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updated 1/27/2008 12:23:50 PM ET 2008-01-27T17:23:50

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  A big win for Obama in South Carolina.  The next 2008 battleground, Florida, with the Republican primary on Tuesday.  Mitt Romney and John McCain lead in the polls, and Rudy Giuliani makes his last stand in the Sunshine State.  With us, the senior senator from Arizona, Republican presidential candidate John McCain.  Then, the Democratic race turns bitter.

(Videotape)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL):  While I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shipped overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY):  I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor Rezko in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Continuing debate over the campaign tactics of former President Bill Clinton.  Insights and analysis from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, NBC News political director Chuck Todd and Byron York of the National Review.

But first, a huge victory for Barack Obama in South Carolina last night.  He beat Hillary Clinton 55 percent to 27 percent, a 2-to-1 margin.  We'll talk about the lessons of that victory in our roundtable, but the next primary stop is here in Florida on Tuesday with the Republicans.  And we are joined by one of the leading GOP contenders, Senator John McCain.

Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ):  Thank you, Tim.  Nice to be back with you again.

MR. RUSSERT:  Thursday night the debate was rather civilized.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Over the last few days, however, the fire exchanged by you and Mitt Romney has been rather intense.  This is what you said in a statement yesterday about Governor Romney:  "The fact is Governor Romney has hedged, equivocated," has "ducked and reversed himself." What are you talking about specifically?

SEN. McCAIN:  I'm talking specifically about a number of issues, but in the specific case, in the case of whether we should have maintained the surge in Iraq and whether, at the--April of 2007, when we had a choice between doing the surge when things were at their lowest, when Republicans and the Democrats were saying that we've got to withdraw, we have to have, "timetables." Timetables was the buzzword at that time, and there were--and it was a defining moment.  It was the low point in my political career.  And we--Lindsey Graham, I, the president and others--said this is what needs to be done, no matter what the consequences are.  Governor Romney obviously said there had to be, "timetables," although they had to be secret because we weren't going to tell the enemy when we were leaving.  I mean, that's--that's just a fact.  And if we'd have done that, as the Democrats and some Republicans wanted to do, we would've lost that surge and al-Qaeda would be celebrating a victory over the United States of America.

MR. RUSSERT:  Governor Romney said he never suggested a specific timetable, you're being dishonest and you should apologize.

SEN. McCAIN:  I see.  Well, you know, you flash these up on the screen all the time.  Let me just--let me just see, he said--when he was asked should a timetable--should there be a timetable for withdrawing the troops?  "Well, there's no question the president and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about, but they shouldn't be for public pronouncement.  You don't want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you're going to be gone." That's, that's, my friend, is the quote.  That was a clear indication of setting timetables that would--you know, but you don't want to tell the enemy when you're going to be gone.  It's very clear.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Clinton, when she suggested timetables, you said was waving the white flag of surrender.  Is Governor Romney waving the white flag?

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, actually, Tim, what Senator Clinton said was that you would set a timetable within 60 days of withdrawal, complete withdrawal from Iraq.  To me that's surrender.  And I think in most people's view that would be surrender if we told al-Qaeda that we are leaving Iraq within a certain period of time.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is Governor Romney suggesting surrender?

SEN. McCAIN:  I said that he has said--is wrong, and I think he has equivocated on it.  In one of the debates, he said the serve-- surge is "apparently working." It was working.  It wasn't apparently.  Look, these were tough time in American history, and I think historians will look back at April of 2000 when Harry Reid, the majority leader of the United States Senate, declared the war lost; when Republicans, even, were saying that we had to have "timetables" because we needed to get out of there.  That was a critical time. I'm proud of the role that I played at that time.  And I don't believe that Governor Romney's statement indicated anything but that we were going to tell--we were going to have a timetable for withdrawal.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask about Iraq, and the question I posed at the debate. This was the survey of attitudes of Americans.  Was removing Saddam worth the price in U.S.  casualties and the cost of the war?  Worth it, 32; not worth it, 59 percent.  That's the highest level of people who've said that the war is just not worth it.  You're going to go into November election...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...if you're the nominee, saying the war was a good idea, it was worth the price, and we're going to stay forever or 100 years, you even suggested.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is that a winning formula in a presidential election?

SEN. McCAIN:  Tim, let, let me just point out that I understand the frustration and the sorrow of the American people over the sacrifice that has been made.  It was badly mishandled for nearly four years.  On this program I severely criticized the so-called Rumsfeld strategy.  Republicans criticized me at that time.  And I advocated the new strategy under General Petraeus. And I think if we can show Americans success and continued success that they will support it.  And, and there's no doubt--there's no doubt that this war has been mishandled.

And some people talk about the impatience of the American people.  I'm proud, frankly, of the patience.  But on the issue of how long we stay there, I think that's a false argument.  The point is is how many Americans are going to be harmed there?  We've got--right next door in Kuwait, we have military bases. We have bases in South Korea and Japan and Germany and Bosnia.  We have troops there.  It's not a matter of American troop presence, it's a matter of American casualties.  And I believe that by next November, I can show the American people significant more progress, significant withdrawals as dictated by the conditions on the ground and General Petraeus' opinion because--and I also have to explain to them, and maybe do a better job, of the consequences of failure, the consequences of setting a timetable, so al-Qaeda would then be able to tell the world that they defeated the United States of America.  I agree with General Petraeus when he says that Iraq is the central battleground in the struggle against radical Islamic extremism.  We have to succeed there. It's long, hard and tough.  And thanks for letting me give a long answer.  I apologize for that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Looking back, do you think the war was a war of choice or a war of necessity?

SEN. McCAIN:  I think that it was a--that's an excellent question because I think if we had succeeded and done the right--implemented the right strategy, we would all be glad that Saddam Hussein, who had used weapons of mass destruction in the past and was seeking to acquire them, as we know then.  But the mishandling of the war was really what has skewed everybody's opinion, and I understand that.  I mean, it just--I used to call it whack-a-mole when we didn't have enough troops there and they'd pop up in one place and then another.  I believe the world is a better place with Saddam Hussein gone.  I think that we're going to pay a heavy price in the future when we face other threats because of the failures we experienced in Iraq, and I think we're going to be in a very dangerous world for a long time.

MR. RUSSERT:  But absent weapons of mass destruction...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...how can it be described as a war of necessity?

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, he was--he had acquired those weapons in the past.  It's clear that he was trying to acquire them.  The sanctions were breaking down. There was a huge multibillion dollar Oil for Food scandal in the U.N., as you know.  He has practiced the worst kinds of brutality, as you can imagine.  I think the world and Iraq will be better off if we're able to succeed.  If we fail, obviously then--well, then we have enormous other challenges there and in the region, in my view, because I think you're going to have genocide and chaos, and, unfortunately, I'm afraid we'll be back in the region.

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to bring you back to Thursday in an exchange we had.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here's a question I asked you and your response.  Let's watch.

(Videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator McCain, you have said repeatedly, "I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues.  I still need to be educated." Is it a problem for your campaign that the economy is now the most important issue, one that, by your own acknowledgement, you're not well versed on?

SEN. McCAIN:  Actually, I don't know where you got that quote from.  I'm very well versed in economics.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, I'll tell you...

SEN. McCAIN:  Now I know where you got that quote from.  Now I know where you got the quote from.

MR. RUSSERT:  I will show you where I got the quote from.  I got it from John McCain, and here it is.  "McCain is refreshingly blunt when he tells me I'm going to be honest, I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues.  I still need to be educated." Wall Street Journal, November 26th, 2005.  You repeated it to the Boston Globe in December of '07. You said it.

SEN. McCAIN:  OK.  Let me tell you what I was trying to say and what I meant in that soundpiece.  I spent 22 years in the military.  I spent 20 years in the Senate Armed Services Committee.  I've been involved in national security issues all my life.  I attended the National War Cause.  Of course I know more about national security than any other issue.  That's been my entire life.  Am I, am I smart on economics?  Yes.  I was chairman of the Commerce Committee. Why--that's why people like Phil Gramm, Tom Coburn and Warren Rudman and Carly Fiorina and the real strong economic minds, Jack Kemp, the real strong minds on the economy and, and conservatives on the economy are supporting me.  They don't think that I'm--of course, I always have things to learn, and I continue to learn every day.  But I'm very strong on the economy, and, frankly, my economic record is a lot stronger than that of the governor of Massachusetts when you look at his record as governor.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of the questions that has been raised repeatedly in this campaign, Senator, is your opposition to the Bush tax cuts back in 2001.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of only two Republican senators.  Back then you gave a floor speech and said this...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ..."I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans who most need tax relief."

Then you were on MEET THE PRESS in April of '04.  I asked you about that vote. I also asked you about postponing the Bush tax cut, and this is what you said.

(Videotape, April 11, 2004)

SEN. McCAIN:  I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportional amount that went to the wealthiest Americans.  I would clearly support not extending those tax cuts in order to help address the, the deficit.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  You wouldn't support extending them...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...but you are now supporting extending them...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...on the, on the radio with this ad.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

(Audiotape)

SEN. McCAIN:  I'll make the Bush tax cuts permanent.

(End audiotape)

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  That's a direct contradiction.

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, at the time I still wanted to do two things.  One was a different set of tax cuts that also had more emphasis on middle and lower income Americans.  But most importantly, most importantly, we are now facing a situation with a shaky economy with tax cuts not being permanent, then the people experience an increase in their taxes.

And let me go back to 2001 again.  I was right, we had to have restraint of spending.  I'm proud to have been one in the Reagan revolution where we not only cut taxes, which I'm proud to have supported and I have a record of it, but we restrained spending.  And when you have tax cuts and not restrain spending and let things go completely out of control, as we did, look, we lost the 2006 election because we didn't restrain spending.  So I not only didn't--had a different set of tax cut proposals, which were very strong, but I also had restraint of spending.  And I believe to this day if we'd adopted the tax cuts that I proposed, and I did have a strong tax cut proposal, today we'd be talking about further tax cuts instead of alienated our base by letting spending get completely out of control, and then we then are facing--and it's one of the major contributors to the fiscal difficulties that we have in America today.  I'm proud of my record of tax cutting, I'm proud of my record of, of being a fiscal conservative.  Would I have had those tax cuts differently?  Of course I would have.  And now, right now today, Americans in 2010 are facing, unfortunately, the prospect of a tax increase when we had--if we don't make them permanent, if--in a time of a very shaky economy.  I think that's the worst thing we could do.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you have changed your mind?

SEN. McCAIN:  No, I have not changed my mind in that I want restraint of spending.  I would have had a different set of tax cuts.  We've got to make these tax cuts permanent.  We have to, otherwise I think it'll have a negative impact on our economy.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you told me in '04 you were against making them permanent.

SEN. McCAIN:  In '04 our economy was fine.  And I have said many, many times since then, I've said many, many times, as the tax cuts came closer to whether they need to be made permanent or not, I've said 500 times that I want the tax cuts to be made permanent.  Did I want my tax plan approved when I was running in 2000?  Yes.  And if we'd have done what I wanted to do, we'd be talking about more tax cuts today.

MR. RUSSERT:  There's a suggestion that one of the reasons that you're now in favor of the tax cuts is because criticism, criticisms about you and how good a Republican you are.  Here's the headline from the St.  Petersburg Times, which I'll share on the screen:  "Is he Republican enough?  Florida Republicans say McCain's not always conservative." They point to that tax cut vote, your support for McCain-Feingold campaign finance spending.  Rick Santorum, former colleague of yours...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...said this:  "The bottom line is that I served 12 years with [McCain], six years in the United States Senate as one of the leaders of the Senate who had" "responsibility of trying to put together the conservative agenda, and almost at every turn on domestic policy, John McCain was not only against us, but leading the charge on the other side."

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, I don't know what to say except examine my record.  Look at my ratings by the objective organizations that judge these things: Citizens Against Government Waste, National Taxpayers Union, Citizens for a Sound Economy.  I am proud of my conservative record and the rankings--those people who observe--the National Federation of Independent Businessmen who named me the taxpayers' hero.  I have a clear, consistent record.  Have I always gone along with the Republican Party?  Rumsfeld's strategy was a Republican policy.  Abramoff's--who I investigated--was a Republican, and we have former Republican members of Congress that are in serious trouble as a result of it.  Did I fight against the appropriators time after time after time and when we saw these pork barrel spending projects?  Of course I did. And that's why people like Senator Tom Coburn, the strongest fiscal conservative in the Senate, is supporting me.  That's why I have a broad base of conservative report--support.  Tim, I am confident, as a nominee of the party, I will unite the party, I will bring all of them together.  And I'm very proud, by the way, that polls show that I'm the most competitive by far against Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, when all others lag far behind because I not only can consolidate the Republican base, but I can reach out to independents as well.  And there are times, I am very proud to say, I will put my country above my party.  But I am a proud, proud Republican that was in on the Reagan revolution, and I'm proud of my conservative record.

MR. RUSSERT:  Many conservatives point to your ubiquitous partner on the campaign trail, Joe Lieberman, who was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000.  There you are.  Lieberman, who is pro-abortion rights, pro gun control, pro gay rights, against the Bush tax cut, he has a very liberal Democratic record on these social and cultural issues, and yet you seem to embrace him on the campaign trail.

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, I embrace him anywhere and at any time, including the fact that we were responsible for the establishment of the 9/11 Commission and the implementation of the recommendations on so many issues.  But my admiration for Joe Lieberman on the number one issue that faces this nation and the world is without bounds.  He stood up against his own party and said, "We can succeed in Iraq.  We have to support this surge.  We can't wave the white flag of surrender." I am so proud of him for his steadfastness, and I'm proud to have him a--as a partner and a friend.  And I know that one of the things all of our constituents, Republicans and Democrats in America, they want us to work together.  They want us to work together.  And I'm proud to have worked with Joe Lieberman on a number of issues.  Right now the approval ratings of Congress, as you know, are very, very low.  And one of the reasons is they're frustrated is that we won't sit down together, a Lieberman and McCain, and establish a 9/11 Commission and come up with those recommendations and implement them.  I'm proud of my partnership with him and other Democrats where I've been able to get things done, but--the way Ronald Reagan did, but maintain my fundamental conservative principles.

MR. RUSSERT:  If the Senate passed your bill, S1433, the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Bill...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...would you as president sign it?

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah, but we--look, the lesson is it isn't won.  It isn't going to come.  It isn't going to come.  The lesson is they want the border secured first.  That's the lesson.  I come from a border state.  I know how to fix those borders with walls, with UAVs, with sensors, with cameras, with vehicle barriers.  They want the border secured first.  And I will do that, and, as president, I will have the border state governors secure--certify those borders are secured.  And then we will have a temporary worker program with tamper-proof biometric documents, and any employer who employs someone in any other circumstances will be prosecuted.  That means a lot of people will leave just, just normally because they're not going to be able to get their job. Then, of course, we have to get rid of two million people who have committed crimes here.  We have to round them up and deport them.  As far as the others are concerned, we were in an ongoing debate and discussion when this whole thing collapsed, and part of that, I think, has to be a humane approach.  Part of it has to be maybe people have to go back to the country that they came from for a period of time while we look at it.  But the principle that the American people want, secure the borders, reward no one ahead of someone who has either waited or has come to this country legally because they have broken our laws to come here.  But I'm confident--look, there's, there's humanitarian situations.  There's a soldier who's missing in action in Iraq.  His wife was here illegally.  America's not going to deport her.  We have humanitarian circumstances.  America's a generous Judeo-Christian valued nation, and we can sit down together.  The--all leading Republican candidates now just about agree that with--using those principles that I just articulated, we can fix it.  But secure the borders first.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you would sign your bill...

SEN. McCAIN:  It's not going to come across my desk.

MR. RUSSERT:  It won't pass.

SEN. McCAIN:  I--if pigs fly, then--look...

MR. RUSSERT:  So it's dead.

SEN. McCAIN:  The bill, the bill is dead as it is written.  We know that.  We know that.  And the bill is going to have to be, and I would sign it, securing the borders first and articulating those principles that I did.  That's what we got out of this last very divisive and tough debate.  And we have to get those borders secured.  That's what Americans want first.

MR. RUSSERT:  Rush Limbaugh, one of the leading voices in the conservative movement, said this the other day, "I'm here to tell you, if either of these two guys, Mike Huckabee or John McCain, get the nomination, it's going to destroy the Republican Party.  It's going to change it forever, be the end of it.  A lot of people aren't going to vote.  You watch."

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, all I can say is that I'm proud of winning Republican votes in New Hampshire and South Carolina, I know that there's a broad base of our party.  I am a proud conservative.  I think that when a lot of Americans, a lot of Republicans review my credentials, they'll vote for me.  But also, I believe that most Republicans' first priority is the threat of radical Islamic extremism.  Now, I know the concerns about the economy...

MR. RUSSERT:  More than the economy?

SEN. McCAIN:  More than the economy at the end of the day.  We'll get through this economy.  We're going to restore our economy, and many of the measures we're taking right now--although it's very difficult now.  This transcendent challenge of radical Islamic extremism will be with us for the 21st century. We are in two wars.  We're in two wars.  We have young Americans sacrificing as we speak.  I'm most qualified to be commander in chief with the knowledge, the experience, the background and the judgment.  And part of that judgment, I was the only one that's running that said Rumsfeld's strategy failed, we got to do the Petraeus strategy.

MR. RUSSERT:  The issue of your temperament has once again come to fore. This is from a colleague.

SEN. McCAIN:  Thad.

MR. RUSSERT:  "Thad Cochran of Mississippi"...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ..."who's known Senator McCain for more than three decades endorsed Mitt Romney." "Cochran said his choice was prompted partly by his fear of how McCain might behave in the Oval Office.

"`The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine,' Cochran said about McCain.  `He's erratic.  He's hotheaded.  He loses his temper and he worries me.'"

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, I--you know, I've known and loved Thad Cochran for many years, and I've always felt we had a very close and warm relationship.  My family goes back to the state of Mississippi.  His colleague, Trent Lott, of course, is one of my strongest and best supporters.  I have a wide circle of supporters, conservative and moderate--Richard Burr, Tom Coburn, Lindsey Graham.

MR. RUSSERT:  What does he base that on?

SEN. McCAIN:  I, I really don't know.  Do I feel strongly about issues?  And we all know, as much as I love Thad Cochran, he's an appropriator.  And I have fought him hard time after time after time on these pork barrel projects that he has been famous for, many of which, in my view, have been harmful to our economy and our environment.  So we've had, we've had strong words from time to time about pork barrel spending.  He's one of the great pork barrelers, and he's very proud of that.  He's very proud of his...

MR. RUSSERT:  He was a co-sponsor of your campaign finance bill.

SEN. McCAIN:  He was, and I appreciate that.  And there're many areas in which Thad Cochran and I have agreed.  But I have to admit to you, and I think it's very clear, we've had strong debate on the floor of the Senate about pork barrel projects.  In the last two years, the president of the United States has signed into law $35 billion worth of pork barrel projects, many of them sponsored, in all due respect, by my friends on the Appropriations Committee on the Republican side.  That could've meant $1,000 tax credit for every child in America.  That's where we have open and honest disagreements.  Sometimes we feel very strongly.  I feel very strongly about protecting the American taxpayer.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before you go, I want to show a tape of Bill Clinton, the former president, talking about you and Hillary Clinton.  Let's watch.

(Videotape)

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON:  She and John McCain are very close.  They always laugh that if they wound up being the nominees of their party, it would be the most civilized election in American history, and they're afraid they'd put the voters to sleep because they like and respect each other.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  You accept the endorsement?

SEN. McCAIN:  I can--I thank Senator Clinton for his endorsement.  I don't--let me just say, I will have a respectful debate whether it is Senator Obama or Senator Clinton or whoever it is.  But it won't be boring.  It won't be boring.  We're going to be talking about more or less spending, higher or lower taxes.  We're going to be talking about the role of government in healthcare, and we're going to be talking about the, the struggle we're in against radical Islamic extremism.  It's going to be anything but boring.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is he being mischievous, trying to give you, give you the kiss of death in the Republican primary?

SEN. McCAIN:  I don't know.  I know that he is one of the most talented politicians that ever appeared on the American scene, and I only attribute to him the noblest of motives.

MR. RUSSERT:  If you were the Republican nominee and Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee, would you have to run against Bill and Hillary Clinton? And how would you do it?

SEN. McCAIN:  You know, I don't, I don't know, but I think it would be clearly a philosophical difference.  But I haven't, frankly--obviously Senator Obama's win last night makes him very, very competitive.  Senator Edwards is still in it.  I have to--look, I've only won two primaries, Tim.  I'm--I got a pretty massive ego, but not quite so much as I'm planning on that yet.

MR. RUSSERT:  If you don't win in Florida, what happens?

SEN. McCAIN:  Oh, I think, I think we have good polling numbers throughout the nation, and I think we go on.  I think it's going to be a close race here on Tuesday, but I, I think we got some good momentum.  General Norman Schwarzkopf, our friend Mel Martinez, the senator from Florida and Governor Charlie Crist.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you go on, you go on to super Tuesday win or lose?

SEN. McCAIN:  Oh, sure.  Governor Crist and Senator Martinez, the two leading Republican politicians, bound to give us a little bit of a boost.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator John McCain, as always we thank you for sharing your views.  And be safe on the campaign trail.

SEN. McCAIN:  Thanks for having me on again.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, what do the results in last night's Democratic South Carolina primary mean?  A big win for Obama.  What does it mean for super Tuesday?  What lessons can we learn for Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats?  And the Republicans--Romney, McCain, Giuliani--all in the Sunshine State.  The GOP primary is Tuesday.  Our roundtable--Maureen Dowd, Chuck Todd, Byron York--next, only on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Our MEET THE PRESS roundtable, the race for the White House 2008, with Maureen Dowd, Chuck Todd, Byron York, all after this brief station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

Welcome all.  Let's go directly to the results last night.  Here it is, South Carolina, and look at these numbers.  Barack Obama, a huge win, 55 percent; Hillary Clinton, 27 percent; Edwards, 18.  Obama getting nearly 300,000 votes, double the total of Hillary Clinton.

And here's the breakdown by race.  Obama got 78 percent of the blacks, Clinton got 19, Edwards 2.  Amongst whites, Obama 1-in-4; Clinton, 36; John Edwards actually won the whites.  Interesting to note, Obama and Clinton practically tied amongst white men.  And look at this age breakdown:  Young voters, 18 to 29, it's overwhelmingly Obama, 67; Clinton, 23; Edwards, 10.  Over 60:  38, 35, 27, much tighter.

Chuck Todd, what does it mean?

MR. CHUCK TODD:  Well, it was a, it was a major victory for Obama and a major rebuke for the Clintons.  I mean, particularly President Clinton.  He somehow not only drove more African-American support to Obama--I mean, this turnout's massive.  Barack Obama's total, vote total, is going to be equal to the entire Democratic electorate in South Carolina from 2004.  So it was a massive turnout among African-Americans.  But more importantly, he somehow drove white voters to John Edwards.  I mean, John Edwards winning the white--I mean, there--it was--yes, John Edwards finished third.  But when you're looking at inside those numbers, and, you know, there's been all this talk about whether this primary had become racialized and somehow that Barack Obama was getting pigeon-holed and he was going to be the black candidate for president rather than a candidate for president who happens to be black, Clinton did not benefit by getting the white vote.  John Edwards did.  And now John Edwards is staying in this race.  We're going to have a lot of other Southern primaries coming up.  This is--the, the entire way this primary happened, it's a, it's a big rebuke of the Clintons and a big shot in the arm for Obama.

MR. RUSSERT:  Another event overnight, Maureen Dowd, in your paper, Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the 35th president, John Kennedy, wrote an op/ed piece in The Times endorsing Barack Obama.  And this is what she said:  "I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them.  But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president--not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans." Barack Obama.  Are we going to see Caroline Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey, town hall?  How significant is this?

MS. MAUREEN DOWD:  Well, I think this is huge.  The Hillary people were obviously trying to get Caroline Kennedy's endorsement, and the fact that she gave it to Obama is very much like the moment that Bill Clinton pushed when he shook JFK's hand at Boy's Nation.  Now, JFK probably didn't remember that at all, but the Clinton campaign made that the Arthurian moment, where Galahad took the sword out of the stone.  And now Caroline has done that for Obama. But it's a real moment because she is saying, "You are like my father," after decades of politicians pretending to be like, like JFK, and Gary Hart chopping his hand, and, you know, Dan Quayle trying to act like he was JFK.  She is giving him the imprimatur, and it's--I think it's huge.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me talk about the issue that--of race, which came up.  Jim Clyburn, Byron, the congressman from South Carolina, after the vote came in last night, was reflecting on what had happened.  And this is what he said. Let's watch.

(Videotape)

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC):  I'm not surprised at that at all because I really believe that in the last 48 hours the voters kind of recoiled.  They kind of decided that you reject the racial animus that seemed to be developing.  And I'm so pleased.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  The voters recoiled.  Congressman Clyburn had said earlier in the day that Bill Clinton had been using, in effect, code words that really made black Americans nervous.  Those are very strong comments coming from someone who was neutral on this race.

MR. BYRON YORK:  You know, I don't think you can overstate the amount of, of anger in--created in Democrats by Bill Clinton's tactics.  I mean, they were very, very unhappy with him.  I was talking to a Democratic strategist the other day who said, "My wife just got in the car.  She's driving to South Carolina to volunteer for Obama." They were that angry at what Clinton had done.  And he also said, you know, Clinton is trying to turn him into Jesse Jackson.  And sure enough, after Obama wins big, what does Bill Clinton say about it?  "Well, you know, Jesse Jackson won here, too." But you know, she--Hillary Clinton was kind of reduced to her core constituency in South Carolina.  She had problems with everybody except for white women.  Eighty percent of black women voted against her, 80 percent of black men voted against her, and 72 percent of white men voted against her.  I mean, she was down to a very small constituency.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ron Walters, a professor at University of Maryland, made this observation the other day on NPR, and I want to share it with everyone.  "The only way that Obama is going to be elected is try to neutralize race.  And when you're talking about Bill Clinton in so far as they try to blacken Barack Obama, what they do is play on the divisiveness of the racial sector.  The objective of the Clinton campaign is to make him blacker, which is to say--which is to call out his blackness and, therefore, to complicate his constituency which is predominantly white."

And then Bob Herbert, Maureen, of your paper weighed in with these very powerful, forceful words, "It's legitimate to ask, given the destructive developments of the last few weeks, whether the Clintons are capable of being anything but divisive.  The electorate seems more polarized now than it was just a few weeks ago, and the Clintons have seemed positively gleeful in that atmosphere.  It makes one wonder whether they have any understanding or regard for the corrosive long-term effects--on their party and the nation--of pitting people bitterly and unnecessarily against one another.  What kind of people are the Clintons?  What role will Bill Clinton play in a new Clinton White House?  Can they look beyond winning to a wounded nation's need for healing and unifying?  These are questions that need to be answered.  Stay tuned."

Two black voices in academia and in journalism with very stern words for the--Bill and Hillary Clinton.

MS. DOWD:  Well, it was an astonishing spectacle of seeing a so-called first black president trying to destroy a would-be first black president.  I mean, we've never seen anything like this, and it was very personal between Obama and Clinton.  And I think that, in the end, Hillary gave up a good narrative for her, which is that she had carved out her own identity and that it wasn't going to be the Bickersons back in the White House, and you just saw the Clintons.  And, and Mitt Romney was right, you, you visualized her in the Oval, him in the East Wing rambling around looking for mischief.  And it was, you know, it was a very seamy--Phil Gaily, who's the editorial page editor of the St.  Petersburg Times, said watching Clinton in South Carolina is like watching a mad dog slobber.  It was about him.  And, you know, as The Onion said, you know, The Onion headline was, "Screw It, I'm Running for President by Bill Clinton."

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, Barack Obama in his editorial board session with the Nevada paper did say that Ronald Reagan was a transformative president, unlike Bill Clinton...

MS. DOWD:  Exactly.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and Richard Nixon.  And that clearly...

MS. DOWD:  And that got Bill doing.  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  Chuck Todd, ranking Democrats, they endorsed Obama.  And yet, someone like Tom Daschle, the former majority leader, said this, "I think it's not presidential, it's not in keeping with the image of a former president." Pat Leahy, Obama supporter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.  castigated the former president for what he called the "glib cheap shots." He's "not helping anyone and certainly not helping the Democratic Party." John Kerry, the Democratic standard bearer in '04, said this in a radio interview with the National Journal.

(Audiotape)

SEN. JOHN KERRY:  Being an ex-president does not give you license to abuse the truth, and I think that over the last days it's been over the top.

(End audiotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  That seems to be so personal, so direct, ranking Democrats, Obama supporters, but nonetheless, taking on Bill Clinton, a two-term Democratic president.

MR. TODD:  Yeah, there's a few things going on here, particularly with congressional Democrats, that I think we shouldn't overlook is that Bill Clinton never had a great relationship with congressional Democrats, and there certainly is a, is a battle for control of the Democratic Party that I, I feel like you see play out in, in Clinton and Obama.  I--it was not an accident that Daschle, and you've seen a lot of senators start to gravitate toward Obama, that there's some old personal feelings, I think, that have come up.  I mean, certainly the John Kerry remark, there's something there that I think he feels like he didn't get the same kind of help in 2004 and this and that. But, you know, it does feel like, though, that what Bill Clinton is doing is he read a poll, and he said, "OK, when am--how am I going to get her to 51 percent.  OK.  We've got to figure out how to drive white men away from Barack Obama.  We've got to figure out how to drive Latinos away from Barack Obama." That's what works on February 5th.  And, you know, he may not ever say that, but it feels like it's a very tactical thing that they've done, and I think that's what, you know, is going to offend the Beltway corridor, the Amtrak corridor, and, and you're seeing a lot of, sort of, the New York and Washington Democrats who are probably going to keep coming out against Clinton on this and start...

MR. RUSSERT:  Maureen, you wrote on Wednesday, "It's odd that the first woman with a shot at becoming president is so openly dependent on her husband to drag her over the finish line."

MS. DOWD:  I know.  We're seeing all these astonishing things in this race, and it worked in Nevada and New Hampshire for--I think Bill Clinton helped her there.  But, in this case, I just think it raised the deja vu of the Clintons will drag anyone down to their own level and trash anyone to make up for what is missing in them or what they have done wrong.  During impeachment, you know, they were trashing the founding fathers.  Bill Clinton's lawyers actually filed a brief saying, "Well, Alexander Hamilton had a tawdry affair, and he wasn't kicked out of office." So it's a very debilitating dynamic, you know, to drag everyone down to their level, especially when you have this alternative of optimism and hope.  And they were willing to put a dagger in the heart of hope.  I mean, Obama should just beat them over the head every day with the idea that Bill Clinton said he represented false hope.  Because the only way they can beat him is to beat down hope and inspiration and bringing young voters and expanding the party, and they want to kill all that. And that is not a good, you know, situation for them.

MR. RUSSERT:  Byron, looking at super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton, however, is very formidable, well financed, well organized on--throughout the country, does have some overwhelming support of women voters, does have very strong support from Latino voters, and that coalition can be extremely helpful in California, New York, New Jersey, her former home state of Arkansas.  She still is, in, in a big way, in this hunt.

MR. YORK:  Oh, absolutely.  That's worth thinking about.  When you look at the, the demographic makeup of South Carolina, there aren't that many states like that.  Georgia is close to that; Alabama is close to that.  But all the big states, the big prize states do not have nearly the black population that South Carolina does.  So the question is can Hillary Clinton suppress that, you know, white vote for Obama that he showed he got in significant numbers in Iowa and significant numbers in New Hampshire, which he lost, but he still did, you know, pretty well.  So that's the whole point of South Carolina, was to try to, to suggest that all these white voters earlier had looked at Obama and said, "This is a man who wants to be the president for everybody, but maybe he really wants to be the president for black America," and to try to drive white voters away from him.  And that is what is making the Democratic establishment so angry.

MS. DOWD:  Tim, one of the most striking images of South Carolina--Jeff Zeleny wrote about today--was the Confederate flag flying near the capital and Obama workers holding up Obama placards.  And it's, you know, an amazing historic image.

MR. RUSSERT:  Week from Tuesday is super Tuesday, but this Tuesday is the Florida primary for the Republicans right here.  We're in Tampa this morning. Rudy Giuliani--this was the state that he planted his flag in.  We're watching Mitt Romney and John McCain contend for the top spot.  Here's Rudy, Rudy Giuliani's poll numbers, NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.  In March of '07, his favorable rating was 58 percent; his unfavorable was 14.  Now his favorable is 29 percent; his unfavorable is 40.

The Mason-Dixon poll with MSNBC, now it's Romney, 30; McCain, 26; Giuliani, 18.  In November, it was Romney, 15; McCain, 10; Giuliani, 36.  He's lost half his support.  What happened?

MR. YORK:  I was at a Giuliani event in Orlando yesterday.  It was rather small, and then he got a rather tepid response at the Orange County Republican dinner last night.  It's, it's been amazing.  I think it's a result of simply bad strategy on his part.  If you look back, he was second at various times not all that long ago in Iowa and, and in New Hampshire.  He was tied for the lead as early as--as late as December in Michigan and in South Carolina.  And yet he chose not to compete with those.  And, and somebody who knows about this was saying, he--you know, he went into New Hampshire for a while.  He seemed to have some chance.  So he goes in, he spends a couple million dollars, the polls don't immediately change, and he pulls out.  And that's how he ends up in Florida with everybody thinking that this is his last stand. It's his first stand, and it's also his last stand.

MR. RUSSERT:  Maureen Dowd, the indictment of Bernard Kerik, his former police commissioner, who he proposed to be secretary of Homeland Security, stories about his New York City police detail being used to guard his then-girlfriend, now-wife Judith Nathan, did those issues just take a toll on Rudy Giuliani?

MS. DOWD:  Oh, of course, you know.  And, you know, he's got to stop talking about 9/11 and call 911 because he's in real trouble there.  And I was expecting more of a--from a man who loves opera, more of an operatic finale, one way or the other, to save himself or to self-immolate.  I mean, some Maria Callas death scene.  But he's so mundane.  And actually yesterday he switched his message to hope.  So that's not going to work for Rudy Giuliani.

MR. RUSSERT:  You know, when he was mayor of New York, he went into town hall meetings, he got sweaty, he fought back...

MS. DOWD:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...he had...

MS. DOWD:  And he was able to jump on the headlines of the day and say something provocative, and he just seems to be sleepwalking.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is he recognizing that he's not going to win and sort of protecting his next career?

MS. DOWD:  I think so, and saving, and saving, you know, protecting Giuliani Partners.

MR. RUSSERT:  What happens, Romney vs. McCain, here in Florida and onward?

MR. TODD:  Well, I think that it's a must-win for Romney.  John McCain, they won't be able to stop John McCain.  If he gets a win out of Florida, he will finally disprove this theory that he can't win when there's only Republicans that vote in a primary.  So a victory here for McCain, he will, he will come out of here like a rocket.  Not only will he win--not only will he steal the Giuliani strategy--I mean, he's got it--by the way, he should thank Rudy Giuliani's campaign, because the one groundwork they did, Rudy may not have been running for president, but his campaign was.  And they got all these winner take all states to be--all these states in the Northeast to become winner take all:  New York, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey.  Well, now John McCain automatically now has a pad of a couple hundred delegates that he's going to get on February 5th because he's going to take the Rudy strategy. But if he wins here, he will sky--and then he'll get Illinois and California. So Romney has to win here.  Now, Romney has a lot of intangibles in his favor with Florida.  This is a fairly conservative Republican electorate.  This isn't an electorate that's predisposed for John McCain.  More importantly, Giuliani's hurting McCain here.  He banked early vote, that's with moderates. He's got a decent chunk of the Cuban vote, which is something that McCain has been trying to compete for.  So you look at it demographically, ideologically, this thing seems to favor Romney.  Plus, he's got his own money.  He's on the air more.  But Romney has to win here because if he doesn't he's not going to stop McCain.

MR. RUSSERT:  You saw Senator McCain's reaction, Maureen, to Bill Clinton saying that, "If John McCain's the nominee, he and my wife would have a wonderful, civil campaign." And I asked whether he thought Bill Clinton was being mischievous, and he said, "I think nothing but honorable thoughts and intentions for the former president." Was Bill Clinton trying to stir things up and, and hurt John McCain in the Republican primary?

MS. DOWD:  Well, I asked McCain about that in the green room, doing reporting, and he was saying not to think--I know he really does like Hillary Clinton--I've talked to him about that--and thinks she's really fun to travel with.  But he said to expect fireworks.  He's not going to lay off of her. He's already talking about how she's waving the white flag of surrender on Iraq.

MR. TODD:  They enjoy the vodka shots, right?

MS. DOWD:  Oh, yeah, they did in Estonia, yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  But was Bill Clinton trying to tilt the Republican primary?

MR. YORK:  Sure he was.  I mean, it was a one-two punch against McCain with The New York Times endorsement, which, you know, immediately after it happened, I'd be getting, getting e-mails from the Romney campaign talking about The New York Times endorsing McCain.  New York Times endorsement and Bill Clinton's endorsement?  I mean, what else does an opponent of John McCain want going in to a big primary?

MR. RUSSERT:  The suggestion being that Hillary Clinton, if she's the nominee, would prefer to run against Mitt Romney?

MR. YORK:  Well, that's, that's always been the calculus in here, of, of Republicans thinking who's the weakest Democrat to run against, who's the weakest Republican.  The head-to-head polls have consistently shown only one candidate, John McCain, actually beating any Democrat in the, in the fall matchup.

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you expect leading into super Tuesday between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?

MS. DOWD:  Well, I think, you know, it's very interesting to me because I think that in, in Iowa, Obama learned how to connect with his electricity. Usually you have someone being the daddy figure, and he's like the blessed child, you know, he's learning as he goes.  And we're watching him learn and get personally upset in real time, which we, we saw with McCain in South Carolina in 2000, now we're seeing with Obama.  And the question is, did this give him his spine?  You know, he's been struggling.  Is he on the pedestal like Adlai Stevenson, or is he JFK and RFK, who knows how to fight back?  And I think he's got a false choice.  He doesn't have to be Tonya Harding to fight back; he could be like Reagan and just flick them away and use wit.  But he's learning on the job, and he, you know, he--his speech, his victory speech last night was angry.  You know, he is angry at the Clintons for what he sees as underhanded tactics, and they were underhanded.  So it, it depends, is he going to get back on the pedestal or is he going to figure out some way that he's comfortable with not to do cage fight, fighting.

MR. RUSSERT:  Can you mix hope and defiance?

MS. DOWD:  Exactly.

MR. RUSSERT:  And, and, how will the Clintons now behave?

Will Bill Clinton alter his tactics, Chuck Todd?

MR. TODD:  Well, you know, it's interesting is I think that, that what Clinton has done to Obama will make Obama a better general election candidate.

MS. DOWD:  Right.

MR. TODD:  But what Bill Clinton's been doing is, is weakening Hillary Clinton in a general election if she gets the nomination.  They have to, I guess, tone him down.  You know, the most striking thing about last night is who's the first Clinton that America heard from last night?  It was Bill, not Hillary.

MS. DOWD:  Yeah, and what was he saying?

MR. TODD:  How weird was that, as far as sort of it really just reinforced this idea that it is Billary that is the candidate.  And now this is becoming more and more sort of conventional wisdom inside of voters.  It's not--it's a big problem.

MS. DOWD:  And he was comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson, which Hillary starts with comparing him to Martin Luther King, who can't get something done, and then Bill finishes with comparing him to Jesse Jackson, who couldn't get elected.  So it wasn't pretty.

MR. RUSSERT:  To be continued.  Byron York, Maureen Dowd, Chuck Todd, thank you.  We'll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  That's all for today.  Watch NBC News and MSNBC tomorrow night for full coverage of the State of the Union of George Bush, his last one. Tuesday night, results from the Florida GOP Republican primary.

Thanks to the great folks here at WEDU-TV, the PBS station in Tampa, Florida. You guys have been terrific.

We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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