updated 1/22/2008 1:38:44 PM ET 2008-01-22T18:38:44

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  They rarely have to fight through snow in South Carolina and the Las Vegas casinos are rarely used for much more than nursing hangovers on Saturday mornings.  Yet in each of these unlikely settings, more of the strange nooks and crannies of our democracy.  The inexorable slow march towards the White House continues today. 

Good evening.  Alongside Chris Matthews at MSNBC headquarters in New York, I’m Keith Olbermann and this is our continuing coverage of the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina Republican primary. 

Let’s go straight to the numbers off the top here.  Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic caucuses in Nevada.  That our NBC News projection made a little over two hours ago.  The more reliable pre-vote polls have had her leading by five percent, but what modestly called the Keith number, undecided plus margin of error was eight and a half percent.  That was pretty big.  She’s beating those expectations with a six percent lead. 

The hard numbers you are seeing delayed somewhat by the newness of the process in Nevada, pretty much breaking along the lines of the polls.  The Democratic numbers will look smaller than the Republican ones from the same state, because these numbers you are seeing right here are not votes but awarded delegate totals. 

The Republicans have been literally decided for hours.  Mitt Romney out-doing the rest of a large field combined.  He was the only one of the leaders to seriously campaign in the state and earn the NBC News projection in late morning, Vegas time.  The actual vote count to this hour, a significant win, 52 percent of that vote total, with Ron Paul the second-place leader at this point, fractionally over John McCain.  Paul was really the only other Republican that campaigned a great degree in that state. 

With the polls still open in South Carolina for nearly another full hour, we will not be projecting a winner in the Republican race there, not at this time anyway.  We’ll take you everywhere worth going in the next four hours and hear from everyone worth hearing from, starting with my partner, Chris Matthews. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  So what do you want to hear?  First of all, the Clintons are brilliant at something called low-balling, which is to say you may lose by a number of ways.  One is to protest the whole game itself, make a point of the fact that they don’t think, the Clintons, that we should be allowed to vote in casinos, because that helps the unions that had endorsed against them.  Basically, play it as a tough muddy road and say, how can we possibly win this one; thereby setting it up that if they had lost, they could have said the gain wasn’t fair.  But having won, they can say that they defeated the opponent on an unfair track.  Smart move. 

OLBERMANN:  And, of course, those results out of those nine casino sites, the strip caucus, if you will, she had won six of the first seven that were decided. 

MATTHEWS:  Instead of doing boring things like the results in South Carolina, let’s get the casino results. 

OLBERMANN:  Run the table. 

MATTHEWS:  The flamingo, famous for Bugsy Segal (ph), the Rio, Paris Las Vegas, New York, New York, the Bellagio, and, of course, Steve Wynn’s great palace, Wynn Las Vegas.  He has won in Caesar’s Palace, one of the older institutions out there, and possibly in the Mirage.  There you have it, American politics as it stands.  As it lays, I should say. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, there is something so deeply symbolic about all of that that it’s almost indescribable. 

MATTHEWS:  It’s how we do it. 

Anyway, coming up tonight, a much more important event, a very important event for the Republicans, who are having a very hard time getting it together this year, finding a leader.  As someone said many years before me, Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line, until this year.  Chaos reins, unless, perhaps, John McCain wins tonight.  If he does win tonight, I think he moves towards something like a gelling of the pudding.  He begins to look like the Republican leader.  That’s all I have to say at this point in the evening. 

OLBERMANN:  And that’s another analogy that just sort of symbolizes American politics.  Which pudding are we voting for? 

MATTHEWS:  Will there be lumps in the pudding?  A question we asked as kids.

OLBERMANN:  On that segue—

MATTHEWS:  Margaret Noonan will know a lot about that later because she and I grew up in similar surroundings.  Lumps in the pudding is something that we put up with in as kids. 

OLBERMANN:  And in the potatoes as well.  Tim Russert is NBC’s Washington bureau chief, moderator of “MEET THE PRESS,” and has no official opinion on lumps in the pudding.  What do you think of Chris’ analysis here?  Are we watching the Republicans—this is going to sound terrible.  This is the segue—congeal?  Are they forming, taking shape now?  What is going on with Republicans tonight? 

TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Well, we’ll see what happens in South Carolina.  I agree with Chris, if John McCain wins that or if Mike Huckabee wins that, one of them will go into Florida with a little bit of momentum and be able to raise a little more money.  But they will be met by Mitt Romney, who abandoned South Carolina, went to Nevada and, interesting enough, Keith, half of Mitt Romney’s vote in Nevada were Mormons, which indicates exactly where the strength of his candidacy, in terms of that particular state, lies. 

And now we’re down to Florida.  You have Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, McCain, and Huckabee.  Whoever comes out of South Carolina with that win, McCain or Huckabee, will be extremely helpful. 

MATTHEWS:  You have to ask yourself, Tim, Huckabee has the grass roots of evangelical, the church folks, you could argue, a lot of them.  Romney might have the more well off Republicans, the ones who are more business conscious.  Rudy Giuliani has yet to display his strengths in the suburbs and in the inner suburbs, because they haven’t had their shot yet. 

Who is McCain’s base?  If he does begin to look like the leader of this party, what is his base? 

RUSSERT:  Veterans.  Certainly he’s proving that in South Carolina throughout this campaign, in terms of getting them out.  A Hard line on foreign policy; his position in favor of the surge has won him support with that particular community.  But if you go to Florida in a four-way race, Chris, evangelicals go to Huckabee.  Rudy, ex-New Yorkers and people with memories of September 11th; how does it divide up? 

I think money will be important.  Mitt Romney has his own money and you can’t underestimate that.  I read one of the stories today that Rudy Giuliani was calling for people to come make phone calls on his behalf but bring your own cell phone, which I interpreted to be, perhaps, a shortage of money. 

So you pick it in Florida.  Who knows.  But what I do know is that if you win Florida, going in to Super Tuesday, you really do have a lot of free media momentum on your side. 

OLBERMANN:  One thing in defense of Mr. Romney’s performance today in Nevada; yes, 50 percent of his votes were from members of his religion.  On the other hand, if they all stayed home, he still would have had at least twice as much as anybody else.  So let’s just wipe them off the board for a second.  It has meaning.  It doesn’t have extraordinary meaning when that number is subtracted, but it still has meaning.  Doesn’t it?

RUSSERT:  Absolutely, and it has delegates, Keith.  He won more delegates there than were available in South Carolina.  He’s going to say, I now have two golds, two silvers, and I have more delegates than anybody else, so therefore I’m the front-runner. 

MATTHEWS:  Let’s go into a problem area.  It’s so interesting, libertarianism in the Republican party, very much in opposition to the current leadership of the Republican party under President Bush, a very advanced, aggressive foreign policy.  They have Ron Paul very much against the war in Iraq, very much a Barry Goldwater libertarian of the old school. 

There he is coming in second today.  Will that start any kind of prairie fire out for him? 

RUSSERT:  Well, interesting enough, Chris, he’s been finishing ahead of Rudy Giuliani in most states.  But this second-place finish will be trumpeted on his Internet and he’ll raise a lot more money because of it.  He’s led all Republicans in the fourth quarter, in terms of raising money.  Ron Paul is the one candidate who will be in for the long haul, all the way to the convention. 

He never fully closed the door on an independent candidacy.  He said it’s unlikely, but refuses to slam the door and seal it.  Ron Paul is someone to watch, in terms of not only the remainder of this primary, but in a general election. 

OLBERMANN:  And listen to me defending my second Republican candidate of the night.  Mr. McCain in third place trails Mr. Paul at 95 percent of the hard numbers reporting by eight votes.  So he can still—

I don’t know if we can call it second place, can we? 

RUSSERT:  Pretty tough. 

MATTHEWS:  Tim, what will be the headlines on “MEET THE PRESS” when you start tomorrow morning with live coverage?  Is it—is the big news coming out of South Carolina or is it the news coming out of Nevada? 

RUSSERT:  The headline will be the winner of the South Carolina Republican primary because that really does propel at least a quasi front-runner, whether it’s McCain or Huckabee, into Florida next week.  And then the sub-headline will be Hillary Clinton beats Barack Obama in Nevada and Mitt Romney wins the Republican side. 

There’s no doubt about it.  Hillary Clinton will now try to use this win in Nevada into South Carolina, the Democratic primary, one week from today.  And they are going to go all out.  Bill Clinton is telling people today that I have spoken with that he is going to go door to door, church to church in the black community in order to win that state for Hillary Clinton. 

OLBERMANN:  That’s going to be a lot of doors to go to to make that happen. 

RUSSERT:  Yes, sir.   

OLBERMANN:  Tim Russert of “MEET THE PRESS,” NBC Washington bureau chief, with us tonight.  Great thanks for that. 

RUSSERT:  Thanks guys.

OLBERMANN:  Norah O’Donnell is tracking the exit polls and has new information.  Speaking of that subject, how Hillary Clinton won and fairly decisively in Nevada.  Norah? 

NORAH O’DONNELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith and Chris.  Hillary won today by bringing out the party faithful, women and Latinos.  Remember, Nevada is 40 percent minority and this is the first contest with the Hispanic-Latino population.  Today she beat Obama three to one among Hispanics. 

Her campaign tonight already sending out an email saying this is a huge victory for them, in part because there were those tens of thousands of dollars of radio ads questioning her commitment to Latinos.  Remember those radios ads said Clinton doesn’t respect our people.  So the Clinton campaign is giddy about this win among Latinos. 

Women were also a strong Democratic constituency.  Today, 59 percent of the electorate were women and those women broke for Hillary Clinton.  The numbers she has a double digit advantage over Barack Obama in Nevada.  She also did well among older voters, people who consider themselves to be traditional Democrats. 

As we said, the party faithful, essentially, turned out for her.  As for independents, those are usually a strength for Obama, they did lean towards him, but they made up fewer than one in five votes. 

So while we’re on Nevada, let’s talk about Mitt Romney’s win on the Republican side.  Tim Russert talked about it, the really big news there is that there was a huge turnout among Mormons.  They made up about a quarter of the voters in the GOP contest.  Virtually all of them preferred Mitt Romney.  So, overall, half of his votes came from Mormons.

Now on to South Carolina, where, of course, the voting is still going on there.  What we’re seeing is that a large number of the people in South Carolina calling themselves evangelicals, 58 percent.  Of course, Mike Huckabee was courting that group.  We’re going to soon see, as this evening goes on, where they went.  But that is a significant part of the electorate. 

Also, we’re seeing that South Carolina is attracting a large number of veterans, which John McCain was courting.  In fact, 25 percent of the electorates say they are veterans.  That could be good news for John McCain.  He spent so much time courting them. 

It’s interesting, as we are learning more and more.  Of course, they are still voting there in South Carolina.  Keith and Chris? 

OLBERMANN:  If that is not good news for John McCain, it’s going to be particularly bad news for John McCain.  That may sound something of a totology there, but if he doesn’t get those veterans’ votes, that’s going somewhere south.  Norah O’Donnell at the exit polls.  Thank you Norah.

Turning now to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who has been traveling with the Clinton campaign on its many stops, and is joining us tonight here in New York.  Good evening, Andrea. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Given Chris’s point, the underplaying the campaign did in Nevada, seemingly positioning itself so strongly and angrily as being disadvantaged by these casino votes, which they basically swept, this is being painted as some sort of victory against the odds.  Is that a reasonable assessment? 

MITCHELL:  Well, it’s a reasonable assessment that, as you guys have been discussing, really had the expectations game under control.  Look, what we’ve been hearing from our reporters in the field is that a lot of these locations had other unions going up against the Culinary Workers.  They had Jerry Mcantie (ph) and his union, the State and County Workers, going into some of these locations.  They won handily in a couple of these casinos, like the Wynn. 

They clearly had a very good organization on the ground.  They had the Harry Reid organization, if not the majority leader, Harry Reid’s endorsement himself, but they had the son.  So they had a lot going for them and they clearly let everybody know that they didn’t know exactly how this was going to turn out. 

They just issued a statement—Mark Penn saying that they overcame huge institutional hurdles to win this vote and they are pointing out, correctly, that they won, according to the exit polls, across union households and three to one among Hispanics.  So they did very well for themselves, demographically, as well. 

So this is a good victory for them.  But the caucuses are very hard to game, no pun intended.  Clearly, nobody knew exactly how this was going to turn out.  What we do now know is that the turnout was more than 100,000 people, compared to only 9,000 Democrats who showed up at the caucuses last time around.  That indicates a very high interest level.  It also indicates, from these returns at least, that John Edwards was really not a factor.  And he’s going to have to make some decisions coming up. 

MATTHEWS:  How much muscle was there in those casino caucuses today?  Can we tell whether there was any suppression going on, one union warning other unions, if you vote in the wrong casino, you’ll spend 20 years in prison, that kind of thing? 

MITCHELL:  We don’t have that kind of reporting.  There’s going to be a lot of fallout coming up.  We’re going to hear reports on both sides.  Clearly, there were charges from the Clinton people that there was suppression, from Bill Clinton himself earlier in the day, and also arguments from the Clinton people bout those Latin—those Spanish language radio advertisers that went out, saying that the people—Hillary Clinton trying to stop them from going to the caucuses by that lawsuit that was played out in state court. 

That said, the Obama people are clearly going to look into what may or may not have happened.  Anyway you look at it, though, this was a pretty clear win.  The Obama campaign went in with the advantage of the largest union.  And as it turned out, Hillary Clinton’s forces simply out-organized them. 

OLBERMANN:  Andrea, what does this do in terms of their strategy, and changing it towards South Carolina, other than what we heard about Bill Clinton going door to door?  Is that Hispanic number going to be thrown out subtly as an indicator that suggests, look, one of these two leading Democrats is electable and maybe the other one is not, that this huge factor in the Democratic constituency, in the national voting demographics right now, this huge factor, seems to be at this point, if not antithetical to Obama, it seems not interested or not that aware of him.  Are the Clintons going to start throwing that out there? 

MITCHELL:  I think going to South Carolina, they are really going to focus on the African-American vote.  What Tim was reporting earlier from his sources about Bill Clinton saying he’s going to go door to door; this is going to be all about African-Americans as well as her trying to divide the white vote with John Edwards.  So, you know, they are going to try to play an ethnic-racial game down there, because that is the politics of South Carolina right now. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much.  Now to the Republicans, Mitt Romney picked up a victory in the Nevada caucuses already today and now he’s already moved on to Florida.  NBC’s Ron Allen is with the Romney campaign in Jacksonville.  Ron? 

RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  How are you Chris?  The Romney folks are feeling pretty good.  They are counting up wins.  They’re counting up second-place finishes.  They are counting votes and they’re counting delegates.  And they seem to think that they are getting on top.  And what they are really trying to do is emphasize that even though these may seem like small states, Nevada, Wyoming, for example, they are important in the long run.  They think it’s going a war of attrition, essentially. 

As I think you and Keith were pointing out earlier, they certainly have the money to go the distance.  As of last count, Romney had given himself some 17 million dollars and we’re dying to see what the figure is when the next report comes out sometime later this month.  It’s probably going to be another seven, eight nine—who knows how much.  The bottom line is, he can keep going. 

As long as he keeps picking up these first and second places and even third in South Carolina, for example, they are not that worried about it.  They think that’s John McCain territory.  They think it’s Mike Huckabee territory.  And they just want to have a respectable, competitive third, even a fourth.  They feel like they can go on from there. 

Now they are here in Florida.  They came here immediately after Nevada.  The other thing that is turning in their favor is that it’s becoming the economy and Romney is a businessman.  When you listen to him talk about economics, business, he really does understand this stuff.  And he thinks that’s going to help him as the race turns to issues of the economy, not war, terrorism, so on and so forth. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Ron Allen, thank you.  NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell is with the McCain campaign in Charleston.  Kelly, this is high stakes tonight, it seems to me, for John McCain. 

KELLY O’DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  -- talking to us a lot and telling us he believes he will win, but he’s also expressed the nerves he’s feeling, the worry he’s feeling.  I can tell you that when we were in Michigan, he was not predicting a win and of course he did not win there.  He’s got a lot on the line here, believes he’s got to win tonight to have real success going forward. 

He thinks he can for a couple of reasons.  One, unlike 2000 when George Bush became the nominee, he now has many of the supporters who backed then Governor Bush.  That’s a helpful infrastructure here.  He’s also been working the military community here and his choice of where to hold the headquarters and talk to supporters tonight really tells you that.  We are on the military campus of South Carolina, the Citadel, and he has been talking to retirees who are veterans.  He’s been talking to active duty families, really trying to stress that connection he has. 

There are so many military in South Carolina, he hopes that will be a very personal bond that will motivate voters his way. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Kelly O’Donnell.  David Shuster is covering the Huckabee campaign, also in South Carolina.  He’s in Columbia right now.  David, are they looking at a victory, narrow loss?  What are they looking at down there? 

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, they are very nervous.  Mike Huckabee said earlier this week that flat out he would win South Carolina.  It really wasn’t such a risky strategy for him to say that because his campaign knows that the road to the nomination essentially require a victory here. 

Mike Huckabee and his campaign staff have told us that they are planning to move on regardless of what happens.  It’s a very bare-bones operation.  They don’t need a lot of money to essentially run their operation.  They would like more money.  That was a tailor made state for them, with more than half of the voting population in the Republican primary today being evangelicals.  Those are the same types of people, home schoolers, evangelicals, Christian conservatives, that carried Mike Huckabee to that surprising victory in Iowa that started all this. 

So they are counting on a victory tonight.  They move on if they don’t.  But they certainly would love to win here and say, you know what, Mike Huckabee is not just a one state wonder.  Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  NBC’s Mika Brzezinski is with the Thompson campaign, Fred Thompson’s campaign, also in Columbia, South Carolina.  We have people everywhere.  Mika, Fred Thompson, will he come alive down there?  Will we see strength from this guy tonight?

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Oh, no.  I’m going to stop, Chris, reading into the cases and cases of Bud being piled up in the corner here.  I’m not going to read into that at all, because I was just talking to the national campaign spokesperson and they say—they say, Chris, they are planning for a victory tonight or at least, at the very least, a strong showing here in South Carolina. 

Fred Thompson is going to be here in less than two hours for this victory party.  But, I’m sorry, I could be wrong, I’m just not seeing it.  This is a guy that came in third in Iowa, seventh in New Hampshire, fifth in Michigan.  Let’s pull up the South Carolina polls right now and you’ll see that Fred Thompson is trailing behind John McCain, Governor Huckabee, as well as Mitt Romney.

This is the bottom line here, the star of NBC’s “Law And Order” and former senator and actor, starred in movies, he’s trying to hold on here and trying to tamp down talk that he’s going to concede tonight.  He’s been hitting the campaign trail for the 11th straight day here in South Carolina. 

Members of his campaign have virtually moved here.  You’ve got to, at this point, make the conclusion that this state is make or break, can’t you? 

MATTHEWS:  Budweiser seems appropriate.  There is a certain Clidesdale (ph) aspect to this campaign, don’t you think?  Slow and steady? 

BRZEZINSKI:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Traditional, big hooves?  Thank you, Mika. 

Coming up, inside the Democratic race with strategists from the top campaigns. 

OLBERMANN:  Big hoves?

MATTHEWS:  Large hoves.

OLBERMANN:  Fred Thompson is drawing his line in the sand and, unfortunately, in South Carolina, it’s been raining and snowing, which has problems for lines in sand. 

In 45 minutes, those polls will close in the South Carolina Republican primary.  Stay with us, please, for all the results all night.  You’re watching MSNBC’s live coverage of the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina Republican primary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you with MSNBC’s live coverage of the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina Republican primary.  In Nevada, Hillary Clinton is the projected winner over Barack Obama and John Edwards in a distance third place.  And we have seen those numbers throughout the day suggest that the polls were right and the expectations—the lowered expectations were wrong.  There it is again. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the best spinning goes on before the event, as we’ve learned. 

OLBERMANN:  What happened with John Edwards, in short?  Is that just people just giving up at the caucuses? 

MATTHEWS:  Let’s go to the campaign and find out from the horse’s mouth, if you will.  Ann Lewis is a senior adviser to the Clinton campaign.  David Axelrod is Obama’s senior strategist.  And Chris Kofinis is the communications director for the Edwards campaign.

Let’s start with the very difficult night for the Edwards campaign.  Chris, I remember months ago talking to your candidate about how important it was to get the results of this caucus in Nevada in early so you could bounce to a big victory in New Hampshire, the subsequent Tuesday.  The calendar has been all switched around.  There is no bounce and there is no victory for you guys.  Did the calendar switching around hurt John Edwards’ hopes? 

CHRIS KOFINIS, EDWARDS CAMPAIGN:  Those are the dynamics you have to deal with.  It was something that every campaign had to deal with.  From our perspective, the reality is very simple; 90 percent of the delegate are still up for grabs; 47 states still to go.  The Clinton and Obama campaign had significant advantages, poured a lot of resources into

Nevada.  We were very realistic about our chances and where we were going to place.  To be honest, we’re going into South Carolina, February 5th, where we feel very confident, optimistic, about where we’re going to place, and going all the way to the convention. 

MATTHEWS:  That’s a good try, Chris, but your candidate has been campaigning in Iowa since 2000, 2004 at least.  Five years of campaigning to no effect. 

KOFINIS:  That’s not true, Chris.  We had three contests.  We beat Senator Clinton in Iowa.  Senator Clinton has won in New Hampshire and Nevada.  We still have 47 states to go.  I think sometimes in the media frenzy we want to make this race over before it begins.  And there’s still a long ways to go.  If anything, we’ve learned from New Hampshire—

MATTHEWS:  When will it begin for John Edwards? 

KOFINIS:  I think now that you’ve seen it go down to three people—and you saw this in the debate and I think you’ll see it moving forward—is that people are going to see there are significant differences.  We’re going to be very aggressive in communicating our message.  Like I said, this is a long ways to go and we feel very good about going into South Carolina and beyond. 

MATTHEWS:  He was born in South Carolina.  Will he win there? 

KOFINIS:  I think we’ll finish very well. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Anne Lewis.  There was a lot of brilliant setup to this victory for you folks for Senator Clinton out in Nevada today, a lot of brilliant, it seems to me, complaint, protests, whatever, that made it look like the obstacle course in front of Senator Clinton was so difficult she couldn’t possibly master it.  How much gamesmanship was in that prelude?

ANN LEWIS, CLINTON CAMPAIGN:  Chris, I’d like to accept compliments whenever I get them.  But the fact is our campaign was about Hillary Clinton going out and talking to the voters of Nevada, listening to them about their concerns, talking with them about her ideas of what she wanted to do about jump-starting the economy, about getting universal health care for every American. 

People liked what she had to say.  They said that is the kind of can-do leadership we want as president.  That’s what this campaign is about. 

MATTHEWS:  Your candidate, Senator Clinton, did very among Latino voters; was that because from the day you realized you faced a challenge from Obama that your campaign really focused on this?  I noticed that Senator Clinton went right out there, first chance she got after the last contest, to go door to door in the Latino neighborhoods around Las Vegas, not the fancy strip, but outside, where the poor people live? 

LEWIS:  Hillary Clinton’s relationship with the Latino community goes back years.  She, as you know, is someone who has been an advocate for children all her life.  That is very important for the Latino community.  They think of her as someone who has been working to give their children and their families a better life.  She has worked hard on issues that make a different for Latinos.

And we have been working closely with our friends and allies in the Latino community since this campaign began. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about some numbers because you are a pro; 59 percent of the people that participated in the Nevada caucuses, Democratic side, were women.  Is that about average for the country or above average?  I always thought California had the highest percentage of women, about 60 percent.  Is it somewhere in the high 50s, women participation in caucuses and primaries now on the Democratic side? 

LEWIS:  Well, you have certainly raised a very important question.  I’ll have to tell you, when I saw the first exit polls that said we had 59 percent of women, that’s when I began smiling today because I was starting to feel pretty good about the direction this caucus would take. 

That is higher than usual.  In fact, as you know, in the general election, it has been 54 percent women.  I think we can get that up in November 2008.  Most of the Democratic primaries tend to go 54 to 57 percent.  This is on the high side but I think it speaks to the excitement, the energy, the interest that women are showing around Hillary’s campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Let’s talk about age.  It seems to me, Ann, you and I can tell who wins these battles between Barack and Senator Clinton based upon where the age line is.  If the age line is at 60, as we all know, Barack wins.  In other words, if everybody under 60 votes for Barack, it’s hard to beat him.  If you can get everybody over 45, however, you win. 

I noticed this time around—it’s so interesting to watch this, I mean, I just love to watch this.  It looks to me like the age breakdown is 44.  People—on average, below 44 is more Barack country and people over 44 is Hillary country.  You can win, it looks to me, if you can break in around mid-40s. 

LEWIS:  Well, we’re going to try to do even better than that.  Let’s be clear.  We know that we win when we run a really age-inclusive campaign, when Hillary speaks with younger voters.  Because after all, this is about their future.  When she talks with them about her ideas about making sure that college is affordable, when she talks to all of those young voters who aren’t going to college, about making sure they have got the best future. 

So I think one of the lessons of this campaign continues to be, and we started it right after Iowa, you saw us in New Hampshire, she is speaking with young voters, we’re talking to them about the issues that we know concern them, and we’re going to keep getting those numbers down. 

And while for you and me, the age at which a person is considered a young voter has been rising gradually over the years, shall we say, I think for this campaign we want to keep talking to people of every age. 

MATTHEWS:  It’s amazing how fast your side picks up on this latest terrain.  It’s age-inclusive, is a new phrase.  I think it’s brand-new for me, anyway. 

LEWIS:  Thank you, I’m glad you like it. 

MATTHEWS:  I like it.  And I did notice the senator—I should pay attention to everything she does.  I noticed after the word got out that the campus crowd was largely for Barack—I mean, on average, not everybody, clearly, that Hillary Clinton began—Senator Clinton began talking to people who didn’t go to college as a group, identifying them, appealing to—I thought that was very interesting.  That was obviously part of the effort here, right? 

LEWIS:  Well, that’s absolutely right.  But I would say, again, that she has been doing this for some time.  In fact, we know that a large number of young people aren’t going to go to college or perhaps they are going to do one year at a community college.  And you know, we need to think about their future, too. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, thank you very much, Ann Lewis, congratulations tonight again.  Second victory in a row.  Let’s go to David Axelrod at the Obama campaign and Chris Kofinis, the other competitor.  Let me go to David now.

David Axelrod, it looked to me like the Clintons gamed you guys in Vegas.  They suggested in a lot of ways that you guys had the advantage. 

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SR. STRATEGIST:  Well, let me tell you, Chris, I had heard Ann when she smiled, I smiled when I learned tonight that we won more delegates in Nevada today than the Clinton campaign.  And a wise man named Howard Wolfson, who I respect so much over at the Clinton campaign said a few days ago, it may have been on your show, that it’s all about delegates.  That’s all that counts. 

Well, we won more delegates in Nevada today on the strength of our performance in rural areas.  We carried the Reno area by 10 points; in and around Elko, in the northern part of the state, we won by a landslide despite the fact that there was tremendous torrent of negative run against there by the Clinton campaign. 

And I think the people there and around the state responded to this notion that it is—we all share the goal of universal health care and some of these other things that are so important in people’s lives.  But we have to change the politics of Washington to get it done, the same old politics aren’t going to get it done. 

So we consider it—you know, we’re happy to let them celebrate on any basis they want as long as we get more delegates in every contest.  We feel like we’re going to get to where we need to before they will. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  How many are you claiming, delegates?  How many delegates did you win?

AXELROD:  Well, we won 13, they won 12. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you. 

AXELROD:  I call that a win.  I mean you’re an old hand... 

MATTHEWS:  No, I understand the importance of delegates, also the important of headlines, my friend, and they got the headline tonight.  Anyway, thank you very much.  Ann Lewis, thank you.  David Axelrod, thank you.  Chris Kofinis of the Edwards campaign. 

Let’s bring in our panel, stars, all-stars, all of them.  Joe Scarborough, my colleague; Howard Fineman, my colleague; Peggy Noonan, my good friend; and Gene Robinson of The Washington Post, the nation’s great newspaper. 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “MORNING JOE”:  Let’s start with you.  We have both campaigns declaring victory out of Nevada.  What does that mean, though?  Hillary Clinton surprises us again. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  Yes, Hillary won but I think it’s civil war, is what this means.  I think this thing between Obama and Clinton is going to go on a long time.  It’s going to tear the Democratic Party apart and one of the big challenges for whoever wins the nomination is putting the party back together.  That’s always the case, but it’s going to be more of the case this time than any time in a generation. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Peggy, it is getting very personal, especially between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  John Dickerson in Slate talks about how red-faced Bill Clinton becomes every election cycle.  He says, by Oregon at the end, they’re going to have to pull him out on the stretcher. 

PEGGY NOONAN, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  You know, he was there every day, it seemed, in Nevada.  He has a way of coming forward, being compelling but also putting his finger at you, getting a little red-faced, getting mad at this reporter, getting in an argument, doing “Charlie Rose.”  It almost seemed to be timed eruptions aimed at getting attention and moving his wife’s fortunes forward. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Isn’t there a danger in that, though, short term it helps him…

NOONAN:  I think so.

SCARBOROUGH:   … long term?

NOONAN:  Exactly.  Short term it gets him going, but long term, the things you have reservations about of the Clinton, you look at him, you look at her and you think, oh, my gosh, haven’t we been here?  So long term I think it is bad.

SCARBOROUGH:  Keith, you have a question? 

OLBERMANN:  I do.  Howard, that was pretty strong language.  It’s going to tear the Democratic Party apart? 

FINEMAN:  I think so, Keith.  Because I think both sides—and it really is a two-way race now.  Both sides have resources, they committed supporters.  They are going to have pieces of their own of the Democratic coalition to call their own.  And it’s about delegates and both sides, as symbolized by Nevada, are going to split these delegates because the Democratic rules are proportion, meaning that anybody who gets a decent vote gets a lot of delegates.  It’s going to go on a long, long time. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and, Gene, let’s look at the last day.  I mean, how ugly it has gotten.  You have got phone calls going out against Barack Hussein Obama, and then you have Bill Clinton saying that union members were chasing he and Chelsea and union members saying if you vote for Barack Obama, we’re not going to let you get off of work.  It seems this party, it is divided. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST:  There are charges and countercharges of irregularities in the voting and muscle being applied.  You know, I’m not sure I quite buy Howard’s Antietam theory, but I do think, look, here is one thing to watch.  She won big among the Latino voters.  Obama won equally big among African-American voters.  I think it would really get out of hand if the Democratic parties saw those two big constituencies at odds. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And of course, on the Republican side, Mitt Romney wins again.  If it’s all about delegates, like Howard Wolfson says, this guy keeps racking them up.  Now three victories and two silver metals, as they’d like to say.  Keith, back to you. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Joe, thank you.  And thanks to the panel.  We’ll be back with you throughout the evening. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, New York Times columnist Frank Rich, plus Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.  You are watching MSNBC’s live coverage of the Nevada Caucuses and the all-important South Carolina Republican Primary, the results of which we are going to have later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Hillary Clinton the projected winner in the Nevada Caucuses.  Hillary Clinton projected as the victor, although the Obama camp, as you may have heard with us earlier, claiming more delegates, by one.

Mitt Romney has won the Republican caucus in Nevada.  These are certainties.  South Carolina does not close—the polls don’t close until the top of the hour.  In the interim, we have Frank Rick of The New York Times, who has been good enough to come in and join us this evening. 

Frank, thanks once more for your time tonight. 

FRANK RICH, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Thanks for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, coming out of New Hampshire, remember that famous remark from Senator Clinton that she had listened to New Hampshire and found her voice, is—did she use her voice to win Nevada tonight or did she use the voices, as Chris has been pointing out, of diminished expectations? 

RICH:  Yes.  Look, I think that in this case what happened in Vegas isn’t going to go that much beyond Vegas.  It’s a victory.  But I think organization, pre-spin, as you said, about diminished expectations, and by the way, if Obama had won by the same margin, I think it would have been similarly inconsequential in terms of the long haul here. 

I do think it’s a bad night, obviously, for John Edwards.  That may be the most interesting part of it, that sort of seeming collapse. 

OLBERMANN:  The preference polls—the entering polls suggested that Obama clearly won among independents but independents did not come out in great numbers.  Obviously we have the results of the exiting polling of Hispanic voting, which was heavily in favor of Hillary Clinton, 64 to 26 percent. 

Superseding and suspending the consideration of their other merits as candidates, do we have any indication based on those two numbers alone which Democrat is actually electable? 

RICH:  In the general election? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

RICH:  My guess is that they both are.  You know, I think that, frankly, this is for the Democrats to lose in this cycle, I think everybody knows that because the political differences, as much as we debate them, between Clinton and Obama are not that enormous.  And they both represent enormous change from I think seven, and soon to be eight years that the Americans want to turn the page on. 

And that’s what the Democrats have as a brand.  It doesn’t mean that they can’t mess it up and lose it.  But we’ll have to see as this plays out whether Clinton or Obama is more electable.  My own feeling is Obama is slightly more electable because he comes with less baggage, obviously, and less of a history, but that can also be his Achilles heel if we find out he can’t handle the campaign in the stretch. 

OLBERMANN:  But you had written recently that the Clinton campaign amounted not to change but to this 1990s-style that Republicans are dying to re-fight.  That seems to disconnect slightly from what you just said about her electability.  Balance those things out for us. 

RICH:  Yes, I think—look, I think that any Democrat is electable.  I think that the Republicans really want to go after the Clintons.  They want to re-fight the 1990s.  And that’s why I think Obama at this juncture is more electable.  He doesn’t have that.  And that’s really, to me, the only cards the Republicans have to play. 

This is a country where, you know, something like three-quarters of the people feel America is on the wrong track, where people are depressed about everything from foreign policy to the economy.  All of that augurs well for the party that’s not in office. 

But if we can go back to the Clinton wars of the ‘90s, then the Democrats could have a problem and they could conceivably lose it, or at least lose the presidential election and that’s a real concern. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Correct me with this, if I’m mistaken, on the sort of headline oversimplifications of these two races as we’re seeing them develop, including what happened today, that the Democrats are boiling down to, in large part, an internal battle over race and racial makeup, and that the Republicans are boiling down to what might be an internal battle over religion—degree of religion, kind of religion. 

RICH:  Well, I think it depends a lot, in the latter case, of what Huckabee does tonight and whether he—if he doesn’t win tonight, he may be a much smaller factor.  If he wins, then the identity politics of religion in the Republican Party will loom large.  And they could also with Mitt Romney for the same reason. 

In the case of the Democrats, I’m not sure it’s all about race.  I think it’s also about the Clintons.  It’s always about the Clintons to some extent.  So race is a part of it.  Sure, the demographical breakdown, the Democratic interest groups, but we’ll see. 

We had a racial skirmish.  We have more.  But I’m not 100 percent convinced it is all going to be—happen because of race whether Clinton or Obama wins. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Not necessarily a skirmish, but perhaps a question of appeal and preference groups and all the rest of that.  In any event, Frank, we’re out of time.  Frank Rich of The New York Times, as always, a pleasure, sir. 

RICH:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s bring in now former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is, I believe, in Florida tonight. 

Mayor, where are you? 

RUDY GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I’m at The Villages in Florida.  We had a rally and we’re about to have a dinner—a Lincoln Day Dinner that I’m going to speak at. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Mayor, for months now I think I’ve been one of the troubadours for you out there in terms of your prospects.  I’ve always seen the Giuliani advantage in a party that treasures leadership.  The old line is Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.  And I keep waiting for that to happen. 

Can you benefit from a continued failure of the party to find a leader until they get to Florida? 

GIULIANI:  Well, I mean, we’re going to get there right now.  I mean, tomorrow is the opening act, right?  Well, we’ve been here now for weeks, it seems to me, laying the groundwork.  We set out an agenda for Florida.  Today I was in the Everglades.  We talked about what has to be done to preserve the Everglades.  We’ve laid out the largest tax cut in American history, the one-page form.  It’s gaining a lot of tracks, a lot of popularity. 

We’ve talked about the national catastrophic fund.  And we’ve talked about dealing with Islamic terrorism by remaining on offense.  Now the Republicans all come here and we’ll see.  I mean, I think if we’re talking about tax cutting, I, by far, have the best record. 

I supported the Bush tax cuts.  John McCain voted against them and voted with the Democrats.  And Mitt Romney was, I think, equivocal in his support.  In my case, I supported him them I have a record of tax-cutting when I was mayor of New York City and I believe in tax-cutting as a way of stimulating the economy. 

MATTHEWS:  Right now I think it’s fair to say that a lot of Americans are scared to death of the stock market if it keeps plummeting.  They may be more fearful than anything else in America, including potential terrorist strikes.  Can you come into this race full throttle and convince voters that you can get that Dow back up again? 

GIULIANI:  Absolutely.  You cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, you will see a big boost in the American economy.  The corporate tax rate in this country is the second-highest in the world.  Any tax that is the second-highest in the world in the competitive global economy that we live in is hurting us. 

It’s costing us jobs.  It’s the reason why some of the insurance industry went to Bermuda.  It’s the reason why some of the pharmaceutical industry has gone to Ireland.  The president of France wants to lower the corporate tax in France because they are losing jobs in France.  What do you think has happened to us? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you’re also cutting cap gains as well, right, Mayor?  I mean, you’re going to be a real tax cutter.  Can we do that with a deficit like we have got already and all of the spending going on now? 

GIULIANI:  Yes.  I cut…

MATTHEWS:  How do you deal with it in this environment? 

GIULIANI:  Well, you also cut spending.  You don’t re-hire half of the civilian employees that are coming up for retirement.  You don’t re-hire them the way businesses have done.  Take gains through technology. 

You do what I used to do when I was mayor and what Ronald Reagan used to do.  You put caps on your agencies—your civilian agencies.  You say to your secretaries, get me 5 percent, get me 10 percent cuts.  You do have to do both.  I don’t want to put the emphasis just on tax-cutting. 

And the tax cuts that I proposed, Chris, are strategic tax cuts.  You make money from them.  When I lowered the income tax in New York City, we were collecting more revenue from the lower income tax than from the higher one. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with the economic plan to bring us back from the brink. 

GIULIANI:  Thanks, Chris, good to talk to you.

MATTHEWS:  I think we’re on that brink.  Anyway, polls in South Carolina close at the top of the hour.  We’re going to have some results for you.  And this is, as Tim Russert said about an hour ago, the big story tonight, who wins the Republican primary in South Carolina?  If it’s Huckabee, he’s back national.  If it’s McCain, he could be moving towards being the leader the Republicans are looking for. 

OLBERMANN:  And we may have—we may hear from some of those civilian employees of the government who just heard their job…

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I was thinking of “Neutron Jack,” weren’t you? 

OLBERMANN:  When we return, Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow will join us.  This is MSNBC’s live coverage of the Nevada Caucuses and the South Carolina Republican Primary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I invite everyone to join my campaign.  Please, go to hillaryclinton.com.  There are ways for everyone to be involved.  We want to grow the support we have so that we continue to demonstrate in state after state that we will be able to run a winning campaign in November and take back the White House.  Thank you all so very much. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That sound bite was approved by Hillary Clinton.  It was given to us just a little while ago after she won numerically the Nevada Caucus, but again, the Obama people are claiming more delegates in Nevada. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let’s go right now to MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, and Rachel Maddow of Air America Radio who is also an MSNBC political analyst. 

My, that’s a new development for you, congratulations.  I didn’t know about that.  If I had had anything to do with it, I might have gotten involved.  Anyway, thank you, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I’m watching Hillary Clinton receive the victory tonight and I’m looking at what I think is a very good piece of political soldiering going into Nevada, portraying yourself as the underdog by various complaints and protests about the methods of holding caucuses only to come out on top.  Smart politics. 

MADDOW:  Yes, we’re seeing a little bit of what we saw in New Hampshire where it’s portrayed as a huge upset, a huge victory, a huge surprise, whereas if you actually take the long view and you look at the polling data, it would have been a much bigger surprise had she not pulled it off. 

But you know, it was relatively close in terms of the overall outcome.  It was very close in terms of the delegate outcome.  I think the huge story out of Nevada is that 114,000 Democrats turned out.  The turnout, the excitement is huge.  And Democrats broadly, no matter who they are supporting, have to be happy about that. 

MATTHEWS:  And 59 percent women, again.  Ann Lewis was with the Clinton campaign a while ago.  You know, I’m used to the idea of California being about 60 percent women.  And of course, women candidates have done very well in California, obviously both senators and Pelosi being among the most important politicians in the country. 

But if that number continues to rise in the high 50s, Rachel, it seems to me Hillary has an almost built-in advantage here—not built-in advantage, a built-in victory almost coming this way. 

MADDOW:  Well, heading into South Carolina, obviously the Republicans are in South Carolina today.  The Democrats are in South Carolina a week from today.  And if you look at voter registration data in South Carolina, there are 25 percent more women registered in South Carolina than there are men.  And so that’s not breaking it down Republican or Democrat, but it does bode well for her for the next few contests. 

MATTHEWS:  Have these women been waiting for all of these years for a women candidate to register and participate, is that what is going on? 

MADDOW:  Well, it may be.  I mean, I think that there is something going on in—where women who may not have been enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton as an individual are enthusiastic about the idea of a woman president. 

How much that dynamic drives the eventual results in the primary and in the general, I think are going to depend on what the competing issues are, too.  But I think to deny that that’s happening, and that women, Republican and Democrat, like the idea of a women president, is to deny the obvious. 

OLBERMANN:  Rachel Maddow with Pat Buchanan, who is just appearing in your picture at the moment, we’ll get back to both you when the opportunity arises after the top of the hour.  Thanks, Rachel.  Thanks, Pat. 

Polls in South Carolina close at the top of the hour.  Three minutes and some-odd seconds from now.  In a moment, we’ll be back with the first results from the Republican primary.  This is MSNBC’s continuing coverage of South Carolina and the Nevada Caucuses.  And stay with us.  

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  It’s 7:00 on the East Coast and the polls are now closed in the South Carolina Republican primary.  This much we know now, McCain and Huckabee, John McCain and former governor Mike Huckabee are competing now for first place in the South Carolina primary.

And the race is by our standards at NBC News too early to call.  We’ll be watching that and giving you the result as soon as we can get it here.  Earlier caucuses were held in Nevada today and the big winner on the Democratic side in a very hotly contested race, Hillary Clinton beat what looked to be the expectations of a Barack win.  She came in well over Barack at 51, 45, and John Edwards is clearly out of the money, barely registering in the totals.

The Republican race was won by Mitt Romney.  He was the only top Republican to actually campaign out there in Nevada.  Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican and John McCain are locked in a battle for second.  Good evening, I’m Chris Matthews in New York along with Keith Olbermann.

So Keith, we do have news already, and that is that Mitt Romney has been able to win two in a row now, Michigan and now Nevada with the help of his fellow churchmen in the Mormon religion, they gave him half his vote today and Hillary Clinton in a much bigger story was able to beat the expectations that she and her husband, Bill, may have had a lot to do with building, which this was going to be Obama’s race.

OLBERMANN:  There’s nothing like being able to do that when the polls suddenly are questioned because the last polls we saw were Hillary by five percent.  She’s won by six percent.

MATTHEWS:  It’s pretty good to say she’s the underdog.

OLBERMANN:  You wouldn’t be able to call that one an upset.  We have one more slight additional characterization on the South Carolina Republican race we can give for you.  This is not going to be earth-shattering but Romney and Fred Thompson are competing for third place.  That’s our characterization looking at the early exit polls.

So we know that it’s McCain and Huckabee in first place and Romney and Thompson for third place.  And we’ll see how it pans out.

MATTHEWS:  And I do wonder if the word we keep getting that all Fred Thompson has to do is come in third, having not come in third yet.  I just find that an amazingly low standard of performance and a very effective one to set.  If all you have to do is come in third, win, place or show, to show, when does he win?

OLBERMANN:  Well, and the other part is, what if we’re suggesting that what we’re seeing so far is very tight for third place between the two of them.  What if he comes in a very good fourth?  Is that almost a third?  Is that enough—Did that line in the sand—what does that mean?

We never heard what the line in the sand actually said, whether it said I’m finishing third or a strong fourth.

MATTHEWS:  I know and I guess the question down the road is, and it is well after tonight, if John McCain wins tonight and nobody knows who is going to win tonight at this point.  If he were going to win tonight, his close friend, Fred Thompson—and they are friends …

OLBERMANN:  Uh-huh.

MATTHEWS:  Might leave the race and endorse him or do him a bigger favor and stay in the race and keep siphoning off say 10 percent of the vote away from Huckabee, his fellow southerner.  That might be a shrewder move if you were a politician.

OLBERMANN:  Again, how soon do you get out after spending so much time debating with yourself in public, to great publicity ends, whether or not to get in.

MATTHEWS:  It was pointed out earlier tonight by a reporter down there covering that race, I think it was Mika Brzezinski, that they are serving Budweiser tonight.  I don’t know if that’s the drink of third place or first place, it’s certainly very American.  It’s not champagne.

OLBERMANN:  I’m not stepping into that corporate morass.

Let’s talk about the Democrats.  NBC’s Andrea Mitchell has been on the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton and tonight she’s here with us in New York.

And Andrea, we heard the claim from the Obama camp, that is actually our victory because we got more delegates.

How does the Clinton camp respond to that one.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, you know, the fact is that it’s a split 12, 13.  There’s some in dispute.  But the fact that Obama did get so many delegates out of this despite losing the overall vote, the caucus-going vote to Hillary Clinton indicates that there was some real organizational poll here.  Earlier Chris was referring to the fact that there was some big union muscle and clearly what they did was flood a couple of precincts.  They really showed that they knew how to target certain areas.

So they weighted a couple of caucuses and we saw some evidence of that.  We saw some evidence of that in a couple of casino caucuses.  And we’ll have to do more reporting, but it’s very clear that they knew how to target this and they know how to get the victory that they wanted.  They got the headlines they wanted.  But Barack Obama has done very well with the delegates.  When you look at the exit polls, also, Keith there’s real warning signs and also some plus signs for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama.

Plus is that she did so well with Hispanics and the white vote, that will help her in California, conceivably March 4th, also in Texas.  Some of those other states, the big states down the road.  But she could have real problems in South Carolina because she did terribly with the African Americans and that’s where—that’s why Tim Russert was saying that Bill Clinton was going to go door to door, they have their work cut out for them there.

OLBERMANN:  And this delegate issue, Andrea.  The Associated Press is sticking with its apparent counting of this, 13-12 Clinton over Obama in the camp and now the Associated Press, it’s been a tough week for the Associated Press.  First the dust up with Mitt Romney and a disagreement in delegate counts with Barack Obama’s people.

MITCHELL:  I think that’s going to persist.  It’s going to go back and forth.  Either way, if it’s 13-12, or 12-13, he did very well in delegates and it shows you that the Clinton people knew how to run up the vote here.

OLBERMANN:  Andrea Mitchell following the Clinton campaign for us here in New York.  Thank you, Andrea.

We’re going to switch back over to the Republicans where we’re expecting Mitt Romney to speak at any moment at his headquarters at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.  Ron Allen of NBC News is there now.  Ron?

RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Hey, Keith, yeah, we’re expecting Romney to appear any moment now.  They’ve had the warm-up act and I think he’s about to take the stage.  He’s obviously in a very great mood after winning Nevada and he’s arguing three wins, two silvers and a lot of delegates and a lot of votes and he’s trying to make a case that he of all the Republican candidates is the one that will compete across the country.  There he is on the stage now.  I see him now.

The things that he’s been saying at most of these events are Washington is broken, running as a fix it guy, the guy who is an outsider that can solve problems that Washington has not been able to solve over the years with Social Security, illegal immigration, budget deficits.  You name it.  There he is with his wife.

And we’ve been with him all day starting out in Nevada earlier this morning and now here in Florida.  He came here immediately in the middle of the day after the caucus site closed in Nevada.  After a short rally there.  The message that he’s been pushing the economy.  It’s the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ladies and gentlemen it’s my pleasure this evening not only Duvall County but also representing two other counties in northeast Florida, Sheriff David Shore and Sheriff Tommy Seagraves, governor all three northeast Florida sheriffs are riding for the brand of the Mitt Romney campaign.

Ladies and gentlemen, we had an opportunity to speak with the governor and we know that is he fully aware that the homeland is not secure until the hometown is secure.  Governor, we know that your operational staff …

OLBERMANN:  As we wait for Governor Romney to speak, you’ll notice something that you rarely get to see, two actual pieces of stage craft, political stagecraft.  He first took off his jacket as he approached the stage and then he rolled his sleeves up slightly so that we could get that full working man candidate thing going.  Normally they do not let us see anything like that with the cameras rolling and there it was.  So Mitt Romney has handily won the Nevada caucuses.

Again, the statistic, 50 percent of his votes there were from those of his own faith, the Mormon Church and still would have doubled the field, at least doubled the second place finisher and had the Mormons stayed at home.  Now Governor Romney, after the cheering subsides and if that gentlemen will put his sign down, will be speaking to us from Jacksonville, Florida after his reported and confirmed triumph at Nevada.  Here’s the governor.

MITT ROMNEY, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  Boy, this is about as good as it gets, I’ll tell you that.  This is just a wonderful feeling.  This has been an extraordinary day for me.  We have an event that’s already concluded in Nevada, a caucus there, it’s a big presidential sweepstakes state and we won that handedly today.  I’m really pleased.

There are six or so of us on the ballot there.  Republicans, and I got the majority.  Fifty-three percent of the total.

That is very encouraging indeed.  Now, I’m delighted to have this young lady here at my side and I’m going to introduce her in just a second but I want to say thank you to Representative Carol for being here, thank you also to Speaker Thrasher for welcoming me here and Sheriff Rutherford, thank you for your introduction and also thank you to President Delaney for opening the university like this for us.

It’s an honor to be able to use this university and see so many friends here.  Also, there’s some wonderful people that Mayor Peyton is one of the best I know.  I’ll tell you.  He is a very fine man.  And I appreciate his help.

Now, Ann here has been campaigning all over the country.  She is a remarkable, tireless women, who has great capacity and the amazing thing is that she gets along with me after all of these years, and it’s been a long, long time.  I tell you.  From her standpoint.  From mine it seems like yesterday I went to Cindy White’s house for a party, this was my senior year of high school and there was a girl I had known in elementary school two grades beneath me.  You know in elementary school, if they’re two greats beneath you, why, they are like a child.  So as a fourth grader you think a second greater is a child.  So I didn’t really pay much attention to Ann in elementary school but when she was just turning 16, I found her very interesting.

And so she was at that party and I came up and said hello to her and got to know her a little bit better and then I went to her date who had brought her to the party.  I said, I live closer to Ann’s house than you do and I wonder if I can give her a ride home for you.

And we’ve been going steady ever since and she is the mother of our five sons.  Mom also to five daughters in law and 11 grandchildren, the love of my life.  And I love to tell this story because we’ve been going together for so long, when we got into this race, and you may heard this, I told her, sweetheart, in your wildest dreams, did you see me running for president of the United States?  And she said, Mitt, you weren’t in my wildest dreams.  My sweetheart, Ann Romney.

ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY’S WIFE:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Thank you.  Oh, we appreciate that so much.  It’s just so wonderful to walk into a room and have this kind of enthusiasm for us.  But because I believe there’s some national broadcasters here, I have to say something first.  Thank you Nevada.

You know, I have been married to Mitt for a long time and I’ve see him in all sorts of situations.  Obviously, the ones most important to me is as a husband and as a father to my sons but I’ve also seen him do pretty extraordinary things.  I’ve seen him in business turn around businesses that really were impossible to turn around.  I’ve seen him do the impossible at the Olympics and turn those around.  I saw him as governor of a state, find solutions to problems that no one thought could be solved.

So in every situation I’ve seen Mitt in, he tackles difficult situations and I know what he wants to do next.  He wants to go to Washington, DC, and clean up the mess there.

OLBERMANN:  Mrs. and Governor Romney in Jacksonville, Florida, after their win in Nevada.  He’s already getting ready for the next contest next Tuesday.  One other bit of Republican business to throw in here, we have report from Las Vegas that Congressman Duncan Hunter of California has withdrawn from the Republican presidential race after getting with 98 percent, 879 votes in Nevada today, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Kevin Madden is of course national press secretary for the Romney campaign and he joins us from Boston.  The headquarters of the campaign.

And Mark MacKinnon is a media strategist for the McCain campaign.  First of all let me go to Kevin Madden.  Let’s talk about your victory today.  What is the role of Mormons in this election?  I mean, I thought it was interesting that your candidate tonight, this afternoon said, well, we could have done it without them but we’re glad we had them.  I’m looking at your victories so far in Wyoming.  Is he going to sweep the far western states, Idaho, Utah, Nevada already.  Is this going to be a pattern out West?

KEVIN MADDEN, ROMNEY NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY:  Look, I think Chris obviously we’re very appreciative of all of the support we get regardless of their denomination.  But I would point out that our victories in places like Michigan and Nevada and Wyoming, they came across the board.  I think we did well with women voters.  We did well with economic conservatives, social conservatives, we did well with Hispanics.  So Governor Romney is focused on a full spectrum conservative message in order to win Republican votes and I think that’s why he’s winning and we’ve been competitive in other places like Iowa, like New Hampshire and I expect we’re going to be very competitive today in South Carolina and then on to Florida.

MATTHEWS:  I’m just suggesting that if you start with the Mormon base and the enthusiasm, the turnout was dramatic, 25 percent of the caucus attendees being Mormon today as opposed to seven percent of the electorate, a dramatic over-performance by one group.

You don’t have to campaign for that group, you start with them, they are all going to vote for your candidate.  Then you concentrate on other non-Mormons, gentiles, if you will, from a Mormon point of view and it’s not that hard to win.  I’m just asking you, how important is that Mormon base?

MADDEN:  Well, I think it’s important that folks who want to support the governor based on his appeal on issues that matter to them, that’s what is most important, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I’ll get off this subject.  Let me ask you.  Give me some pick for South Carolina for your boss today, how is he going to do down there?  We’re saying here, by the way that it looks like the top performers tonight are going to be Huckabee and McCain in either order.  Where do you think your guy will come in.

MADDEN:  It think right now it looks like we’re in a battle for third place with Fred Thompson.  I think that’s a particularly good showing for us given the fact that Senator McCain and Governor Huckabee have great institutional support there in that state.

So our goal has been competitive in all these early primaries across the board.  I think a third place finish there in a very close and competitive race for third place, that would be great for us.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We’re looking at a very miniscule return so far I don’t even want to report it so I’m not going to.  Good luck tonight, Kevin.  Thanks for joining us.

Let’s go to Mark MacKinnon with the John McCain campaign.  Is this a must-win tonight for your campaign?

MARK MACKINNON, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN:  I think—I don’t think it’s a must-win.  We hope to do well but the early signs are very encouraging.  I think we are going to win.  And as you know, this is the election that counts today.  But since 1980, every election, every candidate that’s won South Carolina has gone on to win the nomination.  So we’re very encouraged about this race and I think the fact that Mitt Romney spent millions of dollars here and it looks like he’s going to scratch to a poor third is a bad sign for the Romney campaign.

MATTHEWS:  Can you continue to campaign against Romney as long as he’s one of the richest people ever to run for office?

MACKINNON:  Well, he has substantial funds that he brought to the table and, of course, it just shows that you can’t buy South Carolina.  You have to come down here and earn it, which Senator McCain has done.  He had a very tough race in 2000.  He’s come down here and he’s scratched and clawed for every vote he’s going to get tonight.  He’s done that by courage and conviction and by telling the truth and people have really responded.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Can John McCain become the destined Republican candidate for 2008?  In other words, the party that you work in, that you know so well, the Republican Party historically finds a leader and then moves on.  They don’t waste a lot of time with a lot of debates and caucuses and primaries.  They basically get to the conclusion rather quickly.  Is there a chance we’ll see a fast break here from John McCain if he wins tonight?

MACKINNON:  Listen, Chris, once John McCain wins South Carolina and goes on and does well in Florida and Super Tuesday, I believe the entire Republican establishment will be 100 percent behind him enthusiastically.  He’s got a long conservative record and consistent record and he’s got great character and principles which will make a great nominee, who can bring in independents and Democrats in the general election.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I love it when you make a headline.  If he wins tonight and wins in Florida, the establishment comes into line for McCain.  Big news coming out of Mark MacKinnon.  Any way, too early to call the South Carolina primary for anybody tonight.  You’re looking at the numbers, very close.  And it looks to me it’s going to be close for a couple of hours tonight.  It’s too close to call.  Not too early to call.  It was too early to call and now it’s too close to call.

OLBERMANN:  Too early and too close to call.

MATTHEWS:  The distinction between those two standards will be explained when we come back.

OLBERMANN:  Some time next week.

While Governor Romney was speaking we heard from Hillary Clinton, she was asked about the Nevada caucus process.  Here is some of what she told reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I still have concerns about caucuses.  I met people today when I was visiting in a couple of hotels who couldn’t get off work.  You know a woman came to see me.  She runs one of the gift shop.  She couldn’t get off work.  So to me the caucuses, you know, they don’t provide the broad base of participation that I have fought for my entire life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All right.  So now the dispute here is, as we turn to moderator of MEET THE PRESS, Tim Russert, the delegate count and therefore who actually gets the headline of we won Nevada.  The Obama camp was claiming 13-12 in their favor, the Associated Press was claiming 13-12 in Senator Clinton’s favor and now the NBC News decision desk from our calculations is saying that it is in fact 13-12 Obama.  So I guess what should be a simple question, Tim, who won Nevada?

TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, let’s see.  Our NBC tote board says Hillary Clinton is ahead by five percent, I believe, and now this word about the Obama people saying they have 13 delegates to Clinton’s 12, I need some time on this one, Keith.  I’m not going to rush to judgment.

OLBERMANN:  What we just heard Senator Clinton say, we’ve been talking about this, we talked about it last hour.  Diminished expectations.  Was that—can you have diminished expectations after the vote?  Was she still not kind of trying to lower the bar about what was expected it from her and how she performed against it?

RUSSERT:  Absolutely.  Everyone is trying to game the table.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Remember Bill Clinton’s heated conversation with that television reporter in San Francisco?  Why aren’t you covering sub prime mortgages and by the way, do you think it’s fair that people who vote in their big casinos, their vote is worth five times more?  Hillary Clinton did very well in those big casinos.  There’s so much spin going on on both sides, the fact is this is an extremely close race.  The one thing we can take from this is Hillary’s coalition of women and Latinos is a very important coalition.  Particularly for Super Tuesday particularly for a state like California and other states, Arizona, that she encounters on Super Tuesday.

Obama carried the black vote today in Nevada by five to one.  That’s very important for him come a week from today in South Carolina.  And he needs to win South Carolina desperately now in order to get back in the win column and try to get a momentum going in the Super Tuesday.

But I think we have to keep watching how these blocks within the Democratic Party are ling up.  Because for Obama to be successful, he cannot just be the, quote, “black” candidate because that other ratio comes into play is that Clinton won the Hispanics two and a half to one.

OLBERMANN:  So the value of this caucus apart from, again, huge turnout for the Democrats, which has got to be exciting to all of them at over 110,000 when Harry Reid had been laughed at when he said that there was going to be 100,000, apart from that this was thought to be maybe beginning representative of a national poll almost, to have that much value that it wasn’t regionally tilted one way or the other that it could be argued against.

What did we learn out of Nevada apart from the mathematics of Hispanic bloc versus black bloc versus women bloc?

RUSSERT:  Latinos.  They voted overwhelmingly for Clinton and that’s very, very important because they’re a major component in the Democratic Party as we go forward.  You know, when you talk to campaign strategists from both campaigns, Clinton and Obama, they say after Super Tuesday, these candidates could be within 100 delegates of each other.  I mean, they are digging in for the long haul.  They are thinking March 5th at the very earliest.  That this is going to be a pitchfork battle for a long time to come.

MATTHEWS:  Was there any evidence available to anyone that the Clintons were strategic enough to figure that they could start a fight for who is the best for the black community given through all the history and LBJ and Martin Luther King and all the rest of that fight of the last week or so, that that would help them in a non-black voting?

RUSSERT:  Well, that’s an important question, Chris.  I asked Barack Obama in the debate that we had in Nevada where he thought it was an intentional effort to marginalize him as the black candidate.  When Hillary Clinton first made her comments about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson, it was the kind of comment that came to her, talking about picking the president and the importance of being a president.

But after that, there were several attempts by her spokespeople and others to really reinforce that.  And also to talk about Barack Obama and the whole drug use and a lot of caricatures of a black candidate.  So you have to keep watching this very carefully because what emerges from this in terms of voting by ethnicity or race is terribly important as to who is going to win on Super Tuesday.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Thank you very much, Tim Russert.  Coming up, more of what happened out in Nevada.  And as we await the result in the Republican primary in South Carolina tonight, where the race is now too close to call between John McCain and Mike Huckabee, more coming back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote, if you will, in the Democratic caucus.  Those numbers are not votes per se but assigned county delegates.  Statewide, that is not exactly the way it turned out.

The latest conclusion that we have, and this has been fluctuating back and forth.  Obama 13 and Clinton 12.

We know this much that following what happened in Nevada, Hillary Clinton is headed to New York and this plays into the idea of going towards certain ethnic groups and bases that she will be going to the Abyssinian Baptist Church tomorrow in Upper Manhattan in New York City, which just dovetails into this entire discussion.  Where constituencies are based within the Democratic Party and how to put together a Democratic nominee and primary victor.

For more on what happened in the caucuses in Nevada, let’s turn now to John Ralston, the “Las Vegas Sun” whose newspaper endorsed Senator Clinton whose publisher Brian Greenspun is a Clinton supporter.  Thank you for your time tonight, Mr. Ralston.

JOHN RALSTON, “LAS VEGAS SUN”:  You bet.

OLBERMANN:  Same question I asked Tim Russert.  If it looks like Obama got more delegates but Hillary Clinton got a significant distance, five six point victory, who won Nevada?

RALSTON:  Well, it looks like Obama lost Nevada and by a pretty significant margin.  As far as the fight for delegates goes, as you know, in a caucus state, you really are just extrapolating to what would happen.  Obama won in a lot of areas outside of Las Vegas, which was actually thought to be a strength with the culinary union down here and that’s why apportionment of the delegates is going on that way.  Delegates are really not apportioned until later.  So it’s just an extrapolation and everyone thinks Hillary Clinton won Nevada.

OLBERMANN:  Certainly she won the Strip, which was fascinating, because there were nine caucus locations at the various hotels.  The Nevada teacher’s union seemingly on behalf of Senator Clinton had spoken out against them, had sued about them, as if to prevent them.  But was this anticipated?  Did we all get gamed?  Was it an attempt to, once again, diminish expectations by making it look like they had such a disadvantage because there were casino sites?

RALSTON:  It was an incredible move by the Clinton campaign, Keith.  The scene today with Bill Clinton, the former president going from hotel to hotel shaking hands of caucus goers, getting pictures with caucus goers.

After Barack Obama got that endorsement, after it became clear he would have an advantage, was thought to have an advantage in these casino caucuses, the Clinton campaign went all out to divide that vote.  You guys have already mentioned the Hispanic vote -- 40 percent of the Culinary Workers are Hispanic.  Hillary Clinton went right into the neighborhoods to make those appeals.  And there today, an amazing sight, Bill Clinton in the Mirage, in the Rio Hotel shaking hands with potential caucus-goers.  They went right at him. 

And the numbers that I have seen already, Keith, show that Hillary Clinton actually won a significant number of those so-called at-large casino caucuses. 

OLBERMANN:  Our colleague Craig Crawford has summarized Nevada’s caucus, the first time that this was efforted and brought off so well, as something of my special interest group versus your special interest group.  Is that an overly broad statement or is there some criticism in that that might be valid of this process? 

RALSTON:  Well, listen, the caucus process is crazy.  And of course, you’re always going to get reports of all kinds of irregularities or people being disenfranchised because they can’t work.  Listen, this was very, very intense for this state.  We’ve never done this before.  You mentioned the turnout, over 110,000, 9,000 people turned up when the caucus really didn’t matter in 2004 on Valentine’s Day. 

But the teacher’s union versus the culinary union, maybe the culinary union and SEIU here versus every other union, AFSCME imported a bunch of people here to help Hillary Clinton.  The war among the unions was really something to watch here. 

OLBERMANN:  And the Republican side of things, this is being assessed as, well, Mitt Romney campaigned there.  He and Ron Paul were the only two Republicans who really did that.  Mitt Romney had 50 percent of his vote drawn from the Mormon faith.  Is it fair to minimize what happened in the Nevada vote—the straw vote there because even if you took away that huge Mormon turnout for Romney, he still doubled anybody else in the field? 

RALSTON:  Yes.  He did.  And you know, he was really the only one who campaigned here.  So if you look at it from that perspective, the rest then never really gave Nevada a shot.  But Mitt Romney, as you know, with those deep pockets, was going to play in all of these early states.  He might have thought at some point that he needed Nevada as a firewall, as if this was going to be the only gold metal. 

It’s his third now.  He’s almost in Mark Spitz territory.  I’m sure he’s very, very excited at this point.  But yes, no one else campaigned here.  Look at the showing by Ron Paul who really was the only other candidates who made an effort here.  He has some fervent supporters here and he actually ran TV adds.  No one else did anything in the state.  But if I were Mitt Romney, I’d be making a big deal of it, too. 

Jon Ralston of The Las Vegas Sun, great thanks, Jon. 

RALSTON:  The best. 

OLBERMANN:  And somewhere, Mark Spitz is hitting the side of his head to make sure that that wasn’t just water in the middle there, that he actually did hear his name mentioned in the middle of political coverage.  Let’s turn to the anchor of “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS,” Brian Williams, who is good enough to spend a couple of minutes with us. 

Good evening, Brian.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR:  Good Mark Spitz reference, Keith.  Good evening to you. 

OLBERMANN:  You spent this day on the campaign trail in Nevada with Hillary Clinton earlier this week.  We heard her just now hoarse.  Was this how much this meant to her?  Was this all-out to for her? 

WILLIAMS:  Well, what a contrast.  We also went to the last rally of the New Hampshire campaign at an executive fitness center the night before the vote.  Our producer spotted tears in Chelsea’s eyes.  It looked for all the world like the Clinton campaign had seen new internal numbers that were behind, as everybody was, the trend that was happening. 

And we have just seen in Nevada the post-New Hampshire bounce in a race where momentum is crucial.  And now already there’s this new Clinton campaign.  So we were given a lot of access, Keith.  I mean, 30-minute sit-down with the candidate.  That hadn’t happened a lot, if ever. 

An interview during which she admitted she had been running too hard for commander-in-chief earlier in the race and then hop in the motorcade, go to the next campaign event.  Downtime with the candidate was really quite extraordinary.  That there was kind of a new day dawning in at least her Nevada wing of the campaign. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  What did they—did they give you any indication, as much as they may have tried to downplay the possibility of winning this thing by 5 to 6 points, which is exactly what appears to have happened in Nevada, did they give any indication of what needed to be done, from their perspective, as they moved on from here, what was lacking apart from that sort of conviviality and the obligatory new catch phrase that the senator seems to come up with after every one of them, the new one being, this is, I guess, how the West was won, she said tonight? 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  And we have this strange comment about caucuses, how she has railed against them for many years.  Well, it goes back to that other political expression, mojo.  It seemed like they weren’t going to be intimidated by the Culinary Workers Union which turned out—into a very kind of confusing endorsement. 

You listened to a lot of these voters today in the caucuses saying, I know my union has ruled one way, I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter.  Of course, now we’ll get into the delegate fight you already touched on with Tim. 

Tim also correctly warned of any election that gets down to factions in voting, because South Carolina brings us now into some very interesting territory.  I concur with Tim that this is a vital, vital place for a good showing now in the Obama campaign.

And by the way, Fred Thompson is appearing before microphones 20 minutes from now.  Watch that one closely and keep an eye on John Edwards.  What is going to happen there? 

MATTHEWS:  Let’s look down the road a bit.  You have to wonder, Brian, whether the Clinton campaign, Bill and Hillary both, are thinking about a possible expedition—or an expediting of this victory, if they could get one, for the nomination by winning in South Carolina the next time, Saturday night next week, the 26th

It seems to me, with the promise from Ann Lewis tonight on this broadcast that she is going to—well, she told us that the former president is going to go down there and go door-to-door in the black community and really try to take this guy’s turf away from him.  If they do that, it seems to me it’s almost like hitting the MRV missile in its silo and preventing the chance for Obama to go nationwide on the 5th of February.  It would be a cheaper way to win this. 

And perhaps what do you think?  Do it without all of the blood? 

WILLIAMS:  Well, it would be cheap, it would be not without its risks.  Look for Senator Clinton to pop up at Abyssinian Baptist in Harlem tomorrow morning, which would underscore, perhaps, somebody is thinking about your strategy.  It would be a very, very interesting way to go.  A third of the electorate, as you know, African-American. 

But you’ve also got so many confusing things about South Carolina, 15 military installations, the tourism business, the jobs that have gone to China.  A whole lot of retirees.  The Obama campaign going after first-time voters.  Across the country, South Carolina no exception. 

So it gets so confusing now from here on out.  And, you know, if that strategy just does not work, we could be at this for a while, as you gentlemen know better than most. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  We’re not making any traveling plans from here, Brian.  Brian Williams of “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS,” thanks, Brian. 

WILLIAMS:  Thanks. 

MATTHEWS:  We have got Tucker Carlson who is joining us.  I want Tucker to respond to this big query from me.  I’m looking for a pattern here.  Explain it to me.  The Bellagio, the Mirage, Rio, Paris, the Flamingo, Wynn, and New York, New York, all for Hillary Clinton.  Luxor and Caesar’s Palace for Barack Obama.  What’s the pattern? 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “TUCKER”:  I hate to say this, but it looks like upscale/downscale.  I kind of like Caesar’s Palace, but it’s kind of obvious that, you know, you look—where the Palm went, I mean, that’s really the question I’d like to see answered.  I don’t know if they were caucusing there.  But it looks like Hillary Clinton won the upscale casino market. 

I’ll be interested to find out where these robo-calls came from that The Politico reported on this morning, apparently going out to thousands of Nevada potential caucus-goers that called Barack Obama “Barack Hussein Obama” four times in a single robo-call.  Pretty clear what the point there was.  That’s I think potentially so nasty that it backfires.  And if that is in any way tied to the Clinton campaign, I think that is a story we are going to see on page at least page three if not page one in the next week. 

MATTHEWS:  You have no idea who sent them out, but here is the question, how do you know it will backfire?  Most guns, when they are pointed at someone, hit them. 

CARLSON:  They do.  But I think the undercurrent—the subtext of certainly what we just saw today in Nevada is more ethnic politics.  And I think that’s something that in the long run would be disruptive for the Democratic Party.  I mean, the apparent rift between Latino and African-American voters is—you know, talk to any non-aligned Democratic strategist, potentially hugely, hugely problematic. 

I mean, could it be that there are some number of Latino voters who are hesitant to vote for a black candidate on the Democratic side?  I don’t know the answer.  You could interpret the results today that way.  But if that’s true, the last thing that party or any party wants is key demographics pitted against one another. 

And I think the suggestion that the Hillary campaign—or a rival campaign, because we don’t know at this point, but might be using what is, in essence, an ethnic attack against Barack Obama, I mean, you know, they don’t need more disarray like that on the Democratic Party, particularly this year.  I mean, this is the Democrats’ year.  They have got, you know, this remarkable tailwind working for them.  And the last thing they want is some sort of ethnic battle.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but, Tucker, if we’re going to conject (ph) as to where those phone calls came from, and your suggestion I think is well taken, that they backfire, does that not—if they backfire and these are political professionals and they know that it backfires, does that not broaden the number of suspects that could be at the heart of that, including every other Democratic candidate, even if you want to go into political science fiction, the Obama camp and all of the Republican candidates as well?  Just to stir up trouble.

CARLSON:  Well, you know, you never know.  And we’re seeing shades of that now in South Carolina.  I mean, the McCain campaign, and I mean no disrespect to the senator, but spent a good part of this week playing up attacks its candidate, on John McCain, saying he’s being hit unfairly as he was in 2000. 

The truth is that there were almost no public attacks against John McCain.  Sure, there were, you know, scurrilous, you know, through-the-transom attacks on him, flyers, et cetera.  But basically he got through that campaign, and his opponents kept the gloves on. 

So the point of touting those attacks was, of course, to generate some sort of sympathy response.  So look, I agree with you completely, I don’t put anything beyond anyone in this kind of campaign.  I will be interested finally to see if Bill Clinton will press on into his investigation of voter fraud in the Nevada Caucuses and maybe they will nullify the results of the election.  You never know. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, Tucker.  I think it is post-spin.  Anyway, up next, more numbers from our exit polling from South Carolina as we await the Republican winner, which we hope to announce soon.  This is MSNBC’s live coverage of the Nevada Caucuses and the South Carolina Republican Primary. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  And welcome back to MSNBC’s live coverage as we await a winner in the South Carolina Republican Primary.  Right now it’s too close to call between Mike Huckabee and John McCain.  Chip Saltsman is the adviser to the Huckabee campaign. 

Chip, thanks for joining us.  It must be a very nail-biting time for you folks. 

CHIP SALTSMAN, HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  Well it is, Chris, but it’s always good to be with you, always willing to take a little time out of the campaign for you. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about this campaign.  You look smiling and happy tonight.  Are you happy that—if you’re either going to win this thing or if it doesn’t matter, so it must mean that you’re going to win it because it does matter. 

SALTSMAN:  Well, we feel really good about where we are tonight.  The early results I guess are still less than 1 percent, most of those reports have come in from counties that John McCain is supposed to do well and he has.  A lot of the upstate numbers haven’t come in yet. 

We feel really good about what we’ve been hearing from the field, from our folks in the upstate and the midlands.  And we still feel like it’s going to be a good night for Mike Huckabee. 

MATTHEWS:  How big an issue is the flag down there? 

SALTSMAN:  Well, you know, I don’t know.  It came up in the last couple of days of the campaign and what Governor Huckabee has said is South Carolina should decide that.  I’m not sure it was a—obviously not a red hot issue like it was eights years ago here. 

And so from what I can tell, I think that the flag issue has pretty much been decided by the folks in South Carolina and they are pretty happy with the results. 

MATTHEWS:  But as a candidate for president, what is Governor Huckabee’s view on having the Confederate flag on the lawn of the state capital of South Carolina?  What is his view as a presidential candidate?

SALTSMAN:  As a presidential candidate, he thinks the states should make those decisions.  He thinks the people of South Carolina should come up with that and deal with that issue because it directly affects the people of South Carolina and no one else. 

Obviously they’ve made that decision, they took that flag off the capital dome and they put it on the capital grounds and that was their decision.  It was a compromise come up with Republicans and Democrats and the voters of South Carolina.  And, you know, as a presidential candidate, I’m not sure we have anything to do with that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Chip Saltsman, we’ll be back to you, sir, throughout the evening, I hope. 

One note, NBC News has now projected that Ron Paul, the libertarian, will finish second in Nevada in those caucuses today ahead of—catch this, ahead of the two leading contenders, as we see it, for the fight in South Carolina tonight, McCain and Huckabee.  So Ron Paul is more popular among Republicans in Nevada than either of the two contenders tonight in South Carolina. 

Let’s check in with MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell who has been tracking our exit polling in South Carolina—Norah.

NORAH O’DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Chris.  Well, as we’ve been reporting, John McCain and Mike Huckabee are competing for first place in South Carolina.  Whoever wins tonight, it will depend on who turned out to vote.  And we do have some early information about the makeup of the electorate. 

We know that conservatives and evangelicals turned out in large numbers.  This is the Republican base that turned out.  More so in fact than in eight years when George W. Bush won the state. 

Take a look at those numbers.  It was just 19 percent of the voters today called themselves independent.  Compare that to 2000 when independents made up some 30 percent of the electorate. 

Today we’re also seeing a large turnout among evangelicals, 58 percent identifying themselves as evangelicals.  As we know, Mike Huckabee was courting the evangelical vote, and today they gave him 41 percent of their vote compared to 27 percent for John McCain.  That’s interesting.  That’s not the huge margin that we saw Mike Huckabee have in Iowa, for instance.  Of course, he won in the state of Iowa. 

Also today, Republican voters in South Carolina said they want a candidate who “shares my values.” That was the most important quality today.  Mike Huckabee had a slight lead among those voters.  But among those voters who said experience was the most important quality, John McCain gets a big majority.  Mitt Romney coming in second.  And look at that, Mike Huckabee with just 2 percent when it comes to experience. 

Finally, we kind of looked ahead to the general election and asked voters about the best Republican to beat the Democratic nominee.  More chose McCain than Huckabee or Romney. 

And one other interesting note about this electorate, in the previous contest, there has been a great deal of anger toward President Bush.  Well, tonight we learned South Carolina is Bush country.  More than two-thirds in the Palmetto State say they are satisfied with the Bush administration—Keith and Chris. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Norah O’Donnell at the exit poll desk, thank you for that.  As we await Fred Thompson who is going to speak in about five minutes, let’s bring in MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow to talk about what we’re perhaps seeing in South Carolina. 

And just start it that way, Pat.  What are we perhaps seeing with the latest call being it’s too close to call and too early to call between McCain and Huckabee?

PAT BUCAHAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think McCain and Huckabee are deciding which of the two of them is going to race Romney to the Republican nomination.  I think Romney’s victory in Nevada is important for this reason.  The other national candidates’ performance was pathetic, even though they started the campaign with a lot of money.

And I refer particularly to McCain and to Thompson.  And Romney has pivoted out of Michigan and he is now running as the outsider who can clean up the mess in Washington, which are the exact words of his wife down there in Florida, and who can do something about the economy because he’s a guy that has come in and saved these businesses. 

I think the winner of the McCain-Huckabee race in South Carolina will go into Florida as the main challenger to Romney if it’s Huckabee.  If it’s McCain, I think he’ll be ranked number one, Romney number two, and Huckabee number three. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Pat, I have to say that it’s hard for me to see the Nevada results for Romney tonight being that consequential.  I find it even—I find it a little embarrassing for him to be bragging on those results.  It’s kind of like saying that you’re valedictorian and hoping nobody remembers that you were actually home-schooled. 

I mean, nobody competed there.  It was just Mitt Romney.  Ron Paul is the guy who came in second.  For him to be bragging about his finishes in Nevada and Wyoming I think is actually embarrassing for him as a candidate. 

He’s not going to do anything in South Carolina, doesn’t look like he’s going to do all that much in Florida.  I think for him to think these little states are going to catapult him to the nomination is a pipe dream. 

BUCHANAN:  But your concern for his embarrassment is probably not going to concern Governor Romney all that much.  Look, if you take—as Keith Olbermann said, if you take the Mormons entirely out of the race, Romney beat McCain more than two to one.  He beat Ron Paul two to one there.

MADDOW:  But, Pat, there was no contest there. 

BUCHANAN:  But that tells you, look, in the race in Idaho—and not only Nevada, Idaho and Colorado, and even parts of Arizona, out there—there are a great number of Mormons out there.  What it says is that Romney is running a national campaign. 

Why can’t—I mean, that is a pathetic performance for McCain and Giuliani, who are two national candidates at 30 percent or more.  They didn’t even go to Nevada, a caucus like that, I mean, it shows tremendous weakness out there. 

MADDOW:  They may have been wrong to not go there, but the results with Romney winning say nothing about his candidate being viable.  Really, I mean, Mitt Romney is the first Massachusetts politico to not win New Hampshire since time immemorial. 

If Mitt Romney—sure, he won Michigan, he’s from Michigan.  His dad was governor there.  He has shown no ability to compete at the national level, Pat, I’m sorry. 

BUCHANAN:  He has got three gold medals, two silvers, and one bronze.  What does Giuliani have?  What does Thompson have?  We’re going to find out in about five minutes.  And McCain has got to show…

MADDOW:  Sure.  And if Wyoming gives you the nomination, this is a different country than I thought it was.  It’s admirable that you’re sticking up for him, but I don’t think it spins out that way. 

BUCHANAN:  I think it’s McCain and Romney for the nomination. 

OLBERMANN:  One other thing though to add on to what you guys are saying, if you did take those Mormons out, as I’ve been suggesting, from that vote, you would only have 30,000 Republicans or so having voted to—our great thanks to Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, we’ll get back to you in a moment. 

But Andrea Mitchell, who has been covering the Hillary Clinton campaign, has some breaking news tonight out of what that trip to New York tomorrow is all about—Andrea.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  Well, we believe that this is not only an endorsement, but an endorsement from the Reverend Calvin Butts, who is the pastor of that historic church, Abyssinian Baptist.  It tells you not so much the value of this endorsement, but just what Hillary Clinton’s focus is. 

She is trying to shore up some support from the African-American community because they know they are heading south to South Carolina, and she did so badly in the exit polls in Nevada with African-Americans, having done really well with women, with whites, with Latinos. 

This is a really historic divide among the minority community.  The African-Americans going for Barack Obama in our exit polls, and the Hispanics going for Hillary Clinton.  This is not something that any Democratic nominee wants to see.  So they know that they have got a problem, despite all of the advantages of the way the caucuses turned out for Hillary Clinton, the acknowledged advantages, she has got to do something about the African-American vote. 

By the way, Jay Carson, her spokesman, as they were just taking off from Nevada, again, disputing that delegate count.  They have their own count.  They say the state party says that the delegates will not be chosen for months and that the final count to be determined. 

OLBERMANN:  Thirteen to 12, we just don’t know who has the 13 and who has 12. 

MITCHELL:  Exactly.  You’ve got it. 

OLBERMANN:  Andrea Mitchell, great thanks. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let’s go right now—Andrea, thank you.  Let’s go to Dee Dee Myers.  She was, of course, White House press secretary—presidential press secretary for President Clinton. 

Dee Dee!

DEE DEE MYERS, FMR. CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.:  Chris!

MATTHEWS:  My pal, let me ask you this.  Are we watching a Clinton endgame here, going to New York tomorrow, Mrs. Clinton, the senator from New York is going up there to go to that large African-American church up in Manhattan?  It looks like the president—the former president is going to be going door-to-door in black neighborhoods in South Carolina this week. 

It just looks to me like they are going for the victory, try to knock out Barack this week. 

MYERS:  Well, I think it would be significant if she were to win South Carolina.  But I think that’s how they will play virtually every state between now and the time that one of those two candidates has enough delegates to lock up the nomination.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  This is where the campaign gets intense and you have to be out there every day.  I don’t think they’re going to cede any ground. 

And I think that it’s important that the Clintons establish for the South Carolina Primary, but also for the future that they are going to compete and compete hard for African-American votes.  You can’t just leave that constituency, you know, out of your equation for any reason.  And they are not going to. 

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me a second reason, which I’m sure you have thought of strategically.  If, for example, Hillary Clinton is able to lose the black vote, largely, then she will have to negotiate for it later on.  Hold on, Dee Dee.  We are going to go right now to Fred Thompson, who is about to make, apparently, an important statement.  Hold on, Dee Dee.

FRED THOMPSON ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you for your friendship.  Thank you for everything that you’ve done. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)        

THOMPSON:  Well, it may be a little early to declare a victory.  I’m not sure. 

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON:  But we…

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)        

THOMPSON:  We told our folks to vote late so they will still be trickling in, I’m sure. 

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON:  Thank you very, very much.  While we’re waiting, early in the process, I wanted to come here and speak to you from my heart, tell you how much I appreciate you.  Tell you how blessed that Jeri and I feel to have friends like you.  It means everything in the world to us.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you and what you have done. 

I want to thank Jeri who has been my strong right arm.  I want to thank my family.  My son Tony is here with me tonight.  My grandson Nick.  My little babies are in the bus.  They need to get home tonight.  So we’re turning it up a little earlier than usual tonight, I suppose. 

But we appreciate you.  I want to thank my mom who is in the hospital tonight recuperating.  She has been a little bit under the weather.  I want to thank my grandkids, everybody who has put their heart and soul into their support of me and what we’ve been doing. 

I want to thank the people who travel with me, the people who have been with me from the very beginning and travel all of these roads and all of these miles with me, mostly with a smile on their face and putting up with me and working for the cause, working for the cause that we all believe in so much. 

I want to thank my supporters in South Carolina.  Thank you very, very much. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)        

THOMPSON:  I mentioned Congressman Gresham Barrett, and so many more.  Steve King has been in here from Iowa.  And we have had so many people in here, hundreds of people in here from Tennessee. 

Thank you, Tennesseans. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)        

THOMPSON:  (INAUDIBLE), good to see you, buddy.

People that I have known just about all of my life, people who know me best and have been with me the longest.  And everybody else from across the country who have meant so much to us. 

My friends, we will always be bound by a close bond because we have traveled a very special road together for a very special purpose.  You know, it has never been about me.  It has never even been about you.  It has been about our country and the future of our country. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)        

THOMPSON:  About our country, about the future of our country and about our party’s role in that future.  And because of your efforts and because of our working together, our party is being required to look itself in the mirror, decide where it’s going, decide who it is. 

Our country needs a strong leadership.  It needs our party to step up, assume the mantle of leadership again.  But we need to remember that we need to deserve to lead and that’s what this is all about, is deserving to lead. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)        

THOMPSON:  As you know, we like to talk a whole lot about our country.  We have been blessed in so many different ways.  We live, by any measure, in the greatest country in the history of the world.  And it is every generation’s obligation to do its part to make sure it stays that way. 

In order to do that, we need to have a firm understanding of how it got that way.  And, my friends, it got that way because of strong, consistent conservative beliefs that founded this country. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)        

THOMPSON:  These are the beliefs that formed the principles, that formed the underpinnings of this country from the very beginning.  Our founding fathers had it right, right off the bat.  They understood the wisdom of the ages.  They understood that there is a certain thing called human nature.  Both the good side and the not-so-good side sometimes. 

They understood that in this old changing world, there are some eternal truths.  They stated them in the documents right from the very beginning.  They reminded us in the Declaration of Independence that our basic rights come not from any government but from God.  They set forth in the…

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)        

THOMPSON:  In the Constitution of the United States the way we were going to separate power out in this country, both at the Washington level and throughout the country.  A little system called federalism.  Not many people talk about it much but it just kind of underpins everything else we do. 

Because our founders understood that a government big enough and powerful enough, centralized enough is big enough and powerful enough to take anything away from you.  And we were not going to go down that direction in this country, and we never have. 

We have understood that they understood the dangers of having too much power in too few hands.  And this is the foundation on which we are built.

We are not going to go down that direction in this country, and we never have.

We have understood, they understood the dangers of having too much power in too few hands.  So this is the foundation on which we are built.  This is the reason we are here tonight.  Free people in a free country.  These are the institutions on which we built a country.  And what a country it’s turned out to be.  This is what it is all about.  Keeping it that way, doing our part, stepping up to the plate, stepping up for service, stepping up to try to do the right thing, even when the right thing is not easy.

Institutions such as the rule of law.  Wasn’t any democracies around when we started out on our little experiment in this world.  Most people are governed by democracies now.

Now the rule of law is the norm which everyone wants to emulate.  It’s based on the propositions that judge will follow the law and the Constitution and not make it up as they go along.

Based upon the value of a market economy and free people doing free things in a free society, unafraid to trade with their neighbors, based upon the notion that we don’t tax and regulate our people to death.  Based upon the notion that we don’t spend money that we don’t have.

And we sure don’t borrow against our grandchildren’s future.  It’s the kind of country that a small town boy from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee grow up knowing that if he behaved himself and pretty much played by the rules that he had a chance to achieve the American dream.

Where I grew up, it wasn’t all about dividing up the pie and rich versus poor and boss versus employee and all that kind of stuff it was about making the pie bigger and going out there and enjoying a free country.

That’s why we talk about the Reagan coalition so much, my friends.  Because these are the tenants on which the Reagan coalition was built.  And they are just as alive and strong today as they’ve ever been.  They are alive in the hearts and minds of the American people.

Those are the principles that have made us a successful party over the years.  And those are the principles that have made us the freest, most prosperous, most powerful country in the history of civilization.  And when we have stood for those principles and when we stood strong the way most of us had an opportunity to do in 1994 and came to town and were able to pass welfare reform, five major tax cuts.  Balance the budget five years in a row.  Stand tall for the Second Amendment.  Stand tall for the rights of the unborn, people haven’t changed their minds about those things.  We need to convince them we haven’t changed our minds about them, either.

Thank you.  Thank you.

My friends, we live in the country that sacrificed more blood for the freedom of other people than all the other countries in the world combined.  We are proud of that tradition.  It’s a tradition of honor.  It’s a tradition of sacrifice for the greater good.

Now, most Americans are not called upon to shed their blood but we’re called upon from time to time to make our own sacrifices.  We’re called upon from time to time to make our own contribution.  And, my friends, that’s what you have done.  That’s what you are doing.  And I’m so proud to stand with you in that regard and we’ll always stand strong together in that regard.  We’ll always stand strong together.

And I can’t thank you enough for that.  Thank you and God Bless you.  Thank you tonight.  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Stand strong.  Stand strong.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST:  Umm, what was that about?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  It’s called snookering.  We were snookered.

OLBERMANN:  Apparently the people that were asked to sacrifice there were you and me.

MATTHEWS:  I think it was a snooker.  I’m going to make an announcement, perhaps a concession, perhaps an endorsement of John McCain, how about nothing?  How about just a nice speech?

OLBERMANN:  Senator Fred Thompson.

MATTHEWS:  He is a public figure.

OLBERMANN:  A little bit past 8:00 Eastern Time.  Let’s just go through these NBC News characterizations of the South Carolina Republican primary briefly.  We’re expecting that the race is still too close to call, too early to call.  It is between McCain and Huckabee with Romney and Thompson going for third place as the pictures would indicate.

And those are the actual hard vote counts with 12 percent in.  Again, that’s the early numbers, 34-30-15.  However, Nevada, the Republican caucus is well in the books and clearly in the column of the former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney who has been good enough to join us now.  Governor, thank you for your time and congratulations.

MITT ROMNEY, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Good to be with you.  I’m very pleased with what’s happened in Nevada.

OLBERMANN:  What is the meaning of it in terms of your momentum and the decision-making process here among the Republicans?  Is it tempered at all by the fact that essentially you and Ron Paul were the only two  to contest this on the ground in Nevada?

ROMNEY:  Well, actually, there are 34 delegates in Nevada, 24 in South Carolina.  So, from the very twinning we cared about Nevada.  Of course, Senator McCain, when he made his announcement tour picked, I think, three or four states to do that in.  He also made an announcement in Nevada.  So people care about Nevada and want those votes.  Of course, if you are going to win the presidency in November of ‘08, you’re going to have to win key battleground states like Nevada.

That’s what makes this so important as well.  And this last week, of course, winning Michigan, winning Nevada if I can win those in November of ‘08 I would have one the presidency.

OLBERMANN:  Several times this has been analyzed today as a victory by you based on a huge Mormon turnout.  Members of your oath faith, 50 percent of your votes coming out to vote.  And I’ve been pointing out that if all the Mormons had stayed home you still would have doubled everybody else in that field today.

Is this—Do you think this is now being misinterpreted, this one statistic because it was so overwhelmingly in your favor?

ROMNEY:  You know, I think you make the correct assumption there, correct assessment, rather.  And that is that I would have won whether or not people of my faith turned out or not.  I am pleased that people were happy to support me.  I got the endorsement of major papers in the state.  And I won among evangelicals and Hispanics and among every single demographic group in Nevada.  That kind of support is what I want to count on if I’m lucky enough to become the nominee

We have got to win Nevada, we’ve got to win Michigan.  And of course now I’m in Florida.  We have got to win Florida.  And my congratulations to all of those who helped me in that great campaign out in Nevada.

MATTHEWS:  Governor, it’s Chris Matthews.  I’m trying to think all the way down the road to St. Paul and I said before that I thought your party was not St. Paul on the road to Damascus.  It’s more like Damascus on the road to St. Paul.  It’s chaotic right now.

Let me ask you this.  Are you going to stay in it until the end no matter what because you will have, if you just look at the silver medals as well as the gold medals, you will accumulate a lot of medals between now and the end of this season.  Whether you win or not, you will go into that convention, if you choose to stay with this fight, strong.

ROMNEY:  Well, I’m planning on going in as the nominee, of course, and I’ve got a lot of states to go to.  We’ll see what happens down the road but I’m doing my best to get delegates.  This is not about getting a little red star on your forehead.  This is about getting delegates.  And that’s why when Wyoming was up I went out there and made a couple of visits, more than two, actually and got Wyoming.  I also went to Nevada and worked there and got those delegates.

And Michigan, of course, was the biggest state so far with a lot of delegates.  I worked hard there.  So, I mean, I’m going to keep going.  And Chris, there is no reason for me to do anything besides full steam ahead and make sure I get the nomination.  And if it looks like it’s going to be a battle, why so much the better.

MATTHEWS:  You know, there has been some inconsistencies in your campaign appeal so far.  You know, for a long time you kept your shirt buttoned at the top with your tie tied at the neck and your sleeves at full length buttoned at your wrists.  And now have you been working with your sleeves rolled up almost to the elbow and your collar open.  What’s this inconsistency about?

ROMNEY:  It just depends on the day and the event.

MATTHEWS:  Are you loosening up?  Are you offering a more loosey goosey Mitt Romney?  I’m serious now.  This is damn serious question.  Are you realizing that your formality has been a bit overdrawn and you have to come across a little more regular?  Is that what is going on or is this a stupid question?

ROMNEY:  Chris, you’re overanalyzing things, Chris.  I’m in Florida.  Let’s see.  It is a Saturday.  And came here tonight, 700 people in a very hot room so I took off my jacket, rolled up the sleeves.

MATTHEWS:  It’s the environment.  Stupid.

ROMNEY:  And guess what, I still have a suit and I still have a white shirt and a tie and I wear them now and then.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN:  Governor, hang on.  Joe Scarborough of our panel has a question for you.  Joe?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST:  Governor, 10 days ago right after New Hampshire an esteemed colleague of ours had heard from friends of yours suggest that you drop out of the race.  In fact, I have interviewed you every week over the past four or five weeks and every week I ask you if you are going to drop out of the race because that’s what the chattering classes are suggesting.

In the first five contests you have three wins and as you would say two silver medals.  So, obviously the most delegates, the most money.  If John McCain wins tonight, is he your competition for the nomination of the Republican Party?

ROMNEY:  You know, I think it’s hard to tell at this stage.  It’s been such a turbulent race.  So fluid.  That it’s really difficult to predict.  But you are right.  I have got a number of medals under my belt.  I have got more votes for president than anybody else on the Republican side so far.  I think I have a very well run campaign.  And we have received more contributions and more contributors than any other Republican campaign for president.

So I am planning on going all the way.  No talk about dropping out, unless it’s on the part of other people.  I sure hope so other guys think about that but, in all seriousness, I’m not one of them.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Fred Thompson is not either, obviously.  Do you have to win Florida?

ROMNEY:  I would like to win Florida.  I don’t have to win it.  But I would sure like to win it.  I would like it do real well here.  There are four people bunched up at the top.  Of course, we go on to 22 states a week or two later.  I obviously need to win some of those states and do real well in enough of them to pick up some more delegates.  I’m looking to get enough delegates to get the nomination and I am taking this the distance.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, governor, thanks so much.

OLBERMANN:  Governor Mitt Romney of Nevada.  Thanks for your time tonight.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s bring the anchor of the NBC NIGHTLY NEWS, Brian Williams, of course, and the moderator MEET THE PRESS and Washington bureau chief Tim Russert.

General, Brian, first, this is getting late tonight.  We haven’t got a call yet.  Is this going to be one of those moments in the campaign when the Republican Party starts to do what it likes to do, which is find a leader and do it quickly?

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Well, first of all, Chris, to your question of Governor Romney, I notice things like that.  I have been watching the packaging after the press coverage reached kind of a crescendo that he always looked like a Christmas card and all the hair jokes about Mitt Romney, I think you were absolutely onto something tonight.  Though it may also be a hot night in a hot room in Florida.

Yes, and this is why so much of the talk has been swirling around Mike Huckabee as a rookie to the national scene in the Republican Party.  This is why the kind of reexamination that people have been talking and writing about concerning John McCain.  My partner here, Tim Russert will tell you that the Republican Party is traditionally, you know, turned to and preferred organizationally, if such a thing can be said in these fractious times the veterans.  The proven folks that have been around the block once or twice.

And starting round about South Carolina, this is when you do start to say OK, gang, what’s it going to be for our organization going forward?  Tim, I don’t know if you agree or disagree.

TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS HOST:  I do.  And to your point, Keith, and Chris and Brian, John McCain desperately needs this win tonight.  Why?  He has to raise money between now and Florida.  If he wins, even by two votes, it’s a win.  And is he able to go out to the Republican establishment and say I can start putting this thing together for you.  But I need money to go down to Florida and compete.  If he doesn’t win, and Mike Huckabee wins, then what happens?  I do not see that same Republican establishment responding to a Huckabee the way they would respond to a McCain.  And I think Mitt Romney then becomes the real beneficiary of a McCain defeat and a Huckabee win here tonight in South Carolina.  I have never seen such muddle.  It’s not going to go away.  Because if the race in Florida is close, you’re going to see the winner of Florida, if it’s not Romney go forward, but you are going to see Romney go forward because of his own personal wealth and he will stay in at least through Super Tuesday because nobody knows what’s going to happen.  And he can fall back on his gold and silvers from the earlier contests.

OLBERMANN:  I think we got that Olympics thing down pat now.  Tim, we were interrupted because we had the opportunity to talk to Governor Romney there.  The question was not entirely news stage craft to criticize our own coverage at the top of the hour.  What was the Fred Thompson’s speech about?

RUSSERT:  We called a senior member of his campaign staff and said could you please tell us what Senator Thompson is going to be saying in 10 minutes and the answer was I have no idea.  If you find out, let us know.  They just didn’t know.

No one knows what his plans are.  Thompson has said repeatedly he had to do, quote, “very, very well” in South Carolina.  If he comes in third or fourth tonight with just 15 percent of the vote, does that meet that criteria?  It doesn’t appear so.

But it sounds like he wants to take the night, reflect on this, and make a decision in the morning whether to try to go forward in Florida or not.  I do believe that Fred Thompson’s presence on the ballot tonight was very helpful to John McCain.  If you look at our exit polls, Fred Thompson take as pretty strong number of evangelical Christians that probably would have gone to Mike Huckabee.  He has played a pretty significant role tonight in effecting the outcome of this primary, perhaps.

MATTHEWS:  So if you are John McCain, Tim, do you urge him to stay in the race if only formally so he can siphon off the evangelicals from Huckabee?

RUSSERT:  That’s a good calculation.  I don’t know.  In terms of Florida, if you want it to be a three or four-way race.  My sense is that McCain is at a point now in terms of money or momentum, if he won tonight he would welcome a Thompson endorsement and try to go down there and take on Romney, Giuliani and Huckabee, knowing that if can he eke out 25 to 30 percent of the vote he can win the state of Florida and, remember guys, unlike the Democrats, Republicans are winner take all.

WILLIAMS:  And also, guys, five days from now Tim and I are down in Florida.  We’ve got all the Republicans in the debate.  If you are Thompson, do you look that kind of media time gift horse in the eye and get out on a Saturday night if you are looking at free media on a Thursday night in a nationally televised GOP debate when you can still have some leverage and some voice?

MATTHEWS:  What a great setting to make an endorsement, Brian.  Imagine in the midst of the questioning he says I have decided I can’t compete any more, gentlemen.

WILLIAMS:  You are pushing so many concurrent theories tonight, Mr. Matthews that I can only hop on a concurring opinion once or twice.  And, Keith’s point, by the way, it was very smart of Romney to float this whole Olympic theme medal thing because we have all hopped on like the last train to Clarksville.

RUSSERT:  What if Thompson comes to the debate and not wearing a coat and tie and sleeves are rolled up?

MATTHEWS:  That would tell me that he had already started on the Budweiser.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Brian Williams.  Tim Russert.  Great thanks.

RUSSERT:  See you guys.

OLBERMANN:  We continue to await a winner in the South Carolina Republican primary.  And also a conclusion, I suppose, to Fred Thompson’s speech.  Right now the first is too close to call between Mike Huckabee and John McCain or if you think we are leaning one way or the other John McCain and Mike Huckabee.

Chris and I will be back as MSNBC’s coverage of now the South Carolina Republican primary continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We continue to await the result in South Carolina where Mike Huckabee and John McCain are locked in a race for the South Carolina primary that NBC is still characterizing an hour and 20 minutes after the closure of the polls as too close to call and looking ahead next Saturday when the Democrats will hold their primary in South Carolina, we’re joined now by Democratic Congressman James Clyburn who represents the sixth district of that state.  Congressman, thank you for your time tonight.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN, (D) SC:  Thank you so much for having me.

OLBERMANN:  This result from Nevada, do you have any idea how this impacts this race between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton with one winning the number of votes cast and the other winning the total number of delegates?  Who won Nevada?

CLYBURN:  That’s kind of interesting.  I suspect that you have to give degree dance credence to popular votes.  No question about that.  But I think this whole thing is kind of complicated a little bit because as you know, you are showing, mostly what I have seen all the votes for the Republicans and this proportional thing on the Democrats side.

And then we have got this other problem with 13-12 in favor of Obama when it comes to delegates.  So I think that you get somewhat of a split decision coming into South Carolina.  And so I don’t see where anybody gets a real bump coming out of Nevada because of that.

OLBERMANN:  Well that, of course, obviously, and we would do this even if it was clear one way or another, everything guess analyzed in terms of the exit polls and which constituencies voted for who and we are hearing about women voters.  We are hearing about Hispanic voters.  Is this race, in your opinion, on kind of a razor’s edge here where instead of talking about constituencies and who is supporting it becomes not those questions but becomes questions of, you know, which group does not like which kind of candidate?  Is there an undertone that could get ugly in this at this point?

CLYBURN:  I don’t think so.  I think the undertone is there.  No question about that.  Will it get ugly?  I don’t think so.  I do believe that these candidates in the last few days have acquitted themselves very, very well.  I think the little dust-up that we had a couple weeks ago is now behind us.  I do believe they will come in to South Carolina starting tomorrow, and they will be talking issues.  And they will be talking vision.  And I think that’s very, very important.

OLBERMANN:  As, perhaps you have heard Andrea Mitchell of our news department has reported that Reverend Calvin Butts of the First Abyssian Church is expected to endorse Senator Clinton tomorrow.  The subject of endorsements has certainly been a theme to this campaign.  Are you in any position to start talking in those terms?

CLYBURN:  No.  I’m not going to.  I made promises.  It’s kind of interesting.  I have toured all of these camps way back when we were trying to get into the pre-primary window, that is South Carolina, trying to get this primary, all of them asked me would I commit to stand out of the race?  And I made that commitment.  I also committed to the South Carolina Democratic Party that I would stay out of the race.  And I’m going to keep to my promises and I’m going to stay out of it.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I had to try.  Mr. Clyburn of South Carolina.  Great thanks for joining us.

CLYBURN:  Thank you so much for having me.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s go to our panel.  Joe Scarborough leading the way with Howard Fineman, Peggy Noonan and Eugene Robinson.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thanks so much.  Gene, let’s start with you.  You are a South Carolina native.

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Mm-hmm.

SCARBOROUGH:  How does Nevada set up South Carolina?

ROBINSON:  Well, very interesting that we got to talk to Congressman Clyburn because he is one guy who could make a difference.

SCARBOROUGH:  Still very noncommittal.

ROBINSON:  He is not going to endorse and a couple weeks ago he was on the fence.  He said some nice things about Obama.  But he hasn’t committed to either side.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.  But he—this interview, he just talked about hey, wait a second, look at those delegates, it sounded like he was doing some bidding for Obama.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  I think, you know, he wants it to come into South Carolina.  Come in on even—at an even level and let South Carolinians have a real voice in the nominee.

SCARBOROUGH:  Republicans have always been critical of Democrats for engaging in identity politics.  But if the Democrats are engaging in identity politics and African Americans are voting for Barack Obama and women are voting for Hillary Clinton.  As we go, into South Carolina, that’s very good news for Barack Obama, isn’t it?

ROBINSON:  Well, I don’t know if it’s great news for the Democratic Party.

SCARBOROUGH:  No, but Barack Obama, if five out of six democrats who are African American vote for Barack Obama …

ROBINSON:  He wins South Carolina.

SCARBOROUGH:  What’s the breakdown?  How many African Americans are there?

ROBINSON:  About half the vote in the Democratic primary will be African American, according to the historic patterns.  So Obama is looking good in South Carolina right now.

SCARBOROUGH:  Good news.  And Peggy, let’s talk about also Mitt Romney, winning in Nevada, tonight in South Carolina.  We don’t know if it’s going to be Huckabee or McCain.  Is the Republican contest still up for grabs?  Is it still—or if McCain wins tonight, does he have an edge over Romney?

PEGGY NOONAN, FORMER REAGAN SPEECHWRITER:  If McCain wins tonight, it’s wonderful for John McCain.  He is an establishment gentleman who can come forward into Florida and say I am your guy and I can save from you a number of bad guys.

If Huckabee doesn’t win tonight, I think it’s very bad for him.  This was the great evangelical state in which he was going to triumph.  If he does not, and if it is not extremely close, I think that’s bad news for his candidacy.

I think the Republican Party, in general, has a huge challenge this year.  And I will tell you what it is.  I think the Democrats are looking to find success.  They are trying to find the guy who can win for them in a year they ought to be winning, 2008.

The Republicans are looking for their souls.  As they look for each candidate and try to figure out I will back this guy, I will back this guy.  What they’re really saying is does he reflect the soul of the party?  Is he the soul of conservatism?  This is huge.

SCARBOROUGH:  And this is a party that’s lost its way over the past four years.

NOONAN:  Of course, it’s old Reagan coalition has been sundered by the current administration.  Its old way of doing things has been sundered by a Republican Congress that has acted like a New Deal Congress from way back.

So, it’s trying to refind itself.  Finding success is easier than finding your soul.  So part of what is going on, I’m telling you.

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me just say Howard Fineman the two Republicans in the center here have been saying for some time this is a party who has lost its way.  Who has lost its soul.

NOONAN:  Absolutely.  It’s trying to find it.  That’s why this year is so exciting.  Is this the guy soul?  Is this guy?

SCARBOROUGH:  And so Mitt Romney has won five medals in five events as he would say.  And John McCain may come out with a victory tonight.  We still don’t know.

How do the events of South Carolina impact momentum as we go into Florida?  Is it Romney verses the winner of South Carolina?

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  I think so.  I agree with Peggy.  I think this is a must-win for Mike Huckabee.  Because he wants to be on that playing field with the other major candidates.  He has got a chance to do it.  If our exit polls are correct.  He only won about 40 percent of the evangelical votes.

NOONAN:  Yes.  Less than half.

FINEMAN:  Less than half of the evangelical vote.  Which is significant going forward.  Huckabee needs this victory tonight to go into Florida to have a chance of winning Florida.  He needs to win somewhere where it’s not just evangelicals but he has got to win where the evangelicals are first.  So that’s the thing.  If McCain can bring off this victory, then McCain will have a little bit of momentum going to Florida.  Florida is symbolic of what Peggy is talking about.  Four different candidates.

ROBINSON:  If the search for the soul is unsuccessful, does Romney win just by attrition?  Just by hanging in there by being persistent?

NOONAN:  Somebody wins.  Somebody wins and then everybody says is that fellow our soul?  And then they vote in November.  That’s how it all gets figured out.

SCARBOROUGH:  And there was a time in 1996 when the Republican Party settled on Bob Dole, disastrous results.  That may be happening again this year.

Howard, please, you can tell America now, if you have the courage, you can tell us all what that Fred Thompson speech was about.  You can also tell us why Fred Thompson wants to help John McCain so much?

FINEMAN:  I think he is trying to decide how best to help McCain?  Does he help him by staying in or getting out?  I agree with what Chris said earlier.  It’s better for McCain for Fred Thompson to stay in.  McCain is going to have to raise money so he can pay Fred Thompson’s bills.

SCARBOROUGH:  And that is what this is about.

FINEMAN:  That is partly what this is about.

SCARBOROUGH:  He helps John McCain, his debts get paid and he gets Paul Harvey’s job or something.  Who knows?

NOONAN:  It’s so interesting to me that Fred Thompson has never looked happier campaign trail until tonight when he knew it was over.  So psychologically interesting.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Chris and Keith, we have decided that if Fred Thompson had been that happy from the beginning and if his campaign slogan had been stand tall, he would probably be in first place now. 

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST:  Having had that Paul Harvey job, the backup job that Fred now has, I can tell you that you can use that line again later on.  You can use that. Stand tall can be his sign on and sign off on ABC radio.  The panel is staying with us.  There is two statements here.  We continue to debate between these two Democratic candidates who won Nevada.  The camp now from the—the statement now from the Clinton campaign is that Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucuses today by winning the majority of the delegates at stake. 

The Obama campaign is wrong.  Delegates for the national convention will not be determined until April 19th.  The count appears to be 13-12 in terms of delegates.  Right now at least the Obama camp has claimed that.  We have analyzed that breakdown.  Just to confuse this further, the chairman of the state Democratic party in Nevada, Jill Derby has told the “The Washington Post” blog the calculations of national convention delegates being circulated are based upon an assumption that delegates preferences will  remain the same between now and April of 2008.  We look forward to our country and state conventions where we will choose the delegates for the nominee that Nevadans support.  So the answer as to who won Nevada appears nobody has won Nevada yet. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  That’s what the Clintons say but they didn’t get the headline.  The headline will be Hillary Clinton wins Nevada and the name of the game right now is keeping on winning.  Stay with us.  We’re all staying with us.  When we return, what we are learning about what voters were thinking about in South Carolina tonight.  We’re still waiting here to find out who won this thing, a big win tonight for McCain.  If he wins, he may start wrapping up the leadership of the Republican party, getting their act together, which they always do.  And if he loses tonight, it’s chaos, chaos, chaos.  This is MSNBC’s live coverage of the South Carolina Republican primary.     

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  This is MSNBC’s live coverage of the South Carolina Republican primary.  Still too close to call between John McCain and Mike Huckabee and Republican party officials are reporting now that the vote boxes from several counties in the Greenville Spartanburg area of the state have yet to come in.  This would be considered a Huckabee stronghold.  It supports the idea that the current too close to call status will continue, perhaps to tighten.  The former governor, they are saying, has told the crowd at Huckabee headquarters that he expects his candidate will pull this out by the end of the night.  NBC news is not making any characterization other than to say it’s too close to call and that Mr. Thompson and Mr. Romney are battling for third place.  Let’s turn now to NBC news chief White House correspondent David Gregory.  David, good evening. 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  We have heard that no GOP candidate since 1980 has won the nomination without winning South Carolina.  But most of those candidates have been, at minimum, virtual incumbents.  No incumbent without one candidate unifying party priorities.  Does the race tonight represent a split, perhaps even a southern split with voters prioritizing national security in one hand and the other group going with religious beliefs? How do you read it?

GREGORY: Well, there’s two key points. The Republican party and people within the party will tell you this, have no unifying principle to really guide the campaign this year.  Peggy Noonan talked about the party looking for its soul.  That’s a piece of it; it’s all of a piece.  The Republican party has come off of eight years of George W. Bush and a very divisive war for the country.  It’s an unpopular party. The economy now is on the verge or according to some in a recession.  These are tough times to be an incumbent party.  We saw what happened in 2006.  We saw that desire for change.  And I think this chaos theory on the Republican side reflects all of that.  And so here we are coming into South Carolina where most Republican nominations are wrapped up by the time they get to this place.  And we still see it being chaotic, even if John McCain wins here after having won in New Hampshire.  So, I think there is a split within the party dominated by the fact that there is no singular personality that has come to the fore. 

I think what’s really interesting, too, if you look beyond this race that is too close to call is what is happening in Florida.  Here is Rudy Giuliani, who has been the frontrunner for months who is now stalled.  He is not part of this conversation tonight.  He wants to be.  He wants people to keep counting on him, but he is not part of the conversation.  And the polls show him not winning in Florida.  He has been up a bit but it’s tighter now.  And certainly whoever comes out of Florida gets a bit of a bump, particularly if that’s John McCain, if he can win now three in a row. 

OLBERMANN: So back to South Carolina, David and this one piece of data coming out of the exit polling, that may impact what this means to whoever wins and even to which either of them finishes second McCain or Huckabee, that 79 percent of Republicans voting that independent crowd that so dominated in 2000 -- not dominated but was hugely involved is not there in that same sort of number.  Does the winner of this—is the winner of this able to say hey I’m flying the Republican flag right now?

GREGORY: Well, it’s a very important point.  It’s more important arguably for John McCain than Mike Huckabee who will have to prove, even if he comes out of South Carolina that he can win among those Republicans who do not identify themselves as evangelical.  It’s important for John McCain because he lost in 2000 in part because he couldn’t wrap up the Republican establishment.  And he is going to face Mitt Romney who has got plenty of his own money and some staying power and he has to be able to say to Mitt Romney no, no, no.  You are not an establishment guy within the party.  I am.  I can wrap up the Republican base, at least do very well. 

But, as important is that I do have a foot hold among independents as we move into a general election contest.  There has got to be an appeal toward the pragmatists in the Republican party who are not very sanguine about the fall at the moment about beating the Democrats.  A Republican has to be able to say we cannot just be a nominee—have a nominee of a shrinking Republican party.  We have got to be a bigger Republican party.  We have already got problems losing Hispanics over the immigration issue.  You have to have a candidate who can reach beyond the base to take on whoever the Democratic nominee is.  I misspoke just a moment ago when I said McCain trying to make it three in a row.  Obviously he lost Michigan.  But having come off New Hampshire to win here and then go into Florida, that’s the Trifecta he is looking for. 

MATTHEWS:  David, if McCain doesn’t win tonight.  And this is very much up in the air at this point in our calculations, could the White House people—I know you listen to all of them over there, as you cover the White House, could it be that the White House will move in and support Romney in Florida? Do you think they might be somewhere potentially ready to make that move, the people around the president, including his brother, Jeb?

GREGORY: No, I don’t think so.  My readout of people in the White House is that they are not bullish on Romney.  That they have been respectful of the campaign that he has run up until now or at least up until we actually started voting but that people around the president, indeed the president himself don’t necessarily think that he is the guy for the party.  You know, they were surprised at how well Giuliani was running for so long.  I would think that there is a bit more positive energy, believe it or not, for John McCain right now. 

MATTHEWS: Really?

GREGORY: Within those ranks, despite the enmity between that crowd and his. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me.  Gauge that, if you can, in terms of practical politics.  How much does the president have a problem with John? There has been so much of getting together, then not getting together.  It’s been such a difficult duet, if you will, all these years now. 

GREGORY: My sense has always been that it is at the senior advisor level that there has been a lot more dislike.  I think McCain himself may not hold a lot of love in his heart for the president.  But I think, look, on the big issues here, like the war in Iraq, they have been political equals here and have seen eye to eye, even though McCain is struggling to let people know that he was very critical.  But look, McCain is now running on the idea that the surge is working and that he is standing where even some other Republicans have not stood in a kind of stead fast way for the war. 

MATTHEWS: It’s fascinating.  You know, it’s really fascinating, guys, if there is that Republican thing that odd sort of invisible hand of the party that does exist above all the governors and above all the party chairs that sort of says let’s have a meeting on Thursday in Boca Raton or let’s meet somewhere in the petroleum club down in Oklahoma, wherever they meet, the (INAUDIBLE) club in Utah, let’s get together 15 guys and decide who gets this.  It looks like it’s John.  I’ve always wondered—we can figure it out city by city where they meet.  But where does the national meeting? Do you know where they meet David Gregory? Where does that Republican insider group get together and say let’s put the fix in for our guy, whoever it is?

GREGORY: I think it’s a bit more dispersed these days.  But look, I think that there is a couple of important points.  One I go back to this point about independents.  Moderate Republicans make up a lot of that independent core who are turned off by the Bush presidency.  So I think they are up for grabs and I think a Republican nominee has to be able to try to keep those voters within the fold or else the Republican party gets too small.  That’s the danger, I think a lot of Republicans think about having Mike Huckabee in the mix is that he is basically a one trick pony who can appeal to the hard right and he can’t go beyond that.

But the second thing is that Mitt Romney’s strength, I believe, is that if there was ever an establishment guy, this is it, may have some trouble with the base, with the evangelical base of the party, though he did pretty well in Michigan, that being his home state, notwithstanding.  But he is an establishment guy for the party and that’s been an upside for him.  Plus, the economic argument now, front burner issue in this campaign, you have to argue could favor Romney.  Put out a big proposal about how he would stimulate the economy.  He is going to be able to talk in paragraphs, not just sentences and sound bites, but in paragraphs about what he would do to deal with the U.S. economy.  Maybe a strength, may be attractive to more and more Republicans. 

OLBERMANN: NBC’s White House correspondent David Gregory joining us from Washington.  Thank you, David.  Well we’re now at 50 percent of the vote and still too close to call at a 34-29 McCain over Huckabee leadership in the hard numbers but no projection yet.  Up next new numbers from our exit polling in South Carolina and more from Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow.  And we wait for a winner in the Republican primary, still too close to call in South Carolina between John McCain and Mike Huckabee.  We will continue after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)    

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you and as we continue to wait for a winner in South Carolina.  Carolina, a projection the polls close at 8:00 Eastern time. the race between (INAUDIBLE) where the race between John McCain and Mike Huckabee is still too close to call, the hard numbers showing a differential of about 5 percent.  NBC’s David Shuster is with the Huckabee campaign in Columbia, South Carolina where there is optimism.  Maybe you can explain that without saying exactly why there is optimism. 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, The mood is positively sort of electric and it’s also dramatic.  As you reported a few minutes ago Governor David Beasley (ph) former governor who is supporting Mike Huckabee told the crowd look, we are going it pull this thing out.  We’ve got a lot of counties in our favor in the northwest part of the state that have not come in yet.  We checked with Republican party officials and they, in fact, confirm that and over the last couple of minutes, the Huckabee sort of press operation has sort of fanned out and has been working reporters and saying, look here are all the different precincts in the different counties that are going to go very strong to us in the highlands in the northwest part of the state that have not yet come in.  So don’t read too much into the board.  Although they acknowledge, Keith, that it’s totally nerve wracking to sort of see the board and the rolling tallies coming in.  And we’re seeing something different now with Mike Huckabee. There’s a nervousness. He’s not sort of joking, a lot of tension as can you appreciate.  Keith?

OLBERMANN: David Shuster at the convention center in Columbia, South Carolina.  Thank you, David.  The actual vote totals may be somewhat delayed by those uncounted ballots yet in South Carolina but the exit poll data is always available to us.  Nora O’Donnell has been tracking that for us as usual tonight and we have one of the more incendiary issues of the campaign.  With some information on that, here is Nora. 

NORA O’DONNELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: That’s exactly right in this first in the south primary we have found that voters think the economy and immigration were the two big issues in South Carolina, ahead of the war in Iraq and terrorism.  And even in this very Republican electorate, in South Carolina the economy was seen as the top issue.  There you see it 40 percent of the voters.  But look at illegal immigration, 24, just over a quarter I should say, 26 percent said it was the most important issue.  In Nevada, we put those numbers there because, look, those were also important issues in Nevada today.  And it was much more important, they say, in Nevada, the illegal immigration. 

In South Carolina, when voters were asked what they would do with illegal immigrants, more than half said they wanted to deport those individuals to their country of origins.  But even with the large number who want to see illegal immigrants sent home, there was no large break for any one candidate.  Keith, this is what I think is interesting of course, because Huckabee has favored a tougher line on immigration and so has Fred Thompson. But look there, 30 percent for Huckabee, 24 percent for McCain and 20 percent for Thompson.  What we might be seeing throughout the tonight, just as you guys were talking about earlier, especially with evangelicals, Thompson is really cutting into Huckabee’s vote on this issue.  Evangelicals, those that turned out, Thompson took part of Huckabee’s vote.  On the illegal immigrants Thompson took part of Huckabee’s vote.  That’s probably part of the reason why it’s so close tonight, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Nora O’Donnell with the exit polls.  Thank you Nora and now let’s use that as a segue to what might be a heated exchange between MSNBC political analysts Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow.  And Pat, I’ll posit this out and then you can throw it back at me. You can throw it at Rachel. You can do what you want with it, that to some degree, that number that we saw about where people who are concerned about however you want—I’m not even going to characterize what this issue is.  We are talking about people who are in the country illegally, that there is not one Republican candidate who really has a clear position on it and thus, the electrorate, the Republican electorate is also mighty confused about it. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You have a point there, Keith, in this sense.  All of the Republicans have gotten well on the issue.  A little while ago Rudy was a sanctuary city guy.  McCain is an amnesty guy though he denies it.  Huckabee has a position aiding students who are illegal aliens.  I’m not one who believes this situation is chaotic.  I think we are approaching real clarity here.  And what Nora said, that the issues are turning to the economy and illegal immigration.  Again, those are the weak suits of McCain who is strong on national defense and national security.  And if Huckabee is out or is moving out or down and if Thompson is moving down and if Rudy doesn’t make it in Florida, I think you see a battle, again, as I mentioned, between Romney and McCain, with Romney moving as the anti-Washington candidate.  You know, the mess in Washington, the outsider, the fresh face, tough on immigration and starting to move tough on the jobs issue and the trade issue.  And those, for me, are really the populist issues that can move the Republican party away from this mess in DC and can possibly win this election. 

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO: Pat, I think that we are still left with this question though of who on the Republican side gets the Lou Dobbs vote.  Who gets the anti-illegal immigrant vote?  I know that your own sister left Tom Tancredo’s campaign which was – for which immigration was the signature issue.  (INAUDIBLE) Buchanan, your sister left that campaign and went to Mitt Romney’s campaign.  Up until that point I don’t think that anybody would have said that Mitt Romney was going to get the anti-immigrant vote.  I think this is one of those issues that may be a bit of a phantom on the Republican side.  If illegal immigration was really driving the race, then Tancredo wouldn’t be out and your sister would still be with him. 

BUCHANAN: I will tell you what happened is they all sound like Tom Tancredo now and they all do.  But my sister went, let me tell you, spoke with Romney for an hour and a half and Tancredo was in the meeting and they grilled him and grilled him on the issue and they were astounded at how hard his positions were.  Now, if you get it down to McCain and Romney, there isn’t any doubt who’s got the upper hand on this toughest issue, the best issue the Republicans have in the primaries and in the general election. 

MADDOW: But Pat, how can his position on this be so hard when he is repeatedly hiring illegal immigrants to work on the lawn in his own mansion?  Romney just doesn’t seem to have the bona fides on this.  I’m wondering if this has become an internal Republican party politics discussion that’s not actually driving elections.  People who are running on this platform aren’t winning. 

BUCHANAN: Let me tell you, Rachel, if what you were saying had any truth to it, Spitzer would not be at 30 percent.  Hillary Clinton would not have run for the hills on her driver’s license thing.  For heaven’s sake, this is the hottest issue in the country and it is somewhat up for grabs.  But McCain can’t grab it.  Hillary can’t grab it because she is winning the entire Hispanic vote and she is going to rely on that against Obama.  It is open and the one guy that can win it is Romney. 

OLBERMANN: Pat, Rachel, let me throw in something here to look at this on the other end of the telescope or the microscope.  If that other stat came out of the exit polling that suggests that the voters in South Carolina, their favorite resolution to this is to expel people who are in this country illegally, whether or not that is a practical solution seems to sort of not be part of this equation.  Pat, take this one step further.  Answer me, do you think as I sometimes suspect that Republican voters who believe that is the way things are going to be resolved are to some degree being sold a bill of goods by their own candidates because that’s not likely to happen just geographically, demographically, militarily. How are you going to do it?

BUCHANAN: Here is what you do.  First, you say no amnesty.  That gives McCain a problem because he has got about 10 million whom he will basically will amnesty.  In the way of the conservatives, what you call the restrictionists say is, you start deporting illegal aliens who are drunk drivers, felons, scofflaws, all of that and what you do with the rest is you crack down on the businesses and by attrition, the illegal aliens will leave and they will not come in.  The border security fence is working to a degree.  I don’t think anybody thinks we’re going to start rounding up nannies by the—you know, hundreds of thousands and send them home.  But if you crack down on businesses and that is the approach they are going to take and that is one that is going to work and it will work against the Democrats because, again, from what we saw tonight, Hillary, for heaven’s sake is winning 3-1 among Hispanics. That is the biggest demographic that is growing west of the Mississippi River and that’s a winner for Hillary. 

OLBERMANN: Rachel, I’m sorry, I hate to interrupt.  We have to wrap the hour up.  It’s still, to me, seems like. 

BUCHANAN: Attrition. 

OLBERMANN: Well, all right, attrition.  It seems like a 100-year program, whatever.  Chris and I will be back along with the entire crew with much more from South Carolina where the race is still too close to call between John McCain and Mike Huckabee. That may change.  We will find out when we rejoin new just a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST:  It is 9:00 in South Carolina.  Two hours since the polls closed in the Republican primary there.  The race is still too close to call.  6:00 in Nevada where caucuses wrapped up early this afternoon.  The Democratic race there almost impossible to call because despite a projected, confirmed victory for Senator Clinton by NBC News, Senator Obama seems to have won more delegates.  Certainly is claiming that.  First to South Carolina.  As we mentioned still too close to call at this hour.  Senators McCain and Huckabee though, we can characterize this, they are competing for first place and Governor Romney and Senator Thompson are battling for third place.  Governor Romney with a victory in Nevada too console himself tonight, taking a majority of that state’s vote in today’s Republican caucuses, actually straw votes with 99 percent of precincts reporting, that one is a clear final.

The race for the runner-up, perhaps, the even bigger story in the Republican caucuses tonight, Ron Paul officially second place in Nevada.  Senator McCain a close third.  And in the state’s Democratic caucuses, as we mentioned, confusion at this hour.  As we, again, watch the actual numbers from the ballot count in Nevada.  Moving to the Democrats.  Senator Clinton emerging with a decisive victory, according to NBC News projections.  Fifty one percent of those delegate equivalents compared to senator obama’s 45 percent with 98 percent of the precincts reporting.  Those numbers are not going to change significantly.  Senator John Edwards third with just four percent.  He had claimed a statistical tie, a three way dead heat in this less than two weeks ago.

Yet, despite what appeared to be a clear win for Hillary Clinton.  Senator Obama would seem to be moving away with more delegates, 13 to Senator Clinton’s 12 according to the Obama camp, according to the NBC News decision desk, according to the Associated Press.  The Clinton campaign disputing that calculation tonight.  And the State Democratic Party making it more interesting by more or less straddling the fence on the definition on who won this evening.  Senator Clinton focusing on the positive during her remarks in Las Vegas earlier this evening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I just want to say how grateful I am to Nevada and all of the people who worked so hard in this campaign.  I guess this is how the West was won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Obama campaign releasing a statement from the senator who had returned home to Chicago earlier today ostensibly to be with his daughters.

Quoting that statement, “We are proud of the ran in Nevada, we came from over 25 points to win more national convention delegates than Hillary Clinton because we performed well all across the state including rural areas where Democrats have traditionally struggled.

Governor Romney meantime having struggled in Iowa and New Hampshire hailing back to back wins this week from his campaign headquarters in Jacksonville.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, we won the primary together in Michigan.  We won this caucus process in Nevada.  And if we were lucky enough to win Michigan and Nevada, that would be a pretty clear indication in November of ‘08 that is, that would be a pretty clear indication we were going on to win the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from our headquarters in New York, this is MSNBC’s continuing coverage of the Nevada caucuses.  And, in particular, the South Carolina Republican primary.  Alongside my colleague Chris Matthews, I’m Keith Olbermann.  You have posited on the republican side.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  I have spent an unusual time an hour alone this afternoon in the midst trying to figure out what this Republican fight is all about.  It’s been called chaos, chaos theory.  There is a number of clearly different salients, purposes to these campaigns.  If you look at John McCain, and we all know this from having had him on our programs for years now.  In fact he has been on our programs more than a lot of places in the country.  Is he really running the war.  He is fighting this war in Iraq.  His enemy is al Qaeda to this point.  He really wants to pursue that as his dream.  If you look at Romney, it’s the evils of Washington now, sort of morphed into he is running against, the renegade running against Washington with all its evils, his enemy is Washington.

Huckabee is a far more interesting character.  Because he is still running with a moral crusade, an almost William Jennings Bryan crusade, back to fundamentals including disbelieve in evolution and disbelieve in gun control and make your list.

OLBERMANN:  And constitutional changes to line more up with biblical pronouncements.

MATTHEWS:  Very much right.  He is running against the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

OLBERMANN:  Maybe the ballots haven’t been counted in the church districts.

MATTHEWS:  He may be headed to St. Paul, Minnesota and St. Paul, Minneapolis, the Twin Cities.

But he is running against the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  That is why it’s very hard to reconcile these campus.  They are all in fact running in the same races like in South Carolina.  But there is no comparison between John McCain and Mike Huckabee.  They are offering very different public policy rolls.  Very different purposes for government.  John McCain believes the purpose of government is to kill the bad guy.  Win the war, kill the bad guys.

Huckabee is running for kind of a moral rearmament.  Very much different.  John McCain is a live and let live guy.  No matter whether he is pro life or whatever.  He is a live and let live Republican.  And Romney has almost lived off the land in terms of coming up with a new rationale week to week.  It’s currently, he has a right to a current one, is he running against Washington.  I think his wife Ann very well said today we are going to get to Washington and clean up that mess.  Well, that hearkens back to Eisenhower running in 1952, clean up the mess in Washington.  It’s an old staple but it’s not a fresh new idea.

OLBERMANN:  Perhaps even earlier than that I think you mentioned Williams Jennings Bryan, I think he may have run on that platform as well.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there is always a mess in Washington to clean up.

OLBERMANN:  Absolutely since it was a swamp.

MATTHEWS:  Strange how the people who hate Washington all want to go there.  It’s the strangest phenomenon.  Please send me to Washington.

OLBERMANN:  While we wait to see hot republicans in South Carolina want to send to Washington.  Let’s check in with the two campaigns as they are locked in South Carolina.  NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell covering the McCain campaign.  NBC’s David Shuster is covering the Huckabee campaign.  We begin with Kelly O’Donnell with the McCainites.  Kelly?

KELLY O’DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, guys.  It has been buoyant and celebratory here throughout the evening.  And there has been a real spirit that each time results come up on the giant screen, a huge eruption of support.  People here feel good about what they think is happening.  Judging by the results.  There is also a lot of snapping of photos.  The cell phone cameras are out.

We expect to hear from Senator McCain about 10 to 20 minutes after a result is called.  And there was nothing on the schedule tomorrow.  But they have added an early morning news conference, which may be a sign they think they have something good to talk about.  Chris, Keith?

OLBERMANN:  Kelly, 72 percent of the vote now reporting.  And Senator McCin with a 34 to 29 percentage lead over Huckabee.  We are not calling this race yet.  NBC’s David Shuster covering the governor’s campaign at Columbia.  David?

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, incredible nervousness here and tension.  A lot of Huckabee aides hunkered over laptop computers.  Desperately trying to figure out which counties and precincts are in, which ones are still to come.

A couple issues of concern, they are noticing that in the Charleston area, the lowlands as they call it, the margin that John McCain has had over Huckabee is a lot larger than the Huckabee campaign was hoping for.  And the Huckabee advantage in his strongholds the northwest part of the state a lot narrower over John McCain than they were hoping for.  So a mixed bag here.  A lot of tension.  They still believe that Huckabee could still pull this out.  But incredible nervousness not the sort of celebratory atmosphere you heard from O’Donnell over at the McCain campaign.

OLBERMANN:  I would suspect so, David, since that number had bounced, that percentage difference had bounced down David Shuster at the convention center in Columbia.  Thank you, David.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s bring had in the anchor of the NBC NIGHTLY NEWS and moderator of MEET THE PRESS Tim Russert.  Could it be that we’re watching something here that may morph Mike Huckabee back into Pat Robertson a year ago, a man who could only win that Iowa caucus.

Tim?

TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS HOST:  John McCain certainly hopes.  But Huckabee will go on.  There is no doubt about it.  He sees some fertile ground among evangelical Christians in Florida.  He sees a four-way race down there.  Chris, he has been living off the land.  He takes the middle seat in the commercial aircraft without any aides for a long time.  And he can revert back to that if he has to.  But no doubt about it.  Psychologically, Mike Huckabee thought South Carolina would be his break-out state.  He would parlay this win today into a win in Florida and on the Super Tuesday and shock the Republican establishment.  So, too, with John McCain.  They both kept saying and said publicly, they raised expectations.  I will win South Carolina.  Only one of them will.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Brian?

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Well, I was just going to say, I was going to introduce a new topic and that is the specter of Bill Clinton from today forward on the Democratic side.  He will start the day by all accounts tomorrow in Harlem.  We saw the piece of journalism in the “New York Times” about his temper.  We have seen the clips from this past week, including one on the lawsuit to stop the caucusing along the strip in Las Vegas.

I think as we go into South Carolina, given his pledge to, quote, go door to door in mostly African American neighborhoods, he will remain the focus of the coverage of a lot of this.  The question has always been, since this effort started, since it was decided to bring him into the road show that is the Clinton campaign, what about his brand?  Is there a diminution, is there a dilution in the brand of former President Bill Clinton, and I think that’s what a lot of people will be looking for including, Tim, perhaps testing his limits.

RUSSERT:  I’ll tell you guys, I think this is going to be very rough and tough now in South Carolina.  Not only between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  And I think the Obama campaign is at a point where they now have to return fire in their minds.  If you just go back and look at the role Bill Clinton has played in this campaign, he was the one who rolled out Obama is risky.  We can’t roll the dice.  He is the one who talked about his record on Iraq as being a fairy tale.  He is the one who rolled out the fact that Obama’s comments about Ronald Reagan being a transformation leader suggests that the Republicans had all the better ideas than Democrats.

Every step of the way it’s been Bill Clinton who has been defining the debate, who has been shaping the dialogue and forcing Obama to react.  And Hillary Clinton was able not to have to be involved in those negative ads.  The Obama campaign suggesting it’s been two against one.  I think now in South Carolina, there is going to be a real attempt to draw the line and say if you want to debate these kind of things, Mr. President, let’s go.  What about Sister Soulja, your comments in 1992 which many saw an attempt to divide blacks and whites?

And so I do not think that Bill Clinton will any longer have a free pass in the political dialogue that has been going on between the Obama and Clinton campaigns.

MATTHEWS:  Could it be that we are finding out the role he would play were he to be the first spouse, Tim and Brian, which is this?  We have all been searching for the paradigm.  What does the former president do in the White House?  Could he be acting, perhaps, as a Bobby Kennedy, someone who will be the tough guy, the doesn’t mind being hated on civil rights as we know Bobby didn’t mind that role.  He made Jack look better.  He was prince charming, Bobby was the tough guy.

Could it be Bill Clinton says, OK, I’m going to be Bobby Kennedy the next nine years?  Tim?

RUSSERT:  Yes.  You could have a situation whatever idea, is this being floated?  Is this the president, Hillary Clinton’s idea or is Bill Clinton unauthorized or authorized?  We saw it with Kissinger and Nixon.  You sometimes never knew when Kissinger would say I don’t know if I can control him anymore, this President Nixon.  But that’s down the road.

This coming week, Chris, is going to be a huge moment in this campaign because I believe that if Bill Clinton is going to go door to door, church to church in South Africa.  The way he went to casinos …

MATTHEWS:  South Carolina.  We’ve all got South Africa on our minds because we’re building up our MSNBC shop – go ahead.

RUSSERT:  I’m sorry.  In South Carolina, the way he went to from casino to casino in Nevada.  You know, we are reporting tonight that Bill Clinton called the head of MGM and complained about access and got more access.  He has played a central role in this campaign.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Tim.  You are so good at figuring out.  What do you think he and Kirk Kerkorian were doing at MGM this morning?  What is that about at the MGM casino this morning?  Was that limiting the access of the Obama people?  What is he doing?  I found that very intriguing.

RUSSERT:  I think he was saying that he wanted an honest count.  He wanted to make sure everyone participating in the caucus should be there.  Which is a very legitimate request.  The fact is, remember, the lawsuit was all about these nine casinos.  And how they were overstating the vote.  As he told that reporter in California, why should they give five times the number of vote.  And, guess what?  Out of those nine?  Hillary Clinton carried seven.

MATTHEWS:  So he was the big poll watcher there?

RUSSERT:  Well, I’m telling you, I can feel this coming.

MATTHEWS:  This is such great stuff, I’ll tell you.

OLBERMANN:  I have got to throw in—be the wet blanket just to drop this in.  The McCain lead is down to three percent in South Carolina at 81 percent reporting.  But good cop, bad cop sounds all very well and good, Tim.  We are talking about, tomorrow is the church Sunday and Monday is the official national holiday celebrating the life and the death and the martyrdom of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Sunday Barack Obama is to speak at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and Monday Bill Clinton is to do that.  Can you have a bad cop?  Is a bad cop just going to be a bad idea for anybody under any circumstances in these next two days and the days that follow it when it seems to be so out of line with the teachings, with the memories of Martin Luther King.

RUSSERT:  Agree completely.  Next two days absolutely not.  As we found out in New Hampshire a five-day campaign can be a very long campaign.  Start your COUNTDOWN on Tuesday Keith and go to Saturday.  Get ready.  This is going to be something to watch.

OLBERMANN:  Brian Williams and Tim Russert of NBC News of course.  We thank you, again, gentlemen.  We check back in with you later, we hope.

You want to …

MATTHEWS:  I will let you continue.

OLBERMANN:  When we return.

New information about why the race in South Carolina had remained too close to call between John McCain and Mike Huckabee two hours and 15 minutes after the last poll closed.  You are watching MSNBC’s live coverage of that South Carolina Republican primary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We are waiting for one candidate.  John McCain or Mike Huckabee to win the South Carolina Republican primary.  Still too close to call even though more than two hours and 19 minutes have passed since those polls have closed.

MATTHEWS:  For more what’s going on behind this delay in calling the race we turn to NBC News political director Chuck Todd.  You know, Chuck, one thing we like around here is a winner.  We like somebody to win.  What’s the problem area here?  What’s it almost, God, there is so many votes, 14,000 votes separating these two candidates.  Isn’t that enough to see a difference in the ultimate outcome.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, I think when you look at what returns have come in and you haven’t, and you see all these counties that could be Huckabee counties still not reported, you wait.  And I think that’s what’s going on.  There is a lot of counties left that were still Huckabee counties.

OLBERMANN:  Let’s correct that immediately – NBC News is projecting a victory for John McCain.  John McCain.

You may have heard something out in the background but that was nod broadcast.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  John McCain has won the South Carolina primary.

OLBERMANN:  That is our projection winner.  The Associated Press had done this earlier.  I guess this renders neutral the analysis of where those other counties were.  But it did—it does raise the question of—well, all right.  We’re changing gears.  Let’s go right to McCain headquarters and Kelly O’Donnell.  Kelly?

KELLY O’DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  I don’t hear anything.

OLBERMANN:  Kelly can’t hear us.

O’DONNELL:  Oh, I gotcha.  I gotcha.  Sorry about that.

MATTHEWS:  I love it.

O’DONNELL:  The room is loud.  So forgive that pause.  The folks here are very excited.  They are incredibly pumped up.  They have been chanting Mack is back from the moment the call went out.  A real eruption here.  And, guys, to give you an idea of how significant this night is a little behind the scenes color here.  We have got a lot of TV lights here.  They are pretty bright.  Some of the folks have been saying please shut down some of these lights so when Senator McCain gets on the stage he can read the teleprompter, which means this is an important speech, one of the ways they are concerned about making this a moment that they will remember.  Guys?

MATTHEWS:  Did they begin to applaud after they heard from us or before us when they heard from Fox and they didn’t believe it until they heard from us?

O’DONNELL:  Well, I had a little lead time from our friends at Fox.  How is that?

OLBERMANN:  Great rhetorical question, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  It’s useful sometimes.

Kelly, let me ask you how they see this victory.  What does this take them to, a good chance, a leg up in Florida and then on to the 5th of February, right?

O’DONNELL:  Oh, absolutely.  This is a real springboard for John McCain.  When he talked to us about what he thought it would mean before knowing tonight’s result, he said he thought this would be a chance for the money to come in.  For all of those Republican establishment types, many of whom have shied away from him over the years to come and put their money down and help him go forward.  It’s about momentum and history.  Here they have been saying they have been waiting for this for eight years.  So the bitterness to the defeat to then Governor Bush still rings here.  So tonight’s victory certainly eases that.

And so by writing a new page of history for John McCain, the Mack is back chant is a dominant theme that they think he has turned the corner and that this could be pivotal as they go forward.

They are also looking at the fate of Fred Thompson.  While Thompson and McCain are close friends.  Senator McCain has told me he has had no discussions with Fred Thompson and it would not be appropriate at this point about him perhaps throwing his support.

But some of the people who backed McCain think that Thompson was a help to McCain here and has also slowed Romney down a little bit in the results in South Carolina, all of which they think improves the picture for John McCain, guys?

OLBERMANN:  Kelly, it’s not as if winning a primary were not sufficient for a presidential would-be like John McCain.  Buff is there also an additional personal element for him.  Hs the campaign talked about this on or off the record given what happened in South Carolina in 2000?

O’DONNELL:  That has been a subtext of what John McCain has felt emotionally here.  When we have been at events with him, you could really sense that he talked to voters very personally, saying things like I need your help.  A much more emotional appeal than I’m accustomed to seeing with candidates, there was almost a hint of the continuing of—ting of disappointment from days past.

We are learning now that we expect Senator McCain within 15 minutes.  It will be a happy McCain from some of the ghosts from years ago now behind him.  The key will be can he turn this into something that gives him some real momentum.  Not just the history of South Carolina’s role in selecting nominees but can it bring cash and organization so that they can compete?

Looking to Florida, he tells me he thinks he is doing well in the coasts, the Pensacola area where you have got a lot of military, the Cuban area in Miami.  He says the middle is where it’s tough.  And he in his classic style has said there are a lot of condos with folks from New York and New Jersey moved there, referring to Rudy Giuliani supporters.  He thinks that will be tough for him.  So Florida presents some challenges.  They know that so they need a win here to really boost his numbers and give him some speed going into Florida.

OLBERMANN:  Kelly O’Donnell at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, at, to say the least, a very happy McCain headquarters after a long wait.  Not just this race but the one dating back to the 2000.  The NBC News projection coming in very late considering how long ago the polls closed that John McCain will win this thing by at least four percent over Mike Huckabee, maybe more.  Still a number of critical perhaps Huckabee favoring counties to come.  But that will not enlighten the mood at all at the Huckabee headquarters at the Columbia Convention Center where our David Shuster has been through the night.  David, give us the word picture there.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Keith, great disappointment honestly.  The room has gotten very silent as those projections have just been put on the screen.  We just saw some of the top advisors to Mike Huckabee being pulled out which we believe is to talk to Mike Huckabee former Governor David Beasley trying to explain to Mike Huckabee why the results are that they are.  And the spinning has already begun, Keith.  I mean, they were talking about how Huckabee was 12 points down at the beginning of the week and has narrowed this to perhaps five points or less.  They are convinced that things were trending in their direction but they are also convinced, Keith, that they were hurt very badly by Fred Thompson, they are seeing a lot of results in Huckabee strongholds of Thompson getting 18 to 20 percent, areas that they believe would have been strongly for Huckabee had he been the only true southerner evangelical Christian conservative candidate in the race.

So a lot of disappointment.  But they are also making it very clear, Keith, that they move on.  They have plans to go on to Florida and start a bus tour starting tomorrow.  This candidate moves on, although it will be so interesting to hear what he says, Keith, given that just a few days ago Huckabee himself was promising that his campaign would win here.  Keith?

OLBERMANN:  Etiquette, of course, suggests that he should be speaking before Senator McCain does and we are estimating McCain about 12 to 15 minutes, somewhere in there.  We will get back to you, David, in preparation for that.  NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory has been talking to the McCain campaign tonight.  And David joins us from Washington.  What do you know that we don’t know yet, David?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, just a sense of how they think they performed so well here.  Clearly, McCain’s position as potential commander in chief, his position on the war in Iraq and on the surge, they believe, stood him very, very well in a state where there are so many veterans.  That is a key point for them, a key point for them obviously going forward.  It’s the corner stone of his campaign.  They also believe they have gotten some traction out of, ironically enough, his economic message.  I say ironically enough.  Because that has not really been considered his strongest suit.  But he has talked about cutting spending.  Talked about a rather large tax cut as a way to stimulate the economy.  That seems, in their estimation, to have resonated here.

The question is where does it go next?  Are there conversations going on?  We will try to report on throughout the night between McCain and Fred Thompson who it looks to be a key role for Thompson in this race tonight, peeling away some evangelical support away from Mike Huckabee.  And now McCain thinks about Florida.  His top people believe he gets an important bump out of here, where he goes head to head with Rudy Giuliani who is really making a final stand in Florida, a first and a final stand in Florida to get into this race.

He has some appeal to moderates and to independents and has some leadership on the national security arena as well as McCain.  That’s the face-off.  But McCain’s camp believes they have got a legitimate claim now to frontrunner status.  And if they can grab Florida, to back this win up, then as one top advisor said to me tonight, we’re in business.  Keith?

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory assessing the status of the victorious McCain camp for us tonight from Washington.  Thank you, David.

We are seeing stories already that Rudy Giuliani had during the day, had attacked each of his opponents by name warming up for Florida.  We know where Mr. Giuliani thinks he stands in terms of Florida.  Who does Senator McCain see as his rival, the person he needs to knock away in Florida?

MATTHEWS:  Well, he has to finish off Romney and then take on Giuliani.  I was just looking at the international betting odds and how they have moved.  It’s done in Ireland, of course.  There is no sports betting for politics in Vegas anymore.  It’s interesting that McCain is now better than 50/50 odd to win the presidential nomination of the Republican Party and Romney is 1 in 4.  Hillary is 1 to 2 shot right now.  She is an overwhelming favorite.

And so I love to watch the money.  Because there is some people who really believe they are better than the polls in predicting what’s going to happen, where people have to put money down on the table.

OLBERMANN:  It’s done by feel and touch, obviously as much by an practical analysis of things.  I will do something you would ordinarily do.

MATTHEWS:  It’s not like a daily double based on your kids’ birthdays.  There is more to it than that.

OLBERMANN:  But there is an intangible element here.  What just popped into my mind was a scene from the Henry Fonda picture “The Best Man” from the 1960s where he and Cliff Robertson knock each other off, the good guy and the bad guy …

MATTHEWS:  The third guy comes in.

OLBERMANN:  He throws his support to some guy you never heard of and the last scene this guy going up in the escalator in the Los Angeles coliseum going up the escalator, very symbolic.  He is the guy who is going to get the nomination.  That sense of someone being anointed by the campaign.  Are we at that stage yet?

MATTHEWS:  I think the Republican people are going to get together pretty soon.  And I think they are going to—they don’t like chaos, Republicans.  They like organized books, organized lives, right?  They do not like Democratic existences, which is based on chaos oftentimes.  Democrats like a big meeting.  Republicans like a big leader.  How is that? 

OLBERMANN:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let’s go over right now to Joe Scarborough who likes to be a leader. 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “MORNING JOE”:  Well, I’m a Republican.  (INAUDIBLE) Republicans like.  They like candidates that can win (INAUDIBLE), Peggy Noonan. 

PEGGY NOONAN, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  I think—first of all, let’s all say, what a big night for John McCain.  This was a state that was so rough on him eight years ago.  So let’s applaud him for that, first of all.  But let’s talk about Florida.  I don’t think after South Carolina it clears up that much yet. 

I mean, what does this win tonight mean?

NOONAN:  Oh, look, there are a number of things to be said about tonight.  One is that John McCain was finished three, four, five, six months ago.  He had no money.  He had fired all of his staff.  He was over.  This is a great comeback. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And he had to win tonight, also.

NOONAN:  Absolutely.  And where did he make his comeback?  The place that decked him in the year 2000, allowed him to be smeared.  They threw him out.  Now they just picked him up and took him back in again.  Now he goes down to Florida as one of the leaders in a still cluttered field. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So, in 2000, the knockout punch delivered from South Carolina to the jaw of John McCain.  In 2008, Howard Fineman, was that punch delivered to Mike Huckabee? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  I don’t think he is out of it yet.  I’m just sitting here writing my Web piece… 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, where do you win, though?  If you’re Mike Huckabee, if you don’t win in South Carolina, where do you win? 

FINEMAN:  Well—I agree, I agree. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  I agree with you.  No, this was a must-win—this was a must-win for him.  And he didn’t win it.  So, if he can’t win where the evangelicals are, he is not going to be able to win where they aren’t so important.  And he only got, according to our exit polls, about four in 10 of evangelical voters. 

Fred Thompson did McCain a favor by drawing away some of those votes to himself.  I just am so amazed by the historical resonance of it.  I mean, I was traveling with McCain and George Bush in 2000 when Bush knocked off McCain in 2000, ruined McCain’s campaign. 

Now here eight years later, it’s South Carolina that has kind of made him the frontrunner at this point.  The difference now is that there is no one other single strong candidate that faces McCain.  McCain has virtue now of having a divided field that he is facing. 

As long as he can—he is ahead of the polls in Florida right now. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  Rudy had been ahead for months and months.  McCain is narrowly ahead in Florida. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Do we call John McCain, though, a frontrunner when Romney has the most delegates and he has the most money? 

FINEMAN:  I’m telling you, the feel of it right now, with McCain going into Florida, in a state that is very much influenced by national trends, Joe, you know that... 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.  And out comes Mike Huckabee. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Yes.  And you know, I think Huckabee may be done, because I don’t know where he wins.  I think Romney is still a real factor in this race. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Let’s go right now to Keith who will toss to Governor Huckabee. 

OLBERMANN:  Here is the runner-up in the South Carolina Republican Primary 2008. 

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  God bless you and thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you very, very much . 

CROWD:  Huckabee!  Huckabee!  Huckabee!

HUCKABEE:  Thank you.

CROWD:  Huckabee!  Huckabee!  Huckabee!

HUCKABEE:  Thank you.

CROWD:  Huckabee!  Huckabee!  Huckabee!

HUCKABEE:  Thank you.

CROWD:  Huckabee!  Huckabee!  Huckabee!

HUCKABEE:  Well, just a few moments ago, I made a phone call to Senator McCain and I offered him my congratulations.  I told him that I would much rather prefer that he had called me tonight.  But he was very gracious as we knew he would be.  And I was certainly willing to compliment him. 

I want to thank him for running a civil and a good and a decent campaign to elevate politics and he is to be congratulated.  One of the things I’m proud of, those of us, the two of us who finished at the top ran a campaign with a level of civility, without attacking each other. 

And even though I would like for the outcome to be just a little different on the top and in the second place, I had rather be where I am and have done it with honor than to have won with the dishonor of getting there by attacking somebody else.  And I’m grateful.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  I am grateful for the campaign that you have been willing to run with me, and grateful for the campaign that he has run as well.  Well, obviously tonight, we wanted to come here and to declare a South Carolina victory.  We got awful close.  Unfortunately, in politics, close doesn’t count for the first life.  But it does count. 

And the reason that I want to encourage you tonight is to remind you that politics, and particularly this year, more than perhaps any other, this is not an event.  It is a process.  And the process is far, far from over. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  Obviously I’m deeply grateful to our South Carolina team, working their hearts out.  To Mike Campbell, our state chairman.  His wonderful mother Iris Campbell.  I thank you so very much.  God bless you. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  To my friend, former Governor David Beasley and his wife Mary Wood, once again, stuck his neck out and just was able to campaign with me all over this country and here in South Carolina.  And I just want to thank him, also, for jumping in and we’ll look forward to having him on the trail in other places as well. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  For Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, and for his willingness to endorse us this week.  And in many ways that we will leave South Carolina not only with incredible numbers of friends, but I believe with a renewed unity in the Republican Party of South Carolina, bringing these two men, Mike Campbell and Andre Bauer to the same stage.  And both of them have an incredibly great future, as does South Carolina, a most wonderful state.  And I’m grateful for all you have done. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  I cannot begin to say thanks enough for our staff.  These are the people that honestly, I don’t know how many weeks a person can go without sleep, but they are going to test the absolute outer limits of it before this campaign is over. 

Most campaigns have three people to one that we have on our staff.  And they have just worked not with complaint but with a commitment that I have never seen ever.  And then the volunteers.  Many of you have come here from all over America, at your own expense.  It’s incredible. 

And we have had people that literally have made phone calls for us, some of whom who are in Europe.  And they have used their free cell phone weekend minutes to make calls back to South Carolina and encourage people to come vote.  It has been unbelievable. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  Let me just say that tonight is not a time to start asking what if.  It’s a time to start talking about what now.  And we’re not going to sit around and second guess, well, what if we had done, what if.  No, you know what?  I feel like that our effort here, we gave everything we had.  We left it all on the field. 

I don’t want anyone who worked in this campaign from our volunteers to our staff to feel anything other than an extraordinary sense of pride, and also a sense of just sheer joy that we got as far as we did when nobody thought it was even possible for us to be in contention. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  Let me tell you and remind you how we got here.  It wasn’t because we had the most money, the most consultants, the most staff, the most resources, the most polls, the most focus groups. 

Here is what we had.  What we had was we had a message that has connected and continues to connect with people all over this country who have feared that they have been forgotten and have become invisible to many political people. 

And they fear that maybe they matter just as much because what they really want is they want a government that will take the heavy burden of taxation off their backs.  They want a government that will start thinking about how much money it is spending and stop it and finally start acting with some level of sanity when it comes to spending the very dollars they have taken from us. 

People want a government that recognizes that mothers and fathers really do raise better children than governments do.  And they want a government that leaves them alone so they can raise their children as they see fit.  Not with the government telling them how. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  They want a government who will finally build a fence, secure our borders, and confront the issue, not just of illegal immigration but confront the greater issue that is plaguing so many people in South Carolina and the rest of America.  And that is the fear that tomorrow they will lose their jobs and not be able to put food on their table and clothes on their kids’ backs. 

And for every person out there who is serving the food and driving the trucks and who is sitting in the front of the cabs and not the backseat, for the ones who are on the lines of the factories and climbing up and down the ladders, carrying paint buckets in their hands and hammers, we want to be a campaign that says there is room in the Republican Party for you.

And, in fact, the Republican Party is all about making sure that everybody in this country has the best kind of future and that message and that mission is far from over tonight.  And that’s why I don’t want us to leave here saying, well, the game has ended.  No, we have just finished one of the quarters of play. 

My dear friend Clebe McClary, who I love to quote on occasions like this, is a South Carolinian, I love what he says.  He says: “I have never lost at anything I have ever done, sometimes the game ends before I get finished playing but I have never lost at anything I have done.” 

And, ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know we didn’t lose tonight, the game ended a little early for us.  But I also want you to know this.  The path to the White House is not ending here tonight.  We’re resetting the clock.  We’re resetting all of the gauges. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  We have learned and tomorrow, after a little bit of sleep, we wake up to fight the battle, yet again, and yet again, and I still believe a year from now all of you that have helped us get there will be in Washington for the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States.  Thank you. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  Let me say a final word of thanks to my wife Janet, my children, it’s tough to run for office.  The only thing more difficult than running for office is to be married to the guy who does. 

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE:  And she has been willing and ready and has given her all and has never flinched in her undying support for what we are about.  And I want to say to every one of you how much we love you, how much we thank you.  The people of South Carolina have been magnificent to us. 

Your hospitality, your warmth, your support, your encouragement, the enthusiasm and everything you have done for us, I just cannot begin to tell you what a deep and wonderful impression you have left with us. 

Even if we didn’t come in first in the results tonight, you have come in first in our hearts by giving us the kind of wonderful experience that everybody in life ought to just once be able to have.  I’m even wearing this South Carolina tie tonight. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  And wearing it with an extraordinary sense of gratitude and pride as a symbol and a reminder of how grateful we are for your wonderful, wonderful gifts to us and your love and your support. 

It’s on from here, tomorrow in Texas, Monday in Georgia and Florida, and then on in Florida again.  We have got a lot of miles ahead of us.  It is a long process and a long path.  But I want to make sure that you know that after you get just a little bit of sleep, we need you back, ready, able, and willing to take it to the White House. 

Thank you.  God bless you.  Thank you every one of you.  Thank you. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OLBERMANN:  Mike Huckabee, who, when all is counted tonight, will be between 13,000 and 14,000 votes shy of having won the South Carolina GOP Primary, he will finish in second place.  The current count at 97 percent of the vote now being reported is the—the numbers are 33 percent to 30 percent.  Senator John McCain, the projected winner there.  And it looks like those numbers are going to turn out pretty much in that same ballpark. 

We are expecting to hear from John McCain in a few moments from the Citadel, at his headquarters in Charlestown, South Carolina.  In the interim, well, of course, let’s move forward and look to Florida where Craig Crawford of MSNBC and cqpolitics.com is already ensconced in Orlando. 

All right.  Lay out where we left it with Chris earlier.  Obviously we know where Rudy Giuliani thinks the big event is in the Republican nominating process.  Who now does John McCain look at as his chief nemesis going into Florida? 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  I think Romney is going to be a lot of trouble for McCain, probably going on throughout the states.  But here in Florida, Giuliani has certainly made his effort here.  He is going to come at all of his opponents on the tax issue. 

Huckabee, there is an evangelical movement here in Florida.  In many ways I would say central Florida in particular was a birthplace of evangelicals in politics going back to the Reagan era.  And Huckabee is very strong with home-schoolers, Keith.  We learned in Iowa how important that group is for evangelical voters, almost a niche within a niche.  Very strong movement in Florida that I’m sure he will be going after. 

The great thing about Florida is you have got all of the elements of the Republican Party down here.  You have got the economic conservatives of New Hampshire.  You have got the evangelicals of Iowa and South Carolina.  The military voters of the coastal counties in South Carolina here in Florida. 

And then you have got the country clubbers which I would say the Romney candidacy appeals to the most.  And Giuliani, you have got down in the Gold Coast, the transplanted New Yorkers.  So come on down, the water is fine. 

OLBERMANN:  This is not like a caucus situation in which, as we saw in Nevada today among the Democrats, that whatever large percentage of support John Edwards had or thought he had as recently as a week-and-a-half ago, evaporated because of that 15 percent viability rule. 

But, to some degree as we get that far along in the process—we are not that far along but we are a lot farther along than we often get without having a clearer nominee in the waiting, is there any expectation that there will be a kind of rush to the bandwagon and that McCain might pick off just enough of those—that evangelical group in the center of the state or any other pockets of power that seemingly belong exclusively to one of the other challengers? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, I will tell you if those exit polls in South Carolina are correct, and, of course, I have told you I have given up exit polls and cigarettes in this campaign, so—but just for the moment I will assume they might be correct, that McCain did very well among evangelicals.  That impressed me a lot. 

And if Fred Thompson is getting out—I don’t know what that speech was earlier, other than the fact that maybe he wanted to go to bed and just wanted to end it all for tonight, I don’t know. 

OLBERMANN:  Did he not look to you like he was waiting for someone to hand him a telegram? 

CRAWFORD:  Yes.  For a moment there I thought he was like, you know, that General Zod in “Superman” who takes over your TV and they go, “I am Zod.” He just took over our airwaves there for a while. 

(LAUHGTER)

OLBERMANN:  We have a winner tonight in terms of analogies, thank you, Craig.  Beautiful.  Now so where does it go with Thompson?  Is he going to stay in as a stalking horse? 

CRAWFORD:  I have to believe that speech is some sort of precursor for getting out of the race and maybe endorsing McCain.  And that will help.  I don’t know, Chris mentioned this earlier and I agree.  He might be able to help McCain more by staying in the race down here and splitting up some of those social conservatives with Huckabee.  That actually might do McCain more good.

But I have a feeling—from that speech, I got the impression Thompson is just really tired of this and ready to move on. 

MATTHEWS:  Craig, try to explain Florida to me.  I remember I said this hours ago tonight that when we watched the long count coming out of Florida back in 2000 where you sensed that there were so many different sections of that state.  Part of it still old South, pre-air conditioning South, southern accents.  The panhandle… 

CRAWFORD:  Yes, we invented air conditioning. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  You had to. 

CRAWFORD:  Nearby Tallahassee, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And then there is the South Florida, which is so ethnically mixed up.  Then there is the West Coast which is the snow birds from the Midwest.  How do you figure it?  Is it more like South Carolina?  More like New Jersey?  What is it?  What is Florida? 

CRAWFORD:  It’s probably closer to California in its mix.  You know, it’s my home state.  I’m a little biased, I suppose, but I think Florida is probably the most representative state in the country for the political elections. 

And I tell you, I really am paying attention to the Democratic side, Chris.  I know it’s going to be written off because the delegates are not going to be awarded.  The candidates didn’t campaign here.  But it’s still going to vote.  I mean, there are going to be a lot of voters, probably more voters than any state before this on the Democratic side show up in the primary. 

And, you know, it’s almost more of a bellwether in my mind for February 5th because the candidates, the Democrats didn’t campaign here because they also aren’t going to be able to campaign in most of the February 5th states. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I have a problem with that argument because it has always been said, and you know as well as I that since the candidates will not campaign down there, it’s really a battle of name identification and Hillary has the largest amount of political capital in that state going back... 

CRAWFORD:  And that’s what February 5th is going to be. 

MATTHEWS:  No—OK.  So she will win down there.  I don’t see how anybody would expect Barack to have an edge down there given the fact he can’t go in there and do his magic which you and I know is magic when you’re in the room.  But if you’re not in the room, it isn’t. 

CRAWFORD:  Yes.  But you see, my point is, I don’t see how he has time after the South Carolina primary next weekend to do that in the 21, 22 states on February 5th, meaning that…

MATTHEWS:  I see what you mean.

CRAWFORD:  … whatever he does in Florida is most likely what he is going to do on February 5th

MATTHEWS:  Is what we are seeing in this campaign writ large, that phenomenon you are talking about, which is, if Huckabee can work a state like Iowa for a year or so, he can win it.  If Barack Obama can hold enough rallies, he can win it.  But he can’t hold enough rallies in the way this primary season is set up.  And neither can Huckabee meet enough people.  It’s a wholesale campaign. 

And, therefore, only people who have been in the Super Bowl before like McCain and the Clintons know how to win it. 

CRAWFORD:  And that’s when I—that’s where, you know, the special interest kind of issues campaigning that Hillary does that I know you don’t like so much, it’s not very exciting, I know, but, in the long run of this campaign…

MATTHEWS:  She will be able to deliver.

CRAWFORD:  … that may do her better in those big states than a candidate like Obama who depends on—who runs who he is, on his soul, almost.  And if you don’t know that soul, if you don’t experience it, you are not on the program. 

MATTHEWS:  And then to use a sports term, the Clintons play in the pocket and their opponents inevitably are scramblers and the scramblers tended to lose in all of the races we’ve seen over the years, because that pocket includes all of the interest groups, it’s the usual appeals to ethnicity. 

Well, you know, too, Social Security protection, that sort of thing, the usual foreign policy, whereas the opponent inevitably tries something else and that’s much more dangerous as we have seen with Tsongas and Gary Hart and all of the people who have run—Bob Kerrey, and all of the other people that ran against the Clintons and the other centrist Democrats. 

CRAWFORD:  Well, I’ll tell you, let’s not give up on old Giuliani.  He’s doing his “Little Miss”—I call it his “Little Miss Sunshine” tour here around Florida.  He has been on his bus going everywhere, kind of like that little girl getting ready for the pageant.  He has got his tax arguments lined up.

MATTHEWS:  But is there a dead guy in the…

CRAWFORD:  But it’s time for his comeback. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there a dead guy in the bus? 

CRAWFORD:  He deserves his comeback.  Everybody else got a comeback, why not Giuliani? 

MATTHEWS:  But in that metaphor, there was someone dead in the car.  That is the problem.

CRAWFORD:  Well, that’s why I said he is the little girl. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  That analogy can take us to unfortunate places, too. 

MATTHEWS:  He’s not Alan Arkin, OK.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, the little girl one.  Obviously you are seeing the crowd noise begin to build at the headquarters of John McCain at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, after his certainly dramatic—I think dramatic is a fair enough adjective to use in this. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it was unexpectedly—he was unexpectedly successful.  I had the sense going into this that Huckabee…

OLBERMANN:  Redemptive. 

MATTHEWS:  … would win that (INAUDIBLE) with the evangelicals.

OLBERMANN:  You go with redemptive as well given what happened to him in 2000?  Redeeming (INAUDIBLE)…

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  How about, don’t get mad, get even. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  That’s another way of phrasing it.  He is expected out literally within seconds.  The etiquette being followed accordingly.  The runner-up in the race, Mike Huckabee has finished.  We have heard him.  He was gracious towards McCain.  And they both gave that—or McCain is—has been giving that clean campaign speech.  So does that constitute a pledge?  Is that anything we can hold them to…

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don’t know.  I was wondering about the etiquette of this.  And it is always tricky.  Does FOX announce before we do but they don’t applaud until we do?  Is that the etiquette, Keith Olbermann, who loves to talk about these things? 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory joins us once again as we wait for Senator McCain to come out and give his victory speech. 

I’m not going to ask you that question that Chris just asked, David.  But do we have the beginnings of a nominee here?  Do we have the outline, the shape of one?  Is that the analysis? 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, certainly the McCain camp hopes so.  This is huge.  Howard Fineman referred to it before.  Those of us who covered the Bush campaign in 2000 remembered 2000, South Carolina being the demise of John McCain’s insurgent candidacy and now it may be catapulting him. 

I was in this very room in the Citadel several months ago with John McCain when he was trying to begin this comeback.  And he electrified the crowd there talking about the surge, talking about the need to let America win in Iraq. 

And in many ways politically he has been vindicated by taking what was a very difficult stand then on this surge in Iraq and now it’s in part what he is riding into victory in South Carolina tonight. 

Among conservatives, McCain still loses, according to exit polls.  We will see how that shakes out.  But as they have talked about, not losing by much.  They see that as a positive sign and not doing too badly among evangelicals as well.  That becomes important. 

I’m told though, hard facts here, the McCain camp has not spoken to Fred Thompson tonight.  Candidate to candidate, I’m told that that conversation has not happened.  There is an expectation within the McCain camp that Thompson will get out, perhaps on Monday.  Don’t know for sure.  And you could see some kind of alliance shaping up there, which could be helpful to John McCain as he goes in to do battle with Mitt Romney and Giuliani in Florida. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, was there, perhaps, secret code in that speech from Fred Thompson as we continue to try to figure that one out?  Is there some sort of message like, I will go out at the appropriate moment?  You don’t have to worry about me, John? 

GREGORY:  Yes, well, it’s interesting, I wonder if it may be geographical.  I mean, he wanted to say thank you, take tonight, an early bow-out, realize that he was not going to win.  Wasn’t even going to come in second, to say thank you and maybe set up whatever decision he makes come tomorrow or come Monday. 

But you can bet that the McCain camp will be poised and ready to have a conversation with him as it tries to make an appeal out of South Carolina that, look, let’s start to rally behind a nominee here. 

Let’s get away from this chaos theory headline and get really loaded up here and get strong as we are going to face a pretty formidable Democratic opponent, whomever that nominee might be. 

And so I think you will see the beginnings of that tonight.  And, again, I think more personally for McCain, South Carolina is a bit of redemption for him, politically, after what was such a very difficult loss in 2000, personally and politically.  And there was so much ill will. 

And we talked about this before, that it would then translate now into, I won’t call it good feeling, but certainly a feeling within the Republican establishment, those close to the president, that McCain is now in a pretty good position, at least to get enough momentum going into Florida. 

But Florida becomes very important, as we have been talking about tonight, because it is where Rudy Giuliani—his people say in their press releases, you know, come down to us and let’s have a real debate about the issues.  We are going to have that here on MSNBC coming up this week. 

And Mitt Romney, who does have the staying power, he has got the delegates, he has got the money, he has got an establishment appeal, and he has got the economy as a top issue that he will try to use against John McCain. 

So this thing is far from over.  But I think it’s really, really important for McCain that he has won tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  One thing, David, and this may sound like trivia, but is this important as well?  After New Hampshire, I don’t think even the biggest John McCain fan thought that in victory Mr. McCain had given a very good speech.  Is there any sense—has there been any sense with the campaign that he has to come out and give something of a barnburner tonight?  That the opportunity—you can miss the opportunity to go out and pound home the message?

GREGORY:  Yes.  Don’t miss the opportunity to speak from your heart and reflect the emotion that has to be a 10 winning this kind of victory in South Carolina after what happened back in 2000.  I do think you will see that. 

I also think this is important.  Listen to John McCain the past week on the campaign trail.  He has made it clear that he had to win South Carolina because in 30 years a Republican has not won the nomination without winning this state. 

I think we’ll hear in his remarks tonight the beginning of an inevitability argument, which is unbelievable to think about from John McCain given where his campaign was not that many months ago but now saying if you look at history, what South Carolina has meant to the nominating process, this year has been turned upside down. 

But he has been making that argument in the final few days here of this campaign in South Carolina. 

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory, who has been in touch with the masters of the McCain campaign tonight, with us from Washington. 

And, Chris, let’s talk again about this idea that you’ve got to…

MATTHEWS:  Powerful speech here. 

OLBERMANN:  You have got to give a good one here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I have got a copy of it as well as you do.  And I have to tell you, without—while honoring the embargo, this is a testament…

OLBERMANN:  Oh, so it’s not going to be ad-lib?  It’s not going to be anything…

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, not—it is going to be like last time.  But to its credit, it’s a speech which basically I don’t mind saying, without it quoting a word from it, it seems to have a strong tenor of deep conservative belief.  I think he feels he still has to convince the true conservatives that he is not a maverick, that he shares their bedrock. 

And I think that may well be the purpose of tonight, to go to South Carolina, win down there and basically sign a compact with conservative America and the Republican Party that I’m your guy.  I’m not some East Coast guy, I’m some friend of the media, you know, the kinds of tags he had before, which is he is too friendly with us. 

Let’s be blunt about it, that is bad for them.  You don’t want to be too friendly with us.  And I think that he wants to establish tonight his big—on perhaps the high note of his campaign tonight, when he has been able to win where he lost before.

What he wants to do tonight, I think—and we will have to see how he says it or what he says, I think he wants to sign the deal with conservative Republicans that I’m your man, not the other guy.  Not Mitt Romney, certainly not Rudy, and not for any bad reason, Fred Thompson, he just didn’t win. 

I think that is what it is going to be about tonight, the conservative compact. 

OLBERMANN:  Did the—did he move to meet them or did they move to meet him or it is just the best of some imperfect choices, from the conservative point of view?

MATTHEWS:  It is a marriage involving both.  I think clearly they need a leader and he wants to be their leader.  He has to concede a bit of—he has to bring a bit of toughness to the immigration issue.  I think he has said very clearly he is not for amnesty.  I think clearly he will come out for tax cuts, fiscal responsibility, a tough war policy, all the key elements of the Republican belief system. 

I think he wants—really, this is his chance in his whole life right now to be the leader of the Republican Party.  There is his mother coming aboard, in her 90s, look at this great woman.  Look at her, coming in for the big one.  You can tell it is big when she shows up. 

OLBERMANN:  Over to Senator Graham. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course, her husband was the admiral.  This is Lindsey Graham.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the next president of the United States, Senator John McCain and Mrs. Cindy McCain. 

OLBERMANN:  There he is.

MATTHEWS:  This is it.  This is liftoff.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Liftoff.

OLBERMANN:  At 10:00 Eastern, where NBC News has projected John McCain to win the South Carolina primary.  Mike Huckabee has already given a concession speed.  The candidate preceded onto the stage by his wife.  John McCain, after the extraordinary and epically bad campaign, in a moral sense, I guess, 2000 campaign in that state, after a campaign this year that had hit the point of basically brown-bagging it.  Where they triumph at night, certainly this evening. 

MATTHEWS:  Very formal attire for Mrs. Clinton—Cindy McCain, rather.  Very much the first lady look there.  You notice it, her style tonight.  Very interesting to watch.  This is a major, major presentation by the Clinton—by the McCain—why do I say Clinton? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Here he is. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CROWD:  Mack is back!  Mack is back!  Mack is back!  Mack is back!

MCCAIN:  Thank you.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  … involving both.  I think clearly they need a leader and he wants to be their leader.  He has to bring a bit of toughness to the immigration issue.  I think he said very clearly he is not for amnesty.  I think clearly he will come out for tax cuts, fiscal responsibility, a tough war policy.  All the key elements of the Republican belief system.

I think he wants really this is his chance in his whole life right now to be the leader of the Republican Party.  There is his mother coming aboard.  In her 90s, look at this great woman.  Coming in for the big one.  You can tell it is big when she shows up.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST:  Over to U.S. Senator Graham.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, ® SC:  Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the next president of the United States Senator John Mccain and Mrs.Cindy Mccain.

OLBERMANN:  At 10:00 Eastern where NBC News has projected John McCain to win the South Carolina primary.  Mike Huckabee has already given a concession speed.  The candidate preceded onto the stage by his wife, John McCain after the extraordinary and epically bad in a moral sense 2000 campaign in that state.  After a campaign this year that had hit the point of basically brown bagging it.  With they triumph at night, certainly this evening.

MATTHEWS:  Very formal attire for Mrs. Clinton—Cindy McCain, rather.  Very much the first lady look.  You notice her style there.  Very interesting to watch.  This is a major, major presentation by the Clinton—McCain – why do I want to say Clintons?

OLBERMANN:  Here he is.

CROWD:  Mack is back.  Mack is back.  Mack is back.  Mack is back.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you, my friends.  Thank you, South Carolina.

Thank you, South Carolina, for bringing us across the finish line first in the first in the South primary.

You know, it took us a while, but what’s eight years among friends, huh?  What it really did, what it really did, it gave us the opportunity to spend more time in this beautiful state, to talk with you and listen to you and to come to admire all the more the deep patriotism of South Carolinians who have sacrificed so much to defend our country from it enemies.

My friends, it is a great privilege to have come to know so many of you.  And I’m very grateful for and humbled by the support you have given our campaign.  Thank you.  Thank you especially for having the very un-South Carolina like weather today.  And you came out to exercise the first responsibility of an American, not just those South Carolinians who voted for us, but all of you who voted for the candidate you believe is best and suited to lead the country you love.

I think I can speak for all the Republican candidates when I say South Carolinians are never just fair weather friends.  You know, I’m very grateful to our South Carolina team and to the many dedicated volunteers who gave so generously of their time and labor and kept us competitive in some pretty challenging times, my friends.  And as a lot of people we want to thank.  So many, among them are my dear and beloved friend Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina.

My beloved friend—my dear and beloved friend, the great, great, great attorney general of the state of South Carolina, Henry McMaster.  Thank you.

And the leader of the South Carolina legislature, a leader in the fight to reduce taxes, less government, less regulation, has made South Carolina a wonderful place to work and to live, the speaker, Bobby Harold (ph).  Bobby, thank you very much.

I hope you know, I hope you all know how much your friendship means to me.  The debt I owe you is a privilege and an obligation I will faithfully discharge.  I want to thank my wonderful wife Cindy, the best campaigner in (inaudible)

My daughters Megan and Cindy, who are with us tonight as well as my son Doug and our children who couldn’t be here.

And, of course, my friends, and, of course, my mother Roberta McCain.

It’s obvious to me and all who know me we wouldn’t be where we are tonight without your love and faith and encouragement.  Thank you, mama.  Thank you very much.

My friends, in the course of this campaign I have tried as best I could to tell people the truth, to tell them the truth about the challenges, about the challenges facing our country and how I intend to address them as I have said before and you’ve heard me, before I can win your vote, I must earn your respect.  And the only way I know how to do that is by being honest with you.

I tried to do that throughout this campaign and put my trust in your willingness to give me your fair consideration.  So far it seems to be working pretty well.  You and I are aware for the last 28 years the winner of the South Carolina primary has been the nominee of our party for president of the United States.

Thank you.  We have a ways to go, my friends.  And there are some tough contests ahead.  And starting tomorrow in the state of Florida where we are going to win with your support (inaudible).

We are well on our way tonight and I feel very good about our challenges.  My friends, as pleased as we are about the results and we have a reason to celebrate tonight, I know that I must keep foremost in my mind that I’m not running for president to be somebody but to do something.  I’m running to keep America safe, prosperous and proud.  I’m running to restore the trust of the American people in their government.  I’m running so that our children and their children will have greater opportunities than what we are blessed with.  I’m running so that every person in this country now and in generations to come will know the same sublime honor that has been the treasure of my life, to be proud to be an American.

CROWD:  USA!  USA!  USA!  USA!  USA!  USA!

MCCAIN:  I seek the nomination of our party because I am as confident today as I was when I first entered public life as a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution, that the principles of the Republican Party our confidence in the good sense of resourcefulness of free people are always in America’s best interest.  In war and peace.  In good times and challenging ones, we have always known the first responsibility of government is to keep this country safe from its enemies and the American people free of a heavy-handed government that spends too much of their money and tries to do for them what they are better able to do for themselves.

We want government to do its job, not your job, to do it better, with less of your money, to defend our nation’s security wisely and effectively because the cost of our defense is so dear to us.  To respect our values because they are the true source of our strength, to enforce the rule of law that is the first offense of freedom, to keep promises it makes to us and not make promises it will not keep.

We believe government should only do those things we can’t do individually and then get out of the way so that the most industrious and ingenious and enterprising people in the world have always done, build an even greater country than the one that they inherited.

My friends, my friends I know and you know we are facing challenging economic times and we must be responsive to the concerns of Americans who feel they are being left behind in the global economy.  But nothing is inevitable in our country.  We are the captains of our faith.  We can overcome.

We can overcome any challenges as long as we keep our courage, stand by our defense of the free markets, low taxes and small government that have made America the greatest land of opportunity in the world.

My dear friends, I’ve served our country all my adult life and I’m prepared for the high office I seek.  I asked South Carolinians to help give me the opportunity to help serve this country I love a little while longer.

You have done that.  You have done that.  You have done that and I will never forget it.  I promise you I will always put America, her strength, her ideals, her future before every other consideration.  Thank you, South Carolina.  Thank you.

Thank you for your trust.

I will not let you down so help me God.

Good night and God bless you as you have blessed me.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  There it is.  There is the speech you want your candidate no matter what party, no matter who you prefer, to give after a victory, after a hard-fought victory, a personal and emotionally invested victory such as John McCain has had with the republicans in South Carolina tonight.  And we emphasize again it is something that has been proved by Mr. Obama on the Democratic side, that money spent on a teleprompter for a big speech is well spent money.

MATTHEWS:  It was a heavily invested invent.  He brought his mother, Cindy looks very much like a first lady.  It was a fascinating presentation.  It gave me the tableau of a man who believes, he may be wrong, this is his big night.  This is the night will launch him, tomorrow morning he gets up and calls Nancy Reagan and asks for endorsement.  I think he is going to try to make himself the Reagan candidate.  As he did in that speech.  Try to do it now.  Go for it.  This is his chance.  Try to bring the party together under him.  I think this is it for him.  And he knows it.

OLBERMANN:  Is than an expectation you think he would fulfill?  I just flash back to my day …

MATTHEWS:  I always figured her out, I really like her as a friend.  I believe she likes the man, the arc of his career, the patriotism, the fact he is a conservative but not far out conservative.  A person who is practical on things like abortion rights.  I think he is a Reagan like guy in many ways.  He has an arc of the story which the others don’t have.  People like Barack Obama has a story.  Hillary Clinton has a story.  Some of them just don’t.  Like Romney.  Nothing interesting a story before he ran for public office.  Wealthy, successful, all good things about American standards.

OLBERMANN:  The Olympics in which he won so many events in Salt Lake City.

MATTHEWS:  The tokens of victory, at least.  The bronze.  He hasn’t got a bronze yet, by the way.

OLBERMANN:  What would—Has Senator McCain spoken, positioned himself on that stem cell research issue?  Which I know it is not front of mind at the moment, but front of mind for Nancy Reagan.  Is that determinative?

MATTHEWS:  I would expect he would be practical in that one.

OLBERMANN:  Would that determine …

MATTHEWS:  I forgot it is to some extent a touchstone for her personally because her husband died of Alzheimer’s as we all know.  That is one of the many diseases that might benefit from stem cell research.  That said, there is a lot of development going on on what kind of stem cells we are going to use.  And where we get adult stem cells, what is involved in that area, what we can use to harvest.

OLBERMANN:  We can cover that at one point.

MATTHEWS:  I don’t know why we went into that.

OLBERMANN:  I was asking a quick question.

MATTHEWS:  I believe he tried to tie it up but Joe knows a lot more about the Republican Party and we will soon be hearing a lot from Joe Scarborough.

OLBERMANN:  And we will be hearing from the people we have been talking about most of the last few hours on Thursday at 9:00 Eastern, when it is the Republican presidential candidates debate in Florida.  Which will be moderated again by Brian Williams and Tim Russert.  Chris and I will be back after that debate with full coverage and analysis and will be with you again next Saturday for the South Carolina Democratic primary and, of course, I think we started doing our own shows, HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  We are working on Monday, despite the national holiday.  We will be working …

OLBERMANN:  We are those sort of guys.

MATTHEWS:  MSNBC never rests.

OLBERMANN:  After the break Joe Scarborough will take over our coverage for the rest of this hour.  For Chris Matthews, as always a pleasure, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  I’m Keith Olbermann in New York.  Good night.  Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST:  Welcome back to Decision ‘08.  John McCain has just completed his victory speech in South Carolina.  It is our humble opinion that he did much better than he did in New Hampshire.  A speech where he was looking down.  Well, tonight he looked presidential.  Very impressive speech.  It looks like this is a man who may get his way to the nomination.  Kelly O’Donnell.  She is in Charleston where the big event just concluded.  Kelly, I have got to believe there is incredible excitement in the air there.

KELLY O’DONNELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  hat is exactly it.  In fact, it is hard to even describe the depths of happiness and satisfaction, supporters and certainly the senator seemed to be feeling tonight.  It has been a long road.  There has been so many setbacks along the way.  And now with this kind of victory they can wipe a lot of that off the books and build a new campaign, trying to seek front-runner status, trying to attract the kind of money and organization that can help him roll forward.

And Joe, I think you will appreciate this kind of insight that you can’t get anywhere else.  If you hear the song playing here, it’s Abba “Take a Chance on Me.”  That was the senator’s own pick.  He told me he was tired of “Johnny Be Good.”  He said why can’t we have “Take a Chance On Me.”  The staff cringed, as you might imagine, but it is in the rotation tonight playing and it captures what he was trying to say.  Take a chance on me.  Now that voters in South Carolina have given him that backup it is about trying to build something in Florida where he acknowledges he has got a start but has some work to do.  So it is a night of both celebrating and also really strategizing on where to go next.  Joe?

SCARBOROUGH:  I tell you what, John McCain is always going against the grain, I would guess, leaving behind an all American classic “Johnny Be Good” from a pop hit from the ‘70s from a Swedish group is one more example of that.

But Senator McCain and his staff and his family must be so pleased to night.  Eight years after his presidential race against George W. Bush was shattered in South Carolina, as Howard Fineman said, it may have found its rebirth in 2008.

O’DONNELL:  That is certainly the sense that we’ve got here.  It has all been about changing some of the history, changing the dynamic.  And now they can say they have done that.  And so that chance to go forward, will we attract the kind of support, will people who were doubtful step up and stand with John McCain.  You did not see his two sons who are both active duty military, but his connection to the military community is very deep here.  That will be something he will continue to press.

And when his supporters talk about the whole change dynamic that’s been so pertinent in the race, what they try to do is describe change that John McCain has already made and they argue that because he was one of those few voices who stood up against what he called the Rumsfeld strategy in Iraq, stood for the surge, and now that has been able to show some results but that is the kind of change he can point to.  So we’ll be hearing much more of that.

This evening there is time for celebration, there is time for a little break.  There is the “Johnny Be Good.”  But really the work he is doing.  He is going to take tomorrow off and hit it hard to raise the money and start talking to Florida voters because he needs them next.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Kelly O’Donnell in Charleston, thank you so much.  You bring up a great point about the surge.  John McCain supported the surge back in a time when Howard Fineman, the overwhelming majority of senators, congressmen, editorial pages, Americans opposed the surge.

I remember one night right after the state of the union he came up to you and said, Joe, be patient.  I have never met a general like this Petraeus guy.  You watch.  It’s going to work.  John McCain stood alone in that support.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  He stood alone even among a lot of Republicans.  You mentioned everybody else.  There weren’t a lot of people in George Bush’s own party who supported it really.  McCain was the guy who did it.  He’s got the defense part of the conservative coalition with him.  That has not been the problem.

He blunted the evangelical opposition to him.  Now his big challenge in Florida I think is get the economic wing of the party to back him.  That is tough because he didn’t always support George Bush’s tax cuts, he is not a doctrinaire supply sider.  The first thing he things of is cutting spending, not cutting taxes.

That is going to be the challenge.  If he can do that in Florida.  And by the way, he has to win in Florida, then I think he is going to be the nominee.

PEGGY NOONAN, FORMER REAGAN SPEECHWRITER:  If I can add something there.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yeah.  Go ahead.

NOONAN:  All right.  I think South Carolina happened for a number of reasons including, A, I almost feel South Carolina felt they owed McCain.  Done him bad and they want to help him.  B, I have got a hunch Republicans are looking at McCain thinking maybe he is the one who can take on Hillary.  Hillary has had a good history of sneaking around guys who go after him.  But I think Republicans are think maybe Johnny McCain can.  I think the biggest thing, McCain has to do in Florida is speak to self-described conservatives.  He does well with Republicans.  With conservatives he’s always had this ambivalent relationship as you well know.  He ought to talk about is he a conservative, what kind of conservative he is, where is he in the conservative cosmology.  What does it mean that he is a conservative.  What can he tell you about what his plans are.  That to me might be a breakthrough kind of thing for a guy who still puts some conservatives off for some serious programmatic policy reasons.

EUGENE ROBINS, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Some specific things, for example.  Immigration.

NOONAN:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  Which is really important to a lot of voters in republican primaries from here on out.  And John McCain’s position is radically different from those of many of the Republican primary voters.  He got 33 percent in South Carolina, which is a great showing in a crowded field.  But as these other candidates necessarily start to dropout do they migrate to John McCain or do some of them who care most about immigration, for example, do those people go to Romney?

SCARBOROUGH:  We are going to continue this conversation.  We have to go right now to Norah O’Donnell.  Norah is going to break down the numbers and can tell us where the economic conservatives went, where the evangelicals went.  Basically give us the story of the numbers of John McCain’s big victory tonight.

O’DONNELL:  We will have interesting numbers for you because we have been looking through this exit polling.  And of course, the big question, how did McCain win in South Carolina where as Peggy pointed out the vast majority of voters describe themselves as conservatives.  And as you noted, eight years ago South Carolina was the state that buried John McCain’s hopes to be president.  Tonight part of the reason he won is he did very well among the Republican base.  That was 79 percent of the electorate today who describe themselves as Republican.  Just 19 percent describing themselves as independent.

And if we look inside those figures we know that, look, McCain did pretty well.  Essentially splitting the Republican vote with Huckabee there.  That is significant.  McCain really got his share of the Republican faithful this time.  Also more than two thirds of Republican voters in this race describe themselves as conservative.  And a quarter call themselves moderate.  Tonight in addition to getting the lion’s share of the moderate vote John McCain got more of those who describe themselves as being somewhat conservative.  There he scored 32 percent of the vote to Mike Huckabee’s 30 percent.  This really was critical to McCain.

As we mentioned his campaign faltered in 2000 because he couldn’t appeal to those conservatives and core Republicans.  So bottom line, tonight McCain is starting to turn that around.  Two other factors we have been talking about, first, military veterans.  John McCain courted that group and connected with that group.  They made up 25 percent of the electorate.  And of course they broke his way.  That was significant.  Finally among those voters who say experience was the most important candidate quality John McCain won hands down.  Look at that, Huckabee got just two percent on experience among those who said that was the most important issue.

Another topic essentially you guys were talking about who would be the best Republican to defeat the Democratic nominee come November, it was John McCain who won among those voters.  As you guys were talking about, people who thought about the eventual nominee thought John McCain should be our guy.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, Norah.  Very interesting also.  When the voters were asked, the very conservative voters were asked which way they broke, most of those broke for Mike Huckabee.  Let’s go right now to former South Carolina Governor Beasley.  Governor Beasley, your man, Mike Huckabee didn’t pull it off tonight.  A lot of people are asking if he can’t make it there, where can he make it?

DAVID BEASLEY, FORMER SC GOVERNOR:  Well, Joe, he can make it in Florida.  He can make it in the South for sure.  He can make it across the country.  Because I definitely think he has a message that resonates with the American people.  A lot of people forget John McCain has been campaigning in South Carolina since 1998.  He came out of New Hampshire in 2000 against Bush with a substantial lead and lost because we had two weeks for Bush in 2000 to put it together.  We had three and a half days this time coming out of Michigan.  If you look at Huckabee down 10 to 12 points a week ago in South Carolina and we came within two to three points.  No doubt in my mind we had a couple more days, we would have put it together, we would have won.  Mike Huckabee is a great candidate.

SCARBOROUGH:  Governor, let me interrupt you for a second, governor.  Obviously Fred Thompson’s campaign went after your candidate.

BEASLEY:  Oh, yeah.

SCARBOROUGH:  People were reporting that suggested they were not happy with the campaign they thought Mike Huckabee was running.  Do you think Fred Thompson played a role in Mike Huckabee’s loss tonight in South Carolina?

BEASLEY:  There is no doubt about it.  Fred Thompson, had he not be in the race, all he did was campaign in South Carolina in areas that should be Huckabee territory and dogged Mike Huckabee every place he went.  And it appeared that is his whole goal down here, cut down Huckabee so McCain could have a victory because of the way he ran his campaign and strategy down here.

So had he not been in the race there is no doubt it would have been a Huckabee victory over clearly, no doubt.  Clearly, no doubt.

SCABOROUGH:  Governor Beasley, thank you so much.  Gene, I want to follow up on that on the dogging of Mike Huckabee.  I remember seeing the first South Carolina debate and the entire time Fred Thompson was attacking Huckabee.

ROBINSON:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  And it seemed very obvious then that there was a coalition already forming between John McCain and Fred Thompson.

ROBINSON:  Well, you can also argue it is perfectly natural for Fred Thompson who is running for president to take some support away from this guy Huckabee who was threatening to run away with the whole thing.  Somebody had to reel him in and cut him down to size.  However, Fred Thompson and John McCain are very close friends.  They have an enormous respect for each other.  So I have no idea, was he acting as an agent of John McCain.

SCARBOROUGH:  I’m not asking that.  There is no doubt, though, Mike Huckabee did not win in part because Fred Thompson was right there.

ROBINSON:  Absolutely.  The same voters, if Fred Thompson had not been on the ballot Mike Huckabee might well have won.

SCARBOROUGH:  We have to go to break, but does anybody here believe mike Huckabee can survive losing South Carolina?  Can continue on.

NOONAN:  He can if he is lucky.

FINEMAN:  Only if he can pull off a victory in Florida.  What he has got to do.

ROBINSON:  He doesn’t have any money.

SCARBOROUGH:  He doesn’t have money, but you know what, the man lives off the land.  Manna from heaven, he does it pretty well.

NOONAN:  He does it pretty well.

SCARBOROUGH:  We’ll be back and we’ll be talking about Florida, too, the rest of this hour but think about it, Giulianl is strong, he’s got lots of money.  Huckabee is going to get the value voters in Florida, there are about 25 to 30 percent of those.  John McCain comes out strong and Mitt Romney comes out strong, too.  Florida is going to be an amazing contest.

And we still have no idea who is going to be the nominee.

ROBINSON:  Spoken like a true Floridian.

SCARBOROUGH:  It’s going to be split four ways.

NOONAN:  And anchorman and journalist.

SCARBOROUGH:  Stick around.  This will be the greatest contest of your lifetime and you can only see it here on MSNBC.  We’ll be right back with Chuck Todd when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It’s been a busy Saturday night.  We began it with the news that Hillary Clinton surprised the world doing exactly what the polls said she was going to do.  Are you dizzy yet?  That’s the way it’s spinning this year.

And of course Mitt Romney winning in Nevada.  Picking up another gold medal as he likes to put it.  Then of course tonight John McCain about 9:45 winning in the state that finished his presidential ambitions eight years ago in one of the most bitter defeats in recent political history.  Tonight had to be one of the sweetest comebacks, certainly in my memory.  Let’s go to David Gregory because of course now it is about Florida, Florida, Florida.  David, please explain it to us.  Who is going to win Florida and why?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  You know more than I do.

I have been spending eight years following George W. Bush obviously rather closely.  What was striking about McCain’s speech tonight.  A couple of lines that speaks to the fact that he has got to get right with conservatives here at this point to kind of close the deal.  As the nominee.

“He talked about I will not let you down so help me God.”  A combination of a couple of popular Bush lines, I will not let you down on its own in 2004 Bush used.  Every stump speech Bush used I will restore the honor and integrity of the White House when I put my hand the bible and take the oath of office so help me God.  So a parroting of George W. Bush at a time when he is reaching out to conservatives.  Which might, Joe, be all the more important when you think about Florida.  How does it match up in Florida where his competition is with Rudy Giuliani and with Mitt Romney?  So he is in a fight with Giuliani presumably for moderates and independents.  He is going to get a lot of that same slice of the pie of voters.  Then Romney is going to try to run to the right of McCain.  So he’s got to do better among conservatives even than he has done so far to handle the challenge that he is likely to get from Rudy Giuliani among moderates and independents.

SCARBOROUGH:  You can’t help think the Giuliani knew this match up was going to be coming.  Of course John McCain weak on immigration with conservatives and also weak on taxes with conservatives.  Because he was one of two Republicans who voted against Bush’s tax cuts calling them tax cuts for the rich.  And what does Rudy Giuliani do a couple of weeks ago?  Unveil the largest tax cut proposal in the history of American politics.

GREGORY:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  Mitt Romney on his way from Nevada to Florida unveils a complex economic recovery plan.  Could we finally see this campaign being about issues instead of personalities, and the single issue in Florida being the economy.

GREGORY:  Right, the economy, but there is a larger argument.  Peggy spoke to it a little while ago, which is who best can take on the Democratic nominee.  Whether Hillary Clinton, whether Barack Obama, who can make the best national security argument.  John McCain is in a good position to offer himself as commander in chief in a way that the American people can close their eyes and say, yeah, I can see him doing that.

Rudy Giuliani, the storyline has been he can do the same.  The problem for Giuliani.  He hasn’t been in the arena so far.  He has not been part of the conversation.  There is still a big if here as to whether he can win something and outperform Ron Paul in the polls.  John McCain has demonstrated he can actually win.  There are two different arguments being made to the party now.

I think as Chris Matthews said earlier this is the time for McCain campaigning in Florida to make an inevitably argument to say where I may have been weak with conservatives in part is what will help us in November, as a candidate who can extend the reach of the Republican Party that is in danger of shrinking in size by November against the Democrats.  Somebody who is going to make a strong national security argument against the democratic nominee, who has some real crossover appeal.

So these are the kinds of arguments he has to make in order to get the party out of the chaos and coalesce around him as the nominee.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  David Gregory, thank you so much.  That is quite an argument to make.  Let’s go right now to Chuck Todd.  Chuck, I’m going to be a contrarians for a second.  NBC News political director.  We are all talking about Giuliani, McCain, Romney.  We are talking economics.

You know a guy I wouldn’t mind being in his seat as we go into Florida would actually be Mike Huckabee because while everybody is cutting up the pie for the economic conservatives I’ll take my 25, 28 percent of the values voters and feel like I have a shot to win or come in second.  What do you think?

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  No.  Absolutely.  If you really look at Florida this is the first time we’re going to have all four contenders showing up in the state and competing.  The big four contenders.  Not sure what to make of Fred Thompson.  His speech seemed like he is not ready to get out but not ready to continue either.  It looks like almost Giuliani is getting squeezed.  Right?  He’s wanted to be this economic conservative who can reach across to independents.  Obviously here comes McCain on the left.  Here comes Romney on the right.  That leaves Huckabee, who in South Carolina, was the guy getting squeezed.  This time everybody may ignore him.  This is in Florida in a four way fight.  You particularly in the I-4 corridor, people want to talk about, and you know this better than most, people want to talk about how conservative the panhandle is.  A lot of megachurches, though in the I-4 corridor.  The Orlando/Tampa area where there is huge growth in these megachurches.  This is a huge opportunity for Huckabee to do well, not just in the Deep South part of the state, in the Panhandle, but also in the center.

This is what is going to make this a fascinating fight.  Will we start seeing alliances again like we saw in South Carolina?  I’m not so sure.  I think everybody is out for themselves because they realize they need the momentum going into February 5th.

SCARBOROUGH:  Chuck Todd, you are exactly.  You can draw a line across the center of Florida, color everything up north red.  It’s red state America.  A lot of evangelicals.  Peggy, you have a point?

NOONAN:  Yeah.  I want to agree with Chuck on the potential strengths of Huckabee.  You can see some of that strength in the speech Huckabee made tonight.  Deft.  Smart.  Clever.  Friendly, really thoughtful and right in the middle of that speech he talked about forgotten Americans.

He said I’m for the guy who in the taxi cab he is not in the back seat.  He is in the front seat, he’s driving.  I’m for the guy carrying the paint pail up the ladder.  I’m for the guy who is doing the work.  It was a strong populist appeal that sooner or later somewhere just may gain some purchase.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know who also delivers that type of message?

NOONAN:  Who?

SCARBOROUGH:  Patrick J. Buchanan.  Let’s go to him right now and ask him whether that lunch pail argument wins in the state of government.  Also Rachel Maddow with Air America and MSNBC political contributor.  Pat, how does it work in the state of Florida?  Do you agree that Mike Huckabee who lost tonight may not be in bad shape in a year where momentum doesn’t really seem to make a big difference?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think your point earlier, Joe, was very well taken.  First I believe that Huckabee had the best speech tonight or the best speech in South Carolina.  Secondly, Huckabee’s problem, the reason he lost is exactly what David Beasley said.  First Fred Thompson peeled him back in that debate, hammered him as he’s never been hammered in the entire campaign, knocked him on his heels then chased him around the northwest part of South Carolina competing with him for votes.  He took all those Christian conservatives, evangelical conservatives enough to give McCain the victory.

Thompson, I believe, will be out of Florida.  And I do think we really have a great four way race here.  I agree with what Howard said earlier, McCain emerges as the front-runner, clearly.  But I think we are—if he wins I think he’ll really do well on February 5th.  I think we are going to have another great contest down there in Florida, a four way battle.

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA:  Pat, I think you are right.  McCain looks like the front-runner heading into Florida.  The momentum feels that way, the number of races, the size of the races.  It feels that way.

But there is one thing about the Republican Party I don’t understand, why have they hated John McCain so much all of these years?  Why have they spent a lifetime tearing him down?  For example there were a million robo calls that went out in South Carolina for this primary.  The guy who was behind them used to be the director of the Republican Senatorial Committee in 2004.  People from the very heart of the Republican Party establishment are still trying to tear down John McCain, not just in 2000 but in 2008.  Why do they hate him so much and can that change this year?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think they dislike John McCain because, look, he went against the president of the United States on taxes.  Whatever he said, he came out for amnesty.  He fought against the border, he fought against proposition 200 out there.  He put together the gang of 14 to block conservative judges.

They feel that he plays to the media constantly.  Whenever they’ve got everything on the line and he splits the difference and wins the plaudits of the national media.  He is going to have a hard time getting that back.  But he is well positioned now because I think the only one that can go the long distance to beat him is Romney and Romney does not come out of the conservative movement, but he is trying to put his feet into it.

SCARBOROUGH:  I want to point something out, Pat.  I think you hit on something really important here.  You know, Republicans, conservatives didn’t mind when moderate Republicans and liberal Republicans would go against them in Congress and the Senate and in the House.  What they resented was when they would play to the editorial pages of the “New York Times.”  And they would try to be the one enlightened Republican in the House on an issue or the Senate on an issue.  I could name a few congressmen from Connecticut who loved to do that.  But John McCain always seemed to do that whether it was on McCain-Feingold or whether it was on immigration.  Yep, I’m here with a bunch of barbarians behind me.  I’m the up with enlightened guy.  Hey.

BUCHANAN:  He scores off us.  Constantly.

MADDOW:  They have to decide if that makes his electable in the general election, though.  They’re going to have to make that decision.

BUCHANAN:  We’ll be thinking about that, Rachel.

SCARBOROUGH:  I tell you what, Ronald Reagan was not worried about what the editorial pages of the “New York Times” thought about him.

MADDOW:  There is no Reagan in this race, I’ll tell you that much.

SCARBOROUGH:  Amen, sister.  And all the Republicans said, “Amen.”  We’ll be right back with the panel when we return.  Thank you, Pat.  Thank you, Rachel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Welcome back.  What an election night tonight.  Nevada and then, of course—Nevada, OK, I will say Nevada with a few minutes left.  I feel like such a Yankee saying Nevada.

ROBINSON:  If you are not from there you should say anything you want.

SCARBOROUGH:  I think a lot of Yankees moved into Nevada and it became Nevada.  That’s all I’m going to say.

So Gene, let’s talk about, I have absolutely no documentation to back that up.  But it felt good saying it.  Is my justification and I’m sticking with it.

All right.  So we look forward.  We are talking about Florida.  Let’s go back and talk about a Democratic race in South Carolina over the next week and maybe one of the most heated in some time.

ROBINSON:  Yeah.  This is going to be fascinating.  Clearly at issue, primarily at issue is the African American vote in South Carolina.  It is going to be half the votes cast in the democratic primary.  You are going to have Bill Clinton going door to door and church to church, which means you’ll have Barack Obama going door to door, church to church.  And that’s going to be a fascinating thing to watch.  Very interesting for South Carolinians.  Right now Obama has those votes.  Can Clinton take them away?

SCARBOROUGH:  It is getting very personal, not between the man and the woman, but the man and the man.  The two alpha males, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton vying to be the king of the Democratic Party.

NOONAN:  Excuse me.  Hillary Clinton is running for president of the United States.  Chief executive officer of the United States.  Barack Obama, her competitor, comes and criticizes her and she says I’ll get my husband after you.  He’s going to punch you.  He’s going to make you scared.

It is—Howard, it is strange.  It is wrong.  It brings you back to that old two for the price of one stuff.  She is running for president.  She is a woman.  She can take care of herself.  She ought to be going head to head with Barack Obama.  She shouldn’t be having the husband tear him out of the house.

SCARBOROUGH:  It goes back to that John Dickerson column I talked about on Slate that was interesting that said Bill Clinton is going to erupt next Friday because he always erupts the day …

FINEMAN:  That is part of the eruption stuff is a mixed blessing for Hillary.  I think the Clintons are a team.  I think they run as a team.  She’s in trouble.  She was in trouble after losing Iowa.  And Bill Clinton has been a bigger and bigger factor there.

Not anymore.  What they are trying to do now is somehow shut off the Obama campaign.  Because Obama’s been ahead by eight or nine points since South Carolina.  The Clintons are going to go door to door to try to win South Carolina that is their goal.  Obama has to win South Carolina.

SCARBOROUGH:  He does.

FINEMAN:  He absolutely has to win.

SCARBOROUGH:  And as you said earlier, Mike Huckabee had to win South Carolina until he lost and now we say he might win Florida.  Barack Obama has to win South Carolina.  We leave you with some of the sights and sounds of this Election Day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  The first announcement in this big electoral day in American politics, Mitt Romney, NBC is declaring the winner of the Republican caucuses in Nevada.

Are you realizing the formality has been overdrawn and you have tom across more regular?  Is that what is going on or is that a stupid question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  NBC News is now projecting Hillary Clinton will be winning the Nevada caucus.

CLINTON:  I guess this is how the West was won.

OLBERMANN:  The delegate counts, the Obama camp was claiming 13-12 in their favor.  The Associated Press 13-12 in Clinton’s favor.  Tim, who won Nevada?

MATTHEWS:  This is the big story tonight.  Who wins the Republican primary in South Carolina.

OLBERMANN:  NBC News is projecting a victory for John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John McCain.

FRED THOMPSON, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We’ll always stand strong together.  Stand strong.  Stand strong.

RUDY GIULIANI, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Everybody is coming down to Florida.  Come on down.

MIKE HUCKABEE, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We didn’t lose tonight.  The game ended a little early for us.  The path to the White House is not ending here tonight.

MCCAIN:  I’m running to restore the trust of the American people in their government.  I’m running so that our children and their children will have even greater opportunities than the ones we were blessed with.  I’m running so that every person in this country now and in generations to come will know the same sublime honor that has been the treasure of my life.  I’m proud to be an American.

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