updated 2/1/2008 12:03:24 PM ET 2008-02-01T17:03:24

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: Republican candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain are both misstating facts and their records as they fight for right-wing voters.  We have the top five misstatements and blunders from just the past 24-hours.

And doesn‘t it look like McCain get a free pass from the inside Washington media constantly refer to him as the straight talker and yet he‘s flipped and flopped with the best of them, why is it just Romney who gets the wrap?

And: Clinton versus Obama continues tonight.  We are On Their Trail with the late breaking a fact check of tonight‘s biggest misstatements and blunders.  That is coming up.

But first: We‘re On Their Trail again tonight, counting the five biggest misstatements and blunders from just the past 24-hours.

First: It‘s Romney and McCain.  Here with me to evaluate those blunders and misstatements MSNBC political correspondent, David Shuster;

Salon.com, Joan Walsh and Republican lawyer, Jack Burkeman.  All right.

Number five: McCain and Romney getting into it last night over whether Romney has called for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, of course, he said, he wanted a timetable.  Governor, the right answer to that question was no.  Not what you said, that was we don‘t want to have to lay, have them lay in the weeds until we leave.  And Maliki and the president should enter to some kind of an agreement for quote, “timetables”.  Timetables was the buzz word.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN:  I‘m not using the actual quote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But we will do that.  So, what did Romney actually say?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There‘s no question but the president and prime minister, al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about.  But those shouldn‘t be for public pronouncement.  You don‘t want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you‘re going to be gone.  You want to have a series of things you want to see accomplished in term of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police and leadership of the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I say this is a major misstatement from McCain.  Romney never said he wanted a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.  Joan Walsh, do you agree with me?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  I absolutely agree with you.  I think that John McCain is very powerful because he did the impossible last night.  He made me feel sorry for Mitt Romney.  I mean, Mitt‘s been just smearing this guy, he‘s been spending a lot of money to get out a negative message about McCain and the other guys but this was outrageous.  I mean, thank you for playing the whole quote because when you listen to it, it‘s clear that Romney is opposing public timetables.  The debating Congress has been around on that issue.  What the Republicans are saying that timetables, let the enemy know what we‘re going to do.  So, clearly, Romney is telling the truth.

ABRAMS:  Jack, misstatements and cheap shot at Romney here, isn‘t it?

JACK BURKEMAN, REPUBLICAN LAWYER:  I think McCain is in the right.  I

don‘t agree with you and I think McCain is clearly in the right.  Romney

called for a timetable, the other issue was a PR issue, the fact that he

didn‘t call for them to be made public.  I don‘t really see how that bears

with any relevance on the issue.  I‘ll tell you, I think McCain, if you

want to talk about straight talk and I‘m not here to advocate one or the

other, I‘m neutral, I‘m on the line in the primary.  McCain has taken the

high road in Iraq -

ABRAMS:  All right.  I don‘t want to preach.  I want to stick to the facts here.  All right.  David Shuster, you agree with me, don‘t you?  It‘s just misstatement by McCain?

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, and I think it‘s outrageous.  And especially if you go back to what McCain said on Saturday in Florida, he said that Romney was waving the white flag of surrender with the withdrawal like Hillary Clinton.  I mean, it‘s over the top, McCain should know better.

ABRAMS:  All right. Number four: Biggest Republican blunders and misstatements in the last day, Romney trying to get in a cheap shot after McCain picked up a recent endorsement from a certain New York newspaper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  I guess, I‘d also note that if you get endorsed by the “New York Times,” you‘re not a conservative.

MODERATOR:  Senator McCain.

MCCAIN:  Let me note that I was endorsed by your two hometown newspapers who know you best, including the very conservative, “Boston Herald.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  What a dumb comment from Romney.  A conservative “New York Post” endorsed Barack Obama.  So what?  Even Jack Burkeman is going to agree, this is a blunder, right?

BURKEMAN:  Oh, Dan, I hate so argumentative.  No.  He‘s in the right. 

I hate to be argumentative.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  David, bottom line here, this is just, you know, when he was trying to make a joke right, that backfired on him.

SHUSTER:  Yes, it was horrible and Mitt Romney should not be making jokes, he‘s proven that he can‘t do it and just walking to it this time.  It was a very stupid mistake.

ABRAMS:  Number three: Who is really supporting John McCain?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  All of the long lists of conservatives that support me, both governors, conservative governors and in fact, your former lieutenant governor who spent a lot of time on the campaign trail with us.  But the point is, I‘m proud of the people that have surrounded me and are supporting me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ouch.  But here‘s Romney‘s counter punch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Let me help you with the facts here, senator.  First of all, my lieutenant governor, Carrey Hilly endorsed me and is supporting me and he‘s working all over the states for me.  My predecessor in office, Governor Swift is supporting you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  It sounds to me, McCain is wrong here.  Misstatements, cheap shot, miss the mark.  Joan Walsh, this one, McCain should know better.

WALSH:  He should know better, that was terrible.  And clearly, he‘s being supported more by moderates.  He‘s having a hard time tearing away that conservative (INAUDIBLE).  It looks desperate, frankly.

ABRAMS:  Number two: Last night‘s Republican debate was at the Ronald Reagan presidential library.  The candidates bowed to the gaffes thrown.  Here‘s Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Where in the house Reagan built.  It‘s important that we as Republicans stay in the house Reagan built.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Sounds good, Nancy Reagan, I‘m sure appreciated the kind words but Romney had a different opinion of Reagan back in 1994 when he ran unsuccessfully to become senator from Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. 

I‘m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I don‘t think a change of heart for Mitt, I think it‘s a blunder for Romney.  Why does he want fact checkers like us discussing this, right, David?

SHUSTER:  Yes, maybe he‘s made so many flip-flops, he just forgets about them.

ABRAMS:  I mean, Jack, look, it‘s a tough position, right?  He‘s at the Reagan library, he wants to sort of do the Republican salute to Ronald Reagan, but he‘s got to know that there‘s this other statement out there that we‘re going to bring up.

BURKEMAN:  Oh, yes.  There‘s no question it‘s a blunder.  I mean, all this campaign are broke.  I think they lack staff.  I think on both sides where the kind of factual (INAUDIBLE).  My personal view is that Romney would have done a lot better, Dan, if he flip-flopped less on the some of the social issues.  I think he just went too far.  Had he been more straightforward, I think he would have done better.

WALSH:  Yes, the Mitt Romney who said that about Reagan is in a witness protection program now.  He‘s changed all of his positions since then.  We don‘t recognize the man.  You know, it‘s really hard to keep it straight.

ABRAMS:  The number one blunder over misstatement from the leading Republican in the past 24-hours.  McCain: On the defensive about his immigration reform bill.  Which to his credit was a major accomplishment to put together.  McCain worked with Democrats and President Bush to try and deal with the millions of illegal immigrants living in the U.S.  Will, the Republicans helped kill the effort and now, McCain won‘t even talk about it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  If your original proposal came to a vote in the Senate floor would you vote for it?

MCCAIN:  It won‘t.  That‘s we went to the debate.  No, I would not because we know what the situation is today.  That people want the borders secured first.  And so, to say that that would come to the floor of the Senate, it won‘t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  That wasn‘t the question, was it, Joan?

WALSH:  No, it wasn‘t.  I think he snuck in there, no, he wouldn‘t.  I don‘t know, I was perplexed by that and I‘m kind of disturbed by that.  It used to be a badge of honor to do something courageous and also to work with the other side to solve a problem.  And to have him back away from it, so, it‘s only what?  Four or five months ago that this was you know, a big issue and it was voted on.  What‘s going on?

ABRAMS:  David, look, let‘s not pretend we don‘t know why McCain‘s doing it.  We know why McCain‘s doing it.  He‘s doing it because it is political suicide for him in this primary to be sort of adopting his own bill.  But how to you distance yourself from your own bill?

SHUSTER:  Well, what he did was very sloppy.  I mean, I don‘t why John McCain was trying to answer the question, why don‘t he just step back and say, look, it was a mistake, I‘ve tried to do something which I shouldn‘t have done, I‘ve learned from it.  Now, we move on and now, we build the border fence, but to say, whether or not he would have voted on it now, he gets himself in trouble.

ABRAM:  And Jack, I think that‘s the problem, he can‘t use the “m” word, which is mistake.

BURKEMAN:  Well, I agree with some of that.  It‘s a clear flip

flopped, Dan, but I‘ll be honest, you know, it‘s hard to be a complete

purist in a two party system where you have continental appeal with 300

million people -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Thank you for the lecture.  The bottom line is this guy is known as the straight talk express.  I mean, come on.

BURKEMAN:  I think, largely, he is.  I think McCain largely is.  I

think if you look at his position -

ABRAMS:  Again, I know you want to give me long lectures about McCain, but let‘s stick to what we‘re talking about here.  Again, we‘re talking about here and now is his refusal to answer a question about his own immigration bill and whether he would vote for it today.  I mean, if he can‘t answer that question, that seems to me that‘s a fundamental problem.

BURKEMAN:  Well, but one flip-flop does not a flip-flop for make -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Then you stay with us, everyone and including Jack.  Because coming up next, we‘ve just seen McCain trying to have it both ways.  I say that many in the inside DC media, when they‘re often referring to him as the straight talking candidate are not necessarily doing the public a service.  He‘s flip-flopped with the best of them, more than one time, Jack.  And I‘ll show you. 

Plus: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been duking it out all day and night.  We‘re On Their Trail: We got the late breaking misstatements, blunders and cheap shots from tonight coming up.  Your email:

Abrams@msnbc.com.  Tell us what we‘re doing right, wrong, be sure to include where you‘re writing from.  We‘ll be back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know John McCain set a school wrestling record for the fastest pin when he was in high school.  Coming up, McCain hasn‘t had to wrestle with the inside DC media much during his presidential campaign.  They seem to love him, no matter how much he changes his positions.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Let‘s have some straight talk.  I responded with a little straight talk.  Now, a little straight talk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  While many refer to him as a straight talker, applauding him for speaking the truth, the truth is that John McCain may be one of the bigger flip-floppers of the campaign.  From his stance on pondering to the religious rights to gay marriage to the Bush tax cuts, McCain‘s been all over the map.  But many in the DC media continue to buy in into this straight talk moniker despite flip-flops and some of the biggest issues for Republican voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Neither party should be defined by pondering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance whether they‘d be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the Left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the Right.

TIM RUSSERT:  You believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance?

MCCAIN:  No, I don‘t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And the straight talk express got a major bump on MSNBC‘S HARDBALL back in 2006.  McCain couldn‘t keep his stance on gay marriage straight for more than a few minutes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I think that gay marriage should be allowed if there‘s a ceremony kind of thing, if you want to call it that.  I don‘t have a problem with that.

I believe the people want to have private ceremonies is fine.  I do not believe that gay marriage should be legal.

(CROWD BOOING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, why does it seem to me that many in the inside DC media give McCain a free pass.  Let me go to someone who is in that media.  That‘s David Shuster.  David, am I being unfair here?  I mean, it seems to me that the straight talk express, they get on the bus.  We‘re on the straight talk express, not the so called straight talk - it just seems to me that many just give McCain a pass on this.

SHUSTER:  I don‘t know if the press has been giving him a pass.  I mean, he‘s been hounded just because of the whole Romney stuff and he was hounded because of those comments back eight years ago when he talked about the agents of intolerance.  I think the difference is McCain is respected by the media in a way that Romney is not because McCain is not never afraid to talk to the press.  He loves rolling (ph) press conferences 15 hours a day.  And as a result, reporters will allow him to essentially have context as opposed to maybe the gotcha‘s that will come up from other candidates.

ABRAMS:  Joan, why is the standard whether he‘s worse than Romney?  I mean, it just seems to me, if you‘re going to call him, if you‘re going to refer to him as a straight talker and he‘s going to be known in the press as a straight talker, then, he‘s got to deal with the fact and I‘m going to bring up another in a minute, that he hasn‘t been straight talking on a lot of issues.

WALSH:  You know, I agree with you, Dan.  I think David is right though.  It‘s really about what reporters enjoy and they enjoy that back and forth.  It‘s like you see with Hillary Clinton, they don‘t enjoy her and they don‘t want to cover her.  They really wish the storyline will go away.

ABRAMS:  I‘ve made that point many times.  Yes.

WALSH:  I think there really is a kind of double standard here.  I‘m sure you‘re going to get into more of it, but I want to hear Jack reply.  I mean, he‘s flip-flopped on the Bush tax cut.

ABRAMS:  Let‘s talk about tax cut, all right?  Here it is.  McCain on MEET THE PRESS talking about tax cuts versus what he is saying now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I voted against the tax cut.  I voted against it because I didn‘t think there was sufficient relief for working Americans.

These tax cuts have to be made permanent.

I think it‘s important we make the Bush tax cuts permanent.

We need to make the Bush tax cuts permanent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, Jack, he just needs to say, right, that he‘s changed his position on this, right?  Is negative way to say it is flip-flop, the (inaudible) ways to say, look, I‘ve changed my mind.

BURKEMAN:  I‘m being argumentative tonight.  Dan, where are you on all this stuff.  I really think that McCain—I don‘t see much inconsistency.  The argument he made at a time, you played one of the reasons.  He made other reasons.  He‘s said, in the time of war, after 9/11, he didn‘t think it should happen.  He also said at that time that tax cut shouldn‘t be done without corresponding to spending cuts.  Now, what he‘s saying now is he doesn‘t want to see the sunset of the Bush tax cuts because in a recession.  In a recession, that would hurt the economy greatly.  I really don‘t see a substantive inconsistency between those two positions.  Yes, it is true.  McCain is not a euphoric to tax cutter.  (INAUDIBLE)  He‘s not me, he‘s not an enthusiastic champion of those things.  But on the same time now, I just don‘t see the theoretical difference, I don‘t see the flip-flop.

ABRAMS:  Well, you see the flip-flop, you‘re just explaining why it happened?  Right?  You‘re giving us context, which is important, I‘m not minimizing that, but the bottom line is he‘s changed his position.  I mean, look at this ad - this is a McCain ad for Romney, OK?  This is number five here making fun of Mitt Romney‘s flip-flopping.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OVER:  Mitt Romney says he‘s a leader, but how do we know which direction he wants to lead.  Mitt Romney seems to change positions like the wind.  He tells Florida he supports the Bush tax cut.  But as Massachusetts governor, Romney refused to take position on the Bush tax cuts and then, increased taxes by $700 million but tried to call them fees. Where does Mitt Romney stand?  Whichever way the wind blows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I love the ad, but he can‘t have it both ways.  I mean, listen to this.  This is McCain on the issue of abortion, alright?  “Washington Post”, August 24th, 1999 - certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support the repeal of Roe versus Wade.  OK.  And then we got this where he‘s on ABC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I do believe that it‘s very likely or possible that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe V, Wade which would then return this decisions to that states which I support.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Which I support, you heard the part there.  I mean, the problem for me, Joan, look, there‘s no purity in politics, alright?  We know that.  But the notion that Romney is getting labeled this massive flip-flopper and McCain is using it as his campaign tool and many in the media continue to talk about the straight talk express and this and that and Romney‘s problem is flip-flopping when he‘s campaigning against a guy known as the straight talker, it seems to be that is unfair media coverage of what is happening.

WALSH:  I think it is.  I think in fact, the two candidates are flip and flop when you really look at both of their records.  But I think what‘s happening, Dan, is that he telegraphed to reporters that he is a decent guy, he doesn‘t mean this extreme stuff.  You know, everybody that I‘ve talked to has a secret belief he would never repeal Roe V. Wade.  He just have to say that to the Republican base to get elected.  But it‘s really disingenuous but for reporters and for McCain to play this game.  It‘s double talk, it‘s not straight talk.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s a moment of condor.  All right.  Here‘s McCain on THE DAILY SHOW with John Stewart.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

JOHN STEWART, HOST:  Are you freaking out on us?  If you‘re freaking out and you‘re going into the crazy base world.  Are you going into crazy base world?

MCCAIN:  I‘m afraid so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  That‘s really what‘s happening.  I mean, you know, David, it seems to me, I mean he‘s sort of kidding, but that‘s the most honest answer.

SHUSTER:  Well, that‘s right.  But I mean, that‘s Joan‘s point.  I don‘t about eight years ago, on McCain‘s but we asked him if your daughter had an unwanted pregnancy, what would you do?  And he said I would work with her, but it would be her choice.  And all of a sudden, there was a media uproar, and the, an hour later, he was reading a statement that read from his aides, that complied with the language that the base needed.  And I think, that got to Joan‘s point, is that people see John McCain as sloppy sometimes, but that at heart, I think a lot of the reporters believe he‘s not an ideological as the Republicans want him to be.

ABRAMS:  That‘s fine, but he can not be the one claiming to be a straight talker and be flopping on as many issues that we talked about.  All right.  I got to wrap it up.  David Shuster, Joan Walsh, Jack Burkeman, thanks a lot.

Coming up: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been after each other all night.  We are On Their Trail: Tracking the late breaking misstatements and blunders of the night.  And Montel Williams goes after FOX News for covering the Heath Ledger story.  Yes, that Montel Williams who‘s guest includes psyches and puppies.  I will actually defend the folks at FOX.  That is after beating them up for some other stuff including the possibility that Karl Rove is becoming a contributor.  Beat the Press is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press: Our daily look back of the absurd and sometimes amusing perils of live TV.

First up: On the FOX program, we like to call Hannity and company.  Last night, after John Cleese didn‘t seem to realize how huge he‘s ignorant could be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He says he‘s got the entire series.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s his name?  What‘s the other guy name?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Exactly who is that other guy?  Alan Colmes, the Rodney Dangerfield of TV news.

Next up: Some breaking news that really should come as no surprise to anyone.  The blog inside cable news dredge report is reporting that FOX News could some have a new contributor.  Yes, that guy.  Karl Rove.  If true, welcome home, Karl.

Finally: To a defense of FOX News, talk show host, Montel Williams was invited on Saturday morning to talk about the death of actor, Heath Ledger, but instead, he‘s (INAUDIBLE) lecture the interviewers about why they were covering the story instead of only covering the war.  One of the morning‘s anchor, Greg Kelli, a marine corps veteran and a reporter who‘s covered the war extensively from Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONTEL WILLIAMS:   I‘m sorry, we‘re going to sit around talking about Heath Ledger I want to tell America. 28 troops died since January 1st.  That‘s what I want to talk about for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  OK, so, give him credit.  They then gave Montel the chance to do just that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Tell us about one of the troops that died since

January -

WILLIAMS:  I don‘t know the name.  I don‘t know the name.  I‘m as

disgusted with myself

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘ll have more with Montel in just a moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Please, he comes on with his lecture, then, doesn‘t have the any further questions to discuss it?  (INAUDIBLE)  So, Montel wasn‘t there when they came back, neither was his show which is recently cancelled after 17 years of topics like being bringing sexy back, and moms gone wild.  You stay classy, Montel.

We need your help Beating the Press.  And if you see anything right or wrong, amusing or absurd, go to our Web site: Abrams.msnbc.com.  Leave us a tip in the box, please include the show and the time you saw the item.

Coming up: A big day of political Winners and Losers.

Plus: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama squaring off again tonight.  We are On Their Trail again.  Who misstated?  Overstated?  Got it right or wrong?  Our live up to the minute analysis is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Up next, we‘re on their trail, fact checking the latest and worst of the campaign misstatements, cheap shots, blunders.  Tonight, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cannot escape our watch.  But first, the latest news.

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Breaking news tonight, the final two Democratic presidential candidates squared off in a high-stakes debate tonight at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, normally, the scene of red carpet for Academy Awards, but tonight, the venue for a heavy weight political battle.  For the first time, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off one on one on everything from immigration to healthcare to leadership. 

As, always, we have on their trail, assessing who may have misstating any facts.  Are there any cheap shots?   Who‘s playing it straight? 

Here to help us separate the facts from fiction Peter Beinart, senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, also from the “New Republic.”  Associate editor for “The Hill”, A.B. Stoddard.  And MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford.  All right.  Thanks to all of you for coming on.  I appreciate it.  Peter, let me just start with you.  A relatively civil debate, wasn‘t it? 

PETER BEINART, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  It was very civil and very wonky, you know.  I think it was a little like eating your brussel sprouts.  There was a lot to digest there, not a lot of hoopla.  And I think both candidates did pretty well. 

ABRAMS:  All right, A.B., this issue - one of the key issues that‘s come up that they‘re disputing is sort of how they would deal with foreign leaders.  Hillary Clinton said, “I think that we‘ve got to have a full diplomatic effort, but I don‘t think the president should put the prestige of the presidency on the line in the first year to have meetings without preconditions with five of the worst dictators in the world.” 

Obviously trying to slam Barack Obama there for a previous comment that he had made about meeting with them.  Obama responded by saying, “I have for example disagreed with Sen. Clinton on meeting with Iran.  I think, and the National Intelligence Estimate, the last report suggested that if we are meeting with them, talking to them, and offering them both carrots and sticks, they are more likely to change their behavior, and we can do so in a way that does not ultimately cost billions of dollars, thousands of lives and hurt our reputation around the world.”  So what is their fundamental difference here, A.B.? 

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, “THE HILL”:  Well, Barack Obama likes to talk about the Iran issue, because not only, as Peter Beinart pointed out to me in the green room, does it poll well among the  majority of Americans, but it reminds the Democratic primary electorate about the issue of Barack.  He likes to talk about, you know, the rush to war, the mindset that let us into Iraq.  He also brought up Iranian influence in Iraq tonight and he believes - and I think he‘s right that to an extent the NIE report bore this out, that there was a rush to assume that we should, you know, strike a bellicose posture with Iran and it was unwarranted. 

And I think that he - if it is popular among those voters, and I think that Barack Obama finds that it is, he is going to keep her straight on that and be proud of his position.  That‘s a fact and that dates back to the thing that she quoted in a debate in August, I think.

ABRAMS:  Craig, does a civil debate like this one on the issues help or hurt one or the other?

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think Democrats are beginning to look forward now and realizing that this bickersome thing between Hillary and Barack hasn‘t really helped the party overall.  You know, I think a lot of Democrats watching this debate tonight, Dan, are probably thinking, “That‘s not a bad team.  There might be some arguing over who‘s on top and who‘s the running mate.  But I think a lot of Democrats really don‘t want to make this choice.  They‘d love it if somebody just said, “OK.  They‘re going to run together and will be happy with that.”

ABRAMS:  All right.  We‘re going to take a break.  When we come back, we‘re going to play you some of the highlights from the debate and we‘re going to really lay out where the misstatements came in, things that were said that may not have been true, mischaracterizations of the other side, and ultimately tell you who we think won and lost it.  That‘s coming.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Continuing now the analysis of the first-ever Clinton-Obama, one on one, back with A.B. Stoddard, Peter Beinart and Craig Crawford.  All right.  So now the subject is moved to Iraq, Peter.  And there‘s no question that Barack Obama‘s going to try and has been trying to take the upper hand in terms of his voting record on Iraq.  A, smart strategy; B, does he have a fair argument that his record is better?

BEINART:  Yes, he does.  Because Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the war.  And although Barack Obama wasn‘t in the senate, he said pretty clearly in his speech that he was against it.  So, I think he had the better of that score.  On the question on what they would do now in Iraq, however, they‘re quite similar. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  And A.B., she‘s refused again tonight to apologize for her vote.  Again, it‘s a position, I think, she has to take, right?

STODDARD:  Well, refusing to apologize is sort of politically shrewd, obviously.  I mean, Hillary Clinton is such a seasoned pro.  She ends every paragraph - I mean a debate answer the word, “That‘s what I intend to do.”  I mean everything is a potential commercial.  Wow, Barack Obama was talking about the mistake of going into war.  She was nodding her head in agreement.  Yet, she won‘t actually apologize and admit a mistake. 

It‘s very shrewd, and listen, Peter‘s right.  I think at this point, she‘s convinced the voters and her new supporter Maxine Waters who started the Out of Iraq caucus that she‘s in the right place.

ABRAMS:  Because, Craig, her position would be, right, that I was authorizing to give the president the power to go to war, but I was not saying, go to war.

CRAWFORD:  No, Dan.  Her position is great politics.  It‘s amorphous blob.  You can‘t make any sense out of it.  Great politics, because when it comes in November, and you don‘t know - none of them know right now what the public‘s really going to think about Iraq come November.  We‘re seeing with the surge, people are thinking it‘s working.  The numbers are going up on approval of what‘s going on over there.  And that could continue.

ABRAMS:  Really?  (CROSS TALK) I mean do you really think it‘s possible, Craig by November that the war could be popular? 

CRAWFORD:  I‘m saying she‘s preserved the option to be the hawk in November, if she needs to be.  She‘s preserved the option to be the dove in November if that‘s what‘s popular.  And her argument to Democrats is you might not like that, but I‘m the one best prepared to take this argument to the Republicans because I can handle whatever happens. 

ABRAMS:  But you know, Peter, as we‘ve been talking about in these fact check segments, their voting records in the senate are the same.  And Hillary Clinton is reminding voters and Obama of that, that when they came to actual voting records in the senate, they have voted the same way.  But that is true; that is a factually accurate statement.  It may not tell the whole story. 

BEINART:  Yes.  I mean Barack Obama deserves credit for the fact that he opposed the Iraq war at the time when a lot of the Democrats thought - either believed in it or thought it was just politically smart to do that, to give the guy credit.  On the question of getting out of Iraq, he and Hillary Clinton have kind of followed the same path.  They were both more reluctant to call for a withdrawal early.  But they kind of moved in that direction as the whole Democratic Party and indeed a lot of the country has.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Here‘s -

CRAWFORD:  One thing we‘ve learned here is, we‘re not getting out of Iraq no matter who wins.

ABRAMS:  Yes, well -

CRAWFORD:  That‘s the dirty truth here.  We see that whether Republicans or the Democrats.  We‘re not getting out of Iraq that soon no matter who wins. 

ABRAMS:  You know, before I play - I want to play a piece of sound where Obama really goes after Clinton on a number of issues.  But A.B., I think one of the things we‘re learning tonight if you get past some of the rhetoric and the sensationalism, if the truth is that on most issues, they don‘t differ that much.

STODDARD:  This is true and I think that Barack Obama is making the case to his voters and undecided that he‘s trying to start a movement here.  He‘s trying to invite disaffected Republicans and independents to the table to not be partisan, to be post-partisan transformational figure in politics to change the way that it has been set up. 

The game that was so toxic that was played so well by the Clintons which only invites Republican opposition, he‘s trying to bring a new coalition of new voters together.  That‘s why he always brings it back to the question of leadership.

CRAWFORD:  I know that fell apart in the debate tonight.  He brought up Ted Kennedy twice.  That is no way you‘re going to unite the Democrats with the Republicans - is going to the Republicans and say you‘re going to protect Kennedy in terms of immigration?  You‘re going to put Ted Kennedy in terms of healthcare?  That‘s going to unite you and the Republicans? 

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to tell you what I love with the fact that John Edwards has become the Ronald Reagan of the Democrats. 

STODDARD:  Right.

ABRAMS:  You know, suddenly everyone is citing John Edwards - “As the great John Edwards once said ...”  I mean he‘s now become the sort of mythical figure that they both need to have.

STODDARD:  That‘s what John Edwards wanted.

ABRAMS:  Of course.  Of course.  All right.  Here‘s Obama, and this is important, factual stop-going-after-Clinton card yesterday on some key issues. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The way to win a debate with John McCain or any Republican who‘s nominated is not by having the Democrats nominate someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq; who agreed with him in voting to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; who agreed with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don‘t like; who actually differed with John McCain by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ouch.  I mean, you know - look, it seems to me that some of those, Craig, are fair, but some of them are either mischaracterizations of her position or unfair links between Hillary Clinton and the George Bush and Dick Cheney years.

CRAWFORD:  It sounded pretty divisive to me for a uniter.  He‘s attacking the Republicans and he‘s attacking Clinton.  He‘s attacking everybody and he‘s going to be the uniter? 

ABRAMS:  Let‘s come back to the debate, Peter.  So you‘ve got on the one hand, Obama making these - as Craig points out, very divisive comments.  And yet, tonight, seeming to try and bring it all together.  A lot of comments about whichever one of us - whichever one of the two of us is elected is still going to be better than Bush and Cheney.  Can Obama do both?  Can he, on the one hand, say, “She‘s with Bush and Cheney.”  And on the other hand say, “We‘re against Bush and Cheney.”

BEINART:  Yes.  I think he can.  I think one of the things we know about politics is that people tend to attack when they feel they‘re behind, when they feel vulnerable.  And I think what‘s interesting about the tactical decision of both camps tonight not to go hard after one another.  It is suggested they feel OK about their position going in to next Tuesday. 

They were not going for a game change or neither of them got a game change.  I think the reason is Hillary Clinton is leading in a lot of these polls, but Barack Obama feels that he has the momentum, so they‘re both willing to roll the dice and let it play out.

ABRAMS:  All right.  More on the big battle from tonight.  Coming up in a minute, we‘ll also tell you who tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” were and your E-mails.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, ABC CORRESPONDENT:  Here‘s what a lot of people want to know, can you control him? 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Oh, of course.  You know, there‘s only one president at a time.  Campaign‘s got a little heated, we all know that.  But when you have to make the tough decisions, I have to make the decision.

MCFADDEN:  Newsweek magazine this week says flatly, if you‘re elected it will be a co-presidency.

CLINTON:  Well, that is not the case.

MCFADDEN:  Well, maybe it‘s a good idea.

CLINTON:  Well, no, it‘s not.  It‘s not.  I learned that.  I learned that the hard way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  That was Hillary Clinton yesterday.  The debate is now over.  Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama, the round one effectively where it‘s just the two of them, has now concluded, possibly the most important debate thus far leading into Super Tuesday.  And one of the key issues is the fact that in California, it‘s gotten close.  Poll - Hillary Clinton, 43 percent is the latest poll.  Barack Obama, 40 percent.  This is still when Edwards was still in it.  So big question is going to be John Edwards, John Edwards, John Edwards.

I‘m joined again by my panel, Peter Beinart, A.B. Stoddard and Craig Crawford.  All right.  I want all of you to listen now.  We can play you portions from the debate where the name of John Edwards is evoked again and again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  First of all, I want to acknowledge a candidate who left the

race this week, John Edwards who did such an outstanding job - 

(APPLAUSE)

Elevating the issues of poverty and the plight of working families all across the country and we wish him and Elizabeth well.  He‘s going to be a voice for this party and for this country for many years to come.

CLINTON:  I‘m very grateful for the extraordinary service of John and Elizabeth Edwards.  And among the many contributions that they have made both by their personal example of courage and leadership is their reminder that in this land of such plenty and blessings, there are still 37 million Americans who are living below the poverty line and many others barely hanging on above. 

OBAMA:  That is something that John Edwards and I both talked about repeatedly in this campaign.

CLINTON:  I have put forth a plan similar to what Sen. Edwards had before he left the race.

ABRAMS:  I love it.  I love it.  John Edwards.  John Edwards.  John Edwards.  All right.  So here‘s the question I‘m going to ask each of you - who is John Edwards going to ultimately endorse?  Peter Beinart?

BEINART:  I think if he endorses anyone, it will be Obama, but I think more of the supporters will go to Clinton. 

ABRAMS:  A.B.?

STODDARD:  I have the same answer.  I don‘t know who he‘s going to endorse.  I would have to bet on Obama, but they‘re certainly hinting that he‘s considered Hillary.

ABRAMS:  Craig?

CRAWFORD:  As time goes by, I think he‘s not going to endorse which ultimately helps Hillary because no one expected him to endorse Hillary.  The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) corrupts in the campaign.  If he doesn‘t endorse Obama, that‘s bad for Obama.

ABRAMS:  But the polls would indicate that the second choice, at least the A.P. poll that was taken, the second choice of Edwards‘ voters was in fact Hillary more than Obama.  Right, Craig? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, you know what?  What really matters is the stuff like the Service Employees‘ Union in California.  It‘s something like 60,000 members who had endorsed Edwards, that‘s what Clinton and Obama really want to get their hands on right now.  He‘s got to make that endorsement quickly for that organization to be able to make that transition, which is why I say he‘s got to do it soon or it‘s even not worth anything. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me ask again - it was a question we brought up before.  But now that the debate is over, Peter, this issue of the civil nature of this debate.  The fact - and it was wonkish at times on issues related to health care in particular and the economy.  Is that helpful to one or the other?  I mean does one of them want to debate, quote, “issues” more than the other?

BEINART:  I think they both wanted that.  Look, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton both got hurt by how negative the campaign got a few days ago.  That‘s part of the reason Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama.  I think they wanted to turn the page on that.  But Barack Obama, while he‘s counterpunched reasonably well, has never been someone who has been - seemed like he was particularly happy really going on the offense unprompted.  He‘s always said he wants to be more high-minded.  So I think both of them were willing to have high-minded debate with no knockout punches and trust that they can still do well on Tuesday. 

ABRAMS:  But A.B., does Clinton have to be worried about the momentum issue that the media is obsessed with?  The media is always obsessed with where they were, where they are now, et cetera.  And so maybe some would argue she needed something more out of tonight? 

STODDARD:  No, I think that they both benefited from this calm and really civil debate.  I think that both of them know what to do out of the hard feelings that came out of South Carolina.  Barack Obama knows he needs to act presidential and stay calm.  She knows that she needs to accept the Kennedy endorsement and all that‘s come with grace.  And I think she handled herself wonderfully tonight.  I think they both need to keep the people that they have and not make any more waves. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Here‘s a piece of sound about a very controversial issue related to immigrants  and driver‘s licenses - we don‘t have it.  OK.  All right. 

CRAWFORD:  That was an interesting point of the debate. 

ABRAMS:  You know what?  Go ahead, Craig.  What were you saying? 

CRAWFORD:  This is where you saw Obama really playing to the California primary here because he‘s taking a risk.  I mean one reason I think he‘s feeling less confident than Hillary about Super Tuesday.  He took more risks tonight and this is a big one.  He signed up for this driver‘s license program for illegals.  He even talked about putting Ted - ((UNINTELLIGIBLE) with Ted Kennedy on immigration reform. 

Both are efforts to appeal to Latin American voters in California

Latinos, because Hillary has had a lead there.  If you take that lead of hers among those Hispanics out of the equation in California, it‘s a dead heat in California.  That‘s what the whole game is in California.  Interestingly, she didn‘t take the bait.  She backed off of that driver‘s license program, and took, if anything, a more conservative stand and told me she‘s feeling confident about that vote.

ABRAMS:  She tried to avoid answering the question first about

driver‘s -  

CRAWFORD:  Which is the best thing for Democrats to do, by the way. 

ABRAMS:  And you know what‘s interesting, Peter, is they both seemed to recognize - and I was surprised that Obama didn‘t go in for the kill.  I mean Hillary Clinton has clearly changed her position on this.  And Obama mentioned it, but he almost seemed like he wanted to put his hand on hers to say, “We don‘t want to go there.  We don‘t want to go down this road.” 

BEINART:  Yes.  That‘s true.  Look, I don‘t think Barack Obama has ever been really comfortable being really, really aggressive.  And you can say that so we can expect.  It‘s also part of the reason that he‘s maintained even a slate in the campaign, a kind of a genuine image amongst a lot of people as a decent guy who‘s sincere about wanting to take the high road.  This is a very explosive issue and it‘s an issue which is very double-sided, because while it might help you with his (UNINTELLIGIBLE), there are a lot of working class Democrats, white and black, who are not for this.  And I think that‘s what Hillary Clinton was recognizing. 

CRAWFORD:  That style point that Peter brought up plays into the Edwards endorsement question.  Because one reason Edwards backs away from Obama , he doesn‘t think he‘s aggressive enough.  Edwards truly believes the next Democratic nominee is going to have a real fighter in there, not just against the Republicans, but against corporate interests.  He doesn‘t think Obama is enough of a fighter, and I‘m sure that Edwards is watching that debate and concluding the same thing Peter did. 

ABRAMS:  Ten seconds, A.B.  I showed a sound bite before, where Obama was very aggressive.  He just wasn‘t as aggressive in this debate. 

STODDARD:  I just think - it was just a momentum and the polls are tightening.  The question is not, “Is the momentum with Obama?  Is the wind at his back?”  It is.  The question is, “Does he have time to make up the gap between now and Tuesday?  And probably not. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Peter Beinart, A.B. Stoddard, and Craig Crawford, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.  Stay tuned.  Keith Olbermann has got a special report coming up on the aftermath of this debate.  Stay tuned.

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

END   

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