updated 2/7/2008 1:11:08 PM ET 2008-02-07T18:11:08

Guests: Dana Milbank, Jonathan Alter, E.J. Dionne

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

On wonderful Wednesday: Her campaign calls him the establishment candidate.  He calls her the frontrunner and when they‘re not trying to portray themselves as the underdog, each is boasting they won, even though it was a tie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We had a great

night last night

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We won big states and

small states

CLINTON:  With the electorate across the country.

OBAMA:  We won red states and we won blue states.

CLINTON:  Ending up once again, you know, a total of more votes.

OBAMA:  We won swing states.

CLINTON:  And more delegates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: But it was a tie.  Out of 1,678 delegates, Obama won about four more, out of nearly 15 million, Clinton won about 50,000 more.

Tonight: The numbers that do tell the difference, like Obama winning nationally among white men and Clinton revealing a personal loan to her campaign of $5 million.  And then for the Democrats it‘s on to Chesapeake Bay, and Wahawi (ph) - Washington, Hawaii, Wisconsin.

More McCain McMutiny.  The Republican front-runner gets still further in front, the Republican radio water carriers get still further enraged.  Is there a clever strategy here to scare Republicans into voting for any Republican, or are the actors really being that stupid?

Real life eclipses politics.  More than 50 dead as tornadoes ravaged parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee.

The Heath Ledger autopsy: Prescription drug overdose, accidental.  Worsts: Bill O, (inaudible), tries the smoke screen to cover up first denying that homeless vets exist, then harassing homeless vets when they show up.

And, Bushed: Director of National Intelligence McConnell first says, if he got waterboarded, that would be torture.  Now, McConnell says, he was talking about teaching people to swim and how when he gets water up his nose, it feels like torture to him.  Yeah, that‘s the ticket.  That‘s what I meant.  Swimming, yeah.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening, this is Wednesday February 6th, 272 days until the 2008 presidential election.  The last time we heard such startling news about a presidential campaign, it was about Rudy Giuliani.  And to many a forecast to his check please moment.  Not only has Hillary today confirmed that she loaned her own treasury, $5 million of her own dollars.  But tonight, certain members of Senator Clinton‘s campaign staff confirming to NBC News that they have voluntarily chosen to work without pay this month, work for a campaign facing a cash crunch.  At least one compared to the giant Obama ATM which raised another $3 million it says on the Internet today, alone.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The good news for Senator Clinton, Super Tuesday was pretty much a tie.  And New Mexico is still too early to call.  With 16,000 or so provisional ballots still be being counted in the west.  Senator Clinton is ahead by about a little more than 200 votes.  Until the New Mexico is decided, that leaves a tally of 13 states for Senator Obama—Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Utah,.  Eight states for Senator Clinton - Arkansas, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee and New York.  But with Senator Clinton winning in big population states like New York and Pennsylvania, the two essentially splitting the popular vote - 7,347,971 votes for Clinton; Obama with 7, 294, 851.  The difference between them there is 4/10 of 1 percent.  And so how that translates to delegates in Denver, the Obama campaign claiming victory today in the delegate count, putting out a memo saying, Senator Obama had won 845 of them to Senator Clinton‘s 836.  NBC is still counting tonight.  At this time, a slight lead for Senator Clinton among allocated delegates from Super Tuesday‘s voting.  Clinton 786, Obama 775; 117 still to be awarded in some individual states.  And since the majority of these are states that Obama won last night.  The Illinois Democrat likely to have a slight lead when the counting is done.  Senator Clinton having lost the January fundraising counting by a margin of two to one and as a result, it‘s not just some members of her staff working for free but the others are to some degree being paid almost directly out of her pocket.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I did, I loaned the campaign $5 million from my money.  That‘s where I got the money, I loaned it because I believe very strongly in this campaign.  We had a great month, fundraising in January, broke all records, but my opponent was able to raise more money.  And we intended to be competitive and we were.  And I think the results last night proved the wisdom of my investment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Objectively about the money, she‘s right, except an Obama campaign source telling NBC News that campaign raised $3 million more today just online.  And believes it could repeat January‘s $32 million month here again in February.  Clinton‘s strategist, Mark Penn, repeatedly claiming to reporters today, that Senator Obama has become the establishment candidate.  Senator Clinton months have seeming inevitability, notwithstanding, the senator today sticking to her own talking points.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Well, he sure had a lot of establishment support yesterday.  And I feel very good about the results.  I think, look, it‘s wonderful to have endorsers and supporters, but at the end of the day, it‘s a decision between two real people.  It‘s our names that are going to be on the ballot, nobody else‘s.  And people have to look at us and decide who they believe would be the best president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In response, Senator Obama calling Senator Clinton the front-runner because of her, quote, “Political machine honed over two decades.”  He also answered the charge that the Republican Party would have an easier time swift voting him in the general.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The Clinton research operation is about as good as anybody‘s out there.  I assure you that having engaged in a contest against them for the last year that you know, they‘ve pulled out all the stops.  I think what we‘ve shown is that you know, we can take a punch.  We‘re still standing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And his electability argument extending to how he won last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Last night, we won more delegates and we won more states in every region of this country.  We won big states, small states, we won red states and we won blue states and we won swing states.  So, I believe that we had an extraordinary night.  It was a big victory for our campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The demographic to that in a moment, first, the dollar signs.  Let me turn to Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post”.  Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We‘re going to start you off with a quiz style question tonight.  Are you ready?

MILBANK:  I hope so.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Mitt Romney, Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, Hillary Clinton.  What do four candidates have in common?

MILBANK:  Well, they all wear pantsuits and they all have had some very public quarrels with Bill Clinton.  But, what I suspect you‘re talking about is all of them have given or loaned large sums of money to their own candidacies.  Of course, Clinton is the one who can least afford to do that and the one who‘s presumably going to suffer the most from at the very least, the bad press and the embarrassment that gives her after what have been a fairly successful Super Tuesday.

OLBERMANN:  Is that the degree to which this is a money issue?  A money problem?  Should we view it as bad press or of the Senator McCain variety or the Rudy Giuliani kind or what kind?

MILBANK:  Well, it‘s going to take more than a bake sale to fix this, the good news for Clinton is Super Tuesday is passed.  There‘s now fewer contests, more spread out and they are indicating as you noted that the finances have improved after the Super Tuesday results but being outraised $32 million to $13 million in the month of January, that‘s pretty grim.  And this is an election where every tiny little thing at this point could make the difference.

OLBERMANN:  Do you have an idea—I asked this question last night a couple times.  How much time can you buy with how much money?  It‘s such an enormous growth of donations to one candidate over the other.  Almost, in this tight a race guarantee that the one with the more money has got to win sooner or later?

MILBANK:  Well, it would except that this thing had been flowing, now part of this is Clinton spent $9 million advertising before Super Tuesday.  Part of this is she spent nearly $5 million on Mark Penn, her chief strategist.  But if this is all to be decided in Pennsylvania and they‘re going to have six weeks to campaign in Pennsylvania, well, they will all have enough money to fight on that battlefield there.  But this is not the position Clinton wants to be in.

OLBERMANN:  Why from both parties the double reverse spin here, you‘re the establishment candidate, you‘re the frontrunner, yes but I won more it, I won more importantly.  What‘s the double speak about actually?

MILBANK:  Well, what we saw last night was dead heat.  Virtually even in the vote and the delegates, but it‘s perceived that it was a good night for Clinton because the perceptions should been going against her.  The expectations were low for her, she did a good job of setting them and the Obama folks didn‘t do as well at lowering expectation.  So, in this game where you‘re fighting over two or three delegates here or there in consequential contest where it‘s not winner-take-all, it‘s all about perceptions.  So, they all want to look like they‘re the underdog right now, even though they in fact do not.  They‘re always to be on that position.

OLBERMANN:  Alright.  And the big picture, you mention tie, should view last night as there anything other than toss up?

MILBANK:  Well, what it did is it blunted Obama‘s momentum.  It looked like there was just a tidal wave going there with the candidates, particularly in Massachusetts and in California.  Clinton was able to hold that up. But as we see, these things are assembled right now and that could have changed from the money today and could have changed in Louisiana.  It could change here in the Potomac area next Tuesday.

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the “Washington Post,‘ as always, sir, great thanks.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Senators Clinton and Obama both looking ahead to the fall today campaigning as the democrat tough enough to win back the White House.  The final exit polls coast to coast offering hindsight as to how each might do in the general election.  Senator Obama winning big among young voters, age 17 to 29, 57 percent to Clinton‘s 41 percent.  The other end of the voters spectrum, voters 60 and older and the numbers reverse, Clinton 57 percent.  Obama winning the African American vote, 82 percent to 16 percent.  Senator Clinton almost as dominant in the Hispanic vote, 63 percent to 35 percent.  Senator Obama did seem to do slightly better among white voters last night nationally, 41 percent compared to Clinton‘s 53 percent.  And here‘s the telling number indeed, winning the white male vote 48 percent to 46 percent.  Let‘s bring in our own Jonathan Alter now, also of course, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.  Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama seemed to solidify, improve upon his position among all white voters but moved ahead among white men.  It seems of the top head, like the very significant number and very significant statistic, is it?

ALTER:  Very significant because this is a group the Democrats have had a particular problem with.  I mean, in some recent elections, it felt like white males who are voting Democratic at caucus and telephone booth or something, there just were not many of them.  So, any candidate who offers the potential to get some of those back, very helpful.  It‘s not as important for Democrats to get women because they have a big gender gap edge in November so, you know that whoever gets nominated is going to get an edge with women.

OLBERMANN:  So, does that work to the idea that the Obama construction, I will get her voters, she may or may not all of mine was born out by that and other numbers from last night?

ALTER:  Well, I think there‘s some indications that it was.  I mean, there are also, you know, particularly in Georgia for instance, where you saw Obama in a deep south state doubling his percentage of what he had in South Carolina.  But there are also some other data points.  Obama did not do well in Tennessee, Oklahoma.  So, he didn‘t do well with whites across the board.  There are still some subtleties, that this didn‘t been entirely played up.  But it is breaking down, Keith, as basically you know, if you use the color scheme.  It‘s Obama is black and green.  Those are his colors with the green being you know, liberal, yuppies who care about the environment not to mention his money.  And Hillary Clinton is brown Hispanics and gray.  She does extraordinarily well with voters over 60 who vote in large numbers.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Is there a trajectory here?  Was there anything in a tie that indicates who won that tie based on this question - if Super Tuesday have been the 12th instead of the 5th or the 19th instead of the 5th would he have swept most of what we saw and is that even a valid question because it wasn‘t the 12th?

ALTER:  Yes, I mean, candidates always you know, want more time.  But actually, there‘s some indications that his momentum was slowing before Super Tuesday particularly in California.  So, I‘m not sure that a few more days would have given Obama an overwhelming triumph, this is a very, very closely contested thing out (ph) and it‘s going to go to the superdelegates.  It‘s going to be resolved in not smoke filled rooms but in a smoke free rooms all over this country as the superdelegates get courted by Ted Kennedy for Obama and Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton for Hillary and lots and lots of other people in between.

OLBERMANN:  So, he was slowing and California was something of almost disaster for him.  On the other hand, Missouri was great harbinger for him and I keep looking at the numbers in Massachusetts compared to the polling, pre-Kennedy, he doubled his numbers in the middle when he had Edwards falling out that he doubled his numbers with Kennedy.  Why is Kennedy being assumed to be a wash out for him?

ALTER:  Well, that‘s just a wrong assumption.  If you talk to the Obama people, they said that the Kennedy endorsements, all of them, were critically important in getting him into the game.  Remember, just a couple of weeks ago, before Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy endorsed, he was behind by 20 to 25 points in many states.  So, they were critical.  Why did not they not work in their home state?  There are a lot of explanations.  First of all, it‘s Bill Clinton‘s best state, the only state where he carried more than 60 percent.  And you have some other issues where the governor there was a strong Obama ally, Deval Patrick, is not particularly popular right now.  So, there‘s some local things there that figure into Massachusetts, I wouldn‘t too much into that.

OLBERMANN:  Every time we go a little further and it‘s undecided by events and it‘s such and extraordinary, you unbelievable for 4/10 of 1 percent in the popular vote as the apparent number between them last night.  Does it suggest more and more that the ideal ticket is the two of them, almost, whichever way you want to place them?

ALTER:  Well, a lot of Democrats want that.  And it is quite possible that you could have a Clinton-Obama ticket, although, you know, it‘s not sure clearly he would take it.  It‘s highly unlikely that you have an Obama-Clinton ticket.  First of all, she‘d already been vice-president, she was in the White House and also, Obama would need to pick somebody like a Sam Nunn or a Jim Webb or General Anthony Zinni, you know, somebody who would really help him on his national security issues.  And so, I think that would be much more likely for him should he get the nomination.

OLBERMANN:  Imagine, Jim Webb.  By the way, here‘s Al Gore for you on the phone on the phone.  (INAUDIBLE).  Jonathan Alter of MSNBC and “Newsweek”, as always, thanks for coming in, Jon.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And like a pair of generals fighting battle after battle and state after state, the valiant warriors move on to inferiority complex Tuesday.  Chuck Todd so pressing (ph) with delegate numbers last night has new ones here.  And the Republican numbers seem to have made John McCain unstoppable.  So, comedian Russ Limbaugh demand that he‘d be stop.  Oh, this can‘t end well.  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Twenty-two states and 1,364 pledged delegates.  Last night?  No, no.  The rest of the Democratic schedule, Chuck Todd‘s preview of this Saturday‘s battles and then the Chesapeake Bay primary next Tuesday and in Worst: Bill O gets some very bad ratings news.  Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The hard work, the shot outs, the pointed references.  They all finally paid off for Senator Hillary Clinton last night with the massive victory in American Samoa.  She won two of their three delegates.  And in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Given just how tight the race is, that extra one delegate that one guy might end up owning the Democratic convention in Denver.  Both Senators Clinton and Obama predicted to be only single digits apart in the number of total pledged delegates so far.  When we have that, all eyes are on the battles ahead Saturday when Washington and Nebraska go to the caucuses.  Sunday when Maine votes.  Chesapeake, Tuesday when D.C., Maryland and Virginian cast ballots, the Tuesday after that, Hawaii and Wisconsin vote.  And then, March 4th, the delegate-rich battle with Ohio and Texas as well as Rhode Island and Vermont in play, in total, another 22 states still have to cast their ballots, 1,364 pledged delegates, 347 superdelegates in the Democratic party.  Joining me now, NBC political director, Chuck Todd.  Chuck, good evening.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Good evening sir.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Well, nice work last night.  First up: His numbers were uncannily accurate.  Congratulations on that.

TODD:  Well, you‘d better to be lucky sometimes, right?.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  So, now, we look ahead.  Saturday is no big deal, we can good night the coverage of Saturday already?

TODD:  Well, Saturday is no big deal as far as us having to pull an all nighter, you know, exactly, no.  Look, there‘s a decent chunk of delegates, 70 plus delegates out in Washington state.  The Louisiana is holding a primary, that‘s 50 plus delegates.  We have Nebraska with 24.  Look, we‘ve seen them, two of them are caucuses.  We‘ve seen that Senator Obama does very well there.  Louisiana should be a state he does well, high African-American population.  He should do pretty well, the question is:

What kind of turnout do they get there.  You know, our own Tim Russert did some fun math and if Obama wins 58 percent of the delegates that are available between Saturday and Tuesday, then, literally whips superdelegates, Obama will have a one delegate lead.  Now, of course, you know how Clinton can get that back, she can call for a recount in Missouri.  As we have in Missouri, because what that would do is if she was ever found the winner of Missouri, it would switch one delegate.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  But in the interim, plan A compared to that one which is really plan F, with maybe plan C, for all we know, the Clinton campaign is already telling reporters, it‘s looking ahead to fourth of March that touches (ph) to Ohio.  Are they again lowering expectations so they can claim resurgence anywhere between now and then?

TODD:  And by the way, Keith, they‘re already bringing up April 22nd in Pennsylvania.  They would love actually—Pennsylvania is one of those states they would love to see a little bit sooner on the calendar.  But you know they played this expectations game really well.  They did it, you know, in New Hampshire, I don‘t think they did it on purpose.  I think, literally, the media was part of it, everybody saw it coming.  So, their victory felt like a comeback story of the year.  Tuesday was odd.  The campaign really was acting as if it‘s back was against the wall.  That this was real trouble.  They didn‘t know what was going to happen.  They really were acting like, well, like it was the Monday before New Hampshire.  This time, they had the feel they were playing possum.  So, you know, I think they are playing a little of the expectation game.  Look, the burden though is on Obama to win everything in February, to be frank.  There‘s a bunch of caucuses.  He‘s proven he can sweep a caucus.  I mean, look what he did on Tuesday night and then the other states, Wisconsin, Virginia, Maryland, as primary states, Louisiana, these are states that have a lot of Starbucks, to put it bluntly or a lot of African-Americans, two basis of his support network.

OLBERMANN:  In New York, the average was 75 Obama people per Starbucks.  They were inside, they were outside, they were serving the coffee, they were drinking the coffee, they were all over the place.

TODD:  And the Clinton folks are at Wal-mart.  I mean, that‘s her motto were Wal-mart and that‘s been the split so far.

OLBERMANN:  The quote from Doctor Dean from the DNC chairman, Howard Dean tonight, if there‘s not a nominee by late spring, he actually said, we‘re going to have to get the candidates together and make some kind of an arrangement.  Now, what does that mean and what are the odds numbers will preclude this before it has to happen?

TODD:  Well, look, you know, I think March 4th is a day that could be decisive, OK?  If either Clinton or Obama won both Ohio and Texas, that would be, there would be this sort of a perception wave on their side.  Delegate wise, we know this stuff is pretty much ends up split down the middle in these hotly-contested states.  But that would be a pretty strong talking point.  But if they split it, and they really could, and they could split all the way, you know, I‘ve always wondered, there‘s a huge gap this time between the last primary, Puerto Rico in June and the actual start of the convention, you know, in the old days, the conventions were you know, only four weeks after the last primary.  So, a convention fight didn‘t seem like it get out of hand.  I think Howard Dean is having a nightmare of a three-month convention fight after the last primary and before the start of the actual convention.

OLBERMANN:  And we‘ll be there to cover it every night.  Chuck Todd, political director of NBC News, congratulations again and thanks for tonight, too..

TODD:  You got it, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  OK. I heard a lot of about the resurgence of no frills airlines, but this is ridiculous.

And Mitt Romney spokesperson who says, he‘s the best choice because he has an all American family.  A slap at McCain?  Obama?  One of our finalist in tonight‘s Worst Person but first: The latest headlines breaking at the administration‘s 50 scandals - Bushed.

Number three: Blank check- gate.  The Pentagons annual budget request would come up Monday.  It will not include an actual figure for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so, the Congress should just approve it now and the Pentagon will simply fill in the amount later on.

Number two: Wiretap-gate.  The government as you remember rushing to defend it‘s computers against cyber attacks, so reports the “Wall Street Journal”, it is proposing installing government operated black box sensor onto the computer and data networks of private companies like say, the one we have at NBC or the one you have at your job.  Terrific.

And number one: Waterboarding-gate.  Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, last month.  If I had water draining into my nose, oh, God, I can‘t just imagine how painful.  Whether it‘s torture by anybody else‘s definition for me, it would be torture.  McConnell now testifying to the Senate Intelligence Committee, having Tommy Flamingan (ph) did, “When I was having a discussion with a journalist, it was about water safety instructor and teaching people to swim.  He said what about when water goes up your nose?  I said that would be torturous.  It would be very painful for me.  Then it turned into a discussion of waterboarding.  Ma‘am, I made no statement or judgment regarding the legality of waterboarding.

Mr. Bush, we all pay high taxes and you can‘t get us better liars than this?  It‘s like the late Bill Hick‘s rift on the defense on the Rodney King trial, the video tape of the police pounding him could exonerate the officers on your view point.  For instance, if you play it back wards, you see his help came up and sent him on his way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Two updates from page A1.  First off, the Obama camp now says it raised $4.25 million online since last night.  The previous figure had been $3 million.  And there was a typo that your probably heard that I did not.  I said there was winning in big population states, Senator Clinton did, in New York and Pennsylvania.  You jumped out of your chair.  That was supposed to be California.  It was a typo, it got past everybody. 

We were here late last night, sorry.

The next time you hear somebody express outrage that a member of the damned liberal media broke the law to test security or safety somewhere important, remind yourself that on this date, a prominent Chicago radio newscaster was arrested as he scaled the fence surrounding the atomic laboratory at Argon, Illinois.  He was testing the nuclear plant‘s defense system when guards discovered him stuck on the barbed wire.  A Nobel prize winning scientist who had discovered heavy water said afterward he was disappoint it that the guards had not shot the reporter.  As it was, the man was not even indicted.  What was the name of that reporter?  Paul Harvey.  And now, you know the rest of the story.

Let‘s play “Oddball.”  And here‘s what Paul was looking for.  We begin in Skachiwa, (ph) Japan and more science.  This time nerds and slackers in Tokyo University united to create the coolest experiment in the history of the universe.  A paper airplane that can be launched from outer space and it will land safely on earth.  Yeah, dude.  After folding and refolding a special kind of paper scientists created an origami plane that can withstand temperatures of 250 degrees Celsius and can survive wind traveling seven times the speed of sound.  The scientists had asked a Japanese astronaut to chuck the thing from the International Space Station.  The only problem is, the plane will take several weeks to reach Earth and they need a really small pilot and Ryan Seacrest is booked.

And then to Grand Rapids, Michigan where a bats is attacking city commissioners at their meeting.  No one knows how that bat got in.  No one is too interested in doing anything about it.  There are civic leaders in action, folks.  Will the bat continue to hold the town leaders hostage?  Will the commission continue to protect their heads with paper?  Tune in tomorrow, same bat time, same bat chan—Oh never mind, that guy just killed it.  That‘s Commissioner James Denrasiak (ph) doing his best Tom DeLay impression.  His politician slash exterminator bit.  The bat was fine and was released into the Grand Rapids night along with the commissioners.

Using the line again, the McCain mutiny.  Republicans keep voting for him.  Conservatives may soon be complaining Republicans are not conservatives.  And awful images spread across an awful swath of the nation‘s South.  More than 50 dead after a night and day of tornadoes.  These stories ahead but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best coincidence.  Photo on the cover of the front page of a December edition of the Idaho paper “The Lewiston Tribune.”  Michael Millhouse, wearing a black and blue checkered coat painting decorative Christmas greetings on storefront windows in town.  Another photo on the same front page of the “Tribune,” a still from a surveillance camera of an unidentified man wearing a black and blue checkered coat slipping some woman‘s wallet into the coat.  Oops.  Mr. Millhouse has pleaded guilty to third degree theft.  But he got the page framed.

Number two, best thinking by a bank teller, Brian Waltermyer, wearing a hooded sweatshirt walks into a bank in York, Pennsylvania and hands over a note demanding money.  The teller says fine, but you have to remove your hood first, which she then does.  So the security camera can get a clear picture of him.

And number one, best you‘ll have to explain this to the boy later moment.  An unnamed woman walks into a fire station in Portsmouth in England begging firefighters there to liberate her eight-year-old grandson who had got himself trapped in a pair of high quality, hardened steel handcuffs.  They did it easily with industrial metal cutters at which point fireman Dan French jokingly asked the boy if he was on the run from the police and the grandmother jokingly said, no, he found these in his mother‘s bedroom.  That‘s right, son.  Your mother is simply afraid somebody might steal the bed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The shocking expose today about Senator John McCain that had been simmering in the right wing fringe.  Exploding into the mainstream now.  His big wins last night on Super Tuesday.  In our third story tonight, it turns out, Senator McCain is actually Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As this new ad from the anti-McCain group, Citizens United reveals scratch Senator Clinton and you get Senator McCain.  Nor, are they the only observer to have spotted this secret plot.  Comedian Rush Limbaugh now joining the growing ranks of arch-conservatives who claim they would find President McCain equal to or even worse than President Hillary Clinton.  The conservative “Washington Times” crunched Tuesday‘s numbers to show just how soft McCain‘s support is among the GOP base.

Reporting that McCain won most of the self-identified conservative voters in only one state last night, Connecticut, losing with them to Romney even his home state of Arizona.  So why is he still winning?

With me now, E.J. Dionne, columnist of “The Washington Post,” author of “Souled Out, Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right.”

Good to see you here in person.

E.J. DIONNE, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good to be here.

OLBERMANN:  The one calculation that seems to overarch everything is in this is Romney needs to win like three of every four remaining delegates to win the nomination.  It doesn‘t seem like the far right is going to get Romney.  They can‘t abide McCain.  They only less can‘t abide Huckabee by a small margin.  Who do they want, then?

DIONNE:  Ronald Reagan.

OLBERMANN:  OK.  There‘s a problem there too.

DIONNE:  Maybe Herbert Hoover.  I think what you have got here is they understand this would be the first time since 1980 that the conservative movement itself didn‘t name the candidate.  I think some of the guys would rather lose the election than have to the party in some other set of hands.  Because you do look at these primaries and the dominant wing isn‘t going to be the nominee.  People voting for McCain, people who don‘t like the Iraq War.  People who don‘t like President Bush.  Moderates and there are even some Liberals left in the Republican Party.

They are voting for McCain and then he‘s adding on just enough conservatives to win.  And so they don‘t want to that calculus to be - that kind of coalition to be in control of the party.

OLBERMANN:  As those on the left who look at this with unbecoming glee and say oh, the Republicans are lighting themselves on fire, get your marshmallows have with that paranoia, the Rush Limbaughs of the world are doing this to scare their people into voting for whichever Republican gets thrown out there no matter what the cost might be.  McCain, whatever.

At some point, somebody is going to say we‘ll stop now.  We have to defeat the Democrats.  So let‘s get behind this guy even if it is McCain.  Is that true paranoia or is there some method to the madness there that that might suggest?

I don‘t think the best right wing conspiracy could figure that out.  I mean I think you know the other paranoia is Rush Limbaugh knows how to increase his ratings.  He‘s not going to get them defending President Bush these days.  And McCain is sort of a repository of things folks on the right can‘t stand.

He did vote against those tax cuts even though he flip-flopped.  He does car about global warming which they think is kind of globaloney.  He supported campaign finance reform.  And they hate campaign finance and so he is at least a three for.  And there are some other issues.  Immigration, the big one.  And he had an immigration bill although he‘s backed away from that, so in going after him, you‘re hitting a lot of targets that right wing talk show hosts like to hit.

OLBERMANN:  It seems like we‘re in a mutually exclusive moment because the blowhards like Limbaugh say I‘d rather vote for Hillary.  And the die-hards like Fleischer right now says there‘s no question about, it Republicans want to and we pray every night to run against Hillary Clinton.  One of these two things can‘t happen, right?

DIONNE:  Well, the truth is that Ann Coulter sells more books if Hillary Clinton is president.  Rush Limbaugh gets a bigger audience when Hillary Clinton is president.  So there‘s some benefit to them out of this.  But I do think a lot of Republicans would like Hillary Clinton to be the nominee simply because it would unite their own people.  It doesn‘t mean she can‘t win the election.  But I‘ve talked to a party chair a year ago who said look, my party is in a complete mess, but if I make a phone call and say, will you help me beat Hillary, I will have a lot of people say yes.

OLBERMANN:  You‘re not suggesting that fine upstanding Republicans and conservatives like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh would put their personal millions of dollars ahead to see a Republican victory?

DIONNE:  I couldn‘t say that.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m shattered.  My faith is now down to - oh, never mind.  It was at zero.  E.J. Dionne, “Washington Post” and author of “Souled Out,” good to see you.  Great thanks for you coming here.

DIONNE:  Great to be here.  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  It was prescription drugs.  He had too many of them.  It is not foul play but the feds want to know where he got all the prescriptions.  The death of Heath Ledger.

Back to the old waterboard.  Tony Fratto of the White House versus Mary Matalin and the Frank Burns of news in your worst persons finals tonight.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The how, the doctors think they have answered that.  But how did he get them, federal drug agents want to know.  Our brief look at celebrity and entertainment news begins with an official cause of death for Heath Ledger and possibly an official investigation.

Our correspondent is Jonathan Dienst from our New York station, WNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN DIENST, WNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  There were six different prescription drugs in Ledger‘s system when he died.  And the medical examiner said it was that mix that killed him.  The matter of death is accident resulting from the abuse of prescription medications.  The toxicology report said were several forms of Valium, Oxycontin and Xanax, among others.  One official familiar with the autopsy said Ledger did not take dozens of pills the day he died, but rather it was the compounding effect of having taken numerous drugs that led to respiratory failure.

DR. VATSAL THAKKAR, NYU MEDICAL CENTER:  I can‘t picture a reasonable scenario where someone would be on all six of these medications at once.  With the knowledge of a medical professional.

DIENST:  Officials say federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents are now investigating whether any of Ledger‘s drugs were illegally dispensed.  We‘re told the DEA has issued subpoenas to the medical examiner‘s office and has asked for the NYPD files to see if any doctor or pharmacy improperly gave the actor any of those drugs.  It was last month the star was found dead in his Soho apartment by his housekeeper and masseuse.  They originally called actress Mary-Kate Olsen before calling 911.  No illegal drugs were found in his home and an official familiar with the test results said no illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin or alcohol was in his system.  U.S. drug officials say abuse of prescription drugs is the second biggest drug problem, especially, among teens.

SCOTT BURNS, DEPUTY U.S. DRUG CZAR:  This isn‘t just about movie stars or people in Hollywood.  This is about thousands and thousands of people across this country.

DIENST:  In Australia, Ledger‘s family issued a statement saying they were heartbroken and were planning private funeral services.

As for the autopsy, “Today‘s results put to an end to speculation but our son‘s beautiful spirit and enduring memory will forever remain in our hearts.”

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Dienst at WNBC in New York reporting for us.

Meantime, Britney Spears roams free tonight, quietly having been released from a hospital after a week of psychiatric evaluation.  The Web site TMZ reporting that doctors determined she did not pose a danger to herself or others so she‘s on the loose.

This on the same day court documents filed by her parents accuse her manager Sam Lufti of drugging her, taking over her life and finances and even helping the paparazzi prey on her.  The court issuing a restraining order against Lufti, seen here with Spears.  He is the one wearing the baseball cap.  Lufti quoted by AP as saying he had no problems with anyone writing anything negative about him in a text message that came from an undisclosed location.

The worst swarm of tornadoes in this country in a decade.  The latest, next.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s “Worst Persons in the World.”  The bronze, Bill-O.  As part of this smoke screen he is emitting to cover up the fact that when a small group of homeless veterans came to protest his denial that there were homeless veterans, he sent a producer monkey out to humiliate the vets.  Did you guys actually see what Bill O‘Reilly said?  No, idiot.  They‘re homeless.  The probably don‘t have cable.

Anyway, Bill-O was upset we sent a crew to cover the protests.  “And then there‘s NBC News.  What a tragedy.  This man, Steve Capus, runs that operation and had totally lost control of it.  We called NBC and asked why they would send a camera crew to cover an obviously contrived situation.”

Bill, “an obviously contrived situation.”  Aren‘t you being a little hard on yourself?  “NBC told us Capus didn‘t know anything about it.  Now maybe the man should pay attention to his job.”

Bill, you worked at two network news operations.  You think the presidents of the news divisions are personally responsible for deciding the stories the camera crews go on?  Oh yeah, right, I‘m sorry, you were fired by two network news operations.  “As everyone knows, NBC News hates Fox News because we‘re kicking their butt around the block.  Costing them hundreds of millions of dollars and so the beef goes on.  It‘s usually tedious, but in this case illuminating.”

Hate to break this to you, Sparky, but you‘re not on against NBC News, you‘re on against MSNBC.  You‘re on cable.  Oh, and kicking your butt, Billy, last night, Super Tuesday from 7:00 at night till 2:00 in the morning, Fox Noise and MSNBC viewers 25 to 54.  Tied.  The rating of 0.8 each.  Goodnight Bilbo.

The runner up, Mary Matalin, spokesperson for Mitt Romney on this network of her employer, quote, “He‘s fresh, he‘s new, he‘s got what all Americans want in the White House, which is an all American family.”  It‘s being interpreted as a swipe at John McCain‘s family with his daughter having been adopted from Bangladesh, maybe.  But moreover, what are the flag waving conservative xenophobes going to say about it?  Romney‘s great grandparents were polygamist Mormons who had to flee to Mexico.  Even his own father was born in Mexico.

Meaning the all American family consists of the grandchildren of Mexican immigrants.  But our winner, Tony Fratto.  Following up on the CIA director‘s confirmation that three detainees were waterboarded, Mr. Fratto saying today the process could be used again, quote, “It will depend upon circumstances, the belief that an attack might be imminent, that could be a circumstance that you would definitely want to consider.”

OK, let me walk you and your administration through this again.  Let‘s say your dream comes through.  You‘re living “24”.  You have got a terrorist, he is hanging upside down and he knows where the bomb is hidden.  L.A. or New York, it‘s going off in one hour and you‘re draining water into his nose and he‘s responding like Mike McConnell at swim practice.  And finally, he says, enough, I‘ll talk.  It‘s in L.A.  Here‘s the address.  But he‘s a terrorist.  Maybe he doesn‘t care if you come back later and kill him.  Even if he does care, you have no way of knowing whether or not he told you the truth.  So you go to L.A. and an hour later the bomb goes off in New York.  Nice work.  Tony, Fratto.  Today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A small college campus in Jackson, Tennessee where students were trapped but escaped with no life-threatening injuries.  To an entire family killed in Atkins, Arkansas.  The random and vicious devastation of thunderstorms and tornadoes, atypical to winter.

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, beginning last night through the morning, at least 52 people were killed across Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee after tornadic supercells emerged from several thunderstorms amid unusually warm weather.  Our own Lester Holt is at the site of some of the worst of that fury in Jackson, Tennessee.  Lester, good evening.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, tornadoes are no stranger to people in these parts of the country, but they don‘t expect to see them in the middle of winter.  That doesn‘t happen very often.

But about 24 hours ago, a very powerful tornado went down the path I‘m walking here taking aim at a college dormitory just across the street.  And it was one of many powerful twisters that made landscapes like this commonplace to so many parts of the South tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOLT (voice-over):  There were too many tornadoes to count and by daylight, too much rubble to search as the death toll ticked upward throughout most of today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This roar just goes through your whole body.  You know it‘s above you somewhere and you don‘t know where it‘s going to come down when it starts.

HOLT:  From Kentucky to Alabama, the violent storm system unleashed tornadoes across seven states.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A new tornado warning just coming down.

HOLT:  Throughout Tuesday evening, TV weather forecasters tried to keep up with literally dozens of tornado sightings.  Tennessee, where at least two dozen were killed took the worst of it.

Homes and businesses were demolished.  Trucks were toppled on a major interstate.  A gas pumping station near Nashville was set ablaze.  And at Jackson‘s Union University, at least 20 students were trapped in the rubble of collapsed dormitories.

NATALIE WEST, UNION UNIVERSITY STUDENT:  It was so scary looking around.  People crying and blood on their faces and just soaking it all in thinking it was a nightmare.

HOLT:  Sophomore Natalie West was trapped for only a few minutes.  But others spent hours under the debris, their dramatic rescues caught in these still photos.

In Arkansas, meantime, more than a dozen people are dead.  Here is how NBC‘s Don Teague is reporting the story from one of its hardest hit communities.

DON TEAGUE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  The tornado that tore through Atkins, Arkansas was so big and black, residents that saw it say they thought it was just a cloud.  At least they did until it started snapping trees in half.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Just like a big roar.

HOLT:  Seventeen-year-old Blake Martin and his friend Robbie Harty (ph) saw the tornado and ran out of this house with seconds to spare.  They survived by taking shelter in the house next door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It lasted a few seconds, but seemed like forever.

HOLT:  A close call on a night where dozens weren‘t so lucky.

In Washington President Bush today promised help for the people of Atkins and all those affected by the storms.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  I do want the people in those states to know the American people stand with them.

HOLT:  Support they will need as they recover from the worst one day onslaught of tornado this country has seen in almost 10 years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLT (on camera):  And we learned from the White House late today that President Bush will visit Tennessee on Friday to tour the damage for himself.  Keith?

OLBERMANN:  Lester Holt under the leaden skies of Jackson, Tennessee, thank you.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,743rd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

Our coverage continues now with MSNBC LIVE WITH DAN ABRAMS.  Dan, good evening.

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

END   

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