updated 3/12/2008 11:07:27 AM ET 2008-03-12T15:07:27

Guests: John Ridley, Laura Schwartz, Jonathan Dienst, Seth Levine

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: The results are in from Mississippi.  NBC News projects Barack Obama will win today‘s Democratic primary.  Thirty-three delegates at stake.  It is not clear yet just how many he‘ll pick up tonight.  It appears though that Obama will get a net gain of at least seven, possibly as many as 11.

We also have information coming in from the exit polls.  And as expected, Barack Obama is doing especially well with African-American voters who made up just under half of all the Democrats who turned out today in Mississippi.  Nine out of 10 black voters chose Obama, just 10 percent voting for Hillary Clinton.  A continuation of Obama‘s wins in early states.

And when it comes to who can best beat John McCain in the fall: 62 percent of voters polled today said, Obama can, 34 percent thought Hillary Clinton would do best against McCain.

Joining me now, Chris Matthews, host of HARDBALL.  All right, Chris, this win was expected but it seems pretty significant that so many more voters today in Mississippi thought Obama could beat McCain in the election.

CHRIS MATTHEW, HARDBALL HOST:  Yes, they liked Obama.  I mean, we‘re looking at preference here.  You know, really, Dan, when you ask the person who‘s the best to win the general, you‘re going to say your guy.  And that‘s the way it works.

I mean, if you look at this, I‘m sure you could track preferability will lead the voter to say, yes, I think he‘s the best bet or she‘s the best bet.  I think it reflects the preference of the voter.

ABRAMS:  Now, Chris, as you know, the Clinton campaign has been saying that she‘s winning the states that Democrats could actually win in the general election.  But now, there‘s some discussion about whether states like Georgia and Mississippi, for example, might be winnable by the Democrats.  What is the sense?  I mean, how important is a win for Obama in Mississippi as a guide towards the general election?

MATTHEWS:  Well, I mean, Mississippi is certainly a long shot.  I mean, if the Democrats carry Mississippi, they‘re going to win almost everything.  Mississippi is one of the most Republican states there is, along with South Carolina, Alabama, a few others in the Deep South.  The solid south used to be Democratic now it‘s Republican.

And certainly, Mississippi is a very conservative state.  Look at the senators they got there and until recently, Trent Lott and all the Dixiecrats in the all days.  I mean, it doesn‘t surprise me that, you know, there‘s so much because of cotton culture, because of how people live and where they live.

A large numbers of African-Americans live in the old parts of the south because they were there long before the civil war and they‘ve stayed even though some people moved off as kids have moved north but it‘s a good pattern of voting large percentage of African-American lived in the state that were once the cotton culture.  Smaller percentages as you go northern in the south.  Go north, to say, North Carolina, Virginia, those kinds of states in the north - the Tobacco States.

It‘s just a part of our agrarian tradition that there‘s a large percentage of black voters and where there are large percentage of black voters, historically, the whites are more conservative, the more fearful.  And so, you can figure these things out.  And that‘s why you see polarization in the south where most white people are Republicans and most African-American are Democrats.

And it has become just the opposite of what‘s in, and certainly in the days of Lincoln when northerners were Republicans and Southerners were Democrats.  Southern whites and blacks of course couldn‘t vote it all back then.

ABRAMS:  Both candidates seem desperate to be declaring momentum, saying, we got the momentum with us.  Hillary Clinton declared it.  And it seemed a lot of people agreed that after Tuesday that she did have the momentum with her.  Does Wyoming and Mississippi give Obama a whole lot going into Pennsylvania?

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ll bet on that because I‘m looking like you are.  You have access to what I‘m looking at.  We can look at some polls whose names we dare not mention because they don‘t pass muster with some people in NBC.  But we know the numbers.  We‘ve seen the daily tracking polls of Gallup.

You can see the movements in the polls toward Barack Obama in the last several days.  I‘m waiting to get some solid big name polls - fulfilled polls that I can go by, but there‘s certainly indications out there that he‘s turned this thing around again, and, of course, when you win two in a row, even in smaller states, that begins to turn the thing a bit further—another notch further.

I would expect, I‘m going to interview tonight, I‘ll promote that right now, we‘re going to have one at 10:00, I got to tell you, if he doesn‘t take a big time whack at Pennsylvania, and go to every college university in Pennsylvania, there‘s so many hundreds of them in that state where he can find young people who are thrilled at his prospects.  Certainly, the big city of Philadelphia and its suburb, that‘s Eddie Rendell country but it‘s also potentially Barack Obama country.  Here he‘d take the win in his back and headed to Pennsylvania and try to win that baby.

ABRAMS:  Chris Matthews, thanks very much.  As Chris has said -

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I think at least.

ABRAMS:  Well, you know, that‘s why we‘re asking you.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll talk to him to see if he agrees.

ABRAMS:  10:00 p.m. Eastern.

MATTHEWS:  He can‘t lay down for Pennsylvania and say it‘s all those big states, I don‘t have a prayer there.  He better win of these big states, I think.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Well, Chris, before I let you go, we‘re just teasing your interview coming up, do you think Barack Obama can actually win Pennsylvania?

MATTHEWS:  I think he better try because I think—here‘s what I think.  You know what I really think—I think he wins this whole thing if he wins on three counts.  Forget the superdelegates.  If he wins on elected delegates, if he wins on most states carried, and he wins on the popular vote, and this whole process is over with, including Michigan and Florida, if they have a recount.

If he has won all three counts, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party because the party of Jefferson cannot deny the nomination to the person who got the most votes.  They cannot, they can talk about it, they can tease it, but in the end, they can‘t go to Denver and elect the person who got fewer votes than that person.  We‘re going to reject that and it won‘t work.

ABRAMS:  I agree with you, but you know, the Clinton campaign is suddenly been talking about going for the pledged delegates and in addition to the superdelegates and they could certainly make a popular vote argument if things shifted around.  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  You know what I‘d do—they do that for the reason North Koreans dig tunnels underneath the DMZ at 30th parallel.  They get people jittery on the other side, that‘s why they do it.  They can‘t get through those tunnels.  They can have the tunnels to scare people, but they ain‘t going through the tunnels.

I‘m telling you because Thomas Jefferson once said: “The whole principle of democracy is to hold sacred a single vote majority as sacred as the unanimous vote.”  That was the founder of the Democratic Party said.  You can‘t walk away from that founding principle.

By the way, Hillary can win the popular vote, if she does, she can take it.

ABRAMS:  By the way, it‘s not over yet.  10:00 o‘clock, he‘s got Barack Obama.  Tune in.

Let‘s bring in NBC News political director Chuck Todd.  All right. 

Chuck, let‘s talk delegates here.

You know, we‘re clear that Obama is going to gain at least seven, it seems.  How do we know at least seven and what would it take for him to gain something more like 11?

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, we know seven is simply the way it‘s allocated.  You have four congressional districts.  Three of the four are five-delegate districts.  What does that mean?  If Obama carries the district by one vote, he gets three of the delegates, Clinton gets two.

So, he‘s going to win three of the four, the assumption is, he‘ll win all the congressional districts, but, you know, we still have vote to count and you shouldn‘t assume that.  But that is the assumption.

Then, there‘s the big African-American district which is the second congressional district of Mississippi delta, and that‘s something he‘s expected to win.  That‘s a seven-delegate district.  He‘s expected to win it with some 70 percent - 75 percent of the vote.  He would get a five two split out of that.

So, you started doing that and then, at large delegate, there‘s 11 of them for the statewide winner and he will get minimally four or a 2-2 split or possibly a 3-1 but probably 2-2 out of the four.  The seven goes to 4-3.

Anyway, you wanted me to explain how to get there.  And that‘s how you get to the net seven minimum.  It would take Obama losing one of those congressional districts which would be unlikely to actually net less than seven.

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, Chuck, let‘s talk more broadly about where we stand now in the delegate count.  We got Barack Obama with 1,379, Hillary Clinton 1,230 in the pledged delegates.  You add the superdelegates on to that and you got 1,595 for Obama, 1,484 for Clinton.

How significant do Florida and Michigan become?  And everyone keeps saying that Florida and Michigan could change everything but it could change it a little.

TODD:  Well, here‘s how it changes it on a couple of fronts.  First of all: A revote in Florida and Michigan just extends the game and that‘s one thing the Clinton campaign needs.  They need more contests.  They‘re running out of contests, running out of delegates.

And if the magic number is 2,025 which is what it is without Florida and Michigan, well, suddenly, Barack Obama only needs 45 percent of all remaining delegates to get to 2,025.  Now, you add Florida and Michigan, the magic number rises to 2,208.

Then, it allows the Clinton campaign to worry about a couple of other things.  Number one: The popular vote.  Right now, Obama has about 600,000 lead in the popular vote.

If she can win Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, each by say, you know, a couple of hundred thousand in each state and she won, for instance Florida by about 300,000 votes when it was unofficial, the beauty contest down there.  Then, she could erase his popular vote lead.

And even if she‘s behind in pledged delegates which she likely will be, she could go to the superdelegates and say, hey, look, I‘ve gotten the most Democratic votes.  He may have earned the most delegates, but I‘ve gotten the most votes.  Now, you‘ve got to decide who‘s the most electable candidate.

ABRAMS:  She needs something.  The bottom line is she needs something to say to the superdelegates.

TODD:  That‘s right.  She‘s not going to get the pledged delegate lead.  That‘s almost - it‘s improbable, not impossible, but it is improbable.  The popular vote thing is a tall order, but not impossible if she gets the revote out of Florida and Michigan.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Chuck Todd, standby for a moment.  Let‘s bring in Pat Buchanan who joins us now.

Pat.  All right.  So, we‘re seeing now these results come in.  Barack Obama declared by NBC News to be the winner - expected to be the winner in the state of Mississippi.

Nine out of 10 African-American voters voting for Obama - it seems like that number has been increasing.  Surprising?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It is a bit surprising.  I‘ll tell you, I‘m getting a little bit of feedback here in my ear.  But it is surprising that he‘s going that high.

He was 76 percent or something like that in South Carolina.  He‘s been moving up to 80 percent and now, 91 percent.

And no doubt about it, the African-American community in the Democratic Party where most of the African-American votes are, they have really come to believe that Barack Obama can become the president of the United States.  There‘s a real sense of ethnic solidarity here and they are behind him as they‘ve behind no other candidates in American history.

Hillary Rodham Clinton gets Nevada‘s sizably African-American vote as Barry Goldwater did in 1964.

ABRAMS:  And the bottom line is, Chuck and I were just talking about this.  I mean, she needs something.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  Meaning, as she continues to lose these smaller states.  And continues to minimize the significance of those smaller states and as a result, loses a little bit in the pledged delegates, she‘s going to need something to go to the superdelegates with to say, you know, I deserve this.  She can‘t possibly, can she, go to Denver, behind in the popular vote, behind in the pledged delegates and say I should get this?

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Look, I was talking to Terry McAuliffe today, who‘s very close to the Clintons and I was making your very point and I agree with Chuck‘s point.  She‘s not going to win the most states.  And she‘s probably going to lose in pledged delegates.

I believe she has to win the raw popular vote to make the case that she should be the nominee.  However, if she does, I think she can be the nominee, I agree with Chris there.  And I do believe that the Clinton‘s are now counting, if you will, Dan, the votes in Florida which seemed to be not unfair because they were both on the ballot there, neither campaigned.

It occurred a couple days after South Carolina when Barack had the momentum.  And that is the case they‘re going to make.  It‘s much tougher to make Michigan where the other two, I mean, Edwards and Obama took their names off the ballot.  But if she wins the popular vote, I think she can get the nomination.

ABRAMS:  Chuck, we were talking about this before with Chris in this issue of both candidates striving for the momentum, being able to say we got the momentum our side.  How much can Obama say now about this victory?  How much can he say about Wyoming and Mississippi or does he have to sort of play it a little bit cool because they are relatively small states with comparatively few pledged delegates?

TODD:  Well, I mean, let‘s see what kind of victory he has tonight.  You know, if I were the Obama campaign and I saw that I was losing the white vote, 72-27 which according to our exit poll, that would make me very uncomfortable.  The fact is he‘s supposed to be a unifying candidate.

And if there‘s suddenly, and granted in the south we‘ve seen him do as well with the white vote in the south as he has done in other parts of the country but that is a massive, massive gap on the white vote.  So, I think that that‘s a little bit troublesome for the Obama campaign.  And I think that they won‘t overly tout this victory.

Obviously, anything over 20 points, I think, they will feel good about.  If this thing gets under 15, and suddenly you will say, gee, he only won Mississippi because of the African-American vote.  And you don‘t want to have those type of stories because he‘s trying to obviously be a candidate that can reach across racial lines.

BUCHANAN:  Dan.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Chuck, thanks very much.  Appreciate it.

Coming up next: The big night.  Mississippi goes to Barack Obama.

We‘re going to continue with our special coverage of the Mississippi primary.

And: The growing controversy about what Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro had to say about race and Barack Obama‘s political success.

Plus: We‘re On Their Trail tonight: Another member of team Obama bites the dust after bringing up the Clinton sex scandals of the 90s.  As always, we assess the day‘s biggest blunders, cheap shots and misstatements.

And: New York Governor Eliot Spitzer deciding whether to resign as the new report says he may have been frequenting prostitutes for at least six years.

Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘ll continue our special coverage of the Mississippi primary up next.

Plus: Those controversial remarks made by the Clinton supporter and former V.P. candidate Geraldine Ferraro.

Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Now: Two in a row for Barack Obama.  NBC News projecting Obama the winner in Mississippi tonight, possibly by double digits.  We‘re still waiting as the results continue to come in.

In particular though, the exit polls indicate he won nine of 10 African-American voters.  They made up nearly half the voters in Mississippi.  This comes as Clinton faces backlash after controversial remarks made by Clinton supporter and former vice presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro.

It started after Ferraro told a California paper, quote, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.  And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position.  He happens to be very lucky to be who he is.  And the country is caught up in the concept.”

Today: Someone on Barack Obama‘s campaign called for Ferraro to step down.  Hillary Clinton said she, quote, “didn‘t agree with the comments.”

But Ferraro went on the offensive, standing by her remarks saying, quote: “Anytime anybody does anything that in any way pulls the campaign down and says let‘s address reality and the problem we‘re facing in this world, you‘re accused of being a racist.  So, you have to shut up.  I really think they‘re attacking me because I am white.”

Joining us now: NPR commentator and “Esquire” magazine contributor, John Ridley; and Pat Buchanan is back with us.  All right.

Pat, first, let me ask you a political question.  Is there a chance that Clinton campaign suddenly wants this fight out there?  And that is, you see this huge divide in the vote in Mississippi, nine out of 10 African-Americans voting for Barack Obama.  You know, something like seven out of 10 whites voting for Hillary Clinton.

Is it possible that this divide, making divisive remarks could actually help the Clinton campaign?

BUCHANAN:  Yes.  Look, let me say this.  I‘ve got a conflict here.  I know Gerry Ferraro.  I used to run across (ph) for a show, work with her.  I like her.  I respect her.

Her first statement, you should not say that Barack is doing well only because he‘s an African-American, that‘s ridiculous.  He‘s throwing a magnificent campaign.

However, I do agree that because he‘s African-American, it‘s why he‘s getting 91 percent of the African-American vote.  And it‘s why you got all this enthusiasm in the media and elsewhere for him because he‘s an African-American.

Now, I think those are valid statements by her, the second statement, the second statement is more problematic.

ABRAMS:  All right.  But, I mean, again, you know, Pat has almost echoed what Geraldine Ferraro said by saying that the reason the media is supporting Barack Obama is because he‘s black.  I mean, it‘s sort of the same point Geraldine Ferraro is making?

JOHN RIDLEY, NPR COMMENTATOR:  Yes, but you know what?  I, to a degree, I agree with that.  Let‘s take a look at this, I mean, of course, people are excited about Barack Obama because he‘s different.  I mean, that‘s not surprising.  We can‘t deny that.

But people were excited about Jesse Jackson when he ran because he was different but he couldn‘t hold their attention.  I think people gave more difference to Al Sharpton when he ran than I think he deserves because he was different but there was no “there there.”

The difference is Obama, he‘s engaging.  He motivates people.  He excites people.  He does have ideas and that‘s why people are sticking around.  The one thing we know, the more people get to know Barack Obama, the more they like him.  So, I think there‘s a “there there” with Obama.

ABRAMS:  But this is politics.  And you make a comment like that and then, refuse to back off and you‘re going to be assaulted.

RIDLEY:  I agree with Pat, though.  That second statement, for all of a sudden become, look, I‘m white and I‘m being attacked.  I mean, the great day has come, we have overcome.

I don‘t know where that‘s coming from.  I think that‘s politics and I think that starts to cross the line.

BUCHANAN:  You know, Dan, let me say this.  The real problem in America is not Gerry Ferraro and her statement.  The real problem if we got one is political correctness in this kind of censorship: Don‘t say this, do say that, don‘t say this.

What on heaven‘s name is going on in this country?  She‘s a former vice presidential candidate.  Let it rip and let her answer for it for heaven‘s sakes.

I mean, this idea that we‘re jumping all over because she makes that

statement.  I mean, I think, it‘s, the real problem again is the sensors,

it‘s not the people speaking -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But Pat, no one is censoring her.  The question isn‘t whether she‘s getting censored.  No one is censoring her, they‘re just criticizing her.

BUCHANAN:  This people said she‘d be fired.

ABRAMS:  Oh, my goodness.  Because this is so important, I mean, you know, the question is, is it a good thing politically?

Pat, you‘re the one who always lectures me about -

BUCHANAN:  Well, I‘m going to lecture some more.  I said, yes, it may be good politically when you get to Pennsylvania because let me say this—

I talked to a lot of women, they are frustrated and bitter and angry.  They think somebody they love and admire partly because she‘s a woman.

Hillary is getting the shaft from the media because they are in love with an African-American guy who‘s an extremely good candidate.  And they‘re outraged and, I‘ll tell you, if she doesn‘t get it, they are going to walk too.  You got that authentic reality from Gerry Ferraro and I think that overall is a good thing to them.

ABRAMS:  Go ahead, John.

RIDLEY:  But I agree with Pat statement because he‘s a really good candidate.  I mean, again, you‘ve had guys like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, this nothing, even Carol Moseley Braun, who I think is a very confident person.  Obviously, was not able to excite people.

People have had plenty of time to look at Barack Obama.  Had this been Super Tuesday and out, may be you could say, look, it was affirmative action, we didn‘t get a chance to know him.  They know him, they like him for a reason.

So, sure she can say what she says but I don‘t think she got back it up.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s more of what Geraldine Ferraro has to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALDINE FERRARO, CLINTON SUPPORTER:  In 1984, if my name were Gerard Ferraro instead of Geraldine Ferraro, I would never have been the nominee for vice president.  Now, does that mean I wasn‘t qualified today do the job?  No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But you know, it seems to me, John, you know, look, you accept her point.  And you say, we all can sit her and we can craft around it and we say what she meant was and this was a valid point, et cetera.

But bottom line is when you use the word lucky in the context and you use the word lucky and black in the same sentence, and 0basically, she‘s saying, and again, I don‘t want to do the same thing of crafting, but when you use those two words in the same sentence in a context of a political campaign, you‘re going to get yourself into trouble.

RIDLEY:  Yes, look.  Luck is preparation meets opportunity.  Barack Obama had an opportunity.  He‘s prepared.  He‘s run a good race.  There‘s no two ways about that.

He said the kind of things that people want to hear.  He is an accomplished guy.  Now, look, does he have the most experience?  Of course not.  But this guy is a complete bumpkin that‘s just showing up.

So, look, I think lucky is an unfortunate word.  Somebody has prepared this guy.  He‘s doing well for a reason.

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to read from Obama: “I don‘t think Geraldine Ferraro‘s comments have any place in our politics or in the Democratic Party.  They‘re divisive.  I think anybody who understands the history of this country knows they are patently absurd.”

John Ridley, thanks very much.  Appreciate it.  Pat will be back with us.

Coming up: We‘re On Their Trail tonight: another round of Clinton v.

Obama, the candidates are going at it over their foreign policies records. 

The biggest cheap shots, misstatements and blunders, coming up.

Plus: FOX News tries to use Democrat Eliot Spitzer‘s sex scandal to defend certain slimy Republican and then, get the facts wrong.  That‘s coming up in tonight‘s Beat the Press.

And: At 10:00 p.m. Eastern, a special edition of HARDBALL.  Chris will interview Barack Obama.

We‘ll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  NBC News is projecting tonight that Barack Obama wins the Mississippi primary.  More on the campaign, coming up.

But first: It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press.

First up: Green Bay Packers‘ quarterback Brett Favre retired last week and cried at his press conference.  So, Bill O‘Reilly and a body language expert put their expertise together to figure out the real reason that he cried.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, TV HOST:  He was sad about saying goodbye, as simple as that.

TONYA REIMAN, GUEST:  Yes, well, I mean, I can‘t read exactly what he said, but I can tell you, he‘s definitely sad.

O‘REILLY:  He‘s definitely sad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  He‘s sad.  Wow, that is great stuff.

Next up: This morning, FOX News anchor, Steve Doocy suggested, there was hypocrisy in the media‘s coverage of Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer versus Republican Senator David Vitter who‘s linked to the D.C. madam‘s prostitution ring, except those pesky facts got in the way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE DOOCY, NEWS ANCHOR:  When David Vitter, the senator from down south was caught up in the D.C. madam scandal; of course, the mainstream media said, look, this is just part of the culture of corruption with the Republican Party.  And in fact, that led to steep losses in the 2006 Congressional election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Yes, lead to steep losses, except—it couldn‘t lead to the losses because the Vitter story was revealed in July of 2007.  Nice.

Finally: Sometimes, there are words that come out of newscaster‘s mouths that you just don‘t really want to hear like dude and sex.  Or in the case of the Eliot Spitzer in the transcript, “Listen, dude, do you really want the sex?”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC SHAWN, TV REPORTER:  Listen dude, do you really want sex. 

Listen, dude, do you really want the sex?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Listen, dude, do you really want the sex?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘d be like, “Listen, dude, do you really want the sex?”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘d be like, “Listen, dude, do you really want the sex?”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Up next, we‘re on their trail.  Tonight, Obama accuses the Clinton campaign of leaking a smear photo of him.  But last month, he said Clinton had nothing to do with it.  The biggest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders are coming up. 

And later, inside the investigation in Eliot Spitzer‘s alleged involvement in a prostitution ring.  According to one new report, the New York governor might have been soliciting prostitutes for up to a decade.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight, a win for Barack Obama in the Mississippi primary.  The latest numbers showing Obama leading Clinton 52 to 46, that‘s only with 18 percent of the precincts reporting so far.  Obama and Clinton battling it out with both camps continuing the nasty and negative attacks today on the campaign trail.  As always, we‘re on their trail, keeping track of who‘s guilty of more misstatements, blunders and cheap shots. 

Here to separate fact from fiction, cheap shot from fair game, Democratic political analyst Laura Schwartz and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

All right.  First up, the battle over experience.  Both Clinton and Obama taking nasty swipes at the other‘s foreign policy record.  The Clinton campaign now pouncing on this answer given by Obama advisor Susan Rice this morning when she was asked to list Obama‘s foreign policy experience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, OBAMA‘S ADVISOR:  Barack Obama had served in the senate on the Foreign Relations Committee for four years now.  He has passed legislation with Richard Lugar, to secure loose nuclear materials around the world.  He‘s led to end the genocide in the Darfur.  He has passed legislation on ethics reform which is crucial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let‘s start.  We‘re going to first rule a small misstatement from the Obama camp.  He‘s actually only been in the senate for a little over three years.  So Rice is wrong to cite his quote, “four years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.” 

But the Clinton camp is getting a strike here too for a cheap shot.  They cherry picked Rice‘s answer and took her out of context, posting on Clinton‘s Web site, quote, “When asked about his foreign policy experience, top Obama advisor cites his work on ethics reform.”  They left out the meat of Rice‘s answer - his efforts to secure loose nukes, his against genocide in Darfur, et cetera.  That is a cheap shot in my book.  Laura, what do you think of my ruling here, one-on-one?

LAURA SCHWARTZ, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think they definitely cherry picked it.  That‘s what you do in politics.  You try to take it out and make it the most negative as you can, and that‘s certainly what she‘s doing.  But at the same time, this isn‘t the first blunder, sort of, for Susan Rice.  So perhaps they should keep her to foreign policy which she‘s very strong on, extremely credible on.  And let‘s have David Axelrod and Bill Burton and the rest out there talk in communications. 

ABRAMS:  What do you think, pat?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think it‘s a cheap shot.  I agree with you, Dan.  I do agree with Ms. Rice; it does not seem ready for primetime if she‘s throwing that in as one of the big three.  It shows you‘ve got two aces, not three. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  They are both getting strikes on this one, giving us a score of one for Clinton and one for Obama. 

Up next, an Obama campaign staffer creating problems for Team Obama by dredging up a few Clinton sex scandals of the ‘90s.  Maxim Thorne, a member of Obama‘s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council, fired off an E-mail saying, quote, “At 3:00 a.m., Hillary said she and Bill were in bed and she knows of all the calls the president at different times of the day and night.  Really? So much involvement - so much togetherness.  Where was she when Monica was having sex with Bill?  Thirty-five years of experience?  When he was intimidating Kathleen Wiley and Paula Jones?” 

I‘m going to give this one a major cheap shot in the Obama campaign. 

They were forced to come out and denounce these comments immediately.  Thorne is sent to resign from Obama‘s leadership council.  I mean, Pat, is this the strategy sometimes?  You‘re sent out - you‘re sort of a kamikaze pilot to go out there and say something really inflammatory, and then the person steps down?

BUCHANAN:  You do sometimes.  But sometimes you do that and have the person, you know, take the real hit for it.  But this looks to me like a gaffe because it throws out the old stuff.  And then you fire your person.  The big story is the - was it LBGT?  Or whatever it is, Dan, the fact they were fired and gone.  So I think this is a blunder on the part of the Obama person.  They probably did the right thing in moving him out.

ABRAMS:  But again, is there some value, Laura, in - you know, again the campaign doesn‘t want to say they are doing it.  But is there some value in getting it out there, reminding the voters about Kathleen Wiley, about Paula Jones, et cetera?

SCHWARTZ:  Absolutely not, and that‘s because Bill Clinton is popular among all Democrats for the majority.  And I‘ve got to tell you, Dan, this is not an Obama staffer.  The Obama campaign didn‘t send this guy out.  He‘s a volunteer.  He‘s on that council of LGBT community, and he whipped this out in the middle of the night.  It‘s completely misspelled.  It was informal.  IT was totally wrong.  And it shouldn‘t have been done.  And the Barack team immediately had him resign. 

So to say that the campaign did this, or the staffer did this, it‘s totally unrealistic.  And on a day especially with Geraldine Ferraro, finance chair, doing what she‘s doing, I don‘t think you can really hold this against the Obama team. 

ABRAMS:  Really?  I mean, look.  Last night, I held it against Ferraro.  I mean - and Pat disagrees about the Ferraro thing.  I mean, he thinks that the Ferraro comments are justifiable. 

BUCHANAN:  The first ones. 

ABRAMS:  But why can‘t we both hold it against Ferraro for making those comments?  And look, she‘s a closer member of the team than this guy. 

SCHWARTZ:  Obviously. 

ABRAMS:  But look, it‘s still - you‘ve got to get stuck to some degree.  I mean the fact that the Obama camp has to come out and denounce it and say, “We don‘t support it.”  All right.  I get.  They did the right thing. 

SCHWARTZ:  Yes, and they did the right thing and they did it quickly.

ABRAMS:  But it‘s not irrelevant.  But do we then just say, “It doesn‘t matter.  It‘s not out there.” 

SCHWARTZ:  Hey, as long as there is no memo from the Obama campaign saying, “Hey, write this E-mail and send it to your (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(CROSS TALK)

ABRAMS:  Oh, come on.  But none of their surrogates - then surrogates matter. 

BUCHANAN:  Dan, Dan.  You‘re raising too high a bar for them.  Look, you‘ve got people putting E-mails out at 3:00 in the morning.  I mean all these thousands of people in campaigns.  I‘ve had people that are volunteers put out stuff you never heard of and you just say their gone.  There‘s no way you can control that.  This is not the old Soviet Union.

ABRAMS:  Well, look.  We‘re going to call this one a strike for Obama and you can appeal it at the end when the final score card is out, because that currently gives us two to one.  This could become a crucial fight at the end. 

ABRAMS:  Next up, Clinton hammering Obama today over a 2005 energy bill that he supported and she voted against. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In 2005, when we had a chance to say no to Dick Cheney and his energy bill, my opponent said yes and voted for it with all of those tax subsidies and giveaways that have been used by the oil companies and others to retard the development of clean, renewable energy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  We are ruling this one a Clinton misstatement.  According to the independent Web site, “FactCheck.org,” the 2005 energy bill actually raised taxes on the oil industry more than it decreased them.  And contrary to Clinton‘s claims that the bill retarded the development of clean, renewable energy, the spokesperson for the Renewable Fuels Association said, “It obviously wasn‘t a step backward.  It created a meaningful market for renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel.  All right.  So, bottom line here, Laura, did the Clinton camp hope that they were just going to get away with punch and no one‘s going to call them on it?

SCHWARTZ:  Exactly and they got called on.  You know, whenever you inject Cheney‘s name, it riles up the crowd.  You know, good for her, but this is when Obama needs to reach for his record and talk about his vote that, like you said, taxed big oil gave the largest funds to renewable energy and gave tax credits to the wind industry.  It‘s going to be good for Obama.

BUCHANAN:  Dan, Dan.  Hillary‘s statement is nonsense, and Hillary Rodham Clinton ought to be doing what you‘re doing.  He ought to come in - Barack Obama ought to be doing what you‘re doing.  He ought to come at her and say, “Look.  This did so many good things for this new energy sources.  You don‘t know what you‘re talking about,” and really hammer her.

ABRAMS:  Well, the problem is, it‘s not a sound biting.  I mean it‘s only on this show we go through the fact checking that you get to actually say, “All right.  You know what?  I know the energy bill isn‘t going to be the big issue.”  But you know what?  We‘re going to fact check her but she‘s going to go out and she‘s going to claim that this is some sort of a horrible thing that Obama was involved in. 

BUCHANAN:  But Dan, this is exactly what the press is looking for, for him to step in with a right cross and a counter punch and let her have it and she‘s wide open. 

ABRAMS:  This one goes against Clinton.  We‘re tied at two strikes each going into the final round.  Obama.

SCHWARTZ:  Wow, we‘re close. 

ABRAMS:  We‘re going to come back and fight about the other one.  Obama (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the first time pointing the finger directly to Clinton campaign for deliberately leaking a smear photo of him, they say.  To the “Drudge Report,” that photo featured Obama dressed in traditional African garb.  It turned up on the Web site last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When in the midst

of a campaign, you decide to throw the kitchen sink at your opponent

because you‘re behind.  And you start - your campaign starts leaking

photographs of me when I‘m traveling overseas, wearing the native clothes

of those folks to make people afraid -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  I‘m going to rule this one an Obama blunder.  He‘s now very directly accusing the Clinton camp of being behind the leak of the photo.  Who knows whether it‘s true?  But just last month, he accepted that she had nothing to do with it and said it‘s time to move on. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Well, first of all, I take Sen. Clinton at her word that she knew nothing about the photo.  So I think that‘s something that we can set aside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Pat, have they done an investigation since then?

BUCHANAN:  No.  But I do believe Drudge when he said the Clintonites leaked it.  So I don‘t blame Obama for doing that.  But I agree with you it‘s a blunder.  Why would Obama call attention to his Alibaba outfit, you know, now?

And I do think the Clintons leaked it, but I don‘t know why he brought this up when before he said he dismissed it.  So it looks like he‘s inconsistent and now he‘s reaching to play the hardball that‘s being played against him.  I say a down for Obama.

ABRAMS:  We‘re giving Obama a strike on this one, giving us a final score depending on how counted that other one.  I‘m counting it three to two Obama.  The two of you would say two to two.  So we‘ll just to leave it at that.  Laura Schwartz, Pat Buchanan, thanks a lot. 

BUCHANAN:  Thank you.

SCHWARTZ:  Thanks, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Up next, inside the Eliot Spitzer investigation.  Apparently, the governor was a good tipper, although suspicious wire transfers from his commercial bank account is what tipped off the feds.  We‘ve got the latest on that investigation coming up.    

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re learning tonight that the governor of New York reportedly spent tens of thousands of dollars on prostitutes over a several-year period.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back with the investigation of New York governor Eliot Spitzer.  New, sordid details emerging tonight about his involvement with an international prostitution ring.  Spitzer allegedly spent tens of thousands of dollars, according to one report.  Maybe as much as $80,000, according to the Associate Press, on high-end call girls. 

“Newsday” reports he met with seven or eight in locations across the country.  The “New York Post” says he‘s been soliciting hookers for at least six years, possibly more than a decade. 

Meanwhile, ABC News reporting new allegations from a 22-year-old escort on another call girl Web site that Spitzer was one of her customers two years ago, she says.  That was when he was attorney general.  Well, prostitutes may have been Spitzer‘s weakness, money was his downfall.  Specifically, transactions that his bank thought were suspicious and referred to the IRS. 

Here to explain how Spitzer got caught WNBC‘s investigative reporter, Jonathan Dienst.  And we‘re joined by former federal prosecutor in eastern district, Seth Levine.  All right, Jonathan, what was his downfall?

JONATHAN DIENST, WNBC INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST:  Basically, the banks where he had some accounts who was funneling this money allegedly to these other accounts linked to this prostitution ring. 

The banks raised some red flags saying, “Hey, we‘ve got this money being funneled here, IRS.  Take a look at this.  There, in under $10,000-increments.  Take a look.   This is a bit unusual.”  And the IRS began to take a look at it and it wound up going to this prostitution ring.

Originally, they were concerned there, perhaps, was money laundering or corruption issues involved.  But it did turn out to be this prostitution case.  And now, you‘re talking in the amounts of anywhere from as low as $15,000, as you were saying, Dan, the Associated Press saying the number going as high as $80,000.

ABRAMS:  All right.  This is according to the “New York Times” and “Newsday,” all right?  Spitzer transferred $10,000 by breaking it into smaller amounts.  He then asked the bank to take his name off the wires; the bank declined.  The bank filed a suspicious activity report.  The IRS believed transactions could be political corruption or bribery. 

IRS joined the prosecutors in the southern district of New York.  The Public Corruption Squad joined the investigation.  The judge approved wiretaps on cell phones of suspects.  Seth, a lot of people are asking, what the heck were they doing investigating this little amount of money, and then getting all of these major prosecutors involved? 

SETH LEVINE, FORMER PROSECUTOR:  Well, look, Dan.  Since 9/11, and since the Patriot Act, there‘s been intense scrutiny on banks to make sure that any suspicious activities are reported.  Here, if you have somebody that‘s breaking money into smaller amounts, there‘s always the possibility of a crime called (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 

ABRAMS:  Don‘t a lot of people do that?  Don‘t a lot of people, you know, break it down?  I mean because some people are now suggesting that, you know, there‘s somebody at the bank that wanted to get him.  They tagged him.  They said, “That‘s Eliot Spitzer the governor.  Let‘s get him.”

LEVINE:  And that‘s always possible and the facts will come out.  But the bottom line is when banks suspect that there‘s some suspicious activity, and one of the concerns is whether people are trying to conceal amounts of money that are more than $10,000 into smaller amounts. 

One of the obligations banks can have is to file a SAR - a suspicious activity report, and allow authorities to take a look.  And here, we don‘t know yet, but it certainly suggests that that‘s how this all got started.  And therefore, the other authorities started looking into this.  As you know, Dan, once you have money, you have to follow the money.  And that‘s what they did.

ABRAMS:  Jonathan, you have been a New York reporter for a long time.  Did anyone suspect this?  We‘re talking about up to six years.  People talking about $80,000.  He was with a number of prostitutes, allegedly.  It‘s hard to believe that no one said, “I was just with the governor of New York.”

DIENST:  Well, look.  We started hearing rumblings that this prostitution case was coming.  And pay attention, there are some names on the customer list and start taking a look. 

But prior to this, I had not and many of my colleagues in the political unit and at the newspapers did not have any inkling that this Mr.  Straight and Narrow who cleaned up Wall Street, who was going to go clean up Albany and ethics reform that he was involved in anything like this.  So, yes, it came as a big shock to insiders in Albany and to members of the press corps. 

ABRAMS:  Seth, what crime?  You mentioned structuring.  This is about how you sort of deal with money a person, you know, with one or more transactions in currency.  Let‘s put up number two as to what structuring is.  When a conductor attempts to conduct using one or more transactions in currency in any amount at one or more financial institutions on one or more days for the purpose of evading the reporting requirement.  In a sense, it‘s what?

LEVINE:  If you have more than $10,000 and you purposely break it up

into smaller amounts so the bank won‘t report that -

ABRAMS:  Crime?

LEVINE:  That can be a crime. 

ABRAMS:  Felony?

LEVINE:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  What kind of time?

LEVINE:  I believe it‘s punishable by for instances up to five years in prison. 

ABRAMS:  Seth, thanks very much.  Appreciate it.  Jonathan Dienst, as always. 

Up next, who will be tonight‘s big winner or loser in our special Eliot Spitzer edition?  Lt. Gov. David Paterson who doesn‘t really want to be the governor of New York; the other nine Emperors Club VIP clients who really didn‘t want to be outed in the Spitzer investigation; or the real George Fox who really didn‘t want to be Spitzer‘s sexcapade alias.  “Winners and Losers” is up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for a special Eliot Spitzer edition of “Winners and Losers” for the 11th day of March, 2008.  Our bronze loser, New York Lt.  Gov. David Paterson.  Sure, once Spitzer resigns, Paterson will take over as acting governor becoming the first African-American to run the state.  But Paterson was apparently hoping to be appointed by Spitzer to the U.S.

Senate if Hillary won for president. 

Our silver loser, Emperors Club VIP clients one through eight and number 10.  In the FBI affidavit, Spitzer was referred to as client nine.  And if it wasn‘t for him, the other nine would be under the radar instead of waiting for the ax to fall. 

But the big loser of the day, the real George Fox.  Spitzer used the alias George Fox for his once-secret sexcapades.  But George Fox is not only a real person, but a long time fundraiser and Spitzer friend, who had nothing to do with any of this. 

Our big winner of the day?  Light and navy blue suits, red-striped ties and pearl necklaces.  That is apparently the uniform you wear when diffusing a sex scandal.  On the left, former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey with his wife, Dina in 2004.  McGreevey resigned after admitting he had an affair with a male aide.  And on the right, likely to resign Gov.  Eliot Spitzer with his wife Silda. 

Time for the “P.O.‘ed Box.”  In last night‘s, “On Their Trail,” I gave the Clinton camp a cheap shot for suggesting Obama take the number two spot on the Democratic ticket. 

Racord from Dayton, Ohio, “How can you say Barack is the frontrunner, when he has won only one big blue state, Illinois?”

I thought the fact that he has more pledged delegates and has won twice as many states and leads in the popular votes, would make him the frontrunner.  But I guess, Racord, that‘s why I‘m an idiot. 

And I gave the Clinton camp another strike for supporter Geraldine Ferraro‘s comments that quote, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.  And if he is a woman of any color, he would not be in this position.  He happens to be very lucky to be who he is, and the country is caught up in the concept.”

Gordon Nagayama Hall from Eugene, Oregon, “Has she forgotten charges that she was chosen as the vice presidential candidate only because of her gender?”  I think she agreed to that today.

Paul Chernoff from Columbia, South Carolina, “Ms. Ferraro should not be ostracized for an intelligent statement of a sensitive issue.” 

And yesterday, we announced the launch of our new show, “VERDICT” which premieres on Monday.  Peggy Roney, from Avondale Estates, Georgia, “Please don‘t tell me your show is being replaced by some show called “VERDICT,” which you mentioned tonight.  “VERDICT” sounds like another justice show.” 

Peggy, it will be the same show, but better.  It‘s always nice to hear your feedback.  E-mail to us at Abrams@MSNBC.com.  Chris Matthews, a special edition of “HARD BALL,” next.

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

END   

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