updated 9/19/2008 1:31:25 PM ET 2008-09-19T17:31:25

Guests: Jim Webb, Paul Begala, Michael Isikoff, Tony Knowles, Melinda Henneberger, Kent Jones>

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  All right.  I‘ll do that.  Thanks, Keith, as always.

And thank you at home for sticking with us.  There‘s much to get to in the next hour, including the shaky fundamentals of the economy, the surprisingly shaky fundamentals of John McCain‘s grasp of foreign policy, our shaky assumptions about Barack Obama‘s challenges with women voters, and Alaska‘s “first dude” refusing to testify in what was supposed to be the troopergate investigation.

(voice over):  What hurt the campaign more—appearing uncertain as to who is the prime minister of Spain?

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Appearing uncertain as to whether or not Spain is part of Europe, or denying any such uncertainty and instead, dissing Spain—hinting that maybe we should see them as an adversary rather than one of our big NATO ally.

The McCain campaign incredibly has chosen door number three, Jim Webb, the maverick senator from Virginia with foreign policy expertise joins us with his view of John McCain, the quote, “maverick candidate for president who has foreign policy expertise”?

With banking system in crisis, Senator McCain boldly announces that as president, he would fire the SEC chairman.  Barack Obama responds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You can fire the whole “trickle down, on your own, look the other way” crowd in Washington who has led us down this disastrous path.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator Obama, you missed something good there.  Neither President McCain nor President Obama, nor any president has the authority to fire the SEC chairman.

Have you notice John McCain has been making little mistakes like that a lot recently?

Paul Begala joins us to talk strategy for the next 46 days.

Between its bruising contests with Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin on the opposing ticket, the Obama campaign has big problems with women voters, right?  No, totally wrong, actually.  We debunk the bunking (ph) common wisdom with the real live facts.

And it looks like so long to troopergate.  Republicans from Juneau to Phoenix to Washington, D.C. wanted that story gone.  And tonight, they may be getting their way.  Former Alaska governor Tony Knowles tells us just what he takes away from the Sarah Palin scandal that went away.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now.

(on camera):  So, it‘s agreed -- (A), for as long as this presidential campaign remains focused on the American economy and what remains of our financial system, Barack Obama has inherent political advantage over John McCain.  And it is also agreed, (B), that when the campaign turns back to judgment on foreign policy, momentum will turn back from Obama towards McCain.

I‘m fairly certain on (A).  But given, yet, another apparent, big, new John McCain misstep on foreign policy, (B) is an increasingly dubious assumption.

First, today‘s politics about the economy, politics that continue to benefit Obama, having fecklessly suggested a blue ribbon commission to study the economy two days ago, Senator McCain took a far more aggressive attack today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the president, and in my view, has betrayed the public trust.  If I were president today, I would fire him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Fire him?  That sounds much stronger than a blue ribbon commission.  One problem—a president can‘t actually fire the SEC chairman because heads of independent regulatory commissions can‘t be removed by a president.  That‘s the whole independent thing.

Even forgiving Senator McCain‘s factual error there, his thrust on the “fire the SEC chairman” idea allowed Barack Obama to parry, and then some.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Don‘t just get rid of one guy, get rid of this administration, get rid of this philosophy, get rid of the do-nothing approach to our economic problem, and put somebody in there who‘s going to fight for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  As of yet, the economy is not turning out to be John McCain‘s issue in this campaign.  McCain has telegraphed for months, for years that he knows that the economy isn‘t his strong suit.  And his vice presidential pick bragged when she was running for governor that she only got a “D” in macro economics when she took in college.

But McCain and his campaign have taken comfort in their belief that McCain‘s lack of facility with the economy is more than made up for by his good judgment on foreign policy, right?  And that brings us to the issue of Spain.  Spain?  Spain, who knew we‘d be talking about Spain this moment of the presidential race?  But, boy, how are we?

In an interview with the Florida radio station this week, John McCain was asked whether he would meet with the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, a leader who has been at odds with the Bush administration because he took Spanish troops out of Iraq after he got elected.  McCain seemed confused about who the interviewer was asking him about.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  If you‘re elected president, would you be willing to invite the President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to the White House to meet with you?

MCCAIN:  I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  So you have to wait and see if he‘s willing to meet with you or you‘ll be able to do it in the White House?

MCCAIN:  Well, again, I don‘t, all I can tell you is that I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us and standing up to those who are not, and that‘s judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The entire region?  Latin America, the hemisphere?  So, what happened there is that Senator McCain was either confused by the question or he wasn‘t sure who the Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain is.  In either case, McCain pretty clearly put Spain in Latin America and not in Europe.

Still, things didn‘t get truly troubling about this until the McCain campaign tried to explain their candidate‘s apparent stumble with an aggressive statement which said that he knew exactly what he was talking about.  That explanation included this, quote, “Senator McCain did not rule in or rule out a White House meeting with President Zapatero.  Also, quote, “He is not going to make reckless promises to meet America‘s adversaries.”

So, in John McCain‘s foreign policy judgment, Spain is possibly an adversary so we can‘t promise McCain would meet with?  Spain?  The democracy with the troops in Afghanistan and the big economy, and the big cornerstone of Europe?

Add this head-scratcher to a growing litany of them from the foreign policy judgment guy in this race.  In this campaign, McCain has said that Iraq and Afghanistan share a border.  He has repeatedly said that Czechoslovakia still exists—it doesn‘t.  He was confused about the difference between Sudan and Somalia.

He was confused about whether more it‘s more NATO troops or more U.S.  troops that he wants to send to Afghanistan.  He was confused about what U.S. troop levels are in Iraq.  He was confused about Iran‘s relationship with al Qaeda.

He was confused about the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.  Remember Joe Lieberman having to whisper the correction into his ear.  And then there was that awkward reference to President Putin of Germany.  But we don‘t need to go into that.

Add the foreign policy gaffes to the aggressive stance toward “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bombing Iran,” his running mate‘s assertion that perhaps we do need a war against Russia.  And now, they‘re drawing a line in the sand against—Spain?

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.  He is supporting Senator Barack Obama‘s presidential bid.

Senator Webb, thank you very much for joining us today.

SEN. JIM WEBB, (D) VIRGINIA:  Nice to be with you on the show.

MADDOW:  Initially, it was thought that Senator McCain did not understand the question or that forgot who the Spanish prime minister was.  Now, his campaign insists that Senator McCain intentionally will not commit to meeting with Spain, one of our NATO allies.  What do you make of this?

WEBB:  It could be a gaffe on the part of his campaign, actually.  I really don‘t want to judge how that exchange went without letting it play out a little bit.  I think the problem that we all should be focusing on is the one that he—the decision that he made with a great deal of clarity and thought and that is the person that he picked to run as his vice presidential nominee and, you know, is asking the entire country to take an enormous leap of faith here in terms of the what qualifications of that person would be in areas like foreign policy.

MADDOW:  Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, one of your colleagues, today made news by making some very pointed comments about the vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin.  He said specifically, quote, “She does not have any foreign policy credentials.”  Is it a big deal for a Republican senator to make an assessment like that, and do you share that assessment?

WEBB:  I have been friends with Chuck Hagel for 30 years.  He and I came up together as Vietnam veterans, started working on the Hill in the late 1970s.  He is a tremendously respected senator by both parties.  He‘s on the foreign relations committee.  He has a longtime friendship with John McCain.

So, I think that if people look at Chuck Hagel‘s background, that they have something pretty concrete to weigh that comment against.  And I happen to agree with him.  As someone who has spent a lot of my life working on foreign policy and having sat for the last two years on the armed forces committee and the foreign relations committee, that every American needs to think really hard, whether you‘re a Republican or a Democrat about the potential of Governor Palin stepping into the shoes of the presidency without these kinds of experiences.

But, the bottom line right now is, we need a steadfastness of purpose, we need leadership hat we can gather around in a situation where we now are facing the worse crisis that this country has faced since the combination of the Great Depression and World War II.  And we need, you know, some real reassurance here that we‘ve got people at the helm who have the intellect and the vision to move the country forward.  And I believe that person is Barack Obama and if you examine his vice presidential nominee, the qualification and the experience that you see in Senator Biden is just what the country needs right now.

MADDOW:  One last question for you on that issue of foreign policy, Senator Webb, and we have seen John McCain as early as literally the morning of September 11th, 2001 start to make the case for invading Iraq, his hawkishness toward Russia this year, included him for claiming we are all Georgians now.  We had this sort of inexplicable stanch against Spain today that we still don‘t quite understand.  We‘ve heard him sing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” to the tune of a Beach Boy song.

His stanch on foreign policy is, I would argue, perhaps, even more hawkish than the Bush-Cheney administration has been, certainly more aggressive.  Do you think that that connects to his temperament or do you think that these are intellectually held positions?

WEBB:  I think, in fairness, there are other people who could give you a judgment on that.  But I will say this, the incidents that you mention and others do reflect judgment, and they reflect a view of where this country is, I suppose, to where it might have been in the 1950s or the 1960s.  We can‘t pull out a military solution for every single problem that we face.

And in terms of temperament, I will say this and I‘ve said it many times out speaking that the attacks that Barack Obama has endured for the last 19 months and the way that he has responded certainly reflect positively on his temperament and that is, you know, that is a sense of calm that I think you want when we are trying to sort out these solutions under great pressure.

MADDOW:  Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, we do really thank you for taking the time to be with us tonight.

WEBB:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thanks for joining us.

WEBB:  Great to be on this show.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

Politically, this has been a week where Barack Obama hit his stride and John McCain really didn‘t.  Is that just a product of the country being focused on the economy or is there something that the McCain campaign could do to try to regain the advantage?  The guy who ran the campaign that coined the phrase, “It‘s the economy, stupid,” he joins us in just a moment to help figure it out.  Paul Begala is on deck with us.

Plus: The GOP elephant sits on troopergate investigation and squeezes just about all the life out of it.  Subpoenaed witnesses are stalling.  “First Dude,” Todd Palin, is refusing to testify.  Breaking news tonight from Alaska, where it‘s looking less and less likely that any northern light will be shed on Governor Palin‘s alleged abusive of power.

But first, one more thing about this campaign season, Republicans in the battleground state of Virginia are planning a unity rally on Saturday, in an effort to reach out to minority voters, which is great.  The Republican convention this year was one of the least African-American political conventions in modern American history.  It‘s good for the country to see the GOP get back to some of their minority outreach efforts by former chairman, Ken Mehlman, for example, was known for.

So, who have the Republicans turned to headline their minority outreach efforts this weekend?  They surveyed the ranks and chose former Virginia Senator George Allen.  You know, the “Macaca” guy?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE ALLEN, FORMER VIRGINIA SENATOR:  This fellow over here with the yellow shirt—Macaca or whatever his name is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I‘m not a minority outreach expert, but, maybe don‘t pick the guy who lost his Senate seat and gains national infamy for publicly ridiculing a minority using a weird racial slur as your minority outreach guy, maybe, but Lester Maddox wasn‘t available?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Just a week ago, John McCain was on the offense over lipstick.  Now, the race has clearly shifted to real concerns after the economy started going off like metal in a microwave.  The focus on issues means that the momentum has turned in Barack Obama‘s favor.

And for the first time since McCain and Obama clinched their respective nominations, we are watching John McCain play political defense.  You know what?  He‘s better at offense.

The latest evidence, Senator McCain selling his “drill, baby, drill” plan now with an environmental twist to push for more offshore oil rigs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  You look down and there‘s fish everywhere.  There‘s fish everywhere.  Yes, they love—the fish love to be around those rigs, so, not only can it be helpful for energy it can be for some pretty good meals as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, recapping offshore oil rigs, fish love them.  Remember when they tried to sell the idea of drilling in ANWR in Alaska with the argument that the caribou loved to cuddle up to the oil pipelines, they love that pipeline warmth?  Yes.  OK.

Then there‘s Sarah Palin seeming to sense the unsteady footing on Team McCain.  She‘s now flipping the script and calling McCain her running mate when selling the idea of the two of them as a ticket.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That‘s exactly what we are going to do in a Palin and McCain administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  But perhaps, the most dramatic symptom of the bat on defense McCain campaign troubles right now is the growing chorus of disgruntled Republicans campaigning about—complaining, excuse me, about the maverick and about his campaign.  Elizabeth Drew, author of the laudatory McCain biography from 2002, “Citizen McCain,” she, today, added her voice to the choir writing, quote, “McCain‘s recent conduct of his campaign has reinforced my earlier, and growing sense that John McCain is not a principled man.  In fact, it‘s not clear who he is.”  Ouch.

Joining us now, Paul Begala, former advisor to President Bill Clinton and the author of, “Third Term: Why George W. Bush Hearts John McCain.”

Hi, Mr. Begala.  Nice to see you.

PAUL BEGALA, FMR. BILL CLINTON ADVISOR:  Rachel, thank you.  A longtime fan, first time appearance, so, thanks for having me on.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Thank you.

Karl Rove, today, your fellow Texan—offered some free advice to Barack Obama.  Rove said they are making a big mistake at the Obama campaign attacking John McCain, trying to tie John McCain to President Bush.  Karl Rove says Obama should instead return to optimism.  So, it was like, thanks, Karl.  I‘m sure Obama will get right on that.

BEGALA:  You know, Karl is practicing fuzzy math there.

MADDOW:  Yes.

BEGALA:  President Bush has approval rating around about 30 percent.  John McCain is in about 45 percent in the vote.  I was a liberal arts major, but, it seems to me, about one out of three McCain voters hates Bush.  The more that Barack and the Democrats link McCain back to Bush, that 91 percent voting record that McCain has over 7 ½ years, the better it is.

The truth is, he would be a third term for George W. Bush.  That‘s why Karl is trying to tell, in his sort of Machiavellian way, trying to tell Obama not to do it.  But, I suspect Barack Obama a little bit smarter than Karl Rove.  He‘s not going to listen to him.

MADDOW:  I have a feeling he‘s not going to say yes to that advice.  But it‘s hilarious to see Rove operate.  I will say, I‘m turning the tables a little bit, if Rove can give public bad advice to Barack Obama, Paul Begala, I believe that you can give good advice to John McCain.  What do you actually think that the McCain campaign should be doing right now tactically or substantively to get back on the offense?

BEGALA:  You know, they only have two problems.  The country doesn‘t agree with McCain on domestic policy or foreign policy.  Other than that, it‘s great, right?

So, what do you do?  You distract, right?  And this is where they have succeeded.  They‘ve done well when they were, you know, engaging in ridiculous distracting debates over whether you should put lipstick on a hog or something.

So, I would launch some distractions here.  Maybe they would start doing (ph) is—this is a Karl Rove thing—start the rumor, for example, that Barack Obama actually fathered a black child.  They could do that.  They could accuse him saying he dodged the draft.  Now, I happen to know that Barack was in the sixth grade when the Vietnam War ended, but that‘s dodging the draft.  He was hiding out in the safety of grammar school instead of serving his country.  Yes, that‘s what they‘re going to have to do, is just distract.

MADDOW:  There is a lot of ground on which the campaign even if domestic and foreign policy are off the table.  You instead campaign on personality and patriotism and all of those things.  But particularly, if the economy stays the issue, what should we expect from the Obama and Biden campaign in terms of how they turn it against McCain?  How long, specifically, before Obama and Biden start talking about the Keating Five?

BEGALA:  Well, I think that Charles Keating‘s name needs to be mentioned now.  I think this is the time to bring that in because McCain has a record here.  He is now trying to tout himself as a regulator and a reformer.  Let‘s take a look.  The last time we were in one of these messes, it was because, in part, because corrupt S&L operators like Keating were able to influence ethically-challenged senators, like McCain to try to lean on bank regulators like McCain did.

Now, he was only admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee and other senators behaved more badly.  But it was the beginning of the pattern.

Later, McCain becomes the powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.  He weighs in on the Federal Communications Commission in a way that the FCC chairman of that time, Bill Kennard, thought it was very inappropriate.  He weighs in on behalf of the telecommunications companies that happened to be giving money to the John McCain campaign.

I mean, this is a guy who, regularly, has leaned on regulators to help the lobbyists who helped him.

MADDOW:  Is it a bad sign about the tactical, I don‘t know, I don‘t want to say ruthlessness, tactical aggression of the Obama-Biden campaign that they have not yet raised this issue?

BEGALA:  You know, in the fullness of time, this is likely to come up, I don‘t work for them, I‘m not in there—but I‘ll vote for them.

MADDOW:  That‘s why I‘m asking.  I know.

BEGALA:  Yes, I‘ve sent them money.  But, you know, I think they are on—right now, they are on a very good streak, talking about the economy and putting the Bush-McCain economic record on trial.  I mean, I think, people like me, like you, I think others ought to be pointing out that when McCain talks about regulation, his most important regulatory enterprise has been trying to subvert regulation on behalf of lobbyists who support him.

But, no, I think, you know where I suspect, well, I don‘t expect, where I want Obama to go next which is Social Security.  If McCain and Bush had their way, ¼ of your grandparents and mine of their Social Security, would be invested in the stock market, it would be in Lehman Brothers, it would be in Bear Stearns, it would be in the tank.

And that‘s also at the behest of the lobbyists who support McCain on Wall Street.  I think that‘s a fruitful piece of economic debate that they ought to engage in.  Let‘s hear McCain defend his proposal on Social Security.  If it had passed, the Bush-McCain Social Security program, we would have lost ¼ of our Social Security in this country, potentially depending on where it was invested.

MADDOW:  Particularly as McCain this week has been describing Wall Street as running like a casino.  It‘s a nice place they want to bet seniors‘ Social Security.

Paul Begala, thank you so much for joining us.

BEGALA:  Rachel, thanks.  Congratulations, again, on the show.  It‘s great.

MADDOW:  Thank you.  Paul Begala, former advisor to President Bill Clinton.  He‘s got a new book out called, “Third Term: Why George W. Bush Hearts John McCain.”

Here‘s how the math was supposed to work for John McCain—McCain plus Sarah Palin equals Republican votes from dissatisfied former Hillary Clinton supporters.  It turns out, as they say, the math doesn‘t work.  The political common wisdom about women voters in this election is apparently bull pucky.  We will separate fact from myth in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Burying the investigation into troopergate has bolted to the top of the McCain-Palin campaign‘s to-do list.  Now, the Alaska legislature may consider pushing back their inquiry until after November.  I wonder why they chose that month?  More in a minute.

First, though, it‘s time for a couple of underreported, holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

And in the case of this first story, I mean, severely underreported.  The economic crisis has turned the national page on Hurricane Ike, far too soon.  In Houston, America‘s fourth largest city, folks are still having problems with food and water distribution with lines of residents stretching several blocks waiting for supplies.  Houston is also being forced to ration healthcare as the city with the nation‘s largest population of uninsured and under-insured Americans, emergency rooms are overwhelmed with patients.

Many Texans in Ike‘s wake are still without electricity.  Over in devastated Galveston, city officials are fighting with each other about the number of residents who may return home, even though medical experts say the conditions in Galveston a health hazard.  The mayor says the city is in “third world country” status with no hot water or flushing toilets on most of the island.  Galveston‘s only hospital says it is now not capable of treating serious illnesses or major trauma.  Heck of a job, huh?  Some side effects of Ike are being felt in other parts of the country as well.  After the hurricane knocked out 20 percent of the nation‘s refining capacity, there are reported gasoline shortages throughout the southeast and the mid-Atlantic states. 

Hardest hit?  Most likely to run dry are Stations not affiliated with big petroleum brands.  They say they can‘t afford the wholesale prices of the limited supplies that are available.  “USA Today” reports that in the state of Virginia, for example, about 15 percent of gas stations, 15, one-five, have no gas.  Twelve refineries are still shut down along the gulf.  Most refinery capacity may not be restored for another 10 days. 

And finally, a little good news, the new I-35 W Bridge in Minneapolis has just opened.  It was completed three months early and under budget.  It was just over a year ago that the busy 40-year-old I-35 W Bridge tragically collapsed.  Construction crews working on the new bridge worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to get the job done. 

The new bridge is built with concrete instead of steel.  It contains hundreds of sensors that will collect data, hopefully detecting small problems before they become big ones with other sensors activating an anti-icing system when necessary, as well as a series of cameras that should feed data on traffic flow.  It‘s a smart bridge. 

The federal secretary of transportation speaking of the bridge opening said, quote, “It shouldn‘t take a tragedy to build a bridge this fast in America.”  Amen.  Might I add, it shouldn‘t take a tragedy to get politicians to stop defaming bridge building and the rest of our infrastructure as evil pork.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Breaking news tonight - in the Sarah Palin trooper-gate investigation into the governor‘s possible abuse of power.  A McCain-Palin spokesman says the governor‘s husband, first dude Todd Palin will refuse to testify in the inquiry even though he was issued a subpoena.  Not responding to subpoenas.  Why does this seem so depressingly familiar? 

The first dude news comes as a state lawmaker said tonight that lack of cooperation by key witnesses will likely derail the investigation until after the presidential election.  The question being investigated is simple.  Did Sarah Palin fire safety officer Walt Monegan for refusing to fire a state trooper who was involved in nasty divorce with Sarah Palin‘s sister? 

Before she was selected as the GOP‘s vice presidential pick, Palin denied wrongdoing and said she welcomed the investigation.  In fact, she told the public to hold her accountable.  But McCain aides have now questioned the integrity of the inquiry even though it was launched after a 14-to-nothing bipartisan vote in the state legislature. 

As of tonight, remarkably, this investigation appears safely quashed until after the election, until after its findings might be of really big political consequence to Americans who don‘t live in Alaska. 

Joining us now is “Newsweek‘s” investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff.  Hi, Mike.  Thanks for joining us again.  Mr. Isikoff, what is the status of trooper-gate right now?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK” INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it seems to be crashing into a stone wall.  The subpoenas were voted by the Senate Judiciary Committee of the Alaska legislature just last Friday.  It now appears that none of the subpoenas for the aides to Gov. Palin and her husband, first dude Todd Palin, are going to be honored.  There is a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Anchorage tomorrow and it doesn‘t appear that anybody who was subpoenaed is going to show up. 

And so, the question then becomes, where does it go from here?  The bipartisan members who voted the subpoenas can refer this to the State Senate.  There could be a full vote to holding contempt - the witnesses in contempt by the full State Senate which could include first dude, Todd Palin.  The question is, will that vote take place before the election?  And it‘s not clear whether it will. 

MADDOW:  To what degree is tonight‘s news that now anything will happen before the election?  To what degree is this a result of the McCain campaign airlifting a lot of lawyers and operatives out there to try to stop this investigation?

ISIKOFF:  Right.  Well, look.  There was a calculated decision made, no question about it, shortly after Sarah Palin‘s election as vice president, that this was a potential minefield for the McCain campaign.  You had a bipartisan unanimous vote by the legislative council with management body for the Alaska legislature to conduct this investigation.  The deadline - and this is before Sarah Palin was even contemplated as a vice presidential nominee, was going to be October 31st

So once the selection was made, I think the McCain people who, whether or not they fully realized this before Sarah Palin‘s selection, suddenly realized that right after, that they were facing this potential October surprise of a damning report by the state legislature, which even if it didn‘t find illegal acts by the governor, could question her credibility on the eve of the election. 

So ever since, there has been a concerted effort by the McCain campaign as we talked about it a couple nights ago.  A top lawyer for the McCain campaign was going to as part of his rapid response team and made the argument repeatedly that the investigation was tainted by politics, that the guy in charge of it, Hollis French, was an Obama supporter, Obama contributor, who was making comments to the press that he shouldn‘t have made that suggested that this investigation was going to be embarrassing to the governor. 

And frankly, Hollis French did say things that he shouldn‘t have said.  He has acknowledged that, that this the results could be damaging to the governor, it could be an October surprise.  So he played into the hands of the McCain campaign, and the result is a political mess right now where the waters have been successfully muddied and the issues, the underlying issues, have been obscured. 

MADDOW:  Mike, we‘re just about out of time here because we‘re going to go talk to the Tony Knowles, who‘s the former governor of Alaska about this.  But I have one last quick for you.  Did the Obama campaign ever send people to Alaska to work on it?

ISIKOFF:  No, they have certainly been monitoring it very closely.  There have been suggestions that they did.  In fact, the McCain campaign has sent an ad showing wolves from the Obama campaign.  I was up in Alaska last week and didn‘t see any.  That doesn‘t mean they didn‘t exist.  If they are there, they‘re keeping a pretty low profile. 

MADDOW:  YES.  Just incredible.  Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent with “Newsweek” magazine, thank you as always. 

ISIKOFF:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  If you are not from Alaska and you‘ve ever considered even Alaska politics before Sarah Palin hopped a flight to Ohio to be tapped as the GOP VP choice, you might have known about the bridge to nowhere - the bridge to nowhere seven felony indictment guy, Sen. Ted Stevens.  Remember him, the guy who said this about the old computer box machine thingy?

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. TED STEVENS (R-AK):  The Internet is not something you just dump something on.  It‘s not a big truck.  It‘s a series of tubes. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Ted Stevens, everybody.  Then, there‘s Congressman Don Young who would go to any length, even carnivorous lengths, to settle a political score. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DON YOUNG (R-AK), CONGRESSMAN OF ALASKA:  As we continue this, we‘ll be called biting one another, very much like the mink in my state that kill their owner.  I am a little frustrated, and like I say, those that bite me will be bitten back. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  And in Alaska, Sarah Palin‘s home state, Sen. Stevens, the seven-count felony indictment guy, he‘s running for re-election and might make it.  The latest poll from Rasmussen shows the currently indicted incumbent senator is running just two points behind his opponent who, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, who in a bold departure for Alaska faces zero felony counts. 

As for a congressman that bites like a mink, Don Young, despite being the target of the same federal - being a target of the same type of corruption investigation that indicted Sen. Stevens, Don Young won his state‘s Republican primary last night.  Of course he did.  We haven‘t even mentioned the three other Alaska state lawmakers already convicted for a variety of corruption and/or bribery charges.  The point is, what‘s the fear from a little old trooper-gate?  Even the worst case scenario wouldn‘t get Sarah Palin off on the varsity team of among Alaska Republican lawmakers. 

We are joined now by former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles who lost the governorship in a close race with Sarah Palin in 2006.  Mr. Knowles was not involved in trooper-gate, though he has had an up close perspective on the Palin administration.  Gov. Knowles, thanks for joining us. 

FORMER GOV. TONY KNOWLES (D-AK):  Rachel, thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  From your perspective, how serious are the trooper-gate charges?

KNOWLES:  Well, from a perspective as a former governor for eight years, the charges are very serious.  Basically, what you‘re saying is a person abused their power of office, potentially committed an illegal act in directing a public safety commissioner to do an illegal act.  And when he didn‘t comply with not only the direction that possibly came from the governor, but from the governor‘s husband, the attorney general and other officers within the administration, he was then fired. 

I think it‘s a very serious charge.  And the legislature, as you and Michael very well discussed it and I don‘t have a lot more to add to it in that regard, in a bipartisan way, said there was enough evidence to initiate an ethics investigation.  It‘s never happened before in Alaska history, so it‘s a very serious issue.  The council that voted on that was 10 Republicans and four Democrats, so it was certainly bipartisan. 

And now, we have seen through the firestorm of maneuvers of the McCain-Palin campaign in attempting to shut down this investigation that it is becoming very apparent that it‘s a case of cover-up and stonewalling. 

MADDOW:  On the issue of the - I guess questioning the integrity of the investigation, is there any reason to believe what the McCain and Palin campaign are sort of alleging about the investigation after the fact it was a partisan witch hunt, that it was tainted, that it had become a tool of the Obama campaign in some way?  Do you buy those allegations at all?  It looks like by making these allegations, they have succeeded in pushing this investigation off until after the presidential election. 

KNOWLES:  Yes.  You know, this is politics as usual in the worst kind of way.  By coming in, attempting to - through distractions, through accusations, and the lawyer that they brought in from New York and the former governor spokeswoman the other day, really defamed Walt Monegan, the former public safety commissioner, a man, who for 35 years as a cop and as a police chief and a public safety commissioner, as a former marine, has served America and this state very well. 

And by defaming him, just in an attempt to gain a political edge along with the actions of the attorney general telling people to disobey the law and not testify, even though you‘re subpoenaed, that is an unfortunate politics as usual.  And they were not advertised as is.  They‘re supposed to be the reformers of this, and I think we‘re unfortunately seeing just the opposite. 

MADDOW:  Why does Sarah Palin have such a high approval rating in Alaska?

KNOWLES:  Well, having been a governor when the price of oil was $16 a barrel and went to $9 a barrel and we had to reduce our budget because the oil revenues for this state provide 85 percent of the budget, there was a $5 billion surplus last year, so what‘s - how can you not be popular with that kind of surplus and have that kind of a budget.  She increased the budget 60 percent.  It‘s a difficult - it‘s not a difficult challenge. 

MADDOW:  It‘s also not an easy way to describe being a fiscal conservative.  But I guess that‘s a conversation for another day.  Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, thank you so much for joining us. 

KNOWLES:  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Last night, we questioned whether John McCain, despite his choice of Sarah Palin, is offering any policies to help him with women.  The numbers inside the most recent polling would suggest he‘s not. 

Up next, what women voters really want this election.  Hint - all of Barack Obama‘s reportedly big problems with the female electorate?  It turns out those problems aren‘t that big. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Some of the most common, common wisdom in this presidential campaign has it that John McCain, picking Sarah Palin, cut deeply into Obama‘s lead among women.  Palin, the game-changer, the Palin effect, Palin knocks Obama on its keister or something.  Interesting story line, if by interesting you mean not at all true, not at all borne out by the facts. 

According to a new CBS News-“New York Times” poll, there‘s no sustained evidence of increased support for McCain among women.  Obama leads McCain by 16 points among women, 54 to 38.  And among white women, Obama is ahead 47 to 45 percent.  Before the Palin pick, it was McCain who was ahead among white women.  Before Palin, McCain led Obama among white women by seven points.  Now, he‘s down among white women by two points. 

So the numbers say that, if anything, Sarah Palin has made the McCain ticket less popular among women, not more popular.  Might it be that women care less about a candidate‘s gender and more about a candidate‘s position on the issues, like reproductive health, equal pay for equal work?  One note - we hope to have someone from the McCain campaign or another Republican guest on the show tonight to talk about this issue as we have contacted them about other issues on other nights. 

But no matter the topics, thus far at least, they have repeatedly said no one is available.  We‘ve got a list of some of the guests we‘ve hoped to have on so far.  We haven‘t even been on the air that long.  We‘ve asked all these people, so far to no avail.  We sincerely, sincerely, honestly, truly hope that one of them will join us still. 

Luckily, joining us now is Melinda Henneberger, a contributor to “Slate.com” and the author of “If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians to Hear.”  Melinda, thanks for joining us. 

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, CONTRIBUTOR, “SLATE.COM”:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  The Obama-Biden ticket saw a 21-point super bounce among women voters in this week‘s “New York Times” poll.  What do you think explains that big move in the polls?

HENNEBERGER:  Well, I think that if these numbers hold, what is astonishing here is that Obama will end up doing better with women than Bill Clinton did, who set the record.  So this whole idea that Obama had a problem with women, which I think actually began with Hillary Clinton, is just not borne out, as you said, by any of the facts. 

And I think that, you know, women like a lot of women who were Hillary supporters and across the pectrum like Sarah Palin and are excited to see conservative women have sort of, you know, their own version of a Hillary Clinton, but that doesn‘t translate into votes on Election Day and -

MADDOW:  There‘s also - comparing to Bill Clinton, I take your point absolutely.  There‘s also a really interesting direct comparison to be made to the last presidential election. 

HENNEBERGER:  Right. 

MADDOW:  Barack Obama doing about as well among women voters as John Kerry did at this point in the campaign.  But when you compare John McCain to George W. Bush, McCain is actually doing significantly worse than George W. Bush did with women, and McCain has a woman on the ticket. 

HENNEBERGER:  Right.

MADDOW:  It seems to me like the remarkable thing, the thing that ought to be commented upon is McCain‘s problem with women, not Obama‘s problem. 

HENNEBERGER:  That‘s right, and I think that, you know, initially, a lot of people thought, “Oh, Palin is on the ticket to woo those Hillary voters.”  That was never going to happen.  Those voters had largely come home even before the Palin pick, and I think from the women I‘ve talked to, even the stragglers have sort of been scared straight by this point. 

I really think that even though they may not like seeing her attacked or perceived attacks on her in the media, in the same way that they didn‘t like that when it was Hillary Clinton on the line.  That does not mean that they‘re going to support her.  And in fact, as you say on reproductive rights, on the economy, I think a lot of that bounce on the women was on the economy and extraordinary events of this week, I think, have really benefited the Obama ticket with women as well as with men. 

MADDOW:  I think that there‘s two policy ways to explain this.  One is that we know that women tend to be disproportionately interested in economic issues in terms of the menu of options we all vote on. 

HENNEBERGER:  Right.

MADDOW:  And so when things are good for the Democrats on the economy politically, that will probably disproportionately show up among women voters. 

HENNEBERGER:  Right.

MADDOW:  There may also be an anti-McCain-Palin vote on some issues of specific concern to women voters like reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work.  Do we know where to look for evidence of that?

HENNEBERGER:  You know, on the “equal pay for equal work,” the reason I tend to think, even though that certainly can‘t be doing McCain any good, since he didn‘t show up for the vote and said he would have voted against it had he shown up.  I‘m not sure it‘s that, because John Kerry honestly talked about that every day in ‘04.  He couldn‘t have talked more specifically about equal pay, about the glass ceiling, about protecting Roe.  And yet that didn‘t translate at the polls.  So I‘m not sure it‘s as much that as it is the economy. 

And it is just in these times looking at Palin‘s experience versus, you know, the excitement that she really has in the base of her party.  I mean, in St. Paul, as you know, those Republican women who were at the convention, I talked to a lot of women who were in tears.  They were so excited to finally feel represented by someone on their ticket.  But I don‘t think she‘s winning over those swing voters and certainly not those Hillary voters. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  It‘s not translating across the board. 

HENNEBERGER:  No, it‘s not.

MADDOW:  You‘ve blown up the common wisdom here.  Thank you, Melinda Henneberger.  It‘s great to have you here.

HENNEBERGER:  Thanks.

MADDOW:  Melinda Henneberger is a contributor to “Salon.com.”

Coming up, Kent Jones gives me just enough pop culture to go out among other people in public.  Is one Barack Obama enough? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Now, it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend Kent Jones. 

Hey, Kent.  What have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  In Brazil, a weird glitch in the law allows political candidates to run under any name they want to.  So, at least six Brazilian politicians have officially renamed themselves Barack Obama, including this guy, who is running for mayor of his town.  Said the faux-bama, quote, “I‘d been on the television wearing a suit and people thought I looked like him a bit, so they started calling me Barack Obama.  They‘d see me in the street and shout, ‘Hey Barack.‘  So I decided to register it.”  For the record, Obama‘s opponents in the race are Pele, Eleanor Roosevelt and Spartacus.  Rachel?

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent.  Thank you for watching.  Tonight, countdown with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Good night.  

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

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