updated 10/3/2012 12:54:43 PM ET 2012-10-03T16:54:43

THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
October 2, 2012

Guests: Nia-Malika Henderson, David Cay Johnston, Karen Finney, Joy Reid


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: Can Mitt Romney win the debate tomorrow
tonight? Yes and I will show him how to do that.

Will he win? Well, this is Mitt Romney we`re talking about. What are
the odds of him taking my advice?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS: Tomorrow could be the most critical night in
the race for president.

TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Both presidential candidates battening
down the hatches.

MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC HOST: Both candidates hunkered down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who`s going to bring the dynamite to Denver?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Only one day to go before Mitt Romney
faces off against President Obama.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: The great debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Rocky Mountain showdown.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People want to know who`s
going to win.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama is expected to win.

ROMNEY: Who`s going to score the punches?

E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST: What you need is sincerity. If you can
fake that, you can do everything.

ROMNEY: I got everybody in my state insured.

MITCHELL: Mitt Romney tried to show his empathy.

ROMNEY: I don`t think there`s anything that shows more empathy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m surprised it took him that long to get there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He has a real tall order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn`t spend enough time in the middle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney`s task is more difficult.

HALL: Romney`s task is more difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has to introduce himself to the American
people.

HALL: How many times can you reintroduce yourself?

ROMNEY: I`m Mitt Romney. I`m Mitt Romney. I`m Mitt Romney. I`m
Mitt Romney.

(MUSIC)

WAGNER: The great debate tomorrow will featured two men on stage with
distinctively different views.

ROMNEY: I`m Mitt Romney. I`m Mitt Romney.

WAGNER: And they`re both named Mitt Romney.

ROMNEY: I believe that abortion should be safe and local in this
country.

Do I believe the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade? Yes.

BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS: People don`t really know who Mitt Romney is.

ROMNEY: I will repeal Obamacare.

Don`t forget, I got everybody in my state insured.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s trying to walk and chew gum at the same
time.

ROMNEY: This is a campaign about the 100 percent. I`m not concerned
about the very poor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s the narrative that`s killing this campaign.

WAGNER: The paradox of the mittens.

ROMNEY: I`m not familiar with precisely what I said, but I stand by
what I said, whatever it was.

And I hope to be your president. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: Just 35 days until the presidential election, and just 23
hours until the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney is in Colorado where
his handlers are desperately trying to teach him to be likable.

That`s according to the pro-Romney conservative "National Review
Online" reporting today that Romney advisers` chief concerns are the
intangibles, such as body language and demeanor. They want their candidate
to balance his finely tuned arguments with personal warmth.

His advisers acknowledge that it will be difficult for him to endear
himself to the country. His advisers have been nervous about how Romney`s
intermittent anger would play in a one-on-one debate with Obama.

Here are some of the primary debate memories haunting team Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

ROMNEY: Ten thousand bucks -- $10,000 bet?

I`m running for office for Pete`s sake, I can`t have illegals.

I`m Mitt Romney and yes, Wolf, that`s also my first name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you follow your father`s example?

ROMNEY: Maybe.

I`m speaking. I`m speaking.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY: You get 30 seconds -- this is the way the rules work here is
that I get 60 seconds --

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: No, but the American people want the
truth.

ROMNEY: Anderson --

PERRY: They want to hear you say you knew you had illegals working --

ROMNEY: Would you please wait -- are you just going to keep talking?

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

O`DONNELL: Oh, yes. Policing the rules is always an effective debate
tactic.

Today, Rush Limbaugh who has never spoken a useful word of advice for
presidential debate preparation said that he would like to see more of that
embarrassing stuff from Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: People want to see some fight.
They want to see Romney man up.

Look, you got the nomination. Where is the Romney that did all that
to Newt and to Rick Perry and all the other Republicans in the primary?
Where is that guy?

Maybe we`re going to see some of that in the debate. We`ll reserve
it. We`ve got five weeks. Anything can happen, but people want to see
some passion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: President Obama took a break from debate preparation today
in Nevada to visit the set of the Racial Maddow TV commercial, which also
happens to be a monument to federal infrastructure spending, the Hoover
Dam.

A new national NBC News poll just out tonight shows that 52 percent of
registered voters view the president positively, 42 percent view him
negatively; 41 percent view Mitt Romney positively, 44 percent view Romney
negatively. Mitt Romney`s favorability rating is lower than every other
presidential nominee`s rating at this point in the election in the history
of this poll, except for George H.W. Bush`s 34/52 rating in October of
1992. George H.W. Bush, of course, lost that election.

Tonight, Ann Romney seems sure that the country will soon realize how
lucky we are that Mitt Romney is running for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY`S WIFE: I know he`s very well-prepared. He`s
focused. He`s very bright. I think the country will be blessed by having
someone with his skill set, his experience and his -- just his goodness to
be able to run this country. This guy does care that he`s out there. And
he`s a person with compassion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: First Lady Michelle Obama did not attempt to lower
expectations for her husband today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: He doesn`t need much advice. He`s a very
good debater. So I do tell him to have fun and relax and just be himself
because the truth is if he`s the Barack Obama the country has come to know
and trust, he`s going to do a great job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The new national NBC News poll shows that among likely
voters, President Obama polls at 49 percent and Mitt Romney at 46 percent.

Tonight, Nate Silver of "The New York Times`" "FiveThirtyEight" blog,
forecasts that on November 6th, President Obama will win 318 electoral
votes and Mitt Romney will win 219. And President Obama`s chance of
winning the election is now at 84.7 percent.

Joining me now, MSNBC`s John Heilemann and Krystal Ball.

Krystal, when I see the president out at Hoover Dam today, I think not
only of Rachel Maddow, but I also think that we are going to hear some sort
of Rachel like ode to Hoover Dam tomorrow night in the debate and the power
of federal infrastructure spending and what it can do to this country and
this economy.

KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC`S "THE CYCLE": I think you`re absolutely right.
That is the core message. It`s we`re in it together versus you`re on your
own.

And to that point, you know, Mitt Romney still has never really come
up with a coherent explanation, because there isn`t one, for his comments
about the 47 percent. And so, as they`re talking about the zingers he`s
been preparing for this debate and how he`s been practicing for months,
which I`m sure is true, there`s no verbal trick to get you out of that box.
There`s no verbal trick or zinger to get you on the positions that are
completely unpalatable to general public. And there`s also nothing you can
do to avoid the fact that your positions have changed so much from the
primary to now and back and forth.

So that`s one of the things that you have to look at. It`s not just
preparation and having good responses. Some things there is no way to get
out of them.

O`DONNELL: The friends of Mitt Romney at the "National Review" today
report that Romney`s advisers have armed him, this is a quote, "armed him
with a bushel of zingers, sources say, he`ll be ready with scripted lines
on a variety of fronts."

John Heilemann, this is not officially a disaster of debate prep for
Mitt Romney. You know, as you know, debate handlers have come up with
zingers before to candidates, but they do not leak to the media ahead of
time that they have a big bag of zingers ready to go. They actually try to
let the candidate take some credit for being clever and quick on his feet.

This is now a hopeless situation for Romney.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Lawrence, I`ve become
increasingly convinced when they`re talking about zingers, they`re not
talking about quippy lines, they`re talking about the hostess snack cakes.

BALL: Delicious.

HEILEMANN: Delicious and compete with Ho Hos and Twinkies for my
action.

You know, there`s been so much telegraphing of punches of the Romney
campaign throughout this debate prep situation, not only with the zinger
comments but also last week when they started telegraphing the notion that
they were going to take on the president on his veracity, they were going
to challenge his honestly.

Again, I believe they`re so telegraphed so gratuitously and so ham-
handedly that it makes me think, in all seriousness, that some of these
things must be decoys and that Mitt Romney is not going to try to throw
zingers at Barack Obama and he`s not actually going to attack him on his
veracity. What he`s going to try to actually do what he really does need
to do which is to look presidential.

There`s still a huge number of people in the country -- forget about
introducing himself. There are a lot of people in the country who have
over the past months, for very good reason, come to the conclusion that
Mitt Romney is a caricature and they`ve come to the conclusion that they
don`t really believe he`s a plausible alternative to Barack Obama. They
don`t really see him as a president.

And that is the biggest hurdle he has to overcome. Forget about
likable. Forget about landing punches. Forget about anything else.

He has to walk out of the debate with some number of people who are
still undecided in the electorate thinking, hey, I can imagine that guy in
the Oval Office. And if he doesn`t do that, that`s how he`s going to lose
the debate.

BALL: Lawrence --

O`DONNELL: I`m actually -- I`m actually going to show him exactly how
to do that later in the show.

HEILEMANN: I`m sure you are, Lawrence. I`m sure.

O`DONNELL: But, you know, Bill O`Reilly made a point this morning on
"Today" show about the zingers that he`s under with. Let`s listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O`REILLY: The pressure is on the governor. He has to come across as
a regular guy, which I`m not sure he can do.

If you come in with zingers, you sound stilted, all right? They have
to just occur to you. If he comes in with all these rehearsed stuff, he`s
just going to come across as a zombie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Krystal, Bill O`Reilly is right about that. But now the
problem becomes if Romney doesn`t get off some memorable line, a really
effective line, all the critics and the reviewers of this are going to say
-- well, you know, he didn`t score. It didn`t happen. He didn`t do what
he set out to do.

BALL: Well, it`s a double edged sword, because that`s exactly right.
We`re all going to be looking for these great zingers that he`s been
apparently practicing for months. But also, when they happen, you know
that everyone is going to go crazy judging whether these were really good
and whether they had been worthy of two months` time of preparation.

And just to add what John was saying, I totally agree he has to come
out and look presidential. And part of that package is to show why it is
that he`s running for the presidency. Because I don`t think the American
public really understands that. They don`t see that he has any particular
passion or any core, in terms of issues that he deeply cares about. And if
he can`t convey that in the debate, I think that`s going to be an ongoing
problem for him.

O`DONNELL: I want to stay with this zinger thing for one more bit,
which is that we all remember -- Krystal is not old enough of course. But
I remember the 1988 line by Lloyd Bentsen, it was actually in the vice
presidential campaign where he said to Dan Quayle, you know, "I knew Jack
Kennedy, and you`re no Jack Kennedy."

That kind of memorable line really resounded, that -- by the way, that
was said by the losing side of that campaign. But no one -- no one from
Bentsen world jumped forward to say, hey, I wrote that for him. There was
none of that. There was no leaking like that.

HEILEMANN: You know, look, I mean, the best big knockout punches, and
although that wasn`t really a knockout punch, Lawrence. Although Dan
Quayle sort of knocked himself out of that debate by kind of punching
himself in the face. He ended up, that ticket, Republican ticket ended
winning that year. Those kinds of things, the knockout punch, a great
line, that comes out in the debate are the ones that seem to be unscripted
that no one has telegraphed in advance.

And I think it does raise a bunch of expectations. But, look, the
polls have been tightening. Romney is going to get some elevation by
standing on stage next to Barack Obama. And I continue to think that if he
ends up putting a performance that is not zinger-filled, that contrasts
with all of our expectations and ends up looking pretty good up there,
there`s going to be a lot of people in the media who are going to say he
won the debate.

O`DONNELL: Well, as the polls show, Mitt Romney goes into the debate
with President Obama at a 52 percent favorability rating with voters, Mitt
Romney at a 42 percent favorability rating voters. I don`t know how he
makes that up in 90 minutes of a debate.

John Heilemann and Krystal Ball -- thank you both for joining us.

BALL: Thanks, Lawrence.

HEILEMANN: Snack cakes.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the 47 percent effect. New polls show just how
much the secret tape has hurt Mitt Romney. And Mitt Romney was caught in a
lie today about his secret tax returns.

And in voter suppression news -- a big win for voters in a
Pennsylvania courtroom today.

And in the rewrite, the only way Mitt Romney can win the debate, it
was all laid out for him by the best Republican presidential debater ever,
who was of course a fictional character in the TV series "The West Wing."
What "The West Wing" can teach Mitt Romney is in the rewrite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: The 47 percent comment is still doing damage to Mitt
Romney`s campaign and a new poll tells us just how much damage. That`s
next.

And later, I will show Mitt Romney how to win tomorrow night`s debate.
I actually showed him how to do it six years ago in an episode of "The West
Wing." Mitt Romney and "The West Wing" are in tonight`s rewrite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: I`ve had a lot of Republicans tell me, even supporters of
yours, they look to Mitt Romney`s tape, that 47 percent comment, point to
that and say, you guys lose this campaign because of that. How damaging
was that?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It was -- Mitt
acknowledged it was a very inarticulate way of a point we`ve been making
all along in this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: In the end, it is unlikely that either candidate for
president will say something, with a greater impact on the outcome of the
election than this.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: There are 47 percent of the
people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right? There
are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who
believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a
responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health
care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that`s an entitlement.
And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this
president no matter what.

And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49 -- he starts with a
huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent
of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn`t
connect. And he`ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I
mean, that`s what they sell every four years.

And so my job is not to worry about those people. I`d never convince
them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their
lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: A new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll finds 45 percent
of registered voters feel more negative about Mitt Romney after that 47
percent comment. Just 23 percent feel more positive about him, 24 percent
said the comment did not make much difference. And because of what they`ve
read, seen or heard about Mitt Romney over the last few weeks, 51 percent
now have a less favorable impression of Mitt Romney, 28 percent have a more
favorable impression of Romney.

Joining me now are Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for "The
Washington Post" and MSNBC contributor, and Nia-Malika Henderson, national
political reporter for "The Washington Post."

Nia, the verdict is in here on the polls. I can`t think of a way Mitt
Romney could possibly say something tomorrow night more damaging and more
important to this campaign than what he`s already said about the 47
percent.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WASHINGTON POST: That`s right. And you will
imagine that tomorrow he will try to make up for the damage in some ways
that he`s been walking towards that already. Every time I see the video, I
always look at that waiter who is moving past that camera and wonder what
that waiter must be thinking when they hear Mitt Romney say this.

And if you look at some of the polls, one of the things that`s obvious
is that President Obama is starting to do well, particularly among a blue
collar women, people called waitress moms in some ways.

And if you look at the polls, in 2008, he got about 41 percent. In
some of these swing states now, Iowa, Wisconsin, he`s doing 52 percent
among these women, blue collar white women.

And I think in some ways this video is probably going to help him do
even better. If you look at what they`ve done with their own commercial,
they basically have these words that Mitt Romney said and they have these
images of women particularly in these commercials and the most images are
of single white women -- and I think they are obviously making some headway
in that group because of these words.

O`DONNELL: Paul Ryan was given a chance to reach out to the 47
percent today in a question that he was asked on the campaign trail by a
voter who asked about the 47 percent. Ryan, of course, completely missed
that opportunity. And I think really solidified the Romney/Ryan view of
the 47 percent.

Let`s listen to that question and answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have 47 percent of the people of the United
States paying no taxes, federal income tax. Is there any way that this 47
percent can pay a nominal fee or something so they feel that they have
small ownership in the government and maybe they won`t take all the
handouts so readily.

RYAN: I`ve got an idea. Let`s help them get jobs so they can get a
good paycheck so then they`re good taxpayers.

(APPLAUSE)

This is the point that Mitt and I have been trying to make. And
sometimes the point doesn`t get made the right way. We don`t want a
stagnant economy that fosters dependency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Sometimes the point doesn`t get made the right way.
Jonathan, he sure didn`t make it the right way. He says about the 47
percent, let`s help them get jobs.

So he thinks the 85-year-old widow who does not pay federal income tax
needs to get a job. This was a chance for him to reach out, identify that
47 percent, and show that he knows what they are struggling with, including
making their own payroll taxes that the people with jobs have to pay that
are very significant things taken out of their paycheck.

No understanding whatsoever of the 47 percent demonstrated by Paul
Ryan.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Lawrence, no understanding and
no empathy. I mean, it`s not like the 47 percent aren`t paying taxes at
all. There`s sales taxes and state taxes and all sorts of other fees and
levies that folks in the 47 percent pay.

And the other thing is you mentioned, you know, it`s not just the
worker who doesn`t make enough in order to qualify to pay federal income
taxes. But what about the senior citizen who is on Social Security or
Medicare? What about the veterans who are coming back from their fourth or
fifth tour in Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans who have come back and were
not for the federal government and for the V.A. helping them out, you know,
to transition back into regular society and not be in the armed forces,
where would they be?

I mean, I was just struck by that video of Paul Ryan. There`s no
empathy there. No attempt to reach out and say hey, look, I understand
what people are going through and this is what Mitt Romney and I want to
do.

And what`s so devastating about that ad that Nia-Malika from the Obama
for America campaign where they just run Mitt Romney`s words and you see
women, but you also see senior citizens and veterans and all sorts of
people who make up the 47 percent who for one reason or another, Paul Ryan
doesn`t realize that a lot of the 47 percent are the very people who are in
their base and the very people they need to vote for them in November.

O`DONNELL: Well, let`s see if Mitt Romney has been prepped with a
better answer about the 47 percent tomorrow night.

Nia Henderson and Jonathan Capehart -- thank you both for joining me.

CAPEHART: Thanks, Lawrence.

HENDERSON: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up. Mitt Romney`s secret tax returns are still
making headlines. "The New York Times" used Romney`s tax returns and new
Bain documents to expose Mitt Romney`s lies about his money. David Cay
Johnston and Karen Finney will join me on that.

And the Republican voter suppression movement suffered a big loss
today in a Pennsylvania courtroom. Joy Reid is here with that, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: Professor Warren, when she made
a mistake, and really misled the voters of Massachusetts, it`s not she
didn`t hear the question. This went on for five weeks of people, of the
media, asking her specifically how they came to know that she was a Native
American.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR: And she responded. I`ve got to ask you
this. He always calls you "Professor Warren", do you think he`s needling
you, trying to cast you as an elitist professor in the eyes of the voters.
Does that bother you?

ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: It doesn`t bother me.
I worked hard for this. It doesn`t bother me.

BROWN: Listen, "The Boston Globe" reported today that she`s very
proud of being a professor. Whenever I see my professors from school, I
say, hello, Professor Gillman (ph), or professor so and so. She`s earned
the title. She`s now a sitting professor at Harvard Law School.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The professor slur has been tried before in United States
Senate debates. Professor Daniel Patrick Moynihan had to deal with it when
he ran for the Senate from New York in 1976.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JAMES BUCKLEY (R), NEW YORK: Oh, the good professor from
Harvard, and he wants a great, big, new, vast federalized welfare system.
What does that mean? More taxes that you would have to pay, larger people
-- numbers on the welfare roles. I believe we need true reform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Unlike his opponent and his opponent`s brother, William F.
Buckley Junior, who went to Yale, Pat Moynihan did not enjoy the benefit of
an Ivy League education himself, but he became an Ivy League educator. He
grew up in Hell`s Kitchen and as a kid helped his single mother while she
was working in a bar.

He shined shoes in Time Squire while he was attending a public high
school in Harlem. He worked hard to become a tenured Harvard professor,
after serving in the cabinet and sub-cabinet of four presidents. And he
knew a slur when he heard one.

The first time his debate opponent, Senator Jim Buckley, called him
Professor Moynihan, Moynihan interjected, "ah, the mudslinging has begun,"
which of course got a big laugh. But nothing Senator Buckley said ever
really bothered Pat Moynihan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN, FORMER SENATOR: Jim Buckley? He`s engaging
and honest man who hasn`t the soggiest notion what the 20th century is all
about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Now Massachusetts voters have to decide who really knows
what the 21st century is all about, the Republican senator who thinks there
is no difference between Justice Scalia and Justice Sotomayor, or the
professor, Professor Elizabeth Warren.

History is on the professor`s side. Professor Moynihan knocked the
incumbent out of the Senate and went on to set vote winning record margins
in all of his reelection campaigns. Running against a Harvard professor is
harder than Scott Brown thinks it is.

Coming up in tonight`s Rewrite, the cast of "The West Wing" will teach
Mitt Romney how to win the debate. Now, the question you have to ask
yourself, with 23 hours to go until the debate, how fast a learner is Mitt
Romney?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In the Spotlight tonight, Mitt Romney`s disastrous 47
percent comments are still not enough to keep his secret tax returns off
the front page. "The New York Times" page one headline today "Offshore
Tactics Helped Increase Romney`s Wealth." And by this afternoon, the Obama
campaign was up with this video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mitt Romney has millions of dollars invested in
offshore tax havens. He says having his money overseas doesn`t mean he`s
avoiding U.S. taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think it`s patriotic of you to stash your
money away in the Cayman Islands?

ROMNEY: I have not saved one dollar by having an investment somewhere
outside this country.

There was no reduction, not one dollar reduction in taxes by virtue of
having an account in Switzerland or a Cayman Island investment. The
dollars of taxes remain exactly the same. There was no tax savings at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But that`s not true. According to a new report
from "the New York Times," Romney avoided taxes through investments in
offshore tax havens.

Mitt Romney avoided paying his fair share. What else is he hiding?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now, David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize winning
tax reporter and author of the new book, "The Fine Print," and Karen
Finney, former DNC communications director and an MSNBC contributor.

David Cay Johnston, the Times got some tax experts, tax lawyers and
others to look at the Romney tax returns and some documents they obtained
from Bain from this new report today. What did we learn?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, "THE FINE PRINT": Well, the Cayman
Islands 400 years ago was a hang out for pirates. Now it`s a hang out for
tax pirates. Instead of the traditional map of where the a buried treasure
is, you get these opinion letters this thick from lawyers that say, if you
follow every one every one of these very intricate steps, you can get your
treasure untaxed to the Cayman Islands.

One of the things the Times points out is because of the way these
were set up and the fees that were charged against them, the less taxes
paid by those who were investing, or no tax in the case of many of the
investors, the greater the sum available and therefore the higher the fees
that Romney collected.

O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, Romney -- you get the sense the Romney
campaign expected that the tax return story was a story that they were
going to deal with for a while and then get past. They weren`t banking on
"the New York Times" putting a team on the tax return, obtaining more
documents from Bain, putting the pieces together, and showing the lie, the
lie that Mitt Romney -- we see him tell in that Obama video, that, hey, I
didn`t save any tax money at all by parking this money offshore.

KAREN FINNEY, FORMER DNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Right, no, of
course. But also I think they believe that if they just told us, we would
just say oh, OK. Right? I mean there`s something -- we`ve talked about
this before -- that is very much of a CEO mentality, that says I don`t have
to tell you that. You have to accept what I tell you as the truth, when we
all sort of -- on the face of it, that just doesn`t sound right. Because
you want to say well, then, why did you put your money over there.

We just know that can`t possibly be true. But again, I think they
expected that we`ll deal with it for a few days -- we`ll have a few news
cycles and then it will go away because people will just believe us. I
really think they thought that.

O`DONNELL: David Cay Johnston, do you have a tax return question you
would like to suggest to Jim Lehrer for tomorrow night.

JOHNSTON: Not that I suspect anyone will ask any of these, but I
think one of the obvious ones will be, will you show us any of these
opinion letters that you have. And I think the one I would really like to
know about is tell us how about you made your huge fortune on the Italian
telephone directories while not paying any taxes, which has been a big
scandal in the Italian press.

O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, where would you go if you could get a
question in there in the debate tomorrow night, on the tax returns?

FINNEY: As a communications person, not expecting him to give an
honest answer to a question like -- David is actually trying to get some
facts and information. I would actually suggest to him or pose the
question that he says that he`s followed the law to the letter of the law
in terms of paying his taxes. But so do the 47 percent that his
disparages. They follow to the letter of the law.

So why is it that it`s OK for him, but it`s not OK for them. And I
would also love to do a little comparison with how much money he`s actually
saved versus how much that 47 percent gets in the sort of earned income tax
credit. Let`s just compare who`s really getting the sweeter deal there.

O`DONNELL: I think if there`s just one question, I guess I would like
to hear if you gave John McCain a dozen or more tax returns in order to be
vetted for him, why wouldn`t you give us those tax returns to vet you for
the possible presidency? That`s one I think the audience could follow.

FINNEY: Absolutely. I think that`s what a lot of people are
thinking. What is the big deal? Why not just show us? And I also think
it`s a bit of malpractice the way his team has miscalculated how this story
would play out.

JOHNSTON: And Paul Ryan, remember, also had to give 10 years of his
returns to Romney.

O`DONNELL: Right. Why did he have to do that? David Cay Johnston
and Karen Finney, thank you both for joining me tonight.

FINNEY: Thanks.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the Republican voter suppression strategy in
Pennsylvania suffered a big loss in court today. Joy Reid will join me on
that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In tonight`s Rewrite, the only way -- the only way Mitt
Romney can win the debate. Alan Alda showed him how to do it in the live
debate episode of the NBC series "the West Wing" in the show`s final
season, six years ago. Alan Alda was playing the Republican candidate for
president, running against the Democrat played by Jimmy Smits.

At the beginning of the debate, the Republican proposed something
truly radical and set a trap for the Democrat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN ALDA, ACTOR: You know, I`ve watched every televised presidential
debate this country has ever had. And every time I heard them recite the
rules, I always thought that means they`re not going to have a real debate.
When the greatest hero in the history of my party, Abraham Lincoln, when he
debated, he didn`t need any rules. He wasn`t afraid of a real debate.

I could do a two-minute version of my Sensible Solution Stump Speech.
And I`m sure Congressman Santos has a memorized statement ready to go. And
then we could go on with this ritual and let the rules control how much
you`re going to learn about the next president of the United States.

But we could have a debate Lincoln would have been proud of. We could
junk the rules. We could let our able and judicious moderator ask his
questions and we could forget about whether or not each of us gets exactly
the same number of seconds to speak. We could have a real debate. If
that`s all right with you, Matt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, according to the rules --

JIMMY SMITS, ACTOR: No, no. Please. You mean like a Senate debate?
You`re going to filibuster me? Grab the microphone for the whole hour?

ALDA: No. We tell the American people what they need to hear. No
more, no less. I suspect the audience will reward brevity.

SMITS: OK. Let`s have a real debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: When I wrote that episode of "The West Wing", which was,
by the way, the longest one in the series history, because NBC restricted
the commercial breaks, I consulted with Jim Lehrer who was then and now our
most experienced presidential moderator, the man who will be in the
moderator`s chair tomorrow night.

He was an invaluable resource. But I was sure I was going to lose his
support when I told him my idea for dropping the rules of the debate. The
Republican will propose dropping the rules of the debate because he
believes the Democrat is a weaker debater and needs to hide behind the
rules to survive the debate. The Democrat will then have an awful choice,
refuse to drop the rules and then look like he is obviously hiding behind
the rules for the rest of the debate, or be forced to agree to drop the
rules and take his chances against the more experienced debater.

It was a no lose proposition for the Republican. The Republican
looked supremely confident, presidentially confident in proposing dropping
the rules, while the Democrat is forced to cling to the rules or the
Democrat agrees to dropping the rules, which makes the Republican look like
he`s in complete control of the debate.

There was a long silence at the end of the phone when I presented this
idea to Jim Lehrer. I was sure he was searching for a polite way of saying
that is absolutely ridiculous; that would never happen. That`s such a
Hollywood idea.

When he finally spoke, he said, I`ve been sitting up there waiting for
that to happen for years. But Mitt Romney won`t propose dropping the
rules, because Mitt Romney is a candidate with a lot to hide. Mitt Romney
is still hiding his tax returns and Mitt Romney is still hiding what he
wants to do to your tax returns, the deductions on your tax returns.

A candidate with as much to hide as Mitt Romney needs to hide needs to
hide behind the rules, the rules that strictly limit the speaking times of
each candidate. But Mitt Romney will have a two-minute final statement,
just like Alan Alda did in "The West Wing" presidential debate. Every word
Alan Alda said in his final statement is something that Mitt Romney could
say tomorrow night.

He could put the best possible face on Republicanism in that final two
minutes. It could be done. But Mitt Romney won`t do that, because his
staff is busy coming up with zingers to aim at the president. Team Romney
would be smart to steal some of Alan Alda`s final lines for tomorrow night,
but I don`t think Team Obama needs to worry about how effective Mitt Romney
can be in making his case to the American people, because to paraphrase
perhaps the only memorable vice president debate line, I know Alan Alda,
and Mitt Romney is no Alan Alda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALDA: First of all, I want to thank Matt for agreeing to drop the
rules and letting us have a real debate tonight. And what you`ve heard,
over and above the many important policy differences, were different
philosophies of government.

You know, I believe both of us want what`s best for this country. We
just have different ideas about how to get is there. I think it`s fair to
say that Matt has more confidence in government than I do. I have more
confidence in freedom, your freedom, your freedom to choose your child`s
school, your freedom to choose the car or a truck that`s right for you and
your family, your freedom to save or spend your hard-earned money, instead
of having the government spend it for you.

No, you see, I`m -- I`m not anti-government. I just don`t want any
more government than we can afford. We don`t want government doing things
it doesn`t know how to do, doing things the private sector does better.
We`re throwing more money at failed programs, because that`s exactly what
makes people lose faith in government.

And all of us, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, we all
want a government we can believe in. We all want a government that doesn`t
make false promises, a government that doesn`t overreach, that doesn`t take
on more than it can handle, an efficient, effective, honest government.
That`s what the Founding Fathers created. That`s what they wanted for us.

The choice in this election comes down to this: do we want more
government, or do we want to get control of government?

To govern is to choose. And the choices are never easy. There are
lobbies out there that will fight you on every choice you make. They`re
ready to call you names the second you make a choice they don`t like.

You heard that heckler go after me here tonight. You have to be tough
to stand up to that. But being tough won`t help you make the right choice.
That takes experience and mature judgment. That`s what the presidency
needs now more than ever.

And that`s why I ask you to give me your vote, so that I can give you
the government you were promised by the founding fathers.

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: On November 6th, I`m going to win Pennsylvania and I`m become
to become the next president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Mitt Romney said that on Friday when the Republican
Pennsylvania victory plan was still on track.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE TURZAI (R), PENN. STATE REP.: Voter I.D., which is going to
allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: But a Pennsylvania judge today said it`s not done. In a
huge win for voters` rights, the judge blocked the key provision of
Pennsylvania`s voter I.D. Law. On election day, Pennsylvania voters can be
asked for a photo I.D., but are not required to show voter I.D. in order to
cast a regular ballot.

The judge also ruled that the state can continue its advertising
campaign, a decision that worries voters rights activists because they say
it could confuse voters. A lawyer for Pennsylvania`s ACLU told reporters
that if that message doesn`t change, then, quote, "we may be back in
court."

Voters in Pennsylvania have just one week left to register to vote.
Pennsylvania is the 14th state since 2010 to block or blunt a Republican-
led restrictive voter law, according to the Brennan Center.

Joining me now, MSNBC`s Joy Reid, THE LAST WORD`s senior voter
suppression correspondent.

Joy Reid, this was a big win today in that Pennsylvania courtroom.

JOY REID, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it absolutely was. It was
critical because not only did Pennsylvania have the most restrictive voter
I.D. law in the country, Lawrence, it also is one of the most restrictive
states when it comes to voting, period. They don`t have early voting.
They don`t have a lot of the laws that allow it to be easier to vote.

So really what this means is that whereas the state couldn`t even get
to 10,000 of these I.D.s out of about a half a million they thought they
needed, now there isn`t going to be that worry that nearly a half a million
people could be disenfranchised. So it`s good news for voters of
Pennsylvania.

O`DONNELL: What is the worry about continuing the advertising
campaign that the Pennsylvania government was doing about the new voting
procedures?

REID: The problem is that people still may believe that they need the
I.D. And the problem with that is that the various Departments of Motor
Vehicles and the other agencies were having a terrible time coordinating
their procedures so that they were the same and uniform everywhere.

So if people still see the ads, the worry is that they will still
think they`ll need the I.D. And that could discourage people who don`t
have it from showing up at the polls on election day.

O`DONNELL: And right now President Obama is up 12 points in
Pennsylvania. So it seems as though, according to the polls anyway, that
the election in Pennsylvania is probably out of reach of even the greatest
ambition of the voter suppressers.

REID: Yeah. I think even the Republican legislators who let the cat
out of the bag, that their goal was to try to flip Pennsylvania for Mitt
Romney, they`re not going to have a good day on election day. Look, the
Romney campaign isn`t even really mounting a full-force effort in
Pennsylvania. They understand that it`s probably lost.

O`DONNELL: And the -- looking at this nationwide, as we`ve seen it in
the other states, these are mostly Republican-led efforts to institute
these laws. And we`ve had the courts saving us, state courts saving us
from the outcomes of these laws.

REID: Absolutely. And in Pennsylvania, voters need to get this.
These are elected supreme court judges in Pennsylvania. So it really
matters that you go all the way down that ballot. Because these judges,
just like other politicians, are elected officials. It`s very important
that people pay attention to who`s on the bench, and as you`ve been saying
who`s on the United States Supreme Court, because these kind of laws get
appealed. These kinds of cases are critical to peoples` rights.

O`DONNELL: We did that segment here recently where "the West Wing"
cast reunited to do a commercial about voting for judges and the importance
of voting for judges and a particular judge, candidate McCormick in
Michigan, but that this is what it`s about. These state judges are
deciding who gets to vote for president in this country. You couldn`t ask
them to be dealing with weightier things than this.

REID: No, absolutely. I think that people tend to look at the top --
very top of that ticket, president of the United States. But before you
get there, there are a whole layer of public officials that you vote for,
who put these laws in place at the state level, who appoint the judges or
the judges are elected themselves.

Americans have got to get this. You`ve got to really pay attention to
off year elections. And you`ve got to pay attention down that ballot,
because it is in your state that these laws are made, not in the White
House and in Congress.

O`DONNELL: Joy Reid gets tonight`s LAST WORD. Thanks for joining me
tonight, Joy.

REID: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: "THE ED SHOW" is up next.

END

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