updated 2/22/2008 11:42:12 AM ET 2008-02-22T16:42:12

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  “No matter what happens,” said Hillary Clinton tonight, late in her debate against, right after shaking hands with, about her race versus Barack Obama, “we’re going to be fine.” Not going nuclear?  Laying the groundwork for a graceful exit, perhaps?  Even an Obama-Clinton ticket.  The Democrats have now debated

19 times, 19.  That’s one more contest than the teams play in the national football league.

The first debate since the mantle of frontrunner clearly changed hands.  The first debate since he began his victory speech before she had ended her nonconcession speech.  The first of two debates in consecutive weeks in the two states Hillary Clinton must have, or In the words of her ex-president husband, “I don’t think she can be the nominee.” Austin, Texas.  Hello.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have the notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who’s one of my national co-chairs who gave the line and suggested that I use it, I think is silly.

SEN HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches is not change you can bereave in, it’s change you can Xerox.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  With the analysis of Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post” and “Newsweek’s” Richard Wolffe on site at the University of Texas Recreational Ford Center.  This is MSNBC’s COUNTDOWN special coverage of the Texas Democratic debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  This is where we start getting into silly season in politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York, if the last meeting between the two remaining contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination was the love-in in Los Angeles, tonight at Austin, Texas, the love appeared to be gone and so, for a time, did the continuity and format of the debate itself when two somewhat hoarse candidates took the driver’s wheel away from the moderator, say nothing of the reins.  In the heart of oil country it may not have been I drink your milkshake, but neither was it milquetoast.  Tonight Hillary Clinton invoked her barest bone attack on Barack Obama’s readiness to be commander-in-chief from day one, and he, for the first time, turned it back on her, into a question about her readiness after her vote on Iraq authorization.  Senator Obama on his speeches, I got to admit some of them are pretty good.  Senator Clinton with a new catch phrase, perhaps, “change you can Xerox.”

The two candidates in late polling in Texas starting the debate in a virtual tie in the Lone Star State.  Senator Clinton, having wanted this debate badly, it had been a long three weeks since these candidates last met on stage.  Senator Obama racking up 11 straight victories in the interim.  Tonight’s debate, their second head-to-head exchange, the first since the opposition research team of the Clinton campaign had accused Senator Obama of plagiarism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  First, it’s not a lot of speeches.  Right?  There were two line in speeches that I’ve been giving over the last couple of weeks.

I have the notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who’s one of my national co-chairs who gave the line and suggested that I use it, I think is silly.

(APPLAUSE)

And this is where we start getting into silly season in politics and I think people start getting discouraged about it.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON:  I think that if your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words.  That’s, I think, a very simple proposition.

(APPLAUSE)

And you know, lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches is not change you can believe in, it’s change you can Xerox.

Oh, that’s not what happened...

You know, but, Barack, it is, because if, you know...

(BOOS)

If you look, if you look at the YouTube of these videos, it does raise questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton, at least in an oratorical sense, positioning herself as Lyndon Johnson to Obama’s JFK.  The nomination now believed to be Senator Obama’s to lose, the key for him heading into tonight’s debate, not committing any significant blunders.  When he was talking about immigration, he certainly did not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It is absolutely critical that we tone down the rhetoric when it comes to the immigration debate because there has been an undertone that has been ugly; oftentimes, it has been directed at the Hispanic community.  We have seen hate crimes skyrocket in the wake of the immigration debate, as been conducted in Washington, and that is unacceptable.  We are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants and we can reconcile those two things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Take that, Lou Dobbs.  On Senator Clinton’s to do-list tonight, on Senator Clinton’s to-do list every day and he night, stress again, that she is ready to be president and protect America on day one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  When you think about everything that is going to happen, what we can predict and what we cannot predict, I believe that I am prepared and ready on day one to be the commander-in-chief, to be the president, to turn our economy around and to begin making a lot of these very difficult decisions that we will inherit from George Bush and that is what I am putting forth to the voters.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Some of the starkest true material policy differences between these two candidates coming, as they often do, in the realm of foreign policy.  Tonight of note, their first comments on whether they would meet with Raul Castro, the man who runs, at least for now, Cuba.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I would not meet with him until there was evidence that change was happening, because I think it is important that they demonstrate clearly that they are committed to change the direction. 

Then, I think, you know, something like diplomatic encounters and negotiations over specifics could take place.

OBAMA:  I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation.  It is very important for to us make sure that there was an agenda and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press, and that preparation might take some time.  But, I do think that it is important for the United States, not just to talk to its friends, but also to talk to its enemies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” and MSNBC was at the debate and joins us, as you can see, from the spin room.

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Hillary Clinton’s wrap-up answer, it brought the 2,000 people at that U of T gym that you are in to their feet.  I’m not sure why exactly.  Let me play it first and then we can discuss it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  No matter what happens in this contest, and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama.  I am absolutely honored.

(APPLAUSE)

And you know, whatever happens, we’re going to be fine.  You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends.  I just hope that we’ll be able to say same thing about the American people and that’s what this election should be about.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Richard, there is a handshake in there, there’s a standing ovation.  It sounded not just polite, it sounded conciliatory. 

In that answer, did we find out ultimately which part of her camp, which elements in her campaign group won the battle?  The go nuclear camp towards the stretch run here, or the preserve dignity camp?

WOLFFE:  I think there were two very different sides of this debate.  First 45 minutes, very gentle, civil, actually a bit of a snooze fest and then this real clash between two sides, lead off by Hillary Clinton in the middle, and then this end period.  And as you say, that was a significant moment at the end when both sides came together, but you have to look at the whole scope of these last 19 debates, because look at the tone we heard from the once inevitable Hillary Clinton saying whatever happens, she would be fine.

I mean, this was the kind of moment of, this almost wistful tone that she was striking and saying she was honored to be on the same stage as Barack Obama.  Look, there are a lot of Democrats who want to see a unity ticket between them, but did you ever think that the candidate who’d been above the fray for at least the first dozen debates was now saying, really, as the sort of underdog, who knows what’s going to happen and maybe this thing isn’t going to end well for me.

OLBERMANN:  Well, interpret that, because obviously that’s the headline question before we go nuts and bolts on the individual answers, was there a message in there?  Was there some sort of door being knocked on even if Hillary Clinton has gone from great favorite to long shot underdog, was she knocking on the door saying, you know what, we don’t have to be enemies, here, if you’re going to beat me, I’m not going to drag the ticket down, I’m not going to drag the Democrats down, I would be even willing to campaign for you, I might even be on your ticket?  Is it too much to read all that into a simple handshake and a “we’ll be fine” answer at the end?

WOLFFE:  We’re reading a lot into it, but I think it was striking. 

Look, that was by far and away her best moment of the debate.  It was the very last moment of the debate, so if she was really trying to deliver that message, she could have done it right at the very start. 

And yeah, those first 45 minutes were very civil, but I think what you’re seeing playing out there is the split personality of the Clinton campaign, right now.  Do they go civil, united the Democratic front, or are they trying to be aggressive and confrontational?  And we’ve seen both sides of it.  I don’t think that debate has been resolved inside the Clinton campaign.

OLBERMANN:  Well, indeed it hasn’t.  Just as we speak, an e-mail has gone out from the Clinton campaign.  Let me ask you about this.  This is from Howard Wolfson about that very last moment.

“What we saw in the final moments,” said Wolfson of the Clinton campaign, of course, “in that debate, is why Hillary Clinton is the next president of the United States.  Her strength, her life experience, her compassion, she’s tested and ready.  It was the moment she retook the reins of this race and showed women and men why she is the best choice.”

I don’t know of anybody who would have seen that who would have thought of that in terms of a commanding moment other than Howard Wolfson.  Does that suggest that when she got off that stage, somebody in her camp said:  why did you do that?  And was outraged, surprised, shocked, whatever term you’d want to use?

WOLFFE:  Well, look, the campaign has got to continue to fight and project some confidence in their own victory, even when the delegate race is really moved really far beyond them, right now.  Remember that in going in, the Clinton campaign had to change the dynamic, the onus was on her to actually do something different and show Barack Obama as being not ready, not passing the presidential buck.  That did not happen.  And that moment we have at the end was something that was very, very different.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek” in the spin room where the action is fast and furious.  We’ll let you get out of there before somebody knocks somebody down.  Thanks Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let’s turn now to Eugene Robinson, political analyst of MSNBC, associate editor, columnist of the “Washington post.”

Gene, good evening to you.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right, let’s start with what we think is the headline, although we’re not exactly sure whether that was a headline of Hillary Clinton thinking she punched Barack Obama in the stomach on the way out for Howard Wolfson or if, as some of us saw it, Hillary Clinton was saying, hey, you know what, I might make a good vice president, we’ll see you later on.  What did you think?

ROBINSON:  Well, I certainly didn’t see it as a punch in the stomach, the solar plexus to Barack Obama.  I thought it was a striking moment.  And you know, there was a similar moment when the subject of the superdelegates was raised, if you recall, a little earlier.  And you know, Barack Obama essentially said, well, the will of the people should be respected.  Hillary Clinton’s answer was:  well, you know, I think that’s just going to sort itself out.  She didn’t make an argument for why the superdelegates should vote for her, if most Democrats voted for Obama, the way the campaign has.  Maybe she didn’t want to just get into the weeds on that.  But, I thought that was an interesting moment when she just said, well, que sera, sera about the superdelegates.

What was interesting about the whole debate to me was, you know, it was kind of about how does Barack Obama handle the fact that he could win and how does Hillary Clinton handle the fact that she could lose? 

And I thought, you looked through that prism, there were just interesting moments throughout, like on the beginning on the question about the economy when she was kind of served up, you know, a hanging curveball that basically asked, why don’t you take a swipe at Barack Obama and she didn’t do it?  She didn’t rise to the bait at all, she just went on and gave her economic prescriptions but didn’t hit him at all.  I just thought that was an interesting moment, too.

OLBERMANN:  Do you think perhaps when that moment where it got away from the moderators and that it was essentially, the two of them just talking to each other and damn the commercials and damn the topics, we’re going to talk about—we’re going to finish off this plagiarism stuff, we’re going to finish off this differences in healthcare, stuff. 

When he said—and he made the reverse of a self-deprecating joke about his writing and saying I got to admit, some of the speeches are pretty good and then she came back with the “change you can Xerox” line, there were boos and I don’t think those were boos directed at Senator Obama, that sounded like it was towards her as if, you’ve gone too far with this candidate, perhaps you want to back off.  Could she have backed off?  Was that maybe a signal moment in the entire campaign?

ROBINSON:  You know, that’s one possible way to look at that exchange.  Another way to look at that exchange is that to me she didn’t sound like her heart was really in it when she was going after the alleged plagiarism.  It didn’t sound as if—you know, when she delivered the “change you can Xerox” line, clearly it was prepared, clearly it was, you know, in the script to use.  She didn’t like zing it out at him in a way that one would think she might have.  Now, maybe I’m reading too much into her manner, there.

You know, the other episode in the debate that I found really interesting was that debate on healthcare when they just completely ignored the moderators and talk about mandate versus no mandate, and it was almost like a dorm room discussion.  It was like they were trying to convince each other and, you know, no, Barack, you’re wrong.  Well, Hillary, you know, you can’t make people do this and that.  It was an interesting moment, too.  It was a debate, an actually debate.

OLBERMANN:  Right, like a debate caste or a debate club or debates that we’ve hear of previously.  They’ve gotten this thing down after 19...

ROBINSON:  As if they were actually trying to convince each other of their position, which I thought is very unusual for a presidential debate.

OLBERMANN:  And again, illustrative and also valuable to hear policy being discussed on national television in such nuanced form and at such length.  A rarity these days.

ROBINSON:  Who’d have thunk it?

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC, always a pleasure, sir, thanks for your time, tonight.

ROBINSON:  Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The view of tonight’s critical debate from inside the campaigns.  We’ll be joined by David Axelrod, chief strategist for the Obama campaign.  You’re watching COUNTDOWN’s special coverage of the Texas Democratic debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the middle of an historic battle for the Democratic nomination for president, an historic debate, tonight, in Texas, critical for the Clinton campaign, now running from an underdog position.  And exactly what did all that mean at the end?  Ahead, surrogates from both campaigns join me with their reactions on how the senators did, tonight.  David Axelrod, chief strategist for Barack Obama is first, he’s next.  You’re watching a special post-debate edition of COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  And we again head back to Austin, Texas where we’re joined on our special post-debate COUNTDOWN, by David Axelrod, chief campaign strategist for the campaign of Barack Obama.

Mr.  Axelrod, thanks for you your time, tonight.

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CHIEF CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right, you give me your, first off your estimation of what that was at the end between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama where he said, she said “whatever happens between us and whatever happens in this race, we’ll be fine,” and shook hands.  It looked, from a distance, like a conciliatory gesture on Senator Clinton’s part toward Senator Obama.  Did you think it was?

AXELROD:  I’m sure it was meant that way.  I think that the truth—what she said is absolutely true.  The issue isn’t Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, it’s about whether we’re going to change this country and put it, turn it in the right direct and what it’ll take to do that. 

That’s what this whole debate was about tonight.  And the difference they have is that she believes that we just need to change our policies.  He believes that if we don’t change the fundamental politics that keep us from changing our policies, the special interests influence, the partisan bickering, the game-playing and point-scoring in Washington, we’re never going to get those things done.  It’s a pretty significant difference.

OLBERMANN:  When your candidate got the ready on day one question, when it was posited first to Senator Clinton and she would not say, no, this is not—I don’t mean this, I’m not saying this out loud, anyway, that Senator Obama is not ready on day one.  Your candidate managed to turn that around into a question about Senator Clinton’s judgment based on her vote in the Iraq authorization vote of 2002.  It seemed, from this point of view, that that was a fairly deft thing to do and a relevant thing to do.  Has it been done before?  Was that the first time that Senator Obama was able to make that segue from the one point she’s made to the other point that you and he have made?

AXELROD:  We’ve had this discussion, Keith, I think it was a little more pointed, perhaps tonight, because she was a little pointed.  But, the reality is that this is a fundamental question.

You know, later in the debate, there was a surreal moment in which Senator Clinton said she would challenge John McCain for having supported this wasteful Iraq war.  And one has to ask oneself, how do you do that when you were sitting right beside him voting for that same war resolution and supportive of that same policy?  And that’s one of the points that Senator Obama has made.  He was critical of the war from the beginning for all reason that have now become clear.  The outcome that he predicted has happened.  We’re not safer, we’ve got problems, huge problems in Afghanistan, al Qaeda is resurgent.  These are—these go to your judgment as a potential commander-in-chief.  They’re a valid point for people to consider as they think about who they want to fill that role.

OLBERMANN:  I want to play one small excerpt from tonight’s debate because it not only touches on your candidate, but it also touches on something that happened on this network on Tuesday night.  Let me play the clip and then get your response to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  There are differences between our records and our accomplishments.  I have to confess, I was somewhat amused the other night when on one of the TV shows, one of Senator Obama’s supporters was asked to name one accomplishment of Senator Obama and he couldn’t.  So, I know that there are comparisons and contrasts to be drawn between us. 

And it’s important that voters get that information.  So, yes, I do think that words are important and words matter, but actions speak louder than words.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  What did you think of that answer and what did you think of Senator Obama not pointing out, in some defense of Mr.  Watson, who was the unfortunate surrogate in that interview, who after all, was the former mayor of Austin, it could have been a cheap applause line for him, if he just mentioned the circumstances of his former mayoralty in the city in which it debated tonight.

AXELROD:  Well Keith, I’d be the first to confess that Senator Obama’s strength isn’t going for cheap applause lines.  I’ll concede, we concede that ground to our opponent, But I will say this, Senator Clinton knows very well, because she sat on the back benches Barack Obama passed the most significant ethics reform since Watergate.  She was there when he and Senator Lugar passed the most significant arms control agreements, to collect loose nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe. 

She knows that he led the fight to take care of our men and women in Walter Reed who were having to pay for their food and their phone calls because we were letting them down.  She’s been there and she’s seen what he has done and she knows what he’s done.  So, I think it is kind of a cheap shot and I think it was received as such.  But you’re right, Senator Watson deserved better probably than he got from our friend, Chris, and also what he got from Senator Clinton, tonight.

OLBERMANN:  I’ll pass that on to Chris.

David Axelrod after debate No.  19, chief strategist of the Obama campaign.  Thanks once again for your time, tonight.

AXELROD:  Thanks for having me, Keith.  Good to see you.

OLBERMANN:  Up next, the view from the Clinton campaign.  Did Senator Clinton accomplish what she needed tonight to turn the tide of momentum back in her favor?  You heard the comments from Howard Wolfson about what all that meant at the end.  We’ll talk with Sheila Jackson Lee, national co-chair of the Clinton campaign.  You’re watching COUNTDOWN’s special coverage of the Texas Democratic debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  No matter what happens in this contest, and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama.  I am absolutely honored.

(APPLAUSE)

And you know, whatever happens, we’re going to be fine.  You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends.  I just hope that we’ll be able to say same thing about the American people and that’s what this election should be about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A debate that ended with a mid answer handshake. 

Joining me now from that debate site, representative, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, also a national co-chair of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Congresswoman, thank you kindly for your time, tonight.

REP SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), CLINTON NATIONAL CO-CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  And thank you for having me, Keith.  How are you tonight?

OLBERMANN:  Pretty good.  I’d like to know what your take was on that exit line there, complete with the handshake from Senator Clinton and a pat on the back and a “we’ll be fine” message.  What did that mean?  From a distance, it almost looked like a conciliatory, let’s not fight, let’s be friendly rivals.  Are we reading too much into it?

LEE:  Well, you know, Martin Luther King had a phrase that he used in 1968 that he had been to the mountaintop.  Frankly, I think Senator Clinton took America tonight to the mountaintop, to look out and to see a vision of opportunity and prosperity.  What she’s focused on in her closing remarks, that drew a standing ovation, was the idea that we should all be about what America needs, what Texans need, what people in Rhode Island need, or Ohio, or the other states.  It was a very grand moment, recognizing her opponent and his outstanding skills and ability, but at the same time, laying it down on the line.  I’m ready.  I am someone who is familiar with the responsibilities of commander-in-chief, national security.  But more importantly, I’m concerned about you, the American people.

OLBERMANN:  How does that balance, how does that jibe though with what had happened earlier in the debate, and obviously all debates are going to have some moments of friction, but when she suggested that it was not change that Senator Obama was offering but “change that you could Xerox,” and drew some booing from the crowd on that point?  It seemed to be a fairly testy moment between these two candidates.  If there was a view from the mountain top that Senator Clinton was offering, what was that earlier thing about?  Where was that view from?

LEE:  That was tough campaigning and tough competition.  These are two strong competitors and this is not about attack.  It is about distinction.  That’s what Senator Clinton was focusing on, the distinction between two.  The idea of solutions.  The idea of rolling up your sleeves.  The idea of having a vision as Senator Clinton has, but also solutions.

You can’t take away from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton that she changed the landscape of health care by continuing her efforts to generate the children’s health plan in 1997.  You can’t take that away from her.  That’s a vision with a solution.  That has saved the lives of now millions of children.  That’s what she was saying.

And of course, when you’re competitive, you’ve got your supporters in the room and you have got those who are obviously your opponents. 

That’s OK.  But it is important in these days as we look to go and get the voters of Texas who begin to decipher between two, moving toward March 4th in Ohio and Rhode Island and the other states.  It is:  What is the difference?  What kind of leader will they be?

I think Senator Clinton showed herself in a grand way as she was conciliatory and responsible in her closing and said it is about the American people.  But the distinctions are that I am here to roll up my sleeves and lead on day one.

OLBERMANN:  To the point of being ready on day one, and that phrase that has been introduced—I guess it was introduced back in New Hampshire and has been heard with more and more frequency since.  Is there a reason—she wouldn’t say it tonight, is there a reason that she has not actually explicitly said that what is necessarily implied by that, which is that in her belief, Senator Obama is not ready to serve as commander-in-chief on day one?  Why will she not say it in those term?

LEE:  Because Senator Clinton believes that all of us are focused on one thing, and that is taking back the White House in November of 2008. 

She knows that Democrats will be united.  She doesn’t have to be hostile.  She just has to explain.  She just has to show distinction. 

She does think of Senator Barack Obama as a friend and I think that she handled it in a very fine manner.

And that is, let’s show the distinctions between us.  Let’s show my

35 years of experience.  Let’s show what I did in health care.  Let’s show that the other plan is leaving 15 million people without health care and mine is mandatory.  And it goes down to the most poorest of working poor that gives them the opportunity to be insured.

OLBERMANN:  Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, national co-chair of the Hillary Clinton campaign, at the University of Texas Recreational Sports Center, great thanks for joining us, Congresswoman, we appreciate it.

LEE:  Thank you for having me.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  We’ve heard from the spin room.  Now let’s put tonight’s debate through the astute analytical processes belonging to Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow.  Their hits, their misses, their keys, and what the e-mail is saying, and not the e-mail from viewers or participants, other e-mails coming in tonight.  COUNTDOWN’s special coverage of the Texas Democratic debate continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  So where do we go from here?  In Texas, the polling before this debate tonight suggested that the two candidates are now in a statistical dead heat.  We don’t have a Keith number for you, sorry. 

And as you heard president Bill Clinton say the other day, if his wife cannot win Texas and Ohio in two Tuesdays, he does not think she’ll be able to get the nomination.  So then are we talking about for Senator Clinton, superdelegates?  Some other will besides the will of the voters in the Democratic primaries?  The two candidates addressed that tonight in Austin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  These are the rules that are followed.  And I think that it will sort itself out.  I’m not worried about that.  We will have a nominee and we will have a unified Democratic Party and we will go on to victory in November.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think it is important given how hard Senator Clinton and I have been working that these primaries and caucuses count for something.  And so my belief is that...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  ... that the will of the voters expressed in this long election process is what ultimately will determine who our next nominee is going to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  After this 19th debate, I’m joined now by Rachel Maddow, MSNBC political analyst, also of Air America Radio; and Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst, former presidential candidate himself.

To you both, a good evening.  And I’ll start with you, Pat.  We have Howard Wolfson’s take on what that was at the end with the handshake and the, we’ll be all right and our problems are nothing compared to those of real people.  He said it was the moment that she retook the reins of this race and showed women and men why she is the best choice.  Is that your assessment of it?  What did it mean?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I go back a little before that, Keith.  And that was when she talked about the Intrepid. 

Apparently this was a center for veterans who had been wounded and burned and some were crippled and some brought in on gurneys.  And then she described this.  And then she said, you know, my complaints and what has happened to me are as nothing compared to this.

And then she went on with that moment, as you have described it, somewhat of resignation.  You know, if this doesn’t come out right, it doesn’t come out right, I’ll be fine.  I think that was the most affecting moment I’ve seen Hillary Rodham Clinton virtually in any debate of this entire year.

And I think it very much moved that audience and brought them to their feet.  And it was an emotional and very high moment.  Whether it can change things, as Wolfson suggests, I doubt very much.  But I thought it was a very, very powerful ending.  The best moment for her and the best moment of the debate.

OLBERMANN:  Rachel, does it underscore something we’ve talked about previously?  That as tough and as credible as Hillary Clinton needs to look as a senator, as a woman in politics, as a prospective president, that often she is most powerful when she brings that down a notch and becomes a human being first?

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, you know what this made me think of immediately, Keith, was, in Hillary Clinton’s last speech from Tuesday night, that I think it was in Youngtown, Ohio, the people who were standing up behind her, holding campaign printed signs that you could see over her shoulder as she spoke, the signs they were holding said “Hillary, we’ve got your back.”

And they’re printing signs that have that on it, and then these moments, the one that Pat mentioned and the moment that you’ve been talking about tonight at the very end of the debate where she brought her own welfare into the discussion, I think the campaign is smart and it is also humanly smart to recognize that people, Democratic voters in particular, have an impulse to defend Hillary Clinton, even people who are not huge fans of hers do not like the way that she gets beat up.

And she’s referencing her own welfare.  She’s referencing how she is.  I think that’s why it was an emotionally affecting moment.  I also think that was positive at the end of the debate for her because it gave her the opportunity to be the inspirational one and earn the standing ovation.

It also literally tamped down suspicions that a lot of people have that she might do something stupid at the convention, or she might do something outrageous to Barack Obama that would tear apart the party. 

It is nice to hear her say Democrats will be united.

BUCHANAN:  You know, Keith, the reason I believe it was important, it was real.  And it seemed to really come from the heart.  Now the rest of it, I think Hillary Clinton probably won the debate on points but she was debating during the debate.  At this, I think she was really speaking from the heart, at least it came to me that way.  And again, as I say, I was enormously impressed with it.

But I will say this, Barack Obama has a marvelous personality.  And the way he got up and said, you know, your suggestion that people who vote for me are delusional, we could all laugh with him and he mocked and ridiculed the—everybody who says, you know, he is not for real, it is all just rhetoric.  He did it in a beautiful way.  And it was very well done.  And he laughed at the plagiarism thing.  And then you got to that one moment which was raw and rough.  And that’s where my guess is, somebody told Hillary, nail him on the plagiarism thing.

OLBERMANN:  Or the point where she said, this is “change you can Xerox”?

MADDOW:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  And, Rachel, that got booing.  And I raised this point before that—I guess with Gene Robinson, after that, there were no more confrontations.  The next real direct interaction was the one we’ve just been talking about, was the personal human one.  Did somebody after that—or did something inside Hillary Clinton’s head say to her, OK, you probably went too far on that, go back?

MADDOW:  Well, you know, I completely agree with Pat that what happened before that is really important.  What happened right before she made that stupid Xerox comment is that Barack Obama had probably his best riff, his most human, his most engaging points of the night talking

taking on that your supporters are delusional.

He was great and then it landed with this thud when she gave this canned “change you can Xerox” line.  I mean, immediately everybody in the country thought, oh right, and those are your words, Hillary?  Gene Robinson is totally right when he said it didn’t sound like her heart was in it when she said it.  That was obviously some consultant’s line.

That was the worst moment of the debate for either of them.  It followed his best moment.  Had the debate not ended on that human emotional note that it did, I think Barack Obama would have won tonight because of that.  But that end just—she just blew him away.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Pat, stand by.  Rachel, stand by.  We’ll go from Xerox to e-mail in a moment.  And we’ll look at some of the specific moments that got you both started.  Much more on tonight’s face-off between senators Obama and Clinton.  You’re watching COUNTDOWN’s special coverage of the Democratic debate tonight from Austin, Texas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Back to Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan in a moment.  In the wake of the 19th Democratic debate, you’re looking at pictures of Hillary Clinton, who stepped in front of a microphone at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin, Texas.

Not to harsh anybody’s buzz, least of all Howard Wolfson’s, but the line that we’ve been crediting Senator Clinton with at the end of this debate, the standing ovation line, “you know whatever happens, we’re going to be fine.” “We’re going to be fine” is the way she phrased it.

“You know we have strong support from our families and our friends. 

I just hope that we’ll be able to say the same thing about the American people.  And that’s what this electric should be about.”

On December 13th of 2007, at the Democratic debate of that day, John Edwards said: “What is not at stake are any of us.  All of us are going to be just fine no matter what happens in this election.  But what is at stake is whether America is going to be fine.”

Not exact plagiarism.  Not literal word for word plagiarism.  But certainly similarity.  And we give proverbial hat tip to politico.com which came up with that, strong similarities between the ending remarks from Senator Clinton tonight, the warm and fuzzies there, and the ending remarks from Senator Edwards in December in debate number—I don’t know which one it was.  I’ve lost track.  All right.  Back now to our analysis from Rachel and Pat.

Rachel, this idea that we may have seen something in a sea change in terms of who is the Democratic leader that had nothing to do with the Democratic Party but rather the RNC, the Republicans and e-mail?

MADDOW:  The Republican National Committee was very busy from very early on in this debate sending out e-mail after e-mail after e-mail after e-mail just ripping Barack Obama for comments that he made during the debate.  I saw at least six in a row that were all about Barack Obama, that were not about Hillary Clinton at all.  They were so eager to attack Barack Obama, in fact, that when I was reading through these e-mails that I was getting from them, I started—something struck me wrong and I went back and checked the transcript.

And in fact, I figured out that they attacked Barack Obama—they actually sent out an e-mail attacking Barack Obama by name for saying something about Cuba in this debate that was actually said by Hillary Clinton.  Talk about unifying the Democrats.  They’re so eager, apparently, to go after him, they’re willing to attack for the stuff that Hillary says.

OLBERMANN:  He is the nominee presumptive from the Republican point of view, do you think, Pat?

BUCHANAN:  He sure is.  And if the RNC has got enough money to be sending e-mails, six of them, to Rachel Maddow...

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  ... they’ve got a real problem.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  I’m cheap.  I’m cheap.  (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN:  All right.

BUCHANAN:  They don’t send me anything.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, let’s go back to—let’s dive back into some of the substance—although that’s a wonderful point, perhaps you need to call somebody, Pat, they’re spending your dollars right there.

MADDOW:  Set you up an account, Pat. Air America, patbuchanan@airamerica.

OLBERMANN:  Let’s do a little on health care and the differences and this argument over, they’re not substantial differences.  They’re the differences between, you know, no—universal socialistic health care, Pat, and I don’t know, I don’t know, leaving people on the street to heal their own wounds after they get hit by a bus.  Where was it and when...

BUCHANAN:  The one thing that catches my—what catches my attention, they’re going to garnish my wages.  No, look.  This clearly is a huge point with the two of them.  They went back and forth at that.  I read back into and through their argument that this must be very powerful in their polling is the differences between them.  And it has got to benefit for one or the other.

And on that, it seems to me Barack seems more on the defensive, because her position, even though it is mandatory, seems more pure from the standpoint of a liberal Democrat.  But they clearly think it is much more important than I do.  I sort of watch it as though it is a fight in which I really don’t have a stake.

OLBERMANN:  Rachel?

MADDOW:  I would say that I was surprised that both of them, first Hillary Clinton, but then ultimately Barack Obama as well, they would not let it go.  And they thought—they obviously thought that there was some political advantage to be gained by staying with the details of their health care policies, or some injury that had to be avoided by making sure that each point on health care was rebutted.

I think that they both have commitments to reforming health care that John McCain or any Republican nominee doesn’t share.  I think there are differences between them, but I don’t think the differences between them illuminate any real, either ideological difference or competence difference between them.

They obviously both feel very passionately about it.  And it is nice to see policy in this much detail on TV.  But I don’t think it moves voters.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  I’m going to have to go to another break.  Forgive me, Pat, but I’m just wondering, maybe they are selling.  Maybe they were actually trying to advertise their respective positions to those key Democrats who still haven’t endorsed anybody in the race.  Maybe that message was for John Edwards and for Bill Richardson and for Al Gore and for who else might be out there, Nancy Pelosi, for goodness sake?

MADDOW:  That’s a good point.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Stand by.  We have more to discuss here. 

We’re going to take a look at the headlines from tonight, spin them forward.  Did Senator Clinton do what she needed to do in changing the dynamic of stopping the momentum?  You’re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Some of the spontaneous standing ovation that greeted the two Democrats when the debate tonight came back from its first commercial.  There was a second standing ovation, of course, at the end of the debate.  Speaking of standing ovations and ends, let’s end our portion here with final thoughts on all of this from Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow.

Pat, you get to go first.

BUCHANAN:  I think Hillary Clinton probably won the debate tonight on points.  I thought her closure was terrific.  And it was very moving because she really painted a picture you could see.  And so I think she should have got a standing ovation at the end but I do get a sense of resignation on her part that this is coming to an end and it may not end as we all hoped.

And frankly, I think it was a good debate and I do agree with Bill Clinton.  If she doesn’t win both Ohio and Texas convincingly, I think it is all over for her.  And I think that she prefers now really to go out well, rather than to go out scratching if that’s the way the end is going to come.

So it was a good debate and I think Barack’s best moment, he has a marvelous sense of humor and an ability to laugh at himself and kid and have you laughing with him, which I think is really an asset that is going to help him very much in the general.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it is dry and it is quick and then he gets out. 

It’s the old mot juste as opposed to the bon mot.  Rachel Maddow, your final thought.

MADDOW:  I’m glad you played the clip of one of the many standing ovations there, Keith.  I think the big story, again, is how much the crowd loved both candidates.  And they booed the most negative moments of the night and they cheered the solidarity moments.  I mean, Democrats still love these candidates and are feeling enthusiastic about them and you see it in the turnout numbers in these primaries and caucuses. 

Hawaii went from 4,000 turnout at their caucuses four years ago to 37,000 this year.

The Democratic enthusiasm, their appreciation and like for the candidates and the apparent unwillingness of these candidates to tear each other apart, no matter how many of us pundits predict that’s what they are about to do, means that this remains an unpredictable and I think a very satisfying race for Democratic voters.

OLBERMANN:  And limitless possibilities as to a vice presidency. 

We’ll see how that turns out.  We are not giving this one away, one way or the other, but it’s extraordinary how much they can fight and still be standing and not seem to have each other’s blood on each other’s hands.  Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Air America, my great thanks to you. 

Pat Buchanan of MSNBC, always a great thanks to you as well, sir.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Keith.

BUCHANAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Now my final thought on this.  We just gave you a picture, a glimpse of what Hillary Clinton had begun to say at the start of her speech.  And Barack Obama was to do one as well tonight at the Hyatt Regency in Austin, Texas, after this debate.  One quotation which almost redefined this race, it sent chills through those who heard it and then the second line kind of mitigated what was said.

Hillary Clinton at the Texas Democratic rally at the Hyatt Regency tonight said: “We are going to pick a nominee here in Texas and lay the groundwork for this fall.” And  internally and perhaps in the room even externally, many of her supporters must have gasped.  Then she said the second half of the line.  “It took one Clinton to clean up after a Bush and it’s going to take another Clinton to clean up after a second one.”

So she was not conceding defeat nor even the fact that she is tied in the polls in Texas.  And after this debate, which if she did as Pat Buchanan suggests, win, she won by a small margin, and of course she is tied now in the polling—a virtual tie.

The other concern is going to be that wonderful warm closing, how evocative it was, as it turns out, not only of something that John Edwards said in the debate of December 13th, as politico.com has pointed out, but also evocative of something that her husband, Bill Clinton, said during the 1992 campaign.

Similar words from Edwards constructing the first half of her last answer and similar words from Bill Clinton constructing the earlier portion of that answer on the way out.  An extraordinary series of circumstances.

Well, that’s it for this hour.  That’s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,758th since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. 

Programming note, of course, MSNBC will host the next Democratic debate.  The big 2-0.  Senators Obama and Clinton face off in Ohio next Tuesday, moderated by NBC’s Brian Williams and Tim Russert.  Our special coverage on COUNTDOWN at 8:00 p.m.  The debate at 9:00 p.m.  Those times are Eastern.

I’m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck.  MSNBC’s special coverage of the Democratic debate continues now from Washington with “HARDBALL” and Chris Matthews.

Chris, good evening.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  Great, thank you, Keith.

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