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updated 2/10/2008 11:14:37 AM ET 2008-02-10T16:14:37

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  Romney bows out.

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA):  I feel I have to now stand aside for our party and for our country.

MR. RUSSERT:  McCain looks to November.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ):  I intend to fight the hardest I can to ensure that our principles prevail over theirs.

MR. RUSSERT:  But Huckabee fights on.

FMR. GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR):  Am I quitting?  Well, let's get that settled right now.  No, I'm not.

MR. RUSSERT:  What now?  We'll ask our guest, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Then, the Democrats.  Yesterday Obama wins Louisiana primary and sweeps caucuses in Nebraska, Washington state and the Virgin Islands, building his lead with elected delegates.  But what about the role of unelected, or so-called superdelegates?  And what does it mean that Hillary Clinton loaned money to her own campaign?  Insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Gwen Ifill of PBS' "Washington Week" and Chuck Todd of NBC News.

But first, here are the results of the Republican primary and caucuses held yesterday.  Louisiana:  Mike Huckabee, 43; John McCain, 42.  Kansas:  Mike Huckabee, 60; John McCain, 24.  Washington state, very close race:  McCain, 25; Huckabee, 24; Ron Paul, 21.  The delegate count now, estimated by NBC News:  McCain at 721, Huckabee at 231.  You need 1,191.  And here to talk about that is the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee.

Welcome back.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Thank you, Tim.  Great to be back.  Great to still be on my feet after all this time because we started right here when I announced on MEET THE PRESS a little more than a year ago I'd be doing this.

MR. RUSSERT:  January of '07.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  What's your take on yesterday?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  It was a great day for us.  I mean, to win two out of the three, and one to still be too close to call even the day after, I think that certainly would, by anybody's estimation, be a surprise to most of the pundits and observers who thought that this was all over last week.

MR. RUSSERT:  You need 1191 delegates; you have 231, as I mentioned.  That means you need 960.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  There are only 819 delegates to win.  So how are you going to do that?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, you know, I don't know how the math works out, but there's always the chance something stumbles.  The thing is it's not just how many I need, Senator McCain also needs that many.  And if he doesn't get that many, he's not the nominee either.  This thing could go to the convention. Who knows?  But the one thing I know, when people say, "Isn't it a rather complicated and convoluted path to victory?" You bet it is.  But it's a real easy path to defeat.  All I have to do is walk off the field, game's over.

MR. RUSSERT:  When will you walk off the field?  If Senator McCain gets the 1191, will you quit?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, I think then it's over.  I mean, he's--he is the nominee at that point.  But until then, you know, I haven't had one of my supporters, Tim, come up to me and say, "Why don't you leave?" Not one.  None of my endorsers, none of the folks who are with me.  And, in fact, they're so fired up that we're having record hits and contributions going to our mikehuckabee.com Web site.  We've had more traffic.  We, we had a $250,000 day--we'd never had anything like that--on I think Friday.

MR. RUSSERT:  Next up is Tuesday, we have Maryland and, and Virginia.  Here's Mason-Dixon, latest polls out this morning:  McCain, 54; Huckabee, 23 in Maryland.  In Virginia, it's McCain, 55; Huckabee, 27.  You're the decided underdog in both those states.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Oh, sure.  That was before the caucuses and primaries yesterday.  I think we're going to get a pretty nice little bump out of what happened in Kansas.  You know, we weren't polling big in Kansas; we won 60-to-24.  Most people--in fact, we didn't think Louisiana was winnable because of the way they're structured.  It's a very strange structure.  That was a surprise to us.  Washington state, it's not quite yet over; still too close to call.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, the party has declared it over.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  They have, but there's some weird things.  We're, we're looking at some legal issues up there, and so we're not ready to concede that one until we understand how...

MR. RUSSERT:  You think on Tuesday, though, Virginia's your best state?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I think we have a shot at Virginia.  I think we have a shot at Maryland.  You know, I'm just one of those people that think we have a shot at everywhere we go.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mitt Romney was in a similar circumstance as you were, decidedly behind in delegates.  On Thursday, made a different decision.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let's watch what he said.

(Videotape)

GOV. ROMNEY:  If I fight on in my campaign all the way to the convention, I wreck--I want you to know, I've given this a lot of thought--I'd forestall the launch of a national campaign.  And frankly, I'd be making it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win.  Frankly, in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Make it easier for the Democrats to win.  Are you concerned that you're draining resources that the Republicans need, that you're embarrassing Senator McCain, and that you're providing the Democrats an opportunity to win in November by continuing this fight?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Oh, that's total nonsense.  Let me tell you why.  First of all, I didn't set the rules for how one obtains the nomination; the party did. So the party sets rules and says, "Here's how the process works." They were the ones who front-loaded and allowed it to be front-loaded, so you had states like California and New York going up early, large delegate counts.  But neither of those states, Tim, are going to be really decisive for the Republican in November.

Now, the question I have is, do we tell the people in Texas and Ohio and Pennsylvania and all these other states--North Carolina, Nebraska--that "You don't matter.  We don't care what you think.  We're going to go ahead and pull the plug on this whole thing and not even give you a chance to express yourselves"?  If our party can't have a thoughtful discussion and some meaningful debate and dialogue about the issues important to us as a party, then, then we--we're really not prepared to lead.  I am prepared to lead. That's why I'm in this race.  And I think I've got to continue to make the case.  There are people who got me here with far fewer resources than other campaigns.  And the Democrats haven't settled their nominee either.  So for us to suddenly act like that we have to all step aside and have a coronation instead of an election, that--that's the antithesis of everything Republicans are supposed to believe.  We believe that competition breeds excellence and that the lack of it breeds mediocrity.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me bring you back to September of '06, a comment you made about John McCain back then.  "I have a hard time seeing him being elected president, just because I think, at times, some of his views have alienated very important segments of the Republican Party.  I'm not sure he can mend the fences with the evangelical wing of the party." Do you still have a hard time seeing John McCain elected president?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, I have an easier time seeing him elected than I do either of the Democrats.  But I do think he's got some challenges with not just the evangelicals but, frankly, the economic conservatives because of his opposition to the Bush tax cuts.  To many of the conservatives, because of his views on immigration that certainly weren't in the mainstream.  They were way out of the mainstream and quite unorthodox.  He has been often the voice in the wilderness, and I have great respect.  As you know, I think it's interesting that the two most civil campaigns are the two that're still on their feet in the Republican Party.  That's a healthy thing.  We've not attacked each other.  I think we have mutual respect.  I like John McCain. I've said publicly, even on debate stages when I was debating him, that I thought he was a man of honor.  And I do believe that.

So this isn't about personal hostility, but there are significant differences that we have on the human life amendment, on embryonic stem cell research on human embryos, on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance act--which I think is one of the worst things that ever happened to election law in this country--and on the Bush tax cuts.  And so I think that there's room for us to have that conversation.

MR. RUSSERT:  On Thursday, you won the endorsement of Dr.  James Dobson, the founder of the Focus on the Family.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  There's a headline saying that.  This is a statement that Dr. Dobson issued talking about John McCain.  "I am deeply disappointed" with "the Republican Party seems poised to select a nominee who did not support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage, voted for embryonic stem cell research to kill nascent human beings, opposed tax cuts that ended the marriage penalty, has little regard for freedom of speech, organized the Gang of 14 to preserve filibusters in judicial hearings, and has a legendary temper and often uses foul and obscene language.  I am convinced Senator McCain is not a conservative" "in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are."

Do you agree with Dr.  Dobson?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I, I would say that if you compare Senator McCain to Hillary or Obama, he's much a conservative.  Frankly, even within the Republican Party.  I'm not going to say he's anything but a conservative.  I, I've said that publicly before; I'll say it again.  I do think that there are issues where he takes sharp contrast with the mainstream of conservative thought, sometimes economically, sometimes on the social issues.  And those are real sensitive issues for many of us.  The, the life issue is a very sensitive issue for me, Tim.  I think that that's, that's a defining issue for me personally, and I think it is for many conservatives.  Because we think that if you are wrong on the life question, it reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of our nation and the equality of human beings, that there is intrinsic worth and value in each of us, that that individual power and freedom that our founding fathers so believed in that they put their lives on the line for it, begins to deteriorate at the point when you start saying some lives are worth more than others.

MR. RUSSERT:  But Dr.  Dobson talking about Senator McCain's temper and use of foul and obscene language.  Should Dr.  Dobson tone down his rhetoric?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  That's Dr.  Dobson's decision to make.

MR. RUSSERT:  He says he will not vote for John McCain under any circumstances.  You would if he was the nominee?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Oh, sure.  I'm going to vote for the Republican nominee.  I mean, I, I would've said that even when we had 10 people on the stage because, as I looked at the stage, I said, "Any of these guys are better than any of those guys." From my perspective.

MR. RUSSERT:  Rush Limbaugh has taken after both you and John McCain.  This is what Rush Limbaugh said:  "I'm here to tell you, if either of these two guys get the nomination"--either McCain or Huckabee--"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."

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I really like Rush.  I've been a fan for many, many years and love his show.  I think he's been a great voice of, of conservativism.  He's, he's been one of those guys that has used a lot of humor and sometimes some sharp-tongued zingers to kind of keep the movement thoughtful.  You know, I'm disappointed in what he said because I don't think it reflects me and my record.  I think he allowed some people to put information in front of him that was not accurate.  But the point is, you know, he's got a right to say what he thinks.  I will make this observation, Tim.  You know, he did everything he could to knock McCain and me out of the process.  And, unfortunately for him, we're still the two that're on our feet.

MR. RUSSERT:  You were an ordained Baptist minister.  In November you appeared on "Believer's Voice of Victory," this program here with Kenneth Copeland.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Also a televangelist.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is how your home state paper described Mr. Copeland's difficulties:

"A televangelist under investigation by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee turned a national ministers' gathering into a fund-raising opportunity for Mike Huckabee, reportedly helping to raise thousands of dollars for the cash-strapped presidential" campaign.

"The fund-raiser was held at Kenneth Copeland Ministries' campus" "Newark, Texas.  The Trinity Foundation, a group that monitors televangelists and viewed a live Internet broadcast of the event, said the fund-raiser took in $111,000" "generated pledges nearing $1 million.

"Copeland authorized the fund-raiser after receiving a personal call from Huckabee pleading for help, the Trinity Foundation said."

And this is a tape of Mr. Copeland's characterization of your phone call with them.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  OK.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let's watch.

(Videotape)

MR. KENNETH COPELAND:  He hollered at me on the phone, he said, "Are you kidding me?  Why should I stand with them and not stand with you?  They only got 11 percent approval rating!"

Offscreen Voice:  Amen.

MR. COPELAND:  And then, and then he said, then he said, "Kenneth Copeland, I will stand with you." He said, "You're trying to get prosperity to the people, and they're trying to take it away from them." He said, "I will stand with you anytime, anywhere, on any issue." That settled that right there.  I said, "Yeah, that's my man.  That's my man right there."

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Is that a fair characterization of the phone call?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I don't know the exact words were used, but, you know, Kenneth Copeland has been a friend of mine for a long time.  His wife's from Arkansas.  They own property there.  He's been somebody that I've known for a long time.  And my only experience with him is a positive one and a person of integrity.  People who've worked with him have been there for 30 years.  They love him.  They speak of him in the most glowing of ways, of how he treats them.  And that's what I know about him.

And, you know, when other people make accusations, all I can tell you is, people make accusations about me every day.  If all my friends abandoned me over it, I wouldn't have any left.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Governor, Senator Charles Grassley is a Republican from Iowa.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Yes, he's a great guy.

MR. RUSSERT:  He, he has an investigation.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  And this is how, a week after that, this was the article in the Fort Worth paper:

"North Texas televangelist Kenneth Copeland remains defiant in refusing to cooperate with a U.S. senator's request for information about his finances, and despite the controversy he continues having a prominent role in helping raise funds for Republican presidential" candidate "contender Mike Huckabee."

When you tell him on the phone you stand with him and not with Congress, are you interfering in a congressional investigation in his finances?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Oh, heavens no.  No, no, no.  First of all, let's, let's be sure.  People are innocent until they're proven guilty.  That, that's the way we're supposed to operate.

MR. RUSSERT:  But shouldn't he cooperate and turn over the materials that Senator Grassley requested?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  As far as I know, he will fulfill his responsibilities.  He's taking legal counsel.  But you know what?  The whole issue with Kenneth Copeland/Chuck Grassley is not an issue that I'm dealing with as a presidential candidate.  It's not a part of whether or not I ought to be running for president.  And what I'm saying is that I think he's taking his legal counsel, finding out what he's supposed to do and where he's supposed to cooperate, but not in, in any way yielding over the constitutional rights he has under the First Amendment to be not just a person of free speech, but also a person of freedom of religion.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you tell him "I stand with you against Congress," and then he raises money for you...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Behind him.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...isn't that interfering in an investigation?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  No, it's not interfering with an investigation.  I--it'd be interfering if I called up Chuck Grassley and said lay off Kenneth Copeland. I've not done that, nor would, would I do that.  Because I think Kenneth Copeland will ultimately have to provide some responsible answer to the questions that have been raised.  And, and that's fine.  And Senator Grassley, he can request whatever information he needs.  He'll have the legal authority to do what he does, or he won't be able to get it done.  That's all in the world that, that has to happen.

MR. RUSSERT:  But he should provide all the information that's been requested?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  If the information is reasonable and it's not violating the, the rights that Kenneth Copeland has.  I, I do have a little concern.  It's a little chilling when you start thinking about is Congress going to start going after nonprofit organizations?  And if so, are they going to do all nonprofits?  Are they going to start looking at Moveon.org?  Are they going to start looking at some of these organizations, where every dime comes from? If, if we're going to do it, let's open it up and make sure everybody coughs up the information.

MR. RUSSERT:  Since you started your campaign here in January of '07, I've watched it very closely, and there are a couple issues where you seem to have changed your position or evolved or sometimes flipped.  For example, back in August you were asked about this:  "If you were president in 2009, and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?" Huckabee:  "I certainly would." And then a few months later, your offices says, "The governor believes that this issue is best addressed at the local and state" level.

And then this...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, do you want me to answer that, or--OK.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, let me just go through a couple.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  All right.  All right.

MR. RUSSERT:  This, when you were governor, wrote a letter to President Bush about Cuba:  "U.S. policy on Cuba has not accomplished its stated goal of toppling the Castro regime and instead has provided Castro with a convenient excuse for his own failed system of government.  I urge you to join with me in working to lift the failed embargo." You then went to Florida and said no, the embargo should stay, and you said this, "What changed was I'm running for president."

And then on taxes.  I asked you specifically when you announced here, would you sign a pledge promising not to raise taxes.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  And here was your answer.

(Videotape)

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I think it's a very dangerous position to make pledges that are outside the most important pledge you make, and that is the oath you take to uphold the Constitution and protect the people of the United States.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Thirty-three days later...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...here's what I read.  "Huckabee signed the Presidential Taxpayer Protection Pledge on March 2nd" the--"2007 during the Conservative Political Action Conference."

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  It seems that political expediency got a hold of you several times during the campaign.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Now, let me, let me go through each of those.  First, on the smoking ban, I was asked if that was presented to me, would I sign it.  I signed a similar bill in my state which said that we are not banning smoking, we are protecting clean air in the workplace.  I still believe that there is a fundamental right that people have to do damage to themselves, but they do not have a right to do damage to others in a workplace.  That's the basis on which I signed the state law and the basis upon which I would sign a federal.  When I said that I still believe that it's best handled at the state level.  It is. But if...

MR. RUSSERT:  But you would sign a federal law.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  If it were about a clean air workplace, not about banning smoking.  Because the point is, and I know it may sound trivial, but it's, it's important to me philosophically that you're not telling an individual what he or she can't do, you're saying what you cannot do is to infringe upon the right of another to have clean air.

On the second issue, which was about...

MR. RUSSERT:  Embargo.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  ...the embargo, that was specifically referenced to the rice industry in my state, number one agricultural product.  At that time we were really hurting in our rice markets.  And based on my experience as a governor, and particularly as the governor of the number one rice producer in the nation, we wanted to export our rice, including to Cuba.  The more I became familiar with the oppression of Cuba, and as I visited with many of the Cuban-American leaders in Florida, I realized that my position was, frankly, rather short-sighted, and it was based on my rather local agricultural concerns rather than the more important concerns of Cuba's oppressive regime. So I had to recognize that the embargo did have an important effect and should be kept.

The final issue was the tax pledge.

MR. RUSSERT:  "No, I will not raise taxes.  I'm not going to sign a pledge."

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Right.  The reason I ended up signing the pledge, after I met with Grover Norquist for Americans for Tax Reform, realized that what I was signing was to say that we would not raise marginal tax rates, and frankly, I see no reason or no purpose ever that we need to raise marginal tax rates in this country.  In fact, I've taken a more rather dramatic position than that. I think we ought to implement the Fair Tax, which would eliminate all taxes on productivity, move us to a consumption tax instead.  That's the position that I hold.  I think it would have a dramatically positive impact on our economy, because it would stop the penalization of productivity and it would eliminate the IRS.  So my position now is probably the most conservative of any of the candidates running for president as it relates to taxes.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, but, in all candor, you did not modify your position in order to play to the conservative base?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  It wasn't a play.  It was that I realized that my position had to mature in each of these areas.  In, in the case of the rice issue, it's one thing to be the governor of Arkansas.  To be the president of the United States, I got to lead the whole country and act in the best interest of how we can best deal with a rogue regime.

MR. RUSSERT:  You want to be vice president?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  No, I really don't.  If I'd wanted to be...

MR. RUSSERT:  If asked, if asked, would you accept?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I'm, I'm not going to be asked.  I think it's pretty evident that there would be a whole lot of people on the list long, long before me, and one of them would say yes.  So there's no point in my speculating it. It's...

MR. RUSSERT:  No, but this, this is what--I asked you that in October, you said this:  "I'm not even running for vice president," but, "I will only say this:  It is the job nobody wants and nobody turns down."

GOV. HUCKABEE:  That's exactly right.  I'd say the same thing.

MR. RUSSERT:  You wouldn't turn it down?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  And I say that tongue-in-cheek because that's the whole point.  Everybody says "No, no, no, wouldn't ever touch it." But then when someone is offered, they say, "Yes, yes, please.  Let me come up there." But look...

MR. RUSSERT:  No, no!  But you wouldn't turn it down.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I wouldn't think about it right now.  Because until John McCain has 1191 delegates, I still think I can get there.

MR. RUSSERT:  But nobody turns it down.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Nobody turns it down that I know of.

MR. RUSSERT:  Including Mike Huckabee?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, haven't been offered it.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you're a somebody.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  To a lot of people I'm not.  To a lot of people I shouldn't even be sitting here today.  That's the amazing thing.  That is the miracle, Tim.  So the miracles are still happening.  I'm still believing in them.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if asked...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  How many ways you going to ask this?

MR. RUSSERT:  You're from Hope, Arkansas.  John...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Sure I am.

MR. RUSSERT:  Governor John McCain says, "Governor Huckabee, I need you to run with me.  Would you be my vice president?"

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Again, I, I see no scenario in which he asks.  The question you ought to be asking me is would I ask John McCain to be my running mate?

MR. RUSSERT:  Yeah, yeah, yeah, OK.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  There you go.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right.  Before you go, I have to ask you about this comment on...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  All right.

MR. RUSSERT:  "Morning Joe"'s program back in January.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  OK.

MR. RUSSERT:  "When I was in college, we used to take a popcorn popper--because that was the only thing" many of us--"they would let us use in the dorms"...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ..."and we would fry squirrel in the popcorn poppers in the dorm room."

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Yeah.  Yeah.  We really did that.  We really did.

MR. RUSSERT:  Did you eat them?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, of course you--we ate them.

MR. RUSSERT:  What does it taste like?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I should say it tastes a lot like chicken, but it doesn't.

MR. RUSSERT:  What's it taste like?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  It, it tastes like squirrel.  It's not the best thing in the world but, you know, when you go squirrel hunting, you got to do something with those things.  And part of it was just to say we could do it.  I mean, it was a college thing.  I mean, but fried squirrel is a Southern delicacy.  You got to know that.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you're off the squirrel now?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I haven't eaten fried squirrel I think since college.  Thank the Lord.  I don't...

MR. RUSSERT:  This may help you in Virginia.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  It may kill me up--in other states, however.

MR. RUSSERT:  Governor Mike Huckabee, we thank you for joining us this...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Thank you, Tim.  Great to be here.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, this Tuesday, the Chesapeake primary:  Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland.  Obama and Clinton fighting for every delegate possible.  Our roundtable is next, coming up right here, with David Broder, David Brody, Gwen Ifill, Chuck Todd, only on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Obama vs.  Clinton, the delegate hunt.  David Broder, David Brody, Gwen Ifill, Chuck Todd after this brief station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

Welcome all.  Do we have a race or not?  Here's what happened yesterday. First, in Louisiana, Barack Obama, 57; Hillary Clinton, 36.  In the state of Nebraska the numbers were 68-to-32.  Virgin Islands it's 90-to-8.  And Washington state, 68-to-31.  Look at this.  Adding up all the votes each of the candidates has gotten thus far, Obama 8,228,000, Clinton 8,028,000; 48.4-to 47.3.  Obama has won 18 states, Clinton has won 10 states.  One, New Mexico, still too close to call.  The current NBC political unit delegate estimate:  Obama 1,009, Clinton 944, a lead of 65.  That is just amongst elected delegates.  And then, of course, we have the superdelegates.  Obama says he has 174 of those, Clinton has 263 of those.  If you put everything together, including superdelegates, Clinton would be up 24 delegates.  If you just count the elected delegates, she's--Obama's up 65.

Chuck Todd, explain it.

MR. CHUCK TODD:  OK.  I've got all this blue right here.  Here you go.  It's, it's a remarkable fight.  I mean, everything--it, it is a delegate by delegate fight.  You know, yesterday the Clinton campaign knew they weren't going to win any of those three states.  Maybe they thought they could--but they were figuring out how to get a few extra delegates in Louisiana.  They threw in a few more people in Nebraska because, as one Clinton person said to me, "We don't want another Idaho situation." What does that mean?  Well, in Idaho they almost didn't make threshold.  They almost didn't get a single delegate out of Idaho and those caucuses.  So they are trying to improve their numbers in some of these caucuses.  I think they realize now, looking back, this Obama strategy of getting delegates everywhere he can--I mean, look, he got three delegates out of the Virgin Islands, you know, instead of two--one, you know, you see the 8 percent.  Well, if she could have just done up to seven, she could have snagged a delegate, you know, gotten to that 15 percent threshold.

MR. RUSSERT:  They asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, he said, "That's where the money is."

MR. TODD:  Right.  And so why do you participate in caucuses?  Because that's where you can continue to win delegates.

But let me throw in one big monkey wrench in all this, about these caucuses. When--there are delegates that are allocated to Obama that he's winning.  All of these caucuses still have to go through state conventions and district conventions.  And that's where--for instance, in '84, that's where Walter Mondale cleaned up and stole delegates, basically, from Gary Hart.  Gary Hart would win in places, and they would go to the state conventions and somehow outmaneuver them.  The Clinton folks could still end up figuring out how to nab extra delegates in here.  So this caucus thing, it looks good right now in the totals, but that's--you want one of the monkey wrenches we could throw into this?  That's one of them.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right.  Before I go around the table, let me just show you two new Mason-Dixon polls.  Tuesday is the Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia.  Here's Maryland:  Obama, 53; Clinton, 35.  And in Virginia:  Obama, 53; Clinton, 37.  It shows the undecideds still 20, still high.  Only a snapshot, things could change.  But if Obama did sweep D.C., Virginia, Maryland, would he then be ahead in total delegates--elected delegates and superdelegates?

MR. TODD:  It's a--it would have to be an emphatic sweep.  He needs to win D.C. with that, you know, 70, 75 percent of the vote.  He would have to win in Virginia and Maryland getting close to 60 percent, because the way Virginia and Maryland are, there's some--some of Obama's vote is packed into certain congressional districts, the way the delegate split works.  But if he got--if he starts approaching 60 percent in both of those, Maryland and Virginia, approaching 75, he could net 25 delegates.  There is a path for him to net 25, in our estimate, that would bring him even.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dead even.

MR. TODD:  Dead even.

MR. RUSSERT:  Including elected and super.

All right, Ifill, Brody and Broder.  Here's what the Bloomberg News said the other day:  "Barack Obama's campaign is forecasting that the Democratic presidential race will remain deadlocked after the primaries end.  By the time the last primary is held June" 7th, "Obama's advisers project" he'll "have 1806 delegates to" 1789 "for New York Senator Hillary Clinton, according to a document outlining the scenario that was inadvertently attached to a release on delegate counts from Super Tuesday primaries."

Gwen Ifill, what do we have to look forward to?

MS. GWEN IFILL:  You hate when those things get inadvertently attached to, to memos, don't you?  What we have looking forward to is what Chuck has just laid out here, which is the fight over every little thing; fight over language, which I'm a big fan of following the kinds of language that people use--listening to Governor Huckabee, which we'll get to as, as part of it. It's a big fight over who your vote is, how deep, how broad it is.  It's--has the pattern established itself now that Obama does well in states where there are large black populations, among blacks, by big numbers, but also well in states where there are no--where there's virtually no black population?  Does Hillary Clinton always do well when there are women up, up for grabs, or does she lose among women in some states, like she did in Nebraska?  Do--how do they battle for that?  Is it to their advantage to keep those hard and fast lines in place?  Or do they find a way to start reaching into each other's territory and poaching delegates before they get to state conventions?  I don't know that either campaign has figured that piece out yet, because that's how close it is.

MR. RUSSERT:  Clinton campaign has a 50/50 strategy.  If you're a woman over 50 or you're a Democrat making less than 50,000, they believe you're a Clinton voter.

MS. IFILL:  And that's what worked for them in California.  They didn't--Obama, we were there in California last week.  He did--got this very glitzy, coastal reception.  But in the inland part of the state, where people over--people are struggling a little bit more, they came out and they voted for Hillary Clinton.  And in fact, Obama didn't really even make a play for them.  So that was a miscalculation.

MR. RUSSERT:  The two Davids, here's what the Daily News had to say:  "Given the neck-and-neck nature of the battle, one of Clinton's top aides predicted superdelegates will put the nominee over the top.  "`I don't see a scenario under which either candidate gets to 2,025 without superdelegates.  So, you know, I think'" we're "`in somewhat uncharted waters,' said Howard Wolfson, Clinton's top media strategist.

"Obama said superdelegates should follow the wishes of the voters.  `My strong belief is that if we end up with the most states'" "`the most pledged delegates from the most voters in the country, that it would be problematic for the political insiders to overturn the judgment of the voter.'"

"When it was noted that Senator Ted Kennedy is one of" those "superdelegate supporters, even though voters handed Massachusetts to Clinton on Super Tuesday, Obama said, `Well, I mean, we can make arguments back and forth on this.'"

Yeah.  The--here are those superdelegates, by the way.  They're former U.S. presidents, former U.S. vice presidents, governors, senators, members of Congress, distinguished party leaders, party activists.

David Broder, where are we?

MR. DAVID BRODER:  Well, this is a year where the scenarios have been invariably wrong.  And so if our current scenario is it's all going to come down to the superdelegates, that's probably going to be wrong.  There are still really important events before we get to that stage.  There are primaries in Ohio, in Texas, in Pennsylvania; critical states for the general election.  We don't know who's going to prevail in any of those three states. My guess is that we will be surprised once again, and that the voters will still have a big voice in this outcome.

MR. RUSSERT:  And we have Wisconsin, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont in that same time period.  There's a lot of voting still to be done.

MR. DAVID BRODY:  Yeah.  I, I would also say, on the superdelegates, within the Obama campaign, the, they believe at some point that the Donna Braziles and, and others that will cry and say "this is ridiculous, that we're going to have superdelegates decide this," that that will eventually trump in the end. And so then, therefore, what happens is you start to see a narrative start to be crafted here about whether or not it's "fair." You know, Americans look at things as, as just--your ordinary, regular guy says, "Is this fair or not?" And, and what will happen is, if Clinton or Obama are able to take advantage of the superdelegates in the end, some Americans might just say, "You know what?  That's just not fair." And the last thing a Clinton or Obama want going into a general election is to be seen as someone that didn't do it the "right way."

MS. IFILL:  So how long do you fight for these delegates like they are right now, hammer and tong, and then if you lose, say, "OK, that just wasn't fair"? I'm not sure that passes the smell test.

MR. BRODY:  Yeah, well...

MR. RUSSERT:  You know, the superdelegates are really in play.  Bill Clinton has called them regularly.

MS. IFILL:  He's far more useful behind the scenes than in front of the scenes.

MR. RUSSERT:  The--Chelsea Clinton's calling.  Tom Daschle and John Kerry, on behalf of the Obama campaign, calling these delegates, saying "Now is the time to pledge" because they'd like to get enough people pledged and made public so they can greet that--meet that magic number.

Ted Devine, who was the delegate counter for Walter Mondale way back in 1984, wrote in today's New York Times the following:

"In the 1984 Democratic primary the superdelegates did the work they were created to do:  They provided the margin of victory to the candidate who had won the most support from primary and caucus voters.

"The superdelegates were never intended to be part of the dash from Iowa to Super Tuesday and beyond.  They should resist the impulse and pressure to decide the nomination before the voters have had their say."

And, David, you mentioned Donna Brazile.  She said this.  She was campaign manager for Al Gore.

"Superdelegates, in my judgment, should not decide this election.  The last thing we need is politicians and insiders deciding this election.  We need to let the voters decide this election.  I think if 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I'll quit the Democratic Party.  I feel very strongly about this.  There's no reason why we should decide this election.  I feel very strongly." Gwen:

MS. IFILL:  She actually is--has, has edited herself to say she would quit her position on the Democratic National Committee, not the party.  But I do think that goes to the point that David was making, which is there's--there is a real fairness question.  There's a real anger question.  But it also goes to the fact that there is a real pressure now to resolve this some other way.  We heard Howard Dean say that we have to come to I think the word was agreement or accommodation.  I don't know that he's figured out what that is.  But it does mean that at some point between now...

MR. BRODER:  Howard, Howard Dean does not have the status to...

MS. IFILL:  To do it.

MR. BRODER:  ...to broker this, this deal.  And I think the other factor that will enter in for the, for the superdelegates is, these are people, many of them, who will be on the ballot themselves this November.

MS. IFILL:  Well...

MR. BRODER:  And they are going to make a very basic calculation.  "Who do we want at the top of that ticket against John McCain?" And that calculus will probably be as important as any single factor.

MR. BRODY:  Well, and that's why you're seeing Obama and Clinton kind of talk about this electoral map out there, you know, where Clinton won in Oklahoma and, and places on Super Tuesday where the--she can say, "You know, I can win in the South," where Obama--and that's why these caucuses help Obama so much, because he can say, "Listen, I've won in all different parts of the state--or all different parts of the country," and that plays into what you're saying, David.

MR. TODD:  Let me, let me also--there's going to be a weird role the Internet will play here.  They will get their hands on this list, on the superdelegate list.  And you watch, there will be people in the DNC that have never gotten e-mail campaigns before against them, and they will get deluged.  It will start--you will start seeing crazy campaigns being organized by supporters of both Clinton and Obama that will just bombard these DNC members.  And I think they're going to get overwhelmed, and a lot of them are going to be, like Donna Brazile, "Stop.  I don't want to be a part of this."

MR. RUSSERT:  Yeah.  You mentioned Howard Dean coming to an arrangement. Howard Dean, Gwen Ifill, also talked about Michigan and Florida.  Now, those are two states--in Michigan, Hillary Clinton's name was on the ballot, no other candidates.  In Florida, all the candidates names were on the ballot. But both states were disqualified, in effect, by the Democratic National Committee because they moved up the date of their primaries and were told that their delegates would not count towards the nomination.  This is what Dean said about Florida and Michigan:

"I dare say Michigan and Florida will ask for reinstatement, and the credentials committee, which will not be under my control, will make that decision at" that "time."

Now, Frank Rich in this morning's New York Times points out that, in the fall, Senator Clinton said that the Michigan delegates aren't going to count for anything anyhow.

MS. IFILL:  Well, you know, he was wrong about that, wasn't he?  I mean, here's the problem.  The only potential solution, at least between now and the convention, is for them to figure out a way to count these votes again, right? Try to schedule caucuses, try to do something else.

MR. RUSSERT:  Have a do-over.

MS. IFILL:  Have a do-over.

MR. RUSSERT:  That counts.

MS. IFILL:  Do-overs are expensive.  Do-overs are--require people who are not happy with one another to agree.  And can you imagine--take your whiteboard back to Florida and watch the do-over.  I just think that there's real potential for chaos.

MR. RUSSERT:  And according to many officials I've talked to, the state would not pay for the primaries, so the party would have caucuses in Florida and Michigan, which the Obama people wouldn't mind because they like caucuses, David.

MR. BRODER:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Clinton people don't like caucuses.

MR. BRODER:  No.  And they're going to probably have to find some way to get those two states into the convention.  I--It's hard to imagine the Democrats meeting in Denver without any representation from Florida or Michigan.

MR. RUSSERT:  But how do you let their votes count if, in fact, the elections, when they were held, were under the agreement that they wouldn't count?

MR. TODD:  Two scenarios I've heard.  One is that Michigan--if any of them are going to hold a revote, Michigan seems more likely than not because of labor--those guys are afraid of not getting their place--seats at the table. Florida is going to press this all the way to the credentials committee, and one scenario laid out to me was, well, they may--because the credentials committee's going to be controlled 50/50 by Clinton and Obama.  And the compromise might be "OK, we'll seat a Florida delegation, but it's going to be made up of whatever the popular vote is nationally, whatever that is." And we just showed it, basically 48-48.  And that that's what the Florida delegation will be able to say, 48 percent Obama, 48 percent Clinton.  So they'll be able to say, "OK, Florida, you get your seats," but they won't have an effect on the, on the...

MR. RUSSERT:  On the outcome.

MR. TODD:  ...outcome.  And who knows.

MR. RUSSERT:  Gwen, you mentioned William Jefferson Clinton, the former president.  He was in Maine, and our NBC affiliate caught up with him there, and this was what he had to say about his role in the campaign thus far.

(Videotape)

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON:  Well, everything I have said has been factually accurate.  But a lot of things that were said were factually inaccurate.  I did not ever criticize Senator Obama personally in South Carolina.  I never criticized him personally.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, the Obama campaign will say that saying it was "rolling the dice," "risky" or that his position on the war in Iraq was a "fairy tale" was personal criticism.  The president differs.

MS. IFILL:  You know, there's a real important lesson that's being learned here.  Bill Clinton--who you would think would have known the lesson already--figured it out first, which is that you have to be careful in an election like this in the language you use.  You have two firsts out here. And so if you make--there are huge groups of people who support each first, women for Hillary--that's roughly--and roughly blacks for Obama.

Here's a problem.  They hear things which mainstream voters might not hear. They hear offense; they hear insult.  Bill Clinton found that out.  He said something, whether you believe what--it was innocent or not, but he said something which struck a tone with a lot of African-American voters, and he's been trying to make it up ever since.

The same problem exists, however, for people who are supporters or just observers of the Clinton campaign, which is you make the slightest comment--there's a, there's a great--I get e-mails from them every day. There's a great groundswell sub rosa argument among women, who feel that this election is being unfairly taken from them; feminists who hear every insult, which is, you know, we heard what happened this week on NBC with the reporter who made the comment about Chelsea.  That sort of thing starts to--it just starts a little roll going among people who are feeling aggrieved anyway.  So if you make a comment and you say, "Barack Obama, he's a kid," or "Barack Obama, he's like Jesse Jackson," that rings a bell in the ears of a lot of African-American voters and other supporters of Barack Obama.  If you make a sexist or demeaning comment about a woman, that also strikes a bell among a lot of women voters.  And that's the problem in a tipping-point election, when any, any version of that kind of insult can affect the outcome probably more than the superdelegates.

MR. RUSSERT:  Yeah, and that MSNBC reporter has been suspended...

MS. IFILL:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...indefinitely, and president of NBC News has apologized. Words do matter.

MS. IFILL:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to--any comments about Bill Clinton, anybody else?

MR. BRODY:  Well, I would just say that it's--that, you know, this election seems to be--it's going to be won on the margins.  And, you know, if Bill Clinton ends up being a distraction, you know, that's, that's, that's a big problem.

MR. RUSSERT:  David, are--is there concern that if Hillary Clinton's the nominee that young voters, African-American voters will not be as enthusiastic for her candidacy as they would have been because of some of the friction that exists?

MR. BRODER:  There is that concern, but I think we will not know for a long time how deep or shallow these wounds are of--in the nomination process in either party.  I mean, the Republicans, obviously, still have wounds to heal as well.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the Republicans.  Here's our latest delegate count for them.  John McCain is at 721, Mike Huckabee 231.  John McCain the presumptive nominee.  Mike Huckabee would have to win 93 percent of the remaining delegates in order to overturn him, but he said, "Hey, something could happen."

MS. IFILL:  Miracles!

MR. RUSSERT:  There could--well, there could be a moment.  He called it the other day a macaca moment.  Perhaps someone will say something, and...

MS. IFILL:  I don't think he really wants that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Yeah, yeah.  I just quoting--I'm just quoting the man.  Now, you heard Tom DeLay say on "Hardball" that he wasn't sure that he would endorse or support John McCain.  Laura Ingraham said, "It's one thing to say you're a foot soldier for Ronald Reagan, but what have you done for conservatism lately?" And if you look at the vote count thus far in these primaries, here it is:  Republicans have gotten 12.9 million votes, Democrats have gotten 19.2 votes.

It shows a little more intensity and enthusiasm for one party over another, Chuck Todd.

MR. TODD:  It's a huge problem for the Republicans.  I mean, they look at these numbers, and they're very, very nervous.  But I'll say this for McCain. I feel like I've seen a weak nominee like this, you know, where you feel like that he has a weak support.  Bill Clinton at about this point in 1992, he had the nomination.

MS. IFILL:  True.

MR. TODD:  And he had this thorn in his side in Jerry Brown.  Well, John McCain has this thorn in his side in Mike Huckabee.  And Jerry Brown started winning a few primaries, and suddenly you heard some senior guys--I remember, Willie Brown was the one that stuck out, where he was thinking about, out of California then, he was the speaker, "Well, maybe we should hand the nomination over to Ross Perot." This was when, when Perot was rising up.  And you just wonder, I mean, this is the danger John McCain is in.  Yes, mathematically--I mean, literally he could--he could fall on--he could have a macaca moment and still probably get the 1191.  But he can't be losing primaries.  You know, he can do what happened yesterday.  But if he loses Virginia, Texas is not a great state for him.  We've seen that Huckabee does, does well in some of these Southern states.  Then suddenly those whispers.  It won't be just talk radio.  It, it will be some serious senior guys will sit there and say, "You know, do we have a problem here?" And that was, you know, it almost doomed Bill Clinton.  It almost cost him the nomination and the presidency.

MS. IFILL:  Well, look at how--well, look at Washington state yesterday.  Not only did he almost lose Washington state to Mike Huckabee, but Ron Paul got like 21 percent of the vote.  So he was unpolled--people who voted for someone other than McCain won the majority.

MR. TODD:  Right.

MR. BRODY:  Here's the other issue with Huckabee, is that, you know, I was talking to Ed Rollins in New Hampshire, and Ed Rollins looked me straight in the eye and said, "Listen, if we had one more week in New Hampshire, we would've won this thing." The point is is that the reason he did so well in Iowa, everybody talks about the evangelical Christian angle, sure, that's a big part of it.  But Huckabee, the voters got to know Huckabee, and he had time.  And as you go from where we are now into Texas, potentially--now, he needs to do well in Virginia, and, you know, it's kind of a single elimination in a way for Huckabee--but if he can get past Virginia, he's got some time for Texas.  And, and that's what the Huckabee camp is, is relying on.

MR. RUSSERT:  It's clear Huckabee wants to stay in until McCain mathematically reaches the 1191 he needs, which could be at least another month.

MR. BRODER:  Yes.

MR. TODD:  It actually could be two months.  Could be Pennsylvania.

MR. BRODER:  And Huckabee has a perfectly plausible reason to stay in. There's no reason for him to get out.  But I had an interesting conversation the other night with Frank Fahrenkopf, who was the Republican National Committee chairman when Ronald Reagan was president, and he was recalling that exactly the same people who were raising hell with John McCain now at CPAC and these other conservative conventions were doing the same thing with Ronald Reagan when Reagan was in the White House.  And he said, there is an element in that conservative wing of the Republican Party that are just "aginners." And these folks have a limited constituency.

MR. RUSSERT:  Joe Scarborough, former congressman from Florida who hosts the morning show on MSNBC, "Morning Joe," offered these observations about the Republican Party, and they caught my attention.  Let's listen.

(Audiotape)

MR. JOE SCARBOROUGH:  They believe this is going to be a landslide of historic proportions.  They will not admit it to people in the media or, or on the air, but most Republicans believe this is going to be a landslide of epic proportions, and Mitt Romney has to know that, too.  And guess what?  It will always be remembered as, like '64 was the Goldwater landslide.  You know, this will be on John McCain's hands.

(End audiotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, David Broder, I read in your column on Thursday you may have dissent from that.  You wrote this:

"Still, McCain is the only candidate in either party with a favorable personal rating by Republicans, Democrats, independents and evangelical voters.  He will be formidable."

MR. BRODER:  I believe that, and I think against either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama--they're very different races, depending on which Democrat wins, but I don't see how McCain, positioned as he has been over time now, is anything less than a 46, 47 percent candidate.

MR. RUSSERT:  Joe Scarborough, I think, believes because of the war in Iraq, because of the economy, because of the turnout we've seen in these primaries, Gwen Ifill, that this is going to be a Democratic year.

MS. IFILL:  Well, you know, there is a--we--I go, I go back to this question of language again.  Because it's important to listen to the way--what, what John McCain's real challenge is.  And his challenge is not just to knit together the party, but it's to speak to the party in a way that the Democrats remaining are choosing to speak to their people.  Mike Huckabee has language down pat.  He knows how to speak to the people who will support them.  He knows how to inject biblical phrasing.  He knows how to knit--find a way to make people listen, whether it's with humor or with, or with code.  John McCain hasn't figured that out for the people in the party who don't support him, and he's right now riding the inevitability wave.  But in the end, even if it's inevitable, he's still got to figure out a way to get that focused.

MR. RUSSERT:  To that point, President Bush said on Fox News this morning, he still has some convincing to do with conservative voters.  "If he's the nominee, I'll help him with that."

Let me show you, David Brody and everyone at the table here, two national polls just out.  Time magazine says Obama, 48; McCain, 41; a margin of seven. It has Clinton and McCain deadlocked at 46-46.  CNN says it's McCain, 44; Obama 42; a margin of eight points for Obama.  They have--52-44, a margin of eight.  And Clinton up, up three points.  It shows Obama running a bit stronger than Clinton, but, nonetheless, a close race.

MR. BRODY:  Well, a couple things to keep in mind.  Let's remember, when August of '08 comes around, or October of '08 comes around, will there be some sort of national security issue?  Will there be some sort of terrorist issue? And if that's the case, look at Obama and McCain.  You had Obama, 46, McCain, 71, with the national security credentials he has, so that may benefit McCain. On the other hand, if Senator Clinton is the nominee against John McCain, McCain can tap into those moderates and independents that Obama would actually be more stronger on regarding--with, with McCain.

MR. RUSSERT:  We have 10 seconds.  Will electability influence Democratic voters in the remaining...

MR. TODD:  I think it'll influence superdelegates.  I think they read national polls.  It's in--Obama has to keep those lead in the national polls. If he wins the pledge and he's up 8-to-10 on McCain, superdelegates will listen.

MR. RUSSERT:  Chuck Todd, David Brody, David Broder, Gwen Ifill, thank you all.  And we'll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we go, a message for all those hard-working teachers. NBC News is answering questions about the 2008 election from you and your students on the educational Web site hotchalk.com.  E-mail questions to asknbcnews@nbcuni.com.  Or text the word "ask" plus your question to ASKNBC. Look for the answers on hotchalk.com.

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

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