'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
#ShowPlug 1: Too close to call; Mitt slams Santorum pitch for Dem vote; Santorum calls him a bully. W/ @DavidShuster in MI, @SteveKornacki
#ShowPlug 2: The real Michigan winner? President Obama. But @RBReich joins us, says housing market is rotting, will hurt recovery
#ShowPlug 3: Alabama joins VA in backing away from Trans-Vaginal before abortions; but new Senate amendment looms. w/ @LEBassett
#ShowPlug 4: Big Pharma buys Oklahoma legislature committee; they go Pro-Meth; Darrell Issa now branding POTUS as South African
#ShowPlug Last: And @SamSeder on the GOP road ahead + Romney's quote "I won't light my hair on fire." Damn, that woulda been FINE!
#5 'Primary Night', David Shuster
#5 'Primary Night', Steve Kornacki
#4 'House Rules', Robert Reich
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Rolling Back Women's Rights', Laura Bassett
#2 Worst Persons: Steve Doocy, Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Colby Schwartz
#1 'Pyrrhic Victory', Sam Seder
printable PDF transcript
On the show: David Shuster, Robert Reich, Laura Bassett, Steve Kornacki, Sam Seder
KEITH OLBERMANN: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Michigan and the battle of the robocalls.
(Excerpt from audio clip) MITT ROMNEY: You're making calls to Republicans today. This is a good thing, all right. Yeah, yeah. And the Santorum campaign is making calls to Democrats today. All right.
OLBERMANN: Santorum's response? "That's what bullies do. When you hit them back, they whine."
Michael Moore's response? "A friend just called to say that he went to vote for Santorum, but each time he asked for a repub ballot, he couldn't stop laughing so he left."
The Michigan subtext? The battle of the unforced errors.
Romney, again, remembers something that didn't happen:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I voted against Ted Kennedy, Tip O'Neill, and Bill Clinton. Seemed like a good group to be against.
OLBERMANN: They were never on the same ballot together.
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK SANTORUM: We went into a recession in 2008 because of gasoline prices.
With David Shuster in Michigan, Salon's Steve Kornacki, and Sam Seder.
Twenty million off women's health care. Not off of the price, off the care.
This Missouri senator pushing to deny more women more health care even as Alabama and Virginia have to back off some of their pro-abortion, trans-vaginal ultrasound demands.
The truth is finally revealed - where Fox News gets its "news."
(Excerpt from video clip) STEVE DOOCY: I read on a conservative blog last night that this could be the intent of the Obama administration.
OLBERMANN: And the latest from Michigan - too close to call - and Arizona - Romney in a breeze.
And the quote of the day:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I'm not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support.
OLBERMANN: I'm sorry about that. That I would have paid to see.
(Excerpt from video clip) HERBERT MORRISON: One of the worst catastrophes that the world - Oh, the humanity!
OLBERMANN: All of that and more, now on "Countdown."
OLBERMANN: Good evening, this is Tuesday, February 28th, 253 days until the 2012 presidential election.
Republicans voting in Arizona and Michigan in the presidential primaries tonight, except in Michigan, where one in ten is a Democrat voting in the Republican primary.
Our fifth story on the "Countdown" - the majority of Michigan polling places closing as this news hour begins tonight. It's an hour later in Arizona, that place already all-but-locked into Mitt Romney's win column.
Romney's home state of Michigan anything but, though exit polling there - which we'll review in depth in a moment with David Shuster and Steve Kornacki - is already available and suggesting just one in seven is looking for the true conservative.
The latest Public Policy poll showing - as you're seeing - where front-runners Romney and Rick Santorum are concerned, the race was too close to call. Similar numbers showing, in a Foster McCollum White & Associates poll - this is the Detroit Free Press - is reporting low turnout, with many Democrats voting for Santorum or Ron Paul to deny a win for Romney.
Santorum, perhaps, sparking that turn with a robocall reported on this news hour first last night.
(Excerpt from audio clip) MAN: On Tuesday, join Democrats who are going to send a loud message to Massachusetts' Mitt Romney by voting Rick Santorum for president. This call is supported by hardworking, Democratic men and women and paid for by Rick Santorum for President."
OLBERMANN: That Massachusetts' Mitt Romney wringing his hands over the call on Fox News:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: Deceptive and a dirty trick. It's confusing people. It's a new low in this campaign.
OLBERMANN: But not the last.
Santorum, also on Fox News, then thumbing his nose at Romney:
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: One of the things that the Governor Romney's people say is "Oh, he can't attract Democrats." Well, guess what? We'll wait and see. I think we can.
OLBERMANN: Romney attacking Santorum again today, this time from his Michigan call center:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: We want to make sure we get Republicans out to vote. We want this to be a process where Republicans choose a Republican nominee. We don't want the Democrats to choose who they think is the easiest person to run against.
OLBERMANN: Santorum having none of that as he campaigned.
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: If, by appealing as a conservative to conservative Democrats, that's kidnapping the process? That's what bullies do. When you hit them back, they whine.
OLBERMANN: Democrats enjoying the whining from both sides.
Michael Moore tweeting, "A friend just called to say that he went to vote for Santorum, but each time he asked for a repub ballot, he couldn't stop laughing so he left."
The laughter at Romney's recent gaffes apparently getting to him:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: The candidates sometimes make some mistakes.
OLBERMANN: And adding a P.S. that's sure to bring legions of hardcore conservatives to his camp:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: It's very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments. I'm not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support.
OLBERMANN: Is that a Romney torchlight campaign parade? No, it's Romney.
Once again, the governor is undone by his own past, though. Despite his complaints about Santorum's robocall to Democrats, Romney admitting, in an interview during the 2008 campaign, "When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I'd vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for the Republican."
The governor tried to clarify that today:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: In my case, I was certainly voting against the Democrat who I thought was the - the person I thought would be the worst leader of our nation. In this case, as I recall, it was Bill Clinton. And certainly I'm against it. I voted against Ted Kennedy, Tip O'Neill, and Bill Clinton, seemed like a good group to be against.
OLBERMANN: Two of the greatest legislators in our history and the president who presided over eight prosperous years - good group to be against. And, by the way, they never ran on the same ballot, and the gap between O'Neill's last election and Clinton's first primary was a mere eight years.
Meanwhile, Rick Santorum backing off the vomit language in his attack on President Kennedy for his speech on the separation of church and state.
(Excerpt from audio clip) SANTORUM: I wish I, you know - I had that particular line back.
OLBERMANN: Give him a day or two, and Santorum might be backing off another unfortunate claim.
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: We went into a recession in 2008 because of gasoline prices. The bubble burst in housing because people couldn't pay their mortgages because we were looking at four-dollars-a-gallon gasoline.
OLBERMANN: Wrong on all counts, including the date.
And, in case you wondered if Newt Gingrich is still in this race, he is concentrating on next week's Super Tuesday primaries with some help from another substantial contribution from billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, to his super PAC - perhaps, as much as $10 million.
While three-term Maine Senator Olympia Snowe not helping the GOP in its efforts to retake the Senate this fall, announcing today she will not run for re-election, citing the polarization paralyzing Washington.
Ironically, that's likely to pave the way for an extreme right winger to run in her place.
Let's start our coverage of Michigan in Michigan. We'll go to "Countdown's" David Shuster. He's coming from Novi, Michigan - the conservative suburb near Detroit. David, good evening.
DAVID SHUSTER: Keith, good evening to you.
OLBERMANN: What are we hearing about turnout? The Free Press says it's low, those early polls - exit polls - suggested that just under half strongly favored their candidate that they voted for this afternoon. How do we interpret that, going into this?
SHUSTER: The turnout is, indeed - at least according to all the indications - that it's lower than it has been, lower than it should be, and that the key that the Romney campaign has to worry about, Keith, is here in the Detroit suburbs - southeastern Michigan - where they have just been bombarding the airwaves with television ads.
And there are also some indication the turnout is a little bit lower than it should be here, and that's a big problem for Mitt Romney, because Rick Santorum is going to do very well in the western and in northern parts of the state, and Romney - as far as winning the overall popular vote - if he's going to do that he's got to pick it up here in southeast Michigan.
So, a lot of very nervous people, Keith, at the Romney watch party tonight, here in Novi.
OLBERMANN: And you could look at the - those early numbers that - one in every ten primary voters was - at least branded themselves - a Democrat as a triumph of this Santorum robocall.
But on the other hand, apparently, in 2000 - when John McCain won this primary - 17 percent in this open primary of the voters were for Democrats - were Democrats who were trying to make their own selection of who the Republican nominee should be.
So, perhaps this was successful, perhaps it wasn't, but 10 percent is a large-enough margin, in this one, to decide it, isn't it?
SHUSTER: It is. And, Keith, if you also look at - there's some union households which sort of don't identify as either sort of Democrats or necessarily independents. Some Republican union households, but for the most part, the union households, as well - they got instructions from the UAW over the past couple of days that they should go ahead and be part of this Operation Chaos and also support Rick Santorum and see if they can move this to Santorum's column.
So, not just sort of this - the self-identified Democrats, but independents, union households, people who go by different labels - there was this entire effort, in several different organizations, to try to cause Mitt Romney some trouble and again, the Santorum campaign is already saying, "Wait a second, if Romney wants to complain about inviting Democrats and independents into this primary, then Romney should complain about what he himself did because, in New Hampshire, when he did the same as far as appealing for Democrats and independents in much greater numbers."
OLBERMANN: And you spoke of Operation Chaos and problems with the Romney campaign. It would seem, at least symbolically, that Operation Chaos has been lead by Romney in terms of self-inflicted injuries.
Is that campaign yet talking off the record about the mistakes? I mean, we heard the candidate say that the campaign didn't necessarily make mistakes, but the candidate did, Romney referring to himself. Is there anything going on below the surface about how they're post- morteming this, even before the results are in?
SHUSTER: Yeah, Keith, there's already some, sort of, infighting in the campaign about who's responsible for the problems in Michigan, and you're starting to hear some of the Romney supporters - certainly the financial supporters here in Michigan - saying, "Look, we've done everything we can. The candidate just had a bad weekend."
And some of the campaign staffers, senior staff, were scratching their head over his comment in Florida at the NASCAR race, Daytona 500, where he said he knew some NASCAR team owners. And, of course, that follows up the horrible Friday that he had where he was at Ford Field in Detroit. They only put a thousand people in a 65,000 seat stadium. So a huge problem for the Romney campaign.
And again, Keith, the biggest fear the Romney campaign staff has tonight - and they are already starting to reach out to their activists, to their organizers and states like Ohio and the other Super Tuesday states - they are - they are very terrified of a tsunami of bad media attention, which will then translate into, perhaps, a loss of 10 to 12 points in some of these states coming up next week.
So, they are already putting out the calls - trying to get their elected officials, their supporters in these states - to calm, to say, "Do whatever you can to spin this to try to control whatever damage we're going to face tonight."
OLBERMANN: Do they have any way to shut down his mistakes because, as suggested, if he is remembering things that didn't happen, and there have been two of those in, I guess, three days between his recollections of something he attended nine months before he was born and this great vote in 1992 where he voted against Tip O'Neill six years after his retirement. That's a big problem if the candidate is beginning to have memory loss.
SHUSTER: Well, and some of the campaign staff, Keith, are suggesting that perhaps too many campaign advisers are now in Romney's head, with people saying, "You need to be more likable. You need to be more relatable to the voters. You need to try to somehow relate to theautomotive companies," and Romney's just not that sort of candidate.
He's much, sort of, stiffer than I think the campaign wants him to be, and as a result, some of his own campaign staff said that - when they're giving him so much advice, and when he's starting to press - it makes matters worse.
But, again, it's the campaign's responsibility to give the candidate advice and say, "Look, you need to be more disciplined and cut down on some of the ways you're trying to relate to people."
OLBERMANN: I'm telling you, though, if he lights his hair on fire, he'll get a heck of a crowd for that.
"Countdown" correspondent David Shuster in Novi, Michigan. Great thanks, David.
SHUSTER: Keith, thank you.
OLBERMANN: For more on the Republican primaries, I'm joined here in New York by Steve Kornacki, news editor of Salon. Good to see you, Steve.
STEVE KORNACKI: You, too.
OLBERMANN: Some of the exit polls are fascinating, I really think, although, don't know how useful they are, and that's really what I want to ask you about.
First off - under half strongly favor their candidate. Everybody else is going in, they're going, "Ehh," or trying to suppress somebody else. One in seven want a true conservative, 33 percent are considering electability as the primary number, which is the low point so far, in terms of exit polls in the Republican primary. Of those who are - everybody - not just those are considering electability, but all those who were asked who would answer this - 50 percent or thereabouts - saw Romney as more electable, and only 25 percent see Santorum as the most electable of the Republican field.
Do you get the sense, looking at the exit polls, that the Republicans in Michigan are going through the motions, that this is, like, a primary because they sort of half to?
KORNACKI: It's really what the whole process has felt like. You know, it's sort of been building to this point, because that's been the story in some of the races before this, and it sort of shows that what Santorum has emerged as is sort of a proxy for the doubt that still lingers among conservatives toward Romney. It doesn't mean that he's generated any enthusiasm for himself among them.
I mean, we can talk about the sort of weekend from hell that Mitt Romney had that may have caused him, you know, to blow his lead in Michigan. We'll find out tonight. You know, Santorum really put on quite a show for the last week or two, where I think he probably unnerved even people who agree with him. Just the idea of, "Hey, if this is how the guy is going to be conducting himself, is he really what we need to put up in the fall?" So that's a tough choice for a lot of Republicans to make, and I think it's reflected in his numbers.
OLBERMANN: All right, some of the other ones, 54 percent said what mattered most was the economy, 24 percent said the deficit - as if that is somehow distinguishable from the economy, and I guess it is, although the politicians would have you believe otherwise - 14 percent said abortion and three percent illegal immigration. Given that, also, you have - in the Michigan primary - apparently, among GOP voters - the Detroit bailout was supported by 43 percent of Republican voters in Michigan. Forty percent evangelicals voted. It's a lot of different sets of numbers, but what I'm getting at is - is Michigan usable, predictively, about this race unless Romney loses? In other words, if Romney wins here, did we learn anything about this - about this campaign?
KORNACKI: Well, if Romney wins, I think there's two - there are sort of two "Romney wins" scenarios.
One of them teaches us something very substantial, that's if he wins this thing by a big margin - let's say he's up five, six points tonight, just a clear win - I think we see the old Romney formula actually still works, for all the panning. He can wait for the conservative rival to emerge. He can outspend them like crazy. He can attack them in the debate, and he can win the must- win state, keep marching towards the nomination. Right.
The other thing that's interesting here is - and if Santorum wins, obviously, it's a meltdown for Romney - but what I'm wondering is, what if this is a really long night? What if this ends up being a one- or two-point Mitt Romney victory? Then, it's in his native state. He barely won the thing. He did it after outspending Santorum. At that point, I don't think there's much value there. I think that does a lot of damage to, sort of, the Romney formula that he's been using, too, and I think that could help Santorum coming out of here, too.
OLBERMANN: But, in some sense, here, as I think about it, if only one in seven look for the true conservative, at least that's what they're saying, if 33 percent - which, as we said before, is the low so far in the primary, are considering electability, it's almost as if that middle ground there is actually giving you kind of an honest opinion, and if they are split, somehow, between Romney and Santorum with Paul and Gingrich in the back still, does that just suggest that the Republican base has no focus at this point, and they're just going - they're going to go behind Romney because nobody else can really stand up to fight him?
KORNACKI: Yeah, if those voters are going behind Romney because the other thing to look for there, I think, is - you know, we think of the - Santorum's going to rely on the very conservative voters and the evangelicals, but he was also playing on - and we saw this with that robocall - he is also playing on class identity, and he's also playing on class resentment toward Romney.
And he is also sort of presenting himself - his message is very top one percent, but he's really playing himself up as, you know, a guy with middle-class roots, a guy with, sort of, a middle-class image, and he is hoping that that resonates with voters who aren't necessarily evangelicals, aren't necessarily the most conservative members of the party. He's really then pushing that so maybe that had resonance, and that's showing up there, too.
OLBERMANN: Percentage, quickly, of a slight Romney win that actually can be spun as a Santorum victory is what? Two percent, three percent?
KORNACKI: Yeah, I would say when you get above two percent it starts to get dicey, but less than two percent - and really, I think, the key here is how long does this night go? Because the longer it goes, the more clear it is to everybody watching that this is not a clear-cut verdict either way.
OLBERMANN: Steve Kornacki of Salon.com. Always a pleasure, Steve. Thanks for coming in. KORNACKI: Sure.
OLBERMANN: One result we know ahead of time, when Ed Rollins calls the Republican field "an effing mess" - only he didn't say "effing" - the president won't be running against Romney or Santorum or a brokered convention win by zombie Teddy Roosevelt. He'll be running against the economy and the price of gas. Robert Reich on that presidential race, next.
OLBERMANN: The real big winner in the Michigan primary? President Obama, almost giggling over it today. Robert Reich joins me with some words of caution.
As the blowback in Virginia and Alabama grows so fierce that even the Republicans are toning down their attacks on women's health rights, this senator tries to up the ante.
The California congressman and former car-alarm-voiceover actor now makes a confused claim about the president being South African or something.
And what the actor Ed Harris says about me, in his role as John McCain, in the movie "Game Change." And it ain't, "Hey, you kid, get off my lawn."
OLBERMANN: As the Republican candidates push in the Arizona and Michigan primaries, the big winner is already clear. It's a fellow named President Obama, who today spoke with all the energy and excitement you would expect to see in a victory speech.
In our fourth story - today, the president addressed a raucous gathering of union workers, and - whether it was the energy of the crowd or the low-hanging fruit that is the GOP primary train wreck - we saw a return of the campaigner-in-chief.
At the United Auto Workers conference, the president took time to speak about the success of an auto industry that was once on the verge of bankruptcy. He also found time to take a poke at his challengers' attempts to distance themselves from their criticisms of the auto bailout:
(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: It's been funny to watch some of these folks completely try to rewrite history now that you're back on your feet. The same folks who said, if we went forward with our plan to rescue Detroit, "You can kiss the American automotive industry good-bye." Now, they're saying we were right all along.
OLBERMANN: And again, per the exit polls, 43 percent of GOP voters in Michigan today say they supported the Detroit rescue, and only 51 percent were opposed to it - Republicans. The president then spent time in campaign mode, urging his supporters not to get complacent:
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: Manufacturing is coming back for the first time since the 1990s. Companies are bringing jobs back from overseas. The economy is getting stronger. The recovery is speeding up. Now is the time to keep our foot on the gas, not put on the brakes, and I'm not going to settle for a country where just a few do really well and everybody else is struggling to get by.
OLBERMANN: But, while the president sees the recovery moving forward, others are not so positive.
In a piece titled "Housing is the Rotting Core of the Recovery," former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich writes that the declining housing market is a sign that we may not be out of the woods yet: "The purchases of new homes are down 77 percent from their peak in 2005. They dropped another 0.9 percent in January. Home sales overall are still dropping, and prices are still falling despite already being down by a third from their 2006 peak." Adding, "The negative wealth effect of home values, combined with declining wages, makes it highly unlikely the U.S. will enjoy a robust recovery any time soon."
Joining me now is Robert Reich, former labor secretary, now professor at U.C. Berkeley and author of "Aftershock: the Next Economy and America's Future." Thank you, as always, for your time tonight, sir.
ROBERT REICH: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: To your piece on the housing market in just a moment. But first, about that - the clips we heard from that speech by the president today - is there a reason, to your knowledge, that he doesn't speak with this type of energy more often?
REICH: Well, the president has every right to be very energized right now. I mean, the winds are at his back. The economy does seem to be moving in the right direction. It may not be moving as strongly as it ought to be.
And also, his opponents are engaged in a kind of fratricide. I mean, they are all going after a smaller and smaller minority of extreme right wingers, and independents are swinging over to the president.
So the president's poll numbers look better and better, and obviously, he is charged up, and it is kind of a self-fulfilling prophesy. You've got a candidate who's doing better and better, and he feels better and better, and his audiences are more and more charged up.
OLBERMANN: And here you come, with your note that the stock market is up, more and more people are getting jobs, and yet the housing market is still this, as you said, rotting core. Why does -
REICH: Well, I don't - Keith, I don't want to rain on anybody's parade. I want to be as optimistic as everybody can and should be, but let's be realistic. There is one major chink in this armor, this recovery, and that is housing.
Housing is the major net worth, the major asset of most Americans. Most Americans don't have much money, if any money, in the stock market. You know, the stock market can go past 13,000, the Dow Jones Industrial average - doesn't matter. Most Americans really are reliant on the value of their homes. That's the biggest asset, and home values are down over 33 percent, 34 percent on average, since the second quarter of 2006. That's a huge drop. It's going to take years to get those houses back.
OLBERMANN: The original growth in the housing market, though, is based in large part on what is fairly well understood, if not in the economic particulars, at least in a general sense by the public as a, no pun intended, house of cards, with the banks driving up home prices by loaning money to anybody who could identify - you know, who could show up with their breath on a mirror. Is there a way to recover any kind of growth? Is there anything to be done here, and more importantly, perhaps, is there any way to regain the confidence that homeowners or potential homeowners would have had five, six, seven years ago?
REICH: very, very hard, it's not going to come back very soon. You know, I hope that we are reaching bottom. We keep on hearing that we're reaching bottom with regard to home values, and certainly the decline seems to be slowing, but it's still occurring, Keith. You know, part of it - beyond the bubble or house of cards that was created starting in 2003, 2004 - beyond that has been a change in the attitude of Americans, quite suddenly.
I mean, housing was the best investment you could possibly make because, not only could you deduct your mortgage interest, but housing values for everybody's experience and everybody's experience kept on going up. Well, now you have a large cohort of Americans who have been traumatized by the housing market. They are not quickly going to believe that housing is going to be a great investment again, and they're going to hold back.
OLBERMANN: So if there is - if the question becomes not - in which degree the arrow is pointing, improvement or disimprovement in the economy, and housing is not really going to be restored in any sense that it could be decisive in terms of the election, does the economy - that broad term, 50 percent of the voters in Michigan today voted on the economy, is that boiling down to jobs and then, the rest of it is gas prices? Or how does it break down here?
REICH: I would say - again, this is not scientific - I would say jobs is the overwhelming issue. If jobs begin coming back, if we see a very good jobs report for January, and if the jobs reports continue to improve - even if they don't improve dramatically, as long as the direction is in the right direction - most people are going to feel, "Well, the economy is doing fine."
Consumer confidence is quite bland right now, relative to where it was a few months ago. The housing market is going to continue to be a drag on the economy.
Gas prices - look, it's mostly speculation, as far as I can tell, Keith. Those underlying fundamentals, with regard to supply and demand, are not pointing to much higher gas prices. The Wall Street speculators, the hedge fund managers, they're getting in there and bidding up the price of gas, but that could fall just as quickly as it goes up, as it did last May.
OLBERMANN: As the old Robert Klein joke goes about supply and demand and gas prices, "We have all the supply, we can demand whatever the hell we want."
The former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, the author of "Aftershock." As always, great thanks for your time, sir.
REICH: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A sneak preview of my role in the movie version of "Game Change," which I didn't even know I had until last night. Next.
OLBERMANN: The Republicans escalate their national assault on women's health rights, ignoring the fact that, tonight, in two other states, the women have fought back and most successfully so.
First, the "Sanity Break," and on March 10th, HBO premieres its film version of the 2008 campaign book "Game Change."
I am reliably informed that not only do I appear in it, in clip form, but at one point Ed Harris, as Senator John McCain says, "Did you see what Olbermann said about me? Have you seen what Keith Olbermann said?"
Presumably, it was about that "Simpsons" joke - about the newspaper clipping starring Grampa, under the headline "Old Man Yells at Cloud."
"Time Marches On!"
VIDEO: The world's largest sandwich at Milwaukee's Bacon Fest.
We begin as we always do, with the world's largest sandwich - Bacon, peanut butter and banana - in Wisconsin, vying for the record of world's largest. No cheese in Wisconsin?
The 13-foot-by-4-foot behemoth was later cut up and sold as part of Milwaukee's Bacon Fest. All of the money was then donated to charity, and somewhere Elvis is licking his mutton chops.
VIDEO: Pro bowler surpasses father's all-time record, goes a little overboard on enthusiasm.
In sports, it's the final round of the PBA U.S. Open, where Pete Weber is about to surpass his own father with his fifth title, the most in U.S. Open history. He needed that strike, and he's more than a little excited.
(Excerpt from video clip) PETE WEBER: That is right, I did it. I'm number five, are you kidding me? That's right. Who do you think you are? I am!
OLBERMANN: "Who do you think you are? I am!" Formerly, just a song title by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. Now, the new greatest sports taunt ever.
VIDEO: Mega pod of dolphins caught on camera off the coast of Southern California.
Finally, we end with dolphins, lots and lots of dolphins.
This dolphin mega pod - may be 2,000 dolphins - spotted by a whale-watching boat off the coast of southern California. Try to top that, Sea World.
They're saying it's easily the most impressive dolphins display since the days of Dan Marino and Hootie and the Blowfish.
The dolphins were reportedly using their flipper, flipper to move faster than lightning.
"Time - Swims On!"
Alabama and Virginia try to pull back slightly on what is, literally, an assault on women seeking abortions, even as Republicans in the Senate push forward on a figurative assault. Next.
OLBERMANN: No matter what time you're watching this, "Countdown" is live each night at 8:00 Eastern with the primary replay at 8:00 Pacific, the longest continuously-running 8:00 p.m. news hour on cable, unless you consider Fox - "news."
In the same week that a would-be Republican Senate nominee from New York said if Roe v. Wade were to be repealed, almost nobody would notice, the right seems to have been knocked off its feet by how many people noticed lesser GOP assaults on woman's access to reproductive health care.
In our third story on the "Countdown" - Senate Majority Leader Reid announcing today that the "Conscience Clause" amendment, proposed by Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt - which would allow any employer to deny health services to its employees because of moral objections - will come up for a vote in the Senate on Thursday.
This comes on the heels of fervent opposition by religiously-affiliated charities to the idea of employee contraception coverage, arguing that it violated their religious freedom, but Senate Democrats are not going down without a fight here.
Senator Patty Murray described the amendment as, "Extreme. It's dangerous and it puts employers smack between women and their health care and politics between women and their health care."
And much like Virginia, where the contentious trans-vaginal ultrasound bill was amended to be a sort of trans-abdominal ultrasound bill, following public protests and media scrutiny. That state senate passed it today on a party-line vote.
In Alabama, the outrage over another invasive ultrasound bill lasted a fortnight before its sponsor, a state senator named Scofield, announced he would water down his bill, SB12, which in its own, original language would also require a physician to "display the ultrasound images so that the pregnant woman may view them."
But the bill goes even further. It allows "the father of the unborn child who was the subject of the abortion, or the grandparent of an unborn child, may maintain an action against the person who performed the abortion in knowing or reckless violation of this act for actual and punitive damages." It might be legal, but you can sue.
Let's bring in Laura Bassett, political reporter for The Huffington Post. Thanks for your time tonight.
LAURA BASSETT: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: About Blunt first. If it stands no chance, I would assume, of being enacted in a Democratic Senate, I assume also that it would still be iffy in a Republican-controlled House. What's its purpose?
BASSETT: I think it's purpose, at this point, is to galvanize voters. You know, everybody's in campaign mode right now, and Republicans are fired up about this. Democrats are also fired up about this, and it is getting people, you know, into politics who otherwise wouldn't necessarily be.
And I think that Republicans are courting the Catholic vote right now, and a lot of people criticized Obama's health-care mandate - his birth control mandate - saying that employers had to cover contraception for their employees, and so this is a way of saying, you know, nobody has to cover health care for anyone.
Unfortunately, that - the problem that Democrats have with it is that it takes the decision away from the woman. Why is the employer's conscience mattering more than the women's conscience, I think, is the question that everybody's asking.
OLBERMANN: In politics 2012 everything is a dog whistle, but my question is, which is which here? Is the idea of "Obama is curtailing religious freedom," is that the dog whistle for "Here is a way to whittle down abortion and women's health and reproductive-health issues," or is it the other way around?
BASSETT: I think that women's health right now is being - the argument is being reframed as an argument about religious freedom, and they've had I don't know how many hearings in the House at this point on religious freedom that are actually, specifically, about this birth control amendment and contraception coverage, and they say - the Republicans say - over and over,
"This is not about women's health. This is about religious freedom." Unfortunately, the intention has a consequence which is that, you know, millions of women would lose contraceptive coverage. So it is, in fact, about women's health.
OLBERMANN: The pushbacks - and they're slight in Alabama and Virginia, they're not obviously significant in a real sense, and in Virginia something that might be a bit of a shell game in terms of terminology - but is there any sense that the entire Susan G. Koman/Planned Parenthood debacle was a tipping point here? That something as occurred in the last six weeks in which a lot of women, and probably a lot of men - who did not see this as an all-or-nothing fight from the far right - suddenly woke up and said, "They really are trying to -" I mean, the only stage left would be to repeal women's rights to vote.
BASSETT: Absolutely. I think this has just lit a fire under the women's rights movement. A lot of these bills have been around for a long time. You know, this ultrasound bill has been considered in lots of other states prior to Virginia, and it's been considered in Virginia in previous years. And even with the birth control mandate people are making a big deal out of, you know, that's been law in New Hampshire for 12 years, and nobody noticed.
I think this Susan G. Koman de-funding Planned Parenthood brought in a lot of people that otherwise weren't paying attention to politics, and now people are fired up and any fight against women's health is going to be - you know, they are going to fight back.
OLBERMANN: What do we understand about what the Republican politicians in Alabama and Virginia had to have heard to get them to pull back, at least in this - you know, somewhat technical and gynecological description of what the ultrasounds had to be?
BASSETT: You know, the Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia said that he didn't realize that the ultrasound was going to be a trans-vaginal ultrasound.
BASSETT: And then, when he learned that the procedure was going to be invasive, he then changed his support for it. I don't think that's really the case because a senator - who is also a doctor - in Virginia, stood up and gave a detailed description of what the ultrasound was going to be, and they still passed the bill.
I think what happened was that the bill made Virginia a laughingstock, you know. It made its rounds on the late-night comedy circuits. Jon Stewart took it on, and I think Republicans started to see what it was and become a little embarrassed that they had, you know, become such a joke.
OLBERMANN: Laura Bassett, of The Huffington Post, great thanks for your insight and your time tonight.
BASSETT: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: "Worst Persons," next.
First, we have discovered an error in our broadcast of December 22, 2011, in a story about a New Jersey judge recommending that conservative blogger Nadia Naffe proceed with a civil case against James O'Keefe. Due to a script error, I erroneously referred to O'Keefe as "a convicted felon."
In fact, as I made clear in a later portion of the same broadcast, O'Keefe was originally charged with a felony, but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. He was also placed on probation, not on parole. "Countdown" apologizes for the inaccuracy.
OLBERMANN: Five percent of the vote reported so far in Michigan, at one point Santorum leads 40-39. Obviously, too close to call, but his hair still isn't on fire, and we do not know - if we'll know ever - just how many Democrats actually came out to vote against him in a Republican primary. Exit polls said about 10 percent of the votes were Democratic.
The polls closing and we'll have more on them in Michigan and Arizona.
First, the "Worsts," and now we know where they think they get what they call "news" - from comments on right-wing blogs. I mean, even the commentators on the right-wing blogs don't think they're writing down news.
OLBERMANN: The polls in the Central Time Zone, about to close in Michigan, and we've gone nearly an hour without one of the leading Republicans calling the other one a bully.
First, because these people are bullies and this is where we get to call them out, here are "Countdown's" nominees for today's top three "Worst Persons in the World."
The bronze? To Steve Doocy, one of the co-hosts of the morning show on the political whorehouse that is Fox News.
Ever wonder where Mr. Doocy and his colleagues get their bizarre ideas? He has now revealed it, during an appearance with one of Fox's analysts.
(Excerpt from video clip) PETER JOHNSON: "This is what we choose," Catholics say, "Respect that. Respect our differences."
(Excerpt from video clip) STEVE DOOCY: I read on a conservative blog last night that this could be the intent of the Obama administration. They just want the Catholic institutions to close.
(Excerpt from video clip) JOHNSON: I read the same thing, and you read the commentary of hundreds of people that write into these blogs, they say, "Yeah, that's the point of what's going on."
OLBERMANN: First, it's nice to finally know what Teller sounds like. Secondly, "I read it on a conservative blog," he says? And the other guy I said, "I read the same thing," and then he goes on to admit he read the comments?
I mean, I may have to rethink my worldview here. I've always assumed Doocy and his colleagues were slow-witted propagandists, but if they're getting their ideas from the comments on the right-wing blogs, I'm leaning towards believing that, while there, they have became the victims of profound psychological and emotional abuse.
Speaking of which, the runner-up? Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California. You will recall he was the one who held the birth control hearings at which he refused to let a proponent of the president's policy on the subject testify - a woman.
Congressman Issa's problem appears to be, he doesn't pay attention to the details. Issa was recorded as he spoke to the California Republican Party Spring Convention, about the prospects of a Republican president.
(Excerpt from audio clip) DARRELL ISSA: We're going to establish a very different policy. One, that we have a president who will respect the Constitution, not try to convert it to some - South African constitution.
OLBERMANN: Uh-huh. So now he's South African? I thought he was Kenyan or Hitler or something. Where does this come from? Think Progress has soused it out.
In Egypt earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that despite the genius of our Constitution, the constitutions of some other countries, like South Africa's, might be better models for future democracies because these newer documents more precisely specify individual rights. And Issa, not paying attention, transformed Justice Ginsburg into President Obama.
Funny that he's not lashing out at the Supreme Court justice who recently testified that the Bill of Rights in the old Soviet Union constitution was "much better than ours." That would have been Justice Antonin Scalia.
But our winner? Oklahoma State Representative Colby Schwartz.
The Republican was one of the seven legislators who killed, in committee, a bill that would've strengthened Oklahoma's anti-methamphetamine law, one that would've raised it to the level of the one in Kentucky.
And it turns out that for his last campaign, Representative Schwartz received $1,500 from drug maker Eli Lilly, $500 apiece from GlaxoSmithKline, Hoffman-La Roche, and Johnson & Johnson and $400 more from Pfizer.
This year's lobbying numbers are not out yet, but Pfizer, which makes Sudafed - frequently used in the synthesis of meth - took Schwartz out to dinner last August.
And just to top it off, before going into the Oklahoma legislature, Schwartz was a sales rep in the pharmaceuticals industry. An industry lobbying group spent just under $200,000 last month alone to fight stricter regulations on its cold medicines, which can be used to produce meth.
And - to be fair - they don't hook just Republicans. Oklahoma Democrats Ed Cannaday and Al McAffrey also voted against it and also got donations from Big Pharma.
Most importantly, one Oklahoma rep said he didn't know how he would be able to look social workers, or cops or prosecutors in the eye and tell them that the Oklahoma legislature was still working for the public good after the vote.
He said, "This is blood money for the pharmaceutical industry." And that was Doug Cox, a Republican, and he deserves applause for telling it like it is.
But his colleague Colby Schwartz? Willing to go pro-meth for $3,400? No. He's tonight's "Worst Person in the World."
OLBERMANN: Let's recap what we know and what we don't know as the polls close in
Michigan and Arizona.
In our number-one story - the GOP primary race. Specifically, the battle between Romney and Santorum, widely described this week as a knife fight. One might add that it might have been a knife fight with each guy holding the blade and not the handle.
Rick Santorum, this week, continues to fight a culture war - taking issue not only with all forms of higher education, but also with the 1960 John F. Kennedy speech about the separation between church and state, which Santorum claims made him almost throw up, off which he tried to back today.
Mitt Romney, however, has not been so quick to engage in that fight, refusing to even question Santorum on those comments. Instead, the former governor of Massachusetts, in between false eyewitness memories of events that either didn't happen - like the day he voted against Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and Tip O'Neill - or happened before he was born - like the Detroit Auto Jubilee he thinks he attended nine months before his own birth - he has worked to redirect the conversation to the economy, which he considers his strength.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I'm going to go to work to get our economy going again with good jobs and rising income. That's what this is about.
OLBERMANN: Joining me now, the host of the nationally-syndicated radio show "Ring of Fire" as well as the web-radio program "The Majority Report," Sam Seder. Good to see you, Sam.
SAM SEDER: Nice to see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We were talking before we started here about what constitutes a win for Romney - and we'll get how the exit polls affect that - but just on the basic of it, what do you think - what is a win and what is a non-win win for Romney?
SEDER: You know, I think it's really hard for him to win now, even if he wins. I mean, I think he has to win at least - Steve Kornacki said five or six points - I think maybe even a little bit more because, you have got to remember, Santorum is up in Ohio in the polls. He is beating Romney, at least, in Georgia, a second to Newt Gingrich. He's up in Tennessee. I mean, these are the biggest electoral states coming up, so - and Romney should be - basically, there should have been no contest in Michigan, and there is obviously a contest.
OLBERMANN: As we look at some of those exit polls - and obviously, the accuracy of these is always slightly questioned - but they give you good feel of direction at least. It doesn't seem like this was a really extremist, one way or another, voting group in Michigan because if you have - you really have nearly 40 percent evangelicals. You also had 30 percent people independents and 10 percent who identified as Democrats, and then, at the extremes, one in seven said they wanted the true conservative and one-third considered electability as the primary number. That's a huge middle ground of people who were just, I guess, assessing the two candidates.
SEDER: Well, I mean, it is sort of hard to say who is the true conservative in this, and it's really hard to say which one of them could win at this point.
I mean, there was a time where people thought Romney was the guy who was going to beat Obama. Nobody seems to believe that anymore, and Santorum was never considered one of those hardcore, true conservatives. He's always been more of, like, a social-movement conservative guy but a big spender, sort of a George Bush conservative.
So that's the problem. There is no constituency. Neither one of those guys represents either one of those constituencies.
OLBERMANN: However, when they asked the voters in the exit poll who was, in fact, more electable, nearly 50 - a little over 50 percent - said Romney was the electability choice over Obama, and about 25 percent said Santorum. So again, the closer this gets, the more it says that on these core points about Romney, Michigan isn't buying them, any of them.
SEDER: Well, that's one of the biggest problems, I think, that Romney has now - is that, originally, his big sales pitch is "that I can beat Obama," and there's less and less Republicans who are starting to believe that, and, you know, he's got to walk this tightrope because, on one hand, he's got to convince the conservative base of the Republican party, which don't buy into him.
On the other hand, he has to maintain his integrity in the general election, which he's had a hard time doing. He's lost 10, 12 points with independents over the past six weeks, and so he's got to sort of stop that hemorrhaging, but at the same time protect his right flank, and that's - he's walking a tightrope, and he's not doing very well.
OLBERMANN: How much - we hear so much - and obviously, those of us on the left have been watching this and just laughing our backsides off -
OLBERMANN: But how much of this presumed damage to the eventual nominee is legit? Ed Rollins says, "It's a an effing mess." Haley Barbour says, "It's taking attention away from fighting Obama." The governor of Maine, Paul LePage, said, "Let's pick a fresh face at the convention." Possibly Doug E. Fresh or "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," but weren't we all saying exactly these things about the Democratic race in 2008, four years ago this day probably?
SEDER: You know what, I don't think so. I don't think so because I think there was - I think the concern four years ago was that there was going to be such acrimony between the people who supported Obama and the people who supported Clinton that they'd never come together. That is usually a surmountable problem.
The problem I think that Romney has, if he's the eventual nominee, is that he's actually been, like, hurt empirically with independents because he's had to change his positions and move so far to the right on things like immigration, on things like the economy, on taxes, and so I think he's actually damaged goods for the general election, and I think you're seeing that reflected within the Republican base.
They're looking at him and don't see him as the guy who could definitely beat Obama like they did six months ago.
OLBERMANN: Going into this, Gingrich and the other fellow - what was his name again? - Ron Paul, at 23 percent in the polling and had - in the first 13 percent, 14 percent of vote tonight - had, between them, 18 percent.
Sounds like they're irrelevant and trivia, but with something this tight, they're vital. Do you see either of them dropping out? I mean, Gingrich just got another $10 million from Sheldon Adelson, and Ron Paul might as well be wearing an 11th-century visor over his head, saying "I'm on a crusade." What happens if they stay in and don't get out - at what point is their endorsement irrelevant?
SEDER: Well, I think Paul will make it all the way to the convention, and I think because he has a very sort of - maybe a little bit static, but he has a base of support. He is going to go in there with some very enthusiastic supporters, and I think he's looking for a good speech - speaking spot or maybe something for Rand, but Gingrich is another - he's got good numbers in Georgia. He's got a lot of books to sell. He's got some problems right now with the election commission in terms of how he's been spending his money.
SEDER: I mean, he's basically been - this has been his, sort of like, his job, in a way, and it's been his way of selling some books, and I think he'll stay in as long as he still has books that are in the boxes in his garage.
OLBERMANN: Well, they're still in there tonight. Sam Seder, of "The Majority Report," thank you for coming in. Good to see you, sir.
SEDER: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: All right, that's "Countdown." I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.