Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Two episodes for this date.
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Pre-debate, 8 PM
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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, October 15, 2008, 11 p.m. ET
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Guests: Howard Fineman, Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson, Tom Daschle

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: This was not the same John McCain. He looked at his opponent, looked at him repeatedly and insistently and he invoked ACORN, William Ayers, class warfare and incessantly, Joe the Plumber, his invisible friend, Joe the Plumber.

Sometimes in a frenetic laundry list of sorts and in the case of his bugaboos Ayers and ACORN on the defensive after Obama addressed the topic first.

Tonight, it was not the same John McCain, and unfortunately for John McCain, it was the same Barack Obama.


OLBERMANN (voice over): The night John McCain promised no game-changer when he need a game-ender, a 10-run homer.

Tonight, John McCain said Barack Obama's reaction probably insured that the subject of William Ayers would come up tonight.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: When people suggest that I pal around with terrorists, then we're not talking about issues.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, Mr. Ayers, I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist but as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship.

We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama's relationship with ACORN who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country and maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.

OLBERMANN: The night that could be John McCain's last chance or Barack Obama's last hurdle.

MCCAIN: A couple of days ago Senator Obama was out in Ohio and he had

an encounter with a guy who's a plumber, name is Joe-Joe-Joe-Joe -

my old buddy Joe-Joe, the plumber-Joe, the plumber-like Joe the Plumber-people like Joe the Plumber-Joe the Plumber-we're talking about Joe the Plumber.

OBAMA: I'm happy to talk to you, Joe, too, if you're out there.

OLBERMANN: With Howard Fineman in the spin room at the David S Mack Sports & Exhibition Complex at Hofstra University, our special guest, former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, the analysis of Eugene Robinson and Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, this is Countdown coverage of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are the issues, and does he who we want?

Batman. Who is he? Can you think about that a moment, my friend?

OLBERMANN: Countdown's coverage of the 49th and final 2008 presidential debate.


OLBERMANN: I don't know about you but I want to vote for this Joe, the plumber guy.

Good evening, this is Wednesday, October 15th, 20 days until the 2008 presidential election and moments after the third presidential debate where our first results from uncommitted voters are in and once again, they are overwhelmingly in favor of Senator Obama as the winner of the debate.

A CBS poll of uncommitted voters coming out just moments ago suggesting that Obama was viewed as the winner by 53 percent, 24 percent thought it was a tie among the uncommitteds, and 22 percent thought Senator McCain won.

If the Palin/Biden match-up at the start of this month was the Joe Six Pack debate, the third and final meeting tonight between senators Obama and McCain was about Joe the Plumber, also William Ayers and Congressman John Lewis.

Our fifth story on this special post-debate edition of Countdown, Senator McCain answering the question of whether he would repeat the most negative attacks of his campaign to Obama's face by repeating the most negative attacks of his campaign to Obama's face.

Forget the idea heading in that a sit-down format would lead to a chattier, friendlier exchange. Tonight's debate was tough, it was personal and for no one was it more personal than Joe Wurzelbacher.

McCain called him, erroneously, Wurzelburger. Hence worth, he's known to everybody in the nation as Joe the Plumber. Outside Toledo on Sunday, Mr. Wurzelbacher having approached Senator Obama and asked him about his tax plan, especially how it relates to small businesses.

Senator McCain spent the entirety of tonight's debate addressing nearly all of his remarks on taxes and everything else to Joe the Plumber.


MCCAIN: Joe the Plumber.

OBAMA: Joe the Plumber.

MCCAIN: Joe the Plumber. Joe the Plumber.

OBAMA: Joe the Plumber.

MCCAIN: Joe the Plumber. We're talking about Joe the Plumber.

OBAMA: Supporter.

MCCAIN: Joe, you're rich, congratulations. And Joe, you're rich, congratulations.

OBAMA: That includes you, Joe, right.

MCCAIN: I want Joe to do the job.

OBAMA: And I'm happy to talk to you, Joe, too, if you're out there.


OLBERMANN: As we mentioned, the other big name of the night, Williams Ayers. Yes, Senator McCain went there, the Republican nominee, claiming the tone of his campaign could have been very different if Senator Obama had merely request-agreed to his request to a series of joint town hall meetings, in other words, Ayers, ACORN, and palling around with terrorists, Senator Obama had it coming.

We begin with the Democrat's response.


OBAMA: When people suggest that I pal around with terrorists, then we're not talking about issues..


OBAMA: What we're talking about.

MCCAIN: Let me just say-let me just say categorically, I'm proud of the people that come to our rallies.

Mr. Ayers, I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist, but as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship. We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama's relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.


OLBERMANN: The campaign that has become about guilt by association, Obama talking act who he actually associates with.


OBAMA: The reason I think that it's important to just get these the facts out, is because the allegation that Senator McCain's continually made is that some how my associations are troubling.

Let me tell you who I associate with. On economic policy I associate with Warren Buffett and former Fed chairman, Paul Volcker. If I'm interested in figuring out my foreign policy I associate myself with my running mate, Joe Biden or with Dick Lugar, the Republican ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or General Jim Jones, the former supreme Allied commander of NATO.

Those are people, Democrats and Republicans, who have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House and I think that the fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me.


OLBERMANN: Senator McCain tried to down play any association between himself and an associate named President Bush, and effectively so.


MCCAIN: Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.


OLBERMANN: Meantime, Senator McCain called his own running mate, Governor Palin, a quote, "breash of freath air." Senator Obama pivoting on an exchange about Governor Palin and special needs and turning it into a question about funding and funding freezes.


OBAMA: I think it's very commendable the work she's done on behalf of special needs. I agree with that, John. I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs, will require some additional funding if we're going to get serious in terms of research.

That is something that every family that advocates on behalf of disabled children talk about and if we have an across-the-board spending freeze we're not going to be able to do it.


OLBERMANN: Joining me now from Hofstra University in Hempstead, the site of this final of the 49th presidential debates of the last two years, the man who's been, and I think, everyone of them, Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC.

Good evening again, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK: Let's have those 10 town hall debates, Keith. Come on.

OLBERMANN: Yes. That's a good idea. More.

Setting aside for a moment the draft Joe the Plumber movement that will no doubt spring up tomorrow.

FINEMAN: Yes. Yes.

OLBERMANN: The key tonight, I thought, in terms of strategy in a debate, Obama, essentially, introduced, almost demanded, that McCain address the Ayers topic and ACORN.

Did this put McCain, indeed, on the defense? Did it kind of neutralize the issue?

FINEMAN: Well, I thought that was a brilliant move by Obama. I think we were-right before the debate we were saying that McCain was basically going to back up, you know, the front end loader and dump everything out there.

There was a whole freight train worth of stuff. But Obama was ready for it and that was very shrewd because that forced McCain to concede right off the bat that he didn't care about some washed-up terrorist which kind of undercut a lot of the rest of what he had to say.

And I thought Obama gave his answer, he gave it pretty clearly and forcefully. I must say, most of the American people don't care about William Ayers, and they don't care about ACORN. They hadn't ever heard of ACORN at all. Most American people still don't know what ACORN is.

And John McCain described it-what was it? As a-out to do-perhaps destroy the fabric of democracy.

Who knew? Who knew? And so that was not McCain's strongest attack. What McCain did here tonight, that the Republicans were pleased about, the Republican faithful, was that he attacked Obama ideologically on every point, saying that Obama was for big government, that Obama was for raising taxes, that Obama, basically, was a reincarnation of every big spending liberal Democrat in history.

There are two problems with that. Number one, it doesn't necessarily comport with Obama's record and number two, the American people don't seem to want another ideologue right now. They had one with George Bush for eight years. They don't seem to want that.

Obama was a study in shades of gray and calm contrast to McCain, and that seems to be what people are supporting which is why these dial groups and these early snap polls after the debates always show Obama winning.

It's not just his tone. It's that he says, you know, we can do a little of both. We have to prioritize. We have to be careful. It's that kind of careful and calm consideration that the American people seem to like.

And even though McCain was scoring ideological points that thrilled his base, and they're happy. They are saying where was this McCain months ago? Not only is it too late but it doesn't seem to be the kind of thing that the American people want right now.

OLBERMANN: McCain's moment, I thought, and this, obviously, was the set piece about not being Bush. It was very effective. But there are other set pieces that he reached for and kind of stumbled.

And most importantly, as we discussed beforehand, whereas he may have presented himself as a largely different McCain, and I think that the-base that saw an energized McCain was right, unfortunately for him it was the same Obama, and that-was that maybe this last test? If Obama could not be flapped by either John McCain that was pretty much the stamp of approval?

FINEMAN: He kept his cool, Obama did. There was only one little glimmer of anger there when-and you played the clip, where Obama said, you're tactics, Senator, basically, say more about you than they say about me, and if you're watching carefully, there was a slight note of anger there.

But by the way, on the Bush exchange, David Axelrod, the chief Obama strategist who came running in here, was delighted with that, because then Obama came back and said, well, excuse me, if I mistake you for George Bush, it's because your economic policies were exactly-are exactly like George Bush's and the Obama camp's estimation, that was a homerun for them.

The second half of that exchange they thought was really terrific and helped them. They're going to stand on the relationship between Bush and McCain and McCain going to stand on the relationship between Obama and taxes.

That's the rest of the election.

OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC with the first read from the debate site. Thanks as always, Howard, very well done.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's turn now to Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC's "RACHEL


Rachel, good evening, again.


OLBERMANN: All right. If Bill Ayers was supposed to be a disqualifier in some way, if it was supposed to impact, or ACORN is supposed to be a threat to democracy, as Mr. McCain said tonight, didn't it need to be explained a little bit more?

Did the whole strategy get shifted on the burden, the onus of this on to McCain and did he whiff on it? Because it seemed to me, if you didn't know what he was talking about you still don't know what he was talking about.

MADDOW: That's right. So the true believers on ACORN, the people who have been reading about it or listening to talk radio right-wing media about it and they're fired up about it, maybe felt like they got a bit of a nod from McCain on that.

But if you aren't one-part of that tiny minority of Americans who approaches this election in that way, you don't have any idea what that was about. And so he did whiff, I think is the right way to think about that.

On Ayers, you know, I interviewed the Obama-Clinton-the Obama/Biden communications director today about that interview, Dan Fifer, about that today, saying, why are you daring John McCain to bring up Williams Ayers? Why are you essentially goading him into bringing it up?

And he didn't share strategy with me but he essentially said-essentially conceded that they think that it would be a good thing for the American people to see John McCain try to go after Barack Obama on that one.

Obviously, they were confident that they had a good response to it and they thought it would make McCain look worse than Obama did, and I think that's what happened. I think they neutralized the whole Ayers issue and it's sort of over now.

OLBERMANN: Did Obama in this debate-let McCain off the hook on a couple of occasions? McCain told the exaggeration of JFK and Goldwater and the town hall agreement which never happened. They did not agree to it. They-Goldwater said I think he would have agreed to it.

That was as close they ever got-they may have been discussed it. There's no indication of that. He misrepresented what Obama had signed on public financing. He had said he refuted every Republican attack on Obama, which is laughable or dangerously uninformed on that subject.

And there was one particular moment when he brought up the $3 million overhead projector, which is, of course, this space-age planetarium device. It's not some sort of opaque projector we use in, you know, home-ec class.

Did he-did he seem to you like he did not-that Obama held punches back and why would that have been?

MADDOW: I think that he has to make the calculation and you have to make it on your feet. You have to make it-in quick terms, whether or not you're going to score more points by having corrected the record, by having pointed out the mistakes made in the allegation, or you're going to score more points by doing than you are going to lose by looking like you are, essentially, knit-picking the accusations against you.

If you want to take on the planetarium thing, for example, you end up talking about that dumb planetarium argument for the length of time it takes you to correct the record on that. So he makes those calculations point by point.

And I don't necessarily think that he made bad strategic choices on those ones that you just suggested. I do bristle every time that Obama gives John McCain a compliment on the torture issue because McCain says that waterboarding is torture. McCain also voted to allow the CIA to do it. Calling that a bold stance against torture, I think, gives McCain a lot of credit that he really doesn't deserve.

OLBERMANN: Let me run, lastly, for our segment here some of these early results. We know from a CNN focus group that they had it 15-10, Obama, and three people changed their minds as a result of this debate.

A FOX focus group, four people moved towards Obama and they described it-they wouldn't release a number, they just said it was a clear majority in favor of Obama having won this.

We saw the initial CNN snap poll, with just debate watchers, 58-31, Obama, and always, the most interesting one here, the CBS uncommitted numbers, 53, Obama, 24 time, McCain, 22. What are the uncommitted voters seeing that maybe those who are very made up their minds here, or the rest of us, don't see anymore?

MADDOW: It may be that people are looking for a specific thing in order to try to bring them toward John McCain. They are waiting for him to say something they think he's capable of saying and they're not hearing it.

And if John McCain can unlock that particular door maybe he'll have a very good next 19 days. But honestly my gut feeling about those is that people don't like his temperament and people don't like him gritting his teeth, you know, grinding his teeth down to saw dust at this point.

They don't like him sneering and rolling his eyes and looking mad. And frankly, John McCain looks likes he doesn't want Barack Obama to be president more than he looks like he, himself, wants to be president.

And I don't think that creates a good impression. That's just my gut impression of what undecideds may be thinking at this point but.


MADDOW: . that's what seems like they're saying.

OLBERMANN: It was a little troubling to see McCain not look at Obama in the first two debates. I think we just found out it was more disturbing to see him look at Obama during this debate.

Rachel, we'll check back with you later in the hour. Pat Buchanan, your faithful sidekick and fake uncle, will be there with you, thank you.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right, coming up, tonight's debate as seen through the eyes of each campaign. We'll talk next with the former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, obviously, from the Obama campaign.

This is Countdown's coverage of the final presidential debate.


OLBERMANN: Countdown special analysis of the third and final presidential debate. Did the campaigns see a game-changer somewhere in this debate tonight? We'll see what both sides are saying in the spin room following the actual activity.

Tom Daschle is next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: The news reported at this hour from our NBC affiliate in Toledo, Ohio. Joe the Plumber has gone to sleep.

After 25 mentions during a presidential debate, the man now known as "Joe the Plumber" said it was pretty surreal. He said he's still pretty much agreed with Senator McCain plan as opposed to Senator Obama. And then he went to sleep. There will be no further comment from Joe the Plumber this evening.

Much of this debate, obviously, was dealing with tone, tone not in terms of articulation of thought, nor articulation of thought towards the electorate, but tone at election events, and several times Senator McCain tonight insisted he had done everything he could to keep that tone at its best possible realm.


MCCAIN: Every time there's been an out-of-bounds remark made by a Republican, no matter where they are, I have repudiated them.

Let me just say, categorically, I'm proud of the people that come to our rallies. Whenever you get a large rally of 10, 15, 20,000 people you're going to have some fringe people as you know-you know that. And I-we've always said that that's not appropriate.

There's a lot of things have been yelled at your rally, Senator Obama, that I'm not happy about either.


OLBERMANN: We're now joined from the site of this last debate by former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, national co-chair for the Barack Obama campaign.

Senator, it's a pleasure. Thanks for your time tonight.


Good to be here.

OLBERMANN: Were your surprised to hear Senator McCain say that he had repudiated all these attacks and unfair statements against Senator Obama throughout the campaign?

DASCHLE: Well, I was, Keith, for a couple of reasons, first, because it's not true. And secondly, he spent 90 minutes tonight on the attack. You know, about 2/3 of the American people think that he's an angry candidate. It looked like for the next 90 minutes he tried to convince the other third he was angry.

That was what I got out of this debate tonight.

OLBERMANN: There was an additional level, though, to it, which I-I mean you can win on an-an angry candidate wins now and again. But the additional level of trying to turn John Lewis's righteous, perhaps, excessive, but righteous and historically first-person account of what can happen when political demagoguery gets out of hand and moves from angry to demagoguery.

To turn that around and make himself into the victim in this and insist Senator Obama had done something wrong by not throwing John Lewis under some bus, I thought that was an extraordinary moment and very telling as well.

DASCHLE: Well, the entire McCain campaign has been based on half-truths and twisted distortions. This was another classic example. You take what might be factually the beginning of some truth, and move it around, turn it around, twist it to a point where you can't recognize it.

That's what he did in this case, that's what he did throughout the entire debate tonight.

OLBERMANN: Did you see any indication that Senator Obama was flustered, moved, taken off his point, taken away from his game by what was clearly a different kind of John McCain tonight?

DASCHLE: I think they told John McCain, go for it. You know? What have you got to lose? You're losing right now so go for it. Try to-try to do something to shake up Barack Obama. Get him off his game.

He tried just about everything tonight. He looked increasingly frustrated as he did. I almost felt sorry for the guy.

OLBERMANN: The policy points which, inevitably, after we discuss one of these debates, most commentators and analysts tend to leave in the dust, most of the voters tend to focus on the policy issues, tend to focus on the economic issues and health care plan.

It was an extremely long and pointed exchange about health care plans and whether or not there would be fines. And we had Joe the Plumber and whether or not he would be fined. In some-on those two critical issues, and they are, obviously, interlocked between health care and the economy, where did the two candidates get their respective points in and where did they fail to in here in your impression?

DASCHLE: Well, I think John McCain has attempted to explain his health insurance plan now four or five different ways and tonight, he did it again. The more he explains the more confused it gets.

I think what Barack Obama did, and I thought it was probably the highlight of the debate for Barack Obama, was to explain with clarity and real compelling arguments why his health plan is so important and why people all across this country ought to listen carefully about the contrast between a John McCain and a Barack Obama.

That, to me, was one of the better parts of the entire debate.

OLBERMANN: Senator Tom-Daschle, the national co-chair of the Obama campaign, taking a few moments with us after the debate at the Hempstead, Long Island, New York.

Thank you, Sir.

DASCHLE: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: Coming up, the view from the other side. What the McCain campaign is saying in this last hour since this last debate finally ended.

Countdown's coverage of the 49th presidential debate, the third of Obama versus McCain continues after this.


OLBERMANN: There was, as we suggested earlier, one complete set point here for Senator McCain in the tonight's final debate against Senator Obama. At one point referencing President Bush as Senator Obama is one to do, Senator McCain replied, "Well, Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago."

About a minute later came the Obama response.


OBAMA: If I occasionally mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people-on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush.


OLBERMANN: We're joined now from the site of the debate, Hofstra University, Hempstead, Long Island, New York, by NBC's Andrea Mitchell who has been collecting responses from the Republican side of this.

And Andrea, I-let's start with that second half and more importantly from the Republican point of view, the first half of that exchange in which Senator McCain articulately got that point across, that I am not President Bush.

Was that-is that being viewed as the selling point of this debate for the Republicans? Or if not, what is?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That was the line of the debate, that was the line he wanted to put out there to try to finally separate himself from George W. Bush, the extraordinarily unpopular president in this administration.

And the problem is, it's probably too little, too late. But he did get that line out and, of course, Obama came right back and said, you voted for four out of five Bush budgets. I think that that line, probably and Joe the Plumber, were the winners of this debate.

McCain was wrong, by the way, in saying that Joe, the Plumber and, you know, Joe is someone we saw in a rope line in Toledo Sunday night who felt that the tax plan, and perhaps the health insurance plan, as well, would hurt his small business. And, in fact, it would not.

All the fact-checking that we can do is that-that Joe's business would not be hurt, in terms of health insurance aspects, regarding the Obama-Obama plan.

But all the fact-checking aside right now, John McCain came out aggressively, Keith, and really went after-went after Barack Obama. And, yet, undecided voters, independent voters, the people that he was trying to reach, probably did not like that aggressive attack.

In this climate, with this extraordinary environment of what we're seeing on Wall Street, this is not what people apparently want to hear, according to all the polls and all focus groups, ourselves included.

OLBERMANN: He got the idea across that he's not President Bush. He did not-I don't know that he got the idea across of exactly who he is in that economic crisis.

But I must ask you about Republican reaction to the not necessarily neutering of the Bill Ayers and ACORN issues, but the fact that Obama essentially made it mandatory for McCain to bring them up.


OLBERMANN: And, when they came out, they certainly didn't come out with any kind of explosive impact that the-that the right would have preferred.

MITCHELL: Well, they wanted it out. They wanted all of that stuff on the table. The problem with all of that, as I say, is that that is what people do not want to hear, according to everybody that has been checking with these undecided voters, all of the networks, cables, and broadcast-broadcast networks have done these focus groups, and they are all saying that they don't want to hear that.

They want to hear about the economy. So, the base must have been very happy with the defense of Sarah Palin, with bringing up the comments by the the statement by John Lewis, which most people did think was beyond the pale. And I think that, actually, John McCain did score some points by saying that that was hurtful.

But Obama made the point that there has been a lot of negative attacks. There have been negative attacks from both sides, but primarily, in the last couple of weeks, from the McCain side.

So, the-the Republican base, Keith, was probably very happy with this, but those are not the people that John McCain needed to reach.

OLBERMANN: An excellent point. Andrea Mitchell, with some of that Republican reaction from the debate thank you, Andrea. Have a good night.

MITCHELL: Same to you.

OLBERMANN: Eugene Robinson of "The Washington Post" next.

Did he see anything that voters will look to change the trajectory of the race in the last 20 days? And what does he think about Joe the plumber?

This is Countdown's coverage of the Joe the plumber debate.


OLBERMANN: Just play it.




MCCAIN: Joe the plumber.

Joe the plumber.

OBAMA: Joe the plumber.

MCCAIN: Joe the plumber.

MCCAIN: We're talking about Joe the plumber.


MCCAIN: Joe, you're rich. Congratulations.

Joe, you're rich. Congratulations.

OBAMA: That includes you, Joe.

MCCAIN: I want, Joe, you to do the job.

OBAMA: And I'm happy to talk to you, Joe, too, if you're out there.


OLBERMANN: Gene the columnist joins us now...


OLBERMANN:... Eugene Robinson, columnist, associate editor for "The Washington Post," also political analyst for MSNBC.

Good evening, Gene.


OLBERMANN: All right.

So, he was-he was-he's Joe Wurzelbacher. And, unfortunately, considering he was-he was the second man on the team for Mr. McCain, Mr. McCain called him Joe Wurzelburger, which sort of ruins it. There he is in the shot. He's the guy on the right, obviously.


OLBERMANN: This-it's one of these, again, visceral things that just tends to overwhelm everything else in the debate. He got mentioned 21 times by John McCain and four times by Barack Obama. And, obviously, that's a nice thing for him. Did it serve America's purposes at all? And did it, in fact, serve John McCain's purposes, because we're talking about Joe the plumber, instead of John McCain?


I don't think it served John McCain's purposes. Joe the plumber. It's supposed to be illustrative. Apparently, plumbing is some sort of all-American occupation. Not Marge the systems analyst, but Joe the plumber, is...


ROBINSON:... I guess, supposed to-supposed to be representative of, you know, tax problems and economic problems and health care problems.

It-it got silly when they actually started addressing their answers to Joe, rather than to Bob Schieffer, or to America, or anybody else. And, in the end, it was kind of a waste of time in a debate that I doubt really shifted the ground underneath this election very much.

I mean, I actually thought it was quite an interesting debate, Joe aside, just because-not so much because of the individual answers, but because of-of what came out, the philosophies that came out.

And I think the reason that those uncommitted voters are saying they thought Barack Obama won the debate is, they-they listened to John McCain, and they heard Republican philosophy. They heard, you know, I'm not going to raise your taxes. We're going to cut spending.

They heard what they have heard from Republican candidates for a long time. People are not stupid. They know what they're hearing. And they heard something different from Barack Obama.

And, so, you know, and I think people are listening to them, despite -

sometimes despite the candidates' best efforts to either put them to sleep or-or make them think they're intruders in a conversation between the candidates and Joe.

And people listen, and they hear, and they think that times are different now. And-and I think they are looking for something different.

OLBERMANN: Yes. And, to your point, there were two phrases that just jumped out of the screen and knocked me out. And I thought, how in the world is a candidate in 2008 actually saying these two things?

McCain accused Obama of class warfare, and said, this is not-essentially, this is not the time to spread the wealth around. And people are sitting at home going, no, no, I need some of that wealth. Whoever else has it, I would like some of their wealth. I mean, it doesn't matter if you're making $100 a year or $10 million a year. You want the other guy's wealth. That's just the way we are right now.


OLBERMANN: But, now the-the other thing that we were worried about anticipating going into this, and it turned out to be not-not the McCain pitch, but the Obama pitch, essentially, he brought up the subjects of his associations that we have already discussed, to some degree, whether he managed to neuter that whole issue, because he forced McCain into kind of a laundry list that didn't seem to stick in any way, shape or form.

But I think you made a good point that, just as important about the subject of associations were the other names that Barack Obama was able to tick off.

ROBINSON: That's right.

Barack Obama said, you want to know my associations? Gee, when I need economic advice, you know, I get it from Warren Buffett and Paul Volcker. And, when I want foreign policy advice, I get it from the likes of Dick Lugar.

I mean, look, I think the Ayers thing-I know the Republican base is very excited about it. I think it seems to me that most people understand that what Ayers did, he did when Barack Obama was 8 years old. And I really think, you now, at a time-on a day when the Dow went down 733 points, to talk about something that happened in Vietnam era is really not the way to win friends and influence people, you know, at this stage in the campaign.

OLBERMANN: And I might add, Obama also managed to then-to conflate Ayers, the Annenbergs, "The Chicago Tribune," and Ronald Reagan all in one topic.


OLBERMANN: One last bit of identification and associations, it is clear now that John McCain, having stated this, is not President Bush, in case anybody was confused about this. But did he define who he was?

ROBINSON: Well, not who he was separate from George Bush's kind of political and economic philosophy, I think.

You know, he-he-he described himself-he did not use the word maverick, I think. He lets others do that. But he used, you know, all the kind of dictionary definition of maverick to describe who he was.

But he-you know, he said, "I'm not George Bush," but he didn't lay out what he believed that was different from what George Bush believed, at least in terms of the economy.

OLBERMANN: Eugene Robinson of MSNBC and "The Washington Post," in our Joe the plumber special, contributing greatly to our understanding of Joe the plumber tonight-great thanks , as always, Gene.

ROBINSON: Thank-thank you, Keith.

Coming up: Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow, two other topics we have not yet touched on in tonight's debate, abortion and where the two candidates stood on that, and whether or not Senator McCain helped himself on his elucidation of his position there, and on Obama taking each pitch in the at bat that dealt with Governor Palin.

You're watching Countdown's coverage of the last of the presidential debates between McCain and Obama.


OLBERMANN: Three polls of independent or uncommitted voters in the wake of the final of the 49 presidential debates tonight, from CBS News, Obama 53, a tie 24, McCain 22.

From CNN, among independent voters, 57-31 Obama. And from an outfit called MediaCurves also of independent voters, Obama 60, McCain, 30.

Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow, neither of them described currently as independent, but certainly deep thinkers, join me next for more reaction.


OLBERMANN: An hour and 10 minutes into tonight's final debate, the subject turned to abortion and some of Senator Obama's votes on the topic in Illinois in the statehouse there.

Obama gave an answer about common ground and whether or not unintended pregnancies could be reduced in some sort of common ground between those who were for and against choice. He also said, nobody is pro-abortion.

Senator McCain's reply suggested there was, in fact, a pro-abortion group, and seemed not to talk about common ground in the least.



MCCAIN: Just again, the example of the eloquence of Senator Obama. He's health for the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything.

That's the extreme pro-abortion position-quote -"health."


OLBERMANN: Joining us now for their reactions, Pat Buchanan of MSNBC, and back again with us again, Rachel Maddow.

Rachel, this was your point. That will probably not-not have served Senator McCain as much as he might think it might have. Why do you feel that way?

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": I think that men and women sometimes talk about abortion rights in different ways.

And, certainly, there's a lot of diversity on the issue. There's a lot of women on both sides of the abortion-rights question. But I think, often, you hear abortion discussed as whether it should be legal or illegal, whether certain procedures are in keeping with our values as a society or not.

Another way to think of it is, how much power do we want the government to have over pregnant women? Do we want to live in a country where the government can say to every pregnant American woman, you will be forced by the state to carry this pregnancy to term; you will be forced by the state to give birth?

And, if you think about it that way-and I hear women talk about it in those terms more than I hear men talk about it in those terms-it will be seared in your mind to hear John McCain mock the idea that the government would be allowed to excuse you from the requirement that you carry a pregnancy to term in order to save your own health, the way he just said the word health. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, health. That's been stretched to mean almost anything.

I think that's going to sizzle and last for a long time.

OLBERMANN: Pat, does Rachel have a point there, especially in the context that-that the previous answer from Obama had been about whether or not we could find some common ground to at least reduce unwanted pregnancies?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, clearly I-what I thought-see Obama as doing is basically moving towards the formulaic pro-choice position on these issues, moving, frankly, away from what might be-what he's being attacked for, which is an extreme position.

That's why McCain brought up the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which had been a matter of enormous controversy. And Barack Obama denied he would he would deny care to infants; this is a terrible thing.

But let me say about this whole thing, Keith, it goes to a point you mentioned earlier. I saw Barack Obama all night long as being super-cautious, declining to engage, unwilling to mix it up with McCain, whose frustration comes from the fact that he did want, anxiously, to mix it up.

And I think Obama knows what these polls are going to be showing at the end of the night. But it does show something else. I think he does have this lead going for him. I think he knows it. He's like a boxer in the 15th round who's been told, just stay away from him. Just stay away from him.

But how much different this candidate is, super-cautious, I think, in this final debate, from the candidate, we are the fierce-what is it, the fierce urgency of now. We are the people we have been waiting for.

That's really changed. And I think Obama is really running out the clock. So, I saw him, on all his positions, retreating, basically, to the solid liberal ground, and not wanting to be painted as an extremist of any kind, and McCain pushing and pushing and pushing.

MADDOW: Pat, I will say-sorry, Keith.

I would just say that, on the abortion issue, Obama did say, I want there to be fewer abortions, that I am against so-called partial-birth abortions.

BUCHANAN: Well, that's the formula position.

MADDOW: Well, but he's-he's not-if you wanted to say he's taking the boilerplate liberal position on it, then he wouldn't have...


MADDOW:... he wouldn't have gone there on the so-called partial-birth abortion thing. He's with you on that one.

BUCHANAN: Well, he was-he was-no, he was dragged out-on the partial-birth abortion thing he was dragged out on that. And he said, look, if we can get it consistent with Roe v. Wade, I'm for outlawing it.

In other words, he's moving-each time you watch Obama, he's been moving toward the center again and again. I mean, go back. Look at, he agreed with Scalia in court decisions in two days. That's not the Obama of South Side Chicago.


MADDOW: That's not the Obama of caricature. The more you hear from Barack Obama, the better you get to know him, the more you realize why actually a lot of liberals have been frustrated with him from the beginning, because he's always been sort of the centrist guy on policy.

BUCHANAN: But, no, he has-I think he has moved, and he wants to stay right there right now. And he feels he's ahead.

MADDOW: He's not moving. The point of view of the camera is moving.


BUCHANAN: He's gone.


OLBERMANN: The center may be moving towards him.

Pat and Rachel, stand by. We have to take a quick break.

The next topic we're going to talk about is an observation of Pat's, that, when offered an opportunity to tee off on Governor Sarah Palin, Senator Obama did not do such a thing.

Countdown's coverage of the third and final debate continues after this.


OLBERMANN: Certainly, Senator Obama, in this last presidential debate, was more cautious, perhaps, than he had been in earlier ones, certainly in at least one case. He let-to use the last baseball analogy of the night go by-he let one rather fat-looking pitch pass him directly without the bat moving from his shoulder.

The subject was presidential running mates for $1,000.


SCHIEFFER: Do you think she's qualified to be president?

OBAMA: You know, I think it's-that's going to be up to the American people. I think that, obviously, she's a capable politician.


OLBERMANN: Back again to wrap it up with Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow.

And, Pat, in the context of one of those internal numbers in the CNN poll of uncommitteds, "Who spent more time attacking during the debate, McCain 80 percent, Obama 7 percent?"

Was it wise for Obama to take a few of those pitches and let them sail right past?

BUCHANAN: It was very, very smart.

With Sarah Palin, let it go right by, strike right across the plate.


BUCHANAN: He doesn't want a headline tomorrow morning, "Barack Obama Rips Sarah Palin," then have Sarah Palin on TV tomorrow night ripping Obama.

I think he did exactly the right thing. First, it comes off, A, as gracious. And, B, again, it testifies to the super-cautiousness of Obama. These guys are running out the clock.

I will say one thing, Keith. This is not an election in which Obama and Biden are going to have any kind of mandate. I think what has happened in the country is, the country has simply said, we want to get rid of the Republicans. Seven hundred points down on the Dow probably added to that today.

That's why I think all these debates, we come into them, I think the audience has made up its mind they don't want the Republican, and the undecided are saying, Obama still hasn't closed the sale with us. And I think he intends to ride right in there, and not close the sale, but be elected president of the United States.

OLBERMANN: Rachel, have you seen anything in the numbers that supports Pat's conclusions about him not closing the deal with independents and uncommitted voters?



MADDOW: I disagree with Pat on this one.

I mean, I think that, if you look at the overall scope of this presidential debate, you don't get the sort of explosive, massive growth in Democratic voter registration because people have decided they don't like Republicans.

There is enthusiasm for Obama and Biden. And we don't exactly know how that's going to play out on November 4, but there is something about, something positive about-particularly about Senator Obama that is more than just, he's not George W. Bush.

On-on the issue of Sarah Palin, very interesting internal numbers in-in-in the "L.A. Times" poll that came out today. And it didn't get-get-get as much as attention as the "New York Times" poll. "The New York Times" showed a 14-point gap. "L.A. Times" showed a nine-point gap.

But, if you look at the internals there, Sarah Palin is by far the least popular of the presidential and vice presidential candidates. If you look at the-the-the 20-point swing among independents from McCain toward Obama just in the last month in that "L.A. Times" poll, the biggest single explanatory factor for that is how much independents dislike Sarah Palin.

When that's happening, you don't try to interrupt that.

BUCHANAN: But wait a minute. Rachel...


BUCHANAN:... we have had one of the most historic events of our lifetime, one of the greatest financial collapses, the greatest since the crash of 1929, in a far more telescope period.

Before this crash occurred, McCain/Palin were leading. And, suddenly, you have got a 15-, 17-point slip. That's not because of an interview with Katie Couric.

MADDOW: It's not because of an interview with Katie Couric.


MADDOW: It's because of the entirety of her candidacy.

Right now, what's happened...



MADDOW:... with that-with that big, seismic shift that we have had, what has happened is that people want to feel like the people who are going to be in the White House are going to be experienced and capable.

And that was the problem with Sarah Palin as a choice. She was the wrong choice at the wrong time. She's compounded the problems for McCain.


BUCHANAN: Look, Biden and Obama, what have they done in four weeks to convince people they're suddenly far more competent and able and people are enthusiastic about them in the last four weeks, when they were two points behind?

They have done absolutely nothing. What we have had is a crash. Had it not been for this crash, this would be a dead-even election.

MADDOW: Pat, but...


BUCHANAN: And I think Obama would be in trouble, for the simple reason that he looks like he's getting overly cautious, and he really is not responding to anything. Frankly, he's doing what Nixon did in the last month from 1968. He would not change the message. And you could hear Humphrey catching up on us.

MADDOW: In the last four weeks, the reason that things have happened the way they have is not just because there's a generic feeling that Democrats are good on the economy and Republicans are bad. That may be part of it. That may be the Republicans' problem that they need to repair.

But Obama has campaigned well on the economy, and McCain has been a disaster.

BUCHANAN: Oh, look...

MADDOW: McCain has been a total disaster. We have no idea what his positions are on the economy.

BUCHANAN: Well, let me agree with you there.

Look, McCain handled the crash terribly, I mean, the fundamentals are sound, AIG, on and off, all the rest of it. There's no doubt about it.

But, absent this crash, I think McCain and Palin would win this election.


OLBERMANN: Well, in the interim, we're talking...


OLBERMANN: Pat, in your terms, we're talking about...

BUCHANAN: That's not going to do him any good, though.


OLBERMANN: No, no, it's not, because, as you suggested, Obama and Biden would not have a mandate-it would suggest they would, probably barring unforeseen events, have an election margin of victory, which, in this country, in these days, amounts to a mandate, whether it's 1 percent or 10.

In any event, we're done.

Pat Buchanan of MSNBC, Rachel Maddow of "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" on MSNBC, great thanks to you both, as always.

MADDOW: Thanks, Keith.


OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this, the 1,995th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.

For Joe the plumber, I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night, and good luck.


OLBERMANN: Our post-debate coverage continues now on MSNBC with Chris Matthews, live from the scene of the last of the 49 presidential debates in Hempstead, New York.


OLBERMANN: Chris, good evening again.

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, October 15, 2008, 8 p.m. ET
video podcast

Video via MSNBC: Worst Persons

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Chris Kofinis, Chris Matthews, Rahm Emanuel

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

And soon they will belong to the ages: The third presidential debate.

The 49th party debate, candidates forum, and presidential debate.

What must McCain do-utterly erase the first two debates and the vice presidential debate and the last three weeks, and the burgeoning Obama lead in the polls, all in 90 minutes-or less?


NANCY PFOTENHAUER, MCCAIN CAMP SR. ADVISOR: I think you will see him making a very bold take for his leadership and his approach for this country and clearly call that-trying to contrast between himself and Senator Obama.


OLBERMANN: Or baa-baa might work. What must Obama do?


DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: We're not in the business of reinventing ourselves from debate to debate. That's not what Obama's going to do.


OLBERMANN: What is McCain going to do? ACORN, Wright, Ayers-all pointing and Palin have raised behind Obama's back, never to his face.

Yesterday, McCain said Obama's reactions probably ensure that Ayers will come up tonight. Tonight, McCain reportedly tells his advisors he will not address Wright in the debate or in the rest of the campaign.

What about camera right? Tonight's odd co-anchorman desk (ph) lay out putting McCain's bad side to the camera?

And putting out any side of his running mate.


GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It seems like, and in our last rally too, and in other parts around this great Northwest, here in New Hampshire, you just get it.


OLBERMANN: Here in New Hampshire, you say, in the great Northwest, you say.

Worsts: Rush descends a new outright paranoid racism and this debate.

Haven't we all seen it before? In our childhood, perhaps?


BURGESS MEREDITH, ACTOR (playing as The Penguin): Behind that mask, Batman is, in reality, a dangerous criminal. Will you think about that a moment, my friends?


OLBERMANN: With the analysis of Rachel Maddow, Congressman Rahm Emanuel, Chris Kofinis in Washington. And Richard Wolffe, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews at the Davis S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

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

All that and more: Now on Countdown.

(on camera): Good evening. This is Wednesday, October 15th, 20 days until the 2008 presidential election.

Four years and two days ago, tonight, when President Bush and Senator Kerry met for the final debate of the 2004 presidential election with CBS's Bob Schieffer as the moderator that has now. It is worth noting that the so-called Swiftboat Veterans for Truth were not mentioned once.

Our fifth story on the Countdown: To the final Obama-McCain debate, Senator McCain with one last chance to try to disqualify his opponent before a national primetime TV audience. Only, how is he planning to accomplish that if smearing Obama is, quote, "off the table"?

Senator McCain, reportedly, at odds with many of his own advisors over whether he should launch a renewed attack on Obama's ties to his former preacher, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. "Politico's" Mike Allen reporting that McCain has declared a Wright attack "off the table," fearing it would smack of desperation and racism.

Why desperation? Senator Obama more than doubling up his lead to nine points. In the latest "L.A. Times"/Bloomberg Poll last month, the margin had been four. "New York Times" is 14. Hotline is eight.

And in five states where early voting is underway, five states having all voted for Bush in 2004, Senator Obama dominating among early voters.

On the campaign trail in Indiana today, Michelle Obama refusing to count the Democrats chickens before they have all voted.


MICHELLE OBAMA, SEN. OBAMA'S WIFE: People are feeling the possibility of not just a win, but for change.


M. OBAMA: People are ready to work and people are working. So, we want you to continue to work from now until Election Day, because this isn't going to be easy. We are taking nothing for granted. Barack Obama will be the underdog until he is sitting in the White House.



OLBERMANN: That sentiment reflected by Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, on the flight from Ohio to Long Island when he was asked what Senator McCain might do or what he might do to change the trajectory of the race over the next few weeks.


AXELROD: We weren't discouraged by polls when they were not favorable for us. We're not seduced by polls now. We think this is going to be a battle every day right to the end and we are prepared for that. So, I don't want to accept the premise completely, here.

But I will say this-I think Senator McCain's problem is fundamental, which is he's got a bad argument. He's essentially on the wrong side of history.


OLBERMANN: Then there's geography. The Republican vice presidential candidate on the wrong side of a lot of things at a rally in New Hampshire, which is in New England, you know, in the Northeastern United States.


PALIN: I like being here because it seems like, and in our last rally too, and in other parts around this great Northwest, here in New Hampshire, you just get it.


OLBERMANN: Northwest, New Hampshire. She can see Portsmouth from her house.

Let's bring in, no wait-before we get to Richard Wolffe, we have a sober and an important confession to make here. I'm going to catch hell from the campaigns for this, to say nothing of my employers-bluntly, this may cost me my job, but this must be revealed. It must be revealed tonight.

The debates are not live. They are pre-taped. To prove this, I'm now

don't try to stop, Joe-I'm now going to risk all of this. I'm going to show you a little clip I stole about a minute of this third debate. It was recorded this afternoon in Hofstra. I downloaded it on my iPhone. And I hope I'm still here when this clip is over.

Here it is. Play this thing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe the penguin will lead off the debate.

MEREDITH (playing as The Penguin): What are the issues? There's only one. Batman. Who is he? Who is this acrobatic clown who somersaults around Gotham City in ridiculous costume?

I suggest that, behind that mask, Batman is, in reality, a dangerous criminal. Why else does he wear a mask? Why else does he conceal his past?

Will you think about that a moment, my friends? Whenever you see Batman, who is he with? Criminals. That's who. Think about it, without (INAUDIBLE). And remember this no mudslinging in this campaign.


OLBERMANN: Credit where credit is due. Thank you. And we stole that, crediting Marc Ambinder of "The Atlantic" who has a blog on it. And the whole clip of The Penguin-Batman debate from the old Adam West series "Batman," and there's the wink (ph), including moderator (INAUDIBLE).

Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, also, of course, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" at the sight of tonight's debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Richard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Leaving the startling similarities in content there between campaigns of Burgess Meredith and John McCain, what does Senator McCain need to do tonight? And more importantly, how does he do enough of whatever it is he needs to do?

WOLFFE: Well, apart from smoking on stage, he really has to try to move beyond the negative attacks because they clearly have not worked. No mudslinging would be a good start. But these things have backfired. We talked about this before that it's showing up clearly in the polls.

He has to actually try to portray Obama as being unacceptable, not in terms of character, not the guy behind the mask, but on the central issue of this whole campaign which is the economy.

Now, the problem is to both senators, neither of them have had a significant private sector job. But what McCain does have is his experience as head of the commerce committee. He needs to try and spin out his own qualifications on the economy and, at the same time, raise questions about Obama. But if he's not talking about the economy, he's losing.

OLBERMANN: Does Senator Obama need to do anything other than not screw this up somehow? I mean, is there a hidden fact in here that we've seen in the first two debates, in fact, throughout the year, that the more people who are exposed to him, the more they find him acceptable, calm, presidential, basically, if he can keep a steady hand, this is his?

WOLFFE: Well, all of it is true and in the sense that the voters have had a chance to get the first impressions of these candidates. They've done that in the first two debates. And John McCain still has to try to appear presidential in this third debate.

The problem, the challenge for Obama is not just survival here. I actually think that complacency is a big problem for this candidate and this campaign. They are saying they are not complacent. But if their voters, if their supporters think, for a minute, that they just have to survive this one, that they coast their way through to Election Day, they're in for a big surprise.

OLBERMANN: And to that point, things we have read or heard today, that Truman, and Reagan, and Bush were all behind in early October-would it be a terrific mistake to overstate where things stand right now, especially, given the nature of attacks and personal claims in this campaign?

WOLFFE: Well, Truman is the patron saint of trailing candidates. And Reagan-the Reagan debate was so late in the cycle it's just not comparable.

Now, of course, this cycle is being lived out on Internet speed. So, 19 days is an eternity. Think of where we were 19 days ago?

But the idea that these polls are correct, this isn't just McCain's spin, you get it from inside the Obama campaign, too. Double digit lead in the polls is really not that believable. Nobody expects that to hold by Election Day. So, people are going to have to be ready for a much tightened race within the space of the few days.

OLBERMANN: One final point here, though, that makes me think that we can view this as kind of last game-changer here. That might be true for McCain, but is it for Obama?

If things are going to reverse somehow or get tight -"Advertising Age," the magazine for the industry reported tonight that Major League Baseball is willing to delay the start of the sixth game of the World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies World Series, I might add, so that Senator Obama's half hour advertisement that night could air not just on CBS and NBC and ABC, and maybe MSNBC and CNN, but also on FOX, which wants the money.

WOLFFE: Right.

OLBERMANN: No matter what the McCain campaign and the Republicans might throw at the Democrat tonight, or, you know, in the following three weeks, would it be hard for them to overcome the advertising budget disparity and, especially, across the television buy the week before the election?

WOLFFE: The money disparity is enormous. It's affecting not just the airwaves war, but also, what's happening on the ground. You know, remember the whole flak about public financing. This has given Obama a big advantage at this point. And, in the end, you're either looking at a 19-day period where nothing happens, or a 19-day period where you have this big TV event.

Now, the Obama campaign has to deliver on something good here. But it is a big moment for them.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and "Newsweek," at the debate for us tonight. As always, sir, great thanks.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Making it more difficult for Senator McCain to choose the strategy of standing up, in manner of speaking to his opponent tonight, the fact that the candidates will be sitting down. Forget any podiums or any chance of McCain wandering around the stage as he did at last week's town hall-style debate, tonight's proceedings is stationary and seated. The candidates and moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS, are sharing a table.

As with the talk of any of the Sunday political talk shows in somewhat format or this MSNBC debate between senators Obama and Clinton in Ohio on the 26th of February this year, sit-down debates, by nature, more chatty and often more amiable.

For more on tonight's kinder, gentler format, anyway, we'll turn to Democratic strategist, Chris Kofinis, former communications director with the Edwards campaign.

Chris, good evening.


OLBERMANN: So, does that physical format, that desk, the kind of the anchor desk with the anchors sitting there and another anchor sitting on the other side, does this add to a degree of difficulty for McCain tonight, because it would be harder to attack somebody when you are sitting next to them, and it's also harder to not look them in the eye and pretend he's not there when you are sitting next to him?

KOFINIS: Yes, it fundamentally changes, I think, the strategy for the McCain campaign. It's one thing if they are standing up and separated, you have a little bit of freedom to kind of attack.

But the problem is, you've seen in the past, both in terms of the Hillary-Obama debate during the primaries, even past presidential debates, when they're sitting down, they're just a few feet away, it just constrains you physically and it makes it very difficult, I think, to go on the type of attack that the Republicans have been suggesting that they're going to do.

I don't think they are going to do it. I think what they're going to end up doing, what you're going to see from McCain is this kind of softball attacks, where he's attacking but he's pretending he's not. And then, it's a question of whether Bob Schieffer really pushes him to kind of say, what do you mean by that? And I think that's going to be the interesting kind of back-and-forth you're seeing whether Schieffer really challenges of some of the attacks and cheap shots he's going to make.

OLBERMANN: Yes, if that happens, the problem they've got is the Dodgers and Phillies on FOX.

The attempts to dehumanize Obama, to all but call him a "terrorist," to deem him scary, to call him "dangerous," that electing him would be the biggest mistake ever undertaken by the American people-is that off the table because, if you're doing that, you are sitting down next to him? I mean, this is the point that the far-right made after last week's debate. If Obama appears calm and collective and somebody you can have a chat with, how can you convince anybody-now, this is a madman here, this is a dangerous society here?

KOFINIS: You know, what's funny about the last two debates and interesting is that much as the Republicans and the McCain campaign have tried to paint Senator Obama in negative light, his demeanor, his approach, the way he's answered the questions had just proven the opposite, that he is ready to be president, he's ready to lead. He's got the composure and the focus.

Whereas, I think, hat you've seen from McCain in his performance is more kind of the erratic behavior you've seen from his campaign.

Listen-the problem I have with the McCain is that attacks haven't worked. I mean-so, the rationalization that somehow the attacks are going to start working, I just-I don't think anyone is buying. And this notion that they are going to start questioning, you know, Senator Obama in this debate about Bill Ayers.

Let me, you know, give him a news bulletin. The American people don't care about Bill Ayers. They care about the bills they can't pay. And if John McCain doesn't answer that question and provide that vision, his campaign is going to drown even further than they already are.

OLBERMANN: Right. They care about their bills and their savings going up into air.

The last point on the debate here-the other component seems to be left out of all the factoring of whether or not there's going to be any low blows in this fight. Unlike speeches given by Governor Palin or Senator McCain, or the surrogates for the Republican campaign, there's one other component here-Senator Obama would get to answer, would he not, would he not get to say, excuse, I have some further information on this topic?

KOFINIS: Yes. I mean, here's, I think, the interesting point, when -

if McCain tries to go on the attack, either in a kind of a softball kind of way, Senator Obama just needs to turn and say, let me understand this, we have tens of millions of Americans who worrying about their homes being foreclosed, without healthcare, children living in poverty, the country in a defining moment in its history, and you want to talk about personal, petty, gutter attacks about something that happened, maybe, 40 years ago, are you serious? And then he just spins back to his vision.

I think that's the kind of moment that will make John McCain look even smaller and will put the limelight where Senator Obama was. I mean, the advantage here is really to Senator Obama because the American people have spoken over the last few weeks. They don't want attacks, they want solutions. There's been one campaign and one candidate that's been offering that consistently.

And I think you've seen the consequence. The McCain campaign is spiraling downwards. They really have no one to blame but for themselves. And I think you're going to see more of that tonight.

OLBERMANN: And last one story, Chris, that's just breaking at this hour and it really does go to this idea that the McCain campaign, whatever else they have done or not done, they cannot catch a break.

The "Washington Post" just reporting that McCain received portable cell towers at his ranch in Sedona for free from Verizon and AT&T and he sits on the commerce committee which happens to oversee both of those companies and he got towers for free. And his campaign manager lobbied for Verizon. How exactly would that not be a conflict of interest?

KOFINIS: Well, it's a conflict of interest and I think it's actually more telling. I mean, the cronyism that has been the hallmark of the McCain campaign and his key advisors just tells you all you need to know. This is not someone who has an economic vision, let alone the right people who are going to lead this country in new direction. That's their problem.

And this is going to be another bad, negative story. And I think this is the problem for the John McCain campaign. They can't catch a break, but they have themselves to blame for it.

OLBERMANN: Chris Kofinis, the former communications director of the Edwards campaign, thanks, as always, Chris.

KOFINIS: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Can't beat them at the ballot box; beat them away from the ballot box. The Republicans gain a judicial win in the quadrennial battle to disenfranchise Democrats in Ohio.

And Congressman Rahm Emanuel on how to pitch to a candidate who has to hit a 10-run homer.


OLBERMANN: Two hundred thousand voters may be disenfranchised in Ohio as the Republicans go on their familiar attack "If you can't beat them, rip them off."

Worst Persons: The same man who lied about Rachel yesterday lies about me today, falsely claiming I called Senator McCain a Nazi. Dramatic and, of course, self-serving news from the world of TV ratings.

And Rachel Maddow, Rahm Emanuel, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews-as our Countdown to the debate continues.


OLBERMANN: It, of course, is not really about debates, not even about votes, it's who counts the votes and whose votes count.

In our fourth story tonight: Ohio Republican judges ruling on Ohio Republican lawsuits have given Ohio county officials a weapon with which to challenge as many as 200,000 votes from 200,000 new voters. Gee, who would that benefit?

Here's a hint. John Kerry lost Ohio by 119,000 after more than 300,000 people were barred from voting in 2004. The new ruling almost exclusively along party lines, including one judge, whose husband is on the Republican ticket this year, agreed with the Ohio GOP, forcing Ohio's Democratic secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, to notify all county election boards in any voter registration info for the new voters is not matched by the Federal Social Security Administration or state Motor Vehicles Bureau.

In other words, some overwork data entry typist mistyped your license number, county officials can now use the challenge or use that to challenge your right to vote. If you're one of those hundreds of thousands of new voters registered in numbers that-surprise-favors Senator Obama.

One Republican county prosecutor, former law partner of McCain's Ohio chair is already investigating everyone who registered and voted during a six-day window when Ohio let voters do both on the same day, even though he acknowledges not a single actual voting fraud accusation.

Joining us now, my colleague, Rachel Maddow.

Good morning, Rachel.


OLBERMANN: Ohio, again. Really?

MADDOW: Yes, it's Ohio, and it's also Montana, and it's Michigan, and it's Nevada. This is apparently the way that we do elections now, that the Republican Party decided as a strategic partisan matter, that they would start trying to, essentially, manipulate state level election laws so as to exclude as many people from the voting rules as possible, so as to depressed the number of votes that were counted, so as to inconvenience people for whom inconveniencing-in a way that inconveniencing them would most likely kick out likely Democratic voters.

The Republican Party made sort of a structural decision to do this, years ago. And what happens every election season is that individual Democratic office holders, secretaries of state, and other people responsible for elections, tend to resist and fight these battles and Democrats sort of cluck-cluck over them and tat-tat over them, and worry about them. The Democratic Party never decides to fight back as an institution the way the Republican Party decides to fight.

OLBERMANN: So, is that the only solution to this?

MADDOW: Well, I think that election laws have been treated in a partisan way. And you can decide to be offended by that and say-no, election laws should be nonpartisan or you can recognize that a partisan fight is being waged and fight back. It's an ugly choice to have to make. But, ultimately, if elections get stolen out from under you, you're never going to have the opportunity to take the moral high ground because you'll all been kicked off it in an election that you lost doing (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN: Flush this out in terms of Ohio, in terms of the mechanics. What do we know about what's being done and what the Republican premise is here, logically and logistically?

MADDOW: Well, about 666,000 new registrations have happened in Ohio since January 1st. And a federal court ruling has just come down which says that the secretary of state needs to come up with a system, by-

Friday, by which county boards of elections can challenge the registration information or verify the registration information of those new voters.

The secretary of state in Ohio says that a preliminary check of those 666,000 registrations, there's about 200,000 of them may have problems when checked against larger data bases. That's not necessarily because they are fraudulent registrations, it's because you are checking voter registration information against the Social Security database or the Motor Vehicles' database.

And those sorts of matches are tough. It can be a typo. It could be having your apartment number or your middle initial involved there. Those exact matches often kick-often will put a flag on an otherwise obviously valid registration. If 200,000 people end up getting forced into the dodgy provisional ballot system, or otherwise have their vote-attempt to vote compromised, this could have a massive, massive effect on the Ohio's election results.

OLBERMANN: All right. I don't want to diminish this, and obviously, we'll follow it to the day of the election.


OLBERMANN: . as I know you will. But I must get your 45-second pre-game take here.


OLBERMANN: What do you not expect to happen tonight?

MADDOW: Well, I will say that what McCain has to do is obvious. And I think that you are very bright to point out how awkward it's going to be to do that while seated at the same table as the man to whom we know he wants to throw sorts of very sharp elbows. On the Obama side, it's more interesting. With McCain, it's just really do it, (INAUDIBLE) and how it will go.


OLBERMANN: On the Obama side, if you are playing defense, you are losing. Obama does actually have to be on the offense because 19 days is a long enough time to lose an election even when you are 14 points out. And so, Obama-if he just tries to maintain and doesn't go after McCain in any way, he will look like he's on defense and he will lose this debate. He can't really afford to lose this debate.

OLBERMANN: And then, again, he has not done that in either of the first two debates.

MADDOW: Right.

OLBERMANN: So there's no-we didn't see a different Barack Obama

than we saw in the primaries in any point during this debate process. So -

MADDOW: Complacency is the enemy for Obama at this point, though, absolutely.

OLBERMANN: I haven't seen it yet.


OLBERMANN: Rachel Maddow, we will check back with you after the debate, of course.

MADDOW: Indeed. Thanks, Keith.


All surveys, all polls conclusively indicating Obama won the first two debates. A new one suggesting the last debate was, in fact, scored 54-40, Obama, retroactively. And Senator Biden won his debate with Governor Palin. What could even be McCain's best case scenario tonight? Congressman Rahm Emanuel joins us.

And first, (INAUDIBLE) Rachel, then he lied about it. Now, David Frum has made up a quote falsely attributed it to me and claimed I called McCain a Nazi. Worst Persons is next on Countdown. Welcome back, David.


OLBERMANN: William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, ACORN, Hamas, why you need to fear an Obama presidency. The stuff John McCain and Sarah Palin have said about Barack Obama behind his back. Will the Senator have the guts to say any of it to Obama's face tonight?

Also, as our countdown to the debate continues, Congressman Rahm Emanuel on Obama's best offense or best defense or both. He's next. But first, time for Countdown's "Worst Persons in the World."

The bronze, David Frum again of the "National Review," blogging today under this headline: "Ketih [SIC] Olbermann," he writes of me. That's right, "Ketih [SIC]." Quote, called me "naively idiotic or idiotically naive." Then he said "McCain and Palin set the table for these outbursts with their attacks and then committed the sin of omission by not truly quelling them. Sort of like standing outside the Reichstag holding a gas can and calmly suggesting that someone might want to call the fire department."

Quote, "The Reichstag fire. What an excellent riposte to the half dozen lunatics who have said foolish/offensive things at McCain-Palin rallies. Have the most partisan Democratic broadcaster in the country call John McCain a Nazi!"

Yes. I never said that. I mean, you could check the tape or the transcript or Google it or something. I never referred to the Reichstag, never called McCain a Nazi. I mean, never came close.

Oddly, though, that whole quote is online. It was posted by a blogger at named Ian Gurvis (ph). But Frum decided to claim I had said it on TV. Mr. Frum coined the term "axis of evil." And as if more evidence was necessary, this slight error-elephant, mouse-underscores the whole Iraq thing: invade first, ask questions second.

Ironically, what I did say about Mr. Frum last night was to call him a liar. And ten hours later, he lied about me.

The silver tonight, Frank Gaffney, Project for the New American Centuryist and columnist of the "Washington Times," writing one of those apocalyptic fantasies about Obama and terrorists and foreign birth, concluding, quote, "Curiously, Mr. Obama has, to date, failed to provide an authentic birth certificate which could clear up the matter."

Actually, he has. Even the psycho WorldNetDaily agrees the birth certificate is legit. He was born here, and there's no story there.

Mr. Gaffney, it's come to my attention that for four years in the 1980s you worked in the Defense Department and were paid thousands of dollars in government salary. On behalf of the taxpayers of this nation, sir, I have to say this-we want it back.

And our winner, comedian Rush Limbaugh. The big trolly has jumped the track. "These wackos, from Bill Ayers to Jeremiah Wright to other anti-American Afrocentric black liberation theologists with ACORN, and Barack Obama is smack dab in the middle of it. They have been training young, black kids to hate, hate, hate, this country, and they trained their parents before that to hate, hate, hate this country. It was a movement. It was a Bill Ayers, anti-capitalist, anti-American educational movement. ACORN is now-and was implemented right under our noses. It has been a movement. It has been a religion. And Obama, and Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers were all up to their big ears in it."

Wow, you left out how they fixed "American Idol" so Ruben Studdard would win.

Listen, Rush, I've got to tell you, this descent into paranoia and pure racism not only makes you sound like, you know, Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-Il, but seriously, I hesitate to use this term: it makes you sound like Michael Savage.

Also, Rush, "They were all up to their big ear in it." I mean, really, I wouldn't make references to anybody else's oversized body parts.

Comedian Rush Limbaugh, today's worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN: It is the proverb of the ten-run homer. If you're losing a baseball game by ten runs, even if you have the bases loaded, the best you can do is a grand slam, a four-run homer. John McCain pretty much needs a ten-run homer. So in our third story in the Countdown, how do you pitch to him?

Joining us live from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, Obama supporter, debate rule negotiator, Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois.

Congressman, good evening.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: How are you? How are you doing?

OLBERMANN: I asked that baseball analogy question first. How do you pitch to an opponent who needs one gigantic, all-changing event? Does Senator Obama have to change anything about that, or is that all McCain's concern?

EMANUEL: First of all, Keith, I have Wrigley Field in my district, so I'm a little sensitive at this point in baseball.

OLBERMANN: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I will not bring it up again.


EMANUEL: Here's the deal. I believe this is the closing argument both candidates have got to make to the public. And I think Barack is going to stay with where he has been all along. This is an election about change that focuses on making the lot of the middle class stronger. And John McCain is going to try to make, in my view, character the issue. This is why he's trying to focus on Bill Ayers.

I always think it's strange, given that Bill Ayers is more relevant to John McCain, than it is to the American people. The American people are focused on their own economic difficulties right now. John McCain is focused on what Bill Ayers did 30, 40 years ago, when Barack Obama was 8 years old.

OLBERMANN: After that last debate, there was almost-there was almost a challenge from your side about Ayers. And you know, if you're going to bring it up Bill Ayers and everything else, bring it up to Senator Obama's face. McCain's response the other day was that probably ensured that he would. Do you think he will?

EMANUEL: I think-my instinct tells me that the first person to bring it up will be Bob Schieffer, and then both of them are going to answer the question like they want.

But I've got to tell you something. I think this is the most-and I'm not in the business of giving John McCain advice. This is not relevant to the American people. They just saw their life's savings destroyed. They have seen their income go down over the last several years. They see the cost for college education and health care and energy go up. And he wants to talk about something that happened, literally, 40 years ago?

As an example-the Bill Ayers thing is an example of how out of touch John McCain is with where the American people are and the challenge they face today. But I'm not in the business of giving others advice.

OLBERMANN: Obviously, you're not. And if you had any good advice, I would assume you'd keep it to yourself. But having said that...

EMANUEL: That's a good point.

OLBERMANN: If you wanted this to be-if you were just looking at this purely academically, as a good debate, what would you want McCain to bring up? What would you want him to focus that would make both a substantive difference and some contribution to the political discourse?

EMANUEL: Look, here's the thing. John McCain could have been the best candidate they had in the sense of why people, independent voters liked him. He also could be the worse candidate, which is what we have seen over the last four weeks, in this sense.

He's come across as the grumpy old man in his slippers and his bathrobe, picking up the newspaper, yelling at the kids in the neighborhood to get off the yard. That's not what the American people want. He is grumpy. He is not focused on the issues. He's barking at people all the time. He doesn't have the right demeanor, style or the substance. If he changed that, he'd be relevant to the American people. Right now, his campaign is not relevant, and it's off tune from where the American people are.

OLBERMANN: I mentioned at the start here that you were the rules negotiator for these debates. There is some thought that, as we look over your right shoulder, that you pulled one over on the McCain campaign tonight. The way they will be seated will not be, from the theatrical point of view, showing John McCain's good side.

Would you care to comment on that theory?

EMANUEL: No. Let me say this. All this, you know, podium sitting, all that is important. The most important is what the, you know-the candidates have to say and how they say it.

I'm not-you know, I spent a lot of time negotiating through the minute segments, the topics. We did all that as a team. I think it counts for something. But that won't make up for either a strong debate performance or a weak debate performance. That's what's going to come.

OLBERMANN: All right. Let's say it's an average...

EMANUEL: I think-I think people are over obsessing about that camera angle stuff.

OLBERMANN: All right. Tell me, from your perspective in this race, what are you still worried about in the last 20 days of campaigning for your candidate?

EMANUEL: What I want to do, is like tonight, like Barack has done all along, but also most importantly, going forward, is reminding people the stakes of the election and who's having a plan to help the middle class families. Who wants to change the policies of George Bush?

Because what he has gotten us into is an endless occupation and a jobless economy. We've got the policies to change that.

OLBERMANN: Representative Rahm Emanuel, speaking on behalf of the Obama campaign in advance of the debates. Thank you for your time. And I'm sorry about the Cubs. I knew-I shouldn't have brought it up. I apologize.


OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman with the latest shouts and murmurs from both campaigns. Chris Matthews with the wow finish as our Countdown to the debate continues here on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: An appropriate place to take a moment to thank you for helping us beat "The O'Reilly Factor" last night in the so-called advertising demographic, viewers 25 to 54, 931,000 to 829,000. You guys are the best.

The great debate within the great debate. Does John McCain reach down into a valise of mud and sling some? And if not, what on earth does he do? Howard Fineman with the latest murmurs from both camps. Chris Matthews on whether this is a game changer or game over. Our Countdown to the debate continues on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: The challenge was simple: say it to my face. Our No. 2 story on the Countdown, will John McCain take Barack Obama up on it tonight?

For weeks on the campaign trail, McCain and his vice-presidential choice have accused their opponent of everything from befriending terrorists to allowing voter fraud to not wanting victory to Iraq or in Iraq, to quote, "unconditional support for unlimited abortions." None of which has been said to the candidate directly.


MCCAIN: Senator Obama said that-that Mr. Ayers was a guy in the neighborhood.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country.

MCCAIN: I'm very worried about it. I'm very worried. And I'm worried about Senator Obama's connections with ACORN, and those should be fully explained, as well.

PALIN: Please, check out his record on partial birth abortion.

Just once, I would love to hear Barack Obama say he wants America to win.


OLBERMANN: Joined now by our own Howard Fineman, also, of course, of "Newsweek" from our listening post at Hofstra University.

Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: That little clip there, we left out Hamas. We left out Reverend Wright. Is McCain going dirty tonight? Is there-is there conflict in his camp about that even now, whether or not he should?

FINEMAN: I think there's less conflict, Keith. I talked to a number of people, Republicans inside and outside the campaign. They're convinced that, unless he clinches for some reason, that McCain is going to go after Obama tonight. He's going to hope that Bob Schieffer, the moderator, raises any one of these. Let's say ACORN or-or Tony Rezko, the financier in Chicago or Bill Ayers, any one of them that is sort of laid on the table by Schieffer.

And at least the way I hear it, John McCain is going to back up the whole front-end loader and mention everything, though probably not, almost certainly not Jeremiah Wright, because that is one that he doesn't dare bring up or even respond. Only-only if Bob Schieffer does.

OLBERMANN: Why not abandon all of it? Because every poll shows that, whatever the economy has not taken out of the McCain campaign, his own tone has. And more importantly, unlike every other time you make a reference to this, whatever he says, Obama gets to respond this time.

FINEMAN: Well, the reason is, Keith, that John McCain has no choice. He has to keep his base solid. He has to get maximum turnout from all the voters he knows that he has, and he has to keep their emotions stoked, No. 1.

No. 2, this election now is about undecided voters, maybe seven or eight or 9 percent of the electorate. A lot of people feel that, those are older voters, those among them are older voters or white voters, are not going to vote for Barack Obama when they get in the voting booth. And McCain wants to give them a reason, any kind of reason, by the way, a nonracial reason not to vote for Barack Obama.

So that's what he's doing, backed up against the wall as he is.

OLBERMANN: The physical format. We talked about this earlier. Does it make it difficult, more difficult for McCain to just look Obama in the eye and say these things again, as he said them on the campaign trail? I mean, just to begin with, the fact we've only seen him look him in the eyes three times in the first two debates.

FINEMAN: Well, I was talking to a McCain strategist about this pretty high up in the campaign. He was trying to tell me it's an advantage.

If I can use a boxing analogy, the way you get at somebody with a long jab, the way you get somebody with long arms is to get inside them and to punch from the inside.

But the problem with that theory, as-as Linda Douglas of the Obama campaign was explaining to me, is that-is that McCain doesn't like that kind of contact. He doesn't like that kind of close proximity. And he always is a little too hot for that kind of situation.

If McCain is going to do that tonight, it's going to have to be in a calm demeanor, more in sorrow than in anger. You know, "My friend, I honor your patriotism and your family values, but you're just-have a blind spot. You just are-you're untested. You can't have this job."

Whether McCain could possibly pull off something like that, I tend to seriously doubt. It would be one hell of a performance if he were able to do something so out of character.

OLBERMANN: What offensively, would Obama do, or is offense not part of his equation tonight?

FINEMAN: It's not part of the equation, really, unless McCain attacks in a way that questions-makes the mistake of questioning Obama's patriotism or decency as an American citizen or family man. If McCain oversteps by one inch, Obama will level him with the comeback. And that's something McCain has to be very careful about tonight as he does go on the attack. Obama is very calm and very shrewd in counterpunching when he has to.

OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC. We'll see you right after the debate. Thank you again, Howard.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Chris Matthews joins me to wrap up our Countdown to the debate, next.


OLBERMANN: The first ever general election presidential debates of the modern history of this country, 1960, setting a record not yet surpassed for face-offs between then Vice President Nixon and then Senator Kennedy.

Tonight, of course, the third and final presidential debate of this current general election, the 49th overall, including all those primary season cattle calls and candidate forums.

Our No. 1 story in the Countdown, a debate on the economy and domestic issues moments away. Likely the last time senators McCain and Obama will speak to one another until one of them concedes on election night, presuming that does happen on election night.

Let's turn to my colleague, the host of "Hardball," Chris Matthews.

Good evening, Chris.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "Hardball": Good evening. I've got to tell you a great little story, Keith. The first Nixon-Kennedy debate was in 1947 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. After the debate, they took the midnight train back to Washington together, Dick Nixon and Jack Kennedy, and they split the bunks. Kennedy got the top bunk, Nixon got the bottom bunk. Next time you see "North by Northwest," don't think Eva Marie Saint, Cary Grant. Think Nixon and Kennedy.

OLBERMANN: Well, that just ruined "North by Northwest" for me. Let's hype (ph) this and the last three weeks. Why is this campaign not over? And why is this debate crucial rather than irrelevant?

MATTHEWS: Probably race. I think that's the unknown. Older voters, we know this, that if the election only involved people under 45, we wouldn't have to count the ballots. Barack would win by well into double digits. We know that if the election's only held among people over 65, no need to count the ballots: it's McCain by double digits.

We have to watch and see how older voters vote. We have to see if younger voters vote. Those are the unknowns. We know about the range of undecided voters. A lot of people believe, there were experts say that white voters who say today they're undecided will not vote for Barack Obama. So we have to see what happens. That's why it's an unknown.

OLBERMANN: Obviously. The McCain reference to "I'm going to kick his you know what" tonight, what does a John McCain "I'm going to kick his you know what" look like? We haven't seen one in this campaign. Not in this general campaign.

MATTHEWS: Well, the problem-the problem with telegraphing your punch like that is Barack Obama simply has to employ the proven strategy of attacking from a defensive position. You wait for your opponent to come at you with a set piece, like Reagan did against Carter and then you go, "There you go again, Mr. President." Or "I won't use your youth and experience against you-inexperience against you."

If you know your opponent is going to take the first shot, you are ready to be rooted for as the underdog, as the defender. The American people always rally to the person who attacks from a defensive position. Barack is in great position tonight to be in that place. Great position.

Especially with this guy telegraphing his punch tonight.

And Bob Schieffer, probably throwing out the puck.

OLBERMANN: I asked Rahm Emanuel this. How does-how does Obama approach tonight? I mean, what do you do when you've won all the other debates, you're up by nine to 14 points in the polls, your opponent never has the same campaign two day ins a row.

For Obama, is tonight about reinforcing the impression that has obviously sunk in to some degree that Obama is the calmest, coolest guy in the room?

MATTHEWS: I would ignore McCain. McCain will do what he has to do. Until he takes that shot, he will win if he comes back at him, attacking from a defensive position.

But, he should also employ his own offensive strategy. Barack still has to connect with the white guy, to be blunt. And the only way he's going to do it, they guy, not the women. The women are moving over. They're traditionally more Democratic. The white, conservative-or conservative Democratic vote, the Reagan Democrat, if you will, he's got to talk to that guy tonight to the exclusion of everybody else.

Talk to the guy who is worried about losing his job. Talk about the guy who has pride at being a husband and a bread-winner for his family, who takes tremendous, deep emotional pride in looking out for his family and saying, "I'm going to help you, sir, get that job done. I'm going to be the guy that keeps you working through this coming tough times. I'm going to help you be a man. I'm going to be with you in this tough fight ahead."

If he gets viscerally connected to that guy, race will fall aside. If he doesn't get viscerally connected to that guy, he will still be that remote presence from Chicago, somewhere they won't really connect with, and we don't know what's going to happen in that voting booth.

But he can still do it. He's got to connect viscerally with the pride that husbands and fathers feel about providing for their families. It's very traditional. I know. And today, men and women's-divide their responsibilities for the family and bread winning, but the male voter is out there. The white male voter wants to be a provider. He has to say, "I'm going to help you be a provider, sir. I can help you be the guy you want to be."

It's got to be a personal statement. If he does that tonight, it doesn't matter what the hell John McCain does.

By the way, I cannot believe, an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and you got him to say that John McCain is a grumpy old man in his slippers. What an image. I mean, he's like a cartoonist drawing that picture, the guy But it has been the way, I think, that Joe Biden has been portraying him, as lurching around across the room, and the other guy has been portraying him as erratic. They're painting their own caricature of their opponent, as well as the Republicans are.

OLBERMANN: And incidentally, there is no caricature of Senator McCain that he likes less than that particular one, as you and I both know.

MATTHEWS: What, Mr. Wilson? Mr. Wilson? "Dennis, get off my lawn"?

OLBERMANN: Grandpa Simpson. Old man yells at clown. The whole thing.

All right. Chris Matthews in Hempstead at Hofstra, we'll talk to you later. Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Good night, colleague.

OLBERMANN: Chris will be back after the debate with a special edition of Hardball at midnight Eastern. I will rejoin you for the special post-debate edition of Countdown that will precede it at 11 Eastern, 8 Pacific. If you followed that, it's Countdown, not "Hardball."

That is Countdown for this, the 1,995th day since the declaration of "mission accomplished" in Iraq. For the moment, I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.