updated 2/5/2008 11:48:35 AM ET 2008-02-05T16:48:35

Guests: Roy Sekoff, Michelle Cottle, Peter Beinart, Stephanie Miller, Tony

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  The polls could not be closer, but is the inside D.C. media ready to count Hillary out no matter what the results are tomorrow?

And: Our Super Tuesday viewing tips.  What to watch for tomorrow as the pundits and spinmeisters tell us who won.

And: As always we are On Their Trail: As Clinton V. Obama, as we look back at the latest misstatements, blunders and cheap shots.

But first: Super Tuesday voting begins in less than 12 hours, 24 states and possibly the nomination for each party on the line.  John McCain appears to be pulling away from Mitt Romney, he‘s now up nationally by 18 points.  But it‘s in Democratic race that could not be a whole lot closer.  Polls have been coming in all day and the average of the latest polls shows Clinton up by about 2 percent nationally, certainly within a margin of error.

But what is really important is the state by state, the county by county battles, particularly in the most delegate rich states.  In California, Clinton is up an average of about 42 to Obama‘s 41.  In Massachusetts, Clinton 41.4, Obama 41.9.  In Alabama, Clinton 43.3, Obama 43.  While on her home state of New York, Clinton has an overwhelming lead, 53.5 to Obama‘s 36.3.  While in his home state of Illinois, Obama is up by even more, 55.3 to 23.3 for Clinton.  In Missouri, also, neck and neck, Clinton 45.7, Obama 44.  Bottom line, it is really close.

And since none of the Democratic primaries and caucuses are winner-take-all, meaning, the delegates are awarded proportionately, the race is still remain officially undecided after tomorrow.  So, how the media assesses the results tomorrow could be as important if not more important than the numbers themselves.  There‘s no doubt in my mind that many in the inside D.C. media are rooting against Hillary Clinton.  Could be because she‘s old news, because her staff has developed testy relationships with the many of the press because she knows how to avoid making news, I‘ve talked about this before, who knows why?  But a recent study from the Center for Media and Public Affairs bears out exactly what I‘ve been saying for weeks.  From December 16th to January 27th, 84 percent of Obama‘s coverage has been favorable compared to just 51 percent for Clinton.  If Obama wins, some of the major contested states like California, Massachusetts, Missouri or even New Jersey, can expect to hear him coronated the winner.  If he‘s walking away with more of the significant wins that is entirely fair.  He deserves it.  What if Hillary Clinton has more significant wins?  What if she wins in most of the major close races?  I‘m guessing you still hear the vast majority of commentators talking about how much progress Obama made, which is true.  How much closer he came than he was months ago, it‘s an interesting discussion before the voters have spoken.  But if she wins the vote and the delegate count in those 22 states tomorrow then, she wins the day, right?  But don‘t count on hearing that from the inside D.C. media taking together their obsession with momentum and trends, their love on the horserace and disdain for Hillary Clinton will short of a blowout lead them to suggest she lost and that analysis, I think could unfairly impact future primaries.

Here with me now is Roy Sekoff with the “Huffington Post”; Michelle Cottle, senior editor with “The New Republic”, and political analyst, Lawrence O‘Donnell.  All right.  Roy, let me ask you this because you and I have been battling over this for weeks.  I‘m guessing that you are going to be one of the people that even if she wins, you will not declare her with the winner, what will it take for you to declare Hillary Clinton the winner tomorrow?

ROY SEKOFF, HUFFINGTON POST:  Dan, if she wins, she wins.

ABRAMS:  That‘s it.

ROY SEKOFF:  Yes, but you‘re making it sound like Oliver Stone should be directing her next, you know, commercial.  There‘s no conspiracy.  It‘s journalism 101.  Barack Obama coming from 20 points back to within two points is a remarkable story.  I mean, that‘s‘ what were seeing here, you know, it‘s not that anybody is turned on off of Hillary, it‘s that they‘re turned on to Barack Obama and the amazing story that we‘re seeing.

ABRAMS:  So, when I‘m Oliver Stone the conspiracy theorist, I‘m conspiratorial, Lawrence, when I read the following more from that study which showed that since the New Hampshire primary, Obama‘s gotten 83 percent positive coverage, while, Hillary Clinton has just gotten 47 percent.  I continue to be Oliver Stone?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, Dan, I‘m with you on this.  I‘ve been saying for quite a while on MSNBC that inside the media, inside the traveling press corps and the campaigns, the people who cover this day-to-day, Hillary is not popular.  They generally like the Obama campaign better.  Look, there‘s also a question in those kinds of statistics of you know, what are they counting and are they counting just some straight reporting on Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton‘s campaigning in South Carolina which was largely reported as negative.  But let‘s go back to New Hampshire, Dan.  The night of the New Hampshire primary when Hillary won by three points and as Roy was pointing out a three-point win then was amazingly small compared to what it was predicted a month before, but because the polls had indicated Obama was going to win, that three-point win was reported as a big win for Hillary and I think was vastly overemphasized by the press at the time.

ABRAMS:  OK.  Michelle, I‘ll accept.  I think it‘s a fair analysis and critique from Lawrence with regard to New Hampshire alone.  But now we‘re dealing with 22 states and tomorrow could be the make-or-break day.  Do you agree with me that if Hillary wins by a little tomorrow and again, how we define winning by a little, we‘re not going to discuss how you define delegate count versus how many states, but let‘s say, if it‘s uniformly, she gets more votes in key states and more delegates by a little that you‘re still going to hear the pundits say, this isn‘t really a win for Hillary Clinton?

MICHELLE COTTLE, THE NEW REPUBLIC:  Well, you‘re going to hear them say it is a win.  But let‘s not pretend that it‘s not an impressive achievement for Obama if that‘s what happens.  I mean, you can‘t look at it as though she hasn‘t been kind of a 800-pound gorilla all along and he is the insurgent.  And yes, and you‘ll talk about it.  The press loves a horse race.  The press has you know, conflicting relationships with a lot of Hillary‘s people.  And they like shiny new people and there‘s nothing shiny and new about the Clintons at this point.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but you know, but you say achievement.  And it would be a great achievement for Obama.  But again, it seems to me that we‘re talking about something so important.  You know, the future candidates in particular here, we‘re talking about the Democrats, that simply talking about how much someone has achieved to me is a media story and it‘s not a practical reality of what the voters did.  Roy, I see you‘re champing at the bit to get in to that one.  Go ahead.

SEKOFF:  Two thing, first of all, Dan, I didn‘t say that you were

Oliver Stone.  I said you were painting the media as if there was some

Oliver Stone conspiracy going on.  I didn‘t want to -

ABRAMS:  All right, but look - you go ahead.

SEKOFF:  No, but exactly.  What is going on here is not a game and it‘s not a horse race.  It‘s something remarkable and it‘s something noteworthy and I think that‘s what you‘re seeing here.  What you‘re seeing is that wherever Obama has gone and has been able to contest, people have turned his way.  Hillary was the presumptive nominee from the media.   The media was anointing her; they‘re putting the crown on her head for a year now.  So, what we‘re seeing is a remarkable thing and it is noteworthy.  And I don‘t think it‘s some kind of fun and games.  I think it‘s something that is inspiring and is worth us covering and that‘s what we‘re doing.

ABRAMS:  Yes, what you know what?  But again, when you are covering it unfairly a lot of the time and I‘m again, now talking about Bill Clinton, again, same study, 74 percent of the coverage of Bill Clinton, negative.  I mean, when you have 51 percent for Hillary is positive.  You‘ve gotten in the mid 80s for Barack Obama positive.  I‘m not making this stuff up.  I mean, this to me is a reality and I feel like I‘m going to be the only one calling this out tonight to say, look out tomorrow.  Watch out how they cover it.  Look at what the pundits are saying and how they‘re saying it and be careful.  I mean Michelle, it‘s fair to say, is it not, be careful when listening to how they characterize it.

COTTLE:  Sure.  But the example you‘re using there, Bill Clinton‘s coverage being negative.  I mean, let‘s not pretend that he didn‘t come out with some pretty trashy politics for the last couple of weeks.  There‘s a reason he has gotten so much negative coverage and he has been playing hardball.  So, I‘m not sure why you would expect to be anything different than a controversial coverage.

ABRAMS:  Well, look, the whole Bill Clinton deserves it to me is the same kind of coverage we hear about Hillary Clinton which is: she deserves to get beat up because she and Bill Clinton, and I will let Lawrence take this one, because she and Bill Clinton play this sometimes aggressive politics.  You‘re seeing Barack Obama playing more aggressive politics now.  Again, I‘m not going to make a judgment about who‘s been more aggressive or less aggressive.  No question Bill Clinton‘s been tough out there.  But that to me doesn‘t justify saying, 74 percent is negative.  Look, if that‘s the case, fine.  We have to call them out on it, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I don‘t know how they evaluated what was a positive and what was a negative story.  You know, I mean, a lot of this coverage works both ways.  You know, some of the thing Bill said that a lot of people think we‘re negative, I‘m sure moved some voters in the direction of Hillary Clinton and worked in a positive way for the campaign.  But, Dan, I don‘t think the media is going to be able to cheat the call tomorrow.  Remember, one other thing about the media, we all want to be the guy who‘s the first to say, it‘s all over.  Look.  I‘ve just interpreted the data. 

Here are the results.  Hillary put it away.  Obama can‘t recover.  Look for

Tim Russert on this air tomorrow night to get his numbers out and contact

those delegates and see how many are left and see whether Obama can make a

move for those or Hillary can.  I think -

ABRAMS:  Michelle, I‘m all for numbers.  My concern is even that even after the numbers if Hillary wins by a little, let‘s say.  And again, if Obama wins here, wins by a significant amount, wins by a little, I think you‘re going to have the media anointing him et cetera.  And look, if he wins by enough, fair enough.  That‘s what they should do.  But my concern is: the reverse is not going to apply to Hillary Clinton.

COTTLE:  Well, as you point, tomorrow, you‘ve got not winner-take-all contest and (ph) this is the Democratic Party so, if Hillary wins by just a little, this is still a race.  I mean, Obama still could come back and do this.  And people will be fascinated by this because as you know, we‘ve have been pointing all along, everyone kind of assume that this would be the year the Democrats had their front-runner and she just kind of plowed through everyone and the fact that she has been unable to do that is a story whether or not you like those numbers you knew.

ABRAMS:  Look, it‘s a story and if these were the world of media where

we decide in the journalism of putting up a story -

COTTLE:  No.  Let‘s not pretend the media is making up this story. 

American voters are moving in Obama‘s direction.   What this is - is you‘re

saying, all the polls are tightening.  Absolutely, that‘s -

ABRAMS:  No, what it means that the polls are tightening, but it

doesn‘t mean when the votes come in, if more people vote for Hillary

Clinton that the press shouldn‘t say more people voted for Hillary Clinton

today, instead -

COTTLE:  Of course they are going to say.

ABRAMS:  No.

COTTLE:  They‘re all going to it in the context.

ABRAMS:  In analyzing it, what they‘re going to say is: yes, more people voted for Hillary Clinton today but you know what, Barack Obama made the comeback of the year and that is going to affect future primaries and that‘s my point.  Final thought, Michelle.

COTTLE:  That is what they did to Bill Clinton in New Hampshire back when he did his thing.  These kind of things are always put in context.  The hard numbers matter, but they‘re not the only thing that matters.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Fair enough.  Michelle, thanks a lot.  Roy and Lawrence, you guys are going to stick around, Roy, I‘m saying goodbye to you.  Thanks a lot, appreciate it.

SEKOFF:  Good night, Dan.

Coming up next: The outsider‘s guide to tomorrow‘s Super Tuesday coverage.  My five tips including how to watch the pundits with a skeptical eye.

Plus: We‘re On Their Trail: Tracking the latest and worst of the campaigns misstatements, blunders and cheap shots.  Once again, our latest Obama V. Clinton: Clinton I think has lost a little more often in our head to head battles.  But it‘s been close.

We read your e-mails at: Abrams@msnbc.com.  Tell us when we were right and wrong.  Be sure to include your name and where you are writing from.  Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know the first Super Tuesday was held on March 9th, 1988.  Helping the effort to boost the importance of the south in selecting the Democratic nominee for president.  Coming up: My five tips on watching tomorrow‘s Super Tuesday coverage.  What to really look for from all the spinmeisters and pundits.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Super Tuesday is kind of like the Super Bowl.  It‘s great to get a group together to watch the game, et cetera or in this case the results coming in, state to state.  So, we put together our top five tips for watching Super Tuesday coverage.  How to keep your eye on the ball and not get fooled by the spinmeisters and pundits.  Back with us is Michelle Cottle and Lawrence O‘Donnell.  So, now, we have three pundits telling people how not to get fooled by the pundits.  All right.

Coming in at number five: Look for the campaigns to declare some sort of victory, no matter how bad things get.  Both sides scrambling tonight to lower expectations, so, they can emerge in the media as the so-called winners tomorrow, whether they win the most votes or delegates.  Don‘t buy it.  Lawrence, I assume that each campaign has a whole team of people that they send out to go on television immediately to say this is good news for us.

O‘DONNELL:  The campaigns will be having e-mails flying out to all of us as they interpreting the returns from every state.  There could be some things that seem decisive, for example, if Romney were to lose Massachusetts where he used to be governor.  I actually don‘t think it is that decisive because it‘s a state Republicans going to win in the general election, anyway.  But watch for that to be played as a hugely decisive thing for the Republican side.

ABRAMS:  All right.  The number four tip for watching Super Tuesday:

Wait for the west coast particularly the part of the Democrats.  Don‘t listen to commentators who effectively announce winners and losers for the night at 8:00 p.m., yes, the east coast is very, very important.  The California state like Colorado and Idaho make up almost 30 percent of the Democratic delegates up for grabs tomorrow and about 35 percent on the Republican side.  So, I mean, Michelle really California, California, California becomes crucial.

COTTLE:  I‘m sorry to say all the east coast reporters are going to have to caffeinate up and miss their bedtime tomorrow night.  I mean, you just, it doesn‘t really matter what we do over here on some level.  You‘re going have to watch the Golden State and you got all those other ones out there in the west.

ABRAMS:  Lawrence, is there a concern that as you‘re covering this that they make predictions and prognostications, et cetera, before California comes in and that has sort of a long-term impact even before we get the numbers in from California?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, networks used to do that on general election night and Jimmy Carter insisted that the reporting that the networks were doing about how he wasn‘t succeeding in the other time zone kills his candidacy in California.  Now, of course, Reagan was probably going to win California anyway.  But there‘s nothing to talk about there.  Tomorrow night it‘s going to be interesting.  I‘m not sure anyone has an agreed upon set of rules.  For example, if you report a result from Massachusetts when it is 5:00 p.m. in California and the polls are open in California for several hours, are you in some way demoralizing voters in California?

ABRAMS:  Well, I think the difference I guess is that obviously because even the Democrats where it‘s tight because it‘s proportional there‘s going to be no sort of winner-take-all and as a result, they assume that they‘ll be pretty good and making it at a horse race all night.  all right.

Number three: Delegates, extra delegates, superdelegates.  Tomorrow night, you‘ll hear a lot about the delegate count.  Pay attention though to the superdelegates, former presidents, governors, members of Congress, national committee members, particularly the Democrats who have not endorsed a candidate yet.  There are 386 at stake from Super Tuesday, the stake‘s out of the 796 total and they may announce their pick after the voting in their state has concluded.  And this could probably be close, they could turn the count one way or another.  I mean, Michelle, we talk about the voters and the caucuses and representing people but the bottom line is a large percentage of people out there, of super delegates, otherwise known as VIP delegates who get to sort of just decide which way they want to go.

COTTLE:  Yes, let‘s not pretend that the average voter matters all that much and when it comes down to it, I mean, they make a lot of big deals, superdelegates can also change their mind wherever they want to.  It doesn‘t matter you know, what point in this process.  Now, if a state goes definitely for a candidate, it would probably bad form for the Congressional representatives or others to go in the opposite direction.  But as you say, it‘s proportional representations, so, they can do pretty much whatever they want.

ABRAMS:  The number two tip for watching Super Tuesday: The weather.  When commentators and pundits are talking about high or low turnout and try to link it to an issue or a cause, I‘ll say, ask yourself not what the candidate did for your country but what the weather did in your county.  Lawrence, the weather, the weather, the weather.

O‘DONNELL:  And not just the weather.  In a place like California, where tomorrow the weather is going to be great, you also have those thing called traffic.  My commute over here tonight was an hour and a half which is a standard commute.  It‘s not unusual.  That commute can easily become two hours if you depart work at the wrong time, you may miss your chance to vote that night in California, southern California especially, including Orange County where McCain and Romney will be slugging it out.  You can lose your vote to traffic in this state.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right and the number one tip for your Super Tuesday viewing: Don‘t play a drinking game called too close to call where you have to drink every time they use that phrase.  I‘m guessing you‘ll be bombed before 10:00 p.m.  Real quick, Michelle.  We‘re going to hear a lot of that all night.

COTTLE:  No, that‘s just crazy talk.  You have to play a drinking game.  You know, it depends on how you‘re scoring this baby.  You‘ve got to go with the drinking game.  I‘m sorry.

ABRAMS:  Michelle Cottle, Lawrence O‘Donnell, thanks a lot, appreciate it.

COTTLE:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:   Coming up: We‘re On Their Trail: Tracking the latest of the misstatements, blunders and cheap shots.  Tonight: Hillary and Obama are attacking each other again.  We‘ll tell you who should get the dubious award for dirty play from the few days.

Plus: John McCain bombs at standup.

And speaking of bombing, FOX News blows it big time with a supposed scoop.  Let‘s say just say that they highlighted the wrong gal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: You know how uncomfortable it is when an older relative, say, your grandfather tries a little too hard to be cool.  I couldn‘t help but thinking about that watching Larry King with Snoop Dogg on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, TV HOST (voice over):  Tonight: Snoop Dogg gets real and keeps it crackling.  The man who put the izzle in shah nizzle (ph).

SNOOP DOGG, RAPPER, MUSICIAN:  Say it, Larry.

KING:  Can we do some natural rap?

SNOOP DOGG:  Why not.

KING:  Start spreading the news I‘m leaving today, come on, I want to be a part of it, come on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS: Larry kicking it old school.

FOX News thought they had a scoop in the Stacy Peterson story last week when her husband, Drew‘s lawyer released pictures of someone in Thailand that Peterson and his attorney claimed could be his missing wife.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEATHER NAUERT, FOX‘S HOST:  We obtained these brand new photos from Drew Peterson‘s lawyer.  Take a very, very close look.  Drew Peterson and his lawyer believe that the woman in the picture may be Stacy Peterson.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The problem, they focused on the wrong woman.  Now check out the FOX News Web site which has been since been updated.  The woman circled in the center is the person that they‘d thought to be Stacy Peterson.  Look, if you‘re going to help the defend spin at least get it right.

Finally from our yes, we are still in sixth grade file.  NIGHTLY NEWS interviewed a real estate agent last week for a story who, well, look at his name.  Ben Dover.  Get it?  To be fair, he had a realty company called Dover Reality but assuming that is he‘s name.  You think he might want to go by like Benjamin J. Dover.

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

Up next: We‘re On Their Trail: exposing the latest misstatements, blunders and cheap shots on the road to the White House.  Tonight: Another round in Obama V. Clinton.

And later: Laura Bush once loved by almost everyone.  Now feeling what‘s like to see her approval ratings plummet.  That‘s coming up in tonight‘s Winners and Losers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Laura Bush now feeling the effects of her husband‘s plummeting popularity.  Joran van der Sloot, a suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba, caught on tape saying he helped dispose of Natalee‘s body and then takes it back.  And Archie Manning, the proud father of not one, but two Super Bowl heroes.  Those stories are later in tonight‘s “Winners and Losers.”

But first, we‘re on their trail again tonight, counting down the presidential candidates‘ latest misstatements, blunders and cheap shots on their way to the White House.  Tonight, it is Clinton versus Obama in a battle for the bottom, but we will call our unlucky seven. 

Joining me to evaluate, editor-at-large for “The New Republic,” Peter Beinart; Stephanie Miller, host of “The Stephanie Miller Show”; and former Reagan speech writer and nationally syndicated columnist, Tony Blankley.  Let‘s start with number seven.  During a campaign stop in Connecticut today, Hillary Clinton fought back tears for the second time in as many months as she was introduced by her former boss. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So welcome home, dear friend, we are so proud of you. 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I said I would not tear up.  Already, we‘re not exactly on that path. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You may remember Clinton got emotional the day before the New Hampshire primary, a moment many think helped turn that election in her favor.  She got hammered for it by Obama adviser and retired Gen. Merrill McPeak over the weekend.  He told the “L.A. Times,” quote, “Obama doesn‘t go on television and have crying fits; he isn‘t discovering his voice at the age of 60.”  Ouch.  The Obama camp quickly distanced themselves from this and McPeak was forced to retract his remarks.  It seems to me, Stephanie Miller, that that would be a blunder by team Obama? 

STEPHANIE MILLER, HOST, “THE STEPHANIE MILLER SHOW”:  Well, yes.  At first I thought it was, Dan, but after the second time I have to say there is no crying in baseball and there is no crying in politics.  I defended her the first time.  The male co-hosts were like, “Oh, that was so manufactured.”  And I was like, “No it wasn‘t and you‘re making me cry just saying it.”  But I have to say the second time, Dan, right before a big voting day, I‘m a little bit suspicious.  I‘m just saying if you are a girl crying to get out of a speeding ticket, yes.  Crying to be president, no. 

ABRAMS:  But the point is, Peter, when you‘re, as Stephanie puts it, a “girl,” I put that in quotes, you can more freely criticize another, in quotes, “girl,” than a boy criticizing a girl about crying.  That doesn‘t work in politics. 

PETER BEINART, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  Yes.  And you know, the Obama campaign has also made a big point of the fact that they don‘t want to get into this petty stuff, that they want to be above it.  So it doesn‘t seem to me like that statement really helped them at all. 

ABRAMS:  Number six, while stumping for his wife on Thursday, former President Bill Clinton took a swipe at President Bush‘s “No Child Left Behind Act.”  But he should have checked his wife‘s record on the legislation before he said this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  This was a train wreck that was not intended.  “Leave No Child Behind” or no child left behind was supported by George Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy and everybody in between.  Why?  Because they didn‘t talk to enough teachers before they did it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ouch.  It was a nice shot at Obama backer Ted Kennedy, but unfortunately for the former president, we‘re going to call this one a misstatement since his own wife fully supported the, quote, “train wreck program.” 

In 2001 she offered up this glowing praise in press release, quote, “Leave No Child Behind Act” includes several increases in federal resources for New York City schools.  Passing this landmark legislation sends a clear message that all American children deserve a world class education.”  Tony, you‘d expect the Clintons of all people to know, don‘t do that. 

TONY BLANKLEY, NATIONALLY SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Well, look, obviously, this was a straight misstatement and doubtlessly an intentional one.  The only question I have is whether Clinton calculated his message travels further than the correction travels.  He‘s got a pretty big voice.  I think this is kind of stupid, though, and it brings up another issue, as opposed to Iraq, some of the issues that she‘s already known on.  This is one where he is not bringing up a new issue that she was, from a Democratic point of view, wrong on. 

ABRAMS:  Well, Tony, you said doubtlessly - you don‘t think it an intentional contradiction between Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.

BLANKLEY:  No.  I think he knew she voted for the bill. 

ABRAMS:  Really? 

BLANKLEY:  That‘s what I‘m saying. 

ABRAMS:  You think he is going on the trail sort of publicly dissing his wife? 

BLANKLEY:  No.  I think he assumed that he could take a shot that the teachers in the audience and around the country would appreciate, hearing the Clintons being against a bill they don‘t like and hoping that some of them wouldn‘t know that she voted for it. 

ABRAMS:  They‘re hoping that no one is on their trail the way that we are.  All right.  We got what our score card - Do we have our scorecard up yet?  Put it up as to where we are.  All right.  Right now we are at one for Obama and one for Clinton on the unlucky seven.  A check is a bad thing, by the way.  You don‘t want a check in this game. 

Number five, Sen. Obama attempts to take a hard line on immigration during last week‘s Democratic debate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There is no doubt that we have to get control of our borders.  We can‘t have hundreds of thousands of people coming over to the United States without us having any idea who they are.  I also believe that we do have to crack down on those employers that are taking advantage of the situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Stop talking, Obama.  The problem?  A little misstatement of his record in 2004.  An ABC News questionnaire asked him directly, should the government crack down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants.  He says - in the major part on the overall, Obama answered, “Oppose.”  Peter, are Democrats now having the immigration flip-flop problems as well?

BEINART:  We‘ll this one gets a little complicated, because it really has to do with what you mean by cracking down.  If what you mean is going and rounding up a lot of illegal immigrants and sending them home, I think Obama‘s against that.  If what you mean, however, is what labor unions want, which is forcing employers to have to pay these the prevailing wage, I think that‘s probably something Obama supports.

ABRAMS:  So, do you really think, Peter, there‘s some ambiguity here between as to whether there‘s an inconsistency between Obama‘s previous statement and his current statement?

BEINART:  I actually do, because cracking down can mean a whole range of different things, some of which I think all Democrats will probably support, like some kind of better, more tamper-proof ID system.  And some of which like a big roundup showing up at the middle of the night at the plant gate, which all of them would oppose.

ABRAMS:  Tony, what do you think?

BLANKLEY:  If I can make a different point, I think if I were a Democratic candidate for president, I would not want to talk about the immigration issue at all.  Because there‘s no winning position, whether honest or dishonest, that they can take.  Anything that they say is going to cut against even some of potential Hispanic vote or some potential - particularly in the general election vote.  So they should just keep off this issue whether they‘re lying or telling the truth. 

ABRAMS:  Tony, there‘s no way they‘re going to be able to ultimately avoid it.  I mean, you can guarantee that in the general election, the Republicans are going to make this a big issue. 

BLANKLEY:  Well, I would not jump in any earlier than I have to.  And the truth is that Washington politicians are being keeping away from this issue for years, until Bush brought it up a couple of years ago.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

BLANKLEY:  There‘s a good reason, because it‘s something that‘s going to explode in everybody‘s hands.

ABRAMS:  Well, look at what happened to John McCain.

BLANKLEY:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  John McCain is the ultimate example of having it explode in your hands.

BLANKLEY:  And Bush‘s hands.

ABRAMS:  Well, I mean, at least - you know, McCain tried to do a good

thing and tried to bring people together to create legislation and now,

when I say -

BLANKLEY:  We can debate the goodness of it some other time.

ABRAMS:  No, I just mean a good thing in trying to make a bipartisan bill.  And now, the bottom line is, there is no bipartisanship on immigration.  That‘s the bottom line. 

BLANKLEY:  I mean both Hillary and Obama in the debates some weeks ago, both made a hash of trying to talk about it.

ABRAMS:  Number four - Hillary Clinton tries to explain why she voted against an amendment offered up by fellow Democratic Sen. Carl Levin in the run-up to the war with Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON:  The way that amendment was drafted suggested that the United States would subordinate whatever our judgment might be going forward to the United Nations Security Council.  I don‘t think that was a good precedent, therefore, I voted against it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  In defending her Iraq vote, Clinton seems to be misstating what the Levin amendment actually said.  Here‘s Sen. Levin describing it on the Senate Floor in 2002, quote, “This resolution does not determine that we won‘t go alone if the United Nations” does not promptly act to authorize force.  It withholds judgment on that very different and difficult issue.  It does provide that the President can convene us quickly to authorize going it alone should the U.N. fail to act.”  Peter, do you agree with me that this is a misstatement? 

BEINART:  Yes.  I do.  I think that it‘s not good for the Clinton campaign that this is coming back up again now.  I think the truth is that Hillary Clinton‘s support for the war actually had more to do with actually supporting the war than of what she‘s now saying.  And I think this is inconvenient for her to be coming back.

ABRAMS:  And Stephanie, I would say it‘s more than inconvenient.  I mean you can - I think in the general election, it may be inconvenient.  In this primary, you know, this could become one of the determinative issues.

MILLER:  Yes, you know, Dan, I think this is another girl issue, if I can speak for the girls here.  I think that - Hillary Clinton, I think, faces an interesting dilemma.  Not only as a Democrat is she afraid to be seen as weak, but as a woman being afraid to be seen weak on national security.  And I think that causes her to overextend.  I agree with Barack Obama that we need a whole new way of thinking and dealing with the world and we shouldn‘t be afraid to talk to anybody.

ABRAMS:  Are you supporting Obama, Stephanie - in general?  Have you announced?

MILLER:  In fact, I am.  Mamas for Obama.  Thank you for asking.

ABRAMS:  All right.  No, I just want - just so our viewers know.  You know, have either of you announced that you‘re supporting a candidate? 

BLANKLEY:  No.

BEINART:  No.

ABRAMS:  OK.  I‘m not holding it against you, Stephanie.  (CROSS TALK) I just want the viewers to know.  Number three - Clinton and Obama battle it out over healthcare.  Sen. Obama fired off the first shot, sending out this campaign mailer attacking Clinton‘s healthcare plan, saying it forces everyone to buy insurance even if you can‘t afford it. 

Now, this image of a young couple sitting at the kitchen table struggling with their healthcare options may look familiar.  You might be thinking of the infamous Harry and Louise TV ads that helped sink then-First Lady Hillary Clinton‘s healthcare plan back in 1994. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  This is covered under our old plan. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes.  That was a good one, wasn‘t it?

ANNOUNCER:  Things are changing and not all for the better.  The government may force us to pick from a few healthcare plans designed by government bureaucrats. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Having choices we don‘t like is no choice at all.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  If they choose -

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  We lose. 

ANNOUNCER:  For reforms that protect what we have, call toll free. 

Know the facts.  If we let the government choose, we lose.  Call today. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Glad we extended the ad to the point where the phone number is

out.  We‘re calling this no so coincidentally use of imagery a cheap shot

by the Obama campaign. 

But Hillary‘s camp not off the hook by a long shot.  They followed up Obama‘s cheap shot with what I view a blunder of their own with healthcare advisor Len Nichols telling reporters that Obama‘s campaign flyer is, quote, “As outrageous as having Nazis march through Skokie, Illinois.  I find it disgusting that this kind of imagery is being used to attack the only way to get the universal coverage.”  The Clinton campaign immediately distanced themselves from this blunder, calling the comment inappropriate. 

Geez, who knew the healthcare debate could get so ugly?  But let‘s put up our scorecard for a minute as we go to this, because we‘re giving them both on this a negative remark.  But I think in the end - on this one, Peter - I think that the response was worse than the actual ad. 

BEINART:  I think you‘re right, although I think the Clinton people distanced themselves from that response pretty quickly. 

ABRAMS:  What do you make of it, Tony? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, I think any time you make an argument ad hilarium(ph) you‘ve already made a mistake.  But I think healthcare discussion works to Hillary‘s advantage in the Democratic primary.  And virtually anything said on the topic helps her because she‘s established her bona fides on that.  So I think she probably comes out nicely on the exchange. 

ABRAMS:  Our panel is staying with us.  Up next, we‘ll continue on their trail leading up to their number one blunder.  Plus, Laura Bush once one of the most popular first ladies in history, now taking a hit in the polls along with her hubby, losing fans fast and furious.  That‘s coming up in tonight‘s “Winners and Losers.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know a study by the magazine “Psychology Today” reveals more than 70 percent of liars will tell lies again?  Coming up, we‘re on their trail tracking the latest campaign misstatements, blunders and cheap shots on the road to the White House. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are continuing with our “On Their Trail” segment where we evaluate the biggest blunders, misstatements and cheap shots of the campaign, primarily doing Obama versus Hillary.  Our panel is back with us.  So far, it‘s basically been three to three. 

Moving on to number two tonight.  Barack Obama - this one gets me

continues to hammer home what has fast become a staple of his stump speech.  The problem?  It‘s not accurate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The way to win a debate with John McCain or any Republican who is nominated is not by having the Democrats nominate someone who agrees with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don‘t like. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Clear misstatement by Obama.  He is enjoying a lot of applause on the campaign trail for what in view is twisting Hillary Clinton‘s words from this debate in July where Clinton said this about meeting with foreign leaders if elected president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON:  I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year.  I will promise a vigorous diplomatic effort.  Because I think it is that not you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.  I don‘t want to be used for propaganda purposes.  I don‘t want make a situation even worse.  But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration.  And I will pursue very vigorous diplomacy and I will use a lot of high level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, Stephanie, look.  This seems to many me, and I‘ve said this before and I‘m going to do this one again, that what Obama is trying to do is use his own misstep early in the campaign where he started talking about how one of the first things he is going to do in his first year, is meet with the leaders of North Korea, Iran, et cetera.  And he‘s trying to twist it to make it seem like Hillary Clinton is saying, “I won‘t meet with any of these people.”

MILLER:  Well, you know, Dan, I don‘t think it was a misstep.  I mean I think anybody who has lived through the George Bush administration thinks we need not just a whole new way of doing things, a whole new way of thinking.  I think what he‘s saying is he‘s not afraid to meet with anybody.  He‘s not afraid to talk to anybody.

ABRAMS:  No, but th0at is not what he is saying.  He is saying -

MILLER:  I don‘t -

ABRAMS:  He‘s saying that Hillary is saying we don‘t want someone -

MILLER:  I think that is what he‘s saying.

ABRAMS:  It‘s pretty clear that he‘s saying more than that.  He‘s saying we don‘t want someone who‘s going to continue the Bush-Cheney policies suggesting that that was what Hillary has said and she didn‘t say it. 

MILLER:  Well, no.  You are right on that.  I mean, let‘s face it.  Either of them would be worlds better than George Bush, but I think what he is saying is that George Bush doctrine of not talking to people that we don‘t agree with is not working.  So we‘re going try a whole new way of thinking.

BEINART:  That‘s not what he said.  The point that Hillary Clinton was making is, to meet with Kim Jong Il in North Korea is not like us meets with the Soviets during the Cold War.  When you are talking about a small, isolated country, them meeting with the American president is a big deal for them.  You don‘t promise that unless you think you‘re really going to get a lot out of the meeting.  That‘s not Bush-Cheney.  Ultimately, we would want an American to meet with them.

MILLER:  But wait a minute, that is the George Bush policy.  It‘s like

we‘re not going negotiate with anyone -

(CROSS TALK) 

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  One at a time. 

MILLER:  Until they agree with us.  That‘s the point of negotiating. 

You see what you have to talk about. 

BEINART:  Negotiations start at lower levels.  They don‘t start right away with the president of the United States. 

ABRAMS:  Tony, I‘m going to give you the final thought.  I‘m out of time.  Number one tonight - we switch you from Clinton-Obama for a laugh, or not a laugh.  John McCain, with a somewhat pathetic attempt at standup comedy today in Boston.  Things got a bit awkward when he elicited very little laughter from the crowd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  So I‘m compelled to tell the story of the two inmates in the state prison in the chow line.  And one of them turned to the other one and said, “The food was a lot better in here when you were governor.” 

That is not a joke you can tell in some states in America.  After this meeting if would like to talk with either Sen. Graham, we will provide translators for any of you who need find them hard to understand.  Do you know the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?  One is a scum sucking bottom dweller, the other is a fish. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Old, old.  Old jokes on that one.  I‘ve got to wrap it up.  No humor always better than bad humor.  Sorry, I‘m out of time.  Tony, I wanted to come to you on that one.  Thanks, Peter Beinart, Stephanie Miller, Tony Blankley.  Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser be First Lady Laura Bush who now joins her husband in heading down in approval ratings; Britney Spears who was downer during group karaoke in rehab; or football father Archie Manning whose two sons are just downright good?  Coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 4th day of February, 2008.  Our bronze loser, first lady, Laura Bush.  The once almost universally beloved first lady has seen her approval rating fall dramatically during her husband‘s second term, down 16 points from a high of 70 percent three years ago to now just 54 percent.  Of course, as they say, like husband, like wife.  George W. Bush‘s favorability rating is down a whopping 25 percent since 2004 from 58 percent to just 33 percent. 

Our silver loser, Britney Spears.  No, not because the troubled star is going to be adding two weeks to her stay at a psychiatrist hospital.  Good for her.  She needs the help. 

No.  During a recent night of karaoke at the psych ward, Britney reportedly did not take kindly to another patient singing one of her songs.  Karaoke at a psychiatric hospital is another issue all together. 

But the big loser of the day, suspect Joran van der Sloot who now says he was lying when he told a Dutch friend who he believed to be drug-dealing mobster that Joran was involved in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway. 

(VIDEO CLIP OF JORAN VANDERSLOOT TALKING TO ANOTHER MAN)

The other man was working with a prominent Dutch journalist who last month, van der Sloot assaulted by throwing wine in his face. 

Our big winner of the day, Archie Manning who has sons who won back-to-back Super Bowls now.  Last year, it was Peyton‘s turn in the Indianapolis cult.  And last night, it was Eli who led the Giants in one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history over the New England Patriots.  Congrats to the Giants and to the Mannings. 

All right, time for our new E-mail segment, your chance to tell me what you love or hate about this show.  First up, Larry Harris takes a swipe at our “On Their Trail” political fact check segment.  “As a voter, I care not one wit about what a candidate says about the record or statements of another.  They are politicians.  They lie.”

Fair enough, Larry.  And other shows might let them get away with it.  But that‘s exactly why we do the segment because we don‘t. 

James Angus Linney from Bernalillo, New Mexico writes about our fact check of Obama versus Clinton, “Thanks for the political fact check every night.  I appreciate your fairness to both candidates, a quality becoming more rare with each passing day.”   - Thank you James. 

Many of you wrote in after Thursday night‘s segment when I blasted the D.C. media for ignoring John McCain‘s flip-flopping on some major issues and accepting the “Straight Talk” moniker.  Brian Beddow from Grand Blanc, Michigan, “You know back in 2000, I was really energized by John McCain in his ‘Straight Talk Express.‘  Since then, he has changed his position multiple times on many issues and no one ever calls him out over it.  Thank you, Dan!”

But Marilyn Keenan from Oxford, Maryland goes after me, “If you are going to take a definite point of view on a topic, at the level you are talking against McCain tonight, then I will look elsewhere for information.  What has happened to you?”

Marilyn, sorry to lose you as a viewer.  But my viewpoint is merely the D.C. media should not parrot the straight talk stuff while ignoring the fact that he‘s changed his tune on some key issues. 

And finally, Ron Russell from San Francisco California, “Thank

you for your segment tonight, where you demonstrated to me that John

McCain‘s transport should be called ‘The Double-Talk Express.‘ 

As always, thanks for your feedback.  And we‘re still taking ideas for what the new segment should be alled.  I‘ve gotten a lot of good ones so far.  Send your ideas to Abrams@MSNBC.com.  If we pick your idea, you‘ll get some free MSNBC swag and my on-air appreciation. 

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  But up next, stay with us for a special hour of political coverage as we preview Super Tuesday.  I‘ll be breaking down the very latest polls, state by state.  Coming up.

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

END   

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