updated 4/24/2008 11:06:43 AM ET 2008-04-24T15:06:43

Guests: Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman, Richard Wolffe, Rachel Maddow, Paul Mecurio

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The thrill of victory: Even if the victory is done with smoke and mirrors and disclaimers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m very proud that as of today, I have received more votes by the people who have voted than anybody else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  “Votes” include those cast in Florida where Senator Obama and Senator Clinton previously agreed not to campaign.  “Votes” also include those cast in Michigan which Senator Clinton explicitly stated the election did not count.  “Votes” do not include any proportional equation for calculating the equivalent of caucus results in states with caucuses.

Senators Clinton and Obama already agreed that popular “votes do not determine the Democratic nominee.  Women who are nursing or men who then intend to become pregnant should not handle votes as they may cause several forms of addled brain.  Member FDIC.  Your mileage may vary.

Separating reality from spin, winning Pennsylvania by 10, Senator Clinton is all but clinched the delegate lead for Senator Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Whether we win by states by 15 or 17 or 18 points, somehow those have all been discounted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Cutting through the interpretations with Howard Fineman.  The latest numbers from Chuck Todd.  The playing fields in North Carolina and Indiana with Richard Wolffe.

Republican hit job: The North Carolina GOP plans a Willie Horton-style TV ad.  John McCain urges them to stop.  They say they‘ll do it anyway.

We know what this says about them.  What does this say about him if the state party is willing to ignore its own presidential candidate?

McCain‘s pastor problem: Reverend Hagee blaming Katrina‘s on God‘s wrath over a gay parade.  Old news, right?  He just said it again.

And: Slightly off message.  The Obama campaign may sometimes look like it‘s trying to be “Abercrombie & Fitch” commercial, but this is ridiculous.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening, this is Wednesday, April 23rd, 195 days until the 2008 presidential election.

And the Democrats will continue, not only continue but commemorate.  Saturday, this Saturday, marks exactly one year since the first Democratic presidential debate.

In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN:  Tonight, neither primary nor debate, but rather debate over whether any of the claims of last night‘s winner are of primary and not secondary importance.  Ninety-nine percent of the precincts reporting, Senator Clinton winning the Keystone State with just under 54.5 percent, not technically the double digit win but rounded up, it doesn‘t make that much difference.

Her margin in victory in terms of votes: 214,764.  We mention votes because on the campaign trail in Indiana today, not to mention the endless e-mails sent out by her campaign, the popular vote now, the sole metric by which Senator Clinton is gauging victory in the Democratic nominating process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I‘m very proud that as of today, I have received more votes by the people who have voted than anybody else.  And I am proud of that because it‘s a very close race but if you count as I count, the 2.3 million people who voted in Michigan and Florida.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON:  Then we are going to build on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP

OLBERMANN:  If you count as Senator Clinton counts, you need to add a lot of ifs.  The popular vote as it actually stands now, a 482,000 advantage for Senator Obama.  Once you add in Florida, which Clinton does, and Senator Obama is still in the lead by 194,000.

So, what‘s she talking about?  Add in Michigan, where Senator Obama has not on the ballot and both candidates signed a pledge promising the election there would not count.  And only then does Senator Clinton take the lead by 134,000.

But, wait, there‘s more.  In order for that to work, Senator Obama has to receive absolutely no votes from the state of Michigan, throw the uncommitted votes his way, in an effort to appease those who might point out that his name didn‘t appear on that ballot and he goes back into the lead by 104,000.

Last we checked, the Democratic nomination is decided however on delegates, among those, Senator Obama also in the lead: 1,729 to 1,596.  Obama picked up two superdelegates today, Clinton, one.

At the news conference in Indiana this afternoon, Senator Obama disputing the notions that, (A) he is not winning somehow and, (B), that he cannot close the deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  And the way we‘re going to close the deal is by winning.  And right now, we‘re winning.  And, you know, what we‘ll do is keep on campaigning in Indiana and North Carolina and Oregon and these other states.  And at the conclusion of all of these contests, people go back and take a look and say, “Who‘s won?”

And once we have, you know, I think a pretty strong case to make, that we‘ve won more delegates, we‘ve won more states and we‘ve won more votes, then it will be—and I think apparent that we‘ll be in the strongest position to win in November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to our Chuck Todd, political director for MSNBC and NBC News.  Chuck, good evening again.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Good evening, sir.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Well, to continue this discussion that we started last night, when it comes to the pledged delegate count, is this thing basically over?  Did anything change, in fact, last night?

TODD:  Nothing really changed at all.  In fact, look, if we treated this the way we would call an election in a state, you know, the way are our numbers guru, Shelly Gweiser (ph) and Evans Whitman (ph), they‘re looking at this stuff, we would call it.  It‘s over.  The pledged delegate count is going to be Obama‘s, it‘s just is - because of proportionality, it is mathematically impossible for her to take the lead.

In fact, when you start look at these percentages, right now, she would need 69 percent of all remaining delegates to take the lead.  After May 6th, assuming a 50 /50 split of those delegates that are up for grabs, and that‘s being very generous to Senator Clinton in this case, then suddenly she would have to win 85 percent of the remaining delegates.  That is impossible because of the fact Obama‘s name will be on the ballot on a lot of these places and as long as he gets 16 percent of the vote instead of 15 percent, he will win the pledged delegate count.

So, that‘s over and that‘s why you don‘t hear the Clinton folks talking about it any more.

OLBERMANN:  And the new metric, the latest of whatever it is, 16 different metrics that we‘ve seen from that Clinton campaign, the popular vote argument: you have to include Michigan and Florida.  Florida alone doesn‘t cut it.  Michigan, where Obama‘s name didn‘t appear on the ballot, where Clinton signed a pledge promising the election would not count and gave radio interviews to that exact construction of the sentence, you need both of them in order to put her ahead in the popular vote.

This campaign has done to, I guess it‘s credit from a political standpoint, magic acts that would make David Copperfield envy, you know.  There are things that disappeared like you didn‘t believe.  But can they make the statement: Michigan doesn‘t count, Hillary R. Clinton.  Can they make that disappear?

TODD:  Well, I don‘t know if they can.  In fact, just days before Pennsylvania‘s primary, Terri McCullough, we had some other, Jon Corzine, governor of New Jersey, both are supporters of Senator Clinton, very high profile supporters of her and they said, “Look, you can‘t really count Michigan.”  They were only trying to advocate counting Florida.

And so, even if you do, go ahead and throw in Florida, she has to find 200,000 votes somewhere in the remaining contest.  She then—that means she can‘t lose a contest.  I mean, North Carolina and Oregon are two places that she is going to be a heavy underdog, that she could lose by double digits in both states.

So, she can‘t afford to even lose at all in order to find 200,000 votes because if she lost there and let‘s say lost a net - she could lose as much as 150,000 votes out of North Carolina.  But let‘s say 100,000 votes out of North Carolina, well then, she‘s got to find 300,000 votes, it‘s just not there.  Kentucky and West Virginia, she‘s going to win big, even if she wins big she‘s going to net maybe 100,000 votes.

And I know I‘m like talking with a lot of numbers here and it‘s getting a little number crazy, but that‘s a metric that they‘ve inserted into this game and yet it‘s not going to work either.

OLBERMANN:  Last point, the potential for a game changer somewhere in this race as it moves forward.  I mean, John Dickerson from “Slate” said today, “How much of this depends on Senator Obama being caught giving all of these campaign cash to Tony Rezko.”

TODD:  Well, look and they look at the last six weeks and they say, “Geeze, we didn‘t see Reverend Wright coming as this huge thing.  He didn‘t see him making these “bitter” comments, you know, maybe, maybe, maybe there will be one more mistake.”

But if they want a game changer, if Hillary Clinton wants to be the nominee, she has to beat him in his territory.  She has to create this idea that he really is collapsing, that something is wrong with his candidacy—that means winning North Carolina.  They‘re acting as if they‘re ceding it, they‘re not ceding the idea that they‘re going not to compete there but they‘re ceding the idea that they can win there.

Look, this thing is over if they don‘t win North Carolina.  If he walks away with just one victory on May 6th, then, it‘s hard to imagine how they talk superdelegates into going with them and not him.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC and NBC News political director, Chuck Todd, of whom I read online today.  Chuck, don‘t let yourself be pressured into discounting the vital importance of the vote in Puerto Rico.  So, I‘m just passing that along, somebody might (INAUDIBLE) seriously.

TODD:  Hey, I‘m hearing 2 million people might vote in Puerto Rico.

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t discount it.

TODD:  There you go.  Except, they don‘t have a vote for an actual president.  That‘s correct, right?

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Chuck.  Don‘t discount it.

Last night as Senator Clinton was celebrating her win in Pennsylvania, the “New York Times” editorial board, which endorsed her bid for the Democratic nomination before the New York primary, publishing a new editorial that could be filed under the category of buyer‘s remorse, the title - “The Low Road to Victory.”

The board is criticizing Senator Clinton for running a nasty campaign, quote: “The Pennsylvania campaign, which produced yet another inconclusive result on Tuesday, was even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it.

Voters are getting tired of it, it is demeaning the political process; and it does not work.  It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party, and the 2008 election.”

The word inconclusive there is literally true, probably not practically so.  But the “Times” pointing to the final TV ad, Senator Clinton ran in the Keystone State on Monday as evidence.

“On the eve of this crucial primary, Mrs. Clinton became the first Democratic candidate to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11.  A Clinton television ad - torn right from Karl Rove‘s playbook - evoked the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, the Cuban missile crisis, the cold war and the 9/11 attacks, complete with video of Osama bin Laden.”

Left out everything but the disappearance of Judge Crater (ph).

Let‘s turn to our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Good to see you here, sir.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The “Times” editorial board claimed negative campaigning does not work.  It clearly worked, didn‘t it?  I mean, she won.  But what‘s the endgame after it working and where else does it work?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  I don‘t think they were in Pennsylvania when they wrote that editorial.  In fact, it did work on a lot of the late deciders who went for Clinton partly on the strength (ph) of those negative ads and attacks that Clinton carried out, and she‘s going to continue doing that.

You talk about the endgame through the rest of the primaries.  Hillary Clinton has nothing to lose.  She has a negative rating that‘s about 50 percent.  She wants to win on any terms she can win on and she‘s going to keep on keeping on.  And if you think you‘ve seen mean and vacuous so far, you ain‘t seen nothing yet.

OLBERMANN:  But, it seems to me that there is something to lose here apart from the election, which is another issue altogether.  Even if separate that out, don‘t you have to worry about, at this stage, we‘ve been extended—she got a reprieve from the governor for two weeks.

After last night, nobody is going to do anything.  We‘re going to see how these next two votes take place.  If she doesn‘t deliver in the way that she thinks she can on May 6th, are we now talking about retribution or the threat of retribution to get her out of the race?  Are we now—is it as bloody back as it is emanating from her campaign?

FINEMAN:  Oh, I think there‘s been talk of retribution.  I know there‘s been talk of retribution for weeks.  Well, that‘s only beginning behind the scenes and that‘s what Democratic leaders, if that isn‘t a complete oxymoron is all about.  That‘s what they‘re worried about.

What this is going to require, at some point, all of Chuck‘s excellent numbers aside, there‘s some adults somewhere in the Democratic Party to step in and stop this thing like a referee in a fight that could go on for 30 rounds.  That‘s what‘s going on.  Those are the super-super-superdelegates who are going to have to really decide this.

OLBERMANN:  Right.  The one—somebody who can take her in a room and only he comes out that kind of a question.

FINEMAN:  Yes, exactly.

OLBERMANN:  More voters may have thought Senator Clinton went too far with her attacks according to the exit polls: 67 percent, but half of them believe the same of Senator Obama.  Does Obama fight back?  How does he do it?  Can he run an aggressive campaign without being seen as rising to the bait and does he maintain the step down for Clinton supporters that she doesn‘t care about in terms of Obama supporters?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think, they‘ve been trying to do it both ways in the Obama campaign.  They went on the attack to some extent, they didn‘t go full bore.  There‘s been a debate within their camp as to how to proceed.  I think the calmer heads are trying to prevail and say, “Look, we‘re ahead in delegates, we‘re ahead in money, we‘re ahead in votes.  Let‘s be careful and not give away the one thing that we have that makes us unique.”

And they‘re going to try to ease over the finish line that way rather than become open to the charge that they‘re just another campaign and he is just another politician.  It‘s tricky but they‘re trying to calculate how to just get over the finish line without losing all their dignity.  It‘s difficult politics.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  I get it.  Boy, oh, boy.

And also, the last point about electability, which I just don‘t know understand.  I don‘t know this well know enough to understand why this hasn‘t been raised by the Obama campaign.  No matter who won them, each primary and each caucus, during this, from the poll numbers at the—wherever you want to start the starting line, more than like three days before, his numbers, I did this last night on air (ph), his numbers go up as time goes by, whether he wins or not.  And her numbers as time goes by, go down.  And there may be a little bump back as there was in New Hampshire and there was in Pennsylvania, obviously.

But is that not the ultimate measure of electability if as time goes by you gain voter as opposed to losing them?

FINEMAN:  Yes, but the question is how much time do you have?  The election is in November.

OLBERMANN:  Right.

FINEMAN:  And what‘s happened with Hillary‘s vote, it‘s become concentrated.  Yes, she doesn‘t expand her base, but she builds up the base that she has.  Though she (ph) won Catholic voters in Pennsylvania by a two to one margin, is not so much a victory for her as it is a warning sign for him.

He‘s still got various constituencies to reach.  The question is whether if he‘s the nominee, he‘ll have the time to do it.  That‘s what he‘s going to have to do between now and the fall.  Whether he can do that and also confront John McCain at the same time is the question Hillary is saying he can‘t answer.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll see because evidently, we‘re going into over-over-over-overtime.

FINEMAN:  At least.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” also author of “The Thirteen American Arguments.”  Happy anniversary on that debate on Saturday.

FINEMAN:  Yes, thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Howard.

Another day, another new campaign metric from Senator Clinton.  Now, Obama has to win Indiana because it‘s nearly his home state.  Never mind that she lost Connecticut and Vermont even though they were nearly her home states.

And ally Republican smear ad against Obama might wind up hurting John McCain even more.  He insists the North Carolina GOP not run it.  They ignore him—their own presidential candidate.  Hit the road buddy.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If, perhaps you have not found the race for the Democratic nomination frustrating enough, now according to the Clinton campaign, there is a geography quiz included as well.  The quiz they themselves flunked.

And speaking of twisted logic, former Attorney General Ashcroft explains how the waterboarding Americans did to detainees is completely different from the “evil” waterboarding the Japanese did to American POWs in World War II.

Worst Persons and all the rest: Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  First, Senator Clinton introduced the new math, now it‘s neo-geography.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The post-Pennsylvania push includes a new critique of Obama, one which evidently nobody in the Clinton camp realized applied still more to their own candidate than to him.

The new Clinton line: Obama has won the three states that border his own home state of Illinois which have already voted—Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri.  So, it would awfully telling if they actually lost a border state named Indiana.  Senator Clinton has meanwhile has already lost not one but two of the states bordering her own state of New York, Vermont and Connecticut.

The Senators are shifting their focus to the next big primaries in Indiana and North Carolina on May 6th, two weeks from yesterday, 84 delegates and 134 delegates offered respectively.

I‘m joined now by own Richard Wolffe, who is, of course, the senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Richard, good evening.

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

OLBERMANN:  Well, first of all, what kind of deep political thinking went in to putting out this new idea that he‘s got to win Indiana, territorially (ph) his home state, when she‘s lost two of her own virtual home states, and also by the way, you remind everybody in doing this that Pennsylvania is virtually her home state and she should have been expected to win last night?

WOLFFE:  There‘s place like home, Keith.  Really, what you got here is an expectations game which will be perfectly reasonable if these were the start of the process or the middle of the process.  But it‘s too late to be talking about momentum or as the Clinton campaign said this morning, “the turning of the tides,” because there‘s really nowhere left for the tide to turn to.

With just a handful of states still to go, what matters now is the cold hard delegate count.  And if you‘re looking at the races coming up, India—Indiana, excuse me, we‘re not going that far, Indiana and North Carolina, I traveled a long way today.  The North Carolina is that way (ph) is so much more important because there are so many more delegates at stake here.  So, really, North Carolina, as Chuck Todd was saying, is the key battleground here no matter which state it borders.

OLBERMANN:  This just in by the way, Senator Clinton she will contest the India primary.  So, you give them a good idea.

Our guy on the trail, Ron Allen said today that he does not recall, having been with the Clintons all the way through this, any day on the campaign where there has been such whirling, it was his term, and so fast and furious activity.

Are we seeing - is this the culmination of the “kitchen sink” strategy or is this just the pause and the big whirlwind resumes?  Where are we in terms of what they‘re going to throw out there in the next two weeks?

WOLFFE:  I doubt if this is the culmination, but I can understand why this is a very frantic day and a very busy day for them.  Look, they had a good result last night.  But the problem is that it‘s not good enough to change the dynamic of this race.

And most important, what they need to change right now and they‘ve had some pretty substantial success online is the money side of it because this campaign is broke.  The Clinton campaign has become something of a shell (ph) game, where they got huge debts outstanding, not enough cash on hand.  So, they really need to bring new people in, new investors.

I mean, really, you got to wonder why they‘re not buying their own stock here and putting their own money in, but still, spinning and getting more money in and getting more people in the door is the primary goal here.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  A superb point, why if she‘s such a good investment, is she not loaning herself or he is not loaning her, you know, the change to get through the next couple of weeks?  But what for both of them—are there any actual lessons from Pennsylvania that apply either to Indiana or North Carolina specifically?

WOLFFE:  Well, everyone is trying to make demographic comparisons.  Really, the only number that really counts here is the starting point.  In Pennsylvania, she was up by a healthy double digit margin, 16, 20 points.

Indiana is a much closer race.  Most recent count has Obama up by three or four points.  That‘s a really important measure as well.  So, in terms of the issues, I would say the economy, the economy, the economy.  I mean, this is what everyone wants to talk about.  Where, I think, Senator Clinton has proved her success is like talking about these bread and butter issues.  Obama has tried to move on to that turf as well.

OLBERMANN:  So, is that best advice to him that if there‘s anything that needs to be changed in terms of the game plan, come out with a series of specific economic recommendations to the voters of Indiana in the next few weeks?

WOLFFE:  Well, he‘s been doing that already.  I think there‘s more of a strategic shift going on inside the Obama campaign about really shifting towards the general election.  They pick up—there was a sense of hunger among Democrats to engage with John McCain, to talk about what the Republicans are offering out that to the country, and really to try and stay a bit more out of the fray.

When they get down into the fray with Senator Clinton, it‘s a game that she is so much better at.  And so, again, talking about economic issues especially with respect to John McCain, I think that‘s where they are going to head for the next couple of weeks.

OLBERMANN:  Now, the Republicans have already engaged him, they‘re trying to get her nominated to get him out of the way right now.  That‘s obvious for what‘s been happening.

Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek.”  Great thanks, and good luck on our live coverage from the India primary.

WOLFFE:  I‘ll be there.

OLBERMANN:  You will be.

You know why they can‘t confirm the Loch Ness monster is in Loch Ness? 

Because she‘s moved to the big city.

And in Worsts: Former Attorney General Ashcroft insisting our version of waterboarding is OK because we didn‘t force water down people‘s throats, we only poured it.

But first: The headlines breaking in the other 50 running scandals -

Bushed

Number three: Homeland Security-gate.  That $860 million contract for an electronic surveillance virtual fence for the Arizona-Mexico border awarded two months ago to Boeing by Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff, may be money thrown down a rat hole.

Why?  It didn‘t work.  $20 million prototype failed to get the border agents real time info.  Boeing swears the $860 million taxpayer dollars it‘s getting for the whole project will result in something—something that works.

Number two: They stand up, we stand down-gate.  Once again, the administration hype about how well the Iraqization (ph) of the Iraqi army is going turns out to be spin.  At Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, a planned sweep for al Qaeda agents, before it‘s American Lieutenant Colonel William Zemp, it had to start without the Iraqi platoon that was supposed to be in the lead because, says Zemp, “The Iraqis overslept.”

“The Iraqi army is very good at what they do,” he says, “they just have a problem with sleeping in.”

And number one: Are you sure he‘s getting enough oxygen-gate.  Vice President Cheney is out there speaking again, telling the conservative Manhattan Institute on Monday, that the Democrats did a bad thing, “The House leadership has allowed a critical statute to expire - the FISA or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that gives intelligence professionals the tools they need to monitor terrorist related communications.”

We‘ve got great news for you, Mr. Vice President.  You‘re mistaken.  FISA is alive and well, still sitting there allowing you to get a court order and basically eavesdrop on anybody you want or if it‘s a real emergency, allowing you to tap first and seek the warrant later, as much as 72 hours later.  Obviously you couldn‘t have made that slip deliberately just to scare people, or try to make political capital of the Democrats‘ expense, right?  You‘re much too accomplished as  speaker, right?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY, UNITED STATES:  Among his other credits, Mo used to host a TV show called, “Things I hate About You.”  I‘m sure I‘ve seen that program.  Only I believe it‘s now called, “COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Hey, Dick.  Stick to the comedy and I believe you finally found your calling.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Best persons in a moment and the government agency logo that puts the graphic back in graphics.  First, on this date in 1791 was born James Buchanan Jr., generally conceded, until 2001 anyway, as the worst president in this nation‘s history.  As Lincoln‘s predecessor, he held that secession by the slave states was illegal, but he also believed that the use of federal military force to prevent secession was also illegal. 

He thus stuck to a clear and unswerving course, he did Bubkus.  The tone for the Buchanan presidency was probably set when the Democrats nominated him in 1856 because he was serving as ambassador to England at the time, and thus was out of the country when the biggest political fight in the nation‘s history to that point, the struggle over whether Kansas should be admitted as a slave state, began. 

Buchanan‘s ghost is said to be Mr. Bush‘s biggest fan.  Let‘s play Oddball. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Going to begin on the mean streets of New York, where the streets got a little bit meaner when the Lock Ness Monster flew out of a subway grating.  What‘s the number for that you see something, say something line again?  This is the work of the artist Joshua Allen Harris, who pieced together some garbage bags, taped them to a subway grate, and each time one of the underground trains zoomed by, the monster it would attack. 

We‘re glad to report that while the thought of a 30-foot sea dragon emerging from the subway gives us pause, not a single native New Yorker there on 21st street even looked at it, possibly because here we have rats bigger than that. 

Let‘s head out to the old ballpark in Phoenix, on Monday.  Diamondbacks hosting the Giants; San Francisco rookie Fred Lewis.  It is deep and I don‘t think it‘s playable, except by one guy who caught it with his back.  Let‘s look at the replay and here it is.  It‘s a corporate outing by the park pool area.  They all have their backs to the field. 

Incoming.  And Chuck Knobloch was nowhere near Phoenix. 

Over to Fenway park in Boston, this time the fan was ready for the ball.  A foul ball popped into the stands.  A fan in the second deck made a terrific grab.  Then, as many of us have waited to see for decades, feeling it for the crowd, mugging for the cameras, the guy dropped the ball over the railing. 

He begged to get it back.  Nobody gave it to him.  But he does get this happy souvenir of this videotape to play again and again for the rest of his natural life.  Loser. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A virulent racist anti-Obama ad courtesy of the Republican party in North Carolina.  John McCain urges the party not to run it.  They say, in effect, who in the hell are you again?  Who has the bigger problem with North Carolina Republicans, Obama or McCain. 

And he opposes the new GI bill, but he will help one GI appearing on a game show.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.  

Number three, the best response to a “Star Wars” addict, Arwell Win Hughes (ph) of Anglesy (ph) in England, has pleaded guilty to hitting Barney Jones over the head with metal crutch, after finding Mr. Jones and his cousin had founded a Jedi church in the town.  Nobody seriously hurt.  The assailant, Mr. Hughes, was wearing a large hefty bag over his head and his body.  As he struck he shouted, Darth Vader. 

Number two, best reenactment of “Weekend at Bernie‘s;” you will remember James O‘Hare and David Deloya (ph).  They were the two New Yorkers who took their friend, Berhibio Cintron (ph) and his Social Security check to the neighborhood check cashing place.  Mr. Cintron was in a desk chair at the time as they wheeled him through his neighborhood.  He was also dead. 

His friends have now been acquitted of all charges because they insisted Cintron was alive when they left his house.  And an autopsy could not pinpoint the exact time of death.  As they say in radio, it‘s leaving here fine. 

Number one, best government logo.  Britain‘s Treasury Department has an Office of Government Commerce.  It is considering replacing its icon with this sleek collision of the letters of its acronym OGC.  Nothing amiss here.  Now, tilt your head to the left and look at it one more time.  See?  Oh, dear.  An OGC giggles and says, quote, the logo is not inappropriate to an organization that is looking to have a firm grip on government spending.” 

Your tax dollars in action. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Senator John McCain implored the North Carolina Republican party not to run a political ad that McCain says distracts Republicans, degrades our civics and seeks to divide the American people.  Our third story tonight, the state Republicans‘ response to McCain, you are who again?  I‘m paraphrasing. 

McCain‘s e-mail to the state party called the add offensive, a sentiment echoed by the Republican National Committee, also asking the North Carolina GOP not to run the ad, calling it not appropriate.  At least, those are their in public, on the record admissions.  The ad itself, set to air Monday statewide, hits two local Democratic candidates for having endorsed Barack Obama, criticizing their ties to Obama because of his ties to his ex-pastor. 

The ad‘s premise, of course, the GOP classic of trickle down guilty by association by association, a tactic which could prove damaging to McCain himself if Democratic groups were to, say, run similar ads reminding voters that he pursued the endorsement of a pastor who called Catholicism the great whore, and who again, just this week, insisted Hurricane Katrina was, quote, a curse by god for the scheduling of a gay pride parade in New Orleans.

Despite McCain‘s disavowals, that ad echoes the symmetrical attacks that he and Senator Clinton have waged on Obama, especially since radio‘s right wing water carriers declared Obama the more formidable opponent and started urging Republicans to help Clinton.  Our review of North Carolina GOP news releases this years shows them to have been equal opportunity Democrat bashers until this month, when two out of 11 news releases criticized both Democratic candidates, six more singled out Obama, and not a single one focus just on Clinton. 

Senator Clinton‘s response to this ad, asked this morning by ABC News to comment, her campaign still has not done so. 

I‘m joined now by MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow, whose own show airs week nights on Air America Radio.  Long time, no see. 

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right, either McCain can‘t control his own party or he‘s lying to us.  Which is it?

MADDOW:  Well, we don‘t know yet.  The wild internal politics of the modern Republican party are unknowable.  Remember the outrage by the Republican powers that be about the racist Playboy “call me, Harold” ad that they ran against Harold Ford?   

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

MADDOW:  There‘s all this outrage by the powers that by, but then the ad runs anyway. 

OLBERMANN:  Harold winds up working with us. 

MADDOW:  Exactly.  I applaud John McCain; I applaud the National Republican Party for saying this ad shouldn‘t run.  I would applaud a lot harder if the ad actually didn‘t run, if the North Carolina GOP actually felt real pressure, or even real threats from their national party and their national party‘s leader that they ought not do this.  Apparently, they don‘t feel threatened. 

OLBERMANN:  The Democrats, when the state parties put the votes too early in Florida and Michigan, went screw you. 

MADDOW:  We‘re not going to seat your delegates, that‘s right. 

OLBERMANN:  Even though the consequences could have been what they turned out to be.  These guys won‘t do this.  I mean, we will come back and have a segment on Monday applauding them if they make this ad go away.  Is this the McCain template, though, one way or the other, whether it runs or not, for the fall, where he‘s the good cop and they are the bad 27 Swift Boats. 

MADDOW:  I think that if we see this thing run on Monday, then we‘ll have confirmation that that it is the strategy.  You can see why he would do it, because he wins both the high road and low road this way.  He gets credit for telling them not to run it in his ostentatious public release of his open letter decrying this thing. 

OLBERMANN:  The catch the voice today. 

MADDOW:  Exactly.  So he wins the high road for saying that and he also wins on the low road because the ad actually runs and hurts the Democrats. 

OLBERMANN:  Could all of this, however, backfire, signaling the super delegates that there must a reason that comedian Rush Limbaugh and so on are so afraid of Obama.  There‘s an e-mail just tonight from Davis, the chairman of the McCain campaign, that is this 30-paragraph long pumping of Hillary Clinton‘s candidacy and how much stronger she is than Obama.  Every statistic that could be gleaned from last night‘s results in Pennsylvania sent out by the Chairman of the Republican party as to why the Democrats should not—

Have they made it a little too obvious, even for Hillary Clinton‘s most ardent supporters, to not see the Republicans want to face Hillary Clinton in the fall. 

MADDOW:  The Hillary line in the Republican party has been very out there for a very long time.  They talk about her as their greatest fund raising tool.  They say that Hillary Clinton is the one figure in America who can unite all of the disparate wings of the Republican party against her.  There‘s been no secret.  They‘ve been very overt about that. 

Hillary Clinton also knows that.  She is smart and a good politician and she‘s tried to parry that by saying, you know what, they‘ll say bad things about me, but imagine what they‘ll say about Barack Obama.  Her whole campaign against Barack Obama is what might the Republicans say against him? 

Does this issue with the North Carolina GOP today weirdly end up helping Obama then?  If Hillary Clinton‘s line against Obama is that he can‘t handle the line, and John McCain‘s line, true or not, is that there isn‘t going to be any slime, then what‘s the new argument against Barack Obama? 

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton, and argument against her in this—I know moral high ground is not at the forefront right of the candidacy.  Just in case she wins the nomination, could she not then be victimized by a bizarre ad of her own that she says, Hillary Clinton didn‘t even stick up for a fellow Democrat against racist smears, what makes you think she‘ll stick up for you? 

MADDOW:  Yes, especially if we‘re talking about Democratic voters.  The fact that John McCain would decry this ad and Hillary Clinton would not raises an important question for Hillary Clinton‘s campaign.  She has been saying Barack Obama, nice guy, good politician, even hinting that he might make an OK president, but he just can‘t win.  He just can‘t beat this GOP attack machine.  If that no longer is the factor, is she really starting to say that he should not be president?  If he shouldn‘t be president, is it really because of his pastor?  Is that the ground on which Democrats are going to be kosher with their politicians competing. 

I think it‘s tough questions for the Hillary Clinton campaign at this point and her silence thus far on this ad is troubling.  I hope we hear something soon. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, he can‘t win if she‘s going to triangulate with the Republican party.  That‘s a simple fact.  There‘s enough evidence of that to make that more than just some mad conspiracy theory.  Rachel Maddow of Air America and MSNBC, always a pleasure, thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In the ranks of political stage craft, April 22nd in Evansville, Indiana was not a moment for the ages, unless Mr. Obama is expecting the endorsement of Abercrombie and/or Fitch.  And John McCain‘s pastor problem back in full flower.  As we mentioned, John Hagee, McCain endorser, just endorsed the divine use of hurricanes against cities that do not persecute gay people.  Worst persons ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  So you watched Obama‘s concession speech last night, and today, try as you might to resist it, you find yourself rushing to the nearest Abercrombie and Fitch store to buy a hooded fleece sweat shirt.  What were those guys doing behind Obama in Evansville last night?  That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to former Attorney General John Ashcroft.  At Knox College, in Gailesburg (ph), Illinois last night, he got a little out of hand during a question and answer session.  He was asked about the sentencing of a Japanese interrogator to 15 years hard labor for water boarding an American soldier during World War II to gain information his country deemed vitally necessary to have. 

As the War Crimes Tribunal termed it, the American, quote, was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils, into his longs and stomach.  Ashcroft, angrily, answered that any comparison to American water-boarding at Gitmo was, quote, apples and oranges, because the Japanese forced water through the mouth and nostrils, and we merely poured water into the mouth and nostrils. 

Mr. Ashcroft, you wouldn‘t mind, would you, volunteering to show us this vast difference between water-boarding with force and water-boarding with just pouring and gravity? 

Runner up, Pastor Roger Bird of the Church of God in Jonesville, South Carolina.  That‘s a brand name, incidentally.  It‘s got a big sign outside reading “Obama, Osama, humm, are they brothers?” 

It‘s not racial, says Pastor Bird.  It is not political, says Bird.  Quote, it is simply to cause people to realize and to see what can possibly happen if we were to get someone in there that doesn‘t believe in Jesus Christ.”  Like you, Pastor Bird?  Because you might have read something about Obama‘s Christian church.  It‘s been in all the newspapers lately. 

Speaking of which, sir, have you ever read the teachings of Jesus or that Bible thing?  Judge not, lest you be judged.  Your name is Roger Byrd, like Roger the star of infamous porn films like “Crotch Watcher.”  So let‘s see somebody put up a sign down the street, Roger Byrd and Roger, are they brothers? 

But our winner, Senator John McCain; two days after he said he was still delighted to receive the endorsement he sought from controversial pastor John Hagee, Pastor Hagee went on the radio, where a right wing host tried to help him escape from his claim that god sent Katrina to destroy New Orleans because that city was going to hold a gay pride parade the day after the storm hit. 

Pastor Hagee would not be saved.  His new quotes from yesterday, “what happened in New Orleans looked like the curse of god.”  “In time, if New Orleans recovers and becomes the pristine city it can become, it may in time be called a blessing.  But at this time it is called a curse.”  the follow up question was, you feel that god‘s hand was in it because it was a sinful city?  Hagee‘s response yesterday, that it was a city that was planning a sinful conduct, yes. 

Pastor John Hagee, Senator John McCain‘s spiritual adviser.  John “I asked for this man‘s endorsement” McCain, today‘s worst person in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Perhaps it‘s the latest in micro-demographics.  Senator Clinton already has the bitter, blue collar, bowling, beer drinking female snipers over 65 all locked up.  Senator Obama needs to absolutely positively nail down the newly energized, college educated young men who, in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, dress alike and maybe even shop together. 

It was hardly his best speech to begin with.  Senator Obama, in Evansville, Indiana last night after his loss in Pennsylvania, assuring supporters that they were next in choosing the candidate who will truly—wait a minute, behind him a theme emerges.  Or else a very ill conceived plan, three guys, three t-shirts, all of them various products produced by Abercrombie and Fitch. 

The three amigos, the three very susceptible to advertising and fear pressure amigos; yes, we can wear t shirts we bought from our road trip to the mall.  As for the perfect on camera positioning, how did that happen?  Score a victory for Abercrombie and Fitch; the young men reasonably attentive, except when they were chatting with each other, or the one on the left there even using the cell phone during the speech.  Can you hear me now?

So who in the hell were these guys?  An A&F spokesman today tells “USA Today,” quote, I guarantee and assure you it‘s not a product placement effort.  The Obama campaign swears to the “New York Times” it was equally mystified and, quote, had nothing to do with it.  I assume,” Tommy Leader adds, “this was three guy who had been shopping together.” 

Let‘s turn now to comedian Paul Mecurio, also a founding writer and performer on the “Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”  Paul, good evening. 

PAUL MECURIO, COMEDIAN:  Hi, Keith, how are you? 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s get at this from one particular angle.  If that was not a plant by the company and the campaign did not plan that, doesn‘t it make the campaign look kind of dopey?  Didn‘t they need somebody to look at the video before the senator spoke and say, move those three guys out of there? 

MECURIO:  Absolutely, but I don‘t believe the campaign.  I think it was a plant.  Remember when Barbara Bush says Hillary rhymes with witch?  Well, Obama is sending a message to the world that she rhymes with Fitch.  It is very clear that this was a plan to me.  Either that or these three guys called and said, what are you wearing tonight?  I‘m wearing my A & F shirt.  What are you wearing tonight?

And you can‘t move these guys out.  If you move these three out, there will be three guys behind them with K-Mart shirts, then two guys behind them with Home Depot shirts, and then you move those guys out and there‘s one guy with a Pep Boy hat.  That‘s not good for anybody.

OLBERMANN:  You‘re saying it was to get everybody to think that Hillary Clinton is rich. 

MECURIO:  Yes, that was the word. 

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t want to get the network in any more trouble. 

MECURIO:  What‘s the subliminal ad on this thing, anyway?  Is it the idea that people are going to go, this guy could be president and I got a hankering for some stone washed chinos? 

OLBERMANN:  I said last night on the air, as soon as the speech was over, if you have this urge to go out and get a fleece, you are not alone.  Chris Matthews looked at me like I was from outer space. 

Anyway, it is 24 hours since the speech, nearly.  There is not as much as an ID of any of these three guys.  There are direct appeals on the Internet from a bunch of political bloggers and writers.  Are these the only three college aged guys in America who don‘t want publicity and TV exposure? 

MECURIO:  No, don‘t worry about them.  In our culture, in 24 hours, they‘ll have their own reality show on VH-1.  Trust me.  The reality is, if they really wanted to get known, they would do something to get seen like sleep with Lindsay Lohan.  Then again, who hasn‘t. 

OLBERMANN:  Is that Lindsay Lohan, by the way, on his left?  Is that her?  No.

MECURIO:  It might be, exactly.  The other thing, look, these are college kids.  You can‘t get a message to them.  If they‘re like I was in college, if you want to get a message to them, you have to put in the notes of a Zeppelin Album.  That‘s the only way these guys are going to get any information.  They‘ll get seen eventually, and we‘ll see them on Youtube and all over the place soon, I‘m sure. 

OLBERMANN:  One more back drop issue, Paul; John McCain yesterday was calling on Americans to embrace free trade and reject the siren song of protectionism, which I think was also done by Lindsay Lohan.  Behind him in Youngstown, Ohio, as he did this, there was a nearly closed factory with broken windows.  It used to have more than 100 employees, now has five.  The advance work on this was crap.  Right?

MECURIO:  Exactly.  What I love about this is even his own staff is not paying attention to his campaign.  Look, you have to accentuate the positive.  Do not give a speech in front of a U.S. factory that‘s closed.  Give a speech in front of a Chinese factory that‘s open.  There you go. 

Everybody wins. 

Look, there could have been worse places he could have made this speech from, like in front of a shut down mom and pop shop or the Oval Office? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, or that‘s an Abercrombie and Fitch factory. 

MECURIO:  There you go. 

OLBERMANN:  Comedian Paul Mecurio, who is at Comics in New York City this weekend, a great place to go see a show.  Many thanks for your time.  Have a good time over the weekend. 

MECURIO:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,819th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.

The late night programming note; it‘s official, David Letterman has again run out of good guests.  I‘m on “The Late Show” tonight with him.  Check your local listings, it‘s a surprise appearance.  I‘m Keith—not anymore.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

END   

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