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Post-Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate Coverage for Feb. 26, 10:30 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. ET

Read the transcript from the special coverage

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And this time Senator Obama closes with

the feel-good, big group hug moment.  Senator Clinton, he said, near the end of tonight’s 20th debate, campaigned magnificently and now one of them or both of them need to deliver for the American people.  He said she would be worthy as a nominee and would be a much better president than John McCain.

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas only had seven debates.  They were three hours apiece.  They were contained in the span of just over two months in 1858.  They have been the measuring stick both for volume, duration, importance in American history.  Senators Clinton and Obama in their 20th debate since April 26th of last year when we all gathered in Orangeburg, South Carolina.  This was their third in a head-to-head format.  Will these achieve the status of historical epics?   And will there be a 21st debate?

With Chris Matthews at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State

University, I’m Keith Olbermann at MSNBC and NBC News world headquarters in New York.  Ninety minutes of them, now about 85 minutes of us.

And, Chris, at the risk of incurring wrath, my thought was that Senator Obama scored a few points here, probably a few more than Senator Clinton, but this looked like a bunch of field goals, not touchdowns.  And field goals are not going to resurrect Hillary Clinton.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  You know, I think we learned tonight why

Americans like high-scoring sports.  This was a low-scoring game, perhaps like a hockey game.  I didn’t hear many goals myself.  A lot of back and forth about health care, which I find almost absurd given the fact we don’t have a national health care plan.

It’s sounded like they were trying to refine a plan we’ve had for 50 years when in fact we have nothing.  It’s Brigadoon.  It’s imaginary so far, a national health care plan.  Yet they were arguing around the edges of it for, what, 16 minutes there at the outset.  I thought it was odd that Hillary Clinton would make fun of the format in the fact that she was asked the first question because of earlier debates.

And I thought that was an odd thing to say, that she was expecting the moderators in this case to put some pillows under the seat of Barack Obama.  I don’t think that kind of sarcasm has much meaning to people.

I thought it was interesting that when Tim Russert asked her at the end if there was one vote she could take back, she mentioned Iraq and the fact that she had voted to authorize the war in Iraq.

And even though she has never quite apologized for that, the fact that she answered the question, did you have anything you’d like to take back, in fact, going further, she went along and said that she would like to take back that vote.  I think that’s the strongest statement she has made in that department.

I thought paralleling that was, of course, Barack Obama’s statement that he should have done something to stop the Terri Schiavo intervention by the U.S. Congress into that state matter involving that young woman’s late-in-life decision-making by her family.

And so I think that that was really about the edges of the thing.  Tim asked her about her tax return.  She said she would get to it.  He asked her about the presidential papers.  She said she was getting to that in the near term.  I thought a lot of that was an efforting on the part of the moderators but not so successful.

I think it was interesting that they argued about Iraq.  But I learned really nothing new except again Senator Clinton’s admission that she would like to have that vote back.  Let’s bring in NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who has been covering this campaign and is here with me in Cleveland.

Andrea, I just know one prediction.  They didn’t argue about probably the biggest issue that will affect the next president.  And we don’t know what that is yet.


know what that is.

MATTHEWS:  It could be Slavic sensibility about Kosovo, something that perhaps led to the beginning of World War I and may lead to another world war at some point.  And I just wonder whether we’re missing some of the big issues you cover all of the time.

MITCHELL:  Well, we did get into some foreign policy questions today,

and she did, you know, raise the question of Kosovo there at the end.  They did

talk about Vladimir Putin.  I thought that he had one of the best sound bites

of the night on the Iraq War, though, when he talked about, it doesn’t matter

whether you drove the bus into the ditch, it isn’t to say who drove the bus

out, it’s when she made decision to drive that bus, the Iraq War vote, into the

ditch.  Don’t have that exactly right, but…

MATTHEWS:  The ditch was a powerful image there.

MITCHELL:  The ditch was a powerful image.  I actually thought that she presented herself as a fighter, that that was what was her mission was tonight.  And she kept saying, I’m a fighter, you know, five or six times.  That was the phrase she was using.  And she came across very credibly, very strongly as a fighter.

When asked about the negative tone of the campaign and the mood changes over the last, you know, two or three days, she said, it’s because I thought that, you know, I was disturbed that he was unfair in criticizing something I feel passionately about, health care.  And I’m a fighter, this is something i will fight for.  And you know, when I’m attacked that way, I will fight.

So I think she did present herself that way.  And while the details of health care may seem a little bit onerous to people watching, I think people in Ohio, from all of our polling, really care about it.  They care about jobs.  Both of these candidates said, by the way, that they would opt out of NAFTA if as president the threat to opt out did not get Canada and Mexico to negotiate better labor deals.  So they took a very hard line on NAFTA and trade.

MATTHEWS:  Well, all politics is local.  And here they are in Ohio, worried about NAFTA, and suggested that they wouldn’t back it full force, where in fact, Hillary Clinton had been with—I always thought that the Clinton administration took great pride in NAFTA as an opening to world trade and it was so much breaking out of the old Democratic protectionist beliefs.

However, Keith, I think what’s interesting is that Barack Obama again demonstrated that he has a superb advantage in the oratory department.  On the stump, he is quite thrilling.  That thrill is missing in his debate capacity.  He doesn’t seem to know how in the course of going back and forth with a strong opponent, as Hillary Clinton certainly is, and being able to lift the audience with a thrilling counterpunch or thrilling thrust.

It’s always only him alone with a teleprompter and the audience to himself.  And I think that’s something people better pay note of while we have this chance.

OLBERMANN:  There was several occasions that—where his unflappability came in.  And this entire question of the tone of the debate between them is one we want to bring up with our chief White House correspondent, David Gregory, who is in Washington.

And, David, this was such a balancing act, certainly for Senator

Clinton who had to appear in some way wronged but not peevish.  Did she achieve what she was trying to achieve?


beginning, no.  I think she appeared to lose her temper in the beginning.  She didn’t like the format.  She didn’t like the questions, complaining about getting the first question all of the time as if that was unfair in her mind.  And yet in those cases she was able to set the tone for the debate on that particular point.

So it seemed like she didn’t complete that thought.  I think that calmed down over time.  What you see time and time again with Barack Obama is a coolness about him.  He absorbs a particular attack or a question or a pointed statement and tries to maybe acknowledge the point and then turn it around.

I did think there was a particular point on the Jewish question that was a kind of microcosm for this entire debate between the two of them.  I mean, the campaign in general.  He denounced Louis Farrakhan who has, of course, made horrible comments about Judaism, but Hillary Clinton spoke up and said, no, how about you reject it out of hand?   In other words, be more pointed.

This was a point that she has been making about some of his speeches, some of his approach to policy.  Be more pointed and flatly reject it.  Now that could have been a real slip-up for him had he fought her on the point.  Instead he conceded the point and in effect again sort of defused the issue by saying, look, I denounced him.  You say I should reject him.  I’ll reject and denounce.

I think that told us a lot how about these two debate one another and in the case of Obama, how he tries to deflect what can be an attack in the course of a debate.  And I think that can be effective.

OLBERMANN:  Well, there was earlier in the debate—much earlier.  And

I want to get back to your point about that, the “Saturday Night Live”

reference, by literally playing it in a second.  But there was also a point at

which her answer about—part of her answer about the description of NAFTA and what to be done about it—or what should be done about it, the willingness to threaten to pull out of it if a renegotiation can’t be accomplished with Canada and Mexico where he simply said, that’s the right answer and moved on.

There’s a certain calmness that is very unusual in 21st Century and maybe even 20th Century American politics where you let a point go.  If you think the other guy is right, you’re not supposed to still let the point go and you’re certainly not supposed to give them credit for it.  And he’s willing to do that.

Let’s go touch back to the beginning point here and whether or not that kind of joke, kind of criticism, kind of gentle backhand to the press worked at all from Senator Clinton.  Here’s the tape.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time.  And I don’t mind.  You know, I’ll be happy to field them.  But I do find it curious.  And if anybody saw “Saturday Night Life,” you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow.

I just find it kind of curious that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues.  But I’m happy to answer it.


OLBERMANN:  The weird thing about that, apart from the fact that she has gotten the first question six out of the last 10 debates, according to David Shuster, went back and looked, David Gregory, the weird thing that is it kind of is contradicted by that second statement, which was, but I’m happy to answer them.  And there was something that just didn’t connect on that.

GREGORY:  Well, right, because she didn’t connect it.  I mean, she’s happy to field them because she knows what she wants to say.  She has never been stumped by any of these questions.  I think her—the implication, and I know this from some of her advisers who say this publicly and privately, that somehow there’s a sort of gotcha mentality about her, to get her backed into a corner when, in fact, in a debate she can take a question, respond to it, and then turn the tables on Barack Obama, which she did at the very outset of the debate.

She wanted to argue about health care.  She wanted to attack Barack Obama’s plan.  Well, she got the very first question about a change in tone from the past few days and, as Brian Williams pointed out, engaged in a 16-minute debate on health care.  Very important debate.  Well, she got to set the tone for having that debate.  And it’s because she got that first question.

So I think a lot of people will look at that and not quite understand the point that she was making.

OLBERMANN:  And the last question before we finish up with you for the moment, David, that last question to both candidates, anything you regret in your political careers, anything—perhaps as Tim Russert suggested, anything in the way of a vote seemed to be a tailor-made question for Senator Clinton.  And she gave the answer that one would expect that she would have.

David Gregory, stand by.  Back out to Chris in Cleveland.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, Keith.  Tim Russert is NBC’s Washington bureau chief and the moderator of “MEET THE PRESS,” and of course, the moderator of tonight’s debate.

Tim, I was amazed.  I thought people wanted the first question.  I mean, it just seems to me like every football team I know about wants to receive, you don’t like to kick.


I asked the question about the Russian election on Sunday, I intentionally did not call on either one of them.  It was a jump ball.  I looked at both of them.  Who wants in?   Senator Clinton jumped in.  She wanted the question.

So it’s not a matter of—you know, a question about spending on public financing, that was directed to Obama.  On Farrakhan, Obama.  On tax returns, Clinton, because it’s the issues that they have been talking about or not talking about.

This is not rocket science.  We distribute the questions in a very fair way, and every—I think what happens, Chris, it’s not the questions, it’s the answers.  You know, and you can’t be a president who can make tough decisions unless you can answer tough questions.

And both of these candidates have been asked tough questions.

Sometimes they answer them well.  Sometimes they struck out.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go through some of the things you asked about.  You asked about her tax returns.  And she obviously has a joint return with the former President Clinton.  Did you have a sense that she was committing in her answer to releasing her tax returns, as Obama has already done—Senator Obama has already done?

RUSSERT:  Yes.  She had prior to tonight said she would do so if she was the nominee in the general election.  Tonight she said maybe before then, which is an indication to me that it’s not an issue that she likes to talk about.  That’s why I cited Governor Strickland here in Ohio who made that a pivotal issue in his campaign.  Why won’t you release it, he said to the secretary of state.   What, in effect—his campaign, what are you hiding?

And if you’re going to loan your campaign $5 million, people are going to say, where did that money come from?  Where did their income come from?  There may be nothing there.  But as a sign of transparency, so be with it.  Same as with Senator Obama on public financing, when he wasn’t raising lots of money, he was offered public financing.

Now it seems to be he is a bit reluctant.  It’s important to draw them out.


OLBERMANN:  To that question, Tim, from the Midwest Democracy Network questionnaire, obviously your question was predicated on Obama answering the first word in his answer to that question about public financing was “yes.” The last sentence of it read “if I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”

My question to you is not about your phrasing of the question, but why -

with that kind of ambiguity in his answer that he could have just pulled out from his jacket and read to you, why do you think he didn’t do that?   It does seem to broaden out that question a little bit, does it not?

RUSSERT:  Yes, it does.  And I was expecting that would be part of his reply because he gave that response to Senator McCain.  The issue I think is that his campaign right now, Keith, realizes how much money they are raising, as he said, from small donors.

They’re going to have a million people giving to this campaign, and that’s something that they never anticipated or expected.  One of the Obama campaign advisers told me that, if we agreed now to public financing, the Clinton campaign would accuse us of unilateral disarmament against the Republicans.

So I think it is an issue.  My guess is in the end if Senator Obama took public financing, the Democratic National Committee could still spend tons of money on opposition spots against the Republican candidate and you would have in effect a twofer.

But there is a reluctance because of the success of the campaign thus far in raising money.

MATTHEWS:  Is he reneging on a deal he made before?

RUSSERT:  I think his commitment was very firm provided that the Republicans would go along with him and also take public financing, which McCain has said.  Now, Obama will take it one step further.  He wants to make sure that the 527s, the independent groups and some other areas are closed down.

But his answer was an emphatic yes.  There’s no doubt about it.  And I think it’s important that when someone says they’re the candidate of hope and inspiration, if they say yes and they’re not going to answer yes and provide yes as the answer, then I think it’s important they tell us why.

MATTHEWS:  Sounds right.

OLBERMANN:  Let me ask you, Tim, a second point that I haven’t heard raised yet.  One of the back—obviously a lot of the backs and forths are old hat to the audience at this point after 20 debates and three one-on-ones here.  But one new wrinkle to this, did Senator Obama finally get an opportunity to do this?  Did events allow him to answer when Senator Clinton said that he had essentially said earlier in the debate series that he would bomb Pakistan and his response was to point out that the CIA under President Bush just bombed Pakistan to get the al Qaeda number three guy, Abu al-Libi?

Why—is that the first time that has come up and was that somewhat of a knockout answer on the part of Senator Obama in your opinion?

RUSSERT:  Well, it was in terms of dealing with Senator Clinton.  Interestingly enough, Keith, the Obama campaign had used that against Senator McCain about a week ago.  Senator McCain was accusing them of taking unilateral action, of Obama advocating unilateral action against a host country.

And the Obama campaign said, wait a minute, the Bush administration sent the drone in and took out a guy without telling Musharraf they were going to do it.  But I think on this stage and on this forum, I think it’s very important.

I also think when he talks about the most important decision a commander-in-chief has to make is exercising judgment, and his judgment was not go to war in Iraq, and you couple that with Senator Clinton saying that’s the one vote that she would pull back, I think it makes for an interesting discussion.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  And you know, Tim, I have watched it like an old Ernest Hemingway fisherman, trying to bring in the big marlin.  And for months now you’ve been trying to get Senator Clinton to offer some kind of response to her decision to vote back in 2002 to authorize the war.  And I wondered if you felt that you brought it in a few more inches because, in your follow-up, you said, you would like that vote back?  And she said, yes, Tim, I’d like that vote back.

RUSSERT:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  It sounded to me as far as—further than she has ever gone in saying, I want to re-vote that baby.

RUSSERT:  Because it is an issue where all the other opponents, Senator Edwards, Senator Biden, Senator Dodd, every senator who voted for that war has said it was a mistake and I apologize and I’d like to have it back.  She has never said that.  Tonight I think she has.

MATTHEWS:  And she chose to use that as a response to your question, open-ended, is there anything you would like to do over you did wrong the first time.  And she chose to offer up her vote on the war resolution as the response to your question and then followed it up with, yes, I’d like to have that vote back.  I think you finally brought your marlin into the boat.


RUSSERT:  Because—well, her first answer was…

MATTHEWS:  … I think.

RUSSERT:  … I wouldn’t have voted that way again.  And I just—I

wanted to make sure that…

MATTHEWS:  No, then you capped it, though.

RUSSERT:  Capped it, right.

MATTHEWS:  You pulled—she was in the boat floundering around, wasn’t she?  Anyway.  Back to you, Keith.  Tim Russert, thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  David Wilhelm is an Obama supporter, he was the campaign manager for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.  Lisa Caputo served as press secretary to first lady Hillary Clinton.  And they are both with us now.

And thank you both for that.  Let’s pick up where Tim Russert left off right there and Chris Matthews.  Lisa, was that a new ground broken in terms of Senator Clinton’s retrospective on her vote on the Iraq authorization vote in 2002?


know, Keith, if you look back at what she said, she has said consistently, look, there are no redos in the Senate.  And if I had known then what I know now, I would have never cast the vote.  I mean, I think Tim did an excellent job in pressing the question further.  And she took the opportunity, when he asked the question toward the end of the debate, is there something you’d want to take back, and she reiterated, you know, look, yes, I would like to take back the vote on the Iraq War.

So I think it’s consistent, but I think Tim is right.  It’s probably linguistically the furthest she has taken it.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Wilhelm, give me your assessment on that.  Was that new ground or was that what we already thought you knew about Senator Clinton’s position on that vote?

DAVID WILHELM, OBAMA SUPPORTER:  Well, it sounded like new ground to me.  What I thought was really interesting about tonight was that for Senator Obama I think tonight was a real opportunity to present himself as the next president of the United States.  And I thought among the strongest parts of his debate performance were the areas related to national security.

The area—the policy area that Senator Clinton surely thought would be her calling card, tonight it wasn’t that.  Part of the reason was the backtracking or the new ground made here.  But I just thought you saw somebody grow in front of all of our eyes and take real command.

He was firm.  He was calm.  He was in control.  And I thought part of the strongest part of his debate performance was national security.

OLBERMANN:  Was there at—Lisa, at any point in this—obviously in this situation that Senator Clinton finds herself in, was there a game-changing, a primary-changing event that can affect the outcomes of Ohio and Texas or secure them for Senator Clinton?  Did you have a moment that you perceived in that for your candidate?

CAPUTO:  Well, I think—let me first say I disagree slightly with my friend David Wilhelm.  I think Hillary Clinton showed a far superior knowledge on foreign policy issues, even Senator Obama admitted he hasn’t held an oversight committee hearing on the issue of Afghanistan.

And it was Senator Clinton who went into the long expose on the potential successor to Vladimir Putin.  That said, I think there was an interesting moment tonight in terms of Senator Clinton’s message going into the March 4th contests, which was she positioned herself as a fighter.

She said, it takes a fighter, a little bit of a play on “It Takes a Village.” It takes a fighter.  She referenced that she is the one who has the experience to fight for change for working class Americans, for the middle class, to fight for everyday Americans, to ensure that their futures are better.  And I think that is a definite shift in message going into a state like Ohio where the economy and people’s pocketbooks are major issues.

OLBERMANN:  David, did you see it that way?  Was there any game-changing moment for your candidate?

WILHELM:  Boy, I—well, I don’t think we needed a game-changing moment.  The momentum is with Senator Obama.  He’s connecting in Ohio and Texas on issues related to trade, the economy, you name it.  I did not see a game-changing moment, and I think Senator Clinton was frustrated as a result of that.

She had an almost impossible, daunting task coming into this debate, and that was to somehow change this—the current momentum that Barack Obama has.  That did not occur.  There was nothing about this debate that was a game-changer.  And, in fact, I think Barack Obama comes out of this debate with his presidential stature enhanced, looking strong, firm, and in command.

OLBERMANN:  David, Lisa, thank you kindly.  David Wilhelm, former Clinton presidential campaign manager who is now on the Obama team.  And Lisa Caputo, the former press secretary to Senator Clinton while she was in the White House.  Thank you greatly.

We’re going to have much more coming up in the next hour, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who is supporting Senator Obama for president.  Chris Matthews in Cleveland, Keith Olbermann in New York.  We’ll be back after this.

OLBERMANN:  In the 20th and possibly final debate between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois more than holding his own against the senator from New York.

For example, the subject of Pakistan:


CLINTON:  I just believe that, you know, as Senator Obama said, yes, last summer, he basically threatened to bomb Pakistan, which I don’t think was a particularly wise position to take.

OBAMA:  I never said I would bomb Pakistan.  What I said was that if we have actionable intelligence against bin Laden or other key al Qaeda officials and we—and Pakistan is unwilling or unable to strike against them, we should.

And just several days ago, in fact, this administration did exactly that and took out the third-ranking al Qaeda official.


OLBERMANN:  And on the issue of how Senator Obama could react to the controversial Minister Louis Farrakhan’s support, he explained he had denounced it.  That, at first, was not enough for Senator Clinton.


CLINTON:  There’s a difference between denouncing and rejecting.  And I think when it comes to this sort of, you know, inflammatory—I have no doubt that everything that Barack just said is absolutely sincere.  But I just think, we have got to be even stronger.

OBAMA:  I have to say I don’t see a difference between denouncing and rejecting.  There’s no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it.  But if the word “reject” Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word “denounce,” then I’m happy to concede the point.


OBAMA:  And I would reject and denounce.


OLBERMANN:  And, finally, on the subject of the attack ads that figured so prominently in the weekend’s conversation between these two candidates, there was no such similar explosiveness tonight.


OBAMA:  Senator Clinton has, in her campaign at least, has constantly sent out negative attacks on us, e-mail, robo-calls, flyers, television ads, radio calls, and we haven’t whined about it because I understand that’s the nature of this campaigns.

CLINTON:  What I find regrettable is that in Senator Obama’s mailing that he has sent out across Ohio, it is almost as though the health insurance companies and the Republicans wrote it.


OLBERMANN:  And they were able to clarify their positions for the following 16 minutes on the nuances of their respective health care plans.

Good evening.  At MSNBC and NBC world headquarters in New York, I’m Keith Olbermann, with Chris Matthews at Center at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University.

This is our continuing coverage of the final Democratic debate before the March 4 primaries, the final scheduled one between them this year.  We will see if there another at some later point—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I’m out here with Andrea Mitchell.  We’re at the debate site here.

And we’re joined right now by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

You know, I learned again tonight why people like the NBA.  They like the shot clock.  They like a high-scoring game.  This was a very low-scoring debate, I thought.


about on the issue of health care kind of to a draw.  I thought Barack was especially strong on trade policy.  And Hillary showed a certain mastery of foreign policy.

But what struck me was, there was no discussion of Appalachia -- 33 counties in this state are in Appalachia, working poor people, coal miners, chemical workers.  A coal miner dies every six hours from black lung disease.  Didn’t discuss the home foreclosure crisis.  And it is the centerpiece of the recession in our country today.  And, so...

MATTHEWS:  Is that a big Ohio issue?

JACKSON:  It’s a big issue in Cleveland.  I mean, the city has filed a suit against all of the lenders, for example.

But—but—and Texas.  I mean, it’s driving the recession.  I mean, the impact of the subprime lending crisis has in fact got banks right now.  It’s driving the entire recession.  So, how do you have Cleveland and don’t discuss urban policy?


Do you think Barack Obama is going to get pushed and is being pushed too far on the ethnic front?  He has to separate himself from Minister Farrakhan.  A lot of other—he’s being attacked for wearing an African costume during his trip over there last year.

Are people making him sort of reject his own people or rejecting people around him that may have different views, radically different views than him, in a way that will just antagonize the electorate?

JACKSON:  Well, there is some baiting going on.

But, so far, he’s been smart enough to get ahead and not get even.  He didn’t go for it, as it were.  But what struck me, with all the focus tonight on Mr. Farrakhan, who is a free agent to express himself, O’Reilly made the suggestion about the—about Michelle Obama and about the lynch mob.

He’s on the FOX.  He’s on the FCC.  And how can you miss the implication of something so dangerously reprehensible about the wife of Barack Obama?

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of her statement, “This is the first time in my life I’m proud to be an American”?  What did you make of that statement?

JACKSON:  Well, she was trying to distinguish between she’s proud to see America come alive.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  But “first time I’m proud of my country,” the first time?

JACKSON:  And—but she really is proud of her—you can be proud of your country, and not be proud of your government.  The government has been very oppressive.  People who fight for the country...


MATTHEWS:  But she didn’t say that.  Reverend, she didn’t say that.  She said the “first time in my life I’m proud of my country.”  That’s a strong statement.


JACKSON:  I really think it’s a play on words.  That’s no act of patriotism.

It does not suggest that Barack—or that O’Reilly ought to say, unless she brings clarity, he will bring out the lynch mob.  Mr. Bush says even playing with the word lynch is reprehensible and it should not even be used in jest.

And, of course, when a mass media personality drops such a hint and suggestion as that, it can create, if you will, an atmosphere of danger.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don’t like that.


MITCHELL:  Well, you  know, I—I did think, even though it was a low-scoring debate, I thought that Hillary Clinton achieved her purpose to an extent of saying:  I am a fighter.  Repeatedly, I am a fighter.  And I’m a fighter for health care.  I’m a fighter for things I believe in.


MITCHELL:  Why has it been so negative?  Why did I respond to those mailers?  Because I believe that they were misrepresenting my position about health care, something I’m passionate about.

So, she kept re-injecting that in.  Where I thought she missed was in sounding so peevish about, “I got the first question.”  It sounds like...

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to give him a pillow?

MITCHELL:  It sounds like inside baseball.

MATTHEWS:  I don’t think anybody has any idea what that’s about.

That’s inside baseball.

MITCHELL:  She got so—she got so sort of wound up over that “Saturday Night Live” issue.


MATTHEWS:  But, Andrea, I got to you...


JACKSON:  But she got points, when she needs a knockout punch.

MATTHEWS:  We have to withhold here—Andrea, there was a point in there which I thought was interesting at the end.

She said—Senator Clinton said:  You know, we need—I’m a woman running for president, something—I got a real shot.


MATTHEWS:  Things will be different if a woman is president.

It was sort of an interesting sort of argument, like, we will look at things differently if a woman is president.


MATTHEWS:  I think that is a very interesting argument, but I never heard it put so frontally.

MITCHELL:  We talked earlier—we talked earlier about the fact that, given the latest polls, if she’s going to change her destiny and win in Ohio, it has to be the women returning to her, the women she lost in Wisconsin, Virginia and Maryland.


MITCHELL:  That was an appeal.  That was a last pitch deliberately to try to reach after those women.

MATTHEWS:  I thought it was...

MITCHELL:  Realize that your opportunity is about to be taken from you by this young interloper.

MATTHEWS:  But, no—but it’s not—it wasn’t a selfish appeal to people, like, this is your chance, sisters, or whatever.  It was a statement that this country will be ruled perhaps differently because of a woman’s point of view, a woman’s leadership.  That’s a heck of a...


MATTHEWS:  Let’s take a look at this.


MATTHEWS:  I thought it was a—let’s look at this.

MITCHELL:  It was a gut-check question.

MATTHEWS:  I thought it was a—well, let’s all try to interpret it.

Here she is.  Here is the senator from New York.


CLINTON:  As I said last week, you know, it’s been an honor to campaign.  I still intend to do everything I can to win, but it has been an honor, because it has been a campaign that is history making.

You know, obviously I am thrilled to be running, to be the first woman president, which I think would be a sea change in our country and around the world, and would give enormous...


CLINTON:  ... you know, enormous hope and, you know, a real challenge to the way things have been done, and who gets to do them, and what the rules are.


MATTHEWS:  You know, I was on a debate panel with you, Reverend Jackson, back in—it’s only 20 years ago out in San Francisco.



MATTHEWS:  You and Dukakis.  You were in the finals.  You made the playoffs with him.

You watch this young guy.  How old were you?  This fellow is 46, Obama.  How old were you when you were in that race?

JACKSON:  About the same age.

MATTHEWS:  Same age.

What do you feel about this?  I want sentiment here, Reverend.

JACKSON:  I’m...

MATTHEWS:  I know I hear argument from you.  I want to hear sentiment.

JACKSON:  I’m guessed I’m impressed that, at a certain point, after 20 debates, people are not dealing just with facts, but feeling, how you feel about someone.


JACKSON:  The feeling (INAUDIBLE) Barack is on the rise.  And his strength right now is, people are feeling comfortable with him, feeling good about him.

And, so, while they debated the issues tonight, there was no—there was no knockout punch.  And, as for the strength, I thought, when she said about being a woman, I mean, Indira Gandhi guided India, and Golda Meir Israel...


JACKSON:  Then Mrs. Thatcher London—Britain.

I’m not sure what the big philosophical difference that makes.  But do know, if Barack had said...


MATTHEWS:  Well, haven’t you noticed a big change in Argentina under Kirchner?


MATTHEWS:  I’m just teasing.


JACKSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And Merkel?

You’re right.  It’s a good point you make.

JACKSON:  Well, she was...

MATTHEWS:  It’s not necessarily a gender difference.

JACKSON:  She was freer to say...


JACKSON:  ... if a woman rules, it’s different.


JACKSON:  If he had said this, if I’m an African-American, it would be different, it would be played very different.

MITCHELL:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  But you—what’s good for the goose is good for the gander here, the other way around.

A lot of the arguments for Barack Obama is, here’s this fellow with the sort of background in Kenya, look, grew up in Indonesia.  That background itself would be helpful to our world relations.  That argument is made.

JACKSON:  Well, he has a sense of universality.


JACKSON:  And that is important, that our foreign policy becomes so foreign to our values and become so isolated.  So, his sense of a world view does matter.

MATTHEWS:  Andrea?

MITCHELL:  His appeal to many people is precisely that, the excitement, the change, the fact that this would be so revolutionary.

And she has had the misfortune of thinking that she was a history-making candidate, and seeing this, perhaps some would, say more historic candidate.


JACKSON:  And, so, she was trying to remind women, this would be a sea change, and try to rally those who feel that gender might trump his change, because...

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is a change.

We have been ruled by white guys with...


MATTHEWS:  ... with two-syllable or one-syllable names since beginning.  It’s Ford, Bush, you know, and Reagan.  It’s the simple—and now we have a chance for a woman president or an African-American president with a unique background.

Reverend Jackson, it is history.  And we’re watching it here tonight.

JACKSON:  Well, you know, he has a combination of it.  He has framed the issue from a horizontal black-white-brown, to a future, past.  He’s reframed the issue.


JACKSON:  He brings these charismatic gifts and the exquisite timing and the resources.  And he’s almost untouchable.

MATTHEWS:  Who’s a better speaker, you or him?

JACKSON:  Barack.


MATTHEWS:  You heard it here.

Reverend Jackson, thank you.

Let’s go back to Keith in New York.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Chris.

Thank you, Andrea.

Thank you, Reverend Jackson.

And let’s follow up with that point that Reverend Jackson made about a minute ago.

Let’s turn to our panel, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, and Rachel Maddow, and “The Washington Post”’s Eugene Robinson.

Gene, let me start with you.

Reverend Jackson pointed out that if—essentially, if it had not been Hillary Clinton saying a woman president would be a sea change, would make history, would change how people perceive who is running things and how can run things and what can be done, but had been Senator Obama saying the exactly the same construction, exactly the same wording, only, he said, an African-American president would be a sea change and give people different ideas of who can run things and bring optimism and hope around the world, Reverend Jackson suggests we would not be reacting to that with the kind of round of applause that Senator Clinton got for—for her remarks.

Is his point well taken?  And what would we be doing here in the other -

in that parallel universe where he answers that question that way?


Well, first of all, Keith, I notice you keep coming to me first in these debates...



ROBINSON:  ... with the first question.

And I really resent that.


ROBINSON:  But, anyhow, I will make the best of it.

You know, I think it would...


ROBINSON:  I think it would have been played very differently.  It would have been seen as a—as a more polarizing thing to say.

And I think, afterwards, Senator Obama would have some rejecting and denouncing to do if he had—if he had tried to make that explicit argument.

He’s been very careful during the campaign not to make that argument and to let race be what it is, without dominating the—dominating his campaign.  But I think it would have been played very differently.  And I think Reverend Jackson is right.

It seemed to me that this evening was about Barack Obama being presidential, being or presenting himself as a president of the United States.  I noticed, when the—when the question was asked about Iraq, what if Iraq falls apart, what would you do, Hillary Clinton said it was a hypothetical.  She doesn’t like to deal with hypotheticals.

He jumped at the question to say that, well, we have to project U.S.  interests.  And I think it was—again, during that whole foreign policy part of the debate, it was him speaking as a president would speak.  And I—I think that was part of his aim tonight.


Hey, Pat, that seems like an extraordinarily good point.  And I will again use Reverend Jackson as a starting point, and disagree with him.  He said he thought that Hillary Clinton had—had prevailed in the areas of international business and—and national security.

And, yet, we had the—the—the unanswerable answer by Obama to Clinton about Pakistan of bombing Pakistan:  I didn’t say I was going to bomb Pakistan, but, oh, by the way, that’s basically what we just did in getting al-Libi in Pakistan, came back with an answer suggesting that Senator Clinton had equated longevity in Washington with actual practical experience or judgment, and—and responding to Senator Clinton’s answer about being ready on day one, her refrain about that, with saying that, you know, being ready—you were ready on day one to enable George Bush to put us in Iraq.

Did—did Senator Obama do better on the international front?  Did he -

did he seem presidential in that way, in a way perhaps he has not before in this series of debates?

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think he did.  I think it was his best points.

And, Keith, I have to say you have taken all the lines that I was going to respond to and say.


BUCHANAN:  But I will say this.  It’s—the way he does it, he uses the concrete language.  He said, yes, we’re trying together to get the bus out of the ditch, but you voted to drive the bus into the ditch, which is a very effective way of saying it.  It was very powerful, his wording.

He said, you know, it was the biggest strategic blunder in our history.  You drove the bus into the ditch.  And he followed up with that.  And the language and rhetoric of that was very strong, very powerful, very unequivocal.  It was really his best moment.

But, again—and let me say, I agree with Jesse Jackson on this.  If he said, look, with a black American in the White House, there will be a different approach here to things, and we will look at the—that would have invited a lot of follow-up questions that Hillary’s statement does not.

And I will say this.  The way he handles the—I mean, when Hillary went up—they showed that clip of Hillary up there saying the celestial choirs are coming down, and mocking him...


BUCHANAN:  ... and as—when they cut off it, he said, sounds good to me.  And it was a very funny line.  And I think he...

OLBERMANN:  And then compliments her joking delivery, too.




BUCHANAN:  And, to me, this is what Obama’s strength in.

But I will say this.  I thought she was very strong going after him in the first half.  I thought she was winning.  In the second half, I thought he parried everything.  I do agree that was presidential, as Gene says.  And I think the second half of that debate was—I think it was—it’s very tough to see how she turns this around, given the fact he did an outstanding job.

OLBERMANN:  And I have now stolen Pat Buchanan’s line.


OLBERMANN:  I have now given Gene Robinson the first question, when he didn’t want it.

So, all I have left is Rachel Maddow to—to not to be mad at me.

So, Rachel, why don’t you just say whatever you perceived happened during the debate, and I will just stay out of it.




MADDOW:  Thank you.

I would just say, before I think we praise Obama too much for the “driving into the ditch line,” I think we should all recall that it would be a little bit weird, in a metaphorical circumstance or in real life, for anybody to vote to drive into a ditch.  The metaphor does kind of fall apart when you get down to that level of detail with it.

Honestly, the big picture here is, I think that John McCain wins the debate tonight.  I think this was the Democratic voter enthusiasm suppression act of 2008.


OLBERMANN:  It took until late February, but the Democratic race has officially become grim.  It was exuberant up until now.  And, tonight, it was a drag.

And I think we have seen a lot of Democratic enthusiasm.  We have seen huge turnouts from the Democrats.  Tonight is the first real blow I have seen against them.

OLBERMANN:  Well, those were some tired fighters out there, as we used to say in boxing.


OLBERMANN:  Rachel, Pat Buchanan, Gene Robinson, stay with us.  We will be right back with you later on in the—in the hour.

We will have much more on the final Clinton-Obama debate, at least the final one before the Ohio and Texas primaries next time—next week at this very time.

We will return.  We will go back out to Cleveland.  MSNBC’s David Gregory will be with us as well.

You’re watching MSNBC’s coverage of the Ohio debate, only on MSNBC.


CLINTON:  What I find regrettable is that in Senator Obama’s mailing that he has sent out across Ohio, it is almost as though the health insurance companies and the Republicans wrote it.




OBAMA:  We have gone through 20 debates now.  And, you know, there is still a lot of fight going on in this contest, and we have got four coming up, and maybe more after that.

But the one thing I’m absolutely clear about is Senator Clinton has campaigned magnificently.  She is an outstanding public servant.  And I’m very proud to have been campaigning with her.


MATTHEWS:  Well, welcome back to Cleveland where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama met for what is their final debate before the Ohio and Texas primaries a week from tonight.

Keith Olbermann is with us with MSNBC at headquarters in New York.

And here with me right now is U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who is an Ohio Democrat from this area of Cleveland.  She supports Senator Clinton.

Senator Clinton, did she win tonight?


MATTHEWS:  Are you willing to state that clearly?

TUBBS JONES:  I want to state she hit a home run...

MATTHEWS:  All right.

TUBBS JONES:  ... and that I believe that this debate was a calming debate for both constituencies.

I think, over the past three or four days, you have seen them going at one another, which is all part of the political process.  But the message I think both candidates wanted to deliver to their constituency was, when it’s all over with, November is coming up, and we have got to be together.

MATTHEWS:  Is there any earthly reason for another debate at this point, or have they said what they have to say to each other?

TUBBS JONES:  Well, someone walked up to me today and said, well, no one has talked about an urban agenda.  And I would like to have a debate around an urban agenda.

And, so, maybe there is time for one more issue.

MITCHELL:  Congresswoman, let me ask you this.

As a supporter of Hillary Clinton’s and as an Ohio politician, if she doesn’t win here, which is critical to any Democrat winning the presidency, will you then urge her, or will others be urging her to step aside, to talk about the unity of the party, which you just mentioned?

TUBBS JONES:  I will say to you that that is a very personal decision for Senator Clinton.

I have been involved in advising her around a lot of things, but, that one, I’m going to sit and let her make her decision.  And whatever she decides, I’m going to be with her.

See, in politics, it’s about being supportive and loyal, and not running and jumping ship when you’re down and out.  And, so, right now, I don’t think she’s out, but I think she’s somewhat down.  And I’m really to just hang out and say, come on, girlfriend, let’s do this.  Let’s bring it along.  And I think the people of Ohio may still be with us.

MITCHELL:  But, after March 4, if that doesn’t work out, if she’s down and out, that might be a different story?

TUBBS JONES:  It may well be.  But I’m—again, I’m going to say, Andrea, I’m going to let her make that decision, because, see, nobody is with her at night after we have done 20 cities.  And I did it for her.  I have done it a couple of times.  Nobody believes that is the case.

MATTHEWS:  You know, we’re all—we’re operating on—this country is in shift right now.  There’s a lot of movement.  I have never seen polls move so fast.  They’re moving.  They move back a little bit.  They move a long way in another direction.

We have never talked more about demographics.  Maybe it’s healthy we’re admitting it.  We talk about Latinos and Latinas.  We talk about blacks, young blacks, older blacks.  We talk about old whites, young whites, young women, white guys.  I have never heard myself described as—as a minority group.  Now we’re one of the groups.


MATTHEWS:  We’re old guys—old guys, young...

MITCHELL:  Believe me, you’re not a minority.


MATTHEWS:  No, but I’m—but we’re talked about like that.

TUBBS JONES:  We’re going to have a show where we spend all the time doing just that.


MATTHEWS:  Well, it’s all about—it sounds like we’re putting together television demographics, like we do with ratings or something.

But I guess the question is generation.  And I hear things like young Latinos, young guys, young women of Mexican-American background in Texas are telling their parents how to vote, that it’s in every community, this is going on.

I want you to talk about the generational thing in your community here in Cleveland.  What is going on in the argument in the family rooms, at the dinner table?


TUBBS JONES:  I think they’re all over at place.  I was on a panel the other day with Tavis Smiley.

And, so, I had on the panel Michael Dyson.


TUBBS JONES:  Michael Dyson is with Barack.

MATTHEWS:  His wife...

TUBBS JONES:  But his wife, Marcia, is with Hillary.

Jesse Jackson is with Barack, but his wife—what—oh.

MATTHEWS:  Jacqueline.

TUBBS JONES:  Jacqueline.

MATTHEWS:  Jacqueline.

TUBBS JONES:  Jackie is with Hillary.

It’s—so, there’s this interesting peace going on.  In my community— and my congressional district is probably 52 percent African-American, 48 percent all others.  And it’s—and people are all over the place.


MATTHEWS:  Couldn’t we save a lot of gas if we decided at home which way the vote was going?


MATTHEWS:  I mean, if the husband and wife are going to vote different, stay at home.  Save the gas.  What do we do?


TUBBS JONES:  Oh, I think it’s fabulous.


TUBBS JONES:  I think it’s fabulous that people are so engaged and that—you know, keep in mind, there was a time when a woman in a home didn’t say much about many things.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

TUBBS JONES:  And it’s—a beauty of it is that women are empowered.

Girls are—young women are empowered.  Young men are empowered.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a tough question.  When you go to voting, and you have got a husband or wife, does the wife say to the husband, how you voting?  I want to know.

TUBBS JONES:  Probably.

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to get that personal?

TUBBS JONES:  Oh, it may well.


TUBBS JONES:  And then they may say—and then they may say, I’m going to leave you alone.  Or they may say, I already know what you’re going to do.

MATTHEWS:  I think the private ballot is a very important thing in a family situation.

MITCHELL:  Hillary Clinton wound up tonight by saying it would be a sea change to have a woman as president.

Wouldn’t it also be a sea change to have an African-American as president?

TUBBS JONES:  I mean, others—I will say this.  It will be a sea change no matter what happens.


TUBBS JONES:  But I will also say this, that Barack Obama can’t own Martin Luther King’s dream.  So, Senator Clinton can own it also.

And I think that that is what has been missing from this whole discussion about Martin Luther King’s...


MATTHEWS:  Well, as the guy says in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” we will see.


MATTHEWS:  And that’s the biggest truth...

TUBBS JONES:  We sure will.

MATTHEWS:  ... we can give around here.

Thank you very much...

TUBBS JONES:  Thanks for having me.

MATTHEWS:  ... U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones...



MATTHEWS:  ... who is our hostess here in Cleveland—Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Chris, we’re joined once again by NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory.

And, David, let’s talk about the movement on the answer about Senator Clinton’s vote to authorize war possibilities, at least, in Iraq in 2002.

Let’s listen to the clip first.


CLINTON:  Well, obviously, I have said many times that, although my vote on the 2002 authorization regarding Iraq was a sincere vote, I would not have voted that way again.

I would certainly, as president, never have taken us to war in Iraq.  And I regret deeply that President Bush waged a preemptive war, which I warned against and said I disagreed with.

RUSSERT:  To be clear, you would like to have your vote back?

CLINTON:  Absolutely.  I have said that many times.


OLBERMANN:  Has she, in fact, said that many times?  I recall, even from the debate I did in Soldier Field last August, where she said—she trotted out the first version of that, I think it was, which I—you know, if I had known then what I know now...

GREGORY:  Right.  Exactly right.

OLBERMANN:  ... there’s no way I would have voted in that way of giving him that—that carte blanche.

GREGORY:  There’s no question that, in the past, Senator Clinton has tried to parse that question and answer a lot more carefully by saying, you know, to do it all over again, there would have never been a war vote to have voted on, and, therefore, we would have never been to war.

I mean, this was a clear admonition tonight that she wanted it back.  And, if you’re Barack Obama, you do tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, leading up to next Tuesday’s important vote in Ohio and Texas, and you say, this is the judgment issue.  If Senator Clinton says she’s ready on day one, then what he said tonight is, on day one, she was ready to give in to George Bush, to become, as he said, an enabler and a facilitator for his bad judgment.

This is where he wants to fight the debate in these next few days to try to—to really underline something that I think he brought up effectively tonight, which is to poke holes in this foreign policy experience that she has asserts that she has.

OLBERMANN:  And it—also, is it not, to some degree, a twofer, David, because you not only can—can point—make that point, which I think he scored fairly heavily with during the debate—the debate tonight, but, also, you can say, this is where we have gotten to finally, almost a retraction, almost an apology there at the end, after 20 debates, that it’s taken 20 debates and basically 13 months of a campaign just to get to this state?

Can he not make some hay off that as well?

GREGORY:  Well, I think, yes, absolutely.  I think he will try to, if— if he wants to.  You know, there was a bit of him tonight trying to sit on the lead and that was an example where I thought he went for the jugular.  We haven’t heard that language from here before, to say this is the judgment issue that I want to drive home and that you’re an enabler of George W. Bush.  So I think he does try to make hay on that in the coming days, no question.

OLBERMANN:  And the only real reference to the Republican in this, which perhaps would be a disappointment to Democrats who were, you know, comfortable with either one of these candidates, was brought up by Barack Obama who said that obviously he thought his judgment on this was not equivalent to pure seniority in Washington, and that his judgment was better than either Senator Clinton on this topic or Senator McCain.

How much—can he carry that in the next few days as part of Barack Obama already works toward a one-on-one campaign against John McCain?

GREGORY:  Well, he’ll try to.  I mean, it becomes more difficult.  There are things that Senator McCain can bring up on this issue that Senator Clinton doesn’t want to, for the sake of Democratic unity, to get into a lengthier debate about Iraq.

There’s no question Senator Barack Obama wants to say John McCain is basically a continuation of George Bush’s war policy in Iraq.  The record will be a bit messier than that in terms of John McCain’s position who was critical of the conduct of the war.  And certainly McCain can draw out Barack Obama and say things like, what did you know when you didn’t have to actually cast a vote?  You weren’t in the Senate yet, you weren’t privy to the intelligence that Senator Clinton was privy to at the time.

It’s a separate matter that it turned out to be off-track, this intelligence.  But there’s a lot more detailed debate that goes to judgment and foreign policy that I think Senator McCain will bring up down the line that Senator Clinton has not gotten into.  Even as—she has tried, and as she tried tonight on the issue of Pakistan, I think she could have made a better point had she been more precise about what Senator Obama had said vis-a-vis Pakistan, for instance, which you brought up before.

OLBERMANN:  Right.  As opposed to saying basically that he had said he was basically going to bomb Pakistan, his response was—yes.

GREGORY:  Yes.  But let’s not say—but he basically said—let’s say precisely and why that was bad judgment in her estimation.  Because there’s a serious point to be made about Barack Obama’s foreign policy and the toughness with which he will approach a still very complicated part of the world and that is the Middle East.

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory is staying with us.  We’ll be back with you in a moment, David.  We’ll have much more from Cleveland as well.  You’re watching our coverage in the aftermath of the Clinton-Obama debate.  Democrats big 2-0, the final one before the Ohio and Texas primaries here only here on MSNBC.



think equates experience with longevity in Washington.  I don’t think the American people do and I don’t think that if you look at the judgments that we’ve made over the last several years that that is the accurate measure.

On the most important foreign policy decision that we face in a generation, whether or not to go into Iraq, I was very clear as to why we should not, that it would fan the flames of anti-American sentiment, that it would distract us from Afghanistan, that it would cost us billions of dollars, thousands of lives and would not make us more safe.




OBAMA:  I am absolutely clear that hope is not enough.  And it is not going to be easy to pass health care.  If it was, it would have already gotten done.  It’s not going to be easy to have a sensible energy policy in this country.  Exxon Mobil made $11 billion last quarter.  They are not going to give up those profits easily.

But what I also believe is that the only way we are going to actually get this stuff done is, number one, we’re going to have to mobilize and inspire the American people so that they’re paying attention to what their government is doing.  And that’s what I’ve been doing in this campaign and that’s what I will do as president.  And there’s nothing romantic or silly about that.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to Cleveland where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton met in their final debate before their primaries in Ohio and Texas.  Let’s get another perspective on what we saw here in Cleveland tonight from Michelle Bernard of the Independent Women’s Voice.

A perfect person to have on at this point, Michelle, which is to answer the question whether Hillary Clinton was right in saying—or correct in saying that a president who is a woman will bring a different way of looking at things and that’s a healthy thing for America.


right thing to say.  I mean, if—regardless of whether Barack Obama or Senator Clinton is the nominee, it will be a huge change in American politics.  But the bottom line is, people should not be voting for Barack Obama because he’s African-American.  People should not be voting for Senator Clinton because she’s a woman.

People, and I believe—very strongly believe that the American public, at least the Democratic American public, is going to vote for the candidate that they feel are the best-qualified to represent them and to be the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party.  And race and gender will have nothing to do with it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is that—how is that relevant to what’s actually happening?  I mean, let’s face it, African-Americans are voting overwhelmingly for Barack Obama and you’re saying they shouldn’t?

BERNARD:  No, I’m absolutely not saying that.  But what I am saying is I do not think, for example, that African-Americans are overwhelmingly voting for Barack Obama because he is African-American.  You have got to remember just a few short weeks ago, most people were scratching their heads saying, why isn’t Barack Obama attracting the support of more African-Americans?

There was a time until recently when African-Americans overwhelmingly were supporting Senator Clinton.  All of that changed in South Carolina, in Georgia, in Iowa and has been changing all along.

The demographics that have been voting for him have been increasing since that first caucus in Iowa, what seems like an eternity ago.  And I think that just as we have seen white women, for example, overwhelmingly voting for Senator Clinton, and they still are a large part of her base, we’re seeing that those voters are beginning to hemorrhage away and it has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman.

People, I believe, are believing for the person who they think are best going to represent what they’re looking for in the next president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Michelle Bernard, thank you very much for joining us.

Let’s bring in MSNBC’s Ron Allen who has been covering the Clinton campaign.

He joins Andrea and I here.

You, sir, I was watching this…


RON ALLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  … on this show too.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here you are and here you are among us with Andrea and

I.          And a fresh perspective, sir.

ALLEN:  Nothing terribly profound.  I think it was a draw, too.  I thought it was very interesting that Hillary Clinton seemed to be really trying very hard.  And also a lot of people made a point of this health care debate going on for so long.  On the trail, she has really been very passionate about it and I’ve been struck by how she has been talking about health care as a constitutional right, and as an issue of discrimination against the sick.

And this is what she has been saying to audiences out there in Ohio today.  And that seems to be what she has decided is going to be what she wins or fails on, this issue.

MATTHEWS:  Does she believe that—I mean, we have no national health plan right now in the country.  It seemed to me they were arguing around the edges of something that doesn’t exist.  It would be one thing if we had a national health plan, we don’t have one.

In other words, her continual complaint that Barack Obama doesn’t cover 15 million people, why is that important given the fact we don’t have any coverage to start with right now?  That we have to build towards that eventually?

ALLEN:  Well—but there was also a dispute about who’s telling the truth.  It wasn’t just about the edges of health care, it was about who’s telling the truth.  That’s what enraged her, she said, about these mailers that she had.  It’s that, you’re telling people—you’re telling poor people that I’m going to force you to buy a health care policy.

And I think it was as much about that and that’s why I think she got so—took such offense to that, those comments, is because, again, this is something she feels so strongly about, she feels like he’s just manipulating the whole thing and discrediting—and I think...

MATTHEWS:  Let’s put it together.  Your argument earlier that she was very effective at continually referring to herself as a fighter, but fighting for health care is what she has done before and to be blunt, didn’t get there.  She didn’t get it done.

ALLEN:  Well—but that was a long time ago.

MATTHEWS:  With a Democratic Congress, a Democratic president, her husband at the time, all the attributes you need to put something through, and now she may be going into office as a president with a perhaps not a Democratic Congress, it could be even tougher, (INAUDIBLE)?

MITCHELE:  Well, look at the arc of her career though.  Her career really began on a national scale when she was given the health care account by her husband, which his economic advisers, Bob Rubin, the late Lloyd Bentsen, all of the rest of them said was a terrible mistake, to hand one-seventh of the economy over to the first lady?  To have the East Wing fighting the West Wing?

It’s what made the Clinton White House dysfunctional in the first couple of years, largely.  And she has now acknowledged that was a mistake, that she went about it too secretively, that she went about it without bring enough people in.  That she didn’t compromise.

She says she has learned her lesson.  What she’s saying to the American people, to Democratic voters, this is what I care about.  I am a fighter.  I am passionate about this.  This is, as Ron points out, a constitutional right.  And interestingly, if she succeeds in this campaign in Ohio, which is, I think a threshold to continuing, it will be because she’s connected somehow with the voters here on health care.

MATTHEWS:  And I think that is the big question…

ALLEN:  I don’t think she made enough of her experience.  For example, she could have done a better job of drawing the contrast between what she did then and now and how she has grown.  I also thought in foreign affairs, which is my thing, because I spent so much time overseas, that she doesn’t really— the answer to the Iraq thing always hangs up the whole foreign affairs discussion.

She talked about Northern Ireland, she talked about Kosovo.  But she really didn’t explain more to people in ways that they can understand what she did as first lady and what she has done as a senator in a very practical way that shows she has more of a grasp of these things than Barack Obama.

He’s hanging on this vote—you know, this one vote in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is the war we’re fighting.

ALLEN:  It is.  It is.  But there is…

MATTHEWS:  And I thought she did give ground tonight by saying she wishes she had that vote back now.  Thank you, Ron.  Now we have got to go right back now to Keith—Keith who is in New York—Keith Olbermann.

OLBERMANN:  Chris, and let’s go back and turn to NBC News chief White house correspondent David Gregory in Washington.

For anybody who paid attention to the campaign between these two candidates for the last five days, David, there was a thought that perhaps, at the beginning or maybe after that first commercial break, Hillary Clinton might appear from off stage and bring a folding metal chair down on top of Barack Obama’s head.  Obviously that did not happen and nothing linguistically happened similar to that.  But did the back and forth of the last few days find its way into this debate?

GREGORY:  Yes, I think it did and I think part of it was the emotion you saw from Hillary Clinton, both when she appeared to be angry a little bit in the beginning of the debate, whether with the moderators, with getting that first question.  The fact—on a reference to Barack Obama getting better treatment, which has been her contention and that of her advisers.

But I also think there’s that one instance when the sound bite was played of Hillary Clinton mocking Barack Obama’s oratory and then she continued by saying, here was the larger point.  And if we listen to that, I have a thought about it.



CLINTON:  Stand up here and say, let’s just get everybody together.

Let’s get unified.  The sky will open.  The light will come down.


CLINTON:  Celestial choirs will be singing.  And everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.



OBAMA:  Sounds good.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR:  Of all the charges…


OBAMA:  I thought Senator Clinton showed some good humor there.  I would give her points for delivery.


OBAMA:  And look, I understand the broader point that Senator Clinton has been trying to make over the last several weeks.  You know, she characterizes typically as speeches, not solutions, or talk...


GREGORY:  Well, we—and what you—after that moment played out, Hillary Clinton, Keith, made the point that the larger point she was making that she too had high hopes about public service when she came to Washington with her husband and thought that anything was possible.  And she learned the hard way on health care that you need a lot of fight.

And this was Andrea Mitchell’s point tonight, showing fight, showing emotion is a contrast, I think, to what some people could perceive as aloofness in Barack Obama.  It may be a strength on points when it comes to his debating style that he appears unflappable, but I think that she’s making a point to Ohio voters to say I’m going to fight for you, I’m going to fight on health care, I’m going to fight to get NAFTA renegotiated.

That could have some resonance.  And after all, I think this is what is her strongest calling card, that her political experience will lead her to fight the system hard and to learn from mistakes that she has made in the past.  That’s an experience question that she can make, I think, over Barack Obama.

OLBERMANN:  Were there not occasions, though, do you think, David, in this debate tonight where the fighting instinct led her to hit herself in the chin with one of the punches?  I’m thinking about the Farrakhan exchange, which seemed to be really dicey territory, you know, reject, you should denounce and he said, well, I’ll reject and denounce, which might be the—you know, the new catch phrase for some cola somewhere.

But I mean, it seemed like every time she really went in on that point, he really calmed it all down and that may seem not so active, but it may have its own value in some respects.

GREGORY:  Well, I think you’re right and I think this is really what this contest is about.  We now have through these debates a real contrast in these styles.  I thought on that particular point that people will see this different ways.

Yes, he defused it, but it was I think strong for her to get in there and say, no, don’t say that you have denounced Farrakhan in the past, say that you reject it categorically.  You don’t want his support and you want distance from his point of view.

That I think crystallized the kind of campaigner that she has been.  And it was as if to say, don’t be so aloof and don’t parse the words about whether—he’s not offering help so I have to reject it.  So I think that was a strong point.

But again, he was able to absorb it in that very instance to not get defensive, as any number of us would get when you’re attacked by somebody, you’re going to say, I’ll concede the point and have no more damage done with it.

OLBERMANN:  And contrast it entirely to that last answer that we made— been making a lot of about Iraq, which, you know, whatever you think of Obama’s answer about Farrakhan, it took him about 10 seconds to revise it.

GREGORY:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  It took her 20 debates to get around to the point where she would say, I want that vote back.

GREGORY:  Absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  David Gregory in Washington, thanks for your perspectives tonight.

GREGORY:  Certainly.

OLBERMANN:  When we return, our panel will rejoin us to talk about the next week of this campaign heading into the Ohio and Texas primaries and whether we are all going to need to get a hat because it’s going to come down so heavily.  This is MSNBC’s continuing coverage of the Clinton-Obama debate, number 20 in a series.  We’re back after this.


CLINTON:  Well, I was having a little fun, you know, it’s hard to find time to have fun on the campaign trail.  But occasionally you can sneak that in.  But the larger point is that I know I’m trying to get health insurance for every American that’s affordable.  It will not be easy.  It’s not going to come about just because we hope it will or we tell everybody it’s the right thing to do.

You know, 15 years ago, I tangled with the health insurance industry and the drug companies and I know it takes a fighter.  It takes somebody who will go toe to toe with the special interests.




OBAMA:  The fact is that Senator Clinton often says that she’s ready on day one, but in fact she was ready to give in to George Bush on day one on this critical issue.  So the same person that she criticizes for having terrible judgment, and we can’t afford to have another one of those, in fact she facilitated and enabled this individual to make a decision that has been strategically damaging to the United States of America.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to MSNBC’s live coverage of the Clinton-Obama debate, perhaps the last one, at least in this cycle going into these primaries next Tuesday in Ohio and in Texas.  We’ve asked, by the way, our viewers tonight to use their mobile phones to text message who they thought won tonight’s debate.  It’s not a scientific poll, but here are the results.

Nearly 90,000 of you voted, that’s 90,000 -- I think it was precisely 89,000 actually, and 70 percent said that Barack Obama won the debate, 30 percent said that Hillary Clinton won the debate.

Now I have to offer this caveat, younger people tend to be more used to using text messaging.  We know that.  And we’ll have to ask about—you have to suggest something about the ideology of those who participated.  That’s hard to do.

It’s easy to do it generationally because Ron Paul, the libertarian, won the last one we did among Republicans debating.  So you get a sense of younger voters perhaps more free-spirited in their thinking.  But there you have it, 70 to 30 victory tonight by Barack Obama in our text message poll—


OLBERMANN:  Yes, but older people can afford—better afford text messaging rates.  Let’s go back to our panel for a round-up thought here about where we’re going to go now in this last week of the campaigns in Texas and Ohio, principally.  Eugene Robinson, Pat Buchanan, and we’ll start with Rachel Maddow.

Did anything happen tonight that suggests where we’re going to go in the next week before Texas and Ohio?

MADDOW:  Any Democratic voters who at this point who are still undecided between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama I do not believe are waiting to find out the difference between rejected or denounced.  They are not waiting to find out the difference between preparations versus preconditions for meeting with the little Castro brother.

There’s only one question they want answered right now, and it is, who can kick John McCain’s tail?  And if these two don’t start competing on the basis of who can hit McCain the hardest and most effectively, who can win the election and win the argument nationally, I think that Democratic enthusiasm is going to take a blow now that we’ve sunk into all of this negative tit for tat stuff.

OLBERMANN:  But, Eugene, we have got one week until Texas and Ohio presumably resolve things.  Can the Democratic campaign against the Republicans survive another week without the kind of anti-McCain focus that Rachel suggests?

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, I think they would be well advised to get back to a bit more of that.  It was—John McCain really was missing from most of this debate tonight.  I guess they both figure they have more important things to worry about now.

Barack Obama is trying to at this point close out the deal and Hillary Clinton is trying to move those polls or stop from moving in the opposite direction.  I’m not sure I heard anything tonight that seems guaranteed to change the poll numbers.

But you know, we’ve been wrong before.  So we are—you know, and that last thing, Andrea Mitchell mentioned it earlier, the mentioning that she would be the first woman president.  You know, it could have some resonance.  Does it change anything?  I’m not sure.

OLBERMANN:  Pat, if you were advising Barack Obama, would you have said to him, drop John McCain’s name as often as you possibly can in this debate tonight, make part of it against McCain, sort of segue past Hillary Clinton right now?

BUCHANAN:  No, I wouldn’t.  Hillary Clinton came at him tonight, she was the aggressor in this fight.  She was backing him up, but he’s counterpunching and he threw flurries.  I think that he very probably won the debate on points.

I agree with David’s point that she’s going to get points for a tough, aggressive, offensive strategy, probably with working class folks in Ohio.  But I don’t see this changing the general momentum at all.  And I mean, I think what Barack Obama is doing is trying to hold his lead.  And From what I saw in this battle, he held it.

OLBERMANN:  Sounded like about a 9-6 game, maybe 12-9, all field goals.  Pat Buchanan, Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, our panel tonight in the aftermath of debate number 20, thank you to all of you.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

BUCHANAN:  Thank you.

ROBINSON:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And let’s wrap up, Chris, is that the final score here, something like 12 to 9, Obama?

MATTHEWS:  Well, who was favored?  Well, I think perhaps—I think the big thing was that Hillary Clinton admitted that she would like to have her vote back authorizing the war with Iraq.  I think, as I said before, our colleague Tim Russert finally brought the marlin into the boat tonight after weeks and months of trying to get it in.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Twenty debates’ worth.  Stay with MSNBC, when we come back, we will have the complete Clinton-Obama debate for those of you who missed it or those of you who just enjoyed it so much you want to see it again.

For Chris Matthews in Cleveland, I’m Keith Olbermann at MSNBC and NBC News world headquarters in New York.  Thanks for being with us and good night.

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