updated 3/4/2008 11:34:36 AM ET 2008-03-04T16:34:36

Guests: Michelle Cottle

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: The latest polls show a tight race in Ohio and Texas between Obama and Clinton.

Many pundits are licking their lips, just waiting to call for Hillary Clinton to bow out of the race.  But what if she wins both even by a little?  Many will still call for her to dropout.  Why should she?

And in the past few days, both candidates are stepping up the attacks.  We are On Their Trail assessing who‘s guilty of more cheap shots and misstatements.

And: In tonight‘s Winners and Losers, President Bush has said that history will judge him, he‘s already made his mark.  Now, he will be forever remembered as our most leisurely president taking more vacation days than any other modern day commander in chief.

But first: Four big Democratic primaries tomorrow in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.  And as Clinton and Obama scramble for last minute support, the pundits and some in the inside D.C. media are preparing to call for Clinton to bow out, unless she scores huge wins.  Why should that be the standard?

But first: The very latest polls, in Texas 193 delegates at stake, Clinton and Obama neck and neck in the average of the five latest polls.  Clinton up two points, that‘s certainly within any margin of error.  In Ohio, 141 delegates up for grabs, Clinton leading Obama by an average of seven points.  In Rhode Island, 21 delegates at stake, the latest polls show Clinton up by five.  And in Vermont, 15 delegates up for grabs, Obama is ahead, leading there by 24 points.

But I predict, even if Clinton wins the biggies, both Texas and Ohio, many including, many of the D.C. pundits will still call for her to step aside.  And look at these recent headlines, “Reuters”: Hillary Clinton‘s last stand in Ohio and Texas.  “The Columbus Dispatch”: Clinton needs to win Ohio, and big.  And “Bloomberg News”: Clinton Faces final stand.

And the pundits getting out the political shovels, are preparing for the end of the Clinton campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Victory or death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK:  She has to win by a huge landslide in both places.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do-or-die, make-or-break for Senator Hillary Clinton.

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Even if she wins barely, she loses, she‘s out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Why if Clinton wins both Texas and Ohio tomorrow, even by a little, and also takes Rhode Island, why shouldn‘t she have that elusive momentum the media loves to focus on?  NBC News estimates put Obama leading by 157 pledged delegates right now.  But Hillary is still winning the fight for superdelegates by 254 to 208.

So, Obama actually up by 111 total delegates, at this point, 1,402 to 1,291.  And there are still millions of votes to be cast after tomorrow, primaries and caucus in 10 states plus, Puerto Rico with over 600 pledged delegates at stake.

So, why should she pull out?

Here to talk to about it, “The New Republic‘s” Michelle Cottle; the host of TUCKER, Tucker Carlson; and “Huffington Post‘s” Roy Sekoff.

All right.  Roy, let me start with you, because you and I have gone at this about the media‘s coverage of Hillary Clinton.  I am predicting that even if she wins and let‘s say it‘s by a little, let‘s say by seven and about two as the polls show it now.  You‘re going to hear the clamoring of people saying, oh, she‘s got to get out.  Mathematically, she‘s got to win 60-something percent, or whatever it is and they are not going to focus on the momentum but they focused on up to this point.

ROY SEKOFF, THE HUFFINGTON POST:  I disagree.  If she wins both, I think we‘re going to see a sea change.  But you know who?  It‘s not the pundits, Dan, who are digging the hole.  You know who‘s been saying that she needs to win both?  Bill Clinton, Ed Rendell, James Carville.  They‘re the one setting the bar.

ABRAMS:  If she loses both, she‘s out.  I mean, Tucker, no question there, right?  If she loses Texas and Ohio, we‘ll all agree she‘s finished, right?

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST OF “TUCKER”:  Look, if Barack Obama had lost the last 11 contests and was 160 pledged delegates down, we would treat him like Mike Huckabee or Mike Gravel.  You‘d never hear his name.  The press has been really nice to Hillary Clinton, extending her the benefit of every doubt.

The truth is, Dan, nobody in the press wants this to end.  This is the journalism for employment act.  I mean, we are practicing Santeria, sacrificing chickens (INAUDIBLE), we want this to keep going.

ABRAMS:  That‘s the Jonathan Alter argument that, I don‘t believe it.  Here‘s what Jonathan Alter said, “For selfish reasons I want the story to stay compelling for as long as possible.  But to withdraw this week would be the best thing imaginable for Hillary‘s political career.”  He says, “Withdrawing would be stupid if Hillary had a reasonable chance to win the nomination but she doesn‘t.”

See, Michelle, I think, that many in the media are going to try and defend themselves, and say, look, we love a horse race.  We want a horse race.  But in the end, what they‘re going to say is, Hillary Clinton still ought to dropout because they simply have a level of disdain for the Clintons and the Clinton story.

MICHELLE COTTLE, THE NEW REPUBLIC:  Oh, Dan.  How many times do we have to go over this?  It‘s not just the media talking about this.  Who‘s been out there?  Mark Penn, Harold Ickes, Mike Henry.  The Hillary team is currently eating its own at this point.  And thus, the whiff of desperation goes out over the airwaves.

ABRAMS:  But shouldn‘t we when it‘s something like the president of the United States be above the business about who‘s having more infighting or not and actually look at what the voters are or not going to do?

COTTLE:  Well, sure.  But the voters are not going to erase Barack

Obama‘s delegate lead tomorrow by any stretch of the imagination.  So, you

only pay cues (ph) from what‘s going on in the campaign.  Clearly, the

campaign is feeling desperate

ABRAMS:  But Tucker, we always talk about momentum.  And doesn‘t Hillary Clinton get some momentum credit if she wins Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island tomorrow?

CARLSON:  Oh, yes.  Oh, there‘s no question.  If she wins Texas tomorrow, then, she‘s going to certainly win Rhode Island and Ohio.  It‘s a brand new day.

Again, I cannot overstate the degree to which the press for its own circulation and viewer-driven reasons wants this to continue.  We want a story.  I mean, this is Christmas.  It‘s 12 days, come on.

ABRAMS:  That assumes that everyone in the media is thinking about the business of the media as opposed to people like Roy Sekoff, who simply believes that Barack Obama has this sort of this great candidate and that he doesn‘t get enough credit for his speeches and this and that.

SEKOFF:  Absolutely not.  I just follow the story.  And if Hillary wins, then, the story will become math.

ABRAMS:  But you keep telling me the media is not unfair to Hillary Clinton.

SEKOFF:  I don‘t think they are at all.  In fact, I think they‘re overly fair.

ABRAMS:  How about this?  A new study from the Center for Media and Public Affairs out today, from December 16th to February 19th, Obama got positive press coverage 83 percent of the time, Hillary Clinton 53 percent of the time.

SEKOFF:  How do you interpret positive?  I mean, I have to see what are those stories.  How do you making the judgment whether it‘s a positive or negative story.  You know, I think, that‘s a very subjective thing.

(CROSSTALK)

COTTLE:  Dan, what are you talking about here?  When you have a campaign that‘s stinking the place up, when they lost 11 in a row, when they have money troubles, when they have staff turnovers, when they‘re race baiting in South Carolina, I‘m not sure what kind of stellar stories are supposed to be out there.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on a second.  Imagine for a moment, I throw this one on you, Tucker, imagine for a moment then, considering all of that, why isn‘t the storyline then, oh my goodness, the campaign was in disarray, everyone was fighting and look at this.  The voters still came out and said in Texas and Ohio if she wins that she wins.  Why doesn‘t she get then extra credit for the win from the media?

CARLSON:  I‘ll tell you exactly why, she has lost 11 contests in a row.  Again, she is at this point, on a downward slide.  If she wins Texas tomorrow, it will be an enormous story.

Just as the fact she raised $35 million in the month of February which is remarkable given how many contests she‘s lost.  She got credit for that.  If she wins tomorrow, it will be bigger than the New Hampshire primary was in terms of a reversal story.  It will be enormous.

ABRAMS:  I will be relieved to see that, Tucker.  I mean, if that

would -

CARLSON:  It‘s a great story in the end.  That is our criteria.  Is it a great story?

ABRAMS:  But you know what?  If you have a fundamental disdain for the Clintons and the Clinton story, it‘s not great story for you.

CARLSON:  Well, no, I mean, when Pol Pot took over Cambodia it was covered.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Tucker ends up on all the Web sites comparing it to poll pot.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  He‘s kidding.  He‘s kidding.

So, this is Dick Durbin talking of what I think is going to lead what I think, the press and many in the inside D.C. media are going to follow what Dick Durbin is saying here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS:  She has a lot of ground to cover.  I‘d just hope, ultimately, she makes an honest appraisal of her chances.  I hope that her decision on her future after Tuesday is made in the interest of unity of our party and ultimately, winning in November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  See, Roy, he‘s an Obama supporter.  But that, I would expect to echo the Roy Sekoff theory about how they move forward.

SEKOFF:  I think the spin is the spin.  And the Clintons are trying to, they‘ve lowered expectation so low that even George Bush‘s approval rating couldn‘t get under them.  Now, look (ph) at what they‘re saying, they‘re saying that Obama has to win all four or he‘s the loser.

ABRAMS:  Let me be clear, that‘s nonsense, OK?  The notion that somehow, Obama has to win all four or he‘s the loser is ridiculous.

SEKOFF:  Right.  But that‘s what they‘re saying.

ABRAMS:  And I understand that that they‘re saying and I‘m calling them out on it and saying that is ridiculous.  But what I am saying is put aside what they‘re saying, put aside the infighting, Michelle, based on the history of what we‘ve seen and the numbers that I‘d just laid out, you really don‘t think that if, and let me put it to you a different way, what if Clinton wins by 3 percent in Ohio and wins 0.5 percent in Texas, Michelle, what‘s the story tomorrow?

COTTLE:  You know, I‘m not sure what kind of bad history of coverage you‘re talking about.  You and I had this argument before Super Tuesday and you predicted that even if she won in California, nobody would treat her like she won.  And the coverage was incredibly fair.  Everyone looks back the next day.

ABRAMS:  I think—some of it was very fair and some of it wasn‘t.  Some of it was very much suggesting that, oh, this is still somehow, this enormous loss for the Clinton campaign because of expectations.  Let me give Tucker the final word.

CARLSON:  OK.  Wait.  Let me just make a very simple point.  Notice the arguments the respective campaigns are making.  The Obama campaign is making a math-based argument.  This is the number of delegates we have.  This is some we get the nomination.  That‘s there argument to sum total.

The Clinton campaign is making instead a metaphysical argument, spiritual argument.  You are being mean.  We have momentum.  I mean, they‘re not comparable argument.  What‘s real, what‘s not.

ABRAMS:  All right.  It‘s a fair point except I hope there‘s some level of consistency as to how we define momentum when we see the results tomorrow.  We shall see.

Tucker Carlson, Roy Sekoff, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

SEKOFF:  Thank you, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Michelle is going to have to come back later.

Coming up next: Rush Limbaugh and others on the far right are now trying to pervert tomorrow‘s results, calling on Republicans in Ohio and Texas to vote in the Democratic primary for Hillary Clinton.  Not because they like Clinton, but because they want to keep the Democrats in disarray.

And: We‘re On Their Trail.  Hillary Clinton says, as far as she knows Barack Obama is not a Muslim, as far as she knows.  We assess the campaign‘s latest misstatements, blunders, and, yes, cheap shots.  We‘ll tell you who is the guiltier candidate coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up: Some on the far right are trying to wreak havoc on tomorrow‘s Democratic primaries, like Rush Limbaugh telling Republicans in Ohio and Texas to vote, not for John McCain but for Hillary Clinton, so that Obama gets, quote, “Bloodied up politically”. That (inaudible) the process is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  The right-wing media passed a new plan to damage not just the Democratic Party but perhaps the Democratic process.  Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh now urging Republicans in the open primary states of Ohio and Texas tomorrow to cross party lines and vote for Hillary Clinton.  Rush and his cohorts want to keep the Democratic primary going as long as possible, so that Obama will be, quote, “bloodied up politically” and presumably Clinton as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST:  I want our party to win.  I want the Democrats to lose.  They‘re in the midst of tearing themselves apart right now.  It is fascinating to watch.

And it‘s all going to stop if Hillary loses.  So, yes, I‘m asking people to cross over, and if they can stomach it, I know it‘s a difficult thing to do to vote for a Clinton, but it will sustain this soap opera.  And it‘s something, I think, we needed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The race extremely close, tomorrow‘s key states in Ohio, Clinton leading Obama by an average of seven points, and in Texas, Clinton and Obama are in statistical dead heat.  So, Rush Limbaugh‘s plan could actually work to tip the election in either state, but is it really going work?  I mean, you know, come on.

Here now is radio talk show host Lars Larson.  And Democratic strategist, Laura Schwartz. 

All right.  So, Lars, you guys are so scared on the right about the Democratic candidates that you guys got to get involved and sort of play games with the process?

LARS LARSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  It‘s not about being scared or it‘s not about playing games.  It‘s perfectly legal.  And why is it that Rush and I end up being the far right?  Does that make Obama the far left?

ABRAMS:  No, look, I‘m not going to debate with you that now.  But for

you to question whether Rush Limbaugh is on the far right, to me, is

laughable.  Let‘s -

LARSON:  Rush and I are reasonable Republicans.  We are reasonably conservative.

ABRMAS:  Yes, all right.  Look, but Laura Schwartz, do the Democrats have something to worry about here?  I still think that there are going to be some Republicans, even when they want to engage in this kind of mischief, who are going to have problems actually pulling the lever for Hillary Clinton.

LAURA SCHWARTZ, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I agree, Dan.  You know, this is a very sad strategy that the Republicans are trying to employee out there.  America is smarter than that.

Republicans and Democrats, those are smarter than that.  I can‘t see it making a significant difference.  I‘m sure there are some Rush followers that might go ahead and pull that lever, even though they are Republicans, for Hillary Clinton, but come on.  Let‘s get with the program.  Let‘s debate policy.  It doesn‘t matter on that anyway in (INAUDIBLE)

ABRAMS:  All right.  You know what Lars?  You know what else I find to be like, fundamentally problematic is that Charlie Crist in Florida is now weighing in, he was a huge McCain supporter.  The governor there who is now saying that he thinks that maybe they should have a new vote in Florida which could extend.  Here‘s what he said on CNN.

LARSON:  That‘s crazy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR:  Are you as the governor ready to let the Democrats have another primary if necessary to seat those Democrats, the Democratic delegates at the convention in Denver?

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST, ® FLORIDA:  That would be fine for me.  I think it‘s very important though that those delegates are seated.  And I‘m hopeful that the National Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee comes to the conclusion.  It‘s the right thing to do.  Every vote must count.  Every vote should count.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Now, look, I mean, I don‘t know whether he believes that.

LARSON:  Let‘s keep counting until you get the results you like.  Come on.

ABRAMS:  I mean, look, the idea again is that this Republican governor is saying, oh, you know what, those Democrats, they ought to have another vote.  Maybe the process ought to last a little bit longer.  I mean, Lars, it sounds like, maybe, this isn‘t just Rush Limbaugh but there are more on the right involved who now have something at stake to say, we got to keep Hillary Clinton in this as long as possible.

LARSON:  Listen, whatever is legal should be allowed.  I mean, if you

want to make a law that says, if you vote Democrat in the primary, you have

to vote Democrat in the general.  You could stop all the cause -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re not talking about legalities of it.  I‘m talking about

the morality of it.  I‘m talking about the notion -

LARSON:  Where is the morality?

ABRAMS:  Because you‘re going in only to create mischief in what is not your party.

LARSON:  No, you‘re going in to say, we want the most in, we want the least capable candidate running against our candidate in November.  What‘s wrong with that?

ABRAMS:  No, no.

SCHWARTZ:  You think that is Hillary Clinton.

ABRAMS:  But it‘s not what you‘re doing.  Because what Limbaugh is saying, and let me play another sound byte.  Limbaugh is saying is something different.  He‘s assuming Obama‘s going to win and he wants him bloodied as much as possible.

LARSON:  What‘s wrong with that?

ABRAMS:  Do we have the sound bite?  All right.  Here it is.  Here‘s Rush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH:  I want Hillary to stay in this, Laura.  This is too good a soap opera.  We need Barack Obama bloodied up politically and it is obvious that the Republicans are not going to do it and don‘t have the stomach for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean, Laura, this again, tells you the Democrats need to change the system.

SCHWARTZ:  Well, yes.  I think that is a whole separate discussion, Dan, and quite a few shows on that.  But really, they simply, the Republicans don‘t want to run against Obama.  How do they use his middle name or not use his middle name?  We‘ve been through the Hussein conversation for the last few weeks after Bill Cunningham used it and John McCain had to denounce it.

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON:  You guys and the middle name stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Lars, is there any shame—forget about the middle name stuff for a minute.  OK, hang on.  I don‘t want to talk about the middle name right now, I want to ask you if there is any shame on your part in encouraging voters to go in and vote for someone who they want to lose, to literally.

LARSON:  No.  No.

ABRAMS:  . to corrupt the Democratic process.

LARSON:  As far as I‘m concerned if the Democrats haven‘t read Sun Tzu and “The Art of War”.  If you can create chaos in the Democrat Party what‘s wrong with that?  It is the Democrats‘ job to be organized.  Not our job.  If they‘re disorganized and they‘re in disarray, that‘s the Democrats problem, let them sort it out.

SCHWARTZ:  And if they have a candidate that you don‘t like in the Republican Party you can sort that out.

LARSON:  I‘m not crazy about John McCain.  You know that.

ABRAMS:  Lars, doesn‘t it show though that you guys are running a little bit scared, that you guys feel the need to go in and get involved with the Democrats.

LARSON:  It‘s not about being scared.  It is about knowing how to work the system within the rules.  Nothing‘s wrong with that.

ABRAMS:  At the very least I think you guys should be ashamed of yourself.

SCHWARTZ:  And that‘s exactly why Americans are ready for a Democrat. 

We are tired of watching you work the system.

LARSON:  Hey, Dan, you know what people should be ashamed of?  Hillary Clinton running ads that suggest that if you don‘t vote for Hillary your kids will are going to to die in bed or something.  That‘s crazy.

ABRAMS:  Well, that‘s not what her ads say, but I promise you what we will do, is later in the show, we are On Their Trail, as we‘ll tell you a minute.

Lars Larson, Laura Schwartz, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

Coming up: Clinton and Obama are going after each other in commercials about who would better protect the country in the middle of the night?  Lars is talking about it.  Fair attacks or cheap shots?  We‘ll tell you, we‘re On Their Trail.

And: The gloves come off on the view.  Lou Dobbs has made a career out of beating up on illegal immigrants, now Geraldo gets it to Lou.  Beat the Press is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: Over on CNN, Senator Hillary Clinton‘s communications director Howard Wolfson had a point he wanted everyone to know on Friday that 25 flag officers, high-ranking military officers, generals and admirals had endorsed Senator Clinton and he repeated it again and again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN COMM. DIR.:  You know, 25 flag officers have endorsed Hillary Clinton.  Twenty-five different flag officers are supporting Hillary Clinton.  Twenty-five different flag officers are supporting us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  OK.  OK.  That was all within a minute and a half.  About 40 seconds later, apparently more good news for the Clinton camp.  They suddenly added 10 more to their side?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFSON:  Backed up by the endorsement of 35 different flag officers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  They miraculously gained 10 additional flag officers during that interview.  And the self-declared best political team on television didn‘t notice.

Next up: If there was ever a “Saturday Night Live” skit in the making, it‘s got to be reporter Jay Schadler‘s overly dramatic presentation at ABC‘s “20/20” Friday night with the dark and light shadows and nightmares scenarios.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY SCHANDLER, ABC REPORTER:  Something dark and terrible happened inside this house nine years ago.  And every effort to bring it to light has failed.

Legally, the prosecution‘s worst nightmare would be for a court to rule that letter inadmissible.  Well, nightmares happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Nightmares happen.  Yes, they do.  Turn on the lights.

And finally: On “The View” today, Geraldo Rivera going after CNN‘s Lou Dobbs for making a career at attacking illegal immigrants.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALDO RIVERA, TV HOST:  Lou Dobbs on CNN has been shameful in his hate mongering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Wouldn‘t you want to shake his hand?

RIVERA:  I would not shake his hands because this is a man who has done more damage to the cause of sensible, comprehensive reform than anybody else with a microphone.  And for him to be bandied about as the next presidential candidate or an independent, what, on the backs of these poor people?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I got to love Geraldo.  Don‘t worry, Geraldo.  He‘s not a real candidate.

We need your help Beating the Press.  If you see anything right or wrong, amusing or absurd go to our Web site: Abrams.msnbc.com.  Please leave us a tip in the box.

Up next: We‘re On Their Trail again tonight, another round of Obama v.  Clinton.  We‘ll tell you who is the guiltier party when it comes to misstatements, cheap shots and blunders from the last three days.

And later: One of Hillary Clinton‘s best known supporters, feminist Gloria Steinem gets in trouble for dishing John McCain by minimizing the significance of his time as a POW.  She is in tonight‘s Winners and Losers.

Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS:  The latest allegations, attacks, and mudslinging in the campaign.  We are going to tell you who is guilty of more misstatements, blunders and cheap shots over the last four days of Obama v. Clinton.  To help us separate fact from fiction, Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of salon.com, political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell, and Michelle Cottle, senior editor for The New Republic. 

Kicking off tonight, Barack Obama and his top campaign strategist David Axelrod teaming up to slam Hillary Clinton hard in Ohio over her Iraq War Resolution vote, reminding voters that before voting for the war she was not one of the handful of senators who actually read the National Intelligence Estimate which summarized the best information of the nation‘s intelligence agencies. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Jay Rockefeller read it, but she didn‘t read it. 

If you have a National Intelligence Estimate and the chairman of the national—chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says, you should read this, this is why I‘m voting against the war, then you should probably read it. 

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CHIEF STRATEGIST:  Senator Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who opposed the war in Iraq, who read the intelligence before the war, which Senator Clinton concedes she did not. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Problem, Senator Rockefeller actually voted for the war resolution not against it.  So we are giving this one an Obama misstatement.  And just to add icing on the cake, Rockefeller was not the Senate Intelligence chairman at the time.  That was Bob Graham. 

So, Lawrence, how big a deal? 

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think it‘s a small deal.  The point remains that Hillary didn‘t read the report.  As long as we are talking about this, it is more damage to Hillary than it is to Obama... 

ABRAMS:  Oh, come on. 

O‘DONNELL:  . but they didn‘t get it right on Rockefeller‘s vote. 

ABRAMS:  You can‘t issue an attack ad, Joan, and get the facts wrong. 

I mean.

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM:  Yes, absolutely. 

ABRAMS:  . you can‘t claim that somehow this is good for Obama when he attacks Hillary on this and he gets the facts wrong. 

WALSH:  Yes.  I mean, Lawrence is overreaching.  I was prepared to agree with Lawrence and say it is not that big a deal they misspoke.  But if Lawrence is going to turn around and say it hurts Hillary.  Plus Jay Rockefeller is a big supporter of Obama.  He just came out and endorsed him.  You would think that Senator Obama and David Axelrod would actually get their facts straight.  So I think it is turning into a bigger deal as we sit here.

ABRAMS:  Michelle, real quick. 

MICHELLE COTTLE, THE NEW REPUBLIC:  Well, I think it would have been a bigger deal if the Hillary campaign had been off the mark and able to come back at them.  But you know, if they are not that organized, then I think it is just going to fade away. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, all right.  Well, look, bottom line, though, this one is against Obama.  We are giving him a demerit on our scorecard.  He gets the first demerit. 

Moving on.  New Clinton attack ad blanketing the Texas airwaves, raising some eyebrows, now dubbed the 3:00 a.m. ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s 3:00 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep, but there‘s a phone in the White House and it‘s ringing.  Something is happening in the world.  Your vote will decide who answers that call. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I know, everyone hates this ad.  I don‘t see anything wrong with it.  I‘m ruling it fair game.  She‘s running on experience.  This is politics.  I‘m going to give Obama a demerit for claiming the ad is fear-mongering and desperate.  But Obama gets credit from me for coming back with an effective response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Senator Clinton may not be aware, but we already had a red phone moment.  It was the decision to invade Iraq.  And Senator Clinton picked up the phone and gave the wrong answer. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ouch.  All right.  Again, fair game response.  I think Clinton now gets a demerit for leaving herself open for attack on her Iraq vote.  So they both get credit and they both get demerits from me on this one.  What do you make of that, Michelle? 

COTTLE:  I don‘t understand what the big deal about this is.  It is not this terribly ominous ad.  I mean, people have compared it to the Lyndon Johnson daisy ad where mushroom clouds are going off in the sky.  That is just absurd. 

ABRAMS:  I agree with you.

COTTLE:  So, I‘m not going to go there.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Lawrence, do you think this is such a big deal, this ad? 

O‘DONNELL:  Dan, I agree with you and Obama.  The ad is fear-mongering.  Fear-mongering is a standard campaign practice.  Obama‘s response ad to Hillary‘s ad is a better ad, which is also fear-mongering in its way.  And he has twice as much money to put it on the air in a saturation way, so I think Obama is going to end up winning the exchange. 

ABRAMS:  But, Joan, this to me isn‘t fear mongering.  Look, this is politics.  Suddenly everyone has become so sensitive in this campaign.  You can‘t—I mean, this is just a typical campaign ad.  This is not—there are no nuclear bombs going off here.  What‘s the big deal?

WALSH:  Right.  Every campaign cycle has ads that remind you what is at stake in terms of national security.  And she has seen herself lose some stature in terms of who would be the best commander-in-chief.  She wanted to get it back.  I‘m not so sure that Obama is that successful. 

He is right about her awful vote on Iraq.  It has haunted her.  But I‘m not sure that comparing the phone ringing comparing to something that you do in the Senate with a bunch of other senators that‘s a countermove against the president, I‘m not sure that they are comparable at all. 

ABRAMS:  Oh, I think they are perfectly—I think that they both got what they deserved on this one.  I mean, the bottom line is I think it is a good ad by Clinton.  I think it was a good response from Obama.  But Obama and Clinton are both going to get a demerit on this, giving us two for Obama and one for Clinton, because of the reasons I stated before. 

All right.  A new anti-Obama mailer circulating in Ohio attacks Obama for raking in more than $650,000 in donations from the energy industry.  Clinton slamming him on the second page of the ad which reads: “American families can‘t afford Barack Obama.”  The problem for Clinton, she apparently got more money from the energy industry than Obama did.  We are going to call this one a Clinton blunder.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Clinton has taken in more than $790,000 from the energy industry while Obama has just taken under $730,000. 

Michelle, how does that happen? 

COTTLE:  How does this happen?  Well, I mean, with this Clinton campaign, you get the feeling that maybe they didn‘t do the due diligence and figure out if these numbers were going to come back to bite her.  I mean, ordinarily you would think intentional.  She is just hoping nobody notices.  But you know, these days the campaign is kind of falling apart. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, Joan, I mean, again, this goes to the clean hands of attack.  You have got to have clean hands to put up an attack ad in my view. 

WALSH:  You have got to have clean hands and you‘ve got to have a clear point of comparison.  And she didn‘t have either.  So it is a bad ad to me. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So this goes against Clinton.  We are tied up now at two demerits apiece.  We are going to have a winner at the end of this night—or a loser as the case may be.  The debate over NAFTA in Ohio continues last week, got pretty heated.  Now scorching as a Canadian TV station accused the Obama camp of secretly contacting the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. to assure him Obama‘s tough talk against NAFTA was just that, talk. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In that call, the Obama operative warned the ambassador that NAFTA would become part of the debate in the Democratic primaries and that Obama would take some heavy swings at the trade deal, but told the ambassador, “don‘t worry, it‘s just campaign rhetoric, it‘s not serious.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Now a Clinton surrogate pounced all over this one last week.  We had ruled it a Clinton blunder after both the Canadian embassy and Obama campaign flatly denied the conversation ever took place.  On Friday Obama was still claiming the story wasn‘t true. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I think it is important for viewers to understand that it was not true. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right.  So completely inaccurate, did not happen.  End of discussion. 

OBAMA:  It did not happen. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  This one is an Obama misstatement, because after the Obama camp denied a conversation ever took place, today the AP obtained a memo from the Canadian consulate proving that a meeting did in fact take place between Obama‘s senior economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, and officials at the consulate in Chicago.

Now Obama today admitted he was wrong, saying he denied, based on the information he had at the time.  We should note also tonight the Canadian ambassador is backing up Obama on the substance of the meeting, contrary to what Senator Clinton said in private talks with the embassy that Obama‘s aide didn‘t take a position on NAFTA. 

All right.  So, look, this gets a little in the weeds here, Lawrence.  But the point is that Obama went out and said no meeting happened.  There was no meeting with any Canadian officials.  It turns out there was some kind of meeting, and that is an Obama problem. 

O‘DONNELL:  It is a problem.  I think it is going be a problem for him in Ohio.  It is a real problem for me, Dan, as someone who worked in the Senate for the Democrats passing NAFTA with President Clinton‘s urging that both of these candidates are lying about NAFTA every time they talk about it. 

Neither one of them are going to do anything about it when they become president.  They are not going to reopen it.  And I wish Hillary Clinton‘s campaign would also tell the Canadians they don‘t mean it. 

ABRAMS:  But, Joan, this is serious stuff.  I mean, the allegation that a leading member of the Obama campaign is assuring the Canadians, don‘t worry, what he‘s saying publicly.  Now, the Canadian embassy again denying the substance of that now.  But it still raises questions when Obama says there was no meeting and now it turns out there was. 

WALSH:  Two things, Dan.  Yes, it‘s very cynical, as Lawrence says.  But also the other thing that was going on while Obama was saying this never happened, it was pretty clear to reporters that something might have happened because Austan Goolsbee himself was refusing to comment.  He was not saying, we didn‘t talk, this meeting didn‘t happen. 

So Obama—if not Senator Obama, his people really had an obligation and they had evidence with which to do it to say to Goolsbee, OK, buddy, what happened?  We can‘t have our man out there telling what turned out to be lies.  So it is a pretty bad misstep.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  And that is why Obama gets the demerit on this one.  And that means he now leads in our demerit category with three to Clinton‘s two.  Clinton now trying to minimize Obama‘s entire campaign, claiming it boils down to one speech. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  His entire campaign is based on one speech he gave at an anti-war rally in 2002.  You‘ve got one speech in 2002 versus a record of accomplishment and a record of action. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Oh, come on.  Cheap shot.  To say that Obama‘s entire run for president is based on a single speech?  If that is the case, then it is pretty pathetic that she is currently behind a guy whose whole campaign is based on a single speech, Michelle. 

COTTLE:  Absolutely.  I mean, clearly we are getting a little snarky here.  Now I thin it would be a fairer complaint to say that Obama‘s entire candidacy is based on his general ability to give a good speech.  If she wants to go there, that is fine.  But too much has happened with this campaign in the last couple of months for her to just blame it all on one good luck speech at a convention. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Clinton gets a demerit for that cheap shot.  So that means we are tied up at three demerits each.  This is all from the last three days.  Everyone is going to stay with us, because coming up, we are going to tell you who loses today‘s battle with more misstatements, cheap shots, and blunders, including this one:  In an interview, Hillary Clinton is asked whether Obama is a Muslim.  Her response: “Nothing to base that on as far as I know.” As far as I know?  How about just saying no. 

And later, we all like vacations, especially President Bush, who as of today has spent 452 days of his presidency there, more than any other modern day president, that story is coming up in tonight‘s “Winners and Losers.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back with our panel.  And on their trail tonight assessing the latest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over the last few days. 

Take a look at our scorecard so far, we are tied right now with Obama and Clinton each getting three demerits.  We‘re going to tell you who loses at the end of this segment.  This next one has created a firestorm on the campaign trail today.  Hillary Clinton‘s response on “60 Minutes” last night about whether she believes Barack Obama is Muslim. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP “60 MINUTES”)

STEVE KROFT, “60 MINUTES”:  You don‘t believe that Senator Obama is a Muslim? 

CLINTON:  Of course not.  I mean, that‘s—there is no basis for that.  I take him on the basis of what he says and there isn‘t any reason to doubt that. 

KROFT:  You said you take Senator Obama at his word that he is not Muslim. 

CLINTON:  Right.

KROFT:  You don‘t believe that he is Muslim, or implying, right? 

CLINTON:  No, no, why would I?  No.  There is nothing to base that on, as far as I know. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  I‘m going to call this one a small cheap shot from Clinton.  She could have just ended her answer at “of course not.” But instead she left the door open to all the conspiracy theorists out there by adding “as far as I know.” 

So what do you say, Joan?

WALSH:  You know, Dan, I disagree.  Because she was—he came at her a second time with the same question and so when I read it, I thought it was bad.  When I watched it, I thought it was fine, because there is a kind of incredulity in her voice when she says, “as far as I know,” as though he is pushing her and he is peddling the rumor.  Her “of course not” is very strong.  So I didn‘t see it as trying to get this little rumor out into the political bloodstream.  I saw her pushing back on it.

ABRAMS:  I don‘t know.  Michelle, I think that on something like this, you have just got to slam it.  You‘ve got to say, you know what, this is nonsense.  I‘m not talking about this silliness. 

COTTLE:  You know, I have the exact same response as Joan, though.  You know, reading the transcript, you are like, no, she should have stopped there, the whole—she is parsing her—you know, this is a woman who is too used to having to parse words and things.  But when you are actually watching it, I think it just—he came back at her and she‘s like, well, where do I go after that, I said no, what do you want me to do? 

ABRAMS:  Lawrence?

O‘DONNELL:  Dan, you are right.  She answered four sentences at first when she could have just said the word no.  If you look at another piece of the “60 Minutes” tape, Steve Kroft confronts an Ohio voter who says he thinks Obama is a Muslim.  And Steve Kroft just says, you know that is not true.  He says it very clearly, sharply, no extra sentences.  That is how you handle.  And it is not the way Hillary handled it, and I think deliberately. 

WALSH:  But she said of course not.  And then he came back at her a second time, so. 

O‘DONNELL:  Why didn‘t she say no.  Today on “HARDBALL,” Chris had someone from the Clinton campaign, when asked this question, the Clinton campaign spokesman simply said no.  The word no, nothing else, just the word no. 

ABRAMS:  See, I think, Joan, here is my concern.  Look, we are fine tuning here, but this is a really important issue because this is the sort of—this leads to the kind of racism and the sort of nonsense that is going to occur in this campaign.  I think that on something like this, Clinton and Obama both have to be firm. 

They have to say no.  That‘s it.  This is a silly, ridiculous issue.  And I‘m imposing a higher standard here on this one.  Michelle, that is not fair? 

COTTLE:  Well, I don‘t understand why you don‘t think what she did wasn‘t compelling.  I mean, maybe she didn‘t convey—maybe this is a question of style.  Maybe she didn‘t convey it in the one-word military no, whatever.  It‘s—she went on and she felt like she had to explain even more why she doubted it.  But I do not think that she left the door open. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, this is going to end up being one of those ones where they fight after the game is over and say that they didn‘t agree with that call.  But Clinton is going to take a very small demerit on this one, giving her four demerits to Obama‘s three.  Even if she did not mean to there, the fact that it could be misinterpreted I say gets her a demerit. 

Next up, a blunder from Barack Obama‘s brother-in-law, who lashed out at Hillary Clinton‘s emotional moments on the campaign trail.  Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama‘s brother, telling The New Yorker magazine: “I mean, you know, sometimes you get angry.  But it is so ludicrous it‘s almost comical.  The whole crying now before every primary, you‘ve got to be kidding me.  If I was a woman, I‘d be embarrassed for her.” 

Blunder and kind of a misstatement, since it has not happened before every primary.  Sure, Craig Robinson is not officially involved in the campaign, but whether they like it or not, he is talking about the opponent.  Obama gets stuck with one demerit on this one.  So Obama gets a demerit, leaving us tied at four each going into the final round. 

The Clinton campaign on the attack over Barack Obama‘s lack of oversight hearings in Congress, about NATO‘s role in Afghanistan, they released this new ad today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Barack Obama says he has the judgment to be president, but as chairman of an oversight committee charged with the force fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan, he was too busy running for president to hold even one hearing. 

OBAMA:  I became chairman of the committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007.  So it is true that we haven‘t had oversight hearings on Afghanistan. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hillary Clinton will never be too busy to defend our national security. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  After the debate I gave this one to Clinton because Obama‘s response that he was too busy campaigning is weak.  But for Clinton to make this is a real issue of the campaign I think is a cheap shot.  John Kerry pointed out that hearings over NATO‘s role abroad are usually left up to the full Foreign Relations Committee, not Obama‘s subcommittee.  Hearings about Afghanistan generally held by Kerry‘s subcommittee. 

You know, Lawrence, it just seems to me that this is, again, a slight cheap shot on the—it is almost fair politics, but I think that in the end this is a cheap shot. 

O‘DONNELL:  I think it is a fair ad, but many fair ads have no substance to them at all.  There has never in the history of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee been an important subcommittee hearing.  The subcommittees have no power, they mean nothing.  And you‘re right, Dan, if the committee cared about it, they would have it at the full committee level. 

Joe Biden is the chairman of the committee.  This is as much an attack on Joe Biden as anyone else. 

ABRAMS:  Michelle, final 10 seconds. 

COTTLE:  Yes, I think you can always ask why these guys aren‘t doing their day job.  But in the end did it really make a difference?  I don‘t think so. 

ABRAMS:  Clinton gets the demerit on this one, giving us a final score of five demerits for Clinton and four for Obama in a fight to the finish which will be contested by many objective observers, will say that I was unfair in my call against Clinton on the “60 Minutes” one.  But that remains to be seen.  Joan Walsh, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Michelle Cottle, great stuff.  Thanks a lot. 

Up next in tonight‘s “Winners and Losers,” Gloria Steinem, who set off a firestorm after questioning the significance of John McCain‘s time as a POW.  President Bush, who has taken off more days than any other commander-in-chief.  Or Rolling Stone‘s legend Mick Jagger who narrowly avoided being offed by the Hell‘s Angels.  Who will be tonight‘s winner or loser?  The big one coming up.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this third day of March, 2008.  Our bronze loser, Hulk Hogan, already embroiled in a bitter divorce from his wife Linda, now faced with new allegations from a tabloid that he cheated on her with his daughter Brooke‘s best friend and assistant.  His 19-year-old daughter now saying she was betrayed by her father and her best friend.  But apart from whether the story is true, why does Brooke Hogan have an assistant? 

Our silver loser, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, while on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton yesterday, she minimized John McCain‘s time as a Vietnam POW, saying: “Suppose John McCain had been Joan McCain and the media asked, what did you do wrong to get captured?  What terrible things did you do while you were there as a captive?  I mean, hello, this is supposed to be a qualification to be president.  I don‘t think so,” she said.  The Clinton campaign has since distanced itself from Steinem‘s comment. 

But our big loser of the day, President Bush, whose trip to his ranch

over the weekend marked his 70th visit to Crawford since taking office in

2001.  That‘s 452 days there for a combined three months of his presidency

a year and three months of his presidency spent clearing brush and whatever else he does there in Crawford. 

Our big winner of the day, rock legend Mick Jagger, who according to a new British documentary narrowly escaped an assassination plot in 1969 by the Hell‘s Angels.  The reason he reportedly survived.  The thugs on the boat heading to his home on Long Island hit stormy waters and were apparently thrown overboard. 

It‘s time for “PO‘d Box,” your chance to tell me what you love or hate about the show.  For weeks I‘ve gone after much of the inside D.C. media for their disdain of Hillary Clinton.  Natalie Goldberg from Philadelphia writes: “If the press is so biased against Hillary Clinton, why does the press give her a free pass and still consider her a viable contender when she has lost 11 primaries/caucuses in a row?” 

Well, Natalie, they don‘t.  It‘s still a close race.  And many are counting her out.  And I guarantee that even if she wins both Ohio and Texas tomorrow, more will still be calling for her to get out. 

Joe Abrios, from Ashland, Oregon: “Thank you for the being the voice of reason about the Clintons being unfairly treated by the media.  Finally the Abrams show has spit out the Kool-Aid.” 

And we have been getting a lot of attention for our segment last week where I was tough on the Republican congressman, Jack Kingston, for questioning Obama‘s patriotism because, among other things, he does not wear an American flag lapel pin.  I noticed that Kingston came on the show without a pin on his lapel and I called him out on it.  Bill Lamkin, with the right-wing talking points: “I felt for you last night when you couldn‘t seem to understand the congressman‘s point.  Obama stated he would no longer wear a pin on his chest.  It was that statement that upset some folks, not the fact he doesn‘t always wear a pin.”

Thanks so much for explaining it to me, Bill.  Gosh, I never would have understood.  Look, the far right wants to play these gotcha games with patriotism about Obama without his hand over his heart and the silliness over the pin, well, then they have to live and die by that sword.  And whether you love or hate the congressman, that night I got him. 

Thanks for your feedback.  Remember, you can write to us, abrams@msnbc.com.  Please include your name, where you are writing from.  See you later. 

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

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