'The Rachel Maddow Show'for Wednesday, October 8, 2008


October 8, 2008


Guests: Mike Easley, Pat Buchanan, Paul Rieckhoff, Amy Klobuchar

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening Mr. Olbermann. Thanks, Keith.

And thank you for staying with us for the next hour.

Sean Hannity is not the only one helping John McCain do the dirtiest work of his campaign. Today, incredibly, so did his McCain's wife, Cindy. A shocker of a political move one day after Cindy's husband lost his second straight debate.

(voice over): Two debates down and John McCain can't get the break he needs, even when the issue isn't the economy, the strongest punches in the fight are still landing on John McCain's chin.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the guy who sang, "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." Next up, Baghdad.


MADDOW: Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and NBC's Andrea Mitchell give us their verdict on the second presidential debate.

(INAUDIBLE) campaign trail today, a reeling Senator McCain struggles for a message that will sit.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Across this country, this is the agenda I have set before my fellow prisoners. And the same standards of clarity and candor must be applied to my opponent.


MADDOW: My fellow prisoners, did he say?


CINDY MCCAIN, SEN. JOHN MCCAIN'S WIFE: The day that Senator Obama decided to cast a vote to not fund my son when he was serving.


C. MCCAIN: . sent a cold chill through my body.


MADDOW: And did you get that same chill through your body when your husband voted against troop funding, too?

Off the rails all through the battleground states. Down in Pennsylvania, an average of 12 points, down in Ohio by four; down in Colorado by four, down in Florida by three, down in Nevada by three-down nearly five in Virginia? McCain is even down in North Carolina? The Democrat is ahead in North Carolina?

Tar Heel State Governor Mike Easley is here to explain how McCain's presidential campaign is turning even deep red states a perky shade of purple.

McCain and Palin's guilt by association tactics starts to boomerang.


SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The idea that a leading American politician who might be vice president of the United States would not just stop mid-sentence and turn and to condemn that, you know, I just-it's just a slippery slope. It's a place we shouldn't be going.


MADDOW: Senator Biden hits back hard, today.

And on the substance, veterans' issues-owned by John McCain, right? Well, the report card is in. Paul Rieckhoff on the evidence that the candidate with the better record on veterans is this one-not that one.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

(on camera): So, what happened the morning after a presidential debate when most of the country says you lost, that you didn't pull off the game-changer that your increasingly angry campaign desperately needed.

Well, if you're Senator McCain, apparently the answer is, send your wife out to attack. Seriously. Make the woman who would be the first lady your attack dog. Unprecedented, unbecoming, almost unbelievable? Well, that's the role that Cindy McCain played today, in Pennsylvania.


C. MCCAIN: The day that Senator Obama decided to cast a vote to not fund my son when he was serving.


C. MCCAIN: . sent a cold chill through my body, let me tell you.


MADDOW: You know how crazy and hectic it can be out there on the campaign trail? Somehow, in all the hurly-burly today, Mrs. McCain didn't get around to mentioning that Senator McCain also voted against funding the troops.

Senator Obama voted "no" on the defense authorization because there wasn't a timetable for leaving Iraq included in the package. Two months later, Senator McCain also voted "no" on the same kind of bill because there was a timetable for leaving Iraq. Both men, both senators, both voted "no" on funding.

But Mrs. McCain wasn't done.


C. MCCAIN: I would suggest that Senator Obama change shoes with me for just one day.


C. MCCAIN: I suggest he take a day and go watch our fine young men and women deploy, get on those busses and leave with that a smile and a charge.



MADDOW: After watching his wife deliver her attack on Senator Obama, Senator McCain continued the assault.


MCCAIN: So, who is the real Senator Obama? Is he the candidate that promises to cut middle-class taxes or the politician who voted to raise middle-class taxes? Is he the candidate who promises change or is he the politician who has brought into everything what is wrong with Washington?


MADDOW: So, now, we know. That's what you do the day after losing your second presidential debate. What's McCain going to do if he loses the third debate, too? Start inciting his crowds to call for Obama's head? Actually, don't answer that.

For his part, Senator Obama spent the day campaigning in Indiana.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, back in 1980, Ronald Reagan asked the electorate whether you were better off than you were four years ago. At the pace things are going right now, you're going to have to ask whether you're better off than you were four weeks ago.



MADDOW: Well, the answer from the 21,000 people gathered there was a resounding "no." The answer that Senator Obama's pollsters may have whispered behind the scenes he asked if you're better off that you were four weeks ago, is probably variations, some version of "Yes, we're way better off."

Four weeks ago, Senator Obama trailed Senator McCain by four points in Gallup's daily tracking poll. Today, Obama opened up his widest lead yet in that poll. He's now ahead by 11 points. And polls taken immediately after last night's debate showed that a majority of debate watchers thought Obama won.

So, I can understand why the McCain campaign is hitting the panic button right now. Why can't understand is, why is the panic button Cindy McCain?

Joining us now is NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who reported on the McCain rally today in Pennsylvania. She was also in the room for last night's debate in Nashville.

Andrea, thank you so much for joining us.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: You have great experience covering presidents and would-be presidents. How unusual is it to see a potential first lady, a would-be first lady, throw a political bomb like Cindy McCain did today?

MITCHELL: It was unusual. And the McCain campaign says it's not that Michelle Obama has also been, you know, very partisan. But we can't find anything that really comes close to what Cindy McCain did today because she's talking about a very emotional issue-support for the troops with her own son being there. Something that anyone would have a great deal of empathy for, and also the fact that Sarah Palin, of course, has a son there now, and Joe Biden, a son that just deployed.

So, we're talking about a very powerful issue here. And the fact that she didn't make reference to the, you know, the vote by her own husband on this issue, that the McCain camp says that that was a symbolic vote because John McCain knew that George Bush would veto that bill, Rachel.

MADDOW: I don't want to ask you to play pundit rather than a reporter here, Andrea, but I wonder if you are hearing anything from the Obama campaign that indicates that they want to punch back against attacks like this by pointing out John McCain's vote against troop funding, if you want to call it that, if they want to punch back by making some of their own guilt by association allegations against John McCain, or whether they think that they can strategically, just stay clear of these attacks, hopefully create blowback for the McCain campaign and sort of-hope that they are hurt by the fact that they are going negative?

MITCHELL: Well, certainly, Joe Biden was out there today. He gave one of his strongest speeches yet. Two, actually, very strong speeches and -- against Sarah Palin, took her on, took on the negative attacks and did it, by all accounts, very effectively.

That said, you know, the Obama campaign has been pretty tough, too. They were prepared with that Keating Five video over the weekend and as soon as Sarah Palin took on the William Ayers issue, they unloaded all over John McCain with the Keating Five. Some people thought that that was unfair.

So, it's not that either side has been refusing to throw punches. In fact, Barack Obama himself says, "We're not going to throw the first punch, but we will throw the last punch." So, they're not going to be Swiftboated and not have what happened to Michael Dukakis, and John Kerry, and, you know, some would say, Al Gore.

MADDOW: In terms of the number of different attacks that are coming from the McCain side, and I take your point, absolutely on the Keating Five video. That 13-video being ready to go from the Obama campaign. That's obviously something they had in reserve. You don't whip a 13-minute documentary on short notice.


MADDOW: But we are seeing so many different negative messages from the McCain campaign at once. We are seeing Palin publicly contradicting the campaign on, for example, the wisdom of pulling out of Michigan. We saw, over the weekend, some campaign aides from the McCain side weirdly telegraphing their strategy of trying to avoid talking about the economy.

I feel like we are seeing a lot of indiscipline from the McCain campaign right now. Do you get that sense covering them? Do you think that we're going to see anybody get fired from that campaign, any shakeups?

MITCHELL: No, I think what you are seeing is a lot of frustration. Look, they were ahead as you pointed out. September 10th, they were up in the daily tracking poll. And now, since this economic crisis and you can track it, from that, they have gone steadily down.

And he needs a game changer. He didn't get it last night. You can score it either an Obama victory or a tie. But, either way, John McCain didn't do what he needed to do to shake this thing up. So, they have to figure out what is the event that will shake this up.

And outside some, you know, other thing happening, some dreadful thing happening or some dramatic change on either foreign or domestic policy, it is hard to imagine how this race will change, if the polls are correct, if the battleground states are shaping up as they are.

We-as of the beginning of this week, we are scoring the battleground states, as were another news organizations, to be 264 for Barack Obama. That means he only needs one more state and he can do it with any number of combinations.

Whereas, it's a much bigger stretch to imagine that John McCain, given the current circumstances, with what is happening on the ground right now, would be able to pull this thing out.

MADDOW: Hence the frustration.

MITCHELL: Exactly.

MADDOW: NBC's Andrea Mitchell, thank you so much for joining us tonight. It's always great to have you on the show, Andrea.

MITCHELL: My pleasure. Thanks.

MADDOW: Want to know why worries about the economy are translating to votes for Barack Obama? Part of the reason is that voters are blaming the Republicans generically for the financial crisis more than they're blaming Democrats. But another part of the reason was evident last night, in the way the two candidates talked about the crisis.


OBAMA: The middle-class needs a rescue package. And that means tax cuts for the middle-class. You need somebody working for you and you got to have somebody in Washington who's thinking about the middle-class. Prosperity is not just going to trickle down. We got to help the middle-class.


MADDOW: Senator McCain, last night, could bring himself to say the phrase "middle-class" even once last night, even as he several times referred to middle income voters. His big gambit on the economy last night was actually something he proudly called his new idea, his very own idea and does not include the word "earmark."


MCCAIN: I would order the secretary of treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes. And it's my proposal, it's not Senator Obama's proposal, it's not President Bush's proposal.


MADDOW: Except it's not McCain's proposal. At least in the sense that the proposal already exists within the $700 billion bailout package Congress just passed. That's the bill that Senator McCain fake suspended his campaign to help pass, right?

And even within the bill, it wasn't McCain's idea. The list of supporters who pitched it before McCain include senators Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd, Congressman Barney Frank. Furthermore, in terms of political strategy, conservatives hate this idea-government doing more, nationalizing the mortgages. Want to try again, Senator McCain?

Joining us now: Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She is supporting Barack Obama for president.

Senator Klobuchar, thank you so much for joining us

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D) OBAMA SUPPORTER: Well, it's great to be on, Rachel. Thanks for having me on again.

MADDOW: The Wisconsin advertising project. Reports today that 100 percent.


MADDOW: . of the TV ads McCain is running right now are negative ads, attack ads about Obama. Only 1/3 of Obama's ads are negative. My feeling is that negative ads usually worked. Do you think it's going to be a tough month ahead?

KLOBUCHAR: You know, when you see that debate last night, every time when Americans think about the pocketbook issues that matter to them, we do well, because Barack Obama has a clear plan for this economy.

And I got to tell you, I was just in Wisconsin, Rachel. I was in small towns. I watched the debate last night in Green Bay and Sheboygan is there for Barack Obama. In fact, they brought you a button from Wisconsin, Rachel, that I thought you'd like. Sheboygan is the bratwurst capital of the universe. It's a Brat (ph) Obama button.


KLOBUCHAR: So, I got to tell you, the people I talked to there-have you seen it? It's a collector's item. It's for you. They wanted you to have it.

MADDOW: Thank you. Thank you very much.


But here's the deal, when I was in Wisconsin and we watched that debate together, people were focused on Barack Obama's plan for the economy. I think it was helpful how he was able to clarify his tax cuts for the middle-class despite all the lies from the other side on this.

And the other thing, when McCain put forward his proposal on the mortgages, I got to tell you, that was news for me. I lived and breathed that debate. For two weeks in the Capitol, he never made it in the chamber; he never made it on the street corner. We never heard it before when we actually put that rescue package through.

But one of the things we've learned today, and I talked to one of Senator Obama's economic advisors today, if we look more of what Barack's plan, is that actually it's different than some of what we've been talking about.

He-what McCain is talking about, what McCain is talking about here is buying the mortgages at face value, which actually means that the banks will be held whole. So, the banks will be in good shape, money into their coffers. But money out of the taxpayers' pockets because there is just no upside for the taxpayers here and I think you're going to hear more about that tomorrow -- $300 billion all at face value for these mortgages with no upside for the taxpayers.

MADDOW: Even if you don't really know anything about markets and the economy, most people know that buying high and selling low is a bad strategy. And that's what he is proposing in this mortgage bill.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, and that's-exactly. And it's very different when you look back at the depression and what went on there where you had actually negotiation for these mortgages. This is actually just buying them at face value and it's very troubling.

And you add to that, he's trying to do a game-changer in the middle of the debate. No meat on the bones for this proposal. And just like when he suspended his campaign and tried to cancel the debate, it didn't change the game. Barack Obama won that debate for the people of America.

MADDOW: If this were a race for governor of Minnesota or governor of Wisconsin instead of for president, would you want Barack Obama's message on the economy and the overall balance of his message, how much time he's spending talking about the economy, would you want it to be the same to voters in the states like yours, in states like yours such important swing states, want to hear what Barack Obama is saying right now or is there some way you'd like to nudge him?

KLOBUCHAR: You know, I think when you look at the number of people that watched that debate last night-we beat out "American Idol." The people of America are listening to that economic message. They care about it.

When I was in Wisconsin yesterday, I'm starting on an R.V. tour tonight in Colorado with the governor here and Senator Salazar, people are just turning out in cafes. They want to have the answer. They want to hear more about Senator Obama's healthcare plan. They don't care about lipstick and all these negative ads and all these things that you are hearing from the other side and these snarky comments.

They were offended last night, I got to tell you, when Senator McCain would hardly look at Senator Obama. In the last debate he wouldn't look at him. In this debate, he called him "that one." I got numerous comments all today, traveling to small towns in Wisconsin, about how they thought McCain seemed angry.

And, you know, I'm sure he's angry because the economy we're seeing, just really the chickens coming home to roost from years of the Republican policies. And it's coming at a very inopportune time for him.

Well, guess what? It's coming at an inopportune time for the middle class in this country. And they are listening and they are listening to Senator Obama. So, as much as John McCain doesn't want people to listen to the truth and the facts here, the people of America are listening.

MADDOW: Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, good luck on your R.V. tour. And thanks for your time tonight.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. It's great to be on, Rachel.

MADDOW: One programming note, I want you to know that we did invite a representative from the McCain campaign to come on tonight to discuss the economy, Senator McCain's proposals, the way his campaigning, the debate, they did not respond. We hope they will.

So, the McCain campaign is all excited, apparently, over the senator's moment last night with a Navy veteran. Today, they had been calling attention to the image, calling the image itself a winner.

Here's the problem. McCain's valor in service of his country stands undisputed, but his own record on veterans' affairs as a politician is in full dispute. This week, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, IAVA, they give McCain a "D" for his record on legislation to veterans.

Will preconceived notions trump the reality of his record? I need a talking down on this one.

But first, one more thing about last night's debate, notice that John McCain did not bring up Obama's palling around connections with William Ayers. Maybe here's why. Among a list of supporters the McCain campaign released today is Leonore Annenberg, like her husband Walter, she was an ambassador under Ronald Reagan.

If the name Annenberg rings a bell is because William Ayers and Barack Obama crossed paths when they were involve with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Yes, those same Annenberg, the Annenberg seemed to have palled around with Bill Ayers, too. So, Senator McCain is being supported by the pal of a domestic terrorist? How many degrees of separation make something like this OK?


MADDOW: The geniuses at Politico.com deemed last night's debate the worst ever. On its blood boiling effect on me alone, I beg to differ. Do you want to know what got me fuming? It was this moment.


OBAMA: And Senator McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I'm green behind the ears and I'm just spouting off, and he's somber and responsible.

MCCAIN: Thank you, very much.

OBAMA: Senator McCain, this is a guy sang, "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran."

MCCAIN: I hate to even go into this. I was joking with an old veteran friend, who joked with me about Iran. But, the point is, that I know how to handle these crises.


MADDOW: Wait a minute. I actually remember how this went. And that's not how it went. We weren't eavesdropping on a private conversation. McCain is saying the "Bomb Iran" song at a campaign event into a microphone, in front of a crowd.


MCCAIN: That old Beach Boys song, "Bomb Iran"? Bomb, bomb, bomb,

Iran-anyway -


MADDOW: After that, the McCain campaign was apparently so proud of the "Bomb Iran" song and the shock reaction that got nationally, that the following week, the original Beach Boys, "Barbara Ann" as warm-up music repeatedly at McCain campaign events.

Senator McCain last night kept up his habit also of boasting about his affinity for America's veterans and their political issues. When a navy vet asked a question, McCain walked over and touched the man before answering his question. The problem here is the record on veterans' affairs of which Senator McCain frequently brags.

In the latest congressional report card, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, IAVA, gave John McCain a "D," a "D" as in dog (ph), for his record on legislation friendly to veterans. The report cited McCain's failure six different times to vote on recent measures to expand veterans' benefits. Today, VoteVets.org also targeted Senator McCain as part of a new ad campaign.


JASON BENSLEY, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: When the new G.I. bill came up in Congress to help today's vets go to college, John McCain, you skipped a vote for a political fundraiser in San Diego.


MADDOW: To a significant number of veterans, John McCain does appear to be the preferred candidate of the choice between Barack Obama and John McCain. What boils my blood here is the prospect that voters' assumptions drawing from John McCain's biography and his legislative record are too very, very different things. And in the end, what I need to be talked down about, is the idea that John McCain is getting credit that he really is not due.

Here to attempt to Talk Me Down is Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Hi, Paul. Nice to see you.


MADDOW: The new report card that you had put out on the legislative record on veterans' issues for 2007-2008 congressional year, gives John McCain a "D." How do Barack Obama and Joe Biden do?

RIECKHOFF: Barack Obama gets a "B," Joe Biden also gets a "B." But 50 folks in the Senate did get "A's." Overall, it was a very good year for Congress. They passed a largest funding increase in 77 years and they passed the historic G.I. bill.

But for McCain and for Obama, the most critical issue here was attendance. McCain missed six of nine of our key votes. And Obama actually missed four of nine. Senator McCain missed more votes than Tim Johnson who was in a coma, OK? Senator Obama and Senator McCain both missed more votes than Senator Ted Kennedy who had a brain tumor.

So, it's about showing up. You can't support vets if you're not there to vote on their key issues. And unfortunately, Senator McCain was absent for six of those nine key votes.

MADDOW: And talk about a key issue, one of the votes that he

missed, that Senator Obama did not miss, I should point out, was the new

G.I. bill. Senator McCain had a sort of unusual role on the formation of the G.I. bill this year. He did, in the end, try to take sort of credit for it. He was thanked at the outset at the signing ceremony, but he was not involved as an original co-sponsor on this legislation, isn't that right?

RIECKHOFF: Correct. There were 53 original co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle. Eventually, right-wing folks like Senator Warner got involved with folks on the left like Senator Webb. Every major veteran services organization in the country supported it, more ¾ of the House. So, this was kind of a legislative locomotive. And one of the only blocks along the way consistently was Senator McCain.

So, it's not a partisan issue here. The G.I. bill had tremendous support. And he was just really behind this legislative issue. Now, he's made attempts to go back and say he was holding out for transferability. Transferability, being able to transfer your G.I. bill benefits to your family members. It was already in the law. It was at the discretion of the Department of Defense.

So, it's kind of a red herring there. But the reports are out there now. Everybody can check the vote. Go to VeteranReportCard.org, you can check their votes and everybody else who's up for reelection this year.

MADDOW: Paul, I know that IAVA is a totally nonpartisan organization. You guys do not make endorsements. You don't make political contributions.

But I have to ask you, politically, looking at this presidential race, when you see things like John McCain going over and touching that man on the shoulder, sort of ostentatiously in the audience last night.


MADDOW: When you see him talked so frequently about his love for veterans and you know, their painful experience, the distance between the way he talks about them, sort of the symbolism that he wraps himself in around veterans' issues and what he has done as a politician, do you think there's any hope of bridging that gap in people's minds, to making people recognize that he hasn't actually been that great on veterans' issues as a politician?

RIECKHOFF: I hope so. You know, that's why we created this report. And not just for Senator McCain but for everybody. There's a lot of empty rhetoric in Washington about people who support the troops. And looking through these records, looking through Defense appropriations votes, looking through votes on the G.I. bill, it's not a sexy thing.

But we kind of done the hard work and made it completely transparent and let the votes speak for themselves. But being a veteran alone doesn't mean you are strong on veteran issues. You can be Dennis Kucinich got a good grade and he's been against this war as much as anyone. It's about the votes, not about your veteran status. And we made it entirely transparent.

MADDOW: Paul Rieckhoff from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, it's nice to see you.

RIECKHOFF: You, too. Thanks so much.

MADDOW: I should mention, as a programming note, just to be fair that Paul appears weekly on my radio show on Air America Radio. And I never get to see his pretty bald face.

So, it's nice to see you, Paul.

RIECKHOFF: You, too.

MADDOW: Barack Obama is ahead in one battleground state after another-Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, Colorado. And how about this? It's all tied up in north Carolina. A Democrat has not won the Electoral College votes of North Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

We're going to be speaking with the governor of North Carolina about his state's 14 electoral votes and who's going to win them. Coming up.


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Two years ago, if you told a pal over breakfast that states like Indiana and Virginia could turn for Democrats in 2008, you might have caused coffee to squirt out your pal's nose. Well, grab a napkin and dry off because that's the reality for the Obama campaign.

Yes. Virginia and Indiana are apparently in play. Coming up, I'll talk to the governor of another improbable battleground state, Mike Easley from North Carolina about a red state turning purple.

First, though, it's time for some underreported holy mackerel stories in today's news. June 5th was a strange day in New York City this year. Two men climbed the "New York Times" building on the same day. As cable news covered every perilous step.

Alain Robert climbed to promote the fight against global warming. Considered a professional stuntman known for climbing buildings, he scaled the building without struggle, but he was later arrested.

Later in the day, the same day, Renaldo Clarke climbed the same building. He struggled a little. He was there for a different cause. He wanted to promote the fight against malaria. He, too, was arrested.

But here's the holy mackerel, or holy-something part. Mr. Robert and Mr. Clarke who climbed the same building on the same day - both faced grand juries this week. But only Clarke was indicted on criminal charges - reckless endangerment - while charges were dismissed against Mr. Robert, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) him with a disorderly conduct violation.

What's the difference, you ask? Well, apparently, one grand jury bought Mr. Robert's claim that he was an experienced climber. So I guess they considered his boneheaded assent not to be reckless. Coincidentally, Robert is bright and Clarke is not, just a fact in this story.

Finally, a story about victory in Iraq, the thing John McCain promises Americans at every campaign spot. Intelligence officials speaking to McClatchy(ph) News Service on the condition of anonymity about a draft of a forthcoming national intelligence estimate on Iraq, a warning the path to victory in Iraq is not certain, that unresolved ethnic and sectarian tensions could unleash a new wave of violence.

Among the concerns, a few that have been there from the beginning; disputes between Shiites and Kurds over the provincial election law; struggles over who should control the oil-rich northern parts of the country; the Shiite-led government's takeover of the former Sunni insurgents, The Sons of Iraq; and a what-if scenario involving Muqtada al-Sadr and whether he will abandon the shaky ceasefire.

You want a concrete example of how things really are in Iraq? Iraqi refugees in Syria were offered free plane tickets back home, $1,300 in cash to each family, an additional $500 from United Nations and promises of a house and a job once repatriated. Yesterday, when the U.N. opened the registration center in Syria for those interested in the incentives to go home, nobody showed up.


MADDOW: We are 27 days away from the presidential election. Sarah Palin said today, we are, quote, "at the halfway point in the election." For those of us who are aware that the campaign started before the second week of September, that would be. Twenty-seven days actually seems like it's coming up quickly. It seems like we are close to the end of the race.

But at this point in the campaign, whether you see it as a long, leisurely almost-month of campaigning stretching out before us, or whether you see this is a sprint to the very-near finish. In either case, you have to admit that you would rather be Barack Obama right now than John McCain.

Looking at the battleground state polls, in Ohio, Obama's ahead by an average of four points. Virginia - Obama ahead by five. Colorado - Obama ahead by four. Pennsylvania - Obama leading by an average of 12 points. That is not a typo.

Remember when everyone thought Obama couldn't compete in Pennsylvania because Hillary Clinton won the primary there? Those were the days. The totally, totally wrong days.

Today, campaigning in Indianapolis in the Candy Apple Red State of Indiana, Obama hammered home his message on the economy.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In last night's debate, John McCain and I each had the chance to make the case for change, to talk about what we would do differently from the last eight years when it comes to lifting our middle class and growing our economy and restoring our prosperity.

But all we heard from Sen. McCain was more of the same Bush economics that led us into this mess in the first place. I can take four more weeks of John McCain's attacks, but the American people can't take four more years of John McCain's Bush policies.



MADDOW: Obama's running mate, Sen. Biden delivered a second helping, stumping today in the swing state of Florida. He called the McCain campaign out on its strategy of implying that Obama hearts terrorists.


SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The one they have chosen is to appeal to fear with the veiled question, who is the real Barack Obama? Ladies and gentlemen, to have a vice presidential candidate raise the most outrageous inferences, the ones that John McCain's campaign is condoning, is simply wrong.

You can't call yourself a maverick when all you've ever been is a sidekick.


MADDOW: Obama is forcing McCain to fight where he could not have expected to have to fight, in North Carolina, where no Democrat has won the state's electoral vote since 1976. "The Washington Post" reports this week that new voter registrations in North Carolina favored Democrats by a six-to-one ratio over Republicans.

Obama prepared for this week's presidential debate in North Carolina's the western mountains. In contrast, John McCain hasn't visited the state in six months. And even though this time last year, no one thought North Carolina was up for grabs in this election, new polls out today are at best a mixed message.

One poll out today shows McCain leading by three points, which is within the margin of error, and another has Obama ahead by six points, which is not within the margin of error.

North Carolina has seen some of the most negative of negative ads in modern American political history. The footage you are seeing right now is footage from the late Sen. Jesse Helms' famously blunt racist ad that he used to beat African-American Harvey Gant in the Senate race there in 1990. How far will the McCain camp go to defend North Carolina this year? And will negative ads be their best (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the state.

Joining us now is North Carolina's Democratic Governor Mike Easley. Governor, it's great to have you on the show. Thank you so much for taking time to join us.

GOV. MIKE EASLEY (D-NC): Thank you, Rachel. Good to be with you.

MADDOW: The last time that John McCain visited North Carolina was many months ago. And on that visit, he told the audience that he thought he was in West Virginia. That was the big headline out of that visit when he was at Wake Forest. Does John McCain need to come back to this state and do some more campaigning if he wants to win over your constituents?

EASLEY: Well, I hope he doesn't come back. But if he wants to, he's got a lot of work to do here. I think that you've seen Barack Obama not only with a massive registration drive and people registering to vote for the first time ever, but he's even moving out into the rural areas. You've mentioned that he was in the mountains. He was in the mountains for three days and he did a lot of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there. Michelle was down east, which is also rural. So he's looking to get not just urban, suburban, he's out there trying to get some rural votes, and I think he will.

MADDOW: Looking especially at rural white voters - those are some of the voters that people say - to look for a Bradley effect, to look for polling that doesn't match people's voting behavior. People may be more willing to say they will vote for a black candidate than they will be to actually check the box on Election Day. Are you expecting that? Are worried about that at all?

EASLEY: Well, there's always some of that. I think you're going to see a lot less of that among young voters. And you don't pick up a lot of them on the polls because they tend to be cell phone voters.

But I think you're going to see - now, this is coming from barber, so this is good stuff I'm going to tell you. My barber tells me - and this is a guy who can put a razor - legally put a razor to your throat and ask you a question. So that's a good focus group he's getting all day long.

He says we're going to see a reverse Bradley effect, that there a lot of people that have been saying all along they would never vote for Barack Obama, but they are going to go in the voting booth and they're going to do it because it's in their economic interest.

I saw a pick up truck Monday, a guy riding in it with a shotgun in the back. And he had a camo hat and two Obama stickers. And I think the message there is, "I like McCain, but I love my job." And that's what people are looking at now.

MADDOW: Obama says that he's got 400 paid staffers right now in North Carolina. Now, he's campaigning there with a new ad that blames John McCain for thousands of job losses in the manufacturing sector in your state. Would you, as a Democrat who has won state-wide office in North Carolina, would you advise Obama to stick with that straight up economic message right up to Election Day?

EASLEY: Yes, I would, and I think the ad that he has where he is looking into the camera and he's talking, it must have lasted at least a minute, if not a minute-and-a-half. And he's connecting with people. He's a way to do that. He is a good guy and people are beginning to see that. I don't care whether you are filthy rich or dirt poor, he can connect with you.

And I think that's what is going to make a difference in the long run. He is being himself and that's, I think, the most important thing he can do. If he's genuine and authentic, people will vote for him here.

MADDOW: Let me ask a question that I know is going to probably be a sensitive one because it's a difficult topic to talk about in American politics, especially in states where the margin of victory in this election may well depend on the turn out in the black community.

I am worried about voter suppression efforts which has been most effectively directed at minority voters in the past including in the very recent past. Are you worried about that in the North Carolina and what steps are being taken to protect the vote?

EASLEY: Well, we always worry about that. We have seen it so many times in the past from the Republican Party. Before I was governor, I was attorney general. And we had a pretty sophisticated way to deal with voters and make sure they understood. I walked poll to poll, at one point, letting people that they could vote and deal with the voter suppression.

The campaign itself, the Obama campaign itself, as well as the party-

coordinating campaign, as well as our state officials who have a

responsibility and a constitutional duty to see that everybody gets a

chance to vote. They're all coming together to make sure -

And hopefully, we get some help from the Republican Party as well to make sure that everybody who wants to vote gets to vote and everybody who is properly registered gets to vote. This is something that does occur. It's not a myth. And we are going to be on top of it, make sure that we protect everybody's right to vote. Hopefully, we can carry the state for Obama.

MADDOW: Gov. Mike Easley of North Carolina, thank you very much for your time tonight, sir.

EASLEY: Thanks, Rachel. I appreciate it.

MADDOW: Coming up, John McCain is in a pickle. He can't run to the middle. He doesn't have an economic populist bone in his body. He can't run to the right when he's proposing a big, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the international nationalized mortgage buyout. Besides, the right never liked him anyway.

So what does McCain do now? How does he possibly get out of this? Coming up, my fake uncle Pat Buchanan and I will talk about the few remaining selections in John McCain's political buffet.

But first, one more thing from the battleground states, specifically, Pennsylvania today. You are familiar with Sen. McCain saying, "My friends." Alas, woe to liver. "my friends" was one of the phrases that was a signal to drink in your debate night drinking games this year, this guy has a lot of friends. And every politician you know uses the phrase, "My fellow Americans." That line comes up again and again.

But today, Sen. McCain took these tow things, combined them and then went in a whole different direction.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Across this country, this is the agenda I set before my fellow prisoners and the same standards of clarity and candor must now be applied to my opponent.


MADDOW: My fellow - prisoners? Does that mean we all get a constitutional right to healthcare now? Free health and a cot?


MADDOW: The McCain campaign is probably not going to take advice from me, duh! But if they were going to take advice from me, I would tell them to pick one thing, pick something, pick a strategy, decide, commit to it. And then get both your candidates and your debate strategy and your ad campaigns and your surrogates to all commit to that strategy, too.

Instead, what we've got is McCain campaign surrogates, apparently, unaware of McCain big new economic gambit announced at last night's debate. We've got Sarah Palin telling the press that she's advising John McCain to take the gloves off. She's advising him?

We've got McCain aides telling the press that, strategically, they want to avoid talking about the economy. We've got McCain himself saying he won't talk about Rev. Wright while Sarah Palin is. We've got a fusillade of negative attacks - excuse me, negative ads attacking Barack Obama's associations and his character while at the debate, John McCain himself would not go there. That last one, apparently, surprised even Sen. Obama himself.


OBAMA: Well, I am surprised that, you know, we've been seeing some pretty over-the-top attacks coming out of the McCain campaign over the last several days, that he wasn't willing to say it to my face.


MADDOW: So is there a McCain strategy right now? Is what I see as a mess, actually one big secret strategy? Or is it a bunch of conflicting little ones?

Joining us now because the McCain campaign might take his advice even though they certainly won't take mine is my colleague, MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan. Hi, Pat. Nice to see you.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST: Good to see you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Do you think I'm being unfair here? Do you think there's a secret genius in what the McCain-Palin is doing right now?

BUCHANAN: No, I think the McCain campaign was basically winning after the convention with the ticket of McCain-Palin against Obama-Biden. And the McCain-Palin ticket was a lot fresher and more exciting.

What you had was one of the greatest events in my lifetime in the financial world, a financial collapse of an enormous magnitude. Trillions of dollars wiped out. A lot of people fearful we're headed into a recession, maybe worse.

And I think McCain - and that is carrying McCain down a net of about 15 points and I don't think they understand how to turn it around.

MADDOW: I think they do probably share your assessment of what's going wrong, though. And we did hear a new surprise announcement from McCain on an economic policy issue last night. Do you think that announcement sort of doubling down on the bailout is going to cost him with conservatives?

BUCHANAN: No, I think the conservatives are with him, by and large. He's got the Republican Party with him. I think Sarah Palin is helping him somewhat with the Reagan Democrats. But the whole thing is just driving the ticket down. And I do agree he should have a single strategy or maybe a double strategy with a financial package and economic idea, and an all-out assault toward Obama and Biden, because I don't think the country's wild about Obama-Biden.

For heaven's sakes, three weeks ago, they preferred McCain-Palin.

It's this economic thing that is really dragging him down.

MADDOW: I've got to take issue though with the idea that Palin is helping with the Reagan Democrats. I don't see that. I see Palin actually shoring up the base and I see continued erosion, this old problem for John McCain, with the base not liking him. The base loves Sarah Palin but she's not bringing anybody over in terms of independents.

BUCHANAN: Well, wait a minute. I mean, when Biden was picked, Obama dropped two points. We called it the Biden surge. When she was picked, she went up 10 points - the McCain ticket did. Name one vice presidential pick in history that has done that for a ticket, Rachel. Ten point increase.

MADDOW: But Pat, I know at that moment, it seemed great and had the election happened then, your pick, your choice of Sarah Palin would have been seen as the best ever. But since then, his support among women has gone down. His support among independents has gone down. She's not helping him hold on to anybody.

BUCHANAN: But look, of course, the support among everybody has gone down because of the economic crisis, for heaven's sakes. You can - Rachel, be honest about it.


BUCHANAN: You can plot a graph. You can graph McCain, what happened to him and then graph what happened after Lehman Brothers went under. They are losing among everybody.

Secondly, there's no doubt once Palin is out there, and getting on the battle line the way she does, as tough as she does, and fights the way she does, your negatives go up.

Let me tell you, in '92, in Iran, it was May, Bush, Buchanan, Brown and Clinton were the last four left. All of us had negatives in the mid-40s because all of us had been under attack by their media and their campaigns. That happens.

Palin is going to go down, there's no question about it. But as for a pick being successful, I cannot think in my lifetime of a vice presidential pick more successful other than, I guess, Lyndon Johnson who I think really carried it for Jack Kennedy.

MADDOW: She did build a beautiful convention bounce but that was now - it

feels like a long, long time ago. Pat -

BUCHANAN: And what do you think explains it?

MADDOW: What do I think explains why Palin hasn't helped more in the long run?

BUCHANAN: Why the bounce - why John McCain dropped 15 points in three weeks?

MADDOW: I think had he had somebody help him on the economy it wouldn't have been so bad. She didn't help him on the economy with that.

BUCHANAN: You're saying economy did it and you're right.

MADDOW: All right. Well, we agree on that. Pat, always a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you.


MADDOW: Coming up next, I get just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones. Apparently, the Foo Fighters are mad at John McCain. Get in line, Foo guys.


MADDOW: Now, it's time for "Just Enough" with my friend, Kent Jones. Hey Kent, what have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Thank you, Rachel. You know the Foo Fighters. Great band, right? They're the latest rock group - hacked off at John McCain who is playing their song, "My Hero" on the campaign trail without their permission. The McCain-Palin camp has already gotten in trouble from "Heart" for misusing "Barracuda."

Said the Foos, quote, "It's frustrating and infuriating that someone who claims to speak for the American people would repeatedly show such little respect for creativity and intellectual property."

McCain should just give up on rock songs all together. I mean, here is some music I'm pretty sure he would be allowed to use.

JONES: That's nice.

And finally, this is genius. On Google's email service, you know, G-mail you can select an option that will delay you from sending off those pathetic boneheaded E-mails that you write when it's really late or when you're, you know, hammered. The software kicks in after dark or on weekends and you have to correctly answer five simple math problems in less than a minute in order to send off the G-mail. Those 43 extra seconds could prevent you from throwing yourself under an emotional bus. Now, people, I know he or she was hot but it's over. Let it go. You've got to stop Googling your ex's name and then hitting "I'm feeling lucky" button. Not healthy.

MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. And thank you for watching tonight. "COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN" starts right now. Good night.



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