updated 10/14/2004 10:19:54 AM ET 2004-10-14T14:19:54

Guest: Mike McCurry, Tucker Eskew, Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, John Harwood, Harry Shearer

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you the talking about tomorrow? 

The polls are dead even: 2-5 undecided say they have decided.  The president does not deserve re-election, and the senator is wearing a piece of lucky clothing. 

The tempest in Tempe: A full debate preview. 

Throwing out voter registrations, not disqualifying voters—throwing out registrations.  Throwing them into garbage cans.  Complaints in Oregon, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado. 

How to succeed in presidential predicting without really trying: 

Stock traders, astrologers and economists can tell you the results 20 days from now, right now. 

And perhaps so can our special guest Harry Shearer.  You‘ve seen this picture on the Internet.  Mr. Shearer reacts—excellent—and helps us preview Bush-Kerry 3. 

All that and more on “COUNTDOWN to the Debate.” 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good day.  This is Wednesday, October 13, 20 days until the 2004 presidential election.  His supporters might think it was the facility and the two format, lectern and town hall.  Analysts might think it was the clarity and comparatively new succinctness.  Opponents might think the basic premise is wrong.  The debates are even going into the finale tonight, but it appears, in fact, to be all about the tie. 

John Kerry‘s adviser, Mike McCurry, says his candidate will tonight wear his lucky red power tie for the third consecutive debate. 

Our fifth story on COUNTDOWN: The tempest in Tempe.  Mike McCurry will join us and Tucker Eskew from the Bush camp, later on satirist and humorist, Harry Shearer. 

First we all must heed precedence to the true new almighty, the nightly roundup of the new polls.  Both candidates tied in Zogby daily tracking poll for “Reuters,” no movements since yesterday, but some fascinating interior numbers from this poll.  Only 11 percent of undecided voters believe the president deserves to be re-elected.  That‘s the lowest figure yet, 40 percent of them feel it‘s time for somebody new undecided saying this. While nearly half of all undecided voters are still undecided about deciding about the decision on whether or not the president is deserving.

And in the “Washington Post” daily tracking poll, released minutes ago, three days ago George Bush led by 51-45, six points as you see, that‘s three days ago.  As of less than an hour ago, Senator Kerry had made up that difference and gone ahead by one point. 

One more very specific annual poll courtesy, Virginia Commonwealth University.  Are you in favor of embryonic stem cell research?  Yes by 53-46.  A year ago it was yes, but by just 47-44. 

As promised, we‘re joined now from the debate hall by former White House press secretary, Mike McCurry, now with the Kerry-Edwards campaign. 

Good evening to you, sir.  Thank you for your time. 

MIKE MCCURRY, KERRY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR:  Nice—nice to be with you. 

OLBERMANN:  Lucky red tie?  Is that it?

MCCURRY:  You know, now that I said that, he will show up and wear a blue tie.  Who knows?  No, I think he had one tie that he picked out in the first two and liked it, and that‘s about all you get to talk about until the big event happens, I guess. 

OLBERMANN:  I guess.  On the other hand, Mike, Joe Lockhart said yesterday the president needed to salvage at least one win out of the debates.  The comments before the first two debates seem to be from your camp, seem to be praising Mr. Bush‘s debating skills and those seem to have gone by the wayside to some degree.  What exactlessly is the expectation, in the Kerry camp tonight, about how the president will do and how the senator will do? 

MCCURRY:  Well look, I think the most important thing, and you just described it, is that over the course of three debates, the American people and particularly those that are still undecided see Senator Kerry standing there side-by-side with the president and they begin to say, you know, John Kerry looks to me more like the president I imagine I want to have for the next four years.  I am not satisfied with the way things are going.  I don‘t think President Bush should be elected and they‘re beginning to see the kind of qualities of leadership and strength of character they want to see in a president.  I think we have sustained that argument pretty well in the first two debates and we‘re looking forward to trying to continue that conversation tonight.

OLBERMANN:  We are apprised today of the comments of the secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Snow, in Ohio Monday night, that the claim Mr. Bush squandered a $5 billion budget surplus is a myth, the surplus never existed, that the net job loss reported during the Bush presidency is also a myth.  Might the debate get into mythology tonight? 

MCCURRY:  I think you can be pretty certain that those comments are going to trigger some kind of discussion tonight about where is our economy going and where have our jobs gone.  It is unbelievable that the treasury secretary would be so out of touch with reality that he would think economic statistics are really painting a very troubling picture of the economy are just all a bunch of myths or a mirage. 

But, you know, that‘s really the problem with this administration.  When they are confronted with the truth, when they‘re confronted with the consequences of the wrong economic choices they‘ve made, the wrong foreign policy choices they‘ve made, they either dissemble or pretend that everything‘s OK or they pretend that no mistakes have been made anywhere.  They‘re not taking any kind of accountability.  And I think that‘s one reason why people are so hungry to see a change in leadership nationally. 

OLBERMANN:  On the specifics though, Brooks Jackson of FactCheck.org was here on Monday saying that Senator Kerry, nonetheless, exaggerated that job loss figure, that the net will come in around 600,000, not that that‘s an insignificant number, but—and even sort of getting away from the point of the specific thing.  Is it significant to you and in the preparations for the debate that the Internet has become such a factor in these debates?  That there are a million fact checkers of every political persuasion ready to pounce on everything that‘s said tonight? 

MCCURRY:  We welcome accountability when it comes to shooting straight with the facts because we think we‘ve done that.  Now, the figures you just cited, you only get that net number if you add in government jobs.  Now if this president wants to claim a lot of credit for growing the size of government, which is the only way you get to the number you cite, let him go ahead and do that, but we‘re talking about private sector jobs—what the loss of private sector jobs have been.  That‘s what people are feeling in places like Ohio where Treasury Secretary Snow made his remarks.  And that‘s why we‘re going to keep the focus on that particular number.  That‘s the one that really—most Americans‘ really pay attention to. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, sir, a question about your old boss.  There‘s an “Associated Press” story today about President Clinton possibly being healthy enough to do some radio advertising or even some appearances in the waning days of the campaign.  Do you know anything more about that? 

MCCURRY:  Well, I really have to leave it to his staff to speak to that.  I think he‘s chomping at the bit to get out and go.  We would obviously welcome support from the former president.  He‘s an enormous, motivating force for Democrats all across the country and he‘s got a lot of important things to say. 

But I also think it‘s important for him to listen to Senator Clinton and to the doctors and do what‘s in his own best interest.  He‘s had a tough surgery and I think all Americans want to just make sure that he‘s feeling well.  But, we certainly would love to have him back out on the campaign stump, if he could do it, or helping in other way he can. 

OLBERMANN:  Mike McCurry of the Kerry campaign.  Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

MCCURRY:  Thanks.  Nice being with you. 

OLBERMANN:  To the other podium, the other ticket, I‘m joined once again by Bush senior adviser, Tucker Eskew, also in Tempe for tonight‘s debate. 

Tucker, good evening. 

TUCKER ESKEW, BUSH CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR:  Good evening to you, Mr. 

Olbermann. 

OLBERMANN:  Is this the rubber match in the best of three series or is the president focused on getting his message to his base, or how exactly is your camp viewing this particular debate? 

ESKEW:  The third of three, the president has had good performances and gotten better with each one.  We said at the beginning, and some accused us of spin, when we said John Kerry was a great debater.  The president‘s a great leader, and the more we‘re able to focus attention on John Kerry‘s actual record and on the president‘s accomplishments, the better for us.  But debates, well, we‘ll get the third one done and head to the finish line.  The president‘s very optimistic and we‘re looking forward to tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  I notice this while blogging the second debate on Friday night from St Louis, and it was evident again several times as Mr. Bush spoke over the weekend that there was—and I‘ll try to use as neutral a word here as I can, a fervor in his voice.  His supporters call it “energy,” his critics would probably call it “rage.”  It can be surprising at first, and I was trying to be politically neutral, there, at least at first, especially if you‘re Charles Gibson.  Are we going to see it again tonight, whatever it is, whether it‘s energy or any of the more pejorative terms? 

ESKEW:  You‘ll see the real George W. Bush.  You know, he is who he is.  Never been an actor, never been a performer.  Always been a strong leader as a governor, as a company owner, and—all through his life, this is a man who‘s stood up for what he believes in.  He‘ll do that tonight and with fervor, with passion.  You know, some people see something bad in that, but I think they‘re the minority. 

The president will speak out real clearly about the economy.  Look, two million jobs created in the last 13 months, we‘re moving in the right direction.  Healthcare, we‘ve tackled some of the root causes.  John Kerry‘s Monday morning quarterbacked the whole thing.  What about the other problems facing us?  Education, the president‘s got a real record doing big things.  That fervor, that passion, you talk about, he‘s trained it on big problems in our country, and wants 4 more years to work on some more like social security reform and more education reform. 

OLBERMANN:  Did Secretary Snow‘s comments in Ohio put this whole thing in too stark a terminology when he described the democratic evaluation of the economy as a “myth?”  Is that too strong a word going into a debate? 

ESKEW:  I—look, labels just don‘t mean much to voters at this point.  I think the voters know the economy has been through some rocky times.  And most of them know the president, after 9/11, went to the stock market and got it up and running.  Went to the airlines in Chicago, got them back up in the air.  Went to America and kept people optimizing and hopeful.  That same kind of attitude, I think down deep when they make a stark choice here, they‘re going to recognize that‘s something they want back in the White House for 4 more years.  So, I think those comments, the news cycle, what happens today, tomorrow, it‘s all of a piece, but I like the way we‘re going into the final stretch. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, in terms of the topics, this one was supposed to be limited to economic and domestic policy.  Mr. Bush said yesterday he was hoping to talk about homeland security tonight, too.  Is he going anywhere particularly on that topic? 

ESKEW:  Well, I think he does have a strong record.  You know, it‘s not just about funding, though we certainly have reorganized the government, consolidating agencies into the Department of Homeland Security. 

You really can‘t have economic security, you can‘t have hope for the future unless you‘ve a sense of national security.  It is a thread running through so much of what we‘ve done since September 11 under this president‘s leadership.  But you know what?  Bob Schieffer will set the questions, the president will respond, the American people will judge, and then we‘ll get back to the campaign trail. 

OLBERMANN:  Tucker Eskew, the senior adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign.  Back on the trail for you after this. 

ESKEW:  With passion and fervor.

OLBERMANN:  Sorry about them braves.  They needed more fervor, I think, too.

ESKEW:  Me, too. 

OLBERMANN:  And a reminder that I will be multitaskpking during tonight‘s debate as COUNTDOWN‘s own blog, “Bloggermann” makes its debut at msnbc.com.  Almost live round-by-round scoring of the third and final presidential debate.  Be there.  Aloha. 

I got a stat of our own to throw at you, 1.3 million hits during the round-by-round reports from the scorer‘s table on Friday night.  It giddies the mind. 

Meanwhile on television, starting tomorrow night COUNTDOWN will once again be appearing at the usual hours, 8:00 p.m. and Midnight Eastern; 

5:00 and 9:00 p.m. Pacific.  The “Abrams Report” returning to the 6:00 p.m.

Eastern slot, as usual, tomorrow. 

Back to the news, record voter registration‘s great if you like turnout, also great apparently if you like controversy.  Around the country, charges of registrations being thrown away—not out—thrown away, as in thrown away in the garbage. 

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Voter registrations altered, some of them even ripped up if you signed up for the quote, unquote “wrong” party.  Will you be surprised if you show up on Election Day and you find out you never really were registered in the first place? 

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If there‘s been one recurring and concurring message this election, it‘s that your vote counts.  Perhaps that message should come with a caveat: Your vote counts as long as your registration was not deliberately destroyed in the interim. 

Our forth story in the COUNTDOWN, alleged voter sabotage across the country.  Everything from a registration worker who wanted to make an extra buck by faking the forms, to the deliberate shredding of Democratic registration cards, even allegations that the Republican National Committee funded part of the effort. 

In a moment, the chairwoman of the Election Reform Movement in Miami on how it could affect voting in Florida and nationwide, but first the local variety, most of it coming from registration drives where people at the mall or on the street ask you to sign up right there. 

In Nevada, a former canvasser has told the local CBS station he saw his supervisor picking out democratic registration forms and ripping them up.  The whistleblower worked for a company called Voters Outreach of America, which is run by Spruell (PH) and Associates, a private voter registration company.  When the station tried to contact the Voters Outreach office, its landlord said the firm had already been evicted for not paying the rent. 

The Democratic National Committee, today, alleging the company is

funded, at least in part, by the Republican Party, pointing out in a press

release that, quote, “...a classified ad recruiting paid workers for Voters

Outreach in Nevada carried the disclaimer ‘paid for the by the RNC.‘”

The company is not limited to Nevada.  It has been registering voters in West Virginia, in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Florida and Oregon.  And it‘s in Oregon that Spruell and Associates are facing new investigation. 

The attorney general is looking into another complaint that Voters Outreach employees destroyed and shredded democratic registration forms.  In the same state, one registration canvasser, who would not name the employer, says he was paid to only collect republican registration cards, he added that he might throw democratic cards in the trash. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You‘re not accepting a registration from Democrats. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.  Well, I work for the Republicans.  But, I ain‘t saying I‘m a Republican myself, I‘m a Democratic, too, but that just how I get paid and I‘m doing it for the money. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And just how much money? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Five dollars a card is my commission.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So, a Democratic card gets...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Gets nothing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Republican National Committee says it has a, quote, “zero-tolerance policy for anything that smacks of impropriety in registering voters and we challenge our Democratic counterparts whose selective outrage does not apply to Democrat aligned groups like ACT, ACORN, and others despite widespread allegations of systemic voter registration fraud do the same.”

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, one of the groups at the center of voter registration fraud claims in Colorado.  NBC station KUSA, there, uncovered nearly 1,000 instances of voter fraud in that state.  Everything from bogus names to changed addresses to forged signatures. 

And just like in Oregon, money seems to have been the motivating factor.  One woman admitting to registers herself 25 times and forging friends‘ signatures 40 times, just to help out her boyfriend who worked for ACORN.  ACORN, not directly affiliated with my party, paid him $2 per registration.  The company claims it never encourages workers to fill out fake forms. 

Would that this were just a sixth-state mess, but in Michigan, 9,000 forms submitted by the Public Interest Research Group are under investigation.  In Iowa, hundreds of voters registered by mail had the applications rejected because of an I.D. number glitch.  In Summit County in Ohio, officials are investigating over 800 questionable cards.  And in unforgettable Florida, three separate counties investigating thousands of potentially fraudulent claims.

I‘m joined now by Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, the chairwoman of the Miami-Dade Election Reform Commission. 

Good evening.  Welcome back. 

LIDA RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF, MIAMI-DADE ELECTION REFORM COMMISSION:  Hi, Keith.  How are you? 

OLBERMANN:  I am confused.  Is this a one party thing?  Terry McAuliffe today, of the DNC, basically accused the Republicans of trying to, in some small way, fix the election, but sadly, does this not turn out to be one of the few remaining things in our political system that is actually bipartisan? 

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF:  Absolutely.  And it is as old as prostitution, itself.  In fact, it is prostitution.  Basically what we have here is fraud on voters.  It goes both ways and it goes everywhere. 

But you got to think about why it happens, Keith.  It‘s really clever.  The easiest way to control the outcome of an election is control the people who walk in the door.  And the easiest way to control the people who walk in the door is by altering who gets to register and the tricks are incredible. 

In Florida, for example, we just had one polled where the deadline to register was October 4.  When one of these workers took about 200 to 300 registrations to be stamped in on October 4, they were stamped in as October 5.  That‘s exactly how we do it in Florida. 

OLBERMANN:  How does a company like this, Voters Outreach, get into so many different states and do so much damage and nobody in one state warns anybody else in another?  Is there a lack in national coordination into identifying whose behind some of these stunts? 

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF:  It‘s absolutely lack of coordination.  And in fact, what happens is there is no oversight at all, whatsoever.  Elections officials really should be looking out for the little guy, the voter and making sure that the companies that come into the state to do these voter registration drives are legit, that they‘re registering everybody despite the political affiliation and that they‘re turning in all the applications and trying to fill them out correctly. 

Instead, what you have, and you have a lot of politicking and you have elections officials everywhere turning a blind eye and, in a lot of cases, assisting in the fraud.  That‘s why it is so easy for it to happen all over the country. 

OLBERMANN:  Are there, at this point, practical solutions to the voters and for the voters who may have gotten hosed here?  In other words, if you didn‘t register at a state-run location, is there a way that you can check to see if you actually are registered?  Can you reassure your franchise right now? 

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF:  You absolutely can.  What people need to do is they need to call their voter registration department at the elections office and ask whether or not they are on the rolls.  Ask when their application was received.  And if the deadline has not lapsed yet, in many states they still have time to register.  The deadline to register to vote in November has not come and gone.  If they want, they can resubmit a new application and get themselves registered. 

OLBERMANN:  Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, once again, thanks for joining us and clearing that up.  There‘s still time if you think you‘ve gotten messed up in many state, there‘s still time.  Thanks again. 

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  If part of this election hinges on getting out the decided vote, what do you do when somebody steals your computer, the one that lists the addresses of all your voters? 

Weeks after a couple of local Republican headquarters were robbed of computers in Washington, Democratic headquarters in Toledo were sacked overnight, Monday.  Burglars took the office manager‘s computer containg campaign strategies, schedules, phone numbers, financial information, the loss of which, the local party officials say, can affect the entire “Get Out the Vote” operation in Toledo. 

A local Republican Party says it had nothing to do with the break in. 

A Democratic spokesman called the robbery a, quote, “third-rate burglary.” 

Heard that phrase somewhere before. 

Nothing third rate about our analysis of the upcoming debate.  John Harwood and Craig Crawford check in from Tempe.  The wit and raconteur Harry Shearer checks in from Los Angeles.

And from political thrills to real-life ones—this is a contest.  It looks like it‘s a contest between common sense and why ever they are doing this.  “Oddball” next on COUNTDOWN on MSNBC. 

COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back on this special edition of “COUNTDOWN to the Debate.”  We pause it now for the segment we all find particularly special each evening—let‘s play “Oddball.”

And we begin above Paris, California.  The 2004 National Skydiving

Championships.  Yes, the clouds are their stage and deadly wind shear their

annoying heckler.  As teams of 16 set out to take the gold medal of

parachuting—and they are very friendly.  But this year they‘ve added an

exciting new twist, the high-speed swoop at the bottom.  Skydivers moving

at over 70 miles-an-hour attempting to make it through a series of gates

just a few feet above the ground.  Apparently the traditional impediments -

·         high tension wire, radio towers, characters from “Catch 22” selling all the parachutes, these are no longer risky enough. 

Speaking of expensive harnesses, the underwear store, Victoria‘s Secret, has unveiled the world‘s latest obscene waste of money, the Heavenly 70‘s Fantasy Bra modeled here by the lovely Tyra Banks, the fantasy bra features 2,900 diamonds set in white gold with a 70 carat pear-shaped diamond in the center, all for the low, low price of $10 million.  The question is not who would buy one of these things, the question is, why if you have $10 million to support two boobs, why you wouldn‘t just contribute to one of the presidential campaigns. 

Finally to Singapore where scientists have invented the greatest thing since the “I‘ve fallened and can‘t get up” safety bracelet.  It‘s the menswear Smart Shirt designed for seniors.  It‘s a $60 blue vest equipped with read lights and a wireless alarm device.  As demonstrated here so brilliantly, if the wearer suddenly falls down or is hit by a car or is otherwise jostled, an electronic transmitter in the vest sends a help signal to a cell phone or a computer, and this guy will rush to your house. 

This may also answer the question, what has the president been wearing under his suit at the debates? 

We‘ve heard from both campaigns about that and everything else.  Now, hear from the reporters and the experts on the ground in Tempe.  And the one and only Harry Shearer joins us later to give us his unique take on Decision 2004. 

All that ahead, now here are COUNTDOWN “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day. 

No. 3: Blake Douglas of Londonderry, New Hampshire, he has been denied his request that his official high school yearbook photo depict him with his favorite shotgun.  The school offered a compromise.  That the photo could go elsewhere in the yearbook and Blake‘s official photo would show him with nongun-shooting paraphernalia.  Not good enough, young Blake is suing. 

No. 2: Something of a theme, here.  Joshua Phelps of Pine Bush, New York, he too, a high school student, Civil War buff, participates in reenactments, has a fake Civil War musket.  Coming from a reenactment, he left the fake musket in his truck, he parked at his school, and a security guard saw the musket, Joshua was arrested.  As his mother says, “Why do you give teenagers fake guns if they can arrest him for—be arrested for having them?”

And No. 1: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, they say they‘re going to try to get Caffeine Withdrawal Syndrome into the medical books as an official mental disorder.  They say CWS causes headache, fatigue, depression, irritability, and the throwing of hot, scalding pots of decaf. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Earlier this year the seeming decorum melted away into an all-out brawl.  12 months ago almost to the day a 72-year-old advisor was thrown to the ground by a strategist less than half his age. 

Unfortunately, that is all part of the television competition tonight, game two of the Yankees-Red Sox playoff, not the debate itself. 

Our number three story on COUNDOWN Bush-Kerry III and the reassuring fact that if Democrats lived in one part of the country and Republicans lived in the other, we‘d already be well on our way to a second Civil War.  In the moment, the analyses of Craig Crawford and John Harwood.  First, our correspondent at Arizona State University is Chris Jansing.  Chris, good evening.

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening to you, Keith.  And let the games begin.  If this is not the World Series of debates, it is at the very least the league championship.  Let‘s take a look at the two sides.  In one corner we have George W. Bush prepared by going through two full run-throughs.  Two 90-minute debate, an indication of how important team Bush thinks this is.  They know that he has to do well tonight after the polls have moved in John Kerry‘s direction.  What will we hear from him?  Not just that John Kerry is a liberal, but a tax and spend liberal.  You will hear that time and again.  They will say he will raise your taxes.

He also is going to talk about homeland security because if you look at the polls, that‘s one area where the President is still strong.  Then the challenger, John Kerry, his team says he‘s feeling very confident tonight.  No formal run-throughs, but he will hammer home on jobs saying that the President as an unrealistic view of what‘s going on in the economy, that in four years they haven‘t produced and once again, as we heard in the second debate, he will talk about stem cell research following the death of Christopher Reeve.  And Michael J. Fox, who is a huge proponent of stem cell research is going to be here in Tempe.

Now the national polls, as we have been talking about, show that this race is dead even, but there are other polls that even raise the stakes higher.  Take a look at a series of polls by the “Chicago Tribune” in key battleground states in the Midwest where these candidates have been spending so much of their time and money.  In all four of these now, no longer the war in Iraq or the war on terror are the top issue, but domestic issues like healthcare and jobs.  In three of those states, it is a statistical dead heat.  In one of them, in Iowa, it‘s now 47-47 percent.  So this becomes a critical moment in a campaign that‘s been going on for seven months between John Kerry and George Bush.  But 90 minutes looming very large right now.  Keith?

OLBERMANN:  Chris Jansing at debate central.  Great work.  Many thanks.  62.5 million people saw the first Bush-Kerry showdown from Miami.  Another 46.7 million the Hooey from St. Louis.  Usually the last debate in a series is the at least watched.  If in tuition is of any use, that might not happen that way tonight.  Let me bring in two gentlemen who have joined me for all the bouts of this series, including the Cheney-Edwards undercard, Craig Crawford, NBC political analyst and “Congressional Quarterly” columnist.  Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hello there.

OLBERMANN:  And John Harwood, national political editor of the “Wall Street Journal.” John, good evening to you as well.

JOHN HARWOOD:  Hey, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Jon, let me start on you with this.  The conventional wisdom months ago, a year ago, maybe an hour ago was the President will be softest on domestic issues and the economy.  Can he stand up to John Kerry on them directly tonight or will ever answer duck the specific point and simply serve as a preamble to calling Kerry a liberal?

HARWOOD:  Well, there will be a lot of liberal tonight, Keith, but I think George Bush found a rhythm in that second debate where he could talk about domestic issues.  For an incumbent president who sees the rationale for war that—a war that he‘s undertaken undermined, there aren‘t too many things in the playbook, but there is a long Republican play book about how to fight against the tax and spend liberal running as a conservative Republican.  So he knows some of the argumentation to do.  He‘s going to say Kerry‘s going to raise your tax, push a big government health care plan and there are also social issues.  One big question is, how much does he want to push the social issue agenda to make Kerry uncomfortable?

OLBERMANN:  Craig, what can he do?  Can he touch stem cell in the light of the passing of Christopher Reeve? Can he go anywhere near any of that tonight?

CRAWFORD:  Oh, I think so because I think this Bush campaign is settling into a strategy of focusing on turning out that base of conservative voters who they believed in 2000 didn‘t show up in enough numbers that they expected.  And that is the main reason that race was so close.  So they want to get them up.  And that is an issue.  One of them, many that they can talk about.  And John is so right.  Domestic issues have in a weird way played into the President‘s hands for that purpose.  And the other thing is trashing John Kerry and I think what they are trying to do, Keith, is actually give swing voters, undecided voters, no choice at all in hopes they just don‘t vote because they know those voters won‘t come their way most likely.  And I think they have settled on a strategy of giving undecided voters nothing to vote for and hope they just don‘t show up.

OLBERMANN:  That presumably, Craig, also explains the other lingo and the use of the “l” word, that he can run, but can‘t hide?

CRAWFORD:  Absolutely.  By trashing John Kerry and making him an unacceptable alternative to undecided voters, they overcome the problem they think they have that which is that undeciders probably aren‘t going to break their way and the best shot is making it unappealing for undecided voters to even show up and for anyone.

OLBERMANN : John, about the President‘s tone.  I asked Tucker Eskew about this at the beginning of the program and you might call it energy or you might call it rage.  He said you will see the real George Bush in terms of fervor, energy, anger, whatever the right word for it is.  But how far can the President safely push the envelope without scaring people who are watching?

HARWOOD:  Well, he certainly doesn‘t want to repeat the demeanor in the first debate and in the first few minutes of the second debate when he was very, very uncomfortable and agitated trying to defend his position on Iraq.  But he absolutely has to try to raise the stakes of what a Kerry presidency would mean in a negative way.  Fundamentally what this debate season has done has taken a dynamic that had Kerry on the offensive with people focusing on his shortcomings to now, since the debate season has started, people are focused back on Bush and they are focused on the problems that they have been concerned about all year long, which is the economy and the war in Iraq.  George Bush has got to shift that spotlight back to Kerry.

OLBERMANN:  Craig, it is fascinating.  The first debate was about Kerry would knock himself out and the second was about Bush, can he recover?  Is this one about George Bush trying to get out of this with something?  It almost seems as if John Kerry is an afterthought or maybe a punching bag, but not necessarily the driver in this debate, which seems odd considering how well he did in the first two.

CRAWFORD:  Well, so many people now expect Kerry to win because that is what they have seen.  By the way, one of the most fascinating things about these debates is how the spin has affected opinion because the polls right at the end of the debates are much closer than a couple of days later after people hear the spin.  And Kerry has been winning that spin game 21-point improvement in Miami, 15 points improvement over the original polls after St. Louis.  So I think that‘s a big challenge for Republicans tonight is after the debate, how those spinners come out and do their job.

OLBERMANN:  John, what is John Kerry hoping for tonight in your opinion?

HARWOOD:  I think John Kerry has got to have one more 90-minute session among an audience that surely is going to be above 40 million people to once again make them comfortable and reassured by the idea of him as commander-in-chief.  One of the things we have seen happen is people have expressed much higher positive opinions of Kerry on a bunch of personal traits—honesty and trustworthiness, ability to serve as commander-in-chief and that reassurance counters the cartoon picture that had been painted of Kerry as an unprincipled flip-flopper.  All that is a tremendous step forward for him in trying to harvest a lot of the disquiet, the misgivings the people had about the state of the country and about Bush.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Parting shots, two sentences each.  Give me one thing a viewer should be looking for watching the debate.  Craig, go first.

CRAWFORD:  I think John Kerry looks for some attempt if he know what is‘ good for him, he‘s got to try and connect to people on a personal, kitchen table level.  One liners, some personal story, something that shows people who he really is.  I don‘t think voters want to spend four years trying to figure out who this man is and they‘re not going to vote for him unless they get a sense of that.

OLBERMANN:  John, give us something else to look forward to tonight or look for tonight.

CRAWFORD:  I want to look for the balance between economic and health care issues which are the ones that John Kerry wants to talk about, and social issues that George Bush thinks he has an advantage.  It‘s a dicey call.  How much do you push, say, the gay marriage issue.  There is a risk of provoking a backlash from moderate suburban voters, but George Bush does, as Craig said, need to charge up his base.  Let‘s see how much he pushes that issue in particular.

OLBERMANN:  John Harwood, national political editor of the “Wall Street Journal.” As always, sir, great thanks.  Craig Crawford, MSNBC political analyst, also of “Congressional Quarterly,” my great thanks to you as well and throughout this entire debate series, gentlemen.  Thank you.  A reminder.  Log onto msnbc.com to catch my practically real-time round by round coverage of tonight‘s throw-down.  The premier of COUNTDOWN‘S very own, blog, Bloggerman.  And a reminder that the televised version of COUNTDOWN returns to its regularly appointed hour tomorrow night 8 p.m. and midnight Eastern, 5 and 9 p.m Pacific.  Be there, aloha.

Forget about the polls.  What does Jackie‘s dogs think about the election? They did call it for Arnold correctly.  Up next, the more unusual presidential predictions.  Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bytes.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

NATALIE MORALES, ON PATERNITY:  Take a look at this.  A trio of adorable tiger cubs were born in a German zoo.  Each in a different color.  Look carefully.  One is white, one golden, and one is the typical tiger colors, orange with black stripes.  Aren‘t they cute?

Daddy tiger must be a little suspicious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, that‘s true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How do you feel, Mr. President?

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Cool.

JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST:  5k race, who would win?

SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, you know, I run and play a little football back when I was in school.  And the President, I think, was there at those football game, too.  He was, I think, though, on the sides maybe with his pom-poms.

Can you run fast with those cheerleading outfits on?  I don‘t know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tomorrow‘s presidential headlines tonight.  Those who believe they can forecast the final score.  Also, the political forecasts of Harry Shearer and the forecast of Bill O‘Reilly can‘t be heard over the sound of the equipment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As anybody who spent as long as half an hour in the sports world already knows, nobody actually keeps record of predictions.  Plus, it took a lot for the noble and immortal sportscaster Red Barber to reply one way and one way only whenever he was asked who would win a particular ballgame.  “If I know that, sir,” he would say, “there would be no need for the boys to play the game, would there?”

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, we need more Red Barbers in the presidential field, but odds are we‘re not going to get them.  COUNTDOWN‘s  Monica Novotny is here with the roundup of the psychics, extrapolators, and those who are just plain guessing.  Monica, greetings.

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Keith, good to be but with you.  In the season of incessant polling there are other ways to track and predict election results.  Magazines with cookie recipes contests and on Halloween the candidate mask count and recipe contests.  Both less traditional ways of predicting presidential outcomes and as we found out, they are not alone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JACOB SCHWARTZ, ASTROLOGER:  The asteroid is Bush and Washingtonia and America are all together in the sign of Libra and all traveling together in November, 2004, next month, when the election takes place, so I‘m inclined to feel that America symbolized by Washington will support George Bush.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Orbiting objects guide the presidential pick of astrologist Jacob Schwartz.

SCHWARTZ:  In 2000 I predicted in a magazine several months before the actual election that Bush would win the electoral and that Al Gore win the popular vote.

NOVOTNY:  Asteroids, he says, are accurate.

SCHWARTZ:  When Bill Clinton was born, the asteroids Monica, Paula and William were all together within a five-degree arc.  Opposite the asteroids Hillary and Gingrich.

NOVOTNY:  If you prefer something more grounded, try the Iowa Electronics Market, an online futures market where shares in both candidates are bought and sold.

GEORGE NEUMANN, FOUNDER, IOWA ELECTRONICS MARKET:  We want to get the best and brightest and have them tell us using the famous scientific principle of put your money where your mouth is.

NOVOTNY:  Here traders use real money, as much as $500 per person.

NEUMANN:  The betting money is saying Bush is going to win.

NOVOTNY:  How many times has this market picked the winner since its start in 1988?

NEUMANN:  All of them since 1988.  ‘88, ‘92, ‘96, 2000.

NOVOTNY:  Prefer to do your own political math?  Try Yale professor Ray Fair‘s formula.  Used to determine the Republican share of the vote based on economic indicators.  But if you are not up for the math, there is always Jackie Stallone and her psychic dogs.

JACKIE STALLONE, PSYCHIC:  They send a message back to me and I go for it and I haven‘t been wrong yet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY (on camera):  Now, as you heard these individuals say, their respected methods are reliable and proven.  And in the case of the Iowa Electronic Market, the founders have the numbers to back it up.  In addition to being accurate on every election since 1998, they say the average forecast error has been about 1.5 percent and they say that is better than the major polling organizations.  And today, Keith, they are calling it at Bush 52, Kerry 48.

OLBERMANN:  We have got to burn the tape of Jackie and her dogs. 

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny.  Many thanks.

A quick but memorable edition of our nightly update on celebrity news, “Keeping Tabs.”  A startling lawsuit and countersuit filed by Bill O‘Reilly of Fox News and one of the woman producers of his telecast.  O‘Reilly got to court first.  He alleges he was the victim of an extortion attempt by producer Andrea Mackris, a former intern in the first Bush White House saying she and her attorney threatened a quote “bombshell sexual harassment suit” if he and Fox didn‘t agree to pay them $60 million.  O‘Reilly saying the threat caused him great mental strain, anguish and severe emotional distress.  Oh, that is why he‘s like that.

Then, later this afternoon came the bombshell lawsuit.  Attorney Benedict P. Morelli‘s 22-page document posted on Web site thesmokinggun.com alleges repeated quid pro quo sexual harassment by O‘Reilly and disturbing graphic passages detailing his attempts to engage Ms. Mackris in explicit phone sex, including descriptions of the equipment used.  Morelli denies any extortion attempt and says his client‘s charges will be proven in court beyond a shadow of the doubt.  O‘Reilly‘s suit claimed they recorded his phone call and the Mackris report‘s detail suggests that, too.  None of this, we expect is covered in O‘Reilly‘s new book “The O‘Reilly Factor for Kids” now available at book stores.  Batteries not included.

Shifting gears quickly, COUNTDOWN‘s countdown to the debate reaches the peak, so to speak, next with none other than Harry Shearer.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We round out this final COUNTDOWN to the debate as we do all of our COUNTDOWNs, the number one story, the one on which we‘re betting you‘ll be the most likely to be talking about tomorrow.  It‘s not so much a story tonight as a state of mind.  Our guest, the political satirist, author, comedian, bon vivant, gourmand, gourmet, man of many voices for television‘s “The Simpson‘s”, writer/director/actor Harry Shearer.  Harry, thanks again for your time.

HARRY SHEARER, WRITER/DIRECTOR/ACTOR:  Thank you, Keith.  Tonight, it‘s for all of the marbles and there are no marbles.

OLBERMANN:  Well, they lost them at some point earlier in the campaign.

SHEARER:  No kidding.

OLBERMANN:  Which opens the interview.  Do you have a favorite moment in this campaign so far?

SHEARER:  Well, “need some wood?” is pretty great.  I turned it into a commercial for Cialis Gold on my radio show.  You know, I thought—I actually got the impression that Bush was sort of laying that out as his audition for a post-loss career change a la Bob Dole.  You‘ve had a great run.  Now it‘s time to kick back.  That pert librarian is opening a brand-new book, will you be ready?  Need some wood.  And it closes with “I‘m George W. Bush and I need some wood,” and the announcer saying Cialis Gold, feed your little head.  So, anyway...

OLBERMANN:  Oh, all right...

SHEARER:  That was my favorite moment.

OLBERMANN:  I have to move this quickly away from that because now there could be some sort of—there has got to be a Bill O‘Reilly comment on that particular subject.  So we‘ll just leave that completely alone.

SHEARER:  My only question would be “equipment?”

OLBERMANN:  I was trying to be kind of—we‘re on in the middle of the afternoon in Los Angeles.  I wanted to be kind of generic on the subject.

SHEARER:  I understand.

OLBERMANN:  I would be remiss if I did not ask you about the vice-presidential debate, particularly because of this wonderful faked, obviously, photo circulating on the Internet and we had no idea what might have been said here by the gentleman on the left who you portray on the television.  Do you have any idea the exchange between Mr. Burns and Senator Edwards?

SHEARER:  I have no idea what Edwards might be saying, but I know what Burns is saying.  “Edwards, I own every other piece of you.  And after I wipe the floor with you in this debate, I‘m buying your hair.”

OLBERMANN:  You have an additional, Harry, of particular political interest here, this video installation, “Face Time” talking heads—or actually “Non-talking Heads” I guess.

SHEARER:  “Non-talking Heads,” yes.  It‘s running right now in Washington, DC at the Conner Contemporary Art Gallery.  And they said would you like to do this?  I have, as you know, a very large collection of footage of people sitting in front of the camera as I am with you except not talking.  Something interesting happens, you get to kind of watch them more closely and so it‘s all the presidential candidates including Ralph Nader, the vice-presidential candidates, the anchors, pundits from the right and left, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, and Henry Kissinger engaging in some quiet diplomacy.  It‘s quite wonderful.  Quite eerie and it‘s going on through this Friday.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  So we‘ll tell people in Washington to see that but now I have about 45 seconds left, give me a take on the debate tonight.  What are you looking for as you watch?

SHEARER:  Well, you know, this is a gals‘ debate.  Because the guys are watching baseball.  George W. Bush should not be blinking as much as he did Friday and wear a looser-fitting jacket to hide that rectangular bulge or just cut a hole in the jacket so we can see what that bulge is.  John Kerry should stop ad-libbing.  He has got great writers.  I think he got into trouble with that thing in the “New York Times” Sunday because he starts ad-libbing.  He reminds me of an old “Bob and Ray” character who sounds like he‘s reading badly and is actually extemporizing.

OLBERMANN:  Yep.  I think that, by the way, on Mr. Bush that‘s a block of wood, I think we can be pretty sure that‘s what that is, right?  Harry Shearer, as always, sir, a pleasure to get a chance to talk to you.  I‘m sorry we didn‘t have more time.  Always a pleasure.

SHEARER:  My pleasure, Keith.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  You take care.  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  You take care.  Thanks for being part of it.  Don‘t forget our online round by round scoring, of the debate tonight, Bloggerman at msnbc.com.  MSNBC‘s coverage of the final presidential debate continues with Chris Matthews in Tempe.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, 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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