updated 2/23/2012 11:46:22 AM ET 2012-02-23T16:46:22

Guests: Vivian Watts; Laura Bassett; Ted Strickland, Michael Eric Dyson, Erin McPike, Jamal Simmons, Jackie Kucinich

REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to "Politics Nation. I`m Al
Sharpton.

Tonight`s lead, they picked a fight with the wrong people. Virginia
governor, Bob McDonnell, is feeling the heat. The state of Virginia was
poised to pass one of the most extreme pieces of anti-abortion legislation
this country has ever seen. A bill some called state-sponsored rape, a
bill that could force women seeking abortions to undergo physically
invasive ultrasounds, even if they didn`t want it, even if their doctor
didn`t request it. As recently as last week, Governor Bob McDonnell
signaled he`d sign it. Last month, he praised him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB MCDONNELL, GOVERNOR, VIRGINIA: I actually was the original sponsor of
that bill about ten years ago to give a woman the right to know all the
information before she makes the choice. I think it gives full
information. An ultrasound is used -- its modern technology, the costs
have been driven down. To be able to have that information before making
what most people would say is a very important, serious life-changing
decision, I think is appropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: So last month, he thought it was appropriate. And just
this week, Republican delegate Ben Cline Said, quote, "the governor is
strongly pro-life and I think he would hold consistent in his support for
this bill."

In response, more than 1,000 pro-choice citizens came out to the state
capitol in Richmond to protest the bill. And in a huge turn around late
this afternoon, Governor McDonnell blinked. And he retreated. His
statement read, quote, "No woman in Virginia will have to undergo an
invasive ultrasound involuntarily. And only an external ultrasound will be
required."

But let`s be clear. This is a victory. The outcry against this
radical bill forced Governor McDonnell who wants to become the GOP vice
presidential pick. It forced him to walk it back.

But McDonnell`s bill, which he reportedly wrote himself, still
requires an ultrasound, even for rape victims, just not an invasive one.
This is still extreme. This is why the fight is just beginning and the
protests and the media spotlight is shining bright on radical policies and
the people of Virginia are being heard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty embarrassing and pretty appalling. It
makes me pretty embarrassed to be a Virginian. It`s terrifying what they
are trying to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These representatives are supposed to be here to
do things that the citizens want. And look around. I don`t think too many
citizens want this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can they get away with putting a probe in a
woman`s vagina and having it pass? I can`t imagine there`s any woman that
would believe that that is acceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

We`ve seen this overreach all over the country from Wisconsin to Ohio,
to Indiana, to Michigan. Now it is clear Governor McDonnell Sees the wave
coming.

Joining me now from Richmond, Virginia, delegate Vivian Watts, a
democrat from Fairfax County and in Washington, Laura Bassett, reporter for
"the Huffington Post." She is writing about how the birth control-centered
gender war is boosting democratic campaigns.

Great to have both of you with us.

VIVIAN WATTS (D), DELEGATE, VIRGINIA: Thank you so much.

SHARPTON: Delegate Watts, let me start with you. How did this all go
down? What happened here? What are you hearing in Virginia tonight?

WATTS: Well, the governor walked it down. It was only a very small
step back from the brink. He mentioned in the clip that you used that
women have a right to know, well, anyone in elective office has a duty to
understand.

And although we have a new bill before us in ten minutes, we were told
to -- that we had to vote on that bill. We could not take it off the floor
for real study and the bill that he drafted, his bill, is full of mistakes,
is full of insensitivities and lack of knowledge. You mentioned the one.
Someone who has rape still has to go through an ultrasound. He also
thought that he was fixing, but did not understand that there are various
types of miscarriages. And he is forcing a woman, who is going through a
miscarriage, but the body has not totally expelled the unviable fetus, she
is going to have to listen to the nonexistent heartbeat. She is going to
have to look at that ultrasound before she can get the medical attention
that is dictated. It is still an insult to women`s intelligence and to our
need to have good medical services and work directly with our doctors.

SHARPTON: Now delegate Watts, this governor, McDonnell, had been
advocating this extreme measure that he`s trying to say he walked back
somewhat today even before he was governor. There`s no doubt that if --

WATTS: He was.

SHARPTON: The protests in media attention made him step back. But
you`re saying that he stepped back but not nearly far enough what he`s
proposing, like I said, this should still be vetoed.

Let me read a colleague of yours said today, David England who is also
a delegate in Virginia , he said "this new bill which we are told Governor
Bob McDonnell personally wrote creates more problems. Governor McDonnell`s
bill bullies women with medically unnecessary waiting periods and
ultrasound requirements, even requiring rape victims and women suffering
miscarriages have ultrasound images placed in their medical records."

And you are telling me you were only given ten minutes to read this?

WATTS: That is correct. It was put on our desk still hot out of the
copying machine. It supposedly was drafted by the governor with a couple
of other members. We have no idea who those members were. We have no idea
whether there were medical people who could guide the shaping of this so at
least we dealt appropriately with miscarriages. And I continue to be
concerned that this bill is particularly punitive on women who are working
women, women who are poor women, who are still being forced to take two
days off in work because of these convoluted procedures for which there is
no medical necessity.

SHARPTON: That`s totally outrageous. Laura, what are we looking at
here? I mean, this has awakened women all over the country. The women`s
movement is up in arms and so are any clear-thinking men. Money is pouring
in. I mean, it seems that this governor went all the way off the deep end
trying to act like he`s coming halfway back but he really is -- has left
this with a very insulting kind dove of do it as you go fix it kind of bill
that really doesn`t fix anything.

LAURE BASSETT, REPORTER, THE HUFFINGTON POST: When your bill makes it
on to the late night comedy circuit that you have a bad bill. Tim Kaine
was out in Virginia saying this bill has made Virginia the laughing stock
of the nation. And I think it has. And the compromise bill that McDonnell
put forth today is actually worse than the original because it mandates in
very early pregnancy, before a trans-abdominal ultrasound would even work,
would even do anything. It mandates a woman undergo that procedure.

So, it`s gone from being an invasive and unnecessary procedure to just
completely useless and unnecessary procedure. Let`s keep in mind that
Governor McDonnell ran on the campaign slogan, Bob`s for jobs. And I`m not
sure what this kind of bill is doing to create jobs for Virginians.

SHARPTON: Well, let me ask you, delegate Watts, when you see this,
clearly they are responding to the protests and the outcry. But it seems
to be more changing their positioning and posturing than their policy and
legislation. What is going to happen now? How do we keep the resistance
up? How do we back him all the way off? The house has passed this bill
that he has proposed today. The Senate is almost guaranteed to pass it.
What`s next? How do we stop it?

WATTS: You have put your finger right on it, Al. The right light of
this -- of an embarrassing degree of focus on Virginia making us the
laughing stock has made a significant difference in pulling back on this
one visible aspect. But it doesn`t make the bill and the assault on
women`s freedom and women`s health care the getting in the way between the
woman and her doctor, between a couple who is trying to get pregnant and
their God and what they are having to go through. We need that continued
focus of people like yourself, who realize that this assault on basic human
freedoms is not what this country is about. Its s not what Virginia, the
founding of this country, should be about, and it`s embarrassing.

SHARPTON: Now, Laura, let me ask you quickly because I`m going to run
out of time, but I need to ask you the politics of this. I was showing
footage while the delegate Watts was speaking of the governor with Mitt
Romney and Willard Mitt Romney is getting ready now for a debate tonight.

What will this mean politically? Will this help the Democrats by
energizing women and seeing another state with another Republican governor
come with some outrageously right wing reactionary proposals?

BASSETT: It absolutely helps the Democrats. Women`s groups and
democratic campaigns have been profiting enormously off of the culture war
in the past couple of weeks. First, Susan G. Komen foundation defunded
Planned Parenthood and then of course the Obama`s birth control rule and
the Republicans are fighting against that. We`re talking about fighting
against contraception coverage. This is not 1950 anymore. This is 2012.
And McDonnell has, you know, national aspirations. There`s been talk that
he is going to be on the ticket with Mitt. And I think this is really
going to hurt his chances.

SHARPTON: Now, Laura you wrote and I`m quoting Laura to Laura, "a
debate that began with the straightforward constitutional question of what
the government could instruct religious institutions to do with respect to
health care coverage has become the most galvanizing political issue for
Democrats since the president introduced his jobs act last fall." That is
a big claim, Laura.

BASSETT: It is a big claim. And I think it`s true. You know, I have
never seen women this riled up. It`s like a re-awakening of the women`s
rights movement. And it`s really amazing to watch. And it`s around the
issue ever birth control which nobody would have ever expected. But I
think that it`s, you know, a point for Obama, definitely.

SHARPTON: Well, the reason I think it`s awakening of the women`s
rights movement, delegate Watts, is it`s awakening of those who want to
stop the women`s rights movement. And that usually wakes up a reaction and
as for this show and me; we`re with you all the way to keep putting a
spotlight on this until the fight is over.

Delegate Vivian Watts and Lauren Bassett.

WATTS: Thank you.

SHARPTON: Thank you both for your time this evening.

BASSETT: Thanks for having us.

SHARPTON: Ahead, as the president fights for fairness, Willard Romney
fights for himself. Why his new plan gives to the right and cuts from the
middle class.

Plus, Rick Santorum doubles down after saying Satan is attacking the
United States. But what he said about the president today really disturbs
me.

And the economy is up. But he`s singing the blues.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)

SHARPTON: Not bad, Mr. President. More on that ahead.

You`re watching "Politics Nation" on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Willard Romney`s tax plan is out. Surprise, surprise! He
gives himself a tax cut and all of his rich friends.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Welcome back. Today, Mitt Romney rolled out his new tax
plan. And, surprise, surprise, it gives a big tax cut to Mitt Romney.

His new plan would lower rates across the board by 20 percent adding
up to about $10 trillion over ten years. This is on top of extending the
massive giveaway to the rich known as the Bush tax cuts. In fact, this
whole plan is just the Bush tax cuts on steroids. The American people
don`t want this. They want fairness. Which is why Romney is trying to
disguise his plan by adopting the language of occupy wall street.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am going to limit the
deductions and exemptions particularly for high income folks. We`re going
to cut back on that so that we make sure the top one percent keeps paying
the current share they`re paying or more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Willard, you expect us to believe that now you`re suddenly
worried about making sure the one percent pays their fair share? Now
you`re worried about fairness? I don`t think so. And experts don`t think
so either.

The folks at citizens for tax justice tell us that a person earning a
million dollars next year would get more than $80,000 in tax cuts from
Romney`s plan. Republicans want to avoid this conversation. They
literally don`t even want to talk about it. Check out what Romney
supporter Chris Christie said about Warren Buffett`s view that the rich
should pay more in taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CHRISTIE, GOVERNOR, NEW JERSEY: Well, he should just write a
check and shut up, really. And just contribute, OK? I mean, you know.
The fact of the matter is that I`m tired of hearing about it. If he wants
to give the government more money, he`s got the ability to write a check.
Go ahead and write it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Joining me now is former Ohio governor Ted Strickland.
Just today he was named co-chair of President Obama`s re-election campaign.
Thanks for being here tonight.

TED STRICKLAND, FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR: Reverend Al, it`s good to be
with you.

SHARPTON: Governor, good to have you here. Let me ask you. Do you
think a lot of Republicans wish we would just shut up about fairness and
economic justice and go away?

STRICKLAND: Absolutely. Some Republicans -- some right wing
Republicans may want that, but the vast majority of America`s working
families understand that what we have is unfairness. And the president
came out with a plan today that I think will increase our tax fairness and
our tax obligations.

And one of the things that`s excites me about the president`s plan, he
wants to lower the tax rate for manufacturers to 25 percent. And to lower
the corporate tax cut significantly from 35 percent to 28 percent while
closing the loopholes that so many special interests, including the oil
companies, are currently getting. And he`s taking away the subsidies,
reverend Al, for those companies that move jobs out of America offshore.
So I think the president is on the right track. Mitt Romney is just going
to do more of what he`s always done, and that`s advocate for the very rich.

SHARPTON: So the president says let`s bring the corporate tax down to
28 percent. Let`s bring manufacturers down to 25 percent. But we have to
close the loophole and we`re going to stop giving things to those that take
jobs out of the country.

On the other side, Willard is saying, let`s give a 20 percent tax cut
across the board on top of the tax cut the rich already have so they get
two bites at the tax cut apple while the middle class and others basically
are somewhere lingering trying to make ends meet. And this is the tax
picture that they want to project to America and say this will make the
country better economically?

STRICKLAND: And reverend Al, this is a man who opposed the salvation
of the auto industry and how is he going to come to Ohio and go to
Youngstown and Cleveland and Toledo and claim he`s for job creation when if
he had had his way, the American auto industry and the hundreds of
thousands of jobs associated with it would be gone today.

Mitt Romney has got some real problems in explaining himself to states
like Michigan and Ohio and other auto-producing states. I think the
American people understand who is on their side, reverend Al. And it`s not
Mitt Romney and it`s not Rick Santorum and it`s certainly not Newt
Gingrich. But President Obama is fighting every day to protect the working
middle class in this country and that`s why I think he`s going to be re-
elected. And I`m so proud to be one of his federal co-chairs.

SHARPTON: Well, let`s look at some polls to see if you`re right. If
you look at the polls with the question that`s raised, the economy is out
of balance and favors the rich, 87 percent of Democrats say it is, 79
percent of independents say it`s out of balance and favors the rich and 61
percent of Republicans.

Now, when you go to the national poll on the 2012 matchup, President
Obama is ahead of Mitt Romney, 51 percent to 43 percent. But let me show
something to you that is of particular interest to you coming from the
Midwest, being the former governor of Ohio.

Let`s go right to the swing state, Rust Belt states. Iowa, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. President Obama, 42, Romney 41. And this was
where the Republicans felt that the president was vulnerable. It doesn`t
seem that that`s the case, according to the latest polls.

STRICKLAND: But you know, the American people, and especially the
people in the industrial Midwest understand that when the president became
president, in the very month that he became president, this country lost
almost 800,000 jobs. And he stopped the bleeding. He saved the auto
industry. He kept us from sliding into a deep depression. The economy is
slowly coming back and the president has us on the right track.

And what Romney and Gingrich and that crowd want to do basically is to
take us back to the old policies that brought us this deep recession. And
the American people, I think, have their eyes open now. They know who
their friends are.

SHARPTON: You`re right, governor. They have their eyes open. I`m
going to have to hold it right there.

Thank you for coming on again tonight. Congratulations on your
appointment and thanks for your time.

STRICKLAND: Thank you reverend Al.

SHARPTON: Ahead, Rick Santorum doubled down those Satan comments.
And then he talked about the president. It was disturbing.

And on a lighter note, the president does it again. We`ll tell you
why the president`s pipes help him connect.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Welcome back to POLITICS NATION. Rick Santorum is standing
by a controversial speech from 2008 in which he said, Satan is attacking
the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The father of lies has his
sights on what you would think the father of lies, Satan, would have his
sights on. A good, decent, powerful, influential country. The United
States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Yes, he`s defending those comments. He just doesn`t want
anyone to talk about them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: It`s absurd. Guys, these are questions that are not
relevant to what`s being discussed in America today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Talking about it is absurd? It`s not relevant? Sorry, Mr.
Santorum. You can`t have it both ways. You can`t ignore your questionable
rhetoric, not when you continue to spout disgusting, divisive falsehoods
about the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: We see a president who is systematically trying to crush
the traditional Judeo-Christian principles in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: The President is trying to crush Christian principles? And
that is what he said today. That tape is today. You continue to say and
promote inflammatory ideas and even your own party is calling you out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Listen. I think anything you say as a presidential
candidate is relative. I mean, it`s by definition relevant. You are
asking to be president of the United States. So, I don`t think he`s right
about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: I never thought I`d say this, but you`re right, Governor
Christie. And he`s not the only one questioning Santorum`s past ugly
comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He is rigid and a homophobic. He believes that
gays and lesbians, he mentioned in an interview in 2003 about bestiality
and gays and lesbians. I think that`s disgusting. To me, it`s startling,
and borders on disgust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Mr. Santorum saying a lot of disgusting things. I just
wish his own party could talk some sense into him.

Joining me now is Michael Eric Dyson, MSNBC political analyst.
Georgetown University professor and an ordained Baptist minister who
received a PH.D. in religion from Princeton University. And Aaron McPike,
reporter from Real Clear Politics. Thank you both for being here.
Professor and Erin, I didn`t get all your credentials. Because I just want
people to understand that Professor Dyson has the stature to talk about
religion. We all know how brilliant you are.

But let me say this. But let me start with you, Professor, Reverend,
Theologian Dyson. Rick Santorum thinks his 2008 comments are not relevant
about Satan. And he continues to question the President`s faith. Isn`t
that an incredible double standard?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It is, Reverend
Sharpton. I mean, you were a preaching prodigy. You`ve been preaching
since you were a little boy. You`ve been reared in this term, in this
tradition that respects faith, the integrity theology and the gospel and
belief. I`m an ordained minister for over 30 years. This is ridiculous.
This is an assault upon the integrity of a person`s faith. And by
definition, that`s a private matter in terms of what one transacts, one`s
relationship between one`s self and God. So, how can you question the
legitimacy and authenticity of somebody else`s faith?

Reverend Franklin Graham doing the same thing. Oh, he thinks Santorum
is a Christian. He thinks that Newt Gingrich is a Christian but he defers
to the bar differently when he says I don`t know if Obama is a Christian.
This is just ridiculous. It is most un-Christian-like. It is the most
pathetic denial of Christian principles of civility, of decency, of
acknowledging the person and being humble. Because usually, my bible tells
me, don`t look at somebody else. Look at yourself. The old Negros fear to
say, it`s me, it`s me, it`s me oh lord standing at your knee in prayer not
somebody else.

SHARPTON: Now, Erin, let me ask you. Because you`re the none-
minister in this trio discussion. This is what Santorum said today about
the President making this country more dangerous place by refusing to stand
up to evil. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: He`s making this place a much more dangerous -- making the
world a much more dangerous place. Our President refuses to call evil,
evil. Refuses to even name it. Refuses to confront it. Tries to appease
and cajole it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Now Erin, as a none-minister, how does that play to the
public who may not even be religious. What do you think when you have a
presidential candidate saying things like this?

ERIN MCPIKE, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, in terms of a general
election audience if he were to get that far, comments like that just don`t
really gel with reality in part because the thing that President Obama has
been most successful in doing is trying to root out evil. You know, as far
as terrorists are concerned. You know, President Obama was the one who
authorized the attack on Osama bin Laden that took him out. And so, you
know, if you want to go that direction with it, it doesn`t really work.

SHARPTON: Now, Erin, when you say that it doesn`t really work, that
he plays to a certain side, I`ll give you an example of why I think you
might be right. He did get one defender, let me be fair, Sarah Palin. Let
me show you what she said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: For these lamestream media
characters to get all wee-weed up about that. First you have to ask
yourself, have they ever, ever attended a Sunday school class and if they
did, did they ever heard this terminology before? And that`s why they just
got so, you know, just whacked out about this speech.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: And that was last night, by the way, not today. But I
mean, this is what you`re talking about. These people that, you know, for
the far right Palin types. Maybe this appeals to them?

MCPIKE: I think it does. And I would remind you that when Rick Perry
was campaigning in December and trying to have a comeback in Iowa, he told
his audiences that they needed to think about a person of faith and that it
was better to have a person of faith be in office than not. And, you know,
I think one of the things you are seeing with Rick Santorum here is playing
to that a little bit because he is so religious and Christian conservatives
are a very big part of the republican base. I talked to a prominent Romney
supporter just last night who said, you know, he thinks that he`s a little
bit worried for Romney`s sake that Santorum is going so far to the right in
making these appeals because republican voters across the country who are
part of that far right base haven`t been excited about the field but some
of these things that Rick Santorum is saying are things that they agree
with and they are starting to get more excited about him for these reasons.

SHARPTON: Now, Dr. Dyson, he has given, Mr. Romney, possibly
something else to worry about. Because some of his advisers raised the
question today, why is Mormonism off the table? "Why is Mormonism off
limits? I`m not saying it`s a similar issue in the campaign. But we`re
having to spend days answering questions about Rick`s faith which he`s been
an open -- which he`s been open about, but Romney will turn on a dime when
you talk about religion." That`s a quote. So, is he trying to do a bank
shot to the President and really trying to bring in some Mormonism and some
anti-Mormonism feeling in this?

DYSON: Absolutely. This is devoutly anti-Mormon. It seems to me.
And it`s really trying to call into question the character and integrity of
Mitt Romney`s faith. Mitt Romney has indicated that, look, we`re the
church of the Latter Day Saints. We believe in Jesus Christ. We accept
the bible. We accept Jesus as leadership. We have our own book in the
like. Others people say, now, we don`t consider them part of Christianity.
So, they are arguing this -- they`ve seen squabbles within religious tribes
and traditions. So, there`s no doubt that he`s trying to hit at the
president and Mitt Romney in one fell swoop.

SHARPTON: Now Erin, one of the things that also because he goes all
over the place. In 2002, let me give you an example. He said something
really questionable about the Catholic Church in the sex scandal that is no
surprise it was worse in a liberal academic city like Boston. Let me show
you the quote. "While it`s no excuse for this scandal, it`s no surprise
that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in
America, lies at the center of the storm." I mean, I think that -- that`s
the first time I ever heard that based on liberalism and academic community
had something to do with the sex scandals in the Catholic Church. So, I
mean, he seems to take nothing sacred other than what he believes in his
own personal way.

MCPIKE: Well, look. You know, Republicans are no fans of
Massachusetts. And that`s a reason why Mitt Romney doesn`t really talk
about Massachusetts and doesn`t really talk about his time as governor
because, you know, Republicans do think that Massachusetts is sort of a
scary place that`s overrun with liberals. Think Ted Kennedy. So, you
know, that`s I don`t know exactly how you want to make the religious thread
there but you know, I think that`s all part of it. And you know, also, Al,
I would point out that Rick Santorum made another speech at the end of
2010 that was in many ways sort of the opposite of the speech that JFK gave
on his Catholicism when running for president a long time ago. And
essentially saying that he thought that religion should govern candidates
and a president going forward, which is, you know, not what Mitt Romney was
saying when he campaigned the last time in 2007 and he was saying, you
know, his religion wouldn`t overtake his duties as a president. So they do
have a difference of opinion on this. And I think we`ll probably see a lot
of that come up in the debate tonight about exactly how religion would
govern them in a presidential role.

SHARPTON: All right. Well, we have to go. But, Erin, you always
leave me confused. They don`t like Massachusetts? I thought the original
Tea Party was Boston? Michael Eric Dyson, Erin McPike, thanks for coming
on the show tonight.

DYSON: Thank you.

SHARPTON: Still ahead -- Mitt Romney`s last stand. He`s fighting to
hold his own in the final debate before a primary that could make or break
his campaign. And we`ll compare the President`s singing to some other
musical adventures by famous politicians. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: The big debate tonight. The last debate before the big
primary in Michigan and Arizona since they don`t have the money for
negative ads, will Santorum and Gingrich use tonight to try to take Romney
all the way down?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Welcome back to POLITICS NATION. Willard Mitt Romney is
at the crossroads tonight. A brand new NBC News poll show he`s feeling the
heat in his home state of Michigan. Where he`s leading Rick Santorum by
just two points. The stakes couldn`t be higher. And Santorum`s ready to
pounce, which is why they have been swiping at each other on the campaign
trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Here`s a guy that`s -- there`s a guy that`s from outside of
Washington who was not a senator or congressman. Not because he didn`t try
or won, but he just never got elected.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Santorum hasn`t been
as carefully viewed by the American public as have the others. I think a
Tea Party would find it very interesting that Rick Santorum voted to raise
the debt ceiling five times without getting compensating reduction and
spending.

SANTORUM: He`s run as a liberal, a moderate and conservative.

ROMNEY: I don`t think Rick Santorum`s track record is that of a
fiscal conservative.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: But the fighting is just getting uglier. It`s just making
them weaker and weaker, even with their own party. Fifty percent
Republicans -- 55 percent now say they wish there was another candidate
running. And as they get weaker, the President is only getting stronger.
In Michigan, the President is beating Willard by 18 points and he`s
pummeling Santorum by a whopping 26 points. So, go ahead, guys. Keep
attacking each other. We`ll just sit back and enjoy the show.

Joining me now, Jamal Simmons, a democratic communications consultant
and political analyst. And Jackie Kucinich, national politics reporter for
"USA Today," she`s in Arizona where the Republicans will be debating
tonight. Thank you both for being here tonight.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANT: Thank you.

SHARPTON: Jamal, let me start with you. Jamal, let me start with
you. I want to show you something. Rupert Murdoch tweeted this earlier
this week. It says, quote, "Santorum is doing great. Values really do
count in America. Win Michigan, game over." If Romney loses Michigan, is
it game over for him?

SIMMONS: I don`t know if the game is over, but the clock is
definitely running out. And I think what`s going to happen on the
republican side is they`ll going to get real nervous because they have been
betting on Mitt Romney having this firewall in Michigan and Arizona and it
looks like the firewall may not hold up. If that happens, it`s going to be
very tough for him. It`s going to give a lot of people a lot of angst when
they have to figure out what to do with Mitt Romney so damaged.

SHARPTON: Now, Jackie, you are out there in Arizona at the site of
the campaign. How tense is it because this is very, very, very high drama
tonight on where this debate goes. And next Tuesday could decide whether
or not Mitt Romney is going to be the inevitable nominee in this or not.
How tense -- what is the feeling like? What are the candidates like?

JACKIE KUCINICH, REPORTER, "USA TODAY": You know, Romney today
unveiled his tax plan. And it was noticeable he didn`t mention Rick
Santorum. He didn`t mention any of the candidates. He focused on
President Obama and his tax plan. So, I mean, his team seemed very
confident today. Santorum was in his element. He was at a Tea Party rally
in Tucson. And you know, was talking to a lot of people that support him.
So, you know, and Gingrich, I think, had one event today. And Ron Paul has
been kind of quiet here. But, you know, Romney has the lead right now. A
lot of people have already voted. So, Arizona is not as potential problem
for the Romney campaign as Michigan. Everybody is looking at Michigan.
And I bet you see a lot of playing to Michigan rather than Arizona tonight
at the debate.

SHARPTON: Now, when she says that you see a lot of playing to
Michigan, Jamal, today the Detroit free press endorsed Mitt Romney and
included in the endorsement a criticism of Romney`s take on the auto
bailout. We disagree with Romney on a point vital to Michigan, his
opposition to the bailout on domestic automobile industry. Romney
advocated for a more traditional bankruptcy process while we believe the
bridge loans provided by the federal government in the fall of 2008 were
absolutely essential. So, even when he gets the major paper probably in
the state`s endorsement, they still remind people he told Detroit, let it
go bankrupt.

SIMMONS: Absolutely. You know, I grew up in Detroit. So, this is
all very close to me and the folks that I grew up with. And one thing
that`s very clear when we talk to people there is they care about what
happens with this auto bailout. What Romney did, though, which is really
interesting, goes right to the heart of his problem as a republican. He is
not this or that. He`s trying to be everything to everybody all the time.
He`s trying to shade off the things that he doesn`t want people to know
about and highlight the things he does, which is somewhat normal except
when it comes to Romney, he does things like leave out this huge paragraph
that is the critique. How can you do that? Maybe you quote the first part
and nothing else. But you can`t put the whole thing in and just take out
the one excerpt. Romney`s problem is that nobody knows who he is and
people in America when they vote for you for president, they want to have a
solid sense of what you`ve done, who you are and what you`re going to do
when you leave.

SHARPTON: Now, Jackie, it is true that when the Romney people sent
out that endorsement, they omitted, as Jamal just said, that paragraph
criticizing him about saying Detroit should go bankrupt. And they have
good reason why. Because the NBC News/Marist poll shows that most Michigan
voters agreed with the auto bailout. Sixty three percent of all Michigan
voters, including 42 percent of republican voters in Michigan thought the
auto bailout was a good idea. How much can this hurt Romney next Tuesday?
And how does he deal with it tonight in the debate, Jackie?

KUCINICH: You know, I think as far as whether it hurts him, you know,
he`s doing well with conservative republicans in Michigan. So, right now
we`re just -- we`re just talking about Republicans, I am not sure how much
it hurts him. That said, everything depends on the economy as far as the
generals stands. And as far as the debate, I`m sure he`s going to be asked
about it tonight. And his argument has been, you know, I wanted a more
traditional managed bankruptcy. Now, it`s been a tough issue for him. He
hasn`t been able to find that sweet spot, that answer that really explains
his position. Why he said what he said. Maybe we`ll hear that today.
Maybe he`ll finally have an answer that really explains it.

SHARPTON: Jamal go ahead.

SIMMONS: Before we.

KUCINICH: Can I just add that -- let me just add something really
quick. Santorum also was against the auto bailout. So, his number one
competitor there, it`s not like they`re going to go to Santorum because
they don`t like where Romney stands on it. The two front-runners, both
opposed it.

SHARPTON: What has to happen tonight? What is Romney needed to do,
what is Santorum, what is Gingrich needed to do Jamal?

SIMMONS: I think Gingrich has to get back in the game. And right
now, nobody has been talking about Newt Gingrich for the last couple of few
weeks. He`s got to find a way to get back in the game. For Santorum, he
is going to try to punch Romney out, he needs a way to knock him down so
that he can continue to win. But for Romney, right now the only county in
the state of Michigan that allows polling that he`s doing well in his open
county which is the richest county in the state, one of the richest
counties in the entire country. He`s losing all Grand Rapids, all the more
conservative parts of the state. He has to get to evangelicals and working
class Republicans if he thinks he`s going to win this nomination.

SHARPTON: Now, let me ask you this Jackie, there was an item I notice
in the Huffington Post that talked about an interesting dynamic between
Romney and Ron Paul that said so far this campaign cycle, the two
candidates have had an informal alliance with neither of them ever really
threatening the other. Can Ron Paul help Willard out in these last few
days? Is that part of the calculus here?

KUCINICH: I don`t know that it`s part of the calculus? I mean, when
you talk to the two campaigns, I`ll tell you that, they have a very good
personal relationship. They actually like each other, which is one of the
reasons they haven`t been going at each other and there`s been a little bit
of a back and forth. I mean, Ron Paul went after him I think in Iowa a
little bit. Not to the extent. But I don`t think Ron Paul is getting out
of this race any time soon. And I certainly don`t think he`s going to
throw his support to Romney quite yet. I think he`s going to stick around.
He has no reason to get out.

SHARPTON: Well, we`ll see how this high stakes tonight. Jamal
Simmons and Jackie Kucinich. It`s a tense night for them. I remember
2004, another Kucinich, Dennis Kucinich and I went through a tense night.
But not this tense because neither one of us was worried about winning.
Thank you for your time tonight.

SIMMONS: Thank you.

SHARPTON: When we come back, the President does it again. Why his
singing helps him connect with real people. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: We all remember that when President Obama singing Al Green
last month at the Apollo. Well, he`s done it again. This time at a
special night celebrating The Blues at the White House with B.B. King and
Mick Jagger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B.B. KING, SINGER: Come on. I heard you singing Al Green. So,
you`ve started something. You`ve got to keep it up now. You can do it.
Come on! Come on. Come on, Mr. President, sing.

OBAMA: (singing) Come on, baby don`t you want to go. Come on baby,
baby don`t you want to go. Same old place sweet home Chicago

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Well done. And you have to give him credit for taking a
risk. After all, that other guy swung and completely missed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: (singing) O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of
grain, for purple mountains majesty, above the fruited plains.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: And then there was this guy. And who could forget this
fill from Karl Rove?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Tell me you never saw this man move doing the
dance, the Karl Rove dance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: The key to connecting is even if you can`t sing or dance,
at least be in tune and at least have a step. Thanks for watching. I`m Al
Sharpton. "HARDBALL" starts right now.

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

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