updated 10/12/2004 11:04:08 AM ET 2004-10-12T15:04:08

Guests:  Tucker Eskew, Joe Lockhart, P.J. Crowley, John Harwood, Jim Morris

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Round two from St. Louis, Bush/Kerry two, the town hall.  Fourteen undecided voters and about 120 soft supporters of either candidate, plus a couple of stools.  Topics—Iraq, WMD, and the new jobs new numbers not turning out in the president‘s advantage.  In this last debate what was this?  We‘ll ask somebody who should know and we‘ll ask master impressionist Jim Morris to again save you the trouble of actually watching the debate. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m perfectly well aware of what I‘m saying.  It‘s what I mean I got no idea. 

OLBERMANN:  Whoever wins the battles, the bloggers have already won this war. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The last debate I had about 800,000 visitors. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll meet them and the newest characters from the fine Internet folks at JibJab.

(MUSIC) 

OLBERMANN:  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good day.  This is Friday, October 8, 25 days until the 2004 presidential election and now inside three hours to the second 2004 presidential debate.  The 12 hours preceding that debate filled with continuing debate over the Iraqi WMD report, spin on the last set of new job numbers to be released before the election, a poll showing the two candidates separated by less than one full percentage point and an Internet frame capture showing the president in the first debate wearing what might be an audio receiver box or might be a bullet-proof vest. 

Our fifth story tonight, the COUNTDOWN to the debate.  Bush-Kerry two, the hooey from St. Louie.  First that monthly jobs report falling short of expectations.  Certainly falling short of Bush administration hopes.  The U.S. economy adding 96,000 jobs in September.  That‘s not net though.  Those results are below the 150,000 that some economists say is needed each month to keep the unemployment rate steady.  That number staying put now at 5.4 percent.

And some significant numbers within the report.  Manufacturing, a category critical in many of the battleground swing states, lost 18,000 jobs last month making for a total of 2.71 million factory jobs lost in the country since the president took office.  That‘s on the home front.

The conflict in Iraq also playing a large role in tonight‘s debate, specifically the conclusions reached by Charles Duelfer, the administration‘s chief inspector in Iraq that the country did not have weapons of mass destruction and has not had them since about 1991.  Upcoming, how Tucker Eskew of the Bush campaign and Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart are interpreting all of that tonight, but first, one more set of numbers setting the stage for tonight‘s proceedings, the candidates separated by less than at point in the “Reuters”/Zogby daily tracking poll. 

The president leading Senator Kerry by literally seven-tenths of one percent, narrowing significantly from yesterday‘s two-point edge for Mr.  Bush.  But of course “The Washington Post” tracking poll just widened, 50-47 Bush today, 49-47 Bush yesterday.  And in a new poll from “TIME” magazine, Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry once again deadlocked among likely voters this time in the three-way race with Ralph Nader down to three percent.

The polls were pretty decisive about the first debate.  Senator Kerry seen as the winner about three times as often as was the president.  If that changes tonight, how will it change?  Tucker Eskew, senior adviser to the Bush campaign, joins us now from the site in St. Louis.  Mr. Eskew good evening. 

TUCKER ESKEW, BUSH CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Nice to see you Mr.

Olbermann.

OLBERMANN:  In the first debate the president seemed to be nailed by critics and by watchers on two visceral things, repeated use of the phrase hard work and his facial reactions.  Has he addressed those seemingly less important matters in the last week and, if so, how has he addressed them? 

ESKEW:  I believe that the president has reviewed the debate tape, took a look at it.  He spent a lot more time, though, thinking about his record and his vision.  He gets to do that Keith.  He gets to look back and defend a record, promote it, he‘s proud to do it.  Our opponent doesn‘t do much of that.

We‘ll also talk about a vision for the future.  And the president, Keith, regardless of the way some of the news stories play, will say with pride that we added 96,000 jobs in September and that two million jobs have been added and that we‘re coming out of a really tough time.  And we‘ve been through catastrophic shocks and only with strong, steady leadership, can you get things done for the country.  We‘re looking forward to that.

OLBERMANN:  On that substantial issue, the president is going to hear those numbers presented to him in a different way, if not by one of the questioners, then certainly by Senator Kerry, and the name Herbert Hoover is going to be invoked and the net loss over the course of an administration is going to be invoked.  How does the president—do you expect—how do you expect him to respond to that bigger picture in comparison to Hoover? 

ESKEW:  I think that he‘ll avoid some of the political cheap shots.  He will remind people of the full context.  This is a president who was handed a recession when he came in, who had to deal with the shocks of September 11, they were huge.  A million jobs loss in the immediate aftermath, the corporate scandals that occurred in the ‘90‘s and were uncovered under this administration and dealt with by this administration, the effects of war.  So that context is really important.

But it‘s not just that.  It‘s talking about what you‘ve done in response to it.  The president‘s tax relief has created jobs.  It has freed up entrepreneurial capital, which is beginning, beginning to spread prosperity across the country.  The unemployment rate is really at a rate that is very comparable and in some ways better than that under President Clinton at a comparable period in his administration, back when the Democrats running against us really thought it was really good and now, of course, they see nothing but bad news around every corner on every issue.

I think the president will do some of that, too.  Talk about how there is good news and that you don‘t have to be in denial to recognize good things even during tough times. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, I think this is actually a softball question.  But this is all over the Internet today and somebody has got to respond to it.  I think I know that the explanation is something else than has been suggested, but there is a freeze frame of the videotape from the first debate, the image from behind the backs of Mr. Bush and Senator Kerry where there appears to be a box-like structure between the president‘s shoulder blades. 

I noticed it last week live and I thought that‘s probably the connective part of a bulletproof vest or something like that, but the online blogging all day has been about how that bulge was actually a radio receiver of some kind so the president could get instruction from somebody about something.  The president was not wearing a radio pack last week, was he?

ESKEW:  Not wearing a radio pack.  What do you have on that side of George W. Bush, a strong backbone.  That‘s about all.  The rest of that is baloney. 

OLBERMANN:  That one particular spot is not  -- is backbone as opposed to a piece of equipment of some kind to protect him tonight? 

ESKEW:  You bet you.

OLBERMANN:  OK.  There‘s always the chance he was listening to a ballgame or the police band radio...

ESKEW:  He might have been...

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW:  Well, it‘s series time now, go Braves. 

OLBERMANN:  Tucker Eskew, senior adviser to the Bush campaign, many thanks for your time tonight.

ESKEW:  Thank you Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In a moment Joe Lockhart from the Kerry campaign.  First, the senator himself seeing no reason to wait for tonight‘s debate before pounding the president on those job creation numbers just as we suggested.  After a final walk through the debate hall this afternoon, Senator Kerry stepping up to the plate and turning on the softball that the economy threw him. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The president is now officially the first president in 72 years to lose jobs on his watch.  Tonight I look forward to talking to America about how we can have a better plan to put Americans back to work and to create better jobs for our country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Bringing us back to Washington University in St. Louis and the pre-debate expectations, I‘m joined again by President Clinton‘s former press secretary Joe Lockhart, now of the Kerry/Edwards campaign.  Joe thanks for being with us again.

JOE LOCKHART, KERRY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Glad to be here Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Since the first debate, those job numbers have come out, Jerry Bremer said what he said about Iraq, the final WMD report came out about Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld has said he had no definitive evidence of a link between al Qaeda or Iraq, Dick Cheney couldn‘t or wouldn‘t remember the three times he‘d met John Edwards.  With awful these rocks to throw at the president tonight, is not the expectation game totally different in this second debate than it was in the fist one.  Is John Kerry not expected to do well? 

LOCKHART:  Well listen, I think the buzz before the first debate was the Bush people pushing that they were going to knock John Kerry out of the race.  We‘re all here.  We showed up for the second debate.  We expect to do well.  I have to tell you, I was slightly amused listening to Tucker a minute before because I love when the excuse President George Bush looks back at the Clinton administration.  I can tell you the unemployment rate was about the same point, 5.4 percent, but at this point the Clinton administration had created 11 million new jobs.  That‘s 11 million versus minus one million.  I like those numbers. 

OLBERMANN:  Tim Russert said something about the—about this debate tonight.  That you could view this as 140 or so undecided or soft support voters in that hall this evening deciding the at least immediate future of the free world.  Is that how Senator Kerry and those of you who are working with him view this debate? 

LOCKHART:  I mean I think so and I know that that sounds important or self-important, but really what‘s extraordinary about this race are what is at stake and how much the public is engaged.  There‘s two very clear choices about where to take the country.  We can have more of the same and go down this path of failure with President Bush or have a new direction.  And I think what is remarkable about this campaign is just how many people are interested.  If you look at voter registration, early voting or absentee voting, viewership of the first debate, it is all remarkable.  And frankly, win or lose here, it‘s all good for the democracy. 

OLBERMANN:  We know, speaking of watching it, that the president watched the tape of the first debate pretty carefully.  Mr. Eskew just mentioned that.  Did Senator Kerry look at tape too?  Do you know? 

LOCKHART:  Yes he did.  He looked at it, you know, and I think there were answers that he thought he could have done better.  There were some answers that he was, you know, quite satisfied with.  But I think he‘s worked hard to get ready for the second debate.  And I think that‘s part of the reason that he was effective in the first debate.  He worked hard at figuring out how best to articulate his plan for the future, how to hold the president accountable for his record, and we‘ll see how things go tonight.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed we will.  Many cameras will be available.  Joe Lockhart of the Kerry campaign, thanks for your time again sir.

LOCKHART:  Thanks Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  A reminder about our coverage here tonight.  For reasons that still to some degree elude me, I will be blogging the debate in real time at Msnbc.com.  Just go to our COUNTDOWN web site and like a writer at a heavyweight championship boxing match.  So if I survive writing two to 3,000 words while the debate is in progress, COUNTDOWN will appear again at its usual times 8:00 p.m. and midnight Eastern and 5:00 and 9:00 p.m.  Pacific starting Monday.  If not, I don‘t know what they‘re going to put on.  THE ABRAMS REPORT returns to this time slot on Monday as well.  Be there.  Aloha.

There were no WMDs.  There is, however, a C.D. with details on it showing school security in New Jersey, found supposedly on a dead Saddam Hussein supporter in Baghdad.  The politics of threats past and present from Iraq. 

And there is time to—tonight to channel the contenders of the debate in advance with master impressionist and satirist Jim Morris.  This is COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Separating the politics from the realities of the war on terror—next here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Last week may have been the foreign policy debate, but tonight may be the foreign policy debate.  So many developments emerging in the week since that it almost looks like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) foreign policy has become foreign territory. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the debate‘s reshuffling the terror defense deck.  The high card, that final report on Iraqi WMD.  Charles Duelfer, the president‘s chief weapons inspector in Iraq finding no evidence that Saddam Hussein or Iraq introduced a single weapon of mass destruction after 1991, undercutting the central premise of the Bush case for war.

And the wild card, a new terror warning that has American schools as potential targets.  Computer disks found in Iraq in July containing photos, floor plans and other information about eight school districts here in the U.S.  School officials in those districts notified last month, the man who had the disks has no connection to terrorists in Iraq, according to a senior law enforcement official speaking with The Associated Press.  Yet, a prosecutor in Monmouth County New Jersey claims the disk was found on the body of a member of a Baath Party killed in Baghdad and that the dead man‘s father had links to al Qaeda.

Confusing, contradictory—helping us to sort it out, P.J. Crowley, senior fellow, a national security expert with the Center for American Progress and formerly a special assistant to President Clinton on national security affairs.  P.J., good evening.

P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SECURITY ADVISER:  Hello Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s talk about the school disk first.  After this nightmare in Beslan in Russia, could we be looking at evidence of something genuinely ominous here? 

CROWLEY:  I mean there is every reason to be concerned about school security, but I still think we would be concerned about a Columbine not a Beslan.  The terrorists that primarily threat the United States being Al Qaeda, they have their sights set much higher, you know, to our political, military, economic targets.  They want to kill as many people as possible, do as much economic damage as possible.  So I don‘t think that we face a particular threat against our schools.

OLBERMANN:  Once again it takes a cynic to ask this question.  Shoot me.  I‘m a cynic.  New Jersey was considered a lock for John Kerry in the election, then it went into play, now Kerry has regained a stable lead, and all of a sudden out comes information about schools as terror targets in New Jersey.  Information, which is, by the way, three months old and it is just being made public now.  Is that timing entirely coincidental in your opinion? 

CROWLEY:  Well not necessarily.  Clearly the administration has used the fear factor at times regarding terrorist information.  Although the Department of Homeland Security has been clear that there is no specific threat information.  I just think you have the FBI and the Department of Education doing due diligence here.  I think they mostly want to make sure that should something terrible happen between now and November 2, you know, we‘ve been warned. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Let‘s move to the Duelfer report tonight, about which we will hear a lot, possibly too much.  You‘re one of the pros on this.  Never mind what the president or the senator is going to say about it tonight.  What is the bottom line in that report for us? 

CROWLEY:  Well Charlie Duelfer affirms something that we‘ve already known.  That Saddam Hussein had aspirations, but no weapons.  I find the most intriguing part of the report is the trajectory of Saddam‘s capability.  That, in fact, he had less of a capability in 2003 to reconstitute his weapons programs than he did in 1998 when inspectors left Iraq.  So, rather than being this grave and gathering threat, he was actually a threat in decline and that the combination of sanctions, military action when necessary and U.N. inspections had actually worked. 

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t know how we‘re going to hear that from the president tonight.  I don‘t think we will.

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  P.J. Crowley, the former White House national security adviser.  We always appreciate your time and your insight sir.

CROWLEY:  OK Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The reality of terrorism in action making for another terrible day of violence internationally.  The family of British hostage Kenneth Bigley says it has seen—quote—“absolute proof that he has been executed.”  An Abu Dhabi television network says it has been given a videotape of his beheading.  Bigley was taken at gunpoint in Iraq last month along with two Americans who were themselves butchered only days later.  At least 23 more foreigners are still thought to be held hostage in Iraq tonight. 

Three different groups now claiming responsibility for yesterday‘s bombings at resort hotels in Egypt.  Those killed at least 28.  All of the groups unheard until now.  One of them reportedly linked to al Qaeda.  Security experts telling NBC News that al Qaeda is the most likely culprit. 

The attacks bearing the common trademarks of al Qaeda operation.

The Indonesian embassy in Paris hit by a bomb attack this morning, in which nine were injured.  French authorities say they are at a loss to explain why that embassy was targeted.  Security throughout the French capital being reinforced tonight as a result.

And in Afghanistan, only hours to go until the beginning of the country‘s first presidential election.  Taliban insurgents trying to disrupt the electoral process by firing rockets in scattered parts of the country yesterday.  Authorities intercepting a huge truck bomb before it could have exploded. 

Back here no follow-up questions, no reaction and whatever you do, do not cross the line.  All rules just right—back to the debate.  And not going home anytime soon, the newly incarcerated queen of sheen.  It is Martha Stewart behind bars. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back and pause this COUNTDOWN to the debate for a quick detour into the strange stories you will only find here and there‘s a reason for that.  Let‘s play “Oddball”.

And it is official; Martha Stewart has entered Camp Cupcake.  Yes, easy for me to say.  Under cover of darkness this morning the inmate, formerly known as the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) entering the Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia.  She was subject to a full strip search, then traded in her autumn comfort wear for prison issued khakis and steel capped boots.  She will spend The next five months working as a janitor and kitchen helper for between 12 and 40 cents per hour, and if we‘ve learned anything from the movies, she we will then band together a spirited group of her fellow inmates to beat the guards in a violent muddy football game in the prison yard.

Another doping scandal has hit the Summer Olympics; this time it‘s horses on the juice.  The International Equestrian Federation announcing today that four horses that competed in the 2004 games in Athens had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.  This includes the Gold Medals—

Gold Medal winners, rather, from the German and Irish teams.  Olympic officials apparently became suspicious when that German horse not only won the Gold Medal in show jumping, but also went on to take the Silver in weightlifting.

To Washington State where the shortage of first responders is really hitting home.  In fact, in the small community of Soap Lake they have taken to putting department store mannequins out on patrol monitoring the speed traps.  Police say they just park a cruiser on the side of the road with a dummy inside and drivers never know the difference.  The dummy can‘t write tickets, but police say drivers are decreasing speeds just at the sight of them.  It‘s the gamble every speeder is faced with, slowdown or see if Officer Mannequin can really conduct a high-speed chase when he‘s made out of plastic.

Reporter Eric Wilkinson of KING-TV wanted to make absolutely true these were not real cops.  You decide for yourself which one is the dummy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve got doughnuts.  Hello.

(SCREAMS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who you calling dummy, dummy? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good ole Redd Foxx as Fred Sanford.  The town hall presidential debate, the triumph of the undecideds.  Turns out only about 10 percent of them in St. Louis tonight are undecided.  John Harwood and Craig Crawford preview Bush/Kerry two and will leave it to satirist Jim Morris to measure up the candidates in their own words, or at least in their own accents.

These stories ahead.  Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Ralph Nader admitting he will not win a single state in the election.  Of course not, he explained, the system is rigged.  Yes, that‘s it Ralph.  Not that 97 percent of voters really do prefer George Bush and/or John Kerry.  It‘s rigged.  A day without a rationalization is like a day without sunshine.

Number two, Clackamas High School in Oregon, which offered the students taking introductory animal science their choice of watching a sheep go from life to being lunch or watching apples getting rendered down into a beverage.  Slaughter or cider? 

And number one, the zoo at Anchorage, Alaska building the world‘s first elephant treadmill so that its only elephant resident, Maggie, can slim down from her current weight, 9,120 pounds.  Oh that‘s nice, says Maggie.  Go and tell everybody.  Give me a break.  I‘m big-boned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  That Zogby tracking poll for “Reuters” not only shows John Kerry ahead by less than a full digit, seven-tenths of one percent, but it also tells us that the numbers of voters still undecided down to six and a half percent.  Fourteen of those rare creatures will be in the hall for the debate tonight at Washington University in St. Louis, the other 126 or so potential questioners turned out to be split among soft Bush and soft Kerry supporters. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the preview of what could be John Kerry in effect clinching the best two out of three series or what could be George Bush‘s comeback.  To set the scene our correspondent at Washington University is Chris Jansing.  Chris, good evening. 

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Hello to you Keith and of course the baseball analogy is apt given that these debates will go up against the playoffs, but there is a lot of excitement as well as nervousness in both campaigns.  They think a lot of people will be watching.  Ninety-one percent of the American people say they are watching this campaign either very or somewhat closely and the stakes just couldn‘t be higher with those poll numbers showing this a statistical dead heat. 

In addition to that, this is arguably the most risky of the debate formats because you have just regular people asking the concerns of everyday life.  They might be nervous.  They might be emotional.  So a different dynamic than we‘ve seen before when you have an experienced moderator. 

Let‘s take a look inside the hall.  We can show you what this sort of intimate setting looks like.  You‘re going to have three stools there.  Charlie Gibson, the moderator, will be on one.  These are swivel stools, but they can be locked down.  And there is a lot of controversy over something called the red line, although it‘s actually a white line on the red carpet that has been drawn down the center.  Some accusations from the campaigns that the other side doesn‘t want the other candidate marching into the personal space, that there might be some dramatics here, in fact, with the Debate Commission and an insider on the Bush campaign tells me because they don‘t want to be responsible for sounding petty, is that really it‘s just all about angles and lighting for the cameras. 

They want to make this look as good as possible.  Now, in addition to the rule that you‘re supposed to stay on your side of that faintly drawn white line, there are some other rules.  Charlie Gibson is the only person who gets to choose from among these questions, about 140 that he went through.  He is supposed to, according to the rules, choose about past domestic, past foreign issues.  About 20 questions should get in, in this 90 minutes. 

Each of the people who comes to one of 30 microphones scattered throughout this auditorium is supposed to only ask the question that was on that piece of paper.  If they don‘t, they‘re supposed to be cut off and they ask no follow-up questions.  Only Charlie Gibson gets to do that and it all gets underway very shortly not far from where I‘m standing here in the athletic complex at Washington University—Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Just so long as they don‘t mark their territory Chris. 

Chris Jansing on the campus of Washington University tonight...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  ... many thanks. 

JANSING:  I‘m going to pretend you didn‘t say that.

OLBERMANN:  I said it, you didn‘t.  Don‘t worry about it.  Thanks Chris.

This is not obviously a repeat of last week‘s debate not in format, not in expectations.  So what is it?  Once again a privilege to welcome two gentlemen who have been with me for the Bush/Kerry one debate and the vice presidential cat fight earlier this week, Craig Crawford, MSNBC political analyst and “Congressional Quarterly” columnist.  Craig, good evening. 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi.  Talk about your territorial imperative...

OLBERMANN:  Yes, something like that  -- and John Harwood, national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal”.  John, good evening to you. 

JOHN HARWOOD, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Hey, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I understand we get to start with some conflict on the subject of expectations tonight.  You guys disagree on the answer to the question is John Kerry vulnerable tonight because he did so well last week.  John, you first.

HARWOOD:  I don‘t think so Keith.  I think John Kerry comes to this debate in some ways with the wind at his back.  Not only did he do well in that first debate, which boosts his confidence a lot, but he‘s also had events in the real world breaking in his direction over the last few days.  The Bremer statement about we needed more troops.  The Duelfer report about arms and this jobs report was a little weak today, so it deprived the Bush campaign of what they had hoped to be a major talking point there.  So I think the pressure tonight is really on George W. Bush.  His supporters were knocked back on their heels by last week‘s debate.  He needs to be very, very strong tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  Craig, do you think Kerry is vulnerable?

CRAWFORD:  Well no disagreement that when George Bush reads the newspapers, he must think of the old country song, you know, if it weren‘t for bad luck, I‘d have no luck at all.  But going into the first debate I think Kerry benefited from the expectations game, the cartoon image that the Bush campaign had so skillfully created for him, almost like a bowl of Jello that couldn‘t finish a sentence, so it surprised everyone.  Now he‘s more of a known quantity, so I think there is a chance that the expectations work against him in this debate. 

OLBERMANN:  Despite, Craig, the president‘s solidity, if you will, in his own campaign town halls, his people didn‘t want this town hall format necessarily.  Is this exact scenario why they didn‘t want it?  That he didn‘t look presidential last time and does not the more casual format tonight work against him looking presidential under the best of circumstances? 

CRAWFORD:  I‘m sure they‘re thinking they wish they had stuck to their

guns on that because the circumstances are bad with this format because now

the president is in a mode, as we have seen in his stump speech lately, of

even more harsh attacks on John Kerry.  If that‘s their plan for him

tonight it‘s a little tough because you‘re going to have 150 average

Americans there.  Most average people really don‘t like the bashing.  And

if he‘s got to do some bashing tonight, he‘s got to be careful about it

because this audience probably won‘t appreciate it

OLBERMANN:  John...

HARWOOD:  Keith, let‘s remember George W. Bush has got very, very good people skills.  He‘s shown that in every campaign.  It is true that he has not been subjective...

(CROSSTALK)

HARWOOD:  ... to hostile questioning and challenge, and that‘s one of the problems he had in that debate last week.  He seemed thrown a little bit off guard and annoyed by the questioning.  But this is a guy who relates very well to people, even though he‘s a president‘s son and somebody who‘s got a lot of money.  John Kerry has more of an aristocratic bearing, doesn‘t quite connect as well. So George Bush is not without some big advantages tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  Craig, Mike McCurry said something fascinating today to

one of the points that John raised, that in ‘92 they had kept Bill Clinton

from hostile questions from reporters, at town halls, at campaign events,

then they‘d get to the town hall debate and the prospect of the unfriendly

audience and their guy, they thought—McCurry says now, he can say it now

·         was not ready, was not tough enough.  Could the president indeed be vulnerable in that way tonight in case one of those questions comes from either one of the soft supporters of Kerry or one of the 14 independents and it‘s not a very friendly one?

CRAWFORD:  An excellent point.  I do think aides who protect their candidate from reality or from the public, from the reporters, from the tough questions, they don‘t get their game face.  They get rattled in those situations.  Also think this president in particular is surrounded by yes people.  I don‘t think he‘s challenged very much in private.  That‘s why all those grimaces that we saw in the first debate, he‘s certainly not used to somebody standing up for 90 minutes and calling him a liar and that explains his look in the cutaway shot.

OLBERMANN:  That might happen again tonight.  For some reason I‘m feeling it just might.  I didn‘t ask either of you guys this question—

I‘m going to do so now—Craig you first—something to look for, the way we should have or could have looked for the president‘s facial expressions or the senator getting focused in by that two-minute answering limit.  Is there anything tonight, Craig that you are looking for? 

CRAWFORD:  One thing in particular, I‘m looking for how they can relate to this audience, to these people.  I‘m sure some of them will be emotional questions.  They will have to show some passion, some empathy.  Ala Bill Clinton was the great empathizer.  John Kerry I think in particular has to show something in that regard because that‘s what he hasn‘t shown, cannot be too stiff and formal.  He has got to be a real person that people want in their living rooms for four years.  I think that‘s the one thing he hasn‘t accomplished yet in this campaign.  He‘s got an opportunity tonight to prove that.

OLBERMANN:  John, are you looking for anything in particular that we should also be looking for? 

HARWOOD:  I‘m looking for two things, Keith.  One of them is to what extent John Kerry decides he did what he had to do on Iraq and benefited by those newspaper headlines this week and pivots to the economy and really tries to make that the focus of his attacks on George W. Bush.

The second thing for Bush is does he broaden out the attack on John Kerry, from he‘s a flip-flopper, which is something they‘ve done effectively for months.  But a lot of Republicans are urging the Bush campaign to broaden that out.  They said that‘s played itself out.  You need something else.  Attack him as being too liberal or being too ineffective, not having workable plans.  I‘m look for George Bush to lay down something new in terms of going after John Kerry.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Ten seconds each to wrap it up.  John, who wins this debate tonight? 

HARWOOD:  Well, I‘m not expecting either one to win the debate.  George W. Bush benefits because there is a sort of a natural rebounding effect and I expect him to be better than he was last week.  And remember this debate sets the table for the last one next week in Tempe.

OLBERMANN:  Craig.

CRAWFORD:  I think Bush could get off the ropes tonight, get back in the game.  He‘s got to show that sincerity, apt (ph) ability and clarity that got him elected in the first place and I think we‘ll have a real hot race again. 

OLBERMANN:  And of course, the final answer to that is I‘ll be the judge of who wins.  Thank you very much.  John Harwood, national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal”, many thanks once again, and Craig Crawford...

HARWOOD:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  ... MSNBC political analyst, also with “Congressional Quarterly”, as always Craig, thanks to you as well. 

CRAWFORD:  You bet. 

OLBERMANN:  This brief annoyance from the self-promotional department. 

We regularly join you at 8:00 p.m. and midnight Eastern, 5:00 and 9:00 p.m.

Pacific for COUNTDOWN and we will do so again Monday weather permitting.

Speaking of joining you, the bloggers have joined TV newspaper, radio and the ole Internet in analyzing and keeping honest the campaigns and the JibJab boys are back trying to repeat the success of “This Land.”  You get to play RADA (ph) record.  The influence of the Internet in a moment.  Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O‘BRIEN, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O‘BRIEN”:  Saddam Hussein was so fearful of the U.S. that he used a phone only two times after 1990.  Yes, once to call his generals and once to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All right.  Here we go.  OK (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Not touching that one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK, low carb or low cal?

DON CLARE, RABBIT HASH, KENTUCKY:  He was a good mayor.  He didn‘t bite anybody.  If you had a little kid, he‘d come out and lick their face.  He was a really good mayor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But Goofy died.

CLARE:  This state, we‘re the only community in the United States that euthanized a public official.  We actually thought it would take off.

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The echo of keyboards tapping as the candidates are yakking.  It‘s a blog-eat-blog world.  We‘ll show it to you next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To the founding fathers, the concepts of a vote for every citizen in a free press for all citizens was novel and noble enough.  They could never have envisioned the day when in theory every citizen could have not just his own vote, but also his own virtual printing press. 

Our number two story in the COUNTDOWN, the bloggers.  Back when Howard Dean still looked like the Democratic nominee, there were predictions that the Internet would play a critical role in this election.  The prediction was right, though the role could not have been guessed at.  Not fundraising or really troop rallying, but gad (ph) flying.

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny joins me now with the story of those who are making a fact list and checking it twice.  Monica, good evening.

MONICA NOVOTNY, COUNTDOWN CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.  It is hard to know exactly how many bloggers are out there, but one San Francisco company that‘s attempting to keep count is currently tracking more than four million blogs.  Eighty thousand are devoted to politics.  We caught up with three to see how they‘re handling the debates and the online spin that inevitably follows.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The vice presidential debate, I had about 800,000 visitors come to the site. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  The bloggers working overtime in real time online.  If you thought that they would take a break to watch the debates, you would be wrong.  Instead, they blog as they watch, offering opinions as fast as you can say...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s hard work.

SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  More of the same.

SCOTT JOHNSON, CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER:  Folks want instant analysis of a high quality.  We‘re getting a couple of hundred thousand hits a day. 

NOVOTNY:  For bloggers, these debates are an opportunity to prove they can find the facts faster.

MARKOS MOULITSAS, LIBERAL BLOGGER:  There‘s no way that anybody could really get as much fact checking done individually as can be done by hitting several hundred thousand individuals out there.  One reader actually was able to dig up footage of John Edwards meeting with Dick Cheney. 

GLENN REYNOLDS, CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER:  Being able to research something and publish something within 10 or 15 minutes or less as opposed to taking hours or days.

NOVOTNY:  The campaign seemed to agree enlisting bloggers as foot soldiers in the online war to gain spin control. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s a very hungry audience looking to kind of join in, in this group endeavor to help shape the post debate spin. 

REYNOLDS:  The blogging (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has been pretty substantial on post debate spin.  In fact, after the vice presidential debate, I think Joe Trippi actually quoted my wife‘s reaction.  It was posted on my blog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In fact, Instapundent who‘s—comes from that side, said he didn‘t see it that way, but his InstaWife George Bush won the debate handedly.

NOVOTNY:  But are the campaigns infiltrating the blogs, offering up talking points for blogger guidance, seeking votes online and off?

REYNOLDS:  I get mass e-mails from both the Democrats and Republicans, the ones they send out telling people vote for us in the online polls. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It can be misused to fabricate artificial phenomenon by getting folks to send out e-mail messages or respond to polls and so on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Quite honestly there have been items that I‘ve used that they‘ve sent me and there‘s a lot of stuff that I‘ve ignored. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s really important to differentiate the folks who are trying to carb out a niche for themselves as serious analysts of the political events and those that are cheerleaders. 

NOVOTNY:  Credibility is on the line in the online spin zone, so these bloggers say that they‘ll only send off readers with spin that makes sense to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They can then go out and they can talk to their co-workers and their families and their friends and they can hopefully swing a couple of votes our way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  The bloggers say that they are exhausted, ready for November 3.  But by then they‘ll have even more company.  There are about 14,000 new blogs started each day. 

OLBERMANN:  Exhausted. 

NOVOTNY:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Like the old media. 

NOVOTNY:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  How do they evaluate each other?  How do they evaluate the competition?

NOVOTNY:  I thought that Markos, who was in the piece, had an interesting take.  He‘s a liberal blogger and he talked about the other liberal bloggers saying that they do a really good job of fostering a notion of community, that there‘s a lot of chatter going on and often it is not focused.  His take on the conservative blogs is that they did a great job of being very focused and staying on point, which is sort of an interesting parallel to the description that we‘ve heard...

OLBERMANN:  And description of the parties...

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  ... parties and the candidates, yes.  Yes, well I guess not surprisingly too.

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny on the blog of political war.  Many thanks.

NOVOTNY:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of which, MSNBC got into the act a few months back under the guidance of Joe Trippi in hard blogger and tonight, another madcap experiment.  What we think will be the first attempt to score a presidential debate just like a boxing match in real time on a blog.  My round by round reports from the scores table tonight, almost live, at countdown@msnbc.com.  Pray for me.  The Internet does not stop at the computer era equivalent of the mimeograph machine, by the way.  There‘s high tech political satire too.  First it was the animated online cartoon “This Land” viewed about 65 million times since July.  Its creators, JibJab.com out with a sequel today based on Woody Guthrie but this time on Stephen Foster and the song “Dixie.”

(MUSIC)

OLBERMANN:  Advice and insults for the D.C. land contenders from political impressionist, satirist and COUNTDOWN favorite Jim Morris next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Every night we have guests on this show whom we ask for their impressions of a story.  Only in one case do we mean that literally.

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN to the debate, I‘m joined once again by the political satirist and impressionist Jim Morris.  Jim, welcome to World Headquarters. 

JIM MORRIS, POLITICAL SATIRIST/IMPRESSIONIST:  Great to be here. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it‘s impressive...

MORRIS:  It‘s everything they say it is...

OLBERMANN:  It‘s in the brochures.  The vice-presidential candidates sort of set the stage for tonight.  Did you have any favorite moments from the Edwards/Cheney debate?

MORRIS:  I‘ll huff and I‘ll puff and I‘ll blow your house down.

(LAUGHTER)

MORRIS:  Well here‘s what I know.  We won‘t build our home on a no bid contract out of sticks and straw.  We, John and I, will build our home out of brick and stone for the safer, stronger America. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Stone.  Yes.  Absolutely.  I don‘t think there‘s any divisiveness on the question of the president‘s face during Bush/Kerry number one.  He cannot be tonight chasing escaped emotions down the street, can he? 

MORRIS:  No.  I don‘t think so.  I mean hand gesture—can I do a few hand gestures?  I can think of a few I‘d like to do behind his back there.  But no, I think he had better watch his face and his, you know, Reagan used to use his face.  Remember Mondale?  Mr. President, how come?  Well—so why is it not OK for George W. Bush to use his face? 

OLBERMANN:  It did look like it had gotten caught in a door or something...

MORRIS:  You know the thing is his spinners came out and said well he‘s just an average guy who likes to wear his emotions on his sleeve. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

MORRIS:  Well most average guys I know, when you talk to them, don‘t go...

OLBERMANN:  Come at you kind of sideways like that. 

MORRIS:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  I got to peek under this (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  We know obviously that both candidates throughout this thing have gotten advice from previous presidents about debating, about the whole process.  Presumably, Kerry from Clinton and Bush from his father.  Obviously, we don‘t know what the advice is.  You‘re here.  Can you give us what you think the advice is? 

MORRIS:  I talk with my daddy, and he said, hey, you know, what you have to remember is this.  You just look right into the camera and you tell the folks, I deserve—this is what you say, W.—I deserve a second term because we had a great first term.  Just look at the wreckage—record. 

(LAUGHTER)

MORRIS:  Bill Clinton, well, you know, son, it‘s a town meeting format.  And if you get a question, I said to John Kerry, if you get a question you can‘t answer, just do a little dance around it.  Say that‘s a very good question.  It‘s an intelligent question.  The kind of question that makes you want to sit back and ask yourself, gees, if we could only solve these problems, wouldn‘t life be so much better for all of us—yada yada yada.  Then you, you know, then you‘d come in for your payoff, you‘d say I think your question was, am I—would I make a good president?  The answer is yes I think so. 

OLBERMANN:  And then a big hug...

MORRIS:  It worked for me.

OLBERMANN:  It worked especially the hug.  One of the interesting turns in the debates, in the history of debates probably came Tuesday when Gwen Ifill told those two candidates, answer my question but you‘re not allowed to use the name of your running mate in your answer.  We‘re going to—is Charlie Gibson going to try to top that tonight as the moderator?  Is more restrictions on Mr. Bush and Senator Kerry tonight?

MORRIS:  Yes, they have to do their closing statement as a Beatles song. 

OLBERMANN:  Excellent.

MORRIS:  Yes, that will be great.  I am he as you are he as you are me and we are—and furthermore, you say yes, I say no, we ask why, you say I don‘t know so you say goodbye.  I say hello.  Something like that. 

OLBERMANN:  It works very well. 

MORRIS:  Let‘s see.  What would I say, Keith? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

MORRIS:  I‘d say something like, when I got older—when I was younger, my life without care many years ago.  Who would have thought I‘d ever end up this way as president of the USA, cutting the budget, building up arms.  We‘re going to win this war.  Will you respect me and reelect me in 2004?  I hope so.  I certainly do. 

OLBERMANN:  The original McCartney lyrics, too, to that. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Sorry.  The thing that is almost as important as the debates themselves.  The spin afterwards, what‘s the highlight—can you predict spin? 

MORRIS:  Well we‘re not going to have any evening newscasts.  Ted

Koppel will come on tonight and the Sunday programs are going to be where

it‘s at.  This Sunday tune in.  John McLaughlin (ph), I can‘t wait to see -

·         issue one.  Issue one, can George Bush be heard by recent revelations of his frequent bed wetting, I ask you Keith Olbermann. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MORRIS:  He‘s a nice guy.  He‘s not that...

OLBERMANN:  Absolutely.  He‘s a nice guy. 

MORRIS:  I hope you‘ll all be tuning in.  I‘m not sure I will believe my ears or my eyes unless it‘s in memo form. 

OLBERMANN:  Jim Morris, political satirist and as always a pleasure to have you out here and thanks for coming here...

MORRIS:  Well I appreciate it.  What you do is hard work. 

OLBERMANN:  It certainly was tonight for some reason.  I don‘t know why that was.

That‘s the COUNTDOWN to the debate.  Thank you for being part of it.  Don‘t forget our online round by round scoring of the debate tonight and MSNBC‘s coverage of the second presidential debate continues next with Chris Matthews in St. Louis.

Good day and good luck.

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

END   

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