Tuesday, March 6, 2012

'Countdown: Super Tuesday' coverage for Tuesday, March 6th, 2012
video 'podcast': part 1, part 2, part 3


In studio: Eliot Spitzer

# First hour: David Shuster, Nia-Malika Henderson, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Heather McGee

# Second hour: Craig Crawford, Ted Strickland

# Third hour: Amanda Becker, Ryan Grim, Sam Seder


Excerpts via Current.com:

* Eliot Spitzer analyzes what's next for Romney and Santorum after Super Tuesday
* Craig Crawford calls GOP Party 'an orphanage with no grown-ups,' looks toward brokered convention
* Sam Seder says no savior coming to rescue Republicans at the convention


printable PDF transcript

On the show: , , , , , ,

KEITH OLBERMANN: Super Tuesday.

(Excerpt from video clip) RICK SANTORUM: We're winning. Whether we end up with the most votes or not, we're winning.

(Excerpt from video clip) MITT ROMNEY: We're in a great campaign. I need your help. I want you guys to come together.

(Excerpt from video clip) NEWT GINGRICH: We're gonna carry Georgia by a big margin tonight and we're gonna do much better than people expected in a number of other states.

(Excerpt from video clip) RON PAUL: It looks like we're gonna have a good time today.

OLBERMANN: And yet, the Republicans are partially overshadowed by a pitch man and a presidential news conference.

(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: Just from a political perspective, do you think - do you think the president of the United States, going into re-election, wants gas prices to go up higher? Is that - is that - is there anybody here who thinks that's - that makes a lot of sense?

OLBERMANN: Speaking of not making sense.

(Excerpt from video clip) RUSH LIMBAUGH: When I slip up, like I did, and talk like a Democrat, you know that I don't really think that.

OLBERMANN: Four hundred nineteen delegates. Polls closed already in Ohio, in Georgia, in Vermont, in Virginia, in Massachusetts, in Oklahoma, in Tennessee. Caucuses over in North Dakota and shortly to be such in Wyoming, Idaho and Alaska.

This is "Countdown's" coverage of Super Tuesday, with Eliot Spitzer in New York, David Shuster at the state house in Columbus, Ohio, Nia-Malika Henderson at Santorum headquarters in Steubenville, Craig Crawford on the south, Representative Carolyn Maloney on the Limbaugh controversy, Heather McGhee on the economy and the Republicans.

(Excerpt from video clip) ANN ROMNEY: And I don't even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing.

OLBERMANN: Is anybody else as tired of this as I am?

(Excerpt from video clip) BARBARA BUSH: I think this is the worst campaign I've ever seen in my life. I - I just hate it. I think the rest of the world is looking at us and thinking, "What are you doing?"

OLBERMANN: Well, I must confess, I didn't expect that.

(TITLE SEQUENCE)

OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Tuesday, March 6th, 246 days until the 2012 presidential election and it's Super Tuesday. "Super" is used here as a term of size, not quality - quantity, not quality. For, in this supposedly decisive - or near-decisive - primary night of the Republican presidential campaign, the ex-senator who will either win, or finish second in the key state of Ohio somehow neglected to get his delegates submitted in nine of that's state's districts, which could cost him as many as 18 delegates, even if he wins the state.

That same candidate, and the former speaker of the House who had once been the front-runner, didn't even manage to get on the ballot in Virginia, which is especially startling because they both now live in Virginia.

This is not to leave out the former governor who could pad his delegate lead by 100 or 120 tonight, or fall crushingly on his face in Ohio. In the last 48 hours he has, finally, focused almost entirely on the economy, just as the economy has perked up and three days in advance of what could be even more startlingly good news about unemployment. All of this transpiring against a backdrop which might tell us more about the current state of the American political scene than any vote or speech or insight tonight.

Ordinarily, a sitting President wouldn't get caught within a mile of a microphone on the other side's biggest primary night. One man must invariably suffer, to some degree, in comparison to an entire field of candidates, which - despite all fractures and fissures - have supporters who amount to 100 percent of the opposition. Yet today, the president not only did not make himself scarce, he held a news conference about everything from the price of a gallon of gas to the chance of a war. It was the kind of bravura performance that only a man confident - at least in his belief that his chances of looking bigger than the rest of them combined was 100 percent - would have.

We're going to have three calls already for you, as we start the 8:00 hour here on the east coast. We'll go to Georgia first, where, as expected, Newt Gingrich - who said he had to win Georgia or he lost all credibility - has already been predicted as the winner of Georgia, which has 76 delegates in its proportional format. So, how big he wins will make a difference. And, as you see - at this point, he has a margin there of about three or four percent.

In Virginia, the first of them to be called - if Mitt Romney had not won Virginia, it would have been time to pack up, go home and leave the country because, as I mentioned, only he and Ron Paul were eligible in that race. So, Virginia is called in advance for Romney.

And Vermont, which has a hybrid delegate - proportional and some state delegates - has already been called. Not a big surprise. Romney almost in home turf there, handling that one pretty clearly. Seventeen delegates at stake in Vermont.

I'll be joined throughout our three hours here by the former governor of the state of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who's with me now. It's good to see you, sir.

ELIOT SPITZER: Pleasure to be here, thank you.

OLBERMANN: All right, so no surprises whatsoever but I'm wondering if Barbara Bush and I are the only people who are just sort of hitting a wall on this whole process? Is there some sense of primary weariness at this point?

SPITZER: Keith, can I say this? No surprise you're weary of the Republicans, but that statement by Barbara Bush - shocking because it captures - for centrist, reasoned people - the sense of antipathy that's building up towards the entirety of what we're hearing from the Republican primary side. It's angry, it's ugly, it's anti-science, it's anti-women. There's nothing affirmative. Nothing to make you want to support them, even if you believe in them. It's just been horrendous to watch.

OLBERMANN: And we have some early exit polls from the various states. This is the ABC compilation. In Ohio, 40 percent said electability was the first issue and that one is - the polls closed at 7:30. They're still saying that's too close to call. But the key issue in Ohio was the economy.

In Tennessee, the religion of the candidate mattered to two thirds of the voters but 40 percent said electability was the primary reason they voted.

In Georgia, we don't have a number on electability as primary and other details, but Gingrich was the one who scored highest on who could defeat Obama in the fall, so even in the clich├ęs, here - Romney's about the economy, Santorum is about the ultraconservatives, Gingrich has some sort of anger quality to him but Romney is also carrying that - that mantle of electability. These don't - these things don't even seem to - to hold from region to region.

SPITZER: There is to no cohesiveness within the Republican party and I've seen it through a prism of three different parties. One - the Libertarian, where, of course, you have Ron Paul, sort of out there in la-la land, in my view, but the Libertarian piece of the party is there and big.

You have the theological part of the party, which is Santorum and Gingrich. They share that space where they talk about values and religion incessantly.

And then you've got the traditional corporate piece of the party, which is Mitt Romney. He's looking for that larger base, hoping to bring the other two strands of the party together to weave it into one argument. Hasn't happened yet. Maybe it will happen if - you know, every week, we've - saying, "Now is the moment - Mitt Romney kind of becomes the nominee." Hasn't happened and I think those three pieces are fundamentally - they don't go together and that's the Romney problem.

OLBERMANN: As we get word that now Massachusetts has been called by several networks and other news organizations for, surprisingly enough, Mitt Romney, who was once the governor there - that would have also been a tremendous embarrassment if he had not won there and had not won in a two-man race in Virginia.

Is there - is there something to be said, as I suggested in the opening of the show, that under ordinary circumstances, if it was a Republican president and a Democratic Super Tuesday or vice versa as it is now, the president hides because he can't possibly - even if he looks better than every one of the individual candidates, he can't look belter than all of them and the anger and dislike that they represent. And - and President Obama came out of - out - not only saw his shadow but also knocked down everybody - and several reporters are in the hospital tonight?

SPITZER: Well look, I thought it was a great performance. I watched it. He was at ease, he was fluent, he gave the right answers and they're reasoned.

That's why, I think, back in the White House, they must have said, "Why cede another few days to the Republicans where their message - incoherent and inconsistent as it may be - just is spread out for the public? Let us take back the mantle and let people see the contrast." He was brilliant.

OLBERMANN: Right. But just to say, "I can take all of you on here, with one hand tied behind my back and then I'm gonna go home and watch a basketball game," is probably -

SPITZER: He was saying, "I'm in a different weight class. You guys are fighting up five weight classes when you step into the ring for me. You're in the -" you know, mixed bad metaphors, "You're playing Double A. I'm in the Major Leagues, here."

OLBERMANN: Yes. And basketball and boxing also worked in there. All right, Eliot, stand by, we're gonna go out to - to Columbus, Ohio and our correspondent David Shuster. The key battleground state. In many views, this is basically the whole ball of wax, at least for Super Tuesday. Anything - anything new, David? Obviously, it hasn't been called yet but the polls are closed.

DAVID SHUSTER: Well, the only thing new is, Keith, is that - I mean, the Romney campaign is already sort of spinning that this is - this evening is all about math and they believe that Ohio is the one that will essentially bury Rick Santorum, even if it's not the argument - the media argument about who's got momentum but purely about the delegate count. In part because of the reasons that you mentioned earlier - Rick Santorum having problems in nine congressional districts, here, possibly 18 delegates that he will not get.

But even taking those off the table - and again, Romney would not be entitled to those - but even taking that off the table, the Romney campaign is flat-out very confident, Keith, that they're gonna win Ohio. They like - they like the exit polling information that has come out so far. They like the demographics. They're liking the turnout. They're liking the breakdown of Catholic voters - the fact that more Catholic voters preferred Mitt Romney than preferred Rick Santorum.

And they even like the fact that, in terms of empathy - the empathy question - that Mitt Romney did exceedingly high, in terms of who best understands your typical American economic problems - Rick Santorum was ahead of him but the fact that - Mitt Romney was able to make it that close has the Romney campaign extremely confident here in Ohio and - and again, too close to call but - but they liked every indication that they're seeing.

OLBERMANN: Two things, I want to follow up with you on. Number one - also in those exit polls - three out of 10 voters said they decided in the last few days as to who they were going to go for. Principally, that being a choice among - among Romney and - and Santorum. How do the - do the Romney people care at all about that? Because it would seem to augur poorly for the general election, in terms of excitement on the part of the Republican nominee in Ohio, which is obviously going to be a key state if there is a close election ahead of us. Or is a vote just a vote to them at this point?

SPITZER: I think at this point, it's just a vote. I mean, there was some concern among Romney supporters about him getting caught yesterday saying that he was not for the individual mandate on health care when he was governor of Massachusetts, when there's an op-ed that made the papers here that was dug up by the Santorum campaign and said, "Look, Mitt Romney supported that," and you had leading conservatives flat-out calling Mitt Romney a liar. So, to the extent that people walk into the polls today and weren't really sure, maybe that's determinative but again - it didn't get as much attention as it might have, say, a couple of days ago.

And leading up to - to yesterday, when Rick Santorum had this sudden conference call with reporters - tried to shift attention to Mitt Romney being inconsistent or misleading on his own record - prior to that, the narrative was all moving in Romney's direction. All the numbers, all the internal polls were all headed his way. So, is this enough at the very least to turn it back? It may be too late.

OLBERMANN: Obviously, it was pointed out in several places today that one of the reasons that Ohio is so important is that - with 11 states voting or having caucuses tonight - the media can only digest, on the most part, one thing at a time. Therefore, it takes the biggest of the moving objects and focuses on that, so that there is a - there is a win in terms of what your media attention is going to be like if you win Ohio, especially if it's close and you knock Santorum off, as he did previously in Michigan.

But practically speaking, even if there's a big night for Mitt Romney, he's - he's gonna add his - to his lead only by about 100-120 delegates. What does the Romney campaign see, practically, happening even from here, even with the best-case scenario for their candidate tonight?

SPITZER: Practically, Keith - and again, they point to the missteps, not only that Rick Santorum had at not getting his delegates in certain districts here but also Virginia turns out to be - to be huge. I mean, Mitt Romney's best-case scenario - I'm sorry, Mitt's - Mitt Romney's worst-case scenario, according to their own numbers - 146 delegates. That would be a bad night for them if that's all they got.

But when you ask the Rick Santorum campaign, "What's your best-case scenario for these 11 states?" They come up with a plus-135 delegates. In other words, Rick Santorum's best night is still below what the Romney campaign says would be the Romney campaign's worst night. And it gets to the point - the Romney campaign like to - likes to make that they have the organization and the money to grind this out and they're not gonna call on Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich to get out, even if this is a very good night for Mitt Romney. But they believe that they can simply continue to grind this out - continue to enter all the states that are coming with the super PAC money and essentially outspend the opponents and go negative and continue to churn out the votes that they need.

OLBERMANN: Do you know - and I'm sorry to throw this at you like a math quiz - but do you have idea what the final total was, roughly? We heard anywhere from five times to six times outspending on TV advertising by Romney versus the rest of the field in Ohio?

SHUSTER: That's a good question, Keith, and if you add in, say, the Romney campaign with the Romney super PAC, and you combine that number with the Santorum campaign with the Santorum super PAC, it's about four-to-one. Depending on last-minute spending, maybe 3.5 to four million dollars on the Romney side, maybe one million on the Santorum side, give or take a little bit. But about four-to-one.

OLBERMANN: David Shuster at Columbus, at the state house, as the Romney people look ahead towards what they think is going to be a close but influential victory there. Thank you, David, we'll get back to you as the hours continue tonight.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Governor, let me ask you this about what we saw in Michigan and what we may be seeing in Ohio -

SPITZER: Right.

OLBERMANN: Within a fortnight of each vote, Rick Santorum was significantly ahead. Rick Santorum has a lot of flaws as candidate. They've just, today, come out with an interview from 1993 in which he said he thought government should have a productive and proactive role in shaping the health-care mandate.

SPITZER: Right.

OLBERMANN: Which seems to be in complete contrast -

SPITZER: Somewhat contradictory.

OLBERMANN: Unless he got hit by lightning between now and then.

SPITZER: Right.

OLBERMANN: But having said that, it's not just Rick Santorum booting things and losing a 10-, 12-, 15-point lead in each of these states. He's been bought out of the game. Some people have called this presidential election an auction. Is that a fair term? Are we seeing that every week that this Republican process goes ahead, particularly?

SPITZER: Let me put it this way - certainly, it is going to go to the biggest spender. Mitt Romney has outspent, he has out-organized and he has been better at negative campaigning than the rest of the field put together. Now, is it clear that that is why he is necessarily winning? I think it's certainly one of the reasons. I would point to the other one that you alluded to earlier in the numbers - electability.

OLBERMANN: Right.

SPITZER: Through all of this - and maybe this is because of the ads - he has driven home the message, through many different venues, that he is the one who has a real shot in November. Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, clearly more fringe in their appeal. Rick Santorum even making the point himself, with all of his focus on the social statements. He solidifies a base, but it's a narrow base.

That's why I think it's a combination of the money and the persuasive case of that electability that really coalesces to bring Mitt Romney right to the top.

OLBERMANN: Forty percent in Ohio say that was the most important issue and that was the lead of the issues on who they chose in Ohio in the exit polls. Forty percent in Tennessee, where an issue such as religion is on a totally different map and - as we were discussing before - the various constituencies here that they're trying to stitch together, there is that one consideration that seems to be paramount and that is to Rick Santorum's deficit no matter where you look, apparently.

We're going to see how that plays in the Santorum camp. We are going to their headquarters in Ohio, but first we're going to take a break. This is "Countdown's" coverage of Super Tuesday.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Four down, seven to go at least in terms of forecast tonight. Georgia called early for Newt Gingrich, no surprise. Winning by almost a 60/40 split there. Virginia to Romney. Now Massachusetts, as we said before, was called for Romney, which - again, no surprise. Only Fox, among news organizations making predictions at this point so far, has taken Oklahoma for Santorum.

But we have three formally down, four possibly down and the split as you see is Gingrich, Romney two and Santorum one.

Now, let's go out to Santorum headquarters. Washington Post national political reporter and "Countdown" contributor Nia-Malika Henderson has been covering that campaign, joins us now from Steubenville High School, in Steubenville, Ohio, where former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum will be staging his election rally tonight. Nia, good evening.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Good evening, Keith. It's great to be here.

OLBERMANN: One of your Washington Post colleagues has tweeted that, based on body language and rhetoric, it doesn't look like the Santorum people are optimistic about Ohio. Do you see similar body language from your vantage point?

HENDERSON: Well, I have seen - just over the last 24 hours - a change in tone in terms of this campaign and a lowering of expectations in terms of them thinking they can pull out a victory. Their language has changed. They are really highlighting the fact that they were vastly outspent in this race, and so I think they are going into this evening looking for probably a close second.

But certainly, they aren't thinking that they are going to pull out a victory here, but at the same time, they are saying that they are going to continue in this race. They feel like the Romney campaign is going to start making this about math and they say that if that's his message, it's certainly not a very inspirational one.

OLBERMANN: Early on in this thing, with only one percent officially recorded thus far, it was a three percent lead by Romney over Santorum. Some of the other operations have gone out into the seven percent reporting stage, and the lead becoming more like six percent. What happens to, say, Rick Santorum if this is not a close second place, if there is no longer not only a chance for a victory, but no longer a close second in the cards?

HENDERSON: Well, as I said, their campaign says they will continue on. They've got trips planned to Kansas and to Mississippi over these next couple of days, but I think one of the things that it does do is - if they aren't a close second, if they fall behind in this race - it really takes away one of their fundamental arguments about their campaign, and that is that they are in the position to really win these big swing states, because of Rick Santorum's appeal to blue-collar workers.

So, if you have a situation where Romney is able to come in and beat Santorum in what is, in some ways, a home state - this is a neighboring state to Pennsylvania, you've got a lot of supporters in this crowd behind me that are actually from Pennsylvania - so you're going to see a real, I think dent to in a main argument that he's been making.

It will also make it difficult for him to continue the argument, which is that health care makes Romney unelectable. That's a message that he's been honing in on over these last couple of days. So, I think you'll see a campaign that has to retool rhetoric going forward.

OLBERMANN: As I said, particularly in light of this 1993 interview coming out that - in which Santorum, running for Congress - I believe it was in Pennsylvania - said that he thought there should be a proactive role by government - that it shouldn't sit around - to shape the health-care mandate. Specifically, the Republican party shouldn't sit back and watch the health care mandate be shaped without its input.

It seems like there was - it seems as if the late deciders in Ohio who constituted, according to the exit polls, 30 percent of those who voted today in the Republican primary probably broke against Santorum. Is there any indication of that? I haven't seen that number split.

HENDERSON: Well, I think in some ways, Santorum has had a very tough couple of days. If you even go back to last week, he made some of those comments about President Obama being a snob. We saw some of the exit polls show here that a lot of the voters who turned out were conservative, but they were also upper-income voters. College-educated voters, and those folks probably did break for Romney. And even early voters - looks like Romney had a real lock on those, so Santorum's campaign going into this evening really highlighting this disadvantage. They have a money disadvantage against Romney, but also have an organizational disadvantage. And I think - on Super Tuesday when you have ten states on the ballot - his campaign has really been put to the test.

OLBERMANN: But listen to these numbers - just as we ask it, you start talking about it and the exit polls suddenly appear on the breakdowns, the financial breakdowns on who went what way in Ohio. Incomes of $30,000 or less, it was Santorum, but only 35-34 over Romney. Thirty thousand dollars to $50,000, it was Santorum, but only 38-34 over Romney. Fifty thousand dollars to $100,000 - that meat and potatoes district, if you will - Santorum did take that heavily, according to the exits, 43-33. One hundred and up? Romney, 34-33. Two hundred and up? Romney, 54-25 and - I'm presuming they don't have the numbers - but it would have gone worse the higher the incomes, but he didn't kill in the lower numbers, except in that fifty-to-one-hundred-thousand range, so the blue-collar idea might be falling apart for him tonight.

HENDERSON: That's right, and that would be a real blow to his candidacy, I think, because that has been his argument - that he has won in states like Pennsylvania. Of course, let's remember - in 2006, he lost that race by 18 points. So, he has yet to prove that, in this presidential campaign, he can actually win these big states, these blue-collar states where auto industry and coal is heavy.

We saw him, of course, lose in Michigan. He came into this race ahead of Romney, but again - you've got Romney with a juggernaut of a campaign, a juggernaut of a super PAC and they essentially did what they have done to every other candidate in this race, and that is get to the right on some issues. They got to the right of Perry on immigration, they got to the right of Newt Gingrich on the mortgage crisis, and here you saw them get to the right on Santorum on a whole host of issues - raising the debt ceiling, No Child Left Behind. You couldn't turn on a television set here in Ohio without seeing ads from the Romney super PAC.

OLBERMANN: Nia, can you explain, lastly - I mean, it might not make that much of a difference if he doesn't finish close second - but can you explain not getting your delegates in, in nine different districts and the possibility that that could it cost Santorum up to 18 delegates, even if he had done very well in the vote?

HENDERSON: Yeah, running for president isn't like, you know, opening up a lemonade stand on the street corner. It's very difficult, and we saw Santorum, early on, just didn't have that organization. He didn't have a lot of infrastructure. He didn't have a lot of aides to do those sorts of things for him. And he's come out and said that's the reason why he ended up not being on some of these ballots. That he - he didn't have a real campaign apparatus, and that certainly will cost him tonight, as you said, up to 18 delegates. He just ceded right away as this thing was opening up. So again, that hurts him.

But that's why Romney has been able to do so well. A) he's been running for president for six years. He's done it before, he knows what to do and he's just got a behemoth of an organization. You've seen Santorum talk about that - talk about himself as a David and Romney as a Goliath.

And tonight, I think we're going to really see a strong Romney and tomorrow he's going to start making that case, him and his aides, that his candidacy is inevitable and that this is a delegate race, at this point, that Santorum just can't make up the difference.

OLBERMANN: Nia-Malika Henderson, as - it's been attributed to a lot of people, but I think it was Woody Allen - was the actual man who said the quote, "Ninety percent of life is showing up." It certainly is when it comes to the issue of electability, and you're not on the ballot in Virginia and you're not on the ballot, essentially, in nine districts in the swing state of Ohio.

Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post, and "Countdown," at Steubenville High School, the Santorum headquarters in Ohio. Great thanks. We'll check back with you later, Nia. Thank you.

HENDERSON: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right - all this, of course, tonight on Super Tuesday, is playing out against other issues.

We talked about the president's news conference before, and of course, we have the continuing Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke - excuse me, Fluke, I want to get the pronunciation correct - controversy. We can do at least that for the poor woman.

It is now a total of - correct me if the numbers changed since we last discussed this - 33 advertisers who bailed out. Thirty-five, it's up to 35! Do I hear 36? Thirty-five advertisers have now bailed out on Rush Limbaugh's show. He was forced into a kind of apology, which - for him, of course - was the equivalent of a tsunami in terms of his personal life and his approach towards his broadcasting career. Two of his stations have canceled - dropped in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and his affiliate in Hawaii - and this thing doesn't seem to be going away at any point in the near future.

And we're going to see if it has, in fact, some impact - if not on the Republican primary, but on the entire view of the Republican party and how the candidates have not responded or responded to what's been happening here - and this, of course, being somewhat symbolic of this GOP war on women.

To discuss that, I'm joined now by Representative Carolyn Maloney, the Democrat from New York's 14th district. Congresswoman, thanks for your time tonight.

CAROLYN MALONEY: Thank you. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: What does it - what does it say, in fact, in terms - this whole controversy - in terms of the GOP primary field and in terms of how all the candidates responded or did not respond to what happened to Miss Fluke?

MALONEY: Well - I think, Keith, we could be looking at another year of the woman, where women voters are going to be energized and will come out to vote that they don't want a candidate who wants to turn around the 20th century.

OLBERMANN: It's - it's as if, I mean, I've said this a couple of times, it looked to me that the Susan B. Komen/Planned Parenthood funding disaster - and it has to be viewed in those terms, from the point of view of the Komen people and those who have been against Planned Parenthood, because they couldn't have staged something to benefit Planned Parenthood any better if they deliberately tried to - I thought that was the tipping point, in terms of the awareness of women who, perhaps, were not politically charged up or not politically one way or the other in terms of defending women's rights, and particularly health-care rights, and particularly reproductive rights. But, maybe if that was simply the - the forerunner to this entire Limbaugh controversy, is there a way to tell which is more influential?

MALONEY: I agree. It's the combination. It was not only the Susan B. Komen, but also the effort to defund Planned Parenthood completely, and that passed the United States House of Representatives. It would have cut off funding and health care for three million American women a day that get their primary health services from Planned Parenthood. Then you combine it with all these ballot initiatives and other initiatives that states are taking - votes in the United States Senate trying to roll back women's access to contraceptives - it's a - a combination of the war on women and women are listening, and like the a - the sponsors of Mr. Rush Limbaugh's programs, they're voting with their feet and their disgust with this type of anti-woman anti-respect. It was not only disrespectful to Sandra, but to women in general.

OLBERMANN: If you were viewing this purely from a - sorry to use the word "amoral" in connection with politics - but you were viewing at it from an amoral, political point of view, a purely strategic thing. At what point - if it didn't matter to you - at what point would you abandon the attack on women's rights to defend Sandra Fluke, who has clearly been viewed by a majority in this country as a - not just a victim here, but essentially an innocent bystander, who was swept into this extraordinary set of circumstances by venturing - putting one little toe in the national dialogue pool and being sort of yanked into the deep end of it.

I - would you - even if you were somehow running for president on a Republican campaign - at some point, wouldn't you punt on this when you saw just how - no matter how fiercely your supporters believed that it's time to roll things back and make this country 1951 again - wouldn't, at some point, it dawn on you that you could probably salvage something for yourself and your campaign by not doing what all the other Republicans are doing?

MALONEY: I agree. I don't agree with them to begin with. I think women's rights should be respected and - and honored and - and, certainly, a woman's right to choose and, certainly, a woman's right to contraceptives and as you know, Keith, women - 99 percent of women use contraceptives at some time in their life to space and time their children. It's used for many other health benefits, it's part of women's health care. So, it's an attack, not only on women's rights, but on women's health.

And women see this - and it's not only this attack, it's a combination of many attacks against women. I think it's wrong, they shouldn't try to do it in the first place, but they have certainly showed their colors on this - denying a young woman who was the Democratic choice to testify. Usually, Keith, who the Democrats suggest is, you know, is - is the witness. Here, they tried to say she was unqualified. I would venture to say that any woman is more qualified to talk about women's health care than any man.

OLBERMANN: Particularly the one we're talking about. Let me ask you that last question, in terms of medicine - it's not necessarily in terms of the Super Tuesday or the primary in general - so many - so many things have been said about so many people in the political world and some people are louder than others and have larger platforms, and some controversies involved things saying - people saying extraordinarily mean-spirited things about others in this political world. It's been true for 20 years, I don't think it's going to change tomorrow, maybe it will change 20 years from now. Why has this one stuck, to the point where it's caused 35 advertisers to run for the hills from the most successful radio show going?

MALONEY: Because there was great clarity. Number one, he did not apologize. He just said he used two inappropriate words. I did not hear him say, "I'm sorry." I did not hear him retract or apologize for all - the whole host of other derogatory, vile statements that he made. I'm not going to repeat them. People can go to the Internet and see them.

And it's not just a attack on women's health, it's an attack on whether or not you respect women. So I applaud the 32 - and growing - sponsors that have voted with their feet and showed with their steps and actions that they respect women. They find it inappropriate to have attacked Sandra or any woman and to have had this - this tirade that he put forward attacking women. But then you combine it with everything else that's happening: steps to defund Planned Parenthood, Susan B. Komen cutting their aid - it was for breast cancer screening, for goodness' sakes!- that saves lives, and all these ballot initiatives and other areas that they're trying to roll back the time clock to a different century.

And women see this, and it is clear and I think that they're responding - not just to "Where are the women," not just to Sandra's fine testimony that we finally had at a Democratic-sponsored hearing - but to the whole combination of efforts that they have put out there to really attack women, the so-called "war on women."

And I keep on my website a - a list of all the actions that have passed the House of Representatives chipping away at a woman's right to choose. I'm going to have to start a scorecard on why - how they're trying to chip away at a woman's right to access health care through insurance and contraceptives and any other way that a woman feels she can protect her health for her children and for her family and for herself.

OLBERMANN: I'd advise - add bandwidth to your site if you're going to do that. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of the New York 14th. Great thanks for your time tonight.

MALONEY: Thank you. Thank you for speaking up for women.

OLBERMANN: My pleasure and my duty.

The expectation is now that Newt Gingrich - having won Georgia and, perhaps, not going to do anything else of note tonight - is going to speak at some point to try to claim the stage.

There's no longer any etiquette in terms of who is going to speak first. You try to speak when there's something good to say rather than "I won one and lost 10," which could be Newt Gingrich's claim at the end of the evening.

So, we're going to take another break now and resume "Countdown's" coverage of Super Tuesday after this.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Tennessee has now been called. Five down and six to go. Tennessee has been called by NBC, CBS, and Fox. And for Rick Santorum. The early returns from Tennessee give Santorum a practical, hard count lead of somewhere in the 10 to 15 percent range. It could be an important victory for Rick Santorum tonight, especially the way things seem to be going in Ohio against him. It would be 55 delegates at stake there. It's proportional, so the bigger you win, the more you're going to get.

Let's just wrap this up again, what we know so far. Georgia to Gingrich, not a surprise. Virginia to Romney, also not a surprise - given that Gingrich and Santorum were not eligible, because they didn't get their forms in on time.

Newt Gingrich is now making his way toward his headquarters in Atlanta. And again, we raised the possibility that he's choosing to speak now because the news for the rest of the night is not going to go that well for him.

As indicated, Oklahoma is gone for Santorum. Forty delegates there. Also proportional representation, in terms of the delegate allotment. And now Tennessee. So, Santorum claims two states - and, obviously, not every state is created equal in terms of its delegates - but, Santorum claims two, Romney claims two and is apparently leading fairly substantially in Ohio, in the big one of the night.

But Georgia is Newt Gingrich's and he had said that if he did not win - in, perhaps, the only blunt statement of the campaign - he said if he did not win Georgia his credibility would be shot as a candidate. He didn't go as much as to say he would definitely drop out if he did not win in Georgia, but it was all but certain that he would do so and he would have to do so, because no matter how much money Sheldon Adelson had, even a man running such a campaign - financing such a campaign - with a history as a gambling-house operator is not willing to bet on a losing proposition.

No segue intended here, let's listen to Callista Gingrich. Will the latest Mrs. Gingrich sign in, please?

(Excerpt from video clip) CALLISTA GINGRICH: And throughout the state of Georgia. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You have made this evening possible and we are very grateful. We have truly enjoyed being back in Georgia throughout this campaign and are humbled by your overwhelming support and prayers. Thank you.

Newt and I are engaged in this race because we believe America is at a crossroads and we care deeply about the future of our country. There are only a few months left before the most important election in our lifetimes. Our only opponent is Barack Obama, and we are committed to removing him from the White House.

This campaign is far from over and tomorrow will bring another chapter in the race for the nomination.

Newt is the only candidate with the experience and knowledge necessary to rebuild the America we love. He has a successful national record of creating jobs, balancing the budget, and reforming the government.

Today, we need a leader with bold solutions to create a better future for all Americans. I believe that leader is my husband. Please welcome former speaker of the House and the next president of the United States, Newt Gingrich!

(Excerpt from video clip) NEWT GINGRICH: You know, this is amazing. I hope the analysts in Washington and New York, who spent June and July explaining our campaign was dead, will watch this tonight and learn a little bit from this crowd and from this place. We survived the national elite's effort to kill us in the summer because of you, because of people who said, "We are not going to allow the elite to decide who we are allowed to nominate."

And so, with your help, thousand and thousands of people came to Newt.org and, with your help, we survived the two most difficult months of a career which goes back to August of 1958. And June and July were really hard and it was precisely hard because the national elite, especially in the Republican party, had decided that a Gingrich presidency was so frightening that they had to kill it early. But you, you wouldn't let them do it.

So, with your help - and the power of large solutions and big ideas and clear communications in the debates - by December, according to Gallup, I was the front-runner by 15 points, and according to Rasmussen I was the front runner by 21 points, because you believed in the power of ideas. You believed that people can make a difference, that, in fact, Wall Street money can be beaten by Main Street work.

And of course, at that point, Wall Street money decided that only a relentlessly negative $5 million campaign in Iowa would work, and they did reduce my support from 36 to 14 percent in three weeks of unrelenting negativity.

And, once again, the media said "Oh, I guess this is over, finally." But you all said no. And at the very depths of the establishment rejecting it, thousands of more people came to Newt.org and signed up. And the result was by South Carolina - we won a historic victory, carried 43 out of 46 counties. And it was extraordinary. And I'm pretty sure that tonight, we have a number of the South Carolinians who helped us win. Who were here, who came over to help celebrate this great victory.

And at that point, the forces of Wall Street figured out that they were in real trouble. And, as The New York Times reported later, they held a meeting on Sunday morning after a Saturday night primary and they said, "We have to destroy Gingrich."

One of them was even quoted in The New York Times as saying, "We have to eviscerate him," which I thought was a fairly strong word in a Republican primary. I would expect Obama's people to do that. But I thought it was a tad much, having spent my entire career building the Republican party. And so, they piled on $20 million - in three weeks - of negativity in Florida and we were still standing. We carried all of north Florida.

And interestingly, everywhere we were, when we won, the vote went up. When Wall Street won, the vote went down, which I think is a pretty bad sign for this fall if we end up with a Wall Street candidate. At that point, once again, they began to say, "Well, maybe he's gone."

And then, frankly, Senator Santorum did something very clever. He went to three states nobody else was in, and he won them. And the news media, once again desperate to prove Gingrich is gone, suddenly said "Ah, now we have the person who's going to be the non-Romney."

Now, Callista and I looked at each other. Jackie, and Jimmy, and Kathy, and Paul. My two debate coaches, Maggie and Robert - by the way, I would say for the performance they get out of me - the most underpaid debate coaches in America -

OLBERMANN: Like any other network, we're happy to kill off a lot of time by listening to all the speeches but this seems to get a little circular at some point, because he's explaining that he did really well until he stopped doing really well.

Newt Gingrich is going to win Georgia. Let's look at where he stands elsewhere in the seven races that can be considered closed because the polls have closed already: he's third in Tennessee at the moment, fourth in Vermont. He didn't make the ballot in Virginia. He's fourth in Massachusetts, third in Ohio, third in Oklahoma and third in Tennessee, with Wyoming, Idaho and Alaska - none of them necessarily Newt Gingrich strongholds - yet to come.

The night would finish, presumably, with a record of one win, nine thirds or fourths and a no decision, which is not particularly a strong night and has nothing to do with what the elites think.

We need to also remind you where Mr. Gingrich has stood in terms of what that word "elite" means. In the Gingrich-speak, elite - people who live in apartment buildings and take the subway to work. Not elite - people who have revolving lines of credit at Tiffany's.

I'm back here with Eliot Spitzer, and we just - he said, Governor, that we needed to learn from the crowd and the place -

SPITZER: Yeah.

OLBERMANN: What do we learn from that crowd and that place?

SPITZER: First, I've never heard such self-pity.

OLBERMANN: No.

SPITZER: I've never seen a candidate there trying to claim victory who's just shrouded himself in "the world is against me" and "woe unto me." There's no enthusiasm, nothing upbeat. It's just "Everybody - the media - oh, my goodness, the media -"

First of all, what I learned is that - with super PAC money, the likes of which we've never seen, in your home state - you can still generate a crowd with no enthusiasm, with no applause.

And for all his talk about big ideas, there were no ideas in that speech. It was all just numbers and, "The media this," and angry at everybody else. Newt can deliver a good speech about big ideas, but he's utterly failed to do that, which may be why his campaign is going down in flames.

OLBERMANN: And as much of an advantage as that money provided him in his native state, which he represented in Congress, 30 percent of voters there decided, in the last few days, whether to go with him or not.

SPITZER: Right. Right. Look, he has not touched a nerve in the past couple months in this campaign for the simple reason that he's - every now and then, the ideas of Newt Gingrich do emerge. And that's appealing to some people. Then, the angry Newt Gingrich comes back, and people say, "Ooh, we just don't like that guy." And tonight, we're seeing, I think, the angry Newt Gingrich. It ain't going to sell. He should get that message.

OLBERMANN: Yeah. Also, that warm-up comedian is just dreadful. She just didn't make that room sing. There was a long - couple of pauses there when there should've been laughs or applause.

SPITZER: Absolutely.

OLBERMANN: And she also made, as we were discussing, that on - you never want to say "President Obama," followed by applause and cheers, and she set that up, unfortunately, for their point of view.

In any event, we should be getting more - more decisions. Five of the states have been called. Two for Santorum, two for Romney and that one - Georgia - for Gingrich. We're going to take another break as "Countdown's" continuing coverage of Super Tuesday continues.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Another call of Oklahoma for Santorum, so we have six decided at this point, or at least called by various news organizations. Tennessee to Santorum, Oklahoma to Santorum. Romney in Massachusetts, Romney in Virginia, Romney in Vermont. And Gingrich looking like his only triumph - or even, perhaps, his only second place tonight, will be his victory in Georgia.

I'm joined now by Heather McGhee, "Countdown" contributor and the director of the Washington office for the Nonpartisan Policy Center of Demos. Heather, good to talk to you.

HEATHER McGHEE: Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's talk about this primary thing - no pun intended - of Mitt Romney's campaign, where he's finally kind of thrown everything out and focused on the economy just when it looks like the economy has turned a real corner and there could be some game-deciding, if not game-changing, numbers coming out later this week.

McGHEE: Yeah, really - I think, generally speaking, we've got a number of factors leading into the spring that are going to really change the economic news, the kind of what I like to think of as sort of the "weather-report news," when, you know, people are sitting on their couch and the look at the nightly news.

They're not going to hear the gloom-and-doom numbers that they've been hearing for so long. They're going to hear unemployment ticking down. They're going to hear jobless claims ticking down. They're going to hear some pretty robust new job numbers. We've already seen that consumer confidence is up. Investor confidence is up. The stock market is booming.

So, that really does sort of really lead to people to think, "Okay, maybe the economy is improving."

That said, people are still going to know that their streets are dotted with foreclosures. Right? They're still going to know that college costs are too high. They're also going to see that gas prices are rising. And so, it's still - I think - up to the president to make a strong economic case and to really just continue the work that Newt Gingrich did for us, that we were so grateful for on the left, and really sort of tarring Mitt Romney as part of the one percent.

OLBERMANN: The number in Ohio - in terms of what was most important to them in terms of issues, rather than the electability, moral character kind of thing - economy, 50 percent, budget deficit, 30 percent. Which pretty much says it. It's a different - even though it's a sort of - the possession arrow is obviously the indicator, nationally. Is the economy improving? Is the economy dis-improving? Is it - does that still matter, in a place like Ohio or another manufacturing-centric place like Michigan? Is that enough - the arrow - in which direction the arrow is pointing? Or does it have to be much more tangible before the economy begins to become a plus for the incumbent?

McGHEE: Yeah, I think Ohio is a really interesting tale. First of all, it's the state that - actually, more than any other state - has seen the biggest drop in the typical income at the middle over the past 10 years. This is a state that has lost over half a million jobs over the past 10 years. It's also a state with union density and a little more sophistication, honestly, about the economy because of that, because of the sort of strong role that manufacturing and unions and the sort of popular education that was done.

And I think Ohio voters are a lot more sophisticated because they're a swing state, you know? So, they're used to hearing - getting a lot of attention and being a lot more, sort of, critical of candidates. And so they're not going to just go for the sound bites. And they are not, I think, going to be feeling the same kind of economic winds moving in that voters in other places are going to. Certainly not with their governor, who's trying to cut jobs as much as he can. It's not going to be a good state for the economy in Ohio for the president.

OLBERMANN: What does Governor Kasich's adventures - let's use the kind term for it - suggest in terms of Ohio's Republican lean, that it's had off and on since the late '80s? Certainly, because they've been through hell and back several times. Even when the economy was strong, it wasn't that strong in Ohio. What does that misadventure suggest? Are the Republicans assuming too much about what they'll get out of Ohio in the fall?

McGHEE: Yeah, I think there are two numbers that are really important here.

One is the fact that, actually, in early voting and absentee voting going into this Republican primary in 2012 - with an incredibly unpopular president among Republicans - it's about half as many early and absentee ballots as in 2008 when we were coming out of George Bush, an incredibly unpopular president even among Republicans. It's lower than in 2010. So, I think that they're really having an enthusiasm issue in Ohio among Republicans.

The other piece that's really important to note is that, in Ohio, workers are still going to be smarting from the attack on collective bargaining that reached sort of a - sort of awakened something that is going to be, I think, a populist revival that people in Ohio are going to be able to really resonate with the one percent/99 percent message if, in fact, the president is able to take it up. You're going to see a populist sort of prairie fire in Ohio that may actually reach into independents and Republicans.

OLBERMANN: Heather McGhee of Demos, "Countdown" contributor, great thanks. It's obviously a swing state of critical importance and the critical issue there. Thanks for helping us elaborate on it.

McGHEE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right, so - as we said, we have six down and five to go. I've suddenly - I feel like a game show host saying that. We're going to take another break and then come back and go out to Ohio for the latest from the Romney camp, as Ohio is still undecided, but it is seemingly leaning towards Romney.

David Shuster will report, as "Countdown's" coverage of Super Tuesday continues after this.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: So, here's the question as we begin our second hour of Super Tuesday coverage - is Ohio going to be decided?

And this was where it stood numerically at nine percent of the vote. (Shows graphic of Ohio returns) Eleven percent is in now, and Romney is slightly ahead, again, of Santorum at a very, very close, like, one thousand range.

Is Ohio going to be decided or is Newt Gingrich going to finish talking first? Newt Gingrich is still talking in Atlanta. It's as if he's started that speech yesterday. In any event, as you say - see, there it is. You thought I was making that up. He's still talking and blaming. I think he's blaming us in alphabetical order, and he's just about to mention me.

Enough of that, let's go back out to Columbus, Ohio and the state house there, to check in on Ohio and where things stand with our correspondent David Shuster. Good evening again, David.

SHUSTER: Keith, Good evening to you. Yeah, the Romney campaign is still very confident as the numbers are coming, that they had the sort of organization and turnout today that they wanted.

But an interesting report, Keith, just a few minutes ago, by The Columbus Dispatch here in Columbus - for several days, we've heard a lot of people saying that Franklin County - which represents greater Columbus, the Ohio State University and some of the experts think is the best representative of the state as a whole, in terms of Republican voters - and The Columbus Dispatch is being told, by Republican activists in this particular county, the turnout was extremely low for the sort of election that they had today.

And keep in mind - it's not just the presidential primary, but there are also state and local primaries as well. So, because of that, they figure, you know, there's some hot races, even here in Franklin County, that that would get turnout. But the fact that turnout is low, I think, gets to the point you're making in the last segment, that the longer the primary process seems to go on, even the more sick some Republicans are of this whole thing.

OLBERMANN: And as Heather McGhee said, just before the top of the hour, the absentee advance ballots were way down in comparison to the last two - last three, I guess she said, primaries in Ohio, correct?

SHUSTER: Yeah, the absentee ballots down and again, the number of people showing up at the polls. Everything is much sort of farther down than they thought, but the reason that's still sort of significant and perhaps helpful for the Romney campaign, is that when they look at a race where there's a lot of negatives, they feel, like, "Well, if people are depressed from turning out -" In other words, the negative ads keep people home from the polls. They feel like that benefits them. That it's the Santorum supporters who tend to be a little bit more, sort of, the emotional go-with-the-heart kind of voters. The Romney campaign feels they are much more the machine, and so to the extent that - as the votes start coming in and you start getting these anecdotal reports of low turnout - that's also good sign, at least according to the Romney campaign.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, if the exits say that only one-in-six Ohio voters said that their vote was based on who the true conservative was - presumably, that would mean that Mitt Romney was going to do very well, if that number actually means anything.

SHUSTER: Yeah, that number significant and, Keith, the other one that, again, the Romney campaign will draw a lot of attention to is that - Rick Santorum, in order to win Ohio, he needed to one-up the numbers among blue-collar voters.

And so, for several days, we heard Rick Santorum talking about manufacturing, restoring of the Steel Belt. Well, according to the exit polls that came in, Rick Santorum beat Romney among blue-collar voters, but again the margin was very, very tight. Romney exceeded expectations within that category, just as he exceeded them among the empathy - economic empathy. Romney did a lot better than even the Santorum campaign thought that he would. So those - sort of, Romney-exceeding expectations in a couple of areas where Santorum really needed to roll up the numbers, would suggest, to your point, that Romney is feeling very confident and should feel very confident about the way Ohio's going to go.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, those numbers deserve mentioning again, and it's a lot of numbers to throw at you, but it does underscore something - that one of the things Santorum thought he was going to get in large numbers did not come through. The income range - $50,000 to $100,000 - he won that one, clearly, over Santorum, according to the exit polls. Forty-three over Romney - excuse me, Santorum 43, Romney 33. But in the $30,000-to-$50,000 incomes, it's Santorum 38, Romney 34, and in incomes under $30,000, it's only Santorum 35, Romney 34. Where did Romney's support among the ultra-blue, if you will, the very blue-collar worker come from?

SHUSTER: It's not clear, Keith. In part, maybe, you know, the Romney campaign will tell you, "Well, that's sort of the organization that they still were able to put ads up in some of these suburbs and areas where they thought, you know - that Romney was - where they thought Santorum would win but if they can keep it close in some of these congressional districts, maybe the Romney campaign is able to peel off a couple of delegates here and there.

But the other number that both campaigns will sort of point you to - and that is the issue of economic empathy. When voters were asked, "Who do you believe is more is more, sort of, in touch with your economic problems?" Santorum was expected to widely win that. He only got one out of three. Romney got to one out of four. In other words, the margin between them was a lot closer than a lot of people had expected in Ohio.

The fact that Mitt Romney, with all the mistakes that he's made - with talking about his wife and the Cadillacs, with talking about the amount of money that he's got, and the sort of perception that Romney's certainly out of touch - for him to still get one out of four Republican voters saying, "Mitt Romney is the one I see who cares the most about my economic problems," is a pretty astounding figure.

OLBERMANN: From our friend and "Countdown" contributor Nia-Malika Henderson comes this news - Santorum is set to speak in about four or five minutes, which - read the tea leaves on that fact, David, that he's going - he's choosing to speak now. That seems very unusual.

SHUSTER: I think Santorum, in part, Keith, they - the Santorum campaign wants to try to shape their narrative up tonight and make it clear that he is - you know, because of his wins in Oklahoma and Tennessee and because it's so close in Ohio, even though Santorum will be the first to say that he got outspent 4-1. Santorum wants to make this argument that, as far as the momentum is concerned, that if the Republican establishment were not coalesced behind Mitt Romney and if Newt Gingrich were not in this race, then Rick Santorum might be beating Mitt Romney.

And, in fact, there was a Rick Santorum supporter earlier tonight in Steubenville who was spinning reporters saying, "Look, we're not calling on Newt Gingrich to get out of the race, but you can imagine the seven percent that Gingrich got in Michigan, if we had gotten some of that, we would win." And to the extent that Gingrich is drawing votes in other states that, if they can make this a two-man race, the Santorum campaign is convinced they can win. That's the message they want to get out there before the media says, "Well, wait a second."

You know, if the results are that Mitt Romney wins Ohio, the electoral map gets - the delegate map gets incredibly difficult for Santorum, so before that happens, let's try to bolster the media narrative that this has not been a great night for Mitt Romney.

OLBERMANN: Right. Talk after a win, not after a loss. David Shuster at a state capital in Columbus, Ohio. We'll check back with you later. Thank you, David.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: In the interim until, Santorum takes the podium in Steubenville - joining us now for some analysis of the south, Craig Crawford, the politics blogger, of course, at Craigcrawford.com and the author of "The Politics of Life" and friend of the program for many decades now. Good to talk to you, sir.

CRAIG CRAWFORD: You bet.

OLBERMANN: All right. So, Newt Gingrich has finally left the podium in Atlanta after his filibuster.

CRAWFORD: Oh!

OLBERMANN: His speech only ended about - there was about a 30-minute speech for a guy who won one state and finished third or fourth in at least seven tonight. Analyze the south, particularly why it was not better in, say - in Tennessee, for Newt Gingrich.

CRAWFORD: Well, that's the same run-on sentence he started in 1994, I think. You know, Gingrich, I think, is just up against it anywhere else. It's his - well, his home state, let's recall, is actually Virginia, where he not only wasn't on the ballot but didn't even vote today.

OLBERMANN: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: But at least he won this, and it's enough for him to keep going and scarfing up delegates. I mean, what's important about tonight, to me - other than Ohio - is what we now already know. I believe, if these projections are right, is that Romney - when you look at the very conservative voters, and evangelical voters in the Deep South, going back to South Carolina - he just cannot get the dog to the dog - the dog food to the dog. And their strategy has been to starve the dogs, right, by driving the conservatives out of the race, and it's just not happening.

And where that matters, Keith, going forward - 67 percent of the delegates have not been picked yet after tonight, even. And that means that Romney will have to get 55 percent of the remaining delegates to get to the magic number, and with these two guys still in the race, scarfing up delegates here and there and everywhere, they can't get the nomination. But they can deny him that majority, and that's what's really starting to frighten a lot of Republican leads right now, that this thing goes all the way to June and, already, Sarah Palin - tonight - is saying, again, that she'd be open to a convention draft.

OLBERMANN: Yeah. Well, she's saying that tonight because the premier of "Game Change" on HBO is Saturday night. She wants to say it before people stop remembering how to spell her last name, which might be a result of Saturday night.

But, in containing what you said there, there is an implication. And I think the senator - we didn't hear him come out and say this - but we knew that Newt Gingrich would probably bail out if, for some reason he lost Georgia, which he did not. He won it handily. He's going to win it handily.

But what happens to him going forward? Is this man, Sheldon Adelson - the financier of the casinos in Vegas - going to continue to pour money in here just to keep him in the race even though, as we suggested earlier, in the scoreboard for Newt, everything else tonight is going to be third, fourth or, you know, did not play, coach's decision.

CRAWFORD: Well, you know, he - we've got Deep South states again next week, so he's going to want to play there. But I can tell you, the murmurs here are getting louder and louder among Republican leads, in the party and in the media, that they are seeing the scenario becoming more and more likely, of what I described - where Romney is the big, runaway front-runner but does not get the magic number needed for the nomination and this - and suddenly, they have this meltdown in June where they all try to negotiate something out, and it would just be a mess.

And so, what I think is going to happen is - and I don't know if it will work - is they're going to put a lot of pressure on Georgia - on Gingrich and his sugar daddy and Santorum for that matter, probably, to get them to just shut this down for the party - for the sake of the party. But you know, these guys dislike Romney so much, obviously, that's going to be a very difficult case to make.

OLBERMANN: Well, what on earth could you offer the one you could not offer the other? In other words, wouldn't - I mean, the only thing you could offer one - what? Rick Santorum, Secretary of State? Newt Gingrich, Secretary of Defense? One of them, the vice presidency? What would that argument be from the Romney people, because the one is, "You're hurting the Republican party?" It doesn't seem to be registering with either of them right now.

CRAWFORD: Well, I think what I see happening - the Romney people are actually talking up the scenario, interestingly enough, them not getting the majority and trying to scare a lot of elected officials and congressional leaders and media folks on the conservative Republican side to - for them to start putting the pressure on - the pincer move - on Santorum and Gingrich to get out. I think they know they don't have any kind of relations with any of those guys to make any kind of deals. At this point, that might be part of the back-room stuff.

But I really do think - I mean, I think these elites I'm talking about had been hoping to see Romney do better tonight, maybe win Tennessee. There was a lot of expectation he had a shot at Tennessee. Tennessee has a record of establishment Republicans - moderates - beating social conservatives in their primaries: Lamar Alexander in the Senate, the current governor. They really thought that might be a chance for him, and that would be a big night. He's going to win, probably, 200 delegates tonight, be the runaway there, and that was going to be the signal then, to start putting this pressure on Gingrich and Santorum, but I think it's not as good a night for Romney for that to happen.

OLBERMANN: So, if this an auto race - if this is the Indianapolis 500 - Romney is doing about 60 miles an hour, and he's only winning because the racers behind him are operating on three wheels?

CRAWFORD: Yeah, I mean, one thing we've learned in this campaign is - an organized, well-run, disciplined campaign with a conservative - clear conservative candidate who doesn't frighten the center and the center-right - would have stomped all over Romney in this campaign. I mean, that's what Rick Perry was supposed to be until we learned about his word-retrieval problems. He was the one who was supposed to be that, and it just didn't happen.

And so now, you've got what - The National Review headline today, I thought, was pretty funny. They're sort of throwing in the towel. Their headline was "The Acceptable Man." How's that for a bumper sticker on that race car? That's real sissy - "Mitt Romney, he's acceptable."

OLBERMANN: Wasn't that the first incisive "Saturday Night Live" political joke this past week? Where they had the character playing Mitt Romney saying, "You'll come around to me and you'll go, 'Eh, why not?'" or something to that effect?

CRAWFORD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The Republicans have this phrase, "Republicans in name only," rhinos. If they go with Romney they might as well. That bumper sticker could be "We're all rhinos now."

OLBERMANN: That's right. Can't spell "rhino" without "Romney," can you? I'm just thinking. I guess you can.

Mr. Santorum - or Senator Santorum - is on the podium in Steubenville, and we don't know if he's going to follow the Gingrich method of being introduced with the crowd being warmed down by the missus. That's probably not going to happen. He does his own introduction. There he is. He's not wearing a sweater vest, but there is a sweater vest on the stage. I see it right here. And Rick Santorum, who has won Tennessee - will win Tennessee, for all the projections - is going to take advantage of that opportunity to speak in a triumphant mode.

We're not sure what's going to happen in Ohio, but clearly he's not counting on Ohio being a victory or he wouldn't be speaking at this point.

Here is former Senator Rick Santorum:

(Excerpt from video clip): SANTORUM: Thank you! Well, thank you for coming out, Steubenville, Ohio. God bless you, thank you for being here.

For the folks listening at home, we're in Steubenville, Ohio. Not too many presidential candidates come to Steubenville, Ohio, much less hold their victory party here in Steubenville, Ohio. We're at a high school gymnasium. I just came from our war room, which doubles as the weight room for the high school. Was pumping a little iron to get myself psyched for coming out here. And we just prepared our talk where many talks are prepared for this gym floor, in the coach's room. This is our roots.

You stand here behind me as, well, a part of our family - because this is where we're from. We're from down here, in areas of Southeastern Ohio, West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania, where the folks who worked hard and built this country lived and worked for many, many decades.

I'm particularly excited to be here with my family. When I say my family, I mean not just my family - our immediate family - but my mom, who is right here - this is my mom, Kay, 93! - and Karen's mother and farther, Ken and Betty Lee, right over there, Garver, thank you. I got my brother here and his family, and Karen has, well, several - Karen's one of 11 children. So you can imagine - brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, we've got a great crew back here all behind us, all behind us because this campaign is about the towns that have been left behind and the families that made those towns the greatest towns across this country.

This was a big night tonight. Lots of states. We're going to win a few. We're going to lose a few, but as it looks right now, we're going to get at least a couple of gold medals and a whole passel full of silver medals. We can add to Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, now Oklahoma and Tennessee. We have won in the West, the Midwest and the South, and we're ready to win across this country!

I want to thank, again, my wife. I know that, you know, those who have seen her on the campaign trail, the common refrain is, "More Karen, less Rick." But I'm working on it. I'm trying to get as good as she is at this political stuff, but she has been an amazing partner for me and my conscience, my biggest supporter, my most important, my most honest critic and someone who has kept our family together and continues to do remarkable and incredible things every day, for me and all of us.

Thank you very much, my love.

We have almost all the kids here. We have John, Sarah Maria - where are you? - Patrick, Elizabeth, Peter and Daniel, and they're all wearing buttons for our little Bella. So, we've got everybody here.

OLBERMANN: Before Senator Santorum begins to introduce every member of the audience - we give the man the national time, and this is how he spends it. We're going to take a commercial break, and when we come back, let's find out if he's turned to anything of substance other than the names and addresses of all the cameramen in the building. This is "Countdown's" coverage of Super Tuesday.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Ohio is still too close to call. We're not sure about whether or not Rick Santorum is speaking now, in advance of a decision in Ohio, because he has internal numbers that suggest he's not going to win there or if he is - as Governor Spitzer has suggested during the break - setting himself up with the possibility of coming back later, after this great upset victory that's still foreseeable, if not indicated by any of the numbers at this point, which are too close to call.

We left the senator - When we left the senator, he was still introducing members of his family, some two and three times apiece. Let's rejoin Senator Santorum, already in progress

(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: Not to their business or to their employer or to the community or nonprofit organization in their community. We'll be looking always to those in charge, to those who now say to you that they are the allocator and creator of rights in America.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the beginning of the end of freedom in America. Once the government has control of your life, then they've got you. That's why we decided to step out. As you look at me, Karen and I have seven children ages 20 - ages 20 to three, not exactly the best time to be out running for president of the United States. We've given up our jobs. We're living off our savings. Yeah, we're making a little sacrifice for a very, very big goal, and that is replacing this president in November of this year.

In order to make that happen, the Republican party has to nominate somebody who can talk about the broad vision of what America is. As I talk about it in every one of my speeches, I talk about how important it is that we remember who we are. Ronald Reagan, in his farewell address to the American people, worried about whether America would remember what made us great, that we are not a great country because we have a great and powerful government. We are a great country because we believe that rights don't come from the government but, as our founding document - the Declaration of Independence - says, our rights come to us from our creator.

The government's job in the Constitution of this country was intended to do one thing - protect those rights so each and every one of you would have the opportunity to build their own life, to take your own path, to create a strong family, strong neighborhood, community, states and country. That's what made America great.

We built a great country from the bottom up, and we need people to go up against President Obama and his vision of top-down government control - of not just health care, but of energy and of manufacturing and of financial services and who knows what else is next. But this is a president who believes - who believes that he simply is better able to do this than you are, that he will be fairer than you are with your fellow man.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an election about fundamental liberty, and the signature piece - the signature piece of legislation that points this out, where you have economic rights created by the government and then the government using its heavy hand to force you to buy insurance, to force you to take policies that you don't want, and, of course, to force you to take coverages that may even violate your faith convictions.

OLBERMANN: We're going to interrupt the former Senator Santorum's speech in Steubenville because this ties-in perfectly to a must-read piece that our friend Andy Kroll has up at Mother Jones, which describes a newly-found piece of material on then-candidate Santorum in 1993 on a Pittsburgh television program "The Editors," a public affairs program back when there were such things - hosted by people from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in which he described himself as "pretty compatible with Arlen Specter and the late John Heinz," both moderate Republican senators in Pennsylvania.

On the subject of health care, Senator - or then would-be Congressman - Santorum was calling for more government involvement and Republican proactivity on the subject of government involvement in health care.

"I even said it to President Bush," he said on this program, "when he came to Pittsburgh to campaign for Dick Thornburgh" - who was then running for the U.S. Senate for Pennsylvania in 1991 - "that health care was going to be the big issue, and we had to take responsibility for trying to solve this problem."

Here's the killer quote - Rick Santorum, 1993: "We can't continue to ignore it and say, 'Oh, well, you know, it will work itself out in the marketplace. That's wrong.'"

I'm back with former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, and we've been marveling as we listen to Rick Santorum's speech about what it represents, in terms of his swing in a period of 19 years, and in fact, the Republican party's swing.

SPITZER: The entire spectrum of our political debate has been gone so far right. We forget, Richard Nixon - but for Watergate, but for Vietnam - would be remembered as an incredibly liberal president. He created the EPA. He believed in government intervention to right the wrongs that Rick Santorum, back then, was talking about.

OLBERMANN: In health care, too.

SPITZER: In health care, absolutely. A negative income tax. There was an understanding about how the markets really worked before this sort of crazy infusion of Chicago School libertarian rhetoric that has completely warped the political debate, and now you get a Rick Santorum who somehow has this apocalyptic notion of where the nation is heading and somehow - "Just," he still says - and it's amazing he can believe it after the cataclysm of '08 - "Just leave it to the marketplace, it will all work."

You wonder if they have forgotten recent history, but that's how far we've shifted.

OLBERMANN: "Oh, well, you know, it will work out itself in the marketplace, that's wrong." Now, obviously, people can evolve politically.

SPITZER: Right.

OLBERMANN: There is some implication to what you're saying, that there is a certain opportunism in the Republican shift - perhaps not in his, and we don't want to lay it all on his shoulders, because the other Republican candidates have done this consistently over the last 10 years - but there is kind of a feedback loop going on here where they say more and more outlandishly conservative things that never were reflected in American politics, except on the fringes, and the fringes get louder and louder, because they want to hear it, because it evokes an America that they wished had existed 30 years ago and never did.

SPITZER: Well look, he evokes the imagery and the language of Norman Rockwell, even to the sweater vest - the invocation of being in Steubenville, introducing everybody there. It just feels good until you listen to the words.

The amazing thing is that you see Romney, Gingrich, even Santorum - when they actually had to govern and look at real data and solve real problems, they said things completely different from what they say now that they're just speaking to the tea party and to the fringes who say and carry placards like "Get government out of my Medicare."

I mean, there's such internal consistency, it just drives - makes you want to make you pull your hair out. You say, "stop." But that's what these guys are talking about.

OLBERMANN: Or, in a better mood, you'd want to put a gentle arm around the shoulder and say, "Let me explain to you about where Medicare comes from."

One final thought on this before we go back to Ohio - Richard Nixon imposed price controls.

SPITZER: Yeah.

OLBERMANN: Price controls.

SPITZER: That's right.

OLBERMANN: Remember that?

SPITZER: That's right.

OLBERMANN: What would happen if a Democratic president introduced price controls in a period of hyper inflation or - not hyper inflation, but high inflation?

SPITZER: That's right.

OLBERMANN: It's extraordinary how much it's changed, a great point to make about not just Santorum but the entire political scene.

Let's focus again back on the Ohio political scene.

For more on that GOP race in Ohio, we'll go to the former Democratic governor of the state, Ted Strickland, who is also national co-chair with President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. Governor Strickland, thanks for your time tonight.

TED STRICKLAND: It's great to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Thank you kindly. It's great to have you. What do you think is the key coming out of Ohio tonight - whether Romney or Santorum wins - or some of the numbers we're hearing about lower turnout and these late decisions that seem to be less than enthusiastic on the part of Republican voters?

STRICKLAND: Well, I think they're both losers as far as tonight is concerned in Ohio. I mean, the Ohioans just don't simply like these guys very much. Even the Republicans don't seem to like them very much, and regardless of who emerges as, you know, the ultimate winner by a few hundred or a couple of thousand votes, this election in Ohio today has demonstrated that the Republicans are not enthusiastic about either one of these guys, and that bodes very well for President Obama going into the fall.

I mean, Mitt Romney opposed the auto bailout, as did Santorum. That's really important for Ohio. A lot of people are working in Ohio today because of what the president did in Toledo and in Cleveland, and in Youngstown.

Also, Keith, as you know - we had this anti-worker legislation introduced in Ohio, which Romney supported, and Ohioans turned it back by massive numbers, and we're not going to forget that. We may not have had a permanent realignment in Ohio, but I can tell you that Ohio is a very different state than it was a year and a half ago, and we've got teachers and police officers and firefighters fired up because they know who's on their side. And neither Romney nor Santorum are on the side of working people, and Ohioans know that.

OLBERMANN: Do you think that the idea that the sort of establishment Republican candidate, Romney, in a vote in Ohio in which 40 percent of the Republicans who voted today said electability in the presidential election came first in terms of their priorities, and the issue that meant the most of them was, by a margin of 50 percent, was the economy and 30 percent said the budget deficit - these are people who would, presumably, looking for a solution that would be represented by the guy who was the mainstream choice among the Republicans. That Mitt Romney is in a close race with somebody who's on sort of the fringes, socially and culturally, like Rick Santorum - does that suggest that the backlash against your successor in the governor's chair is playing something of a role in this race?

STRICKLAND: Well, it may be because I have been telling people in Ohio that if you like Governor Jonn Kasich, you're going to love Mitt Romney. They're very similar. They have the Wall Street financial backgrounds, and neither one of them want to release their income tax returns over multiple years. They both are very anti-worker, anti-union in their orientation. They both want to give tax breaks to really rich people while putting a greater tax burden on working families, and so the people of Ohio have had an experience with Governor Casey. They know what that kind of leadership is and what it does, and I think that's going to be a factor come November.

OLBERMANN: Governor Strickland, I can't let you go without asking one question that sort of fills in your other capacity here as one of the national co-chairs for the president's re-election campaign. I thought it was rather extraordinary and, I suggested a couple of times tonight, that a president normally gets out of the way of the biggest one-night event on the opposing party's primary schedule. Not out of any sort of sense of deference, but because - no matter how many people and how fractured the thing may be - there are four candidates with four constituencies running against him, and he winds up comparing himself, one person, to four. I gather that the president's willingness to have a news conference today suggested that thought he could handle all four of these guys at the same time if need be.

STRICKLAND: Well, my understanding is, they even wished that Mitt Romney good luck today, which I think was a gutsy thing to do. It says that this president isn't afraid of any of these guys, because he has a good, strong record providing good, strong leadership for the country while they're fighting amongst themselves regarding contraception and a lot of other things that are on the, you know, on the fringe as far as mainstream American thought is concerned.

So, I think the president's doing well. This is a good night for President Obama. I think Ohioans are demonstrating that they don't really care for the Republican candidates, and I'm looking forward to November.

OLBERMANN: Ohio, too close to call. The former governor of that state, Ted Strickland, and now one of the national co-chairs of the Obama campaign. Thank you kindly for some your time tonight, sir.

STRICKLAND: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Our pleasure.

We're continuing to watch the undecided race, principally in Ohio, in which Mr. Santorum has a slight numerical lead over former Governor Romney. We're going to continue to update you on that and the other night's issues on Super Tuesday as "Countdown's" coverage of it continues after this.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: As you can see, he's out there on the stage already, and he's going to speak after she introduces him. It's apparently the process tonight - in which the warm-up act is the would-be first lady. But what this tells you - and, as I'm sitting here waiting - we'll wait for the governor to speak - our Governor Eliot Spitzer is back with me here, and your conclusion is the same as mine.

SPITZER: Right.

OLBERMANN: That what we're seeing here is - they don't know how Ohio is going to turn out, and they want to get in and speak. Each of them gets to say, "I won over here and here and maybe I'll come back at 4:00 in the morning when we have Ohio."

SPITZER: Precisely. Better to get the speech in primetime, when the nation is watching - make your points, kind of ignore Ohio for now, claim the victories, project the imagery that you want. Nobody's going to know about Ohio until too late tonight to affect the headlines tomorrow or anything they can say right now.

OLBERMANN: Also, he has to - particularly, I imagine, this is going through his mind right now - he has got to prevent the idea that, no matter what the outcome here is, it was a Wellington level near-run thing, that this was Waterloo that he won or Waterloo that he lost. Either way, he's in big trouble if he wins by one percent at two o'clock in the morning.

SPITZER: That's exactly - and if he loses Ohio, I think, the entire dynamic of this race shifts because, I think - as was being discussed earlier tonight - the reality then begins to emerge that, even if he has a numerical advantage going towards the convention, he go won't get the 50 percent, and there could be a brokered convention quite likely, in which case his candidacy is doomed with the lack of enthusiasm that pervades it.

OLBERMANN: And as we discussed several times with the exit polls - all the exit polls line up neatly behind the Romney candidacy. Fifty percent of Ohioans thought the economy was the number-one issue, and 30 percent thought the budget deficit was the number-one issue. Forty percent, more than any other individual characteristic, said electability was first. One in six said they wanted the true conservative. That adds up to Romney, but the numbers do not add up to Romney.

SPITZER: Here's the thing - if all of those arguments apply to him, as a stick figure, they can more readily apply to a Jeb Bush, Sarah Palin - I hate to even conjure the image - but you can imagine somebody else parachuting in and all of the allegiance, which was based upon electability, switches over in a heartbeat because there is zero passion from Mitt Romney.

OLBERMANN: All right. So the chance then would be that Romney has to be able to offer something to get the other guys to drop out. You can't - can't have two vice presidents, and even - would Newt Gingrich want to be vice president for Mitt Romney?

SPITZER: Newt Gingrich is not going to drop out. Newt Gingrich is not going to be number two to anybody. Newt Gingrich isn't dropping out, and Rick Santorum is saying, "Hey guys, without the money, I'm managing to kind of worm my way back into this." He's going nowhere.

So I think the big loser - if Ohio either goes to Santorum, or even if it's close, within one or two for Romney - Romney ends up becoming an emotional loser tonight.

OLBERMANN: How can he then, in fact, negotiate with Santorum in the near future? Certainly, the full race has to go at least another month. There is no pre-brokered convention brokering because, obviously, all of these candidates have no viability once you get to a brokered convention because, by that point - what's the difference?

SPITZER: Well -

OLBERMANN: How does Romney win a brokered convention? How does Santorum win a brokered convention?

SPITZER: I don't know see how any of them does. That's why I think of Jeb Bush or somebody else - I don't know, Mitch Daniels - has to come back. I don't know who the probable possible candidates might be. But, I think, you don't have the negotiation directly with the candidates.

OLBERMANN: Right.

SPITZER: It is with the funders. It is the Roger Ailes, the Karl Roves, the people who we all know really speak for that elite voice in the Republican party that is saying, "We must win." Parenthetically, they could decide - "You know what, if the economic news continues to be good, we don't care so much about the White House."

OLBERMANN: Yeah.

SPITZER: George Will was saying it the other day, the argument could be, "Hold the House, try for the Senate, let President Obama hold on. That isn't our priority."

OLBERMANN: Yeah. Friday could be the most important date in the Republican primary campaign.

SPITZER: That's exactly right. The unemployment numbers that come out monthly between now and October - I have been saying this two years - that determines November 12th's presidential race. That's why this Friday is a huge day.

OLBERMANN: So, you could have a Republican establishment that - on the one hand - is backing Mitt Romney and - on the other hand - is going, "Well, we're just looking for the lead sacrificial lamb here. We really - it doesn't make - we don't have to break our backs to get him that nomination. It can be somebody at the brokered convention because doesn't make any difference if we start our campaign on May 1st or August 15th."

SPITZER: That's exactly right. They're thinking about, "How does this trickle down?" - to use their worldview - to the House and the Senate races and the Senate - obviously Olympia Snowe's departure throws a crimp into their plans because now, I think, the Democrats' capacity to hold it increases significantly, but the House is the fundamental - it's the Maginot line for the Republican party. The Senate is what they want to grab. The White House, I think, is number three on the list - least likely, certainly based on the trends at the moment.

OLBERMANN: All right.

Here's somebody else who has not won Ohio yet, about to speak. Ann Romney is finished with her introduction, and here's the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney:

(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: She is the best, and that was my son, Tagg, with her and his wife Jen and their children, Allie and Joe and Thomas. Great to have my family here, to be back in our home of Massachusetts.

It's wonderful to be able to - to be able to go home tonight for the first time in two months. What a - Ann said it right, what a great night. There are three states now, tonight, under our belt and counting. We're going to get more before this night is over. We're on our way.

We're so excited to be at the Bay State tonight, celebrating with family and with friends who worked just tirelessly on this campaign. And, of course, it's such an honor to have the citizens that I served as governor as part of our cause. Your support really means everything to Ann and me, and I'm not going to let you down. I'm going to get this nomination.

Tonight, we're doing some counting. We're counting up the delegates for convention, and looks good. And we're counting down the days until November and that looks even better. We're going to take your vote, a huge vote tonight in Massachusetts - and take that victory all the way to the White House.

Now, it's been - it's been a long - it's been a long vote-getting to Super Tuesday. Let me be honest. And my opponents have worked very hard. I want to congratulate Newt Gingrich on a good night in Georgia and Rick Santorum on his good night and Ron Paul for his steadfast commitment to our Constitution and his strong support almost everywhere you go. He's got good followers. Thanks, you guys. Nice races.

Now, we officially started our campaign about nine months ago - not very far from here - at a farmhouse in New Hampshire. It was a beautiful spring day, full of hope and promise, a day that made us all recognize, once again, how lucky we are to be Americans.

What we launched that day was an effort - not to just win more votes or delegates - it was the start of an effort to restore the promise of America, a promise that we know has been frayed by these difficult times. We sounded our clarion call across the country - from airport tarmacs, to factory floors - door-to-door, heart-to-heart, face-to-face across the country. I met with moms and dads and teachers and students and factory workers and business owners. I've listened, and I've learned.

I hope I'm a better candidate, by the way, for having done all that, and I - I'm - I'm going to forever be grateful to you for the help that you've given me and grateful, also, to all those people who helped me through this process and taught me along the way.

I met some extraordinary folks. I met someone named Norm Burn who, for me, exemplifies the innovative spirit that really built the country. Norm didn't go to college, didn't get an engineering degree, but he does have a hundred patents in his name, and he turned a small shop in his basement into a very successful company that employs a lot of people. It's entrepreneurs like Norm Burn who are going to get America's economy back on track, if we can get the government out of the way.

I've met parents like David McArthur. Maybe you saw him on "The Huckabee Show," whose children, in his case, have served their country in war. David's son was seriously injured in Afghanistan. As he described, he only returned from the front lines to face a new fight, to get the medical care he needed, and he surely has earned. And, as I told David, I believe that to those who put everything on the line for us, we owe everything to them that they need. You know, America's veterans, they deserve a lot better than long lines and reduced benefits and, as president, I'm going to make sure they get the care they deserve.

So, in running for office, I've had the chance of meeting people like Norm and David, and their stories are, of course, inspiring. But I've also met some people who are hurting under this stagnant Obama economy and their stories are heartbreaking. Some people have lost their jobs. Others are working two jobs just to make ends meet. Some used to be middle income, and now they're struggling again right back where they started. As you know, the prices for gasoline and food and clothing and health care keep going up, but their paychecks stay the same if they're lucky.

President Obama keeps telling these Americans that the recovery is here, but for them the recession is not over, that's for sure.

You know, from generation to generation in this country, Americans have always known that the future would be brighter and better. We've always believed in a tomorrow full of possibility and prosperity and security. That deep confidence in a better tomorrow is the basic promise of America, but today that promise is being threatened by a faltering economy and a failed presidency.

To the millions of Americans who look around and can only see jobs they can't get and bills that they can't pay, I have a message - you have not failed. You have a president that's failed you, and that's going to change.

President Obama - these guys. You know, when he was campaigning, President Obama said he would create jobs, but for 36 straight months unemployment has been above eight percent, and he also said he'd cut the deficit in half, and he's doubled it. I mean, as you know, the debts today are too high. The opportunities are too few, and we've seen enough of this president over the last three years to know that we don't need another five of this president. That's for sure.

Look, I said - this president's run out of ideas. He's run out of excuses and, in 2012, we're going to get him out of the out - out of the White House.

Now, President Obama seems to believe he's unchecked by the Constitution. He's unresponsive to the will of our people. He operates by command instead of by consensus. In a second term, he'd be unrestrained by the demands of re-election, and if there is one thing we cannot afford is four years of Barack Obama with no one to answer to.

So, these days you hear the president and his team - they keep telling us that things are getting better, but 24 million Americans are still struggling for work. They're high-fiving each other in the West Wing, my friends, but the truth is, eight percent unemployment is not the best America can do. It's just the best that this administration can do.

Look, when I'm president, this American economy will not be lagging behind. This American economy will be leading the world, as it has and as it should and as it will do in the future. For this - you know -

OLBERMANN: We're going to interrupt, as has been the tradition tonight - we're going to interrupt Governor Romney's speech, because former governor Eliot Spitzer has some, I think, extraordinary, valuable observations. This is the first speech that has been a speech, per se.

SPITZER: Right.

OLBERMANN: But he doesn't seem happy.

SPITZER: He is so incredibly uncomfortable at that podium. He has bungled every one of the lines. He's reading off the teleprompter, still getting them wrong.

I believe he knows he is losing Ohio, and, internally, he's trying to process all this. Externally, he's trying to demonstrate all the vigor you need to have as a candidate, but it's not working. He is, internally, completely uncomfortable - can't project strength, passion, excitement. I've seen him deliver good speeches. This is abominable. This is a terrible delivery.

OLBERMANN: Well, when he stumbled over the phrase "American economy," which is his only chance of getting elected, that, by the way, was just - but there's a - Dr. Freud would have a fun time with this, as well.

SPITZER: We were commenting - maybe this was the writing, and maybe this is just him - "We can't permit Barack Obama to have another five years in the White House." How's he going to get rid of the last term of this year? I mean, this term. He has just gotten not a single line properly delivered, and the crowd is not resuscitating him the way it ordinarily would.

OLBERMANN: So, this goes back to the point we made before Mitt Romney began this speech, was that - even a close victory, at this point, is going to look like a Santorum victory, unless Romney claims the last 25,000 votes cast, all 25,000 of them.

SPITZER: Exactly right. Look, who knows where those last votes in Ohio are going to come from? Still only about 37 percent in - although I can tell you, having been through this many times, once 37 percent is in, it usually doesn't change a whole lot.

If it is very close in Ohio, the drum beat about brokered conventions is going to get louder and louder. The next states coming up are Southern states. Not going to be good for Romney. I see a little tough period for Mitt Romney. I don't know where this is going for him.

OLBERMANN: Eliot Spitzer, stand by. We're going to take a break. At the top of the hour, we're going to go back to Ohio and David Shuster for the latest on where the Romney campaign views this extraordinary evening in which it appears - right now, in any event - it's too close to call in Ohio, but Santorum is leading Romney. Stand by.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: As the vote count in the Ohio Republican primary goes around the 50 percent mark of votes counted, Rick Santorum is leading Mitt Romney by about two percent. It's not a lot, but it's a lot more than Mitt Romney's people expected - in the wrong direction - and, perhaps, more than the Rick Santorum people expected.

No matter what happens, it looks like it will be a moral victory for Santorum, and very possibly a numerical one.

As we continue on our Super Tuesday coverage here on "Countdown," I'm Keith Olbermann in New York, along with former Governor Eliot Spitzer of the state of New York.

David Shuster has been standing by all night at Romney central, if you will, in Ohio. Romney himself is still speaking at his headquarters in Boston. David is at the state house in Columbus, Ohio, where we might say that there's heartburn for the Romney people at 10:00 eastern time, David.

SHUSTER: Yeah, Keith. That's right. And the reason why is that some of the key precincts - the actual numbers, as they have come in from across the state, did not synch up with the exit polls earlier today.

So, Rick Santorum, who has always seemed to do a little bit better on the actual vote than the exit polls, that seems to be the case again. And in some of these key precincts where the Romney campaign had a lot of confidence - again, based on exit polls - the numbers are not adding up for him. That's the first problem.

The second problem, Keith, is that when you look at some of the counties that are still out, I'll give you an example - Hamilton County, which is up I-75, north of Cincinnati - Hamilton County is an area, again, where Rick Santorum expects to do exceedingly well for all sorts of demographic information that I won't get in to. But when you hear the Romney campaign saying, "Well, maybe we'll pick up some votes in Hamilton County" - they will not. They will not be able to make up 15 thousand votes in a place like that.

Now, there's Cuyahoga County - Cuyahoga County, which is northeast Ohio - that's anybody's ball game. And again, the - that's the problem the Romney campaign has at this hour, Keith. They're going around looking, county by county, trying to spin reporters and say "Well, we might pick up some voters here, we might pick up some voters here. Maybe this precinct will -"

That's not the position they wanted to be in. They wanted a clear victory - a clear concise, victory - tonight, so they could stop this media narrative that Mitt Romney's being rejected north, south, east, and west. And even though the math still does favor Mitt Romney - regardless of how Ohio goes tonight, in part because of Rick Santorum and his inability to get on in some of the nine congressional districts - again, this is not shaping up to be the night that Mitt Romney's campaign thought it would be. Nor is it the kind of storyline that they wanted, by any stretch of the imagination.

OLBERMANN: Do we have any indication, David, whether this is a question of Romney's people being that low turnout that we've been talking about all night - were those Romney's people who didn't turn out? Or, is there actually - was there actually a shift in likely Romney voters to Santorum? Is there any way to tell that, at this point?

SHUSTER: A couple things, Keith. They believe that, at the end, the people who were voting today - that the late deciders were going in Santorum's direction at the last minute. Now, there are a couple reasons why, that even the Romney campaign might acknowledge.

Mitt Romney got hammered yesterday, in part by the Santorum campaign, because Romney made his claim about what he believed about the health-care individual mandate, and Santorum called him out on that. And there was some conservatives today, who going into this - into the election today - were calling Mitt Romney a liar on this issue. So, people who were only paying attention over the last couple of hours, they heard some pretty serious accusations against Mitt Romney.

But on the other hand, Keith, I mean - if it is low turnout, again, the Santorum campaign was thinking, "If it is low turnout, our people are energized." The question is, "Would Mitt Romney's people be as energized?" And that hasn't proven to be the case in previous states.

So again, who knows how this is going to go at the end of the night.

But the Romney campaign is already highly dissatisfied, because so much of the media coverage - as of now, and here we are, 10:00 at night, and the networks, of course, are going off the air - has been well, "Santorum is leading." And that is not - that is not the storyline that Romney's campaign wanted, by any circumstances.

OLBERMANN: Well, now - what is the storyline that they can sell, in the event that Santorum wins this thing? Because, whereas - numerically, it would be three firsts for Romney and three seconds for Romney and one third in the seven that we know about already, plus North Dakota and the other western states and Alaska, and Santorum would have three firsts and a second - and two seconds and two thirds, and one not participating in - it would seem as if they were still in that sort of death-grip struggle. But, this is really - Ohio is as much psychological as it is an actual vote or delegate count. Is that the gist of it?

SHUSTER: That's - that's exactly right, because - and the Romney campaign is right about this. In order for Rick Santorum to get the 1,144 delegates to get the nomination, he would have to win - he would have to get - he would have to win majorities over 50 percent in every contest that remains, and in every congressional district. That's not going to happen.

The Romney campaign has a much easier path. But what the Romney campaign will acknowledge is that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich - they can continue to prolong this process, and the longer it plays out, the higher the unfavorables go for Mitt Romney, which is all the reason why they wanted not only the numerical victory - they're going to get more delegates on this Super Tuesday than Rick Santorum, no matter how you slice it - but the psychological narrative, the idea that Mitt Romney is being rejected in several states, that prolongs what they believe is the inevitability of his candidacy, and it gives Democrats, of course, a better chance in November, because Mitt Romney is having to tag to the right in state after state after state - which was causing moderates and independents to stay away from these primaries.

OLBERMANN: So, last question, David - Romney spoke early this evening, not as early as Santorum, but he spoke now because of - a fear that having to speak later would be after an Ohio defeat?

SHUSTER: I think that's fair to say. And I think, Keith, that - I think Eliot Spitzer was right in the last segment. I have a feeling that the Romney campaign - they know where the votes are in Ohio. They've got a lot of key people on the ground here, a great organization. They know where the votes are and where they are not.

And I have a feeling that the Romney campaign has probably - that Mitt Romney and his family have probably already been told, "This is going to be a squeaker. And if we're able to pull this one out, wow." And - and maybe that does explain why Mitt Romney seemed a little bit sort of flabbergasted or a little bit off his game in that speech.

OLBERMANN: David Schuster, doing fine work as usual for us from - in this case - Columbus, Ohio, where it has not been a good night for Mitt Romney. And it has been an intriguing night for those of us who have gotten the opportunity to watch it. Thank you, David.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's go to Washington now. Amanda Becker, staff writer with Roll Call, who knows her Ohio, has been kind enough to spend some of her time with us tonight. Thanks for your time tonight.

AMANDA BECKER: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: David was saying that - according to the people in the Santorum count - camp - one of the counties that they're hoping to get something out of is Hamilton. That's Cheviot, that's Deer Park, Harrison, Milford, Montgomery - all of the big metropolises in the very lowest left-hand lower corner of Ohio. That's almost - that's almost Kentucky, right?

BECKER: Yes, I actually grew up in Hamilton County -

OLBERMANN: No kidding.

BECKER: So, I'm familiar with the area. Yes.

OLBERMANN: So, you know it backwards and forwards. Is Mitt Romney going to be able to pull a victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat out of that county?

BECKER: If I was going to choose a county in Ohio that he could pull of, it probably actually wouldn't be Hamilton County. It's a very conservative county. It's a very reliably red county. It's one of the only counties that didn't go for Obama in 2008, even though he won the state.

OLBERMANN: So, the - they are obviously a little bit perturbed about what is happening in Ohio. Do you have any sense that either mirrors what David Schuster was saying from Columbus, or from your own estimations and familiarity with the state, as to what has happened to Mitt Romney's - obviously, within the margin of error - lead in the polling going in. But it was still a lead which had been a growing and accelerating in the last two weeks, after he had been so far behind Santorum in the state.

BECKER: There were kind of dueling narratives going into today about Ohio, and also about Tennessee, to a certain extent- Ohio, being kind of the crown jewel of Super Tuesday, traditionally.

A couple weeks ago, you started to see that change, especially in the last few days, as Romney started to gain on Santorum in the polls. You started seeing less emphasis on quote, unquote, "winning Ohio," to them talking about it being a delegate count. So, it was going from winning to just picking up delegates. I think Romney will still pick up a significant number of delegates in Ohio, but now it's a perception problem.

Even in their speeches, you saw Santorum talking about gold and silver medals. You saw Romney talking about counting. So, it's turned into a numbers game. That's not good for him. Less than half of Ohio voters are happy with the people on the ballot, I read earlier today. Nearly 50 percent would prefer to have other options. So, I think that that does not bode well for him.

OLBERMANN: Our friend Nate Silver of The New York Times, who took his sports - and particularly, baseball forecasting ability, which is based solely on the analysis of how statistics change, and what some statistics will tell you about final statistics, and applied it, starting in 2008 to the presidential race - has analyzed the results, and the county-by-county results from Ohio included, as follows:

"If you wait, the 2012 margins," Nate writes "between Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney - as reported so far - by the 2008 turnout in each county, it suggests that Mr. Santorum's margin might narrow slightly, but that he is, perhaps, the slight favorite to hold on." That method would have him winning statewide by 1.2 percentage points. What kind of holy hell erupts if Rick Santorum wins Ohio by 1.2 percentage points?

BECKER: It will be a very good night for Santorum if he wins Ohio. I mean, that gives him - in terms of perception - great momentum going forward. There's a couple states in the South coming up next week. Romney does not poll very well in the South. He does not do very well in the South.

And, like you know - you were just discussing a few minutes ago - in terms of numbers Romney's really the de facto candidate. It's just kind of getting those, picking them up here and there, the rest along the way. But it's going to make the race much more difficult.

OLBERMANN: Amanda Becker of Roll Call, helping us analyze what's going on in Ohio, which is obviously the headline of the night. Thank you kindly for your time.

BECKER: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: We have one other bit of news to report to you. There is now a call on one of the 7:30 caucuses - the only 7:30-closing caucus. Several news organizations now reporting North Dakota is in the Santorum camp. That's not a surprise, but another triumph and another place for him to hang his hat tonight.

Rick Santorum, who was the second of the candidates to speak during the evening, may have been premature in doing so. He can obviously come back and declare victory in Ohio, but Lord knows at what hour that might occur. Obviously, this is going to go late before this one is called. We'll continue to cover it here on "Countdown's" coverage of the Republican Super Tuesday.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: So, with nearly two-thirds of the vote in in Ohio, Rick Santorum is clinging to a two-point lead that's about 12,000 votes in the actual votes cast.

And suddenly, a bit of banter between Norah O'Donnell of CBS News and the president of the United States at the president's news conference this afternoon rings particularly interesting. Let's listen to that:

(Excerpt from video clip) NORAH O'DONNELL: Mitt Romney has criticized you on Iran and said, "Hope is not a foreign policy." He also said that you are America's most tactless president since Carter. What would you like to say to Mr. Romney?

(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: Good luck tonight.

(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: No, really.

(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: Really.

OLBERMANN: With us now, after the laugh line of the president's news conference this afternoon - and with Mr. Romney in second place with only a third of the votes yet to be counted - Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief of the Huffington Post. Good evening, Ryan.

RYAN GRIM: Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: So, I don't think the president's comment actually decided Ohio, but it does loom as particularly interesting, given what's happening there tonight.

GRIM: What's amazing about that moment is Mitt Romney is - well, first of all, he's using the idea of going to war as a political chip, but he's using it to make the president look weak. And in responding to Mitt Romney that way, it just - it put - it set Romney back. It makes him look like such a clown, you know: "Good luck. Look, you're going to need it, buddy, I have been watching the last few months. You're not -"

What he's saying is, "You're a weak campaigner. You can't even get past this former Pennsylvania senator who lost in a landslide in 2006," and then that night, he's behind in Ohio by the time that most people go to bed. It's a good day for Obama. That's probably the one thing that we can take away from this.

OLBERMANN: Are there any negatives, from the president's point of view, to a Republican front-runner who cannot - who, as we suggested before, is in the middle of a race - he's the car winning the Indianapolis 500 at 70 miles an hour and right on his tail is a guy who only has three wheels?

GRIM: Right. It's really hard to see one. The guy on his tail has one wheel, if that. He fell asleep - you know, Gingrich fell asleep at AIPAC today. So no, it's really hard to see a down side to this for the president and it's something all the Republican elite commentators are now talking about - you know, that this slug fest is just making what should have been an easier victory for them seem much less attainable at this point.

Who knows, maybe some white knight, some Mitch Daniels-type figure comes out of the convention or something and then, you know, storms into the White House as a result of all this chaos. That's a real long shot, and I think the president would take his chances on that happening, and just enjoy himself for the next few months.

Because - you know, as Amanda said, this is just going to continue to go Santorum's way for a while. It's not to say he's going to be the eventual nominee - but he has Alabama coming up, he's got Mississippi coming up and a couple of other Southern states in the next couple of weeks, where he's going to be particularly strong and people are going to start looking at Mitt Romney and say, "I guess he's the front-runner because we keep calling him the front-runner and he has a ton of money but, man, he can't win."

OLBERMANN: Ryan, again I go to these two favorite numbers out of the exit polls in Ohio. Forty percent of the people there - the number-one vote total in this area, of which issue is most important in terms of the nature of the candidate - 40 percent, more than anything else, said electability was the first and most important issue, compared to something like one in five who said moral character. Twenty percent who said moral character and less than that said, "I want the true conservative." They wanted the electable one.

And the Ohio issues, one and two - 50 percent said it's the economy, 30 percent said it's the budget deficit. Abortion and women's rights is down at 10 percent. Cultural issues almost nonexistent in Ohio. How does Mitt Romney not win a primary in which it would seem to be - the electorate there would seem to be tailor-made for his exact campaign?

GRIM: Well, I think that his problem is that his entire campaign was built on inevitability and electability, and that's really been dented by his inability to win elections. He's saying, "I can beat Obama." Really, you can beat the president, but you can't beat these guys?

When it became clear that was the argument that he was riding on - that was his only argument. Once that's gone, people start thinking, "Well, hey, maybe Santorum can beat Obama." They don't really believe it, but they convince themselves of it because Romney has persuaded a lot of people that he cannot beat Obama. And so, if you're only voting for a guy because you think he can win and then you think, "Well, maybe this guy can't win," then you have no reason to vote for him.

And voters don't have a good history of playing it strategically like this. Think about Democrats in 2004. They said, "What we're going to do is put this war hero up because he's clearly, on paper, the guy that's going to beat George Bush," and we saw how that worked out. And, you know - so, these kind of feckless guys from Massachusetts seem attractive to primary voters who want to beat presidents that they hate, but it doesn't always work out.

OLBERMANN: So ultimately, do you think - what would they be saying in the committee to re-elect this president, based on - not necessarily that the winner of Ohio will be the nominee - but that the result in Ohio was as close as it was, no matter how it turns out? Does it tell them anything about the president's ability to take Ohio in the fall?

GRIM: Oh, absolutely. It shows them that this key state is very much winnable for them, and it also - tonight - showed them Virginia is very much winnable. And most of the roads to the White House for the president, as his team has been mapping out the electoral college, go through Virginia. It's hard to win without winning that. And Romney running against only Ron Paul in that state couldn't even hit 60 percent.

So, 41 percent of Republicans wanted to vote against Romney bad enough that they cast a vote for Paul. You can guess that about 15 to 20 percent or so of those were actually Paul supporters, as he's had across the other states and the other 25 points of that were people that just don't like Romney. So, that bodes well for the president in Ohio and Virginia, which are both critical.

OLBERMANN: The Washington bureau chief of the Huffington Post, Ryan Grim. Thanks for your time tonight, Ryan.

GRIM: Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: Let me review before we take a break, and then get to Craig Crawford.

Romney wins Vermont, Virginia and Massachusetts, finishes second in Georgia and Tennessee, finishes third in North Dakota, in the caucus there. With the others to be determined - particularly Ohio, where it looks like, at this point, he would finish second, but nobody's called that yet.

Santorum wins North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, second in Massachusetts, third in Georgia and Vermont. And, of course, he wasn't eligible for the ballot in Virginia and may, in fact, win Ohio.

So, an extraordinary night developing among the Republicans that continues this race going in what the former first lady Barbara Bush said was the worst political race she had ever witnessed and thought the world must think we're a bunch of idiots in this country. I'm paraphrasing, but not exaggerating by any great degree.

As promised, Craig Crawford joins us as "Countdown's" continuing coverage of Super Tuesday resumes after this.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Here's the state of play as we know it - at 35 minutes to 11 o'clock Eastern time on Super Tuesday for the Republicans - Newt Gingrich has clearly won Georgia.

In Massachusetts - also no surprise - in Massachusetts it's Mitt Romney. The former governor of that state has won it handily, 72 percent of the vote. Nobody else with more than 12 percent.

Oklahoma is Rick Santorum's, according to the projections and by about five percentage points, with Romney finishing now in second place, having pulled back ahead of Gingrich - and that will be important, as to who finishes second in Oklahoma.

In Tennessee - Rick Santorum is the projected winner in Tennessee, as well, handily over Mitt Romney in a race that Romney's people thought they might win, or at least finish a close second. They will not finish a close second in Tennessee.

In Vermont, neighboring to his state that he was once governor of, Romney winning. Obviously, a very small turnout, but Romney handling that easily, with - in fact - Ron Paul in second place and Santorum third there.

And, in Virginia - Romney, again victorious, with Santorum and Gingrich just watching in that one.

North Dakota has not yet been called except by one news organization - it is a caucus - and it has Santorum. They've called it for Santorum and, again, those numbers would suggest that he's winning that caucus pretty handily.

And the big one - Ohio - to be determined, but with more than two-thirds of the vote now in, Rick Santorum clinging to a margin of just about two percentage points. We'll continue with Craig Crawford right after this.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: There was some fear on the part of the media that the rest of us - whenever anybody in the media refers to the media they mean anybody but themselves - there was some fear that all we'd be winding up talking about, whether or not it was important, was Ohio. Turns out Ohio is the story tonight.

Rick Santorum with about a two-percent margin, with just over two-thirds of the vote in. No projections yet on him winning but seems like - very unlikely that he's not going to win because the counties that have not yet reported seem to be leaning toward Santorum and not Romney.

Joining us again for more analysis on this in particular, Craig Crawford of craigcrawford.com the author of "The Politics Of Life." Good evening again, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD: Hello. Looks like the trees were not the right height for Romney tonight.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, and you'd better - you'd better keep him out of those taller ones in Ohio or Massachusetts because he may jump. This is an - this is bad, bad news for this campaign.

CRAWFORD: It is. I hate to be the "Eat your vegetables" guy, though, and talk about delegates, but -

OLBERMANN: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: I think he will still win the delegates tonight, but that's largely because his opponents are so incompetent -

OLBERMANN: Uh-huh.

CRAWFORD: By not getting on the ballot in Virginia and Santorum not getting on slates of delegates in three, I think, three congressional districts in Ohio, I mean so -

OLBERMANN: Nine.

CRAWFORD: Yeah.

OLBERMANN: Craig, that's -

CRAWFORD: So I think we're talking -

OLBERMANN: Right. Three, he got none, and six he didn't get full slates in place.

CRAWFORD: Yeah, and I think he's, like, 18 out of the 63 delegates or something like that he's not even eligible for - so, I mean, he may win the popular vote but he will lose the delegate count in Ohio, still.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, but -

CRAWFORD: I mean, that's something the Romney people will be telling us about that tomorrow a lot.

OLBERMANN: A quick "but" - if you're Mitt Romney, or any other politician in the history of politics - and you have to explain that you actually won, when the scoreboard says otherwise, there - I mean, he's there - nobody's going to pull this one out of the fire for him as they did in Michigan, where they either changed the rules afterwards or - the polite version was there was a misunderstanding about how those remaining two statewide delegates would be assigned. That doesn't happen in Ohio, correct?

CRAWFORD: Right. And Keith, what we're looking at now going forward, I believe, is a race not for Romney to win in nomination but for Santorum and Gingrich to stop him from getting the majority.

OLBERMANN: Um-huh.

CRAWFORD: And I think that becomes more probable now. What is not probable is Santorum or Gingrich winning this nomination - winning enough delegates - if both of them stay in the race.

I looked at the numbers on Santorum - the likely delegate count he'll have tonight - he is going to need almost 65 percent of the remaining delegates up for grabs after tonight to win the nomination. Gingrich, closer to 70 percent. Neither of them are going to do that if both of them are still in the race. The only way it happens is if one of them drops out and throws his support to the other. But both of - both of them staying in the race can keep Romney from getting the majority.

OLBERMANN: They can't - they can keep him for how long?

CRAWFORD: I think all the way - you know, we've got these big states coming. You know, this thing is back-ended.

OLBERMANN: Right.

CRAWFORD: We've talked a lot about the front-loaded. But there are huge states - California, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana - coming late, and so they could stay in and we could be looking at the end of the contest in June, where Romney's the runaway leader in delegates but doesn't have enough to win and then the Republican party and these candidates are all going to have to hash it out all summer long to go to a convention with an actual nominee.

OLBERMANN: Now, obviously, we've changed American politics - presidential politics - in the last 40 years since the last brokered convention, or even the hint of a brokered convention. We've - we've - we've rewritten the rules about when the campaigns start. Suddenly, the idea that you'd only have a campaign that lasted three or four months would be an insufficient time to unseat an incumbent president when, you know, again - it's 100 years ago, but Teddy Roosevelt didn't start running as a third-party candidate until what, August or September of 1912 -

CRAWFORD: Yeah, right.

OLBERMANN: And he finished second and nearly won a three-way race. So, obviously, the world has turned. But how serious an impediment is it to the Republicans to try to unseat a personally popular and increasingly - in individual poll numbers - popular president with, perhaps, a strengthening economy, if they don't officially get their campaign started until June, July, August?

CRAWFORD: And we're seeing two things happening is - with this race and all the vitriol in it between the Republican candidates - is just plummeting support among independent voters, but Republican voters just less and less enthusiastic about that. You talked earlier about the early voting in Ohio indicates, you know about behalf what it was in 2008, indicates low turnout in this.

Another thing pollster are telling me, Keith, is something they have not seen before is when they, you know, they call, when they try to identify likely voters in primary, they have - as high as double-digit increases in the number people they call who self-identify as not being likely voters.

OLBERMANN: Wow.

CRAWFORD: and, you know that's something. Pollsters I've talked to said they've never seen before, in either party, that big a difference from past campaigns.

OLBERMANN: So who's the - who's the grownup in the Republican equation who steps in and tries to avert this mess that you have so articulated tonight?

CRAWFORD: Well, it's more like an orphanage with no grownups -

OLBERMANN: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: I think, in this party. There, you know, that's the other thing. There are no political bosses out there to come in and say, "Okay, this is what what's going to happen." The power is more behind the scenes, the money people.

OLBERMANN: Uh-huh.

CRAWFORD: The fundraisers, the people who fuel the Republican Party who are going to start making noises to, "Okay, coalesce around Romney. Gingrich, and Santorum, you're out of here." But they may not listen.

Who will listen are the sugar daddies that fund them in their super Pacs, which are the only thing keeping them going. And these guys, you know, these money guys - for both of them that we've talked about so much, they're big players in the Republican party, they want to continue to be big players in the Republican party. They do not want to become pariahs, despite all their money. That's one thing, that's some leverage over them the Republican leaders would have - congressional leaders - that, "Hey if you want - if you want to play in our pool much longer, you need - you need to swim with us."

OLBERMANN: But is that, perhaps, if we just narrowed in on something that - there was another unintended and unpredictable result of Citizens United and that extraordinary -

CRAWFORD: Yeah.

OLBERMANN: Supreme Court decision that now that - that - that threat of becoming a pariah inside a party, let alone unduly influencing an actual election by an endless supply of money - just the idea that somebody could tell you, "You're going to be a pariah in the Republican party," and Sheldon Adelson says, "I'll bet you $100 million I don't become a pariah and you never get elected again to anything."

CRAWFORD: Yeah. That's the reverse leverage there.

OLBERMANN: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: You know, this a club these people are in. They're friends. They fly around in their jets together and so on. And they - you know, it's almost like a country club. It really is. So they don't want to be looked on as the guy that, that just screwed everything up, you know, for beating Obama.

And that's the other thing. These are men who, for the most part - Adelson and Friess for Santorum - first and foremost, they wan to beat Obama. And we're getting to a point were they've got to realize their candidate is not going to get the nomination and continuing to fund them is only going to make it more difficult for Republicans to beat Obama.

OLBERMANN: One will recall that, four years ago, when the - what we thought was a contentious nomination for the Democratic process for the Democratic nomination - extended into June, because the now-Secretary of State believed that she needed and was obligated and to continue to run.

CRAWFORD: Yeah.

OLBERMANN: When, in retrospect - that at its worst, I mean, she said, "Shame on you, Barack Obama," once. That was about one-thirtieth of what goes on each week in the Republican primary.

CRAWFORD: Right.

OLBERMANN: We played those pieces of tape from Barbara Bush earlier and her amazement that this is actually going on. So what is there - why would there be an assumption that common sense would prevail, at any point, and the Republicans wouldn't simply - deliberately - just all jump off this cliff?

CRAWFORD: Well, there are a couple differences. I don't buy the comparisons people make to 2008 with this race, because there are a couple big differences.

One, it was actually after Super Tuesday when there was a lot of pushing on Hillary to get out. But there was a lot of pushback, from her side, at the grassroots level - pushing back on that notion - and that kept her going. The other big difference from then that we're seeing now is, as that race continued between Obama and Clinton through those primaries. Participation, turnout was growing.

OLBERMANN: Exactly.

CRAWFORD: Democrats were so into that campaign, they were actually drawing more voters. They had some huge turnout increases, even toward June, in that race. So, it actually grew the base of the Democratic party. And once you get the people voting in your primary it's a lot easier to get them to the general election, even if their candidate doesn't win sometimes. And we're not seeing that. We're seeing the opposite effect in the Republican primary.

OLBERMANN: And, true to your point, the number of issues that were being discussed at least did not decrease over the course of the Clinton/Obama race, and may have - to some degree - increased from the February/March end of it to the May/June end of it. And that, certainly, is not happening in the Republican campaign.

Craig Crawford has seen most of this coming, and I think we need to do the proverbial hat tip to you on how this is turning out, particularly in Ohio. Congratulations, Craig, you may be the only victor here.

CRAWFORD: Well, I put my tinfoil hat on in the South Carolina primary when I talked about it, but I think now I can wear a regular hat.

OLBERMANN: I think tinfoil is in, my friend. Craig Crawford of craighcrawford.com. Thank you, Craig.

CRAWFORD: Good to be here.

OLBERMANN: We're going to continue with Sam Seder and Governor Eliot Spitzer as we wrap up our coverage of an extraordinary Super Tuesday for the Republicans here on "Countdown."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Ohio, still too close to call. That'll probably be true for quite some time yet. Although - good news for Mitt Romney, it looks like he's leading in Ohio - in Idaho, excuse me - with 77 percent of the vote, after 16 percent of the vote has been counted. Idaho is not Ohio.

Sam Seder, the host of the nationally-syndicated radio program "Ring of Fire" and the podcast "Majority Report," a friend of the program, joins us now. Sam, good evening.

SAM SEDER: Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Not a good evening for Mitt Romney, and I think there's many different other ways to say that. But what does this mean going forward? How do you see this now further handicapping, in the other sense of the word, the Republican race?

SEDER: Well, you know, I think - actually - we had an insight into this this weekend. This weekend George Will came out, and Grover Norquist - both came out and said, "We should start focusing on the House and Senate races."

I mean, I think, you know - tonight, I was struck by Mitt Romney's speech early on. He said, "I'm going to win this nomination." It's just a weird thing to say when you're running for president.

OLBERMANN: Yeah.

SEDER: Because this is not about winning the nomination. It's supposed to be about winning the presidency, and I had a real sense tonight that Mitt Romney was like, "I don't know if I'm going to get out of this thing alive."

I mean, he's going come out of tonight with more delegates but I think he realizes that, by the end - by the time this is over, even if he does come out of the convention as the nominee, he's going to be so wounded that he's going to have no shot at the presidency. And I think you're going to see a lot more of Republicans start to talk about focusing on the House and Senate races.

OLBERMANN: The Republicans would never come out and say, "All right, we're punting." But clearly, in 1996, there came a point after some of - particularly, Bob Dole's inability to place himself in the correct decade and missing by like 40 years in some cases - where they did punt. Would there be that - just that kind of trying to convince people that they weren't punting when they just said, "Okay, you're on your own here, Mitt. We're going to concentrate on those other two races?"

SEDER: You know, it's hard to say. I mean, listen - I think, you know, Santorum and Gingrich - I think are going to stay in this race to the bitter end. Gingrich has more books to sell. And you know, Santorum's building email lists.

And the interesting thing is - is that, even if the establishment at this point wants Romney strongly, who do they ask to jump out of the race? If Gingrich or Santorum leave the race I think Romney's got even bigger problems. He needs both of them to stay in at this point. And they certainly have no reason to leave, as long as they've got billionaires giving them money to run. So I think Romney's got a real problem.

And I think, you know - I think you're just going to start to see this, sort of, drip, drip, drip, trickle, trickle, trickle, trickle of different Republicans coming out and saying, "Let's just focus on these other races. Let's punt. Let's save our money for something that's within reach." And I think that's probably trying to take over the Senate.

OLBERMANN: The prescription, though, for it being any other way - for Mitt Romney as Republican nominee - would have to start with serious economic problems, would it not? I mean, beginning with some huge spike in the unemployment numbers on Friday.

SEDER: Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, all of this analysis is based on sort of a - that the economy stays on more or less the same trajectory it's at now. That we don't have any sort of big events. Now, of course, if those do happen - it's tough to say.

But, you know, I have to say, at this point, that it's very hard to imagine a circumstance where people are suddenly going to have confidence in Mitt Romney to take care of something.

You know, he's sort of destroyed his capacity to be Not Obama, in some ways. He's now, I think - unfortunately for him - his own man. He's had to tack so far to the right. He's had to show that he's flip-flopping around. He's had to show that he's completely out of touch with what the average American is going through. So, in some ways, he's actually worse off than he was when he was more generic.

And so, in the event that there is some type of event that otherwise might hurt President Obama, I just think that Romney has failed to sort of gain the confidence of even his own party at this point - that he could actually handle any type of crisis or any type of unexpected event.

OLBERMANN: All right. What do you think of the thing that Craig Crawford has been pushing kind of gently for at least six weeks, and may now no longer be in tinfoil hat territory, which is that it goes to a convention and somebody else not currently running gets the nomination and tries to run a three-month campaign? Some superstar appears out of nowhere.

And I mention this because of a quote given to news organizations tonight: "In a far corner of our nation, I don't close any doors that perhaps would be open there. So no, I wouldn't close that door and my plan is to be at that convention." Sarah Palin, asked if she would have her name put on the floor for the nomination of the Republican party for president.

SEDER: Well, I've got to say - I think Sarah Palin is literally the only person in the Republican party who would be crazy enough to do that.

I mean, I frankly think all this talk that a Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie would jump in is really more just to soothe the Republicans. I mean, I think that's a way of them maintaining this fiction that they're not going to punt. Because there's no reason in the world that Chris Christie would look at this situation or that Mitch Daniels would look at this situation or Jeb Bush for that matter and say, "This is a good idea for me."

OLBERMANN: Right.

SEDER: They'll just wait 'til 2016. But in the meantime, if the Republicans have this notion that maybe somebody will jump in at the convention, I think that forestalls that notion they might have to come out publicly and punt.

OLBERMANN: They - the people who all mentioned, know who Alf Landon was. I don't think Sarah Palin knows who Alf Landon was, and we'll close it with that.

Sam Seder of the Ring of Fire and Majority Report - and "Countdown," when we're good enough to have him. Thank you, Sam.

SEDER: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right, we're going to wrap this up, even though Ohio has not been decided. Governor Eliot Spitzer rejoins me right after this break. This "Countdown's" coverage of Super Tuesday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: This number you're going to see here is like looking back in time. You know when they say you get a telescope and you go look at some super nova, that you're actually looking three million years in the past? That's the AP assessment of this race at 77 percent of the vote with a three-tenths-of-one-point lead for Santorum.

NBC has it in their official count as a virtual tie. CNN placed Romney ahead in Ohio by a couple thousand votes as we're nearing 85 percent counted. But,again, the last thing we heard was Hamilton County - the lowest left-hand corner of the state of Ohio - had not yet been counted and would, in all likelihood, be coming in Rick Santorum's favor.

In any event, we wrap up our hour here with Eliot Spitzer, no matter how it turns out, and it could be next week before we know.

SPITZER: Certainly 2:00 in the morning.

OLBERMANN: Right, this is - this is Santorum's night.

SPITZER: Rick Santorum is showing that Matt Romney is not inevitable. Look, Mitt Romney has no passion, no energy and the following that is there because they thought he was inevitable is going to begin to look around immediately.

Let's step back to something fundamental, though - exogenous events, meaning the rate and the price of gas is going to dictate the course of this presidential race for the next month or two. If the economy continues to get better, the fight between Santorum and Romney almost becomes irrelevant. Neither one of them will be able to get the independent votes in the middle to unseat the president.

If the unemployment rate begins to spike back up for some reason, then I think Mitt Romney begins to have a little bit on an economic argument. But then, I think, the Republican leadership says, "We need a new candidate, he's not the guy."

OLBERMANN: The discussion we talked about throughout the evening - the George Will comment from the other day, and the Grover Norquist comment from the other day - that, at some point, the Republicans would have to look at punting. What is that point? How much more of this can you go, or was this if - let's say Romney wins this - is this his last, you know, near-death experience when he should have won by four or fives points with the way all the exit polls broke his way?

SPITZER: Look, I think it depends on Friday just as much as tonight. Which is the unemployment numbers - we keep coming back to this, but I think there are a lot of Senate candidates and House of Representatives candidates tonight saying, "Is this guy going to help or hurt me in my district?" And, if they begin to conclude that they cannot win the Senate with Mitt Romney at the top, they change tack.

Because, I think, George Will and the others are exactly right, they can afford - they being the Republicans, of course, can afford to have Barack Obama as president for four more years if they have the House and the Senate and that begins to become their primary objective as the economy gets better.

OLBERMANN: Eliot, what does that look like in the age of the Citizens United decision, with people like Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess - Foster Friess, by the way, there is a California chain called Foster's Freeze, just if you ever get out there - with those people throwing money around like it was water, does it look like Bob Dole 1996, that sort of quiet kind of - "Gee, the candidates retinue is down to, like, 20 people rather than the 200 who started out with him?" Or what does it look like?

SPITZER: It's certainly already beginning to feel that way to me, tonight, just watching Mitt Romney. We weren't in the room, of course, but boy, it was palpable to me how little energy, enthusiasm - it was as though he was giving the first read-through in a bad rehearsal of a speech he had never seen before. It was just like - what is going on here? So lacking in the passion that's got to come from the candidate himself/herself to lead a winning campaign. So, I think something's tailing off there.

OLBERMANN: What does Santorum do? Is there a way to get him out of this campaign or does he, in fact, go to Romney and say, "You need to get out and I'll take the banner?"

SPITZER: No, he is thinking about 2016. In other words, if there's somebody here who is saying, "I'm laying a foundation. I'm either Barry Goldwater - redefining the party intellectually, ideologically - and therefore, that is my mission. I'm not getting about because I'm doing something important, or, I'm leading the party in a direction. This guy, Mitt Romney, clearly isn't going to win. I'm going to be here and establish myself and start going and campaigning day in and day out."

Rick Santorum is feeling great right now, he's not going anywhere.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, but Barry Goldwater didn't get the nomination to get in 1968 and Alf Landon didn't get the nomination again in 1940. There are - there are pyrrhic defeats as well as pyrrhic victories.

SPITZER: There's no question about it, but I think right now Rick Santorum is saying, "I'm losing, but I'm winning." Anybody who's been in politics knows you can lose a race but win.

Right now, Rick Santorum might be saying, "I'm losing the enthusiasm, the energy," he feels it. He may be wrong, but that's the emotion right now, so getting him out gets incredibly difficult.

OLBERMANN: And it will be incredibly difficult to determine who wins Ohio. It is too close to call.

Our coverage will continue with Governor Granholm in the "War Room" at the top of the hour. It's been my pleasure, once again, to be joined by Eliot Spitzer. Thank you, sir, for your insights - so I can pretend I understand what I'm talking about. All right, so that's our coverage.

Again, we leave you with that information that it is too close to call in Ohio. Basically, Romney and Santorum split the evening, but Ohio is going to come right down to the wire.

Thanks for being with us.