updated 2/11/2008 11:42:25 AM ET 2008-02-11T16:42:25

Guests Hillary Rosen, Jeanne Cummings, Roxanne Roberts, David Keating

NORAH O‘DONNELL, HOST:  The drama of the 2008 campaign continued today on both sides of the aisle with speculation about Mike Huckabee‘s future, John McCain‘s potential running mate, and Bill Clinton‘s role as Hillary Clinton‘s campaign moves forward. 

Good evening, everyone.  I‘m Norah O‘Donnell in for Tucker Carlson.  We will get to all of that and more in just a moment. 

But we begin with MSNBC‘s David Shuster who has a comment about something he said on this show last night. 

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Last night during the show I spoke about Chelsea Clinton and noted the affection that so many of us have for her.  I also spoke about phone calls she has made to super delegates to convince them to support her mom.  In describing this effort I used a phrase that was inappropriate and I apologize to the Clinton family, the Clinton campaign and all of you who were justifiably offended.  As I said this morning on MSNBC, all Americans should be proud of Chelsea Clinton, and I‘m particularly sorry that my language diminished the regard and respect she has earned from all of us and the respect her parents have earned in how they raised her. 

O‘DONNELL:  OK, David.  The 2008 presidential contest is largely down to three senators.  John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama trying to wrap up their parties‘ nomination.  But tonight we are also focused on two former Arkansas governors, Mike Huckabee and Bill Clinton, too. 

What influence will Mike Huckabee have on the road to John McCain‘s near-certain nomination?  Huckabee showed genuine strength in the south on Super Tuesday.  His campaign is on very good terms with Senator McCain.  So what does the future hold?  Today Governor Huckabee did not waver in his commitment to his original goal. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  A lot of folks have said, well, why don‘t you quit?  Well, let me tell you something, let me explain why I‘m not going to quit, because first of all I still believe that we can win. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Mike Huckabee‘s campaign manager will join us shortly with his view of his candidate‘s role in the Republican race. 

On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama enter Saturday‘s contest in Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington state essentially tied in the race for the nomination.  Among the developments of the last 24 hours, former President Bill Clinton‘s assessment of his future role in the campaign and a potential Hillary Clinton administration.  And he also said that he‘s learned his lesson on coming to her defense. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  I will not be in the Cabinet.  I will not be on the staff full time.  I will not in any way interfere with the work of a strong vice president, a strong secretary of state, strong secretary of treasury. 

The mistake that I made is to think that I was a spouse like any other spouse, who could defend his candidate.  I think whenever I defend her, A, risk being misquoted and B, risk being the story.  I don‘t want to be the story and I don‘t mind being the story in Maine today.  But you know what I mean.  This is her campaign and her presidency and her decisions.  And so even if I win an argument with another candidate, it‘s not the right thing to do.  I need to promote her but not defend her.  And I learned a very valuable lesson from all that dustup. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Having said all that, Mr. Clinton was out on - out and about, I should say, on the trail today critiquing Senator Obama and boosting the candidacy of his wife.  So which Bill Clinton will we see as this deadlocked race heads from Saturday‘s contest to the Chesapeake primary, which is just next Tuesday? 

Joining me now is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell who‘s also been covering the Clinton campaign. 

And Andrea, thank you so much for joining us.  We saw Hillary Clinton campaigning in Tacoma, Washington.  And she started her rally in a very interesting way, didn‘t she? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  Tomorrow you get a chance to help pick a president.  And you know, if this were a primary where everybody could vote all day, I‘d feel pretty good about it.  But it‘s not.  It‘s a caucus.  And you got to show up at 1:00 and I already met three nurses outside.  And I said, well, are you going to caucus for me?  And they said, well, we‘re working tomorrow.  So I need all of you to redouble your efforts to go to the caucuses tomorrow, to be there, to stand up for what we need in a president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Andrea, first, she seems to acknowledge that she may have difficulty in this caucus tomorrow in Washington state.  Why has her campaign had trouble in these caucuses? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORR.:  They are very labor intensive.  They require the kind of work that didn‘t succeed in Iowa.  You know, it‘s a very hard process.  They did better than expected in Nevada.  But it‘s not as easy as a primary.  She‘s been very good at racking up votes, not as strong as Obama on the ground.  He‘s had more money, he‘s had better organization.  That‘s one of the other thing she did today, Norah.  You noticed that she was dialing for dollars, not literally but figuratively in announcing at the out set of her speech that she wanted people to check in the Web site, that she should—they should campaign, they should, rather, contribute to the campaign online.  And she announced that Howard Wolfson, her campaign communications chief, did today. 

They‘ve gotten $8 million online since Super Tuesday, nearly $10 million since February 1st.  They are doing a lot better since she put up the $5 million.  According to Wolfson, people are saying, well, if she‘s willing to contribute, then maybe, you know, I should also.  And people didn‘t realize they were so hard pressed for money.  But the bottom line on that is that they‘re still behind Barack Obama on putting up advertising.  They‘re just beginning to intensively advertise.  He‘s been all over the airwaves. 

O‘DONNELL:  Andrea, some people asked the question, where did that $5 million come from? 

MITCHELL:  It came from their bank accounts, their assets.  The fact is that last June, they had to file, as all senators and spouses do, a financial disclosure form, which acknowledged that they had a total of between $10 and $15 million in total assets.  Some of that is their two homes.  But that‘s a lot of cash.  Then once she started in the campaign, they converted a lot of their money into a blind trust, which was more liquid to avoid conflict of interest questions. 

And that also meant, you know, foregoing some good payouts.  She‘s also—they are expecting a payout from one of his business partners, Ron Berkel, a big contributor, of somewhat—up to $20 million according to the “Wall Street Journal.”  But right now, they have about $15 million.  She‘s entitled to spend half of that on her campaign legally.  So she can write a check and she wrote a check for five, she can write a check for more, probably as much as $15 million if necessary.  But the money is beginning to pour in. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Andrea Mitchell, thank you so much. 

MITCHELL:  You bet. 

O‘DONNELL:  And joining us now are Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hilary Rosen and senior correspondent for “Politico” Jeanne Cummings. 

Welcome to both of you. 

Jeanne, let‘s start with that.  Andrea mentioned it.  Howard Wolfson, her communications director held this conference call with reporters today.  He said that they have raised $8 million since Super Tuesday, $10 million since the beginning of this month.  Can they keep pace with Barack Obama raising that much money? 

JEANNE CUMMINGS, “POLITICO” SENIOR CORRESPONDENT:  Well, that‘s a lot of money.  And they did a good job.  And they have now sounded the alarm everywhere.  They are using that loan to try to get all of her supporters charged up and writing checks.  Can they keep up?  I rather doubt it.  I think that Barack Obama has a much deeper pool that he can go to.  He has many, many more donors than she does. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, his campaign says, oh he‘s now using John Kerry‘s list, Moveon.org is helping Barack Obama, that‘s why he has this advantage. 

CUMMINGS:  Well, that‘s part of winning.  That‘s what happens when you get in a campaign and you get allies.  And so yes, he has a very formidable operation and it is bigger than hers.  And so I think it will be hard for her to keep up. 

O‘DONNELL:  Hilary, one of the other things they said is that Obama has refused to debate Clinton on a weekly basis that—this month.  And that certainly—if you don‘t want to debate Clinton you‘re not going to be able to deal with John McCain.  That‘s the argument they‘re making. 

But why should Barack Obama feel like he has to debate Hillary Clinton? 

HILARY ROSEN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, actually, I think voters have really responded to the debates.  I mean, just as a practical matter, that debates got a highest rating debates have in, you know, the last two presidential campaigns. 

O‘DONNELL:  But does she need to do the debates because she doesn‘t have the money to buy advertising? 

ROSEN:  I think the first reason they want to do the debate is because they think that she won the last one that they teared in together and that really helped her, particularly in California.  She had been ahead, he was surging, and that that stopped his surge.  And so I think that they believe, and I don‘t think they‘re wrong for this, that she does well in these head-to-head match-ups.  And if you don‘t get them together, then you don‘t get that opportunity.  It is good free publicity and she will be at a money disadvantage. 

I think Jeanne‘s right.  She‘s not going to raise as much money as him.  But she‘ll be competitive.  She‘ll raise enough money to do what they need to do. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s talk about Bill Clinton.  We just saw that clip of him in Portland, Maine, where he says, I don‘t want to be the story here in Maine, but yet he became the story not just in Maine but on the “Today” show this morning. 

He also said, I never personally attacked Barack Obama.  And then today in Louisiana he is once again drawing distinctions on policy issues with Barack Obama.  So is the old Bill Clinton back?  Back with the unfair game, isn‘t it? 

ROSEN:  Well, you know, Bill Clinton can‘t help but be a very big figure.  And some of it is, is his making up, his making clearly and some of it isn‘t.  You know, I was - I was king of shocked that there was no story about Michelle Obama two weeks ago on ABC TV said, you know, in an interview that she doesn‘t even know if she can bring herself to support Hillary Clinton in the general election.  She‘d have to think about it.  Could you imagine if Bill Clinton had said that about Barack Obama?  Bill Clinton. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, he is a former president of the United States, the leader of the Democratic Party. 

ROSEN:  But it doesn‘t really matter at that point because everybody is playing nice.  And - but everybody isn‘t always playing nice.  I think what he said in this interview he should have said weeks ago.  You know, he should have been really clear.  I don‘t want to be secretary of state.  I‘m not going to be secretary of the treasury.  I‘m going to defer to a strong vice president.  It‘s unfortunate it happened now but, you know, kind of thank God it finally happened with more clarity. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Hilary Rosen, Jeanne Cummings, we‘ve got a lot more with you coming up. 

And up next, we‘re talking about Mitt Romney‘s exit from the Republican race.  It seems to make John McCain the surefire nominee.  But Mike Huckabee is not giving up.  Up next, the Huckabee campaign manager, Huckabee‘s campaign manager is going to give us very latest information. 

And as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama duel for the Democratic nod, the question of their relative chances against their likely opponent in the fall becomes an issue in their campaign.  Who would do better against McCain? 

This is MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Don‘t count him out just yet.  That‘s the word from the Huckabee campaign.  Coming up we‘ll ask the campaign‘s national manager why he‘s still taking aim at John McCain. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COLBERT REPORT”)

HUCKABEE:  I think we have a real shot at a big state, Texas. 

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Texas, you think you can score with Texas? 

HUCKABEE:  Yes, indeed. 

COLBERT:  Governor? 

HUCKABEE:  Yes. 

COLBERT:  Let‘s see if you can win with Texas. 

HUCKABEE:  Game on. 

COLBERT:  Why do you think the people of Texas will go for your message? 

HUCKABEE:  Because I understand barbecue. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Mike Huckabee has gone from an unknown on the national scene to a player in the Republican race for president.  It‘s unlikely he‘ll be another Bill Clinton but Huckabee says he‘s not going anywhere as Republicans duke it out over the conservative credentials of the presumptive nominee Senator John McCain.  Can you say McCain-Huckabee in ‘08? 

Joining us now is Mike Huckabee‘s national campaign manager, Chip Saltsman. 

Chip, good to see you. 

CHIP SALTSMAN, HUCKABEE NATL. CAMPAIGN MGR.:  Norah, always good to be with you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Can you say McCain-Huckabee in ‘08? 

SALTSMAN:  Well, I like the way - if Huckabee-McCain sounds a little better to me.  But you know, we‘re still running for president.  Nobody‘s got 1,191 delegates left.  There‘s still lots of big states on the board like we saw in that little promo, Texas is still sitting out there, that‘s 140 delegates. 

O‘DONNELL:  You did a little bit of the math, you have to get to over 1,190 in order to win the Republican nomination.  Let‘s show currently what the delegate breakdown is.  John McCain at 721, Mitt Romney at 278, and Mike Huckabee at 195.  There are 963 delegates still up for grabs.  We‘ve looked at the math and essentially Mike Huckabee would just have to win just about everything from here on out, get like 80 percent of the vote total, which as you know is pretty much impossible. 

SALTSMAN:  Norah, that sounds great to me.  We‘ll just run the tables and call it a day.  But no, look, we. 

O‘DONNELL:  But as you know - I know it‘s this funny to joke about but as you know that‘s practically impossible.  So why is Mike Huckabee still in this race? 

SALTSMAN:  Well, for the very reason when we announced we knew that nobody was going to give us a chance to get in this race.  Three or four months ago John McCain and Mike Huckabee were left for dead in this campaign.  Nobody thought that John McCain and Mike Huckabee would be the last two men standing.  We know it‘s going to be an uphill sled the next couple of weeks.  But we also know that nobody‘s got this nomination locked up. 

We‘re out there fighting the same way we‘ve been since day one.  And I think as you saw today in Kansas, I don‘t know how much you all covered the events before we got on the show, there were huge crowds out in Kansas there for Governor Mike Huckabee, got the Kansas Right to Life endorsement, Dr. Dobson.  There‘s a lot of folks out there coalescing around Governor Huckabee as well.

So far the only thing I‘ve seen about Senator John McCain is maybe a lot of the Washington establishment types are and that‘s really never been our game. 

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s a good point that Mike Huckabee is still campaigning across the country, garnering large crowds.  I don‘t know if you saw Senator Clinton McCain was campaigning today and he was asked like he‘s already the nominee about potential vice presidential picks, and here‘s what he had to say.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  I don‘t want in any way discount the candidacy of Governor Huckabee.  He‘s in this race.  And for me to dismiss him, I think, would be inappropriate and unrealistic. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  So kind words from the senator there.  He also says he doesn‘t buy this idea that you need a geographic sort of ticket, which is that if you‘re from the southwest, maybe he needs someone from the south like Huckabee because he says, you know, Clinton and Gore essentially were both from the south and they won on that kind of a ticket.  Do you agree? 

SALTSMAN:  Well, I think what you saw from Tuesday night is Governor Huckabee did really well in what‘s historically been the base of our party, which is the south.  That‘s why I think Governor Huckabee will be a great nominee because he knows how to win the votes, get our base excited.  He‘s also been able to reach out to a lot of independents and some right-thinking Democrats to vote for us as well.  And we think at the end of the day that we - like I said, we‘ve still got a chance.  We‘re out there fighting. 

I think John McCain‘s comments were very respectful to Governor Huckabee. 

You‘ve noticed Governor Huckabee has always been respectful of John McCain.  We think this two-man race over the next couple of weeks is going to be very respectful.  They are going to talk about why they should be president as opposed to tearing somebody else down.  And quite frankly I think that‘s why they‘re both here, is because they‘ve run very respectful campaigns. 

O‘DONNELL:  Chip, it‘s really interesting.  You mentioned that, being respectful towards one another and we‘ve seen that with both McCain and Huckabee.  It was a different story when Mitt Romney was in the race.  But how does Mike Huckabee expect to become the nominee if he doesn‘t draw distinctions with John McCain and point out why he‘d be a better president? 

SALTSMAN:  Well, and that‘s what we‘ve got to do, we‘ve been doing that since day one.  We‘ve always talked about why Mike Huckabee should be president.  We‘re just not going to talk about why somebody else shouldn‘t be president.  I think that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Is that because you don‘t want to endanger. 

SALTSMAN:  No, not at all. 

O‘DONNELL:  .Huckabee‘s chance of being vice president? 

SALTSMAN:  Not at all.  I think what we‘ve done is—we‘re not using the Washington, D.C. playbook to run campaigns.  I think in Iowa, one of the reasons we won Iowa is because, after Mitt Romney spent about $10 or $15 million running negative ads, everybody said, you have to respond, you have to respond.  We even went as so far as create a response.  And then Governor Huckabee said, you know, I got in this race in Iowa on a positive note, I‘m going to end my race in Iowa on a positive note.  And ultimately, he won a big victory in Iowa staying positive. 

We think we‘re changing the tone of presidential politics and I think the rest of the country appreciates when you talk about what you‘re for as opposed to try to tear somebody else down all the time.  That‘s D.C. base politics and we‘re just not going to play that game. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Chip Saltsman, the campaign manager for Mike Huckabee, great to have you on.  Thanks for joining us. 

SALTSMAN:  Always a pleasure. 

O‘DONNELL:  And like it or not, barring some last kind of miracle, John McCain will be the GOP nominee.  Perhaps now the question for the Democrats is, who is the best to beat the Arizona senator? 

And I‘m not sure who is more dangerous to be in the White House.  Those are the words of Tom DeLay.  Does he really have reservations about John McCain?  What kind of reservations?  We‘ll investigate. 

This is MSNBC, the place for politics. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I have the greatest respect for my friend and my colleague Senator McCain, but I believe that he offers more of the same. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  I will be in a stronger position to have a discussion about how we‘re going to reform Washington against John McCain given that I don‘t take that money, I don‘t take federal lobbies money, I‘ve been a champion on these issues.  I think Senator Clinton would have a harder time making some of those arguments. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s an interesting argument in what has become a fascinating campaign for president.  A new “TIME” magazine poll shows Hillary Clinton and John McCain deadlocked at 46 percent.  But when matched against Barack Obama, Obama leads by 48 percent to 41 percent. 

So which Democrat would fair better against McCain?  Would McCain rather - who would McCain rather run against? 

Back with us our Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hilary Rosen and senior correspondent for “Politico,” Jeanne Cummings. 

Welcome back to both of you. 

Jeanne, why does Barack Obama do better against John McCain than Hillary Clinton? 

CUMMINGS:  Well, I think that they are a sharper contrast there.  You have a lot of them.  He‘s much different on the war.  He has a clear timetable to withdraw, Barack Obama does, versus McCain not.  There‘s a generational difference.  Barack Obama could go the ethics route with him, because Barack Obama has cut off all lobbying funds from his campaign where as McCain is basically being run by lobbyists right now.  They were the only ones that hung around in August when he was broke.  So I just think they are a very sharp contrast there. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes. 

Hilary, what about McCain versus Hillary Clinton?  Why is it even?  And how does that Democrat, when they look at that, as they‘re about to vote this weekend, and they really want to win the White House then sit looks like Barack Obama may be better to beat John McCain? 

ROSEN:  Well, I do think that Democrats right now are going to focus a lot on electability in a way that they - that we really haven‘t spent as much time on before.  But you know, there actually are polls that show every which way, Clinton ahead, Obama ahead, McCain ahead.  So I‘m not sure the “TIME” poll is dispositive.  I think a lot of that. 

O‘DONNELL:  And you also think that most of the country doesn‘t yet know McCain or he hasn‘t been defined yet. 

ROSEN:  I think both of these folks can beat John McCain.  And I think that most Democrats enthusiastic about these candidates feel the same way because there are lots of sharp contrasts.  In particular for Democrats, the fact that McCain has said we could be in Iraq for 100 years and both Democrats have pledged to get out. 

CUMMINGS:  He has. 

ROSEN:  The fact that he is saying I‘m for a repeal of Row v. Wade, the fact that he‘s, you know, really sort of edged a little to the right moving here.  You know, but the interesting thing for Democrats, I think, is getting out there pretty quickly and defining this guy before he defines himself.  That‘s the biggest risk we have is that the longer our fight goes on, the harder it‘s going to get on offense against McCain. 

O‘DONNELL:  If you have a contested Democratic nomination all the way through the convention, then you only have a couple of months when you‘re running exactly against McCain.  That hurts the Democratic Party, doesn‘t it? 

CUMMINGS:  It does.  The Democratic analysts I talk to are very concerned about that.  And certainly the DNC chairman Howard Dean is out soliciting money because the party can run out.  And the concern is that McCain will be able to get back to the center after moving right during a primary period.  Now. 

O‘DONNELL:  And yesterday at CPAC. 

CUMMINGS:  Exactly.  Well, in that - in many respects what the - the conservatives‘ angst as it continues doesn‘t help McCain. 

ROSEN:  Yes.  That. 

CUMMINGS:  Because that means he‘s got to go further and further to reassure them. 

ROSEN:  We both want - first of all we want Huckabee to stay in the race a really long time, as long as possible.  Because the more John McCain says I‘m a conservative, I‘m a conservative, I‘m a conservative, and there‘s, you know, dramatic differences between me and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the better off Democrats think we are. 

And so I just want him to keep saying that over and over again. 

CUMMINGS:  Well, we should note, though, that McCain has his own strengths.  And in particular there is great concern on the Democratic side, his draw amongst independents and his ability to draw in some Democrats.  And so. 

ROSEN:  Which I think he‘ll lose on the social issues going the other way and on the war. 

CUMMINGS:  It‘s possible. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  All right.  Good point.  And - so if he really is the nominee, who will John McCain pick as his running mate?  Should he pick a conservative?  Should he pick a Washington outsider?  The veep stakes begin ahead. 

Plus what do almost one in five of Hillary Clinton‘s top donors have in common?  It may have more to do with the White House than you expect. 

More ahead.  This is MSNBC, the place for politics. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Still to come, speculation grows over who may be on John McCain‘s short list for VP.  Should he consider a conservative name to mend fences with the Republican base?  We‘ll get to that in just a moment but first here is your look at the headlines.

CHRISTINA BROWN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I‘m Christina Brown.  Here is what‘s happening.  Officials now say at least four people were killed and four others reported missing after an explosion and fire at a sugar refinery near Savannah, Georgia, last night.  More than 30 people were hospitalized, some with severe burns.  Officials say about 100 people were working inside the plant at the time of the explosion.

It‘s believed sugar dust, which can be highly volatile may have sparked the explosion.  Meanwhile police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, say a 23-year-old woman shot and killed two fellow students in a classroom at Louisiana Technical College, then killed herself.  Officials say about 20 students were in the classroom at the time.  No word so far on the possible motive for the attack.

And President Bush toured damage in Tennessee from the swarm of tornadoes that slammed through southern states Tuesday killing at least 59 people.  He offered words of encouragement and promises of federal help.  Now back to TUCKER.

O‘DONNELL:  In the event John McCain‘s march toward the Republican nomination continues unimpeded, the next big question for the Arizona senator will be his choice for vice president.  And the speculation is thick this evening among those making educated guesses are the “Wall Street Journal‘s” Pat Toomey, Robert Novak and Newt Gingrich.  And the potential nominees range from Florida‘s Governor Charlie Crist to one-time conservative candidate Steve Forbes.  Joining us now with his take on this is David Keating, executive director of the Club for Growth.  David, good to see you.

DAVID KEATING, CLUB FOR GROWTH:  Good to be here.

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Let‘s tick through some of the top candidates that people are mentioning that could be potential V.P. picks.  First Florida Governor Charlie Crist.  What are his pluses and minuses?

KEATING:  Well, point of view from economic conservatives, which is where I think John McCain really needs to reach out across the party spectrum, Crist would be a really bad idea.  He‘s come up with an awful solution for the insurance problems down there and he has really demagogued on a lot of issues.  So a lot of people would not be too happy to see Charlie Crist as a pick.

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Another one mentioned, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who a lot of people say they like.

KEATING:  Mark Sanford is somebody who has been from day one when he first ran for office a different kind of politician.  A lot of people love him across the spectrum, not just Republicans.  He‘s solid on economic issues. 

I think he‘d make a great pick.  He‘s got executive experience and a real -

he‘s really well-known for being an independent, too.  So he‘d be a good pick.

O‘DONNELL:  I was interested to hear what Newt Gingrich predicted this morning on ABC.  Let‘s take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  My guess is that he could go either to Governor Crist in Florida or to Governor Sanford in South Carolina or to Governor Huckabee who has run a very, very good race, or he could do something truly different and potentially ask Joe Lieberman to form a unity ticket because of the war to bring together Democrats and Republicans.  I think Senator McCain has a wide range of choices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s hit two of those.  First, what would Governor Huckabee bring to John McCain, and is that a good idea?  Is he the quote, unquote, conservative that John McCain needs?

KEATING:  Well, one of the real questions people have had about John McCain, is he really going to defend the tax cuts that President Bush supported and he opposed back in 2001 and 2003?  Mike Huckabee is not somebody who had had a good record back home in terms of raising taxes and raising spending.  That‘s where republicans lost their brand last November.  He‘d be a bad pick to reach out to economic conservatives.

O‘DONNELL:  And John McCain, it was interesting, he is out campaigning today, he‘s still trying to wrap up the Republican nomination, Mike Huckabee is still in the hunt, but everybody is asking John McCain today about who his vice-presidential pick will be.  Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Former President Clinton and former Vice President Gore showed you don‘t have to be regionally different.  I think America is such now that, quote, regional differences don‘t play the role that maybe they did in earlier times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s an interesting argument.  He‘s saying essentially he doesn‘t necessarily need someone from the Deep South, for instance.  That regional differences don‘t matter.  What he said today, what matters when I pick a V.P. is that that person is ready to be president in case something happens.

KEATING:  I think he‘s right on that.  I think a great pick would be Senator Kyl, but he‘s from the same state so that won‘t work.  You know, I think Senator McCain is right on that.  You want to pick somebody who is good, somebody who balances Senator McCain‘s strength.  Certainly Senator McCain is well-known for someone that is great on national defense.  That‘s why we suggested someone like Mark Sanford or Steve Forbes or even Phil Graham, who is a top adviser to Senator McCain.  There are a lot of people out there.  This is not an exclusive list we suggested.  There are a lot of good people and we hope he‘ll pick someone who will get the Republican brand back of fiscal discipline, lower taxes and economic growth.

O‘DONNELL:  All right, David Keating, executive director of the Club for Growth.  Great to have you on.

KEATING:  Good to be here.  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  And there is a lot more politics to talk about.  So joining us again Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hilary Rosen and senior correspondent for “Politico” Jeanne Cummings.  Well, the veepstakes is kind of funny to play already.  We‘ve already talked about the Republicans, let‘s talk about the Democrats.

ROSEN:  I have so much to say about the Republicans.

O‘DONNELL:  Go ahead.  What do you have?

ROSEN:  Just looking for the African American or the woman on the list for John McCain.  Nobody seems to find one in the Republican Party.

O‘DONNELL:  Why would he need one?

ROSEN:  All of the voters are energized by this election.  And particularly independents and young people by the choices of the history that can be made here.

O‘DONNELL:  You think there‘s a charisma deficit perhaps on the Republican side of John McCain, the nominee.

ROSEN:  I would say there‘s a massive charisma deficit and frankly an energy deficit.  He‘s a smart guy.  It‘s going to be hard for him as a comparative analysis to run against either Hillary or Barack on that score.

O‘DONNELL:  Jeanne, we do have a historic election.  Not only do we have the first woman president, the first African American president, but John McCain would be the oldest president ever, even older than Ronald Reagan.

CUMMINGS:  He‘d be 72 when he was sworn in.  I think the Democrats ought to be careful what they wish for.  Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, drop one of those two.  He‘s saying he may think in a way unorthodox here.  People expect him to do a regional pick.  People expect him to get an economic conservative to partner up with, but what if he doesn‘t?  What it if he does that and that could completely reshuffles the deck.

ROSEN:  It would be smart.

O‘DONNELL:  I love it.  Now let‘s talk about John McCain and conservatives, this war that‘s going on.  A lot of people said conservatives will eventually come and vote with John McCain.  But it‘s not whether John McCain can unite the Republican Party, it‘s whether he can excite the Republican Party, right, the base.  That‘s what‘s important.  Tom delay was on HARDBALL last night.  Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Will you vote for John McCain to keep the Clintons out of the White House, Mr. Conservative?

TOM DELAY, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  I‘m not sure I can answer that right now.  I want to see the John McCain—I want to see who is John McCain on the election day when I go to the polls.  I don‘t have to decide that right now.  I‘m going to be pushing the conservative cause.  And let‘s see what John McCain does reaching out to conservatives.  Because you know, if he continues down to be the same old John McCain that used to have disdain for conservatives, then I‘m not sure who is the most dangerous to be in the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Who is the most dangerous?  What is with these conservatives saying .

CUMMINGS:  Tom DeLay is special.  He is special.  Let‘s keep in mind the Abramoff investigation.  John McCain led it and it drove Tom Delay out of office.  So there are a lot of conservatives really mad at John McCain.  But I think the maddest of them all is probably Tom DeLay.  The rest of them .

ROSEN:  You have people coming out and endorsing Huckabee today.  Jim Dobson .

CUMMINGS:  As long as they can hold out, they will.

O‘DONNELL:  There was a former Republican member of Congress who said to me that the reason these conservatives on the right, a lot of them in the media, don‘t like John McCain is because they can‘t control John McCain and he won‘t bow down and kiss the ring.

ROSEN:  That‘s definitely part of it, clearly part of it.  But I think that all of this goes away.  I just don‘t believe that the Republican Party is not going to unite.  The dirty little secret of presidential politics when it comes to the party is the Republican Party has been extraordinarily effective in keeping their infrastructure in place from election to election to election.  They have the same list, they have the same databases, they have the same organizers, fundraising mechanisms.  Democrats for some ungodly reason, we keep reinventing the wheel every election, with new systems, new parties, new structures.  So our get out the vote operation has simply never been as good as the Republicans.  I think it doesn‘t necessarily only mean enthusiasm for the top of the ticket.  They just have a good system.  And that‘s our challenge.

CUMMINGS:  And I agree with Hillary.  They will get their act together.  They might want to squabble a bit longer.  Huckabee wants to stay out there by himself, do a couple of one-on-ones and show what he can do and maybe improve his vice-presidential chances.

O‘DONNELL:  I like that you brought up Condi Rice and Colin Powell.  Is there any indication that either of them would run with John McCain?

CUMMINGS:  No, but we‘re speculating, right?  I think less so with Colin Powell.  He‘s certainly had millions of opportunities and has—to run as president and has chosen not to do so.  Condoleezza Rice .

O‘DONNELL:  I thought Colin Powell was sort of talking to Barack Obama a little bit.

ROSEN:  Not publicly.

O‘DONNELL:  Not publicly.

ROSEN:  They have private meetings.  The thing I think Jeanne is right about, if there was ever a Republican candidate who feels less beholden to the Republican Party mainstream and infrastructure and would make an out of the box choice it would be John McCain.  Because they have done nothing to get him where he is and he doesn‘t owe anybody anything.

O‘DONNELL:  And Bush, the current president, certainly would like to continue his legacy to some degree by having someone like Condoleezza Rice on the ticket.  They may think it would get them a state like California.  She is from California.  I don‘t know how much of a base she has in California, how many people know.

CUMMINGS:  And the whole gender thing becomes a totally different conversation.

ROSEN:  Women will make up a majority of voters, Republican and Democrats in this election.  If the Republicans—I think if the Republicans don‘t address that, it makes our job that much easier.

O‘DONNELL:  Fascinating.  What about the Mike Huckabee?  Does he have to pick Mike Huckabee?  What is he doing staying in the race?  He‘s not being a spoiler.  He‘s not going to be mean and start saying bad things about John McCain?

ROSEN:  Don‘t encourage him to get out.

CUMMINGS:  I do think he wants to score a couple of victories and move his name up on the vice-presidential list, I really think he wants that spot.

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s virtually impossible for Huckabee to win the Republican nomination so.  There could be nothing other than for him personally to raise his profile or B, try and beat the vice-presidential nominee.  Certainly Mitt Romney‘s people, I don‘t know what you heard, they were complaining for months the two of them were in cahoots on this whole thing from the beginning.

CUMMINGS:  It did look like that at many of the debates.

It Sure did look like a tag team.  But also Huckabee watched Edwards in ‘04, and Edwards hung in there for a good period of time.  At the end, the Democratic Party to the large measure were saying we really want him, we like him.

ROSEN:  And don‘t underestimate David Keating, the economic populist message of Huckabee really bothers those mainstream Republicans.

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Hilary Rosen and Jeanne Cummings, thanks so much.

And it‘s been just weeks since Bill Richardson dropped out of the presidential race, wondering what he and some other presidential hopefuls are doing now with all their free time?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  With all the serious political news in Washington around the country, never forget that the nation‘s capital is a town that runs on gossip.  We‘ve got the latest dish for you.  Joining us now is Roxanne Roberts, half the team of the “Washington Post‘s” universally read gossip column “The Reliable Source.”  And Roxanne, great to see you.

ROXANNE ROBERTS, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good to see you.

O‘DONNELL:  What has Bill Richardson, who dropped out of the race, he is the governor of New Mexico, what has he been up to.

ROBERTS:  He has been growing a beard.  The star of Super Tuesday with this amazing bit of whiskers he has come up with.  He‘s dropped out about a month ago and he‘s come up with a pretty impressive looking beard, which he‘s happy to show off.  He tells reporters in New Mexico, he does this, stops shaving, when going through periods of decompression.

O‘DONNELL:  Like Al Gore.  Remember Al Gore grew the beard?

ROBERTS:  Totally.  And I called up a friend here, a big philanthropist, Ted Olson (ph) and he‘s got a really nice beard he‘s had for a long time.  I said, what‘s up with this?  He said I think it‘s deeply psychological.  He said, I think it‘s a form of public rebellion.  And I think that‘s probably true.

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m sure their wives love it.

ROBERTS:  Well, I mean, if you talk to a spouse of a man of a beard, she‘ll tell you if she‘s smart, it‘s sexy.  I think it‘s the stubble that‘s the problem.

O‘DONNELL:  I got you.

Jena Bush and her wedding plans.  How is she keeping all this under wraps.  I guess her mother-in-law in this column let it slip there was this shower at the White House with a bunch of friends.

ROBERTS:  The president dropped that dime at the Alfalfa Club Dinner.  But other than that, it‘s three months away.  You know there has to be all sorts of stuff going on.  And we know nothing, except where it is, May 10th, where it is which is at his ranch in Crawford.  A big breast cancer race for the cure scheduled for the same day in Waco has been pushed up a week because of security concerns and the fact there‘s not going to be any hotel rooms.  But I‘m thinking, if you‘re getting married in three months, you have already picked out your dress and it‘s being created for you at this moment and we haven‘t heard any gossip about that.

And I think that it‘s being made under a false name so they will go, check on the Thompson dress.  How is that coming?  Because otherwise, don‘t you think it would have leaked out?

O‘DONNELL:  Absolutely.  I wonder.  Of course that‘s going to be a big thing, who the designer is what it looks like and everything.

ROBERTS:  Oh, huge.

O‘DONNELL:  And I assume it will be Tex-Mex barbecue at the ranch.

ROBERTS:  You never know.  Jena is a casual person.  I‘m thinking flip-flops underneath the wedding gown if I know her.  The only thing I am willing predict with absolute certainty, I don‘t know this for a fact but Barbara Bush, her twin, will be the made of honor.  I‘m willing to put down money on that.  Everything up else up for grabs.

O‘DONNELL:  That would be very nice.  And Roxanne Roberts with the “Washington Post,” great as always to see you.  Have a wonderful weekend.

ROBERTS:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  And he‘s taken a lot of heat in the last few days about his role in his wife‘s campaign.  Now he‘s speaking out, rather candidly actually.  We‘ll hear what former President Bill Clinton had to say on NBC.  That is right straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  He‘s never been known for being tight-lipped, but speaking at a diner in Portland, Maine, yesterday, former President Bill Clinton spoke surprisingly candidly about his role in his wife‘s presidential campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT:  Everything I have said has been factually accurate.  But I think the mistake I made was to think I was a spouse like any other spouse who could defend his candidate.  I think I can promote Hillary but not defend her because I was president.  I have to let her defend herself or have someone else defend her.

QUESTION:  But a lot of things were factually inaccurate.  I did not ever criticize Senator Obama personally in South Carolina.  I never criticized him personally.

But I think whenever I defend her, I, A, risk being misquoted.  And B, risk being the story.  I don‘t want to be the story.  This is her campaign, and her presidency and her decisions and so even if I win an argument with another candidate, it‘s not the right thing to do.  I need to promote her but not defend her.  And I learned a very valuable lesson from all that dustup.

QUESTION:  If she wins the presidency, what will your role be in the White House?

B. CLINTON:  Well, I will do what I‘m asked to do.  I will not be on the Cabinet.  I will not be on the staff full time.  I will not in anyway interfere with the work of a strong vice president, strong secretary of state, strong secretary of treasurer.  I will do what we‘ve always done for each other.  I will let her bounce ideas off of me.  I‘ll tell her what I think.  We‘ll talk through things.  And I‘ll be available for whatever specific assignments seem right.

You know, I‘d do that for President Bush.  I think once you‘ve been president, you incur a lifetime obligation to America and to the next president.  Whoever it is, whatever party, to do whatever you‘re asked to do if you can do it in good conscious.  So obviously if Hillary wants me to do things I will.

QUESTION:  I read a column the other day, it wasn‘t a hatchet job, it said Hillary Clinton should rise or fall on her own.  What you ought to do now is say, come out and announce from now until Election Day I‘m going to pull back and spend my time on my foundation work and my humanitarian work around the world and stay out of the campaign.  Would you consider doing that?

B. CLINTON:  No.  Because nobody else‘s family members are doing that.

QUESTION:  But you are in a unique position as former president.

B. CLINTON:  I am.  But you know .

QUESTION:  And also because you also cast a very long shadow and everybody knows this.  You know that.

B. CLINTON:  I think when I go places to promote her I don‘t.  I have a lot of insight on what it takes to be president, what the challenges of the present day are.  I would be campaigning for her if we weren‘t married.  She‘s the best qualified candidate for president I‘ve ever had a chance to support.  I feel strongly about it.  There‘s nothing wrong with me saying that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  It was a fascinating interview.  Here to discuss it, Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hilary Rosen and Politico‘s Jeanne Cummings.  Let‘s break down a couple of different things he said in there.  The first thing he said, I have to let her defend herself or have someone else defend her.  True?

ROSEN:  True.  The passion and intensity with which he exhibited his defense of her several weeks ago was ineffective, and it just got people upset.

O‘DONNELL:  Isn‘t that to the reaction like Maureen Dowd wrote about, if she needs Bill Clinton, a man to defend herself at all times, how can she portray herself as commander in chief.

CUMMINGS:  That‘s just it.  When he defended her it looked like he was attacking Obama and that he was taking over the campaign.  But that cuts both ways.

ROSEN:  That‘s a sexist analysis.

O‘DONNELL:  Hillary won New Hampshire, and she said because I found my voice.  A couple days later Bill Clinton stole her voice.

ROSEN:  Yes.  But.  But.  But he stole her voice not—It has nothing to do whether he should be campaigning as the husband coming to the rescue of his wife.  It‘s much more because of the large political figure he is.  So I don‘t think that‘s the reason why it was good for him to tone it down.  I think it‘s appropriate for the spouse and it doesn‘t diminish her strong credentials as commander ...

O‘DONNELL:  He said in response to his role, this might be the clearest he ever was.  I will not be on the staff full time.  I will not any way interfere with a strong vice president, strong secretary of state, strong secretary of treasury.  He‘s not been that clear this far yet Jeanne.

CUMMINGS:  No, he hasn‘t.  And he needed to be.  He in that one sentence answered four or five questions that a lot of people had in their minds.

O‘DONNELL:  Do you believe it?

CUMMINGS:  Well, the hard one is the vice president.  I mean, you know, whoever is going to take that job has really got to consider the fact that they are very close.  They do bounce things off each other and it could be difficult.

ROSEN:  I like to think that was a signal to Barack Obama.

O‘DONNELL:  That does it for us.  Thanks so much for watching.  TUCKER is going to be back here Monday.  Have a great weekend, everybody.  Up next, HARDBALL.

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

END   

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