updated 10/8/2008 12:17:55 PM ET 2008-10-08T16:17:55

Guest: Linda Douglass

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: In the history of American politics, you would be hard-pressed to find any candidate who, after not looking his opponent in the eye in their first debate, finally chose to do so in their second debate, but only to condescendingly refer to him as-quote-"that one."

You would also be hard-pressed to find of any candidate who said of Social Security, "We're not going to be able to provide the same benefit for present-day workers that present-day retirees have today."

You would also be hard-pressed to find a candidate who thought he would gain benefit from a format that had him walk around a room like an ailing man, winding up walking directly in front of the moderator's camera as that moderator was trying to say good night.

At least you would be hard-pressed to find a candidate who did those things and wanted to win.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Who is the real Barack Obama?

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I hope Americans know that is not what our brave men and women in uniform are doing in Afghanistan.

OLBERMANN (voice-over): Up to his neck in toxic campaign waste of his own creation, Senator McCain's choice tonight was, attack Obama in person with sleaze, and risk looking irresponsible, even irrational. Don't attack, and risk looking hypocritical.

MCCAIN: My friend, I would like you to see the letter that a group of senators and I wrote.

I got some news, Senator Obama. The news is bad. You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one.

OLBERMANN: Obama playing from far ahead, cautious or on offense?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan. If Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down bin Laden and take him out, then we should.

Now, Senator McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I'm green behind the ears and, you know, I'm just spouting off, and he's somber and responsible.

I...

MCCAIN: Thank you very much.

OBAMA: Senator McCain, this is the guy who sang "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." We hadn't even finished Afghanistan where he said, next up, Baghdad. So, I agree that we have to speak responsibly, and we have to act responsibly.

OLBERMANN: With the analysis of Eugene Robinson in Washington, Howard Fineman, at the Curb Center at Belmont University in Nashville, and Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow, this is COUNTDOWN's coverage of the second 2008 presidential debate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Tuesday, October 27, 28 days until the 2008 presidential election, 26 minutes after the second 2008 presidential debate.

Senator McCain, throughout the general election, having repeatedly challenged Senator Obama to a series of town hall style debates, tonight, on the stage of the Curb Center at Belmont University in Nashville, the Republican Party nominee getting at least part of his wish, one such debate. But Senator McCain get the game-changing performance he would need to change the race, with early voting already under way in many states, and with just four weeks remaining until polls open nationwide?

After the handshake, the niceties were pretty much over, the candidates criticizing one another repeatedly on topics ranging from economy, to energy, to taxes, to health care, to foreign policy.

About that economic crisis, Senator McCain again insisting-falsely

that he had suspended his campaign, and blaming this financial crisis on Senator Obama personally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I left my campaign and suspended it to go back to Washington to make sure that there were additional protections for the taxpayer in the form of good oversight, in the form of taxpayers being the first to be paid back when our economy recovers-and it will recover-and a number of other measures.

But you know, one of the real catalysts, really the match that lit this fire was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I will bet you, you may never even have heard of them before this crisis.

But you know, they're the ones that, with the encouragement of Senator Obama and his cronies and his friends in Washington, that went out and made all these risky loans, gave them to people that could never afford to pay back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Senator Obama quick to mention that the lobbying firm of his opponent's campaign manager has taken lobbying money from-you guessed it-Fannie Mae, quick also to set the record straight when Senator McCain claimed that Obama would raise taxes on the middle class.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Senator McCain, I think the "Straight Talk Express" lost a wheel on that one.

So let's be clear about my tax plan and Senator McCain's, because we're not going to be able to deal with entitlements unless we understand the revenues coming in. I want to provide a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans, 95 percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Senator McCain ostensibly running on the McCain/Palin ticket, but, with at least three references to the Connecticut-Democrat-turned-independent, one would be forgiven for thinking it might have been the McCain-Lieberman ticket.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I traveled all over the world looking at the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, Joe Lieberman and I.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: The Democrat tonight not just the first candidate to mention 9/11 directly-he was the only candidate to. And for the second consecutive debate, Senator Obama running against not only Senator McCain, but against eight years of President George W. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You know, a lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11 and where you were on that day and, you know, how all of the country was ready to come together and make enormous changes to make us not only safer, but to make us a better country and a more unified country.

And President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American people, he said, "Go out and shop."

That wasn't the kind of call to service that I think the American people were looking for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Senator McCain, in response to a question about whether the U.S. should respect Pakistani sovereignty, and not pursue al Qaeda terrorists, who maintain bases there, talking about how he would catch Osama bin Laden, or at least trying to talk about how he would catch Osama bin Laden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: The point is that I know how to handle these crises. And Senator Obama, by saying that he would attack Pakistan, look at the context of his words. I will get Osama bin Laden, my friends. I will get him. I know how to get him.

I will get him no matter what and I know how to do it. But I'm not going to telegraph my punches, which is what Senator Obama did. And I'm going to act responsibly, as I have acted responsibly throughout my military career and throughout my career in the United States Senate.

And we have fundamental disagreements about the use of military power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: And, yet, Senator McCain misidentified General David Petraeus tonight as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He is not that. That would be Admiral Mullen.

And though McCain's tone seemed to be vaguely reminiscent of his own campaign's weekend of descent into the muck, there was not a mention of any of the subjects, nor people about whom Senator McCain and Governor Palin have been so obsessed.

Joining me now from Belmont University in Nashville, Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC for some initial reaction.

Howard, good evening again.

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

I thought it was interesting, as you were pointing out, that, as we were saying beforehand, it was unlikely that they were going to bring up Bill Ayers. And they didn't bring up the famous retired terrorist.

I thought it was even more interesting that John McCain never mentioned Sarah Palin's name, if I'm not mistaken. She was completely absent, which goes to the point we were talking about before the debate, which is, the McCain campaign is operating on at least a couple of levels.

One of them was the economic and foreign policy discussion you heard here tonight, where McCain was on the attack, but he was on the attack on economic issues, and economic issues alone, a relatively polite discussion, if you will, and this other campaign that is going on outside the four walls of Belmont University, which is very nasty and very tough and very different.

OLBERMANN: Visceral images and tone are, as we discovered last week, when it was so important, as I think it was Chris Matthews who first pointed out that McCain never looked at Obama.

In this one, when he did look at him, I was struck to the point of-of almost coming out of my chair when he made a joke about, you will never guess who-who-who voted for it, this one.

That-is that-did that serve Senator McCain in any way, shape or form?

FINEMAN: No, that's-that's been much talked about here in the spin room, which is in a big hard-shelled tent.

By the way, the rain has been coming down. It was kind of appropriate. As soon as the debate ended, the rain really wet loose. And a wet David Axelrod came running in here, the Obama spinner. He was the first into the room. And it came up right away, Keith, the whole business about "that one." I think it was "that one" that he said.

And I even asked Axelrod about it. And he said, that was kind of odd. And the way he put it is that it made Obama look-I mean-excuse me-it made McCain look kind of peevish and irascible, if you will.

Now, I talked to the McCain people. They said, oh, that's just the Obama people. They-they're going to-they were prepared to say that even before this debate happened.

I don't think so.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

FINEMAN: I think that was an odd moment. And I think viewers at home, that didn't play well with viewers at home.

As Axelrod said, Obama has a name and a title. And it's Senator Obama.

They thought it was a weird moment. I think most of the people here in the room and out in the country thought that was a weird moment, too.

OLBERMANN: Well, especially when contrasted to the idea that-that, throughout this and the earlier debate, Senator Obama barely took his eyes away from Senator McCain, except to talk to the crowd, and often to talk to McCain directly.

One other thing, again visceral, I understand that-that the first debate was thought to be a McCain advantage because the topic was essentially national security, with obviously a healthy dose of the economy.

This was thought to be McCain's advantage because of the town hall format and the interacting with the audience.

FINEMAN: Right.

OLBERMANN: Did-did that backfire, too, because as I suggested-

I'm trying to say this as kindly as possible-he didn't look like a well man wandering around on that floor. And, in the end, the denouement to this, stepping in front of the camera as Tom Brokaw is trying to say goodbye, was just strange.

FINEMAN: Well, I-I'm not sure I would go that far, but I will say a couple things.

First of all, it was Obama who did carefully try to explain to that one questioner what the value of the rescue/bailout package was. You remember that. The questioner said, well, how is it going to help me?

And McCain gave his speech. Obama addressed the fellow and tried, in kitchen-table, Main Street terms, to explain the meaning of it. I thought that was an important and a good moment for Obama.

Another good moment from Obama was when Obama basically took control of the foreign policy debate toward the end there, and said: You know, Senator McCain, you're saying that I'm wet behind the ears, I'm green behind the ears, or whatever it was. You know, I'm inexperienced. You know, I don't know how to handle myself. But you're the one who sang, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran" and said next stop Baghdad.

I thought that was a big deflating moment for McCain there. We have watched Obama kind of grow in these debates, I think, and show a lot of maturity. And that's going to be helpful to him in the last month here.

OLBERMANN: All right, Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC in Nashville-thanks, as always, Howard.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's turn now to Rachel Maddow, host, of course, of "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW," who keeps getting preempted by these darn debates.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: The-the attacks on Obama-I don't want to spend the whole hour talking about the viscerals of this, but the attacks on Obama all seem to feed into all of the cliches about John McCain that could be generally placed under the headline, "Hey, you, get off my lawn."

How does this-how does this serve him well?

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": I don't think that it serves him well.

And, you know, I think, if we're going to talk about the overall impression, the personality sense of the candidates, I also think there was an important moment that was not between McCain and Obama, but was, rather, between McCain and a member of the audience who had asked a question, when he explained, in a very condescending manner, to a man-young man who had asked a question, actually, to a young African-American man who had asked a question, whose name John McCain forgot halfway through his answer, and he addressed him by the wrong name, having addressed him by the right name at first, and McCain said, I'm sure you didn't know who Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were before-before not too long ago.

And, maybe that's true, but you would never assume that of somebody who had just asked you a question about the economy. So, in terms of seeming condescending, in terms of seeming like he didn't enjoy the company that he was in, I thought that was another awkward personality for McCain.

OLBERMANN: Here are the first numbers. Four hundred uncommitted voters in CBS News poll, 39 percent say Obama won this one. Thirty-five percent say it was a draw. And 27 percent said it was McCain.

Let's-I mean, this just lines up with what the results were from the first two debates, the first two presidential and the only vice presidential.

A couple of matters of substance here that maybe they're headlines, and we missed them. In the middle of this, fairly early, actually, they were discussing the prioritization of working on health care, energy and entitlement reform, and Senator McCain said this, "My friends, we're not going to be able to provide the same benefit for present-day workers that we're going-that present-day retirees have today."

And then he explained how he would sit down and fix Social Security. I would imagine that, in a lot of homes where people are above the age of 60, or even those who are just contemplating someday being above the age of 60, that was a shock.

MADDOW: I think that that is going to be something that the McCain campaign is probably going to dial back.

We have had a few experiences on the campaign trail where McCain has said things that had seemingly big policy implications, and they have been the first time he had announced them, and then the McCain campaign has gotten in the habit of reinterpreting his own words.

On that, I would expect that we're going to get a reinterpretation machine output from his campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: Also, on that priorities question, he said, you know, we will do all of these things at once. We don't need to make priorities. I'm not going to tell anybody who isn't covered, doesn't have health insurance right now that they have to wait.

John McCain doesn't want to talk about his health care plan up against

up against Barack Obama's at this point. He made a plainly false allegation tonight that Senator McCain would create some sort of fine system or-or mandate system for small businesses. That is not true-even the Associated Press pointing out tonight that that was a plainly false claim about Obama on health care.

I think that McCain, on-on-on the issue of entitlements and on health care, is going to have some explaining to do very soon.

OLBERMANN: All right. And one other explaining to do on the subject of the economy.

MADDOW: Yes.

OLBERMANN: And I don't want to turn this into a thesis or anything.

But I-maybe you started the same way I started when I heard this.

The idea very early on about buying up the bad mortgages to try to protect people, there may be great merit in that idea, gives Senator McCain absolute credit for that idea. But-but in the-with what we have been through in the last couple of weeks, don't you think most Americans, hearing that, went wait a minute, isn't that what the bailout was about? Didn't we just buy all those bad mortgages?

MADDOW: Right. And anybody who is having a more detailed reaction to it than that is in the-on the right side of the political spectrum, and they're very angry about this idea...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: ... because this is an aggressive nationalization, socialization plan.

I have been actually spending my time off-camera looking at the right

as many right-wing blogs as I can to see what the sort of response is on the right to that. And it seems like, if he's looking to shore up his base on economic issues, he's not found a way to do it with that proposal. There seems to be a lot of anger on the right to that.

OLBERMANN: Oops.

MADDOW: Yes.

OLBERMANN: Rachel Maddow, we will check back with you later in the hour, along with Pat Buchanan.

MADDOW: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Thank you.

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

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Still ahead on COUNTDOWN's special analysis of the second presidential debate tonight: the expectations game. We will see what both sides are saying in the spin room following tonight's town hall-style debate.

That's next. This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Back with COUNTDOWN's post-debate analysis.

And we have another set of numbers for you from CNN on a question of voters as to who did the best job in tonight's debate. This was a much clearer victory for Obama by those measures, 54 percent in that CNN poll for Obama, 30 percent for McCain.

Add to that the CBS uncommitted poll I mentioned earlier, 39 percent said Obama won, 35 percent said it was a draw, and 27 percent said McCain had won.

What it was not, certainly, was a very friendly debate between these two men, these two senators.

Here's a perfect example of that from Senator McCain towards Senator Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: It was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney.

You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one. You know who voted against it? Me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Joining us now from Nashville, somebody who worked in Los Angeles television in the 1980s and '70s who made something of herself, as opposed to some of the rest of us, Linda Douglass, now a senior adviser for the Obama campaign.

Good to talk to you, Linda.

LINDA DOUGLASS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: You know, Keith, you have me confused with someone else.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

DOUGLASS: I was a small child in the 1970s.

(LAUGHTER)

DOUGLASS: I don't know what you're talking about.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: All right, well, that must have been my father doing sports over on Channel 5.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: In any event, let's...

DOUGLASS: Exactly.

OLBERMANN: Let's talk about what that clip we just played and other -

other niceties-and I don't want to try to dismiss this debate, nor any other, as an issue purely of interaction between two candidates.

But I think Senator McCain has made this an issue. In the first debate, he would not look at Senator Obama. And, in this debate, he used that condescending tone towards him at least three times. And that phrase "that one" certainly rang oddly for a presidential debate.

DOUGLASS: "That one."

I mean, it was a-I mean, as you say, he couldn't look at him. And, apparently, he had trouble saying his name at this debate. I mean, there was a lot of tension and irritation, clearly, in the demeanor of Senator McCain tonight. He was-he was not relaxed. He was certainly not feeling very friendly towards Senator Obama.

And, you know, there seems to be some kind of issue here that gets under his skin.

OLBERMANN: The-to some of the substance of this, I mentioned the reaction that-that a lot of people might have at home about this idea that Senator McCain proposed about buying up all the bad mortgages.

Would the general impression not have been, before this, that that was already accomplished as part of the $700 billion bailout? Did that...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: Would that have-although it's not exactly the same thing as that bailout, might it have seemed that way, without any further clarification from Senator McCain?

DOUGLASS: Well, it did sound like a new plan.

Now, you remember that, when Paulson, Secretary Paulson, first rolled out his proposal, it was on three pages. And Senator McCain admitted that he hadn't actually read the three-page proposal when it was first introduced.

This is obviously the bill that was passed and signed into law. And in that bill is the very authority that he is now proposing. There's absolutely that authority inside the bill. He made it sound like something new. And, so, we have to kind of wonder if he's read this bill either.

OLBERMANN: The Republican National Committee-and forgive me for-for reading this right off the-the wire, Linda. But, before the debate had ended, the Republican National Committee, according to Ben Smith at "Politico," had set out a complaint e-mail that this was not really a town hall, complaining about the format of this debate.

Did-did your campaign have any complaints about the format of this debate?

DOUGLASS: No.

And it seemed to me that most of the questions came from people in the audience, average citizens, who had real questions that affected their lives. And they were e-mailed questions in. So, I'm not quite sure what it was that Senator McCain was complaining about, except he, as you pointed out earlier, did not seem to be enjoying himself tonight.

OLBERMANN: The-the standard litany of subject matter relative to Senator Obama's track record and relative inexperience has been obviously a theme of the campaign for Senator Obama, both in the primaries, and currently-a theme against him, obviously. Give me your assessment of how he-how he may have grown in that area in the last-in the last two debates.

DOUGLASS: Well, I think, first of all, that it has become very clear to the public, as a result of this financial crisis, that Senator Obama was the one with the calm, the cool, and the depth, and the sophistication to really deal with this crisis.

I mean, as you well know, he was-played a very major role in inserting taxpayer protections, homeowner protections, provisions that would make sure that the CEOs didn't walk off with-with huge benefits.

The other point I think he made very clear is that John McCain has been in Washington for 26 years. And all of the things that he seems to be complaining about have not been resolved by his very presence there, and all of the problems that-that we are facing now in this country as a result of a very ineffectual government have all taken place in his watch, during his watch, well before his watch, which is-his watch has lasted for a long time.

So, I think Senator Obama made a very strong case for the-you know, about the kind of change that he's going to be able to bring to the voters.

OLBERMANN: Last question, Linda. Were you-were you surprised, was the campaign surprised, given the tone of the assaults on Senator Obama since Saturday, since Saturday, Sunday, Monday, weekend, the long weekend, especially from Governor Palin, were you surprised that none of that carried into this debate?

DOUGLASS: Not really.

You know, they have been-they telegraphed that they were going to be launching these debates. They made it very clear that Governor Palin was going to be their attack dog. They have been digging around, looking for some little piece of mud that they can throw at the camera lens and blind you to the economic circumstances that people are facing.

But they also probably knew that that wasn't going to go over well with the voters in that town hall. But I would expect them to be right out with those mud-throwing attacks again tomorrow.

OLBERMANN: Well, it was an enjoyable hour-and-a-half, if-if only that that did not come up at any point in this.

Linda Douglass, senior adviser to the Obama campaign, a pleasure to talk to you, as always, Linda.

DOUGLASS: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Coming up: the view from the other side, what the McCain campaign is saying in this last hour since the town hall ended. You heard a bit of it already.

This is COUNTDOWN's coverage of the Obama-McCain debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: There is a certain sangfroid to Barack Obama, a self-possession that sometimes perhaps, contrarily, does not serve him well. Tonight, however, it seemed to serve him well on at least one occasion, when John McCain said that Barack Obama did not understand U.S. foreign policy, and the self-possession took over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It's true. There are some things I don't understand.

I don't understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, while Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are setting up base camps and safe havens to train terrorists to attack us.

That was Senator McCain's judgment, and it was the wrong judgment.

When Senator McCain was cheerleading the president to go into Iraq, he suggested it was going to be quick and easy, we would be greeted as liberators. That was the wrong judgment. And it's been costly to us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Joining us now from Nashville, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News and MSNBC, who has a-has a quick read on the McCain reaction.

Good evening, Andrea.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Good evening. Well, the McCain people, as the Obama people, are claiming victory.

The McCain people say that John McCain was stronger on the economy because he had this new proposal to buy up failed mortgages. It would-they're telling us-cost about $300 billion in extra money, extra investment by the federal government, but it would take down those mortgages and permit a-floor to be put under the declining housing market.

And since they claim that the housing market is what's dragging down the rest of the market, that this would put an end to-or at least stop the decline in all of the markets. So that's their claim.

They're trying to put the best face on the fact that some of the instant polls and a lot of the other reviewers are saying that it was not McCain who had the best night tonight, but because the reviewers are giving Barack Obama on points and, also, on his overall delivery, on his comfort factor.

Even though John McCain, as you know, Keith, was the one who's been pushing for town meetings, this was a wide-open format and his walking around at times-perhaps it's just because of his own physical awkwardness didn't seem quite connected.

The one thing that they are pushing hard, the McCain folks, is his going over to that retired Navy petty officer, touching him on the shoulder. That is the moment that they are e-mailing around, saying that that showed his connection and that he had this visceral link to this gentleman because of their combined service, shook his hand.

And that that's something that Barack Obama, of course, could not do, having not served in the military. Keith?

OLBERMANN: The-reaction you mention to the plan to buy up the mortgages, they are standing behind that? Rachel Maddow had pointed out earlier in the evening that a lot of the reaction from right-wing Web sites and blogs had been very negative to that.

MITCHELL: I'm sure.

OLBERMANN: . because, obviously, it's a bailout on top of a bailout. But they-are they behind this? Did McCain change the policy? Have they discussed this before?

MITCHELL: Oh, this was absolutely deliberate. This is something that had been worked out with his economic advisers. My bet would be Martin Feldstein and some of the other senior people-you know, the esteemed Harvard professor, a very well known and well regarded Republican economist.

And this is something that he put out there. This was his opening gambit. And clearly it will be criticized, as Rachel is pointing out, already has been criticized because you had all of the conservative Republicans who were against the original bailout. This is another $300 billion.

But that's what he came to offer tonight. He wanted to have something new to say about the economy. And they felt that they had a really big test here, knowing that they were facing these head winds, that they were falling further behind because the declining market, and all of the panic, really, that has been abroad throughout the country and globally.

And the-the sort of considered opinion is that he did not do enough tonight. It's so interesting that you did not hear any of the sort of peripheral attacks, as you have mentioned earlier, you and Howard Fineman. None of that tonight.

He was very aggressive, but aggressive on the talking points of foreign and domestic policy, not on all this other stuff. But most-most people in looking at this debate, which was, I think, a pretty good debate in terms of the format and the variety of questions, don't think that he scored enough points.

There was certainly no knockout punch from John McCain tonight. And that is really what he needed, given how rapidly they've been falling behind since this economic crisis hit critical mass about two weeks ago.

OLBERMANN: One final visceral point just if there's been any reaction from that campaign-I'm running behind in time myself. But I have to ask you about this. Some defense has been made of the phrase "that one" in Mr.

Senator McCain's address.

MITCHELL: "That one."

OLBERMANN: . to Senator Obama's. Some defense, oddly enough, has

come from Mark Ambinder in the Atlantic who knows that that was frequently

in stump speeches and campaign appearance in a kind of-he's not here

reference to Senator Obama. So that's not an unfamiliar term.

Is that the way they're defending that there?

MITCHELL: Yes, they're defending it but as you know, the Obama people have e-mailed that around and a lot of people did notice it. And some people will take offense, more likely as people already in the Obama camp.

Certainly a lot of people of color-minorities will take offense at that. It seemed dismissive.

OLBERMANN: Andrea Mitchell, reporting to us from Nashville inside the hall. Great thanks, Andrea. Have a good night.

MITCHELL: You bet. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Coming up, I'll be joined by Eugene Robinson of "The Washington Post." Did he see anything that voters will look to as game-changing moments in tonight's debate?

You're watching COUNTDOWN's coverage of the second presidential debate for 2008.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Well, there might be bad reaction to it from the right wing but apparently, as you heard Andrea Mitchell report, they were absolutely serious about this in Senator McCain's campaign to buy up about $300 billion worth of bad mortgages and renegotiate them with the individual borrowers.

Here's what Senator McCain said about that early in this debate tonight. It is apparently a policy change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: As president of the United States, Allen, I would order the secretary of the treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes, at the diminished value of those homes, and let people make those-be able to make those payments and stay in their homes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor of "The Washington Post," also, of course, a political analyst for us here at MSNBC, joins us now from Washington.

Gene, Good evening.

EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST: Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Well, that was something of a surprise. It might have been the biggest actual policy news of the debate. But didn't it sound like that was more likely to come out of Obama's mouth than McCain's?

ROBINSON: Well, one would think. I mean-I'm anticipating the reaction from within the McCain campaign, from within the Republican Party, to what sounds initially like another huge multi-hundred billion dollar bailout on top of the $700 billion bailout.

But this one, you know, from the Republican point of view, seeming to give aid to people who unwisely bought houses that they couldn't afford then didn't pay their mortgages. I mean, I think that's kind of the Republican line on this problem.

I cannot imagine this is going to go over well with much of McCain's base. And, you know, and his reasoning-the reasoning behind it seems a little weird to me. He says this is going to put a floor under housing prices.

Well, you know, the reason housing prices began to fall in some of the hottest markets like Florida and California, you know, was largely because they were overbuilt. There are too many condos in Miami.

There are simply too many of them. And-so I don't see how this repeals the laws of supply and demand, but, you know, maybe-you know, I think it's basically the law of trying to win this election.

OLBERMANN: Right.

ROBINSON: But I think it's going to-there's going to be a sharp reaction.

OLBERMANN: Right. Try to get anything that will add 1,000 votes somewhere.

Health care, not obviously a big change as in the mortgage issue, but some clear distinction here tonight.

ROBINSON: Fascinating moment when Tom Brokaw asked, is health care a privilege, a responsibility or a right? I thought that was one of the really kind of crystalline moments of this debate.

John McCain said it's a responsibility. He didn't make clear whose responsibility it was. But he said that's what it was and kind of talked about small businesses and I kind of lost him there.

Barack Obama, I thought, seized that moment and came out and said it's

I think it should be a right and then talked about his mother, who died at age 53 of cancer and her having had to spend the last months of her life arguing with insurance companies over what they would cover.

I thought that was a real moment in the debate. And I guess I appreciate it because it was unscripted. They, obviously, hadn't anticipated that question and they seemed to give spontaneous and genuine answers that told a lot about the two-the two candidates.

OLBERMANN: And lastly, for the second consecutive week, we had karaoke night with Senator Obama doing his version of Senator McCain's cover of "Barbara Ann."

ROBINSON: Right. That was-that was another moment when, you know, John McCain was criticizing Obama for talking loosely and recklessly about sending U.S. forces across the border into Pakistan to hunt for bin Laden.

And Obama kind of mixed his metaphors. He said-you know, he talked about McCain saying he was green behind the ears or something like that. I thought you were either green or wet behind the ears.

But, nonetheless, he said, well, but he's the guy who joked about bombing Iran and he's the guy who talked about the annihilation of North Korea. You know, again, I think effective moments, an effective way to kind of turn it back on McCain.

You know I hate the prize fight metaphor for these debates but it's the only one that's approved, so if you're going to use it, you know, no one got knocked out. But you know, I think this one fairly, clearly, Obama won it on points, I think. And I think the polls are showing that.

OLBERMANN: Yes, early polls suggest that and by a considerable margin. And the second place finisher was once again a tie.

Gene Robinson of MSNBC and "The Washington Post." Thank you, Gene.

Good night.

ROBINSON: Good to talk to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Coming up Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow go head-to-head in analyzing tonight's debate. And also a question, why when it was over did the Obamas stick around for at least 15 minutes to talk to the crowd while the McCains got the heck out of dodge?

COUNTDOWN's coverage of the presidential debates continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Favorable opinion of candidate in the CNN poll, Obama 64 percent after tonight's vote, going up for tonight's debate, going up 4 percent. McCain 51 percent, unchanged. So no game-changer, not really for Obama and certainly not for McCain.

One other number. How long did the candidates stay after the debate ended? It may seem trivial. Apparently, it was not to those people in that room.

Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan join me right me after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: This is the post-game buzz about the post-game and another reason why-this may sound odd to say-but it's a great thing that we have C-SPAN. Immediately all networks including this one, and rightly so, moved directly to analysis when the debate ended.

However, C-SPAN and perhaps some others lingered over the shots of the Obamas greeting the crowd tonight at the Curb Center, the Mike Curb Center, if you will, at the university in Nashville.

This went on for about 20 minutes after this debate ended. The McCains had left the stage, left the building, apparently, within moments of the end of the debate. At 10:43 it is reported the C-SPAN announcer said Senator McCain and his wife have left, just to explain why the camera shots seemed to be lingering on the lingering Barack and Michelle Obama.

Joining us now, Pat Buchanan of MSNBC and back once again Rachel Maddow. And we showed that for many reasons, one of which was to inform you about it but also because that's where Rachel wants to begin tonight.

Again, another one of these things that would seemingly not matter, except, I guess, if you were there.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: The sort of demeanor issues, personality issues, likability issues, sometimes are the things that matter the most, coming out of these debates.

And there is news to talk about tonight. John McCain did propose a big new multi-hundred billion dollar additional bailout on top of what else has already been done. That is news. But in terms of what people are talking about tomorrow, it might be more their generic personality-based impressions of the candidates and leaving right after the debate was over seems like a strange move in terms of what kind of impression you might make on people.

OLBERMANN: Pat, if the-if a CNN poll right afterwards of voters, not independents, but a spectrum apparently, suggested that Obama was voted -- was voted most likable 65-28 and answer the question who spent more time attacking his opponent, it was McCain 63, Obama 17. The visceral counts, does it not?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, it does. And I would agree with that 100 percent. I think McCain was the aggressor, as we said earlier. And I think he had came in with a little more fight and more heart.

When you do that, Keith, you take a risk that you come off as, look, that's a mean guy. And Barack Obama is-frankly, he's very gifted in this sense. He's a very likable person. He's got a good sense of humor. He smiles. And when he's got a witty repost, it's usually-he usually stops short of really driving it home hard. And he is a likable guy.

And I think the fact that-I mean, a lot of people will prefer not to have somebody as an aggressor. But the point of McCain is this. He doesn't have any choice, Keith. This thing, the events are breaking so huge, 500 points on the Dow, events are in the saddle and ride mankind, if you will.

And I think he's got to make-the country wants change. He's got to persuade the country that Obama is risky change, he's unreliable change, he's not a truthful guy. All these things they're going to have to do or they're not going to win this race.

OLBERMANN: And I understand, Pat, that in a situation like that you have to maybe take a little risk yourself while blaming the other guy for being too risky. But that brings us back to this idea of bailing out individual mortgages to the tune of $300 billion.

BUCHANAN: Yes.

OLBERMANN: . which is a pretty strong gamble that you're going to get mileage out of that without alienating most of your base, isn't it?

BUCHANAN: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN: I think a lot of our folks are wondering what he's talking about. We've been tapped for $700 billion already and you hear all about these other things. And so I think that's not going to go down well with the base.

I guess he's appealing here, Keith, to the moderate centrist liberal Republican votes and the voters he used to have, some of whom have probably been lost.

OLBERMANN: Rachel, give me 30 seconds more on this point.

MADDOW: I have to say that McCain needed an economic message tonight if he wasn't going to go after Obama to his face, the way his campaign and his running mate have been going after Obama without McCain present.

His economic message was the eBay head would make a good treasury secretary. EBay just laid off thousands of workers. I want a huge new-hundreds of billions of dollars bailout that my base is going to hate and they hate me anyway and he never used the phrase middle class once.

So in terms of hitting it out of the park on the economic issue, he still got one more debate to try to do that.

OLBERMANN: All right. Both of you, stand by. Final answers about final answers from Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan when our COUNTDOWN coverage of the second face-off between Obama and McCain continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Back again with Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan for some final thoughts on the debate that we just saw. And it was a-it certainly was a great way to end this debate, Pat, certainly in terms of a question to throw out.

It really allowed both candidates to kind of give a-an overall picture of their view of the country, this idea of what don't you know and what are you going to do and how are you going to learn it. I gather you liked McCain's answer to that.

BUCHANAN: Well, yes, McCain went with a-he had the last response and I think it is John McCain really at his best. I think he speaks from the heart here. And I thought it was very affecting and effective, both, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And-be specific about it. I mean what you liked about that. I mean I saw what he said that there are challenges around the world and we'll be talking about countries we hardly know where they are on the map right now.

Was that part of it or a broader sense?

BUCHANAN: It's in the sense that it's who he is, what he believes and the way he's lived his life and the values that he holds dear. And I think that comes through the man's image of himself, which I think he deeply believes in. This comes-I thought it came through very, very well.

OLBERMANN: And, Rachel, the answer from Senator Obama on the same point raised his history in this country and he was able to talk about not knowing or knowing that he was able to be in the position he was in because of the country he was in.

There was a certain pride that was expressed there that probably was a little back filling towards those who had questions about whether or not he was proud of being an American and all the rest of that, or his wife was.

And then he-his answer was-seemed to be concluding with the idea of whether or not we're going to pass the American dream onto the next generation. It was almost-I almost thought he was going to say are you better off than you were eight years ago? He pretty much did.

MADDOW: Yes. And it was-I think it was an artful closing by both candidates. Both of them, essentially, brought that question around to "and that's why I'm running for president of the United States. That's what my whole life has been about."

And that's-well, you want it to end on a note like that. I will say that the way that each of them started their answer to that very Zen-like question was important, though. And I don't mean to keep going back to the personality and demeanor issues again and again, but Obama probably had his best, emotionally most human connected moment at the very start of that answer when he referred to his wife and talked about a line that he uses sometimes, a variation of a line he uses sometime on the stump.

She can tell you a lot of things that I don't know and this sort of this affectionate look toward her in the audience. It was the first time we had a family look at the audience like that.

McCain started off in a very stumbling manner. He eventually took off and the rhetoric was great by the end of it, but he actually said at the beginning-I remember, I wrote it down, and said, I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what the unexpected will be.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

MADDOW: That was a little-that was a little underwhelming.

OLBERMANN: Well, it's-it is generally true. I mean I don't know what the unexpected is, either. We almost got towards Donald Rumsfeld territory about known unknowns and unknown knowns.

MADDOW: Ting.

OLBERMANN: But let me ask you about this-and Pat, I'd like to go to you first on this in the time we have left.

Apparently the reaction from the right is not good to Senator McCain's performance today. This is from something on the "National Review." We have a disaster here. Memo to McCain campaign, someone is either a terrorist sympathizer or he isn't, someone is either disqualified as a terrorist sympathizer or he's qualified for public office. You help portray Obama as a clearly qualified presidential candidate who would fight terrorists.

I-some of the rhetoric I have a fight with the gentleman over, but I think there is a point here that there are-as Howard Fineman said at the beginning of the hour, there are several different McCain campaigns going on and in one of them he is hitting Obama over the head with everything he can find and no holds barred in this match.

And then we come to a face-to-face meeting where none of these topics and none of these names were introduced. Is it impossible to carry these almost mutually exclusive kinds of points of view, these simultaneous campaigns?

BUCHANAN: McCain-McCain, as I'm sure, is tortured in the sense that he doesn't want to do this but I think he knows he's going to have to do something like this or he's going to lose this election. And this could explain why we talked out of there early.

And I don't want to too much surmise, but he may feel he didn't go far enough or his people didn't go far enough. Certainly "National Review's" people feel, look, you've got to go after Obama on the character issue.

And there's a lot of his connections which you're going to have to use or you're going to lose this election. And if you're unwilling to do it, then you're not the candidate you ought to be. And I think that is weighing heavily on McCain. He doesn't want to deal with Reverend Wright, I don't think, but he's being pulled in that direction.

MADDOW: I-I would just say one of the things we always worry about with negative campaigning and character issues is whether or not they blow back against a person who is making those allegations, whether they make the-the person making the allegations look bad.

I think it makes you look bad when you're willing to do it everywhere except to the target's face.

OLBERMANN: All right. Well, then that gives me a yes or no, like Tom Brokaw tried to get.

We have one more debate. Is that going to be no holds barred? Is that where that element comes out, Pat, of-everybody you can name-

Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, the sinking of the Titanic? Does McCain go there in the third debate?

BUCHANAN: I don't know. He clearly-I mean if he were going to go there, he should have gone there tonight.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

BUCHANAN: And so he's-he is really ambivalent about this. So I don't know whether he is. But I do know he's going to be pushed to do that and he certainly will have his vice president doing this.

OLBERMANN: And your attempt at a yes or no, Rach?

MADDOW: He will-he would have done it tonight if he was going to do it. I don't know what he's going to do in debate three.

OLBERMANN: Well, stay tuned. Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow, great thanks.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Great insight tonight from your both.

That's COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,987th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.

Our post-debate coverage continues now on MSNBC.

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

END

Transcription Copyright 2008 ASC LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is

granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not

reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or

internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall

user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may

infringe upon MSNBC and ASC LLC's copyright or other proprietary rights or

interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of

litigation.>

Watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,