updated 3/6/2008 1:09:42 PM ET 2008-03-06T18:09:42

Guest: Roy Sekoff, Rachel Maddow, Tony Blankley, Ari Melber, Keli Goff,

Peter Beinart, Chuck Nice

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: Clinton wins big in Ohio and Texas and Rhode Island, but many pundits are still reluctant to give her any credit, saying, she won because she went negative.  That’s not what the voters said.

And once again: We’re On Their Trail.  Obama v. Clinton: The biggest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders including Clinton’s misstatements about what it means to have won Ohio.

And while it seems almost everyone talked about “Saturday Night Live’s” effect on the race, it may have been a more controversial “SNL” cartoon that really touched a nerve.

But first: The victories for Hillary Clinton in three out of the four Democratic contests last night, in Ohio, she won by 10 points, Texas by four and Rhode Island by an impressive 18 points.  Bigger victories than many expected.  Obama won Vermont big by 20 points.

So, what happen?  When Obama wins, most of the analysts, media and pundits attribute it to his speeches, his message, his charisma, all fair analysis.  But when Clinton wins, they attribute it to something else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hillary just learned from Texas and Ohio that the way to beat Obama is to go after him big time negative.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  There was this “kitchen sink” effort which seemed to have worked, whether you call it negative or attack or however you want to describe it.

BILL KRISTOL, THE WEEKLY STANDARD:  What we’ve learned and what you have learned and one thing we’ve learned is that negative ads worked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If she gets that negative and gets that aggressive, it’s like killing Santa Claus in front of the kids on Christmas morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Clinton campaign knew that they had nowhere to go but negative or they’re going to get cleared off the table and it, apparently, is working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Yes, the latest storyline peddled by the pundits is that Clinton only won because she played dirty.  Sure, her ads and attacks on Obama may have played a part in the victory, whether you think they’re fair or not.  But the exit polls where voters not pundits were asked why they voted the way they did, it seems to tell a different story: 68 percent of Ohio voters, 66 percent in Texas said: Clinton was the candidate who offered clear and detailed plans to solve the country’s problems.  While Obama got only 55 in Ohio and 53 in Texas, who said he was that candidate.  Nothing is negative about that.

And 76 percent in Texas, 73 percent in Ohio said that the recent debates were very or somewhat important to them in making their choice.  Clinton and Obama both attacked in that debate, but they also had in-depth discussions of policy.  And what about Clinton’s efforts to humanize herself by appearing on the comedy shows and her strategy to portray herself as a fighter for working class voters?  Weren’t those reasons she won over voters last night?

Well, it’s true that the media has started to get a little tougher on Obama, why is no one asking whether these voters simply preferred Hillary Clinton as a candidate to Barack Obama.  Why does he get the benefit of the doubt and she just gets doubt?

Here now: Roy Sekoff from the “Huffington Post”; Air America Radio host and MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow; and syndicated columnist and former Reagan speechwriter, Tony Blankley.

All right.  Roy, let me start with you.  I mean, the whole narrative today is: Clinton went negative and it worked.  How do we know?  How do you know that it went negative and it worked?

ROY SEKOFF, HUFFINGTON POST:  Dan, I absolutely love the dissatisfaction.  Early this week, you were convinced that if Hillary won, the media still wouldn’t give her credit.  Well, she won, they gave her credit, but it is the wrong kind of credit, right?  It’s the wrong kind of credit.

Let’s face it.  This is what she ran on.  She ran on I’m a fighter, and I’ve already taken a shot.  I’ve been bloodied by the RNC and so, the voters vote went that way, they may have bought it.  So, why are you suddenly say, you want her to be inspirational, I want her to bow down and say she’s just the most beautiful candidate?

ABRAMS:  I don’t them to say that.  But I don’t want them to conclude, Rachael, that Hillary Clinton won this because she went negative without any evidence and the only evidence that’s been cited is that the fact that undecided voters, where it’s something like 21 percent of them, in the last few days, went for Clinton.  And, you know, so what?  So, that means that the negative ads are the reason?

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I mean, I think it seems pretty clear that the reason that Hillary Clinton won last night is because she ran a really good campaign after Wisconsin and that really good campaign included some really negative Republican style attacks on Barack Obama.  That was the stuff she did that was most controversial.  Appearing on “Saturday Night Live” was neat and it might have had just as big an effect, but it’s not going to get as much coverage, because it was those nasty attacks on Obama that are them most unsettling to for Democratic voters.

ABRAMS:  But, I mean, unsettling, I mean, welcome to the general election.  I mean, they can hate them all they want, but if Obama can’t survive them now, how can he possibly survive them in the general election?

MADDOW:  To the extent that it’s probing his defenses and seeing whether or not he’s going to be able to stand up to McCain and the Republican attack machine, great.  To the extent that it’s fear-mongering and “be afraid, vote for me”, I think Democrats are grossed out by it, and it’s rightfully controversial.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But, Tony, everyone says they’re grossed out by these negative ads.  Everyone says, you know what, I hate them and yet, they seem to work and again, but again, it seems to me that all of the pundits want to say and then, I think that Rachael’s analysis is very fair of what she just said, but a lot of people out there want to say, it’s because she went negative, that’s the reason that she won.  And yet, when Obama wins, it’s all about his speeches and the number of people at his rallies.

TONY BLANKLEY, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Well, I don’t know what people are talking about.  Obama failed to respond honestly to the Canadian TV and “AP” report regarding his NAFTA conversations.  He failed to respond effectively to the Tony story coming out of Chicago that corrupt person.

ABRAMS:  Rezko.

BLANKLEY:  Rezko.  He failed to -

ABRAMS:  Honestly a misstatement on NAFTA, I mean, let’s be clear, you think a misstatement on NAFTA and whether a Canadian TV report was accurate is what made the difference in Ohio and Texas?

BLANKLEY:  I’m going to list of a number of things.  I think he was kind of sitting on his lead, he wasn’t taking things seriously.  He didn’t address the economic issue which is so powerful in Ohio where Hillary was.  And on top of that, he campaigned illogically.  He went to Rhode Island on Saturday for no good reason.  He spent too much time in Ohio where he didn’t have as much of a chance and didn’t spend enough time in Texas.

But more fundamentally and I don’t think, I know, God knows I’m no fan of Hillary’s, but I don’t think that the red telephone ad is a particularly negative ad.  All it said was: Who do you trust in the crisis?

ABRAMS:  I actually agree with you.

BLANKLEY:  Let me give you a couple of examples of negative -

ABRAMS:  I don’t want a list here.  So, let me read to you again, and Roy, I will give you a chance because I know, I agree with Tony that I don’t think this ad is such a big deal and I think, if everyone is going to be so sensitive, welcome to the general election and you’re going to be bombarded with stuff.

MADDOW:  It’s a huge deal.

ABRAMS:  Huge deal in what sense?

MADDOW:  It is a huge deal because, listen, there’s a difference

between the Democrats and the Republicans.  If we learned one thing from

George Bush, it’s that, Republicans believe that politicians ought to

encourage Americans to cower in fear.  The Democratic paradigm of

leadership of the country is the FDR in 1941 saying, freedom from fear -

ABRAMS:  Why fear to say, it is 3:00 a.m. and who do you want to pick up the phone?

MADDOW:  No, what was that ad?  That ad was, feel afraid, here’s the ringing phone, your kids may not be safe, I’m the candidate.  No argument in that ad.

ABRAMS:  Oh, I will argue that there’s nothing in the ad that says anything more than who do you want to pick up the phone?  Sure, the answer is something bad has happened.

MADDOW:  Something bad has happened.

ABRAMS:  Oh, my goodness, honestly if you can’t deal with that ad, there are going to be enormous problems in the general elections.

MADDOW:  There’s going to be ad like that.  But you know what?  This is an argument that’s being fought as well as an election and that’s fighting it on Republican terms saying that Americans ought to be afraid.

ABRAMS:  And, you know, the primaries should be based on principles. 

The primaries should be on principles.

MADDOW:  No, the primaries ought to be about winning the argument and about damning Bush/McCain Republicanism, and instead, they’re saying, we’re just like the Republicans.  We want you to be afraid.  She ought to not be a Democratic then.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But, Roy, look, in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, not just the skit, Hillary Clinton appearing on “Saturday Night Live”, her effort to portray herself as the fighter, maybe Rachael’s not entirely right that the Democrats may want a fighter going into general election, maybe they want someone who’s ready to take on McCain and throw these kinds of ads, maybe they know what has come at them year after year, maybe they remembered 2004, and they say, we’re not going to let it happen again, we want someone who’s going to battle back?

SEKOFF:  OK.  But you are unhappy even if that is the case.  You know, all hail Jon Stewart, all hail Amy Poehler, fine.  But why are you so upset that the coverage is saying that she was fighting?  That she was—and I mean that is a main talking point, Dan.

ABRAMS:  You asked me a question, you asked me, why am I so upset?  I’m upset because they’re necessarily attributing that to her victory.  The headline in Politico’s front page: “Clinton’s lesson: Attacking Obama works”.  The “L.A. Times” front page: “Going negative proved positive in comeback”.  They don’t know that to be true.  Those are assumptions.

SEKOFF:  But, Dan, here’s the thing.  Hillary Clinton didn’t suddenly poof, abracadabra, turn into a different candidate, she’s been running through a year.  So, you tell me, what changed and what is different this week?

ABRAMS:  I’ll tell you.  OK.  I’ll tell you what was different.  First

of all, you have the fact that she went on the comedy shows, she went on

Jon Stewart, she went on “Saturday Night Live”, “Saturday Night Live” spoof

the media coverage, et cetera.  She also has tried to portray herself as

the one who’s ready to fight.  Why is it not possible -

SEKOFF:  Mike Huckabee went to “Saturday Night Live”, too, Huckabee didn’t win.

ABRAMS:  But again, you know what else, Roy?  The polls were not so different from what the results were.  So, it’s not like there’s been this major transformation in the last couple of days that lo and behold, Hillary Clinton’s numbers were so different.  It’s just that many pundits simply can’t fathom the idea of giving her any credit.

SEKOFF:  Here’s what’s been different this time.  Time after time after time, voters who made their decisions in the last three days went for Obama, not this time.  Not this time.  So what was different?  Was it Hillary on “60 Minutes” saying, well, as far as I know he’s not a Muslim?  Was it Hillary saying, hey, John McCain has more experience, Obama gave one speech in 2002?  We have to look what was different.  That’s what was different this time.

ABRAMS:  Tony, go ahead.

BLANKLEY:  I was going to say, look, among the things that I think that you have the pay some attention to is the fact that Obama ran, and I think, a very weak campaign in the last two weeks of this election.  The other piece is that the pundits were calling for Hillary to resign before the election.  And I think that I have heard a lot of the middle-aged women who supported Hillary were angry at the pundit class for saying that she should step down before the race is even over.

SEKOFF:  So, the media helped her, Dan.

BLANKLEY:  Inadvertently.

ABRAMS:  Look, let me read this to you.   This is the unfair test at the exit polling, all right?  Who attacked their opponent unfairly? This is from Ohio and Texas, 54 percent in Ohio said Hillary Clinton and 52 percent in Texas and 37 percent for Obama and 35 percent in Texas.  So, there’s no question, Rachael that the voters viewed Hillary’s attacks as more unfair and yet, they still voted for her.

MADDOW:  Sure, negative attacks work.  I mean, now, they work.

ABRAMS:  But not all people are honest, I mean, usually, right?  It’s all these people say, oh, they don’t, and I don’t care about them, you know.

MADDOW:  But they say, I don’t like them and they don’t affect me, but then, they do exactly what those ads tell them to do.  We don’t believe that we are being played by any form of advertising, let alone the kind that turns our stomach, but it drives our fear.

ABRAMS:  It’s some sort of paternalistic about everyone in them (ph) saying, well, you know, the voters, they don’t want to admit, but in the reality is, it’s all because of the negative ads.

SEKOFF:  Well, it’s kind of a reverse Bradley effect, right?  You don’t come out of the poll and say, yes, you know what?  That thing that he might be a Muslim, that’s really got me or, you know, I was really afraid, so, I voted my lesser brain.

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, the bottom line is, according to Roy Sekoff, the voters of Ohio and Texas are liars, and that’s the bottom line.

MADDOW:  No, no, no.  They don’t know that is why they are doing it.

(CROSSTALK)

SEKOFF:  The unconscious is a powerful thing, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Roy and Tony, thank you very much.  Appreciate it.  Rachael is going to stick around.

Coming up next: The Clinton campaign is already calling for all of the Florida and Michigan delegates to be counted even though they’ve been disqualified.  How can she get delegates in Michigan when Obama was not even on the ballot?  I think, the only fair way to do it is that the voters of Florida and Michigan go back to the polls for a real primary.  Those states governors are ready the do it.

And Clinton and Obama wasted no time the go after each other today. 

The Obama camp questing like, Clinton has not released her tax returns.  Cheap shot or fair play?  We’re On Their Trail with the biggest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, you can’t just give Hillary Clinton’s the disqualified delegates from Florida and Michigan, when Obama was not even on the ballot in Michigan.  But you can have the voters go back to the polls, now that the race is this close.  The governors of those states are ready to it.  I think it has to happen.

Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  The night after big votes in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont, it looks like the Clinton/Obama battle is now stretch at least through the spring.  What about the more 2 million people who’d already voted in Florida and Michigan?  Right now those votes just don’t count after the Democratic National Committee stripped the states of their delegates because they had moved their primaries up.

They can’t count Michigan because Obama was not even on the ballot.  And in theory, neither candidate campaigned in Florida. But the voters shouldn’t be punished for the idiocy of their party insiders.  I’ve said for weeks, superdelegates shouldn’t overturn the will of the people.  And consistent with that argument, the Democratic and Republican governors of Michigan and Florida are right, when they say it is reprehensible that anyone would seek to silence the voices of 5,163,271 Americans.

In D.C., the two states Congressional delegations are meeting to discuss the potential powder keg.  Tonight, DNC chair Howard Dean says, rules are rules, but he looks forward to the hearing the new delegates’ election plans from these states like just do primaries in Florida and Michigan.  Put the vote on April 22nd, the same day as Pennsylvania.  It’s almost seven weeks away.  It’s plenty of time.

Joining me now: “The Nation’s” Ari Melber; and political analysts, Keli Goff.  Ari, are you anti-democracy, you don’t want them to vote?

ARI MELBER, THE NATION:  I love democracy but there’s no do-overs in presidential politics.  The reason we’re in this mess is because these states broke the rules.  They knew they were breaking them and they were warned of the consequences.  So a do-over, especially in a tainted state like Michigan where they’d already have one Cuban style election with one person on the ballot, I don’t think we need a do-over there.

ABRAMS:  But isn’t that spoken like a true party insider?  I mean, they broke the rules and therefore, the 5 million voters are going to suffer for that.  I mean, this kind of, I mean, this sort of breaking the rules stuff that everyone is focusing on is basically a defense of the idiocy of the Democratic Party.

MELBER:  I think, some of the rules are really flawed, I’d actually written about it.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

MELBER:  But the bottom line, Dan, is, the rules are there and if you change the game in the middle and you move the goalpost in the middle which is what the Clinton supporters want to do, you have it even less fair.

ABRAMS:  Look, Clinton supporters want to count now the votes from Florida and Michigan.  I’m not willing to give them those.  I’m not just going to give them the delegates.

KELI GOFF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  But, Dan, that’s not going to happen.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But you know what?  But here’s the thing, why can’t

this be thought of as a courtroom verdict with an appeal?  The verdict was

they don’t count.  OK, they didn’t count.  Now, they have appealed -

GOFF:  I feel (ph) if we had appealed in politics or Al Gore would be president.

ABRAMS:  No.  But this is the point about the Democratic Party.  They can change the rules whenever they want.  I mean, this is not set in stone, this is supposed to be for the best outcome for the Democratic Party, right?

GOFF:  Yes, I am in agreement with you.  Look, I will say this much, Dan, you know, while I do think that do-overs are usually reserved for kickball and double Dutch and not presidential elections, I will say that I certainly prefer this plan to this whole, let’s let the delegates.  You know what?  Let’s play kumbayah, you get a delegate, you get a delegate.  I certainly prefer to that, but I think, at the end of the day, it’s going to taint whoever ends up getting the nomination because whoever gets it, we’re still have this whole conversation of did they really earned because of the rules.

ABRAMS:  You know, but how can you challenge earning it when you actually go and have a new campaign and a new vote, you can say what Ari is saying, which is that you’re changing the rules, but then you truly earned it.

GOFF:  But, you know, preparing for this segment I pulled up (INAUDIBLE) old headlines from, you know, Howard Dean.  We’re punishing them.  We’re going to teach them a lesson about how the process works and about being fair and yet, now we’re going to overturn all of that, because the game is changing midway through.

ABRAMS:  No.  Because, Ari, what we’re going to accept is that Howard Dean was wrong.  He blew it.  He blew it.  He didn’t expect it to be this close.  He didn’t think it was going to matter and now, you’ve got the situation where I think that you’re going to have a lot of people saying, how can we have democratic representation, and remember, the Democratic primaries are more representative than the Republican primaries.  It’s not winner-take-all in most states as the Republicans do it.

So, the intention is to make sure that the voters are represented and then, yet, in Florida and Michigan, we’re going to say, hey, guys, sorry, because of technical violation to the Democratic National Party has decided that your votes don’t count.

MELBER:  Well, I agree with you that Howard Dean definitely got this wrong and that should be a lesson to party chairs to do things differently and more democratically.  But, let’s think this through in Michigan, you had Governor Granholm’s name up there with the D by her name.  You could also put a C by her name because she’s a Clinton supporter who already engineered one race with one person on the ballot.

Now, you’re going to take all those people who voted for Clinton earlier when she was the only choice, and ask them to come back and revote.  Think of the psychology, this is tainted.

ABRAMS:  Yes, come on, look.  There is no question it’s tainted.  But you’re creating a situation where the choice is either give Hillary Clinton delegates in a state where she was not opposed.  Or on the other hand, say there’s nothing to do.

There’s a middle ground and the middle ground is, I know it’s a little difficult, you have to get back in your car, you got to vote again.  It’s a pain in the butt, but, you know what?  I think that the voters of Michigan and Florida would prefer to have their voices heard rather than to just say, we don’t count.

MELBER:  That’s a middle ground between two bad choices.  The third choice is to say no, there are consequences.  You broke the rules.  These delegates don’t count, period.  We have 48 states that didn’t do this.

ABRAMS:  Yes, Kelli, Ari sounds like Howard Dean.  If Howard Dean were on this show, that’s what he would say.  He would say, you’re breaking the rules—and it’s true, that the rules were clear.  But you know what?  The rules were bad and that’s why it’s time for an appeal, and the appeal should be won by the people, not by Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

GOFF:  Well, I said it earlier and I’ll say it again.  It’s certainly cleaner than the alternative.  But, I think, the whole thing overall sort of smells like rotten eggs.  I think that whoever ends up getting the nomination, I am not seeing a kumbayah, you know, moment happened is.

ABRAMS:  I had no idea what a mess the Democratic primaries could be

until I’ve been -

GOFF:  I think, superdelegates are going to join hanging chads and (INAUDIBLE).

ABRAMS:  Yes. And everyone knows, I’ve got a real problem with the superdelegates.  I’m going to keep talking about it.  Ari Melber and Kelli Goff, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

MELBER:  Thank you.

GOFF:  Thanks so much.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: First, it was her commercial, now Hillary Clinton using her victory speech to jab Barack Obama about not being ready for a 3:00 a.m. phone call.  Cheap shot?  We’ll decide.  We are on the candidate’s trail tonight with the biggest misstatement, cheap shots and blunders.

And: Rush Limbaugh is going after yours truly, yes, apparently, he’s a big fan of the show or not-so big fund of the show.

Beat the Press is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: Apparently our friends at FOX think that the folks who watch their network and listen to right wing radio are lemmings who will follow everything and anything they say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUAN WILLIAMS, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO:  I thought that the power of the radio talk show host was going to be critical and I didn’t know how John McCain could possibly hope to overcome the opposition of people like Rush Limbaugh.  I am sitting here incredulous that he’s has done it.  I don’t understand it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Really?  You don’t understand how voters could think for themselves and not just blindly follow the radical right?  Speaking of right wing radio and Rush Limbaugh, this program has become a rallying point for Rush, and this is all from his program this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  This is Monday night on the DNC TV live with Dan Abrams and DNC TV, Dan Abrams said, do the Democrats have something to worry about here and this is also Monday night on DNC TV with Dan Abrams continuing the discussion of how I am perverting the Democratic process, and Dan Abrams at DNC TV.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Limbaugh was upset that I said he was perverting the process by encouraging Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton in open primaries in an effort to quote, “bloody up” Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH:  Who made the Democrats the moral arbiter of what’s perverted and what’s not in politics in this kind of thing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  When you encourage someone to vote for a candidate that they don’t want as president, I believe it’s actually un-American.  They are willing to increase the chances of what they consider to be a bad candidate winning in the hope they may slightly increase their candidate’s chances?  It’s shameful.

Finally: FOX News invited Bill O’Reilly to join their election coverage last night and here is some of the inaccurate spin he shared with their viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O’REILLY, TV HOST:  NBC News has been the worst news agency in the country, routing outwardly for Barack Obama.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS:  You mean both the network and the cable outlet?

O’REILLY:  Absolutely.  Eighty-three percent of network news including NBC and coverage of Obama from December to February was positive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Now my viewers know I’ve been one of the most outspoken critics of any network of unfair coverage of Clinton, but isn’t just that, O’Reilly’s flat wrong.  First he had read the study, it absolutely did not include cable news and second, NBC was the least positive about Obama of the three networks that the study calculated but why should O’Reilly let those pesky facts get in the way.

Up next: We’re On Their Trail: separating fact from fiction on the road to the White House.  Tonight, Clinton Obama beating each other up over tax returns and shady characters.  Who’s hitting with the bigger cheap shots?

And later: By now many of you have seen the “Saturday Night Live” spoof on Hillary Clinton.  Some say, it helped her, but another more controversial “SNL” skit, they have really touched a nerve.

Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We’re back.  After all of the smiles and confetti last night, the Obama and Clinton camps wasted no time getting back into the mud today with both candidates shifting sharply negative. 

We’re on the trail again tonight, tracking who’s guilty of making more false allegations, blunders and cheap shots on the ‘08 right road to the White House.  Here with us to help us separate fact from fiction, Rachel Maddow, MSNBC political analyst and host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America.  And Peter Beinart, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the book “The Good Fight.”

All right.  First up, Obama making the morning show rounds and let’s just say he wasn’t quite on his game.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, David, we won

Michigan and Georgia and Illinois and Missouri, and we had a pretty good

run there as I said.  If you win 12 straight states, and then you lose two

-  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Misstatement - two of them.  Yes, he was probably on very little sleep, but Obama wasn’t even on the ballot in Michigan and said he won.  And Clinton won Texas, and Ohio and Rhode Island and that would make three, not two.  So I am giving this one a clear misstatement, but Rachel, I’m assuming that he gets a little bit of an exemption here.  

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, but, you know, he is also probably going to pay for it personally, because his brother-in-law is the basketball coach at Brown University in Rhode Island in Providence.  And so I think he’s going to get paid back at Thanksgiving.  I mean Rhode Island is small, but it is a perfectly formed as a state.  

ABRAMS:  Peter, fair to beat up on him in this one?

PETER BEINART, SENIOR FELLOW, THE COUNCIL FOR FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Not really.  You know, I think it was a human error and not as if you see the campaign trying to make a drum beat of convincing people that the numbers were different.  So, I will give him a pass on this one.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Here’s what we’re going to do.  We’re only going to count it as one demerit instead of two, because we are going to assume he was working on little sleep.  

MADDOW:  A little sleepy after -

ABRAMS:  Exactly. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  He gets the first demerit on tonight’s scorecard.  Up next, punch and counterpunch, Obama asking what Clinton is hiding in the tax returns and camp Clinton hitting back with questions about Obama’s relationship with scandal-ridden real estate developer Tony Rezko.  Obama’s chief adviser, David Axelrod, trying to corner Clinton on the tax returns.  We don’t have it.  But I can tell you - we got it?  OK.  Let’s play it.  

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA’S CHIEF ADVISOR:   There is no absolute reason she can’t release her 2006 returns.  They’ve talked about change you can Xerox.  You can Xerox your tax returns. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ouch!  Camp Obama bolstered there their line of attack with this E-mail.  “Given the fact that she is able to loan her campaign $5 million, you’d think the Clintons would be able to hire an accountant.  But the reality is,” the quote goes on, “that she wants to keep this information hidden from voters.”  I am going to call this one fair game for Obama even though I think it’s almost an irrelevant attack, it is fair politics.  Not releasing tax returns does beg the question, “Is there something to hide?”  So I’m not going to give Obama a mark here. 

But the Clintons wasted no time hitting back.  Today, Clinton advisor Howard Wolfson turns to Rezko, “Instead of making false attacks, we urge Sen. Obama to release all relevant financial and other information related to indicted political fixer, Tony Rezko.”

ABRAMS:  I’m going to give this one a Clinton misstatement.  There is nothing false in the attacks in Obama’s memo.  All of it was accurate, so I’m giving Clinton a demerit for at least a misleading response.  Peter, do you agree with me?

BEINART:  I do, actually.  I mean I think that the tax returns are not the biggest issue in the world, but there is no reason for her not to put them out there.  And as far as I know, and I’m not this weeds on this Rezko stuff as much as some people, but Obama has not made any false statements about that.  

ABRAMS:  Yes, and the claim that Clinton made is that there were false attacks on them.  

BEINART:  They are not false.  

MADDOW:  They are not false.  They may be stupid, but they are not false. 

BEINART:  Right.  Right.

MADDOW:  I was thinking that the Obama campaign was going to wake up this morning and say, “We’ve got to show that we’re fighters.  Let’s go after McCain.”  And instead, they woke up and went, “We want the tax returns.”

ABRAMS:  Yes, exactly. 

MADDOW:  But there is nothing technically wrong with the allegation.  

ABRAMS:  So we’re round two and we are tied at one to one in the demerits.  Obama and Clinton battling over experience with competing swipes including the now the infamous “3:00 a.m.” ad.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When there is a crisis and that phone rings at 3:00 a.m. in the White House, there is no time for speeches or on the job training. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  What exactly is this foreign experience that she is claiming?  I know she talks about visiting 80 countries.  It’s not clear whether she negotiated treaties or agreements or was she handling crises during this period of time?  My sense is, the answer is no.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I am going to rule fair game here on both of them.  Clinton’s “3:00 a.m.” is a fair question to ask voters.  I’m ruling fair game for Obama. His response, while just as biting, is just politics.  Rachel, you and I went after this before.  I mean you really think that the “3:00 a.m.” ad is a cheap shot?

MADDOW:  The “3:00 a.m.” ad is such a cheap shot.  It’s actually first thing that’s made me mad at Hillary Clinton and almost as mad as the thing where she said, “Oh, as far as I know, he’s not a Muslim.”  Those have been the two worst things she has done.  And that “3:00 a.m.” ad was wrong, because it cedes the argument to the Republicans over the Democrats in terms of whether or not the Americans ought to be scared into voting for someone.  

ABRAMS:  But Peter, that just to me suggests that when you are Democrat, you can’t talk about national security issues in the primary.  

BEINART:  The truth is that Democrats have been scaring Americans about foreign policy for the last 100 years.  I mean I heard Rachel earlier say that Franklin Roosevelt says freedom from fear.  Franklin Roosevelt spent the entire late 1930s scaring Americans about the Nazi threat and thank goodness, he did. 

The real debate should be how serious do we think the terrorist threat is.  That’s a genuine argument you can have.  Rachel may think it is less serious than John McCain.  And she may be right, but it is perfectly reasonable to have the debate.  

MADDOW:  There is a difference between talking about the threats that are faced by a country and talking about how to stand up to them and how we as a nation can face them with unity and form a position of strength.  It’s another thing to say, be afraid and vote for me. 

ABRAMS:  She’s saying who’s going to pick up the phone?

MADDOW:  Which is what Hillary Clinton (UNINTELLIGIBLE) George W. Bush politics.

ABRAMS:  And she can probably better argue that she’s the one who did pick up the phone at 3:00 a.m. and they said, “Can I speak to your husband?”

MADDOW:  What argument is that?  Where is the argument when you say, “Be afraid.  There’s something scary in the world and I want to answer the phone.” 

(CROSS TALK) 

You are not saying what you can do to make us any safer.  You’re just invoking the feeling of fear.  

ABRAMS:  Go ahead, Peter.  

BEINART:  Well, yes.  But if you belief in fact that there is a very

serious threat out there, then you, as John McCain does and I don’t agree

with him on most policies, but he thinks the threat is probably greater

than most Democrats.  You are entirely justified in saying that the

Americans should be concerned about that and vote for -

(CROSS TALK)  

MADDOW:  He thinks that the threat is more serious than most Democrats do? 

Peter, are you serious? 

BEINART:  Yes.

MADDOW:  John McCain understands the threat to America more than Democrats do?  Really?  

BEINART:  Rachel, most Democrats including you and me think that global warming is more of a threat than an Al-Qaeda attack.  I think we’re right.  John McCain thinks that the Al-Qaeda is bigger threat.

MADDOW:  Peter, you can make up whatever you want about your own weird ideas.

(CROSS TALK) 

ABRAMS:  Hey, hey.  One at a time.  

BEINART:   Rachel.  Let me just ask you the question.  Do you think that global warming is a bigger or smaller threat than another Al-Qaeda attack?

ABRAMS:  Rachel gets the final word. 

MADDOW:  No, I think it is a smaller threat and I don’t know why you would

think -

BEINART:  I absolutely agree.

MADDOW:  Fine, but why would you caricature Democrats as not understanding

the threats -

BEINART:  I’m not caricaturing Democrats.

MADDOW:  To America but John McCain does.  Peter, that is perverse.  That’s perverse.

(CROSS TALK)

ABRAMS:  I’ve got to move on.  I have to move on here.  But am ruling this one no demerits.  I am saying that I still think and I said it before that this Hillary Clinton ad is not that big a deal and welcome to the general election if they are not ready for them.  So I’m still keeping this a tie at one to one.  Hillary Clinton stumbled on her Ohio primary facts in an interview with NBC’s Columbus, Ohio affiliate.  There’s some audio problems in the tape, but listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  No person has ever won the White House without winning the Ohio primary in either party.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

ABRAMS:  Misstatement.  Several times in the Democratic Ohio primary history and most recently in 1960, the winner did not go on the clinch the nomination.  Once in 1912, and again 1932 and most recent in 1960.  I feel like Alex Trebek on “Jeopardy” playing out to answers as if I just thought of it.  And then again in 1960.  Now, since that interview, Clinton has revised her wording.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  In recent history no one has ever been elected president who did not win their party’s primary in Ohio.  

ABRAMS:  So recent history - Is 1960 recent history?  I don’t know.  I mean it seems to be just a silly one for her to keep pursuing.  

MADDOW:  It’s wrong.  Somebody told her this one and it stuck with her and nobody bothered to check it.  I mean Ohio primary winners - who do we have?  Judson Herman, George White and Michael Desali(ph)?  They have made great presidents, haven’t they? 

ABRAMS:  Clinton picks up another demerit and is now losing two to one.  Next, and our final one, during a conference call with reporters, Clinton adviser, Howard Wolfson was interrupted by a very fired up Obama lawyer, Bob Bauer(ph), who dialed into the call intended just for reporters.  

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BOB BAUER, OBAMA LAWYER:  In Nevada, you filed a lawsuit in advance of the caucus.  In Iowa you threatened various students with potential consequences if they voted under Iowa law.  Now, on the evening of the Texas caucus, while it is virtually taking place, you claim you have well-documented accusations.  

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON’S ADVISOR:  The lawsuit you referred to was not filed by us, as you know fairly well. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  We are calling this one an Obama cheap shot and a misstatement.  A cheap shot for actually ambushing the call, and a misstatement for getting the facts wrong.  In Nevada, it was the teachers union that threatened to sue in advance of the caucus, not the Clinton campaign.  So Peter, it is giving two.  I only gave him one on the two mistakes earlier and I think it is fair to give them two for ambushing the call and getting their facts wrong.  

BEINART:  Yes, they got the facts wrong, but I can’t get to exorcise about this.  You know, there was a time in American politics when dirty tricks meant something, you know.  When Richard Nixon was going around breaking into buildings, calling into a call with reporters, that doesn’t seem to me such a terrible thing.  

ABRAMS:  All right.  What do you think?

MADDOW:  The cheap shot doesn’t feel all that cheap to me.  It was not a members-only event.  He just showed up on the call and announced himself.  And in terms of getting it wrong, he definitely got it wrong.  But the cheap shot for the tactic, I’m not willing to go there.  

ABRAMS:  So, again, this becomes a controversial final scorecard, because I am giving him two demerits here, making the final score tonight in a rare Obama loss, because Clinton tends to lose these on our show.  Tonight, Obama three demerits; Clinton two.  Peter Beinart, thanks a lot.  I appreciate.  Rachel is going to stick around.  

Up next, a controversial cartoon on “Saturday Night Live” may have touched a real nerve more than any of those Clinton skits. 

And later, Mike Huckabee is out of the presidential race but he may be gearing up to spend even more time in front of the cameras.  His own TV show?  Coming up in tonight’s “Winners and Losers.” 

But first, “Reality Bites.”  The sometimes painful dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, President Bush got his groove on again at the White House, this time while waiting for John McCain to arrive.  What is it with the president and dancing?  We saw him awkwardly busting a move in Africa last month. And who could forget this strange performance from last year?  Please, no need.  We’ll be right back.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the “Saturday Night Live” bit that may have hurt Obama last night and it’s not the one you are thinking of.  Coming up.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TINA FEY, COMEDIENNE:  Thank you for coming.  I love your outfit.  

CLINTON:  Well, I love your outfit -

FEY:  Why, thank you.

CLINTON:  But I do want the earrings back.  

FEY: Oh, OK. 

CLINTON:  Do I really laugh like that?

FEY:  Oh, well, well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Hillary Clinton poking some fun at herself among her other recent comedy show appearances that may have helped to humanize her in yesterday’s voting.  But there is another bit from “SNL” that spoofs Obama in efforts to keep Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton at a distance from his campaign that’s pretty controversial.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  We are bringing people together and we have the momentum and nothing can spoil it now.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Senator, I’m here. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Quick, Michelle, distract the media. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Jesse, terrific.  Follow me.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Very well. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I am so proud to have you here, Jesse.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Why must we always meet in a broom closet?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Because no one can be privy to our secret strategy sessions.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Well, I’m ready to join the campaign, Senator.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Jesse, I think right now, I need to employ your strengths abroad and I want to send you to Botswana to brief me on the conditions there.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  But you just sent me to Botswana.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Right.  I meant Lower Zambuda(ph).  You are my special envoy, Jesse.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  But Senator, I was to help the campaign.  Look, I prepared 100 rhymes for the word “change.”  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Strange.  Mange.  Tremendous.  “Pange?”    

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Like turn the page.  In Africa, you would say the change lines like, “We have change!”  And I’d say, “Time to turn the pange!”  It is all in the delivery.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Well, I would love the do that.  It is about bringing people together and I am the one who can do that from day one.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Who is the question Clinton must answer-

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Senator -

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  You can wake him in five minutes.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Oh, come in.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I will. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  How was East Paraguay?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Well, it turns out there is no East Paraguay.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I want you everywhere I speak.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes.  That’s why I want you to wear this honorary collar.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Honorary collar?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  It seems you are a key member to my team, and only my team can remove that collar.  It’s metallic. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Hell, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  My next speech is in Amarillo and I will meet you there.  

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  You got it.  Excuse me.  I have to be with the senator, because I am supposed to - ow!  This is criminality. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Joining me now is Chuck Nice from VH1’s “Best Week Ever,” and back with us is Rachel Maddow.  All right.  Chuck, did this one touch a nerve maybe a little bit more than just Hillary Clinton making fun of herself?  And could this actually had that sort of fear of Obama?

CHUCK NICE, “BEST WEEK EVER”:  Yes, of course.  Here is the deal.  When you look at this skit, even though it is animated, there is a surreptitious quality it to.  And basically, what it’s saying is even though Obama has no ties to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton - and as a matter of fact neither one of them have officially endorsed him in any way, shape or form. They are making tied to them.  And that’s the surreptitious quality of what’s going on in this particular cartoon.  However, I will say, Al Sharpton getting shocked by a collar is funny.  I don’t care what’s going to tick. 

ABRAMS:  I mean, Rachel, do you think that Hillary Clinton going on “Saturday Night Live” helped her?

MADDOW:  Sure.  I think that Hillary Clinton - it’s like after Al Gore didn’t win, or lost, depending on how you look at it and after Bob Dole - OK, he lost.  After, and you know, they all went on the comedy shows and all of a sudden they showed their human side.  They were off the candidate thing and they looked all human.  And people thought, why weren’t they like that before?  Hillary Clinton learned that lesson every time she does these things that make her seem human, show her poking fun at herself.  It does help her. 

ABRAMS:  So Chuck Nice, you were actually having an impact.  Your commentary, your comedy, et cetera.  I mean, you know, those of you who are doing this are having an impact on the campaign?

NICE:  I hope so.  I mean, quite frankly, the only reason I’m doing this is because I want to announce my actual candidacy in 2028.  Which isn’t even a year that will be presidential election, but in my mind it will.  

ABRAMS:  What is the funniest thing you’ve seen in terms of comedy, in terms of either real life stuff that is not supposed be comedy or comedy un the campaign?

NICE:  I will tell you that - this is real life, but the funniest thing I saw but it was on Jon Stewart who I think is fabulous.  You know why?  I did not have a problem with that particular clip.  It wasn’t all that funny.  Like they have funny parts, but it wasn’t all that funny. 

And when you do political comedy, nobody has a problem with it, as long as it is funny.  But the only reason why people can attack it is when it is not that funny.  Jon Stewart does it perfectly, because he is always funny and when he showed Hillary Clinton on stage with a little tiny mariachi and I have to say, man, I just lost it.  I just lost it.  I am like, what is she doing on the stage with a tiny little mariachi?  Why are you on stage with a tiny little mariachi?  

MADDOW:  And how can we put one of them near John McCain?

ABRAMS:  Like I said, I think that the comedy stuff helps Hillary Clinton a lot.  I think it made a big difference.

NICE:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  It diffused the whole robotics.  I’ve got to go.  Chuck Nice -

NICE:  Always a pleasure, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Good to see you.  Appreciate it.  Rachel, as always.

MADDOW:  Nice to see you, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Up next, will tonight’s big winner or loser be President Bush who seems to inadvertently mock his own campaign about change today; Bill Gates who still has plenty of change but he is no longer the world’s richest man; or Mike Huckabee, out of the race, but may be preparing for a radical career change?  Who will be tonight’s big winner or loser? Coming up.     

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It is time for tonight’s “Winners and Losers” for this 5th day of March 2008.  Our bronze loser - President Bush, who in a moment of candor on endorsing John McCain seemed to admit his campaign promises were hollow. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  In 2000, I said, “Vote for me.  I’m an agent of change.”  In 2004, I said, “I’m not interested in change.  I want to continue as president.”  Every candidate has got to say change.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, you didn’t mean it?  That is not funny.  Our silver loser - Bill Gates who is no longer the world’s richest man.  That title now goes to his friend, Warren Buffett, who is worth an estimated $ 62 billion.  Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim came in second at $60 billion, knocking Bill Gates to third, now forced to survive on a measly $58 billion. 

But our big loser of the day - Lindsay Lohan, who recently caused a stir with these pictures of reprising Marilyn Monroe’s infamous last photo shoot.  But she loses tonight, not because of that, but because “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto got into the act.  There was only one Marilyn. 

Our big winner of the day - Mike Huckabee.  Yes, he dropped out of race last night but he’s been effectively out of the race for weeks, staying in and extending his 15 minutes.  But now he’s being wooed based on his wit and humor to host a TV talk show.  He’s ready to be aggressive.  It could be called “The Huck Hounds Show.”

We came up with that.  We’re so clever.  Time for the “P.O.’ed Box,” your chance to tell me what you love or hate about the show.  Monday night, I went after the D.C. pundits for once again prematurely counting Hillary Clinton out of the Democratic race.  I argued she could win Texas and Ohio and those victories might give her the momentum to make a comeback. 

Ryan in Seattle didn’t buy it, “Dan, pull your head out!  She’s lost 11 in a row and has no shot in Vermont or Texas tomorrow.  I hope you’re still this in love with her after she drops out of the race tomorrow.”  Nice prediction, Ryan. 

Debby O’Connor from Irvine, California, “Shame on you Dan.  You first speak out about how Hillary Clinton has been treated negatively by the press.  Then you treat her negatively.”  Debbie, it’s not treating her negatively to call her out on cheap shots, misstatements or blunders.  When she’s wrong I’m going to say it, and if the media’s unfair to her, I’ll say that, too. 

Many in the media claiming the media agenda on the Democratic race is to continue the narrative for a close fight as long as possible.  I said I don’t buy it,  many just don’t like the Clintons or the Clinton story. 

Kelly Bouchard writes, “Thank you for exposing the fact that the media is saying they want the story to go on for their own selfish reasons as a cop out.” 

And many of you went after me about Monday’s “On Their Trail” segment.  I gave Hillary a slight demerit for giving a less than definitive answer when asked if Obama is Muslim. 

Jacqueline Daly writes, “The mark against Hillary Clinton for saying she didn’t think Obama was Muslim ‘as far as she knows’ is ridiculous!”

Jacqueline, I hear you.  I knew it would be controversial.  It’s a close call, but I’m sticking with my call.  She should have and could have answered it unequivocally. 

And Hassan Shakoor from Cleveland, “I think the media needs to take a moral stand on this one, and suggest that six million Muslims in the United States may not appreciate the fact that being called a Muslim is considered a smear campaign.”

Hassan, it’s an unfortunate political reality, but he is not Muslim.  It’s just not true.  Some are trying to use it in a negative way.  They should not.  That’s despicable. 

Remember to send your e-mails to the “P.O.’ed Box” at

Abrams@MSNBC.com.  Please include your name and where you’re writing from.  That’s all the time we have for tonight.  Stay tuned next for “THE MIND OF MANSON.”  What have we got tomorrow?  We’ve got - I think we’re going to try and have more - Oh, we’ve got the Siegelman case again tomorrow - the Alabama governor.  We’re going to have more on that tomorrow, still sitting in prison on “Bush League Justice.”  See you.  

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