my robe.  Britney Spears‘ house apparently is about 300 yards from mine, so now I have to move.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As we contemplate the move, we go now to Joel McHale, host of the unmissable “The Soup.”  The new episode on the E! network tonight at 10:00 and then 12:30 a.m.  Joel, thanks for joining us tonight.

JOEL MCHALE, “THE SOUP”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Given what happens to Mr. Clooney, could Ms. Spears provide incentive to the housing market as well.  Just move her into neighborhoods one day at a time.  Prodding people into selling their homes and getting out?

MCHALE:  Oh, yes.  Britney Spears is the Native America burial ground of real estate incentives.  The only problem is, if the new neighbors come in, there‘s a chance they also will become crazed George Clooney copycat bat-wielding people.  It will be very scary.

OLBERMANN:  He seemed a little strange.  He seemed a little—His arm movements were a little Britneyesque in that tape.

MCHALE:  Yeah.

OLBERMANN:  Anyway if she is good for the economy and the economy is on the verge of recession by logical extension does that mean that part of the nation‘s economic stimulus program should be focused on her?

MCHALE:  Yeah, why not?  K-Fed and Adnan have already had their stimulus packages focused on her.  Sorry.

OLBERMANN:  Here‘s the swing.  Hit over the fence.  McHale.  What about cloning this woman or is that a violation of the administration stem cell research policy?

MCHALE:  It will be a violation of that, the Geneva Convention, NAFTA, the Kyoto Protocol, the Bill of Rights, any law ever created by any civilization in history, in fact.  Please don‘t do it.

OLBERMANN:  And yet, the Spearses reproduce with alarming regularity and they start early and often.

MCHALE:  And E! would probably give them all reality shows.

OLBERMANN:  The other switch little thing in here, even a satellite of Britney Spears like Kevin Federline can generate income just by showing up at a club for example.  Would it be good for the economy to create more Britney spin offs like him or is she taking care of that with this Adnan guy?

MCHALE:  Sorry, you got me flustered now because you reminded me that K-Fed makes more money than me.  But to make this positive, Keith, you‘re going to be at L.A. next week.  What club do you think we could go to and get paid for it?  Sam‘s Club?

OLBERMAN:  No.

MCHALE:  AAA?

OLBERMANN:  No.

MCHALE:  A club soccer team.

OLBERMANN:  No.  Nothing at all.  They wouldn‘t pay me to come into the room you‘re sitting in now.

Should the presidential candidates in the interest of shoring up the economy if they get into the White House, should they contact Spears, persuade her to do more stuff for the sake of our economy?

MCHALE:  I suppose, but don‘t you think Barack‘s had enough chunky blondes hissing at him?

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Here is one for you.  If Elizabeth Arden has made $100 million off her.  Even the Pure nightclub has made $50,000 off of her which is what they charge for people who want to sit in the next table to her in their nightclub.  How much do you think you and the “Soup” have made off her?

MCHALE:  Well, once again, it was my understanding there would be no math questions.  But I‘ll give it a go.  The “Soup” makes, in one year enough money off of Britney Spears stories to pay for Ryan Seacrest‘s salary for a week.  So, a lot.

OLBERMANN:  Joel McHale.  Host of “The Soup” on E! with the Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford reference there.

Great thanks, Joel.  Take care.

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,731 day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  David Gregory and I will rejoin you tomorrow evening at 6:00 Eastern for the complete coverage of the results of the Democratic primary in South Carolina.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, 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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