updated 10/16/2008 12:03:41 PM ET 2008-10-16T16:03:41

COUNTDOWN

October 15, 2008

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

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

Guests: Howard Fineman, Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson, Tom Daschle

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: This was not the same John McCain. He looked at his opponent, looked at him repeatedly and insistently and he invoked ACORN, William Ayers, class warfare and incessantly, Joe the Plumber, his invisible friend, Joe the Plumber.

Sometimes in a frenetic laundry list of sorts and in the case of his bugaboos Ayers and ACORN on the defensive after Obama addressed the topic first.

Tonight, it was not the same John McCain, and unfortunately for John McCain, it was the same Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice over): The night John McCain promised no game-changer when he need a game-ender, a 10-run homer.

Tonight, John McCain said Barack Obama's reaction probably insured that the subject of William Ayers would come up tonight.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: When people suggest that I pal around with terrorists, then we're not talking about issues.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, Mr. Ayers, I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist but as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship.

We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama's relationship with ACORN who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country and maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.

OLBERMANN: The night that could be John McCain's last chance or Barack Obama's last hurdle.

MCCAIN: A couple of days ago Senator Obama was out in Ohio and he had

an encounter with a guy who's a plumber, name is Joe-Joe-Joe-Joe -

my old buddy Joe-Joe, the plumber-Joe, the plumber-like Joe the Plumber-people like Joe the Plumber-Joe the Plumber-we're talking about Joe the Plumber.

OBAMA: I'm happy to talk to you, Joe, too, if you're out there.

OLBERMANN: With Howard Fineman in the spin room at the David S Mack Sports & Exhibition Complex at Hofstra University, our special guest, former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, the analysis of Eugene Robinson and Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, this is COUNTDOWN coverage of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are the issues, and does he who we want?

Batman. Who is he? Can you think about that a moment, my friend?

OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN's coverage of the 49th and final 2008 presidential debate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN: I don't know about you but I want to vote for this Joe, the plumber guy.

Good evening, this is Wednesday, October 15th, 20 days until the 2008 presidential election and moments after the third presidential debate where our first results from uncommitted voters are in and once again, they are overwhelmingly in favor of Senator Obama as the winner of the debate.

A CBS poll of uncommitted voters coming out just moments ago suggesting that Obama was viewed as the winner by 53 percent, 24 percent thought it was a tie among the uncommitteds, and 22 percent thought Senator McCain won.

If the Palin/Biden match-up at the start of this month was the Joe Six Pack debate, the third and final meeting tonight between senators Obama and McCain was about Joe the Plumber, also William Ayers and Congressman John Lewis.

Our fifth story on this special post-debate edition of COUNTDOWN, Senator McCain answering the question of whether he would repeat the most negative attacks of his campaign to Obama's face by repeating the most negative attacks of his campaign to Obama's face.

Forget the idea heading in that a sit-down format would lead to a chattier, friendlier exchange. Tonight's debate was tough, it was personal and for no one was it more personal than Joe Wurzelbacher.

McCain called him, erroneously, Wurzelburger. Hence worth, he's known to everybody in the nation as Joe the Plumber. Outside Toledo on Sunday, Mr. Wurzelbacher having approached Senator Obama and asked him about his tax plan, especially how it relates to small businesses.

Senator McCain spent the entirety of tonight's debate addressing nearly all of his remarks on taxes and everything else to Joe the Plumber.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Joe the Plumber.

OBAMA: Joe the Plumber.

MCCAIN: Joe the Plumber. Joe the Plumber.

OBAMA: Joe the Plumber.

MCCAIN: Joe the Plumber. We're talking about Joe the Plumber.

OBAMA: Supporter.

MCCAIN: Joe, you're rich, congratulations. And Joe, you're rich, congratulations.

OBAMA: That includes you, Joe, right.

MCCAIN: I want Joe to do the job.

OBAMA: And I'm happy to talk to you, Joe, too, if you're out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: As we mentioned, the other big name of the night, Williams Ayers. Yes, Senator McCain went there, the Republican nominee, claiming the tone of his campaign could have been very different if Senator Obama had merely request-agreed to his request to a series of joint town hall meetings, in other words, Ayers, ACORN, and palling around with terrorists, Senator Obama had it coming.

We begin with the Democrat's response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: When people suggest that I pal around with terrorists, then we're not talking about issues..

MCCAIN: Well.

OBAMA: What we're talking about.

MCCAIN: Let me just say-let me just say categorically, I'm proud of the people that come to our rallies.

Mr. Ayers, I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist, but as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship. We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama's relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: The campaign that has become about guilt by association, Obama talking act who he actually associates with.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The reason I think that it's important to just get these the facts out, is because the allegation that Senator McCain's continually made is that some how my associations are troubling.

Let me tell you who I associate with. On economic policy I associate with Warren Buffett and former Fed chairman, Paul Volcker. If I'm interested in figuring out my foreign policy I associate myself with my running mate, Joe Biden or with Dick Lugar, the Republican ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or General Jim Jones, the former supreme Allied commander of NATO.

Those are people, Democrats and Republicans, who have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House and I think that the fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Senator McCain tried to down play any association between himself and an associate named President Bush, and effectively so.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Meantime, Senator McCain called his own running mate, Governor Palin, a quote, "breash of freath air." Senator Obama pivoting on an exchange about Governor Palin and special needs and turning it into a question about funding and funding freezes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I think it's very commendable the work she's done on behalf of special needs. I agree with that, John. I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs, will require some additional funding if we're going to get serious in terms of research.

That is something that every family that advocates on behalf of disabled children talk about and if we have an across-the-board spending freeze we're not going to be able to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Joining me now from Hofstra University in Hempstead, the site of this final of the 49th presidential debates of the last two years, the man who's been, and I think, everyone of them, Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC.

Good evening again, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK: Let's have those 10 town hall debates, Keith. Come on.

OLBERMANN: Yes. That's a good idea. More.

Setting aside for a moment the draft Joe the Plumber movement that will no doubt spring up tomorrow.

FINEMAN: Yes. Yes.

OLBERMANN: The key tonight, I thought, in terms of strategy in a debate, Obama, essentially, introduced, almost demanded, that McCain address the Ayers topic and ACORN.

Did this put McCain, indeed, on the defense? Did it kind of neutralize the issue?

FINEMAN: Well, I thought that was a brilliant move by Obama. I think we were-right before the debate we were saying that McCain was basically going to back up, you know, the front end loader and dump everything out there.

There was a whole freight train worth of stuff. But Obama was ready for it and that was very shrewd because that forced McCain to concede right off the bat that he didn't care about some washed-up terrorist which kind of undercut a lot of the rest of what he had to say.

And I thought Obama gave his answer, he gave it pretty clearly and forcefully. I must say, most of the American people don't care about William Ayers, and they don't care about ACORN. They hadn't ever heard of ACORN at all. Most American people still don't know what ACORN is.

And John McCain described it-what was it? As a-out to do-perhaps destroy the fabric of democracy.

Who knew? Who knew? And so that was not McCain's strongest attack. What McCain did here tonight, that the Republicans were pleased about, the Republican faithful, was that he attacked Obama ideologically on every point, saying that Obama was for big government, that Obama was for raising taxes, that Obama, basically, was a reincarnation of every big spending liberal Democrat in history.

There are two problems with that. Number one, it doesn't necessarily comport with Obama's record and number two, the American people don't seem to want another ideologue right now. They had one with George Bush for eight years. They don't seem to want that.

Obama was a study in shades of gray and calm contrast to McCain, and that seems to be what people are supporting which is why these dial groups and these early snap polls after the debates always show Obama winning.

It's not just his tone. It's that he says, you know, we can do a little of both. We have to prioritize. We have to be careful. It's that kind of careful and calm consideration that the American people seem to like.

And even though McCain was scoring ideological points that thrilled his base, and they're happy. They are saying where was this McCain months ago? Not only is it too late but it doesn't seem to be the kind of thing that the American people want right now.

OLBERMANN: McCain's moment, I thought, and this, obviously, was the set piece about not being Bush. It was very effective. But there are other set pieces that he reached for and kind of stumbled.

And most importantly, as we discussed beforehand, whereas he may have presented himself as a largely different McCain, and I think that the-base that saw an energized McCain was right, unfortunately for him it was the same Obama, and that-was that maybe this last test? If Obama could not be flapped by either John McCain that was pretty much the stamp of approval?

FINEMAN: He kept his cool, Obama did. There was only one little glimmer of anger there when-and you played the clip, where Obama said, you're tactics, Senator, basically, say more about you than they say about me, and if you're watching carefully, there was a slight note of anger there.

But by the way, on the Bush exchange, David Axelrod, the chief Obama strategist who came running in here, was delighted with that, because then Obama came back and said, well, excuse me, if I mistake you for George Bush, it's because your economic policies were exactly-are exactly like George Bush's and the Obama camp's estimation, that was a homerun for them.

The second half of that exchange they thought was really terrific and helped them. They're going to stand on the relationship between Bush and McCain and McCain going to stand on the relationship between Obama and taxes.

That's the rest of the election.

OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC with the first read from the debate site. Thanks as always, Howard, very well done.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's turn now to Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC's "RACHEL

MADDOW SHOW."

Rachel, good evening, again.

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

OLBERMANN: All right. If Bill Ayers was supposed to be a disqualifier in some way, if it was supposed to impact, or ACORN is supposed to be a threat to democracy, as Mr. McCain said tonight, didn't it need to be explained a little bit more?

Did the whole strategy get shifted on the burden, the onus of this on to McCain and did he whiff on it? Because it seemed to me, if you didn't know what he was talking about you still don't know what he was talking about.

MADDOW: That's right. So the true believers on ACORN, the people who have been reading about it or listening to talk radio right-wing media about it and they're fired up about it, maybe felt like they got a bit of a nod from McCain on that.

But if you aren't one-part of that tiny minority of Americans who approaches this election in that way, you don't have any idea what that was about. And so he did whiff, I think is the right way to think about that.

On Ayers, you know, I interviewed the Obama-Clinton-the Obama/Biden communications director today about that interview, Dan Fifer, about that today, saying, why are you daring John McCain to bring up Williams Ayers? Why are you essentially goading him into bringing it up?

And he didn't share strategy with me but he essentially said-essentially conceded that they think that it would be a good thing for the American people to see John McCain try to go after Barack Obama on that one.

Obviously, they were confident that they had a good response to it and they thought it would make McCain look worse than Obama did, and I think that's what happened. I think they neutralized the whole Ayers issue and it's sort of over now.

OLBERMANN: Did Obama in this debate-let McCain off the hook on a couple of occasions? McCain told the exaggeration of JFK and Goldwater and the town hall agreement which never happened. They did not agree to it. They-Goldwater said I think he would have agreed to it.

That was as close they ever got-they may have been discussed it. There's no indication of that. He misrepresented what Obama had signed on public financing. He had said he refuted every Republican attack on Obama, which is laughable or dangerously uninformed on that subject.

And there was one particular moment when he brought up the $3 million overhead projector, which is, of course, this space-age planetarium device. It's not some sort of opaque projector we use in, you know, home-ec class.

Did he-did he seem to you like he did not-that Obama held punches back and why would that have been?

MADDOW: I think that he has to make the calculation and you have to make it on your feet. You have to make it-in quick terms, whether or not you're going to score more points by having corrected the record, by having pointed out the mistakes made in the allegation, or you're going to score more points by doing than you are going to lose by looking like you are, essentially, knit-picking the accusations against you.

If you want to take on the planetarium thing, for example, you end up talking about that dumb planetarium argument for the length of time it takes you to correct the record on that. So he makes those calculations point by point.

And I don't necessarily think that he made bad strategic choices on those ones that you just suggested. I do bristle every time that Obama gives John McCain a compliment on the torture issue because McCain says that waterboarding is torture. McCain also voted to allow the CIA to do it. Calling that a bold stance against torture, I think, gives McCain a lot of credit that he really doesn't deserve.

OLBERMANN: Let me run, lastly, for our segment here some of these early results. We know from a CNN focus group that they had it 15-10, Obama, and three people changed their minds as a result of this debate.

A FOX focus group, four people moved towards Obama and they described it-they wouldn't release a number, they just said it was a clear majority in favor of Obama having won this.

We saw the initial CNN snap poll, with just debate watchers, 58-31, Obama, and always, the most interesting one here, the CBS uncommitted numbers, 53, Obama, 24 time, McCain, 22. What are the uncommitted voters seeing that maybe those who are very made up their minds here, or the rest of us, don't see anymore?

MADDOW: It may be that people are looking for a specific thing in order to try to bring them toward John McCain. They are waiting for him to say something they think he's capable of saying and they're not hearing it.

And if John McCain can unlock that particular door maybe he'll have a very good next 19 days. But honestly my gut feeling about those is that people don't like his temperament and people don't like him gritting his teeth, you know, grinding his teeth down to saw dust at this point.

They don't like him sneering and rolling his eyes and looking mad. And frankly, John McCain looks likes he doesn't want Barack Obama to be president more than he looks like he, himself, wants to be president.

And I don't think that creates a good impression. That's just my gut impression of what undecideds may be thinking at this point but.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

MADDOW: . that's what seems like they're saying.

OLBERMANN: It was a little troubling to see McCain not look at Obama in the first two debates. I think we just found out it was more disturbing to see him look at Obama during this debate.

Rachel, we'll check back with you later in the hour. Pat Buchanan, your faithful sidekick and fake uncle, will be there with you, thank you.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right, coming up, tonight's debate as seen through the eyes of each campaign. We'll talk next with the former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, obviously, from the Obama campaign.

This is COUNTDOWN's coverage of the final presidential debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN special analysis of the third and final presidential debate. Did the campaigns see a game-changer somewhere in this debate tonight? We'll see what both sides are saying in the spin room following the actual activity.

Tom Daschle is next. This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: The news reported at this hour from our NBC affiliate in Toledo, Ohio. Joe the Plumber has gone to sleep.

After 25 mentions during a presidential debate, the man now known as "Joe the Plumber" said it was pretty surreal. He said he's still pretty much agreed with Senator McCain plan as opposed to Senator Obama. And then he went to sleep. There will be no further comment from Joe the Plumber this evening.

Much of this debate, obviously, was dealing with tone, tone not in terms of articulation of thought, nor articulation of thought towards the electorate, but tone at election events, and several times Senator McCain tonight insisted he had done everything he could to keep that tone at its best possible realm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Every time there's been an out-of-bounds remark made by a Republican, no matter where they are, I have repudiated them.

Let me just say, categorically, I'm proud of the people that come to our rallies. Whenever you get a large rally of 10, 15, 20,000 people you're going to have some fringe people as you know-you know that. And I-we've always said that that's not appropriate.

There's a lot of things have been yelled at your rally, Senator Obama, that I'm not happy about either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: We're now joined from the site of this last debate by former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, national co-chair for the Barack Obama campaign.

Senator, it's a pleasure. Thanks for your time tonight.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE, OBAMA CAMPAIGN NATIONAL CO-CHAIR: Thanks, Keith.

Good to be here.

OLBERMANN: Were your surprised to hear Senator McCain say that he had repudiated all these attacks and unfair statements against Senator Obama throughout the campaign?

DASCHLE: Well, I was, Keith, for a couple of reasons, first, because it's not true. And secondly, he spent 90 minutes tonight on the attack. You know, about 2/3 of the American people think that he's an angry candidate. It looked like for the next 90 minutes he tried to convince the other third he was angry.

That was what I got out of this debate tonight.

OLBERMANN: There was an additional level, though, to it, which I-I mean you can win on an-an angry candidate wins now and again. But the additional level of trying to turn John Lewis's righteous, perhaps, excessive, but righteous and historically first-person account of what can happen when political demagoguery gets out of hand and moves from angry to demagoguery.

To turn that around and make himself into the victim in this and insist Senator Obama had done something wrong by not throwing John Lewis under some bus, I thought that was an extraordinary moment and very telling as well.

DASCHLE: Well, the entire McCain campaign has been based on half-truths and twisted distortions. This was another classic example. You take what might be factually the beginning of some truth, and move it around, turn it around, twist it to a point where you can't recognize it.

That's what he did in this case, that's what he did throughout the entire debate tonight.

OLBERMANN: Did you see any indication that Senator Obama was flustered, moved, taken off his point, taken away from his game by what was clearly a different kind of John McCain tonight?

DASCHLE: I think they told John McCain, go for it. You know? What have you got to lose? You're losing right now so go for it. Try to-try to do something to shake up Barack Obama. Get him off his game.

He tried just about everything tonight. He looked increasingly frustrated as he did. I almost felt sorry for the guy.

OLBERMANN: The policy points which, inevitably, after we discuss one of these debates, most commentators and analysts tend to leave in the dust, most of the voters tend to focus on the policy issues, tend to focus on the economic issues and health care plan.

It was an extremely long and pointed exchange about health care plans and whether or not there would be fines. And we had Joe the Plumber and whether or not he would be fined. In some-on those two critical issues, and they are, obviously, interlocked between health care and the economy, where did the two candidates get their respective points in and where did they fail to in here in your impression?

DASCHLE: Well, I think John McCain has attempted to explain his health insurance plan now four or five different ways and tonight, he did it again. The more he explains the more confused it gets.

I think what Barack Obama did, and I thought it was probably the highlight of the debate for Barack Obama, was to explain with clarity and real compelling arguments why his health plan is so important and why people all across this country ought to listen carefully about the contrast between a John McCain and a Barack Obama.

That, to me, was one of the better parts of the entire debate.

OLBERMANN: Senator Tom-Daschle, the national co-chair of the Obama campaign, taking a few moments with us after the debate at the Hempstead, Long Island, New York.

Thank you, Sir.

DASCHLE: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: Coming up, the view from the other side. What the McCain campaign is saying in this last hour since this last debate finally ended.

COUNTDOWN's coverage of the 49th presidential debate, the third of Obama versus McCain continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: There was, as we suggested earlier, one complete set point here for Senator McCain in the tonight's final debate against Senator Obama. At one point referencing President Bush as Senator Obama is one to do, Senator McCain replied, "Well, Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago."

About a minute later came the Obama response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: If I occasionally mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people-on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: We're joined now from the site of the debate, Hofstra University, Hempstead, Long Island, New York, by NBC's Andrea Mitchell who has been collecting responses from the Republican side of this.

And Andrea, I-let's start with that second half and more importantly from the Republican point of view, the first half of that exchange in which Senator McCain articulately got that point across, that I am not President Bush.

Was that-is that being viewed as the selling point of this debate for the Republicans? Or if not, what is?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That was the line of the debate, that was the line he wanted to put out there to try to finally separate himself from George W. Bush, the extraordinarily unpopular president in this administration.

And the problem is, it's probably too little, too late. But he did get that line out and, of course, Obama came right back and said, you voted for four out of five Bush budgets. I think that that line, probably and Joe the Plumber, were the winners of this debate.

McCain was wrong, by the way, in saying that Joe, the Plumber and, you know, Joe is someone we saw in a rope line in Toledo Sunday night who felt that the tax plan, and perhaps the health insurance plan, as well, would hurt his small business. And, in fact, it would not.

All the fact-checking that we can do is that-that Joe's business would not be hurt, in terms of health insurance aspects, regarding the Obama-Obama plan.

But all the fact-checking aside right now, John McCain came out aggressively, Keith, and really went after-went after Barack Obama. And, yet, undecided voters, independent voters, the people that he was trying to reach, probably did not like that aggressive attack.

In this climate, with this extraordinary environment of what we're seeing on Wall Street, this is not what people apparently want to hear, according to all the polls and all focus groups, ourselves included.

OLBERMANN: He got the idea across that he's not President Bush. He did not-I don't know that he got the idea across of exactly who he is in that economic crisis.

But I must ask you about Republican reaction to the not necessarily neutering of the Bill Ayers and ACORN issues, but the fact that Obama essentially made it mandatory for McCain to bring them up.

MITCHELL: Right.

OLBERMANN: And, when they came out, they certainly didn't come out with any kind of explosive impact that the-that the right would have preferred.

MITCHELL: Well, they wanted it out. They wanted all of that stuff on the table. The problem with all of that, as I say, is that that is what people do not want to hear, according to everybody that has been checking with these undecided voters, all of the networks, cables, and broadcast-broadcast networks have done these focus groups, and they are all saying that they don't want to hear that.

They want to hear about the economy. So, the base must have been very happy with the defense of Sarah Palin, with bringing up the comments by the the statement by John Lewis, which most people did think was beyond the pale. And I think that, actually, John McCain did score some points by saying that that was hurtful.

But Obama made the point that there has been a lot of negative attacks. There have been negative attacks from both sides, but primarily, in the last couple of weeks, from the McCain side.

So, the-the Republican base, Keith, was probably very happy with this, but those are not the people that John McCain needed to reach.

OLBERMANN: An excellent point. Andrea Mitchell, with some of that Republican reaction from the debate thank you, Andrea. Have a good night.

MITCHELL: Same to you.

OLBERMANN: Eugene Robinson of "The Washington Post" next.

Did he see anything that voters will look to change the trajectory of the race in the last 20 days? And what does he think about Joe the plumber?

This is COUNTDOWN's coverage of the Joe the plumber debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Just play it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Joe the plumber.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Joe the plumber.

MCCAIN: Joe the plumber.

Joe the plumber.

OBAMA: Joe the plumber.

MCCAIN: Joe the plumber.

MCCAIN: We're talking about Joe the plumber.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: Joe, you're rich. Congratulations.

Joe, you're rich. Congratulations.

OBAMA: That includes you, Joe.

MCCAIN: I want, Joe, you to do the job.

OBAMA: And I'm happy to talk to you, Joe, too, if you're out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Gene the columnist joins us now...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: ... Eugene Robinson, columnist, associate editor for "The Washington Post," also political analyst for MSNBC.

Good evening, Gene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Evening, Keith. How are you?

OLBERMANN: All right.

So, he was-he was-he's Joe Wurzelbacher. And, unfortunately, considering he was-he was the second man on the team for Mr. McCain, Mr. McCain called him Joe Wurzelburger, which sort of ruins it. There he is in the shot. He's the guy on the right, obviously.

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN: This-it's one of these, again, visceral things that just tends to overwhelm everything else in the debate. He got mentioned 21 times by John McCain and four times by Barack Obama. And, obviously, that's a nice thing for him. Did it serve America's purposes at all? And did it, in fact, serve John McCain's purposes, because we're talking about Joe the plumber, instead of John McCain?

ROBINSON: Right.

I don't think it served John McCain's purposes. Joe the plumber. It's supposed to be illustrative. Apparently, plumbing is some sort of all-American occupation. Not Marge the systems analyst, but Joe the plumber, is...

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON: ... I guess, supposed to-supposed to be representative of, you know, tax problems and economic problems and health care problems.

It-it got silly when they actually started addressing their answers to Joe, rather than to Bob Schieffer, or to America, or anybody else. And, in the end, it was kind of a waste of time in a debate that I doubt really shifted the ground underneath this election very much.

I mean, I actually thought it was quite an interesting debate, Joe aside, just because-not so much because of the individual answers, but because of-of what came out, the philosophies that came out.

And I think the reason that those uncommitted voters are saying they thought Barack Obama won the debate is, they-they listened to John McCain, and they heard Republican philosophy. They heard, you know, I'm not going to raise your taxes. We're going to cut spending.

They heard what they have heard from Republican candidates for a long time. People are not stupid. They know what they're hearing. And they heard something different from Barack Obama.

And, so, you know, and I think people are listening to them, despite -

sometimes despite the candidates' best efforts to either put them to sleep or-or make them think they're intruders in a conversation between the candidates and Joe.

And people listen, and they hear, and they think that times are different now. And-and I think they are looking for something different.

OLBERMANN: Yes. And, to your point, there were two phrases that just jumped out of the screen and knocked me out. And I thought, how in the world is a candidate in 2008 actually saying these two things?

McCain accused Obama of class warfare, and said, this is not-essentially, this is not the time to spread the wealth around. And people are sitting at home going, no, no, I need some of that wealth. Whoever else has it, I would like some of their wealth. I mean, it doesn't matter if you're making $100 a year or $10 million a year. You want the other guy's wealth. That's just the way we are right now.

ROBINSON: Mm-hmm.

OLBERMANN: But, now the-the other thing that we were worried about anticipating going into this, and it turned out to be not-not the McCain pitch, but the Obama pitch, essentially, he brought up the subjects of his associations that we have already discussed, to some degree, whether he managed to neuter that whole issue, because he forced McCain into kind of a laundry list that didn't seem to stick in any way, shape or form.

But I think you made a good point that, just as important about the subject of associations were the other names that Barack Obama was able to tick off.

ROBINSON: That's right.

Barack Obama said, you want to know my associations? Gee, when I need economic advice, you know, I get it from Warren Buffett and Paul Volcker. And, when I want foreign policy advice, I get it from the likes of Dick Lugar.

I mean, look, I think the Ayers thing-I know the Republican base is very excited about it. I think it seems to me that most people understand that what Ayers did, he did when Barack Obama was 8 years old. And I really think, you now, at a time-on a day when the Dow went down 733 points, to talk about something that happened in Vietnam era is really not the way to win friends and influence people, you know, at this stage in the campaign.

OLBERMANN: And I might add, Obama also managed to then-to conflate Ayers, the Annenbergs, "The Chicago Tribune," and Ronald Reagan all in one topic.

ROBINSON: Right.

OLBERMANN: One last bit of identification and associations, it is clear now that John McCain, having stated this, is not President Bush, in case anybody was confused about this. But did he define who he was?

ROBINSON: Well, not who he was separate from George Bush's kind of political and economic philosophy, I think.

You know, he-he-he described himself-he did not use the word maverick, I think. He lets others do that. But he used, you know, all the kind of dictionary definition of maverick to describe who he was.

But he-you know, he said, "I'm not George Bush," but he didn't lay out what he believed that was different from what George Bush believed, at least in terms of the economy.

OLBERMANN: Eugene Robinson of MSNBC and "The Washington Post," in our Joe the plumber special, contributing greatly to our understanding of Joe the plumber tonight-great thanks , as always, Gene.

ROBINSON: Thank-thank you, Keith.

Coming up: Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow, two other topics we have not yet touched on in tonight's debate, abortion and where the two candidates stood on that, and whether or not Senator McCain helped himself on his elucidation of his position there, and on Obama taking each pitch in the at bat that dealt with Governor Palin.

You're watching COUNTDOWN's coverage of the last of the presidential debates between McCain and Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Three polls of independent or uncommitted voters in the wake of the final of the 49 presidential debates tonight, from CBS News, Obama 53, a tie 24, McCain 22.

From CNN, among independent voters, 57-31 Obama. And from an outfit called MediaCurves also of independent voters, Obama 60, McCain, 30.

Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow, neither of them described currently as independent, but certainly deep thinkers, join me next for more reaction.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: An hour and 10 minutes into tonight's final debate, the subject turned to abortion and some of Senator Obama's votes on the topic in Illinois in the statehouse there.

Obama gave an answer about common ground and whether or not unintended pregnancies could be reduced in some sort of common ground between those who were for and against choice. He also said, nobody is pro-abortion.

Senator McCain's reply suggested there was, in fact, a pro-abortion group, and seemed not to talk about common ground in the least.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB SCHIEFFER, MODERATOR: ... and then...

MCCAIN: Just again, the example of the eloquence of Senator Obama. He's health for the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything.

That's the extreme pro-abortion position-quote-"health."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Joining us now for their reactions, Pat Buchanan of MSNBC, and back again with us again, Rachel Maddow.

Rachel, this was your point. That will probably not-not have served Senator McCain as much as he might think it might have. Why do you feel that way?

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": I think that men and women sometimes talk about abortion rights in different ways.

And, certainly, there's a lot of diversity on the issue. There's a lot of women on both sides of the abortion-rights question. But I think, often, you hear abortion discussed as whether it should be legal or illegal, whether certain procedures are in keeping with our values as a society or not.

Another way to think of it is, how much power do we want the government to have over pregnant women? Do we want to live in a country where the government can say to every pregnant American woman, you will be forced by the state to carry this pregnancy to term; you will be forced by the state to give birth?

And, if you think about it that way-and I hear women talk about it in those terms more than I hear men talk about it in those terms-it will be seared in your mind to hear John McCain mock the idea that the government would be allowed to excuse you from the requirement that you carry a pregnancy to term in order to save your own health, the way he just said the word health. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, health. That's been stretched to mean almost anything.

I think that's going to sizzle and last for a long time.

OLBERMANN: Pat, does Rachel have a point there, especially in the context that-that the previous answer from Obama had been about whether or not we could find some common ground to at least reduce unwanted pregnancies?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, clearly I-what I thought-see Obama as doing is basically moving towards the formulaic pro-choice position on these issues, moving, frankly, away from what might be-what he's being attacked for, which is an extreme position.

That's why McCain brought up the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which had been a matter of enormous controversy. And Barack Obama denied he would he would deny care to infants; this is a terrible thing.

But let me say about this whole thing, Keith, it goes to a point you mentioned earlier. I saw Barack Obama all night long as being super-cautious, declining to engage, unwilling to mix it up with McCain, whose frustration comes from the fact that he did want, anxiously, to mix it up.

And I think Obama knows what these polls are going to be showing at the end of the night. But it does show something else. I think he does have this lead going for him. I think he knows it. He's like a boxer in the 15th round who's been told, just stay away from him. Just stay away from him.

But how much different this candidate is, super-cautious, I think, in this final debate, from the candidate, we are the fierce-what is it, the fierce urgency of now. We are the people we have been waiting for.

That's really changed. And I think Obama is really running out the clock. So, I saw him, on all his positions, retreating, basically, to the solid liberal ground, and not wanting to be painted as an extremist of any kind, and McCain pushing and pushing and pushing.

MADDOW: Pat, I will say-sorry, Keith.

I would just say that, on the abortion issue, Obama did say, I want there to be fewer abortions, that I am against so-called partial-birth abortions.

BUCHANAN: Well, that's the formula position.

MADDOW: Well, but he's-he's not-if you wanted to say he's taking the boilerplate liberal position on it, then he wouldn't have...

BUCHANAN: Well...

MADDOW: ... he wouldn't have gone there on the so-called partial-birth abortion thing. He's with you on that one.

BUCHANAN: Well, he was-he was-no, he was dragged out-on the partial-birth abortion thing he was dragged out on that. And he said, look, if we can get it consistent with Roe v. Wade, I'm for outlawing it.

In other words, he's moving-each time you watch Obama, he's been moving toward the center again and again. I mean, go back. Look at, he agreed with Scalia in court decisions in two days. That's not the Obama of South Side Chicago.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: That's not the Obama of caricature. The more you hear from Barack Obama, the better you get to know him, the more you realize why actually a lot of liberals have been frustrated with him from the beginning, because he's always been sort of the centrist guy on policy.

BUCHANAN: But, no, he has-I think he has moved, and he wants to stay right there right now. And he feels he's ahead.

MADDOW: He's not moving. The point of view of the camera is moving.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN: He's gone.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: The center may be moving towards him.

Pat and Rachel, stand by. We have to take a quick break.

The next topic we're going to talk about is an observation of Pat's, that, when offered an opportunity to tee off on Governor Sarah Palin, Senator Obama did not do such a thing.

COUNTDOWN's coverage of the third and final debate continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Certainly, Senator Obama, in this last presidential debate, was more cautious, perhaps, than he had been in earlier ones, certainly in at least one case. He let-to use the last baseball analogy of the night go by-he let one rather fat-looking pitch pass him directly without the bat moving from his shoulder.

The subject was presidential running mates for $1,000.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIEFFER: Do you think she's qualified to be president?

OBAMA: You know, I think it's-that's going to be up to the American people. I think that, obviously, she's a capable politician.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Back again to wrap it up with Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow.

And, Pat, in the context of one of those internal numbers in the CNN poll of uncommitteds, "Who spent more time attacking during the debate, McCain 80 percent, Obama 7 percent?"

Was it wise for Obama to take a few of those pitches and let them sail right past?

BUCHANAN: It was very, very smart.

With Sarah Palin, let it go right by, strike right across the plate.

OLBERMANN: Mm-hmm.

BUCHANAN: He doesn't want a headline tomorrow morning, "Barack Obama Rips Sarah Palin," then have Sarah Palin on TV tomorrow night ripping Obama.

I think he did exactly the right thing. First, it comes off, A, as gracious. And, B, again, it testifies to the super-cautiousness of Obama. These guys are running out the clock.

I will say one thing, Keith. This is not an election in which Obama and Biden are going to have any kind of mandate. I think what has happened in the country is, the country has simply said, we want to get rid of the Republicans. Seven hundred points down on the Dow probably added to that today.

That's why I think all these debates, we come into them, I think the audience has made up its mind they don't want the Republican, and the undecided are saying, Obama still hasn't closed the sale with us. And I think he intends to ride right in there, and not close the sale, but be elected president of the United States.

OLBERMANN: Rachel, have you seen anything in the numbers that supports Pat's conclusions about him not closing the deal with independents and uncommitted voters?

MADDOW: No.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: I disagree with Pat on this one.

I mean, I think that, if you look at the overall scope of this presidential debate, you don't get the sort of explosive, massive growth in Democratic voter registration because people have decided they don't like Republicans.

There is enthusiasm for Obama and Biden. And we don't exactly know how that's going to play out on November 4, but there is something about, something positive about-particularly about Senator Obama that is more than just, he's not George W. Bush.

On-on the issue of Sarah Palin, very interesting internal numbers in-in-in the "L.A. Times" poll that came out today. And it didn't get-get-get as much as attention as the "New York Times" poll. "The New York Times" showed a 14-point gap. "L.A. Times" showed a nine-point gap.

But, if you look at the internals there, Sarah Palin is by far the least popular of the presidential and vice presidential candidates. If you look at the-the-the 20-point swing among independents from McCain toward Obama just in the last month in that "L.A. Times" poll, the biggest single explanatory factor for that is how much independents dislike Sarah Palin.

When that's happening, you don't try to interrupt that.

BUCHANAN: But wait a minute. Rachel...

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN: ... we have had one of the most historic events of our lifetime, one of the greatest financial collapses, the greatest since the crash of 1929, in a far more telescope period.

Before this crash occurred, McCain/Palin were leading. And, suddenly, you have got a 15-, 17-point slip. That's not because of an interview with Katie Couric.

MADDOW: It's not because of an interview with Katie Couric.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: It's because of the entirety of her candidacy.

Right now, what's happened...

BUCHANAN: It...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: ... with that-with that big, seismic shift that we have had, what has happened is that people want to feel like the people who are going to be in the White House are going to be experienced and capable.

And that was the problem with Sarah Palin as a choice. She was the wrong choice at the wrong time. She's compounded the problems for McCain.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: Look, Biden and Obama, what have they done in four weeks to convince people they're suddenly far more competent and able and people are enthusiastic about them in the last four weeks, when they were two points behind?

They have done absolutely nothing. What we have had is a crash. Had it not been for this crash, this would be a dead-even election.

MADDOW: Pat, but...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: And I think Obama would be in trouble, for the simple reason that he looks like he's getting overly cautious, and he really is not responding to anything. Frankly, he's doing what Nixon did in the last month from 1968. He would not change the message. And you could hear Humphrey catching up on us.

MADDOW: In the last four weeks, the reason that things have happened the way they have is not just because there's a generic feeling that Democrats are good on the economy and Republicans are bad. That may be part of it. That may be the Republicans' problem that they need to repair.

But Obama has campaigned well on the economy, and McCain has been a disaster.

BUCHANAN: Oh, look...

MADDOW: McCain has been a total disaster. We have no idea what his positions are on the economy.

BUCHANAN: Well, let me agree with you there.

Look, McCain handled the crash terribly, I mean, the fundamentals are sound, AIG, on and off, all the rest of it. There's no doubt about it.

But, absent this crash, I think McCain and Palin would win this election.

MADDOW: Wow.

OLBERMANN: Well, in the interim, we're talking...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: Pat, in your terms, we're talking about...

BUCHANAN: That's not going to do him any good, though.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: No, no, it's not, because, as you suggested, Obama and Biden would not have a mandate-it would suggest they would, probably barring unforeseen events, have an election margin of victory, which, in this country, in these days, amounts to a mandate, whether it's 1 percent or 10.

In any event, we're done.

Pat Buchanan of MSNBC, Rachel Maddow of "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" on MSNBC, great thanks to you both, as always.

MADDOW: Thanks, Keith.

BUCHANAN: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,995th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.

For Joe the plumber, I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night, and good luck.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: Our post-debate coverage continues now on MSNBC with Chris Matthews, live from the scene of the last of the 49 presidential debates in Hempstead, New York.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: Chris, good evening again.

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

END

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