updated 2/19/2008 10:42:16 AM ET 2008-02-19T15:42:16

Guests: Roy Sekoff, Laura Schwartz, Michelle Cottle

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: New polls show Hillary Clinton is still leading in the key upcoming primaries, including a new poll showing her ahead in tomorrow‘s Wisconsin vote. 

And yet: Many in the inside D.C. media are still looking to take her down, emphasizing only what happens if and when she loses.

And: The voters lose if party insiders known as superdelegates end up picking the nominee.  My proposal to ensure the voters not the VIP‘s pick the Democratic candidate.

And when it gets close, it gets ugly.

We‘re On Their Trail: The latest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders, Clinton v. Obama, including the latest allegation that Obama plagiarized a stump speech.  We will call out the mudslingers as we separate truth from fiction.

But first: Finally, the press catching on to what we‘ve been saying for weeks, the inside D.C. media don‘t particularly like Hillary or the Clinton story.  The latest post in “Newsweek” is now reporting on how tough the media are on the Clintons.  But still, no real change in the coverage of this very close race.  As this has been the case for weeks, the inside D.C. media continue to focus on the story of how bad things are for Clinton, including the “New York Daily News” writing - “doom and dread surrounds the Hillary campaign”, the “Las Vegas Review Journal” - “The Clinton cultists are surely in doubt and pain”, and from Bloomberg - “The days ahead look darker than they did on that flight from Des Moines to Manchester.”  A media usually obsessed with polls now is now ignoring them when the news is even remotely good for Clinton.  Many have already been talking about Obama going 10 and 0 after Super Tuesday, that of course he assumes he wins Wisconsin and Hawaii tomorrow and yet the newest poll from over the weekend in Wisconsin shows: Clinton up 49 percent to 43 percent.  In delegate-rich Ohio, the most recent poll has her up by 14 percent.  The average of the five most recent polls from the past week in Texas show Clinton leading Obama by 6 percent.  And in Pennsylvania: Clinton is up by 16 percent.  Look, I can consider Obama to be the favorite now and I don‘t really make much of these polls either, but when Clinton holds the lead in the polls the inside D.C. pundits ignore it, and yet if Obama gains ground, it makes news.  I know it‘s a better history but it‘s not a fair reflection of a close race with very important primaries coming up including tomorrow.

Joining me now, inside D.C. pundit is outside of D.C., I‘m kidding, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Laura Schwartz, political analyst and former special assistant to the president in the Clinton administration and Roy Sekoff, founding editor of the “Huffington Post”.  All right.

Lawrence O‘Donnell, they‘re still doing it when it comes to the Clinton reporting.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, look, this Wisconsin poll is shocking.  The idea that there‘s any kind of poll where Hillary has any kind of lead is amazing in Wisconsin but it comes at the same time where there is a poll coming out of Texas which says, it‘s 50 - 48, which is basically a tie.  Now, that‘s being treated as bigger news.  I can understand why.  Texas has a lot more delegates and it‘s a more important state.  However, if tomorrow night, Hillary takes Wisconsin, you‘re going to see a lot of reversals and a lot of pundits who are out there this weekend saying that Obama is now the anointed one.

ABRAMS:  No, but you won‘t hear someone like Roy Sekoff saying that because Roy will say, this is not that significant.  He will say, you know, she was way ahead in Wisconsin before and Obama made a great comeback.  Right, Roy?

ROY SEKOFF, HUFFINGTON POST:  No, Dan.  You‘ve got to come to the Huffington Post more often.  We have your blog there.  You‘ll see that we have all the coverage of the polls that say, Hillary‘s doing well, that Obama is doing well.

ABRAMS:  No.  Roy, I‘m not accusing the Huffington Post.  I‘m accusing Roy Sekoff.

SEKOFF:  OK, well, yes.  I‘m not a Hillary hater, Dan.  I just look at the facts.  And listen, there is no denying the fact that writers and reporters in particularly, like twisting the knife in somebody when they get a chance to.  I mean, vitriol is more fun to write than puffery.  But, what I reject soundly is the notion that there is some sort of, you know, media trilateral commission that‘s there in the background and we‘re coming up with some idea and we‘re going to make up a story out of whole cloth.  The bottom line is: Obama has won eight straight states, he is ahead in the delegate count, he is ahead in the popular vote.  That‘s the story.  Now, is the media running with it?  Of course they are.  But it doesn‘t mean they‘re making that out of nothing.

ABRAMS:  Laura, in any other race it would be considered really close.  It‘s coming down to the wire.  But instead, it‘s being characterized as Clinton‘s done.  She‘s finished.  And so, when Roy points out that Obama is ahead he‘s right but it is just by a little bit.  This is a very close race.

LAURA SCHWARTZ, POLITICAL ANALYST:  We are in a whole new era of the media, Dan, it‘s 24/7, it‘s minute by minute.  They can shoot back and forth, you know, negative returns and bounce back off of each other but the deal is this: She‘s on an eight straight losing - eight straight states she‘s lost.  And right in the here and now that‘s what they‘re concentrating on.  The media will go on the tempo of the campaign.  And right now, her campaign is down and when you‘re down, you‘re down in the media and when you‘re up, you‘re up.

ABRAMS:  But Laura, this isn‘t a sporting event.  And I know, we in the media love to cover it like a sporting event and we love to say who‘s making the comeback and who‘s made the great play for the latest goal and the latest shot.

SCHWARTZ:  It‘s sort of getting more people to buy your papers and watch your shows.

ABRAMS:  I know.  But it‘s troubling and I give Howard Kurtz credit.  I mean, look, he‘s late on the game, we‘ve been talking about this for weeks but he says, “While few in the media world will say so out loud a Hillary collapse is a more dramatic outcome than a win by the woman originally depicted as inevitable.”

And that‘s the problem, Lawrence is this is serious business.  We have primaries tomorrow in you know, in Wisconsin and Hawaii and then there‘s the big important ones coming up in Iowa and Texas and we‘ll get caucus/primary in Texas and then, coming into Pennsylvania.  We‘ve got some of the biggest states out and there‘s still going.  And if there hadn‘t been this expectation that Hillary was going to walk away with it, we‘d be saying, whoa.

O‘DONNELL:  But expectation is a huge thing in journalism.  Look, a Patriots‘ loss was a better story in the Super Bowl than a Patriots‘ win.  And that‘s a little bit of what we‘re facing here.  And journalism behaves the same on both of these fields.

ABRAMS:  But - I get it.  Look, that‘s true.  But shouldn‘t there be a different standard for covering sports than covering who‘s going to lead the free world.

O‘DONNELL:  I can‘t believe after New Hampshire when there was so much predicting going on right before the vote in New Hampshire that was the end of Hillary, that so many people have gotten back on that bandwagon with so little evidence since then.  Now, yes, Obama‘s had some really great nights on these elections but this is close.  And I don‘t know how it can be talked about as anything but very close and unpredictable.

ABRAMS:  Roy, will you concede this is a very close race as we go into Wisconsin and Hawaii tomorrow?

SEKOFF:  Oh, absolutely.  It is very, very close particularly in a state like Wisconsin where you can register at the polls the day of the vote and independents can vote.  So, it‘s a very close thing because on the one hand, Wisconsin has a lot of blue collar voters which is traditionally been very good for Hillary.  But you have this thing where, you know, you can show up at the polls and vote that day which is good for Obama.  And independents can vote in the Democratic primary, which is good for Obama.  So, yes, it‘s definite jump ball.

SCHWARTZ:  And it also gives Hillary the opportunity to change the narrative.  If she wins, it takes her out of the down and the dumps as she gets to go and start riding through to Texas.  If she doesn‘t win but by a narrow margin then, she can start changing the narrative and say, I‘m making progress and I‘m going to be back by Texas and Ohio.

ABRAMS:  Yes, all right.

SEKOFF:  Who created the narrative?  That‘s the other thing, Dan, right?  Who created the narrative of the inevitability?  It wasn‘t the media, it was the Clintons.  That was the entire game plan.

ABRAMS:  Oh, come on, Roy.

SEKOFF:  No, that wasn‘t Mark Penn‘s plan?

ABRAMS:  I‘ll at least say, it was as much the media as it was the Clinton campaign.

SEKOFF:  OK.  I‘ll give you that as long as you say that is what they were trying to present.

ABRAMS:  Roy, you and I can‘t control what the Clinton campaign does and says.  We can call them on it when they say it, but what you and I can do is we can control what we do, Roy.  That‘s what you and I can do unlike our inability to control what Mark Penn says or doesn‘t say.

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Look, it is all John McLaughlin‘s fault.  John McLaughlin

started prediction of politics on the McLaughlin Group 25 years ago and

everybody has been infected with that.  So, we all want to be -

ABRAMS:  It‘s fun.  It is.

O‘DONNELL:  And we all want to be the first one to say, this is what‘s going to happen.  And then, they can tell you what happened yesterday.  We all want to tell you what‘s going to happen.

ABRAMS:  Now, let me give you an even more specific example and this relates to Bill Clinton.  And he‘s become the big pumping bag now of the media and oh, it‘s all Bill Clinton.  Today, he was getting into a little bit with an Obama supporter.  The guy comes out and claims that Clinton even hit me in the face with his hand, backed me up a little.  I mean, come on, the idea that Bill Clinton hit this guy in the face.  And then, you‘ve got him getting at it with these pro-life hecklers as well.  And so then, it‘s again, it‘s time, it‘s about how Bill Clinton is the torpedo to Hillary‘s campaign.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGG JARRETT, TV HOST:  This guy is the human torpedo and he is sinking Hillary‘s presidential ship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That one is exactly right.  It‘s killing her

campaign

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR:  This testy response from the former president.

ANDREA TANTAROS, REPUBLICAN ANALYST:  His tempers are coming out even more because this is personal now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You know, Laura, even if Hillary Clinton loses big in the rest of these states the notion that it‘s Bill Clinton‘s fault as opposed to the fact that Obama ran a good campaign or the fact that, you know, things change.  But the idea that it‘s all Bill Clinton‘s fault to me is another example of the media just sticking it to Bill and Hillary.

SCHWARTZ:  Well, Dan, I‘ve got to tell you, you cannot, as a campaign, control the media, but you can control your message.  And today, did we hear about Hillary talking about health care or work place enforcement or different - ?

ABRAMS:  No, we never hear about that.

SCHWARTZ:  No.  Well, what we hear about Bill Clinton along that line because the cameras were there.  Bill Clinton came back on to the trail after South Carolina, stuck to the message, talked about Hillary as the woman, as the mother, as the policymaker.  And that was great.  You get something like this today and instead of walking away from that person in the rope line, it‘s going to play and it‘s going to play.  You can control your message and they need to do that in that campaign.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  But why is that going to play badly?  What is wrong with what Clinton did?  Everyone wants to sit here and some people want to sit here and say, this is the way the public is going to receive this information.  They may receive it in a very positive way.  It might have a very positive effect.  We‘re purely guessing.

ABRAMS:  I got to wrap it up.  But I‘ll tell you, the one place you are going to see substantive discussion about health care and et cetera, is on this program later on when we go On Their Trail.  Thank you, Roy Sekoff.  Appreciate it, Laura Schwartz.  And Lawrence O‘Donnell will stick around.

Coming up next: With the election this close, party insiders known as superdelegates may decide who wins.  It should be the voters not the VIPs (INAUDIBLE).  All of superdelegates should commit to that now to avoid a disaster at the convention.  Why that a controversial position?

Plus: We‘re On Their Trail: Another round of Clinton v. Obama tonight, including the Clinton camp accusing Obama of plagiarism.  Tonight‘s cheap shots, misstatements and blunders.

And your e-mails: Abrams@msnbc.com.  Tell us what we‘re doing right and wrong.  Be sure to include your name and where you‘re writing from.  At the end of the show, we are going to announce the new name of the segment.  (INAUDIBLE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know superdelegates are allowed to change minds about who they support even if they‘ve already pledged their vote to a particular candidate?

Coming up: With the presidential race this close between Clinton and Obama, superdelegates should follow the will of the voters and not give in to political pressure from either candidate.  Why is that solution so controversial?  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Obama and Clinton are trading barbs and campaigning hard tonight to win tomorrow in Wisconsin and Hawaii.  But the battle continues behind the scenes for the all too powerful superdelegates, the 795 party insiders and VIPs who could very well end up deciding the race.  It‘s a potential disaster of Bush v. Gore proportions.  The campaigns are sending out their big guns to duke it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST:  Superdelegates doesn‘t mean that they should leap over the will of the people in a single bound.  It means they should pay attention to what‘s going on and make a judgment as to who would be the strongest candidate based on the results of the primaries.

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Superdelegates are supposed to vote their conscience, they‘re supposed to vote who‘d they think will be the best person for the nation and for the party.  That‘s why were created and that‘s what they are going to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Now, some insiders saying, don‘t worry, it will all work out.  So what?  Sit and wait?  The Democrats need a solution now to avoid a crisis in confidence at the convention.  If the superdelegates are not going to abstain from voting then empower the voters.  How about this?

First: All Democratic governors and senators should follow the voting of their state.  And that will mean, both Obama and Clinton will lose some committed superdelegates, but it will better reflect the will of the voters.  For Obama, it would mean losing 14 elected superdelegates whose state or district supported Clinton.  For example, in Massachusetts where the state‘s governor, Deval Patrick and Senators Kerry and Kennedy support Obama, they should commit to vote for Clinton as superdelegate because she won the state.  Clinton would lose more, 21.  Like in Maryland, where Obama won big.  That state‘s governor and the Senator Mikulski, Clinton supporters, but they should commit to heed the will of the voters in their state and back Obama.  For superdelegates who serve in the House of Representatives, they should just support whoever their district voted for.  The same should go for the Democratic National Committee members at the state level.  Let your state vote guide you.  And there are hundreds of other unelected party activists and elders, it‘s simple, they should back who has the overall lead among pledged delegates going into the convention.  There it is.  I‘m calling on all superdelegates to take this pledge.  It only works if they all do it.  Let the voters, not party insiders, choose the Democratic nominee.  Lawrence, what‘s the matter with that?

O‘DONNELL:  What‘s the matter with that is you want them to lock themselves into a position of something that is months away.  The last votes are going to be taken June 7th in Puerto Rico which is peculiar by the way because Puerto Rico will not get to vote for president.

ABRAMS:  I want them to lock to the votes of their states and their districts.  That‘s it.

O‘DONNELL:  But the superdelegates will not be voting from more than two months after that.  A lot could happen.  You know, you could have one of these missteps like Jerry Ford made when he was running for president, he said something about polling that just about brought down his campaign.  I mean, you know, I don‘t want to get in to Obama or Clinton but say, candidate A gets arrested for drunk driving or something like that, you know, superdelegates could make a judgment about so what if candidate A is 100 ahead on, you know, the other delegate.  So, the judgment needs to be made in August at the convention.  And a lot can change between the final voting in June and the superdelegate voting in August.

ABRAMS:  Michelle Cottle is with us from “The New Republic”, Michelle, it just seems that it‘s so paternalistic the idea that, yes, the voters voted for somebody, but you know what, something might happen that would make us say these voters shouldn‘t get to decide this.

MICHELLE COTTLE, THE NEW REPUBLIC:  Well, look, Dan, what you have is a paternalistic system.  I mean, it‘s been set up where you have superdelegates, which means they get to do whatever they want and they change their minds as much as they want to and this like this.  So, you know, while you are playing, you can get on the soap box and you can tell them what you think would be the rational approach.  These people are not going to give up their prerogatives.  I mean, that‘s why the system was set up on some level.

ABRAMS:  But wait, but Howard Dean keeps telling us it‘s all going to be worked out before the convention.  Meaning, he‘s promising, in essence, that it‘s not going to be a disaster at the convention.  And if you‘re right there, then, there could absolutely be a disaster at the convention.

COTTLE:  I think these people are going to try really, really hard.  Nobody wants a brawl at the convention.  And what‘s going to happen is they‘re going to get the sense of where the momentum is or where the delegate count is or they‘re going to find the narrative that works for, you know, at the time and they are going to settle this before the convention.  And they just want to avoid that at all costs.  I mean, it‘s just not going to happen.

ABRAMS:  But Lawrence, isn‘t there something about that the idea that these guys are sitting around, guys and women, more guys, I‘m sure, are sitting around in a room and they‘re doing this behind closed doors and they‘re making the decision for all of the Democratic voters who spent a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of money campaigning, et cetera, getting out there.  All the people who did all that field work.  Thank you so much for doing all that field work, but you know what?  We‘ll take care of it from here.

O‘DONNELL:  I don‘t think you have to worry about the closed doors.  There‘s 800 of these people.  They‘re not going to be able to close the doors.  They‘re going to be leaking like crazy.  They‘re going to be making pledges over the course of the summer.  Some will be changing their minds.  Some of them are talking about changing their minds already.

ABRAMS:  I know.  One superdelegate worth 9,437 votes as of right now. 

I got a problem with that.  Lawrence and Michelle is going to stick around.

Coming up:  We‘re On Their Trail: Obama v. Clinton, the latest misstatements, blunders and cheap shots.  We call out the mudslingers and separate fact from fiction.

And: CBS News treating their viewers like children, using cartoons to explain of what we‘ve been discussing for the last segment - superdelegates.  Do they really think their viewers are that slow?   Coming up in Beat the Press.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press.

First up: You would think when a network brings on an expert they would be that, an expert.  Apparently that is not the case on FOX.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Employer has the right to hire or fire whoever he wants whether they are a smoker, whether they‘re fat, whether they‘re Jewish or black.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Just the opposite of what the law is.  You can‘t fire someone based on race, religion or gender.  They report.  You decide whether they have any idea what they‘re talking about.

Next up: You‘ve got to believe the Egyptian government didn‘t get its money‘s worth in Sunday‘s “New York Times” magazine, they bought a pricey front page supplement entitled, “Egypt: A change of pace”, they boasted of their, quote, “Economic growth, a record number of jobs, many in the expanding telecom sector.”   They quoted, the Arab League secretary talking of, “Progress in the economic field that should trickle down to the rest of Egyptian society.”  The problem?  On the front page of that same newspaper, the “New York Times”, the same day, the headlines reads: “Dreams stifled:

Egyptian‘s young turn to Islamic fervor”.  Saying that, many are, quote, “Stymied by the government‘s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations”.  And it, quote, “Its economy does not provide enough well-paying jobs.  Ouch.  Kudos for “The Times” for not selling out to their advertiser.

Finally: Our friends at CBS News apparently think their viewers are a little dim-witted.  They‘d decided the only way their viewers would understand superdelegates, the Democratic Party insider with enormous power at the convention, would be to use cartoons and child like images.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Among those delegates there is an elite core called the superdelegates.  These people are like political wizards.  They have the power to support any candidate they want, even change their mind at the last minute.  Even if voters clearly pick one candidate, the wizards could still have enough power to tip the scales the other way.

Pay no attention to the superdelegates behind the curtain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The wizards.  Yes, it‘s a little complicated, but, please, give your viewers more credit than that.  What‘s next?  In describing the general election, both parties want to win, only one can be president, he or she is like a king with other equally powerful kingdoms called Congress and the judiciary with home they must work, being the president and king is not like being a king in a fairytale.  Come on.

Up next: We‘re On Their Trail.  And tonight, it‘s another edition of Clinton v. Obama.  We‘ll assess the biggest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders and Obama‘s response to the latest acquisitions from the Clinton camp in an interview we just got in.

And later: In Africa this morning, President Bush got a little too excited and made an announcement that a White House spokesperson had to quickly clarify.  That‘s coming up in tonight‘s Winners and Losers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Tonight, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama doing last minute campaigning in Wisconsin before tomorrow‘s big primary there.  It is a tight race.  And when it gets close, it also tends to get ugly, each making accusations and in some cases, slinging mud. 

We‘re on their trail again tonight, assessing the top misstatements, blunders and cheap shots.  But first, we‘ve just gotten in an exclusive interview that Matt Lauer just did with Obama to air tomorrow on the “Today” show, where Obama talks about the attacks from the Clintons. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, HOST, THE “TODAY” SHOW:  Have you stopped to think about

what the Obama version of swift boating might be in this campaign cycle if

you get to the general election?  What they did to John Kerry - 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Right. 

LAUER:  What‘s that version going to be with Barack Obama? 

OBAMA:  Well, I think we can already anticipate it because we have already seen it.  First of all, I have had to go up against the Clinton machine.  It is not as if they are playing tiddlywinks, right?  I mean, every day they‘ve got a press conference accusing me of this, that or the other.  So we‘ve been battle-tested during the course of this primary.  But we‘ve also seen these scurrilous E-mails that are going out suggesting that I‘m a Muslim and I don‘t pledge allegiance to the flag.  You know, so I think there will probably be some of that.  That may not come explicitly from the Republican National Committee, but I think we will probably see some of that stuff underground. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  So we are, tonight, going to go back on their trail to assess who is right in Clinton versus Obama.  Joining us to separate fact from fiction, Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America.  And back with us is Lawrence O‘Donnell and Michelle Cottle.  Starting off at number seven, the Clinton campaign saying Obama is now flip-flopping on whether he would take public money in the general election.  Here is what Obama said Friday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It would be presumptuous of me to start saying now that I‘m locking myself into something when I don‘t even know if the other side is going to agree to it and I‘m not the nominee yet. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  The camp Clinton pointing to a 2007 questionnaire where Obama was asked if he supports public financing for the presidential race.  Obama said, “Yes, if I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”

The Clinton camp following up with this E-mail to reporters, tough to see how Sen. Obama is going to have credibility to talk about change you can believe in when he‘s breaking pledges. 

All right.  I‘m going to say that this is a fair attack since Obama was unequivocal in his stance in 2007.  But it‘s also a bit of a blunder for Clinton because she hasn‘t yet committed to the spending limits either.  So Rachel Maddow, was this worth it for the Clinton campaign to go after Obama on this? 

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”:  No.  I don‘t think it was.  I think advantage Obama on this one.  First of all, he only said he would pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee.  Second of all, as you know, Clinton hasn‘t signed on to any pledge like this.  And third of all, Clinton ought to avoid being high and mighty on campaign finance issues when she‘s the one who‘s proudly defending taking lobbyist money for example.  I think this wasn‘t a good attack on their part.

ABRAMS:  What do you think?

O‘DONNELL:  The nominees never make this deal.  What‘s going to be really funny is when John McCain refuses to make this deal having authored the law that gives us these kinds of deals. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  And the other thing is the $85 million or something in public money.  Will they even have enough time to spend this by the time for the general election comes around? 

Coming in at number six tonight, Bill Clinton playing the victim card in a speech while campaigning in Eastern Texas.  He tried to slam an Obama comment by suggesting tough politics, not lack of voter support, is what eliminated four of the Democratic nominees for president; quote, “It has already taken four candidates out, four good candidates out.  And it would have taken Hillary out if she didn‘t have so much grassroots support and so much guts in the face of a lot of what has happened here.”

I‘m calling this one a cheap shot, taking them out because he believes Obama understated the battles of ‘90s.  That explains why four candidates are out of the race?  Is he suggesting Michelle Cottle, that Obama is responsible for that? 

COTTLE:  Yes.  I think it is absolutely Obama‘s fault that Chris Dodd has had to dropout of the race.  I‘m not just sure how we can come to any other conclusion.  I mean he‘s grasping his trousers.  He is basically mad because Obama has taken the message that Bill had in ‘92 and run with it.  He‘s a candidate of change.  He‘s fresh.  He‘s new.  He‘s exciting, and harkening back to the battle of the ‘90s, this is kind of what it means to be Hillary.  You‘re the candidate of experience. 

(CROSS TALK)

O‘DONNELL:  If experience mattered on the Democratic side, the ticket would be Joe Biden and Chris Dodd.  I‘m not sure in which order, but that‘s what the ticket would be.  So experience doesn‘t matter and Clinton is trying to get experience to matter only if it is about a few more years than Obama has.  That is what matters.  Nothing else matters.

ABRAMS:  But again, this seems to be, Rachel, that the notion that he is suggesting that four of the candidates are out for any other reason other than the fact that they did not have a lot of support out there is kind of humorous.

MADDOW:  It is actually weird, like that‘s the weird part of it.  The other thing this reminds me of, though, is that remember back in 1995 when Bill Clinton had to assert that the president was still relevant.  And everybody was like, “Man, there is nothing that proves you are irrelevant.  It‘s like having to argue for it.”  That‘s exactly what this felt like to me.  You know what?  If you think that your victories in the ‘90s were important, you shouldn‘t have to be making that case right now. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So far, the Clinton camp not doing well in our count of the misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.  We continue at number five tonight.  An Obama healthcare ad.  Last week, we ruled this to contain a misstatement, and tonight, there is new information to back up what we said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  On healthcare, even Bill Clinton‘s own labor secretary says Obama covers more people than Hillary and does more to cut costs, saving $2500 for the typical family. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  This one a misstatement.  Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich statement does support the Obama healthcare plan.  He has blogged in support of it.  But Reich has not stated that the ad suggests that it saves the typical family $2500. 

Now, some of our viewers wrote in, pointing out the lower section of the screen attributes those facts to Obama‘s website.  But I still rule this one to be misleading.  Michelle, this can be the classic misleading campaign ad where they put in two thoughts, one of them is, in fact, what happened and the other is the campaign‘s additional thoughts. 

COTTLE:  Oh, my god, Dan, you are not suggesting that a political ad is not going to be anything other than like straight down the line accurate. 

ABRAMS:  We‘re going to call them on it -

COTTLE:  I mean, come on here.  They are absolutely going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(CROSS TALK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re going to call them on it every night on this program. 

O‘DONNELL:  Every political ad the Democrats run, any Democrat runs on health care will be a fraud.  They are not going to enact these plans.  They both talk about them as if these plans already exist.  They‘re not going to be enacted.  The congress isn‘t going to pass them. 

ABRAMS:  We‘ve got a good one on health care coming up.  But in the meantime, let‘s move on to number four, an Obama ad hitting Hillary Clinton on social security. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Obama has a plan to protect social security benefits and the current retirement age.  Hillary doesn‘t. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to rule this one accurate and a fair attack because Obama has an actual plan for social security while Clinton hasn‘t given specifics.  Obama says he‘ll lift the cap for social security tax above the current level of the first $97,500 worth of income.  Clinton has repeatedly avoided taking a position, instead offering to return to fiscal responsibility and to convene a bipartisan commission.  I don‘t know.  Rachel, it doesn‘t seem to me that that‘s exactly like a plan.  I guess, a fair attack by Obama.

MADDOW:  I know.  I think this one is a draw.  I don‘t think either one of them wins on this one.  Because what Obama is responding to here is an attack ad from Hillary Clinton saying Obama is going to decimate social security and not take care of the retirement and all of the eligibility for benefits. 

Essentially, what they‘re fighting here is who has a position versus who has a plan.  Neither of them are going to take the position or make a plan to decimate social security.  They‘re fighting about semantics here. 

ABRAMS:  But Lawrence, doesn‘t Obama just get a little bit of credit for taking at least a little bit of a position? 

O‘DONNELL:  He does, but this is a hypothetical territory.  You know, Hillary says she wants to have a commission.  President Bush had a bipartisan commission that legislated nothing. 

ABRAMS:  The idea that the answer is, “I‘m going to appoint a bipartisan commission,” is a non-answer. 

O‘DONNELL:  I can tell you.  I still run the committee that this legislation has to go through.  Nothing is going to happen.  Neither one of them are going to achieve anything in social security reform in the first four years of their presidency.  So it‘s, you know, - Obama‘s is slightly more accurate in a zone where the whole discussion is false. 

ABRAMS:  All right. 

MADDOW:  But Lawrence, you are like the wet blanket.  You‘re like they can‘t fight about what they want to do because they will not change. 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s what I‘m here for.  They will not pass a healthcare plan in the same committee. 

ABRAMS:  We‘ve got healthcare.  So right now, we are ruling it about 2 to 2 on the demerits.  This is the kind of thing where you do not want to have a score.  The higher your score, the worse you are doing on our scorecard.  All right?

In at number three of our top misstatements, blunders and cheap shots, the Clinton camp continuing to go after Obama‘s healthcare plan, Lawrence, this time sending out a mailer depicting a group of average Americans with the ominous headline, “Which of these people don‘t deserve health care?”  It ends with the phrase, “Will it be you?” 

This is a cheap shot scare tactic in my view.  Because under Obama‘s plan in theory anybody who wants it can get it, so it won‘t be you if you want it.  Clinton‘s plan forces everybody to get it.  Obama‘s does not.  Rachel, it seems to me this is really one of those cheap shot scare tactics. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  As if Barack Obama is some mean HMO who is going to be cutting off undeserving Americans from healthcare.  This is ridiculous.  I mean the reason that Hillary Clinton should not be in this territory is because if she wants to keep pushing Obama on this, ultimately, she‘s is going to have to say that very politically unattractive word which is certainly what makes her different, which is the word “mandate.”

ABRAMS:  But Michelle, this is one of the few issues where there is a definable difference between them so attacks are fair.  But the idea that - will it be you; if you are watching this ad and paying attention to the campaign, it is probably not going to be you. 

COTTLE:  Well, I mean - come on.  This is a woman who remembers Harry and Louise.  She knows how to play hardball.  She‘s had it played against her.  And you can say that, well, maybe that should make her more sensitive, but it also makes her kind of - probably ticks her off and makes her more determined to take back this issue which she totally sees as hers. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, right now, going into break, Clinton has three demerits, Obama has two.  Our panelists staying with us because up next, the big ones as we continue the “On Their Trail” segment.  Did Obama plagiarize his stump speech?  It is a serious allegation.  We will compare the statement and tell you whether it‘s a fair attack. 

And later, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee may not win, but he did win a spot in tonight‘s Winners and Losers when he compared being on the trail to being waterboarded.  But first, “Reality Bites,” the sometimes painful dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick found himself on the receiving end of a spring training prank after his coach and teammates convinced him he had been traded to Japan. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENDRICK‘S COACH:  I made a move today and we made a trade with a Japanese team, the Mura(ph) Giants, and you were one of the guys in the deal. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let me try to explain it to you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s all I know.  They got him hook, line and sinker. 

KENDRICK‘S TEAM MATE:  What happened? 

KENDRICK‘S TEAM MATE:  I asked him (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he‘s going to Japan. 

KENDRICK‘S TEAM MATE:  What did your agent say? 

KENDRICK‘S TEAM MATE:  When are you leaving? 

KYLE KENDRICK, PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES PITCHER:  Tomorrow morning at 7:00. 

KENDRICK‘S TEAM MATE:  You‘re serious?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is it the real deal?  Like for real?  Were you shocked?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know what I say?  You just got punked!   

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

ABRAMS:  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know Barack Obama is the fifth African-American to serve in the U.S. Senate?  Coming up next, our “On Their Trail” segment continues.  Now, the Clinton campaign suggesting Obama plagiarized.  Some others saying Obama is being sexist.  Is that fair?  Well tell you.  Coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back “On Their Trail.”  So far, our scorecard shows three demerits for Clinton and two for Obama.  We‘re now down to our final two.  Coming in at number two, some accusing Obama using sexist language when talking about Sen. Clinton. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  When you start actually challenging the status quo, then suddenly, the claws come out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Mentioning her claws.  And Friday, Obama offended some when he mentioned Clinton‘s emotions when referring to why she launched her latest attack ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I understand that Sen. Clinton periodically when she‘s feeling down launches attacks and as a way of trying to boost her appeal. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Come on.  I‘m not giving anyone an x on this one.  Clinton is not making the allegation here.  I don‘t think there is any way to suggest Obama is being sexist.  Rachel, 15 seconds.  You disagree?

MADDOW:  I do disagree. 

ABRAMS:  Really?

MADDOW:  Remember when Cheney told Pat Leahy to go himself on the floor of the Senate.  Imagine if Leahy had come back and said, “Oh, you know, Cheney must have been really down and he was lashing out.”  You would never say that about a dude.  You would never say it about a guy. 

ABRAMS:  But Rachel, you‘d say it about a dude who people think their campaign is in trouble.  And you‘d say when they‘re down, they do x.

MADDOW:  No.  You don‘t make it about somebody feeling down.  That is something you would only say about a female opponent.  That is totally playing the gender card. 

COTTLE:  And I think you can look at the other any time you are talking about claws.  There‘s got to be the cat fight implication. 

ABRAMS:  Oh, guys.  Guys, all right.

MADDOW:  Sorry, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Guys, guys, look.  That is why we had to make sure we had two women on the panel.  I don‘t agree.  But it has become an angry war of words, though, over our number one item tonight.  Did Obama plagiarize words from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick as the Clinton campaign is now suggesting?  In response to Sen.Clinton saying it will take more than just speeches to fulfill America‘s dreams, Obama struck back over the weekend. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Don‘t tell me words don‘t matter.  “We holds these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”  Just words?  “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Just words?  Just speeches? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Those words were virtually identical to a speech Governor Patrick gave in 2006. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK, MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR:  All I have to offer is words.  Just words.  We hold these truths to be self-evident.  We have nothing to fear but fear itself. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Despite the Clinton camp‘s charges, I don‘t think this is plagiarism since both Obama and Patrick say they knew what was going on.  They said they‘ve worked on speeches together.  They exchanged material.  But it was a blunder by Obama.  He himself said today it wasn‘t a big deal but that he probably should have given credit.  Michelle, it does seem to me that it‘s hard not to view this as a blunder by Obama. 

COTTLE:  Well, sure.  At this stage of the game, everything, every word out of his mouth is going to be parsed.  He knows he is up against a very, very hard-hitting Clinton machine.  He‘s got to be really careful.  But that said, you know, politicians borrow each other‘s words and ideas all the time.  I though it was nutty when George Bush became the reformer with results back during his 2000 race.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But, Rachel, this is serious business.  I mean, accusing another candidate of plagiarism and when you are a candidate for president, the standard is higher.  And even if, look, again, I‘m not—I think the idea, the Clinton campaign is saying plagiarism has two victims, number one the person you took it from, and number two are the people reading it or hearing it, et cetera.  OK.  Maybe so.  But to me, to suggest that this is some big blowout deal - This is just to me a little blunder by the Obama campaign. 

MADDOW:  I think this is a bigger deal because of what it is about.  Because I think Obama‘s biggest strength, honestly, the thing that has propelled him to national prominence at such a speed is his oratory.  And if we start to doubt the authenticity of it, if we stop believing that that‘s really coming from him, that he really is inspirational, it goes to the heart of his appeal. 

I don‘t think the plagiarism charge lands but I think that this is very dodgy territory for Obama to be taking hits on. 

O‘DONNELL:  Plagiarism involves stealing something.  Deval Patrick gave him this.  He said, “Hey.  When they said that stuff about me, here‘s what I said.  You should try it.”  Politicians do that all time. 

If you watch six consecutive hours of debate on the Senate Floor, you will hear senators use each other lines, you know, within 20 minutes of each other.  This is the way it works.  You know, it‘s a perfectly reasonable thing for Obama to have done.  I mean I wrote a speech for Jimmy Smits on “The West Wing.”  But I‘d love to see Obama use it.  It‘s perfect for him.  I‘m going send it to him. 

ABRAMS:  If he used it without saying Lawrence O‘Donnell wrote this,

it would be -

O‘DONNELL:  Well, Warner Brothers owns it.  They might sue him.  But I‘m going to send it to him.

ABRAMS:  I think our final count here is three to three on our

scorecard in terms of the demerits that each get.  We don‘t always cop out

like this, just so you know.  I mean a lot -

COTTLE:  We are divided like the Democratic electorate. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, I know.  We tried to actually pick the winners -

O‘DONNELL”  We need a superdelegate in here. 

ABRAMS:  Exactly.  All right.  Look, very quickly.  Lawrence, based on everything, who won? 

O‘DONNELL:  I think Obama is running a little bit cleaner. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Rachel? 

MADDOW:  I think they‘re both pretty equal at this point. 

ABRAMS:  Go ahead, Michelle. 

COTTLE:  You know, I‘m going to have to go with Lawrence on this. 

ABRAMS:  On this one?

COTTLE:  I‘ve got to say Obama is a little bit squeaking by. 

ABRAMS:  Clinton has been losing these on most of the ones we‘ve been doing.  All right.  Thanks to all of you.  Appreciate it.  “Winners and Losers” and our new E-mail segment.  We‘ve got a new name for it.  It‘s coming up.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 18th day of February, 2008.  Our bronze loser, President Bush, who jumped the gun this morning excitedly telling Ann Curry(ph) this about the situation in Kosovo. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  We‘ll watch and see how the events unfold today.  But the Kosovars are now independent.  It‘s something I have advocating along with my government. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The only one problem, the U.S. Government had not yet recognized Kosovo‘s independence.  The state department was waiting until other European allies chimed in.  The president‘s spokesperson immediately come out to clear up the mess, saying he was congratulating them for declaring their independence, not for actually being independent. 

Our silver loser, Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee.  It can‘t be easy being a presidential candidate but it is not this bad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m finding out just how long I can go sleep deprived.  Running for office is sort of like being waterboarded, I think. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

I‘m sure if he had been waterboarded, he would not feel that way. 

But the big loser of the day, “American Idol.”  The ever-controversial amateur karaoke contest now beating back rumors that its latest crop of crooners is packed with ringers.  The reality show trimmed its ranks to 24 last week.  Among those making it through, one singer who had a previous contract with MCA Records, another who was dropped by Madonna‘s Maverick Record label and one more had signed a contract with Britney Spears‘ production company.  Producers of the show that prides itself on discovering, you know, fresh, new, untapped talent, had no comment. 

But our big winner, New York Yankees pitcher, Andy Pettitte.  The steroids linked hurler took the high road today, coming out publicly for the first time to admit and apologize for his use of human growth hormones. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

ANDY PETTITTE, NEW YORK YANKEES PITCHER:  I want to apologize to the New York Yankees and to the Houston Astros‘ organizations and to their fans and to all my teammates and to all of baseball fans for the embarrassment I have caused them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Pettitte implicated his pal, Roger Clemens, when he talked to congress early this month and Clemens did not come forward and come clean. 

Time for our new E-mail segment which beginning tonight will officially be called “The PO‘d” Box.  Thanks to our winner, C. Stahl(ph) in Bethesda, Maryland for the great suggestion.  You‘ll be receiving a bag of MSNBC gifts and goodies.  I like that - “PO‘d Box.” 

On Thursday night, I went after the inside D.C. media for counting Hillary Clinton out of the Democratic race, despite her current lead in some key upcoming contest.  A.J. Hernandez writes, “You cite recent polls show Clinton with a large lead with March primary states and then mention just a scant minute later, just how badly the New Hampshire polls got it wrong.  So basically, you just said new polls show her in the lead and by the way you can‘t trust the polls.”

A.J., you‘re missing the point.  This is about how the media deals with the polls, not whether the polls are right or wrong.  I‘m saying the D.C. media ignores it when Clinton is ahead in the polls, like she is in Ohio and Pennsylvania because it doesn‘t fit into their narrative because it includes a disdain for the Clintons and/or the Clinton story. 

Mike West from Peoria, Illinois, says, “You couldn‘t be more accurate about your stance on the D.C. media and their absolute infatuation with Obama.”

Priscilla goes after me, “For you to claim that poor old Hillary Clinton is being counted out without bringing up all the cheap shots she‘s using against Obama and his camp is terrible.”

Priscilla, do you watch the show?  Have you our “On Their Trail” segment, you know, where I call out the candidates for cheap shots.  If you have, you know that I have gone after Clinton more than Obama. 

On that note, Ken Green, a Hillary supporter notes,  “You were so right on the mark tonight when you started the press, and not recently has been bashing Hillary for a while.  Then you did the misstatement piece where you were overwhelmingly were bashing Hillary‘s missteps.”

That‘s right, Ken.  I am going to be a fair broker on this and call them like I see them.  Sorry if you‘ve don‘t like it. 

Finally, Roxana MacCandless from Las Vegas asks, why doesn‘t the media evaluate who has won in the majority of blue states and/or swing states which would be beneficial for Democrats to determine which of the two candidates would be competitive with a Republican nominee in the general election.” 

Roxana, fair point.  I think the media has analyzed that to some degree.  I‘m guessing though that you‘re a Hillary Clinton supporter. 

As always, thanks for your feedback.  We are going to read your E-mails daily in the “PO ‘d Box.”  Write to us at Abrams@MSNBC.com.  PO‘d Box, that‘s the new name of the segment.  I like it. 

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  Stay tuned for “Lockup Raw: Criminal Minds.”  I‘ll see you back here on Wednesday after a special coverage tomorrow night.

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

END   

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