updated 5/20/2008 3:04:03 PM ET 2008-05-20T19:04:03

Guest: Maria Cardona, Brad Blakeman, Laura Schwartz

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Hi, everyone.  It’s less than 12 hours until the Democratic primaries in Kentucky and Oregon, the final big battlegrounds in the fight for the Democratic nomination.

Today, Obama expanding his delegate lead to 181 with five more superdelegates going his way.  And now, many Obama supporters hope they can effectively declare victory tomorrow night, Obama has said he thinks that is possible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS”/MAY 8)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If at that point, we have the majority of pledged delegates, which is possible, then I think we can make a pretty strong claim that, yes, we’ve got the most runs and it’s the ninth inning and we’ve won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well, it may seem Hillary Clinton has no real path to victory, she’s not talking like someone ready to drop out.  And the latest polls from Kentucky and Oregon are only backing up her case.  Clinton now up by 25 points over Obama in Kentucky.  And according to one new poll, Clinton has closed the gap significantly in Oregon.  Now, in that poll, down by just four points.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This is nowhere near over.  None of us is going to have the number of delegates we’re going to need to get to the nomination.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON:  Although, I understand my opponent and his supporters are going to claim that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And forget about Clinton, the part unifier preparing for her exit, today, she blasted Obama for not debating her in Oregon, saying, quote, “He’d rather just talk to giant crowds and have questions asked.”

And yes, he did have a giant crowd this weekend, about 75,000 supporters came to a rally in Oregon.

So, two questions.  One: Why is Clinton talking tough again as if she has any real shot?  And two: if this is basically over, why are the voters of Kentucky ready to give her an overwhelming win?

Joining us now: Political analyst, Lawrence, Norah O’Donnell; senior adviser to the Clinton campaign, Maria Cardona; and Republican strategist, Brad Blakeman.  Thanks to all of you.  Appreciate it.

All right.  Lawrence, let’s start with question number two.  Accepting the fact that Clinton doesn’t have any path to victory, why are the voters of Kentucky ready to give her an overwhelming victory tomorrow?

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, you know, they like her better.  They’re more familiar with Hillary Clinton.  And so, you know, that’s one state.  We’ve seen them go back and forth, these candidates.  She’s a strong candidate.  I mean, she’s going to lose, she’s going to come in second, but she’s going to come in a very strong second.

So, strong candidates like Hillary Clinton win.  Barack Obama has won more.  It’s over.  The Clinton campaign knows it’s over.  Hillary has to make some argument.  And so this statistical argument that she’s out there making these days is a perfectly reasonable one for her to make but she’s doing any negative campaign, she doesn’t say anything negative about Obama since Indiana.

ABRAMS:  But what about what I’d just said, Lawrence.  Wait, Lawrence.

O’DONNELL:  That’s not negative.

ABRAMS:  That’s not negative saying he won’t answer the questions?  I mean, that’s.

O’DONNELL:  No, come on.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But Lawrence, look, I agree with you.  Look, I agree with you but last week we heard nothing like that from Hillary Clinton.  We heard only unifier talk.

O’DONNELL:  No, listen—when the guy goes out there and gets 75,000 people, which is never - let’s get it straight—never happened before in the history of American politics, the other candidate has to say something so she does this, you know, completely ineffectual way of poo-pooing (ph) the 75,000 people saying, “I wish he would debate instead.”  I mean, that’s nothing, that’s not negative.

ABRAMS:  Look, Maria, I agree that this is not negative as (A), we’ve seen in this campaign or, (B) as we’ve seen in other campaigns.  But still, this is a different tone to me than we heard last week where Hillary Clinton was saying, “I’m going to support over the nominee,” et cetera, she wasn’t talking about Barack Obama.  She’s now talking about Barack Obama again and some people are going to say—if she’s got no real shot, why doesn’t she just talk about John McCain and just help the party?

MARIA CARDONA, CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISOR:  Well, look, I think one of reasons is because she is underscoring the fact that the Obama campaign does need to tread lightly.  This is not over.  There are still millions of voters that need to be heard and are excited and passionate about going to the polls and making their voices heard.  So, I think that the point that she’s trying to make is that if Senator Obama supporters come out and claim victory tomorrow night, it is something that is premature and that would be a slap in the face of the voters that are still waiting very passionately and excited about going to the polls and voting in the upcoming contests.

ABRAMS:  Brad, let me ask this for straight political analysis on that.  Do you expect that the Obama camp will, in any way, declare victory if they’re ahead in pledged delegates tomorrow night?

BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  They absolutely should.  There’s no reason why they should not.  But I don’t - I hate to rein in the Democrats fray.  They’re doing such a good job knocking each other out.  It actually is very bad for their party to have this kind of fight to continue.

The Republicans can do the best by staying on the sidelines and just let the Democrats have at it.  But having said that, I think Barack Obama as you’ve seen in the last week taking on President Bush, taking on John McCain directly, that he’s pretty much dismissed Senator Clinton and he is the presumptive nominee of this party, regardless of what happens tomorrow.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But again, Lawrence, I go back to this question about Kentucky.  I mean, you made the point that, look—she’s won some, he’s won some.

But this is different.  I mean, as you correctly point out, Lawrence, most people who are looking at the numbers are saying—this is done, this is over.  She’s got no shot.  Then, how does she win by 25 points anywhere?  Lawrence?

O’DONNELL:  Well, you know - look, I go back to this point.  She’s a very, very strong candidate.  And Obama is a very weak candidate going against her in certain places - you know, he couldn’t have been weaker in West Virginia, he couldn’t have been weaker probably tomorrow in Kentucky.  That happens.  She got wiped out by Obama in some states and so - you know, they’re both really strong candidates and she’s going to be landing punches in terms of the vote count right up to the end here.

CARDONA:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Go ahead, real quick, Maria, and I want to ask about Karl Rove.  Yes?

CARDONA:  Sure.  What I will say is that even though Senator Clinton has mentioned Senator Obama in terms of he has to be careful tomorrow night in claiming victory, it still hasn’t changed that she as well as Senator Obama have both said and I believe wholeheartedly mean that they will support whoever the Democratic nominee is.  But the point is that we don’t have a nominee yet, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Let’s translate, Maria.  Come on.  That means that Hillary Clinton is saying—I know I have no real shot here and I’m going to support Barack Obama.

CARDONA:  No, absolutely not.

ABRAMS:  Really?  OK.

CARDONA:  No, she is not saying that.  What she is saying is that we don’t have a nominee yet and until we have a nominee, she is going to continue to work very hard to be that nominee.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Maria, I want to ask both of you and Brad about this—this is Hillary Clinton citing Karl Rove, of all people, about why she—let’s just listen.  Here’s the sound byte.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Today, I found some curious support for that position, when one of the TV networks released an analysis done by—of all people—

Karl Rove saying that I was the stronger candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Maria, I mean, that just seems like such a foolish thing for her to say.  I mean, the notion that somehow Karl Rove is providing objective analysis just seems silly.

CARDONA:  Well, again, I think the point that she’s trying to make is that a lot of voters have actually come out and said with the overwhelming vote count that she has in West Virginia.

ABRAMS:  That’s not point she made.  Hang on.  We’re talking about Karl Rove here.

CARDONA:  All of these polls show that she is the stronger candidate against John McCain.

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, that’s fine.  But what is she doing?  I mean, Brad, this is your guy, Karl Rove.  Hillary Clinton in this report is citing Karl Rove.

(LAUGHTER)

BLAKEMAN:  Hey, Dan, when Hillary Clinton starts quoting Karl Rove as support for her position, you know it’s over.

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I mean - Lawrence, I mean, that seems to me just.

CARDONA:  Or can just be the beginning.

ABRAMS:  But, Lawrence, also strategically it seems to me that that’s a very bad, I mean, is Hillary Clinton now looking for the Rove element in the Democratic Party because I don’t think it exists?

O’DONNELL:  You know, there was a great appearance by Albert Brooks on the “Tonight Show,” he’s done a series of great stand-up appearances and he came out one night beginning by just saying, “I’ve run out of material.”  And it turned out to be his funniest night.  Hillary’s run out of material.  I mean, really, once their down to citing Karl Rove’s analysis of where this race stands, Hillary has run out of material, she’s lucky that there’s only a few more days left in this campaign.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me ask, Maria.

CARDONA:  But you know what the point is, Dan, is that all of you in the media want to just completely discount her.  She won 41 percent over Senator Obama last week in West Virginia.  Like you said at the beginning, how can somebody who’s a presumptive nominee be beat by so many points and it’s going to happen again tomorrow in Kentucky.

ABRAMS:  Look, wait - that’s why you may be talking about other.

CARDONA:  So, you know, you point out that that should be a very strong argument to the superdelegates that she is the better candidate to go up against John McCain.

ABRAMS:  She can claim that the media doesn’t bring that up but since you’ve just quoted me as having said it, I guess I’m not part of that media who’s not discussing it.  I am discussing it but the bottom line is, it doesn’t change the reality when it comes to the numbers.

CARDONA:  You’re special, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Well, thank so much.  But let me ask - I’ll get a final question on this.  Geraldine Ferraro quoted in the “New York Times” today saying she thinks “Obama was terribly sexist.”  Again, Maria, if this were still a close race, would that be helpful to the Hillary Clinton camp?

CARDONA:  No, certainly not.  And Geraldine Ferraro does not speak for Senator Clinton and she does not speak for the campaign and she doesn’t work for the campaign.  We don’t think that that kind of talk is helpful.  She wants to focus on the issues.  And that’s what she’s going to continue to do in these upcoming contests.

ABRAMS:  So, all right.  Real quick, Maria, what percent chance does Hillary Clinton have to have to win this thing?

CARDONA:  We’ll see at the end of the contest.

ABRAMS:  I know, how much you’re going to give anything over a spot (ph)?

CARDONA:  As you know, Dan, and somebody who’s been covering politics for a long time, a day is a lifetime in politics and anything can happen.

O’DONNELL:  Not anymore, not in this campaign.

CARDONA:  This is not over until it’s over.

ABRAMS:  I’m going to say you’ll be smart not to answer this.  But I’d love to hear a percentage chance, Maria, if you’re going to throw it out there.  No?

CARDONA:  No.  I’m just going to say that anything can happen.  This thing is not over.  A lot of votes still need to be counted.

ABRAMS:  Everyone is staying with us.

O’DONNELL:  It’s about the same as the percentage of chance of rain in Los Angeles tomorrow, that’s about what it is.

ABRAMS:  Well, since most of us don’t have the weather channel up, we don’t know what the chance is.

O’DONNELL:  Zero.

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Obama comes out swinging warning Republicans “to stay away from my wife.”  Is she fair game for the GOP?

And the show that helps define the campaign this year gets in one last shot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE/FEMALE:  From the hope of the future—to the back bone of the party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hard-working white people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE/FEMALE:  Now, two candidates remain only mathematically viable - it’s anyone’s race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  McCain even went on “SNL” and made fun of his own age.  Did it work?

Plus: Border officials say they check ID for everyone trying to evacuate anywhere near the border, not on the border during a hurricane.  Border officials putting, at least some of them—putting citizenship above safety: another reason Why America Hates Washington, in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  And it’s time for tonight’s edition of Why America Hates Washington: Customs and Border officials checking hurricane evacuees for citizenship, even if they’re not at a border.  A Texas border official spokesman confirmed it will be, quote, “business as usual” at check points in bus boarding locations inside the U.S. even during a hurricane or other natural disaster.  Nothing wrong with strict rules at the border but enforcing other checkpoints during a disaster, didn’t we learn anything from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Border officials putting American safety second: another reason Why America Hates Washington.

We’re back with Barack Obama saying, “Stay away from my wife” to the GOP.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We’re back.

Last week, we reported about the Tennessee GOP going after Michelle Obama.  Today in his sternest comments yet, her hubby Barack, warned them - - steer clear of Michelle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”/ ABC)

OBAMA:  The GOP, should I be the nominee, I think, can say whatever they want to say about me, my track record.  If they think that they’re going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful because that I find unacceptable—the notion that you start attacking my wife or my family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Senator Obama’s remarks come after the Tennessee Republican Party aired a campaign video which used a remark Michelle Obama made earlier this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TN REPUBLICAN PARTY CAMPAIGN AD)

MICHELLE OBAMA, SEN. OBAMA’S WIFE:  Let me tell you something, for the first time in my adult lifetime I’m proud of my country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am proud of this country each and every day for the freedom and our Democratic form of government unlike other countries around the world that don’t enjoy our system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I’m proud of my country because of freedom of religion, so if my pastor goes on a wild political tirade, I can just walk out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  In that interview today, Obama ripped apart the video and called the GOP tactic “low class.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”/ABC)

OBAMA:  For them to try to distort or to play snippets of her remark in ways that are unflattering to her I think is just low class.  And I think that most of the American people would think that as well.  I also think these folks should lay off my wife.  All right?  Just in case they’re watching.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Is anyone going to argue, it’s not low class?  But even more important, is Michelle Obama political fair game?

All right.  Brad Blakeman, I know you want to answer the question about fair game.  But let me ask you the other question first.  Isn’t it low class?

BLAKEMAN:  It is not low class.

ABRAMS:  Really?

BLAKEMAN:  She didn’t say this in a private conversation that was overheard.  She said this as a surrogate of her husband, in front of literally thousands and thousands of people.  And it was statement that a lot of Americans don’t agree with.

They believe a lot of good things have happened in America since her husband became the presumptive nominee, or run for president of the United States, a lot of good things have happened.  And for her to say this is the first time that she’s proud of America, yes, she’s fair game.  And when she says these remarks, she’s saying it in behalf of her husband.

ABRAMS:  And it was first time I really proud - proud, there’s the dispute.  She said it in two different times.  But, Lawrence, is it fair game?

O’DONNELL:  Oh, sure it’s fair game.  Brad is right.  She was giving a political speech.  You know, so, any political speech can be used in the campaign by the other campaign.  What Obama is right about is that most Americans do agree that the wife, the spouse is off-limits and the way he rows to her defense is something that will appeal to most Americans.

So, I think it’s a mistake on the Republican side to play it this way because the people who will like that commercial against Michelle Obama are already locked into voting for John McCain.  That’s not going to turn people toward McCain.

ABRAMS:  Here was Michelle Obama explaining what she meant by that comment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FEBRUARY 20, WJAR-TV)

M. OBAMA:  What I was clearly talking about was that I’m proud in how Americans are engaging in the political process.  For the first time in my lifetime, I’m seeing people rolling up their sleeves in a way that I haven’t seen and really trying to figure this out.  And that’s the source of pride that I was talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right, Maria, that’s her explanation.  Look—the bottom line, as we can sit here, we can debate what she said, what she didn’t say, but the bottom line is Obama is saying, it’s “low class,” outs of line, “don’t go after my wife.”  Is Michelle Obama fair game?

CARDONA:  I think it’s atrocious and I think that it is something that the American people aren’t going to go for ultimately.  But it’s not surprising.  It’s the Republican Party.  It’s what they do.  It’s what they do best, the Karl Rove political playbook.  And I think.

BLAKEMAN:  Come on, please.

CARDONA:  You know it’s true.

BLAKEMAN:  First of all, the Obama campaign.

CARDONA:  And it is something - it’s something that we have to be prepared for.

BLAKEMAN:  The Obama campaign attacked Cindy McCain.  They are attacking Cindy McCain as we speak requiring her to turn over her tax returns - tax returns that they filed separately since they were married, they have private property and Obama’s people insisting.

CARDONA:  That’s not a person attack, it’s very different.

BLAKEMAN:  Yes, it is.  It’s her personal property.  It’s not anybody’s business what her net worth is.

CARDONA:  But it’s not a personal attack on her on her character.

BLAKEMAN:  Come on, you guys want it both ways.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Wait.  Hang on.  Lawrence, is this a personal attack?  I guess that’s the real question.

O’DONNELL:  Well, almost.  Look, she said this in a political speech.  Now, the intent of the ad is to get you to personally hate Michelle Obama, that’s the intent of the ad.  That’s not going to work and Barack Obama’s defense of his wife is going to be very, very appealing to the huge majority of Americans but hard core right wingers are going to like that ad but it doesn’t make any difference because they’re already voting that way.

ABRAMS:  Here’s more of Obama defending her on “Good Morning America.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”/ABC)

OBAMA:  Michelle is the most honest, the best person I know.  She is one of the most caring people I know.  She loves this country.  Whoever is in charge of the Tennessee GOP needs to think long and hard about the kind of campaign that they want to run and I think that’s true for everybody, Democrat or Republican.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Brad, you got to admit, it’s an attractive defense, right? 

From be sitting next to his wife saying—don’t mess with my wife.

BLAKEMAN:  Of course, he’s sitting right there, he’s being very chivalrous to a spouse, I think it’s something that’s expected.

ABRAMS:  So, isn’t it a bad political tactic for them to go after her?

BLAKEMAN:  No, it isn’t because it’s what she said.  And I think there are a lot of Democrats, especially “Reagan Democrats,” those conservatives who don’t agree with what Michelle Obama said, regardless of how she spins it.  A lot of good things have happened in America and they believe that comment was uncalled for.

ABRAMS:  Yes, well, we’ll see if that sways the day or if the idea of Obama getting to come to his wife’s defense sways the day.

Maria Cardona, thanks a lot for coming on.  Appreciate it.

CARDONA:  Thanks for having me.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: Another member of McCain’s campaign resigns because - shocker: he’s a lobbyist.

And Obama and McCain go after each other in Iran and foreign policy, it’s a Win, Lose, or Draw edition of On Their Trail.  Coming up.

Plus: It seems that CNN is not just the planet in that’s in peril but everything from parties to species are in peril.  Is that called branding or overstatement?  Beat the Press is next.

What’s your VERDICT?  E-mail us theverdict@msnbc.com.  Your email is coming up in the P.O.’ed box at the end of the show.  Please include your name, where you’re writing from.

We’re back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: In Friday’s installment, we pointed out that CNN political ace Tom Foreman got wrong, the number of senators needed to override a presidential veto—which is two-thirds majority or 67 votes, not 60 as Foreman declared.  People make mistakes, but amazingly, he misstated it again in his own show this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THIS WEEK IN POLITICS”/CNN/SATURDAY)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN HOST:  The big question obviously, Stephanie, is whether or not you guys can get 60 votes in the Senate.  If you get that, you can override a White House veto.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Wrong again.  He must be confusing it again with a filibuster or maybe he’s adhering to a philosophy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN:  And as every political operative knows if you say something enough more people will buy into it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I guess even if it’s inaccurate, like—the best political team on television?

Next up: Since their “Planet in Peril” series, it seems many other CNN stories suddenly involve something in peril along with the planet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST:  It’s a story we first brought you in “Planet in Peril.”

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Does it sound like a party in peril?  And then a little bit later, a species in peril.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And we want to ask the question: Is the grand old party in peril?  Does this sound like a party in peril?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I guess they’re using Foreman’s logic—if you say it enough time, then they’re viewers will believe everything is in peril.  Who knows?

All right.  And finally: Sometimes, a good interviewer can get even the highest profile advocate to concede.  Here is my pal Greta van Susteren and Attorney Gloria Allred, talking about one of Allred’s clients.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “ON THE RECORD”/FOX NEWS/FRIDAY)

ATTY. GLORIA ALLRED, GUEST:  She did not give an interview to “People” magazine?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX HOST:  Do you want me to read this that “People” magazine is just plain lying?  Is that what you’re saying?  I got a copy of “People” magazine.

ALLRED:  No, I’m not saying that “People” magazine is lying.

VAN SUSTEREN:  But you’re saying I can’t read then.

ALLRED:  No, I’m not saying you can’t read.  I’m saying, to the best of my knowledge, she did not give an interview.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ah, she did not give an interview becomes the best of my knowledge.  We love Gloria but good for Greta for holding her feet to the fire.

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

Up next: John McCain’s apparently not afraid of appearing cozy with President Bush.  The two are joining forces again for a fundraising tour across America.  Is that a Win, a Lose or a Draw for the McCain campaign and what about Obama battling McCain today on Iran, Win, Lose or Draw?

And later: McCain goes on “Saturday Night Live” and jokes about his age.  Did it work?  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back.  Barack Obama blasting John McCain on the campaign trail today over Iran and embracing President Bush again while Obama is talking about why he is wearing a lapel pin. 

It’s time for “Win, Lose or Draw” edition of “On Their Trail.” Democratic strategist Laura Schwartz joins us along with Laurence O’Donnell and Brad Blakeman once again. 

All right.  First up, Obama and McCain in a heated war of words on the trail today over Iran.  McCain continuing President Bush’s line of attack that Obama is naive to be president, Obama hitting back by once tying McCain to Bush. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Obama has declared and repeatedly reaffirmed his intention to meet the president of Iran without any preconditions, such a statement betrays the depth of Senator Obama’s inexperience and reckless judgment.  These are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The reason Iran is so much more powerful now than it was a few years ago is because of the Bush-McCain policy of fighting an endless war in Iraq and refusing to pursue direct diplomacy with Iran. 

John McCain has decided to run for George Bush’s third term.  And we can’t afford it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Laurence O’Donnell, win, lose or draw issue for Obama? 

LAURENCE O’DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  At the moment I think it’s a draw, because I think McCain’s phrasing about reckless judgment is very powerful if it sticks.  However, long term Obama has the much stronger argument, this government, Democrat and Republican presidents negotiated with the Soviet Union.

And every day they were negotiating with the Soviet Union, every day the Soviet Union had missiles aimed at the United States.  The United States was the target of their missiles.  We’re talking about a country that doesn’t have any capacity to target the United States. 

Obama is going to win this one big time over the long course of the campaign.  But right now it’s a tight contest. 

ABRAMS:  Brad, win, lose or draw issue for Obama? 

BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  It’s a lose.  Obama doesn’t have the depth and breadth and scope of foreign policy that John McCain has, number one.  Number two is, tying McCain to Bush is a huge mistake.  Bush is done, not since 1952 have we not had an heir apparent.  And the Democrats are fighting a battle that they’re going to regret in November trying to tie that... 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Laura, win, lose or draw?

LAURA SCHWARTZ, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, for the very opposite reason of Brad, I think it’s a win.  Any time you can say Bush-McCain, I mean, this is the Democratic Party, has wanted to nominate for the general election, McCain-Bush.  So McCain found his running mate, and that’s what you’re going to hear the Democrats driving home every day. 

BLAKEMAN:  Good luck.

ABRAMS:  I think this is close, but in the end, I’m going to say I think it’s a very—ever so slightly, but a winning issue for Obama, I think being able to link McCain to Bush on foreign policy, good for Obama, it outweighs the downside. 

Next up, John McCain has already teamed up with President Bush attacking Obama on foreign policy, but now the two will reportedly join forces for a series of private fundraisers.  Bush slated to appear with McCain on May 27th in Phoenix.  The next day they will join Mitt Romney for a luncheon in Salt Lake.  And then a “exclusive dinner” at Romney’s Utah vacation home on a date yet to be announced. 

Now, Brad, I know that political insiders like to say that private dinners are not like campaign rallies, but to a political outsider like me, events with Bush are events with Bush.  And that links him to the most unpopular president in modern history. 

BLAKEMAN:  Look, it’s a win for McCain because McCain and president are going to raise tons of money for John McCain.  He needs the money.  On the political side I think it’s a draw because these events are closed to the press.  They’re not going to get much press at all.  You’re not going to hear a peep out of these guys at these fundraisers.  So it really doesn’t mean much politically. 

ABRAMS:  Laura, you’re going to hear a peep out of it on this program, win, lose or draw? 

SCHWARTZ:  I think it’s a draw because McCain has got to raise some money, especially now that all of the lobbyists are leaving his campaign.  And these are closed to the press like Brad said.  I do agree with Brad on that.  And you know, President Bush, despite his 27 percent approval rating, still does have big approval with some of those deep pockets of which he gave tax cuts to.  They’ve got to do it.

ABRAMS:  Laurence, win, lose or draw? 

O’DONNELL:  Dan, it’s tending toward a loss for McCain.  It depends on how much money he raises.  But it’s pathetic if he needs Bush to raise the money.  If he needs the most unpopular man in American politics to raise the money, that’s a bad sign. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, but I mean, again, here’s where I am, I’m going to call this a lose for McCain.  I know these are private fundraisers, you know, but I don’t know how—and again, maybe it’s the outsider in me, but—and  get that he needs to raise money, but Bush could have an event, maybe it wouldn’t raise as much money, but have Bush—have two events, but I would just think—Brad, I’m going to give you the final on this, I would think your people would want McCain and Bush on the opposite ends of the country. 

The idea that they are going to be at an event together just seems to me to be very dangerous.  Final word, Brad.

BLAKEMAN:  My people want to see John McCain be reelected—be elected and then reelected.  And I think the only way you can do that is raising money.  And this president is very popular with our base. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, with the ever shrinking base.  All right.  Coming up—sorry, next up, Obama adding a noticeable new accessory to his wardrobe, an American flag lapel pin.  We’ve been seeing it in event after event.  After saying for months he didn’t need to wear the pin to show his patriotism, Obama has now been seen sporting the pin at almost every campaign stop. 

He explained why during an interview this morning. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBIN ROBERTS, HOST, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”:  The flag pin. 

OBAMA:  Yes.

ROBERTS:  You had said before that you didn’t need to wear it to prove that you’re patriotic. 

OBAMA:  I did.

ROBERTS:  You have been wearing it recently, why? 

OBAMA:  You know, because I’ve had so many supporters, a lot of them veterans, who have been handing me flag pins, saying, Barack, we know how patriotic you are, and do us a favor, we would appreciate it if you wore it, partly just—not because I think they wanted proof patriotism, but they wanted the issue taken off the table.  I’m happy to wear a flag pin.  It’s something that I’m proud to do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Brad Blakeman, I’ll serve this one up for you on a platter.  Is this going to be a win, lose or draw, seen as a flip flop or smart politics? 

BLAKEMAN:  It’s a lose, he’s appeasing some supporters, you wear a flag pin because of what’s in your heart, not what’s politically expedient. 

ABRAMS:  Oh, come on.  You wear a flag pin—you think every politician that wears a flag pin wears it because of what’s in their heart as opposed to political expediency? 

BLAKEMAN:  The ones I know do.  The ones I know.  I know when President Bush after 9/11 put it on, and the vice president.

ABRAMS:  So when someone doesn’t wear one, it means it’s not in their heart. 

BLAKEMAN:  No, but when somebody puts it on and then takes it off and says, for some reason, I don’t have to show my patriotism, and you’re running for the highest office in the land, you are the patriot-in-chief.  And now you’re wearing a lapel pin because you want your supporters to like you better?  That’s not a good enough answer. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Laurence, I’m enjoying watching the lapel pin that is adorned on your lapel there.  Go ahead, your response.

O’DONNELL:  That’s right.  I got mine about a month ago.  I’m way ahead of Obama on this, Dan.  I was tired of Buchanan questioning my patriotism.  But here’s the problem, now that Obama is wearing a flag pin, and we know he hates America, but he’s wearing a flag pin, so how do we tell who the real patriots are? 

The flag pin I have on now is the kind Obama is wearing.  I think what Republicans like Brad and others have to do now to show that they really love America is wear two of them like this. 

Here’s the one that President Bush wears.  So I think if you put the Bush one on top of the Obama one, Brad, you’ve got to wear two of them now, you know, that would be very patriotic. 

(CROSSTALK)

O’DONNELL:  That proves you really love America.

BLAKEMAN:  That would be very patriotic.

O’DONNELL:  That’s the only way to prove you love America, not be an America-hater. 

BLAKEMAN:  Not at all.  Not at all.  But when you have a pin on and you’re running for president, and then you take it off and then you put it back on to appease your supporters, that’s just not genuine.  The American people see right through that.

O’DONNELL:  One is not enough, Brad.  One is not enough anymore, get the second one. 

ABRAMS:  Laura, your response to Brad, go ahead.

SCHWARTZ:  You know, it’s an accessory, but I think it’s good that he’s wearing it.  I think it’s a win because it defuses the argument, except for this week when we’re talking about it, it will be diffused and they can’t go back to it.

ABRAMS:  I’m going to call this one—in my scorecard, I’m going to call it a draw for Obama.  He took a stand on this based on principle, yes, he’s caving, OK, but I have no problem with him wearing a lapel pin.  It’s not going to neutralize the issue.  Brad Blakeman is going to come at him on it anyway, but it certainly doesn’t hurt him to wear it. 

The McCain camp, next up, now cleaning house after acknowledging it has a “perception problem” that lobbyists are steering the ship.  Today McCain’s national finance co-chair, Tom Loeffler resigned, making him the fifth aide to sever ties with the campaign based on questionable lobbying work. 

Loeffler’s firm collected nearly $15 million from Saudi Arabia since 2002.  He then denied to reporters directly lobby John McCain about Saudi Arabia, records later disclosed that he did.  Has McCain done enough to make this a draw?  Or, Lawrence, is this just going to be a losing issue? 

O’DONNELL:  It’s a small loss for him, but it’s good to get it out of the way now.  All of these campaigns are always littered with lobbyists.  The Democratic—DNC headquarters is littered with lobbyist.  So—same thing with the RNC.  It’s funny now, this season, watching them getting kicked out.  They never had to do that before.  But that’s the new political correctness of this year. 

ABRAMS:  Brad? 

BLAKEMAN:  I think it’s a draw for McCain.  We would certainly love to get a hold of the Obama list of people working for him.  He won’t release that list.  Is there a reason for that?  I think there are a bunch of lobbyists, as Laurence correctly points out, on both sides. 

But look, the founding fathers thought enough of lobbyists to put them in the Constitution, the First Amendment, gives the American people the right to petition their government, lobbyists. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Here’s Barack Obama talking about this already today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  You know, John McCain now has had to get rid of five of his top advisers because it turns out they are all lobbying, many of them for foreign governments.  That is because he practices the same kind of politics that we’ve grown accustomed to in Washington. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You know, Laura, it sounds like Laurence is saying, be careful here what thou says, because there is a lot of lobbyists working in all of these campaigns. 

SCHWARTZ:  Oh yes, if you throw a stone in Washington, not before long it comes and hits you in the back.  But you know, this is a loss for McCain, I mean, strategy-wise, because he should have done this like two months ago because nobody was watching.  And it could have like skated through. 

Because the lobbyists are the ones that rescued his campaign in the first place.  He took more lobbyist money than any Republican or any Democrat during the campaign, has had the most working for him.  He should have done this last month when nobody was paying attention. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, absolutely.  I’m going to call this a lose for McCain because of that.  And that’s it.  Because he could have dealt with this issue months when people were only watching Obama and Clinton going after each other.  No one would have covered it.  That’s a lose. 

Panel is sticking around.  Up next, John McCain tries to make jokes about his age on “Saturday Night Live.” Did it work?  Was he funny? 

And the show splits Clinton and Obama in a hilarious subliminal message comparison. 

And “Reality Bites” for the own of this truck after a 5-year-old got behind the wheel.  It’s on camera, it’s coming up in 60 seconds in “Reality Bites.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Now to “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight an Upstate New Yorker gets a taste of the open road, or at least the open parking lot at a very early age.  Just look at him.  Security cameras caught this 5-year-old, yes, 5-year-old running out to his grandma’s truck, starting it up, and taking off on a short but eventful joyride. 

The young driver rammed a parked car before crashing through a fence and into the side of a building.  Police say the boy had only minor injuries to his arm and that he will be fine. 

We’ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Imagine the excitement of leaving the convention and still not knowing who the nominee was. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  That would be crazy.  Crazy exciting! 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The season finale of “Saturday Night Live” this weekend.  Senator McCain tried to use comedy to deal with what could be perceived as an issue with his age. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Good evening, my fellow Americans.  I ask you, what should we be looking for in our next president?  Certainly someone who is very, very, very old. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  But just as important, we will need a leader of courage and principle, someone who is willing to do what is best for this country, even when doing so is unpopular such as putting an end to runaway government spending and especially congressional earmarks.

I have not once sought to bring pork barrel spending back to my state, not even highway funds.  When I entered the Senate in 1987, Arizona had 47,000 miles of paved roadway.  Today it’s less than 900. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  Controlling government spending isn’t just about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about being able to look your children in the eye, or in my case, my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, and great-great-great-grandchildren, the youngest of whom are nearing retirement. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  I have the courage, the wisdom, the experience, and most importantly, the oldness necessary. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  McCain’s appearance on SNL comes just days before he is set to release his medical records on Thursday.  Did it help?  Let’s bring back our panel.  Laura Schwartz, did it help? 

SCHWARTZ:  I think comedy always helps, Dan.  It defuses the argument.  It’s everybody kind of relax and sit back for a second.  I thought he did a great job.  He once hosted “Saturday Night Live” a few years ago and did well too.  I don’t think it made people change a vote, but it makes people like him more. 

ABRAMS:  Brad, what do you make of it? 

BLAKEMAN:  I think it humanizes him, self-deprecating humor works generally.  I think he pulled it off, most importantly.  And I think you’re not going to see John McCain walk around in Old Navy and toting a book bag, but you’ll see him appealing more to youthful voters, as he should.  They’re an important voting block.

ABRAMS:  Brad, look, I know you know the McCain well.  Is it not true that John McCain has Death Cab for Cutie on his iPod? 

BLAKEMAN:  That I’m not sure. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  (INAUDIBLE) fans.  Anyway, all right, so, Laurence, I want you to listen to another bite of McCain on “Saturday Night Live” joking about the ability to jam gaydar. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  With this bit of pork, $160 million to the Department of Defense for developing a device that can jam gaydar. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  Now I don’t know if this is anti-gay or pro-gay or if such a device would even work.  But I do know this, jamming gaydar is not a federal responsibility.  That’s something best left to state and local government. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean, you know, Laurence, he is taking even a sensitive issue and making it—he’s pretty funny. 

O’DONNELL:  Well, that’s Jim Downey.  He has written most of the political stuff this year.  He wrote this for McCain.  McCain, by the way, asked to be on the show.  He called up Lorne Michaels and asked to be on. 

Very smart of the McCain campaign.  They know the demographic they have a problem with.  He goes on “The Daily Show,” he goes on Letterman, and now SNL, trying to get to those people.  And you know, SNL is off the air now until September.  So this was his last shot before the fall.  It was very smart of him.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Here’s, I thought, my favorite spoof of “Saturday Night Live,” which was comparing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama speaking about the country and what they are looking for, but with a little bit of subliminal message included. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED ARMISEN, “BARACK OBAMA,” AND AMY POEHLER, “HILLARY CLINTON:  The Democratic primaries, the race for the nomination.  From January to June.

ARMISEN:  Ideally sooner.

BOTH:  The fate of a party hangs in the balance.  From Iowa.

POEHLER:  . which was a caucus state and shouldn’t carry as much weight. 

BOTH:  . to California.

ARMISEN:  . which any Democrat would carry in the general election anyway. 

BOTH:  From the hope of the future.

ARMISEN:  The youth.

BOTH:  . to the backbone of the party.

POEHLER:  Hard-working white people. 

BOTH:  . now, two candidates remain.

ARMISEN:  . only one mathematically viable.

POEHLER:  . and it’s anyone’s race.

BOTH:  Both have there assets.

ARMISEN:  Charisma.

POEHLER:  Ruthless ambition.

BOTH:  . and their liabilities.

POEHLER:  Reverend Jeremiah Wright. 

ARMISEN:  Bill Clinton.

BOTH:  And they both have their eyes on one prize, the Democratic nomination.

POEHLER:  . in 2012. 

BOTH:  It’s not over until all the votes are counted.

POEHLER:  . including Michigan and Florida. 

BOTH:  Until all of the superdelegates have voted.

POEHLER:  . having made up their mind independently. 

ARMISEN:  . in accordance with the mandate of the people.

BOTH:  Because in the end, no matter who wins, we can all stand behind one idea.

POEHLER:  I deserve this. 

ARMISEN:  Democracy. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Lawrence, they were able to hit almost every issue with the difference between Clinton and Obama in that one-minute and 12-second piece. 

O’DONNELL:  Yes, it was really great.  And by the way, now you know why the Writers Guild was striking over revenue from the Internet, because that things is going to play on the Internet forever and the writers aren’t going to get really a penny for it. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Lawrence, throwing in a little plug for the writers there.  Laurence O’Donnell, Laura Schwartz, and Brad Blakeman, thanks a lot.  Good stuff today.  I appreciate it. 

ABRAMS:  Up next, will tonight’s big winner or loser be Borat, whose new character Bruno failed to trick Arnold Schwarzenegger?  Lindsay Lohan, who is trying to trick someone into paying for her birthday party?  Or Congressman Vito Fossella, who apparently tricked his wife into believing he didn’t have another wife and kids?  He’s just keeping the New York GOP on their toes and they’re not happy. 

Plus, your e-mails, we call it the “P.O.’d Box.” We’ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It’s time for tonight’s “Winners and Losers” for this 19th day of May, 2008.  Our first loser, Borat, also known as Sacha Baron Cohen, who has moved on from Borat, the bumbling Kazakhstan journalist, to his next character, Bruno, the over the top gay Austrian fashion reporter who is now trying to trick the unsuspecting into being interviewed for his new movie out later this year.  One interview you won’t see in the movie, Arnold, who must have known something was up when the fake reporter approached him, was brushed off by the California governor seen here in the picture from justjared.com. 

Loser, Lindsay Lohan, who apparently is selling the right to pay for her birthday party.  That’s right, selling it.  According to TMZ, the 21-year-old, who didn’t have a proper celebration when she became legal because she was in rehab, offered up a unique sponsorship opportunity to help Lohan ring in the big 2-2 this summer for the right price.  The site promises it will be a “internationally media-worthy event.” 

Our big loser, the New York GOP, not happy now that it appears embattled Republican Congressman Vito Fossella will try and run for reelection in November despite his recent DUI arrests, subsequent revelation that the married politician had a secret life and love child in Virginia.  Fossella is the only Republican to hold a congressional seat in New York City.  Many expect if he runs, the Republicans will seat the cede that seat to the Democrats. 

Our big winner of the day, Indiana Jones.  After nearly two decades off the big screen, Indy is back, getting rave reviews, 65-year-old Harrison Ford might be a little less agile, but he proves he has still got the magic.  The film got a three-and-a-half minute standing O this weekend at its opening in Cannes. 

Time for the “P.O.’d Box,” your chance to tell me what you hate or love about the show.

First up, many still P.O.’d at me for saying Obama should at least offer Clinton the V.P. spot on the Democratic ticket.  Eric Larsen from Salinas, California: “You keep forcing Barack to offer her the V.P. nod.  But you have yet to give us one good reason for this nonsensical position. 

American is not yet ready for a double-minority ticket.”

Speaking of nonsensical, Eric, last time I checked, women were not a minority.  So I disagree with you on what Americans’ readiness is.  And I’ve laid out many reasons I think he should offer—at least offer it to her and the reasons focused on trying to win.

As Kari Ward Karr states: “I’m heartily irate over the Obama campaign’s apparent lack of interest in over-40 females and other Clinton supporters.” Look, he has had some weak points that she could help with.  I don’t think she’s going to get it. 

R.J. Welch from Dallas shares a view expressed by many: “To place her on the ticket would call into question all that Obama’s campaigned on and for and would be the epitome of politics as usual.”

Are you really telling a significant percentage of Americans who want Obama’s change would not vote for him if he chooses Clinton as his V.P.?  No, I’m not convinced. 

And Rob from Norristown, Pennsylvania: “He wouldn’t be able to run for change if she’s on the ticket.  She can contribute to the Democratic cause by persuading her supporters to vote for Obama in the states that she won and then ride off into the sunset.”

Rob, you mean just help out and shut up?  I don’t know if that’s a strategy that’s going to work, but who knows? 

That’s all the time we have for tonight.  You can e-mail me about the show, verdict@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you’re writing from.  We are going to see you right back here tomorrow night.  Special after-hours primary coverage starting at midnight Eastern time. 

Thanks for watching, and thank all of you, Friday.  Hey, you made us the number one rated show in cable news in the key demographic, thanks to all of you.  Appreciate it.  See you back here tomorrow night, we’ll have a full day of political coverage for super Tuesday tomorrow.

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

END   

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