Guests: Ana Marie Cox, Steve Benen, Nate Silver, Jon Decker
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: As usual. Thank you, Keith.
And thank you for staying with us for the next hour. The hangovers are gone-maybe. The Obama volunteers are back at their real jobs. And President Bush is getting teary about leaving the White House.
Yes, it's all real. Barack Obama is still the president-elect.
(voice over): Day two since Barack Obama shook up the world. The president-elect lines up his best and brightest: Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff; Robert Gibbs, the press secretary; David Axelrod, his senior advisor. That gives a Clintonite and two Obamans. Who's next and does this tell us anything about what kind of change we should get set to believe?
World reaction to the new American history remains effusive. Even Iran's Ahmadinejad writes a note of congratulations.
But at a house in Northern Virginia today, an elite cadre of America's conservatives sequestered themselves to plot a return from rock bottom to full power. What's the conservative's plan? Who will they tap to execute it?
And, will their choice have out of control shopping habits? Will she beat senior staffers at the (INAUDIBLE)? Will she struggle with world geography?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® ALASKA: As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The political saga of Sarah Palin maybe the long, long way from over.
The longest election cycle of all time is not over, either. Results pour in two days later from Oregon to North Carolina, and in Georgia and Minnesota-and Alaska? Curl up with us on the couch and get comfortable because this could take awhile. Decision '08 continues with a live update tonight.
And who's minding President Bush while he minds the store. Our lame duck watch keeps you apprised of the serious more Afghan air strikes. The mid-serious (ph), the immigration honcho up in quits today? And the potentially deleterious: Is Barney the dog had all his shots? Who'd he bite?
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now.
(on camera): Remember way, way, way, way back to like four years ago
when Karl Rove posited the dawn of a permanent Republican majority? It does not seem to have worked out that way. Today, two days after Barack Obama's sweeping election victory, leaders within the Republican Party are describing their current state of affairs as, quote, "rock bottom." But the Republican Party and the conservative movement are like a shark and its beloved remora. And tonight, the remora of the conservative movement is meeting in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to plan their return to power. We will have more on that in a moment.
Every four years, the "New York Times" puts together a trend map after the presidential election showing which parts of the country are shifting more Democratic and which are more Republican. This year's shift shows the changes from Karl Rove's America circa 2004 to now. See all that blue? That's where people voted more Democratic than they did the last time.
So, Karl, about the permanent majority idea? The Republican Party is, at this moment, engaged in a battle royale, a civil war over its own identity. Will the GOP become the culture war, divide the country, crusading wedge issuey party? Or will they be a new look, centrist, bigger tent party? Are the Republicans still not done with the neocons and the "make the world better" through and longer wars agenda? Or did they head back toward Pat Buchanan isolationism?
Well, right now, it's all and neither. Right now, it's a party in disarray with no clear leadership, no clear ideology, and no clear direction. Don't believe me? Well, today, the GOP's number two guy in the House, Roy Blunt, stepped down from his leadership post, and he said on his way out the door this, quote, "I can tell you more problems about more members of Congress than you'll ever want to hear. I can tell you more reasons not to do something than you'll ever want to hear."
Wow. And that wasn't the most damning Republican quote of the day. That came from Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, the head of the Republican House Policy Committee. He said this, quote, "We're at rock bottom. We are now free to start thinking, again. We are now tree to start thinking again, acting again and doing the right thing by what our constituents and our country need."
Free to start thinking again? Why did you stop? What do you in politics when you find yourself at rock bottom? Sometimes, you convene a blue ribbon commission. Sometimes, you declare a desire to spend more time with your family.
In this case, conservatives have decided to call a summit which means at least free food, right? About 20 influential conservative leaders held a meeting in Virginia today at the home of right wing media watchdog, Brent Bozell. Among those attending the conservative confab, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, he's the guy who famously said he wanted to get government down to the size where he could drown it in a bathtub. Also, the federalist society honcho, Leonard Leo, and Tony Perkins, from the Family Research Council.
Their goal: The forge a new direction for the Republican Party, whose only agree upon goal at this point seems to be to find a way to go after Barack Obama. That's OK. That's what loyal opposition is supposed to do.
But just in case this summit idea doesn't solve their "what do we stand for" problem, the Republican Party apparently has a back-up plan. The party has set up a Website appealing for suggestions on how to get their act together. Also, according to the "Guardian" newspaper, they are setting up a hotline so you can phone in your ideas for the future of conservativism and the Republican Party-to a hotline.
One of the more immediate and pressing questions for the GOP right now is: What happens to Sarah Palin? Today, the vice presidential pick who keeps on giving, gave some more in the form of newly reported details about McCain's life during Palin time. According to the "New York Times," Palin was, quote, "the catalyst for a civil war between her campaign and Mr. McCain's."
Among the new revelations? Senator McCain reportedly only even spoke to Palin occasionally. Remember when he said he turned to her for advice on foreign policy all the time? And rift may or may not have led to the firing of one of McCain's foreign policy advisors, Randy Scheunemann, the former lobbyist for the nation of Georgia, who appears to have taken a political shine to Governor Palin. According to the "Times," McCain advisors were concerned that Scheunemann leaked to the media damning stories about the McCain campaign messing with Palin.
Two senior members of the McCain campaign told the "Times" Scheunemann was fired. But Scheunemann himself said he was never dismissed. Another McCain aide today confirmed that Scheunemann wasn't technically fired but the campaign turned off his BlackBerry and killed his e-mail account-which if you're a campaign staffer, I mean, it's kind of like being a race car driver who gets your car taken away. What do you do with yourself?
And then there's this little nugget. Top McCain aides reportedly told FOX News that Palin did not know Africa was a continent. She thought it was a country. And she was reportedly stumped when asked to name the countries involved in NAFTA. Here's a hint, NAFTA stands for the North American Free Trade Agreement, us, Mexico, Canada.
Palin's spokeswoman released a statement today calling the accusations, quote, "sickening and not true." Well, true or not, these attacks on Palin are embarrassing. Not because the governor maybe profoundly uninformed, but because the attacks are coming from within the Republican Party, from within the campaign she just left. The party that's always united, right? It always wins elections by being so united.
So, will Sarah Palin be the solution to Republican problems? Will the conservative confab at Brent Bozell's weekend house in Virginia result in an Alaska hockey mom being the mouthpiece for the right-wing agenda? This answer, like so many others, can be found in an anagram.
Guess what happens when you rearrange the letters in word Republican, it can spell "Cure b Palin."
I mean, you can't make this stuff up. Although I did stare really hard for a really long time at the word "Republican" to figure that one out.
Joining us now is "Time" magazine contributor, Ana Marie Cox. She traveled with the McCain campaign and she is still in Phoenix, Arizona, apparently unaware that the campaign is over.
Ana Marie, thank you for joining us.
ANA MARIE COX, TIME MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR: Someone needs to turn off my BlackBerry, I guess.
MADDOW: Do you need a ride home?
COX: No, I think I can get home just fine. I just actually-I decided to stay an extra day to get away from the campaign. They've already left. I spent the day mostly by the pool, but also writing and also wondering where my email was, I mean, I'm so used to getting hundreds and hundreds of emails a day, it's very strange to turn on my phone and find that nothing new has happened in the last three hours, at least, nothing new that someone at the DNC headquarters wants to tell me about.
MADDOW: Well, it sounds like, if you were writing a hit piece on Sarah Palin, you'd be getting plenty of Republican email. I thought the long knives for Palin were kind of incredible before the election, but they seem to have gotten longer ever since. Why do you think Republicans are more out to get her now than they were before?
COX: Well, let's put it this way-I think that if I were working on the McCain campaign and I had a Sarah Palin to blame everyone on and rather than my own mistakes, I think I'd be talking about Sarah Palin. The thing is, the McCain campaign did plenty things wrong. I mean, I think that Sarah Palin is, in many ways, if you'll pardon the pun (ph), the most attractive target for a lot of staffers. But that allows them to excuse some of many the other mistakes that people made.
And also, I have to say, that I think the people that are coming after Sarah Palin right now, it is a sign of a fundamental weakness in the campaign in general. In part, because they are not helping John McCain, they are not helping the Republican Party by making these attacks. They are basically only helping themselves. And I don't think that bodes well for the future of the party.
MADDOW: Unless they believe that Sarah Palin rising to the position of national prominence in the Republican Party would be really bad for the Republican Party. I wonder if there's some sense in which.
COX: You know.
MADDOW: . people worry that she would be a dangerous person in that position of Republican power?
COX: I think that's an excellent point. And don't you think if they really believe that, someone should have pointed it when she was on her way to becoming vice president?
COX: And I think, well, I mean, I think maybe, if you were really concerned about, you know, it looks pretty much of the ignorance of someone who's going to be potentially president, you wouldn't wait until after the election to point it out to people. You would raise the concern right then and there.
I think it's very ironic that one of the only things that the McCain campaign was able to be disciplined about during the entire campaign was the selection of Sarah Palin. They kept that secret for a very long time, very tight-lipped on it. And now, it turns out, you know what, maybe that's something that should have been leaked because it looks they might have gotten some informative feedback from within their own campaign about what a disastrous choice she might have been or she was, actually.
MADDOW: We are also left with the realization that there are some people who were very close to John McCain, other than Sarah Palin, who were sort of disloyal to John McCain. I mean, the split from within McCain's campaign, to know of McCain faction and a Palin faction with them knocking each other out to the press. I mean, that makes you-that makes us think about John McCain and the way that he conducts himself as a politician in a way that doesn't sort of match the myth that we all believed about him and his loyal cadre, of people who would die for him.
COX: Right. I think that-you have to remember looking at this, that the Sarah Palin staff that came on with her was not filled with especially loyal McCain people. A lot of the people that came on to help with Sarah Palin, including Nicolle Wallace, although personally pretty loyal to McCain are former Bushies. And I think that they did a sort of erupt a split with the Palin campaign and the McCain campaign, in part, just because they didn't come from the same-they didn't have the same background and it turns out they might not have had the same goals, either.
MADDOW: There's all this talk now about the future of the Republican Party and conservatism. There's this confab happening at Brent Bozell's place tonight, where they're all talking about what to do next and a lot of the talk is focusing on Palin and what will happen to her. But what about poor old John McCain? I mean, how does he fit in to the recalibration in the new post-Obama Republican Party?
COX: In some ways, ironically, I think he's actually very well-situated to be an important part of the government moving forward because the thing is, John McCain, and I know you may disagree with me on this, Rachel, he's actually not very ideological. He's very much a problem-solver. He's very much someone who's going to be very pragmatic about things, that's a problem for him. That's a problem that Palin was brought on to solve because she is ideological.
And I think that going forward, John McCain, personally, is probably very interested in making a difference on some of the things where he and Obama overlap. I could see him doing very well with environmental legislation, more torture legislation, border security or I should say immigration reform. And so, in some ways, John McCain is actually a really good, going to be right there in the limelight for the future of the Republican Party.
But here's the thing-John McCain is not a good leader for that party. It's one of the things we saw in him as a candidate leading up to this. He's not really a party guy. He prefers to be someone who stirs things up. Someone who speaks back to power, at least, that's the John McCain we know and love, right? Originally, the John McCain we like was that guy (ph) not a leader.
MADDOW: Yes. I guess they'll probably put up a sign that says, "Help wanted John McCain 2000 model need only apply." (INAUDIBLE).
COX: That's right.
MADDOW: Ana Marie Cox, "Time" magazine contributor, thanks for being here tonight. Enjoy your time at the pool.
COX: Thank you.
In addition to naming Clinton majordomo, Rahm Emanuel, as chief of staff, President-elect Obama today also named his economic transition team. On the list, lots of familiar Clinton administration folks like Robert Robin and Robert Reich. So, is this the big change agenda? All the old Clinton folks are back?
And this long, long election is not over yet. Results are still coming in tonight. Barack Obama picked up another red state today. And convicted felon, Ted Stevens, is ahead in the Alaska Senate race, but there's a lot of fuzzy math going on there. We will have details ahead from the man who won this year's presidential results prediction game, FiveThirtyEight.com's polling genius, Nate Silver.
But first, just one more thing about the Democratic majority. Joe Lieberman had that awkward first meeting since the breakup meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today. Lieberman, of course, was a major Democrat as of 2004. He has technically been an independent since 2006 as the supreme grand puba of the Connecticut for Leiberman Party.
And this year, Lieberman was a straight-up political turncoat, standing at John McCain's side for months to campaign against Barack Obama in very harsh terms often. He even campaigned for down ticket Republicans.
The agenda for his hat in hand meeting with Harry Reid today? Will Lieberman continue to caucus with Senate Democrats and will he maintain his leadership jobs in the new Congress? The result? Well, no decision by Harry Reid about Lieberman's fate. At least, no public decision.
For his part, Lieberman says he will think about his options. You know, after campaigning against the Democratic standard bearer as hard as anyone did, Joe Lieberman's most likely option is to take whatever Harry Reid decides to give him.
MADDOW: Tuesday's election provided some odd and at times seemingly contradictory results. Barack Obama won by over 7.5 million votes. So, what's with all the cultural war ballot proposition votes? Voters in blue California and blue Florida as well red Arizona all voted against gay marriage. Arkansas also voted "no" on adoption by single people or unmarried, read, gay couples.
Yet, voters in Fayetteville, Arkansas voted to make marijuana possession laws the lowest priority for police. In fact, when it comes to pot, whether it was less stringent laws or easier access to medical marijuana, voters said, whatever, dude, sure, I mean, that's cool. Anybody got (INAUDIBLE)? Nine out of 10 marijuana-related initiatives passed.
So, smoking weed is getting more respect from our citizens while gay people are getting less respect. I'm not quite sure where that means we are on the tolerance meter.
MADDOW: One thing we know about Barack Obama after 21 months of relentless campaign coverage-is that he's all business. So, it's no surprise that he's already into the nitty-gritty while much of the rest of the country remains lost in the emotion of his election.
The president-elect got his first presidential daily briefing today from top intelligence officials. Welcome to your new job, Mr. President, congratulations. Here's all the scariest stuff you've ever worried we might know.
Obama has taken some big steps to staff up his administration already by filling three major posts. Politico.com reporting that the campaign's communications director, Robert Gibbs, will be President Obama's White House press secretary. The campaign's chief strategist, David Axelrod, has reportedly accepted the position of senior advisor in the White House. Two decidedly Obaman choices, right?
Well, the rest of the team, so far is sort of Clintonian, by comparison. Obama named John Podesta, a former Clinton White House chief of staff, to lead his transition team. Tomorrow, Obama and Biden will meet with their economic transition team filled with one-time Clintonites.
Meanwhile, Chicago Congressman Rahm Emanuel, a veteran of the Clinton White House, will be President Obama's chief of staff. Emanuel's strengths are well known. But the Emanuel has also caused some confusion among those who thought change wasn't just a break with the Bush administration but also with the politics of the last 16 years -- 16 years of partisan politics, including the Clinton era.
Obama in a statement announcing the hires of his, quote, "No one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel."
Well, there two ways to think about the incoming administration's staff. Do these Clinton administration picks indicate that Obama wants old hands to accomplish his agenda in Washington, or do the politics and policies of the 1990s Washington, of Washington during the 1990s, do those come with these guys, too? Now, don't get me wrong, the eight years of peace on prosperity during the Clinton administration-they were Nirvana compared to what we have experienced under George W. Bush's two terms. But some of Obama's supporters hope for something altogether different and better.
I think I need a talking down here. Are we looking at Bill Clinton's third term? Let's bring in Steve Benen, who writes for "Washington Monthly," to Talk Me Down.
Hey, Steve, thanks for joining us.
STEVE BENEN, WASHINGTON MONTHLY: You bet, Rachel. How are you doing?
MADDOW: Good. Thanks.
With a few old Clinton hands on board already, to what degree does this look like a third Clinton term to you?
BENEN: Well, it's still early. It may look a little bit like a third Clinton term, but the truth of the matter is, that Bill Clinton was the only Democratic president we've had for the last nearly three decades. Almost anyone of a certain age or of a certain political background is bound to have spent some time in a Clinton White House or the Clinton administration in some capacity.
And so, given that, if Obama is going to be looking for experienced people of a certain age, it's not much of a surprise to think that he'd be drawing on people who have some background. That said, both Gibbs and Axelrod don't have experience with the Clinton. So, there's some hope that there'll be a fairly significant change.
MADDOW: Do I remember from 1 million years ago you're telling me that you were you once an intern in the Clinton White House?
BENEN: I wasn't going to mention that.
BENEN: Yes, even me -- 13 years ago, I was an intern at the Clinton White House.
MADDOW: When you were four years old, I understand.
BENEN: I was 22 or 23 at that time.
MADDOW: I understand. You look younger than you are, Steve.
All right. If we accept that takes Washington insiders, people who know the ropes in Washington, to govern effectively from the White House, then, should we be scaling back our expectations in terms of how realistic the change message is in the first place? I mean, progressives, and actually, centrists, and even conservatives who supported Obama-is it unrealistic to expect a lot of change because you need people who are experienced in Washington in order to get any agenda actually accomplished?
BENEN: I feel like there's a difference between a style change and substantive change. Obama's policy agenda hasn't changed since his election. I think that, in general, everything we've heard from the campaign and the people that have been involved in the transition process have given indications that everything that he has promised, he's going to continue to fight for.
There might be a slight change in style. Rahm Emanuel, for example, is known for being more of a hard political operator whereas Obama ran as more of a post-partisan kind of candidate. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to be talking about a change in substance. I think the agenda is going to move forward. And there's nothing necessarily that's giving indication that that's going to change.
MADDOW: Well, but we know, on some specific stuff that, even when you're specifically talking about Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama as individuals, they do have sort of a different agenda. I mean, remember in his book, "The Plan," writing about healthcare, he said essentially that Democrats should not try to attempt to go after universal health insurance. He said we should settle for.
MADDOW: The country should settle for expanding SCHIP, for example. Should we expect Emanuel's own agenda, which we know something about, to influence Obama on policy matters where they might have differences like NAFTA or like universal healthcare?
BENEN: Well, maybe.
BENEN: I mean, Emanuel comes from the DLC wing of the party whereas, I think, Obama comes from a more progressive wing of the party. And so, it's disconcerting that there's something of a difference between them.
But having said that, Emanuel worked in the Clinton White House. He understands the role of the White House chief of staff. I think he's there to help execute an agenda, not necessarily to shape to the agenda. And I think, in general, Emanuel probably wouldn't have taken the job, if he wasn't prepared to act on what Obama promised to deliver. So, given that, I think that, in general, there's probably not too much to worry about on that front.
MADDOW: You have talked me down 2/3 of the way. And for that, I thank you. Steven Benen, writer for the "Washington Monthly"-thanks, Steve.
BENEN: You bet.
MADDOW: As George W. Bush limps toward the end of his presidency, is anybody watching to make sure he doesn't try anything bad, like bad, not like funny bad but like bad bad? THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW will present a series of public service segments chronicling Bush's last days. We're calling it the lame duck watch, quack-itude because somebody better do it. Today, we had Bush's Scottie, Barney, biting a White House reporter, the victim will actually be joining us with his harrowing tale in just a moment.
MADDOW: You may have already hauled your empty champagne bottles out to your blue recycling bin. But this election is not over. The balance of power in the U.S. Senate has yet to be determined. And in Georgia, it looks like the Senate race is headed for a runoff in December because the Republican incumbent is sitting on 49.9 percent of the vote. And Georgia state law says a winning candidate has to have more than 50 percent. Welcome to overtime, political junkies. We'll have more on that a little later.
First, though, it's time for a few underreported holy mackerel stories in today's news. A young, well-educated man, with an exotic name, widely considered a heartthrob prepared to lead his country today, and said that, quote, "the hopes and aspirations of the people are what is important to me." I am referring, of course, to Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who was crowned the new king of Bhutan. Bhutan is a teeny, teeny, tiny, tiny little country in the Himalayas, right between India and China with a population roughly the size of Baltimore.
The new monarch is the world's youngest king, just 28 years old, an Oxford-educated bachelor, the "A.P." describes as looking like a young Elvis. He was crowned as the country's fifth Dragon king by his father at precisely 8:31 a.m. local time.
Today's date and time appointed by astrologers as the most favorable for today's coronation. Important things to know about the new king of Bhutan other than the fact that he's really cute and he's 28 and a bachelor?
Number one, his crown has a raven's head sticking out the top of it. Number two, his official kingly footwear is awesome. And number three, he intends to maintain his father's widely-admired national philosophy of assessing progress in the country according to the people's "gross national happiness," a measure that includes not only money - material gain - but also the spiritual satisfaction of the people.
The idea is that material progress is good - money is good - but you should also count the cost of progress to the environment and culture and overall quality of life. Gross national happiness and awesome, kingly footwear. Kingdom of Bhutan, very impressive.
Now, speaking of spiritual and material well-being, do you remember when Bear Stearns collapsed and the Feds said they would assume potentially billions of dollars in Bear Stearns losses, so the company could get bought out for pence on the dollar by JP Morgan Chase, remember that?
Well, Bear Stearns got sunk by playing very high stakes, financial baccarat with very high risk mortgage-backed securities. Do you want to know who the taxpayers, you, the taxpayers have just hired to go to Washington to help the big brains there manage us out of this financial crisis?
You are not going to believe this, but the Feds just hired the guy who was the head of risk management at Bear Stearns. Risk management. Right up until the moment it imploded this spring. His name is Michael Alix. He was Bear Stearns' the chief risk officer, which means in the words of "ClusterStock.com" today, that he was the guy on the mast charged with yelling "Iceberg!" just before the Titanic introduced its bow to a floating chunk of ice.
That guy is now going to be a senior vice president at the Fed - the Federal Reserve - advising on bank supervision. What? Bonnie and Clyde weren't available? I wonder how much he'll get paid? I think my gross domestic happiness would be improved if he at least did the job pro-bono.
Finally, our to-do list for President-elect Obama. Last night, we asked you to weigh in online on a "honey-do" list of issues the Obama administration should tackle immediately. And lots of you did. Thank you for that. Most of you chose the economy as the first issue, followed by universal healthcare, climate change, Iraq and infrastructure.
Some interesting items suggested that were not on our list - immigration reform, the Sudan, HIV research. One person suggested that the Obama administration should give us, Americans, a to-do list. That's a nice idea. Also, the metric system was suggested. I love that idea.
And here's change I could believe in. Someone suggested an 18-playoff to decide the college football national championship. You will not get an argument out of the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW on that one.
Continue to let us know what you want the Obama administration to take on for their to-do list. Go to Rachel.MSNBC.com. Click on "presidential priorities" over on the left-hand side there for the President Obama to-do list. We will keep you updated on the results, particularly if you keep making really entertaining suggestions.
MADDOW: By the time we all dragged ourselves out of bed around dawn on Wednesday, the 2008 election was supposedly, for all intents and purposes, over. Obama won. Wow. The Democrats got a bunch of House seats and some new senators. Wow. The excitement, the promise of the new American political era.
It was, I have to admit, offset slightly by the melancholy of knowing that we would no longer get to hear the big, sweeping MSNBC election night music anymore, the animation and the columns and stuff. It's gone for another two years, at least.
Well, actually - actually, it's still Election Day on the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. Our friend, Chuck Todd, could not be with us, but I sort of felt wrong doing this without him in some form, so here I am. My head precariously balanced where Chuck's usually would be, because I've got election results to report.
As of this afternoon today, NBC News has called North Carolina for Barack Obama. With its 15 electoral votes, it is the first time the state has voted for a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
What about swing state Missouri? Well, NBC News has called it for McCain. But it's being called an apparent win. It's so close that we can't go so far as to call it a projected McCain victory. Assuming McCain sticks his apparent win in Missouri, the finally map gives us 364 electoral votes for the President-elect to John McCain's 173.
As we sit here, Barack Obama is apparently close to an apparent landslide. Either way, the presidential race is decided, and Obama still won. But there is still some power remaining in the balance across the country. And for that, we turn to the United States Senate where there is Tuesday night-level action here on Thursday night.
In Oregon, the race has gone to Democrat Jeff Merkley. Make that a 57-seat Democratic majority in the Senate. Good-bye Republican incumbent Gordon Smith. In Minnesota, fewer than 400 votes out of 2.4 million separate the incumbent senator, Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. While Sen. Coleman has declared his own victory, the people who are actually in charge of declaring a winner are gearing up for an automatic recount that doesn't even start until the middle of this month and could stretch into December. So stand by.
Now, in Georgia, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin appear to be headed for a run-off election because state law requires a winner to get a majority of the vote, a plurality. That 50 percent reported for Chambliss is the result of rounding up. He actually got like 49.8 or 49.9 percent.
And for the mother of all unresolved and generally oddball election days, we turn way north and way, way west to Alaska. It looks like senator and convicted felon Ted Stevens and congressman currently under investigation Don Young will both hold on to their seats. They are still counting votes and Stevens' super-tight race with Anchorage mayor Mark Begich, with Stevens narrowly ahead and about 40,000 absentee ballots still to count.
That said, there's a case to be made, but there's something fishy going on up there. In this election cycle, the polls were generally very accurate, but not in Alaska. In Alaska, they were actually way, way off.
Yesterday, I floated the idea of Bradley effect for convicted felons to explain why Sen. Stevens seemed to have pulled off the race when he was polling seven to 22 points behind. But things are actually getting curiouser and curiouser(ph), as "FiveThirtyEight.com's" Nate Silver points out, the bad polling wasn't just proof of the Alaska Senate race. The pollsters had Democrat Ethan Berkowitz beating Congressman Don Young by six points. And the results show Young holding on to his seat on an eight-point margin, a 14-point wrong move for the polls.
In the presidential race, polls had McCain up by 14 points in Alaska. And he won the state by 25. They were 11 points off? Also the voter turnout in this historic election with a favorite daughter on the ballot? The historic turnout in Alaska was 14 percent lower than 2004. There is definitely something strange going on in Alaska. But what is it? And why did all this vote counting take so long?
Here to try to explain the wacky, potentially troubling numbers in Alaska and to talk us throughout rest of the undecided races is "FiveThrityEight.com's" Nate Silver. Hi, Nate. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
NATE SILVER, "FIVETHIRTYEIGHT.COM": Yes. Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: So in the year when pollsters were generally pretty accurate, and you personally were very accurate, why were the polls really wrong in that one state?
SILVER: Well, when we first got that result, I kind of assumed the same thing that you did, that people didn't want to say they were voting for a scoundrel like Ted Stevens, but then went ahead and did so. They know him. He's a strong brand up there.
But the same thing happened in the House race and the presidential contest in Alaska. So you wonder, you know, what are the uncounted votes? You have about 40,000 absentee votes, about 10,000 early votes and some undetermined number of provisional votes or what they call questionable ballots, so it's a lot of the vote in Alaska, about a third of the overall vote, and so we don't know what's going to happen until those are in. But clearly, it didn't go how the pollsters expected.
MADDOW: Is there any suggestion, any indication that there might be some sort of disproportionate not counting of ballots? Is there a sense that we can says votes from one area from certain types of precincts aren't counted yet - are being counted late. Would anything like that explain what's happening?
SILVER: Well, I looked at that today and it looks like the votes pretty evenly distributed throughout Alaska. In fact, there is maybe less of it in Anchorage, which is the Democratic base, Mark Begich's base in the outlying areas, people in the rural area who have trouble getting to the polling place and will vote absentee.
On the other hand, Democrats, both Obama and Begich did encourage their people to go out and vote, earlier and absentee, so that could be a counter weight there. I still think the race is, you know, too close to call. But clearly, Stevens is in the better position right now.
MADDOW: If Sen. Stevens does end up holding on to his seat, Senate leaders, Democrat and Republican, say they are going to try to have him expelled or at least that he should leave. If that happens or if he pulls a Nixon-style resignation before he's expelled, what would happen to that seat?
SILVER: Well, it would be Gov. Palin's job to pick an appointee. She can pick herself and you special election - it depends on the state law - but, I believe, in 2010. You know, maybe the Senate is a good place for Sarah Palin. Being the governor of Alaska isn't very high profile, but a senator from Alaska has as much power as a senator from California. So she would stay in the national spotlight that way, certainly.
MADDOW: Nate, looking at Minnesota, Sen. Coleman is ahead going into the recount very, very slightly. Is there a real chance that the recount could flip the results that Al Franken could end up taking that seat? Is there a way to tell from here?
SILVER: Yes. Oh, yes. I mean, first of all, the count isn't done yet. And the count now is down to 237 votes or something. It keeps getting narrower. Some states revise their counts. It's already double-checked things. But it's a hand recount of all those Minnesotans, a real recount.
And we've seen shifts of a couple hundred votes before in the governor's race in Washington. In 2004, you had about 300-vote shift in Florida. You know, if the numbers in the three digits, a 300-point swing can happen, 300-vote swing. If it were a 3,000 or 30,000, probably not. This is almost, almost still a coin flip, I think, in Minnesota.
MADDOW: With all these undecided races, and with the balance of power in the Senate, not that who is going to control the Senate, but how big a Democratic majority there is. But all of these things still undecided, is there any place that, either Georgia or Minnesota or Alaska, any of these places, where you are worried about the potential for shenanigans? Should there be voter protection, election protection efforts going on? Should the parties be lawyering up around any of these recounts and these slow counts of these close races?
SILVER: Probably not in Minnesota. But the other two, I think. Alaska - the curious fact you point out, you know, in the lead in, the fact that turnout appears to be down there even though you had a really high profile Senate race and Sarah Palin on the ballot, you'd probably want to get some lawyers there if you're the Democrats.
And Georgia is a state where the vote was really supposed to come in on Election Day. There are still some precincts outstanding. There are rumors that the Georgia Secretary of State doesn't even know if all the votes have been counted yet. So those two are kind of two states where you definitely have a high threat level for voter fraud, shenanigans and all the rest.
MADDOW: Wouldn't it be awesome if we lived in a country where we didn't have to worry this much about the process?
MADDOW: Maybe when we're bigger and older. That would be nice. Nate Silver of "FiveThirtyEight.com," congratulations on having been such a good predictor this year. Thanks for coming on the show, Nate.
SILVER: Yes. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Next a public service segment, lame-duck watch, your front-row seat to the end of the Bush administration. We've decided to really need to keep on eye on things over there. Just in case.
MADDOW: I have news advice for you. If you only read one edition of the newspaper each week, read the Saturday paper. It's the least read paper of the week. But that means folks who want to get away with stuff tend to leak them to the press late on Friday in the hopes that no one will really notice them in the thin-poorly read Saturday paper.
Similarly, the least-watched period of a presidential administration is right now. Utter lame-duckitude, when the new guy has already been picked and it's all over but the ceremony. Nobody is watching, so it can be convenient time for a soon-to-be-departing president to do stuff he doesn't really want anyone to notice.
So as a public service, we now bring you THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW "Lame-Duck Watch."
With 75 days left of the Bush presidency, here's what happened today. First, in Afghanistan, an air strike reportedly killed 13 Taliban militants and seven civilians. That's just one day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a direct plea to President-elect Barack Obama to end air strikes that are killing civilians, always troubling, very much worth-noting now during the transition period.
Also today, Julie Myers, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, abruptly resigned. The announcement came last night with zero explanation from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. And it comes just days after somebody leaked the immigration status of Barack Obama's aunt right before the election.
Myers, the niece of former Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Richard Myers, was a recess appointment after the Senate delayed her confirmation. We do not know why she's left but we're hoping for a little more information on why she snuck out and so quickly.
We were also reminded today that the president, so widely un-liked, is a human being after all. On the south lawn, President Bush fought back tears when speaking to White House staffers about the transition of presidential powers. As a profuse cryer, myself, this sort of makes me like George Bush for a second. I like cryers.
Like all presidents, President Bush is likely to write a memoir of his experiences. But publishers interviewed by the Associated Press today offered the president some free advice. Take your time with that, sir.
Not that he asked, but publishers are counseling patience, saying the longer he waits, the better - the market a little soft for a collection of W's thoughts, it seems.
And finally, tempers are apparently short among Bush's innermost circle especially for Barney, the White House Scottish terrier. Today, Reuters correspondent Jon Decker asked Barney's handler if he could pet Barney. After receiving official clearance, Decker's attempt at his cross species affection was met with fangs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON DECKER, REUTERS CORRESPONDENT: Look over here, Barney. How you doing?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, Barney hauled off and bit Decker's finger and broke the skin, for crying out loud. Mrs. Bush sent a personal handwritten note of apology to Mr. Decker on Barney's White House stationary. She added that Barney is now, quote, "in the doghouse."
Joining us now, I'm delighted to say, is Jon Decker, the brave Reuters television White House correspondent who survived Barney's bite. Jon, thank you for coming on the show.
DECKER: No - well, thank you, Rachel. You don't have to call me brave.
We're a brave lot in general, White House reporters at the White House.
And this is just a typical day in the life of a White House reporter.
MADDOW: Can I see your finger?
DECKER: Sure. There you go.
MADDOW: Oh, so no major wound.
DECKER: It's bandaged up.
MADDOW: I understand.
DECKER: No major wound. It was bandaged up by the personal physician to President Bush. That was kind of a thrill. And tomorrow, I go back and receive from him a tetanus shot.
MADDOW: Is Barney up-to-date on his shots, as far as you know?
DECKER: I've been told that Barney - yes, I've been told Barney is up-to-date on his shots including rabies shots and I have nothing to worry about as far as that is concerned. But it's been more than 10 years since I've received my last tetanus shot. So I just want to be on the safe side.
MADDOW: Oh, wow. OK. Well, I'm glad that you're - I am glad that you are feeling better and that you are taking necessary precautions, Jon. This is such a funny thing to interview you about, but it's actually - the tape is so remarkable. I sort of can't stop watching it.
I have to ask you, how is the mood around the White House right now other than Barney? Is it sort of business-as-usual for President Bush and his staff? Is it somber? Are people upset? How does it seem?
DECKER: Well, it's interesting. You know, at this time, for all presidents that are winding down their terms, there is a little bit of reminiscing about, in this case, for President Bush, the past eight years. And, also, talking about what comes next, what's the next stage in a lot of people's lives. That's always taken place.
I think that's what - what is unique here is that for this president, he's going out with a financial crisis under his belt. And as a result, a lot of senior staff, Rachel, a lot of people that are involved in financial issues are still very much involved in trying to take the next step to try to bring the U.S. out of the crisis that it's in.
You know about that meeting that's taking place on November the 15th that the president will attend with other world leaders and other leaders from the financial industry. And I'm certain we'll also see a representative from the Obama - the Obama now transition team taking place. And it's interesting in the sense that even though it is a lame-duck time, the president and his staff is still, as far as this issue is concerned, very much fully engaged.
MADDOW: It seems so. Jon Decker, Reuters Television, White House correspondent, good luck with your tetanus shot tomorrow. And thanks for joining us.
DECKER: Oh, thank you, Rachel. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: Coming up next, I will get just enough pop culture from my friend Kent Jones. You know, why have elections? Couldn't we just flip a coin?
MADDOW: Now it's time for "Just Enough" with my friend Kent Jones. Hi, Kent. What have you got?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. A lot of us might still be a little mind boggled since Obama's big win on Tuesday. But last night's episode of "South Park" captured maybe a little of that experience.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Did you see? Our man is in.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: We did it!
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Everything is going to be awesome now.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: This is the greatest day of our lives. Yes, we can.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I don't even know what to do now.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I know what to do. Losers! Losers!
CHORUS: Losers! Losers!
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:: Oh, shut up!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: Now, you may have thought about saying that to someone Wednesday night. But you didn't actually do it, right? Right?
Next, more election fallout. A school board race in Worthington, Kentucky, ended up in a tie with each candidate getting 655 votes. What to do? Well, state law calls for a coin toss to determine the winner. So they flipped a Kennedy half dollar and came up tails which means that this guy, Donald Nichols, is on the school board.
Unfortunately, there were no election observers from developing countries to witness American democracy in action.
And finally, here's one of those odd election stories. In a district race in northern Colorado, Democrat incumbent Bob Bacon defeated Republican challenger Matt Fries on Tuesday - 63 percent to 37 percent. So to recap, Bacon defeats Fries. It's morning in America. Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. And thank you for watching tonight. We'll see you here tomorrow night. "COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN" starts right now.
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