Friday, September 26, 2008

Two episodes for this date.
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Pre-debate, 8 PM
Post-debate, 11 PM
'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday September 26, 2008, 11 p.m. ET
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Guest: Eugene Robinson, Pat Buchanan, Howard Fineman

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, "Countdown": As debates went, this seemed to be pretty prosaic.

Senator McCain's basic statement was, Senator Obama does not understand "fill in the blank," but I have been to "insert location here."

Senator Obama's standard response seemed to be: "That's very nice, John, but that's just not true. Here's where you or your facts are wrong," until we got late into this debate, and the candidate who claimed tonight's subject, international affairs, as his home turf got the name of the president of Pakistan wrong, called that country a failed state, which is probably a big surprise there tonight.

And, then, suddenly, John McCain announced, we have to do a better job in human intelligence, and we have got to make sure that we have people who are trained interrogators, so that we don't ever torture a prisoner ever again-the Republican nominee admitting that this country indeed has tortured prisoners during his first presidential debate.

(voice over): A debate John McCain claimed he had won at 10:00 this morning in an Internet ad before he even officially confirmed he was attending. Should he just quit while he was ahead?



Ahmadinejad -


OLBERMANN: The debate over whether he should have ever been threatened to skip the debate. The ominous pre-debate verdict from McCain's former advisor, Craig Shirley: "In the end, he blinked and Obama did not. The 'steady hand in the storm' argument looks now to more favor Obama, not McCain."

Did that translate into the substance on a night supposedly devoted to McCain's strength-foreign policy?


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John, you're absolutely. But presidents have to be prudent in what they say. But, you know, coming from you, who, you know, in the past have threatened extinction for North Korea, and, you know, sung song about bombing Iran, I don't know, you know, how credible that is.


OLBERMANN: With Richard Wolffe, and the immediate reaction from Oxford, Mississippi. Howard Fineman, truth-squadding the claims of both candidates. The analysis of Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, and Pat Buchanan. And among our guests, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware.

This is Countdown's coverage of the first 2008 presidential debate.

(on camera): Good evening. This is Friday, September 26th, 39 days until the 2008 presidential election and about 23 minutes after the first debate of the 2008 presidential election.

On a special post debate edition of Countdown, at the University of Mississippi in Oxford tonight, in the changed election, the Republican nominee describing the word "change" only once, the Democratic nominee seeming to debate the current the president about how much as he did his opponent.

More noise it seems and clarity from the stage of the Gertrude C. Ford Center, at the economic and foreign policy debate, more questions raised than answers gleamed, including why wasn't the Republican, Senator McCain, wearing a flag lapel pin. The Democrat, Senator Obama, after such huffing and puffing all spring, was.

Maybe that as a pseudo issue has changed at what was a ostensively a foreign policy debate, foreign policy not raised until 39 minutes had elapsed out of the gate tonight, and understandably so, the economic crisis and the debate format that started off, well, the fundamentals were not exactly solid.


OBAMA: Ten days ago, John said that the fundamentals of the economy are sound. I do not think that they are.

JIM LEHRER, DEBATE MODERATOR: Say it directly to him. Say it directly to him.

OBAMA: Well, John, 10 days ago, you said the fundamentals of the economy are sound.


MCCAIN: And you're afraid I couldn't here him?


LEHRER: I'm just determined to get you all to talk to each other.

I'm going to try -


OLBERMANN: That was the end of the good fellowship. The benefit of tonight's format-calling out your opponent when you felt that what he was saying about your tax record was not true.


MCCAIN: Senator Obama has shifted on a number of occasions, he has voted in the United States Senate to increase taxes on people who make as low as $42,000 a year.

OBAMA: That's not true, John. That's not true.

MCCAIN: And that's just the fact. Again, you can look it up.

OBAMA: Look, it's just not true. And if we want to talk about oil company profits under your tax plan, John, this is undeniable-oil companies would get an additional $4 billion in tax breaks. Now, look, we all would like to lower taxes on everybody. But here's the problem, if we are giving them to all companies, then, that means that there are those who are not going to be getting them.

MCCAIN: And on that respect, you've already gave them to the oil companies.

OBAMA: No, but, John, the fact of the matter is, is that, I was

opposed to those tax breaks, tried to strip them out. We got an energy

bill on the Senate floor right now that contains some good stuff, some

stuff you want, including drilling offshore -

MCCAIN: Right.

OBAMA: But you're opposed to it because it would strip away those tax breaks that have gone to the oil companies.


OLBERMANN: In the list of wasteful earmarks, Senator McCain making no mention, not a thanks or no thanks in fact about that "Bridge to Nowhere." The Republican nominee also mocked an earmark to study bear DNA, even though his running mate, Governor Palin, requested money to study the genetic makeup of harbor seals.


MCCAIN: You know, we spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. I don't know that was a criminal issue or a paternal issue, but the fact is, that it was $3 million of our taxpayers' money and it has got to be brought under control.

As the president of the United States, I want to assure you, I've got a pen-this one is kind of old-I've got a pen and I'm going to veto every single spending bill that comes across my desk. I will make them famous that you will know their names.


OLBERMANN: One of about 11 times that Senator McCain reuse material from earlier debates or speeches, or in fact, his speech to the Republican National Nominating Committee.

On the topic of foreign policy, all the major highlights touched up

Iraq, Iran, Russia, and torture. Senator McCain in an extraordinary moment that seemed to get passed a lot of people, seemed to admit for the first time that the United States has tortured.


MCCAIN: We have to do a better job in human intelligence. And we've got to make sure that we have people who are trained interrogators so that we don't ever torture a prisoner ever again.


OLBERMANN: Joining me now from the site of the debate at Oxford, Mississippi, Richard Wolffe of "Newsweek" and, of course, MSNBC.

Richard, good evening again.


OLBERMANN: Let me start at the end there. I know we're 97 minutes into a very long debate that had no breaks and had a lot of topics described. But have we ever heard John McCain so bluntly admit that this country, in the Bush administration, presumably, although he did not say that, in fact, tortured? I know he's talked about defining waterboarding as torturing and trying to avoid torture, he cannot said, we've, obviously, we're not going to do it again, it means we did it before.

WOLFFE: Well, that's right. I can't recall him using that kind of strong language, and maybe in a debate he got ahead of himself there. He was actually pretty forceful on that and obviously peppered over the pretty complex debate about the loopholes that were left in the legislation about torture. But, you know, in terms of this debate, he was trying to be a forceful attacking posture, and sometimes it worked, and sometimes, I thought it came up in a kind of sneering way.

OLBERMANN: There were a few moments where sneering might have been the apt description of the look on his face during some of Senator Obama's answers. But again on substance, there were a couple of remarks since this was-although obviously we start with the economic crisis, it's the story of the moment and that most concern most people immediately-after that, this was about international affairs and Senator McCain had a couple of factual problems regarding Pakistan, including getting the name of the president wrong, and saying with a great deal of a plume that perhaps not the great deal of accuracy that Pakistan was a failed state.

Is Pakistan-as I said earlier, would that be surprising news tonight in Pakistan?

WOLFFE: Well, it's not the best way to talk about an ally when actually, your point is that you should be nicer to your ally.


WOLFFE: That was McCain's central premise on targeting al Qaeda sites on Pakistani territory. You know, when you look at how this debate played out, I actually think there was a sort of role reversal. On the domestic side of things, McCain managed to pivot away from the bailout to talk about spending, which is very much his turf. On foreign policy, Obama, actually, held his own and beyond, and so where you thought McCain would be stronger, Obama came back pretty tough and there were those lapses, not the least of which was struggling for McCain on saying the name Ahmadinejad.

OLBERMANN: Well, I mean, to that point, what was in the context we've now, having seen this first debate, and having seen the Sturm und Drang of the last three days, the postponement threat of the debate, the supposed suspension of the campaign, what was all that about relative to the debate if Senator McCain did not really exploit any of that in the debate, as you pointed out, he pivot over away from it, it also meant that he didn't grab any credit for it during this debate?

WOLFFE: Right. Well, I thought, McCain, in many ways, his weakest moment with his first few minutes, he sounded very hesitant in talking about the bailout because neither of them really are going to go into mention detail about how to deal with this bailout because they're all waiting to see what's going on. But you're right, he didn't exploit the tactics around it. He didn't present himself as the great bipartisan reconciliator in this whole thing.

And he was successful, I have to say McCain was successful, in talking not about the bailout but about spending. But the tactics around it, really comeback to the question of tone and manner. I think that was the great, this contrast, let about substance than the demeanor and the tone of voice these candidates adopted, where McCain was being much more pointed and much more aggressive, although, curiously, he couldn't look Obama in the eyes.


WOLFFE: Obama's tone is much straight and even keel (ph), but ready to look his opponent in the eye repeatedly. A big contrast as much as of a contrast on that ground as there was on age and height between the two.

OLBERMANN: A quick-basically, yes or no on that last topic and then we'll let you go, Richard. Foreign affairs, that overall topic here, if you were tuning in for the first time and had assumed that Barack Obama was describe in the media and this political race as being well behind John McCain in terms of knowledge of international affairs and the ability to handle them in respond to all the issues in the world, would you have been able to discern a sizable experiential different between the two of them tonight?

WOLFFE: Well, would you have heard McCain say time and again, you don't understand. And you would have heard time and again Obama talking fluently and in-depth about complex foreign policy subjects. It's hard to match those two things together.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, joining us in the moments after the debate, the first debate of our series of three, we still think it's going to be three. Thank you, Richard.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And joining me, Rachel Maddow with a few thoughts before or getting to prepare a late edition of "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" which will come up in about two hour, at 1:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

Good evening, again, Rachel.


OLBERMANN: All right. If you say, as John McCain said and had to have been probably eight or nine times maybe I've exaggerated there, let's say at least six, what Obama does not understand, here Senator Obama does not understand, Senator Obama you don't understand, if you say that enough will it have an impact? Will it make people he doesn't understand or will they listen for the answer, what happened tonight?

MADDOW: I think that he perfected that sound byte. He made it clear that that's the way that he's going to campaign against Obama, at least, for the minute. He's had a lot of changes in strategy but that's the current one. I think that probably almost for every "doesn't understand or don't understand" we heard from McCain, though, we heard the invocation of the word "Bush" from Barack Obama. I think those are the sort of dueling epithets in this debate and you don't understand is probably a less powerful one than you don't like Bush.

OLBERMANN: What happens when you make mistakes like, the inability and-you and I both know this very well, it's a very tough to pronounce Ahmadinejad, if you then get the name of the president of Pakistan wrong and call his country a failed state, and then sort of, just sort of slip and slide this idea we're never going to torture again-for emphasis, anybody at home watching, we must have tortured before-did he seem to be the master of international affairs and Obama the novice, or maybe the other way around?

MADDOW: Well, I think that there was such high expectation for McCain in terms of getting everything right on foreign policy because he is supposed to be, that's supposed his wheelhouse, that supposed to be the place from which he has the greatest strength. So, getting a few things wrong there, even if it is mispronounced saying a difficult name, probably does hurt him pretty badly. Barack Obama did not have any obvious gaffes of those kinds.

But honestly, I think, because this is the first of three debates, because it was very long and very dense and had no breaks, probably the way most people are going to interpret this is with the juiciest sound bytes that got played over and over again. And honestly, I think, the juiciest sound bytes in this debate were attacks by Barack Obama against John McCain when said over and over again, "On Iraq, you were wrong. You said we've be greeted as liberators, you were wrong. You said it should be easy, you were wrong." That was probably the best sound byte of the entire night. That may be the thing that lives on past this debate.

OLBERMANN: Or perhaps, throwing Henry Kissinger back in Senator McCain's face, which is physically a tough act to do, certainly, but the other one that might ring in the days to come, somebody and it happened to have been the Democratic presidential nominee, finally brought up the, let's say, the ethical untidiness of Senator McCain having sung a bastardized version of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann," bomb Iran. It seems like such a simple point but to what you were just saying, that's the sort of visceral stuff that may hang with people.

MADDOW: And also, I think that what was interesting there was sort of the sense that you got about how John McCain felt about having that thrown at him. We saw a lot of grimacing, sighing, kind of lifting his hands in despair from McCain tonight, a lot of emotion from McCain. The most surprising emotion that we saw from Obama was aggression, but from McCain, we saw a lot of anger, exasperation, smearing, disdain. And I think that when Obama threw that back at him, that setting it to music, the idea of bombing Iran, what we saw McCain go to immediately was members of the military killed in action.


MADDOW: He started talking about veterans. He started talking and invoking the families of fallen soldiers, without answering the question, without addressing the fact that he did it. He just went right to that. And that's a temperament issue with John McCain and it's an exploitation issue.

OLBERMANN: And leading, also, we must mention, Senator Obama to turn on that as well and say in another memorable line, I have a bracelet, too.


OLBERMANN: I mean, that was-the gist of this, I suppose, was, if you took this, if you actually sat and watched and paid attention to this, I don't think there'd be any doubt about who won this debate. The question is, are those sound bytes that will wring in people's minds actually going to play in favor of, exclusively, Obama against McCain, rather than the other way around?.

MADDOW: I think that it's a question of which sound bytes get most picked up. I do think that the Obama ones were probably the most interesting. I mean, John McCain's sound bytes for tonight are going to be about talking about some of his miscues, talking about Miss Congeniality a lot and how old he is a lot, probably weren't good ideas.

OLBERMANN: We're not running for Miss Congeniality here. That would be some other nominees and some other races.

Rachel Maddow of "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW," thanks for your time.

A reminder, Rachel will be back for the whole hour of analysis at 1:00 a.m. Eastern. Go ride it. Go ride (ph) it.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith. I will.

OLBERMANN: Thank you.

Coming up, our special guest, the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket, Senator Biden of Delaware. Countdown's coverage of the presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, opening night, continues.


OLBERMANN: Comparisons to President Bush were many in this debate.

But one most unlikely one came not at Senator McCain, but from him.


MCCAIN: You know, we've seen the stubbornness before in this administration, to cling to a belief that somehow the surge has not succeeded and failing to acknowledge that he was wrong about the surge.


OLBERMANN: Joining me now from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket, Senator Joe Biden.

Senator, a pleasure.


OLBERMANN: I'm well, sir. And yourself?

BIDEN: A good night for us.

OLBERMANN: Did you think so?

BIDEN: Good night for my team.


OLBERMANN: Have you-that was a comparison. We just played that clip there of Senator McCain trying to compare Senator Obama to President Bush.


OLBERMANN: Something of a reach -

BIDEN: I found that fascinating. Well, I think that's a bit of a reach. You know, I find that, you know, here's a guy that has got along with George Bush on 90 percent of everything he's done, who's been dead wrong about the war and not only, I mean, look-John did at the same time I was on your show saying we were not going to be greeted as liberator, there wasn't going to be enough for all to pay for this, there was going to be an initial civil war, the Sunnis and Shias were going to fight each other. John was on your show and others saying-no, no, no, that's not the case.

At the same time, guys like Barack and I were saying, hey, look, Afghanistan is a big problem. That's where the real terrorists were. John was saying, Afghanistan, the reason you haven't heard it about is the success.

This was about judgment. Barack Obama passed the commander-in-chief's test tonight. I think this is over in terms of that issue. I think John was on his strongest turf. And he argued about the past, he had no suggestions about the future, when you think about it.

Look what he's talking about Iraq, he continues to talk about the surge and even got that wrong. He talked about the surge being the strategic idea. The surge was a tactical necessity to accomplish a strategic goal. Remember what it used to be about (ph), I bet you can be the mentor (ph) of me. We have to surge in order to create breathing space for a political settlement. That was the strategic objective which has not been accomplished yet.

And then John says he wants to take the same strategy and apply to Afghanistan. Come on. And John is talking about he won't sit down, John won't even sit down he said with a NATO ally who has troops in Afghanistan fighting with the United States troops against the Taliban and al Qaeda. I mean, there is man out of touch.

OLBERMANN: The substance of this. I think anybody who took, maybe who read this debate would have no doubt about their equality or Senator Obama's supremacy in terms of international relationships as the main topic tonight. But always the visceral things as you well know get just as much play or as just as much important in people's decision-making process as anything else.

BIDEN: Sure.

OLBERMANN: If John McCain says of or to Barack Obama repeatedly, "You don't understand, what Senator Barack Obama doesn't understand, here's another example of what Senator Obama doesn't understand," if you repeat that long enough, does that message actually get through and make people think that Senator Obama doesn't understand?

BIDEN: No. Look-the American people are so much smarter. The American people know that Barack has a plan to end this war, that even George Bush has essentially embraced to drawdown our troops over 16 months, hand the responsibility over to the Iraqis, stop spending our $10 billion a month, start spending their $87 billion. Barack Obama made it clear what he would do in Afghanistan. He called for 14 months ago that we needed to beef up our ability in Afghanistan.

And look-we spent more money in three weeks in Iraq than we spent in six years in Afghanistan and we wonder why things are being lost. More money on combat than we have on building up Afghanistan.

So, look, I just think, Keith, that they get it. The one thing I may not have gotten is that, you know, John McCain being the hero he is, and he is a hero, John McCain saying he take care of veterans. I just want to point out, disabled veterans in American rate John at 120 percent on his voting record. The veterans groups don't think John has cared for the veterans coming home.

And, you know, and so, my point is that there's some places John is, because of his stature as a hero, is probably able to avoid, you know, being viewed as out of touch. But I just think he came across, at least-you expect me to say that I know-but I think he came across as out of touch and angry.

OLBERMANN: But you can point together the components parts of the last three days? I mean, dating back even before he left the David Letterman show in a lurch and we didn't-and I wound up having to go and talk to David Letterman for 20 minutes, what was this whole thing about with parachuting into the bailout discussion and why, if it was so important, was it not more of his answering, Senator McCain's answering, in tonight's debate?

BIDEN: Well, look, I think John's staff knows he needs a game-changer. That this isn't going very well for him. So, I think they probably thought, I don't know what their strategy was, but to use your words, Keith, it looks like he's lurching back and forth.

Here's the guy last Monday said the economy was doing great, it was fundamentally sound, Bush had made great progress, or make progress over the last eight years. And in two hours later, we have an economic crisis. As we Catholics say, where is the epiphany? What happened? Where was John a week ago, a month ago, six years ago, while he was on Wall Street talking about shredding, how he was, there was any regulation that he saw that he liked?

I mean, this is a very difficult ground, in fairness, to John. It's really difficult to defend the terrain that he occupies. And the terrain he occupies is he's bought on to the economic philosophy of George W. Bush and the sort of, you know, free market, let it run its way, let it be on its own. And now, all of a sudden, he's talking about greed on Wall Street, the same way this foreign policy. He went in and thought this was, you know, we were going, this is going to be over in a short time, that we were going to be greeted and so on and so forth.

John's judgment, here's the point, John's judgment has been fundamentally wrong on the basic critical foreign policy and domestic decisions we had to make. And then John, at the same time, talking about he asked to cut the budget-and still calling for an additional $300 billion a year in tax cuts for Corporate America and the wealthy? Where did he think that money comes from?

That goes straight to the deficit or it goes straight to cutting programs or it goes to-I mean, how does he-I just don't get the math. I just don't get the math; I think people will get it. I hope I'm right about that. And if they don't, then, I'm really messing up. I think the folks are a lot smarter, a lot smarter than everybody gives them credit for.

OLBERMANN: Well, you've stepped next on the stage. It's your turn next week.

BIDEN: I do.

OLBERMANN: I don't even know, I have about 400 questions about your debate in advance of it. I don't think you'd answer more than two of them for me because you want to keep the stuff as proprietary information. But what is-are you holding back, are you preparing to go in with kid gloves against Governor Palin in your debate?

BIDEN: No, no, no. I'm not going to do that condescending stuff John did tonight. You know, my friend knows, if you have the experience, something (ph) I've traveled around. I've traveled all those places John traveled to. I've been in Afghanistan twice. I've been in those mountains. I was the guy that went when the tanks were rolling to Tbilisi. I was there with the President Mikheil Saakashvili because he asked me to come and stand there with him.

You know, but that's just because I was there doesn't make me right. I think what we've got to do is we got to talk about the future, what we're going to do, how we're going to change it, how we're going to make us a respected nation again worldwide, you know. And so, I think it's about me and the listener and not so much me and Sarah Palin.

OLBERMANN: We'll see if it plays out that way but I'm just writing down your thoughts (ph).

BIDEN: Yes, we'll see. I don't know. I hope I do as well as Barack did.

OLBERMANN: Just because I was there doesn't make me right. I think that's one of the most honest statements I've heard a long time.

Senator Joe Biden, the vice presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket, I haven't had a chance to say it on a personal level, sir. Congratulations.

BIDEN: Thank you. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And thanks for your time tonight, sir.

BIDEN: Happy to be with you.

OLBERMANN: Coming up: We'll hear what the Republicans are saying in the spin room about tonight's debate. You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: CBS News up with a snap poll of 500 uncommitted voters conducted for them by an outfit called Knowledge Networks, reporting after this debate that a clear winner among the uncommitteds, Barack Obama.

Forty percent, they say, thought that Obama had won this debate. Twenty-two percent thought John McCain had won the debate. Thirty-eight percent saw it as a draw. So, that, obviously, should have been in second place in the list, Obama 40, draw 38, McCain 22. Forty-six percent of uncommitted voters, as surveyed by CBS, said their opinion of Obama got better tonight. And 55 percent said they thought McCain would make the right decisions about Iraq. Forty-nine percent said Obama would make the decisions about Iraq, the biggest gap in McCain-in the McCain/Obama polling seeming to close, at least by this one survey of uncommitted voters country CBS tonight.

Obviously, the essence of this debate and ones to come, the issue of change. One side describes it as change. The other uses the term maverick.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: John, it's been your president who you said you agreed with 90 percent of the time who presided over this increase in spending. This orgy of spending and enormous deficits you voted for almost all of his budgets.

So to stand here and after eight years and say that you're going to lead on controlling spending and, you know, balancing our tax cuts so that they help middle class families when over the last eight years that hasn't happened I think just is, you know, kind of hard to swallow.

JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR: Quick response to Senator Obama.

MCCAIN: It's well-known-it's well-known that I have not been elected Miss Congeniality in the United States Senate nor with the administration. I have opposed the president on spending, on climate change, on torture of prisoner, on - on Guantanamo Bay. On a-on the way that the Iraq War was conducted.

I have a long record and the American people know me very well and that is independent and a maverick of the Senate and I'm happy to say that I have got a partner that's a good maverick along with me now.


OLBERMANN: Ironically, the mavericks, in at least the CBS News poll. suggesting tonight that Obama, and not McCain, won, and handily, in this debate.

Well, much more ahead in our analysis of that debate-Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Pat Buchanan among out guests.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Everybody ever in a presidential debate, or perhaps any other kind of debate, has looked for a catchphrase, perhaps inspired by Ronald Reagan in 1980 and "There you go again" to Jimmy Carter.

If Barack Obama reached for one tonight, it was in one section of this debate, in which he laid out a series of moments of wrongness, if you will, for Senator McCain.


OBAMA: At the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.

You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni. And you were wrong.


OLBERMANN: Joining me now again from Oxford, Mississippi, Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC.

And, Howard, we played that clip of the "You were wrong" sequence, because, apparently, the Republicans are taking that ball and trying to run with it?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I don't know why, because I thought that was one of Barack Obama's strongest moments.

John McCain obviously came into this debate with every attack line memorized, both on the economy, but especially on foreign policy. And he ticked off eight or nine of them, going after Barack Obama on Russia, on Iraq, on Iran, on Israel, on Ahmadinejad, you name it.

And it was-it was Barack Obama's challenge tonight to stand on the stage with McCain, go toe to toe with him on foreign policy, to show that he understood the issues, to show that he wouldn't lose his cool, to show that would respond levelheadedly and with knowledge.

And I think that is something Obama did very well tonight. The body language of this, Keith, was attack, attack, attack by McCain, but it's not that clear that it did McCain very much good.

Here's what Obama's people told me before the debate they wanted to get done. They wanted to get the message of change across. They wanted to talk about the economy in terms of the middle class. And they wanted to demonstrate their knowledge and Obama's knowledge on foreign policy, especially forward-looking foreign policy, looking to the future, not-not-not to the past.

And I think Obama accomplished all those objectives, even amid the very determined flurry of attacks from McCain.

I have got to say this about McCain. He's an energetic guy. He's a determined guy. He knows how to attack. But I don't think any of those tacks-attacks really, number one, unsettled Obama or changed a lot of minds out there in the viewership, as based on the evidence especially of that new poll that you were talking about just a while ago.

OLBERMANN: Yes. One other element that touches on the economy that I hadn't mentioned from the CBS poll of the 500 uncommitted voters, 68 percent said they thought Obama would make the right decision in terms of the economy. And 41 percent, having watched this debate, thought McCain would.

So, there it is once more-once more.

But, now, give me an idea of what the Republicans think went right for them and what they thought John McCain did well. What are they pushing right now?

FINEMAN: Well, they are pushing-they are pushing that, in the debate, Barack Obama, being the agreeable sort that he is, said, I think nine or 10, maybe even 11 times, in one fashion or another: "I agree with Senator McCain. John and I agree on this. Senator McCain is right. John is right."

And they took that as measure of victory that somehow would show that McCain is the guy who won the debate, because he's essentially been endorsed by Barack Obama.

Well, of course, that's not what Obama was doing. That's Obama's style. He-he agrees to what he can agree to, before making the other points of distinction he wants to make. It's a gentlemanly of doing things. It's not a measure of weakness. But that's what they are focusing on in the spin room, in the spin tent here right outside the hall.

They thought that McCain did very well in terms of his knowledge of the issues. And, certainly, he could talk about all the places that he had been. When he mentioned Alexander the Great, I thought for a moment there that McCain was going to say...


FINEMAN: ..."And, you know, I met with Alexander the Great." It would have brought the house down, but he didn't do it.

He was a little too backward-looking, in terms of the Obama people's view of things.

OLBERMANN: Yes, just a-just a touch.

Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, thank-thank you, Howard.


OLBERMANN: Still to weigh in tonight, Eugene Robinson and Pat Buchanan.

You're watching Countdown's special post-debate edition here on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: A Miami radio interview at the beginning of last week tripped up Senator McCain as it happened, in the immediate afterwards-or aftermath, and again tonight at this first presidential debate.


OBAMA: He even said the other day that he would not meet potentially with the prime minister of Spain, because he-you know, he wasn't sure whether they were aligned with us. I mean, Spain. Spain is a NATO ally.

MCCAIN: Of course...

OBAMA: If we can't meet with our friends, I don't know how we're going to lead the world in terms of dealing with critical issues like terrorism.


OLBERMANN: Joined now by two of our MSNBC political analysts, Eugene Robinson, also of course of "The Washington Post," and Pat Buchanan.

And, gentlemen, good evening.

I will start with you, Pat.

I actually cringed a little bit about-about that, when I heard that from Obama, because that interview that John McCain had done last week seemed to have been a moment of-of weakness from McCain, and he just seemed to be kind of confused, as we all will get, and-and merged a lot of things at once.

Is that your assessment of what Obama did, in invoking that Spain question?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it was very effective, in that it brought up the point, is John out of touch and John's bellicosity, and the rest of it. And, so, I thought it was a very deft moment, where he sort of stuck the needle in.

And, Keith, I think this is what Barack Obama needed more of tonight, those kinds of lines in each of his responses, because I felt that he let McCain crowd him and, if you will, push him around the ring. And here's McCain, who is a representative of a party the country wants out of power because it's presiding over an unpopular war, with an unpopular president, and the greatest financial crisis since 1929.

And, so, I did think that McCain won the battle, fight tonight on points. But Barack Obama stood with him for 15 rounds, counterpunched well. And, so, I think he helped himself.

Final point I would make is this. McCain comes off as very tough, mean, almost contentious. And I wonder if, with people, the graciousness of Barack Obama, the natural niceness of the guy, might have come across better.

But I will have to say that, on points, I would give the debate to McCain.

OLBERMANN: Gene Robinson, your-your point in the aftermath of this was, again, substance is-is what we would love this to be entirely judged on.

And, in that case, we would just have the debate and issue a transcript, and people could read it, and read the substance, and go back. And it hasn't worked that way since the invention of radio.



In fact, what I do with these debates is, I listen to everybody's-you know, us in the-we in the commentariat, whatever we decide-whoever we decide won on points in the debate, I pick the other guy. That's who people generally think won.

And-and, you know, body language and demeanor and appearance,

things like that, do count. They-it may not be 100 percent of it, but

they count. And McCain was-was just still visibly contemptuous of-of

of Obama. He would not look at him. His body-his body language was kind of clenched and-and almost hunched.

And-and-and, you know, you sensed a certain kind of-kind of anger there. You know, he was being aggressive. I think that was a tactic. But-but I-I think that it came across to a lot of people as somewhat off-putting, would be my guess.

And, you know, the country says, we want a president who-who will reach across the aisle, who will-who won't act in a partisan manner, who will bring us together. And-and, so, there you had Obama being kind of genial, and open, and, "Well, John has a point," you know, and that sort of thing.

And McCain wouldn't look at the guy. It-it-it sent a message that I don't think was all that subtle, actually, and I doubt was-was lost on viewing public. I-you know, I suspect some of it is reflected, frankly, in that CBS snap poll that you were talking about earlier.

OLBERMANN: All right, Pat, put those two things together.

Is that-is it-is it necessarily a bad thing to-to-to be the not-gracious one in a debate, to be the one who is-who doesn't want to-want to look at your opponent? Can't that sometimes be just as effective as the gentlemanly, "I agree entirely with John on that last point; here is where we differ"?

BUCHANAN: Yes, Keith, that is correct.

I do think this. The question is, what does the country want? Now, if you want a tough character, a guy that is going to look people in the eye and stare them down, who is going to defend American interests, and who is-who is the toughest guy on that stage, I think, clearly, it is John McCain.

If you want to know who is-who has got grace, and who is a nice gentlemen, and who is a good counterpuncher, but out of the ring, he's a gentleman, you have got Barack Obama.

And, so, that's a question of what the folks want. And you have got that independents poll. And, again, I have been often wrong. I thought George W. Bush lost every debate he's ever been in.


BUCHANAN: And the public says he won them all.

So, I do think, if you're talking strictly in debate, it's astonishing that McCain-you realize, the party he represents, the country wants out of there, and there he is on the attack in the ring, and-and-and Obama is backpedalling and counterpunching.

OLBERMANN: But here's one-one concluding point, Pat. Gene pointed this out. And I think it's relevant to what you just said.

If McCain is the guy who looks you in the eye, why didn't he look Obama in the eye?



BUCHANAN: Because-it's like Romney. He doesn't like him.


ROBINSON: You know...


BUCHANAN: He gets in a fight with somebody, he does not like these opponents-I mean, his opponents. And it is-it is vintage John McCain.



OLBERMANN: Hold on, Gene. We have got to take it, one more break.


OLBERMANN: You guys get the last word when we come back.

Gene Robinson and Pat Buchanan, part two-as Countdown's post-debate coverage continues.


OLBERMANN: Back with Gene Robinson of "The Washington Post" and MSNBC and Pat Buchanan of MSNBC.

Three things. First off, there's another research polling data, some quick research from the Opinion Research for CN. This is overall, a 51-38 margin, Obama declared the victors by those in that polling. On the economy, the victor, 58-37 Obama. On Iraq, the victor 52-47 Obama.

The CBS News poll earlier on-on undeclared voters, or uncommitted voters, was, Obama wins by 40 percent, a draw, 38, McCain 22.

Second point, that initial statement by John McCain about Eisenhower's two letters on D-Day, and how you have to take responsibility, and be prepared to take responsibility, asking the SEC chairman to resign, Will Bunch of "The Philadelphia Daily News" doing some great research on that, pointing out that Ike's second letter on D-Day, in it, never is it mentioned that he might resign.

Now my question to Pat and to Gene.

The one thing in which I thought a clear slam dunk was accomplished by John McCain tonight is a discussion about Iraq in the future, not in the past.

Here's the bite first.


MCCAIN: The next president of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not. The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind.


OLBERMANN: To both of you, Gene first, isn't that exactly right? Is that not a meme that Pat-that-that John McCain out to pick up and-and run with the rest of this campaign?

ROBINSON: Absolutely. I thought that was a high point for McCain.

And it's an excellent point. It's absolutely true. It made it sound as if Obama were kind of wallowing in the past, and-and McCain is looking forward: You know, here's where we are. Let's figure out where we have to go.

But, you know, overall, you know, in the larger context, though, you know, yesterday, we had the biggest bank failure in history. We're talking about spending nearly a trillion dollars to right the economy. If people have this frustration, they're big problems and they want them solved.

So, tonight, we saw two different styles of problem-solving, in a sense. We saw John McCain, very aggressive, in your face. I'm not Mr. Congeniality. I'm tough. I'm going to-and you saw Obama trying to find consensus, and-and move forward, and say, we don't make false choices, and that sort of thing.

You know, people are going to make their decisions. But-but the important thing is, they want these problems solved. And-and I wonder if that's not the basis on which most people watched the debate, rather than who scored points...



OLBERMANN: Well, an excellent point.

But, Pat, about that one idea that-that was expressed by somebody

against the Barack Obama major talking point since well before the-the -

the primary season was joined, was his-was his opposition to this war in 2002. I thought that was the first cogent, easy-to-remember sound bite anybody produced in response to that.

BUCHANAN: Mm-hmm. I think that's right.

And I think-I agree that is looking to the future. And I think McCain handled that very well.

But let me say about these polls, it's very interesting. In-back in 1984, in the Louisville debate, I remember some of us who were pro-Reagan were very disappointed in his performance, and the polls showed that Mondale had only lost 47 - or had won 47-43.

But, two days later, because of the commentary, postgame commentary, if you will, 80 percent thought Mondale had won, and only 20 percent. So, what we're doing now, Keith, and what people are saying, and these polls, I think could have an effect, by two days from now, on what we all claim that we saw.

But, again, I do think Obama did very well, in terms of standing up on a level, toe to toe with John McCain in foreign policy, and coming off, at the end of that battle, still standing, and, frankly, the more graceful individual, although I still think that, judged on points, the mean guy won.



OLBERMANN: Well, now, who did you mean by that?


BUCHANAN: I mean McCain.



OLBERMANN: In the-in the last two minutes, here's the bigger question. How many opinions were actually changed in this debate, do you suppose, and how many positions were just hardened? Or do-or is this a different set-Pat, is this a different set of-of debates, as opposed to 2004, or even 2000?

BUCHANAN: I think your question is right to the point.

I think, obviously, Obama satisfied his folks just fine. They're probably relieved how he came out of it, McCain, to his folks, who are very tough and hard-lined.

The key ones are the ones-I would take a look at not simply the independent voters, but I would take a look at the Reagan Democrats and working-class folks, you know, white blue-collar folks, who tend to like tough customers, and see how they came out.

But that's the decisive factor, Keith. It's those groups between the 45 percent who are now one way and 45 another, how did that 10 percent judge this debate? And that's the winner of the debate.

OLBERMANN: Right. You have got 38 percent who said draw.

Gene, finish me off here on this-on this subject of the influence of the debates this year, as opposed to any other.

ROBINSON: I-I suspect that a lot minds were-were changed or made up tonight.

I-you know, anecdotally, I run across a lot of voters in all demographics, you know, not just white working-class voters, but, you know, lots of voters, who are leaning toward one candidate or the other, but have questions, and, you know, something-maybe the question is about McCain's temperament. Maybe it's about Obama's experience, and, so, those voters who are looking to be-you know, to be confirmed in the way they were leaning by this debate.

And, you know, probably some on both sides found-found reassurance.

You know, Obama seemed to-to cross the foreign policy threshold tonight. That may have a fairly substantial impact on those undecided, wavering voters.

OLBERMANN: And that one last bit of data from that CBS poll about the uncommitted voters, 40 percent thought Obama won the debate. Well, that's nice. But 46 percent said their opinion of Obama got better tonight.

Eugene Robinson, Pat Buchanan, great thanks for wrapping it up for us tonight, gentlemen.

That's Countdown for this, the 1,976th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.

In New York, I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night, and good luck.

Our MSNBC post-the-debate coverage continues now with Chris Matthews, live from Oxford, Mississippi.

Good evening, Chris.


'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday September 26, 2008, 8 p.m. ET
video podcast

Guest: Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Robert Gibbs

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Over before it began. John McCain's Internet ad boasting he's already won the debate. It was online this morning, before McCain confirmed he was showing up to the debate. Even though he wouldn't show up if the economic bailout had not passed. Premature jocularity?

Home field advantage. Tonight is supposed to be about foreign policy; that is supposed to be McCain's slam dunk specialty. Debate preview with Chris Matthews, Richard Wolffe, and Howard Fineman in Oxford, Mississippi, and Rachel Maddow who went to the other Oxford.

Internal dissention. Mike Huckabee protests McCain holding the debate hostage.


MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know what the talking points are. I think Senator McCain should make it absolutely clear: I'm going to Oxford; I'm going to participate in that debate.


OLBERMANN: From GOP consultant, former McCain advisor, Craig Shirley, quote, "In the end, he blinked and Obama did not. The 'steady hand in the storm' argument looks now to favor Obama, not McCain."

And back in D.C., with still no bailout bill yet in place, confirmation that the McCain stunt was a McCain stunt.

Minority Leader Boehner's aide, Kevin Smith, is telling the "New York Times" as the paper reports, "Republicans revolted, in part, because they were chafing at what they saw as an attempt by Democrats to jam through an agreement on the bailout early Thursday and deny Mr. McCain an opportunity to participate in the agreement."

Palin panic. Her approval rating is down 14 percent in Alaska. And a conservative columnist, a woman conservative columnist, saying she is, quote, "clearly out of her lead" and must quit the ticket to save John McCain, before there's more of this reverse elitism.


GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The way I understood the world is through education, through books, through mediums that have provided me a lot of perspective on the world.


OLBERMANN: Six million viewers and nearly 2 million more on YouTube have gotten a new perspective on John McCain as David Letterman continues the payback for McCain's cancellation.


DAVID LETTERMAN, TV TALK SHOW HOST: Here's the news, Paris Hilton is on the program tonight-unless she needs to rush to Washington to fix the economy.



OLBERMANN: All that and more: Now our Countdown to the debate.


PARIS HILTON, CELEBRITY: I'll see you at the debate, bitches.


OLBERMANN (on camera): Good evening. This is Friday, September 26th, 39 days until the 2008 presidential election, less than one hour until the first presidential debate of the 2008 presidential election.

But first, breaking news at this hour on the health of Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. His office is confirming tonight that he has just been released from the Cape Cod Hospital and is returning home after having suffered a mild seizure at his home today. We'll keep you updated on the senator's health throughout the evening.

His staff says he was particularly anxious to get back to his house to watch the debate.

As to that, when then Vice President Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy took the stage where their presidential debate 48 years ago tonight, had Mr. Nixon pretended to suspend this campaign at the midst of a financial crisis, had Mr. Nixon squandered congressional efforts to reach compromise on an economic bailout merely because he had not been seen to be participating in the agreement, had Mr. Nixon threatened before departing for Chicago in a, quote, "general atmosphere of utter confusion?

Our fifth story on the Countdown: No, unlike Senator John McCain, all that Mr. Nixon had going against him that night was a flu-driven pasty complexion and a five o'clock shadow.

By the time Senator McCain tended (ph) to inform the country today that he would indeed be showing up at Ole Miss tonight, his opponent, Senator Obama already at the airport waiting to take off for Memphis. Does that mean the Republican's threshold for attending the debate has been reached? Is there, in fact, a bailout agreement? Of course not.

Senator McCain merely moving that goal post, announcing that because of significant progress, the debate is back on. And it appears, Senator McCain has already won before the first question was even uttered. Before Senator McCain stopped hinting he might not show up, an ad appearing on the this morning declaring "McCain wins debate."

Not that there should have been any doubt that Senator McCain would be in attendance, he knew it last night, reporting that after last night's disastrous meeting at the White House, a meeting that McCain requested, the senator got in a few hours of debate prep.

In a statement, the McCain campaign with the goal to blame the Democrats for yesterday's debacle at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: "The difference between Barack Obama and John McCain was apparent during a White House meeting yesterday where Barack Obama's priority was political posturing in his opening monologue, defending the package as it stands.

John McCain listened to all sides so he could help focus the debate on finding a bipartisan resolution that is in the interest of taxpayers and homeowners."

That however, not how it went down according to an aide to Minority Leader John Boehner. The aide, Kevin Smith, telling the "New York Times" that as the paper reports, "Republicans revolted in part because they were chafing at what they saw as an attempt by Democrats to jam through an agreement on the bailout earlier Thursday and deny Mr. McCain an opportunity to participate in the agreement."

Senator McCain apparently also with time in his schedule today for the interest of lobbyists. Joining him on the plane to Memphis and then (ph) to Oxford, former New York Mayor Giuliani, a top McCain surrogate. The "New York Daily News" reporting that Mayor Giuliani's law firm has set up a task force with the mission of helping its corporate clients get a piece of the bailout action or at least keep federal regulators from their door.

This morning on the plane to Memphis, Senator Obama putting his role in the bailout negotiations and in tonight's debate into context.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At this point, my strong sense is that the best thing that I can do, rather than to inject presidential politics into some delicate negotiations is go down to Mississippi, and explain to the American people what is going on, and my vision for leading the country over the next four years.


OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, also, of course, the senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine, who is joining us now from the site of the debate in Oxford, Mississippi.

Richard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: So, why are you even there? I mean, I was reading the this morning, and apparently, McCain already won the debate. Why aren't you home or on your home to see your kids?

WOLFFE: My kids would clearly love to know the answer to that and many other questions. Look-there's a problem about debates which is, you might call it premature celebration. Four years ago, in the second debate, Bush's aides, if you remember, he'd had a terrible first debate. The second debate that was so keen to show that he'd won the second debate, that after about 20 minutes, his aides came in to the press room and started high fiving.

You know, there is a problem with the spin surrounding these debates, whether it's about an ad or fundraising or just a cold hard P.R. game that goes on, which is what we've seen all before. And these lines are so well-rehearsed that they're not believable for either side, they will get caught here, there's a question of timing.

OLBERMANN: Yes, but, with the rare exception to that rule, there is n authenticity to this debate and the yapping before it because of all the changes in the standard process that Mr. McCain brought to it this week. We have a debate, yet we do not have a bailout deal. Does that leave to the conclusion that Senator McCain blinked, he lose the game of chicken that he was basically playing by himself?

WOLFFE: Yes. The problem is, when you are gambling and taking risks as McCain has done, you make a big bet and you can lose a lot. And he has lost multiple points over the last 48 to 72 hours. First of all, it's one thing to say, I'm going to rush back to Washington and deal with this problem. That's fine, in and of itself.

But to suspend the campaign, trying to postpone the debate, and then lay out a condition for returning to the debate, which is that they had to be a hard and fast deal there-there, you sort of multiply the gamble. And each of those points, the deal, the postponing of the debate, the conditions for returning to the debate, McCain has not met his own definition of the rules here.

So, not only is there sort of flip-flop that you might describe it as, but the risk-taking elements to it. And if you look at the full report coming out of the McCain press corps was, they called it as they boarded the plane, a scene of general and utter confusion. And that's what it's felt like.

OLBERMANN: And one more practical aspect to that-foreign policy which was the stated topic of this debate, is arguably, certainly, the senator thinks it is, Senator McCain's strongest topic. Obviously, the time that would have been spent debating that night is going to be siphoned off the questions on the economy instead that would have happened anyway, but you have to argue that more questions will be asked about the economy after what Senator McCain did, this entirety of the White House and the whole "dog and pony" show in Washington.

Am I misreading this? Or did Senator McCain manage to decrease the number of questions he would otherwise welcome and increase the number he might be struggling with?

WOLFFE: I think they would still be talking about the economy. There is no way for Jim Lehrer. He told-as moderator, he's told these campaigns that there will be a section on the economy. But what he's done is focused those questions or at least some of them on his own role as opposed to being sort of explanatory and expressing concern, and a general set of principles.

Some of these questions are going to be directed towards McCain's involvement. Did he help or did he hinder this bailout negotiation? And that's a problem for him just dealing with that.

OLBERMANN: Is there anybody, by the way, suggesting there in all seriousness that helped?

WOLFFE: McCain is saying that he was very bipartisan. But this deal is still to be done. So, let's see if he can pull people together.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and "Newsweek," as always, great thanks. We will talk to you after the debate is over.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: For a different perspective on the Countdown to tonight's debate, we're joined now by Robert Gibbs, senior strategist for communications and message for the Obama campaign. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: I don't know if you have heard or if you happen to see the this morning, but apparently, Senator McCain already won the debate. I don't know what you all are doing there. Do you have a comment on the victory this morning in the first debate?

GIBBS: We were going to turn the plane around. You know, it's a remarkable thing because, up until a few hours ago, we didn't even know if John McCain was going to participate. So, if it takes him winning before we even get here just to show up, then we are happy he came.

OLBERMANN: The McCain campaign not only claimed that victory for the debate that had not even started yet. And as you pointed, they've not even committed to at that point, but they've also, more substantially, blamed Senator Obama for the breakdown of the meeting at the White House last night. Would you care to comment on that?

GIBBS: Let's just say, if McCain helps out in any other White House meetings in the near future about the financial bailout, I'm going to take my son's college fund and stuff it in my mattress. I don't think we need anymore help from John McCain. We had the principles of an agreement before his plane landed in Washington, and only a few hours later, Democrats and Republicans left the White House wondering what had happened.

Barack Obama has worked steadily on this agreement for the past week and on this crisis for more than two weeks to make sure that our taxpayers are protected, that we have more transparency and openness in this, that we make sure, most of all, that the CEOs that caused this financial crisis don't get our tax money as a bailout. That's what working constructively can do to help an agreement.

And I think, over the past two weeks, people in this country have got a chance to see Barack Obama as a steady leader and John McCain, quite frankly, as an erratic senator.

OLBERMANN: A debate in modern American politics is all about setting expectations for your guy low and for the other guy kind of high. A Democratic staffer at the bailout talks in Washington had said, I want to read this quote, "Bush is no diplomat but his Cardinal "freaking" Richelieu compared to McCain. McCain couldn't negotiate an agreement on dinner among a family of four without making a big drama with himself at the heroic center of it."

As interesting as that phrase is, and credit is given for it, the

reference to Cardinal Richelieu, does a sense of that-does that lower

expectations for Senator McCain and increase them for Senator Obama tonight?

GIBBS: Well, look, we're on John McCain's home turf. We're on foreign policy and national security experience. Something he spent nearly three decades of his career in Washington on.

Look, anything less than a game-changing event from John McCain, I think, would be considered nothing but a loss. This is a part of the issue spectrum that he's ridiculed everybody else on knowing more than anybody else. So, look, I think we'll do well tonight, but John McCain, the pressure is on John McCain.

OLBERMANN: Are you actually surprised that there is a debate tonight? Or was that never any debate in your camp?

GIBBS: We always planned for John McCain to be here, despite the high jinx and the press releases, and all the traveling back-and-forth and the hand-wringing and decision-making. We're just glad he decided to come and join us here in Mississippi.

OLBERMANN: Robert Gibbs, communications director for the Obama campaign, great thanks for you time.

GIBBS: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: A programming reminder. We've got your post debate analysis for you. Countdown live at 11:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, 8:00 Pacific. The Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Joe Biden among our guests. Chris Matthews and "Hardball" live at midnight. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" live at 1:00 a.m.

A remarkable statement out of one of Congressman Boehner's aides at the bailout talks yesterday, "The Republicans revolted in part because they sense the settlement was being reached too quickly for Senator McCain to get involved. They scuttled the deal because McCain could not have claimed credit for it."

Rachel Maddow on the man who wants to be "President Photo-op." And a remarkable column from the ultraconservative "National Review" online. Kathleen Parker writes that is Sarah Palin must withdraw as John McCain's running mate.


OLBERMANN: Can you parachute in the complex financial and legislative negotiations and get anything done, let alone lead? Apparently not. Can you parachute into a debate and get anything done, let alone lead? Find out about 45 minutes. The leadership of the man who would be "President Parachute." Rachel Maddow joins me.

Also tonight: The continuing revenge of David Letterman.

And, the continuing freefall of Sarah Palin, her negative ratings in the polls up by 50 percent in Alaska. While a conservative columnist says she has to go.

You're watching the Countdown to the debate on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: With pillars of the U.S. economy crumbling before our eyes at yesterday's White House meeting, both presidential candidates had the opportunity to show how they respond to a crisis. By all accounts, both of them did.

Our fourth story tonight: What really happened?

Before John McCain took off from Newark yesterday, Democrats and House Minority Leader John Boehner had announced bipartisan progress. McCain touched down in Washington just on the afternoon, he and Boehner then met with House conservatives, the biggest holdouts on the bailout. According to the "Washington Post," McCain had few details of their alternate plan.

Four p.m. at the White House, a McCain's spokesman says Obama led the Democratic side and that it quote, "quickly divulged into a shouting match."

But Republican Senator Shelby, who was at the meeting, described both McCain and Obama as, quote, "very courteous." So, did McCain, like Obama, lead his party's efforts? For more than 40 minutes, he said nothing. Then the House conservative plan came up and Obama asked McCain his position about it. McCain refused to take a stand.

But CBS News reports he did float part of the House conservative wish list, namely, more corporate tax breaks, more of the deregulation that got us all here. The bailout talks then broke down.

McCain did some TV interviews, was home by 6:00, at 6:09, this came from the McCain camp, quote, "We're optimistic that Senator McCain will bring House Republicans on board." At quarter to 10:00 this morning, Democratic Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor, asking Mr. Bush to quote, "respectfully tell Senator McCain to get out of town, he's not helping."

Joining me now, Rachel Maddow, the host, of course, of her own show here on MSNBC as well as on Air America Radio.

Good evening.


OLBERMANN: We heard earlier, Boehner's aide said the GOP wanted to stop the deal from going through too quickly to enable McCain to get credits. So, they basically put their foot on the brake just for his credit getting.

MADDOW: Right.

OLBERMANN: Today, another former McCain advisor, this man Craig Shirley told the "Huffington Post" that this whole debate bailout debacle shows that his campaign, McCain's campaign, is governed by tactics and not ideology. That's from a former McCain advisor, not from somebody on the liberal side.

What damage do you think McCain has actually done to himself this week, and do you think he understands that he has?

MADDOW: It's hard to imagine that things could have gotten worse for him, given how bad they were just by virtue of the fact that we were talking about the economy. It's such a bad two weeks, but this was a disaster. I mean, it was a disaster, I think, on two fronts, both on temperament and on leadership, because on temperament, that's something for which, I think, the public already maybe has a sort of negative perception of John McCain, broadly speaking.

And he did himself more damage by showing that once again, he's willing to panic, gamble, pull the fire alarm, and see what happens, try to hit the reset button. So, on the temperament thing, he made a bad situation worse for himself.

But on leadership, he undid what might have been a more positive perception of his skills. I mean, in this case, you either lead the nation by saying: Actually, we do not need a bailout, the president is wrong, what you heard from the secretary of the treasury is wrong. What you are hearing in the mainstream views in Washington is wrong. We don't need a bailout, here's what we should do instead.

You either say that, or say: You know what? Republicans, we need to get our arms around this bailout even though we don't often like government solutions.

OLBERMANN: But we've already skipped to the second thing you do as a leader. Isn't the first thing you do as a leader to say, "This is where I stand"?


OLBERMANN: Where is he-I keep asking this question-where is he on this?

MADDOW: We have no idea. As you said, he went to the meeting at the White House, the big photo-op, and sat there silently for 40 minutes. At the very end of the meeting, after which reports are that Barack Obama was peppering Secretary Paulson with questions the whole time, John McCain sat silently. Then at the very end, raised some of the issues that House Republicans have raised, but never asked Hank Paulson: Do you agree with this plan, do you object to this plan.

We don't know where he stands on it. If you're going to bother to show up, show up.

OLBERMANN: And the only essence, the only-just iceberg top that we know about his policy on this, from the reports of those who are at the meeting, was that he came out and asked for more deregulation.


OLBERMANN: Less regulation, more deregulation when nine out of 10 people on the street, who barely can grasp how to spell economics rather than what they're, you know, understanding what they're saying, and I count myself in that group-nine out of 10 people would say, obviously, it's deregulation that got us where we are.

What is he trying to sell? Should it be terrifying to people that he's trying to gut what few regulations are left?

MADDOW: He's-I mean, responding to this crisis by saying we need deregulation is like using gasoline to put out a fire. It's ridiculous. We don't yet know if that's John McCain's idea. All we know is that he has empowered the dissidents in the Republican Party who are pushing this one-page plan. I think I got it here. It's not that hard to carry around if it's all in one-page.

And I mean, if you thought the Paulson plan was thin, this is deregulation, corporate tax cuts, and essentially, no to the bailout. That's what they are proposing, oh, and a blue ribbon commission. That's what they are proposing. And these are the folks that he's empowering, there was a bipartisan consensus emerging. He decided to empower these guys.


MADDOW: Now, we have nothing.

OLBERMANN: And so that, that blue ribbon commission would be there

to watch and make it easier for everybody else to watch the economy go to

hell in a handbag, if that's what -

MADDOW: Will they be able to explain to us what was happening as it was setting itself on fire.

OLBERMANN: You maybe overstating in that case, I'm just wondering, that one page, do we know that McCain's read that?


MADDOW: As of Tuesday, he hasn't read the Paulson plan which was 2 ½ pages. So, I suppose we can't be guaranteed. But, I mean, we shouldn't-I don't think that we should be unfair here. It's a blue ribbon panel and it doesn't get any better than blue when you're talking ribbons and panels.

OLBERMANN: That's right. A nice sash for the women members of the panel, too.

Our own Rachel Maddow will rejoin us in our post debate coverage at 11:00 Eastern and then will host her own hour, a post debate coverage at 1:00 a.m. Eastern, 10:00 p.m. Pacific.

We'll see you then.

MADDOW: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, Rachel.

The call from a syndicated conservative woman columnist, Sarah Palin must withdraw from the Republican ticket because, quote, "if B.S. were currency, Palin could bailout Wall Street herself." And she is, quote, "clearly out of her league." Wow.

And what kind of league did Senator McCain sign up for when he ditched David Letterman and earned yet another night of Letterman's laser-like response? Also, there were jokes about the size of my head. That's next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: One, perhaps, underrated factor as tonight's debate nears, David Letterman. Or correctly, the 6 million of so people who watched him the last two nights, or the 1,800,000 more who have already viewed the nine-minute clip from the night McCain bailed on him and lied to him about why. And Letterman did not dial it down one iota in a follow-up vivisection of McCain last night.

Maybe (ph) this way, John McCain had a new TV show debuting tonight, this would not be considered a good pub.


DAVID LETTERMAN, TV TALK SHOW HOST: Here's good news. Paris Hilton is on the program tonight.


LETTERMAN: Unless she needs to rush to Washington to fix the economy.


LETTERMAN: A lot of people don't know this, but Paris Hilton was actually McCain's first choice for running mate.


LETTERMAN: Yes. I felt bad about this because we're all ready to go with John McCain, and then, like with an hour to go he cancels, and I felt bad about it. And I was thinking about this, John. John, here's how it works. You don't come to see me. You don't come to see me, well, we might not see you on inauguration day.


LETTERMAN: That's how it works. Honest to goodness, it's like you're getting a call from Superman, it's like you're getting a call from Batman, it's nice. "Love to talk, got to go Dave. Gotham is about to go belly up."




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like you are the commissioner.

LETTERMAN: Do what you need to do and call me when you can.


LETTERMAN: Well, no, you know, it's like he stopped off and had a facial.



OLBERMANN: Letterman might still be one of the most famous native sons of the state of Indiana. So, here's what is, presumably, just a bizarre coincidence. NBC News reporting today that the Republican National Committee has decided to sink $5 million into local TV advertising for Senator McCain in tight states, like Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and Indiana?

President Bush won Indiana four years ago, 60-39. And just to lighten this up a little bit. Last night, Letterman also had some fun with that goofball who pinch hit for McCain on Wednesday.


DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: We think, OK, so we get that Keith Olbermann who is a great guy to come on at the last minute.

PAUL SHAFFER, TALK SHOW SIDEKICK: Came on at the last second.

LETTERMAN: He doesn't know what's going on. He comes out here. By the way, he has an enormous head.

SHAFFER: I noticed that. It's hard not to.

LETTERMAN: It's huge.

SHAFFER: It's hard not to notice. You try not to. But .

LETTERMAN: Very nice guy and I think very suit. It's like you see a suit and luggage? Oh, that's his head. His big head that makes him smart.


OLBERMANNN: Yes, I do have a big head. My hat side is between 7 7/8 and 8. I had to special order my mortarboard head in college? Does it worry you that this time he's talking about my giant squash and last time how enormous a person I am.

Sarah Palin evidently reproving Joe Louis old warning from the boxing ring, you can run, but you cannot hide. A conservative woman columnist calling for the governor to withdraw from the Republican ticket.

A half an hour to the debate. Nobody suspended anything, nobody has asked for postponement. Well, not tonight, anyway.


OLBERMANN: For her, there's the ivory puffin mask worth $2,200, a woven grass fan for $300 and a gold nugget pin valued at $1,200. And for a total of about $1,000, an Aleut basket, a sea otter headband, a rattle and a whale basket.

For him, the more practical of gratuities, two charter airplane flights valued at over $1,000. These just some of the 41 lovely gifts totaling $25,367 in value from Alaska mining operations and other industries received by Governor Sarah Palin and Husband Todd during her 20 months in office.

Our third story on the Countdown, but for both of them something else. The suggestion from a conservative columnist that Governor Palin is, quote, "clearly out of here league and should for the good of the Republican Party and the nation withdraw from the ticket."

The vice presidential candidate was kept away from reporters today, this after Wednesday's disastrous interview with Katie Couric. And yesterday's rambling answers during a brief media opportunity in New York. So nobody can ask about the free gifts.

"The Washington Post" reports her benefactors included large mining interests, the city of Nome and state corporation executives, many of the items given right before and after her proposals became law.

Not surprisingly, the governor's approval rating at home has tanked 14 percent since she was picked as McCain's running mate. Her approval, though, in the mind of conservative columnist Kathleen Parker on even shakier ground still.

"Palin's recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate who is clearly out of here league," the columnist writes. "Only Palin can save McCain, her party and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons perhaps because she wants to spend time with her newborn. No one would criticize her mother who puts her family first. Do it for your country."

More snippets of the Couric interview now being made available and one the governor was asked whether it was a lack of interest in the world that delayed her getting a passport until last year.


GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and say go off and travel the world.

No, I've worked all my life. In fact I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture. The way that I have understood the world is through education, through books, through mediums that have provided me a lot of perspective on the world.

Then, maybe her book learning talked about whether the Pakistani government might be harboring al Qaeda.


PALIN: I don't believe that new President Zadari has that mission at all. But, no. The Pakistani people also, they want freedom, they want democratic values to be allowed in their country, also. They understand the dangers of terrorists having a stronghold in regions of their country, also. And I believe that they too, want to rid not only their country, but the world of violent Islamic terrorists.


OLBERMANN: Joined by Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst, "Washington Post" columnist and associate editor. Good to see you, Gene.


OLBERMAN: Let me quote a little more from Ms. Parker here. "Palin's filibusters. She repeats words filling in space with deadwood. If B.S. were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself. If Palin were a man, we'd all be guffawing."

This is from a conservative columnist at the "National Review" Online. She's written, the governor needs to quit for John McCain's sake and the country. Is she speaking for anybody one the right besides herself? Are there these doubts?

ROBINSON: I think, clearly, there are doubts among I guess those on the right who were raised in that culture where you put on a backpack after college and go see the world. I mean. And maybe there's a focus group in North Waziristan that has something to say about Governor Palin as well. She seems to know what they think about democratic values in Pakistan.

OLBERMANN: But she knows about everywhere in the world, she just substitutes the name of the country. They don't want terrorism, they want democracy.

ROBINSON: They want democratic values.

OLBERMANN: I have been asking this, with three to one odds are required on this. But I was saying the governor could be off the ticket by October 1. Between this week in the interviews and this little tawdry gift scandal, could it happen-or how could it not happen. How can you run the risk letting her go out there in six days in a debate.

ROBINSON: Well, I think it's kind of in for a dime for a dollar at this point. I don't think-I think the odds will be longer than three to one, to tell you the truth. Will there be increasing nervousness and maybe ultimately despair, who knows. If she continues to make pronouncements, we'll see. The debate will be key in how she performs there. And we'll see. But I don't think they are going to back off.

OLBERMANN: But if they don't, don't they have to find some excuse to cancel the debate? Not postpone it but cancel it. Something's happened. Alaska got closer to Russia. It's now 52 miles between the Bering Strait.

ROBINSON: We have to go solve this crisis.

OLBERMANN: Global warming has caused the ice to melt off the Bering Strait about a half mile in each direction. We're now just 52 miles away, she has to rush back for the rest-How do you take those kind of lumps at the debate when she could not handle her own with Katie Couric?

ROBINSON: I don't know. Frankly, this is the opinion columnist in me. That interview was chilling to me, it really was in the way betrayed such lack of knowledge of the world. And to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, that's actually not a laughing matter.

OLBERMANN: Also, not a laughing matter, there was sort of a reverse elitism in that. I'm the first guy in my family in like a century to go to college and I'm damn proud of it. I'm damn proud to have learned something. And my parents and my grandparents were prouder that I was able to do more in my life than perhaps they were, educationally certainly. Why is this a good thing what she is actually expressing there amid the filler material?

ROBINSON: Why are the two mutually exclusive? It is curiosity about the world and desire to see more exclusive coming from a working class family where there's not a history of going to college. I don't understand it. I don't think they are mutually exclusive.

OLBERMANN: I also didn't know your parents could just get you a passport. I thought you could go to the office yourself. Maybe her parents got her her passport. We'll see how that turns out. Gene Robinson of the "Washington Post" and MSNBC who will be with us again after the debate. Thanks.

ROBINSON: So you then, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The University of Mississippi is ready. The Democratic nominee is ready. He has already departed his hotel and made it to the Ford Center. The Republican nominee, well, we think he's going to be there. The late word from the two camps via Howard Fineman as our countdown to the debate continues.


OLBERMANN: Five hundred ninety four days after Senator Barack Obama, shown here moments ago, arriving at the Ford Center at the University of Mississippi for tonight's debate, 594 days after he declared his candidacy at the old State Capitol building in Springfield, 576 days after Senator McCain declared his candidacy on the "Late Show with David Letterman", the two presidential nominees will finally to debate just 15 minutes from now despite McCain's call two days ago that this first debate be postponed.

Our number two story on the Countdown, as always, there are attempts at pre-debate spin. Our own Howard Fineman joining us presently. Let the images from Oxford not mislead you for the candidates, their supporters, the production crew, the moderator, this is the time for panic.

More about logistics than content, though. Can I get all this done before we start, but still, there's some panic there. Let's bring in as promised senior Washington correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine, also political columnist, our own Howard Fineman. Good evening, Howard.


OLBERMANN: Other than the Web ad that declared victory before he was declaring that he was going to attend, how is McCain's campaign trying to frame this tonight?

FINEMAN: Well, they are trying to frame this as the guy that is reluctantly going to participate in politics. They are trying to make a virtue of necessity here. McCain has been slammed and criticized and marked down for the political impact of all the flying around and dropping in he has been doing.

And Nicole Wallace who is the top spinner for the McCain campaign was telling me a little while ago, look, he did what he did in Washington and he believes in what he did in Washington because he cares more about the country than he cares about politics. And if his debate performance is off a little tonight, if he's a little tired, hasn't had much sleep, etc, etc, etc, it's because he's putting country first, not politics first. That's their spin and they are sticking to it. And as I say, they are going to make a virtue of necessity here because McCain has pretty well been hammered in terms of the political reaction to his actions in the last couple days.

OLBERMANN: All right. So, he's Cincinnatus McCain, he is going back to plow the fields rather than lead the Roman Army. But obviously the events of the last few days have recast this debate in terms of Senator Obama as well. Has McCain's poor performance in some way raised expectations for Obama tonight?

FINEMAN: I think in a way, Keith. Because I think Obama's tack over the last many days, while McCain was trying one tactic or another was to be Mr. Steady, the be Mr. Even-handed, to be the studious one, to be the level headed one. And I think it's going to be a challenge for him tonight, to maintain that and to show that he's commander and chief material by his very calmness.

Although this is one of the things that people have been criticizing him for. "The New York Times" says he's too cool. They want him to be hot, not cool. Well, I think cool is his chosen role. If he gets to stand next to McCain and look like the more mature one of the two, not in years but in political outlook and demeanor, that's going to be very important but that's a tough challenge and he's been working hard to try to get ready to do just that.

OLBERMANN: If it's coolness, does that also imply a certain amount of defense, trying to shift the spotlight to McCain saying look, this is his specialty. He had better do well. It's almost as if Obama's performance from the Obama point of view is secondary or tertiary to how McCain does in his so-called home court.

FINEMAN: Well, I think you want to try to do that one opponent against another. This is supposed to be mostly about foreign policy. Although I think Jim Lehrer is going to ask a lot of economics questions. But mostly about foreign policy, that's supposed to be John McCain's strong suit. Barack Obama is a studious guy.

Somebody told me a few hours ago that the chancellor of the University of Mississippi here had cleared the gym to make the basketball court available in case Barack Obama wanted to spend some time shooting hoops. Obama didn't take him up on it because he's studying.

And he has Greg Craig who is a very well known and very knowledgeable Washington lawyer, very on foreign policy who has been playing the role of John McCain in the prep sessions, so I think if McCain thinks he's going to go up against somebody who doesn't know how to deal on foreign policy, I think Obama is hoping to surprise him.

OLBERMANN: Let me elaborate on your analogy. Obviously the McCain campaign has been to this point about taking here. Does he have one for tonight? Is he going to come out and take a swing at Obama? Is he going to replace Sarah Palin on the ticket with David Letterman? What rabbit does he have to pull out of the hat?

FINEMAN: Well, let's use another sports analogy. It's always fourth and long in the world of John McCain. That's the way he operates. That's the way he's always operated. He goes one news cycle at a time. One political punch at a time.

And you can expect him to come out and be aggressive. Look to make news by surprising people tonight once again. That's been the McCain philosophy from the beginning. I predict it will be that again tonight.

OLBERMANN: Ask Brett Favre how that works when you go from the Packers to the Jets. Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC. To finish off the sports analogies. We'll see you after the debate as well. Thank you, Howard.


OLBERMANN: A last preview of the first presidential debate. Chris Matthews joins me next as we anticipate the rumble in Oxford.


OLBERMANN: "We must meet until the crisis is resolved. I am directing my campaign to work with the Obama campaign and the Commission on Presidential Debates to delay Friday night's debate until we have take action to address this crisis."

Senator John McCain about 53 hours ago.

Our number one story on the Countdown, despite that, we are moments away from the first presidential debate at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. And aside from Senator McCain's own part in raising the stakes in tonight's debate, there is this.

A face-off that would have been exclusively on foreign affairs, will now, due to the obvious economic crisis including some focus on the economy. So says it moderator, that man in the middle there, Jim Lehrer, PBS.

And so predictions about which candidate would be on safer turf in this first presidential debate, to some degree, out the window. Let's bring in the host of Hardball, Chris Matthews, who is on the scene. Chris, good evening.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Keith, how are you doing?

OLBERMANN: Let's assume, for arguments sake, that both these guys are at the top of the their game tonight. What is the best scenario for each of them?

MATTHEWS: Well, Barack Obama, who can be very elegant in manner and speech, can come across as warmer and someone who cares about our problems who connects with the average person out there. Not to be blunt about it, the more conservative white voter who may be resistant to him. He can't get the racist vote, but he's got to get the more conservative voter. He has white liberals and white middle of the roaders, he's got black voters. He has got to get the more conservative white voters, that fourth quintile I call it out there on the spectrum. And he can do it if he comes across as the guy who cares about the problems we're all in.

OLBERMANN: And obviously that's front of mind. Economics.


OLBERMANN: The contours of the debate have obviously morphed. It can't be devoted exclusively to foreign affairs. The Hotline daily tracking poll says the difference in which candidate would handle the economy went from Obama plus one on Monday to Obama plus 14 today. How does Obama drive that home in a debate format? What does he do?

MATTHEWS: Well, I've talked to a lot of people who are pretty tough political people. They are pretty tough because they know what's going on out there. And they believe that the cosmos has shifted the way that Norman Mailer would talk about it. All of a sudden, the backdrop has shifted behind these men.

Regardless of what they've done, the world has moved behind them. The cosmos behind them is who is the best commander and chief behind the economy. Who is the Democrat and who is the Republican. Who is with the party in the White House. Who is with the opposition party.

That cosmos shifted now. John McCain finds himself a Republican at a time the Republicans are taking the heat for seven or eight years of trouble leading up to the catastrophe. There's nothing he can do about it. He's stuck in a Republican uniform tonight. Barack Obama finds himself as the alternative to what we right have now. That's an ideal place to be. Things have changed. They haven't changed.

Let's see if Barack can exploit the situation and let's see if John McCain can slip out of it. The word change is a very good word again tonight.

OLBERMANN: Do standard debating rules apply? Have they been affected by the last week? Is it still, if you have the best snappy short sound bite and you have the fewest gaffes, you have won the debate?

MATTHEWS: That's the way we slice and dice it in television. Because all that's left an hour and a half from now, once the debate has begun are the pieces of the debate. It never gets reassembled again as it actually happened.

All that's left are the bicentennial moments when someone makes a mistake or when someone comes through with something that's obvious to us and everyone watching a set piece. But I think Barack better have set pieces. It's rare that you can wing something like this.

So I would bet McCain might be a little more humble and come with set pieces like his favorite and very, very effective one. When he said I couldn't be at Woodstock because I was tied up at the time. No one thought he made it up at the time.

OLBERMANN: Obviously it's not 2004, there's no incumbent. Therefore that element is out of this. Give me the miniature history lesson here. Where do you think the debates rank in terms of making up people's minds for them or helping them make up their minds compared to 2004. There was a big Kerry win in one of those, a big Bush win and then one that could have been interpreted either way. And ultimately, I don't think it impacted the final outcome of that race very much at all.

Is it going to be a complete reversal this time?

MATTHEWS: I think, remember in math there is a necessary condition and a sufficiency condition? The necessary condition has already been met for Barack Obama. We want change as a country. We want him to make it tonight. The American people want an alternative to what's going on now. They want the opposition candidate to look good tonight. The necessary condition is there.

He has to now come in and perform up to his potential. The country was not that moot in 2004. It wasn't in that mood in 2000. It think the condition is there like it was the year 1980 when people wanted a change. All Reagan had to do was perform. The necessary condition was we have a candidate that can represent something different. All he has do is prove that he is effectively something different.

I think that's there for Barack. Everybody wants something different. He has to prove he can be an effective something different. Necessary condition already met tonight. He has got to deliver on the sufficiency condition.


MATTHEWS: And he can do it. He has to do it.

I think the other problem with McCain is the Captain Queeg factor here which is starting to emerge. It's not there yet. But the erratic nature of calling for the firing of the chairman of the SEC, attempting to fire these debates in a sense. This effort to constantly change things. He did it in Memphis a couple of years ago when he went down there and knew he was going to lose a straw vote at that Memphis meeting of southern Republicans and he endorsed Bush so there wouldn't be a vote. He's always trying to rip up the score card.

OLBERMANN: Chris Matthews in Oxford, Mississippi. And we can tell Chris is serious, because he has his Winston Churchill tie on. We'll talk to you later Chris, thank you.

MATTHEWS: True enough.

OLBERMANN: I'll be back after the debate with a special post debate edition of Countdown, that is at 11:00 Eastern, 8:00 Pacific. Among our guests, Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Joe Biden.

That is Countdown for this, the 1976th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.