updated 9/7/2004 10:49:01 AM ET 2004-09-07T14:49:01

Guests: Pat Buchanan, Roger Cressey, Susannah Meadows

ANNOUNCER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. CRAIG SMITH, LED CLINTON‘S HEART SURGERY: He had a relatively routine quadruple bypass operation.

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ANNOUNCER: In by 8:00, out by noon, awake by 4:00. Bill Clinton, post op. What now? We‘ll hear about the exaggeration, that is he‘s resting comfortably, from another politician who faced similar surgery, our own Pat Buchanan.

Follow the bouncing bounce, an 11-point lead in “Newsweek” and “Time,” a two-point bounce in “USA Today,” a tie in “The Economist.” All I know is what I read in the papers.

Two hurricanes in three weeks. Could it be three in four? Florida cleans up after Frances, braces for Ivan.

And miss that Labor Day camping trip you hoped for? Well, maybe you did and maybe you didn‘t.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the woods, you‘ve got to drive 10, 15 miles.

Here you‘re right in town. Of course, we do our Wal-Mart shopping.

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ANNOUNCER: Ah, camping from the great outdoors, out by the doors of the Wal-Mart. All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Good evening, this is Monday, September 6, 57 days until the 2004 presidential election. It is amazing to consider what that campaign and that office can do to the infrastructure of a human being who sought it and held it and more amazing still that it took doctors not more than four hours to repair that damage and the other wears and tears of bad food, irregular exercise, smoking, and everything else in the other 50 years of their ex-president patient.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Bill Clinton awake as early as 4:00 p.m. Eastern time this afternoon recovering in a New York hospital after four arteries blocked from delivering blood to his heart were replaced by new roots, quadruple bypass surgery. Doctors described it as relatively routine. They found such deterioration to the vessels that they actually stopped the ex-president‘s heart for an hour and 13 minutes. The three-surgeon team was led by Dr. Craig Smith.

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SMITH: Starting this morning around 8:00, he had a relatively routine quadruple bypass operation. We left the operating room around noon and he is recovering normally at this point. So I think right now everything looks straightforward.

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OLBERMANN: Four vessels from Mr. Clinton‘s leg and chest were transferred to bypass the blocked coronary arteries and when the president was on the operating table, Dr. Smith and his colleagues confirmed their original diagnosis. If they had not done this, quote, there was a substantial likelihood that he would have had a substantial heart attack in the near future. In this case the waiting was not the hardest part, but it was not exactly easy.

Details of the three days of pre-op coming out now, said Senator Clinton after the surgery, quote, Chelsea and I thank God and the incredible medical team and staff here at New York Presbyterian Hospital for taking such good care of my husband. Bill, Chelsea and I stayed up pretty late last night talking, playing games and just being with each other. That confirms earlier reports that upon the arrival of his wife and daughter at Columbia Presbyterian on Friday, the family spent time playing cards and the word game, Boggle. Presumably the baseball loving ex-president also passed some time reflecting on the fact that the hospital is where the first home of the New York Yankees once stood.

If you saw the hospital new conference, you heard it, the announcement that Bill Clinton is quote, resting comfortably. They never read a statement about a public figure who goes through something like this that says he‘s resting uncomfortably and it‘s going to hurt like hell for weeks, especially if it‘s heart surgery and part of your job is public speaking.  It‘s happened to many political figures, including MSNBC‘s political analyst Pat Buchanan, who had heart valve surgery 12 years ago. Pat, good evening.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith, how are you?

OLBERMANN: Well, apparently better than Bill Clinton at the moment.

Let‘s start with the resting comfortably stuff. I gather that‘s a lie.

BUCHANAN: Well, that‘s just preposterous. And I‘ll tell you, when I came out of that surgery and I woke up in a dark room with a couple of other stiff people lying besides me and they have a mask over your face that‘s breathing for you and you feel you‘re about to suffocate, that‘s the worst part of it. And you‘ve got any number of tubes outside your body and you‘re lying down there strapped there, and then someone comes in after a period of time and they hold you down, and they pull that breathing tube out of your throat, and it comes off your face, and you feel like all of your innards have come out.

And it‘s a very, very tough hit this president has taken. And we ought to understand that. And when he goes up there, he‘s going to have all these tubes coming out of him. They take out about one every day. He‘s going to be in there for six weeks. I know I had the—you get the morphine or some kind of shot and they give me a shot every four hours. And after three hours all night long I‘m hitting the buzzer saying isn‘t it time to bring it in? It‘s very, very painful. And frankly, the president may be in better shape than I was, but I‘ll tell you, Keith, it was not a four weeks or three weeks the way they‘re talking about before you are really up and around and yourself again.

OLBERMANN: So what does this do to a politician‘s fundamental, psychological belief that if everything else fails, he can always get up in front of a crowd and talk them into doing something at the top of his voice? Don‘t you need the confidence that you can do that at all times?

BUCHANAN: You not only need the confidence, you need the strength and energy, especially to speak at a convention. I was going to speak at the Republican convention 10 weeks off from that surgery, and I can tell you by July, five and six weeks after it, I was afraid I wasn‘t going to be able to pull it off. And Clinton is a powerful speaker. He gets in pulpits. He speaks to those black communities there. And it really depends, energy, fire, strength and all the rest of it. And frankly, I was concerned I wasn‘t going to be able to do it. It wasn‘t till 10 weeks later, after that surgery, that I could jog very, very slowly for one mile. So I wish the president well. We‘re all praying for him. He seems to have come out of it successfully. But I think we ought to hones that he‘s going to go through a very rough, painful week coming up.

OLBERMANN: I know that he‘s not likely to call upon you for advice on this. What would you tell him to do about his recovery, that the doctors might not have told him or not understood about what he is as a politician, more prioritized to me? What would you tell him about that?

BUCHANAN: I‘m going to tell him it‘s going to affect him psychologically. When I got up, I would go downstairs, you‘d have lunch and then you‘d have to go up and sleep for hours and you get emotional. For some reason, I couldn‘t understand, almost weepy and you don‘t know why. So I think this is going to have a tremendous impact on Bill Clinton, who probably his health, as far as I knew, has been terrific his entire life. I would just advise him to walk and take it easy and understand. Frankly, Larry King has got out a book where a lot of us talked about our postoperative experiences with heart surgery and there are a lot of fellows in there. I think Mike Ditka is in there. I‘m in there and there‘s a number of others who talk about what happens after you go through this.

OLBERMANN: Extraordinary. MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan, who we should mention has his seventh book out, “Where the Right Went Wrong.” Pat, on this particular issue, thank you very much for the insiders view, for being so open about it.

BUCHANAN: Well, thank you very much, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The former president not only looked mortality in the face tonight, he also got inside of the belly of the American health care beast.  That he led the free world for eight years did not absolve him from taking the route (ph) of diminishing control faced by so many of us. A little shortness of breath, a constriction in the chest, one trip to the local doctor later and the next thing he knows he‘s being referred to a surgeon he‘s never heard of and next week the guy is going to stop his heart for 73 minutes.

Our correspondent Mike Taibbi has been outside Columbia Presbyterian Hospital since early this morning. He joins us now with a little bit more on the case of patient Clinton William J. and how he got there. Mike, good evening.

MIKE TAIBBI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, he got there the way Keith that most other people get here, most of the half million people who have bypass surgery every year. Of course you couldn‘t call him the average patient, not with 28 lives cameras out here, including crews from Brazil and Germany and Korea that I saw today, South Korea and with the Secret Service guarding every direction from his cordoned off section of the ICU.

But here‘s what happened to Bill Clinton. He‘s in his 50‘s and this a lot of people can identify with. You‘re in your 50‘s. You‘re not quite in the best shape you‘ve ever been. You‘re pretty busy. You have too much fondness for gumbo and that barbecue and what Satchel Paige used to call those fried foods that angry up the blood.

But you know you‘re going to get in shape. You‘re going to do this and you find out that when you do take exercise on that rare occasion in your busy life, you feel that shortness of breath and that constriction in the chest. Chalk it up to a little acid reflux, maybe that you‘re not as fit as you like to be.

And then one day, as happened to Bill Clinton last Friday, you have those same symptoms at rest and alarm bells go off. Your family gets frightened. You go to the doctor for the first checkup. You get thrombolytics, blood thinners, and they say you better go someplace else, someplace that specializes. It happens to be this place, which is as good a hospital as there is for this sort of treatment.

They find out in the angiogram that three of your four arteries that are blocked are blocked 90 percent of the way. If you don‘t have an operation soon, you could die. You could have that heart attack. You have that surgery and as you said in the beginning of the broadcast, you are suddenly several hours later resting comfortably, or not all that comfortably with a breathing tube in, just waiting for you to do the one thing you do best, which in Bill Clinton‘s case, as Pat Buchanan said, is talk. You can‘t do that yet. Probably right about now he‘s ready to be taken off the ventilator. But he‘s just like everybody else in that regard, a positive result, a successful operation.

OLBERMANN: Mike, if by chance Mr. Clinton were at the “New York Times” very early this morning, he must have been a little bit thrown by part of the lead sentence in their last article before the surgery that read that this hospital, quote, has the highest death rate for the operation in New York state, 4 percent, with 2 percent the average. Did anybody address that or explain that today?

TAIBBI: Nobody really did. But I know from experience, my younger brother had a heart transplant at this hospital and that‘s proof again of Samuel Clemens old saw that there are liars, damn liars and statisticians.  In that case, the statistics are correct. But this hospital takes on the highest risk cases, the one where it‘s just right at the line where surgical intervention is indicated. So their death rates, their mortality rates for transplant operations and for bypass operations are higher than many of the other hospitals in the state that wouldn‘t risk treating surgically some of the patients who are treated here. Although there‘s no concern express beside that, and frankly, no questions asked about it either. But that‘s why the numbers are higher.

OLBERMANN: One last thing. Was there not some feeling of irony in here, in Senator Clinton‘s efforts, as first lady, on behalf of national health insurance a decade ago and the fact that this process really made Bill Clinton into, as you suggested, a sort of superman among the traditional American hospital system patients in this whole process, since last week?

TAIBBI: I think that‘s true. And in his book he says that one of the biggest failures or one of his biggest regrets is that he and his wife, now Senator Hillary Clinton did not push through the national health reform that they tried so hard to push for and that they banked so much on when they were campaigning for his first term last time and it just wasn‘t successful, didn‘t get it done. But in this instance, this patient happened to benefit from the coverage that he did have and the vigilance of everybody around him, including his family and his caregivers, and there he is on the sixth floor resting comfortably.

OLBERMANN: Mike Taibbi, on Joe Patient, Bill Clinton, great, thanks for the back story Mike.

TAIBBI: All right, thanks.

OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN underway with President Clinton‘s condition, still ahead, preparing for an October surprise, or just trying to goose the Pakistanis into action? The latest, we‘re close? Maybe we‘re not, about Osama bin Laden, next.

And later, depending on who you listen to, the president either got an 11-point bounce, or zippity do da, (ph) from the Republican convention. The slippery polls of politics and one for the record books from the campaign trail tonight in Missouri as the president reintroduces the subject of gynecologists. You will not want to miss this ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN: If this is supposed to be proverbial October surprise, they do not seem to be doing it very well. A top terrorism official publicly stating in Pakistan he wouldn‘t be surprised if Osama bin Laden were to be captured tomorrow, and Pakistani terrorism officials responding in essence the guy‘s nuts. Our number four story on the COUNTDOWN Cofer Black, a State Department counter terrorism coordinator, speaking to al Qaeda‘s chief madman in the universal language of tick, tick, tick, tick, if he has a watch he should be looking at it because the clock is ticking. He will be caught, Black told Pakistani TV. What I tell people I would be surprised but not necessarily shocked if we wake up tomorrow and he has been caught, along with all his lieutenants.

Mr. Black might not be shocked, but the same apparently could not be said of the Pakistanis. Their information minister Sheikh Rashid today dismissed Black‘s comments as a quote, “political statement.” He said the Pakistani government did not have any new information about regarding bin Laden‘s whereabouts. Rashid would not elaborate on what he meant by political.

Politics and terrorism so often collide, but this is the fourth or fifth time we‘ve turned for clarification on a point like this to former National Security Council and White House counterterrorism official Roger Cressey. Roger, good evening.

ROGER CRESSEY, TERRORISM ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: What‘s going on here? Could there be more than one Cofer Black and is the other one making comments on the behalf of the one we know about?

CRESSEY: His evil twin?

OLBERMANN: Something like that.

CRESSEY: I don‘t think so. I think this is just Cofer being very confident with the recent arrest, the arrest of Kahn, in particular, the computer engineer. Some of the other steps we‘ve made over the past couple of months, that he‘s feeling pretty optimistic. The general agreement is you get about a 40 mile square area in southern Wazeristan (ph) where bin Laden and the rest of his posse is hanging out and so he thinks sooner or later the odds are going to break in our favor and that it might happen tomorrow, which is true and it might happen next year, which is equally true.

OLBERMANN: This country‘s relationship with Pakistani intelligence is weird enough as it is. The magazine “The New Republic” had a report in July, the beginning of July that U.S. officials had basically ordered Pakistan to produce some sort of high-value terror suspects right around the time of the Democratic convention. Sure enough, last week of July, up pops Ahmed Ghailani. Is it possible that Mr. Black‘s statement is part of this dance back and forth between the U.S. government and the Pakistani government to spur them to get moving on bin Laden, to follow up on some sort of particular line? Is to some sort of head game that‘s being attempted, some sort of psych job that‘s being attempted on the Pakistanis?

CRESSEY: Well, Pakistan discovered religion on this, no pun intended, after the two near attempts on Musharraf‘s life, and they‘ve really come around to try and do the things we‘ve asked them to do since 9/11. That said, there‘s some of it, some parts of this that the Paks have no control over. It‘s a very mountainous terrain. You have a tribal population that is very protective of bin Lade and his people and frankly they hate the Pakistani government. You also have low-level Pakistanis, both in the military and the intelligence service, that are sympathetic to bin Laden and the Taliban and are not going to try and do everything they can to track them down. So I‘m sure it‘s a little bit of a push. But by the same token, the United States government has said several times they‘re very pleased with Pakistan‘s cooperation so far.

OLBERMANN: Roger, I‘m going to put on my Mr. Cynic hat and ask you to do your hat in the same position as mine. If these, to put it mildly, implausible theories that bin Laden is already in custody and the administration was just waiting for the right moment to bring him out like Bob Hope on the “Tonight” show, would you have, to continue the whole, you know, nefarious plan, would you have Cofer Black set it up, or maybe give it away with an interview on Pakistani TV or wouldn‘t you want the thing to kind of develop in a PR sense, leaking out to National Public Radio or “The New York Times” or someone not identified with the administration, build it up, rather than sort of having the first hint of it wasted on some television network in Pakistan?

CRESSEY: I don‘t think Cofer gave away any big secret here. You know, certainly the administration wants to grab bin Laden and al-Zarqawi and the rest of them before the election, because a very valid charge is that they turned their attention to Iraq before they dealt with al Qaeda‘s leadership and so if they can produce either one of the two top al Qaeda officials before November 2, that‘s a huge political windfall for them. But, you know, Cofer is just talking about an optimistic view, that I think several people in the administration have right now, because of the arrests and because of the lack of an attack over the past few months, they‘re feeling pretty good. But the problem, of course, Keith, with al Qaeda is there‘s a light at the end of the tunnel. That just means there‘s another train coming down.

OLBERMANN: Quickly, as a last question, if we in fact captured Osama bin Laden and for some reason didn‘t want to announce it, how long would it remain a secret? Would it make it through a day?

CRESSEY: Seconds. Are you kidding me? People can‘t keep their mouth shut about these things. It will come out in a nanosecond.

OLBERMANN: Figured as much. Counterterrorism expert, MSNBC analyst, president of Good Harbor Consulting, Roger Cressey. As always Roger, especially on a holiday, thanks for your time.

CRESSEY: My pleasure, Keith. Good to see you.

OLBERMANN: Good to see you. From the trail of one of America‘s most wanted to the trial of another already captured, one of Iraq‘s new security ministers says Saddam Hussein could be in a courtroom within a few weeks.  No official dates are being mentioned, but Kasim Doud (ph) said before the elections in January, the Iraqis and Iraqis alone will conduct a trial. He says the Judiciary Department is still preparing the files of other junior officials accused of crimes against the Iraqi people to be tried along with Saddam.

On the ground in Iraq, the U.S. body count has inched ever closer to 1,000 today after a massive car bomb near Fallujah. Seven U.S. Marines and three members of Iraq‘s national guard were killed in the explosion. It is the single deadliest attack against forces since last May. The U.S.  military retaliated by launching several air strikes on insurgents safe houses in the area. The attack brings the number of U.S. service members killed since the beginning of the fighting in Iraq to 985.

Moving from the extremely serious news of this day to the extremely silly news, including how to get around a flooded street in Florida. Didn‘t know that good sense and good taste could be affected by a hurricane, did you?

Then later, the new hot vacation spot for those who like camping but hate the outdoors. Yes, Wal-Mart national parking lot.

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OLBERMANN: Taking a break from our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s top stories to bring you the news you can‘t use, the weird items and cool video that we put together every night at this time. Let‘s play “oddball.”

And one bit of good news from Florida, the jet skiing has never been better, especially down Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, which has been closed to vehicular traffic but that‘s not going to stop this guy. He‘s going to the land speed water record for a wave runner on a main thoroughfare.  Officials in Florida have of course asked residents to stay off the roads, but we‘ve checked the transcripts. Governor Bush said nothing about tooling around down on a Sea-Doo, emphasize the word “tool.”

You know what really stinks? When you leave your windows rolled down and a bee flies in your car, or when you leave the top down in your car and 40,000 bees fly in your car. Flagstaff, Arizona, right near the Grand Canyon and the owner of a Jeep Wrangle had to call exterminators to remove the bees from his vehicle. They had formed that perfectly-shaped dome on the ceiling. No one knows exactly why they did that nor what attracted them to the thing in the first place. The owner does swear that that was the last time he‘ll clean his interior with Dr pepper.

Finally, the caller (ph), Alaska. This year‘s state fair set three world records. Last week they revealed the world‘s largest cantaloupe. The same farmer then came back in with a 39-pound turnip but behold the greatest vegetable of them all, Thunder Horse, a three-foot tall, four foot wide, 707-pound pumpkin. It was grown and named by Dana McChelsen (ph) of Nikiski (ph), Alaska. He says the prodigious squash grew at an alarming rate, sometimes gaining 10 pounds in a single day. At one point it commandeered a Jeep Wrangler and drove it to Flagstaff, Arizona, before it became too big to fit behind the wheel.

(INAUDIBLE) history books now, up next, our number three story, shake ups, a 90-minute call to President Clinton in his hospital bed and 37 uses of the word wrong in one speech today. Just what is going on inside the Kerry campaign?

Then later, the sunshine state bracing for perhaps another hit.  There‘s a third terrible storm, appropriately named Ivan, heads toward the sunshine state. These stories ahead (INAUDIBLE) King Mswati of Swaziland just married his 13th wife, a 16-year-old finalist in the Miss Teenage Swaziland contest. Well, Mel Brooks might observe, it‘s good to be the king, you guys might want to consider discontinuing the contest, or at least not inviting the king anymore.

Number two, Clay Wilhelm, a funeral director from Portland, Oregon, is now offering rental caskets for cremations. Mourners get to see a beautiful ceremonial oak job but the dearly departed actually shuffles off this mortal coil in plywood. What would you expect from a man who was the funeral director at the Killingsworth Chapel?

Number one, David Toumey, coroner of Monroe (ph) County, Indiana, yes we have a them going here. Mr. Toumey was demonstrating gun safety to a bunch of boaters and promptly shot himself in the leg, which would seem to be the inevitable consequence of letting the coroner demonstrate gun safety.

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OLBERMANN:  Where did the bounce go?

While “Newsweek”‘s latest poll hit a newsstand near you this morning, replicating the 11-point margin produced Friday by time, first, the Bush campaign said not to put too much stock in it.  And then another pair of new polls suggested they were right to be dubious.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, ask not for whom they conduct polls.  They conduct polls for thee.  And they are all over the map on the spot on the calendar, Labor Day, that once was considered the official unofficial starting gun for the presidential campaign. 

“Newsweek”‘s respondents gave the president a post-convention 11-point cushion over Senator Kerry.  The polls closed Friday.  But in different polls, different pictures.  “USA Today”/Gallup, taken over the weekend, the president, 52-45, seven points.  In its last poll, Mr. Bush was up by three and had 50 percent, a negligible bounce at best.  Rasmussen reports a survey that has consistently had the president ahead, still does, in its daily tracking poll this afternoon, called it Bush 48-47, with a margin of error of just two.  Its data just for Saturday, by the way, had Kerry way ahead. 

Even closer in “The Economist,” Bush and Kerry tied at 45, margin of error in this one tomorrow points, but that poll closed Thursday, so a lot of it, at least, was before the president‘s speech. 

Nearly 30 years ago, Gerald Ford may have said more than he knew when he told the Cold War-era electorate that the polls were independent and autonomous. 

To help us try to figure out this mess, I‘m joined by MSNBC‘s Craig Crawford. 

Craig, good evening.  Happy Labor Day night. 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  That‘s a good one.  We could always just average them.  That might be one way to go. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Come up with a mean poll. 

CRAWFORD:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  If we weren‘t used to this before, obviously, we are in this race.  The polling can be in extraordinary disagreement, based on interpretation, methodology, timing, who paid for the poll. 

But something that goes all the way from a range from a tie to Bush ahead by 11 points, something bothers me about that. 

(LAUGHTER)

CRAWFORD:  Well, what‘s happening here, without getting too much into the weeds of the science of polling, so our eyes don‘t glaze over, is when they try to figure out who the likely voters are, that‘s when you‘re open to a bit of subjectivity. 

And for starting with, they asked the people themselves they‘re questioning if they‘re likely to vote.  So we‘re relying on their own expectations for their own behavior, which may be wrong.  So it‘s difficult sometimes to really know who‘s going to vote.  And a lot of pollsters weight the polls to make their own models for who they think is going to show up.  So they‘ll add some of the proportion of the numbers for certain voters, lower it for others and try to come up with their own model. 

It‘s a bit like the priest turning water to wine.  Nobody really knows how it‘s done. 

OLBERMANN:  For the first time, we have Democrats and Republicans certainly agreeing that whatever bounce George Bush got from the convention, it‘s not going to last. 

We can understand the Democratic voters here.  But are the Republicans being realistic or are they trying to play it safe, because if 11 points don‘t hold up, and most people saying they can‘t, with their convention being the last preplanned bounce event of the campaign, would Mr. Bush be going to look like he was stalling or in trouble somehow? 

CRAWFORD:  Yes, I‘d be a little scared if I was the Bush people on all this 11-point lead talk.  It sounds great and they needed some good news.  But beware a Labor Day lead, Keith.

I went back and looked at the last three campaigns that have been this close, and in two out of the three, the candidate trailing on Labor Day ended up winning the election, the most recent example being George Bush himself.  We were talking four years ago about the invincible Al Gore right now coming out of his convention. 

OLBERMANN:  And the Democrats are saying what, here, that we had a month of swift boats and Rudy Giuliani and Zell Miller speeches and it ain‘t over until it‘s over? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, Democrats have a problem.  They wring their hands in public too much, and they think reporters are their friends and they talk to them on background.  And so now we‘re getting all these stories about nervous Democrats.  And I don‘t think that‘s helping any.  They‘re talking about their candidate not being strong enough.  And there‘s just too much airing of dirty laundry in public by the Democrats.  I don‘t think that helps Kerry‘s cause at all. 

OLBERMANN:  One last thing that‘s more procedural.  Did you see the president in Missouri tonight by any chance?  Were you watching that? 

CRAWFORD:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Did you hear the big goof? 

(LAUGHTER)

CRAWFORD:  The thing about it is, we expect it.  And so it‘s less surprising. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, I don‘t know about that.  We‘re going to play it at the end of the segment.  I just wanted to see if you heard it, because everybody else should, if they haven‘t.

Craig Crawford of MSNBC, contributor to “Congressional Quarterly” as well, as always, sir, great thanks. 

CRAWFORD:  Good to talk to you. 

The Kerry folks may be doing more than just whistling past the statistical graveyard.  They may be changing tunes and whistlers.  And they may do either inspired by or confirmed by the thoughts of the nation‘s current patient in chief. 

“The New York Times” reported that John Kerry himself called Bill Clinton at his hospital bed night before last and spent an hour and a half telling him his troubles.  The paper reports that Clinton offered one concrete piece of strategical advice:  Stop talking about Vietnam, and instead contrast your job creation and health care ideas to the perceive failures of the current administration. 

Mr. Kerry may have also done some recruiting.  “The Times” says he‘s seeking help from former Clinton strategists like Stanley Greenberg, James Carville and Paul Begala.  Wait a minute.  Aren‘t Carville and Begala on TV?  You can‘t actively participate in a campaign while you‘re analyzing.  Oh, sorry, forgot.  I live in the past. 

It‘s more than just who might be coming in.  It‘s also about who might be going out.  “Newsweek” reports that Senator Kerry ripped into campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill for not having effectively answered the infamous swift boat ads quickly enough.  More on the “Newsweek” report from one of the “Newsweek” reporters in a moment.

First, if there is a woman campaign manager in trouble and if we are getting Carville back into the game, then it follows as the night the day that we‘re also getting Mary Matalin back into the ball game. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY MATALIN, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  I remember when they did this to Susan Estrich in the Dukakis campaign.  They did this to Donna Brazile in the Gore campaign.  Now they‘re doing it to poor Mary Beth Cahill.  You would think they could find a man to throw overboard one of these days. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If once we had a kindler, gentler George Bush I, we may just be getting the opposite in John Kerry‘s September/October version, the politics of Itchy and Scratchy, jumping back into the fore this afternoon at a Labor Day picnic. 

As we join Senator Kerry already in progress, he‘s already said once that the W. in George W. Bush stands for wrong. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It all comes down to one letter, W., George W. Bush.  And the W. stands for wrong, wrong choices. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

KERRY:  The W. stands for wrong choices, wrong judgment, wrong priorities, wrong direction for our country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So that‘s seven wrongs, plus the 30 that followed in the course of the 23-minute speech, for a total of 37, roughly one wrong every 37 seconds. 

“Newsweek”‘s general editor, Susannah Meadows, is co-author of this week‘s report on the state of the Kerry campaign.  She‘s with us now from New York. 

Ms. Meadows, good evening. 

SUSANNAH MEADOWS, GENERAL EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘ve heard since before the primaries that John Kerry is a closer, the strong campaigner in the last 60 days.  And anybody who was watching this network as midnight approached last Thursday, who saw what amounted to an overnight Kerry-Edwards pep rally in Ohio not an hour after Mr. Bush finished his acceptance speech knows that somebody put some Tabasco sauce into everybody‘s coffee over there.  And who was it? 

MEADOWS:  Kerry himself has been angry about this thing for weeks.  And he was talked out of responding right away by his campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill. 

And when he finally realized that this calculation that not responding was the right thing to do, when he finally realized that was the wrong thing to do, he lashed out himself and that‘s what we‘re seeing now. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there a suggestion in any of this that like a panicky baseball owner he‘s going to fire the manager?  But if not, what are the Begalas and the Carvilles and the Joe Lockharts going to be doing in this campaign? 

MEADOWS:  Well, the worst thing he could do right now is to fire his campaign manager.  It would make him look as if he were in a panic.  I don‘t think that‘s going to happen.  But certainly he‘s reaching out to these new people.  And I think what they‘re going to try to do is get the conversation off of Vietnam, start talking about George Bush and how he has handle the economy over the last four years. 

And this is an argument they think they can win, especially in key Midwestern states, like Ohio, that have as been hard hit by the economy over the last four years. 

OLBERMANN:  So this implies that Mr. Kerry is listening more to what Mr. Clinton‘s advice was over the weekend than to what his own intuition had been in last two weeks?  He wanted to go after Vietnam, and instead, Clinton says stay away from it, go after your own domestic policy?  He‘s going to listen to that? 

MEADOWS:  I think so.  I think you heard him today.  As you mentioned, the W. is for wrong.  And get used to it.  They‘re going to stay on this message.  And it‘s going to be on every Democrat‘s lips.  They‘re trying to break through.  Their message has not come through.  The reason the Republicans have been so successful is that they have brought everything back to this notion of Kerry as a flip-flopper, and their message is just so clear because of that. 

And this is something that the Democrats thus far have not been able to do. 

OLBERMANN:  And clearly they‘ve been reaching for it.  Do you think they found it in this W. is for wrong or stands for wrong thing? 

MEADOWS:  I‘m not so sure.  I‘m interested to see how it will play once I get back out on the trail and talk to the actual people who have turned out to hear him speak. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  It may well be that we have nomination No. 37 for the catch phrase of the campaign. 

General editor Susannah Meadows of “Newsweek” magazine, co-author of the look inside the Kerry campaign in the current issue, great thanks for your time. 

MEADOWS:  Thanks for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  One political programming advisory.  Haven‘t seen Elizabeth Edwards, Mrs. John Edwards, in a long-form national interview?  You will tomorrow.  She‘ll be joining us here on tomorrow at 8:00 and midnight Eastern, 5:00 and 9:00 Pacific.  We hope you will join us as well.

And one last political item in our No. 3 story.  We mentioned last week that President Bush struck an odd tone in his acceptance speech by referencing the plight of doctors, specifically, OB-GYNs, who had to give up their practices due to legal and insurance costs.  Not that it wasn‘t a valid point necessarily, just that it rang so oddly in a president‘s acceptance of his renomination, making the world safe for gynecology. 

Well, tonight at a campaign stop in Poplar Bluffs, Missouri, Mr. Bush brought up the same topic and it rang odder still. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Too many good docs are getting out of business. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

BUSH:  Too many OB-GYNs aren‘t able to practice their love with women all across this country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  All righty then.  As Adlai Stevenson once told a similar audience, these rights are being circumcised—circumscribed. 

Our No. 2 is next, the second landfall for what was Hurricane Frances, while the Panhandle gets hit and the rest of Florida tries to wring out. 

It turns out this may not be a double-header, but a triple.  Hurricane Ivan might make Charley and Frances look like a quick dance in the spring rain. 

That‘s ahead.  First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sounds bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you like broccoli? 

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  It‘s OK.  I‘m not nearly as turned off—turned off by it as my dad is. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  But, you know, if you really want to get into it, I kind of like the top of the broccoli.  I don‘t like...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  they‘re just terrific.  That‘s a great interview. 

Thanks so much, NBC‘s Ron Blome reporting live for us. 

(CROSSTALK)

RON BLOME, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  He said you were terrific, the people in the studio. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, isn‘t that nice.  When can we expect to see this? 

BLOME:  Well, it was live.  In fact, we‘re still talking a little bit anyway. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You mean, we‘re still on? 

BLOME:  Did you have any pets? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ow, that hurts.  Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. 

That‘s it.  I‘m out.  I‘m done. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Six million without power and flooding to a height of four

feet in many places.  Frances was pretty much as advertised.  Up next, the

problem for Florida.  There may be a third hari—hurricane—in English

·         hurricane headed its way. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There are 21 names for tropical storms set aside each hurricane season, and before next week, Floridians may feel like they have had each one of them tattooed into their collective foreheads. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, the Sunshine State still reeling from the one-two punch of Charley and Frances, now facing what might be a third fist called Ivan.

As of yesterday morning, the ninth event of the hurricane season was merely a tropical storm.  Then its sustained winds hit the 125-mile-an-hour mark and it was upgraded to a Category 3 hurricane, although that term upgraded seems less and less appropriate with each one of these.  Ivan is expected to hit the island of Barbados late tomorrow.  The islands of Saint Lucia and Martinique expected to be in the path, too.  This is a much smaller storm than Frances and, as yet, it is impossible to predict if Florida will catch this one, too. 

Hurricane Frances, of course, turned out to have had less power behind its punches, but more of them.  One of the slowest-moving hurricanes in history is not yet history in Florida. 

But as our correspondent Robert Hager reports from the town of Satellite Beach, the major damage is history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)  

ROBERT HAGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It‘s a day for assessing damage here and for returning home to spend endless hours in line for human needs like water and ice. 

Let‘s look. 

(voice-over):  It‘s evacuation in reverse today, as hundreds of thousands streamed back to the Florida coast they had fled four days ago, streamed back to a world of hardship without electricity and in some cases without running water. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s too dangerous right now for civilian traffic to be over there. 

HAGER:  And peril, like the flood that trapped this pickup, its elderly driver saved by rescuers.  Gasoline was hard to find, lines for material to repair roofs and lines at the Orlando Airport, which finally reopened this afternoon with limited service. 

(on camera):  By air, you get a good overview of the damages, what some experts now estimate could amount to from $2 billion to $5 billion in insured losses alone.  The worst of it near where the eye came ashore at Stuart, Florida, a bridge completely collapsed.  A half a highway washed away and a car turned over. 

(voice-over):  At the airport, a parked plane blown upside down and a hangar collapsed.  A motel with a roof gone, the rooms of a condominium exposed.  A living room couch dangles precariously with a blown out-wall of a fifth-story apartment in a high-rise, a trailer blown apart, boats tossed around like toys. 

(on camera):  So now the huge cleanup begins.  But for some, getting back into heavily damaged areas for the first time today, there was heartbreak.  The roof of Sandy Samperi‘s (ph) home is gone, and her parents‘ home wrecked as well. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Just like that, everything can be torn away from you. 

HAGER (voice-over):  A storm that still won‘t quit, spreading despair. 

(on camera):  And in Cape Canaveral, there‘s been damage to the big building where all the space shuttles are stored and maintained, the worse damage the Space Center has ever taken Keith. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Robert Hager from Satellite Beach, Florida, about 70 miles east of Orlando. 

The K name in the 2004 hurricane season, incidentally, is not Ken, but Karl.  But as we segue into our celebrity and gossip news “Keeping Tabs,” don‘t tell that to the viewers of “Jeopardy.”  The fall season of the series picked up tonight where it left off, with Ken Jennings as defending champion.

The uber-nerd won 38 shows and a total of 1,321,660 fish before the 2003-2004 season ended in July.  Tonight, suffice to say, if you miss Jennings tonight, you can watch him again tomorrow.  By the way, here‘s a secret.  They tape five of these shows at a time.  So Ken already knows how he does through Friday. 

How would you like to make this mistake?  You‘re driving drunk in New Jersey, you run a red light and you crash into an SUV driven by Tony Soprano?  That‘s the real-life scenario that played out for one unnamed Jersey motorist on Saturday.  Actor James Gandolfini was not injured, especially since he was coming home from having watched his alma mater, Rutgers, win a football game from Michigan State 19-14.  But the other driver will be having nightmares about this until the year 2015. 

One story left in tonight‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thinking you didn‘t do enough over the holiday weekend?  Well, there‘s still time to camp out overnight at a Wal-Mart parking lot.  That‘s next. 

First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top two photos of this day. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you worked on this Labor Day, A, welcome to the club.  B, did you see the jobs report on Friday?  Unfortunately, there is a silver lining to working on a holiday.  And, C, wait until you see in the world in which you formally knew of something called the long last weekend of summer. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, Wal-Mart nation on vacation.  Those R.V.s you might have seen in the Wal-Mart parking lot, they are not campers stopping off for supplies en route to their campgrounds.  The horrible truth is, they‘re already at their campgrounds. 

Our correspondent is Eric Wilkinson of our station in Seattle, KING. 

I don‘t believe any of this either. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIC WILKINSON, KING REPORTER (voice-over):  Gordon and Laura Bornkamp are proud citizens of Wal-Mart nation. 

GORDON BORNKAMP, WAL-MART CAMPER:  We have got to have our Wal-Mart fix.  It comes about two or three times a week. 

LAURA BORNKAMP, WAL-MART CAMPER:  We love Wal-Mart.  And all our friends do, too. 

G. BORNKAMP:  Wal-Mart label, the Rustler jeans, I get all my jeans from Wal-Mart. 

WILKINSON:  So when retirement came, the Texas couple hit the road in their R.V. and headed for what they call Wally World. 

G. BORNKAMP:  Rand McNally atlas has the Wal-Mart store directory. 

WILKINSON:  They Bornkamps among a growing underground of campers who call Wal-Mart parking lots home as they tour the country. 

G. BORNKAMP:  We‘re close to attraction.  If you‘re out in the woods, you have got to drive 10, 15 miles.  And here you‘re right in town.  You can—of course, we do our Wal-Mart shopping. 

L. BORNKAMP:  I just put in Wal-Mart Federal Way and Wal-Mart comes up. 

WILKINSON:  The couple‘s GPS system preprogrammed to find any Wal-Mart in America.  The most popular in Washington, this store in Federal Way, complete with a sweeping view of tops foods and the soothing sounds of chirping car alarms. 

(on camera):  Wal-Mart not only allows people to camp in their parking lots.  The company actually encourages it by permitting people to stay here for free for up to three nights.  But, as you might imagine, the world‘s most profitable retailer still manages to make a buck. 

L. BORNKAMP:  In fact, I told this lady last night, hey, when you can‘t sleep, what did you do?  You have to go read a book.  You have to stay in your living room.  I said, when I can‘t sleep, I can go shopping at Wal-Mart. 

WILKINSON (voice-over):  But priceless are the memories made in their asphalt campground. 

L. BORNKAMP:  It was Fourth of July.  And the fireworks was right behind Wal-Mart. 

WILKINSON (on camera):  Fourth of July brought to you by Wal-Mart. 

L. BORNKAMP:  It was.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Eric Wilkinson of KING Television in Seattle reporting. 

And, remember, Wal-Mart only asks of the campers, do not feed the minimum wage employees. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

And, as we go, one last loving listen to President Bush in Poplar Bluffs in Missouri tonight.  Who knew this was part of the lifestyle debate? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

BUSH:  Too many OB-GYNs aren‘t able to practice their love with women all across this country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

END   

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