updated 10/3/2008 11:05:29 AM ET 2008-10-03T15:05:29

COUNTDOWN

October 2, 2008 - 11PM

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Guests: Stephanie Cutter, Linda Lingle

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Asked about her greatest weakness, Governor Sarah Palin tonight talked about her greatest strengths and her marriage and her executive skills and the shining city on the hill.

Asked about Afghanistan, she got the name of the commander there wrong. She misquoted him and tried to scold Senator Biden for getting the quotes right. Asked about Iraq, she got the number of American troops there wrong. Asked, in short, about X, she answered about Y, and, on at least one occasion, said in advance she would not answer the moderator's question.

The governor of Alaska did not spontaneously combust. She did not say she would get back to us. In that sense, this was a triumph, and possibly in no other sense.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over): And now it belongs to the ages.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Go to a kid's soccer game on Saturday.

Joe Six-Pack, hockey moms across the nation. Darn right it was the predator lenders. I betcha you're going to hear some fear. And it's so obvious that I'm a Washington outsider. And the chant is drill, baby drill.

Barack Obama and Senator Biden...

OLBERMANN: The upset of a generation, Giants over Patriots in the Super Bowl, or lights out, like Ken Norton over Duane Bobick in 58 seconds in 1977, when the telecast still had two hours to run.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: John McCain voted to cut off funding for the troops. Let me say that again. John McCain voted against an amendment containing $1 billion, $600 million that I had gotten to get MRAPS, those things that are protecting the governor's son and, pray God, my son and a lot of other sons and daughters.

He voted against it. He voted against it, the funding, because he said the amendment had a timeline in it to end this war. And he didn't like that.

OLBERMANN: Palin v. Biden, and that was not a Supreme Court verdict.

Plus, the startling news buried in the debate coverage. McCain is pulling his campaign out of Michigan, no TV, no direct mail, staff transferred elsewhere.

With the analysis of Howard Fineman and Andrea Mitchell at Washington University in Saint Louis, Eugene Robinson, Obama campaign senior adviser Stephanie Cutter, and Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, this is COUNTDOWN's coverage of the 2008 vice presidential debate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Thursday, October 2, 33 days until the 2008 presidential election, and about 30 minutes after the vice presidential Palin/Biden debate.

Instead of answering the questions that were asked of her, the governor reverted to whatever topic she preferred, often energy, instead of the hesitance and silence that characterized her recent media interviews, Governor Palin aggressively attacking Senator Biden and the Democratic ticket.

The question tonight, on this special post-edition of COUNTDOWN: Was it enough? Was Governor Palin's performance tonight the game-changer that was needed to reverse the downward slide of the Republican ticket?

The governor Beginning the debate with a request to keep things informal, asking Senator Biden, with microphones open, at the handshake, -- quote-"Hey, can I call you Joe?"

From there, it was a short trip to attempting a connection with working-class voters and the proverbial Joe Six-Pack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let's commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe Six-Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars.

We need to make sure that we demand from the federal government strict oversight of those entities in charge of our investments and our savings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Senator Biden calling out his opponent on dodging certain questions and on getting certain facts wrong, as he did when Governor Palin falsely claimed that Senator Obama had voted 94 times either to raise taxes or to fight against tax cuts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: The charge is absolutely not true. Barack Obama did not vote to raise taxes. The vote she's referring to, John McCain voted the exact same way. It was a budget procedural vote. John McCain voted the same way. It did not raise taxes.

Number two, using the standard that the governor uses, John McCain voted 477 times to raise taxes-taxes. It's a bogus standard.

GWEN IFILL, MODERATOR: ... before we move on?

PALIN: I'm still on the tax thing, because I want to correct you on that again.

And I want to let you know what I did as a mayor and as a governor. And I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record, also.

As mayor, every year I was in office, I did reduce taxes. I eliminated personal property taxes and eliminated small business inventory taxes, and, as governor, we suspended our state fuel tax. We did all of those things knowing that that is how our economy would be heated up.

Now, as for John McCain's adherence to rules and regulations and pushing for even harder and tougher regulations, that is another thing that he has-is known for, though. Look at the tobacco industry. Look at campaign finance reform.

IFILL: OK, our time is up here.

PALIN: OK.

IFILL: We have got to move to the next question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: In addition to viewing those actual debate questions as optional, another Palin strategy, when things got uncomfortable, straying into energy, no matter what the original topic was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: That would keep people in their homes, actually help banks by keeping it from going under. But John McCain, as I understand it-I'm not sure of this, but I believe John McCain and the governor don't support that.

There are ways to help people now. And there-ways that we're offering are not being supported by-by the Bush administration nor do I believe by John McCain and Governor Palin.

IFILL: Governor Palin, is that so?

PALIN: That is not so, but because that's just a quick answer, I want to talk about, again, my record on energy versus your ticket's energy ticket, also.

I think that this is important to come back to, with that energy policy plan again that was voted for in '05.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: The debate shifting from economic issues and energy to foreign policy, Governor Palin, with a son already in Iraq, or due to be there shortly, with the Alaska National Guard, Senator Biden with a son, the attorney general of Delaware, heading to Iraq tomorrow with his National Guard unit, the Democrat calling McCain the odd man out for his refusal to accept a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the Republican calling that tantamount to a white flag of surrender.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that's for sure. And it's not what our nation needs to be able to count on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Senator Biden, meanwhile, wondering how a McCain/Palin administration would differ on foreign policy from the Bush administration, the one the country has right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: Past is prologue, Gwen. The issue is, how different is John McCain's policy going to be than George Bush's? I haven't heard anything yet.

I haven't heard how his policy is going to be different on Iran than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy is going to be different with Israel than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Afghanistan is going to be different than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Pakistan is going to be different than George Bush's.

It may be. But so far, it is the same as George Bush's. And you know where that policy has taken us.

We will make significant change so, once again, we're the most respected nation in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Joining me now from Washington University in Saint Louis in the immediate aftermath of this debate, Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC.

Howard, good evening again.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Keith. Hi.

OLBERMANN: Governor Palin did not crash, did not burn. But she also did not question-answer the questions as they were asked in many, many occasions. Is that something outside the spirit of this thing?

FINEMAN: Well, sure.

You know, she-my dominant impression, stylistically, was of a wolverine attacking the pant leg of a passerby. I mean, she got ahold of Joe Biden and hung on for dear life, using every attack line she conceivably could.

Obviously, they had rehearsed tons of attack lines in Sedona, the white flag of surrender, there you go again, Joe, on and on and on. She repeated her record from Alaska at any time she conceivably could, whether it related to the question or not.

She attacked on taxes. She attacked on differences that Biden had had with Obama during the primary season, certainly a legitimate area to attack. It was attack, attack, attack, resort to Alaska when necessary, not listen to the questions or answer them when necessary, all to get through the 90 minutes by attacking.

And, at least in that sense, it was successful, because, when David Axelrod came out here-that's the chief strategist for Barack Obama-into the spin room, where I now am, to begin spinning the assembled press corps, he didn't say, this woman is not ready for prime time. He didn't dare say that, because, in this context, in this kind of thing, she was more than ready for prime time.

What he said was, she didn't distinguish herself or John McCain from John-or John McCain from George Bush, that she didn't do the key thing that needs to be done, if you're a Republican, which is to distance yourself from George Bush. In no way, shape or form did she do that in this debate.

And that's what the Biden strategy and accomplishment was here tonight.

OLBERMANN: Other than stanching the hemorrhage that the last two weeks had been for her, in terms of her interviews, did she do anything to advance the cause of the ticket for Senator McCain in particular? Did she do anything, other than make herself less of a liability than she was this afternoon?

FINEMAN: No, I don't think so, substantively, no.

And her answers-or non-answers-will be picked apart in the minutes and hours and days ahead. She didn't defend John McCain's health care proposal very well, if at all. She didn't really explain his tax proposals or defend them, other than to say that tax cuts create jobs.

She didn't talk about the deficits that would result. She didn't defend the-the budgetary aspects of it. She didn't really defend or explain in any detail how John McCain's foreign policy would differ substantially-or at all-from George Bush's.

So, in substantive terms, and in the terms of the lay of the land of this campaign, I don't think she helped at all.

The one thing that she did do was stand toe to toe with Joe Biden in this weird kind of setup that we have in what we tend to call debates. It was a very rapid pace, an almost frantic pace, that actually, in a way, suited her. But she didn't really defend or explain or distance her ticket from those-from-from the George Bush years. And that's-that's the key, in the view of the Obama campaign. And I think they're probably right.

OLBERMANN: And, of course, the mean coming out of the McCain campaign is, well, that's just looking backwards anyway. You don't have to worry about the past, because it's all gone now.

FINEMAN: Yes. Don't look backwards.

OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC.

FINEMAN: Don't look backwards.

OLBERMANN: Don't ever look back. Something might be gaining on you was-was Satchel Paige's version of this.

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN: Let's now turn...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: Thank you, Howard.

Let's turn to Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC's "RACHEL MADDOW SHOW."

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Did she-did she win the debate by not going up in flames? Did she win the debate by not answering any of the questions? Did she win the debate?

MADDOW: I don't know. Honestly, I know that's a lame answer, but I don't know...

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: ... because there's three things that come out of debates, right? There's news, in case anybody makes any news. There's overall impression of what the candidate is like as a person. And there's sound bites.

I think that Joe Biden's sound bite of the night is probably going to be when he went after her on-when he went after John McCain on being like Bush, one of those repetitive, cadence-like lines that he used.

Her sound bite of the night is probably going to be montages being put together online and in cutting rooms all over America right now of all of her folksy-isms that she did.

OLBERMANN: You mean like the one we opened the show with?

MADDOW: Ding.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: And thousands more.

I mean, she was-she was very-she hammed it a lot a bit in terms a lot, in terms of the folksiness.

In terms of the overall impression, I think that Joe Biden was boring for the first half the debate. I agree with Pat Buchanan, who I know we're going to be talking with later, about Joe have been laden down in details and in numbers. Sarah Palin-Sarah Palin, I think, did come across as a little bit inhuman and like a character.

The one way in which I think that there might be a big headline out of tonight's debate is that is there was some news made. And that was the jaw-dropping proposal by Sarah Palin that the-that the powers of the vice presidency ought to be expanded. That wouldn't have been a big deal four years ago-or eight years ago-excuse me.

But coming out of Dick Cheney as vice president, that is a big deal. This is a woman who said that Dick Cheney's only bad decision was shooting Harry Whittington in the face. To look at the legacy of Cheney, to say she wants his job, and she wants more power, that's news.

OLBERMANN: We're getting an early-this is attributed to the FiveThirtyEight Web site, Nate Silver's operation. The CBS poll of undecideds had Biden winning the debate 46-21, and 33 percent called it a tied. But few votes moved. So, it might have been, in terms of content, a Biden victory, but-but a neutral play.

Is there enough time left in the campaign for John McCain and-and Sarah Palin to have a draw be sufficient at 33 days out, or is every day that they don't gain up any ground on-on Obama a disaster?

MADDOW: I think the stakes for both campaigns tonight were negative, in the sense that both of them had an opportunity to do some harm to their tickets. I'm not sure that either did, because I'm not sure that either candidate really defied expectations all that much.

I think that Sarah Palin certainly did participate in the debate and did stand alongside Joe Biden, and she did stay true to character. In terms of substance, I think she sort of met expectations, in not being able to keep up on the specifics.

I don't think that either candidate is going to have done anything tonight to have hurt the overall trajectory of either ticket. And, right now, the Obama trajectory is up. The McCain trajectory is down. Nobody can say whether that's going to hold true for another month. But I don't think there's going to be any major inflection because of what happened tonight.

OLBERMANN: The dig at the end about the filter of the mainstream media, who kept Sarah Palin from doing a live interview anywhere? Who kept Sarah Palin from coming on this newscast, or on your news show, or on "Meet the Press," or "This Week," or "Face the Nation"? Who's responsible for that horrible thing?

MADDOW: Well...

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: ... to go after the mainstream media is to be speaking to a very specific, energized, activist form of the Republican base.

There are people all across America on the far right who are cheering at any criticism of the mainstream media, and who cheered, probably, when she told Gwen Ifill, I'm not going to answer your questions. I don't care that she's the moderator. And I'm paraphrasing there. I mean, that's a partisan thing. That's why the conservative base loves her. They will probably love her all the more.

OLBERMANN: You up for this? I will challenge her. She can come on your show or my show for an hour. We will do it live. There will be no editing whatsoever, as long as she will answer like a couple, like 20 percent of the questions you or I ask, or we-she can choose us both. How about that?

MADDOW: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: You're game? All right.

MADDOW: Yes.

OLBERMANN: I don't-I don't think she or the Republican Party have

there's nothing-I don't think it's anything in their best interests to do that, but we will issue them that challenge right now, OK?

MADDOW: Thank you. I agree. Good.

OLBERMANN: All right.

So, either Rachel, or me, or both of us, and you can talk, and we won't even interrupt. But we will ask follow-up questions.

Rachel Maddow, who we will see again with Pat Buchanan, as she mentioned-thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right. Coming up, tonight's debate as seen through the eyes of each campaign.

This is COUNTDOWN coverage of the 2008 vice presidential debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Still ahead on COUNTDOWN's special analysis of the vice presidential debate: Did the candidates meet expectations tonight? We will check in with surrogates from both camps. We will talk with Stephanie Cutter, senior adviser for the Obama campaign, and Governor Linda Lingle, a surrogate for the McCain side.

That's next. This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: We will repeat that number from the CBS poll of uncommitteds. Forty-six percent of their uncommitted voters-they had a little less than 500 in their poll-said Biden won the debate. Twenty-one percent said Palin. Thirty-three percent said it was a tie. Eighteen percent of previously uncommitted voters say they are now committed to Obama/Biden. Ten percent say they're now committed to McCain/Palin. That would leave 72 percent saying their minds were not made up tonight, by any stretch of the imagination.

About what went on before, Joe Biden said tonight, during this debate, that past is prologue. Sarah Palin argued that past is irrelevant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: when we talk about the Bush administration, there's a time, too, when Americans are going to say, "Enough is enough with your ticket," on constantly looking backwards, and pointing fingers, and doing the blame game.

There have been huge blunders in the war. There have been huge blunders throughout this administration, as there are with every administration.

But, for a ticket that wants to talk about change and looking into the future, there's just too much finger-pointing backwards to ever make us believe that that's where you're going.

Positive change is coming, though. Reform of government is coming. We'll learn from the past mistakes in this administration and other administrations.

And we're going to forge ahead with putting government back on the side of the people and making sure that our country comes first, putting obsessive partisanship aside.

That's what John McCain has been known for in all these years. He has been the maverick. He has ruffled feathers.

But I know, Senator Biden, you have respected for them that, and I respect you for acknowledging that. But change is coming.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Joining us now from Saint Louis, Stephanie Cutter, senior adviser for the Obama campaign.

Thanks for your time tonight.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Hey, Keith.

OLBERMANN: I'm...

CUTTER: How are you?

OLBERMANN: I'm confused, is what I am, more than anything else.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: Unless I-my calendars are all wrong, the Bush administration has four months yet to be in office. How is that...

CUTTER: That's right.

OLBERMANN: How is that the past and irrelevant?

CUTTER: Right, particularly when people are still living with the real-life effects of this administration, both at home and over in Iraq.

You know, I think that it was a-a strategy of hers, to separate herself from George Bush. You know, it's just not credible for John McCain to do something like that. But she tried it, because maybe she doesn't feel like she's as tethered to the same policies and-and record as John McCain.

But, unfortunately, she couldn't name one thing that she would do differently than George Bush and John McCain. On the economy, on Iraq, on the war on terror, you name it, not one thing could she name that would be different, that would bring change to this country. So, I'm not sure if it was a very effective strategy.

And when she's talking, you know, about all administrations make mistakes, I think the belittling of those mistakes is not going to go over with the American people either.

OLBERMANN: The-the idea that-that visceral issues matter as much as what is said, obviously, that benefited your campaign last time out, for the strangest of reasons, when Senator McCain would not make eye contact with Senator Obama during the presidential debate last week.

Obviously, we didn't have anything like that. But, if there were

visceral issues here, do they not go to Governor Palin for the-given the

the disasters of some of her interviews recently, that there were no obvious disasters, long pauses, inability to remember simple facts about American history? That that did not happen, did she not-did she not prevail viscerally tonight?

(LAUGHTER)

CUTTER: Well, I think, Keith, that she stuck to her talking points pretty well.

But the problem was, when you got her off those talking points, she didn't offer any answers. If you go back and look at the questions that were asked of her, she didn't actually answer anything. But she stuck to the message and she stuck to the talking points pretty well.

That's what we see on the campaign trail, also. She's great at delivering those one-line punches in her stump speech. But, when you ask substantive questions, and drill her down on those answers, you don't get much. I'm not sure people learned anything new about Sarah Palin tonight that they didn't know.

And that's a problem, when people are making their choice for, you know, the-the position that's a heartbeat away from the presidency.

OLBERMANN: Were you-were you-were you concerned about that one

particular answer, when-when she was asked, as was Senator Biden, for

their Achilles' heel, and she gave an answer instead kind of reciting not -

I-it sounded to me like she didn't even hear the question correctly, but she just went through her strengths.

Senator Biden mentioned several Achilles' heels.

But I was flashed back to...

CUTTER: Right.

OLBERMANN: ... to the 2004 debates, when President Bush was asked if there was anything he regretted or thought he needed to-would have liked to have changed, done differently. It seemed to be an unfortunate echo for anybody who-who watched those debates four years ago.

CUTTER: Yes.

But, you know, Keith, we are in a much different place as a country. There's four more years of devastating effects of Bush policies. People are looking for honesty. People are looking for, you know-the best thing about Joe Biden is, he is who he says he is. He wears his heart on his sleeve. What you see is what you get. And that's what the American people got tonight.

That's not what they got with Sarah Palin. They got stock answers and talking points. You know, her answer reminded me of that advice that you get when you're going for your first job interview out of college, turn whatever negative you have into is a positive. You know, people get that. People understand that that's not honest.

You know, if she can't name a policy that she will differ with the Bush administration, that's not change. And, you know, I think that, at the end of the day, when we see the analysis out of this debate, when see where the polls are out of this debate, that will be evident.

OLBERMANN: Stephanie Cutter, a senior adviser with the Obama campaign, joining us now from-from Saint Louis.

And we thank you again for your time tonight.

CUTTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: After the break, the view from the McCain camp in the moments after this debate. I will be joined by Republican Linda Lingle, the governor of Hawaii.

COUNTDOWN's coverage of the face-off between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: It is unlikely you will find the adjective "mavericky" in any dictionary, at least in print. There might be one online that has added it, but you heard it a lot in this debate between Sarah Palin and Senator Biden. It was not a term with which Senator Biden seemed to agree.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: Let's talk about the maverick John McCain is. And, again, I love him. He's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives.

He voted four out of five times for George Bush's budget, which put us a half a trillion dollars in debt this year and over $3 trillion in debt since he's got there.

He has not been a maverick in providing health care for people. He has voted against-he voted including another 3. 6 million children in coverage of the existing health care plan, when he voted in the United States Senate.

He's not been a maverick when it comes to education. He has not supported tax cuts and significant changes for people being able to send their kids to college.

He's not been a maverick on the war. He's not been a maverick on virtually anything that genuinely affects the things that people really talk about around their kitchen table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Joining us now, as a surrogate from the McCain campaign, the governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle.

Governor Lingle, thank you for your time tonight.

GOV. LINDA LINGLE ®, HAWAII: Aloha, Keith. Great to be here with you.

OLBERMANN: How did, in your opinion, Governor Palin advance the McCain-Palin ticket tonight?

LINGLE: Well, I thought she did a great job, Keith, in letting people know that McCain-Palin means a breath of fresh air in Washington, D.C.

And I could tell you that people all the across this country are looking for a new direction in Washington. All you have to do is look at the results when people are asked, how do you rate the United States Congress? I think it's down at around 15 percent now, and that's because Americans want people working together.

And I think she made that point consistently, that Senator McCain has developed a long record as someone who can work across party lines. He doesn't just reach across the aisle. He walks across the aisle.

And Senator Palin has done the same thing in the state of Alaska. As governor, she's put people on her cabinet of all political parties or of independent backgrounds. Also, she took on people in her own political party. And as you know, that's one of the most difficult things to do.

OLBERMANN: You mentioned the new direction. If the old direction in terms of presidents and vice presidents, is the current president and vice president, the Bush administration, what did the governor say tonight that indicated how she will move away and how she and Senator McCain would move away from the Bush administration?

LINGLE: Well, I think you heard her say that there have been lots of areas in policy in Washington, D.C., that need a new direction.

And Senator McCain has showed this so consistently, Keith, whether it was calling for the resignation of the secretary of defense at one point, calling for the surge, going his own direction on immigration policy, on climate change, teaming up with Democrats to move forward on the judicial appointments. He's had such a long and consistent record of being bipartisan. And I honestly believe that's what America is looking for.

I'm a Republican governor from a state that is probably among the top two or three Democrat states in this entire nation. In my state legislature, out of 51 house members, 44 are Democrats. Out of 25 senators, 21 are Democrats. But I was elected with the largest percentage in Hawaii history.

And it shows that people are not partisan. They'll vote for Democrats. They'll vote for Republicans. What they do want, they want us working together. And that's what-that's what the Palin-McCain ticket is all about.

OLBERMANN: I only have time for one question, so I'm not going to be able to ask you when Senator McCain actually calls for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation. I'd like to ask you one that pertains to the process tonight.

Is it all unfair to the debate process to say to the moderator, "I may not answer the question in the way you want me to" or, in several occasions, as the governor did tonight, not answer the question that was posed by the moderator and change the topic after the question was posed?

LINGLE: Well, I thought it was great debate strategy and showed an experienced debater, because what you do in a situation like that, Keith, when someone poses a question that has three or four different issues in it, you choose the one you're most comfortable with, the one you feel most knowledgeable about. And you certainly don't answer in a way that your opponent would like you to answer or that the moderator would like you to answer.

So I think her debating skills really shined tonight.

OLBERMANN: Governor Linda Lingle of Hawaii, speaking here as a representative of that McCain-Palin ticket. We thank you for your time.

LINGLE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Coming up I'll be joined by Eugene Robinson of "The Washington Post." Did he see any signs tonight that Sarah Palin helped stop the slide that the McCain campaign experienced in polls lately?

And surprising results: interior numbers, if you will, out of a poll of uncommitted voters, 98 percent of whom said afterwards that one of these two candidates was knowledgeable about key issues.

You're watching COUNTDOWN's coverage of the vice-presidential debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: If there was a moment at which facts got in the way of the story, it was on the subject of Afghanistan in tonight's vice-presidential debate. And the facts do not fall in the way of Governor Palin. Here's Senator Biden and then Governor Palin on the subject, and then some actual quotes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: With Afghanistan, facts matter, Gwen. The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge-the surge principles used in Iraq will not-let me say this again now-our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, first, McClellan did not say definitively that the surge principles would not work in Afghanistan. Certainly, accounting for different conditions in that different country, and conditions are certainly different. We have NATO allies helping us, for one, and even the geographic differences are huge.

But the counterinsurgency principles also could work in Afghanistan.

McClellan didn't say anything opposite of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: That might be true. We don't really know who McClellan is supposed to have been. The general in charge of-working under Centcom commander General David Petraeus, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, is General David McKiernan. And what he said to the "Washington Independent" today was, "Afghanistan has very harsh geography. It's very difficult to move around, getting back to a reliance on helicopters. It's a country with very few natural resources as opposed to the oil revenues that Iraq has."

He continued along, talking about the differences in the two nations and then concluded, "So there are a lot of challenges. What I don't think is needed, the word that I don't use in Afghanistan is the word 'surge.' There needs to be a sustained commitment of a variety of military and nonmilitary resources, I believe. This followed what Petraeus told 'The New York Times' yesterday. People often ask what did you learn from Iraq that might be transferable to Afghanistan? The first lesson, the first caution, really, is that every situation like this is truly and absolutely unique and has its own context and specifics and its own texture."

So Petraeus was vague on the subject of whether or not a surge would work in Afghanistan but General McKiernan-or General McClellan or Scott McClellan or somebody named McClellan-disagreed entirely and said the word he would not use is the word "surge."

All right. As you saw pop up briefly and waiting patiently, Gene Robinson, columnist and associate editor of "The Washington Post" and also political analyst for MSNBC, joining us now.

Good evening, Gene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: That was our one-one moment of faux pas. Give me your overall assessment. With so much of this viscerally, what-what is left tomorrow morning in people's minds, the way McCain not looking at Obama was left in their minds last week?

ROBINSON: Well, Keith, I-I saw the debate that the-the undecided or uncommitted voters in that CBS survey group saw the debate. I -- I didn't-I thought it was a very strange encounter.

It was almost as if Biden and Palin were in two different worlds, not just on two different sides of the stage. He was in a world of history and policy and fact-yes, fact. And she was someplace else.

You know, I thought she made one big mistake, which was not to really spell out what McCain-Palin were going to do about the big problems that face the nation. I mean, you know, she did not lay out, for example, how they're going to fix the financial system, how they're going to fix the economy. She-she declined to elaborate on those questions beyond repeating the talking points.

And I say that's a mistake, because I really think that's what people want to hear right now. And they heard a lot of that from Joe Biden. They heard almost none of it from her. And that's why it doesn't surprise me that that first initial reaction is that Biden won the debate.

You know, we-as I said, you know, last Friday, the initial reaction of commentators is almost always wrong. I think it was in this case, because I think Biden came across.

I also-I also wonder how people reacted to the kind of mugging and the eye rolling and, you know, the moment that I recall-if you remember, they were talking about offshore drilling, and Biden kind of mangled the chant. And she corrected him and said, "Oh, no, the chant is, 'Drill, baby, drill'," with a-you know, with a lot of mugging and a lot of animation.

I just wonder if-if that wasn't a bit kind of light and sarcastic and, you know, postmodern, post-something for a vice-presidential debate at this moment in American history, where-where a certain amount of seriousness seems to be in order.

OLBERMANN: Well, it may have fired up the base, perhaps in the way that it fired up the base when she spoke to that convention or even on the day that she was selected by Senator McCain.

But, again, to hear-give me your reaction to these numbers apart from who won, who lost in that CBS poll of independent, uncommitted voters.

Fifty-five percent of them said their view of Palin improved. Fifty-three percent said their view of Biden improved. In terms of whose view-their assessment getting worse, 14 percent thought their opinion of Palin was worse after this, five percent thought their opinion of Biden was worse.

And then on the knowledgeability issue, a huge jump from Palin. She was at 43 percent with these people. After the debate, she's at 66 percent. Biden was at 79 percent. Almost, in political terms, that's almost unanimous. He went to virtually unanimous. He's now at 98 percent.

So everywhere where she grew, he grew almost the same percentages. We're talking about whatever the final score here is, however each side may want to spin it, this was a 7-6 ball game.

ROBINSON: Right. And, you know, from those numbers, they both did well; they both accomplished what they wanted to accomplish. They both came across as knowledgeable in some way. I mean, Biden more than Palin. But they both got done what they wanted to get done, it sounds, if those internals are right.

Now, you know, if they both came across, if they both got to the point where they wanted to get, then that's a net plus for the Obama-Biden campaign, which has been, you know-has had the momentum and has been gaining in the polls.

I don't think Palin reversed that tonight. But, you know, we'll wait for more numbers to come out and see how people saw it.

OLBERMANN: Say it ain't so, Joe. Eugene Robinson of MSNBC and "The Washington Post." Thank you, Gene.

ROBINSON: Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right. They faced off during the primaries. Now they're here together to analyze the debate. No, no, not Biden and Palin. Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow. COUNTDOWN's coverage of the vice-presidential debate continues with them after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: There was one moment in this debate which we have not yet discussed in our coverage here in its aftermath. It may have been, ultimately, the most connecting and most emotional, certainly, of the entire night. It came near the end, and it did not come from the candidate who was most readily associated with connecting with people.

Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan will discuss what we saw and how it may have moved those who watched along with us, when COUNTDOWN's coverage of the debate and its aftermath continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: That which is visceral also often does not sink into those who have watched a debate until it is long gone in the past, until the debate itself has long since finished. We may have seen that tonight. We certainly saw it last week with that issue of John McCain not looking Barack Obama in the eye.

We might have seen it late in this debate and from an unexpected source, when Senator Biden began, in brief, to talk about the tragedy that afflicted him and his late first wife when he was 29 years old.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: But the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to-is going to make it, I understand. I understand, as well as, with all due respect, the governor or anybody else, what it's like for those people sitting around that kitchen table. And guess what, they're looking for help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: A pleasure to be joined once again by Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, who will finish out our segments here, two of them.

And I've got to ask you, Rachel, if that had been-if those circumstances had befallen-we wouldn't want them to-Governor Palin and she had made those remarks and she had choked up in that way, would that not have been the only thing that would have been talked about in the hour and 20 minutes since the debate ended?

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I'm not sure if we've progressed as a country and as a culture to where a show of emotion by a woman is forgivable. I don't know if we've come that far until it happens again, after we saw that happen to Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I guess we won't know.

I think the thing that was remarkable about that clip that you just-that you just showed was not that Joe Biden choked up, but because the way that Sarah Palin responded to it was to not respond to it at all and to just jump back in and say, "The American people don't want more of the same, and John McCain has been the consummate maverick in the Senate."

And it was just-it was a moment when even a-even a body language show of sympathy, of empathy, of sort of just human emotion would have-would have been the appropriate thing to do. And she didn't do that. And because so much of her appeal lies in the way that people receive her, how likable she seems, what her personality is like, I think that's a problem.

I-just personally, anecdotally-this is not at all scientific-

I got a number of e-mails and text messages from just people who I know personally, who responded to that moment as if it was-it was a bad moment in terms of their connection with her.

OLBERMANN: Pat, what-what did it do in your assessment to this? Because obviously, the governor lives or dies based on that ability to connect with people and people coming out with a smile on their face because of something that she said or the way she said it.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, there's also a feeling that you ought not to intrude on something like that.

But I do believe that moment for Biden, and secondly, I thought the very effective little story he told about Jesse Helms when Mike Mansfield had called him in and said, "Just a minute," were the two best moments for Biden of the night.

Biden's problem, Keith, is this: he's been in Washington for six -- 36 years. He talks Washington lingo. It's facts, statistics, McCain this, McCain that. It is a crashing bore.

Whatever you say about Sarah Palin, there is a tremendous freshness to her language, to her use of phraseology. It is different. It is new. Her personality, she's got a tremendous smile. And so, I mean, that is what I think won the debate. It's-she was far and away, a far more attractive, arresting, interesting personality than Joe Biden was tonight.

OLBERMANN: Pat, do you worry about the nature of debates, though, if the candidate does not choose to or does not have to answer the actual question that was asked of her? A couple of times-or him-a couple of times in the debate, perhaps that's the appropriate way to do it.

But is it not somehow out of the game, outside of the rules to just pick which ones you want to answer and the way you want to answer them?

BUCHANAN: Well, I do believe in a certain flexibility on the part of the candidates, as well as the moderator. And so I think she seized upon that.

And Biden could have done the same thing. Biden changed his game plan right in the middle. You could see, suddenly he said, I've had enough of this, and he started getting angry and exasperated. Frankly, some of the anger made him look a little more human than some of the earlier stuff. So I don't have any problem with people doing that.

I mean, they're up there, Keith, and they've got 90 minutes. There's no reason that you've got to sit there like Ford and Carter did, dead silent, when the lights go out.

OLBERMANN: One of the great moments. Stand by. Stand by, Pat. Stand by, Rachel. It's the reason I didn't go into political coverage right out of college, was that moment right there.

A quick break. COUNTDOWN's coverage of the one and only vice-presidential debate continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Back again with Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan.

And Pat, towards the end, each of the candidates was asked about their Achilles heel. And somehow, Governor Palin wound up talking about Ronald Reagan's shining city on the hill. I mean, it's a superb sound bite, but is the process at all important here? Or just what the end result was?

BUCHANAN: Well, she did say that she had not-she started off talking about some budget thing she had failed to do. She said she had caved in, I believe...

OLBERMANN: Yes, yes.

BUCHANAN: But then she moved on into-move on to the sunny uplands, as it were, which is the old Ronald Reagan story.

And I do think the way she ended this whole thing was-was just very well done. Keith, I can't tell you. I talked to my sister; of course, my wife. And they're in contact with a lot of conservatives and others. They were making novenas. They were very, very nervous about this. And they are elated with Sarah Palin's performance tonight. There's no doubt about it.

I don't know that she reaches the independents, but I'll tell you this: those working-class folks making up to $40,000, $50,000 out in central Pennsylvania, I think they will identify with her.

OLBERMANN: To that point, Rachel, did those-those people that Pat just spoke of, do they-do they identify with Joe Biden, as well? Is that the takeaway from tonight, that both of these people reached the people they were trying to reach?

MADDOW: It depends on whether or not we believe that working-class voters, more than the rest of America more than non-working-class voters, care about personality versus policy.

I mean, you saw, actually, both candidates trying to compete sort of neighborhood versus neighborhood. It was Wasilla versus Scranton there for a while. And then Wasilla versus various neighborhoods in Delaware. And we had dueling mentions of specific locals that the two of them like to talk to.

So we had them trying to compete on the sort of culture and personality stuff. But the real question is whether or not there's going to be any competition on policy issues.

I do think that Biden scored some points when he went after Palin on having supported a windfall tax on the oil companies for Alaska, but McCain wouldn't support that for the country. I think that was probably a good sort of populist resonant economic message.

Beyond that, you know, it's-I think we're back to, really, Obama versus McCain and not much difference between them and McCain-and Biden versus Palin.

OLBERMANN: And where does that go, Pat, if the Republican meme-we heard it during the debate from the governor, and then we heard it from Kit Bond afterwards and a couple of other people, if the new-the new catch phrase of the day anyway from the GOP is don't look back.

BUCHANAN: I think what the Republicans have to do, Keith, is this. They've got to get this economic issue, this monster bill, passed and behind them.

And then they have to go all out and try to get it back into a McCain-Palin versus Obama-Biden, where they were doing well after the convention for two weeks until Lehman Brothers went down.

And I think that the problem with the Republicans is the big overriding issue, the big wave, is economic concern and apprehension. And that doesn't play well. And it may be a very difficult thing to swim against that wave.

OLBERMANN: Rachel, 30 seconds. What happened tonight?

MADDOW: Tonight, the campaign was not changed in an overall way. The impressions of either vice-presidential candidate were not changed in an overall way. But there was a huge opportunity for failure, really on both sides here, and neither of them fell into that trap.

OLBERMANN: As we've seen some-for some of those numbers, which I'll get to again in a moment. First, with my thanks to Pat Buchanan of MSNBC and Rachel Maddow of "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" on MSNBC and Air America. A thank you to both and good night to both of you.

MADDOW: Thanks, Keith.

BUCHANAN: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Giving you again those headlines. This is out of a CBS poll, a little less than 500 uncommitted voters, who said-they scored it this way. Biden, 46 percent; 33 percent thought it was a tie; 21 percent thought Palin won the debate.

In terms of which candidate they had an improved view of, who essentially they liked better, Palin got a 55 percent score on that, a huge number for her. Biden got a 53 percent score.

Who you thought worse of after this debate? In that same poll, 5 percent said they thought less of Biden than they had previously; 14 percent thought they had a worse opinion of Palin.

And knowledgeable on the issues, Palin jumped from 43 percent to 66 percent. Biden jumped from 79 percent to 98 percent. You can't do much better than that.

That's COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,982nd day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann from New York. Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC post-debate coverage continues now with Chris Matthews, live from St. Louis.

Good evening, Chris.

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

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