updated 3/31/2008 12:14:20 PM ET 2008-03-31T16:14:20

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Paul F. Tompkins

AMY ROBACH, INTERIM HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Pressure mounts for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race. 

Senator Patrick Leahy jumps to the chase.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VERMONT:  She ought to withdraw and she ought to be backing Senator Obama.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ROBACH:  President Bill Clinton‘s response?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  That‘s a bunch of bulls.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  This as Barack Obama picks up the super and big Pennsylvania endorsement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CASEY, (D) PENNSYLVANIA:  I believe in my heart that there‘s one person who‘s uniquely qualified to lead us in that new direction and that is Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Could Hillary Clinton be leading New York State soon?

Jonathan Alter leads us with an exclusive Democratic Party officials working on an elaborate plan to get Senator Clinton to run for governor of New York maybe as soon as this summer.

And: As the Dem battle carries on, John McCain rolls out his first ad of the general election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  The American president Americans have been waiting for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  The implication of that with Rachel Maddow.

And recognize that voice?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  The American president Americans have been waiting for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Any implications behind that guy doing the voiceover.

And the implications of these: Belly dancing in Turkey, planning a personal disco in her basement, these and other Mother Theresa moments have caused Paris Hilton to officially name herself a role model for girls.

Happy Women‘s History Month.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening, I‘m Amy Robach.  Keith Olbermann has the night off.

Some Democrats believe that the party‘s nominating process has picked steam only recently while others feel it has long since past it‘s sell-by date, but not until today, that a leading Democrat, has actually called on one of the candidates to drop out of the race.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Senator Patrick Leahy says it‘s time for Senator Clinton to pick up her marbles and go home.

In a radio interview this morning, the Vermont Democrat who supports Senator Obama turned up the heat on Clinton because of his concerns that Senator McCain is getting a huge head start.  He also said Clinton‘s criticism of Obama is hurting her Democratic rival far more than it is damaging the presumptive Republican nominee.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LEAHY:  There is no way that Senator Clinton is going to win enough delegates to get the nomination.  She ought to withdraw and she ought to be backing Senator Obama.  Now, obviously, that‘s a decision that only she can make.  Frankly, I feel that she would have a tremendous career in the Senate.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Later, Senator Leahy put out a statement clarifying his remarks quoting from it: “Senator Clinton has every right, but not a very reason, to remain candidate for as long as she wants to.  As far as the delegate count and the interest of a Democratic victory in November go, there is not a very good reason for drawing this out.  But as I have said before, that is a decision that only she can make.”

Yesterday, Senator Chris Dodd who also supports Obama suggested that party leader should come together in April to force an end to the nomination fight.

Meanwhile, Senator Obama picked up a new supporter today, winning the endorsement of Senator Bob Casey.  The Pennsylvania Democrat had been planning to stay neutral until after that state‘s primary next month, but at a rally in Pittsburgh, Casey said the enthusiasm that his four daughters have for Obama changed his mind.  Casey also told reporters that he hopes the Democratic primary doesn‘t go much longer than the end of May.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASEY:  I think we‘d be better off having a nominee in the time period, certainly in late May or early June.  That would be ideal, I think.  Because, if you get too far into the summer, I think, positions begin to harden and I think that we lose time to not just unite and bring people together, but also we‘re giving the Republican nominee more time to make the case against our nominee without having enough rebuttals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  The leader of the Democratic Party with different time frame in mind, Governor Howard Dean said this morning that he wants superdelegates to weigh in by July 1st, three months from now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR:  I would like the

superdelegates to say who they are for publicly sometime -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why?

DEAN:  Well, I think it would be nice to have this all done by July 1st.  If we can do it sooner than that, that‘s all the better.  And we don‘t want this to generate into a big fight at the convention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  So, what about the candidates?  How do they feel about all of this?

Well, Senator Clinton wanted voters in Hammond, Indiana to know that she knows a thing or two about come backs and she does not plan on dropping out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I know what it‘s like to be counted down and counted out.  But I also know that there isn‘t anything that will keep us down if we are determined to get up and fight on.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON:  You know, there are some people who want to stop this election.  And I got to tell you, I think it‘s pretty exciting that Indiana is going to get to pick the next president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  On this network, this afternoon, Obama campaign national co-chairman Bill Daly (ph) said people should not be calling on Senator Clinton to drop out of the race.  Senator Obama himself told voters in Pittsburgh that the long campaign has been a good thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There‘s some people who felt like, God, when is this thing going to be over.  It‘s like a good movie that lasts to about a half hour too long.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  But, the truth is that, I think this has been a great campaign, a great primary season.  It‘s been hard, it‘s been tough, but it‘s been hard and tough because both Senator Clinton and I understand what is at stake.  How important this race is.  How important the next presidency will be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Time now to bring in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek.”  Richard, good evening.

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

ROBACH:  So, if Senator Leahy says that he is primarily worried about the attacks against Senator Obama and what that it may do in a general election, why not - I mean, is the problem Hillary Clinton or is it really just the tone of the campaign?  And if that‘s what he truly intended, why not to say, hey, everybody keep it clean?

WOLFFE:  Well, yes, look, he can make the case that the tone of this race is directly related to the length of it, but actually that‘s no excuse for the negative spiral tone that we have seen going on from both campaigns in the last couple of weeks.  And at this stage, it really—this prolonged race has actually on balance, probably helped these candidates to become better candidates.

The danger is. Are they wasting that financial advantage that over Republicans by attacking each other?  Are the factions (ph) going too far?  And unfortunately Senator Leahy‘s comments only aggravate the tone.  They don‘t make it any better.

ROBACH:  Yes, it‘s actually interesting because Senator Clinton sent out a fundraising e-mail based on Leahy‘s comments.  I mean, in a weird way could this actually help Hillary Clinton‘s campaign?

WOLFFE:  Well, let‘s be clear.  They send out fundraising e-mails for just about every burp (ph) and whistle on this campaign.  And of course, really, money is the thing that can curtail the campaign much more than any superdelegates saying anything.

But the truth is, there is a very compelling argument for Senator Clinton or any candidate to say, they, the establishment, my opponent is trying to shut me up, try to stop you from voting, let‘s go on.  Now, of course, that‘s going to be hard to make that case in Pennsylvania, because the Clinton is really, only establishment in Pennsylvania.  But it is nonetheless, a very powerful argument for the Clintons.

ROBACH:  Yes, and, Richard, a lot of people have been waiting to see if there would be that bandwagon effect following Governor Bill Richardson endorsement of Barack Obama.  So, what we saw today from Senator Leah and Senator Casey, could that have an impact that many have thought on those ever important superdelegates in which way they decide to lean?

WOLFFE:  You know, the argument for Senator Clinton right now is through superdelegates.  And it has to be a very compelling one to get them to overturn Barack Obama‘s lead among the pledged delegates.  That kind of compelling argument is more than just, I‘m a better candidate or on balance, my strengths are more than his.

It really has to be that this guy is a flake (ph).  He‘s going to lose by 49 states.  And anytime you have superdelegates of the caliber of Bob Casey, or Bill Richardson coming out, it makes it harder to say that Barack Obama is going to lose and lose badly.  You can‘t dismiss those kinds of voices.

ROBACH:  And, Richard, if there still aren‘t enough superdelegates that weighed in after the races in Montana and South Dakota, that‘s on June 3rd, how might Howard Dean be planning on forcing people to make up their minds by, he says, July?

WOLFFE:  You know, I have no idea what goes on in Howard Dean‘s head.  I covered his campaign and I struggled to answer that question even then.  Look, he can threaten these people, there‘s no pressure he can apply to them.  That‘s a lot of wishful thinking going on.

Ultimately, one of them is going to reach the magic number.  They just hoping and praying, it doesn‘t happen until August.  They want to do it before then.

ROBACH:  Yes, I mean, that said, Richard.  I mean, with all that you‘ve covered over the course of several campaigns, you know, what is the likelihood here?  I mean we‘re seeing an absolute stalemate between these two candidates and a lot of superdelegates, as we mentioned, on the fence.  I mean, what is the likely timeline here?

WOLFFE:  Well, look, the hurdle for Barack Obama is lower.  He needs, according to a great analysis by Chuck Todd, about 1/3 of the remaining uncommitted superdelegates and Hillary Clinton needs 2/3.  That lower bar is just easier for him to attain in a shorter time frame.

But what that time frame is, we just don‘t know.  We‘re really guessing here.

ROBACH:  All right.  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” thanks for your time and insight tonight.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Amy.

ROBACH:  All right.  Democrats are reported to be looking for a consolation prize to give Senator Clinton have come up with a doozy.  How does Governor Clinton sound to you?

Well, “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter is reporting that some Democrats are floating the New York State House as an option to lure Senator Clinton before the bloody primary campaign leaves the party too damaged to win in November.

Jonathan Alter joins us now.  Thanks so much for coming in.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Amy.

ROBACH:  This is certainly an intriguing scenario to say the least. 

Has the Clinton campaign said anything about this today?

ALTER:  Yes, they aren‘t buying it, you know.  In fact, Howard Wolfson said, it hadn‘t even heard anything about this but it comes from, I can only describe the main source as a very senior Democrat, and I can‘t get more specific than that, but people have to, I guess, take it on faith a little bit that this is not just any old smoe (ph).  This is somebody important who has gone to the Clinton‘s and said that this is an option they should consider, after Pennsylvania, but without stretching the whole thing out.

The reason the option has risen is that after the resignation of Eliot Spitzer, the new governor of New York, David Paterson has gotten off to a very rocky start.  There were revelations by him, actually, of extensive drug use when he was younger, a number of affairs, and there are allegations that those affairs used campaign money.

He has denied that, and so far, he seems like he‘s going to hang on as governor.  But there are a lot of rumors in Albany.  And so, those rumors then generate since that, hey, maybe, you know, Paterson might have to resign too.  Then, they‘d have a special campaign.

ROBACH:  What would have to happen?  I mean, New York has gone through a tumultuous couple of weeks and we‘ve heard quite a lot of detail, Paterson trying to get it all out so that no one would have any, you know, they wouldn‘t have anything on him.  What would have to happen to Governor Paterson in order for this all to happen?

ALTER:  Well, there are a couple of scenarios and by the way, in New York newspapers, Rudy Giuliani‘s name has now surfaced to run for governor if Paterson can‘t act (ph) - I mean, you could have a special election should he have to resign, should there be some very damaging revelations, which is possible.  If not, he‘s up in 2010 and wouldn‘t necessarily make the strongest candidate in 2010.

Hillary Clinton could probably slip into the governorship pretty easily should she decide to run.  So, the question that‘s in the minds of some of these Democrats who like Hillary Clinton is: Would she better off positioning herself for 2012 from the Senate or from Albany?  And they make the argument, the executive experience and other things that would benefit her in Albany would give her a very strong claim on 2012.

ROBACH:  And you mention 2012 because of McCain and new reports

that Senator Clinton believes Barack Obama will lose to Senator McCain and

obviously -

ALTER:  Yes, might.

ROBACH:  Might well lose to John McCain.

ALTER:  Not necessarily, but it‘s not a shoo-in.  And then, she

would want to maintain -

ROBACH:  McCain‘s 75, so he‘s likely not to seek a second term.

ALTER:  Exactly and then, she, you know, wants to maintain her viability for 2012.  So, there are people who are very concerned about her long-term future who want a graceful exit strategy if that it becomes clear that this presidential thing is not working out too well this year for her.

ROBACH:  And, if that‘s the case, (INAUDIBLE) if she believes that

I mean, she needs John McCain in the presidency in order to make this all work.  What incentive would there then be her to get out of this race early?  It would be better to stay in and kind of beat up Barack Obama a bit, right?

       

ALTER:  Well, I think, that‘s a little bit—I mean, she‘s not getting out of the race anyway, right?  She‘s have said that she will stay unless she loses Pennsylvania or loses, you know, Indiana and North Carolina in which case she will definitely have to get out.  So, she‘s probably staying in.

But there are a lot of Democrats who are worried about the damage that this does.  Now, Hillary Clinton has not shut the door on this governor talk by the way.  Bill thinks it‘s nonsense.  But, you know, Hillary understands she does have to make some contingency plans if this doesn‘t work out for her, start at less thinking about it a little bit.

She‘s in the struggle right now and, you know, wants to win and is going to stay in but you can‘t help thinking ahead a little bit.  Does she want to go back to the Senate where so many senators, you know, Ted Kennedy, Pat Leahy, you know, Casey, but there are a whole bunch of Democratic senators now who she essentially feels like they stabbed her in the back?

And would she prefer to go back and work with them and be majority leader maybe?  Possibly, that would be the best thing for her.  But what these, well, you know, friends of Hillary Clinton think is, governor is not so bad.  Maybe it‘s an option worthy thinking about for her.

ROBACH:  It is certainly very interesting, indeed.  Jonathan Alter, thanks so much, of “Newsweek.”  We appreciate it as well as MSNBC.

ALTER:  Thanks, Amy.

ROBACH:  Well, much more on the political impact of Jonathan story.  This exit strategy for the perceptive of the Clintons, and how might the all important superdelegates react?

Chuck Todd is coming up next.

And: With his nomination locked up, Senator McCain unveiled his first general election ad.  The meaning behind the message and what about the voice-over, is there a hidden meaning who tracks the spot?

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  Would Hillary Clinton really give up her fight for the White House to be governor of New York?  John McCain says he‘s the American president Americans have been waiting for.  And Paris Hilton says she‘s a role model for young women.  No joke.

A lot to get to, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  It‘s more than the current president had five years ago and yet dependent on so many contingencies, it‘s feasibility is highly questionable.

Our fourth story on COUNTDOWN: More on the Clinton exit strategy.  Not from Iraq, but from the race.  As Jonathan Alter reported, some Democrats are now holding out the New York governorship as a charactic (ph) to lure (ph) Hillary Clinton into leaving this presidential campaign, an exit strategy entirely dependent on the current New York governor, David Paterson losing support and dropping out and dependent on Clinton truly believing she can no longer win the Democratic nomination.

Joining us now to assess whether any of it is even possible, is our own political director Chuck Todd.  Chuck, thanks for your time tonight.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Good evening, Amy.

ROBACH:  All right.  So if Paterson drops out, and that is clearly a big if, will Hillary Clinton even want this job?

TODD:  Look, I‘d be shocked.  You know, that said, you know, it just was a shocking thing when we found out that she decided that she wanted to be a U.S. senator in New York.  You know, we‘d figure it would be Arkansas or Illinois and New York was sort of kind of a shock when that happened.

But Albany is a mess.  It‘s a tough place politically.  You got to do - it‘s a dirty, muddy place.  I don‘t mean dirty, and some sort of that is bad politics but it‘s just, you got to get down into the weeds.

It is not a good launching pad anymore, I think, to go to the presidency.  It‘s a tough thing for her to do.  I think it has bogged down a lot of governors in the past and made it very difficult to go to the national office right away.

ROBACH:  Yes, and coupled with that, we heard Jonathan Alter pointing out in his piece that Bill Clinton apparently, has adamantly opposed to any talk of this.  So, how much does that affect this potential?

TODD:  Well, look, I mean the whole reason why somebody is floating this, frankly, is to try to create this air of inevitability that she is done.  That she doesn‘t, that she can‘t win the nomination.

And, you know, it is highly unlikely, that it‘s truly somebody that wants Clinton to somehow be the nominee for the presidency that is floating this idea.  So, you have to sort of look at it through that lens, which is probably exactly how the Clintons feel about right now.  And look, they‘re both—Obama and Clinton are in the trenches.

I mean, frankly, I‘ve heard, you know, rumors that Obama wants to run for governor in 2010, himself, in Illinois if for some reason this doesn‘t work out.  But you almost wonder, did those whispers come from some Clinton supporters, who want to figure out a way to make sure people think there‘s a plan B for them.

ROBACH:  Yes, I mean, it‘s interesting because just this mere suggestion that Hillary Clinton could have an exit strategy, should she believe she‘s done in the presidential race?  I mean, does that have any real, maybe even a minor impact on these undecided superdelegates were thinking, wow, she‘s thinking, what if?  This could be, you know, mine, to help me decide.

TODD:  Well, look, I‘ll tell you what the Clinton campaign thinks.  They think that the Obama campaign has been very clever this week in creating this idea that somehow the race is over again.  And that every three or four weeks, the Obama campaign, they say, creates a week like this.

You know, where they had a couple of their supporters come out and say, you know what, it maybe time to go.  Pat Leahy out of Vermont, Chris Dodd has sort of intimating that in an interview, both are Obama supporters.  Then you throw in the Bob Casey endorsement, last week it was Richardson endorsement.

So, it was sort of book end (ph), what it looks like he‘s the guy with momentum.  The polls are showing that it looks like he weathered the storm about Reverend Wright.  He‘s starting to pick.

So, you wonder, do they helped plant the seed of this story as well, so that people think, oh, wow, maybe she is done and then donors stop giving her money and then, it becomes this perception that she‘s done becomes a reality.

ROBACH:  And Bill Clinton on the campaign trail today, Chuck, declared that the remaining primary contests are not about delegates but more about the popular vote.  And he told this crowd in North Carolina, quote, “Now, we‘re going to have to go all the way through to the end to see who has the most popular votes.”

Is this the Clinton campaign‘s only real remaining argument to try to secure this nomination?  And what‘s the likelihood that she could have the edge on the popular vote?

TODD:  Well, it is her only way to sort of create some—give the superdelegates something to say, well, OK, Obama won pledged delegates, but she won more votes.

Look, the likelihood if you don‘t count Michigan and Florida, two contests that the DNC doesn‘t count, it‘s very hard for her to surpass Obama in the popular vote.  She‘d have to win Pennsylvania by some 15 to 20 points.  And, frankly, she has to not lose North Carolina by very much.

And yet, right now, polls show Obama winning North Carolina about the same amount as she may win Pennsylvania.  So, that would cancel each other out.  And then, maybe, there‘d be no way that she could erase that 700,000 vote margin.

So, I think it‘s very difficult.  It‘s possible.  But, look, if she doesn‘t figure out how to upset him in North Carolina, I don‘t see how she‘s the nominee.

And, I really think, ultimately, that‘s what this is about.  This is about her not getting so much momentum out of Pennsylvania that she actually beats him in North Carolina, a place that he should do well.

ROBACH:  All right.  Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News and MSNBC.  Chuck, thanks and have a great weekend.

TODD:  You got it, Amy, you too.

ROBACH:  Well, spring time means the return of baseball.  And for Oddball, that means the return of the high pressure opening pitch and breaking Britney news.

People some think that her appearance on a CBS sitcom went so well, she‘s ready for live stage work.  Oh, boy.

That and more: Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  It was on this date in 1930 that the great Turkish city of Constantinople officially switched its name to Istanbul.  Of course, way back in the day, the city was founded by the Greeks and called Byzantium, making Istanbul not Constantinople for merely Byzantium the Sean Poppy Puff Daddy P Diddy Colmes ancient cities.

Let‘s play Oddball.

Speaking of name changes, we begin in Tampa, Florida where yesterday, the spring training home field of the New York Yankees was changed from Tradition Field to George Steinbrenner Field.  Steinbrenner, the Yankees owner was on hand for the ceremony, but let his wife, Joan do the honors of throwing out the first pitch to the pristine and newly named ballpark.

There are no umpires, but I‘d call that one a ball.

To East Providence, Rhode Island, with a cat that‘s almost as big as the entire state of Rhode Island.  This is Alice the cat, weighing in at a amazing 22,000 pounds.  No, that‘s actually a decimal, so that‘s about 22 pounds.  Actually, Alice has lost weight since her owner left her at the Rhode Island ASPCA.  She started at a whopping 26 pounds.  The shelter says, once she gets down to about 10 pounds, they will find Alice a new home.  Good luck with that. 

Finally, let‘s go over to Germany.  We are at the Nuremburg Zoo.  We get the latest trivial update on Flaca (ph), the baby polar bear.  This is footage of the bear taking the first steps outdoors.  Look at her go.  The zoo emptied out the tiger cage to let Flaca roam around.  This is her first exposure to the great outdoors.  After spending the first three months of her life inside, mostly playing video games and napping. 

Stay tuned to Oddball for more unimportant yet gratuitously cute baby zoo animal updates.

Senator John McCain revealed his first campaign ad of the general election.  Rachel Maddow on what exactly McCain is going for in the ad, and is there a hidden message in the symbolism of who tracked the ad? 

Later, Paris Hilton goes to the only country that will allow her to judge a beauty contest, Turkey.  She tries to convince people there she‘s a role model for young girls.  Yes, right.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best destination for a one way ticket, the moon.  The low, low price of only 10,000, Celsestis Inc, the same company that sent the ashes of Scotty from Star Trek into orbit, will take some of yours up and leave them on the lunar surface.  Six people have already signed up to call the moon their final resting place.  So act now, don‘t delay, space in space is limited. 

Number two, best reason to read the fine print, Wang Zhiqing of China, needed some stitches and shots after being attacked by wild dogs.  His insurance claim was rejected, not because his doc was out of network or he didn‘t have that referral, he was rejected because he didn‘t know karate and if he did, he could have fought the dogs off. 

Number one, best example of having your priorities in check, a drive in Oakland is OK after losing control of her car and landing in a stream early Thursday morning.  She freed herself from the car and swam for safety while holding her morning cup of Joe upright.  Can‘t really blame her; have you seen what a double pump non-fat Caramel Machioto is costing these days?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  In a move that mirrors the paradox facing John McCain, today, he released the year‘s first general election ad.  In one state, our third story tonight, the ad offers answers to the question of who is John McCain and offers hints to the question, who is John McCain running against.  On that subject, a couple of viewing tips, note the gender used in the questions about the next president and see if you recognize the actor narrating the ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Keep that faith; keep your courage; stick together; stay strong; do not yield; Stand up; we‘re Americans and we‘ll never surrender. 

POWERS BOOTH, ACTOR:  What must the president believe about us?  About America?  That she is worth protecting?  That liberty is priceless?  Our people, honorable, our future prosperous, remarkable and free. 

What must we believe about that president?  What does he think?  Where has he been?  Has he walked the walk? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What is your rank?

MCCAIN:  Lieutenant commander in the Navy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Your official number? 

MCCAIN:  624787. 

BOOTH:  John McCain, the American president Americans have been waiting for. 

MCCAIN:  I‘m John McCain and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Considering that all presidents have been American presidents, it is not clear whether McCain‘s line is a dig at Mr. Bush, what he wasn‘t the president we were waiting for?  Or an attempt to question Barack Obama‘s Americaness, or even a preemptive attempt to deal with the fact that McCain himself was not born in America, but on a U.S.  Naval station in Panama.

The Democratic National Committee today speculated that McCain launched the ad in only one state, the state of New Mexico, because he only raised 11 million dollars last month.  McCain on Monday will explore his biology further, launching a tour of some pivot sights in his life.  Oh, McCain‘s ad narrator.  Listen one more time. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOOTH:  John McCain, the American president Americans have been waiting for. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  It‘s actor Powers Booth, perhaps known as “Deadwood‘s” resident salon keeper and brothel owner.  As well, as the evil vice president on “24” who tries to steal the presidency from a black man, but that‘s a story.  It was a TV show.  It was wrong of us. 

With us now is MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow.  That was for you—who has her own show every week night on Air America.  Rachel, good evening. 

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi Amy. 

ROBACH:  The ad reportedly aimed at Barack Obama.  So what does this tell us about how McCain will, or perhaps will not, run his campaign?

MADDOW:  I just have to comment on how cool it is that you guys figured out that this is the guy who played the pimp and the guy who plays the guy who steals the office of the presidency from the black president. 

ROBACH:  I don‘t think they were thinking about that.  They just liked his voice. 

MADDOW:  You have to think about that when you launch a general election campaign.  Who was the second choice, Darth Vader?  Also a good voice but blew up a planet.  Might be an awkward thing to bring.  I find that incredible.  It‘s the perfect Friday detail on a politics story. 

In terms of what we can gleam from McCain‘s campaign from this ad, I think that this kind of signals to us that he‘s going to do the typical nod wink at some of the harsher issues in the campaign.  He‘s not going to come out and say Barack Obama is not really an American.  Prove to me that he‘s an American.  But he‘s going to nod and wink at the issue.  He‘s going to end his campaigns with John McCain, the American president that Americans have been waiting for in America, and hope we get the point. 

It also opens up that he ground for outside groups to maybe come in and make the charge against Obama explicitly. 

ROBACH:  Historically, we haven‘t seen McCain put out his Vietnam experience in a political sense.  If he does it too early, does he run the risk of over-exposing himself to Americans on that level? 

MADDOW:  John McCain often protests that he does not want to campaign on his Vietnam service.  But it‘s not the first time he‘s brought it up.  Even in this campaign, this is at least the second time he has used that tape from his P.O.W. days in a campaign ad.  He has gone to this well.  I think that if I were his campaign manger, I think I would recognize this as the strongest card he has to play with the American public, and I would understand why he would play it early and often, even if the candidate insists that he‘s not playing it. 

The question is whether or not the American people will see him as trying to cash in on that service and whether that will be seen as untoward in some way. 

ROBACH:  Now, we know in the polls are going to go up and down and all around between now and then.  But we are going to looking at every little detail and micro-analyzing.  Right now, McCain is running fairly even with the Democrats.  You say that‘s not a good thing at this point. 

MADDOW:  There is a way to see this as not good for John McCain.  It would be one thing to be running neck and neck after a general election campaign, but what‘s going on right now in the campaign is that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are beating each other senseless and driving each others‘ poll numbers down, not showing their best face to the voters.  There‘s tons of scandal and dirt about them going on right now in the political world.

John McCain is traveling abroad and looking professional, but nobody‘s paying him any attention. 

ROBACH:  By not getting attention, does that do a big disservice to his campaign in another sense?

MADDOW:  Not if you‘re John McCain, because John McCain‘s default relationship with the press is very positive.  So if he‘s being ignored, anything that‘s being written about him is being written from the perspective that the press has had on him from 20 years, which is very, very positive.  He‘s not yet getting attacked by Democrats and he‘s only tied with them?  That doesn‘t bode well, even if I tend to think head to head match up polls tend to become less useful this time in the campaign.  When we get closer to the general, we‘ll know more about what this means. 

ROBACH:  It‘s interesting, because we‘re hearing Bill Clinton calling John McCain a moderate and saying that McCain was the only Republican who could offer that positive change.  Is this helping McCain to have Bill Clinton talking him up?  Why is Clinton doing it?

MADDOW:  He called him a moderate today.  Yesterday, he praised his leadership on global warming.  At the same time, Hillary Clinton was telling supporters don‘t vote for John McCain, even though there are differences between me and Obama.  Whichever one gets the nomination, vote for the Democrat, not McCain.  Bill is out there telling a very different story. 

There‘s one outlandish interpretation of this, which is that Bill Clinton is trying to endorse John McCain, so Republicans worry and think there‘s something wrong with John McCain that he‘s got a Bill Clinton endorsement.  I think that‘s a little bit outlandish, although I‘ve heard it today.  I think it‘s more likely that he is trying to say—Bill Clinton and the Clinton campaign is trying to say that McCain and Hillary are at the same stature and Obama is lesser.  I can see the idea behind making that argument.  The problem is that it has the more immediate affect of making it seem like he‘s promoting a McCain/Clinton ticket. 

ROBACH:  Very interesting.  Rachel Maddow of Air America and MSNBC, thanks so much. 

MADDOW:  Thanks, Amy.

ROBACH:  Who‘s your daddy meets do it yourself.  Oh, no, what is Maury to do?   

The birth of a new acting career.  You will never believe what acting job might be ahead for Britney Spears.  Ahead on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  It is one of the most pertinent questions in modern America, spawning a generation of talk shows, reality shows and side shows unparalleled in our culture.  Our second story on the COUNTDOWN, who‘s your daddy.  As our own Michelle Kosinski reports, the answer just got a lot easier. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Whether who done it or who‘s the daddy. 

MAURY POVICH, TALK SHOW HOST:  You are the father. 

KOSINSKI:  The DNA test has become our modern day case closer for some tricky problems.  Generally though, it has to happen at a doctor‘s office or by court order.  But now, all that public baby daddy drama can be bypassed to the privacy of your own home.  While this Youtube dreamed of a Maury Povich paternity kit -- 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Easy to read results, baby daddy and not baby daddy. 

POVICH:  You are not the father.

KOSINSKI:  Sorenson Genomics, a Salt Lake City company, answered the call with the first over the counter home paternity test.  Around 20 dollars to buy, 120 to send away for the results. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The accuracy of the test is absolute. 

KOSINSKI:  It all worked for Natalie Maines and her boyfriend, and baby Kylin (ph). 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Find out in five days and have that peace of mind and be done with the stress. 

KOSINSKI:  The paternity test joins a growing family of do it yourself health, now a seven billion dollar a year business.  This Florida company makes home tests for HIV, male and female fertility and colon cancer.  There‘s even a new home genetic test for bipolar disorder. 

LYNN DORNBLASER, MINITEL INTERNATIONAL GROUP:  That‘s all about consumers taking control of their own health issues.  It‘s also about finding ways to avoid going to the doctor, to avoid high insurance costs. 

KOSINSKI:  But trying to be your own doctor could have some draw backs.  There‘s really no oversight of these tests, though that may change.  In 2005, the FDA issued a warning about certain unapproved tests that could give false negatives and prevent people from getting care they need.  As for DYI paternity, you should know that the results aren‘t admissible in a court of law.  Though not everyone wants the court room drama—

JUDGE LARRY SEIDLIN, FORMER FLORIDA JUDGE:  I hope to god you guys give the kid the right shot. 

KOSINSKI:  Along with the personal drama.  You can take that test behind closed doors. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Don‘t worry Maury fans, there are still at least three good reasons why he still will be in the baby daddy business.  The home test costs 20 bucks, the results costing an extra 120.  But Maury, he‘s going to do it for free.  You take the home test while at home.  Maury will fly you to New York on an all expenses paid trip.  You only get to share the home test with your friends and family, but Maury will share your parental news with the entire world.  Free test, free trip, free publicity.  It‘s a win, win. 

From oh daddy to woah momma in tonight‘s keeping tabs, with Britney Spears being seriously considered for a major acting role, all because of her bit roll on the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”  Spears received good reviews for her performance, and now a London theater company is more interested than ever.  They want Spears to play Blanche Dubois (ph), the tragic lush in the classic play by Tennessee Williams, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  A producer saying, quote, Britney has been on the list for some time, but was considered too risky until recently.  She‘s living out the story.  So to harness that on stage would be amazing for an audience to see and cathartic for Britney too, end quote.

No word on whether she‘s interested, you all. 

If you think Tom Cruise would some day like to say, beam me up, you would be right.  It apparently has nothing to do with Scientology.  Cruise recently visited the set of the upcoming “Star Trek” movie.  He is friendly with its director, JJ Abrams, and is a big fan of the series.  A source telling MSNBC, quote, he asked JJ if there‘s a way can meet Leonard Nemoy.  He said he always respected his work, end quote. 

Yes, and those big ears Mr. Nemoy used to wear were the coolest. 

Respect and Paris Hilton not two things you hear together very often for reason.  Now Paris says forget the sex video, forget the boozing and the DUI and that jail sentence, she, Paris Hilton, is a role model for girls everywhere.  The top of the COUNTDOWN after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  Paris Hilton is in her prime.  How else can you explain a woman judging a beauty pageant in Turkey and building her own personal disco in the basement of her house.  That‘s living.  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, Miss Hilton knows it, seeing herself as a role model to girls. 

This from the heiress who once compared herself to other iconic blonds like Marylon Monroe and Princess Die.  Hilton has been in Istanbul, Turkey to judge the Miss Turkey Pageant.  Quote, this is my first time judging anything like this, Hilton said.  I‘m going to look at how the girls carry themselves, what they look like, the way they dress and what they say. 

With that exacting criteria out of the way, Hilton was able to ponder the media‘s treatment of her, saying that 90 percent of the stories about her are complete lies.  “I don‘t pay attention to lies because I‘m a good person.  I work very hard and I built this empire on my own.  I think this is an inspiration for a lot of girls out there.”  For good measure, Hilton belly danced with one of the Miss Turkey contestants.  

Meanwhile, back at her new six million dollar estate on Mullholand Drive, workers were busy renovating, including that nightclub being transformed from a basement.  Let‘s bring in comedian Paul F. Tompkins, also a regular contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  Good evening, Paul. 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, VH-1:  Good evening Amy. 

ROBACH:  So, this issue of Miss Hilton being a role model has once again crept up.  Despite her lifestyle and here past issues and video tapes, is it conceivable that she could be a positive role model for young girls? 

TOMPKINS:  If Paris is under the impression that she could be a positive role model for young women, I would guess this is proof that Paris Hilton suffers short term memory loss, does not own a television and has never read a magazine. 

ROBACH:  How did you suppose she end up there in Turkey?  Any thoughts? 

TOMPKINS:  It‘s hard to know how famous she is in Turkey.  Is this a great get for them?  Or is this a we have to settle for Paris Hilton kind of thin?  In Turkey, I don‘t know if Paris is the Angelina Jolie over there or if she is more like the lady that wore all the make up on “The Drew Carry Show.”  Or if she is somebody that used to be very famous, now isn‘t, but then she was rescued from obscurity by the Turkish Quenton Terrentino, ala John Travolta.   

ROBACH:  Miss Hilton says she‘s going to pay attention to what the contestants say, as well as how they look and dress; do you think she really means that? 

TOMPKINS:  Oh, Amy, she means what she says.  Like she said, after she got out of jail, she was going to do all this charity work.  The fact that she hasn‘t done it yet means that she still will do it.  She‘s a woman of her word. 

ROBACH:  We have to talk about this nightclub that‘s apparently going to hold up to 200 people.  It was her basement.  It‘s being converted.  The club‘s going to have its own entrance.  It‘s going to be decorated like a Parisian speak easy, whatever that is, with a lot of black furniture and gold fixtures.  Is this just a logical extension of a fully stocked Hilton mansion? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, you know what they say.  One of the first rules of home ownership is you can‘t go wrong operating a business out of your house.  I think it‘s a good idea to bring something like that into your home.  I would prefer if she got a bowling alley in there, a la “There Will Be Blood.”  I like the image of Paris crouched over a bloody Nicole Richy, clutching a bowling pin and saying, I‘m finished. 

ROBACH:  Yikes.  All right, we‘ve also learned that Hilton is going to appear in “My Name is Earl” as one of Earl‘s dream fantasy.  Let me guess, you‘re looking forward to that one. 

TOMPKINS:  How I feel about it is irrelevant.  I think the cast must be disappointed because the stunt casting of Paris Hilton surely means that this is the final season of “My Name is Earl.” 

ROBACH:  It‘s jumped the shark, as they like to say. 

TOMPKINS:  Climbed on top of the shark, jumped over the shark on top of four other sharks. 

ROBACH:  Paul F. Tompkins, comedian and contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  Have a great weekend, Paul.  Thanks for being with us tonight. 

TOMPKINS:  Thank you. 

ROBACH:  That‘s going to do it for this Friday edition of COUNTDOWN.  A Programing note; There will be a Sunday edition of COUNTDOWN.  In honor of the show‘s fifth anniversary, COUNTDOWN will celebrate with a show on the network, Sunday at 7:00 Eastern, 6:00 central.  I‘m Amy Robach in for Keith.  I‘ll see you on the network tomorrow morning, on “Weekend Today.”  Have a great night everyone.  See you tomorrow.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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