updated 8/6/2008 10:11:40 AM ET 2008-08-06T14:11:40

Guests: Andrea Mitchell, Pat Buchanan, Mike Taibbi, Stephanie Miller, April Ryan, John Harwood, Pat Buchanan, April Ryan, Stephanie Miller, Lisa Bloom, Tom O‘Neil

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Hi, everyone.  Welcome to the show.

Barack Obama is on the attack, striking back against John McCain today.

NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell has tonight‘s story—Andrea.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Dan.

With the voters concerned about the price of gasoline at the pump, the candidates have been arguing for three days now about the politics of energy policy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  How are you?

MITCHELL (voice over):  Sparring with John McCain over energy policy, Barack Obama tried to tie McCain to Dick Cheney.

OBAMA:  When George Bush took office, he had an energy policy.  He turned to Dick Cheney—and he told Cheney, “Go take care of this.”

So John McCain‘s taking a page out of the Bush/Cheney playbook.

MITCHELL:  Obama also unleashed two ads against McCain‘s ties to the oil industry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  He‘s for billions in new oil company giveaways, while gas prices soar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  McCain countered with his own ad, touting his independence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  Washington‘s broken.  John McCain knows it.  We‘re worse off than we were four years ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  And touring a nuclear power plant today, McCain pointed out

Obama voted for the Bush/Cheney energy bill three years ago.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When the energy bill came to the floor of the Senate full of goodies and breaks for the oil companies, I voted against it.  Senator Obama voted for it.

MITCHELL:  In fact, as energy prices climb this summer, both candidates have shifted with the political winds.  McCain is now a true believer in offshore drilling, which he once opposed.

MCCAIN:  We‘re going to drill offshore and we‘re going to drill now.

MITCHELL:  And while Obama mocked McCain for that today -

OBAMA:  He said, “I want to drill here, I want to drill now.”  I don‘t know where he was standing.  I think it was in a building.

MITCHELL:  In recent days, Obama also endorsed offshore drilling as a last resort.  And after opposing taking oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower prices, Obama now favors it, along with rebates for lower-income people paid for by taxes on oil company profits.

Still, experts say the real solution is to use less energy, not more.

FRED BERGSTEN, PETERSON INSTITUTE:  The candidates have not talked much about conservation because it would cause some adjustment, some pain on the part of consumers and, therefore, voters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MITCHELL:  In fact, experts say, both campaigns are exaggerating the virtues of their energy proposals and not telling voters who truly difficult it would be to become really independent of foreign oil—Dan.

ABRAMS:  Thanks, Andrea.

The question tonight: Will this type of attack work for Obama?

As always we‘re On Their Trail, making the call who won and lost—

Obama versus McCain.

With us tonight: MSNBC political analyst, Pat Buchanan; April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks; and, radio talk show host, Stephanie Miller.

All right.  Pat, you‘ve said that Obama needs to realize that this is the NFL.  Is this his first major hit?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It is.  I think—look, he‘s coming out, he‘s going after McCain.  He‘s taking off the gloves.  It‘s no more of this high-minded new politics, aloof, above the battle.

He realizes he‘s in a brawl, a fight.  I thought he was effective today.  I thought McCain was effective in counterpunching.  I think it was pretty much a wash today.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s Obama really going after McCain today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  You know, when John McCain‘s campaign goes out there and starts saying things like, I want to—I‘d rather lose the war to win an election, or when he says that somehow (ph), I didn‘t want to visit troops in Germany even though every reporter says that‘s not true.

Well, you‘re not trying to solve problems.  All you‘re trying to do is divide people for you—so you can win an election.  That‘s nothing to be proud of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, April, we‘re seeing Obama really on the attack here on a number of fronts.  Good move?

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS:  Yes and no.  Barack Obama is on the attack because he has been attacked and John McCain‘s attacks have worked in the last couple of days.  So, he‘s trying to come back and gain ground, and I think, right now, he‘s kind of even—on an even keel right now.

ABRAMS:  Stephanie?

STEPHANIE MILLER, “THE STEPHANIE MILLER SHOW”:  You know, Dan, I got to say, I think Obama‘s winning this one.  It‘s a little tough for John McCain to call anybody a flip-flopper.  He‘s flip-flopped on every single issue including bills with his name on them like the immigration bill and campaign finance.  He‘s flip-flopped on offshore drilling.

Obama offers a comprehensive energy plan, you know, Dan, and their response is, “Here, there‘s air gauges because his only plan is to blow up your tire.”  It‘s fifth grade.

ABRAMS:  Well, I think—I got to tell you, I think that this strategy of Obama going more on the attack is a win for Obama as long as he‘s attacking on substance, as long as he‘s responding.  I think that‘s a win for Obama.

Next up, a pair of brand new TV ads from Obama and McCain with one underlying theme in common—President Bush.

Now, first here‘s McCain‘s ad where he attempts to distance himself from President Bush by railing against Washington, then the Obama response ad which ties McCain directly to Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  Washington‘s broken.  John McCain knows it.  We‘re worse off than we were four years ago.

Only McCain has taken on big tobacco, drug companies, fought corruption in both parties.  He‘ll reform Wall Street, battle big oil, make America prosper again.  He‘s the original maverick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  He‘s the original maverick.

MCCAIN:  The president and I agree on most issues.  There was recent study that showed that I voted with the president over 90 percent of the time.

NARRATOR:  John McCain supports Bush‘s tax cuts for millionaires but nothing for 100 million households.  He‘s for billions in oil company giveaways, while gas prices soar.  And for tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

The original maverick, or just more of the same?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Pat, can McCain really succeed by saying “Washington is broken, we‘re worse off than we were before,” sort of almost playing the outsider here?

BUCHANAN:  Well, he‘s trying to, Dan.  I agree, he‘s got a real problem.  First, if you attack Bush, you split your base.  Secondly, he does like the maverick image, but honestly, I thought in that exchange, that Barack Obama‘s ad was a lot tougher, a lot more effective, went right at him.

And, I think, if I had to judge those two ads just from what I‘ve heard here, I‘d say Barack wins that round.

ABRAMS:  So, Pat, it sounds like you‘re saying you think that Barack Obama can throw a punch, too?

BUCHANAN:  Barack Obama—look, what you did the last time, he was too halting and hesitant.  He looks like he needs to spend a little more time on a heavy bag before he gets it down.  But he‘s headed in the right direction, Dan.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Now, April, Pat‘s a fighter, Pat‘s a brawler.  He likes to see, you know, he says you got to be ready to play in the big leagues here.  But Obama really, is going after McCain again, in this ad responding directly, do you think it worked?

RYAN:  Yes, it worked.  You know, when you look at McCain, you don‘t -many people don‘t always think that he‘s a maverick.  I mean, one, would a maverick take a gas gauge to try to counter a NASCAR ad about energy and saving gas?  Also, you know, would a maverick go out and use Paris Hilton and Britney Spears?

ABRAMS:  It‘s a maverick move.  It‘s probably never been done before in politics.

RYAN:  It was a pop culture move.  It was a pop culture move.  I‘m not necessarily sure it‘s a maverick move.  But, I think, you know, and is it being a maverick by saying, “Congress, you need to come back to work now”?  That sounds a lot like what President Bush has been saying time after time over the last couple of years.

BUCHANAN:  No, that‘s Harry Truman—that‘s Harry Truman.  And that‘s good stuff.  I mean, Harry Truman demanded the “no good” 80th Congress come back to Washington.  They didn‘t do anything.  And he beat them up.

I think McCain is doing well there, but—Dan, you‘re right, I mean, Barack Obama‘s learning how he got beat up in that first round real bad.  And now, he‘s going to throw a few punches.

ABRAMS:  Well, here‘s the problem.  Here‘s the problem McCain has with this ad, all right—saying Washington‘s broken and you‘re better off than you were four years ago.  Remember when McCain said this recently?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  Senator McCain, are Americans better off than they were eight years ago?

MCCAIN:  I think you could argue that Americans are overall better off because we‘ve had a pretty good, prosperous time, with low unemployment and low inflation, and a lot of good things have happened, a lot of jobs have been created.

But let‘s have some straight talk.  Things are tough right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, Stephanie, is that a, quote, “flip-flop” from the ad that he just put out about how broken Washington is and how people are worse off than they were four years ago?

MILLER:  Yes, which is it, Dan?  I mean, he‘s literally—he‘s taken both side of every issue.  But you know—when he says Washington‘s broken and John McCain knows it.  Well, you‘ve been there 26 years.

It reminds me of how Bush ran in 2004.  He‘s like “This place is a wreck.  Who‘s been running this place?  We‘ve got to fix this.”  It‘s like, “You have,” you know.

I mean, how can he possibly run as anything different than George Bush he‘s not.

ABRAMS:  But seriously, Pat, I mean—he has a real problem it seems here.  When you play that piece of sound of him in January, talking about how we‘re better, you know, we‘re doing pretty well, things are going pretty well.  I mean, the quote is, “I think you could argue that Americans overall are better off because we‘ve had a pretty good, prosperous time.”

And now, a few months later, he‘s saying we‘re worse off than we were four years ago.

BUCHANAN:  Look, there‘s no question about it.  John McCain has been dealt a horrible hand for a nominee with a party that‘s brand is, you know, 15 points below the Democrats, the president at 28 percent, 80 percent were on the wrong course.

I think he‘s doing a good job, quite frankly, and staying competitive with the hand he‘s been dealt because he‘s forced Obama really to change his strategy, out went the, you know, the new politics and all that nonsense.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  And Barack Obama is starting to have to get in there and scrap with him.

ABRAMS:  I think when you play those two ads together, I‘m going to call it a loss for McCain.  I think anytime Bush pops up in these ads, it‘s dangerous terrain for John McCain.

Next up: Obama narrowly avoids a political pitfall at a town hall event in Ohio today.  A man in crowd interrupted Obama‘s speech, questioning asking why the Pledge of Allegiance had not yet been recited.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We meet at a moment—we—I‘m sorry.  What‘s everybody yelling about now?  We can do the Pledge of Allegiance.

Wait, wait, wait, wait.  Hold on, hold on.  Hold on.  No, no, no, wait, wait, wait.  I thought we already did the pledge.  We didn‘t do the pledge yet?

You want to lead the Pledge of Allegiance?  Go ahead.  All right.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

All right.  There you go.  Good.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  We usually do an invocation and a pledge before we start.  So I don‘t know what happened.  But I‘m glad this young man reminded us.  Thank you, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Smooth, smooth, smooth.  I mean, April, that was a potential pit—you‘re troubled by that?

BUCHANAN:  Who me?

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I thought -

BUCHANAN:  (INAUDIBLE).  Let me tell you.  He called an audible at the line of scrimmage and that was beautiful.  That‘s a candidate at his best facing, you know, a situation -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Getting all the words right.

BUCHANAN:  And he got it OK, let‘s change direction, we‘re moving in this direction now.  Does the pledge, the whole place is roaring through the pledge, cheering at the end—excellent, excellent.

RYAN:  Pat Buchanan for Barack Obama.  Wow.

MILLER:  Thank God, Dan -

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  When the guy does a good job, you cheer him.

RYAN:  OK, all right.

MILLER:  Thank God, Dan, that this has been settled—this has been settled and the issue of lapel jewelry, because that‘s and lower gas prices that get everybody (INAUDIBLE).

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN:  But, you know, seriously -

BUCHANAN:  Stephanie‘s unhappy he delivered the pledge.

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN:  No, but seriously, this issue could cause him to have a loss in his column.

ABRAMS:  Oh, it could have, yes.

RYAN:  It really could have.  And it could actually in the future.  If people continue to feel that he is not patriotic, this could be an albatross around his neck that he has got to fix some kind of way.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

MILLER:  He is the symbol, April of patriotism.  Only in America could his story be possible, that‘s why he‘s so inspirational.

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN:  On both sides, both of them are the embodiment of this country. 

You have a former POW, who was broken and bled for this country.

MILLER:  I agree.

ABRAMS:  All right.

MILLER:  I agree.

RYAN:  And then you have this and Barack—so both of them, both of

them -

ABRAMS:  Look, the only reason, the only reason I‘m calling that moment a draw, all right—is because any time we‘re talking about Obama‘s patriotism I think it‘s bad for him.  But I think he handled that like a pro.

RYAN:  Yes, “A” for that one, yes.

ABRAMS:  Everyone is staying with us.

Coming up: John McCain, campaigning at a biker rally, suggests his wife Cindy should be a contestant in a beauty pageant—one that it turns out, does not require a lot of clothes.  That‘s coming up.

And we‘ve got a brand new NBC News electoral map.  Obama is advancing on McCain in a few key states.

Plus, more than $3 billion a year spent on cars and trucks by the federal government.  And sometimes it‘s unclear what happened to the vehicles.  It‘s today‘s Why America Hates Washington.  We‘re back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington: While consumers feel the sting of high gas prices, the federal government is spending big on its 642,000 vehicles costing taxpayers more than $3 billion last year.  Many of Uncle Sam‘s cars and trucks are vital.  But some costs apparently don‘t add up according to the “AP,” even though the Housing Department cut back on its fleet of cars.  Vehicle costs soared 70 percent since 2004.  And they don‘t know why.

The Interior Department was ordered to slash its stash of vehicles, it acquired hundreds more.  And that Veterans Affairs‘ one sedan went missing and hasn‘t been seen in months.

Driving up costs while we all foot the bill is another reason Why America Hates Washington.

We‘re back with John McCain offering up his wife for a racy beauty contest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Continuing our Win, Lose, or Draw—making the call on who won the day, Obama or McCain.  Right now, on my scorecard, I‘ve got a win for Obama, a loss for McCain, one draw.

Pat Buchanan, April Ryan, and Stephanie Miller are with us.

Next up: John McCain makes a push for the Harley vote, rubbing shoulders with the thousands who descend on Sturgis, South Dakota, every year for the world‘s largest motorcycle rally.  It was all going so well until McCain seemingly volunteered his wife Cindy for a beauty pageant that it turns out also includes topless sometimes bikini-clad women.

RYAN:  Oh, my goodness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  You know, I was looking at the Sturgis schedule and noticed that you have a beauty pageant, and so I encouraged Cindy to compete.

(CHEERS)

MCCAIN:  I told her with a little luck she could be the only woman ever to serve as both the first lady and Miss Buffalo Chip.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  There is no doubt it would be a first.  Miss Buffalo Chip is a beauty pageant that looks something like this.

I love it.  Stephanie Miller, I‘m giving McCain a win on this one. 

He‘s willing to offer up his -

MILLER:  Dan.

ABRAMS:  He‘s willing to offer up—those—and, remember, he‘s reading there.  Those are prepared remarks.

MILLER:  Wow, I‘m not saying that that smacks of desperation when the candidate gets to the point of, “Who wants to see my wife naked?”  That‘s - I think that‘s perfectly fair game.

Wow, did you see the look on her face, Dan?  She‘s like, “Wow.  I want to hit you so hard, I will slap you into the next election cycle.  You‘re going to miss Obama‘s whole presidency, honey, seriously.”

ABRAMS:  My guess is, she didn‘t see this video of the contestants before he offered her up.

MILLER:  Wow.

ABRAMS:  Look at this.

MILLER:  That is beautiful.

ABRAMS:  Pat, you got to believe he didn‘t know exactly what he was offering up, right?

BUCHANAN:  I‘m glad I don‘t have a monitor here and I‘m not watching it (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  But I will say this—John let his inner fighter pilot come out, I‘m afraid.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  Out there in Sturgis, you know, this is the John McCain of the 1950s, I think, (INAUDIBLE) -- and I think that sort of came out.  I think it‘s very close to the edge, but there‘s a lot of those working-class folks who will have a laugh with him rather than look askance at it.

ABRAMS:  I think so, too.  All right, look -

MILLER:  Really, Pat, what would you have said if Barack Obama said who wants to see my wife‘s rack?  What do you think would have happened then?

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN:  Come on.

BUCHANAN:  I think the Sturgis crowd would have cheered at that.  You know those guys.

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN:  It‘s desperation.  Every man should love their wife that much not.

ABRAMS:  All right.

Next up: A bomb—on a much more serious note—a bombshell revelation in a new book.  Journalist Ron Suskind alleges in his new book, “The Way of the World,” that the Bush White House ordered the CIA to forge a fake document showing a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

Suskind writes, quote, “The White House had concocted a fake letter.  It said that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had actually trained for his mission in Iraq, thus showing, finally, that there was an operational link between Saddam and al Qaeda, something the Vice President‘s Office had been pressing the CIA to prove since 9/11.”

Now, the White House and the CIA both officially deny the report.  The White House is calling it absurd.  But the question tonight: Does it impact the 2008 race?

April, look, you‘re there at the White House—does it?

RYAN:  Yes, it does for sure.  It‘s definitely a loss for John McCain.

Any time you keep bringing up something that‘s very raw with the nation—this Iraq war—and why we went into the Iraq war, WMD, faulty intelligence—this just brings it all back fresh again.  And Suskind is bringing up issues that you cannot necessarily verify.  So it leaves it hanging.  It‘s going to be a cloud over McCain if this book gets any feet.

ABRAMS:  Pat?

BUCHANAN:  Well, the first—I don‘t know if this is proven.  Secondly, Barack Obama would be well-advised to stay 10,000 miles away from it because if he comments on it, embraces or endorses it in any way.  If it blows up, that puts him out there in the kooky left.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  I would just stay away from this.  Let the reporters and journalists deal with it; the White House deal with it.  Stay away.

ABRAMS:  Yes, I agree.  Look, I think, there‘s no question, though, this has to go down as a loss for McCain.

Stephanie, you want a quick final thought on it?

MILLER:  Dan, you know, this is not the kooky left.  It‘s what Scott McClellan is saying.  It is what, you know, the Downing Street minutes have said.  It‘s what French intelligence said.  It is what Joe Wilson has said. 

This is -

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  This is unsubstantiated.

ABRAMS:  But this is—this is a major bombshell.  I mean, this is not just -

MILLER:  Absolutely.

BUCHANAN:  If true.

ABRAMS:  That‘s right.

BUCHANAN:  If true.

ABRAMS:  That‘s right, if true, this is a major bombshell.  Suskind is a good reporter and he was basically on “COUNTDOWN” today, suggesting that he had, you know, spoken to some of the very same people who are now coming out and denouncing it and that they‘re telling a very different story.  So

BUCHANAN:  But if it blows up, Dan, Barack Obama wants to be far outside the vicinity.

ABRAMS:  Yes, he doesn‘t need—it‘s one of those things he doesn‘t need to touch.  But I think it had to go down as a loss for McCain, giving me, a final score tonight of a win for Obama, two losses for McCain, one draw.  I think Obama had a good day today.

Pat, Aril, and Stephanie, you‘re staying with us.

Coming up: Forget the national poll numbers, what matters are the state by state results.  We‘ve got the latest political maps from the NBC News political unit, with Obama making up some ground in key states.

And, (INAUDIBLE) -- Paris Hilton responds to McCain‘s attack with a surprisingly funny video.  Yes, I am certain someone wrote it for her.

And if you had a chance to interview Barack Obama, would space aliens be at the top of your list of questions?  It was honestly and truly a question asked by one reporter.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: On FOX, during a discussion about that McCain ad featuring Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, regular FOX News guest, Mary Katharine Ham, offered up this fascinating analysis as to why the “New York Times‘” Bob Herbert would have claimed the ad is racist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”/FOX NEWS/MONDAY)

MARY KATHARINE HAM, GUEST:  These folks at the “New York Times” and Bob Herbert who are so wracked by white guilt that they have to make up these conspiracy theories.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, this man, “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert is wracked with white guilt.  Interesting.

Next up: Actress Amanda Peet was on “Good Morning America.”  She was trying to make the legitimate point that experts not actors should be the focus of a debate over there is a link between vaccines and autism.  When asked what she thinks caused the rise in autism she gave this puzzling answer.

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

AMANDA PEET, ACTRESS:  I‘m not a doctor, which brings me to another point.  I—it seems that the media is often giving celebrities and actors more authority on this issue than they are giving the experts.  So that‘s part of why I wanted to become a spokesperson to say to people, please don‘t listen to me.  Don‘t listen to actors.  Go to the experts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Let me get this straight.  She‘s doing an interview with ABC as a celebrity saying we should not be paying much attention to celebrities on this.  And that she‘s going to be a celebrity spokesperson to say, don‘t listen to celebrities.

Finally: Have you ever wondered why Barack Obama may not want to do too many interviews?  This one from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, may help explain it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, KGAN-TV)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  If you are elected and you learned that the government knew aliens had visited earth and the public didn‘t know, would you want the public—would you be sure the public found out?

OBAMA:  Well, it depends on what these aliens were like and whether they were Democrats or Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean -

Up next: We‘ve got a brand new NBC News political map that looks at how Obama and McCain are doing state by state.  Obama has made some important gains.

And later: After refusing to talk to the feds about Heath Ledger‘s death, actress Mary-Kate Olsen could now be forced to tell a grand jury what she knows.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  A brand new national poll out tonight has Obama leading McCain by six points, showing Obama may with withstood the barrage of negative ads from McCain last week.  But the race really comes down to a state-by-state battle.  And we‘ve got a new NBC NEWS electoral map that shows some important gains for Obama in the fight for the all-important 270 electoral votes. 

Chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and political writer for “New York Times,” John Harwood, joins us now.  John, thanks for coming on. 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT AND POLITICAL WRITER

FOR “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Hey, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So you‘re going to go through with us, map-by-map.  Let‘s start with Obama.  Where do things stand for him?

HARWOOD:  Well, you know the debate states for Obama.  He‘s got either solid or leaning 270 electoral votes.  Let‘s take - you can‘t stop - not talking about California.  It‘s not a surprise.  It‘s not in play, but it‘s more than a fifth of the vote that you need to win the presidency.  It‘s a big asset for any Democrat to be able to put that off to the sides; they have got that one.  But you look at some of these other states - Iowa, which has been a swing state.  George Bush carried it four years ago.  Barack Obama had his breakthrough out there.  He‘s stronger there now, and also in the upper Midwest, talking about Wisconsin and Minnesota doing better, a lot more of those affluent college educated liberals there, making Barack Obama in a solid position and we thought it (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ABRAMS:  Three big changes, right?  Iowa, New Jersey and Oregon - is that right?  I mean, Iowa moves from a toss-up to leading Obama, as you just pointed out.  New Jersey moves from lean Obama to likely Obama.  Oregon moves from lean Obama to likely Obama.

HARWOOD:  Yes.  What you see are states that are - whenever you have a presidential candidate who‘s got a six-point lead, as you mentioned, in that poll, the water level is going to rise.  And so, a mildly Democratic state becomes a more solidly Democratic state.  That is happening to the State of New Jersey, happening in to the State of Oregon. 

ABRAMS:  Interesting.  McCain - let‘s go to McCain‘s case. 

HARWOOD:  Well, McCain is playing a lot of defense.  Barack Obama has got more money.  He‘s advertising in lots of places.  And what John McCain has to do is hold traditionally Republican states where Barack Obama seems to talk about playing.  Georgia is one.  Barack Obama could supercharge the African-American vote.  If he picked Sam Nunn on his ticket, that could help him there.  But John McCain needs to hold that. 

The same with the State of Montana, a place where Barack Obama has also been advertising out in the west.  They‘ve got a Democratic governor there.  In the State of Indiana, Evan Bayh is a potential vice presidential pick, but Indiana needs to be Republican territory for John McCain. 

ABRAMS:  The toss-up states - they‘re all important because 217 that Obama has, not enough. 

HARWOOD:  It‘s not going to get him over the finish line. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  So talk to us about the toss-up states. 

HARWOOD:  Well, start with Colorado, where Democrats are going to hold their convention.  That‘s been a Republican state the last few elections but Barack Obama is definitely in the game there, a lot of independent suburbanites around Denver - that‘s good territory for Barack Obama.  Polls have been auspicious for him there.  You‘re also looking at the State of New Mexico right next door to John McCain‘s Arizona.  You‘re also talking about the State of New Hampshire, a state that Barack Obama has got to hold in order to carry the election.  Nevada is another state out west where Barack Obama hopes to pick up a few electoral votes. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Again, some of the key questions - you mentioned this before when you referred to traditional Democratic states and traditional Republican states.  The traditional Democratic states that we have some danger of possibly going to McCain would be Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. 

HARWOOD:  John McCain is making a big play for blue-collar Democrats and independents.  Michigan is one, you‘ve got an unpopular Republican governor there.  Pennsylvania is another - Barack Obama got hammered by Hillary Clinton in that primary.  And New Hampshire - just as Iowa launched Barack Obama on the Democratic side, John McCain in both 2000 and 2008 has been launched by New Hampshire.  He thinks of that as home territory.  He‘s a threat there.

ABRAMS:  And the traditional GOP states in danger of going to Obama - Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia.  Virginia, I think, is one that‘s a surprise, is it not? 

HARWOOD:  Yes, although Virginia‘s elected Jim Webb to the senate. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s true.

HARWOOD:  They‘ve elected Tim Kaine as governor.  Tremendous growth in the population in northern Virginia - those are moderate voters.  And again, if Barack Obama can supercharge that African-American vote, that puts that state potentially in play for him. 

ABRAMS:  Let‘s bring back out panel - Pat Buchanan, April Ryan, Stephanie Miller.  Pat, any big surprises here? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, there are no big surprises quite frankly, but it could - it looks very good for Obama when you put Iowa in his column.  And of the nine swing states basically, Obama‘s leading - and six of them are red states and Obama‘s competitive there and only three are blue states, Michigan, Pennsylvania and there was New Hampshire.  And so what says is look, John McCain has got to hold that red base and hold it even with one point in each of these states and go out and win that Pennsylvania or Michigan to seal this thing.  It can be done.  But if you have to bet now, you‘ve got to bet that Obama has got too many opportunities and it looks like an Obama race. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  April, take us inside the campaign here for a minute of McCain.  Look, they‘re looking at the same numbers that we are, and they‘ve got to now be, you know, retooling the campaign.  What do you think they‘re going to do? 

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS:  Well, they‘re in trouble.  They‘re really trying to understand where they have to go because what‘s happening is the Democratic Party now is in play throughout the whole country instead of being bicoastal as they had been before.  And you know, what‘s at play now is not - again as you both said, it‘s not the traditional battleground states. 

All the states are at play, like you said, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, also Virginia, Colorado.  You‘ve got those states that could possibly go either way.  And before that, you didn‘t have that happening before, and what they are looking at is the fact that, look, this is not going to be called by one state like we saw in 2000.  So they‘re really looking at trying to go state by state and really winning there.

ABRAMS:  Is it fair to say, John, that the old school maps that used to apply don‘t apply, or do they still pretty much apply? 

HARWOOD:  They pretty much apply, but it‘s a shift on the margins.  And I think to put it in a terminology that the veteran linebacker Pat Buchanan can understand, he‘s talking about, “Welcome to the NFL” for Barack Obama.  Barack Obama has a serious field position advantage in this game. 

ABRAMS:  Stephanie, final thought? 

STEPHANIE MILLER, HOST, “THE STEPHANIE MILLER SHOW”:  Yes.  Dan, you know what?  Like every media story about Barack Obama has exploded.  He can‘t win women.  He‘s leading in women.  He can‘t win white working class people.  He‘s winning that by 10 points on McCain.  He can‘t win Latinos. 

He‘s winning.  I think these guys are right.  You‘ll play this clip back because it‘s going to be a landslide for Obama, Dan.  That‘s all I‘m saying.  It‘s going to be a whole new map -

(CROSS TALK)

ABRAMS:  Stephanie, we play back clips of you anyway.  I mean, you know, that has nothing to do with -

MILLER:  Thank you, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  John Harwood, hey, great to have you on.  Thanks a lot for coming in.  Appreciate it.  Pat Buchanan, April Ryan, Stephanie Miller, thanks a lot.

Coming up, Paris Hilton unwittingly starred in one of John McCain‘s ads.  Now, she‘s fighting back with one of her own.  And why does former child star Mary-Kate Olsen need immunity to speak to the feds about Heath Ledger‘s death? 

Plus, a couple ties the knot in midair as if getting married isn‘t scary enough.  Coming up in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Now, to “Reality Bites.”  Tonight to England, where a bride and groom took to the skies to exchange their vows.  We‘re not talking about inside a plane.  This couple actually strapped themselves to the plane.  The official who performed the ceremony also went airborne.  Guests on the ground were able to hear the ceremony, thanks to microphones and a P.A. system.  Talk about the Mile-High Club.   We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  There‘s news tonight in the ongoing deadlock between actress Mary-Kate Olsen and federal authorities investigating the overdose death of actor Heath Ledger.  Olsen is reportedly demanding immunity before she talks and getting slammed for it.  An anonymous “New York Post” source saying, quote, “Everyone has been very eager to help saying what a great guy Heath Ledger was, except Mary-Kate who has refused to speak.” 

We‘ll talk more about why she may want immunity in a minute. 

First, here‘s NBC‘s Mike Taibbi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)  

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice over):  Autopsy results show the late star of the current Batman blockbuster died from an accidental overdose of painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs.  But investigators are still trying to discover the source of two of them, OxyContin and Vicodin.  A Drug Enforcement Administration official told NBC NEWS Ledger‘s friend, the actress Mary-Kate Olsen was subpoenaed last April as part of the continuing investigation into the source of those drugs and said, “We‘re still in talks to arrange an interview.” 

Olsen‘s attorney issued a statement Monday, saying his client had nothing whatsoever to do with the drugs found in Heath Ledger‘s home or his body and she does not know where he obtained them.  The actress is not under investigation.  But former federal prosecutor, Robert Mintz, explained why someone in her position might seek immunity before speaking on the record. 

ROBERT MINTZ, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  In cases that are very high profile, it‘s not going to be that unusual for a lawyer to be perhaps even more cautious.  And the only way to ensure that your client has no potential for any criminal liability is to ask for immunity. 

TAIBBI:  when Ledger was found unconscious and unresponsive in his New York apartment last January 22nd, one of the first phone calls from that apartment was to Ledger‘s friend, Olsen, who dispatched her security guard to the scene as emergency medical technicians were arriving. 

(on camera):  except for a short statement days later calling Ledger‘s death a tragic loss, Olsen herself said nothing about it publicly until Monday statement through her New York lawyer, denying any knowledge about the actor‘s prescription drugs. 

(voice over):  Now, more than six months later, there‘s Oscar buzz around Ledger‘s performance as “The Joker.” 

LEDGER:  Well, hello, beautiful. 

TAIBBI:  And investigators still hope to talk to his famous friend who was as close to him as anyone at the time he died.  Mike Taibbi, NBC NEWS, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Joining me now attorney and “Tru TV” anchor Lisa Bloom, and Tom O‘Neil, senior editor for “In Touch Weekly.” 

All right.  Lisa, legally, what is this lawyer doing?  Why demand immunity? 

LISA BLOOM, ATTORNEY AND “TRU TV” ANCHOR:  Well, let‘s call it what it is - suspicious.  You only ask for immunity if you have something to hide.  If she was going to make that same statement under oath that attorney‘s making, not under oath to the public, “I don‘t know where those prescription drugs came from.  I had nothing to do with it,” she would not have a need for immunity.  So either she‘s overly concerned or her attorneys are overly concerned that she him the drugs, or they‘re asking her about her own drug use, or she knows the third party that gave him the drugs.  I mean, it‘s probably one of those possibilities. 

ABRAMS:  But also, in this high-profile case, as you know from how many you‘ve covered, the lawyers have to think both about the legalities and about the PR, meaning she‘s getting terrible PR right now. 

BLOOM:  Yes.  And that‘s why this is even more suspicious, because an aimless celebrity like Mary-Kate Olsen is surrounded, not just by lawyers, but by publicists, managers, aroma therapists.  Everyone is looking out for her best interests and nobody wants her to seek immunity except her lawyers.  It‘s really against her interest in the public sphere.  We‘re all talking about it today. 

ABRAMS:  Tom, what do we know about their relationship? 

TOM O‘NEIL, SENIOR EDITOR, “IN TOUCH WEEKLY”:  They met in 2006 through Sienna Miller, another club crawler, fast-lane party girl star.  They dated briefly from September, roughly three months before he died.  They were really close.  There are cute pictures of her dressing up like him, putting on hats and vest like him.  But it was not a full-blown romance.  But they often went to two clubs together out in Los Angeles, the Chateau Marmont and here in New York, the Beatrice Inn. 

ABRAMS:  What do you make of this?  I mean, if we were talking about the PR aspect of this and this is a PR disaster for her, is it not? 

O‘NEIL:  Oh, my god, it really is.  Well, it goes back to the suspicion from the death scene, which is why did the masseuse call Mary-Kate Olsen three times - she only connected once - before she called 911?

ABRAMS:  Do you know why? 

O‘NEIL:  The one legitimate thing you could say is the masseuse did meet Heath through Mary-Kate.  But if she suspected that this was a life-and-death situation, why was she calling Mary-Kate first?  But then, the thing that is really damning here and suspicious, if you want to go to the darkest place of all, which is why did Mary-Kate then call her bodyguards and send them to the scene of the death?  It‘s suggests, if you want get in conspiracies, “Go there, clean up the drugs,” if there were any.  But we have to be very careful here.  Mary-Kate Olsen has never admitted a drug problem.  She was in rehab in 2004 for six weeks.  It was for an alleged eating disorder. 

BLOOM:  And she‘s not named as a suspect. 

ABRAMS:  And I mean, we‘re getting a little ahead of ourselves here.  She‘s beyond - not a suspect.  There‘s nothing to believe that she‘s suspected or a person of interest in anything.  Really? 

BLOOM:  She‘s asking for immunity.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ABRAMS:  But she‘s asking for immunity in connection with, you know, details about how he died, right?  I mean -

BLOOM:  Right.  And look, this could be a fishing expedition by the feds.  They may be asking her a lot of personal questions about her own life about her own potentially prescription drug use that could deal -

(CROSS TALK)

ABRAMS:  See, I think that may be the issue, because -

BLOOM:  Yes, because this is the investigation phase.  They ask those kinds of questions. 

ABRAMS:  Right, but that wouldn‘t have anything to do with his death. 

It would have to do with her own life. 

BLOOM:  Yes.  And that‘s an explanation that makes her attorney‘s statement consistent and her request for immunity consistent. 

ABRAMS:  Lisa Bloom, Tom O‘Neil, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

BLOOM:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser be Tyra Banks posing as Michele Obama for a magazine; Paris Hilton giving John McCain a piece of her mind; or Paul McCartney making peace with Heather Mills?  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.”  Here with us

again, always a winner, Contessa Brewer.  Contessa -

CONTESSA BREWER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  First up, Paris responds.  We‘ve seen John McCain‘s now-infamous attack ad comparing Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.  Well, now, Paris is fighting back with her own ad posted on the Web site, “FunnyorDie.com.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PARIS HILTON, CELEBRITY:  Hey, America.  I am Paris Hilton, and I am a celebrity too.  I‘m not from the olden days and not promising change like that other guy.  I‘m just hot.  But then that wrinkly, white-haired guy used me in his campaign ad, which I guess means I am running for president.  Thank you for the endorsement, white-haired dude.  And I want America to know I‘m like, totally ready to lead.  I‘ll see you at the debate, bitches. 

Now, if you‘ll excuse me, I have to go pick out a vice president.  I‘m thinking Rihanna.  I‘ll see you at the White House.  Oh, and I might paint it pink.  I hope that‘s cool with you guys.  Bye. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BREWER:  Oh, yes.  Paris Hilton, that‘s hot.  Actually, I really do think that was funny. 

ABRAMS:  See, see.  It‘s Paris.

BREWER:  And I can‘t believe I‘m going to say this, this will be used against me on YouTube for eons to come - Paris Hilton a winner. 

ABRAMS:  She is a winner.  And here, we‘ve just gotten, believe it or not, the John McCain campaign has actually just moments ago responded to that. 

BREWER:  To Paris Hilton?

ABRAMS:  “It sounds like Paris Hilton supports John McCain‘s all-of-the-above approach to energy crisis, including both alternatives in drilling.  Paris Hilton might not be as big a celebrity as Barack Obama., but she obviously has a better energy plan. 

BREWER:  All right.  Up next, who would have thought, Paul McCartney pens a new love ballad for none other than estranged ex-wife, Heather Mills.  The couple‘s bitter divorce battle was just settled three months ago.  But apparently, Paul is ready to give peace a chance.  Britain‘s “Daily Mail” reports the former Beatle recently recorded a track about Heather for the artist Nitin Sawhney‘s upcoming album.  The melody entitled “My Soul” is reportedly an affectionate and heartfelt tribute to his ex.  A friend of Sir Paul tells the paper McCartney feels sorry for Mills and recognizes she is complex and misunderstood.  What are you thinking?  She‘s going after the royalty on her new ballad?

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to believe that McCartney is going to hear that and he‘s going to say, “They said it is about her?  Are you kidding me?  There is no way.  It‘s not about her.”  Look, she, she is -

BREWER:  Heather Mills? 

ABRAMS:  I mean—

BREWER:  Still a -

ABRAMS:  Loser.  Right? 

BREWER:  It‘s unfortunate that we have to go there. 

ABRAMS:  I mean -

BREWER:  A woman who has accomplished so much in her life. 

All right.  Our last topic here.  Tyra Banks has grabbed a lot of attention on the runway and, of course, on her television daytime talk show over the years.  But her latest spread in “Harper‘s Bazaar” magazine impersonating Michelle Obama as first lady is raising a whole lot of eyebrows. 

Here is Tyra posing - well, let‘s show the other one.  She‘s posing with a fake Barack Obama with a pretend daughter.  Look at this one, and there, at the desk in the faux Oval Office.  And then there‘s the one where she is in bed with the fake Barack Obama.  I don‘t know.  I don‘t want to imagine any guy who is going to be president in this way, number one, and number two -

ABRAMS:  In what way? 

BREWER:  In bed with Tyra Banks.  I mean, it‘s just wrong. 

ABRAMS:  Everyone is making a big deal about this.  I mean, I kept thinking, let‘s turn it around, right, if it had been McCain. 

BREWER:  Even wronger. 

ABRAMS:  Maybe some, you know, actress or something, pretending she is Cindy McCain.  And they do a fake photo shoot with a fake John McCain.  Is that a big deal? 

BREWER:  Who are you going to get to play that, Heidi Montag? 

ABRAMS:  You have to get - come on.  The answer to that question is so rife with danger that I am not going to start speculating about who might play Cindy McCain. 

BREWER:  I think that Tyra might have been better off going back to X-raying her boobs to show that they‘re real. 

ABRAMS:  Really?  I don‘t think that was such a big deal. 

All right.  Contessa, I want you to stick around because we‘ve got some funny stuff in the “P.O.‘d Box,” all right? 

BREWER:  OK.

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for the “P.O.‘d Box,” your chance to tell me what you hate or love about the show.  First up, Glen from Oklahoma City, weighs in about Mary-Kate Olsen demanding immunity before she‘ll speak to authorities about Heath Ledger‘s death, “She has a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.  A request for immunity eliminates the possibility that even an innocent comment might be turned against the girl by an overzealous agent.” 

Glen, spoken like a true lawyer.  That is all true.  But it remains a legitimate question to ask why she remains the only friend of Ledger‘s who demanded immunity.  She has the right to do it, and we have the right to ask why. 

And last night, Contessa and I talked about “People” magazine‘s cover, featuring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie‘s, three-week old babies. 

BREWER:  Allegedly. 

ABRAMS:  Right?  All right.  Remember, this is the picture that got - remember, you told me that parenting experts said that the pictures may have been Photoshopped because the baby was grinning at such a young age. 

Right?  That was the -

BREWER:  Right, that was their -

ABRAMS:  Their suggestion. 

BREWER:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  OK.  So we got a ton of photos from people sending in shots of their smiling infants.  This picture, sent in by Monica of her little girl.  She says it was taken minutes after she was born. 

BREWER:  Come on. 

ABRAMS:  Minutes after she was born.  This is Shiri Rigoski‘s(ph) granddaughter, also taken at the hospital.  And John Lynn McDermott from Waynesville, North Carolina sent us this one of his four week old granddaughter. 

BREWER:  OK.  All right. 

ABRAMS:  Right?

BREWER:  Wait a minute.  Gasp, gasp - they don‘t call it smiles.  I mean, they do say they‘re not actually smiling.  They‘re making their muscles of their mouths spread wide open but it‘s not real. 

ABRAMS:  Did I not say last night I was dubious of the parenting experts who were saying, “Oh, this can‘t be smiling at this.” 

BREWER:  You called it yesterday. 

ABRAMS:  And I don‘t have kids. 

BREWER:  So how is it that you are an expert? 

ABRAMS:  You know, this is -

BREWER:  There‘s a lot of running in the park, seeing babies -  

ABRAMS:  Here is the great part about being an expert on everything, right?  It‘s I‘m an expert on everything - not at all.  I just got lucky in this particular case, and I got it right.

BREWER:  If you‘re not an expert, you play one on TV. 

ABRAMS:  Exactly. 

That is all the time we have for tonight.  Contessa, as always, thanks.  You can E-mail us about the show at verdict@msnbc.com.  See you tomorrow.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2008 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2008 ASC LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and ASC LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

W atch Verdict with Dan Abrams each weeknight at 9 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,